Stephanie caressed Eric’s face as he kissed her goodnight at her bedroom door. “Goodnight, Eric,” she whispered.
Smiling sweetly at her, the want in his eyes evident, Eric drew his hand down her arm then laced his fingers with hers. “Goodnight, Steph. Thank you for this evening.”
Shivering as she remembered his body pressing her against the pillar, she swallowed to calm her beating heart. “Our family enjoyed it.”
“Yes, they did.” Eric nodded then studied her. “But did you? Be honest, Sweetheart.”
Looking away so she wouldn’t see how much he wanted her, she nodded. “I love the way you kiss me.”
“Then I’ll go to bed a happy man.” Pressing a kiss to her cheek, Eric let go of her hand and slowly made his way to his room.
Stephanie watched him, her heart in her throat. She wanted so badly to call out to him, to have him come back. She wanted to take his hand and lead him to their bed. She wanted to wear the negligee he’d given her so many weeks ago when things had gone so terribly wrong.
Hanging her head, Stephanie opened her door and slowly walked inside her room. Leaning against the door as she closed it behind her, she let the tears roll down her cheeks. She couldn’t do any of the things she wanted to because she was afraid. Afraid of how her body would fail her. Afraid of how Eric would react to her marred appearance.
A sob escaped as she thought about how painful it would be for him to reject her once he saw what the surgery had done to her. Out of all the things that had happened between them over the years, Eric had never rejected her because her body didn’t turn him on. She knew from years of loving him that her body had always had that affect on him no matter how it had changed from year to year. But now, she shook her head, another sob escaping.
Now it was different. Now she had an ugly reminder of how an unseen enemy was fighting against her will to survive. Moving to stand in front of the mirror, she unbuttoned her top letting it slide down her arms to land in a black heap behind her. The long red scar between her second and third rib and the tiny scars just below, where the drain tubes had been, were all constant reminders to her of her mortality. The angry look of the scars are why she had never let Eric see them. She knew the nurse had been right about the vitamin e oil helping, but when Eric had suggested that he help her, she’d reacted as she always did…snapped at him and gotten angry to protect herself.
Drawing a finger over the bigger scar, she shivered at the pain the sensation caused. Some times the scar was more sensitive than others, something the doctor had warned her about. Or maybe the pain had nothing to do with the scar. Maybe it was the pain in her heart, the ache in her soul.
Eric laid in bed, his hands under his head as he stared up at the ceiling. The room was dark all but the bit of moonlight coming in through the windows so he studied the shadows as he thought about the way Stephanie had reacted to his kisses. He knew that the eggnog had been what gave him the courage to push her up against the pillar with all of their family and friends present, but it had felt so good to kiss and touch her and not have her stiffen in response. He closed his eyes, remembering the feel of her body pressed against him, her lips soft and supple under his, yielding to his kisses. He wanted her here next to him. Wanted to hold her and thank her. Wanted to make love to her.
But something was still holding her back. He’d seen it in her eyes. What was it that was bothering her? Surely she couldn’t think that the changes in her body would be displeasing to him. The scars from the times she’d been shot hadn’t made her less beautiful. In fact, to him, they’d made her more beautiful because they’d proven her a fighter and served as a constant reminder to him of how close he’d come to losing her.
He frowned. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was different for her this time because she couldn’t fight and be certain she’d win. But why didn’t she understand that only made him love her more?
“Probably because of how you’ve left her in the past when you weren’t getting what you wanted or thought you needed, you old fool,” he mumbled to himself. Although he knew there was no probably about it. She’d confessed as much that night so many weeks ago when he’d given her the negligee. He hadn’t designed it to be anything more than classy and sexy, just like the woman he’d hoped would wear it. He really hadn’t meant anything other than to make her feel better about herself. If she’d only have worn the negligee, and explained that she didn’t feel like anything else, he’d have understood…no matter how he’d reacted when she’d said no.
Sighing, he turned over, smacked his pillows a few times before sinking his head into them. He had to get some sleep. He had too much to do at work to spend his night mulling over what was still so wrong in his relationship with Stephanie. Closing his eyes, he took several deep breaths to relax himself, then snapped his eyes open and quickly sat up.
“What was that?” he asked the empty room. Listening to see if he heard the sound again, his heart raced when the noise came again, and he threw back the covers, rushing out of his room and down the hall. Standing outside Stephanie’s door, his heart broke when he realized he’d been right when he thought the sound was crying.
“Dear god, Stephanie,” he whispered as he opened the door and found her standing staring at herself in the mirror, clad in the negligee he’d designed for her.
Stephanie looked up then turned away. “No,” she whispered and shook her head. “Go away.”
“I will not,” he told her as he moved to where she stood trembling. “What is it?”
She shook her head. “This,” she touched the fabric. “You did this for me.”
“Sweetheart, I told you that when I gave it to you.”
Still fingering the soft garment, Stephanie studied the floor. “You did it to help me feel good about myself again.”
Her shoulders shook before she took a deep breath. “But I can’t do that. This is beautiful and soft, but I,” her voice caught and she wrapped her arms around herself. “I’m not, Eric. No matter how much I may want you,” she stopped and bit her lip. “My heart would break if you rejected me because of the way I look now.”
Eric stumbled back at her confession, the words like a punch in the gut. “Dear god, Stephanie,” he breathed as he moved to her, his hands on her arms turning her to face him. “Look at me.”
Stephanie looked up, her eyes taking in the look of confusion and pain on his face. “Now you know,” she whispered.
Cupping her face, his thumb tracing the contours of her cheek, Eric held her gaze. “Why would you think that I would reject you?”
“Because…because,” she stumbled on the words.
“Because of the scars?” he asked sighing when she nodded. “Oh Sweetheart.” He pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly. “You have other scars. They never bothered me.”
He frowned. “How?”
“I…they just…” she shrugged.
Eric nodded then moved away. Taking her hand he tugged her to where they were standing in front of the mirror again, his eyes catching hers in their reflections. “Let me see, Stephanie.”
She shook her head. “No. Dear god, Eric, please,” she pleaded.
“Let me see, Sweet girl,” he whispered against her ear, his thumbs lifting the straps of the negligee.
Stephanie swallowed, her whole body trembling as she crossed her arms about herself when she felt the material start to slide away. “I can’t.”
“You can. Let me help you.”
“Let me help you see.”
“See what? How ugly I am? How my body has been marred by this disease that’s robbing me of my life?”
Holding her gaze, Eric gently moved her hands. “Let me see the scars that prove what a fighter you are. That prove that you’re still here with me. Let me help you see that you’re still the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Stephanie, her eyes locked with his, shivered as she let the material fall at her feet. Watching every move he made, her heart fluttered when his hands skimmed down her arms before he moved to stand in front of her. Tears pooling in her eyes when he knelt down, she cried out a sob when his lips touched the scar that was so ugly to her.
“Oh god, I came so close to losing you,” he cried, his tears wetting her skin as he wrapped his arms around her, his head resting against her.
“You still could,” she whispered, her fingers combing gently through his hair.
Looking up at her, he nodded. “I know. That’s why I’m so sorry for what I’ve done.”
“What you’ve done?” she questioned as she brushed the hair from his forehead.
“Jackie,” he whispered in shame.
“You only kissed her because I pushed you away.”
“But it’s one I’ll accept.”
Shaking his head, Eric stood up, bringing the negligee back with him and helping her back into it. “You’re as beautiful in this as I knew you would be.”
“You always were a fool over me in black.”
“Bra, panties, negligee…anything. It sets off that creamy skin of yours.”
She nodded. “And that’s what you’ve always told me.”
“It’s the truth.” Cupping her face, he looked deep into her watery blue eyes. “I’ve seen the scars,” he whispered, she nodded. “I’m still here and I’m not going anywhere. You’re more beautiful to me now than you’ve ever been.”
“How can you say that?” she asked in confusion.
“Because those are battle scars, a battle you’re fighting because you love me and our family. And they mean you’re still here with me…something that wouldn’t have happened without these scars.”
“I can’t promise my body will react like it’s supposed to, but,” she paused and looked down watching her fingers play with one of the buttons of his pajama shirt.
“We don’t have to make love, Sweetheart. Just let me hold you.”
She shook her head. “I want to try.”
“Are you sure, Stephanie? You aren’t just saying that because of the things I’ve said lately, are you?”
“I am sure, but I’m also doing this because of the things you’ve said.”
Frowning, Eric studied her. “I don’t want you to do this because you believe you have to. I want to make love with you, not just to you.”
“But I want you to make love to me,” she whispered. “You’re just going to have to be patient with my body’s responses. I’m not sure,” she sighed.
Caressing her face, he smiled as he took her hand. “We’ll go as slow as we need to. And if we don’t go all the way,” he winked. “Well, petting is a good start.”
Stephanie laughed and wrapped her arms around him. “I love you, Eric Forrester, so very much.”
Holding her tightly, Eric pressed a kiss to her head. “Never as much as I love you,” he whispered.
Stephanie’s legs were restless as she arched into Eric’s caress. His hands were busy tracing a path down her legs, his mouth teasing her breasts. He was using everything he had and it was working. She could feel the fire his touch always ignited beginning to burn through her. Gasping when he gently teased the sensitive flesh between her thighs with his fingers, she stared up at him when he moved to look down at her.
“That’s it, Sweet girl, just let it happen. Don’t think about it or worry. Your body remembers.” He smiled at her then chuckled when she gasped at the move he made.
“Eric!” she growled and gripped his arm. “That’s…oh god…that’s not playing fair.”
“It’s very fair,” he whispered as he leaned closer, his mouth against her ear. “I want to watch you climax before I,” he finished the rest softly, barely audible, his hot breath and words making her shiver.
“Oh dear heaven,” she whimpered even as her body strained to get closer to his hand.
Watching her, his eyes alight with the fire of passion and the pride he had in being able to do this for her, Eric gave her what she wanted…what she needed. “That’s it, Sweet girl. Let go. It’s alright,” he encouraged her.
“Eric!” Stephanie cried, the tears rolling down her cheeks as she climaxed, her body shaking as he held her.
Pressing soft kisses to her face, Eric kissed away her tears and smiled tenderly at her when her blue eyes blinked open and stared up at him a few moments later. “Hey,” he whispered.
“Mmm,” she hummed, tears filling her eyes again.
“Ah, Sweetheart,” he murmured. “Don’t do that.” He kissed her again, his hand caressing her arm.
Sniffing, Stephanie caressed his back. “I can’t help it. You,”
“I what, Steph?” he asked as he brushed the hair from her face, his thumb catching a tear.
Pulling him down and holding him tightly against her, Stephanie tangled her fingers in his hair. “You didn’t turn away when you saw the scars,” she paused, her voice lowering in awe. “You cried.”
Burying his face in her neck, Eric took in the scent of her, smiling at the moisture against his nose. “Do you know how sexy you are to me right now?”
Stephanie pushed him up and frowned. “What?”
Catching another tear, Eric smiled at her. “Stephanie, nothing will ever change the fact that your body turns me on.”
“And what makes me so,” she screwed up her face before continuing, “sexy now?”
Eric chuckled then drew his finger down her collarbone. Tracing her bottom lip, he answered her. “The dewy glow of your skin.”
She quirked an eyebrow then caught her breath when he moved between her thighs. “Eric.”
“Let me finish what we started,” he whispered and she nodded, her eyes closing as he slid inside her. “And Stephanie?”
“Hmm?” she hummed as she opened her eyes and looked up at him.
“Of course I cried. The love of my life is fighting for her life and there’s not a damn thing I can do to help or make sure she wins.”
Wrapping her arms and legs around him, Stephanie moved with Eric in their old familiar rhythm. Slow and steady. Thrust, counter thrust. Surging forward and up. Her kisses were hungry as she drowned in the love of the man pressing her body into the mattress, his weight a welcome reminder that she was alive and once again living the life she’d been granted an extension on.
Eric closed his eyes and listened to the sweetest sound on earth…the woman he loves breathing in the darkness from her place beside him. He smiled when she murmured in her sleep, wondering what she was dreaming of. He hoped it was a sweet dream. He knew that’s the kind of dream he’d be having if his mind ever let him go to sleep.
But sleep seemed to be eluding him. His mind was too full of the events of the last few hours. The kisses during their family get together. The sobs that drew him out of his bed in the guest room he’d been sleeping in for the last few months. The image of the woman he loved turning away from him, shame and fear on her face.
He shook his head. She was ashamed of the way she looked, even though standing there in the black negligee he’d designed for her she’d looked nothing more than stunning. He swallowed at the pain and fear he’d heard in her voice when she’d told him to go away. His heart broke all over again as her confession echoed in his ears. All these weeks she’d thought that he would be revolted by her now that she’d been marred by her surgery.
Turning on his side, he reached out to gently caress her face. “I’m so sorry that you felt that way,” he whispered. “I know why you felt you couldn’t tell me and I’m sorry for that, too.” He swallowed back the tears. “Dear god,” he breathed, his voice catching on a sob. “I nearly did it to you again.”
“But you didn’t,” she whispered as she reached up to cover his hand with hers. “You didn’t.”
Hanging his head, he took a deep breath. “But I made a promise to myself.”
“I was going to win you back silently without you knowing it.”
She smiled and pressed a kiss to the palm of his hand. “You did.”
Eric frowned. “Stephanie, I kissed another woman.”
“Yes you did and it hurt. It also opened my eyes.”
“It did.” She echoed. “I realized I needed to try harder to give you what you need because what I need is you.”
Eric nuzzled her neck. “I love you.”
Stephanie smiled and sighed, “Mmm, perfect.”
“Perfect? What’s perfect?” he asked.
“Hearing you whisper you love me in the night.”
Eric smiled. “Just as perfect as hearing your gentle breathing beside me in the dark.” Laying his head down, he tugged at her, wrapping his arm around her when she spooned against him. “This is perfect too.”
“Oh yes. Nothing is as perfect as your body close to mine.” She pulled his hand up over her heart. “I love you,” she whispered as the dark closed around them, their world slowing down as sleep grew closer.