Ryker and Ember arrived at the restaurant ten minutes later. As they walked in, Ember took a deep breath. “Mm… it smells so good in here. I love Mexican food.”
Ryker chuckled at her enthusiasm as the hostess led them to a table in the back.
“What may I bring you to drink?” The hostess asked.
“I’ll have a sweet tea,” Ember said.
“I’ll have a Coke,” Ryker added.
“I’ll be right back with those,” the hostess said. Within minutes she’d brought them their drinks. After placing the glasses on the table, she informed them the waitress be with them soon and left.
“Well, well, who do we have here? If it isn’t nerdy girl, long time no see,” a woman sneered.
Ember looked up from her menu, as did Ryker. Standing before her was a girl Ember had hoped never to see again after she’d graduated high school. Nellie Longley. Ember internally growled as Ryker gave her questioning looks, and Nellie smirked. Ember ignored Nellie’s comment and placed her food order. She’d found long ago that the less she tried to say to Nellie, the better.
Nellie wrote the order down, still smirking. Then she turned her charms on Ryker, asking, “What about you, handsome? What can I get for you?”
Ryker raised his eyebrows, but except for ordering his food, he didn’t say anything either.
After Nellie had flounced away, Ryker turned to look at Ember. “Want to explain what that was all about?”
Ember huffed. No, she really didn’t want to explain Nellie at all. However, Ryker was her mate, and anything he asked of her if she could give it, she would. So, she scooted her chair as close to him as she could get it and lay her head on his shoulder. Ryker put his arm around her, and Ember breathed deeply, taking in his scent and using it to calm herself.
“Not really, but I suppose I will all the same,” Ember eventually replied. “That was Nellie, leader of the ‘let’s annoy Ember’ group. She was in all my classes in high school, and for some reason, it really bothered her that my grades were always slightly higher than hers.”
“So, a smart girl who calls another smart girl ‘nerd’? Weird, but okay,” Ryker said with a puzzled shake of his head.
Ember laughed. “Yeah, I guess it didn’t make much sense, but that’s the way it was. Maybe it was because she was smart and popular, whereas I was just smart. Anyway, she liked to make verbal digs at me, and Emerson was always quick to make her stop. After Emerson and I turned sixteen and began ignoring each other, she terrorized me even more. She’d take my papers and tear them up so I wouldn’t have any homework to turn in, stuff like that. She’d laugh and tell me how she was glad to see my hot brother finally realizing how pathetic I was.”
“Mm… you didn’t believe her, did you?” Ryker asked.
“No, not really, but sometimes it got me down because, in a way, I did feel pathetic. I mean, I had no friends except for Deanna,” Ember replied.
Wrapping his arms tight around her, Ryker kissed the top of her head. “The three of us really messed up our lives for those two years, didn’t we?”
“Yeah, we did, but it’s on track now,” Ember told him.
“So, we’re still leaving the past in the past?”
“Yep, still leaving it there,” Ember agreed.
Ryker cleared his throat, causing Ember to look up at him. “I’ve been thinking about something.”
“Yeah. I talked to my parents and, although Mom isn’t thrilled about it, they’ve agreed to let you stay with me at night. I was wondering if that might be something you would want,” Ryker said before going quiet.
Ember sat, deep in thought, about what Ryker had said until Nellie brought their food. After Nellie left, Ember answered, saying, “Well, to be honest, whenever I thought of my mate, I assumed he would be older than me.
Ryker chuckled. “Isn’t your mom older than your dad by a couple of years?”
“You’re right; she is.”
“So, so you should never assume anything.”
“Whatever, Mr. Smarty-pants.” Ember rolled her eyes at him. “Anyway, since that was my thought, I figured I’d be moving in with him.” Ember took a moment to breathe deeply of the food in front of her. “I think, though, no matter where we stay, it’s gonna be a bit awkward, don’t you?”
Ryker gave a huff as he shoved a fork full of Mexican rice in his mouth. “I suppose it will be. Although, since we’ve decided to wait, maybe it won’t be as bad,” Ryker muttered after he’d swallowed. “Hopefully.”
Once more, the table fell into silence, this time while they ate.
“Emerson has been looking for a place for him and Staci,” Ember mentioned, breaking the silence. “He told mom that since both he and Staci are working, even with going to school, that they believe they can manage. Of course, Mom told him if they needed any help to ask.”
“Mm… well, I’m not sure Mom would let me move out at sixteen anyway.”
“No, probably not,” Ember agreed.
“There is also the fact that you’re the only one old enough to get a real job. I mean, I sometimes earn a bit in the summer doing odd jobs, but that’s only when I’m not in school.”
“That’s true too.”
“Besides that, I don’t want you to have to support me,” Ryker concluded as he raised an eyebrow.
Ember giggled. “You look so much like your dad when you do that.”
Ryker chuckled. “Thanks, I think.”
“Hey, if you look as good as your dad does when you’re his age, you will still be one good-looking fellow.”
Ryker mock frowned as he swallowed his fork full of food. “Don’t you be looking at my dad that way!”
Ember leaned in, feeling the need to reassure him, although he didn’t actually look upset. After nipping at his ear, she whispered, “Oh, my baby, trust me, I’m not. Not when I have you to look at.”
Ryker groaned lightly, her warm breath on his ear urging him to do things they’d said they would wait to do. “Keep that up, and I’ll be carrying you out of here on my shoulder to the nearest bedroom.”
Ember pulled back, her face pink. “Sorry.”
Their banter was interrupted by Nellie. “Can I get you anything else, more to drink perhaps?”
Ember looked down at her plate and found it empty, so was her drink. Looking up, she said, “I’ll take a bit more.”
Nellie nodded before turning to look at Ryker.
“Nope, all good,” Ryder told her before finishing the last couple of bites on his plate.
Nellie stood for a moment, continuing to look at the two of them. Ember was about to ask if there was a problem when Nellie said, “You look familiar to me. What’s your name?”
Ryker raised an eyebrow. “Does it matter?”
Nellie smirked. “Oh, I remember you now. Your Ryker Hollington, once best friend of nerdy here,” she said with a laugh. “She walked around for weeks all droopy-faced and sad when you kicked her to the curb.”
“Kicked her to the curb?” Ryker questioned with a frown.
“Oh, please! Everyone knew she had a crush on you, and all you wanted was to be friends. Rumor had it that she finally asked you out, and you laughed in her face. Guess you finally decided to give her a chance, huh? Well, good luck with that, and if you get bored, give me a call,” Nellie said. With a wink, she sashayed away.
Ryker turned to look at Ember. He found her face bright red as she sat staring at the table. Softly, he asked, “You had a crush on me?”
“I guess I didn’t hide it as well as I thought I did,” Ember admitted as she raised her head a bit. “I knew it couldn’t go anywhere, Ryker, because as shifters, we have mates. So, I just pushed past it because I didn’t want to lose you as my friend.”
“Well, it worked out anyway because now I’m your…”
“Your drink, nerdy,” a grating voice interrupted.
Ryker and Ember looked up to find Nellie once more next to their table. With one more flirty look at Ryker, Nellie sat Ember’s drink down on the table and left.
Ryker shook his head before he pushed back his chair.
Ember took a long swallow of her drink.
Ryker held out his hand to her. “Come on, Ember, let’s dance.”
“You do remember I don’t dance well, right?” Ember asked as she put her glass down and stood.
Ryker shrugged. “I can’t do much more the sway, so… I think you and I are a perfect match.”
Taking Ember’s hand, Ryker led her to the dance floor where a slow song was playing and pulled her into his arms.
Ember sighed, content as she placed her arms around his neck. “This is where I’ve wanted to be for so long. In the arms of my mate.”
Ryker lifted her chin. “Only your mate?”
Ember felt heat flood her face once more. “I can see I’m not going to live down having a crush on you anytime soon, am I.”
“Uh… no,” Ryker said with a wink.
“Fine, I admit I like being in your arms, always have. I’ll also acknowledge how much I’ve missed you these last two years,” Ember said as she lay her head back on his chest and breathed deeply. “You always smelled so good to me.”
Ryker chuckled. “Must be the cologne us Hollington men are partial to because my mom is always telling dad how good he smells too.”
“Must be...” Ember murmured as they swayed, “…must be.”
After a few more dances, Ryker murmured, “I think we should be getting out of here. It’s almost eleven.”
Ember yawned. “I agree; I’m sleepy.”
So, after paying the bill, they headed back to Ryker’s for the night.