Dre placed a hand on Maya’s shoulder and slipped a finger underneath the strap of her nightgown. Sliding it slowly off her shoulder, he watched her for a sign that he should stop. She just looked at him, a soft smile on her lips. Smiling back, he bent and pressed a soft kiss to the now bare skin. His tongue dipped into the hollow created by the meeting of her neck and collarbone. Maya’s hands flexed on his chest and he smiled.
He pressed soft kisses along her throat and chin, moving up until finally, he reached her lips. She was waiting for him and they spent a few moments kissing, remembering, and relearning each other. Maya’s hands slide down his body and tugged on the towel wrapped around his waist. He stood still as the towel pooled at his feet, letting her explore his body with her delicate hands. He shivered from her touch. She had the softest hands he’d ever felt.
He threaded his right hand in her hair, pulling her up for a kiss but otherwise did nothing to disrupt her. It had been so long since he’d felt a woman’s touch, her touch. Dre leaned down, back to the delicate skin at her throat. He bit down and gently sucked. On some level, he realized that what he really wanted was to mark her, claim her as his. Her hands brushed his sides and he flinched away. “That tickles.”
She grinned, “Does it? I’ll have to remember that for later.” Her hands went lower, tracing the path the hair on his chest made to his groin. He shuddered and pressed his lips back on her throat to muffle a moan as her fingers combed through his pubic hair. When her hand reached down to touch the spot between his thighs, he stopped her, his breath coming out a little rougher.
Lifting her up so her legs wrapped around his waist, he kissed her again. “You can finish exploring later, right now I need you.”
Maya nodded and held on to him as he walked over to the bed. Leaning down, he placed her gently on the cool sheets and stood still, watching her for a moment. She reached out, silently beckoning him and he went. “It’s been a while,” he warned her.
“For me too but I’m sure we’ll manage.”
They lay in bed, staring at each other the next morning. “Your eyes are different again.”
“Are they?” Maya reached up to touch the skin below her right eye.
“And your hair, too. It has red streaks in it.” Dre frowned. Had he done something wrong?
“Does it?” She reached higher up and tugged on her hair.
“You don’t seem concerned.” He studied her closely. She looked okay, happy even. Goddess, he hoped she was happy. He’d been so afraid to even touch her these last two days, even as his wolf demanded that he claim what was his. The beast was now silent, content – for the time being.
She shrugged, smiling. “I came back from being dead, Andrei. My hair and eyes changing aren’t big factors for me right now.”
She had a point. “How do you feel?”
“You didn’t hurt me, Dre. I’m fine.” She stretched and smiled at him. “I’m better than fine. Promise.”
He let out a breath. It was hard reconciling this Maya to the woman he knew. She’d been so sick then, too sick to do much of anything, let alone be intimate with him. He cringed at the memory of that last attempt before she’d… From before. He’d promised himself afterward that he would never touch her or anyone else again sexually. And he’d kept that promise.
He’d lasted twelve years without her but only made it two days with her close by. Sighing, he turned onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, formulating his next words. “Maya, I…I would like to make our situation more formal.” He turned his head so he could see her face and gauge her reaction. “I meant what I said last night. I wanted to wait until we mated and I still want to get married. I want – I need this to be binding.” He thought of that day in the hospital, of being treated like some inconsequential boyfriend. “I need to be your next of kin, Maya. I need that badly. And my wolf… It demands it.”
She reached a hand out to him and stroked his hair. “That’s the second time you’ve ever talked to me about that side of yourself.”
Dre frowned. “You don’t think it’s weird?”
She arched an eyebrow, both amusement and irritation in the look she gave him. “Again, I was dead a year ago. I think we’re way past weird.”
He chuckled. “You’re right.”
“I do have some questions, though.”
Turning on his side so he could see her better, he said, “Yeah?”
“Were you born that way or is it true that you have to be bitten or scratched?”
“I was born this way but you can be – turned.”
“So your parents…?”
He pulled her closer to him. He revised his early thought about his constraint. He was the definition of fortitude for lasting forty-eight hours before touching her like this. The need to have her close was almost unbearable. And when she was near, all he wanted to do was kiss her, touch her, make love to her. He was half-aroused constantly. And knowing that he could do all those things, now that he knew it was okay… The feeling wasn’t wholly unpleasant.
Although the eye and hair thing – no, he wouldn’t concern himself too much about that. Eva did the hair color thing all the time. Maybe Maya inherited that ability too? He would have to ask someone.
Clearing his throat, he tried to focus on her words. “My dad. I guess you wouldn’t know this but my brother now too.”
She frowned. “Was he turned then, because I thought he was human?”
“It’s a long story, sweetheart.”
“We’ve got time.” She smiled up at him.
“Yes, we do. We have all the time in the world.”
He pulled her in for a lingering kiss, his hands sweeping down to the curve of her ass, molding their hips together. When she sighed contentedly, he sent a silent prayer up and began to kiss his mate more earnestly. He could tell her the story later.
The sound of running feet woke him up some time later. Maya was snuggled up close to him, her breathing light and even. He grudgingly slipped out from under the warm covers, making sure not to wake her, and gently tucked the covers around her. One thing about Maya, she liked her sleep and God help anyone who woke her up prematurely.
Dre changed into shorts and sneakers, preparing to go for a jog when he heard running again. A slight flare of irritation went through him. If they woke her up… He stopped just short of the door and blinked. He was growling. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he opened the door and edged out before making his way downstairs and towards the sound of music.
He walked into the living room to find Emma and Stephanie doing some kind of cardio workout with the stereo blasting. “Turn it down,” he said as he passed by them, reaching for the volume to do it himself. His eyes swung to the other end of the room, searching for Gracie but found Al in the adjoining room instead, watching television.
Dre walked over to him, mumbling a “Good morning,” before settling down on the couch. It was good seeing his nephew. Al was a grown man now with a family of his own. They talked for a few minutes, exchanging news.
“Have you seen Gracie?” Alistair asked suddenly.
He shrugged. “She didn’t come down for breakfast. Just wondering.”
“I’m sure she’s fine. Probably playing with her new stuff.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
They both sat quietly for a few minutes, the unease growing before Dre stood up. “I’ll go check on her. Just to make sure.”
Al blew out a breath. “That would be great. Thanks, Uncle Dre.”
Dre studied his nephew for a moment. He clearly knew something was wrong with Gracie. It was his thing. Most times, he would be the first to go to her, to anyone really. So why not this time?
Dre made his way back upstairs and to the bedroom Emma and Grace shared. Knocking on the door, he called out, “Gracie? You still asleep?” He heard a muffled reply. “What was that? I’m coming in.”
He opened the door to find Grace sitting on her bed, her face a mess of smudged makeup and mascara-rimmed eyes. She looked like a sad raccoon.
“Oh, Gracie. What happened?” He bent down to see her better.
“I’m ugly. I’ll never be a real girl!”
Dre rocked back on his heels and looked around. This was so not his forte. “Umm, Gracie, you are a girl. So…”
She shot up and marched away from him. “Stop lying! I’m not. I was born a boy and that’s what I am. I don’t want to be a stupid girl anyway!” She was practically screaming now.
The door flew open and in walked Emma, with Maya and Stephanie right behind her. Gracie’s twin walked straight up to her and pinched her.
“Ow! What was that for?” Grace yelled.
“For calling girls stupid. And this,” Emma pinched Gracie on the other arm, “is for saying you’re not a girl. We play dolls together, share lipstick and both like ponies. You’re stupid if you think you’re a boy!”
Dre watched in fascination – and a bit of amusement – as the twins glared at each other. Is that all it took to be a girl, then?
Maya eventually had enough sense to separate the two of them. “Enough, you two. Now, Grace, what’s the matter?”
Gracie shrugged but the problem was plainly on her face. Maya leaned down and gave her a kiss on the forehead before reaching a hand out towards Dre and saying, “tissue.” He blinked once before realizing what she wanted.
Grabbing some tissue paper from the box by the bed, he handed it to her. She wiped away the rest of the make-up from Gracie’s face. “Now, if you all would just give us a minute. Grace and I need to have a little chat.”
Everyone scampered out, including Dre. Thank God that the girls were leaving soon! He couldn’t deal with the pre-pubescent melodrama that seemed to follow them. He just wanted to be alone with Maya. Be alone and naked with Maya.
There he went, thinking about sex, meanwhile, Maya was in that room dealing with a hysterical preteen. She would have made a wonderful mother.
Dre came back home from his run to find a very quiet house. He immediately went searching for everyone. This kind of quiet unnerved him. He found Maya and Emma curled up on the couch, watching TV but everyone else was gone.
“Hey, where’s everybody?” He asked as he sat down next to the two of them. Maya smiled over at him and his heart skipped a beat. It felt like sunshine. He hoped that feeling never went away.
“Movies. Al took the other girls but Emma and I decided to stay in.” She brushed back the little girl’s hair and Emma snuggled closer.
Dre wondered what kind of bribe she’d had to offer Emma to get her to stay in. He also wondered what she’d said to Alistair to get him to take both Gracie and Steph out to a movie. It was usually one or the other.
“Well,” he began, “guess that means it’s just the three of us for the rest of the day.”
“Guess so.” Maya sent him a look and he had the sudden urge to tell Emma to run along. He shook his head – he’d been a goddamn saint the last two days – and smiled back. “Would you lovely ladies like to go to the boardwalk with me?”
Emma’s eyes widen and she jumped off the couch. “Yes, yes, yes!”
Laughing, Dre shushed her. “Calm down Em. Let me change and we can head out.”
Emma did a little dance and ran out the room, yelling, “I’m going to wait in the car!”
Maya waited until the little girl was out of earshot and said, “Thank you, she’s feeling a little…”
Dre shrugged and stood up, holding his hand out to help her to her feet. “It will be fun.”
Holding hands, Dre and Maya walked down the boardwalk, watching Emma run around. It was a beautiful day out with a soft breeze and warm sun. He watched as a roller coaster zoomed by, the riders screaming in delight.
“Maya, I’ve been thinking about it and – what do you think about Sunlit Tides? It’s very beautiful and my family has a house there. After we get married, maybe we could move there?”
Maya gave him a sidelong look. “That’ll be the second time.”
She shrugged. “That I find myself getting married without being asked.”
Dre blanched. He hadn’t ever considered she’d say no. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have presumed – ”
“Oh, hush, Dre. You had every right to assume I’d say yes. It’s just, I’d like to be asked, is all.”
They were quiet for a moment, staring out at the beach and the horizon. Dre pulled her closer to him and whispered in her ear. “I’m sorry Maya. We’ll do it right this time. I promise.”
She sighed and snuggled closer to him. “It was perfect the first time. I love you, Andrei.”
“I love you more, Maya.”