Saving forever, p.31
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       Saving Forever, p.31

         Part #3 of The Ever Trilogy series by Jasinda Wilder

  I was different, though. So different. I'd approached sex casually throughout the end of high school and most of college. I'd always wanted more from it, wanting it to be special and meaningful. It just hadn't happened yet. It had meant something with Cade, just not what I wanted, and not what he wanted. Now, after nearly a year of abstinence, I was nervous. Anxious. Carter and I had been skirting this issue for so long that it was now a big deal. We'd been so clear about the boundaries of our relationship that crossing that line would be a big step. And for me, that step had to be into something meaningful. I couldn't go back to doing the walk of shame. I couldn't go back to one-night stands with frat boys and two-day benders with art majors. I'd been through too much to treat myself and my life and my body so casually.

  And we'd been through too much to treat my relationship with Carter so casually. If we crossed that line, it would mean something. A very, very important something.

  He'd been there for me through everything. He'd taken care of me, done a hundred-thousand-dollar remodel for free, because he liked me. He'd held my hand as I'd delivered a baby. He'd taken me to his parents' house for Christmas. He'd brought me to his home, which I'd realized was a very sacred place to him. It was his private place, his lair. And he'd brought me here. He'd slept next to me night after night for a month and a half, and never once tried anything, nor had he made me feel bad or uncomfortable about it.

  With the island just coming into view, the sun a huge orange ball to our left, I realized something: Carter loved me. He wouldn't have done everything he'd done if he didn't. He'd never asked me for anything in return. Not once. Such selflessness only came from a place of love.

  Did I love him back?

  I asked myself the question, addressed the deepest part of my heart. I asked my mind, my soul. I asked my body. Do I love Carter Haven?

  The answer was immediate: Yes.

  I slid off my chair, reached across him, and pulled the throttle back to a stop. Carter let me do it, an interested expression on his face. The boat rocked forward as our momentum slowed, and the wind of our passage faded to a slow, warm breeze. I turned Carter's captain chair to face me, pushed between his knees. He knew something significant was happening but, in true Carter fashion, he didn't ask any questions; he simply wrapped his arms around my waist, lower than he'd ever dared hold me before, his forearms resting on the bell of my hips, and stared up at me. His ice-blue eyes were hot and intent, burning like pale fire.

  I leaned into him, pressing my breasts to his chest. Curled my hands around the back of his head, cupped his nape, dipped in to kiss him.

  "I just had an epiphany." I spoke with my lips brushing his.

  "Oh, yeah? What's that?" His hands played on my back, on my waist, on my hips.

  "You're in love with me."

  His chest swelled, and his head tipped back to assess me. "Yes. I am."

  I brushed my fingers through his hair, the way he did to me. The wind had tousled his thick beautiful black hair until it was a mess across his brow. I smoothed it aside with my middle fingers, the way he did to me. I brushed my thumb across his cheekbone. Caressed his jaw with my palm. Leaned in and kissed the corner of his mouth. His lips, quickly. The opposite corner. His cheekbone. His eyes, each in turn, which closed as he sighed, and then I kissed his forehead, slow and softly and with great meaning. Then, at last, I pulled back, met his eyes.

  "I love you." I said it evenly, smoothly, although my heart was hammering.

  Carter's fingers tightened on my hips. "I've loved you since Christmas. Seeing you with my family? That was what told me it was for real, forever. I'd been fighting it before that, falling for you." His mouth moved on my lips, his breath a hot whisper. "But seeing you with my family, how absolutely perfect you fit in with us all, that was the day I knew."

  "You never let on."

  He shook his head. "I couldn't. You had to love me for yourself, not because I'd...been your friend. Because I'd been there. If I'd let on, I was afraid I'd scare you away. I was afraid you'd feel pressured to do something you weren't sure about."

  I nodded. "Probably smart." I sat on his lap. "I just want you to know this isn't directly about the appointment. About what that means. I was just thinking, you know, about us. About myself, and how much I've changed since I came up here. Since I met you. And I thought about everything you've done for me without ever asking for anything in return, and I realized you could only have done all that if you loved me. And it made me ask myself if I felt the same. And I do. With all my heart." I took his hand and turned his palm to touch the left side of my chest. "And I'm terrified. What if...what if I don't know how to love you? I've never been in love before. And I feel like telling you this is putting...god, everything I am, everything I want, in your hands. Like I'm totally trusting you. I'm opening up and showing you part of me that I've never even seen myself."

  Carter left his hand where it was to feel my heartbeat, and took my hand to place my palm so I could feel the mirrored hammering in his chest. "You feel that way because that's exactly what love is. Giving yourself, with all your faults and vulnerabilities, to someone else, trusting that they'll treasure what you're giving them." He let those words sink in. "I'm telling you right now, Eden, that I treasure it. I can't...I don't have enough words to tell you what your love and your trust means to me. I'll just have to take all the time in the world to show you."

  I sniffed back tears of roiling emotions. "God, Carter. Could you be any more perfect?"

  He laughed. "Yes, I could. I'm not perfect."

  "You seem that way to me."

  "I hope to stay that way, for you." His brow furrowed, and his eyes narrowed. "But I won't. For example, I'm going crazy right now. I want to kiss you so badly, but I don't dare because if I do, it'll end up with us on the floor of this boat. And you deserve better than that."

  I breathed in his breath. Curled my fingers into his shirt. "See, here's the thing, Carter. That is perfect. That's what I want. On the floor of this boat. On the counter in the kitchen. On the couch. In your bed, with candles and roses. In the gazebo, as the sun sets. At dawn, on your weight bench. Anywhere, everywhere. All the time. So, if that's what you're tempted to do, then do it. Give in to temptation. Because now, it's perfect. It's what I've always wanted, but I finally feel like it's okay to have it."

  Carter sucked in a breath, and then his eyes closed slowly, as if summoning reserves of resistance. "Babe, I promise you, someday, I'll take you on the floor of this boat. But not this day. I've waited for you for months. When I make love to you for the first time, it's going to be perfect and beautiful, and it's going to last all night. It's not going to be a quick tumble on the floor of my Bayliner."

  I was pleased by his answer. I didn't want our first time to quick and rough either. I wanted that with him, but not for our first time. "Then get us home."

  He held me on his lap, shoved the throttle forward so the boat tipped back and the engine roared. He held me around the waist with one arm, as if afraid I would try to escape, piloting with the other hand. I leaned into him and held onto his neck, inhaling his scent, breathing in the essence of Carter, loving the excitement that thrilled through my blood, the anticipation boiling low in my gut, loving the feel of his hand sliding possessively now over my hip and brushing low to caress the upper bell of my ass. I loved the easy way he guided the boat through the water, cutting the engine at the perfect moment so momentum brought us to a soft bump at the boathouse. I loved the powerful way he lifted me to the dock and the impatience in the way he led me in to the kitchen.

  I really, really loved the way he closed the kitchen door behind us and then halted, his hand on the glass, the other on my hip, pressing me back against the door, hot hunger in his eyes. I thrilled with need when his hips pinned me to the door, and I gasped with my own fierce heat when I felt the thick ridge between our bodies. I lifted up into his kiss, clung to him and shook as he kissed the breath from me. His hand curved around to cup my ass, a
nd I gloried in that touch.

  I palmed his spine, under his shirt, pushing the cotton up and over his head, off. He stopped me there, though. "Not yet," he whispered. "I want--I want to get a few things ready."

  "I am ready," I protested.

  He laughed. "I know. But I want to...god, just trust me, okay? I want to do this right. Just give me a few minutes."

  I let go of him with a sigh. "I trust you. Do what you gotta do, but don't be long."

  "I won't."

  "Should I do anything to help?"

  He shook his head. "Just be you. Just be sexy, perfect you."

  I blew a raspberry. "Sexy, perfect me might need a few minutes to get sexy."

  He shook his head at me, frowning. "Eden, baby. You're a fucking siren right now, right this minute. The only thing you have to do to get sexy is to breathe."

  I pushed at him. "Thanks, babe. Now go do your mysterious mission."

  I'd never used a term of endearment before. Words like honey, or sweetie, or babe usually made me wince. But now I understood. Carter started away and darted back to steal a kiss, and then was gone, heading up to the turret bedroom. I had a brush and makeup in my purse, and packed away in one of my boxes was my collection of "depressed Eden needs to feel sexy" lingerie that I hadn't worn since Ever was in a coma. Maybe it was time to see if I could fit into that. It would probably suck if I couldn't, but it was worth a try.

  I dug through the boxes that were still piled in a closet off the kitchen, and eventually found what I was looking for. I chose a set of black lace Victoria's Secret bikini-cut panties and a front-clasp push-up. I ducked into the ground-level bathroom, shed my clothes, and pulled on the underwear. A little tight, but doable. Not pinching off my circulation, and I didn't look like I'd stuffed myself into them. Good. The bra would probably make him hyperventilate. It was already a push-up, and my still-bigger-than-normal tits overflowed the confines of the lace. I stared at myself in the mirror. I looked good. Still a bit heavier than I'd like. I still had some stretch marks and extra skin, but it would either go away on its own, or not. Nothing I could do about it. If he loved me, he'd love me despite those things. I brushed out my hair, teased it out a bit, leaving it loose. The roots were awful. I'd have to re-dye my hair soon, as I'd neglected it for too long. Yet...for the first time since I was a pre-teen, I didn't want to. Maybe instead of platinum blonde, I'd go back to black. I put on some makeup, just some light blush and lip stain and eyeliner.

  Hanging between my breasts was the pendant Karen had given me. Courage was facing out, Trust pressing against my chest. Rather fitting, really.

  I took a deep breath, and left the bathroom. All the lights had been turned off while I was in the bathroom. A single candle burned on the kitchen counter. There was a torn scrap of paper with Carter's handwriting: follow the light.

  I glanced at the stairway, noticed another candle burning on the bottom step. I left the candle burning on the counter and picked up the one on the stairs and ascended to the living room. Another candle burned on the coffee table, with another note: maybe some music to set the mood. There was a remote for a Bose iPod dock. I hit the power button, and then "play." Acoustic guitar floated up, accompanied by a single male voice, breathy and soulful, joined after a few beats by a woman's voice. The song was "Cripple Me" by Elenowen. I listened for a few moments, and then focused on yet another candle flickering in the darkening gloom of lowering night. It sat on the bottom step of the stair leading up to the turret. I took that candle in my other hand, carried them both up the spiral staircase to the bedroom.

  I loved his bedroom. It was circular, with huge windows letting in the starry light and silver moon glow. Soft off-white plush carpeting sank under my feet, the walls painted a pale pastel green that was still somehow masculine. The furniture was dark and heavy and sleek, setting off the color of the walls. The music was faintly audible, the romantic and haunting melody floating gently up from below us. Several more candles burned in the otherwise darkened room, on the bureau and the nightstands. Carter stood in the center of the room, lighting another candle. He was still shirtless, clad in nothing but faded blue jeans. I felt my core heat up and tighten as I watched him light the candle, the muscles in his broad back rippling as he set the candle on the counter in the bathroom.

  God, he was gorgeous. Muscled, but not bulky. Lean, hard, and powerful, but graceful and quick. Thick black hair that needed cutting in the most adorable way. Pale blue eyes shining out from sun-dark skin, sharp and beautiful features, strong hands.

  And he was here with me. Mine.

  He turned to look at me, and I realized he'd known I was there the whole time. His nostrils flared, and his eyes raked over me. "I hope this is okay," he said. "I wanted to...give you what you deserve."

  I melted. "It's...more than perfect. It's overwhelmingly perfect." I smoothed my hands over my stomach, feeling self-conscious, wondering if I'd pushed it coming up in lingerie.

  "You're overwhelmingly perfect," he said, his voice a husky murmur. He tossed the lighter on the bureau and moved toward me in a predatory stalk. "So perfect. So beautiful. God, Eden. I'm dying here."

  I stood where I was and let him approach me, my hands splayed over my belly. I knew I was doing it to cover the residual stretch marks, and I knew I should stand with confidence and pride and all that, but I just couldn't. I'd never worn lingerie for anyone before. It had always been unnecessary. My knees were shaking and my palms were sweating, and I was afraid he'd suddenly change his mind, and keeping my hands over my stomach was simply something I couldn't fight, not with all the other nerves shooting through me.

  Carter tilted his head, listening to the music. "'Save me,'" he said, "I love the lyrics to this song."

  He was inches away from me, not touching me, and I wanted, needed, his touch, but I listened to the song anyway. Promise, promise to never leave...god. So poignant.

  I tilted my face up to look into his eyes. "I wanted to do something for you. I knew you were doing something ridiculously romantic, and I couldn't just show up in jeans and T-shirt, no makeup, hair a mess. I wanted to look at least a little sexy for you."

  Carter literally growled. His hands floated over my ribs, just beneath my bra. Slid down my sides. Around to my back, up over my shoulders, down my arms, exploring my skin. Down to my hips, over the lace to my ass. He cupped my backside, pulled me to him. "'A little sexy.'" He repeated my words as if reciting something absurd. "Eden, baby. take my breath away. From the first time I saw you on the beach, you've taken my breath away. Like this? In that fucking amazing lingerie, with your hair like that and your eyes all smoky? Jesus, Eden. I could die now a happy man, just having gotten to see you like this."

  "Don't die yet, though," I said, unable to stop the smile of flattered pleasure from curving my lips. "I have plans for you."

  He murmured a rumble of interest. "Oh, yeah? What's that?"

  I lifted up on my toes and just barely, oh-so-softly touched my lips to his. Tasted him, and spoke with our lips touching. "It starts with this."

  He pushed down to deepen the kiss, and then wrapped his palm around my nape and simply and purely ravished my mouth with his. I moaned as he kissed the breath from me, kissed the sense from me.

  I summoned my thoughts, my intentions, the strength in my knees, and reached between us, flicked open the snap of his jeans. "It also includes this," I whispered.

  "I like where this is going," he said. "What else?"

  The zipper fell away easily, and he stepped out of the jeans. I didn't even notice what he was wearing under them, other than that they were black and soft and tight. I couldn't help stealing a roaming caress of his firm ass, and then ran my finger under the elastic of his underwear. "This." I kissed him, pulled away. "And this." I stroked him over the fabric of his underwear, and inhaled at the size of him.

  "Jesus, Eden. Too much of that, and I'll embarrass myself."

  I stroked him again, unable to resist. "It wouldn't b
e an embarrassment. It'd be beautiful. And perfect. Anything we do will be."

  "True. But I want to feel you around me when that happens." He pulled away from me, just slightly. "I need to see you. All of you. Feel you. Touch you. Kiss you all over. Show you what real love feels like."

  I felt my throat go thick and tight and hot at those words. "I need that, too. Please?"

  He nuzzled his nose against my throat, and his hands traced the lace of my underwear. "Then let's get rid of these, as sexy as they are. I want what's beneath them."

  He pressed his fingers to my flesh and slid the lace away with a long, slow caress down the sides of my legs, dipping at his knees to kiss down my chest. My head fell back as his lips found the swell of my breasts, and I could only hold onto his shoulders as he let my underwear fall to the floor. His hand lifted my foot, and I stepped free of them, kicking them aside. Never in my life had I felt so vulnerable being naked with a man, so bare. I let my hands fall to my sides as he searched the strap of my bra for the clasps.

  "Front..." I murmured.

  His eyes went from mine to my boobs, fixed on the front-clasp. His hands trembled as he freed the hook from the eye. I shut my eyes briefly as he brushed the straps off, and tried to swallow past the nerves as the undergarment fell away, into his hands. He set it aside, gently tossing it the floor. I fought the urge to cross my arms over my breasts, and failed.

  He didn't say anything, though. He threaded his fingers through mine, brought my hands to his waist. The feel of his warm skin under my hands lit a fire inside me, a gentle flame that burned away some of my nerves. I was hot and cold, I knew, and I had to be confusing him. One second I was talking boldly and touching him, the next I was covering myself and acting like a fainting virgin.

  "I'm sorry I'm so nervous all of a sudden," I said. "This feels different."

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