Now she was definitely, completely, one hundred percent there. She loved him. Loved living with him, knowing him, fucking him, belonging to him—she loved it all. She’d even let him measure her floss if that’s what he needed. Her love for him was boundless and boundaryless, and she couldn’t wait to tell him when he picked her up from work.
The familiar sound of his bike’s engine caught her ear, and she hurried to finish the last few tasks before she was done for the day. Then she grabbed the surprise and set it on one of the tables just as Tairon’s figure appeared outside the bakery’s plate glass window. She opened the door for him, and he swept her up in a huge hug, like they’d been apart days or weeks and not merely hours.
“Ready to go?” he asked, lacing his fingers with hers.
“Almost. I want to show you something first. I’ve been working on a new recipe. Come here and see.” Ivy tugged him over to the table and bit her lip, waiting for his reaction to what she’d made.
“Everything bagels, huh?” He grinned at her. “Brings back the memories, that’s for sure.”
She nudged the plate toward him, the delicious scent of sesame, caraway, onion flakes, and poppyseeds on the still-warm bagels wafting up from it. “They’re gluten-free. I think I got them perfect, Tairon. Nobody would ever guess they weren’t conventional flour. It only took me like forty batches to figure it out.” She giggled, giddy with success.
He raised one brow as he picked up a bagel from the plate. “I didn’t know you were working on this.”
“I wanted to surprise you.” She held her breath, watching his face as he took his first bite. His lids fell shut, and he groaned, the deep rasp sending a flutter of anticipatory pleasure straight to her core. “You like it? I added caraway seeds to the everything seasoning to match your scent and baked them off in the wood-fired oven using apple logs, so they’re kind of like our love story in one breath. One that you actually get to eat instead of giving to the news-stand guy.”
“So fucking good,” he said, following his first taste with another bite. “I could eat these every day.”
“I’ll make you more,” she said, smiling. “A lot more, actually. I’m hoping to expand the bakery’s gluten-free offerings to draw in more dragon customers. My boss is totally supportive and is giving me shares in the business in exchange for recipe development, can you believe it?!”
“Really?!” Tairon’s face lit up, and he picked her up and spun her around until her feet flew off the floor. “Congratulations, another step toward your dream! Amazing. I’m so proud of you!” He kissed her, tasting of everything, before sitting down at the table, keeping her in his lap. He grabbed a second bagel. “I better eat this now. Once we get back to the hive, these things are going to vanish as soon as you walk in the door.”
“Eat all of them if you want. I made them for you. I used my alokoi gift to mix up the dough,” she added, touching the treasure in her apron pocket. He squeezed her, murmuring his enjoyment as he ate. It was so gratifying to feed him, especially after all he’d done to nourish her spirit over the last few months. It was time to tell him the depth of her feelings.
Ivy slid off his lap to stand between his knees. “It adds a little something extra when baking is done with love, don’t you think? And I have so much love for you, Tairon. Enough to make a whole bakery full of bagels.”
He tipped his face up, eyes glowing, fingers digging into her hips. “You love me?”
“Close your eyes,” she said, as she reached to cradle his face in her hands. He did as she asked, and she brushed a soft kiss on his left lid. “I see you, Tairon.” His right lid. “I love you.” The center of his forehead. “You are everything to me.”
He pulled her closer in to his body, trapping her between his knees. Eyes still shut, he murmured, “Have I showed you a new dragon trick yet today?”
Ivy grabbed his horns, steering his face closer for a kiss. “No?”
“So negligent of me.” He nipped the side of her breast through her shirt, and her whole body jolted to attention.
Knowing the sort of tricks he usually had in mind, she squealed and twisted away, protesting breathlessly, “Not here!”
“Definitely not,” he agreed, rising from the chair. He grabbed the box of bagels and led her out, impatiently pressing against her back so she could feel the thick curve in his pants while she locked the bakery door.
Though the bright yellow daffodils in the planters that flanked the entrance looked like sunshine, a distinct chill in the air and a blanket of low clouds overhead said winter wasn’t quite over. A few stray snowflakes fluttered down onto the shoulders of Tairon’s leather jacket. When Ivy brushed them away, and they were instantly replaced.
“Weather report predicted a storm tonight. Big one,” he said as he stowed the bagels in his bike’s saddlebags and passed her a helmet. “Might get snowed in. You’ll be stuck with me and my dragon tricks all day tomorrow.”
“Oh no. How terrible, all alone with a monster. Please, don’t eat me!” Ivy grinned at him.
“Definitely gonna eat you. Get on the bike, Beautiful,” he growled, adjusting himself in his pants. She swung her leg over the seat behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing as close to his warmth as she could.
As they made the short ride across town, the scattered flakes turned to flurries that swirled around them, reminding her of the first time they rode his bike together. But this time, instead of leaving her life behind, she was riding straight toward it.
Tairondidn’tletherfeet touch the ground when they reached the hive and parked in the underground garage. Pausing only to drop off her everything-but-gluten bagels in the communal kitchen, Tairon carried her upstairs and deposited her in their nest.
“Wait here,” he demanded, eyes glowing and tail whipping behind him, looking like dragon out of a legend. “Don’t move,” he added as he flicked off the lights and ducked out.
She obeyed, waiting in the dark until her eyes adjusted and then watching the fat snowflakes spiral down in the twilight outside the expansive windows. Heat built between her legs and prickled over her chest as she anticipated what he might have in mind. Was it a new tongue trick? She hoped it was a new tongue trick. He seemed to have an endless supply of them.
But when Tairon reappeared, he had a whole armful of seemingly unrelated objects: a fire extinguisher, a folded gray blanket, a bucket of ice with a bottle of clear liquor in it. Ivy sat up. “Should I grab glasses?”