Maria stood up, eyes flashing and he could see the heartbreaking fear and pain beneath the anger in them. “Why would I stay? To see you make love to Olivia right in front of me? It’s obvious that you two belong together and I won’t be the other woman—not any longer!”
“I told you I don’t love Olivia! I only got engaged to her for the children. And I just broke my engagement to her, so don’t use her as an excuse to run!” he snarled.
She paled, but said, “But she loves you, I can tell! Why would you end your engagement when she’s right for you?”
Gabriel swore, knowing he had to convince her of the truth or Maria would leave him. “I didn’t realize that she loved me until I broke off our engagement, but it doesn’t make any difference. I don’t love her and I can’t, because I’m in love with you.”
Maria stared at him, but instead of reacting in any of the ways he anticipated, she said flatly, “I don’t believe you.”
“What?” he stared at her, barely able to process what he was hearing. “What do you mean, you don’t believe me? I love you!”
“And I’m telling you I don’t believe you!” she yelled suddenly. “How can you love me when you have Olivia?”
“Because I don’t love Olivia, I love you!” he roared back. “Why won’t you believe me? You’re supposed to be able to tell when someone is lying—you have to know I’m telling you the truth!”
He frantically tried to think of what he could have done that would cause her to doubt him to this extent. “Is it because I didn’t pull away when Olivia kissed me? I wanted to, God I wanted to, but I didn’t want to embarrass her, not before I broke things off with her. I’m sorry if that hurt you—if I could do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate to push her away, I swear.”
He saw the doubt still on her face, the fear. How could he make her understand what she meant to him?
“You were the first woman I slept with after Elle died. I hadn’t even been tempted to before I met you. I told you that meeting you changed my life—I haven’t lied to you.”
Maria was shocked by his revelation that he’d been celibate for four years before they made love. Maybe their night together did mean as much to him as it did to her, but there was still one question she had to know the answer to, even if it hurt her.
“Did you sleep with Olivia?” Maria whispered, hating herself for asking, for caring.
“Yes,” he admitted harshly. “It was just once after we got engaged, mostly because it was the next logical step rather than from any great desire, at least on my part, and I can tell you honestly that it was nothing compared to what we shared.” He almost told her that he couldn’t stop thinking of her nearly the entire time he was with Olivia, and had felt like an absolute bastard for doing so.
She bit her lip, trying not to feel devastated at the idea of him with another woman, doing those wonderful things he did to her with Olivia, and failing miserably. “I know I don’t have the right to be upset or jealous, but I hate that you were with her!”
“That’s true—you don’t have the right,” he told her softly, and then when she gasped, the ache from his words an agonizing burn in her, he said, “You don’t have the right—yet. I want to give you that right, if you’ll let me.”
She stared at him, wanting so much to reach out and grab what he was offering. It was everything she’d ever wanted, and more—he was offering her everything he had to give—but she could no longer hide from her fear.
“But how can you be so sure that you love me? No one has really wanted me before, not since my parents died. Not my foster parents, nor even the Church—they all found me lacking in some essential way. I even failed as a nun!” Maria cried.
Realization swept through Gabriel and all he wanted to do was to hold her close to his heart and never let go. He could finally see the root of her fear. It wasn’t him she doubted—it was herself.
She didn’t think she was enough for him.
If she let him, he would spend a lifetime proving to her that she was more than enough—she was everything.
“How can you see yourself as a failure?” he asked her tenderly. “So what if you were a terrible nun? I’m glad for it—if you weren’t a terrible nun, then I would never have met you. You forced me back to life and to let go of the past, you helped me reach out to my children, you brought love and joy back into my life. I’ve never met anyone as loving as you, or as purely loveable. How can I not love you, with all my heart, body and soul?”
Gabriel’s soul was in his eyes, and Maria couldn’t look away as hope, delicate yet powerful, rose inside her.
“Christmas is supposed to be the season of miracles, right?” he said. “Well I consider you to be my God-given miracle, because He saw how much I—and my children—how much we need you. After loving and losing Elle, I know exactly how fragile life can be. I won’t give you up, and I won’t let you give us up. So as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one question left that needs to be answered, and everything depends on it.
Do you love me?” He held his breath, desperate to hear the words from her.
“Yes,” she whispered. “More than anything, more than I can say, I love you.”
She suddenly smiled wistfully. “How could I resist you? I’ve been in love with you since our night together, practically since the moment I first saw you play the piano. That’s the real reason I ran away the next morning—I panicked, because I couldn’t deal with my feelings and knowing you wouldn’t feel the same. How could you?”
“My love, I adore you but you can be incredibly dense,” he said tenderly.
Maria gave a choked laugh, nodding in agreement.
“Because if you’d stayed that morning you’d have realized that I felt the same. I fell for you that night as well, and I was determined that it would be the first night of the rest of our lives together.”
“I’m just so scared that one day you’ll wake up and realize that you made a horrible mistake, and this beautiful dream will turn into a nightmare. I don’t want you to have any regrets about choosing me,” she confessed painfully.
He smiled lovingly at her. “I think it’s safe to say that I’m as close to a sure thing that you’ll ever find, but you know as well as I do that life comes with no guarantees. All I can do is to promise to always fight for us, but you have to trust me, and trust in our love. Do you?”
After an endless moment, Maria nodded and slowly smiled, and it was like dawn breaking across her face. “I do.”
Gabriel shuddered, nearly sagging in relief and glorious, unrestrained joy. He held out his arms. “Then come here.”
With a laugh that was nearly a sob, Maria practically leapt into his arms, throwing her arms around his neck and her legs coming up to cage him. He buried his face in her neck, holding her as tightly as she held him, breathing in the sweet, unique scent of Maria.
She was finally, finally his, and he would never let her go.
An eternity later, he heard her say, “Gabriel?”
He lifted his head to look at her beautiful, clear blue eyes. “Yes, darling?”
She said solemnly, “I love you.”
And behind her words, he could hear her pledge her life and her love to him, forever.
“I love you,” he said just as solemnly, and he was hers, forever.
He bent his head and captured her lips in a sweet, perfect kiss that spoke of his devotion. But as their lips continued to cling together, the sweetness inevitably turned to a clawing need to be as close as humanly possible and soon overwhelming desire spurred them both on, tongues, lips and teeth coming together urgently.
Maria gasped when the back of her knees hit the edge of the bed—she hadn’t even been aware that Gabriel had been walking them slowly across the room. He tumbled her onto it, and she moaned when he situated himself between her spread legs, rubbing his erect c*ck against her mound.
“In case you were wondering, I don’t have any objections to us making love since you’re no longer engaged.”
He grinned rakishly down at her. “That’s good, since I have no intention of stopping until you come screaming on my cock.”
Her entire body suffused with heat at his words, and she could feel her p**sy drench her panties. “It’s good to know we’re on the same page then.”
His smile faded, to be replaced by a look of ravenous hunger. “Indeed.”
He gasped when her hand slid down between their bodies and she grabbed his aching penis, giving it a long, pulling stroke. He shuddered, feeling like the top of his head was going to explode. “Ah, Maria, my love…”
She quickly unsnapped the fastening of his jeans and tugged his zipper down, her hand worming its way past the opening and inside his boxers and was soon on his hot, nak*d flesh, her touch sensual and so provocative. She caressed the head and rubbed her thumb against the sensitive spot right beneath the flared crest, making him gasp with pleasure. She then swept her thumb over his slit and coated her palm with his pre-come, his tip weeping copiously for her.
“Do you remember teaching me this that night?” Moving her hand down his rigid shaft, she grasped him and started rub him slowly, making sure to use a twisting motion, his pre-come acting like a lubricant as she stroked him up and down.
He bucked uncontrollably, his h*ps pumping urgently against her hand. “Yes, oh fuck, I remember! You learned so quickly and gave me so much pleasure, I could have died happy that night.”
“Do you promise we’ll do everything you taught me again?” At the thought of every deliciously carnal thing they did to each other, Maria pressed her thighs together, squirming against the needy, throbbing ache in her core.
“God yes! And I promise we’ll do even more, everything else we didn’t get to that night.”
“Good, I’ll hold you to it.” After one last twisting stroke, Maria released him and reached up, pulling his head back to hers, frantic for his lips.
He groaned, kissing her fiercely. His hands came up and started unbuttoning her cardigan, baring her lace-trimmed camisole underneath. His lips traveled down her neck, pausing to lick at her clavicle before nibbling along the edge of the lace. He gently cupped her br**sts through the camisole and her n**ples immediately pebbled in his palm.
“God, I can’t wait to taste your br**sts again, they’re so sweet and tender.”
Pulling down both the straps to her camisole and the bra underneath, he freed her arms from them and from the cardigan, then pushed both down until the fabric rested at her waist, baring her br**sts to his hungry gaze. He reverently touched her, cupping them gently, teasing her n**ples until she whimpered. “Do you want my mouth on these pretty n**ples?”
“Oh yes,” she sobbed. “Please suck them.”
With a groan, his mouth came down and he sucked one hard nipple deep in his mouth, and Maria cried out in ecstasy. She had missed his touch so much.
He moved to the other breast, and Maria’s body was soon covered with a light sweat as she writhed under his wicked touch. “I need to feel your skin against me—please Gabriel!”
He sat up, breathing heavily, and nodded. He quickly divested himself of his own sweater and jeans, kicking off his boots while she did the same. Soon they were both nak*d, and Maria trembled at the fierce lust tightening Gabriel’s features as his eyes travelled over every inch of her body, finally lingering at the apex of her thighs.
Maria moved her legs restlessly in response to his hot gaze, and his expression sharpened even more as she revealed her wet, tender folds with her movement. His tongue came out to lick his lips and she whimpered, wanting to feel his skillful mouth and thrusting tongue inside her once more.
Gabriel’s head came up at the sound she made and she knew he could see how excited she was. “What do you want me to do, baby?”
Maria’s mouth went dry—she hadn’t expected him to want her to tell him. But he seemed to sense her startled shyness, and he stroked her cheek gently, tipping her chin up to meet his hungry gaze. “Tell me, Ria, tell me what you want.”
“I…I want you to kiss me down there,” she managed to say, blushing furiously.
But he was merciless. “Kiss you where? On your stomach?”
She shook her head. “No, lower. I want you to kiss my p**sy.”
“Do you want me to use my lips or my tongue?”
He must like seeing her flushed bright red since he was determined to keep her that way. “Both, I want you to feel both your lips and your tongue on me. I want your entire mouth on my p**sy.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” he muttered and then slid down until he was wedged between her raised, eagerly spread legs and the sight of him there, about to touch her so intimately had even more drops of moisture oozing out of her.