Liam apparently got his start at an Italian place in the heart of Dearest. He described it as one of the nicer restaurants for the kind of tourists that didn’t mind spending a pretty penny. A lot of people, if they didn’t propose inside the Flores Apple Orchards or during a hike, near one of the many waterfalls, they chose to get engaged inside La Grotta Ristorante. The owner, Giovanni was renovating during the off-season and it took a weekend free visit at the Dearest Inn to get a table for Drew and I.
Giovanni said he needed to test new recipes anyways.
Liam said the guy was a big softie.
Taking a deep breath, I held the nerves inside my chest and opened the door. The outside of the restaurant was covered in ivy and small twinkling lights, blinking like starlight. It was nerve wracking. Whatever I did, I knew in my heart that Drew would love it, but it still needed to be perfect. Not only did I want to crush his expectations, I wanted to blow him away. I wanted to give him a perfect date. I was going to keep my promise and rewrite every horrible memory, this included our first attempt at a date, at the diner.
Holding out the door for Drew, my eyes stayed locked on his face for his reaction. He made small steps, sticking his head inside first. A smile spread across his face and I could release a sigh of relief. His eyes sparkling, he looked back at me as if I wasn’t already seeing what he was seeing as if he needed me to know.
The inside of La Grotta was a mix between being a shell of its former self with a wall knocked down and places being covered in white tarp. Most of the furniture was covered in plastic too and chairs were placed upside down on top of tables. On all the places I could, I lit candles all around the room with whatever candle sticks were around the Inn and the restaurant. The bones of the walls were wrapped in Christmas lights. Because I knew he’d like that kind of thing, I place vintage slow songs from Grace’s iPhone speakers.
There was one table in the middle of it all with a bouquet of rose, another candle and two chairs. Closing the door behind me, I helped Drew out of his coat, even though I didn’t think he noticed. I followed him inside the warm flickering glow. He moved slow as if he wasn’t walking on his own. He faced me, the candle light flickering in his eyes. “You did this?”
I smiled a little and shrugged. “I had a little help. Is it okay?” I winced at my own question. There was never anyone else I wanted to do this kind of thing for and I wasn’t sure if it was dumb or if it was too cheesy. If he didn’t like it, I’d actually be as much of an idiot as I currently felt. Was it weird to want to impress Drew, when he was already mine? I just never wanted to lose him. I didn’t want him to want me just because the Moon Goddess deemed it to be fate, but because he genuinely liked me.
“It’s incredible,” he looked the room over again and I carefully walked over, not to spook my mate. Dragging my hand through his hair, I pulled him closer and kissed the side of his head. He looked up, raising up on his heels to plant a kiss on my lips. I could feel him smiling through the kiss. He whispered, “You’re incredible. Thank you so much, Jess.”
“You’re worth it,” I told him, cradling his face with one of my hands, dragging my thumb across his cheek. I rested my forehead against his and closed my eyes, taking in his smell of freshly printed books, ink and herbal tea. “Thank you for being my mate.”
He wrapped his arms around me and suddenly, we were swaying along to the music. We moved in a small, dragging circle. We didn’t speak. We just moved, leaning into each other and putting all our worrying thoughts away. I soaked in this small, quiet moment like the warm summery rays of a perfect day.
After a while, the kitchen door opened. Giovanni poked his head out and raised his hand in apology. He was the definition of long, tan and handsome with a twirly mustache, dark slicked back hair and a velvet tongue. He also had perfectly sculpted muscles. This Beta wolf was going to rock his mate’s world one day. Giovanni spoke up, “Apologies, gentlemen. I hate to interrupt a little dessert before dinner, but your first course is finished.”
“Thank you,” I said, settling my hand on Drew’s back and leading him to his seat. Drew’s neck was a little scrunched as his cheeks flushed. “Drew, this is a friend of Liam’s and he’s the one who helped me put this all together.”
“Hello.” Drew did a little wave.
We took a seat and enjoyed out first course. I talked about what he missed at the Inn and he talked about his day at the bookstore. It was so normal, I almost forgot where we were and who we were. It was just about us and only us. Nothing else mattered. Giovanni brought out baskets of garlic bread and oils. He poured us dark red wine and explained every course to us with all the best mouth-watering words. I reached over, taking Drew’s hand.
We ended up with a small bowl of fettucine, fried eggplant and a small cast iron full of lasagna. We crossed forks, attempting to clean our plates. Every now and then, Drew would meet my eyes. He’d open his mouth like he wanted to tell me something, but he’d think better of it and just smile. After another glass of wine, Drew worked up the courage. He said, “Um… I want to talk about something.”
“Yes?” I asked, cautiously.
“Well,” he took a deep breath. “Are you happy here?”
I leaned back in my chair, releasing all my tension. With a small smile, I admitted in the safety of the candle light and Drew’s heart, “I’m shockingly happy.”
“Do you remember what my grandmother said? To call her when we’re settled somewhere? I think…” He swallowed. “I think we’re settled now. I…” Tears welled up in his big green eyes and he got a little choked up. “I don’t want to leave this place, not for a while.”
I stood, taking my napkin with me as I walked the edge of the round table. Kneeling to the ground, I wiped away Drew’s tears. Softly, I said, “I’m not ready to go either.” Drew laid his hand across mine. He leaned into my lips. I whispered, “I’m in love with you, you know?”
“I had my suspicions,” he chuckled. He held both sides of my face. “You’re my favorite person in the world and once we met, I couldn’t help but fall in love with you. My Jess...” His soft fingers stroked my cheeks and I closed my eyes, nearly succumbed to sleep from something so gentle. He whispered, “Can you marry me? I mean-” He jumped at his own words and shook his head. His entire face burned in a blush. “Will you marry me?”
I smiled, grinning wide enough to nearly break my face. A star exploded in my chest and encased my body with so much warmth and light. It was blinding and I felt like a whole new universe was being created inside of me. I laughed off my crazed energy as Drew skittered out of his chair and searched around the restaurant. I fell on my ass and called after him. “You’re not gonna stick around for my answer?”
“Hold on!” He shouted back. He nabbed a marker from a pile of papers and supplies from one of the many tables. He joined me back on the ground and took my hand. He looked at my hand as seriously as his eyes looked when he was reading. He drew a black line around my ring finger and told me, “I know you thought that you had to be perfect for us to be together, for you to be my mate…”
He moved closer, so he was kneeling in between my legs. “Nobody is perfect, but there’s nothing you could possibly do to drive away these feelings I have for you. I trust you,” he said, caressing my cheek. The tears welled up in his eyes, making the green sparkle and lighten to a sky blue. I couldn’t stop smiling like an idiot.
He shook his head with a light airy laugh. There was so many emotions happening, they all bubbled up at once. “I trust you with my life and my heart, so if you trust me with yours, I promise to cherish you for the rest of our lives and whatever life or world or universe that comes after this and I’ll still love you.”
“Give me that marker,” I said. Grinning, I popped the top and let it clatter across the floor. Drew chuckled, relinquishing his hand to me. The line I drew wasn’t as nice with my shaking hands, but I managed to connect it all the way around. “I’ll marry you, Drew. I firmly believed I was meant to be yours, so let’s stay here. Drag me to every corner of the world. Just promise I can stay by your side, forever. You’re my best friend-”
My voice caught. I dipped my head, trying not to cry but it was a war I was willing to lose. Drew grabbed my chin, lifting my face because how else were we going to kiss? He wrapped his arms around my neck, tangling us together and I kissed him. I kissed him deeply, holding my nature back. I whispered, “We’re going home, right now.”
I said thank you and goodbye to Giovanni. He held a sly knowing look, his eyes flickering to the black band around my ring finger. “Sorry we’ll have to miss dessert,” I said, already out of breath anxious to go. Just behind the door, Drew was holding my hand and pulling me towards the exit. I wrestled with his pull, unable to keep from laughing.
Giovanni shook his head with a grin. “I don’t think you’re that sorry.”
I just smiled back, letting myself be dragged by my giddy mate. We hurried out of the restaurant and into the street, but even in public, I couldn’t quite keep my hands off of him. I yanked Drew into my arms, sneaking into the nearest alley to steal a kiss or two or three or five as I slipped my hand underneath his sweater.
Drew smiled against my lips. “Come on, come on,” he begged, breathless and with flushed rosy cheeks. His hand slid down my arm and curled around my wrist. His touch brought up an aching sensation inside my chest and it was amazing one body could contain this much happiness, this much joy. Well, I supposed Drew and I both carried that load.
We pulled each other along the winding path back to the Inn. The porch steps creaked beneath us and he reached for the front door when I did, causing me to fall across his back. I elected not to fight gravity and wrap my arms around him. Burying my face inside his neck, I nipped and sucked at the skin there, leaving my mark on the crook of his neck. He shivered, nearly collapsing into my arms.
“Inside,” he chuckled. “Get inside.”
Drew opened the door and we scurried inside and up the stairs. I was dragged behind Drew as we passed Cameron’s door. I pulled back, hearing two voices. Lifting my finger to my lips, I carefully hushed Drew and motioned him backwards. We tiptoed back to Cameron’s door, where through a sliver we could spy Mark sitting crisscrossed on the floor and Cameron lying flat.
“You’re falling asleep,” Mark told him, not crossly. He had a fond, soft sort of smile as he dragged his hand through Cameron’s hair. Cameron lifted himself suddenly with a sharp intake of breath and Mark retracted his hand as if nothing happened. They were surrounded by boxes and folders. The amount of paper around them could start the worst housefire.
“I’m awake,” Cameron insisted. He moved papers around, choosing a random file to read. It took mere seconds for his head to droop and his eyes to fade. He rested his head on Mark’s knee. Mark stiffened, but relaxed.
“I should go home,” Mark whispered, “and let you sleep.”
“No,” Cameron muttered, drifting to his own dreamland. “Stay with me. Don’t go. It’s much better when you’re here.”
Mark didn’t have a quick retort or even a quip with a dull blade. He just went back to stroking Cameron’s hair and reading through the papers around them. Moving a few blonde strands, Mark tentatively leaned down and placed a small kiss on Cameron’s forehead. The ghost of a smile emerged from Cameron’s sleepy face.
I turned to Drew, sliding my hand across his jaw until my fingers found his neck. I cupped the other side of his face and I stepped forward, pressing our lips together. He clutched the edges of my clothes, slightly stumbling as we kissed and backed down the hallway until his back hit the wall. I opened his mouth with mine as our body waved and curved alongside each other like the swirl of cream in coffee. He was sweet enough to cause the tingle in my head. I reached behind me, opening our door.
I pulled Drew inside the room, glancing outside the hallway for any sign of life before locking it behind me. Shrugging off my jacket and blazer, I turned to find Drew throwing his sweater across the room. His hair had been slightly ruffled, sticking up in the back. My fingers touched the edges, sliding my hand through the strands. Drew smiled up at me.
I didn’t say anything. I let my eyes and fingertips do the work. I loosened the buttons of his shirt, one by one. Gingerly, I caressed my hand over his collarbone and brushed his shirt off his shoulders. We let it flutter to the floor. I kissed those shoulders, reaching for his belt. Drew’s trembling fingers took apart my shirt. We stripped each other piece by piece, exploring the lines of our bodies. I watched him use the tips of his fingers to follow the lines of my tattoos and the creases of my abs. He found the scars from past fights and they looked beautiful in his eyes.
The backs of my knuckles caressed his arms as he explored. My fingers finally found his lips when mine felt lonely. I traced the edges of his soft lips and he held my hand, kissing over the drawn black band on my ring finger. We kissed between the cracks of my fingers, so tenderly, so gently a breeze could have knocked us over.
It felt like the first night of the rest of our lives.
We must have kissed in circles, around the room to the sound of the creaking house and the winter wind rattling the window. There were casualties during our dance, the rest of our clothes, heartbeats that were skipped and the break of what was natural as time slowed around us. He pulled me and we fell together, bouncing on top of the bed. Drew chuckled softly, combing his fingers through my hair. I found my perfect place wrapped around his legs.
We were mixed up, losing what separated us as people and I slipped my fingers inside of Drew and he gasped out, grasping my arm and the pillow above his head. His body curved and squirmed under my control and I dragged my tongue across his throat and nibbled at the mark I left. Drew called out, “Jess!”
I only brushed Drew’s length and he trembled. It was a game for me, teasing his burning hard on and making him squirm. My heart pounded, a devious smirk fresh on my face. Sweltering heat came at me from all sides and my cock throbbed between my legs. Teasing Drew was like striking a match and watching the sparks fly. His reactions also drove me practically feral. “Come here,” Drew demanded, his voice raspy and uncontrollable. “I can’t kiss you from over there.”
It was a funny business. Wolves were so concerned by rank and I may be a Beta, but I was weak for every command given to me by my mate. Alphas are the mates that have total control of their lovers. He dominated every inch of my heart, body and soul.
I swooped down on his lips, lining myself up. Trembling, Drew encased me in his arms and I did as my Alpha commanded, licking the entrance of his lips and earning my warm welcome. I dragged my teeth down his lips and kissed him deeply, deeper than ever before and slowly, sliding my cock inside. I was a new man, willing to start a new religion in that precious, burning paper moment. I moved and Drew grabbed handfuls of my hair, pulling at the strands.
My body was pulled every way in the blinding heat and the ecstasy that made my mouth water. This must be the kind of magic men better than me die for, kill for and live their whole lives searching until the day they die. I moved, thrusting harder until I found the spot that made my Drew cry out and gasp. His body tightened around me, making it difficult to last the needed time. My hand curled around Drew’s shaft and a mere tug made him cry so sweetly again.
My pace quickened as the mounting electricity started a frenzy in my veins. It was as if I stole a piece of thunder as if I became the God of lightening and we ascended to the climax. I had a mouthful of sharp teeth, hungry for another taste of my mate as I released inside of him.
We were both tender, trembling things. I didn’t give Drew time to catch his breath, kissing him. I wrapped my arms around him and rolled him on top of me. I held him to my chest and kissed his messy hair, breathing in the smell of my mate. In this position, I knew he could hear my raging heartbeat pitter to a continuous throb. He pressed his lips to my chest over my heart as if sealing it with a kiss.
Lying there, at some point between fluttering kisses and whispering, “I love you”, sleep took over. I wouldn’t remember my dreams the next morning. Not when they paled in comparison to my real life.