Cassandra shivered at his low-voiced words. She loved it whenever he referred to her as his.
Taking her hand that was tied to his, he led her toward the bedroom.
Cassandra bit her lip as she watched him. He was so tall and devastating. He laid her carefully on the bed, then paused.
"How are we supposed to take off our clothes with this on our wrists?"
"My sleeves unzip."
"Then you’re going to be wearing that tuxedo for the night. Ew!"
"Ew?" he asked playfully. "Suddenly I’m ew?"
She moaned as he cupped her chin and nipped her lips with his teeth. "Ew to the extreme," she teased breathlessly.
She felt him unzip the back of her dress slowly as if savoring the anticipation of her being nak*d with him.
"You know, in Viking tradition, we’d have had witnesses for this."
She shivered as his hot hand skimmed her bared skin. "No offense, I am so glad this isn’t in your lifetime."
"Me too. I’d have to kill any man who saw just how beautiful you really are. If they saw you, I know they’d be dreaming of you, and that I could never allow."
She closed her eyes, savoring those words, as he pulled her dress from her.
He paused only long enough to kiss her bulging stomach. The minute his lips grazed her, she felt the light, fluttering movement inside.
"Oh, my God," she breathed. "I just felt the baby!"
He pulled back. "What?"
Her eyes welling up, she placed her hand over the spot his lips had touched, wanting to feel the baby again. "I felt him," she repeated. "Just now."
Pride shone brightly in Wulf’s eyes as he dipped his head and kissed her stomach again. He nuzzled her bare skin with his whiskered cheek.
Cassandra should have felt embarrassed to have a man so perfectly formed nuzzling her when she was the size of a whale, but she didn’t. It was so comforting to have him with her.
He was her champion. Not because he had saved her life, but because of the way he stayed with her now. The way he held her when she cried. The way he comforted her.
He was her strength. Her courage.
And she was so damned grateful to have him with her. She didn’t want to face the end alone.
Wulf wouldn’t let her. He would be there with her, even though it was going to kill him to see her die. He would hold her hand, and when she was gone, she would be remembered throughout time.
"I don’t even know the name of my grandmother."
Wulf frowned. "What?"
"I don’t know my grandmother’s name. My mother died before I could ask. Phoebe said she’d never thought to ask either. I don’t know what either she or my grandfather looked like. I only know my father’s parents from pictures. I was just thinking that I will be only a picture to the baby. He will look at me as I used to look at them. Abstract people. Never really real."
His eyes sparked with intensity. "You will be real to him, Cassandra. I promise you."
How she hoped that was true.
He enveloped her in his arms and held her close. Cassandra held on, needing his warmth. She pushed the regret and pain out of her mind.
There was nothing she could do. Inevitable meant inevitable. At least she had this moment in time.
She burst out laughing and crying at the same time.
Wulf pulled back and stared at her in confusion.
"I’m sorry," she said, trying to control her emotions. "I was just thinking of that stupid song, ‘Seasons in the Sun.’ You know, ‘we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.’ Good grief, I should be a mental patient."
He wiped her tears away and kissed her cheeks. His warm lips burned her skin. "You have more strength than any warrior I have known. Don’t ever apologize to me again for those few times when you show your fear to me, Cassandra."
The love she felt for him ran through her, choking her up even more than her regrets. "I love you, Wulf," she breathed. "More than I think I have ever loved anything else."
Wulf couldn’t breathe as he heard those heartfelt words. They tore through him like shattering glass.
"I love you too," he said, his throat tightening at the truth of it. He didn’t want to let her go. Ever.
But there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Cassandra gasped as he kissed her passionately. He finished undressing her in a fever pitch. She unbuttoned his shirt and when they couldn’t find a way to remove it or his jacket, Wulf tore them off.
She laughed at the sight of him. But the laughter stopped the instant he laid his hot, heavy body against hers and returned to her lips.
He rolled over onto his back and pulled her on top of him. He always took great care with her so as not to press against her stomach or hurt either her or the baby.
His eyes searing, he placed her on top of him.
They both groaned the minute he entered her. They made love furiously, each aware of the fact that for them the end was racing toward them.
Aware that as every day passed, they were nearing an outcome that neither of them could control or avoid.
It was frightening.
Cassandra cried out as she came in a wave of molten passion. Wulf pulled her against him as he joined her.
Their joined hands rested on the bed above their heads. Wulf laced his fingers in hers and made her a ragged promise.
"I will not let you go without a fight."
The next few weeks went by in a blur as Cassandra finished the baby’s memory box. For the first time in her life, she actually felt safe somewhere.
It was a glorious feeling.
Chris and Kyra, the so-called Apollite babe Chris had found, spent a lot of time in the apartment. Kyra was a pleasant woman who would often pretend that she couldn’t remember Wulf just to annoy him.
The tall, thin Apollite would look at him guilelessly and ask, "Do I know you?"
It irritated Wulf but amused everyone else.
As the pregnancy progressed, Cassandra realized another reason why Daimons couldn’t have children. She became increasingly needful of blood. Her biweekly transfusions turned into daily ones, and for the past two weeks, she’d needed two to three of them a day.
The increase worried her. Did it mean the baby would be more Apollite than human?
Dr. Lakis had told her it really had no bearing on the baby’s biology and that she should relax. But it was hard for her.
All night long, Cassandra had been rather depressed and too tired to move. She’d gone to bed early, even before dawn, wanting to rest and just be comfortable for a few minutes.
Wulf came in and woke her up long enough to ask her how she was.
"I’m sleeping," she snapped. "Leave me alone."
He’d held his hands up in surrender, laughed good-naturedly, and then curled up around her. She had to admit she loved the feeling of him there. The sensation of his hand on her stomach.
It always seemed like the baby knew when it was Wulf’s hand on him. He would immediately become more active, as if wanting to say, "Hi, Daddy, can’t wait to meet you."
He also reacted to his father’s voice.
Closing her eyes, Cassandra tried to go back to sleep, but it wasn’t easy since Little Bigfoot started dancing the fandango and decided to knee her in the ribs a few times.
She lay there for about an hour until the lower back pain set in. Within twenty minutes, she realized her contractions had stabilized and were steady.
Wulf was sleeping peacefully when Cassandra woke him up.
"The baby’s coming," she gasped out.
"Are you sure?" But one look at her exasperated face and he knew the answer to that asinine question.
"Okay," he said, trying to wake up and clear the fog in his mind. "Stay here and I’ll summon the troops."
He ran from the room to wake Kat and to send Chris for the doctor, then he ran back to the bedroom to be with Cassandra who was up, walking around.
"What are you doing?"
"I’m pacing to help with the pain."
"It’s okay, hon," Kat said as she came through the door. "The baby won’t be born on his head."
Wulf wasn’t sure about that, but had learned not to argue with a pregnant Cassandra. She was rather tense and emotional, and could let blood with her tongue when she wanted to.
Better to just give her what she wanted.
"What can I get you?" Wulf asked.
Cassandra was panting. "How about someone else to have this kid for me?"
He laughed at that. At least until she gave him a murderous glare.
Sobering, he cleared his throat. "I wish I could."
By the time the doctor came, Wulf was standing behind her, holding her stomach and trying to help her breathe through the contractions. He could feel each contraction tighten against his palms and knew exactly when she was going to curse in pain from it.
He hated that she had to go through this. She was already sweaty from the exertion and she had barely begun the labor to bring their son into the world.
Hours went by slowly as they worked together and Cassandra screamed all manner of obscenities at him, all men in general, and the gods in particular.
Wulf would hold her hand and bathe her brow while the doctor directed them both on what to do.
It was just after five p.m. when his son was finally born.
Wulf stared at the tiny infant in the doctor’s hands as the baby squalled with a set of lungs that had to come from a healthy child.
"He’s really here," Cassandra sobbed as she held on to Wulf’s hand and stared at the baby she had birthed.
"He’s here," Wulf laughed, kissing her damp temple. "And he’s beautiful."
The doctor cleaned and examined him, then handed the baby to his mother.
Cassandra couldn’t breathe as she held her child for the very first time. His tiny fists were clenched as his screams let them all know he was here. His face was wrinkled like an old man’s, but even so he was gorgeous to her.
"Look at his hair," she said, brushing the thick mat of black hair down. "He looks like his father."
Wulf smiled as the baby wrapped his tiny hand around his father’s index finger. "He has your lungs."
"Oh, please!" she said indignantly.
"Trust me," Wulf said, meeting her gaze. "Every Apollite here now knows that my parents were unmarried at my birth, and that if you survive the night, you plan on making me a eunuch."
She laughed at him and then kissed him while she held their son.
"By the way, if you were serious about any of that, Cassandra," the doctor said, her eyes alight. "I do have a scalpel I can loan you."
Cassandra laughed again. "Don’t tempt me."
Wulf took the baby from her and held him carefully in his large hands. His son. The joy and fear inside him was debilitating. He’d never known anything like it.
The baby was so incredibly tiny. A miracle of life. How could something so tiny ever survive? He knew he would kill or seriously maim anyone who ever threatened his child.
"What are you going to name him?" Wulf asked Cassandra. In all these weeks, he had purposely stayed out of her decision. He wanted the baby’s mother to name him.
It would be her lasting legacy to their son, who would never really know her.
"How about Erik Jefferson Tryggvason?"
Wulf blinked in disbelief. "Are you sure?"
She nodded as he lightly touched the baby’s cheek.
"Hi, Little Erik," he breathed. His heart clenched as he called him his brother’s name. "Welcome home."
"The baby probably wants to nurse now," Dr. Lakis said as she finished cleaning everything up. "You might want to hand him back to his mother for a bit."
Wulf did as she suggested.
"Will you need a lactation nurse?" Dr. Lakis asked Cassandra. "Apollite babies generally won’t take bottles or formula, especially when they have a mixed heritage. There’s not really a safe formula we can try since we don’t know how much Apollite or human is in him."
"I think the nurse would be a good idea," Cassandra said. "I don’t want to mess this up and stunt his growth or turn him into a mutant or anything."
The doctor had a strange look on her face that basically said, "I thought your child was a mutant."
Wisely, she held her tongue.
Wulf walked the doctor out. "Thank you," he said as they entered the living room where Chris and Kat sat waiting.
"Ha!" Kat said as soon as she saw Wulf. "I told you he’d arrive unhurt."
"Damn," Chris muttered before he handed her a twenty. "I just knew he’d been neutered after all that."
They both rushed toward the bedroom to see the baby, while Wulf talked to the doctor.
She gave him a sad smile. "I suppose it’s somehow fitting."
"The last baby I help into this world is the one who is destined to keep it safe."
Wulf scowled. "What do you mean, the last baby?"
Dr. Lakis sighed as if the weight of Armageddon were upon her. "My birthday is Thursday."
Wulf went cold at her words and what they meant. "Your twenty-seventh?"
She nodded. "Dr. Cassus will take over monitoring their health. She’ll be the one who gives Cassandra her four-week physical and makes sure everything is progressing as it should."