The knock on the door made Elizabeth jump, even though she had been glancing at her watch for about half an hour. She ran to open it, and saw William clutching a bunch of flowers, and looking slightly embarrassed.
"Come in," she said, and stood aside, as he seemed frozen to the spot.
"These are for you," he said, and thrust them into her hands.
"Sweet William, lovely!"
"Yes, they are sweet, aren't they?"
"No, that's their name," Elizabeth said, giggling. "Sweet William."
"Really?" he said, and laughed, dispelling the initial awkwardness. "I had no idea, you must think I'm stupid."
"Not at all. Come through, I'll put them in water."
He followed her into the kitchen and watched her as she filled a vase with water and snipped the stems.
"Thanks, they're really nice," she said, arranging the flowers.
"Well, I stopped to get some flowers for Ellen, and I just ... I wanted to get something for you," William said, stumbling over his words and feeling awkward. Inwardly he was annoyed with himself. He never had this much difficulty expressing himself, he never felt this confused. Taciturn maybe, but lost and fumbling for the right thing to say, never. And now he had to try and explain feelings he could barely put words to, and he was finding it near impossible. He saw Elizabeth looking at him expectantly, wondering if he was going to continue speaking, and suddenly became tongue tied. She had such a strange effect on him that he seemed to be possessed when he was near her.
"I got a bottle of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, do you think that will be OK?" Elizabeth asked after a long pause.
"Yes, that sounds fine," William answered, glad to be back on solid conversational ground. "I bought New World too, some very good wines coming from South Australia these days."
Elizabeth glanced at her watch, then picked up the wine and her bag.
"Well, we'd probably better go," she said, walked to the bottom of the stairs and shouted. "Sam, are you ready?"
She was answered by clattering footsteps and a thud as he jumped the bottom three steps.
"I wish you wouldn't do that, you're going to go head first through the front door one day," Elizabeth said.
"I used to do that," William said.
"Did you go head first through the door?" Sam asked.
"Nope. Though I did fall off the banisters once or twice."
"See?" Sam said to Elizabeth. "It's OK to jump off the stairs."
"I didn't say it was OK to jump off the stairs," William said. "Just that I used to do it."
"OK, we'll have this discussion another time," Elizabeth said, feeling somewhat beleaguered, and wondering if all mothers of sons felt under siege when there was a man on the scene. She locked the door behind them, and followed William to his car.
"Has this really got a six speed gearbox?" Sam asked.
"Yes, and a V6 engine, it's the "s" model so it isn't automatic, and it's a really good drive," William answered.
"Why don't you sit in the front," Elizabeth said to Sam. "Then you could get a good look at all the dials and things." She was happy to sit in the back seat and have some thinking time. William had seemed odd over the past weekend, and she couldn't work him out. He was getting on incredibly well with Sam, who seemed to like him and to have put the incident at the pool behind him, but the ease between them on their first date seemed to have gone, and he appeared clumsy and awkward. She couldn't account for his loss of composure as he had always appeared so confident and self-assured. The way she caught him looking at her sometimes unnerved her too, the way he could trap her with a gaze so intense that she felt as if she was drowning in those deep brown eyes. There was more to William than she yet knew, she was sure, but she didn't know how she was going to get there.
As William drove, chatting to Sam about the car, he tried to decide whether Elizabeth had been glad to see him. His uncertainty from the previous night had not really gone away, and although she had seemed pleased with the flowers, it occurred to him that she could just be making an effort to be polite until the weekend was over. At that point, he wondered, was she going to tell him that she didn't want to see him?
The traffic on a Sunday morning was fairly light, so it didn't take too long to reach Richmond. William pulled into the parking space in front of Richard's house, and led the way down the path to the front door, which was flung open to a shout of "they're here!" from Tom.
"Hi, come in," Richard said, striding down the hallway with a broad smile on his face. "Hi Elizabeth, did you find us easily? Good timing, you both arriving at the same time, who got the best parking space?"
"William gave us a lift," Elizabeth said, glancing at William.
"Oh! Good, well, makes sense," Richard said, deciding that he needed to get William on one side as soon as possible. "Hi, Sam, how are you? How's the head?"
"Fine thanks," Sam answered.
"Can we go into the garden?" Tom asked his Dad, then turned to Sam. "Dad got us some 5-aside goals, do you want to play football?"
"It's a bit muddy for football," Ellen said, appearing from the kitchen wiping her hands on a cloth. "Hi Elizabeth, hi Sam!" She kissed William on the cheek and thanked him for the flowers he gave her, then turned to Richard. "Come on then, darling, are we going to stand out in the hall all lunchtime?"
"I brought this," Elizabeth said, and handed her bottle of wine to Richard.
"Ooh, this looks nice," Richard said, reading the label. "Anyway, come on through. Tom, why don't you show Sam the playroom?"
"Yeah, come on," Tom said eagerly. "We just got a new Subbutteo table down there."
The boys disappeared as Elizabeth followed Ellen and William into the living room, where Daniel and Sophie were lying on the floor, doing some colouring. Richard took the wine that William and Elizabeth had brought into the kitchen.
"Ellen!" Richard shouted. "I think Emily's had the cat's milk again!"
"Oh no!" Ellen shrieked, and ran out of the room.
Elizabeth looked towards William, hoping for an explanation, but he shrugged and grinned.
"It's always a bit crazed in this house," he said. "You get used to it eventually. I didn't know they had a cat."
Ellen returned with Emily on her hip, sighing and shaking her head.
"Michael found a kitten on the way home from school on Friday," she said. "I told him we can't keep it, but we can't take it to the cats' home until Monday, so it's here. We put milk in a saucer for it, and Emily decided that she's a cat too, she keeps crawling over and drinking the cat's milk."
"Oh dear," Elizabeth said. "That's not very good."
"What must you think of us?" Ellen sighed. "I'm either shouting or poisoning my children whenever we meet!"
Richard came back with a tray of glasses and an opened bottle of wine.
"It's got to go," Ellen said. "First thing on Monday."
"Yes, yes," Richard said, giving the distinct impression that this discussion had taken place several times already. "Anyway, the cat's outside and there's no food on the floor. Here, try this. I thought we'd start with white."
He poured out the wine and handed the glasses round. Sips were followed by appreciative murmurs.
"That's good, Richard, what is it?" William asked, picking up the bottle to read the label.
"An Australian Chardonnay, the wine merchant had some new stuff so I thought we'd try out a few things. We had a bottle of this last week and liked it so I went back for a case yesterday."
Elizabeth could only sip her wine and listen in amazement as Richard and William discussed buying wine by the case, and as an investment.
"Can I have some?" Sophie asked Ellen.
"No, sweetie, I'll get you some juice," Ellen said, as Daniel clamoured for juice too.
"I'll give you a hand," Elizabeth said, following Ellen into the kitchen. "Mmm something smells delicious!"
"I'm doing a roast," Ellen said. "I like proper Sunday lunch when the trees have just started to turn and the mornings have that nip to them. It seems really autumnal."
"I know what you mean," Elizabeth said, smiling. "Shall I take Emily?"
Ellen was trying to get beakers out of a cupboard while still keeping hold of the little girl.
"Oh, please. I'm not putting her on the floor, she'll be a cat again." Emily giggled and made a miaowing noise as she wrapped her arms around Elizabeth's neck.
"You're not a little pussy cat," Elizabeth teased, tickling Emily. "I've seen you in the swimming pool, you're a little fish. Or are you a frog?"
"Frog, frog!" Emily shouted, jumping up and down in Elizabeth's arms.
Ellen poured juice into beakers, and checked the contents of a pan, then reached for a tray for the drinks. Elizabeth could only watch in awe as she moved swiftly round the kitchen doing several things at once.
"So, how are you?" Ellen asked. "I'm glad you could come over."
"Fine, thanks," Elizabeth said, guessing what Ellen was building up to.
"And William?" she asked, a little smile creeping across her face.
"I think he's fine too."
"You know what I mean!" Ellen laughed. "Anything happening there?"
"You're terrible, Ellen, you've been plotting this, haven't you?"
"Well, you know," she shrugged. "Men sometimes need a little bit of help."
"So did you help William ask me out last Saturday?"
"You went out with him last week? He never said a word!" Ellen said. "Ooh, if Richard knew and didn't tell me!"
Elizabeth laughed, trying to keep hold of Emily who was wriggling furiously, trying to reach for a drink.
"Better take these through," Ellen said. "But you have to tell me everything later!"
Elizabeth followed Ellen back to the living room, where William and Richard had moved on from discussing wine to talking about property. She put Emily down, and the little girl immediately started bouncing across the floor, squeaking.
"Goodness, Ellen, she's a handful, isn't she?"
"Can you believe that Richard thinks another baby would be fun? He's insane!"
"He needs sending to the vet," William laughed.
"Never!" Richard said. "No-one's fiddling about down there, thank you!"
Elizabeth burst out laughing at the expression on Richard's face. William watched her and felt his stomach flip as he thought how much he liked to see her looking happy. She really was gorgeous.
"What's Emily doing?" Michael said, coming into the room.
"Frog, frog!" Emily shouted as she bounced past him.
"Frogs don't squeak, they go 'rivet, rivet'," Michael said. "And they catch flies with their tongues."
"Michael!" Ellen said sharply. "What did you have to say that for? She's only just stopped drinking the cat's milk."
Elizabeth noticed William looking at her, and smiled at him. She was rewarded by a look of such intensity that she shivered. He had the ability to make her feel as though he was gazing right into her. A sudden flash of memory made her lips tingle as she remembered his kiss the previous day - quick, sudden, and laden with promise. She wondered if she was blushing as she was sure he knew what she had been thinking about. Unconsciously, she quickly licked her lips, and William had to look away as he was overcome with a wave of desire so strong he felt as if he might faint.
Ellen looked up from handing out beakers and persuading Emily not to lick the windows and knew something had happened. The atmosphere between Elizabeth and William was almost crackling. Richard finished his wine, and topped up everyone's glasses.
"Are we nearly ready to eat?" he asked Ellen. "Shall I carve?"
"Should be just about ready," she said. "I'll go and get organised."
"Let me help," William said.
"If you take the wine through, William, that would be good," Ellen said. "It won't take me long to do the rest. Michael, go and wash your hands, and take the others, please."
"Follow me," William said to Elizabeth. "The dining room's through here."
William showed Elizabeth into the dining room.
"Back in a mo," he said, and went into the kitchen to collect the wine. As soon as he left, Ellen turned to Richard.
"What's going on?" she said urgently. "What's William said?"
"About what?" Richard asked, puzzled.
"About Elizabeth, of course!"
"Haven't you noticed? Didn't you know?"
Richard looked completely nonplussed as Ellen continued. "He asked her out last week, they've been out together and they all drove over together this morning."
"Oh, right," Richard said absent mindedly as he began to carve the roast.
"You're hopeless!" Ellen sighed. "Couldn't you tell something's going on between them? William can't take his eyes off her, he probably doesn't even know he's doing it but he watches her every time she walks into a room. Did he tell you he was seeing her?"
"No, you know what he's like, doesn't talk about stuff like that. I didn't know he was giving them a lift until they turned up together. Do you think they hit it off then? About time he found someone nice."
"Oh yes, I think they're perfect for each other," Ellen said, smiling. "Even if they don't quite know it yet." She glanced towards the dining room where William and Elizabeth would be alone, if her plans had worked, and wondered what was happening.
William went back to the dining room to find Elizabeth gazing out of the window. At the back of the house, the rooms were slightly above ground level, so steps led down to the garden which sloped gently away from the house towards the river.
"This is gorgeous," Elizabeth sighed.
"Yes, it's a beautiful house, isn't it?" William agreed, coming to stand next to her. "And the view's lovely."
She nodded and smiled up at him.
"Everything OK?" he murmured, and she nodded again. He couldn't help himself. He bent towards her and kissed her softly, his lips brushing against hers. Not an intense kiss like before, yet this left them both with such a sense of yearning they could hardly break away.
"Shouldn't have done that," William whispered. "Just makes me want to do it again."
He put his arm round her waist and she leaned against him as he kissed the top of her head and breathed in her scent. Richard walked in to see them standing together gazing at the view, and coughed discretely. They turned and made their way to the table, sitting where Richard indicated as the children began to appear.
In the basement, Sam and Tom had been playing table football while Sam talked about the tournament he'd been in the previous day. Tom was impressed at the sound of a medal as he hadn't yet won anything with his school team.
"Yeah, it's good when we win something cos my Mum always says we can go out for pizza afterwards," Sam said. "And yesterday we went to Pizza Express and William took us in his car."
"Cool!" Tom said. "And he let you go in his car again today?"
"Yeah, and I sat in the front."
"Is my Uncle William your Mum's boyfriend now?" Tom asked.
"I think so," Sam replied.
"Does that mean you'll be my cousin if they get married?"
"I don't know," Sam said after a long pause. "Anyway who says they'll get married?"
"They might do."
"I don't think my Mum wants to get married to anyone. She never has boyfriends."
"Never ever?" Tom asked. "Why not?"
Sam shrugged. He didn't know why his Mum didn't have boyfriends as he'd never really thought too much about it until recently.
"Do you like my Uncle William?" Tom asked.
"Yeah, he's cool," Sam said. "He likes football and cars."
"Boys, lunch is ready!" Ellen shouted. "Come up now!"
Sam followed Tom up the stairs from the basement. He was relieved that Tom's questioning had stopped. He thought he probably did like William, and he guessed that William liked his Mum, but he didn't really want to think about it any more. He sat at the dining table next to Elizabeth.
"OK?" she asked quietly, leaning towards him a little but stopping herself before she kissed the top of his head, knowing he wouldn't welcome a kiss in public.
"OK," he replied. "Been playing Subbutteo."
Lunch was a lively affair, with six noisy children chattering much of the time. William and Elizabeth praised Ellen on the food, which was delicious, as Richard opened another one of his trial bottles of wine, this time red.
"We'll all be asleep on the couch this afternoon," William protested, insisting on only half a glass.
"Perfect!" Richard said. "That's what you're supposed to do on Sundays in autumn!"
After the meal, Richard took Emily upstairs to settle her for a nap, while the other children disappeared down to the playroom to watch videos. Ellen began to clear the table, and Elizabeth took some dishes into the kitchen.
"Don't do this, go and relax!" Ellen said.
"No, I don't mind," Elizabeth replied, piling up plates by the sink.
"Richard can sort the dishwasher out later," Ellen said. "So, tell me, are you and William seeing each other?"
"Well, I think so. We had dinner last Saturday, he's asked me out again, and we all ended up going out for pizza last night, after Sam's football match."
"You only think so?" Ellen asked, then noticed a slightly worried frown creasing Elizabeth's forehead. "What's the problem?"
"I can't work him out sometimes," Elizabeth said thoughtfully. "We agreed to forget everything that happened on holiday, and he and Sam seem to get on fine now. We had a wonderful time last Saturday, and last night was nice too."
"But it can't be this easy, can it? I'm out of practice, it's years since I even thought about relationships, and even then I just gave up because it was too difficult with a little boy on the scene. Aside from the fact that most men run a mile when you've got a child. But in the pizza place last night, I just thought that we seem to have slotted together so nicely."
"Well, that's perfect!" Ellen said, then noticed that Elizabeth wasn't smiling. "Is there something else?"
"Afterwards, it was really awkward," Elizabeth admitted. "I didn't think he'd want to come in and watch the film Sam had chosen, and then this morning he hardly spoke to me. And now I'm completely confused because just before lunch he kissed me, and it was really nice." Elizabeth shrugged and blushed slightly. "And now I don't know what to do."
"Well, you could just wait and see how things develop."
"If they develop."
"Do you want them to? Do you want to see him?" Ellen asked.
"Yes, I do, I really like him, but it's just working out what to do."
"I'm sure you can sort that out, if you want to see each other. And if you do, then say something to him."
"He blows hot and cold," Elizabeth said. "I can't be sure what he's thinking."
"Maybe he doesn't know what he's thinking," Ellen said. "He's out of practice too."
Elizabeth laughed. "Nightmare, really!"
"Anyway, go and sit down. I can't have you clearing up the first time you come to see us! William will help me, won't you?" Ellen said as William strolled into the kitchen to see where everyone was.
"Yes, what do you need me to do?"
Ellen shooed Elizabeth out of the kitchen, and pointed out where the bathroom was should she need it. Meanwhile, she asked William to set a tray for coffee.
"So, you and Elizabeth have been out for dinner," Ellen said.
"Goodness, Ellen, you don't pussyfoot about, do you?"
"You should know me by now," she replied, smiling.
"Anyway, yes, we went out for dinner last week."
She carried on tidying up and waited for him to carry on talking. She and William got on very well together, and she knew that he talked to her about things he didn't feel able to discuss with Richard. She sometimes wondered whether she was the big sister that William had never had.
"And it was lovely, we really seemed to click," William said, eventually. "I've never met anyone like her. We talked and talked for hours. I asked her if she wanted to come out with me again and she said yes, then last night the three of us went for pizza."
"Mmm hmm," Ellen said, noticing how William's face seemed to light up when he talked about Elizabeth.
"And I just got this funny feeling. She was on edge, I'm sure, and I just wonder if she's having second thoughts about me."
"Why would she have second thoughts?"
"I don't know. Going out for pizza was really good fun, and Sam seems to think I'm OK now. Then Elizabeth asked me to drop them off so they could go home and watch a film."
"And nothing. She didn't ask me in." William shrugged and Ellen couldn't help feel a little sorry for him, he had such a lost look on his face.
"Well, that doesn't mean all that much," Ellen said. "Maybe she and Sam always watch a film on Saturday and she thought you wouldn't want to. Did you tell her you wanted to watch the film?" "No, but I would've watched anything, I don't care what film it was."
"You like her, then?" Ellen said, smiling at his enthusiasm.
"Oh yes!" he said emphatically.
"Tell her you like her. Tell her you want to be with her, if that's what you want."
"It is, Ellen, I really do want to be with her."
"Then you have to say so. Maybe she just isn't sure how you feel and that's why you think she's on edge. Give her a sign."
William's face broke into a broad smile as he swept Ellen into a hug. "What would I do without you to sort me out?" he laughed.
"Has she put your world to rights?" Richard said, as he came back into the kitchen. "Emily's gone off at last, I had to read her a story about frogs. I'm going to gag Michael if he says anything to her about any more creatures."
Ellen laughed and decided not to tell Richard that the frogs were Elizabeth's idea.
"I'll take this, Elizabeth will be wondering where we all are," William said as he picked up the coffee tray and took it through to the living room.
"Come here, Mrs Fitzwilliam," Richard said, grabbing Ellen round the waist and pulling her towards him before she could leave the kitchen. "I take it you've been organising William's love life?"
"Well, someone has to," she grinned, wrapping her arms around her husband as he kissed her.
"What about my love life?" Richard murmured, holding Ellen close and prolonging the kiss as she responded.
"Remind me never to let you drink wine at lunchtime unless all the children are out," Ellen whispered, and kissed him again. "I think they can all have an early night tonight."
"Everyone in bed by 7, then?" he laughed.
"You're a bad influence, Mr Fitzwilliam!" she said, slapping his backside. "Come on, we're neglecting our guests."
William had poured the coffee, but had not had time to act on any of Ellen's advice. The four of them spent the rest of the afternoon looking at photographs and chatting. Ellen couldn't help but keep an eye on William and Elizabeth and was relieved to see that they both appeared to be a little more relaxed. By the time the older children emerged from the playroom once their video had finished, the light was beginning to fade and the afternoon was turning to evening.
"I think we'd better make a move," William said, standing and stretching.
"Yes, school and work tomorrow," Elizabeth said. "Thanks for a lovely afternoon."
"You're welcome," Richard said. "We'll do it again soon."
"I'll be in touch about the football," William said to Richard, then bent to kiss Ellen on the cheek. "Thanks for everything."
"Any time," Ellen grinned. "See you soon, I hope, Elizabeth."
To waves and choruses of goodbyes, William drove away. The traffic going back into central London was heavy, so by the time they reached Elizabeth's house, it was almost dark. He parked the car neatly although his mind was a jumble of half formed sentences and he didn't know how he was going to say what he wanted to say.
"Would you like to come in?" Elizabeth said, cutting through his thoughts. She had regretted letting him go the previous night and had spent much of the time since the kiss at lunchtime wishing for some time alone with him.
"Yes, I would," William replied, relieved that she had put an end to his confusion.
She nudged Sam, who was half asleep in the back of the car, and they went indoors.
"Do you want a bite to eat?" she asked Sam once they were in the kitchen. "I'm still full from lunch, I can't believe how much food Ellen made!"
"Can I have a biscuit, Mum? I don't want tea," Sam said, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
"Go and get into your PJs, then come down for milk and a biscuit," she said, then turned to William as Sam stumbled away. "How about you, William, would you like anything?"
"Actually, milk and a biscuit sounds good to me."
"Are you serious?" Elizabeth said, laughing.
"Mm hmm," he nodded. "I always feel incredibly fat when I've been to Ellen's, but I could manage a glass of milk."
She poured out two glasses of milk, switched the kettle on to make herself a cup of tea, and opened the biscuit tin. Sam came back, drank half his milk in one go and ate a biscuit.
"I'm tired, is it OK if I go straight to bed?" Sam said.
"Yes of course," Elizabeth said. "Have you had a nice day?"
"Yeah, it was great, I like Tom's house." He drank the rest of his milk then ambled out of the kitchen, waving over his shoulder as he went. "Night, William, night Mum."
Elizabeth handed William his glass of milk and leaned against the worktop, waiting for the kettle to boil. He took a drink, then put the glass down and moved to stand close to her.
"Can I?" he murmured, then before she could answer, kissed her softly, just as he had at lunchtime. His mouth was barely touching hers, and yet her lips were tingling. "Been wanting to do that all afternoon," he said quietly, then kissed her again, a little firmer this time. He stepped away from her but didn't take his eyes from hers. He reached out and tucked a little strand of hair back behind her ear.
"So have I," she said.
He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her towards him as he kissed her again, this time letting go of all that had restrained him before, taking her mouth with a passion that surprised her. She parted her lips as they moved against each other, soft sounds of pleasure escaping from her throat.
"Oh!" she gasped, breaking away eventually. "It's a good job you stopped when you did at lunchtime!" "You don't mind, do you?" he asked. "I mean, I know Sam's here, if you'd rather I didn't...."
"No, it's OK," she said. "More than OK."
She was very aware that he was still leaning against her, and she had a pretty good idea that he was as aroused as she felt. "Let's go in the sitting room, it's more comfortable than leaning on here. We can shut the door, and anyway he'll be fast asleep by now, he's had a busy weekend."
He followed her to the sitting room, entranced by the way her bottom wiggled when she walked. He shut the door and turned to face her, only to be completely disarmed when she began to giggle at him.
"You finished your milk just now, didn't you?" she spluttered in explanation, seeing his frown of puzzlement. He nodded. "You've got a milk moustache!"
"Oh no!" he groaned, then looked even more puzzled when she grabbed his hand to stop him wiping his mouth.
"I'll do it," she said. "Sit down."
He sat on the sofa, and Elizabeth leaned over him as she sat down. She kissed the corner of his mouth, then licked the milk off that side of his top lip. William groaned with pleasure as Elizabeth's tongue trailed across his mouth then gently sucked his lip, moving along until she had cleaned off all the milk.
"There," she said, leaning back. William's eyes were closed and he had a look of bliss on his face. He opened his eyes and gazed at her intensely.
"My turn," he said, turning towards her and nuzzling his face against her neck. As she laid back on the sofa, he moved his attentions to her throat, kissing her softly and moving up to her mouth. He stroked the tip of his tongue along her lips, going as slowly as he could, prolonging the torment as he became increasingly aroused. Unable to restrain himself any longer, he covered her mouth with his, and felt her body arch towards him. As they kissed with an ardour that surprised them both, William couldn't help but feel her breasts pressed against him and he felt almost dizzy with desire. He slid his hand down her side, making her shudder, then tugged her shirt out of her jeans. He felt her tense and paused.
"Oh!" she gasped, pulling away from him.
"Do you want me to stop?"
"Yes, no, I don't know!" she cried in frustration.
William stopped his caresses and took her in his arms, kissing her hair and murmuring.
"It's OK, don't worry."
"Oh William, I'm sorry, I don't know what I want."
"It's not a problem," he said.
"It ... it's not your fault ... " she stammered, unable to put her thoughts into words.
"Shh," he comforted, and kissed her gently.
They curled together on the sofa as he rocked her in his arms. Eventually she felt the need to speak.
"I'm sorry, William, it's just that it's been a long time."
"I'm sorry, I rushed you, I shouldn't have."
"No, it's not you," she said. "I just got a fright, that's all."
"It scares me, the way I feel when I'm with you," William admitted. "I really like being with you, and if that means I sometimes get a bit carried away, it's only because you're just so gorgeous."
"You're teasing me."
"I'm not, I'm serious. I think you're lovely and I'm not going to do anything that might put you off me, not now." He hugged her. "Do you feel OK now?"
"Yes, but I rather spoilt the moment, didn't I?"
"We'll have to get it back another time."
"It just doesn't feel quite right, here. Do you think I'm being silly?"
"No, not at all," he said, guessing that the presence of her son asleep upstairs was contributing to her unease. "You set the limits, Elizabeth. Tell me what you want. You know I want you, to be with you, I think you can guess as much."
"And I want to be with you," she replied, feeling more secure than she had ever felt, completely reassured by his words. She kissed him, a kiss that rapidly deepened as their passion was renewed. William forced himself to hold back, and he contented himself with feeling the heat of her body against him and the knowledge that his fears of earlier in the day were unfounded.
Eventually, they separated, knowing that the evening must come to an end.
"I should go," William said. "Work tomorrow." He stood up, and bent down to kiss her once more. "When can I see you again?"
"I'll ring you, shall I?" she said. "I'm the difficult one to organise." "OK, he said, and smiled. "Soon?"
"Yes, soon. Thanks, William, I had a wonderful time today."
They had a long, slow goodbye kiss by the front door, a kiss that was full of promise.
"Soon, then," William said, and walked to his car. She waved to him as he drove away, and went back indoors. Now, she knew for sure, this man was very special, and no matter what her doubts and fears might be, she would find a way, as Ellen had said, to work out how to be with him.
Elizabeth had only just got in from work on Tuesday, having just had time to switch on the radio, when she heard a knock at the door. She carried on humming along to a tune and putting groceries away as she heard Sam run to answer it.
"Who is it, Sam?" she called, then turned in surprise as she heard William's voice.
"Hi, I was just passing, and I thought I'd drop in. Have I called at a bad moment?"
Elizabeth stood in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by shopping bags. Her briefcase was on the table and her coat was flung over a chair. She looked rather flustered, although he found her smart work suit and severe, fastened up hair really quite appealing.
"No, its fine, I've just got back from work, had a meeting which ran on for ages. Sam's been in for an hour so of course the kitchen looked like an explosion in a biscuit factory when I got in. I haven't even got changed yet." She smoothed her skirt with her hands and smiled. "Sorry, I'm a bit disorganised. Did a manic grocery shop at lunchtime. Would you like a cup of tea? Or better still, a glass of wine?"
She picked out a bottle from the shopping bags still on the floor.
"Wine would be nice. Why don't you go and get changed while I do this?" he said, taking the bottle from her. "Where's the corkscrew?"
She pointed out the cutlery drawer, and ran upstairs, changing quickly into jeans and a comfortable top. William handed her a glass of wine as she returned, adjusting her hair into a pony tail.
"Better?" he asked.
"Much better," she sighed, sipping the wine. "We've had a bit of a crazy day at work, we had to get some answers to the Department of Health pretty quickly because one of the Ministers was under pressure to get the information. Fun and games all day."
"You deal with Ministers?" William asked, impressed, not having realised that her job was quite so high-powered.
"Not often, thank goodness! So, where were you going?"
William looked puzzled for a moment.
"You said you were just passing."
"Oh! Yes, I'm on my way home. I drove past Highbury, but the ticket office was closed so I couldn't get a fixture list. I thought I'd ask Sam to pick a match and tell me which bit of the ground he goes in. Then I can get tickets. The next couple of home games are sold out, I checked the Arsenal website."
Elizabeth was about to say something then stopped. If he had checked the website, he didn't need to go to the ground to get a fixture list. She smiled to herself, and changed the subject.
"Where is he, anyway?" she asked.
"He let me in and ran upstairs. Said he's got a ton of homework."
"Oh, he has," Elizabeth groaned. "I know its the start of GCSEs this year but he seems to be overwhelmed with the work they expect him to do. How much homework does Alice get?"
Before William could answer, she corrected herself. "Well, not homework. Whatever they do at boarding school. Prep?"
"Yes she gets prep, I'm not sure how much," William said.
"Oh no, look at the time!" she said suddenly. "No wonder I'm hungry. I'm surprised Mr hollow-legs hasn't been down to complain yet! I need to get going with tea, its only spag bol, but would you like to stay?"
"Love to. Is there anything I can do?"
"Not really, sit there and talk to me while I chop onions!" Elizabeth laughed.
He sat down and leaned back in his chair, entertaining Elizabeth while she cooked with stories about the mischief he and Richard had got up to when they were boys, and tales of his younger sister who now lived in Paris, with whom, he explained, he was spending the next weekend. She glanced at him every now and then as he talked, thinking how smart he looked in his suit, even though he had loosened his tie slightly. She felt a strange kind of warmth in the situation, a sense of comfort that she couldn't quite put her finger on. The meal didn't take too long to cook, so she called Sam and he came clattering down the stairs.
"Hi," he said to William as he sat down. Elizabeth set down the plates of food, and he began to eat eagerly.
"Good day at school?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yeah, fine, but I've got stacks of homework. Geography's got to be in for tomorrow, and English for the end of the week, and I bet I get even more tomorrow! It's not fair."
"Oh well," Elizabeth said sympathetically. "There's no good telly tonight so you might as well get it out of the way."
"Yeah, then can I watch the European game tomorrow? Oh and we've got a match after school every Wednesday, I can play, can't I?"
"So long as you put your kit in the washing machine when you get home instead of leaving it festering in your bag!" Elizabeth chided.
William ate his meal, listening to the exchanges between the two of them and feeling a real sense of contentment at being there.
"Anyway, William wants to know which match you want to go to," Elizabeth said, hoping that William didn't feel he was being left out of the conversation.
"The next couple of home games are sold out already," William said. "And I need you to tell me where you'd like to go in the ground."
"Yeah, I know," Sam said thoughtfully, then decided he might as well try his luck and see if William could be persuaded to buy tickets for a really good match. "Hey, how about we try to get tickets for Liverpool? I go in the North Stand now. And I'm a Junior Gunner so I get a discount, I'll have to be there to buy my ticket 'cos you need to show your membership card."
William looked puzzled as Sam rattled off this information, and Elizabeth stepped in.
"Junior Gunners is the kids' supporters club," she explained. "They get all sorts of privileges."
"Oh, OK," William said. "So, I'll check out the Liverpool match, and see if Richard can come over. Does that sound OK?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "Sounds cool. Umm, can I get down, Mum? I need to finish my Geography."
"Yes, of course. Have you had enough to eat?"
"Is there any pudding?"
"I got some cakes, they're in the tin. Take one up with you."
Sam helped himself to a cake and disappeared. Elizabeth turned to William.
"Would you like anything else to eat?"
"No, thanks, that was delicious, just what I needed," he said, and topped up Elizabeth's glass of wine.
"Bit decadent, drinking at the beginning of the week," she said. "And I've got work to do, I have to be able to focus!"
"Sounds like you deserve a treat after your day," William replied. "Anyway, if you're busy, I won't get in your way. I should go, really."
"No, no I didn't mean you should go!" Elizabeth protested. "It's just some papers I need to look over before the morning."
"I have papers to go over too," William said. "So..."
"Why don't we go in the sitting room and both read, if you'd like to?"
"Yes, that sounds perfect," William said, smiling one of the broad smiles that produced his very appealing dimples. "I'll help you clear up."
Between the two of them it took no time to clear the table, wash the dishes and tidy the kitchen. Elizabeth took her briefcase through to the sitting room and William fetched his papers from the car. They settled down to read in a companionable silence.
Sam appeared after a while and cuddled up to Elizabeth on the sofa.
"Are you having a bath tonight?"
"No, I'm too tired. I'll have a shower in the morning."
Elizabeth got up and yawned, then looked at William who was watching her. He felt pleased to be part of what was obviously a regular night time routine.
"Want some hot chocolate, William?"
"No, thanks, actually I should be going."
He pushed his papers into his briefcase, feeling that although he was lucky to see this comfortable home routine he didn't want to intrude. He said goodnight to Sam, who acknowledged him despite being engrossed in fiddling with the TV remote control, and followed Elizabeth to the kitchen.
"Thanks for a lovely evening," he said quietly
"But we haven't done anything,"
"No I know. That's what's been lovely."
He pulled her towards him as she was rooting about in cupboards for mugs and cocoa, and kissed her. She put her arms around him and held him close as she kissed him back.
"What's this thing you have with kitchens?" she whispered, smiling, before kissing him again.
"I don't know," he said. "Anyway, I'll give you a call, OK? I'm sorry we can't see each other this weekend but I've had this trip to Paris planned for ages."
"No problem, have a good time!" Elizabeth said. "Let your little sister treat you!"
She followed him to the front door and kissed him quickly once more.
"See you when you get back from Paris."
"You will," he said, and waved as he walked briskly to his car.
When Elizabeth walked into the secretaries' office after lunch on Friday, the sudden hush made it obvious that she had been the subject of conversation. She smiled to herself as her secretary tried to look busy and not too guilty, and all the others immediately started filing papers or disappeared to do some photocopying. She handed over the files she had finished with, and after a brief chat, went back to her office. The reason she had been the subject of conversation sat on her desk - a dozen red roses wrapped in crinkly paper and tied with a ribbon. When she had been called to Reception that morning and seen the flowers, she had assumed they were for someone else, then been embarrassed to have them handed to her. Her walk from Reception back to her office was long enough to ensure that word had got around the building before she had time to put the roses in water.
She sat down at her desk and looked at the card again. "From William, with love," was written in the round neat hand of a florist's shop assistant. "With love." The very words gave her pause for thought. Did he love her? He hadn't said so. Besides, it was too soon, they had only been seeing each other a few weeks, Elizabeth calculated quickly. Funny how it seemed much longer, she thought, as if she had known him for ever. He had 'phoned the previous evening, ostensibly to get Sam's Junior Gunners membership number, so that he could buy tickets, but they had ended up chatting for an hour. She was shaken out of her dream by the ringing of the 'phone, and forced herself to concentrate on work.
William glanced out of the 'plane, and seeing Paris beneath him felt a thrill of anticipation at being back in one of his favourite places. Since Georgie had won her place to study at the Conservatoire, at the age of 18, he had visited many times, a few while she was still a student, and more frequently since she settled in Paris. At Easter in her final year she had shyly introduced him to Francois, a fellow musician, and three months later announced that he had proposed and that she would not be coming home after all. William could still remember his sense of alarm that she was rushing into things, and how he had rushed to France to speak to her, and make her see sense, as he had thought then. He had only to spend a day watching the young couple together to see that Georgie had found her soulmate. The care and love Francois had shown Georgie had made him think bitterly about his divorce from Caroline only a few years before, then the bitterness had turned into guilt as he thought of her death. Seeing Georgie and Francois, he knew that he and Caroline had never been like that, and once more remorse and pain had settled in his heart. He had wished the young couple well, and half noted the look of relief on Georgie's face when she knew he had accepted Francois.
He was brought sharply out of his reverie by the announcement that passengers should return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts as the descent into the airport was about to begin. He glanced at his watch and wondered whether Elizabeth was home yet, and whether she liked her roses. It had taken him twenty minutes in the shop to decide what to put on the card, and eventually the young florist's assistant had said with only a hint of exasperation in her voice that most men put "with love". Trying to say what he really felt on a tiny scrap of cardboard wasn't possible, so he agreed.
Emerging from the airport, he found a taxi quite quickly. He had insisted that he would make his own way to the apartment, as the traffic on a Friday afternoon could be dreadful, and he didn't want Georgie and the baby stuck in queues trying to get to him. After an hour and a half in a taxi, for a journey that would take 30 minutes in good conditions, he knew he had been right. Finally he arrived at the apartment, in a block close to Parc Monceau. When they were first married, Georgie and Francois had lived in the 9th arrondissement, a rather trendy and somewhat expensive area in the centre of Paris. Once she was 21 she had had access to her trust fund, and had splashed out on a lovely little place there, but when they were expecting the baby they had moved out to the 17th, on Francois' insistence that it was a much better place for raising children. William couldn't help but agree. Republique had been fun, but very lively and too noisy for a family, he felt, and this area, with its park and good schools, was much better.
He climbed the stairs and could hear the plonking of a clumsily played piano as he reached Georgie's door and pressed the buzzer.
"Ah non, continue!" he heard Georgie call as the playing stuttered, then the door was flung open.
"Will!" she shrieked. "You're here at last!"
"Traffic was awful," he said as she hugged him. "How are you? You look great!"
"I'm fine, thanks. You look pretty good too," Georgie said, feeling that he seemed a little brighter than he had on his last visit. "Come in, I'm just finishing off a piano lesson with the little boy from downstairs, we're nearly done."
He followed her into the apartment and took his bag to the room he usually slept in. He heard Georgie instructing her pupil very patiently, and marvelled at her perfect French. He, like many English people, had never really got to grips with foreign languages, and was in awe of Georgie's ability to switch between French and English without even appearing to think about it. He heard a door slam, and went through to the living room.
"Phew!" Georgie sighed. "He's a sweet boy but I don't think we're going to get him into the Conservatoire!"
"Very," she grinned, then turned at the sound of a little gurgle from the floor. William looked round to see his niece, with a look of fierce concentration on her face, come sidling along towards Georgie, clinging on to the furniture but on her feet.
"She's walking!" he exclaimed.
"Discovered the furniture last week," Georgie said. "She's worked out a route around the entire room, hanging onto something. Takes her five times as long as going straight across, but she's not quite brave enough to let go yet."
Georgie picked her daughter up and kissed her. "Now Sylvie, are you going to say hello to your Uncle William?"
Two big brown eyes stared solemnly at him, then Sylvie buried her face in her mother's jumper.
"She's going through the shy phase," Georgie explained. "But why am I telling you about babies, you know all this!"
"You're speaking to her in English?"
"Yes, I speak English to her, Francois speaks French, that way she grows up bilingual without even thinking about it. And we alternate at weekends, lucky for you we're speaking English this weekend!" Georgie teased, still finding it funny that despite his obvious intelligence, her older brother completely failed when it came to speaking French. They heard the door to the apartment open and close, and Francois appeared, laden down with a black shoulder bag with folders sticking out of it, and carrying a bottle of wine.
"Salut!" he said cheerfully. "How was your flight?"
"Very good, quicker than the trip from the airport to here in a taxi," William said, shaking hands with his young brother-in-law.
"Traffic is very bad at this time. And how are my lovely girls?" Francois said, embracing Georgie and Sylvie in a big hug, tickling Sylvie and making her chuckle. "Shall we go out and eat? I'm starving and if we go now this little one can go to bed at a proper time."
"Don't be in such a rush," Georgie said. "Will only just got here, maybe he wants a shower, or a glass of wine."
William shrugged. "I'll go along with whatever you want."
After a glass of wine, and a clean outfit for Sylvie, they walked to the restaurant Georgie had chosen, where William sat and listened to Francois describe his day. He was a very entertaining speaker, mimicking the conductor and his fellow musicians, and humming the pieces of music they were rehearsing. He explained to William that the folders in his bag were scores he needed to go over, as the orchestra he belonged to had just begun to rehearse a new piece for a major concert before Christmas.
"You should come," Francois said. "I'll get you a ticket. Or two tickets, bring Alice. Or even three tickets if you want to bring a lady friend," he teased, grinning.
Georgie burst out laughing. "Will, you're blushing!"
William smiled, embarrassed.
"You've got something to tell us, haven't you?" she persisted. "Have you met someone? What's she like?"
"Yes, actually, I have met someone, and she's lovely."
"Go on then, what's she called, what does she do, where did you meet?"
"Slow down, Georgie!" William said, laughing. "She's called Elizabeth, she's a doctor, we met on holiday at Richard's place in Spain. She's beautiful, and clever, and she has a son called Sam, who is 14."
"And you're in love with her," Georgie stated. "Don't deny it, Will, it's written all over your face. I knew something was making you happier the instant you walked in. Oh, I'm so pleased! When can we meet her? Bring her at Christmas!"
William couldn't help smiling at Georgie's enthusiasm. "We'll see. It's early days yet."
Much of the rest of the evening was spent telling a slightly edited version of how he and Elizabeth met, and answering Georgie's incessant questions about her and Sam, and for all the news from Alice and the Fitzwilliam clan. Eventually William yawned, excused himself and went to bed, insisting that he had told Georgie absolutely everything.
"Well, you can tell me the rest when we're out tomorrow," she said as he left.
He shook his head and grinned. "You're impossible! Sweet dreams."
He slid between the covers, feeling snug and warm, closed his eyes and slept peacefully all night.
Saturday was spent being tourists, at Georgie's insistence. "We live here and yet we never go to half the things that are supposed to be attractions," she said, and dragged them all round various tourist walking routes set out in her new guidebook. On Sunday, they went to the park, where Sylvie walked a long way hanging on to either Georgie's or Francois' finger, but would not let go and walk unaided. By the time William was due to leave, she had finally begun to smile at him. They all drove out to the airport to see him off.
"She's getting used to you, Will," Georgie said, as he said goodbye.
"A little, " he said, smiling at his niece and finally being rewarded with a giggle.
"Don't leave it too long before you come again," she said.
"Or maybe you three could come and see me."
"Yes, we will soon."
He walked through the departure gate, and turned to wave. Georgie was holding Sylvie in her arms, and Francois stood behind them with his arms wrapped around his little family. William waved one last time, treasuring the image of Georgie's happiness all the way home.
~ * ~
On Sunday afternoon, Elizabeth answered the phone to hear Charlotte greet her.
"How are you?" she asked. "It's nice to hear from you."
"I'm fine," Charlotte said. "Actually I have an ulterior motive for calling. I'm coming to London for a seminar next week, and I wondered if you wanted to meet up. Either a drink, or something to eat, somewhere child-friendly if Sam wants to come, what do you think?"
"Love to," Elizabeth said. "When are you coming down?"
"Wednesday. Seminar finishes at 4:30, it's at the Barbican. And I have to get the train at something past 8 from King's Cross, can't remember the time."
"OK, hang on." She checked the calendar. "Sam has an away match so he won't be home til 6:30. I'll meet you at the Barbican, I could get there by 6. There's a restaurant and a bar there, then you can get back to King's Cross really easily, how does that sound?"
"Sounds great!" Charlotte said. "Uh oh, better go. Sounds like there's a crisis in the kitchen. Billie's swearing so it sounds like we'll be eating out tonight after all!"
"See you Wednesday, then," Elizabeth said, and rang off. She scribbled a quick note to remind herself to phone Jack's Mum to see if Sam could go there for his tea after football. That would mean she now was in debt for two teas or a sleepover, by their convoluted calculations. She went back to reading her book. The phone rang again but this time it was Jane, so she settled down for a long chat, fetching her diary to make notes of dates for get-togethers and outings.
Elizabeth met Sam after school on Tuesday so that they could do some shopping and walk home together. Football practice finished at just the right time for Sam to meet Elizabeth as she finished work. They walked down their road laden with bags to see a familiar figure climb out of a car and walk towards them.
"Here, let me," William said, taking some of the bags from Elizabeth.
"Have you been waiting?" Elizabeth said. "We've been shopping after football."
"Not long," he replied. "I was out this way on business anyway."
They reached the front door and carried the shopping into the kitchen. William handed Sam an envelope.
"Yes!" he shouted, as he opened it. "Look, Liverpool tickets, yeah! Brilliant, thanks, William."
"You're welcome," he said, grinning as Sam hopped excitedly from foot to foot.
"Hang on," Sam said. "These are the expensive seats. I don't sit there. I haven't got enough money."
"I got the tickets, Sam, it's OK. My treat." William said, noticing the worried look he was giving Elizabeth. "Is that all right with you?"
Elizabeth nodded, unsure what to say. William's generosity made her feel a little uncomfortable.
"Sam, go and get changed then bring your kit down, it needs washing before the match," she said, then turned to William once Sam had gone.
"Is there are problem?" he asked.
"These tickets are very expensive, William, are you sure this is OK? I mean, you've got four tickets here."
"Did you want to come?" he asked, misunderstanding her. "I should've got five."
"No, its not that. I don't mind going to Sam's matches but that's as far as my interest in football goes. It's just the cost. It's too much."
"Too much for what? He said he wanted me to go to a match with him, and I want to take him. The money isn't an issue."
Elizabeth looked at the tickets on the table, and wondered how someone could say that a £40 ticket wasn't an issue.
"What's making you unhappy?" William asked, concerned that she wasn't answering.
"I don't know," she said quietly. "It's really very good of you. You don't have to."
"No, I know, but I want to. And I'm in the position to be able to treat him."
He pulled her towards him for a hug. "I missed you this weekend," he murmured as he kissed her.
"I missed you too. Thanks for the flowers, they're gorgeous."
"You got them? Oh good. I had a sudden panic that I'd sent them to the wrong office."
"How did you know which office I work at?" Elizabeth said, not recalling telling him.
"It was on the front of the papers you were reading last week," William said smugly.
"What's your alias?" Elizabeth grinned. "James Bond?" "Yesh, Miss Moneypenny," he said, in a poor Sean Connery impression that made Elizabeth burst out laughing.
"That's the worst accent I've heard!"
Sam came back with a bundle of muddy football kit to find them still giggling.
"William's James Bond impression, it's the worst I've ever heard!"
"Worse than Grandad's?"
"Much worse than Grandad," Elizabeth giggled, wiping tears from her eyes.
"Wow, that must be really bad," Sam said very seriously, which set the two adults laughing again. Sam left the room, wondering about the silliness of adults sometimes.
"Well, that was worth coming home for," Elizabeth said when she regained control. "Are you stopping for something to eat?"
"I'd love to, but I can't," William said, glancing at his watch. "I've got a squash match in half an hour. I just thought I'd drop the tickets off. Do you want to do something this weekend?"
"Actually, we could do something on Saturday," Elizabeth said. "Sam's going away. My sister Jane phoned, my brother-in-law is mad on astronomy and he promised Sam a trip, and apparently if they go off into the countryside they get good views of meteor showers. The autumn is meteor season, he told Jane, so they're going on Saturday."
"You'll be free all Saturday night?" William asked, unable to keep a most lascivious smirk off his face.
"Mm hmm," Elizabeth replied, as he pulled her close again.
"Fancy going away somewhere?" William murmured, then gave her a lingering kiss loaded with desire.
"I think we should," she agreed, feeling rather dizzy all of a sudden.
"I'll book somewhere nice and call you," he said, and kissed her again. "Got to go. Rather not, but you know ..."
"Go on, don't be daft," she said, laughing. "Go and play nicely with your friend."
William laughed at her teasing, and walked down the hall. "Bye Sam!" he called, and got a mumbled reply from the sitting room. "I'll phone you," he said to Elizabeth, and departed, leaving her standing with lips tingling in anticipation of the weekend.
Elizabeth found Charlotte, as agreed, in the bar by the main theatre in the Barbican at six.
"This place is a nightmare!" Charlotte said. "I got off the tube, wandered round for half an hour, went in one door, followed the most convoluted instructions on this planet and ended up after another half hour about five yards away from where I was in the first place!"
"It's not that bad really," Elizabeth laughed. "I actually quite like it here, I know it's a bit modern for some tastes, but it's one of the few places you can sit outside in central London, drink coffee and not hear traffic."
"I give in to your superior Metropolitan argument," Charlotte teased. "But can we go for a drink, I've just spent a whole day listening to the future of subsidised theatre in the UK and I am now thoroughly depressed!"
"We'll go in the self service place if that's OK with you," Elizabeth said. "It's licensed, and its not as expensive as the restaurant upstairs."
"Sounds great," Charlotte said, and followed Elizabeth up a couple of flights of stairs and round some corners. "See what I mean? A navigational nightmare!"
They queued up at the hot food counter and collected their meals, chose some wine, and paid. The restaurant was relatively quiet and they easily found a table to themselves.
"Used to be much busier when the RSC was here," Elizabeth said. "And one of the good things was, you could come in for a drink and see the actors come in too! I actually saw more actors in here than I managed to see in plays, which is really very bad of me."
"Do you go to the theatre much?" Charlotte asked.
"Not as much as I'd like to," Elizabeth admitted. "As often as I can depending on Sam's commitments."
"How is he? How's his head?"
"He's fine," Elizabeth said, taking a moment to remember that Charlotte had been around when Sam had had his accident. "That holiday seems a long time ago now."
"I know, its only a few weeks, but one week back at work and it's as if it never happened!" Charlotte agreed. "So, what's happened since?
"Well, I took him to the GP, who said everything was OK, and there's no need to worry."
"I'm very pleased about that but I was asking about you, actually," Charlotte said. "Did you ever hear from Mr 'I can't take my eyes off you' ?"
Elizabeth's averted gaze was all Charlotte needed to know.
"Ooh, go on, tell!" she said enthusiastically. "Has he asked you out?"
"Mm hmm," Elizabeth mumbled through a mouthful of potato, hoping that food would divert the course of the inquisition.
There was no other option but to reply. "We went out for dinner."
"Good, good. Then what happened next?"
"Sam was over at my sister's, and William came back for coffee."
Charlotte waggled her eyebrows suggestively and grinned.
"Nothing happened!" Elizabeth protested.
"What, nothing at all?"
"We kissed on the sofa."
"Then he went home."
"Elizabeth, this is like pulling hen's teeth, getting a story out of you!" Charlotte wailed. "Did you or didn't you? Have you seen him since?"
"You haven't changed one bit since Uni have you?" Elizabeth observed wryly. "Everyone was terrified of you and it was nothing to do with politics, it was all to do with your uncanny ability to obtain good stories!"
"Knowledge is power, my dear," Charlotte said, grinning broadly. "Anyway, you were saying."
"I wasn't saying at all. But, no, it went no further than kissing, and it was very nice. Them the next Saturday he and Sam and I went out for pizza, the next day we all went to the Fitzwilliams' for lunch, you know, the ones who owned the complex, and since then he's dropped round a couple of times. Oh, and he sent me flowers at work last Friday."
"He's a goner."
"He's smitten, can't you tell? Flowers are the sign, apart from all the other evidence."
Elizabeth grinned and decided to confide her thoughts, somehow finding it easier to talk openly about her feelings to Charlotte, who she hardly saw, than to Jane who she spoke to every week. "Well, you know, the funny thing is, he's called in twice, and made out he's on his way somewhere. But he works in the City and lives in Chelsea, so Islington is definitely not on his way home!"
"Oh, well, there you are," Charlotte sagely. "The silly excuse to be with you is the clincher I'm afraid."
"You'll think this is silly," Elizabeth said. "But when he called round the other night, one of the nice things was having someone else doing things. Like, I know he only opened a bottle of wine, but it was nice having wine opened and poured for me." She shrugged. "It's not much, I know, but sometimes I just get tired of doing everything."
"Enjoy it," Charlotte replied. "It sounds as if he wants to do plenty more for you!"
"But I don't know if I might have put him off. You see, we've kissed and cuddled but its never gone further than that, and the other night I stopped him before he could get very far. Partly because it just feels really weird, you know, snogging on the sofa and Sam's upstairs asleep, I just can't relax. It doesn't feel right at home."
"So go somewhere else," Charlotte said, although she wasn't sure Elizabeth had heard her, as she carried on pouring out all her concerns.
"It's all so teenage, you know, first base, second base, and I just don't know how to play this game any more. What are you supposed to do, you know, when is it OK to sleep with a man?"
"Not much use asking me!" Charlotte laughed. "But when you feel like it, I suppose."
"You know what the stupid thing is?" Elizabeth said, grinning. "I'm responsible for the Teenage Sexual Health programme at work, I'm surrounded by condoms all day and have to give talks to kids about self esteem and safe sex, and I don't even know what to do myself!"
Charlotte laughed and they paused in their talking to have a drink and look around the café.
"We're going away at the weekend," Elizabeth stated baldy, breaking the silence.
"Don't say it as if it's torment," Charlotte said gently, realising that her friend was quite troubled. "Unless the very idea is torment, in which case, decline."
"It isn't. In one way, anyway." Elizabeth looked carefully at Charlotte and decided to carry on. "He makes me feel incredibly sexy. He has this way of looking at me, and it just makes me melt. I haven't felt like that in a very long time, believe me. Like someone actually wants me. And he kisses, oh, the way he kisses!"
Charlotte took in the sigh and the blissful look on Elizabeth's face. "You're smitten too, aren't you?" She didn't get an answer, but was concerned to see the worried expression return. "So, what's the problem?"
"And what if .... what if he doesn't like me? All that naked body stuff, you know, what if he sees squidgy bits and goes uuurggh?"
"I don't think he's going to do that. From what you've said about him so far, he won't even notice any squidgy bits. In fact, he's probably thinking the very same thing and scheduling a few extra squash games to make sure he's in shape."
Elizabeth burst out laughing "That's where he was going the other night! He said he had a game of squash!"
"Well, there you are, that's proof!" Charlotte grinned, before turning slightly more serious. "I know it's tough getting back into relationships after a break, but he probably feels just the same as you do, if it's been a while for him. And there are no rules. Do what feels right. It sounds as if he's keen, and you certainly haven't put him off, in fact you've probably done exactly the opposite!"
"What do you mean?"
Charlotte hesitated before replying, not wanting to cause offence.
"Maybe you were playing hard to get, just a little bit?" she said slowly.
"No!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Well, I mean, I wasn't playing games. I think. Oh arse. I don't know."
Charlotte laughed at Elizabeth swearing, even mildly.
"Oh, it's a nightmare!" Elizabeth sighed. "Trying to work out what to do and what the other one wants."
"Yes, it is, but if you want something you just have to go for it. Take a risk."
"The other thing is ..." Elizabeth said, then paused. Charlotte just nodded encouragement and waited until she was ready to speak. "It felt all wrong," Elizabeth said eventually. "In my house, with Sam asleep upstairs."
"You thought he'd come down?" Charlotte asked, realising that as Elizabeth had come back to this topic having raised it once already, it was really bothering her.
"No, not necessarily. But it just didn't feel right. Am I stupid?"
"Not at all," Charlotte said reassuringly. "I'm sure lots of people have to deal with this all the time. Unfortunately you're asking a woman who is never going to have this problem because she's never going to have children."
Elizabeth looked at Charlotte and suddenly felt tremendously guilty.
"I'm so sorry, Charlotte, I've been so completely clumsy!" she said.
"No, it's not a problem," Charlotte said. "I was never very maternal anyway, and Billie isn't at all, and that's fine. Other people's children are great but I can honestly say I don't miss the possibility."
"Really. I look at you with Sam, and you are just so ... I don't know, so right, he's a great kid and you are so obviously a great Mum, and I know in my heart I would never do as good a job as you. So, it's probably good that things worked out as they did."
It was the way that Charlotte averted her eyes that gave Elizabeth the clue she needed as to Charlotte's actual degree of happiness. However, she didn't yet feel quite confident enough with Charlotte to challenge her, and decided it was best to let things stand.
"You always were so matter of fact," Elizabeth said eventually. "I'm glad we bumped into each other again, we should never have lost contact."
"Same here," Charlotte agreed, and glanced at her watch. "I think I'd better make a move, I don't want to miss my train."
They gathered their coats and bags and made their way to the exit. Elizabeth pointed out the way to the tube station, and said she would catch a bus.
"Well, give me a call, let me know how it all turns out," Charlotte said.
They hugged and promised not to lose touch again. Charlotte walked away, then turned and shouted.
"And don't forget the wedding invitation!"
When Elizabeth heard the knock at the door on Saturday afternoon, her heart leapt and her hands began to shake, whether from excitement or nervousness she was not sure. William had phoned the previous night to tell her that he would pick her up, but had refused to divulge any details of the trip. She had spent half the day packing clothes then taking them out of her case as she had no idea what to wear. Charles had just collected Sam, and they had gone back to Hampstead to get everything ready for their trip. She ran to the door and opened it.
"Ready?" William said as he stepped inside and gave her a quick kiss.
"Yes, all packed, I'll just get my coat," Elizabeth said, indicating her bag.
"What have you got in here!" William exclaimed as he lifted the bag. "Everything you own that fits you?"
"Well, if you won't give me any clues, I have to be well-prepared for anything," Elizabeth replied, grinning.
She locked the door as he loaded her bag into the boot, and got into the car.
"Where are we going?"
"Wait and see," William said. "It's a surprise."
Despite her pleading, he wouldn't give in, and as they headed west she began to guess at places, but still he wouldn't say. Eventually, having skirted Oxford and thus foiled Elizabeth's best guess, he swung off the road into a broad driveway that led through rolling parkland to an imposing looking country house. Gravel crunched under the tyres as William parked the car, and underfoot as they walked towards the entrance. Once inside the foyer, they gazed around and took in the opulent ambience of 1930s English country house. A log fire crackled in the grate, and Elizabeth peeked into the comfortable lounge as William registered and collected their key.
"This is lovely!" she sighed, following him up the broad sweeping staircase.
"Glad you like it," William said. "It's pretty impressive, isn't it?"
"Have you been here before?"
"No, but one of the other Directors at work has. He recommended it."
He unlocked the door to their room, and ushered Elizabeth inside. She was so unused to staying in expensive hotels that she immediately began to explore the room, opening doors and exclaiming each time she found something good. William watched with amusement at her excitement.
"So, you approve then?" he asked as she finally stopped exploring and came back towards him.
"Yes, it's gorgeous, William!" she said, wrapping her arms around him.
"So are you," he murmured, and bent to kiss her.
"You sweet talking man," she whispered as she returned his kiss.
"What would you like to do with the rest of this afternoon?" William asked. "I booked a table for dinner at 7, I hope that's OK. There's a pool here, a sauna, all that kind of thing. We've got time if you want to do that. And you packed so much stuff, you must've brought a swimming costume!"
Charlotte had been correct to tell Elizabeth that William was probably just as nervous as she was. He wanted to make sure that Elizabeth was happy, and was hoping for a sign or a hint from her of what she wanted from the afternoon. His mind was unable to think past that. The thought of the night, of what awaited after dinner, was nothing more than a white hot space in his mind. He was nervous about being with her in a way he had never been with any other woman, and was worried that he was so desperate for everything to be perfect that in fact he would do everything incredibly badly.
"Do you want to swim?" Elizabeth asked, her question puncturing his little bubble of thought.
"Umm, yeah, if you want to," he said, searching her face for clues as to whether that was what she really wanted to do. "Or we could go for a walk in the grounds? By the river?"
"That sounds nice."
Elizabeth realised that William was not as relaxed as he had been when she had seen him at her house. Indeed, from the way he had withdrawn into himself once more, she realised that much of his aloofness on holiday had in fact been reserve, that he was not as confident as he sometimes seemed. She glanced at the bed, its very existence making her feel nervous, and thought that it would be best for both of them if they got away from the screamingly obvious symbol of the reason for them being there.
They broke apart and put on their coats, leaving the room and proceeding downstairs in silence. In truth, each felt that something momentous was going to happen, and their nerves were getting worse. They strolled across the grounds talking inconsequentially about the view and the weather, when suddenly William grabbed Elizabeth's hand.
"I'm glad we're here," he said.
"Me too," she replied, enjoying the feeling of walking hand in hand with him.
"Feels a bit funny though, doesn't it?" he said, aware that she was slightly on edge, as he was himself.
"Yes!" she laughed. "Don't know why, but ..." she shrugged.
"I know," he said and smiled, not needing to put into words the feelings that were passing between them. "We'll just take it as it comes?"
She nodded and smiled, and he took her in his arms and kissed her. The tension that they both felt had dissipated without either of them really needing to say exactly how they felt. They walked along the river bank then looped back up to the hotel, chatting about anything and nothing but now feeling that there were no obstacles to breach.
Back in their room, Elizabeth had a coffee while William shaved and put on a suit. He went down to the bar to give Elizabeth some privacy while she showered and dressed for dinner. She smiled to herself as she thought how in some ways they were both still shy around each other.
William had sunk into one of the deep leather armchairs in the bar, and was sipping a drink and glancing unseeing over a newspaper when Elizabeth walked in. He felt as if his breath had stopped in his throat. The moment would be frozen in his memory for ever. She walked towards him with a slow smile creeping across her face, the sway of her hips as she moved completely removing his ability to speak. She wore a cornflower blue crepe dress that clung to her figure so closely that his imagination was already working overtime.
"You look incredible!" he gasped.
"Thank you," she said, barely able to meet his gaze as once again she felt that he could undress her merely with a look. The desire in his eyes was incredibly arousing, and she could feel her skin tingling with anticipation of his touch. He stood up to go to the bar and get her a drink, and she was almost overpowered by just how masterful he looked all of a sudden. His charcoal double-breasted suit was obviously cut to fit him perfectly, showing off his broad shoulders in a way that exuded authority.
"Glass of white wine?" he asked, his voice piercing the electric aura that had surrounded them.
"Yes, please," Elizabeth answered, and sat down. She could not shake off the charged atmosphere, and when William returned and handed her the glass of wine, the merest touch of his fingers sent shockwaves through her arms.
A waiter appeared and gave them the menu for the evening meal, which they both began to peruse, unable for a moment to find anything to say. He returned and took their order, leaving them with nothing to do but look at each other.
"OK?" William asked, smiling.
"OK," Elizabeth answered quietly.
The brief exchange seemed to make it easy for them to talk about nothing in particular for a while. They were called through to the dining room and ate their meal, chatting easily as Elizabeth described her week at work and William talked affectionately about his sister in Paris. The evening flew by with neither of them noticing time or indeed even noticing that anyone else in the room existed. The waiter cleared their coffee cups, and dinner was at an end.
"Shall we go upstairs?" William asked. "Or we could have a drink in the bar if you like?"
"Upstairs," Elizabeth said softly, taking William's hand. Although a part of her still felt shy, for some unaccountable reason her nervousness had almost gone and she suddenly felt almost secure with him.
Silently, holding hands, they walked upstairs.
William unlocked the door to their room, and they stepped inside. Tentatively, they stepped towards each other and kissed gently. Slowly, their ardour increased as they began to kiss more urgently. William pulled Elizabeth towards him, wrapping his arms around her and holding her tightly as his tongue began to tease her mouth. She parted her lips slightly and allowed him to probe, enjoying the sensation of being persuaded by him. She felt his hands on her back, felt him move down towards her bottom, and in response she slid her hands inside his jacket. She could feel the heat coming from his skin and almost without thinking began to undo the buttons on his shirt. She slipped her hands inside and touched his bare skin, making his gasp. He felt as if he had been stung and yet wanted to be stung a thousand times over. With one hand he quickly loosened his tie and pulled it over his head as Elizabeth pushed his jacket off his shoulders.
He began to ease her dress up her thighs, above her hips, making her gasp as his fingers caressed her bare skin. She shivered in anticipation, and he paused.
"Yes," she whispered. "But turn out the light."
"Just that I'd rather it was dark," she said.
"OK," William agreed although he really wanted to look at her as he undressed her. He turned out the light and turned back, bumping into Elizabeth as he did so. She giggled.
"You wanted darkness," he laughed. "Not my fault if I stand on your toe."
In the darkness they found each other and began to undress. Elizabeth unfastened the buttons on William's shirt and he shrugged it to the floor. She raised her arms above her head as he lifted her dress off her. He kissed her fiercely as he stroked her bare back, the feeling of her skin driving him wild with desire. He unfastened his trousers, stepped out of them and felt her hands on his waist, pulling him towards her. He stepped towards the bed and stumbled in the darkness, trying to guide Elizabeth then falling with her. They giggled at their clumsiness as they removed the rest of their clothes, and William moved towards the bedside light.
"No!" Elizabeth said sharply, suddenly feeling insecure in her nakedness.
William rolled away from the light and towards Elizabeth.
They bumped against each other and began to giggle again, but soon the giggle was buried in kisses.
"We're going to end up so bruised," William sighed as he found her in the darkness.
"No, it will be OK. Forget your eyes and use your hands."
Slowly he slid his hand up her side. The curve of her hip and the dip of her waist as he moved upwards made him feel almost dizzy. His hand strayed towards her breasts, his only senses being touch, his only contact being fingers. He heard her sigh softly and bent to kiss her, instinctively finding her mouth. As his finger found her nipple his tongue found her mouth, and he probed the soft warmth of one while rolling the hardness of the other between his fingers. Continuing to suck gently on her lips he ran the back of his hand down over her stomach, making her shiver. Then he shuddered himself as he felt her hand slowly caress the length of his back and come to rest on his hip. One part of him was almost screaming out for her touch, and as her fingers slipped round his hip he held his breath wondering where she was going. He answered her movement with a groan of such deep longing as her fingers curled around him and felt his hardness.
Elizabeth lost herself in touching William, revelling in the fact that all she could do was feel him, that neither could see the other. She curled her leg over his, and trailed her fingers over his skin. She pulled him to her and sucked his tongue into her mouth, knowing with certainty that she wanted him. She pressed herself against the length of his body so that she was touching as much of him as she could, and kissed him deeply. His hands were roaming over her back, over her breasts, and he was making small noises of desire in his throat that made her quiver with longing.
He rolled her onto her back and leaned over her, unable to wait any longer. Having her in his arms and feeling her nakedness was more than he could bear.
"Wait," she murmured, and felt under the pillow, ignoring the little voice in her head that praised her for being rational earlier in the evening. She ripped open the little packet and rolled a condom onto him, even that contact making him groan. He leaned away from her ever so slightly, bent to kiss her, then rolled over her and slid himself inside her.
Elizabeth gasped at the feeling of him sliding into her body, opened herself to him and pushed herself against him. She groaned and moved underneath him but it was too much for him. William could not hold back as his body overwhelmed his mind and he came with three hard thrusts against her.
He collapsed on top of her, feeling as if he was going to cry.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I couldn't ..."
"Shh, shh, it's ok," Elizabeth whispered, stroking his hair and holding him close. He was still inside her, and instinctively she was moving against him, enjoying having him inside her. As she comforted him, she knew she was becoming more and more aroused, excited by the feeling of him lying on top of her.
William was distraught at his inability to satisfy her as he came so quickly, but as he laid on top of her she began to move underneath him, and he realised that she was very aroused. He slipped out of her and as he lay next to her, she guided his hand.
"Here, touch me here," she sighed, pressing herself against him.
He felt her wetness and a jolt of desire shot through his body. He kissed her forehead, her lips, then slid his tongue slowly down her neck and across her chest, never letting his fingers lose contact with her. Quickly he nipped each nipple with his teeth making her draw her breath sharply. Slowly he laid a line of kisses across her stomach until he came to her most tender zone. He paused, waiting for her to stop him. She didn't. He replaced his fingers with his mouth, and gently began to lick where his fingers had caressed. He moved so that he could lie between her legs, stroking the soft skin of the inside of her thighs as his tongue gently circled and probed. She began to jerk and cry out as the sensations overwhelmed her but he did not stop, but carried on licking and touching her until finally her body arched, stayed rigid for several seconds then collapsed as she moaned softly and began to cry.
Quickly he took her in his arms and placed kisses all over her face and hair, licking away her tears and rocking her.
"Come on, it's OK, I'm here, it's OK," he whispered as she clung to him. Her sobs subsided and she was quiet.
"Are you all right?" William asked, softly.
"Yes," she answered quietly. "Just hold me."
Elizabeth woke early and untangled herself from William's arms. She slid out of bed and crept to the bathroom, trying not to wake him. He looked peaceful and happy in his sleep, and somehow much younger than during the day
When she came back, wrapped in the huge fluffy dressing gown provided in the bathroom, he stirred.
"What time is it?" he mumbled sleepily.
"Half past six," Elizabeth whispered. "Sorry, I didn't want to disturb you."
"Are you OK?" he asked, waking up a little, noticing dawn's half light creeping around the heavy curtains.
"Yes, I just needed the bathroom."
"Are you getting back in?"
He pulled the covers back so that she could get into bed, so she sat down and tried to slide out of the dressing gown and under the sheets as demurely as possible. He rolled towards her and kissed her softly.
"Good morning," he whispered. "Mmm, you taste nice. You brushed your teeth."
He sat up and swung his legs out of bed. "Better do mine too."
He felt rather self-conscious walking naked across the bedroom, but then told himself he was being ridiculous. Having made love the night before, nudity was hardly a thing to be worried about, he thought, but made it to the bathroom fairly quickly anyway. Elizabeth watched him go, and thought that she had been right to think that he had a nice arse the very first day she'd ever seen him.
He came back with a towel wrapped around his waist and did a similar manoeuvre to Elizabeth's in getting back into bed.
"Sorry for waking you up," she murmured as he put his arm around her waist and pulled her close.
"Not a problem," he answered, his hand beginning to caress her back softly. "Did you sleep well?"
"Mmm hmm," she replied, kissing him. He leaned over her and nudged her gently so that she rolled onto her back. His arm laid across her stomach and she breathed in sharply.
"Are you OK?" he asked, feeling her tense up.
"Yes," she replied, feeling his hand begin to slide slowly up her body. He kissed her softly, stroking the side of her breast, then moved the covers away so that he could look at her. Elizabeth suddenly felt very self-conscious, and William realised that she was tense again.
"I don't know why you wanted the lights out last night," he murmured. "You're gorgeous."
"Don't tease, William," she muttered shyly.
He swept the covers away so that they were both naked and in full view.
"You've got a lovely body," he sighed, and as Elizabeth looked at his face she saw an expression of such adoration combined with an innocence in his voice, that she almost began to believe him.
"It's hardly withstood the ravages of time," she joked. "I used to be slim and fit, although you wouldn't know it now."
"I like you as you are," William said, and placed a kiss on her stomach. "A real woman. Men don't want to be impaled on the hipbone of an emaciated stick insect. Well, I don't anyway."
"Good job," Elizabeth answered. "I've never been a stick insect and nothing's been the same since Sam arrived."
"Mmm, but curvy tummies are best," William said, looking up at her with a very cheeky grin, then kissing her stomach again. His kisses began to move upwards. "And curvy breasts too," he said, teasing her with his lips. She felt his hand reach round and cup her bottom. "And you've got a lovely bum. Every time you wear jeans I want to give it a little squeeze."
Elizabeth began to giggle. "Now you're being silly!"
"No, now I'm being serious," he replied, and kissed her fully on the mouth. He nestled his head against her shoulder and sighed, his hand still gently caressing her side, straying across her stomach and around in big soft circles.
"Were you OK last night?" he asked quietly.
"Yes," Elizabeth answered, unsure of this line of questioning.
"Because it scared me. When you cried," William said hesitantly. "I mean, I know it wasn't .... well.... anyway .... just that I hope I didn't do anything to hurt you."
William's halting confession made Elizabeth so emotional that she could hardly bring herself to reply.
"No, of course you didn't." she answered. "Just ..."
William waited for her to feel able to say more, all the while stroking her silky skin.
"It just seemed to release something, when you ... when you made me feel as good as you did, like a whole load of tension just rolled away from me. Sorry, can't explain better than that," she said, smiling as he moved to gaze into her eyes. Hearing her say that he'd made her feel good was just the boost he needed.
"Good enough for me," he said, and kissed her. His hand had strayed further up her body, and he cupped her breast, teasing her nipple with his fingers. The kiss deepened, and Elizabeth moaned as he played with her. The sound of the soft growl served to increase William's ardour, and he pressed himself against her. She could feel that he was aroused, but when she tried to move so that she could touch him, he shifted slightly and murmured "No."
"Just let me touch you, for now," he said, between kisses. This time, he wanted to be sure that he didn't let her down and knew that if he felt her hands on him, he would find it far too exciting. He flicked her nipple with his tongue, making her squeal, then licked very slowly around and across, making it harden. He moved across and did the same to her other nipple, continuing to attend to the first one with his fingers. As he sucked and played, Elizabeth began to writhe underneath him. He was going as slowly as he could and she was finding it to be exquisite torment. She wanted him to hurry, and yet did not want him to stop making her feel this aroused. He swapped the attentions of his mouth back to the first nipple, now firm and erect, and nibbled softly, making Elizabeth moan with pleasure.
"Oh, don't stop!" she groaned.
He trailed his fingers across her stomach, making her shiver, then along the top of her thigh. He slipped his hand between her legs and began to stroke the soft skin on the inside of her thigh. Much as he was trying to keep control, he could feel his desire rising every time Elizabeth moved against him or made that soft sexy noise in her throat.
He heard a small tearing noise and looked up at her. Once again she had produced a condom from under the pillow. He smiled a lazy, sexy smile that Elizabeth found incredibly erotic.
"Sure?" he murmured, and held out his hand for the condom.
"Sure," she nodded. "But I'll do it."
He could hardly bear to watch as she rolled it onto him. The touch of her fingers was as much excitement as he could endure. She pressed herself against him as he kissed her mouth, aroused by the feeling of his erection against her stomach. She put her arm around him, put one leg over his and rolled onto her back, pulling him with her. On top of her, and with her open to him, William entered her slowly, letting out a deep sigh as he did.
They began to move together, a slow steady rhythm, quiet whispers of pleasure and encouragement breaking the silence. Elizabeth began to feel her body take over, as instinctively she moved under him, reaching round to grasp his buttocks and pull him into her. She wanted as much of him as she could get, driven by a need to feel him filling her. William saw her cheeks flush and her breath become ragged, and began to move faster, thrusting into her and feeling himself being squeezed tightly. Knowing that she was near the peak brought him closer to his, and he closed his eyes and thrust into her again.
Suddenly Elizabeth moaned loudly as the white heat of her orgasm exploded within her. William followed seconds later, and collapsed against her, hot and gasping. They clung to each other, sweaty and sticky, waiting for their heart rates to return to normal and their breath to come back.
They kissed tenderly, and Elizabeth smiled. "Wow," was all she could say.
They awoke a couple of hours later, still wrapped around each other. William brushed Elizabeth's hair out of her eyes and kissed her.
"Good morning, again," he said, grinning.
"Morning, again," she replied, returning his kiss. "Shall we get up this time?"
"If you insist."
"I insist," Elizabeth said, as William heard the unmistakeable sound of a rumbling tummy.
"Oh, I see," he laughed. "Full English breakfast for you, then?"
"Definitely," Elizabeth answered, stretching and yawning. "Need a shower first though."
He watched her walk to the bathroom, shyness dissipated, and leaned back on his pillows, a satisfied smile playing around his lips.
Elizabeth looked around the dining room as she ate her breakfast.
"It's really nice here, William," Elizabeth said. "How did you find out about it again?"
"One of the other Directors," William said. "He told me."
"The other directors," Elizabeth said. "So, tell me again, what is it you do, exactly?"
"I'm an investments manager for a charitable fund, I told you."
"But you're a Company Director?"
"I'm on the Board of Directors of the company, yes. The fund is one part of the company." William felt awkward and wanted to change the subject. He had only skirted around the reality of his job, and felt awkward talking about it with Elizabeth. His previous experience with women had seemed to show him that it was his name and his position that attracted them. Certainly he had never found it difficult to find a date to accompany him to dinners and charitable events. Being with Elizabeth, who seemed completely clueless about the world of business, was completely refreshing and he wanted to keep it that way. She seemed to accept that he might just have a job, in the way that she had a job. It had not occurred to her yet that he wasn't just on the board of directors, he was the most significant director of a large and very profitable family business. The fact that he left the commercial side to others and chose to concentrate on running the charitable foundation set up by his father was a minor factor. He could indulge his preferences without being hampered by the need to earn a living, unlike Elizabeth. Besides, it was dawning on him how hard she worked, how dedicated she was to doing an important job well, in addition to the fact that she was determined to give Sam a good upbringing. He knew that if he wanted to, he could fall back on his inherited wealth and never have to work again, and for the first time he felt uncomfortable about his position when faced with Elizabeth's resolve and determination.
"So, what do you actually do?" she persisted. "A typical day. You know what my typical day looks like," she said, grinning. "Get up, run round like a headless chicken trying to get Sam up and out on time. Work like mad, phone calls, meetings, talks. Charge round the shops, go home to planet chaos, cook tea, shout 'do your homework!' collapse groaning on the sofa with a glass of wine." She laughed and yet again William was enchanted by the light in her eyes when she was happy. Talking about Sam made her happy, and he knew she'd missed him. He couldn't help but reflect on just how different their lives were, and once more wished that his relationship with Alice was as good as Elizabeth's with Sam. Being with Elizabeth was making him look into his soul in a way that he had never done before, and the exhilaration of discovery only just outweighed the discomfort.
"Sorry," he heard her say. "I'm babbling on nonsensically again." She'd seen his eyes glaze over and misunderstood why.
"No, don't apologise, I love it when you talk about your life. Did you know, you glow when you talk about Sam?"
"Do I? I talk about him too much, don't I?"
"How could you? You love him and he's a lucky boy."
Elizabeth saw the wistful look on William's face, and felt for him. She guessed he was thinking about Alice, and knew from the few things he'd let slip that he worried about her. "Your turn," she said cheerfully, hoping to draw him out a little. "I did my life in a day, now it's your turn."
"OK," he said, deciding to play her game. "Get up, make coffee, put on suit of armour, phone calls, meetings, talk about money all day. Read papers and hear people telling me why they need a grant, decide who gets the money. Home, wonder if I've done the right things, eat, collapse on the sofa with a glass of wine." He laughed. "And now I know that you end your day the same as me, I feel much better."
Once more Elizabeth had the feeling that there was much more to William than she yet knew, and little by little he was revealing hidden places to her. Before she could continue in a serious vein, he got hold of her hand.
"Anyway, what shall we do now? Fancy a swim?"
"Oh William, after that breakfast?" Elizabeth groaned. "I'd sink!"
"I'd rescue you," he grinned. "Come on, let's get our togs and go for a sauna or a jacuzzi. We don't have to check out until noon."
"OK," she said, and they left the dining room hand in hand.
William and Elizabeth had the jacuzzi to themselves for a while, and luxuriated in the hot bubbly water.
"Oh this is bliss," Elizabeth sighed. "Nothing to do but indulge ourselves. Even if it's only a few hours before real life comes back to bite us."
William laid back against the side of the little pool, and relaxed. Elizabeth's sheer joy in unaccustomed luxury was an eye-opener to him, and he knew with a shocking certainty that he would do anything he could, for as long as possible, to keep her happy. He loved her. The sudden insight, the admittance to himself, stunned him, and he almost blurted out the words.
"Want a swim?" she said, puncturing his thoughts, and pulled herself up the steps. The moment had passed.
"Don't do that," he smirked as her bottom rose out of the water. "I could just take a little bite out of your bum right now."
"Don't you dare!" Elizabeth squealed, and scampered to the edge of the swimming pool. "I'd have to bite yours and tell you my first ever thought about you!"
He jumped out of the hot water and ran after her.
"You can't say things like that and run away!" he shouted. "Tell me!"
"You have to catch me first," she giggled and dived in. He dived after her, and soon caught up with her. She splashed him, trying to escape as he grabbed her and pulled her to him.
"Go on, tell," he growled, suddenly aroused again at the feeling of her wet body close to his.
"Or else?" she teased.
"Or else," he said, then paused while he gave her a deep, searching kiss that left her breathless. "Or else I won't be able to give you a kiss like that ever again." Truth was, kissing her that way had been a mistake as he now had a big problem with the increasing tightness of his swimming trunks.
"Well, I can't bite your bum here, they'd never let us back in again," Elizabeth said, aware from the way he was pressed against her that he was as aroused as she found herself.
"Do we have to get dressed?"
"No," he said, letting her go and climbing out of the pool. "Grab a big towel and we'll run for it!"
She ran into the changing room, excited by the slight naughtiness of what they were doing. They met outside the changing rooms, each wrapped in a towel with their clothes under their arms, and ran giggling back to their room.
William shut the door and leaned against it as Elizabeth dropped her clothes on the floor and flopped laughing onto the bed.
"So, tell me."
"Can't, too embarrassing."
"Oh no," he said, advancing on the bed. "You can't get away with that."
She fell back as he loomed over her. Quickly, he flipped her onto her front, pulled her costume up to reveal one round cheek, and bit her.
"Ouch!" she squealed, squirming round and slapping him. "I can't believe you did that!" Impulsively, she grabbed his shorts, pulled them down, and ignoring the rather enticing erection, spun him round and bit him on the bum.
"Ow!" he shouted. "I didn't bite you that hard!"
He fell onto the bed next to her laughing and pulling her costume down.
"You're wearing too much," he said, looking over her now naked body. The effect of being damp and cold had made Elizabeth's nipples very erect, and he took as much of one breast as he could fit into his mouth, sucking hard and swirling his tongue around her. She felt as if stars were popping behind her eyes, and suddenly, desperately wanted him inside her. She pushed him onto his back and leaned over him, taking his erection in her hand and stroking the length of it.
"Oh, Elizabeth," he groaned. "Don't suppose ...."
"Oh yes," she said, fumbling about to find yet another condom.
"How many have you got under there?" William said incredulously, twisting round to look under the pillow. "Bloody hell, all those for one night?"
"A night and a day," she said, grinning. "Perk of the job," she giggled, then blushed. "Actually, I grabbed a handful and ran before anyone could see me!"
"Well, at least we've got a supply for the future," William grinned. "I had to buy mine but I think I blushed as much as you're doing now!"
He stopped talking and let out a long sigh as he felt her holding him. This time, he watched her as she slowly unrolled the condom down his length, squeezing him gently as she did it. She leaned down and slid her body against his so that he could feel her heat. She slid her hand between her thighs and held him against her, using him to increase her arousal, until quickly she shifted, put his tip against her entrance, and slid onto him. He groaned loudly at the swiftness of being taken inside, and reached up to caress her breasts as she moved herself against him. He could see from the way she was flushed, biting her lip and breathing rapidly that she was getting enormous pleasure from using his body, and that just made him more aroused.
Elizabeth could feel as she moved that William was getting bigger inside her, and the feeling of being stretched and filled excited her. She leaned over him, pulling herself off him almost completely then pausing before plunging back down. From the look on his face, that move excited him, so she did it again a few times until she only wanted him inside. She ground her hips against him as he pulled her down and took a nipple in his mouth, squeezing the other with his fingers.
"Mmm, harder," she whispered, and as he sucked, the waves began to overtake her. She rocked against him, groaning with pleasure as she reached her peak, then sagged against him. He held her tightly as she planted little hot kisses against his neck.
Slowly so that he could remain inside her, he rolled her onto her back. His eyes met hers and she nodded slightly at his imploring look that he should take his pleasure. He began to move inside her, sliding in and out slowly at first then increasing in speed as he felt his own climax come nearer.
"Oh!" Elizabeth moaned in surprise as she felt her own arousal return. "Oh, yes, William!"
"Again?" he managed to gasp as she lifted her hips and pushed against him.
"Yes!" she shouted, feeling him thrusting into her again and again, hearing him shout out his own pleasure as his orgasm finally overtook him.
"Elizabeth," he finally managed to murmur several moments later. "Unbelievable."
They lay side by side, on their backs, their bodies touching, with tired contented smiles on their faces.
Eventually, they stirred.
"We should get dressed, shouldn't we?" Elizabeth asked. "Make a move?"
"Never want to move again in my life," William sighed. "But yes, we should."
He sat up and gazed at Elizabeth. "Thanks for coming away with me."
She sat up and kissed him. "Thanks for asking me."
She nodded, and they went into the bathroom together. He turned on the shower, let Elizabeth step in then followed her. He took the bottle of shampoo as she let the hot water flood over her body, then gently massaged her hair. As she rinsed, he squeezed out some shower gel, and smoothed it over her skin, revelling in being able to touch her. She took the gel and began to massage his chest, then his firm stomach, then turned him round and rubbed his back.
"You never did tell me," he said.
"Tell you what?"
"Your first thought about me."
She giggled and began to knead his buttocks.
"Nice arse," she said.
"Thanks, but what did you think?"
"That's what I thought," she laughed. "I saw you at the pool and thought you had a nice arse!"
She wrapped her arms around him from behind as he began to laugh. He felt her breasts pressed against her back, and her hands stroking his stomach and glanced down. Her fingers were straying lower, and part of him was rising to meet her.
"Mmm, you recover quickly," she giggled as she felt him becoming erect in her hands. She kissed his back, and massaged him until he could bear it no longer. He turned round, scooped his arm under her bottom and picked her up. He backed out of the shower cabinet and sat her on the counter as he scattered the contents of his washbag on the floor. He found what he wanted, announced triumphantly, "we'll use one of mine!" and put it on quickly. He leaned her against the wall and slid into her. She gasped at his speed but something about the urgency excited her, and she wrapped her legs around his waist as he moved against her. This time his excitement was unstoppable, her groans exciting him beyond reason, and despite his previous exertions he came quickly. He covered her face in kisses, feeling her muscles continuing to squeeze him, knowing that she was still needy. He slipped out of her, lifted her off the counter and laid her gently on the floor. He knelt between her thighs and kissed the hot tender spot that most needed his attention. Her groans in response and the way she began to writhe underneath him as he licked her told him that she was close to coming again. He slid a finger inside her and began to move in and out, while pressing his hot tongue against her. The intensity of the orgasm that grabbed hold of her body, making her judder and cry out, took her by surprise as she was suddenly overwhelmed. William felt her go limp, and looked up satisfied. Her eyes were squeezed tight, and a single tear slid out. He pulled her into his arms and kissed the tear away. She opened her eyes which were shiny and wet, and smiled up at him.
"Now you know how to make me cry," she whispered.
"So long as this is the only way I ever do it," he replied, and held her tightly.
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