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The first romantic getaway for any couple usually represents a significant chapter in their relationship, so its planning is almost as critical as that of a honeymoon in the evolution of the couple's future together.

Are they ready for such a commitment, spending days together as opposed to hours, dealing with everything from where to go to where to stay? The ability to plan, coordinate and execute become significant accomplishments.

Marilyn: In our case, I took all the discussion out of such details by choosing the destination and the accommodations. Not to get too far ahead in our story, he liked the mystery.

Mark: When Marilyn first mentioned the prospect of a romantic weekend I was intrigued by the mystery of our cat-and-mouse romance. She was keeping the destination a secret, and she was asking me questions about likes and dislikes trying to see what else she could conjure for our private getaway. It was then I decided to find ways to make this weekend truly memorable. I, too, needed a plan.

Marilyn: Living in Columbus, Ohio, there are limitless summertime getaway opportunities. I chose quiet Lebanon, just north of Cincinnati. The charm of Victorian architecture, flower-lined streets and historic attractions invite world-weary couples to get to know each other a little better.

Lebanon is also centrally located near Paramount's Kings Island, a first-class amusement park; the Beach, offering hours of fun in the sun for water-park enthusiasts; Waynesville, the antique capital of the Midwest, and a number of historic attractions in close proximity. Because Mark didn't know our destination, I coyly asked questions like: "Do you like to ride roller coasters?" and "Have you ever ridden a horse?" I was trying to get a handle on what we could do together. Truthfully, I am not very good at secrets and he began to piece it all together as he, on the other hand, was doing an excellent job of making his own plans.

Mark: I was asking a few questions of my own. As much as I was beginning to figure out a few things Marilyn had in mind, I simply told her I wanted to prepare our Friday dinner. I asked about what she enjoys eating and drinking but usually doesn't indulge in. I found out she usually takes care of her secret longing for "something sweet" by eating fruit but really longs for chocolate on occasion. I settled upon grapes and natural red raspberry preserves.

My goal was to make this meal a feast for all the senses with varying textures and sensations, so I decided on adding a wedge of brie cheese for a smooth texture and fresh French bread with a hard crust and soft center. I also learned through the course of my observations that she likes black olives. Because she often talks of one day traveling to the Mediterranean, I wanted to enhance the effect so I sought out imported black olives from Greece which dovetailed perfectly into the variety of sensations and symbolism I was working to create. The finishing touch was a variety of chocolate squares in flavors ranging from orange chocolate to a rich double dark chocolate.

Another challenge for our feast was the liquid refreshment which turned out to be one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome. While I wanted something slightly sweet I also wanted something with some crispness. After more research and talking with a local wine shop I selected a Mumms Cuvee Napa Brut Prestige sparkling wine. It turned out to be a fine selection.

My next challenge was to find a way to chill it. Not knowing where we were staying and if there would be an ice container available, I knew I had to find a watertight container that wouldn't look too obvious among my luggage. Not really knowing what I was looking for, I headed to the local sporting goods store and found a golf bag cooler that would serve the purpose perfectly. The only thing I needed was ice. I casually asked her if ice would be available. She assured me there would be.

Marilyn: I wanted to stay in a bed and breakfast, and I felt so lucky to find Hardy's Haven, a beautiful B&B known for complete privacy and excellent service. Phyllis and Al Hardy, quite the romantics themselves, operate the charming and unusual Victorian establishment. Each suite includes four rooms -- living room, library, kitchen and bedroom. Known for antiques, lace and fresh-cut-flower-filled rooms, I was sure I was making a great choice.

All my plans had been made -- destination, accommodations, a loosely planned itinerary. When I arrived at Mark's apartment the Friday of our weekend, he presented me with bouquet of roses and a hand-written card about the meaning behind each flower.

Mark: I wanted to present to her a lasting impression of my affection and appreciation for inviting me on a weekend getaway. The first thought was for flowers, but I didn't want to present her with a traditional bouquet because we are anything but ordinary. Plus I wanted the flowers to symbolize the growing fondness I feel for her, so I researched the meaning of various flowers. I settled upon four roses in a bed of baby's breath and ferns.

The first rose was pink to represent appreciation for the friendship we share; the second was yellow to symbolize the joy she brings into my life; a coral-colored rose symbolized my desire to share each new day with her, and the red rose illustrated the respect I feel for who she is and the passion for the life we share.

Marilyn: Bouquet of roses in hand and love in my heart, we set off toward our destination. I quickly revealed my plans for our three days together. Like I say, secrets are hard for me. My companion on the other hand is very, very good at secrets as I would soon discover.

As soon as we checked into Hardy's Haven and surveyed our lovely surroundings, we headed for Paramount's Kings Island. Mark rides roller coasters. I don't. So we enjoyed two excellent stage shows, took the elevator to the top of the "Eiffel Tower" for a spectacular view of the park and rural Ohio landscape beyond, and walked hand in hand around the park.

We also enjoyed an afternoon stroll around Lebanon, a historic community founded in 1796. One landmark is the Golden Lamb. Early 1800s travelers from Cincinnati heading to the National Road would stop at the tavern for overnight accommodations and dinner. As the sun set on our first of three days together, we walked back to Hardy's Haven.

Mark: The most fun was setting the mood for our romantic evening. I wanted to lay something on the floor to give it a picnic atmosphere so I used a hunter green (one of her favorite colors) blanket as the base. With the roses as a centerpiece I began to create a fantasy in the living room as she readied herself for the evening.

Hurriedly, I placed two fluted champagne glasses with heart-shaped stems on either side of the platter with the bread and brie. Bowls of preserves, grapes and olives surrounded the platter with the chocolates. With the wine chilling in ice and water, I added one additional touch -- glitter sprinkled around the setting.

I brought several candles of varying sizes, colors and aromas. I placed three in the kitchen to guide her toward the living room and the rest were strategically placed around the picnic scene.

To make sure we had the proper romantic music, I brought along a portable stereo and CD player and romantic music by such artists as Sade and Najee.

Marilyn: It is hard to express the anticipation I felt as I walked through the library and kitchen and into the living room. In the glow of candlelight was simple perfection. No man had ever shown me such love and consideration. It was all there -- the candles, music, roses, wine ... a picnic made in heaven.

Mark: I'll always remember the look of joy in her eyes, the way her lips pursed in wonder and then her smile of wonderment as she saw the ensemble I prepared in her honor.

Marilyn: The rest of the weekend was almost as special. We toured historic attractions including a museum filled with artifacts of local and national significance, and Glendower State Memorial, a mansion built between 1836 and 1840 and considered one of the finest examples of residential Greek Revival architecture in the state. We went horseback riding, enjoyed antique shopping and had dinner at the Golden Lamb.

Although for my part, I had chosen the destination, the accommodations and the activities well, my choice of traveling companion was simply perfect.

Travel information

Hardy's Haven Bed and Breakfast Suites is located in a quiet residential area surrounded by flower gardens and fountains. Phyllis and Al Hardy serve a delicious breakfast every morning in their beautifully decorated Victorian home. Second floor suites rent for $85 a night, first floor suites rent for $100 a night. For more information call: (513) 932-1100.

Other area attractions include Lebanon Raceway (harness racing), Harmon Golf Course, Turtle Creek Valley Scenic Railway, the Beach Water Park, Jack Nicklaus Golf Course, Waynesville antique and specialty shops, Fort Ancient State Park, Caesar Creek Lake and State park, Caesar Creek Pioneer Village, Little Miami Bike Trail, and canoe liveries.

For more information call Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 791-4FUN.

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