The ringing of the phone beside my bed wakes me from sleep, and I groggily pick up the handset and croak, “’ello?” before clearing my sound of sleep from my throat.
My lips curl into a smile at the sound of Connor’s voice, and I sit up in bed, plumping the pillows behind my head. “I didn’t get in from my buying trip in Rome until late. How are you?”
“I’m great,” Connor says, and I can hear the smile in his voice mirroring my own. “It’s a beautiful sunny day, and I thought maybe you and I could go on a road trip – maybe go to Brighton for the day or something, get out of town for a few hours.”
“Mm…” I say, further shaking off the mantle of sleep. “That sounds like a good idea.” I glance at the clock – just past nine in the morning. “You just got off shift a few hours ago – aren’t you tired?”
“Nah, I took a nap, and it was a pretty quiet night, so I got some rest at the hospital. Besides, I’m not going to pass up time spent with you.”
I smile wider. “Just give me an hour to take a shower and mainline some coffee, and then I’m yours.”
“I like the sound of that.”
“Mainlining coffee?” I tease, and he laughs.
“Actually, I meant the shower part…”
“Aren’t we saucy this morning?” I laugh, and he laughs in return.
“No, I really meant the part about you being mine,” he says softly. “You are, you know.”
“Mmm…” I say, teasing him by not answering. In return, he growls slightly over the phone line.
“I’ll be downstairs in an hour,” he says. “I’ll see you then.”
“I can’t wait,” I say happily as we hang up the phone.
An hour later, we are cruising along the Lewes road towards Brighton, the sun shining in on Connor’s car, our hands intertwined across the front seat, talking about our respective days. I absently run my fingers over the face of his watch several times, and then take a closer look at it.
“Hm,” I say, and he glances over at me curiously.
“I just never would have pegged you as a Rolex man, that’s all,” I say, looking more closely at the beautiful watch on his wrist. He’s always worn it, I’ve just never really paid attention to it before.
“It goes with the whole Porsche attitude all doctors should have, doesn’t it?” Connor grins at me, sticking out his tongue and crossing his eyes, making me laugh.
“It’s beautiful,” I muse, taking in the masculine face and lines of it.
“My father gave it to me when I turned eighteen,” he says easily, steering the car around one of the many roundabouts on the road.
“Your father?” I say, nearly choking at the mention of the MI-6 agent Shane told me about only a few hours ago.
“I guess he decided it was an appropriate graduation gift – I always wondered if it was a guilt gift, actually,” Connor says while my fingers still trace around his wrist.
“Guilt? For what?”
“My mother died when I was ten years old, and only a few weeks later, he shipped me off to boarding school for the next eight years,” Connor says, his voice quiet. “I always thought I reminded him too much of her, so he wanted me out of sight.”
“You never told me that,” I say softly, feeling an ache in my chest at the thought of a little boy being banished from his own home, and how that must have made him feel for all those years.
Connor shrugs slightly. “I mean, I loved school and I had good mates, but it was always hard to be away from my family. Dad and I were never very close, though I think he means well. So, I treasure the watch – I never take it off – but it does give me mixed feelings about him.”
“What does your father do?” I ask, curious to know what his cover is with his own son.
“He’s a financial advisor,” Connor says. “In London, but he travels a lot, like you. Apparently, I’m the only person I know who can stay in one place for more than a few days at a time,” he says teasingly and I blush slightly at the inference of his words.
“And you aren’t close now?”
Connor shakes his head no. “Not really. He and my older brother were always much closer – must be that money-accounting brain they both have.”
“I think your gift of medicine is a lot more impressive,” I say, sliding Connor’s watch off his wrist and examining it.
Connor continues to talk, telling me about his mother and his early memories of her while I surreptitiously slip my hand into my purse, extracting a thin, clear disc and removing it from its paper backing.
Quickly, I affix the disc to the back of Connor’s watch face, and then slip the watch back on his wrist, snapping it closed.
The disc is a tracking device – virtually undetectable unless Connor is looking for it. And besides, if he never takes the watch off…
I heave a sigh of relief, knowing that at least now I’ve got a tag on him, making my job of protecting him easier, even if it does give me a shiver of guilt at doing it secretly.
I activate the tracker by pressing a few buttons on my Blackberry under the guise of checking my email while Connor cranks up the volume on the stereo, singing along to the latest song on my iPod, which we plugged in as we were leaving Eastbourne.
“I’m impressed,” I say after a long moment.
“With?” Connor prompts.
“You know the lyrics to Nine Inch Nails songs?”
This surprises me.
I mean, of course I know the lyrics – it’s my iPod – but I pictured Connor being more of a 70s rock, 80s pop kind of guy.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Connor says easily. “Yet.”
And with that, we both go back to singing.
“Without you, without you, everything falls apart…without you, it’s not as much fun to pick up the pieces…”
God, that’s becoming more true than I thought.
Connor and I walk hand in hand through the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, marveling at the Prince Regent’s legendary home on the beach. We gawk at soaring ceilings, sumptuous furniture, and priceless artwork. At one point, Connor whispers in my ear, “So, is this the sort of house we should build together someday?”
I giggle and sock him in the arm, not sure how to respond to this very loaded question. Instead, I joke it off.
“I’m not sure what the neighbors would think…”
I burst into hysterical laughter in one of the upstairs bedrooms, designed for the Prince Regent himself, when Connor slyly suggests by whispering in my ear that we test the bed out. I look at him, and he raises his eyebrows lasciviously. We are quickly shooed out by a docent of the house, but not without laughing every time our gazes meet for the rest of the tour.
“Well, what do you think?” Connor asks as we exit the Pavilion and walk back out into the sunshine of the afternoon.
“Not exactly my taste. Would definitely add to your mystique as a rich, handsome, eligible doctor, though, wouldn’t it?”
“Who says I’m eligible?” Connor asks, a look of mock hurt on his face.
He shakes his head sadly. “I’m not. I’m dating this beautiful girl who keeps me on a tight leash. I can’t even look at other women without fear of retribution.”
“She sounds wretched,” I say, playing along.
“She is. Quite evil, actually. I’m scared of her most of the time…”
“Keep this up,” I whisper in his ear, “and I’ll give you something to be scared of,” I say, biting his ear and making him growl.
He sweeps me into his arms and kisses me, right in the middle of the main shopping district, with tourists and Brighton townspeople flowing around us, whom I don’t even notice.
I could seriously fall for this man, I think for the millionth time as we pull apart, both with silly grins on our faces.
“Let’s eat, and then let’s go window shopping in The Lanes,” Connor says, tugging on my hand and propelling me along. “If you’re a good girl, I might even buy you something.”
“Ooh, one of those tacky magnets, please,” I say with a laugh.
But two hours later, I’m not laughing anymore.
Because Connor is gently clasping a beautiful gold and diamond bracelet on my wrist, despite my vehement protests that he not waste his money on me.
But he was insistent.
And the bracelet is truly, truly beautiful.
I told him I wanted nothing from The Lanes, which are packed with jewelry stores, but he wanted to pick out something pretty to ‘remember today with’, or so he said. Rings were too…symbolic, and necklaces too easy to hide, he had joked. A bracelet, he had deemed, was just right.
“Connor,” I say, quietly so the clerk doesn’t hear, “I can’t accept this.”
“Nonsense,” he says, admiring the sparkle of the bracelet as I move my wrist from side to side. “I want to give you this.”
“And I didn’t get you anything,” I protest weakly.
“You did,” he says with a smile. “You brought me back that priceless Michelangelo from Rome, so we’re even.”
I grin despite myself – I had found one of the tacky tourist traps in Rome, and had bought a twelve inch replica of Michelangelo’s David to give to Connor. He had laughed and laughed when I gave it to him earlier in the morning, protesting that he had *told* me to bring him a Michelangelo, and why was he laughing at my very, very thoughtful gift?
“That’s not the same,” I protest. “That was a gag gift. This is… I didn’t get you anything,” I say again, weakly.
“You gave me you,” Connor says, and my knees go weak at the sweetness and passion in his voice.
“I don’t need a bracelet to stay with you, you know.”
Connor gives me a sweet smile, the dimple in his cheek making my heart ache with love for him.
“I know. But I want to do this anyway. So, shhh…”
And with that, he presses a kiss to the inside of my wrist, next to the bracelet, and then one to my lips.
I don’t even remember the walk back to the car.
And not once during our day did I think about my protection orders.
If only every day were going to be so easy.