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Just a Bit Captivated: Chapter 24


They were about to sit down for dinner when the doorbell rang.

Aiden didn’t pay it much mind, his gaze on his phone. Although his mother had said it would just be close family tonight, it was probably one of his numerous aunts. He could only hope it wasn’t one of his parents’ friends with single daughters his age.

He cringed at the thought. One awkward date trying to make small talk was more than enough. And Aiden had tried. He had. He’d done his best to like Jenny and be fun and engaging, but he had felt absolutely nothing when he looked at her. No, not nothing—he had felt discomfort, as if he were doing something wrong.

“How dare you come here? Get out.”

Aiden frowned, lifting his head. From his place on the floor, all he could see was his father’s very stiff back. His dad was normally a nice, friendly guy who was never rude to people. The only person he’d ever been rude to was…

His heart beating faster and his palms suddenly clammy, Aiden got to his feet. Surely it wasn’t—

It was.

Aiden’s eyes locked with Zain’s over his dad’s shoulder, and just like that, there was nothing else in the room. There was no one else in the world. Everything else became muted, insignificant, as Aiden drank in the sight of him, feeling so damn thirsty after so many months apart. Zain was here. God, he looked magnificent in his stylish dark coat, his eyes so very dark, his long eyelashes glittering with snow, and his mouth—the firm curve of it so gorgeous Aiden needed to lick into it and glue their mouths together.

“Damiano, why did your men let him through?”

“They’re not there to stop unarmed visitors,” Damiano said.

Aiden didn’t even register the voices, unable to look away from Zain, whose gaze was fixed on him too.

He couldn’t stand it—he couldn’t stand seeing Zain and not touching him. There was a painful ache in his gut, his body needing to be closer and every cell in his body pulling him toward Zain. So Aiden went, his feet moving forward without his conscious command, as if he were pulled by a cord.

Zain’s dark eyes were watching him approach, his nostrils flaring.

“Aiden, go to your room,” his dad barked out.

Aiden didn’t—couldn’t—even glance at him. Zain, his heart beat. Zain Zain Zain. He needed him closer, he needed to touch him, to make sure he really was there and it wasn’t just a dream. He’d had so many dreams like this, dreams from which he’d woken up feeling hollowed out and lonely, and missing him so badly.

Someone touched his arm, trying to stop him, but Aiden wrenched it free and kept moving until he collided with Zain’s chest and buried his face in his neck.

Oh god.

He breathed in, and he was lost, his senses going into overdrive. A whimper left his throat when strong, familiar arms wrapped around him and squeezed him tightly. Zain Zain Zain.

Someone was saying something in an angry voice, but Aiden couldn’t even hear it, clinging to Zain desperately, nuzzling his face against his neck. He wanted to swallow him, to consume him, and keep him inside him forever.

“Aiden!” Someone was trying to pull him away from Zain.

No!

Clinging to Zain’s waist, Aiden turned his head and snarled like a feral cat, baring his teeth.

His father blanched and stepped back. “Christ…” he said, looking shaken. “Calm down, son. I’m not your enemy.”

He felt like one. Anything that could take Zain away felt like an enemy.

“Shh,” Zain said into his ear, stroking his back soothingly. Possessively. “I’m here. No one will take you from me again.”

Aiden all but purred, leaning into his touch and burying his face in Zain’s neck again. God, his scent. It was pure bliss.

“Damn…” someone said. It was either Jordan or Eloise’s husband, Paul.

“We can’t just—we can’t just do nothing and let that man grope Aiden in front of us!”

“Let’s calm down,” his mother said. Her voice sounded a little strained but nowhere near as angry as her husband’s. “He’s not… groping him. He’s holding him. I don’t think forcibly tearing them apart is the right thing to do. You saw how Aiden reacted when you attempted to do it.”

“But— look at them!” his father growled in frustration. “You can’t tell me this kind of behavior is normal!”

“It isn’t, but it’s clear that Aiden won’t take it well if we separate them and kick the man out of the house.” She raised her voice, sounding unnaturally nonchalant. “Dinner is ready, everyone! Let’s all go to the dining room. Aiden, take Mr. Rahim’s coat and invite him to join us. Aiden!”

Reluctantly, Aiden lifted his head and forced himself to pull back a little. He knew he couldn’t push his parents too much. His dad already looked like he was about to have a stroke.

Aiden took a step away, trying to get a grip on his emotions. He couldn’t keep himself wrapped around Zain like an octopus. His entire family was watching.

So he could only eye him longingly as Zain took off his coat and handed it to Aiden. Under it, he was wearing a dark suit and a pale-blue shirt that brought out his gorgeous skin tone. Everything about him was perfect, from his dark hair and strong hands to the faint lines at the corners of his eyes.

He was made for me.

The thought was like a slap. It felt as true as it was dumbfounding.

Their eyes locked again, and Aiden found himself physically shaking. An ache curled in his chest, a barbed, hopeless longing.

Wetting his lips, Aiden stretched out his trembling fingers to him, and after a moment, Zain took them into his own hand, squeezing.

Oh.

His stomach full of terrible butterflies, Aiden led Zain toward the dining room, following the rest of his family. His hand was tingling. He wanted to intertwine their fingers together so badly but didn’t dare while everyone was watching them.

“Sweetheart, Mr. Rahim can take the seat next to Paul,” his mother said with a strained smile.

Squeezing Zain’s hand harder, Aiden shook his head and pulled Zain into the seat next to him. He couldn’t bear having him that far away, not when he finally had him back.

After a moment, everyone took their seats, and the sounds of cutlery filled the room, breaking the awkward silence.

Aiden had to let go of Zain’s hand so that they could eat, but he kept sneaking glances at him every few seconds, to reassure himself that he really was there. To his relief, Zain didn’t seem to be much better: his gaze barely left Aiden, watching him eat as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.

Someone cleared their throat.

“Are we going to talk about the elephant in the room?” Eloise said with a chuckle. “Or are we all going to keep pretending that it’s completely normal that Aiden is making moon eyes at the man who bought him like a thing and had him locked up for a year?”

Tearing his gaze away from Zain, Aiden glared at his sister, his face far too warm. “Shut up, El,” he grumbled. Did she have to humiliate him in front of Zain?

You don’t need anyone humiliating you. You already did a great job yourself, clinging to a married man the moment you saw him—in front of your entire family, no less.

Aiden’s mood soured at the thought. He’d been so ridiculously happy to see Zain that he’d completely forgotten all the reasons they could never be together. What was Zain even doing here? Where was his wife?

“Why are you here, Mr. Rahim?” his mother said, as if reading his thoughts.

Zain’s face was completely inscrutable as he looked at Aiden’s parents. “I’m here to get Aiden back.”

Aiden sucked a breath in, staring at him wide-eyed.

Zain didn’t look at him, his gaze locked with Aiden’s father’s, who was nearly purple with rage.

“You—you have some nerve—”

“Darling,” his mother said, laying a hand on her husband’s arm. Although she didn’t look as angry as he was, there was obvious dislike in her eyes as she looked at Zain. “I was under the impression that you were married, Mr. Rahim.”

“Our divorce was finalized yesterday. Not that it matters. She was my wife in name only.”

Aiden breathed out.

“Your marital state doesn’t matter,” his father said sharply. “You’re delusional if you think we’ll let you take our son away.”

“It’s not a question of letting,” Zain said, his gaze cold. “Aiden is an adult. All that matters is what he wants. And he wants to be with me.”

Aiden spluttered. “Nice of you to ask my opinion, you asshole,” he said, but to his embarrassment, the censure in his tone didn’t quite hit the mark—it sounded far too fond.

Zain’s lips twitched, and he shifted his gaze from Aiden’s dad to Aiden, his expression significantly warmer. “I already got your answer when tried to climb me in front of your parents.”

Flushing, Aiden kicked him in the shin. “I just forgot what an arrogant dick you are. You’re much more attractive when you don’t open your mouth.”

The asshole was full-on smiling now, as if Aiden was amusing him. Unfortunately, his smile made him even more unfairly attractive, and Aiden could only stare at him helplessly. Longingly.

God, he’d sell his kidney to be able to crawl into his lap and kiss him.

“Okay, this is just embarrassing,” Eloise said. “I feel like a voyeur. Aiden, you can look away from him, right?”

His face burning with mortification, Aiden glowered at his grinning sister. The amused smile on Jordan’s face wasn’t much better. Seriously, he hated being the youngest kid sometimes. His siblings always bullied him—lovingly, affectionately, but still.

“Leave him alone,” Zain said, as if he hadn’t just been teasing Aiden too. He laid his hand on the back of Aiden’s chair. “He can look at me all he wants. He’s mine. He didn’t stop belonging to me when you took him from me.”

Aiden’s mother choked on her wine and started coughing. His dad looked like he’d swallowed a very sour lemon.

Aiden didn’t know whether to feel pleased, amused, or horrified by Zain’s words.

“That’s certainly an interesting tactic,” Damiano murmured to Jordan.

Aiden gave Zain a look. “Are you actually trying to piss them off?” he hissed, lowering his voice. “They aren’t me. They aren’t used to your charming attitude. You really aren’t endearing yourself to anyone by reminding them that you owned me.”

Zain’s hand moved from his chair to his shoulder. His knuckles brushed against Aiden’s neck, making him shiver. “I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. I don’t care what they think of me. They don’t have to like me. The only opinion that matters to me is yours.”

There was nothing particularly romantic about those words or the tone of his voice. But Aiden still melted into a puddle of sappy goo.

“God, you’re such a dick,” he muttered, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I love you—” He cut himself off the moment he realized what he’d said.

Shit.

Aiden looked around, hoping against hope that no one had heard him.

Of course they had.

His family was staring at him with varying degrees of pity, horror, and sorrow.

But Aiden couldn’t take the words back. He couldn’t bring himself to turn them into a joke. Truer words had never been spoken. Truer and more damning. He loved Zain. He was utterly, hopelessly in love with him.

And now Zain knew it.

Bracing himself, Aiden looked at him.

Zain’s expression was mostly blank, but his brown eyes were searing him.

Slowly, Zain got to his feet. His hands twitched before he shoved them into his pockets. “Come with me,” he said tersely before striding out of the room.

Despite his intense mortification, Aiden did as he was told. Of course he did. His body was conditioned to obey this man, even after months apart.

Someone said something at his back, but Aiden couldn’t even hear anything beyond the heartbeat thudding in his ears.

He found Zain in the hallway.

“How long will it take you to get packed?” Zain said, glancing at his watch. “If you hurry up, we can leave within the hour.”

Aiden stared at him incredulously.

Then he walked over and punched him in the gut. “Seriously?”

Wincing, Zain rubbed his abs. “What?” he had the gall to say.

Aiden punched him again. “Ugh, you’re so infuriating! I hate you, you unbelievable, emotionless icicle—”

Zain crushed their lips together, and Aiden’s annoyance dissolved into overwhelming relief. Whimpering, Aiden kissed back, because he couldn’t not kiss him. He missed him so much. He felt like a ravenous creature, opening his mouth wider for Zain’s tongue, wanting him, needing him so much, more, deeper. Zain moved his hands to the back of his head, scraping his fingers along Aiden’s scalp, angling his head bossily so he could kiss him more deeply, as if he wanted to devour him, as if he could never have enough of him. God knew Aiden could never have enough of him.

But eventually, far too soon, they had to break apart to get some air into their lungs. They looked at each other dazedly, their breaths coming in ragged gasps.

Aiden wanted—needed—more kisses. He wanted to have this man inside him, in every possible way: his tongue, his cock, his entire body, if it were possible. And god, Zain smelled so good, Aiden wanted to roll around in his scent, like a dog in a puddle of mud.

But they needed to talk first.

“You didn’t even grovel,” Aiden said, trying to remember that he was annoyed. It was very difficult, when all he wanted was to go back to kissing Zain.

“What should I grovel for?”

Aiden laughed, shaking his head. “God, you’re unbelievable! Maybe for the fact that you bought me like a piece of meat and wanted me to be your brother’s sex pet?”

Zain just looked at him for a moment. “I have no regrets,” he said—and didn’t elaborate.

Ugh, he was so frustrating! Would it kill him to say something sweet, something along the lines of “I’m glad I bought you because I would never have met you if I didn’t”? Was it too much to ask for?

“Last time, you called me habibi,” Aiden said. “I looked it up. It basically means ‘my love.’”

“It’s just a term of endearment,” Zain said stiffly, averting his gaze. “You were upset. I wouldn’t take seriously anything I say when you’re upset.”

Aiden’s heart fell. Even if Zain had feelings for him, the fact that he was still so unwilling to admit them was incredibly disheartening. God. Any relationship between them was doomed. The unsaid words, the constant denial, would gradually brew resentment that would poison any relationship, even the healthiest relationship out there—and theirs was far from it.

“Zain,” Aiden said.

There must have been something in his voice, because Zain immediately looked at him.

“You should go,” Aiden said softly, fighting the sudden sting in his eyes. “This… this will never work. I can’t—I don’t want to keep getting breadcrumbs while I make a fool of myself. I don’t want to be the dirty little secret you keep apart from your real life. I can do it—I know I’ll be too wrapped up in you for a while to care, but in the long term, I don’t think it’ll make either of us happy. Not that I want to force you out of the closet for my sake. With your country’s shitty laws, it’s not even a possibility.”

Zain’s face was like stone.

Aiden looked at him with helpless longing, stroking Zain’s stubbled jaw with his knuckles before dropping his hands. His throat hurt as he whispered, “It’d be better if we never see each other again.” He smiled crookedly. “I know myself. I’m not strong enough to keep saying no to you.” He had no delusions about his willpower. He’d suck Zain’s dick right here if Zain told him to.

“But you said—” Zain said, his voice rough. “You said you love me.”

“I do. More than is healthy, frankly.” Aiden gave a humorless smile. “I may or may not have been sleeping with your shirt all these months. But a relationship can’t survive on one person’s love. It should be give and take.”

“I can give you anything you want,” Zain said, his hands flexing on Aiden’s back, pulling him closer.

Aiden shook his head, trying to quash the weak, pathetic part of him that was starved for this man and yearned to give in. “I don’t care how rich you are. I want one thing—you, wholeheartedly—but you can’t give me that.” He tried to pull away, but Zain didn’t let him, his arms tightening around him. “Let go, Zain.”

“No.”

“Zain—”

“Fine,” Zain bit off, his expression grim. “I won’t take you with me back to Dubai.”

Aiden’s stomach knotted up. Although it was what he’d suggested himself, irrationally it still hurt that Zain had accepted his decision, just like that, without much of a fight.

“You’ll find us a decent place in this city,” Zain said. “Preferably a house.”

Aiden blinked at him, beyond confused. “What?”

“If you don’t come back with me to Dubai, I’ll need a house here. It’ll take me a month or two to take care of the business I can’t delegate to my employees. You’ll get the house stuff sorted out by then.” Zain sounded so matter-of-fact it was absolutely maddening.

Aiden could only laugh at that. “You can’t be serious. You can’t just—you can’t decide to—to what, move here for…” For me.

Zain’s gaze was very steady. “I can. And I will. In fact, I’ve already prepared for this eventuality.”

“Why?” Aiden said, looking at him searchingly. Tell me you love me. Tell me I’m not the only one who feels like the world doesn’t make sense without you in it.

Zain’s jaw worked. “I got—too used to you.” His voice was stilted. “I tried, but I couldn’t train myself out of it. You made me miserable. I—” His expression became pained. “I’m not good at this.”

Aiden couldn’t help smiling at him, his chest full of raw affection and love.

“You really aren’t,” he said, putting his hand on Zain’s chest and relishing in his unsteady heartbeat. “But I want you to try. I don’t need pretty words, Zain. I just want to know how you feel.”

Bringing his hands up, Zain cradled Aiden’s face and just looked at him for a long moment.

“I feel like you’re mine,” he said, his thumb stroking his cheek and making Aiden lean into it like a touch-starved thing even as bitter disappointment settled in the pit of his stomach.

“Right—your possession,” he said tonelessly.

“No,” Zain said. “As in, you’re essential for me—to feel fulfilled in life.” He said it so grudgingly that it took Aiden a moment to register what he was actually saying.

When he did, he blinked, a grin tugging at his lips. “Aw, are you saying I’m essential for your happiness?”

Zain’s expression was distinctly uncomfortable. “Do I really need to say it?” he said, haltingly.

Aiden’s smile softened. He slid his hand up Zain’s chest and neck to cradle his stubbled jaw. His breath caught in his throat when Zain leaned into his touch. Maybe he wasn’t the only needy one. Maybe Zain needed him as much as Aiden needed Zain.

“No,” Aiden said softly. He knew how hard it was for Zain to be open about his feelings—not only his feelings for another man, but his feelings at all. Aiden had long suspected that Zain’s emotional unavailability stemmed from his mother’s death and how badly it had hit his father, nearly destroying all their lives. After seeing how destructive love and grief could be, it made sense that the young boy Zain had been would learn to guard his heart. If one didn’t love, one couldn’t get hurt, after all.

Aiden stroked Zain’s cheek with his thumb. “But it’ll make me happy to know that I make you happy.”

Dark eyes looked at him with almost frightening intensity. “You do,” Zain said, his voice a little unsteady and rough. “Make me happy.”

Aiden smiled at him, feeling a rush of unbearable love. “What else?” he murmured, threading his fingers through Zain’s thick hair. He couldn’t stop touching him.

“Your cat misses you.”

“My cat, huh?” Aiden said with a wry smile.

Moving his hands to Aiden’s lower back, Zain pulled him closer. “Yes,” he said, looking at the spot on Aiden’s cheek where Aiden knew his dimple was. “He misses you very much. He can’t sleep without you. It’s annoying and disruptive.”

He misses me, huh? But Zainie is a girl.” Aiden laughed at his disgruntled look. “I thought you’d have gotten rid of my cat by now. You always hated it. Why didn’t you?”

“It’s yours,” Zain said.

Aiden’s throat closed up. He couldn’t help himself: he kissed him quickly, adoringly. “Tell me you love me,” he whispered, despising himself for his neediness but unable to stop.

Zain’s breath was warm against his lips, his hands warm and firm on his back. “Greedy little thing,” he said, nibbling on Aiden’s bottom lip. “Isn’t it enough that I can’t stop thinking of you?”

Aiden grinned. “More. Tell me more.”

“You’re the only person I want to touch. The only person I want to come home to.” Zain bit down on Aiden’s lip viciously, making him grunt in half-pain, half-pleasure. “Sometimes I still can’t believe what you turned me into, but”—a short, greedy kiss— “but you feel like you were made for me. Only me.”

Aiden’s body was melting, his heart was melting, he felt almost high on happiness. He was irrationally afraid to wake up and find out it was just a dream. “You feel like you were made for me, too,” he whispered as Zain kissed his neck. His eyes were stinging. “I missed you so much.”

Zain squeezed him so hard it almost hurt. “Yes,” he said, sucking a hickey into his neck. “So much, habibi. Say yes to me.”

“To what?” Aiden gasped out, his head spinning and his knees weak.

“To us,” Zain said. “To being mine.”

Aiden tugged at his hair, forcing Zain to lift his head from his neck. “Will you be mine, too?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Zain said, his dark eyes soft and heated. “I already am.”

Grinning helplessly, Aiden kissed him, and kissed him, and kissed him, blind with need, arching and squirming against him, needing more. He wanted to climb Zain’s body like a cat, and dig his way somehow deeper into him.

Someone cleared their throat. Loudly.

With great reluctance, Aiden wrenched his mouth away and turned in the circle of Zain’s arms.

His entire family was staring at them with varying degrees of dismay.

But Aiden felt so happy he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Mom, Dad,” he said, intertwining his fingers with Zain’s. “I know you aren’t happy about this, but I love him. I hope you can accept it one day.”

His mother’s lips were pressed together. She sighed. “I’ve already accepted it, sweetheart. But does he love you? That’s the part that worries me.”

Aiden swallowed. For all the lovely things Zain had said, he hadn’t used the word love once.

But before he could say anything, Zain squeezed his hand and stepped in front of Aiden. “I don’t think it’s any of your business,” he said, his voice cold again. “But if you must know, I do. I wouldn’t be tolerating being questioned by his nosy parents like a child if I didn’t.”

Pressing his face between Zain’s shoulder-blades, Aiden broke into hysterical laughter. “God, you really are awful at this,” he said through his giggles. “Worst love confession ever!”

But he couldn’t stop grinning. Zain loved him! Loved him loved him loved him!

Turning to him, Zain stared at his laughing face for a moment, his expression strange.

“What?” Aiden managed, still chuckling.

“I need to be alone with you,” Zain said, his voice rough.

Aiden swallowed, losing himself in his dark brown eyes. God, he couldn’t stand the distance between them anymore.

He darted forward and kissed Zain quickly—just a short one, to tide them over—before turning to his parents and grinning bashfully. “You can chew me out later. We’ll be in my room! Talking.” And he tugged Zain upstairs.

Eloise snorted and muttered, “Talking? Right.” But she was smiling, and so was Jordan. Aiden’s parents… they didn’t look very happy, but Aiden knew they’d come around eventually. It was going to be all right. They’d accept Zain when they saw how happy he made Aiden.

But truth be told, Aiden didn’t care if the entire world didn’t accept their relationship. As long as Zain was his—truly his—nothing else mattered.

Aiden looked back at Zain and gave him a hopelessly besotted smile, squeezing his hand.

Zain squeezed back and smiled a little, his eyes trained only on him.

As they were meant to be.


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