EPILOGUE 6 months later.
Elsie stepped inside the restaurant, her footsteps faltering as she noticed the extremely lavish décor. She'd heard of Rossini's. It was one of the premier fine dining establishments in the city and one she had never expected to ever be able to afford to step foot in. And now, here she was. She looked down at her rather conservative pant suit, hoping it was fancy enough, but she had to come. Maeve had sent her a text saying that she wanted to celebrate Elsie's becoming the lead researcher at Delos by taking her to dinner.
"Do you have a reservation?" The female voice broke into her thoughts.
"Oh, I'm sorry. No, I'm meeting someone. Dr. Maeve Millay?"
"Dr. Millay?" The young woman looked at her screen. "Oh yes. She's already here." The hostess led Elsie through the crowded dining room and over to a surprisingly secluded table, where Maeve was seated, long legs crossed and on display thanks to what appeared to be a very short black dress. She had to touch her chin to make sure she wasn't drooling.
Maeve saw the two women approaching and got to her feet, offering a warm smile.
"Thank you," Elsie said politely to the hostess, who left them alone.
"Here she is," Maeve greeted, taking Elsie's hands and kissing her cheeks. "Dr. Hughes, I'm honored you could join me."
"Stop," Elsie blushed.
"Not a chance. What you've achieved at Delos in only six months? It's extremely impressive Elsie. You continue to impress me every single day."
"Thanks," Elsie smiled, "but you Maeve, you save lives for a living. That's impressive."
Maeve wanted to argue, but she had plans for the evening and they didn't involve a debate over who's work was more important.
"Why don't we just say we are two incredibly awesome women and leave it at that, yes?"
"Fair enough," Elsie laughed.
"Would you care for some champagne?"
Elsie finally noticed the silver champagne cooler sitting on the other side of the table. Her eyes spied three letters on the bottle that had her gaping.
"Dom Perigone?" She said, bemused. "Maeve, that's way too…"
"Uh-uh, darling. No talk of price," Maeve chided, "and besides, aren't you the one who said I should spend my money however I wanted?"
"Yeah…on yourself," Elsie protested.
"Doing something to make you happy, makes me happy," Maeve countered, pouring the champagne into both flutes. "Just enjoy it, my dear."
"Thank you," Elsie acknowledged, not wanting to make Maeve unhappy.
"Now a toast. To you Dr. Elsie Hughes; the newest and youngest lead researcher for a major corporation and the young woman who has given me more happiness than I ever expected to find."
Elsie's heart melted into a puddle. "And to you, Dr. Maeve Millay, who ran over my leg and straight into my heart," she grinned and then her brain froze as she realized what she'd just said.
"You're heart?" Maeve whispered. Over the last six months, the two women had spent every possible moment together. Maeve had moved back into her master bedroom and every night she didn't have to work, she was wrapped in Elsie's arms, resting from the endless pleasure the other woman gave to her. In the sleepy afterglow, they'd tiptoed around declaring their feelings, but had never said it, both too afraid to take that final step.
Elsie met Maeve's shocked expression and she swallowed. She wanted to laugh it off, or pretend she hadn't said it, but she decided she didn't want to. After all that Maeve had done for her, Elsie could be nothing less than honest with her.
"Yeah. My heart. I don't want to scare you or anything, but I think I started to fall for you the second I looked up at you after you hit me."
"Yeah?" Maeve whispered.
"Yeah. You had these big beautiful eyes, that actually looked worried for me. You were so bossy and so anxious and sexy."
Maeve offered a throaty chuckle. "So you like bossy women, do you?"
"Not like that," Elsie sputtered.
"Pity," Maeve continued to tease, feeling a warmth like she'd never felt. "Oh Elsie, I think I fell for you about the same time. You were clearly in a lot of pain, yet so brave with that delightful sarcasm and I felt my walls crack for the first time."
"Maeve? Are you saying…"
Maeve could have deflected by having Elsie say it first, but she didn't. "I'm saying, my little cheeky lover, that I love you."
Elsie opened her mouth to say something but to her horror, she just burst out crying instead.
"Oh Elsie, shit. I'm sorry," Maeve blurted, fearing she'd misread everything. "I didn't mean to scare you, or pressure you," she reached out to take Elsie's hand, hoping to comfort her. "I'm so sorry."
"No. Maeve, please don't be sorry," Elsie sniffed, gripping her hand. "I'm just…you really love me?"
Maeve saw the vulnerability in the sweet brown eyes and was once again reminded of how little experience this woman had with relationships and how much self-doubt she carried.
"Yes, my little Mouse. I am head over elbow in love with you."
"Oh Maeve, I'm in love with you too and I have been for so long, I can't remember not loving you."
Maeve had never wanted anything more than she wanted to kiss Elsie at that moment, but it wasn't time yet. She still had plans. Fortunately, the server appeared before she could ruin her carefully orchestrated plans.
The server placed an order of Focaccia bread and olive oil in front of them. Elsie noticed the waiter giving Maeve a grin and ignored the flutter of jealousy. She'd been out with Maeve numerous times and it was not uncommon for her to draw the attention of men wherever she went. Most of the time Elsie found it amusing, when Maeve slid an arm around her and brazenly told them she was already taken, leaving the poor men torn between disappointment and blatant curiosity.
Elsie blinked. They'd just said "I love you" for the first time, and Maeve was asking her if she was hungry?
"Uh…" she was about to answer no, when her stomach decided to answer for her, drawing a delighted laugh from Maeve.
"I'll take that as a yes," Maeve managed between giggles.
"I hate you," Elsie muttered, as she reached for the bread, unaware of the suddenly intense expression on Maeve's face.
She cut into the bread, frowning when the knife hit something. "What in the world?" She muttered. The bread was still hot, so she poked the knife in, trying to dig out whatever was inside, though not entirely sure she wanted to see it. Suddenly, with one final twist of the knife, something flew out of the bread, nearly hitting her in the eye before dropping onto her plate. She looked at the object, unable to fathom what she was seeing.
Maeve suddenly felt a flicker of fear that she'd misjudged everything. "Yes?" She asked, with a faux innocence.
Elsie swallowed and carefully picked up the delicate ring, staring at it in wonder. It was an unusual ring; a black band with a modest blue stone, a sapphire, Elsie guessed and she had no idea what to say.
"Do you like it?" Maeve finally asked, her nervousness finally getting the better of her."
Elsie looked up at Maeve and saw the worried look on her face, which brought her back to herself. "Oh Maeve, it's beautiful. I've never seen anything like it."
"It's black gold," Maeve explained. "I've always seen you as a woman who liked unusual over traditional."
"That's true," Elsie agreed.
"If you don't like it I can…"
Elsie placed a hand over Maeve's instantly. "Maeve, I love it. It's beautiful and perfect. I just don't understand…"
Maeve sighed, turning her hand over so that she was holding Elsie's hand. She would admit, if only to herself, that she was decidedly out of her element. "Elsie, why does one person generally give another, a ring?"
Elsie's eyes shot wide. "Oh my God. Maeve? Is this…are you…?"
"Asking you to marry me? Indeed, I am," Maeve smiled, lifting the back of Elsie's hand to her lips.
"Oh, my God." Elsie gaped, her mind swimming with so many thoughts, she couldn't think straight.
Maeve felt her heart crack a little bit. She knew she had taken a bigger risk than she had ever taken in her life, even bigger than going to work in a brothel, and she knew there was a risk Elsie would say no, but she couldn't deny that it still hurt. However, she wouldn't put that guilt on Elsie.
"So, are you ready to order dinner, then?" Maeve asked, forcing a lightness into her voice that she wasn't feeling.
The tightness of Maeve's voice and the dullness of her smile, shook Elsie out of her stupor and before she could think twice, she was around the table and on her knee in front of Maeve.
"You didn't let me answer," Elsie rushed out, aware the people at the nearby tables were looking at her and not caring one damned bit.
"Elsie, what are you doing?" Maeve asked with a genuine laugh. "I believe I should be the one on my knee."
Elsie's hands went to the thighs, that were, to Elsie's pleasure, bare under the very short skirt and not adorned with pantyhose.
"Darling," she grinned, deliberately using Maeve's favorite form of endearment, "as much as I love this dress and the way you look in it, I'm pretty sure there's no way you'd be getting on your knee. At least not without giving the other tables a view that I prefer to keep for myself."
Maeve lifted an eyebrow at Elsie's actions, surprised yet amused by her playful forwardness. "Possessive, are we?"
"Absolutely," Elsie said seriously. "And the answer is yes."
"What?" Maeve's breath caught in her throat as Elsie's hands lifted to cup her face.
"I said yes. I would be honored, thrilled and even ecstatic to marry you," she grinned and then suddenly Maeve was kissing her.
Finally, Elsie pulled away. "Okay, I'm getting a cramp in my knee," she complained.
Maeve laughed, her heart so full of happiness she thought she might cry. "Please get up, love," she chuckled.
Elsie stood, less gracefully than she wanted, but the smile on Maeve's face made it worth it. She placed another kiss on the surgeon's lips before returning to her seat.
"So?" She prodded.
Elsie waved the fingers of her left hand under Maeve's nose. "I think you're forgetting something."
Maeve rolled her eyes playfully, then picked up the ring, sliding it on to Elsie's finger. She kissed the hand once more before looking into the sparkling brown eyes.
"I know this is probably more sudden than you would have expected, but we can take our time and plan and do whatever you want, whenever you're ready."
"And I do love you for that," Elsie said, relieved. She still needed time to wrap her mind around the fact that this incredibly sexy, brilliant and amazing woman wanted to marry plain old Elsie Hughes. "Though I do have one condition for this engagement," she said, putting on a serious expression.
"What would that be?"
"It's that you go shopping with me so I can find you a ring as well."
Maeve blinked. She hadn't expected that at all, but she had no desire to put a damper on Elsie's happiness.
"I'm sure that can be arranged," she smiled.
"Great, so…how about we go home and celebrate?"
Maeve laughed. "We haven't even had dinner yet," she protested.
Elsie was about to declare she had no interest in dinner, when her stomach spoke up for her, giving off a most unladylike rumble. She blushed furiously and Maeve laughed delightedly.
"Fine, we'll eat," Elsie said as primly as she could manage.
"And then afterwards, I will let you have anything you want for dessert," Maeve added with a seductive purr that had Elsie swallowing hard, knowing sweets was not what Maeve was referring to.
"Have I mentioned I love you?" she managed.
"You have, but feel free to repeat it as often as you'd like," Maeve returned, picking up her menu. "And I will tell you every single day for the rest of our lives, that I positively adore you, as well.