Sally knew that she was safe with Costin, but she had never really had a boyfriend. She didn't figure that Steven Mathews attempting to kiss her by shoving his tongue in her mouth after school in the seventh grade counted. Everything with the whole true mate stuff seemed so intimate in comparison with anything she knew about relationships.
Another knock brought her out of her thoughts. Apprehensively, she grasped the door knob and pulled it open.
Costin's contagious, dimpled smile was positively breathtaking on his handsome face. She took in his appearance and liked how he hadn't changed who he was for her party. He didn't try to look fancy or be something he wasn't; his untucked dress shirt and jeans fit him perfectly and a little voice inside her whispered that he was freaking hot. She called that voice her “inner Jen”.
Jacque and Jen did not know about her inner Jen – it was her little secret when she needed a boost of confidence.
Sally smiled back and stepped aside to let him into the room.
"You look beautiful," Costin told her as he stepped close. Sally noted, not for the first time, that he had no sense of personal space boundaries – at least not when it came to her.
"Thank you." She felt the blush creep up her neck. "You look handsome."
He winked at her. "Pretty spiffy for a bartender in Romania."
Sally let out a small laugh. "I prefer it to a suit."
"Excellent." Costin smiled. He began to circle her slowly and his smile turned intense and there was a wicked gleam in his hazel eyes. Sally took in a short gasp when she noticed they were glowing.
"Do you have something to show me, Sally mine?"
It was then that Sally noticed the markings climbing up the right side of his neck and the ones that crawled down his right arm from underneath his rolled-back sleeve.
"Umm," Sally stalled.
"My markings have changed. Surely you noticed." He was teasing her and the tone of his voice helped her relax.
She slipped her hand under her brown hair and swept it over her shoulder to reveal her back to him.
A low growl came from him as he stood behind her. She nearly jumped away when she felt his fingers like a whisper of silk against her skin. Starting at the top of her neck, his fingers traced the marks until the dress halted his progression.
"Easy," he whispered to her when she jumped.
Sally swore she could feel the oxygen being sucked from the room as Costin's dominance filled the space.
"Umm, Costin," Sally squeezed out through her tight lungs. "Sort of short of breath here."
Costin immediately reigned in his possessiveness at the sight of the beautiful markings, which climbed up her spine like a vine. He pulled her hair back over her shoulder to cover them.
His hand rested on her waist and followed around as he circled back to stand in front of her. "Your friends explained what the markings mean?" The question was gentle.
Sally nodded. "They mean that I'm your mate."
Costin grinned. "Yes, gypsy lady, you are indeed mine. But those markings are for my eyes only." His voice was still gentle, but there was an underlying darkness to them. It was clear that he, like Fane and Decebel, was going to be very possessive and obsessive about the markings.
"Your eyes only," Sally repeated. "Got it."
"So," Costin's voice brightened as he squeezed her waist, "I hear you have a birthday today."
Sally laughed. "I don't know where you could have possibly heard that."
"It might have been from a certain blonde running around the mansion reminding everyone of the party of the century taking place in honor of, and I quote, 'the most bad ass gypsy healer known to man', which was followed up with a, 'no offense to Rachel, but fact is fact'.
Sally rolled her eyes and let out a moan of embarrassment. "Sometimes I think we should make a waiver for her to sign so that she understands we aren't responsible for our actions when she flies off at the mouth."
"Well, I for one have been looking forward to it. It will be the first time that we will be seen before the pack as mates, though not bonded," Costin's eyes cut to the side to look at her as he led her to the door, "yet," he finished boldly.
Sally followed him out of her room and had to admit that she liked his hand on the small of her back as he guided her to the large gathering room. The party was already in full swing. Jen and Jacque had gone all out – with the help of Crina and Cynthia, of course.
As Costin led her up to the entryway, the music suddenly died and all eyes turned to look at them. She hadn't considered how large the party would be since Decebel's Serbian pack had been invited. Not all of them had shown up but there was a good number. Sally almost took an involuntary step back but Costin's firm hand held her in place as he whispered, "I've got you. I've always got you."
Sally let out the breath she had been holding and smiled at the room.
"Finally!" Jen spoke into a microphone from across the room. She stood next to the table where the "DJ" was set up. "Here's the birthday girl, everyone! Get your well wishes in because she will soon be on the dance floor partying like it's 1969." Jen paused and spoke softly to Jacque but didn't cover the microphone. Jacque was standing next to Jen, trying not to laugh.
"Was 1969 a good party year? Do we know?" the room heard through the speakers. Snickers rippled through the crowd.
Jacque looked at her and shook her head. "How about we party like it's New Year's Eve 2009?"
A huge smile spread across Jen's face. "Ah, that was a good one." She turned back to the crowd and yelled again, "Rewind! We're going to party like it's New Year's Eve 2009. If you're curious as to how awesome a party that was, please see me, Jacque, or Sally. Sally's version will be much more accurate, and also free of any important inappropriate details." Before she could say anything else, a large hand wrapped around the microphone and pulled it from Jen's hand.
Decebel handed the mike to Jacque as he growled at his mate and pulled her away. All the while Jen was telling him exactly how much she didn't appreciate him getting all up in her Kool Aid.
"Happy birthday, Sally!" Jacque said into the microphone and the room broke into applause. "Everyone enjoy yourselves. The cake will be out soon, and then presents!"