I sat in my rental car for a few minutes when I pulled up, trying to compose myself. The nerves had hit the moment the plane landed; a mixture of excitement and fear. The other four were already here, as the four other rentals parked in the drive proved. He was here. Of course, he was here, I’d invited him myself. I cursed my clammy hands and erratic heartbeat.
“Get a grip, will you? He doesn’t even see you that way!”
But I saw him that way; I couldn’t help myself. From the moment we’d started talking, there had just been something about him that drew me in and kept me in. It was like he had me under some sort of spell. But he’d never so much as flirted with me or spoken to me in any manner other than what a friend would. I took a deep breath. Okay.
Grabbing my suitcase from the trunk and flinging my carry-on over my shoulder, I plastered a smile on my face and prayed it would conceal the nerves.
The moment I opened the door, I could hear excited chatter in the distance. Their voices were echoing and carrying through the old castle walls, but as I closed the door quietly and turned around, I stopped in my tracks. There he stood, just a few feet away, and my breath caught in my throat.
He smiled, that beautiful smile of his that makes his blue eyes seem bluer, and my heart melted a little more. “Hi.”
Somehow I managed to find my voice. “Hi.”
He just looked at me for what felt like hours, but in reality, it was probably about three seconds, and then he stepped forward, closing the gap between us in two long strides and wrapped me in a hug that literally lifted my feet off the floor. Then he set me back down and I thought he would let me go, but he didn’t. Instead, he hugged me tighter and buried his face in my hair.
His voice was low when he spoke; just above a whisper; and I don’t know if it was his words, or his delicious accent — maybe a combination of both — but I was glad for his arms around me just then because my knees might have given way.
“I don’t ever want to let you go, Caroline.”
Something in the tone of his voice was different, and if my heart had been racing before, it was now on a 100-yard dash. When he pulled away, I could feel his reluctance mirror mine. And then he kissed my forehead, and it was the sweetest kiss I’d ever received.
“Come, let’s get you settled before you meet the others.”
He picked up my suitcase and led the way down the hallway and up a grand stairwell, across another hall, and up another narrower set of stairs.
“Surely there are rooms on the second floor?”
He smiled and looked back at me from a few stairs up.
“There are, but they’re not good enough for you. Only one room will do.”
A special room? I smiled. He thought I needed a special room. “How high are we going? This just goes round and round forever!”
“Don’t fret, we’re nearly there.”
The circular stone staircase was like something out of a fairytale. Actually, this entire castle was. I nearly bumped into him on the small landing, out of breath and very, very warm.
The landing was quite small, barely fitting both of us with my luggage. The entire staircase, as well as the landing, were lit with sconces made to look like torches. I imagine they used to be real ones. He motioned to the door behind him. “That one’s my room,” and then pointed to the one behind me, “and there’s yours. Go on then, have a look!” I couldn’t help but smile at his excitement, but couldn’t tell him I’d rather just keep looking at him.
I turned the engraved brass knob and pushed the heavy wooden door, and audibly gasped. The room was drenched with sunlight pouring in from three very large arched windows. The stone walls adorned with silk hangings in shades of creams and golds, and in the centre of the room stood a giant carved four-poster bed draped in more cream and gold silk and covered in a mountain of pillows. Overhead, the most beautiful crystal chandelier I’d ever seen.
“We’re in the tower! Michael, this is the most beautiful room I’ve ever been in! It’s fit for a…”
“For a princess.”
I turned to look at him again and found him looking at me instead of the room. “It’s fit for you.”
Was this really happening? Surely, I was dreaming. I couldn’t possibly be standing in the tower of a castle in Ireland, surrounded by history and beauty, and looking up into the bluest eyes of this man… this man whom I couldn’t admit my love for, and yet had just put me in the same league as a princess. I would wake up any moment now.
I couldn’t say anything, transfixed. Frozen. Blink, woman!
Did his voice just get deeper? He pointed to where a wall had been built, with an arched doorway to match the windows. “In there is the washroom, complete with a very large claw-foot tub. But that’s not the best part.”
Oh? Seriously, that’s all I could come up with?
“Here.” He turned me around and walked me to the window by the bed, and stood behind me as my jaw dropped.
The late afternoon sun shone down on a panorama of diamond-crusted ocean, and a sea of emerald green as far as the eye could see. The mist from the waves crashing below the rocky cliffs billowing up into clouds, forming dancing rainbows along what appeared to be the edge of the world.
It was beauty like I’d never seen, and never could have even imagined. The only sounds were the crashing waves and the softness of Michael’s breath behind me.
“Michael…” I had no words; there was no possible way to describe this moment with the spoken word. And then I felt what I’d always only imagined; as his arms came around me from behind, and enveloped me in an embrace meant for someone you don’t consider merely a friend.
Unable to stop myself, I turned in his arms to face him, wrapping my own around his waist and pressing my head against his chest as we both just watched the beauty below us.
“There you guys are! We’ve been wondering where you’d disappeared to! Caroline, welcome!”
We jumped apart as fast as a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar and I physically felt the blood rush to my cheeks as I turned to greet the unwelcomed guest. The moment was broken, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I could get it back. But for now…
“Kirsten, hi! It’s so nice to finally meet you in person!”
Stay tuned for Part Two…