"God help me," he whispered against her mouth, his breath ragged. "God help me, but I love you. I love you more than life itself."
She wrapped her slender arms around him, touching him, arousing him even through the thick layer of chain mail he wore. Her nimble fingers began to ease up his surcoat, needing to feel him against her, just one more time. Just once more.
He started to kiss her again, but then he stilled.
The noise. They both heard it. The creaking of a door.
"Who knows we're here?" She demanded, her voice barely audible.
"No one. I swear it. No one knows." But his gaze was drawn again to the door. He was already pulling away from her, but he stayed a moment longer to stroke her hair, to feel its softness. It was a fatal mistake, because it meant that he missed the glint of metal that shimmered behind the door as-
Emilia Black's concentration was broken when a fat grey cat leapt on to her lap. Its big green eyes pleaded with her, and it circled around on her thighs, claws pricking her through her dark wash jeans.
"Hungry, are you?" She sighed. It was impossible to get anything done around here with Arthur around. "All right, come on. You act like I never feed you," she groused as she pushed the cat off her lap and headed towards the door. Arthur was hot on her heels.
She descended the stairs of her two bedroom maisonette, her hand trailing along the banister as she made her way towards the kitchen. She made sure not to hurry – if Arthur was going to make tiny holes in her favourite jeans, then he could jolly well wait for his dinner. It wasn't like he was going to waste away, she thought, her gaze catching on his rather fat, furry body.
Emilia's mouth turned down as she reached into the fridge and took out the half-empty tin of cat food. When she read the label, she couldn't help but laugh, even though she felt sad.
My cat is on a diet.
Arthur had been to the vet. Many times. There was nothing wrong with him, except that he had a high metabolism. And because of the volume he ate, he had to have diet cat food. Emilia hadn't even known the thing existed.
She washed Arthur's dish in the sink. As she did, the cat pranced around her feet, jumping up and mewling, like he hadn't been feed in a month.
"You ate two hours ago, Arthur," she reminded him.
He ignored her, and began to prowl around her legs, walking in slow circles, like a shark closing in on its prey.
Emilia nudged him away with her foot. "Any more of that, and I'll fall over and crack my head open on these kitchen tiles. Then who'll feed you?"
She had a sudden picture flashed through her mind. New York Times: Starving Cat Eats Dead Owner.
Laughing at her own paranoia, she shook the image away, and put the dish down. Arthur pounced, and began inhaling the food. Emilia shook her head. In a few hours, he'd be begging for food again.
She made to leave the kitchen, and then her eyes caught on the unopened box of Jasmine tea that she had purchased earlier that day. Since she was downstairs anyway, why not make some tea? Help the creative juices flow.
Filling the kettle, she got herself a mug and leaned back against the kitchen counter as the kettle popped and hissed. After she poured the tea, she disposed of the teabag and went back to her study, leaving Arthur blissfully chomping away. With any luck, he'd be full now until dinnertime – but she wouldn't blame him if he came looking for more food soon. Like human diet food, cat slimming products just couldn't be yummy. By law of the universe, diet products were supposed to suck.
She ascended the stairs. As she started to turn off into the hallway that led to her study and her bedroom, she stopped, and glanced at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Padding on to the blue bathroom tile, she came closer to the mirror. Her hair looked awful today. Okay, so she was only going to see Arthur, but still. Setting her tea down on the white dresser bedside the sink, she shoved her hands through the short brown curls, frowning at herself. Her hair never really behaved itself, but it was thick and didn't get greasy quickly. She should be grateful for small mercies.
A few moments later, Emilia sat down again. Back to where she left of. No hungry cat to bother her.
Now, where was I?
Her cell phone rang. Her ringtone, Addicted to Love, filled the study.
Emilia clenched her teeth in frustration. She snatched up the pink cell phone, wondering who was interrupting her day. But all her irritation dropped away when she read the caller display. It said WILL C.
"Hi, Will," Emilia greeted her friend's husband.
"Hi, Em." Will Campbell's smooth English accent came down the phone. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, thank you. And you?" Emilia plopped back down into her chair and stretched her legs out in front of her. Her feet were covered in black socks that had little orange smiley faces embroidered into them.
"Great. We're great. Claire's in hospital," he told her.
"Oh, my God! The baby's been born already?" Emilia was already pushing her feet into her sneakers.
"No, no," Will assured her, "Nothing so exciting, I'm afraid. We've been here a few hours now, and apparently Claire isn't ready. She's bored stiff," he said, sympathy clear in his gorgeous voice. "I don't suppose you could make it down for an hour or so, to keep her company? She's tired of me," he joked.
"Of course I can. I'd be glad to." Emilia smiled into the phone. "Which hospital is it?" She grabbed a pen and scribbled down the name and address that Will recited to her. "I'll catch a cab – see you in a half hour."
"Here, sweetheart." Will offered a Borders bag to his wife.
Claire Campbell took the offering with a relieved smile. "Thanks, Will." Pushing herself up under the scratchy hospital bed sheets, she sighed. "If I had to read another magazine about knitting, I was going to go mad." She peeked inside the bag, and grinned at him. "How did you know?"
"That you secretly read historical romance novels? I found a stack under the bed when I was cleaning up one afternoon. I thumbed through a few, actually. For inspiration," he added, sitting down in the chair by her bed, "For my own writing."
Claire arched an eyebrow. "For inspiration. Right."
"Right." Will shot her a swoon-inducing grin. "I definitely didn't read the incredibly erotic scene on page two-hundred-and-one in Devil's Advocate.
Claire leaned over and kissed him, then laughed. "It is pretty erotic, isn't it?"
"I did notice that those particular pages looked well-read and dog-eared." He tapped the black, branded bag she held. "Aren't you going to see what I got? I think I chose pretty well."
Claire reached inside the bag and took out two books, and a pretty silver bookmark with a long tassle on the end. "This is lovely."
"Well, you can't lose your place when you go into labour." He picked up his own book, and settled back as his wife looked at what he had bought for her.
"Oooh." Claire stroked her hand over the cover of the first book. "Diana Darling. I've heard of her – she's usually up there with you on the bestseller lists, isn't she?"
Will nodded with a smile. "The blurb on the back seemed good. Plus, you know, I thought it might make sense to check out the competition."
Claire ran her finger over the embossed title: A Sleepless Knight. "When I read your books," she told her husband, turning towards the first page, "I always wondered if Will Campbell was your real name. So many writers use pseudonyms, don't they?"
"They do," Will agreed. "But you can find their real name, usually on the inside of the first page, along with the publisher's address details. I used to have a lot of fun comparing real names to pseudonyms." He tapped the front of A Sleepless Knight. "I guarantee that Diana Darling is not her real name."
Claire chuckled. "You never know – these days, you can change your name to whatever you want, legally."
Will frowned. "Look on the inside cover. I bet you that isn't her real name. Unless," he added thoughtfully, "She's from Texas."
Claire set the book down for a moment. She had a look on her face, Will thought, that meant she was preparing for a challenge. Then she said, "If I win, you're on nappy detail for a week straight."
Will smiled confidently, and held out his hand. "Deal, Mrs. Campbell. And I'm not dreading nappy detail for a week, because I know I'll win. There's no way her real name is Diana Darling."
Claire shook his hand, and then picked up the novel again. She turned to the inside of the first page, scanned it. Her eyes widened.
"You're right," she told her husband. "That isn't her real name. Her real name is Emilia Black."