There was such an adoring sort of understanding in his eyes that I felt something raw heal inside of me. Yes, my natural skepticism had hurt him, but at least he seemed to get why I was this way. He seemed to get me.

He wasn’t done.

“And then there were your paintings. Those dreams in your eyes. The world cannot have been a beautiful place for you, but it becomes so beautiful through those paintings of yours. You put your soul into those paintings, and nothing in this world is more beautiful to me than that soul of yours.”

I had always been uncomfortable with praise, any kind of praise, and his outpouring was in a league of its own, as far as compliments that moved me went. I felt so overwhelmed that it was hard to keep looking directly at him, deep into those tarnished turquoise depths, but I managed it through sheer force of will, my whole body trembling with the effort.

He continued relentlessly. “And then there’s the fact that you’re stunningly beautiful, and you couldn’t care less about it. Your beauty devastates me, Bianca, yet you put less value on that beauty than any woman I’ve ever met. Even if you realized just how stunning you are, which I know you don’t, it wouldn’t matter to you, wouldn’t make any difference at all, and I find that so charming about you.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’ve made a muddle of it all,” he continued. “Like all I do is screw up, but I swear to you that I’m trying my best. I’m only terrible at this relationship thing because I’ve never done it before, but I promise I’ll keep working until I get it right. I’m nothing if not determined.”

The thought floored me. I spoke without thinking. “Now that’s a depressing thought, James, because if you’re terrible at this, there isn’t even a word to describe how much I suck at it.”

He threw back his head and laughed, and my mouth moved into a smile automatically. He brought his laughing lips close to mine. “Not true, Love. You’re doing perfect, as far as I’m concerned.”

His mouth was a whisper away from mine when I spoke. “You haven’t made a muddle of it, James. You couldn’t be terrible at anything, even if you tried. I think you’re perfect.”

He kissed me, a kiss that started out soft but as always our unquenchable hunger for each other quickly took it further. He was gripping my hair and plundering my mouth within hot, drugging moments. I rubbed my wet chest against his.

We made love slowly, leisurely, lovingly. I lay my cheek against his wet chest when we finished, kissing my crimson name on his pounding heart.

He stroked my hair for long minutes, still buried inside of me. He seemed in no hurry to pull out.

“I love you, Bianca,” he said very quietly. “There isn’t a thing about you that I don’t adore. Even the things that have made it hard for you to let me in hold a special place in my heart. I never thought I’d meet a woman that I couldn’t doubt, a person that I could so easily give my trust to, but I know your soul, and it is so pure and clear to me that I feel like I can see right into it.”

I didn’t know how he could say that. I felt so cynical sometimes. But I soaked up his words, loving the way they made me feel. I didn’t have to agree with the words to be touched by them.

“I love you,” I told him simply.

We were silent for long minutes, communicating only through stroking touches and soft kisses. Eventually, reluctantly, he pulled slowly out of me, pulling me flush against him right away.

“Can I tell you about my parents?” he asked finally.

“Of course,” I said quickly, surprised that he thought he had to ask. “I would love to hear about them. I love to learn about you.”

“You would have liked my mother. She was so passionate, so opinionated, but also kind. She didn’t come from my father’s world, but she didn’t put up with any of the nonsense that the high society set tried to throw her way. She hated luncheons and teas, hell, she hated all of the insufferable social functions that weren’t directly helping a charity, and the term ‘socialite’ made her see red.”

His words brought me a staggering sense of relief. If he had expected me to do what Jackie suggested and devote my life to a pointless string of unenjoyable social functions just for the sake of keeping up appearances, I would have been troubled, because that just wasn’t for me.

“She kept a few close friends very close, and devoted her time to her family and to her charities. She was so beautiful.”

He paused, stroking my cheek.

“My father was a reserved man, but he was loving. I do remember that. He worked a lot, but when he didn’t, he devoted his time to my mother and me. He worshipped the ground she walked on.” He stroked my hair when he said it, his eyes loving.

“They had a good marriage. I was young, but even I could see how devoted they were to each other. They would share these looks… Even as I child I knew that they had something special.”

“As I got older, long after they’d passed, I didn’t imagine I could ever find something similar for myself, that I could ever feel something like what they had. I honestly didn’t think I was capable of it…Until I met you, I didn’t know I had those kinds of feelings inside of me. Now I see clearly that with the right person, it’s so simple. Those feelings aren’t something one can force, and they aren’t something I could deny once I felt them. It still just floors me that I felt them so fast and so deep with you.”

“My father liked to claim that he fell in love with my mother at first sight. Even back then, I thought he was just waxing poetic, but I believe him now. I did exactly the same thing.”

I looked up at him. “You’re insane,” I told him. The idea of love at first sight was just so far-fetched, especially since it was me he was talking about. “But undeniably, terribly romantic,” I allowed.

He just smiled. “I know. But I’m honest, and that’s just how it was for me.”

I rubbed my cheek against his chest, feeling like this was all a dream. He was just too perfect to be real.


Mr. Dubious

We slept in late the next morning. I was pleasantly surprised that James had taken the morning off so we could spend the morning together before I had to fly out. I would only be gone for the day, arriving back in New York early in the morning the next day, but it still felt like such a treat to get more time with him.

We lingered in bed, which was hardly surprising, since I woke up as he was pushing himself inside of me. He must have been at it for a while because I was wet enough that my body accepted him easily. He held my legs so far apart that the stretch bordered on painful, and pounded into me mercilessly, his eyes snapping at me all the while.

“Say it, Bianca,” he said roughly.

I wasn’t actually sure which ‘it’ he meant, after our confessions from the night before, so I went with my instincts. He was fucking me like he wanted to own me, so I said what came to mind. “I’m yours, Mr. Cavendish. Only yours.”

I found out that my instincts were right on as he came inside of me, shouting my name roughly.

I was right there with him, watching him with fascination and love as my body clenched deliciously around him in a perfect orgasm.

He was tender afterwards, but it was a possessive sort of tender. We showered, and he took over completely, washing my body and hair, as was his custom. I was beyond questioning it. Letting him care for me like that fulfilled a need in both of us, and now I only cherished it, as he cherished me.

He dressed me, placing soft kisses all over my body right before he covered each spot with clothes. I ran hungry hands through his wet hair as he tended to me. He dressed me in a dark T-shirt and boxers, because I would have to get dressed again in work clothes in just a few hours.

We went downstairs for breakfast. It would have been tempting to have breakfast in bed that morning, but I was dying to see Stephan. I needed to make sure he was okay, so we headed to the dining room to eat. James didn’t even ask me. He seemed to always understand how Stephan and I worked. I didn’t know if he was just that observant, or if Stephan had explained it to him in even more detail than what I’d imparted. The how didn’t matter, though, because it was only his understanding that was crucial.

I felt my whole body get a little limp with relief when I heard laughter coming from the dining room as we approached. I recognized Javier’s laugh first, and the one that joined it was one that was more familiar to me than my own laugh. And more welcome.

I smiled at the sound, my step quickening to reach them. James was a silent presence at my back.

Stephan stood when he saw me, grinning ear to ear.

He was across the room and enfolding me into his arms in a flash. I burrowed into that familiar chest.

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

He squeezed me. “I’m great.”

“I take it you guys worked it out,” I said wryly.

“We did.” No hesitation.

I nodded against him and after a moment, he let me go to get back to his breakfast.

I didn’t need to know any more than that. He’d made up his mind, and I could only hope that Javier, who was giving me very cautious glances, wouldn’t hurt him again.

James pulled my chair out for me, acting the gentleman. “Egg white omelet okay with you?” he asked me, heading into the kitchen.

I nodded, wondering what about me had attracted what seemed to be the last two gentlemen left on the planet.

I noticed that Stephan and Javier were eating crepes covered in syrup, whipped cream, and chocolate chips. I was surprised that James even kept the ingredients for that in his house.

James returned quickly, carrying a very English tea service. He served us all tea, acting the epitome of the well-mannered English host. I told him so.

He smiled. “I get it from my father. English from head to toe. Every cup of English tea that I drink makes me think of him.”

I thought that was a sweet thing for him to share and I gave him a sweet smile.

He winked at me.

I was startled at the response it caused in me. It was a pretty innocent gesture, considering the things he said and did to me on a daily basis, but it still had me turned on in a heartbeat. The man was hot.

We were almost through with our breakfast when I noticed James checking his phone, his expression growing carefully blank from one second to the next.

“Excuse me,” he said curtly.

He rose from the table and strode from the room.

I hadn’t realized how polite he usually was about taking calls during our time together simply because he didn’t do it. Which made me even more curious about what had gotten his attention, and what had put that look on his face. I was on instant alert.

A rare streak of uncontrollable curiosity had me following him within seconds. I wanted to see what had troubled him so badly with just a few words.

I caught him with his back to me in one of the sitting rooms. The door wasn’t completely closed, but he was speaking very quietly into the phone.

“Then offer them more. I mean it when I say I don’t have a limit to what I will pay to keep this from getting out.” He paused. “I don’t give a fuck if it’s a smart business decision, Roger. This isn’t about business. This is about keeping my life intact, the way I need for it to be, and I don’t give a fuck if it takes my fortune to accomplish that. Do you understand?” Another long pause. “I am not a fourteen-year-old that you are managing, Roger. I don’t need time to think. I need you to do what I’m asking you to. Take care of this.”

Tags: R.K. Lilley Up in the Air Erotic