When they left the restaurant, their distance from the city was underlined by the waning moon’s light, not too bright to subdue a blanket of stars. She looked up into the sky and wondered how many times she had studied the few stars visible in L.A., thinking that somewhere Rory gazed up, too. There were too many sparkling gems in the firmament tonight to single out a wishing star, but she sent up an entreaty for what was happening between her and Rory to be real.
They entered the deep forest, their feet making no sound on the soft mixture of earth, needles, and bark. Redwood scent rose on the damp air, and small lights cast shadows amid the towering giants. In deference to the stillness, neither of them spoke. Yet, her thoughts whirled down corridors past and present. She’d never been able to resist Rory, not as an innocent, and not within the circle of his arm tonight.
He stopped on a wooden bridge where a small stream’s music defied the silence and his arm came around her. Looking down at garden lights sparkling on the water, she said in the same light tone they’d used during dinner, "I’m glad we came. This place is lovely."
He pulled her tighter against him. "Stop it, Mariah."
At the emotion in his voice, she began to tremble.
"Quit making small talk." His hands roamed her back. "Quit pretending to act casual."
"You said in Sausalito that we weren’t to think."
"I know I said not to think, but that was crazy. If I’m honest with myself, and with you, I have to admit I’ve been obsessed about this, one way or another, since I saw you again."
His urgent tone led her to expect the crushing embrace he’d given her the night of the accident at Grant Plaza. Instead, he turned her to him slowly, barely brushing her lips with his.
It was like coming home, their connection immediate and vital. Had she ever known a man whose breath melded so sweetly with hers? Sliding her hands up into his hair, she caressed the back of his neck with the boldness she’d dared at eighteen. At this simple touch, she felt him shudder.
Their kiss deepened, escalating from exploration to his tongue seeking hers with bold authority. He snugged her closer and let her feel what she was doing to arouse him. Joy surged while the melting warmth in her expanded. Wicked images warred with propriety; he would make love to her here in the dark woods, up against the wooden rail . . . someone could walk down the path at any moment.
Rory kissed the side of her neck then moved his lips to the hollow at the base of her throat. Her head tipped back, and she gasped at the pleasure needles shooting hot and cold through her.
"Admit it, Mariah," he whispered. "There’s never been anybody who did it for us like each other."
The last of her reservations fell away like water tumbling to the pool below. There was no telling where they would end up, but she would seize this moment, this now.
The thin high tone of a cell phone made them jerk apart.
"Dammit!" Rory reached to his belt and unclipped the small device.
Another tinny ring sounded out of place in the deep forest.
What would be his answer to the real world’s summons? Did Sylvia Chatsworth wonder why he was late coming over? Had his father discovered through some clairvoyant sense that his son was AWOL?
On the third ring, Rory flipped the phone off the bridge. With a gulping splash, it sank into the dark pool.