I am, by most accounts, a cynical person, and have always been. According to a story my parents like to tell every Christmas, I was four years old when I looked at my mother and said with great conviction, “This whole Santa Claus thing doesn’t make any sense. That’s just a story adults tell kids to make them behave, isn’t it?”
I like that story. It’s short, unlike most of my parents’ stories, and it makes me sound precocious.
The thing is, I need evidence to believe in something. Like it took seeing a human in wolf form and doing a butt-ton of research to believe in Shifters; it took a winter of training in a secluded cabin for me to believe I could help overthrow a corrupt Alpha Pack; and it took years of kisses and trust-building for me to believe Liam Cole loved me with all his heart and wanted to be my mate and husband. I believe in some pretty impossible things, but only because I have proof.
And minutes before I was to become Mrs. Harper Lee “Scout” Donovan-Cole, I started believing in demons.
“Damn it!” I cried as yet another torture device was jabbed directly into my skull. “Do you have to do that?”
“Not at all. I could just leave it alone and let your entire updo come crashing down while you’re standing at the alter in front of a million-bazillion important people you want impress,” Angel, who was most assuredly the exact opposite of what her name claimed her to be, said around the bobby pins sticking out of her mouth.
I swallowed down a growl and let my little sister continue to take out all her frustrations on my head. It didn’t help that she looked absolutely gorgeous in her bridesmaid gown with her perfect hair and makeup. God had cursed me with drop-dead gorgeous siblings. It’s not that I have low self-esteem or think of myself as hideously ugly, but when your hair, eyes, and skin are almost the exact same shade of white, people generally don’t throw you in the same category as movie stars, which is exactly what both of my siblings looked like. Sometimes I think the reason Angel spends so much time and effort in trying to force me into wearing makeup or putting product on my hair is because she is tired of me bringing down the quality of our family portraits with the monochromatic look I don’t even try to tone down anymore. As the Alpha Female, the more otherworldly and badass I look, the better. As Angel’s sister, apparently, that didn’t cut it. She’d spent hours, literal hours, twisting my hair into a series of braids and putting enough makeup on my face I was pretty sure it would crack if I smiled.
Not that I really felt like smiling with her torturing me. The kid was a demon. I was going to have to ask my parents what sort of deal they made with the devil to end up with such an evil imp.
“And…” Angel said, attacking my head with a can of industrial-strength hairspray. “Done!”
I am the Alpha Female. I have brought men twice my size to their knees with my bare hands. I am the thing that goes bump in the night, yet it was with no small amount of fear that I stood and walked over to the full-length mirror. Once there, I stood frozen in place.
I hadn’t meant to say the words out loud, and since I was standing in front of a mirror staring at myself like I’d never seen me before, I got to see the way my cheeks flamed.
Angel walked up to stand behind me. I’m not a short girl by any means, but the twelve-year-old could still look over my shoulder to survey our reflections.
“You’re always beautiful,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Today you just happen to be sporting a gorgeous designer gown while wearing makeup and having your hair fixed in a style other than ‘sloppy ponytail.’ It’s amazing what a few minutes of effort can do.”
“A few minutes? Are you kidding? I’ve had a mid-life crisis since you started.”
Angel opened her mouth for what I’m sure was a scathing comeback dripping with sarcasm – I have no idea where she picked that up from – but was cut off by a tap-tap-tap at the door. The door creaked open and my brother stuck his head inside, eyes squeezed firmly shut.
“Are you dressed?” he asked.
Angel and I locked eyes. My position as Alpha Female allows me to link telepathically with any Seer at any time. Angel wasn’t a Seer, but we didn’t need a supernatural link to communicate without words.
“Just let me slide on some panties,” I said.
Angel’s smile was pure evil. “And I need to shove these new boobs of mine into a bra. You know, I think they get bigger every single day. What do you think, Scout? Are my boobs bigger?”
Jase cracked one eyelid a fraction of an inch before finally giving in and opening them all the way.
“I hate you both,” he said as we both giggled maniacally. “For the record, it will greatly improve my life if you continue to let me believe the two of you were born with swimsuits grafted onto your bodies just like all those dolls you had growing up.”
Proving she was way more evil than me, Angel walked over and slid an arm around our brother’s shoulders. “You know, Jase, Scout is getting married in a few minutes. And do you know what comes after marriage?”
He glared at her with all the power of a Dominant.
Unfortunately for Jase, Angel was one hundred percent human and couldn’t care less for Dominance games.
“The honeymoon. And do you know what people do on honeymoons?”
“Do you, Jase?”
“Do you, Angel?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes yet again. With the frequency with which she did the motion I was surprised they didn’t roll right out of her head.
“I’m twelve, not five,” she said. “I know what sex is.”
And with that, Jase wasn’t the only supremely uncomfortable person in the room. I turned to him, my eyes pleading. “Please, God, tell me you came in here because you need to talk about something that has nothing to do with our little sister knowing what sex is.”
“I hereby move that the word sex is never said by any Donovan sibling at any time when another Donovan sibling is in hearing range,” he said, looking at Angel as if he was just realizing that she was the spawn of Satan. “Also, it’s time for the ceremony to start.”
It’s amazing how quickly a person’s emotions can change. I went from teasing and mildly disturbed to down right terrified in less than a heartbeat. The response was physical as well. I suddenly felt like my entire body was weighed down and my lungs had shrunk up and tried to jam themselves into my throat. All in all, it wasn’t a good feeling, and one that I probably shouldn’t be experiencing moments before what was supposed to be the happiest event of my life.
“Deep breaths,” Jase said at the same time Angel said, “You cannot start crying yet. It’ll ruin your face.”
“I can’t… I need… I…”
“Breathe,” Jase repeated, rubbing small circles in the middle of my back. I wasn’t sure when he’d gotten close enough to touch me, which freaked me out even more. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t stand in front of all those people and let them look at me. Forget that I let them do it every six months at the Hustings. That was different. This, tying my life to Liam’s, declaring our love for each other in front of God and a preacher, was personal. Too personal. They would see how weak I was with him, and if there is one thing an Alpha couldn’t show, it’s weakness.
I was one good lurch away from running out the backdoor when I was flooded with a sense of calm. It was like my heart had been snuggled into a big, fuzzy blanket and given a cup of hot chocolate. The feeling was foreign in that it didn’t originate from me, but familiar. The mating bond is impossible to describe to those who haven’t experienced it. It isn’t like the telepathy between a Shifter and Seer. It’s less exact, but somehow more powerful. Liam can’t put words into my head, but he can put his soul in my body, and when you’re connected to someone’s soul, you don’t have to know what they’re saying. You already know exactly what they mean.
And what Liam’s soul meant was, “Screw them. This is about you and me. If you don’t want to do it, we don’t have to.”
The crazy thing was, he meant it. After a year of planning and organizing, after coordinating the schedules and customs of packs from around the world, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars ensuring this was a ceremony worthy of the Alphas, he was willing to call the whole thing off and run away to Vegas if it was what I wanted.
There was a reason I was marrying this man, other than the fact he was built like a Greek god.
“No, I’m good,” I said aloud, even though he couldn’t hear me. But he knew. My soul was living in his body as well.
My brother and sister watched me like they thought I was going make a break for it as soon as we got out of the room, but I peacefully, and even a little excitedly, walked down the hall to where the rest of the bridal party was waiting. When they saw me, Talley whispered my name like saying it too loud would cause whatever spell Angel had cast over me to break and my mother burst into tears, which I think was a good thing.
Since this was an Alpha Pack wedding and I have what my father calls a “rebellious spirit,” we didn’t have a traditional wedding party. Every female in the Alpha Pack, along with my sister and mother, wore matching bridesmaid dresses, and every male wore matching vests and, if what I was seeing was any indication, identical Converse tennis shoes.
How they managed to talk my father into a pair of Chucks was beyond me.
Most of the Alpha Pack was already standing outside where the ceremony would take place. We had positioned them in a semi-circle, facing the rows and rows and rows of chairs where the other invited guests sat. The setup had two purposes. One, it enclosed the area where Liam and I would exchange vows, giving it a more intimate feel. But more importantly, it forced the others in attendance to remember that the most powerful Shifters and Seers in the world were at our back, always at the ready to protect the Alpha Male and Female.
Only a select few were standing with me inside the building, waiting to make the trek outside and up the aisle. These people gathered around me were my family. Not all of them were related by blood, but each of them had a piece of my heart. A string quartet (not my choice) started the first few notes of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” (totally my choice) and the doors swung open, temporarily blinding us all. Charlie and my mother led the processional, followed by Joshua and Talley, and then Jase and Angel. That left only my father and me inside.
“You ready, princess?” my dad asked, guiding my hand to the crook of his elbow.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and felt my mate’s love fill up my heart to the point of bursting.
“I’ve never been more ready in my life,” I said, stepping out into the sun and walking towards my forever.
I don’t like people. Individuals are fine, but people are the worst. If it was possible to avoid people and crowds forever and always I would, but unfortunately, I’m the Alpha Male, which means no avoiding people for me. Instead, I get all people all the time. Thankfully, the Alpha Pack who surrounds me most days is made up of individuals who I actually like. Today, those individuals are at my back while I’m left to stand facing people.
So many freaking people I wanted to scream.
Scout likes to tell me I’m “cripplingly introverted” while threatening to shoot the next person who even thinks about trying to speak to her. It’s one of those situations involving glass houses and rocks, but I let it slide, mostly because my mate isn’t opposed to throwing actual rocks at someone.
Yet, despite my distaste for people and a case of crippling introversion, there was no place I would have rather been than standing by some ordained Shifter I barely knew in front of hundreds of Shifters and Seers I had no desire to know while I waited for Scout Donovan to walk down the aisle and become my wife.
Some would say my destiny from the time I was born was to become the Alpha Male. Those people are wrong. My true destiny has always been Scout.
Scout also accuses me of being a romantic and way too sappy for a man who can bench press a Volvo. I don’t argue with her, but only because she’s right.
A few unwieldy notes escaped from the string quartet the wedding coordinator insisted on and everyone went silent. And then, finally, the music started and the doors opened. Charlie led Mrs. Donovan down the aisle where she joined Aunt Rachel on the front row of chairs. Six seats were left empty between the two women. One for each member of my family – my mother, my father, Nicole, and Alex – one for Scout’s biological mother, and one for Scout’s mentor and Charlie’s brother, Toby. Charlie paused in front of the seat bearing his brother’s picture, dipping his head in submission before taking his place in the Alpha Pack ring behind me. Joshua and Talley followed, each taking their place with the rest of our Pack. When Jase and Angel made it to the end of the aisle, they parted ways. Jase came to stand at my elbow, while Angel made her way to stand by where my bride would soon be. She caught my eye and gave me a wink, which made me more than a little nervous. Angel Donovan had a good heart and was raised by the best sort of parents, but she wasn’t to be trusted.
It took a few more minutes for the song to finish, and during those eternal seconds I thought I might go mad with anticipation. Scout had gone from freaked out to excited, and her excitement was feeding my own. I wanted to haul her up onto the alter with me get this show on the road already.
My heart was pounding in my chest when the song changed over to The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” and then she stepped out into the light, and it stopped beating all together. Scout is always beautiful. Even when we were barely surviving in the Canadian wilderness without electricity and running water she was beautiful. Her beauty isn’t the carbon-copy type you see paraded on TV. Scout is beautiful in the same way a tree encased in ice or a star racing across the night sky is beautiful. It’s a cold, otherworldly beauty that never lets you forget it contains a strength that cannot be broken.
I’ve known how beautiful Scout is for the past six years, but the way she looked as she walked down the aisle nearly knocked me off my feet. It wasn’t just the beautiful blue-grey gown clinging to every luscious curve or the way her face and hair had been styled to perfection. It wasn’t even the smile that made her look more carefree than I had ever seen her. It was the joy that radiated out of every pore. It was the utter contentment in her soul. It was the way she was looking at me – me, the guy who would never be able to do enough to deserve her – as if all of her happiness and dreams were standing in front of her.
“Hey there, handsome,” she said, coming to stand beside me. “Come here often?”
I tried to school my expression, but there was no wiping the idiotic smile off my face. “Sorry to disappoint you, ma’am, but I’m actually waiting on a girl.”
Thanks to their super-hearing, half the audience chuckled. The other half just looked confused.
As per instructions, Scout offered up her hands and I wrapped them in mine. We’d done the whole thing in rehearsal the night before, but then it felt awkward to have our clasped hands hanging between us. Scout even made a Red Rover joke about it. Nothing had really changed in the past seventeen hours – except for the addition of a couple hundred Shifters and Seers I was trying my best to forget about – but this time around it didn’t feel awkward at all. It felt right.
The preacher went through all the Bible verses about cleaving or clinging to one another or whatever. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was too busy staring at my wife.
Wife. That word made me feel really old and incredibly lucky at the same time.
“Liam,” Scout said without moving her lips.
“I love you,” I whispered back. It had taken me a long time to say those words to her. Too long. I planned on making it up to her by telling her every day for the rest of our lives. It wasn’t a hardship. Telling Scout I loved her made me happy, almost as happy as her automatic response of, “I love you, too.” Except this time, in front of hundreds of people, she didn’t say it back.
There was nothing in the mating bond that said she’d completely lost her mind, but maybe the true horror of insanity is that you can’t register its existence in your own mind.
“Your vows,” she hissed. “Say your vows.
Here’s the thing. I knew that when the Jesus talk and direct call was over, the preacher would instruct me to say my vows. I knew this because the wedding planner had told me at least one hundred times. Later, Jase, Charlie, Joshua, Talley, and Angel would each independently tell me in varying degrees of embarrassment and exasperation that the preacher had indeed prompted me. If Angel was to be believed, he prompted me a grand total of four times. I still maintain, despite video evidence, no prompt was given.
“Oh right,” I said, not even bothering to whisper. “Vows.” Since there was no way in hell Scout was agreeing to obey anyone, we’d decided to write our own. I reached into the pocket of my suit jacket where I’d put my notecards before the ceremony only to find it empty. Completely and totally empty. There wasn’t even a tuft of lint hanging out. The pockets on my pants proved to be on the same high level of cleanliness.
Here’s the thing, at this point many brides would either be devastated or horrified that their perfect day had been ruined. Scout, on the other hand, was having a hard time standing upright she was laughing so hard.
“I’ve lost my vows,” I said, even though it was obvious.
“The look… on your face…” she said, trying to catch her breath.
“Scout, we can’t get married. I don’t have wedding vows.”
This was the work of fate. I knew marrying her was too good of a thing to actually happen.
Sobering up a bit, Scout asked, “Do you still have the ring?”
Jase pulled her wedding band out of his pocket, held it up in the air, and said, “My precious” in what was quite possibly the worst Gollum impression in the history of Gollum impressions.
“Yes,” I said. “We still have the ring.”
Scout’s smile was equal parts wicked and gorgeous. “Then I guess you’re going to have to wing it, Mr. Groom Man.”
Wing it. Right. That would work out perfectly fine since I’m so good at words and all.
“The ring,” the preacher said, interrupting me. “You need to slide the ring on her finger.”
Oh yeah. We’d rehearsed that.
Jase, choking on his laughter, handed over the ring, and I luckily remembered which finger it was supposed to go on.
“Scout…” I’d said that already, hadn’t I?
For the first time since I saw her coming down the aisle, I was aware of all the eyes on us. There was a lot of chuckling and whispering going on. My wolf wanted to snarl at them until they all offered up their necks in submission, but that wouldn’t exactly help get this ceremony back on track. I looked in my mate’s eyes and took a deep breath.
Remember what is important. My inner-voice sounded a lot like my brother Alex. Sometimes I let myself believe it was him reaching out from beyond the grave to guide me through life. This was one of those times. Forget them and focus on her.
I took a deep breath and tried again.
“I love you. That might not seem like such a big, monumental thing to some, but for me, it’s everything. Love and I haven’t had a good history. There are four empty chairs over there to attest to our rocky relationship. Four chairs that were once filled with love that was torn away so violently I swore to never care so deeply for anyone ever again because I knew I couldn’t survive it.
“When you came along with your snarky tongue and complete and utter disdain for me I thought I was safe. I thought I could simply ignore the pull I felt towards you and go on about my loveless life.
“I was an idiot.
“Because you, Harper Lee ‘Scout’ Donovan, are impossible to ignore. You’re beautiful and strong and so damn full of life Death has run screaming from you more times than I care to think about. Ignoring you is like trying to ignore the sun.
“I fell in love with you by accident, but I’m going to continue loving you on purpose. I’m going work every day for the rest of my life to be the best friend, lover, and husband I can be to you. I don’t want to take a single step through the rest of my life without you by my side.
“Scout Donovan, I love you, and with this ring, and in front of these people, I’m marrying you. You are my forever and always.”
Scout launched herself at me, her arms twining around my back as she buried her nose in my neck as her wolf drew in the scent of mine.
“I don’t think we’re to this part yet,” I muttered into her ear so softly even the strongest of Shifters couldn’t hear.
“I’m the Alpha Female,” she muttered back. “I can do whatever I want.”
Eventually, the preacher cleared his throat and suggested we continue with the ceremony. Since he was a Shifter and we were the Alphas, it was a very gentle suggestion and it took a long while in coming.
“Have you prepared your vows, your majesty?” His voice wavered and sweat beaded his forehead. I wondered how much he was regretting agreeing to officiate our service.
“I did, but it was mostly just some Shakespeare and The Office quotes, so I think I’ll just shoot from my gut. Is that okay?”
As if he was going to tell her no.
There was a tense moment as Angel somehow managed to get my wedding band stuck on her thumb. She got it off without too much drama, but I was less than thrilled at the feeling of her spit on my finger as Scout slid it on me.
“With this ring,” Scout said once the band was settled onto the place it would reside for the rest of eternity, “I thee wed.”
And then she didn’t say anything else.
The preacher’s eyes darted from Scout, to me, and back again. “Yes. Right,” he said, clearing his throat. “I proudly present—“
“Wait,” Scout interrupted. “I’m not done yet.”
The audience laughed, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the wedding planner throw her hands in the air and pace along the edge of the room.
“I don’t believe in magic or fate, but I believe love, and I believe in you,” she said, fresh tears causing her eyes to shine like ice in the early light of dawn. “I believe in the way you always fight for what is right, even when the odds are stacked against you. I believe in your fierce determination and the absolute focus you wield like the greatest of weapons. I believe you are the Alpha because you’re the best of us.
“And so today, in front of all these witnesses, I vow to support you when no one else will, to protect you when you need protecting, and to love you with all my heart, body, and soul until the end of time and beyond.”
Her smile was watery and breathtakingly gorgeous. “We’re done now,” she told the preacher. “Give us the kissing command.”
According to the video, he did just that, and also announced us as man and wife, but I didn’t hear that part. I was too busy kissing my wife.