Walking up the stairs to her bedroom didn’t help clear Stephanie’s mind. If anything, it added to the thoughts already swirling in maddening circles.
Who was she?
If she didn’t know the answer, did Eric?
When the truth of what she’d done came out, would Eric leave her? Turn against her as he’d always done in the past when someone, namely Brooke, pushed her into doing something drastic?
Fear filled her heart as she neared the bedroom door.
“What if he leaves me?” she asked herself. It would be easier for him to do since they weren’t married. He could pack up and walk out and forget the promise he’d made to stand by her without much fuss at all.
The fear in her heart squeezed its icy fingers and took her breath. She didn’t want to be alone. Not when her future was so very uncertain.
Eric looked up from his book when he heard the bedroom door open. He opened his mouth to question what had taken her so long, but the frightened look in her eyes had him jumping from the bed and rushing to her instead. “Sweetheart? What is it? What’s wrong?”
Stephanie stared up at him. Would he leave her this time? Would their history once again repeat itself? The fear of what the answer to those questions might be, spurred her into action, and she moved into his arms, holding him tightly.
Eric was taken by surprise by her move, and even more surprised when he felt her body trembling against him. Wrapping his arms tightly around her, he gently rocked her back and forth, his cheek resting on her head. “Stephanie, answer me. What’s wrong?”
Stephanie swallowed and shook her head. “Nothing,” she whispered as she pulled back. Patting his cheek, she smiled sadly up at him. “I’m going to go get ready for bed. I’ll be right out.”
“Steph,” he started then stopped when she kissed him.
“Go on. Go back to bed. I promise I won’t be long.”
Eric frowned as he watched her walk away. Something was bothering her. He shook his head. “No. Something’s hurting her,” he murmured to himself as he moved back to the bed, slipping off his robe before sliding under the covers. What in the world could be causing her blue eyes to cloud with so much pain? Could it be this mess with Thomas and Brooke? He shook his head at the thought and dismissed it. She was angry over that, not hurt. He was still trying to figure out what the problem was when Stephanie slipped into bed beside him.
“Eric?” she whispered when she noticed he seemed to be staring off into space.
Blinking, Eric turned to look at her. “Sorry.”
“Where were you?” she asked.
Reaching out, he caressed her face. “I was trying to figure out what is hurting the woman I love,” he answered her with so much love in his voice that tears welled in her eyes. “Oh, Sweetheart. What is it? Please tell me,” he pleaded with her as he pulled her into his arms and laid down with her tucked against him.
Stephanie tucked her head under his chin and blinked back the tears. Sighing and sniffing after a few minutes, she moved out of his arms to grab a tissue and turn off her bedside lamp. “I’m sorry,” she whispered as she tossed the tissue into the trashcan.
Turning her face toward him, Eric felt his heart break when a lone tear escaped and rolled down her cheek. “Please let me help, Stephanie. I can’t stand to see you hurting like this. I thought that maybe it was this mess with Thomas and Brooke, but you’ve only been angry about that.” He bit his lip as he watched her. “Sweetheart, have I done something?” he finally asked a few moments later.
His softly spoken question made Stephanie lose the fight with her tears and she shook her head. “No. No. It’s just,” she started then paused. “It’s just, I just,” she shook her head. “I’m being a sentimental old fool, is all.” She sighed, “Just hold me. Please?”
“Not an old fool,” he whispered, knowing her answer wasn’t the truth. Kissing her forehead tenderly, he leaned over and turned off his bedside lamp then returned his attention to Stephanie, smiling as he laid back against the pillows on his side and held out his arm for her.
Stephanie smiled as she snuggled into his embrace, her cheek resting against his bare shoulder, her hand coming to rest over his heart as he pulled her close. Would this be one of the last times he held her like this? Would the truth come out tomorrow and rip her from his arms once more? She burrowed her face into his neck, her warm tears wetting his skin.
Rubbing her back, Eric let her cry knowing that she wasn’t going to tell him what was really wrong. He’d asked her downstairs what was bothering her and had gotten nothing but evasion. And in the last few minutes, he’d asked three times and got nothing but stumbling sentences, tears, and more pain in her eyes. Pressing gentle kisses to her head, he slipped a leg over her thighs making a sort of cocoon with his body. One of the only things he could think of that could cause her this much pain was, “Oh god, Stephanie,” he whispered. “Did you get bad news from the doctor?”
Patting his chest, she shook her head and whispered, “No.”
That answer left Eric only one other thing that could cause his beloved such pain. “Sweetheart, are you afraid I’m going to leave you?” His heart beat faster when she trembled and wrapped her arm around him. “I promised, Stephanie.”
“You’ve promised before,” she whispered.
“I know I have, but I’ve changed, Stephanie. I’m not going anywhere, no matter what.”
Pulling back, she looked up at him, her blue eyes uncertain as she studied him. “Eric,” she whispered his name.
“What, Sweetheart?” he asked as he tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.
“Make love to me,” she asked so quietly that he wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.
“Make love to me,” she repeated a bit louder.
Eric smiled softly at her, even as he saw fear flash in her eyes. For whatever reason, a reason he wished he knew, his precious Stephanie was afraid this would be the last time he’d make love to her. “You know that I will. I love making love to you,” he winked as he leaned forward, his lips brushing hers in a kiss full of all of his love.
Stephanie tangled her fingers in his hair and moved closer, desperate to feel his touch, his love. If this was to be the last time he made love to her, she was going to savor every touch and kiss. She could feel in his touch that he knew she was afraid this would be their last time, and knew by his gentle kisses that he was going to make love to her sweet and slow. She loved him all the more for it even as it broke her heart.
Tenderly undressing her, Eric quickly piled his clothes next to hers before joining her back in their bed. Laying on his side, he stared down at her, a hand caressing her soft hair and face. “You’re the love of my life, Stephanie. Whatever it is, I’m going to be right here, holding you,” he held her gaze then continued, “loving you.”
Stephanie looked down at his mouth, her finger tracing his lips. “I want to believe that,” she whispered before replacing her finger with her lips.
The way she was kissing him, Eric felt his heart constrict with fear, love, desire. Pulling back so they could breathe, he caressed down her bare shoulder, twining their fingers together and lifting them to his mouth. Pressing a tender kiss to the soft skin, he held her gaze as he let go and began to slowly move his touch over every inch of her he could reach.
Stephanie closed her eyes, letting him take her away, getting lost in the feel of him touching and arousing her before slowly rolling them over so that she was on her back, his body cradled between her thighs.
“Open your eyes, Sweet girl.”
“Please,” she whispered, her voice shaking. “Don’t call me that.”
Eric blinked in surprise. She’d always loved that nickname. “Alright, Steph. I won’t. I still want you to open your eyes. I want to see those blue eyes darken while I make love to you.”
Opening her eyes, she stared up at him. “I love you, Eric. No matter what happens in the next few days, always remember that,” she whispered, her breath catching as he entered her.
“I know you do. I’ll tell you the same thing. I love you. No matter what,” he emphasized the last three words with gentle thrusts of his hips.
Stephanie pulled Eric close, her fingers tangling in his hair as he moved against her, his arms wrapping around her. With each slow, gentle thrust a tear rolled down her cheek.
Eric felt the tears against his skin and wrapped his arms around her tighter as he gave her everything she wanted and needed with each move of his body against hers. He would make her believe that he would keep the promise he’d made to her by pouring all of his love for her into this simple act of making love.