Christmas in the Billionaire's Bed(10)

By: Janice Maynard

A second door at the top required a key as well. By now, Aidan should have been breathing heavily. Emma was five-eight and not a slip of a woman. But he managed the final hurdle and kicked open the door, reaching with one hand to turn on the light.

She knew the exact moment he spotted her sofa. The red, velvet-covered Victorian settee was designed more for looks than for comfort. It was definitely not meant for sleeping. Fortunately, she owned a more traditional chair and ottoman that were tucked up close to her gas-log fireplace. If Aidan were determined to spend the night, he would be under no illusions as to his accommodations.

The apartment was fairly warm. When she’d left the day before, she had only been nipping out to grab the milk, intending to return in little more than a half hour. That was a blessing. If the rooms had been ice-cold as they sometimes were, her misery would have been complete.

He set her on her feet in the bedroom, not even glancing at her large brass bed with its intensely feminine white lace sheets and comforter. “Can you get ready for the night on your own?” His hands remained on her shoulders, though it was clear he was lending physical support, nothing more.

“Of course.” Her right leg felt as if someone had delved into it with an ax, and her head was a heartbeat away from a painful explosion, but she’d die before she would admit it. She had been brought up not to make a fuss. Her father hadn’t liked female histrionics, as he called them.

Aidan stared down at her. For the first time, she saw something in his eyes that told her the past might be gone, but it was not forgotten. For the space of one brief, heart-stopping breath, she was sure she witnessed tenderness. But it vanished in an instant...perhaps never there to begin with. He unbuttoned her bedraggled coat and eased it from her shoulders.

“Where are your pajamas?” he asked.

She wrapped her arms around her waist. “I’ll get them. Go fix yourself a cup of coffee.”

One eyebrow lifted. “You have coffee?”

In England, she had done her best to wean him from the uncivilized beverage. “For guests,” she said stiffly.

He nodded once and walked away. Sinking down onto the bed, she told herself she could manage to wash up and change clothes. It was a matter of pride and self-preservation. Having Aidan help was unthinkable. She was far too aware of him as it was. His physical presence dwarfed her cozy apartment.

In the bathroom she dared to glance in the mirror and groaned. Why had no one seen fit to give her a hairbrush? Moving as carefully as an old lady, she removed her rumpled and stained blouse and skirt and stripped off her undies and bra. Bruises already marked her skin in a dozen places. She had been given strict instructions not to get her stitches wet, so a shower was out. With a soft washcloth and a bar of her favorite lavender soap, she managed a quick cleanup.

When she was done, she realized that she had forgotten to get a nightgown from the bureau. Wrapping a towel around herself sarong-style, she opened the bathroom door and walked into the bedroom.

As she did so, she caught Aidan leaning down to put a cup of steaming hot tea on her bedside table.


Aidan froze. If Emma’s eyes grew any bigger, they would eclipse her face. Though it hurt to look at her, he forced himself to meet her gaze with dispassion. “Drink your tea while it’s hot,” he said. “I’ll see what I can whip up for our dinner.”

In her tiny kitchen, he put his hands on the table, palms flat, and bowed his head. So many feelings, so many memories...

Emma laughed up at him, her skin dappled by shadows from the willow tree that served as shelter for their impromptu picnic. “Why the serious look?” she asked.

She lay on her back, arms outstretched above her head, eyes ripe with happiness. They had borrowed an old quilt from her neighbor. The faded colors only made her more beautiful in comparison.

“I have to go home soon,” he said, unable to comprehend the upcoming rift. “What will I do without you?” He sat upright, his back propped against the tree trunk, trying not to think about how much he wanted to make love to her at this moment. But the perfectly manicured English park was filled with adults and children eager to enjoy the warmth of a late fall afternoon.

Emma linked her fingers with his, pulling his hand to her lips. “Don’t spoil it,” she whispered, for a moment seeming as desperately dejected as he was. But immediately, her optimism returned, even if manufactured. “Remember—you’ll graduate in the spring, and then we’ll have all sorts of choices.”

There was no acceptable choice if it didn’t include her. He managed a grimace that was supposed to placate her. But from the expression on her face, he knew she saw through him. She had since the first day they met.

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