Knox’s low, guttural moan joined her own as he came.
He collapsed onto the bed beside her and she felt almost as if she was having an out-of-body experience, floating outside herself.
“I love you, Trudie,” he said quietly.
That brought her back to herself. Quickly.
She opened her mouth but the words stuck in her throat. She could say it to herself, she’d said it to Merrilee, but the words wouldn’t come for him.
“You’re important to me, Knox.”
It was the best she could do.
A QUARTER HOUR later, having cleaned up and let the dog in and out for a potty break, Knox lay in the semi-dark with his arm around Trudie.
“I feel better than I’ve felt in a long, long time,” he said, the dark inviting confidences. And it was the truth, even if it had been a bit awkward when he’d declared how he felt about her and she’d merely come back with how important he was or some such nonsense.
“Are you okay?” she asked quietly. She was talking about his grandmother. He knew precisely what she was asking.
He plied his fingertips over the soothing smoothness of her shoulder. “I’m getting there. It’s one of those things where you don’t even know what’s going on at the time. Of course, hindsight’s twenty-twenty, isn’t it?”
“You want to talk about it?”
“I’m not sure what there is to say.” And then it hit him that Trudie did sort of deserve an explanation of where his head had been. “For a long time I was just kind of running on autopilot. I thought if I didn’t think about Mormor, if I kept myself busy and didn’t go back to the house, her things, the people that were part of our lives like you and your folks, then I simply didn’t have to face that she was gone. I could just bury my head in the sand, so to speak. It sounds stupid when I put it that way.”
She curled her fingers around his and pressed a kiss to his chest. “No, it doesn’t sound stupid at all.”
Relief flowed through him. He was glad she felt that way. “Now...now, I suppose I’m ready to come to terms with things and move forward. It’s funny, I thought I was moving forward but I was just treading water.”
There was an odd comfort in saying the words aloud.
“Everyone has to deal with things in their own way, and if that’s the way you had to cope, well, you had to do what you had to do.”
Her hair was soft and silky against his finger. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
She gave him another one of those kisses to his chest that seemed to brand him as hers, which was fine with him. “Me, too, but you were hurting.” She brushed the back of his hand with her fingertips.
“I was. There just wasn’t a whole lot left of me for anyone else.”
Trudie offered a small snort and propped herself up on one elbow. “The last time I checked, Elsa was fairly demanding.”
Knox laughed quietly. “It’s all superficial. Everything Elsa requires doesn’t pull too much out of you. Does that make any sense?”
They had to discuss Elsa, to get her out of the way, because the specter of her was there with them whether she was mentioned or not. They might as well get her out in the open. Elsa wasn’t an issue for him but he sensed she still was for Trudie, so he’d do whatever it took to convince this woman that she was the only one that mattered to him.
“Not really. How can she be superficially demanding?”
“With Elsa, you just have to show up and look good and tell her she looks good. And I’m not being unkind, I’m just being bluntly honest. You don’t have to think about what you do and you don’t have to feel deep down. There are no deep currents with Elsa—it’s just a float downstream in shallow water. Does that make sense?”
He saw it on her face when everything finally fell into place for her. She understood that while he had chosen Elsa over her that evening in July, it hadn’t really been a rejection of their friendship or of Trudie. His decision had been dictated by his grief, his need to shut down and shut out so he could process his pain.
He’d had to take time to heal. His actions had hurt Trudie and she’d have to have time to heal as well. He’d wait. He’d wait as long as he had to because he had never been so sure of anything as he was sure that the two of them were right for one another.
Something primal and animalistic rose in him. The need to claim his mate the way animals did. He kissed her on the neck and then nipped her. She let out a little yelp of surprise and then laughed low and sexy. “Does that mean you’re not sleepy?”
“No. Sleeping wasn’t what I had in mind yet.”
“Hmm. Well, I seem to have caught a second wind as well.” She turned her back to him and pressed close, rubbing her bare ass against his burgeoning erection. Knox grinned in the dark. He and Trudie had always been tuned in to one another about so many things, it didn’t surprise him in the least that they shared a sexual wavelength as well. And while it wasn’t a surprise, it was pretty damn awesome that not only was she thinking sex but they seemed to be thinking the same kind of sex.
He bit her lightly on her shoulder and she clamped her hand down on his bare ass, digging her fingers into him. “Yes.”
Knox reached around her and played with her breasts. They weren’t overly big but they were plump and round and her nipples were beautifully distended. The more he squeezed, kneaded, and plucked, the more she ground back into him. Neither of them said a word.
Trudie moved into an erotic kind of grinding, thrusting against him with her lush ass. The head of his cock would catch between her thighs, and she turned her head and nipped at him a couple of times. The more she thrust back, the harder he grew.
Both of them were panting as she rolled to her belly and up on her knees in one smooth motion. Dropping her shoulders down, she spread her knees, hiking her ass in the air. Even in the half light, her sex glistened with arousal. She looked at him over her shoulder. Everything about her actions invited him to take her from behind.
His hands unsteady, he rolled on his last condom and mounted her. She was gloriously wet as she thrust back into him. She was so hot. It was a short, intense trip for both of them as he pounded into her and she threw it back at him.
Her cry mingled with his as they both came and then collapsed, still joined, on their sides.
This time the words weren’t spoken but they reverberated in the room, nonetheless.
You belong to me.
* * *
KNOX SLEPT BETTER than he had in a really long time. He woke up to the press of Trudie against him. For a second he wondered if she was real or if he was dreaming—but she was warm, flesh-and-blood woman.
Oddly he hadn’t realized until his discussion with Trudie just how shallow his relationship with Elsa had been. Elsa wanted to look good. She wanted him to look good. He needed to drive a late-model truck. They needed to be seen in “good” restaurants, vacation at high-end resorts. What he thought or felt wasn’t an issue. And that wasn’t a criticism. It simply was what it was.
He climbed out of bed and stoked the fire. It was cold in the cabin and Trudie would be up soon. Unless her habits had changed drastically, she wasn’t one to sleep in. She might be hardy Alaskan stock, but Knox didn’t want her to be cold.
He opened the front door to let Jessup out for his morning potty break. He started coffee and the dog scratched at the door, eager to come back in.
In a few minutes, Trudie poked her head around the door frame. Her hair was standing up on one side, mascara smudged beneath her eyes. She shouldn’t have looked hot. Her bedhead and raccoon eyes shouldn’t have made his heart thump against his ribs...but she did and they did. Unbidden, he thought he could wake up to this, to that, to her, for a long time to come.
“Morning.” She lifted her nose into the air and sniffed, like a dog catching an airborne scent. “Do I smell coffee?”
Knox grinned up at her, altogether happy for this moment in time. Trudie’s addiction to coffee was legendary. Really, it would take an intrepid or insane man, or a combination thereof, to spend time with her if she hadn’t had her cup of joe in the morning. “I thought it was best not to risk my life.”
“I try. One sugar and two creams?”
“Yep. You got that right.”
Ha. He thought about her moans of satisfaction, her noisy orgasm, and grinned. “Admit it. I got a lot right.”
She wrinkled her nose, but grinned, nonetheless. “Don’t get arrogant on me.”
Knox prepared a cup for her and a cup for him. She’d disappeared from the doorway. “Hey, come get your coffee. It’s ready.”
“Come get it? Aren’t you going to serve me in bed?” Amusement tinged her voice.
“Well, I’ve got to be in town in an hour and if you’re in bed and I bring it up there...well, I’m not so sure that I’m going to leave on time.” Now that he knew her in a different sense, well, it was impossible not to think of her, see her that way, want her. Lolling about in bed with a cup of coffee would inevitably lead to other activities that would throw him off-track.