Stay (Page 38)

“I’m here.” Eric jogged into the room. I wondered what he’d been doing. He shot me a look that told me not to ask yet. That wasn’t good. That meant it was more likely trouble rather than him taking a long time to get ready.

“Gareth said to head over when you guys were ready. Did your mom already go?” I asked.

“Yeah. She seemed to be in a rush.” Casey leaned into me slightly. It was nice knowing she was doing it because she wanted to this time and not because she needed to. “Did Gareth say anything else to you?”

I considered how much to say. Keeping stuff from Casey was never a good idea, but I figured I could just stick to what was most important. “He said some guys might petition to be your mate.”

She grimaced. “Yeah, my mom warned me about that. I’m obviously not thrilled, but I assure you I won’t have to debate my answer.”

“Good, because I’d fight to the death for you.”

“You won’t have to.”

“But I would.”

“Ok, sappy alert.” Hailey rolled her eyes.

“I’m allowed to be sappy today. I’ve been through a lot.” Casey kissed my cheek.

“Okay, I’ll let you off the hook just this time.” Hailey smiled.

***

The ceremony was held outside in the space between the buildings. Strings of white lights were strung up through the trees creating an almost intimate feel despite the large numbers of people packed into the area. Someone was playing a guitar, but it was acoustic, and you could barely hear it over the chatter of the crowd.

Casey, Hailey, Eric, and I hung out together, but pretty much every male under the age of forty who didn’t have a woman with him was staring at Casey like she was meat. I sincerely hoped they didn’t all plan to petition her. That would make for a long night, and we didn’t have the time. We needed to get to New Orleans. Georgina was waiting for us, and we were all nervous about what was happening half-way across the world. Neither Jared nor Owen were picking up their phones, and as far as we knew Vera didn’t have one. Casey and Hailey were acting cool about things, but I could tell they were on edge. I was too, but I did my best to hide it. I still hadn’t had a chance to talk to Eric alone, but I assumed if it was really important he’d make sure it happened.

“Welcome everyone.” Gareth’s booming voice had everyone’s attention—including mine.

Cheering ensued until he started talking again. “Tonight is a wonderful night. It’s a night full of good news and celebration.”

I waited for more cheering, but there was none. It’s like everyone knew when it was appropriate to cheer and when it wasn’t.

“My mate, Taliana, has returned.”

The sounds that followed weren’t cheers, it was more like howling. Casey grabbed my hand, and I happily cradled hers in mine. It was all a little bit crazy, even by paranormal standards.

“Quiet.” One word out of Gareth had everyone silent. “Taliana did not return alone. She also brought home one of my daughters. I thought I only had one, but I have two.”

The yell-howls commenced again. This time we were ready for them. Hailey was grinning. I think she was getting a kick out of the whole thing.

“Both of my daughters of are of age and are not yet mated. As with tradition, anyone who would like to petition to be my daughter’s mate may do so, but the decision is hers and not mine to make.” He gestured to Casey. “Would you join me?”

Casey gave me a half smile before walking over to Gareth. She looked petrified.

“Yeah, Casey!” Hailey yelled. That had Casey laughing and relaxed.

“Go, Bates!” Eric yelled.

I figured it was my turn. “Make us all proud, baby!”

That comment got Gareth glaring at me. Oh well.

“Would anyone like to petition?”

A series of growls filled the night. I guess that was one way of showing interest. A crowd of men swarmed the area in front of Casey. Her face paled. Her nerves were back.

Gareth looked at Casey before whispering in her ear. She nodded.

“Because of the sheer number of interested men, Casey has asked me to screen you first. I will speak to each of you, and present her with the five most eligible.”

Five most eligible? Was this the bachelorette or something? I started to laugh but then saw Casey’s face and wiped it right off. She wasn’t enjoying herself at all. I wasn’t either, but at least I wasn’t the one being discussed by everyone.

Casey’s mom whispered something to her, and she smiled. She gave her mom a hug and walked over to me. “My mom says this could take a while and suggested we get out of here.”

“Really? Your mom is pretty cool.”

“She is, and I think she gets it.”

“Gets us?” I rested my hands on her waist.

“Yeah. She understands that this is all pretty silly. Gareth wanting to claim me as his daughter, whatever, been there done that.”

I laughed.

“But letting men petition to be my mate when I already know who I want?” She leaned in. “That’s a bit extreme.”

“So what should we do then?’ I was itching to get her alone, but I wanted her to be the one to suggest it.

“Mom suggested we walk down to the cove.”

“Sounds good to me.” I moved my hands from her waist, and instead took her hand in mine. There was so much going on, but for just one night I was ready to pretend things were calm.

“Have you seen Hailey?” She glanced around the crowd. “I’d feel bad ditching her.”

I would too, but not bad enough to give up my alone time with Casey. “Oh, I think she’s busy.” I smiled. She was surrounded by bears and by the way they were laughing she was clearly telling them a story.

Casey followed my gaze. “She’s literally the opposite of me.”

“Why? Because she’s so outgoing?”

“Outgoing, social, fearless.”

“Hey, you’re pretty fearless yourself.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.”

“I assume Eric can take care of himself.” She bent down to fix her shoe. I’m sure she was ready to get out of the heels. Casey was definitely not the kind of girl who was into dressing up. I didn’t care because generally I was more concerned with getting her undressed. Besides, she looked gorgeous in everything and anything she wore.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about him. My guess is he feels right at home.”