How many times had I noticed him now? A shadowy figure, it had been a few weeks since I first saw him, and every time my eyes caught his form, he would vanish. It became a sort of game, to see if I could catch a glimpse, even wondering at some point if my mind and eyes played tricks, maybe my imagination had me thinking there was someone there. Someone dark and brooding. Someone just out of my eyesight. Once or twice, I had even followed up on a sighting, walking to the corner where I thought for sure a form watched, but there was never anyone there. Anyone that looked like the one I sought.

It seemed I noticed him the first time on a visit to my cousin, Sara. She was going through a really tough time, having witnessed the murder of her lover, and I stayed at her loft overnight. The next morning, she woke me up, telling me she had to report to work. Since it was a Saturday, I had the day off, and decided to use some of her workout equipment. I also did a bit of straightening up for her. Pez was a great cousin and a close friend, but not the neatest of creatures. A few times during the day. I got the feeling that someone was watching me, but never saw anyone. Maybe her loft was haunted, I thought, laughing to myself. I cooked her a casserole, leaving it in the fridge after it had cooled, with explicit directions for re-heating. Locking the door behind me, I left, heading back to my apartment across town. Again, out of the corner of my eye, I saw 'him', back in the shadows. Try as I might, I could barely make him out, and chuckled to myself. I'm losing it, I thought. After all Pez had been through, I could still dream up an imaginary man. Shaking my head, I walked the few blocks to the subway.

Weirdly enough, I thought I saw him again on the short ride home. I happened to look up, and in the next car, he watched me. I frowned, shaking my head, but when I looked back he was gone.

He was tall. A bit over 6 feet I estimated, but in my imagination, he would be. I like tall men. I also like dark hair, sort of a 'bad boy' type, and if I was going to dream up a fantasy that turned up at the strangest times, wouldn't it be one that pleased me? The old 'tall, dark and handsome', albeit elusive, lover. Over the next few nights, I began dreaming of him. Dreaming of his arms circling me, his mouth tender, sometimes cruel, but always ending with soft kisses. More than one morning, I awoke feeling like a lover had stolen in on me in the dark, always wanting more, just a bit more. Then there was the time I woke in the middle of the night, my body on fire. I sat up, sure there was someone there, but the room was silent. I lay awake that night, having no choice but to use my own hands to finish the task my vivid imagination had started. When at last my tensions released, was there another's sigh mingling with mine? Again, I listened, but there was only the wind outside. I fell into a deep sleep, waking groggily to the damnable alarm.

I showered quickly, got myself dressed and off to work. Parking in the lot across from my job, I saw again the shadowy figure. Shaking my head and smiling, I looked at the office building I had to enter, and when I turned back, he was gone. I locked the car and crossed the street, figuring it was high time to start looking for either a new boyfriend, or a good shrink.

I wound up staying late that day. The new computer software caused a few of us to crash, and of course, I was the last one to get service. Just 'cos I'm single, with no kids, the stupid company thinks my life is theirs, and I was forced to wait while the tech worked on my terminal. Finally, at almost 7 o'clock, I was able to log out and leave.

Dusk was falling. It must have been a gorgeous day, I thought as I left the office. I had my coat over my arm, as I breathed in the sweet smell of fresh air. Walking to the curb, I felt a presence behind me, and turned to see my shadowy secret peering from the corner of the building. I closed my eyes for a moment and shook my head, but this time, when I turned back, he was still there, his eyes watching me. Keeping the contact, I slowly walked to him, and was relieved when it turned out he was real. I could see the doubt in his eyes as I neared, as if he wanted to turn and bolt from sight, but the look in my own eyes begged him, stay this time, please.

I went closer, wanting this to be more than imagination. He stood so straight and still, his hands behind his back, allowing me to approach until I stood in front of him, our eyes locked.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Ian," he answered in a soft voice.

I looked closely at him. His hair was pulled back tightly, and I wondered what it would look like if allowed to fall free. I stared up into deep brown eyes, and of it's own accord, my hand came up to touch the bearded cheek. He never moved as the back of my fingers made contact. So mysterious, I thought.

"But who are you?" I asked again.

His eyes never left mine, but the hint of a smile played his lips.

"Ian," he repeated.

"Ian who?"

"Nottingham. Ian Nottingham."

He looked at me as if he expected me to recognize the name, and for a moment my mind raced. Do I know him? I didn't think so, but at this point, the curiosity was killing me.

"Would you like to get something to eat?" was all I could think to ask.

Again, that hint of a smile.

"Are you offering? Will you make dinner for me?"

I looked closely. His attire was not that of a man down on his luck. While dressed all in black, I could tell the clothing was well cut and not cheap. His voice was cultured, each word spoken in a soft tone. It seemed to please him that I thought carefully before answering.

"I suppose I could make you dinner. Anything special?"

"Not really," he answered. "As long as the meal is followed with something sweet."

My eyes narrowed at his words. He was certainly the most gorgeous creature, I thought, as again my hand reached up to touch his face. I just had to be sure that he was real. And now, I was going to cook dinner, plus be expected to have dessert! Strange, I thought. I looked behind me at my car, not sure if he wanted me to give him a ride, perhaps he had his own. Not sure of how to proceed from here, I turned back to ask, and he was gone.

I looked around frantically. Surely this was not just my imagination running wild! A solid form, here one minute, then vanished the next. I reached out to steady myself against the wall as the shock washed over me. I looked at my hand, still able to feel the texture of the beard my fingers had brushed over. My eyes searched everywhere, but there was no sign of another person. I straightened my shoulders, turned, and walked across the street to my car, resigning myself to the fact that I was insane.

I almost fell into my car. My mind raced frantically as I turned the key and started the engine. Just how nuts was I? I thought. Again, I looked at my fingers, still able to feel the hair that bearded his cheek, still hearing the voice that spoke to me. I looked around, begging for the sight of him, but I was alone except for a few passers by. My hands shook as I put the car in gear and began the drive home. Was I so lonely that I had to imagine a lover? Granted, my last breakup was hard on me, almost 6 months had gone by, the time needed for healing, but how desperate was I for a man? My head was filled with thoughts of the psychiatric care I would need for this one as I drove. I kept looking in the rearview mirror, hoping to see a car following me, but there was none.

By the time I pulled into my driveway, I was almost laughing to myself. So I was nuts, I thought. I'm not hurting anyone, am I? And so what if I have an imaginary man in my life. It could be worse. I laughed out loud as the thought came to me. I could have a whole team of imaginary men, one for each day of the week! I grabbed my coat and bag, and went into the house.

I locked the door behind me and went to my bedroom, pulling the pins from my hair as I went. I loved shaking my hair free at the end of the day, feeling the weight of it fall from the clips or pins holding it. I began taking off the hated suit I wore, replacing it with a pair of jeans, leaving the soft cotton shirt untucked as I padded barefoot to the kitchen. He wanted me to cook for him, did he? I laughed again as I opened the fridge, deciding to make a nice, almost elaborate dinner, one that I would eat alone. Maybe I could imagine him back and we could talk while I ate, I thought. And think of how inexpensive a date he would be! After all, imaginary friends don't really eat anything. This could work out!

I busied myself, chopping fresh veggies, slicing the chicken breast as I made a quick stir fry. The rice was merrily cooking away, and I lost myself in the tasks I performed. I enjoyed cooking, watching my efforts turn into meals that my friends told me were imaginative and tasty. I liked trying new flavors, even though most of my cooking these days was fast and ordinary. Cooking for one was not something I liked, but hey, tonight my imaginary friend would be joining me! Again, I laughed at the thought, figuring it was high time for a good vacation.

I was placing a plate on the table when the knock came. I almost dropped it with shock. I stood straight for a moment, then slowly walked to the door and peered out the peephole. My knees knocked at the sight of him standing there, his hands again held behind his back as he stood waiting. Of it's own accord, my hand reached out and opened the door.

I looked at him in a state of shock. The hair that had been severely pulled back was softer now, a few strands falling around his face. One hand came out, and a perfect white rose was offered to me.

"Ian," I said, taking the rose.

"Yes," he answered.

I moved aside, allowing him to enter. He moved like a cat, his steps at once graceful and with purpose. I closed the door behind him and stood there, my mouth hanging open.

He stood still for a moment, and I took in the broad shoulders, the hands clasped behind him. His head lifted a touch, as if scenting the air, then he turned to me. My mind was reeling at the fact that he was standing here, in my home, a real being! We stood quietly for a few seconds, him patiently, me trying to get my thoughts together.

"Can I take your coat?" I finally got out.

He nodded, and removed the garment. I felt the weight of it as I took it, good God I could even feel the heat from his body, still warming the fabric! I stood there, my head still spinning, until his hand reached out.

"Dinner?" he asked softly.

"Oh! Yes!" I stammered, laying his coat across a chair. "This way."

He followed me to the kitchen, where I was just in time to save the rice from burning. He noticed the single plate on the table.

"Are you not eating?"

By this time, I was sure if I spoke, it would be babbling, so I just turned and got another plate. He took it from me, placing it across from the first.

"Please, sit," I finally got out. "Can I offer you something to drink?"

His hand came up, and I felt the whisper of air as he barely brushed it over my hair.

"You finish what you have to do," he said. "I'll take care of the drinks."

I turned quickly, before I had a chance to make an idiot of myself, and he went to his coat, pulling a bottle of wine from a deep pocket. He came back to the kitchen and got two of my glasses, then opened the wine. Pouring some, he held the glass out to me.

"Drink," he told me. "It will calm you."

I set the last bowl on the table and took the glass. How badly I wanted to just gulp it down! but I forced myself to sip. He held my chair for me, his hand again barely brushing over my hair as I sat, then took his seat across from mine and lifted his glass.

"To understanding," he said.

It was all I could do not to laugh as the tinkling sound of our glasses rang out. Understanding? I thought. I sipped again as my mind raced. For all my curiosity about him, I almost wished I was alone so I could think clearly. I motioned for him to help himself, trying to buy some time for the rushing in my head to slow down.

He served me. Placing some rice, then some of the stir fry on my plate, I watched as he gave me my food first, then took his own. I was unable to look away from his strong hands as I watched his movements, until I realized he was watching me.

"Are you all right?" he asked, and again, I saw the hint of a smile.

I just looked at him for a minute, then lost it.

"Okay, enough," I said. "Who are you?"

"Ian," he answered again.

"No," I said, my hands coming up. "Ian, whoever you are, how do you know where I live? Why are you always lurking around me? Where are you from? Please tell me you're not some kind of weirdo that follows women around, then does something horrible to them. I feel like I'm going nuts here! Oh my God!" I cried, my fingers plowing through my hair as I looked at him.

His head bowed as an almost hurt look crossed his face, but then it raised as he looked into my eyes.

"If you feel I would hurt you, ask me to leave."

I sat back, my eyes widening.

"I don't want you to leave," I whispered, then smiled. "Hey, I cooked for you. You could at least enjoy dinner."

His eyes never left my face as I spoke.

"I'll begin when you do," he said. "Unless you wish me to feed you."

My head jerked up.

"Excuse me?"

"Do you wish me to feed you?" he asked.

I decided to resign myself to the fact that this was the strangest meeting ever. Why not just follow his lead? I thought, then nodded.

"Sure," I answered. "Why not?"

He pushed his chair back a bit, and I realized he wanted me to sit on his lap. Hey, what the hell, I thought, as I rose and went to him. He moved to make me comfortable, fitting my body into his, then began. The fork lifted, and was brought to my mouth. I took the offering, then smiled as he wiped the corner of my mouth with the napkin. My hands lay in my lap as I sat, held by his strong arm. The next mouthful came, and as I took it, a grain of rice fell onto my shirt.

"That will never do," he said quietly.

His hands held mine still as his head lowered. I gasped as his mouth barely brushed me, removing the offending grain.

"I'm not really that hungry," I whispered, afraid if he did that again, I would go mad.

His eyes held mine as we sat, then his hand reached up to grasp my chin. His head lowered, and as his mouth met mine, I was lost. He kissed me deeply, pulling my mind away from my fears as he possessed me. His arm held me close, his other hand grabbing a handful of hair to keep me in place. When at last it ended, my head fell to rest against his chest. I never wanted to move.

We sat still for a bit, his arms holding me, then he stood and carried me to my bedroom. Sitting on the bed, his mouth again claimed mine as I felt his fingers opening the buttons of my blouse. I drifted in the kiss as the fabric was spread, sighing as I felt his touch brush across my skin.

"Ian," I sighed.

"Yes," he replied.

He lay me back on the bed, standing over me.

"I've longed for you," he said.

I was so unsure how to proceed. My body was so relaxed, so willing for his touch. Our eyes were locked together, his almost questioning. Again, I decided to go with the flow. I raised my hands over my head and closed my eyes.

He literally swooped down on me. His touch was feather soft as my clothing was removed, until I lay nude before him. His breath whispered across tender flesh, his fingers brushed over sensitive skin. I felt like I was flying, the gentleness of his touch almost maddening, until I begged him to touch harder, my hands holding his face as he pulled on a nipple.

"Please," I begged.

He left me for a moment, leaving me feeling lost, chilled without his heat, then I cried out as he pulled me to him and filled me. His arms held me, my body readied for him as he stroked into me. I was shocked at the size of him, but soon was lost again as he rode me. He rose to his knees, taking me with him, my legs spread around him as he loved me. His mouth was everywhere, nibbling my neck, whispering in my ear, sucking a nipple. I fell back, his strength supporting me, his arms moving me on him, until I cried out. My body shook with the force of the climax, and he held me tightly, moving himself inside me as I released, my hands reaching for him. His mouth came down, and he kissed me deeply as the waves of pleasure washed over me again and again.

I cried. He somehow kept me in climax, forcing me to reach peaks I never dreamed of as he pulled me along. I felt free, floating inside myself as I gave everything I had. His hand went between our pressed bodies as I shook, touching the sensitive folds, and again I cried out as he pulled me higher, gripping me to him as I shook, his strokes never stopping.

I fell limp in his arms. He let me lean back, supporting me as my head lowered, my body drained. He never stopped moving inside me as I draped back over his arm, his other hand reaching up to caress a nipple as I moaned. I moved up and down on him as he stroked me, unable to think. Then he lowered me to the mattress and pulled away. His mouth came down on me as I felt fingers spread my lips. Touches as soft as butterfly wings whispered across me. His tongue found me, gently licking and nibbling until again, I cried out. His arms held me still as I released for him, never stopping until my body ceased to quiver, then again he entered me. My legs held by his strong arms, I was taken. He stroked deep and hard, and my eyes opened to see him staring back. I watched him, his eyes darkening, until he arched up hard and filled me. I reached up quickly, pulling him down on me, holding him tight as his body trembled. I heard a soft cry, and realized it was him. I held him close until it ended, then again, he wrapped me in his arms.

"Ian," I whispered.

"Yes," was all he said.

I slept. A deep sleep that held me with its dreams of feather soft caresses, warm lips, dark eyes. I floated in my dreams, warmed with desire, until the blaring alarm woke me.

I bolted up in my bed. There was no one there, and I looked around, convinced more than ever that I was now completely mad. There was no sign of another person, but as my eyes glanced around the room, I saw it. A perfect white rose, placed on the pillow beside mine.

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