It was dark when Cade picked her up, the moon breaking through wispy gray clouds and the warm air blowing in lightly from the east. Izz ignored the catcalls from her friends as she stepped out in the only nice piece of clothing she’d brought to Myrtle Beach, a black dress that fell to her knees and showed off enough cleavage to make her mother blush, had she of been alive.
Cade offered her his arm and led her to his car, and for once she didn’t ask where they were going. Nerves had set in, which seemed odd to her considering they’d been on a date already, and they’d had one hell of a makeout session. It didn’t make sense to be nervous. He was just a guy her friends convinced to be nice to her, after all.
The car stopped at a small, intimate Mediterranean restaurant about a block from the beach. Cade stepped out, insisting she wait for him to open her door. Though she rolled her eyes, Izz conceded, and allowed him the opportunity to be a gentleman.
The hostess greeted Cade like an old friend, her eyes twinkling when she saw him walk through the door, and narrowing slightly when she saw Izz next to him. “The usual?” she asked Cade, ignoring Izz completely.
When he nodded, she wordlessly led them to a booth in the back and handed them both menus. After she had retreated back to the front, Izz turned her stare to Cade. “Come here often?”
“Once a week or so,” he answered breezily. “The food is good, the atmosphere reminds me of home, and the owners are good friends of my parents.”
“Home?” she pressed, curious as to his heritage.
“Knights, princesses, sword fights. We apparently come from a long line of nobles, with our roots tied back to the Middle Ages, back when dragons roamed the lands and honor was a way of life. Just the usual family heritage,” Cade answered with a wink. He wondered at her reaction when she sat back with a curious, calculating expression, choosing not to answer his response.
The waiter interrupted his musings. “The usual, Mr. Cadian?”
“Yes, please,” Cade answered. “And for the lady‒”
“I’ll have the Land Shawarma Salad to start, and the Moujadara entrée, please,” Izz cut in. After the waiter walked away, she shot Cade a knowing smirk. “Don’t let the blonde hair fool you. My father was Mediterranean. I know the cuisine well.”
Yet another reason to make her mine, Cade thought with an amount of deep affection that nearly startled him. To take his mind off whatever was stirring inside of him, he asked, “So, what do you do? I realized earlier today that I never asked.”
“I’m a writer,” Izz answered, swirling her straw around in her drink. “Dark dramas and fantasies, mostly. I like stories that take place in worlds full of magic, where anything is possible. Most of them focus on some sort of battle and warfare based off pieces of history that interest me most, so basically a lot of knights and dragonslayer types. It’s a lot of work, having to create new worlds basically from scratch, but I enjoy it. Readers seem to appreciate the detail as well. I make a good living off of it.”
“That’s amazing,” Cade replied honestly. “What sparked your interest in fantasy and knights?”
Izz shrugged, eyes taking on a faraway glimmer as she thought about her past. “My father was fascinated by history, especially anything to do with knights. He was always talking about them, all these crazy prophecies. One of his favorite stories to tell was of this family way back in the day, when dragons lived alongside man, and knights were honored for their bravery in battle.” She paused then, realizing just how much her words resembled the ones he spoke only moments ago. He encouraged her to continue with a brief nod.
“Um … Anyway, he would tell me of this epic battle between one man, ‘emblazoned by the dragon’s crest,’ as he would say, who embarked on this grand adventure to save the woman he loved. She was the daughter of a nobleman, known as the most beautiful of maidens, he a brave knight known for his swordplay and courage on the battlefield. He fell in love with her for the way she embraced life, always looking for fun and adventure. They courted in secret, until they were exposed by the king’s nephew, a man who dabbled in the dark arts and wanted the maiden for himself. His exposure set the course for a war between families that put all of their lives in the line of fire.”
Cade swallowed hard. “Did … did he save her?”
Her eyes saddened. “No. The story doesn’t have a happy ending. But my dad felt it had something important to do with our family, so he wanted me to be able to tell the story.” Izz paused, going over everything she’d just said. “Well, this is great dinner conversation, huh?”
“It’s fascinating,” he answered honestly. “History was always my favorite subject. It’s refreshing finding someone else who shares the same love.”
“I don’t think you found me so much as I was forced on you,” Izz joked.
“Then I must remember to thank your friends.”
In the dim, romantic atmosphere, Izz watched Cade carefully. She saw, and felt, the truth in his words, and even though she’d only known him a short while, she wanted to see and feel more.
They finished their meal with companionable conversation, talking about their families, parts of their pasts, plans for their future. He told her about his vision for Quest and franchising dreams, his hope to one day settle down. She told him about her life as a writer, and even a few details about Eric, feeling as though it was important to be upfront about such a serious past relationship. If it bothered him, he showed no sign.
By the end of dinner, Izz felt like they’d been friends their entire lives, and the trust she always said was so hard to find wrapped her in a cocoon of warmth as they left the restaurant and went for the walk on the beach that was his due.
He took her hand, kissing it as though he’d done so every night for years as they headed closer to the shore in the moonlight. After a bit they sat down on the sand, Cade positioning himself behind her. Izz settled back between his legs, against his chest, her head on his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her stomach. Silently they stared out at the ocean, which was calm on this warm summer night.
“I’m not normally a basketcase,” Izz said suddenly, not entirely sure where the affirmation came from. “I used to be a lot of fun. Life just … kind of took that away from me.”
Cade was quiet for a moment before he replied. “I think you are plenty fun, m’lady.”
“You don’t know the Izz I used to be. The Izz I want to be and the one I try not to be today.”
“Then change it. Starting right now.”
Craning her neck to look behind her at the man observing her with such warmth, Izz frowned. “How?”
He gestured to the water with his head. “Well, let’s start with the ocean … No one should be afraid of it. There is something so peaceful about the water, like you are one with the world. I want you to love it, to feel that.”
He jumped to his feet, holding out a hand. “Come on, m’lady. It’s time for a little fun. I will protect you.”
Izz sucked in a deep breath, determined to get over her childish fear and not show just how hard it was. “And what makes you so sure you can cure my fear?”
Cade held his arms out to his sides in a cocky yet welcoming gesture. “I am your knight, m’lady.”
With a small smile, Izz slid her hand into his and let him pull her to her feet. “Alright, then. Tonight, you be the knight, and I’ll be your damsel.”