Chapter Eight - By Morning Light
Morning arrived in tones of peach and gold, kissing her skin and warming her down to the bone. Sophie nuzzled deeper into the sheets and sighed as she embraced the warmth that—
She opened her eyes and blinked the drowsy blur away, taking in Tristan’s smiling, sleep-softened face as he watched her.
“Good morning,” Tristan said softly.
Her voice was raspy and rough; it didn’t quite sound as seductive and alluring as his voice was, but she quickly cast that feeling aside as his lips met hers. It truly was a measure of how far gone she was for him already that she didn’t care about her morning breath at all. But as they moved, and Tristan rolled atop of her, Sophie laughed at the insistent prodding of the lingerie underwire stuck somewhere near the small of her back.
They detangled themselves from the sheets and from the clothes with a jovial playfulness. Sophie pulled the white sheet around her shyly as she watched him gather his things up and set them on the chair by the window; the curtain was, thankfully for his sake, pulled mostly shut.
But in the soft light of morning, Sophie couldn’t stop staring at his body as he moved. They’d spent all that time together at the Louvre, admiring the artwork, and none of it compared to his warm, tan skin, the imperfections and the movement of the lean, elegant musculature. Finally, he straightened up and caught her gaze with a twinkle in his eye. Bare and unashamed in the morning light, he stood there for her to appraise. Sophie blushed, but absolutely did not avert her gaze. To think that just a few hours before, the two of them had fallen into bed together, and he’d brought her to the heights of pleasure more times than she could count.
Last night, Sophie had been a bit distracted, but now she could take the sight of him in, and she liked what she saw.
Sophie laughed, full-throated and joyously, as he moved to embrace her. Skin against skin, they kissed and made their way into the bathroom together. They slid into the tiny shower stall, bodies pressed together in a way that was totally unhelpful for actual cleanliness but extremely amusing for continued exploration.
They kissed for a long time under the water, bodies soapy and wet. At his urging, Sophie turned and let him scrub her back, wash her hair and gently finger-comb through the tangles using her conditioner. Then, they switched positions, and he stood for a time with his back to the water, soaping up everywhere and laughing when she complained that he was blocking all the hot water.
“You poor thing,” Tristan consoled her by drawing her close to his warm body. “Let me warm you up.”
Sophie laughed, but as the water changed from warm to cold without any warning, the rest of the shower was decidedly less than erotic. She sped through rinsing the conditioner from her hair and Tristan hopped out, finding towels for both of them, wrapping her up as soon as she emerged. Hair plastered to her face, skin covered in goosebumps, Sophie had never felt less alluring, but somehow, it didn’t matter. They dried themselves off and Sophie pulled on a loose t-shirt and pair of pajama pants, scrunching her hair with the towel so it didn’t make the back of her shirt all wet. Tristan, who had no other clothes to wear, save for the ones he had been wearing the night before, tied the towel around his hips, which was somehow even more distracting than seeing him completely naked. The way the white towel showcased the flat planes of his abdomen and the soft tan skin made Sophie stub her toe on the bedframe trying to find her hairbrush.
“Are you all right?”
Sophie winced, but she chuckled as she sat down on the bed, and shook her head. “I’m fine.” She put her ankle up on her opposite knee, rubbed at her toe a bit to ease the sting. Inside her brain, the echoes of his words in the shower—poor little thing, he’d called her, like she was something small and precious and delicate, something that deserved to be cherished and protected—resonated in every single neuron. She shivered, not at all unpleasantly, and put her foot back down on the floor.
“I’m fine. Just stubbed it.” Sophie picked up her hairbrush and continued running it through her hair, doing her best to dry it with the towel to keep the droplets from flying every which way. “Do you have plans for today?”
“Sadly, yes,” Tristan said. He was searching for his pants, and found them, shaking the underwear out of one leg until it fell to the floor. “I have to do some work.”
The way he said that last word made Sophie laugh again. Goodness, she’d laughed more today than she had in the past five years, it felt like. “I should probably check in at work, too.”
“Do you have to?”
Sophie sighed. “No. I guess not. But I should.”
She shrugged. “I guess… I’ve just been so used to it, I don’t really know what to do without it.”
Tristan had a twinkle in his eye when he looked over at her. “I can think of much better things to do.”
“Oh?” Sophie said innocently. “Another walking tour?”
He shook his head, abandoning his clothing on the chair and prowling over in her direction.
“Another… museum, maybe?” She put the hairbrush and towel down on the bed as he approached her, towel still around his waist.
Sophie spread her legs, and Tristan stood between them, gazing down at her with love and mischief in his eyes.
She put her hands on his waist, relishing each subtle movement as her fingers trailed down to the edge of the towel. One quick glance up at his gaze told her everything: adoration, desire, a reverent sort of fondness that was anything but entitled.
And that made her bold.
Sophie tugged the towel free, and it fell to the floor...
After, when they had tumbled back to the bed, clean bodies on dirty sheets, laughter tumbled out of her at the absurdity of it all. Somehow, over the course of a mere few days, —hours, really—she had transformed from meek and grieving and cautious into this sensuous, confident creature. Sophie looked back at the old her and wanted to reach through the mirror of time and give herself a hug. It wasn’t the end of the world, really. You could go through the worst, and keep on going. You were still you, after all.
And Tristan… Tristan was still here. Still resting beside her, his arms around her, holding her to his chest possessively. He let out a soft sigh of contentment, and Sophie turned her gaze to marvel at the expression on his face. His eyes were closed, the dark lashes long and soft on his cheek, like when he had been sleeping. But his mouth was smiling. A moment later, as if feeling her gaze on his skin, he blinked to bleary alertness, and the smile widened.
“You,” he said, tone reverent. “You are a marvel.”
It was the buzz of his phone that parted them. Tristan reached for it, frowning down at whatever message he read.
“What is it?” Sophie asked. “Is everything alright?”
“I have to go in,” he said, with a tone of disappointment. “There’s a meeting I— But I’ll see you later, yes? Tonight, for dinner?”
Sophie nodded, and felt her cheeks warm once more as a smile spread across them. “Yes. I’d love that.”
Tristan dressed hastily, and she did, too. They lingered in their parting, and when he was gone, she watched from the doorway of the flat as he got on his motorcycle. As he sped away, she caught the eye of his aunt, who was watching him from her own shop doorway. Sophie blushed, and gave her a little wave. Hélène winked at her, and went back inside with a smile on her face.
Oh Goodness, Sophie thought as she went back up the narrow stairs. Well, there was nothing for it. If the walls of this old building were as thin as Sophie suspected they were, Tristan’s poor aunt had likely heard just about everything. .
Upstairs, Sophie found the mug of tea from the night before, now grown cold. She dumped it out, refilled the kettle, and set it to heat up as she cleaned the mug in the sink of the kitchenette. Now that she was alone with her thoughts, more than just the sight of Tristan's aunt, or the knowledge that one person in the world knew what extracurriculars she'd been up to last evening... and this morning... troubled Sophie's mind. What had started all of this, the trip itself, had been Greg's indecision and the separation. What had made Tristan brew her that comforting mug of tea had been the knowledge of how her fiancée had eloped, seemingly out of nowhere, with Sophie's Maid of Honor. What had made it all so much worse was the fact that the aforementioned Maid of Honor had posted this for all the world—all her Instagram followers, anyway—to see.
Sophie heard the water come to a boil, and when it clicked off, she poured the water over the richly scented teabag. Its spice-infused, rich scent rose up to her nose, and she breathed it in, feeling her tension release.
It hurt, but it was bearable. After all, here she was, bearing it, not falling to the ground in a faint like some Regency heroine caught with the vapors.
Sophie took her tea to the sofa and pulled up her long-neglected work messaging app on her phone. She’d set herself to away when she’d taken the trip—when she’d booked the tickets, actually—and it prompted her now as the messages loaded: Do you want to set yourself to available?
No, she most certainly did not.
Waiting for the tea to cool, Sophie scrolled idly through the messages that were waiting for her. The more she scrolled, however, the more that her gut sank. She’d been so focused on moping around and eating croissants and making love to a near-total stranger that she’d been ignoring the fact that every work message she’d been muting would be waiting for her the moment she got back, like a bucket of water propped up atop a door.
And here they came, a flood of them, one after the other after the other, until the notification bells overlapped each other and the buzzing made her hand feel numb. No—it wasn’t the buzzing that made her feel numb, it was the messages. The oldest ones were all work-related, and that was to be expected; despite her away messages and getting her time off cleared by HR, people still expected her to be there on-demand. They peppered her with questions, some framed with halfhearted ‘sorry to bother you!’ messages, and instantly, Sophie’s brain shifted to work-mode.
She knew the answers to these questions, and she was halfway to forming a response to one of them in her mind when the tone of them changed
We just heard…
OMG someone sent me the Instagram…
I’m so sorry…
Crap. Sophie’s skin went cold as she read them, her eyes fixed to the screen. She had to leave this place, this city, this country, and she had to do it immediately. There was just too much to explain, too much to fix, for her to stay put. That old familiar panic rose within her, and before she even registered what she was doing, Sophie was shoving clothing back into her suitcase, already planning on how she would handle damage control as soon as her plane home touched the tarmac.