17. A Walk

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When the lift door opened, Valerie didn't need to point when she said, "That's him."

As they stood waiting for a woman to manoeuvre her wheelchair out, Chloe's eyes locked on the tall man standing with a broad stance in the centre of the lobby facing the bank of lifts. "Is he real?"

"So far, very real." Valerie held the < > button until the wheelchair had cleared the doors, then she said, "Let's go find out how real he is."

Lorne strode toward them as they appeared from the shadows of the lift cabin. He wrapped Valerie in a hug and brushed her lips with his, then he went down on one knee and offered his hand to Chloe. "Finally, we meet. Your mother has talked so much about you."

"Bad stuff?"

"Not so far."

He looked up into Valerie's eyes and shrugged as he mouthed Hug?

She nodded as tears welled and threatened to spill down her cheeks.

"Would you allow me to hug you? Your mother said it's okay."

Chloe looked up to see her mother's nod, then she turned back to Lorne. "I'd like that."

A short while later, Lorne rose from his knee and kissed Valerie's cheek. "Let's head home."

Home? Oh, God! "Yeah, I'm eager to see where you live."

"Me too. We Googled Victoria Square, and I'm curious to see which..." She looked up. "I shouldn't have said that, should I, Mummy?"

"Probably not. Remember, it's always good to remain quiet about some things."

"I'm almost next door to the house Ian Fleming moved into in 1953 while he was finishing his first Bond novel."

"Who's Ian Fleming?"

"Have you heard of James Bond?"

Chloe gave him a puzzled look. "Of course. Who hasn't?"

"Fleming wrote the novels on which the movies are based."

"Do you know him? Can you introduce me to him?"

Lorne chuckled. "He died in 1964, and I wasn't born until 1982."

"No, I guess not." She giggled. "I like you, Mr Benton."

"And I like you, Miss Chloe." He pointed to the doors again. "Chianti is likely growing impatient out there."

Valerie tilted her head. "Chianti?"

"My poodle. I thought this would be a great opportunity to take her on a long walk. She's had nothing but short the past while." He shrugged. "Also, may as well meet the whole family all at once."

Family? Does he mean family, as in family? What else could he mean, idiot? "Yeah, it's always good to multi-task."

As they passed through the doors, a tall, silver standard poodle reared up on her leash, barely kept in check by the bellhop. Lorne walked into a hug with her as she placed her paws on his shoulders and licked his face. "As you can see, she's affectionate."

Lorne gave the bellhop another five pounds and took the leash. "Come, let's get away from the busy area." Lorne restrained Chianti as she tugged him along the sidewalk beside the driveway, and once they were in Hamilton Place, she settled down. "She doesn't like hustle and bustle."

"May I pet her, Mr Benton?" 

"Yes, certainly you may." He gently tugged on the leash, then he stopped and pointed at the dog's feet. "Chianti! Sit!" 

Chloe offered her hand, palm-down, and Chianti gave it smell and a lick. Then she ran her fingers through the pompom atop the poodle's head and tickled behind her ears. "I've always loved the feel of poodle fur."

"You appear familiar with dogs."

"Mummy takes me most Monday evenings to the animal shelters. I was sad to miss them tonight. But this is better."

The foursome continued along the sidewalk, then through the underpasses beneath Park Lane and Piccadilly as they made their way to Grosvenor Place. Lorne pointed out the monuments, the memorials and the historic buildings, giving their backgrounds as they passed. Chloe paid rapt attention to his every word while Valerie hummed and sighed.

During a lull, Valerie asked. "What do you do with Chianti when you're away?"

"I take her to the office on days I have few or no appointments, and she comes along with me on flights to where there are no quarantine restrictions."

"And to South Africa?"

"None from the UK once all the paperwork is correct. The only restriction is they can enter only at Cape Town or Johannesburg." He chuckled. "I choose to meet in Cape Town because that's central to all my business interests."

"Yeah, Silicon Cape. I have a few start-up fundings there." Valerie smiled as she watched Chianti prancing beside Chloe, who now held the leash. "And when you can't have her with you?"

"Mrs Wilkins, my housekeeper, takes care of her. And what do you do with Chloe?"

"We have a nanny and a cook." Valerie blew out a loud sigh. "The cook's caretaking our house until things settle down."

"Your cook could move in with us. Save me searching for one. There are unused bedrooms upstairs. Or I could move up. Many solutions."

Valerie squeezed Lorne's hand. "You really want to do this, don't you?"

He nodded. "I've thought of little else since we returned." He pointed ahead as Chianti guided Chloe around the corner and into Beeston Place. "They work well together. I think we all work well together."

Wonder if it's too well. We're still in the infatuation phase. Then what? "Yeah, we certainly seem to."

"You sound hesitant, Valerie."

"I love the idea of this. I have since you first mentioned it, but the closer we get to actually doing it, the more I wonder whether we're moving too fast. Whether we're still in an infatuation phase. Things seem far too good to be real."

"I've run all that through my mind. Many times." He stopped and pulled her into a hug. "But think of the alternatives, Valerie. Do you want to go back to being lonely? Unfulfilled? Aching for love? Is it not better to see where this leads than it is to try controlling it?"

He chuckled as he nodded along the sidewalk toward Chianti sitting at Chloe's feet, the both of them watching as they waited. "There. Those two know how to go with what's happening."

Valerie sighed. "True. But so soon? Our first kiss was less than two and a half days ago."

"Think of the superb experiences we've had from releasing our pasts and moving on. But more; think about your current circumstances. Is camping in a hotel the best option?" He nodded again toward Chloe. "Think of her. She appears to be enjoying this."

Valerie's knees suddenly felt weak, and she wrapped the hug tighter. "You're a manipulating devil, Mr Benton."

"Only when needed. You know we're deeply in love with each other, Miss Redburn, so don't fight it."

"Oh, God!." She melted into him.

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