"And if there’s not?"
"Then I’ll tear down the halls of Olympus or Hades or whatever I have to to find you. I’m not going to let you go, Cassandra. Not without a fight."
Cassandra held him close, but in her heart, she knew it was futile. Their days were finite, and with every passing hour, she was drawing irrevocably closer to the end.
By the time Friday came, Cassandra was more than ready for the wedding to be behind her. Her sister and Kat had kept her busy and frantic the whole week. Wulf had stayed blissfully out of their way.
If they ever asked him his opinion on anything, his answer was always, "I know better than to get in between three women arguing. If you’ll remember, the whole Trojan War was started over that."
Chris wasn’t so wise and had finally learned to stay out of the apartment as much as possible. Or to run the minute he saw the three of them approaching him.
Now Cassandra stood in the bedroom, dressed in her wedding gown and waiting. Her long, strawberry-blond hair was left down around her shoulders as was the custom of Wulf’s people. She wore a silver crown intertwined with fresh flowers-another Nordic custom. Chris had told her that the crown had been passed down from Wulf’s sister-in-law through all the generations of his family.
It meant a lot to her to be wearing it now. To feel connected to Wulf’s past.
Wulf would also be wearing his family sword for the event, and when their baby married, he too would carry the sword strapped to his side.
The door opened slowly to reveal Urian on the other side. His long blond hair hung around his shoulders and he was dressed in an elegant black silk tuxedo. "Are you ready?"
They had decided after much debate to let him be her sponsor. Apollites didn’t have the same customs as humans. Since there was a good chance the bride’s parents were already dead, they chose a sponsor who would escort the bride down the aisle and deliver the customary words to unite the couple.
Cassandra wished they could have a minister for the event, but both she and Wulf had agreed that it would jeopardize the community too much to bring one in. So they would be married in true Apollite fashion.
At first, Urian had balked at the idea of being her sponsor, but Phoebe had quickly convinced him it would be in his best interest to play along with their wishes.
"You will do it and play nice with Wulf or you’ll sleep on the couch. Forever, and considering your age, that means something."
"Is Wulf ready?" Cassandra asked Urian.
He nodded. "He and Chris are waiting for you in the main complex."
Kat handed her the single white rose that was wrapped with red and white ribbons. Another Apollite custom.
Cassandra took the rose.
Kat and Phoebe took their places in front of her and led the way. Arm in arm, she and Urian walked behind them.
The Norse custom was for weddings to be held outside. Since such a thing was even more dangerous than bringing in a minister, they had rented the open merchant area. Shanus and several council members had gone out of their way to bring hydroponic plants and flowers to simulate a garden center.
They had even constructed a small fountain.
Cassandra hesitated as they entered the complex.
Wulf and Chris stood in front of the hastily constructed waterfall that still managed to be beautiful. She had half-expected Wulf to be dressed in his Nordic clothes. Instead, he and Chris were in tuxedos that matched Urian’s.
Wulf wore his hair long and loose, brushed back from his face. The silk of his tuxedo molded perfectly to his body, accentuating every muscled curve. Never in her life had she seen a more handsome man.
He was completely gorgeous.
"I’ll take it from here."
Cassandra gasped as she heard her father’s voice behind her.
"Daddy?" she said, whirling to find him there with a wide smile on his face.
"You didn’t really think I’d miss my baby getting married, did you?"
She ran her gaze over his body, her heart hammering. She couldn’t believe he was here with her. "But how?"
He indicated Wulf with a nod. "Wulf came to the house last night and brought me here. He said it wouldn’t be a wedding for you unless I came. And he told me about Phoebe. I spent last night in her apartment with her so that we could catch up and then surprise you." His eyes welled with tears as he stared at her stomach. "You look beautiful, baby."
She threw herself into his arms, or at least as close as she could, given her distended belly, and held him tight. It was the best present Wulf could have given her.
She was blubbering like a child.
"Should we call the wedding off before you drown us in tears?" Kat asked.
"No!" Cassandra said, pulling herself together with a sniff. "I’m fine. Really."
Her father kissed her cheek, tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, and led her to Wulf. Kat and Phoebe moved to stand behind Chris while Urian took his place by Phoebe’s side. The only other person present was Shanus, who stood back but watched them with a friendly expression that said he was more than happy to bear witness to the event.
"Thank you," she mouthed to Wulf who gave her a small, heartrending smile.
In that moment, she felt the full depth of her love for him. He would make a good husband to her for the next few months and he would be a great father.
In spite of what Chris said.
Once they reached her soon-to-be husband, her father took her hand and placed it in Wulf’s. Then her father took the red and white ribbons from the rose and wrapped it around their joined hands.
Cassandra stared at Wulf. His eyes were hot. Kind. They smoldered with his passion and with pride as he looked at her. It made her shiver. Made her hot.
His look touched every part of her body.
He tightened his hand on hers as her father began speaking the words to bind them together. "It is through night we are-"
"Light," Urian whispered loudly, interrupting him.
Her father’s face flushed a bit. "I’m sorry. I had to learn this rather hastily." He cleared his throat and began again. "It is through light we are born and through… through…" Her father hesitated.
Urian came forward to whisper in her father’s ear.
"Thank you," her father said. "This ceremony is nothing like ours."
Urian inclined his head and stepped back, but not before he gave Cassandra an uncharacteristic wink.
"It is through the light that we are born and through the night that we travel. The light is the love of our parents who greet us and welcome us into this world and it is with the love of our partner that we leave it.
"Wulf and Cassandra have chosen to be with each other, to ease their remaining journey and to comfort one another in the coming nights. And when the final night is upon them…" Her father stopped as his eyes welled up.
He looked at her. The misery and horror she saw in his eyes made her own well up.
"I can’t," he said quietly.
He stepped back as a tear fell down his cheek.
Phoebe came forward and wrapped her arms around him.
Cassandra started toward him, but Phoebe stopped her. "Finish it, please, Uri."
Phoebe escorted their father off to the side.
Cassandra wanted to join them, but could tell her father was already embarrassed and upset that he had spoiled her wedding for her. So she stayed by Wulf’s side.
Urian moved to stand with them. "When the final night is upon us, we vow to stand together and ease the one who travels first.
"Soul to soul we have touched. Flesh to flesh we have breathed. And it is alone that we must leave this existence, until the night comes that the Fates decree we are reunited in Katoteros."
Cassandra felt her own tears starting again as Urian spoke the Atlantean term for "heaven."
Urian stepped to the pedestal that held an elaborate gold cup. The three Fates were engraved on it. He brought it over to Cassandra. "Normally this would be the blood of both of you combined, but since neither one of you is particularly gung-ho for that, it’s wine."
Urian handed the cup to Cassandra who took a sip, then gave it to Wulf who followed suit. Wulf handed the cup to Urian. As was the Apollite custom, Wulf bent down and kissed her so that the taste of wine was mingled with them.
Urian returned the cup to the pedestal and finished the ceremony. "Here stands the bride, Cassandra. She is unique in this world. Her beauty, grace, and charms are the legacy of those who have come before her and will be gifted to those who are born through her.
"This man, Wulf, on the other hand stands before us a product of…" Urian frowned as he paused. "Well, he’s the product of a bitch who can’t stand the thought of Apollo’s children ruling the earth."
"Urian, behave!" Phoebe snapped from where she stood with their father.
He bristled at her command. "Considering the fact that I just bound a member of your family to one of the people I have sworn to annihilate, I think I’m being remarkably good."
Phoebe cast him a glare that loudly proclaimed he’d be sleeping alone for at least a week.
If not longer.
Urian curled his lip at Wulf. It was clear who he blamed for his wife’s upset. "Fine. I’m glad I didn’t say what I really thought," he muttered under his breath.
Louder, Urian returned to the ceremony. "It is your similarities that brought you together and your differences that add variety and spark to your life. May the gods bless and protect your union and may you be…" He paused again. "Well, you already are blessed with fertility so we’ll skip that."
Phoebe growled low in her throat while Cassandra gave him a glare of her own.
Urian cast another murderous look at Wulf. "May the two of you enjoy every minute left to you."
Then, Urian took the ribbons that combined their hands and tied them into a double knot. The ribbons would last for the night and in the morning they would be cut and buried for luck.
Chris and Kat led the way back to the apartment.
Her father came up to her and wrapped his arm around her waist. "I’m sorry I couldn’t finish."
"It’s okay, Daddy. I understand."
And she did. The prospect of saying good-bye to him hurt her too.
When they reached the apartment, Wulf, as was Norse custom, picked her up and carried her over the threshold. It amazed her because he had to do it with one arm since his other hand was still bound to hers.
Chris poured everyone drinks. "This is where Wulf’s people would get drunk and party for a week. All hail the Vikings, forerunners to the frat boys!"
"You can party," Wulf said to him, "but I better not catch you drunk."
Chris rolled his eyes, then bent down and said to Cassandra’s stomach, "Be wise, little guy, stay in there where Lord King Neurotic can’t kill all your fun."
Wulf shook his head at him. "I’m surprised you’re here without your newfound friends."
"Yeah, I know. I’m going to go find them shortly. Kyra is working on a new program and I’m going to test it."
Urian snorted at that. "That’s one way of putting it."
Chris’s face turned beet red. "And I thought he"-he indicated Wulf with his thumb-"was bad. What is it with you Peters women that you’re attracted to losers?"
"I think I resent that," her father said.
Wulf laughed. "Boy, you better go find Kyra before you dig yourself in any deeper."
"Yeah, I think I agree." Chris excused himself and left.
Kat came up behind Cassandra and took the crown off her head. "I’ll make sure and put it back in its case."
Suddenly, it felt a bit awkward in the room.
"Daddy? You want to come back to our place with us?" Phoebe asked.
"Sure." He kissed Cassandra on the cheek. "Not much of a reception, but I think you two should be alone."
Kat joined them as they left.
They were alone now, and Wulf pulled a perfect single-carat diamond ring from his pocket and slid it over her finger. The band was a very delicate Nordic lattice pattern. She’d never seen anything more lovely.
"Thank you, Wulf," she breathed.
Wulf nodded. He stared at her in the pale light, her eyes glowing with warmth.
The one thing he had never thought to have. At least not in the last twelve hundred years.
Normally a couple on their honeymoon would be thinking about their future together. How they were going to spend their lives…
He didn’t want to think about the future. It was too bleak. Too painful. He should have kept her out of his heart. Every day he tried and every day he found her there even deeper than before.
"Cassandra Tryggvason," he whispered, testing her new name.
"It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?"
He touched her lips with his fingers. Like her, they were soft and delicate. Inviting. "Are you happy?"
"Yes." And yet her green eyes were tinged by sadness.
How he wished he could erase that from her forever.
Cassandra stood up on her tiptoes and kissed him. Wulf groaned at the taste of her. At the way her hand felt on the back of his neck while her long, graceful fingers tugged at his hair.
Her rose scent went through him, making him drunk and hot. "You are beautiful, my Cassandra."