Everything went still. No one made a sound, even their breathing seemed to have been frozen inside their chests. Miguel and Rafael were the first ones to recover and both quickly strode over to Gabriel and Angelo. Miguel stood behind Gabriel while Rafael took his stand beside Angelo, both prepared to intervene should their two brothers fail to control their tempers.
“Well? Is no one talking?” Don Fernando said, his eyes darting between Gabriel and Angelo.
He saw that both men were trying to avoid looking at him, their heads bowed, gazes fixed on the floor. He also noted the troubled look on Louisa’s face which had now turned a bright beet red. Don Fernando mentally sighed as he correctly surmised the gist of the situation. And it somehow alarmed him. However, he felt that this was not the right time or place to discuss his suspicions so he just suppressed the growing apprehension within him and tried to lighten the air around them.
“Bueno, since you two brutes seem to have swallowed your tongues, and your machismo at the same time, I would let you two settle whatever it is you need to settle between yourselves. But a replay of this barbarismo and I will not hesitate giving you both no more than a few smart smacks on your thick hides,” Don Fernando saw both his sons squirm at his words, their faces turning pink with embarrassment. A poorly stifled laugh from Louisa brought her back to Don Fernando’s attention.
“Ah, hija! It’s so nice to see you again!” Don Fernando said. His delight at seeing Louisa shone clearly on his light brown eyes, now crinkled at the sides in obvious mirth, the stern look displayed on them earlier completely gone.
Fernando maneuvered his wheelchair past his sons and on towards Louisa. Both Gabriel and Miguel quickly strode over to their father to help him move his wheelchair but the older man waved them away.
Aurora had wanted to get him a motorized wheelchair but Fernando had adamantly insisted on an ordinary one. He said that he did not want to feel comfortable in a wheelchair lest he became used to being in it. He felt that being inconvenienced by this burdensome contraption would motivate him to get back on his feet and recover much faster. So, to speed up his recovery, he refused to be pushed around by anyone and moved, at least inside the house, on his own.
“Tio Fernando, I’m so glad to see that you’re feeling better now,” Louisa replied, smiling at her godfather as she moved towards him, her arms outstretched to catch the older man’s hands.
When they finally met midway, she bent down to plant a soft kiss on her godfather’s cheek. Fernando reached up to pull her closer into a tight hug. When he finally let go of her he reached up and patted her on the cheek affectionately.
“I’ve missed you so, my dear,” Fernando said, holding on to Louisa’s hands.
“I’ve missed you, too, Tio,” Louisa replied, smiling down at the man whom she had come to love like her own father. And she did, indeed, miss him. It’s been almost a year since she’d seen him. Their last conversation, a few months back, when he asked her to take over the interior finishing of the hotel, was done over the phone during the time that she was in Hong Kong closing a deal with a furniture shop there.
“There you are!” Aurora said, walking briskly towards her husband.
“Why didn’t you wait for me to come wheel you out here?”
Fernando let go of Louisa’s hand and turned towards his wife, smiling mischievously at her.
“I got tired of waiting for you, my dear,” he answered, purposely failing to tell her that what brought him out of the bedroom was the commotion he heard coming from the foyer.
“Hija! I’m so glad you’re already here,” Aurora said, hugging Louisa who had come forward to greet her.
“Hello, Tia Aurora. We arrived this morning. Papa is in the stables, as usual,” Louisa replied, returning the older woman’s embrace, “but I’m sure he’ll be coming back here any minute now.”
“Well, then! Let’s all go have lunch. I believe we’ll be having it at the gazebo. Fernando misses eating al fresco so I instructed our cook to have it set up there.” Aurora said, gesturing to her sons to help push their father’s wheelchair out into the gazebo.
Miguel quickly stepped forward and did as instructed, ignoring the low grumbles from their father while Rafael took their mother’s arm and escorted her outside.
Louisa felt a strong hand clamp down on her upper arm. She wasn’t surprised to see that it was Gabriel’s.
“Come, I’ll be your escort. I’m sure your father will be there waiting for us already. Not unless you’d like to have a private moment with me first?” Gabriel whispered the last sentence in her ear, his lips almost brushing against it. Louisa felt goosebumps crawl up her arms.
She was about to brush off Gabriel’s hand when she caught sight of Angelo standing right behind them, his eyes boring holes at Gabriel’s back. So, to avoid inciting another confrontation, she just let Gabriel propel her towards the sliding glass doors. Relief washed over her when Angelo walked past them and exited without a word.
But then instead of going outside, Gabriel instead turned at the hallway and pulled her inside a darkened room. He then let go of her arm and locked the door behind him. Her eyes had barely adjusted to the dimness of the room but she could still see the intensity in Gabriel’s eyes. She could almost feel the heat emanating from his gaze and her heart started doing somersaults inside her chest. She was after all, alone in a dark room with a man who was tipsy, if not a little bit drunk. She surely had enough reason to be afraid.
“Gabriel! What are you doing? They’ll be wondering where we’d gone to,” Louisa cried, her throat tightening in fear, and maybe, just a little excitement.
“Yes, they will,” he replied, his eyes bright and almost glowing in the dim light.
“Well then, we should go out there now, don’t you think?”
“We will. After.”
“After what?” Louisa croaked, a large lump lodging inside her throat. The hairs on her nape prickled when Gabriel did not answer but instead gave her an impish smile. They looked at each other for what seemed like a lifetime, frozen in their places.
Then, Gabriel started moving towards her.
She started moving back.
And as they continued moving – him, towards her, her, away from him, Louisa could not help but feel more and more like the proverbial mouse being stalked by a hungry, salivating cat.
She almost jumped when her feet hit a solid object behind her, making her lose her balance and tumbling backward, flat on her back, on what turned out to be a feather-soft bed.
Her awkward fall sent Gabriel quickly pouncing on her (well, he did not really pounce, but that’s how it felt like when he shortly fell on top of her after tripping on her feet).
All of a sudden, they were face-to-face, chest-to-chest, stomach-to-stomach; Gabriel’s warm, hard body unnervingly squishing her against the mattress.
Without a word, Gabriel’s lips went swooping down on hers, his breath hot and liquor-scented, titillating and frightening at the same time. His tongue became insistent, demanding entrance, pushing against her lips, nipping and laving them apart, obliging her to respond in kind. It was not like the gentle kiss in the garden. This kiss was raw, needy, and oh, so dangerous. It was a kiss full of wanting. A kiss that screamed of desire so unbridled it cannot be denied.
And Louisa found herself returning Gabriel’s mind-shattering kiss with the same fervor. All those years of dreaming of him, of his touch, of his kiss, exploded within her with such force that she would have shattered had she bottled it up much longer. Her arms moved of their own accord, wrapping around Gabriel’s neck, pulling him closer to her, wanting, needing, aching to feel his heart beat against her own.
She heard Gabriel emit a sound that was somewhere between a growl and a moan, his tongue delving deeper into her, demanding possession of her very soul. His hands were everywhere; on her hair, her neck, her hips, her breasts. She felt his fingers fumbling against the buttons on her blouse, his lips moving away from hers, tracing a fiery path down her neck, towards her now half-exposed chest. Her fingers moved up to his head, clutching at his silken hair, caressing and pulling at the same time.
She felt his fingers pull down the cup of her bra and she almost screamed from pure, unadulterated pleasure when she felt his lips cover that very intimate part of her. Louisa heard warning bells inside her head. Yes, she had been kissed before, but not like this, and not there. She knew that they were moving too fast. She was giving in too easily when she should be resisting his onslaught, even half-heartedly. But then, deep inside, she knew that she wanted this. She needed this. And she was, by all intents and purposes, his to claim anyway.
Yet, this isn’t right, her mind screamed.
But it feels so right, so good! her heart countered.
And as the battle between her heart and mind raged, Gabriel’s lips moved back up to recapture her lips and she lost track of all sane thought. Louisa involuntarily arched her back, her legs instinctively moving up and encircling Gabriel’s waist, unconsciously pulling his lower half closer to her. She felt the hard proof of his desire throb against her thigh and the warning bells were suddenly clanging deafeningly inside her head.
Still, she could not stop, would not stop. And when she felt Gabriel’s hand move down to her belt and fumble with its clasp, she did not stop him but rather pulled him closer to her with her legs, reveling in his strength, his power, his maleness.
And Louisa knew just then, betrothal or no betrothal, she must have this man, her pride be damned!