He turned around, stepped toward her, his eyes alight with a fire that humbled her. “Until you’ve lived through all that,” he said, “don’t you ever complain about what we have. Because to me . . . to me . . .” He choked on the words, but he barely paused before he continued. “This—us—is heaven. And I can’t bear to hear you say otherwise.”

“Oh, Phillip,” she said, and then she did the only thing she knew to do. She closed the distance between them and threw her arms around him and held on for all she was worth. “I’m so sorry,” she murmured, her tears soaking into his shirt. “I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t want to fail again,” he choked out, burying his face in the crook of her neck. “I can’t—I couldn’t—”

“You won’t,” she vowed. “We won’t.”

“You’ve got to be happy,” he said, his words sounding as if they’d been ripped from his throat. “You have to be. Please say—”

“I am,” she assured him. “I am. I promise you.”

He pulled back and took her face in his hands, forcing her to look deeply into his eyes. He seemed to be searching for something in her expression, desperately seeking confirmation, or maybe absolution, or maybe just a simple promise.

“I am happy,” she whispered, covering his hands with her own. “More than I ever dreamed possible. And I am proud to be your wife.”

His face seemed to tighten, and his lower lip began to quiver. Eloise caught her breath. She’d never seen a man cry, never really even thought it possible, but then a tear rolled slowly down his cheek, settling into the dimple at the corner of his mouth until she reached out and brushed it away.

“I love you,” he said, choking on the words. “I don’t even care if you don’t feel the same way. I love you and . . . and . . .”

“Oh, Phillip,” she whispered, reaching up and touching the tears on his face. “I love you, too.”


His lips moved as if trying to form words, and then he gave up on speech, and he reached out for her, crushing her to him with a strength and intensity that humbled her. He buried his face in her neck, murmuring her name over and over again, and then his words became kisses, and he moved along her skin until he found her mouth.

How long they stood there, kissing as if the world were to end that very night, Eloise would never know. Then he swept her into his arms and carried her out of the portrait gallery and up the stairs, and before she knew it, she was on her bed, and he was on top of her.

And his lips had never left hers.

“I need you,” he said hoarsely, pulling her dress from her body with shaking fingers. “I need you like I need breath. I need you like food, like water.”

She tried to say she needed him, too, but she couldn’t, not when his mouth had closed around her nipple, not when he was sucking in such a way that made her feel it down in her belly, a warm, slow heat that curled and grew, taking her hostage until she could do nothing but reach for this man, her husband, and give herself to him with everything that she had.

He lifted himself away from her, just long enough to yank off his own clothing, and then he rejoined her, this time lying beside her. He pulled her to him until they were belly to belly, and then he stroked her hair, softly, gently, and his other hand splayed at the small of her back.

“I love you,” he whispered. “I want nothing more than to grab you and—” He swallowed. “You have no idea how much I want you right now.”

Her lips curved. “I think I have some idea.”

That made him smile. “My body is dying. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt, and yet . . .” He leaned in closer and brushed his lips across hers. “I had to stop. I had to tell you.”

She couldn’t speak, could barely breathe. And she felt the tears coming, burning in her eyes until they spilled out, flowing over his hands.

“Don’t cry,” he whispered.

“I can’t help it,” she said, her voice shaking. “I love you so much. I didn’t think—I’d always hoped, but I guess I never really thought—”

“I never thought, either,” he said, and they both knew what they were thinking—

I never thought it would happen to me.

“I’m so lucky,” he said, and his hands moved, sliding down her rib cage, over her belly, and then around to her backside. “I think I’ve waited my entire life for you.”

“I know I’ve been waiting for you,” Eloise said.

He squeezed and pulled her against him, nearly burning her with his touch. “I’m not going to be able to go slowly,” he said, his voice shaking. “I think I used up my entire allotment of willpower just now.”

“Don’t go slowly,” she said, sliding onto her back and pulling him atop her. She spread her legs, opening until he settled between them, his sex coming to rest right at the opening of her womanhood. Her hands found his hair and sank in, pulling his head down until his mouth was right at hers. “I don’t want it slow,” she said.

And then, in a single fluid motion, so fast that it took her breath away, he was inside her, embedded to the hilt, knocking against her womb with enough force to jolt a surprised little “Oh!” from her lips.

He smiled wickedly. “You said you wanted it fast.”

She responded by curling her legs around his, locking him to her. She tilted her hips, which pulled him in even deeper, and smiled back. “You’re not doing anything,” she said to him.

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