Somehow, I managed to get my head together enough to get the restaurant closed and locked up. I still felt like I was in a daze, though, and didn't even realize until I was knocking on Claire's door that I had no idea how I'd even gotten there. I rapped on the door with my knuckles and it was almost immediately thrown open by someone who was very much not Claire. Instead, a little boy probably not much older than ten, stood in the doorway grinning at me. He had an untidy mop of brown hair that fell over his eyes and was wearing a green t-shirt with a picture of a t-rex on the front.
"Uh, is Claire here?" I asked uncertainly, giving him a smile.
"Aunt Claire! There's a person at the door for you!" He called loudly over his shoulder. Claire suddenly appeared behind him, looking frazzled, like she wasn't sure how this kid had suddenly appeared in her apartment either. He stepped out of the way, already having lost interest in me, and disappeared further into the apartment.
"Aunt Claire?" I asked with a smile. "You didn't tell me your nephews were coming into town."
She groaned, leaning heavily against the doorframe. "I'm the worst aunt in the entire world and forgot. I had to send my assistant to get them from the docks today. I feel awful."
I wasn't surprised she hadn't remembered. Claire barely had time to eat, sleep, and breathe with her schedule the way it was. I knew she had nephews, her only sister's kids, but never once had met them. I would never have told Claire but I was surprised her sister had sent them at all. Claire had zero experience with kids of any age. "I'm sure they're just happy to be here. Don't worry about it." I ducked around her into the apartment where two boys were seated at the tiny, square kitchen table. The nephew I hadn't met yet was much older than his brother, at least sixteen or seventeen with dark hair and a brooding expression. Well, at least one of them looked happy to be there.
"Guys, this is my friend Rylan." Claire said, sinking down into an empty chair. A half empty box of pizza sat on the table. "This is Gray, and Zach."
The little one beamed at me and I couldn't help but smile back. He was undeniably adorable. "You guys get to see the park yet?" I asked. I took the one last empty chair at the table. The pizza smelled delicious, but my stomach was still experiencing aftershocks thanks to my kiss with Owen.
"I guess." Zach shrugged, looking moodier and moodier by the minute.
"We only got to see some stuff but Aunt Claire said that tomorrow we can see everything!" Gray exclaimed excitedly.
"Well, make sure you go see my friend Violet at the mosasaurus exhibit.You'll love it." I told him.
"Of course, which is why you two need to get to bed. Tomorrow is gonna be a long day and all that." Claire said, and the fact that she was trying to hard to sound parental almost made me laugh. Zach got up wordlessly from the table and headed towards the door, Gray on the other hand, bolted out of his seat and gave Claire a hug before following after his brother.
"Good night, Aunt Claire! See you tomorrow!" He called over his shoulder.
"You remember the way to your hotel room?" She called after them, but the door was already swinging shut. As soon as they were gone, Claire looked relieved as she sank down into her chair.
"The little one is a sweetheart. The other one looks like he'd rather be anywhere else right now." I said, leaning back in my chair.
"They're probably going to hate me before this week is through...I don't know how I'm gonna find time to spend with them." She sighed, shaking her head.
"You better make time then, or your sister is going to be pissed."
She glared at me. "Not helpful."
"I'm joking...kind of." I gave her a tiny smile. "It'll be fun. I'll help out with them if you need it." Not that I had any more experience with kids than Claire did, but I seemed to get along with them a lot better.
"Thanks, Ry. That means a lot." She said appreciatively. She gestured to the slices of pizza leftover. "Sorry, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind for dinner tonight but I didn't know what else to feed them. Have as much as you want."
I shook my head. "Not that hungry."
Claire looked surprised. "You? Not hungry? I'm shocked. How was work then?"
Just the mention of the word 'work' made my skin flush and my cheeks grow hot. I tried to fight it. Instead, I just became fidgety. I could feel Claire staring at me, assessing my incredibly weak attempt at acting normal. "Okay, what the hell is up with you?" She asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
I sucked in a deep breath, giving up. I turned to face her in my chair, folding my legs up underneath me in an attempt to be more comfortable. "Okay, listen. I know you don't like Owen." Her eyebrows shot up at the mention of his name, but surprisingly, she didn't interrupt. "I do like him, though. A lot. Like more than I want to like anybody, but I can't just shut it off. And tonight he kissed me and now I can't stop thinking about it and please don't give me shit." I finished quickly, my words all tumbling together into one, long run-on sentence. I stared down at my lap, embarrassed by my sudden outpouring of emotions which both Claire and I knew was incredibly unlike me. For a long moment, the only sound was the television in the background.
"You really can be such an idiot sometimes." She finally said. My head shot up but I was confused to see that instead of glaring at me, she was smiling. "Yes, I don't care for Owen much. Clearly you do, though, and if he makes you as happy as you are right now than I guess I like him more than I thought too."
I laughed, a feeling of pure relief sinking over me. "For some reason, I was expecting you to at least try to physically force some sense into me before eventually accepting it."
She shrugged. "Thought about it, but I'm too tired today." She shot me a smile. "As long as you don't start gushing to me about the details, we're good. Looking at the sickeningly giddy expression on your face is enough."
I rolled my eyes. "Trust me, it's weird to me too."
"So now what? Are you guys like...boyfriend and girlfriend?" Claire joked, and started laughing which caused another episode of blushing on my part.
"Maybe I shouldn't have told you if you're just gonna torture me. But no, we're not. We kissed and he asked me to stop by after I leave here." I shot Claire a look, warning her against making anymore comments. She bit her lip to keep from laughing.
"Well, what are you waiting for then?"
I gave her a surprised look. "But dinner?"
She waved her hand dismissively. "I already messed that up by being a terrible aunt, remember? Anyways I really should get to work moving my schedule around so I can spend some time with them. You go. I'd be a bad friend too if I made you hang around here with me and do nothing."
I stood up from my chair and walked around to the other side of the table to hug her. One of her arms immediately circled me, squeezing me back. "Thanks, Claire."
"Just think, if I hadn't supported you dropping out of school and getting a job here, you wouldn't have met Owen. So in a way, this is all thanks to me." She smiled.
I laughed, heading towards the door. "Sure, I'll remember that." I gave her one last smile before opening the door and stepping out into the quiet hallway. The second I was alone, my nerves took over. I'd been alone with Owen plenty of time, but now that things were different, the idea of it was both thrilling and very, very scary. In a good way, if that was possible.
I took the elevator down to the bottom floor, crossing the quiet, empty lobby and leaving through the revolving glass door. It was only when I finally reached the empty monorail platform that I realized what an idiot I was. I grabbed my phone from my bag and checked the time before cursing under my breath. The last train had already run for the night. I turned and looked back at the hotel, chewing my lower lip during my internal debate. Claire would probably let me borrow her car if I asked. Or I could walk. It wasn't that far, but it would take a while. God, I really didn't want to walk though.
I sighed and turned back around to head retrace my footsteps to the hotel. The loud rumble of an engine stopped me in my tracks. I turned back towards the midway, looking for the source of the noise. I couldn't fight back a smile when Owen suddenly appeared from around a corner on his bike. He slowed to a stop in front of me, a smirk on his undeniably gorgeous face.
"Thought there might be a damsel in distress out here in need of a ride." He shrugged.
I pretended to look around me in confusion. "I haven't seen any, but since you drove all the way out here I guess you could give me a ride."
"Well get on then." He said, patting the seat behind him.
Still wearing a huge a huge smile, I climbed onto the bike and wrapped my arms around his middle. My stomach jumped when he suddenly grabbed my hand, squeezing it gently before letting go. We raced off down the midway, following the paved road through the park gate and out onto the dirt road. I pressed my cheek into the back of Owen's shirt, trying to figure out a way to contain my out of control nerves. Minutes later, when we finally pulled to a stop in front of his house, my pulse was beating faster, not slower.
The minute the engine shut off, I climbed off the bike and ran my fingers through my hair in an attempt to tame it. Owen caught me off guard by grabbed my hand and pulling me closer to him, placing a soft kiss on my lips. He tasted pepperminty.
"Come on." He said quietly, a smile flickering across his face as he tugged me up the porch step and through his front door.
I followed him into the kitchen, where I had watched him make pancakes just earlier that week. I leaned against one of the counters as Owen opened the fridge and pulled out two beers.
"So." He said, uncapping them both. "You're still alive, which means Claire didn't end up killing you." He sauntered towards me, handing me one of the cold bottles. "Unless you didn't tell her?"
"Unfortunately, as you've probably figured out by now, I have a hard time hiding emotions. I blush too easily." I smiled, before hopping up onto the counter. "So I think she's given us her blessing, or at least given me permission to pursue you."
"Pursue me?" Owen smirked, making my stomach drop. "You know, I kinda like how that sounds actually."
I laughed. "Yeah, don't get too excited. I'm not sure I even know how that works."
"If it helps, you've been doing a pretty damn good job so far. I haven't been able to stop thinking about you." Owen admitted, giving me one of his crooked grins as he leaned against the counter. He said it so casually, and I wondered if he had any idea saying things like that made me feel like I was on fire from the inside out.
"Really?" I asked. The surprise in my voice must have been noticeable for more than just me judging by the look on his face.
"What? Is that really that hard to believe?" He asked, quirking an eyebrow.
I shrugged, picking nervously at the label on my beer bottle. "No, I guess I just had no idea until earlier...I thought maybe it was more one-sided because you're you and I'm me."
I snuck a look at him only to see him looking at me like I was bat-shit crazy. "Yeah, exactly. You're you...I'm not sure how you see yourself but you're beautiful...and smart, and sarcastic, and not afraid to give me shit from time to time and all of that stuff drives me crazy in a way even I'm not sure I know anything about." He suddenly pulled the beer bottle from my hands, setting it down next to his. "Why do you think I needed to kiss you so bad today? It's been all I can think about which is incredibly annoying."
"I know the feeling." I said quietly, giving him a nervous smile as I thought about all the times in recent weeks that I'd been up at night trying to decipher exactly the way I felt about Owen.
My breath hitched in my throat as he pulled my knees a part, moving to stand in-between my legs. His hands slid along my thighs until they were resting on my hips. "Good, so now that we're on the same page am I right to assume that you really want me to kiss you again. Like right now?"
"Have I ever told you how full of yourself you are?" I teased, surprised at how casual my voice sounded when every nerve in my body was electrified at the thought of touching him again.
He shrugged. "It's come up before."
"Shut up." I laughed, reaching for the front of his shirt to tug him closer until his lips found mine. Just like that, this kiss started where the last one had ended.
I gripped the front of his shirt in both my hands as he mouth moved slowly and purposefully against mine. He slid me closer to the end of the counter until the space between our bodies had vanished. My heartbeat thudded loudly in my chest as his hands toyed with the hem of my shirt. A shiver rippled through me as they found their way underneath the thin fabric and trailed across the skin of my lower back. The urge I felt before was quickly returning, burning a hole through the pit of my stomach. I slid my hands down the front of his shirt and tugged gently on his belt before slipping my fingers underneath the waistband of his jeans.
Owen let out a groan, abruptly pulling away and resting his forehead against my own. Both of us were already panting, our breaths intermingling. One of his hands brushed against the fabric of my bra as he trailed his hands up and down my sides. "This doesn't have to go any further tonight, if you don't want it to...I don't want to you to get the wrong idea." He said, voice low and husky.
All that did, for some reason, was make me want him more. I felt an overwhelming rush of tenderness towards him. "Do you want to stop?" I asked carefully.
He gave me an incredulous look. "Hell no, not if you don't. It's taking all the self control I have right now not to rip all your clothes off." His words made my insides turn to putty.
I let out a soft laugh, a coy smile tugging at my lips. "Well I guess we better go to your bedroom then, Grady."
He smiled back at me, the devilish glint in his eyes sending my pulse skyrocketing. Without any warning, he suddenly wrapped his arms around me, picking me right up off the counter. I wrapped my legs around his waist, burying my face into the crook of his neck to hide my grin as he easily carried me through the living room and kicked open the door of what I assumed was his bedroom. My back bounced against the softness of the mattress as he dropped me on the bed, barely giving me any time to recover before he was crawling over me and covering my lips with his own.
Then, his mouth was on my chin, my jaw, my neck, and eventually I could feel the stubble of his beard as he trailed kisses over my shoulder and across my chest, down to my stomach and I tried to remember when I'd lost my shirt but couldn't. I tugged at his own shirt and Owen quickly got the idea, pulling it up and over his head. I sighed at the feeling of his skin against mine, every inch of his muscled torso pressed up against me and leaving no room for any space between. It was like a tornado of clothing, a race to see who could get the other undressed first until finally I was lifting my hips as he tugged my last piece of clothing over my hips and down my legs. I cupped my hand around the back of his neck, pulling him in for another kiss.
I could feel myself coming undone underneath him, his hands touching me everywhere, lower, deeper until I was gasping in anticipation. I ran my hands over his shoulders, digging my fingertips into the muscles of his back. Then, the warmth of him vanished for a moment as he leaned over the side of the bed, rummaging around in a side drawer until I heard the distinct crinkle of a wrapper. Seconds later, we both were gasping as he slid inside of me. His arms braced themselves on either side of me as he nuzzled his face into the crook of my neck, lips gliding across my collarbone before finding my mouth again and kissing me deeply.
We easily found a rhythm, moving against each other slowly until it became a desperate kind of urgency. My eyes fluttered shut as I heard my name leave his lips in a breathy whisper. It was a perfect, chaotic frenzy of tangled limbs, kisses, moans and gasps...building, building, and building until finally I broke apart and shuddered against him. His arms tightened around me, quickly following my lead. Neither of us moved right away when it was over, content to catch our breaths although I wasn't sure if my heart would ever slow down.
Owen eventually rolled off of me, placing a kiss on my temple before disappearing from the room. I stayed exactly where I was, exhausted. When he came back, I didn't even make an attempt to hide the fact that my eyes were roaming every inch of his body. He He laid back down and wrapped his arm around my waist, pulling me closer to him. I automatically curled into him, resting my head in the crook of his neck as his fingers trailed lazily up and down my spine.
I could feel the warmth of his breath against my ear with every exhale. I ran my hand over his chest and stomach, tracing the contours of his muscles. "That's it. I'm done for." I heard him say quietly.
I raised my eyebrows, lifting myself up onto my elbow to look at him. "Should I even ask what the hell you mean by that?"
"I couldn't stop thinking about you before. You really think I'm going to be able to now?"
A surprised laugh escaped me. "I can't tell if you're feeding me lines or if you're being serious right now." The erratic beating of my heart gave away which one I wished it was.
"What's wrong with it being a little bit of both?" He joked, giving me a mischievous smirk. I pretended to glare at him and he laughed.
He suddenly shifted until he was on his side, and gave me a long kiss that left me out of breath. He pulled away for a moment, hands on either side of my face as he gazed fixedly at me. My breath hitched and he was suddenly kissing me again, with a quiet urgency. He rolled on top of me, pressing my back against the mattress, making me want him all over again.