Family Affairs

“You’re the most infuriating, insufferable, arrogant man I have ever met,” she fumed.

He looked unperturbed.  “Is this what you came all the way over here to tell me?” he asked.  “You could have just as easily phoned me and save yourself an hour’s drive.”

“I wanted to tell you what I think of you to your face,” she retorted.

He moved closer.  “Why don’t you admit it, Debra?”

“Admit what?” she asked, eying him suspiciously and warily.  He was a little too close for comfort.

“That you want me as much as I want you.”

Alarm filled her and for a brief moment, she was at a loss of words.  Then, lifting her chin, she declared, “You’re mistaken.”

“I’m not afraid to admit that I want you.  I wanted you from the first time I saw you.  Feel what you do to me.”  He took her hand and pressed it against his heart.  It was pounding wildly—like hers.

She tried to pull her hand away but his grip tightened.  Her eyes flew up to his face and her mouth went dry when she saw the unbridled passion shining in their depths.  Desire coursed through her body and she tugged at her hand, desperate to put as much distance between them as possible.  “Please let go of me,” she begged.

“Why?” he asked thickly.  “Am I making you feel things you don’t want to feel?”

Just then, the sound of someone clearing his throat came from the doorway.  Then, a voice called, “Mr. Rhys, Sir?”

Without turning his head, Rhys said, sounding somewhat put out at the interruption, “Yes, Albert, what is it?”

“You have a telephone call.”

“I’ll take it in the study.  Thank you, Albert.”

When Albert left, she tugged at her hand again and he released it this time.  She stepped back, grateful to Albert for the interruption.

Rhys watched her.  “Will you wait here until I return?”

“No,” she said crossly.  “I have things to do.”

“Have dinner with me tonight,” he said quietly.

She glared at him.  “Even if my life depended on it, I will never have dinner with you.  Good day.” She stormed past him and out of the room, leaving him watching after her, his expression a mixture of irritation and longing.

On the drive back to London, she fretted and fumed at herself for the brief betraying moment when she wanted to succumb to the feelings he aroused in her.  If Albert hadn’t interrupted when he did she would not have been able to resist him any longer and that scared her.  She didn’t want to have feelings for the man who was responsible for her sister’s misery.

Her sister was the reason why she went to Surrey to see him.  She had meant to find out why he was opposing Vanessa’s marriage to his brother, Mark but when she saw him, she just lost it.  She hoped she hadn’t make things worse.  Just who did he think he was?  Insufferable man.  How she disliked him.  Yet, how was it possible to loathe a man and want him at the same time?

She didn’t go back to her flat, instead, she went over to her friend Marcy’s cottage.  “You look fit to be tied,” her friend exclaimed when she saw her.  “Come on in.  A cup of tea would do you some good, I think. Come to the kitchen and tell me what’s on your mind while I get the tea ready.”

Debra sat down at the table while Marcy put the kettle on.  “I went to see Rhys,” she said, trying to be calm.

“You mentioned that you were going to find out why he was stalling his brother’s wedding plans.  What did he say?”

“I didn’t give him a chance to say anything.  I just laid into him because he got me so mad.”

“What did he do to get you so mad at him?”

“Well, nothing, really,” she said.  “When I saw him, looking so smug, I lost it.”

“So, you didn’t find out why he is stalling the wedding?”

“What other reason could there be besides the fact that he doesn’t think that my sister is good enough for his precious brother?”

“Deb, you can’t assume that’s the reason.  It might be something else.”

“What other reason could there be?  Mark and Vanessa love each other.  They have been dating since high-school and all through university.  No one was surprised when they announced their engagement.  Plans have already been put in place for a spring wedding and now, they have been put on hold because of Rhys.  He acts more like Mark’s father than his older brother.”

“I guess he feels responsible for him because after their parents died, he raised him.  It’s only natural that he wants what’s best for his little brother.”

“Doesn’t he think that marrying my sister would be the best thing for his brother? Is it because she’s not from rich family like Mark and he?”

“Deb, you and I can sit here all morning and speculate about Rhys’ reasons for putting everything on hold.   There’s only one way to find out for sure and that’s to talk to him.”

Debra took the steaming cup of coffee from Marcia.  She didn’t relish the idea of seeing Rhys again but if she wanted to get to the bottom of this, she had to.  “I’ll stop by his office tomorrow during my lunch break,” she sighed.

The next day, she made sure she called Rhys first to find out if it was all right with him to stop by his office around twelve-thirty.  He sounded surprised to hear from her but said that he was free to see her at that time.  She got there at about twelve thirty-five and was shown into his office which modern, spacious and had a remarkable view of the city.  He was sitting behind the desk but stood up when she walked in.  He went over to the door and closed it.  Then, he offered her a seat.  “What a pleasant surprise,” he remarked.  “What brings you here?”

She sat down and came straight to the point.  “I want to talk to you about Mark and Vanessa.  Why are you standing in the way of their happiness?”

He sat down behind the desk, his expression serious now.  “I’m not opposed to their happiness,” he said.  “But I do have my misgivings.  I think they are too young to get married.  He’s twenty-three and your sister is twenty-two.  Mark has a trust fund which doesn’t have full access to until he’s twenty-five. Right now, he can live comfortably from the money in the trust fund but with marriage comes so many responsibilities that I’m not sure he’s ready for.”

“So, your objection is based solely on their age and not on their suitability for each other.”

He nodded.  “I have always heard of many cases where young marriages don’t work out.  I just don’t want Mark and Vanessa to be one of those couples.”

“But how long do you expect them to wait?  Until they are in their thirties?  That doesn’t seem fair.  Those marriages you mentioned failed most likely because the couples were not mature.  Mark and Vanessa are mature and very sensible beyond their years.  If you still have misgivings why don’t you consider having them go for pre-marital counseling?  I have a friend who has counseled many couples, including those in their twenties.  I could arrange for her to see Mark and Vanessa.  The sessions will determine whether or not they are ready for marriage.”

“That would be very helpful,” Rhys agreed.  “It would put my mind at rest.”

“All right, I will call my friend this evening.”  She got up.

He stood up too.  “Are you leaving so soon?”

“I have to head back to the office.  Thanks for taking the time to see me.  Rhys…” she looked at him, feeling a little embarrassed.  “I wanted to apologize for the way I spoke to you yesterday.”

He came around to where she was and stopped a few feet away from her.  “I will accept your apology on one condition,” he said quietly, his eyes studying her face.  “Have dinner with me tonight.”

“All right,” she said.

“I’ll see you at seven-thirty, then.”

She turned and crossed the carpet towards the door with him following closely behind.  The same time she reached for the knob, he did and his hand covered hers.  Heart leaping in her chest, she turned her head to look up at him and met his penetrating gaze.  Without saying anything, he took her hand and pressed it against his thumping heart then without any warning, he reached over and kissed her.

Unable to help herself she turned so that she was facing him and her arms reached for him as she responded to his fiery kisses.  Several minutes later, she felt herself pressed up against the hard surface of the door while his hands on her hips held her tightly against him as he ravaged her lips.  Then, his lips were hot against her neck and she groaned, reaching up to bury her fingers in his hair.

A knock on the door jolted them and he pulled away, his face flushed.  He took a few moments to control his breathing and regain his composure before he moved to open the door slightly.  “Yes, Betty?”  Betty was his secretary.

“They are waiting for you in the boardroom, Mr. Yardley.”

“Okay.  Thank you, Betty.  Inform them that I will be there shortly.”

“Yes, Sir.”

He closed the door and turned to Debra.  He ran his fingers through his hair.  “I forgot that I have a board meeting at one,” he said.  “I’m sorry.”

She smoothed her hair and straightened her white top with the V neck and her navy blue skirt.  “I should be heading back now,” she said, stooping down to pick up her handbag which had dropped to the floor.

“I look forward to seeing you again later,” he said quietly.  He held open the door for her and she glanced at him before she went out.

On the way back to her office, all she could think about was the kiss and how much she wanted him.  She couldn’t wait to see him later.  When she got to her desk, the first thing she did was to call her friend, the marriage counselor.

At exactly seven-thirty he was at her flat.  He looked amazing in a fitted black suit, white dress shirt and no tie.  His hair was slicked back, giving him a polish and slightly rakish look.  His eyes slipped over her when he saw her in a short navy blue dress with a beaded neckline which flattered her figure and her hair pulled back at the nape with a clasp.  She looked simple but elegant.  “You look incredible,” he commented as they walked to the lift.

She smiled.  “Thank you,” she said.  “So do you.”

He took her to his favorite restaurant which offered them privacy, spectacular view of the city of London and food to die for.  They talked and opened up to each other.  She mentioned to him that she had called her friend and that whenever Mark and Vanessa were ready, she would see them.  “I really believe that things will work out for them,” she said.

“I hope you’re right,” he said.

“I was wrong about you,” she admitted.  “I thought you were causing problems for my sister because you didn’t think she was suitable for your brother.”

“That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I like Vanessa.  She’s a remarkable girl.”

Debra smiled.  “Yes, she is.  Sometimes when I look at her, I can’t believe that she’s that kid that used to follow me around and look up to me.”

“It was the same with Mark.  I was his role model.  My good opinion and approval meant a lot to him.  He turned out to be a very fine young man.  I’m very proud of him.”

“Here’s to the two remarkable young people in our lives.” Debra held up her glass and they made a toast.

“And here’s to us,” he said, his expression serious as he returned her gaze.  Their glasses touched and then, he signaled to the waiter for the bill.

They left the restaurant and went back to her flat.  As soon as she closed the door and locked it behind her, he grabbed her, pulled her roughly against him, muttering “I’ve been dying to do this all evening,” before his head swooped down and his hungry lips sought hers.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back, her fervor matching his.  As they exchanged feverish kisses, she kicked off her shoes while he dragged off his jacket and tossed it on the floor.  Then, breaking off the kiss, she drew back, almost fighting for breath and without saying a word, she grabbed his hand and led him toward the hallway to her room where they spent the rest of the night.

The following year, on a beautiful day in May, Mark and Vanessa tied the knot.  The service took place at the church where his parents got married and the reception was held at their home in Surrey.  It was a happy occasion.  The pre-marital counseling had really paid off and after receiving assurance from the counselor that the couple was ready for marriage, Rhys happily gave his consent and the wedding preparations went ahead.

As Rhys stood beside Debra at the foot of the steps leading down from the front entrance, he turned to her, “It looks like you’re next,” he commented, indicating the bouquet which she had caught.  “When would you like to get married?  In the spring like your sister or in the summer?”

She stared at him.  “Stop teasing me,” she scolded him.

“I’m not teasing you,” he said and he pulled out a small velvet box from his pants pocket.  “I was planning to give you this later after dinner but I don’t think I could wait until then.  Come with me.”  He grabbed her hand and led her off to a quiet spot out of ear shot of the wedding guests.

He got down on his knee, opened the box and took out the ring.  “Will you marry me, Debra?” he asked huskily, his eyes tender as he looked up at her.

“Yes,” she cried, laughing as the tears ran down her face.  “Yes, I will marry you.”

He put the ring on her finger and then stood up.  “I love you,” he murmured before he kissed her.

“I love you too,” she answered when he drew back.  She reached up and touched his face.  Then, the sounds of voices reached them.

“They’re leaving,” Rhys said.  “Let’s go and say goodbye.”  He took her hand and they hurried off to say goodbye to the happy couple as they came down the stairs laughing as rice grains were thrown at them.

Debra hugged Vanessa tightly.  “I’m very happy for you,” she said.  “You make such a beautiful bride.  I wish you great happiness.”

“Thank you, Deb.  And I wish you the same.”  When she saw her sister’s engagement ring, she was so overjoyed.  She hugged her again.  “Congratulations.   Rhys is twice my brother-in-law.  I couldn’t be happier.”

Later that evening as she stood on the terrace, looking out at the grounds, Rhys joined her.  He put his arms around her waist and she leaned against him.  “That night when you agreed to have dinner with me, did you do so because you felt badly about the way you spoke to me?” he asked.

She turned around then and faced him.  “No,” she said softly.  “I did it because my happiness depended on it.”

“So did mine,” he murmured before he took her up in his arms and carried her into the bedroom.

Sources:  The Telegraph; To Love Honor and Vacuum; Guide Doc

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The Nutcracker

It was on a Saturday night at the London Coliseum where Alexis and her sister Gwen ran into Mrs. Bannister, Alexis’ music teacher, a wonderful lady who didn’t look as if she had aged very much at all.

She was delighted to see her former pupil, her face beaming and her light blue eyes sparkling.  “Hello My Dear,” she said, “What a lovely surprise and on my birthday too.  How are you?  Are you still practicing on the piano?  You were a very promising student and one of my favorites.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Bannister,” Alexis said as they hugged.  “Happy birthday.”

Mrs. Bannister turned to the young man who was standing beside her.  “This is my grandson, Jeremy.  He brought me to the ballet this evening for my birthday.  He has always been a very thoughtful young man.  Jeremy, this is Alexis.”

Alexis’ attention shifted to the older woman’s companion.  He was tall and very handsome.  His thick brown hair was a bit long but it suited him.  He was wearing a fine and rather expensive looking dark grey suit, blue shirt and tie.  His light green eyes met hers and she thought she saw admiration shining in them.

He took the hand she proffered and shook it.  “A pleasure,” he said with a cultured English accent.

She smiled.  “It’s nice to meet you.   This is my sister, Gwen,” she said.  He acknowledged Gwen with a smile and shook her hand.  Then, he returned his attention to Alexis.

“Did you enjoy the ballet?” he asked.  “Grandmother has always wanted to see The Nutcracker and I promised her that one year I take her for her birthday.”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  I’ve always wanted to see it too.  It was my good fortune that my brother-in-law is not a fan of ballet or musicals so Gwen asked me to come with her.”

“I should thank your sister for bringing you tonight,” he said quietly.  “I got to meet you.”

She smiled, not sure of how to respond to that remark.  He was staring at her making her feel both nervous and flattered.  She had never had a man this young interested in her before.  He had to be at least ten years younger than her.  “Are you and your grandmother close?” she asked.

“Very,” he said.  “She always says that I’m her favorite.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an older brother and a younger sister.  Do you have other siblings?”

“No, Gwen is the only one I have.  We were very close growing up.  Now she is married with two girls and a boy.”

He glanced down at her hand.  “I see that you’re not wearing a ring,” he said.  “I guess you’re not married.”

“No, I’m still single.”  She didn’t mention that she was once engaged but she broke it off when she found out that her fiancé was two-timing her with his new assistant.

Just then, Mrs. Bannister said to her, “Alexis, how would you like to have tea with me tomorrow afternoon, if you have no other plans, of course.”

Alexis smiled.  “I would be delighted,” she said with a big smile.

“Splendid.  So, I shall see you tomorrow afternoon at two.  Gwen, it was a pleasure to meet you.   Come, Jeremy, it is past my bedtime.  Thank you, Dear, for a lovely evening.  I shall never forget it.”

Jeremy said goodnight to Alexis and Gwen, his eyes lingering on the former before he took his grandmother’s arm and led her away.

Gwen looked at her.  “Mrs. Bannister seems like a really nice lady, very gracious and friendly.  I had a rather nice chat with her.  Her grandson is very handsome.  I noticed him paying you a lot of attention.  What did you think of him?”

“He’s very handsome and polished.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

It was no use denying it.  “Yes, very attracted, a lot good it would do me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s younger and another, he’s upper crust.”

“It seemed like neither of those two things mattered to him and if he’s anything like his grandmother, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t at least entertain to idea of dating him.  Don’t allow what happened with Sidney prevent you from having a love life.  I never did like him.  Good riddance to him, I say.  You can do much better.  So, if you happen to see Jeremy again and he asks you out, don’t turn him down.”

Alexis looked unconvinced.  “I don’t know if I will see him again and even if I do, I don’t think he’ll ask me out.  No, I’m not going to get my hopes up.  I’ll go and see his grandmother tomorrow and we will spend a pleasant afternoon together, catching up.  Now, what do you say, we grab a bite to eat before you head home to your brood?”

The next day, Alexis drove over to Mrs. Bannister pretty cottage, nestled among thick foliage and surrounded by immaculate gardens.  She had a live in housekeeper who opened the door and showed Alexis to the drawing-room where the lady of the house was seated.

Mrs. Bannister’s face lit up when she saw her.  “Hello, my Dear.  Come and sit beside me and by the fire.  It must be cold outside and grey too.”

Alexis went over to her and after hugging her warmly, she sat down on a chair close to the one the elder woman was occupying.  “What a lovely home you have,” she remarked.  “I couldn’t help admiring your gardens.  I imagine that your grandchildren must have loved playing in them when they were young.”  She wanted to ask her so many questions about Jeremy and what he was like as a boy but thought better of it.

Mrs. Bannister nodded, smiling.  “Oh yes, they loved playing in the gardens which they were children.  Jeremy’s favorite spot was the lake. He would swim there sometimes.  He was always scampering about the place, vexing his mother who thought he was a bit too wild.  I always told her that he was a boy and boys were supposed to be a little unruly.  When he comes he could take you for a walk on the grounds and show you the lake.”

Alexis’ heart lurched.  “Jeremy’s coming here?” she asked.  The thought of seeing him again thrilled and terrified her at the same time.  She couldn’t believe that she was behaving like this over a younger man.

“Yes, he said that he would stop by around three.  He doesn’t usually come and see me on a Sunday so I was quite surprised when he called me this morning to tell me that he was coming over this afternoon.  I’ll ring for our tea now.”

They had their tea and sandwiches as they talked about old times and other things.  The time went by very quickly and Alexis had just finished drinking her tea when Jeremy walked into the drawing room.  He went over to his grandmother and hugged her.  When he drew back she looked up at him, beaming.  “It’s good to see you, Dear.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” he said, smiling at her.  Then he turned to Alexis.  “Have you had a chance to see the gardens?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “I saw them when I was coming up the driveway.  They look amazing.”

“I told Alexis that you would take her for a walk in the gardens and show her the lake where you used to swim as a child.”

“I’d be happy to,” he said, his gaze still on Alexis.  “Shall we?”

She got up and after excusing herself, she followed him out to the foyer.  She got her coat and scarf from the closet.

“I won’t keep you outside too long,” he promised.  “It’s very nippy.”

They walked through the gardens and to the path which led to the lake.  She looked around her in wonder.  Autumn in Surrey was breathtaking.  The thick foliage on the opposite side of the lake was cloaked in rich, bright colors.  The air was cold but very fresh.  “I can see why you loved coming here,” she commented as they stood there watching two swans gliding through the gold lake.  It was so peaceful out there.   It was a nice change from the city.

“Yes.  I used to come out here all the time and swim or feed the swans.  I loved being here more than at my parents’ estate in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire is even more beautiful in the autumn but I prefer being here in Surrey.  You’re right about it being peaceful here and that’s why this is still my favorite place to relax and think about things.”

“Do you still swim in the lake?”

He smiled and shook his head.  “I stopped doing that when I turned thirteen.  Besides, I don’t want to scare away the swans.”

“This is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she remarked.  “Your grandmother was surprised that you visited her today.  She said that you don’t usually visit her on a Sunday.”

“She’s right.  I’m usually at home or out with my friends but I came here today because of you.”

She swallowed.  “Me?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again.”

A slight breeze started blowing and she shivered.  She pulled the hood over her head and shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat, wishing she had worn her gloves.

“You’re cold,” he observed.  “Let’s go back to the cottage.”

He helped her remove her winter gear and then he took off his coat and hanged everything in the closet.

When they went into the drawing-room, Mrs. Bannister was not there.  She went over to the fireplace to warm her hands.  He joined her.  He turned toward her and took her cold hand in his and rubbed it between his.  Her heart was pounding as she watched his long fingers move slowly but vigorously to warm hers.  Then, she raised her head to look up at his face and her breath caught in her throat when she met his smoldering gaze.  “I want to kiss you,” he muttered thickly.

She trembled at the thought.  “Your grandmother could return at any minute,” she said, trying to remain rational in spite of her senses which were screaming at her to let him kiss her.

“You’re right,” he admitted.  “It would be awkward if she were to walk in and find us kissing.  Have dinner with me tonight, Alexis.”

“Yes,” she said simply.  She gave him her address and he made a mental note of it.  “I think she’s coming.”  He released her hand and moved away from the fireplace just as his grandmother entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your walk?” she asked as she went over to the chair she had vacated and sat down.

“Yes, I did.”

“Good.  You must come in the summer.  It’s really nice then.”

“Mrs. Bannister, I must be leaving now.  Thank you for inviting me to tea.  I had a wonderful time.”  She went over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Goodbye, Dear.  Jeremy will see you off.”

He walked with her to her car and held open the door for her to get in.  As she was about to, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes at the sensation of his warm lips against her skin.  When he drew back, their eyes met and held for a while.  “I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said quietly.  She nodded and got in the car.  He stepped back and watched as she drove off.

When he returned to the drawing-room, he sat down in the chair Alexis had occupied and looking at his grandmother, he said, “Grandmother, I’m in trouble.”

“You are attracted to Alexis, aren’t you?” she asked.  “I noticed the way you looked at her last night.”

“I couldn’t help it.  That’s why I’m here today.  I wanted to see her again and I asked her to have dinner with me tonight.”

“Now, that wasn’t a wise thing to do.”

“I know and I feel like such a fraud,” he muttered, exasperated.  “She has no idea that I am engaged.”

“Well, from where I’m sitting, you have only two options—break off your engagement to Bridget or forget about Alexis.”

“I can’t forget about Alexis.  And I can’t marry Bridget.”

“It seems then, that you have made your decision.  I never did think that Bridget was the right girl for you.  I imagine that the engagement was all your mother’s doing.  Well, it’s time you started making your own decisions.  You’re old enough now.  You should go and deal with Bridget right now.  And when the time is right, you can tell Alexis everything.”

He got up and hugged her.  “Thanks, Grandmother.  I’ll go and see Bridget now.”

“Be gentle, Dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

His meeting with Bridget went better than he expected.  She too had been having second thoughts about their engagement but didn’t know quite how to tell him.  They parted on amicable terms.  They realized that what all this time their feelings for each other had been platonic rather than romantic.  He let her keep the ring.

Over dinner at a trendy and romantic French restaurant, he told Alexis everything.  “I’m so thankful I met you,” he said.  “If I hadn’t, I would have married the wrong woman.”

“So, the two of you never slept together?”

“No.  We had decided that we would wait until we were married but I never wanted her.  Yet, I wanted you from the moment I saw you.  After I took my grandmother home, I went down to the lake to figure out what I was going to do.  I was engaged to one woman but had fallen hard for another.  I didn’t want to hurt Bridget but I couldn’t get you out of my mind.  When I saw you again the next day, I knew that I couldn’t give you up.”

“Where do we go from here?” she asked.

“I want to see you—go out with you,” he said, covering one of her hands with his, his expression earnest.  “I want to be in a relationship with you.”

She covered his hand.  “I want that too,” she admitted.

After dinner that night, they became romantically involved and a year later, they got married.  His father, brother, sister, grandmother and Bridget attended the simple wedding but his mother was conspicuously absent.

 

Not His Type

She stood at the window watching Byron Ellsworth walking on the grounds with Eliza Forrester.  They stopped under the window and talked.  He said something and Eliza threw back her head, her chestnut hair bouncing about her shoulders and laughed.  It was then that she looked up and saw Kiara.  She stopped laughing and said something to Byron who looked up.  Feeling embarrassed, Kiara moved away from the window.

How she wished they hadn’t seen her.  She didn’t want Byron to think that she was watching him.  She had been admiring the view from the window when she spotted him with Eliza.  They made a very attractive couple.  He was tall, athletic and handsome while she was of medium height, graceful and stunning.   They had a lot in common.  They attended the same schools, mixed in the same social circles and shared the same tastes in the arts, music and theater.  She wondered if they would eventually get married.  Why did the thought disturb her so?  She shouldn’t care what Byron Ellsworth did with his life, especially not after what she overheard him say to his grandmother a few weeks ago.

She was standing outside of the library, about to open the door and go in when she heard her name.  She didn’t mean to stay there and listen but curiosity got the better of her.  “Byron, I notice that you are spending far too much time with the Lewis girl.   I hope you are not developing an interest in her.”

“Grandmother, you are mistaken,” was Byron’s curt reply.  “I’m not interested in Kiara.  She’s not my type.”

“That’s good, then.  You need to remember that as an Ellsworth, you cannot give your affections to someone who is not of the same social status as you.  I daresay, Miss Lewis is a decent young woman but she is not suitable for you.  So, I strongly advise you to limit the amount of time you spend with her and turn your attentions elsewhere.”

“You mean Eliza Forrester?”

“Yes, her breeding makes her a far more suitable match for you.”

Humiliated, Kiara turned and hurried down the corridor, almost running, desperate to get away from there as fast as she could.  After that she avoided Byron as much as possible or she made sure that they were never alone together.

Now she waited in the drawing-room for Miranda, Byron’s sister and her friend.  They were going to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool.  She felt a bit self-conscious about wearing a swimsuit, especially with Byron around.  Maybe he had left with Eliza.   Jealousy coursed through her at the thought and she closed her eyes in frustration.

“Hello, Kiara.”

Her eyes flew open when she heard his voice.  He was standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame with his arms folded.  Her heart began to pound as she saw his gaze travel over her.  She was wearing a white tee shirt and a denim skirt.  Her fingers tightened on the strap of her bag as she tried to remain calm.  “I-I didn’t expect you to still be here,” she said.

“Where did you expect me to be?” he asked quietly as he moved away from the doorway and walked slowly and deliberately over to where she was.  He stopped a few feet from her, his eyes focused on her face, making her very nervous.

“I thought that you might have gone out with Eliza,” she said sounding a little breathless.  “I—I saw the two of you earlier walking.”

“I know because I saw you looking out of the window.  Where are you off to?” his gaze dropped to her bag.

“Miranda and I are going to spend the afternoon by the pool.”

“Maybe, I will join you,” he said alarming her.  “It has been a while since I went for a swim.”

“What about Eliza?  Wouldn’t you rather spend the afternoon with her?”  She wondered if the panic she felt was evident on her face.

“Why are you so anxious to get rid of me?” he asked, moving closer.

“I’m—I’m not,” she denied, feeling all flustered.  “I just thought that you would prefer to be with someone who’s more your type…” her voice trailed off when she realized that she had said too much.

“So, I was right,” he said.  “I thought I heard a sound outside the door.  It was you.”

Her mouth tightened.  “I wasn’t eavesdropping,” she retorted.  “I was about to open the door because there was a book I wanted to return when I heard your voices.”

“So, you heard what I said and that’s why you have been giving me the cold shoulder.”  His eyes darkened on her face and he moved closer.  “Kiara, let me explain—“

“There’s nothing to explain.  You’re not interested in me because I’m not your type.  As far as I am concerned, your grandmother and Eliza have nothing to worry about.”

She would have walked past him if he didn’t reach for her hand.  His fingers closed round hers as he pulled her back in front of him.  His eyes were stormy as they met hers and a muscle was throbbing along his jawline.  Her chest was heaving now and a myriad of conflicting and very strong emotions were splayed across her face.  “Please let go of me,” she said.

“What if I don’t want to,” he muttered thickly.

Just then, they heard quick footsteps down the hall and then Miranda’s voice before she appeared in the doorway.  Relieved, Kiara tugged at her hand and Byron let it go.  She almost ran from the room, thankful to get away.

Miranda frowned as she looked at her.  “Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

Miranda looked past her to where Byron stood with his back to them.  “Are you going to join us, Byron?” she asked.

“No.  Thank you” was the quiet reply.

The afternoon at the pool passed uneventfully but Kiara couldn’t stop thinking about Byron and what happened between them in the drawing-room.  He had assured his grandmother that he felt no attraction for her and yet, she had seen something on his face which she hadn’t expected to see and she didn’t know what would have transpired if Miranda hadn’t interrupted them when she did.

The sun was setting when she decided that it was time to go home.  As she walked around Miranda’s car to climb into the passenger side, she glanced up and her heart lurched when she saw Byron standing at the window, watching her.   She quickly looked away and got in the car.  Moments later they were heading away from the mansion.

Several weeks passed before she saw Byron again and during that time, he was constantly on her mind.  Then one afternoon she was walking back to her flat when she saw him.  He was standing on the pavement, leaning against the post, hands in pockets watching her.  His stance was casual but the tense expression on his face betrayed him.  Heart racing, she walked up to him.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I had to see you,” he said quietly.  “I have waiting here for half-hour.”

She couldn’t stand there on the pavement talking to him because people were passing and looking at them–actually at him.   He looked so handsome in the dark blue jacket, striped tee shirt and dark jeans.  If he wanted to, he could have been a model.  He had the looks, height and appeal.  She could just imagine the women undressing him with their eyes.  Like you are doing right now? Abruptly, she looked away.  “Let’s go,” she said and started to walk away.

He followed her.  Even in her heels she felt very short beside him.  They walked in silence and all the way up in the lift.  She could feel his eyes on her as she unlocked the door to her flat.  She opened it and locked after he followed her inside.  “You have a very nice place,” he commented, looking around.

“Thank you,” she said as she slipped off her shoes before removing her jacket.  She saw his gaze travel over her white strapless dress.

“Where did you go all dressed up like that?” he asked.

“I went to the Marie Curie Autumn Lunch.  It’s a very worthy cause.  They raise money for their nurses and hospices so they can help people living with terminal illness and their families.”
“Did you go alone?”

“Yes.” She walked into the living-room and after laying her jacket on the back of the sofa, she went over to the window to draw the curtains aside.  She stood there for a moment, looking out. She didn’t know that he was behind her until she felt him pull her back against him and his mouth press against the nape of her neck.  Trembling, she closed her eyes as desire coursed through her.  Then, she felt his hands turning her around and she tried to push him away as the memory of what he said to his grandmother came back to her, “What do you want from me?” she groaned.

An expression of intense longing came over his face and he muttered, “This is what I want,” before his head swooped down and his mouth sought hers hungrily, devouring it like a mad man.  Overwhelmed by her own feelings, she kissed him back.  The hands that tried to push him away were wrapping themselves around his waist.

Several minutes passed as they exchanged passionate kisses and then she pulled back to gaze up into his flushed face, her heavy breathing mingling with his.  “What about Eliza?” she asked.  “She’s the one you should be with.”

He shook his head.  “No.  You’re the one I want to be with,” he declared.

“But what about what you said to your grandmother about me?”

“What I said to her was partially true,” he said.  “When I said that you weren’t my type, I was telling the truth but I was lying when I said that I wasn’t interested in you.  I said that just to get my grandmother off my back.”  His eyes darkened on her upturned face.  “I was attracted to you from the moment I saw you.  That’s why I was always hanging around you.  My grandmother noticed and decided that she would put a stop to it.  That’s the conversation you overheard.  I ended my relationship, if you could call it that, with Eliza the day after you and I had our little encounter in the drawing-room.  I knew right then and there, that I couldn’t continue seeing her when I wanted to be with you.  Last night, I went to see my grandmother and told her that I was in love with you and that I was going to ask you to marry me if you would have me.”

She stared at him, hardly able to believe what he was saying but she could tell from his expression that he was dead serious.  “What did your grandmother say?”

“After she recovered from her shock, she told me to pack my bags and leave the premises immediately.  She also told me that she was going to change her will so that I will be left with nothing.  So, I was evicted and disinherited all in one week.  I stayed with Miranda until I found a flat of my own.  I had to look for a new job with a much higher salary.  That’s why I haven’t been to see you before now.  I have been busy trying to put my life back in order.  So, I’m no longer a rich heir but a regular bloke.”

She blinked as the tears sprang to her eyes.  “I’m sorry to be the cause of the rift between your grandmother and you,” she said.  “She wanted what was best for you and in her opinion, it wasn’t me.”

“I too want what’s best for me and that’s you, Kiara,” he said huskily.  “I love you and I want to marry you.”

“I love you too,” she said.  Her breath caught in her throat when he got down on one knee and pulled a box from the right side pocket of his jacket.  He opened it and took out the most exquisite ring she had ever seen.  It was a white gold diamond ring.

“Will you marry me, Kiara?”

She nodded, “yes,” she sobbed, the tears falling down her face now.  He gently and carefully slipped the ring on her finger.  Then, he stood up and cupping her face between his hands, he kissed her.

 

 

Source:  The Marie Curie Autumn Lunch; LDN Fashion

The Wedding

Her heart was racing.  She hoped she looked presentable in her V-neck floral knee length summer dress and the pair of wedges which she thought looked better than the pumps she had considered wearing.  To complete the look, she wore the lovely olive leaf pendant which Paolo had given her for her birthday.

“Mama, incontrare Roxane, il mio fidanzato,” Paolo announced as he presented Roxane before his mother who was sitting on an expensive looking sofa backing an antique grandfather clock with two small tables on either side on which sat figurines and decorative vases with flowers in them and oil paintings above them.  It was a beautiful room but she didn’t have time to admire it.  She was standing in front of the woman who was soon to be her mother-in-law and a mighty sense of foreboding came over her.  It was as if her happiness depended upon this meeting.

A pair of dark brown eyes stared up at her.  There was no warmth or welcome in her expression.  She just looked Roxane over and then she turned to Paolo and said, “Voglio parlare con te solo.”

Paolo’s expression was grim when he turned to Roxane.  “Would you excuse us, darling?  My mother wishes to have a word with me.”

She nodded and after glancing at his mother whose eyes were still on Paolo, she turned and quickly left the room.  There was an accent chair where she sat down.  It faced the door of the room she had just left.

She sat there on edge, her heart racing as she heard the voices in the next room.  She knew that they were talking about her.  She was the reason why they were in Milan where his mother and sister lived.  They were there to meet them.  Paolo’s sister Annabella had driven them over to the house.  Annabella was very warm and friendly.  Roxane felt better after having met her, however, when they were alone, Annabella used that as an opportunity to warn her not to get her hopes up about her mother accepting her.

“I’m not sure if Paolo told you this but when he was in his twenties, he was engaged to a girl named Gianna.  He brought her here to meet Mama but Mama refused to approve the match and the engagement was broken off.”

Alarmed, she asked, “Why didn’t your mother approve of her?”

“She was Sicilian.  Mama thinks all Sicilians are involved with the Mafia.  I know it sounds foolish but that was her reason.”

“What if she doesn’t approve of me, will Paolo break off our engagement too?”

Annabella shook her head.  “I don’t think so.  He loves you.”

“But didn’t he love Gianna too?”

“It was more of an infatuation.  It would have fizzled out even if Mama had approved of her.”

“Annabella, I’m so nervous and afraid.”

Annabella smiled and squeezed her hand.  “No matter what happens, Paolo loves you and he will marry you.”

At the time Roxane was grateful for the warning but now she was filled with trepidation.  She loved Paolo and was afraid of losing him.  It was clear from their encounter just now that his mother didn’t approve of her.  She had looked her over and didn’t like what she saw.  There was no smile or greeting–nothing but a critical look.  This was the second time his mother disapproved of the woman he wanted to marry.  Will the outcome be the same?

“è troppo scura!” his mother sounded angry.

Paolo said something which she couldn’t make out.

“Aspettare e sposare una ragazza italiana che non è siciliana,” his mother retorted.

“Mama, Io vado a sposare Roxane perché l’amo e non importa quello che dici.”

Shortly afterwards, the door was flung open and Paolo strode out of the room, his expression thunderous.  He strode over to Roxane and muttered, “Let’s go.  Our business here is over.”

Roxane got to her feet and grabbing her hand he hurried from the room.  He looked so angry that she daren’t say anything at the moment.  Annabella was in the courtyard when they came out of the house.  From the expression on her brother’s face, she could tell that things had not gone well.  Like Roxane, she didn’t ask any questions.  Instead, she said, “I’ll drive you back to the hotel.”

Paolo got into the back of the car with Roxane and he held her hand as they sat there not saying anything.  Annabella turned on the radio breaking the silence with news and music.

When they arrived at the hotel, she got out of the car and hugged them both.  “Roxane, it was really nice meeting you.  I hope to see you again very soon.  Paolo, I’m sorry things didn’t go as you hoped but I hope that it wouldn’t spoil the rest of your trip.  Call me if you need anything.”

He nodded with a smile and then she was gone.  He put his arm around Roxane’s shoulders as they walked through the lobby and headed upstairs to their suite.  Once they were alone, he took her over the sofa and they sat down.  “You must know by now that my mother doesn’t approve of you,” he said.  “Her reason was that you are too dark.”

Roxane lowered her eyes so that he wouldn’t see the hurt in them.  All her life she had been conscious of her dark color even among her own relatives.  They were surprised that a man like Paolo would be attracted to her let alone want to marry her.  “What did you say to that?”

“I told her that when I look at you, I don’t see a woman who is too dark but a beautiful woman with lovely dark skin.  The first time I saw you I couldn’t get over how exquisite you were.”  He bent his head then and kissed her on the side of her neck.

“What else did she say?” she asked, breathless, her skin tingling from where his lips had been.  She looked at him then.

“She said that I should wait and marry an Italian girl who is not Sicilian.”

“Annabella told me about Gianna.  Did you love her?”

He shook his head.  “I was infatuated with her but no, I wasn’t in love with her.”

“So, what did you tell your mother after she told you to wait and marry someone else?”

“I told her that I am going to marry you because I love you and it doesn’t matter what she says.”

“So, you are going against her wishes?”

“Yes.  My mother’s wishes are irrelevant.  I’m a grown man, Roxane.  I know what I want and I want you.  I want to marry you.

Putting her arms around his neck, she kissed him and he responded passionately.  A moment later, he raised his head to gaze at her, his eyes dark and smoldering.  “I love you so much,” he murmured huskily.

“I love you too.”

“Let’s get married here in Milan,” he said.

She drew back slightly to look at him, her eyes wide. “Get married here in Milan?” she exclaimed.

He nodded.  “Yes.  We’ll invite just Annabella and a few friends.”

The thought of getting married here in Milan never once occurred to her but she liked it.  “Yes, let’s do it.”

“I’ll call Annabella later and ask her to make the arrangements.  I’m sure she will be thrilled.”

“Not as thrilled as I am at the moment,” she said before she kissed him.

Three days later their wedding day arrived bright and sunny and without any hitch.  They got married in the same church where Paolo was christened.  Afterwards, they were whisked off to a friend’s villa where the reception was held.  Everything was wonderful—the decorations, the food, the music.  Everyone had a great time.  Noticeably missing was Paolo’s mother but that didn’t dampen his spirits.  He didn’t expect her to come even though he had invited her at Roxane’s suggestion.  In spite of how his mother felt about her, she still felt that she should at least be invited to the wedding and it was up to her to accept or refuse the invitation.

“You look absolutely beautiful,” he told Roxane as he took in his arms for their first dance.

She was wearing an elegant off the shoulder wedding gown which she was fortunate to find and purchase at such short notice.  Annabella had gone to the bridal shop with her one morning and the moment she saw the dress, she knew it was the one.  She tried it on and it was a perfect fit.

She smiled now at Paolo who looked very handsome in his tuxedo.  “You don’t look so bad yourself,” she teased. She turned her head and looked at her hand resting on his chest so that he wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.  She was so happy.  They had a perfect day for their wedding and tonight was simply magical.  His mother’s absence hadn’t spoiled it for her.  She wished, though, her parents could have been there.

He rested his forehead against hers.  “I’m sorry that your parents couldn’t be here,” he said as if reading her thoughts.

“Me too,” she said.  “But, I’m not sorry that we got married here instead of in London as we had planned.  I loved the church and this villa is amazing.  And we get to have our honeymoon here too.  I couldn’t be happier.”

He smiled.  “I’m relieved to hear that.  I want to make you as happy as you have made me.”

She looked at him then, her eyes shining with tears.  “You have made me extremely happy, Paolo, more than you can ever imagine.”

He lowered his head and kissed her as they swayed to the music.

 

happy new wed interracial couple in wedding mood

Sources:  Glam Radar; eBay

A New Life

“It’s so hard to believe that the child who used to disobey me at every opportunity is the same beautiful young woman standing before me now on her special day,” Mrs. Clark said to her daughter, Karen who looked radiant in her wedding dress.  Tears pricked the older woman’s eyes and she quickly blinked them back.

Karen hugged her tightly.  “Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry for all the trouble I gave you when I was growing up.  I know it wasn’t easy for you to be a single parent.  You struggled to make ends meet and to give me the best.  There were some nights when I heard you crying in your room.  I knew you were missing Dad and wishing he were there to help you to raise a wayward daughter.  I thought of running away so that you didn’t have to deal with me any longer but I knew that would only make things worse.  On the night of my fifteenth birthday, I got down on my knees and asked God to change me.  I didn’t want to be a burden to you anymore.   You were such a good mother to me, so patient and forgiving.  You deserved a better daughter.  So, with God’s help, I changed.  And this is what you see before you now. I’m only sorry that it took so long and so much heartache before I came to my senses.”

Mrs. Clark hugged her and looking heavenward, she mouthed a silent prayer of thanks to God for answering the unceasing prayers she had offered up every day for her daughter.  She had been encouraged by various scriptures and had clung to them when the temptation to give up was particularly strong.  Prayer was the strongest crutch a parent had when it came to protecting a child. For as long as she was alive, she would continue to pray for Karen.

They drew apart and Karen smiled.  “I am trying hard not to cry,” she said.  “Mom, I’m so happy, so blessed.  I am about to marry a terrific man and start a new life with him.  I wish Dad were here.”

“He is,” Mrs. Clark said.  “He’s here.” She pressed her hand against Karen’s heart.

“Yes, he is,” Karen agreed, blinking.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I will send your Uncle Jack in.”  Her father’s younger brother had the honor of walking her down the aisle.

“Mom, before you go, will you say a prayer?”

Mrs. Clark smiled.  “Of course, Honey.”  She took Karen’s hands and bowing her head, she prayed.  And the same peace she felt the night before Karen’s transformation filled her and she knew then that all was going to be well.

mother-hugging-bride-1000_0

A Failed Plan

The young ladies were all in a tizzy because Mr. Edmond McFadyen was joining them for dinner that evening.  Mr. Burrows had taken the liberty to extend the long overdue invitation when he had the pleasure of bumping into the young man at the gentlemen’s club that morning.

Ever since the McFadyens had moved into Grand Meadow Manor, Mrs. Burrows had pressed her husband to make their acquaintance.  They were invited to tea but Edmond was not present at the time, much to Mrs. Burrows’ consternation.   She urged Mr. Burrows to invite the young man to dinner and was beside herself with excitement when it was accepted graciously.

Mrs. Burrows clapped her hands in delight.  “Oh, girls,” she said to her daughters, Louise, Evelyn and Henrietta.  “Just think, one of you will win the affections of Edmond McFadyen.” Yes, it was her plan to secure one of her daughters for one of London’s most eligible bachelors.

The girls giggled.  “Oh, Mama,” Henrietta cried, “He is ever so handsome.  Which one of us do you think he will prefer?” she asked her sisters.

“Me,” said Louise.  “I’m the oldest and wisest.”

Evelyn pursed her lips.  “I’m the prettiest.”

Henrietta clucked.  “And I’m the youngest.”

They began to quarrel among themselves and Mrs. Burrows raised her hand.  “Girls, girls, stop fighting among yourselves,” she said.  “We will know soon enough this evening which of you Mr. McFadyen will favor.  Now, why don’t you run upstairs and sort out what you will wear. You must all look your very best, you know.”

“Yes, Mama,” they cried and bustled out of the room, leaving Mrs. Burrows alone with their cousin, Kay.

Kay sat by the fireplace reading a book.  She had listened to the commotion but had kept quiet.  Her aunt would not have welcomed any remark from her.  The older woman had never made her feel welcomed in her home.  And her cousins had always made her plain and inferior.  Only her uncle treated her kindly.  Many an evening they would sit in the library and have stimulating conversations.  He had intimated once that he wished his daughters were more like her.

She could feel her aunt’s gaze on her and she looked up.  The withering stare she received elicited a heavy sigh.  She closed her book.  “Perhaps, you would rather be alone, Aunt Mabel,” she said.  She was about to rise from the chair.

Her aunt waved her to remain seated.  “Don’t leave until I have said what I need to say to you,” she said.

“What is it, Aunt?”

“Don’t imagine for one moment that Mr. McFadyen would pay any attention to you. He is a gentleman.  You are not a gentleman’s daughter.  Your father was a shopkeeper.  I still don’t know what possessed my sister to marry him.”

Kay’s face suffused with color.  She tried to remain calm.  “My father may not have been a gentleman, Aunt, but he was a man of good character and my mother loved him.  As for Mr. McFadyen, I have no given no thought of him paying me any attention that is beyond what is customary.”

“You are not a pretty girl by any means, so I don’t suppose there’s any likelihood that the good gentleman would even notice you.”

Kay opened her mouth to respond to that unkind remark but decided that it was not worth dignifying.  “If you have no further requirements for me, Aunt, I shall excuse myself.”

Her aunt waved her away dismissively.  Getting up from the armchair, Kay made her exit.  Kay spent the rest of the afternoon in her room and when it was time to get ready for dinner, she did so half-heartedly.  She chose the pink gown that flattered her coloring and shape.  She pulled her hair back from her face in a French knot, allowing a few curls to fall across her forehead and brush against her cheeks.  She examined her reflection in the mirror and satisfied that she looked respectable, she left the room.

They were all in the drawing-room, including Mr. McFadyen who was surrounded, poor chap, by her excitable cousins.  All eyes turned in her direction when she entered the room and she felt her face go red.  How she wished she could return to her room.  She would be happier curled up on the bed, reading her book.  A tray could have been brought up.  Her eyes caught the sour expression on her Aunt’s face, the disdained glances of her cousins, the affectionate smile on her Uncle’s face before her gaze drifted to the guest of honor.

He was tall, very stately in appearance and quite handsome.  “This is our niece, Miss Forrester,” she heard her Uncle say.  Mr. McFadyen bowed and she curtsied.

The announcement that dinner was ready came just then and they all went in.  Mr. and Mrs. Burrows preceded the party.  Mr. McFadyen escorted Louise as she was the eldest; her sisters followed, looking rather cross and Kay brought up the rear.

She was seated at the opposite end of the table, as conceivably far from Mr. McFadyen as possible.  No doubt her Aunt’s doing.  Louise sat on his left and Evelyn on his right while Henrietta sat beside Evelyn, much to her displeasure.

However, the evening didn’t go as her Aunt hoped.  Her Uncle kept drawing Kay into the conversation when her Aunt and cousins seemed perfectly happy to ignore her. Mr. McFadyen seemed more interested in what she had to say than the frivolous chatter of her cousins. Kay found that she and Mr. McFadyen had a great deal in common.  They shared a love for History and the Arts.  He had done a great deal of travelling and she listened with rapt interest as he recounted some of his adventures.

The evening turned out to be rather pleasant for Mr. Burrows, Mr. McFadyen and Kay.  Before he left, Mr. McFadyen said to Kay, “Miss Forrester, would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the museum tomorrow?  There are some new Egyptian artifacts on display which I have no doubt you will find fascinating.”

She smiled.  “Thank you, Sir.  I would be delighted to accompany you.”

“I bid you goodnight, Miss Forrester,” he said with a smile and a bow.

“I bid you goodnight, Mr. McFadyen.”  She curtsied.

After he left, she was subjected to malevolent stares from her Aunt and cousins.  “Kay, you should be ashamed of yourself, monopolizing Mr. McFadyen’s attention like that,” Louise scolded her.  “If you weren’t there, he would have paid more attention to me.”

“All that dull talk about History and Art,” Henrietta complained.  “He’s as dull as you, Kay.”

“And what did he say to you just now before he left, might I ask?” demanded Evelyn.

“If you must know, he invited me to accompany him to the museum tomorrow.”

“What?” her Aunt was aghast.  She slumped against the chair, fanning herself with her handkerchief as if she were feeling faint.

Her Uncle chuckled.  “It seems as if Mr. McFadyen has taken a fancy to Kay.”

“A fancy, indeed!  It’s all your fault, Mr. Burrows.  If you had ignored her like the rest of us, Mr. McFadyen would have requested the company of one of our girls.”

“My Dear Lady, it was clear to me that the young gentleman was not at all interested in any of our girls.  Therefore, ignoring Kay would not have changed that fact.  Now, it’s late and I am going to retire.”

Kay thought it a good time to leave as well.  She knew if she stayed, she would be raked over the coals.  “I too must retire.  Goodnight, Uncle.”  She kissed him.  “Goodnight, Aunt, Louise, Evelyn and Henrietta.”  She didn’t wait for them to respond but hurried from the room.

As she ran up the stairs, she felt a deep satisfaction that her Aunt’s plan for Mr. McFadyen had failed.  He was a gentleman, indeed and deserving of a woman who was his equal, not in social status but in character.

 

Source:  Fantasy Name Generators