Love in the Office

When she went to the kitchenette to fill her bottle with water, Anton was there telling a couple of people about his camping trip with his friends.  She couldn’t help but smile.  He was such a droll when it came to telling stories.  She filled her bottle and turned so that she was facing the group.

“Sounds like you had a lot of fun on your camping trip,” she said a few minutes later, when they were alone.

He went over to where she was.  “I did,” he said, his eyes riveted to her face.

She wondered if he knew how much his closeness affected her.  “Good,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  “Where did you go camping?”

“Wild Boar Wood in West Sussex.”

“So, were there any women on your camping trip?” She had to ask.

He shook his head.  “No, just the guys.”

She couldn’t hide her relief and she saw his expression change.

“Even if women were there, I wouldn’t have been interested in any of them,” he said quietly.  “You must know by now, Tina, that I’m deeply attracted to you.”

Her chest began to rise and fall quickly and she seemed to have trouble breathing.  “I’m your supervisor,” she reminded him.

“Yes, I know that we have a working relationship but we can’t deny how we feel about each other.  I know that you’re attracted to me.  I saw the look on your face when I told you that there weren’t any women on the camping trip.  You don’t want me to be with another woman any more than I want you to be with another man.  You can’t deny that you have feelings for me, Tina.  I can see it on your face.”

Her resolve was beginning to weaken.  “I’m older than you,” she said.

“Age is just a number,” he said dismissively.  “Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

“All right,” she acquiesced.  “You win.” She was no match for the emotions that raged within her or his power of persuasion.

He smiled.  “Good.  I’ll pick you at seven-thirty.”

“I think we should get back to work now,” she said.

“Right,” he agreed.  “I’ll get started on the report you asked me for.”  He excused himself and quickly walked away.

For several minutes, she stood there, wondering if she had acted wisely.  She couldn’t get past the fact that she was his supervisor and that there was a considerable age difference between them.   Yet, try as she did, she couldn’t deny her feelings for Anton.

From the moment she first saw him, she knew that she was in trouble.  His good looks, charm and friendly disposition made him irresistible.  Working with him was a challenge.  Many times, she found herself watching him and wondering if he had a girlfriend.  She couldn’t imagine that someone like him would be unattached.  It bothered her to see him talking to other women in the department, especially the younger ones.

Just yesterday, she had walked by the photocopier on her way to the boardroom for a meeting when she saw him standing there talking to Wendy, a pretty redhead.  He had his back turned to her so he didn’t notice her.  Her steps faltered and as she watched them talking, red, hot jealousy raged inside her.  She was tempted to go over there and interrupt them but she came to her senses and hurried away before he saw her.  When she was in the meeting, she had to literally force herself to focus on the business at hand and put the sight of Anton and Wendy out of her mind.  Later when they were alone in her office going over some files, she said, “Wendy’s pretty, isn’t she?”

He glanced up at her.  “I suppose so,” he said.

“I saw the two of you at the photocopier earlier today.  I think she likes you.”

“Are you trying to set me up with her?” he asked, startling her.

“No,” she protested.  “I—I was just making an observation.”

“Wendy’s a very nice girl but I’m not attracted to her.”  He was staring at her now and the expression on his face made her heart palpitate.  That was the first time she became aware of his attraction for her.

“Tina, Mr. Foster is waiting for you in your office.”  Annette’s voice brought her back to the present.

“Thanks, Annette,” she said and followed her out of the kitchenette.

Several hours later when it was time to leave, Anton stopped by her office.  She was straightening her desk.  He went over to her.  “Normally, I would tell you to have a good weekend,” he said.  “But, I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.”

“Yes,” she said.  She handed him a slip of paper with her address on it.  When he took it, their fingers touched and her breath caught in her throat.  Her skin seemed to burn.  Their eyes met and held for a long time before she turned away to remove her jacket from the back of her chair.   “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Tina.”  She heard him leave and turned round when he closed the door behind him.

Her skin still tingled where his fingers had touched it.  She traced the area, her heart pounding when she remembered the expression on his face as they stared at each other.  The desire she saw there was unmistakable.  She wondered what would have happened if she hadn’t turned away.  On the drive home, she mulled over it and nervous excitement rose in her whenever she thought of seeing Anton the following evening.  What on earth am I going to wear? She wondered, racking her brains to see if there was an outfit that would be suitable.  It had been ages since she had been on a date and it felt very strange going on one with someone she worked closely with.

As soon as she got home, she searched for something to wear and settled on a dress she had bought a month ago and had worn only once.  It was a black slash neck dress with a flare skirt.  On Saturday evening, she put it on and was satisfied with how it looked.  She wore her hair in a chignon, allowing a few tendrils to frame her face.  The strappy black and silver heels completed the outfit.  The doorbell rang just as she took one last look at herself in the mirror.  When she opened the door and saw Anton standing there, her heart leapt.  He looked gorgeous in the charcoal grey suit with the black dress shirt and black tie.  His eyes slid over her and when they returned to her face, admiration and desire shone in their depths.   “You look amazing,” he said quietly.

“So do you.”  As they walked to the lift, she could feel him watching her and she smiled, flattered.

The restaurant, set in a snug 18th century townhouse, was atmospheric in that the tables candle lit.   Over dinner, he told her about himself.  His father was British and his mother French.  He had an older brother and a younger sister.  He asked many questions about her and her family.

When they were having dessert, he said with a serious expression on his face, “I want to have a relationship with you, Tina.  I know that you are hesitant because we work together and the age difference but we can’t deny how we feel about each other.  It’s so hard for me to be around you and not want to touch you or kiss you.  Quite a few people in our department are dating each other.  At least, let’s give it a try and see what happens.   What do you say?”

She toyed with her Black Currant Sorbet for a moment and then, looking up at him, she nodded.  “Yes, let’s give it a try.”  He was right.  There was nothing to prevent them from having a relationship except her own misgivings which she knew had to do with her fear of getting hurt.  She still couldn’t believe that he was attracted to her instead of someone closer to his age.

He smiled and reaching over, he caressed her hand, making her pulse race.  They spent the rest of the night talking about all sorts of things and made plans to see each other the following day.  When he took her home, he leaned down and was about to kiss her on the cheek when, heart thudding, she turned her head so that their lips touched.

Groaning, he deepened the kiss while backing her into the flat.  Once they were inside, he kicked the door shut, his mouth moving feverishly over hers.  She clung to him, kissing him back while her hands removed his jacket.  His tie and shirt soon followed and then, she broke off the kiss, panting and grabbing him by the hand, she took him to her room.

The following day at the office, they smiled and kept exchanging knowing looks.  She felt like a lovesick schoolgirl.   When other people were around, they acted professionally around each other as before. They spent every evening together, either at her flat or his.  Over the weekends, they went for drives, to the cinema, dinner, the theatre, concerts and nightclubs or for walks along the Quay.  Tina knew that she was falling in love with him and hoped that he was with her.  Once when he was taking a shower, she joined him and as he gazed down into her face, the water beating on his back, she saw the look in his eyes before he kissed her.  There was no doubt in her mind that he cared for her.

One afternoon, she was on her way home to visit her sister, Vivien when she spotted Anton in front of a café.  He was not alone.   There was a traffic signal right there and she stopped as the light turned to red, craning her neck to see him and the girl he was with.  She watched as he leaned over and said something to the pretty brunette, making her throw back her head and laugh.  Then, she saw the girl reach up and put her arms around his neck, hugging him closely.  Her fingers gripped the steering wheel as jealousy ripped through her.

The honk of a car horn behind her startled her.  Dragging her eyes from the two figures on the sidewalk, she glanced up and saw that the light had changed to green.  She pressed her foot on the gas and drove off.  All sorts of thoughts were running through her mind.  Who was the girl and what was he doing with her?  And what about me?  Is he getting bored of me?  But he couldn’t be—not after the way he made love to me last night.  She trembled at the memory.  Is he seeing the both of us at the same time?  Is he sleeping with her too? The pain and jealousy almost suffocated her.

How she managed to get to Vivien’s home without getting into an accident, she had no idea.  As soon as her sister opened the door, she broke down.  Concerned, Vivien hugged her for a moment until she had calmed down, then she put her arm around her shoulder and led her over to the sofa.  “Tell me what’s got you so upset,” she encouraged her gently.  She handed her the box of tissues that was on the coffee table and waited patiently while she dried her eyes and wiped her nose.  “I’ve never seen you like this before.”

Taking her time, Tina told her everything.  “I love him, Vivien.  It really hurt to see him with her.”

“Does he love you?”

She shrugged her shoulders.  “I don’t know.  He hasn’t said so as yet.”

“Based on what you have told me, it’s obvious that he has feelings for you.  There might not be anything going on between him and the girl.  It may all turn out to be innocent.  When you see him tomorrow, ask him about her.”

“And what if he’s seeing her?”

“Then, you must end your relationship with him.” She reached out and covered her hands.  “I hope it all works out for you, Tina.”

Tina didn’t answer.  At that moment, her world was in an upheaval and she didn’t know what she was going to do if it turned out that Anton was two-timing her.

She drove to work the next day, feeling awful.  She hadn’t slept a wink at all last night.  Anton wasn’t at his desk when she got in and she went into her office and closed the door.  She knew she couldn’t avoid him but she dreaded the moment when she would have to talk to him.  Once when he knocked on the door and poked his head in, she pretended that she was on the phone.  He didn’t disturb her after that.

It was after twelve when she came out of her office and stopped short when she saw the same girl she had seen Anton with sitting in a chair next to his desk.  What is she doing here, she wondered, resentfully.  The girl didn’t see her.  She was sitting with her back turned to her and was on her cell phone texting.

She was tempted to walk over to her and find out who she was.  As she stood there, trying to figure out what to do, Anton came up behind her.   She felt him caress her arm and she swung round to face him.

“What’s the matter?” he asked when he saw the expression on her face.

“Who’s the girl over there at your desk?” she demanded in a low, angry voice.  She couldn’t hide her jealousy.

He looked over her shoulder and then back at her.  “You mean my sister?” he asked, raising his eyebrows quizzically.

She gaped at him.  “Your sister?” she repeated, wondering if she had heard correctly.

“Yes, my sister.  Come, let me introduce you.”  He took her by the arm and led her over to the brunette who glanced up at them.  “This is my sister, Louise.  Louise, this is Tina.”

Louise smiled and held out her hand.  “It’s nice to meet you, Tina.  Anton has told me so much about you.”

Tina shook her hand, dazed and feeling like a complete fool.  “It’s nice to meet you too,” she murmured.

Anton turned to her, “Louise and I are going to have lunch.  Would you like to join us?”

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but I already had my lunch and I have a meeting in about fifteen minutes.”

Anton grabbed his jacket and pulled it on.  “I’ll see you when I get back.”

Louise stood up.  She was a tall girl.  “I hope to see you again, Tina,” she said.

Tina managed a smile.  “Me too.”  She watched them as they walked away and then went back into her office.  She sat down at her desk and leaned her head against the leather upholstery, her mind whirling.  The heaviness which had been on her heart was gone.  She went to her meeting in better spirits.  When it was over, she went back to her office and waited for Anton to return from lunch.

When he did, she called him on his extension, asking him to go in and see her.  He went in right away and walked over to her desk.  “You’ve been avoiding me all morning,” he said, “and I’d like to know why.”

She got up from the desk and went up to him.  “I have a confession to make,” she said quietly, wringing her hands nervously.  “Yesterday I saw you with Louise, only I didn’t know at the time that she was your sister and I thought…”

“And you thought that I was seeing another woman behind your back.  Oh, Tina,” he groaned, raking his fingers through his hair in frustration.  “How could you think such a thing?  Can’t you tell by now that I love you?”

Her heart stopped.  “You love me?”

“Yes! I love you so much that I ache inside.”

“I love you too.  I’m sorry for being such a jealous fool.  When I saw you with her, I was so hurt, so jealous.  I—I was going to talk to you about it today but I couldn’t seem to work up the courage to do so.”

He reached for her and pulled her into his arms.  “There’s no reason for you to be jealous of other women,” he told her huskily.  “I love you.  I want to be with you.  I want to marry you.”

She stared at him.  “Marry me?”

“Yes.  That’s why you saw me with Louise yesterday.  She went with me to De Beers to help me to choose a ring for you.  I was planning to propose to you tonight over dinner at my place.  Afterwards, we went to a cafe.  You must have seen us just before we parted company.”

She began to cry and he hugged her tightly.  “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.

He drew back to look down at her.  “What are you sorry about?” he asked.

“I’m sorry for ruining your surprise and for doubting you…”

“Don’t  cry,” he said.  “You haven’t ruined anything and I would have reacted the same way if I had seen you hugging a strange man.

She smiled at him through her tears.  “I’m so lucky to have you,” she cried.

He cupped her face between his hands and rubbed the tears away with his thumbs.  “I’m the lucky one,” he muttered thickly before he lowered his head and kissed her.  Wrapping her arms tightly around his waist, she kissed him back.

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Sources:  Time Out;Ali Express; Andrew Edmunds; De Beers

 

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The Christian Faith

Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men” – Mark 1:17

The Christian faith has mushroomed into what it is today thanks to men and women who were willing to let the Holy Spirit work in and through them to share the Gospel with others.  It all started with two men–one was Andrew and the other was Philip.  After each man encountered Jesus, they went and told others about him.  When Andrew found his brother, Peter he said to him, “We have found the Messiah.” And Philip declared to his friend, Nathanael,“We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:41, 45).

Then, Peter and Nathanael were taken to meet Jesus.  How do we follow the example of what Andrew and Philip?  We tell our families, friends and co-workers about Jesus and share the Bible with them.  It is through reading the Bible that they meet Jesus.  We introduce them to Him but they have to get to know Him for themselves.

One of my favorite stories is the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  She went to the well to draw water at a time of the day when she wouldn’t run into other people.  Married five times and living with a man who wasn’t her husband, she wasn’t exactly the pillar of society.   She didn’t expect to see Jesus there.  She could tell that He was a Jew and was surprised when He asked her for a drink of water as Jews didn’t have any dealings with Samaritans.  And she was a woman.

Jesus spoke to her, telling her what true worship was and salvation.  When He told her things about herself that a stranger could not have possibly known, she thought He was Prophet.  Jesus revealed that He was the Messiah and excited, she left her water-pot and ran into the city to tell the people there, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”  Like Andrew and Philip, the woman met Jesus, went and told others about Him before bringing them to Him.  Many of the people believed in Jesus because of her testimony.   The woman discovered that despite the fact that Jesus knew everything about her, He loved her.

Does your neighbor know that there is a Savior who loves him or her and wants to reach out in love and forgiveness to him or her?  This encounter between Jesus and the woman was an example of how the Gospel should transcend racial and gender barriers.  The Gospel is for everyone.  Salvation is for everyone.  We must not allow our prejudices to get in the way of spreading the love of Christ to those who need it.

So, we see a progression here.  The mission field begins at home, with our relatives and then spreads to our friends and then our neighbors.  It follows what Jesus said to His disciples when He sent them out to preach and minister to others.  “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5, 6).  The Jews were to receive the Gospel first and then the Gentiles and Samaritans.  It makes sense that we witness to those closest to us first and then to others.

Once we are willing and open to His leading, God will find opportunities for us to share the Gospel.  He did so with Peter on the Day of Pentecost and Paul when he was in Athens.  After the Holy Spirit filled the disciples, they began to speak in tongues.  The crowd marveled when they heard them speak in their own language.  Some, however, mocked them, accusing them of being drunk.  Peter used their remarks as an opportunity to give a sermon.  He spoke of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  The people were convicted and they asked Peter and the other disciples what they should do and Peter’s answer was, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Many were baptized and about three thousand people became Christians on that day.

We may encounter skeptics but, instead of becoming discouraged, we can do what Peter did and use their unbelief as an opportunity to share our faith.  As Paul said, we are to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).  When Paul was in Athens, he saw that the city was given over to idols.  Provoked, he reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue and the Gentiles in the marketplace.  He spoke to them about the resurrection of Jesus.  They took him to the Areopagus, curious to hear his doctrine.

Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and addressed the people, acknowledging that they were religious because of the objects of worship and the altar they had built to the Unknown God.  He revealed to them who the true God was.  He was the “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.  Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.  And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,  so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’  

Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.  Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

When some of them heard the word “resurrection”, they began to mock him while others wanted to hear him speak further on the matter.  And others believed in what he said and joined him, among them a woman named Damaris (Acts 17:23-34).

Paul was prepared to share the truth about the God he worshipped and he used what he saw around him to do so.  He wanted the people to turn from their idols and worship the true God who wanted them to seek Him while He could still be found.  We can use whatever is at our disposal to share the truth about God with others.  Many people still have a negative opinion of God but we can change that by reaching out to them in love, compassion and sharing our testimonies of His goodness.

As in Jesus’ day, the Christian faith is growing and will continue to grow.  Although it is under attack and many believers are facing persecution, imprisonment and even death, it will continue to spread and transform lives until Jesus returns.  We can do our part by reaching out to those around us.  Each one can reach one.  We can do it through handing out literature, through social media, blogging, websites or witnessing in person.  God will give us the means and the opportunities to further His ministry.  All we have to do is to be ready and willing like Andrew, Philip, the Samaritan woman and Paul.

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Sources:  Biblegateway; Blue Letter Bible

Sexual Harassment

It wasn’t until Ashley Judd heroically shared her story a few days ago that I felt ashamed.  If I had spoken up a decade ago, would I have saved countless women from the same experience I had or worse? While I still do feel guilty for not speaking up all those years ago, I’m glad for this moment of reckoning. To the countless other women who have experienced the gray areas: I believe you – Heather Graham

Sexual harassment has been around since biblical times.  Joseph, a handsome young Hebrew slave was sexually harassed and then accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife.   Yes, men as well as women are victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, George Takei, Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman and recently, comedian Louis C.K. have had charges of sexual misconduct leveled against them.  This comes on the heels of the allegations launched against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.  Stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and more have spoken out against the producer who has been described as “a predator”, “vindictive”.

Celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Matt Damon, Quentin Tarantino, George  Clooney and Ewan McGregor knew of Weinstein’s behavior but didn’t say anything.  Other celebrities are appalled such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Gosling.

Sexual harassment is not limited to Hollywood, it’s everywhere.  It’s in workplaces, the military, colleges and other public places.  It’s a form of sex discrimination.  Weinstein’s victims were intimidated because of he had to power to make or break them.  Actress Asia Argento said that she stayed silent for years out of fear and feelings of responsibility and later had consensual sex with him multiple times because she felt he would ruin her career if she didn’t.   Actress Cara Delevingne said that she was hesitant about speaking out because she didn’t want to hurt his family.  “I felt guilty as if I did something wrong. I was also terrified that this sort of thing had happened to so many women I know but no one had said anything because of fear.” 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (ECCOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

How should sexual harassment be handled?  For Gwyneth Paltrow, it was coming forward so that other women to feel less alone and to send a clear message that “this is over.  This way of treating women ends now.”  Angelina Jolie chose not to work with Weinstein again and warned other women who were going to work with him.

Here are tips on how to handle sexual harassment:

  • Be clear and firm. If the person harassing you is told when it happens the first time that you don’t approve and don’t find it funny, they might back off. Be polite, but firm, and don’t giggle. This might be interpreted as a tacit type of consent.
  • Tell others. Don’t keep quiet; this will only make you more vulnerable. Harassers like isolating their victims – physically and socially. If you tell others what’s going on you might also find out that you’re not the only one experiencing such situations. If more than one person lays a complaint, it significantly strengthens the case against the harasser.
  • Don’t doubt yourself. Harassers often try and pass something off as a joke, however if it’s continuously at your expense, or attacks your sense of dignity, you’re being harassed. Don’t allow harassers to make you doubt your observation, how their actions make you feel or that you’re overreacting.
  • Safety in numbers. Make sure that you’re not alone with this person behind closed doors. Take a colleague with you if you feel threatened, and insist that doors be left open if you have to be in a meeting. Make sure that somebody knows where you are at all times.
  • Report the matter. Follow procedures to lay a complaint – and keep records of all correspondence in this regard. If a complaint has been laid and your employers continue to ignore the situation and take no action, they could be liable for damage claims.
  • Keep records. If you want to lay charges, it’s much more convincing if you can give names, dates, places and the names of possible witnesses, than when your charges are unproven. Anyone who has witnessed any of these events can be called to testify if there’s a disciplinary hearing.

It’s a good thing that the victims of sexual harassment are coming forward as in the case of Bill Cosby.  It remains to be seen, though what will happen to the perpetrators.   It took courage for the victims to come forward.  Let’s hope that they will receive justice that they deserve.  It’s time for those who use their power and influence to intimidate and violate others to be penalized.

Victims should never feel responsible for the actions of the perpetrators.

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Sources:  National Post; People; ECCOC; Western Cape Government

The Fashion Show

Martin glanced at his friend, Albert and was amused when he saw him staring at Brenda who was strutting down the runway, hands on hips and big smile on her face as she modeled the black and white 50’s looking dress.  The fashion show was actually a charitable event and sponsored by Martin’s company.  After much cajoling, he managed got his friend to come.  Until now, Albert had seemed unimpressed and rather bored with the fashion show.  None of the beautiful women who walked past him got his notice.  And then, Brenda walked out.  Albert glanced up with the same bored expression on his face which immediately changed when he saw her.  His eyes followed her up and down the runway.

Martin leaned over and said in a low voice.  “She’s a stunner, isn’t she?”

Albert didn’t answer.  He watched as she paused at the end of the runway before heading back in his direction.  As she drew nearer, he sat forward, anxious to see her.  She stopped right in front of him.  After acknowledging Martin, she shifted her attention to Albert.  Their eyes met and he felt his heart stop when she smiled at him.   Then, she was gone.

“Would you like to meet her?” Martin asked him.

Albert watched her retreating figure until she disappeared from view before he turned to his friend.  “Yes.”

Martin grinned.  “Good,” he said.  “You’ll meet her after the show.”

“Is she going to come out again?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Albert looked disappointed.  He sat back in his seat, anxious for the show to be over so that he could meet the model who had captivated him.

She was standing on the terrace, looking down at the gardens when they joined her half hour later.  She was wearing a simple orange pant suit which complimented her complexion and flattered her figure.  As she watched them approach, her gaze went to the tall and attractive man with the thick dark brown hair, dressed in the dark grey sweater over a white shirt and dark grey trousers.  The glasses he wore suited him.  She didn’t usually go for the preppy, nerdy type but something about his guy made her pulse race and heart do somersaults.  He looked shy.  She liked that. He would be a welcome change to the obnoxious and overbearing men who usually hit on her.

“Brenda, thank you for being a part of a very worthy cause,” Martin said when they joined her.  “You looked really great out there.  Have you ever considered modelling for a new career?”

She laughed.  “No, the thought never occurred to me.  Besides, I’m too short.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I had fun.” Unable to resist, her gaze shifted to his friend who was watching her.  Behind the eyeglasses, she could see that he had beautiful, expressive eyes.

Martin observed them, smiling.  “Brenda, this is my good friend, Albert.”

Albert was nervous.  He tried not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  His gaze was riveted to her face.  “Hello,” he said when what he really wanted to say was, I’m so very pleased to meet you.  He took the hand she offered and clasped it in a firm handshake.  Her fingers felt small and delicate in his, yet they had the power to stir feelings in him which he never experienced before.  His heart was pounding and he began to worry that he might make an utter fool of himself.  In all of his forty years, not once had he had ever been tongue-tied or nervous around a woman.

She smiled at him.  “I’m very pleased to meet you, Albert,” she told him.  “Did you enjoy the fashion show?”

He realized that he was still holding her hand and he released it.  He put his hands behind his back in an attempt to appear relaxed.  “The last bit of it,” he said.  He didn’t want to admit that until she walked out, he was bored out of his mind.

“I’m not into fashion shows but I don’t mind doing them if it’s for charity.”

Martin chimed in.  “If you two will excuse me, I have to go and find Margot.” He left them and headed off to find the fashion photographer whom he was currently dating.  Margot used to be a model until she decided that she liked being behind the lens better.

Alone together, Albert and Brenda became intensely aware of each other.  They couldn’t hide their attraction for each other even if they tried.  “You really are very beautiful,” Albert said to her, his expression tense.

She had been paid many compliments before but she was never affected by them as she was by his.  Albert made her feel beautiful just by the way he said it and the way he looked at her as he said it.  “Thank you,” she replied.

“I’m not usually this bold,” he sounded apologetic, “but I was wondering if perhaps, we can go for a walk in the gardens?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

“What do you do when you’re not modeling for charity?” he asked as they strolled across the well manicured lawn.

“I work at a law firm.  When I’m not working, I like to curl up with a good book.  What about you?”

“I’m a Financial Director at Shadoworks Company.  I like to write essays in my spare time.  Just recently, I wrote how the words of Christ, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, would be the panacea for the social ills plaguing our society such as abuse, bullying, racism, violence, oppression, sexual harassment.”

“And gender inequality, rape and human trafficking.  This world would be such a different place if we all were to follow the teachings of Christ.  I’d like to read your essay.”

He smiled, flattered that she wanted to read something he had written.  “It’s in the Opinion section of the April 4 issue of the Daily Observer.

“I like the Daily Observer.  It has great articles and it’s not afraid to address sensitive issues.  Yesterday I read a very frank and informative article on sexual harassment in the workplace.  At my firm, we deal with hundreds of cases of sexual discrimination and harassment and bullying in the workplace.”

“I would imagine that it becomes overwhelming sometimes, having to deal with such cases.”

“It does.  I still remember the case of a lawyer whose was being sexually harassed by one of the partners at the law firm where she used to work.  She sued him and the firm and won.  Now she has her own practice helping women who are victims of sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, including law firms.”

“It’s unfortunate but sometimes people have to go through terrible experiences so that they could turn around and help others.  But, you like what you do.”

“Yes.  I like being a part of the solution.  Although I have been working there for four years, compared to the others, I am still the neophyte of the firm but every day I am learning and growing.”

They found somewhere to sit and talked for a long while about different things, learning more about each other and finding that they have a lot in common.  Then, he glanced at his watch and an expression of deep regret came over his face as he looked at her.  “I’m afraid that I must go,” he said apologetically.  “I have a pressing engagement.  It’s my niece’s piano recital,” he added quickly when he saw the look on her face.

She smiled, relieved and stood up.  “How old is your niece?” she asked as they started back to the building where the crowd was starting to disperse.

“She’s fourteen.”

“What is she playing?”

“I believe it’s a piece by Mozart.”

“I wish I learned how to play the piano.  It’s my favorite musical instrument.  I am a big fan of Chopin.”

“I’m more partial to the violin and Bach.”  They were standing at the foot of the steps now.  “Do you need a lift to anywhere?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but my sister, June is meeting me here in about fifteen minutes.  I’m spending the rest of the day with her and her family.”

“I really enjoyed our time together,” he said quietly, his eyes serious on her face.

“Me too.”

There was a pause as he seemed to be contemplating something. “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?” he asked, his expression hopeful and apprehensive at the same time.

“Yes, I will,” she said.  She opened her handbag and after tearing out a sheet of paper from the back of her address book, she wrote her address and phone number.  She folded it and gave it to him.

“I’ll pick you up at seven” he said as he took the paper and tucked it in his wallet.  “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“See you tomorrow.”  She watched him ascend the steps and waved when he stopped to glance back at her.  When he disappeared from her sight, she stood there for a moment, thinking about him and how much she had enjoyed his company.  Then, she went to meet her sister at the front entrance of the building.  As soon as she got into the car, she said to her, “I met him today.”

June stared at her.  “Who’re you talking about?” she asked, pulling away from the curb.

“The man I’m going to marry.”

June laughed.  “Really?” she exclaimed, sounding very skeptical.  “And what made you come to that conclusion?”

“I used to think that love at first sight was a foolish romantic notion but today it happened to me.”

June glanced at her and realized, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.  We spent about an hour just talking and getting to know each other.  I loved being with him. He’s so different from the men I usually go for.  We had the most stimulating conversation and I could have sat there all day just talking to him but he had to go to his niece’s recital.  He asked me to have dinner with him tomorrow evening.”

“Wow.  I wish I’d come earlier to meet him.”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll meet him.”

“Does he know that he’s going to marry you?” June teased her.

“Maybe not as yet”

She thought about him for the rest of the day, wondering how his niece’s recital went and if he was thinking about the time they spent together.  She looked forward to seeing him the following evening and was thankful when it arrived.

He showed up at promptly seven wearing a black suit over a white shirt and no tie.  His hair was slightly damp, a few tresses falling across his forehead and he was not wearing his glasses.  He looked so handsome that she couldn’t stop staring.  “I’m wearing contacts,” he said unnecessarily.  Perhaps he was as nervous as she.

Her heart was pounded wildly, especially when she saw his eyes travel over her and the expression in them when they returned to her face.  She was wearing a Burgundy Long Sleeve Shift Dress with rounded neckline and long sleeves with lightly puffed shoulders.  Long, shapely legs clad in sheer hosiery, peeped out from under the hem and black dress pumps completed the outfit.  “I didn’t think it was possible for you to be even more beautiful than you already are.”

“Thank you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  He offered her his arm which she took and they walked to the lift.  Fortunately, for her it was a balmy evening but she had brought her shawl just in case.  On the way to the restaurant she asked him about his niece’s recital and as he talked about it, she could tell that he was very proud of her.

They went to a modern French restaurant in Covent Garden.  It was reputed to be the world’s most romantic restaurant.  They started with the Crispy Parmesan Polenta & Saint Marcellin Cheese and for the main course, she had the Oven Roasted Free Range Chicken Leg Stuffed with Duck Liver & Truffle while he had the Pan Roasted Organic Irish Sea Trout as they each enjoyed a glass of white wine.  They had a lively conversation and made plans to see each other again.  For dessert, they had both had the Greek Yogurt & Lemon Zest Mousse, Yuzu Curd & Honey Comb.

After dinner, they drove to Canary Wharf.  He parked the car and took her on a little tour of the office district, showing her the building where he worked.  The place looked beautiful at night and the tall office buildings reminded her a little of Manhattan.  “How long does it take you to drive to work?” she asked as they walked back to the car about half-hour later.

“Approximately 35 minutes, depending on the traffic.  Longer during the winter.”

“I like it here.  Very busy, upscale and lots to see.”

“I will bring you here again another time and we can spend a longer time, walking around and perhaps go to a concert, if you like that sort of thing.  We can grab dinner afterwards.”

“That sounds wonderful,” she said smiling as she got into the car.  “Thank you for dinner.”

“It was my pleasure.  Do you have any plans for tomorrow?”

“No.”

“I was thinking that we can go on the Little Venice to Camden Walk.  Someone at work mentioned it to me a while ago and I have been meaning to look into it.  Afterwards, we can visit the Waterside Café before the walk.

“I didn’t know that there was a Little Venice in London.  Sounds very interesting.  I would love to go.”

“I read online that it was named such by the poet Robert Browning who lived overlooking the canal in the 1800s. I’ve never been to Venice but hope to one of these days.”

On the drive to her flat, they talked more about their plans for the following day.  Outside of her door, he said goodnight and then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  They held each other’s gaze for several minutes before he turned and walked away.  She watched him go, touching the side of her face where his lips had been before she went inside her flat.

They went for the Little Venice to Camden Walk and had a wonderful time.  After that, they started seeing each other on a regular basis and by the end of the year, they were dating each other exclusively.  Spring of the following year came and it was when they were in walking in St. James’ Park that he turned to her and said, “I have been meaning to say something to you all morning.”  They were standing at the western end of the park from where they had a clear view of Buckingham Palace.

She stared up at him, wondering what was on his mind.  He looked very serious, nervous.  He took her hands in his and clasped them.

“I love you, Brenda,” he confessed.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.  You came into my life and changed it completely.  The times you and I have spent together have been the happiest for me.  I can’t imagine my life without you in it.  So, if you have no objection and I hope and pray that you don’t, I am asking you to marry me.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She raised their entwined hands to her lips and kissed his.  Her heart was in her eyes when she raised them to his face.  “I love you too, Albert,” she admitted huskily.  “Until I met you, I didn’t believe in love at first sight.  Of course, I will marry you.  You’re the man for me.”

Albert released an unsteady breath and letting go of her hands, he hugged her around her waist and pulled her against him.  He bent his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  For several minutes they stood there, kissing while the ducks waddled about the grass before some of them headed for the pond.

At length, he drew back and said, “I have something for you.”  He reached into his pants pocket and took out the box with the ring.  He opened it and her eyes widened when she saw the exquisite diamond.  He took it out and taking her hand, he gently slid it down her finger.  It was a perfect fit.  When he raised his eyes to look at her, they were filled with emotions.  “I love you.”

She swallowed.  “I love you,” she managed to say and then he kissed her again.  They left that spot a few minutes later, his arm was around her shoulder and hers was around his waist.

They had a summer wedding.  June was her matron of honor.  When they had a chance to speak, Brenda said to her with a smile and a wink, “I told you that I was going to marry him.”

June laughed.  “Yes, you did.  And after meeting him and getting to know him, I can see why he’s the one you ended up with.” She hugged her younger sister tightly.  “I wish you both the very best and God’s many blessings.”

“Thank you.”

It was a lovely reception and afterwards, they left for their honeymoon in Venice.  They did return to Canary Wharf and it was when they were sitting on a bench, having sandwiches that she told him they were going to have their first child.  She laughed when he almost choked on his.  He quickly put it back in the paper and put it down on the seat beside him before turning to hug her tightly, burying his face in her neck.  She hugged him back as she felt his tears wet her neck.  They sat like that for a long time.

Sources:  Fantasy Names Generator; Findlaw; Lulu’s Fashion; YouTube; Trip Savvy

The Dinner Party

It was after five on a Friday and everyone had gone.  Just Lydia and her boss, Maksim were there.  She was clearing her desk when he stuck his head out of his office.  “Are you doing anything tomorrow evening?” he asked.

She shook her head, wondering if he wanted her to come and work tomorrow.  It had happened before.

“A good friend of mine is having a dinner party tomorrow evening and I was wondering if you would like to go with me.”

Lydia stared at him for several minutes, wondering if she had heard correctly.  This was the first time since they had been working together that he had ever asked her to go anywhere with him.  She was both nervous and excited at the same time.  This seemed too good to be true.  Had his date cancelled on him?

“No one cancelled on me,” he said, startling her.  She hadn’t realized that she had voiced her thoughts.  “You’re the only one I’ve asked.  If you don’t want to go, it’s fine.  I’ll go by myself.”

“No, I want to go,” she said.  “It’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere interesting.”

“I’ll pick you up at six-thirty.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she replied and watched as he went back into his office.  Then, she finished clearing her desk, took out her handbag and locked her drawer.  He was on the phone when she walked past.  As she walked to the lift, she wondered what she was going to wear to the dinner party.  Maksim was such a stylish man her outfit would have to be classy.

As soon as she got home, she went straight to her wardrobe and scanned the clothes hanging there.  Her eyes settled on the soft blossom, strapless ruffle hem dress which she had recently bought and had never worn before.  It would go well with her sliver sandals and matching clutch purse.  As for her hair, she would just pin it up.  Satisfied that she had something to wear tomorrow evening, she drew the doors shut and undressed. After taking a quick shower, she had something light to eat before settling down on the sofa to watch the News.

At eleven-thirty, she turned in but didn’t go to sleep right away.  She lay there thinking about tomorrow, thrilled that she didn’t have to wait until Monday to see Maksim.  Maksim.  He was easily the most attractive man she had ever known and she was drawn to him from the very first time they met.

Her thoughts went to this morning and the way he had looked at her as she walked over to his desk to leave some papers there for to look over.  He was on his cell phone but he was watching her.  She wondered if he had any idea of how sexy he looked at that moment or the effect he always had on her.  When she turned and headed to the door, she could feel his eyes on her.  There were times when they would exchange looks and other times when she found excuses to go to his office.  However, it seemed like nothing would come of it and she wondered if it had to do with the fact that he was her boss.

She was really looking forward to seeing him tomorrow.  Hugging her pillow, she tried to imagine the expression on his face when he saw her in her dress.  She hoped he would be impressed.  It was near one when she finally drifted off to sleep.

The following day, she busied herself with housekeeping and cooking.  The day seemed to drag.  Finally, it was time to get ready for her date.  Excitement filled her as she got dressed and she checked herself in the mirror to make sure everything was fine before she left her room.  As she put her shawl around her shoulders, the doorbell rang.  Her heart skipped a beat.  She hurried to the door and opened it.  Her mouth went dry when she saw Maksim standing there looking drop dead gorgeous in the navy Mohair dinner suit with black silk.  She saw his gaze travel slowly over her and the admiration shining in their depths.  “You look amazing,” he said quietly.

She smiled, feeling very pleased.  “Thank you,” she said as she closed and locked the door behind her.  As they walked to the lift, a group of women passed them and cast admiring glances at Maksim but he appeared not to notice them.  Lydia looked over her shoulder.  Eat your hearts out, ladies.

On the ride down the lift, he leaned against the panel and looked at her. “The friend whose dinner party I’m taking you born in Vladivostok like me.  We were neighbors until my parents migrated to England when I was three.  After his father died, his mother brought him and his sister here.  My parents helped them to settle and he and I went to the same school and university.”

“You don’t have a Russian accent,” she commented.  “I guess it’s because you came here as a small child.”

“Yes, but when I speak with my parents you can hear it.  Vasily has a strong accent because he came here as an older child.  His wife Anna is from the Ukraine.  They have two children—a boy and a girl.  You’ll like them.”

“Have you been back to Vladivostok since you left?” The doors to the lift opened then and he allowed her to precede him before he followed her.  He placed his hand on her elbow, making her skin tingle.  His fingers felt warm and firm.  They walked to his car—a sleek black jaguar.  He held open the door and she climbed in.  Briefly, his gaze dropped to her legs before he closed the door.

He got in beside her and turned on the key in the ignition.  The engine purred to life and he drove out of the parking space.  “I went back a few years ago when I visited Moscow.  I took the train from there to Vladivostok and spent a week.  It felt strange being there.  The city centre is decaying and badly in need of a scrub and the building where my family and I lived looks rundown.  I was happy to leave although there are some attractions that I couldn’t miss like the Arsenyev Regional History Museum where there’s a battle scene between a Siberian tiger and a bear.  I have a photo of it.  Remind me to show you sometime.  You have to see it to believe it. I also visited the Triumphal Gates of Nikolai, reputed to be one of the most beautiful and magnificent buildings in Vladivostok. They were built in 1891 to commemorate the heir’s to the Tsar’s throne Nicholas Alexandrovich’s  who later became Russian Imperator Nicholas II.  I visited other places of interest then I returned to Moscow.”

“What about your parents?  Would they go for a visit?”

He shook his head.  “No.  They don’t want to travel anywhere now because they are old.”

“I like your parents.”  He had brought them to the office a couple of years ago to meet his co-workers and because he was taking them out for lunch to celebrate his mother’s eightieth birthday.  They hardly spoke any English but were very warm and friendly.

He smiled.  “Yes, they are good people.”

“What about your sister, did she ever go back home for a visit?” He had an older sister whom she heard him talk about on several occasions but never met.  She lived in Manchester.

“Yes, a few years ago with her family.  She had a better experience.  She didn’t bother to visit our old neighborhood.  Instead, she and her family did a lot of sightseeing.  The kids loved it, especially the dolphin show at the oceanarium.”

They talked some more about his childhood home and then they arrived at his friend’s house.  It was an attractive, stately home with a winding driveway.  Several cars were parked and as they walked up the stairs, they could hear voices and peals of laughter.  She felt butterflies in her stomach and she glanced at him.  “Don’t be nervous,” he said.  He reached for her hand and held it the rest of the way.

As she looked around her in wonder at the décor and the different people there in their fine outfits, he escorted her to their hosts.  They were an attractive couple.  Vasily was tall, blonde and regal in his white dinner jacket and Anna was medium height with dark brown hair swept back in a chignon.  She was wearing a beautiful maroon sequenced ankle length dress with cap sleeves.  Her eyes twinkled when Maksim introduced Lydia. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lydia,” she said.  “What a lovely dress.”

Lydia smiled.  “Thank you.”  She turned to Vasily who smiled and shook her hand warmly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he said.  “Maksim, where have you been hiding her?” He teased his friend.

Maksim replied first in Russian, “v moyem serdtse” and then in English, “We work together.” Vasily looked at him for a few minutes and then said, “Well, it’s good to have you both here tonight.” Maksim took Lydia’s arm and led her over to meet some of the other people in the room.

There was one particular woman there who seemed especially pleased to see him and she completely ignored Lydia who looked her over.  She was petite, curvy and had thick, unruly black hair that tumbled around her bare shoulders in tight curls.  The red strapless dress hugged her and flattered her olive complexion.   She put her red lacquered nails on Maksim’s arm as she reached up and planted a kiss on his cheek.  “Maksim, what a pleasure it is to see you,” she said in what sounded like a Spanish accent.  “It has been a while.  How have you been?”

Maksim smiled.  “Hello, Camila.  Allow me to introduce you to Lydia.”

It was then she seemed to notice that someone was standing beside him.  Her dark brown eyes swept over Lydia and the expression on her face had changed dramatically.  There was hostility and disdain written all over it.  She didn’t smile or offer her hand.  Instead, she said grudgingly, “Hello, Linda.”

Lydia bristled but she maintained a calm composure.  “Lydia,” she corrected her.  “My name’s Lydia.”

Camila didn’t say anything.  Instead, she turned her attention once again to Maksim who was watching Lydia.  “Well, Maksim, I expect to have a least one dance with you tonight,” she said, touching his arm again.  “That’s if your date doesn’t object.”  She said the word “date” as if it were a dirty word.  Before he could answer, she excused herself, then turned and sauntered away.

Lydia shook her head.  She didn’t know that women like her actually existed.  “Are you going to dance with her?” she asked Maksim who looked amused.  Did he find Camila attractive?  She noticed he hadn’t seem at all put out by her obvious flirtation with him.

“I don’t think so,” he said emphatically.  “Don’t let her upset you or spoil your evening.” “I’ll try not to.”

Just then, dinner was announced and they were ushered into an enormous dining-room with a long table covered in a white cloth, elegant dinnerware and vases with red flowers.  She sat between Maksim and a very nice lady whom he had introduced her to earlier.  Thankfully, Camila was seated several chairs away.  The dinner consisted of three scrumptious options—the Sole Meuniere with Rice Pilaf, Grilled Flatiron steak with tomatoes and spiced vinaignette for the meat lovers and Cider Braised Chicken with apples and Kale.  For the vegetarians, the choices were the Rigatoni with peas and porchini mushrooms in a creamy asparagus sauce and the Papardelle with shallots wild mushrooms and tarragon.  Lydia opted for the Sole while Maksim had the steak.  And following dinner the Mini Lanoffee Pie was served.  It was the best dessert she had ever had and promised herself that she would make it one of these days.

After dinner, they filed into the large room where there would be dancing for those who wanted to dance and comfortable chairs for those who just wanted to sit and chat.  Lydia excused herself and went to freshen up.

When she returned, Maksim reached for her hand.  “Let’s dance,” he suggested quietly, his expression serious.  Pulse racing, she put her handbag on a seat nearby and followed him to the dance floor.  She followed his lead and their bodies moved in unison to the music.  The feel of his hand pressing into the small of her back and his firm body against his made her senses swim.  He smelled really good and her arm tightened slightly around his neck as they moved around the dance-floor.  The hand holding hers felt so warm and pleasant.

At one point he drew back to gaze down at her.  She raised her head to look up at him.  Their eyes locked for several minutes as they continued to move as one to the music.  His eyes were darker and she saw something in them which made her heart pound wildly against her ribs and swallow hard.  Her chest began to heave when she saw his gaze drop to her lips which parted. Color flooded his cheeks and she felt his grip on her back tighten even more until she was pressing into his body.  She couldn’t be certain if the heavy breathing she heard was his or hers.

The music ended and several minutes passed before he released her.  He was still holding her hand and instead of going back to where the others were sitting, he took her in the opposite direction.   He took her out on to the terrace where it was dark except for the light coming from inside. No one was out there.  They were alone.

Without saying a word, he stopped abruptly, pulled her against him and began to kiss her hungrily, feverishly.  She hugged him tightly around the neck and kissed him back.   They stood there for a long time, just kissing while inside people were chatting, laughing, dancing and enjoying themselves.

At length, Maksim raised his head to look down into her upturned face, his breathing harsh and unsteady.  “I have wanted to do that for a very long time,” he confessed huskily.   She reached up and kissed him.

“Me too,” she said.

“Remember when Vasily asked me where I have been hiding you?” he asked.  “I said something to him in Russian.”

“Yes, you did but I thought you said it in English afterward.  You told him that we work together.”

“I said that afterwards but when he asked me where I have been hiding you, I said, in my heart.”

She stared at him.  “In your heart?” she repeated.

“Yes, that was my way of telling him that I love you.”

Her breath caught in her throat.  “I love you too, Maksim,” she said.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.”

“It was love at first sight for me too but I kept it to myself because I didn’t know how you felt about me or if you would feel comfortable being in a relationship with me.”

“It doesn’t matter to me that you’re my boss,” she said.  “I love you and I want to be with you.”

He groaned.  “I want to be with you too,” he muttered thickly.  “Tonight changes everything between us.”

“Yes, it does,” she agreed.  She closed her eyes in sweet anticipation as he lowered his head again to kiss her.

 

 

Sources:  J Crew; Pinterest; Wikitravel; Panoramio; Vladivostok; Tripadvisor; Epicurious; Pinterest; Red

A Misunderstanding

“Is your uncle at home?” Ashley asked casually as they walked the grounds on a beautiful, sunny spring afternoon.  She was wearing a denim jacket because it was still a bit cool.  They were at Eastwell Manor where Bradley was staying with his uncle until he found his own flat.  It was a magnificent place surrounded by acres of land, immaculate gardens and rolling hills.  She had been here several times and loved it here.  It was peaceful and the air was crisp and fresh.

Bradley glanced at her.  “You’ve got a thing for him, haven’t you?” he teased. “Most women who meet him do.  My uncle is cordial toward them but expresses no romantic interest whatsoever in any of them.”

“How long were he and your aunt married?”

“Fifteen years.”

“And they never had any children?”

“No.  Aunt Carol couldn’t have any.  What a great pity.  She would have been an excellent mother.”

“How did she die?”

“It was a car accident.  She was on her way home when an intoxicated teenager ran the red light and plowed into her as she was leaving the intersection.  She died instantly.  Uncle Anthony was a wreck.”

“What was she like?”

“She was a lovely woman, kind and very generous.  She adored Uncle Anthony and he adored her.  She was my favorite aunt.  She was like a mother to me.  I adored her.”

“How very sad.  I don’t think your uncle approves of our friendship.”

“Why do you think so?”

“I see the way he looks whenever we are together.  There’s disapproval written all over his face.  I can’t imagine why he should have any objections.  Perhaps he thinks you spend too much time with me and should be in the company of a girl closer to your age.”

“I haven’t met any girls my age that I am interested in as yet and besides, I enjoy your company.  We have known each other for some time now and I can’t imagine not having you around.  I can talk to you about anything.  You’re like a sister to me.  I don’t know why my uncle would disapprove of me having a friend such as you—unless, he thinks we are more than friends, though, I still can’t imagine why that should be any concern of his.  He’s not my father and I’m not a child.”

“Your uncle just wants what’s best for you.”

“I know.”

They continued walking and talked about other things.  Then it was time for her to leave.  As they walked toward the mansion, Bradley suddenly grabbed and dipped her before he bent his head and kissed her squarely on the mouth.  She clung to him to keep her balance.  It lasted a few seconds and then he raised his head, straightening and then releasing her.  She glared at him, her chest heaving in indignation.  “What on earth did you do that for?” she demanded.

“It was for my uncle’s benefit,” he told her.  “He was in the study watching us through the window.”

She swung round and looked up at the window where she knew the study to be.  There was no one there.  She turned back to Bradley.  “What you did was childish and very insulting to me.”

He looked contrite.  “I didn’t mean to upset you, Ash.  I was miffed at him for thinking that he can control my life simply because I am living under his roof.  When it comes to my friendship with you, I will not put up with his interference.”

“What will he think of me now?” she wondered.

“What does it matter?  He already thinks that we are a couple.”

“But, we’re not.  We’re just friends.”

“Why does it matter so much to you what he thinks?” Bradley pressed.  “Is it because you’re in love with him?”

“Yes,” she admitted.

“All right.  Would you like us to go and clear up this misunderstanding right now?”

Her heart lurched at the idea of seeing Anthony Eastwell after what just happened.  She couldn’t imagine how he would look at her now.  She shook her head.  “I can’t face him right now,” she said.  “I’m going home.” She turned and walked away.

Bradley followed her.  “I’m sorry, Ash,” he said, his expression apologetic.  “Please forgive me for acting like a fool.  I will straighten things out with Uncle Anthony, I promise.”

She looked at him.  “I’m very upset with you right now,” she said.  “But, I’ll get over it.  Call me later.” She was about to walk off when she froze.  Anthony Eastwell was walking toward them.

Immediately, her heart began to pound wildly and her breath quickened.  He always had that effect on her.  In spite of her distress, she couldn’t prevent her gaze from traveling over his tall frame and thinking how disturbingly attractive he looked in the tan ribbed sweater and navy blue slacks.

He stopped abruptly in front of Bradley who watched him warily.  “Please wait for me in the study,” he instructed in a tight voice.

Without saying a word, his nephew turned and walked toward the house.  Anthony waited until he was gone before he turned his attention on Ashley.  To say that he was angry would have been an understatement.  His brown eyes were dark with fury and his face was flushed.  “What do you mean by making a spectacle of yourself with my nephew out here in plain view for everyone to see?” he demanded.

She swallowed hard.  “He kissed me and I—”

“Don’t tell me that you put up a fight.  I saw you from the window and it was clear to me that you welcomed his advances which leads me to believe that your relationship is not platonic as you would have me believe.”

“Please, you don’t understand—”she protested.

“I understand perfectly,” he muttered thickly.  “You would rather be with him than—” He broke off and turned away, dragging his fingers through his hair as he struggled to compose himself.  Several minutes passed before he faced her again.  “If you are going to throw yourself at my nephew, I would prefer if you did it somewhere else.”

That was when she got upset.  “For your information, I’m not throwing myself at your nephew,” she retorted.  “I don’t make it a habit of throwing myself at any man, no matter how attracted I am to him.”

“So, you admit that you’re attracted to Bradley?”

“I’m not admitting anything.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Eastwell, I have to go.”  She turned and strode off.

He stood there watching her, his face now pale and his eyes filled with torment.  How he longed to go after her and tell her how he really felt but pride kept him where he was.  He remained there for a while before he went back to the manor.

Bradley was standing by the window when he joined him in the study.  “Uncle, I hope you weren’t too hard on Ashley,” he said.  “The kiss was my idea not hers.  She was very upset with me.”

Anthony looked unconvinced.  “What are you talking about?” he demanded.  “From where I was standing the kiss looked mutual.  I saw her clinging to you.  That was not the action of a woman who didn’t want to be kissed.”

Something about the way he spoke and the expression on his face made Bradley stare at him closely.  “It upset you to see us together, didn’t it?” The look in his uncle’s eyes was all the confirmation he needed.  “Uncle Anthony, this has all been a terrible misunderstanding.  You see, Ashley and I are just friends.  I kissed her because I was angry with you.  I didn’t like you interfering in my friendship with her.  Ashley is not interested in me.  I’m like a little brother to her.  She’s in love with you.”

Anthony looked stunned now.  “In love with me?” he exclaimed.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am.  I can tell from the way she talks about you and when she’s around you. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed.  Besides she admitted it to me.”

“I thought it was you she cared for,” he said.  “I had hoped but never imagined that she would have feelings for me.”

“Do you love her?”

“Yes.  I have loved her since the day we met.  I didn’t think it was possible to fall in love again after losing your Aunt Carol but it has happened.”

“Why don’t you invite Ashley over for dinner tonight and tell her how you feel?”

“After what I said to her earlier, I’m not sure she would want to see me. I’m afraid I wasn’t very pleasant.  I was acting out of jealousy.”

“Then, you can go over to her flat and see her.  She won’t refuse to see you once you turn up.  I’ll give you her address.”

“All right.  I’ll go and see her this evening and hopefully straighten things out with her.”

“I’m sorry, Uncle Anthony, this was entirely my fault.”

Anthony patted him on the shoulder.  “Don’t worry about it,” he said.  “All is forgotten.  I have been interfering in your life and I’m sorry.  You’re free to do as you wish as long as it doesn’t get you into any trouble. No hard feelings?” He held out his hand.

Bradley smiled and shook it.  “No hard feelings,” he said.  “I’m happy that you’ve found love again.  Ashley is a remarkable woman.”

“I know.”

It was after seven when Anthony showed up at Ashley’s flat.  In his arms he carried a box of red roses which he handed to her when she opened the door.  “These are for you,” he said simply as she stood there gaping at him.  “May I come in?”

She blinked.  “Yes, yes.  Come in.” She moved aside so that he could step inside and she closed the door behind him, hardly able to believe that he was here.  She opened the box and gasped when she saw the big, beautiful red roses.  There were a dozen of them.  “They’re beautiful,” she exclaimed.  “Please make yourself comfortable while I go and put them in some water.” As she hurried to the kitchen, she couldn’t deny that she was thrilled to see him, in spite of their earlier exchange.  She hadn’t expected to see him again.

She filled a vase with water, cut the ends of the roses and then placed them in the vase.  She went back into the living-room and put the vase on top of the faux fireplace mantle, stepping back to admire them.  They added more color and a pleasant aroma to the room. She turned to find Anthony standing by the sofa watching her.  She allowed her gaze to travel over him.  He was wearing a navy blue suit, blue tie and white shirt.  His hands were in his pockets and his expression was both serious and sheepish as he looked at her.

“I owe you an apology,” he said quietly.  “I acted like an unreasonable fool this afternoon.  My only excuse is that I was jealous.”

Her eyes widened in surprise.  “Jealous?” she cried.

“Yes.  When I looked out of the window and saw Bradley and you kissing, I was consumed with jealousy.  I couldn’t bear to watch so I moved away from the window.  I didn’t know what to do.  For a few minutes, I just paced up and down in the study and then I decided that I would confront the two of you.”

She watched him, her heart pounding. This seemed so surreal.  “I always thought you disapproved me because of my friendship with Bradley,” she said.  “I thought it was my age which made me unsuitable for him.”

“You’re right.  I disapproved of your relationship with him but not for the reason you thought.  I didn’t know that you were just friends.  I thought you were romantically involved.  In the garden this afternoon, I said the things I did out of jealousy and when you walked away, I wanted to come after you and tell you how I felt but pride prevented me.  I didn’t want to throw myself at the woman whom I thought cared for my nephew.”

“I do care for Bradley but I don’t love him.  What I feel for him is affection and what I want from him is friendship, nothing more.”

Anthony’s countenance changed.  Hope flickered in his eyes.  “I didn’t come over here just to apologize,” he said, moving closer.  “I came to tell you that I love you.  I’ve loved you since the first time we met.”

She moved closer.  “I love you too.  I have since the first time I saw you.  I didn’t think I stood a chance, though, because of your wife.  I feared that I would end up like those other women whose feelings for you were not reciprocated.”

“I didn’t think I could love again until I met you.  You stirred feelings in me that I thought had died with Carol.  What I feel for you is a deep and consuming love.”  By now he had closed the distance between them and was standing in front of her.  He reached out and caught her by the waist, pulling her against him.  His smoldering eyes met hers before he lowered his head and kissed her.  She clung to his shoulders, her fingers gripping the material of his jacket as she responded to his hot, searing kisses.

After a while he raised his head to gaze down into her face, his eyes dark and stormy and his face flushed with desire.  “Do you think you could get used to being Bradley’s aunt?” he asked.

She nodded, smiling.  “It would feel weird at first but I can get used to it,” she said breathlessly.

“Good,” he murmured before he kissed her again.

Sources:  Fantasy Name Generator; Pinterest

Tamed

“Channing is back in town,” Sheila announced, rubbing her hands together in glee.

Alanna frowned.  “Who’s that?”

“He’s Fletcher’s older brother, the wild one.  Many women have tried to tame him but to no avail.  His mother has given up all hope that he’d ever settle down and get married.  He’s quite a catch, mind you–drop dead gorgeous.  Wait until you see him.”

“Where has he been all this time?”

“He’s been on a world cruise from Los Angeles to London.  He just came back.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Fletcher mention him.  Is there bad blood between them?”

“No. They get along well enough.  I heard that Fletcher’s wife, Daphne had her eye on Channing but he wasn’t interested in her so she turned her attentions to Fletcher.”

“That’s terrible.  Does Fletcher know?”

“No.  She had decided that it would best for everyone that he shouldn’t.”

“What about Channing?  Why didn’t he say something?”

“He tried to but Fletcher was so besotted by the dazzling Daphne that he didn’t want to hear anything unsavory about her.  So, Channing gave up and the two got married a couple of months later in a big and extravagant wedding.”

“Does Daphne still have feelings for Channing?”

“I don’t know.  It wouldn’t do her any good if she does. Anyway, Mrs. Beauchamp is throwing a welcome home party for Channing and we have been invited.”

“When is it?”

“Saturday evening at 7.  There will be a buffet dinner and dancing.  It promises to be a very fun but elegant affair.  Do you have an evening gown?”

“An evening gown?” Alanna repeated, looking alarmed.  “No.”

“Nor do I.  Tomorrow at lunch, you and I will go shopping at this place where they sell the most fabulous gowns.”

Alanna was beginning to feel nervous now.  She had never been to such an elaborate affair and felt that she would be out of place.  As if sensing her trepidation, Sheila gave her a reassuring smile.  “Don’t worry, Lana.  You’ll be fine.  I’ve been to these types of social affairs before.  Just follow my lead.”

For the rest of the day, Alanna thought about the party and the next day, she felt a twinge of excitement as she went with Sheila to the dress shop in Chelsea.  She managed to find a gown within her budget.  It was.   When she tried it on, Sheila whistled.  “What a lovely gown,” she exclaimed.  “It’s perfect for you.  What do you think of mine?”

“It’s beautiful, Sheila.  It looks like it was made for you.”

After they left the shop with their gowns, they popped into another store to buy shoes and matching handbags.  By the time they got back to the office, Alanna was really excited and looking forward to the party.  Saturday couldn’t come soon enough.

It was during the summer so the sun was still bright and shining when they arrived at the impressive mansion.  As Alanna stepped out of the taxi, she looked up at the Georgian façade.  It was magnificent and imposing.  It reminded her of Mr. Darcy’s residence in Pride and Prejudice.  And the grounds, from what she could see, seem to stretch for miles.

As she went up the steps, she looked at the other women in their gowns.  They were of many colors, styles, some simple, some showy and others sophisticated.  She was quite pleased with the one she was wearing and smiled as she caught a few curious looks from the women and admiring glances from the men.

Inside there were more gowns and more people.  She looked around her, taking in the décor.  At the entrance to the room where the guests were to assemble stood Mrs. Beauchamp, Fletcher and Daphne.  As she followed Sheila through the archway, a tall and rather handsome man joined them.  “That’s Channing,” she whispered.  “Didn’t I tell you that he’s gorgeous?”

Alanna was greeted warmly by Mrs. Beauchamp, a petite and very regal woman in the shimmering and beaded white gown that matched her white hair swept back in a chignon.  Fletcher shook her hand enthusiastically and said that he was delighted to see her while Daphne gave her a more reserved acknowledgement.  She was a very attractive woman. Tall with auburn hair that was pulled back in a French knot and the ice blue gown she wore suited her rather well.  Then, her gaze went to Channing.  He was chatting with Sheila who turned to her and said, “This is my friend, Alanna.”

He turned to Alanna and she felt her heart melt.  Unusual but incredibly beautiful blue eyes met hers and they seemed to penetrate her soul.  Handsome was not adequate a word to describe him.  He was beyond handsome.  She had never seen a man with his physical looks in her life.  It was as if he were not real but existed in her imagination.  Thick black hair framed a face with fine features.  He looked chic and sexy at the same time in the white dinner jacket, white shirt, black trousers and black tie.  He took her outstretched hand and raised it to his lips, his eyes never leaving her face.  “A pleasure to meet you, Alanna,” he said as he released her hand.

Alanna blinked, her skin tingling where he kissed.  For a mad moment, her gaze lowered to his mouth, wondering if it felt as good as it looked and then, she caught herself and looked away.  “I’m—I’m pleased to meet you too,” she stammered.

Sheila chimed in. “It’s good to see you, Channing.  We look forward to hearing about your vacation.  When you can tear yourself away from your guests, come and join us.”  She took Alanna’s arm and pulled her away.  As they made their way to the cocktails, Sheila said to Alanna, “He seemed quite taken with you.”

Alanna was still remembering every detail of his countenance and the feel on his lips on her hand.  She wondered if the feelings he stirred inside her were evident on her face.  “You weren’t exaggerating when you spoke of his looks,” she acknowledged.

“I saw the way you looked at him.  You’re quite taken with him too.  Aren’t you glad you came now?  You would have missed out on what promises to be a very interesting night.  Now, that you’ve found your Prince Charming, I shall look for mine.  I hope he’s here and I hope it will take as little effort to find him as it took you to find yours.  They say it’s when you’re not looking that you find him so maybe, I shouldn’t look.  Instead, I’ll just stand here and look good.”

They stood there sipping their cocktails and then it was time to have dinner.  The table was arrayed in dishes upon dishes of eye pleasing and mouthwatering delicacies from Europe, Asia and South America.  They managed to find two chairs where they sat and enjoyed the food.  Afterwards, there was a toast to Channing, welcoming him back home after being away for so long.  He gave a brief thank you speech and then they had dessert.

It was when Sheila and Alanna were returning from freshening up in the washroom when Channing and a friend joined them.  He introduced his friend who seemed to have eyes only for Sheila who liked what she saw too.  While they were busy admiring each other, Channing took Alanna’s hand, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze.  “Dance with me,” he said and before she could say anything, he started walking toward the dance floor, taking her with him.

The music was salsa and as they moved to it, their eyes were locked.  It was as if they were the only two people there—everyone else had faded into the background.  They were oblivious to the attention they were drawing to themselves.  All she was aware of was his hand in the small of her back, his smoldering eyes on her and the seductive movement of his hips as they moved in one fluid movement on the dancefloor.  When it was over, they stood still for a long moment, staring at each other, not hearing the smattering of applause around them.  Then, taking her hand, he led her off the dancefloor.  Instead of returning to where they had left Sheila and his friend, he was heading in another direction.  “Where’re we going?” she asked breathlessly.

“I thought you might like to come with me for a walk,” he said.  “It was getting a little hot in there.  A breath of fresh air would do us some good.”

Once they were outside, he released her hand and they walked side by side over the sprawling grounds.  The sun was setting and the immaculate lawns were bathed in the golden light.  “What a beautiful place this is,” Alanna remarked.  “What was it like growing up here?”

“It was fine,” he shrugged.  “After a while, though, I became restless and wanted to venture out into the world.  Before I went to University, I went away for the summer.  I travelled with my friends to Asia.  We visited India, China.  I caught the traveling bug and each summer while I was in university, I would fly off to a different part of the world.  After university, I got a job and moved into my own flat.  I have stayed put for these past years but I got restless again and decided to take a long vacation and travel to other parts of Europe.  And here I am back in England.”

“Until you get restless again,” she said looking at him and her heart leapt when she saw the expression on his face.

“I don’t think I’ll be getting restless again,” he said.  “Not after meeting you.”  He reached out and held her hand, his fingers lacing hers.  “Do you have a boyfriend?”

She swallowed hard.  “No,” she said, shaking her head.  The feel of his warm palm against hers was very stimulating and distracting.

“I want to see you again,” he said quietly.  “Do you have any plans for tomorrow evening?”

Again she shook her head.

“Good.  I’d like to take you out for dinner and then dancing afterwards.”

That sounded good.  They continued walking.  “Which places did you visit this time?”

“I visited the South Pacific, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia to name a few.”

“What were your favorite places?”

“New Zealand, Thailand, Egypt, Italy, Spain and Portugal.”

“Did you see any beautiful women in these places?”

“Yes, I did.  But they pale in comparison to you.  Tell me about you, your family.”

They walked over to a bench and sat down.  She told him about herself and her family, thinking how dull their lives seemed in comparison to his.  He was very attentive.  They talked about other things and then it was time to return to the party.  It was after mid-night when it began to die down and people were starting to leave.  Channing made sure that Sheila and Alanna got a ride home from his friend who was very obliging because it gave him more time to get acquainted with Sheila.  Alanna gave Channing her address and phone number before they bade each other goodbye.  She was looking forward to seeing him the following evening.

On the ride home, she sat in the back of the car, dreaming of him and wondering what she was going to wear for their date.  She lay in bed, her mind spinning and it was after two when she eventually drifted off to sleep.  The day couldn’t go by fast enough and then it was evening.  He showed up promptly at seven-thirty.  He looked amazing in his black jacket, black silk shirt and black dress jeans and she could tell that he liked the dress she was wearing.  They could hardly take their eyes off each other.  They went to a popular Cuban restaurant where after an excellent dinner, they enjoyed listening and dancing to live salsa music.  It was a fun evening.  Neither wanted it to end.

They began seriously dating after that first date.  Then, one afternoon when they were having a picnic in the park near where she lived, he said to her, “You have succeeded in doing what many other women have tried to do but failed.  You’ve tamed me.”  He reached in to his shirt pocket and pulled out a little black box.  Her eyes grew big and her hand flew up to her mouth when he opened it and showed her the exquisite ring inside.   She didn’t realize that she was crying until he reached out and brushed the tears from her cheeks.  He raised himself up on one knee and took her hand.  “Alanna Campbell, I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.  Will you do me the honor and marry me?”

“Yes,” she cried.  After he put the ring on her finger, she reached up and pulled him down, hugging him tightly.  “I love you and I will marry you, Channing Beauchamp.”  And she showered his face with kisses.  She didn’t care that people were passing by and watching them.  She was on top of the world.

Sources:  Casa CubaViking Cruises Canada