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Mellark Orchards

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Katniss Everdeen collapsed onto her couch after a long day at work, feeling exhausted but fulfilled. Her new job as the owner/head veterinarian at a small clinic in Panem, Pennsylvania had been exactly what she needed after the drama of the past year, and though she had gone through significant changes in a short period of time, she didn’t regret any of the choices she had made.

Ending her engagement had been stressful, and the emotions associated with such a big decision had done a number on her. She had decided four months prior that leaving Capitol City, New Jersey, would be the best way for her to start over and rediscover herself, and though her friends had called her crazy for leaving her entire life behind, Katniss had known it was necessary.

Her ex-fiancé, Joe Cato, had been her high school sweetheart, and the only man Katniss had ever dated. They had gotten engaged during Katniss’ last year of veterinary school when they were both twenty-five. They had been happy in their relationship for several years, and as close as two people could be, until after Joe finished graduate school and started partying with his new work friends. He had tried to get Katniss to go out drinking with him, but she had always been a homebody, and preferred to spend her evenings reading a good book or watching Hallmark movies. He became frustrated that she didn’t want to spend time with his friends, but she explained to him that partying had never been her thing, and that she would rather relax after work.

After that, they slowly grew apart, until their relationship was much different than it once had been. Their physical relationship began to decline, and on the rare occasions they were intimate, Katniss began to feel as if something was missing between them, and like their chemistry was lacking. She had never been with anyone but Joe, but she was starting to question if they had the romantic spark needed to spend the rest of their lives together.

Joe proposed marriage to her despite the growing distance between them, and Katniss said yes because she loved him, and didn’t want to lose him. At a certain point though, things between them had changed so much that she started having second thoughts about marrying him. She wanted to be positive they were doing the right thing before they said “I do”, since the last thing she wanted was to end up divorced.

Despite Joe’s frequent requests to set a wedding date, Katniss repeatedly made excuses as to why they couldn’t get married- her busy schedule and her wish for them to buy a house being the primary reasons she gave him. In reality, though, she was trying to buy herself time to figure out if they had what it took to be happily married long term. Joe had changed drastically from the person he was when they met in high school, and some days, she barely recognized him.

Eventually, Katniss reached the point where she considered ending her relationship with Joe, but she still couldn’t bring herself to pull the plug. After losing her parents and sister in a car accident when she was twenty-one, Joe’s boisterous and loving Italian family had taken her in as their own. They had been there for her through the constant ups and downs as she mourned her family while attending vet school. Katniss loved the Catos, and though she felt guilty for wondering if marrying Joe was the right decision, she also didn’t want to lose her surrogate family. It had been wonderful to belong to a family unit again and have a support system after her parents and Prim had passed away, and she didn’t want to lose that. So, she had held onto her relationship with him despite her doubts that he was the one for her, until the day Joe gave her an ultimatum.

On his thirtieth birthday, Joe told Katniss that if she wanted to continue to be with him, they would need to get married within six months, or he would walk away from her. Their five-year engagement had taken its toll on him, and he no longer believed her repeated excuses as to why it wasn’t the right time for them to marry. Katniss had always known that Joe would eventually lose patience with her, but she hadn’t been prepared for it to happen on his birthday. She knew what she needed to do, however, and decided to bite the bullet.

Katniss told Joe that she loved him, but that she wasn’t in love with him and didn’t want to marry him because they had grown apart and no longer made sense like they had back in high school. He had been devastated, begging her to change her mind, but she had been insistent that it was best for both of them if they went their separate ways. She needed to become independent and perhaps, someday, have her own family, just not with Joe.

Katniss went back to her own apartment that night, since she had never officially moved in with Joe, and made a decision: it was time to get the hell out of Jersey. Capitol City held too many memories of her late family and failed engagement for her to want to stay there any longer. She needed a fresh start in a new location.

The next day, Katniss looked for a small vet practice to buy, and used the money she had received in the lawsuit against the drunk driver who killed her family to purchase the first place she found- Panem Veterinary Hospital in Panem, Pennsylvania. The owner, Dr. Mags Holloway, had been ready to retire, and after a year of unsuccessfully trying to sell her practice, had been ecstatic to hear from her. Katniss put her two weeks’ notice in that day and started packing up her apartment. Her friends had been shocked, begging her to reconsider moving, but she told them resolutely that she needed a change.

Now, in September- four months after moving to Panem- Katniss knew she had done the right thing. Living in the small town on the Pennsylvania/Delaware border was relaxing, and she loved the bucolic location of her clinic.

Katniss found a gorgeous, olive-green Victorian house to rent two miles from her office and had moved in at the end of May. She had driven her car to Pennsylvania with her best friend Johanna, who followed her there in a U-Haul trailer filled with her things. Johanna would later drive the U-Haul back to Jersey and turn it in for Katniss, officially making her the best friend ever as far as she was concerned.

“You’re lucky I love you so much, Kat,” Johanna had told her with a smirk. “The closest Starbucks is thirty miles away, and you know I need a proper coffee fix every morning or I’m as rabid as a feral mutt.”

“Mags says there’s no actual coffee shop in Panem, but that there’s a cute orchard with a farmer’s market, bakery, and café attached. We could go and see if their coffee is decent.”

The friends had made their way to Mellark Orchards, both greatly impressed when they saw how picturesque the farm was.

“This looks like something you’d see on Instagram,” Johanna had said, as she looked around.

Katniss had agreed, and they stopped inside together to look at the offerings in the orchard’s bakery. Mags had told Katniss that Mellark’s was famous for their baked goods, but that their busy season was during the fall when they featured their famous apple cider donuts, seasonal pies, pumpkin rolls, and pumpkin cupcakes. Since Katniss had moved to Panem in May, there hadn’t been any fall sweets available her first visit to the farm, but she had seen their cinnamon rolls and cheese buns and bought a few of each. Johanna had been impressed with the quality of the coffee, telling her that perhaps Panem wasn’t so bad after all.

As they had exited the farmer’s market, Johanna stopped dead in her tracks in the parking lot and said, “Fuck me! Hot farmer alert!”

Katniss looked towards the direction Johanna stared in and gasped.

Standing in the truck bed of an orange Chevy Silverado, she had seen the most attractive male specimen to possibly ever grace the earth. He was blonde, blue eyed, and muscular, wearing a straw cowboy hat, a white tank top, and jeans that were so tight they looked painted onto his strong thighs and firm ass. Katniss watched, mesmerized, as the sexy farmer threw bales of hay from the truck onto a waiting pallet. Sweat had glistened on his bulging biceps as he worked, making the effort he put into unloading the hay appear easy. He looked like some sort of fitness model with how ripped he was.

“Holy mother of fuck,” Katniss whispered under her breath.

“They sure don’t make them like that in Jersey,” Johanna replied, wistfully.

“No, they don’t,” Katniss sighed, appreciatively.

As they had continued to gawk at the man, he turned, as if he had sensed their attentions. Johanna and Katniss visibly started in return, embarrassed that they had been caught so blatantly checking him out.

Instead of acting cocky or calling them out on their voyeurism, however, the man had smiled, wiped his sweaty brow, and hopped out of the truck bed, making his way towards them.

Katniss watched, spellbound, as the hottest man she had ever laid eyes on approached them.

“Good afternoon, ladies! Welcome to Mellark’s! Is this your first visit?” he asked.

Johanna had answered first since Katniss was too tongue-tied from her thirst fest to speak.

“Hi! Yes, it is. My friend Katniss here just purchased the vet clinic in town and moved here from New Jersey. I came to help her move in and get settled. I’m Johanna,” she said, extending her hand.

The man shook her hand and replied, “I’m Peeta Mellark, the owner of farm. It’s very nice to meet you both! Katniss, welcome to Panem! Mags mentioned there was a new veterinarian moving to town. The locals are so excited to have you here, including me- Mags used to tend to my pets as well as the various farm animals here, so we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”

Johanna nudged Katniss, who had continued to stare in awe at Peeta.

“I, uh, yeah. I mean, yes. Thank you, Peeta. It’s nice to meet you, too. I look forward to working with you and the Mellark animals. Let me know what I can do you for.”

Johanna had guffawed loudly, causing Katniss to turn beet red as she realized what she had said.

“I meant, uh, let me know what I can do for you, you know, for the animals? Uh, if they need veterinary care, that is.”

Peeta had smiled widely at her and nodded, “I sure will! My dog Mollie is due for her rabies shot in about a month, so you’ll definitely be seeing me then, unless I see you here first, and I hope I will…uh, see you here, I mean,” he replied, turning pink and running a hand through his ashy blonde curls.

Johanna looked between Katniss and Peeta and chuckled, replying, “Okay, Kitty Kat, well I think we’d better head out. I still need to pack my things before I drive back to Jersey in the U-Haul.”

Katniss had shyly said goodbye to a grinning Peeta, who told her again how nice it was to meet her, before she and Johanna turned and walked to her car.

“Well, if that wasn’t the most obvious case of mutual eye fucking I’ve ever seen in my life!” Johanna had cackled as they climbed into Katniss’ SUV.

“What are you talking about, Jo?”

“Oh, come on, don’t play coy with me! You’ve got a thing for Farmer Peeta, and I can’t say I blame you! When’s the last time you and Cato played hide the salami, huh? How long has it been since you got any?”

Katniss had averted her eyes and grumbled, “I don’t remember, exactly. It’s definitely been a while.”

Probably close to a year, because she and Joe had stopped being intimate in the months leading up to their breakup, but she didn’t want her best friend to know exactly how long it had been. She was embarrassed of the fact that she had spent more time with her vibrator than her fiancé towards the end of their relationship.

Johanna smiled and said, “Well, you know what they say: the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else, and Farmer Peeta definitely seems willing to get you under him. You have to hook up with him! I mean come on, a man like that can plow your field and spill his seed in it, Kat! Lord knows your lady parts need tending after such a long dry spell! He’s probably hung like one of his horses! Fuck, if I was a tractor and he was a plow, I would definitely hook up with hi-”

Katniss had stopped her friend’s raunchy farm innuendo by placing a hand firmly over her mouth.

“Jo, that’s enough, okay? I get it; you want me to sleep with Farmer Peeta. It’s not going to happen, though. I just got out of a thirteen-year relationship, and I need time to myself before I pursue anything romantic.”

“Who said anything about romance? I’m talking quick and dirty plowing, Katniss, not becoming a farmer’s wife!”

“Yeah well, maybe I don’t want quick and dirty! Maybe I want something real, with someone I could actually see a future with based on who he is and not how much I like being around his family. I don’t have forever to find a guy; I just turned thirty, after all, and I’d like to settle down eventually, maybe even have a couple of kids. I’m not ready for all that yet, since I just gave Joe his ring back a few weeks ago, but who knows, maybe after a few months or a year of being single I’ll be ready to…get back on the saddle.”

Johanna laughed and said, “I appreciate your attempt at farm humor, Kat! It wasn’t as good as mine, but I like your spirit! And fine, I’ll give you a reprieve, for now. But mark my words, if you don’t hook up with him within a year, I will.”

Katniss had shuddered at the thought of Peeta sleeping with Johanna. She didn’t like the idea of him with someone else, even if she wasn’t ready to be with him, or any other guy, yet. That didn’t mean they couldn’t be cordial, or that they couldn’t become friends, though. She hardly knew anything about him, but the blue-eyed farmer had certainly made an impression on her.

__

In the four months that followed, Katniss settled into her new life as a small-town veterinarian. She quickly fell in love with Panem and its residents, thoroughly enjoying the much slower pace of life in the country. There wasn’t as much to do as there had been in Capitol City, but Katniss had always been a bit of a loner, and she found that her new lifestyle suited her introverted personality well.

She and Peeta became fast friends, taking the time to talk anytime one of his animals needed looking after, or during Katniss’ twice weekly trips to the bakery. Peeta’s cheese buns quickly became her favorite item, and he always had a few ready for her, despite her erratic schedule. He seemed to look forward to her visits and always made time to chat with her, whether he was working in the café or out on the farm tending to the orchard and animals.

After Katniss’ fourth visit to Mellark’s, Peeta had given her his number and asked that she text him anytime she was headed his way, so that he could step away from what he was doing and see her. She had initially balked at his request, but he quickly reassured her by telling her he had always been bad at making himself take breaks, and that seeing her was the perfect excuse to stop and take a breather in the middle of a busy day on the farm. Katniss enjoyed their conversations greatly, so she made it a habit to visit him whenever her schedule allowed. Seeing Peeta was always a welcome addition to her day, as well. He had a way of cheering her up, no matter how stressed she felt.

As they got to know one another, Katniss learned that Peeta had an MBA from Wharton and had spent a few years working in the business world before moving back to the farm he grew up on. It was clear to her that his education and corporate experience had served him well judging by how popular and successful Mellark’s was; there was always a line out the door anytime she stopped by the farmer’s market.

Katniss learned that Peeta had attended Wharton with the intention of turning Mellark’s into something bigger than a small-town farm, and it seemed he had succeeded. Mellark’s was a destination spot for people from all over the tri-state area and based on the amount of Instagram followers the farm’s profile had, people liked Peeta’s approach to running the business.

He told her that he had inherited Mellark’s from his grandfather three years prior, and that the Mellark patriarch had passed away a year after that. Peeta’s parents had perished in a boating accident a few years before he took over the farm, so he was alone and didn’t have any family other than his older brothers who lived out of state. Katniss’ many conversations with Peeta revealed that it was important to him that he preserve his family’s legacy. Mellark’s was his pride and joy, and it showed with how much effort he had put into restoring the farm and bringing on seasonal events to help increase revenue.

His grandfather had chosen Peeta to continue the family business instead of his brothers, because he had always had an affinity for farming and loved working outdoors. His passion for his occupation was obvious in the amount of work he put into Mellark’s, and how excited he always was to talk to his customers. He had a genuine smile on his face whenever Katniss saw him working, and she admired him greatly for both his business acumen and his optimism. He was a positive influence on Katniss, and he had made her transition to living in a small town much smoother than she thought it would be. He was like sunshine on a cloudy, dreary day, and he made Katniss’ life brighter. She looked forward to seeing him anytime she could.

There was no denying the fact that Katniss had a big, fat crush on Peeta Mellark, but she did her best to ignore her feelings for him. She wasn’t ready to date or enter into a new relationship, but she couldn’t ignore the butterflies she felt whenever he was near her, or the tingling sensation she experienced whenever their skin touched. He had an effect on her she couldn’t ignore, and though she wasn’t ready to pursue anything with him, she didn’t want to stop spending time with him. She told herself that maybe eventually, there could be something between them, when she was ready. She just had to give herself enough time to fully heal from her broken engagement first.

__

One autumn day, while on the phone with Johanna, Katniss’ best friend asked her what her plans were for Halloween.

“I don’t know Jo, it’s only the first week of October, so I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.”

“Well, surely Mellark’s is having some sort of activity; I remember you saying that Peeta’s got a pumpkin patch, corn maze, bounce house, and hayrides already. I’m sure he’s got something up his sleeve.

“Probably. He’s always on top of that sort of thing.”

“Are you planning to ask him out anytime soon, Kat? It’s been five months since you moved there, and I don’t know if you’ve forgotten, but you’re nearly halfway to your deadline.”

Katniss rolled her eyes, even though her friend couldn’t see her, and replied, “Unfortunately, yes, I do remember the deadline, but no, I’m not planning to ask him out.”

“Why the hell not? Don’t tell me there’s someone even hotter in Panem that’s stolen your attention away from Peeta?”

“No, there definitely isn’t. He’s one of a kind.”

“In that case, grow a pair and go get yourself some Hallo-wein.”

“Huh?”

“Go get yourself some Hallo-weiner! You need to get laid! I’m sure there are cobwebs down there by now! Halloween night is the perfect excuse for you to dress slutty and make a move. I promise he’d be super into it if you dressed up like a sexy milk maid or something. I bet he’d love the braids! He might even want to use them like handlebars when he’s hittin’ it from the ba-”

“Jo! Oh my word, is sex all you think about?”

“Why yes, actually!”

“Okay, well, it’s not all I think about. There’s more to a relationship than sex!”

“I know that, and I also know that you and the hot farmer have become friends in the past few months. So, you’ve already gotten to know him, which means there’s no issue with you sleeping with him! He’s single, right?”

“As far as I know, but we’ve never outright discussed his relationship status. I’ve never seen him with a woman, though, or heard him talk about women.”

“Well, there you go! Ask him if he wants to hang out with you on Halloween, and then, get you some of that wein.”

“You’re disgusting, you know that? You really have a one-track mind!”

“Oh, I know!”

“Anyway, I’ve gotta go, it’s 7pm and my work cell is ringing, which means it’s the emergency line. I have a patient to tend to.”

“Good luck, Doc, with both the patient, and the wein!”

“Enough about the damn wein! Goodbye, Jo!”

“Bye, Kat. Love you, bitch.”

“Love you, too.”

Katniss hung up her personal cell phone and answered her work cell phone. She didn’t recognize the number, but it was a local area code, so the chances were high that it was a patient.

“Good evening, Panem Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Katniss Everdeen speaking.”

“Katniss, hey! It’s Peeta. Listen, I’m so sorry to bug you when you’re off the clock, but I think one of my cows is in labor.”

“Which one?”

“Nene. She seems okay so far, but I would rather have you here, just to be sure. I haven’t witnessed a farm delivery since I was a teenager. My granddad always had Mags’ help with that sort of thing.”

“I’ll be right there, Peeta.”

“Thank you, Katniss!”

Katniss grabbed her medical bag and made the five-minute drive to the farm. She met Peeta in the outdoor area behind the main barn, where he sat on the ground next to Nene. She was definitely in labor, but she didn’t appear to be struggling, and from what Katniss could see, things were going well.

“Hey Peeta,” she greeted him.

He gave her a warm smile and replied, “Hey! Thanks for coming. I don’t know too much about assisting a cow during the birthing process. My grandad told me that usually they take care of everything on their own.”

Katniss nodded and said, “That’s correct, usually they don’t need our help; it’s only if an hour of active labor has passed with no activity, or if anything appears abnormal that we should intervene. I’m just going to look her over to see how she’s progressing.”

After giving Nene a thorough examination, Katniss determined that everything appeared normal.

“She looks great, Peeta, and her calf is perfectly positioned for an unassisted delivery. I’m going to set an alarm on my phone for an hour. I’ll observe Nene during that time and only step in if she has issues. Most of the time, cows are fine calving on their own, but it’s wise to stay and look after them in case something changes.”

“Okay, I’d like to keep you company, if that’s alright?”

“I’d like that.”                   

They sat and talked under the stars while Katniss observed Nene, who was doing wonderfully laboring on her own. Katniss felt completely relaxed with Peeta, thinking to herself that she had never laughed harder than she was that night. Things between them were so comfortable and effortless, making her rethink her prior stance on not being ready to date. She considered Johanna’s suggestion to ask him out but was unsure if that evening was the right time. Was there anything less romantic than professing your feelings for someone while watching a cow give birth? Katniss decided to wait; she figured that if things between them were meant to be, another opportunity would present itself.

When the hour was almost up, Nene gave birth to a healthy calf. Katniss grinned as she watched the mother and baby together. She had assisted with a live heifer birth once during an internship in college, and it had been one of her favorite experiences during vet school.

After, she examined both the calf and its mother, determining that they both looked well.

“Everything went as smoothly as we could have hoped, Peeta. Now all we need is a name for Nene’s little girl.”

Peeta looked thoughtful for a moment but then replied, “How about Annabel? I’ve always liked that name.”

“Annabel sounds perfect.”

After Katniss cleaned up and gathered her things, Peeta walked her to her car, stopping her with a gentle hand on her shoulder just as she was about to climb inside. He looked tense, and she wondered if he was alright. Just as she was about to ask him if something was wrong, he spoke.

“Listen, Katniss, I really appreciate your help today. I would have been completely lost without you. Thank you, for everything.”

“You’re welcome! It was my pleasure. It’s a gorgeous fall night, and I enjoyed talking with you under the stars while we waited for Nene to have her baby.”

“Me, too! I always enjoying talking to you; it’s the highlight of my day whenever you stop by. Umm, Katniss…listen, I uh…I’ve been wanting to ask you something for a while now, but I…I know from what Mags told me that you had just gotten out of a relationship when you first moved here, and…I wanted to give you time to settle in here. Now that you’ve been in Panem a little while, though, and now that we’ve gotten to know each other better, I was wondering if you’d…uh…would you maybe want to… go out with me sometime, like…on a date?”

Peeta looked adorably nervous as he waited for her response. If Katniss still had any lingering thoughts that she wasn’t ready to date, the way he looked at her, with hope and a bit of shyness, squashed them instantly. She knew in that moment that she had let herself heal long enough, and that it was time for her to go after what she wanted. She was finally ready to pursue things with Peeta.

“I’d love to!”

His face lit up as soon as the words left her mouth, and he replied, “That’s awesome, wow! Okay, good. You have no idea how nervous I’ve been to ask you out. I’m always so busy when you stop by during the week, and the timing never felt right, but tonight it finally did.”

“I’m glad you asked me! I’ve been interested in you since the day we met, but like you said, I needed time to adjust after so many life changes. Now, though, I’m ready.”

“I’m so happy to hear that! The last thing I want is to make you feel like it’s too soon. I would have waited as long as you needed, by the way. I, uh, I haven’t dated anyone in a while, and it wasn’t until I met you that I realized how lonely I’d been. Becoming your friend and getting to know you has been wonderful, but now that I know you like me back, well, you made my day by saying yes.”

Katniss grinned and said, “So, where are you taking me on our date?”

__

Two nights later, Peeta picked Katniss up from her house and drove her to Mellark’s. She had initially been surprised at his choice of date location, until he reminded her that Panem only had one restaurant, Greasy Sae’s diner.

“I suppose we could have driven to Philadelphia, but I thought I could make you a better meal here. I haven’t cooked for anyone else in a long time, so I was excited to have an excuse to bust out my fancy place settings.”

Peeta led her inside a barn she had never seen before but that he told her was sometimes rented out for weddings and special events. Katniss gasped as she walked inside, seeing white twinkle lights strung from the barn’s rafters. There was a table for two in the center of the building, with a deep orange tablecloth, high-end China and silverware, and a large silver soup tureen in the center. There was a gorgeous fall-themed floral arrangement decorating the table, giving the space a romantic autumnal ambiance.

“Peeta! This is beautiful! Did you do this all for me?”

“I sure did. I had a little help from one of my farm hands with stringing the lights up, but other than that, the rest was all me. I hope you’ll like the food; I made my grandmother’s lamb stew recipe. It’s my favorite meal in the world.”

Peeta pulled Katniss’ chair out for her, and she settled in happily. He poured them each a glass of red wine before filling both of their plates with the stew. Katniss had to hold back a moan as she tasted her first bite of the dish; it was so heavenly she could have sworn she felt her taste buds rejoice.

“Okay, I think this might be my favorite food in the world now, too- it’s so damn good! I can’t believe you made it from scratch; this stew is definitely better than anything I’ve eaten before.”

Peeta grinned at her, and they chatted comfortably as they ate. Katniss learned that before inheriting the farm, he had been in a four-year relationship with a woman named Delly.

“She was great, and I loved her, but I wasn’t in love with her. We were more like really good friends, now that I think about it. I broke it off three years ago, right before I moved back home. I couldn’t see myself marrying her, so it didn’t seem fair to ask her to move to Panem for me, or to try to do the long-distance thing.”

“And you haven’t dated in the years since the breakup?”

“I went out on a few dates with a woman about two years ago, but it didn’t go any further than that. She was nice and we had stuff in common, but there just wasn’t a true connection there. After that, I kind of gave up on trying to find someone. I’ve been busy building the business up to where I want it to be, so I threw myself into work and put my personal life on the back burner. I have quite a few high school friends that still live here, but there aren’t many people our age around here that aren’t already married, and the dating pool is pretty small.”

“Everything changed when we met, though, and I have to be honest with you, Katniss- I was a goner the moment I laid eyes on you. I immediately thought you were sweet and beautiful, and I knew that first day that I didn’t want to date anyone but you. I asked Mags about you the day after we met, and she told me you had just ended an engagement, so I knew I needed to wait a bit to ask you out. I was happy that we became friendly during that time because I really enjoyed getting to know you, but I wanted more than just your friendship that whole time. Then, the other night happened, and we were alone, and things just felt so right between us as we tended to Nene that I decided to go for it. I’m really glad you said yes; tonight has been amazing. I really like you.”

Katniss blushed and replied, “I’m happy you asked me out, and I really like you, too. When I ended my engagement and moved here, the last thing on my mind was dating. Then, we met, and I knew that once I was ready and had taken enough time to heal, you were the only guy I wanted to date. I’m just glad the feeling was mutual.”

Peeta looked at her with an adoring smile and replied, “I would really like to kiss you right now, if that’s okay with you.”

“I’ll allow it,” Katniss replied.

Peeta moved his chair closer to hers until their knees were touching. He leaned over and gently cradled her face in his hands before leaning in and pressing his mouth to hers. Katniss felt an instant spark, noting immediately that this kiss was unlike any other she had experienced. She wrapped her arms around his neck and moved closer, kissing him enthusiastically as she teased the seam of his lips with her tongue. Peeta groaned softly before opening his mouth for her, letting her slip her tongue inside. Katniss loved how he tasted both savory and sweet, like the stew and the wine they had just shared. She tangled her tongue with his, making out with him unabashedly until they were both breathless.

When they parted, Peeta leaned back, panting softly, and replying, “I would really, really like to take you out again. Preferably soon. I hope you’re alright with me planning our second date while we’re still in the middle of our first one.”

“I would love that! A second date with you sounds perfect.”

__

That weekend, Peeta took Katniss on a hike around his property. He told her that he owned three hundred acres, including several walking trails. He packed a picnic for them, complete with cheese buns and homemade apple cider, and they ate together under a bright orange maple tree as they enjoyed the early October weather.

“It’s so gorgeous out here, Peeta; I really love Pennsylvania. I feel like Panem agrees with me- I don’t think I’ve never felt so relaxed before.”

“I feel the same way. Attending school in the city and getting my career started in the corporate world was great in its own way, but I was ready to come back home and live a slower pace of life. Despite being a little lonely out here until I met you, I’ve never been happier. Now that you’re in my life romantically, though, I feel like I have everything I could want. I hope it doesn’t freak you out that I’m talking like this so early on, but I want you to know where I stand. I’m thirty and I’m not getting any younger; I’d really like to settle down someday and have a family. I want to pass Mellark’s onto the next generation and have my grandfather’s legacy continue. I don’t want to scare you off, but I think you should know where my head is. I’m looking for a long-term relationship, and I really think you and I have something special.”

Katniss was surprised by Peeta’s honesty but was not in any way put off by his words. She had known almost the instant they met that he was special, and that he was someone who would influence her life in a big way. So, she replied by telling him the truth about her feelings for him, even though they had just started dating.

“You might think that I’d be intimidated by what you told me, after having broken off an engagement less than six months ago, and considering this is only our second date, but I’m not. I feel the same way you do. I broke things off with Joe because we grew apart and I never felt that spark you said was missing in your previous relationships. But with you, everything is different. Whenever we touch, or whenever we kiss, I feel like I’m on fire. Everything with you feels effortless, and it feels right. So, you’re right that it’s early to be talking like this, but we’re both thirty and we know what we want. I see no reason to delay this type of conversation, since it sounds like we’re on the same page.”

“Katniss, will you…would you be interested in making things between us official? I’d really like to be able to call you my girlfriend.”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Katniss replied, leaning in to give him a kiss.

They sat under the maple tree and kissed for what felt like hours before Katniss shyly asked Peeta to take her back to the farm and show her his home. He gave her a tour of the beautiful tan farmhouse he had grown up in before she dragged him into the master bedroom, asking him to make love to her.

After they were both sated, Katniss snuggled up to Peeta in post coital bliss. As she enjoyed the warmth and safety of her boyfriend’s arms, she knew that she was exactly where she was meant to be. Despite everything she had been through with the loss of her family and her broken engagement, she had finally gotten to a place where her life was good again, and she had Peeta to thank for that.

 

THE END