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The two girls arrived to stand beside the boys, and as the red-haired girl’s eyes fell upon me, I felt Levi pull me in just that little bit tighter. In an instant I understood why, because once her eyes had inspected me, they landed on Levi, and not once did they leave him after that. Jake, the blonde, tipped his head in the light haired girl’s direction and said, “This is my girlfriend, Stacey.” He turned to his girlfriend. “Stace, this is Elsie, Alabama’s chick.”

“I didn’t know you had a girlfriend, Levi,” Stacey said.

Levi’s hold froze, but then relaxed when he said, “Yeah. I do.”

A lightness filled my heart as he told them, proudly, that I belonged to him. His girlfriend.

His.

“I’m Harper,” the redhead said, and held out her hand for me to shake. I glanced to Levi, but then offered my hand when he nodded that she was okay. With her hand still in mine, she asked, “What was your name again?”

She waited for my response, but my throat had lost all its use; no words came out. I pulled back my hand, panic and anxiety like poison in my veins. She was too like those girls, looked too much like Annabelle.

“Elsie,” Levi said, rescuing me from drowning. “Her name is Elsie.”

I turned to Levi. Seeing a crooked calming smile on his lips. I melted into his chest, inhaling deep, filling my nose with his spiced scent. Levi pressed a kiss to the top of my head, and I knew what that simple kiss meant: he had me.

“So you coming to the dinner in two weeks, Elsie?” Ashton asked.

Keeping my cheek pressed against Levi’s chest, I shrugged. Ashton nodded, but I could see questions written all over his face.

Jake laughed. “Seems like you’ve found a chick that likes to talk about as much as you, eighty-four. She’s perfect for you.”

My heart plummeted, feeling like I was embarrassing Levi, when he said, “She talks plenty, man, she’s just shy meeting new people, that’s all.” I heard Levi’s heartbeat increase, my right ear at his pec, then he added, “But yeah, she’s pretty perfect for me, you got that part right.”

Levi nodded, then exhaled a deep breath. “We gotta go, guys. I’m taking my girl out.”

Jake stepped back, but asked, “It’s probably a no, but we’re having a party tonight and…” Jake trailed off. Levi laughed.

“Nah, man. But thanks. Catch you next week.”

Levi immediately opened the Jeep’s passenger side door and I stepped inside. Before he moved to the driver’s side, he leaned in to press a gentle kiss to my lips. As he pulled back, I gave him a questioning look. That familiar redness coated his cheeks, and he said, “Just like calling you my girl, that’s all. It sounded real good on my lips.”

Levi was in the driver’s seat before I even realized he’d moved. Truth was, I liked him calling me my girl too. I liked that I was his.

Levi’s girl.

* * * * *

Levi took us to a restaurant on the waterfront. It was a small Italian, very secluded and private. He held my hand as the server led us to an outside table overlooking the Puget Sound. There were heaters at the top of the table making it comfortable to sit out in the dry night air.

We had barely sat down when a man came out smiling, aiming directly for Levi. “Ciao, come stai, Levi?” the man said, obviously speaking Italian.

My heart stopped. No, almost burst when Levi stood looking handsome in his team suit and shook his hand.

“Bene, Carlo, et tu?”

My mouth fell open as I listened to Levi talk in fluent Italian with the manager, his soft shy voice bold and colorful as his tongue wrapped around the consonants and vowels.

The man must have asked something about me, as Levi smiled down at me, nodding his head. “Si,” he replied, his head lowering in timidity. “Lei é la mia ragazza.”

The man tapped Levi on his arm, and replied, “Ah, é bella.”

This time, when Levi looked up at me through his fallen strands of hair, something inside of me set on fire. I stared, waiting desperately for him to respond, just to hear that beautiful language, when he rasped, “Si, Carlo. Bella mia.”

Levi sucked his bottom lip into his mouth, and I couldn’t help but blush. Carlo moved toward me, taking my hand. He pressed a kiss to the back of my hand and said, “Buon appetito.”

I nodded my head in thanks, as Carlo walked off and left us alone. Levi sat down, but he didn’t lift his head. I reached across the table to take his hand resting on the top. Levi inhaled deeply and met my eyes.

I shook my head. “You speak Italian?”

A shadow seemed to pass across Levi’s eyes and he nodded his head. “Yeah,” was all he said. I squeezed his hand letting him know I wanted more, when he ran his free hand down his face. “My mamma was Italian, from Florence. She moved here to be with my pop.” He glanced up then back down and added, “She only really spoke to us in Italian. Austin brings us here a lot. That’s how we know the manager.”

I didn’t realize how hard I was gripping Levi’s hand until my fingers began to ache. Pulling myself closer to the table, I brought our joined hands to my face and ran his hand down my cheek, only to land on my lips so I could press a kiss to his warm skin. Levi watched my every movement. He swallowed as I stayed quiet. But I said everything I needed to say with that kiss—I understood.

“So,” Levi rasped, emotion thick in his voice, “What did y’all think of the game?”

I shook my head looking out onto the full moon reflecting off the water. “It was surreal,” I replied, the water rippling in the gentle wind. I looked back to Levi and continued. “It was so full of people, people chanting your name, and watching you like you were a God.”

Levi’s expression was guarded as I spoke. He looked out over the water too, but he ran his thumb over the back of my hand and asked, “Is it… could it be something you could get used to?”

His thumb paused on my hand, awaiting my answer. I shrugged. “I’m,” I stopped and shook my head. “I’m not sure I could be around it all the time.” I lifted my hand to my right ear. “The sounds were deafening.” I huffed a laugh at the irony in that statement, but said, “There were so many people there. I’ve never seen so many people in one place before.” I inhaled. “It was overwhelming.”

Levi didn’t say much in response, but he appeared hurt and my heart cracked. I never wanted him to be hurt, but that situation, for me, seemed unbearable.

The server approached at that moment, and Levi ordered our food. We ate the meal mostly in silence, until an hour later, Levi paid the check and rose to his feet. Sighing, he held out his hand. I stared at his offered hand, worried he was still disappointed in me. Levi pushed it farther in my direction and I couldn’t help but slip my palm against his. He clasped it tightly as I got to my feet. His free hand immediately threaded into my hair and he pulled me closer. I looked up at his bright eyes, the gray seeming silver in the moonshine, then he pressed his lips to mine, taking possession of my mouth.

I moaned as his tongue pushed against mine. Releasing my hand, he now placed both hands in my hair, his hard chest brushing against my breasts. Shivers speared down my spine when Levi groaned low. He inched in as close as he could get, so close that I felt his hardness pushing against me. Heat swirled in my stomach and traveled lower to my core.

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