The Cottage

As she stood there, looking around at the countryside, she wondered if Ryan would be happy to see her.  It had been ten years since they last saw each other.  Ten years was a long time–too long.  She gazed wistfully at the hills they used to run up and down when they were children, wallowing in the sludge much to his mother’s chagrin.   Once they climbed the oak tree behind his grandmother’s cottage to see a Robin’s nest.  In it were three blue eggs lying closely next to each other.  How she used to look forward to the holidays when she would see Ryan.  They were thick as thieves and got into plenty of mischief.

Then, things changed between them as they got older.  They developed feelings for each other but were careful to hide them when other people were around.  She remembered the first time they kissed.  It was the same day she arrived at Northampton to spend the summer holidays before Ryan started university.  She had climbed up the oak tree again to see if there was anything in the bird’s nest.  It was empty.  Disappointed, she started to climb back down the tree.  He reached up and helped her down.  They were standing very close to each other, his hands were on her waist and their bodies were inches apart.  She looked up at him and found him staring at her with a curious expression on his face.

She watched as his lips drew closer until they were on hers, tentative at first but deepened when he felt her response.  She felt him pull her closer against him and she put her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly as they kissed passionately.  This lasted for several minutes, and then he drew back, his face flushed.  He grabbed her hand and pulled her behind him as he ran across the lawn.

“Where are we going?” she asked, breathless from the kisses and trying to keep up with him.

“To the cottage.”

“But, your grandmother–”

“She won’t be back for a while.  We’ve got the place all to ourselves.”

He let them into the cottage through the back door.  They ran up the stairs to one of the bedrooms and as soon as they were inside, he pulled her into his arms and began to kiss her as he backed her over to the bed, dragging off his shirt as he did so.  In no time, their clothes were in a heap on the floor and they were under the covers making love.  They made love several times after that whenever his grandmother was away.

The one afternoon when they were in the throes of passion, the door opened.  The audible gasp and the slamming of the door jolted them and they broke apart.  Ryan’s face went pale when he saw his mother standing there and Tamara pulled the sheets up to her chin, feeling ashamed.

“I came over here to check on your grandmother and this is what I find,” Mrs. Bellamy muttered between clenched teeth, her face beet red.  She marched over to the strewn clothes on the floor and threw them at them.  “Get dressed now!”  She marched out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

As soon as she was gone, they jumped out of the bed and quickly got dressed.  Wordlessly, they straightened the sheets and then left the room.  She was waiting for them downstairs in the living-room.  “Ryan, go back to the manor and wait for me in the study.  Tamara and I need to talk.”

Ryan looked like he was about to say something but thought better of it.  He reached out and squeezed Tamara’s hand before leaving the room.  Left alone with Mrs. Bellamy, Tamara was petrified.  She stared at the floor.

“Tamara, I want you to go back to the house and pack your bags.  The car will take you to the train station.  You’re not welcome here anymore.”

Tamara raised her head, her eyes wide with shock and distress.  “You mean I won’t see Ryan ever again?” The thought was unbearable.  “But, we love each other…”

“What do you know about love?” Mrs. Bellamy demanded.  “He’s eighteen and you’re just sixteen.  You’re too young to know anything about love.  I can’t let you remain here—not after what has been going between you.  I have to be the responsible one in this and as long as the two of you are under the same roof, I can’t trust you.  So, you will leave Twin Oaks Manor now.”

“Will I get to say goodbye to Ryan?” She was crying now, her heart breaking.  Mrs. Bellamy watched her, her face devoid of any mercy.  Tamara’s tears didn’t move her.  In fact, they seemed to have the opposite effect.

“I’m afraid not,” she said coldly.  “I don’t want him to make a scene.  Now, when we get back to the manor, I will keep him busy in the study while you go and pack.  Please be quick about it.  The sooner you leave the better.”

Tears came to Tamara’s eyes now as she remembered walking back to the manor, head held down, tears streaming down her face, the ache in her heart at the prospect of not even getting to say goodbye to Ryan.  She and Mrs. Bellamy parted in the foyer.  She ran upstairs to her room and packed her suitcase as quickly as she could.  Before leaving, she wrote a note and hid it in the top drawer of Ryan’s dresser, under some vests.   She had thought of leaving it on his pillow but couldn’t risk his mother or anyone else seeing it.  Then, she walked out of the doors for the last time and got into the waiting car.  As it pulled away, she looked up at the window of the study, hoping for a glimpse of Ryan but none was forthcoming.  That was ten years ago.

She had written Ryan over the years but all of her letters were returned unopened.  She never received any from him.  She went to university and buried herself in her studies but always, she thought about him and longed to see him.  Finally, she couldn’t stay away any longer and decided that after she graduated from university, she would come to Northampton at the first opportunity.  She and Ryan were adults now and Mrs. Bellamy couldn’t prevent them from resuming their relationship even if she wanted to.

Would Ryan want to pick up where they left off, though?  Did he still love her?  She had never stopped loving him.  He was her first and only love.   She had the opportunity to date other guys but she wasn’t interested in any of them.

She turned and walked along the path to the cottage and made her way to that oak tree.  Gingerly, she climbed up and looked into the nest.  This time there were two baby robins in the nest.  She smiled and was tempted to touch them but decided not to.  She watched them for a while and then carefully made her way down the tree.  As she touched the ground, she heard a dog barking.  Curious, she went around the front of the cottage and stopped short when she saw Ryan at the fence, a bag carrying what looked like a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder and holding the leash of the barking dog.  Her heart began to pound.

He was standing there, watching her, his expression unreadable.  He was ten years older and gone were the boyish features.  He was a man now.  And he was even more handsome.  His thick dark hair looked slightly tousled.  Her fingers itched to bury themselves in it like she used to when they made love.

“Hush Rover,” he said to the dog.  The animal stopped barking, sat down and simply stared at her.   Ryan turned to look at her.  “What are you doing here?”

She moved closer.  “I came to see you,” she said.  She wanted so much to throw her arms around him.  Seeing him again brought back memories of the happy times they spent together and the love they shared before they were separated.  “It has been a long time.”

“Ten years to be exact.  Why did you leave without saying goodbye?”

“I wanted to but your mother won’t let me.  I wrote you a note.”

“I saw it.  I still have it.  It was all I had from you.”

She frowned.  “But, I wrote to you.”

“I never received any letters from you.”

“They were all returned to me, saying on them ‘return to sender’.”

“Every day I checked the mail to see if you had written but I didn’t see any letters.  I wanted to write you but I didn’t have an address.”

“I tried emailing you but my emails came back undelivered.”

“I changed my email address but had no way of letting you know that because yours didn’t work either.”

“That’s because my mother restricted my access to the Internet when she caught me once trying to email you.  I was only allowed to use the Internet for school assignments.  As soon as I finished university, got a job and found a flat, I moved out.  I searched the telephone directory for your number and when I called, your mother answered.  She told me never to call again and hung up.”

“Even before she caught us together, she had been complaining about how much time we were spending together.  She felt that I should have had more friends and show an interest in girls.  She had a particular girl in mind.  Emily Rosen.  Mother kept trying to throw us together but I wasn’t interested.  How could I be when my heart belonged to someone else?  Mother eventually gave up.  However, she became even more determined to keep us apart.  She made sure that while I was at university, I wasn’t allowed any calls or visits from anyone outside of the immediate family.”

Tamara sighed, her expression one of deep regret.  “I had hoped that she wasn’t still holding a grudge against me.  I haven’t been to the main house because I didn’t want to run into her.”

“Mother’s not here.  She’s visiting my grandmother in the nursing home.  Grandmother has Parkinson’s.”

“I’m really sorry to hear that.  I like your grandmother.  She has always been very kind to me.”

“Yes, she was rather fond of you.  After you left, I spent most of my time at the cottage with her.  I couldn’t stand being at the house.  I would go to the guest room, lie on the bed, close my eyes and think about you.  Grandmother knew that I was unhappy and although I said nothing to her about it, she knew that it was on account of you.  That is why she gave me the cottage.  She believed that you would come back. ”

She swallowed hard.  “I had to come back,” she said huskily.

His eyes darkened and he made a move toward her but then changed his mind and turned instead towards the cottage.  “Let’s go inside.”

She followed and when they were inside, he put the bag with the rifle away and then unleashed the dog.  The animal bounded over to his favorite spot on the rug and lay down.  “How long have you had him?” she asked as Ryan removed his jacket and took hers when she took it off.

“I’ve had him for about four years.  We go for long walks.  He loves the countryside as much as you did.”  He went to hang the coats in the closet.  “Why did you come back, Tamara?” he asked when he rejoined her.  His expression was taut.

She walked over to him.  “You know why,” she said, her eyes wide as they met his stormy ones.

A muscle began to throb along his jawline.  “I want you to tell me,” he muttered thickly.

“I came back because I still love you,” she admitted.  “I never stopped loving you.”

He groaned and reaching for her, he pulled her roughly against him.  “And I still love you,” he cried.  “I couldn’t stop loving you even if I tried.  You fill my thoughts, my senses and my heart. The ten years we’ve been apart have been torture for me.”

She reached up and cupped his face between her hands.  “For me too,” she murmured.  “That’s why I had to come back to Northampton and you.”

“I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come back.”

“Hush,” she whispered before she began kissing him.  His arms tightened around her and he responded hungrily to her kisses.

For several minutes they exchanged passionate kisses as years of pent up desires and long denied feelings swept through them like a tidal wave.  Then, he broke off the kiss and picked her up.  He carried her up the stairs and to the guest room.  He kicked the door shut and strode over to the bed where he laid her down.  He was breathing heavily as he watched her lying there on the coverlet.  He hastily removed his clothes and then climbed in next to her.  His mouth found hers and as he ravaged her lips, he dragged her top over her head.  Soon they were making passionate love and her fingers gripped his hair, reveling at the feel of the soft, silky locks.

Sometime later, Ryan got up and went over to the dresser.  He took something out of it and closed the drawer.  He walked over to the bed and went on the side where she was.  She stared up at him.  He got down on his knees beside her.  Curious, she raised herself up on her elbows.  He showed her the box.  “I bought this in January,” he said.  He opened the box and took out the sparkling ring.  “I wanted to believe what Grandmother told me.  I wanted to believe that you would come back to me.”

Tamara stared at the ring and then at him, tears glistened in her eyes.  “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.

He took her hand and looking up into her face, he asked huskily, “Will you marry me?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak and he slipped it on.

He rose from his knees and went back to his side of the bed.  After he climbed in he turned on his side and propping his head on his hand, he gazed at her.  “When you find true love, you hold on to it,” he said quietly.  “You are my one and true love.  I lost you once and I don’t want to lose you again.”

“You never lost me,” she said, settling down again.  “I came back because I’m yours forever.”  She reached up and pulled his head down to hers.  As they kissed, she thought of Mrs. Bellamy and how her plan to sever their attachment had failed.  The separation had only proven that in spite of their youth, they had known all along what true love was.

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The Fashion Show

Martin glanced at his friend, Albert and was amused when he saw him staring at Brenda who was strutting down the runway, hands on hips and big smile on her face as she modeled the black and white 50’s looking dress.  The fashion show was actually a charitable event and sponsored by Martin’s company.  After much cajoling, he managed got his friend to come.  Until now, Albert had seemed unimpressed and rather bored with the fashion show.  None of the beautiful women who walked past him got his notice.  And then, Brenda walked out.  Albert glanced up with the same bored expression on his face which immediately changed when he saw her.  His eyes followed her up and down the runway.

Martin leaned over and said in a low voice.  “She’s a stunner, isn’t she?”

Albert didn’t answer.  He watched as she paused at the end of the runway before heading back in his direction.  As she drew nearer, he sat forward, anxious to see her.  She stopped right in front of him.  After acknowledging Martin, she shifted her attention to Albert.  Their eyes met and he felt his heart stop when she smiled at him.   Then, she was gone.

“Would you like to meet her?” Martin asked him.

Albert watched her retreating figure until she disappeared from view before he turned to his friend.  “Yes.”

Martin grinned.  “Good,” he said.  “You’ll meet her after the show.”

“Is she going to come out again?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Albert looked disappointed.  He sat back in his seat, anxious for the show to be over so that he could meet the model who had captivated him.

She was standing on the terrace, looking down at the gardens when they joined her half hour later.  She was wearing a simple orange pant suit which complimented her complexion and flattered her figure.  As she watched them approach, her gaze went to the tall and attractive man with the thick dark brown hair, dressed in the dark grey sweater over a white shirt and dark grey trousers.  The glasses he wore suited him.  She didn’t usually go for the preppy, nerdy type but something about his guy made her pulse race and heart do somersaults.  He looked shy.  She liked that. He would be a welcome change to the obnoxious and overbearing men who usually hit on her.

“Brenda, thank you for being a part of a very worthy cause,” Martin said when they joined her.  “You looked really great out there.  Have you ever considered modelling for a new career?”

She laughed.  “No, the thought never occurred to me.  Besides, I’m too short.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I had fun.” Unable to resist, her gaze shifted to his friend who was watching her.  Behind the eyeglasses, she could see that he had beautiful, expressive eyes.

Martin observed them, smiling.  “Brenda, this is my good friend, Albert.”

Albert was nervous.  He tried not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  His gaze was riveted to her face.  “Hello,” he said when what he really wanted to say was, I’m so very pleased to meet you.  He took the hand she offered and clasped it in a firm handshake.  Her fingers felt small and delicate in his, yet they had the power to stir feelings in him which he never experienced before.  His heart was pounding and he began to worry that he might make an utter fool of himself.  In all of his forty years, not once had he had ever been tongue-tied or nervous around a woman.

She smiled at him.  “I’m very pleased to meet you, Albert,” she told him.  “Did you enjoy the fashion show?”

He realized that he was still holding her hand and he released it.  He put his hands behind his back in an attempt to appear relaxed.  “The last bit of it,” he said.  He didn’t want to admit that until she walked out, he was bored out of his mind.

“I’m not into fashion shows but I don’t mind doing them if it’s for charity.”

Martin chimed in.  “If you two will excuse me, I have to go and find Margot.” He left them and headed off to find the fashion photographer whom he was currently dating.  Margot used to be a model until she decided that she liked being behind the lens better.

Alone together, Albert and Brenda became intensely aware of each other.  They couldn’t hide their attraction for each other even if they tried.  “You really are very beautiful,” Albert said to her, his expression tense.

She had been paid many compliments before but she was never affected by them as she was by his.  Albert made her feel beautiful just by the way he said it and the way he looked at her as he said it.  “Thank you,” she replied.

“I’m not usually this bold,” he sounded apologetic, “but I was wondering if perhaps, we can go for a walk in the gardens?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

“What do you do when you’re not modeling for charity?” he asked as they strolled across the well manicured lawn.

“I work at a law firm.  When I’m not working, I like to curl up with a good book.  What about you?”

“I’m a Financial Director at Shadoworks Company.  I like to write essays in my spare time.  Just recently, I wrote how the words of Christ, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, would be the panacea for the social ills plaguing our society such as abuse, bullying, racism, violence, oppression, sexual harassment.”

“And gender inequality, rape and human trafficking.  This world would be such a different place if we all were to follow the teachings of Christ.  I’d like to read your essay.”

He smiled, flattered that she wanted to read something he had written.  “It’s in the Opinion section of the April 4 issue of the Daily Observer.

“I like the Daily Observer.  It has great articles and it’s not afraid to address sensitive issues.  Yesterday I read a very frank and informative article on sexual harassment in the workplace.  At my firm, we deal with hundreds of cases of sexual discrimination and harassment and bullying in the workplace.”

“I would imagine that it becomes overwhelming sometimes, having to deal with such cases.”

“It does.  I still remember the case of a lawyer whose was being sexually harassed by one of the partners at the law firm where she used to work.  She sued him and the firm and won.  Now she has her own practice helping women who are victims of sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, including law firms.”

“It’s unfortunate but sometimes people have to go through terrible experiences so that they could turn around and help others.  But, you like what you do.”

“Yes.  I like being a part of the solution.  Although I have been working there for four years, compared to the others, I am still the neophyte of the firm but every day I am learning and growing.”

They found somewhere to sit and talked for a long while about different things, learning more about each other and finding that they have a lot in common.  Then, he glanced at his watch and an expression of deep regret came over his face as he looked at her.  “I’m afraid that I must go,” he said apologetically.  “I have a pressing engagement.  It’s my niece’s piano recital,” he added quickly when he saw the look on her face.

She smiled, relieved and stood up.  “How old is your niece?” she asked as they started back to the building where the crowd was starting to disperse.

“She’s fourteen.”

“What is she playing?”

“I believe it’s a piece by Mozart.”

“I wish I learned how to play the piano.  It’s my favorite musical instrument.  I am a big fan of Chopin.”

“I’m more partial to the violin and Bach.”  They were standing at the foot of the steps now.  “Do you need a lift to anywhere?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but my sister, June is meeting me here in about fifteen minutes.  I’m spending the rest of the day with her and her family.”

“I really enjoyed our time together,” he said quietly, his eyes serious on her face.

“Me too.”

There was a pause as he seemed to be contemplating something. “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?” he asked, his expression hopeful and apprehensive at the same time.

“Yes, I will,” she said.  She opened her handbag and after tearing out a sheet of paper from the back of her address book, she wrote her address and phone number.  She folded it and gave it to him.

“I’ll pick you up at seven” he said as he took the paper and tucked it in his wallet.  “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“See you tomorrow.”  She watched him ascend the steps and waved when he stopped to glance back at her.  When he disappeared from her sight, she stood there for a moment, thinking about him and how much she had enjoyed his company.  Then, she went to meet her sister at the front entrance of the building.  As soon as she got into the car, she said to her, “I met him today.”

June stared at her.  “Who’re you talking about?” she asked, pulling away from the curb.

“The man I’m going to marry.”

June laughed.  “Really?” she exclaimed, sounding very skeptical.  “And what made you come to that conclusion?”

“I used to think that love at first sight was a foolish romantic notion but today it happened to me.”

June glanced at her and realized, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.  We spent about an hour just talking and getting to know each other.  I loved being with him. He’s so different from the men I usually go for.  We had the most stimulating conversation and I could have sat there all day just talking to him but he had to go to his niece’s recital.  He asked me to have dinner with him tomorrow evening.”

“Wow.  I wish I’d come earlier to meet him.”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll meet him.”

“Does he know that he’s going to marry you?” June teased her.

“Maybe not as yet”

She thought about him for the rest of the day, wondering how his niece’s recital went and if he was thinking about the time they spent together.  She looked forward to seeing him the following evening and was thankful when it arrived.

He showed up at promptly seven wearing a black suit over a white shirt and no tie.  His hair was slightly damp, a few tresses falling across his forehead and he was not wearing his glasses.  He looked so handsome that she couldn’t stop staring.  “I’m wearing contacts,” he said unnecessarily.  Perhaps he was as nervous as she.

Her heart was pounded wildly, especially when she saw his eyes travel over her and the expression in them when they returned to her face.  She was wearing a Burgundy Long Sleeve Shift Dress with rounded neckline and long sleeves with lightly puffed shoulders.  Long, shapely legs clad in sheer hosiery, peeped out from under the hem and black dress pumps completed the outfit.  “I didn’t think it was possible for you to be even more beautiful than you already are.”

“Thank you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  He offered her his arm which she took and they walked to the lift.  Fortunately, for her it was a balmy evening but she had brought her shawl just in case.  On the way to the restaurant she asked him about his niece’s recital and as he talked about it, she could tell that he was very proud of her.

They went to a modern French restaurant in Covent Garden.  It was reputed to be the world’s most romantic restaurant.  They started with the Crispy Parmesan Polenta & Saint Marcellin Cheese and for the main course, she had the Oven Roasted Free Range Chicken Leg Stuffed with Duck Liver & Truffle while he had the Pan Roasted Organic Irish Sea Trout as they each enjoyed a glass of white wine.  They had a lively conversation and made plans to see each other again.  For dessert, they had both had the Greek Yogurt & Lemon Zest Mousse, Yuzu Curd & Honey Comb.

After dinner, they drove to Canary Wharf.  He parked the car and took her on a little tour of the office district, showing her the building where he worked.  The place looked beautiful at night and the tall office buildings reminded her a little of Manhattan.  “How long does it take you to drive to work?” she asked as they walked back to the car about half-hour later.

“Approximately 35 minutes, depending on the traffic.  Longer during the winter.”

“I like it here.  Very busy, upscale and lots to see.”

“I will bring you here again another time and we can spend a longer time, walking around and perhaps go to a concert, if you like that sort of thing.  We can grab dinner afterwards.”

“That sounds wonderful,” she said smiling as she got into the car.  “Thank you for dinner.”

“It was my pleasure.  Do you have any plans for tomorrow?”

“No.”

“I was thinking that we can go on the Little Venice to Camden Walk.  Someone at work mentioned it to me a while ago and I have been meaning to look into it.  Afterwards, we can visit the Waterside Café before the walk.

“I didn’t know that there was a Little Venice in London.  Sounds very interesting.  I would love to go.”

“I read online that it was named such by the poet Robert Browning who lived overlooking the canal in the 1800s. I’ve never been to Venice but hope to one of these days.”

On the drive to her flat, they talked more about their plans for the following day.  Outside of her door, he said goodnight and then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  They held each other’s gaze for several minutes before he turned and walked away.  She watched him go, touching the side of her face where his lips had been before she went inside her flat.

They went for the Little Venice to Camden Walk and had a wonderful time.  After that, they started seeing each other on a regular basis and by the end of the year, they were dating each other exclusively.  Spring of the following year came and it was when they were in walking in St. James’ Park that he turned to her and said, “I have been meaning to say something to you all morning.”  They were standing at the western end of the park from where they had a clear view of Buckingham Palace.

She stared up at him, wondering what was on his mind.  He looked very serious, nervous.  He took her hands in his and clasped them.

“I love you, Brenda,” he confessed.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.  You came into my life and changed it completely.  The times you and I have spent together have been the happiest for me.  I can’t imagine my life without you in it.  So, if you have no objection and I hope and pray that you don’t, I am asking you to marry me.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She raised their entwined hands to her lips and kissed his.  Her heart was in her eyes when she raised them to his face.  “I love you too, Albert,” she admitted huskily.  “Until I met you, I didn’t believe in love at first sight.  Of course, I will marry you.  You’re the man for me.”

Albert released an unsteady breath and letting go of her hands, he hugged her around her waist and pulled her against him.  He bent his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  For several minutes they stood there, kissing while the ducks waddled about the grass before some of them headed for the pond.

At length, he drew back and said, “I have something for you.”  He reached into his pants pocket and took out the box with the ring.  He opened it and her eyes widened when she saw the exquisite diamond.  He took it out and taking her hand, he gently slid it down her finger.  It was a perfect fit.  When he raised his eyes to look at her, they were filled with emotions.  “I love you.”

She swallowed.  “I love you,” she managed to say and then he kissed her again.  They left that spot a few minutes later, his arm was around her shoulder and hers was around his waist.

They had a summer wedding.  June was her matron of honor.  When they had a chance to speak, Brenda said to her with a smile and a wink, “I told you that I was going to marry him.”

June laughed.  “Yes, you did.  And after meeting him and getting to know him, I can see why he’s the one you ended up with.” She hugged her younger sister tightly.  “I wish you both the very best and God’s many blessings.”

“Thank you.”

It was a lovely reception and afterwards, they left for their honeymoon in Venice.  They did return to Canary Wharf and it was when they were sitting on a bench, having sandwiches that she told him they were going to have their first child.  She laughed when he almost choked on his.  He quickly put it back in the paper and put it down on the seat beside him before turning to hug her tightly, burying his face in her neck.  She hugged him back as she felt his tears wet her neck.  They sat like that for a long time.

Sources:  Fantasy Names Generator; Findlaw; Lulu’s Fashion; YouTube; Trip Savvy

The Flirtation

Christian was pulling on his shirt when the doorbell rang. He quickly buttoned it and tucked in his trousers before leaving the bedroom to go and open the door. He peered through the keyhole and smiled when he saw that it was Amanda.

He buttoned his cuffs after opening the door and stood there in the aperture, his gaze travelling over her slim figure in the light grey skirt suit and the dark purple tee top underneath. “Good morning,” he said softly. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Amanda tried to ignore the fact that he looked incredibly handsome in the stark white shirt that accentuated his olive skin and tried to avoid looking into those amazing eyes of his which seemed to see right through her. She showed him the folder she had in her hand. “I brought over the proxy form for you to take with you to the shareholders’ meeting in Boston. Your uncle has already signed it.”

Christian glanced down at it. “You didn’t have to bring it over here, you know,” he said. “I could have easily dropped by the office before heading to the airport.”

“I wanted to save you the trouble,” she said, still avoiding his eyes.

“Well, thank you for taking the trouble. I appreciate it. I would ask you to come in but I am pressed for time.”

“I didn’t come to stay,” she replied shortly. “I just came to drop this off. I have to be heading to the office now.” She held the folder out to him.

He took it but not without deliberately brushing his fingers against her hand. It was then that her eyes flew up to his face and his darkened when he saw what was reflected in them. “Before you leave, let me give you something to think about,” he muttered and before she knew what was happening, he put one arm around her waist and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp. Then his mouth was on hers, moving passionately and unable to help herself, she responded.

They stood there for several minutes exchanging feverish kisses and then, he raised his head to stare down into her upturned face, his own flushed. “I’ll see you when I get back,” he said and released her.

She stood there, trying to catch her breath. Her legs felt like jelly and without saying a word, she turned and made her way to the lift. She pressed the button frantically and was relieved when the doors opened. She stepped inside and after pressing for the lobby, she leaned against the panel. Her lips were throbbing from the onslaught of his and her hand still tingled where his fingers had caressed it. She hadn’t seen that coming. He had always flirted with her but she didn’t think he was serious. A moment ago, she was proven wrong. It was very clear that he was attracted to her and she couldn’t hide the fact that she was attracted to him too. Now what? She worked for his uncle. Would the old man approve?

Widowed and childless, Christian was all the family he had and he treated him more as a son than a nephew, no doubt planning to one day leave the business to him. He seemed to have Christian’s future all planned and it wouldn’t surprise her if he had someone in mind for him to one day marry. Perhaps, he already did. Her mind went to Hope, the pretty blonde whom she had seen Christian with on several occasions.

Mr. Walker seemed very taken with her and always talking about how lucky the man who married her would be and following that latter remark, his gaze would immediately alight on his nephew, leaving no doubt that he hoped for a match between them. Amanda would say nothing. It wasn’t her place to but the idea of Christian marrying Hope bothered her more than she cared to admit.

Christian didn’t flirt with her when his uncle was around. Usually, they were alone when he did and it disconcerted her because she didn’t know if he was simply amusing himself at her expense. Now she knew that his interest in her was real and not a game. The doors drew open and she stepped out of the lift. She stumbled down the steps and climbed into the taxi cab waiting at the curb.

As it headed to the office, she leaned her head against the back of the seat and closed her eyes. How she was going to get through the day now, she had no idea. Her thoughts would be filled with Christian and what happened between them in the hallway outside of his flat. Already, she missed him and he hadn’t even left the country as yet. He would be gone for a week. She hoped the days would go by quickly so that she could see him again.

When she got to the office, Mr. Walker was already there. She opened her desk drawer, put her handbag in before she went to see him. He smiled as she approached his desk. “Good morning, Amanda,” he greeted her jovially. “Did you have a good weekend?”

“Good morning, Mr. Walker. Yes, I had a good weekend, thank you. I wanted to let you know that I dropped off the proxy form at Christian’s flat.”

“That’s fine, fine. I think it would be good experience for him to AGM meeting for a change. I have been attending them for years. It’s time for someone younger and just as capable to attend in my absence. And it’s good for our business partners to get better acquainted with Christian who will soon be taking over the reins—it’s only a matter of time.”

She stood there not sure of what to say next. “I have been Boston and it’s a great city,” she finally remarked. “I hope he will set aside some time for sightseeing.”

“Yes, yes,” he agreed. “It’s too bad Hope isn’t with him. I’m sure she would enjoy seeing something of the city too.”

It was then that Amanda decided to excuse herself. She didn’t want to hear him go on and on about Hope. At her desk, she got busy with work, although more frequently than not, her mind drifted to incident between Christian and her. She closed her eyes every time she remembered the sensation of his lips on hers. Once when she did that, she was startled when she suddenly heard Mr. Walker’s voice above her.

Flustered, she apologized to him and tried to concentrate on what he was instructing her to do. For the rest of the day, she forced herself to focus on her job and to put Christian out of her mind. At home, when she was alone, she could afford to think about him as much as she wanted.

She was relieved when Friday evening came and looked forward to a quiet weekend. The phone rang when she was about to fix herself something for dinner. “Hello?”

“Hello Amanda.” It was Christian.

Her heartbeat began to accelerate. He was calling her from Boston. “How do you like Boston?” she asked, sinking down to the floor and leaning against the wall.

“It’s nice but would be much nicer if you were here with me,” he said. “I miss you, Amanda. Do you miss me?”

“Yes,” the word came out as a breathless whisper.

“I can’t stop thinking about what happened between us the day you came to my flat.”

“I—I think about it a lot too,” she admitted.

“I want to see you as soon as I get back.”

“When will you be back?”

“On Sunday around noon or early afternoon. I want to see you in the evening.”

“Okay. I’ll-I’ll be here.”

They spoke for a while later and then he had to go. “Good night, Amanda.”

“Good night, Christian.”

After she hung up the phone, she sat there for a long while, trying to process what had just happened. Christian had called her from Boston just to tell her that he missed her and wanted to see her when he got back. She wondered what Mr. Walker would say if he only knew. He would have a fit. As fond of her as he was, she wasn’t a suitable choice for his beloved nephew. He would definitely fire her. Standing up, she decided that she wouldn’t worry about Mr. Walker just yet. Instead, she would plan a nice homemade dinner for Christian.

Sunday afternoon, she prepared the Baked rice with chicken and chorizo. It took two hours to cook so by the time Christian showed up it would be nice and hot out of the oven. After she showered and got dressed she shared the dinner out and sprinkled the chopped parsley on top. She served it with a green salad.

Just as she put the stuff out on the table, the doorbell rang. She glanced at the clock. It was exactly six. Christian was always very punctual. Excited, she rushed to the door and opened it. Her eyes ran eagerly over his tall frame. He looked gorgeous in the black silk shirt and black jeans. His hair was slightly damp and a few strands fell rakishly across his forehead.

Pulse racing and heart pounding, she pulled him inside and closed the door. After locking it, she turned to face him and he reached for her, pulling her against him. Their lips locked in a heated kiss which lasted for several minutes before she drew back to gasp, “I made dinner. It’s on the table.”

He smiled. “I didn’t realize that I was hungry until you mentioned dinner.”
She took his hand and led him over to the dining table which was nicely set and ready for them to sit down and eat. Two glasses were on the table and a bottle of non-alcoholic wine. They sat down and after she sat Grace they tucked into the salad first and then the pasta dish.

“Hmmm, this is delicious,” Christian said.

She smiled. “Thank you. It’s a recipe I have been meaning to try for a long time.”

“I’m honored,” he said and had another mouthful.

As they ate, he told her what it was like being at the AGM meeting and the places he was able to visit in Boston during his free time. For dessert she served Roasted banana & cinnamon ice cream. After placing the dirty dishes and glasses in the dishwasher, she joined him on the terrace where he stood, looking out at the city lights and the Tower Bridge in the distance.

He turned when he heard her and reaching for her he held her in his arms. She put her arms around his neck. “You know your uncle would have a fit if he saw us together like this,” she remarked.

“It doesn’t matter what he thinks,” Christian told her. “I’m not a child. I know he has plans for me but I have my own plans.”

“He has his heart set on you marrying Hope–”

“I don’t love Hope. I never did. We went out a few times but it was never serious for me.”

“I’m happy to hear that don’t love her.”

“Why is that?” he asked. “Why are you happy that don’t love Hope?”

She swallowed. “Because I love you,” she admitted.

He groaned. “And I love you.” He lowered his head and kissed her.

They kissed for a long time and then she drew back to ask him, “What are you going to tell your uncle?”

“I’ll simply tell him that I love you and that I want to marry you.”

She blinked. “Marry me?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I have the ring here with me.” He reached into his pants pocket and produced a black box. “I bought it when I was in Boston.”

She gaped at the diamond ring as he took it out of the box.

“Will you marry me, Amanda?” he asked. “I know we haven’t dated but I don’t want to be your boyfriend, I want to be your husband. I know without a doubt that you’re the woman for me. I knew it since the first time we met.”

She managed to say “Yes.” Tears sprang to her eyes as he slipped the ring on her finger and then his lips were on hers again. She closed her eyes and hugged him tightly around the neck as she responded to his kisses.  It didn’t matter what Mr. Walker did now.  He couldn’t prevent the inevitable from happening.

Sources:  Jamie Oliver; Lux Bond & Green

The Move Back

After moving to Montreal in search of more employment opportunities and living there for four years, Elise decided to move back to Paris.  Living in Montreal made her nostalgic for the little cafes she used to haunt in the Latin Quarter.  She missed her family and friends.  Most of all, she missed Jules.

She found out from his mother that he was living in Marais.  When she looked at the address, she saw that it was within walking distance from her parent’s home.  His mother was happy to see her and they had a nice, long chat.  Elise asked her not to let Jules know that she was back.  She wanted to surprise him.  After promising to visit again, she left.

She went home and took a quick shower.  As she got dressed, she wondered how Jules would react when he saw her.  The night before she left for Canada, they had dinner at a restaurant which offered a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower.  They talked about her move to Canada and after dinner, they went for a walk along the Seine River.  It was a beautiful night.  “Where will you stay?” he asked.

“I have an aunt who lives in Montreal.  I will stay with her until I find a job.”

He looked at her.  “I will miss you,” he said quietly.

She looked up at him.  “I will miss you too.”

“You will keep in touch, won’t you?”

“Of course, I will.”

They stood there for a moment, facing each other.  For a brief and maddening moment, she wanted him to kiss her.  “I’d better take you home,” he said.  “You have an early flight in the morning.”

Disappointed, she turned and fell into step beside him as they walked to his car.  They didn’t say much on the ride over to her house.  He walked her to the door and when they were standing out there, he reached down and hugged her.  She closed her eyes and hugged him back.  When he drew back, he stared down into her face for a long moment during which her heart was pounding fast and hard.  Then, he leaned over and kissed her.

It began as a tentative caress and then turned into a passionate kiss.  She reached up and gripped the sides of his jacket as she kissed him back.  This lasted for several minutes and then he pulled back and muttered, “Goodbye, Elise.”  Before she could say anything, he turned and quickly walked away from her.

She watched him go, her heart breaking.  Her parents were still up but she went straight up to her room and didn’t leave it until it was time to have breakfast before heading to the airport.

The next time she saw him it was in the summer of the following year.  She had no idea that he was in Montreal until he called her one afternoon from his hotel room.  Excited, she dropped everything and took a taxi over to the hotel.  She knocked on the door and it was opened immediately.  He smiled at her as she stood there in her tan colored jacket over a white dress, arms folded and grinning broadly.  Then she was throwing her arms around him, almost knocking him over.  “It’s so good to see you,” she exclaimed as they hugged.

“It’s good to see you too,” he said when they drew apart.  He pulled her into the room and closed the door.  Before she had a chance to look around the suite, his arms were around her waist and he was pulling her roughly against him.  “I’ve missed you so much,” he muttered thickly before he lowered his head and kissed her.  Elise’s arms traveled over his arms and found their way around his neck as she responded to his fiery kisses.

They ended up spending the rest of the afternoon in his suite and he ordered room service.  He spent three weeks which went by very quickly.  After that they saw each in the summer and over the Christmas holidays.

The knock on her bedroom door interrupted her daydreaming and she went and opened the door.  It was her mother.  “Your Aunt Lourdes invited us for dinner tonight,” she said.  “Would you like to join us?”

“Sorry, Maman, but I have other plans.  I’m going to see Jules.”

“So it is serious between Jules and you?”

Elise nodded.  “Yes, it is.”

“Well, I’m happy for you.  Jules is a very nice young man.  His mother did a very good job raising him.  I’ll see you later then.”  She turned to leave and then paused.  She looked over her shoulder.  “It is good to have you home again.”

“It’s good to be home, Maman,” she said.  When she was alone again, she quickly fixed her hair and checked herself in the mirror before hurrying out of the bedroom.  Five minutes later she was walking to Jules’ apartment building.

It was the last day in April so the weather was beginning to warm up somewhat.  The cashmere sweater she wore with the skinny jeans kept her warm and they looked great with her ballerina apartments.  As she hurried down the sidewalk, she hoped Jules was home.  He was.  When she rang the doorbell, she heard his footsteps and then the sound of the latch being pulled back.

He opened the door and started when he saw her.  His eyes grew wide.

“Surprise,” she said, laughing.

He stood there staring at her.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.  Then collecting himself, he took her arm and pulled her inside the apartment.  After closing and locking the door, he turned to look at her.  “Why didn’t you call or email me to tell me that you were going to be in Paris.”

“I wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, you succeeded.  How long are you here for?”

“I’m here for good.  I’m not going back to Montreal.  I moved back to Paris.”

“When did you move back?”

“This morning.  I’m staying at my parents’ house for now.”  He looked so cute in his white polo tee shirt and blue jeans.  “How many of these things do you have?” she asked, tugging at the sleeve.

“Too many,” he replied dryly.  He reached for her and pulled her against him, his eyes dropping to her lips, his parting in anticipation.  “Kiss me.”

“I thought you’d never ask,” she murmured huskily before she reached up and pulled his head down to hers.

Several hours later, they were relaxing on the sofa.  She was wearing his robe.  She turned to look at him, reaching over and running her fingers through his hair which was still a bit damp from the shower.  He rested his hand on her thigh.  “Why did you really move to Montreal?” he asked.

“I was trying to prove something to myself.  Growing up, I always felt so unsure of myself.  I was the gawky kid who didn’t think she was particularly good at anything.  In high school, I wanted to be daring like some of the girls but I didn’t have the guts to do it.  It changed when I was in college.  I was more confident because my academic excellence.  In a sense, I’m happy that I went to Montreal.  Being there made me realize that my identity is more than my accomplishments or my failures.  It’s who I am as a person.  I don’t see myself as awkward any more, just unique.”

“And I see you as the incredible woman I love and want to spend the rest of my life with,” he said reaching into the pocket of his robe and pulling out a small box.

Elise gaped as he opened it and revealed an exquisitely beautiful diamond ring.  “When did you…?”

“I bought it in January and was planning to give it to you when I saw you in June.  But, now that you’re here, I see no reason why I shouldn’t give it to you now.”  He slid off the sofa and got on one knee.  “Elise, will you marry me?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.  The tears in her eyes made him a big blur.  She felt rather than saw him slip the ring on her finger.  She brushed the tears away.  He got up from the floor and sat beside her again.  He pulled her onto his lap and his mouth found hers.  She put her arms around his neck, closing her eyes as she kissed him back.  She couldn’t wait to see her mother’s face when she showed her the ring.

 

Sources:  Interstude; Paris Insider’s Guide;

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

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