Taking a Chance

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

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

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

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

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

“You like him, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What about him?  Does he like you?”

“I don’t know.  I really can’t tell.”

“Why don’t you ask him out?”

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

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

“No, there isn’t but—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That would be great.  Thanks, Colin.”

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

“Well, I was–”

“Cancel them.”

“Why?”

“You’re having dinner with me at my place.”

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

“Well?” he pressed when she didn’t answer.  “Don’t you want to have dinner with me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Office Romance

Source:  Scholars 4 Dev

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Breaking the Mold

It was around noon and Rory Bentworth was walking and texting, not really looking where he was going.  He barely heard the words, “Watch out,” before he glanced up and narrowly missed walking straight into the woman who was carrying some books.  A couple of them fell on the ground along with his cell phone.

Apologizing profusely and feeling very embarrassed, he stooped down and picked up the books.  “You know you really ought to look where you’re going,” she said.

He looked up and found her standing over him, gazing down at him.  She didn’t look angry.  In fact, there was a slight smile on her face.  She was stunning.  The attraction was immediate for him.  He stared at her, tongue tied.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Rory.” He didn’t tell her that his last name was Bentworth because the inevitable question would have been, Are you by any chance related to Elizabeth Bentworth? The late Elizabeth Bentworth was the renowned mystery writer whose books were bestsellers, many of which were adapted to film.  And being Elizabeth Bentworth’s grandson meant that her only son, Arthur, once reputed to be London’s finest barrister, was his father.  He wanted this beautiful woman standing over him to be interested in him, not in his family connections.  He was determined to see her again.

“Rory, may I have my books, please?”  She held out her hand.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, his face turning beet red, he handed her the books.  She took his breath away.

“Thanks.  Don’t forget your cell phone.”

He scooped it up and got to his feet.  He dropped it in his pocket, his eyes never leaving her face.  She was looking at him.  “What’s your name?” he asked.  His heart was racing.

“Kristen.”

“Is this where you work?” he asked indicating the building they were standing in front of.

She nodded.  “Yes.  What about you?  Do you work close by?”

He shook his head.  “No, I work about twenty minutes from here.  I was on my lunch break and heading back to the office when I literally bumped into you.”

“Well, I’d better go.”

“I see that you’re not married.  Are you seeing anyone?” He wasn’t usually this forward but he had to know if she was in a relationship.

She laughed.  “You’re not shy, are you?” she commented.  “No, I’m not seeing anyone.”

“Nor am I.  Can I see you again?”

She studied him for a moment and then she said, “Come with me.”  She turned and walked towards the steps leading to the building where she worked.  He followed her, admiring her slim figure in the navy blue skirt suit and the long shapely calves in the black high heeled shoes.  Her hips swayed slightly as she walked.  They went through the revolving doors and up to the reception desk.  She set the books down on the counter and asked the guard on duty for a pen and paper.  When he handed them to her, she scribbled something down, folded the paper and gave it to Rory.  She picked up her books and smiled at him.  “It was nice meeting you, Rory,” she said.  “I’ll see you around.”  And then, she walked away.

He stared after her until she disappeared from his view and then, he opened the sheet of paper she had given him.  On it she had written her name and number and the words, I’m free for lunch tomorrow at twelve-thirty. I will meet you down here in the lobby. Grinning broadly, he folded it and put it in his wallet.  He couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.  On his way back to work, he stopped by a bake shop and bought a funnel cake which he finished eating by the time he reached the office.

The next day, he was in the lobby waiting anxiously for her.  He was nervous and excited at the same time.  He felt like a lovesick schoolboy.  He hoped he looked good in the charcoal grey suit, black shirt and matching tie.  When he saw her coming towards him, his heart began to race and his gaze eagerly travelled over her.  She was wearing a black skirt suit with a light blue shirt underneath.  Her hair was pulled back and she was wearing pearl earrings and a matching necklace.  She looked amazing.  She smiled at him now.  “Hello, Rory,” she said.  “You’re very punctual.  I like that.”  She was standing in front of him now and he towered over her even though she was wearing heels.

“Hello, Kristen.”  He wondered what she would say if she knew that all morning he had been looking at his watch, anxious for noon to come so that he could head over here.  Last night he thought of nothing else but seeing her again.  And here they were standing in the lobby of the building where she worked about to go for lunch.  “Where would you like to go for lunch?”

“There’s an Italian restaurant just ten minutes from here.  They serve the best pasta dishes.”

He knew the one she meant.  He had passed it several times but never went in.  “Sounds good.”

“Let’s go,” she said and preceded him to the revolving doors.  When they were outside, she put on her sunglasses which made her even more alluring.   It was a beautiful summer day.  The sun was shining and many people were milling about, simply enjoying the weather.  “So, how come a handsome guy like you doesn’t have a girlfriend?” She asked as they walked.

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I guess I haven’t met anyone I liked until now.”

She glanced at him when he said that.  “And you like me?”

“Yes.”

“Even though you hardly know me.”

“You hardly know me but, we are having lunch together.”

Touché,” she said smiling.

“What about you?  How come you’re not in a relationship?”

“My work keeps me busy and the last relationship I had didn’t work out.  We wanted different things.  Besides, he hadn’t gotten over his ex.  The last I heard, they are back together.  I wish him well.  Here we are,” she added as they approached the restaurant.  “It’s not very crowded now.”

He held the door open for her and she went in, removing her sunglasses.  They chose a table by the window.  It was a nice, pleasant and bustling place.  Immediately, a waitress went over to their table with the menus and took their orders for drinks.  When she returned they gave her their orders.

“I know it must have been hard for you but I’m glad that things didn’t work out between him and you.  We wouldn’t be here together if they did.”

Kristen studied him.  He had such a gorgeous face and his hair.  It was so thick and unruly.  She wanted to reach over and ran her fingers through it.  She was extremely attracted to him but he looked young.  “How old are you?” she asked.

“Twenty-eight.”

“I’m older than you,” she informed him.  “I’m in my late thirties.”

“I guess this means you’ve never dated a younger man before.”

She shook her head.  “The men I’ve dated were either my age or older.  I never once considered dated a man younger than me.”

“What about now?” he asked, his expression serious as he looked at her.  “Would you consider it now?”

This guy didn’t waste any time going after what he wanted.  She found that very exhilarating.  “I might,” she said.  It flattered her that someone his age wanted to go out with her.  Their orders came then and they ate.  They talked about other things.  Thankfully, she didn’t ask him about his family and they didn’t talk about work.  There were other, more interesting topics they discussed and the time went so quickly—too quickly.  It was time to leave.  Reluctantly, they paid the bill and walked out into the sunshine.

“Have dinner with me tonight, Kristen,” he asked as they were standing in the lobby fifteen minutes later.

“I’m sorry but I can’t have dinner with you tonight,” she said.  “I have to work late but how about tomorrow night?”

“Yes, tomorrow night is fine.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”  He wanted so much to hold her hand but he didn’t want to rush things.

She wrote her address on the back of her business card and put it in the breast pocket of his jacket.  Their eyes met and held for several minutes before she said goodbye.  She turned and walked away.  Before she rounded the corner, she glanced back to find him still standing there, watching her.  She turned away, smiling.

Rory hurried from the building, excited.  When he got back to the office, he saw that his mother had called.  He dialed her number and he was connected to her right away.  “Hello, Mother. You called?”

“Yes, I called to let you know I have a speaking engagement this evening, so I wouldn’t be able to have you over for dinner tonight.”

He had completely forgotten that he was supposed to have dinner with her tonight.  He would have gone to dinner with Kristen if she hadn’t other plans and wouldn’t have remembered to call his mother to cancel his plans with her.  “We can do it another time,” he said.

“What about tomorrow night?”

“Sorry, Mother, but I have plans.” He hoped she wouldn’t ask any questions.

“Well, if there are with Isabella, I have no objections.  I will call you on Sunday.  Goodbye.”  She rung off and he hung up the phone.

Why was she always pushing Isabella Stanton on him?  Isabella was a nice girl, smart, easy going, not at all snobbish like her parents and older sister but he wasn’t attracted to her.  Why his mother would assume that his plans were with Isabella, he had no clue.  He had never given her any indication that he was the least bit interested in her friend’s daughter.  He wonder what his mother would do if she knew that Isabella was in love with a law clerk?  He knew exactly how she would react if she knew about his attraction for Kristen.  She would have a fit.  Kristen was older than him and of a lower social status.  She was a far cry from Isabella Stanton.

Yet, it was Kristen who stirred in him feelings he had never experienced before in his life.  She filled his thoughts and aroused fierce desires in him, making him yearn for her.  Whenever they were apart it was torture for him because the hours seemed to drag.  And when they were together the time went by so quickly.   And it seemed like he was waiting for weeks instead of hours for Saturday evening to come.  And when it finally did, he was standing outside of her flat at promptly seven.

He was dressed in a black suit, black shirt and no tie.  His hair which had a proclivity to be tousled in a very disarming way was slicked back, giving it a sleek look.  His brown eyes complimented his olive complexion.  Kristen couldn’t stop staring at him.  Her heart was racing, especially when she saw the way he was looking at her.  There was admiration in the depths of his eyes and something else.  It was the something else which made her senses tingle in excitement.  She was wearing a black figure hugging black dress with a V-neckline.  Her hair was swept back in an up hairdo.

“You look amazing,” he told her, his face riveted to her face as she gazed up at him.  He wanted to kiss her so badly.

“Shall we go?” she said, sounding a little breathless.  She knew that if they stayed there any longer, they would probably end up going inside her flat instead of going out for dinner.  No, she had to keep a cool head.

“Yes,” he muttered and stepped aside so that she would precede him to the lift.  How on earth was he going to get through dinner when all he wanted to do was take her in his arms and…?  He had to keep a cool head.  This evening was another opportunity for them to get to know each other better and depending on how it went Kristen would determine whether or not she wanted to have a relationship with him.  He couldn’t afford to allow anything to ruin his chances with her.  He had to take it slow.

They went to a Cajun/Creaole restaurant where the food was excellent.   The atmosphere was warm and friendly.  Over tasty and spice dishes and mocktails, they laughed and talked.  She never had so much fun and she was still laughing when they walked through the lobby of her building.   “I had a really great time tonight,” she said as they stood in front her flat.  “Thank you.”

“I had a great time tonight too,” he said, his expression tense as he met her gaze.  He didn’t want to leave.

Kristen saw the look on his face and her heart ached.  He looked so forlorn.  She would be a fool to send him away now, especially when she desperately wanted him to stay.  She pushed open the door and grabbing his hand she pulled him inside the flat.  After slamming the door and locking it, she turned towards him.  Their eyes locked for several palpable minutes and then they came together like two magnets, drawn together by a force they were powerless to resist.  All of her reservations went out of the window as she gave into the passions that raged inside her.  As they exchanged feverish kisses, he removed his jacket.  In a matter of minutes, their clothes were strewn on the floor and they were on the rug in front of the sofa, making love.

After that night, they became involved.  It was his first serious relationship.  And he hoped, his last.  He knew without a doubt that Kristen was the one.  He fell in love with her that day when he ran into her.  Meeting her that day had turned his world upside down.  He couldn’t imagine his life without her.  It seemed to him that he had been waiting for her all of his life.   He knew his mother would have a problem with his relationship with Kristen but he had to follow his heart.  Right now, he was blissfully happy, lying on his back on the sofa with his head on her lap, his eyes closed as she played with his hair.

“You’re Amanda Bentworth’s son, aren’t you?” the question jolted him and he sat up, swinging so that his feet were on the rug so that he could face her.  She was watching him curiously.

“How long have you known?” he asked warily.

“Since this morning.  Heather, a co-worker, mentioned that she had gone to a luncheon where the guest speaker was Philanthropist and Women’s Rights advocate, Amanda Bentworth.  She showed me the brochure and said that it was a very well attended affair and that Mrs. Bentworth was a great speaker.  Then, Heather asked me if I had ever seen Mrs. Bentworth’s gorgeous son, Rory?  I didn’t recall ever seeing him so she brought up an image of your mother and you at your father’s funeral.  Why didn’t you tell me that you’re a Bentworth?”

“I wanted you to be interested in me not in my family name.  And I was afraid that if you knew who I was you wouldn’t want to see me.”

“I admit that finding out that you are from a famous family floored me but it doesn’t change anything.  To me, you’re simply Rory.”

He took her hands in his, his eyes searching her face.  “How do you feel about marrying a Bentworth?” he asked huskily.

She swallowed.  “No way in particular,” she said quietly.  “I’d marry you no matter what your name was.”

He raised his hands to cup her face between them, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I love you,” he muttered thickly.

She placed her hands on his thighs.  “I love you too.”

He reached over and kissed her.  “Marry me,” he murmured against her lips.

“Yes,” she whispered and then they were kissing.

They got married the following year in the spring.  At first, his mother was determined not to attend the wedding because she was still upset with him for falling in love with another woman when she had her heart set on him marrying Isabella.  However, when she learned of Isabella’s engagement to a law clerk, she decided that she would not have been a suitable match for Rory, after all.  And when she attended the wedding and saw how happy he was as he danced with his bride, her resentment gave way maternal pride when it dawned on her that Rory was the first Bentworth who had married for love.

 

office woman

 

 

 

The Cabin

Bethany lay there, thinking about Lysander and his winsome smile.  Groaning, she turned over in the bed, burying her face in the pillow.  She was mad at him yet, she missed him so much.  She knew that if she weren’t laid up here in bed, her body covered in hives, she would be driving up to the cabin to see him.  Why on earth did she have the chocolate dipped strawberries for dessert, knowing that she was allergic to them?  She blamed it on what happened between Lysander and her.   Depressed, she thought having what used to be her favorite comfort food would help her to feel better.  It didn’t.  She was still depressed.  Sighing heavily, she allowed her thoughts to drift back to that last visit to the cabin…

It was a mild winter day so she decided that she would drive up to the cabin.  She had a proclivity for showing up unannounced, especially after she had a row with her sister-in-law.  Her teeth gritted when she thought of Cicely.  Who was she to tell her that she shouldn’t go about throwing herself at Lysander, a man who was so much older than her?  She wished Cicely would stop telling her to date a guy at her university or trying to set her up with her friends’ sons.  She was old enough to know what she wanted and she wanted Lysander.

She had known him since she was a child but fell in love with him when she became a teenager.  He was her brother’s best friend and best man at his wedding.  Lysander was always very nice to her but he treated her like a little sister which frustrated her.  Sometimes she felt like they were Almonzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie before Almonzo noticed Laura.  Would the same thing happen for her?  Would there come a time when Lysander would see her as a woman instead of a little girl?

All of these thoughts were running through her mind as she made her way to the cabin which was about an hour’s drive from the city.  It was a cozy place in the woods and very peaceful.  It was no wonder that Lysander spent so much of his time there.  He was there every weekend and during the holidays.  When she visited they would go for long walks and then return to sit outside for hours, talking, having lunch or playing card games.  She was looking forward to seeing him and her foot pressed down a little harder on the accelerator.

Soon the cabin was in sight and her heart began to pound.  As she pulled up, she saw his jeep and the door on the driver-side was open.  He was either on his way out or had just arrived home.  She stopped the car a little distance away and turned off the engine.  After fixing her hair and checking her face in the mirror, she grabbed her handbag and got out of the car.  He was still sitting in his jeep so she walked over to him.  “Hello, Ly,” she called out, smiling.  Her smile soon faded, though, when she saw the expression on his face.  He wasn’t smiling at all.

“What are you doing here, Beth?” he asked.  She couldn’t tell if he was getting in or out of the vehicle when she showed up.  She hoped that it was the latter.

“I came to see you, of course,” she replied flippantly although she was wary.  She had hoped that he would be pleased to see her. They hadn’t seen each other in about two weeks.  He had been out of town on business and got back yesterday.  Didn’t he miss her?  She had missed him like crazy.  Her gaze slipped over him as he got out of the jeep.  He looked sexy in the tan colored jacket with the fur trimmed hood and collar and the leather pants.  How she longed to run over and throw her arms around him but his demeanor was not forthcoming and she doubted that he would welcome such a display of emotion.   “Aren’t you happy to see me?”

“You can’t keep dropping by unexpectedly like this,” he said.  “What if I had company?”

She stiffened.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  “Are you seeing someone?”  The thought of him seeing another woman was unbearable.

He sighed.  “Beth, you and I can’t continue seeing each other like this.”

“Why not?” she asked in a trembling voice.  This couldn’t be happening.

His eyes darkened as he gazed down into her face.  “My feelings for you have changed.”

She swallowed hard, her heart pounding.  “They have?”

“Yes.  I’m deeply attracted to you.” His gaze lowered to her lips and his parted.  Dragging his fingers through his hair, he said to her, “I think it would be best if you go now.”

Shaking her head, she reached up and held his face between her hands.  “Don’t send me away, Ly,” she pleaded huskily.  “Let me stay.  I want to be with you.”  Before he could say anything, she pulled his head down to hers and kissed him.  She moaned when she felt his response and his hands go around her waist, pressing her tightly against him.  They stood there in the crisp wintry air with the sun bathing them, exchanging passionate kisses.  She loved and wanted him so much it ached.

Lysander continued to kiss her and then he pulled away, his face flushed.  It took a moment for him to catch his breath.  “We can’t do this,” he muttered thickly.  “Please go.”

“But, I don’t want to go,” she protested, reaching for him again but he stepped back.  “I love you, Ly.  I love you so much.  Please let me stay.”

“No!” he cried, startling her.  “I’m too old for you.  You should be with someone your own age.”

“I wish you would stop using our age difference as an excuse,” she retorted.  “I’m twenty-four years old and you’re forty.  So, we have sixteen years between us, why is that such a big deal?”

“You should be with someone your own age,” he insisted.

“So, you are willing to throw away what you and I could have because of something as stupid as our age difference?” her voice was trembling now.  She was hurt and angry.

“I doing what I think is the only viable thing to do.  In time you will get over me.”

“Fine,” she cried.  “I will go away and leave you alone–” her sob rose to her throat before she could stifle it and she turned and ran back to her car, ignoring him as he called after her.  She yanked open the door and got in, slamming it behind her.  Her fingers shook as she put the key in the ignition and turned it.

The tears were falling now and almost blinded her.  She saw him coming towards the car and she quickly reversed and raced off down the gravel.  When she got back to the city, she went to a secluded spot where she broke down and cried.  Her heart ached for Lysander.  Her lips still felt tender from his kisses and she knew that if he were to call her on her cell then and asked her to go back, she would in a heartbeat.

That was three weeks ago.  She hadn’t seen nor heard from him since that awful day.  And now she was stuck in the house because of a bowl of strawberries.  The antihistamine she had taken seemed to be working because the headache was gone and the swelling was going away.  In a matter of hours or in a day or two she should be back to normal.  Until then, she didn’t want to see anyone.  She closed her eyes.  When she opened them again, it was morning.

She sat up and stretched.  It looked like another beautiful sunny day.  I wonder what Lysander is doing now.   Is he thinking about me?  Probably not.  She felt her eyes well with tears at the thought but she quickly blinked them back.  I’m not going to cry.  The hives on her body were fading, thank goodness.  She threw back the covers.  The hives on her body were fading, thank goodness.  She got out of bed.  After soaking in a warm, oatmeal bath, she got dressed in loose clothing and went downstairs to have breakfast.  Cicely was sitting at the kitchen table having hers.  “Good morning,” she greeted her sister-in-law.

“Good morning,” Cicely said, watching her as she helped herself to some scrambled eggs, toast and tea.  “How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thanks.  By tomorrow, the swelling and the hives will be completely gone.  Where’s Derek?”

“He had to take the car to the mechanic.  It has been giving trouble again.  I have been telling him to get rid of it and buy a new one”

“He loves that car.  He’s had it for years.  I can’t see him buying a new one any time soon.”

“Buying a new car would be better than wasting money on a beaten up old one but it’s his decision, I guess.  So, do you have any plans for today?”

Bethany shook her head.  “I don’t plan on going anywhere until my skin clears up.  I’ll just catch up on my reading and do some studying.”

There was a pregnant pause and then, “Lysander was here last night.”

Bethany stared at her.  “Ly was here?” she exclaimed.  “When?” It must have been when she was sleeping.

“Around eight-thirty.  He stopped by to see Derek but he asked for you.”

“What did you tell him?” she asked, her heart racing.  How she wished she had been awake when he came by.  She would have gotten out of bed, dressed and gone downstairs just to see him.

“I, um—told him that you weren’t at home—”

“Why did you tell him that?” she demanded.  “He must have seen my car parked in the driveway.”

“Well, I told him that you were on a date—”

Bethany glared at her.  “Why did you do that?” she demanded.  “Are you trying to ruin my life?  You know I love Lysander and that he’s the only man I want to be with.  Why did you make him believe that I was seeing someone?  Do you dislike me that much, Cicely?”

“I don’t dislike you, Bethany and I’m not out to ruin your life.  I still think that Lysander is too old for you but after seeing his reaction to what I said, I realize that your feelings for him are not one-sided.”

“What do you mean?” Bethany was on the edge of her chair now.

“I believe that Lysander is in love with you.  When I saw the look on his face when I told him that you were on a date, he looked hurt, devastated.  I felt bad for lying to him and wanted to tell him the truth but he said he had to go and to give his apologies to Derek and then he left.”

Bethany pushed back her chair and got up.  She had lost her appetite.

Cicely looked up at her.  “Where are you going?” she asked.

“Where do you think?” Bethany retorted, giving her a withering look.  “To see Lysander.”

“Do you think you should drive all that way now—so early in the morning?”

“When do you think I should go or do you even think I should go at all?”

“Well, I think it would be best for you to see him somewhere else rather than driving over to his place.  A girl your age shouldn’t be alone with a man as experienced as Lysander—”

“I’m not a girl and this isn’t the 1800s.  Now, you have interfered in my life for the last time, Cicely.  As soon as I graduate in the summer, I will find a job and move out.” She turned and marched out of the room, her expression thunderous.

In ten minutes, she was on her way to the cabin.  She had no idea of what kind of reception she would get but she had to see him and clear up the misunderstanding.  What he must think of her now, especially after her declaration that she would never get over him.  How could she say she would love him for the rest of her life and she was out on a date just three weeks later?

She gripped the steering wheel as fresh anger toward Cicely consumed her.  When Lysander asked for her, why couldn’t she have told him that she was not feeling well or come and let her know that he was there?  No, she decided to take it upon herself and tell him an outright lie.  Oh, Ly, she cried, tears stinging her eyes.  I hope Cicely is right and that you love me too.

When she got there, his jeep was parked outside. Relieved, she quickly parked her car and ran to the front door, letting herself in.  It was nice and toasty in the living-room.  She removed her coat and boots and then went over to the fire to warm her hands.  She looked around.  Why was Lysander?  It was so quiet.  Perhaps he was still sleeping or maybe he was outside getting more wood for the fireplace.

She went to the window and looked out.  There was no sign of him.  It was such a beautiful sunny day, albeit a bit nippy.  Perhaps he went for a walk.  Then, she heard a sound in the bedroom and she hurried to investigate.  The door was ajar and she opened it wide enough to go in.  Her breath caught in her throat when she saw Lysander.

He was standing in front of the bureau.  His broad, bare back was toward her and she allowed her gaze to travel slowly over his muscular frame clad only in a pair of jeans.  He had taken a sweater out of the drawer and was about to pull it on.  She watched him, her heart pounding wildly.  How she longed to go up behind him and put her arms around him while she buried her face in his smooth skin…

He turned around and started when he saw her standing there, gawking at him.  Dragging on the sweater, he demanded, “What on earth are you doing here?”

“I—I came to see you.”

He pulled the sweater down, covering his torso as he watched her, his expression inscrutable.  “When did you get here?  I didn’t hear your car.”

“I came about ten minutes ago.  You were probably in the shower when I arrived.”  His hair was glistening damply in the light coming through the windows.  Her fingers itched to run themselves through the silky strands.  “It has been three weeks since we last saw each other, Ly.  How have you been?”

“I’m fine,” he said curtly.  “I don’t have to ask you how you’ve been.”

Her eyes widened.  “What do you mean?”

“You’ve been dating.  You don’t waste any time, do you?” His face was glowering now.

“That’s not true,” she protested, crossing the carpet to stand a few feet away from him.  “I’m not dating.”

“When I stopped by last night, Cicely told me that you were out on a date.”

“She lied to you, Ly.  I was upstairs in my room sleeping when you stopped by.  I came down with hives because I ate too many strawberries.  If you don’t believe me, I will show you the rashes on my arms.  They are going away but you can still see them.  I haven’t been anywhere since I got them a couple of days ago.”

“Why would she lie to me?”

“She lied to you because she thinks that I should be with someone my own age.”

“Perhaps she’s right—”

“No, she isn’t.  I don’t want to be with anyone else, Ly.  I love you and I want to be with you.  If you don’t feel the same way about me, tell me now and–and I will go away.”  She moved closer and her mouth went dry when she saw the expression on his face.

He reached for her and pulled her roughly against him.  “I can’t let you go,” he told her thickly.  “I love you, Beth.  That’s why I came to see you last night.  I wanted to tell you that I was sorry about the way I acted that day at the cabin.  As soon as you drove away, I was afraid that I was making a terrible mistake.  I wanted to come after you but I decided that it was probably the best thing for us not to see each other for a while until I could really think things through.  During the time when we didn’t see each other, I nearly went out of my mind thinking about you and missing you.  Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and that’s why I decided to come to you.  When Cicely told me that you were on a date, I was blindsided.  It was the last thing I expected to hear, especially after you told me that you loved me.  I realized then that in spite of what I said to you, the last thing I wanted was for you to be with someone else.”

She put her arms around his neck and pressed against him, loving the feel of his firm body against hers.  “The important thing is that we’re together now,” she told him huskily before she pulled his head down to hers.  They exchanged hungry kisses and then, he picked her up and carried her over to the bed.

The following week, they got engaged and in the summer after she graduated from university, they got married in a small, intimate wedding ceremony.  Derek was the best man.  After they returned from their honeymoon in Nice, Lysander sold his flat in London and they moved into the cabin.

New Year’s Eve

“Am I making you nervous?” Nadine asked Colm as she leaned over in her olive green strapless taffeta dress to watch him play pool.  He seemed a little distracted and edgy.  Not the usual calm demeanor she was so familiar with.  He had taken off his tuxedo jacket and tie.  It was after a rather extravagant New Year’s Eve dinner that while everyone was in the drawing-room having after dinner drinks, he had slipped in here to unwind.  She followed him.

He straightened up and looked at her.  There was a tense expression on his face.  If she only knew how much he wanted to walk over there and take her in his arms.  She looked so beautiful in that dress and with her hair swept over one shoulder.  The moment she walked into the room, his heart started to pound and he was nervous as hell.  She had such an effect on him.  It had been that way since the first time they met last year in the summer when he went to his brother, Parker’s graduation.  Nadine and he attended the same university and graduated on the same day.  She had captivated him then and more so now.

“Why are you in here?” he asked tautly.  “Why aren’t you with Parker?”  He tried to ignore the pang of jealousy that stirred within him as he mentioned his brother’s name.

“I want to be here,” she told him simply.  I want to be with you.  She wanted to be close to him.  “Could you teach me how to play pool?  I’ve always wanted to learn.”

He stared at her.  “You’re not serious.”

“I’m very serious,” she assured him as she straightened up and walked over to where he was watching her warily.  “Show me how to play pool so that the next time I come here, we can play a friendly game against each other.”

A muscle was pulsating along his jawline and his pulse was racing.  She was very close to him now and he swallowed hard when she gazed up at him before she turned toward the table.  He showed her how to stand and how to hold the cue stick.  His body was touching hers and she could smell his aftershave and cologne.  She closed her eyes as she felt his hand on hers as they both held the cue stick.  There was a white ball directly in front of her but she couldn’t concentrate.  All she could think about was how much she wanted to kiss him.

Unable to help herself, she turned and her eyes met his.  They were dark and stormy and he was breathing heavily.  Her gaze lowered to his lips and she saw them part.  She reached up and pulled his head down to hers.  His arms went round her waist, pulling her tightly against him while he responded wildly to her kisses.

They kissed for a long time as the feelings they had suppressed rose to the surface, refusing to be quelled any longer.  Then, he drew back to gaze down into her face, his own flushed.  “What about Parker and you?” he panted.

“There’s nothing between Parker and me,” she gasped.  “We’re just friends.”

“All this time I thought that you and he…”

She shook her head, her eyes wide as they met his.  “It’s never been him or anyone else,” she told him huskily.  “It’s always been you since the first time we met.”

“I fell in love with you the moment I saw you,” he confessed,  “but when I thought that you were Parker’s girlfriend, I tried to fight my feelings but as you can see, it was a losing battle.”

She smiled and brushed his hair back from his forehead.  “It looks like we’re going to have ourselves a very happy New Year,” she murmured before she pulled his head down to hers.

As they kissed, the clock struck twelve and the voices in the drawing-room began to sing, Auld Lang Syne.

The Move Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You will keep in touch, won’t you?”

“Of course, I will.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So it is serious between Jules and you?”

Elise nodded.  “Yes, it is.”

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

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

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

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

“Surprise,” she said, laughing.

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

“I wanted to surprise you.”

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

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

“When did you move back?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:  Interstude; Paris Insider’s Guide;

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.

 

Summer in Surrey

It was summer and Diane was spending it in Surrey with Maggie, her friend from university.  Maggie’s parents had gone to Florida for their vacation but her brother, Rupert remained at the mansion.  The first time Diane and he met, it was quite by accident.

It was on the morning after she arrived from London.  She was trying to find the drawing-room but found herself in the library.  Forgetting her dilemma at the moment, she walked over to the shelves of books, her eyes traveling over the thick volumes, textbooks, Encyclopedias and literature. Her eyes spotted a collection of writings by Jane Austen. She was about to pull it out when she became aware that someone else was in the room. She turned.

It was Rupert. “I don’t believe I know you,” he said, quickly closing the distance between them.  He stopped a short distance from her, his green eyes searching her face, his expression quizzical.

For a moment she was distracted by his looks. Tall, slender, thick dark hair with a few strands falling across his forehead. He was incredibly handsome. He was dressed casually in a white shirt and grey slacks. “I’m Diane, Maggie’s friend from university.” She held out her hand and it was clasped in a firm grip. “It’s good to meet you, Rupert. Maggie has told me so much about you.”

He released her hand but his eyes stayed on her face. “She did mention that she was bringing a friend to spend the summer holidays here.”

She glanced around the room. “You have a very fine library here,” she commented. “I was on my way to the drawing-room but ended up here instead. I’m glad I did. I was looking at the books when you came in. I saw several that I would like to read. I hope you don’t mind me being here.”

He turned away then. “You are free to come in here whenever you like,” he said. “This is the time when I usually come to catch up on my reading.  To get to the drawing-room, just turn right and it’s at the end of the hallway.”

He went over to one of the book shelves and took down a large book and walking over to the armchair, he sat down. He opened the book, signaling that their conversation was over. She turned and walked out of the room, thinking to herself that he and Maggie were as different as night and day.  That was several weeks ago. Since then, they hadn’t interacted much and when they did it seemed stilted.

On Saturday evening she and Maggie were standing in the circular driveway, waiting for a taxi when the front door opened and Rupert stepped out.  He paused when he saw them.   “Diane and I are going to the theater with Andrew and William,” Maggie informed him.  “We are going for dinner afterwards.”

Rupert stiffened, his gaze shifted to Diane.  “I hope you enjoy your date,” he said coldly.  “I too have an engagement.  Good evening.”  He strode off, his back straight as a rod.  A couple of minutes later, his Rolls-Royce drove past them.

Diane watched the car until it was out of sight, her heart heavy.  She wondered whom he had an engagement with.  Was it Ava?  Ava was the beautiful blonde she had seen at the mansion with Rupert a few times.  Maggie had assured her that they were just friends.  Still, the thought of him going out with Ava now filled her with pain and jealousy.

Of course, she didn’t enjoy the theater or dinner. All she could think about was Rupert and how he looked when Maggie told him about their double date.  On the ride home, Diane hardly said a word.  A couple of times, Maggie asked her what was wrong but she told her that she was tired.  She left Maggie in the drawing-room and headed for her room.  She was at the foot of the stairs when she heard the key turn in the lock.  It was Rupert.  She waited and her heart somersaulted when she saw him.  He opened the door and stepped into the foyer.  He didn’t noticed her until he closed the door and turned.

He stiffened.  She saw his eyes travel over her this time as she stood there in her simple, strapless dress in the becoming shade of cherry.  It accentuated her color and shape.  Her hair was pulled back at the nape with a clasp and several loose strands framed her face.  “Did you enjoy your date?” he asked, his expression darkening.  “Which one was he?”

“William.”

“Did you enjoy William’s company?  Are you going to see him again?”

She wanted to tell him that she didn’t enjoy herself at all and that she had no intention of seeing William or any other man for that matter.  She wanted to tell him that he was the man she wanted to be with.  Taking a step toward him, she began, “Rupert…” but he interrupted her.

“It’s of no concern to me.  Good night.”  And he walked past her.  She turned and ran up the stairs, anxious to get to her room before she dissolved into tears.

This morning, she got up after tossing and turning.  It looked beautiful outside.  After a quick shower and light breakfast, she went outside for a walk.  She headed to her favorite spot, away from the mansion, where it was quiet.  She needed to clear her head.

She came to an abrupt stop when she saw Rupert standing a few feet away from her, staring off into the distance.  The sunlight glinted on his dark hair and the light blue shirt complimented his olive skin.  He looked so regal, so autocratic and so…She started when she realized that he was looking at her.  She had no choice but to continue heading in that direction.  She felt as if she were intruding.

“Good morning, Rupert.”  She attempted a smile but it wavered then disappeared altogether when he remained aloof.

His eyes flickered over her.  “Good morning,” he replied in a clipped voice, turning his head away.

“It’s a beautiful morning,” she commented.  He was wearing a pair of dark blue jeans, something she had never thought she would see.  They looked great on him.

He noticed her looking at him and his eyes darkened.  There was a moment of silence for several minutes as their eyes were locked in a gaze.  “Are you going to see him again?” he asked suddenly, startling her.

“Who?”

“Your date from last night.  Are you going to see him again?”

“No,” she mumbled, confused by his question and the anger she heard in his voice.  “I don’t plan to.”

“Why not?” he asked.  “Maggie’s seeing his friend this evening.  I thought that you and he would be joining them.”

“William’s a nice man but I’m not interested in him.  I’m happy for Maggie, though.  She’s really into Andrew.”

“Why did you go out with William if you weren’t interested in him?”

“It was Maggie’s idea.  She wanted to make it a double date.”

“Last night I asked you if you enjoyed his company and if you planned to see him again.  You were about to answer but I didn’t give you a chance to do so.  I was afraid that you were going to tell me that it was none of my business so I saved you the trouble. What were you going to say?”

“I was going to tell you that I didn’t enjoy myself at all.”

“Why not?”

Her courage was beginning to fade but she couldn’t allow that to stop her.  She had to level with him. It was now or never. “I didn’t because I was thinking about you.”

He looked surprised.  “You were thinking about me?”

“Yes and feeling miserable because I know you don’t like me.”

Now his expression was incredulous.  “Not like you?” he muttered.  “You think I don’t like you?”

“Yes, because you are always so cold towards me.  Even just now, you didn’t seem at all pleased to see me and I felt as though I were intruding.”

He released his breath in an unsteady sigh.  “Oh, Diane,” he cried, his eyes darkening on her face as he raked his fingers through his hair.  “You have no idea of how I really feel about you, do you? Let me give you an idea.  The first time we met, I was blown away.  I couldn’t get over how stunning you were.  I was so besotted with you, it scared me.  So, I reacted by dismissing you on the pretext that I wanted to read.

“After you left, I closed the book and sat there for a long time, just thinking about you.  In spite of myself, my feelings for you grew and that evening when Maggie told me about your date, I was livid.  I acted as if I didn’t care but I was mad with jealousy.  I couldn’t bear the thought of you with someone else.  I mentioned that I had an engagement too.  That wasn’t true.  I didn’t have any plans but pride made me say that I did.  I ended up going to the movies which was a waste of time and money.  I was just sitting there in the dark theater, thinking about you with him.”

“I thought you were with Ava,” she confessed.  “And that’s why I was miserable all evening.”

“Ava is just a friend.  She was there for me when I went through a really tough time after I broke up with my ex.  I will tell you about it some other time but it’s what made me indisposed to having another relationship.   And when I met you and you aroused feelings in me that I thought had died, I got scared.  I didn’t want to fall in love again—not after I got burned the last time I did.  So, I tried to fight my feelings for you but it was no use.  For the second time in my life, I have fallen in love and this time, I have fallen hard.  I think that’s what scared me.  My feelings for my ex pale in comparison to my feelings for you.”

“I’m so sorry that you got hurt,” she said.  “but, I promise you that you don’t have worry about me.  I will never hurt you.  I love you so much, Rupert.”  She reached up and touched his face, her heart in her eyes as they met his.

“Oh, Diane,” he groaned, pulling her into his arms.  His head swooped down and he kissed her.  Then, he buried his face in her hair.  “I love you so very much.”  He held her tightly as if he were afraid to let her go.

She whispered, “I’m not going anywhere, my love.”