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.