The Cruise

He sat back in the chair, arms over the sides, his long legs crossed, watching her as she did her stretches on the deck.  He watched her, wanting her and kicking himself for it.  His attraction for her was like a fever, burning him up inside and a sickness that seemed to grow worse.  At nights it was torture.  He would lay awake, thinking about her and wishing that she was lying next to him instead of Moira.  When Moira and he made love, he imagined that it was Yasmin and felt like a heel afterwards.

Yasmin noticed Adam sitting there and that he was alone.  She wondered where Moira was.  The strawberry blonde was constantly by his side.  However, today, he was by himself and she could feel him watching her and it thrilled her.  He looked sullen as usual but she wasn’t going to let that bother her.  She finished her exercises and went over to him.  Smiling, she greeted him, “Good morning, Adam.”

She saw his gaze travel over her slim figure clad in a red tank top and black capri leggings.  He looked like a preppy dressed in a navy blue jacket with a handkerchief in the pocket, a pink sweater over a blue and white striped shirt and green shorts.  It seemed like too many colors to be wearing at once but he managed to pull it over.  A pair of expensive looking brown loafers completed the look.  His thick, silky dark hair was off his forehead as he had a habit of combing it back with his fingers.

“Good morning,” he replied, his expression guarded.

She sat down.  “Where’s Moira?”

“She was here on the deck with me earlier but began experience motion sickness so I took her back to the cabin.  I gave her some Gravol and she’s having a lie down.  Colette is with her now.”

Yasmin took a couple of sips of her water before she replied.  “I hope she feels better.  It’s a good thing that we are at sea all day today.  It would be a shame for her to miss any of the sightseeing.”  She leaned back in the chair.  “It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is,” he conceded, somewhat reluctantly.  He was trying not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  The face that haunted him, intruded upon his dreams and thoughts was right in front of him.  Part of him wished that she would go away and leave him alone and the other part wanted her to stay.

“What do you plan on doing now that Moira is indisposed?”

“I don’t know.  Perhaps, I will stay here for a while, then return to the cabin and stay there until it’s time for lunch.”

“Do you mind if I keep your company?” she asked.

He shook his head.  The part of him that wanted her to stay was stronger.  This was the first time that they were alone together and opportunity for him to learn more about her.  “Is this your first cruise?”

She nodded.  “Yes, it is.  I was so excited when Colette told me about it last year.  I’m looking forward to visiting Italy and France.”

“It’s a pity that Le Havre isn’t one of the ports we will stop at when we reach France.  You would have been able to see Paris.  Do you know why it’s really called the ‘City of Lights’?”

She shook her head.  It was so pleasant being with him like this and actually having a conversation, the two things she hadn’t been able to do until now.

“It was referred as the City of Light, not the City of Lights because of its leading role during the Age of Enlightenment and it was one of the first European cities to light its boulevards and streets with gas lamps.”

“So you’ve been to Paris before.  What other places have you been to?”

He told her about the different countries he traveled to and she listened, enthralled.  The way he described the various places was so vivid and detailed that she could almost imagine herself being there.  She could have sat there and listened to him talk for ages but he turned the conversation over to her by asking questions about her.

Her life sounded so ordinary compared to his and when she learned that he was a barrister, she smiled as she pictured him wearing the white wig.  Intrigued, she asked him what it was like to be a barrister.  As she listened to him talk about the 12 month training, what it was like shadowing his supervisor and when he was able to practice, her job as an editor for a fashion magazine seemed dull.  They talked for a long while and then it was almost time for lunch.

He walked her back to her cabin and while he went to his to see if Moira was up for going to lunch, she went to change and freshen up.  Colette was there.  Together, they went to Adam’s cabin and found Moira and him waiting.  “You’re feeling better, I see,” Yasmin commented.

Moira smiled.  “Yes, the Gravol helped.  I’m hungry.”

Colette put her arm around her.  “Good.  You got your appetite back.”

Adam and Yasmin followed them.  As they walked beside each other down the corridor, he looked at her the same time she looked at him.  Their eyes were locked in a steady gaze for a several minutes and then she looked away.  He turned to look straight ahead of him, a muscle throbbing along his jawline and his eyes dark with the emotions that were raging inside him at the moment.

The four of them had lunch together and afterwards, Adam and Moira went back to the cabin while Yasmin and Colette went to the boutique.  “They have a suite,” Colette was telling her as they went on the deck where they planned to relax for the rest of the afternoon.  “I felt as if I were in a hotel.  They have a balcony too.”

Yasmin was thinking about Adam what had transpired between them in the corridor a while ago.  The look they had exchanged.  It was charged.  Is that why he went back to the suite with Moira instead of hanging out with Colette and her?  “How long have they been dating?” she asked.

“About three years.”

“Do you think they will get married?”

“I don’t know.  Look here’s a nice spot.” Colette went on to talk about other things and then she leaned back and covered her face with her hat.

Yasmin sat there, her mind muddled.  The last thing she wanted to do was fall for a guy who was already in a relationship.   She resolved then not to be alone with him for the rest of the cruise.  That night at dinner, she tried to act nonchalant around him and spent most of her time talking to the two brothers who shared their table. The next day when they stopped in Gibraltar, Colette and she accompanied the two brothers to the summit of the rock and the four of them stood there admiring the spectacular views.  She was aware of Adam standing close by and when she came down from the rock and walked past him, she could feel him watching her.

It was hard avoiding him but she felt that it was the sensible thing to do.  When they were on the sandy beach of Costa Blanca, he managed to get her alone.  The others were walking along the stretch of white sand, taking photos, dipping their feet in the water.  As she would have walked past him, he caught her by the arm, forcing her to stop and look up at him.  “Why are you avoiding me?” he demanded, his eyes smoldering as they met her gaze.

“Am I?” she asked.

“You know you are,” he hissed.  “And I want to know why.”

“Please, let’s join the others before they start to wonder—”

“By others do you mean Tom?  You have been spending a lot of time with him lately.”

She turned her head away.  If she continued looking at him, her resolve would crumble.  “Unlike you, Tom isn’t in a relationship.  Now, please let go of my arm.  They are looking at us.”  She tugged at her arm and he released it.  She hurried away, almost running, anxious to get away from him and the feelings he stirred in her.

He watched her go, his heart pounding wildly and his breathing harsh.  How he longed to go after her and tell her how seeing her with Tom pained him. Frustrated, he ran his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes as the struggled to compose himself before he joined the group.

That night at dinner and subsequent night after that he sat there, watching her with Tom and wondered how much more he could endure.  When they were in Rome, he was distracted by Tom taking photos of Yasmin in front of the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.  He hardly noticed his surroundings with their rich history and stunning architecture.  Every place they visited was a blur for him.  He was actually thankful when it was the final night on the cruise.

The group decided to go to the nightclub that night after dinner.  He wasn’t in the mood for dancing and preferred to sit at a table and nurse his virgin daiquiri.  The four of them chatted, reminiscing about the different places they had visited.  Then, Tom and his brother came over to the table and asked Yasmin and Colette to dance.  Yasmin hesitated for a second and then she got up.  Adam watched her go.  Jealousy tore through him as he watched Tom put his hand on her waist and they moved to the music.  His fingers tightened around the glass.

“It’s late,” Moira said.  “I think we should turn in now.  We have a very early day tomorrow.” She stood up.

Adam finished his drink and stood up as well.  After casting one last look at the dance floor, he followed Moira out of the nightclub.  Back in their suite, not much was said and when Moira turned in, he went out on the balcony and stayed there for a while, staring at the ocean, wondering if Yasmin was still at the nightclub with Tom.  It was late when he finally turned in and even then, he didn’t fall asleep for a while.

At breakfast, Moira and he sat with Yasmin and Colette.  Colette did most of the talking while Yasmin toyed with her breakfast, her eyes downcast as she avoided looking at Adam.  When they said goodbye to each other, she managed to smile but inside she was hurting.  She didn’t feel right hugging Moira so she just squeezed her hand and then walked away.  She and Colette were going to spend the day in Southampton before taking the train back to London.

When they were in the car that would take them from Southampton to London, Moira said to him, “I know that you don’t love me, Adam.  You care for me but you don’t love me.  You never did.  I realize that now.  I want to be with a man who loves me the way I love him.”

Adam looked at her, his face pale.  “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

“I’m sorry too,” she said and looked away.  A few moments of silence passed and then she turned to him.  “It’s Yasmin, isn’t it?  I saw the way you looked at her.”

“Yes,” he admitted.  It was no use denying it now.  He was hopelessly in love with her.

“It explains the recent cacophony between us.  You were acting differently toward me and I couldn’t explain why until last night on the ship.  I saw your reaction to Yasmin dancing with Tom.  You were jealous.  You couldn’t hide it.  It was there on your face.  What I would have given for you to look that way for me.”

Adam reached out and covered her hands as they lay clasped in her lap.  “I’m so very sorry, Moira” he said again.  “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know,” she said.  “You have no reason to be jealous of Tom or any man.  It’s obvious that Yasmin is in love with you too.”

Adam stared at her.  “Thank you,” he said.

“For what?” she asked, not looking at him.

“For being so kind to me when I really don’t deserve it.”

“I still love you,” she said.  “And I want you to be happy even if it’s not with me.”  After that she said nothing else for the rest of the drive.  Her face was turned to the window so that he wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.  When the car pulled up outside her building, he came out and they hugged.  “Goodbye, Adam.”

“Goodbye, Moira.”

Adam got back into the car and after he watched her disappear into the building he told the driver to take him to his flat.

Hours later, Yasmin was in her flat.  She had just finished taking a shower when the doorbell rang.  She hurried to the door and peered through the keyhole, her heart skipping a beat when she saw who it was.  She unlocked the door and opened it.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.

Adam’s eyes were restless on her face.  “I have something I need to say to you.”

“I think I said all I needed to say where we were on that beach.”

“May I come in?”

She stepped aside to let him in and then she closed the door.  Leaning against it, she asked, “What do you have to say to me?” She tried not to notice how handsome he looked in the white shirt and dark jeans.  His hair was slightly tousled.

“I love you, Yasmin,” he muttered thickly.  “I love you and I want to be with you.”

She swallowed, her heart racing now.  “What about Moira?” she asked.

“Moira and I are no longer together.  She figured out that I am in love with you.”

Yasmin tried to process what she was hearing.  “How did she take it?”

“She was heartbroken but bore no grudge toward me.  She is a fine woman and I hope that one day she would find a man worthy of her.”  He moved closer, his hands aching to touch her.  “She told me that I have no reason to be jealous of Tom or any man.”

“She’s right,” Yasmin told him.  “I love you, Adam.  Tom knew that too.”

He groaned, reaching for her and pulling her into his arms.  “You have no idea how seeing you with him has tormented me.   That day on the beach, I was almost out of my mind with jealousy because you were spending so much time with him and avoiding me.”

“I had to stay away from you because of your relationship with Moira.”

“There’s no reason for us to stay away from each other now,” he muttered before he lowered his head and kissed her.

As his mouth moved furiously and feverishly on hers, she moaned, closing her eyes and kissed him back.  She reached up and buried her fingers in his thick, silky hair, the nails digging into the scalp as they exchanged hungry kisses.

That morning, when she said goodbye to him, she thought that it was the last time she would ever see him.  Yet, here he was, in her flat and in her arms, as much in love with her as she was with him.  The bleak future which, moments ago, she had foreseen for herself had turned into a very bright one.

 

young couple on cruise ship

Sources:  Royal Caribbean; Wikipedia; Royal Caribbean; Chambers Student; Wikipedia; Wikipedia;

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Family Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have a telephone call.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right,” she said.

“I’ll see you at seven-thirty, then.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hope you’re right,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Studio

“You don’t have to be a genius to see that this relationship will not last,” commented Marie as she and Caitlin sat in the corner of a trendy restaurant in the fashionable district of Chelsea.  It was celebratory dinner party for the opening of Ava’s boutique in the area.  She had invited Marie, her sister-in-law who had in turn invited Rachel.  They were sitting having non-alcoholic drinks after a delicious dinner while the others were on the dance floor.

Marie’s remark was directed at Ava and her boyfriend, Reid, a businessman/artist.  They had been dating for less than a year now.  They were dancing but he seemed a bit uncomfortable.   Clearly, he didn’t like the public display of affection but Ava didn’t seem to care.  This was her way of letting the other women know that he was not available.

As Rachel watched them, she couldn’t deny that they made a very attractive couple.  Ava had thick dark brown hair that tumbled down in unruly waves down her tanned back.  She looked absolutely stunning in the strapless fuchsia dress.  Several male eyes were on her but she only had eyes for Reid.  Rachel’s gaze shifted to Reid.  He was tall and very attractive.  He looked amazing in the navy blue striped suit, navy blue shirt and matching tie.  His thick dark brown hair was neatly combed as usual.

She remembered the first time she met Reid.  It was at a mutual friend’s place.  It was early autumn and as she came out of the cottage to go for a walk in the gardens, she noticed him standing among stalks of wheat which seemed rather out of place to her.  She expected the grounds to be covered in green grass and surrounded by trees with changing colors.  He was wearing a blue sweater over a checkered shirt and dark blue trousers.  He didn’t notice her at first as she stood there just staring at him and thinking that he was drop dead gorgeous.  Then, he turned his head slightly to the right and their eyes met.

Shortly after, he went over to her, his eyes never leaving her face.  She was wearing a black and white striped shirt and black pants.  She hoped her hair looked fine.  He held out his hand.  “Hello, I’m Reid,” he said.

She smiled as he clasped her hand.  “Rachel.”  After he released her hand, she folded her arms.  She saw the way his eyes slipped over her before they settled on her face again.

“Do you have a jacket?” he asked.  “It’s a bit cool today.”

“It’s inside with my handbag,” she said. “I came out to go for a walk and forgot how cool it was.  I’ll go quickly and get it.”  She went back to the house and when she went back, he was standing where she had left him.

“Do you mind if I join you?” he asked.

She shook her head, smiling.  “I would like the company,” she said.

“Did you come alone?”

“Yes,” she turned to look at him as they headed for the gardens.  “Did you?”

“I came with Ava.”

“Ava Parker?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know her?”

“Not very well.  She’s my friend Marie’s sister-in-law.”

“Yes, I have met Marie.  A very pleasant woman.”

As they walked he asked her questions about herself.  She learned that he met Ava at a gallery where his artwork was on display.  She suddenly stopped and stared at him.  “Are you Reid Faulkner?” She asked.

He nodded with a smile.

“I’ve seen some of your paintings and they are amazing.  They are so real.  My favorite so far is of the homeless young girl.  You did it in black and white.  It was beautiful and haunting at the same time.  It’s now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London.”

“I like to paint about current issues,” he said.  “I’m more into realism than the other forms of art like impressionism and romanticism.”

“You captured the sadness in her eyes, the dirty fingernails and the hopelessness of her situation.  Whatever became of her?”

“She’s in a homeless shelter for the youth now.  When she learned that her portrait was in the gallery, she was over the moon.”

“That’s great.  How do you do it—your painting, I mean?”

“I sketch and then, I paint.  I don’t have to have the person pose for me.”

They continued walking and then they decided to head back to the cottage.  When they got there, Ava was waiting in front and as soon as she saw them, she hurried over to Reid.  “There you are,” she exclaimed, slipping her arm in his.  “I was wondering where you had gone off to.  Oh, hello, Rachel,” she said, her green eyes shifting to her and pursing her lips.  The displeasure on her face was unmistakable.  She tugged gently on Reid’s arm.  “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.  Excuse us, Rachel.”

Reid barely got to give Rachel a backward glance before he was whisked away.  They hadn’t had a moment alone after that.  Ava saw to that.  However, she couldn’t prevent them from looking at each other every opportunity they got and on her way home, Rachel couldn’t stop thinking about Reid and how much she wanted to see him again.  And couple months later, here they were in a Chelsea restaurant.

She turned now to Marie who was looking at her.  “You were somewhere else for a bit,” she said.

“I was just remembering something,” she said evasively.  “Why don’t you think their relationship will last?”

“She’s too clingy and men don’t like that.  They don’t like to be smothered.  Besides, I don’t think he’s as into her as she’s into him.  It’s all in the body language, my dear.  Look at him.  The dance is over and he looks relieved.  Why don’t we invite them to join us?”  She waved at the couple as they parted and were heading back to their table.

Rachel’s eyes went immediately to Reid and her heart began to beat fast.  She smoothed her hair down and rubbed the palms of her hands on the skirt of her blue elastic waist dress.  Reid’s gaze went first to Marie and then to Rachel where they remained.  Ava noticed and said, “Why don’t we go over to the bar and sit there or outside on the terrace where it’s a lot cooler?”

At that moment, Marie got up from her seat and said to Ava, “Why don’t we go and freshen up?” and she grabbed her arm and escorted her away before she could object.

Alone, Reid sat down beside Rachel.  “It’s good to see you again,” he said quietly.  “I was hoping that we would meet again.  How have you been?”

She smiled and tried to act calm although she was nervous.  He was staring at her, his expression was intense.  “It’s good to see you again, too,” she admitted, sounding a bit breathless.  “I’m happy to see you and I’ve been doing well.”

“Are you busy tomorrow afternoon?” he asked.

“No.”

“I’d like you to come over to my studio,” he said.  He took out his wallet and removed a business card.  He scribbled something at the back of it and handed it to her.  As she read the name and address of the studio, he added, “I’d like to paint you.”

She glanced up in surprise.  “Paint me?” she exclaimed.  “But why would you want to paint me?”

“You’re beautiful,” he said simply.  “I want to capture that beauty.”

“I’m not sure,” she said, suddenly feeling very self-conscious.  “I’ve never had such a proposition before.” He thinks I’m beautiful.

“Think about it.  I will look out for you tomorrow.  If I don’t see you, I’ll know that you decided not to do it and although, I will be disappointed, I will understand.”

“Thank you,” she said and she put the card in her handbag.  She didn’t feel pressured now.

“If you like, you can still come to my studio just to see my work.”

“I’d like that,” she said.

He smiled and just then, Ava and Marie joined them.  Ava’s eyes flashed at Rachel.

Marie said to Rachel, “I think we should leave now,” she said.  “It’s getting late and I have a busy day tomorrow with the hubby and kids.  Ava, congratulations on your new business venture.  I’ve no doubt that it will be a great success.  Reid, as always it is a pleasure to see you.”

Rachel got up and came round the table so that she was standing next to Reid.  She could feel his eyes on her.  She said goodnight first to Ava whose expression was hostile and then she turned to Reid, holding out her hand.  He took it and her pulse raced when she felt him squeeze it gently.  Their eyes held for a brief moment and then she turned and walked away.

On their way to her car, Marie remarked, “There’s something going on between Reid and you.  I sensed it and I know Ava did too, that’s why she didn’t want to leave the two of you alone.  So, what did he say to you?”

“He invited me to go to his studio tomorrow.  He wants to paint me.”

“Wow, that’s a great compliment.  I wish I had an artist ask to paint me.  Well, are you going to do it or not?”

“I’m not sure…”

“I think you should do it.  It might be fun and besides, it gives the two of you a chance to be alone.”

“But, what about Ava?”

“Ava’s history.  I won’t be surprised if he breaks up with her tonight.”

“I don’t want to be the cause for their breakup.”

“It would have happened even if you weren’t in the picture.  Don’t feel bad about it.  Ava’s not the right woman for Reid.  And that’s a fact that’s clear to everyone, except her, unfortunately.”

Rachel sighed.  “She already doesn’t like me and now I’m giving her a good reason to hate me.”

“Don’t worry about Ava,” Marie advised her.  “She’ll get over Reid in time.”

Rachel thought about it as she lay in bed that night and by morning, she had decided that she would go to the studio.  It was on a quiet street and located on the second floor of a warehouse.  The door was open and she went in.  There was an easel with a blank sheet of paper on it.  Framed paintings stacked against the walls.  Bright light effused the spacious room.  She could smell the paints and she smiled as she looked around.  It was such a treat being in an artist’s studio and seeing his work.  There were a couple of floor lamps, chairs, a stool and a table with the paints.

As she was studying and admiring the paintings on the wall adjacent to the windows, Reid came in.  He smiled when he saw her.  “Hello,” he said.  “I’m glad you came.  I hope you didn’t have any trouble finding the place.”

She turned toward him, thinking how sexy he looked in the black shirt and blue jeans.  “No, I didn’t have any trouble finding it.  It’s a really nice with lots of natural light.  I was just admiring your work.  Some of them, I recognized.  Has Ava ever been here?”

“Once.  Would you like something to drink?”

She shook her head.  “Not right now, thanks.”

“So, what have you decided?”

“I’ve decided to let you paint me.”

He grinned, rubbing his hands together.  “Splendid.  Now, all you have to do is sit on the stool over there and try not to move.  You can set your handbag and jacket on the chair over there.  Thanks for agreeing to do this, Rachel.”

She did as he instructed and climbed up on the stool.  As she sat down, she was glad that she had worn jeans instead of the long black skirt with the side slit.  She watched as he mixed the paints and then stood behind the easel and got to work.  After two hours of not moving, she was relieved when he set his brush down and stepped from behind the easel.

“We’re done for today,” he said.

She slid down from the stool and stretched.  “How long will it take to complete?” she asked.

“Two weeks.  You don’t have to sit every time because I know you’re busy.  I have a sketch that I can work from.”

“I can come in the evenings after work,” she offered.

“That would be great.  Are you hungry?”

She nodded.

“There’s a bistro around the corner where we can have something to eat or we can order take out delivery and eat here.  Which would you prefer?”

“Take out.”

They had Thai food delivered to them and they sat cross legged on the floor, eating and talking.  It was dark outside by the time they left the studio.  Before they parted, they arranged to meet again at the studio the following day.  For two weeks, she went to the studio and sat for two hours as he painted her.  Finally, the day came when she would see the finished painting.  Excited, she let herself into the studio and closed the door.

She went over to the chair to put her jacket on it when Reid came into the room.  She turned and her breath caught in her throat when she saw that he was not wearing a shirt.  It was in his hand.  He stopped short when he saw her.  “You’re early,” he commented as he pulled it on but didn’t button it.  He went over to where she stood.  Flustered, she turned away.

She felt his hands on her shoulders turning her around to face him.  Their eyes met and what she saw in his made her mouth go dry.  Desire shone in their depths.  “Rachel,” he muttered huskily.  “You must know by now how I feel about you.”

The feelings churning inside her were on her face.  “What about Ava?” she asked, trying not to look at his chest.

“I ended my relationship with her that night at the restaurant.  She blamed you.  She saw the attraction between us.  I told her that I would have ended our relationship even if you and I had not met.  I told her that we were not right for each other.  I felt badly about it but I couldn’t continue pretending that everything was fine when it wasn’t.”

“I feel sorry for her but, I can’t say that I’m sorry that you’re available now…”

“Oh, Rachel…” he moaned before he lowered his head and kissed her.  She kissed him back, her arms going around his neck as she pressed against him.  The sunlight flooded the room, bathing them in its warmth as they exchanged passionate kisses.  “I love you,” he murmured against her lips.

“I love you too,” she whispered.  She had loved him that day when she saw him standing there among the wheat, looking like he just had stepped out of the pages of GQ.

Several hours later, he unveiled the painting and her mouth dropped open when she saw.  Moved to tears, she said, “It’s beautiful.”

His eyes were tender as he looked at her.  “That’s how I see you,” he said quietly. “You’re beautiful within and without.  This painting is going to be for my private viewing.  It’s not going to be placed in any gallery.”

“Good,” she said, putting her arms around his waist.  “I don’t relish the idea of hanging in public for everyone to gawk at me.  Both the painting and I are for your eyes only.” And with that, she reached up and kissed him.

Sources:  End Youth HomelessnessReitman’s; Social Lifestyle Magazine; Albert’s Club

The Ball

Monica was walking on the immaculate grounds of Whitmore Manor where her friend and co-worker Alex invited her to spend the afternoon.  It was the day before the annual charity ball and already there was a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air.  This was to be her first one since she only started working with Alex in autumn of last year.

As she pondered over what to expect, her gaze drank in the beautiful landscape which spread before and around her.  She was so caught up in her surroundings that she didn’t notice the tall man heading towards her until she almost ran into him.

Her eyes flew up from his broad chest to his face.  Her breath caught in her throat when she found herself looking into classic handsome features.  Dark, wavy hair, dark brown eyes, chiseled nose and his lips…she realized that they were moving which meant he was saying something.  She pulled herself together.

“I–I’m sorry,” she apologized.  “I was so busy admiring the place that I didn’t see you until a moment ago.”

His eyes were riveted to her face.  “And, you are?”

She held out her hand.  “I’m Monica.  I’m here because of Alex.”

“Jared.”  He grasped her hand.  “Does he know you are here?”

“Yes.  He brought me here to spend a quiet afternoon.”

“Where is he?  He’s not a very good host leaving you out here by yourself.”

“He didn’t mean to desert me,” she said, trying to act calm when her heart was racing.  Jared was staring at her with those penetrating eyes of his and he was still holding her hand.  “He had to run an errand and said that he would be back shortly.”

He released her hand then and shoved both of his in the pockets of his trousers.  “So, how long have Alex and you known each other?” he asked.

She put her hands behind her back.  “September will make it a year,” she said.

“You’re different from his other girlfriends,” he noted as he studied her face.

She was about to tell him that she was not Alex’s girlfriend when Alex himself showed up.

He came from behind Jared.  He grinned at Monica.  “I see you have met my big brother,” he told her.  He turned to Jared.  “Thank you for taking care of Monica while I was gone.”

Jared inclined his head.  “It was my pleasure,” he said before his gaze shifted to Monica.  “It was nice meeting you.”

She smiled at him.  “It was nice meeting you too.”

“Excuse me.”  He turned and walked away.  Monica was sorry to see him go.

When they were alone, she turned to Alex, “He thinks I’m your girlfriend,” she told him, looking very displeased.  “What gave him that impression?”

“Well, the only women I brought here to meet Mother and Jared were the ones I dated so when he met you, he naturally assumed that you were my current girlfriend.”  He looked at her.  “Does it bother you that he thinks that we are dating?”

“Yes, it does.”

Alex groaned.  “Don’t tell me that you have fallen for his dark, brooding looks too.”

“Is that why you never mentioned to me that you even had a brother?”

“It must have slipped my mind.  Anyway, let’s talk about something else.  Are you all set for the ball tomorrow evening?  I won’t be able to bring you, I’m afraid.  I have to be here, greeting the guests.”

“Yes, I’m looking forward to it.  I’ve never been to a ball before.  Is everyone going to be there?”

“By everyone, you mean Jared.  Yes, he’ll be there–he and his brooding looks which always seems to attract the ladies.”

Monica looked at him.  “Do I detect a little bit of jealousy?”

Alex sighed.  “Yes, I am jealous and have been since we were children.  He was always getting the attention and the girls.  That hasn’t changed.  Just once I would like to find a woman who will be immune to his charms and prefer me instead.”

Monica tucked her arm in his and gave him an encouraging smile.  “I’m sure you will find such a woman.  Now, this woman would like a tour of the grounds, if you don’t mind.”

He smiled.  “It would be my pleasure.”

It was the night of the ball and she entered the room, her eyes wide with wonder as she espied the magnificent room and the beautiful decorations.  When Alex saw her, he whistled.  He was standing by the entrance receiving the guests with his mother and Jared.  She was wearing a strapless cream chiffon gown and her hair was swept up exposing her long, slender neck.   “You look amazing,” he said as he kissed her on the cheek.

She smiled.  “Thank you.”  Her gaze shifted to Jared who was staring at her.  He looked absolutely gorgeous in his black tuxedo.  Even in her heels, she had to tilt her head back to look up at him.  “Hello, Jared,” she said shyly.

“Hello, Monica,” was his quiet reply.  He had a curious expression on his face.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“It’s good to be here.”  She lingered there for a moment before she moved reluctantly away.  She could feel his eyes on her as she greeted his mother.  The older woman beamed at her.  “You look lovely, my Dear,” she said.  “I am delighted that you could come.  I hope you enjoy yourself.”

Monica smiled.  “Thank you, I will.”  She moved on, taking in the atmosphere, the people.  She saw a few of her co-workers milling about and she joined them.  At dinner time, she sat at the same table with the Whitmore family.  She was seated next to Alex and opposite Jared.  Every now and then, she raised her eyes to look at him and found him already looking at her.  Each time their eyes met, she felt her heart race.  No one else seemed to notice.

The food was amazing and afterwards, there was dancing.  She danced a couple of dances with Alex who was in very high spirits.  Then, as she was about to follow Alex back to the table, Jared barred her.  “Dance with me,” he said and wordlessly, she acquiesced.   Her heart did a somersault when he pulled her to him and they moved to the music.

He was a terrific dancer and his movements were fluid.  She was acutely aware of his hand in the small of her back, their bodies inches apart.  He smelled really good.  It felt wonderful dancing with him and she wished that it would last.  At one point she looked up at him and he was looking down at her.  His eyes were dark and smoldering and a muscle throbbed along his jaw line.  They didn’t say anything but the moment was charged as their attraction for each other was palpable.  She saw his gaze lower to her lips and they parted.

“Mind if I cut in?” Alex’s intrusive voice startled her and she felt Jared release her.  Then she was in Alex’s arms and he swirled her away as Jared walked stiffly off the dance floor.  For the rest of the night, Alex tended to her and she didn’t have a chance to dance with Jared again.  She left the ball feeling frustrated, especially after his cold manner toward her when they said goodnight to each other.

She tossed and turned all night and in the morning, she decided that she would go over to Whitmore Manor and straighten things out with him.  She couldn’t let him continue to believe that Alex and she were dating.  Last night it might have seemed that way, though.  She let Alex have it last night when he was driving her home.  He was sorry and he told her to drop by the manor and talk to Jared.

She finished her breakfast, showered and pulling on a pair of dress jeans and a yellow top, she left her condo.  She took the train from London to Surrey and then a short taxi ride to Whitmore Manor.  The place seemed quiet—she supposed it was because it was a Sunday morning.  She hoped Mrs. Whitmore wouldn’t mind her dropping by unexpectedly.  She ran up the steps leading to the front door and rang the bell.  As she waited she looked over at the spot where she first met Jared.  How handsome he looked that day in his denim jacket over a black shirt and tan colored trousers.

The door opened and the butler stood there.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning.  Is Mr. Jared Whitmore at home?” she asked.

“He is but he gave strict instructions not to be disturbed.  Perhaps, you would like to see Mrs. Whitmore, instead.  She’s in the drawing-room.”

“Yes, thank you.” The man stepped aside to let her into the foyer.  He took her to the drawing-room and after informing Mrs. Whitmore that she had a visitor, he left.

Monica went over to the armchair where the woman was seated.  “Good morning, Mrs. Whitmore.”

Mrs. Whitmore smiled when she saw her.  “Good morning, Dear.  How nice of you to drop by this morning.  Did you have a good time at the ball last night?”

Monica nodded.  “I did.”

“It was an extremely good turn out and I believe that this year we received more donations.”

“Mrs. Whitmore, I came to see Jared but was told that he didn’t want to be disturbed.”

Mrs. Whitmore sighed.  “He’s been cooped up in the study all morning.  Can’t imagine what he’s doing in there.  He hasn’t had any breakfast.  I have a good mind to send a tray in to him.  You know, that’s exactly what I will do.”  She pulled the cord beside her.  “He needs to eat something.”

“Mrs. Whitmore, do you mind if I take it to him?”

“No, not at all.  You may be a welcome distraction.”

A few minutes later a maid appeared and Mrs. Whitmore asked her to prepare a tray for Mr. Whitmore and to bring it to the drawing-room.  As they waited, Monica and Mrs. Whitmore exchanged pleasantries and spoke of the ball.

Then, the maid went in carrying the tray.  “Thank you, Janet,” Mrs. Whitmore said. “Set it on the table over there.”  Janet did so and left the room.

Monica went and took it up.  She went to the door but stopped, unsure of where to go.

“The study is down the hall here and on your right.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Whitmore,” she said gratefully before she departed.

Her heart thudded with every step as she went down the hallway.  She set the tray down on the floor, opened the door and pushed it open.  She took up the tray and went inside.  She stood at the door.  Jared was sitting at the desk backing the door but when he heard it open, he said.  “I gave strict instructions not to be disturbed.  I don’t take kindly to having my orders disobeyed…” his voice trailed off when he swung the chair around and saw her standing there.  “What are you doing here?”

She stood there, unsure of what to do next.  He was standing now, his expression guarded.  “I brought this tray for you.  Your mother said you haven’t eaten.  She’s concerned about you.”

His gaze shifted to the tray and then back to her.  “So, she sent you with it instead of sending Janet?”

“I offered,” she told him.   “I needed to speak to you.”

“Set it on the table over there.   What do you need to speak to me about?”

“It’s about Alex and me…”

His expression darkened at once and he dragged his fingers through his hair.  “Never once in all of my years have I ever been jealous of my brother.  Not even when I see how our mother continues to pamper him as if he were still a child, but that all changed when I met you.”

She stared at him.  “What do you mean?” she asked, looking confused.

“I am jealous of him because of you, Monica.  From the moment we met, I wanted you.  That’s why I said that you were different from his other girlfriends.  I was never attracted to any of them.  You were different because I was immediately and deeply attracted to you.  Last night at the ball, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.  I watched you dancing with him and wished that I was the one dancing with you. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and that’s why I asked you to dance with me.  The way you felt in my arms…” he closed his eyes at the memory.  “It felt so right.  I asked myself how could something that felt so right be wrong.  I wanted to kiss you so badly but just then, Alex came and claimed you and I had no choice but to step aside.  I watched you with him for the rest of the night, kicking myself for falling for a woman who belonged to someone else.”

It took a moment for Monica to answer because she was stunned.  She couldn’t believe what she just heard.  “Jared, I don’t belong to Alex,” she told him.  “He and I are just friends who happen to work together.  When you and I met, you assumed that I was another one of his many girlfriends and when I tried to clear up that misunderstanding, Alex joined us.”

“My brother has a knack for interrupting at the most inopportune moment.”

She took a step closer.  “That’s why I came here this morning, Jared.  To clear things up.  I couldn’t go on letting you believe that I was in a relationship with Alex when I am not.  Alex knows how I feel about you.  He knew it since the first time I met you.”

Jared moved around the desk so that he was standing in front of her.  “How do you feel about me?” he asked, his expression tense.  His hands were at his sides, aching to hold her.

“I never thought it was possible but when I met you it was love at first sight,” she said, her feelings unguarded.

He pulled her into his arms then and he muttered, “I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you and I felt like a heel because of Alex.  That’s why I have been cooped up in here all morning.  I was sitting here, thinking about you and feeling guilty.  And now that I know Alex and you are not romantically involved, I feel like a guilty man who has been granted a reprieve.”

She reached up and cupped his face between her hands.  “You have no reason to feel guilty anymore,” she said, “We are both free and we both know what we want…”

“Yes,” he groaned and his head swooped down.  His mouth closed passionately over hers.

She sighed and closed her eyes as she responded to the kiss which she had been dreaming of since last night at the ball.

Source:  Trainline

The Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But didn’t he love Gianna too?”

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

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

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

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

“è troppo scura!” his mother sounded angry.

Paolo said something which she couldn’t make out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, you are going against her wishes?”

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

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

“I love you too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

happy new wed interracial couple in wedding mood

Sources:  Glam Radar; eBay

Working Overtime

Never in all the years she worked with Gabriel did she anticipate falling in love with him. She had been so determined to keep their relationship purely professional and then, out of the blue, she developed feelings for him.  She blamed it on all those nights they worked together on different projects.  He was so disarmingly attractive.

Tonight, she was a bit uneasy.  She wished she could come up with an excuse not to be there.  She dreaded being alone with him.  Unfortunately, they had a finite amount of time to work on this project so they had to get started on it now.

Just then, he walked into the boardroom.  “I hope you don’t mind, but I ordered takeout,” he announced.

She busied herself with the files and papers so that she wouldn’t have to look at him.  “I’m not hungry,” she said.

“You can’t work on an empty stomach.” He came and stood in front of her, forcing her to look at him.  “Do you have a problem being alone with me?” He asked suddenly, making her blink.

“Why would I have a problem being alone with you?” she asked, wondering how he could have guessed that.  Was she so transparent?

“You tell me.”

“There’s nothing to tell.”  She pressed against the edge of the table, her eyes wary.

He was standing really close now and her heart and pulse were racing.  She swallowed hard, riveted by the expression on his face and the color of his eyes.  His gaze dropped to her lips.  For an emotionally charged moment they stood there, close to each other and dangerously close to stepping over the line when she broke the spell by turning away abruptly.

“We have lots of work to do,” she muttered. “We need to get started.”

“Okay,” he conceded and moved away.  They sat down at the table and began to work.

The take out arrived about half-hour later and they ate as they worked.  It was after nine when they finally finished the project.  Gabriel got up and stretched while she gathered the papers together.  He looked at her.  “Would you like to grab some coffee?” he asked.

“No, thanks,” she quickly refused. She started when he got up and went over to her.  She held the files in front of her as if to protect herself.

“Are you going to meet him after you leave here?”

“Who?”

“That character I saw you with yesterday.”

She racked her brain, trying to figure out whom he was talking about when she remembered that she had gone out to lunch with David.  Gabriel had seen her leave and he was in the reception area when she returned an hour and half later.  He hadn’t looked at all pleased.  Much like now.  “You mean David.”

“Yes,” he snapped. “Is he the reason why you won’t go for a coffee with me?”

She stared at him in surprise.  He looked and sounded furious.  There was a glint in his eyes.  Was he jealous of David?  “David is my friend from college.  He invited me to lunch to celebrate his engagement.  He and his fiancee are getting married in June.”

He raked his hands through his hair, his eyes troubled as they met hers.  “I’m sorry for my outburst,” he muttered.  “I thought he was the reason for your behavior towards me.  Lately, you have been acting as if you don’t want to be alone with me.  If he isn’t the reason, what is?

She could tell him that he was mistaken or come clean.  Instead, she asked him a question.  “Gabriel, were you jealous just now when you thought that I was in a relationship with David?”

“Yes,” he admitted.  “I was insanely jealous.”

Her heart was thudding now.  “Why?”

His eyes were dark and stormy now as he moved closer to her.  “Why?  Because I’m in love with you.   I’ve been in love with you for a long time now but kept it to myself because  of our work relationship.   You always made it clear that it was strictly business between us.”

She took a step closer.  “Gabriel…”

“Do you have any feelings for me?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.  “I tried so hard not to fall in love with you because we work together and I never wanted to get involved with someone I worked with but…” the rest of her words were hushed because he was kissing her.   The files she was holding fell on the floor as she wrapped her arms around his neck and surrendered to the feelings that she had bottled up inside.   For several minutes they exchanged frenzied kisses then she drew back, trying to catch her breath.  “It’s getting late,” she gasped.  “We should be going.”

He nodded, releasing her.  His face was flushed and his breathing was labored. “You’re right.”  He bent down and picked up the files after placing the scattered papers in them.  He handed the files to her.  “We have an early day tomorrow.”

As she took the files from him, his fingers caressed hers.  She exhaled her breath shakily.  “Do you think it will be awkward working together now?”

“It doesn’t have to be,” he said.

She smiled.  “Good.”  She grabbed her handbag and they left the boardroom.  He walked her to her car.  She reached up and kissed him.  It felt so good doing that, so liberating.  “See you tomorrow,” she said when she pulled away.  She was about to climb into her car when he stopped her.

“Have dinner with me at my place tomorrow night,” he said softly.  “I will prepare my specialty.”

She laughed.  “Your specialty?”

“Yes.  Greek lemon chicken and potatoes.  Trust me, you will love it.  Come at six.”

“Sounds delicious.  I’ll bring the wine.”

He smiled and kissed her.  “Good night, Olivia.  Call me when you get home.  If there’s no answer, leave a message.”

“Good night, Gabriel.”  She climbed into the car.  She waved as she drove off.

She was tired but she knew that she wouldn’t fall asleep for a while.  Her thoughts would keep her awake for awhile.  She would be thinking about Gabriel, his declaration of love, his kisses and the home-cooked dinner he had planned for her tomorrow night. At work, it will be business as usual between them but outside of the office…she smiled at the thought.  Just then, Jill Scott’s song, “He loves me” played on the radio.

Source:  All Recipes

Dinner for Two

She was in the children’s section, looking at the different books of Nursery Rhymes when she heard someone call her name.  She looked around and her heart leapt when she saw Tyler.   She hadn’t seen him since last week Saturday.  He walked around the people milling about there and came and stood beside her.  “Hello Stacey,” he said, his eyes dancing over her face as if he were trying to capture every feature.   “I was hoping that I would see you again.”

“I’m here to buy a book for my niece.  She’s going to be three tomorrow.”

“I’ve been thinking about you all week,” he told her.  “I wished I had your number so that I could call you.  Have dinner with me tonight.”

“But what about Amy?” she exclaimed.  “She’s enamored with you.”

“And I’m enamored with you.  I have been since last week Saturday when Darnell and I had dinner with Amy and you at Benares.   I’ll never forget the first time I saw you. When you walked over to the table, you took my breath away.  I could hardly take my eyes off you. I wished that it were just the two of us having dinner but if it hadn’t been for Darnell, I wouldn’t have met you.

“Amy’s my friend.”

“And Darnell’s my friend but I can’t help the way I feel about you.  Have dinner with me tonight.”

She hesitated.  Amy would never forgive her.  Just yesterday when they spoke, her friend was wondering why she hadn’t heard from Tyler as yet.  As far as Darnell was concerned, Stacey had made it clear to him, in a tactful way, of course, that she wasn’t interested in him.  After a few attempts to get her to change her mind, he gave up.  So, the only person left to consider was her friend.  “Amy will be very upset,” she told Tyler.

“I’m sorry about your friend but I never gave her any reason to believe that I would go out with her.   It’s you I want to be with.”

Stacey couldn’t deny that she wanted to be with him too.  He had been on her mind all week and it was such a blessing to see him now.  “All right, I will have dinner with you tonight,” she said.

He looked relieved.  “I will pick you up at six-thirty.”

She opened her handbag and took out the address book.  She wrote her address on a blank page, tore it out and gave it to him.  “See you later,” she said.

His eyes twinkled.  “See you later.”  And he was gone.  She turned to the shelf beside her and after examining a few more books, she chose the Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme book.  She grabbed a salad from a deli and headed back to the office.

He picked her up promptly at six-thirty.  He looked amazing in the black jacket, black shirt, black jeans and dressy shoes.  His sleek, auburn hair was combed back, giving him a polished look.   For her part, she was wearing a black dress, with three quarter sleeves and a keyhole neckline.  Her hair was swept back, with several curls framing her face.  “You look absolutely beautiful,” he told her.

“And you look so handsome.”

He took her to a romantic restaurant with a breathtaking view of the city of London. Over dinner he told her about the time in high school when he had to memorize a monologue from Hamlet for his drama class and on the day when he was supposed to do the presentation, he came down with the flu.

She teased him.  “Do you still remember it?”

He smiled.  “I do and I promise I will recite it to you when I am taking you home.”

Dinner was wonderful.  She had a terrific time.  He was so easy to talk to.  They laughed and talked about all sorts of things.  She was sorry when it was time to leave.  On the way home, he recited the monologue as promised and remembered it word for word.  She clapped when he was done.  “Have you ever thought of becoming an actor?” she asked.

“Heavens, no!  I like sitting behind a desk and designing buildings much better.”  That was how she learned that he was an architect.

Twenty minutes later, they stood outside of her flat.  “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?” she asked.

“I’d better not.  I have an early day tomorrow.  When can I see you again?”

“Tomorrow afternoon.  I will make dinner and we can eat while we watch a movie.”

“That sounds really good.”  He smiled.

Unable to resist, Stacey reached up and brushed the hair back from his forehead.  He caught her hand and brought it to his lips.  He kissed the palm, his eyes darkening on her face.  She felt a bolt of electricity course through her.

He raised his head.  “I’d better go now,” he murmured as he released her hand which was tingling.

“Good night, Tyler” she said breathlessly.

“Good night, Stacey.” He turned reluctantly and walked toward the elevators.

She watched him as he waited for the elevator to arrive.  When it did, he turned and waved before he stepped inside.  She opened her door and went inside.  She couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.  For now, she had the memories of tonight to occupy her.

 

 

Source:  Benares