Magical Kisses Anthology
"Winning Sylvia's Heart"
by Nancy Pirri (Dame Sapphire)
Sylvia Maxwell pulled into her parking space in the underground garage beneath her condominium. She was determined to carry all four grocery bags into her condo in one trip. The sound of another vehicle caught her attention and she saw her neighbor, Jack McNamara, ease into the space beside her. She stepped out of her late model Sedan at the same time he climbed out of his utility vehicle.
“Hey, Sylvia. Need some help?”
“I sure do know how to time things, don’t I?” she said, grinning. Reaching up, she opened the back hatch, hauled a brown bag out and handed it to him. “I appreciate it, Jack.”
“Give me a couple more of those.”
“No buts. I can manage it. I have before,” he insisted.
“You’re the greatest, you know that?”
“You’re just saying that ’cause you don’t want to have to make two trips,” he said dryly as she centered the third bag in front of the other two in his arms. She took the last bag and followed him toward the elevator, her gaze trained on his lean backside.
Everything about Jack was lean and long. He reminded her of a tall, spare cowboy from the old west. She grinned as she looked at his jeans-clad legs that were slightly bowed, noting the slight swaggering gait. Yep. A handsome, rugged cowboy she had no business eyeing up and down. The only man an engaged woman should be ogling was her fiancé.
They stood beside each other as the elevator climbed to their floor.
“Tom coming over for supper?” he asked.
“Yes, we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day tonight.”
“A day early, huh?”
She sighed. “Yes, unfortunately, he’s very busy with work…”
“Uh-huh,” he said.
She glanced up at him, but he didn’t face her. His was looking up, watching the floor numbers slide by.
“Does the guy ever take you out on a real date?”
“Of course he does,” she bristled. Not! Well, at least not all that often, but Jack doesn’t need to know that. “You’ve seen us at places together.”
“Sure, I’ve seen him wine and dine you in less than an hour—record-breaking date time if you ask me. The guy’s gotta learn to relax, darlin’, and learn to appreciate you,” he said, turning soulful brown eyes on her.
Heat seared her cheeks. It was embarrassing that he knew how often she sat at home waiting for Tom to call. She seemed to always be waiting for Tom. Shouldn’t a man want to be with his fiancée? Shouldn’t he be thinking about her day and night? Tom didn’t. On the day he’d proposed, he informed her his work was important to him, and sometimes he’d have to break dates or show up late. There was his widowed mother whom he cared for as well. At first Sylvia thought she could live with that, but now she was having doubts and second thoughts about marrying him. Jack’s comments didn’t help.
They reached their floor, and she felt Jack on her heels. She unlocked and swung open her door, allowing him entrance. He set the grocery bags on her glass-topped kitchen table a bit heavier than necessary. Still, she was glad for the help. He proceeded to unload her bags, and she put away the groceries.
“Steaks, baking potatoes, tater topping? You sure know how to treat a guy right.”
“You know how I feel about Valentine’s Day. It’s the most important holiday of the year.”
He grinned. “You know, most people say Christmas is the best, but not you. You’re a romantic through and through, aren’t you?”
“Yup, that’s me, Miz Romance.”
Laughing, he reached out and tweaked a long curling strand of her dark brown hair, tucking it behind her shoulder. “Tom’s a lucky man.” A frown creased his brow, and he added, “I don’t think he appreciates what he has.”
“Look, Jack,” she began, pausing at the sound of a doorbell ringing next door.
Jack glanced at his watch. “Damn. I’ve got company coming. Gotta run, sweetheart.” He strode out the door, closing it behind him.
Sylvia sighed. Why couldn’t Tom be more like Jack? Sure, earlier today he’d sent a box of candy, a bouquet of flowers, and a card with the words ‘I Love You Forever’ to her at work. As usual, Tom had forgotten to include his signature on the card. Why can’t Tom be more like Jack?
But then she thought about Jack’s Saturday parties that carried into the late hours of the night and decided she appreciated Tom’s staid, steady temperament a little more. The parties had started in the last few weeks, after Jack’s girlfriend broke up with him. He’d been devastated, though he seemed to be coming out of his depression.
The supper she’d chosen was easy to prepare. She cleaned and wrapped two large baking potatoes in foil, then went to the bathroom to soak in the tub a bit before dressing for her special night.
Half an hour later, Sylvia left the tub, looked at her calico cat and sighed. Missy was perched on the edge of the bathroom sink, lapping water from the leaky tap.
“Listen, we can’t both have the sink at the same time.” She picked up the cat and set her on the commode. “Wait your turn.”
Leaning over the sink in her pink silk robe splattered with fire-engine red hearts, Sylvia stared into the mirror and flicked black mascara onto her lashes. She was beginning to tackle the other eye when the phone rang. Startled, her hand slipped and she jabbed her eye with the wand.
“Ouch!” She dropped the wand into the sink. Missy thumped to the floor and left the bathroom.
Her eye started watering and she couldn’t open it for the stinging. Grabbing a washcloth from the towel rack, she ran cool water over it and smacked the cloth against the injured eye while she headed for the phone.
Rock music blared from the apartment next door, interspersed with shouts and laughter. Jack’s party was in full swing now. She understood how people gravitated to Jack. Hadn’t she? He was her newest neighbor, having only lived next door for three months, but he was the nicest, friendliest guy she’d ever met, and oh so easy on the eyes. Guiltily she thought of moments with Tom when Jack’s face came to mind. Strange that Jack was in her subconscious when no other man, other than Tom, had been before. She sighed, thinking about the fun his guests were having next door.
Picking up the phone on the sixth ring from where it lay on the bathtub’s edge, she said, “Hello?”
“Honey? It’s me.”
“Tell me you’re not right outside my apartment building, Tom!”
“No, I’m not.”
Sylvia heaved a relieved sigh. “That’s good because I’m not ready for you yet. Hold on a minute.”
She released the damp cloth and it fell into the sink. Looking into the mirror once more, she saw with dismay her teary and bloodshot eye. Bum eye or not, nothing would prevent her from hearing Tom set their wedding date. He’d finally said he’d come to a decision. That meant this had to be a special night. She’d been waiting for this over a year since he’d given her the ring. He’d been putting off making a decision because of his workload, but maybe at long last he’d set a date.
“Okay, I’m back,” she said.
“I’ve got bad news.”
She started sweating, though the temperature in her apartment was set at an energy-saving sixty-five degrees. “What now?”
“I have to cancel our date tonight.”
Not a hint of regret bled into his voice. Her hand tightened around the phone.
“What do you mean you have to cancel? It’s Valentine’s Day…eve. You promised to celebrate the holiday with me today since you have to work tomorrow. Remember that we also planned on settling on our wedding date, too.”
“I have to close the Proctor deal…now. I thought I had all next week but it turns out Proctor has to return to Canada tonight. I promise I’ll make it up to you—”
Blah, blah, blah… Sylvia scowled and slumped against the sink, twirling a strand of hair, tuning out Tom’s excuses. She’d heard them all before.
A loud round of applause next door made Jack pop into her mind again.
“What else can I say to make you understand how important this?” he groused.
“Listen, Tom, must I remind you you’re marrying me, not your work?”
“Of course not. What do you think I am anyway?”
She caught his injured tone but didn’t buy it this time. “So, you’d rather spend the evening at work than with me. Is that it?”
“Now, honey, don’t make me out to be—”
“—a first class jerk? You know the old saying, if the shoe fits.”
He started to respond but she cut him off. “If you can’t, you can’t.” Jack’s face resurfaced again, giving her the courage to say, “Tom? I think we need to end this relationship.”
She could hear him breathing. Was that a relieved sigh she heard?
He didn’t reply and she said, “Did you hear me?”
“I did. It’s really for the best. Still, I think we should talk tomorrow and end on a high note. After all, we’ve been a couple for over two years.”
She was utterly unprepared for his reply. She’d been angry and had only meant to make him feel guilty, not break up with her! He’d agreed to end their two and a half year relationship…just like that. And the hell of it was, he didn’t sound upset. She realized then she wasn’t either.
“No need, Tom. Goodbye.”
She punched the end button then slammed the phone down on the sink’s edge.
What a waste of money. She stared down at her red painted toenails. She’d spent fifty dollars for a pedicure and manicure, a hundred on her new shoulder-length haircut and style. Groaning aloud, she thought about the three-hundred dollars she’d dropped on the red satin strapless sheath hanging in her closet. Maybe she should take it back to the store.
Sylvia sniffed as tears filled her eyes. She knew now that Tom had been stalling all along. He’d made plenty of promises and broken most of them. She’d expected romance, but there had been little. Tom had never been the overtly romantic type, which should have been a big red flag to her. But then, she had recently turned thirty-two and the thought of living her life alone made her sick to the stomach. Not that she’d ever been one of those women who needed a man around all of the time. But she did want to find a kind, decent man to share the passages of life, including having children.
Yet breaking up tonight had been easier than she’d ever thought it could be, because she knew she couldn’t live the rest of her life with a man who didn’t have an ounce of romance in him. Lately she’d even wondered about his desire to become a father. It seemed every time she brought up having children he changed the subject.
For the last two Valentine’s Days, Tom had presented her with the traditional box of candy and a bouquet of roses. Sweet gifts, but hardly original. She knew the holiday wasn’t important to him, so his gifts were a token to appease her. In her mind, the perfect Valentine’s Day date was more than flowers and candy. What about those sweet whispered nothings in her ear? And instead of hauling her to some fancy restaurant, or her cooking for him, why hadn’t he cooked her a meal at his house?
She sighed, knowing now she could never envision Tom donning an apron and cooking. Plus his mother would have had to share the evening with them.
Slow-dancing was another thing she’d asked from Tom and something he never delivered. He didn’t dance—never had, never would. She’d heard the finality in his voice the first time she brought it up and never said another word about it.
She was a romantic, through and through, so why had she become engaged to the most unromantic guy ever born? Her problem was she’d made the big mistake her mother had always warned her not to make—she’d settled for a man who obviously was not right for her; settled for fear of being alone the rest of her life.
One tear slid down her cheek as she thought about her mother’s death last year, thought how much she missed her. She wished she’d listened to her and believed her when she said Tom would not make her happy. Her mother had been right, but no one could convince Sylvia otherwise back then.
Her stomach growled, yet she didn’t want to cook steak and potatoes just for her. Besides, truthfully, she hated cooking. Her only intention was to please Tom. As she picked up the phone to dial Sui Yep’s Chinese down the street, someone knocked on her door. She set the phone down on the kitchen counter. Waiting a moment, she listened but heard only silence. Probably some late arrival for the party next door.
Boisterous laughter and an increased volume in the music made her frown. She scowled when a door banged shut. How in the world would she sleep tonight with all the noise? Jack partied nearly every Saturday night but never had the guests been this rowdy.
The banging on her door started in again, this time with more persistence. Pausing before her door, she tied the belt on her robe snugly around her waist.
“Hey, Sylvia, let me in!” a low, harried-sounding male voice said.
Sylvia rose on her toes and looked through the little peephole. It was Jack.
“What’s up?” She unlocked the door, swung it open, and he rushed inside.
“Thanks,” he muttered and tore down her hallway.
Sylvia’s eyebrows rose when she followed him. Was it her imagination or… No, he actually did have red hearts on the only thing he wore—a pair of pink boxer shorts. He’d yanked open the sliding glass door to her deck. Pausing with a grin on his face, his gaze swept her body.
“Nice robe.” He waggled his eyebrows.
She tossed her hair over her shoulder and laughed. “Ditto on the shorts. Seems we shop at the same place.”
Her heart skipped a beat at the soft look in his beautiful eyes. “It seems we do.”