Sam set his overnight bag down and looked around. The room suited her. Bright and airy, with unpretentious furniture and windows flung wide to let in the smell of the ocean, it felt like an extension of Donna and through her, an extension of the island.
He paused in the doorway, and Donna slipped in ahead of him. She snagged a towel off the floor, angled over to swipe at the dresser, and kept on going through a door at the other end of the room where he heard a slap of wood against wood, the sound of running water, and then a muttered curse before she darted out again.
Shoes and scarf gone, she flitted through the room, as restless, he thought, remembering one of his mother's favorite sayings, as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He watched her tidy a pile of laundry on a bench by the window, fuss with the cosmetics on her dressing table, and adjust the angle of a picture on the wall.
"Donna …" He wished he could read her mind instead of just standing by while she fluttered about like a trapped sparrow.
"One second …" She cast him a glance and kept going to the windows, shuttering them with ruthless efficiency. Another swoop netted an armload of brightly colored fabrics dotted here and there with sequins and feathers. She dumped them in a box and dropped the lid over them. She was on her way to the bed when he stopped her with a gentle touch on her shoulder.
"What are you doing?" he asked quietly.
She slipped away from him and reached for the brightly patterned red and white sheet that lay in a crumpled heap at the foot of the mattress. "I'm not usually such a slob."
"Donna." This time he held on until she looked at him. "It's fine."
"Just let me—" She tugged at the sheet with her free hand, but he shook his head.
"I don't care about the damned sheets."
She dropped the thin cotton and straightened, an apology in her eyes. "I should've asked one of the girls to come up here and tidy up."
"Why?" He kept his voice soft, but he couldn't resist stroking his fingers along her arm. He'd missed touching her like this—feeling her skin warm to his touch and seeing her eyes darken with awareness. "I didn't marry you for your housekeeping skills."
"Well it's just … it isn't …" She trailed off, her gaze sliding away from his.
So she was nervous. That made two of them. It was something of a miracle that they'd found their way back to each other at all, and twenty years was a very long time. Was there still chemistry between them? Or were they both victims of a terminal case of nostalgia.
Pushing the thought away, he looked down at her, his gaze settling on the shadows under her eyes. "You work too hard." He slid his fingers down her arms to tangle with hers. "Don't you ever get tired?"
Her body listed toward his, but her voice was steady when she answered. "I don't think about it."
"Well start thinking about it." He kissed her temple, breathing in the faint smell of her perfume. He'd searched for that fragrance all over the world, but the only place he'd ever found it was on her. "You don't have to do it all anymore."
When she looked up at him, he saw a hint of unspoken worry—a silent battle between hope and fear. He'd put that look there when he'd left her twenty years ago, and if there was one thing he wished he could change about their past, that was it.
But he couldn't change the past, so he'd have to settle for giving her a future.
He combed his fingers into her hair, found one of the pins that held it in place, and eased it free, letting it drop to the floor. He reached for another pin, and then a third, until her hair spilled to her shoulders in a fall of sun-streaked silk. He caught a handful of it and lowered his head to inhale the light floral scent of her shampoo.
"Shhh …" He breathed it against the skin just behind her ear. "Don't talk. Just feel."
The last time they'd been together every second had been shadowed by a date on a plane ticket—a fact that'd leant their lovemaking an undercurrent of quiet desperation. Now those shadows were gone, and he took his time rediscovering her taste, the texture of her skin against his lips, and the quiet sound she made when his teeth grazed her neck. Making his way to her mouth, he drank deeply, a man too long in the desert, and she responded with all the warmth and passion he remembered—as generous in love as she was in everything else.
Her fingers caught at his shirt, and he felt the buttons give way one by one. When the last one slid free she pushed the fabric off his shoulders and flattened her palms against his chest, making him catch his breath. But she didn't stop there. Her hands moved over him, leaving flames in their wake.
"How do you do that?" he murmured against her hair, his breath coming faster as her hands continued their erotic dance across his skin.
When she looked up he realized that she truly had no idea how deeply she affected him. "Do what?"
He couldn't think of a way to explain, so instead he kissed her and reached for the zipper at the back of her dress, easing it down without taking his mouth from hers. The loosened fabric slipped from her shoulders, and she stepped back and lowered her arms, letting it drift down to pool at her feet in a brilliant mosaic of blues and greens. Standing at its center in a simple white bra and slip, she reminded him of a mermaid.
"You are —" He traced the curve of her collar bone and let his palm settle into the smooth dip just below her shoulder, "—so beautiful." Gathering her into his arms, he tucked her head under his chin and closed his eyes, and so he felt her amusement more than heard it, in the gentle shake of her shoulders and the curve of her smile against his chest.
"Sam Carmichael." Laughter sparkled in her voice, but she relaxed against him, as soft and trusting as a kitten. "I think you need glasses."
"No." He drew back enough to look into her eyes. "No, I don't think so." She'd changed some in twenty years, the traditional prettiness of youth softened by the inexorable march of time, but along the way she'd acquired a kind of inner beauty that youth could never hope to match.
"Sam …" A hint of uneasiness laced the edges of her voice, interrupting his thoughts. "I haven't … been with anybody." She paused, her gaze focused somewhere around his collar bone. "In a long time."
Hooking a finger under her chin, he lifted her face back up to his. "I hear it's a little like riding a bike," he murmured, and without waiting for her response, lowered his lips to hers.
The first time they'd made love she'd been a virgin. He still remembered how she'd skewered him with the reminder of it at the end. She'd been furious; convinced she'd given her virginity to, as she'd so succinctly put it at the time, a lying bastard. He'd flinched at the accusation, knowing he deserved it. That last argument had wedged in his mind like a shard of broken glass, stubbornly resisting the dulling influence of time.
But now, as she met his kiss with a quiet passion that made his heart turn over in his chest, all he could think about was their first time and how her eyes had shimmered with reflected starlight while the night covered them in black velvet and the waves lapped against the beach. He'd thought his heart must surely burst that night, so full had it been with love for her, and he wanted to give that to her again, show her that same tenderness and reverence, and watch her eyes glaze over when her body went rigid in his arms.
He toed off his shoes and nudged them aside, then pulled her down beside him on the bed. Propping himself on one elbow, he shaped his free hand to the curve of her waist and stared down at her, struck once more by the unlikely sequence of events that'd led them to this moment.
"What?" She pressed her hands against his chest. They felt good there, like they belonged. "Do I have something on my face?"
He smiled and shook his head. "I was just thinking how glad I was that Sophie tracked me down." He paused, considering. "Do you know how she did it?"
A faint blush stole over Donna's cheeks. Sam found it enchanting. "My diary."
"You're kidding." The fact that she'd written a diary didn't surprise him. The fact that she'd kept it for twenty years did.
Her blush deepened. "I wish."
Memory brought his eyebrows up. "I'll bet that was an interesting read."
Donna's hands slid to his shoulders and then back down to draw lazy circles against his ribs, a mischievous gleam dawning in her eyes. "Oh, it was."
"Wait a minute." Something about the look in her eyes sparked a twinge of uneasiness. "Exactly how detailed is this journal of yours?"
The smile Donna gave him was at once mysterious and smug. "Detailed enough."
"Donna …" The thought of Sophie reading a blow-by-blow account of his and Donna's love affair made embarrassment knot in Sam's stomach.
"Relax." Looping her arms around his neck, Donna pulled his head down until they were nose to nose. "I left out the best parts."
Relief washed over him. "Thank God."
Her delighted laugh made Sam grin. "You're enjoying this."
"Endlessly." Amusement danced in her eyes.
"Hmm…" Sam nibbled at her bottom lip in retaliation, and was rewarded with her faint gasp and the flex of her fingers against his shoulder. "You aren't laughing now."
Donna stretched, her body pressing against his, and a knowing look came into her eyes as she encountered irrefutable proof of his arousal. "Neither are you."
"Mmm." He lowered his head to kiss the place where her shoulder met her neck, earning a feminine purr of approval in response. A week ago he wouldn't have thought he would ever again hold her in his arms, would've laughed outright at anybody who'd even suggested it. Now … He moved her necklace aside to get at the skin beneath and heard her breath stagger. Now he'd been granted a miracle.
"Kiss me." Her whispered words drew him back up, and he slanted his mouth across hers, happy to accept her offer. Her hands tangled in his hair and her legs wrapped around his, but it was her lips that held him captive, the sweet, responsive flavor of her binding him to her more surely than any chain.
She pushed at his shoulder, and when he rolled to his back she rose over him, her body lithe and supple, her skin butterfly-soft beneath his fingertips. Small teeth nipped at his neck. Questing fingers threaded through his hair, kneaded his shoulders, and roamed across his chest. And where her fingers led her mouth followed, with moist heat and the delicate lap of her tongue against his skin. Determined to let her set the pace, he forced himself to lie still, only just managing not to drag her into his arms … until her teeth closed over his nipple and almost brought him up off the bed.
Catching her face between his palms, he pulled her head up. His mouth was dry. His heart thundered in his chest. Their eyes met. Held. He brushed his thumbs across her cheeks, saw her slow, easy smile and the growing confidence in her eyes, and shook his head.
"Yesterday I called our daughter a little minx," he said, struck by the joy a simple pronoun could give. Our. He thought it might be his new favorite word. "I think she gets that from you."
"Our daughter," Donna countered with a saucy grin, "is just like her dad."
"No." Genetics aside, there was one thing he knew for sure. "She's an amazing young woman, and that's because you're her mother." Before she could argue with him, he brought her back down to meet his kiss.
She tasted of red wine and feta cheese, smelled of flowers and sunshine, and she made him feel like anything was possible, like he could fly up and touch the sun without singeing his fingers, or explore the deepest depths of the ocean without an oxygen tank. With her by his side, he could summit Mount Everest, win the Tour De France, and cross the Atlantic Ocean in a row boat.
Frustrated with the barriers that still kept them apart, he pulled her down to rest against his chest and reached for the catch on her bra. An instant later, it dropped to the floor beside the bed and he pressed her body flush against his, running his hand along the length of her spine.
She brushed a kiss against his neck, her voice little more than a whisper. "I'd forgotten how good this felt."
He pressed his palm into the small of her back. "I hadn't."
How many times had he made love to Lorraine while seeing Donna's face in his mind's eye? And how often had guilt kept him awake long after his wife had fallen asleep? Enough, he thought, that it had probably hastened the end of a marriage that'd been doomed before it even began, its demise written in the stars and in the memories he'd never quite been able to set aside. Now, as he traced the curve of Donna's spine, he sent up a silent prayer of gratitude for second chances.
He eased her back down to the pillows and took her lips in a kiss that brought a low moan from her throat and made her arms tighten around his neck. She gave him everything, held nothing back, and he thought that even if they lived to be a hundred he'd never tire of the way she tasted or of the feel of her tongue sliding against his.
But other treasures awaited him elsewhere, and he slid his lips from hers to explore sun-bronzed skin that beckoned him like a summer afternoon. The rise of a shoulder. The curve of her neck. The place where breastbone softened to breast. It all fascinated him, every inch both a homecoming and a revelation, each discovery heralded by her sighs and the growing urgency in her touch.
He stroked his fingers over her breast and wondered what it would've been like to watch her nurse an infant Sophie. The image that formed in his mind, of tiny fingers curled against Donna's skin, swamped him with tenderness and regret. Had he been there, would he have seen the pride of new motherhood in Donna's eyes? Or would they have been shadowed with worry. While he hoped for the first, he knew the latter was more likely.
Sobered by that thought, he pressed his lips against her in silent apology. That they'd never get those days back was a given. But he could at least see to it that the days to come followed a different pattern.
With that in mind, he worked his way down to her nipple, circled it, and drew it gently into his mouth. Donna's breath caught, then lurched ahead. Her fingers snagged in his hair. He rolled his tongue over her, caught her lightly between his teeth, tugged … and wrapped his arm around her waist as her back arched convulsively and she gasped in a lungful of air. Then he shifted his mouth to the other breast, giving it the same treatment—until her fingers dug almost painfully into his shoulders.
Just his name, whispered in that honey-whiskey voice, was enough to make his body throb with desire.
"I need you, Sam." Her fingers curled against his skin, tugging at him, drawing him back up. "I need—"
He cut her off with a kiss that threatened to push both of them over the edge, a deep, primal mating of the mouths that had their bodies straining together and their hands struggling to do away with their remaining clothing without breaking contact.
Her need fueled his, and by the time he had her in his arms again he was half convinced that it really was possible to die from an erection. Then she touched him, and the feel of her hand wrapped around his length, the shifting pressure of her grip, was almost more than he could bear. Desperate, he caught her hand and brought it up between them.
The single, choked word brought her eyes back to his, but she shook her head and touched her fingers to his lips. "I think we've waited long enough."
She moved before he could gather his wits to answer, bringing her leg up and over his stomach and settling on her knees above him. She held his gaze. Shifted her weight. There was an instant of flushed recognition, an awareness that they were about to come full circle. And then she was taking him in, and she was tight, and warm, and for an instant he was afraid it would all be over almost before it had a chance to begin.
His hands dropped to her legs. Slow breaths, he thought urgently. Inhale. His fingers flexed. Released. Exhale. Denying every instinct, he forced his hips down and away from hers. Alaska. Antarctica. Greenland. Icebergs and snowmen and glacial runoff and Santa Claus and that cute little reindeer with the glow-in-the-dark nose.
When he opened his eyes, he found her watching him, and the unguarded expression on her face almost destroyed his carefully built defenses.
She leaned down, and he lifted his head from the pillows to meet her kiss. It was slow, and sultry, and she ended it with a delicate swipe of her tongue across his upper lip. "I guess—" She trailed her fingernails across his chest and smiled when he groaned. "It really is a little like riding a bike."
Then she straightened and arched her back in a way that made her body tighten around his. She moved with the easy confidence of a woman who was comfortable in her own skin, her body rising and falling with almost hypnotic grace. Her eyes fluttered closed, her breath coming in quick, short pants, and Sam concentrated on blizzards and hail storms, willing to pay whatever price he had to for the chance to watch her lose herself in pleasure.
"Do you have any idea—" the words staggered from her lips, punctuated by the quickening thrust of her hips, "—how often I've thought about this?" She widened her stance, and he felt himself slide deeper inside her, felt the tremble of her muscles as she fought for control.
His voice was half a step shy of a groan. "Not as often as I have."
Letting her take the lead was a kind of torturous ecstasy. Her muscles shuddered along his length, pulling at him, breaking down his defenses until he couldn't hold back any longer. With a muttered oath, he rose to meet her, pushing up and in until he couldn't push anymore, until her head fell back and her low moan filled the room.
She was close. He could see it in her face and feel it in the way she moved. Wanting that for her, he shifted his hands to the insides of her legs, kneaded his way up the straining muscles, and searched out the delicate bundle of nerves at the juncture of her thighs. Her breath hitched and gaze locked on his.
"Don't fight it," he whispered, "let it come."
He pressed his fingers deeper into her heat. Eased back. Wet. Slippery. He wanted to taste her, but that could wait. Right now, there was something else he wanted more.
He circled. Rubbed. Stroked.
And sent her flying.
She bowed back as the orgasm ripped through her, and he shifted one hand to her hips, steadying her. Determined not to follow her over the edge, he bit his lip, forced himself to breathe deeply, and waited for her to begin the slide down the other side so that he could take her up again.
When she fell against him, he gathered her into his arms and rolled, bringing her head down to the pillows without losing contact with the wet heat that still rippled along his length. He pressed his palms into the mattress and lifted himself above her, waiting until she looked into his eyes. Her skin was flushed, and wayward strands of hair clung to her sweat-dampened forehead, but in her heavy-lidded gaze he saw the answer he needed.
Slowly, he pulled his hips back, withdrawing almost completely, watching her head press back into the pillows, feeling her hands clutch at his shoulders.
"I love you," he said.
Before she could answer he drove into her, hard and deep, and heard her gasp as she rose to meet him.
"I love you, too," she said as he drew back again.
He wanted to kiss her, wanted to run his hands over her body and suck the salt from her skin and feel her come apart in his arms again. But he couldn't wait any longer to satisfy his own clawing need for release. He pushed into her again. And again. Faster. Harder. Hips pistoning against hers. Air burning in his throat. Her hands in his hair, digging into his shoulders, grasping his hips. He was only dimly aware that he was taking her with him, that they were climbing together this time. Higher he pushed, and still higher. The climax building behind his eyes, tightening in his groin.
Just. One. More …
He rocked back. Pushed deep.
And tumbled into the abyss.
It was Donna's touch that brought him back to himself long seconds later. She was tracing lazy figure eights on his back, but her breathing hadn't quite returned to normal, and when he opened one eye, he could still see the rapid beat of her pulse in her neck. He rolled to his back and pulled her into his arms, wishing he was more poet than plebian, more artist than architect. Instead he had to settle for brushing the hair away from her eyes and pressing a kiss against the top of her head.
"I love you, Mrs. Carmichael." Simple words from a simple man, but they were the best he had to offer.
He felt her smile against his chest. "I love you, too."
There was an amusement park ride he'd been on once with his sons. It was one of those rides that climbed straight up and then plummeted toward the ground, leaving its riders stunned and gasping for air. There'd been an instant at the top of the ride, just before the drop, when he'd held his breath, his chest tight with anticipation, his hands clenched around the safety bar. He'd known what was coming, but in that moment he'd been certain he was about to touch eternity. It was a kind of high he'd never experienced anyplace else.
Donna settled more deeply into his arms, and he realized she'd drifted off. She slept the same way she did everything else, with utter and complete devotion. He'd forgotten that about her, and it made him smile, knowing that she trusted him to still be there when she woke up.
And he would be. Tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that …
He reached for the sheet, tugged it over their cooling bodies, and wrapped himself around her, protecting her, keeping her safe.
And making sure that when he woke up in the morning, she'd still be in his arms.