Oookay. I’m probably going to wish I hadn’t done this in the morning but for now I’m all for it, so here goes! What you are about to read is a short story I wrote eons ago for the now defunct webzine Wax Romantic. It has been edited from its original form but not all that much. And you can tell it’s an older work but since I did not immediately ban it to the seventh circle of Hell that I usually toss all my old stories into, you can bet it isn’t all that bad. Cheesy. But not bad. So. Carry on. Read or don’t read, it’s up to you. But if you stick around I hope you enjoy your stay. 😉
“Get your butt in here right now young lady! You know better than to stay outside when it’s thundering and lightning like it is. My God, I know you didn’t lose your good sense when you slid down, child!” Abilene de Ambry called to her daughter.
Nicolette de Ambry squinted at what she could see of her mother through the torrential downpour of rain. Her mother was standing on the front porch, and if Nicolette knew her mother, she was standing there with her hands planted on her slender hips and a scowl on her face.
She sighed and walked the ten feet to the porch. I didn’t slide down. I sat down, she thought.
“Look at yourself,” her mother said in her smooth country drawl. “Soaked plumb to the bone and mud caked on your white pants.” She tsked and shook her head. “That’ll never come out.”
Nicolette couldn’t help but smile. “I know mama. I know. But it’s not like I don’t have ten more pairs in my closet, you know.”
Abilene snorted. “Don’t I know it. How in the world someone can own as many clothes as you do is beyond me.”
Nicolette shrugged and walked into the house, her mother close behind.
“You’d best get yourself into some dry clothes before you catch cold.”
Nicolette nodded absentmindedly as she easily made her way through the massive heaps of abstract belongings of her parents that lay scattered throughout the three-story manor house they’d had since before she was born.
Once she was in her room, which was located at the west end of the second floor, she stripped out of her sodden clothes and pulled on a simple cotton day dress that matched the deep blue of her eyes. After hurriedly drying her hair, she thought she might head back downstairs to find her mom. However, she did not manage to move any farther than to her window. The sight of the rain cascading down in heavy sheets outside sidetracked her.
When her little town was being visited by a thunderstorm, Nicolette hardly noticed anything but the rain. The sound of the thunder, roaring loud enough to shake the house to its foundation, fascinated her and the sight of lightning as it lit up the sky never failed to entrance her. No matter where she was she always got caught up in her own little world when it stormed.
A knock sounded at her door and she called distractedly for whomever it was banging for admittance to enter.
“Mom needs you to come downstairs and help with dinner tonight.”
Nicolette turned from the window with a sigh. “All right, Charlie. I’m coming.”
Her brother nodded and shut the door behind him.
With one last wistful glance at her window, she left and headed downstairs.
The kitchen was in an uproar. Ten people yelling back and forth to one another isn’t always a good thing, especially when there is a set of triplets yelling insults at a set of twins and the rest are just yelling to make noise.
Nicolette cringed at the scene and then groaned before putting what she liked to call her ‘commander voice’ into action.
“All right! Knock it off, all of you! No one is going to get anything done if you’re yelling at each other so loud nobody can hear what anybody else is saying! Now, you can shut up or get out and go to bed without eating.”
Everyone got really quiet. She smiled sweetly. “Thank you. Now, do you think we can do this like a nice normal family?”
The twins rolled their eyes. “Really Nicky, a normal family? Most families don’t have a set of triplets, a set of fraternal twins, a set of identical twins and four other children who aren’t twins or triplets. You want normal? You live in the wrong family.”
Nicolette sighed. “Just do whatever you were doing before I came back down how ‘bout it?”
After a couple of giggles, everything calmed down a bit more. Nicolette was in the middle of putting the cake batter she had just finished mixing into pans when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Abilene said loud enough for everyone to hear. Two minutes later she came back to the kitchen and grabbed Nicolette by the arm, dragging her behind her to the living room. “Go get a towel for this young man and hurry up.”
A slight frown marred her brow as she hurried to the linen closet to fetch one, not bothering to sneak a peek at the guy, which was completely unusual for her. She always sneaked peeks at guys.
And why would anyone be out in this storm?
You do realize that you yourself were just out in it not thirty minutes ago, don’t you?
She arched a delicate ebony brow. True, I suppose. But I’m a nut anyway. Everyone who knows me knows my fixation with rain. No matter how severe the weather.
If the voice in her head had eyes to roll, they’d be doing somersaults right now.
Nicolette snorted. Just leave me alone right now, all right? You can bug me later. In a decade or so. She grabbed a towel and shook her head.
If that’s the way you want it…
She heaved a sigh when her ‘other self’ ceased its harping. Big, soft, fluffy burgundy towel in hand, she hurried back to the door to hand it to whomever it was standing there.
A soon as she got close enough to get a good look at him, her breath caught in her throat and her heart started pounding twice as fast. Her eyes widened in definite appreciation and her mouth had suddenly gone as dry as cotton. Dear Lord, you still make ‘em like this? She asked the man upstairs.
The luscious looking guy in front of her had to be a figment of her imagination. There was no way he was human. With his clothes plastered to him from the rain, his body was perfectly outlined. Wide shoulders, strong chest, and washboard abs that were just visible beneath the soaking wet white T-shirt he wore. He had a narrow waist and long, muscular legs.
She had to be dreaming, she thought, and then she frowned, realizing she hadn’t even gotten a good look at his face. Of course, it was pretty hard to do since he had a towel flying around in front of it at the moment.
Unable to stop herself, she inched forward and gently placed her hands on his to stop the movement. He watched her, his brow arched and his mouth curved in a lopsided grin as she moved the towel away from his face to his shoulders. Wow, she thought. His eyes were the deepest green she had ever had the pleasure to see. And, curse it all, he had longer eyelashes than she did. She always thought it a pity to have such beautiful things wasted on a man. Seeing them on him though changed her mind right quick like. His lips were slightly full; made for kissing, his nose was straight, and his jaw was sharp and angular. High cheekbones completed the perfection that was his face.
All in all, he was really quite handsome.
“Excuse me, miss. Is there something in particular you wanted to see?” he asked, clearly amused by her actions.
Feeling her cheeks heat up in embarrassment, Nicolette cleared her throat and backed away. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did that.”
He smiled at her. “No need to apologize. You surprised me is all. I don’t usually have women stare at me like that.”
Nicolette was about to say something when her mother walked in carrying the phone. She frowned. When had she left exactly?
“Here you go, Sebastian. If you can’t get hold of anyone there, you’re welcome to stay here for the night. The way that storm’s going, you might have to anyway,” Abilene said as she handed the phone over.
Nicolette looked at her mom with brow raised high and her mother merely smirked secretively, like she knew something that Nicolette didn’t.
Sebastian smiled and thanked her mother, then dialed a number. Nicolette moved away a little to give him a bit of privacy. When her mother didn’t do the same, Nicolette frowned. It wasn’t like her mother to listen to another’s conversation. Ignoring her mother, she watched Sebastian instead. The way his mouth moved when he talked, the way his deep voice made her feel like she had just swallowed an enormous amount of warm milk chocolate, and the slight furrowing of his black brows when whoever was on the other end of the line responded to his question.
“Fine, Sylvia, fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He ended the call and smiled sheepishly at her mother.
“Mrs. de Ambry, I might have to stay the night after all. My fiancée can’t make it out here tonight. I hope I’m not going to be intruding on anything.”
Abilene smiled brightly. “Not at all, Sebastian. We were just preparing dinner. You could come help my daughter Nicolette,” she said, motioning in her general direction with her dainty fingers. “Or she could show you to the living room and you could watch some television if you’d rather not deal with a family of thirteen preparing dinner together.”
His brows shot upward and he whistled low. “Eleven children, ma’am? You don’t look any older than my sister.”
Her mother had the grace to blush like a schoolgirl. Nicolette rolled her eyes. Honestly. “Mom, I’m sure he’d rather watch television. No one in their right mind would willingly walk into the chaotic mess of a de Ambry dinner.”
Sebastian looked at her with those green eyes of his and arched his brow at her, as though to say, “Want me to prove it?”
Maybe she shouldn’t have said anything. That had always worked wonders all those other times. Say nothing and no one notices you. And as shy as she was, that made everything all the better for her.
“Actually… Nicolette was it?” he asked.
She nodded, feeling giddy that he remembered her name. “I’d find the ‘chaotic mess of a de Ambry dinner’ quite thrilling and a little of a challenge.”
He turned his attention to her mother and grinned. “I’d be delighted to participate in such a fiasco, ma’am. Only thing is I’m afraid I’m soaked.”
Abilene laughed giddily and clapped her hands. “Well, that’s not a problem. I believe one of my sons is about your size. Hold on just one minute while I go find you a change of clothes.”
Good Lord, had her mother somehow planned this? Nicolette thought with rising horror.
Abilene returned in record time and Sebastian quickly changed in the bathroom.
Eric’s clothes fit surprisingly well, Nicolette thought as Sebastian came out clad in a simple T-shirt and jeans.
“I believe I’m good to go,” he said.
“Good. You’ll be helping Nicolette this evening. She usually manages her part all by her lonesome, and though she is quite talented I’m sure she’d like help sometimes,” Abilene said looking at Nicolette with an arch to her brow that dared her to disagree.
Really, what had gotten into her mother?
Nicolette sighed and shrugged. Glancing at Sebastian, she said, “If I were you, I would’ve chosen the television. You really have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
He chuckled and held his arm out for her to take. She did so hesitantly. He’d definitely be getting into her mother’s good book if he kept all this gentlemanly stuff up. She fawned over others who did so.
They headed into the kitchen and an unstoppable, yet thrilling, chaos.
* * *
While everyone else was busy taking showers and getting ready for bed after the chaotic catastrophe she liked to refer to as dinner, during which only a slight food fight had broken out, Nicolette was sitting in the living room reading Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. She was completely enthralled by the book even though this was like her fiftieth time reading it and so she didn’t see Sebastian walk in or feel him sit down beside her.
“Is it any good?” he asked.
She jumped and snapped the book closed. “What?”
He pointed to the book. “The book. Is it any good?”
“Yeah. Why?” she said, glaring at him for scaring her.
He shrugged. “No reason. You just looked like you were enjoying it. I don’t know many people who like to read, and the ones I do know do not read romance novels. Is it just a woman thing or…”
She cocked her brow and regarded him with a defiant look. “No, it is not just a woman thing. Men read them too, though it’s been my experience that those who do, do not easily admit to it. I think they’re just afraid it’ll make ‘em look like sissies, which is quite the opposite.” She smiled playfully. “Do you read them?”
He looked revolted that she’d even ask. “I don’t, actually.”
She laughed. “Chicken.”
“Chicken? Did you just call me chicken?”
She arched her brow again. “Did I stutter?”
He crossed his arms and leaned against the back of the couch.
Nicolette rolled her eyes and sighed. Placing her book down, she gave him her full attention. “Look, you didn’t have to take it personally. I was just kidding around with you. It’s nice actually, being able to talk to you like I’ve known you forever. Well, almost like I’ve known you forever. I doubt I’ll ever get that relaxed around you seeing as how you won’t be here tomorrow. But it’s nice to be able to talk to a guy and actually kid around with him without turning into a stuttering ninny or staring off into space. I’ve never been able to do that before.”
Sebastian looked into her eyes the entire time she spoke and saw that the fact that she couldn’t banter back and forth with other men really upset her. He’d never known a woman like her. All the ones he was familiar with either knew exactly where they stood with men or faked every emotion they could get by with. None of them were honest like this one. None of them had thick black hair that fell to their waist, or eyes so vibrant a blue that looking into them was like drowning in a deep pool. Their lips weren’t full and sensuous and innocent and they didn’t have a smile that knocked the breath out of him. He cleared his throat, trying to remember that he was engaged to one of England’s top designers and had no time to think about a country girl. No matter how beautiful and real she was.
He thought it best to get back to discussing romance books. “So,” he said, pointing to the book she had put down. “What is that one called?”
She looked at him in surprise and then a smile of adoration spread across her mouth. “Ashes in the Wind.”
“Is it your favorite?”
“By Kathleen, it is. I have too many favorites to name.”
“Oh. Uh…what were you saying about men reading romance novels again?”
“I said that they are too afraid to admit that they read them. Or, at least, that’s the way it seems to me. I could be totally wrong. That’s just my opinion.”
He grabbed the book off the coffee table and read the back and then looked at her in a way that sent shivers down Nicolette’s spine.
“I should go to bed, leave you to your novel. Besides, I don’t know how early Sylvia will be by.” He stood. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow sometime. G’night.”
She smiled. “Good night. I hope you can sleep.”
Again, he arched his brow. “Why does that sound like you’re foretelling my doom?”
She licked her lips and stood. “Because it’s a night of pranks for the de Ambry children, myself included. Every night.”
He swallowed and then nodded. “Well then. Thanks for giving me warning.”
Nicolette stifled a laugh as he walked out of the living room and looked both left and right before heading off to locate her mom and find out where he would be sleeping.
* * *
Sebastian St. Christian lay on the cot that Mrs. de Ambry had brought down from the attic.
He was in what appeared to be a sitting room of some sort. The kind one might have found in a London townhouse of a bygone era. It was out of place in the twenty-first century but it fit this particular house and family.
He couldn’t sleep for imagining all the heinous pranks the de Ambry’s would be setting up for the unwary. Or an outsider like himself. He gave up the pretense of sleeping after another ten minutes of excruciating silence. He got off the cot and wandered around the room for a bit examining the various whatnot’s that occupied every nook and cranny of the room. It definitely belonged to one of the girls. It was much too frilly to be a boys room of relaxation. It had to be Nicolette’s. No one else seemed to fit the feel of the room. Not even Abilene.
He came to a pair of doors that lead, he presumed, to the bedroom. He slowly turned the unusual looking knobs and sent a silent prayer of thanks that the doors didn’t squeak when he let himself in.
The sight he saw in the middle of the room made him catch his breath. Nicolette lay in the middle of a gigantic four-poster bed on her back, bathed in the moonlight from the huge window on the opposite wall and she was draped in a sheet of sheer gauze—or so it appeared at first glance. Upon closer examination he found it was a thin silk robe…and that she was as naked as the day she was born underneath it.
He couldn’t stop the sudden surge of desire that speared through his loins at the sight. He’d never before seen a woman so beautifully made. Her breasts were of medium size and high and perky, her nipples a pale rose in color. Her waist was small and her hips nicely rounded. The dark thatch of hair at the juncture of her thighs was barely noticeable being partially concealed by the way the robe lay across her, but he knew the curls there were as black as the hair atop her head. Her hips gave way to long, silky legs and the daintiest feet he’d ever seen on a woman.
A groan escaped his lips at the thought of having her legs wrapped around his hips as he made sweet love to her throughout the night. He frowned at that thought. He’d never felt the need to make love to a woman just as an outpouring of his feelings for her. It had always been about the pleasure. Both the giving and the receiving. Never just about feelings. And that made his head swim. He didn’t even know Nicolette and yet, here he was, thinking about loving her.
Nicolette obviously heard him groan and it must have been louder than he’d thought because she came awake with a gasp of fright escaping her lips. Her eyes darted from him to the quilt that lay across the foot of her bed while her hands tried to cover as much of herself as possible. He took one look at the horrified expression on her face and hastily brought it up to her chin before she was further embarrassed.
She sat up, hugging the quilt close. “Sebastian? What are you doing here? Why…” Her eyes widened. “Oh my God! Did you…see…Well of course you did. How could you not what with the moonlight shining in through the window as it is? Oh, God. If I’d known you were in the other room, I would have worn something different.” She looked him straight in the eye and said, “Don’t think this was intentional. I did not mean to fall asleep in my robe and had I known you were the type to snoop in other people’s rooms I would have locked the damn door!”
Seeing no way out of this he decided to stick with the truth and hope it didn’t paint him with an even blacker brush. “I’ll admit I was snooping but only because I was…well I was looking around the place because I couldn’t sleep since you filled my head with horrid images of your demonic brothers and sisters putting pails of sap and flour on the tops of doors for me to find in the morning. I didn’t expect to find you sprawled out in all your glory atop of the covers, however.”
She shot him a dark look. “If my parents found out that you were in my room at any time of day or night, my daddy would geld you and my mama would happily let him. And I for one do not want to be the cause of you losing your manhood due to a slight case of insomnia and curiosity so get out of my room right now!”
Sebastian had the sudden urge to laugh. Most women he knew would be thrilled for him to come into their rooms because they knew what grand pleasure would be coming to them if he did. Not that he’d slept with all that many women, but the ones who’d had the pleasure of sharing his bed had nothing but good things to say about him. This one, however, seemed terrified of the idea.
“Tell me, Nicolette,” he said softly. “Do you always do as your parents tell you or do you live your own life?”
She jutted her chin forward stubbornly, her blue eyes glittering with anger. “I live my life by my rules. I follow my parent’s rules because I am still living in their house. But even if I didn’t live with them, I wouldn’t let a man into my bedroom unless he was my husband.”
That one took him by surprise. “You’re a virgin, then?” he asked, taken aback by that oh-so-surprising possibility.
Splotches of deep pink tinged her cheeks. Was she blushing? Yep.
“Yes, I’m a virgin,” she whispered.
His blood pounded in his ears at her whispered admission. She was a virgin. Untouched by another man. Sebastian suddenly wanted to be her first…and only.
Seeing her with the heavy coverlet pulled up to her chin as she stared up at him with a nervous gleam in her blue eyes made him come to his senses. Well, that and the fact that she’d admitted that she was a virgin and wouldn’t sleep with any man other than her husband.
He cleared his throat. “I should be getting back to the other room. I’m sorry for waking you and,” he smiled, trying to ease her discomfort, “for giving in to my curiosity. I’ll let you get back to sleep now. Sweet dreams.”
With that, Sebastian hurried to the door as fast as he could without running and shut it behind him. Safely on the other side and not in the same breathing room as Nicolette, he leaned back against the heavy oak door and expelled his breath on a harsh sigh. He walked to the cot and lay down knowing he’d never get to sleep knowing her bedroom adjoined this one.
Nicolette pushed the heavy cover off and gazed at the ceiling. Why hadn’t her mother told her she had put Sebastian in her sitting room? She would have made sure she was decently covered if she’d known.
She growled low in her throat and rolled onto her side. Her mother had changed in the past couple of days. Never before would she even have considered letting a strange man within ten feet of where her daughter slept and yet she had put Sebastian practically in her bedroom and she was probably hoping her dear, virginal daughter would lose her senses completely and fall into bed with him. Ha! She had always taught her children that sex was something only a husband and wife shared. Surely she didn’t think that Nicolette would go against that rule now, did she?
Nicolette groaned and flopped onto her back, heaving a sigh of frustration. She’d never get back to sleep now, knowing that Sebastian was on the other side of the door and probably still as awake as she. She smiled, remembering what he said before he left. He was sorry for giving in to his curiosity. He had said it as though he was curious to see what room lay on the other side of the door, but Nicolette had a feeling that he knew what was on the other side and had just wanted to see her while she slept.
That made her think of the phrase curiosity killed the cat and she grinned. “Satisfaction brought him back,” she mumbled sleepily and closed her eyes, drifting back to sleep, not knowing that Sebastian had whispered the same thing.
* * *
Sebastian sat alone at the little café that had tables too small for a man his size. He had spent the morning listening to Sylvia carry on about how horrible it must have been for him to have to help prepare dinner for what had to be the millionth time since he had first told her about the homey fiasco four months previously. No matter how many times he told her he’d volunteered she’d refused to hear it. She was completely convinced the de Ambry family made him work for his little sleepover. Ha! If she only knew there was no sleeping involved on his part.
Anyway, he seemed to be addicted to this little town because he thought about it constantly. And, if he were honest with himself, Nicolette. Which wasn’t a good thing for an engaged guy to do unless he wanted to be un-engaged from the gorgeous leggy brunette that had all the tabloids running after her like chickens with their heads cut off.
Sebastian sighed and took a drink of his coffee. There was only one explanation for what he was going through and that was the four-letter word he was hesitant to even think.
But still, how could he be sure that word was the reason for the absurd feeling of homesickness he got every time he thought about Nicolette? It wasn’t just desire that raged through his blood with every thought. He often found himself thinking about her smile, her laugh, the way her eyes lit up when defending her precious love stories. He wanted to share meals with her family, to walk with her and talk with her and hold her hand.
He shook his head. There was only one thing it could be.
He was in love with her.
“Well, Sebastian. It’s a good thing you didn’t take forever to figure it out,” he mumbled as he untangled himself from around the too-small chair, tossing down the rest of his coffee and throwing some money on the table. And now that he knew the cause of the strange feeling of longing that plagued his every waking hour, he got in his car and made toward what he had dubbed the de Ambry Castle all those weeks ago, hoping he wasn’t about to make a very big mistake.
* * *
Nicolette sat slumped in her favorite cream-colored chair. She missed Sebastian. She missed everything about him. But most of all, she missed her chance to tell him she might be in love with him. He had left before she’d gotten up that morning and there hadn’t a day gone by that she hadn’t thought about him. Who knew that just one night could change someone so much?
She sighed. Well, you knew he probably would have been gone before you woke up even before he came to your room. He did say his fiancee would be picking him up the next morning, remember? And how were you planning on convincing him that he needed to stay with you instead? That he could learn to love you? Did it even occur to you that he was happy and in love with the girl he’d asked to marry him? That is why people get engaged, you know.
A single tear rolled down her cheek. Just shut up. I don’t need this right now. Yes, I know he’s engaged. But that doesn’t make the hurt go away. The one time I can talk to a guy without making an idiot of myself, I have to go and lose my heart… She sighed brokenly. But why did it have to be to someone who’s getting married to someone who isn’t me?
A sob escaped her and the urge to kick her feet and scream at the unfairness of it all was nearly unbearable. Someone knocked on her door but she ignored it. Whoever it was would take the hint. Her siblings were smart.
Okay, maybe not so smart. One of them had opened the door. She turned her head to glare at whichever one had dared walk into her domain and froze. There, standing in her doorway, was Sebastian.
“Surprised to see me, princess?” he asked, smiling at her in that devastating way of his.
“What are you doing here?” she whispered. And when did he start calling you princess?
“Well, I was sitting all alone in a little café not far from here, thinking about you. Truthfully, I haven’t stopped thinking about you since I left.”
“You’re probably just saying that ’cause you saw me naked,” she mumbled, hiding her face behind her arms.
He chuckled. “No.” His eyes turned serious. “I was thinking about how different you are from all the women I know.” He shrugged. “You’re fantastic.”
Nicolette bit her lip to keep from crying and gave a little shake of her head. “So you came back to tell me you think I’m fantastic?”
He walked over to her and knelt down beside her. His green eyes were shining with something deep down inside him. “No. I came back all this way to tell you I think I’m in love with you.”
Nicolette felt her breath catch and the tears started again. She shook her head. “But you’re engaged to someone.”
He laughed softly. “Engagements can be broken. Marriages can’t.”
Her brow quirked up in surprise. “So you don’t believe in divorce?”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
“I’m glad. Neither do I.”
“Do you think you could love me, Nicolette?” he asked.
She smiled at him. “I think I fell in love with you the minute you walked in my front door.”
“Do you think you might want to marry me?” he asked, his voice going low as he leaned in to take her mouth with his.
“Yes,” she whispered against his warm lips.
And he kissed her. He kissed her hard. He kissed her soft. And that’s how Savannah and Leighanne found them.
“Mom! They’re kissing like their mouths are melded together!” Leighanne yelled. “I think they might like each other a whole lot.”
“I think they might be falling in love,” Savannah said in a not-so-quiet whisper.
Sebastian pulled back just enough to look into her eyes and whisper, “That sounds about right.”
(c) Brianna Somersham 2005-2015