Maria glided around, humming lightly as she imagined the room filled with beautifully dressed dancers. She whirled to face the entrance when an amused voice suddenly said, “May I have this dance?”
It was Matt, leaning against the doorway as he watched her, his arms crossed over his chest.
Maria grinned sheepishly, embarrassed for being caught daydreaming. “I’m sorry, this room is just so gorgeous, I couldn’t help myself.”
Matt chuckled and strode into the room, looking around. “Not at all, I think everyone has that reaction when they first see the ballroom. I mean, it’s an honest-to-goodness ballroom, imported from England. It’s been years since this room has been used—the last time was a masquerade ball that was a fundraiser for the school the kids attend, before Elle, Gabriel’s wife, passed.”
Beset by undeniable curiosity about Elle, Maria couldn’t help asking, “What was Elle like? I assume that Sam, Bridget and Meggie take after her, in coloring at least.”
Matt nodded. “You’re right, they do look like Elle but I actually think Lizzie has her smile. She was a beautiful woman, in every way. She and Gabriel were devoted to each other, and he was understandably devastated when she was killed.”
“It was a car accident?”
“Yes, a drunk driver, on very slick roads. I’d been working for Gabriel three years by then and I’ll never forget the day the police called to tell him.” He shook his head sadly, and then in an obvious attempt to lighten the mood, he said, “I can still see all the guests dressed up like extras in some chick flick period movie starring Keira Knightley. Like Anna Karenina or something.”
“I was thinking more like Pride and Prejudice, but yes, same idea,” Maria said with a laugh.
“Well then, milady, may I have this waltz?” Matt asked in an exaggerated English accent, giving her quite an elegant bow.
Maria giggled as he waggled his brows comically. She dipped a quick curtsey in return. “Why, kind sir, you honor me with your request, but I’m afraid that as there’s no music, I will definitely step on your toes without someone keeping time.”
“Well I’ll risk my toes if you’re willing,” Matt declared, holding out his hand. “I’ve always wanted to re-enact the dancing scene in The King and I. Forget the waltz, let’s polka!”
With that he swept Maria around in an energetic polka, humming a slightly off-key “Shall We Dance?” and Maria couldn’t help but laugh at Matt’s boyish enthusiasm and silliness even as she hummed along.
Suddenly the door to the ballroom slammed wide open and a furious voice growled, “What the hell is going on here?”
GABRIEL COULDN’T BELIEVE HIS EYES. Matt was holding Maria in his arms, and he wanted to take Matt apart.
He’d heard Maria laughing gaily and the sounds of humming as he walked down the stairs, and following the sounds, he discovered that it was coming from the ballroom. He then heard a masculine voice and realizing that Maria wasn’t alone, he quickly strode towards the room, a frown knitting his forehead. Who could she be talking to? Was it Matt?
The frown deepened to a scowl when he got to the door and realized that Maria and Matt were whirling around the floor, dancing together. Sheer male possessiveness roared through him and he had to stop himself from ripping Maria out of Matt’s arms, and then ripping Matt’s arms off.
Matt must have sensed how close he was to the edge because he hastily dropped his arms and backed away from Maria. “Sorry, Gabriel, we were just being silly. Maria was kind enough to indulge me and help fulfill one of my fantasies.”
At the black look from Gabriel, Matt nervously clarified, “Childhood fantasies! I’ve always wanted to dance the polka from The King and I.” More quietly, he added, “You know I bat for the other team.”
Gabriel knew very well that Matt was g*y and that he was being unreasonable. He also knew he would owe Matt an apology later, but the jealous rage that filled him at the sight of Maria in another man’s arms wasn’t something he had a lot of experience with.
Not trusting himself to not snarl at Matt again if he opened his mouth, he gave a curt nod to signal his understanding. Matt released an obvious sigh of relief, then glanced at his watch and gave an exaggerated gasp. “Oh my, look at the time! I should be heading up now, goodnight!”
Matt zoomed for the door, calling over his shoulder, “Thanks for the dance, Maria! We’ll have to do it again sometime…or maybe never! ‘Night!”
Silence descended with Matt’s departure and the tension thickened between them. He watched Maria swallow nervously, tracing the long, elegant line of her throat with his eyes when he wanted desperately to touch her.
“Gabriel? Are you all right? You don’t really think anything happened here between Matt and me, do you? Even before he said that he’s g*y I was never interested in him like that!”
Driven by a primitive instinct he could barely even name, Gabriel walked slowly towards her, feeling his groin grow heavy as his penis filled with blood. Slowly, she backed away from him as he advanced, until her back hit the covered keyboard of the grand piano and there was no escape. He saw Maria’s eyes drop to his pants and could feel them getting even tighter as his c*ck started to rise and push against the fabric.
“No, I never thought either of you was interested in the other.” He reached out and ran a finger down her throat, to her delicate collarbone and the golden cross necklace displayed by the cowl neckline of her cream sweater dress.
Maria shivered at his touch, and her breathing grew rapid. “Then why were you so upset? You looked like you wanted to kill us.”
“Because I did want to kill him—for putting his hands on you. And you, for allowing it.” He circled her throat with one hand, feeling her pulse race beneath his fingers, and leaned in to whisper in her ear, “I’ve realized that I can’t stand the sight of another man’s hands on you—any man, even one I trust.
“I’ve never been the jealous type before, so please forgive me for overreacting. But now, I need to put my mark on you.”
With that, his mouth descended on her neck and Maria whimpered as his lips caressed and nibbled along the length. He sucked her skin into his mouth and Maria cried out when he bit down gently, careful not to break her skin, but enough to mark her there. He released her skin and soothed the sting with his tongue, laving the slight hurt away.
He finally lifted his head, and Maria’s eyes were dilated until the azure blue of her iris was nearly eclipsed by the pupil, making her look nearly drugged with desire. She reached out and grabbed his head and pulled him down, crashing his mouth on hers.
She was nearly frantic as she kissed him, her mouth opening immediately to admit his tongue, hers stroking his greedily and slipping past into his own mouth. He groaned at the feel of her tongue and her soft, wet lips. He finally had to break the kiss, his chest heaving, and nibbled his way across her cheek to her ear where he sucked her lobe into his mouth.
“Gabriel,” she moaned, pushing her chest into his, rubbing her br**sts against him. He cupped one breast and rubbed her nipple, and even through the knit of her dress he could feel her nipple pebble against his thumb.
“God, I have to taste you,” he muttered and pulled her neckline as far down as it would go, relieved that the knit fabric and loose neckline allowed him to bare one bra-covered breast. He pushed down the cup completely and finally her pink tipped breast was exposed to him. He bent his head and immediately latched onto her nipple, sucking strongly.
Maria gave one of those provocative, breathless cries he remembered so well and arched her back, pushing her breast deeper into his greedy mouth. She thrust her hands into his hair to hold him there, although there was no place else he’d rather be. He sucked on her breast hungrily and her h*ps squirmed against his with every pull of his mouth.
He reached down to gather her skirt up until the hem was finally reached and her thighs exposed to his touch. His hand stroked one thigh, and he grunted in frustration when he realized she had on tights under her dress. No matter—he could still feel her searing heat and dampness as he cupped her mound, pressing down against her pubic bone with the heel of his hand and curving his fingers into her cleft.
Maria gave a little scream and bucked up hard into his palm. Her leg came up and curled around his thigh as she tried to open herself to him. He clutched her bottom and hoisted her on top of the keyboard cover, and then nestled himself between her thighs. He finally let go of her nipple and raised his head, staring into her eyes as he ground his fully erect and aching c*ck against her mound.
“God, I want to be in you so much,” Gabriel groaned. Even through her tights and his trousers the pleasure was divine, but nothing could equal being in her tight cunt. “I remember how tight, hot and wet your p**sy is, and how much you squeezed my c*ck deep inside, like you never wanted me to leave.”
“Oh, I want it too, so much,” she panted. “But we can’t!”
“I know, not now, not yet. But I can still pleasure you this way, and pleasure myself too.” With that he thrust against her, stroking hard and fast.
She whimpered and bucked, grinding her mound against his thick length. Suddenly she stiffened and he knew she was coming. He quickly covered her mouth and swallowed her scream as she cli**xed, and he could feel her muscles clenching and releasing. He wanted more than anything to feel it all again on his nak*d cock. Knowing she had reached orgasm pushed him over the edge and he groaned as he pulsed his release, rubbing his c*ck slowly against her damp crotch, wringing out every last drop of pleasure for them both.
They stayed like that as their pounding heartbeats slowly calmed, and he savored their intimacy. Finally, reluctantly, he stepped back and helped her down from the piano. She stumbled a little as her legs buckled and he steadied her, gathering her into his embrace.
He held her for a long moment, her head tucked beneath his chin and his lips caressed her hair. He breathed in her scent deeply, imprinting her onto his senses. Finally, she stirred and looked at him, her eyes soft with unspoken emotion. When she did speak, the subject surprised him.
“Why are the children so distant from you? What happened to your relationship?”
He sighed and loosened his grasp on her. He led her back to the piano but this time just pulled the bench from under the piano forward and drew her down to sit by him, his hand still holding hers.
“It all started after their mother died. Elle and I met in our junior year of college and I fell for her immediately. We got married two years after graduation even though everyone told us we should wait, get our careers going first. But we didn’t want to wait—we were in love, and we wanted to be together. I’m glad now that we didn’t listen to anyone—we thought we’d have forever and instead, we had less than a decade.”
He paused here. Maria squeezed his hand in wordless support and he felt comforted just by her presence.
“After Elle was killed by a drunk driver, I was completely shattered. Instead of grieving with my children, comforting them and being there to help them through their loss, I pushed them away completely and threw myself into my work. I started travelling for business more and more, and stayed here less and less, letting the nannies in essence raise my children.
I guess I was running away from the memories here, and the pain. My children reminded me of what I had lost and I couldn’t handle it. So instead of being their father and taking care of them, I withdrew from them so completely, they might as well have buried me with Elle.”
Gabriel closed his eyes in shame, self-loathing for what he’d done to his children filling him to overflowing. He didn’t deserve their love or forgiveness, but he was determined to earn it. He opened his eyes, braced for condemnation on Maria’s face, but all he saw was a gentle understanding and compassion, and a soul-deep pain that mirrored his own. Her hand came up and stroked his cheek. He captured her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm.
“So what changed then? Because the man I see in front of me is a man desperate to re-connect with his children, who obviously loves them very much and isn’t afraid to show it. He just needs a little help with how to show it,” Maria teased gently.
Gabriel reached out and caressed her cheek, and tipped her chin up so that she couldn’t avert her gaze from his.
“You did,” he said simply. “Meeting you changed my life. You made me realize how much of life I had been shutting out, and how it was time to let go of my grief. I was using it as a way of anchoring Elle to me, but it was so wrong of me. Elle would have been horrified at the way I’d been treating our children, and meeting you made me realize that it was time—past time—to let go of her memory.
I came back from Boston determined to start anew, to show my children how much I love them, but as you can see, it hasn’t been easy. I’d been a virtual stranger to them for too long—I think they’re afraid to trust me now, trust that I won’t abandon them again. How can I blame them, when I still blame myself?”