I woke in the sweet warmth of Dominic’s arms. He had curled toward me in the night, our arms around each other, my leg nestled between his. My face was buried in his chest, and his musky scent surrounded me. I took a deep breath and snuggled closer to him. He responded with a sleepy moan, his arms pulling me in.
But we couldn’t stay like this. Allison was sleeping in the other bed, and we needed to get moving.
I stretched and rolled out of the comfort of Dominic’s strong arms, waking him in the process. His fingers grazed my cheek in a soft caress. “Morning, beautiful,” he murmured in a deep voice, thick with sleep. The smile on his face was catching.
“Morning,” I returned softly. “We need to get up. I need coffee. And food.”
“Ah, yes. Me too.” He stretched beside me then rolled to sit at the bed’s edge. He leaned forward and picked up his jeans from where they pooled on the floor.
I curled around him as he pulled them on. “Thank you for last night.”
He turned to fix his eyes on me. “You don’t have to thank me. I didn’t do anything.”
“Exactly,” I said. “Just sleeping next to you, feeling your arms around me, was more than you know. Michael loved me, but he couldn’t give me even that for over a year. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.”
He bent down and laid a gentle kiss on my temple. “I’m glad it made you happy.” He stood, sliding out of my arms and leaving me feeling empty again. “I’m going to go shower before we head down to dinner. Why don’t you work on getting Allison up? I’ll be back in ten.”
“All right.” I slid out of bed as he closed the door behind him. Padding over to the big bed, I laid my hand on Allison’s shoulder. “Allison. It’s time to get up, sweetie.”
She moaned, rolled, and stretched, her eyes fluttering open. “Mom? What time is it?”
I glanced at the clock on the nightstand. “It’s almost eight. Mr. Dominic is in the shower. When he’s done, I’m going to take one. Then it’s your turn. Once we’re all cleaned up, we’ll go down for breakfast. Okay?”
“Yeah,” she said as she sat up against the headboard, the quilt pooling at her waist. “I have to go to the bathroom.”
“O-kay,” I drew out, pondering where I could take her since Dominic was in the only one I knew of. “We’ll go downstairs and see if there’s a bathroom down there.”
We were in luck. There was a powder room at the end of the foyer, under the stairs. We both made use of it, then climbed the stairs back to our room. I laid out clothes for each of us while we waited for Dominic to return.
He walked in a few minutes later. The sight of him made me pause. His hair was damp and tousled, the results of a good towel-dry. His skin was glowing from its cleansing, but he had left the stubble on his jaw, giving a rough sexiness to his look. Snug black cotton hugged his chest and shoulders, falling over the waist of his jeans. His feet were bare, as I would expect from this former beach bum. He looked good enough to eat, and if Allison hadn’t been there. . . Well. . .
To pull myself away, I grabbed my clothes and headed for the shower. It felt good to have the hot water sluicing down my body. After I had cleaned up, I turned off the hot and cranked the cold. The shock of the frigid water, gave me and extra jump start.
There was no hair dryer, and I had left my brush in the room, so I toweled my hair as best I could. I checked my face in the mirror and was immediately thankful for my natural coloring that denied the need for makeup. I buttoned up my blue gingham shirt, and slipped my legs into my jeans. I opted for the bare foot look, as well, but more because I had a desire that would be better fulfilled with bare feet.
Avoiding Dominic’s eyes as I stepped into the room, I shooed Allison down the hall to get cleaned up. I started digging in my bag for my brush.
As soon as the bathroom door clicked, Dominic was pressed up behind me, his lips at my ear. “You are trying to kill me slowly, aren’t you?” he growled.
I froze. Afraid to move for fear of spiking my already too-keyed-up libido to dangerous levels. The steady pulse of his shallow breathing was pushing me to the edge, though. “Dominic,” I said soft enough to keep my chest from expanding too much. “You need to back up.”
“Because.” It was all I could offer as a reason. Weak. Wanting. Just like me. But it worked, and he backed away, allowing me to continue searching for my brush.
“Okay. I get that,” he said with resignation.
“Ah-ha!” I whipped the elusive brush from my bag and went to the vanity mirror to do what I could with my hair.
Allison came back looking refreshed and beautiful. I had her check to make sure everything was in her bag, and we headed down for some much needed coffee and food.
Mrs. Rose had a true country breakfast waiting for us. I helped myself to homefries while Mrs. Rose cooked me an omelet with bacon, sausage, and ham, smothered in cheese. The morning was brisk, but we ate on the porch anyway.
Dominic joined me and Allison, sitting in the chair next to me. “A bit chilly for flip-flops, isn’t it?” The question was aimed at me and my mostly bare feet. It was also edged with something that might sound fatherly to someone else, but I knew it was more of a warning against my thoughts and future actions.
“Yeah, well. . .” I trailed off, not wanting to state my reason for wearing the scant shoes with Allison right there.
But just then she said, “Mommy, can I eat inside? I’m cold.”
“Of course, honey. But stay in the parlor until I come back in, okay?”
“Okay.” She gathered her plate and juice glass and went inside.
Once the door shut behind her, Dominic invaded the quiet. “So?”
I sighed. “I wanna drive,” I said without looking at him.
“Well, that’s obvious. Why else would you wear flip flops in this weather?” He picked up his coffee and held the steaming cup in front of his face, staring out at the landscape. I started to wonder if he would say anything else about it when he put the mug down and fixed his eyes on me. “You can drive. But we won’t be doing that kind of driving. There’s no way.”
“I get that, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. If we’re heading back toward home, the chances of a run-in increase. No matter what you say, that’s how I perceive it,” I said, holding up a hand in defense. “I’m a better driver than you, so I’m driving. And if we run into trouble, I want to be barefoot. You know that.”
When we were younger, and I drove Dominic’s runs for him, I always drove barefoot. I felt more in tune with the car that way. That meant I was more confident without shoes between me and the machine. I had a natural ability when it came to driving. An ability that kept me and my cohorts out of jail whenever I drove.
I needed that confidence for the next leg of our trip or I might chicken out and hunker down at the Bubbling Brook Inn indefinitely.
His hand found mine as I reached for my coffee. “I understand, Ella. But you being barefoot puts me on edge. Like you’re expecting trouble.”
We finished our breakfast, said goodbye and thank you to Mrs. Rose and Teddy, and headed back to the state road that would take us home in our roundabout way.