Elizabeth moaned softly. “Oh, that’s so good!”
“Ready for more?” William’s dark, hungry eyes glittered in the candlelight.
She nodded, and he slipped a spoon bearing a dollop of chocolate mousse between her parted lips. The rich concoction slid over her tongue and she moaned again in gustatory delight. He was watching her avidly, and she shivered at the knowledge that it wasn’t the mousse he coveted. She snatched up the dish of mousse and grabbed the spoon from his hand before he could react. “My turn,” she declared, her eyes sparkling.
“I knew you’d claim sole custody of the mousse before long. And I haven’t had any yet.”
“I’ll share,” she said, filling the spoon. “Open wide.”
His lips closed around the spoon, and it was as though he devoured her and not the mousse. His eyes, the pupils dilated, bored into hers, dark wells of emotion threatening to ignite at the slightest spark.
Although she had proposed “skipping to the punch line,” there was plenty to discuss if they were to avoid repetition of the problems that had caused their estrangement. It would be better to do that before resuming physical intimacy. Perhaps he understood that; perhaps it was why he had ignored her attempts at seduction at the hotel. But in this impossibly romantic atmosphere, she could think of little else but being in his arms—and in his bed.
Her senses were consumed by stark, visceral awareness of him. She stared at his forearm, almost seeing the blood surge beneath his skin, and she thought she could hear the steady thump of his heart, synchronized with her own. Heat radiated from his body, and he seemed to broadcast waves of potent virility, setting her insides vibrating. She had begun to entertain thoughts of flinging herself into the pool to cool off, or flinging him to the ground and attacking him, which on reflection seemed like the better of the two ideas. If someone didn’t make the first move soon, she might burst into flames, leaving behind a pile of ashes for the gardener to sweep onto the lawn in the morning.
“Enough?” she asked him with a flirtatious smile, waving the spoon.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get enough.” His voice was soft yet emphatic, and his eyes stayed locked on her lips.
She filled the spoon again and extended it to him, intentionally directing it off course and smudging mousse on the edge of his mouth. He grimaced and reached for his napkin, but she captured his hand. “Allow me,” she murmured, leaning toward him.
Elizabeth extended her tongue and delicately licked off the mousse. He groaned, a deep, tortured sound, and captured her lips with his. She sighed and buried her hands in his hair, her mouth opening willingly under his. He tasted of red wine and dark chocolate, a strangely ambrosial combination.
“Lizzy,” he whispered as he pulled his mouth from hers, “I’m trying not to rush you into anything, but I can’t wait much longer.”
“Neither can I.”
“I love you, cara,” he groaned, rising to his feet and pulling her with him. He engulfed her in his arms and they strained together, hands seeking, mouths devouring, hearts racing. His head dropped to her bare shoulder, the one left uncovered by her dress, and his hot kisses left a path of gooseflesh behind. She moaned and pulled his polo shirt out from the waistband of his trousers, sliding her hands underneath and along the warm planes of his chest.
“Let’s go inside,” he gasped, and she nodded her assent. He took her hand and stalked into the house and up the stairs, Elizabeth nearly running to keep up with his long-legged strides.
His eyes traveled over her from head to toe with undisguised hunger. “You are so beautiful,” he whispered, enfolding her in his arms.
It was the second time that evening he’d said those words in hushed, reverent accents. It could have been the hundredth and she wouldn’t have tired of hearing it. “You’ve always made me feel that way.” She brushed his hair off his forehead. “I love you.”
She pulled his head down to hers and their lips met again, hot and demanding. His hands fumbled behind her and she felt her zipper give way. Then things happened with dizzying speed, and within what seemed to be mere seconds they were on the bed, hands and mouths seeking and exploring with frantic need.
William’s flushed face loomed above her, his chest heaving, his eyes black with passionate heat. The gentle man who had made love to her so tenderly in San Francisco, who had touched her with subtle reverence and restrained his own passions for her sake, was gone. In his place was an ardent lover with fire in his blood, a fire that answered in her own.
“I love you,” he groaned, positioning himself between her legs. Then he froze, his eyes widening in distress just as the same realization burst into her passion-soaked mind. With a muffled exclamation, he drew back, kneeling between her thighs. “I can’t believe I almost—Lizzy, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. I forgot, too, until that exact moment.”
He sat on the edge of the bed, his back to her. “Damn, damn, damn!”
She rarely heard one expletive from him, much less a string of three. “It’s okay,” she murmured, sitting up and stroking his back. “We stopped in time.”
He heaved a loud sigh. “I bought condoms at the hotel gift shop, but I left them in the car, back by the gatehouse. They’re hidden under the front seat.”
“Why did you hide them? Afraid I’d accuse you of trying to ruin my reputation?” She wrapped her arms around him from behind, kissing his neck.
He turned sideways and kissed her shoulder. “I wanted to be prepared, just in case. But I didn’t want you to think I was trying to rush you. Except it seemed as though you wanted ….” His voice trailed off.
“It’s okay, you can say it. It seemed as though I wanted you as much as you wanted me. It’s true.”
He gave her a crooked, self-deprecating grin and glanced down at his lap. “I don’t know about that,” he said.
Men were definitely at a disadvantage when it came to hiding their desires. She wished she could offer him some proof of her feelings. Then she realized that she could. “You don’t need to go outside to get your condoms,” she said softly. “We can use mine.”
“The gift shop was a busy place this evening. I guess you were done shopping by the time I got there.”
William’s eyes widened. “You bought condoms, too?”
She laughed at the delight that spread across his face at this news. “Who knew that all it took to make you happy was a box of latex! My purse is in the kitchen. I’ll go get it.” She glanced around, searching for her dress or at least a blanket to cover herself.
He extended a restraining arm. “No, I’ll get it. It’s the least I can do.” After a long, breath-robbing kiss he rose slowly to his feet and sauntered from the room.
William had once considered himself a man of some dignity, but now he found himself prowling the halls of Pemberley stark naked, a pale gray purse tucked under his arm. At least he had no worries about discovery. The married couple who managed Pemberley lived in the gatehouse and were banished from the main house until morning.
He rounded the corner into the bedroom and froze. During his brief absence Elizabeth had extinguished the lamp in the corner and lit a candle; its wavering flame cast shifting golden light around the bed. She lounged against the pillows, highlights glimmering in the hair streaming over her shoulders, her skin like creamy velvet above the sheet covering her. His insides tightened with a flash of pain, and he shook his head slowly. When he spoke his voice was hushed. “Lizzy, you take my breath away.”
Her shy smile warmed as her eyes slid over him. “You’re rather nice to look at yourself. The purse isn’t your color, but I have a pair of high heels that would do great things for your legs.”
He grinned and crossed the room, his flesh tingling under her admiring stare. He stretched out on the bed while she rummaged through her purse.
“Titan sized,” he read off the box she handed him. “Why, thank you, ma’am.”
“I have little basis for comparison,” she said, her eyes fixed on her lap. “But judging from my limited experience, you seem … that is, I thought you might need ….” She blew a stream of air through her nose. “For goodness sake, I’m a grown woman. Why am I such a stuttering fool about things like this?”
“You’re not a fool, cara. This is new territory for you. At least I assume this was your first time buying condoms.” He opened the box.
She nodded. “And I couldn’t ask the clerk to try them on for size.”
He chuckled. “Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll be fine.” He extracted a packet and set it on the nightstand. “Now come here.”
She nestled close with a blissful sigh. “Now that you’re back, let’s promise that nobody leaves this bed for any reason.”
“Not ever? Fine with me.” He grinned. “But I’m actually glad we had to stop for a few minutes.” He leaned over to press a trail of kisses along her shoulder.
“Why?” She ran a lazy fingernail over his chest, toying with the dark, springy hairs growing there and teasing a nipple until it stood up in a tiny brown peak.
He wasn’t sure if it was manly to enjoy having his nipples fondled, but it felt wonderful. He returned the favor, cupping her breast in his hand and rolling the soft pink tip between his thumb and forefinger.
She sighed deep in her throat. “You still haven’t answered my question,” she whispered.
“What question?” He stroked the firm globe filling his hand, soft and pale and fragrant with jasmine. Hungry to taste her, he lowered his head.
“I asked you why … ohhhh … why you were glad we stopped for a while.”
He glanced at her, befuddled by the question—his mind and his senses were filled with her—but then he remembered his remark. “I was in too much of a hurry before. This is too important to rush.”
“This? You mean us making love?”
He brushed his thumb against her cheek as he spoke, absorbing the softness of her skin. “This is forever, Lizzy. At least it is for me. I have a second chance with you, and I have to get it right this time.”
Her hands inched their way down toward his waist, stroking and teasing and spreading love in their wake. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “You’re getting it right.”
Then her hands moved lower and he gasped. His head fell back against the pillow, his eyes squeezed shut. His muscles contracted and he strained toward her, lifting his hips in silent supplication while his heart sang with joy.
Time drifted by without meaning as they lay together, their hands and lips imparting healing balm to their souls. Elizabeth’s smiles on the beach had given him hope, and her forthright declaration of love at the hotel had soothed much of his pain. But it was only now, when she gave herself to him completely, that he knew without question that he was loved.
He could feel it in her gentle, seeking touch, and in the way she trembled when she molded her body against his, her lips warm and eager against his throat. He could feel it when, with a mischievous smile, she reached for the condom, determined to discover for herself whether or not it fit—and when, amidst avid kisses and shared laughter, they found that it did. He could feel it as he sank deep inside her, finding in her body’s warm welcome the home he had sought all his life. He could feel it as she lay beneath him, arching her hips to match his rhythm, joyful tears leaking from her eyes while his own tears splashed onto the pillow cradling her head. He could feel it when she pulled his body down on top of hers, no longer afraid of his weight, writhing against him as though trying to absorb him or to be absorbed herself. And he could feel it when she gripped his shoulders and cried out, shuddering in helpless ecstasy as her eyes locked with his, a universe of love streaming from their radiant green depths.
He reined in his own hunger and shifted slightly to one side, holding her close as her hands gradually relaxed their convulsive hold on his shoulders. Soon he felt her lips against his throat. “Mmm, you taste good,” she murmured.
His hands combed through her tangled hair. “Thank you,” he said softly.
“For loving me.” He touched a gentle finger to the emerald pendant, lying nestled between her breasts.
She stroked his cheek. “I do.”
“I know.” They kissed slowly, deeply, and he began to unconsciously circle his hips against her.
“Are you okay?” she asked softly. “You didn’t—”
“Not yet, but—?”
And it began again, his rhythm feverish now as he built toward his own release. He looked down into her loving eyes and thought of all his lonely dreams of her—pallid, empty ghosts of something so rich and vital, something capable of turning his body and heart inside out. And then he felt the rush of white hot sensation welling up from his toes, tightening every muscle in his body along the way, and he couldn’t think at all. A fierce groan erupted from his throat as he fell over the edge into euphoric oblivion.
Elizabeth cradled William’s head against her breasts, dabbing at his forehead with the sheet. His rapid breathing gradually relaxed as they lay together in profound silence that required no words. In these rare, perfect moments he was entirely hers, nothing held back, no defenses, his soul given to her for safekeeping. She stroked his back, overwhelmed by the protective impulse that clogged her throat and filled her eyes with tears.
Outside, the voices of the tree frogs rose in their nocturnal chorus, backed by the distant roar of the sea. She reached across to the nightstand and pinched out the candle flame, leaving the room illuminated by only a faint lick of moonlight.
“I love you,” she whispered, skimming his curls away from his forehead. “And I think it’s forever for me, too.”