The sun burned bright against my face. I sat on the teak table, reclining on my elbows in my parents’ backyard. The scent of sizzling beef made my mouth water. My stomach growled, and I knew I’d eat at least a dozen burgers before all was said and done. For the first time since I’d been turned into a werewolf, that didn’t feel totally weird.
My birthday barbecue was off to a solid start. Everyone had been goofing off since we got here. I let their voices wash over me as I grinned. Axel—my brother—and Adrian were talking witchy stuff as they tossed a football back and forth. The rhythmic slapping of their hands against the ball was unexpectedly soothing. Mom was inside, making side dishes to go with the burgers. Dad was at his usual post, tending the meat.
Chris and Meredith were asking Donovan about strategies he’d used against vampires. Donovan showed them a move that sent Chris flying into a nearby tree and I snickered.
“Way to show him,” I yelled.
Dastien sat on the bench beside my feet, running his fingertips up and down my leg and sparking waves of goose bumps. His ever-present calmness seeped into me, and I was content to close my eyes and sit in the quiet, soaking up some rays while we waited for food.
“Tessa. You know you can’t get tan anymore?” Meredith broke me out of my Zen state.
I cracked one eye open. She was nearly recovered from her run-in with the curse gone bad. It’d only been two days, but she’d managed to gain back some of the weight she’d lost during the ordeal. She’d changed her dyed hair from pink back to blue, and I liked it better. The color made her bright blue eyes pop. But then I was a little biased. I’d kill for blue eyes. Mine were dark brown.
Meredith munched on chips as she hopped onto the table next to me.
“What are you talking about? Of course I can get tan.” I bumped her shoulder with mine. “This is me sitting under the sun, getting a healthy dose of rays. I’m half Mexican. My skin browns.”
“Not anymore.” This from my mate, Dastien.
I sat up. I liked having a little color. I’d been a pasty shade of white, but I wanted to rectify that before the weather turned cold. “What? Why not?”
“The sun has to damage your skin before it can tan. You’re healing your skin cells too fast to tan,” Meredith said.
I groaned as I stared down at my pasty legs. I’d worn shorts specifically so I could get some color. “I’m seriously never going to tan again?”
Oh, man. Just when I thought I had the whole being-a-werewolf thing figured out, something else popped up. “Dastien?”
“You bit me and now I’ll be pasty-pale for the rest of my life. I officially hate you. The ceremony’s off. Call Mr. Dawson. Tell him it’s done-zo mugun-zo.” I tried to pull my foot away from him, but he gripped my ankle. I gave him my best I’m-pissed-at-you face, but the jerk grinned back at me, showing off his dimples.
Those two dents in his cheeks got to me every damned time I saw them. It was a little pathetic how easily he could win me over.
Dastien’s gaze roved over my bare legs, taking in my shorts and tank top, before meeting my eyes. Heat burned me from head to toe. He stood and leaned over me, running his nose up the side of my neck. “You love me,” he whispered against my ear.
“Not anymore,” I lied.
He placed a kiss on my neck. “I can hear your heart racing.” His voice was gravelly and I shivered. He moved to kiss my lips but hovered a centimeter away and then pulled back.
I grabbed his T-shirt, tugging him back to me.
“Kisses are for people who actually love me,” he said, but he let me pull him down anyway.
“Fine. Ceremony’s back on. Against my better judgment, I love you. Even if I’m going to be pale for the rest of my life.” I stopped him right before his lips touched mine. “And I better be the only one who gets kisses.”
He chuckled. “From me? Of course.” He pressed his mouth to mine, and my stomach did a nice flip-flop.
A chorus of gagging noises sounded around us, but I didn’t care if we were grossing out our friends. I deepened the kiss for a second. His tongue barely touched mine before he moved back.
“Your dad’s over there,” he whispered.
Whoops. “Right. Well, maybe you could stop trying to make out with me.”
“And maybe you could stop pretending you don’t love me anymore.”
“Touché, Mr. Laurent.”
A throat cleared next to us. I pulled back to find Dad giving us the stare down. “Sorry, Dad.” I gave him a sheepish smile. “But hey, it’s my birthday. I’m eighteen. I can do what I want, right?”
Dad raised an eyebrow. His hip was cocked to the side, and he held out a grill spatula, ready to smack Dastien if he got too handsy.
“Within reason, of course,” I added.
“Mmm.” He sounded skeptical, but the apron he was wearing, which read ‘Why you all up in my Grill?’ killed some of his intimidation factor.
Time to change the subject. “How’re the burgers?” My stomach rumbled again, and Meredith put a giant bowl of Doritos in my face. I grabbed a handful and shoved them in my mouth.
“Nearly done, kiddo. We’re five away on this batch.”
That meant that thirty burgers were almost ready. Dad had upgraded to a giant custom-made grill after the whole going wolfy thing. Even though I lived at St. Ailbe’s—everyone’s favorite boarding school for werewolves—my parents liked me to come home for Sunday lunches now that I was considered stable and allowed off campus. I was welcome to bring friends, but werewolves ate way more than humans did. Thus, the super-sized grill.