"Betty, could I talk to you for a moment? Please?"
From her desk, Betty Suarez looked up through the pane of glass to see Daniel Meade's wide eyes. Her first instinct was to scream in frustration; she had picked up his suit, cancelled all engagements past four so he could attend the gala and she had an orthodontist appointment at four-thirty. It was three-fifty. Whatever he needed would probably have to wait until tomorrow.
With a sigh, Betty stood and walked around her desk, grabbing a pen and writing tablet as she went. When she entered, Daniel had risen and was coming around his desk to lean against it, arms crossed.
"Daniel, it's nearly four o'clock. Whatever it is…"
"Betty, I don't want anything… not like that…." he said in a rush.
"So… what do you need?" she mumbled, embarrassed that she had assumed the worst. He looked down at his agenda and furrowed his brow.
"It seems to me something big is happening tonight. What is it again?"
"Um… the gala? Which starts in three hours?" she prodded. Had he forgotten the gala? No wonder he had forgotten her braces. Daniel, however, just smiled.
"That I remember; my tux is right in front of me. No, it seems to me someone has an appointment this afternoon."
Oops! Betty fought the urge to lower her head, but when Daniel began to chuckle, she knew he had managed to interpret her thoughts yet again.
"Yes, Betty, I remembered. You've been so anxious that you haven't stopped smiling since last week. Hell, I'm anxious for you!"
"Really?" she mumbled, pushing her glasses up her nose and earning a smile.
"Yes, very much so! And it should be celebrated," he said, standing up and returning to his chair behind his desk as Betty stammered.
"Daniel, that's really sweet, but you have the gala and…"
"Exactly!" he burst. "Will you come?" he asked and watched with a smile as she began to fidget. "Well?"
"Daniel, this is kind of last minute."
"I know that; the thing is I've been planning this since you told me about your appointment. I was so sure you'd say yes that I didn't bother to ask anyone else. So… if you refuse, I'm going to be attending the gala alone tonight."
"That's guilt-tripping!" she cried out in distress. "You're not playing fair, Daniel."
"That's life, Betty. Your answer?" he asked again, watching her continue to fidget.
"Daniel, this is… I can't… it's too short notice! I can't be ready…"
Daniel lifted his hand. "Trust me, Betty, and give me an answer."
Betty looked around, biting her lower lip and staring at the clock. "I need to be at my appointment in… twenty minutes! I won't…"
"Yes or no, Betty?" he asked calmly, containing himself when she nodded her head.
"Perfect. The town car is downstairs; he knows where to take you to your orthodontist. After, you're going to prearranged destinations. The driver has the itinerary. You might want to call your dad and sister."
"They're meeting me at the orthodontist's."
"Really?" he muttered, surprise stamped on his face, making her smile.
"I've been wearing these for years; this is a big deal! Remember? That's why you invited me?" With a curious twitch, Daniel nodded a few times.
"Uh… yeah, right. Absolutely… Anyway, all the arrangements have been made and it's going to be a long night, so you might want to let your family know."
"Daniel," she sighed, "I can't just decide to spend–"
"You're not spending a cent. I just want you there. I'll be by your apartment to pick you up at six-thirty. I'll see you later." With that, he left and Betty stood in bewilderment for several moments before grabbing her coat and dashing out of the office down to the car.
"What?!" Hilda screeched, her voice so high that Betty was sure the nearest whale pod had heard it. Betty cringed while their father continued to admire his daughter's beautiful smile, finally free of its metal constraints. He held his youngest's face between his hands.
"Wasn't it worth it, mija?" he asked softly, making her frown.
"I haven't looked in the mirror yet, but it feels weird to have my lips against my teeth again. Anyway, Daniel warned me that it's going to be a long night, so you might not hear from me. I'll call you tomorrow morning."
"No problem. I will talk to you mañana and, hopefully, your sister will have snapped out of her manic state by then…" he murmured.
"I heard that!" Hilda bellowed before pulling her sister into a bone-crushing hug. "I'm so happy for you, Betty. Congratulations!"
"Hilda, this is not a date!" she barked out, watching furiously as her sister smiled with satisfaction. "Hilda…"
"Betty, what does he call the women who are on his arm at parties?"
"Does he pay for their primpin' and pamperin'?" she demanded and Betty grunted.
"No! Because they have people and money to do it for them!"
Although Hilda finally stopped talking, she maintained the smile on her face and Betty knew her sister considered herself the winner of their argument. Sighing, in defeat, she gathered her bags and moved towards the elevator back down to the town car when her father stopped her.
"Betty… Hilda's not wrong. For Daniel to go to all this trouble, he either wants something or someone… you. Now, I won't tell you to be careful because I think Daniel will try something; I'm telling you to be careful because my father's intuition is telling me you like him a whole lot more than you let on. The last thing I want is for you to get hurt, mija, and I think Daniel might be the one to burn you worst of all."
When Ignacio was finished, tears shone in his eyes. Betty's, too, grew moist and she pulled her father into a tight hug.
"Gracias, Papi," she whispered and stepped into the lift.
Betty turned around in front of the mirror a few times before leaving her bedroom to answer the doorbell. More than happy about the sensible two-inch block-heel shoes the stylist chose, she managed to stay on her feet and opened the door to Daniel, dressed in a tuxedo with his perfectly tousled hair. His mouth hung wide open.
Daniel's eyes roamed over her body, taking in the form-hugging, off-the-shoulder burgundy cocktail dress then moved north to her straightened hair and very lightly made-up face. When he got to her mouth, he finally noticed her tightly sealed lips and grinned.
"C'mon… let me see."
"It feels weird," she mumbled, her lips barely moving. Daniel smiled and curled his index finger beneath her chin to lift her face to his.
"Betty, I've been waiting weeks to see that beautiful smile metal-free. Now, show me or I'll tickle a smile out of you."
That got a wide grin from her and one from him in return.
"Wow!" was the only thing that he could say as her mega-watt smile returned, now perfectly white. Without the metal of her braces, her lips finally rested flat against her teeth, looking delicious with a thin sheen of burnt red lipstick. Daniel gave an almost audible swallow.
"I, um… I still need to put in my contacts," she grumbled shyly and was about to go do just that when he briefly tightened his grip, keeping her near.
"Why?" he blurted, pulling his hand away, the cocoon of intimacy gone. "I mean, you always wear your glasses."
"Well," she said as she wrung her hands, "I thought I might look more… presentable with my contacts."
"I think you're lying to me," he said pointedly as he crossed his arms.
"Daniel, I just… I don't want to embarrass you."
"Embarrass me? I couldn't be prouder! Betty, a man is lucky to be seen with you. And you look especially beautiful this evening. You don't need to put in your contacts. Now, are you ready?"
"Um… yeah, I guess," she mumbled as she grabbed her purse and shawl and stepped into the hallway, locking her door. Then, Daniel held out his arm, bringing back memories of the 'Real Women' fashion show, and, together, they descended to the town car to go to the party.
People milled about, small conversations sprouting up here and there as the night wore on. A modest orchestra played ballads and couples danced in the center of the room. At the edge of the room, Betty and Daniel stood, talking to an editor-in-chief of some other Meade magazine. Soon after, the man smiled and excused himself.
"So," he murmured into her ear, "are you enjoying the evening?"
The feel of Daniel's warm breath set her blood boiling and her head spinning. Unable to form whole sentences, Betty opted for a short nod with a smile and took another sip of her champagne before Daniel took it away and set it on the table.
"Betty… come dance with me."
It was not a command and, yet, it was not a question, either. He held her hand in his and moved to an empty spot on the floor, pulling her into his arms as he took her right hand in his left, curling them together against his chest as they began to sway.
They moved back and forth a few times before the popular ballad changed to a soft waltz. Betty tried to pry herself out of Daniel's grasp, but he merely tightened it, extending his left arm and repositioning his right hand at her shoulder blade. Then, they began to spin.
Betty's heart fluttered in her throat as Daniel pulled her against him, her body pressed into his. Her hand was nearly clamped onto his bicep as they turned a touch more quickly and she feared that she would trip, but something in the way he held her told her exactly where to step, keeping her standing.
"Wow…" was all she could manage when they finally stopped moving. She gulped for air and tried not to blush when her eyes met his. Her voice returned. "I, uh… I'll be right back," she mumbled and he released her, leaving her to go to the bar and get drinks for both of them.
Betty made her way to the ladies' room and locked the door of the stall she was in. She was about to sit down, alone with her thoughts for a moment, when the door swung open and two chatty women entered, stopping within the doors.
"He's either desperate or owes a favor," said the first voice with a Parisian drawl. The other giggled.
"Please…" she moaned, an Italian accent. "Who could Daniel owe a favor that means appearing in public with that fat piñata?"
"The alternatives are that he's run out of women to bed or he wanted to, Melania," the French woman argued, resulting in full out laughter from the Italian.
"True, Angeline. E vero," she cackled before snapping her purse shut. Then, they left, unaware that Betty had heard every word.
Tears streamed down her cheeks and she fought to control them, but failed miserably. She bunched up some toilet paper and dabbed at the tears a moment before exiting the stall. Checking her appearance in the mirror, she composed herself as best she could.
As far as Betty knew, Daniel was indebted to no one and had his choice of women, but as the words turned over in her mind, the idea was not so stupid. Would he seriously have come here alone if she had refused? Surely, Daniel Meade would not have shown up dateless. A quick phone call to almost any woman and he would have had an escort. Yet, he did treat her to an entire afternoon of primping.
Because he needed you half-presentable, cried a little voice and she acknowledged it. He had given her hair, make-up and clothes and, now, she no longer recognized her own reflection.
"This isn't me…"
Her blood boiled and, with a groan, she took the tissues to wipe at her make-up until it was all gone. She sighed and looked back into the mirror, the Betty Suarez she knew slowly returning.
Pulling a deep breath of air into her lungs, she put on her wrap, grabbed her purse and left the restroom, heading straight for the door. She did not bother to look up at the crowded room; if she did, she would try to spot Daniel. That meant two possible outcomes: she would locate him next to some tall, willowy bimbo or her pause to look would give him time to notice her and talk her into staying. No, fleeing was the better choice.
Crap! She picked up speed and made her way outside as quickly as possible. Her clacking heels drowned out Daniel's as she scrambled down the concrete steps to the sidewalk. She was sure she had evaded him when a hand closed around her wrist. Knowing who had caught her without even turning around, she continued to struggle against him until he caught her other arm and pulled her into him, chest to chest, both her arms trapped behind her.
"Betty, what the hell was that about?" he burst before softening a little. Thunder crashed above as he stared into her eyes. "You've been crying… and you took off all your make-up."
"Daniel, let me go."
"No." His voice meant he was dead serious, which scared her. He was not going to let her go without an explanation. "No, not until you tell me what got you so riled up. If it's my fault, I'm really, really sorry, Betty. Tell me what I did and I promise I'll fix it."
"Let go…" she whimpered, but that seemed to push him over the edge. His eyes turned smoky as he tightened his hold.
"No! I don't want to!" he growled, fire blazing in his eyes as he reached out and tangled his hand in her hair, pulling her face to his and kissing her so deeply she thought she might melt. His tongue swept through her mouth and tasted her as his arms curled around her, spooning her against his body. With a gasp and a muttered oath from him, they broke apart.
"Damn it, Betty!" he yelled out, making her jump in surprise. When she looked up, she finally noticed how glassy his eyes had become and she found herself frozen in place. "I thought the night was going well! What happened?"
"What if I hadn't come?"
"Then I wouldn't have either!" he screamed, his face reddening. "If you would've told me you have plans, I'd have skipped the gala and gone with you! I don't care about this damn party!"
"So why time out first social engagement only once my braces were off?"
"IT WAS AN EXCUSE! IF I HAD JUST ASKED YOU OUT, I'D HAVE SCARED YOU OFF! I'M IN LOVE WITH YOU, BETTY! I only realized it a couple weeks ago and this was the first thing to come along that I could use as an excuse! Do you really think I give a shit whether you have braces or not?! Retainer, braces, headgear… I don't care if your whole head is a FUCKING ANTENNA!"
Couples cramped beneath umbrellas stared at the two arguing in the downpour, but walked on. Daniel's chest heaved, looking for the air his rant had denied his body. His suit clung to him and his hair dripped, the carefully messed locks now a soaking mess. His eyes softened and reddened with unshed tears as he stared at Betty. Her wet dress hung limply on her body and her sopping hair was sticking to her face. He leaned forward to pick a strand of it off her face and tuck it behind her ear. Her hand covered his and held it against her face as her lip quivered, tears assailing her.
"I'm in love with you, Betty," he whispered, sliding his hand out from under hers and causing her eyes to snap open. "I'm sorry I scared you."
Slowly, Daniel turned and walked off and, for a few seconds, Betty was too stunned to react. She stood rooted to the spot, watching his retreating figure and yet not seeing him. Another clap of thunder boomed through the sky and she awoke from her trance with a start, now noticing the few dozen meters that separated them. She took a few slow steps.
"Daniel…" she whispered, increasing her pace and gaining on him an inch at a time, her shoes clicking a little faster. "Daniel?" she called, her voice stronger and her speed growing by the second until she was full-out running. "DANIEL!" she screamed, watching him spin in surprise only meters away. Realization dawned on him and she sprinted into his open arms, greeted with and revelling in the frantic kisses that he peppered all over her face.
"Betty," he said, his voice hoarse as he continued to kiss her. She wept and wrapped her arms around his torso beneath his jacket, clinging to the wet material of his shirt, gripping him securely.
"Daniel!" she sobbed, forcing the words out as his lips moved over her face. "I love you, too! I love you! I love you so much it hurts!"
Finally, his mouth closed over hers in a kiss that put their earlier embrace to shame. Liquid fire pumped through their veins as they fought to be even closer. They pressed themselves deeply into each other and, when she felt something nudge her abdomen, her desire spiked and she moaned into his mouth in pleasure.
"Betty, we're… we should…"
"Just make it fast!" she rasped and he ran with her in tow to the hotel a door away. They checked in as speedily as possible and groped their way through the elevator ride.
Once inside the hotel room, Daniel locked the door and turned to look at Betty who stood somewhat shyly by the bed. He stepped closer and watched her shiver. His smile was warm and she tentatively let the drenched shawl drop to the floor beside her. Daniel placed his hands on Betty's shoulders.
"Are you nervous?" he asked softly and she whimpered.
"Yes… I'm… not very…"
"Betty," he whispered with a shy smile. "I'm nervous, too… I've never made love to a woman before." He watched in ecstasy as a blush rose up her neck. He sat her down on the edge of the bed and couched down in front of her. "Trust me… Let me take care of you. Let me love you…"
With a mute nod, she reclined on the bed and let him do just that several times during the course of the night, bringing her to a place beyond Eden. As the night moved on, she grew braver and more confident, taking initiative a few times and surprising both of them. When morning arrived, it found them asleep in the large bed, spooned together with his arms wrapped tightly around her body, completely sated and perfectly content to be there.
2 MONTHS LATER
"Good morning and welcome to Rise and Shine America. For those of you just joining us, our special guest is none other than Daniel Meade, Editor-in-chief at Mode magazine. And, with him is his lovely girlfriend, Betty Suarez. So, let me get this straight, Daniel; she used to be your assistant?" the anchor asked. They nodded.
"For three and a half years. Yup. She's brilliant," he said, looking into her eyes and smiling. "She's also a saint for putting up with me. I can't imagine being my girlfriend or assistant."
"Is he really that bad, Betty?" the anchor pushed and she grinned.
"Let's just say he used to have a knack for getting into sticky situations and my knack is helping him out of them. But, no, not that bad."
"You're so good to me," Daniel whispered, squeezing Betty's hand and turning back to the anchor.
"So, you apparently have big plans, Daniel?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. I have new ideas for Mode and I intend on making some personal changes, too."
"Oh? Such as?"
Betty watched anxiously as Daniel's mouth opened and closed several times. He was searching for the right words and he only did that when he was nervous. She gave his hand a squeeze and he smiled.
"Well, I figured since I was here, it was as good a time as any considering my history with Rise and Shine America."
Betty was about to say something when Daniel suddenly turned towards her and slid off the chair onto one knee while he reached into his pocket. She gasped.
"Most people," he said softly, "will find this really weird, but I don't care; I know you understand what this means to me and that's all that matters to me." He withdrew a small velvet box and clicked it open to reveal a simple silver band with a modestly large diamond centered on it. A smile covered his face when he saw her tears. "Will you marry me, Betty Suarez?"
She did, indeed, know what this meant to him. She knew what he had become for the next two weeks and she knew that, as far as he was concerned, he was rising it again.
"Daniel, you're not really risking much," she murmured and watched his face twist in confusion. "Did you seriously think there was a chance I'd say 'no'?"
His eyes lit up and, with a quick 'yes', he pressed his lips to hers and slid the ring out of the box. With a tiny 'Look', she turned the band over and felt her heart melt.
"To how long I had to wait to do this. To when I first fell in love with you," he murmured.
To 60 days.