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Pride and Audacity — Part 2

Fiction: An impossible pairing—an improbable future

By Lynda CokerPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 18 min read
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Photo by naeim jafari on Unsplash

* .* .* .

Victoria retrieved the report she’d scattered. Moving back to the front of the desk, she positioned the folder on its surface and faced her father. To her surprise, she was not the focus of his interest. By the direction of his steady gaze, something behind her had preempted his attention.

An intense, itchy sensation skimmed along the surface of her arms. Icy fingers of intuition crawled down her spine. Something dangerous lurked behind her. “Ridiculous,” she whispered, then turned to prove her assertion.

An icon of masculinity leaned against the marble column framing her father’s office door. At first impression, he appeared as hard as the stone he complimented. Dressed completely in black, his suit, shirt, tie, and shoes cast him as an illusion of darkness silhouetted against the cold, white marble supporting him. Only the nut-brown color of his skin and the whites of his eyes softened the vignette.

He was definitely the source of energy abrading her nerves. His self-assured pose indicated she’d intruded on his domain instead of the opposite. The tingling sensation moved from her arms to her neck as he took an overlong length of time scrutinizing her. That he found her lacking in some way was obvious from the angle of his condescending brow. Any other man, having garnered her attention, would have the good manners to introduce himself — not this one.

She knew his type. Wall Street certainly had more than its fair share of them. Men who were not satisfied with just making money but relied on their good looks and gender to set themselves a notch above every female in their hallowed domain.

When his inventorying gaze began to map her body, ignoring him was no longer an option. For the millionth time, she deplored her 5'3" stature. Why couldn’t her fickle genes have made her a tall brunette with battle-brown, gladiator eyes? Men never challenged women with gladiator's eyes.

She lifted her chin and used her boardroom voice. “I’m sorry, but we’re not quite through here. If you’ll step back into the reception area, Miss Temple, our receptionist, will make you comfortable until Mr. Ballard is free.”

Her father cleared his throat and shot her a look questioning her sanity. Getting to his feet, he came around his desk and stepped between her and the intruder.

“Victoria, this is Rashid Davar. Rashid, this is my daughter, Victoria. Rashid was just leaving when you came through the door. In your haste, you didn’t see him.”

Victoria trained her eyes on the inky-black tie at the man’s throat. She didn’t want to see the smug satisfaction she knew would be in his eyes. However, she could not just stare at his throat for the next hour; she needed to do something to salvage the absurd situation.

Deciding on her course of action, she crossed the space between them, extended her fingers for the customary handshake, and pasted an obligatory smile on her frosted pink lips. “Please excuse my rudeness, Mr. Davar. I am, of course, pleased to meet you,” she said in a tone her etiquette teacher would have approved.

An awkward silence prevailed as she waited for a reply which was not forthcoming. When he pulled away from the marble column and straightened his stance, she realized she’d moved too close. Six foot plus of dominant male towered over her, forcing her to bend her head further and further back to make eye contact. She ordered her feet to stay put and returned his implacable look with one of her own.

Embarrassing heat crawled up her neck. The extension of his rudeness seemed to have no end as his unending silence threatened to swallow her. Without further thought, she shoved her tongue into action. “For some reason, Mr. Davar, you seem to have a problem talking with me. Therefore, to end this impolite silence, I’ll leave you to talk with Mr. Ballard.”

She pivoted to the right with the precision of a drill team cadet. Her lips curled in a gleeful smirk. Dismissing him gave her immense satisfaction. Behind her, a sharp exhalation sizzled from his lungs. One second later, a masculine hand grasped her wrist, halting her forward movement. His fingers drew her around until they stood positioned toe-to-toe.

The enforced nearness violated her space, sending her entire body into intruder alert. Her heart pounded against her chest. Lungs, which worked perfectly moments ago, now refused to fill with air. Her usual talent for articulation vanished. Then, she smelled him. Her nostrils flared, assailed by an unfamiliar, spice-tinged aroma. He didn’t smell like any of her male associates, not unpleasant, just different.

She risked a glance upward. He was all angles, lines, valleys and summits. When combined, they created a stunning and mesmeric vista. Not a thought she usually entertained about men, but there was no other way to describe tall, dark, and perfect. Shaken, she darted her eyes to the right and focused on the decorative molding framing the artwork on the wall behind him. Another slight tug and she stood an inch closer. His imperious action demanded her undivided attention. Antagonism simmered in her blood as she abandoned the molding and gave him what he wanted.

She intended to singe his arrogance with her derision. Instead, the compelling warmth of his smile confused her battle plan. In his eyes, tiny, amber flecks floated in ebony irises that beckoned her into their warmth. She followed their invitation, going still and compliant under his hand. At once, the amber flecks flared with blazing intensity as his gaze sank into the depth of her unguarded eyes. He breached her most shielded and intimate places without mercy or repentance. Like a specimen laid bare for inspection, she was helpless to prevent his appraisal. He leaned his upper body toward her, abruptly freeing her from his entrapping gaze. The moist heat of his breath caressed her cheek. His voice, smooth as black velvet, stroked her ear. “An angry woman…is one who begs for a man’s attention.”

The need for escape flashed like lightning across the synapses of her brain. This time, she yanked her arm back with more force. Unrelenting fingers refused her release. “Please let go of my arm.” The pleading tremor in her voice angered her beyond bearing. How dare he do this to her?

His smile sent shivers down her spine. It mocked her and sent a clear message. He was the one in control and there was little or nothing, she could do. “We have not concluded our introductions. I desire you to stay a little longer.”

Victoria spun her head toward her father. Was he going to do nothing? The shocked expression in his eyes mirrored hers. He remained speechless. She would have to deal with this insane person herself. She squinted through tightened eyelids, giving the lunatic a frozen stare as she searched for a withering retort. “Mr. Davar, are you completely demented? Who do you think you are?”

He smiled as if she’d just handed him the keys to the kingdom. “At the moment, I’m simply a man attempting to repair a momentary lapse in good manners.”

“Well, I don’t require an apology,” she stated through gritted teeth.

“I think you are mistaken. You are obviously a woman who requires a great deal.”

His calm reply made her want to scream. From somewhere in her childhood memories lept a sudden urge to hair pulling. If he kept this up she might just be reduced to the playground tactic. Then a more sickening reality dawned. To affect a dignified retreat, she would have to pacify him. “Fine, I accept your apology. Now, I have an appointment and I don’t wish to be late.”

His fingers loosened their grip and uncoiled, one at a time, until she was finally free of him. She repressed the urge to flee and took two dignified steps backward. The hateful hand which impeded her movements just moments earlier again reached in her direction, this time, stroking one finger across her wrist.

“There is a slight redness on your arm. I have imprinted my touch on your skin. If I hurt you, I most humbly beg your pardon.”

To be honest, he hadn’t hurt her at all. Although, the idea of him begging was one she could warm up to. Not dignifying his apology with an acceptance, she turned and walked away. Exiting her father’s office, she stalked across the reception area and entered her own, slamming the door behind her. Its solid mahogany surface lent her strength as she used it for a prop. Another five minutes in his presence and she’d have been reduced to tears. She would admit to being afraid of him if the mere thought were not abhorrent. Not afraid in a physical sense, but on a much deeper level. He was too tall, too dominant, and touched something in her which was shockingly sensitive.

* .* .*

In thoughtful silence, Rashid watched Victoria’s exit. No woman had ever dismissed him. In his world, women were gentle creatures whose courteous manner, founded on deep respect, never faltered. He reminded himself of the fact — he was not in his world. Here, this woman could rebuff him without consequence.

He mused. What would it cost him to own such a woman? Tempering her independence would take patience. Softening her aggressive nature would require a great deal of restraint. A surging desire pooled in his blood. It would cost him much to strip away her layers of resistance, to unveil the secret woman of the heart. She would not yield easily.

He was not a fool. Besides her vulnerability, he knew exactly what tempted him. Her defiance excited and challenged him. Some part of him wanted not to subjugate her spirit, but to hold the reins.

Possibilities spun and collided in his head. She was a contradiction to everything he considered acceptable. Why was he entertaining an unwise and unreasonable desire? Lacking a satisfactory answer, he bowed to a set of favorable circumstances. He could entertain such a desire because it was in his power to obtain. After all, hadn’t her father just offered her to him?

At an early age, he had acquired a nation and the power to command. He liked getting what he wanted. As the tenacious winds sculpted the sands of the desert, he also shaped his world. He saw no reason to change now. He would have her…because he could. Quarrelsome or not, she would belong to him.

Anticipation softened his lips as he walked toward Jacob to solidify his decision. “I have reconsidered your proposal, Jacob. I will accept both the Bashan land and your daughter.”

Rashid wasn’t sure whether the tentativeness in Jacob’s handshake was due to his physical weakness or sudden indecision. He added, “Your daughter will be safe within my household and her future will be secured.”

“Are you sure?” Doubt lurked in the quivering tremor of Jacob’s voice.

“Perfectly,” Rashid replied.

“May I ask why you’ve changed your mind?” Jacob queried with a furrowed brow.

Rashid contemplated Jacob’s question. He was not accustomed to having to explain his decisions. Perhaps the man wished to withdraw his proposal. A jagged edge of annoyance sharpened his words. “I did not seek you out, Jacob. You chose me. Is it not sufficient that I have agreed? Do you wish to withdraw your offer?”

“No. The offer stands.” Jacob swallowed and offered his hand.

“Then consider our agreement sealed,” Rashid said as he firmly shook hands with the father of his woman.

* * .*

Victoria knew she was surfacing and fought to stay in her dream world. The warm, sweet nothingness of sleep cocooned her in a cradling embrace far too pleasant to give up easily. Reluctantly, she Inched open one eye and let the other follow at its own sleepy pace. A soft, yellow sheet caressed her body while the sun edged its way through the slated window blinds, striping her with light. Its golden color matched the amber flecks in Rashid’s eyes. The humiliating memory shattered the tranquility of her morning and reminded her of where she was.

Applewood, a privately run orphanage, had become her secret sanctuary these last few months. It was a small institution that cared for children with special circumstances and needs. Considered high-risk by most prospective parents, the majority of the eighty-three children at Applewood would never fulfill their dream of having a family of their own.

As a young girl of twelve, she’d lost her mother. No doubt, this was why she’d developed an instant kinship with the children of Applewood. The developing image of her mother stirred an old memory of guilt. If she hadn’t insisted on taking ballet that summer, her mother would not have been driving her to practice; she would still be alive, along with her baby brother. The son her father always wanted would now be a thriving young teenager, and she would not have spent her life trying to make up for his loss.

Her initial visit to Applewood resulted from a business venture to secure a real estate acquisition for her father’s firm. At first sight, she’d fallen in love with the three-storied building of English Tudor design. Flowers bloomed everywhere, and English ivy loyally clung to the grayish, stone entryway. The arched entrance opened onto an inner courtyard. Vestiges of what was once a formal garden still lurked in rows of boxed hedges. Swings, slides, and a network of brightly colored tunnels now filled the spaces between shade trees and beds of peonies and gardenias.

On her first visit, she’d been making her way through the deserted playground when a child’s voice caught her attention. Searching for its owner, she’d found a little girl about four or five years of age sitting under a gnarled apple tree wearing denim overalls covered with bits of leaves and grass clippings. Cradled in her small hands were two ladybugs. In a tear-filled voice, she shared her sorrow with her little companions.

“Miss Vickey say you muff stay here. I twied but she say you can’t sleep in my bed. You muff go home to your family.”

Victoria remembered the little girl placing each ladybug on a single blade of grass. Then, with a soft nudge, she encouraged them to move. When they didn’t cooperate, she crossed her arms and waited. Only the quivering of her bottom lip was at odds with her patient vigilance. After several minutes, the two little bugs lifted their wings and flew away. The true measure of the child’s grief rang in her whispered words. “Where’s my family? When I go home?”

Those words triggered a remembered pain in Victoria and a yearning for comfort long unfulfilled. Her unguarded heart leapt to bond with the precious child. Before she could make her presence known, another voice, a woman’s, called to the little girl. Talli, as she was named, rolled onto her stomach and pushed herself to her knees, exposing the braces encasing her little legs. With considerable awkwardness, she stood and shuffled out of sight.

Victoria hadn’t pursued the property deal her father wanted. The world could certainly do without another shopping mall. In fact, she was probably Applewood’s biggest financial supporter. Over the last six months, a growing attachment to four of its eighty-three children kept drawing her back like a magnet. Surprised and baffled by the strength of her affection, she’d decided to keep this part of her life private. No one, including her best friend and her father, knew of her involvement with Applewood and its children.

Image by Ernesto Pasini from Pixabay

The sound of scampering feet ended her moody reflections. Applewood was waking up. The enticing smell of cinnamon reminded her stomach of the supper she’d missed the night before.

Sliding her feet to the floor, she headed for the shower. The steamy water did its job, easing away the tension in her body and washing hurtful memories from her mind. She entered the dining room to find the room empty except for Mr. Tryon, one of the janitors. She gave him a warm smile as he greeted her.

“Morning, Miss Ballard. Expect you’re wondering where the children are?”

“Yes, aren’t they usually here at this time?”

“Sure are. They’d be about halfway through the cinnamon rolls by now.” He chuckled. “Can’t say as I blame them…” The man’s voice trailed away as if losing himself in thoughts of hot, sweet, butter-drenched cinnamon rolls.

Her stomach voiced its agreement in a low, hungry rumble.

“You’ll find them all out on the back lawn, Miss Ballard. Today is what they call their Green Day, so they’re eating with the trees and grass and such.”

Victoria wasn’t sure she understood what Green Day meant, but at least she had a clue where the children were. “Thanks for your help, Mr. Tryon. I’ll just head in that direction.”

“Sure thing, Miss Ballard. You’d better hurry, though. Those little ones can eat a mountain of rolls before the dew dries.”

She made her way down the back corridor of the building and stepped out onto a massive lawn where a breakfast picnic was underway. White bath towels served as sitting mats for eighty plus children who, by the sound of laughter, were enjoying their picnic with the vegetation.

Talli was the first to spot her arrival. Her shouts of “Toria, Toria” shook the leaves on the grove of birch trees surrounding the lawn. Victoria knelt to receive the hugs she’d become accustomed to, giving back squeeze for squeeze until the little girl, sufficiently cuddled, pulled back. By then she had attracted a circle of other children wanting to share in the hugging ceremony. As much as she wanted breakfast, she knew these children had a more important hunger that needed satisfying first. Reaching out, she filled her arms with their little bodies.

“Come now, children,” said Applewood’s headmistress, Mrs. Stratton. “Give Miss Victoria a little air; you’re going to hug her to death.” The children squealed in delight at Mrs. Stratton’s joke and scampered back to their towels and breakfast.

“I think you might be safe now, Miss Ballard. Let me help you up.”

Victoria took the woman’s outstretched hand. Despite her advanced age and silver hair, she was sturdy and vibrant as the stately birch trees guarding the lawn’s perimeter. With a robust tug, Victoria was pulled to her feet.

“I noticed you had signed in last night, and I knew you’d be looking for some breakfast sooner or later. Come over by the gazebo; we have some chairs set up for us older folks.”

Victoria followed her hostess to the meditation garden where six other staff members greeted her as they approached. She and Mrs. Stratton filled the last two remaining chairs.

“I’ve wanted to talk to you, Miss Ballard, and this is a perfect opportunity. You’ve been so good to the children, and your financial support has enabled us to make several needed improvements to the infirmary and the kitchens. We are very grateful.”

“I am happy to do what I can. You know I fell in love with this place when I first came here. Anything I do is small in comparison with what you and your staff accomplish.”

“I don’t wish to be presumptuous, Miss Ballard, but I’ve noticed your particular interest in four of our children. This is what concerns me, and why I’m taking this opportunity to talk with you. The four children I speak of are beginning to see you as their exclusive property. Are you aware of this?”

“Yes, I am. Does this present a problem?”

“A child, especially an abandoned or orphaned one, can sometimes put their own implication on simple acts of kindness. They tend to make more of the gesture than is there. I don’t wish to see these children suffer another loss…”

“You need to say no more, Mrs. Stratton. I understand what you’re saying and this is my fault for not discussing my intentions with you earlier. I don’t wish to make excuses, but I have only recently made a decision myself. Perhaps I could come by your office tomorrow morning and discuss this at length?”

“You would be most welcome. Now, I’ve taken enough of your time and kept you from your breakfast. You join the children and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.”

* .* .*

Rashid concentrated on controlling the powerful compilation of metal and technology beneath his hands as he piloted his jet several thousand feet over the Mediterranean. He wished controlling his chaotic thoughts were as easy. A woman who, only yesterday, was no more than a recurring image now laid siege to his life. She had not lowered her eyes in seductive enticement nor tipped the corners of her mouth with sweet, sensuous encouragement. On the contrary, the diminutive blonde beauty with flashing azure eyes challenged him with the boldness of a man. Regardless, she was but a woman, one he could not entrust to another.

Bedouin blood raced through his veins and flared red-hot like the desert sunset on the horizon before him. He banked the jet. It shuddered, as if in resistance, then surrendered to his touch. Was it not the same with a man and a woman? Acquiring a wife was the last thing he had expected when accepting Jacob Ballard’s request for a business meeting in New York. Now, sealing the marriage agreement was the driving force behind his every thought. He’d left the arrangements in Jacob’s control with one stipulation of his own…speed. Jacob requested six weeks. Rashid allowed him three.

To be continued...

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About the Creator

Lynda Coker

Grab a chair, turn a page, and read a while with me. I promise to tap lightly on my keyboard so we both can stay immersed in our world of words.

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