Forbidden Ch. 04byDawnJ©
NB. (I HAVE TAKEN THE ADVICE OF A FRIEND, AND FROM NOW ON, BRONWYN'S THOUGHTS AND WORDS WILL ALSO APPEAR IN THE THIRD, RATHER THAN THE COST OF FOOL)!
Ben tried not to think about the woman who had completely captured his imagination and stolen his heart. But he had seen her leave with a tall, distinguished-looking man, a Native American he almost looked like, and although he knew she had seen him too, she did not acknowledge his presence by so much as a look. He ached for her, and felt the burn of angry emotion welling in his eyes. He swore, an ugly expletive, causing the two old women standing close to him in the lobby to stare disapprovingly at him. He ignored them, and stalked out to his car. He needed to blow the cobwebs away.
He stood in the parking lot watching the woman he had fallen in love with leaving his life without a backward glance. He couldn't blame her, he supposed. After all, she had been indulging in selfish passion, and he knew it was his fault that she was feeling the guilt he knew she harbored. He had kissed her, after promising not to do anything she didn't want him to do. Falling in love was so complicated. He knew she wanted him to kiss her, but he also knew she didn't want to want his kisses, that she wanted to remain true to her husband, to remain faithful to their vows. So when he had lost control and kissed her, he had made her an unfaithful wife, and had made himself hateful in her eyes.
He remembered how she'd said that most men only wanted sex from a woman, and he knew his behavior had only reinforced her belief. But he also knew he'd be in heaven if he could have just one night with her. One part of him still sizzled with the fire of her kisses, but the other part kicked him for being a fool and probably losing the one woman he most wanted to keep in his life. He could feel the warmth of her full lips pressed against his, and the sensual excitement of her tongue touching his. The thought of those kisses made him ache for her, and he wished he knew how to find her. But he also knew she wouldn't want to see him, and his heart hurt with that knowledge.
He walked slowly back into the hotel lobby, remembering suddenly that he had to train Anne, and wondering what he would do with himself after he worked with her. Someone approached him with a note.
"Dr. Mandeville, Mrs. Kerr dropped this as she was leaving. She must have forgotten to give it to you."
Ben took the note and ripped it open. It was from Bronwyn. "Thank you for the lovely flowers. Bronwyn Kerr." That was all. So cool, so aloof, so much in control, so very Bronwyn. He slipped it into his pocket and walked up to his sister's room. She should be up by now and ready for the workout.
"Anne, open up!" he said when she didn't answer the door. He knocked again, and Anne opened the door on the chain. Seeing her brother, she opened it all the way.
"What time is it?" she asked sleepily.
"Quarter to eight. It's time for the workout."
He sat in the only armchair and turned on the television. "Hurry up," he added. He sat back, watching the news...well, letting the sound crash into his ears, his mind on the soft curves of Bronwyn's body, on the sweet taste of her full, honeyed lips, of the press of her wet heat against him. He needed her, and she belonged to someone else. Oh God, he felt awful. He didn't know he had groaned until his sister said over his shoulder,
"What's the matter, Ben? Are you in pain?"
"What?" he asked, dazed by his discovery.
"Are you feeling all right? You groaned just now like you're in pain." Anne's eyes held curiosity and concern.
"No, I'm not feeling any pain," he answered. At least not physical. "Ready? Let's go."
How could he tell his little sister that he was panting after a woman who was married? How could he explain why he had been kissing her passionately after promising her he wouldn't? How could he help her understand the mixture of emotions he felt now? He wanted to comfort Bronwyn, to apologize for being all kinds of a fool, and to have her for himself forever. Anne wouldn't understand any of that. Better to leave it alone.
The workout did not go well. Ben's mind was not on the task, and Anne, who had always needed him to push her, finally gave up when she realized he was not with her in spirit.
"C'mon, big brother, let's wrap this up. You're not with me today, and I can't do this without you. You're supposed to be on holiday, but you're clearly not here today."
She picked up her towel and mopped her streaming brow. Looking at him curiously, she commented,
"If I didn't know you better, I'd say you'd found a woman."
Then she stopped suddenly, as though she had just had a brainstorm and clapped her hand over her mouth.
"Ben! You're in love!" she giggled playfully. When he didn't respond, she continued, "I remember how it was with you and Jackie. You used to come home all dreamy-eyed, and not talk to anybody. Mom used to tell me to leave you alone, and I never understood why until you brought Jackie home."
Ben had to smile at his sister's obvious delight at her discovery. She had been nagging him now for over a year to snap out of his funk and find a woman to make him happy. Every time a woman called the house, she asked the inevitable question, "Is she the one?" Ben had rather enjoyed making her guess about them, but she always knew instinctively that he was faking it. Now, without having heard a voice or seen a face, she had hit the nail on the head. It must be because at heart Anne was a romantic through and through. Under other circumstances, she would have been thrilled to hear about him and Bronwyn. Correction: there was no him and Bronwyn, there was just him wishing he could add Bronwyn to the picture.
"Lost you again I see," Anne said, bringing him back to the moment.
"Sorry, little sis. I guess I am preoccupied today." He followed her out of the gym. Only yesterday morning, he had watched as Bronwyn rode the stationary bike, then lifted some weights, did a few stretches and packed up to go. Only yesterday morning, he had invaded her space, so she would recognize him the next time she saw him. Only yesterday morning, he found himself face to face with the woman who he knew now would haunt him for the rest of his life.
"Tomorrow's the last day before the big event," he said. "I'll be good tomorrow," he promised. "See you for lunch?"
"Where are you going?" Anne asked.
"For a drive," he said. "I need to clear my head."
He waved a hand at her and they parted in the lobby. He walked out to his silver BMW, and sat in the driver's seat for a long time before he drove off. He didn't know where he was going, but he knew he had to clear his head, make a plan. He remembered how Bronwyn had felt in his arms (was it only a few hours ago?), her whole body shaking with desire. He had held her in his arms and she had felt so right there. She belonged to him, as surely as if they were already married to each other. His heart had hurt him as he hugged her, feeling the depth of her regret, knowing he could do nothing to make it better. Yet he was grateful for it because it allowed him to hold her close to him, to feel her unresisting body, to inhale her scent, to love the feel of her.
He didn't know where to turn, what to do. He drove aimlessly around for more than two hours, taking turns, driving in and out of neighborhoods, getting on and off the highway, until he found himself in the city, by the river. He pulled into a lay by, parked and got out of the car. Walking to the stone wall by the river, he looked unseeingly over the water to the other shore. He wanted Bronwyn, he needed her, and she was even further out of his reach today than she had been yesterday. He'd never get her now. He laughed under his breath, a harsh, painful laugh, as he contemplated the irony of his situation. He would never have her as long as Alex was around and, because he'd been an impulsive fool, he'd never get her if he wasn't.
"Damn!" he cursed, fisting his hands at his sides. "Damn, damn, damn!"
He turned his back on the river and threw himself back into his car. He knew he shouldn't drive when he was this upset, but he couldn't sit still, and he thrust the car back into the traffic almost recklessly. When the police cruiser stopped him, he cursed again, another vulgar expletive he had not used since his early youth.
"Good morning, sir!" the officer said coolly. "Do you know how fast you were going?"
"No," Ben answered shortly, reining in his anger and frustration. He took out his license and registration before the man could ask for them and thrust them at him.
The officer looked at him, and seemed to sense the turmoil whirling around inside him. He took the proffered items, but said, without looking at them,
"I'm sure you know it's best not to drive when you're upset, sir!"
Getting no response from Ben, he glanced down at the license and looked in surprise again at the man whose hands were gripping the steering wheel convulsively.
"Doc, are you all right?"
Ben looked up, and thought he recognized the man standing at his window, looking at him with concern in his gray eyes.
"Joe Marcus, sir. You delivered my twins a month ago. They were very sick when they were born," he finished up, trying to jog Ben's memory.
"I remember," Ben said at last. "How's your family, Officer?"
"They're good, sir, thanks to you!" the man replied, his face wreathed in smiles. He handed Ben his license and registration, then said, "Sir, it's none of my business, but whatever's got you driving like you were for the last ten miles will get you killed, or locked up. Take it easy, sir! The next cop won't be so forgiving." He tipped his hat, smiled briefly, and walked away.
Ben watched the officer get back into the police cruiser, and took several steadying breaths, willing himself to calm down, before he merged back into the traffic and headed back to the hotel.
The rest of the weekend passed in a haze for Ben. He managed to keep it together to get Anne prepped for the triathlon, and had also, he didn't quite know how, stopped himself a hundred times from biting off the head of anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path on Sunday. Anne had placed in the middle of the standings, overall, but she was happy, since she placed higher this year than last, and her company had a pool going the proceeds of which would go to the cancer research group who was the recipient of this year's fund-raising efforts.
His thoughts went to Jackie, as he drove Anne back to her home. She would have wanted him to move on by now, and he had tried, but no one had sparked even a flicker before Bronwyn Kerr. She was as unlike Jackie as night was from day. Where Jackie had been very fair-skinned and blue-eyed, Bronwyn was a sultry caramel color, and sloe-eyed. Jackie's diminutive size, both in height and weight were a stark contrast to Bronwyn's tall, Junoesque stature. Jackie had had a high, girlish voice. Bronwyn's voice was deep, sexy, like melting chocolate. Jackie had been a stay-at-home mom for most of their marriage, while Bronwyn was a teacher with many years of experience. The only thing they seemed to have in common was the steely flint of their souls, which hid a passionate heart, a heart that only he was could reach.
He sighed. That wasn't strictly true. He was not the only one who could reach Bronwyn's passionate heart. She had a husband. Suddenly his mind went back to her words the last time they spoke to each other, when she had asked him how he would feel if some man made a move on Jackie. He wondered if that had ever happened, and if it had, how Jackie had reacted. He knew, though, that if Jackie had found herself attracted to another man the way Bronwyn seemed to be to him, he would have known. She had not been able to hide her emotions from him in all their years together, and he would have sensed her turmoil, as she struggled with feelings of guilt and desire. He had now put Bronwyn in the same position, and it galled him to know he could be such a heel.
And yet, he couldn't quite bring himself to feel sorry for the desire he felt for her, or the kisses he had shared with her. She was firmly lodged in his heart, in his mind, and he didn't want her to leave. She was his gold standard, and he knew instinctively that there wouldn't be anyone else but her. He turned off the highway and drove through the quiet neighborhood streets till he got to Anne's house, and he stopped at the curb. There was a car in her driveway.
"Dan's back!" Anne said brightly. "He called and I told him I'd be home in a couple of hours. Coming in, love?" She looked keenly at Ben as she asked the question, but he shook his head.
"No, Annie! I think I'll head home." He opened his door to help her with her luggage.
"Stay, then, love! I can handle this." His sister reached over to kiss his cheek, and said, before she got out of the car, "Ben, if you ever need to talk..." She left the sentence unfinished, and got out, closing the door behind her.
He watched as she pulled her case from the trunk and pulled it behind her up the short driveway to her front door. She turned to wave at him, and he smiled, despite his heavy heart, and backed up. Anne and Dan had the kind of relationship he missed, and now wished he could have again with Bronwyn, another man's wife. He drove slowly down the long avenue, and wished he had something planned for the rest of the day, anything to take his mind off his troubles. An hour more, and he was driving up his own long, curving driveway. For the first time in four years, he felt forlorn and lonely. He sat in the car, trying to decide whether he should park it and call it a day, or go to the club and find a partner for racquetball. He couldn't decide, and finally opened the garage door and drove the car in. He closed the door and walked into his mudroom just as the phone rang.
"Dr. Mandeville," he said automatically into the one at his left hand on the wall.
"Ben, it's Joe Parisi. I know you just got back from out of town, but I wonder, would you mind making a fourth for diner tonight. Jan's back in town and we said we'd take her out."
Jan was Joe's wife Maria's little sister, whom Ben had met before. A pleasant enough woman, she ignited nothing more in him than a desire to laugh at her antics as she had tried to snare his attention. She was pretty, but not interesting enough to him to warrant any further attempts on his part to get to know her any better. So he was reluctant to agree, knowing how he had come away feeling exhausted from their one and only date. He opened his mouth to refuse, and then thought about the night ahead of him. Maybe he needed a good dose of mindless entertainment to take his mind of Bronwyn.
"Sure, Joe! Okay, not a problem!"
He knew he didn't sound particularly enthusiastic, but he wasn't going to pretend an interest he didn't feel. He listened as Joe gave him directions to the restaurant they would meet at, ad told him what time to be there. He rang off, and walked into his kitchen. Since he was going out to dinner, he only needed a snack now. He took two apples from the fridge and went to sit on his back porch. The sky was clear blue, and he waited to feel his heart soar the way it always did when he looked at the beauty of Nature around him. Nothing happened. He polished off both apples and lay back on the lounger, thinking about how he needed to go get his dog, and how he needed to restock the fridge. He didn't know when he fell asleep.
He woke when the evening grew chilly around him, and looked at his watch. Damn! He only had an hour to get ready and be at the restaurant. He cursed silently as he hurried indoors to prepare for an evening outing he really didn't want to go on. By the time he made it to the restaurant, he was in a poor frame of mind to tolerate much. He saw the trio waiting for him at the front and he hurried over, extending his hand to Joe.
"Sorry I'm late, Joe!" He turned to hug Maria, and smiled at Jan. "I fell asleep on the patio."
"How is Annie?" Joe asked, leading the way into the restaurant.
"She's fine, thanks! She was happy to be done with the triathlon this year, as was I!" When they were seated, he continued, "She placed in the middle, which is better than last year, so her company will be matching the funds they collected in the pool." He turned to Maria and smiled. "How's the new job?"
"So much better, thanks, Ben! You've no idea how much I appreciate what you did for me!" Her voice was warm, her eyes glowing.
Ben laughed. "Oh, I think I do!" he said, remembering how she had almost strangled him when she heard she had been chosen to be the executive secretary to the vice president of the company where she worked.
There was an awkward silence, and Ben groaned inwardly as he turned to do the polite thing.
"And how have you been, Jan?" he asked Maria's sister, forcing himself to smile at her.
She was a thin woman, tall, with a pretty face and sparkling brown eyes. She turned to smile at him, and Ben noticed for the first time that she had a faraway look in her eyes.
"I've been very well, thank you, Dr. Mandeville!" she answered, and that dreamy look found an echo in her voice.
Ben turned to look questioningly at Joe, and felt his heart stop.
Bronwyn was sitting across the restaurant from his table with a woman. She was facing his direction, but she was talking animatedly with her friend, and did not see him. It would only be a matter of time, though, before she did. His mouth went dry, and he could feel the eyes of his companions on him, and he realized his mouth was open.
"What's up, pal? You look like you've seen a ghost!" Joe's voice penetrated his haze, and he swallowed before replying.
"No, no, just thought I saw someone I knew."
Ben kept his eyes averted, and picked up the menu. He let his eyes wander over the wine list, though he suddenly felt the need for something stronger. When the waiter came to take their drink order, he asked for a whisky sour. He listened to his friends chatter, but he was as aware of Bronwyn sitting across the room as if she were sitting across the table from him. His hands shook slightly when he picked up his drink, and he fought to steady them. He had no intention of giving away anything of his feelings to present company.
"Kids back in college, then?" Maria asked him, sipping her drink.
"Another week," he said. "but they're all set, and I'll be happy to have the house to myself again!" He forced a short laugh, though it sounded strained even to his ears. He hazarded a glance in Bronwyn's direction, and saw that she was looking his way. He ducked his head behind the menu, on the pretext of trying to read the fine print on the page. His relief when the waiter came and stood in front of him was immense. He waited till the others had placed their orders, even though he knew what he wanted, to delay the moment when he would again be exposed to the room, and to Bronwyn. He chuckled inwardly as he thought of how ridiculous he was being. Yet he recognized a confusion of feelings -- a reluctance to renew an acquaintance that would only cause them both pain, and a fervent desire to get up close and personal with her.
He forced himself to relax, and looked around the large room. The lighting was muted, the crowd growing larger by the hour, and by the time their food arrived, he could look at her without appearing to do so, and hope she continued to ignore his side of the room. The food was delicious, and as it turned out, the company was more than tolerable, because Jan was no longer interested in snagging his undivided attention. She seemed to have developed other interests, for which he was profoundly grateful. He gladly listened to her describing the work she had been doing as a gardening consultant for a wealthy client, smiled in all the appropriate places, and apparently made the correct noises, because no one remarked on his wandering attention.