Austin no longer thought of the condo loft as his space alone. More than happy to share the dwelling with Liz, he considered it their space. Extending both arms toward her, he murmured, “Come out on the terrace and dance with me.”
“I’ve never slow danced before. We don’t even have music.”
“Neither have I,” Austin confessed. “It’ll be the first of many first times for us. I just want to be near you.” He placed his hand in the center of her chest. “The beating of your heart is all the music I’ll ever need.”
Liz took his hand and allowed him to lead her out of the glass double doors into the magnificent night. “This is some backyard you have here, Texas.”
“We have. I want us to build a life here. And I’m fairly certain you feel the same.” Austin approached her from behind, reverse bear hugging her against his body. She was soft and warm, her flesh effortlessly matching each part of his. “I want to move all of your things from next door—to make us official.”
“I’d really love that.”
Their beings rocked, imitating the ever-imminent motions of love.
“I don’t think I’d be alive were it not for music,” Liz admitted, the weight of her words more profound with her head flush against his chest. “I was a mess right after the Perry situation. Then, I spent some time in therapy because I attempted suicide. Aunt V sending me to that summer program for young musicians literally saved my life. When I play, it’s like I’m outside of myself and I can see everything so clearly. Is it like that for you?”
“Yeah. Sometimes, I toss my pick and play bare-fingered. There’s something about the feel of the rough strings that’s cleansing—damned near cathartic—even when the tips of my fingers are bruised and covered in bandages. I guess I’ve always had the aptitude for music. It was something my father felt strongly about. He didn’t push Carol and me to do much of anything, but he was adamant that we learn an instrument. The Brat has a lovely singing voice and she plays piano just as well as I do—maybe better.” Austin felt himself swelling with pride. As far as little sisters went, Carol was a keeper.
“When did you know that music was something you seriously wanted to pursue?”
“Oh, that’s easy. The visual of Jimi Hendrix pouring lighter fluid on his guitar and then setting it on fire—man that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Looking back, I think eleven was probably too young for me to witness the Monterey Pop Festival. No pun intended, but seeing the energy on that stage lit a flame in me that has burned my entire life.”
“What was it about Jimi Hendrix?”
“He just had this way of making a guitar sing. Each note and gesture told its own story. Prince is the only other artist who could hold a flame to Jimi, in my opinion. I must’ve watched that footage at least a hundred times. I think my dad was afraid that he was raising a closeted pyromaniac. I tried hard to emulate him before I found my own voice and style. What about you?”
Liz laughed. “There wasn’t a particular artist that brought me into the realm. I’m a huge fan of girl groups. I love seeing women rock out.”
He knew Liz would be one hell of a rocker. She possessed a rare, raw talent that few artists could claim. Her talent, stage presence, natural beauty, and undeniable sex appeal were qualities that would make Liz Carlisle a star. Recalling how she’d belted out the songs for their demo session, Austin felt a sudden surge of satisfaction. He was so proud of her for realizing one of her dreams. Strength was something he admired about the woman he loved. Given her rough start in life, Liz could have easily folded and let her disadvantages take her down. Instead, she was on the cusp of superstardom and a nursing degree—things she’d sought and earned through sacrifice, hard work and grit.
Austin parted the halves of her silk robe, his hands caressing the tender mounds underneath. He lifted her hair, kissing the bend of her neck. “There was always this emptiness…this overwhelming need in me. I couldn’t pray it away or study it away. Nothing I did filled the hollow ache deep down in my heart. I felt trapped…like my life was on a path that led to nothing but pain and misery.” He twirled her, kissing her when they were face to face, his bottom lip slowly enveloping hers. “That all changed the moment I laid eyes on you. When I saw you my heart was so full.”
Liz swooned, her eyes heavy as she stared up at him with something close to admiration mixed with a heavy dose of love. “Full of what?”
“Love. Lust. Hunger.”
“I thought I was dead the first time I saw you. I looked into your eyes and wondered why such a beautiful man was even wasting his time with me.” Liz rested her head against his chest, her face nuzzling into his bare skin. “I used to dream about what it would be like to live on your side of the mountain. For the first time in my life, I feel like I belong. It’s weird being surrounded by powerful people and actually feeling like I’m a member of the club.”
“Growing up rich isn’t exactly charmed. Sometimes, I still don’t feel like I belong.” Austin nestled his nose into her flowing locks. “I mean, sure you don’t have to worry about the money part but there are other things. The pressure to measure up to your family name. The expectation that you’ll marry well and have kids you’ll raise to be carbon copy cutouts of yourself. That was my biggest fear, I think.”
“I feared fading into the crowd and becoming like everyone else.”
“Oh, Texas.” Liz’s lips puckered against his pectoral, the intimate caress bringing with it a peace that calmed Austin straight to the soul. “Trust me, there is no way you’d ever be lost in a crowd. You’re different than all of them because you have the purest heart.” Her arms tightened around his waist. “You saw me—really saw me for the first time in my life. No one like you ever took the time to look past my circumstance and just see the woman underneath. That makes you special. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with you.”
“And you’re beautiful—inside and out.”