We were married at sunset.
Some might not consider that an auspicious time, but for me, it was a perfect compromise.I had wanted to be married in the daytime, outdoors, with sunlight streaming everywhere.Seeing as Cody and Peter wanted to attend, however, the sun presented a little difficulty.
And since Peter had essentially acted as wedding coordinator for me, it seemed kind of mean to exclude him. So, we held the ceremony at sunset, and the vampires were able to show up for the reception the instant the sun sank below the horizon.
The wedding was held on the grounds of a beachfront resort on Puget Sound. We stood on a grassy hill, facing west toward the water. It was high summer, and everything was bathed in orange and gold. The bridesmaids (all Mortensen girls) wore red dresses that looked as though they’d been designed with the sunset in mind and carried white clusters of stephanotis. Our only nod to decorations was an ivy-strewn arch that the officiant stood in front of. With so much beauty around us, nothing else had seemed necessary.
I repeated my vows while holding Seth’s hands. Each word I spoke was infinitely powerful, and yet I wouldn’t really remember any of them until later. For those minutes, my whole world was focused on his face, on the amber gold of his eyes and the way the light played off his hair. Love burned within me and between us, making everything else a fog of indistinct details. There was only Seth and me. Me and Seth.
There was a dreamlike quality to it all. The moments seemed suspended in time. And yet, afterward, when I looked back, it was as though the entire ceremony had taken place in the blink of an eye. We had a couple hundred people who had gathered to watch us. They all rose from their folding chairs and clapped when we kissed, and I found myself unable to stop grinning when I looked out into that sea of happy faces.
The reception was held on the same grounds, just a little ways from the ceremony. We’d gone to a bit more work with the decorations here. The tables were draped with white linens and bedecked with flowers and candles that created little twinkles of light in the evening shadows. Large torches were set up along the boundaries as well, their flames flicking rapidly as wind picked up from the water. A jazz band set up nearby and began to play, providing background music for dinner. They had a space for dancing afterward too, though I didn’t dance nearly as much as I’d expected to at my wedding. There were too many people to see, too many people to thank for their support. So Seth and I walked around hand in hand, going from group to group of those we loved.
“I knew those Asiatic lilies would be a good call,” Peter told us conspiratorially, admiring one of the table arrangements. “The Oriental ones are bigger, but I feel like these complement the roses so much better.”
“You’re a regular flower whisperer,” said Hugh, knocking back a drink. He held up his glass to Seth and me in a mock toast. “Honestly, your best bit of planning was the open bar.”
“Because it certainly wasn’t the band,” remarked Doug, strolling over to where my little group was standing. “Geez, Kincaid – ” He paused and reconsidered. “Geez, Mortensens, why didn’t you hire me? Nocturnal Admission could’ve totally rocked this place out.”
I smiled, happy that Doug had come. I honestly hadn’t been sure if he would. “Because I wouldn’t want to burden you guys with the strain of playing family-friendly music for three hours.”
“Very considerate,” he said. He glanced around, nodding grudgingly. “Aside from that – and the fact that the bridesmaids are all under eighteen – I gotta admit, you put on a pretty good spread.”
“Thank you,” Peter and I said in unison.
“I kind of agree with Doug about the band,” said Cody. “I asked them if they’d play ‘The Chicken Dance,’ and they said no.”
“I could’ve done a bitchin’ cover of that,” said Doug solemnly.
“It’s not so much a failing on the band’s part as it was a request of ours to not play it,” said Seth.
“Sad,” said Doug. He slung an arm around Cody. “Want to go make a bar run with me?” When Cody nodded, Doug glanced at the rest of us. “Refill anyone?”
“No, thanks,” I said.
Doug shook his head. “Married for an hour, and you’re already picking up his good habits.” He and Cody walked off, having an intense discussion about “The Chicken Dance,” judging from their pantomimes.
I leaned my head against Seth, content with everything and everyone in the world. “You did a beautiful job, Peter,” I said. “Seriously. It all turned out great.”
Considering how underappreciated Peter always felt, I would’ve expected him to revel in the praise, but he actually turned modest. “Ah, well. You guys are the main attraction. I just provided the – “
He stopped speaking, and as one, he and Hugh glanced off beyond the edge of the torches, into the darkness.
“What is it?” I asked.
They exchanged looks. “Carter,” said Peter.
I followed their gaze, unable to see anything beyond the lit perimeter. It had been very easy to become human again, but there were still a few things I had trouble shaking. The loss of my immortal senses was one. Even now, it was weird to be standing with Peter and Hugh and not feel them. Their night vision was no better than mine – well, actually, I supposed Peter’s was – but it wasn’t their eyes that had alerted them to Carter’s presence.
“I think he wants to see you,” said Hugh gently.
I stared off at where they indicated, uncertain what should I do.
“Go,” said Seth softly. “You should talk to him.”
I looked up at him, into those eyes so full of love, and forgot about Carter for the space of heartbeat. It was still too unbelievable to accept sometimes that this was my life, that Seth was my husband.
I pressed my lips to his in a quick kiss.
“I’ll be right back,” I said.
I picked my way through my guests, finding it difficult not to stop and talk to the many well-wishers. When I was out of the safety of the tents and tables, the wind hit me, whipping my hair and veil around and playing with my skirts. My dress had a sweetheart neckline and full skirt with many tiers and layers. I’d wanted a princess dress for my wedding day and had gotten one, though it made this walk a little awkward. I soon spotted Carter, standing so perfectly still among some trees that he might have been one.
“Mrs. Mortensen,” he greeted me, when I reached him. “Congratulations.” He wore worn gray suit pants, a longsleeved white shirt with the first couple buttons open, and loosely knotted gray and pink silk tie. A jacket matched the pants and looked like it was two sizes too big. I nodded in approval.
“Nice of you to dress up,” I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in anything so formal.”
“I should’ve checked with Peter to find out your colors,” said Carter, running a hand through his hair. It didn’t look like it had been brushed for the occasion. “Sorry if I clash.”
I smiled. “You look great. Thank you for coming.”
“Well,” he said. “We left off kind of abruptly.”
“That we did,” I murmured. This was the first time I’d seen him since the trial. “Jerome’s not with you?”
“No. You won’t be seeing him anymore. Well.” Carter paused a moment. “Let’s just say, I hope you won’t be seeing him anymore.”
“I plan on staying off Hell’s radar,” I said honestly.
He nodded, turning serious. “That’s good. That’s kind of why I’m here. I’ve got two gifts for you. Gifts of information.”
“You were checking my registry,” I said. “How sweet.”
We didn’t have much light, but I swore, I could see his gray eyes twinkle. “You said you’ll stay off their radar, but believe me, they’re going to still have their eyes on you. Hell doesn’t lose many souls the way they lost yours. If they can get it back, they will. They’ll try. I know how close you are to them. . . .” His gaze drifted back toward the reception. “To Hugh, Peter, and Cody. But it’d be better for you – and for them – if you stayed away from them. If you moved away from them, to someplace where you don’t know any of the local immortals.”
I stared in astonishment. “Are you saying one of them might try to get my soul? They’re my friends.”
“I know, I know. And I don’t think they would, exactly, but it’s an ugly position for them to be in. You should really think about leaving Seattle. You’ll make it easier on everyone if you just remove that temptation.”
“I love Seattle,” I said, turning back to look across the dark water. “But I love Seth more. I’ll talk to him. Andrea’s been doing better, so we can go. I don’t know where, but we’ll figure it out.” I sighed and looked back at him. “Is your other piece of information less depressing?”
The smile reappeared on his lips. “Yes. It’s a big secret.” He leaned toward me and said in a stage whisper, “You’re going to have a baby in December.”
A matching smile came over me. “That’s no secret. Not to me, at least.” Seth and I had known for a little while and had decided to keep it under wraps until after the wedding. We weren’t going to be able to hide it much longer. I was three months pregnant, and without shape-shifting, I was subject to the rules of nature. It was a wonder I still fit in this dress.
“Okay,” said Carter. “Then try this: it’s a girl.”
I felt my smile grow. “That I didn’t know.”
Or did I? A sudden flashback to the dream Nyx had shown me played through my mind. I hadn’t thought about it in a very long time. Why did I need to? I was living my own dream. But in a flash, I saw it again, me holding a small girl as we waited outside for her father to come home. And it was snowing….
You should really think about leaving Seattle.
“What are you thinking?” asked Carter, studying me.
“I’m thinking there might be a short list of places I’ll be moving to.” I shivered, both from the cold and the memories, and he draped his worn suit jacket over my bare shoulders.
“I’m moving too,” he told me.
I blinked away from my memories. “You are? Where? Why?”
He chose to answer the last one. “Because my job here is done. Time to go on to another.”
It took me a moment to follow. “You don’t mean . . . I was your assignment? I’m why you came to Seattle?”
He answered with a shrug.
“But . . . no,” I protested. “There must be other things you do here, right? Other angelic tasks?”
“Weren’t you enough?” he teased.
I was still in disbelief. Carter had been in Seattle for as many years as me. Surely there must have been more to it. Admittedly, no one in Hell ever really understood how the angels worked on their assignments. They didn’t have the same level of micromanaging as my former employees. “I’m just one person. One soul. All your work and energy . . . I mean, it can’t all have been just for one soul. An angel can’t be solely dedicated to that.”
“Well,” he said, clearly enjoying my confusion. “It was actually for two souls, since you and Seth were both saved. But even if it wasn’t, it still would’ve been worth it. Do you know the price of one soul, Georgina? It’s beyond rubies and diamonds, beyond any mortal reckoning. If it had taken me centuries, if it had taken a dozen more angels to help me, it all would have been worth it.”
I lowered my head, feeling tears come to my eyes. I thought about how often I’d disparaged Carter, how many times I’d scoffed at the silly, hard-drinking persona he put on. Yet, no matter how much I dismissed him, Carter had always been there in the background, always showing interest in Seth and me. He’d protected me and given me advice, and I spent most of my time mocking him.
“I’m not worthy of that,” I said. I might be human now, but I understood how powerful a heavenly creature Carter was. “I don’t deserve that much regard.”
He reached out and tipped my chin up. “You do, Georgina. And if you don’t believe me now, then strive to be. Live your life. Be kind. Love those you know. Love those you don’t know. Be worthy of your soul.”
A tear escaped, rolling down my cheek and probably messing up my mortal mascara. “Thank you, Carter. Thank you for everything.”
“There’s nothing to thank me for,” he replied. With a sigh, he glanced up at the starry night. “I should be going. And your guests are probably looking for you. I’m sure they’ve been banging on glasses with their spoons this entire time.”
“Wait – before you go . . .” I hesitated. Carter had already told me so much, but I had to know one other thing. “What happened to Roman? Is he dead?”
Carter’s amused expression faded. “Ah. I don’t know.”
“Carter – “
“I mean it,” he said. “That’s the straightest answer you’ll ever get from an angel. I don’t know. I don’t think his outcome was good, but I don’t know for sure.”
I swallowed back more tears. “He shouldn’t have gone.”
“It was his choice, Georgina. He wanted to make a point to Heaven and Hell . . . that, and well, there’s more. He did it out of love, and that’s no small thing. A sacrifice born of love is almost as powerful a thing as a redeemed soul. Both of them are blows to Hell.”
“I wish . . . I wish I could’ve said good-bye. Told him how grateful I am.”
“I think he knows,” said Carter. “I think he knew exactly what he was getting into and deemed it worthwhile. The best way to thank him now is to do what I said. Live your life to its fullest. Take care of your husband and daughter, and let your soul shine.”
I nodded. “I will. Thank you.” I almost asked about Yasmine too but had a feeling the answer would be the same: she’d made her decision. I could only be responsible for my fate, not everyone else’s.
“Bless you, daughter of man,” Carter said, his eyes luminous and almost silver now. He leaned down and kissed my forehead. I closed my eyes and caught my breath. His lips were both burning hot and icy cold. A sense of peace and power flooded me, and for a moment, it was as though I were right on the edge of comprehending all the beauty in the world. I opened my eyes.
He was gone.
I stood alone on the windswept hill, with the moon starting to shine on the water. In the distance, I heard the laughter and chatter of those I loved and sensed the warmth they held. Picking up my skirts, still wearing Carter’s jacket over my shoulders, I headed off toward my husband and the rest of my life, off to be worthy of my soul.