"Are we even allowed here?" Derek asked as he followed Marie up a flight of stairs through the palace. She smiled at him over her shoulder. "I’m in pretty tight with the royal family," she said. Derek chuckled. "Yeah, I guess that’s true," he said. They entered two massive doors and stepped into what had to be the library. Books lined every noticeable section of wall, a few couches and a large coffee table sat in the middle of the room and overlooked a couple of massive glass framed doors.
"Come on, you’ll never get a better view of the kingdom," Marie said as she led the way towards the open balcony on the other side. Derek smiled to himself. He reached out and took her at her wrist. With a gentle tug, she spun around and he expertly caught her at her waist with his free arm. "You are going to drive me insane if you make me take another step without touching you," he said as he stared into her eyes. A strange sense of relief filled him. No sketch he made would ever come close to the real thing. He lifted a hand and traced the line of her jaw, heart racing as he did.
"Now, can I please apologize?" He asked. She smiled and gave a small nod. "I’ve . . ." His mind wiped clean again when his eyes lowered to her lips. He cleared his throat and forced himself to look at her eyes again. That might have made things worse. "I’ve . . ." He shook his head and released a breath nervously. Marie giggled.
"How about we start with something else? Because I’ve got some things to say to you too," she said. He looked at her and gave a nod. "Okay, what do you suggest?"
Marie hooked her fingers into the tie at his neck and tugged him closer. The moment her lips met his, a slow chill ran down his body. His fingers came to the back of her head and pulled her closer as he deepened the kiss. Marie let out a quiet moan and brought her free hand to the base of his neck. This he could do.
Marie broke the kiss and smiled at him while exquisitely twirling the curls at the back of his head around her fingers.
"Apology accepted," she said and lowered her eyes. "And thank you for the flowers this morning." She looked up at him. Derek realized he was holding his breath and let it out slowly. He distracted himself by counting the little pale blue flecks in her eyes. She was so beautiful. What was it she said?
"Flowers. Right." Derek lowered his eyes so he could get his thoughts in order. How could she think straight after such a kiss?
"Yeah, I-I owed you from dinner." Derek brought his hand from her neck to his forehead. He bit his tongue to punish it for being so useless. Marie giggled and used both her hands to take his hand from his eyes. He allowed her to braid their fingers together and drop their hands between them.
"I’m sorry. I’m not very . . . charismatic tonight," he said. Her lips tugged with amusement. "You got me one and a half dozen bouquets, you can stumble over your words as much as you want." Was it one and a half dozen? He wasn’t even sure. He had just gotten as much as he could fit into his car. He’d probably never get the smell of pollen out of there. Or be able to afford his rent for that matter.
"How on earth did you get them on my doorstep anyway?" She asked.
"Your mom let me in and . . ." He gave a shrug. "I’m a mess, I’m sorry," he said. She smiled.
"Yeah, but I knew that. I’m a mess too. You’ve seen me in worse conditions."
He smiled back. He did. That made his shoulders relax. "Look, Marie, we’ve got to address the elephant in the room and I need to know for sure . . ." His heart hammered painfully against his ribs as he held his breath. Marie seemed to be doing the same. "Do you . . ." Damn it, he couldn’t even get it out. Her smile shortened. Marie gave the tiniest of nods, letting him know she understood. "Are you going to ask me if I love you?" She asked. Her eyes became round with worry, so much that he brought his free hand to her cheek and gave her an encouraging smile.
"I don’t mind if you do. I want you to, Marie. A few weeks ago I would have said something different but I had a talk with my dad and then your sister and I’m pretty sure even my grandmother’s gonna sit me down on this topic soon –." She smiled and dropped her eyes. "I don’t feel that same uneasiness I felt before, and that’s probably because the thought of not being with you scares me more than the idea that you might actually love me."
Marie looked at him carefully, a mist covered her eyes.
"I’ve never met anyone that makes me feel the way you do, Marie. You might not realize it, but you’ve changed me completely. My life has become infinitely better since I’ve met you." She smiled with trembling lips.
"The idea of being in love with you scares me too," she said. "I don’t want that to be the reason you leave."
In a flash Derek became aware of his selfishness. If he thought he was confused by his emotions, he couldn’t imagine what Marie was going through.
"You were right, I’m an idiot," he said. She let out a breath of laughter. "Marie, I don’t know what it feels like to be in love." She lowered her eyes. "But I’m selfish enough to want you to love me."
Marie closed her eyes slowly. Not exactly what she wanted to hear but her heart was pounding so fast that she felt dizzy enough not to be too bothered by it. Her thoughts were sober enough to realize one thing though; through all his insecurities and objections towards love he still wanted to be with her. She let out a shaky breath.
"Then I’ll keep doing it," she said.
"What are you boys talking about?" Giselle asked as she approached her cousin Mark and Eric talking near the rim of the balcony that overlooked the ballroom. She placed her hands on Eric’s arm and looked up at him. He smiled down at her and sent a flutter into her heart. "We’re spectating the fall of another man," Mark said, making her look at him. A frown creased Giselle’s forehead. She followed her cousin’s gaze to the edge of the ballroom and felt her mouth open with pleasant surprise when she saw Derek dancing with Marie. Her frown instantly lifted and she giggled. "I knew from the moment I met him they’d be perfect together." Her smile softened. "But I worry that he might not reflect her feelings as strongly," she said.
The two men burst out with laughter, surprising her. "You clearly haven’t been looking hard enough, love," Eric said. "You shouldn’t worry yourself about his feelings towards Marie, cousin," Mark said with amusement bright in his eyes. "The poor bastard’s a goner and he doesn’t even realize it. Just look at the way he’s staring at her. He can’t help himself."
Giselle looked back towards her sister and Derek. She found herself smiling at the way they looked at each other. Marie dropped her eyes shyly at something Derek had said and Derek smiled at her in a way that made Giselle sure the rest of the world didn’t exist to him at that moment. "They do look happy together," she said. Eric turned to face her and she looked at him. He gave her a look that silenced all thoughts and sent the world into a white haze. He touched her fingers with his free hand and lightly stroked the knuckles. "I’m surprised you haven’t recognized that look by now," he said quietly. Realizing he was referring to himself, Giselle smiled. "Are you saying you’re a goner?" She asked. "I’ve abandoned all hope of ever being anything else," he said and placed a kiss on her forehead.
"Ugh, I’m going to find a glass of whiskey and give you two a moment."
Giselle laughed when Mark sent her a look of mock disgust. He sobered at the sound of her laughter and winked before walking away.