The Nutcracker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s very handsome and polished.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

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

“Why do you say that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you still swim in the lake?”

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

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

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

She swallowed.  “Me?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be gentle, Dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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In the Office

She straightened her desk, brushing off the lingering crumbs from the delicious lemon cake she had brought back with from the restaurant where she had lunch.  It was after seven. Everyone had left.  It was just the two of them.  She wondered if she wait until he came out to tell her she was free to leave or if she should go in and tell him that unless he needed anything else, she was going to take off.  They hadn’t spoken to each other much all day.  She had been down in the dumps because he had spent most of the afternoon behind closed doors with one of their clients.

Jealousy surged through her as she recalled seeing him laughing with the beautiful Nicola Andretti.  She was quite exotic and made her feel plain in comparison.

She had tried to hide her frustration by busying herself in her work but always, her attention was lacking and her gaze would inevitably drift over to the glass panel of his office through which she had a clear view of them.  When they came out of the office, they were laughing and her grip tightened on the pen when she saw Nicola playfully touch Lucas’ arm before she sauntered off.  What on earth does he see in her?  She’s so superficial.  She looked away when his gaze shifted to her before he went back into his office.

Presently, she got up from her desk and walked tentatively to the open doorway.  He was standing at the window, arms folded, looking out.  He turned when he heard her step.  As she went closer to him, she was distracted by the fact that his shirt sleeves were rolled up at the elbows and several buttons were undone, exposing his chest.  She tried to ignore the racing of her pulse and the pounding of her heart.  She could feel his penetrating gaze on her and was afraid to raise her eyes to his face.  But, unable to resist, she did and her mouth went dry when she saw the expression on his face.

“Why are you standing there?” he asked. “Are you afraid to come closer?”

She shook her head.  “No.  I was—I was wondering if you needed anything else before I leave.”

“What I need right now has nothing to do with work.”

“And—and what is that?”

“I need to know who the man was I saw you with.” He was moving away from the window and toward her.  He reminded her of a panther—strong, magnificent and dangerous…

“It was Alan.  He called this morning and asked me out to lunch.”

“You were gone for over an hour.”

“I’m surprised that you noticed that I was gone,” she blurted out before she could stop herself.  “I mean you were so busy with Miss Andretti.”

There was a flicker in his eyes.  “Did it bother you to see us together?” he asked, stopping a few feet away from her.  His hands were in his pockets, drawing her eyes to his well-defined thighs.

She didn’t answer but her expression gave her away.  He went closer.  “Even if you won’t admit it, I will admit that seeing you with Alan bothered me,” he muttered tautly.  “I was insanely jealous.  I could hardly concentrate on my meeting with Nicola.  She didn’t guess what was troubling me but she knew that something was.  I saw when you returned and noted the time.   Believe me, if Nicola were not there, I would have called you into my office and berated you for nearly driving me out of my mind. Instead, I had to sit there and suffer in silence.”

“You didn’t act as if you were suffering.  The two of you were laughing when you came out of your office and I saw the way she flirted with you, touching your arm and you didn’t seem to mind.  I guess it’s because she’s so beautiful.” She couldn’t hide the resentment that stirred in her at the memory.

“You are jealous,” he exclaimed.  He moved closer, his eyes darkening.  “You have no reason to be, Kendra. Nicola may be a very beautiful woman but I’m not attracted to her.  She doesn’t excite me, you do.  You have, since the day you walked into this office.”

She stared at him, hardly able to believe that he was saying these things to her.

“Am I shocking you?” he asked.  “I’m merely telling you the truth.  I wanted you the moment I saw you but I had to keep our relationship professional.  Now, it’s really hard for me to do so.  You have no idea how much I want you right now.”  His dark gaze slid over her slim figure, the raw emotions on his face, making her head spin.  She realized then that she wasn’t wearing her jacket over the violet top with the fine straps.  He reached out now and gently caressed her right shoulder, making her shiver.

She closed her eyes when he bent his head and pressed his lips against the side of her neck. Then, he was kissing her feverishly and her hands went up and buried themselves in his thick hair, gripping it as she responded wildly and with total abandon to his kisses.

This lasted for a long time until she pulled away, panting for air.  “We can’t,” she gasped.  “Not here.”

He nodded, his face flushed and his eyes stormy.  “Not here,” he agreed.  “And not tonight.”  He released her and raked his fingers through his hair.  “It’s getting late.  I’d better take you home.”  He went over to his desk.  He rolled down his shirt sleeves and buttoned them and the top buttons and then pulled on his jacket.

She turned and went to her desk, her legs trembling.  With shaking hands, she put on her jacket and got her handbag.   He stepped out of his office and locked the door.  She followed him to the lift, still dazed and tingling all over from what happened a few moments ago.

In the car, he didn’t say anything at first but when they were pulling out of the parking lot, he said, “Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“Now that you and I are going to be seeing each other outside of the office, it wouldn’t be presumptuous of me to ask that you don’t have lunch with Alan or any other man, would it?”

She shook her head.  “And it wouldn’t be forward of me to ask that you don’t let Nicola or any other woman get touchy feely with you, would it?”

He grinned.  “No, it wouldn’t be.”  He reached over and kissed her long and hard on the mouth before he drove out on to the street.

 

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.

Then, 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 should 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 that night.  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.

woman and man in standing

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

Not His Type

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean Eliza Forrester?”

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

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

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

“Hello, Kiara.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I’m fine.”

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

“No.  Thank you” was the quiet reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will you marry me, Kiara?”

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

 

 

Source:  The Marie Curie Autumn Lunch; LDN Fashion

The 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 Candlelight Dinner

Renee got into her car and drove over to Callum’s flat.  He had invited her over for dinner.  When she told her friends, they were shocked.  They couldn’t believe that a bookworm had much of a social life.  They concluded that although he was very attractive, no woman would want to date a man who spent most of his time with his nose buried in old and used books.  Renee didn’t agree with them.  She thought Callum was remarkable and enjoyed spending time with him, listening to him relate the interesting stories he read.  He had a penchant for folklore.  His love for books was really quite endearing.  She especially liked it when he recited poetry in that deep, velvety voice of his.  Sometimes the words spilled from his lips like a caress.

She didn’t know exactly when it happened but she had fallen in love with Callum.  It wasn’t something she had intended and she wasn’t sure how she would be able to continue seeing him without betraying her feelings.  Perhaps, he wouldn’t even notice.  Books were his passion and he didn’t seem interested in being in a relationship.  She sighed.  It was just her luck to fall in love with a booklover.

The first time they met it was at a library.  She was reading a book on Greek Mythology when he went over to her.  At first he seemed more interested in the book than in her.  His eyes were riveted on it for several minutes before they rose to her face where they remained.  He smiled at her then and held out his hand.  She shook his hand, thinking what an attractive man he was with dark brown hair falling rakishly across his forehead, green eyes behind a pair of glasses.  He was dressed in a dark green shirt, black vest and black slacks.  He was tall and slender.  She invited him to join her.

He sat next to her and they had a very animated conversation about the contents of the book she was reading and other such books.  Time flew and it was time to go.  They arranged to meet again the following evening at the library.  And after meeting there a few nights in a row, they exchanged numbers and they saw each other frequently.   They met for coffee, went for lunch, had dinner a few times and for went walks in the park, always talking about books.

Whenever they were out together, she observed other women admiring him but he didn’t seem to notice at all.   She wondered what he would do if she were to kiss him on the spur of the moment.  The idea had occurred to her but she thought better of it.  Tonight, she hoped that they would talk about other things besides books of every genre.

She arrived at his flat.  She grabbed the bottle of wine that was on the passenger seat and climbed out of the car.  As she walked toward the entrance she drew admiring glances from the group of men who were standing there.  How she wished that Callum would look at her like that.  Perhaps tonight he will.  She was wearing a white dress with broad straps which hugged her figure and the earrings she had picked up from a thrift store.

As she stood outside his door, her heart began to pound.  She suddenly felt nervous as if she were going on a date for the first time.  Calm yourself, she told herself.  Take a deep breath.  A few seconds passed as she pulled herself together, then she raised her hand and pressed the doorbell.

The door opened almost immediately and Callum stood there.  His eyes traveled over her and she detected admiration and something else in them.  “You look amazing,” he commented as he stepped aside for her to enter the foyer.  He closed the door and locked it.  When he turned to face her, she was tempted to reach up and kiss him but instead, she handed him the bottle of wine.   “Oh, thank you,” he said, taking it from her.   “Let me give you a quick tour of my place.”

She removed her slingbacks and followed him.  They went through the living-room which was very spacious and cozy.  He put the bottle of wine on the kitchen counter. “Something smells delicious,” she said.  It smelled like Indian food which she loved.

He smiled.  “We’re having Chicken Tikka Masala.”

“Sounds great.”  They passed by the washroom and paused outside of the bedroom door.  He switched on the light and she looked around the room.  It was immaculate, and decidedly masculine with its colors and wood furniture.  From the window, you could see the Tower Bridge. Beside the window, there was an armchair.  Mostly he sat there and read before turning into bed.  Her gaze went irresistibly to the bed.  It was so perfectly made up, it looked like something out of one of those home decor magazines.  Unbidden, came the thought, has any woman been in that bed?  It aroused jealousy in her.

“No woman has shared my bed,” he said, startling her.  Her eyes were wide as they met his.  Had he read her mind?  “You’re the first woman I have ever invited to my place.” There was a curious expression on his face as he stood there looking at her and then he turned away.  “Let’s finish the tour.”  He switched off the light and started down the corridor.  She followed him, chiding herself for being so transparent.

They paused outside of a doorway and he turned on the light.  It was a library, with four book shelves, lined with books and a desk facing the window.  “This is my favorite room,” he said.  He looked at her.  “I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you.”

She frowned, thinking that there would be more books.  There were empty spaces on some of the shelves.

As if he read her thoughts, he said, “I donated some of them to the library.”

“You donated them to make room for the new ones you are planning to get,” she deduced, looking at him.

He laughed.  “Can’t fool you, can I?” He switched off the light.  “Now, it’s time to have our dinner.  But, first, I will take you out on the terrace for a bit of fresh air.”

She followed him to the terrace.  He drew aside the drapes and opened the sliding doors, stepping out into the cool evening air.   The sun was setting and it cast a crimson glow on the Tower Bridge and the Thames.  It was a magnificent view. Then, she turned, intending to walk along the length of the terrace when she noticed the table.  She gaped.  It was covered with a tablecloth, set with fine dinner ware, two glasses and two candles.  Callum had gone to a lot of trouble.

Touched, she turned to him.  “Callum, I didn’t expect this at all,” she said.  “What a lovely surprise.”  She hugged him and when she drew back to gaze up at him, she felt his arms go around her waist and then he was kissing her.  She responded, her senses swimming and her arms wound themselves around his neck.

Several minutes passed before he raised his head to look down into her face.  “This dinner is my way of showing you how I feel about you.  You are the first woman I have ever invited to my flat or cooked dinner for.  You are the only woman I want in my life.  I love you, Renee.  I have loved you from that day in the library when I came over to you on the pretext of being interested in the book you were reading.  I had noticed you a couple of days before but never worked up the courage to approach you until that afternoon. All those times we spent together, talking about my love for books, I was trying to figure out how to tell you that I loved you.  Tonight, I wanted to show you.”

For a moment, she was too moved to say anything.  Then, she confessed, “I love you too, Callum.  I have loved you since the first time we met.  For the longest while I have been trying to figure out how I could continue being around you and not betray my feelings.”

“Tonight, we can enjoy being with each other the way we have always wanted to.” He lowered his head and they kissed.  “I’d better go and bring out the dinner,” he muttered, reluctantly letting her go.

“Let me help.”

He shook his head and walked over to the table and pulled out the chair facing the Tower Bridge.  “You sit here and enjoy the view,” he suggested.  “I’ll be right back.” When she sat down, he bent his head and kissed her on the nape of her neck before he walked away.

Renee sat there, digesting what had just happened.   The river Thames shimmered in the setting sun and as she gazed at it, she smiled, thinking how fortunate she was to be sitting here, about to have a candlelight dinner with the man she loved.  Yes, this something she had never imagined would happen but that was how life was sometimes–unpredictable.

 

Source:  Cooking Channel TV

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