Hot Chocolate with a Sprinkling of Love

Disclaimers: the usual

A/N: Have a great new year's eve celebration and a fabulous new year!

xoxoxoxoxo

Chapter 7

Sue sighed in satisfaction. The final edit for the picture book was done. Now the galley could go to the printers right after the holidays. If Myles did indeed turn in his revised illustrations this week that would make two projects completed.

As she stood to stretch the kinks out, her eyes landed on the red roses, then moved to the creamy pink ones. Their presence brought back to the forefront the problem she'd been able to push to the side for most of the day. She walked to the bouquets and stared at them thinking of the senders. What was she going to do?

She knew most women would be flattered to have two such desirable men wanting her but choosing one would mean the other would get hurt. She hated the idea.

She'd always imagined when she met the right man they would date for a while and gradually fall in love. Her Prince Charming would eventually propose and after an appropriate length of time, they would get married and start a family. At least, that's what she thought it would be like but then Bobby appeared in her life and turned her dreams upside down.

Dan was everything she thought she had wanted in a prospective husband, she mused as she stroked the pale velvety petals. He was smart, attractive, considerate. They got along well, their relationship evolving exactly the way she'd envisioned. His comments this week gave all indications that the "plan" was right on course, but was she ready to say yes? If she had doubts even before Bobby appeared in her life, could Dan really be the person for her?

Her hand reached for the vibrant red blossom. Funny, charming, unpredictable Bobby. She felt so alive when she was with him. There was something about their relationship that even in their silences they seemed to communicate their pleasure in each other's company. She'd never experienced that kind of connection with anyone.

But their relationship didn't follow her plan, she thought with a slight frown. Instead of months, it had taken only a handful of days for her to realize there was an undeniable attraction between them. She couldn't remember how her life was before Bobby appeared.

Dan's quiet devotion made her feel safe and secure. With Bobby, Sue felt as though she was caught in a whirlwind leaving her breathless and giddy. Which was the relationship that would last a lifetime?

She knew there were women who would envy her position—two attractive, desirable men wanted her. But choosing one would mean the other person would be hurt…terribly hurt. She hated the idea. What to do? She didn't know.

xoxoxoxoxo

"You seem a little pre-occupied tonight," commented Bobby as they wrapped gifts. "Penny for your thoughts."

"A problem popped up at work that has me stumped," she admitted. She didn't tell him that he was part of the problem.

"Care to share?" he offered. "I'm a very good listener."

Should I choose you or should I choose Dan, she thought. What would he say? Out loud she shook her head. "Thanks for the offer but I don't think you can help me with this one."

"Try me."

"Can I get a rain check?"

He looked at her a moment, then nodded. "Sure."

Sue smiled then began tying the ribbon onto the package. Bobby's hand stopped her. She looked up.

"Sue?"

"Yes?" There was some uncertainty and a tinge of something else in his eyes.

"I didn't know when to tell you but I guess now is as good a time as any. I won't be able to see you anymore."

Seeing the dismayed look on her face, he added hastily, "For a few days, I mean. At least until after Christmas," he said apologetically.

She was surprised at how disappointed she felt. "That's okay," she said attempting to be cheerful. "I know we've been spending a lot of time together the past few days. You must have other more important things to do and places to be at this time of year."

"Nothing is more important than being with you," he responded sincerely. "However, this has everything to do with work and a prior commitment."

"You don't have to explain," she told him.

"I want to," he said earnestly. "We have a campaign that's due to start at the beginning of the new year and the company would like to go over the whole thing tomorrow. That usually translates into working late for the next few days. If we're lucky we'll be done by Thursday or Friday."

"Maybe I could take you out for dinner on Friday for a change," she suggested.

He grimaced. "Sorry, can't. That's the prior commitment part," he apologized. "Five or six of us get together a few days during Christmas to go skiing and do manly guy things."

She looked at him skeptically guessing what 'manly guy' things could be. "Say no more. I would rather not have the details. I hope you have a good time."

"It's not what you think," he said with a smirk. The nature of the annual trips had changed over the years as they had aged. Instead of a way to meet women, the trips had settled into male bonding times renewing old friendships.

"Okay, if you say so. I've heard stories about these male bonding trips," she teased. "I still think I don't want to know the details."

He smiled wryly and decided to let it go. "Well, since you won't have the pleasure of my company for the next few days, what are your plans?"

"I think…" began Sue. At the same moment the lamp began to flash. Sue looked up. "Phone call. Excuse me."

She stood up to get the phone. Bobby watched in interest. He wanted to know how she answered the phone at home since there was no computer in sight.

"Hello?"

Sue was looking at a small screen on a machine that looked like a miniature typewriter. TDD, thought Bobby. Sue had told him about those.

"Sue? It's Dan."

"Dan!" Sue quickly glanced at Bobby then turned away. She didn't want to see his expression as she talked to Dan.

Bobby stared at Sue at the mention of the name. Was this his rival? He was torn between listening in on the conversation or giving Sue some privacy. His innate good manners surfaced. Perhaps now would be a good time to refill his cup. He headed to the kitchen.

"Is anything wrong? Do you have to stay in Philadelphia longer than you thought?

"Nothing's wrong. I just wanted to hear your voice."

"Oh."

"And to find out if you got the flowers.'

"I did. They're lovely. Thank you very much," she said sincerely.

"Not as lovely as you," he complimented. "Are you free for dinner Wednesday night? It's been way too long since I've seen you."

"As a matter of fact, I am."

"Great! How 'bout I pick you up about seven thirty? We can go to our favorite Thai restaurant or any other place you like."

"Thai sounds wonderful. I'll see you at seven thirty."

"I've missed you," said Dan. "Wednesday won't come soon enough for me. Bye."

Sue replaced the receiver wondering how much of the conversation Bobby had heard. She took a breath and turned to see the person in question coming from the kitchen holding his cup in one hand and the pot of coffee in the other.

"Refill?" Bobby asked.

Sue shook her head. Had he left to give her privacy? "No, thanks."

They both sat on the floor, the silence tinged with awkwardness.

Bobby put down his cup and held up a gift. "Back to work. Would you like me to put a tag on?"

She nodded. He put the label on and handed the box to her.

Out of the corner of his eye, he looked at her thoughtfully. The caller was definitely his rival. Sue was such a wonderful person that it would have been incredibly dim-witted of him to think another man wouldn't be interested in her.

"Dan, was it?"

"Yes."

"That the boyfriend?"

"He's a friend who happens to be a male if that's what you mean," she answered evasively not really sure how to label Dan.

"Known him long?"

"A year or so."

"You met over a cup of hot chocolate, too?"

"No. As a matter of fact, we met at an author's party."

"He's an author?"

"No, an economist."

"Oh. An economist."

"And what do you mean by that? Economists are important to the…to the economy."

"So they are," he replied solemnly.

"Are you humoring me?"

"No. Just gathering information about my competition," he said honestly.

"Your…" she stopped.

Bobby looked into her eyes. "Look, Sue. I realize we met only a few days ago but I think we have something extraordinary together. You may have been dating this Dan for a while but everything you've said has me convinced that you're not convinced he's the one for you."

She opened her mouth to protest, but no words came out. She didn't know what to say. She couldn't deny their attraction to each other nor could she assert her eternal devotion to Dan.

He held up a finger. "Wait! Don't say a word. I want you to listen." He paused in confusion when he remembered she couldn't. "I mean look at me. Are you?"

She nodded. He gathered her hands in his.

"Good," he said satisfied with her nonverbal response. "Since I'm convinced you're not convinced he's the person for you, I'm suggesting you give me a chance to convince you that I am the person you want. That is, once I have that blasted campaign and trip out of the way."

At the uncertainty in her expression, he added, "Unless of course, Dan is the person you want. Just say the word and I'll walk out of that door and out of your life."

Seconds ticked by as she considered his words. Walk out of her life? She didn't want that but neither did she want to hurt Dan. "I…He…I…" she stuttered helplessly.

"I take that as a resounding undecided," remarked Bobby. "That's good because as long as you're undecided that means I have a chance," he pointed out.

"What if Dan decides he wants no part of this?" asked Sue.

Bobby grinned. "Better for me."

He slipped a hand behind her neck and gave her a kiss that left her breathless.

"What was that for?"

"So you'll remember me until I see you again."

xoxoxoxoxo

Remember his kiss? How could she forget? she thought as she tossed in bed. Her heart was telling her Bobby, Bobby, Bobby but her mind was saying, What about Dan? You've got to give him a chance. Maybe you'll feel different when you see Dan again.

With a sigh she thought it was a good thing both men would be out of her life for at least a day. For one day she could think impartially about the situation without being influenced by either one of them.

The corner of her mouth lifted in a lopsided grin. When she was growing up and sitting at home while other girls dated, she had always wondered what it would be like to be one of the popular girls who had so many dates she didn't know who to choose. She had thought it would be fun to be the center of so much attention.

Well, it wasn't fun like she thought it would be. It wasn't fun at all. Her father had told her to be careful what she wished for. Now she knew what he meant.

xoxoxoxoxo

"Whoa!" commented Lucy when Sue walked through the publishing company doors on Tuesday. "You look like you had a rough night. Had a fight with Bobby?"

"I wish it were that simple," Sue said over her shoulder as she walked towards her office. Lucy trailed behind.

"What happened?" Lucy asked when she closed the door behind her.

"Bobby came over to help me wrap my presents," said Sue as she hung up her coat.

"Nice gesture after you helped him," commented her best friend. "He mislabeled all the presents so you had to unwrap everything?"

"Dan called while Bobby was there."

"Oh."

"He said he missed me."

Lucy could see the conflict in her friend's expression.

"And when I thanked him for the roses he said I was lovelier than them."

"Nice touch. A little flattery is always appreciated."

"He is nice," she agreed. "He also asked me to dinner when he comes back on Wednesday."

"And you said…?"

"Yes."

"How did Bobby take it?"

Sue frowned. "He went into the kitchen to give me some space so I don't think he heard that part. But, he said he understood Dan was the competition and he wanted a chance to prove he cares for me, too."

"Oh!" Lucy looked at her friend. "What are you going to do?"

"Have dinner with Dan tomorrow and go with him to his think tank's Christmas party on Friday."

"That leaves today, Wednesday and Thursday since Christmas Eve you're coming with me. Where does Bobby fit into all of this?"

"He doesn't. He's busy with work and he's leaving for a trip Thursday night."

"That should simplify your life for a while."

Sue looked thoughtful. "I've been giving this a lot of thought since last night."

"So what did you come up with?"

"That maybe what I'm feeling for Bobby is because Dan hasn't been here. And if that's the case, when I see him again tomorrow night, it'll become very clear that Dan is the person I want," she said reasonably.

"Good plan," agreed Lucy. "There's only one flaw."

"What?"

"What if you don't feel about Dan the way you feel about Bobby?"

"Then it's back to tossing and turning."

xoxoxoxoxo

A/N: A bit melodramatic, I know, but a little conflict is good. Let me know what you think.