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I felt her tremble, when she added, painfully, “What have I given you to earn all this? To earn your trust?”

I inhaled sharply and turned back round. Elsie’s head was bowed. Placing the cake on the table, with wax now dripping from the candle, I said,  “You’ve given me… me.”

My voice was low and raspy, but I needed her to look at me. I placed my finger under her chin and lifted her head. Her long light lashes were fluttering on her cheeks. I told her straight. “You never have to hide your face from me. You never have to be shy, not with me.”

Elsie’s eyes lifted, and her blue irises seared mine. I pushed a strand of her long blond hair behind her ear. Her cheeks were still rosy from the wind outside, and I swore there was no one on the damn planet more beautiful than this girl. At least not to me. “I’ve been lost, Elsie. Lost and drowning since I was a kid.”

“Like Leander. Drowning. Lost in the tide,” she added. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Like Leander,” I agreed, and swallowed hard. “Then I saw you. I saw you and you brought me back to me.” I took her pretty face in my hands, and said, “You, the pretty girl with no voice, gave me a voice again. Elsie, you brought me life.” I kissed her forehead, moving my cheek to rest against hers. With my mouth near her right ear, I assured, “That’s why you deserve all of this. Because you’re a life giver. A silent, resilient life giver.”

Tears fell down her cheeks, and I wiped them away with the pad of my thumbs. “Levi,” she whispered brokenly.

“Now, come and blow out your candle.”

Elsie laughed, her high-pitched giggle sounded like heaven to my ears. I lifted the cake and walked to sit on the bed. Elsie climbed on the opposite side and perched on her knees. Making sure I was near the bedside lamp, I placed the cake on the comforter. Elsie shuffled forward.

“Close your eyes and make a wish,” I instructed. As Elsie blew out the single candle, I flicked off the light. The lightning bug mason jar glowed beside her.

I watched as Elsie’s eyes opened, where she quickly looked around, seeing the room plunged into darkness. She looked to me as I moved the cake to the side table.

I covered her hand with my own and instructed, “Look up.”

Elsie frowned, but did as I asked. Her lips parted as a shocked breath left her mouth. I didn’t look up, I watched her instead. I didn’t want to look away as I watched an awed smile spread on her face. I couldn’t look away as she stared at the ceiling of stars.

“Levi,” she whispered through her tears. “What have you done? What are you doing to my heart and my soul?”

For once I went with the words that wanted to spill from my mouth. “I’m falling for you.”

Blood rushed to my cheeks, my nerves flaming with fire. But what I had said was enough to tear Elsie’s attention from the plastic neon stars and focus on me. Silently she edged closer and closer, until her lips fell on mine, her mouth nervous and shy, before growing bolder and stronger.

I kissed her back. I kissed her back with everything I had, my hands wrapping around her golden strands. Elsie moaned into my mouth as we lowered to lie back on the bed. We kissed and we kissed until, breathless, Elsie pulled back to look into my eyes. “Levi, you… you make me want to give my heart away.”

And that was all it took. That was all it took for me to fall completely for my silent girl, my beautiful girl.

Bella mia.

“Elsie,” I groaned, edging back from her mouth. Seeing her bare throat, the light skin I had to kiss, I moved my lips down to brush along the smooth flesh.

Elsie moaned and squirmed under my touch. Her skin tasted as sweet as apples. As my lips ran over her pulse, I felt it beating fast—too fast.

I suddenly pulled back as Elsie’s back arched, and I sat back on my heels. My hands were fisted on my thighs as I fought back what I wanted to do. Something I had no idea how to initiate.

The feel of a fingertip ran over the back of my hand, but I kept my eyes closed. I was hard, and I was trying like hell to calm down.

“Levi—” Elsie went to speak, but I cut her off.

“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice thick with need. “I’ll back off. I just… I just need a minute.”

Elsie didn’t say anything in response, and I worked on breathing in and out. Then, suddenly, I felt a kiss press on the bottom of my throat. My eyes snapped open to see Elsie sitting back before me. As our gazes met, she held my eyes in her trance. I lifted her hand to my face. Her fingers traced the edge of my forehead, slipping down my cheeks and across my lips. I rubbed them together when it tickled, but Elsie didn’t stop there.

Her hands continued down my throat, to the top of my chest, only to stop where the buttons on my shirt were still done up.

Her warm breath drifted over my face, and in the glow of the mason jar, I watched her pupils dilate. I froze, unable to move and unable to speak, then Elsie undid the next button on my shirt.

My blood rushed through my ears, and I stared at Elsie’s flushed face. Her eyes were intent on mine as her fingers undid one, then two, three, and four buttons. My pants grew tighter the farther down her hands went, my skin flushing as she touched it.

The silence stretched on until my shirt was open. I waited for what she would do next. I had let her take control. I didn’t expect her to push the shirt from my shoulders, the material dropping to my wrists. I sucked in a sharp breath, getting so hard I could barely stand it. Then Elsie moved in and kissed the skin on my chest.

“Shit,” I hissed, the feel of her mouth on me caused my muscles to tense. Elsie paused, but when I looked down, she pressed another kiss to my chest. She pressed kiss after kiss along to my pecs. I squeezed my eyes shut, her touch the sweetest torture.

Her soft lips landed on the side of my neck, they moved higher until her mouth stopped at my ear, and she hushed out, “Make love to me.”

My eyes opened and my breathing stopped.

Elsie’s breathing was ragged as she waited for me. Her head then moved back until her blue eyes came into view, her blue eyes filled with want… for me.

She wanted me.

I wanted her… so bad.

“Elsie,” I groaned, lifting my fingers to her hair. I pushed my fingers into the thick strands and watched as she closed her eyes, then licked along her lips. “Elsie,” I murmured and brushed my cheek against hers. “Are… are you sure?”

Elsie stilled, but she didn’t speak. I waited and waited until I felt her move back. She moved out of my grip and away from where I sat. My heart plummeted when I thought she’d changed her mind.

I exhaled, ready to move off the bed for some air, when Elsie began lifting her shirt over her head, throwing it to the floor, only her pink bra remaining.

My hands clenched as I stared at her beauty, at her incredible body, at her milky white skin. Then she edged forward until she was right in front of me. Until her bare skin was in my reach.

I could feel my face was on fire. “Elsie,” I whispered again, feeling completely out of my depth.

“Make love to me,” she repeated and slowly placed her arms around my neck. With tears in her eyes, she added, “Underneath the stars you gifted me. Make love to me.”

My heart slammed against my chest. I had to admit, “I ain’t ever done this before.” I lowered my eyes. “I ain’t ever done anything like this before.”

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