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Sara Fielding made her way along the wet footpath, dodging the small potholes that had filled with water from the overnight rain, her feet tucked inside flat knee-high boots. It was eight in the morning and bitterly cold. She tugged her collar up against the breeze that was cutting through her heavy overcoat, wishing she had worn her woollen tights.
Winter mornings in Melbourne were brutal, she remembered, and today was no exception. It had been thundering down when her plane had landed only an hour before and she had caught a cab straight into the city. The rain had paused momentarily but the overcast sky promised another downpour at any moment. Her favourite pair of brown leather gloves were only just preventing her fingers from freezing around the handle of her briefcase, so she quickly picked up her pace. She didn't want to arrive at the hospital soaked to the bone.
Sara had been living in Adelaide for the last three years and this was only her second trip back to Melbourne in all that time. The first had been four weeks ago when she'd travelled over to finalise her visa at the American embassy. Sara had had serious reservations about returning to Melbourne at all. She would have preferred any other city, but it was the United States embassy that processed South Australian visa applications. She'd had no choice.
Melbourne held wonderful memories but also a sadness that she really didn't want to face. She had told herself it was only an overnight stay. A quick trip. Nothing to worry about. But now, looking back, she realised she should have listened to her intuition and stayed far away from the town where Tom Fielding still lived. She was already planning a new life in Texas. So much further from Melbourne. So much further from the temptation of Tom Fielding.
She now knew that she couldn't trust her heart, or her body for that matter, around the man. He wasn't a bad man, quite the opposite, in fact, but he was definitely the wrong man for her. Against her will, Sara's thoughts were dragged back to that brief trip and how terribly wrong it had all gone.
Day one had been fine. The visa application had been processed without any hiccups. It had been day two when Sara had found herself sitting alone at Vue de Monde on the fifty-fifth floor of the historic Rialto building. She had ordered her meal and had been in high spirits, sipping her white wine and thinking about her impending trip to Texas.
She had been offered a position at a large teaching hospital in San Antonio. It was going to be a fresh start, a chance to move on and find a life that might just fulfil her dreams. Sara had finally grown tired of her life revolving around what everyone else wanted. Sacrificing her dreams, her hopes, for the needs of everyone else had become a pattern until three years ago. That fateful day when she'd decided she couldn't give up on one particular dream. She hoped this move would give her the chance to realise that dream. The dream of becoming a mother. She knew she had the packing, the shipping and all that a move of that distance entailed, but it would be worth every bit of effort. She would be free to live her life on her terms.
Suddenly her thoughts were stolen. As was her breath. Both taken by the vision of a man she'd thought she would never see again.
Sara did a double take. Could it be? She shook her head a little. Could it really be him?
He walked into the restaurant and took a seat at a table by the window. It had been three years since she had last seen him. They hadn't contacted each other since she'd left. No telephone calls. No letters. Nothing.
Perhaps it was her imagination. Perhaps it was someone who looked just like him.
Then she reminded herself there was really no other man who came close to his looks, his stature, his charisma. It was definitely Tom Fielding. All six foot two inches of him had crossed the room and had turned every woman's head as he'd done so.
Sara's heart raced a little as she watched him take the wine list from the waitress. She saw the waitress attempt to flirt, it was subtle, but enough for another woman to notice. Tom was unmoved. He didn't appear to notice or, if he did, he didn't respond. The flustered waitress placed the napkin in his lap and hovered, a little longer than necessary.
Sara felt a tightening in her chest and butterflies awakening in the pit of her stomach as the reality of being this close to Tom hit home. She had forgotten the effect he had on her. And apparently still did. Her emotions began playing havoc, sending her mind into a tailspin. She looked away. Swallowing hard, she began to play with her cutlery absent-mindedly.
She hadn't expected so many mixed emotions to come in to play. Attraction, regret, melancholy, guilt, even a hint of lust. This was not supposed to happen. This was a bad dream playing out. Sharing the same restaurant as Tom was not in the plan, and her options to escape the uncomfortable situation were limited. She could hardly leave the restaurant after ordering her dinner. Most likely it would draw even more attention to her. She didn't want to look back in Tom's direction but she was drawn to him. Drawn to him just like the conflicting desire to gaze at an open wound.
Tom chose a wine and handed the waitress back the wine list. He looked out the window across the sweeping views of the Melbourne skyline. The panorama of lights all twinkling against the black sky. Then he turned in his seat, just a little, but enough to see Sara.
He didn't move. He froze in his chair, staring in silence. Sara did the same. She had no idea what he was thinking. She barely knew what she was thinking as she looked at the handsome curves of his face and the generous sweep of his broad shoulders in his tailored black jacket. The ultra-modern restaurant was dimly lit and combined with the dark charcoal and earthy brown tones of the sleek decor it was difficult to make out very much. Except that he was still handsome. So very handsome.
It wasn't cocky good looks he possessed. It was as if he just didn't know how appealing he was to women. He had always been that way. He obviously knew on some level that he was attractive but he never took advantage of it or seemed impressed by the gift nature had bestowed on him. Tom Fielding was a lot deeper than skin alone.
He stood up then hesitated for a moment, as if to seek some sort of approval to approach. But he did anyway. Her stomach was a tangled mess of nerves as she watched him drop his napkin on the table and cross over to her. His eyes didn't leave her face for an instant.
'Sara,' he began, as he bent down to kiss her cheek. The scent of his cologne filled her senses. It wasn't overpowering, it was subtle and sensual. It was Tom.
'It's so good to see you,' he continued.
Sara was momentarily speechless. She knew she was in Melbourne, it wasn't as if they had bumped into each other in an isolated town on the other side of the world. Perhaps she shouldn't have even been surprised, but it was still overwhelming.
'Lovely to see you too, Tom,' she finally breathed in reply. It was a struggle as she felt her heart cramp.
'May I?' he asked, as his hand rested on the empty chair.
Sara nodded and he pulled out the chair and sat down at her table. Out of habit, he reached across and touched her hand.
Looking back in the harsh light of day, Sara realised that had been her first mistake. She should have kept Tom Fielding at arm's length. It had begun to rain, and Sara regretted not asking her cab from the airport to drop her at the nearest coffee shop to the hospital. She needed a short black to wake herself up after the early flight and couldn't bear the thought of cafeteria coffee. She was in search of the strength only a barista could provide. Picking up her steps even more, her mind raced back to that night. That silly, stupid night four weeks ago.
Dinner alone had turned into dinner for two, then a stroll, and then drinks at a bar in the city. Scars had a way of fading a little in the soft lights of the evening, particularly when wine was involved. Old times, old feelings, old reasons for falling in love replaced the wounds and hurt. Her defences became shaky and, against her will, they finally fell.
Reason didn't have a chance. Just before midnight, they were alone in her hotel room. Tom looked more appealing than any man she had ever seen. Sitting on the edge of her bed in his long black jeans, his suede boots a little dusty, his dark blond hair pushed back in waves that brushed the collar of his white linen shirt. His jacket was flung over the small sofa by the window.
He looked like a cowboy. Her cowboy for tonight.
And it could only be for tonight. For old times' sake, she reasoned silently. There was no chance of anything more. They had tried that and it didn't work. She wasn't going there again. She wasn't giving up her dreams for this man. But she knew her heart was finally out of harm's way. It was safely protected inside the walls that she had carefully erected when she had walked out and left him, so she gave in to her desires. It's only one night, she reassured herself.
He was staring straight at her with his bedroom eyes. Despite wondering if she was about to make one of life's bad decisions and one she might just regret, she seemed too powerless to stop herself. Was it lust or was it love? She wasn't sure but it was going to happen.
'Don't tell me to stop, I know what I'm about to do ' she started.
Suddenly her words were cut short by his lips pressing against hers. His hands gently cupped her face as his mouth captured her sigh. She didn't fight him. She didn't want to talk any more. Her hands instinctively reached up and pulled him closer. Her body arched with desire. She was aflame with the heat in his fingers as his hands slid under her clothing to stroke her bare skin. His kisses became more urgent and she opened her mouth to him. She wanted to feel him, to have him, just once more. To feel his body next to hers and to taste him. He unbuttoned her blouse and slid it from her warm skin, tossing it on the floor as he trailed moist kisses down her neck.
'I want you, Sara, and I'm going to have you tonight,' he breathed low and heavy with desire as his fingers traced gentle lines along the bare skin of her thigh.
His hands moved to the curve of her spine and he pulled her even closer to his hard body. She felt her pulse racing as her fingers threaded through his hair and she kissed him more deeply than before. They fell back onto the bed, discarding the last remnants of clothing before their bodies became one.
Sara Fielding had woken in her hotel room the next morning more confused than she thought possible. It had all seemed so clear the night before. Just two people sharing a night of pleasure. Two consenting adults needing each other. Nothing more. But now it was anything but clear. She realised just how vulnerable she still was with Tom. She pulled the sheets up to her chin like a flimsy shield. A feeling of dread hit the pit of her stomach.
As daylight slipped through the gap in the heavy curtains she could see the fine stubble on his chin. The satin sheet was barely covering him, and his tanned chest was sculpted like a statue. They had made love all night and he was still the caring, amazing lover she remembered. But she should never have done it. She looked up at the ceiling of the room, wondering what possessed her to be so stupid and impulsive. It was not like her.
She had spent the last three years trying to push past the hurt and disappointment and then, in a few passionate hours, she had ignored her own logic and risked opening up old wounds. She couldn't blame it on the wine, she hadn't even finished her drink at the restaurant and had hardly touched the martini at the bar.
Hormones, memories, melancholy, maybe even the remnants of the love they had once shared, had overridden the voice of reason and they had returned to her room together.
Now, in the light of morning, she wanted to scream at herself. Why?
In a few short weeks he would officially become her ex-husband. The divorce would be finalised. She had managed to stay away for all those years, finally finding the resolve to ask for a divorce, and then, just before it became official, she'd slept with him.
She rolled her eyes in disappointment and confusion. Her lawyer had told her that Tom wasn't contesting the divorce. He had signed the papers. It was just a matter of legal processes being completed.
Perhaps it was knowing that the divorce would be finalised that made her feel safe. That was crazy, she knew, but it was the only explanation she could muster. The divorce was a piece of paper. It wasn't a shield. It couldn't protect her heart.
Tom began to stir. She closed her eyes and feigned sleep. She wasn't sure what to say.
Was it Thank you for a lovely evening or I know we slept together but just so you know, I'm not in love with you any more?
She needed time. Perhaps he would wake up and leave. She felt her stomach knot, not unlike the night before when he'd walked towards her at the restaurant. All those old feelings, the good and the bad, were sitting heavily in her chest.
She wasn't sure if she had imagined it, but as she'd been falling asleep in Tom's arms the night before, she thought she had heard him whisper, I love you. She didn't want to go there. She wasn't about to get involved with Tom again. It would be too easy to fall back into his arms. She had taken so long to not need him in her life. To finally realise that she had a right to live her life the way she wanted, whatever it might cost her.
She lay as still as she could. Her breathing was light but laboured as her nerves played with her anxiety level. Last night they had given in to the chemistry they had always shared. But their differences were still there. That hadn't changed and they would never be able to move past what had torn them apart. Sara watched Tom slip from the bed and collect his clothes from all over the room. She wondered if he felt the same. A little part wished he had tried to wake her, to hold her and to talk through their differences. To solve the issues they had and to make love again.
Reason reminded her that it would never happen, so leaving without a word would be best. She hoped he'd leave a note on the hotel stationery. That's all she should expect. All she wanted, she tried to convince herself.
She had loved every minute of his hands and his body on hers. The tenderness and sense of belonging had been undeniable but now, hearing him dressing in the other room, she knew it had been wrong. It had been a lapse in judgement for both of them.
The door of the bathroom opened and Tom emerged fully dressed. Sara closed her eyes again. She didn't want him to catch her awake, thinking about what might have been. He fumbled for his boots then slipped on his jacket. She watched through half-open eyes as he made his way to the desk and scribbled something on the hotel notepad. Quietly, he crossed to the door of her room, opened it and left quietly. He was gone.
As the door shut, Sara sat bolt upright. She was so grateful he was gone. Or was she? She felt horribly confused. There was nothing sweeter than falling asleep wrapped in Tom's arms, the heat of his naked body pressed against hers.
But she had to move on. He wouldn't change. He couldn't change. And she was tired of changing for everyone else. She almost had the divorce. She would be free. They would be free of each other. They were two very different people with very different priorities.
She wanted children.
And this time she was walking away to live her life, her way.