Elizabeth had heard somewhere that you could learn a lot about a man by watching him sleep. She wasn’t convinced that it was true; she had watched William sleeping on her sofa ten days ago and had come away without any startling insights. But experiencing him while he slept, with nearly all of her senses involved, was a different matter.
She had awakened a short time ago in the pre-dawn gloom to find herself lying on her side with William spooned behind her, holding her firmly in his grasp. Kind of like curling up with a life-sized teddy bear. She smiled to herself, snuggling back against him. He stirred and tightened his arm around her, breathing in the regular cadence of sleep.
She had often wondered what it would be like to sleep with a man. The topic had arisen a few weeks ago over dinner with Jane and Charlotte.
“Once the fun’s over,” Charlotte had said, “I’d rather kick them out and have the bed to myself. I need to be able to thrash around in my sleep. But you know what I hate most of all? The ones who like to cuddle.”
As far as Elizabeth was concerned, Charlotte was nuts. It was true that she had awakened occasionally during the night, roused by William’s unfamiliar presence. Each time, she had relaxed against him, luxuriating in the comforting warmth of his body, and had soon been lulled back to sleep. On one occasion he had also been awake, and they had shared a few drowsy kisses before drifting off again.
So the first thing she had learned: he liked to cuddle. Second, he didn’t snore, though she knew that already after the night he had spent on the couch. Third, something else she already knew: he smelled wonderful. That faint tang of cologne—he knew you weren’t supposed to drown in the stuff—or perhaps it was a special soap, mixed with something else, something that was just … him. Eau de William.
He stirred again, and this time he was awake. With a sigh that seemed to rumble up from his toes, he brushed her hair aside and pressed a soft kiss just behind her ear.
Fourth, he was stubbly early in the morning. But she already knew that, too.
He slid even closer, molding himself against her. Fifth, did I mention that he likes to cuddle?
She gently withdrew from his arms and rolled over to face him, feeling unexpectedly shy. “Hi.”
His lazy smile was blissful, his eyes only half open. “Hi, yourself.” His voice was even deeper than usual.
“I’m glad you talked me into staying.”
“So am I. Remember what I said last night?”
“About spending at least a decade in this bed?”
He stroked her cheek with his thumb. “I changed my mind. Thirty years, minimum.”
“With an option for another thirty.”
He rested his head against her shoulder and his eyes drifted shut, his breath fanning her throat in a slow rhythm. Tenderness flooded her when she realized that he was asleep again. She stroked his hair, floating in a peaceful fog.
Sixth, if there’s a more wonderful man in the world, he wears a cape and boots, and his suit has a red “S” on its chest.
Elizabeth was jolted awake by a noise outside, perhaps a garbage truck on its early morning rounds. William was asleep, spooned behind her as before with one arm draped over. Unfortunately, an ache in her back compelled her to move from her current position.
She inched her way off the bed and tiptoed to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. Morning light filtered through the sheer white curtains, and she drew them aside, studying the Mark Hopkins Hotel across the street while she stretched her arms to the ceiling.
Bending from the waist, she pressed her palms to the cool marble floor, holding the position to stretch her back and leg muscles. The events of last night whirled around her, a series of images ranging from foggy to crystal clear. She realized that most of the clarity had to do with William: his gentle sympathy, his understanding, and the comfort she had felt falling asleep in the shelter of his arms. She straightened up slowly and inspected herself in the bathroom mirror.
Yikes! It’s my finger-in-light-socket look! She applied herself to the task, concentrating on the worst of the snarls and tangles. Then her eyes fell on her borrowed toothbrush, and she ran her tongue over her teeth, grimacing. She had just finished brushing when she heard a knock at the door.
“Lizzy?” She opened the door, revealing William, squinting against the bright light shining on him from the bathroom.
“Do you need to come in?” She couldn’t help but smile at his dishevelment, though it seemed unfair that he could look so good first thing in the morning despite being rumpled and bleary-eyed.
“I woke up and you weren’t there. I was afraid you’d snuck out without saying goodbye.” He ran one hand through his sleep-ruffled hair.
She caressed his cheek, the dark stubble along his jaw prickling her fingers. “Of course not.”
“Then you’re coming back to bed?”
“I was just … freshening up a little.”
“Ah.” He pressed his lips together. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
Soon the bathroom door opened and he crossed the room to rejoin her in bed. “How do you feel this morning?”
“Much better, thanks to you.”
He settled onto his back and drew her close so that she lay against him, nestled in the crook of his arm. She rested her head on his chest, and he fondled a lock of her hair. “I love your hair. I always have.”
Elizabeth raised her head, leaning on one arm. “And I’m quite attached to these curls on your forehead.” She reached up, smoothing his hair.
He captured her hand and brought it briefly to his lips, the usual intensity in his eyes replaced by a look of pure contentment. Her gaze dropped to his mouth and she shifted upward on the bed, lowering her head to brush her lips over his in a tender, lingering caress.
Seventh, he’s got the softest, warmest lips. But I already knew that, too.
William’s arms closed around her and he rolled onto his side, taking her with him, their kisses slow and exquisitely thorough. Each time it seemed that passion might overtake them, she sensed him restraining himself, gentling the kiss. She was not as fragile this morning as he must have assumed, but her heart swelled at his tender solicitude.
She stroked his jaw, which felt smooth against her fingers. Obviously he had shaved while in the bathroom. “I’ve caused you a lot of frustration, haven’t I?”
“Yes, you have.” Grinning, he kissed the tip of her nose. “But you’re worth the wait.”
She had her doubts on that score. He had undoubtedly been with dozens of women, all of them bold and uninhibited and possessing extensive experience in giving a man pleasure. She rolled her eyes; she was making it sound like he had spent his life working his way through an army of courtesans.
He settled onto his back again and she snuggled against him, her head reclaiming its resting spot on his shoulder. Her hand drifted over his chest, her enjoyment enhanced by a vision of him as he had looked last night without his shirt. She was tempted to slip a finger, or two or five, beneath his tee shirt, to again feel the warmth and strength of his lean torso. Then she remembered that he was holding back for her sake. It would be cruel to do anything to make it more difficult for him, unless she was ready to move forward. And I'm not, am I?
Not yet. But she was surprised that she even needed to ponder the question, when not twelve hours earlier she had lain in a tearful heap on this same bed. This morning, lying in his arms, anything seemed possible. But what if they picked up where they left off and the same thing happened again? She couldn't do that to him, or to herself.
She had no illusions that their conversation last night had miraculously cured her of the problem she had tried to ignore for far too long. But she resolved not to let it stand between them anymore. He deserved a woman who wasn't haunted by a ghost, and she deserved to be able to love him without looking over her shoulder. She had plenty to think about, but there was time for that later, when her head wasn’t pillowed on his chest. She closed her eyes, savoring the warmth of his body. His hands, which had sparked thousands of women’s fantasies, caressed her hair.
The involuntary thought of other women reminded her of something important. “I was thinking about what I told you last night, and I hope you didn’t misinterpret what I said, about idolizing you when I was a teenager.”
She raised her head from his chest. “I wouldn’t want you to think that’s why I’m with you now, that it’s just shallow hero worship.”
“I don’t think that.”
“Good. I mean, you know how much I admire you as a musician. But if that’s all it was, I wouldn’t be here. I fell in love with the man underneath all that, the one who’s sweet and gentle and romantic—that is, when he’s not being bossy and arrogant.”
He scowled, but she saw amusement in his eyes. “And I thought you were building up to a compliment.”
“You know my rule about feeding the ego. Besides, if I fawned over you incessantly, I’d be just like every other woman in the world. I have to find some way to stand out.” Her smile faded and she sat up, propping a pillow behind her head. “But I suppose I’ve done that already. I imagine I’m the only woman who’s ever had a panic attack in your bed.”
“My poor Lizzy.” He struggled into a sitting position. “If it’s any consolation, you’re unique in another way. You’re the only woman who’s ever been in my bed, panicking or otherwise.”
“You don’t need to say that just to make me feel better.”
“I’m not. It’s true. I’m not saying that I’ve never been with a woman before, but you’re the only one who’s ever shared my bed.”
“Here in San Francisco.” Because he couldn’t mean that he hasn’t—
He shook his head. “No, I’m talking about any bed, anywhere. You know how important privacy is to me, and to invite a woman into my room, my sanctuary ….” He shrugged. “That’s huge for me.”
“I’m honored.” She hadn’t intended to sound so formal, but it seemed like the only possible response to the immense compliment he was paying her. She leaned against his shoulder, inhaling Eau de William to her heart’s content.
A few peaceful minutes later, she raised her head. “Ready to tackle another loose end from last night?”
“I guess so. What is it?”
“You said you’d been wanting me to say that I loved you for a long time.”
“Then why didn’t you? Say it first, I mean. If you had, I would have said it back.”
He looked hurt. “I did say it first, that night in New York, but you didn’t believe me. I wasn’t going to say it again until I was sure you’d be glad to hear it.”
“I’m sorry for how I acted back then, but you couldn’t have meant it, not really. Maybe you thought you loved me, but you were just caught up in the heat of the moment.”
He shook his head. “Lizzy, I’d waited 30 years to say those words to a woman. Do you honestly think I’d have said them unless I was sure of my feelings?”
He had never before told a woman he loved her? She filed away that extraordinary piece of information to be examined later. “But we barely knew each other.”
“I knew enough. I think I started falling in love with you the first time I saw you.”
“You mean out on the patio at Charles’s house?”
“No. I mean before that, at JFK Airport. I noticed your eyes; they were beautiful and full of life. And then I saw you again in San Francisco. There was something about you that spoke to me, even from the opposite side of the baggage claim area.”
“But you told me once that you didn‘t believe in love at first sight.”
“That’s why it was so hard for me to understand what was happening. It wasn’t until later, in New York, that I realized I was falling in love.”
She smiled and took his hand in hers, toying with his fingers. “I thought I felt a spark pass between us at JFK. But you ignored me when I walked past you on the plane, and you were so cold at the airport in San Francisco, so I figured it was just my imagination.”
“You already know that I wasn’t feeling well that day. But I would have ignored you in any case. I’m not in the habit of making overtures to strangers, especially not teenaged girls, and you looked like you couldn’t have been a day over eighteen.”
They had discussed some of the events of that day in the past, but this was a fresh insight. His pensive expression indicated that he was collecting his thoughts before continuing, so she waited, still caressing his hand.
“In fact, I was disturbed by the inappropriate fascination I was feeling for a high school girl, which is what I thought you were. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have reached out and pulled you onto my lap as you walked past on the plane. It would have saved us valuable time.” His eyes twinkled.
“An opportunity lost. I wonder how I would have reacted?” She kissed his jaw.
They fell silent again, basking in contentment, but before long she spoke again. “Okay, here’s another question I’ve never gotten around to asking from that weekend. Why were you so rude to me when we met outside the church that evening, before the wedding rehearsal?”
“You just stood there stone-faced. I almost had to hit you over the head to get you to talk. It seems like odd behavior if you were attracted to me.”
He was silent for a moment, his brow furrowed, and then he nodded, wearing a bashful grin. “I remember now. I was overwhelmed.”
“By you. I didn’t recognize you at first. I’d met an oddly appealing teenager at Charles’s house. Outside the church, I saw a gorgeous, sexy woman. She took off her sunglasses and I saw her eyes, and I realized who she was. And then I couldn’t breathe.”
Elizabeth touched her lips to his. “I never guessed that you felt that way, but Char did. She told me at the rehearsal dinner that you were falling for me.”
“She was right. There hasn’t been a day since when I haven’t thought about you.”
“I wish I’d known. I thought I saw signs that you liked me, but then the next moment you’d be distant and cool. And I couldn’t believe that you’d take an interest in me anyway.”
“At first, I admit, I fought the attraction. But later, in New York, you didn’t believe me when I tried to show you how I felt, not even after I took you to my home for dinner and introduced you to my family.”
Elizabeth heard the pain in his voice. “Jane and Char kept telling me I was wrong about you. They’ve been your advocates all along. But the problem was, I kept hearing echoes of Michael. Like the Jekyll and Hyde thing.”
“The way sometimes you’d be sweet and utterly charming, and other times you’d be haughty or silent, and I never knew what to expect. Now I understand; when you’re uncomfortable, you retreat inside yourself. But I didn’t know that back then.”
William sighed but didn’t comment.
“Michael had that Jekyll-and-Hyde quality too, in a different way. Like I told you, one day he’d be charming and attentive, the next day he’d ignore me, and the day after that he’d fly into a rage if I smiled at another guy. And I thought maybe it was the same with you. I was seeing two William Darcys. I didn’t know which one was the genuine article, and I wondered if you were hiding something. So it was hard to trust you.”
“You could have asked me what was going on.”
“How would that have helped? If you were trying to deceive me, you weren’t going to admit it. Besides, here I was again, attracted to a man who was out of my league. In Michael’s case it was mainly his popularity with women—well, that and his talent—that put him beyond y reach, but you and I weren’t even on the same planet.”
“Of course we were. And are.”
“Oh, come on. You said it yourself that first day; I’m not at your social level. One reason it made me so angry was because it was true. And it wasn’t just that. You were the famous William Darcy, the most eligible bachelor in New York, who’d just been called ‘Classical Music’s Sex Symbol.’ Men in your position usually get involved with actresses or supermodels, or the daughters of European royalty. What could you possibly have wanted from an ordinary music teacher, except maybe the same thing Michael wanted?”
His eyes narrowed. “You thought I was capable of treating you the way he did?”
“I didn’t think you’d use force. But using your wealth and position to seduce me … I admit, I considered that possible, even likely, for a long time.”
It was clear from his expression that he was hurt. “And that’s why you accused me of just wanting to get you into bed when we were in New York?”
“That was part of it. I should have given you more credit, especially after the dinner at your house. But ever since I was … ever since Michael, my instinct has been to distrust men’s motives. And you inadvertently made it worse that night by saying that you loved me.”
“I never understood why you instantly assumed that I was trying to manipulate you. Obviously you didn’t—” He stopped abruptly, shooting a horrified glance at her. When he spoke again his voice was strained. “Michael said that he loved you in order to get you into bed. So you thought ….” He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, a small, anguished sound escaping his throat.
“I heard his voice in my head saying the same thing, and then doing … that to me, and I freaked out.” She sighed. “I feel like a broken record, but I’m so sorry.”
“I’m glad to finally understand. It was torture, not knowing what I’d done to make you so contemptuous of me.”
She rested her hand on his chest, over his heart. “I hate that I hurt you. Especially since … it was really the first time you ever said ‘I love you’?”
“But you must have loved some other girl, and just never said the words.”
“I thought I loved my first girlfriend, when I was about 14. But I was too shy to tell her, and I know now that it wasn’t love, it was … my hormones waking up, I think.”
She laughed silently. “Good way to put it.”
“I’ve dated other women since then, but I didn’t love any of them. Only you, Lizzy.”
He lowered his head, the warm lips that she had studied earlier covering hers in a blissful caress. Eighth, his kisses are dangerously addictive. But I already knew that. Boy, did I ever.
At last he raised his head. “And as you’ve probably noticed,” he murmured, “my hormones are still wide awake. In fact, I don’t think they’ve slept a wink since I met you.”
“Insomniac hormones. Sounds like a case for the medical journals.” Her eyes brimming with laughter, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his.