Maybe it was the very large, professional-looking camera that hung from my neck. Maybe it was my approachable look. A petite woman with blonde hair in a jaunty ponytail wearing dark blue skinny jeans, tall black riding boots and a black cashmere sweater is anything but threatening. Maybe it was because I couldn’t stop smiling due to the handsome Australian at my side, but as we walked along the park’s alley no less than four different groups of people walked up to us, handed me their camera and asked me to take their picture. I obliged, directing them on position and smile techniques and reshooting when the digital display showed anything less than the ideal. Ian praised me with each capture.
“You’re so patient with them,” he said with a question in his voice.
“Well yes, of course. I have the ability to help. Why wouldn’t I?” I responded with a slight frown.
“It’s just different. That’s all.”
I didn’t question him further.
Ian and I strolled under the giant live oaks to another historic home, went inside and bought tickets to the next tour—which would begin shortly—and went to the porch to wait for the guide. Placing a hand on the black wrought iron railing, I walked up two of the front steps, turned and leaned against a large white column. Ian remained on the ground, draped his large frame on the other side of the railing and leaned in towards me. We were almost eye-level, and less than two feet apart when I looked up and met his steady gaze. His eyes were a tawny hazel, flecked with bright blues and greens and framed with thick dark lashes.
“Oh my,” I whispered.
“Yeah,” he drawled softly in agreement.
Ian shifted his weight, bringing his face even closer to mine, never breaking the eye contact. Just as I was certain he was going to kiss me, a small group of people joined us, ending the moment. We both smiled, acknowledging what had almost happened without saying a word.
“All right folks, let’s get this thing started,” said a stocky, balding man who looked to be of Italian decent, “I’m your ringmaster for this show.”
We had made it to the second floor of the two hundred and fifty year old mansion when our Bronx-accented guide singled out Ian.
“Hey you, big guy in the back,” he said in a gravelly voice, “Do me a favor and grab the knob on that door.”
Ian bent and grasped the low-mounted handle as he was bid and then the guide explained how people in general had been much shorter two centuries ago, hence the seemingly unusual knob height.
“Now, would your lovely wife please demonstrate?”
Ian and I just looked at each other, stunned. Had he said wife? Our pause must have queued the ringmaster.
“Or fiancé or girlfriend, whatever you call the beautiful blonde at your side.”
Ian stepped back from the door and I took his place, putting my hand on the smooth antique brass sphere. I can’t tell you what the guide said after that, because in the next moment Ian slid his hand from my shoulders down to the small of my back, claiming me with his body language. I leaned into his arm while looking up and smiling at him, accepting his touch, his claim and was completely unaware of anything or anyone else in the room.
“Well that was interesting,” Ian laughed when we had exited the home at the tour’s conclusion.
“Yes, it never occurred to him that we might not be together,” I mused.
“Well I do have to say, walking in and then leaving married is a pleasant surprise,” he joked.
“Well this is definitely the way to go darling.” I said cheekily, “Vegas for the quickie marriage is soooo overdone.”
He laughed heartily and then said, “Well, where would you like to have dinner?”
I stopped laughing.
“You are going to have dinner with me, aren’t you?” he said, suddenly unsure of himself. “I’m sorry if I was presumptuous, it just never occurred to me that we wouldn’t.”
I gathered my thoughts.
“Well, you see, I already have dinner reservations,” I explained.
“Oh,” he said. “And you’re meeting someone.”
“No, no it isn’t that at all. I would love for you to join me as eating alone gets quite monotonous. But there’s just one small problem.”
“What’s the problem?” he asked, brightening somewhat.
“Umm, I’m not sure how to put this, except to say that it’s rather a nice place. And you can’t wear that,” I said, gesturing toward his black tracksuit. “I won’t be wearing jeans, so I’ll have to change as well.”
He let out a relieved laugh and said, “Of course! I was expecting to clean up. How shall we do this?”
“The restaurant is actually on the property where I’m staying, so it makes the most sense for us to go to your place first, let you change and then drive to my hotel to let me do the same.”
“Well let’s go!”
Our easy, lighthearted conversation never missed a beat on the drive to his hotel. I was determined to ignore how brazen I had been with my suggestion. I had known this man for less than five hours and had suggested we go together to his room while he changed. This just wouldn’t do. As he put the car in park I sat with my head down and ungracefully blurted out my worries.
“I’m sorry. I was frightfully forward. I didn’t mean to be. I’ll just wait here.”
He covered my hands, which rested on my lap, with his own.
“If you did this with anyone else I’d be furious and would launch into a sermon about safety and all that. But you’re not with anyone else. You’re with me. And I didn’t think you were being forward at all.”
“Really?” I asked, seeking reassurance. “After I said it I realized how my suggested plan could be construed… and… well…”
“Well you did surprise me,” he admitted, “but then I remembered I was in a suite with a sitting room and there would be no need for it to be awkward.”
So across the parking lot, up the elevator and down the carpeted hall we went until he paused at room 418, slid his key into the slot and unlocked the door.