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Authors: Joss Wood

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

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BOOK: Proposal in Room 309
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Joely bit her lip and felt frustration with herself. You’re looking for ghosts where there aren’t any, she told herself. You’re having a major over-reaction here, blowing everything out of proportion. Get a grip, you idiot.

She would, Joely assured herself, as soon as she managed to dissolve the ball of anxiety lodged deep in her duodenum.

***

Standing at the vanity, in front of the massive mirror in the bathroom Joely pulled her long hair into a twist and anchored it with a couple of pins she held in her mouth. Standing in her black strapless bra and panties, she saw Ben lean one shoulder into the frame of bathroom door, his black tie hanging against his white dress shirt.

‘I can’t believe that we have reservations for the restaurant here,’ Joely said, swiping blush across her cheeks.

‘Food and sex, two of your favourite things,’ Ben replied. He folded his arms and crossed one ankle over the other. ‘Are you happy, Jo?’

Surprised at the out of the blue question, Joely jammed her mascara wand into her eye. ‘Ow, dammit, ow…hell.’

She slapped the palm of her hand over her eye and cursed, knowing that she’d smeared the eye shadow she’d carefully applied to get those smoky eyes that were all the rage at the moment.

‘Dammit, Ben…you have to give me some warning if you’re going to ask a question like that.’ Joely grabbed a cotton wool pad - thank you Chatsfield housekeeping! - and swiped it across her eye.

‘I didn’t ask you to donate a kidney, I just asked you if you were happy,’ Ben retorted.

‘You know I am.’ Joely wiped away the mess and picked up the eye shadow to start again. ‘Why would you even doubt that?’

‘Do you want to change anything, mix things up a bit? Add something new?’

If she angled her head she could see the edge of the bed, the now very messy bed. The pillows were on the floor, her feet had been on the headboard at one point, the covers were a tangled mess. Joely sucked in a deep breath. Oh boy…they had a pretty inventive sex life but that was all it was…creative. Inventive. Different positions, a little this, some of that but nothing that she couldn’t handle and nothing she felt uncomfortable with. She’d read her fair share of the bondage books that were now popular - who hadn’t? - and while it was titillating, she really didn’t want to go that far. She was a doctor, she knew what could go wrong…God, she’d retrieved things that got stuck, treated heart attacks after sex. No, she’d keep doing it the way God intended…with a little variation here and there.

Where was he going with that question and did she want to go there?

‘Earth to Joely?’

Joely shook her head. ‘A threesome is out, so are whips, chains and butt plugs. I might consider role playing if it wasn’t weird.’

Ben sent her a I-have-an-alien-standing-in-my-bathroom look. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘Sex.’ Joely replied, confused. ‘What are
you
talking about?’

‘Not threesomes and bondage or…flipping butt plugs. God.’ Ben started pulled on the ends of his tie, flipped them over and let out a huge sigh. His eyes met hers in the mirror and he shook his head. ‘For a super-smart woman you can be extraordinarily dense sometimes, Doc.’

Joely turned around and watched him walk away, non-plussed at their conversation. What did she do and where, exactly, did she lose track of this conversation?

Chapter Four

There was something about walking into a restaurant with a stunning woman on your arm and having everyman present turn to look and look again. So his ego liked it, Ben thought on an internal shrug, so sue him. He was a man and just a couple of evolutionary steps up from grunting ’she’s mine‘. Was that another reason why he wanted his ring on her finger, as a physical representation of ownership? He’d never believed in the concept of a woman as a possession but when male eyes bounced between her impressive cleavage in that sexy black cocktail dress and her long, slim legs and her knock-the-breath-away face, he could make a case for it.

Joely’s hot factor aside, he had work to do tonight. Serious work, important work - planning-the-rest-of-their-lives work. He was determined, one way or the other, that Joely would end up wearing his ring tonight…

Over supper he would broach the subject again and this time he wouldn’t beat around the bush like he had earlier. They would have a rational, adult conversation and he would talk her round. Hell, he negotiated deals and contracts on three continents, surely he could talk his lover into making their live-in arrangement a little more structured, a great deal more permanent?

Ben slipped his hand inside his jacket and touched the box holding her ring. He wasn’t picky, if he saw a weakening in her defences or any opening to get it on her finger, he’d take it. It was galling to admit that begging wasn’t out of the question either.

Having been raised by his aimless father, he was a product of a single parent home and he wanted his offspring to have a mother and he wanted to raise his kids in the most secure environment he could, which he believed was marriage.

But, at the end of the day, it was all about Joely; smart, opinionated, full of integrity. Having her in his life, as his companion for the rest of his life, would make him…well, better. Bolder. The best version of himself.

Joely’s tug on his arm pulled him back to the opulent restaurant. Both Joely and the maître d were looking quizzical. ‘Sorry, what did I miss?’ he asked.

‘Do you have a reservation, Sir?’

Ben greeted the maitre d, absently gave his name and followed as they were led to a corner table in the black and white and silver restaurant. Yeah, this was what he imagined; tables draped in Egyptian linen and precisely dressed with heavy, sparkling cutlery and glasses. Massive black and white abstract photographs decorated the walls, cleverly placed. Rich, classy, opulent.

And they hadn’t even looked at the menu yet.

‘Oh this is just fabulous, Ben. Wow! I’m overwhelmed and touched that you’ve organised all this for my birthday.’

Ben pulled out Joely’s chair and took his. Her birthday…right. He’d momentarily forgotten that she thought that they were there to celebrate her birthday and he twisted his lips. Maybe he should delay this whole proposing thing to a more suitable time. You’re in a beautiful, romantic restaurant that is world class and you are spending the night in a lavish suite that is made for romance. When exactly are you going to find a more suitable place and time, Duncan? You are looking for a delaying tactic, he mocked himself, and that’s a pathetic excuse to delay the inevitable.

‘Ben?’

Joely’s hand smacking his yanked him back to the present. ‘What?’ he asked, looking confused.

‘The sommelier is asking whether we’d like some wine.’

Wine, God, of course. Wake up, Duncan! ‘Sorry…wine, of course.’ He looked at his lover. ‘Would you like a red or would you prefer some champagne as we are celebrating?’

‘Champagne please.’ Joely’s dimples deepened as she smiled.

‘Excellent. I have a new dry champagne in that I highly recommend.’

Ben nodded. He couldn’t remember the name of a single champagne at the moment if his head was on the line. ‘That sounds great.’

‘May I be so bold as to enquire what the celebration is? Honeymoon, anniversary, engagement?’

A look of surprised horror passed across Joely’s face; well, there was a hint that she wasn’t in the same place as him with regard to marriage. Hell, she wasn’t even on the same planet! Joely jumped into the ensuing, awkward silence. ‘Um…it’s my birthday.’

‘Then happy birthday, my dear.’ The sommelier bowed once and backed away.

Joely looked at the extensive place settings and scratched the back of her neck. Why was Ben looking like a thunder cloud because that nice man had asked them what they were celebrating. It wasn’t like it was a state secret. And what was with his long silences and wafting off to Never Never land every so often? What was going on with him?

There was only one way to find out….

‘Ow.’ Ben rubbed the skin on his hand that she had pinched. ‘What was that for?’

‘What is going on with you?’ she hissed. ‘You’re acting weird and I want it to stop!’

‘What?’

Oh, she recognised that look. It was the same innocent look he tried to pull when he ’forgot‘ to pack the dishwater or make the bed.

‘I’m not falling for it…what is wrong with you?’

‘Nothing. Why are you even asking?’

‘Well, you were super-intense during round two and you didn’t kiss my stomach or tell me that you love me and you always do and then you asked the weird sex question-‘

‘I wasn’t asking you for weird sex, I wasn’t even talking about sex!’ Ben’s protest was followed by a wince as several heads turned in their direction and eyebrows lifted. ‘I’m just trying to give you a nice evening for your birthday.’

Joely’s face softened. ‘And I’m grateful. Thank you. But I can’t help thinking that you’re distracted. Is something worrying you at work?’

Ben shook his head. ‘No, work is fine...no worries.’

‘And we’re fine?’ Joely sucked in a breath waiting for his answer.

Ben couldn’t fake that amount of surprise and the coil of anxiety unwound a notch. His hand encircled her wrist and his thumb brushed her pulse point. ‘You are still the reason the sun - and other things - rises for me in the morning.’

Joely’s lips twitched. ‘Good to know. I love you, you know.’

‘Love you back, babe.’

Joely rested her chin in the palm of her hand. ‘Love the photographs on the wall.’

Ben tipped his head to look at the wall above them. ‘I heard that they are by Ignatius, a brilliant Spanish photographer. Apparently the management use the restaurant as a canvas for art and artists and the display is changed every three months.’

‘I wouldn’t mind one of his photographs. The whirlpool one behind you is stunning,’ Joely stated.

‘I’d buy you one but, apart from the fact that these were all sold the first night they were unveiled, each piece is worth more than a decent-sized house.’

Joely’s mouth dropped open. ‘Seriously? Each one?’

‘Ignatius is a serious artist and while he takes thousands of images for his shows which he only holds every five years, only about twenty five are deemed to meet his ludicrously high standards. Scarcity plus brilliance translates into a big price tag.’

Huh, Joely thought. Guess I won’t own an Ignatius photo any time soon. Oh well, at least I get to look at them while I eat some seriously good food.

Ben shifted in his seat and Joely watched as his face turned sober. Here we go again, she thought on an internal sigh. She just wished that he’d spit it out and put her out of her misery.

‘I’d like to rephrase the question from earlier and let me make this clear and say that this has nothing to do with sex. Is there anything you’d like changed between us?’

Joely frowned. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Are you happy with this us living together…the status quo? I mean, do you want kids, a house in the suburbs, a…dog?’

A dog? Joely was fairly sure that he’d been about to say something else but substituted dog at the last moment. Was he trying to ask, in a very non-Ben, beating around the bush type of way whether she wanted to get hitched?

The problem with being very outspoken was that sometimes those opinions came back to bite you in the ass, Joely thought. When she’d met Ben, she’d been virulently anti-marriage, anti the institution. Living with him, loving him, had softened her outlook… marginally. She was still sure that she didn’t want to get married but she knew that she wanted him to ask her.

Hey, she was a girl, she was allowed to be irrational. Sue her. It was a nice fantasy but she would hate to see Ben asking her and her having to say no. That would kill her and change the essence of who they were, what they were.

Joely tapped her finger against the blindingly white tablecloth not knowing what to say, how to say it without hurting him. She’d rather give herself a colonoscopy than hurt him… This was too important to muck up, too crucial to blurt out the words she wanted to say without making sure that they were perfectly phrased.

‘I love our life, Ben…I love you….but…’

‘This merlot is off. It’s oxidized.’

Both she and Ben turned at the loud, bumptious voice from the florid man at the table next to them. The sommelier stood next to his small, bird-like wife who looked excruciatingly embarrassed. The doctor in Joely scanned the man. Veins in his nose, too much alcohol. Nicotine-stained fingers, a smoker. Ridiculously obese, high blood pressure and probably cholesterol through the roof. A heart attack about to happen…Joely fervently hoped that it wasn’t tonight.

The thought of giving him CPR made her want to gag.

The sommelier took the glass of wine and lifted an eyebrow. “May I taste it?”

From the annoyance that flickered in his eyes, Joely could immediately tell that there was nothing wrong with the wine. “I can’t pick up what the problem is but, if you insist, I will endeavour to find you another bottle. You do realize that this is an exceptionally rare vintage…’

‘That is an amazingly stupid question. Obviously, I want a fresh bottle.”

‘Sir, I have thirty years’ experience and I assure you that the wine is as it should be. In fact, it is glorious.”

‘It is gloriously oxidised. Bring me another! In fact, bring me something else!’

The sommelier’s nose lifted. ‘Must I bring the wine list again, sir?’

‘No, just bring me whatever your thirty years’ experience says is good.’ Heart Attack Ahead waved him off.

‘Bet you that he goes to the kitchen, re-corks the bottle and brings him the same bottle,’ Ben whispered across the table.

‘I hope he chooses the cheapest bottle and charges him a bomb,’ Joely replied.

‘These guys are consummate professionals and they’d never risk their reputation by doing anything untoward. Pity because he could do with having some laxatives slipped into his drink,’ Ben said and leaned back in his chair. ‘So, Doc, time to fish or cut bait.’

‘I’ve never understood that saying…what exactly does it mean?’ Joely demanded, wrinkling her nose. The sommelier approached their table with a champagne bottle in his hand. Joely flashed him a smile and demanded to know if he had an explanation.

BOOK: Proposal in Room 309
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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