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       Romance and the Single Girl, p.1

           Alli Stewart
 
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Romance and the Single Girl
ROMANCE AND THE SINGLE GIRL

  A Short Contemporary Romance

  By

  ALLI STEWART

  (A pen name of Alison Stuart)

  Sarah dreams of meeting a dashing man who will woo her with flowers, champagne and walks along sunset beaches… and Tony is perfect in every way…

   

  But is there more to romance than flowers?

  Copyright © 2002 Alison Stuart

  Oportet Publishing March 2016

  Cover Design: Alison Stuart

  Cover photograph: Purchased with Licence from www.canva.com

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  Discover other titles by Alison Stuart at

  Author website: https://www.alisonstuart.com

  ROMANCE AND THE SINGLE GIRL

  “He caught her in his strong arms and held her tight. She felt herself melt within the circle of his strength and leaned her head against his chest, feeling the strong beat of his heart beneath the thin fabric of his shirt. He bent his head and she looked up expectantly, her lips parted…”

  ‘Oh my God, Sarah! You don’t read this rubbish do you?’

  Caught red handed, Sarah thrust FLAME OF MY HEART back on to the book shop shelf.

  ‘No. No. Of course not,’ Sarah forced herself to smile at Julie. ‘I was just seeing what all the fuss was about.’

  ‘I mean look at this cover,’ Julie pulled the book back off the shelf jabbing an accusing finger at the lurid purple hued cover depicting a muscle-bound man, his buttons straining on his inadequate shirt as he gazed deeply into the eyes of a wilting female reclining against his arm, ‘I can’t believe people buy this nonsense,’ she said, replacing the book among its companions. ‘I mean who believes in romance these days?’

  Sarah blinked at her friend. ‘You don’t believe in romance? What about Stephen?’

  Julia waved an immaculately manicured hand. ‘Stephen? Romance has nothing to do with Stephen!’

  ‘But you’ve been going out forever. Everyone’s just waiting for the engagement announcement.’

  Julie bit her lower lip. ‘I didn’t say I didn’t love him. I just meant romance didn’t enter into it.’

  Over coffee at the bookshop café, Sarah raised the question again. ‘So, why don’t you believe in romance?’

  Julie gave her friend a withering glance. ‘Romance is fantasy, Sarah,’ she drew a breath, warming to her theme. ‘Romance is for vapid females in corsets and lace. This is the twenty first century. We can do anything - be anything we want. Just look at us! We’re already associates of two of the largest law firms in Melbourne and if we play our cards right, we’ll be partners in a couple of years. We sure as hell don’t need a man with a bunch of roses and sugar coated promises of happy ever after to make our lives complete!’ She took a sip of her coffee. ‘And, believe me, there is no such animal as a romantic man.’

  ‘Isn’t Stephen romantic?’ Sarah ventured.

  Julie laughed. ‘Stephen’s a dear but quite frankly he hasn’t a romantic bone in his body. I doubt he knows the difference between roses and rosemary. Believe me, Sarah, it may be a truisim but men really are only after one thing.’

  ‘And some people are more willing than others to let them have it,’ the words were out before Sarah could stop them. She clapped a hand to her mouth. ‘I didn’t mean that to sound…’

  Julie stiffened, her eyes widening and her mouth an O of surprise. ‘Well at least I have a man,’ she rejoined.

  They looked at each other in horror but old friendship prevailed. They both laughed but there was an awkward silence as they finished their coffees.

  Julie did a quick check of her lipstick and looked at her watch. ‘Must go back to work. See you Saturday night?’

  Sarah lingered a few minutes staring at the empty coffee cup. She had to admit that Julie’s catty remark had cut her to the bone. It was not her fault she didn’t have a boyfriend. She just hadn’t liked any of the men who had been interested in her and there had been a few over the years. How could she explain to Julie that she was not after a relationship, she wanted a relationship with romance? She yearned for strolls in the park on chilly autumn days, champagne in front of roaring log fires, roses and gazing at sunsets.

  Her relationships to date had centred on careers, cars, pay cheques, alcohol and sex. Not necessarily in that order. Romance, as she understood it, had not entered into it.

  Sarah sighed and pushed her cup away. With a quick glance to see that no one else she knew was likely to be watching, she slipped back into the bookshop and purchased FLAME OF MY HEART.

  ~*~

  Sarah toyed with her glass of wine, crossed and recrossed her legs and scanned the room for a friendly face. Maybe it was time to change the routine or the venue. She and Julie had been coming to The Club, a fashionable hang out on King Street, since they had first started out in the work force. She kept returning in the hope of meeting someone new and exciting but more often than not she found that the other patrons were now younger than her or the same drunken yobbos she had met before.

  Sarah took a sip of her wine and watched Julie and Stephen on the dance floor. Stephen moved awkwardly to the music, his eyes fixed on some unseen point in the ceiling rather than his gyrating partner. He was good looking enough if you liked dark haired men but she’d always found him rather quiet and hard to get to know. She wondered why Julie with her gorgeous figure, mane of dark auburn hair and flamboyant personality had gone out with him for so long.

  She scanned the room once more and decided to leave. An evening curled up with FLAME OF MY HEART held considerably more attraction than the night’s offerings. She stood up and turned without looking, her shoulder catching the hand of a man standing behind her. His glass of beer went flying, the amber liquid cascading in a golden, frothy fountain down the front of his immaculate white shirt.

  ‘Oh God, I’m sorry.’ Sarah reached for a pile of napkins on the table and began dabbing at the shirt: A fine linen shirt that fitted well across a broad expanse of manly chest.

  ‘It’s all right. No damage done. It will wash.’ His rich, deep voice caused her to pause in her ministrations and look up into a pair of the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

  Sarah stopped dabbing and straightened. ‘I didn’t see you behind me.’

  He smiled, revealing a set of perfect teeth that gleamed brightly against the tan of his face and ran his fingers through his thick, ash-blonde hair. ‘It was partly my fault. I was looking for a friend and not where I was going. You can make amends by dancing with me. No one else will, now I reek of beer.’

  Somewhere above her, fireworks exploded, bells started to ring and celestial choirs burst into song. Wasn’t this how IT was supposed to happen? A stranger’s eyes across a crowded room?

  Across the dance floor, she saw Julie mouth something to Stephen as they stepped on to the dance floor. Sarah smiled serenely and let herself into the music. This man was a wonderful dancer, languid
and sensuous. She could feel herself responding to the rhythm of the song and his swaying hips. It was all she could do not to throw herself into his arms and…

  ‘Hi Tony,’ Julie sashayed across the dance floor with Stephen in tow. She kissed Sarah’s partner on both cheeks. ‘I see you’ve met my friend Sarah?’ she added giving Sarah a sharp glance.

  ‘Is this the friend you were looking for?’ Sarah asked.

  ‘It certainly is. You look great Jules. How are you Steve?’

  Stephen clapped the stranger on the shoulder. ‘Glad you could make it, Tony! The tropical climate looks like it suits you.’

  ‘Tony’s just come back from Singapore. He’s been working with our firm up there,’ Julie shouted into Sarah’s ear.

  ‘Let’s go somewhere quieter and grab a drink,’ Stephen yelled.

  The Club only had degrees of noise: noisy, noisier and noisiest. They settled for one of the less noisy corners and Stephen disappeared to the bar to get drinks.

  Julie picked up her purse. ‘Excuse me for a minute Tony. I’ve just got to go and freshen up,’ she said. ‘Coming Sarah?

  Sarah looked up at her friend. ‘I don’t…’ she began and then as Julie narrowed her eyes and made a discreet jerking motion with her head, she added, ‘…we won’t be long.’

  ‘Isn’t he gorgeous?’ Julie gushed as soon as they were in the sanctity of the confessional, otherwise known as the Ladies’ bathroom.

  ‘He’s quite cute,’ Sarah conceded.

  Julie laughed. ‘Quite cute? Oh Sarah you are the end.’

  ‘How long have you know him?’ Sarah asked.

  ‘Oh absolutely ages. He used to work with Stephen and he is a darling,’ she leaned towards Sarah and whispered, ‘I had quite a thing about him for a while!’

  ‘What happened?’

  Julie shook her head, her mouth assuming a downward cast. ‘Oh he was dating some gorgeous model so I didn’t get a look in and then he got sent overseas.’ She shrugged. ‘You know, the usual story. Just after he left for the Singapore office Stephen asked me out and the rest is history.’

  ‘What about now. Has he…?’ Sarah felt the heat rise to her face. ‘Is he…?’

  ‘Attached? Not that I know of.’ Julie tucked her arm into Sarah’s, ‘Go for it!’

  Sarah went for it. By the end of the evening she had discovered that Tony loved skiing, diving and rally car driving. These were not activities that had appealed to Sarah in the past, but she was not above pretending that she loved them and who knows…? She might like them given the right opportunity.

  As they parted at the front door of her flat, he said, ‘I’d like to see you again. How about dinner next Friday?’

  What was a girl to say?

  A perfect red rose arrived at her desk at work on Monday morning with a note that said simply “Until Friday”. When her PA asked her about her secret admirer, she smiled and said nothing.

  Over the phone, Julie scoffed, ‘Roses? Don’t kid yourself girl. Tony’s no different from the others. Beneath that suave exterior he’s only after one thing.’

  The other men she had dated had all been after the “one thing” and they were as subtle about it as one of the curries from her favourite Indian restaurant, the Taj Mahal. Tony was different. He actually seemed to enjoy her company for its own sake.

  Dinner on Friday night was followed by a picnic in the Dandenongs which was followed by another dinner, dancing at a stylish night club, not the usual King Street haunts, walks hand in hand in the Botanical Gardens, more single red roses and chauffeur driven cars, all washed down with French champagne.

  They talked of diving, skiing and rally car driving. They talked about the legal profession and they talked of love and past lovers and their hopes and dreams. They watched the sunset over Port Philip Bay, stared into each other’s eyes and kissed – long, lingering, passionate kisses.

  FLAME OF MY HEART lay unread and neglected on Sarah’s bedside table.

  ~*~

  Julie took a sip of her cappuccino, set it down and stirred the froth with her teaspoon.

  ‘Stephen’s asked me to marry him.’

  ‘Oh that’s great,’ Sarah enthused. ‘Did he go down on one knee?’

  Julie gave a snort. ‘He popped the question over soup and a sandwich while we were watching some dreadful opera on the TV!’

  ‘Oh,’ Sarah scrounged for words to express her disappointment in the obvious lack of atmosphere involved. Failing to find anything appropriate, she said, ‘Still its wonderful news. Have you set a date?’

  ‘I haven’t exactly said yes.’ Julie set her cup down.

  ‘Why not?’

  Julie shrugged. ‘It was all so… I just wish he was… well, you know… more romantic.’

  ‘I thought you didn’t believe in romance?’

  Julie cast her friend a sharp glance. ‘I didn’t until I saw what I was missing. How is that gorgeous man of yours?

  Sarah felt herself smirk. ‘He’s invited me down to a cottage at Airey’s Inlet next weekend.’

  ‘So this is the big weekend is it?’

  ‘Could be,’ Sarah shrugged. She had played the scene over in her mind: Candles, champagne, soft bed linen, and classical music. All so romantic, all so perfect, all so….

  No wait, Sarah thought, all so what? All too perfect? Where were the fireworks, bells and angels now? They seemed to be out for a coffee break. Something was not quite right and she couldn’t pinpoint it. It was, she reflected, like being fed a steady diet of her favourite chocolate only to find herself longing for cheese.

  That night she went home and read FLAME OF MY HEART from cover to cover but it offered her no answers.

  ~*~

  The huge bunch of roses had a card. “Have been called back to Singapore for meetings. Will have to cancel our weekend. Will ring when I get back. Until then…Love Tony”.

  As she arranged the roses tastefully in her biggest vase and set them on her coffee table, Sarah examined her feelings. A little disappointed perhaps but, oddly, not devastated, she concluded.

  She unpacked her overnight bag, placing the expensive, newly acquired, silk night-dress, the price of which had apparently been costed by the square inch, at the bottom of her drawer, changed into her sloppiest tracksuit bottoms and prepared for an evening with a bad movie.

  She had just curled up on the sofa with a cup of coffee when the doorbell rang. Stephen stood on the doorstep dressed in crumpled jeans and a tee shirt, so old the band had begun to fray. From the dark shadows under his eyes to the unshaven jaw line, he radiated misery.

  ‘Setting a new fashion in grunge wear?’ Sarah enquired.

  ‘Can I come in?’

  ‘Of course. Coffee?’

  He nodded and slumped down at the table, his head in his hands, while she busied herself in the kitchen. Even when she set the cup down in front of him he didn’t seem to notice.

  She sat down opposite him and forced a smile. ‘So, what’s up?’

  He gave a great shuddering sigh. ‘It’s Julie. I think she’s dumped me.’

  ‘Oh no. What did she say?’

  ‘Well nothing really. I asked her to marry me last Saturday and we ended up having this peculiar conversation. She told me I wasn’t being romantic enough and I should try and be more like Tony. I’ve hardly seen her all week and then when I rang her today she said me she was going to Sydney for the weekend. She had meetings with clients.’

  ‘And that means she’s dumped you?’

  He heaped sugar into his coffee and stirred it. ‘No. I popped into her office late this afternoon to say goodbye and her PA said that Julie didn’t have any meetings in Sydney. She had left work early saying she was going away with a friend for the weekend.’

  ‘Oh I see,’ Sarah took a thoughtful sip of her coffee which tasted strangely bitter. ‘Did she say where?’

  ‘Somewhere down on the coast.’

  ‘It wouldn’t be Airey’s Inlet?’
/>
  He looked up. ‘Yes that was it. She said the place they were staying was out of mobile range so she left an emergency number with her secretary. Only to be used in dire emergency under pain of death were her exact instructions.’ He looked up at Julie, his eyes stricken, ‘I think she’s gone with another man.’

  A cold, hard lump formed in the back of Sarah’s throat and she glanced at the vase of roses and uttered a short expletive that cast doubts on the parentage of both parties involved.

  ‘I’m fairly sure she’s gone with Tony.’ She pushed the card that had accompanied the roses across the table at him. He studied it for a moment and looked even more miserable.

  ‘Perhaps if I had been more romantic… but I don’t… I can’t… I’m not like that. What did she want from me, Sarah?’

  The naked misery in his face, made Sarah forget her own annoyance with her conniving swain. She put her hand over his, squeezing his fingers. ‘Believe me, Stephen, romance isn’t everything.’

  He sighed and his fingers tightened on hers. An unexpected tingle of warmth ran up her arm.

  She extricated her hand and stood up. ‘We can stay here and get depressed or we can go down to the Taj Mahal and eat a really hot curry.’

  He nodded and the ghost of a smile curled his lips. ‘Curry sounds good.’

  Over Chicken Tika and several bottles of beer, Sarah had her first real in depth conversation with Stephen. She discovered that he liked Art House movies and plays but never went to them because Julie hated them. He hated going to night-clubs but only went because Julie liked them. He asked, rather tentatively if she liked books and if she had read the latest Booker Prize Winner? Not all Sarah’s reading was confined to FLAME OF MY HEART and its ilk and he appeared surprised when she said she had. They discussed the book at length – she loved it, he hated it but they both conceded it was a modern masterpiece and couldn’t wait for the next book to appear. By the end of the evening they had agreed to see the new French film everyone was raving about.

  ~*~

  Sarah hummed as she dressed for the night out at the movies with Stephen. Logic told her it was just a night out with a friend, nothing special, but when the doorbell rang she almost bounded to answer it.

 
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