Leon and the Regis flanked me as I exited the caves. We could not stop moving, so they must have been swimming in the area while I was talking to Ka’ahupahau. My heart skipped a beat as we made our way out to sea. This was the Regis here, and even though he was the smaller of the two males, the Great White Shark was terrifying.
“Why did you run, Valeria?” His voice resounded in my head, but it was not the one I was expecting. Shit, it was his son.
“When did you—” I cut myself off. The only way that the position of Regis was passed down was if the previous Regis had died. His son, if he had one, immediately assumed his title and role. This meant continuity in the community, but it also posed a problem. I had no idea what he was going to ask me.
“Two years ago.” He slowed down as much as he could without stopping and turned his giant head towards me. “Right after you left New Orleans the last time.”
How did he know? I was no one from a relatively small family, one that had died in one of the worst environmental disasters in modern history. “I am sorry, Regis. Your father was a good ruler.”
“Thank you.” His voice was soft and worried.
We swam in silence, Leon leading us to a private pier. There were no humans around, so we were able to swim right up to the dock or the beach. Leon and the Regis took the beach option, shifting as they swam and walking straight out of the surf. I leapt into the air and shifted as I came down, landing softly on the wooden pier. Both men had swim shorts on. We’d had to become accustomed to wearing swim gear under our regular clothing. As we made our way back toward each other at the base of the pier, I looked the Regis over. I was so used to his father that seeing Valen caught me by surprise.
Even though he was only a year older than me, Valen’s hair was streaked with silver. It made him look more distinguished. I could not help but admire him on a physical level. I was still unimpressed that I was being backed into a figurative corner here. “What is it you want, Valen?”
Leon surged forward and grabbed my arm. “That is The Regis to you, Valeria Alopex.”
I wrenched my arm out of his hand and snarled, “Do not ever touch me again.”
Valen stepped between us. “Enough. Valeria, do not go pissing off my man. Leon, cool your head. I am sure that Val is getting used to me being the Regis.” That was for damn sure. I could not believe that this man I grew up with, spent most of my life with as the children, was now the king of all weresharks. Although, when he said my name just then, I nearly swooned. “Val, please hear me out.”
I looked up at him. Valen was still taller than me by a couple of inches, and his muscles rippled in the Hawaiian sun. “What is it, Regis?” I could not let myself get pulled into the drama he was bringing, but I could not leave.
I watched as my king, my Regis, sighed as if a great weight was settling on his shoulders. “I know that my father asked you to take up Lochlyn’s post.” I hissed with a sudden intake of breath. “I am not going to ask you that, even though it would make me happy.” Valen ran his hand through his hair, and the look on his face was almost sheepish. He was beautiful.
“Why?” I whispered, more to myself regarding why this stupid attraction was rearing its ugly head now.
Valen took it as a question to him, though, and responded, “Why would it make me happy? Well…you know, I always kind of had a soft spot for you.” His voice was barely louder than mine, yet my blood chilled.
“You can not. Those feelings can not be.” I turned away and looked back over the open ocean. “Valen.” I felt his hands on my shoulders and almost melted. No, no, this could not be happening.
“I am not asking anything of you, Valeria, just that you have dinner with me. Tonight, please.” I could tell that he was still keeping back, staying out of my space, but keeping in contact. “Let us just be two old friends, enjoying a meal in peace and laughter. Can we do that?”
I turned around and looked up at him. His soft brown eyes stared down at me, with a look I had never seen before. “I,” my shoulders slumped, and I leaned my head against his chest without thinking, “yes, I will meet you for dinner. But, all I have are my shorts and t-shirts.”
Valen smiled and tilted my chin up slightly. “I will make sure that Leon brings something appropriate to your room.”
I heard a grunt come from Leon. He had been silent this whole time, and I stepped back out of Valen’s arms, my sense of propriety taking over. “How do you know where I am staying?”
Valen smiled brightly and chuckled. “How did Leon know when and where to intercept you at the airport?”
“Are you stalking me, Valen?” Leon growled, and I stared back. I was not going to be intimidated by these two.
“Following, please. Kings do not stalk,” he replied coyly.
I snorted and jumped off the dock onto the beach. “No, kings do not, but their manservants do. Fine, I will meet you for dinner, Regis.” I looked back up at him, a twinge of desire floating through me. “I am sure the details will find their way to me.”
I began jogging away, and I heard Valen call after me, “I will see you tonight, Valeria!” I did not turn around, just kept running down the beach, my legs taking me further away from the confusing man behind me.
When I returned to my room, I found a box in front of the door. I picked it up carefully and entered the room. I was curious to see what was in the package and how it had gotten here before I did. I also wanted to wait and open it later. Eventually, my curiosity won out, and I slid the ribbon off and opened it. The first thing that caught my eye was the beautifully pale purple, like the colour in a sunset. I picked it up and felt the slink as it shifted in my hands.
“Oh my,” I commented as I held it up against me and looked in the mirror. It was a one-shoulder cocktail dress that went to my ankles. The arm with the shoulder had a sleeve attached, and the leg opposite had a long slit up it. I walked back over to the box and saw a note and a black bathing suit beneath it.
I picked up the note and read it out loud. “Dear Valeria, I wish for you to meet me at 7 PM at the La Mer restaurant. Please wear the bathing suit underneath. I made sure that it would not be visible under the dress. I would like to go for a swim once we have finished eating. If you decide not to join me, I will be disappointed, but I will understand. Place the box back outside your door and Leon will come and collect it. I hope to see you tonight. Yours truly, Valen the Regis.”
My heart quickened. This was shaping up to be a date, and I had already said yes. I could always change my mind, but I knew that would hurt him, and hurting the Regis was the last thing a wereshark wanted to do. I set the dress down on my bed and jumped in the shower. If I were doing this, I would make sure to look good.
The shower felt wonderful, and I washed my left arm carefully. The scar I bore from my last trip to NOLA still hurt when I pushed on it, and Leon had grabbed it earlier. I looked down at the long purple laceration that ran the length of my forearm with some cracking along the sides. Saltwater was not good for the healing process, so I’d put off my shift after the incident for as long as I could. I made it eight days before it was forced upon me. I would normally put some makeup on it to conceal it a little. But if tonight was a date, I wanted Valen to see the important parts of me, and those came with scars.
I began pinning my hair up into a half-do, leaving some of it down, and then I went over to the box and pulled out the bathing suit. A shimmering black, I could see all the colours of the rainbow when it moved. I pulled the suit on and admired how well it fit. Someone knew my size, and I was not sure I liked that thought. If the bathing suit fit, that meant the dress would too. I picked it up again, watching the colour sparkle in my hands. I slipped the dress over my head and settled it down over my body. It fit like a glove, and I marvelled at the feeling of it. I did not dress up often, if ever, and this made me feel special. I found a pair of strappy heels in the very bottom of the box and slid them on. I did not have a clutch or a purse, but I did not need one either. I kept my makeup simple and did not wear any jewelry. At 6:45, I headed out of my room and made my way down to the restaurant.
I arrived a bit early and made my way to the bar. I had a feeling I would need some liquid courage and ordered a Sex on the Beach, sipping it quietly. I turned away from the bar at the exact moment that Valen walked in. His black suit and tie accented all the muscles I knew were underneath. Leon was nowhere to be seen, but I knew he was around. Valen caught my eye and smiled easily, looking younger and more relaxed with each moment that passed.
As he walked in my direction, I had the faint thought of his shark stalking mine as prey and almost ran. It was not unheard of, the larger breeds eating the smaller species when necessary. “Valeria, you look wonderful.” His voice was breathless. As I slid off the chair, he took my hand and kissed it gently. I was blushing. I knew that I was.
“Thank you, Valen. You clean up quite nicely yourself.” He held out his elbow, and I took it carefully. This whole event had me confused, and I did not enjoy the sensation. Valen wheeled us into a back room, where there was a reserved sign on the table. “Is it just us tonight?” I could feel my nerves spiking. I was not sure if it was because Valen was gorgeous, there I admitted it, if it was because he was the Regis, or something else, but I was on edge.
“Leon is nearby, as always.” I nodded and sat down as Valen pushed my chair in for me. “But yes, it is just us.” I heard him gulp behind me and then sit down opposite me. “Do you like the dress?”
“Yes, Regis, I do.” The moment I said it, I watched his shoulders curl up slightly and regretted using his title. “I’m sorry, Valen, protocols and whatnot.”
He just nodded and sighed. “I was about to say, no Regis tonight. I am just Valen here, your friend.” He waved the waiter over, and we ordered some food. We both got fish, with some white wine to pair. Even though I could tell there was something on Valen’s mind, I could tell he did not want to discuss it over dinner. Instead, he sparkled with intelligent conversation and asked about my time with Ocean Guardian. Valen seemed genuinely interested in my work, and I found it easy to talk with him.
When we were done with dinner, he took my hand, and we walked out to the beach, enjoying the night air and each other’s company. “Swim with me?”
I giggled softly and nodded. “I assume that is why the bathing suit accompanied the dress?”
“I thought it would be nice, a moonlight dip, as us, no need to shift.” I stared up at him, trying to read his expression, but found it impossible.
I walked over to a lounger and slowly pulled the dress off, putting my shoes beside it. “Catch me if you can, Valen.” And I took off running into the water. I did not watch as Valen changed, but I heard him splash into the water, and I dove below.
He was faster than I thought, and in moments, I felt Valen’s arms wrap around me and pull me back to the surface. I was stunned. I thought I would never experience this feeling. But against all odds, I felt myself falling for him. Feelings that I had buried deep within when we were younger came rushing to the surface. I did the unexpected, something that could get me exiled, if not killed, if it was taken the wrong way. I pulled Valen into a kiss as deep as the ocean below us and bright as the moon above. I melted into his arms and felt him wrap his arms around me tighter. The man I had secretly loved since childhood seemed to love me back.
The kiss broke, and he pressed his forehead against mine, inhaling deeply. “Valeria, I did not know…I had always hoped…”
“What, Valen? What has my king so wound up in knots?” I teased, kissing his nose softly.
Valen tilted my chin up, so I was staring into his brown eyes, and I could see anguish and love and patience and worry all written on his face. “I,” he paused and took a breath, “I want you to be my wife.”