Arbor and Zeke
This takes place after The Ostin Prince.
“You dragged me from my bed for what reason again?” I’d follow wherever Zeke wanted to go, but I was warm in there and it was cold outside. On the boat with the wind whipping around us would be worse though, not something I wasn’t used to. I went out on the boat often, even in winter.
“It’s not that bad. You have a coat on.”
“But…” I really didn’t have a good rebuttal, so I followed Zeke through the sand to the baby pier that led to the baby boat. We got in and he wanted to pilot it. Which wasn’t the norm, but hey, I was along for the ride tonight.
The sun was setting as Zeke maneuvered us out of the island and to the pier in Sparkling. I shivered, so I told Zeke to move, and wedged myself behind him to suck up all of his goodness and warmth like he could send it into my body. Because that was what he was. Everything perfect and sweet and sexy in my life.
I held him close as he brought us to the pier then helped him secure the boat. The pier had pink lights wound around the railings the whole way down with hearts dangling from it. It was weird.
“What’s with the decorations?”
Zeke turned to me with a smile. “You really don’t know what today is, do you?”
“Uhhh…” Fuck me, did I forget some sort of odd anniversary? Like seventy days ago I ate off his fork for the first time?
“It’s Valentine’s Day.”
I let out a breath. I did not see that coming. I also did not get him anything. Shit.
Zeke’s hand pressed gently to my cheek. “I don’t expect anything, and I didn’t do much. This is more about us spending time together, not about gifts.”
“Sooo… do you want me to buy you another house or no? Because I feel like shit now and would do just about anything to make up for it.” In truth, I’d do anything at any time because Zeke deserved to have whatever he wanted.
He laughed and tugged on my hand. “Come on.”
There were people on the pier, though not many. For once they didn’t bother us when we walked past, too wrapped up in their own romance. Good for them. I, on the other hand, had the hottest man on the planet and depending on where he was taking us, planned on showing him how much I desired him.
We walked hand in hand and right past my SUV. I tucked my free hand into my pocket so it wouldn’t be too cold and pressed close to Zeke. How I deserved the gift of his love, I’d never understand, nor would I take it for granted.
And here I was on Valentine’s Day without a damn thing to give him. I was an asshole plain and simple. I also blamed Theo and Paxton for not clueing me in. One of them had to know, right? Or were we all oblivious?
The sound of the ocean gently lapping the shore soothed me as we kept walking toward Desolate. The buildings were the same hollowed-out shells as they had been. Soon they’d have new life breathed into them. A place where others could live and thrive. Where they’d be safe and wouldn’t have to deal with asshole landlords or the shittiest security known to man. Whoever moved into our rented units when they were ready would be taken care of.
I was so proud of Zeke and Paxton for the work they were putting into it. Novus too. She was going to be instrumental in putting safety in place with her wards.
Zeke turned us so we started walking into Desolate itself.
“Is your gift to me Roland beheaded in the middle of the home I used to live in? Because that would be fantastic. One I could never top.” It would also worry the hell out of me how he was able to do that without me knowing, but whatever. Roland being dead would be so sweet. Too bad I wouldn’t have gotten to use my sword. I’d still make use of it at some point. Have someone’s blood coating it.
“You’re daydreaming about all the ways you want to kill him again, aren’t you?”
“Not this time. I’m imagining blood on the blade of my sword if Roland was already dead. I’d need to kill someone, just not sure who yet. That sword deserved to be coated in crimson. It’s too shiny not to be.”
“Maybe less talk about blood on Valentine’s Day.”
I nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry. So no to Roland being dead as my gift?”
“If he’s dead, I didn’t do it.”
Zeke was the kindest soul out there, and even he wanted Roland dead. Having to give the kill blow himself? I couldn’t see that happening. He had a hard time punching someone, let alone doing more.
We went down the street. Up ahead, I saw light. What the hell was that?
I did without reservation.
The closer we got, the more came into view. It was the house I once lived in, and there were lights strung around the interior. What was left of it anyway. White and twinkling little lights. In the center of the building, what once was rubble and destruction, lay a cleaned-up stone floor, small in size. There was a black and white checkered blanket put down and a big basket.
“Z…” I whispered. I couldn’t get anything else out. Emotion was there, cutting it off. I couldn’t believe he’d done this for me.
Zeke stood in front of me and walked backward toward the home, pulling me with him. “You’re always giving me so much. I wanted to do something for you.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“I know and that’s all the more reason why I needed to. Theo and Paxton helped. They came here earlier and put the stone down on the ground. Pax laid out the blanket and the food. Thankfully, it’s cold so it wouldn’t spoil. You’ll need to use your magic to heat it up. Theo used his to make the lights work and sparkle like they are.” He shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal, but it was to me. It was huge.
Tugging on his hand, I pulled him close until he was flush against me with his head tipped back to look up at me. “How did I get so lucky to have you in my life?”
He smiled softly. “I wonder the same thing about you.”
“You can’t believe how lucky I am? It is astonishing given how perfect…” I pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Amazing…” I pressed one to his nose. “Sexy…” This time to the corner of his mouth. “And so fucking sweet you are.” Then I pressed my lips to his, giving in and tasting the man who I’d literally die for without a second thought.
We stood there in the cold with the salt in the air from the ocean, the waves still heard as they came in and went out, and we kissed. We weren’t in a hurry. There wasn’t anyone here to bother us. It was just us and I loved it.
Zeke’s hands went inside my coat to hold me as tight as he could, while kissing me in a way that nearly made my knees give out. He leaned back too soon and I tried chasing his lips, but he chuckled and led me over to the house.
He sat first and I followed. It was cold but not too bad. I could have made a fire to keep us warm, but it felt wrong to do here, in a place I was chased from as flames tried to burn me. These homes weren’t built like modern ones were. There was more wood here, along with the stone. Easy for the houses to burn.
I shook my head. No, I couldn’t think about that right now. Not when I had Zeke with me, giving me such a wonderful night.
Zeke opened the basket and pulled out containers then popped open the lids. He told me to use my magic to heat the food inside. It didn’t take long before the scent drifted to me and took me back in time to when I’d have dinner with Theo and his parents. His mother would make this stew, I wasn’t even sure what was in it, but I loved it and would devour it when it was plated in front of me. Zeke made that. For me.
“How?” I asked, my mouth already salivating at the thought of eating it again after so many years.
“Marjorie was cleaning the kitchen cabinets and found a bunch of recipes tucked inside. I showed them to Theo, and he said I should make this for you. Does it bring you good memories? He didn’t go into detail.”
“It does. Times when I’d eat with him and his parents, when I felt loved and cared for.”
Zeke handed me a spoon and I dug in. The first bite made me moan. It was that good. Zeke smiled like I’d given him a gift. He loved to cook for us. He’d outdone himself with the stew.
After I’d eaten half of it in under two minutes, I put it down and leaned over to kiss him. “Thank you for this. For tonight. For being you.”
“I wanted to help bring back the good memories here and chase the bad away.”
“I love you, Z.”
“I love you too.”