A Little Bit Brave

Charmaine was waiting at the bus stop on her way home when a sleek black Rolls Royce drew up.  As she stared curiously at it, the window rolled down and Dorian Breckenridge stuck his head out.  Immediately, her heart began to pound wildly.  He had that effect on her.  He was her best friend, Ella’s uncle.  They met last year at Ella’s brother’s wedding.

For Charmaine the attraction was immediate.  All evening she watched him, thinking how foolish she was to set her sights on a man who was out of her league.  He was very handsome, sophisticated and much older than her. He was seen in the company of beautiful and elegant women.  She was just a university student still living at home with her parents.  There was no way that a man like him would be attracted to her.  To him, she was just a girl, the same age as his niece.

She walked over to the car now and stared down at him, her heart melting when he smiled up at her.  “Where are you heading?” he asked.

“I’m on my way home.”

“Hop in,” he said, “I’ll give you a lift.”  He quickly got out of the car and held open the door for her to climb in.  He slid in beside her and closed the door.  As the car merged into the traffic, he tapped on the glass partition.  “Henry, we’re going to be making a stop.”  He turned to her, “What’s your address?”  After she gave it to him, he relayed it to Henry who nodded before closing the partition.

She glanced shyly at him, wondering if her heart would fall out of her chest because it was beating so hard and fast.  Her hands were clasped tightly together in her lap because she was afraid that he would notice that they were trembling.  “Thank you for the lift,” she said.

He smiled.  “It’s my pleasure,” he assured her.  His eyes flickered over her small frame, thinking how lovely she was.  Straight, long hair framed a beautiful face with the most amazing eyes he had ever seen.  His fingers itched to caress her face, curious to see if the skin felt as soft and smooth as it looked.  Forget it, he chided himself, she’s too young for you.  He quickly turned his head and gazed out of the window, a muscle throbbing along his jaw-line.  “How have you been?”

“I’ve been busy with my studies,” she said, looking at him, unable to help herself.  He had thick dark auburn hair with grey at the sides, making him even more attractive.

“What are you studying?” he asked.  He turned to look at her.

“Journalism.”

“Which area of journalism are you interested in?”

“Print.  I’m like writing.  Ella was encouraging me to do Broadcast but I’m way too shy to be in front of a camera.”

He smiled.  “When do you graduate?”

“Next year June.”

“So, what do you like to do when you’re not studying?”

“I read a lot.  I just finished reading a book about Rube Goldberg.  One of the things that struck me about him was how badly he wanted to go to New York City because it was the perfect place for cartoonists.   It took a lot of courage for him to leave the West Coast where his cartoons were growing in popularity to go to New York City although he hadn’t received an offer from a publisher there.  I don’t think I could just leave my family and friends and move to another city without any job offers.”

“I personally believe that if you want something badly enough, you must be willing to take a chance for it.  Are you free Saturday evening?” he heard himself ask.  He had to see her again.  It wasn’t enough seeing her occasionally at parties, dinners and barbecues.  He wanted to see much more of her.  In fact, in spite of their age difference, he was seriously considering having a relationship with her.

She nodded, her eyes questioning as they met his.

“Would you like to go with me to see Carmen?”

Pulse racing, she nodded again, unable to hide the excitement in her eyes.  “Yes.”

“Good.  I’ll pick you up at five.”

They had reached her house and he got out of the car to hold the door open for her.  As she climbed out, their eyes met and held for several minutes.  “Th-thank you for the ride,” she stammered, her heart racing.

His eyes darkened on her face.  “Don’t mention it,” he said quietly.  “I’ll see you on Saturday.”

“Yes.”  She turned and walked quickly to the front door, pausing to watch the Rolls Royce as it drove away.  A big smile broke out on her face.  Dorian Breckenridge had asked her to go to the opera with him.  He had asked her out on a date.  She couldn’t believe it.  When she let herself in, she had to turn on the light beside the door.  Her parents were on vacation in Miami so she had the house all to herself.  As she climbed the stairs to her room, she kept replaying in her mind, the words, would you like to go with me to see Carmen?  Then her thoughts turned to what she was going to wear.

As soon as she got to her room, she made a beeline for the wardrobe and looked through the clothes hanging there until she came across a burgundy lace dress with long sleeves.  This would do nicely, she thought.  It reached her just above the knees.

She wanted to call Ella and tell her about the date but decided that it would be best to keep it to herself.   Besides, she didn’t know if anything would come of it.  For all she knew he had intended to take someone else but she couldn’t make it so he asked her instead because he didn’t want the tickets to go to waste.  She brushed aside the negative thoughts and after taking a quick shower, she went downstairs and fixed herself dinner.  Afterwards, she relaxed on the sofa, the television on but her mind elsewhere.  She willed Saturday to come quickly so that she could see Dorian again.  She didn’t know how she would be able to concentrate on her studies.  At eleven, she went to bed but lay awake for a while before finally falling asleep.

The following day at university, she went through the motions and was relieved when it was over and she went home.  She washed her hair and set her dress out and the shoes she was going to wear with it.  That night she was too excited to sleep and it was after one in the morning when she drifted off.  She got up early and busied herself with cleaning the house and laundry.  The day seemed to drag but soon it was time to get ready.  Excited, she showered and put on her dress.  It fitted her snugly and she pulled her hair back in a French twist with a few strands across her forehead.  No makeup, only lip-gloss.  Tiny gold earrings studs in her ears were the only pieces of jewelry she wore.

Satisfied with how she looked, she grabbed her handbag and went downstairs.  She opened the coat closet and was just buttoning her coat when the doorbell rang.  Heart racing, she went into the foyer and opened the door.  Dorian stood there, smiling at her.  “Good evening,” he said.

“Good evening.”  She turned and locked the front door before she preceded him down the steps.  As she got closer to the parked car, she realized that it wasn’t the Rolls Royce.  It was a different car.

“It’s just the two of us this time,” he remarked as he held the door open for her.  “And I thought it would be nice to drive my own car for a change.”

She smiled as she climbed into the car, delighted that they were going to be alone.  As she settled in the seat and fastened her seat-belt, she was tempted to pinch herself.  She still couldn’t believe that she was going out with him.

Carmen is over three hours long so I made reservations for dinner first at a nearby restaurant,” he said when he got in the car.  “I hope you don’t mind.”

She shook her head at once.  “No, I don’t mind at all.”   It thrilled her to no end that she was going to have dinner with him. He took her to a classic French brasserie in the heart of Covent Garden’s opera quarter.  Its true Parisian style décor and warm welcoming atmosphere made the restaurant an instant favorite for her.

She smiled when she saw his eyes travel over her after he helped her off with her coat.  As they followed the waiter to a table near the window, she felt his hand on her elbow and when he held her chair out for her, he murmured quietly, “You look very lovely.”

“Thank you.”  His compliment stirred all sorts of feelings in her and she fit a curious sensation at the pit of her stomach and she was thankful to sit down because her knees felt weak.  When he sat down, she couldn’t help admiring how he looked in the charcoal grey suit and a black turtleneck sweater.  He oozed class and sophistication.

“I’m afraid we have only an hour to have our dinner,” he said apologetically after the waitress brought the menus.  “Fortunately, it’s less than a five minute walk to the theatre.”

They had only the main course from the theater menu and skipped dessert.  It was a quarter to seven when they reached the theater.  Charmaine had never been to the theater before so she was very excited when she walked into the auditorium and saw the red curtains of the stage, the stunning ceiling, the glittering gold of the proscenium arch and the red and gold lights.  Dorian smiled when he saw her gazing around her in wonderment.  “This is the first time I’ve ever been in a theater,” she told him as she saw down.

He settled his tall frame beside her.  It pleased him that her first experience at the theatre was with him.  There were so many wonderful things he wanted her to experience with him but for the present, he wanted her to enjoy this moment.  The lights began to dim and he settled back in his seat.  The curtains rose and the show began.

During the intermission, he leaned over and inquired, “So, are you enjoying it?”

She turned to him, her eyes shining.  “Yes,” she said.  “I love the singing, the story, the costumes—everything.”

He smiled.  “Good.”

They talked a little about the show and then it was time for it resume.  At the end, there was thunderous applause and a standing ovation.  Charmaine blinked back the tears as she clapped.  As Dorian helped her with her coat, she remarked, “Although it ended in tragedy, next to Romeo and Juliet, Carmen has become one of my favorite love stories.  I felt sorry for Micaëla who loved Don Joséand I felt sorry for him because of how Carmen treated him.”

“Yes, it would have been best for the three of them if Don José and Carmen had never met.”

They walked to the car which, thankfully, was not parked far from the theater.  The temperature seemed to have dropped and she was grateful for the warmth of the car.  When they were standing outside of her parents’ home, she turned to face him after unlocking the door and turning on the porch light so that they could see each other clearly.  “Thank you for a lovely evening,” she said huskily.

He looked her, “It was my pleasure,” he told her quietly.  “Charmaine, how do you feel about being in a relationship with a man who is much older than you?”

She swallowed hard, her heart pounding.  “On top of the world,” she informed him.

He reached for her hands and drew her closer to him, his eyes gazing into hers.  “I’ve wanted to be in a relationship with you ever since we met but our age difference prevented me but this evening I made up my mind that I was going to follow my heart.”

“I’m happy you did,” she confessed.  “For the longest time, I’ve wanted you to notice me but didn’t think I stood a chance—not when you were used to be around older and more glamorous women.”

“The first time I saw you, my heart skipped a beat and whispered to me, ‘she’s the one’.  When I was with those other women, my mind was filled with thoughts about you and my heart ached to see you again.  And every time we saw each other, we never had a chance to be alone.  It was quite by chance that I saw you on Tuesday.  Usually, I would have my face buried in a newspaper or papers but I didn’t feel like doing anything except to relax and enjoy the ride.  When I spotted you at the bus-stop, I couldn’t believe my luck and seized the opportunity to be with you.  And as for the tickets to Carmen, I ordered those after we dropped you home.  Fortunately, the seats hadn’t filled up as yet.  Carmen was my excuse to see you again.”

“It was by pure chance that I was waiting at the bus-stop.  Usually, I would take the tube because it was faster but I decided to take the bus instead because it was a nice, mild day.  When I saw you, I was so thrilled because I didn’t know how long I would have to wait before I saw you again.”

“Well, we don’t have to wait to see each other,” he said huskily.  “If you’re free tomorrow, I would like to take you to the British Museum and then for lunch afterwards.”

“I’m free tomorrow and every afternoon during the week,” she told him. “I’ve never been to the British Museum.”

“Then, it’s settled.  I’ll pick you up at eight.  Goodnight, Charmaine.”

“Goodnight, Dorian.”  He was holding her hands and staring into her eyes.  Was he going to kiss her?  With all her heart, she hoped so.  It would be the perfect end to a perfect evening.

As if he had read her mind, he lowered his head and kissed her.  It was tentative at first but when he felt her eager response, it deepened.  He released her hands to cup her face as his lips moved passionately on hers.  She put her arms around his waist and pressed against him, her senses spinning.  How true the words, “No one ever fell in love without being a little bit brave.”  She concluded that she must be very brave because when she fell in love with Dorian she had no clue that he felt the same way.

 

Sources:  Rube Goldberg: Inventions; Royal Opera House

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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

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.”