“Have I told you how much I appreciate you letting my dad stay with us after Dianne left?” I ask Alex, idly tracing shapes on his bare back.
“You have,” he replies. “But I won’t say no to you showing me again just how much you appreciate me,” he teases.
In the aftermath of her mother's abandonment, Ariel has more important things to worry about than Dianne finding her fated mate. Her father is in mourning, her position is working her into the dirt, and everyone is preparing for Mating Weekend—which she has to host. Can she handle it? Honestly, Ariel isn’t sure, but she’s going to try. Tensions rise as her duties begin to close in on her, but help comes in the form of her mate and dear friends coming together to give her a much needed break. A heartwarming reunion, fun surprises, and new adventures await.
“I appear to have fucked up.”
I startle as I step into our bedroom, blinking rapidly to find Alex already standing there. My brow furrows in confusion. “What?”
If anything, I had been the one to fuck up. My heart still aches from what I had spat at him in anger, but my mate stares at me like he’s committed a crime.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about being able to delegate.” Alex reaches for me, cupping my face as everything clicks in my head.
“Don’t apologize for that!” My order is met with a half smile.
“It never even occurred to me to tell you—”
“And it should have! Of course, you would try to take it all on yourself and never even consider—”
“Alex!” I try again, clasping my hand over his mouth when he continues his rambling. I can’t help the giggle that escapes, and his lips twitch behind my hand.
“It’s all right. Now I know.” Though I doubted he would be thrilled with the fact I was only excited because now I could hand off some of my paperwork and be involved with the warriors more. I’m sure he was hoping I would lean further into my luna duties and hand off some of the warrior obligations, but I just don’t have it in me to do that.
Alex waited until I dropped my hand to lean in and sweetly press his lips to mine, gripping my hips.
“Tomorrow is the BBQ.” I trace the patterns in his shirt as I speak, grinning at his heavy exhale. “Obviously, we can’t skip the mating weekend...but maybe we could treat it like a date, rather than an obligation?”
Everyone else would be. If Helena and Dom were serious about giving us a weekend vacation, they would be running it, anyway.
“We’ll have to perform our duties as king and queen,” Alex said, but his expression went thoughtful.
“Maybe we could just pause our date for those moments?” It was better than running around and managing everything—not seeing one another until the evening ended and we were falling into bed exhausted.
“That could work,” he agrees easily, and I shiver when his fingers brush my bare skin at the hem of my shirt.
“Are you sure you’re not just agreeing to make me happy?” I raise a brow, and his expression turns boyish, a smirk curling his lips.
“Now, when have I ever done that, my darling mate?”
Giving him a shove, I laugh, shaking my head.
“I don’t foresee it being an issue,” he explains. “Dom and Helena have already taken it upon themselves to get our work done, so I’m sure they’d be happy to keep the mating weekend running on our behalf.”
He tugs me closer, pulling us flush and holding my gaze.
“Besides, I think I owe you this time around, considering what a disaster the last one was for us.”
“There really wasn’t an us yet—”
Alex presses a finger to my lips to cut me off, and I nip the pad, narrowing my eyes.
“There was. We just weren’t acknowledging it yet. It should have been for us, but I fucked that up, too.”
I shook my head but didn’t interrupt.
“So this time, we’re going to do it right.”
“We never did it wrong,” I countered as he took my hand and guided me toward the bathroom, where I was surprised to see a full tub, nearly overflowing with bubbles.
“Tonight, we’re going to have a nice, relaxing evening, and starting tomorrow, we’re going to be taking part in the mating weekend.”
Ariel is practically vibrating beside me in her sundress. Since this was a BBQ and not the ball, we’d opted to dress more casually—though she still looked stunning as she chatted with Helena about the itinerary for the weekend.
“Go! Go have fun with everyone!” The other woman finally insists with a flap of her hands, grinning when Ariel groans softly.
“No buts! Stop fretting and have fun with your mate! Dom and I have got this.” Helena’s thumbs up does not seem to soothe Ariel, but I take it as my cue to gently tug her away.
“We’re on a date, my queen,” I tease. “You’ve delegated the work, so let them do it.”
“It feels wrong,” she complains, and I can’t help but chuckle.
“It really does, doesn’t it?”
“Glad we’re in agreement, so let’s—”
“Nope! No work today!” I outright laugh when she turns to give Helena an almost wistful look as the woman talks to the warriors who are meant to be security for the event. Dom is standing beside her, looking every bit the protective mate as he glares them all down.
“C’mon, let’s find our friends and grab a plate.”
Ariel doesn’t protest as I lead her around the venue toward the tables laden with food already.
“I’m surprised nobody is making a fuss about us being here,” she admits, and I shrug.
“They probably would be if we let reporters in, but we were strict about it this year. Unless you’re participating, everyone is blocked from the venues. It’s why we have these tents set up around the park.” I gesture, and her eyes follow the movement, realization crossing her face before a smirk settles there. The giant white tents are blocking anything that the trees and shrubbery don’t, making it almost impossible to get a good photo from the outside.
“Oh, that’s clever.”
I preen at her words—since it was my idea, though my mother had complained about the lack of press—and she gives me a shove, shaking her head.
“How many people are going to participate?” she wonders aloud as we fill our plates, and I grab one of the complimentary picnic blankets, tucking it under my arm.
“I’m sure Dom has the list, but we’re supposed to be relaxing, my queen.”
Ariel sighs theatrically.
“Understood, my king.”
I bark out a laugh as we scan the greenery and spot a shaded place just at the edge of the park. We wander over, and I set up our place, laying the blanket out and gesturing for her to sit.
“Oh, we forgot drinks.” She frowns, and I turn, spotting one of the coolers nearby.
“I’ll grab us something.”
“Just water works for me.”
I nod and head off, intent on fishing out two bottles of water when a flash catches my attention. Turning, I spot a lone reporter, having wriggled his way between two of the white tents with a camera in hand. Before I can lose my temper, a hand slaps down on my shoulder firmly.
“I’ve got this,” Dom promises before passing by, and the reporter’s face whitens at the realization he’s been caught. I force myself to go back to Ariel, fighting the instinct to take up the issue. My mate’s smug expression lets me know she’s caught me, and I drop beside her with a huff.
“No working today,” she teases, throwing my words back at me, and I groan.
“I know, I know!”
Ariel giggles, taking her water from me with a beaming smile.
I can’t help but laugh when I see Dom scolding the man a few feet away.
“I was wondering where you two were.”
I turn at the voice, trying to place it, and then grin.