~ Five ~

Nearly an entire week had gone by since the Blackwood wedding and Natalya had not seen, spoken to, or heard from Garrett. Which was totally fine. It wasn't as if she'd been replaying that scene in her head every night before bed, or had a pit the size of a basketball in her stomach, or kept waiting for Mikhail to burst onto the scene at any given moment with a shotgun and demand to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help her God. Everything was totally fine.

"Staring murderously at your anatomy textbook will not help you absorb the information any better," Ryan pointed out from one chair over, raising his voice as the barista blended someone's Frappuccino.

Natalya slammed the heavy book shut. "I can't concentrate."

Ryan leaned over and reopened the book. "You have one more chapter and six vocab words to get through. Come on."

She leaned back in her chair and sighed.

He minimized the Word document on his computer and turned to look at her, pushing his glasses up his nose. "So, you gonna tell me what happened?"

She glanced at him. "What are you talking about?"

Though she'd spilled the wedding happenings to Alexa after relentless prodding, Natalya hadn't told her other best friend. She knew what he was going to say. Come on, Taly, what were you expecting? and He's clearly not into you, and Him and Britta have been a thing for, like, ever.

Ryan snorted. "You went upstairs with one Blackwood and came downstairs wearing another Blackwood's jacket. You had Lex and me sneak you out so you could avoid Mik. You've been moody and depressive for the past few days. You – "

"Alright, alright," Natalya said, waving her hand as if his words were cigarette smoke that she could dispel. She lowered her voice as the blender stopped and tucked her hands into the sleeves of her cream-colored cable knit sweater. "Jeremy tried to take things farther than I wanted them to go. Garrett broke it up and then I kissed him."

Ryan stared at her.

Natalya squirmed.

"Do you remember the promise we made to each other in first grade?" he asked.

She let out a breath. "Ryan, look, I know, but – "

"We promised," he said over her, holding up a finger, "to tell each other everything, all the time, always, no matter how embarrassing or horrifying it was. You told Lex, didn't you? You told Lex you kissed Garrett, who you've had a crush on for like almost as long as you've been alive, but not me. Okay."

He turned back to his computer, maximized his almost-finished paper, and resumed typing. Natalya's mouth fell open as she watched him. He ignored her and took a sip of his latte. Rolling her eyes, she looked back down at her textbook and wrote out another vocabulary notecard. After two more minutes of the verbal silence mixed with the jazzy coffee shop music, she snapped.

"I didn't tell you because I already knew what you were gonna say, okay?"

Ryan didn't look up from the screen. "What was I gonna say, Taly?"

"That I was dumb and stupid and he'll never feel the same way about me because he's in love with Britta and I'm setting myself up to fall and also I'm a slut and blah, blah, blah."

He didn't respond and she watched him bang out the conclusion on his paper. When he finished, he hit save. He whipped his head to the side then and looked at her, a gleam in his eye. "You know what, Taly? I know things. There's a distinct art in observing one's surroundings and fellow peoples instead of daydreaming about semi-unattainable he-beast crushes. You hear things through the grapevine that you otherwise wouldn't. And I happen to know that Britta and Garret blah, blah, blah."

"Wait, what?"

"Isn't that what you said I was gonna say? 'Blah, blah, blah.'" Ryan grinned like he'd just told the funniest joke in the world as he went to check his Facebook.

Natalya frowned. "Ry, come on. What do you know?"

His expression was serious when he faced her again. "Taly, you know that I'm always here for you, right? Whether we're hunting werewolves or mooning over attractive men, I've got your back."

She reached out and squeezed his hand. "I'm sorry I didn't come out and tell you right away. But it was pretty awful."

He squeezed back and wrinkled his nose. "That bad?"

"Yeah, he might as well have patted the top of my head and said 'Down, girl.'"

Ryan threw back his head and chuckled. "Ouch. Anyway, you remember Kelly?"

"The maid of honor?"

"Yeah, her. I saw her and Amy Glasslin – or, Blackwood, now, I suppose – at the little café over on Sherwin Street. Apparently Garrett broke up with Britta shortly after the wedding, and James is pissed because he had some big political power play he wanted to push."

Natalya's mouth fell open. "So I'm not a slut!"

The four women in conversation at the table next to them all fell silent and turned to stare.

Mortified, Natalya flushed and looked down into her textbook.

"Enjoying your coffee, ladies?" Ryan said loudly, smiling and giving them a wave.

They all turned back to their business.

"No, technically you're not a slut," he said. "But you didn't know they were broken up at the time. And you still kissed him. That was kind of shitty. You're better than that."

She nodded.

"So what you do now is, you go to the apartment and you tell Garrett how the kiss meant nothing, how it was just a result of too much champagne and act like you were totally unaffected by it. It'll drive him nuts, guaranteed."

"I cannot even begin to tell you how much I am unable to do that," Natalya said, and her palms were already starting to sweat.

Ryan took her book off her lap, closed it, and shoved it into her bag. He did the same with her notecards. "Yes, you can. Right now."

She could feel her heart rate double itself. What if she went to the apartment and he kicked her out? Okay, he wouldn't do that. He was too nice. But he could nicely ask her to leave. And what if Mikhail was there? Get out of my way, Mik. I'm here to apologize to your best friend over a boozy kiss. Yeah, that would go over really well.

"Stop thinking," Ryan said.

"That's what got me into this mess!" Natalya snapped.

Ryan opened his mouth to argue, but before he could get anything out, the door jingled open and they both turned to face the newcomer. Ashton Courtland strolled in, popping out one of his earbuds. He was tall and lanky with that awkward small-town boy charm. He looked up and caught sight of them. His smile was instantaneous.

"Oh," Ryan said softly.

Natalya's smile could have outdone the Cheshire cat's.

Ashton rubbed his hands together for warmth as he waked over. "Damn, it's nippy out there," he said, and his southern accent was thick and syrupy in his deep voice. "Two winters up here and I still haven't gotten used to the cold."

"Yeah, it'll get ya," Ryan said, laughing. He ran a hand through his hair and Natalya noticed it was shaking a bit.

"Have you guys been studying for Lawlor's test next week? I'm having trouble 'putting the overall theme of the novel into my own words,'" Ashton said, using air quotes.

Natalya looked at her best friend and then at her classmate. She'd noticed Ryan noticing Ashton for over a year, ever since he'd moved into town. She didn't blame him. "You know, Ryan has an A in that class. And he's gotten 90s on both of the papers we've written so far. I bet he could help you."

Ryan's eyes widened as he looked at her.

"Really? That'd be awesome, man. Do you mind?"

"He doesn't," Natalya said. "And I was actually just about to skip out."

"Because she has something to do," Ryan added, giving her a look.

"Um, yeah," she said. "I'll see you guys later, though." She leaned over and placed an obnoxious, smacking kiss on Ryan's cheek. "Have fun."

Ashton lifted a hand in farewell. "See you, Taly," he said, and took the armchair that she had just vacated, setting his backpack on the low table in front of them.

Natalya shouldered her bag and walked up to the counter, ordering a small black coffee to go. The heels of her brown combat boots made soft tapping noises on the tiled floor. When she walked past Ashton and Ryan again, they were learning closer to each other over the armrests of their seats. Ryan had the class novel opened and was running his hand over it, explaining something. As if he could feel her eyes on them, he looked up.

Text me later, Natalya mouthed.

Same, he mouthed back, stabbing a finger in her direction. Her stomach did a flip-flop.

She battled the late September wind as she shoved open the door and wrapped her hands around her coffee. Her Camry was parked in the corner of the first row, and when she got into the car, she let the engine idle, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel. And she made her decision.

When she pulled into the apartment complex, the sun was on its last dregs in the sky, and lampposts illuminated the parking lot. Her heart was hammering as she stepped out of the car with the coffee. The entire ride here, she'd rehearsed what she was going to say. Taking a breath, she let herself into the lobby.

"Miss Azarov!" Stanley smiled and lifted his eyes from his computer screen and probably away from his game of solitaire. "You just missed your brother."

Good. "It's fine, Stanley. Coffee?" she asked, setting the cardboard-wrapped cup on the counter.

The man eyed the green corporate logo with distrust. "Just black, right?"

"Just black."

"You're a doll, you know that? You have a good night, now."

Natalya smiled and nodded and headed up the staircase. As she rounded the corner into the hallway on the fourth floor, her heartbeat thundered in her ears. She reached the door of the apartment sooner than she would have liked, and shifted her weight from foot to foot as she tried to gather up the courage to knock. Abruptly, she turned around.

She was halfway down the staircase before she stopped herself. "Grow up," she said, and it echoed a bit in the stairwell. She walked back up the stairs, her steps a bit heavier than necessary but empowering nonetheless. Then she was at the door again and knocked twice before she could stop herself.

Her cheeks heated as she waited for the door to open. Seconds passed. Maybe he wasn't home? Maybe he had a shift at the hospital and she had come here for nothing. Ah, well. She could go back to the house and hang with Zsofia and drink her weight in chocolate milk and re-watch Supernatural from the very beginning for the seventh time in her life.

Then there was movement from inside and the door to the apartment opened. Garrett leaned against the doorframe. He wasn't wearing a shirt.

Not fair. "Hi," Natalya said, tearing her eyes away from a chest that was ridiculously defined. But the only other option was to stare into a pair of dark blue eyes that were drilling a hole into her soul.

"Did you lose your key?" Garrett asked.

A pair of gray sweats hung low on his hips. Natalya swallowed. "No. I…no. I don't have it on me. I hadn't really planned on coming over. But can I come in?"

For a second he just watched her, and she was afraid he was going to say no. He didn't say anything. Garrett straightened and opened the door all the way, making a sweeping motion with his right hand. She brushed past him, and when she did, caught a woodsy, male scent that made her mouth water. She threw her purse and keys on the counter with a clatter.

Garrett closed the door behind him. "Everything okay?" he asked.

She could smell a frozen pizza baking in the oven, and a muted Blackhawks game played on the television. The apartment was surprisingly clean despite its two male inhabitants, and yellow walls (Mikhail referred to them as piss-colored; they were not) lent the small kitchen an air of cheeriness.

"You shaved," she blurted, and then snapped her mouth shut and sat down hard on a barstool.

Garrett nodded and his hand came up to rub over his smooth jaw. She fought a wave of disappointment. "Yeah, I do that sometimes."

Natalya laughed weakly then cleared her throat. "So, uh, I'll make this quick. I just wanted to apologize for my behavior at your brother's wedding. It was disrespectful to both you and Britta, and it's obviously not usually how I conduct myself. And, of course, there was the champagne. But I really hope it didn't offend you too much. And I hope we can put it behind us and, you know, still be friends. And…yeah. I'm sorry."

The ending was a bit weaker than she'd intended, but it would have to do. Sucking in a breath and holding it, she waited for his reaction. Garrett took a seat on the armrest of the couch a scant two feet away from her and folded his arms across his chest, shoving his hands into his armpits. The action made his biceps bulge and showcased his muscled abdomen, and Natalya pinched herself on the thigh to remind her that this was a professional, friendship-saving visit.

"I broke up with Britta last week. I should have done it a while ago."

Natalya kept her expression blank and said nothing. Her thoughts flicked to what Ryan had said about James and his political push. She'd heard that Britta was connected to the Winchester pack in Chicago.

"As for your apology, I accept it. Like you said, it was the wine. It wasn't even really a kiss," he continued, and the corner of his mouth turned up.

Before she could stop it, a noise that sounded like half a laugh and half a snort burst out of her. She raised her eyebrows and tried to ignore the embarrassment that stabbed through her. "Ouch. Okay. Well, yeah, that was all I wanted to say. I'm gonna go now," Natalya said, pointing towards the door.

Garrett's arms fell to his sides. "Oh, come on, Taly. I didn't mean it like that." When she moved past him, his fingers grazed over the sleeve of her sweater and she stopped, perpendicular to him. "I don't want us to keep avoiding each other and I don't want it to be weird between us."

She forced a smile. "It won't be. We're fine."

"Are we?"

No. She wanted to grab his face and plant one on him. She wanted to touch him, run her hands up and down his chest and dig her nails into his back and leave marks. She wanted to thread her fingers into his hair and pull on it. She wanted to shove him back onto the couch, straddle him and ride him to oblivion. As her brain formed thoughts she knew it shouldn't, heat spread through her lower belly and between her legs.

Though the rest of his body stilled, Garrett's fingers tightened on her sleeve. "Natalya," he said, and his voice was husky.

Her full name on his mouth was to die for, the way his lips parted over the t and his tongue rolled over the l and the y. She could count on one hand the number of times he'd used it, the earliest being when she was thirteen and had fallen into the ravine in Topsham when he'd tagged along on a family vacation. Mik had gone off with a girl he'd met at the campsite and Zsofia had asked Garrett to keep an eye on her. He'd pulled her out of the water and up the bank. She'd choked and spluttered and cursed over the wet pile of leaves she had slipped on.

"Natalya! Shit, are you okay?"

And on the night of senior year homecoming when Jack Stephenson had ditched her to go get high with Shannon Morella in McKee Woods, she'd come home in full-blown rage tears to Mikhail and Garrett and their friends playing drunken Parcheesi. Later that night, Garrett had stopped her in the second floor hallway.

"I promise you, Natalya, that Jack Stephenson is not worth one of your tears, let alone the fucking pool you've cried in the past two hours," he'd said, and playfully chucked her chin.

And last week.

"Natalya. You've had too much to drink. I think it's time for you to go home."

And now.

Besides that, she had always been Taly, Mik's kid sister, immature and cute little Taly, too young and naïve to understand anything about him or his life, Taly. But maybe…

Her cheeks reddened as his fingers circled around her forearm. Her breath was shakier than she would have liked as she drew it in, and the heat between her legs intensified. She resisted the urge to rub her thighs together. Garrett tightened his grip and pulled her closer so that she stood between his legs. "Taly."

She closed her eyes when he spoke. It was almost too much, being this close to him. With him still on the armrest of the couch, she was slightly taller than him, but their faces were so near to each other's that he only had to lift his head a bit more and then it would all go to hell. So much for pretending not to care. Her body grew feverish, her nipples tightened and her lips parted on a sigh.

Natalya knew Garrett knew her current state. He could probably fucking smell her at this point, dumb werewolf bastard. "What?" she asked, and her voice was almost guttural. "Do you want to know why I kissed you, Garrett? I can tell you that the champagne had almost nothing to do with it. I've wanted to for years, and I – "

And Garrett closed the distance between him and his mouth met hers. Her small sound of surprise was muffled, and this kiss was not chaste or short in the slightest. His lips slanted over hers, and he tasted like mint and tea. She wanted more. She parted her lips to admit his tongue and it moved over hers, stroking and seeking and devastating. As he cupped her face in his hands, Natalya knew that without a doubt he was fucking her mouth with his, staking his claim.

Her hands set themselves to exploring, her nails tracing lightly over his broad shoulders and biceps. She covered his hands with hers as he kissed her until he finally let them both come up for air. Even then, he pressed tiny staccato kisses on her cheek and jaw and then her neck, sucking lightly.

Damn, it was absolutely explosive between them, like someone had struck a match and lit the one rope that was attached to a thousand fireworks. Her body fit against Garrett's like a puzzle and everything had evaporated from her mind except for the feeling of how right this was.

Like she'd wanted to, Natalya threaded her fingers through his silky short locks and pulled a bit. Flush against his body, she felt his cock stir in his sweats, and instinctively, she ground her pussy against him. Her eyes nearly rolled back into her head at the friction. Garrett growled, and the sound vibrated on her tongue. His hands moved from her face and down her back to dip under her sweater a little before firmly planting themselves on her ass and squeezing.

With only a thong underneath her leggings, one layer of cloth separated his warm, almost hot, hands from her bare skin. "Fuck, Natalya," he said against her throat. "I've wanted to get my hands on your ass for, God, a year." He punctuated his statement with a none-too-gentle slap to her right cheek and almost immediately began massaging the area.

His words sent another rush of heat through her and she moaned even as she worried about staining the front of her leggings. Her cheek still stung from his slap, but it was a good sting, and it was abating as the pads of his fingers worked her butt. Pulling on his hair, she maneuvered his head until his lips were near hers again. She controlled the kiss this time, biting down on his bottom lip and tugging back a little. Her nails scraped down his back. He arched, pressing his bare chest into hers.

Garret's hands moved to her grab her upper arms and then he was dragging her up and onto him, but maneuvered last minute so that she was underneath him when they landed on the couch. "You like to be in control, Natalya?" he breathed.

She swallowed hard as she looked into his eyes. They were both panting as they drank each other in. "Yeah," she replied honestly, and the word was a whisper.

His eyes were nearly black with lust. "Too bad," he snarled, and took her mouth in a bruising kiss.

She would have told any other man to go fuck himself. She would have shoved any other man off and headed for the door. But this was Garrett, and she knew without a doubt that anything he wanted she would give him, and anything he would take was already his.

Underneath him she moved, rotating her hips in small, controlled circles. His cock was at full attention now, thick and hard and begging to be released from the elastic waistband it poked out of. He made a deep sound in his throat as she worked him, rubbing against him harder and faster. Her hand strayed from his face to reach between them, but Garrett grabbed her wrist and shoved her arm up over her head, pinning it down. Natalya's eyes flew to his. Why wouldn't he let her touch him? Why wouldn't he let her make him feel good?

His smile was gentle. As if he read her mind, he said, "Not tonight." And then his hand came down to press on the bare skin of her soft belly where her sweater had ridden up, hindering her grinding movements. He rotated his hand so the inside of his wrist faced her. His eyes stayed on hers.

Ever so lightly, his index and middle finger traced the lips of her pussy over the material of her leggings. "Garret," she said, and his name wasn't so much a word as a rush of breath that preceded a moan.

And then there was a dull, shrill beeping, and smoke. Lots of smoke.

The lust that glazed his eyes evaporated, and Garrett rolled off of her. Natalya lifted her head and watched as he raced the short path to the kitchen. She flopped her head back down and took in the smell of burnt pizza and her own arousal.

Wow. Shit. Wow.

Garrett shut off the smoke detector and took his ruined dinner out of the oven. He looked oddly comical as he waved a dishtowel in the air around the space to clear away the dark gray smoke, and Natalya couldn't help but chuff out a quiet laugh. Her thoughts flitted back to what they'd been doing seconds before and her mirthful sound died.

She sat up on the couch, tucking a leg under her. She hadn't even taken off her boots. She watched Garrett chuck the dishtowel into the sink. He turned to face her, bracing his arms against the edge of the island. When they caught each other's gaze, they both snorted.

"So. Um. I'm glad you accepted my apology," Natalya said, wiping a light sheen of sweat from her forehead.

"Yeah," he said, placing his elbows on the counter. He made a steeple of his fingers and rested his chin on his index ones. "I'm glad we're cool now."

Natalya stood and her legs shook. She took a second and braced herself on the armrest of the couch. He didn't miss the action, and he dragged his lower lip into his mouth. "I really actually should probably get going. I have homework," she said.

"Homework is important," Garrett nodded.

She shouldered her bag.

"Do you want me to walk you down?"

"No," she said, a bit quicker than she'd intended, and his eyebrows shot up. "Listen, we're still not telling Mikhail, right? Or my mom? Or pretty much anyone?" She didn't need Mikhail to fly into a rage or the judgmental lecture her mother would give or a verbal lashing from the council or stares of distrust and hatred from James Blackwood's pack.

Garrett frowned. "Taly – "

"Assuming this is going to happen again, that is."

"Do you want it to happen again?"

"Oh, God, yes, please."

At her confirmation, his gaze darkened, and he stalked over to wear she was leaning against the door. He caged her in against the wood, bracketing her with his arms. His voice was low, but she heard every word as if it was a shout. "Natalya, if I don't have you in my bed sometime very soon, I'm going to go fucking crazy."

"Same," she said, her tone empathetic. She rose up on her tiptoes to plant a soft kiss on his mouth, wrapping her arms around his neck. "This is crazy."

He leaned down and rested his forehead against hers. "This was a long time coming."

His words made her heart beat faster. While music to her ears, they were intoxicatingly dark. Natalya knew that if she took this plunge, she would never come up for air again. What unnerved her even more is that she was more than okay with that.

A/N: Sorry kiddies, but regularish posting stops now since this was the last of what I had pre-written. Six should be out sometime next week? Maybe? Hopefully? Hope you liked! ~