Laura slammed the phone's receiver into its cradle then dropped her face into her hands.
Leave it to Mother to throw a wrench into our plans, she lamented to herself.
With the careful deliberation of a general planning an invasion, seven weeks ago she'd begun preparations for Remington's Christmas surprise: A little over two weeks – just the two of them – in St. Moretz. Two weeks of no cases to pull them away, no phones interrupting them, no bullets flying. Seventeen days of watching his fine form clad in ski clothes, sweaters and jeans - Yum, was the word that came to mind – followed by fourteen nights of him clad in nothing, if she had her way about it.
Not that he'd complain, she laughed quietly to herself.
Seven months ago, they'd finally crossed that line. It had been nearly four years in the making, and they'd had more than their share of difficulties getting there. But two days of being presumed dead, surviving on only their wits and will, had seemed to render unimportant all the fears and insecurities that had plagued each of them over the years. The only thing that mattered was he'd been there, beside her side, throughout it all. If anyone had been tempted to cut and run, it had been herself. In the aftermath, she'd been left wondering, often, how he'd survived the streets when just a boy. Two nights without a decent meal, trying to find safe shelter in which to sleep, had left its imprint on her: Adventurous she might be, but she didn't naturally come by the mettle required to live at the world's mercy.
All her reasons for keeping him at arm's length had seemed silly, in retrospect. So, that evening as they'd laid before the fire, and he'd teasingly brushed her leg with his glass…
"Is that your foot on my leg?"
They'd leaned towards one another, their lips meeting softly…
And she'd simply allowed nature to take its course, believing, on faith alone, that he'd be there the next morning, as he'd been there on the streets. And he hadn't disappointed. He'd been there the next morning… and every morning since.
It had been nearly another month before they'd gifted one another the words, and much like their turning the corner, it had happened all on its own. She'd stopped questioning his feelings for her, for she'd come to realize the question he'd asked as they'd argued at the Freidlich Sensitivity Spa held weight:
"What about deeds?!"
Yes, what about deeds?
She'd started paying attention after that day, and she found those words in so many of his deeds: In the way he kissed her in that heart melting manner of his; in those unconscious touches he'd showered on her from the beginning; in the way he enjoyed cooking for her; in the hand on her back; in the way he looked at her. The words were there in the way he made love with her and how he sought her out, mumbled her name, as he slept.
They'd played hooky one sunny day in the middle of May. Good food, a great white wine, the warm sun, a soft breeze and the company had proved an intoxicating and seductive combination. One kiss had turned to two, two to four, until they'd gradually reclined – he on his side, she on her back – and he'd kissed her until her fingers flexed in his hair, contracted into his shoulder. She practically purred as his lips blazed a whisper soft path down her neck, while his body tremored ever so briefly as her fingertips stroked the back of his neck, toyed with the tips of his hair, and her other hand glided up and down his back. She laughed low in her throat when his fingers slipped a button on her blouse free of its hole.
"Getting a little risqué now, aren't we, Mr. Steele?" she teased, throatily. "What are we, teenagers?"
"I can assure you we are most certainly not that," he murmured. Pressing up on an elbow, his lips wandered over hers, as he spoke. "A teenager couldn't possibly aspire to be what we already are." He bowed his head, latching his lips over her collarbone.
"A hickey?" she laughed. "You're giving me a hickey. What are you doing?" she demanded to know, laughing low in her throat. With a final firm pull of her skin in his mouth, he reared back to admire his work, then blew a gentle breath on the wet spot, drawing goosebumps down her arms.
"I believe you once referred to it as… necking," he murmured.
"Let's look for a bus stop and neck."
The memory left her laughing against his lips before they departed, to pepper a trail of kisses along her jaw. Unconsciously she arched her neck to give him more access to it.
"The Auburn," she remembered, her voice wistful as she recalled that nearly perfect afternoon. "Care to reenact what we did the day we found it?" He bent back his head try to divine from her eyes what she was suggesting. Surely not that they at last join a long line of people who'd made love in the Auburn… Was she? She raised her brows in a cocky challenge, daring him to decline. He pursed his lips and waggled his brows in answer to the dare.
"I'm game if you are," he hummed, closing his eyes and leaning in for a kiss…
She rolled out from beneath him, a giggle trailing in her wake as she watched his lips meet blanket. When he turned to look at her, she was on her feet in a flash, and darting across the grass. He shook his head in disbelief, then laughed. Of course, she'd have meant their frolic in the park. In an instant, he was on his feet and in pursuit.
He caught her by a large tree, pressing the length of himself against her until her back was against the trunk. She cupped his face in her hands and drew his lips to hers. Tom Jones, indeed, but this time with all of the passion… and so much less of the running. Still, when their lips parted, he kept a hand pressed to the tree trunk on either side of her, should she decide to bolt again. He needn't have worried, for she merely tipped her head and pressed her mouth beneath his ear, and with a touch of her tongue to his skin, savored his rich flavor tinged with a salty tang from his sweat. A jolt of pure longing, of pure happiness… of contentment… flooded his senses, leaving his hands clutching at her waist, at her head.
"Is it any wonder that I love you?" The words tumbled from his mouth without thought, without the angst that merely the thought of saying them normally brought.
"I love you, too," she whispered against his ear, before her lips skimmed along his jaw, found his lips. She kissed him thoroughly, her fingers teasing behind his ears, caressing his neck, his jaw, until he was powerless to stop the hum that rumbled low in his throat. "Take me home, Remington," she murmured, against his lips.
They'd spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening making thorough love to one another, until they were left breathless, spent. The words hadn't been said again that evening… or since… but they hadn't needed to be. The emotions those three words expressed had been between them for years, both of them running from them until they'd finally had no choice but to surrender. By the time the spoken words had arrived, they'd no longer been needed because deeds had long ago expressed them. Still, a smile had been permanently affixed to both of their faces since they'd been said, for those words had been the last wall between them, and now that wall was gone.
It had been remarkably…
She'd been looking forward to this trip, more specifically to the uninterrupted time alone. Just them. None of the ceaseless demands of the Agency, of the world around them; no calendars directing where they'd be and when. Just them, on their own time schedule, or on none at all, something he'd been craving, had been trying to arrange, for years. This trip had been her gift to him, to them.
And she had no idea how to tell him it might not happen at all.