Two nights later, Katherine lay beside Major Ross, the trace of a smile still on her lips after he had told her an amusing tale of his time as a Private in the army. It was hard for her to imagine him as anything other than the commanding officer he now presented as. In the silence that followed, she heard him shift and turned to look at him, her body curving towards him for the first time. He noticed it. So did she. But Katherine did not turn back. Instead, deliberately, she turned onto her side and faced him.
He did not try to hide the surprise on his face. Instead, his gaze fixed solely on hers, he turned too until they lay facing each other, a small distance between them.
“Corporal McDonald has requested leave to attend duties on the far eastern side of the island,” he whispered into the dim interior of the tent. “I admit it came as somewhat of a surprise.”
“Yes it was a surprise? Or yes you knew?”
“Yes to both, Boss.”
Katherine felt her heart pound as she focused on his collarbone. It was easier than looking at his face or even his eyes. But his hand reached out and gently, so very gently, he raised her chin and forced her eyes to meet his.
“Corporal McDonald has left you here.”
“Why would he do that?”
Katherine swallowed hard, her eyes rising to meet his fully. “Because we- he and I- we ended things, Boss.”
“You ended things?” Heat flared in his eyes as he cleared his throat. She would have had to be a fool not to notice the elation on his face.
She licked her lips, needing to explain. “This arrangement... it hurts him.”
“Yet you did not fight to make him stay?”
Her heart rate accelerated again. “No, Boss.”
He shifted on the bed, readjusting his head on his pillow. “Why Katherine?”
She hesitated only a moment. “My parents loved each other. And because of that love, my siblings and I were raised in a happy home. But the older I became, the clearer it was to me that they loved each other as friends, best friends, but not as lovers. Somewhere along the line, things had changed. The longer they stayed together, the distance between them grew, as did the bitterness.” Katherine bit her lip, embarrassed to be confessing such intimate details, afraid of what his reaction might be. “Sometimes love isn’t enough. I could not love him in the way he needed me to.”
“And how was that?”
“With my whole heart.” Her eyes fixed on his, refusing to look away, even though her face flamed.
His hand reached out and cupped her cheek. Her eyes closed for a minute, leaning into his touch. Gently, he moved forward until their faces were close, their breath intermingling.
“I promised it would be your choice,” he said, his voice rough, his breathing elevated. Her own had risen, her chest expanding and contracting with anticipation and desire. Her head fairly swam with it, her entire body fizzing with tension.
“It is, Boss,” she whispered, pressing closer until almost nothing separated their lips.
“Not until you are ready for it.” He nuzzled his nose against hers.
Katherine raised her hand, a thrill passing through her as she caressed his face, her fingers sliding into his hair. She watched his eyes close as if he was in pain and she savoured the sway she had over him.
“And if I am ready for it?” she asked. They were both panting now, as she turned their previous conversation into her unequivocal consent.
His lips pressed to hers fleetingly as he aligned their bodies, pressing her back gently until he lay on top of her. His movements were slow, cautious, as if he still expected her to change her mind. But Katherine did not object and her hands and eyes told him so.
“So be it.” His lips crushed to hers and Katherine opened to him willingly. The kiss was not gentle, it was passionate, rough, thrilling. Arching into him, his hands grazed her breasts and she broke apart, gasping for air as she moaned. His lips trailed a fiery path down her throat, dipping as far as her bodice would allow. His lips were back on hers, his tongue duelling expertly with her own.
Katherine’s arms wound around his neck, one hand fisting in his hair. The passion between them was uncontrollable, stronger than she could ever have imagined. Lips she had once turned from she now pressed against, demanding more, giving in equal measures.
“Katherine, I feel we will combust and expire in a ball of flames.”
She gasped as her bodice was tugged and her breasts exposed, the pebbled peaks immediately engulfed in his warm mouth. Katherine felt her sanity flee as pleasure coursed through her entire body. Her senses felt heightened, sensitive, her body craving his touch as it always craved nourishment.
His lips cut her off, kissing her with such searing intensity, her legs wrapped tightly around him.
“Robert,” he gasped in-between mind numbing kisses. “Robert.”
There was no time for surprise at the allowance. Katherine tugged at his shirt, wanting to touch him, needing them both to be without the confines of their clothing.
“Robert,” she breathed. For a moment, he stopped moving, his eyes capturing hers. It seemed to Katherine that nothing and no one existed outside of that moment. They were the only people on earth and this was the only thing that mattered. When his lips claimed hers, the kiss was soft and sweet and she felt the emotional weight of it settle upon her.
She was in love with him, she realised as she kissed him back with fevered intensity. She had fallen in love with him.
Soon she was naked and writhing beneath him, her body yielding and supple. He positioned himself between her thighs and thrust, causing her body to bow off the bed, her thighs spreading to accommodate his bulk.
“Katherine,” he gasped between thrusts, his harsh breathing ringing in her ears. His lips caught hers, holding for a moment before he asked, “do you see me?”
Katherine frowned, unsure for a moment what he meant. She looked into his eyes and comprehension dawned because she recognised the boy from Minehead – the one who had tried to do the right thing.
“I see you, Boss,” she whispered, drawing him close and pressing a soft kiss to his lips. Boss in this context was an endearment. “I see you,” she reiterated as his pace increased and they were both pushed over the edge.
Katherine had never imagined – based on how their relationship had started - that she might find herself sprawled across Major Ross’s chest, content to have him lazily comb his hands through her hair. She never imagined that she would have the freedom to place a kiss across his heart or lean over and press her lips to his own. She never imagined that she would willingly invite his kiss, initiate it and sigh with pleasure when their bodies joined. She never imagined that she would see a hard man yield, see compassion return to his existence and bask in the glow of his affection.
She never imagined that the colonies might yield something she would grow to love. But it did. And she did.