I want to know the flavor of his skin, the scratch of his stubble, the taste of his mouth.
He’s not what I envisioned for myself—I was truthful about that part. Henry is wild and careless, but that’s not all he is. He’s also gentle and kind and patient and giving and intelligent and clever . . . and wonderful. I left those parts out.
He could crush me; the foreshadowing is clearly written. It’s a tale as old as time: the inexperienced bluestocking and the bed-hopping rogue.
Bloody hell, I’m a trope.
But the biggest part of my heart doesn’t care. It says it would be worth it. It shouts at me that we’re strong enough to survive the breaking. Marianne did. We’ll glue ourselves back together again and have the amazing, tender memories of a dashing whirlwind romance, the likes of which I have never known.
My heart asks me if I’m tired yet—tired of being too afraid to jump and leap, tired of keeping my feet so firmly on the ground. I groan and cover my face with a pillow. And Henry’s scent surrounds me, fills me. I press it closer and inhale, smothering myself with him.
And now I’ve become a cliché too.
Damn it all to hell.
I put the pillow aside and drag myself up and out of bed. Big-girl knickers time. I’m going to find him, accept his apology, and give him one of my own. I don’t bother with my robe or slippers; I just rush to the door and step out into the hallway—directly on the hard, thick item outside my door.
Emotions are mysterious things. Sometimes they build slowly, surging like a wave before cresting to a peak and crashing all over you.
But that’s not what I’m experiencing now.
As I reach down to pick up the worn, aged book off the hallway floor, my emotions hit like a bullet. Hard and piercing, blowing a hole right through the center of me. I smile as tears rise in my eyes. It’s like the dual symbol masks of the theater—relief and pain, joy and sadness. I could say it’s one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for me, and that would be true. But that’s not why it means the absolute world to me.
It only means so much because Henry did this. And he did it for me.
I trace the lettering on the cover, shaking my head. And then I open the book and gasp.
He wrote in it. A first-edition copy of Sense and Sensibility that has survived the centuries relatively unscathed, and the mad bastard wrote in it.
Of course he did.
I laugh as tears trickle down my cheeks, feeling a bit unhinged.
Now you can dream a new dream.
I hold the book against my heart, wrapping my arms around it, bringing it with me as I walk straight to his room. But he’s not there. For an awful moment I wonder if he’s found a different room to sleep in—maybe Cordelia’s or Libby’s.
And the pain that lances through me takes my breath away.
But would Henry do that? And I know the answer before I finish the thought.
The Henry I know—not the wild lad in the papers or the would-be king who, as my sister said, will have a harem, but the boy who likes to talk in soft whispers about silly things late at night; the one who plays his guitar and listens to me hum and takes me on joyrides through the woods; the man who wants to teach me to swim and wants to be sure I live before I die—he would not.
God, I’m such an idiot.
I want to find him, I need to see him—now. I check the library first, the dining room and music room, and I hear the buzz of cameras, mounted on the walls, following me as I go. I get to the kitchen . . . and there he is, like a tired lump at the table, bent over, his head resting on his arms. His eyes are closed, his mouth soft and his jaw lax.
He looks younger like this. Peaceful.
I’ve seen Henry playful and teasing. I’ve seen him frustrated and tense. But peaceful is his most beautiful state. My hand reaches out, tracing the strong crest of his brow and cheeks, nose and chin, without actually touching him.
With an intake of breath, his long lashes flutter and dark green eyes gaze up at me.
“Sarah?” he asks drowsily.
I love how he says my name, warm and soothing like a snuggling embrace.
“Thank you for the book, Henry,” I whisper. “Thank you.”
He sits up, smiling adorably and rumpled. “You like it?”
“I love it.” And I hope he hears the sincerity in my tone. “It’s my new favorite.”
“Sense and Sensibility was always your favorite.”
“But now it’s my favorite for a better reason.” I reach out for him. “Come on. Time for bed.”
He takes my hand, but when I give him a tug to pull him up, he pulls harder and a second later, I’m standing between his spread knees. He stares at my hand in his, brushing his thumb across my knuckles, sending warm, spiraling tingles to my very core.
“I’m sorry about the things I said.” His voice is raspy and the tingles tighten. “I didn’t mean them.”
“I’m sorry too.” My words rush out because there’s so much I want to say. “I don’t think you’re selfish or thoughtless. I don’t think you’re a Willoughby. I don’t believe you’d hurt me.”
“I did hurt you.”
My heart breaks, not for me, but for him.
“Only because I hurt you first.”
His lips tug up at the corners and his head gives a little nod. “You’ve become . . . important to me, Sarah. I mess up a lot; I always have. I don’t want to mess this up.”