To Have and To Hold

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Chapter 37

The sound of laughter and the loud slamming of car trunks penetrated through Angelo’s troubled dreams. He bolted upright in his seat, disoriented and unsure of his surroundings. Yawning, he briskly rubbed the sleep from his eyes as his ears perked at the sound of feminine giggles. Looking around he saw a group of teens huddled together just a few paces from his car, tourists checking out of the hotel for sure. A few hugs were exchanged before the group broke up into three couples. They each got into their own vehicles and drove out one by one.

When the parking lot was finally empty, Angelo stepped out of his car and shook his sleep-numbed arms and legs. He glanced at his watch and winced. 6AM! He hadn’t planned on sleeping in his car until exhaustion and drunkenness took over. He did a few more stretches, jogged in place for a bit, then took out the backpack he had stashed in his trunk. He headed back to the hotel hoping that Louisa would still be sleeping. He badly needed a shower and a shave.

The room was cold and dark (he remembered drawing the drapes last night), and only a small night lamp gave off a soft, orange glow. Had he been a husband getting back into the conjugal chambers, he wouldn’t have wasted time dallying at the foot of the marriage bed. But since he was not, Angelo had to satisfy himself with just staring at the sleeping form of the woman he loved.

She looked so peaceful and innocent in her sleep, so unlike the inebriated seductress he had left just a couple of hours ago. The comforter covered her up to her chin but it was obvious that she was sleeping on her side, her arms and legs wrapped around a large pillow (how he wished her arms were around him and not that blasted inanimate object), her dark hair fanning out from behind her, a stark contrast to the creamy sheets and pillows that served as her cocoon. Her luscious, pink lips were parted just a bit; inviting, begging to be kissed, and Angelo felt the uncomfortable tightening in the most private parts of his tall frame again. He closed his eyes and swiftly turned away. A very cold, icy shower was what this uncomfortable malady called for.

Grabbing a fluffy bath towel and the tray of toiletries one of the staff had left in their room, he quickly stripped of his clothes and rushed into the bathroom. He turned on the tap and stood under the large shower head. The sudden blast of icy, cold water took his breath away, but he resisted the urge to temper it with hot water. He wanted to deaden his senses, to wash away the guilt that he was now starting to feel. But when he turned around and caught sight of Louisa (he’d forgotten that the bathroom had a see-through, glass wall), the tormenting memories of last night came flooding back.

Grunting, Angelo turned his back on Louisa and slammed both palms against the tiled wall. How could he have almost lost control last night? He would die of shame if Louisa ever remembered any of it. Their friendship would never survive this kind of treachery, either. Horrified and annoyed by his weakness, Angelo grabbed the soap and briskly lathered himself, groaning when he realized that the soap smelled of lavenders. Why ever did he let Louisa choose the toiletries? He would smell like potpourri if he didn't let the water wash it out. Well, considering his current predicament, staying under the cold shower for a few more minutes would actually be good for his raging libido.

Had Angelo chosen to cut his bath short, he would've caught the pair of wide eyes ogling his naked body that instant.

Louisa stretched her arms and legs and purred like a kitten, a tiny smile curving her lips. She had the most wonderful dream last night. She’d dreamt that Gabriel was kissing her with unbridled passion. Unfortunately, she couldn't remember the rest of the dream. The bitter taste in her mouth also reminded her of previous night's activities. She remembered drinking Tequila with Angelo and dancing vigorously to chase away the demons from her mind. Thankfully, she was not one to suffer from hangovers.

What she could not remember was how she got into bed. Did she get drunk? Her insides churned in horror.

God! I hope I did not make too much of a fool of myself!

She was getting up when she heard the sound of running water. Turning to its source, she was greeted by a sight that made her heart jump to her throat.

Framed against the clear glass paneling of the bathroom was the most magnificent display of male form she’d ever seen. His back was turned to her, his hands lifted up and braced against the tiled wall of the bath, glistening rivulets of water running down his entire length. The man flexed his feet and the muscles in his legs and back rippled in response. His even-toned skin was like smooth caramel with only a smattering of light brown hair on the arms and legs. He was all muscle with nary an ounce of fat, a picture-perfect athlete’s body. Warmth spread down her body in spite of the near-freezing temperature of the room. She slid down the bed, her hands pulling the comforter up until only her eyes were visible. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment, finally realizing that the man she was spying on was Angelo.

She knew she should turn away, she was not supposed to witness this. He probably thought she was still sleeping so he felt safe in taking a bath in her presence. But try as hard as she might, her eyes wouldn’t leave the spectacle before her. She was fascinated! She never thought Angelo looked this beautiful. He was like one of those statues she’d seen in Italy. A true work of art – strong, powerful, perfect.

Did Gabriel look like this, too? She mentally shook herself. How could she even think of Gabriel when Angelo’s body was (almost) in full display before her? Besides, wasn’t it unfair to compare the two men?

When Angelo ran his fingers through his hair Louisa sensed a sudden familiarity with that part of him; like she knew how his hair felt like – silky and smooth, with very fine strands.

But how could she, when she’d never – Angelo was turning and Louisa completely lost her train of thought. If he didn't stop, she would see him in his entire naked glory!

OMG! I should look away, I should look away! Yet, her eyes remained glued at Angelo's naked form. Halfway through his turning, though, Angelo’s arm reached out for something and the bathroom instantly turned dark. Angelo's body became nothing more than a blurred silhouette, bringing Louisa back to her senses.

Mortified by her unintentional voyeurism, Louisa sank deeper into the sheets. She pulled the comforter over her head and pretended to sleep. She wouldn’t want Angelo to think that she was spying on him (when she actually was, albeit accidentally). She just hoped that Angelo would dress up quickly so she could get up before she was suffocated by the thick comforter.

As Angelo was tying the towel around his waist, he caught a slight movement in his peripheral vision. It came from the direction of the bed, he was sure. Was Louisa already awake while he bathed? His heart jumped to his throat. Could Louisa have seen him bathing? Another movement from the bed told him that she did. He knew that he should be embarrassed at being caught with his pants down (literally!). What he actually felt, though, was excitement. He was no exhibitionist, but the thought of Louisa seeing him in his proverbial birthday suit somehow thrilled him. He’d always been proud of his body and it was only natural to feel pleasure in displaying it in front of the woman he loved.

Still, he knew that Louisa would be embarrassed by the display of too much skin. Rummaging through his backpack, he snatched a pair of pants and a long-sleeved shirt. It's been his habit since college to always keep a few changes of clothes in his car. He could even lend Louisa one of his shirts if she had a mind to. The intimacy of sharing his clothes with her crossed his mind and it brought another bout of unwanted response to his nether regions.

Cursing, he quickly pulled on his shirt and slipped into his pants before he could change his mind or give in to his baser desires. Thinking that he was now presentable enough, he slowly walked towards the bed to wake up his ‘sleeping’ princess. He could see that she was fidgeting under the covers. He could pretend not to notice, let her stew under there as punishment for spying on him. That would make him a hypocrite, though, because he wasn't a bit offended by what she'd done. Deciding that she'd had enough, he knelt beside the bed and poked the lump that was wriggling under the comforter.

“Good morning, princess,” he said cheerfully, slowly pulling down the comforter until her head was visible.

Louisa (still feigning sleep) stretched her arms and yawned, pretending to rub the sleep off her eyes. Angelo struggled to maintain a straight face.

“Is it morning already? Why is it still so dark?” she said, stifling another yawn.

“How are you feeling?” Angelo said, genuinely concerned for her. She went off on a drinking binge last night, after all. Hangovers often accompanied such activity. “Does your head hurt?” he asked.

“Just a bit. But nothing that a quick shower won’t cure,” she said. Then, as if remembering his earlier display, her cheeks turned a deep red (which Angelo found so adorable he had to consciously restrain himself from lunging at her).

“So, why don’t you take one now?”

Louisa smiled sheepishly, her eyes involuntarily turning to the very revealing bathroom. Angelo followed her line of sight, when he turned back to her, a meaningful smile was etched on his lips. He chuckled when she blushed anew.

“I forgot about that. But if you really want to take a shower, I’d be happy to step out into the patio for some fresh air. I promise I won’t come back in until you call out for me."

He was getting up when Louisa’s hand clamped around his arm. Her eyes would not meet his, purposely glancing everywhere but him. He waited for her to speak, but she seemed so uncomfortable with what she was about to say that he started feeling uncomfortable himself.

“Yes? What is it, Louie?” he asked, his hand clasping the one on his arm.

“About last night,”

Angelo’s heart skipped a beat. Por dios! She remembers!

“I hope I did not embarrass you too much.”

“Embarrass me? What do you mean?”

“At the bar. Did I do anything…stupid?

Angelo’s heart resumed beating; a soft, nervous chuckle escaping his throat, relief washing over him. She wasn’t talking about his version of ‘last night’!

“Oh, that! No. No, we managed quite well, actually,” he said patting her hand.

She nodded and smiled, but Angelo could feel that there was something more she wanted to say. He just prayed that it wouldn’t be about what he feared. Her big, beautiful bright eyes were looking at him in a strange way, like searching his face for answers. Before he could say anything, Louisa kissed his cheek tenderly.

“Thanks for being such a good friend, Angelo. And thanks for taking care of me.”

Angelo felt like a total ass. Guilt clenched his insides. She wouldn’t be thanking me if she knew that I almost made love to her last night.

Yet, in spite of his guilt, he still was hurt when she called him ‘a good friend’.

Would she never see me as anything more than that?

He wanted to scream at her, shake her until her teeth chattered. He wanted to hate her for rejecting him. He should by now be repulsed by her constant refusal of him, but still…

By all that’s holy, I still want her!

“It’s nothing, Louie. You know I’m always here for you,” he managed to croak.

Afraid that he would make a total fool of himself, he jumped to his feet and made for the patio, but a continuous rapping at the door made him change direction.

“I’m coming, okay? Hold your horses!” he called out, slightly irritated by the visitor’s loud, incessant pounding.

Louisa was also starting to get annoyed by the noise. Who would be intruding at this early hour, she thought. It could be one of the staff bringing in their complimentary breakfast, but she doubted if they would be so ill-mannered in performing their duties.

She screamed when Angelo was suddenly thrown back into the room as the door was violently flung open.

Her heart turned cold when she saw a looming, tall figure that seemed to have just crawled from the fiery recesses of hell, his burning eyes pinning her with a malevolence that permeated the very air, lips twisting into a menacing grin.

“Hello, sweetheart. Fancy finding you here,” Gabriel sneered.

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