Mildred's gift had been a very small box, very plain with an unusual gift-wrapping. Inside she had found a pair of small Maltese cross earrings that would go extremely well with most of her outfits. The box from Steele had been the size of a book but was too light to contain that, the wrapping very discreet. There had been a little sticker on it revealing that it had been purchased in London. Eagerly opening it, the loveliest scarf she ever had laid her eyes upon appeared. Touching it she had recognized the feel of high quality silk. How very nice! She had exclaimed silently, wrapping the scarf around her shoulders. The colors just right for her, warm, and not too elaborate a pattern. Steele's gift was truly something she would forever cherish.
After a little while she had decided to put on a solid-colored dress and wrap her new scarf around her neck to add some flair to her outfit. Now she was sitting on her couch with her feet up, reading a book, feeling very content and happy. Then there was a knock on the door. She looked at her watch. Almost four o'clock. Who could it be? She didn't expect anyone. With slightly hesitant steps she walked up to the sliding door, unlocking it from the inside, opening it. Outside stood Steele, dressed in slacks, shirt and jacket, casual, yet stylish. Immediately he laid his eyes on her and smiled appreciatingly, knowing that Laura had liked his gift for her.
"Mr. Steele" she said with a surprise, meeting his look and feeling how she slightly blushed, as if she had been caught playing with fire. "Weren't you going someplace…", she said not finishing. "But please, come in. Don't just…" Whatever she tried to say the words seemed to stumble out of her mouth. She really had not expected to see him and she made every effort not to reveal both how nervous she suddenly became and how glad she was to have him there. She stepped out of his way to let him in.
Before she knew it Steele had taken her into her arms, holding her tight, making her relax, as if he had sensed her suddenly on-struck tension. Still holding her firmly, he slid the door closed behind him.
"Laura, dear.", he began. She immediately noticed that his voice was full of movement. "How…What…", he continued, searching intensely for the right words. He let go of her just enough to move his hands to her chin, lifting it so that he could speak directly to her eyes, to her soul. "Please listen to what I have to say…Your gift to me this Christmas is the most precious gift I have ever received. How it made me feel…words are not enough, but I'll try." He paused, looking into Laura's eyes for reassurance, for comfort, for encouragement to continue.
With her eyes silently urging him to proceed, he said "When you sang to me, you showed me what my life needs to be…Your openness about how you feel, your fears, your dreams seemed unreal at first, as if I was dreaming. Ever since I walked through those office doors, I've hoped that we could share something special, but I guess I was afraid to really see what your eyes revealed. I have been a fool not seeing it, not believing in it. The emotions that overwhelmed me when I listened to your words, I had no idea that I could feel this way. For the first time I'm not afraid of true love,- of closeness,- of togetherness. Thank you Laura for opening my eyes, for retrieving the key to my heart, a key I thought I had lost a long time ago."
Knowing that any words would not suffice in a moment like this, Laura got on her toes and kissed him lightly on the cheek. Then she simply said "You are welcome, Mr. Steele." Then moving her lips to his, kissing him gently. Steele responded by deepening the kiss and embracing her. Laura could not help but let go of any holdbacks.
After the kiss they stood, seemingly forever, looking into each other's eyes.
Steele agreed to follow Laura to her newfound restaurant south of LA. In the Auburn, they held each other's hand most of the time, feeling like teenagers on their first date. The difference was that the usual uncertainty connected with a teenage date was not there. Instead it was symbol of their unwillingness to part and their willingness to bond.
The restaurant turned out to be even cozier inside than its charming outside revealed. They were given a table at the end of the restaurant to reduce any chances of eavesdropping, thus giving them privacy to talk about just anything. The table was set with perfectly matched colors as regards tableware and a pewter candleholder supported a large beeswax candle, which gave the air a scent of honey. The food was excellent. Light and well balanced in flavors. The restaurant's selection of wines was excellent and their waiter had recommended just the right wine to complement their meal. As they ate they talked, gazed into each other's eyes, reached out to hold hands, smiling and laughing frequently. It truly was an evening where both felt fully comfortable in each other's presence.
Before they realized it, the clock had struck ten and it was time for the restaurant to close for the evening. After having paid and, as usual with Steele, given the waiter a substantial tip for his excellent but discreet services, Steele asked Laura, "Shall we?", reaching out for her hand.
Without a word but with her eyes firmly set on Steele's, she got up and took him gently by his hand. Still holding her hand, Steele put his arm around her shoulders as they moved towards the exit. Once outside they both noticed what a clear night it was with thousands of stars blazing in the sky. As if struck by the same adoration, without communicating, both stopped at the same time to admire the wondrous view above them. Laura felt a sudden jolt of happiness which made her lean against Steele's shoulder as she put her arm around his waist, hugging him softly. Touched by her gesture, Steele placed a light kiss on her hair.
"Wonderful sight, eh?" Steele commented.
"Uhum" was the only word Laura replied with taking a deep breath of the fresh, slightly salty air. "Just wonderful." She said as she exhaled, realizing what an unusually mild evening it was for mid-winter.
They started walking along the pathway leading down to the beach. Since there were houses all along the beach and with the many Christmas lights decorating them, the beach was quite well lit. When they reached it, both stopped momentarily to take off their footwear in order to feel the moist sand surround their feet. Without words they slowly began to wander along the water, Steele still holding Laura around her shoulders and Laura with one arm around his waist and one hand against his chest. Gradually their strides got less and less frequent and they came to a halt. For a short while they just stood there listening to the faint sound of the small waves hitting the shore, a feeling of serenity surrounding them. Steele let go of Laura's shoulders and moved to face her.
"Thank you", he said, leaning forward to kiss Laura's forehead. Laura looked up to meet Steele's look at her. "Thank you for making my life special." Steele declared with warmth in his voice.
"Thank you for letting me." Laura responded, reaching up, kissing his cheek. "Thank you for becoming so important to me." Laura whispered, kissing his other cheek, her lips barely touching him. Steele answered by wrapping his arms around Laura, pulling her close to him for a tight but yet tender embrace. He started to gently rock her in his arms, enjoying feeling her body against his, being able to sense her wonderful scent and being. This must be heaven, he thought to himself.
Laura felt so comfortable having his arms tightly wrapped around her upper body. Resting her head against his chest made her feel easy, safe and relaxed and she could not help starting to gently caress his back as an act of gratitude.
Steele understood what she meant by her gesture. He loosened his grip and moved his hands to hold Laura's head, tilting it slightly backwards. His eyes met hers and he could detect nothing but trust in her dark eyes. They were slightly blank with emotion he noted.
Laura felt such a warm feeling inside and from Steele's intense look at her, she understood that her feeling was expressed in her eyes as well. His eyes showed nothing but sincere care and she felt that she could trust him with everything. "I love you" she said without hesitation somewhat to her surprise.
"Laura, how can I but love you too" Steele responded as his gaze into her eyes deepened further.
Both moved their lips towards one another, tentatively as if the kiss would sting. Their lips met briefly and their heads moved back slightly so that both could seek reassurance from each other. Noting that their eyes were filled with nothing but trust and love their lips met again. And again. And again. Each time with more feeling and desire. After the intense kissing, which left them both somewhat short of breath, they reached for each other, eager to fall into a close embrace, needing to sense each other's increased heartbeats. They both knew it was too early to move their new relationship any further this evening but what had happened this Christmas was as if a new chapter had started in their respective lives. No, both corrected themselves, a new chapter in their life together.

END (maybe to be continued)

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