Niles hurried into the ballroom, relieved to find that the Seabee Awards had yet to begun. His brother had been nominated for his first broadcasting award (or any award for that matter) and Niles couldn't have been prouder, even if he was hesitant to admit it.
He and Frasier may have had their differences but there was no denying that he was envious of his older brother's rapid success.
After having only been on the radio for a short time, Frasier was already a respected Seattle celebrity. While Niles on the other hand still prayed that one day his small patient load would increase as a result of some achievement that would be heralded throughout Seattle, making him as popular as his brother.
And that's usually where the dream ended and the rude awakening began, with Maris summoning him across the hall to her bedroom. Not for a romantic interlude, like he'd hoped for so many times, but to chide him for something he'd done that wasn't quite to her liking. When he'd tried to persuade her to attend the Seabee Awards with him, she'd flatly declined, leaving him no choice but to go alone. As much as he loved his wife, he simply had to attend and leave her behind.
And when Frasier asked about her whereabouts, Niles would simply make up an excuse-the way he'd done countless times before.
He couldn't deny that Maris' apparent disregard for his family commitments hurt him deeply, for this was not the first time she'd shunned him. But he also knew that he loved her. And that was the most important thing.
His mind drifted back to the reason he'd come here in the first place. He was looking foreword to finally hearing the speech that Frasier had rattled on endlessly about, going over it and over it until it met Niles' approval. It was sure to be a big hit among the broadcasting elite in Seattle.
But as soon as he reached the designated table, he completely forgot about why he had come; for there in front of him was the goddess Daphne Moon, looking so beautiful that she took his breath away.
She smiled at him and propped her stocking foot on her knee. "Hello, Dr. Crane. Will you rub me feet?"
"Yes." He said without hesitation.
"Niles!" said Frasier in an annoyed tone of voice.
Niles gave Daphne a look of sympathy and sat down, carefully choosing the seat at the large round table that would give him an unobstructed view of her heavenly face.
As the ceremony began, he tried to appear interested in the emcee and the award presentations but he simply couldn't tear his gaze away from his angel.
It was only when the award for the Outstanding Achievement for Informational Programming in Radio was about to be presented that he returned his attention to the happenings around him.
The emcee seemed to be taking his time opening the envelope and even longer to begin speaking.
Dear God, this was agonizing!
Niles could only imagine what Frasier was going through, waiting with bated breath for his name to be called. Once more a tinge of jealously set in, but Niles refused to let it overshadow Frasier's first award. This was his older brother's day and he should be proud.
"Well... This is a first..." Keith Bishop was saying as he peered at the card containing the names of the winners. "It seems we have a tie! And the winners are..."
Niles heart beat rapidly, for this was the most exciting moment he'd experienced in a long time.
Wendy Ashiro and Mike Sanchez!"
The hopeful expressions at the table faded, replaced with frowns of disappointment. And almost immediately after the last award had been presented, the crowd began to disburse, leaving Niles and Daphne alone at the table.
After several moments of blissfulness alone with his angel, neither of them saying a word, Niles finally found the courage to speak. "You look lovely this evening, Daphne."
"Thank you, Dr. Crane. Now I suppose I should get up and see if me aching feet will make it to the car. It was nice to see you. Goodnight."
He watched as she slowly rose from her chair and walked woodenly toward the door. There was no doubt that the pain was excruciating. And his heart ached for her. Without giving it another thought he rose to his feet and went to her, gently placing his trembling hand on her shoulder.
She turned to him in surprise.
"Are you all right, Daphne? You seem to be in an awful lot of pain."
She smiled and squeezed his hand. "It's so sweet of you to be concerned but I'll be just fine. It's me shoes."
At his confused glance, she held up the black patented leather shoe for his inspection.
"Oh... That's a very nice style Daphne. No wonder you look so lovely."
She blushed deeply, growing more beautiful before his very eyes.
"Thank you, but I'm afraid that they're so uncomfortable that they cause me to be in complete agony. Well there's no sense in dumpin' me problems on you. I'd best join your brother and father before they wonder what happened to me."
Once more she attempted to walk toward the door, wincing with every step until Niles could no longer bear to see her in such pain.
She whirled around in surprise.
"Yes, Dr. Crane?"
"Why don't you have a seat? I'm sure that Frasier and Dad will understand and... Well... I'd be happy to take you home."
Her eyes lit up and she smiled, melting his heart once more.
"That's very sweet of you, Dr. Crane."
He pulled out a chair and gestured for her to sit down and then took off his jacket, smiling at her curious glance. He sat down in the chair next to her and placed his jacket in his lap.
"Um... You wanted your feet rubbed."
His face burned with embarrassment just saying the words. He could hardly believe that he was about to offer such a thing.
"Why Dr. Crane, you don't have to do that. I'll be just fine."
"Nonsense. You're hurting and I'd never forgive myself if I let you go on this way."
She smiled and took her foot and placed it onto the makeshift pillow he'd made out of his jacket that sat in his lap.
"This is very kind of you, Dr. Crane. I wish your brother and father were more like you."
His cheeks colored fiercely, and she smiled at the sight of him. "You look very handsome tonight."
"Thank you, Daphne. You look..."
Once more she laughed, filling his heart with love. "You already told me, remember? But I don't mind hearing it again!"
When she tried to reposition her legs, she winced. "Oh, me feet are killing me! I'd love to kill that salesgirl for insisting that I buy these bloody shoes!"
"Oh, Heavens, your foot massage! I almost forgot!"
"It's all right, Dr. Crane, really."
But with the utmost tenderness, he cradled her feet in his hands and began to massage them in slow, even circles, smiling when he heard her sigh contentedly.
"That feels wonderful..."
He continued to rub her feet for several minutes, for this was as close as he'd ever get to such ecstasy. Her perfume wafted into his direction, beckoning him to move closer. But he didn't dare do anything to ruin this beautiful moment.
But all too soon she changed positions, swinging her stocking feet to the floor. "I can't thank you enough Dr. Crane. Me feet feel so much better! Is there anything I can do for you?"
Suddenly his heart began to race and his mind was filled with things he knew he shouldn't be thinking. So many things...
"That's not necessary, Daphne. You do so much for my family already."
"That's sweet, Dr. Crane but I'm talking about you. There must be some way I can repay you."
"It was my pleasure."
Finally she sighed in defeat. "Well, all right. If you're sure. But you do look a bit tense. I'd be happy to give you a mas-sage."
He gasped in surprise. "What, here?"
"Well of course, here! Where did you think I meant? Now you just sit right there and face the other way, and I'll have you relaxed in no time."
He could feel his heart racing and he was sure that any minute he would begin to hyperventilate.
Seconds later, he felt her behind him, her hands kneading his shoulders in a way that put his expensive masseuse to shame. Her hands worked magic on his shoulders and upper back, slowly making their way down and then back up again.
He could feel her fingers, touching him in large circular motions and he experienced a state of euphoria that could never be duplicated; a drunkenness that could only be achieved by a goddess' touch.
His eyes closed and he leaned his head back, sighing contentedly. If this was what Heaven was like, he hoped he'd get there as fast as possible.
"There, do you feel better?"
"Yes..." He said dreamily.
"I'm glad." Daphne replied. "I can't thank you enough for bein so sweet to me tonight. Your brother was so annoyed at me, going on and on about me shoes in the car. But I can't help it if they hurt me bloody feet!"
When she sat down beside him, he turned his head, cringing at the crick that formed in his neck.
Daphne's eyes widened in alarm. "Oh, Dr. Crane, I'm sorry! I should have remembered to mas-sage your neck as well. How could I have forgotten that? I guess I'm not as good of a physical therapist as I thought."
"That's preposterous!" Niles said. "You're wonderful!"
To his surprise she hugged him. "Leave it to you to say somethin' sweet to make me feel better. Now, let's get your neck all nice and relaxed."
Once more she began to massage his neck, almost instantly dulling the pain that he'd endured just seconds before. She was so close to him now that he could feel her breath on his cheek and the scent of her heavenly shampoo wafted in his direction.
And he could no longer hold in his emotions. He turned his face to meet hers and brushed the hair from her face.
"I love you, Daphne..."
"I love you, Daphne... You're so beautiful that I can't help my...self..."
His words were interrupted by her kisses; her lips as soft as satin and sweet as wine against his mouth. The kisses deepened and her arms slid around his neck, her breath staggered as she tilted her head toward the ceiling, allowing him the blissful opportunity to trail kisses from her mouth to her cheeks, her chin, her neck and finally into the hollow of her chest.
"Dr. Crane... This is... wrong."
He simply could not stop kissing her. He'd barely met the woman but a few weeks ago and since that day, not an hour had gone by that he wasn't thinking of her. The hell with Maris! Daphne was the woman he truly loved. Maris had caused him nothing but shame and bitterness while Daphne had showed him that he was truly capable of being loved. He felt her hands move in slow, even circular motions up and down his back as she kissed his mouth, his chin...
"Dr. Crane... Do you really love me?" She asked, her brown eyes peering into his blue ones.
"Oh yes, Daphne. I've never loved anyone more."
She began to cry, prompting him to draw back. "Oh Daphne, please don't cry. I can't bear it!"
"I love you too." She said, capturing his lips with hers once more. "Dr. Crane..."
"Yes, my angel?"
"I'm right here my love."
"Dr. Crane... Dr. Crane?"
Slowly his eyes opened and her beautiful face came into focus as he stared into her beautiful brown eyes.
She smiled and brushed a lock of hair from his forehead.
"There you are. I was worried about you!"
"Worried? But I've been right here with you, so why-."
She laughed then, surprising him. "Oh, Dr. Crane, you must have been in a deeper sleep then you thought. I've been trying to wake you up for the longest time!"
He sat upright and looked frantically around the room, realizing that they were the only two people there.
"What happened? I thought you were giving me a massage and-."
"Well I was but not long after I finished, you fell asleep."
He looked down, realizing that his jacket had been placed across his chest to keep him warm.
"Now, we'd best get home." She continued. "Your brother and father are probably furious that I'm sure your wife is waiting for you."
The disappointment he'd felt earlier returned. "I doubt that. Otherwise she would have been here."
Daphne hugged him, affording him a whiff of her shampoo, a mixture of flowers and rosemary.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Crane. But it was so sweet of you to support your brother. I know he's disappointed that he didn't win, but I know he loves you and appreciates your thoughtfulness."
"Thank you, Daphne."
He leaned against her, melting into her warm embrace.
"I suppose we should get going. Would you mind giving me a ride home?"
His heart warmed once more. "I'd be honored to drive you home."
"You're such a sweet man." She said hugging him again. "How are your feet?"
"Oh, they feel much better! Your foot mas-sage did wonders for me achin' feet, Dr. Crane. I can't thank you enough."
"I've heard that soaking in Epsom Salt works wonders. When we get back to Frasier's, I'll fill the tub and you can soak your feet. That way you'll be able to sleep better tonight."
"There's no need to go to so much trouble for me. I'm hardly worth all the fuss."
"You're worth your weight in gold, Daphne."
To his dismay she began to cry.
"Oh Daphne, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to-."
His apology prompted her to put her arms around him and hold him close.
"I love you, Dr. Crane. You're the best friend I ever had."
He gasped in astonishment. Had she really said-.
But before he could even think, she took his hand and led him out of the ballroom. Surely he'd misheard her.
And as he drove her home with her head resting on his shoulder, he realized that it didn't matter what she meant. Be it friendship or romantic love, she'd said the words he'd been longing to hear:
I love you, Dr. Crane.
And the thought made him smile. For he loved her too; More than she could ever imagine.