It was not her habit to overthink things, or to weigh her decisions beyond ‘Is this safe? Is it what I want?’ Most of the time, she was a woman who lived according to her whims, but the thing she’d been contemplating since the New Year began was not as simple as most of her choices. Nate was not just a man she wanted to shag. He was someone she loved; someone who knew her virtues and her flaws. He was part of her family. Making the choice whether to pursue him or not was probably the biggest decision she’d made in her life. Cassie had weighed the pros and cons thoroughly, and had stayed away from her cousin so she wouldn’t be tempted to give into her impulsive nature. Now she knew what she wanted, and she missed him. It was time stop avoiding each other and have a real discussion about their feelings.
Looking up toward the falconry, Cassie saw Nate heading back her direction on the path. Apparently he was finished with the birds for the day. Just as well, she’d intended to pull him from his task anyway. Though they were still quite a way apart, she could tell when he spied her. They were aware of each other now in a way they hadn’t been before New Year’s Eve. The remaining steps it took to reach him were fraught with an anxious anticipation, but all too soon they were standing face to face.
“I’ve missed you,” she said as soon as they were close enough to speak in normal tones. “There were things I needed to think about, but I’m done now. I’m not going to avoid you anymore.”
Nate's initial response was a long blink, but then his lips twitched into a rueful smile. Even though Cassie had been a Slytherin, was a Rosier by blood, and was her mother's daughter, she was still very much a Montgomery, a pure line known for its forthrightness -- and thus its predominantly Gryffindor heritage. Cassie knew how to be coy and demure, but just as often she was candid, especially with those she trusted. Nate really shouldn't have been surprised by her directness.
"I've missed you as well," he said, addressing that which was most easy to respond. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen her -- it was hard not to for several months in a row given their living proximity -- but Nate hadn't talked to her beyond pleasantries and conversations had with the family as a whole. He and Cassie had not spent time together alone. And it wasn't until the absence of such interactions did Nate even realize how often it had been happening. His evenings had felt empty, his days longer without her regular interruptions via floo, to drag him out to lunch, or away from his office at a decent hour in the evening.
But noticing such things, and weighing his emotional response to them, had given him much to think about too. It -- no, Cassie -- and everything she had dredged to the surface in him, was something Nate hadn't stopped thinking about since New Year's. It seemed, however, that the time for thinking was over now, whether he was prepared or not.
"Walk with me." He offered his arm. "Tell me what has occupied your mind, and to what conclusions you have come."
Cassie linked her arm with his, leaning her head lightly against his shoulder a moment as they started back toward the manor.
She really had missed Nate, and it was nice to be able to spend time with him again and be close, even if there was still much to resolve between them. It made her all the more grateful for her mother’s sage advice. Risking her closeness with Nate was not something she should ever treat lightly; she treasured it.
It took a moment for her to get her thoughts in order, and her cousin didn’t press as they walked slowly together. “I’ve been thinking about New Year’s Eve, and what I felt that night. I think you felt the same thing - a pull, desire for more than we’ve ever shared. That night I was confused and frustrated, but it didn’t take me long to realize that it was for the best we didn’t act on that desire. At least not right then, because you’re too important to me to make careless choices that will affect our relationship.”
Cassie paused, steeling herself to share what she’d discovered within herself over the past months. It was a bigger risk than she’d taken with any man, but then no other man had ever meant as much to her as Nate. “You’ve been in my thoughts constantly since then, and my conclusion is that we have a real chance at being happy together. A chance I’m prepared to take, if you are.”
They’d slowed to a stop while she spoke and were facing each other now. It was something Nate registered only distantly. Perhaps if they’d been anywhere but Falcon Court, a place he was most at ease, then he might have been more aware of himself, their surroundings. But perhaps not. It wasn’t every day that a most beloved cousin confessed she wanted to be more with him than friends.
And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t thought about it. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t broached the very subject with his aunt to gauge her thoughts on the matter.
“If you had pressed that night, I wouldn’t have stopped you,” he admitted finally, blue eyes intent on her. Eyes as blue as his own, hair only a few shades lighter, pouty lips that were also a common trait in their family. Precious. Dangerous. “I wouldn’t have stopped you,” he repeated, “and at that moment in time, I should have. For all the reasons you have said, and others still. Even so, I would have let it happen.”
He lifted a hand, fingers brushing ever so slightly against the line of her jaw, catching a lock of her hair and trailing down the long strand, and then away. These were touches he had not even contemplated prior to that heavy, weighted moment on New Years, were touches he’d not allowed himself since coming into awareness that he wanted them.
Blue eyes flicked back to hers, a bit darker now. “You are dangerous, cousin.”
She was dangerous in so many ways. Nate was not a man who indulged in passions. He thought clearly, acted decisively. He was not impulsive, but planned everything to the last detail. Was utterly ruthless when necessary. His sudden awareness of Cassie had enraptured him so quickly, so thoroughly, that he’d been seemingly disconnected from his better judgement, if only for a moment. That he could not say what he might have allowed had she pressed forward, had Mira not interrupted at just that moment ... that had bothered Nate.
It was his practice to eliminate those things that could potentially weaken him. He was seen as a successful businessman, a generous philanthropist, but there was much that was not seen. There was the business done behind closed doors with the various connections he had in Russia, and throughout Europe. The type of business that had honed him into a quietly ruthless man. He could not afford for there to be any loose ends in his life, any weak spots that could be exploited. There were many reasons he’d decided to return home; because claiming his true identity benefited him, because he wanted the little bit of family that was left to him. He’d determined the external risks to himself and them to be low, and having his family close filled a void, the want for companionship, and the nature of such familial relationships allowed for him to keep a certain amount of distance.
His attraction to Cassie clouded his mind, and a relationship with her would not allow for any distance. They were so close already. She was family, friend, and he loved her. Any closer and she would be completely under his guard like no one had ever been before. It was an unsettling thought, but a heady one as well.
“If anyone else clouded my mind as you do, I wouldn’t entertain the possibility of spending more time with them than is strictly necessary,” he continued when she looked at him with questions in her eyes. “I would likely cut them from my life completely, but I cannot do that with you. You are my family, my friend, one of my most precious people. You are dangerous,” he repeated.
A hand came up again, lightly gripped her chin. The indulgence of such a touch was, perhaps, answer enough how he would respond to Cassie’s straightforward confession. “I cannot be rid of you, nor do I wish to be.” It came to him then, the only course of action possible given all the variables he’d identified. “Given what I will not do, and that you demand for this to be acknowledged between us,” his lips twitched at this, “it seems there is only one course of action left to me.” All traces of humor left his face and his gaze focused in on hers, dark and intent. “To keep you closer still.”
The world has seemed to narrow until there was nothing but Nate and her, his fingers warm where they touched her skin, her breaths deep and deliberate as the tether that drew them to one another tightened. Cassie was caught in the intensity of his sapphire gaze, and it would be so easy to reach for him and see just how close they could become. The idea was tempting. Denying her desires was not something she’d much bothered with, and there were few things she’d ever wanted as badly as she wanted Nate.
That was why she didn’t allow herself to drift closer and change the nature of what they were, not yet. The words of her mother still echoed in her head, and Cassie knew that if things changed between herself and Nate, it would not be like the usual budding relationship. If they took it further, it would be a statement of intent and she wanted to be sure the intent was the same for both of them. There was so little room for error in this game.
Reaching up, she gently pulled Nate’s hand from her chin and held it between both of her smaller ones. “I did demand acknowledgement,” she began, dropping her gaze to the ground for a moment of respite before meeting Nate’s eyes again. “Acknowledgement does not require action, though. I have no desire to live a life like the one my mother would have had if she’d not told her family exactly what they could do with those expectations. I grew up knowing real love and I won’t settle for less.”
Cassie started slowly along the path, trusting her cousin to keep pace with her. The movement helped her focus her thoughts, breaking the weight of Nate’s regard.
“I’ve never felt for anyone the way I feel about you. Marriage and family didn’t cross my mind even in fancy with any of the men I’ve spent time with, but I can imagine a life as your wife. Not tomorrow, but one day. I can imagine giving you heirs - the perfect, pureblood, Rosier children you’re expected to produce. But I don’t want it if it’s only happening because you don’t see another option. If your nature leads you to desire a practical marriage with a wife for whom you feel only mild affection, then bring me no closer. I would rather live with that disappointment than a lifetime of respectful indifference.”
Nate’s lips twitched slightly as he ambled along next to her. “You’re right. A practical marriage that would produce heirs had been my intent. It suited my mother and father. There was not love between them as there is between John and Scarlett, but they cared and there was affection. But do I desire such a thing?” he asked, blue gaze focusing on the manor ahead of them. “In part, perhaps. It is a simple, effective way to ensure the Rosier name continues. If that was all there was to it, however, I would have married Celeste.”
And he nearly did marry the French socialite. She was pure of blood, the belle of French wizarding society. He had cared for her, but in the end it hadn’t been enough. He had reasoned there was no reason to marry so young, had figured it would be much simpler to re-establish himself in Britain and look for a suitable wife after. Nate hadn’t ever imagined a love match for himself.
“My nature does lend itself to looking for the most practical, efficient solution. But tendency and desire are not the same thing,” he clarified finally. A glance at her profile showed an unusually sober visage. She couldn’t look at him and have this conversation, and it had his lips twitching again. Cassie was trying very hard to do this the right way.
He reached out and caught her hand to stop them again, tugged her over to face him. Only when she met his gaze did he continue speaking. “I love you. I would never say I wanted you if I did not mean it to the fullest extent. It would disrespect what is already between us to mean anything less.” He paused, lips curling ever so slightly once more. “Perhaps it would be more practical to arrange a marriage of convenience, but it is not what I desire.”
Caught once again in the snake charm of his eyes, it took a few faltering attempts before she was able to respond with a small grin of her own. They were really doing this. The time for wondering if it was worth risking their closeness, worrying whether she’d read her cousin’s reaction correction, all of that was over. Despite that she was ‘dangerous’ to him, despite that it went against his nature, Nate wanted to be with her. All that was left was to act.
Cassie’s heart felt like it might beat out of her chest as she leaned in, one hand rising to skim along his jaw. Her voice was soft and breathy when she asked, “So if I were to press now, you would not stop me?”
He caught her hand with his own and pressed his lips to her fingers, watched her blue eyes darken.
It was a surreal moment for Nate. His mind had presented him with visions of what it might be like to indulge in his attraction to Cassie, but he’d not allowed himself to meander too far down those mental paths. She was his cousin. Perhaps he should see her as a sister, or nearly so -- there were those that would think such -- but the fact was that he didn’t even meet his cousins until Hogwarts. Alexa was his first kiss in third year. He met Cassie and Mira the following year when they matriculated as first years. After graduating it was impossible to see them; his father had been intimately involved with Voldemort and his rise to power, and then Nate fled to France and stayed there for nearly a decade.
Nate had known Cassie as a young teen and then when he’d come back to Britain two years prior, he’d re-met her as a woman. Re-met all of his cousins as women, really. It was true that he thought of Mira and Abigail as little sisters, but he’d never felt that way about Alexa, and he had admitted to himself, months ago now, that it’d never been the case with Cassie either.
And now here he was watching her eyes darken at him, for him. He was aware of her. Aware that she’d shifted closer toward him without thinking, aware of her warm woodsy vanilla scent now that she was so near, aware of the slight part of her lips as she inhaled at the light press of his lips to her skin. Aware that he wasn’t as aware of everything outside of her as he likely should be. Cognizant in a distant way that he didn’t much care.
“If you were to press now,” he finally said, “I still would not stop you.”
The air was thick between them, thicker than the night they’d discovered their feelings went deeper than either had previously imagined.
It held her immobile for several long moments, blue eyes locked on her cousin’s as her chest rose and fell with each deliberate breath. Cassie didn’t fully notice that he’d released her hand, didn’t realize she was was reaching for him until she felt the short strands of blond hair between her fingers. Stopping a whisper away from Nate’s full lips, so like her own, she let the anticipation envelop her, enjoyed the shiver that went down her spine.
Cassie had imagined this moment many times in the last few months, played out all the possible outcomes. She’d felt excitement at the promise the change in their relationship held, and fear that taking this step might be a mistake. Now, in the moment, the anxiety faded away. For better or worse, they’d made this choice together, and Cassie’s eyes twinkled as she murmured, “Closer, then,” before finally doing what she’d wanted all along.
“Closer,” he agreed, lips twitching slightly at the merriment he saw in her eyes.
It wasn’t merriment that was making his heart pound a bit faster though, and it wasn’t levity that had his focus narrowing until Cassie was all that existed in that particular moment. Not until he felt the faint tickle of her hair against the back of his hand as he smoothed it up her spine did he even realized he’d moved to pull her closer. He then became aware of the curve of her hip beneath his other hand.
There was still a part of him that was uncomfortable with how much of his focus she stole from him, but it was a very distant feeling. He’d deal with it later.
Just that moment all Nate wanted to deal with was Cassie. He savored the way her eyes darkened even further and became hazy as he slid his fingers into her hair and cupped the back of her neck, and the way her lips parted as her breathing changed, quickened ever so slightly, when his other hand slid around to the base of her spine to press her firmly against him. The warmth of her body pressed to his from chest to thigh was a heady thing.
Nate held her gaze a moment longer and then dipped his head, brushed his lips lightly against hers. Her breath caught and his grip on her tightened, and then he slanted his mouth over hers firmly. Bindingly. There was no going back from this.
He didn’t want to go back from this.
The world around them, the moments passing as Nate held her tightly, all of it might as well have not existed because Cassie’s awareness narrowed down to the solid wall of his body against hers and the way his lips moved over hers, at once proprietary and possessive, yet still gentle, loving. Just now analyzing it was not on her mind though. She simply gave herself over to him, and accepted all he gave of himself in return.
How many minutes went by before they separated, cheeks flushed and breath short, she couldn’t say and didn’t much care. Resting her head against his chest, Cassie took a moment to absorb the intensity of the emotions churning inside her, letting the comfort of Nate’s presence calm her. It might have seemed counterintuitive to outsiders, but no matter what they were together, he was still Nate - one of her best friends, her family, someone she’d loved long before the dynamic of their relationship changed.
When she finally raised her eyes to his again, she smiled. “Not exactly as I’d imagined,” the blonde said truthfully.
His lips curled slightly in answer to her expression. “Better.”
SUMMARY: Nate and Cassie work out their feelings for each other.