Sweet Velvet Valentine
by Tina Hess
The first time I saw him, I was downtown with my best friend Lidia. Her arm was looped in mine; she rattled on about coffee beans and the color of a dress her cousin gave her. Brown. Both were brown, but I couldn’t figure out what one had to do with the other. Except maybe Lidia looked good in brown. The blouse she wore was the color of chocolate. It seemed to match her eyes, and highlight her golden blonde hair. She was beautiful. No wonder he was staring at us.
He sure wasn’t looking at me. Lidia’s last minute idea to go shopping had given me only minutes to get ready. My brown hair was pulled back into a ratty looking ponytail and the jogging suit I wore looked appropriate for a second hand shop, not a trip to Saks. But it was Lidia, and with the exception of cutting off my right arm I would do anything for her.
“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing my eyes in his direction. Perhaps he was one of Lidia’s ‘little black book’ men. He was leaning against the old Carmine Theater, taking long, slow drags off a cigarette while he stared at us. The white oxford and dark blue pants clung to his muscular frame; his sandy brown hair lifted from his head like a feather against the breeze. “Damn, he’s good looking.”
“There are so many idiots in the city, Sarah, it’s hard telling which psychopath he is,” Lidia muttered, “cute or not.” She let go of my arm and held the door to Saks open for me. “You first, darling.” A kiss blew from her lips in my direction. “Don’t let him scare you. If he’s making you uneasy, we’ll go out the Main Street exit when we leave.”
I smiled, catching her kiss in my hand and placing it on my cheek. Affection meant nothing between us; we had been friends since childhood, but I couldn’t help but think how it must look to men. The man by the theater, in particular. Maybe that was why he looked twice. He wasn’t the first guy to assume Lidia and I were lovers. She treated me like a fragile bird, always looking out for me in much the way a big sister would. Anyone that knew Lidia well knew she had men circling her porch steps and that there was always one in her bed. She loved men, as did I; she just had better luck attracting them.
“What do you think?” she asked, leading me through the maze of cosmetics, women’s outerwear, and lingerie on the way back to the shoe department. “I’m going to wear my midnight blue and white dress tonight when David takes me to the Valentine’s Day party. You know the dress I’m talking about, don’t you? What kind of shoes do you think I ought to get? What color? It’s spring so maybe I should get white-- do you think that would be okay?” Lidia picked up a pump from off the shelf, holding it up to the light and examining it from every angle. “I don’t know. The blue would match my dress, but the heel is too square for my taste. Makes my ankles look fat.”
If she had given me more time to get ready, I would have worn the black dress that made my wide hips look a little narrower. I would have curled my hair and put just a dab of make-up over my freckles. The Carmine Theatre guy looked like he walked off the page of a magazine. There wasn’t any way he was looking at me. His clothes looked as if they were tailored for his body; his shirt hugged his biceps, stretching over his chest, and straightening over his belly before disappearing into his pants. No, that theater guy could have any woman he wanted. Any other day, maybe I could have caught his eye, but not today, not looking like a bag lady.
“You just bought a pair of shoes to go with that dress when you were seeing Bill last week,” I told her, watching as she tried on a pair of sneakers off the clearance rack.
“These would look amazing with my new jeans!” Lidia stood up, twisting her foot in different directions in front of the mirror. “I really shouldn’t buy these, but they are cute, don’t you think? John’s sister had a pair kind of like these when we went to that amusement park last month, and I just thought they were so adorable.”
David. Bill. John. She rattled off men’s names like most recited their ABC’s. There was never one that stood out in her mind or heart, not even on Valentine’s Day. My thoughts remained on the guy in front of the theater. He looked more like a Rex or a Lang - tall and looming, defined facial features that were chiseled in the image of the gods. He was just a man, though, and one with a staring problem. Yet there was something in his gaze that had captured me. He was handsome, so alluring, that it made every feminine corner of my body tingle. The more I replayed the scene, the more it unraveled my good-girl conscience. I shuffled from one foot to the other, trying to ease the ache tugging between my legs.
That was it. I had to see him again. I had to see the beautiful man I couldn’t get out of my head. Then I thought about my last lover, Paul; the gangly man whose turn on was the New York Stock Exchange. He broke up with me for some beach blanket hottie when he lost his ass in the market. And the guy before him, Simon, and the way his eyes glassed over when we made love. But when his first love waltzed into his life again, he sparkled to life and danced away. I was the brainiac, the woman with common sense, the lady that was trusted not to shop a man into bankruptcy. I was a way to mark time; I wasn’t sexy or appealing enough to be anything more. Men like the one in front of the Carmine just didn’t look my way.
“You go ahead and take the Express bus,” I told Lidia after we finished shopping a few hours later. “I’m going to spend some time in town and catch the late bus. It’s Valentine’s Day after all, and I don’t want to spend it at home in front of the TV again.”
“But I want you to come with me. You know I hate riding alone,” Lidia whined. The bus screeched to a halt in front of us, swinging open its doors for new passengers. “Please come with me.”
She turned around and reached for my hand. I shook my head, taking a step back. “I’m going to stay. My mind’s made up.”
“Come on, you can go see a movie or something tonight,” Lidia insisted. “Maybe Dave and I can take you to that party with us. I’ll ask him.” It was typical of her to argue my decisions. She clung to me like a mother did her child the first time he or she tried to leave home.
In some strange sort of way, I figured she needed me. Lidia always said that she would protect me, that I was a delicate bird that needed her wing to shelter me, but in essence it was she who was fragile. With me by her side, she knew she would never be alone. I was frumpy to her curvy; I was plain to her radiance. Not to mention, I was always single to her concurrent relationships. I was a guarantee to always be around. That’s the way I guessed it.
It didn’t matter. My mind was made up to find him. It was the day of candied hearts and velvet kisses. Maybe that was why I felt myself drawn to him with a bond deeper than kismet. I had to see him again.
He sat on a park bench flipping through the pages of a magazine when I caught sight of him at last. The cool gray of evening started to set on the city and with the chill he had put on a windbreaker. I gazed at him from a distance. I watched him bite down on his bottom lip as he read, noticed the way he crinkled his forehead when something made him stop to take a second look. He was captivating, someone I could never tire of observing.
I stood in the shadows of a statue commemorating the city’s founder. James Randall towered above me, his arms open wide to welcome the people to the greatness he set forth for them. Skyscrapers stretched for as far as the eye could see, cars and buses pushed their way through the jammed streets, people scurried about from one shop to the next. There was beauty here, beauty right before my eyes in a stranger, and all around me in the gift of home. I pulled out my ponytail, combed my fingers through my coarse brown hair, borrowing some of James Randall’s courage as I stepped from the cover of dark.
“I analyze things too much,” I said, directing my gaze at the Carmine guy, my voice a little more wobbly and weak than I would have liked. “But I was just wondering why you were staring at me earlier.”
He jerked his head out of the magazine and peered through the twilight. “Wow, this is a shock!” he said, smiling as his eyes focused on me. “I never expected to see you again, not that I’m disappointed I got the chance.” He set the magazine down and glanced around. “You weren’t alone before. Your friend? Where is she?”
“Oh, she took the earlier bus home, if you were hoping to see her.“
”No, not at all.” He grinned and shook his head. “I noticed her because she was attached to you, but that was the only reason. It’s nice to be able to meet you. I’m Ethan, by the way.”
My mind searched for something to say. I looked like an idiot, first tracking him down, then quizzing him on at whom he was looking-- as if he had to explain. Stalking a stranger who just made eye contact with you - wasn’t that some sort of crime? If not, it was a sign of a sicko. Plenty of people glanced at passersby. He, like everyone else, didn’t owe explanations.
“I’m Sarah,” I said, doing my best to form a smile on my lips to cover the shame coloring my cheeks. My eyes darted from his face to the ground and back again.
He was even more handsome up close; his features were distinct, those of a strong man, muscular and defined, just as his name implied. “I’m sorry I bothered you, but I just thought maybe you recognized us or something.” That was a stupid lie, but it sounded better than the truth. “Again, I’m sorry.” I took a step to walk away. Sticking around was just adding to my embarrassment. He stared at me, an amused grin on his face, taking in every inch of the fool I was. In truth, the fact that a strange woman hunted him down probably was comical, maybe even scary, to him.
“Don’t apologize,” he said. “I’m glad to see you again. You know, I was just thinking about getting a piece of cheesecake from that new café just around the corner. It’s Valentine’s Day and the last thing I want to do is spend it alone. Would you like to join me?”
I shuffled my balance from one foot to the other, afraid to test the full weight of possibilities. “I really can’t. The last bus leaves in an hour, but thanks anyway.”
The sight of him jumbled my insides; the way his eyes sparkled when he looked at me made my heart flip-flop in my throat. If he knew just how much of a schoolgirl crush I had, he’d run rather than tempting me to stick around. “It’s just if I miss the bus, I’m stuck here for the night,” I said, nodding at the park bench.
“Well, no worries. From what I hear,” he replied, cocking his head to the side and winking at me, “It only takes a few minutes to devour a delicious piece of cake. I promise to have you at the bus stop in time if I have to run, carrying you on my back, to get you there.”
I tossed my head back and giggled. So he was charming as well as considerate and cute. Damn him for making himself so hard to walk away from. “I really need to get home,” I told him. “As hard as it is to say no, I just don’t have the time tonight.” But my mind scolded me, my heart threatened to stop beating if I didn’t give him or myself a chance. “But, if you promise to put me on that bus, how can I say 'no' to cheesecake?”
“That's a girl!” He stood up and placed his hand on my shoulder. “You can’t say 'no' because I’ll just come up with more reasons why you have to go with me.” His smile pushed up his cheeks and reached toward his eyes, filling his face with a soft radiance. “Now that you’ve found me, you’re not going to get away so easily. Let’s go get that piece of Valentine’s cheesecake I’m so hungry for.”
We walked in silence to the little restaurant he spoke about. I watched his feet rise and fall in cadence with my own. I could feel his eyes on me, studying me like mine had him. The silence stretched between us until it deafened me.
“I’m sorry I look so ragged,” I said. “My friend dragged me out of the house to go shopping today. I really didn’t expect to meet anyone.”
“And what has you convinced you don’t look perfect? I think you do.” He opened the door to the café. With a sweep of his arm, he motioned me inside. “Ladies first.”
“You must be blind. Look at me!” I exclaimed, ducking under his arm and into the dining area. “I’m in sweats! My hair - oh Lord, all I did was run a brush through it. I can imagine how frizzy it must be by now! It’s amazing someone hasn’t mistaken me yet for a bag lady.”
“Now you’re exaggerating,” he replied, guiding me through the maze of tables with a hand on the small of my back. “Hasn’t a man ever told you that a woman looks the most beautiful in the morning, after he’s held her in his arms and loved her? That’s how you look. You have that glow, and it’s beautiful, much preferable to the fakeness of gallons of hairspray and inches of make-up. Let’s sit over here, shall we?”
He led me to a small table in the corner. Potted palm trees circled around it, blocking our view of the other patrons. “Maybe that’s what you’re attracted to, but most men aren’t,” I replied. “They like the hairspray and make-up. I mean, I don’t really know what attracts you, but if it’s simplicity, then you’re a rare breed.”
God, to fool myself into believing this man was attracted to me was like telling myself Lidia was dateless. It just didn’t seem possible in this lifetime. In fact, he was more her type. The cute ones always flocked to her; the plain ones were mine when the Lidias of the world turned them down. This man, this Ethan, he was just a nice person, I decided. For some reason or other, I caught his attention and he, in turn, had every inch of my body ready to melt in the palm of his hand.
“You attracted me. Why do you think I was looking, and why do you act like that's too impossible to be true? You don’t think I could be attracted to you?”
I laughed. “Usually I'm one of those women that wear all that make-up to try to look better.”
“That doesn’t matter. The first step in any attraction is noticing something about someone. The getting acquainted part comes after, when I get to know the person who's under the make-up. It starts in a little café when the man orders the lady a piece of cheesecake. You do like cheesecake, don’t you?”
“Well, then, I’ll take two pieces,” he said to the approaching waitress. I saw him cast her a smile before she scurried off. My heart raced as his upturned lips lit a sparkle in his eyes. He was beautiful; I wondered if the girl noticed. “And, just so you know, the first thing I observed about you was your lips.”
“My lips?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. “Nobody has ever said that to me before.”
“They’re the prettiest shade of pink. And so full,” he remarked. “I like to kiss, Sarah, and yours are the kind of lips I dream about.”
I dreamt about the kind of guy that said things to make you quiver. And Lord have mercy, he was sitting across from me! The heat rose to my cheeks. My tongue felt thick and weighted; my mind was filled with static. “Thank you,” I managed to say, darting my attention to the linen tablecloth.
“Geeze, I’m blowing this, aren’t I?” he asked. “You don’t know me and I’m saying things like that already. I’m not some freak, I promise. It’s just-- I say what I think more often than I probably should.”
“As long as you don’t try to convince me to come back to your place to spend the night, words are just words,” I teased, casting him a smile. My courage grew with every compliment he gave. To notice he was nervous, too quelled my jitters. “You can say whatever you want.”
I glanced at the waitress as she sat our plates in front of us, watching the way his mouth curved around his words when he asked for a glass of ice water.
“I should warn you that I’m the typical guy,” he said, returning all his attention back to me. “I probably will invite you back to my place, but I don’t expect you to accept, not tonight, anyway. Sooner or later, once you get to know me a little better, you won’t be able to refuse. Trust me.” His eyes were sky blue, sparkling like the ocean basking in the sunlight; they were warm and inviting, pulling me in. The last thing I wanted to do was let him out of my sight.
I picked up my fork and sunk it into my cheesecake. With a mouthful, the words couldn’t gush so freely. I couldn’t wrap my heart around syllables for a man I barely knew, but felt like I had known a lifetime. It would be hard to refuse anything more than the here and now. Ethan was charming, to say the least, and I was drawn to him with an intenseness that was getting stronger by the minute. “Do you come here a lot?” I asked instead.
“Only on special occasions. You? Ever been here before?” He clasped his fingers together and rested them under his chin. His eyes studied me, recording every move.
“Never.” I took my first bite as he watched. The smooth velvet melted on my tongue. Rich and creamy, it was sweet release for all the heat inside me. My mouth watered even as I tasted it. Sinful, decadent, like a soft orgasm that satiates the craving so well you can’t wait to be that fulfilled again. Heaven. I closed my eyes, not being able to stop the purr from resonating in my throat. “Oh God, this is delicious,” I groaned.
Ethan shifted in his seat; a growl mixed with his chuckle. “It seems a waste for you to feed that to yourself if it’s that good. Give me your fork,” he insisted, his voice a hoarse level above a whisper. “Let’s see if the next bite is just as awesome.”
I lost track of who I was; I forgot that my appearance made it impossible to have the attention of a man so amazing. Instead I handed him my fork and parted my lips. He buried it in the cheesecake, then lifted a velvet-covered fork to my mouth. It coated the tip of my tongue and worked its way back in slow motion. It was torture wanting something so sweet, so delicious; I anticipated how good it would taste. When I moaned a plea to devour every morsel, he gave it all to me.
“And how is it, beautiful?” he whispered, rising from the table. “I left a crumb on your chin. Let me get it.”
“Just a crumb? That’s nothing. I always wear what I eat.” I covered my quivering nerves with a laugh and reached for my napkin. His hand covered mine.
“We’ll find out if that’s true tomorrow night at dinner.”
“Will we?” I asked, feeling the heat rising to my cheeks and spread through the deepest parts of my body.
“Oh yeah,” he whispered. “Now let's have a sample of your cheesecake. You know, something to compare to mine.”
Ethan lowered his face to mine. I felt my heart pounding against my chest; my seat warmed beneath me. The scent of cologne and fresh air rose from him, fogging my thoughts. Gentle yet firm, his lips pressed to mine. A shiver ran through me; I wrapped my arms around his neck to keep from slithering to the floor. The taste of sugar filled my mouth; his tongue delved inside to taste, replacing it with the heat of desire.
“Mmm,” Ethan moaned, kneeling beside me. He cupped the back of my neck, pulling me closer and opening me deeper to his kiss. His tongue swept against mine, then danced through the corners of my mouth. I mimicked his mounting ardor, tasting every flavor of lust. We flowed, languid and sweet, tossing and turning one sweet kiss into millions.
“When I saw you today,” he said, his voice ragged with the fervor that swept our breaths away, “you looked familiar.”
“So you thought you knew me?” I asked, licking the sweetness from my swollen lips. “That’s why you were looking?”
“No, it just felt like I’d been looking for you and finally found you. Sounds silly, doesn’t it?”
“Only if it’s just as silly that out of everyone that’s stared at me for one reason or another, you’re the only one I hunted down."
"Ethan,” I whispered, combing my fingers through his hair, “I couldn’t get you out of my mind. It’s why I was looking for you when I found you at the park.”
“What a Valentine’s Day!” He smiled as his lips brushed against mine.
I slid down in my seat, tugging him closer to me. Now I knew. He felt the same thing, the same attraction that tugged at me to find him. There was nothing between us now but wasted space. The doubts, insecurities and fears washed away with soft kisses. Curiosity took their place, wondering just how magical the night could be since we found each other. His hand brushed against my breasts, then skimmed downward. His fingers traced the waistband of my pants, teasing me with thoughts of being touched, loved, and pleased in the most intimate ways by the only man I wanted.
“May I?” he asked, pushing two fingers underneath the elastic.
“Here?” I giggled. “You may, but this probably isn’t the place.” I stroked his cheek with the back of my hand. My lips kissed the tip of his nose. My eyes returned the sparkle dancing in his.
“Why not?” He slid his hand inside my pants. The heat from his palm cupped me. “Just keep kissing me, and nobody will know. I promise, Valentine.”
He sucked my mouth into his; his fingers parted my petals and sheathed themselves inside me. Wet syllables emerged from me, kissing his lips and hand with anticipation. My tongue quivered against his; I writhed in my seat, pushing him further inside. Yet his every move was like velvet cheesecake: rich, soft, and sweet. In slow motion, he shaped my desire and drove it to the brink of eruption. Every part of me unraveled at his touch. He reached for the deepest part of me and showed me the stars.
My cries coated his tongue. An intense release coursed through my limbs; my tummy flip-flopped, an electric tickle of pleasure rippled through every ounce of my body and soul. He swept my excitement up into our kiss, growling as my velvet orgasm spilled onto him.
“Exquisite,” he moaned. His fingers left my body; he swept them through the slice of cheesecake on the table. I watched in a daze while he sucked them clean, one at a time. His gaze warmed mine as he purred like an ornery lion. “You just won my heart, Valentine, among other things.”
I touched his cheek, brushed my lips against his. There wasn’t a word I could think to say. He was beautiful. Every part of him belonged to the man of whom I dreamt.
“Say something, gorgeous,” he whispered. A smile spread across his face. “Tell me it’s almost time for your bus. Anything, just let me hear that sexy voice talking to me.”
“Bus? What bus?” I asked, grinning. “I thought you were going to invite me back to your place?”
“Well, before you say anything more about that, beautiful” he said. “I’ve got a condition to that invitation.” He cupped my chin and smiled down at me. “Since you made that cheesecake taste so luscious, you can’t just come back to my place for one night. If I’m going to have a sweet tooth from now on because I’ve been spoiled tonight, you’ve got to be around to help me satiate it. And I’m warning you, I have a feeling I’ll need you around for a very long time.”
Tears filled my eyes. My hands shook as he took them in his. “This means we’re having dinner tomorrow night still, right?” I asked, a weak smile forming on my lips.
“I told you something drew my eyes to you today,” he answered, “and reeled me in until you had my heart as well. Whatever you want, Sarah, as long as I’m part of the deal.”
“Then how about breakfast-- instead of dinner?” I pressed my forehead to his, pushing closer until our noses touched.
“How about both? If you’re free all day tomorrow, that is.”
“I have plans with my best friend,” I said. It was Lidia we were talking about, and with the exception of cutting off my right arm I would do anything for her. “But I can cancel.” I would do anything for Lidia but leave the beauty that welled up inside me every time Ethan pulled me into his arms. She would have to understand. If not, someday soon I’d explain to her what it felt like to find your heart on a street corner. “I’ve got somewhere else I want to be now.”
“Then let me take you home,” he replied, kissing my forehead. “My home. Your home. It will be the same place before long, I have a feeling.”
somehow, in his soft, velvet expression, I found where I belonged.
With all the beauty in my heart reflecting in his eyes, I knew he was right.
I was going home.
2004 Tina Hess. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or post.
Email Tina Hess. Visit Tina Hess online.
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