Juliet tried to process what he’d just said. “What? Why?” she asked. Of course, she understood the words but they’d just discussed waiting. She wanted romance. He wanted time. Why did he change his mind?
“Juliet,” he started, looking down into her eyes. “Only your husband should ever touch you the way I just did.”
Ahh. That did make sense. And she appreciated the gesture, but somehow, she wanted more from a proposal then we should marry. “I appreciate your chivalry.”
He shook his head. “If I’d been chivalrous, I would have waited.” Then he leaned down and kissed her. “But I want you so much that I lost myself.”
She knew enough about lovemaking to know that a child wouldn’t result from what they’d just done. “I’m not truly compromised, am I?”
He grimaced. “Not in the most technical of terms.”
She nodded. “You wanted time. I understand that and I—”
“What I want…” He leaned down and took her mouth. While a great deal of her passion had been spent, in that kiss, she could feel his hadn’t. The touch was desperate and needy. “Is you by my side and no one else’s.”
“But you said…” She glanced into the dark storm gathering in his eyes.
“I know.” His breath came in sharper gasps. “And I will tell you honestly that the speed of courtship still frightens me. But,” he reached up and touched her cheek, “I won’t let the fear rule my life and I certainly won’t let it hurt you. I already did when I missed our dance tonight and it’s not a mistake I intend to repeat.”
These words should have made her elated. He wanted to marry her. He didn’t wish her to touch anyone else, ever again. But nowhere in his words had there been any mention of love. Fear, desire, jealousy had been stated or hinted, but true affection hadn’t been discussed at all. “That is very kind of you to consider my feelings but I already told you that I don’t mind waiting.”
He slid an arm under her knees and stood, cradling her against his body. “Juliet, consider this. We’ve already been more intimate than any proper courtship would allow and it’s only been a few days. What will happen in a few days from now?” He’d started walking up the beach and she frowned, seeing the value of his words.
“Dane,” she said, tapping his shoulder. “I did hide my cat and make Adrianna and Crestwood go look for her. I could see they were meant to be together.”
He gave a stiff nod. “I’ve heard bits of the story.”
She looked out over the black ocean, only catching the tips of waves as they crested near the shore. “I need you to understand that I have no intention to do any of that with you. In fact. I’ll not be alone with you again. When we decide to marry, it will be because…” She paused searching for the words that suited her feelings without revealing that she was already in love. “You think I will make a good wife and not because you feel obligated to ask.”
He stopped and stared. “The very fact that you said that tells me you will make an excellent wife.”
She relaxed a bit in his arms. That was something. A declaration of admiration if nothing else. “Thank you.”
They reached the path and he continued up, still holding her in his arms. “When we get back inside, I believe that I owe you a dance.”
She nodded, chewing on her lip. They hadn’t agreed to anything. Not really. Still, the dance would be lovely, if she could stop the worries now spinning through her mind. She didn’t want to be his wife if he’d resent her for it. Nor did she want to be left standing on the side watching all her sisters find their happily-ever-afters. It seemed even Cordelia was dabbling in romance.
She held on tighter. More importantly, she didn’t want to fall in love alone. She looked at his profile, studying the handsome lines of his face. He’d traipsed into Seabridge Gate and absolutely stolen her heart straight from her chest.
How did she get it back? Did she even want him to return it?
* * *
Dane watched the last guests leave, tired but knowing that he was unlikely to sleep. Juliet’s sisters had all disappeared at some point in the night. That made him smile. Hell, he and Juliet had done the same. His body still thrummed with desire, its intent clear.
His mind, however, remained muddled.
Marriage was a forgone conclusion after what he’d done tonight. And he appreciated Juliet’s attempts to delay the inevitable but it would happen. What he felt less certain of were his feelings on the matter.
Part of him was excited. His affection for her was growing as was his need. But part of him retracted from the danger he knew he was inflicting upon himself.
He drew in a breath, looking at her. And his doubts quieted. This woman would never hurt him. Without thinking, he reached for her hand, then slipped it into his own.
Charlie came to his other side, looking fresh as a daisy in morning dew. She’d always loved the nights. “What a beautiful evening,” she announced as she rested a hand on his shoulder.
“Did you dance?” he asked, looking over at her.
She shook her head. “Only a bit.”