THE FIRST KISS…
“Yes, please. I’m not used to drinking so much wine. I’m a bit lightheaded.”
Rupert held her coat, and while she wrapped the scarf around her neck, he put on his navy blue jacket. Outside the Turf, the cold took her aback but he tucked her under his arm. Madison fought her need to lean against his strength, to indulge in being petite, fragile, next to him.
Once they stood on New College Lane, she tilted her head upward to ask him, “Where do you want to go?”
“To a secret place…” His smile and closeness could have made her melt on the spot, despite the polar temperature. “We’re going to break the law.”
Madison was a law-abiding citizen but she followed him along the cobbled streets, passing the Bodleian Library, to Radcliffe Square, all the time wondering if he really meant it… What was he up to?
The Radcliffe Camera, with its circular shape and Corinthian columns, stood grand in the center. They were alone on the square, alone in the world.
“Rupert, the Camera isn’t a secret place, and I would prefer breaking the law in a less popular location. I’m sure there are CCTV cameras spying on us right now.”
“You Yanks are so conventional.” He seized Madison’s hand and ran to the other side of the square, alongside the Fellows’ Garden of Exeter College. Pippa had taken Madison into her college. They had walked in its tranquil garden and sat on the terrace overlooking Radcliffe Square.
Rupert took a key ring out of his jacket. After selecting one of the smaller keys, he inserted it into the ancient, wooden door in the college wall and opened it.
Her jaw dropped. “It’s not our college, and even if it were, you shouldn’t have those keys. We could get caught.” Madison checked around her with alarm. “Thank God it’s Christmas and damn cold,” she muttered following Rupert up the steep stairs leading to the terrace. For the first time in her life, breaking the rules didn’t feel so bad. She relaxed.
Immaculate snow covered the promontory, untouched now that most college residents had left for the holidays.
“So what about that, Mad Hatter? It helps having friends in high places. I bet none of your nerdy clique could have opened that door.” Rupert stood in front of her, with the square’s street lights shining behind him. He might have been planting his victory flag on top of Mount Everest.
“My friends don’t need to impress anyone.” She sharpened her words.
“I’m sorry.” He moved toward her. “I’m a jerk sometimes. Make that most of the time.” He sounded as if he meant it.
“My friends are good people,” she murmured.
“I know. So are you.”
“That’s a pretty lame comment for a cool guy like you.”
Madison kept her head down. He lifted her chin with his forefinger and looked into her eyes. She had read about those moments when time stopped, when life froze and turned upside-down. Now she was experiencing it.
Despite the cold and the snow, the air she breathed felt warm and sticky. The heat in her lungs soon burned her chest and radiated throughout her body.
She had to get closer to him, to bridge the foot-wide gap separating them. But he leaned toward her, lowering his head one inch at a time. His lips brushed hers, he withdrew, then he bent and kissed her again.
His mouth softened and massaged hers, fireworks exploded in her consciousness, and ignited micro braziers along her spine, extending to the tips of her breasts.
Rupert lifted her like a weightless doll against his chest and deepened their kiss. Her body was crushed against his, she wrapped her fingers at the back of his neck and let his tongue tease hers, savoring his taste. He increased the pressure and changed the angle of his head. The extra friction sent her into an agony of pleasure.
From far, far away, inner voices warned Madison. He already had a girlfriend. He was out of her league. He had even slept with Pippa.
She laid her hand on his cheek and pushed him away. While she struggled to get back on her feet, he squinted, as if extracted from a deep sleep.
“I’m sorry, Maddie. I didn’t want to push myself on you.”
His eyes were clear of any lie, but she stepped back further nevertheless.
“Please don’t go,” Rupert pleaded, and she stopped.
Fleeing was the easiest and safest option.
“I know. I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do. We can just talk.”
“It’s December and freezing.”
Rupert held out his hand in invitation. She walked back and put her hand in his. Relief dissipated the unhappiness in his face.
“Let’s sit on the bench. The view is nice,” he added. “I’ll keep you warm.”
Madison sat and relaxed against his body. While holding her in his arms, he started playing the tour guide, taking her on a time trip as they had done at Stratford-Upon-Avon. He told her how the Radcliffe Camera had inspired Tolkien, and how the author had used it as a backdrop for The Lord of the Rings, and then he told her about the novelist and Oxford professor C. S. Lewis and many other stories Oxford had given birth to.
Lulled by Rupert’s voice, she realized her eyelids had closed when he placed a kiss on them.
“Hello, Sleeping Beauty,” he whispered. She straightened up, surprised at feeling so groggy.
“Do you want to go to bed?” Rupert asked, and when she frowned, he added, “It’s not an indecent proposal. I’m not a rogue.”
“You are, Rupert Vance. It’s part of your charm.” She stared at him for a moment. Maybe it was the chardonnay, or the magic of the snowy night, but she had forgotten everything and everyone outside of their warm bubble, “Do you want to go to bed with me?”