A Memorable Weekend

February 1990

M&Ms were piled high in the middle of the table. Next to Tony was another decent pile of the chocolate candies, but Angela had only two left. And she had spent the last few minutes debating whether the five straight cards in her hand were good enough to risk the last of her reserves.

It was Sunday night, and she and Tony were alone in a hotel room at the Charleston Regency in South Carolina. Tony had been invited to a Major League Baseball convention to be part of a panel discussion on the threat of injuries. One of his old teammates was heading up the event and thought Tony's story would be important for the college players and potential recruits who often don't focus on anything but playing ball.

Tony, of course, had been a brilliant speaker and really connected with the kids about the importance of education and planning. The two-day convention had ended that afternoon, and most of the participants had left. But he and Angela had planned to stay until Monday morning. Neither had said it aloud, but they had both been looking forward to some time alone. Images of a romantic dinner and an evening stroll around Charleston had danced through their heads, though they'd used the excuse of a better package deal for three nights as opposed to two to justify staying until Monday.

What they hadn't counted on when they'd booked those three nights was that they'd be spending them in the same room. Angela couldn't begin to guess the odds of a four-star hotel losing half of a reservation. The manager had offered the excuse that a new trainee had simply typed a "1" instead of a "2" for number of rooms. Of course, the hotel was nearly full, and the best they could offer was an upgrade to a suite at half price with a king-sized bed and a cot.

The first night had been uneventful. They had returned to their room late and exhausted after traveling and the many rounds of mingling and hand-shaking at various parties thrown by MLB executives. Tony had been an instant hit, as usual, and for once, Angela was the one who got to sit back and watch him talk and schmooze with a business crowd.

After some initial awkwardness over who got to use the bathroom, they had settled into their room nicely and spent their time together much like they did at home. After all, it wasn't like this was the first time they'd shared a room.

But by the second night, they had both become increasingly cognizant of their lack of privacy. There had been several moments in which their close quarters had caused some discomfort and self-consciousness on both their parts. Angela had left her bra in the bathroom and had to ask Tony to hand it to her through the door moments before he stepped into the shower. Then Tony had been unable to stop staring at Angela clad in a wispy white nightgown and sheer robe that she'd brought only because she'd assumed she'd have her own room. The ensuing tension had been thick as molasses until he'd turned his attention to making up his cot, and Angela ducked under the covers of her bed.

That same night, Angela had woken up to go to the bathroom and had tripped over the leg of Tony's cot, which sent her tumbling on top of him. When the chaos had settled, she found herself practically nose to nose with him with no delicate way to extract herself from the hold he had on her to keep her from falling to the floor. Murmuring apologies, she managed to break eye contact — which had become increasingly heated with each passing moment she spent in his arms — and eased herself off the cot. It took a lot longer for both of them to stop thinking about the feel of their bodies pressed so close together.

After that, a simple brush past one another or a request for a hairbrush or cup of coffee suddenly put them on edge. It was a relief for both when they were able to escape their close quarters into the vastness of the conference.

Aside from sharing a room, there was one other factor they hadn't counted on — the weather. By noon on Sunday, flurries had begun to fall, shocking the residents of the city as reports began circulating that up to three inches could fall by the next day. While for Tony and Angela, a forecast of three inches of snow in February barely registered as an inconvenience, Charleston became immobilized. The city hadn't seen so much of the white stuff since World War II as was not equipped to deal with it.

People had begun vacating the hotel seconds after the conference ended, hoping to get to the airport before flights were cancelled. By five o'clock, the weather service was recommending people stay off roads, and at seven, all flights in and out of the city were grounded. They were suddenly very glad they had opted to stay a third night.

The drawback, however, was that they were pretty much confined to the hotel. While the snow may have seemed paltry to two people from New England, restaurants were closing down early, taxis were almost non-existent, and the streets were fast becoming deserted. Even the hotel restaurant, which was normally open twenty-four hours, was requesting room service orders only so that wait staff could go home.

Which all explained why at ten o'clock, on the evening they had both silently looked forward to spending dining and dancing together, they were sitting in their suite playing poker for M&Ms. But it could have been worse, Angela thought as she continued to mull over her cards. At least they weren't stuck at the airport like so many others who had done their own gambling on the weather — and lost. And she could think of a lot less appealing ways to spend an evening than waiting out a "snow storm" with her best friend.

Unfortunately, that best friend was getting a little impatient.

"Come on Angela, the pot's melting," Tony begged for the fifth time, and indeed, the white table cloth was becoming spotted with multi-colored stains from the M&Ms.

The two glasses of wine she'd consumed emboldened her to push the final two pieces into the middle of the table. She was feeling risky — and lucky — as she took another look at her cards and then met Tony's challenging stare with equal measure. Who cares that she'd lost the last four hands straight, this was her hand.

"Well, let's see them," he said.

She smugly laid out her cards, catching the worry in his eyes as each card was followed in succession by the next, climbing from a seven to a jack. She nearly clapped her hands in excitement.

"Hah, take that," she declared.

"Good hand, Angela, a very good hand," he said, genuinely impressed she had accumulated five straight cards. "Unfortunately, last I checked, a straight – as impressive as it is – still doesn't beat a full house."

Angela stared in silent shock as Tony laid out his three fives and two queens. She was dumbstruck. He'd beaten her again. Damn him. She pushed the cards away from her in protest and declared the game over.

"Oh come on Angela. It's just a game."

"Yeah, well I'm sick of losing it. Besides, I'm out of M&Ms."

Tony popped some of his winnings into his mouth and pondered how to keep the game going. He was having a really good time – even if it wasn't at an elegant restaurant – and didn't want Angela to pout for the rest of the evening over a poker game. "Okay, how 'bout this? Since my personal favorite form of poker is probably out of the question ..." he looked at her for confirmation that they wouldn't be shedding clothes each hand and grinned at her pointed nod. "Well, then, I propose we up the ante, so to speak."

"What do you have in mind?" She was skeptical, to say the least.

"If I win, I get to ask you a truth or dare, and if you win, vice versa."

Angela's eyebrow arched with intrigue, but a hint of worry appeared also. "That could get dangerous."

"Angela, we're sharing a hotel room a few hundred miles from home, with one bed, and not for the first time in our relationship, I might add. It doesn't get much more dangerous than that, and we've behaved so far."

"Good point. Besides, a little truth or dare might be fun," she said with a mischievous smile.

Topping off their glasses with the remainder of the wine — a very sweet Catawba — Tony sat down to deal. They'd abandoned the dinette in favor of the much more comfortable couch. Both agreed the hard-backed chairs were only tolerable to so long. Angela perched herself on one end, tucking her bare feet under her, while Tony took a seat at the other and dealt the cards on the cushion between them. In the background, Audrey Hepburn was doing her best to lose her Cockney accent under the watchful and persistent tutelage of Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady."

One look at the mismatched cards in her hand, and Angela was ready to throw in the towel already. She'd never beat Tony at poker. Catching a glimpse of his pleased countenance, she knew his hand was better.

Two rounds later, she was right. Tony's two pair might not have been much, but it was enough to top her single pair.

"So, truth or dare?" His look was pure evil. Irresistibly, charmingly evil, and she smiled in spite of herself.

"I'm playing it safe. Truth."

"Truth. Okay, I can do this," Tony said. His mind raced over a hundred possible questions. But this had to be good.

Angela waited in silent dread for him to think of something. When he looked with a glint in his eye, she nearly groaned. What had he thought of?

"Angela."

"Yes, Tony?"

"Have you ever lied to a client in order to get an account?"

That was not what she'd been expecting, but she had to admit, it was a good question. And one she didn't want to answer. But she'd agreed to play, so ...

"Yes."

"And?"

"You never said I had to elaborate," she said smugly. It had been a simple yes or no question.

"Oh come on, play along." He should have known she's take it literally.

He was too cute to resist sometimes. "Alright. Two years ago, I was in negotiations with Guess Jeans, and I really wanted the account. It was a million dollar deal that would put me deep in the retail sector, an area the agency was lagging in." She took a deep breath and met Tony's very intrigued eyes. "Anyway, they were hedging and stringing me along for weeks, nitpicking the contract to death. So, to get things moving, I maybe let it slip that I'd heard Levi was fishing for a new agency."

"You didn't!" he said, shocked.

Angela laughed at his scandalized expression. "I did. And you know what, they signed the next morning."

"And Levis?"

"They've been with Shuster and Son in Chicago for two decades."

"Wow, I'm impressed. Angela Bower, the best liar on Madison Avenue."

"Well, I am in advertising." And with that, she began shuffling the deck of cards.

Once the cards were dealt, Angela picked up her hand and had to contain a squeal of excitement when she saw the two aces. If she couldn't make a hand out of this, she was giving up the game for good.

When she traded in three of her cards, she prayed for another ace, and her prayers were answered. Tony's three eights had nothing on her three aces.

"Okay smartypants, your turn. Truth or dare?"

"I'll follow your lead for now. Truth."

Angela leaned back on the arm of the sofa, took a sip of wine, and considered her question carefully. It had to be interesting, but not too personal. She saw Tony getting ready to prod her along, and beat him to the punch. "I got it, I got it," she assured him. But she paused a moment longer.

"Well?"

"Okay. Have you ever faked dinner?"

"Excuse me?" Tony had no idea what she was asking.

"Faked dinner, you know, passed something off as your cooking that you didn't really cook."

"Of course not!" He said, thoroughly insulted she would even suspect such a thing. But then he stopped short. "Well, unless you count that one time."

"What one time was that?" Angela was very pleased with her question and was enjoying a wicked sort of pleasure at Tony's expense.

"The night the Miashiro brothers came for dinner, well, the crab sushi wasn't mine."

"Oh really."

"I ran out of time, so I went to that Japanese specialty store on Market Street and bought a tray of pre-made sushi and never told anyone."

"Gee, so much for honest employees. Maybe I should dock your paycheck for that," she teased.

"Yeah, well first I want you to find another housekeeper who'll even attempt authentic Japanese cuisine."

"Tony, I couldn't find another housekeeper to hold a candle to you. Or a friend." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, and her eyes flew to his out of reflex. The connection was atomic, as it always was, and Angela felt her stomach clench as the electricity sizzled between them.

A heartbeat. Then another.

Finally, Angela broke the spell. She had no choice, it was too much. "Your deal."

Both of them were quiet until it was time to lay down their hands, and Angela was shocked when Tony showed absolutely nothing. Not even a pair, which was all she had to show for her efforts. But the two fives were enough to win her a second hand in a row, which was unprecedented.

"Well, I'll be damned. You win with a measly pair."

"Just lucky, I guess. So, what'll it be?"

"Why not heat things up a bit. I'll take a dare."

Angela was stumped. She had no idea what she could dare him to do in the confines of a hotel in South Carolina. Looking out the window at the snow still falling, genius struck. "Tony, I left my glasses in the car. I dare you to go get them."

"But Angela, it's snowing outside ..." Then he realized the dare had nothing to do with the glasses, and everything to do with the snow. Grumbling and muttering, Tony got up and reached for his sweatshirt.

"Fine, I'll be right back," he nearly spat as he stomped out the door.

When he was gone, Angela began to have second thoughts about her dare. It was pretty cold outside, and she didn't want him to get sick. But then she thought about all the times he'd shoveled the driveway in much worse weather, and the snowball fights they'd had with the kids. Five minutes to the car and back would be nothing.

Reassured that her dare wasn't too mean, she relit the gas fireplace that was standard in the hotel's suites and opened another bottle of wine. It wasn't too late, and she was having more fun than she'd had in longer than she could remember. She also knew Tony would appreciate the fire and wine, since he was likely to be a bit chilly. She couldn't suppress a smile at her dare.

With the fire and wine warming her blood, Angela took her seat on the sofa and thought about the weekend. After the roller coaster of last year's reunion, she hadn't known what to expect when Tony so casually asked if she was going to go with him for a convention in South Carolina. But, as with so much else that had happened in the past year, their time in Charleston was relaxed, comfortable, friendly, and just a little bit naughty. They teased and flirted, walked arm in arm, and were simply enjoying each other's company without the stress of the kids and work and school, and everything else that saturated their daily lives. It was a blissful vacation, and Angela was sad to see it end.

But before their plane left the next day, she was going to enjoy a quiet evening with her best friend. And no sooner did the thought cross her mind, than the hotel door opened, and Tony plodded in, dripping with wet snow from head to toe.

"Oh my goodness, you're covered in ice," Angela said, getting up and running over to him.

"Good eye Angela," he retorted sarcastically. "Here's your glasses. By the way, you might want to get comfy. We may not be leaving tomorrow," he said, dripping slush onto the floor.

"What do you mean?"

"I overheard the concierge talking to a woman at the front desk, and he said we're expected to get the tail end of a blizzard coming down the coast. It's won't be too bad by our standards, but enough to cancel some flights tomorrow. And New York got fourteen inches in twelve hours, so even if we could take off, we probably couldn't land."

"Really? I didn't think it was THAT bad out there."

"Take my word for it, it is." With that, he stripped off his still-dripping sweatshirt and t-shirt underneath, which was damp, and tossed them in the bathroom.

Angela immediately caught herself staring at his chiseled chest, at how the hairs were curled and matted against the bronze skin, how his muscles rippled as he moved across the room. It took all her willpower not to reach out and touch him.

Snapping herself out of it, she volunteered to grab a few towels, much to Tony's appreciation.

"I'm so sorry," she said over her shoulder as she went into the bathroom, "I shouldn't have sent you other there. You could catch a cold, and it would be all my fault."

"Don't worry about it. I'd only milk it for a month or two," he replied with a smile as she walked over to him and immediately began patting him down with the towel. Unsure what to do, Tony just let her, and tried hard not to concentrate on the occasional brush of her fingers over his skin and her subtle, intoxicating scent that he knew was not artificial. He had to fight the magnetic pull that made him want to turn toward her and encircle her in his arms. When he couldn't stand it any longer, he reached for the towel as she moved it down his arm, and grabbed her wrist instead.

"Thanks, but I think I can manage."

His voice seemed to jolt her into awareness, and she instinctively let go of the towel and stepped back. She hadn't even been thinking about what she was doing. It had just felt very natural to blot the drops of water from his skin, and it wasn't until she felt his hand on her wrist that she realized how close they were standing and how thick the air had become between them.

Stumbling back, she mumbled, "Of course."

"I'm, ah, gonna change," Tony said tentatively, indicating his wet pants and socks."

"Yes, yes, of course," Angela said. "I think I might, too."

Tony grabbed a pair of sweats from his suitcase and disappeared behind the bathroom door. Angela used the opportunity to strip off her slacks and blouse in favor of her pajamas. She made a point to avoid the white nightgown, and chose instead a pink, silk pants and top set. She considered adding the matching robe, but told herself she was with Tony, her best friend who had seen her without a robe countless times at home. The last thing she wanted to do was draw attention to her self-consciousness. Keep things normal, she thought. So she left the robe off and tried to pretend they were in their own living room in Connecticut, planning out the week's schedule with a friendly business atmosphere. Not holed up in a hotel room with a luxury king-size bed two steps away.

There had been a split second this weekend when Angela had thought that maybe this would be the right time for them, that maybe what she had secretly hoped for a year ago in St. Louis would now come true. But then she'd remembered Jamaica, and Tony's request that things be put on hold. And she remembered the past few months and how well things had been going. Despite the part of her that looked at Tony with such longing and wanted to allow those flickers of desire to erupt into a full flame, she just couldn't be certain that the possible consequences would be worth it. She hoped she could keep telling herself that.

Just then, the bathroom door opened, and Tony emerged wearing his requisite grey sweatpants and sleeveless white undershirt.

"You look comfortable — and dry," Angela said with a guilty smile.

"And you look ..." sexy as hell was on the tip of his tongue as he took in the pink top that looked as soft as the skin peaking out from the deep V-neckline, and the matching bottoms that hung suggestively against her endless legs. Despite the lethal combination, he caught himself in time and finished lamely with, "comfortable, too."

"I am, thanks."

"I see you started a fire."

"Yes, while you were gone. I figured you might be a little chilled, though I didn't think I was sending you into a blizzard."

"Me neither."

Crossing to the sofa, Tony took a seat in front of the fire, and glanced at Angela to see if she would join him. It was a constant game of torture for him to be so close to her but unable to touch her. But he'd found that being away from her was even harder sometimes. Unable to offer, or even accept more, he'd take what he could get.

Angela reclaimed her seat on the opposite side and tucked her bare feet underneath her once more.

"So, um, do you want to watch a movie?"

"What? One little delay and the game's over?"

"Oh, I just assumed you wouldn't want to continue. I mean, I kinda went a little far with that dare." Angela had thought for sure the playful mood needed for a game of truth or dare had been lost, especially after the awkward moment with the towel, but if Tony was interested in playing, she could be persuaded. Smiling, finding herself sliding easily back into her comfort zone, she offered her own suggestion: "What if we dispense with the cards. I don't want to be a disadvantage, and I'm not sure how long my luck will hold out."

"Fair enough," he said. Then thought for a moment and added, "Unless you'd rather watch a movie, or even go to bed — I mean to sleep — separately, of course," he amended quickly, flushing with embarrassment.

"No," she laughed, "I want to play. I'm having a really good time. We've never done this before. It's fun."

"Okay then. Do you want some more wine?"

"Noooo, thank you. I've already had three glasses, and two is my usual limit."

"Yeah, but I wonder what I can get you to divulge with four."

"You'll just have to settle for what you get with three. I'm already a little fuzzier than I've been in a long time. I fear my lips will be looser than I want — figuratively speaking of course."

"Of course," Tony agreed, meeting her playful smile and enjoying the renewed camaraderie. "So, since I got to brave the hurricane, I guess it's your turn. So, truth or dare?"

"Call me a coward, but I fear revenge. Truth," she answered.

"Coward," he agreed. "Okay, truth, let me think." After several seconds: "I got it. Besides spiders, what is your greatest fear?"

"A deceptively simple question."

"How so?" he asked, curious what she meant.

"Well, it sounds simple enough, but if you're being honest with yourself, fears are rarely simple." She paused, collecting her thoughts and deciding exactly how honest to be. "My greatest fear is being alone. I was so lonely after my father died. We were so close, and then he was gone, and I just felt so empty and alone. I felt that way again when Michael left — not so acutely, but the feeling was familiar. I never want to feel that way again."

"You won't," Tony said softly, reaching out to cover her hand with his. "I'm sorry I made you think about that." There was no tension or discomfort, just compassion between them. Angela wasn't entirely sure what he meant by his words, but his reassurance was enough.

"That's okay," she said, a soft smile teasing the corners of her mouth. "I'll get you back."

Tony reluctantly removed his hand and reminded her that it was her turn.

"So, truth or dare?"

"I'm not making the same mistake twice. Truth."

"Okay, this is an easy one, probably brought on by the wine and firelight. What was your most romantic evening?"

"Oh Angela, there were so many," he said with a knowing laugh. "Really though, call it clichéd, but I'd have to say my wedding night."

"Really," she said with interest. "Can you share?"

"Well, not all of it." He winked at her and made her blush. "Marie and me, you know, we eloped, so we didn't really have a honeymoon, just a couple of nights at a motel on Coney Island. She didn't know it, but I had packed a little surprise package, and while she was in the bathroom, I got out a bottle of cheap champagne, some fake rose petals, and some leftovers from Mrs. Rossini and made a picnic on the middle of the room. When she came out of the bathroom in this little white lacy thing, I thought I'd die, and all she could do was stand there and cry."

Angela was thoroughly engrossed and scooted onto the middle cushion on the sofa so that her folded knees were practically touching his leg.

"So anyway, we spent the whole night on the floor on a bedspread and talked about our future while we fed each other veal parm and lasagna. We were gonna have five kids and move to Brooklyn Heights after I made the majors. Marie wanted a dog 'cause she was never allowed to have one at home. And I couldn't stop looking at her in that sexy nightie until finally, I just leaned over to kiss her and …" Tony looked up to find Angela mere inches away, tears in her eyes as she listened to the story. For him, it was the first time he was able to think about that night without getting choked up himself. In fact, he hadn't thought about it in a long time. "Well, anyway, it was a great wedding night."

"Wow, what an amazing story. What a way to spend your first night as husband and wife. Michael and I had this posh hotel suite in Manhattan. I think he finally came to bed about two a.m. after finalizing plans for a trip to South Africa for the following month."

"That must have been tough for you."

"Yeah, but that's ancient history now. And thank you for sharing your story with me. I guess we tricked each other into baring our souls with these questions."

"Isn't that part of the game?"

"I guess so. But enough heavy stuff, I'm gonna be bold for once and take a dare." And with that, she took his wine glass from his hand and drank deeply for fortitude.

"Oh, this is gonna be fun," Tony said with a wicked gleam in his eye. "I'll be right back." Before she could say anything, he was out the door, leaving her to wonder what he had in store.

Two minutes later, he was back with a full ice bucket and a plastic bag. He poured a fair amount into the bag and held it out to her.

"What am I supped to do with this?" Angela asked skeptically.

"Angela Bower, I dare you to hold that bag between your bare feet for two minutes," he declared proudly.

"You've got to be kidding."

"Nope, two minutes. Starting now."

Angela reluctantly placed the cold bag between her out-stretched feet, wincing as the ice immediately began to bite into her tender insteps. After a mere fifteen seconds, she was squinting her eyes as the ice began to burn. She shifted her feet and the ice resettled, causing new shivers to run up her legs.

Tony sat back and grinned in amusement as she started raising and lowering her legs in frantic distraction.

"Thirty seconds down."

"Tony, I can't. It burns!"

"Come on, you can do it. Forty-five seconds gone already."

At one minute, her eyes were closed, she could barely feel her feet, and her stomach muscles were protesting as she strained them to balance the bag of ice. By one-minute-fifteen seconds, she was almost incoherent, and five seconds after that, she dropped the bag.

"Tony, I can't. It's too cold. Please don't make me finish."

Tony smiled in victory and said easily, "Okay, but it's gonna cost you. I get to ask you a truth."

"Fine, anything, just get me something to warm up my feet," she said harshly as she rubbed her hands on her frozen toes.

"Here, let me do that." Tony took her right foot in his hand, and Angela laid back in near euphoria as his warm hands began massaging heat back into her skin. She watched as his fingers moved over her, venturing as high as her ankle, then working back down to her toes. His skin was warm and soft, his hands strong as they moved from one foot to the other.

And the effect was hardly one-sided. It took every ounce of his concentration for Tony to think of a question when all he wanted to do was focus his attention on the soft pads of her toes, the cute, pink polish on her nails, the gentle slope of her arch. He longed to move his hands up past her ankle, under the leg of her pants to confirm for himself that the rest of her was a soft as the skin that was warming in his hand.

Dragging his mind back to reality, he rested his hands on her feet to keep them warm and met her eyes across the length of the couch. He had to get his mind off its current path. He'd thought it would be no sweat sharing a hotel room with her; they done it before without incident. And he was much happier holding her feet in his hands, sharing a couch in their pajamas with the intimacy of the firelight enveloping them that he would have been alone knowing she was in another room. As much as he wanted to keep things light, though, he couldn't ignore the one question he'd been wanting to ask all night – for months, actually. Hoping the time was right and his courage would not leave him, he asked, "So, ah Angela, do you ever think about Jamaica?"

She look at him out of the corner of her eye, knowing exactly what he meant, and came back with her own question. "Is that a simple yes or no question?"

"Maybe more the start of a truthful conversation."

"Okay then," she said, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, I've thought about it. Have you?"

"It's crossed my mind a time or two. What do you think about?"

Angela had a thousand answers to that, but decided to go with the most reoccurring. "Honestly, I think about when the subject will come up again. If the subject will come up again."

Tony nodded, knowing exactly what she meant. He often thought the same thing. "What if it came up again right now?"

Angela's heart gave a tiny lurch, prompting her to be a little more direct. "What are you saying, Tony?"

He dropped his eyes from hers and nearly regretted bringing it up. As always, he'd talked himself into a corner. Now he had to get out. "I don't know. I guess, I just want to know that I haven't lost you, that you're still okay with things." And that was as truthful as he'd ever been in his life.

"No, you haven't lost me," she said softly. "And I'll be here when you're ready. When I'm ready, too" she added.

"Good."

"Good."

They sat in a comfortable silence for a moment, both a little overwhelmed by the turn of the game. Wanting to reclaim the jovial atmosphere they'd had before, Tony volunteered for a dare, "as long as I don't have to go outside."

"Agreed," Angela said, the guilty smile returning. Not wanting to move her feet, which were still resting in his lap, Angela reached behind her and grabbed her purse from the end table. From it, she removed a compact of powder, an eyeliner pencil, lip gloss, and blush. "Okay, Tony, let's see how you look as a woman. Come over here."

Tony groaned, knowing what was coming, but obediently complied with her request. When both were done adjusting in their seats, they were sitting with their legs crossed like two teen-agers, their knees touching between them. Angela took the powder first and began to brush some across his forehead, nose, and cheeks. Then she followed suit with the blush, and did her best not to giggle at the sight that was forming before her.

Tony was amused at first, then he started to become aware of her hand as it moved against his cheek and her soft breath as she blew excess rouge from the applicator. Their faces were centimeters apart, and he had a rare opportunity to ponder the exact shade of her eyes as she concentrated on the make-up. Then he examined the fullness of her lips, glistening from the very same pink gloss she'd pulled from her purse. He wondered how they tasted. He nearly groaned when she used her thumb to blend something under his eye, but managed to restrain himself. The battle to control his emotions was nearly won until she opened the small tin of lip-gloss and applied a little bit to her thumb.

It wasn't until she actually touched his lip that Angela became aware of their situation. She saw them, almost from a third-person perspective, sitting face-to-face, knee-to-knee, mere inches apart. She froze, still rubbing her thumb across his bottom lip, feeling the moisture there and the subtle exhale of his breath while the rest of her hand cupped his chin. Her eyes popped up and found his staring intently at her. She may have been unaware of how quickly the mood went from playful to tense, but he obviously wasn't.

Tony had been able to resist her in Jamaica. He had ignored his longing for her in Atlantic City as they'd walked the boardwalk. A hundred times at home he'd turned away and broken the spell he found himself under when she looked at him or touched him a certain way. Even as she'd wiped melting snow from his bare skin a little while ago, he'd held back. But at that moment, eight hundred miles from home, the heady effects of wine and ambience working against his better judgment, he gave in. Taking hold of her hand, he lowered it from his lip, but held her fast as he leaned toward her.

Angela knew with every fiber of her being that Tony was going to kiss her. She saw the change in his eye, from uncertainty to determination, from fear to resolve. And she waited. She could have moved away, ended the moment, as she had countless times, as she had that very evening. But she didn't want to. Her heart begged her mind to allow this to happen, to see where it would go. And for once, her mind complied. She closed her eyes and lean in a mere fraction, feeling a jolt of desire as his lips made first contact with hers.

For a moment, both froze, feeling the soft texture of the other. Then Angela pressed forward another millimeter in a silent invitation that Tony accepted. He moved his mouth over hers in one fluid motion, capturing her in his arms and holding her to him. It seemed to go on forever as Angela drank in all he offered. His tongue swept across her lips and met hers with equal fervor as he moved his hands up to her face and held her close. Angela leaned back on the couch, her legs unfolding as Tony fell easily atop her. When one kiss ended, another began, just as powerful, just as deep. Mindless except for the feel of her beneath him, he skimmed his hands along her body, memorizing the soft contours of her body beneath the silk. He felt her hands running through his hair, and felt her teeth and they scraped across his bottom lip. But most of all, he could feel her heart as it pounded against her chest and met his beat for beat.

Then, just a softly has it had begun, the kiss ended when Tony pulled back. When their mouths parted, it was as though someone had doused water on him. He felt cold and empty and longed to place his lips on hers once more, to be filled with the taste and feel of her.

But a seed of doubt had been planted in the brief interim, and Tony feared he'd gone too far already. "Angela, I'm sorry, I didn't mean …" But even as he trailed off, he didn't move. Something kept him braced over her, looking down into matching pools of liquid brown eyes. And he knew he was lying. He did mean for it to happen, and he wanted to keep going.

Angela also knew exactly what had happened, and she couldn't ignore it. She was aching with want, and knew he must be feeling the same. No kiss that powerful could be one-sided. She needed to know if what was between them was real, was worth the waiting and patience and denial they'd endured for the past several years. And now that she knew the feel of him laying against her, she wasn't going to let him walk away.

She reached up to frame his face in her hands and met his eyes with strength and desire she could scarcely contain. "Tony, all night, we've been playing truth or dare. Now answer me truthfully, do you want this to happen?"

God yes, his heart screamed, but his mind raced over a thousand horrible consequences, not the least of which was never seeing her again if things didn't work.

"Angela, I don't .. I mean, a part of me does, but …" and he faltered, not sure what to say.

Rather than be upset by his reluctance, Angela understood. But she wasn't giving up. "Tony, yes or no. We can figure out the rest later. For once, let's think about now, and what we both feel. Because I can't pretend that kiss didn't happen. Do you want this?"

Softly, so softly she almost didn't hear him, he whispered, "Yes."

"So do I." And with that, she reached up and pulled his mouth back to hers. She kissed him in ways she'd long wanted to, bold, eager, and without reservation. She poured all of herself into him, scarcely believing what was happening.

And Tony responded in kind. He was here, with Angela, kissing and touching her as he'd only dreamed of. And it was so much more than he'd ever thought possible. She felt wonderful laying beneath him, fitted against him as though made specifically for his body.

But then he pulled back once more and quickly stood up from the sofa. Angela peered up at him in confusion, her breathing ragged and her lips full and swollen from their kissing.

"No, no," he said, "this is wrong. Not here...not like this..." Shaking his head and using a towel to wipe the nearly forgotten make-up from his face, he didn't see the pain of his rejection in her eyes as it stabbed through her. He didn't feel the intense vulnerability that suddenly engulfed her. But he did catch her a second before she bolted from the couch.

"Whoa, where are you going?" Before she could answer, he caught sight of the tears in her eyes and put the pieces together, suddenly feeling terribly guilty for having misled her. In an instant, he slid his arms under her and in one fluid movement, lifted her up.

"What are you doing?" she said, her voice quivering.

"Making this right. A hard sofa is no place for something so special," he said gently, as he placed her gingerly on the bed before climbing on himself. "You deserve perfection."

Smiling lovingly up at him, she replied, "I have perfection." She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down to her once more.

Their mouths joined, each taking and giving in equal measure as desire tore through them. Neither could scarcely believe what was happening as they grasped greedily at sensations that in all their dreams of this moment they never expected to feel so intensely.

Tony's hand moved across her face, his fingers grazing every inch from her arched eyebrow to the silken slope of her cheek, around the curve of her chin until he found her pulse beating wildly in the hollow valley of her throat. He moved his lips to that exposed place, kissing the path his fingers had followed a moment before. He moved his hands to hers and clasped her fingers briefly, then let go to slide them up her torso, feeling the curve of her hips, the dip of her slender waist and at last the fullness of the breasts he had dreamed about countless time but never dared think he'd touch. Angela's eyes met his with uncontained anticipation as he raised himself above her. Slowly and deliberately he pushed the pearl button of her pajama top through its hole. Their eyes remained locked as he did the same to the second, then the third, and finally, with near excruciating patience, the last button was pushed free of its confines.

Though he steeled himself for what he was about to do, nothing could have prepared him for the sight before him as he parted the top and revealed her awaiting breasts beneath. She was perfect, delicate, and as he tentatively made contact with her skin, he thought he'd never felt anything so exquisite.

Angela's breath quickened as she felt his fingers walk their way across her stomach and fan out to cover her breasts. She thought that if she looked closely she would see the sparks of electricity she felt igniting as he continued to explore her body.

Her breath caught in her throat as he hooked his thumbs around the elastic band of her bottoms and began to pull them downward along with her panties. She was in a constant state of awe as she watched Tony, and not for one moment did she take her eyes from him for fear he would evaporate into her imagination, leaving her wanting and longing for more. As the last of her clothes slipped past her hips and down her legs, she heard his sharp intake of breath at the sight of her naked before him. It was a state she'd scarcely imagined would ever happen. It was a moment she'd waited many years for, and now that it was here, she felt no fear, no embarrassment, just excitement and anticipation. This was Tony, her best friend, her dearest confidante, her fantasy come to life. And meeting his eyes once more, she saw her emotions reflected back at her. This was right, this was real.

Tony couldn't look enough at the vision before him. She was sheer perfection, all soft curves, sloping hills and valleys. The small but full breasts tapered down to a slim waist and rounded hips. The legs that looked exquisite in panty hoes and heels were even more magnificent left bare. And at their juncture, Tony knew he would find heaven beneath the dusky curls that teased him there.

"You're beautiful."

Angela felt her face warm with sudden self-consciousness. "Tony, don't. Don't say that."

"Why not? It's true. Truer than I ever believed. God, is this really happening?" He couldn't believe she lay before him naked and waiting. And wanting.

"Yes. It's really is happening. Are you okay with that?"

An act of God could not have altered his course. He had risked so much to arrive at this point and now that he had discovered that his desire, his awe, was reciprocated, he could not turn back. More importantly, he did not want to.

"Yes. Angela, I want to make love with you."

"I want that too," she said, sitting up and reaching for his shirt. Though she'd seen him without one dozens of times, never had she been able to caress his shoulders, stroke his bare chest, feel the muscles flex and tighten beneath her curious fingers, kiss the bronze skin and tickle her nose on the mat of hair that thickened as it disappeared into his sweatpants. Unable to take any more, he pulled her to him and devoured her mouth once again, licking and tasting every crevice.

Angela cherished every moment she had to explore the man before her. As he had with her, she took her time to touch and kiss, to feel and absorb every scent, texture, and taste. With much trepidation, her hands descended to grasp the top of his sweats. It seemed an eternity before she garnered the courage to push downward, relieving him of the final barrier between them.

At last, they faced each other as never before, without defenses or walls, without fear, without embarrassment, and with a reverence borne of years of anticipation and expectation. They were exposed, both physically and emotionally, and in that rarest and most vulnerable of states, Tony and Angela felt safe and protected in each other's arms.

Natural and familiar desires that had so long been suppressed became the driving force of Angela's boldness as she brought her hands to the proud evidence of his arousal. The explosion of sensation blinded Tony to all else but her, and with a gentle nudge, he drew her down beside him and renewed his own study of her body. His mouth paid homage to breasts that peaked with longing, drawing whimpers of pleasure from her. When his hand skimmed her hip and came to rest at the center of her, he hesitated only a moment before venturing further. He touched her as though she were a goddess to be worshipped, with gentleness and care, but also skill and passion.

The effect was overwhelming, and Angela lost all sense of place and time. All thoughts vanished, save those of Tony. He became her world, her existence as she embraced every sensation wrought by his attention.

Then she was craving more, and by the trembling of the body beside her, she knew the same to be true of him. In silent acknowledgement, they turned toward each other, and with hands clasped and mouths reunited, their bodies joined in an eruption of passion. Every pulse, every breath, was a homecoming. Like two bodies with one mind, they moved in harmony. Instinctively, they knew where to touch, how to move, giving each other all of themselves.

Angela held Tony against her, feeling as though her whole life had been leading to this moment. Every nerve in her body ached for his touch as his hands roamed, while he drove her to unknown heights of ecstasy.

Tony found himself lost in realms of passion he hadn't known existed. She was his match in every way, her body a perfect complement to his. They fit and moved together like they had spent a lifetime studying the desires of the other.

Tony felt her surround him, drawing him in, and he responded by arching her toward him, carrying her higher as he reached toward the summit. There, in a place between heaven and earth, where only they existed, he pulled her with him into oblivion.

The return to earth was slow and languid. Angela felt as though her bones had melted into puddles, and it took several minutes to slow her breathing. Next to her, Tony felt much the same. His arm was draped across her mid-section as he rested his head on her shoulder. In some ways, it was more intimate than what had just taken place.

Trusting his instincts, he stroked a hand along her side in a gentle caress. "Angela?"

"Mmm?"

"Are you okay?"

"I'm wonderful ... and so are you," she breathed.

Tony grinned despite himself, and propped himself on an elbow to look at her, still marveling at her beauty. Leaning down, he kissed her, realizing it was the first casual, deliberate kiss he'd ever given her. It felt great.

"Can I get you anything? Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

Angela shook her head and wrapped her arms around him. "Just hold me for a while. I want to remember every moment of this."

He took a moment to retrieve the covers from the bottom of the bed, and after covering them both up, he took her in his arms and held her close.

Hours later, Angela opened her eyes to find Tony still asleep beside her. Outside, the weather seemed to have gotten worse. Snow had accumulated on the window sill, and wind gusts were so strong, they shook the glass. Despite the grey sky that was barely visible, what little light there was told her it was morning. Early morning, just past dawn. A glance of the clock confirmed it was just after five.

It was still surreal to think about laying next to Tony in a bed, without so much as a sheet between them. I felt so good. So right. She had never felt so alive, and her body tingled at the memory of their lovemaking.

She had been ready for this last summer in Jamaica when Tony had pulled back and asked for more time. What had changed since then that he allowed it to happen now, she wondered What had changed in her to make her abandon her resolve be just friends? She knew she probably wouldn't get answers to those questions, even from herself, so she decided to just enjoy the gift she had been given.

"Hi."

His voice startled her out of her thought, and she turned to find him staring at her warmly.

"How long have you been awake," she asked.

"Long enough to see the deep thoughts in your eyes."

"You know me too well," she said with a smile. Indeed, no one had ever known her better.

Leaning toward him, she tried her hand at a good-morning kiss, and was caught by surprise when his body fully responded. The kiss deepened, as did a desire to find out if the magic of the night before could be recaptured.

"Mind if we try this again," he whispered against her ear.

"Not at all," she answered, her smile fading into arousal as he trailed his hand down her back and pulled her against him.

Slowly, softly, he slid into her and found her ready to receive him. Her breath caught in her throat as she matched his gentle rhythm. Again, under the mastery of his hands and mouth, she followed him beyond this world and lost herself in the sensations he evoked. Her fragile hold on reality began to slip as the intensity of his movement increased, pushing her closer and closer to the edge, where, in an explosion of light and feeling, she tumbled over, taking him with her.

When she woke up again, Angela was alone in the bed. In fact, glancing around, she realized she was alone in the room. For a moment, she was ready to panic, convinced Tony had left her. But then she regained her common sense and remembered his words, his touch, his passion, and she knew he had no regret for what had happened between them.

Her thoughts were confirmed when the door opened and he came in bearing a tray of breakfast fare.

"Good morning sunshine."

"Good morning. What time is it?"

"A little after eight. I took the liberty of getting us some breakfast. Eggs, bagels, some fruit. And of course," he added with a flourish, "juice and coffee." She smiled at his consideration and sat up to make room for the tray he set next to her on the bed. "I also called the airline. It looks like we're stranded here for a while." He looked to see her reaction, hoping she wouldn't be upset.

"I'm not surprised. It looked pretty bad this morning."

"The guy at the front desk said the last time Charleston saw this much snow was 1938. And New York is no better, comparatively speaking. They got another six inches."

"That bad, huh?"

"Not the worst they've seen, by far, and it should be cleared by this evening, but I still wouldn't want to land an airplane in it right now." Then he added with a mischievous smile, "I'd rather be in a bed with you. And since I got us another night, how does that sound?"

Placing a piece of toast between his lips, she replied, "Sounds great."

"Good."

"Except," she continued with regret, "I do have some work to do. I was supposed to meet with a client this afternoon, so I may have to be on the phone for a little while."

"That's fine. I'm sure I can find something to content myself for a little bit."

"And we should probably call the kids. I bet they're off school."

"Yeah," he agreed.

"And Tony …" she hated to bring it up, but she had to. She had to know what was going to happen. "We probably should talk about what happened last night."

"We will," he promised, "but for right now, just eat your breakfast."

Closing the bathroom door behind her, Angela nearly collapsed against it. Her mind was spinning and she couldn't get a firm grip on her thoughts. After more than five years, she and Tony had finally made love — and it had been spectacular. And there was no awkwardness, no embarrassment. Tony had been charming and funny over breakfast, and they had talked and laughed as they always had. It was as if nothing had changed. But everything had. Angela feared it was too good to be true. Or worse, too good to last.

Eventually, she turned on the shower tap, undressed, and stepped under the hot spray. But scrub as she might, she couldn't wash away the doubts that wouldn't leave her be. When was the axe going to fall? When was Tony going to run away from her? When were all the reasons they'd avoided this situation for so long going to surface? He was her housekeeper, and a proud Italian who had very traditional ideas. They had two kids to think about. And Tony's degree was still two years away. Those were a lot of obstacles that one night couldn't erase.

When she emerged from the bathroom, she found Tony in front of the TV, flipping through channels. The room was immaculate. He'd even made the bed. She thought it odd that she was feeling self-conscious for the first time now that she was fully dressed and facing a day alone with him in a hotel room. Outside the window, the streets were deserted and covered with snow. It was no where near the caliber Northern states had been hit with, but enough to shut down public transportation, cancel schools, and stop air travel for a while.

"The bathroom's all yours," she said. Tony looked up and smiled at her standing there in jeans and a new St. Louis Cardinals sweatshirt she'd bought the day before at the conference. With her bare feet, damp hair and no make-up, she looked about sixteen.

"Can you believe it, over a hundred channels and not one weather report."

"Yeah," she replied distractedly, struggling not to fidget as she figured out what to do. She caught site of her briefcase, and made a bee-line for it, hoping the work that was waiting for her would get her mind off her and Tony.

But Tony had already sensed her apprehension. Sure, he had fears of his own, but was tamping them down for now to try and enjoy the moment. It wasn't every day — hell, it wasn't every year — that he took a chance like that, and he wanted to make the feeling last as long as possible. They had both taken a big risk last night and he didn't know where the consequences would lead them. But right now, stranded alone in a hotel room with the day stretched out before them, he wanted to pretend their biggest decision was what to have for dinner.

With those thoughts steering his judgment, he walked over to where Angela stood at the table, where they'd played poker a little more than twelve hours earlier, placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her toward him.

"Angela, do you hate me?" he asked lightly, confidant of her answer.

She blinked in confusion and stammered, "Of-of course not. Why would you ask that?"

Ignoring her, he continued, "Do you regret last night?" This question, he was a slightly less sure about.

"No," she replied softly, "do you?"

"No, I don't, which is why I'm planning to enjoy this day without worrying about tomorrow. We have the next twenty-four hours in this room, with no kids and limited responsibilities. No one can bother us, and we can't leave. No matter what happens later, right now, what do you say we enjoy just being alone together?"

Smiling, and giving in to the irresistible temptation of his proposal, she nodded in agreement. "I think I can do that."

"Good," he said, then leaned in and placed a soft kiss on her lips. Feeling the familiar tightening in her abdomen, Angela wrapped her arms around his neck and let the kiss deepen.

Tony became so lost in the feeling of her against him that it took several moments for him to realize that the ringing in his head was really the telephone.

Reluctantly pulling away, he picked up on the fourth ring, but his eyes were still on Angela when he said hello.

"Hey Ton. Everything okay, you sound out of breath."

"Yeah, Mona, hi. Everything's fine. What's up?"

"Nothing but snow, which it seems you have a lot to deal with too."

"It's not that bad, but enough to cancel flights," Tony explained, joining Angela on the sofa, where she had taken a seat once she figured out it was her mother calling. She knew she should have called home first thing that morning, but she'd been too afraid her mother would use her notorious sixth sense for such things and would know what had happened between her and Tony. She should have known Mona would call, so she sat patiently listening to Tony's half of the conversation.

"Yeah, we're stuck here one more night and we'll be home tomorrow. Yeah, Angela's here. Hold on a sec. Give Sam and Jonathan my love. And tell Sam no MTV after nine. That goes for you too. Okay, bye." Tony covered the mouthpiece and held the phone out for her. "It's your mom."

"No, really," Angela said sarcastically, taking the phone from hi out-stretched. "Hello Mother."

"Hello dear. How are you?" Mona asked almost rhetorically.

"I'm fine. How are things there?"

"Fine. Are you sure the weather's not too bad?"

"Well, I wouldn't want to fly in an airplane through it, but we're safe and sound in our room. Tony called the airline early this morning, so we never even checked out."

They chit-chatted a while longer, mostly about the agency and what work needed to be done. Finally, Angela's prayers that Mona wouldn't make her usual references to her relationship with Tony proved futile with Mona's last comment. "You know, Angela, how is it that on every trip you two take, you seem to end up in the same hotel room together? Coincidence?"

"Yes, Mother. Coincidence. Now if you don't mind, I have some work to do."

"Oh Angela, lighten up. Did you at least get to see him in his boxers?"

When Angela nearly blurted out that he wears briefs, she knew it was time to end the conversation. "I'm going now Mother. Give Jonathan a kiss for me and tell him we'll be home tomorrow. Bye."

Angela replaced the receiver and flopped back on the couch. It had been a brief conversation, but taxing nonetheless. She had no intention of telling her mother what had happened. At least not yet, and maybe never.

"Do you think she knows?" Tony asked conspiratorially.

"I don't think so. To be honest, though, after so long, I don't think she'd believe us if we told her."

"Do you think you will ... tell her?" Tony was curious how Angela intended to approach their night together.

She thought about it for a moment, then answered truthfully, "I don't think so," she said with a fair amount of certainty. "I sort of like it being our secret."

"So, ah, what do you want to do? There are a couple of good movies coming on, and its not that often we get to waste an afternoon in front of the TV."

Angela thought briefly of her work, then decided it would wait. It was still early, and the idea of a movie was appealing – especially on the couch next to Tony.

"Sure, what've we got to choose from?"

Tony rattled of a list of movies that spanned sixty years of film-making. Finally, they decided on "Pretty Woman," which neither of them had seen yet.

Tony opted to head down to the lobby to catch some of the Knicks game while Angela finished her business calls. When he left her, she had already been at work for nearly an hour and had the contents of her briefcase spread out on the table while she cursed the absence of her computer. "You know, I wish somebody would invent a portable computer," she lamented. "And a mobile phone and fax machine wouldn't hurt either."

"That bad, huh," he'd asked, trying to make sense of the stacks of papers she was sifting through.

"Well, it's just that I could really use the numbers from last year's Anderson account, and I need to update urban demographic numbers for all my women's retail clients as well as finalize the agency's P and L for the second quarter." She said this all in one breath as though dictating to Mona in the office.

Thankfully, Tony had learned a lot of the business jargon in the past five years, so he knew what she was talking about. But her competence, her drive and organization were still impressive, and more than a little intimidating.

For a while, he'd tried to occupy himself while she haggled with Martin Anderson on the phone about the mock ups for his summer campaign for children's clothes, but he couldn't help but listen in.

"Marty, I know your research staff thinks there's a niche in the adult athletic market, but I'm telling you that you're going to find yourself head-to-head with Nike, and they are just too well established for you to compete with. Stick with the younger market. That's your goldmine ... If you're still determined, we can talk about it for the fall campaign after the fiscal year ends and the final figures are in."

The conversation ended a few minutes later, and she didn't even hang up the phone before dialing the number for Jack at the office. This time, Tony heard her barking orders for a bolder font for the banner ad in Sunday's Times, updated invoices for an ABC affiliate in New Jersey, and to double check the circulation numbers of fifteen East Coast newspapers.

"Subscriptions have been falling for a few years Jack, and I don't want those publishers inflating their readership to retain advertising dollars. We have too many CPT accounts, and if the Register or the Times Gazette or any other paper dropped a few thousand readers, we need to know."

Tony tuned out when she started speaking in acronyms more than words. She sounded so assertive and direct, so sure of herself. Tony didn't think he'd ever in his life given directives with such confidence they would be carried out. People just listened to Angela Bower. She was the boss, she knew her stuff, and her employees knew it. And listening to her on the phone, Tony knew it, too.

After the call to Jack, she shuffled through a sheaf of papers until she found the one she was obviously looking for. Then she punched in a series of numbers and asked briskly to speak to Harrison Bently. Tony had no idea who he was, but by Angela's tone of voice, she was not happy with him.

"Mr. Bently, this is Angela Bower ... fine thank you. But I'm calling to find out if there's a reason your company ceased payment on a campaign scheduled to run through fall of '91 ... I see. Well, be that as it may, I gave you fair warning that direct marketing was not an effective choice for medical equipment, but you insisted on pursuing that route. All other media have shown the projected returns. Now unless you like the sound of a breach of contract lawsuit, I suggest you messenger a check to my office in the amount of twelve-thousand dollars by four this afternoon ... We can talk about restructuring next week if you'd like, but don't think for one minute I'll let you tarnish my agency's reputation because of your stubbornness..."

It was at that point that Tony decided to make is exit. She obviously need time to work without him hovering around, and he needed time to think.

Down in the lobby, Tony saw that all the tables for the conference had been torn down, the welcome sign for all the players was gone, and almost no one remained since most people had left the day before.

He took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. He tried to concentrate on the game, but even though the Knicks were up 46-40 on the Cavs, he couldn't keep his mind on the TV. It kept drifting back to Angela.

He had no regrets about their night together, or their morning together for that matter. By giving in, he had realized for the first time exactly how much he'd kept bottled up. He had come face to face with exactly how much he had been attracted to her and how much he'd denied it. And it had been better than he ever could have imagined. He smiled to himself with the memory of how good it had felt to be with her, to hold her through the night.

But then he remembered what he'd told her in Jamaica, and how everything he'd said then was still true. As much as he cared for her, dare he admit love her — words he wasn't even able to bring himself to say last night — what could he offer her? She had a Harvard MBA and her own company. He didn't even own the vacuum cleaner he ran everyday. She paid in taxes what he made every month, and even when he got that degree in education, he'd never be able to provide for her. Not that she'd expect it, but could he handle his wife being the primary breadwinner? Would he be willing to give her up because of his outdated biases? He was afraid to find out.

On top of that, they had Samantha and Jonathan to think about. He couldn't very well be sneaking across the hall to Angela's room every night. And openly sharing her bed outside of marriage was out of the question. Those were not the values he wanted to set for his daughter. He was sure Angela felt the same about her son.

And what if it didn't work out? What if they couldn't be together without making a mess of the relationship they shared now? He didn't think he could stand losing her friendship, or her support and encouragement. Or her help with Sam. His daughter needed a mother figure, and had come to look at Angela in that role. If they changed things now, and it didn't work, it would rip apart their family.

But maybe it would work, and it would be great, better than he'd ever dreamed. Was he willing to risk finding out?

Tony returned to the room an hour later to find Angela curled on a sofa, staring out the window at the snow-covered streets. She looked over at him and smiled, and he felt his insides flip-flop. She looked stunning, with her hair soft, loose, and falling over her shoulders and no make-up to mask her natural beauty. "Hi there," she said.

"All done?" It was rhetorical, but she nodded anyway.

"Done enough. The rest can wait till we get back. Speaking of which, any news downstairs?" She hadn't left the room since the previous afternoon.

There was a quiet ambiance, a calmness between them, but both felt the undercurrent of apprehension that was creeping in. They couldn't ignore it much longer.

"Yeah, the snow's already melting, and they expect flights to resume this eveing. I know we have a reservation tomorrow, but if you rather leave tonight ..." he let the statement trail off, hoping she would want to stay.

She did.

"No. Tomorrow's fine. I'm really not in any hurry to leave."

"Good, that's good. I'm not in a hurry either. "

They both fell into silence for a little while, the idle chitchat exhausted. So they watched the snow blow across the streets and sidewalks below.

It was four o'clock.

"So, ah, what do you want to do? I've never been stranded in a hotel suite for a whole day with a beautiful woman before."

"I don't know. I think we covered all the usual activities already."

They both chuckled with a little embarrassment from the reminder that this trip had become markedly different from all their others over the years. But with the subject brought up, Angela decided that neither of them were going to enjoy the rest of the day until they talked about what happened. About what was going to happen.

"Tony ..."

"I know what you're going to say, and I don't know," he said softly.

"How do you know what I was going to say?"

Tony gave her a look that said she knew very well he knew where her thoughts had gone.

"Fair enough," she conceded, smiling at how unsurprising it was that he knew her that well. But ... "But we still need a better answer than 'I don't know.' Tony, this ... I mean ... what happened last night, it changes things. Doesn't it?"

"Do you want it to change things?"

He looked as though he had no idea how he wanted her to answer. They had endured so much in their relationship, and she was determined that the beautiful love-making they had shared not become something either of them regretted. But she didn't know what it was supposed to mean, either.

"I'm — I'm not sure," she answered honestly. "I think everything I said last summer is still true. I'm not ready for marriage."

"Neither am I." Meeting her eyes, he was glad to not find regret or hurt lingering there. But still, he wanted to say more. She deserved more. "Angela, you know I care about you. A lot. And maybe one day soon, I'll be able to give you more..."

"Tony, I don't need more right now." She took his hands in hers and held them tight. "I care about you too. More than I've cared for anyone in a long time. I'm not quite ready to risk losing that." She let their words settle for a moment before continuing with what she knew was also a big part of the equation. "We also have two children to think about." Her meaning was clear.

"I know," he acknowledged, having just thought about that downstairs. "I don't think either one of us would be comfortable with ..."

"No," she finished for him, "we wouldn't."

"So where does that leave us?" Once he'd asked the question, it occurred to Tony that he was relying on Angela to provide the answers. Though the more they talked, the more it sounded like she was thinking many of the same things he was. Still, he didn't want anything about this weekend to turn to regret. It was better if he let her decide how to proceed.

Angela thought for a moment, more and more convinced that they had arrived at the same conclusion. And she knew a part of her would regret it, but for now, it really was the best solution if they were to hold on to everything they had. As wonderful — and even promising — as the night before had been, she knew there were a more important parts of their relationship that they had to preserve — a deep friendship, support, encouragement, a partnership, and a mutual love of two teen-ages who needed them right now more than they needed each other. They had a family to protect. Their time would come again.

"Well," she began slowly, weighing her words carefully, "I think it leaves us with a very memorable weekend."

Tony almost sank to the floor in relief. It was what he felt needed to happen, too. It might not be easy, but it was for the best. For now, at least. "Are you okay with that — with going home like, like ..." He didn't know how to finish.

But Angela did. "Like normal? Yes, I think I am." If she wasn't quite as sure as she sounded, she knew it was what needed to happen.

"Angela, I want you to know, I don't regret a minute of this weekend. It was amazing. You are amazing."

"So are you, Tony. I don't think this is over between us, whatever it is," she ended ambiguously, afraid once again to say too much.

Their eyes met, and electricity sizzled between them, the same electricity they'd felt for nearly six years. Without breaking his gaze, Tony replied with more certainty than he'd ever felt, "I know it's not."

From the time Tony had walked into the room nearly an hour before, the mood had changed from friendly to serious to fearful to relieved. Tension still clung to the air, but as Tony leaned in toward Angela, the desire growing between them slowly overtook all else.

Neither fully expected the punch of emotion when their lips met. Like an invisible force, it pushed them together until his mouth completely covered hers, his arms encircling her, and her hands winding their way through his hair.

"Angela," he mumbled against her neck, unwilling to take his lips from her.

"Mm?"

"You know, technically, we don't have to go back to normal until we get home, right?"

Angela let out a low laugh, but couldn't disagree with his logic. "That's right, Tony. We have all night in this hotel to do whatever we want."

It was hours later that they made their way to the hotel restaurant for a late dinner. Having no reason not to, they had decided to dress in their evening finest to make a real night of it, especially since they didn't get their night out together. Angela's hair was swept into the most elaborate arrangement of curls she could manage in the tiny bathroom, but the effect was that Tony was constantly teased by the long tendrils that trailed down her back, which was left bare by the gold and black iridescent cocktail dress she had brought along "just in case." Angela was equally agog at the handsome image Tony made in a charcoal shirt and black pants and sportcoat.

Only one other table was occupied. Most of the guests who had been stranded that morning had left when the snow had let up. The hotel was virtually deserted. Tony and Angela didn't mind in the least.

They sat at the intimate table for two, barely noticing as the hours ticked by. They talked of their childhoods and days in high school, as always, amazed at how different they had been. And despite the misery Angela had endured at the hands of her peers, she had endless stories about teachers who encouraged and influenced her during those awkward years. Tony marveled at the way she gushed abut Mrs. Martin, her eleventh-grade English teacher, and Miss Gardner, the librarian she had assisted during study hall. They had obviously meant a lot to Angela.

While they dined on beef tenderloin, shrimp linguini in an a la vodka sauce, and eggplant rollatine over a vegetable medley, Tony reciprocated with stories of the havoc he and Bobby Guvenale had wrecked on Pitkin High. She had to stop eating as laughter overcame her while she listened to him talk about the water bombs he'd dropped on the cheerleaders during practice and the time he and Bobby had stolen the school's mascot costume and affixed it to the top of the flagpole. But he also expressed a lot of pride in the history project he'd done on the early days of Brooklyn, and the A's he'd earned in his theater class. It was a perfect mixture of humor and poignancy, entertainment and reflection. In the end, they were a little more certain they weren't as different as they sometimes thought they were.

Throughout the dinner, they were in their own world, able to pretend tomorrow wouldn't arrive. Tonight, there was no home to return to, no jobs and kids and chores that were awaiting them. They could laugh and flirt and feed each other the sinful desserts they'd ordered after their meal as though they did it everyday. To the few employees lingering in the lobby, they looked like a couple deeply in love with each other. And because they hadn't dared venture into such sacred territory, neither had they stopped to consider what truth there was to the image they made.

Dinner had been divine, and Angela felt a pang of regret as the last plate was removed from the table and only their wine glasses remained. It was late, she knew. Likely near midnight, and only the barest of employees remained in restaurant. Her reluctance to leave was tempered with guilt for occupying the table for so long. Luckily, she knew the restaurant had reopened for all-night service. For that small solace, she was grateful.

But still, her legs were craving to be stretched, and she wanted her final moments with Tony to be shared in private. When he stood up and offered his hand to her, she took it with a shy smile and fell into place beside him as he walked toward the elevators.

"Did you enjoy dinner?" he asked, making small talk, which seemed almost silly after all the talking they'd done that night.

Still, she answered. "Yes, very much. But I enjoyed the company even more."

"Me too." And then, "Angela," he said hesitantly, unsure whether to even say anything. But he did. "Do you think we're going to regret this weekend?"

Angela shook her head, her eyes never leaving his. "No, Tony, I don't. If anything, I'm afraid we'll regret leaving it at only this weekend."

It was the boldest statement she'd ever made to him, but it was true. She sincerely hoped they were doing the right thing. But doubts had begun to play at the edges of her mind, caused by the romantic dinner, endless conversation, and her own longing to return once again to his embrace. So, she decided to seek her own answer from him.

"Do you think we're making the right decision?"

Tony wished she'd asked any question but that. Going back home was going to be the hardest thing he'd ever done, but he knew it was right. For now, it was necessary.

"Yes, we are. Angela, we're just not ready for what this would mean back home. I'm your housekeeper, remember?"

"You know I don't care about that."

"But I do. I want to be able to give you more than a mop and a promise. Besides, the kids ..."

"I know, Tony. And I'm not trying to back out of our decision. It's just ..." For once, it was Angela who was lost for words. "It's just, I want you to know this isn't going to be easy for me."

"It won't be easy for me either." The elevator doors opened on their floor, but they both stayed rooted where they stood.

"There are matters bigger than us at stake," she concluded, "so this is for the best. For now."

"For now," he agreed softly, staring intently into her eyes.

"And we'll have another chance again." It was a statement, not a question.

"Another chance," he confirmed.

Angela nodded and reached for his hand as she exited the elevator. They walked together down the hall to their room, where Tony opened the door and allowed Angela to enter ahead of him. When she turned to say something to him, he put a finger to her lips, stopping the words she was going to say. Then he used the remote control to turn the radio to a jazz station he had discovered earlier, and soulful notes immediately began to fill the room.

"We still have tonight."

Taking her hand, he spun easily toward him and pulled her close as he began to move to the music. One hand was splayed low on her back while his other clasped hers tightly between them. With her cheek pressed against his, she followed his steps and let her body mold to his as the soft music washed over them. It was not the first time they had danced so intimately. In fact, it seemed to Angela that some of their most tender moments over the years had been while they were dancing. That was when she'd been able to let go of her insecurities and embrace all the feelings he evoked in her. In his arms, she had been able to forget all the reasons they stayed just friends and all the obstacles they faced. She thought now that every time they danced, it was as if the whole world disappeared around them leaving them in a place they could only find with the help of a soft melody. And this time was no different.

But never before when they swayed together to the strings of a symphony, the crooning of Sinatra, or the notes of a saxophone had Tony turned his lips to her neck and placed a soft kiss on her collarbone, as he did now. And never before would she have allowed the sigh of pure pleasure escape as she tilted her head in an open invitation.

With care and deliberation, Tony moved slowly from her neck to her jaw and finally to her mouth where he claimed her lips with his own. It was a deep kiss, a passionate kiss that spoke of more to come. He plundered her mouth, sweeping his tongue with greed and hunger. Then he pulled back to nibble on her bottom lip and place a succession of kisses around her face.

The constant change in the tempo of his actions was driving her mad — and making her beg for more. She sensed his need, shared his desperation to feel every touch and burn every sensation into her memory. They knew this night was special, that it was theirs and theirs alone. Tomorrow would take them back to real life, and their commitment to matters even bigger than what they were sharing. But they had tonight, and they were going to make it last.

When Tony led her to the bed, there was no hesitation. She laughed as he struggled to remove the pins from her hair, but sobered quickly when he ran his fingers across her shoulders, pausing to rub her neck suggestively before plunging through the freed locks. He lifted the heavy tresses and let them spill over her shoulders, marveling at the color and texture, grateful to finally know how it felt against his skin.

This time, it was she who slipped the dress from her shoulders and let it pool silently at her feet. It was a symbolic gesture to show him how much she desired this, desired him. She wanted everything this night to have meaning, because she knew how fleeting their time together was.

Tony was awestruck by the sight of her in a sheer black, backless camisole and black nylons, and his eyes drank her in even as he reached out and brought her against him once more. Angela had never felt so desired, so wanted by another human being in her life. The look in Tony's eyes was intoxicating and made her want to give him all of herself and more. Holding fast to that thought, she slowly removed the last of her clothes, emboldened by the look of open desire on Tony's face. A part of him could have stared at her all night trying to burn her image into his memory. But he wanted more.

Within moments, his clothes joined hers on the floor, and they drew each other to the bed, each wanting to give all they could. Familiar instinct guided their hands and mouths as they reveled in a freedom of expression like none they had ever known. They took their time, stroking and caressing every inch and watching each other's reactions as their touch became bolder. When Tony dipped his mouth to tease the peak of her breast, he found his own piece of paradise in the whimper he drew from her and carried that feeling even further as he ventured lower to offer her the most intimate of kisses.

Angela was immediately lost in a sea of explosive sensation. Her breath ragged and her mind mired in thoughts of Tony, she cried out in release and dragged him up to her so that his body aligned with her, unable to satisfy her need to feel him against her. Her hands skimmed his back and shoulders, fingers flexing against the taut muscles, then dove lower to cup him to her before returning to his face and bringing it to hers, where her mouth matched the fervor of her touch.

When at last he raised himself above her and joined his body with hers, she knew nothing else could quell the fire within her. She drew him in and moved with him, feeling at last complete.

Tony clasped her hands in his and carried them above her head, then captured her mouth with his as he moved within her. With every movement, he knew that it was the last time he would feel himself nestled inside her, hear her gasping his name, and watch her blissful and aching beneath him. Maybe it wouldn't be the last time ever, but certainly the last time for longer than he wanted to think about. And that bittersweet reality drove him to pour all of himself into her so that she not only felt his body, but his soul, and his heart. He held her to him, whispering to her words he would never recall, words of promise and comfort, words of praise and devotion, patience and gratitude. But what they all amounted to, and what Angela heard in his voice, were words of love, words she couldn't help but return.

And then their eyes met and held. Seeing only each other, feeling only each other, they fell together into a place where all else ceased to exist.

No words were spoken. They just held fast to the few fleeting moments they had before the sun would make its unwelcome entrance into the day and end their time together.

Getting out of the bed she'd shared with Tony for the past two nights would be one of the hardest things Angela had ever had to do. Knowing she'd soon be returning to her own bed in Fairfield — alone — only made it harder. So she lay there with her head on this shoulder and her hand caressing his chest, aware that he was awake beside her and also not ready to give up their time.

"Angela?"

"I know."

Three words said it all. It was time. Their plane was leaving in three hours, and they still had to shower, dress, and finish packing. While part of her — a big part — felt as thought she were going to her own funeral, she was determined not to end such a glorious weekend under such morose conditions. She and Tony had a lot to be grateful for, and a lot to look forward to. They'd shared a beautiful two nights together, finally giving in to the desires they'd denied for more than five years. They'd made love again and again, even after they'd agreed their time to be together would have to wait. And it had been wonderful. It had been so much more than she ever could have imagined, and it was made even more tender because they had come away from it with only joy and hope, and not once ounce of regret. For that alone, Angela had every reason to be happy, and she was going to make sure Tony was too.

Turning her face up to him, she let her lips dance over his with playful feathery kisses, never quite allowing their mouths to connect. "Come on, sleepy head," she said between kisses, "it's time we headed home."

"Not quite yet, you little tease," he replied, clasping her hands and flipping her over while his mouth angled onto hers in a searing kiss. Breathless, Tony broke away and stood up. "I'm really, really going to miss this."

"So am I," Angela said soberly. Despite her resolve, it was hard to ignore the pangs of regret for what they were sacrificing. "Well, we'd better get ready."

"Yeah," he said, meeting her eyes intently, "we'd better."

With remarkable ease and comfort, they managed to be ready to leave an hour later, and it was with bittersweet longing that they closed the door to the room where they'd shared so much.

They were quiet on the taxi ride to the airport, both amazed at how little snow was left due to the fifty degree temperatures that followed the short-lived blast from the North. At the airport, conversation was mostly custodial as they checked luggage, got boarding passes and cleared security just in time to arrive at their gate as the plane was boarding.

They took their seats and were glad to find there were only two in each row. Their moods were such that idle chitchat with strangers would have been beyond their ability. Despite the near two hundred people around them, they were still content in their own private world, and as the plane lifted off the ground, Angela looked out her window at the shrinking city and knew no matter what happened in the future, her time with Tony would always be close to her heart.

Next to her, Tony's thoughts were much the same. His heart had never felt light as a feather one minute then heavy as lead the next as his thoughts alternated from the magic of the past days to the reality that greeted them in Connecticut.

When he felt Angela's head rest against his shoulder, he looked down to find her smiling up at him with a serenity in her eyes that he then felt begin to wash over him. All would be well, he knew. As she'd said to him the day before, their time would come again. Bending down, he brushed a kiss against her forehead, then he took her hand in his, and held it close as the plane turned north to take them home.