by Shari Richardson
- Chapter 1
"Oh my God," Mairin exclaimed. "I look like a frosted cupcake."
I poked my head around the doorway of my sister's bedroom and burst out laughing. My normally tom-boyish sister looked like someone had airbrushed a Vogue model over her. I could still see Mairin under the makeup, hair and the far-too-flouncy sparkling white gown, but I had to squint.
"Don't laugh at me, brat," she said. "How did you let me let Mom talk me into this?"
I held up my hands. "Hey, don't blame me for this one, sis. This is all you. You let Mom go to the bridal shop with you and Mathias' credit card. You knew she was going to pick something like this."
Truthfully, the gown was gorgeous. It had an empire waist and a very short train, but it also had so much lace and so many sparkles, I was surprised my sister wasn't currently shredding the gown in an effort to get it off.
"Dammit, dammit, dammit. I cannot do this," she said. "Nope. I won't. I should have insisted on the stupid town hall and the stupid civil union, but no, I let Mom and Mathias bully me into this." She waved at herself.
"Mairin," my mother said, slipping past me into my sister's room. "You look so beautiful. I knew that dress would be gorgeous on you once the alterations were finished."
I smiled at my sister over our mother's shoulder and bolted for my room. The glare which followed my retreat nearly burned. Mairin would complain, but I knew she'd never have taken anything away from our mother. Especially not something as important as a big wedding with all the trimmings.
Of course, her willingness to be on display for the town in a gown that was anything but her own choice was really my sister in a nutshell. No matter what it did to her, if it meant one of us was happier, Mairin would do it. Take my bridesmaid dress. The wedding planner Mathias hired to help Mairin keep her sanity had freaked out when Mairin showed her the dress, but my sister had insisted that the pale colors the wedding planner wanted would look awful on me. So instead of joining the frosted cupcake brigade, I was wearing the deep, forest green, knee-length dress my sister had chosen for me. She could have picked some hideous, flowing monstrosity so I wouldn't overshadow her, but had instead picked the dress she knew I'd like.
I was pulling that dress over my head when the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," Tawnya called from downstairs. I knew she'd been ready for us to leave for the wedding for at least half an hour, but after the tenuous truce she and Mairin had finally formed following their estrangement last winter, Tawnya was keeping her opinions to herself. I, on the other hand, wasn't. If they weren't ready by the time I got my shoes on, I'd shove Mairin down the stairs.
"Hey Tawnya. The other camp is getting anxious and sent me to see what was keeping the bride." Xavier's voice drifted up the stairs to me and I smiled. In spite of some pretty big disagreements they'd had in the past, Mathias had asked Xavier to be his best man. Xavier, always looking for ways to improve the political climate of the supernatural community, and because both Mairin and I had begged him, had accepted. It hadn't been until the tuxedo fitting that he'd truly begun to regret saying yes. The complaints over the fittings had been epic and amusing as hell.
I slipped on my sandals and ran back to Mairin's room. "The natives are getting restless. We have to go."
"I heard him," Mairin said. "Mom, go get in the car with Tawnya. Kerry can help me down the stairs in this monstrosity...um, dress."
Mom kissed us both before heading down to meet up with Tawnya. I could see her eyes were already beginning to shine with tears and knew that before the end of the ceremony, our mother would be a blubbering mess.
"She's going to cry all day, isn't she?" Mairin said.
"Probably. You're her baby and you're getting married."
"Yeah, wait until it's your turn, brat." Mairin clasped a thin gold chain around her neck and sighed. "That's it. No more delays."
"Don't you want to marry Mathias?" I asked.
"Sure I do," she said. "But for all intents and purposes, I'm nineteen. Girls don't get married this young unless they have to. You know most of the town is going to be watching me to see if I'm pregnant."
"That's why you and Mathias are going on a long honeymoon. So you don't have to worry about being watched." I held Mairin's arm as we carefully navigated the stairs. "Besides, admit it. You're dying to see all the snooty jerks jockeying for position to catch your bouquet."
Mairin laughed. "I'll aim for you, if you want me to."
Xavier looked up at me from the foot of the stairs. I knew he'd heard Mairin and my heart thundered in my chest. He'd already asked me to marry him more than once and I'd told him no. Not no forever, but no for right then. Looking at him in his tuxedo, the tiny, shy smile I loved best lifting just the corners of his mouth, I realized while I still might not want to get married tomorrow, I was ready to say yes to him.
"I'll take my chances," I said. "But I'll make sure I'm right up front."
The wedding planning crew had lined the driveway leading to Mathias' house with lights and continued with them along the path leading to the stretch of beach behind the house. I went with Mairin through the front door after sending Xavier around the back to keep Mathias out of the house now that we were there. For a vampire, he was impressively superstitious. I'd always thought being one of the monsters the superstitions protected us from might make him immune to them, but apparently not. He hadn't even stayed at the house with Mairin last night because he believed it was bad luck to spend the night before their wedding together. Personally, I thought that his leaving had more to do with trying to maintain his sense of decorum than with bad luck. Mairin had told me that despite her less fragile state of being, Mathias had refused to engage in physical intimacy with her until after the wedding. If the level of aggression and annoyance displayed by them both was any indication, their sexual frustration had reached a boiling point. Mathias had stayed away so he wouldn't be tempted to break his own rules. It was actually kind of funny that Mairin was certain the town assumed she was pregnant when I knew she was still a virgin. I giggled and Mairin looked at me.
"What's funny, sis?" she asked.
"Just that you're worried those people out there think you're knocked up and I know there's about a million reasons why that isn't even remotely possible."
I ducked when Mairin threw the pillow from the sofa at me.
"Ha ha," she said. "Keep rubbing it in, sis and I'll tell mom that when you stay at Elise's house, you sleep in the same bed with Xavier."
Mairin grinned. "Watch me," she said.
Gino stepped into the room and bowed low. "It is time, little queen," he said.
I carefully kissed Mairin's cheek. "I love you," I said. "Be happy, sis."
"Love you, too, Kerr," she said, taking Gino's arm. He led her to where Mom and Tawnya waited in the kitchen. Xavier stepped up to take my arm.
"You look gorgeous," he said.
"You're looking pretty handsome, yourself." I smiled as he preened.
"You think? I hate the monkey suit, but it doesn't look that bad."
"Mom, if you cry now, you'll ruin your makeup for the photos." Mairin's tone was irritated.
"I can't help it. My baby's getting married."
"And living not five miles from your house. Get a grip, Mom."
Laughing at my family's antics, Xavier laid his hand over mine and led me out onto the deck. The music started and I gasped. There was a silk runner that joined the deck to the area on the beach where the wedding was taking place. Chairs were set up in groups around a central point where Mathias stood, his back to the ocean and his eyes closed against the sinking sun. Only those of us who really knew him knew Mathias wasn't steeling himself to get married, but rather he was enjoying the sun. He must have heard the whisper of the sand under the silk runner because he opened his eyes and smiled at both me and Xavier as we walked toward him. Xavier and I split at the altar and we both turned to watch my sister make her way across the sand. The gown that had looked like too much in her bedroom was perfect as the setting sun caught the sequins and crystals embedded in the fabric, making it appear as though Mairin were glowing as she walked. Mom and Tawnya each held one of Mairin's elbows lightly, escorting her to meet her groom.
At the altar, Mom and Tawnya stopped with Mairin and waited for the minister to speak the first words of the ceremony.
"Who gives this woman in marriage?" he asked.
Tawnya's strong voice rang over the roar of the waves and the gasps of the guests. "Her mother and I do."
I saw Mairin sigh with relief before kissing first Tawyna's and then Mom's cheeks. I knew she'd worried that Tawnya would make some attempt to stop this wedding, but since they'd mended their relationship, Tawnya's acceptance of vampires as a whole had improved significantly. Mairin stepped away from Mom and Tawnya--away from our family--and took the hand Mathias offered her. The look which passed between them was so deeply reflective of their love that I heard many of the audience members gasp yet again. I hoped the photographer had gotten that shot. I knew I wanted it for myself.
The rest of the ceremony progressed as any other wedding I'd ever attended until the minister reached the part in the vows where normally he would have said "until death do us part." I knew Mathias and Mairin had convinced the clergyman to change it to "for all time," but the sound of my sister's voice saying the words was something I hadn't expected would hurt quite as much as it did.
I saw Xavier mouth, "I love you," and realized I must have done something to show my pain. I was so afraid of losing my sister to this new world she'd found herself thrown into and had now married into. She kept promising me she wouldn't disappear, but I knew that someday I'd die and she wouldn't. We'd lose each other one way or another and I wasn't ready for that. She might be mostly invulnerable, but our family's penchant for attracting the biggest and baddest supernatural monsters meant she wasn't invincible. I could still lose her, as I nearly had so many times in the past few years, and I wasn't ready for that.
"I am pleased to present to you all, the newly wedded Mr. and Mrs. Mathias Auer." The applause snapped me out of my thoughts. Mairin flashed me a wink before leading the procession to the reception tent.
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