“Are you fucking crazy?” Her shriek rips through my eardrums as she jumps off my bike and yanks her helmet off, her hair a wavy mess. She looks even more beautiful with helmet hair.
“Stop being such a baby. I drove the speed limit,” I say between laughs.
“Speed limit my ass,” Astrid huffs. “Wolves aren’t immortal, you know. There’s still a thirty-five percent chance we could crash and die.”
“I’d never let anything happen to my mate.” I hold the restaurant door open for her and I can tell she’s trying hard not to smile as she walks inside.
I wonder if she knows how serious I am. I’d fight through heaven and hell just to see her happy and healthy. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this girl. Then again, I’d do it for anyone who means something to me. It’s how I’ve always been.
The savior, my mother, used to call me. She always said the moon goddess put me on this earth to protect people. And she was right. I’m an angel, ironically, a savior to those who need me the most. I saved my mom for as long as I could, my brothers, the kids at the better place, and now I’m saving Astrid.
My mother was wrong. I can’t save everyone.
I can’t even save myself.
“What are you thinking about?”
We’re sitting down at a table in the far back now. I didn’t even realize the waitress greeting us.
“Nothing.” I shake my head and pick up the menu for ten seconds before I set it back down. I get the same thing every time. No point in changing now.
“Liar,” Astrid says, scanning through her options. She knowingly glances up at me through the rim of her glass as she takes a sip of water. “You always stare off into space and bite the inside of your cheeks when you’re thinking hard about something.”
Damn. Funny how the strangest things can calm a person down when they’re hanging off the cliff of mental breakdowns. “I’ve done it since I was like fourteen.”
“I know.” I raise a brow, and she corrects herself. “I mean… I’ve seen you do it a lot.”
The service is always great here, and the food is even better. Astrid makes no complaints when dinner arrives. She moans in content, already loving this place as much as I do. I’m mentally planning to bring her back for a second non-date.
Her blue-green eyes sparkle when the waitress sets down a molten cake in front of her. The best part- dessert is always free on Fridays.
“Oh, no,” Astrid groans, “Between you and Carson, I might gain about fifty pounds. You guys feed me too much.”
Which reminds me. I set down my fork and pull my phone out of my jacket pocket. The sudden flash causes her to pause mid-bite of her chocolate cake.
“Did you just take a picture of me eating like a pig?
“Yes, I took a picture of you. No, you’re not a pig. Carson’s been busting my balls about spending all this time with you while I was gone. He said you wouldn’t think twice about coming out with me, so now I have to rub it in his face a little.”
“Oh, so you only brought me out to prove a point to Carson?”
“Of course not, I wanted to spend time with you.”
She doesn’t hide her smile this time, and I have to take another picture of her. I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed something more beautiful than her smile. Other people can smile, and it doesn’t have the same effect as hers does. It erases everything around me and suddenly she’s all I see.
“Can I make a suggestion?”
I take a moment to divert my gaze from her lips. They’re pink and plump and too damn inviting and I want to kiss them so fucking bad. I swallow down the urge. “What’s your suggestion?”
The waitress comes back to clear the table, so Astrid waits for her to leave before she mentions, “I was looking at this evening art class online and its only two blocks away from here. Art is boring to some people, so I’ll understand if you don’t want to go. But I haven’t picked up a brush since I’ve left home, and my artistic hands are dying.” Her eyes shine bright with hope and who am I to crush that for her?
I’m rewarded with another breathtaking smile when I tell her I’m all for learning about art. My stick figures don’t even resemble stick figures, but I’ll pretend I’m Picasso if it makes her happy.
And if I’m being honest, I can’t wait to see her paint something. The rich folk in Silverhill toss her name around the city and aren’t afraid to drop a fat check on her skills. I had the chance to see a little of her work the one time I went to her gallery. But I never got the chance to admire her most valued works that the Richie’s bid over.
Astrid is dragging me outside before I can change my mind.
“Practice makes perfect.” A lady with pointy glasses leans over my shoulder and pats me on the back. She’s being nice, but I know better.
Truth is a four-year-old can paint better than me. My canvas is a splattered mess of color. There are no shapes or stick figures. Just a big, ugly blob of color. Demons weren’t made for art.
“Maybe you should try painting her hat. Forget about the rest,” the art teacher advises. I look up at the model’s hat. It’s an oversized straw hat with a purple ribbon wrapped around it.
Whose stupid idea was it to make the model wear a summer hat? It’s thirty freakin’ degrees outside.
Astrid peeks over at my canvas and giggles. “That is the most beautiful… whatever I’ve ever seen.” Hmm, the name fits perfectly. Whatever painted by Arlo Blackburn. I can see it making headlines already.
“Some people would pay millions for this.”
“Keep telling yourself that, sweetheart.” She studies the model for a few seconds and then presses her brush back to the canvas.
I abandon my laughable artwork and scoot my chair closer to hers. She covers her hand over my eyes before I can look at her work. “No peeking until I finish my last touches,” she warns.
She shivers as I replace my hand with hers. The sparks feel too good to let go. I could stay like this all day. With my hand in hers, feeling her warmth.
“I need my hand back to finish.” I smile at the breathy note her voice takes on. She enjoys the sensation as much as I do.
I wait patiently as she finishes her painting. A few moments later, her hand is back on mine, pulling my hand away from my eyes.
“Wow.” There are no words to describe the masterpiece she has created. The way she mirrored every detail of the model’s appearance. Almost as if she climbed down from her stool and jumped into Astrid’s canvas. “I’ve never seen anything like it. You’re amazing.”
She shrugs sheepishly. “I can’t remember a time where I didn’t have a pencil or a paintbrush in my hands. Whenever life feels heavy, art makes me feel sane and at peace. It makes me feel alive.” She turns her head to look at me. “Do you have something that makes you feel that way?”
There was a time I thought nothing could make me feel as she described, but the answer comes so easily to me now. I don’t think twice when I grab her hand and intertwine our fingers. “Yeah, I do.”
Her blue-green eyes fall on our hands, and I can see the storm brewing in them. She wants me just as much as I want her. But she doesn’t know if our relationship is worth the price. I’m silently begging she doesn’t pull away. Begging her to give me a chance to prove I can make this work for us.
Save me, Astrid.
My heart nearly leaps out of my chest when she looks up at me and squeezes my hand. I reach out and press my palm against her soft cheek. My demon-wolf stirs as she leans her face into my touch and closes her eyes like she’s been waiting all day to feel my touch.
I lean forward and she meets me halfway. I’ve been waiting so long for-
“And that concludes today’s session. Feel free to leave your work with me. I’d love to show the other students,” the art teacher interrupts our moment. I’m starting to believe everyone on this planet doesn’t want to see us together.
Astrid leaves her canvas behind as she makes her way to the exit. I take my canvas and dump it in the trash can, but the art teacher catches me. She frowns and saves it from being ruined. “All artwork is beautiful, Mr. Blackburn.” No one should see that disaster, but I don’t argue with the passionate art teacher. It’s kinda chilly and Astrid is already waiting for me outside.
As we walk side by side, Astrid stays focused on our footsteps and I know she’s going to ask something important. Her head remains down as she speaks, feeding my anxious thoughts. What’s on her mind? “Can I ask you something?”
“Why didn’t you celebrate Loretta’s birthday?”
Her question catches me off guard and I don’t realize when I’ve stopped walking. She searches behind her and meets my pensive gaze. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. It’s just that Kane and Carson told me you bailed on dinner yesterday. They said every year they buy her a cake and celebrate her birthday, but you never show up. Why?”
Fuck. Out of all the things in the world, why would she ask me this? I don’t talk about my past for many reasons. One of them being, I can’t think about my mother without having a breakdown.
I open my mouth and close it again. Words fail me, and my hands begin to shake, my heart beating erratically. Astrid instantly notices the change in my demeanor. “I’m sorry, let’s forget I said anything.” I don’t move as she makes her way to my bike. She’s my mate and for the first time, I want to open up to someone other than a therapist. I have to try.
“It’s hard for me,” I finally say, digging my claws into my palms. “It’s hard for me to think about my mom without thinking about all the things I could’ve done to save her. I should have fought harder. I should have stopped my father a long time ago. I…” My voice cracks and a single tear runs down my cheek.
I hastily wipe at my wet eyes, trying to gain control of my feelings, but Astrid is suddenly standing in front of me with her hands around my neck. Before I can make anything of it, she pulls me down to her lips and kisses me.
The kiss is slow and gentle. I have to place my hands on her waist to steady myself before the force of the kiss knocks me on my ass.
Astrid soon pulls away with tears in her eyes. “You were just a child. It wasn’t your responsibility to play the role of a father and a husband. Your father had no right to treat the mother of his children the way he did. He had no right to break you the way he did.”
Everyone speaks about my family like they know what happened between the four of us in that cabin. Rumors spread like wildfire throughout the city, but they don’t know the half of the pain and suffering we went through. They’d rather shame us for being born than sympathize with the demon bastards.
But as I look into my mate’s eyes, I see the pain she feels for me. It’s almost as if she has seen what I’ve seen. I reach out and touch her wet cheeks. This is the first time anyone has ever cried for me besides my mother. She understands me. She cares about me.
I grab the back of her neck and kiss her, this time with more passion and need. My canines graze her bottom lip, and she accepts, parting her lips for me. Her taste drives me crazy, and I want more and more. This isn’t enough for me.
Within seconds, I wrap her legs around my waist and walk her into the dark alley next to the parking lot, never breaking the kiss. I don’t want anyone ruining this moment for us because I might not be so patient next time. I want her all to myself.
I set her down on her feet and press her back against the wall. A thought crosses my mind and I pull back for a second. “I thought you said this wasn’t a date,” I tease against her soft lips.
She looks up at me with her glowing blue-green eyes, flustered. “It wasn’t a date,” she mutters. “Now shut up and kiss me.” Her lips eagerly find their way back to mine.
We spend the next few moments getting lost in each other until our lips are red and swollen.
Best. Non-date. Ever.