Happy Thanksgiving, dear followers. I hope you enjoy! I am planning to have a Christmas installment, as well, so you won't have to wait as long for another update. :)
Matthew felt rather than heard someone beside him, a tremble against his torso, a shaky exhale just by his shoulder, a damp cheek pressed against his chest. Hair tickled just there under his chin, hair that was not his, hair that smelled of an odd blend of lilacs and smoke, and he moved to scratch his stubble, the body wedged against his stiffening at his slight movement. He was hit by a moment of panicked confusion before both his whereabouts and bed companion finally registered in his sleep-laden mind.
He was in his room. In his bed. With Mary.
And his mother was asleep just down the hall.
Eyes blinked open into the darkness, and he heard a muted gulp, her obvious desire to keep it silent only emphasizing it even more.
"Are you alright?" he whispered, and her nose nuzzled into his ribcage, her shoulders shaking as tears fell freely.
"No," she admitted, her voice cracked and thickened. "But I didn't mean to wake you. I'm sorry."
He pulled her to him even closer, stroking her spine through her robe.
"I don't mind," he assured her, planting a kiss to her forehead, cautiously veering away from the bruise on her cheek. "It's not often I find my bed graced with the presence of a beautiful woman."
A puff of laughter escaped her then, and she pressed herself up on one elbow, rubbing her cheek as she looked at him in the moon's dim light.
"I'm not very graceful at the moment," she stated. "And I know I must look a fright." He watched as she gingerly touched her right bottom lip, noting that seemed a bit larger than it had earlier, feeling her wince as if it were his own. Damn that Carlisle. Damn the man to hell.
"You're the epitome of grace," he returned as her forehead came to rest upon his. "And beauty. Nothing will ever change that."
A tear hit his skin, dripping from her eye onto his cheekbone. She wiped it away with her thumb, and he took her hand in his own, kissing the pad of her thumb, tasting the salty moisture of her pain.
"You're too good to me, you know," she told him, her nose almost nudging his.
"Nonsense," he returned, cupping the back of her head. "You're just not used to being treated as you deserve."
She lost control then, and he wrapped her in his arms deliberately, his own eyes misting as sobs wracked her wounded frame. She wept openly, dampening his shoulder, allowing him to hold and caress her, and he pressed kisses into her hair as his own tears mingled with hers.
"You're safe now," he assured her, feeling her nod rub his skin. "I won't let him hurt you again. I promise."
"I know you want to protect me," she reasoned, her voice barely audible against his ribs.
"And I will," he cut in, looking at her with a conviction that shook him. "Trust me on this, Mary. That man will lay hands on you again over my dead body."
"Don't say that," she implored shakily. "Please. There's been enough death in this world recently."
He nodded, the remembered stench of war fogging his senses. He shook his head, returning his thoughts to the woman in his arms, leaving the frontlines and blur of trauma in favor of soft curves and marble skin.
"I do promise to protect you, Mary," he whispered. "And I plan on living a very long time, even if that is a foolish notion these days."
She sniffed loudly, and he reached for a handkerchief resting on his nightstand, placing it in her hand. She wiped her face and nose delicately, and he laughed.
"Go ahead," he instructed. "Get it out. I have others, you know."
Her smile nearly broke him then, and she blew her nose fiercely, her hair shaking freely about her shoulders and face, nearly covering the bruise inflicted by the very man who should have protected her.
"Well this is a bloody mess now," she managed, wadding up the handkerchief in her hand and tossing it aside.
"Good," he grinned, touching the tip of her nose. "That's what it's for."
Her expression clouded under her smile, and he stroked her hair, losing his fingers in the feel of her locks. She leaned into his touch, his hand cupping her scalp, and she licked her lips before sighing into the night.
"What do you see in me?"
Her question startled him, and he pressed himself up on his elbows, his stare incredulous and open-mouthed.
"Everything," he gushed, rubbing his other hand across his own scalp. "God, Mary, I'm the one who sits around wondering what a woman like you is doing spending time with a man like me."
"You must be joking," she uttered, and he shook his head with a disbelieving chuckle. "You're so…so good, so noble. And I'm a nightclub singer who has made a mess of her life and now has nowhere to go."
His heart cinches at her words, and he cannot fathom how such a magnificent creature thinks so little of herself.
"You have a place with me," he argues, twirling a stray black tendril around his finger. "As long as you want it. As long as you'll stay."
Long fingers stroked his chest across the V neck of his pajama top, and it suddenly felt stifling. He fought back the desire to tug it off and toss it aside, knowing what would very likely happen if he gave into the temptation.
"I'm not sure just what your mother will have to say about that," she noted, and he laughed softly, never removing his touch from her skin, unable to look away.
"She understands your predicament," he assured her. "And mother is a firm believer in justice and helping those down on their luck."
"I'm glad," she stated, her gaze falling to his chest. "But I'm not one to accept help out of pity, Matthew. I can't stomach the thought of that."
"Do you really think this is out of pity?"
He stared at her, holding her eyes firmly in his grasp.
"What is it, then?" she questioned, her voice trembling in time with her hands. He swallowed through the thickness of his throat, his mouth suddenly the texture of saw dust.
"Far more than pity," he managed, trying to gauge her reaction. "Something more than I ever anticipated when I walked into that nightclub." He inhaled audibly, nudging her nose with his own. "I love you, Mary."
Her breath catches, her lip quivers, and she tries to catch a stray tear that makes its way stubbornly down her cheek.
"Oh God," she whispered, placing a delicate kiss to his cheek. "I don't deserve you, Matthew."
"No," he agreed. "You deserve far better."
Her breathing intensified as another sob escaped her, and he hugged her close to him, determined to never let this woman out of his sight.
"I love you, too," she breathed, and he felt as if his heart might explode then and there. "But there's so much—"
"Shhh," he admonished gently with a kiss to her forehead. "We'll worry about all of that tomorrow. For now, let's just…let's just be."
"I think it is tomorrow," she smiled, and he chuckled, holding her hand to his chest.
"Then I can't think of a better way to start my day," he hummed. Her eyes closed, her fingers drew a sketch though his pajamas, and he was lost to her, completely and utterly.
"Kiss me," she instructed, leaning in until her lips hovered just over his. "Please."
"But your lip," he worried. "I don't want to hurt you, Mary."
"You won't," she insisted with a small smile. "I trust you."
He looked back at her, seeing his life inherently connected to hers, and he gently pulled her face down to his, touching his lips to her uninjured side ever so softly. She responded, her hand reaching up to hover gently down his cheek, their breaths wrapping themselves around each other, their bodies pressing close.
His hands cupped her shoulder as his mouth traced a path across her jaw. She pulled him towards her until their positions changed and he hovered over her, his lips moving slowly down her neck, making her arch into him, making him groan.
"Don't stop," she breathed, and he kissed his way across her clavicle, tugging on her silken robe until it slid easily down the slope of her arm, exposing her shoulder to his mouth. This was dangerous, he knew it, but he couldn't stop touching her, stop kissing her, and his mouth encased the curve of her shoulder as her hands pressed into his scalp.
"Matthew," she cried as his hand crept slowly over her breast, his thumb moving back and forth over silken fabric until her nipple stood erect under his touch. He stopped then, looking down at her and nearly combusted on the spot. Her head was tossed back, her neck utterly exposed, her breasts barely covered by the thin material of her nightgown.
"What's wrong?" she questioned, her breath coming in rapid flutters as she looked up at him in confusion.
"God, Mary," he attempted, words escaping him at the mere sight of her. "I want you so badly, but…"
She propped herself up and stared into him, night shadows coloring her face in hues of charcoal and pewter.
"But?" she prompted, raising one hand to play with his hair.
"I won't take advantage of you," he murmured, feeling wretched that he had allowed things to go this far. "You've been injured, you're vulnerable. This isn't the time for me to…"
"To what?" she interrupted, looking at him directly. "Make love to me?"
He nodded, and she smiled, losing her fingers in his hair.
"Make me feel loved?" she continued. "Make me feel like I truly matter to at least one person in this wretched world?" His breath caught in his throat as she covered his hand that remained just over her breast, holding it to her in a gesture that rocked him everywhere. "Make me feel beautiful, after my husband made me feel like…"
She paused, swallowing hard.
"Like nothing," she concluded, her gaze falling from his. He kissed her mouth then, a soft, coaxing gesture so full of emotion he thought he might faint from it.
"You're everything, Mary," he insisted, caressing her breast, her chest, her legs. "Everything I want in life. Everything that matters."
"Then I'm yours," she whispered, and he shuddered at the declaration. "Don't feel guilty for simply making it so."
His skin heated immediately as her hand slid around his neck.
Lips found each other yet again, the one part of his brain still uncertain that this was the right time and place silenced by the rest of him now lost to this incredible woman lying under him. Her robe slid off easily, his top coming off shortly after, but they hesitated in baring the other completely, reveling in the discovery of being partially clothed and so close it was nearly painful.
"Are you sure about this?" he managed, his lips muffled against her skin, his fingers threading the hem of her gown in his grip.
She nodded, tossing him a half smile.
"About you, yes," he answered without hesitation. "About whether or not we should do this just now…"
He breaks off, sighing into the nearly non-existent space between them.
"You're still worried?" she asks, and he nods, his forehead dropping to hers.
"I just don't want you to have any regrets tomorrow," he noted. "Later today, I mean," he amends, making her smile and touch his face lightly. She continues to study him—his face, his brow, and she takes his hand in hers, tracing the lines of his fingers.
"And I don't need to involve you any further in this mess of a divorce of mine," she added, the regret in her tone unmistakable. "Richard already knows about you, and that frightens me."
"It shouldn't," he stated. "I'm glad he does, actually. Glad he knows you have someone who will stand up to him and fight for you."
"My champion," she muttered, rubbing a small circle over his temple as her brows creased in thought.
"My savior," he mused back, and she shook her head in exasperation.
"I'm hardly anyone's savior," she corrected firmly.
"Really?" he questioned. "I'd given up on any woman wanting to have anything to do with me until you appeared in my life." He cleared his throat, his brow creasing slightly. "For months, I sat around like a lump of coal, feeling sorry for myself and snapping at anyone who tried to tell me how unreasonable I was being." He paused, planting a kiss squarely over where her heart resided under the protection of her ribs. "Now here I am, half naked in bed with you when my own mother is sleeping just a few doors down. I'd say that's progress, wouldn't you?"
She chuckled, the sound a balm to his spirit.
"And what would it be if you were completely naked in bed with me?" she queried, a hint of mischief sneaking into her gaze.
"I'm not certain I possess adequate words for such a thought," he grinned, unable to keep from kissing her just under her ear. "But I'm willing to find out. Just…"
"Just not tonight," she finished for him, and he nodded, wishing he could talk himself out of his own convictions. He wanted her, wanted her badly, wanted to kiss away every bad memory, wanted to drive out any thought of her husband as he filled her completely, body and soul.
"Should I go back to my room?" she asked, a subtle note of fear creeping into her tone.
"No," he assured her. "Unless you want to, that is."
Her head was shaking before she found her voice.
"I don't want to leave you," she whispered, and he moved back beside her, gathering her into his arms, so little now separating skin from skin.
"Good," he returned. "Because I most certainly don't want you to go."
Her cheek came to rest on his shoulder once again, and his hand resumed its calming gesture on her spine. They held each other in silence, his eyes just beginning to drift shut when her voice whispered into his heart.
"Loving me is not always easy, Matthew," she murmured, prompting him to cup the curve of her bottom with his palm.
"That's funny," he mused. "It's the most natural thing I've done in my life." He felt her ease into him then as arms tightened about his torso, her hair fanning out over his bare chest, his new life coming to rest just over his pulse. Her lips touched down just below his nipple, and for that moment, everything in his world was completely and utterly right.
Mary was here. In his bed. With him.
And he would be damned if he'd let anyone hurt her ever again.