Emily had lost her mother three months ago and the pain was still very much there on the surface.
He’d lived through a dark fog for at least a year after Andrei had died.
His mother and Andrei had been soul mates. Was it any wonder she’d lashed out at him when he’d said, five years too late, that he was sorry?
‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered, brushing her hair with the flat of his hand. ‘I know your need to help your father comes from the love you have for him.’ She had more love in her heart than anyone he’d ever met before.
Emily rubbed his arm in silent understanding then leaned forward slightly to swipe a small bug off her thigh. As she did so, his attention was captured by a tiny blue blur on the base of her spine. ‘Sit forward.’
She shifted a little and he was able to see it clearly: another butterfly tattoo, smaller yet more intricate than the one on her ankle.
‘I got it done just after my mum died,’ she explained, craning her neck to look at him. ‘We had our ankle ones done together.’
‘Your mum had a tattoo?’
She nodded with a whimsical smile. ‘She’d always wanted one. When we got the diagnosis that her illness was terminal, we went to a tattoo parlour and had identical ones done. I wanted this one as my own private memory of her.’
Pascha stared at the private memorial a beat longer, feeling like he had just had his own butterfly let loose in his chest.
He gently pushed her forward some more so he could kiss the butterfly. She truly tasted like the honey scent she carried.
A gasp escaped her throat as he trailed his tongue up her spine, all the way to the base of her neck.
‘Enough talk.’ He knelt behind her and cupped a breast, savouring its creamy weight. He felt as if he could savour it—savour her—for ever.
HE MUST HAVE dozed off. Totally spent, Pascha had gathered Emily into his arms and lain back down on the grass with a heart hammering loudly enough to frighten any wildlife.
He’d held her close, inhaling the musty scent of their sex, and a solid form of contentment had stolen over him.
For the first time in his life, he’d truly let go of himself. Emily did that to him. Somehow she was able to tap into parts of him he’d hidden for so long he’d forgotten they’d ever been there.
As a child he’d dreamt of driving fast cars. Now, as an adult, he owned more fast cars than his childhood self had known existed—but he drove them cautiously, all too aware of what other drivers on the road could do.
His childhood self would have been disgusted that he’d never taken one of his fast cars onto a track and put his foot down just for the sheer hell of the ride.
He had no way of knowing the time but, judging by the position of the sun almost directly over them, it must have been getting on for midday.
Emily looked so sweet curled on him with her hair spread across his chest that he felt cruel waking her. But he had no choice. He should have headed back to the lodge hours ago. Before he’d made love to her. Before he’d been foolish enough to go against everything he believed in and jumped off the ledge.
Both were equally dangerous in their own way.
He had a sudden image of his small childhood self, fist-pumping at seeing him fly off the ledge and into the pool. Yes, younger, childhood Pascha would have approved of that. But that was before he had learned how precarious life could be.
‘We need to go back,’ he said, kissing her shoulder before giving it a gentle shake.
She opened her eyes and smothered a yawn. ‘Already?’
‘I should have word if someone is available to get me to the mainland.’ For all he knew, someone knowledgeable about the coral reef might have already made the trip to Aliana Island and, unable to locate him, returned to their own island. Try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to care. He wanted to hold onto this moment while he was living it. Before he had to say goodbye to her.
Emily got to her feet and tied her bikini bottoms back together.
‘Where’s my top?’ He didn’t have a chance to look for it before she spotted it and walked a couple of feet to retrieve it. Keeping her back to him, she put it on, tying it together at the back in a bow. Done, she turned back to him. ‘So, Sherlock, how do we get out of here?’
‘You mean to say you jumped into the pool without an escape route planned?’ He didn’t know whether to laugh or shout.
‘You jumped too,’ she pointed out with a grin.
‘I assumed you’d already thought of a way out before you jumped.’ He’d thought no such thing. At the time he hadn’t been thinking of anything but her. If he’d been thinking a fraction more coherently, he would never have made the jump.