Staring at the Sun Ch. 09byjaniexx©
Staring At The Sun – Chapter 9, Saturday
This chapter does not have any sex...so if you're after a hot story, it may be better to check out another of my shorter submissions.
Many thanks to one of my readers who has helped enormously with suggestions, feedback and encouragement.
The sound of dogs barking woke me and bright sunlight streamed through the windows, making me blink as I opened my eyes. I lay still for a while, enjoying the sense of freedom, the spacious bed that was all mine and stretched languidly. I thought back to the events of last night and my departure from Jake and Jilly's house. They had both come out to wish me goodbye but I could tell from Jake's face how angry he was. Not used to people disobeying his wishes, he had given me a cold hard look as I put my holdall into the boot of the BMW.
"You're missing out on a treat tomorrow night, you know..."
I returned his stare and shrugged my shoulders. "I'm sorry, Jake, but I just need to get away for a couple of days. Make sure Richard doesn't get into any more trouble..." I attempted a laugh, but my husband was wearing the same angry look as Jake's and he frowned at me.
"Just drive carefully. I don't want you having an accident on top of everything else."
I'd sighed audibly which made him frown even more. Why did he think I was incapable of driving long distances? But the thought of being on my own in the car for a few hours was heaven and my favourite compact discs were lined up and waiting. A period of indulgence lay ahead and I shivered with delight.
After kissing Richard on the cheek, I'd taken the wheel of my husband's powerful car and waited for Lisa and Mike to say goodbye to Jake and Jilly. Their gestures were awkward too and I wondered whether Lisa would ever go back to stay at the farmhouse again.
Five long hours later, I had followed Mike's Renault up a bumpy track that led to an old house surrounded by vines. Dogs barked as we approached and I could see numerous outbuildings in the beam of the car's headlights. The journey had been tiring but it felt so good to be alone for a while, the music system playing some soft classical music and just my thoughts to keep me company. Lisa had offered to travel with me but I wanted to spend some time alone, and apart from a short stop at a motorway service station where we'd all eaten a bland meal of steak and frites, I'd enjoyed the peace and quiet.
The house had been welcoming and warm lights shone from the windows. Mike had explained that his manager had been in to make the house ready for us and I carried my bag into the large hall and marvelled at how beautiful it was. Mike and Lisa had kept the character of their home intact and the old, soft rugs, comfortable furniture and homely knick-knacks were in a direct contrast to the chic, styled interior of Jake and Jilly's farmhouse.
Mike had shown me to the guestroom and I'd opened the creaky wooden shutters to gaze out over the vines, the full moon illuminating the view that stretched for miles.
"It's beautiful," I said as I listened to the sound of crickets and breathed in the scents of lavender.
He'd joined me at the window and put his arm around my waist. "Lisa's gone straight to bed. She's shattered. But I've got a bottle of wine opened if you're not too tired."
I hesitated. A late night confessional would lead to all sorts of problems, but I was still hyped up from the journey and a glass of wine was a welcome thought.
"OK, give me a few minutes to unpack and I'll be down."
Mike smiled and I sighed. Inside I could feel that old familiar excitement grow again and I went into the bathroom to have a quick wash. Glaring at myself in the small mirror I knew that all my intentions of avoiding Mike would be fruitless. I wanted him as much as he wanted me and there was nothing either of us could do about it.
Now, in the early light of Saturday morning I made myself think about how close we had been to consummating this deep need we were both feeling. I'd joined Mike in the living room, determined to keep the conversation light, have one glass of wine and go to bed, but Mike had had other ideas...
The bottle was emptying rapidly and by the long intense glances between us both, I knew my resolve was beginning to falter with every minute I stayed downstairs. A couple of dogs lay sleeping by the fireplace, perhaps in the hope that it would be lit, but the heat of the day was still radiating out from the thick stone walls and I felt myself sink deeper into the mound of cushions on the huge sofa.
Mike was watching me in the light from a pair of candles that stood on a beautiful wooden sideboard, his eyes dark as he listened to my story of the business and the troubles we were having.
"I must admit, Jake is a good businessman. OK, he lost some money about ten years ago but he picked himself up and made even more. If anyone can help, he can."
"I know that, but I just don't trust him, Mike. I have this awful feeling he has some ulterior motive in all this."
Mike had moved towards me and he took the wine glass from my hand. "I want this weekend to be a relaxing time for you. I know the holiday hasn't been what you expected and I sensed that from the first time I met you in Amboise."
"That was you in the restaurant wasn't it?"
He nodded. "I didn't know you then and I'm not even sure if Jake noticed you both in there. It's a favourite place of his, but I saw you looking and I thought you were the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen."
I smiled and Richard's words came back to haunt me. Was this Mike's way of seducing me?
"You know, my husband told me about his conversation with Rob..."
"Oh yes?" Mike was stroking my hair and I shivered at the feel of his hands. "What did he say?"
I'd closed my eyes as Mike brushed away the hair from the nape of my neck. "He said you weren't to be trusted. That you preyed on vulnerable women."
This time it was his lips on my neck that made me groan out loud. Pausing for a second, he said, "And do you believe him?"
I shook my head. "No, I don't. I just think it's his way of stirring up trouble."
"Louise, don't ever doubt me. Please. Ask Lisa tomorrow what I'm like. She loves me in her own way, but we're like brother and sister. There's no passion there any more and I know she's worried about her feelings for me. Do you think she would still be with me if I were a cad?"
I shook my head, wanting so desperately to trust him and relax into his warmth. "This just feels so wrong, Mike. Lisa's upstairs asleep and we're here doing this."
"I'll stop if that's what you want, but I know you don't. I can see it in your eyes, Louise. You feel it as much as I do."
My body was betraying me and I could feel my nipples harden as he brushed his hand across my thin tee-shirt. I was wearing a long cotton skirt and I knew how easy it would be for him to run his hands up my legs and discover how aroused I was.
But the thought of Lisa had been enough to make me shake my head. "I can't do this Mike. I'm sorry. This isn't the right time or the place. And tomorrow morning I'll feel terrible. So will you."
He'd looked at me in the soft glow of the candles and I could sense the battle he was fighting with himself. The same battle that was raging within me. He leaned over and kissed me very gently on the lips and I very nearly capitulated. The feel of him so close was unbearable and I wanted more than anything to have those lips on my breasts, my thighs, all over me...
"I understand, Louise. I'll never put any pressure on you."
We'd stared at each other and I could feel the tears start in my eyes. Why hadn't I met Mike years ago? Why was everything so complicated?
I rose to my feet and placed my empty glass on the table. "I'm shattered and you must be too. Are you up early in the morning?"
He nodded. "I'm seeing my manager, Pierre, early. We need to do some jobs in the vineyard so you won't see much of me tomorrow."
A shaft of disappointment had hit me at his words, but I remembered that was what I wanted. I just needed to get through the weekend without succumbing to my feelings and today was the day when I would act on that resolve. I was here to be with Lisa and I was hoping that this weekend would be a basis for a future close friendship.
The sheer luxury of being alone in bed was addictive. How long had it been since I'd spent any time away from Richard? Our lives were caught up with children and work and we rarely had any time away from each other. I wanted to savour this weekend on my own and use the space to gather my thoughts. I hoped that Richard would be doing the same.
Reluctantly leaving the warmth of the quilt and pillows, I padded over to the window to gaze out over the view. I had left the shutters open last night and from my room I could see rows of vines stretching away to the distance, the light from the sun spilling over the green countryside and making me feel suddenly optimistic and happy. How could anyone feel sad somewhere like this?
Below the window was a gravelled courtyard full of pots of geraniums, the scarlet flowers a vivid contrast to the dark wood of the outbuildings where, presumably, Mike made his rich red wine.
As I leaned on the window frame, and as if summoned by my thoughts, he rounded the corner of the house and I watched as he called to one of the dogs, the sun catching the dark chocolate tints of his hair and making me hold my breath with the ache of yearning. He was an incredibly attractive man and I couldn't understand why Lisa felt as she did, but perhaps looks weren't everything. The strain of starting a new vineyard and all the stress that entailed might have made it difficult for them both. So many people viewed the wine industry as romantic, but I knew from what Mike had told me that the hours were long and the rewards few.
As if sensing my presence Mike looked up and his features relaxed into a wide smile as he saw me. He stood and gazed at me and I felt myself grow warm. My thin nightdress failed to disguise the way my traitorous nipples reacted to the sight of him and I yearned to rub my hands across them and imagine it was Mike's touch.
"How are you? Sleep well?"
The spell was broken and I nodded. "I feel great thanks. Let me know if I can do anything for breakfast."
"Oh, don't worry. I think Lisa's up already. I woke her early."
I smiled. If I'd been in bed with him, he certainly wouldn't have been allowed to get out. I imagined a morning of love-making and shivered, my thoughts a jumbled whirl of his hands on my body, his lips meeting mine, the heat between us...
"Come down when you're ready, there's no rush."
I thanked him and withdrew from the window, my body trying to tempt me back into bed to alleviate the deep ache that had started inside me. I wanted to lie and think of Mike making love to me, but I resisted the idea and instead made for the shower hoping that a blast of cold water would turn down my inner heat for a while...
Over breakfast of croissants and delicious French coffee, Lisa chattered away to me, the tension of the last few days disappearing from her pretty features. I could feel myself relaxing too and looked forward to exploring the area around the vineyard and getting to know her a little better.
I suspected that over the weekend I would find out more about how Lisa and Mike had met and I was determined to ask her whether Rob's accusations were true, but for the time being I sat back and listened, the bright airy kitchen full of the smells of warm bread and coffee.
"It's so good of you to come and stay, Louise. We never have anyone here and Mike's so busy with the wine, life gets a bit boring at times, I must admit."
I looked at her animated face and sighed. How could a woman, so full of life and vitality end up feeling so jaded? They both seemed to have it all, but I was fast coming to realise that outward appearances can mask a whole host of problems.
"How long have you been together?"
"Too long." She grimaced and poured another cup of coffee for me. "I don't know why we both feel like this, but we do. It was so good in the beginning."
I waited for her to continue, hoping that her words would put a halt to my own feelings for Mike. I knew that this attraction between us was futile. There were so many obstacles in our way, the greatest of which was the fact we were both already attached to other people.
"Is there anything you can do to bring those feelings back?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "I have to ask myself whether I really want to. Sometimes I think Mike will always put the wine first. He's so involved with the land, the grapes and the whole way of life around here that I take a back seat."
I smiled. "I know the feeling. Over the last couple of years Richard has been working so hard, I sometimes forget I'm married."
She looked at me and I could see the glint of tears in her eyes. "Are any relationships ever happy? Or do they start off well but falter after a few years? Would I just swap this sadness for yet another?"
I couldn't answer her. My own relationship was teetering on the brink of disaster but I had children involved, which was worse. I needed this weekend to make the decision about my own marriage, but was it solely my decision to make?
"What would you do, if you left Mike?"
"Go back to England, I suppose. Try and rent somewhere and find a job."
I looked around at the warm and cosy kitchen, the stone-flagged floor and the old pine table that just cried out for a gathering of friends and family. "Would Mike be able to pay back the investment you put into this place?"
Lisa thought for a minute. "I doubt it very much. All the money has gone into the equipment he needs to make the wine and the house is mortgaged to the hilt. We have a couple of cottages on the far side of the land that we let in the summer but the income isn't huge."
She gazed out of the window at the view and I saw the sadness on her face. "I'm trapped, Louise. Well and truly trapped."
I reached out to hold her hand and at the same moment, Mike walked in through the door, his eye instantly alighting on our joined hands.
Lisa rose from the table and, ignoring his question, went to make another pot of coffee. "How's Pierre?" she asked.
Mike looked at me, a strange expression on his face as he stared at Lisa's back. The tension in the air was heavy and I made to get up too, planning to go and unpack properly in my room, but Mike stopped me.
"Stay for another coffee, Louise. Pierre is on his way in. I'd like you to meet him."
I sat back down and watched as Lisa made the coffee. Her hands were shaking and I wondered what else she would have said to me if Mike hadn't come into the room. I could feel there was something she was holding back and I wanted to know everything about her life with him. Most of all I wanted to know whether there was any truth in Rob's words. Last night, as I dropped off to sleep, I'd fantasised about leaving Richard for Mike and although I knew it was a ridiculous idea, I couldn't help imagining myself with him, our lives entwined. Somehow, the children slotted into this new life easily and any feelings of guilt were brushed aside.
My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Pierre who was younger than I had imagined and more like Lisa's age. As tall as Mike, he had dark blonde hair and green eyes and looked every inch the French vigneron, his warm smile lighting up the room.
"Madam?" He came over to me and smiled, holding his hand out, which I noticed was rugged and earthy. The smell of the outdoors accompanied him, a fresh natural smell that I found appealing.
Lisa kept her back to us but I noticed Pierre's eyes travel over to her frequently. As I listened to Pierre and Mike chat in French, I began to wonder if the source of Lisa's problems was standing right here in the kitchen.
There was certainly an air of tension that I hadn't noticed earlier and I looked over at Mike who seemed relaxed, his hands waving about as he talked. I couldn't keep my eyes off him and sudden thoughts of us all pairing up made me grow warm.
What was happening to me? What had become of the quiet wife of a week ago? Only interested in her family and the house? I was starting to feel like a love-struck teenager and I wasn't sure I liked the new me. Another yearning to see my children washed over me and I made my excuses and left the kitchen to return to my room. It was a good time to call my parents and find out if they had any more news on the business.
But first I called Richard who sounded happier than he had last night, his voice warmer than I'd heard for a long while.
"I'm missing you."
"Are you?" I asked, holding my mobile tightly to my ear.
"Of course I am, Louise. This was meant to be a holiday for both of us and now we're apart."
I sighed. "I'm sorry, Richard, but I just wanted to get away for a while. The car journey was so peaceful. Doesn't that sound sad? The fact that I enjoyed driving on my own?"
"What's the house like?"
Richard was adept at changing the subject and avoiding a deep meaningful conversation, so I told him about the vineyards, the warm and cosy atmosphere that was so different to the Harper farmhouse and then mentioned Pierre.
"This is Mike's manager?"
Yes. Very dishy in a French way. I have a feeling there's something going on between him and Lisa."
Richard snorted. "Your imagination is unbelievable, Louise. What makes you think that?"
"Just a feeling."
"Leave well alone. Just enjoy yourself but don't go jumping to any conclusions. I still think Rob was right about Mike, you know. He's known both Jake and Mike for a long time. He has no reason to lie."
"Oh, and how is the lovely Rob?"
Richard ignored my sarcasm and continued. "He's fine, but don't paint him as the baddie in this. He's a good person to know. Has lots of contacts."
"Huh, I don't trust him either. In fact I don't trust anyone who's friends with Jake."
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Well, if that's true, why is Mike so different?"
I pondered on those words a little while later as I unpacked my holdall and thought back to my first meetings with Mike. Was he involved with Jake's business? The vineyard surely took up a lot of money and if what Lisa said was true, where were the finances coming from to run the place and keep it in such good condition?
I sat down on the edge of the bed and suddenly felt weary and lost. So many doubts were running through my mind, I didn't know who to trust anymore. Rob had managed to plant the seeds of suspicion in my mind and I wasn't as sure of Mike as I used to be. The image of them both in the restaurant in Amboise came back to me and I wondered if the meeting with them at the hotel had been a set-up. Was it a way of casually introducing me to Mike and breaking down my defences?
I had to admit that Mike had been very understanding for someone who hardly knew me and a shiver ran down my spine at the thought of being manipulated by him. But for what? What was the reason behind all this?
Knowing it would be almost impossible to find out the reason why, I closed the beautifully ornate armoire that held my clothes and dialled my home number. The need to speak to someone I loved and trusted was almost unbearable.
I gazed at the view of fields and woods and sighed deeply. I felt more relaxed, the worry of the morning having disappeared when I'd rejoined Lisa in the kitchen and we'd decided to go for a walk to the nearest village. The countryside was peaceful, only the occasional bark of a dog giving away the fact that there was a house in the vicinity. Above, the sky was a deep blue and the warmth of the sun burned into the thin material of my tee-shirt. I was sorely tempted to mention Pierre and watch Lisa's reaction but I kept quiet in the hope that she would bring him up herself. The men had disappeared to inspect the vines so, taking one of the dogs with us, we set out for a small village about two miles away.