She looks at me, stares at me as if expecting an answer, but I can’t speak. I fear I might unravel if I do. I want her with a desperate need I’ve never known before—a desperate, painful need so overwhelming it’s threatening to consume me. I need her. Need this. Now. I take a deep, unsteady breath, and carry her into the shower.
Hot water hits us fast and hard and I press her against the shower wall, losing myself in her in a way I never have before. The kisses are deeper, more desperate. The heat, more explosive. Everything between us feels wild and raw and vulnerable.
I lose track of time.
I don’t know how long we’ve been here. I don’t know how long I’ve lost myself in her when she cries out, clutching my arms so tightly her fingernails dig into my skin, her screams muffled against my chest. I feel weak, unsteady as she collapses in my arms; I’m intoxicated by the pure, stunning power of her emotions: endless waves of love and desire, love and kindness, love and joy, love and tenderness. So much tenderness.
It’s almost too much.
I step backward, bracing myself against the wall as she presses her cheek against my chest and holds me, our bodies wet and heavy with feeling, our hearts pounding with something more powerful than I ever thought possible. I kiss the curve of her shoulder, the nape of her neck. I forget where we are and all we have left to do and I just hold on, hot water rushing down my arms, my limbs still slightly shaking, too terrified to let her go.
I wake up with a start.
After we got out of the shower, Aaron and I dried off, climbed into bed without a word, and promptly fell asleep.
I have no idea what time it is.
Aaron’s body is curled around mine, one of his arms under my head, the other wrapped around my waist. His arms are heavy, and the weight of him feels so good—makes me feel so safe—that, on the one hand, I don’t ever want to move. On the other hand—
I know we should probably get out of bed.
I sigh, hating to wake him up—he seems so tired—and I turn around, slowly, in his arms.
He only pulls me tighter.
He shifts so that his chin rests on my head; my face is now pressed gently against his throat, and I breathe him in, running my hands along the strong, deep lines of muscle in his arms. Everything about him feels raw. Powerful. There’s something both wild and terrified about his heart, and somehow, knowing this only makes me love him more. I trace the lines of his shoulder blades, the curve of his spine. He stirs, but only a little, and buries his face in my hair, breathing me in.
“Don’t go,” he says quietly.
I tilt my head, gently kiss the column of his throat. “Aaron,” I whisper, “I’m not going anywhere.”
He sighs. Says, “Good.”
I smile. “But we should probably get out of bed. We have to go to dinner. Everyone will be waiting for us.”
He shakes his head, barely. Makes a disapproving sound in his throat.
“No.” And then, deftly, he helps me turn around. He hugs me close again, my back pressed against his chest. His voice is soft, husky with desire when he says. “Let me enjoy you, love. You feel so good.”
And I give in. Melt back into his arms.
The truth is, I love these moments most. The quiet contentment. The peace. I love the weight of him, the feel of him, his naked body wrapped around mine. I never feel closer to him than I do like this, when there’s nothing between us.
Gently, he kisses my temple. Pulls me, somehow, even tighter. And his lips are at my ear when he says,
“Kenji said I was supposed to get you a ring.”
I stiffen, confused. Try to turn around when I say, “What do you mean?”
But Aaron eases my body back down. He rests his chin on my shoulder. His hands move down my arms, trace the curve of my hips. He kisses my neck once, twice, so softly. “I know I’m doing this wrong,” he says. “I know I’m not good at this sort of thing, love, and I hope you’ll forgive me for it, but I don’t know how else to do it.” A pause. “And I’m starting to think it might kill me if I don’t.”
My body is frozen, even as my heart pounds furiously in my chest. “Aaron,” I say, hardly daring to breathe. “What are you talking about?”
He says nothing.
I turn around again, and this time, he doesn’t stop me. His eyes flare with emotion, and I watch the gentle movement in his throat as he swallows. A muscle jumps in his jaw.
“Marry me,” he whispers.
I stare at him, disbelief and joy colliding. And it’s the look in his eyes—the hopeful, terrified look in his eyes—that nearly kills me.
I’m suddenly crying.
I clap my hands over my face. A sob escapes my mouth.
Gently, he pries my hands away from my face.
“Ella?” he says, his words hardly a whisper.
I’m still crying when I throw my arms around his neck, still crying when he says, a little nervously—
“Sweetheart, I really need to know if this means yes or no—”
“Yes,” I cry, slightly hysterical. “Yes. Yes to everything with you. Yes to forever with you. Yes.”
Is this joy?
I think it might kill me.
She takes my face in her hands and kisses me, kisses me with a love so deep it releases my brain from its prison. My heart starts beating violently.
“Ella,” I say. “You’re going to be my wife.”
She kisses me again, crying again, and suddenly I don’t recognize myself. I don’t recognize my hands, my bones, my heart. I feel new. Different.
“I love you,” she whispers. “I love you so much.”
“That you could love me at all seems like some kind of miracle.”
She smiles, even as she shakes her head. “That’s ridiculous,” she says. “It’s very, very easy to love you.”
And I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to respond.
She doesn’t seem to mind.
I reel her in, kiss her, again, and lose myself in the taste and feel of her, in the fantasy of what we might have. What we might be. And then I pull her gently onto my lap and she straddles my body, settling over me until we’re pressed together, her cheek against my chest. I wrap my arms around her, spread my hands along her back. I feel her gentle breaths on my skin, her eyelashes tickling my chest as she blinks, and I decide I’m never, ever leaving this bed.
A happy, wonderful silence settles between us.
“You asked me to marry you,” she says softly.
I smile, my heart filled suddenly with inexpressible joy. I hardly recognize myself. I can’t remember the last time I ever smiled this much. I can’t recall ever feeling this kind of pure, unburdened bliss.
Like my body might float away without me.
I touch her hair, gently. Run my fingers through the soft, silky strands. When I finally sit up, she sits up, too, and she blushes as I stare at her, mesmerized by the sight of her. Her eyes are wide and bright. Her lips full and pink. She’s perfect, perfect here, bare and beautiful in my arms.
I press my forehead to the curve of her shoulder, my lips brushing against her skin. “I love you, Ella,” I whisper. “I will love you for the rest of my life. My heart is yours. Please don’t ever give it back to me.”
She says nothing for what feels like an eternity.
Finally, I feel her move. Her hand touches my face.
“Aaron,” she whispers. “Look at me.”
I shake my head.
I look up, slowly, to meet her eyes, and her expression is at once sad and sweet and full of love. I feel something thaw inside of me as I stare at her, and just as she’s about to say something, a complicated chime echoes through the room.
Ella frowns. Looks around. “That sounds like a doorbell,” she says.
I wish I could deny the possibility.
I sit back, even though she’s still sitting on my lap. I want this interruption to end. I want to go back to our conversation. I want to stick to my original plan to spend the rest of the night here, in bed, with my perfect, naked fiancée.
The chime sounds again, and this time, I say something decidedly ungentlemanly under my breath.
Ella laughs, surprised. “Did you just swear?”
A third chime. This time, I stare up at the ceiling and try to clear my head. Try to convince myself to move, to get dressed. This must be some kind of emergency, or else—
Suddenly, a voice:
“Listen—I didn’t want to come, okay? I really didn’t. I hate being this guy. But Castle sent me to come get you guys because you missed dinner. It’s getting super late and everyone is a little worried, and now you’re not even answering the door, and—Jesus Christ, open the goddamn door—”
I can’t believe it. I can’t believe he’s here. He’s always here, ruining my life.
I’m going to kill him.
I nearly trip trying to pull on my pants and get to the door at the same time, but when I do, I rip the door open, practically tearing it off its hinges.
“Unless someone is dead, dying, or we are under attack, I want you gone before I’ve even finished this sentence.”