“The dress sounds perfect. I assume you have the perfect underwear too?”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes at Charlotte, who occupied the pedicure chair next to hers. “No. I’m going to wear a big white cotton bra with my brand new black strapless dress, because I’m a complete fashion idiot. I thought I’d wear bloomers too, unless you think that’s a bad idea.”

“I wasn’t insulting your fashion sense. I was talking about something sexy, a hot little surprise for William under the dress.”

“I never said I was planning to take off the dress,” Elizabeth retorted, adopting what she hoped was a prim air. Before long she would probably break down and confess what had happened last night, but for now keeping the secret made the experience all the sweeter.

“You can’t fool me, Liz. I’ve known you for too long. Why else would you have blushed so much when I suggested getting a bikini wax?”

The day at the spa had been a marvelous treat, a perfect match for Elizabeth’s languid mood. Every inch of her body felt like silk, the result of a European facial and a luxurious body scrub, and the sweet scent of lavender clung to her skin. Closing her eyes, she settled back in the pedicure chair, an ambrosial feast of images washing over her for at least the tenth time that day, images of last night … and this morning.

Elizabeth had never experienced anything to compare with the bliss of awakening in William’s arms. She could still hear his soft rumbles of contentment as he snuggled against her, his warmth and strength enveloping her, his gentle hands drifting over her body. Even the sandpaper roughness of his jaw as he nuzzled her neck and shoulder, his eyes still half closed, hadn’t interfered.

Their drowsy morning caresses had given way to a leisurely interlude of lovemaking. William had exhibited admirable self-control this morning, delaying his own gratification at length for her benefit. But to his obvious chagrin, although Elizabeth had derived substantial pleasure from their activities, she had again failed to reach a peak of ecstasy … or, at least, had failed until afterwards, when she had succumbed to the persuasion of his hands.

Elizabeth preferred not to think about just how skillful those hands had been. William knew his way around a woman’s body, and she couldn’t delude herself into believing that his knowledge came from books. She had always assumed he was a veteran of many a woman’s bed; still, it was disconcerting to be confronted with solid evidence. But the past isn’t important. He’s mine now, and that’s what matters. And if I tell myself that often enough, I might even believe it.

She inspected her neatly-manicured fingernails, which were lacquered in a clear shade of raspberry. Her toes would soon be similarly adorned, once her feet emerged from the warm, fragrant water in which they were soaking. She ran a hand over her legs below the hem of her plush spa robe. She had reluctantly yielded to Charlotte’s persuasion, and had spent some uncomfortable minutes with the waxing technician. Still, she was forced to admit that her legs felt wonderfully smooth. And as for the rest … Charlotte was right, but the thought of it made Elizabeth blush.

“Earth to Liz?” It was Charlotte.

Elizabeth opened her eyes. “Hmm?”

“You drifted off in mid-conversation again. I was saying that I know a great lingerie shop that has really sexy stuff. We could stop by there after we leave here, and I could help you pick something for tonight.”

“Come on, Char. You can’t seriously imagine that I’m going to wearing some tacky corset of a thong that glows in the dark. You know me better than that.”

“Of course she does,” Jane chimed in from a nearby manicure station. “I’m sure she’s not talking about anything tasteless.” Jane had arrived at the spa just before lunch, glowing with pleasure and relief after winning her court case. The sisters hadn’t had an opportunity for private conversation, but an exchange of meaningful smiles had communicated the most important information.

“I’m not suggesting anything outrageous,” Charlotte said. “Just something lacy and skimpy, preferably in black.”

“Okay, I admit, I bought some new underwear. And, yes, it’s black. But I got it because I wanted to feel feminine, not so I could parade around in it.”

“That’s completely understandable,” Jane said in a soothing tone. “A dress as nice as that one deserves something pretty underneath.”

“Maybe I’m just weird, but I prefer my underwear to be visible without the aid of a microscope.”

“Your objections are duly noted,” Charlotte retorted. “But, you know, nice girls do wear sexy lingerie. It’s a turn-on for a lot of guys. Then again, it’s not as though you need help in that department. After all these months, William has to be foaming at the mouth to see you naked.”

Elizabeth pressed her lips together, beating back the smile that simmered just beneath the surface.

“Wait a minute.” Charlotte skewered Elizabeth with an appraising stare. “He’s already seen you naked, hasn’t he? It’s written all over your face. Come on, ‘fess up. You two finally did it, didn’t you?”

Elizabeth could feel her face growing hot. Given the evidence supplied by her blush and her smile, she knew denial would be fruitless. “Last night.”

“Way to go, Liz! How was it?”

Elizabeth exhaled an ecstatic sigh. “Wonderful.”

“Look at that smile, Jane. I think our little singing nun busted out of the convent in a big way. So were you two busy all night making up for lost time?”

“It wasn’t like that. It was romantic, and he was so sweet, and …” her voice trailed off. “I can’t really explain. But it was perfect.”

Jane’s warm smile lit up her face. “Lizzy, I’d come over and hug you if my nails weren’t wet. But you know how happy I am for you.”

“Same here,” Charlotte said. “After everything you’ve been through, you deserve to have some fun with a nice guy who also happens to be outrageously hot. Now that you know how good it can be, are you sorry you waited so long?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “It was exactly the right time.” She wondered if William would agree. “But enough about me. Tell us all about Richard.” She and Charlotte had covered the topic briefly that morning, but their respective spa treatments had kept them apart for much of the day, preventing any further conversation.

Charlotte leaned back in her chair. “Richard. Ah, where to begin. Of course you know we’re at the Four Seasons.”

“But just till tomorrow, when he goes home, right?” Elizabeth asked. “Unless you become addicted to all that luxury and decide to take up permanent residence.”

“He’s decided to stay till Monday. That reminds me, Jane, is there room for one more at Liz’s birthday dinner tomorrow night?”

“Of course. I’ll call the restaurant later today.”

“Hold on a minute.” Elizabeth’s eyes were huge. “Richard is staying in town so he can spend the weekend with you? This sounds suspiciously like love at first sight.”

“Hardly. Lust at first sight, I’ll give you that. And, boy, did he ever live up to that first impression! Liz, if there’s any family resemblance, I hope you’ve been eating your Wheaties. And it isn’t just his stamina. The things that man knows how to do …” Charlotte shook her head slowly. “I’ve never made so much noise in my life. As you can attest, from what I hear. Did she tell you about that, Jane?”

Jane nodded. “I certainly understood why she and William left the penthouse as fast as they could.”

“Wouldn’t have bothered us if they’d stayed,” Charlotte said cheerfully. “I doubt we’d have noticed. Anyway, tonight we’re going to order caviar and an expensive bottle of scotch and try out the whirlpool tub, and you two can have the penthouse all to yourselves, so everybody will be happy.”

“Except Roger,” Elizabeth said softly. “I’ve been so busy since Wednesday that I haven’t talked to him. I hope he’s okay.”

“I think he is,” Jane said. “He called late last night with a question about the party on Saturday. He’d just gotten home from dinner, and he said he’d had a good time. We talked for a while, and he seemed fine.”

“Of course he’s fine,” Charlotte snapped. Then she sighed and continued in a softer voice. “Sorry. You hit a nerve. Everybody’s treating me like the evil vixen who stomped all over his heart, and it’s just not true. I guess you could say that he’d grown accustomed to my face, and some other parts of me, but it was never any more.”

Charlotte’s pedicurist appeared and went to work. Elizabeth leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, replaying her blissful morning with William one more time.

 

The doorbell rang, and Elizabeth’s heart leapt. “Someone must have let him into the building.” She glanced at the clock and saw that it was precisely 7:00. “And he’s right on time, of course. How do I look?”

Jane smiled at her from her perch on the edge of the bed. “The dress is perfect, and I think we picked a good hairstyle to go with it. But most of all, you’re absolutely glowing.”

“A lavender sugar body scrub will do that for you.” Elizabeth could still smell the aromatherapy oils that had been massaged into her body at the spa.

Jane rose to her feet. “That’s not it. The glow is coming from inside. It’s wonderful to see you so happy.”

“I really, really am. And it makes it even better having you to share it with.” Elizabeth hugged Jane, releasing her when the doorbell rang again. “I’d better get out there.” She was almost through the doorway and into the hall when Jane’s voice stopped her.

“You stay here and let me answer the door. There are times when a lady needs to make a grand entrance.”

William had insisted on picking Elizabeth up for their dinner date. At first she had considered it silly, but now she was glad since it contributed to the aura of a special occasion.

She inspected the elegant-looking woman staring back at her in the mirror … a woman who immediately destroyed her air of refinement by tugging at the neckline of her black dress. She had never worn a strapless dress before and wasn’t entirely comfortable with the concept. Still, she loved the way the dress made her feel, sophisticated, sassy, and sexy all at once, with its fitted bodice and the graceful chiffon skirt that floated to a hemline just above her knees.

Jane had arranged Elizabeth’s hair in a sleek twist, or at least as sleek as her uncooperative hair would allow, leaving some curly tendrils loose around her face. Her lacy black undergarments, which looked skimpier on her body than they had in the store, were safely concealed under the dress. For now, anyway. A shiver of anticipation flew through her as she grabbed her purse on her way out of the bedroom. At the end of the hall, she rounded the corner into the living room—and froze in place.

William stood conversing with Jane, exuding effortless elegance in a navy blue suit that hung perfectly on his tall, broad-shouldered frame. Elizabeth stared at him, her heart thrumming with joy as she tried to absorb the improbable notion that this remarkable man belonged to her.

He glanced across the room and saw her and his mouth fell open, an awestruck expression on his face. He spoke a single word, one she had never heard him use before, in a hushed tone. “Wow.”

She executed a graceful twirl, her skirt flaring around her, and then crossed the room to join him. “Good evening, Mr. Darcy.”

He shook his head slowly. “You look … I’m speechless.”

She stepped close to him. “Thank you, kind sir.”

“This is for you,” he said softly, extending a single red rose wrapped in green tissue paper.

Elizabeth inhaled the rose’s fragrance and sighed. “Mmm. It’s lovely. Thank you.” She stretched up to kiss him. “I should put it in water.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Jane said. “And before you go, why don’t you let me take some photos? You both look wonderful tonight.”

“That’s a good idea,” William answered, his eyes never leaving Elizabeth. “I’d like to have a photo to take with me when I travel.”

Jane took the rose and headed down the hall. William drew Elizabeth into his arms. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you all day,” he murmured between kisses.

“Me neither. I couldn’t wait to see you tonight.” She wound her arms around his neck and leaned against him. His arms tightened around her, his soft groan making her shiver.

They heard Jane’s footsteps and drew apart, sharing a rueful smile. “The rose is in a vase on your dresser,” Jane said. “Now, let’s get the picture taken so you can be on your way.”

William threaded his arm firmly around Elizabeth’s waist. “By the way,” Elizabeth murmured, giving William a flirtatious sidelong glance, “you look positively scrumptious this evening.”

He grinned at her just as Jane clicked the shutter.

“Oh, that won’t be any good,” Elizabeth said. “We weren’t looking at the camera.”

“No problem. I’ll take another.”

This time they smiled at the camera instead of at each other. Then he helped her into her coat, his fingers trailing over her bare shoulders as he did so and raising goosebumps on her skin. She leaned back, resting her body gently against his, and then smiled at him over her shoulder. “Ready to go?”

He nodded. “Thank you for taking the pictures, Jane.”

“You’re welcome. By the way, I understand you and Charles are meeting at the airport tomorrow morning.”

“That’s the plan, as long as his flight gets in on time.”

Elizabeth hugged Jane. “I’ll see you after rehearsal tomorrow. I should be home around three.”

“I’ll probably be out with Charles then.”

“Oh, of course. Well, have fun, and I’ll see you when you get home.”

As William escorted Elizabeth to the elevator, he said, “Jane’s spending the afternoon with Charles?”

“Yes, he invited her to go running. Wouldn’t it be great if they finally got back together, and then all four of us were happy?”

“Mmm.”

They stopped in front of the elevator, awaiting its arrival. William reached for her hand, his gaze roving over her. “You’re absolutely …” He shook his head. “Radiant is the only word I can think of,” he said, raising her hand to his lips.

“I’d have a long way to go to look as wonderful as you do,” she replied, stepping closer and grasping the lapels of his jacket.

He dipped his head to hers, and their kiss ended only after the elevator doors open and closed, leaving them still standing in the hallway clinging to each other.

Elizabeth laughed. “We seem to be developing a problem with elevators.”

“I don’t see a problem,” William said, kissing the tip of her nose.

“Don’t you remember? Wednesday night we almost spent the evening riding the elevator at your place because we were kissing when the doors opened and we didn’t notice?”

“And I say again,” William murmured with a sexy grin that sent a current of electricity down her spine, “I don’t see a problem.” His lips came down on hers again, and Elizabeth decided he was right; there was no problem whatsoever.

 

Despite their inattention to trivial matters such as the operation of elevator doors, William and Elizabeth finally made it to the penthouse. He successfully beat back the temptation to escort her immediately to his bedroom, reminding himself of all the preparations he had made to ensure her a memorable birthday celebration.

Now that they were in the living room together chatting companionably, he was glad he had exercised restraint. He leaned back against the sofa and smiled at her. “Tell me about your day at the spa.”

“Well, as you know, I was a few minutes late because a certain person wouldn’t let me out of bed.” She arched an accusing eyebrow at him over the rim of her champagne glass.

William’s smug grin was entirely unrepentant. “You were free to go any time you wanted.”

“Except that every time I was on the verge of getting up, you started kissing me.”

“You didn’t seem to mind.”

“I didn’t; that was the problem. Anyway, it was a good thing the spa was so close by or I would have been really late.”

“I was tempted to walk down there and visit, but I didn’t want to interrupt your girls’ day out.” The Nob Hill Spa was at the Huntington Hotel, just down the block from his building. “Did you have fun?”

She nodded. “It was wonderful. I wish I could afford that kind of pampering on a regular basis. I feel all smooth and polished, like a car in a showroom.”

William nearly made a wicked remark about his interest in a test drive, but stopped himself with a stern admonition. Patience. He set his champagne glass on the coffee table and extended his hand. “Ms. Bennet, would you care to join me for dinner?”

“I’d be delighted, Mr. Darcy.”

William led her into the dining room. Elizabeth seemed appropriately impressed by the table setting, complete with a vase of long-stemmed red roses in the center. “I sense a theme developing,” she remarked. A table in the entry hall had also been adorned with roses.

“Clever girl.” There were still more roses, but she would see those later. “Excuse me; I’m going to get our wine from the kitchen.”

He returned with a German Riesling he had purchased with Elizabeth in mind. He opened it with a flourish and served it, a quick taste confirming that he had made a good choice.

She tasted it. “Mmm. That’s delicious.”

“I thought you’d like it. It’ll go well with our main course.”

“Aha! A clue. You might as well tell me what we’re having, since it’s almost time.”

William grinned. “Enjoy your wine. I’ll be right back.”

Mrs. Hill had volunteered to stay and serve the meal, but William had wanted complete privacy this evening. Instead, the housekeeper had left him detailed serving instructions. He returned to the dining room with a triumphant air, carrying two steaming bowls of soup.

“Our first course.” He set the bowls on the table and seated himself.

“This looks and smells like …” She gave him a quizzical glance. “Crab bisque?” She tasted a spoonful and her eyes widened. “It tastes exactly like the bisque at the Harbor House.”

“It ought to. Sonya convinced them to share their recipe.”

“But how did you know about the Harbor House?”

“One night we ordered something similar—I don’t remember where we were—and you said it was good but couldn’t compare to the crab bisque at a restaurant you’d visited with your aunt and uncle. I called your aunt to get more information.”

“How did you get Aunt Madeline’s phone number? Oh, silly me, you probably asked Jane. It sounds like everybody knew about this except for me.”

“Not everyone. Just Jane and your aunt. And Sonya and Mrs. Hill. Oh, and Mrs. Reynolds.” He grinned. “Actually, now that I think about it, there were quite a few people involved.”

“Well, you and your minions were sweet to go to so much trouble. It’s absolutely delicious.”

William tasted the creamy soup, flavored with crabmeat and sherry, and nodded in agreement. They were mostly silent as they ate, exchanging contented smiles. She had never looked more enchanting, with her shoulders and arms bared by her dress, her hair swept off her graceful neck. To distract himself from imagining how soft her skin would feel beneath his lips, he occupied his mind with more practical issues. “Ready for the next course?”

“Bring it on,” she said. “Though the bisque is going to be a tough act to follow.”

“Just wait.” He rose and went to the kitchen, a smug gleam in his eyes. When he returned with a tray laden with food and utensils, he was gratified to hear her gasp.

“Oh, my goodness! How on earth did you do this?”

The tray held a pile of steamed Chesapeake Bay crabs, spiced with Old Bay seasoning. “I had them flown in from Baltimore earlier today, packed in ice. You told me once they were your favorite food.”

“I know, but I can’t believe you remembered.” Her eyes traveled from his face to the tray of crabs.

“We’ve got coleslaw and corn on the cob too. Not exactly elegant accoutrements, but I understand they’re the traditional side dishes.” He deposited the tray on the table.

She rose from her chair and stepped close to him, sliding her arms around his neck. “You, William Darcy, are the sweetest man in the world.”

He wrapped his arms around her waist, feeling pleased with himself. “You bring out the best in me.”

She drew his head down to hers. “Right back at you.”

The kisses that followed were gentle and light-hearted, nibbling and tasting and teasing. They rubbed noses and then drew back, smiling into each other’s eyes. She seemed to sparkle in the cool light from the chandelier above their heads, her green eyes flashing like emeralds, her sweet smile radiant with love.

Unable to find the words to tell her how he felt, he cupped her face in his hands and poured his heart and soul into a kiss. His hands slid down her neck to her shoulders and she sighed, tightening her arms around his neck. The heat that had flared so quickly in her living room was reborn as their lips met again and again with escalating hunger. William forgot his resolution to spend a leisurely evening in her company before leading her to his bedroom.

“I want you,” he said in a gruff whisper. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you since you left this morning, about how sweet and warm you felt in my arms last night, about what it was like to finally make love to you, and about how much I want to do it again, and again, and again. I promised myself I wouldn’t say this, but I don’t think I can wait till after dinner.”

The warm assent he saw in her eyes as she stroked his cheek nearly sent him to his knees. “I doubt the crabs will attempt a jailbreak if we leave them here for a little while.”

He crushed her to him, claiming her mouth in a demanding kiss, his blood warmed by her soft moan of surrender. I am the luckiest man in the world.

 

“I don’t suppose any of you know what he’s doing?”

Since Elizabeth was addressing the steamed crabs, whose conversational skills were sub-par to say the least, she wasn’t really expecting an answer.

She shook her head with a rueful smile, reminding herself of the futility of any attempt to grasp the innermost workings of William’s mind. When she had agreed to postpone dinner in favor of amorous activities, he had instantly engulfed her in an intoxicating embrace. But then he had released her abruptly with the words, “I’ll be right back,” striding from the room with the air of a man on a mission. And here she stood, trying in vain to engage the crabs in conversation and wondering what had interfered with William’s ardor.

The sounds of traffic drifted up from the busy street, punctuated by the bell on a cable car. She stepped onto the tiny balcony and surveyed the scene below. It was a typically Friday evening, with cabs discharging diners at the nearby hotels and collecting guests headed for other restaurants.

She smiled at the incongruous sight of a woman wearing flowing black robes and carrying a candelabrum, surrounded by a group of tourists inspecting the Pacific-Union Club across the street. It was the weekly San Francisco Vampire Tour, an offbeat walking tour of Nob Hill.

The chilly night air raised goosebumps on Elizabeth’s skin. Shivering, she stepped back and shut the doors just as two hands settled on her shoulders. She leaned back against William. His arms slipped around her waist as his warm lips feasted on her neck. My own sexy vampire.

“You’re cold,” he murmured, his lips kissing their way down to her shoulder.

She turned in his arms. “I bet you could warm me up.”

“Your wish is my command.” His best smile, the one he seemed to save for special occasions, shone on her, and she shivered for reasons having nothing to do with the cold. She drew his head down to hers and they stood together in the doorway, locked in an increasingly heated embrace. Then, gently but decisively, he took her hand and led her to his bedroom.

She let out a little gasp at the view that greeted her. The room was awash in candlelight, a dozen tiny flames casting flickering shadows along the walls and ceiling. A large vase of roses—red ones, of course—lent their heady fragrance to the atmosphere. She stepped toward the bed, knowing what she would find even before she saw the crimson petals dotting the snowy white sheets.

She met his watchful gaze, her heart bursting. “This is the fantasy I told you about, of my first time with a man. Candlelight, rose petals, and … satin sheets?”

“Silk, actually. The salesperson said they were more comfortable.” He spoke softly.

A tear slid down her cheek. “Silk,” she repeated with a tremulous smile.

He took a halting step in her direction. “You told me about the way you had always envisioned your first time, before that …” He paused, clenching his jaw. “Before it was ruined for you. I wanted to create it, at least for our first time.” He ran a hand through his hair, his tone hesitant as he continued. “But I wasn’t expecting us to make love last night. I know it’s too late now, but I still thought—”

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him hard on the mouth, cutting off his awkward explanation.

“I hope these are happy tears.” He brushed a droplet from her cheek. “I wasn’t certain about doing this. I was afraid it might remind you of—”

She touched a finger to his lips. “They’re one hundred percent happy tears. Thank you so much for doing all these wonderful things for me.”

“I don’t think there’s anything I wouldn’t do for you, cara. In fact, there’s something I should—” He stopped abruptly, frowning. She waited for him to continue, but after a brief silence he shook his head.

“Was there something you wanted to talk about?” She caressed his chest through his crisp shirt, hoping he’d say no. She really wasn’t interested in conversation, not in the impossibly romantic setting he had created for her.

“No, not right now.” He unfurled his lazy grin again, weakening her knees in the process. “I have something else in mind.”

“Good,” she sighed, her hands sliding up his shirtfront to push his jacket off his shoulders, “because so do I.”

He shrugged off his jacket, hanging it over a chair and squaring the shoulders so that it hung evenly. She stifled a giggle; he was more attached to his wardrobe than any man she had ever known. He whipped off his tie and folded it neatly over the jacket, and then turned back to her. His smile faded and he stared at her, a reverent expression in his eyes that made her heart swell.

“You are so lovely,” he whispered, reaching out slowly to brush his thumb over her cheek. “Will you take down your hair for me? It’s beautiful this way, but I want to see it loose around your face.”

Under the microscope of his searching gaze, she reached up and fumbled with the pins holding her hair in place. At last, her hands trembling, she released the thick coil of hair. Her heart fluttered as he stepped forward to capture her face in his hands, and she sighed in delight as his warm mouth took possession of hers.

He took her hands and placed them gently on his shirt front, and she unfastened the buttons with unsteady fingers. Once he had discarded the shirt, she splayed her hands across his chest, entranced by the tawny glow of his skin in the dim candlelight. He dipped his head, tracing a searing path down her neck, and she sighed when he paused to brush a hot, moist kiss in the hollow at the base of her throat.

She threaded her hands through his hair, cradling his head as he spread kisses across her shoulders. She felt a slight tugging behind her, and the bodice of her dress slipped downward, revealing her new satin and lace bra. He made a small sound, almost a groan, as his lips feasted on the deep cleavage revealed by the plunging decolletage. His hands went to work again, and with a quiet “swish” her dress slid to the floor.

He straightened up, his heated gaze roving over her body. Despite the hunger simmering inside her, she felt shy, but she suppressed an instinctive desire to cover herself with her hands.

“Do you have any idea how sexy you are?” He stepped forward until her breasts brushed lightly against his chest.

“You like the underwear, then?” She scarcely recognized the breathy voice as hers. His only answer was a deep groan as he crushed her against him, claiming her lips with fierce intensity.

When at last he raised his head to gulp in a shaky breath, she whispered, “Would you do something for me? One last little piece of my first-time fantasy?”

“Anything,” he muttered, his hands cupping her hips and pulling her against him.

“It’s not politically correct, and I’ll probably never ask you to do it again, so don’t infer anything from this. But just this once, would you carry me to the bed?”

Amusement penetrated the haze of desire in his eyes, and he grinned as he lifted her into his arms. “Only you would make that request in such a … unique way, cara.”

He carried her the few steps to his bed and set her down gently on the cool sheets. The fragrance of rose petals blended with Eau de William to create an intoxicating mixture.

She watched with avid interest as he shed his shoes, socks, and trousers. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and leaned over her, smoothing her hair as heat poured from his gaze. “Of course, when you request transportation, you have to pay the fare,” he said in a low voice.

Elizabeth wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down to her. “My pleasure.”

 

“What is it about just lying here together afterwards that’s so wonderful?” Elizabeth nestled against William, tracing an abstract design on his chest.

“Mmm.” His desire temporarily sated, he wanted nothing more than to lie with her in their quiet haven, savoring a thousand sensory inputs and committing each one to memory.

He stroked her hair, threading his fingers through the mass of dark curls tinged with red highlights. The warm candlelight cast an ethereal glow over her skin, and his hand drifted along her body, pausing to appreciate the softness of a round breast before skimming over her stomach and coming to rest on the curve of her hip. He drank in the intimate sensations of her legs entangled with his, her hand resting on his chest just over his heart, and her lips pressing a tender kiss to his jaw before she buried her face in his neck with a sigh of utter contentment.

William locked these impressions safely in his heart, to be replayed frequently in the solitary days to come. He tightened his arms around her with a world-weary sigh.

She raised her head. “What’s wrong?”

He made a half-hearted attempt at a smile. “Nothing.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked again, her eyes searching his. “Please tell me.”

He sighed again. “I don’t know how I’m going to leave you.”

“I know. But I want to enjoy being with you tonight. So, at the risk of sounding like Scarlett O’Hara, let’s think about that tomorrow.”

He wished he could push aside his sadness with such ease. “I never stopped missing you for even a moment the last time I was in New York, and now, after everything that’s happened, it’s going to be much worse.”

Elizabeth propped her head up with one arm, stroking his cheek. “We’ll talk on the phone every day. I know that’s not the same, but it’s something. And you’ll be back next Friday.”

“But only for a few days, and then I’ll be gone again.”

“We’ll make the most of the days we have.” With a bittersweet smile, she smoothed his hair. “And we’ll keep on talking every day while you’re in Australia. I know it’ll be a challenge because of the time difference, but we’ll make it work.”

“I’m depending on it.”

“Me too. Who needs sleep, if I can be talking to my wonderful guy instead?” She sat up, a vibrant light returning to her eyes. “And speaking of not needing sleep, let’s stay up all night tonight. We can have our own private slumber party.”

“I’ve never been to one.”

“I guess it’s mostly a girl thing. Lots of talking, laughing, eating. And usually we’d watch a movie.”

“What about making love?” Her suggested activities sounded fine, but there were priorities to be considered.

She laughed softly. “Not at any slumber party I’ve ever been to, but we can make our own rules.”

“In that case, count me in.” His mood was growing lighter under the irresistible influence of her enthusiasm. “What shall we do first?”

“Let’s get dressed and finish dinner. I bet the crabs are getting restless.”

“And after dinner, let’s make love.”

She pressed her lips together, a gleam of amusement in her eyes. “Then maybe we can talk for a while.”

“And make love again.”

“Somebody has a one-track mind. Then maybe we could try that whole popcorn-and-movie thing, since it didn’t quite happen last night.”

“I don’t have a one-track mind, I just know what I like. Speaking of which, after the movie I think we should make love.” He nuzzled her neck just below her ear.

She tried to wriggle away from him, a little whimper of pleasure escaping her throat. “And then we can watch the sun rise over the city. Maybe we could even go out for a walk.”

He kissed a lazy path along her neck to her shoulder. “And after that, let’s come back here and make love.”

She giggled. “Char was right about the Wheaties.”

“What do Wheaties have to do with anything?”

“Never mind,” she said, her smile infectious even though he didn’t understand its cause. “I think we’d better get moving on our busy schedule for the rest of the evening.”

“Not so fast. I see two fatal flaws in your plan.”

“And what might those be?”

He propped his pillow against the headboard sat up, hands clasped behind his head. “First, I’m not excited about leaving this bed. And second, you made a reference to getting dressed, and I’m opposed to any activity involving clothes.”

“Listen, mister. Those crabs in the dining room flew thousands of miles and gave their lives for my sake. I don’t intend for that sacrifice to be in vain. And they’re way too messy to eat in bed, so we have to get up.”

William, who hadn’t been enthusiastic about bringing popcorn into his bedroom the night before, knew he was beaten on this point.

“And as for the getting-dressed part, I can’t really see us sitting naked at the dining room table, can you?”

“Oh, I can see you that way,” he said with a suggestive grin, running a hand over her body.

She caught his hand in hers. “Seriously. I know you’re teasing, but … I’m just not comfortable walking around naked in front of you. In fact …” She grimaced.

He raised her hands to his lips, instantly repentant. “I’m sorry, Lizzy; I didn’t realize you were feeling self-conscious.” This morning she hadn’t emerged from beneath the covers, despite her hurry to get to the spa, until he made a quick trip to his dressing room. The significance of her timing hadn’t occurred to him until now.

“I’m probably being silly, but somehow when we’re in bed it’s different. Maybe because of the covers, or … I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll get over it eventually. But I was going to ask if you’d bring me my overnight bag. I’d like to put on my nightshirt before I get up.”

“I’d be happy to, but to do that I’d have to walk around naked in front of you.”

Her eyes gleamed with mischief, and perhaps a hint of desire. “Somehow, that doesn’t bother me.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said with a crooked grin as he got out of bed. “One overnight bag coming right up, and then we’ll go find out what the crabs have been up to in our absence.”