“How is this supposed to work?” Mark gulped. Nothing in movies and television prepared him for this moment. Standing there, together, alone in their honeymoon suite. He wasn’t sure of the next step.
His best friend growing up was even more inexperienced than he was. His brother had gotten married when Mark was fourteen and in boarding school. The idea of asking his father about sex was ludicrous. Collins had never been married. Nick’s brothers had been less than good examples of healthy relationships.
“They make it look so easy in the movies,” he said, adding a nervous chuckle to the end of his statement. He rubbed his sweating palms down the front of his pants.
“Who makes what look easy?” Lyla asked, pulling her long curls over one shoulder. “Can you help me with these?”
All down the back of her elegant wedding dress were dozens of tiny buttons made of pearls. Without considering the implications of what he was doing, he stepped forward and deftly unhooked the top pearl from its latch of silk threads, then the next, and the next. “The wedding night.”
“Oh, please don’t tell me you’ve never…” Lyla chuckled and snorted.
Mark pulled his hands away from the delicate pearl buttons and took a step back, every vulnerable experience of his life paling in comparison to this moment. She was laughing at him. His new bride was laughing at him on their wedding night. He shoved his hands in his pockets, still wearing most of his uniform, other than the jacket which was now draped on the back of a chair.
Lyla turned halfway, the train of her dress reaching across the floor like an alluvial fan, the silk clinging to her hourglass shape as the bodice twisted like an elegant winding staircase of tiny pearl buttons, the top three of which were now unlatched, presumably waiting for his fingers to return and finish the job.
Her porcelain face so subtly brushed with simple, conservative tones hung in resigned confusion. “Oh my gosh… you haven’t.”
There wasn’t a question or a hint of humor. Mark raised his chin with resolve, no longer embarrassed. More offended that she would assume he had. “I would never dishonor my wife by giving myself to another woman.”
“You’ve never even been tempted?” Lyla asked, her expression softened from confusion to awe.
“Not until I met you.” Mark lowered his gaze, embarrassed by how much he’d been tempted by her the night he proposed. After a shaky breath he steeled himself to meet her gaze again.
“But you promised you’d spend every night for the rest of our lives making me feel good,” she reminded him, a coy smile playing on her lips.
“And I fully intend to keep my promise.” His voice had lowered to a husky whisper. “I’m just not entirely sure how to shift from restraint to abandon.”
“I’ll just have to teach you then.” Lyla’s dress coiled around her legs as she turned and practically fell into his arms, tripping over the train.
“How?” Mark chuckled, catching her.
“How what?” Lyla giggled, looking up at him with flirting eyes.
“How are you going to teach me?” Mark asked. “You’ve never been married before, have you?”
“Oh Mark”—Lyla gulped— “You don’t think… you do. Don’t you.”
Mark’s heart plummeted into his stomach when he realized the implication of what she was saying.
“Marcos, you never asked any questions before you proposed to me,” Lyla said, no apology in her voice. “You said the only thing that mattered was how we felt in each other’s arms.”
“I never dreamed that you…” His voice trailed off, realizing this was partially his own fault. He should have learned more about her before marrying her.
“He and I were living together,” Lyla said, her arms folded across her chest. “Right up until he saw the videos on social media of you and I kissing in the gardens at the Cohen’s resort, and then me accepting your proposal.”
“Wow.” Mark wasn’t even sure what to say to that.
“Maybe I got caught up in the moment. Maybe I couldn’t get you off my mind from the first time you looked me in the eye. Maybe we were meant to be together. I don’t know.”
“I always assumed the woman I married would be… I guess those were naïve, childish expectations.”
“Would you like me to offer you an annulment?” Lyla challenged.
Mark raised his gaze back to hers in shock and confusion. “Why?”
“Since you need a princess who is a pure virgin to produce an heir, and I am obviously not.”
“That is not what I’m saying, Lyla,” Mark backtracked. “The admission merely took me by surprise.”
“I’m not going to apologize to you or try to be something I’m not.”
“I would not ask that of you,” Mark said, remembering how he’d felt a few moments ago when she’d learned the truth about his past, or lack thereof. Vulnerable. He’d felt nervous and vulnerable.
Mark stepped around behind Lyla again and calmly reached for the next pearl button.
“I owe you an apology,” Mark whispered.
“Why?” Lyla asked in a soft voice.
“I’m sorry if I made you feel anything less than happiness and love after the promise I made.” He continued loosening pearl buttons, distracted by the milky-white skin of her exposed back.
“The expression on your face right after you kissed me for the first time…” She hesitated and he almost held his breath, anticipating what she was about to ask. “What were you thinking about?”
“I was thinking about… being married to you.” He resumed unbuttoning her dress, tempted to rip the remaining pearls from their confinement. “How I wished we were already married so I could take you up to my suite.”
“And what would you have done with me once we were there?” she whispered as the last pearl slipped out of the little silk clasp.
Mark’s fingers trailed up Lyla’s exposed back and very gently slipped the silk wedding dress over her shoulders. The heavy fabric collapsed in a heap around her feet. He lowered his lips to her neck and whispered close to her ear. “I would have done whatever my body instinctively wanted to do.”
Lyla slowly turned around so she was facing him, her gaze meeting his. Mark’s hands slipped around her waist; the softness of her skin more enticing than the silk wedding dress had been. “Show me.”
“Show you what?” Mark could barely breathe, nerves and anticipation battling in his chest.
“Show me what you wanted to do that night,” Lyla said. “Now that we’re married, you don’t have to wait a minute more to have me in your arms. Show me.”
Mark hesitated for a few more seconds, then lifted his new wife into his arms and carried her to the bed.