Getting Away

He had just walked out of the synagogue when he saw them.  Arrested, he stood there watching Brittney with her ex-boyfriend, Andre, his heart breaking.  Burning jealousy swept through him.  They were standing a few yards away but she didn’t see him.

His sister, Anna joined him, saw his face and followed his gaze to where the couple stood talking.  Then, she looked back at him, concerned.  “Who is she?” she asked.

It took a moment for him to speak because he was so upset.  “Brittney.”

“Is she a friend of yours?”

“Yes.”  He turned away, unable to watch them any longer.  He started walk away and Anna followed him.

“Are you in love with her?”

“Yes.”

“Does she know how you feel?”

“No.”

“Are you going to tell her?”

“What’s the point?” he snapped.  “She doesn’t feel the same way.”

“How do you know that?”

“We just saw her with Andre, her ex.  It’s clear that she hasn’t gotten over him and I was a fool to believe that she had.”

“Oh, Paul, I’m so sorry.  What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.  I need time to think.”

“Why don’t you go to Paris for a few days?  You haven’t taken a vacation in ages.  You’re long overdue for one.”

He glanced down at her.  “You’re right,” he said.  “I need to get away and try to figure out what I’m going to do.  If I stay here in London, I will be tempted to go to her and I can’t bear to see her right now.  It hurts too much.”  A muscle began to throb along his jawline and he quickly turned away.

Anna reached for his hand and held it tightly.  It hurt to see her brother like this.  He was a brilliant businessman but when it came to matters of the heart, he lacked good judgment.  This wasn’t the first time a woman broke his heart but it seemed that he fell really hard for this one.  Hopefully, he would get over her as soon as possible.  He deserved better.  The trip to Paris would do him good.  She went back to his flat with him and while he changed, she got his lunch ready.  She had just put a plate of food she had prepared yesterday and brought on the table for him when the phone rang.

“Do you mind answering that for me?” he called from the bedroom.

“Hello?” she listened for a moment.  “No, you have the right number.  This is Anna speaking.  Hold one moment, please.”  She placed her hand over the mouthpiece.  “It’s Brittney,” she said when he came into the living-room.

He shook his head, indicating that he didn’t want to talk to her.

“I’m afraid he’s not available at the moment.  Perhaps he will call you back later.  Goodbye.”  She replaced the receiver into the cradle and turned to look at him.  “Are you sure you don’t want to talk to her?”

He shook his head.  “I can’t right now.  I need to clear my head first.  I’ll call her when I come back from Paris.”

“All right.  Do you need me for anything?”

He smiled.  “No, Anna.  I’ll be fine.  You should go home to Peter and the kids.  I will call you tomorrow when I check into the hotel.”

She hugged him tightly.  “I love you,” she said drawing back to look up at him.

“I love you too.  And thanks for the food.”  He followed her to the door and they said goodbye.  He shut the door and leaned against it for a moment.  Why did Brittney call him? Was it to tell him that she was back with Andre.  He closed his eyes in despair.  It would kill him if she was.

Brittney stared at the phone, her mind swirling with all sorts of thoughts and questions.  A woman named Anna had answered Paul’s phone.  Who was she?  Red, hot jealousy surged through her and she was tempted to go over to his place right now and find out.  Then, she remembered that he had a sister and her name was Anna.  Relief washed over her.  Paul wasn’t seeing another woman.  But why hadn’t he come to the phone?  She looked at the clock above the mantelpiece, debating whether she should call again or wait for him to call.  It was after seven.  She decided that she would let him call her.  In the meantime, she fixed herself a light dinner and ate it in front of the television.

When ten o’clock came and she still hadn’t heard from him, she began to worry.  It wasn’t like him not to call.  It was too late for her to call him.  She would have to wait until the morning to do so.  Disappointed, she turned off the television and went to bed.

The next morning, she got up, showered, dressed and had breakfast.  After she was done, she hurried to the phone and called Paul but there was no answer.  When the machine came on, she left a message.  She went to church and as soon as she got home, she called but still no answer.  She tried his cell but it was turned off.  She tried all day calling both his home number and his cell until finally, in the evening, she decided to go over to his flat.  She rang the bell and knocked but it was clear that Paul wasn’t there.  Where could he be?  After standing there for a while, she left.  She was worried and had a restless night.

The next morning, she called him but got the same results.  She got ready for work.  On her way to the office, she called his cell but it was still turned off.  Intermittently, throughout the day, she tried to reach him but to no avail and by the time the workday was over, she was very anxious.  Why wasn’t he answering his phone and why hadn’t he called her back? When she got home, she decided that she would call his sister.  She took out the phone directory and searched for her name. She remembered that Paul said that she lived in South Kensington, twenty minutes from where he lived and that she was married to Peter Goldstein, the reporter from the Times.  She searched under Goldstein and found the number.

A woman answered and she recognized her voice.  “Hello, Anna, this is Brittney.  I spoke to you yesterday evening when I called for Paul.  Do you know where he is?  I have been trying since Saturday to reach him.  I’m out of my mind with worry.”

“Hello Brittney.  Paul is in Paris.”

“Paris?” Brittney exclaimed.  “What is he doing there?  Is he there on business?”

“No.  He needed to get away.”

“What did he need to get away from?” she asked, bewildered.  “It’s not like him to go away and not tell me.  And he didn’t return my call on Saturday.  Is-is he seeing someone?”

“No.  He went to Paris alone.  Brittney, I was with him on Saturday when he came out of the synagogue and saw you with Andre.  It upset him so much that I suggested that he should take a break and go to Paris.”

“Oh no,” Brittney groaned.  “He saw me with Andre and thought—”

“That you were back with him.  He was devastated.  I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this but Paul is in love with you.”

“And I’m in love with him.  I have been for a long time.”

“He thinks that you’re still in love with Andre.”

“I’m over Andre.  I have been for a long time now and it’s because of Paul.  Meeting Paul and his friendship has changed my life.  And seeing Andre again made me realize that the feelings I had for him are nothing compared to my feelings for Paul.  Andre wanted us to pick up where we left off but I told him that I was in love with someone else.  I wished him well and then, I walked away.  My past with Andre is over and done with.  My future is with Paul.  Anna, please tell me where he’s staying.  I want to go to him.”  Her life felt so empty without him.  She missed him so much it ached.  How she longed to be with him.

There was a brief moment of silence and then, Anna told her the name of the hotel where he was staying.  After Brittney thanked her profusely, she said, “I’m very relieved to know that you love my brother and I wish you two all the happiness in the world.”

Brittney thanked her again and rang off.  She quickly called the office and informed her assistant that she was taking the rest of the week off.  Then, she dialed the number to book the first available flight for the following day to Paris.  She packed a bag, her heart thudding with excitement.  She was going to see Paul in a matter of hours.  I can’t wait to see him.

Paul stood on the terrace looking at the city bathed in the crimson glow of the setting sun, wishing she was there with him.  “Oh, Brittney,” he whispered brokenly, dragging his fingers through his hair as he ached for her.  Paris was a city for lovers.  If only Brittney and he were lovers instead of just friends.  If only she were with him instead of Andre…

Frustrated, he went back into the room and was going over to the bed to lie down when he heard a knock on the door.  Frowning, he went to answer it.  Opening it he was startled to see Brittney standing there, luggage in tow.   He blinked, thinking he was imagining things.  She couldn’t possibly be here in Paris.  Then, she said, “Hello Paul.” She reached up and touched his face, her gaze almost a caress.

He eyes darkened and he caught her hand to draw her into the room.  “What are you doing here?” he asked when he had closed the door and was facing her.

“I had to come.  I called your sister and she told me where you were.  I had been calling for you since Saturday but when I couldn’t reach you, I got really worried.  I went by your flat but you weren’t there so when I got home.  I called your sister on Monday and we spoke for a while.  She told me that you were here in Paris and explained why.  You saw me with Andre.”

His expression became drawn at the memory.  “When I saw you with him, I felt as if someone had pushed their hand into my chest and ripped out my heart.”

She moved closer to him.  “I’m so sorry that you saw us,” said, wringing her hands.  “It wasn’t at all what you thought.  Andre wanted to resume our relationship but I told him that I was in love with someone else.”

“And what did he say?” he asked as he moved closer, his heart pounding.

“Nothing but I wished him well and walked away.”

“So, it’s over between him and you.”

“Yes and it has been over for a long time now.”

He was standing right in front of her now, their bodies inches apart.  Wordlessly, he pulled her against him and his head lowered towards hers.

She watched transfixed as his face drew closer to hers, her gaze dropped to his mouth.  Her eyes closed as waves of indescribable pleasure undulated through her body when she felt his lips brush against her.  Putting her arms around his neck, she responded passionately to his kisses.  They stood there in the room in the dappled shade of the setting sun as it streaked through the windows, exchanging feverish kisses.

“I love you,” he muttered when at length, he raised his head to gaze down into her upturned face.  “I love you so very much.”

She smiled at him.  “I love you too,” she told him.  “That’s what I came to Paris to tell you.”

“It’s funny but just a few minutes ago, I was wishing that you were here with me in the City of lovers and then you show up.”

“Yes.  You came to Paris to get away from me and here I am.”

“Yes, here you are.  I never want us to be apart again.  It was foolish of me to think that coming here would help in some way.  I missed you so much even when I thought you had gone back to him.”

“Let’s not think about when we were apart but enjoy being together now,” she suggested huskily.  “We are in the city of love so let’s do what lovers do.”

“Yes,” he whispered and picked her up in his arms.

 

 

 

 

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A New Relationship

Paulette walked into Antonio’s office to place some files on his desk.  He wasn’t there.  It was half-past eight.  He usually got in around eight forty-five.  She went over to the windows and looked out at the bustling city below.  Five years ago, fresh out of university, she had stood there on the sidewalk staring up at this very building, nervous and excited about starting her first day here.  It was hard to believe that so much time had passed.  She loved working at the company but she knew that the main reason was Antonio why she looked forward to going into the office every weekday.

She didn’t kid herself that he would show any interest in her other than professional because of their age difference.  At the age of thirty-nine, he was twelve years older than her.  She wanted him to see her as a woman—a woman who loved him so much it ached.  Until she met him, she had no clue of what it meant to be in love.

When her friends talked about falling in love, she couldn’t relate because it hadn’t happened for her.  She envied them, though, wondering what it would be like to experience what they were experiencing.  And then, she met Antonio and it was then that she realized that love at first sight wasn’t a myth.  She knew that she loved him the first time she saw him.  It was a surreal experience. Everything seemed to be at a standstill and it felt as if they were the only two people in the world.  Everything else faded in the background and all she could see was him, coming toward her, his hand extended and an incredible smile on his face.

And that deep, sexy voice of his and the way he said her name still made her shiver.  She could almost hear it now and then she started when she realized that he had walked into his office and was standing beside her at the window.  Feeling embarrassed, she turned toward him, hugging the files which she was supposed to have left on his desk.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized.  “I-I didn’t hear you come in.”

He looked so good in his navy blue suit, black shirt and matching tie.  His thick dark hair glistened damply in the light and she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Yes, he looked and smelled good…She realized she was staring and looked away.

“Something out there really got your attention,” he said as he walked over to his desk.  “I was calling you but you didn’t hear me.”

“I was just watching the people below and thinking about when I first joined this company.  I can’t believe it has been five years.”

“Yes, you’ve been with us for that length of time.  I hope you still like working here.”

“I do, very much.”  I can’t imagine being anywhere else.  Working with you is sheer bliss. She realized that she was staring again and that she really ought to be getting back to her desk.

Walking over to his desk, she set the files down.  She could feel him watching her and raised her head to look at him.  Her heart skipped a beat when she saw his gaze leave her face and travel over her before returning to her face.  She hoped she looked fine in the light grey long sleeved top, black pencil skirt and black knee high boots.  “I’d-I’d better get to back to my desk.”

“Are you going to Rita’s Christmas dinner?” he asked as she was about to turn away.

Rita was a retiree who used to at the firm.  She retired two years after Paulette starting working there.  Paulette was sorry to see her go but they kept in touch.  She was like a mother to her.  This year she was having a dinner and dance party at a banquet hall in London.  Paulette had received her invitation in the mail a week ago and had started shopping around for a dress to wear.  She wanted to wow Antonio, if he was going. “Yes, I’m going.  Are you?”

“Yes, I am.”

She wondered if he was taking anyone.  It would ruin her night to see him with another woman.

“Are you going with anyone?” he asked, glancing up from the papers he had been going through.

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Why don’t we go together?” he suggested much to her surprise.

“Together?” she repeated.  The thought of going with him thrilled and made her nervous at the same time.  It would be the first time that they would be seeing each other outside of the office.  What were they going to talk about on the ride over to Rita’s place?  Would there be an awkward silence?  She heard herself say, “Sure.  That’s a great idea.”  No chance of him showing up with someone else.  Tomorrow evening she was going to dazzle him.

“Good.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”  He returned to sorting through the papers which was her cue that she should get to work.  She turned and walked quickly out of his office, her heart pounding with excitement.  She couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.

The day went by very quickly and it was like a blur for her.  All she could think about was seeing Antonio tomorrow.  She imagined them staring at each other across the table and slow-dancing afterwards.  Oh, stop daydreaming and concentrate on your work, she chided herself.  It was hard concentrating but she forced herself to do it and in no time it was the end of the work day.  She cleared her desk, turned off her computer, locked her drawers and stood up to pull on her scarf and coat.  After turning off the lamp on her desk, she grabbed her handbag and walked over to Antonio’s office to say goodbye.

He was typing something and stopped when she poked her head in.  “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.  See you tomorrow.”

She smiled as she walked to the lift.  Yes, I don’t have to wait until Monday to see you.  When she got home, she took out the dress she was going to wear.  It was perfect.  When she tried it on and examined herself in the mirror, it looked great on her.  The champagne color suited her complexion and the style of the dress flattered her figure.  She didn’t bother trying on any other dresses.  This was the one.  She hung it carefully back in her wardrobe and slid the doors shut.

After fixing herself a sandwich and salad, she sat down and ate while watching the news on TV.  She decided to turn in early although she knew that it would be a while before she fell asleep because she was so excited about tomorrow.  It was around mid-night when she finally drifted off, a smile on her face.

Saturday came and she spent the day, cleaning the flat, doing laundry and grocery shopping.  Then, it was time to get ready for the dinner/dance.  Excitement filled her as she got dressed.  For a few minutes she looked at herself in the mirror before she left her room.  She had just put on her coat and grabbed her clutch purse when the doorbell rang promptly at seven.  Immediately, her heart began to beat fast and she felt a little nervous as she opened the door.

Antonio smiled.  “Good evening,” he said.  His eyes lingered on her face before shifting to her hair which was in an updo with a few tendrils framing her face.  She saw what looked like admiration flicker in them.  She couldn’t wait to see his reaction when he saw her dress.

“Good evening.”  She stepped out into the passageway, closing the door behind and turned to lock it.  She turned and saw that he was still watching her and she smiled.  This was going to be a very exciting evening.  They walked to the lift and as they rode down in the lift, they exchanged glances but didn’t say anything.  It was a bit cold when they got outside but she soon felt warm in his car as they drove off.  Smooth jazz filled the car.

“How come you don’t have a boyfriend?” he asked suddenly, startling her.

“I don’t know.  My mother has asked me the same thing.”

“Speaking of family, are you an only child or do you have siblings?”

“I’m the younger of two daughters.  My older sister, Pam is married and has three children.  She was with my mother when she took in ill.  I was away on a trip at the time and had to fly back immediately.”

“What happened?”

“This was a few years ago—during my senior year at university.  My mother suddenly collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital.  We weren’t sure that she was going to make it but her pastor encouraged us to pray for her and she made what could only be called a miraculous recovery.”

He glanced at her.  “I’m happy to hear that your mother recovered.  Are the two of you close?”

“Growing up, I was closer to my father but after he died, my mother and I became close.  Almost losing her has made me cherish every moment I have with her now.”

“Yes, family is very important.  Both of my parents are dead but I have two brothers and a sister.  They are all back in Italy.  I try to visit them when I can.”

They talked more about his family and why he left Naples to come to London, especially since he had many fond memories of growing up there.  She laughed as he imitated his father who was very strict and his mother who was always complaining about something or the other.  He still missed them although they had died over ten years ago.  His father died of a heart attack and his mother was devastated.  She couldn’t survive without him and died the following year.  “I have a photo of them in my wallet,” he told her.  “It was taken the year before Dad died.”

Paulette stared at him, touched that he carried a photo of his parents in his wallet.  She didn’t say anything.  She didn’t know what to say and they had reached the banquet hall.  He parked the car, got out and walked around to open the door for her.  As they walked to the entrance, she felt the nervous excitement rising in her.  They went to the coat room to check in their coats.  With trembling fingers, she unbuttoned hers and removed it.  After she handed it to the girl there, she turned and looked at Antonio who was staring at her.  She saw his gaze travel slowly over her– the beaded bodice, the plain long skirt with the side slit which reveal her leg as she stood there.  He looked amazing in the black dinner suit and as he walked over to her, she felt her mouth go dry when she saw the expression on his face.

“You look amazing,” he said quietly, his eyes meeting hers.

“So do you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.

They stood there staring at each other and then he extended his arm.  She took it and they walked to the hall where they heard voices and laughter.  Rita was at the entrance greeting everyone.  She was delighted to see them.  “You look handsome as usual,” she said to Antonio before hugging him.  Then, she turned to Paulette, her eyes widening.  “And you, my Dear, you look absolutely stunning.  That dress was made for you.”  They hugged.  “I think Antonio agrees with me,” she said in a low voice so that he couldn’t hear.  “He can’t stop staring at you.” She drew back and addressed them both.  “It’s great to see you both.  You’re both sitting at my table but not next to each other.  I hope you don’t mind.”

They both assured her that they didn’t mind although Paulette was disappointed but it turned out that he was sitting directly opposite her.  She was seated next to Rita’s grandson while Antonio was sitting next to Marissa, a co-worker.

Every now and then, when Paulette looked over at Antonio she found him staring at her.  She wished it were just the two of them having a romantic, candlelight dinner with soft R&B music playing in the background.  Rita’s grandson, Mark was talking to her and she tried to be attentive but she couldn’t help being distracted.  When dinner was over, she excused herself and went to the bathroom to freshen up.  When she returned, people were dancing and Mark asked her to dance.  She was about to open her mouth to turn him down when, she felt a hand on her arm and turned to find herself staring up at Antonio.  “I believe you owe me this dance?” he said.

Heart thudding, she allowed him to escort her to the dancefloor.  He turned after finding a spot and his hand found the small of her back as they moved to the music.  It was a slow number, one of her favorite songs.  She couldn’t imagine dancing it with anyone else.  She put her arm round his shoulder and just allowed her body to follow his lead.  It felt so good being in his arms.  She felt like Eliza Doolittle, wishing she could dance with him all night.

They danced until the slow music ended and faster music replaced it.  The rest of the night was spent at the table talking and having non-alcoholic drinks.  When it was time to go, she had mixed feelings.  She was beginning to feel a little tired and wanted to go home but it meant that her evening out with Antonio was over.  Rita hugged them and wished them a Merry Christmas.  She hoped to see them again soon.

It had gotten colder so Paulette was huddled in her coat as she followed Antonio across the parking lot to where his car was parked.  She was thankful when she climbed in and sank down against the soft leather.  The car was soon suffused with warm air.  On the drive home, they talked about the dinner party and both agreed that they it was a success.  She planned on calling Rita tomorrow to thank her for a wonderful evening.

Twenty minutes later, they were standing outside of her flat.  She had unlocked the door and stood on the threshold, facing him.  The place was quiet because it was near one in the morning.

“Goodnight,” he said softly.

“Goodnight,” she replied, wishing he would stay.  They stared at each other and then she was in his arms and he was kissing her.

She threw her arms around his neck and they tightened as she kissed him back passionately for several minutes.  Then, she broke off the kiss, grabbed his hand and pulled him inside the flat, closing the door behind them.  She fumbled with the lock before turning to face him, her eyes feverish as they met his.  She reached for him and felt his arms encompass her waist, pressing her into him as she pulled his head down to hers, her fingers gripping his hair.  He was kissing her like a mad man, unable to contain himself.  They stood there kissing for a long time and then they released each other long enough to remove their coats and discard them on the floor.  She kicked off her shoes while he removed his.

“I want us to start seeing each other outside of the office,” he muttered thickly as he removed his dinner jacket and tossed it on the floor.  His tie soon followed.

She nodded.  “Yes,” she gasped when he scooped her up and strode through the living-room.  “Third door on the left.”

That was the beginning of their new relationship.

 

Friends and Co-Workers

Alain and Andrea were co-workers who became fast friends because they got along very well and enjoyed each other’s company.  Sometimes they went out for lunch at a bistro just around the corner from the office.  It became their favorite place.

Soon their time together wasn’t limited to lunch at the bistro.  Alain invited her to a concert and then treated her to dinner afterwards.  At the office she won two tickets in a draw to the exclusive screening of the first episode of season three of Outlander UK and asked him to go with her.  Over dinner, they talked animatedly about the show and how they got to see some of the cast.

They saw each other practically every day and on the odd day when they couldn’t see each other, they would talk for hours on the phone.  Andrea cherished the five years of friendship she was enjoying with Alain.

It was a late Saturday afternoon and she was just about to ring the doorbell to Alain’s flat when the door opened and a man she had never seen before but who looked a bit familiar stepped out into the hallway.  Alain was standing behind him. The stranger smiled at Andrea.  “Hello,” he said, pleasantly, looking her over and clearly liking what he saw.  He held out his hand.  “I’m Henri, Alain’s baby brother.”

She smiled and shook his hand.  “It’s nice to meet you, Henri.  I’m Andrea.”

Alain pursed his lips.  “Henri was just leaving,” he said, looking at his brother.

Henri rolled his eyes.  “That’s my cue,” he said.  “And just when things are starting to get interesting.”

Andrea laughed.  “Well, I hope we meet again,” she said before she walked past him and into the flat.

“I thought you said you didn’t have a girlfriend,” Henri said in a low voice.

“Andrea’s not my girlfriend.  She’s a very close friend.”

Henri’s face brightened.  “She’s cute and hot,” he commented.  “Do you think she would go out with me?”

Alain’s expression darkened.  “She has a boyfriend,” he told him abruptly.

Henri looked surprised.  “If she has a boyfriend, what is she doing here alone with you in your flat?”

“Her boyfriend trusts me.  Goodbye, Henri.”  He went back inside the flat and closed the door quietly behind him.

Henri stood there for a moment, looking puzzled, and then he shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

Andrea was standing at the window looking out when Alain joined her.  She turned and smiled at him, thinking how good he looked in the black shirt and light blue jeans.  “So, that’s your brother.  There is a slight resemblance.  Which one of you was the troublemaker?  Let me guess, you?”

Alain laughed.  “I was a bit of a rebel growing up but I wised up when I turned fifteen.  Henri was the quiet one who didn’t get into any trouble.  Now, it seems like we have switched personalities.  Now, I’m the quiet one and he’s the outgoing one.”

Andrea shook her head.  “I never would have pegged you for a bad boy,” she said.  “I bet all the girls were into you.  I know I would have been.”

“You were into bad boys?”

“Yes, because they were more exciting.  It was true that the nice guys finished last.”

“What about now?” he asked.  “Is there a particular type of man you are attracted to?”

She wanted to say you.  “I’m attracted to the introverted man—he’s easy to be around, intellectually stimulating, has a sense of humor and self-assured.

He turned away so that she couldn’t see the expression on his face.  “Sounds interesting.  Have you met anyone like that as yet?”

Yes…you.  “I’m not looking.” That was the truth.  “So, what would you like to do now?”

“Let’s go to the cinema and then afterwards have dinner at one of those riverside restaurants.”

“Sounds great.”

The weather was so pleasant that they went for a walk before going into the cinema.  A couple of hours later, they sat enjoying a tasty meal on the riverside terrace of a restaurant with an unobstructed view of the Tower Bridge.  It was while they were walking back to the car that she asked him, “What type of woman are you looking for?”

He glanced at her but she was facing straight ahead.  “I’m not looking,” he said quietly.  I have already found her.

“If you were looking, what would you look for?”

“I would look for a woman who is outgoing, intelligent, assertive and resourceful.”

“Sounds interesting.” And they walked on in silence until they got into a discussion about the foreign film they went to see.

It was Monday and Andrea was in high spirits.  She was still thinking of yesterday when Alain and she took a full day trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Oxford.  It was while they were having dinner on Saturday night that he told her about the trip.  He remembered that she had always wanted to visit Windsor Castle and Stonehenge.  Touched, she got up, went round to where he sat and leaning over she hugged him.

She wanted to thank him again so she left her desk and was heading toward his office when she overheard someone ask for Sophie.  Sophie was a pretty blonde who recently started working there.  She heard the other person say, “She mentioned something about lunch and then I saw her leave with Alain.”

Andrea froze in her tracks.  Alain went for lunch with Sophie?  She had seen them talking a couple of times but had thought nothing of it.  Yet, the thought of them having lunch together made her jealous.  She went back to her office and sank heavily down into the chair behind her desk.  She was staring out the window but not seeing anything when there was a knock on her door.  She swung her chair around to see who it was.  It was Henri.

“Henri,” she greeted him and getting up from the behind the desk, she went over to where he stood in the doorway.  “Come in.  It’s good to see you.  Come and have a seat.”

“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” he said as he followed her over to the desk.  He waited until she was seated before he took the chair in front of her desk.

“Not at all.  What brings you here?”

“I’m here to meet Alain.” He glanced at his watch.  “I made sure I got here at least ten minutes early.  I didn’t want to keep him waiting.”

“I’m sorry but Alain is not here.  He’s gone out for lunch with Sophie.”

Henri looked surprised and a little put out.  “Well, how do you like that?  He and I were supposed to grab lunch.  I guess he forgot, although it’s not like him to do so.”  He glanced at her.  “I would ask you to have lunch with me in his place but I doubt that your boyfriend would like that.”

She stared at him.  “I don’t have a boyfriend.  Who told you that I did?”

“Alain.”

She looked puzzled. “Why would he say that?” she wondered.  “He knows that I’m not seeing anyone.”

“That’s what he told me when I asked him if you would go out with me.  Maybe he doesn’t want me to take you out because he likes you himself.”

She shook her head.  “I don’t think so.  He sees me as a very good friend, nothing more.  Besides, he went out for lunch with Sophie.”

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you? I can see it on your face and when you mentioned Sophie.”

“Yes, I am,” she admitted, sighing heavily.  “A lot of good it’s doing me.”

“Why don’t I take you out for lunch and we can talk more about this?” he suggested.  “I’m a great listener.”

At first she hesitated but he was so persuasive that she gave in.  They walked to the nearby bistro and over tasty pasta dishes they talked about Alain.

“It’s possible that you’re wrong about Alain and Sophie.  They may not even be together now.”

“Someone said she saw them leave together.”

“They may have left together but that doesn’t mean that they are together.  Don’t jump to conclusions before talking to Alain first.  I still think he lied about you having a boyfriend because he has feelings for you.”

“Well, I hope you’re right.”  She glanced at her watch.  “I should be heading back to the office now.  Thanks for lunch and for being such a good listener.  I’ll let Alain know that you came by the office.”

After a warm hug, they parted company.  When she got back to the office, she went directly to Alain’s office to see if he was there.  He was.  She went in and closed the door behind her.  He looked up from what he was doing as she crossed the carpet to stand in front of his desk.  He smiled and gave her his trademark wink.  Usually, she would respond with a wink and smile but this time she didn’t.  She was miffed with him.

“Did you have a good lunch with Sophie?” she demanded.

He frowned.  “Sophie?” he repeated.  “Why do you think I had lunch with her?”

“One of the women, I think it was Sharon, said that she saw the two of you leave together and seemed to think that you were going out for lunch together.”

“Well, Sharon or whoever said that was mistaken.  Sophie and I left at the same time, yes.  We rode the lift together but then she went off with Tony from Accounting and I went in the opposite direction.  I had an errand to run.”

Relief washed over her.  Henri was right.  “Henri came by,” she told him.  “You two were supposed to have lunch together.”

“The errand took longer than I anticipated.  I didn’t get back here until around twelve-forty-five.  We were supposed to meet at twelve-thirty.  I thought he would have waited.  Was he terribly upset?”

“He was surprised and a little put out.”

“I’ll call him later and apologize.  So, what did you do for lunch?”

She hesitated, suddenly feeling guilty.  “I went for lunch with Henri…” Her voice trailed off when she saw the expression on his face.

He got up from the desk and came round to where she was standing, his face glowering.  There was anger and something else in his eyes.  “You went out for lunch with Henri?”

She involuntarily stepped back, her eyes wary as they met his.  “I didn’t have any plans so when he asked me, I—I accepted.”

“Where did you go?”

“To the bistro around the corner—”

“You took him to our place?”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t want to go too far.”

“Instead of having lunch with him, why didn’t you have him wait here in my office until I got back?”

“I thought you went for lunch with Sophie, remember?”

“Then, you should have let him leave instead of going for lunch with him.”

“Why are you so upset?” she asked.  “And why did you tell him that I have a boyfriend?”

“I don’t want you to see my brother.”

“Why not?” she asked.  “He’s nice and very good-looking.” She knew she was goading him now but she wanted to find out if Henri was right about his brother’s feelings for her.

Alain’s eyes darkened.  “Are you trying to get a rise out of me?” he demanded, the jealousy eating up his insides.

“I’m sorry,” she said, contrite.  “I just want to know why you’re so upset.”

“Do you want me to tell you or show you?”

She swallowed.  “Show me?”

“Yes, show you,” he muttered thickly and then, he reached out and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.  His mouth found hers and hungrily devoured it while his hands held her tightly against him.

Andrea closed her eyes and kissed him back, savoring the moment she had dreamed of for so long.  It made her heart sing to know that Alain returned her feelings.

After several minutes, Alain raised his head to look at her, his face flushed and his breathing labored.  “I’m in love with you,” he confessed.  “I have been for quite a long time.”

She gazed up at him, her eyes misty.  “I have been in love with you for a long time too,” she told him.

“Dinner at my place tonight?”

She nodded and then reached up and pulled his head down to hers.

 

 

Sources:  Telegraph; Good Men Project; Trip Advisor;

The Age Difference

“I wish you were going with me,” Michelle sighed, looking at Connie as she lay on the sofa with her injured leg elevated on a couple of cushions.

“Even if I weren’t laid up here with a bad leg, I wouldn’t go with you,” she told her.

Michelle’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Why not?”

“You’re running away.”

“Running away from what?”

“You mean, from whom.  You’re running away from Paul.  No matter where you go, you can’t run away from your feelings for him.”

Michelle got up in agitation and went over to the window, looking out at the quiet street outside.  “He’s so young—”

“Michelle, he’s ten years younger than you, not twenty!”

Michelle shook her head.  “I should never have gotten involved with him.  I should have followed my mind and kept our relationship platonic but…”

“…You love him and he loves you.  Don’t let your age difference prevent you from being happy.  Besides, you don’t look your age at all.  You look younger.”

“I’m thirty-five years old and in love with a guy who graduated from university just three years ago.”

“So what?  He’s very mature for his age.”

Connie was right.  Paul was very mature for his age.  Still, she wished he were older. “I wish he were older.”

“So, you are going to throw away your happiness because of his age?  Would you feel better if he were to date a girl his age?”

The thought of him with someone else filled her with jealousy.  “No, I won’t,” she admitted.  “I don’t want him to be with someone else.”

“You can’t have it both ways, Michelle.  Either you hold on to him or you let him go.”

“That’s why I think I need to go away for a while.”

“Have you told him that you’re going away?”

“Not yet.  I’m going to tell him tonight.”

“Well, I hope you know what you’re doing.  He’s a terrific guy and he loves you.”

Michelle went over to the sofa, “I’ve got to go now,” she said.  She reached down and kissed the top of her friend’s head.  “Thanks for everything.”

“Call me and let me know how things turned out.”

“I will,” Michelle promised before she left.

It was around eight that night when Paul went over to her place.  He smiled when she opened the door.  After she closed it, he was about to pull her into his arms and kiss her when she pulled away.  “I need to talk to you,” she said, turning away.  For a brief moment, she closed her eyes as her feelings for him enveloped her.  I must do this, she told herself.   Her back was stiff, her hands were clenched and her heart was pounding as she walked toward the living-room.  He followed her.  She sat down on the sofa and he sat beside her, his expression troubled when he saw her face.

“What’s wrong, Michelle?” he asked.  He reached for her hand and was startled when she moved it away.

“I’m going away,” she said, not looking at him.  She was afraid to.  She knew that if she did, her resolve would weaken.

“Where?” he asked.  “For how long?”

“New York and for two weeks.”

“Are your parents all right?” he asked.  “Did you get bad news?  Is that why you’re going?  Let me come with you, Michelle–”

“No, Paul” she cried, getting up hastily from the sofa then and hurrying over to the window, wanting to put as much distance between them as possible.  “I’m going alone. Paul, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”  There, she had said the words that had been playing over and over in her mind but the pain they invoked was unbearable.

In a flash he was beside her and turning her round to face him.  Tears were running down her face.  She tried to pull away but he refused to let go.  “Why must we stop seeing each other?” he demanded.  His face was pale and his eyes were filled with anguish and confusion.  “I love you, Michelle and I know that you love me.  Why do you want to end our relationship?”

“I’m much older than you,” she muttered.  “You should be with someone your own age.”

A muscle throbbed along his jawline.  “I don’t want to be with someone my own age,” he retorted.  “I want to be with you.”

Michelle closed her eyes as she felt her resolve crumbling.  “Paul, please…” her voice trailed off when she felt his lips on hers and unable to help herself, she responded wildly and the hands that had been about to push him away were pulling him closer.

When at length, he raised his head to look down into her face, his own flushed, he asked, “Do you still want to end what we have?”

She shook her head at once.  “No, Paul,” she cried.  “I won’t let my age come between us anymore.”

An expression of relief came over Paul’s face.  “So, no trip to New York?”

She shook her head.  “I’ll cancel it first thing in the morning,” she promised.

“Good.”  He swept her up into his arms.  “We belong together, Michelle.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck as he carried her out of the room.

The Photo Shoot

She had photographed many men but this one took the cake.  This was her first trip to Scotland for a photo shoot for the fashion magazine she worked for.  She had never seen a man in a kilt before but this guy looked incredible in the traditional garb.  He wore it extremely well.  And those smoldering eyes and rugged looks didn’t hurt.

She willed herself to remain professional and just do the job at hand.  However, she couldn’t help wishing that she could exchange places with the glamorous woman standing beside him.  Perhaps, she could ask the woman to take a photo of her with him after the shoot and…

Don’t be silly, she chided herself.  You are here to do a job.  Just do it.  

She continued clicking away and was relieved when it was over.  She was packing up her gear when he joined her.  She tried not to give away the fact that she was as nervous as a schoolgirl with a crush and smiled sedately.

“Callum,” he said with that Scottish lilt that was as disarming as his smile.

She held out her hand.  “Holly.”  He clasped it in firm but warm handshake.  She felt a bolt of electricity course through her body.  Their eyes met and held for what seemed like eternity.  He was holding her hand a lot longer than was necessary, not that she minded, of course, but she could feel her face grow hot.  He seemed to realize it too and released her hand, almost apologetically.

“Is this your first time in Edinburgh?” he asked, after clearing his throat.

“It’s my first time in Scotland.”

“How long are you here for?”

“I’m here for another two weeks.  I’m here for the International Fashion Festival and after that I’m off to Glasgow to check out the boutiques.  Then it’s back to London.”

“If you’re not busy tomorrow, I’d like to take you out for lunch and then on a tour around the city.”

She couldn’t believe it.  He wanted to take her out to lunch and show her around Edinburgh.  “I’d like that,” she said.  “I’ll get a chance to try your national dish.”

He laughed.   “I’ll take you to best place where they serve Haggis,” he promised.

“It’s a deal.”  Not only was he handsome but he was really friendly and easygoing.  She felt very relaxed with him and was looking forward to seeing him the next day.  She wrote down the name of the hotel where she was staying and handed it to him.  “Bye.”

“See you tomorrow, Holly.”  Oh, how good her name sounded in the Scottish accent, she thought as she walked away.  She made a mental note to thank Margo for assigning her to the photo shoot here in Scotland instead to the one in Paris.

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Sources:  Culture Trip; Edinburgh International Fashion Festival

Florence

She sat at a small table outside of the local cafe set in the maze of

streets near Piazza Antinori.  One could get lost in Florence but won’t

mind at all.  It was a beautiful, bustling and exciting place.  There was

so much to see.

Around her mingled the sound of dishes cutlery, the clink of

glasses as people toasted each other and the voices and laughter

of tourists and locals alike.  She heard French, Spanish, English, Italian.

Whiffs of cappuccino, hot bread and pasta filled the air.  It was early

afternoon.  She had spent the morning visiting the Duomo and the

Antinori palace.  Now she was at this little cafe buzzing with locals,

and enjoying a glass of wine after having delicious Ravioli, drinking

in the friendly ambiance around her as she watched couples, friends,

students on summer break and the locals walk by.

This was her first time in Florence.  She loved it.  She loved the

cobbled streets, the history, the people and of course, the food.

She will definitely stop by this delightful cafe again and try their

Beef tagliata.  Hopefully, she would get a table inside.  Not that

she minded eating on the sidewalk.

This was her first trip alone.  Usually she traveled with her

Sister, June.  June got married a couple years ago and her life

was not wrapped up in her husband and their two children.

No plans for Travel any time soon.

She signed.  Being alone in a city like Florence wasn’t so bad.

She could get used to it.  She could just lose herself in the maze

of streets that now seemed to be beckoning her.

She finished her wine and grabbing her handbag, she

got up and headed to the nearest street.

 

This trip could be her own personal adventure.  Who knows….what

could happen in the city of love…

woman in Florence

Sources:  Tripadvisor; Antinori Palace