Waiting For You
The sound of Mark’s voice brought Lily out of her daze and she whirled around, clutching her drink to her chest.
“You startled me. I wasn’t expecting anyone,” she said, moving away from the floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the lake. She’d come to her family’s cabin for a little peace and quiet, and she certainly hadn’t thought she’d be receiving a guest, least of all Mark Fisher. Although, now that he was nearly family she supposed it was his cabin too. Her father had presented him with a key after all, along with the keys to the older man’s corporation.
“You weren’t expecting anyone?” The husky timbre of Mark’s voice suggested that he thought she was waiting for someone, which she certainly wasn’t. He quirked a dark eyebrow and her heart turned over in her chest.
She loved him so much, so achingly much she thought her heart might break just from looking at him. There was nothing she could do about it. Which didn’t explain why she was here, now, hoping that there was something she could do? Hoping she could tell him, show him, make him see. Before it was too late.
She looked down into the dark red liquid in her glass and wished, not for the first time, that she’d just had the guts to drink all the pain away. But she’d never allowed herself a fit of self-pity like that in her life, and she wasn’t about to start now.
It was too late already, and the rational side of her knew that, but it didn’t make the searing pain in her heart hurt any less, neither did it allow that last flame of hope that was still flickering inside of her to snuff itself out. But that treacherous little part of her that told her it wasn’t over until he said his vows refused to die completely.
“What brings you here?” she asked, aiming for casual but only achieving stressed and strangled.
“A little break until the furor dies down,” he said, moving to the sideboard and pouring himself a glass of red wine. She couldn’t stop herself from looking her fill while he had his back to her. He was so handsome, tall, broad shouldered and undeniably masculine. And he was the only man she had ever loved.
“Post engagement mayhem?” she inquired without really wanting to picture the scene that had ensued when he and Rose had made their announcement. There was a reason she had chosen this weekend to hide away in the woods.
He turned and raised the glass to his lips. “That’s putting it mildly. Your mother has already mentally spent half of my fortune in an endeavor to make Rose’s dream wedding a reality.”
Lily knew she would regret the question the moment she asked it, but apparently she had transformed into a masochist. “And what would your dream wedding be?”
The flash of indecision that raced through his dark eyes shocked her. Most people would have missed it, because it was only there for a moment, but she knew Mark’s face better than she knew her own and it was as clear to her as if he’d voiced his feelings.
“That’s a loaded question,” he said after a pause.
“I didn’t realize.”
He set his glass down and moved nearer to her, his warmth and scent teasing her with promises of things she could never have. “You know the situation, Lily. It hasn’t changed.”
“I’m not in love with your sister, but she knows that. I doubt she loves me. To answer your question, I suppose my dream wedding would be one that wasn’t a merger. But the reality is what it is. I made a deal with your father a long time ago.”
Lily remembered well when she’d first met Mark. He’d been a young up and coming business prodigy and her father had been salivating to get his hands on him, to mould him into a successor for his business.
Being void of male heirs it had always been her father’s plan to find the best business mind that he could and have him marry his oldest daughter as a way of carrying on the Masters’ dynasty. As soon as he’d met Mark he’d begun parading him in front of Rose, pushing the two of them together to try so that he could forge both a professional, and personal, alliance with Mark.
Lily, at sixteen, hadn’t realized the machinations going on in her family home. She’d just known, in that moment, that the much older Mark was the man of her dreams. Even when Rose had told her, point blank, that it was their father’s wish that Rose and Mark marry someday, Lily had tuned her out. She’d been too young and too much in love to truly believe that it wouldn’t work out in her favor.
Five years on and Mark’s ring was on Rose’s finger, while Lily was left only with a void in her chest that she knew would never be filled. So much for childhood fantasy.
“It doesn’t seem fair to either of you,” she said softly, brushing a strand of golden hair out of her eyes.
“We both know what we’re getting into.” He retrieved his glass and upended the contents of it, closing his eyes as he swallowed. She watched the bob of his Adam’s apple and a shiver of longing raced through her.
“What about love? Neither of you want that?” She brushed her fingers up and down the stem of her glass, trying to disguise the shaking in her voice and her hands.
He shrugged and set his glass down. He toyed idly with the bottle of wine for a moment before pushing it away. “Neither of us expects it, and it frees us both up to pursue our other interests.”
Lily felt her eyes widen and she tried to close her mouth to avoid looking like a dry-drowning fish. “You mean you both…you both have other…you’re not intending to be faithful to each other?”
That knocked her completely back. She couldn’t imagine Mark, who was the model of tall, dark, handsome and stable, being anything but the perfect husband. Her flighty sister was another matter altogether, but she couldn’t fathom that even Rose would marry knowing her husband would be having affairs!
“I think you misunderstood me. Rose is involved in her career and I’m involved in mine. Neither of us have a lot of time for a traditional relationship.”
Why she should care either way, she didn’t know. Except that for a moment Mark had come off of the pedestal she’d put him on years ago and she hadn’t liked it.
“But is it…is it what you want?”
“I want the merger with your father to go through. I want to honor the commitment that I made.”
“It all seems really cold to me,” she said, voicing her opinion out loud for the first time. It must be the wine, and the firelight, making her bold.
Things between Mark and her had been easy at one time, but then he’d started seeing Rose with serious intent, and Lily had withdrawn. But something about tonight, maybe because it all seemed futile now, was helping her recapture the candidness she used to have with him.
A half smile, one void of warmth, curved his lips. “How do you know I’m not cold, Lily?”
Oh, she knew. She’d had one moment with him, one stolen moment in time, which had cemented her feelings for him, that had shown her the kind of passion that lay beneath his perfectly tailored suits and practical outlook on life. For one moment, his lips had touched hers and everything in her had ignited, changed, forever.
She swallowed. “I just know.”
It was obvious that they were both sharing the same memory, her eighteenth birthday. Her father had thrown a huge party for her, and for several hundred of his closest business associates. Lily had never been a big fan of big get-togethers and halfway through the evening she’d ended up in the garden, away from the lights and people that were socializing on her parent’s sprawling lawn.
She had been sitting on a bench, surrounded by her namesake flower, and her thoughts had been on Mark, as they had been invariably since she’d been sixteen. And, as if she’d made him appear with the sheer force of her longing, he’d come walking into the alcove, his normally starched shirt undone at the collar, his dark hair not as carefully combed as usual. He had never looked more handsome to her, and in that moment she had felt her first pang of real, adult desire.
He’d sat down next to her on the carved stone bench, his warmth heating her.
“Not enjoying your party?”
“It’s not really my party.”
He’d frowned, lines marring his perfect face. “Did you at least get everything you wanted?”
“Not everything.” She’d felt bold then too, and it hadn’t been because of wine or anything she’d had to drink. “I’m eighteen today and I still haven’t been kissed.”
She’d watched his face harden, change. It was the first moment she’d realized that he wasn’t totally indifferent to her as a woman.
“Are you asking me to kiss you?” his voice had sounded different too, huskier, deeper.
“Not a good idea, Lily. I’m ten years older than you and a lot more experienced.”
“It’s just a kiss, Mark.” That’s what she’d said, that it was just a kiss, but it had felt like the whole world hinged on that one moment, on what his answer would be.
And then he’d leaned in and touched his lips to hers, and the world really had stopped. The cool night air heated and she felt desire uncurl in her belly. It wasn’t a long kiss, but it was the single most incredible moment of her life.
When he’d pulled away, his breathing had been labored, as hers had been. She’d leaned in again, hoping for another taste of the paradise he’d just shown her, but he’d drawn away, a rueful smile on his face.
“Now you’ve been kissed,” he’d said. And he’d cupped her cheek, drawing his thumb over her sensitized skin. “Happy birthday, Lily.”
Nothing before or since had matched that moment for her. The memory of that one kiss still had the power to set her toes on fire. She’d kissed other men since then, if only to try and capture half of the passion she’d felt in that moment. But there had been nothing, nothing other than the vague comfort and pleasure that being kissed brought, but there’d never been any heat, any desire, with anyone else.
That was how she knew Mark wasn’t cold. That was how she knew he wouldn’t be happy in a dead, loveless marriage. Of course, for all she knew what he and Rose lacked in love they made up for in incendiary passion. That made her stomach turn.
“Why did you come here tonight, Lily?” he asked, his voice so soft and tender that it brought tears to her eyes.
“The same reason you did.”
“To get away.” She turned her face away, hoping her wouldn’t see the sheen of tears glazing her eyes.
And then his arms were around her, bringing her into his warmth, his strength. She inhaled his scent, loving the feel of him, the essence of him.
She turned her face up so that she could see him, his eyes were intent on her, the same hard look that she’d seen that night in the garden etched into his beautiful features. She made her decision. She would have tonight, and then she could let him go, she could deliver him to her sister, to his loveless marriage, if only she could be with him once. Just once.
It would have to be enough to get her through the rest of her life. To support her as she watched her sister walk down the aisle and take his hand, as she watched them make vows, make a life together, have children.
She angled her face further so that their lips met. He kept his mouth immobile for a moment and then the passion between them exploded. He parted his lips and she took advantage, sliding her tongue inside of his mouth, needing to bring them closer together, needing to be joined to him, to be one flesh.
He wrapped his arms around her waist and drew her more tightly against him until she felt like she was surrounded completely in his warmth, his desire.
She was lost in sensation, in his touch. Her heart thudded heavily in her breast and she felt tears forming at the corners of her eyes, sliding down her cheeks. She had never loved him more than she did in that moment; and she had never been so acutely aware of the fact that he wasn’t hers.
“Lily.” Her name was a whisper on his lips, a plea, a plea she wouldn’t deny.
“Mark.” She had to say his name, just to be certain he was really there, that he wouldn’t disappear into vapor and leave her there alone, like he always did in her dreams.
Dimly, she registered that they were moving, that they were walking to the stairs, their lips still joined. He swept her into his arms when they reached the bottom step, his mouth never leaving hers as he carried her up the stairs, her weight seeming like a total insignificance to him.
When he laid her down on the soft mattress in one of the bedrooms, there was no fear, no uncertainty. It was Mark, her love, and she wanted to share this with him.
It was easy to lose herself in sensation, in pleasure so intense, so out of her experience, that it stole her breath and all rational thought. But through all of that, all of the physical things he made her feel, her love was the strongest, most dominant element to their joining together.
And when physical pleasure mixed with her love it drew her to new heights, crashing over her like a wave and leaving her spent. For the first time in her life she felt completely and utterly whole, as if she had finally found part of herself that she hadn’t known had been missing.
Mark curled her into his arms and wiped the tears that were still falling down her cheeks. “I didn’t deserve that, Lily,” he said roughly. “Not when you’d waited like that.”
I waited for you. It was her last thought before she drifted off to sleep, and she wasn’t sure if she’d spoken it out loud or not.
The gray light of dawn was just starting to come through the gauzy curtains when Lily woke. She was still cocooned in Mark’s strong arms. She took a moment to revel in that, bring held by him, skin to skin, so close that their heartbeats were one.
A small smile curved her lips. It had been worth waiting for Mark. He had made everything perfect, even though she knew it wouldn’t last.
Some small part of her knew that she should feel guilty for sleeping with her sister’s fiancé, but Rose knew how Lily felt about Mark. She had always known. She’d known it when she flaunted the fact that she’d had a date with Mark under Lily’s nose. She’d known that it had broken Lily’s heart when she’d announced that she and Mark were going to be getting engaged. It didn’t excuse her behavior completely, but she found she couldn’t regret it either.
She studied Mark’s face, only vaguely visible in the dim light. She had never seen him sleep before and she drank in the sight. He looked more relaxed, younger, in his sleep. She traced the bracket by his lips with her fingers, then pressed a light kiss to his mouth.
The easiest thing, the best thing for both of them, would be if she were gone when he woke up. Sliding out of bed, leaving the safety of Mark’s embrace, was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do. Because she knew she was letting him go, leaving him free to fulfill his obligations. Mark wouldn’t have it any other way, he was like that. It was one of the things she loved about him and he just wouldn’t be Mark if he didn’t honor his commitments.
Last night had been a moment out of time, a moment of pure, heady indulgence and insanity for both of them. But time was moving forward now and she couldn’t cling to the night before, not when the cold light of morning was staring her directly in the face.
She dressed quickly and spared Mark’s sleeping form one last look. A thick lump rose in her throat and she swallowed, trying desperately to keep the tears at bay.
“I love you,” she said, before she walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.
It had been two weeks since her night with Mark, and every single one of the fourteen days had been filled with thoughts of him. She hadn’t been stupid enough to believe that making love with him would exorcize her feelings for him altogether, but she had hoped that she would feel a sense of closure. But no, if anything she craved more of him now that she’d been with him.
She’d avoided her parent’s home completely, not out of guilt, simply because she was afraid that if she saw Mark her love for him would be written all over her face. And she was afraid that in his face she would only see pity.
That was her biggest fear, that he’d slept with her out of pity. Because she’d thrown herself at him like love starved maniac and he’d been faced with the option to go along with it or embarrass her. And he was a man, so, frankly, she wasn’t at all shocked that he’d taken the option that ended with the two of them in bed.
She blew out a breath and walked over to the filing cabinet at the far end of her office. She was being unfair. Mark wasn’t like that. He cared for her, in some capacity at least, and she knew he hadn’t just been using her as a warm body.
She gave up on trying to find the proper spot for the file she’d been holding and stuffed the folder in the bloated cabinet without paying attention to where it landed. Not even work was engaging her today and she normally loved her work as a graphic artist. Not today though. Today her mind seemed stuck on the man she couldn’t have. What else was new?
A knock on her office door broke her reverie and she shook her head in an attempt to clear the cobwebs. “Come in.”
Her heart climbed up into her throat when Rose walked in, followed by Mark who looked, if it was even possible, more handsome than she’d ever seen him look.
Rose waved an elegant hand, showing off the huge rock on her ring finger. Jealousy tore at Lily’s stomach. Her sister had everything she’d ever wanted, and the other woman didn’t even love the man at her side. Life was just cruel sometimes.
“Lily,” Rose moved near to the desk, leaving Mark standing by the door, looking stoic, “I need to get your measurements so that I can get them over to the bridal shop. If they’re going to special order the dresses in time for the wedding they need them ASAP.”
Lily managed to mumble the appropriate words and scribble the right numbers down on an index card. She nearly dropped it when she handed it back to Rose. Lily’s hand was shaking so badly that she knew her sister couldn’t be oblivious to it.
Rose took the card and swept out, leaving the essence of her namesake in her wake. Mark didn’t follow. He only stood by the door, his eyes dark and unreadable. Tension stretched between them.
In that space of time every touch, every caress, hovered between them. She could feel his hands on her skin, his lips on her throat.
“Why did you leave?” he asked, his voice strained.
“There was nothing to say. There isn’t anything to say now.” She averted her eyes and focused on a non-existent point of interest on her desk.
“You waited for me.”
So she had said it out loud. What a time, and what a way, to discover that.
“What does that matter? I had to wait for someone.”
Hot fury burned in her chest. “Do you get your kicks out of humiliating other people, Mark? Because I didn’t pick you for that type.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.” He reached out and grabbed her arm. Attraction zinged through her, slicing through her anger, her self-control, like a knife.
“Just go,” she choked. “Your fiancée is waiting.”
He released her and walked out the door without another word.
The reprieve that she normally felt in the small alcove of her parent’s garden wasn’t there for her tonight. Of course, how could it be? This was the place she’d shared that first kiss with Mark.
Not that it mattered. He was with her wherever she went, the memories of that one night with him etched in her body and soul forever.
A solitary tear slid down her cheek and she did nothing to wipe it away.
“Are you running away from a party I didn’t know about?”
Lily’s head snapped up and her eyes met with Mark’s. Her heart thundered in her ears and her stomach clenched. She still felt like the eighteen year old kid he’d first kissed right in this spot. She still desired him, only him, and she still loved him with everything that she had.
“No parties going on here,” she said, trying to disguise the tears that were still evident in her voice.
“I just came from the house.” He gestured back toward the front of the grounds, where her parent’s opulent mansion loomed. “I had a meeting with your father.”
“About the merger?” The merger that meant marriage.
“Yes and no. It was mostly about the wedding.”
Her heart lurched and collided with her ribs. “What about the wedding?”
“I broke up with Rose, and since he was so involved in our relationship, or lack of it, in the first place, I thought I ought to tell him.”
“You broke up with Rose?”
“She took it pretty well. Turns out she actually did have another boyfriend, so at least she’s not alone.”
“But what about the company? My father won’t sign it over to you now!”
He shook his head, his expression grave. “Nope. He’s washed his hands of me, professionally speaking.”
“So why did you do it?” It was another one of those questions that she both needed and dreaded the answer to.
“I realized that I couldn’t marry someone I didn’t love. And I realized I really couldn’t marry a woman I didn’t love when I was in love with another woman.”
Tears filled her eyes again. “I hope you’re talking about me, because if you’re not that’s just mean!”
He sat on the bench and wrapped his arms around her, his lips finding hers easily. She kissed him with all of her pent up passion, her pent up love. And he kissed her back. Fully. Gloriously.
When he pulled away from her he kissed away the lingering moisture on her cheeks. “Of course it’s you, Lily. It’s always been you. But you were too young for me, too sweet. And I had already made an unofficial deal with your father. At the time the merger, gaining your father’s company, it all seemed so important to me. But the night Rose and I got engaged officially it hit me that I was losing my chance with you, not that I ever truly believed I had one.”
“You didn’t think you had a chance with me? I’ve been in love with you forever.” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheeks, his nose, his lips. “It’s only ever been you for me.”
“The night at the cabin I thought maybe if I could just have one time with you, just once, I could survive without you. But when you told me that you’d waited for me…I hoped. I hoped it was because you felt the same way that I did.”
“I did. I do,” she said, laughing through her tears.
“So, I’m asking from my heart, because I love you and not for any other reason, if you’ll be my wife.” He took her hands in his and pressed his lips to them.
“I don’t come with a company,” she said. “This is all I have.” She pressed a firm kiss to his lips.
“That’s all I need.”