Things were awkward between Rory and Grace for the first few days. He could see that she felt out of place, despite voicing several times how nice his yacht was. It took about a week for them to fall into a routine that suited them both.
Rory helped her move her things, which didn’t amount to much, the day after they had sex. True to his word, he didn’t touch her once. He went out of his way, in fact, to not touch her. He had vowed silently to not give her any reason to doubt that this was a good decision.
Grace had her own room and used the small bathroom in the main cabin, although she showered in the only shower, located in Rory’s bathroom, when he was gone during the day. She still completed her housekeeping duties, but now at a more leisurely pace since she was receiving a salary and didn’t have to leave the yacht after a set time.
Rory found her company to be a very nice change from his solitary life, which is something that surprised him greatly. He had assumed the yacht might feel cramped, even a bit unwelcoming, with a second person living on it. But Grace’s footprint was so small, her presence so slight, that rather than wishing for more time alone on the yacht, Rory found himself seeking her presence out more often than not. He encouraged her to not spend most of her time in her bedroom like a normal roommate situation in which the two occupants weren’t very familiar with each other. Instead, he explicitly told her, she could read in the main cabin, be on her computer as he was sometimes, play her guitar, and do whatever she liked. It was small, yes, but she was to treat the yacht like her home.
And, he pointed out, making her blush, he was certain she didn't hang out on that tiny bed he’d seen in her apartment. Not to mention her orange shampoo or bodywash or whatever it was that made her smell like ripe fruit--he wanted to bathe in that scent, but would settle for her leaving it on every surface of the yacht.
Grace also began cooking for them both which at first Rory insisted she not do. But when she explained it was one of her hobbies--and she revealed her collection of favorite cookbooks to prove it--he relented, adding additional money to the grocery stipend and insisting on compensating her for the extra work. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was worth the money, he told her.
Much to his surprise, he did not gain weight with all the food she made. She often used vegetable noodles as beds for savory meats and dishes with heavy sauces, which he learned were all quite delicious. She even taught him how to use the contraption that created the noodles out of vegetables, which he found utterly fascinating. Having almost no interest in cooking, for Grace to show him small things like that sparked an interest in her meal preparation. So much so that he even approached her with recipes he found online, glad that she took them with a visible eagerness to try something new.
By the end of that first week Rory gave up on pretending he wanted to be anywhere other than here, on the yacht with Grace. Mitch would look at him with narrowed eyes, unable to reason this Rory with the one who griped all the time about wanting to be out on the water. The sea still called to him, with its tranquility and serenity, the isolation from society and the spirit of self-reliance. But… Grace was more.
Grace was everything.
It almost wasn’t fair that he’d had a taste of her--both literally and figuratively, that is--and now had to live with her and deny himself that which he wanted more than almost anything.
But indulging in a physical relationship with her paled when he compared it to the friendship that was developing between them. As she came out of her shell around him, Rory’s eyes were opening to a side of her he’d never expected.
She was like a ray of sunshine, from the bright colors in which she dressed to how she sang all the time--not just when she was concentrating on a cleaning activity or in the shower, which he had heard several times and that never failed to bring a smile to his face.
No, she sang while cooking, she sang while playing her guitar, she sang in the morning before she came out of her room and at night when she’d retreated there to ready for bed. Her voice was a delight to listen to--low and sultry at times, high and perfectly pitched at others. She sang soprano so softly and beautifully that to hear her break out in an emotional song sometimes had Rory simply sitting and staring out the window, so caught up in listening to her music that he would forget whatever task he had set out for himself.
Her taste in music was as wide as her range, and she showed him that with her musical choices. But her style was all her own, a soft coffee shop type vocal that paired magnificently with acoustic guitar, and that he could listen to for hours upon hours without complaint.
Soon, one month had passed since she had moved in, and then two, and then three, and it was beginning to seem like things were perfect except for their separate bedrooms. Everything between them was synchronous and smooth, and it seemed as though both felt it could go on forever as such without interruption and neither would complain.
But Rory knew she only had one month left on her lease, which meant one more month on the yacht before she would be moving into a new apartment, and as the days wore on, he began to feel more and more disheartened by it.
Soon thoughts were coming to him about trying to convince Grace to stay--that quitting her job and remaining with him was not only not a horrible idea, but an exciting, fulfilling one as well.
What he wanted was to be with her in every sense of the word. He wanted her in his bed, yes--preferably every night under him, beside him, wrapped around him in sleep--with all that glorious hair to run his hands through. But he also wanted to take things to levels not welcome in their type of friendship. He wanted to buy her gifts, he wanted to compliment her on her appearance further than, “You look nice today.” He wanted to take her out on the water, take her to see the open sea where he just knew her eyes would alight with the same pleasure he felt when a look around the yacht would show nothing but water in all directions.
Rory wanted to be able to sit on the couch together instead of at opposite ends. He wanted to rest his head on her lap while they both read their books, to come up behind her while she cooked and wrap his arms around her, and to kiss her-- god , he wanted to kiss her so badly.
She was thirty-one, he’d learned, and would soon turn thirty-two, and he didn’t think for one moment that the thirteen year gap between their ages was a hindrance to a relationship. He wondered if she would, but in his mind it was negligible.
And he had plans for her birthday--an event Mitch had told him about that Rory initially had wanted to turn down. But he wanted to show Grace a good time, and to have an opportunity to treat her like a queen without having to hide that he was doing it.
So one day he sat down and tapped out an email to Mitch, telling him to procure a second ticket for the charity gala, and that Rory would be bringing his plus-one.
As she often did, Grace sat on the couch after dinner, having just gotten out of the shower, and brushed her hair.
She knew Rory watched her when she did this, but also felt comfortable enough that she no longer hid it from him. If there was one man on the face of the earth with whom she didn’t mind sharing the sight of her hair, it was him.
Grace would look over at him and more often than not he would go back to his book or his computer, or whatever he happened to be doing. But there were those times when he stared at her and continued to do so even when she turned to see him looking. It was those times that she felt the heat in his gaze as powerfully as if it was his own hands combing the brush through her hair.
He did other things as well, things that sent her heart racing and made her breathing shallow. Like when he came up behind her to see what she was cooking at the stove.
It was always under the guise of investigating, but Grace knew he had ulterior motives. Otherwise, why would he stand so close she could feel his presence, sense the body heat emanating from him? Why would he lean down so she could feel his breath above her ear, and why would his voice dip impossibly low when he asked for a taste?
The man was an incorrigible tease, although he was so inconspicuous about it, so crafty with his methods that it took her until she began to see the odd accompanying smile to realize what he was doing.
Like when she would turn to him with a spoonful of sauce and he wouldn’t step back, but the smile would be in his eyes as she fed him a bite of whatever it was she was cooking, always watching for the dribble on his chin so she could chastise herself for being tempted to lick it off. Or when he would pass her in the confined space of the yacht, and his hand would go to her arm as a caution against accidentally pushing her over. But his hand wouldn’t simply leave her when he passed, but would rather slide down the length of her arm as he walked away.
And it was times like these when she would glance over at him and he would be watching her, and not looking away. An unspoken longing was stretching out between them, one neither was supposed to answer, but that was there nonetheless. Like a golden chain linking them together, and with every day they spent in each other’s company, another link disappeared.
He stared at her now, his reading glasses forgotten in his hand, his book turned over on his raised knee. His face held no artifice; no particular emotion. It was blank, though beneath lowered brows she could see an intensity in his gaze that made her breath catch in her throat.
“Rory,” she heard herself say, and now that she’d begun the thought she found she couldn’t rein in her tongue as it formed the words, “Would you brush my hair?”
His brow relaxed, but she saw the immediate battle play over his features--the knowledge that it wasn’t a good idea, but the fact that there was no way he was going to say no.
He set his things aside as she turned her back, and he rose from the dinette to join her on the couch. Grace closed her eyes and took a deep breath, knowing that this should only feel good in a massage-between-friends sort of way. It should not feel like a lover’s caress.
And as long as she didn’t let on which one of those she felt as he pulled the brush down the crown of her head, they would be alright.
“Start at the bottom,” she said softly, when the brush encountered a tangle halfway down. “Then work your way up.”
He didn’t respond but listened to what she said. Her hair brushed the couch around her seat and she knew it wouldn’t be the easiest task for him to accomplish. But she felt his fingers skim her back as he gathered it into a low ponytail, his fist near the base of her spine, and he brushed out any tangles that were at the bottom. He repeated the process, doing a surprisingly good, thorough job until he reached about halfway up her back. Then he let go, and when his hand smoothed her hair down to the couch she had to hold her breath lest she gasp out loud.
Slowly he stroked the brush, going from side to side in the curtain of her hair--left to right, then moving up a couple inches and going right to left. When he reached her shoulders his fingers once again brushed her neck as he pulled all the hair to the back.
“I have a question for you,” he said softly, his voice rougher than normal.
Grace tensed, her heart tripping over itself as though it had come to an abrupt halt and all her emotions crashed into it from behind.
“Y-yes?” she barely squeaked out.
“I’ve been invited to a charity gala and would like you to go with me. As my plus-one,” he added. She didn’t mind. She would have said no if he had led her to believe he had any designs on her.
“That sounds interesting, but I would need to get a dress. I don’t have anything even remotely close to formal, unless you count a black tank top and black shorts,” she joked. Behind her Rory chuckled his low, husky laugh.
“I wouldn’t mind,” he murmured, and Grace was glad for the moment of humor.
They went over the details while he finished her hair, though even when the knots were all gone he continued to brush it. Grace didn’t mind, since no woman in her right mind, in Grace’s opinion, would turn down a man willing to brush her hair for the pure pleasure of it.
“We can drive into Glasgow this weekend so you can get a dress--I’m buying, by the way.”
“What? No, Rory. I’ll buy my own dress. I can afford it, you pay me quite nicely as a matter of fact.”
What was meant as a joke fell flat between them, and there was silence for a moment before he spoke again and she could hear the smile in his voice.
“Aye, but if I buy it I can have a say in what you get.”
Grace rounded on him, lips parted in mock indignation.
“The nerve,” she said, glaring at him while trying and failing to keep the smile off her face. She snatched the brush from him as she rose, pulling her hair over her shoulder as she went. She was already braiding it by the time she got to the little nightstand beside her bed, and she finished after exchanging the brush for a hair tie.
“Alright,” she said, thinking this could be fun if they managed to keep everything between them tame. “I’ll go, and we can go to Glasgow for a dress, but --” she held up a finger towards him, watching him draw his lip under his teeth as he waited to see what she would say. That expression did funny things to her stomach, and she had to clear her throat before speaking again.
“I’ll pick several dresses and then you can help me pick from those. Deal?”
Rory stared at her face, his smile not at all hidden until it faded as his eyes roamed down her body to her toes and back again.
“Aye,” he almost whispered with a nod. “It’s a deal.”
And that’s how that Saturday morning Rory found himself seated in an out of the way boutique, in a plush chair likely placed outside the fitting rooms for husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and anyone else who wished to see the lady they had accompanied into the shop trying on gowns.
But he should have known Grace couldn’t completely take it seriously. He should have known she would do what she could to make him laugh, because the first dress was such a hideous shade of vomit green that Rory recoiled at the sight of it.
“Christ, lass, no. ” Grace was smiling, though, her hair piled high on her head in that massive bun of hers so that when she spun and showed him how the dress flared and made it look like an even bigger monstrosity, he could barely focus on it enough to see the sheer panels bordering some sort of ruffled bra.
“Fucking… Grace, what the hell are you doing--”
Her laughter brought him up to standing and he put his hands on his hips, glaring at her even after he realized what she was doing.
“What--don’t you like it?” The smile on her face was so impish, so naughty, that Rory almost laughed out loud. He pointed in the direction of the fitting room and didn’t say a word.
The next one made her look like an enormous purple flower, complete with fluffy, ruffled headpiece. She looked like the Barbie dolls his sister played with as a child, like someone was going to come up behind her and put a clamp on her waist and set her in a window so everyone could ogle at her and exclaim untruthfully how pretty she was.
Grace’s reaction to his shock was nothing short of pure delight, and her peeling laughter followed her all the way back into the fitting room.
Rory sat once again, rubbing a hand down his face as he tried to convince himself this wasn’t fun. But he wasn’t very successful, and he waited anxiously for her to walk out with the next one.
“Oh, Rory --” she exclaimed from behind the wall. “This… this! This one is the winner, absolutely.”
He couldn’t tell if she was joking so he sat forward, waiting to see what this dress was that she was calling a winner. When he caught sight of the cherry red fabric coming around the corner he knew no man would keep his eyes off her all evening.
Then his thought was confirmed when she walked around the corner in a dress so revealing he was already shrugging off his jacket as he stood quickly.
“Grace--what--no, get back in there--”
But she sidestepped him, laughing as she adjusted the two vertical strips of fabric that covered her breasts.
“No, really,” she was saying, stepping to the side so she could tuck and adjust and examine herself in the three floor length mirrors off to the side. She turned to look at the dress with every angle, cocking out her leg so the thigh-high split exposed more flesh than Rory was comfortable looking at. But he turned, making sure there was no one else in the room to see the way the top exposed more of her than he wanted her seen out in public exposing.
“That’s indecent,” he said, and he held up his jacket to block anyone’s view of her except himself. When he stood behind her he watched her pull the fabric over one breast outwards, attempting to stretch the strip so it didn’t show quite so much cleavage.
This was impossible, of course, since the two strips only connected at her waist .
She smoothed her hands down the front of her chest and Rory felt himself harden in his jeans, and it became worse when she repeated the stretching process over her other breast, drawing his gaze to her nipple beneath the soft fabric.
Rory swallowed, and he felt sweat bead on his forehead. When her hands ceased moving atop the fabric he lifted his eyes to meet hers in the mirror, seeing how her honey gold irises had darkened and her lips were parted, her gaze intent on his in the mirror behind her. Then as he stared at her, she drew in a ragged breath, her chest expanding as her nipples hardened beneath the fabric.
He groaned, almost growled, and could do nothing else but lean down so his face was near her temple in the mirror, that citrus scent of hers wafting out of her hair and directly into his raging libido.
“Better get that dress off now, lass, before I tear it off ye.”
Grace swallowed, her throat working as she watched his lips in the mirror, and Rory didn’t bother hiding the frustrated biting of his own lip as he sighed heavily into her hair. God , the image of her in that dress would never leave his mind. Like an imprint, he knew it would remain there forever.
She abruptly turned and walked back behind the fitting room wall, and Rory ran his fingers through his hair, wondering how long he could put up with this torture--not the dress fittings, although they were a torture unto themselves.
No, how much longer could he be this attracted to--crave this much--a woman he couldn’t have?