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tagRomanceAlways Ch. 03

Always Ch. 03

byLKilkenny©

This is the third installment following charter air pilot Raph Savage and eventual Barrett Oil heiress Riley Barrett.

This has been a blast to write thus far and may continue or this could be it, mostly depending on reader interest. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Raph, Riley, Steve, Maria, and many others will always be great friends of mine as the characters of my first multichapter writing attempt.

Keep the comments and feedback coming. I read each and every one of them and have taken several suggestions from comments left on previous chapters.

As always, I can't say enough good things about the editing done by RandyD1369. He's a marvel as an editor and his ability to make not only a single story makes sense, but he actually draws parallels between different chapters to make sure I stay true to the characters and story.

DISCLAIMER: All characters are fictional and any that engage in sexual situations are 18 years old or older.

*****

"Five minutes, Miss Barrett," Janice said from the doorway of Riley's office.

"Almost there," Riley said, making a last-minute change to a PowerPoint presentation. Satisfied, she saved the file to the corporate file server so she could access it from anywhere in the building where she was logged in.

Janice held out a water bottle as Riley walked quickly by on her way to the executive conference room.

"Thank you," Riley said, taking the bottle like a running back taking a hand-off.

Riley was preparing to present the offer she and Steve had received from the Anderson brothers to the Barrett Oil Directors and Vice-Presidents. Steve and Riley had gone over it and decided the best way to proceed. Now she would present it to the upper management for final approval.

"Believe in what you're selling. Be passionate but factual. Never downplay the risks. Explain how it benefits everyone. Be willing to listen to counsel, but make a decision that doesn't compromise who you are," Steve had told her recently.

She took several quick drinks as she walked. As she approached the door of the conference room she looked at her watch. One minute to spare. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "In through the nose; out through the mouth." she thought to herself. She exhaled, opened her eyes, and pulled open the glass conference room door.

"Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention," she said, walking directly to the presentation station, opening the laptop already there. "If everyone's ready, let's get started..."

*****

Raph was just coming from Bed Bath and Beyond, in the Westgate Mall. He wasn't flying today and since Riley was at work, he was running some errands. He looked around to see if there were any of the other stores he needed to go to. Nothing jumped out at him except for the Chick-fil-A. He suddenly realized he was hungry. He walked toward the food-court, his large shopping bag swinging beside him.

He ordered the classic chicken sandwich meal and sat at one of the tables to eat, placing his shopping bag in one of the empty chairs.

"Raph?" a female voice asked from behind and to his left.

"Maria," he said, turning to look back over his shoulder and trying to choke down the bite of chicken sandwich.

"I thought that was you," she smiled.

"Would you care to sit down?" he asked.

"You're sure you don't mind?" she confirmed.

"Not at all. Would you like something to eat?"

"I just finished", she said, shaking the fountain drink cup she was holding. She slid back the chair across from Raph and sat down, setting the small sack she was carrying in the other empty chair.

"I thought you and Riley usually ate lunch together," Raph said.

"We do most days. I had some, uh, shopping to do today so I just ate here before I head back to work."

Raph glanced at the chair where Maria had set her purchases. He saw a pink and white striped bag with Victoria's Secret written on the side in elegant script.

"So, Riley tells me that you and uh,..."

"Hunter?" she asked when Raph seemed to be trying to remember a name. Hunter Maxwell was the man she'd recently started seeing. He worked in IT at the Heart Hospital of Northwest Texas. Maria also worked there in the accounting department and her father was a hospital administrator.

"Hunter, yes, sorry, I'm terrible with names," Raph continued. "Riley says you and Hunter are getting on well."

A little color showed in her face but she nodded.

"Yes, we are. He's very sweet but also very shy. Riley keeps saying that we should all get together, you know, like a double date, but..."

"He's intimidated by me?" Raph asked, nodding knowingly, trying not to smile.

"Exactly," Maria said, straight-faced. That lasted for about three seconds before they both laughed. "He just can't get over that I'm friends with Riley. He's terrified to meet her, afraid he won't know how to act around her," she said, shaking her head.

"If you can ever get them together in the same place, she'll cure him quickly. I can't imagine anyone meeting her and feeling uncomfortable. That's her superpower. It allows her to relate to anybody," he said.

"Oh, believe me, I know. You forget, I've known her since we were like nine," Maria reminded him.

"Tell me about her," Raph said, "What was she like back then?"

"Riley has always been the sweetest thing. When my family first moved here, it was right before I started 6th grade. I didn't know anyone and on the very first day I was sitting alone at a table in the lunchroom and Riley walked up and asked if she could sit down. I told her yes and she sat down, introduced herself, and just started talking. By the end of that lunch, we were talking like old friends. She made sure she included me with her other friends and she sat by me in class. We became inseparable.

"This was all before her dad became a millionaire. He was on his way but at that time they were just a normal family. The summer between 6th and 7th grade was when the divorce happened. Riley was devastated when her mother left. It was like it tore her heart out. She was still Riley; sweet, kind, courageous, but I think a lot of it was a facade. She put on a happy face for her dad, her friends, teachers, but there were times when she thought no one was looking and I could see the sadness coming through. She would spend the night at our house sometimes. I had two beds in my room so I slept in one and Riley in the other. Mom would tuck us in at bedtime and she would tell us a story and then she would kiss each of us on the forehead before turning out the light. After mom would leave, I could hear Riley crying softly. She doesn't know that I know so please, keep my secret?" she asked.

"Of course," he said quietly.

"In junior high, we started noticing boys, or I did anyway. Riley would lay with me on the floor as I flipped through the newest teen magazine and talk about the newest heartthrob, or who was cute at school. Riley was always popular. Not head cheerleader or clique popular, she was popular with everybody from the jocks to the AV guys. She never played high school class warfare. Boys asked her out, but she never dated anybody. Word eventually got around that she didn't date so people kind of stopped asking. She graduated first in our class and every single person in our class loved her.

"When she went to college, she became like this unicorn or something. The perfect trifecta of beautiful, smart, and rich. The college guys didn't take the hint like the boys in high school so she was relentlessly pursued. She put her head down and dove into her studies. She finished her degree a year early. I'm no psychologist or relationship guru but I think, after her mother, Riley was just afraid to have a close relationship with anybody else, besides me I guess, and I think there were parts of herself that she kept hidden, even from me.

"That's why I was so surprised that she took up with you as quickly and completely as she did. No offense. Take it from her closest friend, she loves you. Hell, I love you. Riley is happier than I've seen her in years. Her face just lights up when you call or text her, and when the two of you are together, y'all are so adorable. It's sickening," she laughed.

"Sorry, not sorry," he chuckled.

"So, anyway, that's our story or at least the abridged version," she said.

"Well, thank you for sharing," he said genuinely.

"So what are you shopping for today?" she asked.

"I decided it was time for new sheets and comforter," he said. "The old ones were getting a little threadbare."

"Oh, can I see?" she asked excitedly, pulling the sack over, looking inside. "Oh, I love the pastel purple sheets, and 1500 thread count, nice. The darker purple comforter is beautiful too."

"Do you think Riley will, uh, do you think she will like them?" he asked a little hesitantly.

"She'll love them," Maria said, smiling at him. "Let's be honest, Raph. You could have bought Sponge Bob sheets and she would love them."

"You think?" he said, raising his eyebrows. "I still have the receipt. I could take these back and run to Walmart," he joked.

"Don't you dare," she said, wagging a finger at him and giving him "the eye" before laughing.

"So what were you shopping for today?" he asked, a smirk on his face.

"Oh, wow, I didn't realize what time it was. I need to get back to work," she said quickly, her face blushing. She tried to nonchalantly slide the Victoria's Secret bag off the chair as she stood up.

"Hang on and I'll walk you out," Raph said, a grin playing at the corners of his mouth. He picked his tray and trash up and dumped his trash in the barrel before setting the tray on the top.

"Okay, thank you," she replied.

"Where are you parked?" he asked, picking up his shopping bag.

"In the south parking lot, just outside of Bealls," she said, as she pointed toward the department store.

"Me too, lead the way," he said, following along behind.

"So you do remember what a week from Saturday is, right?" she asked as they walked.

"Vernal equinox?" he replied, straight-faced. "Ow!" he said in faux pain as she slapped him on the arm. "What is with the girls today? So violent."

"I'll show you violence if you forget Riley's birthday!" she threatened.

"Trust me, I haven't," he said, suddenly serious. "What in the world am I supposed to get her, Maria?"

"I used to feel just like you're feeling right now, but I'm going to spare you what I went through and just tell you the secret. Riley doesn't want or need you to buy her any expensive gifts. She just wants something from the heart," she said simply.

"Thanks, Maria," he said. He knew she was right. Riley wouldn't care what he gave her, as long it was something that touched her heart.

"This is me," Maria said, stopping beside a silver Toyota Avalon. "Where are you parked?"

"Just right over there," he said, nodding his head as she climbed in the car.

"I can't wait to tell Riley who I had lunch with today," Maria said, putting on her seat-belt.

"She'll be sorry she missed it," he agreed. "Drive carefully."

"You too," she said, pulling her door closed. She backed away and waved.

Raph ambled between the rows of cars as she drove away. When she had traveled far enough that he doubted she could see him, he turned and headed back toward the mall so he could cut through to the north parking lot where he'd left his truck.

*****

"Well done," Steve Barrett said, leaning back in his chair at the head of the conference table. He watched Riley close out the laptop she'd used for her presentation. "Now that we have everyone here on board and a plan, we'll leave tomorrow for Las Vegas and present our decision to the Andersons."

"Thank you," she said, finally relaxing. "We should take Dalton and Randy so that they can set up and demo the software and hardware there onsite. It might help contract negotiations go smoother," she suggested.

"Excellent idea. I'll have my assistant advise them we'll need them ready to go in the morning," he said, getting up from his chair.

Riley's cell phone buzzed in her jacket pocket.

Raph: Hey you. Hope your meeting is going well. Are you coming by after work?

Riley: Hey you. It went great and yes, I'll be by probably around 5:30.

"Well I wonder who that could be," Steve said, smiling at Riley.

"It could be anybody," she said innocently.

"There's only one person who makes you smile like that," he said knowingly.

She blushed slightly but didn't deny it.

"Go home, Honey," he said in that fatherly tone.

"I can't," she protested. "If we're going to be going to Las Vegas tomorrow there are things I will need Janice to do, and I will have to reschedule some meetings."

"Well, don't stay late," he said, walking with her out of the conference room.

"I won't," she said. Steve turned toward his office and Riley toward hers.

Riley looked back down at her phone as she walked down the hallway.

Raph: Great! Can't wait to see you. Love you.

Riley: Me too. Love you too.

"Janice, could you come in here for a few minutes?" she asked her assistant as she dropped her phone back into her jacket pocket.

"Yes ma'am," Janice said. She forwarded her phone to one of the other assistants, grabbed her tablet, and followed Riley into the office, closing the clear glass door behind her.

*****

Raph had just taken the pan of chicken breasts out of the oven when he heard the front door open and close. He knew it had to be Riley. He had given her his spare key when he'd had to leave for an early flight one morning and she was still in the bed. He'd told her to keep it, just in case.

"Mmm, something smells good," he heard her call from the small foyer. She slipped her heels off at the door and came barefoot into the kitchen. Raph had just turned from setting the pan on the counter as she advanced and wrapped her arms around his waist, rising to kiss him on the lips.

Raph reached his long arms around her, the oven mitts still on his hands. He slid his hands down her back until they settled on her firm round behind. He gave her butt a firm squeeze which caused a combination of a contented sigh and a sensual moan to escape her throat.

When they finally broke their passionate kiss, she leaned back to look up into his steel-gray eyes. His hands had moved from her butt to her elbows. She felt the texture on her bare arms and looked down.

"Did you just squeeze my butt with oven mitts on?" she asked with a crooked grin and a raised eyebrow.

"Yes, yes I did," he said simply.

"Do it again," she challenged, moving closer again to press her lips to his.

Raph reached down, cupping her firm buttocks with his mitted hands and gave them another firm squeeze.

"Oh!" she exclaimed as he lifted her free of the floor. She wrapped her legs around his waist as he turned and carried her to the bedroom, closing the door with his foot.

*****

"Did you get new sheets?" she asked, a little out of breath as she laid naked beside him, her head resting on his chest.

"I did," he panted. "New comforter too," he said, pointing in the direction he last saw it going before it wound up completely on the floor.

Riley raised her head enough to see part of the comforter over the side of the bed.

"That's pretty," she said, laying her head back down on his chest.

"Do you like them?" he asked.

She raised her head again, this time to look up into his flushed face.

"You don't need my approval for sheets for your bed, Love. You get what you like and I'll love them, I'm sure. You could have bought Sponge Bob sheets and I would still love them."

"Have you been talking to Maria?" he asked.

"I talked to her on the way here from work. She said she had lunch with a handsome stranger today at the mall," she said, smiling up at him.

"That must have been before I saw her," he joked. "Did she talk to you about the sheets?"

"No, sheets never came up, why?"

"Just wondering," he said. It was funny that they had both referenced Sponge Bob sheets. "And I know that I don't need your approval to pick out or buy new sheets, but I do think of you when I make those kinds of decisions. I will never be able to look at this bed without seeing you here in it, with me," he said, as he lightly ran his fingers down her bare back to the sensual rise of her buttocks and then back up, causing her to shiver slightly.

"I can live with that," she beamed at him. "I do love them. They feel so nice and smooth and cool. I love the color too."

"Good," he said, lowering his face to kiss her soft supple lips.

*****

Raph and Riley had just finished cleaning up after their reheated supper. She folded a dish towel and placed it on the counter next to the sink as Raph put the now clean roasting pan back in the cabinet.

"So, tell me about your meeting today. I know you were excited about it and I'm happy to hear it went well," Raph said, wrapping his arms around her from behind and nuzzling her neck through her delightfully fragrant hair.

"Well, the management group agreed with our assessment and voted to go forward with our plan as presented," she said, leaning her head back on his shoulder and wrapping one hand around the back of his neck.

"Well I'm happy it all worked out," he mumbled into her neck.

"You may not be so happy with the rest of the story," she said cautiously.

"How so?" he asked softly.

"I have to fly to Las Vegas with Dad and two engineers in the morning to present the proposal to the Anderson brothers."

"Hey, I jump in a plane and take off several times every week. It's my job and you understand that. This is your job, and I understand that being an oil company executive is going to require you to travel from time to time. I will miss you terribly while you're gone, but I would never ask you not to do what you need to do," he said, almost directly into her ear.

Riley lowered her hand and turned inside his arms until they were looking directly into each other's eyes. She wrapped both her arms around his neck.

"Have I told you lately that I love you?" she asked softly.

"I believe so, but I will never tire of hearing you say it, and I love you too," he said, bowing his head to kiss her lips.

Before the kiss could reignite their previous passion, he pulled away.

"So, you had better get home and get packed," he said.

"I want to stay," she said longingly, "but you're right, I need to go."

He released her from his embrace and walked, hand-in-hand, with her to the front door. He held her hand for balance as she slipped her heels back on. Raph opened the front door and walked with her to her truck.

"Drive carefully and text me when you get home," he said, holding the door open as she climbed into the driver's seat.

"I will," she said, leaning out to kiss him again.

Raph closed her door and walked back up onto the sidewalk where he turned and watched her until her taillights disappeared around the corner.

He walked back to his apartment, closed and locked the door, and started walking through the apartment, turning out lights as he went. He arrived in the bedroom where he sat on the edge of the bed. Riley had helped him remake the bed after their lovemaking had made it look like a tornado had touched down on it. He stripped down to his boxers and went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and pee before turning in.

Once back in the bedroom, he plugged his phone in to charge, turned down the bed, and climbed in. The sheets and pillowcases still retained faint traces of Riley's perfume. He laid with his eyes closed, breathing in the floral scent when his phone chimed.

Riley: Hey you.

Raph: Hey you.

Riley: Made it home and putting a couple of bags together before I go to bed.

Raph: Thanks for letting me know. I wish I had known you had to fly out in the morning, I wouldn't have kept you so late tonight.

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