Thanks for reading! It's been really nice writing again, so perhaps this isn't the last you'll see of me! There MIGHT be an adult-friendly epilogue to this somewhere ;)
Maxwell hesitated for the briefest of moments before he ran out of his office in hot pursuit of Fran. How on earth can she run that fast in heels? He rushed through the empty hallway and living room searching for her, skidding to a stop when he caught sight of what stood in the foyer.
Two cheetah print suitcases were neatly stacked by the table in the entry, with a red heart-shaped purse perched on top. A stack of cardboard boxes stood by the open front door, and Maxwell's brows knitted together in confusion and then indignation when a fit-looking young man bounded into the house and picked one of the offending boxes up. "Who in the bloody hell are you, and what do you think you're doing?" Maxwell roared. The stranger spluttered, clearly taken off-guard by his fierce tone.
"Mister Sheffield, that's my cousin Shlomo. He's with me," came an exasperated voice from above. Maxwell shot a withering glare at the young man and then turned his face to the top of the staircase where Fran surveyed the scene, arms crossed. Shlomo wisely took the opportunity to make himself scarce, dropping the box without a word and beating a hasty retreat.
"Miss Fine, what is all of this? Who is this stranger in my home?" asked Maxwell gruffly. Fran didn't budge from her perch, her manicured fingers tapping nervously along her slender forearm. She took a deep breath and sighed heavily.
"I think it's time for me to go," she said, her heart breaking with every word. Fran took one look at his shocked face and turned away quickly, hoping to stave off a fresh wave of tears. Good thing I went with the waterproof Maybelline this morning!
Maxwell hastily made his way toward the stairs, wrapping a hand around the polished banister and beginning his ascent. "N-now Miss Fine, surely if you're upset about something we can talk? You can always come to me if something is wrong." The sight of the boxes filled him with alarm, his brain quickly working out that he should be handling this situation with a great deal of care. "Certainly before we do something we might regret."
Fran finally locked eyes with him, tearful but steely with a newfound determination. She shook her head sadly. "No, I don't think that I'll regret this. It's time, Max; we've lived together for almost five years and you still don't know what you want! I can't spend the rest of my life waiting for the day when you finally see me…I don't think that's fair to either of us."
"M-Miss Fine, please," Maxwell began, panic creeping into his voice. He didn't miss her pointed use of his first name; in fact, the sound of his name coming from her crimson lips couldn't have sounded sweeter. You're losing grip on the situation, old man, sounded the voice in his mind. If you let her rule you like this you'll never get ahold of yourself again!
"Genug already!" Fran threw her hands up, taking a step back as Maxwell finally made it to the top of the staircase. "Aren't you tired of the back and forth? It's ok that you don't want me," she continued, turning to walk down the hall to her room. "Meanwhile, I could be finding that elusive, single, handsome Jewish doctor that my Ma seems to think actually exists!"
"M-Miss Fine," Maxwell stuttered again, following right on her heels. He caught up to her just as she opened the door to her room, empty of all of her possessions save the Shades of the Orient makeup case that she had set beside the wastebasket. The sight of her bedroom caught him off-guard once again, though whether it was because he was inches away from the soft sheets where she lay down every night or because she would soon never sleep there again he couldn't rightly say. He shook his head slightly, clearing his thoughts.
"Please understand, I don't want to ruin what we have together. The kids adore you, and you have brightened all our lives in a way that I couldn't possibly have imagined when you showed up on our doorstep years ago. Please stay, the children need you!" He grasped her small hands in his own, bending his head down slightly to stare earnestly into her eyes. His heart sank when Fran gently removed them, shaking her head sadly.
"That's the thing, Mister Sheffield. I love these kids…but I need more. I deserve more. I love Maggie, B, and Gracie like they were my own children, but I can't spend the rest of my life pretending that I don't want a family of my own." She looked straight into his eyes and sighed, taking a step back and raising her hands when he made a move to follow. "I need someone to build a life with, someone by my side, and I think that the longer I stay here the longer I will fool myself into believing that this is my family…and I'm tired of being alone." She spun on her heel and moved to leave once more, heading swiftly down the hallway.
Maxwell stood frozen in place, watching the woman who had turned his life upside down turn to walk away from him. His mind flashed back to every smile, every twinkle in her eye, every time she hopped up onto his desk and captured his attention with her presence. The past two weeks without Fran permeating every part of his life had been agony, and he finally realized that this time it would be an endless stretch of empty loneliness…empty without the person who had come to mean more to him than almost anything else in his life.
She stopped dead, her eyes squeezing shut and a breath catching in her throat. Did he just…?
A warm hand caught her wrist, gently turning her around and pulling her closer. Another hand snaked up her arm, fingers trailing along her delicate collarbone and rising to cup just beneath her chin. Her pulse quickened. Maxwell tilted her face up to meet his gaze, his own breath slowing as he drank in the sight of her beautiful features. He ached at the thought of never seeing this face again; he may be a millionaire, but his life could never again be as rich as it had been since the moment she walked over the threshold of this house and into his heart. "Fran, please don't go," he murmured.
A shiver tingled down Fran's spine at the way her first name sounded coming from his lips, a foreign feeling in the baking heat that pervaded every inch of the air. She opened her eyes to see if it was real, if the words she had heard were in her head…and Maxwell's eyes stared back her with an intensity she had only glimpsed once or twice before. "Why not…Max?" she whispered huskily, hoping desperately that just this once he would actually deign to let her know just what was going on in his inscrutable heart.
Groaning softly at the sound of his name tumbling from her lips, Max slowly closed the distance between them and brushed a soft kiss across her mouth. Fran didn't dare move, fearing that any response from her would spook him back behind his emotional walls. Instead she tilted her head back slightly and parted her lips to receive him, only to find that he had pulled back once again. Heart dropping to her navel, her fluttering lashes parted to meet his eyes.
"…because I love you," he sighed, smiling down on her upturned face. "The past two weeks without you has been bloody awful, and the thought of not having you by my side is intolerable, frankly." He swallowed hard, fighting that natural British instinct to shrink away from the intensity of his feelings. "I can't think without you around…a-and I haven't felt this way in so long I suppose I forgot just what to name it. Please don't go, Fran." He brought a hand up to her cheek, brushing away a damp curl of her thick brown hair. "Please."
"Oh Max," Fran sighed, hands reaching up to intertwine behind his neck. "If you're gonna ask so nicely…" she purred, threading her fingers into his hair and pulling him down to her waiting mouth. Maxwell chuckled softly and circled his arms around her waist, crushing his lips against hers and pulling her flush against his body.
Neither one of them noticed when the air conditioning finally kicked on; Fran and Max were too swept up in the fire that had sprung up between them, cool air doing nothing to quench the heat that they were creating.