Dinner at Sunset

Noelle was having a private meeting with Barry Forbes in her office when the door opened and Sandra, her secretary walked in.  Noelle glanced up at her, unable to hide her irritation at the disruption but before she could say anything, Sandra spoke. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Noelle, but I have an urgent phone call for Mr. Forbes.”

Immediately an expression of concern crossed Barry’s face and he asked, “Who is it from?”

“It’s your wife.  She sounds very upset.”

Noelle said to him, “You can take the call on my phone.”

“It’s on line one,” Sandra said.

Noelle picked up the receiver, handed it to him and pressed the line one button.  She watched as Barry spoke to his wife and saw his face go pale.  It must be very serious, she thought in alarm.  As soon as he was finished speaking, she said to him, “If you have to go, go.”

“It’s Sam, our youngest daughter.  She was struck by a car and they said it was very serious.  My wife’s at the hospital now.”  He stood up and pulled on his jacket, his hands trembling slightly.

“I hope and pray that she will be okay,” she said.  “Are you okay to drive?”

He nodded.  “I’ll be fine.  I’m just a bit shaken up.”

Noelle got up and walked with him to the elevator.  “Please call me on my cell and let me know how Sam is.”  She reached out and clasped his hand.

“I will,” he promised.  The doors of the elevator opened and he stepped in.  He leaned against the wall as they closed.

Noelle stood there for several minutes, praying that Samantha would pull through.  She was only fifteen, the same age as Tatiana.  She couldn’t imagine how she would feel if she were to receive news that her sister had met with a terrible accident.

“Are you all right?” a voice inquired behind her.  She turned and found herself staring up into a pair of amazing blue eyes.  They belonged to Horst, the new director of the company.  He was absolutely gorgeous with thick, wavy black hair, athletic build and a deep, sexy voice with a German accent.  As usual when she was around him, her heart began to beat faster.

“No,” she said.  “Barry Forbes and I were having a meeting a few minutes ago when he got an urgent phone call from his wife.  Their youngest daughter, Samantha got struck down by a car and is in serious condition.  Barry is heading over to the hospital right now.  Poor man.  I hope Samantha will be all right.”

Horst’s eyes filled with sympathy.  “I hope so too,” he said quietly.  “I remember how awful it was for my parents and me when my older brother had a skiing accident.  He was in such serious condition that they didn’t think he would survive but, thank God, he did.  After months of physiotherapy, he was fully recovered.  He walks with a slight limp but the important thing is he survived.  I’m sure the doctors will do all they can for Samantha.”

Noelle smiled slightly.  “Thanks,” she said.  “I feel a little better.”

“Good,” he said, rubbing her arm.

She swallowed hard, hardly able to think straight because of the sensation of his fingers on her bare arm, stirring up all sorts of sensations.

“Noelle, have dinner with me tonight at my place,” he said, startling her.  His eyes held hers in a steady gaze and his expression was intense.  “We can sit on the terrace overlooking the ocean while we eat.  It’s summer so the sun wouldn’t set until around nine.  We can watch the sun set.”

It took a while for it to sink in that he was asking her to have what sounded like a romantic dinner with him at his beach house.  Of course, she was going to accept his invitation.  She would be a fool not to.  She would worry about what to wear later.  “Yes,” she said now rather breathlessly.  “Dinner sounds wonderful.  What time would you like me to be there?”

His features became relaxed.  “Come for seven,” he said.

She expelled a shaky breath when he stopped rubbing her arm and placed it in his pocket.  “I’ll be there for seven.”

“Good.”  He smiled, making her heart melt before he excused himself and walked away.

The rest of the day was a complete blur for her.  Then, it was time to leave.  It was Friday and a great start to the weekend.  As she drove home, she wondered how things fared at the hospital and hoped that Barry would call her.

As soon as she got home, she took a quick shower and then went through her wardrobe for something to wear.  She chose to wear a long, floral print off the shoulder summer dress with a side slit below the knee and a pair of wedge heeled sandals.  Her hair was pulled back in a French knot.  Satisfied with the way she looked, she grabbed her handbag, keys and left the flat, her heart racing with excitement.  It was a lovely evening.  The sunshine was bright and it was a very pleasant drive up the coast.

Horst answered the door soon after she rang the bell.  He smiled broadly, clearly delighted to see her and his gaze traveled over her as he held the door open for her to go in.  “You look beautiful,” he remarked after closing the door and turning to face her.

She smiled self-consciously.  “Thank you.”  He looked incredibly handsome in the black shirt and dark blue jeans.  His hair was a bit tousled.  Her fingers itched to bury themselves in the thick, silky tresses.  Realizing that she was staring, she turned away.

“Come, let me give you a quick tour of the place before we have dinner.”  He led her through the foyer and into the living-room which was bright and airy with lots of natural light coming through the windows.  The stunning all white living-room decor looked like something she would see in Elle Decor magazine.

The kitchen was large and bright with windows, unlike hers.  It had granite counter-tops, an island with chairs.  The tantalizing aroma of dinner lingered in the air although the windows were open. There were three guest bedrooms and the master bedroom.  The master bedroom was decidedly masculine and the French doors opened onto the balcony, affording one an unobstructed view of the sea.  It must be a treat to wake up to that every morning, she mused as she followed him to the terrace.

“Have a seat, while I go and get dinner.”  He held out the chair that was facing the sea for her to sit in.  Then, he went off to the kitchen.

While he was gone, Noelle leaned back in the chair and surveyed the table which was covered in a white cloth, with a vase of red roses in the center.  There were two glasses and a bucket of ice with a bottle of what she supposed to be wine in it.  There were utensils and napkins.  And there were two white candles.  They were not lit.  Perhaps he was going to light them after the sun set.

She smiled, breathing in the tangy salt air.  The beach was deserted.  It was nice and peaceful unlike where she lived.  She watched as the shallow frothy waters rolled onto the sand.  It must be so nice taking long walks, with nothing but sand, sea and sky around for miles and miles.

Horst brought out two salads and sat down in the chair on her right.  After he said a prayer, they tucked into the Quinoa, Beet, and Arugula Salad.

“This is delicious,” Noelle exclaimed.  “I’m so used to having the Greek or Italian or green salads.  This is a really nice change.”

He smiled.  “I ate this salad at a restaurant a couple of months ago and always promised myself that I would make it.”

Twenty minutes later, he brought out the main course.  She gazed at the plate with the Crispy Parmesan Garlic Chicken with Zucchini, her mouth watering with anticipation.  “You’re an amazing cook,” she said after having a mouthful.  “Where did you learn to cook like this?”

“I learned fast that eating out could be expensive so I taught myself to cook.  I searched the Internet for different recipes and tried them.  After lots of trials and errors, I finally got it right.”

“Well, you’ve definitely got it right.  I can’t get over how soft and succulent the chicken is.”

“Thank you.”  He poured the wine into the two glasses.  It had a sweet and savory taste.

“So, now I know that you are a great cook.”

“What else would you like to know about me?”

“I can tell from your accent that you’re German.”

“Yes, I was born in Hamburg, Germany.  I always wanted to come to America.  I used to watch a lot of American movies.  I especially liked the classics and the westerns.  My favorite western was The Magnificent Seven with German actor, Horst Buchholz.  After I graduated from university, I moved here.  Initially, my parents weren’t happy but when they visited and saw how well I was doing, they became supportive.”

“Are you an only child?”

“No.  I have an older brother and a younger sister.  He lives in Berlin with his family and my sister lives in Vienna with her husband.  He teaches at the Vienna University of Technology and she works as a nurse at a private clinic.”

She asked him more questions about himself and his family and then it was his turn to ask questions about her.  That evening they learned more about each than they had in all the years they worked together.

After dinner, she helped him to clear the table and he stacked the dirty plates, glasses into the dishwasher.  “Are you up for dessert?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “Not right now, thanks,” she said, patting her stomach.  “I don’t think I have any more room for it.”

“All right.  Let’s go back on the terrace and watch the sun set as promised.”

They sat down facing the ocean.  Ten minutes later the sun began its descent.  As Noelle watched it set, Longfellow’s quote came to her.  “Down sank the great red sun, and in golden, glimmering vapors veiled the light of his face, like the Prophet descending from Sinai.”  

They sat there for a while longer.  It was such a fun evening that she didn’t want to leave but it was getting late and the drive home was close to 80 minutes.  “I’d better be heading home now,” she said, getting up from the table.

“Do you have plans for tomorrow?” he asked as he walked her to the door.

She shook her head.  And even if she did, she would happily cancel them.

“Spend the day with me tomorrow.  Come for eight so that we can have breakfast together and bring a swimsuit.”

“Sounds wonderful,” she said with a smile.  “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.  Thank you for a lovely dinner and evening.”  Are we going to kiss goodnight?  For some women it might be too soon but not for me.  I’ve wanted to kiss this man for a very long time.

He wanted to kiss her so badly but didn’t want to rush things.  Instead, he reached down and kissed her on the cheek.  When he drew back, his eyes were dark when they met her wide ones and his face was slightly flushed.  “It was my pleasure,” he said huskily.  “I wanted to ask you over for dinner for a very long time.”

The air was suddenly very charged between them.  Her skin tingled where his lips had been and her heart was pounding wildly.  “I-I’m glad you finally got around to it,” she stammered.

“So am I.  I look forward to seeing you tomorrow, Noelle.  Call me when you get home tonight.”

Noelle opened her mouth to say something when just then, her cell rang.  It was Barry.  He called to tell her that Samantha’s condition was stable and the doctors were very optimistic that she would make a full recovery.  “Thank God,” Noelle exclaimed.  “Thanks for calling, Barry.  We’ll be in touch.”  She ended the call and put the phone back into her bag.

“His daughter is going to be all right,” she said to Horst.  “I’m so relieved.”

“I’m sure her family is very relieved too,” he replied, his expression tense.  “Noelle…”

“I should leave now,” Noelle said but she didn’t move.  She stood there gazing up at him, her breath quickening.

Groaning thickly, he reached for her, the desire in his eyes almost scorching her as he pressed her against him.  His lips found hers and ravaged them.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  After several minutes of exchanging passionate kisses, he drew back to gasp, “Spend the night with me.”

She nodded.  “Yes,” she managed to say before he lowered his head again to kiss her.

Two hours later, clad in dressing-gowns, they were relaxing on two chaise lounge chairs on the balcony outside of his bedroom, having two Black Forest Cannoli Parfaits with a view of the moonlit ocean before them.  It was a perfect end to a perfect evening.  The following morning, they had a late breakfast before she went home.

They became romantically involved and a year later, they got married.  On the first evening after they returned from their honeymoon, they had a sumptuous dinner, which Noelle prepared, on the terrace and watched as the sun set over the horizon.

Source:  AZ Quotes

 

 

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Love Stands No Doubts

Alisha stood at the window, looking out, her mind on what happened or almost happened between Fabian and her this afternoon in his office.  It was like any regular day or so she thought until she walked into his office.

She went over to his desk to leave some papers for him to check over before signing them when he glanced up from the laptop screen to stare at her.  The expression on his face was grim and she frowned, puzzled.  “I brought the documents for you to review in case there any changes you want to make before you sign them,” she explained.  It was hard to think straight with him staring at her like that.  She was transfixed by the most captivating feature in his handsome face–his eyes.  They were an usual shade of green.  They were almost transparent.  It was hard to describe them but they were stunning.

“When were you going to tell me?” he demanded, startling her.

“Tell you what?” So, she was the reason why he was in a foul mood.  She watched as he pushed back his chair and sprang to his feet, leaning over the desk with his palms flat against the hard surface.

“That you had lunch with Bob Ford last week.”

“But how did—?”

“Did I find out?  It doesn’t matter.  The fact is I found out…from someone else.  Why didn’t you tell me?”

She shifted from one foot to the other, feeling much like a child who was in trouble being scolded by a parent.  “Well, Bob called me and asked me to have lunch with him and–”

“Why did he want to have lunch with you?”

She fumbled for words, still not understanding why he seemed to have a problem with her having lunch with Bob.  “He wanted to catch up.  We haven’t seen each other since I left the company to come and work here.”

“Is that all he wanted to do?  Catch up?”

“What are you implying?” she asked.  She was beginning to resent his interrogation.  Whom she had lunch with shouldn’t concern him.  He was her boss not her boyfriend, although she wouldn’t object to him being the latter.  She wondered what he would say if he knew how she felt about him.  At lunch, she had confided in Bob who advised her not to act until she was absolutely sure that Fabien felt the same way.  And to be quite honest she wasn’t sure.  She had seen the way he looked at her sometimes but she always chalked it up to wishful thinking.  And now, she wasn’t sure why he was acting this way over her and Bob.

“You and he were once in a relationship.”

“I know but–”

“What would you do if he wanted to resume your relationship?” he moved around the desk so that he was standing close to her.  His eyes were dark as they stared down into her upturned face.  “Would you take him back?”

She swallowed hard, her heart racing now.  Suddenly the atmosphere in the office had changed.  It was palpable with raw sexual tension.  Was that her breathing or his that she was hearing?  Her eyes were trapped in a steady, penetrating stare with his.  She shook her head and her voice was barely above a whisper when she answered, “No, I–I wouldn’t.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because–because I don’t want to be with him.”  It had gotten so difficult to breath.  Her heart was pounding wildly against her ribs and her legs felt weak.  Her eyes dropped to his mouth and her lips parted with intense longing.

He made a move toward her, his eyes darkening with desire when the phone rang.  The shrill peal jarred their ears and senses, ruining the moment.  Dragging his fingers through his hair, he turned and walked back around the back of the desk to answer the phone.  She turned and walk unsteadily out of the room.  Instead of going straight back to her desk, she went to the bathroom where she tried to compose herself.

If the phone hadn’t rung when it did…she closed her eyes, trembling as she remembered the look on his face.  He wanted her.  The realization thrilled her.  The desire that raged inside her was on his face.  And it explained why he was so bent out of shape about her lunch with Bob.  For some reason he thought that Bob wanted to get back together with her and that she would take him back.

While it was true that soon after they broke up that Bob wanted to reconcile, she had refused.  She cared for him but she didn’t love him.  All she wanted from him was friendship, nothing more.   Besides, she was in love with Fabian.  She fell in love with him the very moment when she first met him.  When she confided this to Bob at lunch today, he seemed a bit wistful but her happiness, even if it were with someone, was all that mattered to him.  When they parted, he wished her all the best and hoped that things worked out between Fabian and her.

Ten minutes later, she went back to her desk and had just sat down behind the computer when Fabian came out his office, closed the door behind him and went over to her.  She noticed that he had his briefcase with him which told her that he was leaving.  “I have a meeting at the head office and won’t be back to the office.  Call me on my cell if there is an emergency.”  He was all business again.

She nodded.  “See you tomorrow.”

“See you in the morning,” he replied before he turned and walked briskly away.

She watched him go until he disappeared around the corridor before turning her attention to the computer screen.  For the remainder of the afternoon, she buried herself in her work, trying not to think about what almost happened between.  She would have plenty of time to do so later when she was alone in her flat.

And here she was, hours later, at home, looking out of the window, reliving the moment in Fabian’s office and wishing that they hadn’t been interrupted.  In the distance, she heard Big Ben strike the hour of eight.  It was still very bright.  The sun wouldn’t set until around nine.  Was he at home now? she wondered.  Suddenly, the idea of stopping by his place occurred to her and her heart began to thud with nervous excitement.  Moving away from the window, she rushed into the bathroom, stripped and took a quick, hot shower, got dressed in a yellow top and denim skirt.  Since she would be walking in sand to get to his house which overlooked the beach, she donned a pair of canvas shoes, grabbed her handbag and left.

As she drove, she wondered if he would be pleased to see her.  She hoped so.  She hoped that what almost happened between them today was the beginning of what could be an exciting relationship.  Twenty minutes later, she was walking up the beach, gazing at the sea as it shimmered in the sunlight and the waves rolled onto the sand.  Unable to resist, she removed her shoes and smiled as her toes sank into the soft, wet sand.

Fabian was on the deck, looking out when he spotted her.  He stood there watching her for several minutes, his heart racing.  All afternoon and evening he couldn’t stop thinking about her and how close he had come to kissing her.  If the confounded phone hadn’t rung, he would have taken her in his arms and shown her just how much he wanted her.  His body reacted now to the thought and pulling on the hoodie, he ran down the steps leading to the beach, anxious to reach her.

Alisha saw him coming and her heart began to beat faster and her footsteps quickened.  Soon they were facing each other at the water’s edge, standing inches apart, their eyes locked in a gaze.  “I had to come,” she told him.

“Why?” he asked, running his fingers through his hair when what he really wanted to do was take her in his arms.

“We have some unfinished business,” she told him huskily, dropping her shoes in the sand.

Groaning, he reached for her and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.  Her arms went round his neck as his mouth sought hers, ravishing it and she responded feverishly.   As they stood there, the water swirling about their feet, the sun began to set, casting a red and orange glow on them while a flock of birds flew against the backdrop.  Oblivious to the beauty of their surroundings, they continued to exchange passionate kisses.

When she broke off their kiss to bury her face in his bare chest, he hugged her tightly against him, breathing harshly, his eyes still closed.  “I love you, Alisha,” he muttered thickly.  “I’m sorry that I drilled you about Bob but I was so jealous.”

She raised her head to look up at him.  “There’s no reason for you to be jealous of him or anyone else,” she assured him.  “I love you.”

“I didn’t know how you felt about me until today in my office.  I saw what I was feeling inside written all over your face and that encouraged me.”

“Yes, for the first time since we have been working together, today was the first time I didn’t have any doubts about your feelings for me.”

“I once read a quote which says, Love stands no doubts.  Whatever doubts we had about each other, they were swept away today.”

“Then it was a good thing that I had lunch with Bob, after all,” she concluded.  “If I didn’t how much more time would have passed before you and I admitted how we feel about each other?”

“I would like to think that I would have worked up the courage to tell you without Bob’s help.”

She smiled and then cried out when he suddenly scooped her up in his arms.  He started toward the steps leading to his beach house.  “My shoes,” she protested, trying to struggle free so that she could go and get them.  But his grip tightened and she gave up after a while, putting both arms around his neck.

“They’ll be there in the morning,” he promised her.  “Besides, you won’t be needing them where we’re going.”

 

 

Ready to Propose

Kay was on her way back to the office when she spotted Quinn sitting outside of the museum with a young woman.  She stopped in her tracks, her heart thudding as she feared that the premonition which had dogged her all week had come true.  It all started when Joanna kept insinuating that Quinn was having second thoughts about their relationship.

When the older woman found out that Kay and her younger brother were seeing each other, she was livid and she stopped talking to Quinn for weeks.  During that time, she made life miserable for Kay and there wasn’t much she could do because Joanna was now her boss.  She became manager after Rachel left the company for a more lucrative job in New York.  Joanna used her position to make things tough for Kay and several times she came very close to quitting but she needed the income.  Things eased up a little when Joanna and Quinn were back on speaking terms but every opportunity she got, Joanna would make remarks like, “You’ve been seeing each other for almost three years now and he still hasn’t proposed.” Or, “I see you’re still not wearing a ring.”

Yesterday when she made one of her snide remarks, Kay replied, “He loves me.”

“Apparently he doesn’t love you enough to propose.”

“He will propose when he’s ready.”

“And what if he doesn’t?  What are you going to do if he never proposes?  Continue to see him, hoping that he will change his mind?  You’re a smart woman, Kay.  Why don’t you stop fooling yourself and face facts?  Quinn hasn’t proposed to you as yet because he probably doesn’t intend to marry you.  It would be better for you if you ended things now before you get hurt.”

“You would like that, wouldn’t you?  You would like me to end our relationship but I won’t, Joanna.  I love Quinn and he loves me.  And he will propose when he’s good and ready.” And she walked away, fuming and shaking at the same time.  Joanna was like a thorn in her side, constantly tormenting her but she couldn’t allow her to get to her.

This morning she heard Joanna say to Jenny, her secretary, “I ran into Wendy, an old friend on Monday.  She was with her younger sister, Lizette.  Wendy and I hadn’t seen each other for a very long time so I invited them over for dinner just to catch up.  I was hoping that Quinn would join us but he had other plans.  I’m thinking of inviting him over lunch on Sunday and have him meet Lizette.  They would make such a nice couple.”

“But, Quinn and Kay are dating,” Jenny objected.

“Oh, that relationship isn’t going anywhere,” Joanna replied, dismissively.  “They have been dating for a while now and he hasn’t asked her to marry him as yet.  I think he will get tired of her and dump her.  And when he does, Lizette will take her place.”

Kay didn’t wait to hear any more.  She headed for the washroom which was empty at the time and after locking herself in one of the stalls, she burst into tears.  She was crying not only because the words hurt—cutting into her like a knife but they brought to the surface the fears that she herself had been harboring lately.  As co-workers, friends and relatives got married after dating for a shorter period than Quinn and her, she began to wonder when it would be her turn.  He had not broached the subject of marriage and she didn’t want to bring it up.  It didn’t help when friends and family asked her, “When are you and Quinn getting married?”  And she would always reply, “When we’re ready.”  Sometimes that answer was enough but other times, the follow-up question was, “And when do you think that’s going to be?”

Joanna’s remarks and the questions only fed her own doubts and insecurities about her relationship with Quinn.  He said he loved her but was it enough for him to want to marry her?  The physical side of their relationship was healthy and robust but she wanted more.  She wanted to be his wife, not just his lover.

She didn’t know how long she was in the bathroom stall but it was time to leave.  After wiping her eyes, she unlocked the door and stepped out.  Thankfully, no one was there. She washed her face and dried it.  She glanced at her watch.  It was noon.  She would take her lunch break now.

As soon as she got back to her desk, she donned her sunglasses to hide her red, swollen eyes and grabbed her handbag.  “I’ll be back in an hour,” she said to Jenny as she passed her desk.  Five minutes later, she was walking down the sidewalk to the café at the corner where they served amazing cappuccinos and delicious sandwiches.  She chose a table at the back in the corner.  Although she wasn’t really hungry, she ordered a spicy chicken sandwich, a salad and a hot chocolate.

As she sat there, hardly tasting the food, her mind went back to the day when she met Quinn at Joanna’s barbecue.  It was love at first sight for her and when he told her that he loved her on the night when she went over to his place after exchanging words with Joanna, she was thrilled.   Now she was beginning to wonder if his love for her was waning even if his desire wasn’t.  Was it possible to fall out of love with someone but still be physically attracted?  Then, she remembered watching a steamy love scene in a soap opera between two people who disliked each other intensely.  So, it was possible that Quinn could fall out of love with her but still want her—until that changed too…

Agitated, she pushed the plate away.   She left the café and stood outside the entrance for a moment before heading back to the office.  She wished she could go home instead.  It was a beautiful and mild winter day but she hardly noticed.  Preoccupied with thoughts that refused to go away, she crossed the courtyard leading to the museum.  And then, she spotted them…

Quinn looked very handsome in the blue turtleneck sweater which she had given him for his birthday last year.  And the woman was dressed in a chunky pullover sweater.  Her chestnut hair fell in thick waves about her shoulders.  Quinn was looking very intently at her as she talked animatedly to him.  She looked to be in her early twenties.  Kay stood there, unobserved, watching them, her fingers tightening around the strap of her handbag as jealousy coursed through her.  Who was the redhead and what was Quinn doing with her?

She ought to go over there and find out but she didn’t want to make a scene.   Instead, she stood there, letting her imagination run wild. The ringing of her cell jolted her and she quickly fished it out of her handbag.  “Hello?”

It was Jenny.  “Where are you?” she asked.  “We have a meeting in ten minutes.”

Darn.  She had completely forgotten about the meeting.  “I’m on my way.” She ended the call and dropped the phone back in her handbag.  After looking over at the two figures at the table, she turned and walked away.

She barely got back to the office in time for the meeting and she sat there, finding it hard to concentrate.  All she could think about was Quinn and the woman.  Fortunately, she didn’t have to say anything. Joanna did most of the talking.  As soon as the meeting was over, Kay went to her desk and after a slight hesitation, she picked up the phone and called Quinn.  His cell rang for a long time.  She hung up, crestfallen.

Quinn glanced at his watch.  “Louisa, I really must be going.  Do you need a lift anywhere?”

She shook her head.  “No, Uncle Quinn, I drove.  Thanks for meeting me and listening to me go on and on about Dave.”

“I hope things work out between you two.”  He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell to check for messages.  He flipped it open and saw that there was a missed call from Kay.  He would call her when he was alone.  He closed his phone and reached for his jacket.

“Thanks, Uncle Quinn.  I was so busy talking about my life and my problems that I didn’t even ask you how you’re doing,” she added.  “Have you met that special woman as yet?”

He nodded.  “Yes, I have.  We met three years ago at your Aunt Joanna’s barbecue.  The moment I saw her, I knew that she was the one.  Tonight, I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

“That’s wonderful.”

“I have a photo of her.”  He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and took out his wallet.  He flipped it open and took out a photo which he handed to her.  She took it and stared at it.  It was a nice photo of Kay sitting at a table of an outdoor restaurant, holding a glass of what looked like Cranberry juice in her right hand and her left hand propping up her face.  She was laughing at something.

“What a lovely photo.”

“We were on our first date.  I asked the waiter to take it and I told her to pretend that he wasn’t there.  I said something which made her laugh and that was when he took it.”

“I can’t wait to meet her,” she said as she handed the photo back to him.

“You’ll meet her before the wedding.”

“Does she have any idea that you’re going to propose tonight?”

“None.  We’ve never talked about marriage.  She probably thinks that I don’t want to marry her.”

“Why would she think that?”

“I’m sure your Aunt Joanna has something to do with it.  For some incomprehensible reason, she dislikes Kay.”

“She never liked Mom either.”

“Your aunt wanted your Dad to marry a woman she felt was more suitable for him but he was adamant about marrying your mother just as I am adamant about marrying Kay.”

“My Dad adored my mother just as you obviously adore Kay.”  When they stood up, she hugged him tightly.  “I wish you all the best, Uncle Quinn.”

“Thank, Louisa.  Call me anytime you need to talk.” He watched her walk away before he went in the opposite direction.  When he got into his car, he took out his phone and called Kay.

She answered on the third ring.  “Hello, Quinn.”

“Hello, Darling.  I’m sorry I missed your call.”

“I just called to say hi.”

“Are you all right?  You sound a bit subdued.”

“I’m all right, just a bit tired.”

“Are we still on for tonight?

“Yes.”

“Good, I’ll see you at seven.  I love you. ”

“I love you too.”

He rang off and turned the key in the ignition.  As he drove off, he thought how strange she sounded on the phone.  No doubt Joanna was the cause.  He was looking forward to this evening and the expression on Kay’s face when he proposed.  His heart leapt at the thought.  He was on his way now to pick up the ring he had custom made especially for her.  It took several trips to the jewelry store, different designs before he settled on the one that he knew was perfect for her and it cost a lot but she was worth it.

It was six-thirty.  After taking a long and unenthusiastic look at herself in the mirror, she grabbed her coat and left her flat.  Half-hour later, she was standing in front of Quinn’s door.  She rang the bell and her heart leapt in her throat when the door opened and he stood there, looking gorgeous in the ribbed grey sweater and dark blue jeans.  His hair was slightly damp.  He smiled and stepped aside to let her in.  As soon as he closed and locked the door behind her, he pulled her into his arms and began to kiss her.  Groaning and unable to help herself, she pressed against him and eagerly kissed him back.

Quinn unbuttoned her coat and dragged it off as he continued to plunder her lips.  It was tossed on the floor and his arms went around her waist, holding her close as they exchanged feverish kisses.  This continued for several minutes and then, he drew back to gaze down at her, his face flushed, breathing heavily.  “I wish we could continue this in the bedroom,” he muttered thickly, his eyes dark with desire, “but I think we should have dinner now before it gets cold.” He released her to pick up her coat and hang it in the closet.

She stood there, trembling, trying to catch her breath and her legs felt like jelly.  If he hadn’t pulled back, she would have let him make love to her right there in the foyer or wherever he wanted.  He made her lose her head when she wanted to keep it clear as she confronted him about that afternoon.  “Quinn, we need to talk.”

He closed the closet door and went over to her, his expression serious.  “What’s on your mind?” he asked.

“Who’s the young woman I saw you with this afternoon?”

He frowned.  “You saw us?”

“Yes.  I was on my way back to work after having lunch and—”

“Did you have lunch alone?”

“Yes.”

“I wish I had known that you were going to be in the area.”

She looked at his warily.  “Why?”

“Then, I would have taken you to lunch myself or asked you to join Louisa and me.”

“Louisa?”

“Yes, Louisa, my niece.”

“Your niece?” She repeated.  “The young woman I saw you with was your niece?”

“Yes, she’s Arthur’s daughter.  I’ve mentioned him to you before.  He’s my half-brother from a previous marriage.”

“When I saw you with her, I thought…” her voice trailed off and she lowered her head, feeling awful.

He hooked his finger under her chin and raised her face until their eyes met.  “Kay, I love you,” he told her quietly.  “I would never do anything to hurt you.  Since I met you, I haven’t looked at another woman.  The first time I saw you, I knew that you were the woman for me.  I loved you from that moment and haven’t stopped loving you since.  Soon after we started seeing each other, all I could think about was how much I wanted to be with you, marry you, have kids with you and grow old with you.  I know that Joanna has been feeding you a lot of lies but she can’t hurt you if you don’t let her.  Promise me, Kay, that from now on, you won’t let her or anyone else come between us.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  “I promise.”  Her voice was barely above a whisper.  He said he wanted to marry me.

He lowered his head and kissed her tenderly on the lips before he led her over to the dining-room.  After he pulled out the chair for her to sit, he went into the kitchen and got dinner ready.  The table was beautifully set with two burning candles, glasses, a bottle of wine, napkins and dinnerware.  It reminded her of the elegant and romantic French restaurant they went to a couple of times.  He served dinner and after they lifted their glasses in a toast, they enjoyed a scrumptious meal, followed by a light, airy, and refreshing dessert.  While he stacked the dishwasher, she relaxed on the sofa.

A few minutes, he put on a CD before joining her on the sofa.  The mellow sounds of smooth jazz filled the room and he leaned back, putting his arm around her shoulder.  She rested her head against him.  They sat like that for a while, the only sound was the music and then he got up, excusing himself.  He left the room for a moment and returned a few minutes later.

Instead of resuming his seat next to her, he got down on one knee instead, making her gasp.  Her hand flew up to her mouth when she saw the small red box which he opened to reveal the most exquisite ring she had ever seen in her life.  He took it out and then he looked up at her, his expression very serious.  “Kay, I searched high and low for a ring for you but nothing I saw captured your beauty and your spirit.  So, I had a ring made especially for you.  This ring is one of a kind, just like you and it  symbolizes my love, devotion, passion and fidelity to you.  My life began the day I met you and it won’t be complete without you there to share it.  Will you marry me, Kay?”

She nodded, the tears rolling down her cheeks.  “Yes,” she gulped.  He took her hand and slipped the ring onto her finger.  It was a perfect fit.  He rose to his feet and pulling her to hers, he took her in his arms and kissed her.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and responded, her heart almost bursting with joy.  And the thought that went through her mind was…he was always ready to propose to me but, first he had to find the perfect ring to give me.

Taking a Chance

Valerie and her younger sister, Chloe were at the café having lunch.  “I think moving to Berlin would be good for you,” she said.  “It’s a great opportunity for you to broaden your horizons.  I chose to study here in London because I wanted to be close to home but if I were to do it all over again, I would have opted to study in Berlin and then move back here after graduation.  It’s cheaper to study in Germany than here and the scholarship you applied for and got allows you to study there for free.  What more could you ask for?”

Chloe sighed.  “I’m excited to go but scared at the same time,” she confessed.  “I’ve never been away from home before and I don’t know what it would be like living on campus in a strange city.  Maybe I’ll get homesick and want to come back at the end of the first semester.”

“Or maybe you’ll love it there and we won’t see you except during the summer and Christmas holidays.  Don’t assume the worst.  Just have faith that everything will work out.  And who knows, you might meet a cute guy.”

Chloe smiled.  “If he’s as cute as Colin, I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Colin was Valerie’s boss.  “Yes, Colin is very good-looking, isn’t he?”

“You like him, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What about him?  Does he like you?”

“I don’t know.  I really can’t tell.”

“Why don’t you ask him out?”

Valerie balked at the idea.  “I can’t do that,” she exclaimed.

“Why not?  Is there an office policy that says you can’t date?”

“No, there isn’t but—”

“Val, I think you should ask him out.  The worst thing that could happen is that he turns you down.”

“And it could affect our working relationship.  I don’t know, Chloe, I have to think really hard about this one.”  She glanced at her watch.  “I have to be getting back to the office.  I’ll give you a lift to the train station.”  She signaled to the waitress for the bill.

When they stepped outside, she blinked in the bright sunshine and chided herself for not having her sunglasses.  They walked to where her car was parked and drove to the train station which was about twenty minutes away.  Outside of the station, they hugged and Chloe promised to call her over the weekend.

As Valerie drove to the office, she thought about what Chloe said.  The idea of asking Colin out on a date both thrilled and terrified her.  They have been working together for six years yet she still couldn’t say with any degree of certainty that the attraction she felt for him was mutual.  There were times when she thought that it was but since nothing came of it, she dismissed it as wishful thinking.  Well, there was only one way to find out but she was afraid to take that chance.  She didn’t want to jeopardize the great working relationship they had.  So, if she couldn’t be with him romantically, at least, she could be with him professionally for now.

By the time she got to the office, she had made up her mind that she wasn’t going to ask Colin out on a date.  She went to her desk and put her handbag away.  After logging on to her computer and checking emails, she was about to reply to some of them when her phone rang.  It was Colin.  He wanted to see her.  She got up immediately and went to his office.  After closing the door behind her, she walked over to where he stood looking out of the window.  He turned when he heard her.

He looked amazing in the grey striped suit and white shirt which was unbuttoned at the neck, exposing his throat.  Like clockwork, her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  She tried to appear nonchalant by tucking her hands in her pants pockets.  She saw his gaze travel over the short grey jacket, white blouse and black pants she was sporting before it returned to her face.  “Did you have a good lunch?” he asked.

She nodded.  “Yes.  Chloe got the scholarship to study in Berlin in September.  She is nervous about living away from home.”

“It was the same thing with my sister, Kathleen when she got accepted to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine.  She was nervous about living away from home but after the first week, she loved it.  She had made new friends and was getting used to the student life.  Joining different clubs helped.”

“The next time I speak to Chloe, I will tell her about Kathleen.”

“I can do better than that.  I can have Kathleen get in touch with her.”

“That would be great.  Thanks, Colin.”

“Do you have plans for tomorrow?” he asked suddenly, startling her.

“No.”

“Good.  I’d like you to have dinner with me at my place.”

She stared at him for several minutes.   Did he just ask her out?

“What’s the matter?” he asked when she didn’t answer.  “Don’t you want to have dinner with me?”

“Yes, I do,” she said.  “It’s just that you caught me by surprise.”

“You and I have been working together for a long while now, don’t you think that it’s time we pursued a more personal relationship with each other?”

“Yes,” she agreed, sounding a little breathless.  He was staring at her and the expression on his face made her mouth go dry.  “What-what time would you like me to be there?”

“Seven. Val…” he reached out and caught her by the hand, pulling her toward him, his eyes darkening on her face. Then, he was kissing her and she eagerly responded. His hands pressed her against him and her arms wound themselves tightly around his neck as they exchanged kisses. This lasted for several minutes before he raised his head, his breathing unsteady. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long, long time,” he admitted huskily.

“What prevented you?” she asked, trying to catch her breath.

“I wasn’t sure how you felt about me and I didn’t want to put you in a bad spot.”

“It’s funny but just today, Chloe was encouraging me to ask you out but I was afraid to because I didn’t know how you felt about me and I didn’t want to ruin our working relationship.”

“Well, I’m glad that one of us took Chloe’s advice.  I wish I didn’t have to go to a meeting now but I do.” He reluctantly released her and went over to his desk to get a notebook and some papers.  They walked together to the door.  He opened it and before they parted he said in a low voice, “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

For the rest of the afternoon, she was on cloud nine and all that evening she thought of nothing else but having dinner with Colin.  She called Chloe and her sister was thrilled.  “Good for him,” she said.  “He took a gamble and it paid off.  Well, have fun and call me on Sunday with the juicy details.”  Valerie chuckled and ended the call.

Saturday evening came and she was on her way to Colin’s flat over at Canary Wharf.  She fixed her hair and smoothed her dress before she rang the doorbell.  Colin opened the door, his eyes brightened when he saw her.  “Hello,” he greeted her before stepping aside to let her in.  He removed her coat and his eyes slipped admiringly over her slim figure in the long sleeved Cranberry colored dress with the scooped neck.  Her hair was pulled back at her nape with a clasp with a few tendrils framing her face.  “You look great,” he remarked.

“Thank you. So do you.”  He looked incredibly sexy in the black shirt and black jeans.  His hair was slightly damp with a few strands brushing against his forehead.  She handed him a bottle of non-alcoholic white wine before she followed him into the living-room.  “You have a beautiful place,” she remarked, her eyes sweeping over the spacious room with its muted shades of titanium and brown.

It was very stylish, decidedly masculine décor and cozy.  There was a large balcony which faced the tall office buildings in the Financial District.  It was too cold to go on there now but she could imagine how pleasant it would be to sit out there during the summer.  In the centre was a rug that looked like wall tiles with a low table on it and adjacent were the stereo system and television set.  Opposite was a large brown leather sofa with four decorative cushions and a gorgeous antique chair faced the balcony.  Behind the sofa was the dining-room and on the table were dinnerware, two glasses and unlit candles.

“Have a seat at the table,” he suggested before he disappeared into the kitchen.

She sat down in the chair facing the balcony and watched the skyscrapers.  A delicious and mouthwatering smell wafted into the room and she found herself eagerly looking forward to what he was preparing.  “Something smells really, really good,” she commented when he brought out two bowls of salad.

He smiled.  “We’re having Crispy Chicken with Shallots served over wild rice.” When he came back, he lit the candles and sat down at the table.  After she prayed, they tucked into the Green Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette.  It was delicious and she made a mental note to get the recipe from him.  When they were done, she wanted to take the bowls in and help him to bring out the dinner but he said, “I can manage, but thanks for offering to help.”

He brought out the plates, set them on the table and then went back to get the bottle of wine which she had brought.  “Thanks for bringing this,” he said as he poured some in her glass and then his.  He raised his glass in a toast.  “Here’s to the first of many dinners together.”

She smiled and raised her glass.  Over the mouth-watering main course, they talked about different things, including making plans to see each other.  A long while after, he asked, “Do you have room for dessert?”  She nodded, although she didn’t think she could eat another morsel.

When he brought two glasses of chocolate mousse, her eyes brightened.  “I love anything with chocolate,” she exclaimed and picking up her spoon and dived into it, savoring the thick, creamy richness.  When she was done, she looked up at him.  He looked amused.  “Thank you for a wonderful dinner.”

He smiled.  “It was my pleasure.  Make yourself comfortable on the sofa while I clear the table and chuck everything in the dishwasher.”

She got up from the table and went into the living-room.  Instead of settling down on the sofa, she went over to the glass door and stood, looking out at the city skyline.   The buildings loomed like giants above the streets and the wharf, silent and the lights that dotted their structure reminded her of diamonds.  What a magnificent view and to be greeted by it every night must be a real treat.

Colin joined her in the living-room.  He turned on the stereo and the sound of R&B filled the room.  He went over to her, and taking her by the hand, he danced with her in front of the sliding doors.  She put her arm around his neck and gazed up at him as they moved to the music.  His eyes searched her face before he lowered his head and kissed her.  It was a light caress at first and then it deepened.  They stopped moving to the music as they kissed wildly, passionately.

Then he picked her up and as he carried her through the living-room, the following quote came to her mind, “Nothing important was ever achieved without someone taking a chance”.  Colin took that chance and here they were.

Office Romance

Source:  Scholars 4 Dev

The Admission

She turned on the radio and tried to listen to a talk show her friend had told her about but there was so much static, that after five minutes of endless crackling, she changed it to another station.  As the smooth sounds of R&B filled the car, she tried to relax but she couldn’t.  All she could think about was Mac and the redhead she saw him with last night at the café.  Red, hot jealousy had burned in her as she watched them.  Thankfully, he didn’t see her and she managed to slip out unnoticed.

After leaving the café, she had fumed all the way home, chiding herself for feeling the way she did.  Never once did she entertain the thought that she would fall for the very same guy she had pegged as conceited.  All the women at the office fawned over him but she had remained aloof, or so it appeared.  She treated him professionally but kept him at a distance, making it crystal clear that she wasn’t interested.  Yet, deep down, she couldn’t deny that she was strongly attracted to him and seeing him with another woman last night, forced her to acknowledge that she was in love with him.

Gripping the steering wheel, she fought back the angry tears and tried to figure out what she was going to do.  How was she going to continue to act indifferently toward him when she was in love with him?  Of all the men at the company, why did she have to fall for him?  Everyone kept raving about what a nice guy he was but to her he came across as cocky.  It was probably a bruise to his ego that she didn’t go for him.  Well, the joke was on her now because she wanted him too and it was driving her crazy.

Two days ago they were in the last two to leave the office and as she was clearing off her desk, he went over to her.  She didn’t look up but was painfully aware of him and the whiff of his cologne was tantalizing.  He looked incredible in the striped navy blue suit, black shirt and tie.  His spiky hair gave him an edgy look which she found very attractive.  He was sexy and he knew it and that irritated her.  She tried to ignore her pounding heart and busied herself with putting away papers and signing off the computer.  She could feel him watching her and she resisted the urge to look up.

“It’s been a very hectic week,” he commented.

“Yes.”

“Any plans for tonight?”

“No.”

There a brief pause and then, “Have dinner with me, then.”

Her head shot up then and she stared at him.  He couldn’t possibly be serious.  Why would he think that she would have dinner with him?  Of all the conceited—“No, thank you,” she said curtly.  “Perhaps you should ask Joan or Nancy or one of the other women.  I’m sure they would love to have dinner with you.”

“I don’t want to have dinner with any of them, Brianna.  I want to have dinner with you.”

“I’m sorry but I can’t—”

“Why not?”

“I—I just can’t.”

“That’s not a good enough reason.”

“It’s the only one I can give you,” she retorted.

“What are you afraid of?” He asked, startling her.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” she said quickly, too quickly.

“I think you’re afraid of being alone with me.”

“Why should I be afraid to be alone with you?” she demanded, wishing she didn’t want to kiss him so badly.

“You’re afraid because you want me as much as I want you.  I wanted you from the moment I first met you—”

“This is exactly why I can’t stand you,” she cried, her voice sounding a little high-pitched.  She wanted so desperately to get out of there now.  It was becoming increasingly hard to stand there so close to him and not want to tear off his clothes.

“What do you mean?” he asked, frowning.

“I think you’re conceited and that you think you’re God’s gift to women.”

“You mistake self-confidence for conceit and you’re wrong about how I see myself when it comes to women.  I don’t think that I’m God’s gift to them.  Women find me attractive just as men find you attractive.  That is something neither of us can prevent.”

She quickly lowered her gaze, feeling chastised.  He certainly put her in her place and in a very gracious way too.  “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

He reached out and touched her arm, making her jump.  Her eyes were wide as she stared up at him and her heart was beating at an alarming rate.  Somehow she found herself trapped between him and the desk.  And she stood there, helpless, watching mesmerized as his face got closer.  Her eyes dropped to his lips and hers parted in anticipation.

Then, he was kissing her and she was kissing him back ravenously, her arms going around his neck, clinging to him as she was leaning back over the desk under the onslaught of his kisses.  At one point he lifted her on top of the desk and continued to kiss her and then his cell phone rang.  He ignored it.  It stopped ringing.  They continued kissing and then, it rang again.

Groaning in frustration, he pulled away from her, fumbled for the cell and answered it.  “Hello?” he panted.  He listened for a moment.  And then, he said to her, “I have to take this call.”

Well, when he turned walked away a little distance to talk, she used that as an opportunity to leave.  She slid off the desk, grabbed her handbag and ran out of there.  She knew that if she had stayed there, she would have made love to him right there in the office.  She still had reservations about him and was afraid of getting hurt.  That night, she couldn’t sleep.  All she could think about was how his lips felt and how it thrilled her to know that he wanted her as much as she wanted him.

The next day, she avoided him as much as she could and when he managed to ask her why she had run out on him, she replied, “It was getting late and I had errands to run,” before she walked away.  At the end of the day, she made sure she left before he did.  After picking up her winter coat and some suits from the laundry, she decided to treat herself to a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and sandwiches.  She had just finished her second sandwich when Mac walked in.

The blare of a car horn jolted her back to the present and she saw that the light had changed to green.  As she drove off, she was sorely tempted to go over to Mac’s flat and confront him.  No, I won’t give him the satisfaction, she decided, her mouth tightening.  I won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how much it hurt to see him with her.  No, I’m going home and take a nice, hot bath.  I’m not going to let Mac ruin my weekend.

She turned down the street that would take her home.  Ten minutes later, she let herself in her flat.  After hanging her coat in the closet and putting her handbag away, she got undressed.  The hot water felt good against her skin but it couldn’t erase him from her mind.  She donned a pair of pajamas and went over to the sofa to watch some TV.  She stared at the screen but nothing registered.  All she could think about was Mac.  Closing her eyes in despair she leaned her head against the back of the sofa.  They soon opened again when she heard the doorbell.

Glancing at the clock above the mantelpiece, she wondered who would be stopping by to see her at nine-thirty.  She got up from the sofa and went to answer the door.  Her eyes widened when she peered through the keyhole and saw Mac standing there.  Immediately, her heart began to race. What is he doing here?  She opened the door.  He looked so good in the white shirt and jeans.

His expression was serious as he met her gaze. “I’m sorry to be dropping by at this time but you and I need to talk.”

“Okay.”  She moved aside to let him in and closed the door behind him.  After he removed his shoes, she preceded him to the living-room.  They sat down on the sofa and he turned so that he was facing her.

“Why did you run off that afternoon when we were together?” he asked.

“I told you—”

“Yes, I know what you told me but I want to hear the real reason, Brianna.”

She looked down at her hands.  “I was afraid that if I stayed, I would have let you make love to me.”

His eyes darkened.  “Why would something so incredible make you afraid?”

“I just didn’t want to get hurt.  You could have any woman you want and you say you want me but that could change…”

“Since I met you, I haven’t looked at another woman—”

“Then, who was the redhead I saw you with at the café?” she demanded, rising to her feet.

He looked up at her, startled.  “Redhead?” he repeated, knitting his brow.  “Oh, you mean Amber.”

“Yes.” She couldn’t hide the jealousy that was raging inside her.  “I was in the café and I saw when you came in.  I sat there and watched the two of you.”

“Why didn’t you come over and say hello?” he asked, looking perplexed.

She turned away.  “I didn’t want you to see me.”

He got up and taking her by the shoulders, he turned her around to face him.  She kept her eyes downcast, not wanting him to see what was in them.  “You’re jealous,” he realized.  “There’s no reason for you to be.  Amber is my cousin.  She was having boyfriend problems and needed my advice.  We decided that we would go to the café and talk there over cappuccinos and sandwiches.”

Brianna raised her eyes then.  “When I saw you with her, I thought…”

He released her shoulders and slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her against him.  “You thought I was seeing someone.  Oh, Brianna, after what happened between us at the office, how could you think that?  I told you how I feel about you that evening.”

“You said you wanted me—”

“Yes, and I do very, very much but desire isn’t all I feel for you, Brianna.  What I’m trying to say is that I love you.”

“You love me?” she could hardly believe it.

“Yes!”

She reached up and cupped his face.  “I love you too,” she confessed.  “Admitting to myself that I was in love with you was the hardest thing for me to do because of the man I thought you were.  Perhaps, I painted that unflattering picture of you because I was afraid to let myself fall in love with a man who could have any woman he wanted.”

“You’re the only woman I want and love,” he declared huskily before he lowered his head and kissed her.

As she responded to his kisses, she thought how true these words were: You can’t stop the feelings you have for someone.  You can’t lie to yourself either.  Your heart knows the truth all too well.

 

The Age Difference

He traced his fingers over the heart with the initials TB + CH.  Eight years ago, he had carved them there.  Toby Barrington and Celeste Holmes.  Celeste.  Sighing heavily, he leaned against the tree as he recalled the first time they met.  It was eight years ago, just before the summer holidays began.

instead of going straight home, after leaving the college campus, he went to his mother’s office but she wasn’t there.  Instead, a woman he didn’t recognize was at the desk, sorting papers with her back to the door.  He stood there for a moment watching her.  Her hair was cropped short like a boy’s but when she turned around, her figure in the white blouse and pencil skirt was anything but boyish.  She smiled and walked over to him.  “You must be Toby,” she said, extending her hand.

He stared at her.  She had the most exquisite face he had ever seen.  She looked to be in her mid to late twenties.  Swallowing hard, he took her hand which felt small and soft in his.  “Yes,” he managed to say.

“I’m Celeste, your mother’s new assistant.  She told me that she was expecting you.  Please come in and have a seat over there by her desk.  She’s in a meeting right now but should be here shortly.”

He went over to the desk and put his knapsack on the floor beside the chair.  He didn’t sit but remained standing, watching her.  She finished the task she was doing before he interrupted and when she was done, she turned to face him.  “Would you like me to get you anything?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “No, thank you.”

“All right.  If you change you need anything, just stop by my desk.  It’s nice meeting you.  I have heard so much about you.”

“It’s nice meeting you too.”  He wondered if his face was red.  It felt hot.  He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it.

“Excuse me,” she said with a smile and quickly walked away.  He watched her until she disappeared.

He sat down on the chair and as he waited for his mother, he thought about Celeste.  When his mother finally joined him, apologizing profusely for keeping him waiting he nodded abstractedly, wondering when he was going to see Celeste again.  “Mother, do you mind if I were to pop by here again tomorrow?” he asked.

“Not at all, Dear.”

After the following day, he found excuses to stop by the office just so he could see Celeste until one day, his mother said to him, “Since you seem to like coming by the office so often, how would you like to work here for the summer?”

His face brightened.  “I would like that very much,” he assured her.  What a stroke of luck.  He was going to see Celeste all summer.  He was to start on the following week.   When he arrived bright and early on his first day on the job, it was Celeste who walked him through what his responsibilities were.  She was to be his supervisor which pleased him tremendously.

For the first couple of days, she sat with him and then, he was faring well on his own but it thrilled him whenever she stopped by to check his progress.  As she leaned over him to check something on his computer screen, he caught a whiff of her perfume and he turned his head slightly so that he could look at her.  After a while it was becoming increasingly hard being around her because his feelings for her were growing stronger.   He knew she didn’t have a boyfriend because his mother had divulged that information in passing.

One afternoon they were alone in the kitchenette.  She was rinsing her coffee mug and he was refilling his water bottle.  She looked incredible in the blue top with the V neck, revealing her long, slender neck and the tan skirt.  His gaze lingered on her shapely calves before returning to her face.  He blushed when he caught her looking at him.  It was not the first time that she had espied him staring at her.  She didn’t seem to mind, though.  He was sure that she must be used to men admiring her.

She leaned against the counter, studying him and making him very nervous.  “How old are you?” she asked.

“Eighteen.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

He shook his head.  “No.”

“What about the girls at college?”

“I’m not interested in any of them,” he said.  I am interested in you.

She seemed to be pondering something for a moment and then, she said, “I have a cousin about your age and—”

His expression darkened.  “I don’t want to go out with your cousin,” he told her curtly.  “I—I want to go out with you.”

That startled her and for a few minutes, she seemed at a loss for words.  “You’re too young for me,” she said finally.

That stung.  “I may be young but I’m very mature for my age,” he said.

“Yes, you are very mature for your age, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re eighteen and I’m—I’m nine years older than you.  Besides, your mother would not approve.”

“She doesn’t have to know.  We can see each other on the quiet until—until I’m at least twenty-one.”

She shook her head.  “No.  I can’t do it, Toby.  You should be with a girl your age.”

He opened his mouth to protest but she excused herself and walked away, leaving him feeling like he had been kicked in the stomach.  After that painful rejection, she avoided being alone with him.  And when his summer job was over, they hardly saw each other, except on occasions when his mother invited her over for tea or to work on some project.  And they didn’t say much to each other, except exchange pleasantries.  For eight years, he pined for her, longing for the day when she would give him a chance.

He roused himself from his reverie and moved away from the tree.  He didn’t come out here to dwell on the past or wish for something that may never happen.  It was a beautiful day but very hot.  When it was this hot, he always went for a swim in the lake.  He turned to look at the water as it shimmered in the sun, seeming to beckon to him.

Without any hesitation, he stripped down to his underwear and ran down to the water, wading in until it was up to his waist.  It felt nice and cool on his skin.   He swam to the other side of the lake and climbed on to the embankment.  He lay on his back in the shade with his arms folded behind his head.  He could stay out here all afternoon.

Unaware that he was being observed so when he turned to swim back to the grassy slope opposite, he started when he emerged and saw Celeste standing by the tree where his clothes lay.  His face grew crimson at the thought of climbing out, dripping wet, clad only in his underwear in front of her.  He wouldn’t be able to hide his attraction for her.

Her eyes travelled over his bare shoulders and torso before she turned away, her heart racing.  He went over to where his jeans lay and quickly pulled them on.  His shirt soon followed and after he buttoned it, he went and stood in front of her, his eyes riveted on her averted face.  “Why are you here, Celeste?” he asked.

“Your mother invited me to tea and to update me on all that happened while I was away,” she said, avoiding his searching gaze.  She couldn’t stop thinking about the way he looked when he came out of the water, dripping and the passions it evoked in her.

“I meant out here.”

“I-I wanted to give you this,” she said, showing him a beautiful wooden carved giraffe.  “I brought it back from Kenya for you.  Your mother told me that you were out here.  I—I didn’t know that you would be swimming.”

He took the souvenir from her, his fingers brushing against hers, sending a jolt of electricity through his body.  His eyes flew up to her face and found her watching him.  The expression on her face made his heart somersault.  What he saw in her eyes made him drop the giraffe and pull her roughly into his arms, making her gasp.  He kissed her hungrily, feverishly as the years of pent up emotions were released and groaned when he felt her cling to him as she responded wildly to his kisses.

She felt the rough bark of the tree pressing into her back and her head was tilted far back under the onslaught of his lips as he relentlessly plundered hers.  Her fingers gripped his hair, digging into the scalp as the emotions she had denied for so long raged in her like a fire.

This continued for a while and then, he raised his head, his breathing harsh and unsteady.  He gazed down into her face, his eyes dark and stormy.  “I love you,” he muttered thickly.  “I have loved you for eight long and agonizing years.”

She tried to catch her breath.  “I love you too,” she gasped.  “All the time I was in Kenya, I thought about you and wished that you were there with me.  I missed you so much, Toby.  I had to come by today and see you.  When I asked your mother where you were I was afraid that she would tell me that you were out with some girl.  She knows that I love you.  I couldn’t hide it from her and she wasn’t upset or anything.  Instead she told me where to find you and I ran down here to see you.”

He reached up and cupped her face between his hands.  “Does this mean that you will go out with me?” he asked huskily.

“Yes,” she whispered.  “As they say, when you truly love someone, age doesn’t matter whether it’s a difference of two years, fifteen years or in our case, nine years. Love is love…” her voice trailed off as she felt his lips against hers.

 

Getting Away

He had just walked out of the synagogue when he saw them.  Arrested, he stood there watching Brittney with her ex-boyfriend, Andre, his heart breaking.  Burning jealousy swept through him.  They were standing a few yards away but she didn’t see him.

His sister, Anna joined him, saw his face and followed his gaze to where the couple stood talking.  Then, she looked back at him, concerned.  “Who is she?” she asked.

It took a moment for him to speak because he was so upset.  “Brittney.”

“Is she a friend of yours?”

“Yes.”  He turned away, unable to watch them any longer.  He started walk away and Anna followed him.

“Are you in love with her?”

“Yes.”

“Does she know how you feel?”

“No.”

“Are you going to tell her?”

“What’s the point?” he snapped.  “She doesn’t feel the same way.”

“How do you know that?”

“We just saw her with Andre, her ex.  It’s clear that she hasn’t gotten over him and I was a fool to believe that she had.”

“Oh, Paul, I’m so sorry.  What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.  I need time to think.”

“Why don’t you go to Paris for a few days?  You haven’t taken a vacation in ages.  You’re long overdue for one.”

He glanced down at her.  “You’re right,” he said.  “I need to get away and try to figure out what I’m going to do.  If I stay here in London, I will be tempted to go to her and I can’t bear to see her right now.  It hurts too much.”  A muscle began to throb along his jawline and he quickly turned away.

Anna reached for his hand and held it tightly.  It hurt to see her brother like this.  He was a brilliant businessman but when it came to matters of the heart, he lacked good judgment.  This wasn’t the first time a woman broke his heart but it seemed that he fell really hard for this one.  Hopefully, he would get over her as soon as possible.  He deserved better.  The trip to Paris would do him good.  She went back to his flat with him and while he changed, she got his lunch ready.  She had just put a plate of food she had prepared yesterday and brought on the table for him when the phone rang.

“Do you mind answering that for me?” he called from the bedroom.

“Hello?” she listened for a moment.  “No, you have the right number.  This is Anna speaking.  Hold one moment, please.”  She placed her hand over the mouthpiece.  “It’s Brittney,” she said when he came into the living-room.

He shook his head, indicating that he didn’t want to talk to her.

“I’m afraid he’s not available at the moment.  Perhaps he will call you back later.  Goodbye.”  She replaced the receiver into the cradle and turned to look at him.  “Are you sure you don’t want to talk to her?”

He shook his head.  “I can’t right now.  I need to clear my head first.  I’ll call her when I come back from Paris.”

“All right.  Do you need me for anything?”

He smiled.  “No, Anna.  I’ll be fine.  You should go home to Peter and the kids.  I will call you tomorrow when I check into the hotel.”

She hugged him tightly.  “I love you,” she said drawing back to look up at him.

“I love you too.  And thanks for the food.”  He followed her to the door and they said goodbye.  He shut the door and leaned against it for a moment.  Why did Brittney call him? Was it to tell him that she was back with Andre.  He closed his eyes in despair.  It would kill him if she was.

Brittney stared at the phone, her mind swirling with all sorts of thoughts and questions.  A woman named Anna had answered Paul’s phone.  Who was she?  Red, hot jealousy surged through her and she was tempted to go over to his place right now and find out.  Then, she remembered that he had a sister and her name was Anna.  Relief washed over her.  Paul wasn’t seeing another woman.  But why hadn’t he come to the phone?  She looked at the clock above the mantelpiece, debating whether she should call again or wait for him to call.  It was after seven.  She decided that she would let him call her.  In the meantime, she fixed herself a light dinner and ate it in front of the television.

When ten o’clock came and she still hadn’t heard from him, she began to worry.  It wasn’t like him not to call.  It was too late for her to call him.  She would have to wait until the morning to do so.  Disappointed, she turned off the television and went to bed.

The next morning, she got up, showered, dressed and had breakfast.  After she was done, she hurried to the phone and called Paul but there was no answer.  When the machine came on, she left a message.  She went to church and as soon as she got home, she called but still no answer.  She tried his cell but it was turned off.  She tried all day calling both his home number and his cell until finally, in the evening, she decided to go over to his flat.  She rang the bell and knocked but it was clear that Paul wasn’t there.  Where could he be?  After standing there for a while, she left.  She was worried and had a restless night.

The next morning, she called him but got the same results.  She got ready for work.  On her way to the office, she called his cell but it was still turned off.  Intermittently, throughout the day, she tried to reach him but to no avail and by the time the workday was over, she was very anxious.  Why wasn’t he answering his phone and why hadn’t he called her back? When she got home, she decided that she would call his sister.  She took out the phone directory and searched for her name. She remembered that Paul said that she lived in South Kensington, twenty minutes from where he lived and that she was married to Peter Goldstein, the reporter from the Times.  She searched under Goldstein and found the number.

A woman answered and she recognized her voice.  “Hello, Anna, this is Brittney.  I spoke to you yesterday evening when I called for Paul.  Do you know where he is?  I have been trying since Saturday to reach him.  I’m out of my mind with worry.”

“Hello Brittney.  Paul is in Paris.”

“Paris?” Brittney exclaimed.  “What is he doing there?  Is he there on business?”

“No.  He needed to get away.”

“What did he need to get away from?” she asked, bewildered.  “It’s not like him to go away and not tell me.  And he didn’t return my call on Saturday.  Is-is he seeing someone?”

“No.  He went to Paris alone.  Brittney, I was with him on Saturday when he came out of the synagogue and saw you with Andre.  It upset him so much that I suggested that he should take a break and go to Paris.”

“Oh no,” Brittney groaned.  “He saw me with Andre and thought—”

“That you were back with him.  He was devastated.  I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this but Paul is in love with you.”

“And I’m in love with him.  I have been for a long time.”

“He thinks that you’re still in love with Andre.”

“I’m over Andre.  I have been for a long time now and it’s because of Paul.  Meeting Paul and his friendship has changed my life.  And seeing Andre again made me realize that the feelings I had for him are nothing compared to my feelings for Paul.  Andre wanted us to pick up where we left off but I told him that I was in love with someone else.  I wished him well and then, I walked away.  My past with Andre is over and done with.  My future is with Paul.  Anna, please tell me where he’s staying.  I want to go to him.”  Her life felt so empty without him.  She missed him so much it ached.  How she longed to be with him.

There was a brief moment of silence and then, Anna told her the name of the hotel where he was staying.  After Brittney thanked her profusely, she said, “I’m very relieved to know that you love my brother and I wish you two all the happiness in the world.”

Brittney thanked her again and rang off.  She quickly called the office and informed her assistant that she was taking the rest of the week off.  Then, she dialed the number to book the first available flight for the following day to Paris.  She packed a bag, her heart thudding with excitement.  She was going to see Paul in a matter of hours.  I can’t wait to see him.

Paul stood on the terrace looking at the city bathed in the crimson glow of the setting sun, wishing she was there with him.  “Oh, Brittney,” he whispered brokenly, dragging his fingers through his hair as he ached for her.  Paris was a city for lovers.  If only Brittney and he were lovers instead of just friends.  If only she were with him instead of Andre…

Frustrated, he went back into the room and was going over to the bed to lie down when he heard a knock on the door.  Frowning, he went to answer it.  Opening it he was startled to see Brittney standing there, luggage in tow.   He blinked, thinking he was imagining things.  She couldn’t possibly be here in Paris.  Then, she said, “Hello Paul.” She reached up and touched his face, her gaze almost a caress.

He eyes darkened and he caught her hand to draw her into the room.  “What are you doing here?” he asked when he had closed the door and was facing her.

“I had to come.  I called your sister and she told me where you were.  I had been calling for you since Saturday but when I couldn’t reach you, I got really worried.  I went by your flat but you weren’t there so when I got home.  I called your sister on Monday and we spoke for a while.  She told me that you were here in Paris and explained why.  You saw me with Andre.”

His expression became drawn at the memory.  “When I saw you with him, I felt as if someone had pushed their hand into my chest and ripped out my heart.”

She moved closer to him.  “I’m so sorry that you saw us,” said, wringing her hands.  “It wasn’t at all what you thought.  Andre wanted to resume our relationship but I told him that I was in love with someone else.”

“And what did he say?” he asked as he moved closer, his heart pounding.

“Nothing but I wished him well and walked away.”

“So, it’s over between him and you.”

“Yes and it has been over for a long time now.”

He was standing right in front of her now, their bodies inches apart.  Wordlessly, he pulled her against him and his head lowered towards hers.

She watched transfixed as his face drew closer to hers, her gaze dropped to his mouth.  Her eyes closed as waves of indescribable pleasure undulated through her body when she felt his lips brush against her.  Putting her arms around his neck, she responded passionately to his kisses.  They stood there in the room in the dappled shade of the setting sun as it streaked through the windows, exchanging feverish kisses.

“I love you,” he muttered when at length, he raised his head to gaze down into her upturned face.  “I love you so very much.”

She smiled at him.  “I love you too,” she told him.  “That’s what I came to Paris to tell you.”

“It’s funny but just a few minutes ago, I was wishing that you were here with me in the City of lovers and then you show up.”

“Yes.  You came to Paris to get away from me and here I am.”

“Yes, here you are.  I never want us to be apart again.  It was foolish of me to think that coming here would help in some way.  I missed you so much even when I thought you had gone back to him.”

“Let’s not think about when we were apart but enjoy being together now,” she suggested huskily.  “We are in the city of love so let’s do what lovers do.”

“Yes,” he whispered and picked her up in his arms.