Chapter 1 One Enchanted Evening
The room spun, the warm golds of the walls and drapes swirling into a blur because all I saw were the blue eyes of my dancing partner. I was not as great a dancer as he, but as long as I didn’t look at my feet or think about what I was doing, I was good enough. As if we had practiced for hours, my body knew what his would do next. He smiled his approval, or flipped up an eyebrow when I followed his complicated lead into a move he might have designed for me to miss, perhaps testing my waltz skills, or even social graces if I failed and landed on my butt on the floor. He was a hot shot movie director with a reputation. I was a nobody with a new little fortune.
“We deserve a drink after that,” Charlie Winston declared. “And a breath of fresh air.” On the way to the patio, he ordered a scotch, neat. I asked for ice water.
“So, Lily Mayfield,” he said as we strolled a path along a golf course at the Phoenician Resort. “Do you live in Scottsdale?”
“No.” Dancing seemed easier than conversing. “But I used to live in Litchfield Park, in the West Valley here.”
“Maybe that’s why I never noticed you before.”
“I was married then.”
“That never stopped me from noticing a beautiful woman.”
“Maybe you’re not as observant as you imagine.”
He laughed. “Touché! One point for you.”
And none for you, fancy movie director.
“Where would I have to go to find you gracing the streets with your beauty and charm?”
“Would I have to fight off any knights sworn to protect you?”
Now I laughed. “No. But my daughter might have a few questions for you. She can be quite formidable.”
“She must be as lovely as you.”
“Even more so.”
“That’s hard to imagine.”
A dozen ways to refute that compliment fought for my tongue, but I let his words scent the air with a rare sweetness. “Thank you.”
He stopped and with a lopsided smile, looked at me. “You’re not going to disagree with me so I have to think up more to convince you of your loveliness?”
“It would have been normal for me to do that, but I suspect you have a pile of lines to refer to.”
“I’m that transparent to you, Lily Mayfield?”
“Charlie Winston, I don’t get out much, but even I recognize a player when I see one.”
He set his empty glass on some kind of utility box and swept his fingers along my cheeks and into my hair. “For once I truly regret being seen like that. For once I wish I was as innocent as you.”
As if I was a new species, his eyes searched mine as my heart’s pounding grew louder in my ears. This kind of attention from a man I wasn’t used to, and I wanted to run away before my curiosity betrayed me. Even though I trembled, I stayed and put one of my hands on his.
There was enough light to see questions pass through his eyes, then doubts, then a longing that went beyond lust. It was like mine, a desire to be known and loved without conditions and limitations.
My chest burned, and I remembered what it had felt like to fall in love with my husband many years ago. As much as I wanted to fall again, I closed my eyes against his and the invitation they now held. His lips brushed mine and his hands dropped to my bare shoulders.
“I’m not right for you, Lily. I wish I was, but I’ve never been that man. But let me pretend for the rest of the evening, that I am a good man who can make a pure woman like you happy.”
“You don’t know what kind of woman I am.” I threw my shoulders back in what little defiance I could think up.
“I know you’re not the kind of woman I’m used to. I’m glad you’re not. You’re lovely and refreshing and don’t want anything from me.”
“I don’t even know what you have to offer. Besides…”
“No, not that. Not you. Not tonight.”
I was pretty sure I knew what he meant, but like I’d told him, I really didn’t get out much. My husband had been my one and only until the destruction of my marriage that took several ugly years to play out. But I granted that stranger his fantasy because he was giving me mine. For once in my life I was desirable and beautiful and with someone who somehow knew a part of me I’d never shown the world.
We danced until the orchestra stopped, although Charlie shared me with his young actor friend David, and Grant the husband of his good friend Sophie St. Pierre, a well-known actress. He partnered with Wendy so I could dance with her husband Doug, my late husband’s employer and now my benefactor who had invited me to the fund raising gala. Charlie did most of the talking, which was fine by me. His experiences traveling to make his popular movies were much more appealing than the tales of a formerly pudgy sixth grade teacher, for that was what I had been.
The inevitable last danced arrived, a slow one. We were one of the few couples left, but unlike the waltz where we used much of the floor, this one kept us wrapped up together. I decided to ponder the oddness of that later so I could immerse myself in the strength of his arms around me and the sound of his heart in my ear. He shuddered and sniffed once or twice, but I didn’t want to embarrass him by looking up. Emotion leaked from me, too.
Finally, at the end, I had to look at him and his red-rimmed eyes. He had a secret, a sadness, the details of which he would never share with me.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Sometimes,” I said, “it’s good to say nothing and just quietly accept the gift.”
He drew his thumb along my jaw. “You’re a wise woman, Lily Mayfield.”
“I suppose I have my moments.”
The resort’s staff started tossing looks at those of us who remained as they stripped the tables. Charlie walked me to the entrance, and I called for my car. While we waited in a corner under a magical archway of lighted palm trees, he said, “Please allow me to tell you what your name reminds me of.”
“Sure,” I said, amused, “but only if it’s lovely.”
“It is.” He drew the backs of his long fingers against my cheek as he began. “There was an abandoned property near my home when I was a boy. Years before a house fire had killed the family who lived there, and the heirs never sold or rebuilt on it. But every year in April and May, it filled with orange day lilies. And misfit that I was, every year I would go there at least once and walk through the flowers. It was a wonderland to me.”
“That is lovely, Charlie. Thank you.”
His eyes again took me in and sent something out. Just before he kissed me, he closed them, shifting his expression to his lips. It started soft and slow, but I was surprised to realize I was ready. There were no feelings of shock or guilt or ineptitude to push away. I let his lips explore me, then his tongue. I whimpered at the pleasure, something I had not expected from the evening. He intensified exactly when I wanted him to. Like the dance, he seemed to know how to bring out the best of me.
His embrace tightened, and I managed to grab a breath. His hand rounded my head, knocking hair from the pins onto my shoulder, adding to the luxurious sensations I already drowned in. He pressed my body to his, lowering his head and bending me backwards a little. My neglected womanly parts sang in response, a glorious chorus of pulsating warmth and well-being. Pulling from everywhere, hot blood surged creating goose bumps in the cool air, embarrassing evidence of deep delight.
Although part of me knew it was there, of course, his erection pressed against my abdomen unsettled me. I swear I moaned, “No,” when he loosened his hold and stepped back, his lips still remaining on mine. I wondered what it would be like to sleep with him, to feel him inside me, to hear him say, “I love you,” even if he didn’t mean it.
As Charlie stepped back, he fingered my hair. “I got carried away. I’m sorry.” He dragged a thumb over his lips.
“I’m not. I’ll remember it forever.”
“You give me too much credit.”
“In my life, I’m sure I’m not giving you enough.”
There came another one of those looks that hit my core. “You underestimate yourself, Lily. The world had yet to see the depths of your talents.”
“A few dances, a great kiss, and you know me?” But what he said touched a truth in me.
“I’m trained to see things in people and to bring them out. For whatever reason, you have buried your passions. Sexuality being just one.” He smiled and took a business card and pen from an interior pocket of his tuxedo jacket. He jotted a phone number and tucked the card between my dress and breast. “Call me from Philadelphia sometime.”
“Get hers, too!” His friend Sophie had seen him do that.
“Right!” he said, the spell of only us broken. He took out his phone, tapped and swiped it, handed it to me. I pressed in my phone number and returned it.
Sophie beamed like Charlie had just said, “I do.” Nearby, David drew his hand through his dark curls, snickered, and shook his head.
When Doug and Wendy appeared, I said, “Thank you again for everything. I felt like a fairy-tale princess all evening, goofy as that may sound.”
“It’s been my pleasure,” Doug said, including a loose hug. “You and your daughter can relax and enjoy life now.”
Raw emotion pulled my hands to my face to cover it. If only that could be true.
“You all right?” Charlie whispered.
Nodding, plastering on a large smile, I hoped I could shake the newly awoken grief. “Here’s my car.”
More handshakes and hugs and it-was-great-to-meet-yous, and I found myself seated in the car. “Call me if you ever get to the east coast,” I said quietly to Charlie as he carefully tucked my dress into the car.
“Farewell, Princess Lily Mayfield.” He kissed my hand and closed the door with a resolute thunk.
A little later in my hotel room, after I removed the dress and all the other artifices that had created the very temporary Princess Lily Mayfield. I picked up the small box Doug had given me that morning in his office after he handed me a check for an insurance settlement and proclaimed me a multi-millionaire.
“These are some things of Mike’s we found in his truck and in his office here,” Doug solemnly said. “I’m so sorry about what he did to himself. I tried to help, but he…” Regret shadowed his voice.
“I understand,” I said. “Thank you for being his friend. And for being mine.”
I didn’t open the box that night. It had been over a year since the nightmare that had been my marriage ended by Mike’s suicide. I had found blame and guilt in that time, and had lost God and hope.
A little of Charlie Winston’s magic remained with his scent on my skin. It would be gone with the light of morning, but I didn’t want to chase it away. Closing my eyes, I pictured a slender brown haired boy in a sea of tall orange flowers, walking arms outstretched and alone.