There were days when he wished he were thirty years younger.
Usually it was because he longed to make her happy, truly happy; to give her a smile that wasn't quite as fleeting. On occasion it was because he couldn't see how any other man could possibly see past her defenses far enough to love her. Getting past them far enough for her to return that love - an exercise in the impossible.
Of course, any man who might set his sights on Integra should be able to accomplish the impossible, just to be worthy of her.
So, yes, there were days he wished he were thirty years younger.
Tonight it was because it was sweltering to the point he was reminded of nights in India with Abraham, watching his old friend court the lovely native girl who would become Integra's mother. Not just that - it wasn't the temperature so much as his mistress's reaction to it.
It had been overwhelmingly hot for nearly a week, and Integra had surrendered her dignity some hours ago. "Perhaps I should go sleep in the basement with the vampires," she'd groaned earlier that night. "I'm tempted to go find the deepest, dankest part of our dungeons and just lie on the floor." Instead, she'd thrown all the blankets off the bed and asked for ice.
Stripped down to tank top and a pair of shorts that had been less than modest before she'd gotten her adult height, with moonbeam hair pulled atop her head in an artless pile, she sprawled across wine-red sheets in a manner that suggested that she had absolutely no idea what an alluring picture she made.
Which was very alluring indeed.
And although this was not the first time Walter had wished for his lost youth, it was not often for such a - hm - inappropriate - reason. Integra would doubtless be utterly horrified if she'd discovered that her aged steward was even capable of having such thoughts about her.
It was a betrayal to her father. He'd promised to protect her, not - think about her in such a fashion. He was horrified himself. Loving her was one thing - he'd loved her since the day she'd been born, loved her to the very depths of his soul. She was the only woman he'd ever really loved.
Most of the time it stayed properly paternal.
But, damn it, he really wished she'd stop doing that thing with the ice.