CW: Adult Content & Graphic Language

Name: Kari

Day/Time: Sunday, 7:58 p.m.

Current state of mind: Relaxed

What are you wearing? Nick’s sweatshirt & a pair of black leggings

What are you listening to? Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift

What are you drinking? Mulled wine

Where are you? My bedroom

Zakopane, Poland

I was a worrier by nature and a pessimist by default. I’d never been much of a glass is half-full type of girl. No. The glass was half-empty and on the brink of shattering. I tried being optimistic. I did. But it was hard to see the bright side when my world had been blanketed in darkness these past few weeks. And even now—while we were on vacation—that darkness had followed us in the form of Zachariah, who’d not only threatened my life, but my sister’s as well.

Nick and Ryan were out dealing with the threat while I stayed behind at our mountain home. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone—though I kind of craved the solitude. But solitude meant drowning in a foreboding sea filled with worry and despair. And I couldn’t help but worry.

I knew Nick could handle himself—knew that he’d come home as promised—but the overthinker in me wouldn’t listen to reason. Reason had taken a backseat as my anxiety steered the proverbial ship straight into a dread-filled abyss.

My gaze drifted over to the picture window where the snow was falling in thick bursts. Again. I could barely see the mountains—which only added another layer of worry. They didn’t have far to travel, but still…

“Here.” My grandmother shoved a crystal shot glass filled with nalewka into my hand. “For your nerves.”

I didn’t feel like getting inebriated before my date with Nick—which I needed to get ready for—but a couple of shots wouldn’t hurt. Gods knew I could use a glass of calm or two. Or three. I flashed my grandma a grateful smile. “Dzięki.” I tossed the alcohol back—the cinnamon-apple flavors masking the potency of the Spirytus.

“Nick will be fine.” My grandmother refilled our shot glasses. “He will get rid of that jebaniec and be back home before you know it.”

“I know,” I replied, forcing another smile. Gods, I hated being fake—hated pretending I was okay when in reality I was suffocating under an apprehension-filled fog of my own making. 

Couldn’t we just have one day—one single fucking day without all the doom and gloom? We were on vacation, for shit’s sake. We were supposed to be relaxing and having fun with our friends and family. Instead, we were dealing with a depraved shit sack who thrived on drama and death threats. Like Zachariah couldn’t take a timeout from his greedy scheming for seven days?

I couldn’t believe that gnojek had asked Nick to cut the funding for our orphanage expansion. Zachariah hated me—that was no secret—but to try defunding my community projects when he knew our people needed help… That was just another level of low. Gods, I should’ve tagged along with Nick.

A cool breeze gusted through the lower level as the lights flickered overhead.

Kurwa mać. Not this again. Why couldn’t my magic just behave for once?

“Spoko.” My grandmother placed her hand on top of mine. “Everything will be okay. You’ll see.”

“She’s right.” Ash plopped down on the padded stool next to me, giving my arm a gentle squeeze. “They’ll be back before we all know it.” She popped a mushroom-stuffed pasztecik into her mouth, chewing thoughtfully before changing the subject. “Any idea what you’re going to wear tonight?”

I wasn’t sure if she was trying to convince me or herself, but I was grateful for the change of subject. The breeze dissipated along with the pulsing pendant lights as I shifted my focus onto the next dilemma—what to wear. “No,” I replied, running my finger around the rim of the crystal glass. “Any ideas?”

“Hmm.” Ash grabbed her shot glass. “Something warm, but cute—Oh! How about a pair of white pants and a blue top? Nick loves blue.”

“Yes.” My grandmother agreed, clinking her kieliszek against mine. “Or red. Red goes good with your eyes and hair.”

“Absolutely! You look stunning in red. But blue is good too. You’ll look gorgeous in either, especially paired with white pants,” Ash replied, her aqua eyes lighting up with enthusiasm.

Did I bring white pants?

“Karina will look beautiful no matter what she wears.” My grandmother tossed back her shot. “Just don’t wear red, white, and blue. You don’t want to look like a flag. That’s tacky.”

“I wasn’t planning on it.” I finished my drink and got up. “I am going to get ready.” I kissed my grandmother on the cheek. “Don’t get too drunk.”

“Eh.” My grandmother waved her hand dismissively, pecking my cheek in return. “Don’t worry about me. You just focus on enjoying your husband tonight.” 

Gods. Not this again. Why did she insist on calling Nick my husband when she knew we weren’t married? It wasn’t like she was senile. If anything, she was as lucid as they came. Sure, she could be a bit eccentric, but her power of recollection was impressive—especially for someone who’d lived over several millennia. Maybe the booze was hitting her harder than I thought.

“Babcia, please.” I deposited the crystal into the sink. “You know Nick isn’t my husband.”

“Yet.” My grandmother’s cobalt eyes twinkled with mischief.

Nope. I was not falling into this trap—wasn’t going to be lured into a discussion about marriage and babies and all that good stuff. That was between me and Nick. No one else.

“Dobra noc.” I spun on my heel, exiting the kitchen right along with the conversation.

As I slipped into our bedroom, I took a breath, reveling in the blissful silence. I loved my grandmother, but I needed a couple of minutes to recharge after all that. And yet, I couldn’t relax—not when the clock was ticking, and I wasn’t even close to being ready for tonight.

I beelined into the sprawling walk-in, flipping on all the lights. White pants. I needed white pants. Ripping open the dresser drawers, I rummaged through stacks of neatly folded leggings and jeans in all sorts of blue, black, and gray hues, but finding nothing in white.

Cholera jasna. Switching gears, I flipped through the tops and pants suspended from the rods—discarding anything I didn’t like. Spotting a pair of wine-colored slacks, I yanked them off the hanger. Maybe I could pair them with a white top or sweater. I had plenty of those. But if I paired red and white together, then I’d look like a walking-talking Valentine’s Day cliché. Nick deserved better than some cheesy cliché.

Speaking of… What time was it? I swiped my phone from the shelf. It was almost five after six. He was late. Nick was never late. I thought about texting him, but I didn’t want to distract him. The weather was bad enough—the situation dire enough that one disturbance could be his undoing. I couldn’t do that to him. I wouldn’t. He’d be back. He promised.

Taking a breath, I shifted my focus back to my outfits. Tearing through hangers of clothes, I couldn’t find a single thing I liked. Lots of maybes, plenty of possibilities, but nothing that screamed date night perfection. Giving up, I sank down onto my knees. Now what?

“I didn’t realize we were remodeling.” Nick’s resonant rumble was like a 300-joule shock to the heart.

I snapped my gaze up, drinking in his tall, athletic frame as he leaned against the doorway. Dressed in all black, he looked sexy as all sin. Gods, there was handsome and then there was Nick—his impeccably chiseled features were in a class of their own. Without a single conscious thought, I leaped up from the floor and into his arms.

He caught me up with ease as I wrapped my legs around his waist. Burrowing my head into the crook of his neck, I inhaled his woodsy leather scent. “You’re home.”

“I’m home.” Nick confirmed, holding me tight. I didn’t want him to let me go—didn’t want him to put me down. I just wanted to stay enveloped in his strong embrace. But we couldn’t stay that way all night. After a few short heartbeats, Nick eased me down. “What happened here?”

I glanced around the decimated closet. It looked like a tornado had blown through, leaving nothing but clothes and shoes scattered all over the place. That tornado was me. My cheeks heated—and I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.

I hated myself. Hated how my mind operated—spin-cycling through my worst nightmares before spitting out my turbulent thoughts and sending them on a rollercoaster ride from hell. It was exhausting. Humiliating.

I owed him an explanation. But my mind struggled to string together the syllables necessary to form words—struggled to form those words into coherent sentences. Everything that spilled out of me was nothing short of jumbled word vomit. What in the fresh hell was I even saying?

“I get it.” Nick cupped my cheek, stroking his thumb over my skin—his featherlight touch soothing my frayed nerves. He enveloped his arms around me, and I couldn’t help but nuzzle my head against his leather-clad chest.

I looked up at him. “I didn’t mean to go all EF-5 on our room.”

“An EF-5 is extreme. I’d say it’s more of an EF-2—3 tops.” He winked, his lips curving up into a teasing smile—a dimple flashing in that heavily stubbled cheek.

Holy hot fucking wow. That smile—gods, that smile had the power to strip me bare. My heart thrummed against my ribcage as I traced my finger over the ridges and valleys of his sculpted abs. His body was a work of art—one that I couldn’t help but admire as I ran my hands over the soft cotton covering his rock-hard midsection. “You are far too generous.”

Nick’s eyes darkened—turning ravenous as he swept his finger over my lip. “Only when it comes to you.”

“Aren’t I special?” I pressed myself up against him—the heat from his chiseled physique searing into me. A warmth stirred deep inside, seeping into my veins.

“You are.” Nick pinned me against the wall, caging me between his powerful arms. He dipped his head—nipping at my earlobe as a carnal shockwave of pleasure coursed up my spine. “What do you want?” He rasped—his breath a hot caress against my skin.


Whatever little control we’d had snapped at that very moment. Nick’s hand glided up my thigh, over my hips, and beneath my sweater—his touch raw and possessive. My blood heated as my nerves lit up with electric fire. His intoxicating scent surrounded me, and all I craved was him. My hands skated up his back, nails scoring into muscled flesh as his fingers threaded through my messy waves, pulling them taut against my scalp.

My pulse raced as I leaned up, drawing my lips closer to his. Time froze for a single second and then our mouths crashed in a sweltering hot kiss. Molten desire surged through me, flooding my core as his tongue tangled with mine. Desperate for more, I ground my hips against him as he trailed his lips down my neck—his rough stubble grazing my sensitive flesh.

Just as Nick gripped the waistband of my leggings, a vehement knocking resounded through our room. The two of us stilled—waiting for the incessant drumming to pass, but whoever was on the other side wasn’t going away.

Nick pressed a kiss against my forehead. “I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll be right here.” I flashed him a reassuring smile, but I knew he wasn’t coming back. And I was right. Aria was sick, and Nick needed to tend to her. As tempted as I was to help, I didn’t want to intrude on a family moment. Aria didn’t need an audience. What she needed was her brother, some magical medicine, and a good night’s rest.

And while Nick needed to take care of Aria, he also needed to eat. We’d both missed dinner, but there was plenty of food at the house—courtesy of my grandmother. As I pulled out the containers from the fridge, I had an idea. I could recreate our planned date. We had everything in stock, including some beautiful mountain views. I could work with this.

I grabbed my supplies and got busy setting everything up. Lexi helped me out—the two of us chatting while I cooked, and she set the table. It was nice to have some sisterly bonding time—nice to talk about normal stuff like school and boys and formals. We spent over an hour together and it felt good to catch up.

Lexi took off as soon as I set the platter of potato pierogi onto the formal dining room table. I dimmed the lights—the glow of the candles along with the moonlit night provided the intimate setting I was hoping for. Now, all I needed was Nick.

The sound of footsteps echoed down the hall. I didn’t have to turn to know it was Nick—but I spun, anyway. “Perfect timing!” I grabbed his hand, leading him into the dining room. “I was just about to text you.”

Surprise flared in his eyes—and I knew he hated surprises—but I could tell by his expression that this was a pleasant one. At least, I hoped it was. He always did so much for me—sacrificed so much for all of us—that he deserved a little TLC. The candlelit dinner wasn’t much—a small gesture of appreciation and love. But I owed him more. So much more.

Nick pulled me into his arms, claiming my lips with his. Our lips and bodies melded together in a fiery fervor. Clothes flew. Limbs tangled as we continued where we’d previously left off. Shortly after, we found ourselves curled up in front of the fireplace with a mini picnic on the floor. It was the perfect ending to a chaotic night.

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