Elizabeth seemed to be taking forever fumbling with the key card to her room. William shivered, his wet towel a poor defense against the aggressive air conditioning in the hotel corridor. He suspected he was slowing her progress by compulsively kissing her neck and shoulders, but he couldn’t stop himself.
Finally the electronic lock blinked green and she pushed the door open. The instant it closed behind them they were in each other’s arms, their mouths pressed together with reckless abandon, countering the residual chill from the hallway with a flood of passionate heat.
Then she froze in his arms and pressed two fingers to his lips, her eyes huge. “Shhh.” She gripped his arm, staring in wide-eyed alarm at the door connecting her room to the Gardiners’ suite. He watched her, his heart racing, until he heard the muffled male voices in the living room of the suite.
“I completely forgot,” she whispered, her breathing as rapid as his. “Uncle Edward is using his suite for meetings from time to time.” Her forehead fell against William’s chest. “I’m sorry, but we can’t do this, not while he’s in the living room. It’s just on the other side of this wall.”
“We can be quiet.” He nudged her backward toward the bed. Stopping wasn’t on his list of approved options.
“Not quiet enough,” she murmured. “Even if we didn’t make a sound, the bed might squeak. And I’d be distracted, worrying that he might hear us.”
He sighed. “I don’t want you to be distracted.”
“Besides,” she continued, her shoulders stiff beneath his hands, “I can’t risk humiliating Uncle Edward that way. Imagine how he’d feel if he ended up treating his colleagues to the soundtrack of his niece frolicking in bed with her man.”
William couldn’t argue with that, but he quickly devised a Plan B. “Come with me,” he whispered, leading her by the hand to her gleaming white bathroom, the only splash of color supplied by a lavender cattleya orchid on the counter.
“In here?” she asked, glancing around as though taking inventory of the horizontal surfaces.
“In here.” He crossed to the shower compartment and turned on the water. “Haven’t you ever made love in the shower?” He grimaced as soon as the words escaped his lips. Of course she hadn’t, and she didn’t need reminders of his past encounters with other women. But she didn’t seem to notice the implications of his remark, too busy staring at her reflection in the mirror. She bit her lip and her glance flew to the nearest towel rack, but he pulled her into the circle of his arms before she could reach for a towel.
She eyed him skeptically. “What makes you think they won’t hear us in here?”
“We’ll be quiet, and besides, your bathroom doesn’t share a wall with the living room.” He kissed her neck, feeling her body relax against his. “Now, does my plan meet with your approval?”
By way of an answer, she wriggled from his arms and retrieved a blue flowered canvas bag from a drawer beside the sink. She removed a small square packet from the bag and handed it to him with a flourish. “I believe you needed this, sir?”
Once they had the strength to move again, Elizabeth insisted that they don their damp bathing suits and return to the pool deck. As she pointed out to a disgruntled William, they had abandoned Madeline and owed it to her to return. But they arrived downstairs to find Madeline on her feet, packing up her belongings.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “I’m heading back to my room, but I didn’t know if I should leave your things here or take them with me. I didn’t want you to come back from your swim and find everything gone.” Her sly expression suggested that she knew exactly where they’d been and what they’d been doing.
No more than a minute after Madeline’s departure, they sprinted back to Elizabeth’s room, pleased to hear nothing but silence coming from the living room. They shed their suits and swathed themselves in the plush white robes provided by the hotel. When Elizabeth emerged from the bathroom, a towel wrapped turban-style around her wet hair, William swooped her up in his arms and tossed her onto the bed, following her down to the accompaniment of their carefree laughter.
They lounged together on the bed, exchanging fleeting caresses and talking of inconsequential things. A soft breeze ruffled the curtains framing the open doors to the terrace, and a shaft of slanting light from the late-afternoon sun painted a bright stripe on the tile floor. They heard the occasional scrape of heavy furniture dragged across concrete and the distant clinking of glasses as resort employees set dinner tables on a portion of the pool deck. A single tree frog chirped a lonesome refrain, attempting to awaken his compatriots for the evening’s performance. Despite the contentment flowing through her veins, Elizabeth felt a twinge of melancholy at the waning of one of the happiest days of her life.
“Wait a minute.” William tightened his arms around her waist. “I can’t believe I almost forgot. You called me Will earlier.”
Elizabeth snuggled back against his chest, shooting a curious glance over her shoulder. “Did I?”
“Don’t even try to deny it.” He slipped a hand inside her robe and caressed her in a lazy rhythm. “You called me Will when we were in the shower.”
“I was overcome with passion,” she retorted. “I didn’t know what I was saying.” Then she lifted his hand from her waist and pressed it to her lips. “Seriously, I promised you once that I’d see how it felt to call you Will.”
“And how does it feel?”
“I suppose I could get used to it. But ‘William’ suits you so well. Or I don’t suppose you’d let me call you Willie?”
“Certainly not.” He stretched, groaning in obvious contentment, and reached behind his head to adjust the pillow propped against the headboard. “We should spend every afternoon this way.” He lifted his glass of champagne from the nightstand.
“It’s so decadent,” she sighed. “Champagne and strawberries from room service, and a big, sexy man in my bed. I could get used to this.” She knelt beside him and delved inside his robe to explore his chest, savoring the hard contours of his muscles and teasing the wiry hairs that roughened the surface of his skin.
She had told the truth earlier. He looked better than ever, with his lightly tanned skin and his chest and shoulders subtly broader and stronger, but still without the bulging silhouette that had repelled her ever since the traumatic night with Michael.
He reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear, his hand resting on her cheek. “There’s something we should talk about.”
“This sounds serious.”
He hesitated. “We need to talk about condoms and … other options.”
“Ah. I was expecting much worse.”
“I’m just not sure how you feel about the subject.”
She might have been embarrassed had she not already considered the question. “You’re asking me to go on the pill.”
He returned his champagne glass to the nightstand. “Or some other form of birth control, if you’re willing. Condoms are inconvenient, as last night certainly proved.”
“And I’ve heard that men say it’s better without them, right?”
He lifted a lock of hair from her shoulder and drew it gently between his fingers, speaking softly. “I don’t know. I’ve never had sex without a condom.”
She was both gratified and surprised at this news. “Not even when you were a randy teenager?”
He brushed her hair aside and nuzzled her neck until she wriggled away with a little squeal. “You make me a thousand times hotter than I ever was as a teenager,” he murmured, a wicked glint in his eyes. “But, no, not even then. Richard put the fear of God into me when it came to safe sex.”
“Good for him.”
“He used to say, ‘It isn’t just what you might catch. It’s who might catch you.’ And he was right. I’ve met plenty of women who would have loved to be ‘accidentally’ impregnated by the Darcy heir.”
The bitter edge in his voice made her heart ache. “So many people have used you to try to get what they wanted, haven’t they?”
He drew her into his arms and kissed her forehead. “Having you in my life makes up for it.”
“And you’re not afraid I’ll try to get the Darcy heir to impregnate me?” she teased.
Tenderness shone in his eyes. “To be honest, it wouldn’t bother me in the least if you got pregnant—that is, unless it bothered you.”
Elizabeth wasn’t sure how to respond. She wanted children eventually, but she was in no hurry and didn’t consider herself particularly maternal—not like Jane. Now wasn’t the time, but someday ….
He was watching her closely. “Lizzy, I—” Then he stopped and shook his head. “Never mind. We were talking about contraception.”
She almost pressed him to finish his incomplete sentence, but she felt his discomfort and decided to follow his lead, returning to their original topic. “I visited the doctor right after my birthday. In fact, I’ve got birth control pills at home.”
“Then why are we still using condoms?”
She took his hand in both of hers, admiring his long, slender fingers and neatly trimmed nails. “There’s a timing issue when you start taking them, and then things were such a mess between us.” She sighed. “Give it a little more time, and it’ll be taken care of.”
“Thank you.” He kissed her, his lips lingering softly against hers for a long, sweet moment.
“What about the other issue? They tested me when I went in to get the pills.” She grimaced, hating to turn lovemaking into a clinical subject, but unfortunately she had no choice. “Even though you’ve been careful ….”
His understanding nod filled her with relief. “They ran comprehensive blood tests when I was in the hospital last summer, and I was fine. And since you’re the only woman I’ve been with in almost two years ….” He smiled, tightening his arm around her shoulders.
She relaxed against him, glad they could drop the subject. “Could you please pass me a strawberry?”
He insisted on feeding it to her, after which she reached across his chest, plucked a berry from the silver dish on the nightstand, and returned the favor. He swallowed it and then sucked her pink-stained fingers into his mouth and circled them with his tongue, a gesture charged with sensual heat. She pulled her fingers away and pressed her lips to his, exploring his strawberry-flavored mouth in a deep, slow kiss that coaxed a low groan from his throat. Then she shoved him onto his back, her hands fumbling with the belt on his robe.
She drew in a slow breath and stared down at him, mesmerized. His body was like an erotic theme park, virile and powerful and entirely hers to enjoy at her leisure. Her boldness and confidence surprised her and even worried her for a moment—would he think she was too forward, not enough of a lady? But he was gazing up at her calmly, wearing a lazy grin as he offered himself up to her. Her hands lovingly skimmed his body, his flesh warm and alive beneath her fingers.
“Are you trying to start something?” he asked, his voice rumbling in his chest as she anointed it with kisses.
“And if I am?” she breathed, meeting his searing gaze.
“Good,” he groaned, reaching for her.