The Native Dawn Series Book 10, Rogue Dawn book 6: Kayla and Bryce
True love, did it really exist? Kayla wasn't so certain. She stood on the bluffs witnessing the union of two souls as one. The couple's unabashed happiness was enough to make her want to believe it did. As jaded as she was about the world though, the term true love was as foreign in it's meaning as words like home, family, security, and friendship. She knew what the words meant. But, she personally, had little experience with them. Everyone had a motivation. Something they wanted. Call it whatever they would under the guise of something more altruistic. But, nobody did anything without a price tag attached.
Deep inside of her though, a dim flicker of hope hadn't been completely snuffed out by the cruelty of her past. And that vague innermost part wanted...no...needed to believe that anything, even true love, was possible.
And if it possible, there was nobody more deserving of it than Keene and Lori.
She stood in line and waited her turn to congratulate the happy couple. Lori was the very essence of a blushing bride, positively radiant and glowing with joy. And Keene, although he was still a dangerous powerhouse of lethal threat, was as tame as a kitten at her side. Kayla couldn't help but sniffle back a tear of happiness for the two of them. "Congratulations!" she said as she gingerly rose on her tiptoes to plant a kiss on Keene's cheek.
His kindness was something she'd never forget. No matter how awful her past had been. He'd always tried to make it bearable for her. He had suffered far worse than she. The worst part of it was that their pasts were not yet behind them. And wouldn't be as long as...well she wasn't going to think about that now. Roark had taken enough from her and he wasn't stealing what little joy she'd managed to grab hold of. Ginning, Kayla turned to Lori and asked, "Were you surprised?"
"Very," Lori answered. Beaming with happiness, she asked, "How did you ever pull this off without me finding out?" She was truly amazed that someone would go to all this trouble to give her one perfect day. The past few weeks hadn't been easy for anyone. Roark had taken so much. A surprise wedding was the last thing she'd expected. And the effort it took to pull everyone together to make her special day happen truly meant a lot.
"I had help," Kayla answered. She gestured toward Angel with a nod of head.
Angel stood in the background, alone. Anymore that was how she found herself most days, utterly and completely alone. Ok, so maybe she did dress a bit extreme. But, what better way to set her self apart and keep everyone at a distance? She was trying to make a statement. And it said 'don't fuck with me' loud and clear. It worked. Nobody did. Everyone stayed away from her. Just the way she liked it.
The only reason she'd agreed to help with the wedding at all was because of Keene. He was, perhaps, one of the few people in the world she actually liked. And if he thought the institution of marriage equated happiness, who was she to argue? There were plenty of other worthy institutions. Yeah, and most people were locked up in them.
Ok, so she was a bit cynical for the ripe old age of twenty-two. But, she had plenty of reasons to be. She really didn't believe in the whole happily ever after thing. Love was temporary. It wasn't meant to last beyond the next bigger and better fascination. Love was like a pretty new toy that everyone wanted and was tossed in the closet the next week. In her world, forever was better defined as for now. But, she pretended, as she did in all things, to buy into it, for Keene's sake. And if a few tulle bows and pretty flowers would earn forgiveness from Lori for the things she'd done. Who was she to argue?
If they truly meant what they pledged, Keene and Lori were going to be saddled together for a very, very long time. Forever was definitely not her style. She preferred, well she didn't know what she preferred. She'd never had a choice or a preference before, about anything. She lived her life by a very simple creed. She didn't think in terms of wants. Expect nothing. And get nothing. It was a perfect philosophy to live by. And she was never disappointed.
Angel was not one of those sappy, innocuously happy people. In fact, people who were, like the two blondes making a B line straight toward her, set her fangs on edge. She was fucking fast as greased lightening. And if not for the warning glare from Keene shot straight at her over their heads; she would have left the blushing bride and Kayla choking on her dust. Instead, she pasted a plastic smile on her face and gritted her fangs.
"Angel!" Lori kept hold of Kayla's wrist and dragged her across the bluffs as she reached out to snatch up Angel's elbow with her free hand. "I can't believe you guys fooled me like this. I don't know how to thank you. Everything is so beautiful," Lori said on a breathless giggle.
And it truly was. Thousands of clear lights twinkled in the trees, dancing as the branches swayed in time with the gentle night breeze. Like stars floating just above the earth. Seeing Keene waiting for her at the end of a winding path of candlelight and yellow sunflower petals took her breath away. Colorful, vibrant wildflowers and bows of delicate tulle and lace adorned nature's perfect altar. Set for her wedding dance, a bonfire of sassafras and apple wood blazed orange into the night sky. Filling the air with its pungent, sweet scent. Nothing had ever been so magical. And she had never been happier.
Ever since she was a little girl Lori had visions of her perfect day. The dress, the hair, the cake, she'd imagined every last detail with a child's vivid musings. Of course, the groom had changed over the years along with the posters decorating her bedroom walls. Leo DeCaprio couldn't hold a candle to Keene. Leo might be the king of the world, but Keene was the king of hers. "Thank you both so much," she said, wrapping her arms around Angel and Kayla's shoulders for a big squeeze.
Lori thought about it as she hugged Angel and Kayla. And the two women were as different as night and day. Kayla was petite and down right curvy, with golden blonde hair worn straight to brush over the tops of her shoulders and clear, almost aquamarine, blue eyes. Very pretty, she had a heart shaped, cherubic face, full lips, and a smile guaranteed to soften any man's rough exterior. Trendy, although conservative her style was simple and a bit reserved.
Angel, on the other hand, although slight, had a lithe athletic build without a hint of softness to her figure. Short spikes of ebony hair with bright pink highlights at the tips, poked up at random angles. With wide set dark eyes and pixie like features, she might be considered beautiful, if not for the hardened, almost sneering expression on her face. She dressed in outlandish gothwear, guaranteed to single her out in a crowd. People were hesitant around her and kept their distance for a good reason. Angel was a loose cannon. You never knew if she was going to smile at you or sink her fangs into your neck. And that tended to be more than a bit of a deterrent when it came to making friends.
Lori sensed the two women's obvious discomfort at the contact and at being in such close quarters with one another. Beneath her grip their shoulders stiffened and they subconsciously shied away from one another and from her. Kayla and Angel were victims of their shared bitter pasts. How Keene ever managed to get the two of them to work together to pull off her big day, she'd never know. Her hubby truly was a genius.
He'd given Angel and Kayla a common cause to work together for. Lori could see the evidence of Janine's handiwork. Nobody put a wedding together quite like Janine. And of course, she was the obvious choice to bridge the friendly animosity the two women held for one another. Who couldn't help but like Janine? Sure, she was annoying sometimes...well, most of the time. But, beyond that, she had a heart of pure gold. And in her exuberance to achieve the goal, she tended to wear most people, even the two bitter frienemies, into compliance.
Janine sipped her champagne and congratulated herself on another job well done. Pulling off this wedding had been her biggest challenge yet. No, getting Angel and Kayla to work together and see things her way had been the hardest part. The wedding had been a piece of cake by comparison. And speaking of cake, Lori's was beginning to melt in the late summer heat.
She sighed and gently eased an icing rose back into place. Aw hell, some things just weren't worth the effort. And the ornate, absolutely to die for wedding cake, Anna had carefully constructed, was one of them. Vampires didn't eat... food anyway. And there was only so much butter cream frosting a handful of humans could ingest. If it weren't for the fact that she never repeated the same theme twice. She'd just stuff it in the freezer for the next lucky girl's big day. But, in her attempt to always one up herself, Janine never reused anything. Each wedding was as unique as the bride and groom it was intended for.
Licking the icing off her finger, she scowled at the wedding cake as if it were a bitter enemy. And it was. Her curvy figure was the bane of her existence. At barely five-foot two in stocking feet, she had to watch every calorie she put into her mouth. No matter how hard she tried, it seemed she was damned to have more than her share of junk in her trunk. Rationalizing like hell that liquid calories didn't count as actual calories. Janine dipped her crystal glass into the bubbling champagne fountain for a refill.
Shouldn't she be able to indulge, just a little, since she was skipping the cake? Actually, one teeny tiny bite probably wouldn't kill her and there was so much left over. It'd be a shame to waste it. She was about to dig in and cut herself a corner piece when her 'supernatural hostess sense' kicked into high gear. Something was amiss and she would not let it ruin Lori's perfect day.
Staring wistfully at the cake, Janine set down the knife and turned to see what the problem was. Oh yeah, she needed to intervene. Lori, in her oblivious elation, had the two frienemies locked in a group hug, and the expressions on Angel and Kayla's faces...not good. Well, Janine sighed as she downed the rest of her champagne, at least nobody was trying to eat anybody, yet. But, given the scowl on Angel's face, it was a distinct possibility.
Embarrassed by Lori's praise, Kayla said, "Janine came up with most of the ideas and we just did what she told us to." She gently shrugged to loosen Lori's hold on her shoulders so that she could escape the tightness of the hug. She wasn't a complete touch-o-phobe. But, she didn't like people groping her. Especially, when, like on occasions such as this, even though the hug was friendly enough, she hadn't been asked first. She had her reasons for her aversion to even the simplest, most innocent of contacts. And like all the other bad stuff in her life, she refused to think about them.
Angel ground her fangs and tolerated the friendly hug. She had learned to tolerate even the most unwelcome touches without showing any emotion a long time ago. She bit back the snide comment on the tip of her tongue at Kayla's flippancy about doing what they were told to do. Wasn't that the same thing they'd always done? Exactly what someone else had told them to? She noticed Kayla's visible pallor at Lori's contact and for a brief instant felt sorry for her. It soon passed as she noticed the blonde dimwit, Janine, who was much, much worse about inadvertent touches than Lori, coming for them with the speed and accuracy of a laser guided missile. Just wonderful. More hugging. She was going to have to shower with a Brillo pad to get the human stink and the lingering sensation of touch off of her skin.
"I thought I heard somebody say my name," Janine said with a smile. She gently nudged Kayla and Angel out of the way and wrapped Lori up in a big, but very careful hug. Vampires had a habit of mistaking her for a walking juice box and more than one had tried to take a bite out of her. Patrick didn't share. And personally, she preferred not to as well. The last thing she wanted was for Lori's wedding to end up like an episode of the Jerry Springer Show. "Congratulations, girl."
Relieved to be excluded from the hug, Angel and Kayla stared at one another over Janine and Lori's bent heads. The two of them understood each other very well. Friendly enemies or frienemies were like that. You smiled. You played nice. But, you never turned your back on one another. They had to live under the same roof. And therefore they had no choice. They didn't hate each other, so much. But, the hatchet was a little too big to bury in one day or perhaps one lifetime.
Lori gently extracted herself from Janine's embrace. She had to remind herself that Janine was like the older sister she'd always wanted and it was not polite to bite family. And Patrick really, really wouldn't like it. "Everything turned out beautifully, Janine. And I thought you were just teasing me when you offered to be my wedding planner."
"There are two things in life I never tease about, fashion and weddings. And that dress looks absolutely stunning on you," Janine said, admiring her latest acquisition from Hannah's store. Hannah stocked only the best. And it was primarily for her. The brotherhood kept Hanna's in business...well, she kept Hanna's in business with the brotherhood's money. As for the brothers, they could care less about what they wore. It was up to her to make sure they didn't run around looking like a bunch of ogres on parade. "Gucci is definitely you," she said in appreciation.
"I don't know about that. But, thank you, Janine. Angel and Kayla, you guys too, thanks for everything."
Janine fanned her face to hide the tears of happiness. She always, always made a fool of herself at weddings and it wasn't because she drank too much champagne. She was a sucker for true love. "Oh, I can't stand it!" She flung out her arms and bounced on the balls of her feet. "Group hug."
Keene stood encircled by his brothers. His back was a bit sore from all the masculine claps of congratulations that had been rained down on his poor hide. Guys didn't do the bawling and hugging thing. Although, the man hug he'd received from Lori's gruff father was a bit of a shocker. That and the stern threat that if he failed to take good care of Lori, he'd shoot him and bury the body somewhere so remote that not even God would find it.
Keene had received plenty of good-natured harassment about the wedding night along with advice to block his thoughts. The brotherhood had few secrets and what couples did between the sheets definitely went under the heading of TMI. They all knew things about each other that they wished they didn't. Most of the time, you just pretended to be as clueless as they hoped you were.
He stood a few inches taller than most of his brothers. Which allowed him to get a good look across the grassy flatlands between the spires of gray shale and granite. Janine held the three women in a relentless hug. He didn't understand female bonding. At all. But, he did know the look of a hungry vampire and Janine was about to become the main course. "Patrick, I think we should tend to our women," he said as he maneuvered out of the group.
Patrick rolled his eyes and followed after Keene. Janine was as harmless as a newborn kitten and just as clueless. Sometimes her big heart overrode her common sense and she was always getting herself into trouble. She just forgot that she was human and not everybody else was. He'd hate to have to kill the bride on her wedding day. But, if Lori got the bright idea to take a bite out of Janine, it would definitely put a damper on the festivities.
He reached her just as Lori's fangs poked out from beneath her upper lip. Gently, Patrick wrapped an arm around his wife's waist and guided her out of the group hug. "Janine, you're hogging the bride."
Keene pressed a gentle kiss to Lori's cheek and eased her out of the group hug. That had been a close one. Janine had no idea she'd almost been added to the list of refreshments. "We should mingle with the rest of our guests. I think your mother has been looking for you."
Lori took a deep breath. Just the slightest press of Keene's lips against her skin and she forgot about how appetizing Janine and Kayla smelled. She reached up on her tiptoes and tucked a stray piece of hair behind his ear. He was a beautiful man, rugged and handsome, not in a coiffed cover of GQ kind of way. He was staggering in his good looks. And his smile completely took her breath away.
His reddish-orange hair hung loose about his shoulders and curled into loose spirals at the ends. And his gray eyes, the eyes she'd once thought were so cold. Sparkled with warmth, love, and the heated tinge of lust. Good to know she wasn't the only one thinking what she was thinking. Like him, she could not wait to make her rounds through the guests and start the honeymoon. Too bad her mother would probably yammer on and on for hours and spoil the mood completely. "Do we have to?"
Keene kissed Lori on the forehead and drew her close to the line of his body as he steered her toward her mother. She fit against him perfectly, nestled in the crook of his arm. He didn't want to mess up the women's handiwork. But, he could not wait to pull the pins out of her hair and run his hands through the sleek blonde strands. To see her green eyes glisten in heat as he worked her out of the sundress and worshiped every inch of her until she begged for mercy.
Not even the eldest Grant female could dampen his desire for his bride. At least now he knew where Lori had gotten her tenaciousness. With fiery dyed red hair and the attitude of a terrier with a bone, Ginger Grant was a true force to be reckoned with. No wonder her father was so stoically quiet whenever his wife was around. He couldn't get a word in edgewise. But, Keene admired Ginger. When her daughter had needed her the most. No matter what, as a mother, she'd wanted for her little girl. She'd stepped up to the plate with no small measure of acceptance and love. No, he didn't want to pay homage to his mother-in-law. But, it never hurt to stay on Ginger's good side.
Ginger stood by the punch bowl and downed a third glass of the sweet concoction. Mixed with a hit of champagne from the fountain, it wasn't half bad. She sighed as her daughter and Keene strolled arm in arm across the bluffs toward her. Ah, the beautiful babies the two of them would have made. She imagined a mix of Keene and Lori's genetics and sighed wistfully in longing.
Oh well, there was always Maggie. At almost sixteen and with those curves, Ginger was going to have to beat the boys off her youngest with a stick. Thank God, Maggie didn't have her older sister's social graces, not that she wasn't acceptably polite, most of the time. But, she preferred books to people. And that was fine with Ginger, until after Maggie graduated from college anyway.
"Oh, there they are." Ginger squealed in delight. Her daughter had never looked more happy or radiant than she did today. Lori made a beautiful bride and Keene a dashing groom. She wouldn't trade a dozen chubby, strawberry blonde grandbabies for her daughter's happiness or the smile of absolute joy on her face.
As a mother, she wanted good things for her daughters. And for Lori, Keene was good. But, she still held out hope she'd get those grandbabies, yet. And she'd do everything in her power to make sure of it. That included ensuring Maggie didn't follow in her sister's footsteps.
Keene stepped graciously out of the way as Lori's mother dragged her off a distant corner for 'girl talk'. He was grateful 'girl talk' didn't include men. When it came to handling Ginger, he was a novice. And there was nothing more frightening than a determined Grant female on a mission. Maybe, he'd get to be alone with his wife sometime before dawn.