THE RACKING SOUND OF DRAPES as they opened, and the bright flash of sunlight snapped Kathryn out of her trance. Nestled in the armchair, she was a sight with her tousled, dark brown hair, faded lipstick, and mascara smudged under her red, swollen eyes. Her forest green dress splashed with a small, pink floral print was rumpled. One leg was curled under her body, and a knee peeked out from the hem of her dress. Her other leg dangled to the floor and sported a large runner in her hose going from her big toe and disappearing under the dress. Matching green, low-heeled pumps were on the floor beside the chair—one shoe lay on its side, and the other shoe stood upright. Despair emanated from her pale, but pretty face.
“Kathryn, you haven’t been here all night, have you?” A startled feminine voice asked.
Kathryn attempted to lift her head and turn toward the sound of the voice, but it took too much energy. She let her head fall backward and rest on the back of the chair. “He’s gone, Anna.” Kathryn spoke barely above a whisper. She closed her eyes to keep the stinging tears from flowing down her cheeks. It hurt too much to cry. She was tired of the heartache.
Last night Kathryn’s anguish was a deep pain so unbearable that she had cried until she thought she, herself, was going to die. Her heart was bruised and ached as though someone had punched her in the chest. Her nasal passages were so swollen that she could hardly breathe. Her head throbbed as it pounded with every beat of her heart. Grief was an angry ocean whose waves crashed unmercifully over her and carried her away from normalcy. She would be numb one minute and overwhelmed the next. Exhaustion mixed with nausea made her feel weak and ill. All she wanted to do was curl up and sleep off the pain, and then wake up to find that this was all a bad dream.
Anna put a hand on her shoulder in a comforting gesture. “Yes, I know, Honey. Russ called me…remember? You should go upstairs and get some sleep.”
Kathryn’s eyes traveled upward until they rested on Anna’s face. Anna was a tall, slender woman in her early sixties. Her short, curly, strawberry blonde hair was mixed with gray. For the past fifteen years or so, she had been the linchpin of Kathryn’s existence. She was her housekeeper, nanny, and friend.
“I loved him, Anna, but sometimes I came close to hating him.”
“I believe we all took turns with those feelings,” Anna said in her no-nonsense way as she wrapped her hand gently around Kathryn’s arm and urged her up from the chair. “Come on. Let’s get you upstairs so you can get some sleep. You’re all done in.”
It took a great deal of effort, but Kathryn forced herself up from the chair. Her body was stiff from sitting in one position for so long. Her nearly numb leg muscles throbbed in rebellion as blood began to flow back into them. As she stood, she became so light-headed that she teetered unsteadily on her feet, nearly blacking out. Anna had to put her arms around her shoulders to steady her. “Careful now.”
Kathryn felt like she was in a dream. Her body was floating, and she had no control over it. She was grateful for Anna’s help. “I can’t sleep. My mind won’t let me. It’s a void one minute, and the next, memories bombard me. There’s a strong, deep, empty feeling that won’t go away. It hurts so much.”
“If you get some sleep, you might feel better. Dr. Winston prescribed you some sleeping pills…”
“No,” Kathryn said harshly. Then in a gentler tone, she said, “I don’t need them. Has anyone heard from Gray? My poor boy. He hardly said a word when I told him about Monte.”
“I know that had to be hard. They were so close,” Anna said.
“Russ and I had a devil of a time trying to get in touch with him. He wasn’t permitted to have his cell phone on during the retreat. At the time roughing it sounded like a good idea but now…” her voice faded. She sighed. “I think Russ said Gray would be here early this afternoon, but I can’t remember.” She realized she was rambling and stopped talking. Kathryn bent down to pick up her shoes.
“If you want, I’ll call Russ and find out for you. Now let’s get you to your room.”
Kathryn trudged like a sleepwalker into the large foyer. She was barefoot and carried her shoes in her left hand. The cream and rose-colored marble flooring was ice cold on her feet, and a slight shiver went through her body.
As they made their way to the stairs, Anna followed patiently behind her. They slowly mounted a curved staircase. Each step was a struggle for Kathryn. Her legs were dead weight, heavy and hard to lift. At the top of the staircase, they walked along the catwalk towards her bedroom. Kathryn suddenly halted and turned to Anna. “I want to go to his room.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Anna said, but Kathryn ignored her and did an about-face. She walked with renewed energy toward the master bedroom. Her long fingers curled around the cold, metallic door knob. Anna’s hand covered hers in censure. “You’re making this harder on yourself.”
“I’ll be okay. Right now, I want his things around me. I feel so…lost.” The word “lost” was more of a sigh than a word.
Anna removed her hand from Kathryn’s. She knew Kathryn had to deal with Monte’s death in her own way. “Alright, I’ll be up with some warm milk. It’ll help you sleep.”
“I’d rather have some strong coffee. If you’d give me an hour before you bring it up, that would be wonderful.”
“Are you sure?” Anna asked.
“Yes, I need caffeine to keep me going.” She took Anna’s hand. “Thanks, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Anna squeezed her hand. “You’re like my own daughter. I hate that this is happening to you. I’ll do anything needed to help you get through this.”
“Thanks, I need a little time alone.” Kathryn noticed the look of concern on Anna’s face. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” She briefly hugged Anna. Then she took a deep breath, eased opened the bedroom door, and slipped inside.
The drapes in the bedroom were drawn making the room dim and gray. Kathryn’s familiarity with its contents kept her from stumbling. She walked in the semi-dark toward the master bath. As soon as she crossed the threshold, she could smell the faint fragrance of Monte’s aftershave—the tangy, musk scent he always wore. “Oh, Monte,” she whispered.
Her fingers found the light switch, and what seemed like a hundred paparazzi bulbs flashed. The large mirror lined with clear bulbs reflected a startling image of herself. She looked a fright with her tangled hair and smudged make-up. Her face looked haggard. Is that woman in the mirror really forty-four? She looks more like eighty-four.
Mechanically, she washed her face. As she grabbed a towel and put it to her face, the faint scent of Monte’s favorite almond and coconut soap wafted from its soft folds. She tried to swallow a sob but was unsuccessful.
Tears obstructed her view as she looked around her. Her eyes went to Monte’s sink. Organized neatly alongside his sink were his cologne, a drinking glass, a five-day pill packet and a hairbrush. It was as though Monte was coming back to use them, but he was not. Her heart sank at the thought.
Across from the sink area a sunken garden tub beckoned her to enjoy its pleasures. A hot bath would be relaxing. After she turned on the faucet, she went to the cabinet and found bath crystals and generously poured them into the almost hot, running water. The bathroom began to fill with the light fragrance of roses.
She picked up Monte’s hairbrush from the countertop. Strands of his hair were wrapped around the bristles. She carefully pulled one out, kissed it, and put it on the counter. After staring at it for a few seconds, she began to brush her hair, twisted it on top of her head, and took a hair claw out of the drawer to hold her hair in place.
As she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she thought that the pale-faced, middle-aged woman looking back at her was far from that young, happy woman who first came to this house as Monte’s wife. Her brown hair was cut in a page boy-type style with long layers. Fine lines were appeared around her large, brown eyes. Her lips were full and ready with a smile. In the early years, there were plenty of smiles and laughter, but that slowly changed over time. Her fingers went to her lips as she remembered how much Monte loved to kiss them. Her nose was small and pert. She never thought herself a beauty, but she was described many times by the press as a “striking brunette.” Monte thought she was beautiful, and often told her that her beauty was “soul-deep.” Tears blurred her reflection. She closed her eyes tightly to stop them from falling and turned away from the mirror.
She undressed and looked at her middle-aged body. She had gained a little weight in her hips and thighs. They were not as firm as they used to be, even though she worked out. Is age catching up to me, or is it that gravity is against me? Despite the slight weight gain, she was still on the slender side. Her gentle curves filled her clothes out enough to look womanly and not boyish.
Slowly, she eased herself into the steaming hot bath and rested her head on the tub’s edge. The warmth and silkiness of the water along with the scent of the bubbles eased the tension from her body. Her mind slowly released the grief that squeezed her brain until it felt wrung out. A smile played on her lips as she remembered meeting him all those years ago—twenty-two years to be exact.
It was the summer after college graduation. Kathryn and her best friend, Angela Galloway, had been invited to California by their friend, Helen Lowell. Helen’s father needed to hire part-time summer help for his law firm and asked them if they would be interested in a “working holiday” before they officially joined the work-force in their respective fields. Helen was also getting married to her college sweetheart and wanted the girls’ help in planning the wedding. Both women looked forward to spending some time with Helen and seeing some of the sights in the Golden State.
The three women had been best friends since kindergarten and all had lived in the same housing development within a few streets of one another in the Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Brecksville. The trio had been inseparable from kindergarten until their junior year in high school. It was then that Helen’s father had received an offer he was not able to refuse from a law firm near Los Angeles.
Helen had graduated from the University of Southern California a year early. Currently she was enrolled in the law school there and clerked at her father’s law firm. In the future Helen would become a partner in her father’s firm. Both Angie and Kathryn had attended Ohio State University. Angie had entered the nursing program, and Kathryn had majored in secondary education.
Even though, there was physical distance, the three did their best to stay close. During spring breaks every year, the girls arranged to meet at various towns or venues to reconnect and vacation. Now, they had this opportunity.
For Angie and Kathryn to have the summer in California, the women needed to time the start of their permanent jobs, if possible, in early September when they would return to Ohio. Angie had easily found a nursing position and had arranged the start of her new job in mid-September on the stipulation that she passed her Boards. (Angie had found out three weeks into their California trip that she had indeed passed them.) Kathryn had not found a teaching position, and her prospects were dismal. She had no choice but to go to Plan B.
Kathryn had resorted to secretarial work and had applied at a temp agency for full-time positions and hoped for a teaching position to open later in the school year. She had been fortunate to be scheduled to start a temp job in mid-September as a replacement for a woman who was having knee surgery. The agency had assured her that with her skills, they could keep her as busy as she wanted to be.
During their stay, Helen had insisted that Angie and Kathryn stay with her at her two-bedroom apartment. They were grateful for the offer. Both girls were eager to move out of their parents’ house and get their own place. Staying with Helen would allow them to save for a security deposit and first month’s rent for one.
Jim, Helen’s father, handled legal affairs and lawsuits for prominent people in the movie industry, sports figures, as well as, business moguls. Since Helen had been old enough to work, she had been employed in some capacity at her father’s law office. It was an everyday occurrence for Helen to see famous people walk through the doors. But for Angie and Kathryn, it was a novelty. Often Angie was awestruck. Kathryn quickly got used to it and took it all in stride.
One afternoon they were preparing the conference room for a meeting. “Oh, Kat, doesn’t any of this,” Angie said as she waved her arms in a sweeping motion around the room, “impress you, even the slightest? Carla Collins from Twin Cities was sitting in the waiting area. How could you not go and look?” Exasperation dripped from Angie’s voice.
Angie was half Italian, of medium height, buxom, and had to watch what she ate. She believed the saying, “one minute on the lips, and a lifetime on the hips” was invented because of her ability to gain weight so easily in that area. Her long, dark hair and olive skin gave her an exotic look. Kathryn thought Angie was pretty, especially when she smiled. However, if someone cut off her hands, she might not be able to talk.
Kathryn shrugged. “She’s only a person just like you and me.”
Angie rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. “Honestly, if Elvis walked through the door, I bet you’d act as though nothing happened.”
“Elvis is dead,” Kathryn said.
“My point, exactly.” Angie sighed. “Honestly, I’d love to be there when you get flapped. Sometimes I think you’re too steady eddy.”
“If there’s an earthquake, you’ll see me get plenty flapped.”
“I’ll be too busy saving myself to notice.”
“Hi, guys,” Helen said as she breezed into the room. She was a stunning, willowy blonde. Today she looked like a professional model in her pin-striped pantsuit. Her long, yellow blonde hair was highlighted with subtle white streaks and pulled back in a French braid. “Can one of you do me a favor?”
“Sure,” Kathryn said.
“Would one of you be so kind as to take some coffee and a plate of those cookies left over from the staff meeting this morning to Dad’s office? Millie says he has a client with him, and they need a coffee break. Oh, goodness, look at the time! I need to be at the courthouse in twenty minutes. If I’m lucky, Pete and I will be able to have lunch together today.” Peter Graham was Helen’s fiancée and an attorney practicing international business law in a firm down the street.
“Can you finish up here, Angie? I’ll take the coffee tray to Jim’s office,” Kathryn said.
“Sure, go on. It’s your turn to be ‘mother’.” She and Angie took turns getting coffee or tea when it was requested. They referred to it as being “mother.”
“Thanks,” Helen said. “See you later.” She disappeared through the door.
“Don’t you just envy her?” Angie asked as she entered the kitchen area. “I’d like to be planning a wedding. Wouldn’t you?”
“Sure, if the right man comes along,” Kathryn said.
“Let’s hope he comes along sooner rather than later. I don’t want to be an old maid,” Angie said.
Kathryn laughed. “I don’t plan to hold my breath while I’m waiting.”
“Yeah, right, you’re the lucky one. You have Bruce panting after you. He has money, brains and he’s gorgeous.” Bruce Pennington was a couple of years older than Kathryn and a junior attorney in Jim’s law firm. He was tall, blond and handsome in a rugged sort of way. He reminded Kathryn of one of the Marlboro men that she had seen in magazine advertisements. In the past few weeks, Bruce and she had been out to the movies and dinner on several occasions.
“Forget it, Angie. He’s been fun, but we have a logistics problem—Ohio and California.”
“True love will overcome.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “I’m going to get the coffee. You can go tighten the screw that’s loose.”
athryn got the coffee tray ready. It was large and cumbersome to carry. As she approached Jim’s office, Jim’s secretary, Millie, jumped up from her desk. “Here, let me get the door for you. Thanks for bringing this. It’ll be a welcome distraction.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Kathryn said, appreciative for the help with the door.
As she entered the office, Jim took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes as he put down the papers he was reviewing. He stood up. Jim Lowell was a tall, lean, hawkish looking man in his late fifties. His curly, medium brown hair was sprinkled with plenty of gray. He smiled when he saw her.
“Ah, Kathryn, great timing. Let me take that from you,” Jim said as he held his hands out to her.
“Thank you,” she said and allowed him to take the heavy tray from her.
“I sure could use a cup of coffee right now,” Jim said as he set the tray on his desk. “What about you, Monte?”
Kathryn noticed a movement out of the corner of her eye and turned her head to look. Standing in front of the window wall was a man with his back to her. He had his hands thrust into his pockets. There was a restless energy about him. He was tall, well over six feet, and had dark, almost black hair. From her last part time job at an upscale department store, Kathryn learned about clothing and knew that the navy-blue suit he wore was expensive, as were the oxblood colored shoes on his feet. She’d bet the white shirt he had on was monogrammed and tailor-made.
“That sounds good, thanks.” The man turned towards them. Kathryn was taken completely off guard. He was impressively handsome. His blue eyes caught Kathryn’s brown ones. At that instant, she could have sworn a bolt of lightning crackled through the room. Breathing was no longer automatic because oxygen seemed to be in limited supply. Her heart was a wild horse galloping wildly in her chest, sending blood surging through her veins. She swayed a little, slightly light-headed. I can’t believe it! It’s Montgomery Lawrence! Keep cool. Just relax and don’t forget to breathe.
His dark hair was longish and thick. The skin on his handsome face was smooth and tan. His lips parted in a smile that revealed beautiful white teeth nearly perfect except for a slightly crooked eyetooth on the upper right of his mouth. His smile was lazy, warm, and sensual. He stirred a feeling deep within her soul that she could not define. WOW! The word was a firecracker that exploded in her brain.
Montgomery Lawrence was an actor and one of the biggest box office attractions of the last decade or so. She had read somewhere that he was in his late thirties. Kathryn believed that he was far more handsome now than he had been when he first started acting. She would bet that as he continued to age, he would become even more attractive, if that was even possible.
She could not say that she had seen but a few of Montgomery Lawrence’s movies in her life. He mostly made spy thrillers and action movies, and those genres did not appeal to her. However, she was used to seeing him plastered on the magazine covers and tabloids that she looked at while she waited in line at the grocery store.
His latest cover was Film and Music Magazine which voted him “The World’s Sexiest Leading Man.” The flat, glossy picture did not do justice to the real flesh and blood man. He had charisma, and Kathryn would have to be dead not to notice it.
“Kathryn Chase, this is Montgomery Lawrence. Monte, this is Kathryn, one of Helen’s friends. She’s helping us out for the summer,” Jim said as he poured coffee into the cups.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Kathryn,” Monte said. His tenor voice was soothing and had a trace of a Southern accent. He extended his hand to her.
She was transfixed to the spot. “Hello,” she managed to say, her voice more breathless than she liked. Hesitantly, she extended her hand to take his. The moment his warm skin touched hers, a tingling sensation started at the pit of her stomach and snaked slowly throughout her body. Is it warm in here? Her knees were about to buckle, and she wished she held onto something besides his hand. His piercing, blue eyes held hers captive. It was as though he were trying to look deep into her soul. It was both unnerving and thrilling at the same time. His penetrating look seemed to go on forever. She hoped that outwardly, she appeared cool and calm because her inside was a chaotic mess. It would be embarrassing if Montgomery Lawrence knew the effect he was having on her. She knew he had women falling over him all the time and did not need her acting like a ninny, too.
Then suddenly like fog disappearing in the sunlight, he released her hand and stepped away. Kathryn felt both awkward and deeply disappointed. How silly of me to react this way. Why should he take notice of a nondescript girl nearly half his age? She fought to keep from outwardly showing any emotion. I don’t want to stare, but it’s hard. He’s so good looking. He returned his well-manicured hands back into his pockets and resumed his position by the windows. This time he stood facing her, and Kathryn got the impression that he was assessing her.
“Thanks for bringing the coffee, Kathryn. On your way out, could you, please, send Millie in?” Jim asked interrupting her thoughts.
“Sure thing. It was nice to meet you, Mr. Lawrence,” she said politely. His gaze was mesmerizing, and she found it hard to look away from him.
He smiled at her and said, “I assure you the pleasure was all mine.” He slightly nodded.
Kathryn smiled back at him and knew she had to leave before she made a fool out of herself. She turned and walked out of the office without another look at Monte. She could feel his eyes on her as she walked out the door. Once she was away from Monte’s scrutiny, she took a deep breath. Does he always look that intently at people he has just met, or am I imagining it because I hope I made an impression on him? She stopped to tell Millie that she was wanted in Jim’s office and continued back to her work area.
She could not get over the fact that she had met Montgomery Lawrence. She knew she would probably never see him again. I’m such an idiot, she thought. She was acting as star struck as Angie. She was living in a dream world if she thought a man like Montgomery Lawrence would ever take notice of her. She did not even come close in looks to the women he was photographed with in the tabloids.
The sensation she experienced earlier crept up from her stomach as she recalled how it felt to briefly hold his warm, firm hand in hers. A moment to remember for a lifetime. I touched Montgomery Lawrence! Then she laughed at herself for her foolishness. She was thankful they were so busy that Angie never questioned her about the client in Jim’s office, and Kathryn never mentioned meeting him either.
In the days that followed she could not get Montgomery Lawrence out of her mind. She watched his old movies when they came on TV. His latest movie was in the theater, and she and Angie went to see it. She was thankful that Angie never questioned her about her sudden interest in his movies. He remained her secret adoration.
Since she had actually met him in the flesh, seeing him in a movie made him more real to her and was fuel for her fantasies. His attraction went beyond his looks. Both his voice and the way he carried himself combined to form the self-assured hero and man’s man he portrayed in his movies. He got the girl, but left the audience with the impression he could live without her. Kathryn knew she was one of many women infatuated with him, and who wanted to be the one woman that he finally found that he could not live without.
She had hoped she would run into him at the office again. But it was not to be. Their working holiday in California was over too soon. Angie and Kathryn returned to Ohio and their respective jobs.
Within two weeks of returning home, they rented a small, two-bedroom apartment close to the freeway and the hospital. Angie worked various shifts. Kathryn worked various secretarial jobs while she intermittently checked with the schools for a teaching position, and still hoped a teacher had quit or had to go on leave. Nothing came available. Kathryn lost hope of finding a position in the current school year.
Bruce called Kathryn often. He was one of Peter’s friends and was a member of the wedding party just like Angie and herself. He was thrilled to be Kathryn’s partner for the wedding. She was lukewarm when he called because she believed a long distance romance was impossible to maintain. Bruce did not seem to notice or care about her lack of enthusiasm.
Time flew by, and Angie and Kathryn were back on a plane bound for California to attend Helen’s wedding. Their short visit was a whirlwind of preparation. In next to no time, they were in the church dressing for the ceremony. Helen’s happiness was contagious, and the women were caught up in the joyous spirit of the occasion.
Angie and Kathryn stood before the mirror putting on their makeup. “Helen, I certainly hope you’ve invited some eligible men, other than Bruce, to this wedding. Bruce seems to have eyes for only Kat,” Angie said.
Kathryn stopped brushing mascara on and shook her head at Angie. “You have a one-track mind.”
Helen giggled and pulled her wedding dress out of the dress bag. “Of course, I’ve invited some eligible men. Now that I’m married, I have to marry off my best friends.”
Kathryn helped Helen get into her dress. Helen fidgeted while Kathryn buttoned the back of her wedding dress. There seemed to be a hundred little buttons. “Please, keep still,” Kathryn said. The tiny pearl buttons slipped from the loops every time Helen moved.
“I’m trying,” Helen said. Confusion and last-minute problems seemed to be the order of the day. Helen had a lot of nervous energy. When Kathryn finished buttoning the dress, Helen lifted her dress to put her feet into her shoes. “Now look, I have a run in my stocking. I need another pair.”
“Just calm down, and I’ll see if we have another.” Kathryn tried to soothe her.
“I’m so nervous.” Helen nearly wailed.
“What’s to be nervous about?” Angie asked. “If I had a man like Peter—or any man for that matter—who wanted to marry me…” She let her voice trail off.
Kathryn and Helen giggled.
“Kat, you aren’t even dressed yet,” Helen said. “How much time do we have?”
“You know I don’t require much time to get ready. Now, take a deep breath and relax.”
Helen took an audible deep breath. She held it, and then let it out slowly.
“You’d better watch those deep breaths—you may hyperventilate,” Angie said.
“Really, Angie,” Kathryn said. She turned to Helen. “Feeling better?”
“Sort of,” Helen said.
Five hundred guests were to attend the wedding and reception. It was one of the grandest affairs in which Kathryn or Angie had ever participated. Nerves were becoming frayed. As tension often does with women, it turned into silliness, and the women began to tease one another and giggle.
“I hope Bruce doesn’t embarrass himself and say, ‘I do’ when Pete is supposed to,” Angie said. “You know he’ll be gazing at Kat the whole time.”
“Yes, ever since you got here, he’s found excuses to be near you,” Helen said. “You could do worse, you know.”
“You both seem to forget something,” Kathryn said. “I’m not in love with him.”
“You just need to spend more time together. I think Bruce is pretty much there.” Angie laughed.
“It’ll have to be love from afar. We do live several thousand miles apart. I believe that hinders hand holding on a date,” Kathryn said and walked over to a bag Helen had brought to the church. She began to rummage through the contents and pulled out an unopened package of pantyhose and handed it over to Helen. “I wish you two would be quiet.”
“I see long and frequent business trips to Cleveland in his future,” Helen said.
“Stop it,” she said as she took her dress off the hanger and disappeared into the dressing room. She could hear their laughter as she closed the door. Kathryn dressed quickly and turned around in front of the mirror to look at her reflection.
The dress fit her perfectly. It was made of wine-colored satin with short capped sleeves, a high neckline and a full skirt. It was simple, yet elegant. Both Angie and she would wear the same color dresses. Kathryn smoothed her skirt and checked her reflection in the mirror before she left the room.
When Kathryn rejoined them, Angie was helping Helen apply her makeup.
“Oh, Helen, you look beautiful,” Kathryn said with a smile.
Both Angie and Kathryn helped Helen with her veil. Then they added some finishing touches to Helen’s hair around the crown of the hat. The satin and lace gown with pearls sewn into the skirt and bodice was exquisite. It had the look of the Victorian Era. The veil had a small V-shaped cap as a headpiece with yards of English, white lace trailing behind. Radiant happiness beamed from Helen’s face.
A pang of envy tweaked Kathryn. She longed to marry the man of her dreams in a big church wedding wearing an exquisite gown. Is it Bruce? She shook her head. This was Helen’s day. Kathryn’s dreams could wait.
Kathryn sat in a chair in front of the mirror. “Angie, could you please French braid my hair?”
“Sure thing,” Angie said as she concentrated on her task. It did not take her long to finish Kathryn’s hair. “You look pretty, Kat.”
“Thanks. I do like these dresses. They’re very flattering,” Kathryn said.
“Yes, me, too. It makes my hips look small, which is a miracle,” Angie said.
There was a moment of silence as each woman studied her reflection in the mirror. Kathryn was the first to speak. “Looks like we’re ready with time to spare.”
“I can’t believe these are my last minutes as a single woman.” Helen turned to her friends.
“Me, either. You and Peter will be so happy and make a wonderful life together,” Kathryn said.
“Thanks. I’m so happy you could both be here for me,” Helen said a bit teary. They all hugged.
From the moment Kathryn walked down the aisle and throughout the ceremony, she had a feeling that she was being watched. Of course, she was by five hundred people. But she had an unsettled feeling that she could not shake, and it caused her to contract a case of nerves that resulted in stage fright. Because of it, she avoided looking directly at the crowd. As soon as the crowd had gone, the feeling left her.
During the reception, Kathryn was both amused and vexed by all the attention Bruce paid her. What’s wrong with me, anyway? He’s blonde, good-looking, and has gorgeous eyes. For her the spark just was not there, and she truly wished it was. Guilt was a nag reminding her not to lead him on. But she knew that no matter what she did, he would still pursue her. What could she do about it without hurting him?
Bruce finally left her to get something cold to drink. The reception hall was a sea of people packed together like sardines in a can. The temperature rose, and the smoke from cigarettes thickened, creating a blue-gray haze which settled over the room. She felt warm and sticky, and the smoke choked her. Not to mention that the unsettled feeling was back. Kathryn had to get out of this place. Some fresh air and solitude was too tempting to resist, and she headed for the outdoors.
As she opened the door to the parking lot, the cool air brushed her face with its sweet, refreshing fragrance. How wonderful! Just what I needed. She took a deep breath and walked leisurely around the building. Her heels made a soft tap…tap on the concrete. There were groups of people here and there and the low hum of conversation. On the other side of the parking lot, she noticed a vacant bench beside a planter which had lush green plants growing in it. She walked in its direction and stopped just shy of the bench. Solitude. Maybe I’ll stay out here for the rest of the reception. This is so much nicer than being inside. A sigh of pleasure escaped her lips.
“The fresh air is nice, isn’t it?” a masculine voice drawled from behind her.
She jumped. She knew that voice. Unable to believe her ears, she slowly turned around.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” His voice was low and soft. She didn’t think he could ever get more handsome, but he had. He looked gorgeous in the black suit he was wearing. His hair was cut shorter than she remembered, and he looked like a model for formal wear. “Montgomery Lawrence…we met a few months ago in Jim’s office,” he said and smiled warmly.
“I remember you, Mr. Lawrence,” she said and felt nervous and shy. Wow, she’d forgotten how tall he was. He moved closer to her, and she could smell the scent of his cologne mixed with cigarette smoke that clung to his jacket. Someone pinch me. I can’t believe he’s here. Her heart hammered against her chest, and she prayed he could not hear it.
“Mr. Lawrence is my grandfather. Please, call me, Monte,” he said.
“Okay…Monte.” Now what am I going to say? I don’t want to sound gauche or stupid. Words swirled in her head like a tornado, spinning through her mind so quickly that she was unable to grasp any of them.
He did not seem to notice that she was tongue-tied and continued the conversation. “I have a confession to make. I followed you out here. I wanted to talk to you earlier, but the young man you’re with is taking his groomsman responsibilities very seriously.” His tenor voice with its soft Southern accent was soothing and mesmerizing. Words rolled pleasantly and rhythmically from his tongue. He could read from the tax law code, and she knew she would sit enthralled.
“I came out here to escape. The room was getting claustrophobic.” Kathryn admitted and smiled up at him. He had the most beautiful eyes. They were like the Caribbean—deep, blue, and captivating. His smile turned her into melted butter. If this is a dream, don’t wake me up.
“I’d hoped you were taking a break from the groomsman who follows you like he’s your shadow.”
He’s flirting with me. Her exhilaration rose like a hot air balloon. He could be with any woman at this reception, and he’s out here with me. Out loud she said, “The groomsman’s name is Bruce, and he’s a very nice man.”
He chuckled. “Nice? That word is not very flattering to a man. It’s something a woman says when a man doesn’t meet her standards, but she wants to say something positive. It would break his heart to hear you say that.”
“He’s a bit more resilient than you think.”
“I don’t know, I’m pretty resilient, and I wouldn’t want you to break my heart.” His words were a caress, light and soft. A tingling sensation went through her, as though, he had physically touched her. “You wouldn’t do that to me…would you?”
Oxygen was becoming thin, and she started to feel giddy. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” Kathryn said airily. She prayed that outwardly she looked calm, cool, and collected.
“That’s what I’m counting on.” He paused and looked her directly in the eyes.
His remark was a vacuum that sucked the words right out of her head. Suddenly, she was on alert like a deer that hears a twig snap and is ready to run because it senses a predator is nearby. She knew she was in uncharted and possibly dangerous territory. His eyes held her gaze and seemed to probe to her soul. Why is he out here with me when there are so many other women inside who are more beautiful? Her brain was crippled with those kinds of thoughts, and all she could muster outwardly was to look at him and smile.
“I confess my true purpose in following you out here was that I had hoped you’d do me the honor of a dance.” He bowed slightly towards her.
Kathryn blushed and was glad that dusk was falling and hoped he had not seen the flame of her cheeks. He wants to dance with me! Is this real or just a vivid daydream? “I’d be delighted,” she managed to say. Her heart beat fast in anticipation.
“Shall we?” he said and extended his hand to her.
Without thinking twice, she put her hand into his. How many times had she engaged in fantasies about meeting him again? Seize the moment. Careful, a small, sane voice whispered. Guard your heart. You could fall so easily. Watch for danger. But her heart cried out, Be quiet. Let me enjoy this moment. I’ve never had anyone this handsome or famous pay attention to me before, and I probably never will again. I want to savor this.
As they walked back to the reception hall, Kathryn floated on a cloud of excitement and anticipation. His hand firmly held hers. Her thrill was a fire burning brightly for all to see. She looked up at Monte to find him smiling down at her. Her breath caught in her throat. Is this really happening to me?
Music drifted out to greet them. “I think they’re playing our song,” he said and bestowed a lazy, sexy smile on her. He held his arms out to her, and she walked into them.
She smiled back at him. “So they are.” As his arms wrapped around her, she prayed that her knees would not give way.
They were on the dance floor, and finally, after months of dreaming about him, Kathryn was in Montgomery Lawrence’s arms. Moonlight Serenade played, and she moved with him to the music. She felt like they were the only two people in the room.
The minute his arms went around her, her senses heighten. She was conscious of his arm around her waist, and his warm, strong hand holding hers. His hand at her waist radiated warmth through her dress. Her hand lightly rested on the soft, expensive material of his suit. His body felt solid and firm against her softness. His cheek lightly brushed her hair and sent pulses of electricity from her head out to the rest of her body. He moved gracefully around the dance floor and was easy for Kathryn to follow. Neither of them said a word. Both were unaware of the envious, awed, and interested looks coming from other guests in the room. They were in a world of their own.
The song faded to its end. They stopped dancing but remained in each other’s arms. She looked up at him. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. The feel of his lips on her hands sparked and caused her body temperature to rise and her pulses to race.
“Kat, I’ve been looking all over for you,” Bruce said in controlled consternation.
The spell was broken. Both Kathryn and Monte jumped and stepped apart as though they had been caught doing something naughty. Monte glanced at his watch. “Miss Kathryn, thank you for the dance. It’s been a pleasure.” His words were polite and formal, and his flirtatious demeanor had vanished. “It’s late, and I must go.” He was apologetic. It was as though a mask had come over his face, and they were polite strangers again. Kathryn felt like she’d lost something precious and wanted to scream at Bruce.
Monte’s and Kathryn’s eyes locked briefly. She thought she detected reluctance on Monte’s part to leave, but she must have imagined it because he seemed so eager to go. Monte nodded at Bruce. “If you’ll excuse me…”
Disappointment was a broom that whisked her dreams away as she watched him stride out of the room and out of her life. A sense of loss took the place of the thrill. Reality crashed in on her like an imploding building. I’ve had a whole twenty minutes with him, yet he makes me long for…
“Kathryn, he’s gone, you can quit watching the door,” Bruce said while snapping his fingers in front of her face.
She turned to look at Bruce. Perhaps it was time to come back to Earth. Kathryn Chase and Montgomery Lawrence—it would be the romance of the century. But never in real life—only in her dreams.
“You’re playing with fire,” Bruce said. “You should be aware that he likes his alcohol plentiful and his women without morals.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He drinks hard and plays hard. It’s common knowledge—he’s a bad seed. I feel compelled to tell you that he’s had a paternity suit filed against him and two DUI’s in the past several years. And that’s just the things I know. Don’t get any ideas about him. You’ll only get hurt. He’s not for a girl like you.”
His words provoked Kathryn. “And just what kind of girl would that be?”
“You’re a good girl and honest—the opposite of the women Lawrence runs with. Don’t you know that for some men a good girl is a challenge?”
“What? That’s ridiculous. Who made you his judge anyway?”
“I’m not judging, just giving you facts.” Bruce took her by the arms in a firm grip. “Look at me.” He held her so that she had to look at him. Bruce’s expression was serious, and his voice was controlled and deliberate as though he were trying to keep emotion from his words. “One thing I do know, once a person gets addicted to that self-centered, hedonistic lifestyle, it’s hard for him or her to change. And if you think you’ll be the one who can save Lawrence from his sinful life, forget it. He’ll only end up dragging you down with him. Then it will be you who needs saving.”
Kathryn did not say anything for a moment. “I don’t know why we’re having this discussion. I only had one dance with the man, and he left—hardly a relationship worth discussing.”
“I hope you’re right,” Bruce said doubtfully and released her. “Don’t get sore at me. I admit, I’m a little jealous. It’s hard for an ordinary man like myself to compete with a star of the silver screen. You’re only here for a few more days, and I don’t want to spoil it by arguing. I apologize if I upset you.”
Okay, let’s get real here. You were a nice little flirtation for the bored movie star. Now he’s gone. Enjoy Bruce’s company. He’s a nice, normal guy. She smiled at Bruce and detected relief on his face. She then said out loud, “I’m not upset.”
“Good, let’s dance,” Bruce said as he took her hand and led her out to the dance floor. It was a slow song. Bruce was a good dancer, but it was not the same as dancing with Monte. She would never forget how she and Monte floated around the dance floor and doubted she would ever have another dance partner quite like him ever again.
“I don’t suppose I could convince you to stay in California and look for a teaching position here.” Bruce’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
“No, I’m sorry. Ohio is my home.”
“Home can be anywhere where there are people you love, and who love you. We do have employment agencies here, too, you know.”
Kathryn let the comment ride and changed the subject. He had confirmed he was more serious than she first thought. What was wrong with her anyway? Bruce was a nice guy. Why couldn’t she feel the same way he did? No matter how hard she tried, she could only summon up a feeling of friendship for him, nothing more. At this point, she looked forward to going back home to Ohio and have life become normal again.
Helen and Peter left for their honeymoon, and the guests began to depart. Bruce offered to drop off Angie and Kathryn at their hotel. Angie was leaving to go back to Ohio in the morning.
Earlier in the week, Angie and Bruce conspired together and sweet talked Kathryn into a later departure. Kathryn agreed to stay a couple of extra days. Now she was not sure she should stay. It may lead Bruce on. Perhaps she should change her ticket and go back sooner.
As he drove the girls back to their hotel, Bruce dropped not so subtle hints about not wanting to end the evening so early, but the girls ignored it. It had been a long day. They were both tired. Kathryn agreed to meet Bruce the following day around noon for lunch and sightseeing. After waving goodbye to him, they headed towards the elevator.
“Bruce sure is crazy about you,” Angie said. “I feel sorry for him. He wanted to spend some time alone with you tonight. However, if I had danced with Montgomery Lawrence, I’d want to go home and ponder it, too.”
“You noticed,” Kathryn said. She hoped Angie missed watching their dance. She was not up for a battery of questions right now. The elevator opened, and they got on.
“Did you think I suddenly went blind during the reception? Of course, I saw you, Kat. Everybody did. It caused quite a stir. You both make a striking couple out there on the dance floor. It was like in Cinderella when the prince is dancing with the commoner, and everybody is asking, ‘who is she?’”
“Honestly, you’re so full of it.”
“I swear it’s true. Bruce was not pleased. When he noticed you two dancing, I thought for sure he was going to walk right up and hit Montgomery Lawrence in the jaw. He got spastic when I told him what a great couple you made.”
“I couldn’t resist. So why did he leave so soon?”
“I don’t know,” Kathryn said. The elevator doors opened, and they got off.
“What a bummer. I caught him watching you during the ceremony,” Angie said.
“Really? Now I know you’re crazy. I didn’t see him there.”
“You’re the one going blind. How could you not see him? He sat in the bride’s section in the back by the stained-glass windows. Every time I peeked at him, he was watching you.”
“I had stage fright and couldn’t bring myself to look directly at anyone.” Kathryn was relieved to know that her feelings of being watched during the wedding were justified, but it still didn’t do anything except make Montgomery Lawrence more of an enigma to her than he already was.
“At the reception he tried hard not to be obvious about it, but he kept his eyes on your every move. I had a feeling he was waiting for Bruce to leave you alone. When I saw him follow you out the door, I waylaid Bruce at the bar.”
“Can we drop the subject? I think it’s safe to assume that Montgomery Lawrence is now out of my life forever,” Kathryn said as she opened the door to their room.
“It smells great in here,” Angie said as she walked into the room. The smell of roses was heavy in the air.
Angie flipped on the light switch. On the dresser was a vase with two dozen long-stemmed yellow roses. A card was propped up at the bottom of the glass vase with Kathryn’s name scrawled on it. Kathryn walked over to it.
“Wow! Someone’s out to impress you,” Angie said. “Who are they from?”
As she tried to open the card, Kathryn found she was all thumbs and fumbled around with it. Once she got it open, she read and reread the card totally dumbfounded. She sank onto the nearest bed.
“Well?” Angie asked. “I’m in suspense here. Are they from Bruce?”
“No.” Kathryn handed Angie the card.
Angie read the card aloud. “I enjoyed our dance. The roses are an apology for leaving early. Yours, Monte. How did he know where you were staying and get them here so fast? This certainly is getting interesting. Now, I’m sorry I’m leaving in the morning.”
“I don’t get it. Why would he send me flowers?” Kathryn asked.
“Are you kidding? He likes you—A LOT. He took the trouble to find out where you were staying. He sent roses—two dozen of them. You’re so lucky.”
“I think you’re reading too much into this,” Kathryn said and tried to push down her excitement. She did not want to get her hopes up and have them dashed. I must remain realistic…mustn’t I?
“You’ll see Montgomery Lawrence again soon…trust me. Man, I wish I were staying. I’m going to miss all the fun.”
Kathryn chose to ignore Angie’s remark. It did not take either one of them long to crawl into bed. However, sleep was slow in coming for Kathryn. She tried hard not to think about Monte, but the harder she tried not to think of him, the more he intruded into her thoughts. Over and over she re-lived their dance. She could not forget his hand on her waist or his breath in her hair or his velvety voice. Am I a challenge for him just like Bruce said? Will I ever see him again? It was the wee hours of the morning before she finally drifted off to sleep.
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