Grace kissed him because it felt good, because she had such a wonderful evening, and because now she was dealing with reality. And that reality was, Rory was not hers.
He could be as chivalrous as he wanted to be, as gallant and noble and kind, but that wouldn’t make it possible for them to be together. That wouldn’t make him anything other than her employer, nor would it make her anything other than his employee. And she didn’t see a way out of that position, so this was a futile effort.
Knowing what she was doing was just torturing them both, though, wasn’t enough for her to pull away. The squeeze of his arms around her waist and the way his mustache tickled her face as she kissed him kept her locked in this whirlwind of sensation that threatened to crash her over the side of the yacht. She would be swept away, drowned in sexual attraction and mutual satisfaction if she didn’t drag a life preserver over her head and put some space between them.
And yet… just one more kiss--one more touch to his temple that she wasn’t allowed to touch, one more caress at the back of his neck in a way only his girlfriend or wife should be touching him. One more moan escaping her lips as he masterfully toyed with her mouth and tasted her with his tongue.
After all, she could handle a bit of drowning, right? Just a little bit?
She wanted him so badly her heart hurt. Her body was aching with want, her hands tingling where they touched him, and she still knew she could not have him. It wasn’t going to work out in her favor, and it was this last thought that had her pulling away, drawing back in an attempt to break the kiss.
But Rory followed, and the seduction of her mouth with his was too much for her to resist in that moment and she crashed back into him, wrapping her arms around his neck as though she were already drowning and he held the oxygen she needed in order to survive. His growl of conquest sent her nerve endings into overdrive and some distant, faraway thought told her tonight she would be bringing herself to release by herself, in her room, where he would not be allowed.
It was a sobering thought and when she finally pulled away, drawing her mouth apart from his with great reluctance, she prevented him from returning with her fingertips pressed to his lips.
They were both breathing hard, Rory’s chest expanding and contracting swiftly in front of her face. And when he nudged her face up to his she thought he might try to kiss her again, but he merely rested his forehead against hers, taking deep breaths as he closed his eyes.
“You drive me to distraction, Grace,” he ground out against her fingers, and he kissed them, drawing her hand down from his face to press it flat over his heart.
She could feel the pounding from inside his chest and knew if she did the same with his own hand, he would feel her own heart mirroring his.
A gust of wind suddenly flew over the water and rustled lines and rigging all around them, making metal rings clatter and the surface they were standing on sway with the waves. Grace’s hair flew up around them, twisting around Rory’s body as though it was the only part of her brave enough to go for what it wanted.
With that thought in her mind, Grace whispered, “I’m going to get ready for bed,” and she leaned back to watch Rory’s reaction.
He looked as though he was going to say something, but thought better of it. Instead he helped her corral her hair in a ponytail over her shoulder which she held onto as he unlocked the hatch.
Once inside she went directly into her small bedroom and shut the door. She listened for him to move from where he stood just outside, but he didn’t, so she went through the motions of getting ready for bed, as she had said she was going to.
The dress and shawl hung in her small armoire, and her shoes and clutch went into a drawer. She thought about leaving them once she moved out but thought better of it--Rory wouldn’t have anything he could do with them, so she might as well just take them, even though she would likely never have another opportunity to wear them.
Instead, she dressed in a t-shirt and exercise shorts, and brushed her hair out so she could wind it into a loose, high bun. Then she gathered up her toothbrush and toothpaste, and opened the door.
Rory was already in a t-shirt and sweats, sitting on the end of the couch with his ankle propped on his knee. He watched her with a blank expression as she entered the small bathroom to brush her teeth.
They had shared this bedtime routine countless times now, for the last three months. He had seen her in these pajamas, and she had seen him in his outfit so many times that she was almost able to keep her eyes off him when he stretched his arms out and rested them on the back of the couch.
But tonight felt different. Tonight felt like they knew they were attracted to each other, but also that they couldn’t have one another. In an odd sort of way she felt closer to him now, like the knowledge was easier to accept than it had been before. Which is why when she was done she took a chance and waved at the spot next to him.
Rory glanced down at the empty spot and then looked up at her, not quite bringing his face all the way up so his forehead wrinkled in that cute way it did when he was surprised. With a quick nod, he granted her request and she turned to sit beside him, curling her feet beneath her and leaning into his side.
If it surprised him now he didn’t show it, but rather wrapped his arm around her shoulders and tucked her in closer. With her arms curled up near her chest, Grace leaned her head back against his arm and sighed.
Rory was torn between irritated that she was taking this liberty--with his permission, of course--and wanting to keep her there in his arms forever. Maybe he could trap her there, refuse to let her go. Maybe she would realize in time that here, leaning against his chest, was where she was supposed to be. And maybe tomorrow morning they would find that overnight, pigs had learned how to fly.
This friendship they had, this relationship , was unlike anything he had ever experienced. They had already had sex but hadn’t told each other anything of love. They kissed and danced but weren’t dating, although he was sure neither of them were seeing anyone else.
They lived together for the time being, for the next month at least, but lived in separate bedrooms.
How was he going to explain this to his sister? She was due in for a visit soon, though he wasn’t exactly sure when she was coming by.
“I’m sorry, Rory,” said Grace softly from below him. He angled his face down but could only see her hairline, the ridge of her nose.
Tenderness flooded him for this woman, and he wondered how he was going to survive her leaving even as he was lifting a finger to run down the length of her nose. She was soft everywhere, including there, and he did it again just to make sure he would always remember what it felt like to do that.
“Sorry for…?” He left the question open ended.
Grace inhaled deeply as he dropped his hand to his thigh, but he watched her reach out and take it in hers. She held it and looked at it, rubbing her thumb along the ridges of thick veins just beneath the skin, pushing the hair on the back in the opposite direction in which it naturally grew and then smoothing it back out again. Then she turned his hand over, tracing the lines of his palm as though she, too, wished to remember it.
“For getting so mixed up in all this.”
Her tone was sad, and he didn’t want her to be. He used the hand she had been exploring to weave his fingers through hers, as awkward as that was. She was receptive to it, and they sandwiched his hand upside down between her thigh and her own palm.
“Not all your fault, lass. I’ve played my part as well.”
“Yeah, but… I don’t know--this feels awkward.” She paused, like she was thinking, and she tilted her face up a bit but didn’t look at him. He saw her eyes drifting around the room in front of them, looking at everything from this point of view. “Sitting here now, with you. It feels on one hand like I shouldn’t be here--that I should be in my own apartment, showing up to work tomorrow to clean your floor and wipe down your sinks. And yet this also feels really good, like I found a friend I didn’t expect to find.”
She fell silent again, and this time she took the hand he had wrapped around her and pulled it close, leaning her cheek against his forearm.
“So I guess I just wanted to say… thanks. For everything.”
They remained still for a little while, each lost in their own thoughts. Rory was trying to think of an appropriate response to her gratitude but really had none. He wanted to tell her it was absurd, and that he didn’t need her thanks as long as she got rid of that ridiculous notion that she had to leave. He wanted to tell her she was welcomed to anything she wanted to take from him--be it comfort, his body, his heart.
He didn’t say anything, and after a while she spoke again.
“Would you sing for me, Rory?”
His huffed laugh made her bounce against his chest.
“Aye, so you know about me? About my music”
Grace laughed softly in response, turning to look up at him now. Her eyes were merry and her smile mischievous, but he found her completely endearing.
“I’ve always known,” she admitted, reaching up to draw the backs of her fingers down his bearded cheek. And for christs sakes , Rory wondered if there was any way he could be more in love with the woman.
“Aye,” he said with a dramatic, exaggerated sigh. “I’ll sing for ye.”
Quicker than he expected, she bounced up from the couch and went to retrieve her guitar. When she handed it to him, albeit gently, he looked up at her wryly.
“And play, too?”
She nodded, sitting on the other end of the couch as he adjusted himself, sitting back against the arm rest.
“Spoiled,” he murmured, but he smiled mildly at her, softly, not bothering to hide those feelings coursing through him. The smile she returned was expectant and happy, so he chose a song that reflected what he wished his mood to be at that moment, even if he did have sadness hovering just below the surface.
He began to strum, and Grace pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them, watching his fingers on the frets, the hand holding the pick, and then his face as he began to sing.
Can't you see that it's just rainin'
Ain't no need to go outside
He watched her face, the way she smiled sweetly as he sang the lyrics, wishing he was able to sing them for true--that she would ignore the world outside the yacht’s windows and just stay with him.
Wakin' up too early
Maybe we could sleep in
Make you banana pancakes
Pretend like it's the weekend now
Her smile split into a grin at the mention of banana pancakes, and she nodded as she watched him work the guitar with his hands, making him wonder if perhaps she knew how to make those.
Halaka ukulele mama made a baby
Really don't mind the practice
Cause you're my little lady
Her eyes returned to his at that line, but they didn’t waver. Her smile faded a measure, but was still there when he looked down at the guitar, adjusting it as he played. When he returned his gaze to hers she was still looking at him intently.
Lady lady love me
Cause I love to lay here lazy
We could close the curtains
Pretend like there's no world outside
He wanted to tell her that--to tell her to love him, to ask her to, to beg her to, but as long as he felt she wouldn’t be open-minded to his overtures of emotion, he would keep mum. Until then perhaps he could sing for her what was in his heart, until that day came when she might return the feelings he had for her.
We got everything we need right here
And everything we need is enough
The yacht, though still somewhat new to him, seemed different than what it was when he had originally purchased it.
How could he stay here once she moved out? How could he retain ownership of the craft when she no longer worked for him and moved on? When he would see oranges on the counter and think of her, smell oranges anywhere and think of her? When the towels in the bathroom weren’t straightened by her, when the food he was eating wasn’t made by her, when the company he could rely on turned out to be Mitch instead of her?
Make you banana pancakes
Pretend like it's the weekend now
We could pretend it all the time
Aye, he wanted to pretend all the time. He wanted her there with him so he could pretend the world didn’t exist, that they could sail out to sea and forget all their responsibilities except to each other.
He wanted to watch sunrises with her, to watch sunsets with her in his lap, eating at the dinette together, sleeping in the bigger bed together, doing everything together. She was such a light, such a warm presence, that he felt she would rip off part of his heart and take it with her when she left.
But would she know she had even done it?
He finished the last few chords of the song and handed her back the guitar.
“You play wonderfully, Rory. Have you played all your life?”
They settled into a conversation about their pasts, about their lives and families and experiences. It was a novel experience for Rory, seeing as how he tended to meet superficial women who had one goal in mind. In this case that was one of his goals, but in Grace he sensed a deeper connection, and a need in her heart for this kind of close companionship.
He knew she had grown close to the family for whom she had worked for years, and as she spoke about them now he noted how that woman was as close to Grace as a mother. She still planned on visiting them though they hadn’t nailed down a good time for her to do so.
But once she had been let go and she had worked for several years at various jobs within the larger company, she was offered the position Rory had contacted them about, and he could never thank them enough. His time with her had been some of the best times he’d ever experienced in his entire life.
Like now, for instance. He looked over at her as she spoke, drinking coffee he had made for her as he nursed his own, talking animatedly about her previous young charge, Thomas. The following day they had a Skype date, during the time when Rory was normally gone from the yacht during the day. But Mitch was currently out of town, and Rory had some repairs and check ups he wanted to do on the yacht, getting it ready for when he eventually worked up the balls to tell Grace he wanted to leave for a week or two.
He hadn’t done it yet--hadn’t spoken to her about leaving for open water--but knew ideally she would be going with him. There didn’t seem to be a feasible way to convince her he needed a maid while out there, so he resigned himself to doing without her for the duration of his voyage.
As she yawned and said she needed to go to bed, she looked almost sad. He hoped that somewhere in her heart she was sad that they weren’t going to bed together, but with the smile and small wave she gave him before turning in, he doubted it. There had been times where she seemed as tortured by their mutual attraction as he. But right now it seemed more like she was as unaffected by the kiss they shared on deck as he was affected.
He wished he could reach into her mind and discover the truth, but since that wasn’t possible, he resigned himself to taking matters into his own hands, so to speak, while thinking of her in the other room.
Grace had just less than a month before she had to move out, and she was steadfastly refusing to indulge in any physical relief tactics that involved thinking about Rory in a sexual nature. She had vowed a week ago, the night of the gala, that that was the last time she would bring herself to release, especially while thinking of him. Which meant she was forced to pine for him silently while they were in the same room together, on almost a daily basis.
For the last week they had alternated between her playing and singing, and him playing and singing. It would have been the perfect existence except that they weren’t together, she wasn’t free to sit on his lap whenever she wanted--like she craved to do every time he was on the couch--and she wasn’t free to voice her growing feelings for him, whatever they were.
She was certain she didn’t love him because that just sounded ridiculous--she barely knew him. She might know how he liked his coffee, that he liked pepper on his eggs and thought it was silly that she folded his boxers, but she didn’t really know him.
Plus she had her job to think of, and how at any moment this one with Rory could fall through and she would need to find employment elsewhere--possibly in another country. Where would she be then?
Desirous of a man who lived a world away, that’s where.
Even so, she would watch him when he plucked at the guitar strings with his head resting against the wall behind him, his eyes closed. She liked the play of muscles in his neck as he spoke, how every once in a while he would smile lightly as though a lyric conjured up a nice memory, or when he would mess up and he would sneer comically at himself as he corrected his fingers.
Then there were the times when she played and she would feel his eyes on her, listening to her sing, watching her play the guitar, and she’d look over to find him staring at her--completely at odds with how she attempted to hide the way she focused on him as he played. He would be staring, forgetting the book on his lap or the computer in front of him, and she would get self conscious about her sound, her music or the way she looked. She felt ridiculous, like a girl whose crush suddenly looked at her.
Another reason why life on the yacht wasn’t perfect was because she felt that every so often Rory would drop a hint--like the stares--that he perhaps wanted more out of her.
He was true to his word and did not touch her. She suspected that he was leaving that up to her--that every time in the past she had broken and was the first to touch him , was when he took the liberty to touch her back to the degree with which she had first done the touching. Like the kiss after the gala--she had perhaps attacked him a bit, and so he attacked her. But then the snuggling on the couch afterwards proved he did no more than the things she did to him--the touching, the stroking, the holding.
Just two nights ago, though, he had been on the couch with his eyes closed and had broken out to her surprise in a Don Williams song, You’re My Best Friend, and although she looked up from her book when he’d sung the lyrics the first time, “You’re my anchor in life’s oceans,” he had his eyes closed and wasn’t looking at her.
Then yesterday he had done the same thing, only this time his back was to her while they were both on the couch, and he was sitting on the edge facing out. He sang Elvis’s Can’t Help Falling In Love .
She had never heard a song sung more sweetly than when he said the line, “Like a river flows surely to the sea, darling so it goes, some things are meant to be,” and Grace was almost positive he was singing about her.
But, that couldn’t be possible--surely Rory wasn’t falling in love with her? She was his employee, and while they had shared some mind-blowing sex and a kiss that should have melted through the bottom of the yacht, that was the extent of their relationship. It was a business arrangement, and her staying on the yacht was an additional arrangement between friends, at best.
“Take my hand, take my whole life too; for I can't help falling in love with you.”
With those lyrics, she stood and left the room. These were not thoughts she was prepared to have, and she needed to get away from him before his music wove spells around her and trapped her in their loveliness.