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All the Riches in the World

For R

Flicking her text book closed Kathy made one final note on her essay. Finally dropping her pen, she rubbed her tired eyes, shooting a glance at the clock. It was even later than she’d thought and a quick look at the window, where light was already streaming through the gap in the curtains, alerted her to the fact that dawn had broken long ago. Yawning, she stretched her aching muscles, forcing herself to her feet. Changing into her comfortable flannel pyjamas, she brushed her teeth before climbing into bed. Even as she closed her eyes, facts and figures were swimming around her head. She had been working on the same essay for days, yet something still hadn’t clicked. She knew the essay didn’t count for much, but it was so important to her that every piece of work she did was perfect. She had never had this much trouble before, but she couldn’t let it go. Somehow she had to work out what was wrong and sort it. She just had to. Stifling another yawn, she squeezed her eyes shut, longing to give in to sleep. But the sweet release of oblivion was a long time in coming.

xxx


Her fingers reached for him, even as she could see him fading into the distance. Opening her eyes, Kathy buried her face in the pillow, pulling back the hand she had reached out after her mystery man. It was the third time in as many nights she’d had the same dream. When she awoke she could never quite remember the details, but she was always left with the same image. The image of a man she had no recollection of ever having met, yet who seemed so familiar at the same time. And she wanted him, this mystery man of hers. Wanted him more than she could explain. It made no sense, she knew that; but she still found herself reaching out for the one thing she secretly desired, that it seemed only he could provide her with.

Groaning she pulled herself out of bed. She had better things to do that waste her life dreaming of things as childish and silly as fairytales and happily ever afters. Kathy knew what she wanted from life, and sure, a husband and family fit in eventually, but she had so many other goals to achieve first. A boyfriend was not on her current “to do” list, and whatever the dreams were trying to tell her, she refused to believe it was her subconscious informing her she needed a guy. She didn’t want a man, and she certainly didn’t need one. With that in mind, she reached for the essay she’d been working on the night before and started rereading it yet again.

xxx


Wandering along the library aisles where they stocked the books for her course, Kathy had lost count of how long she had been looking for the books on her list. Her arms were laden, and she still wasn’t finished. Trailing her fingers along the spines in front of her, it was a moment before she realised she wasn’t even reading the titles anymore. Instead she was miles away, lost once again in her dreams of the night before. But enough was enough. Sure her mystery dream man had been more than a little enticing, but he wasn’t real, just a figment of her overactive imagination; and she had work to do. Focussing intently on the book in front of her, scanning the name embossed on its spine, she forced her thoughts back to where they belonged. As her gaze shifted to the next volume, she caught sight of a figure on the other side of the shelf. Surprised to find she was no longer alone, despite the late hour, she peered curiously through the gap. A second later she found her eyes caught by a striking pair of baby blues. Startled she took a step back and almost collided with the shelving unit behind her.
“Are you alright?”
She spun around at the sound of the rich, husky voice.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s OK,” She took a deep breath, then smiled, “Think I’ve just spent a bit too much time alone in here recently!”
He laughed, a rich warm sound, and she felt something deep down inside her respond to it.
“I can’t say I know the feeling, I spend as little time here as possible!” He grinned, “Though I’m surprised to find a girl as cute as you spending so much time alone…”
Blushing at the compliment as her tongue tied itself in knots; she looked everywhere but at him. Catching sight of the perfect distraction, she reached for the last title on her list. Shooting him an awkward smile, Kathy muttered something unintelligible about books and work, before hurriedly turning to walk away. Failing to notice the heap of books she had already collected and stacked by her feet, in her haste Kathy tripped, sending the few books she held falling to the ground, and scattering the once neatly stacked pile. Blushing furiously, Kathy bent down to collect the strewn volumes. She reached for the last book at the same time he did, and her fingers brushed against his. At his touch she felt a bolt of electricity flow through her. Shocked, she almost dropped the book again and at that she felt her face turning an even deeper shade of red.
“I’m Mark, by the way…” He said softly, releasing his hold on the book.
Excessively self-conscious and more than a little flustered, Kathy was so relieved that he’d let go, she was too rattled to respond to what he had said. Tucking the books under her arm, refusing to meet his unrelenting gaze, Kathy hurried away without another word.

A moment later, Kathy was hurrying down the library steps heading for home. Shifting the strap of her shoulder bag, she pulled her coat tight around her, silently cursing herself. She had never acted so pathetically in her entire life. She prided herself on always being in control, never loosing her grip on things. So what had happened to her back at the library? It hadn’t just been the books she’d lost her grip of. Her face burned with humiliation as she recalled the way she’d behaved in front of Mark. He must think she was a total nutcase. Not that it mattered what he thought of her. After all, he didn’t even know her name, since she’d been too much of a basket case to tell him. Her frown deepening as she reached her house, she resolutely pushed all thoughts of Mark out of her head, forcing her mind to focus on her essay instead, determined that this time she was finally going to crack it.

Several hours later, Kathy was hard at work, but still no closer to her goal. The essay was a mess; full of highlighter and markings which seemed to make no difference whatsoever. Nothing flowed the way she wanted it to; every word seemed to convey the wrong message. And it wasn’t as though she didn’t know the facts. She knew everything that was required, had all the background, even knew exactly what needed to be said and what could be left out. But she just couldn’t get it down on paper. It was the worst case of writer’s block she had ever experienced. And she had no idea what was causing it.

xxx


Two days later, Kathy awoke from a restful sleep feeling refreshed. For a moment she lay in bed, her thoughts on her mystery man who for the second night running had been absent from her dreams. As she tried to recall the face that had always been just out of focus, the haze seemed to fall away and she found herself staring at a mental image of Mark. Her heart rate kicked up and her breathing quickened before she could stop herself from remembering his chiselled features and striking blue eyes. Shaking her head to clear it, she pulled herself out of bed, forcing her mind to more pressing matters. She had work to do. And if she didn’t get on with it, she wouldn’t have time to go to the library to prepare for the following days seminar. Even as she thought it, she knew that more than half the reason she was so determined to make it to the library was in the hope that she’d see Mark again. But that was pointless and more than a little bit ridiculous. Determinedly pushing any trace of Mark from her mind, Kathy started her day.

The day passed in a blur of work, lectures and more work. So by the time Kathy reached the library that night she was almost relieved to be there. Spotting a free computer terminal, she quickly looked up the reference number of the book she needed, before going off in search of it. Within ten minutes, Kathy had settled herself in a quiet corner and was deeply engrossed in the relevant chapters. She was on the last page when she realised that yet again she was no longer alone. Glancing up, she found her gaze captured once more by Mark’s striking eyes.
“Hey there.” He smiled, before motioning to the seat beside her. “Is this seat taken?”
“No, it’s all yours.”
“Thanks.” Treating her to one last grin, Mark sat down beside her, pulled out a well worn copy of “The Da Vinci Code” and started to read.
“Everything OK?” He asked a moment later, and Kathy suddenly realised she’d been staring at him.
Blushing furiously, she nodded, dropping her gaze to the open page in front of her. Forcing her attention back to ancient Greek burial practices, Kathy tried to ignore the man sitting beside her.

It took her three times longer than it should have done to read the remaining paragraphs. But finally she closed the book with a satisfying thud. Slipping her notes back into her bag, Kathy pushed her hair out of her eyes, to find Mark’s eyes on her yet again. He smiled, and she blushed.
“I’m Mark, by the way…”
His words gave her a distinct sense of deja-vu and with a further reddening of her cheeks, she remembered the way she had rushed off two days earlier.
“I’m Kathy.” She said quietly, unable to meet his gaze.
“Well it’s nice to see you again, Kathy.” He paused, “I stopped by yesterday, but I didn’t see you…”
Surprised by his admission, Kathy forgot her embarrassment and met his gaze.
“That’s better.” He smiled at her, and for once she didn’t look away.
For a long moment, they sat, staring into each others eyes. He lifted a hand to brush a strand of hair out of her eyes, and for a second Kathy thought he was going to kiss her. Nervously she moistened her lips with her tongue, and he followed the movement with his eyes, an intense expression on his face. The clatter of a book, falling somewhere near by, broke the spell, and once more Kathy dropped her gaze, a faint blush staining her cheeks. What had she been thinking? Hoping desperately that it hadn’t shown on her face how much she’d wanted to kiss him, she got hastily to her feet.
“I should get going…” She said quietly, still refusing to look at him.
“I’ll walk you to the door.” He rose quickly to his feet.
For a second she thought of protesting, then decided against it, allowing him to escort her to the exit.
“Well, it was… nice, seeing you again.” She glanced up at him.
“You too.” He whispered, once more reaching out to brush a lock of hair away from her face.
Her heart rate kicked up as the back of his hand skimmed her cheek and she found herself caught once more by his captivating eyes, locked in a spell she couldn’t have broken even if she’d wanted to.
“Smile…” Mark whispered, stroking his thumb over her lips.
And she did, her mouth curving upwards under his insistant gaze.
“You have a beautiful smile.” He murmured.
Her cheeks coloured slightly at his compliment, but her smile gained a little extra brilliance.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” He added, dropping a kiss on her cheek, before turning and heading through the exit out into the cool night air.

xxx


The following day, Kathy pushed her way through the library’s revolving doors before heading for her usual corner. Pulling her books from her bag, she allowed herself a quick glance around the room in search of Mark, but wasn’t surprised not to see him. She didn’t have too much work to do that night, other than the dreaded essay she still hadn’t managed to perfect. Having arrived a little earlier than usual, Kathy was determined to get all her reading done early enough to go home and work on her essay before bed. Finding the book she needed, Kathy returned to her desk and within seconds was deeply engrossed in the chapters in front of her.

“Ya know; people are going to start thinking I’m actually working if I spend much more time here!”
Looking up at the sound of Mark’s voice, Kathy couldn’t help grinning back at him.
“Surely not, especially when all you do is read “The Da Vinci Code”!” She couldn’t help responding to his easy tone.
“I’ll have you know I’m working very hard, thank you very much.” He said huffily, sitting beside her and pulling out his copy of “The Da Vinci Code”.
For a moment he maintained his offended expression, then he grinned.
Laughing, Kathy couldn’t help the smile on her face as she returned to her reading. As she continued making notes on the chapter in front of her, Kathy was fully aware of the man sat beside her. It had been a long time since she’d responded to someone so easily after such a short space of time. But despite her initial embarrassment, Mark had a way of making her feel at ease. And she liked it. Pausing as she reached the end of one chapter, Kathy sneaked a glance at him from beneath her lashes, and did a double take. He still held his usual worn novel, but it was the first time she had seen inside it, and though she wasn’t quite sure what she was looking at, she was well aware he was not reading what he claimed. After all, how many novels contained graphs and tables? Catching her looking at him, it was Mark’s turn to look embarrassed.
“What can I say, you made me feel bad, coming in here every day to work. So I thought maybe, just maybe, you might have the right idea.”
“Which is why you’re hiding it in another book jacket?” She asked teasingly.
“It was the only cover I had handy.” He muttered.
The defensive tone of his voice made Kathy giggle, and it wasn’t long before his hurt little boy expression cracked to reveal a wide grin.
“OK, so you caught me fair and square. But I’ve got a reputation to protect here!”
His excuse just made her laugh harder, earning her a stern look from a passing librarian.
“How about we get out of here?” He asked suddenly. “Let me buy you a coffee or something?”
For a moment, she was tempted, but glancing down, she was well aware of the chapters she still had left to read.
“I can’t, I’m sorry.” She said, apologetically motioning to the book she was midway through reading.
“Fair enough. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve got work to do to.” He grinned ruefully, before pulling a notepad from his bag and jotting down a couple of figures.
Allowing herself one last regretful smile, Kathy returned to her note taking.

Half an hour later, Kathy was ready to go home. Replacing her book on its shelf, Kathy returned to her desk to collect her things and found Mark packing up his own work. Secretly pleased, she took her time collecting her notes together and organising them in her file, wondering if Mark would wait for her again. Finally zipping up her backpack, she glanced over to where Mark was hovering by the door. Smiling to herself, Kathy headed for the door, her smile widening as Mark joined her. Pausing at the exit, she turned to look at him.
“See you tomorrow.” He winked.
And before she could reply he was gone.

xxx


Trailing her fingers along the spines of a shelf of books the following evening, Kathy surreptitiously sneaked a glance at her watch. She’d been at the library over an hour… and looked up one quote. She had long since done the reading she needed for the following days lectures, and she knew full well there was no good reason for her to be at the library. Even the quote she had checked could have waited until tomorrow. So there really was no reason for her to be there… except for Mark. Stealing one final glance down the deserted aisles, Kathy headed for the door, firmly putting a lid on her disappointment. She had wasted enough time in the last few days mooning over him, but she was not going to waste another evening just because he said he’d be there. Determinedly pushing thoughts of him out of her head, she pushed open the door; and walked straight into the man himself.
“Leaving so soon? The library’s not due to close for another hour.” Mark grinned. “Sorry I’m late, by the way.”
Kathy scowled, even as she felt her heart start to soar. She wanted to be angry, irritated at least, by his teasing. Wanted to be, but wasn’t. Even as she sent him her most scathing look, inwardly she was beaming – he was here, he had come.

An hour later, the library was closing, and as much as she hated to admit it, Kathy didn’t want to say goodbye. She didn’t want to go home to her essay, she wanted to stay with Mark, talk to him, get to know him a little better. A lot better. Inwardly sighing, Kathy resigned herself to another evening alone with her computer. They walked to the exit together, where they always parted ways.
“It was nice seeing you.” Kathy forced a casual smile, even as she longed to beg him not to leave her.
“Yeah, you too.”
His smile lacked its usual brilliance, and Kathy wondered what he was thinking. Wondered if maybe, just maybe, he was wishing he didn’t have to say goodbye just yet either.
“Well, bye” She said awkwardly, turning to walk away.
“Wait…”
Her heart leapt. Turning back, she stared at him, waiting, hoping…
“Um,” He paused unsurely, and she felt her heart rate kick up another notch. Mark was never unsure of anything.
“I just wondered if maybe I could walk you home?” He ended with a hopeful note in his voice.
She paused for just a moment before she answered, “Sure, why not?”
He grinned then, and she couldn’t help noticing that his smile was just a little wider than usual.

As they left the library, he took her book bag from her before linking his fingers with hers. Surprised she glanced up at him, but he just smiled back at her. Blushing, she dropped her gaze, whilst inwardly beaming at the contact. She couldn’t remember the last time a guy had held her hand, let alone offered to walk her home. It wasn’t long before they reached her front door, and for the first time in her life, Kathy couldn’t help wishing she lived a little further away from the library. Pausing on her doorstep she glanced up at Mark. Make that a lot further away, she mused.
Suddenly shy, yet desperate for him to stay just a little longer, she fiddled with her keys, hesitating before inserting them in the lock.
“Thanks for…” She trailed off, unsure how to finish.
Thanks for walking her home? For carrying her books? For being him? Flustered, she reached out and took the bag he’d been holding.
“Have dinner with me?” His words pierced the still night air.
Her heart skipped a beat in anticipation, even as her head told her to say no. She didn’t have time for a boyfriend, had thought she didn’t want one. But the notion of saying yes to Mark, of giving in to him, filled her with something she couldn’t quite name, but it felt wonderful.
“I-I…” She stammered, still unsure what to say.
He looked down at her, waiting for her reply. And she could see uncertainty in his eyes. Uncertainty, and fear. Her heart ached, but she couldn’t give up on her dreams.
“I don’t know.” She said finally, “I just don’t really have much time at the moment, with work and all… but, well maybe sometime…”
For a moment she thought he was going to leave, walk away. And she knew if he did, that it would be the end of it all. She wouldn’t be seeing him again in the library anytime soon.
“Just think about it.” He whispered.
And then he kissed her.

His lips touched hers and her heart pounded so hard in her chest she felt sure he could hear it. She sighed against him as his arms surrounded her, pulling her close. Her bag fell forgotten to the floor, as she reached up, tangling her fingers in his hair. Opening her mouth to his sensual plunder, Kathy’s world spun out of focus. Nothing mattered but here and now. Abandoning everything to his embrace, she kissed him back, committing every detail to memory, never wanting to forget this moment as long as she lived. He kissed her for what felt like millennia, but it was over all too soon, and a second later he was drawing back. It took her a moment to pull herself together, and she was half expecting him to laugh at her, but when she met his gaze, his expression was completely sober. Lifting a hand to her face, Mark brushed her cheek with his fingers.
“Just think about it.” He repeated softly.
And then he was gone.

Several hours later, Kathy clicked the print button and sat back to watch, as her perfect essay spilled out of the printer. And finally she let herself remember. Closing her eyes, Kathy let her mind drift back to earlier that night, Mark’s lips on hers, his arms around her… The printer quietened and she lifted the sheaf of papers that made up her essay. Reading over it one last time, Kathy’s heart lifted. It was perfect, thanks to Mark. Somehow he had unlocked the key to her inspiration. As she mindlessly filled in the cover sheet, her thoughts started to fly. She’d seen Mark almost every day that week, yet instead of getting in the way of her studies he’d ended up helping her. So maybe, just maybe, for once she could give in to him. Her heart thudded as she thought of seeing him again, kissing him again. Switching off her computer she wandered over to her bed before flopping back onto it, a foolish smile draped across her lips.

xxx


The following day, Kathy walked into the library to find Mark already there waiting for her.
“We really should stop meeting like this!” He winked, back to his usual confident self.
She laughed, her heart lifted just by the sight of him. Suddenly, feeling more sure of herself than usual, she grinned back.
“Well we probably wouldn’t if you didn’t follow me around all the time. Now if you’ll excuse me I have lots of work to do.” She reached around him and pulled out the first book she saw.
“Wow,” He said, peering at the cover of the volume of un-translated Ancient Greek text she had taken from the shelf. “I didn’t know you could read Greek!”
Refusing to blush, but knowing her cheeks had already turned a faint shade of pink, Kathy returned the volume to the shelf.
“Yes, well, there are lots of things you don’t know about me.” She brushed past him, not quite able to ignore the electricity that shot up her arm at the brief contact.
He reached for her, his fingers encircling her wrist, and she shivered. Turning to face him their eyes locked and something she couldn’t name passed between them. His features were deadly serious as he spoke.
“I know. But if you let me, I’d like to change that.”
For what seemed like hours, yet couldn’t have been longer than a few seconds, they stared at each other. Finally she broke his gaze and turned back to the shelf in front of her. Her eyes locked on the book she needed for her newest essay and she reached for it.
“Kathy…”
He was close. So close she could feel his breath on her face, and his hand reached out and covered hers before she could pull out the book. She felt her heart start to race, her pulse beating rapidly at her throat and her mouth went dry.
“Kathy…” He whispered again.
Her eyes fluttered shut and she leaned back against him. His arms came around her and she sighed softly.
“Let me see you away from here… just once. Give me a chance, Kathy…”
Her heart longed to say yes, and without quite intending it, she heard the word leave her lips.
He turned her in his arms and his eyes bored in to hers.
“When?”
“Tonight? I’ve got work to do, but I‘ll be finished by 9. I could meet you then. We could watch a DVD at mine or something…” She trailed off.
He smiled then, and she felt her own lips curving upwards in response.
“Nine it is then. I’ll meet you at the check out desk.”
And he kissed her. Not just a peck, but a long, deep, soul searing kiss. She forgot everything then; where she was, what day it was, even what year. All she knew was the feel of his lips on hers, his arms around her and the hard press of his body against her softness.

Breaking the kiss, Mark pulled back but didn’t let her go, and it was a second before Kathy opened her eyes. Slowly coming back down to earth, her surroundings gradually started to filter through the sensual haze clouding up her mind. The clatter of the air conditioning in the otherwise still room, the shelves of classical texts surrounding them, the sound of hushed voices coming from a room somewhere down the corridor. Her dazed eyes focussed on Mark and she watched as a rueful smile spread across his features.
“Maybe here isn’t the best place for… this.”
His words shook her out of her trance. Blushing, she moved out of the warmth of his arms. She had never lost herself so thoroughly in a man before.
“I-I should get to work…” She stammered, her heart still going a mile a minute.
He stroked her cheek gently and she almost swooned. “I’ll see you later.”
Nodding, Kathy shot him a quick smile before turning to remove her book from the shelf. When she turned back, Mark was gone.

An hour later, Kathy was checking out the books she’d collected. Spotting Mark waiting for her by the exit, her heart started to flutter in her chest. This was it. As she approached, Mark looked up and their eyes met. At that moment she knew she was doing the right thing. Her future meant everything to her, but she suddenly realised she didn’t have to choose. Giving Mark a chance didn’t mean an end to her dreams, it just added to them. As she reached him she smiled in greeting, blushing slightly as he pulled her close and kissed her full on the mouth, despite the people still milling around.
“No Greek this time?” He asked with a grin, as he took her book bag from her.
“Not tonight.” She blushed, even as her thoughts jumped to the evening ahead and all the reasons she wouldn’t be needing books of any kind.
He smiled down at her, shouldering her bag, before taking her hand in his. The contact sent a warm flicker of anticipation through her, and she hid a smile as they started walking towards her house.

xxx


Mark’s fingers brushed her thigh as he shifted position beside her, and her heart skipped a beat. She longed to reach for him, longed to feel his touch, but it was as though invisible shackles held her still. Shooting him a glance out of the corner of her eye, she tried to steady her breathing, desperately trying to hide her nerves. He was staring straight ahead, his eyes fixed on the screen in front of them, seemingly engrossed in the movie. She’d seen it a hundred times before, knew most of the lines off by heart, but at that moment, she wasn’t sure she had any idea whatsoever what was going on. All she knew was that Mark was here, next to her. For tonight, he was all hers. And she was finally going to give in to him… as well as herself. Glancing back at the screen, she watched as the final sequence played out, watched and waited for that final kiss and the knot in her chest tightened another notch. A moment later the credits were rolling, and she got up to turn off the TV. Sitting back down, Kathy finally looked at him, and their eyes locked. For a moment neither of them moved. It was if they were held together in some mystical force field. And then he kissed her. The feel of his lips on hers was like heaven. Like the first drops of rain after a drought, or the first rays of sunlight after a storm.

She felt as though she were living in a fantasy. Yet at the same time, nothing in her entire life had ever felt more real. She could feel everything, the pounding of her blood in her veins, the rapid beat of her heart against his, and the warmth of his breath on her face. The roughness of his cheek on her sensitised skin, the softness of his lips, and the hard press of his body against her own. Her heart turned over, and she wrapped her arms tighter around him, pulling him even closer. Searching out his mouth with her own, she opened up to him, heart, body and soul; letting him take everything she had in her to give. Knowing at the same time, that Mark was giving her more than she had ever dared to dream of, but deep down, had always longed for.

It was a long time before Mark finally pulled away, and when he did, it was only to trail a line of soft kisses down her neck. Threading her fingers through his hair, she moaned softly, loving the release of finally giving in.
“Go out with me, Kathy?” He whispered against her parted lips.
“Yes…” She breathed, before he crushed her against him, covering her face with kisses.
Wrapping her arms tight around him, her hands roaming over his back, Kathy clung to him, as if she were never going to let him go. With just a kiss, Mark made her feel things she had only ever dreamed of. And he was hers.
“Do you mind if I stay…?” Mark asked hesitantly a while later.
“No, of course not.” She smiled up at him, pressing a kiss to the throbbing pulse at his throat.
He grinned then. “Come here.” He growled, pulling her under him and planting a passionate kiss on her upturned lips.

xxx


It was a long time before she eventually fell asleep, curled up in his arms, her heart and mind were too full of him to rest. For months her life had centred on nothing but work, searching for the link to the dream career and lifestyle Kathy had always craved. But as she lay there in his arms, suddenly it just wasn’t so important anymore. She wasn’t going to give up on her dreams, after all, what does anyone have without dreams? But money wasn’t everything. And all the riches in the world could never compare to the way Mark made her feel. And it was at that moment she realised… as long as she had him, she was the richest girl in the world.


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