Caution: this story is not meant to stand alone. The Beyond Happily Ever After stories are vignettes and outtakes showing the O’Kanes in their daily lives, in between the adventures and often after their happy endings. These stories were written exclusively for readers and fans of the series, and will probably not make very much sense to anyone not familiar with the characters.
Memorial: A Patreon Reward Story. This story is a short vignette voted on by our Patreon supporters. In it, Tatiana enjoys her new shop and Zan pays a surprise visit.
Characters: Zan and Tatiana
Timeline: Set after the end of Beyond Forever
Four months after opening her shop, Tatiana still felt a shiver of wonder when she laid her hand to the biometric scanner at the back door and waited for the soft click. The sliding steel door whispered open, and the lights in her storage area flickered to life in response.
Everything in Eden was so effortless. Even when her father had ruled Sector Four, Tatiana had lived on the high end of gritty. Nice clothes and plenty of food had felt like wealth in the Sectors. She hadn’t even understood what luxury meant.
She did now.
She stepped into the back room, the cool air a relief after the already sweltering summer heat outside. The shop Jared and Gia had helped her find was situated right on the edge of the nicer shopping district in Eden. The price had made her stomach flip half way into her throat, but Jared swore it was a steal.
And she could afford it. Thanks to Ryder’s generous investment, Tatiana could afford everything.
Lights continued to switch on as she walked past her shelves of supplies and products and into her workroom. It was nothing like the cluttered, cobbled together space she’d made do with in her old shop. Smooth white-washed walls gave way to a clean tile floor. One wall had three huge sinks and stainless steel counter space and four fancy electric eyes that could heat a pot of water to boiling so fast it didn’t seem real.
Hawk and Finn had covered the other three walls with more storage units. They’d spent an entire week here, sawing and hammering, designing her work tables and stools to be the perfect height. No more sore back from hunching over at odd angles. No more running out of room for her molds and tools. Everything in this room was custom designed to make her work easy and comfortable, and she still couldn’t walk into it without a hitch in her chest.
She’d been an O’Kane longer than she’d had the shop, but the security of having a family still provoked its own wondrous shiver.
Tatiana dumped her bag in her snug little office and paused by the sleek control panel set into the wall just inside the door. The screen awoke at the first brush of her fingers, offering total command of her domain. Temperature controlled storage still felt like magic. So did the little almost-invisible speakers Mad had installed in every room.
She had soothing background music queued for once the store opened, but Tatiana smiled and scrolled to the latest addition before heading back to her work area. Scarlet’s sultry voice rolled over the room, warm and sensual and full of the most decadent associations.
She’d been there the night Mad had recorded the band’s performance. If she closed her eyes she’d remember swaying on the dance floor, surrounded by O’Kanes, Zan’s huge chest hot against her back–
Maybe she wouldn’t close her eyes. Not when she had work to do.
She’d unloaded five long wooden molds from the shelves and was getting ready to check the soap when the sound of the back door chiming open drifted through the music. Her heart jacked toward her throat and she hiked up her skirt, fingers already reaching for the knife in her boot.
Zan’s voice cut through her fear. “What’s a croissant?”
The tension unraveled so rapidly she almost choked on her relieved laugh. “Where’d you find croissants?”
He came in through the back, a paper bag in his hand. “I didn’t. At least, not on purpose.”
Tatiana’s heart always thumped a little faster when Zan entered a room. In the first giddy weeks of their romance she’d assumed the thrill of seeing him would mellow into something comfortable, but so far it hadn’t. He was dressed in the finest O’Kane style today, his black T-shirt and leather vest leaving his massive tattoo-covered arms exposed, and the faint edge of danger would probably have Eden’s fine fancy ladies swooning in terror.
It just made Tatiana itch to touch him. She circled the table and leaned up on her toes to reach his lips with a kiss of welcome. “It’s just bread,” she murmured. “Really fancy bread.”
“Mm-hmm.” He followed her down, his lips still pressed to hers, until her feet were flat on the floor again. “It better be really damn delicious bread.”
Tatina smiled against his mouth and skated her fingers down the strong muscles of his arm until she found the bag. “It can be.”
He relinquished breakfast, glanced up at the time display high on the opposite wall, and frowned. “Truck’s late.”
The hitch in her heart was different this time. Not just lust, but love, because she’d forgotten for a moment that it was delivery day, but Zan never did. He always managed to show up when the truck rolled in from Sector Eight, to be on hand to unload the heavy boxes and help her sort supplies and packaging into their various places.
Tatiana was still shitty at asking for help, and Zan knew it. So he never waited around for her to ask.
“The schedule changed again,” she said, opening the bag. The croissants were still warm and the smell was so decadent, she almost hummed in pleasure. “They should be here in a hour or so.”
“Give or take.” She smiled up at him. “Want to stay for breakfast?”
Instead of answering, he locked his hands around her waist and lifted her onto the table. Her loose skirt gave him plenty of room to edge his hips between her knees, bringing the warmth of him close enough to steal her breath. She hooked one booted foot behind his leg and tipped her head back, grinning up at him. “Is that a yes?”
“Give me that.” He took the bag and peered inside for a moment before drawing out the first croissant. Steam rose from the flaky layers as he pulled it apart and held one half to her lips.
It practically melted on her tongue. Wherever he’d gone to find these had no doubt been expensive. Some place that could afford the luxury of real butter. Tatiana savored it like the prize it was and licked a crumb from the tip of his finger.
“Good?” he rumbled, his gaze fixed on her mouth.
“Amazing.” She braced both hands behind her and tightened her leg, drawing him deeper into the cradle of her hips. “It must have cost a fortune. You’re going to spoil me.”
“So what if I do?” He popped the other half of the croissant in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. “Huh. Not half bad.”
“High praise.” Retrieving the bag, she broke off another piece and held it up to him. “How long can you stay this morning?”
“As long as you want me.” He bypassed the proffered croissant and kissed her lightly, lingering for several heartstopping moments. “The bar’s in good shape for tonight. I’m all yours.”
Her lips tingled. The warmth of his body beckoned. She abandoned the idea of breakfast and twined both arms around his neck. “I like those words. Say them again.”
His lips brushed hers. “I’m.” They skated over her jaw. “All.” His breath warmed her ear. “Yours.”
She shivered and hooked her other leg around his hip. It had always seemed impossible how well they fit together, the way they’d always fit together. From the first moment he’d touched her, everything about Zan had always felt right. Not because of his massive muscles and intimidating strength, but because of how deliberately he used them.
He was gentle. He was protective. He was the first safety she’d ever truly believed in.
And he was hers.
She turned her head and sought his lips. He bent over her, even as high as she was, seated on the table. When he wrapped his arms around her, he blocked out everything. She forgot about deliveries and products and everything but the low, sultry music rolling through the room and her need to get her hands under his shirt and onto bare skin.
He pulled back just long enough to shed his vest and help her work the fabric of his T-shirt up and over his head. Then he was back, his mouth dizzying on hers as she traced her fingertips over warm skin. She could visualize the tattoos beneath her fingers as if she was staring at them–she’d spent enough lazy nights tracing them by now to know every swirl of ink, every bold line, every place they dipped over muscles or were bisected by scars.
Zan cupped her face between his hands and traced his tongue over her lower lip. “Your turn.”
He helped her with the clasps on her leather bodice. The shirt underneath was lightweight and little barrier to his hands. They slipped underneath, big fingers achingly gentle as they skated up her sides, and it was a struggle not to melt back to the table and throw her arms wide in giddy surrender.
Whatever Zan decided to do to her, she’d enjoy it.
He teased her, skimming his fingers over her nipples without lingering. She groaned and arched her back, chasing his touch. But his hands kept moving, stroking over her shoulders, down her sides, around to the sensitive spots along her spine that made her squirm…
“Zan,” she groaned against his cheek. “Don’t be evil.”
“But you like me this way.” He chuckled, low and raspy. “You love it when I–”
A rumbling engine rattled the back gate, followed by the shrill, insistent beep of a backup indicator.
Tatiana froze, then bit off a snarl of frustration. “God damn it.”
Zan’s chest shook with silent laughter. “Guess the fuckers are early, after all.”
A year ago, it would have been hard to imagine the concept of a truck pulling up to her door, full of every wondrous ingredient, tool, and packaging supply she could want. It would have been impossible to imagine herself irritated by the interruption.
Apparently it was easy to get used to living large.
She joined Zan in laughter as she struggled to get her shirt straightened out and her bodice back on. “Here, help me with these clasps. I don’t want to shock Ford and Mia’s driver. Sector Eight is almost as straight-laced as Eden.”
“Is that even possible?” He made short work of the clasps with his surprisingly nimble hands. “Wait–never mind. Jim Jernigan ran the place. He was definitely a make war, not love kinda guy, wasn’t he?”
“Sure seemed like it.” It was a crime to cover Zan’s chest up, but she leaned across the table to snag his shirt and dragged it back. “I’ll make a deal with you.”
He arched one eyebrow. “Am I gonna like where this goes?”
Tatiana grinned and helped him pull his shirt over his head. His hair stood up in an adorable mess, and she made it worse with her fingernails dragging over his scalp. “If you can manage the shipment while I cut my soap for curing, I’ll have at least a half hour before it’s time to open the shop. I’ll bend over my desk and be a very good girl for as long as you want to tease me.”
A slow, secret smile full of promise curved his lips. “Deal.”
She answered the door flushed and unashamed, and if the driver eyed her oddly as she signed off on his tablet, Tatiana didn’t care.
She had a shop built by the people she loved, filled with thoughtful things they’d created to make her life easier. She had a lover who never hesitated to show her how much he cared with a million little gestures. She had security, and a business she loved, and the freedom that came with financial independence.
And she had thirty minutes to decide what filthy things she was going to say to Zan to hurry him along once he had her bent over her desk.
He’d always loved her best when she was just a little bit bad.