(Fair warning, kids–this installment is not G-rated!)
Rex’s heart thudded in his chest, daring to hope for something. He wasn’t sure what he was hoping for. All he knew was that she still trusted him enough to let him come into her hotel room. Enough to get him a glass of water. His shirt was tight and itched, because usually he ran as a wolf after the fights, but he couldn’t do that now. He had to stick close to Gemma. Corbett and Masters had been outside the fight club, looking for him.
They’d seen him with Gemma.
Shit. He should have pushed her away like he didn’t know her. Or he should have taken more liberties with his kiss, or asked her to pretend that this was a quick celebratory fuck outside. The fighters did that all the time, like the bouncer had suggested. Taking a prize.
They must have seen him go outside with her. Leave with her. She was a weakness to Rex, and they’d know it. If they wanted to find his weakness like Masters had said, Gemma would be it.
This wasn’t going to be good for her.
He needed to figure out a way to stick close.
How could he protect Gems? Gemma Rose, the girl of his dreams. The girl he would never forget, no matter what.
She’d gotten older, but not in a bad way. She’d lost the girlish roundness of her face, and she’d become fully woman.
“So explain,” she said, turning a wary gaze on him. “You said you have things to explain. You’ve got ten minutes.”
She even took out her phone and set a timer.
He laughed, he couldn’t help it. It was such a Gemma thing to do. “Okay. Okay, fine. So, I wanted to stick around Portland, but I knew that there were things about me you didn’t want to know. That you couldn’t know.”
“Nice,” she said. “Cryptic. If this was one of those books I read, you’d be some kind of vampire billionaire motorcycle club mafia guy with an extremely edgy sexual appetite.”
“Nope,” he said, smiling. She’d never been able to resist his grins.
She wasn’t smiling back now, though. “That’s not an explanation.”
“Gems, I haven’t forgotten you. At all.” He lifted up his shirt, and didn’t miss that her eyes got wide at the sight of his body. Good. He spun around, lifted the shirt over his upper shoulders. “Look,” he said. “Our friendship was important to me, too.”
He knew she was examining the rose on his back, and he felt her body heat as she got closer.
His cock grew hard, knowing she was in such close proximity to his body. He wanted to kiss her again, to claim her. Show her with actions instead of words how important she was to him.
When she touched his back, tracing a line of the rose’s petals, he shivered.
“Goosebumps,” she said, a teasing note in her voice. “You cold?”
“No,” he said, but the word came out strangled.
She stepped back, and he immediately missed her heat. “So you got a tattoo. My tattoo, I might add.”
“Yeah. Gemma, I wish…can I stay here tonight?”
She opened her mouth, closed it. Looked surprised. “That came out of nowhere, Rex.” Turning around, she covered her face with her hands.
“Gems, what is it?”
“Don’t talk to me,” she said. “Seriously, I just want you to go.”
“Okay. I will. I promise. I just have one request.”
“Ask me any question, anything from our childhood. The smallest detail about you or your life. If I can’t answer it, I’ll leave. If I can answer it, I get to stay.”
“Stay how long?” she said. “Not that I’m agreeing to this bet, because I’m not.”
“Stay the night.”
Silence. He could hear her breathing, and smell the faintest notes of arousal. He knew she’d wanted him in high school—he’d wanted her, too. He’d wanted her so bad…so bad that he had to leave.
It had broken his heart, broken his wolf. But now here they were together again and he didn’t want to even go as far as the parking lot.
“This is a stupid idea,” she said. “Besides, you can’t remember every tiny detail.”
“But what do you have to lose if you think I’ve forgotten you? If you think I don’t know you anymore, then it doesn’t matter if you take that bet.”
“Said every person who’s ever won a bet after talking someone into taking it,” Gemma muttered.
“I get to ask you three things,” she said.
“That’s fine, too. Gemma, I haven’t forgotten a single thing about our friendship, or you.”
She smiled. “Okay. Good.” She tapped her finger over her lip. He wished he could replace her finger with his lips, his tongue, his teeth.
What was he doing? Focus, Rex.
“What did I call my grandmothers?”
“Both of them?” he asked, thinking back.
“All three. I had a step-grandma, too.”
“Okay. Hmm. The first one died before I met you, right?”
She didn’t give him any indication whether he was right or wrong, but he didn’t need her help. “That was Grandma Jane.”
“Your dad’s mom, you called her Nonna.”
“And your mom’s stepmom, you called her Gran.”
“Okay,” she said. “That’s one right answer.”
“One? That’s like three questions,” Rex said, but he’d forgotten nothing. He’d answer questions all night, especially if it meant he could stay here longer.
“Next,” he said.
“What was my favorite candy up until I was eleven?”
“Snickers. Easy.” She’d stopped liking them after throwing up on a field trip—they’d sneaked five candy bars into Rex’s backpack and eaten them on the bus, but like usual, Rex had wanted to give Gemma everything she wanted. She’d ended up eating four of them.
He held her hair while she puked on the side of the road, because their teacher hadn’t wanted to deal with vomit.
Now, she looked like she had a trick up her sleeve. “Okay,” she said. “Two out of five. Next one is what’s my favorite color?”
“Easy. Rainbow.” She never could choose just one color.
She frowned and squinted at him. “Three out of five. Next one. What did I want more than anything when I was a kid?”
“You mean like an object?”
“I just mean, what did I want?”
“That’s not fair,” Rex said. “You wanted objects, but you also wanted to do things. You also wanted to go places. So you have to be more specific.”
“Then it’s the last two questions. What object did I most want?”
“You wanted a kitten,” Rex said. “From the time you were eight, or when I knew you, up through high school.” Then she’d gotten bored with the idea of a cat, and gone for a boyfriend. Stupid Spencer Grey was a total asshat, but Gemma had basked in his attention those last two months of senior year.
Because Rex hadn’t stepped up.
“And what did I most want to do?” she asked.
“You wanted…” He faltered. She’d wanted to do the things that they’d always done. They’d always wanted to hang out. Both of them. It hadn’t just been him. Gemma had wanted it, too. But to say it, maybe it was wrong. Or presumptuous. Maybe he’d come off like the egotistical bastard she’d called him when he told her he was leaving Portland for good.
“You just wanted to hang out. With me. Every day.”
Gemma’s smirk disappeared. “I was going to say that I wanted to go to travel around the US in a camper…but you’re right. I just wanted to hang out. With you.”
Rex tried to smile, but it felt forced.
“Okay,” Rex said. “That’s five. I get to stay.”
Gemma frowned. “I guess.”
“I get to stay in the bed,” he said. “With you.”
“Fine.” She shrugged. “No biggie. We’ve had sleepovers before.”
That they had. Up until when they were sixteen or so, and Gemma’s parents had put a stop to it. Too old to be sleeping over with a guy, they’d said.
Rex had hated them for that. Gemma had hated them, too. Then Gemma and Rex had simply adjusted their schedule so that they hung out together until three or four in the morning and said goodbye then. It was almost like spending the night together.
He’d missed her so, so much.
She grabbed some clothes from her duffel and walked into the tiny hotel bathroom. Rex sat on the bed. He didn’t have anything to sleep in, so his jeans would have to do. He bounced up and down twice, experimentally. It was an okay bed. Not as good as sleeping in the woods as a wolf, but Gemma was here. With Gemma, he didn’t need to sleep as a wolf.
When Gemma came out of the bathroom, she was in a long sleep shirt that trailed to mid-thigh.
Rex gulped. This wasn’t fair. Was she teasing him on purpose?
She avoided his gaze as she climbed into bed. “Bathroom’s yours,” she said.
“Great.” He went in and used his finger to brush his teeth, then washed his face. Soaped up his hands to get any remainder of Ajax’s blood off of him. Wanted to be perfectly clean for Gemma. Loved Gemma.
But Gemma didn’t know. Couldn’t know.
The wolf inside of him growled at that thought. Gemma should know just how treasured she was. She shouldn’t be kept in the dark. Rex should tell her everything.
He would. He didn’t know when, but he would.
When he went back into the room, Gemma had turned out the light. He could see perfectly well, though, from the moonlight coming in through the deep green curtains. It gave the room a forest-like quality. He kept his jeans on and slid on top of the covers, next to Gemma.
“You can get under the blankets,” she said. “If you want. I don’t mind.”
“Thanks.” He shifted his weight to move the blankets and sheets, and then he was in the bed with her. Next to her warmth. Close. Close enough to touch, to kiss. He listened to her even, slow breaths.
“Why did you kiss me?” she asked into the darkness.
“It felt right,” he said. As honest as possible. The wolf inside of him had wanted more than that—he’d wanted to take her right there, claim her, bind her to him so they’d never be apart.
“But…why? I mean. It’s been so long, so it was weird to suddenly have this between us, right?”
“Not weird at all,” he said. He couldn’t resist, he reached out and touched her hip through the blankets.
She turned to face him, confusion in her dark brown eyes. “I don’t understand what’s going on, Rex. What did you mean there’s something about you that I can’t know about, something that’s dangerous? Are you in the witness protection program or something?”
“It’s…” He wasn’t sure how to explain it. This was what his parents had meant, when they warned him away from Gemma. This was why he hadn’t been able to stay in town when Gemma started attending the community college. With that dickface boyfriend. He’d wanted her then, just like he wanted her now, but he was darkness and violence and ill intent. She was innocent light, beauty, and joy.
“Just tell me, okay?” she asked. “I’m tired. Wanna go to sleep.”
He heard the lie in her voice. She wasn’t tired at all.
“You’re wide awake,” he said, calling her on it. He didn’t always let her know when he knew she was lying, because he wanted to be fair in the arguments they had when they were younger. But a shifter always knew when someone lied.
“Fine,” she said, scowling at him. “Yes, I’m wide awake. But I need to know what’s going on with you. Why you left me like that.”
“You were with Spencer,” he said, trying not to growl the name. “The two of you were getting pretty serious, and I knew you wouldn’t have has much time for me. Spencer didn’t even like me.”
“Of course he didn’t,” Gemma said, her voice a whisper. “He could tell I was hung up on you.”
Rex sat back. He’d known all along that Gemma liked him more than a friend. But even though he’d known, he hadn’t wanted to act on it.
But she didn’t know he’d known, and her admitting it right now—that meant something. Sitting up, he took her hand in his.
“Gemma, I’ve felt things for you my whole life, ever since we met. Even when we were kids, I knew that there was something linking us together. It’s…it’s the way it is with my people.”
“Your people? Are you in some sort of cult or something?” she asked. “Is that why you couldn’t talk to me about why you were leaving?”
Cults. Witness protection program. He yearned to tell her the truth, but it was so much wilder than what she thought.
He hesitated. Hated to lie to her. “Something like that. But just trust me when I say that whatever you’re feeling for me, I’m feeling it about a hundred times more.”
She shook her head on the pillow, her nose scrunched up, and closed her eyes. Whispered, “I don’t think that’s possible.”
When he leaned over to kiss her, she opened her arms, drew him down, and kissed him back. He touched his tongue to her lips and she opened her mouth, let him in. He tasted her, his Gemma. Tasted her toothpaste, the same kind she’d been using in high school, ever since he’d known her. Something with a wintergreen hint to it. He tasted every part of her, all the want, all the need, all the joy. He tasted…her soul.
She kissed him back with a moan, her tongue reaching out to touch his, sliding against his tongue and into his mouth. Needy sounds in her throat, and he wanted nothing more than to make her happy, to please her, to show her how much he cared.
He stroked one hand along her waist, lifted up her long night shirt. No, stop, Rex, he berated himself. This isn’t what she needs right now. She wants to reconnect, not fuck like bunnies.
But then—magically—her hand met his on her nightshirt and she lifted the shirt for him.
He smiled in wonder, that this was happening. After so much dreaming, so many years jacking off to the thought of her because he didn’t think he could ever actually have her—now he was finally here, with her, in bed. Touching her skin. Kissing her mouth. Drawing pleasure from her body and giving it back, he hoped, just as much if not more.
Wanted to make his mate happy. That was the wolf’s thought. Rex didn’t argue. He lifted her shirt up over her head, until she was naked save for a pair of tiny panties. He couldn’t see the color clearly, but he could see they were light-colored and lacy. Maybe lavender. Or maybe hues that melded one into another. A rainbow, he thought.
He leaned up on his arms in a push-up, right over her, and gazed down.
“What are you doing?” she whispered.
“Memorizing this,” he said. “Memorizing how you look. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve imagined…you. Stretched out naked in the moonlight. Beneath me.”
She smiled. It was a shy smile, and it was for him.
When he lowered himself to her again, her hands went straight for his jeans, tugging at the waistband. With her help, he slid them down his legs along with his boxers. He kicked them off, and then they were naked in the bed together.
“Need protection if this is going to go further,” he said, his voice a growl. “You got condoms?”
“Yes,” she said, her voice breathy. “In the overnight kit, in the bathroom.”
He jumped up and went to fetch one, then came back as fast as possible. Rejoined her in the bed. She was looking thoughtfully toward the window, and he kissed her chin with a gentle, chaste peck. “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” he said.
She turned to face him, and smiled. “I want to,” she said. “It’s just so fast. Everything is different, everything has changed. Earlier this morning, I still believed I’d never see you again.”
Those beautiful eyes filled with tears, and Rex’s wolf wanted to scratch him to pieces. Made our mate cry, the wolf was saying, made her sad.
It had been, Rex had thought, for the best. He wanted her to be with a healthy, normal human and have a healthy, normal, human life.
But that didn’t seem to be what fate had in store for them. It had pushed them together yet again, and Rex was tired of fighting his feelings. He was tired of fighting, period. Now that Gemma was here, he’d be done with it. Jim would be disappointed, and probably those manager assholes, but it was time to quit.
He kissed Gemma again, tentative like a question, and she leaned up and kissed him back. Her lips, so soft. Her nails on his back, so sharp. He lifted a hand to her breast, touched it. Wanted to come right then at the feel of her soft skin and that hard little pebble of pleasure that had her gasping as he ran his fingers over it.
“Ohmygosh,” she said. “Please more.” She arched up, wrapped her legs around his waist. His cock was right there at her entrance, straining for her, but he needed more control than that.
He lowered his head to her neck, kissed his way down to her chest. Encircled one of those little nipples with his lips and sucked gently. She arched again, moaned incoherently. Her nails were sharp in his shoulders, on either side of that rose tattoo.
God he loved her. He wanted her—he’d wanted this for his whole life it seemed. They were meant to be together, and fighting it no longer made sense; it had never made sense. Bringing her into his world was selfish, but there was no other way for them.
He leaned up on his knees, reluctantly breaking contact with Gemma’s body. With shaking hands, he donned the condom, rolling it over his cock that was twitching with eagerness.
Gemma helped him, her soft hands covering his own, and she kissed his hip. He bent down to her once more, his mouth on her breasts, licking and sucking, kissing his way over her. He touched her folds with his hand while he kissed her nipples, and she stretched to accommodate one finger, then two.
“Rex,” she murmured, squeezing his fingers with her walls. “I want—I want you.”
He couldn’t wait anymore, either. But he wanted to see her while they were joined. Didn’t want to be on top, wanted to be equal. He scooted to the edge of the bed and sat down. “Come over here?” he asked.
She crawled over to him, straddled his lap. She lowered herself slowly until she was poised just over him.
He locked his gaze with hers, forcing his eyes away from their two almost-joined bodies. “Gemma,” he said. The moment was heavy with desire, heavy with love. “Gemma Rose, I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she said, her own face serious.
And then, she lowered herself the rest of the way onto him.
She moved slightly, as if uncomfortable. He rubbed her hips in a soothing way, and traced the edges of her matching rose tattoo. “You okay?”
“Just…getting used to you,” she said. “It’s…been a while, and nobody like you.”
She moved again, and this time he couldn’t help but move with her, trying to match her rhythm. His body demanded that they dance in this ancient way, rolling up and own, meeting each other’s thrusts, their eyes never leaving each other. He smoothed his hands over her back and then around to her front, cupped her heavy breasts in his palms. Rubbed the nipples between his fingers, felt her pulse around his cock.
“I’m—not going to last long,” she said.
“It’s okay. I’ll bring you again.”
She frowned. “I usually don’t like to go a second time.”
He grinned and kissed her. “Maybe this time you will.”
When he touched her nipples again, squeezing gently to give her just a teensy bit of uncomfortable pressure, she cried out, and moved faster on top of him, her body squeezing and milking him. She leaned forward against him and stilled, panting.
When he moved his fingers to her breasts again, she tried to squirm away.
“No—” she said.
He stopped. “You sure? I can stop, no problem.”
“Well, you should finish too,” she said.
“Only if that’s what you want. I will totally just lift you off of me and set you down—”
“No,” she said. “It’s—I want to try.”
His girl—his woman—was willing to try. He smiled again, kissed her mouth. “You change your mind at any moment, you let me know, okay Gemma Rose?”
She nodded and wrapped her arms around his neck. He moved within her, slowly at first, and then a little harder, faster. When he brought his hands forward to cup her breasts, he didn’t make contact, but instead waited.
Just like he’d hoped, she leaned forward, pressing herself into him. Her clit dragged against his pelvis, he could feel the little nub there, getting stimulated again like before. She began to moan and writhe. The movements of their bodies together generated more heat. The pleasure within him drew up again, reared like it was going to be released, but he wanted to get her there a second time, so he breathed deeply, held it back. Just wait. Patience. He’d been waiting since he was a teenager—he could wait a little longer.
She moaned and moved faster, dragging her hands up and down over his shoulders, bouncing on him until finally she cried out, “Yes! That’s it!” and shuddered over him.
He continued pushing into her, long hard strokes that were faster than before, and then froze, his cock pulsing. Emptying himself, being one with Gemma.
He was a creature of legend, a creature of magic, but this moment was the most magical of any he’d ever experienced. Something searing and hot went through his chest straight to his heart, and he felt more connected to Gemma than he’d ever been before.
“I love you, Gems,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I love you so much.”
She kissed his shoulder. “I love you, too, Rex. So, so much.”