Mending Heart

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Chapter 28

Weathering the Storm

“She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.” – Elizabeth Edwards


We’ll also share the di Stefano burrata.” I smiled, handing the waiter back my menu. When I looked back at Ethan, he was looking at me with amusement in his eyes. “What?” I found myself asking.

The two of us were currently sitting across from each other inside my favorite Italian Restaurant in the city. Osteria via Stato was a hidden gem I didn’t know about until Megan started doing marketing for them a couple of years back. She had brought me along with her so we could do a taste test on some of the items on the menu – a lucky perk of her job – and I immediately fell in love with not only the food, but the atmosphere and the friendly staff as well.

I tried to come here as often as I could, and tonight seemed as a good time as any.

“So you come here often?” Ethan asked, scanning the room. We were seated at a table in the corner by the window. The restaurant was dimly lit by small black sconce light fixtures scattered throughout, and the candles blazing at each table. The walls were painted white, except for the wall on the opposite side of the bar which was covered in cobblestone, and the dark wooden beams that adorned the ceiling only added to the ambiance.

“As often as I can.” I shrugged, leaning back in my seat. “You remember Megan?”

He nodded, clasping his hands in front of him on the table, an amused smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “She introduced me to this place a couple of years ago. She’s the head of marketing for Lettuce Entertain You.”

“Then I guess I have Megan to thank for tonight.” He flashed me a crooked smile.

“I’m sure she won’t object to the praise.” I chuckled, shaking my head. Ever since she met him, Megan had been very vocal about how much she liked Ethan and how she thought he was really good for me. She even offered to give me an additional plus one to her wedding so I could invite him.

Looking on it back now, I probably should have accepted her offer – a whole lot of shit could have been avoided.

When our waiter set down our appetizer and the bottle of wine Ethan had ordered, I immediately unfolded my napkin – draping it across my lap, and picked up a piece of fresh bread. Dipping it in the creamy burrata, I lifted the piece to my mouth and was just about to take a bite when I noticed Ethan’s gaze fixated on me.

“What?” I asked, suddenly feeling very self-conscious.

“Nothing.” He shook his head, eyeing me strangely.

“Do I have something on my face?” I pressed, picking up the napkin and ready to act.

“No, you don’t.” He rolled his eyes, picking up his glass of wine. “You just look good – happy.”

Heat threatened my face with insecurity, and I too picked up my glass of wine. “To being happy,” I replied, clicking our glasses. Ethan smiled over the rim of his, while I lifted mine to take a sip – desperate for some kind of distraction from my burning cheeks.

“So,” Ethan said, continuing to hold my gaze while I was busy stuffing my face. “What brought this on, McKenzie?”

“What do you mean?” I finally asked once I finished swallowing. I do have manners after all – at least in public.

“Typically you require some convincing to see me.” Although there was a playful smile on his face, the words cut deep and I felt a pang of guilt.

“Yeah well,” I sighed, leaning back in my seat.“Maybe it’s my turn to convince you to see me.”

“Can’t say I don’t like the sound of that.” He smirked, taking in my reaction.

“Then you’re going to love the sound of what I have to say next.” I teased, a smirk of my own tugging at the corners.

“Oh really?” Ethan leaned forward, elbows on the table.

“I –” I started when they brought out our main course.

“How is everything?” The waiter asked, setting the roast chicken marsala down in front of me first, followed by Ethan’s braised short ribs.

“Good.” I smiled politely, waiting for him to finish setting down our food and leave.

I needed to get this out in the open before I lost my nerve and chickened out.

“You were saying?” Ethan asked, continuing to eye me curiously as he picked up his utensils.

“Right –” I mumbled, searching my brain for the right words. “I’ve been seeing a therapist the past couple of weeks, and it seems to be helping, so I just wanted to say thank you.”

“I didn’t do anything, McKenzie.”

“But you did – you gave me the push I needed, and I don’t even know where to begin to thank you.”

“There –”

“No –” I lifted my hand to stop him. “Let me finish,”

“For some reason, you think I’m worth getting to know and putting up with all my crazy shit. I don’t have a lot of people like that in my life, and I was just recently made aware that the reason I keep pushing you away is because of some unresolved commitment issues that stem from many many years ago.”

That’s a story for another time, I thought. I was already revealing much more than I was comfortable with, but Caryn’s words rang out in the back of my mind.

I dared to steal a glance in Ethan’s direction. He kept his gaze trained on me, surprise flashing across his face. “I... I’m not really sure where I want this to go exactly, and I don’t think I’m ready to label this –” I motioned between the two of us. “Just yet, but I do know that my behavior the past couple of months hasn’t been fair to you.”

“The ball’s in your court, Cupcake.” He said, getting close again. “I know one thing for sure, and that’s that I’m willing to wait however long it takes. Labels don’t define a relationship, the people do.”

“Why?” I blurted out before could stop myself.

There go those insecurities again.

“Why what?” He retorted, lifting his fork and taking a bite of his food.

“Why are you willing to wait?” I couldn’t help but ask. “I’m sure you have a list a mile long of supermodels just waiting to get your call. Why settle for me?”

“McKenzie, I’ve told you before that stupidity isn’t a good look on you.” He growled, a look of irritation flashing across his face. “I don’t know how much clearer I can be about the fact that you are the one I want.”

“I –”

“End of discussion.” He said definitively before returning his attention to the food in front of him, satisfaction flashing briefly in his eyes.

Looks like that’s the end of that conversation, I thought ask picked up my own utensils.

............

We were halfway through dinner when Ethan drew my attention. “McKenzie, do you want some of my food?”

“What?” I asked stupidly, taken completely off guard.

“You’ve barely touched what you ordered,” He nodded towards my plate, which was mostly untouched. “And you’ve been staring at my food for the past ten minutes.”

The chicken marsala that I ordered was new to the menu, so I thought I would switch things up tonight from my regular cacio e pepe pasta. Turns out, there’s a reason I’m a creature of habit.

The chicken was extremely dry, and there was just something off about it in the taste. I had taken a couple of bites and spent the rest of the time pushing it around my plate. “I’m just not a big fan of what I ordered,” I admitted, tracing the pad of my finger along the rim of the wine glass.

“Here,” Cutting up a piece of the meat on his plate, he brought the fork over to my lips. “Open.”

“I’m not a child!” I scolded, glancing around to see if anyone saw him. Nobody seemed to be paying attention to us, and everyone was focused on their own conversations. When it didn’t look like Ethan was going to budge, I quickly wrapped my lips around the fork before leaning back in my seat – embarrassed.

The perfectly seasoned meat and creamy mashed potatoes made my taste buds explode, and I couldn’t help the moan that escaped my mouth. I glanced up at Ethan just in time to see him rolling his eyes and shifting his plate towards the middle of the table.

“Eat.” He instructed, chuckling under his breath. “Otherwise I have no problem feeding you like a child.”

I scoffed, picking up my fork and reaching across the table. Keeping my eyes still trained on him, I took a large bite and waited to swallow before raising a smug eyebrow. “Happy?”

“Very.” It was Ethan’s turn to roll his eyes. A loud crack of thunder outside drifted my eyes to the rain splattering against the busy street. Despite the torrential downpour, the streets were crowded with strangers rushing to get home, and cars standing still in bumper-to-bumper heavy traffic.

“It wasn’t supp –” I was cut off by multiple alarms going off in the restaurant, including on mine and Ethan’s phones. Glancing down at my screen, a flash flood warning flashed across the screen.

As if on cue, the entire restaurant went into a frenzy. Customers were asking for their checks before having finished their meals, and the waiting staff was scrambling to accommodate everyone.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Everyone was acting like it was the end of the world, when in reality we got a bunch of alerts like this throughout the year. The worst thing to have happened was a couple of basements flooded, and if you were driving, you had to pull over on the side of the road until some of the rain let up.

“What?” Ethan asked.

“Nothing.” I shook my head, stifling my amusement. “It never ceases to amaze me how crazy people get when they hear an alarm sound.”

“Not everyone is as tough as you, McKenzie.” He smirked, calling our waiter over.

“Are you guys all set?” Our waiter asked, exhaustion creasing his forehead.

“Yes,” Ethan replied, taking out his wallet. Meanwhile, I had other ideas. “Can you also wrap up a piece of cheesecake for us, please?” Nodding, he took Ethan’s credit card and walked away.

“Trying to seduce me?” Ethan dipped his head, shaking it quietly as he reached across the table for my hand.

“Maybe.” I bit my cheek to stop from smiling. His large hand wrapped around my much smaller one, rubbing soothing circles over my knuckles.

“Careful, McKenzie.” His eyes darkened. “Or I might just have to punish you for being such a tease.”

“If your punishment entails what I think it does,” I leaned in, voice low. “Then I’ll gladly let you punish me.”

.......

We had luckily parked in the parking garage adjacent to the restaurant, so Ethan and I didn’t need to step outside to get to the car. Once in the car, Ethan turned it on and pulled out his pack of cigarettes.

“I don’t know how you can stand to put those things in your mouth.” I scrunched my nose up in disgust as Ethan flicked the lighter, the cigarette lighting up and a small cloud of smoke surrounding us.

“Bad first experience?” He laughed, taking a long drag and cracking open his window to let some of the smoke out.

“Very.” I glared at him, leaning back in the passenger’s seat.

It took us twice as long to get back to my apartment because of the rain, and when we did, Ethan had to go around the block three times to find parking.

I should really consider moving to a neighborhood with more accessible parking, or an apartment complex with a parking garage, I thought miserably.

The heavy rain continued to rush down around us as Ethan hurried us inside, through the puddles, and into my building. Despite not even being outside in the rain for more than two minutes and having an umbrella, both of us were drenched from top to bottom.

“We better get you out of these wet clothes,” Ethan said once I closed the door behind us, shaking some water out of his hair.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to get me naked, Ethan.” I bit my lip with a smirk, slipping my sweater over my head so that I was standing before in my bra.

“I don’t have to try to get you naked, McKenzie.” My heart jumped, and I blinked with surprise at his words.

“No?” I smirked, raising an eyebrow at him. “And why is that?”

“Because,” He stepped closer until he was standing right in front of me. “You’re not as shy as you like to think, Cupcake.”

When an inevitable blush invaded my face, Ethan smirked triumphantly. I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as his face inched closer to my own – the rush of endorphins and a surge of warmth making its way to the surface.

Our lips were inches apart, and I felt myself growing hotter under his gaze, too mesmerized to look away. Ethan snaked one hand behind my neck, bending back my head and planting his lips on mine. He kissed me, slowly at first, and then with a swift desire of intensity that left me breathless and clinging onto him. His wandering mouth parted my shaking lips, sending wild tremors along my spine – evoking sensations I never knew I was capable of.

Ethan’s left hand crept up my spine, pulling me in close before it came to a standstill on my hip. With one hand resting on my waist, his other hand tangled in my wet hair and I found myself wrapping my arms around him – closing every last bit of space between us until our bodies were pressed against each other.

Heat coursed through my veins, and all of a sudden, time seemed to stop and it didn’t matter that we were both drenched and dripping water on the floor. I could only focus on how soft his lips felt against mine, and how addictively he invaded all of my senses.

“So beautiful,” Ethan muttered against my swollen lips. Before my brain even had time to register his words, he was kissing me again. Shivers of pleasure shot through me as he deepened the kiss, taking my bottom lip between his teeth and giving it a gentle tug. I couldn’t help the moan that escaped my lips as my fingers tangled in his hair.

Eventually, our kisses slowed, becoming tender and soft. It was like we were getting to know each other on an intimate level, for the first time again. When it became clear I could no longer put off the need for oxygen, I pulled back. I was breathless and dazed, unprepared for the rush of sensations crawling across my body.

Heat rose from my stomach to my chest as Ethan’s gaze remained on me. He had an intense look in his eyes – that look where he wanted to tear my clothes off, but he was too much of a gentleman to say so. There was something just so irresistible about him. My body ached for more than just kisses and touching—for more of him. And I knew he did, too.

Holding my hand out, I began pulling Ethan in the direction of my bedroom. “I believe a shower is long overdue,” I said, smirking over my shoulder. His eyes became an even darker shade of green, lust and desire burning through them.

As soon as our clothes hit the bathroom floor, Ethan reached down and grabbed the back of my legs. A surprised yelp escaped my lips, but I instinctively wrapped my legs around his waist as he pinned me against the wall. Using one arm to turn on the shower, his other arm remained possessively wrapped around my waist. As we waited for the water to heat up, Ethan’s lips continued to explore my neck, leaving behind a trail of butterfly kisses.

Being here with him, it felt completely right – almost natural. With him, everything was okay, and all the little demons that made their way to the surface seemed to immediately disappear.

When enough steam had gathered up, Ethan opened the shower door and stepped inside – my body still clinging to his.

“You have no idea how fucking beautiful you are,” Ethan growled, setting me back on the ground. His eyes traveled up and down my naked body, a shiver running down my spine.

I blushed furiously, wrapping my arms around myself. Ethan’s eyes hardened as he reached out and removed my hands, letting them fall to my sides. His lips once again found their way onto my mouth, gently grazing over my lips.

And just like that, I melted under his touch - any sense of insecurity dissipating with his firm, yet gentle touch. This – everything concerning Ethan– it scared me half to death, but it also delighted me and made me crave even more.

I don’t remember ever feeling such passion before, and I loved every minute of it.

Ethan’s rough yet gentle hands explored my body, making sure to cover every inch of my skin. I allowed myself to surrender to him. While my own hands gently traced the outline of his muscles, he murmured soothing words against my shoulder, sending my heart into a frenzy.

“We still have to shower.” I giggled as he nipped the sensitive area between my neck and shoulder, a wave of pleasure shooting through my spine.

He lifted his head for a second to say, “We’ve showered enough.”

“You’re ridiculous,” I said, reaching for the shampoo bottle and squirting some in my hand. “You’re going to have to let go, Ethan.” Instead of listening to what I said, Ethan continued to work his hot mouth down towards my collarbone, one hand snaking around my waist and pulling me against him while the other found its way to my breast.

A soft moan escaped my lips as I leaned against him, momentarily forgetting how to breathe. “You were saying?” His fingers found my hardened nipple, pinching the throbbing peak.

“I –” Mustering up whatever sense of clarity I had left, I wiggled myself out of his grasp and took a step away from him – putting some much-needed distance between us. “Behave.” I glared at Ethan, which only made him laugh.

While I massaged the shampoo in my hair, Ethan had reached over my shoulder and grabbed the body wash. His hands mimicked the warm water as they ran between our bodies, making sure to touch every curve and soap up every inch of my skin.

Once we had both rinsed, Ethan’s lips returned to mine. He tenderly ran his tongue across my bottom lip, and I parted my lips, granting him access. The familiar warmth in the pit of my stomach returned, and I embraced the feeling – letting it control my body. My fingers were still locked in Ethan’s hair when he pulled back and reached behind me to turn off the water.

I raised an eyebrow as he slid the shower door open and reached for a towel. “You’re cute when you pout.” He bit his lip with a smirk, handing me a towel. I grudgingly took it, wrapping it around me.

“I’m not trying to be cute.” I narrowed my eyes, stepping onto the bath mat. Ethan followed shortly behind, a white towel now loosely hanging off his hips.

“And you’re even cuter when you’re horny and frustrated.” He chuckled under his breath.

I shot him a murderous glare, stalking towards my dresser to grab a clean pair of pajama pants and shirt. I didn’t get very far because Ethan caught my wrist and spun me around so that I was facing him. “Not tonight, baby.”

“Why not?” I found myself practically whining. Our earlier escapades in the shower had heightened my hormones, and left me with a burning ache in between my legs. One I was willing to beg Ethan to relieve, but it seemed he had other ideas for tonight.

“Because,” he smiled crookedly, a glint in his eyes. I waited for him to say something else, but he didn’t. Instead I found myself asking, “Feeling sentimental, are we?” I couldn’t help the smirk tugging at my lips.

“Maybe.” Ethan sighed with an unbothered smile, finally letting go of my hand and following closely behind.

__________________________________________________________________________

I know I promised you guys this chapter a couple of days ago, but I got swamped with work. Happy reading! Exciting things are coming in Monday’s update :)

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