by Cheryl B.

Ariel was working the night shift at Jake's, the restaurant where she'd worked as a waitress for just over a year. Her husband had left her for his impossibly young and blonde secretary, and she was scrambling to make ends meet. She was tired after a long day's work, and was thankful that she could take a short breather, as the place was empty for the moment.

Just as she sat down with a cup of coffee, a man entered and sat down at a corner booth. He was an older gentleman, distingished-looking, wearing a dark suit. Sighing, she sat her cup down and walked over to her new customer.

She handed him a menu, and when he looked her in the eye with a smile and a "thank you, darlin'" in a soft, elegant British accent, all of the irritation she felt at having her break interrupted flowed out of her body. Ariel recognized him instantly, and couldn't believe he was sitting here in her restaurant, in her station.

She composed herself and smiled. "Would you like some coffee, Mr. Dawson?" she asked.

"No, but some tea would be lovely, with milk, if you don't mind" he replied with a wink.

Trying vainly to stifle a schoolgirl blush, she nodded and went to fetch him the best cup of tea she could possibly make. "What a handsome, charming man! This sure beats that coffee break I was taking," she grinned to herself as she prepared a small metal pot of Earl Grey and brushed a stray brunette lock from her face. Would he notice if she skipped out for a couple of hours to find a 24-hour beauty salon for a quick touch-up? Yeah, probably so...

Placing the pot and a small pitcher of milk before him, she smiled at him. "I went back to the kitchen to make real honest-to-god boiling water, not that lukewarm coffee pot water. I hope it's ok..."

He held her gaze in his soft grey eyes for a long moment. "You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble, what a sweetheart you are, luv!" He poured a cup, dribbled in some milk and a packet of sugar, and took a sip. "Oh, now that's the thing, isn't it? Perfect!" He ran his hand through his neatly-trimmed silver hair and gave her a mischievous look. "You wouldn't want to come be my personal chef, now would you..." he glanced at her name tag "Ariel. Ariel? what a lovely name for a lovely lady."

"Oh, Mr. Dawson, I bet you say that to all the waitresses!" she laughed. "You're every bit as sweet and charming as you were on 'Family Feud." I watched you all the time... Oh god, I sound like an idiot, babbling on like that. I'm sorry." Can't you keep your mouth shut for two seconds Ariel, she scolded herself.

He grinned and took her hand. "Now, let's get a few things straight. First off, it's Richard, I won't have any of this Mr. Dawson nonsense. Secondly, you're not an idiot, you are very kind. And third, can I see you tomorrow night? If you're not already taken, that is?"

Taken? She was taken by his eyes, his smile, his charm. And tomorrow was her night off. If it weren't, she'd have made certain it was, no matter what. "I... I would love to see you Mr... I mean, Richard. If you're serious, that is."

"Completely," he said with a twinkle in his eye. Where shall I pick you up?" She hastily jotted down her address and phone number on the back of a restaurant business card. "Wonderful!" Richard exclaimed as he put the card in his breast pocket. "Shall I pick you up at 8?"

"Yes, that's fine," she managed to say. As he paid the bill, leaving her a most generous tip, she said "I almost forgot! Don't you want to order something?"

Richard laughed softly. "No, I just got back from a horrible Hollywood party with too many people, and I needed a quiet cup of tea before I headed home. Thank you so very much, Ariel..." He kissed her gently on the cheek, and then he was gone.

The next day was a roller coaster ride for Ariel. She made that beauty salon appointment for the full treatment - hair, manicure, pedicure, facial - for the mid-afternoon. Before that, she spent most of the day rummaging through her closet and deeming every single item in her wardrobe completely horrible for her date with the most amazing man in the universe. Just as she was about to give up hope, her doorbell rang.

"Ariel Johnson?" said the deliveryman standing at her door. As she nodded, he handed her two large boxes and a smaller one. "These are for you."

She sat down on the plump sofa in her modest but attractive apartment and read the small card attached to the top box. "Ariel, a token of my thanks for a great cup of tea. See you at eight. Affectionately, Richard."

With a grin, she opened the first large box to find a dozen perfect red long-stemmed roses. She took them quickly into the kitchen to trim them and put them into a vase with water. Bringing the flowers back into the living room, she sat the vase on the coffee table and brought her face close to smell their fragrant aroma.

She opened the other large box to find a simply stunning cocktail dress. It was burgundy velvet, knee-length, low-cut with spaghetti straps, and a matching wrap. In the smaller box was a small black sequined evening bag, black open-toed, high-heeled shoes and a small bottle of perfume. Ariel thought she would faint, coming back to reality only when she realized that she was going to be late to her salon appointment.

After describing the dress, her hairdresser joked about being terribly jealous, and gave her a beautiful updo, leaving a few dark tendrils hanging down over her neck. The manicurist did her fingernails and toenails in a rich, creamy rose pink, which would look lovely with the burgundy dress. Ariel rushed home to finish getting ready.

At 8 promptly, the doorbell rang, and Ariel's heart jumped. She fought the instinct to break all world sprinting records to get to the door, and walked, albeit quickly. She opened the door and there he was, unbearably handsome in a black tuxedo and a very approving look on his face as his gaze burned into her.

"My beauty,' he whispered as he kissed her hand. "I hope you like what I picked out for you, half as much as I like the way you look in it."

She blushed furiously. "Oh yes, very much. But how did you know my size?" she asked, trying to still her heart.

"Well, I just happened to be in the neighborhod of Jake's again this morning for another cup of tea, and I managed to pry the information from one of your fellow coworkers." He winked slyly.

"Well, remind me to thank them, or kill them, I haven't decided yet." she laughed.

He smiled warmly as he took her hand. "Shall we?"

"Oh yes," she replied. As they were leaving, she snapped off the top of one of the roses and put it in his jacket buttonhole.

"Thank you, darlin'" he purred as they walked out to the waiting limo. A limo! It was all too wonderful. The driver held the door for them as they sat down, and then they were off.

In little over an hour, they arrived at a small seaside restaurant. "I hope you like seafood," Richard asked. "They've got the best right here."

"I love it," Ariel replied. "Thank you." They went inside and were seated at a quiet table away from the crowds. Richard ordered a bottle of wine, which they sipped as they perused the menu. They decided on the lobster bisque and the linguine with clam sauce. The food was excellent, and the candlelit table provided a comfortable atmosphere to talk and get to know each other.

She told him about how her husband left her with no money and all the bills, and he told her about how lonely he'd been living the bachelor's life. They discovered they shared a fondness for music, movies and dancing. Ariel was absolutely drawn to him, and the fascinating combination of old-fashioned chivalry and manners, and the quick wit and knowledge of current events of a man half his age.

They lingered over dinner for a long while before reluctantly leaving, continuing their conversation in the limo over another bottle of wine on the way back home. As they arrived at her building, he told the driver that he'd get her door, and he slipped out and around to her side and opened her door for her, taking her hand and helping her out.

He walked her up to her apartment, and at the door, she fumbled in her bag for her keys. She looked into Richard's eyes. "Thank you so very much for a magical evening. I had such a marvelous time."

"As did I," he smiled softly. "I am so glad you accepted my invitation to dinner."

The silence, the moment, were awkward. Finally, he leaned in and gave Ariel a tender kiss on the lips. He looked away for a moment. "I apologize if I was being forward. I realize that I'm old enough to be your father..."

"And I'm old enough to know that when I look at you, I see a handsome, charming, incredible man, and my father is the furthest thing from my mind right now...," she whispered as she returned his kiss. He held her more tightly, and drew him closer to him as he deepened his kiss. She sighed and wrapped her arms around his neck, dizzied by the sweet, intoxicating magic of his kisses.

After a while, Richard slightly backed away, kissing her hand. "Darlin', if you don't stop blinding my good judgment with your beautiful kisses, I'm afraid I will lose all my senses and behave quite... ungentlemanly."

She touched his cheek. "I love the way you kiss me..."

"And I'd love nothing more than to keep on kissing you, to take you home with me to my bed and make love to you forever. But let's not rush, let the fruit ripen on the vine until the time is right." He kissed her again. "Perhaps on our wedding night."

"Perhaps..." she sighed as she kissed him one last time before he slipped away into the night. Oh yes, perhaps...

Could It Be...Love?

Ariel tossed and turned all night, only catching brief snatches of sleep. Richard had left her mind in a delicious, delirious spin, and she didn't know what to make of last night's events.

Oh, she knew that it was wonderful beyond description. She felt like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight - full of glorious memories, yet knowing that the limo was about to turn into a big fat pumpkin, and that shoe would surely not fit. It was too much to hope for.

She was certain that was the last time she'd see her Prince Charming. What more could it be than merely a pleasant evening to Richard, a man who could surely have his pick of women more beautiful and sophisticated than she? And he was too much the gentleman to come out and tell her it was nothing more than fun.

Still, two thoughts seemed to contradict her dismal conclusion. First of all, his parting words - why would he speak of things like wedding nights and waiting for the fruit of love to ripen? There were many other sweet words he could have charmed her with. And secondly, if he was merely out for was a good time, to turn on the charm and woo her into a one night stand - why did he back away, when he could obviously tell that she was as caught up in the glorious heat of the moment as he?

My god, she thought to herself, could he possibly be serious about me?

All these thoughts spun through Ariel's head until finally, about 5 a.m., she resigned herself to the fact that she wasn't going to be getting any more sleep, so she arose and headed to the bathroom for a shower. The cool water flowed over her warm body as she tried to gather her thoughts.

She was so relaxed in fact that, when she wrapped her pink terrycloth robe around herself, turned on a favorite CD and sank into the recliner in the living room, she actually began to doze off for a while.

The sound of the ringing telephone started her awake. She picked up the receiver and answered "Hello?"

"Good mornin', darlin'!" cooed Prince Charming's velvety voice on the other end. "How are you? I trust you slept well?"

Ariel grinned groggily. "I must confess, no, I didn't get much sleep last night. You certainly know how to drive a girl to distraction," She paused. "Especially when you kiss me the way that you did..."

"Oh dear, I'm very sorry, luv." She could hear the smile in his voice.

"That wasn't a complaint," she whispered. "Feel free to distract me any time." Ariel blushed. You really do need to learn when to shut up, she chided herself.

Richard softly chuckled. "Now don't get me started, darlin', it's only 9 in the morning, and, well, I do my best work at night!" Ariel imagined that he did indeed, but happily, this time, she didn't say it, giggling insead.

"Have breakfast with me?" he asked.

Ariel looked at her watch, amazed that she'd been snoozing on the chair for so long. "Oh, I'd love to, yes" she agreed. He told her he'd pick her up in an hour, so she scrambled to get ready.

Glad that she already had her shower out of the way, she decided to go casual for breakfast, choosing a pair of black twill slacks, a fuschia scoop-neck T-shirt and black flats. She brushed her hair, put on a little powder, mascara and lipstick, and a dab of perfume. Just as she added a tiny pair of silver hoop earrings, Richard arrived.

He took her arm and led her out to his sporty silver convertible, and helped her into the passenger seat. Slipping into the driver's seat, Richard started the engine, and they took off.

Soon they arrived at their destination - a beautiful field of flowers out in the country. Richard reached into the back and grabbed a picnic basket and a plaid wool blanket. "Right this way, m'dear" he said gallantly as he took Ariel by the hand and found a perfect spot beneath an old oak tree. Lovingly, Richard spread the blanket on the ground and helped her sit down on one corner, as he opened the basket.

There was a bottle of champagne and one of orange juice to make mimosas, strawberries, croissants, and smoked salmon. He brought out two small china plates, silver, and two crystal flutes, pouring them each a drink. He raised his glass. "To a beautiful day, and a beautiful lady." They touched glasses and sipped the sweet, cold mimosas.

"What would you like?" he asked as he took her plate to fill it. But she just looked, and sat in silence for a moment.

He took Ariel's hand, genuine concern in his kind eyes. "Are you alright, my love? Is it the food? I'm sorry if I didn't bring the right things..." God, could he be more wonderful?

"No, oh no!" she exclaimed. "The food looks delicious, it's just that... oh Richard, I just have the worst butterflies in my stomach, and I don't think I could eat one single bite right now."

His face turned soft and gentle. "Come here, let's just lie here and relax for a while." He lay down on the blanket, and she snuggled against him with her head on his shoulder, his arms wrapped around her.

"Now, darlin', tell me all about it. What's troubling you so that those nasty ol' butterflies are swarming in your tummy?" His calm, sweet manner put her at ease.

She closed her eyes and took in a breath. "It's just that, well, last night was so incredible, and everything was so perfect, and you were just so charming and gorgeous and wonderful and..." Breathe, Ariel, breathe... "And it was just so overwhelming and confusing."

He grinned. "Now I agree with the overwhelming part, and am humbly flattered at being called charming and gorgeous, although I would say that's a more apt description of you..." he winked at her. "But what did you find confusing, luv?"

No. She couldn't. What a stupid thing it would be, telling him about her visions of wedding days and wedding nights and eternal love and bearing him about a dozen childen - all with his beautiful eyes - and scaring off this unbelievable man that she'd only known for a couple of days, all because she was feeling like a high school girl with a crush on the star quarterback. Only better. Much better.

"Oh, nothing, really, it's just that I had a marvelous time last night, that's all."

Richard turned to her with a serious look. "Ariel, I know that something more is bothering you. Perhaps it's the same thing that's been on my mind, shall I tell you first?"

Nodding quietly, she looked intently into his twinkling grey eyes as he spoke. "I never expected for all of this to happen, never in a million years. I never thought I'd find a woman like you, so kind and funny and beautiful, one that I could talk to so easily, laugh with, share the sweetest kisses with..." He paused. "Or fall in love with so soon."

She just stared and blinked for a moment. " love?" Ariel felt tears burning her eyes, vainly trying to fight them so he wouldn't see. But it was of no use, for when she looked at him and saw the absolute look of love on his face, the tears began to flow down her flushed cheeks.

"Oh Richard, yes, that's what I was feeling too, but I was afraid that saying it would make you uncomfortable and frighten you off. I kept telling myself it was just an infatuation, but... but I know that it's more."

Still in each other's embrace, he brushed her tears away and sought her mouth with his, and kissed her hungrily, deeply. She stroked his hair as she eagerly kissed him back, "Be mine forever..." he whispered hoarsely as he traced her neck with nibbles and kisses, and he began to caress her, slowly and tenderly. "I love you."

"I love you too," she sighed as she kissed him again, his touch stirring her. "Forever..."

She was lost in his demanding yet gentle kisses and the caress of his hand, the world swirling all around her. Somehow, she managed to pull herself together enough to open her eyes and say his name.

He stopped what he was doing, and looked at her. "Yes, angel, I know." He sat up and offered a hand to help her do the same. "I'm sorry I let myself get carried away."

"Richard," she said as she touched his face. "it was beautiful, the way you made me feel. But you were right last night, if we love each other, we can wait for the right time." She sighed and gave him a mock pout, which made him laugh. "Why is being virtuous so hard!"

He smiled. "Because good things come to those who wait." He kissed her once again. "And I promise you that it will be very, very good..."

She had no doubts about that.

Chocolate Kisses

After Richard drove her home, taking the longest, most scenic route he could find, his arm around her the whole time, Ariel rested and read a book during the afternoon, then changed and headed to work at the restaurant.

Claire, another waitress at the restaurant, 20 years old with short, cropped burgundy-dyed hair with the youthful, bubbly personality to match, was on duty at the same time. It was the early dinner shift, and they were busy for the first couple of hours.

When they could finally sit down with some cold lemonade to relax and chat for a few moments, a delivery man entered, carrying a bouquet of flowers and handing them to Ariel with a tip of his hat. She recognized the man as the one who brought the roses, dress and accessories the night before, and assumed he must work for Richard. Ariel also recognized the flowers. She read the card.

"My sweet Ariel: 'I sent thee late a rosy wreath, not so much honoring thee, as giving it a hope that there it could not withered be...' You have my heart, and within your tender care, I know it can only flourish and grow forever. I love you, Richard"

She brushed aside a tear and smiled at the quote from Ben Jonson's poem "To Celia" (drink to me only with thine eyes), and recognized the flowers, not an assortment of pristine flower shop posies, but a beautiful bunch of wildflowers from the field where they spent that glorious morning professing their love. He'd gone all the way back and picked them for her! She was overwhelmed once again.

As the delivery man was almost out the door, she called out "Wait! Please, could you take a note back to..." She didn't want to say anything in front of Claire about Richard's identity, wanting to protect his privacy until he was ready to be open to the world about their relationship. " the gentleman?" He nodded with a smile, and she quickly pulled out a pen and a business card, thought for a moment, then wrote on the back:

"Dearest Richard: Midnight supper, my place? "Leave a kiss but in the cup and I'll not look for wine..." Love, Ariel"

She handed him the card and he was off. Claire was staring at her wide-eyed and curious. "Ariel, who IS this guy? Fess up, girl, I want details!"

Smiling broadly, Ariel rolled her eyes and shook her head with a laugh. "Now, wouldn't you like to know?" she teased. "Let's just say that he's..." she paused for effect, "wonderful!" And with a Cheshire Cat grin, she drank down the last of her lemonade and started to wipe down the counters.

"Can I at least read the card?" Claire begged.

Ariel chuckled at her friend's insistent curiosity, and since it was only his first name on the card, she let her take a look.

Claire's eyes widened, then she audibly gasped and sighed. "Ariel! Oh my God, how romantic is that? Girlfriend, you'd better hold on to this guy, because I'm going to snatch him up if you don't!"

Playing coy, Ariel said "Well, I'm not sure you'd like him... he's an older gentleman."

Again, Claire lit up like the fourth of July. "Older? Mmmmm, I like older guys! Just do me a favor and don't tell me that he's handsome and British too, because if you do, I'm going to have to kill you, or myself, or both of us..."

Claire just grinned, raised an eyebrow, and slowly picked up the butter knife from the counter and teasingly held it away from Claire's reach.

"No... No! You're kidding, right? Oh, that's just not fair!" Claire pouted with great exaggeration, which pitched them both into fits of giggles. "Then, what are you doing here?" she shrieked. "Get out of here and get ready for your date with my would-be future husband! You know that new waiter Mark said that if any of us wants a shift or half-shift off, he'd be glad to take it, because he really needs the cash. I'll call him, and he'll finish your shift." She looked at Ariel, shaking a finger at her. "Now go!"

Grabbing the flowers and her purse, she didn't need to be asked twice. She gave Claire a hug and a wink before running out the door. Driving to the supermarket, she was grateful for the extra time to prepare for this spontaneous dinner, if he could even make it, that is. He'd call if he couldn't, she knew, but hoped that he was as anxious to see her as she was to see him. After picking out the ingredients she needed, she stopped by the dry cleaners to pick up her best silk blouse, and headed home.

Ariel got out the lace tablecloth and spread it over the table. She put the wildflowers in a small lead crystal vase, adding two white taper candles in silver holders, one on either side of the vase. Adding fine white china, silver, and crystal goblets, she admired the table for a moment before preparing herself for their date.

Bubbles billowed in the warm scented water as she filled the tub nearly to the top. Sinking in, she sighed and allowed the water and the scent and the bubbles to relax and soothe her. Ariel lingered for a long while in the warm bath before stepping out and drying off with a thick, fluffy towel. She rubbed in a generous amount of rich body lotion, and powdered with a large luxurious puff.

A clean t-shirt and leggings was her cooking attire, not wishing to chance staining her good clothes as she prepared the meal. Working skillfully and carefully, she got everything ready, and placed the salad in the refrigerator, and the pans of hot food on low heat on the back burner to keep warm.

She brushed her hair, leaving it loose, soft and shining, tumbling over her shoulders. After applying makeup, she donned black hose, an above-the-knee black skirt, heels and the blouse. The royal blue silk was perfect against her milky white complexion and her raven hair, complimented even more by simple diamond stud earrings and a thin silver chain necklace. She applied a bit of perfume, and went out to await her Prince Charming.

Selecing a lovely, romantic CD for the background, she dimmed the lights and lit the candles. At the witching hour, the doorbell rang.

There he was, wearing black pleated slacks and a black shirt, a small package in his hand. "Hello my love," Richard whispered as he kissed her sweetly. "Thank you for the lovely invitation... oh, and doesn't something smell good!" She motioned him in with a smile, and he stepped inside.

Ariel got a bottle of wine and two glasses, and they sat on the sofa. "Here, this is for you," he said as he handed her the small, beautifully wrapped package. "It reminded me of you."

She smiled brightly and unwrapped a slim leather-bound, gilt-edged volume of poetry. Opening to the first page, she read his inscription. "To my beloved Ariel: If only these mere poets had the words to adequately express how I feel about you... Yours always, love, Richard."

Something caught her eye as the book opened to reveal a small pressed wildflower as a bookmark on the page that contained "To Celia."

Richard gazed into her eyes. "Drink to me only with thine eyes..." He touched her glass.

"...And I will pledge with mine..." she replied, leaning in to kiss him tenderly. Ariel smiled softly. "Now, let's have dinner, shall we?"

She served them coq au vin, boiled new red potatoes tossed with butter, steamed green beans, salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and more wine. Thankful that the chicken turned out flavorful and juicy, she chatted with Richard as they enjoyed the good food.

He leaned back from the table with a contented sigh. "Darlin,' that was the best meal I've had in years! You're an excellent cook. I just wish you hadn't gone to all this trouble for me after working hard all day long, sweetness."

"It's absolutely my pleasure," she replied. "And now, for dessert." She made a pot of steaming tea and brought it to the table with two cups and two slices of flourless chocolate cake.

"Shall we take these to the living room?" she asked. He nodded and arose, and they returned to the sofa, setting the teapot and cups on the coffee table.

Handing him his cake, she poured two cups of tea. After running back to the kitchen for milk and sugar, she sat down again.

With a grin, Richard held out his fork, with a tiny bite of the cake on the tip. "Here," he offered. Ariel leaned over, closed her eyes and let him place the fork inside of her mouth. She closed her lips around the fork, and he withdrew it slowly, leaving the rich creamy taste of chocolate melting on her tongue. She smiled and took another forkful, this time raising it to his lips. He looked at her intently as he ate it. Then, he took another bite, put it in his mouth and placed his mouth on hers in a kiss, and she sighed, the taste of passion and chocolate making for a heady combination.

He dipped his finger into the cake and brushed it across her lips, kissing it off with tiny sensual licks. He smeared a dainty bit on her neck, making it disappear in a most delectible way before finding her mouth again. Love and sugar pulsed through her blood as she surrendered to his desperate kisses.

"But might I of Jove's nectar sup," he whispered, "I would not change for thine." He fed her another bite of cake, which she immediately shared with him, that irresistible combination again on her tongue.

Suddenly, he arose. "Dance with me?" he asked as he offered a hand. She stood and stepped into his arms, placing her head on his shoulder, swaying to the music, feeling his soft, freshly-shaved cheek against hers, the scent of his subtly spicy, masculine aftershave wafting through her senses.

He pressed against her as they danced, and she felt so safe within his strong arms, yet so vulnerable to her feelings. Oh boy, she thought, inviting him here was maybe not such a great idea...

Richard lifted her head with his gentle hands and kissed her again, deeply, as they continued to dance together. Electricity ran through her, it seemed, at the feel of his body against hers, so little between them and the point of no return.

She felt as if she were falling, floating, with nowhere to land. Ariel looked into his eyes, seeing that he shared her sense of desperation. She took a deep breath and reached over to turn off the music. With a knowing, gentle look, he reluctantly released her. "It's getting late, isn't it?"

Ariel looked down. "Nearly too late." She touched his cheek. "You must think me an awful tease."

Smoothing his hair, he kissed her cheek. "Darlin', just because you have genuine feelings and desires for someone, doesn't mean that you're being a tease if you don't act upon them if that's not what you believe in. It just makes me love and respect you more."

She sighed. "It would have been to easy to..."

"I know, luv," he interrupted. "You weren't the only one thinking about moving our little party here into your bedroom." He cocked a brow mischievously. "I would have even brought the cake."

"Richard!" she scolded him. "Yes, it sure is getting late..." she laughed as she looked at her watch. He chuckled and lovingly adjusted the collar of her blouse, "Thank you so much for a lovely dinner, and an exquisite dessert..." He kissed her.

"Goodnight, Richard" she whispered. "I love you."

His grey eyes sparkled. "And I love you, my sweet lady." He kissed her hand, and left.

With a heavy sigh, but a smile on her face, Ariel decided to leave cleanup detail until the morning, taking the bunch of wildflowers and inhaling their spicy perfume.

"But thou thereon did'st only breathe and sent'st it back to me, Since when it grows and smells, I swear, not of itself, but thee."

And with that, she went to bed with sweet dreams of his tantalizing chocolate kisses, and the promise of what their future might hold...

House Call

The next morning, Ariel awoke with a horrible cold. She felt as if her head were going to burst, and her throat was so sore it even hurt to swallow water. Her runny nose was tender as well, and she just felt as miserable as she could possibly feel.

Ariel called Jake's and told them she was too sick to come in. As she stumbled to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, the telephone rang. It was Richard.

"Darlin', you sound terrible! Are you alright?" he asked with deep concern in his voice.

She smiled weakly. "Oh yes, I just have a really nasty cold, but hearing your voice makes me feel a lot better." It truly did.

"Oh I'm so sorry to hear that, love. In that case, I'll come over with a few things in about an hour then, alright?"

"Oh no, Richard!" she protested. "I'm afraid I'd be completely unfit company today, and besides, I don't want you to get sick."

But Richard was not going to take no for an answer. "My love, you could not possibly be unfit company, even if you tried. And I just got over a cold a couple of weeks ago, so I'm not likely to catch another one now. In fact, I probably passed on those last fleeting germs to you, dear, I'm sorry."

Ariel smiled. "It was worth it..."

He laughed softly. "I want to come over and take care of you today, and no arguments from the patient!"

"Yes, doctor," she joked. "I'll see you in an hour."

Before she knew it, he was at her door, in black pants and a burgundy sweater, a large shopping bag in his hand. He kissed her softly on the cheek, and sat beside her on the sofa as he began to show her all the goodies he brought her.

He took out a large styrofoam cup. "Chicken noodle soup from the best deli in the neighborhood," he explained as he continued unloading his supplies. "Cold pills, ginger ale... " He paused. "And something extra special to help you feel better." Her face lit up with delight as he handed her a chocolate brown teddy bear with a big red bow around his neck.

"Oh, I love him! Thank you so much!" she grinned as she hugged Richard and gave the bear a little squeeze too. "He's adorable!"

Richard chuckled. "I'm so glad you like him, love, I saw him in the store window and he told me he wanted to come home with you. Can't say that I blame the little bloke for that..." She giggled. "And now," he said as he arose, "I'm going to heat up some of this soup for you and pour you something nice to drink, while you get comfortable." He looked in the bag and retrieved another item. "Oh, I almost forgot, I picked us up a movie to watch too. I hope you like it.'

Ariel glanced at the video box, noting that it was a popular film she'd been wanting to see, and she smiled at him, nodding her approval. Of course, she would have sat through the worst movie ever made with Richard at her side, but he naturally made an excellent choice.

"Good!" he exclaimed, "I'll be back in two shakes then, m'dear. You just get comfy, and I'll bring you your lunch."

She went into the bathroom to splash a little cool water on her face and gargle her throat with mouthwash. Wrapping her warm robe tightly around her nightgown, she found a cozy spot on the sofa. Richard returned soon, carrying a tray with a bowl of soup and a glass of ginger ale. He opened the bottle of cold pills and laid one on the tray.

"Here you go," he said kindly as he adjusted the tray for her and popped the video in the VCR before settling in beside her. Ariel kissed his cheek as she took the pill with a swallow of ginger ale, and then tried a spoonful of soup, holding the bear in her other arm. He looked at her with great kindness as he turned on the movie with the remote control.

The soup was very good, thick with homemade egg noodles, chunks of chicken, carrots and celery, all in a rich, flavorful broth. As she inhaled the steam, it helped her sinuses feel better, and the soup felt good in her tummy. The cold, bubbly ginger ale soothed her as well.

When she finished, assuring Richard that she had enough of the wonderful soup, he took the tray and set it aside, giving her room to lean into him, laying her head on his shoulder as he held her. He gently stroked her hair and kissed her forehead as they continued watching the movie.

It was a grand romance, set in medieval times, and Ariel snuggled in close to her knight in shining armor, so gallantly slaying the flaming dragon of her awful cold. After a while, she noticed the screen growing dim and cloudy, and then....nothing but darkness.

Suddenly, she awoke, finding herself in her bed with her teddy bear in her arms, the time on the bedside alarm clock making her realize that she'd been asleep for several hours, and there was Richard, sitting beside her in the chair next to the bed, reading a book. He looked up at her with a grin. "Well, good morning, angel!"

Grinning sleepily, she replied "It's not morning! I lost the whole afternoon, and the end of the movie. I'm sorry."

He sat beside her on the bed. "No, dear, that rest will do you good. I'm glad you fell asleep."

Ariel looked at her robe, neatly hanging on the closet door, seeing that she was only in her nightgown now. "But how disappointing," she joked sleepily, "here you've undressed me and gotten me into bed, and I slept right through it..." She grinned and looked into his eyes.

With a hearty laugh, he winked at her, touching her cheek. "Well, well, somebody's feeling better, now, aren't they?!"

"Yes, I am," she whispered, her eyes beckoning him to bend down and kiss her. He did not let her unspoken request go unfulfilled, his warm, soft mouth enveloping hers in a gentle, passionate kiss. Richard tossed his book to the floor and lay down beside her, continuing to kiss her tenderly, as she felt absolutely no effects of the cold remaining in her body, replaced instead with the fire and heat of his presence, which she just knew could easily burn out any germs in her system. He slipped his arms around her, holding her tightly, protectively, as he continued to kiss her.

Richard took her face in his hands, and looked into her eyes so lovingly she thought she would weep. "Now darlin', if you start feeling worse," he purred, "just take two kisses and call me in the mornin'."

She closed her eyes and took her medicine like a very willing patient. "But what if I need another dose?" Ariel sighed, "I feel a fever coming on ..."

"Call me anytime for a refill, my love," he whispered. "I make house calls..." She felt as if she were melting with every one of his hot molten lava kisses that flowed through her entire body. As his lips burned upon her neck, he clutched her tightly to him, holding her safe within his arms. How she wished that he would hold her forever, to never let her go, to nestle her within his strong embrace until she breathed her very last breath.

As she felt herself nearly overdosing on his sweet lips, she felt Richard rise up slightly. "Your kisses are so delightful, but I think you'd best get a little more sleep now. I want you to get all better very soon, beautiful darlin'." He arose and smiled. "Now, I'm going to make you a cup of tea and bring it to you, then I'm going to grab a pillow and blanket and sleep on your sofa, so you can call me if you need anything." He went to the kitchen.

In a few minutes, he returned with a mug filled with hot, soothing tea, honey and lemon stirred into it, and another pill. She took the pill and a few sips of the comforting brew. "You're too good to me," Ariel said to him. "You've been so incredible today, thank you so much... "

"It is absolutely and completely my pleasure, dear lady," he protested. "Now, is there anything else before I head out to the living room?"

"Just one thing..." she whispered, gently pulling him to her for one last delicious, healing kiss, which he gladly obliged and reciprocated. Her eyes were shining with contentment and joy. "I love you, Richard."

"And I love you too, so very much." He leaned over her and kissed her forehead, smoothing the covers over Ariel and turned out the light as he left. "Goodnight, my precious angel..."

"Goodnight, Richard..."

Lying in the darkness, but unable to sleep, she remained as still as she could, listening to his breathing, wondering what he was thinking, or whether he was already asleep and dreaming... of her? He was near, so very near, Ariel took a breath, cuddled her sweet new bear to her chest, and closed her eyes, finally succumbing to sleep as her true love, the aching desire of her heart, also lay in blissful slumber just a few yards beyond her door...

The Question

Ariel and Richard had been dating for about six months, blissfully and completely in love, sharing many special times together and never ceasing to discover new and wonderful things about each other. The joy they found in each other was greater than either of them had ever dreamed possible.

She was working just a few hours a week at Jake's now. Richard had offered to support her completely, but she told him that she didn't want to take advantage of his kindness. With his persuasive charm, however, he was able to convince her that she would be doing him a great favor by lightening her load, so she would have more time to spend with him. Finally, Ariel relented and allowed him to pay her rent and utilities, but insisted on working part-time.

It was mid-January, and the air was cool and crisp that morning as Richard and Ariel were sitting on a bench in the park, sipping paper cups of hot white chocolate from the gourmet coffee shop around the corner.

She smiled as a tiny bird hopped along, disappointed that the two occupants of the bench hadn't even a morsel of bread or other delicacy to share. Richard looked at her with admiration and warmth, the kindness she showed for even the smallest of God's creatures endearing her to his heart, and she felt the same way about him.

"Angel, he said, "I have a show to tape this Saturday. The Game Show Network is doing a Valentine's Day Marathon special, and they're having Bob Eubanks and me co- host. We'll do a nice intro piece, little things for in-between the episodes of Feud and Newlywed Game, and then a big finale. They're taping it with a live audience, which I think will be quite lovely. I'd love for you to be there."

Ariel smiled brightly and raised an eyebrow. "Well, it all depends... will you be wearing a tux?"

"But of course, my love." he replied with a wink.

"Well then, how could I resist?" she grinned as she kissed him sweetly. "That's wonderful, Richard, you'll have a marvelous time doing that!"

He kissed her again. "If you're there with me, love, then I certainly shall."

They finished their hot chocolates, depositing the cups in the trash can by the bench before going on with their walk.

On Friday, Richard had a lot of preparations and rehearsals for the big show the next day, so he told Ariel to go shopping for a new dress for the occasion while he was busy.

"Richard," she protested, "I already have several lovely dreses that you've bought for me or let me choose." She took his hand and looked into his eyes with a serious look on her face. "I want you to understand something. I love you. YOU. Not your wealth or your fame or your status. I don't need gifts and jewels and trips from you to prove your love - you do that every time you look at me so tenderly, or kiss me with such love and passion, or,just hold my hand in yours." She squeezed his hand. "All I want from you is you."

Richard's eyes betrayed a haze of tears. "You are my queen, and you deserve to be dripping in jewels and living in a palace, with all the fine things in life at your beautiful fingertips." He kissed her hand. "I have been very fortunate in my career, and have seen great financial success. And nothing gives me greater pleasure in this world than to share it all with you, to give you all the desires of your heart."

Ariel blinked the tears from her own eyes and touched his gentle face before kissing him. "You are the desire of my heart, Richard. Only you..." She gasped as he seized her and returned her kiss deeply.

"And you are mine," he assured her as his arms tightened around her waist. "I love you."

"I love you too..."

"Then you'd do something if I asked you to, wouldn't you?" he whispered between sweet fiery kisses.

"Oh yes, anything. anything..." Ariel sighed, holding him close.

Richard looked at her with a mischievous grin, holding out his credit card. "Then go buy that dress!" He winked and laughed out loud.

Ariel rolled her eyes and giggled, taking the card. "Alright, alright, you're certainly the persuasive one, aren't you?" She kissed him again, which he eagerly returned.

"You have no idea," he said with a wink. "Now go!"

"Fine, I will!" she laughed. With a last kiss goodbye, she waved as he left for the studio, and she headed to the dress shop.

The next day, Ariel was left to her own devices as Richard had gone ahead to the studio for last minute preparations, and was sending a limousine for her at 5 to make the 6 p.m. taping. She bathed, protecting the salon hairstyle she'd had earlier with a shower cap, then applied lotion, powder and perfume, did her makeup and dressed.

The figure in the full-length mirror was a vision to behold. The dress was a long black velvet gown, with a low-cut sweetheart neckline and small sleeves that left her milky white shoulders bare. It fit perfectly, closely from the bosom to the waistline, and then flairng out from the waist to a full ballroom skirt, concealing her black high-heel pumps. Her hair cascaded down in shining ebony ringlets, and her lips were crimson, with her eyes dramatically accented with dark eyeshadow, black liner and false lashes. A pair of diamond drop earrings, another gift from Richard, set off the ensemble perfectly.

At 5, the limo driver arrived, and Ariel grabbed her tiny silver evening bag and allowed the driver to open her door and help her in. There was a bottle of champagne and a dozen roses awaiting her inside. Her heart was full of love, and also of great pride in Richard's big night. It had been a long while since he'd been on the Feud, and many other game shows had come and gone since then, but America loved him, and being offered this special was proof of the enduring affection that his audience still held for him. She sat back in the cushy seat and sipped a glass of champagne, smiling and warm with thoughts of the wonderful man who somehow chose to love her.

When the limo arrived at the studio, she was ushered to her seat in a section in the front row, reserved for very special guests. The lights soon went dim, and a hush fell over the excited audience. The producer came out to say a few words, explaining how they would be taping the beginning segment, the little in-between segments, and the finale, and that the episodes of the shows for the marathon would be added in later in the editing room. And then, Richard and Bob came out to take the red and white Valentine-decorated stage and begin the show.

The two men read their parts like old pros, making it sound real and natural, injecting their lines with great humor and warmth. They welcomed the audience to the Valentine marathon special, explaining how they were chosen for hosting duty, Bob because of all the newlyweds on his show, of course, and Richard for his notoriety for kissing the ladies, making them perfect hosts for a romantic show. Ariel laughed softly and admired her handsome man.

Richard and Bob only flubbed their lines a couple of times, making the day go quickly. Soon, it was the finale. As they showed a few brief clips of memorable moments from their shows, they introduced a couple who had met and later married, members of two opposing families on the Feud. Richard couldn't resist cracking a few Romeo and Juliet jokes before wishing them well. And then, he stepped to the front of the stage and took the microphone.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it's been a great evening here on the Valentine's Day Marathon. And now, there's someone very special that I'd like to introduce to you." Ariel felt herself go cold as he looked directly at her with a smile, the spotlight finding her.

"This is Ariel, my very own Valentine, right here," he said as he walked off the stage, down the steps, and right in front of her. He motioned for her to stand, and he put his arm around her, facing her toward the audience, rubbing her back lightly to calm her as the audience applauded. "Ariel is a very special lady in my life, and I wanted to take this moment to ask her a very special question."

If ice could burn, that's the sensation that Ariel would have felt at that moment. Richard dropped to one knee, took her hand, and gazed into her eyes. The audience gasped, which Ariel would have done too, if she weren't frozen immobile in her spot. All she could do is stare in delirious disbelief.

"Ariel," he said softly as the audence listened in total, awed silence, "you have brought such joy and love into my life. You make me laugh, you comfort me when I'm lonely, and you love me like no one has ever loved me before. You have a beautiful spirit that makes me a better man, and I want to spend the rest of my life trying to return just a small fraction of the happiness you've given me." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black velvet box.

Her face burned as she looked at the large, heart-shaped diamond solitaire ring. Richard looked at her anxiously, as if there could possibly be any doubt. "Ariel, I love you with all my heart, and if you would allow me the privilege, I would be the happiest man on the face of the earth if you would agree to be my wife." He took the ring from the box and held it up. "My love, will you marry me?"

She couldn't speak. All she could do was to throw her arms around him and hold him tight. She looked into his eyes with tears of happiness, and kissed him. The audience cheered.

After a moment, Richard turned to the jubilent masses. "Now, wait just a minute! We haven't gotten our answer yet, have we? For all I know, she's just overcome with emotion over seeing Bob Eubanks here tonight!" Bob broke up in fits of laughter from on the stage, as the audience laughed along.

Ariel grinned and whispered in his ear, and Richard mocked a horrified reaction. 'Why Ariel, I'm surprised at you, darlin', suggesting such a thing, in front of all these people!"

She laughed and playfully punched his arm. "Yes" she shouted, to a wildly applauding audience. She looked into his eyes and whispered softly, just to him "Yes, oh yes I would be so proud to be your wife..." And she kissed him again as he slipped the ring on her finger.

Suddenly, the whole studio was showered with a rainbow of paper heart confetti from the rafters. Ariel looked up, and saw her parents, sister, grandmother, her best friend and her co-workers at Jake's, all grinning and crying and rushing up to embrace the newly betrothed couple. Richard had flown her family in just for the occasion, and made sure her friends in town were there as well to share this very special day. A stagehand wheeled a tray onto the stage, with a bottle of champagne and glasses. As they all toasted Richard and Ariel's happiness, Bob stood beside them.

"Thank you for watching our Valentine's Day Marathon special here on Game Show Network. And now, for Richard Dawson, his lovely new bride-to-be, and me, Bob Eubanks, thank you for taking the time to share these years of fond memories with us, and have a happy Valentine's Day!" They all waved to the camera, and it was a wrap.

Bob came over to them and kissed Ariel on the cheek and shook Richard's hand, giving them his warmest blessings and good wishes, after joking with her that he'd be first in line to snatch her up if she ever decided she wanted herself "a real game show host." They laughed and thanked him for his help, and his congratulations. After Richard made his rounds, thanking everyone on the staff and crew who'd helped with his little surprise, he led Ariel to his dressing room for a private celebratory toast.

A bottle of chilled Dom Perignon and two crystal flutes were on the small coffee table, and he popped the cork. Pouring two glasses, he handed one to her with a kiss as they sat on the sofa. "To you, my love, for accepting my humble proposal." They clinked glasses and sipped the exquisite bubbly.

"To you , Richard," she said, "For never ceasing to find new ways to make magic." They touched glasses and sipped once again, and he leaned over to kiss her.

"My angel,' he whispered, setting their glasses down, "you have no idea what magic is..." He sought her mouth and kissed her deeply.

"I've a feeling you'll show me, very soon" she sighed, her arms tight around him as she returned his passionate kiss.

"Oh indeed I shall," he agreed, kissing her neck. "But now, we should discuss our wedding plans. What would you like to do."

She whispered in his ear.

"Las Vegas?" he protested. "But love, don't you want that big fairy tale wedding every girl dreams of?"

Ariel smiled softly. "Richard, I already have that fairy tale, because I've found my Prince Charming. And I can think of nothing more romantic than you and me getting married tomorow in a sweet little chapel in Vegas." She ran her tongue across his soft lower lip. "Besides, I can't wait any longer for our wedding night..."

She felt him tremble slightly as he overwhelmed her with hot, demanding kisses. "Nor can I, my love, nor can I." Richard purred as he released her. "But you should go home now, dear heart, and I'll make those reservations for tomorrow." He called the driver and walked Ariel to the waiting limo with a final kiss goodnight.

Back home in bed, but restless, Ariel's mind raced with a million thoughts. Suddenly, the phone rang. It was Richard. "Angel, I just wanted to call and say goodnight, and thank you again for making me a very happy man."

She smiled. "Thank you for asking, and for making my fairy tale come true tonight. I love you."

"And I love you. Now you sleep and have pleasant dreams."

Ariel lay back on the pillow. "What shall I dream of?"

"Dream of you and me," he whispered, "and of our honeymoon..."

She closed her eyes and considered the unbearably beautiful thought for several moments, before laughing softly. "Oh thank you for that image!" she teased him. "Now I'll never get to sleep tonight."

"Well, my dear, you'd better try," Richard growled suggestively, "because I promise you now, you won't be getting any sleep tomorrow night..."

And with that, he blew a soft kiss into the phone and hung up, leaving Ariel to those sweet, restless dreams of what delightful things would await them when tomorrow finally came...

Conclusion - Honeymoon in Vegas!

The next morning, Ariel awoke to an early morning phone call, as an exaggerated Cockney accent greeted her. "Ay, pretty lady, wanna get 'itched today?"

Ariel laughed. "Well, I am engaged to another fellow, but you do sound awfully cute...."

"That bum?" the man protested, "Ditch the bloke, luv, you deserve better than 'im!"

This cracked her up, and he persisted until her sides ached from laughter and she finally agreed to run away with her strange gentleman caller. Richard chuckled and briefed her on the plans he somehow managed to make so quickly. Their flight departed at noon, and their wedding was scheduled for 8 p.m. in the chapel downstairs in the hotel he'd booked for them.

"Guess what?" Richard teased her, "You've got more shopping to do this morning!" He explained that he'd contacted the dress shop owner and arranged for her to be there early so Ariel could get everything she needed in time.

"Alright, Richard, I'll head over there as soon as I get dressed, thank you! I love you..."

"I love you too, angel. I'll pick you up about 11, ok?"

She agreed and left him with a lovely thought. "Well, I'll try to be on time, but you know, it may take a while to try on all that lingerie..."

"You're cruel and heartless, you know that?" he replied, "I like that in a woman!"

"Oh, I just bet you do!" she laughed as they said their goodbyes and one last 'I love you' before hanging up the phone.

Ariel showered quickly, dressed and headed out the door. By 9:30, she was back, with just enough time to pack her new purchases and a few other pieces of clothing and toiletries in two bags, put on a little makeup and get changed into a pale pink pantsuit before Richard rang the doorbell.

The limo whisked them to the airport, and with the luck of Las Vegas on the happy couple's side, their flight was right on time. They cuddled together in their comfortable first class seats and sipped champagne all the way to Vegas. Another limousine awaited them when they landed, taking them to a posh hotel. Richard quickly checked them in, and the bellman followed them to their honeymoon suite with their bags.

Richard tipped the bellman as he left, and kissed his bride-to-be. "Well, my darlin', are you ready for this?" he grinned, holding her in his arms.

"Absolutely," she assured him, kissing him back happily.

Richard smiled. "Good, then I'll take what I need and let you have the suite to get ready in. The chapel downstairs has a little room I can use to dress in. I'll go get a bite to eat, play a round or two at the roulette table, and meet you at 8." He took her hand. "I know it's supposed to be bad luck to see the bride before the wedding, but this way we'll at least have a little time apart before the ceremony.'

Ariel kissed him again. "I don't feel the least bit unlucky."

He winked and took his garment bag and a small toiletry kit with him, blowing her a kiss and singing a few lines of "Luck Be A Lady Tonight" as he left her, grinning, to prepare for the most important day of her life.

After sinking into a tub full of bubbles, she relaxed and let the warmth of the water soothe her jittery nerves. She soaked for a long while, then wrapped up in one of the two thick terrycloth robes that hung in the exquisite marble bathroom, and lay down on the luxurious king-size bed to rest for a little while.

She was fighting butterflies, but didn't want to collapse from hunger at her wedding, so she glanced over the room service menu and called in an order for a club sandwich and iced tea. The food arrived soon, and she nibbled at it while she watched a little television.

Food and rest helped Ariel feel much calmer, so she finished getting ready, putting her hair up into a swirl of curls on top of her head, doing her makeup and slipping on her dress.

It was a simple, stunning knee-length white lace-overlayed silk sheath with a low neckline and short lace sleeves, finely tailored at the bust and waist with darts to accent her curves. White hose and high-heel pumps, the diamond drop earrings, and a short veil accented with white silk flowers and ribbons completed the outfit.

As she finished dressing, there was a knock at the door. It was the concierge, carrying a bouquet, a small package, and a card. "Oh, thank you," she said as she turned to find her wallet to tip him, "Let me just..."

"Oh no, that's alright, madam," he interrupted, smiling, "The gentleman has taken care if it," He bowed slightly as he left her to look over the surprises her beloved bridegroom had sent up to her.

She read the card. "Dearest Ariel, I anxiously await the 8 o'clock hour. Here are a couple of little things to "gild the lily" - they fade in the light of your exquisite presence, but I hope you enjoy them. Happiness awaits us, join me soon? With my eternal love, Richard."

The small ribbon-tied bouquet was fashioned of wildflowers, the same variety as those in the meadow during the picnic when they first confessed their love. She inhaled their perfume and smiled as she opened the long, slim velvet box, tied with a red ribbon. It was a perfect strand of creamy pearls, smooth and cool to the touch. She put them around her neck, amazed once again at how he always managed to find such sweet and thoughtful ways to surprise and delight her.

Ariel stood before the full-length mirror for a long moment, scarcely daring to believe that she was about to marry the man of her dreams. Taking a deep breath, she picked up her bouquet and a small white beaded evening bag, dropped her hotel key and a few other little necessities inside, and walked to the elevator, drawing smiles and well-wishes from her fellow passengers on the way down to the first floor.

Richard stood at the front of the small chapel, one hand on his hip, speaking to the minister as she entered. His eyes were afire as he turned to look at his bride, a soft, loving, highly approving look in his eyes. Ariel returned his glance as she walked toward him, breathlessly admiring the devastatingly handsome and dashing man awaiting her in a black tuxedo with a red rose in his lapel and red cummerbund.

Two witnesses were seated in the lovely small chapel, decorated elegantly with red and white roses, and a few small pews with ribbon bows. Soft, lovely music played in the background. "Shall we begin?" asked the minister. Richard nodded and took Ariel's hands in his with a warm smile. "Do you have a few words to say to each other?" the minister asked.

"Yes, "Richard said, looking into her eyes. "Ariel, my life has been filled with ups and downs, joy and sorrow, success and failure. For too long, I thought that money and fame could make me happy, and I lived as if it could for many lonely and empty years." He squeezed her hand "Until the day a beautiful lady with a heart of gold and a sweet spirit showed me what true love and happiness really meant." Gently, he touched her face, his eyes holding hers captive within their penetrating gaze.

"Richard," she said, "You found me when I was alone and hurting, not willing to open my heart to anyone, to be vulnerable to the pain again. Yet, when you treated me with such gentleness and warmth and respect, I couldn't help but let you in. And on that first night, when you kissed me and told me that this day would come, I believed you. With your kindness and gentleness and humor, you made me believe in love again, because I fell in love with you that very first moment I saw you."

They exchanged vows and rings, hers the matching band that went with her engagement ring, and his, a lovely gold band that had belonged to her grandfather. "And now, the moment that Richard has been waiting for all day," grinned the minister, "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss your beautiful bride."

"I've been waiting all my life..." he whispered with a gentle smile. Ariel wept softly as he took her face in his hands, looked at her, and kissed her with a beautiful, emotional kiss.

Richard thanked the witnesses and shook the ministers hand. The minister kissed Ariel on the cheek, and wished them a lifetime of love and happiness. A photographer took their picture, which would be waiting for them at the front desk when they checked out the next day, and they shared a small white wedding cake, getting a smudge of frosting on his nose and her chin as they fed each other, laughing.

Finally, he took her hand and led her out of the chapel. "Well, angel, we did it!" he exclaimed brightly. "Now what shall we do first, love? Craps? Blackjack? The slot machines?"

She leaned into his ear. "If you want to get lucky, why don't you take me to our room?" she whispered with a smile. "I'm a sure thing tonight.." The look in his eye as he smiled at her assured her that she needn't ask twice. Ariel laughed softly as she noticed he was walking much faster now as he pulled her toward the elevator.

At the door to their suite, Richard unlocked and opened it, lifting Ariel into his arms and carrying her over the threshold. She kissed him as he closed and locked the door behind them. Still within his arms, she touched his cheek and looked deeply into his eyes. "I can't believe we're married!" she smiled.

"Believe it," he said softly, kissing her again. "What can I do to convince you that it's real?"

"Oh, I'm sure you'll come up with something...." she purred.

In response, he took her mouth in a deep, passionate kiss, which she returned with a blissful sigh. Nuzzling her earlobe and nipping at it softly, he whispered "Have I convinced you yet, or do you need some more persuasion?"

"Oh yes," she pleaded softly, "Persuade me..."

"It would be my absolute pleasure," he replied in a low, raspy voice that sent a shiver through her.

Richard gently set her down on her feet, kissing her once more, softly. "You go and get ready, my darlin'. I'll be right here waiting for you..." She nodded and began to walk away.

"Ariel," he called to her.


"Please hurry..." he said with a soft smile.

She looked at him, eyes sparkling. "I will," she assured him as she took her small bag into the bathroom. As quickly as she could, she brushed her teeth and hair, dabbed on some perfume, splashed on some cool water to ease her flushed face, and dressed for bed. Taking a deep breath, she emerged in a long white satin gown, with spaghetti straps and lace trim. Richard was sitting on the edge of the bed wearing a hunter green terrycloth robe and dark green plaid pajama bottoms. He arose as she walked toward him.

He took her hand and kissed her fingertips, his gaze burning unrelentingly, unmercifully, into her eyes and slowly moving over her entire body. "My god," he whispered hoarsely, "you are so beautiful." She noticed that he had lit dozens of candles all around the room, which was filled with red roses. The bed was also strewn with flower petals, and an ice bucket held a bottle of fine imported champagne.

Richard popped the cork, poured them two glasses, and they toasted their marriage, sealing their eternal pledge with another kiss. He turned on the CD player and took her into his arms. "May I have this dance, Mrs. Dawson?"

Ariel pressed against him and rested her head on his shoulder. "This and every dance for the rest of my life, Mr. Dawson." They danced to the soft, romantic music, his arms tight around her, his breath warm on her neck.

After a couple of songs, he took a step back and looked into her eyes, betraying a desperate need and desire she knew all too well. "Yes," she responded softly to his wordless plea. "Oh yes, Richard, please..." And with that, he kissed her and gathered her into his arms again, carrying her to the bed and laying her down on the flower petal-covered linens.

He kissed her slowly as he eased his body over hers. Feeling her shaking like a newborn lamb, he gazed at her with a great tenderness and understanding. "Shhhhhhh," he reassured her quietly, soothingly stroking her face and hair, as if he were calming a nervous, skittish wild horse. "It's alright, my love. Everything will be alright..." He patiently calmed and reassure her.

Ariel caught her breath and looked up at her husband. "I'm so sorry, it's just that I... I want you, Richard, so much that it hurts, and I can't believe that we're actually here, together, like this" She touched his face. "I've dreamed of this for so many nights..."

His eyes glowed with kindness. "Don't you dare apologize," he gently scolded her. "I want you too, Ariel, god, so much I can taste it." he whispered as he touched his lips to her cheek. "Now, I want you to lie back, relax, and let me make love to you..." He kissed her softly yet passionately. "This is your night."

Ariel closed her eyes and returned his heated kiss. His knowing, gentle hands caressed her as he trailed kisses over her neck and throat. "I love you, my angel," he whispered as she felt herself flowing into him, his touch stirring her in glorious ways she'd never known.

"I love you, Richard," she breathed, surrendering to the overwhelming wave of love they were making. They became one, and as his kiss grew deeper and stronger, his beautiful words and hot breath in her ear, she felt herself at the pinnacle of all the wonderful feelings he aroused within her. Finally, she trembled and cried out his name with tears of joy, collapsing into his arms, and seeing in his piercing grey eyes that he, too, had found the same sweet release.

She sighed and lay her head on his chest, listening to his heart, pounding like hers, but beginning to slow and settle. When she regained her senses, she lifted her head and kissed him softly, tears filling her eyes again. "Oh Richard, it was so beautiful..." Words couldn't express what she felt, so she just kissed him again. "I love you so very much."

Richard tenderly brushed a tear from her cheek. "My beautiful angel..." he whispered, "you were incredible" his mouth seeking hers for another sweet-hot kiss. "I love you."

She snuggled close and he stroked her hair as he held her to his chest. "Sleep now, love and dream of me."

"Oh yes, the sweetest dreams...." she sighed as she closed her eyes and was lulled to sleep by the soft sound of his beating heart, and the warmth and security of his arms around her.

Ariel opened her eyes and smiled at the sight of her beloved lying beside her, the morning sun streaming through the windows to cover them in its warm glow. "Good morning," she purred as she smiled softly at him.

"It most certainly is, my love" he growled softly as he pulled her to him in a passionate kiss. They made love again, still hungry with desire for each other, and lay entwined for a long while before they arose.

Richard called room service as Ariel showered and wrapped up in a robe, kissing him as he took his turn. As he emerged, his hair damp and curling slightly, his face shaved and scented with aftershave, she admired his rugged sexiness, and she couldn't resist slipping her arms inside his robe to embrace and kiss him. The lovely moment was interrupted by their breakfast delivery.

They sat on the terrace and ate every bite of the brandied french toast and crisp bacon, with orange juice and a pot of tea. Ariel giggled and blushed at her hearty appetite, causing Richard to laugh and tease her gently.

After breakfast, they went back inside and Richard handed her an envelope. "Our honeymoon, sweetness, I hope you approve." Tickets, brochures and an itinerary detailed their month-long European honeymoon, beginning with 5 days at a small bed and breakfast in the English countryside, and continuing on to London, Paris and Rome.

"Oh Richard, yes!" she grinned with a kiss on his cheek. "but I'd be happy in a shack, as long as you were there with me."

He kissed her. "Never a shack for my queen," he whispered," Only the very best for you."

"I have the very best, right here in my arms" she replied softly as she returned his kiss. And then, it was time to check out and catch their flight to England.

Richard and Ariel spent that next glorious month seeing the sights of Europe, eating marvelous food, meeting many great people, and loving each other. It was pure magic, partly because of all the wonderous new things they saw, but mostly because of the happiness they found in each other.

A couple of months after their return, Richard found a package awaiting him at the dinner table. Grinning at his beloved bride with a quizzical look on his face, he opened it to find a T-shirt that said "Number 1 Daddy," He blinked and looked at her in disbelief, as Ariel just nodded and smiled. He broke down in tears, taking her into his arms, kissing her deeply, and embracing her tightly, whispering "Thank you, oh, thank you...", his eyes so full of joy and bliss that she wept too.

In November, little Luna Star was born, named for the honeymoon during which she was conceived, and the stars that would shine forever in her parents' eyes. She had Ariel's dark hair, Richard's twinkling eyes, and all the love that a mother and father could ever bestow upon their child.

Need it be told that Prince Charming, his queen, and their precious little girl would live happily ever after?...

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