His lips curved. “You really are wonderfully different from the rest, koukla mou.”
“I feel like I’m being insulted and complimented at the same time.”
“There is nothing about you that is not beautiful,” he murmured smoothly.
“But I should feed you soon, ne?”
“Um, ne back?”
His smile turned into a grin. “Just ne would suffice next time.”
“Where would you like to eat?”
“The fanciest place you can afford.”
He raised a brow.
“That should tell you something,” I added helpfully.
“I’m a gold-digger.”
But this only had him laughing, and instead of doing as asked, he took me to the nearest McDonalds, made me foot the bill, and dear God, was it crazy that I actually felt pleased about that? I had more fun than I should that day, felt too horny the entire time as well, that when Ioniko invited me to spend the rest of the day with him, it took everything in me to say no. I lied about having more work to do at home and didn’t even dare let him see me to my door. I just waved goodbye and got the hell out like he had turned into the Devil and he was after my body – I mean, soul.
So that was that, but when I got home I quickly came to realize I wasn’t really able to escape him entirely. Memories of him lingered in my mind no matter what I did. I just couldn’t make myself stop thinking of him even as I worked, binged on my current Netflix favorite, or even when I threw myself on the mercies of my Bowflex.
I did everything I could think of to exorcise my brain of Ioniko’s presence, but nothing worked. Thoughts of him persisted, and I found myself alternating between worries and fantasies. For as long as things were good, he was every woman’s dream come true, but once he lost interest, he would also be every woman’s worst nightmare.
I didn’t think I was in love with him, but I could be…if I didn’t do something. There had to be a way to…have fun with him without setting myself up for heartbreak. Right?
I grabbed my phone and did the smartest thing anyone could do when faced with an unanswerable question.
“Oh my God,” Sara gasped out the next day. A slim blond beauty whose outspoken ways often got her in trouble, she had been the first one to approach me during our freshmen year in high school, and upon discovering our mutual love for choose-your-own-adventure books, we had become best friends soon after.
Fast forward over a decade later, and the two of us were also business partners, with Sara in charge of the visuals and programming of our independently published game while I was responsible for the scripts and marketing. We met once a week to discuss updates and issues about our app, but unlike before, I had asked her to drop by my house instead of waiting for her at Associate.
“You really did that?” Sara asked laughingly. “Ask Siri how to avoid falling in love?”
“Who else am I going to ask?” I shot back defensively. “You?”
Sara only grinned, not at all offended. “You have a point.” She was just like me, after all, in the sense that she had never had a boyfriend either.
“Thought you’d say that.”
“What did Siri say?” she prompted curiously.
“A lot,” I said with a grimace, “but none of them’s helpful.”
“Give me an example.”
“Set boundaries,” I told her, “but it’s not going to work with a man like him.”
“He’s the alpha type then?”
“Through and through.”
“Which means…” Sara’s expression turned thoughtful. “He’s your type.”
I squirmed. “Sara!”
My friend was unrepentant. “Well, he is, isn’t he?” she challenged. “We’ve got over twenty male characters now, and the one major thing they all have in common is that they eventually show their need to dominate one way or another.”
“That’s…I…it’s…” True, I realized and felt appalled and ashamed right after. Like with all otome games, our storyline began with a heroine having to choose which male character she’d like to end up with, and although the heroes’ occupations and back stories greatly varied, in the end, it was exactly what Sara said.
Sara tsk-tsked. “I’ve been drawing your stories for years, Schuy, and if there’s one thing they’ve taught me…” Her expression turned smug. “It’s that there’s also only one type of girl that’s attracted to alphas, and that’s…”
The doorbell suddenly rang.
Oh my God, Sara’s stunned gaze practically shrieked, and I could only stare back at her, feeling just as helpless. Oh my God was exactly what I felt, too, and when the doorbell rang again, both of us jumped in our chairs.
OH MY GOD.
And then we were scrambling up to our feet because we just knew.
After all these years of writing about the magic of romance…
We just knew.
And when I finally opened the door—