“Pardon?”

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Frankly, I’d dreaded it.

Another ‘this is the one for Carol’ night.

He was a pleasant surprise. Good looking in a pale way, which only emphasised his dark eyes and, I must say it, ruby lips. How else does one describe such a mouth? He didn’t recline he… well… liquefied into the almost modern, salmon-pink sofa. Surrounded by the chromium and muted shades of Gloria’s somewhat outdated Belle/Vogue/House and Garden furnishings, he looked elegantly olde worlde; with the charm and manners to match.

The voice, I should explain, was soft-centred chocolate… caramel best describes…

“Mourning becomes you.”

“Pardon?”

“Mourning… Black.”

“Oh! But I… Thanks.”

Another slender crystal flute of champagne was handed to me (I’d already had two or three). His fingers were pleasantly cool, almost icy from the chilled glass.

“Don’t you drink?”

An odd look accompanied a slight smile… a glimpse only of very white teeth.

“Not… champagne. Not any more.”

A reformed alcoholic?

“Oh.”

“You have lovely skin. Almost transparent. You would have been greatly sought after as… an artist’s model. Pre-Raphaelite I think. Titian hair too. And such a long slender neck.”

I believe I blushed. I managed not to ask him where he’d been all my life.

“A column of ivory.”

“Pardon?”

I thought perhaps I’d missed some special feature of Gloria’s décor.

“Your throat.”

His pupils were extraordinary. One almost ‘stepped in’. The thought occurred that Prince Charming was on something not entirely legal. But nobody’s perfect and I was not normally the centre of a handsome man’s attentions. Less so since the divorce. As far as I was concerned, whoever conned the phrase ‘gay divorcee’ must have recently emerged from the closet.

“Do you paint?” I managed.

Some men undress you with their eyes. Some rape. Occasionally one can be found who seduces. I was doing my damnedest to juggle all three possibilities. I merely succeeded in looking like a slight nauseous bubble-eyed fish because he moved closer and ran his cool hand over my forehead, across my cheek and down my throat.

“It has been a long time. I would like… if you will permit me… to paint you. But you are not well?”

“Um… a little fresh air I think. The champagne…”

“Ah yes. I remember. Perhaps I could convey you safely home?”

I giggled stupidly. “’Convey’. Doesn’t one only do that with real estate?”

He frowned. I knew I shouldn’t have, but ‘convey’? He gave a chuckle. His muted chuckle was far more elegant than Gloria’s muted colour scheme.

“I am told I have… an ‘eccentric turn of phrase’. At least I believe that is what Gloria said.”

Gloria would. Gorgeous Gloria could say anything and get away with it whereas I…

“I’m sorry if I offended you.”

“Not at all. Shall we?”

“Pardon?”

He gave me another of those long looks that made me believe Gloria was a Gorgon in comparison to my extravagant beauty, which convinced me I had definitely had too much champagne!

“Have you committed some great sin perhaps?”

“Pardon?”

He covered his mouth with a delicate gesture and laughed.

“You insist on my pardon.”

“Well perhaps not yet…” I risked. “Although…”

He shook his head in puzzlement. I ventured the obvious.

“You’re not Australian are you?”

“I am not from… Australia. No.”

“I didn’t think so.”

The obligatory small talk over with, he guided me through the chattering party animals, waved airily at Gloria who smiled at me with an ‘I knew it’ look in her eye, and steered me into the cool evening air, which only served to make me feel slightly giddy. A strong arm gripped me around the waist and held me upright.

I stayed there longer than I needed. He was free of the popular commercial after-shaves I found noxious. The silk of his shirt smelled new. I lifted my lips hoping for a long slow kiss, instead his cool fingers held my face while he looked his fill. I felt he was holding back with a supreme effort of will, but it could have been that he was afraid I’d throw up over his expensive shirt. I fervently prayed he’d find my gaucheness attractive. ‘Natural. Naïve. Innocent.’ I mentally prompted him.

“Your unstudied naturalness is very attractive to me Caroline. Shall I take you home now or…?”

“’Or’ would be preferable.” I congratulated myself on my powers of mental telepathy. “Although…”

“Yes?” He frowned.

“It would be nice to know your name.”

He blinked and turned away, tucking my arm through his.

“Shall I call a… cab?”

“Taxis don’t hang around here. Too many BMWs. Besides I have a car.”

There was a pleasant pause as we walked to my car. In the dark interior before I started the engine, he spoke in his dark chocolate voice with the caramel inner-tones.

“My name is Bran.”

All Bran?” I’d done it again.

“Yes.”

“Pardon? I mean… Bran is… very unusual.”

“It is a very old Celtic name.” Again the muted laugh. “One might say, ancient. Is it… unpleasant?”

“That rather depends. No… Bran. It’s rather nice… muscular, um… I mean, masculine. I just hadn’t thought of it as a man’s name before. It’s a cereal you see. Some people eat it for breakfast.”

“How very diverting… for breakfast you say?”

“Yes.” Possibilities of a new kind of breakfast Bran caused me to run a red light. Definitely a caramel centred laugh followed.

“Why not for supper?”

Why not indeed. “Hmm… It would require a new marketing strategy.”

“What is that?”

“Oh… um… a way of advertising. Um… are we going to my place or yours?” Oh dear, that champagne had loosened more than my tongue.

“Do you have a favourite place?”

Several answers to that occurred.

“I do actually. A place near the river.” I’d go there when I was lonely.

“You go there when you are lonely?”

The telepathy thing had begun to unsettle me. What else had he ‘overheard’?

We drove to the river in silence. A silence that was over-crowded with deafening thoughts. When I’d switched off the lights we gazed soulfully at the winding river glimmering with the distant lights of the city. The trees muffled the sound of traffic on the nearby highway. Bran took my hand.

“Why not walk along the river’s edge with me?”

I’d felt a sudden surge of panic. Was he planning to rape and murder me and cast my body adrift in the river? Why had I agreed to this? Champagne can only be blamed for so much.

“I will see you come to no harm.”

“Well…” A rising desire for a binge on caramel centred chocolate overcame my momentary panic.

Bran got out and came around to open my door for me. I told the feminist in me to take a hike. He took me in his arms as I stepped out of the car.

The feel of his warm breath in my ear drove all thought of murder back into the volumes on my bookshelves where it belonged. A faintly familiar smell on his breath made me jerk back in surprise only to find myself swimming in his dark eyes. He bent his head to my breast and I held my breath as his lips traced and trailed across my décolletage.

The exquisite stabbing pain was… momentarily eternal. I sighed. I wept. He whispered. I succumbed. I returned his embrace.

At parties now it is I who no longer drink champagne. I refuse food, explaining that I always ‘eat’ before leaving home so that I can maintain my figure. Being beautiful and desirable I can write my own rules. No longer am I the quiet wallflower continually asking “pardon?”. I have received my remission. And when I leave a party, it is always with a beautiful young man – though none compare with Bran – or a beautiful young woman. ‘Youngbloods’ they call themselves.

How very diverting!

COPYRIGHT Jenirose Hall ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Gorgeous Gloria

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