“I am. I know.” It’s plain from his tone that he doesn’t believe a word of that.
“You are.” He tenses. “So am I.” He relaxes. “Why are we fighting? Is it because we’re exhausted? It’s not from lack of sex!”
“That is our usual source of conflict,” he agrees.
All the heat he’s generating disappears, leaving my body chilled as he walks away. The sound of rushing water from the bathroom indicates a tub or a shower’s been started. He comes back into the large living room, searching drawers efficiently. Near the fireplace, he finds what he seeks, and disappears into the bathroom.
Two minutes go by. I close my eyes and count the nerve endings that are jangling like bells in the hands of Salvation Army bell volunteers at the red buckets at Christmastime.
“C’mere,” he says from a distance.
I roll on my side, nearly fall off the bed, catch myself, and walk into the bathroom.
Which he has transformed into a glowing fairyland.
“Oh, Dec,” I sigh. It’s a good sigh. A great sigh.
The bathtub, which could seat twelve but hell to the no on that right now, is mostly full, covered in frothy delight in the form of lavender bubble bath. It’s the perfect size for two.
One is already in there, buried to the neck in bubbles, his hand reaching out for me. I giggle at the sight. Masculine and demanding, authoritative and fierce, Declan’s normal countenance is quite compromised by the sight of him swimming in bubbles, glowing in candlelight, ensconced in lavender—
And drinking wine out of a tiny plastic bottle from the minibar.
As my eyes adjust and I strip off my dress, I realize he’s taken a bunch of the minibar snacks and alcoholic drinks and put them at intervals around the edge of the giant tub.
“Mmmmm. Pinot Grigio is simply enhanced by the mouthfeel of the threads of the plastic screw cap,” he says, finishing off the wine and tossing the empty into the trash can on the other side of this bathroom, which is bigger than my childhood bedroom.
Of course—of course—he nails it, the bottle a slam dunk.
“Get in.” Declan unscrews another plastic bottle of white wine, muttering something about upgrades and quality, then opens yet another just as I’m dipping my toe in the hot water.
“Two at a time?” I ask, laughing. Ahhhhhhh. The hot water feels like entering a different world, as if all the chaos and uncertainty has stepped back five hundred feet and is still causing mayhem, but it’s doing it over there.
“One is for you.” He hands it to me, closes his eyes, leans his head against the stuffed neck pillow attached to the edge of the bath, and just sighs, the end of the long exhale turning into a sound that has become the song of my people.
“I can drink to that,” I say, and I do, downing the wine in a few gulps.
“We are stupid,” he says slowly, his arm coming up out of the water, dripping as he reaches for the other open bottle of wine. “Me, especially.”
Declan is not the self-effacing type. Ever. I say nothing. Even if I knew what to say, I would say nothing.
“I pride myself on being calm in the middle of nearly any storm,” he explains, reaching up to pitch the now-empty plastic wine bottle into the trash can. He misses. Hah!
“No one’s perfect,” I reply, meaning his miss.
“It’s not about perfection. It’s about being grounded. People throw you off your game if you’re not centered. No one wants to be in reaction mode all the time.”
“I don’t even have a framework for what that means.”
“Case in point. You’re always reactive. With a mom like Marie, I can understand why. I try to be as grounded as possible.”
“And with a dad like James, I understand why.”
His eyes are closed, but his mouth twists with a grin. “We’re going to have so much fun figuring out the terrain of our respective families.”
I slide all the way down, the heat spiking my skin, like burying myself in hot, steaming velvet. “Fun isn’t the word I would use, but okay...”
He unscrews yet another Lilliputian wine bottle, chugs it, tosses the dead soldier in the trash, and hands me another.
Declan’s not much of a drinker, but it isn’t every day you go through—ah, hell, I can’t even remember everything we’ve been through in less than twenty-four hours. Joining him, I polish off two wines before sinking all the way in to my neck, my toes finding a lovely, soft footrest.
“Hey! I’m attached to that,” he protests, reaching down to stop my foot. His thumbs dig into my arch and I think I orgasm. I’m not sure. I’m so tired.
“In more ways than one.”
“Mmmmm. Later. Hot bath first. Hot Shannon next.”
“We’re still not married, Declan.”
Opening one eyelid, he peers at me like an assassin taking aim.
“No, we’re not. But we will be. Soon.”
“What if Mom catches up to us?”
“When. Not if.”
“When, then. What about—”
His own foot creeps up my belly, tentative, then bold, toes tickling one nipple. “I do not want to talk about what ifs. I certainly do not want to talk about, or think about, your mother or my father. I have plenty of wine in me, my body is hot and loose and enjoys this bath, and in about ten minutes I plan to have our naked bodies on that very large bed out there, with you in positions that require an advanced degree in yoga.”