A/N: This is a work in progress. Let me know what you think.

The small black table was covered with a cream tablecloth, two places set across from each other. Two candles served as a centerpiece, their wicks burning gently. A single rose had been placed on one of the plates. A gentleman sat at the table, his gray suit pressed and impeccable. Every blond hair on his head was precisely placed and gelled into submission. His light blue eyes glanced at the watch on his wrist, noting that it was ten after seven. He detested tardiness.

A waiter coming around with menus stopped at his table.

"Would you like to order, sir?"

"Come back in five minutes; we'll order then."

The waiter nodded and made his way to the next table.

A moment later, a young lady entered the room with a host, who showed her to the correct table. She thanked him, her bright smile coming easily.

The man rose from his chair and approached the young woman. He took her arm and brushed a kiss across her cheek. He hardly noticed her flinch.

"Christy, you're late." His voice was gentle, but she could tell by the way he held her arm that he was anything but happy.

She nodded, mentally kicking herself.

"I know, Marcus. Traffic was bad."

Marcus pulled her chair out for her and held it while she sat.

"I almost ordered without you."

"I'm sorry. I couldn't decide what to wear," she replied gently.

There was more to the story than that. She hadn't wanted to come at all, knowing what Marcus wanted to talk about.

"That's why you should marry me, Christy. Then you could leave all the decisions to me," was his smug reply. He hailed a waiter, who brought two menus to their table. Christy's green eyes flashed as she replied,

"I'm tired of hearing it, Marcus. Can't we just drop it and enjoy our dinner?"

Marcus smiled, revealing glistening, perfect teeth.

"You and I both know it's what your father wants."

"What, to eat dinner? Great, lets. I'm starving."

Christy hid her smile behind her menu, glad that she'd managed to slip that in. It was hard to get the last word with Marcus.

Marcus glowered at her over her menu, which he promptly slapped onto the table.

He snapped his fingers at the waiter who was hovering around their table.

"I'll have the steak, medium rare, and a side of potatoes. Christy?"

Christy laid her menu down on the table and looked up at the waiter.

"I'll have the filet mignon and the garden salad, please."

The waiter finished writing on his pad a moment later.

"Anything to drink?"

"What do you have at the bar?" Marcus asked impatiently.

Christy cut in before the waiter could reply.

"Marcus, remember, I´m still a minor. Wouldn´t like Daddy to know you were responsible for intoxicating me, woud you?"

Marcus rolled his eyes.

"Fine, two ice waters with lemon."

Neither said a word while they waited for their dinner to come.

Their food came, and Marcus gave explicit instructions that they were not to be disturbed.

"Marcus, can I ask a favor? I promise it's the last time I'll ask."

"Such words should not be used lightly, my dear," he replied while chewing.

"If you promise to not ask me again, will you wait until my birthday for my answer?"

A smile crossed Marcus' face.

"An answer, my dear? The answer to what?"

Christy sighed.

"Whether I'll marry you."

Marcus laughed. He slid his hand over Christy's much smaller one, stroking it gently.

"I'll wait if you can, Christy."

Christy shuddered inwardly at what he was hinting at. The idea of – it was repulsive. She studied Marcus. He was handsome, very much so. His muslces were toned, because he worked with a personal trainer every morning. From his short, well-kept hair to his manicured nails, he had a well-groomed appearance. He was also rich. Very rich. The fact that one day he would take over her father's business was also appealing. But she had never thought about what a long term relationship with Marcus would be like. And all that it entailed.

The drive back to Christy's was silent. She and Marcus sat on opposite sides of the limo, neither touching the other. Marcus was not afraid of her reaction; he was merely letting her cool off.

When they arrived, their chauffeur let the car idle, then came around to open Christy's door. Marcus exited on the other side. Christy looked at him questioningly across the top of the car.

"I'll just walk you to the door, Christy."

"Thank you, Horace," Christy called to their driver. Horace smiled and tipped his hat.

"Always a pleasure, Miss James."

Christy fished for her keys in her purse as they walked to the door. She knew they were there, and she wanted to make perfectly clear to Marcus that she didn't want to be alone with him. The only other person who had a key to her house was her father, and she didn´t want to wait for him. Her keys had disappeared once, and she had always suspected Marcus had taken them.

Once at the door, she put the key in the lock and turned it quickly.

"Thanks for dinner," she said, turning to face Marcus. As she did so, she jumped slightly. He was standing much closer than he had been before. His face was mere inches from hers. She lifted her cheek for her customary goodnight. What she got was not at all what she expected. Instead of the customary peck on the cheek they had agreed on, he kissed her full on the mouth. It certainly surprised her, but it wasn't anything new. Marcus had kissed her before, and she had welcomed it. That was before she knew what he was really like. He could be bullying and persistent one moment, and tender and caring the next. This was different, and new. Try as she might to resist, Marcus' embrace was persuading. And intoxicating. She could hardly think as he pulled her closer and his kiss grew more demanding. He wanted to do more than walk her to the door, and if she didn't pull away, she'd melt in his arms and give him everything he asked for. She stepped away, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

"Please, don't. It wouldn't be right."

Marcus quirked an eyebrow. A strange smile came to his face.

"Always a pleasure, Miss James." He tipped an imaginary cap at her, then disappeared into the night.

Christy went inside, quickly locking the door behind her. She dropped her purse to the floor and sat with her back to the door. She began to cry, realizing why Marcus had smiled like that. By allowing him to kiss her like that, she had practically given him the answer that he wanted. Besides, she could hardly avoid him; there was a company dinner coming up, and her father wanted her to be there. No doubt, to announce her engagement to Marcus. She should have thought of that. No wonder he was so willing to grant her that favor! Once her father announced it to that many people, there was no way she could back out of it. It would only seal her fate as Mrs. Marcus Newman.

She touched her trembling lips, realizing the danger that a kiss could do. It could be the start of something beautiful, or it could be your destruction. She thought back to her junior year. She had skipped kindergarten, making her a year younger than the other kids in her class. She had been thrilled when a senior, Joe Griffin, had asked her to prom. She had readily accepted. Joe was a good-looking kid who always got good grades, and the teachers loved him because he was eager to learn. The other students liked him because he hung out with everyone.

They'd gone with a group to a popular climbing wall, then to a local hamburger joint for shakes. A private photographer had come to her house before they went to the dance, and she and Joe had some single pictures taken then. Her favorite was one where she was on Joe's back, trying to keep her dress down and hold onto him at the same time. At one point, he lost his balance and they had ended up in a heap on the floor. The photographer had snapped the picture just as they began to laugh, making it the best picture of the lot. She still kept a copy of it in her house. Later, they'd gone to dinner and then to the dance. Joe was a great dancer, and patiently taught her the steps so she'd quit stepping on his toes.

Because she and Joe had come in a separate car than the rest of the group, he´d driven her home. They had had a great time and didn't want the night to end. Joe had taken the longest way back to her house, and managed to hit red lights at every light they came to. She´d thought Joe was lost, but later he admitted to doing it on purpose.

He had been the perfect gentleman all night, and opened the door for her, holding her hand to help her out of the car because the grass was wet. They had gone in to talk to her parents for a while, then went to the porch for a few minutes before he left. The night air had been cool, and Joe gracefully brought the conversation to an end at the first sign of discomfort from her. When he tentatively leaned forward, she had been unsure of what to think. However, she had tilted her face, allowing him to kiss her. It had been nice, but all too brief.

They had dated some until the school year ended, but not really anything serious enough to consider anything at the moment. She had been young, and a year younger than him. However, they had agreed to see what the future held for them. They´d remained friends through the years, and had done things together frequently until Joe went to law school. Right around that same time, Christy's father had been promoted to president of his company, because the previous president felt he was getting too old to manage the affairs of the business. Her lifestyle had changed at that point. Her parents had always insisted on good grades, but now they were essential. They wanted her to focus on school so she could have a career. Being an only child, she had always been expected to follow in her father's footsteps and take over the business one day. However, when she had expressed little interest in doing so, they allowed her to work in the office as her father's secretary. This had appeased her parents for the time.

Her senior year, she had enrolled in dual credit classes, which allowed here to transfer into the university almost a year of college. From then on, she had taken classes full-time through the regular school year, and a handful of classes during the summer which allowed her to graduate with a bachelor's degree in Business Management.

When she´d told her parents she had no intentions of taking over the business, they initially fought it. Then, enter Marcus Newman. With an eye for business, and a face no woman could resist, he was the perfect solution to their problem. Christy had been flattered to be the center of his attention. That is, until she realized that the whole thing had been instigated by her father and that Marcus felt little or no real affection for her.

Why thinking of one thing had caused her to flash back through four years of her life, Christy didn't know. She did know one thing, though. Joe could help her with her problem.