“That sounds nice.” I hesitated, then added, “I’ve never been to a cookout before.”
He froze. “What?”
My brow furrowed. “Uh, I’ve never been to a cookout. It’s not like we had anything like that at the compound, and every mage I know who lives off-base is in an apartment.” I shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal even though I knew it was. Cookouts were a normal thing for humans and shifters. I’d seen enough of them in movies and shows, and read enough about them, to know that I’d love to go to one someday. But that wasn’t really in the cards for me.
“You’ve seriously never been to a cookout? Not even once?”
“Uh, nope. Pretty sure I’d remember something like that.”
A strangled sound came out of his throat before he rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “Madeo…”
“I… Jesus, I don’t even know what to say to that. I’ll have to have a cookout and invite you, Jude, and Logan.”
My eyebrows rose. “Really?” Despite myself, a strange flutter of hopefulness flitted around my chest. Which was stupid. People said things like that all the time. It didn’t mean they’d follow through.
Cos smiled softly and shoulder-bumped me. “Yeah, cat lover, really.”
I smiled up at him before entering the sandwich shop. I knew what I wanted, so I ordered, then gestured to Cos, saying, “What do you want?”
He was staring at the menu as he ordered a shit-ton of food. When he finished, paid—even though I’d tried to pay for both—and we sat down to wait, I asked, “Are you trying to feed your entire pride?”
He snorted. “No. I’ll finish it all.”
My eyes widened. “How? You’re a big guy, but you have like zero fat on you, and I’ve never seen you eat that much.”
“You’re asking me that? You’re a mage, and you just ordered an extra sandwich for yourself and a bucket of fries that I have no doubt you’ll finish off.”
“I like to save half of the second sandwich for tomorrow.”
He shook his head. “I have no idea where all this food goes on you. But for me, it takes a lot of energy, burns a ton of calories, to shift, and since I shift at least once a day, I eat a lot. I shifted a couple times yesterday and already once this morning, so I need the calories.”
“Gotcha. That makes sense. I wonder if my magic burns up some of the calories I eat?” I shrugged. “Whatever. Doesn’t matter.”
He grinned. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?”
“This is literally the only thing I have to do all day. I’m wide open. Except I don’t want to stray too far from Jude.”
He nodded. “Can I ask you a couple questions about your bond with him?”
“Can you feel him all the time? Even when you’re far away from each other?”
“Yes. He’s my focus, so we’d be able to find each other anyway, but it’s more than that, too. We’ve been bonded since I was three days old, so it’s completely normal to me to, uh, carry someone else in my chest.” I patted my chest where my heart was. “It’s like I can feel his heart beating right beside mine. And if he has a strong emotion, I feel it there. It’s… kind of hard to explain.”
“That was a pretty good explanation.”
I grinned. “If you say so.”
“I do.” He scratched his cheek. “Are you and Jude… involved in any other way?”
I stared at him for a few seconds, not understanding the question at first. But then I got it, and my eyes widened in horror. “Ew. Are you fucking serious? That’s… that’s… ew. No. Not even a little bit. Not ever. He’s my dyad. He’s the other half of me, and I… I wouldn’t want to date myself, right? Goddess.”
He laughed. “Okay, okay. Sorry. I didn’t realize.”
“So fucking gross.”
“Okay, so you two aren’t romantically involved. Good to know.”
“No, we’re not. Fucking duh.”
He snorted. “Alright, you don’t have to be an ass about it.”
“Pretty sure you already know I’m always an ass.”
With a grin, he reached across the table to flick my hand.
I snatched it away. “Not cool, jerkhole.”
He snorted again, then gestured to the counter. “Looks like our food’s ready. I’ll go grab it.”
“Thanks.” I watched him walk to grab the two trays of food—no way would it all fit on one—and my eyes accidentally-on-purpose strayed down to his ass.
It was a good ass. Like the rest of him, it was muscled and firm. Round. Bitable.
Thinking about biting his glorious buttcheek made me hum in appreciation out loud. And of course, Cos chose that moment to turn around. I didn’t even get the chance to look away and pretend I wasn’t ogling him before he caught me.
He had a huge grin on his smug face when he sat down and passed me my food. We started eating in companionable silence, and I thought he was going to let me get away with it without saying anything.
But then he opened his mouth and said all casual-like, “So you’re an ass man, huh?”
I almost spit out my food. “What? No. Nope.”
“Uh-huh. Real convincing, cat lover.”
I glared. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, kitty cat.”
He just grinned that smug grin at me.