Red Velvet





 









Red Velvet:
A Four of Fallon Novella








Zara Steen 





Unicorn 

an imprint of 
Smarin Publishing






This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the authors imagination and creativity and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons, alive or dead, businesses, events or communities is entirely coincidental. Copying or distributing this work without consent from the author is prohibited, please contact zarasteen@gmail.com for permissions. This is a Romance novel for adults. 

Enjoy!










 Chapter 1


Dexter cursed under his breath, leaning against his car the cool spring air picked up in a breeze that seemed to dampen his spirits rather than rejuvenate him. Samuel was late. When he'd gotten the call from him to meet up for the afternoon he had hastily thrown on a pair of dark jeans and grabbed his army green bomber jacket, but he should have known not to rush. 

Ever since he had found his Companion, the guy was late for everything. Marcos and Trigg joked that it was because he couldn't get out of bed. Dexter didn't discount that, and if it were true, well then he knew why. Olivia was stunning. Were he lucky enough to have a Companion like her, he would want to spend as much time with her as possible too, especially in bed.
Yet, that was not the case, his twenty-ninth birthday had arrived the week before and now more than ever he realized he was alone. He was running out of time. 

Dexter watched a pair of women walk by. They were cute enough, the shorter of the bunch had a pixie-like face, curly red hair, pink pouty lips, the taller, a mousy brown bob, and baby blues, but in his eyes they were nothing compared to Sam's Companion. He could have fun with the redhead, well with the both of them really, but he was growing tired of the warlock's draw. That was only fun for so long. They giggled as they walked by.
Dexter let out a deep sigh, thinking of her again. Olivia's long blonde hair looked so silky sometimes he wanted to reach out and touch it, but he wouldn't―ever. Touching another's Companion was strictly forbidden based on the code of their grandfathers. Something that he knew should always be respected. 

He imagined that should he find his own Companion she would look something like Olivia, tall and elegant, always dressed in something sophisticated. And her blue eyes were so bright and clear. He had always wondered what it would be like when he met his own Companion, how it would feel.
Sam had explained that at meeting Olivia for the first time, his heart nearly hammered out of his chest. Like a heart attack, he had collapsed and for fifteen whole seconds his eyes had closed to oblivion. All it took was for their eyes to lock onto one another.
"Am I late?" Samuel asked as he sidled up to him. He looked like his usual self in dark jeans and a vintage tee, his bright green blazer in stylish contrast. Samuel’s black curly hair was cut close to his head except for the front where a longer wisp hung forward in his eyes. He looked mischievous. In truth, he was mischievous and his dark eyes looked charmed. His deep bronze skin was glowing with happiness. Dexter could almost hate him for it, were he not like a brother.
"Very," he replied with a frown.
"You're looking pale Dex. You need to get out more, liven things up." He spoke with a large smile and patted Dexter on the shoulder. "I'm going to pop in the store for a drink, be back in a sec." He started off in a brisk walk before turning back. "You want anything?"

"No, I'm fine Sam," Dexter managed to reply with a smile. "I'll be here, waiting..." His eyes resumed scanning the sidewalk, watching the passerby as if on auto pilot until she walked into his line of sight. It wasn't so much that she was attractive. It was that her mismatched appearance was all the more fixating and compelled his eyes to stay put. The more he stared the more he realized that she looked atrocious. Her dark hair was a massive mane of unruly waves, her eyes were shielded by the thickest pair of black horn rimmed glasses, and her bright red flyaway sweater was so ill fitting it hung loosely, making her look like a large sack of potatoes. With it she wore a simple pair of jeans, but her pea green t-shirt in contrast to the red made him think of a Christmas tree. 

Oh good lord, what a mess. Well, at least she doesn't have a uni-brow.

He was ready to look away when her eyes caught his. They were dark, large, innocent looking. She blushed a little from his intense stare, which made her look different, something he couldn't quite describe. Then like a flash, a ragged pull of pain erupted in his chest.

Oh no.

Dexter clenched his chest, and her eyes noticing the movement looked at him cautiously, but quickened her walking. The pain only worsened, and he bit back from crying out, his chest thrummed in a pinch, his arms felt numb.

No. No. NO!

"Are you okay?" She asked him slowly approaching. Her hands fumbling in her messenger bag. He looked at her closer. Well, at least she had a nice complexion, the honey brown warm despite her clearly neglected face.

"I'm fine," he said gritting his teeth.

"You don't look fine," she said, speeding up her search.

Please go away! Really? You? How could the fates be this cruel? 

"I'm fine!" He growled, before the pain thundered through him and he staggered forward, his eyes closing to darkness. He counted slowly.

1, 2, 3...

"Easy big guy," she said softly, bracing him before his body hit the pavement.

When he opened his eyes she was still there, looking worried her hand on his shoulder. The pain had subsided and he straightened. She had her phone in her hand, something that looked a bit beaten up and clearly several models old. 

"I was just about to call an ambulance." Her brow furrowed. "You're sure you are okay?"

Sam who had apparently witnessed the whole thing jumped in. 
"Hi, I'm Sam, his friend. He's a tough guy," he said with a shrug offering her a hand which she shook firmly. "Probably just heartburn." 

Sam's eyes spoke knowingly to Dexter with excitement. They screamed at him, 'You lucky dog, this is it!'

"Are you sure? My car is right there, I could drive you to the hospital, it's only a couple of blocks over." She gestured over to a car that was at least a decade old, and Dex fought the urge to grimace outwardly. He eyed her.

Seriously!? 

He had to say something to get her to go away.

"I am alright. Ummm I didn't get your name, but uh... Thanks for your concern." He nodded politely. 

"Oh... Well, I'm Ria, and I'm just glad you're not lying on the sidewalk all keeled over." She gestured with her hands and stuck her tongue out crossing her eyes goofily. 

Samuel laughed. This cannot be happening. 

"Uhhh, yeah, great... Well, nice meeting you Ria." He waited for her to leave before he realized she was waiting for something.

She chuckled. "You didn't tell me your name."

"Riiight," he said, looking nervously at Sam, "I'm uhh, Dexter." What on earth was happening? Usually he was ten times more eloquent than this, and right now he couldn't spit out his name. 

Arrrghh.

She looked at Sam; clearly she had picked up on the social cue that he wanted her to leave. She pushed her hair behind her ears and adjusted her glasses nervously. 

"Well nice meeting you, Dexter, bye." She turned, ran-walked abruptly to her car without looking back.

"Did you really have to scare her off Dex?" Sam’s eyebrows narrowed on him.

Dexter ran a hand over the front of his black long sleeved Henley, the pain had subsided but the memory was still there. 

"Yes," he replied wryly, "I wanted her gone."

Sam shook his head disheartened. "You know Dexter, it's not every day you meet the woman who can save you from an early death, and you've only got a year left."

"Yeah, well not all of us can find our soul mates when we're twenty seven, now can we?" Dexter groaned.

Sam placed his hands up in surrender. "Hey, I'm the first one to admit I was a lucky one. But do you really think chasing her away was a good idea? You should have at least asked for her number."

"Yeah, well when I get real desperate I can scry for her." He scratched at his chest.

"Look all I'm saying is that you don't want to end up like your uncle Jed." Sam looked at him serious.

"I know," he said caving as his jaw flexed, "neither do I."






 Chapter 2


Ria banged her forehead against the steering wheel of her car. 

Blarg, you can be such a stupid girl, gawking at that mega hottie like he actually wanted to talk to you. Pffffft.

She tilted the rear view mirror and looked into it. “Ugggh I'm a freaking mess. No wonder Mr. Yummy wanted you out of there pronto.” She looked at herself more sternly and started to lecture. “That is the last time you decide to pull an impromptu all night Agricola game-fest with Maxine and Naya. The laaast time.”

She smoothed out her hair and started up the car. She was late for work―way too late. Her employees were probably worried and she still had to go home and shower. She had sent Sarah a text to let her know she would be late, but her assistant manager knew that it was unlike Ria to take any time off during the week without prior warning. 

Her usual panic about being late was uncharacteristically absent, instead distracted, she thought about Dexter while she drove. He was something else―tall, and lean, but muscular, clearly someone who went to the gym on a regular basis, unlike her. His short blonde wavy hair was the messy kind that she wanted to run her fingers through and his eyes made her melt, the gorgeous deep emerald of them so clear and observant they had pierced right into her. 

His shoulder had felt warm and taut under her hand, and the closer she was to him the more she could smell him. He smelled so delicious, spicy and sensuous like a man should. 

Bah! 

She was daydreaming. She really hoped that he was okay, even though he seemed a bit of a jerk about her being so close to him. The poor guy was too young to have a heart attack. He had looked so vulnerable when he had bent forward in pain, composed, but panicked beneath the surface. She should have told him to go see a doctor, wondered if he would. Oh well, it would have to remain a mystery.

She sighed deeply. She was probably never going to see him again, but looked on the bright side. At least she had something thrilling to tell the girls about during their movie extravaganza on Friday night. 

Dexter looked at Sam. “So what is the plan for today?”

“Aside from you finding your mate and then ignoring her? Hmmm... How about going over the codex with me and then I’ll treat you to lunch?” Sam looked at Dexter with a pretty please smile. 

He grunted. “What the heck do you need to go through that thing for?” Dexter was the only one out of the four cousins who could read the codex easily, the others spent hours sifting through the dead language that he somehow had a knack for deciphering.

“I need a protection charm, a really strong one.” Sam’s face winced.

“From what?” Dexter grew concerned. It was unlike Sam to get involved with any trouble that was Trigg’s forte. 

“It’s not for me; it’s for Olivia’s sister, Kari. Some guy has been harassing her, and although I really just want to go over there and bash his brains in Ollie wants me to back off.”

Dexter thought about Kari. She was a cutie, sweet, and perhaps a bit too innocent. He could see her being taken advantage of too easily. She was in her late teens and starting her first year at college, the guy was probably some obnoxious creep. “Heck, I’ll help you thrash the idiot.”

“Believe me Dex, I want to, and I know you and Trigg would have my back, but then what’s to stop another guy from popping up. I think a spell would be better, and you know how I feel about magic.”

Dexter’s jaw tensed. It was how they all felt about the craft. The power could be seductive, but the price was high if something went wrong. This was good magic though and pretty basic. Something that he knew would be easy and fail proof.

“Yeah, okay, it shouldn’t take too long,” he said patting Sam on the back. “So uhh, where you taking me for lunch, brother?”

Sam laughed, and they walked towards his apartment. “Red Velvet Bakery,” He answered. “You’re gonna love it.”




Ria was out of cookies.

Damn! 

Crouched behind the display case in her cafe, she placed the last few into a paper bag and passed them to Sarah.

“Thanks for your business, come again!” She heard Sarah say as she passed the bag to the customer. “Have a great day!” She called out after them, then the door jingled and shut and Ria took in a deep breath. The lunch rush was over. She popped up from behind the counter.

“Whew, what a day!” She smiled at her assistant manager. She had made an excellent choice in hiring her.

“You’re telling me” Sarah replied, “ever since you started making lunches, this place has been packed once eleven thirty hits.”

“Bye Sarah! Bye Ria!” Allie called out to them as she walked out the cafe door. Her shift was over and she was headed to the library to continue studying for exams.

“Are we out of corn chowder?” Ria asked Sarah eyeing the catering containers she had recently invested in for her lunch special.

Sarah walked over to check, and laughed. “It’s bone dry.”

“Hah,” she said amused. “I’ll go get some more. It’s only two o’clock so we might get some late lunchers. Last week the lull only lasted for half an hour. I’m going to put some more cookies on too, good thing I made an extra batch of dough last night. I’ll be out back if you need me.” She wiggled the walkie talkie before placing it in her apron and disappeared. 

Ria smiled to herself while she dropped dollops of cookie dough onto the lined sheet. She had made it through the first year of owning her own business and was met with incredible success. The end of her second year was fast approaching and for the first time in a long time, she felt like she was doing everything right. 

The quirky cupcake timer went off with a ping, and she moved to the oven pulling out more red velvet cookies. She moved quickly to put the next batch in and filled the tray with the rest of her now cooled goodies to refill the display case.

Harsh static from the walkie talkie and the ringing noise made her jump. 

Sarah’s voice was a low whisper, “alert, alert! Ria, we have a serious hottie alert! Two hot men just walked in, and I need you to come out here.”

She laughed. “Be right out,” she said putting the talkie back into her apron quickly while scooping up the tray. 

She eyed the cafe tables; there were only eight with seating for fourteen. It was a small space and the men Sarah had mentioned were sitting near the window. They had sat down already, so she was blocking Ria’s view of them as she handed them menus. When she turned to Ria with covert thumbs up, Ria saw their faces at last and lost all colour. 

Crap! It’s Dexter and Sam! 

She ducked behind the counter, and luckily they were too busy eyeing the menu to look in her direction. 

Sarah gave her a confused look as she approached her. “You okay boss?”

“I met them this morning,” she whispered. “Their names are Dexter and Sam.”

“Was that why you were late?” Her eyes grew as big as sand dollars. “Tell me all the dirty details! They’re hott!”

“The blonde one had some type of chest pain. I was worried about him, but he clearly looks fine.”

Sarah snorted. “Damn fine.”

“I don’t want them to see me.”

“What? Why? You didn’t give him the heimlich or something, did you?”

“No, I just, I think I hovered unnecessarily.”

“You hate hovering.”

“Exactly!”

“Ummm excuse me,” Sam called out to Sarah. “We need your advice on something.”

Now was her chance, Ria grabbed the empty tray, covered her face and zipped to the back room. For the next half hour she kept herself busy cleaning, and prepping for the next day. She felt foolish, it was her cafe, and she was hiding in the back like a little kid. 

She grabbed the walkie, “How is it going out there Sarah?”

“Good,” she whispered back. “The hotties are still here, they ordered corn chowder and club melts, and they seem to be really happy with your delicious food. You should come out here...” Ria was silent.  Sarah continued, “really, you should.”

Ria sighed and grabbed another tray of goodies to re-stock her case.

I can do this! I can face Mr. Yummy! Do not be shy!

Dexter and Sam finished with their meal got up and walked towards the counter to pay. 

Ohhh no way! I can’t!

She ducked down behind the counter again before they saw her. She was just out of sight and bit her lip. Sarah gave her a curious glance and then smiled at them.

Dexter pulled out his wallet and looked for his debit card.

Sam piped up. “Dex man, I said I’ve got this one.” He shoved him aside.

Dexter smiled. “Yeah, yeah, alright, but I am going to buy some of those red velvet cupcakes.”

Sarah smiled and rang through the order while Sam paid. “How many would you like?”She asked.

Dex looked at them for a moment, his mouth twisted in consideration. “All of them.”

All of them! There’s eight there!

Ria shot up from behind the counter. “No wonder you nearly had a heart attack this morning.”

Dexter stepped back surprised, but smiled still. “Where did you come from, Ria?” 

The way he said her name was incredible, erotic. It left a whisper on her neck so seductive; she had to stop herself from shuddering.

“She’s the owner,” Sarah said proudly, and Ria gave her a frown.

Sam was impressed, “You own this place!?” His hand covered his heart. “I love your food.” He was so earnest.

“Thank you, I really appreciate you saying that,” she said to him with a nod. He really was so nice.

Dexter’s green eyes were still fixated on her as she and Sarah packed up the eight cupcakes into a box. 

She looked different to him, definitely much better than this morning. Her dark wavy hair was neatly pinned in a low tie. Her face looked freshened with light make-up and she wore all black beneath an artsy fruit covered apron, which tied snugly at the waist showed off some serious curves. He found her, attractive. 

She quickly put something into a paper bag and folded it over, placing it on top of the box. “Those are on the house, oat cakes, still sweet, but maybe better for those arteries of yours.”

It was thoughtful, and pulled a little at his heart strings. Sam just continued to smile goofily at him.

“So, what were you doing down there?” Dexter asked pointing to behind the counter.

Ria looked down quickly and then met his eye. “Counting scones,” she lied, and her eye flickered. 

She placed the box and bag into a larger paper bag with a handle as well as a brochure on her store hours and walked around the counter to hand it to him. There was no way she was letting Mr. Yummy get to her. She was confident. She could face him!

He grabbed the bag from her gingerly, all the while staring into her eyes.

“Thanks for eating at the Red Velvet Bakery, Dexter.” She looked past his shoulder, and added, “and Sam.”

“Come back anytime!” Sarah chimed in.

Dexter grabbed his sunglasses from his pocket and slipped them on. He was still looking at Ria. He had been tempted to kiss her. When she’d walked around the counter she had bit her lips. They were pink and looked soft. What was happening to him?

“Thanks ladies,” Sam said with his usual charm.

“Yeah thanks,” Dexter echoed and then followed him out the door. 






Chapter 3


Dexter was sitting in Grandma Dedam's kitchen, she wasn't actually his grandmother. She was Trigg's, but as close as they all were, it was like they each had four families. They were the babies of the curse, him, Trigg, Samuel, and Marcos. 

Easter weekend was a few weeks away, as this year Easter Sunday happened to fall on April twentieth and the four families of Fallon had marked the celebration on the calendar in bold. They did so every year since it was a time when they all got together for the holidays. This year it was the Dedam's turn to host. Trigg had invited the guys over for a pre-Easter celebration with just the four of them and his grandmother. 

They were seated around the table. Each of them had their own corner, while Grandma Dedam was making them all tea to go with the red velvet cupcakes Dexter had brought from Ria's Bakery. Sam had, of course, blabbed every detail to the cousins about Dexter being marked by her, and then intimidating her away. He couldn't help but add with more annoyance, that then, once Dexter had found her again, he still did nothing to get her number or ask for a date. 

“Well,” Marcos said, “at least this way he knows where he can find her.” Then comical, bent on one knee before Grandma his hands clasped his eyes in earnest. “When that last month hits before expiry, and then you'll see him groveling on his knees asking her to marry him.” 

Trigg let out a hearty laugh. 

Dexter was not impressed.

“Let me help you Grammy,” Marcos said getting up and grabbing the mugs of hot Chai. He placed them on the respective corners of the table, and like a gentleman pulled out a chair for her. She sat down, and smiled at them all. She was the queen at the head of their table, right next to Trigg's side.

“Ha ha,” Dexter said dryly, taking a sip of the tea and a bite of the delicious cupcake. He had already eaten two of them yesterday and had fought every urge not to polish the rest off before meeting with the guys. There was still one waiting for him at home, but he had to make it last. It had only been a day since seeing Ria and he was not planning on going back anytime soon, great cupcakes or not.  

Samuel was smiling mischievously. “Oh Dex, will give up the goat before then.”

“Not bloody likely,” he shot back, waiting for Trigg to chime in too. He looked at him expectantly but Trigg just shrugged, his blonde hair falling into his eyes.

“You know Dexter, good things take time. You take your time with this lady, and you be sure to treat her right.” Grandma Dedam leaned towards him and placed her hand over his in a warm pat. Her blue eyes were pale, and her long hair streaked grey and black. 

“I will Grams,” Dexter replied in earnest, after which all the guys burst out in laughter.

“What?” He said looking at them suspiciously.

“Nothing,” Trigg said with a smile. “Clearly Grammy is the only one who can get through to you.”




Dexter pulled down his green beanie hat. He had left with Samuel, the two of them walked downtown and towards Sam's apartment. Sam was going to meet up with Ollie there and Dexter was just swinging by to pick up a book he had loaned him.

Dexter shoved his hands into his pocket. The weather was a bit nippy. He stopped suddenly on the sidewalk. He was three, maybe four blocks from the Red Velvet Bakery.

“On second thought Sam, I'm going to head back home, I can get that book from you next time.”

“You alright there bud?” Sam asked with a smirk.

“Yeah,” he said, “I'm just going to head home. I'll catch you later.” He turned on his heel and walked in the opposite direction. Only he didn't walk home. He walked straight to the bakery. 

As he entered his eyes scanned the room for Ria, she wasn't anywhere in sight, maybe she was in the back.

“Hey Sarah,” he said approaching the counter. “Is Ria around?”

Sarah smiled, as soon as Dexter had walked in, she was tempted to pick up the walkie talkie and sound the alarm.

“Uhh, yeah, she's just out back in the kitchen, I'll go get her.” She disappeared.

Dexter's pocket buzzed. His phone received a message.


Fr: Marky Mark

So Dex, you at the bakery yet?
Smoochie Smoochie. 

Friday April 4th, 2014, 3:47pm


It was from Marcos.

Shit! No wonder he had walked over here right away. Dexter's mind raced. What spell would he have cast? Amor? No that would be too obvious. Memoria? No, remembering her wasn't the issue. Wait, Marcos had handed him his drink at Grandma Dedam's. Oh no! It was Imbibo! He had cast libation on Dexter, which meant that when Ria stepped out in a moment, he wasn't going to be able to shut up. 

He had to calm down, think of something to tell her.

“Hey Dexter,” she said, “back for more cupcakes already?”

“Umm yes,” he said nervously, “they were great, ate two yesterday... I shared some of them with my cousins today though, so yeah... you don't have to worry about me having a heart attack any time soon... which did I mention was really sweet of you? Mostly I just wanted to compliment you on the great job you did on them, they were delicious, really... best cupcakes I ever tasted.” 

Dexter placed his hand over his mouth. He was going to kill Marcos.

Ria looked at him surprised, amused. Clearly this wasn't the Dexter she had been expecting. He looked, nervous again, and for some reason, he wouldn't move his hand from over his mouth, his finger tapping over his lips anxiously.

She cleared her throat. “Thanks, umm we have little feedback cards you can always fill out, and Sarah loves passing on compliments to me.” She smiled sweetly. “Listen, thanks for stopping by again Dexter. I'm really sorry but I have to get back to my cupcakes.” 

She gestured to the kitchen. She didn't want them to burn.

He didn't want her to go. He actually wanted to grab her hand and make her stay.

“Ummm wait,” he let escape from his lips.

She turned back to him still amused. What was going on with him? Two days ago he looked at her in disgust. He had hardly said anything to her and now it was like he couldn't control himself.

He looked at the display case. “I was thinking that you could teach me how to bake, you know like one-on-one baking sessions, since I really suck at it. I mean I can cook a decent meal, I make really mean pasta, and I rock eggs Benedict but I can't bake for shit. So we could meet up like once a week here for a few hours and bake away. You know and I could pay you, I don’t know what the going rate is like one hundred dollars an hour or something...”

“Dexter that's too much,” she said her eyes wide with surprise.

“I have a lot of money,” he started, “so don't worry about it and yeah I was thinking Sundays would be good because your hours are shorter and they're probably quieter right? Although if you take Sunday's off then we could always do another day?” 

He looked at Sarah. “She does take days off right; I mean the woman's gotta rest sometime.”

“Ummm Dexter...” Ria began, but he interrupted.

“So you'll do it? This Sunday? You, me, bake-fest?”

Sarah had the hugest grin on her face. “She'll do it!”

“Great,” he said. “Great! I will see you on Sunday, unless of course Sunday is bad for you in which case we can pick another day...”

Ria cut him off. “Sunday is great.”

“Great,” he said again. His hand quickly covering his mouth and then bolted right out the door faster than you could say lickety-split. 




Dammit!

Dexter pulled out his phone.


To: Marky Mark
Fr: Dexterminator

I'm going to kill you!

Friday April 4th, 2014, 3:56pm


Dexter walked over to Sam's. Sam was of course waiting for him on the front porch. Trigg was seated in front of him on the steps. And Marcos was posed on the ledge of the porch, his back resting against the pillar. 

“Get my text?” Dexter asked him, his green eyes flaring. 

“You bet brother,” Marcos snickered.

“So did you ask her out yet?” Sam asked him with hope.

“No,” he answered annoyed.

Trigg grinned. “Did you blow it? That Imbibo can be bad news.”

Dexter rubbed his face with both hands, and groaned, “I asked her to give me baking lessons. Me?? Baking lessons!!”

They all burst into laughter.

“Glad you're all getting a good laugh at my expense.” He said sharply, sitting down next to Trigg.

“Oh come on Dex, that's genius.” Sam clearly approved. 

“I honestly don't know of a better way for you to get close to her.” Marcos added.

“I am in hell.” Dexter let out a deep breath.

“Just don't do that thing you always do to ruin it.” Trigg added with a pointed finger.

“What thing?”

“You know.” Trigg said with his eyebrows arched.

He looked at Sam and Marcos. “What thing?”

Sam sighed. “That thing you do when you seduce a woman on the first date.”

“And then two or three weeks later, break up with her because the first time sex was so-so and you think you both moved too fast.” Marcos finished for him.

Trigg nodded stoically in agreement, “that thing.”

“I don't do that!”

Sam and Marcos nodded too.

“I don't!”

“What about Mary?” Sam asked looking at his nails casually. “Why'd you break up with her?”

“Oh and Clara,” Marcos added, waving a finger. “She was hot as hell.”

“And Janice,” Trigg said lowly his hand covering his mouth in amusement.

Dexter pulled his hat off his head, and ran a hand through his hair.

“Oh crap.”

“Yep,” Sam said, “this time, keep it in your pants.”




Chapter 4


It was Sunday. Ria had no idea when Dexter was planning to show up. She had no idea if he even would. At quarter to five, she resigned herself to believing he had changed his mind. And then, of course, he walked in looking incredibly adorable.

“I probably should have called,” he said, noting her surprise. “To make sure that five o’clock was okay.” He had the large brown paper bag she had given him the last time he was there and a travelling mug in his hand.

“Actually the timing is great. I’m going to close up now if you want to familiarize yourself with the kitchen.”

“Alright, I’ll be waiting,” he said expressionless.

“Oh wait, is your mug full?” She asked. “There’s tea and coffee if you want some.”

“I’m okay, thanks though Ria.” He sounded distant, detached, like the Dexter she had met on the first day she saw him. It made her nervous. She had enjoyed him more talkative. 

She finished counting the cash, placing the deposit in the safe, and then walked back to the kitchen to see him sitting on a stool. The bag he brought had been placed on top of the large island workspace. He was sipping his drink, his eyes cold on her.

She smiled weakly. “Need to wash my hands.”

“Good idea,” he replied flatly.

She walked over to the sink and picked up the dish soap. “Crap,” she muttered under her breath.

“What's wrong?” He asked. How did he hear that? She’d barely spoken.

“I used too much soap,” she said, the green syrupy liquid dripping over her hands. At that very moment her nose grew itchy. It always had to happen when she couldn't scratch. She wrinkled it before rubbing it with her wrist. She could feel his eyes on her while she fumbled with the tap.

Her gestures were cute. Dexter couldn't help but watch her while she wiggled her nose. 

“I need to wash my hands too,” he said walking up behind her and turning the tap on more. He leaned over her and rubbed his hands against hers taking the extra soap lathering and rinsing under the lukewarm water. With him this close she could tell he was a full head taller than her. If he wanted to his chin could rest on her head. The warmth from his body made her feel cocooned, and clearly he had no problems being this intimate with strangers, but she still felt her cheeks flush. 

She would have stayed there indefinitely had he not turned off the water. 

“Clean towel?” He asked in her ear.

“Umm, in my apr―” He followed her line of sight down and grabbed the towel from her apron before she could finish. He dried his hands, then hers before folding it and leaving it on the counter. 

He was testing her, but she didn’t know it was the case. His cousins had been right. He did seduce women, easily. If Ria was his supposed mate, maybe she would be different, maybe she wouldn’t cave so quickly. 

“What’s next?” He asked rubbing his hands together.

She eyed him. He was wearing a black Henley and dark jeans, more casual than the last time she had seen him, but still, he clearly spent money on his clothes. His eyes flickered a little under her intense examination, and she felt like she had a small victory over his incredible amount of sexual magnetism. 

“You’ll probably want an apron,” she said with a smile, her nerves were finally calming. “I bought this one for you.” She pulled out a khaki coloured apron. It read ‘Stressed spelled backwards is Desserts, coincidence, I think not.’ He laughed and so did she. “Fun on so many levels I think. It was this one or a ‘Kiss the cook’ apron.”

He grinned. “Should have got me the one with the kiss, I like those.” Then he walked up to her and leaned down for her to place it around his neck.

“I dub thee Sir Dexter of the Red Velvet,” she spoke with a British accent. His eyes lit up as he straightened. 

Oh lord, I am such a nerd.

He held his arms out at his sides so she could tie the back. “You’re not going to turn and make it easy for me?” She asked him slyly.

“Nope,” he replied and she pouted. She stepped to the side so that she could walk around him, but he moved with her blocking her off. She chuckled.

This meant she would have to get closer to him, maybe even lean on his chest. She crept closer grabbing the ties and quickly knotting them in a tight bow. When she started to move her hands out from behind his back his arms relaxed down to his sides trapping her. 

He looked down at her intensely, his head tilting forward so their lips were only several inches apart. 

“Does this mean you’ll be calling me Sir from now on?”

Her heartbeat increased and she feared he could hear it hammering. 

Damn him! 

He was teasing her, playing with her. There was no way she was backing down now though he was in her kitchen. She gave him a dose of his own medicine. 

She stood on her tip toes closing the gap between their lips another few inches.

“Only if you call me your queen.”

He smiled sexily, wolfish, the stared at her lips for a second too long.

“What’s in the bag?” She asked, her feet finding the ground and easing her arms from his sides. 

“See for yourself,” he told her.

She walked over and placed a hand in to the feel the prickly waxen texture of a leaf. When she pulled it out of the bag she realized it was an Aloe Vera plant.

He had walked over and stood beside her. “In case you ever get any burns in the kitchen.” He placed his hand on his chest. “I know, first hand, that baking can be very dangerous.”

She laughed again, he was starting to like that sound. 

“Thanks Dexter, that was very thoughtful.” She placed the plant on the window ledge and returned to him sitting in front of the island. “So I figured we could start with making a simple shortbread cookie and then while those bake you could look through books and pick the things that you would like to learn. Then I can stagger them based on difficulty over however many weeks you want to meet.”

“Sounds like a plan.” He said 

She wasn't biting; he needed to up the ante. Making the cookies, were not nearly as hard as he imagined. In no time he and Ria were waiting for the last batch to finish and watching the others cool. It was time for phase two of operation seduction. Taking off his apron Dexter went to the sink to wash his hands.

“You did a really great job!” Ria said enthusiastically. “Are you sure you need baking lessons?” 

She was being coy, and he found her very charming. Turning the spout on, he waved his fingers quickly so she wouldn't notice and gave it a boost of magic. Water came spurting out too fast, splashing his arms and chest. 

“Awww crap!” He said trying to sound genuinely annoyed by his soaked shirt.

“Oh no!” Ria cried running to his side. “What happened? Was there something wrong with the sink?”

“I don't know,” he said looking down at his shirt. “This is too uncomfortable.”

The next thing Ria knew Dexter was pulling off his shirt. She was stunned. There he was, in her kitchen, shirtless, and looking hotter than hell. The man had a six pack! His sides had that decadent sculpt to them and his chest looked so muscular and smooth she wanted to touch it. 

“I'll get a towel,” she piped up finding her voice, and fleeing to her drawer of tea towels.

Dexter was determined. Only now he didn't know if it was to prove his cousins wrong, or because he genuinely wanted her affection. The lines were starting to blur.

“Got one,” she said flittering back to him. She started to pat him dry and he looked down at her amused, her hair had fallen into her face. He laughed noiselessly and the movements made her realize what she was doing. She straightened, tucking her hair behind her ear and she backed up and looking at him mortified. 

“I'm sorry, I'm sure you can handle the towel on your own.” She threw it to him with a quick jerk. Dexter caught it and grinned sexily.

“I'd much rather have your help.” He looked over her frame hotly. 

She let out a mad little giggle, “right.”

He closed the gap between them until she was backed up against the kitchen island. 

“Honestly,” he said, the word melting over her like honey.

His hands braced the countertop and he leaned closer into her. Her vision was still tunnelled straight ahead so he tipped her chin up so her eyes met his line of sight. His lips inched close to hers and just before they pressed against them, she spoke.

“Are you always this seductive when you bake?”

“Why? Are you finding me irresistible?” He pulled back to examine her face. Why did she interrupt him? By now, women were usually begging for him to kiss them. 

“I'm just wondering if over the next several weeks I'm going to need to take a lot of cold showers.”

He laughed, and leaned closer, “or you could just give into your craving and take a bite?”

Her eyes grew wide before they darkened. She spoke lowly. “What do you have a bet going with Sam?”

The ping of the cupcake timer made her jump, and her forehead smacked into his chin. It was hard enough to hurt and he backed up.

“Oh no! Dexter, I'm sorry, your poor chin,” she reached out and stroked his face. 

Bah, I'm so klutzy. 

“I'll survive,” he replied twisting his jaw.

“I'm sorry,” she said again. 

“You could kiss it better,” he mused. 

She looked at him like she was considering, and then suddenly pushed him back. “The cookies! They'll burn.”

They were a little more brown than usual, but still perfectly edible. She busied herself removing the cookies from the tray while he watched her. They were both silent, until it grew awkward. Finally she looked up.

“Cookie?” She asked. He reached forward and took one. 

“You don't think I'm attractive? Or is it that you don't think I'd want you?” He asked, not wanting to let it go. He felt odd. He didn't usually receive this type of response from his advances. He thought she had found him attractive.

“You want me to be honest?” She asked looking up at him. She was packing up the cookies in a container for him to take with him. 

“Yes,” he replied. She made him curious. 

“I think you're attractive. I think that's pretty obvious, but no, I don't think you want me, not really.”

“Why not?” He asked surprised by her straight-forward tone. 

“You've got that like-hate thing going for me. One minute you're like ice, the next you're warm and melting. So I haven't really figured that jazz out. And well, maybe I'm trying to be professional. You have hired me after all.”

Professional? Who am I kidding? If there wasn't an island in your way you'd be all over him like jam on toast. You could lick jam off of those abs...

He was quiet for a few seconds. “Are you always so frank?”

“Yes,” she replied waving her spatula at him starting to clean. “Furthermore mister, what's with you being all handsy? When I first met you, you couldn't get me away from you fast enough.” Ria's cheeks were flushed, but not out of anger. She was flustered, felt desire for him.

He laughed wholeheartedly, then softened, and looked at her sincerely. “I was being a jerk. I'm sorry about that Ria.”

He walked over to her and placed his hand on her forearm to comfort her. She stopped what she was doing and looked at it. His hand was a little calloused, but was warm and pleasant.

“Sorry,” he said. “You don't like it when I touch you.”

“I never said that, it's just... well... I....I...” She let out a deep breath. 

“Let's be friends first, okay Dexter?” She looked up at him, her dark brown eyes lustrous.  

He swallowed hard. What he really wanted to do was lean down and kiss her endlessly, but instead he agreed. 

“I can do that.”





Chapter 5


“O.M.G.! I want one! Just one!” Adelaide cried out.

“Yeah well this one sound like trouble,” Maxine added taking a sip of wine. 

“Oh Maxie, come on!” Naya exclaimed before leaning forward and doting a kiss on her nose. 

The two of them had been going out for a few months now, and Ria was happy for Naya's relaxed demeanor. It evened out the intensity of her best friend's personality.

“I swear, just one!” Adelaide added with a giggle. “Ooo and his name―Dexter. I could say his name all day.”

“Seriously Ria! Trouble. You said it yourself, he exudes sexual magnetism. What's with the hot and cold thing too, which you called him out on? Bravo! Honey, I would run for the hills.” Maxine was clearly worried for her. Ria knew Max didn't want to see her get hurt again.

“Oh babe, you're so dramatic,” Naya added teasingly playing with one of Maxine's braids.

“No!!!” Adelaide cried out her hazel eyes widening. “Have fun with him! Ria! You never do anything bad― ever!” She looked over to Naya and Max who both confirmed with a nod. “Plus then I can live vicariously through you. And you have to tell me all the juicy bits! Promise?”

“Ok Addie, you're cut off,” Ria said pulling the wine bottle over to her side of the table. “And I promise nothing...” Ria said her eyes squinting comically. 

“Ok fine, but just tell us again what happened during the baking session.” Adelaide's brown hair fell forward while she leaned in as if Ria would be whispering secrets. Maxine rolled her eyes and Naya groaned. 

“But I told you everything already,” Ria said with a light laugh.

“Oh but tell the part about the hand washing again, when he was behind you, and then washed hands with you a la Ghost.” Adelaide was not giving up.

“You just said it all...” Ria chuckled.

“But you tell it better!” Adelaide insisted. 

Ria shook her head and lowered her face into her hands. “Naya please help me,” she said through her fingers. “These two are clearly out to lunch.”

She laughed and said, “well why don't you just go with it and see what happens. You've already told him you want to be friends. So just take it one step at a time from there. You already know what you're doing. You've got a good head on your shoulders.”

She was right. Ria had been reasonable about everything with Dexter already. Time would tell whether or not he was truly interested in her. Almost a week had passed without seeing him but in two days they would have another baking session. They could get to know each other. They could be friends. 

“Alright, enough talk,” Ria said. “Let's get our game on! Pandemic?” She asked the group who all nodded in unison. 




Dexter was still lying in bed. It was ten o'clock on Saturday morning and usually by now he had woken up, worked out for an hour, taken a shower, checked his e-mail, gone to the market for breakfast and returned to the apartment to read investment updates. Instead he was agonizing over his last baking session with Ria. The week had kept him busy enough so that he hadn't had time to mull over it so much, but now he was reeling. He felt rejected.

“What am I doing?” He said aloud to the empty room.

 There was complete silence. “I've got to get out of bed...”

He lay still for another few minutes before leaning up to turn on his laptop, which had uncharacteristically been left the previous night on the side table. If he was going to lie in bed, he might as well check his e-mail. There was one from Sam. The subject line made him wince.


Re: Riiiaaaa!

Samuel Clarke
To Dexter Miller

Hey Dex,

What's going on? Long time no see bro. We want updates on Ria, and by we, I mean, Marcos, Trigg, Ollie and I. Send details soon! Oh and I better see you for brunch on Saturday. Don't forget!

Samster


He had forgotten. Dexter groaned. He didn't feel like eating, and he definitely didn't feel like being the subject of everyone's questions. He would have to face them sometime though. 
Did he have time to shower? He looked at the nightstand clock. Yeah, it was only quarter after ten. He dragged his sorry butt out of bed and showered, making it to Sam's just in time for the food to be placed on the table. 

Dexter grabbed a pancake and slapped it on his plate. He was in a rotten mood. All eyes were on him. 

“So...” Marcos encouraged him to speak.

“I don't want to talk about it,” he replied with a sigh. 

Sam frowned. “Really, it was that bad?”

“How is that even possible,” Trigg began, “aside from Marcos, who is King, as we all know.” Marcos nodded in agreement. “You're like lemon gin, Dex. You're the panty remover.”

Olivia laughed. “Oh Trigg, he doesn't just want to sleep with her! Do you?” She asked suddenly unsure. Sam had mentioned that Ria was Dexter's Companion, but had not said much else.

“No, I don't. Not now.” Dexter replied, still sullen.

“Come on Dex, if you give us some details, I can give you some advice. Some girl advice, it'll be good,” Olivia added. 

Sam picked up on the subtleties in Dex's answer. “What do you mean not now Dex? What did you do?”

Dexter wouldn't look at them. He was pouring maple syrup over his pancake.

“Oh no,” Marcos began, “did you cast?”

“No!” Dexter shot back. “I...I tried to seduce her.” He finally managed to spit out.

“And she declined?” Trigg looked puzzled. 

Marcos burst out laughing and Dexter shot him an annoyed look.

“Well it's all in how she declined. What did she say?” Olivia looked at him hopeful.

Dexter gave in and explained the details of what had happened between them. “And then she said that she was trying to be professional and that I was hot and cold with her, and that we should be friends.” The last part all came pouring out at once and immediately he felt better. 

“Well shit.” Marcos said.

“Damn, that woman has got to be a fortress. I couldn't have done it better myself.” Trigg added.

“You weren't supposed to be trying to seduce her Dex. You were supposed to befriend her to start!” Sam said clearly aghast at what had taken place. 

“I know. I was testing her. Only I didn't expect it to leave me feeling like garbage.” Dexter banged his head against the table. The plates of bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, and toast shook. 

Olivia patted him on the back. “You're fine Dexter. She likes you. I can tell.”

Dexter looked up, a martyred expression on his face. “How can you tell?”

“Well for one, she didn't slap you.”

“You would have slapped him?” Sam asked her. 

“No honey, well maybe. I'm just saying that she could have, instead she let Dex get close to her. Plus, she didn't tell you that she didn't want you, did she? She didn't say 'Dexter it's never going to happen'”

“No.” He replied.

“And she called you out on the hot and cold thing huh? That's a good sign.”

“How is that good? Isn't that bad?” Marcos asked confused.

“I think that's bad.” Trigg added. 

Sam shrugged.

“Well, for starters, the fact that she noticed changes means that she's thought about Dexter outside of when she sees him, enough to notice when he acts differently with her.”

Dexter interjected, “I'm pretty sure that Imbibo made it obvious I was not being myself.”

“Still,” Olivia continued, “she wouldn't call him out if she didn't care.”

“She was just defending herself,” Dexter said. 

“Well, you're still going to see her tomorrow right?” Olivia asked, determined.

“Yes.” He said suddenly feeling a pang of excitement.

“She hasn't tried to cancel, or called off the baking lessons?”

“No,” he said. He was quiet for a moment, everyone was, but his cousins were smiling. “It's not that I don't think that she couldn't like me. She thinks I'm attractive. She could grow to like me. I just... I don't know what to do. For the first time, I'm at a loss for how to act around her. If I try to be smooth, she'll think I'm playing her or something, and if I get too quiet she'll probably think I'm being cold.”

“Just be yourself Dex. You'll know how to be when you see her.” Sam answered for all of them. Dexter hoped that Sam was right. 




He walked into the Red Velvet Bakery at ten to five on Sunday. Ria greeted him with her usual friendliness. 

"Hey Dexter!" She smiled and it put him at ease. "I'm just going to finish up again and then I'll meet you out back. I put your apron on the table."

Dexter went out back and grabbed the apron. It was folded neatly and had been washed. He lifted it up and caught the same scent as Ria's clothes. It didn't have the added mix of her perfume but it smelled good and he pulled it up to his nose, took in a deep breath. 

"I feel like a creep." He said aloud with a smile and then quickly put it on and tied the back. He pulled out one of the baking cookbooks and starting flipping through. He had thought of something he wanted to add to his baking list and wondered if Ria had a recipe for it already. 

"Boo!" Ria cried sneaking up behind him. He jumped and she laughed, placing her hand between his shoulder blades to steady her careening body.  Her laugh was rich and sonorous and vibrated through him right down to his gut.

"I'm sorry," she said, wiping tears from the corners of her eyes. "I couldn't resist, and you looked so focused."

"Well, you got me." He said with a smile. 

She leaned on the countertop next to the book that he had opened. "So you wanna bake a cake today?"

"Let's do it." He replied with a nod. "Oh and I found something I want to add to the list.”

"You did? What's that?" She looked genuinely excited. 

"A gingerbread house, you know for closer to Christmas time. I've never made one and I think it would be fun, besides by then I should be closer to a baking pro."

She smiled slowly, sexily. "I love making gingerbread. I have a family recipe." She said walking over to her stash of cookbooks and pulling out a small wooden binder. 

"This one has all my family recipes in it," she said smoothing her hand over the cover of it as if savoring it before she turned it over and flipped to the gingerbread recipe. Dexter looked at the page and noticed the penmanship. It resembled something between print and calligraphy. It was beautiful.

"Did you write all those out?" He asked impressed.

"Umm yeah," she said closing the cover and putting the book back on the shelf, "but that recipe is for later, let's get cracking, we’re making a vanilla cake with butter cream frosting!"

"You have nice penmanship." He said hoping she would take the compliment.

"Thanks Dexter!" Ria was really cheerful today.  He liked it when she was like this. Her mood made him feel lighter. "What?" She asked him suddenly.

"Nothing," he said rubbing his neck. "I just like that you're in a good mood."

"Oh," she said with short laugh.

Following the recipe was really simple, and having Ria as a teacher made it much easier for Dex. She was never condescending or impatient with him, and she answered every single one of his questions quickly, but thoughtfully. By the time the cake was done and boxed, he wasn't ready to let her go. The evening had gone too quickly and he wanted more time with her. 

"I'm going to get fat," he said lifting up the box with the cake in it while she finished buttoning her coat and throwing on her thin scarf. 

"No!" She said with a wave of her hand. "Share it!"

"Oh?" He replied amused. "With who?"

"Hmm... your cousins?" She half-asked, half-stated and then shrugged.

"Yeah I suppose," he said while she grabbed the door. Her stomach rumbled loudly and she placed her hand over it embarrassed. 

"Oops, looks like I needs more food." She said in a peculiar voice. 

He grinned from ear to ear. "You play that game?"

"Yeah," she said, suddenly feeling a bit exposed and very nerdy. Why did she always have to say something silly with the mega hottie. At least he knew about Gauntlet. 

"Nice," he said. "Well my place isn't too far if you want to come over for supper."

She looked up at him slowly, picking at her fingers nervously. "Uhh Dexter..."

"Come on Ria," he said teasingly, "let me feed you..." His green eyes shone with hope.

For a moment she looked like she was going to say no. Until she asked, "what are you going to make?"

"Well that depends on what you want to eat." He replied a little bit too seductively.

She blushed a little bit, but she had a feeling he couldn't tell. "How about eggs Benedict? You said you make that pretty well." 

"For supper?" He asked curious.

"Yeah," she said with pursed lips, pushing her glasses back. "It's good anytime."

"Alright" he replied, "you're on."

Ria drove them over to Dexter's simply because it make it easier for when she had to go home, and this way he wouldn't have to walk a few blocks with the cake. 

When they arrived Ria was pleasantly surprised by Dexter's place. Rather than a scary bachelor's pad, it was an inviting space. It was an open-concept apartment with a separate area for the bedroom and bathroom down a short hallway. The tour was quick and made quite the impression on Ria. The apartment walls were a mossy green and the whole place was decorated with interesting and unique artwork. He was clearly a fan of Art Deco and had some leather tub chairs which were incredibly comfortable. The kitchen, which followed in the same fashion, was gorgeously finished with marble countertops, curvy, high-lacquered wooden cabinets and stainless steel appliances. 

"Oh my gosh! I want your kitchen," she said breathlessly admiring everything.

He laughed grabbing the egg poacher and filling it with a little water. "Not as scary as you thought?" He asked her, content with the astonishment on her face. 

"Nope, I would say that I am pleasantly surprised."

"Good." He said relieved. "Do you want some wine?" He asked.

"Hmmm, maybe one glass," she said. "I do have to drive home. What have you got?" She walked over to the wine rack and started sifting through the titles. 

"Oooo a Chilean Cabernet Sauvingon. Nice." She said pulling it out and grabbing a red wine glass. "You want some too?"

"Yes. Definitely." He replied rooting through the fridge. 

"Oh and Dex." Ria said, taking her first sip. "Oh yummy..."

"Yes Ree?" He replied, liking the sounds of her using his nickname, giving her a nickname of her own. She liked it.

"Do you have the stuff to make my eggs Benedict Florentine, you know with spinach, or even mushroom instead?"

"Not a ham fan I take it?"

"No, not really," she said with a shrug, she was practically a vegetarian, but she did not want to add that fact.

"It's not a problem Ree." He responded. "I'm pretty much vegetarian, eighty percent of the time, and well the other twenty it's the occasional turkey or fish, and eggs of course."

She looked at him surprised, and tucked her hair behind her ear nervously. 

"What?" He asked. "Are you a carnivore?" He mimed munching on a chicken leg.

"No," she said taking a gulp of wine. "I basically eat the same as you."

"Oh." He said, holding back a smirk. She really was becoming more and more appealing. 

"Need help?" She asked him. 

He shook his head. "There's a stool on the other side of the counter if you want to sit there." She did, and watched him while he prepared their food. He was graceful and quick, but she had already observed that before in her kitchen. 

He dressed their eggs with flair and placed a delicious looking plate in front of her, complete with a slice of orange and few strawberries. He joined her on the other side of the counter and pulled out the second stool.

"We can sit at the table if you want." He said gesturing towards it with his cutlery.

"No, here is fine." She said with a smile before digging in to her supper. He had made the hollandaise sauce from scratch and it was amazing. She wanted to moan with delight from the taste of it, but thought it best to control herself. When they were both finished he watched her scrape the last bits of sauce with her fork and lick it from the tines. 

"I take it you liked my eggs Benedict." He said pleased, his eyes gleaming.

"Mmm, it was delish." She replied, feeling a bit high from the good food and the wine. She was satisfied, warm, and suddenly feeling playful and mischievous. She had a flittering thought. She should kiss him.

No! Her brain scowled back. But yes!

He took her plate and cleared the counter, taking the dishes to the sink. 

He washed them quickly while she spooned the sauce into a container and stuck it in the fridge. She refilled his wine glass for him. It seemed natural for her to be in the kitchen with him. She moved through the space easily, like it was her own as well. Since he was finished with the dishes, she handed him the wine. 

"I've got to show you something. I think you'll like it." He said grabbing her hand and leading her to the living room. 

"Okay," she said following. He sat her on the couch, and placed the glass on a coaster, then pulled out a box from beneath the coffee table.

Sitting next to her, their thighs brushed and Ria felt tingly. He opened the cover gingerly and pulled out a teacup and saucer. Only it wasn't just any of the kind, it was a Royal Albert fine bone china set from the Imari series coloured in cobalt blue, rust, and gold. It was from the 1920s much like a lot of his apartment. Her breath caught. It was so beautiful, and reminded her of the china that she and her grandmother used to drink from during their tea parties. How on earth did he know that she would like something like this?

"Where did you get this?" She asked her fingers tracing the beautiful floral pattern. 

He smiled noting her appreciation. "I bought it in an auction, it came with some of the furniture I purchased and at the time it seemed really odd, but I figured it must have been for a reason. Do you want it?" He asked her. "I won't ever have a use or need for a tea cup, I prefer mugs." He whispered the last part. 

"It's beautiful," she whispered back.

"Well then it's yours."

"Oh no," she said, "I can't accept that, no, no, no."

"Why not?" He asked her amused with her sudden gushing.

"Oh no. Just... I should go..."

"Right now?" 

She looked at her watch, it was already eight o'clock. "It's getting late."

"Will you take this with you?" He asked her, his hand patting the closed boxed.
She shook her head no. "Oh Dex..."

Before he could protest she was already up and at the door trying to put on her jacket but it was hopelessly tangled and flipped and not working.

"Let me help you," he said grabbing the sleeve and holding it out for her, wanting to chuckle, but finding her fleeing too unnerving.

She slipped into her jacket far more easily. Why did he always have to make her feel so flustered?

"Thanks Dex, for a great evening." She tucked her hair behind an ear like she always seemed to do when nervous. He wanted to pull it forward again just to watch her push it back again. His green eyes were locked onto her every move. 

"Well thanks for agreeing to come," he replied, taking a deep breath so that he didn't lean down and try to kiss her. Friends, friends, friends, he repeated to himself.

She grabbed her purse and walked out the door. He waved goodbye, and she was convinced that she could walk away until she reached the last step on the staircase and turned right around. Ria knocked on his door loudly.

He opened it surprised. "Hey. Forget something? Came back for the tea cup?"

"Hi. Yes. No. Umm, yes I forgot something," she said and he opened the door for her to come in and turned back to the couch looking for what she had missed. 

"Ria, I don't see anything..."

"Dexter."

He turned back to her. Ria's heart was hammering as she leaned against him. He was too tall so stood on her tip toes and pulled his face to hers. The kiss was simple, her lips met his firmly, but they were soft and she was sweet. The fact that her whole body leaned into his made Dexter pang with desire. She smelled softly, of floral and of fruit and although he wanted to bury his face in her neck, he was still in shock.

She had pulled away slowly. Leaning against his hard body had felt better than she thought it would, and his warmth enticed her to stay against him longer. He tasted delicious and she craved more of him, especially with his masculine scent invading her senses. 

"What was that?" He asked afraid to move, savoring the moment that had just passed.

She licked her lips. "I was curious."

"Did you satisfy your curiosity?" He asked, afraid she would say yes. 

Please say no, please say no. 

"Perhaps," she said with an impish smile. "Goodnight Dex." She added and was out the door and walking down the hall. He stood in the hallway and watched her bottom as it moved with each step.

"Goodnight Ree." He called after her, and she turned to look back at him before she walked down the first step. It was then that he knew. He knew that he would have her.









Chapter 6


Ria stopped what she was doing in the kitchen of the bakery and clenched her thighs together. She had just thought of Dexter. Of the kiss they had shared, of the way he had softly kissed her back. 

Her pangs had continued to intensify since the beginning of the week and she feared that by the end of the day she’d somehow make an excuse to find her way back over to his place and take him up on the offer he had extended to her during the first baking session. 

Sarah walked into the kitchen, “Hey Ree it looks like we’re all out of... Ree? Earth to Ria?”

Ria snapped out of her daydream. “Sorry Sarah,” she said with a face-palm. 

Sarah smiled and leaned against the counter. “Are we a bit distracted? Who is distracting you!?” Sarah shook her arms with excitement and said, “please tell me that you finally gave in to Mr. Yummy.”

“No! Sarah, gosh, you’re so bad. We hardly know each other.”

Sarah chuckled. “Sometimes it’s better that way babe. Seriously Ree, I’ve known you for almost two years now, you’re never dating. You’re always working. Please tell me something has happened!”

“I kissed him, okay?”

“Saweet! Oh does he do that naughty nibble thing that gorgeous men with lips like that should do...” Sarah sometimes had the power of a hurricane. Ria wondered how on earth she was single. 

“It was one kiss. It was pleasant. And you are as bad as Adelaide, if not worse.”

Sarah laughed. “Addie and I are kindred spirits, but I love you more. So! When do you see Sexy Dexy again?” Sarah wiggled her eyebrows.

Ria shook her head, but was laughing. “Sexy Dexy? I like that. We’ll see each other on Sunday again.”

“What! No date night?”

“We talked on the phone last night.”

“You did!” Sarah gasped. “How long? Did you get dirty?”

Ria rolled her eyes. “I was tame, maybe a bit flirtatious, and close to two and a half hours. It was long.”

“Hmmmm...”Sarah started, “making more progress than I thought, very nice.” And with that Sarah went back to the bakery, for a Wednesday afternoon they were really busy, then again this weekend was Easter. Allie was yelling something about sugar cookies and Ria raced out to replenish the stock with fresh goods.




Easter Sunday arrived faster than Dexter had anticipated. The whole week had been a whirlwind. He had thought about Ria all week. They had talked on Tuesday night for hours and the more he learned about her the more he liked her. 

Despite the limitations on his families curse, at least there was some comfort in the fact that the Companion you were guided to was completely suitable. He had never considered that before. He had always feared that his Companion might not be anything that he had wanted, especially meeting Ria for the first time. He had been wrong, so very wrong and he wanted to make it up to her. 

Ria had actually decided to close the Bakery for the holiday on Sunday and would re-open on Tuesday. Her business had been so good the week before that she could afford to take a day or two off. Dexter and Ria had planned to meet for one o’clock to bake since both of them had supper plans with their families.

When he arrived, he looked gorgeous. His hair had been lightly gelled, and underneath his wool coat and scarf he was wearing a crisp shirt white and black dress pants with a coordinating red silk tie. The red set off his green eyes making him look extra delicious. 

“Hey Ree.” He said walking into the bakery. 

“Hey!” She said greeting him with a kiss on the cheek before locking the door behind him. He placed his coat on the rack and turned to see her pull off her trench. Like Dexter, Ria had dressed up for her family supper. She was wearing knee high boots and a grey pleated skirt, her smooth honey legs peeping out in the space between. With it she wore a white buttoned down shirt and a black cardigan. She had even straightened her hair. 

Dexter swallowed hard and repeated friends, friends, friends.

She smiled at him. “I guess we’re both over-dressed for baking.” She said leading him to the kitchen. He wanted to add that he’d gladly get under-dressed and forsake their clothing to take her slowly and deeply on the kitchen island. All week he had fantasized about making her toes curl and for fleeting moment considered using a spell to unlock the desires he knew she kept well hidden.

“You’re awfully quiet,” she said noticing his pained demeanor.

“Just excited to bake,” he said flatly. He had to keep his libido under control. 

They were making a carrot cheese cake and it would be the first recipe that Dexter tried with a bit more complexity. They were both careful not to spoil their clothes and Dex was thankful for the apron. Yet, despite all the attention focused baking, forty-five minutes later when the cake was in the oven, he was still feeling restless. 

Ria let out a deep sigh. Maybe she was feeling as pent up as he was. 

“What?” He asked her.

“Oh nothing, just thinking about all the stuff I have to do this weekend.”

“It’s a time to rest.” He said plainly.

She shrugged. “No rest for the wicked. My student tenants upstairs moved out since the school year is done so I have to clean it up and get the place back on the market.”

“You own the building?” He asked impressed.

“Yeah,” she said, “bloody mortgages. I’m thinking of selling my condo and just fixing the apartment up and staying there myself. It’s a nice space, pretty big too.”

“You should do it.” He said agreeing that it would be more cost effective for her. She could make a decent profit on her condo if it was in a good location. 

“Yeah it would make sense financially,” she said again bending over to look at the cake in the oven. Her skirt rode up a little and he wished it was about three inches shorter. With one little finger curl he could shorten it, but he couldn't risk her noticing.

“You shouldn’t have worn that skirt.” He said not able to contain the words.

“Oh its fine, my apron covers most of it, there’s nothing on the back is there?”

“No, that’s not what I meant.” He sighed. “How long before that cake is done baking?”

“About an hour and a half”

“Why don’t you show me that apartment upstairs? If you decide to keep renting I can mention it to some of my clientele who are new in the area and might need a place.” He needed a distraction. Maybe they could talk about properties and investments.

She grabbed the keys and led the way through a door in the kitchen that looked like it led to nowhere. She had been right about the space. It was large, two bedrooms with a good sized kitchen and a nice bathroom. She had renovated most of the apartment the year before, but the kitchen still needed a complete do-over. 

“It’s a great space,” he said and meant it, she clearly had a knack for seeing potential.

“Thanks,” she said, bending over the window ledge to look outside. 

Friends, friends, friends... again with the bending in the skirt, Ree what are you doing to me? 

“I hate that skirt Ria.” He said perhaps using a word that connoted too strongly.

“Is it that hideous?” she asked smoothing out the pleats absentmindedly.

“I find it distracting.”

“You what?” 

“I want to rip it off of you.” He said no emotion showing but walking towards her until her back was against the wall. 

“Dexter, what are you...?”

He looked down at her clearly not amused. “Stop talking,” he commanded, leaning forward slightly.

She ignored him. “I can change it if you think it’s that bad.”

His hands braced the wall behind her and he bent down. His mouth was hot on hers, demanding, needing, kissing, until she was sucking back so much air she thought the buttons on her cardigan would pop.

He pulled away and looked at her again, only this time it was seductive, sexual. “Do you want me to stop Ria?” His green eyes scanned her hotly.

“No.” She shook her head, her glasses wobbling a little. 

He kissed her again, his tongue swirling provocatively with hers and she wrapped her arms around his neck, running her fingers through his hair and then pulling his mouth harder on hers. 

Man did he love the way she kissed. She was aggressive, like him. 

His hands left the wall and caressed her body while she cupped his face. He smelled so good that she started to nibble on his neck. When he grabbed her bottom to pull her closer against his body of steel, she let out an intense gasp of delight. His hands ventured under the skirt to her bare skin where he massaged her thighs and backside slowly. His mouth left hers and kissed a trail up from her neck to ear where he nibbled on it sending shivers through her frame. 

This was all happening quickly. Ria's head was swimming, but she didn't care. He was so different than she had thought. He wasn't cold at all! He was blazing hot!

“Should I stop?” He asked not wanting to push her too far, too fast.

“Don’t you dare,” she replied hotly. Maybe Adelaide and Sarah were right. Dex was fun and he seemed to like her. She should have fun, with him. 

He smiled and elated with her reply, cupped her face with his hands pressing against her lips with a deeper kiss before his hands returned to their exploration. Still kissing, he unbuttoned her cardigan slowly, pushing it aside. Then he began unbuttoning her shirt from the hem to breast, the last button popping with a sharp inhale from Ria. 

How could Dexter be this freaking sexy and want her? She already felt on fire from his passion, overwhelming her like a tidal wave. He did want her though. She could feel his pulsating against her stomach. She could sense it in the intensity of his movements. He kissed her so heatedly she thought he was going to knock her glasses off.

Dexter glanced down at Ria’s breasts, they looked firm and taut spilling out of a white lace bra that was sheer and showed her nipples peaking through. “Mmmm I want those in my mouth,” he said softly before kissing a trail down to them. He kissed and licked them through the lace. 

The sight of him there was too much for her, “Dexter... I...”

He kissed his way back up to her lips, his hands resting on her waist. “Is this okay Ria?” He asked against her mouth, his fingers slowly unclasping her bra and pushing it up. His hands caressed her breasts before his fingers flicked her nipples. Sensation vibrated through her and to her core.

“Do you want me to stop?” he asked again nuzzling her neck. She pulled her glasses off dropping them in her bag before she pulled his face back to her. 

“No, I don’t want you to stop Dex, don’t stop.” She whispered against his lips before kissing him firmly. If she was going to do this, there was no turning back now.

Her hands caressed his chests and thighs until they found his throbbing girth. He was so hard in her hands and she wanted all of him. He moaned into her lips, his hands still kneading her breasts.

In between kisses he managed to say, “I want you Ree. I want to taste you.” His hands slid beneath her skirt again. 

Her underwear had little ties. It was a side tie bikini, the kind of under thing that had it undone and off with one simultaneous tug of string from each hip. He couldn’t be so lucky. He pulled them off and stuffed them in his pocket. They were matching white lace, wet and silky between his fingers and he groaned into her mouth again.

“Did you wear those for me?” He whispered.

“Yes,” was all she could manage to say, his lips were hovering so close to hers she wanted them on her again.

Dexter thought he might explode right then and there. His hands interlaced with hers and he held them above her head. “Let me take care of you first sweetheart.”

He knelt before her, nudging her thighs apart and slowly doting them with kisses. Ria felt weak with desire. She couldn’t believe this was actually happening. He lifted her skirt and when his tongue stroked her tender spot, she wanted to collapse from ecstasy. He nibbled gently, but his tongue explored her with the same need and demand as before and it rocked her closer to the edge. She was so aroused, ready for him. When he gently pressed against her with a finger before it smoothly pushed into her channel she thought her legs might give, but he held her firm. 

“I’ve got you sweetheart.” She heard him say.

“Oh Dex...” Ria gasped her eyes closed, her body arching forward.

When he added another finger, stroking her slowly, and continued with his mouth she swore she burst apart. It didn't take long for him to push her over the edge, he was already so arousing. Her eye sight melded into a kaleidoscope blur as pleasure shuddered through her and she cried out tensing. 

Well then... Ria's mind said as it slowly cleared through the haze of heat. She slid down the wall slowly and collapsed into his kneeling lap.  

“That was... unexpected and absolutely amazing,” She whispered before kissing him. 

“I’m glad you think so,” he said completely enraptured with her. He nuzzled her neck. “Mmm I don’t want to move.”

“We don’t have to,” Ria said with a seductive voice that sounded foreign to her, her fingers tracing along his shoulder.

“It’s already quarter to four Ria.” His cheek was leaning against the top of her head.

“What!?” 

“We should get back to the kitchen before the cake burns.”

She looked at him shocked, “but you’re still hard, I didn’t even get to return the―”

Dexter kissed her. It was a scorching and evoking claim of her lips. “I know. We’ll have to wait until later.” He put her bra back together for her.

She looked at him in disbelief, and said, “but you’re still aroused, it’s not fair, we can take the cake out and you could be a few minutes late, couldn't you?” She wiggled her eyebrows at him.

“You’re very temping miss, stop that. It will go away. Plus, if I am late, Sam and the guys will know something happened and ask me a billion questions about you.”

“You talk about me with your cousins?” She asked buttoning her shirt.

Oh crap! Dexter hadn’t thought that one through yet.

“Umm yeah,” he admitted scratching his cheek. Dexter was embarrassed! Ria couldn’t believe it, he did really like her!

She kissed him again sweetly and he softened. “Will you let me take you out sometime this week?”

“Like a date?” Ria asked, pushing her glasses back on. 

Dexter tried not to smile, but the corners of his mouth betrayed him. “Yes like a date, with an activity for us to do, a real restaurant and everything.”

“Okay,” she replied, getting up from the floor. “How about Tuesday or Wednesday?”

“Tuesday, at six-thirty.” Dexter said, not wanting to spend too many days away from her. 

“You're on mister, but I still don't think this is fair,” she added glancing down towards his zipper. 

He laughed wholeheartedly. “There's always Tuesday.” He said before placing another tingle ridden kiss on her lips. 




 Chapter 7



 “You're looking lovely Ria!”

“Thanks Aunt Kleo,” Ria said and leaned forward to kiss her aunt's cheek. She hoped she didn't look too ruffled. Dexter had dropped her off at her family gathering before heading over to his. He had offered to pick her up after, but she knew she could get a ride with one of her cousins. She could have driven herself, but the idea of stealing a few more minutes with Dexter before they parted ways had appealed to her too much. 

“Such a beautiful complexion, rosy and delightful. You look vivacious dear. You have to tell me your secret.”

Find a hot man and...

Ria laughed nervously. “Oh...you know lots of rest.” She shrugged and smoothed out her skirt, afraid that her aunt had x-ray vision and could see her lack of underwear. 

One of her cousins passed by with glasses of wine and handed one to each of them. Ria took a sip, delighted. It was a delicious Riesling, bubbly and fresh.

“Are you sure this doesn't have to do with a man Ria?” Kleo looked at her knowingly. Her aunt always had that spooky sixth sense about these things, but then she thought, maybe she just saw Dex drop her off. Ria made a slow and deliberate smile.

“Ummm....” How was she going to side step this one?

“RIA BEEYA!!!!” A shrill voice made a high pitched warrior's call out of her name. Ria turned just before she was swarmed with a huge hug. It was her cousin Shiva. 

Phew, saved.

“Alright you gals catch up. I'll talk to you later Ria.” Her aunt smiled and walked away. 




Trigg opened the door and welcomed Dexter. He had that broad smile Trigg always had when everyone was together. It was a laid back, family time sort of smile, mostly for show, which reminded Dexter how interesting the night could turn out to be. 

He whispered to him. “What's the status Dex? Make any progress?”

Trigg grabbed a hanger while he removed his coat. Dexter didn't know what to say. He wanted to let his cousins know that he had made progress. He wanted to ease their minds that he had a date. Yet the room yonder was filled with family members, all aware of the curse, all the meddling sort who would probably start offering their best advice on how he should win over his Companion. They had done the same with Samuel, until finally he had said enough was enough and told them all to back off since he had three years to win her over. Dex didn't have that kind of time. 

“Dexter! You're here!” He heard and instantly recognized the voice, it was his mother. Trigg returned to his guests and they were left alone in the entrance. 

“Hi mom,” he said, leaning down to kiss her cheek.

“I called you three times, and you can't call me back. Must have been busy with your Companion eh?” Her brown bob of hair shimmied back and forth with her movements and her green eyes brightened. 

He rubbed his neck. “Umm no mom, work mostly, sorry.” He wasn't really lying he had been busy with work mostly, but the look in her eyes made him instantly regret telling her the truth.

“Work?” She grabbed his bicep, pulling him closer to her. “Dexter, I don't think you realize how worried we all are, how much pressure there is right now for you. You need to start taking this more seriously or you'll end up like your uncle Jed.”

“Mom...” he began wanting to placate her.

“Dexter, your father wasted no time with me and he had two years like most of them. Please be smart about this. Jed fought the curse until the end. You know that even after he found his Companion and loved her, the idiot refused to marry her, thinking he could outlast the magic. And then of course he died, as soon as his thirtieth birthday came. Poof, he was gone.” Her hands flittered out before she crossed them and looked sickly.

Dexter pulled his mom into a hug. She looked like she might cry. It made him feel guilty. “Don't worry so much, mom, that won't happen with me.”

“It better not,” she said pinching his ear. “I want grandchildren, you hear. So what's she like?” She asked releasing his ear from her punishment. He rubbed it annoyed before he spoke. 

“She's funny, and smart, silly sometimes, sweet all of the time. She bakes, owns her own bakery.”

Lana gave an approving nod. “She's an entrepreneur, good. You could use someone with some actual life skills. Not those bobble head beauty queens that you usually bring around. What's her name?”

“She's beautiful too mom, but she's a firecracker. She's kind of suspicious of me.”

“Suspicious? Even better, a girl with some instincts, I like her already.” He laughed, of course his mom liked a girl with spunk; she was full of gumption.

“Her name is Ria.” If he gave his mother her last name the whole family would be running background checks and researching her. There was no doubt in his mind that some of them would head over to her bakery to check her out too. 

Lana's smile widened. “Ria, well that's pretty. So when did you say you were inviting her over to have supper with me and your father?”

“Uhhh...” Dexter had just asked Ria out on their first date. Even though they had already been more intimate than he had intended. He really didn't want to rush her, even with a deadline. Thankfully at that moment Sam appeared.

“Dex!” He shook Dex's hand before pulling him in for a hug. “So, Aunt Lana, was Dex telling you about Ria?

“Yes he was. You make sure he steps up, okay Samuel?” Lana had a way of always commanding the cousins to do what she wanted with just a look, and there was no magic there, simply a bond of trust. 

“Mother,” Dexter said as she walked away.

Sam sucked in air through his teeth. “She means business. And you thought that Trigg, Marcos, and me were bad. So... anything yet?”

Dexter knew he could trust Samuel to silence. “I have a date with Ria on Tuesday. Tell no one, Sam. I mean no one.”

“Absolutely captain!” He said and saluted Dexter sarcastically.

“I mean it Sam. You remember what it was like when everyone found out about Olivia right?”

Sam expelled a breath, growing serious. “Yes I do, and I don't blame you. My lips are sealed Dex. I won't tell a soul. Well except maybe Ollie, tonight at home, after the party.”

“Yeah that's fine.” Dexter replied, knowing the two of them were probably his best allies in this whole mess. Then they joined the throng of guests who swarmed Dexter with questions until night end. 




Monday had lagged. Since it was a holiday and the day before his date with Ria, Dexter found himself wishing the hours away. The time passed slowly and by mid-afternoon on Tuesday things were starting to feel surreal.  He had a couple of ideas planned for the date and had called around that morning to solidify reservations for mini putt and dinner at a downtown restaurant. 

Now he was outside her building. It was quarter after six. He was early and debated about waiting in the car for another ten minutes, but he could just as easily wait for Ria on her couch. Then he'd actually get to see the inside of her condo and he had wondered what it would look like since she had been to his place the previous week. 

He knocked on her door. 

“Coming!” He heard Ria shout from somewhere on the other side. She opened the door with a quick swing. 

“Come on in,” she said with a smile, backing up to let him through the doorway. 

Dexter examined her from toe to head. She was wearing her black boots again, boots he loved since they reminded him of their last intimate encounter. With it she wore a crimson red cotton dress, simple and cute. The tiered bottom was long enough to cover her knees, and its boat neck hemline was modest, but he still thought that she looked sexy. Her lips were the same shade of red and he had the urge to kiss her messily just so he could see them smudged and swollen. Her hair had been curled and fell in shiny locks that tempted him. He began to realize how hard the evening was going to prove, especially since he'd made up his mind to take things slower with his future wife. 

Dexter bent down and kissed her cheek. “You look lovely,” he said before closing the door behind him. 

“Thanks, you look lovely yourself.” And he did. Dexter always had a way of looking like a model. He wore a camel wool coat with a white fitted sweater and black trousers. His blonde hair looked purposely tousled and the green scarf he wore always made his eyes shimmer. Ria couldn't help but notice how he filled out his shirt. She wanted to hug him just so she could feel those warm muscles, but his eyes were busy scanning her condo. 

Her place was nice. The walls in the living room were a warm spice colour and the windows were decorated with warm gold and ivory sheer curtains. There was a lot of wooden furniture and decor in orange and red. It was a mix of rustic and bohemian styles, which clearly suited her warm and down to earth personality. 

“Wow,” he said looking at everything in his range of sight. 

“Is that good or bad?” Ria asked since his place was quite different from hers. He had bachelor chic down pat and her place was far more humble, more eclectic.

“Good. I like your stuff. It suits you. It's warm.” He looked at her pleased.

“Should we head out?” She asked putting on her coat. 

“Yes,” he replied offering her an arm.

Dexter pulled into the driveway of their first destination, the mini-putt park, and turned the ignition off. Ria looked at him a bit confused.

“Dex, this place doesn't open up until the summer. I think we're a little early.” 

“I happen to know the owner,” he said softly. “So I managed to convince them to open up for us for one night.”

“You didn't,” she said unable to contain her excitement.

“I did,” he replied and winked at her before getting out of the car.

“I have to be honest. I'm going to be bad at this. I haven't gone to mini putt since I was about twelve.” She got out and he walked around to her side of the Jeep. 

Dexter had a sudden thought. He didn't actually know how old Ria was, and lately the idea of age and time were forcing its way into his thoughts. He had asked her lots of other questions during their baking lessons. What her favourite things were. What her childhood was like. How many siblings she had, but he never asked her age. 

“And how long ago would that have been exactly?” He asked casually.

She tried not to smile and answered, “several years.”

“Oh.” Dexter said amused. “Don't want to tell me what your age is then?”

“How old do you think I am?” She asked suddenly wondering how old Dexter was. They walked towards the entrance together, Ria wrapped under Dexter's arm. When they reached the entrance he examined her more closely.

“I think...”

 They were interrupted by the owner who quickly set them up with their necessary equipment and let them know he would be in the main building if they needed anything. As they sauntered along the boardwalk, he began to realize how young Ria seemed. He hoped that she wasn't too young to be considering marriage. 

“So,” she said as they approached the first hole, “made up your mind yet?”

“Twenty-five?” He whispered, praying that she wasn't younger and would take offense. 

She smiled. “You're good. I'm twenty-six. You're twenty-eight, twenty-nine?” She guessed.

“Twenty-nine, a few weeks ago at the end of March.” He said before taking his first strike. He was lucky and the golf ball stopped a foot away from the hole. 

“You didn't tell me Dexter! I would have made you a cake. I could have got you a card!” Her mouth opened wide in an o-shaped surprise. 

“We didn't know each other then,” he replied smartly. “So a cake would not be necessary. I think you've helped me with enough goodies already.” He added patting his stomach. It drew her eyes there and for a moment she imagined him without his shirt on. Her eyes glazed a little until she snapped out of her temporary fantasy. 

She wrinkled her nose at him. “Fine.” She said as he hit the ball into the hole. “How do I do this properly?” She asked placing the ball down and standing in a somewhat correct stance. 

He walked over to her and stood behind her placing her hands in the right place on the putter, and advising her where to place her feet. Ria had that warm cocooned feeling, and it was making her tingle. Dexter's cologne was wafting over her and she was finding her attention divided between listening to the instructions he was giving her and savouring the closeness of his body. As she prepared to strike he spoke.

“When's you're birthday Ria? You didn't tell me.”

“Shhh Dex, you're distracting me. Or is that your ploy? Distract me so you can win.”

“Exactly,” he answered as he leaned down and kissed her neck. She followed through with her stroke, but his affection tickled and made her jerk up a little hitting the ball askew.

“Dexter!” She cried in mock-annoyance, and he grabbed her playfully, kissing her neck and rubbing his cheek into the crevice to tickle while she squirmed. With a subtle wave of his fingers he corrected the path of the ball and made it land in the hole. Ria chuckled with delight before turning to him with a staunch pout. 

“You bugger!” She said wrapping her arms around his neck. “It didn't work; I still managed to get a hole in one.”

“Beginners luck,” he answered and grabbed her by the waist. His eyes squinted as he said, “talk you, or its more tickles.” She wrinkled her nose again so he bent down and bit it lightly.

“Ewwww Dex!” She said with a soft laugh pulling back to wipe off her nose. “It's November thirtieth. Happy?” She asked. Her eyes opened wider in a silly expression.

“Yes,” he replied with a nod. “Very,” he added, before pulling her in for a kiss. 

Ria closed her eyes while Dexter kissed her. It was a strange thing that every time they kissed her lips tingled, sending the sweetest feeling into her cheeks and all over her body. It was heavenly and she'd never experienced anything like that before. 

Dexter felt the same feeling and he knew there had to be some magic woven into their feelings. It was different than a warlock's natural draw. It was stronger, something linked to the curse. Their kisses grew more passionate. He had to stop kissing her before he made love to her right then and there on the green. He pulled away slowly.

“Ria we should stop kissing, we have seventeen holes to go before our reservation at the restaurant.”

“Hmmm,” she replied softly. “Your lips are reddish,” she added before wiping them tenderly. 

For the next seventeen holes Dexter helped Ria's golf ball find its way to the whole on several accounts. He didn't do it to the point of excess, just enough so that he could enjoy the delight in her eyes every time she did really well. It got to the point where he just had to look at the ball and it moved in the way he wanted. 

That was always the case, the more you used, the stronger it flowed through you. He had no idea how Marcos managed to cast far more than the others and not expose himself. The casting cost Dexter his usual composure and by the last hole Ria looked at him strangely. 

“Dexter, are your eyes glowing?” She asked as they walked. 

“What?” he asked, feigning nonchalance. 

She crept closer to him her hand cupping his face while she stared into his eyes. There was a faint glow on the outer rim of his irises. Or at least that was what Ria swore she saw.

“Must be the spotlights out here.” He said before breaking their connection and walking over to take his last stroke. 

“Yeah I guess so,” she replied, suddenly feeling curious. “Are you feeling okay?” She asked suddenly concerned.

With his back to her, he closed his eyes and summoned an Abdo chant to conceal his appearance. He hadn't used it since he was a teen so he hoped nothing went awry.

“I feel great,” he replied turning to her. He looked normal again and she calmed.

It had been a close call, but he had managed to get Ria to the restaurant without any additional questions about his eyes. Her mood hadn't seemed to change either, she was still jovial. They had enjoyed their meal and she commended him on choosing the local vegetarian restaurant as their place to dine. It turned out to be one of her favourites. They left satisfied with their meals and walked around downtown for a bit before he drove Ria home.

It had been a perfect evening and now Dexter had walked Ria back to her door. Now was the moment that Ria had questioned.

"Do you want to come in?" She asked, not sure what else to say. 

Dexter looked at the door, then at Ria, and then at the door. His hesitation slowed her from immediately pulling out her keys and she was starting to worry that he was going to withdraw from her again.

"Look this isn't me flashing cold again. I'm going to be honest. I want to come in. I really do, but I am afraid that if I do, we'll take things too fast."

"Oh," She said happily surprised he didn't say he was no longer interested in dating her. "We can take it slow Dex."

"See that's the thing Ree," he said pulling her to him, "I like you, and I don't trust myself to take it slow with you. Not at this very moment." He added his eyes falling over her frame with lust. "But, I am going to kiss you goodnight."

Dexter leaned down and planted a deep kiss on Ria's lips. She leaned into it on her tip toes and was tempted to part her mouth for him, but she didn't want to make it harder for them both. The same tingle from before was sparking through them, and as her feet found the ground she couldn't help but touch her lips. 

"Did you feel that?" She asked him.

"Yes," he replied before kissing her cheek. He looked deep into her eyes, smiling while he tucked her hair behind her ear. "Goodnight Ree."





Chapter 8

Ria was sitting in the back room of the bakery with her fingers curled around a cup of morning tea. It was eight thirty and she had already been there for an hour. She had scones and croissants in the oven. Sarah and Allison had helped her with the morning baking since there was a lot to be done. With everything completed they were out serving customers while she stole a few quiet minutes in the back to herself.

The phone rang and she jumped, and then quickly picked up the receiver. "Red Velvet Bakery, How may I help you?"

"Good morning sunshine," a voice on the other line said. 

"Well good morning to you too." She replied not completely sure to whom the melodious voice belonged.

"Busy day so far sweetheart?" Dexter asked.

"Dexter?" she said with a smile.

"Ummhmm, I can hear you smiling," he said loving the way she said his voice.

She laughed. "Not busy yet. Just starting."

"Are you wearing your apron?" His asked mischievously. 

"Yes Dex."

"What else are you wearing Ree?"

"Dex," she said with a pleading breath. 

He laughed. "Okay." He acquiesced, "I called to ask you what you were doing for lunch"

"Working." She said with a groan. "Sorry cupcake, I have to cover Sarah's break. She has an appointment at the dentist."

"Cupcake?"

"Well you love them so much."

"Ummhmm" He mused. "That's fine. Don't worry, I'll come to you sweetheart. With a surprise."

"A surprise huh? Okay lover, food is on me. There's plenty of it here. I'll see you then."

"I like it when you call me lover. Bye sweetheart."

"Okay," she said and laughed, "making a mental note lover not cupcake. Bye Dex."

Sarah came back flying into the room. "Was that Mr. Yummy?"

"Yes," Ria said.

"I want all the details of your date Ria. Pronto! There's finally a lull and I need something to keep my spirits high for my trip to the dentist." She shuddered. Like Ria, Sarah was not a fan of getting her teeth cleaned. 




Dexter had a hard time deciding on the surprise that he was going to bring Ria. He had considered flowers, but he had already brought her a plant. Then he had thought about balloons, but something about them seemed silly. He had thought about jewelry, but then Ria might consider that too much. Then he recalled the way her face had lit up at seeing the tea cup at his apartment. It wasn't too far from work so he could swing by and get it before meeting with her.

He had just finished grabbing the box when he heard a knock at his door. 

“Dex open up! I know you're in there. The receptionist at your workplace said you came home.” It was Marcos. What was he doing here?

Dexter opened the door, suspicious of his mischievous cousin. 

“What are you doing here Marcos?”

Marcos gave him a funny look, pulling his scarf off. “Hi Dex. It's nice to see you too.”

“Really?” Dexter asked getting to the point. 

Marcos sighed. “Can't I stop by to visit my cousin?”

“No,” Dexter replied frankly. “You come to see me when you need something or you're on a mission.”

Marcos charmingly stroked his chest. “Aw Dex, I'm hurt.”

“Yeah? Well, can you make it quick Marcos? I'm on my way to meet Ria for lunch at the bakery.”

“Really?” Marcos asked enthusiastically. Perhaps a bit too excited for Dexter's liking. “Well maybe I should join you in going over there. It is about time that I met the new and enchanting addition to our family.”

Dexter groaned and rolled his eyes. “I don't think that's a good idea Marky Mark. What are you up to? Have you been talking to my mother?”

Marcos laughed. “Look, I'll be straight with you. I'm a little worried about the whole Companion thing. I expect to meet mine any day now so I'd like to meet yours just to see what they're like.”

Dexter wasn't convinced, but he didn't have time to argue. “Alright whatever, I'm going over there now.” 

They arrived at the bakery in a few minutes and Dexter grabbed the box with the tea cup from the backseat of his car. For a moment he had a feeling like he should have wrapped it up or placed it in a gift bag, but it was a little late for that now. His lunch hour was turning out to be a maelstrom, and it looked the same in the cafe as well.

Ria greeted him with a smile when he and Marcos entered and she nodded in the direction of the same chairs and table that he and Sam had sat at. A folded sign with the words Reserved/Reserve was placed on the table's surface. 

Allison came over to greet them and take their orders, “Ria's really busy with customers. So, she's sorry Dexter, “Allison's eyes darted over him then zoned in on Marcos with a blush as she continued, “but you and your friend can have anything you want, to eat.” She smiled, adding the last part with her blush deepening. 

Dexter was realizing his lunch was not going to turn out quite the way he had planned. Luckily, he didn't have any additional appointments that afternoon, and since he made his own hours, all he needed to do was call the receptionist to let her know he would be out of the office. She would call him if he was needed. 

He and Marcos ordered. Their meal was pleasant, and Dexter actually did enjoy catching up with his cousin. Lately, they hadn't spoken as much since there was so much focus on Dexter's Companion situation. 

Forty-five minutes later the rush was over and Ria ambled over to the now empty seating area. She pulled a chair over to their table and let out a sigh as she sat down. She looked a little frazzled, but still adorable to Dexter. He wanted to kiss her, but not with Marcos there to report back to the family. 

Whew! It's not usually this busy.

The word is out. Marcos said with a smile. Sam had raved to him about Ria's food, and now he could see why. He'd experienced all of the deliciousness first hand.

Dexter gestured towards his cousin, "Ria this is my cousin, Marcos. Marcos this is my girlfriend, Ria." The word 'girlfriend' slipped out of his mouth effortlessly and for a second after he said it both Ria and Marcos glanced at him with a mixture of curiosity and enjoyment before smiling at one another and shaking hands. 

“Nice to meet you,” Ria said.

“Charmed,” Marcos replied, debonairly. “The food was amazing.”

“Oh thank you.” She replied in earnest.

“I think Dexter brought you a surprise.” Marcos said with a wink. Dexter had wanted to wait until they were alone before giving her the tea cup, but clearly Marcos was not done intruding just yet. 

He pulled out the box and she recognized it immediately. “Oh Dex, it's too much.” She said softly. 

Dexter wanted to chuckle, if she thought this was too much, he wondered what she would be like when he bought an engagement ring for her. All of the grandmothers had made the men of their family put aside money starting in their mid-teens to provide their Companions with suitable engagement rings. At the time Dexter had groaned about it, but it had taught him the importance of savings and investment and sparked his interest in finance. 

“I want you to have it,” he said looking at her sincerely. He cupped her chin forgetting for a moment that they had an audience. 

She opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

“Say yes.” He pleaded with her. 

“Okay.” She said nodding. 

Dexter really wanted to kiss her, Marcos there or not, but his phone rang. It was his office. “I have to get this,” he said, “I’ll be a moment.” He got up from the table so not to be rude and stood outside the bakery.

Ria smiled at Marcos. “So, did you get dessert?”

“Oh I couldn't,” he said rubbing his stomach. Ria observed him. He was incredibly handsome, just like Dexter and Sam. Marcos had medium length chocolate brown hair and matching rich hazel eyes. He was clearly very comfortable with himself and possessed the same sexual magnetism that Dexter and Sam exuded. Even under her scrutiny he maintained his composure. 

“What have you got in there?” He asked with a gun-like finger point at the box.

“It's a tea cup and saucer.” She replied pulling it out of the box and handing it to him gingerly for him to inspect. 

He looked at it and had a brilliant idea. He glanced over to notice Allison retreat to the back room. Dexter was busy on his phone. 

“He's so serious when he's on the phone,” he said with a head nod in his direction. Luckily Ria took the bait and looked out the window at Dex.

Quickly Marcos recited the enchantment in his head and his fingers swirled clockwise in the cup. By the time Ria looked back at him, he had planted the tea cup on the table in front of her and she returned it to the box. 

“So what do you do for fun Ria?” He asked wondering what Dexter's Companion really was like. On the surface she seemed as work focused and intelligent as his cousin. He wondered what else there was to her personality.

“For fun? Well usually my girlfriends and I have game nights, like this upcoming Friday. Or we go out on the town, sometimes to the theatre or the casino. Depends on our moods, I guess. What about you?” She asked him. Marcos was starting to like Ria; she was incredibly suitable for Dexter, warm and friendly. 

“This and that. Anything really I guess. I'm a world traveller so I'm always looking for another adventure.” He replied, stretching with the same dashing charisma as at their introduction. Ria was starting to realize what a handsome character Marcos was, and she could see why Dexter had seemed a tad uneasy at leaving them alone. 

Before she could reply, Dexter returned, and Marcos smiled devilishly. “Ria was just telling me about the game night that she and her girlfriends have planned for this Friday. So I was about to tell her how much we loved playing games together when we were kids.”

“Of course I suspect that Monopoly was your favourite.” She said to Dexter, hitting it right on the mark. He smiled. 

“Mine was Parcheesi,” Marcos added. Then his eyes lit up playfully, “you know it would be pretty fun to do a game night again, eh Dex?” Dexter tried not to let his face react to what Marcos was doing. He was using the Warlock's draw to suggest something to Ria, and had placed power in his voice. 

“Well you guys are more than welcome to come to our game night on Friday night.” She added cheerful.

“We wouldn't impose.” He said smoothly, adding the same counteractive power.

“Not at all,” Ria said with a hand wave. “Please come. Then you'll get to meet my friends too. ”

Dexter smiled, but he wanted to cringe. Marcos was plotting, only Dexter didn't know what it was yet. 



Chapter 9

When Ria had told Adelaide that Marcos and Dexter would be attending their game night, she had squealed with delight. Maxine had grumbled before adding that at least it was an opportunity 'to size Dexter up', and Naya had simply said 'Great!' in her usual laid back manner.

Since she was hosting Ria had made cupcakes, while everyone else brought additional snacks of their choice. Adelaide and Naya inspected the tea cup and saucer Dexter had given her, cooing over it because they knew how much Ria loved fine bone china. Addie had started wondering if Dexter was psychic. While Maxine had merely grunted, “guess he got lucky with that one.”

They had just finished setting up the first game, Princes of Florence, when the ringer near the door marked the arrival of Dexter and Marcos. Ria buzzed them in and waited for them to knock on the door. Maxine was at her side, while Naya and Addie sat at the dining room table.

“I’m nervous,” Adelaide said to the room.

“Don’t be,” Ria said, listening to the footsteps walking down the corridor. “They’re just men.”

“Men that apparently look like Gods, so I’ve heard from Sarah.” Her fingers were interlaced and nestled close to her chin.

“Sarah never saw Marcos, Addie and shh, they’re here.” Ria swung open the door.

“You have impeccable timing, my dear,” Marcos said as he removed his fedora and swept into the room. Dexter was following with the grace of a panther and an eye roll at his cousin's exuberance. He leaned down and planted a soft kiss on Ria’s cheek.

“Hello lovely.” He said, the words melting over her.

“Hi,” Ria replied with a smile bright enough to light the room. Dexter’s eyes were lingering, still fixed on her before turning to greet the room. Marcos was already making his rounds charming everyone with his good nature and humour.

As if by cue, both men rubbed their palms together. “Let’s get gaming,” Dexter said.

The night went on rather smoothly. Maxine asked questions about Dexter's work and where he lived. Impressed with both answers and his obvious affection for Ria it was clear that she had finally given her nod of approval. Adelaide had given her approval from the moment he walked in the door with a subtle thumbs up and by mouthing the words, “oh my gosh” to Ria when no one was looking. And Naya was indifferent as expected.

Marcos had them all enchanted with his stories and colourful tales, explaining that he had many a crazy time being an underwear model in Europe, but was now semi-retired.

He was also incredible at the games they played and had won both games of Princes of Florence and the one round of Agricola, even with Ria and Dexter paired together as a seemingly unstoppable team.

The room grew tense with excitement as they started their first attempt at Pandemic. For a game where a group of people worked together to save the world, there were far too many ways to lose and so far they were losing desperately.

Adelaide had been unusually quiet for the night so far, no doubt captivated with Marcos. He was clearly flirtatious with her, but something about the way he spoke, was different than when he had been sitting with her in her bakery and made Ria realize that he was in fact very lonely. He had stared into Adelaide's eyes almost expectantly when he had first arrived, before moving onto Maxine and Naya with the same apprehension. After that he had almost slipped on a role and entertained them all.

The game had reached a critical point and Maxine was popping popcorn in the microwave when all of a sudden the power went out. Naya and Adelaide cried out in shock.

“What the...” Ria said wondering what had happened. The lone candle lit on the hutch adjacent to the table was their only source of light.

“Ahh!” Maxine screamed out. “My popcorn.”

“Maybe there's a breaker issue,” Marcos said, “Dexter and I can check it out, where's your panel Ria?”

“I don't think that's it Marcos. I think it might be a power outage.” Ria's condo was not in the middle of the city, but in a more suburban area just off the highway. She wondered what could have happened to affect the power.

“Well we can check anyway,” Dexter said sussing Marcos's intentions.

“It's just off the kitchen near the entryway. Take the candle with you.” Ria said.

They got up from the table candle in hand. The space in the condo wasn't very divided, but as soon as the ladies at the table started talking Marcos whispered to Dexter, low enough so that they wouldn't hear.

“This is totally a blackout, but we can charm the building.”

“The building Marcos?” Dexter whispered back sharply.

“If we don't charm the building it will seem even weirder that Ria's apartment has power while the city doesn't.”

Dexter sighed. Marcos was right. “Okay fine, it's going to take both of us since we're not powered up right now.”

“Who says I'm not?” Marcos asked.

“I know you're not, you seem sad about something. We'll talk about that later though. Let's use Luminarium,” Dexter whispered back.

Dexter opened the panel and waited until they both had their hands on the circuit board before he 'accidentally' blew out the candle.

Within thirty seconds the lights fluttered back on and Dexter and Marcos swiftly closed the panel and returned to their hostess and new friends.

Adelaide welcomed Marcos back to the table, while Ria got up and walked to the window. Naya quickly joined Maxine in the kitchen to comfort her on her lost bag of popcorn. They put in another one while Ria watched the city yonder lost in darkness.

“Why is only my building lit?” Ria muttered crossing her arms.

That's odd.

Her eyes shifted to Dexter, who looked at her with curiosity.

“What is it sweetheart?” He asked noticing the hesitation in her eyes.

“Nothing,” she replied forcing a smile.

She felt the urge to question him on what he had done, but then realized that she should feel grateful that he and Marcos had fixed the problem. More importantly, with her friends here, now was not the time to question him. And she was starting to have questions.


She thought about their date and the glow of his eyes, about the way he had seem so uncontrolled the day he had come into the bakery to arrange baking lessons with her. 

His behaviour had been inconsistent from the start and although now he had become doting and affectionate she felt like maybe he was hiding something. Nothing about Dexter scared her, made her feel unsafe, but she knew they would have to talk and the sooner the better.

He grabbed her and hugged her in comfort. The game continued on in the same fashion and once again Marcos had been the saving grace. In the nick of time they had discovered all of the cures and saved the world. By the time they finished it was three o'clock in the morning, and everyone was ready for their beds.

Maxine and Naya left first, then Adelaide, even though Ria could tell that she wanted to stay longer, and then she was alone with Marcos and Dexter.

“We should head out too, sweetheart,” Dexter said as he wrapped and arm around her. Ria nestled closer and yawned.

“Okay mister. I will see you on Sunday; have a good time at that Golf tournament thing tomorrow.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. Dexter smiled.

“Thanks for having me,” Marcos said.

“Thanks for coming,” Ria replied reaching out to give him a hug. She could tell that something was bothering him. Even though none of the other ladies had known, she wanted to provide him some solace with her embrace.

Dexter looked at her softly, clearly appreciating her gesture and then they left.

Ria crawled into bed melting into the soft cotton sheets. Although she had wanted to re-examine the events of the nights, her eyes wouldn't let her stay awake, and she drifted off into oblivion.
    


Chapter 10


Something wicked this way comes.

The words whispered in Ria's mind. Her fingers were wrapped around the tea cup Dexter had given her; its interior was filled to the brim with tea. She bent to sip gently so as not to push the mixture with her lips and have it spill over the edge and onto her desk.

The saying had brushed against her mind as she stared at the cup but she pushed it away and continued with her work of looking over the inventory sheet she had to complete for next week’s supply order. Sarah was working this Sunday with her so she could organize and prepare for the weeks ahead. She had to work quickly since soon Dexter would be there too.

Yet, she drank slowly, savouring the slightly sweet and cinnamon taste that lingered on her lips. She had chosen a tea called Stormy Night, which kept reminding her of the game night where the power had gone out. The events played over in her mind as she tried to reconcile the city blackout with the power working in her building. Before long the contents of the cup were drained and she stared at it curiously while her finger circled the rim.

A smile crept up from her lips. Before the tea she had been thinking of ways to try and ask Dexter about his behaviour when they had first met, about the way his eyes had glowed that night of their date, and about what he and Marcos had done to somehow fix the power outage. He still hadn't explained to her what had made him so guarded. He was different now, was so attentive and doting that she supposed it all didn't matter, yet something nagged at her.

Something wicked this way comes.

The words lingered in her mind again, but it melted away, her skin suddenly feeling warmed and glowing. Heat vibrated through her, leaving her energized. All the apprehension she had felt was now gone. The questions resting on the tip of her tongue had dissolved and left her with an appetite for something she had yet to pinpoint.

“Well don’t you look pleased?”

Ria looked up at Sarah. “Yeah I guess so,” she said with a smile suddenly realizing just how relieved she did feel. “I’m all done the inventory.”

“Good,” Sarah said mischievously, “because a certain someone just walked in the door and he looks better than those desserts I've been staring at all day. I’m heading out of here. Be sure to keep the fire extinguisher handy because if I had a man like that in here, it would heat up quickly.” She winked at Ria, grabbing her purse and walking out the door just as Dexter came in and stopped on the other side of the room.

Ria eyed him from head to toe; he was wearing a grey t-shirt and a pair of black jeans. There was something irresistible about his steely simplicity in that moment. She wondered if it was the vulnerable grin of his delicious mouth or the decadent wave of his hair falling into his eyes, either way she had realized what she hungered for and leaned back into her chair crossing her legs as she waited for him to approach.

“Hey sexy Dexy,” she said playfully and her chair swirled towards him.

Her eyes locked on his, Dexter could feel something as he approached. Ria was sitting in her chair, her voice had been charged with desire but there was something in the air that had his body weakened.

“Hey,” he replied breathily anticipating the taste of her before his body leaned down and his mouth came crashing over hers with a claiming kiss. One that left him wanting more as she withdrew for a moment and teased his lips with her tongue before her mouth encouraged his lips to open for her exploration. Her hand cupped his chin and for a moment Dexter felt like a man possessed by the fire of her passion, while Ria kissed him with such prowess he had yet to know a woman could possess.

When at last she released his lips, she gently pushed him back until he sat leaning against her desk.

“Wait here,” she said getting up from her office chair and brushing her body against him tantalizingly. Dexter fought the urge to pull her back as she walked away, her hand squeezing his forearm in possession. His curiosity wondered what she had in store for him. He leaned back crossing his arms to keep from reaching out to her and watched her closely; his arousal so heightened by her every move.

She disappeared behind the opened door of the fridge, her hips swaying seductively while she hummed. She appeared from behind the massive fridge door with tray of chocolate covered strawberries and a dollop of frosting on her finger that she licked slowly.

“Ria...” Dexter started, feeling a little overwhelmed by her sensuality, feeling excited to the brink of his self-restraint. His thoughts scattered after she placed the strawberries on the island and returned to the fridge, grabbing a bowl of whipped topping. She kicked the door closed and with a crooked finger and an enticing smile beckoned him over to her.

“I changed my mind,” she said, “I want you over here.”

Dex walked to her slowly, her eyes scanning his every move, he tried to steady his breathing. What had gotten into Ria?

Her hands welcomed him with a caress from his fingers to his shoulders before she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him senseless.

Dexter pulled away, slowly cupping her face to examine her curiously. “Ria, what has gotten into you?”

She bit her lip before she responded, her eyes flickering wildly, “Well, not you, yet. So why don’t we change that? Or at least try to get a little closer.” Dex was speechless. She shifted to kiss his thumb resting on her cheek, and then sucked his index finger before kissing the inside of his wrist and up his arm to his mouth again. Before he knew it her hands were removing his shirt, their lips parting from their consuming kisses for a moment as she pulled it over his head.

“Is this okay Dex?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he replied his voice husky.

Dexter’s head swam with desire as she fed him a chocolate covered strawberry and then licked dollops of whipped topping from his abs, her mouth scattering hot kisses downward.

Ria knew exactly what she was doing, she felt so uninhibited, so masterful with each movement. She wanted Dexter. She had for some time and suddenly she wondered why she had waited. As she unclasped his jeans, her hands slipping down to caress his straining girth, Dexter gasped as she freed him from his pants. 

“Ria, you’re driving me crazy,” he cried, his body leaning back against the island, as her tongue flipped against his tip and then sucked him tenderly. Her movements grew more and more powerful, her mouth and hand massaging, bringing Dexter closer to the edge.

Ria watched the pleasure on Dexter’s face, fueled by his tender enjoyment. She nuzzled the hand that he had wrapped around cheek, his fingers caressing her face. She teased and lapped him slowly and then quickly, alternating to increase his growing rapture.

“Sweetheart, I won’t last much longer,” he managed to string together, pulling her face back to his so he could kiss her forehead, but her hands did not slow in their movements and the rubbing sensations sent him into a shuddering explosion of bliss, his body spilling into her hands.

Dexter breathed deeply as Ria kissed his cheek softly. He pulled her closer in an embrace, kissing her nose and lips softly. She smiled, kissing him once again until moving to the sink. She hummed softly until Dex broke out into a soft laugh as he redressed.

“What?” She asked innocently, looking at him over her shoulder with a coy smile.

Dex walked over and joined her, embracing her affectionately, “you took me by surprise, sexy, that rarely happens.”

Ria shrugged and kissed his chin leaning further into his arms. “Well I’m pretty good at surprises, so you’ll have to adjust.”

Dexter resisted closing his eyes as he savoured their closeness. Yet despite that effort what he couldn't conceal was the fierce pounding of his heart. For the first time in a while, he had someone worthy to hold onto. Someone that he didn't want to lose.





Chapter 11

“I have to tell her Sam.”

Dexter and Sam were sitting on the couch in his living room.

“I just don't know how,” he continued.

“It's not easy,” Sam said his face suddenly serious.

“Well how did it happen for you and Ollie?”

Sam looked contemplative for a moment before the surface of his face cracked into a comical smile. 

“I blurted it out,” he answered.

“What?” Dex asked, his face urging Sam to explain.

“One day we were sitting in a cafe and I just said, 'What would you do if I told you my family is cursed, and you are the only woman who can keep me from dying young?'”

“You said it like that, straight faced?”

“Yeah, and she looked at me and laughed. Then, of course, it sank in and she realized I wasn't kidding and she sat there stunned, so I added, 'Oh yeah and I am a warlock too.' Like an idiot, I even made my eyes glow.”

Dex watched Sam's face grow stoic. “And she was okay with it?” He asked, hoping that Sam would elaborate more.

“No,” he said shaking his head, a smile finally pulling up from the corner of his mouth. “She threw her half eaten scone at me, called me 'freaking crazy' and then got up and left. I must have called her every hour on the hour for three days straight before she finally agreed to see me again.”

“And then what?” Dex asked wondering how he would ever expel such a deep secret.

“She laid into me like a freight train on a track. It was sexy though; I’ve never had a women take control like that and tell me how it is going to be.”

“What do you mean Sammie? Ollie is so cool and collected I have a hard time imagining this.”

“Well, we met for lunch at Pastallis and when I sat down she looked at her watch and said, ‘I’m not impressed with you right now. Explain yourself, you have one hour. No lies, no excuses, I’ll know.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that, Dex. She looked so angry I had thought to myself, if looks could kill. So I spilled my guts and at the end she didn’t even say boo about the curse and all that I had told her. She just said ‘desperation doesn’t become you, don’t ever harass me with phone calls like that again Sammy.’ I thought she was going to get up and leave, but she didn’t. She stayed and said, ‘So what do we do now?’ The rest, well, you know.”

“It worked out for you two,” Dexter finally said after a few moments of silence. “I have to tell her, soon.”




Marcos had a hankering for something sweet, maybe some Madeleines or Almond cookies. He felt defeated, the week before had been one of adventure and he had enjoyed his time abroad on his most recent modeling job, but now to return home to an empty apartment, and a cold. He had recovered over the past few days but he still felt disheartened and hadn’t slept well.

He entered The Red Velvet bakery letting the sound of the door chimes wash over him.

The smell was intoxicating, filling his nostrils with a sense of warmth and then desire for the sweet deliciousness.  His nose guessed it was fresh baked cookies with a hint of coffee, hazelnut somewhere in the mix.

So distracted by the scents and display case filled with goodies, he didn’t immediately notice the girl behind the counter. 

Her eyes met his from behind the glass. 

And then, there was pain―sharp pain tearing through his chest, glorious pain he thought would never come, and his heart felt like the blood in it was boiling.

He wasn’t able to gracefully find a chair and so he let it happen naturally and crumpled back in agony landing splayed on the floor. It was a somewhat dramatic display but fitting of his character. 

His eyes shut, counting down the seconds as Dexter and Sam had once explained helped, and when he opened them, there was the most beautiful smile hovering above.

“Look buddy, I know I’m gorgeous but you don’t have to go swooning over me.”

She winked at him. Her black bangs blocked part of her eyes, and he brushed them out of the way without contemplating the intimacy involved in the act. He wanted a better look at her. 

His eyes shifted down and noticed a name tag, Sarah. 

He leaned up on his elbows and the finally introduced himself, “I’m Dexter’s cousin Marcos,” he spoke so quietly he wondered if she heard.

“Oh,” she said smiling even wider, “well that explains it then.” She backed up and got to her feet dusting off her knees before her hand reached out to his and began to pull him back up. She was stronger than he would have thought.

“Explains what?” he asked still mesmerized by what had just happened.

“The fainting goat like syndrome you guys seem to have.” She said turning her back to him and walking to the counter. “Oh and the stunning good looks,” she added casually, glancing back over her shoulder. It was too casual for it to sink in immediately and his response was delayed.

“Umm thank you,” he finally said, “for the compliment and for helping me up off of the floor.”

“Well you saved me from sweeping there,” she said cheekily. “So, thank you.”

Marcos chuckled.  He eyed her, soaking in every detail of her face before he realized she had noticed.

“So what can I get you?” she asked, “aside from maybe an ice pack to quell the pain?”

“I’m fine,” he answered quickly, dusting off his backside.

“Great,” she said smiling again and breaking her eye contact with him to look at the cookies. “We have some fresh Almondines, they’re my favourite.”

Marcos sighed, suddenly feeling so relieved and at peace. He’d found her, or rather stumbled across her. 

His fingers tapped against the counter while he looked quickly at the cookies and then back to her. Maybe he shouldn’t he thought, but then he remembered that question he always asked himself when nervous, why not, what could it hurt?

And so, he asked her, “how about a date instead?”




Chapter 12

Ria awoke, sitting up slowly while her legs smoothly brushed against the cotton sateen sheets beneath her. She was naked, but warm, waking from her dream senses slowly and wriggled against the bed stretching like a lioness. 

She stared at the ceiling for a moment before scanning the room and realized where she was, Dexter’s apartment. Then with a smile, she remembered a flash of the night before. She recalled the same exhilarating rush of Dexter caressing the back of her thighs tickling the inner crevice behind her knees while he was gently pushing her back onto his bed.

They had kissed their way down his hallway making their way to his room. Each kiss firm and filled with desire.  As she fell into the softness of his sheets a cool brush of the sateen texture against her skin was exhilarating in comparison to the warm taste of Dexter’s mouth spiced with the ginger taste of the meal they shared.

Now, with the morning light spilling into the room between them, Ria turned her head to notice him witness her yawn.

“Good morning beautiful.”

She wiped her eyes gently and then smiled. “Good morning.” 

They were silent for a few moments. “How long have you been awake?” She asked.

“Not long,” he replied tickling her nose.

He looked at her intently and Ria could tell something was on his mind.  He had a broad grin on his face, happiness pouring through him. Her hand reached for his laying on his chest and their fingers intertwined.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he answered, almost too quickly. 

Ria’s brown eyes bore into him.

Dexter held back, his mouth pressed firmly together. 

Until, a sickening thought that the moment, what he felt with Ria right now might not last. That it could end. He could end. 

“What would you say if I told you we were fated?” 

Ria stopped tickling his fingers, and looked up at him. “That’s very romantic mister. What do you want? I told you I’m all out of Red Velvet cupcakes until I make more.”

She leaned in and kissed his nose, but Dexter continued, “or if I told you that I was cursed and you’re the only person who could save me?”

“Well Sir Dexter of the Red Velvet, as your queen of course I would do everything in my power to save you, even scaling a tower to rescue my knight in distress”

Dexter’s smile faltered and he grew quiet.

“You’re not joking?” Ria asked her forehead wrinkled in contemplation.

“No,” he said smoothing out the crease with his fingers before pushing her hair back from her forehead and gently kissing her. 

Ria sat up.

“Your hair,” he said with a soft chuckle as he reached up to smooth her tresses that had sprung forth with the jolt of her body movement.

She stopped his hand with her fingers, smoothly separating his own fingers and finishing with a tender squeeze.

“What do you mean Dex?”

Then she thought about it, he had said cursed. 

‘Cursed’ made Ria remember the strange moment of the previous night. The evening air had been cool against their cheeks as they walked down towards Main Street from Dexter's parked car. Ria had watched the mineral flecks in the asphalt glitter under the moonlight as they walked towards Robinson Court. The bright flashing lights of The Empress had such an urban feel to them and they were emitting a beautiful glow against the backdrop of the brick buildings. It was enchanting. For a moment, as their shadows crawled along the walls, it had made her realize just how lonely a city could be and how lucky she was to have this man walking with her arm in arm.

They were headed to the Vietnamese restaurant on the corner; quickly approaching the fuzzy glow of neon in the window.  The open sign had threads of bright orange poking out into the darkness of the night like the fine hairs of a caterpillar.

Dexter had a hankering for ginger chicken which Ria also loved and so they had ordered some for takeout. It was the first night they'd made plans to stay in and Dex felt both nervous and excited. He had invited Ria over for a movie night.

When he had mentioned his plans to the guys earlier in the day at lunch hour they didn't miss the opportunity to comment.

"Well there goes taking it slow," Trigg declared.

"What do you mean?" Dex asked. "We've taken time to get to know each other"

Sam laughed, "of course you have, but we all know what happens when you plan a movie night with a girl."

Marcos seemed somewhere else all together staring wistfully up to the sky. "Just don't watch anything sappy, Zoolander, Zombieland... Those are my choices. Many movies starting with Z are good choices."

"Ahhh Zorro," Trig added, "the passion of Banderas –always a winner." They laughed.

"I've never realized that before, the Z movie thing" Sam said afterwards.

"Me either," Dex said his hand covering his mouth in contemplation and they all drifted off into a similar silence like Marcos had.

Yet regardless of what they thought, Dexter was ready to be alone with Ria. Alone so that he could show her how he really felt, more importantly he was ready to tell her who he was―what he was.

And then, sitting in the restaurant that evening, he and Ria had waited for their order of Ginger Chicken and imperial rolls. The Asian style flute music playing in the restaurant was calming and serene.

It was welcome after a long day at work for Ria. She was watching a couple, probably on a date, eating noodles with chopsticks. The girl was showing the guy how to hold the sticks properly and they laughed with each other shoveling piles of noodles into their mouths between jokes. 

Ria had lost herself in their happiness until a man had entered the restaurant and obscured her view. He sat at a table closer to the till than them, and she remarked that his appearance looked unusual for Moncton. 

He wore a long, collarless, suede coat and a matching dark grey homburg hat. The wide brim of it was fitting of his square jaw. His eyes were covered in sunglasses seemingly pointless in the early night, but then Ria had thought perhaps he had some ailment or eye condition that needed protecting.

His head tilted in their direction, but Ria had no idea if he was looking at them or elsewhere. Immediately Ria could sense that Dexter felt uneasy. He was no longer listening to her recount of the mid afternoon cookie fiasco. Instinctively Dexter had wrapped his arm around her. His cool hand warmed quickly against the naked skin of Ria’s waist peeking out from her shirt, and it seemed to work; the man looked away.

His order had been ready to pick up, and he paid thanking the owner in what sounded like Mandarin. A normal person would have left the restaurant then, but the man with the strange hat turned towards their table instead. 

He stopped and had stared at Dexter long and hard before he spoke. “You’re a Fallon boy aren’t you?”

Dexter had hesitated before nodding.

“I knew your great-grand daddy.” He took off his glasses then, to reveal the most captivating eyes that Ria had ever seen. He had violet eyes with bursts of amber in them reminding her of a beautiful fall day. What struck Ria most though was the statement he had just made; he looked only a few years older than Dexter. So either Dexter’s great grandfather had lived an incredibly long life or the man was lying.

Dexter smiled politely, but his eyes had darted quickly from Ria’s face back to the man.

“And she’s the one then,” the man said, his eyes falling on her next. Dexter had shrugged paralyzed by fear of admitting or saying too much to this man who seemed to be a familiar with the history of his family. 

He didn’t want to encourage him to conversation when he knew Ria had no idea the depth of what was going on. 

“Alright, I understand,” he said a smile breaking from his lips, and he finally had headed towards the door. 

“Crazy old drunk guy,” Dexter said and at the time Ria had guessed that maybe he had been because that was the only thing that could make sense to her in that very moment.  And yet now it didn’t, especially since there was no indication that the man was drunk, off his rocker―maybe, but not intoxicated.

And so now here in the present and remembering that it was rude to remain tied up in the thoughts of one’s own mind she finally said what she had wanted to many times before.

“Okay Dexter, you say you’re cursed, so tell me about it,” her finger pointed to him and then to herself to make it clear to him, “tell me what this means...”





Chapter 13

Dexter’s palms were sweaty. He hadn’t seen Ria in approximately two weeks. After he had told her about their fate and future things had been rocky.

He naturally assumed that she’d want some time to think things through, but he wasn’t at all prepared for the aftermath.

"This doesn't make any sense" he whispered to himself waiting for Ria to arrive.

The last month had been full of weird emotional fluctuations in their relationship.

That day when she said “tell me what this means...” He had told her the truth.

"My whole family and every other son of Fallon Carrier are cursed, which includes my cousins, Marcos and Sam, who you know and Trigg, whom you haven't met yet.”

Her legs had curled up towards herself, the sheets she pulled up around her shoulders. “No not yet,” she said softly, “but I don’t understand why or how...” 

Ria never felt like Dexter would hurt her, but this secrecy was off putting made her feel sick in the pit of her stomach.

“Well it’s because of my great grandfather, Fallon Carrier. He was a selfish man and more importantly a powerful Warlock.”

“As in, he cast spells?”

“Yes.”

She processed his words before she spoke, “That night your eyes glowed― that was magic wasn’t it?”

He looked sheepish. “Yes, that was a bit of magic.”

“But isn’t that dangerous?” She thought aloud.

His hand reached out to console her, and she stopped herself from pulling away.

“Only if you use it, Ria, and I very rarely use it. In fact that night we went golfing was the first time I’d used in over a year.” She watched him closely to surmise if this was the truth, but then she thought why lie now. 

“It doesn’t sit well with me. The draw, it can be invigorating, but it drains other parts of you as well. It can be destructive, leave you feeling empty.”

“I see.” Ria wasn’t so sure she understood entirely but she wanted to know more. 

“Go on, Dex.” She encouraged him to talk more since she was at a loss for words.

“Well, Fallon unknowingly fell in love with a powerful witch named Clair-Belle.  Actually, she was Sam's great-great grandmother. When she found out that he had betrayed her, she cursed him. In her rage she said that all of his sons would die at the age of 30 unless they met and married their true love. And of course she didn't know she was pregnant with her son Alphonse.”

Ria had taken a moment to let it all sink in before she said anything. Ria had friends in high school who considered themselves Wiccans but was this the same? And then it hit her, she realized the more important thing, "You're twenty nine."

"Yes" he answered, his face scrunching in a wince.

“So...I can save you, if I marry you? I'm the one?”

"Yes."

She had gone quiet then, hadn't said much. He wished he could know what she was thinking, was feeling, but he wouldn’t use his powers.

The two of them had just sort of laid there until they were both hungry and he made them both tea and cinnamon raisin toast.

She even ate slowly, dipping her toast into her tea before biting off each morsel and occasionally looking up at him with her questioning brown eyes. He tried to record the moment in his mind, examined her face, every mark, gesture and lip movement as though it may be their last few minutes together. 

He had no idea how this would go. What would Ria decide?

It was tense, awkward, but at least she hadn’t freaked out at him. 

"There are a million things running through my mind Dex." She said before leaving an hour later. 

“I know,” he said with a sigh, leaning forward to kiss her forehead tenderly. “Take your time and if you need to, ask me anything.”




He hadn’t expected it to take this long. After seeing her only once in the past month and hearing from her only a handful of times by phone, he suspected that this wasn’t good. He tapped his fingers on the table impatiently; his eyes were on the door of the cafe waiting for her to show up at any moment. 

His eyes would wander around the room for a moment, snapping back to the door the moment it swung open and it was still not her.

A girl walked into the cafe with bright blue hair and for a moment it distracted him, his eyes followed her to her boyfriend waiting at a table nearby. He got up to greet his blue haired girl, planting a kiss on her lips. 

Should he do the same with Ria he wondered? He took a deep breath and let it out slowly hoping it would release some of his nerves.

"Here." Ria said plopping his grey sweater onto the table between them "I stole your sweater the last time I saw you."

Dex was caught off guard, suddenly she’d appeared.

"I know" he replied, stirring his coffee mindlessly and finally realizing what she had just said. "I saw the sleeve poking out of your handbag, but I thought you may have just wanted to wear it."

He thought back to the last time he’d seen her. The memory haunted him in ways both good and bad.




“Hey slick, let me in.” 

She’d whispered through the door as he had looked through the peephole to see her tongue sticking out of her mouth taunting him. It was silly and unexpected.

She rushed in as he opened the door and hugged him. “Miss me?” Her eyes were like dark shining moons and he couldn’t help but smile, loving the feeling of cold coat and cheeks against his warmth.

“Yes, of course I missed you.”

She pulled his lips to hers in a scorching kiss. “Good” she said with a sweet breath clinging to his lips. Her fingers crawled beneath his shirt and quickly tickled his stomach before she left him to sit on the couch. 

“Well you don’t live on a raft, Dex, close the door.”

He snorted amused by her remark, and joined her after locking the deadbolt.

“Now don’t get me wrong, Ree. I’m really happy to see you, but what are you doing here at 1:30 AM? This is... unlike you.”

She stretched her neck, “I know. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to see you.” She smiled mischievously and leaned into him her nose nuzzled against his. 

“Let’s go to bed, Dex”

He didn’t protest. The heat of her body beside him brought him such comfort. She’d fallen asleep in his arms. Her arm draped over his body while he had tucked her into his side. The bliss of it had left him feeling at peace.




Now in the cafe, he could hardly re-invoke that feeling.

"I did take the sweater to wear it," she continued, "after I guess. I took it to my aunt first. I wanted a second opinion on your curse. She has what people call the shine, which honestly never meant much of anything to me, until I met you. She and her voodoo priestess friend took it and read it for me. They confirmed that everything you said was true. There's no way to break the curse except for a bond of true love.”

“Oh? Didn’t take my word for it?” he asked and stated at the same time.

“I didn’t want to believe in the curse, no. The thought of losing you just... let’s just say that isn’t an option to me.”

Ria stopped and placed her hands on the table. “I was told something else too, something you never mentioned. My aunt and her friend, they did a reading of the past, something having to do with tarot and runes and I don’t even know how they knew, but Fallon's betrayal and secret―it was that he had four families. He had four wives, officially and unofficially from different neighbourhoods and ethnicities that he knew would never intermix. Is it true?”

“Yeah, it’s true.”

They were silent for a moment. So now, there was no going back, Ria knew everything and Dexter was afraid she would decide to walk away. Yet she was here, with him; had looked for a way to prevent his death. She cared.

“Did you mean it, Dex?”

“Did I mean what?”

“When we fell asleep a few weeks ago, you said something to me just before you passed out. Did you mean it?”

Now was his chance, he might not get another if he didn’t do it now. He took the small black velvet box out of his pocket and laid it in the middle of the table. 
His hand reached out to hers overlapping it with a smooth caress. 

“Of course. I know there's magic here but I do, Ria. I love you.”

A slow smile crept up on Ria’s lips before she flipped the lid on the box. 

It was the most beautiful diamond she’s ever seen, sparkling in the middle of a circle of emeralds. She sprang forth over the table to kiss him. Dex leaned in to meet her halfway. 

“Good Dex, because you’re going to be stuck with me for a long time.”

Dex laughed, “so, I guess we really have to start wedding planning.” 









The End
...
[for now *wink wink*]


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