Her voice had grown deeply serious, too serious, and her glorious eyes clouded over.
Not sure what to say, he fiddled with the cushions. The high-backed bench wasn’t the most comfortable thing, but piled with pillows, it served well enough. Soon as he could afford it, he’d order her something soft and upholstered.
Call couldn’t wait to get close to her, to let her warmth and scent cover him. Kiss her. He’d done that plenty of times and his technique seemed to please her. Maybe the rest of it would go all right. But right now, she seemed stiff, not quite welcoming, and his heart began to thump with dread.
“What’s wrong, Mattie?” He had to know.
Her forehead crinkled even more. “What’s wrong? We’re meant to be together, Caldwell Hackett. I wore this dress tonight to remind you of that day we met. I knew from that moment on my heart was yours. My soul, too.”
Despite the sticky summer evening, she wore the exquisite dark green velvet gown he’d remember until the end of his days. A pretty sheen of moisture glazed her upper lip and made it more kissable.
He shrugged against the hard back. “I knew it, too.”
“Then what’s changed? Something’s different these last few days.” Mattie’s voice trembled. “Caldwell, are you having second thoughts?” She grasped both his hands, tight, and her despair broke his heart.
“Oh, no. No, my dearest darlin.’” He draw her close like he’d never let her go. Even through her thick velvet, her breasts merged with his chest, and his manhood raged. His stomach churned the same time as his heart pumped wildly. His bridal night couldn’t come soon enough yet he wanted it to hold off. What if he ruined everything?
She pulled back from him a little. Seeing her eyes misting, Call took a deep breath. To ease her fears, he needed to let it out now. But he had to look away for her troubled gaze.
“I want tomorrow night to be perfect,” he said, low. “But I fear I’ll disappoint you.”
“Disappoint me? We discussed this, love. I don’t want a fancy hotel room. I want our wedding night to be right here. In our very own house.”
He fidgeted against her, but it had nothing to do with the hard wooden bench. “Mattie, I’ve never…I’ve never had a woman. It’ll be my first time.”
For a while she was quiet, dead quiet, then she smiled. “Is that all? Sweetheart, it’ll be my first time, too.”
She cuddled closer than ever “With you.”
“No buts,” Mattie insisted. “My…my other life was long ago.”
A peaceable feeling lay on him, warm as sunshine. She was loving and understanding, hadn’t gasped or looked at him as if he were a zoo animal. Still…
“Caldwell, my life with Woodrow was very brief. I’ve blocked most of it from my mind. And I haven’t been with a man for two years. He never truly loved me. You do. Now, stop your fretting.”
In spite of their close embrace, she shoved him off and stood up suddenly. “I debated whether to wear this dress tonight. But it’s such a sultry evening. I’m quite uncomfortable.”
A thought crept into his mind, a dream that would come true tomorrow night. Seeing her wearing nothing, nothing at all. The heat in the crotch of his trousers grew to boiling.
As if reading his thoughts, she smiled, coy, eyes half-lidded. Even in his virginal state, he understood the look completely. “All these buttons. The ties, the boning. Thank God I have a landlady close by. Women just simply cannot easily dress themselves. Or…” she turned her back to display the row of carved fasteners up her spine and tossed back over her shoulder, “Or undress themselves.”
He stood up promptly, front against her back, bending his head with his lips at her ear. “Just what are you saying, Mattie?”
“The bridal bed is a nerve-wracking place, Caldwell.”
He swallowed so hard he was sure she could hear.
She turned to face him, her arms right around his neck. “Most cultures hold the promise of betrothal to be as binding as the wedding vow.” Stepping back, she began a slow unbuttoning of his shirt. Then she looked him straight in the eye with a dare. “I happen to share that conviction.”