Classes began anew on Monday, and Shana found herself a bit irked as the day progressed. People seemed insistent on calling her Edgar's 'baby sister', and that chaffed. She was not only less than a year younger, she was bigger! She would have to start knocking teeth down throats if they didn't cut that crap out.
"That's a scary look," Siobhan said solemnly as Shana walked up to where she stood. They were the only two who had afternoon Monday classes, and so they walked at least partway home together.
"I feel scary. I'm going make you a widow before you're wed."
Siobhan bit her lower lip to hide a smile. "In his defense, he tried all Friday to correct people on things, but, you know. Everyone likes the idea of a 'baby' sibling of some sort. I gave up on arguing about being Rocky's 'baby' sister ages ago. Speaking of my brother, put him out of my misery soon. He's driving me nuts."
Shana started laughing. "It's not any easier over here, I promise! It's just one of those timing things, and he's been trying to be nice about letting me get lots of time with Edgar before he starts stealing some of it for himself. I have plenty of time though." She shook her head wryly. "I'm still getting settled in. I've only got two classes right now. I'll pick up a full schedule next quarter. I kept this one light because I knew I'd be coming home."
"Which we're all glad you did!" Siobhan gave her a quick hug as they stopped outside the complex where Shana and Edgar lived. "See you soon! Should I bring Rocky with me when I come over during this week?" she teased. "I've tried to not come over as often as I used to now that you're there."
Shana snorted. "Don't worry about my delicate sensibilities any! You keep my brother distracted and I'll keep yours distracted as well. If not directly, I can tempt him with my PCM. He promised to work on it anyway." She grinned a bit as she watched Siobhan hurry off. While she deeply loved and appreciated both Toulume siblings, she still felt more than a bit vexed by their incredibly generous natures. She had a feeling she might have to clean up behind someone's broken heart eventually, and she had a whole new sympathy for her brother. She had left him to handle this by himself for too long. Oh well.
"Ah! There you are!"
Shana glanced over and saw a carriage pulling up beside the pedestrian lane. Virginia sat in the driver seat. "Hi to you too! Where else would I be? I'm not a socialite who goes to events right after school."
Virginia grinned. "Alright, that's fair. What are you up to right now?"
"It's like prying teeth with you and Edgar!" Virginia said in exasperation. "Allow me to be more specific: what activities have you got planned?"
Shana laughed. "You make it so irresistible! Other than doing a bit of homework, I have no activities planned. What is it you want me to do, and will it humiliate me in any shape or fashion?"
"I'm a lonely extrovert whose friends are busy," Virginia lamented dramatically with a hand to her heart. "I am stuck asking the introvert if she is willing to go with me to the horse ranch just beyond town." She felt no guilt for lying and never had. Rocky worked at that ranch, and she disliked as much as Siobhan did to see him and Shana be frustrated and miserable. She had already pulled other strings with some help, and she would make sure her prince and queen got the time together that they deserved. She needed them to be happy, damn it. "You in?"
"I love horses, so why not?" She walked around and climbed into the front passenger seat. "I can be the social battery for my lonely extroverts. Just return me home to let me recharge when we're done!"
Virginia just laughed.
* * * * *
The Springwood Ranch that covered a fairly vast stretch of land outside of Lux was a favored spot for many people. It had picnic grounds, beautiful areas of flowers, a lovely spring, and a large pasture where horses ran freely. It also had stables and a corral where the expert staff members would teach visitors how to ride, or even show off some more expert skills of their own.
Almost as soon as they had arrived in the city, Alexandria and her two partners had been drawn to visit the place. They had literally just gotten a house in the city, had barely unpacked, and they had just needed to go to the ranch. Alexandria's eyes moved a bit restlessly over the corral as a wind ruffled her short hair. Her freckles nearly glowed in the afternoon sun, almost as proof of her being so special to the ones with Nature power. "What drew us here?" she murmured.
Kellie shook her head a bit and made her long peach hair sparkle. Copper eyes and brown skin rounded out her coloring, and caught more than one passing eye. "Well, we'll know soon enough. I know you want to see Shana, Lex," she soothed. "But if we need to be here, then here is where we will be. She doesn't even know we're here yet, so she won't mind a detour."
Desiree leaned against the fence beside them and sighed deeply. Curly ultramarine hair and intense purple eyes stood out powerfully against her light brown skin and underscored her lineage as they always had. "It is curious though." She took a sudden breath and straightened as she saw a familiar figure on horseback. "Or not. Look."
The other two followed her gaze and saw someone they had not seen in years. The last time they had seen him in this life, they had all been children. The last time they had seen him as an adult had been in another life. "Ah," Alexandria murmured. "So that's it." She smiled as he rode up to the fence. "It's been a long time, hasn't it?"
Rocky stared down at all three Dual Cultivators for a long moment, not necessarily surprised to see them so much as to see them there. "You three must have taken the fastest ship! I knew you were going to come home very soon, but maybe not that soon." He grinned and felt something inside relax a bit. It felt a little as if some holes inside his heart had filled to have all of his beloved Defender friends near once more. And, too, he had happiness for Shana as well. "Kellie, thank you for making Edgar's and my weapons."
She smiled. "Of course! If we couldn't be there to protect you when you got in over your head, at least we could feel better knowing I had at least armed you." She scowled. "Gin has already filled us in on some of the events. No more of that out of you!"
He winced. The only downside to having more Defenders around was that many more people to try to protect him. He would rather they focus on his sister and soul mate, really. Thinking it, his frowned deepened. "What do I need to know to help Shana?"
"I'm glad you two have already met again!" Alexandria said only. "Saves us the effort of trying to put you back together. Have you seduced her yet, as a Caretaker nearly always does their best to do?"
"It's an effort on both sides, trust me." His eyes narrowed. "Lex. Come on. You more than anyone else know what I feel! I watched what happened to Siobhan; I know Shana will suffer! Let me know what I need to know in order to help her suffer less!"
"Answers will come, Robert," Desiree said softly, and firmly. "And they are not pleasant answers. We hesitate only for the sake of our queen. We will put off the day where she must don her Mask for as long as we can, just as our Light partners put off the day as long as they could for Siobhan."
Understanding their position in no way made him like the situation, and he rode off before he started asking more questions and getting less answers. He just got the sick feeling in his stomach that something possibly more terrible loomed in Shana's future compared to Siobhan's. What price was worse to pay than wrongful death?
Alexandria watched him ride off and just sighed. Nothing felt worse than having to resist the urge to give her princes or queens the things they asked. They asked for so little to begin with, and it only felt worse when they asked for things to help others.
She took a sudden quick breath as she felt a familiar Nature power tease her soul. Her head swung around, and she spotted her twin soul walking down the dirt road from the parking lot with a familiar red-haired figure beside her. It had only been less than a week since last seeing her, but it had hurt almost as much as a year apart. "Of course," she murmured. "She would be drawn here as well."
Desiree and Kellie followed her gaze and also felt something relax. "Tell me not to go running to her and grab on," Kellie groused. "I always want to bundle her up in cotton somewhere and make sure no one can find her!"
"No help from me," Alexandria groused back. "I want that more than you do."
"Both of you behave," Desiree scolded mildly. She smiled as she caught Virginia's eye, and her smile widened as Virginia took Shana's chin and turned her head toward the three Dark Defenders. "I really do love Gin. I had missed having her boss all of us around. And seeing her butt heads with Shana over such a thing."
Shana felt only a moment of confusion when Virginia grabbed her, and as she saw her three beloved Defenders, her heart ached powerfully as her lips trembled. She almost hit the ground running and rushed over to throw her arms around Alexandria. She clung on with all of her considerable strength and hid her face against her twin's shoulder.
"Easy." Alexandria buried her face for a moment in Shana's hair. "I'm here now. We all are. We're only a block from you at all times, just as we always promised. You're not alone." She looked up to smile as Virginia reached them. "Hello, Gin. Thank you."
"You're welcome, though you were not technically my target. Welcome home." She hugged Desiree and Kellie alike and then kept an arm around the latter's waist companionably. She could hug Alexandria once Shana finally let go. "We've already been in contact, and I've kept you updated, but there's some things we could only discuss in person."
"I imagine so," Desiree agreed wryly.
Shana finally let go of Alexandria and hugged her other two friends nearly as tightly. She mostly ignored what they had said; she had known for ages that Alexandria had stayed in contact with Virginia, and that had never bugged her. She had liked knowing that some of the Defenders had been on hand to protect her brother. Especially since he had clearly been in some sort of trouble a few months earlier. She would pester for her own answers later. She knew how to wait for what she needed.
She hopped up to sit on the side of the fence and smiled. "I guess I don't mind so much being dragged out of my quiet apartment for this. Thanks, Ginny!"
Only Siobhan, Shana, and Rocky could get away with calling Virginia by the affectionate version of her name. Edgar could, though he rarely did, but no one else. She stuck to her full name or just Gin with everyone else. Only her beloved queens and princes could be so informal. "You're very welcome!"
The thunder of hooves sounded behind them, and everyone turned to watch as Rocky sent his horse over an obstacle without touching the bar. With casual skill, he put the white horse through a few other paces to the cheers of some observers and then rode over to where the five Dual Cultivators stood.
Shana's Sight suddenly stirred, and it almost seemed to overlap past and present together. For just a moment, she saw Rocky wearing an outfit that looked a lot like a Ruler suit of some sort, and a coronet sat upon his white hair. She blinked and the vision evaporated to reveal he had stopped in front of her and had a hand held out. "Uhm. Sorry." She shook her head quickly. Where had that come from? Were her fuzzy memories now starting to unfuzz themselves? But why? "I think I just zoned out for a moment. Did you say something?"
He had recognized the reaction of someone with Sight and wanted to ask what she had seen, but something told him to leave it alone. "I asked if you wanted a ride," he said only. He smiled. "I promise to keep my hands to myself."
She arched a brow. "Somehow I don't trust you."
"Damn." He snapped his fingers and then grinned at the others as he swung down out of the saddle. "I'm supposed to give a speech about the Ranch to newcomers, but the rest of you have already heard it from the staff."
"Tch!" Shana shook her head in mock dismay. "You mean I don't warrant the speech? I demand equal treatment, sir!"
He slowly lifted a white brow. "Well, if it's equality my lady wants . . ." He reached out with unexpected speed, caught her around the waist, and lifted her bodily into the corral with him.
She glared at him as her feet hit the ground. It was not fair that he still be enough bigger than her to manhandle her as if she were his sister's size. It seemed even more unfair that she liked such a thing. However, "I would like to make it clear that I still tolerate very few people moving me anywhere against my will, and the next time you do that, my size ten boot will find its way to a sensitive portion of your anatomy."
He did not envy Alexandria's duty to protect her, and the wry smile on the Defender in question's face implied she did not either. "You wanted equality," he told Shana reasonably. "Therefore you get to put your smart ass in a saddle and I'll give you the speech while I teach you to ride."
"Teach me?" A black brow just as arrogant as his lifted in turn. "I've been riding for over a decade now, and I'm damned good at it. I could outride you blindfolded." She looked around and spotted a black stallion only a few feet away. "Is he available?"
"Yes, but he's named Whirlwind for a reason. He has a hell of a personality conflict. I have yet to see him let anyone but me stay in the saddle for long." He offered the reins to the white mare contently standing beside him. "Borrow my horse. Coral is as sweet as a dove."
"No, I like Whirlwind." She took a step forward with her hands held up, and the stallion glanced at her curiously. "Hi there," she said softly, gently. "Come here, pretty boy." She stood still as Whirlwind immediately walked over and started sniffing at her intently. When he pressed his head against her chest on a sigh, she smiled and ran her hands over his head to scratch under the itchy tack he wore. "There you are. You're not a troublemaker at all, are you? Aren't you beautiful?" She laughed when he tried to nibble her hair. "I'm not edible!"
More than one jaw dropped in the area. Rocky's wasn't one of them, though. He had of course known that Shana's particular Nature gift lay primarily in fauna, and this just proved more evidence of it. He honestly did not remember her ever meeting any animal that she had not instantly befriended. "Want a saddle for him?" he asked dryly.
She shot him a grin. "Why bother?" She caught a handful of Whirlwind's mane and swung with casual grace up onto his back. She scooped up the reins and tugged to tell him to turn and start walking. "I can outride my brother, by the way. Drove him nuts when we would race every summer. We tend to be more competitive with each other than others, actually. Go figure."
Rocky quirked a brow. Edgar was his emergency backup trainer when a new horse arrived that was simply too stubborn for even him to work with. "I'll remember that the next time I'm having trouble. I'll put your number on my list of trainers with your brother's."
"Will you pay me?"
She grinned. "Deal." She turned Whirlwind toward the beaten path around the large corral and sighed contentedly. She had missed riding. And since there was a nice incentive to visit, she would probably get back into it. Turn down a chance to see Rocky on horseback? She wasn't stupid. The man hit a godlike level of sexiness.
She moved with such fluid grace that it almost seemed as if she had become an extension of the horse beneath her. "She never stops impressing me," Alexandria admitted. "She would go for a walk and come home with a menagerie following her. Good thing my dads had a sense of humor over it!"
Rocky grinned a bit. "That sounds familiar! She did her best to keep them out of the house when we were kids because of Mom's allergies, but if we had windows open and screens down, birds would absolutely fly in and perch on her head or shoulders. That's why I decided to get her a pet once she came home. I thought she might like having a semi-permanent animal friend to keep her company. Wait until you meet Bastian, her ferret." He eyed Virginia. "And I appreciate your attempts to put her under my nose, Ginny, but we really are getting there at a perfectly decent speed."
"I want you happy," she reminded him gently. "And that means I want you to be with your soul mate." She smiled. "I'll back off for now, though."
"Much obliged." He glanced up as Shana stopped beside him on Whirlwind. "Having fun?" he asked warmly.
"Lots." She smiled from under her lashes. "Want to join us? He promises not to toss you off."
He took her offered hand and swung easily up behind her on Whirlwind's back. The stallion barely noticed the added weight and merrily trotted off with both royals on his back, almost with a hint of a prance that implied he knew them to be royal. Rocky let Shana steer and lightly rested his hands on her waist for balance. Just having her close could be enough for now, and he briefly buried his face against her neck.
"What's that for?" she asked softly.
"Nothing. Just love you."
Virginia watched them and felt her heart ache a little at the way Rocky instinctively seemed to be trying to shelter Shana with his body and soul. Even with the sun behind him, she did not get lost in shadow thanks to her lover's Light. "He and Edgar. Seriously. Always acting like a Caretaker first." She knew it was a bit hypocritical when she and her partners acted as Defenders first and Rulers second, but at least they had armor! "We need to get Shana up to speed very soon," she sighed. "She deserves to know what is going on."
"I agree." In a lower voice, Alexandria admitted, "I hope, at the least, Rocky can again give her good things to dream. Her entire life has been a nightmare she cannot escape. I often wonder if she ever sleeps at all."
Virginia's hands clenched together in pain but not in surprise. She had wondered more than once even as children. "Anything I or the other three can do," she vowed, "we will do without hesitation. Shana is as important to us as Siobhan is. You will keep me involved in everything, Alexandria. That's an order as Lead. I need to know what is happening around our queen."
Alexandria nodded. "You have our word."
Oblivious to the conversation, Shana and Rocky continued to enjoy their ride around the large corral. As they began to approach back toward their friends, she said very softly, "Are you free this evening? Edgar called me on the way here, and he's apparently going to be out with Siobhan until very late. I told him to stay at your place so you could stay at ours."
His hands tightened on her waist and then slid around her in a hug. "I can make myself be free. You know I want nothing more than to be yours. But . . . there's fear inside you. I can feel it. What's wrong, Shana?"
She took a long breath. "Destiny and I . . . we have a deal. She will give me what I want at any given moment, and she can demand something of me later. I've wanted to see you, to be with you, for so long but never could, and now suddenly I can? I know what she is telling me. I can have you, but there will be a high price to pay." She shook her head a bit. "I don't care. I'll pay anything if it means I can just be happy. For once truly happy. To sleep in your arms where nightmares cannot find me."
He thought back again to Siobhan and the price of her birth, and fear flashed through him that he fiercely shoved down. Whatever Shana needed of him as her Caretaker, he would give. Anything. His life, his soul. If she paid a price, he would try to pay it with her. "I'm yours," he told her softly. He pressed his lips to her cheek for a moment. "Whatever you want from me."
She could not help but smile at that, and it looked a bit wicked. "Ooh. Now that sounds tempting." She pulled Whirlwind to a stop near the fence and smiled as Rocky nimbly got to the ground. She joined him shortly and handed over the reins. "Here you go."
"Take Whirlwind in to the stables," Rocky told a staffer who walked closer. He passed the reins to the other man. "And you get to take over. I'm clocking out a bit early."
The staffer hid a smile. "You got it, boss." He headed off with the grumpy stallion reluctantly following and tugging at the reins he held.
It wasn't the first time Shana had noticed her lover acted as if he was in charge around the place. "Boss?" she asked politely. "Your list of trainers?"
Helpfully, Virginia told her, "He's sort of the manager here. And I only say 'sort of' because he's technically the co-manager. The other manager is moving toward retirement and has been letting him run the place for the last year. Rumor has it that when Rocky graduates, the manager will turn everything over entirely."
"So nice for him to finally have a reason to be bossy." She ignored the way her other three friends were trying not to grin at her. She honestly did not care if anyone knew the plans for the evening. In fact, them knowing would make them less likely to interrupt! "Rental is up on the introvert. Rocky and I are going home."
The others laughed, and Desiree helped her hop over the fence. "Tomorrow we'll have dinner together. That way you can see where we are living and know where to find us when you need us. For now," she rose up and kissed Shana's cheek, "go be happy."
"I intend to." Shana kissed Virginia on the cheek as well in thanks and then took Rocky's hand when he offered it. Their fingers laced together almost intimately, and she leaned against his arm as they walked away from the corral toward where he had his carriage parked. Once in motion, she asked, "Did you really know all along this was our destination?"
"I did." He navigated the streets with easy skill, though slower than normal. If he had either Chivanti in his carriage, he doubled down on safe driving and not alarming them. A memory made him smile. "You know how Siobhan clued Edgar in right?"
He told her, and enjoyed listening to her laugh. "I won't lie. I would absolutely have done the same thing to you in her shoes. I just got lucky enough to clue you in long before we needed to get to that point."
"I have no objections to you stripping and pouncing on me any time we're alone. I just want to put that out there." She watched his profile as he drove, and hunger only continued to churn all the harder inside her body. The tightness to his jaw implied he knew she watched him, and she let her gaze slowly drift downward. His own desire seemed an obvious thing even behind denims. The only thing that kept her hands to herself was the need to not distract the person driving a machine she knew for a fact could be lethal.
He had barely parked the carriage before he swung around in his seat and reached for her. She hastily scrambled out her door. "Not out here!" she managed breathlessly as he came around the back of the carriage with a predatory stride that sent her pulse spiking. Things had better not get stronger in a few years. They wouldn't survive it if it did!
He stayed far closer than could be considered polite as they took the stairs to the apartment a bit faster than usual. Her fingers quivered as she unlocked the door. She had barely gotten it closed before he crowded her back against it and kissed her with an edge of desire that had the keys falling from her numb grip. Desperately, greedily, she fisted her hands in his hair and returned the kiss as ravenously as it was given until neither of them could breathe.
She grabbed at him for balance as he snatched her off her feet with a strength that only made her burn more. Nothing truly turned her on more than his strength, perhaps partially because she knew how hard he had worked to earn it. "Bedroom," she managed to say. She hooked her knees around his hips for balance and caught his face in her hands to take another wild kiss. "Down the hall." A little gasp of part laughter and part alarm caught as he tried to turn and almost tripped. "You better not drop me! I'll never let you live it down!"
"I wouldn't." He caught hands full of her hair to drag her into another kiss. His tongue tangled with hers until he stole the little gasp she made that he craved. They bumped into the wall more than once thanks to his lack of balance, but somehow made it safely into her bedroom. Before he tripped them, he tumbled her down onto the carpet.
"Rug burns!" she told him breathlessly.
"I'll heal them." His mouth rushed hotly over her face and then lower. He jerked a bit too hard at her shirt and the buttons popped. "Dammit."
She felt a laugh of sheer delight and desire combined rise. Her head had been spinning all along, and now she felt a bit drunk. Two could play the game, and she dragged at his shirt until he finally stripped it off. She flattened a hand against his chest and felt his heart hammering under her palm with the same crazy rhythm of her own. The pull of her magic tugged at his, and his Flower Mark appeared under her palm. With easy skill, she tumbled him over and pinned him instead. She buried her hands in his hair and bent to kiss him greedily. Would she ever get enough of his marshmallow Light taste? Probably not, and she did not at all mind.
His hands moved a bit roughly over her bare sides and then up to remove the bra she wore. Her Flower Marks glowed darkly as they appeared, and he leaned up to hotly kiss the one right over her breasts. The little moan she made raked dangerously at his self-control. "Touch me," he urged. His mouth moved to caress her breast and then teased the taut nipple. "I need you to touch me." The sudden rasp of calluses on her fingertips over his sensitive skin made his breath catch as desire tightened his body only more. She knew it too. Her pink eyes all but glowed as she walked her fingers down his chest, and darkness swirled inside their depths temptingly.
She shifted and leaned down to taste his Mark as he had done to her, and the shudder that went through his body thrilled her. Her caresses moved lower, and she found his durable work denims in her way. She nearly ripped them in frustration. Only the knowledge that he couldn't leave without them stopped her. "You better remove those or I will."
He nearly gave in to the sensual threat because it sounded sexy as hell, but the same thought had occurred to him. He got free of her half-hearted pin and quickly stripped off what remained of his clothes. Frankly, he had almost forgotten even his shoes. He then reached out and fiercely removed her lingering clothing as well. Naked, there could be no hiding the power she possessed, and his stomach quivered with sheer lust. He could happily spend forever learning and memorizing all of that beautiful muscle.
They reached for each other at the same time in another desperate kiss and tumbled breathlessly over the rug until she finally let him pin her without breaking free. She had no desire to be anywhere except right there in his arms. He began to kiss and taste her as thoroughly as she had tasted him, and she fought the urge to flip him over and return the favor again. His mouth suddenly buried hotly between her legs, and she could not stop a cry of delight. She could not breathe for the greedy need burning inside her body.
She grabbed at him when he rose up and she swiftly reversed their positions to resume her exploration. She had a goal this time, and when she found his arousal, she tasted him as wholly as he had tasted her. His hands bunched briefly in her hair, and she felt a strange surge of power not just through her body but even her scalp. When she slowly slid back up his body, she found her hair had gotten longer. "You have a strange effect on me," she teased him huskily.
Eyes more white than gold flashed up at her. "I'm not done yet." He grabbed her and rolled, and his heart quivered when she again let him pin her. That she wanted to let him shelter and protect her only made his desire burn more. He dragged her into another nearly combustible kiss until she was twisting desperately beneath him.
"You had better—" She broke off on a moan as he positioned himself and then drove deep into her heated body. Something more powerful than desire seemed to well, and she felt, all but heard, a powerful click inside her soul as they locked together there as they belonged. The emotion he always gave so generously, the magic infusing his soul, seemed to pour into her own soul until she could not ever imagine not feeling him there. Nothing could tear them apart except death—and even death might not dare attempt such a thing.
She threw her arms around his neck and held on with all her strength as he took her again and again. Love and desire fed each other back and forth until her entire body felt like it might well shatter under the pressure, and she could not stop a whimper of sheer desperation. He drove harder, deeper, his own breaths not much less fevered than hers until the tension finally broke into searing waves of ecstasy. She might well have cried out then, but his kiss stole away the sound as they both drowned inside the pleasure. She had no strength left to catch him when his arms gave out, but he felt so perfectly delightful as a blanket that she honestly did not care. Rug burns would absolutely be worth every moment of that interlude.
Some strength eventually did return. Enough so that they managed to get to their feet only to collapse into her bed. She curled into his arms with her head on his shoulder and let herself savor the happiness of being there. She smoothed a hand slowly across his chest and trailed her fingers over his Flower Mark. His fingers covered hers, and she smiled as she tilted her head back to look up at him. "Did that tickle?"
"A bit." His arm around her tightened and then his hand slid up to smooth across the Flower Mark on her arm. "I liked it." His stomach suddenly rumbled, and he felt his cheeks heat as she started laughing. "We skipped dinner."
She sat up and gave a lazy stretch. She had never felt more perfectly content and happy, both emotionally and physically. A roll of her shoulders told her that if she had any burns, she did not really feel them. "Let's find something in the kitchen." She watched him slide out of bed and bit back a sigh of appreciation as fresh desire stirred. She had really gotten first prize in the lover soul mate competition for he had a beauty that truly went through both body and heart. Destiny could never demand anything she would not willingly pay to feel so loved and wanted by this most special person.
He glanced back to see her smiling at him, and the smile brought an instant rush of hunger to taste her lips. "What are you thinking, or do I dare not ask?" The words came out husky despite his best efforts.
The smile widened. "Just thinking about how it feels like we have lost time to make up for." She bit back a giggle as he immediately swung around and leaned down to cage her against the covers. Only he could bring out the silly laughter she so often never felt. "I thought you wanted dinner."
"It can wait. I feel like snacking on chocolate right now."
"Funny, I have a craving for marshmallows. We're a few graham crackers shy of dessert."
"We can do without. Crumbs in the bed would be terribly uncomfortable."
©Stacy J. Garrett. Do not reprint or redistribute without permission.