**Saturday Edition! Sometimes, the words just aren’t there when it’s time for an update, but I didn’t want to leave y’all hanging, and my mind was occupied yesterday. So! Here’s episode 5 for Rowan and Luca. As per usual, I’m not sure how long this is going to be. Enjoy!**
I wasn’t nervous. I had been earlier, when I thought about a date with Luca. But now? Now I was just excited. Okay, so there were still a little bit of nerves fluttering in my belly, but they were the regular kind. The nerves that went along with excitement, of not knowing exactly what would happen, and wanting it to go well.
Because now I knew that Luca’s interest wasn’t new. That he’d been watching out for me for years. And that might have been creepy, except he’d never pushed, never demanded. Just quietly took care of things, and me, without ever expecting anything in return. Hell, he hadn’t even let me know how he felt, because he didn’t want to put any pressure on me.
He’d said as much, back on the porch, but until my conversation with Tom earlier today, I hadn’t really understood. Hadn’t really believed it, I guess. For most of my life, I’d been conditioned to think and feel a certain way about myself and the people around me. And it had taken long years and a lot of hard work to get past that. I still wasn’t completely there, but trust came easier these days. As did healthy ways to process and cope. I still had set backs. Yesterday’s panic attack was proof of that. But I was okay today because of all the work I’d done.
I was able to go to dinner with Luca today, and trust that he had my best interest in mind, because of that too.
So when the knock sounded, I all but raced to the door to answer it. And when Luca smiled at me, I grinned back. I didn’t hesitate to give him a once over—head to toe—taking in his big, muscled glory and his nice clothes and his styled hair. I didn’t even try to hide the big inhale as I took in his scent. And I didn’t question the happiness and excitement I caught from him.
“Hi.” My voice was a little breathy, but I didn’t care. “You look amazing.”
Luca preened a little, and by the glint in his eye, I knew he was showing off just to get me to laugh. But then his smile turned soft, and he took a step closer.
“Thanks. But it’s you who looks great. Damn, but you’re beautiful.”
With how soft his voice was, I wasn’t sure he meant to say that out loud. But he didn’t seem embarrassed, and even though my first instinct was to dismiss the compliment, I checked that impulse and thanked him instead.
“Where are we going?” I asked, as I stepped out onto my tiny porch and pulled the door shut behind me. I’d already triple checked that I had my wallet, keys, and phone. But I couldn’t help patting my pockets one more time just to make sure.
“I thought Michelle’s.” Luca turned so we could stand beside each other. “It’s a nice night, and it’s only a few blocks over. I thought we could walk, enjoy the weather.”
I nodded my agreement and followed him off the porch. I liked that he stopped when he hit the sidewalk and waited for me to step up even to him. Then he fidgeted for just a second before holding out his hand. I appreciated that he hadn’t just reached for me, that he was giving me the option. And I only hesitated a second before sliding my fingers along his. His skin was so warm, and there were calluses on his palm, but there was a strength there I enjoyed. And I knew he’d never use that power against me. I felt it down to my bones.
We walked for a moment in silence. It wasn’t exactly awkward, but I could sense that there was something he wanted to say. Those previous nerves fluttered and grew just a bit. But I waited to see what it was, and hoped he’d get to it soon.
It was only another minute before Luca sucked in a breath. “I’m really glad we’re doing this, Rowan.”
Uh oh. “But?”
Luca shot me a look that lasted only a second before he faced forward again. He squeezed my hand. “No but. Well, a sorta but.”
I laughed, sure he was trying for amusing. “Okay. What’s the ‘sorta but’?”
“I’m nervous.” He gave a embarrassed kind of chuckle as he glanced at me again.
“Me too,” I admitted, keeping my tone soft. “Why’re you nervous?”
Luca shrugged one massive shoulder. “Because I’ve wanted this for a while, and I really want it to go well. Because I don’t know how to navigate your trauma to make you feel safe and comfortable, and I don’t want to do anything to upset you or trigger you. Because you’re beautiful and kind, and I’m just me.”
“Hey.” I stopped, and so did he. But he wouldn’t look at me. So I tugged gently on our still joined hands so he would face me. It took him a second, but then he met my gaze. Steady and strong, but I definitely saw the apprehension lurking there. “I appreciate the honesty. And I appreciate that you want to take care of me and make me feel safe. But here’s the thing. A relationship is two people, right?”
“Or more.” He gave me a wink which made me laugh. Then he got serious again. “But right. You and I are both in this.”
“Right. So I want you to remember two things. Are you listening?”
Luca’s lips twitched like he wanted to smile, but he kept his face very serious. “Yes.”
“Good. Thing one is that your feelings are just as valid as mine, and you have to be honest and open about them. You do not get to bend over backward or mask your own emotions just because you want me to be happy. That’s not fair to either of us.”
For a long moment, Luca didn’t say anything. And though his expression didn’t change, I could see the reeling of his mind in his eyes. So expressive. I’d have to remember that, now that I knew to look. I could clearly see that he didn’t want to agree, that he thought his own feelings should take a backseat to mine. He was a caretaker at heart, so I understood it, but it wasn’t something I would allow.
“Okay,” Luca finally said, his tone not quite solid. We’d have to work on it, but I’d take his agreement for now.
“And the second thing is, I’m going to get trigger.” I said it quietly, and I stepped in closer to him as I spoke. When I reached with my other hand, Luca was quick to take it. “Whether by you or something else, it’s going to happen. Yesterday proved that. I’ve done a lot of work, but there’s still more to do. But I know you’ll be there to support me, and help me out of a panic attack if that happens again.”
His eyes blazed with conviction as he said, “Damn right I will.”
I held his gaze as I lifted one hand, kissed his wrist, and then settled his hand against my neck. Luca’s breath caught when I tilted my head, giving him access, and though it took him thirty seconds, he finally cupped my skin, rubbing gently, scent marking me.
We both released a gusty sigh, and all I wanted to do in that moment was cuddle into him and let him hold me. The thought took my by surprise. Because even though I mentally trusted him, I hadn’t been sure the rest of me was on board. Clearly, I was all in. for a moment, I contemplated voicing that, but then realized I wasn’t quite ready to do that. So we stood there on the sidewalk for a long few minutes, just breathing the same air, his hand warm on my neck.
“All right,” Luca whispered, and he reluctantly pulled away. With our hands still joined, he gave me a tiny tug and we started walking again. “We both promise to be honest with each other then.”
It wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway. “That’s the only way this works.”
“I agree.” He tucked me in against him, and I loved the warmth and the closeness.
“So tell me,” I said, trying to keep the happy sigh out of my voice, and going for conversational instead. “Just how long have you been pining for me?”
He groaned, but it was playful, so I let my cackle loose. Luca shook his head, but when I peered up at him, he was grinning. I laughed harder when I saw his cheeks color.
Yeah, we were going to be just fine.