Changeling Press is celebrating a decade of great erotic romance fiction. I’m B.J. McCall and the month of June always puts me in the mood for a wedding. Lord Mâkakao from the Way of the Wolf by Shelby Morgen is marrying Cassadara. Quiet, the ceremony is about to begin.
Lord Mâkakao did his best not to fidget, even though standing beside the altar waiting for his mate was driving him insane. He should have married her secretly, in private, so she wouldn't have to face such a huge crowd.
She was going to bolt when she saw the crowd. He knew she was. He should have escorted her to the hall himself. Perhaps she was already gone. She was a private person. She didn't like crowds and ostentation.
Who had ever thought up these barbaric rituals, anyway?
He cursed himself mentally for even thinking the word barbaric. He was sure his soon-to-be mother-in-law could read his thoughts.
At last the door creaked open, and the most gorgeous creature he'd ever seen walked in, escorted by two young people who might possibly have been his niece and nephew, Darien and Denella, except they were too well behaved. If he'd thought about what he'd expected her to wear, it would have been armor, perhaps Mithral chainmail, something befitting her station.
Instead they'd dressed her in glimmering white robes, as befitted a Shaman. The outer robe floated open around her, while the inner one tied in the front just below her breasts. He tried not to stare at her breasts, though the gossamer robe left little to the imagination. Instead he moved his gaze back to her face.
She looked almost fragile. So beautiful. So terrified. At any moment, he worried, she'd change to lupine form and launch herself out a window.
The children scattered a trail of rose petals at the feet of the bride. Mâk took her hand when she reached his side, as much to keep her from running away as to provide her support.
The Priest had been speaking for several seconds before Mâk decided he'd better listen to see what the old man was saying. "We gather here today in the presence of the gods to celebrate the union of Cassadara, daughter of House Lochinvar, and Mâkakao, Lord of House Yarishet. Should anyone have cause why these two should not be united, let that person speak now."
Lady Lochinvar smiled munificently, but Tranorva's frowning face at her side concerned him the most. Mâk held his breath, waiting for the Priest to continue.
"Marriage is a contract to be entered into only after a great deal of consideration. Houses make political alliances. People make marriages. Cassadara, come you here of your own free will and without reservation?"
"I do so come." Her voice was strong. Determined. Mâk relaxed a little, but did not loose his hold on her.
"As a woman is not a slave to be traded at auction, I ask only who represents you, Cassadara, and if you come with the blessings of your house."
Lady Lochinvar stepped forward. "I, her Lady Mother, represent Cassadara and I bring the blessings of House Lochinvar."
The Priest turned his attention back to Mâk. "Mâkakao, Lord Yarishet, come you here of your own volition, entering into this agreement freely?"
He swallowed hard. "I do so come."
The old Priest smiled at him. "Mâkakao, neither I nor the gods have the right to bind you to Cassadara. Only you have this right."
"This is my wish."
"Cassadara, neither I nor the gods have the right to bind you to Mâkakao. Only you have this right."
Cassadara stared at the Priest, refusing to meet Mâk's gaze. An eternity passed before she spoke. "This is my wish."
"Mâkakao, you may place the ring on her finger."
Darien stepped forward to hand him the ring. Mâk raised Cassadara's hand to his lips, kissing it once before he slipped the family crest onto her little finger. Their eyes met at last, and he saw hers were filled with tears, yet she was smiling.
Her fingers closed firmly over his. Something in his heart felt as if it would shatter at any moment.
"Mâkakao, have you words you would say at this time?"
He was supposed to say something, he knew. He had it written down, but then he'd left the parchment in his room, sure he had the words memorized. He'd worked on this speech until it was perfect, and now he couldn't remember a word of it. He stared into her eyes, hoping she couldn't see the panic in his face, and said the first thing that came to his mind.
"Cassadara, daughter of House Lochinvar, you are the answer to my every prayer. I once pledged to serve you loyally for the term of my indenture. I now pledge to love you faithfully until the hour of my death and beyond. You own my heart. I will stand beside you until the end of my days, through feast and famine, through adversity and in times of peace. I will respect your ways and beliefs and honor your house as my own. All that is mine, I give to you freely. All that I am, I pledge to you."
Well, he'd gotten most of it in there. Not as well as he'd written it, but it would have to do.
The Priest spoke again. "Cassadara, have you words you wish to speak?"
Her smile reached her eyes, though the tears had clumped her lashes into thick dark smudges that made her look so vulnerable. "Mâkakao, I set off on my quest to unite our two great houses with little hope of a true alliance between our peoples. I stand beside ye today no' as an offering from my house, no' as a bridge to cement our alliance, but as a woman. Ye own my heart. I shall stand beside ye through feast and famine, through adversity and in times of peace, until the hour of my death. I pledge to love ye faithfully until the end of my days and beyond. I shall honor thy house as my own. All that is mine, I give to ye freely. All that I am, I pledge to ye."
She had managed his name. Little else registered. She had practiced until she could twist her tongue around his full name. Tears misted his eyes but he fought them down, concentrating on the Priest's words once again.
The Priest knotted a white ribbon across their joined hands. "You have pledged your love and devotion before the gods. We who stand with you today are witness to this pledge. You are now husband and wife. May your love endure as a guiding light to those around you. May your houses prosper even as your love. Mâkakao, you may kiss your bride."
A cheer rose from the crowd. Mâk felt a huge grin tug at his face.
She hadn't run. She'd wanted to, he was sure of it -- if not from him, then from the crowd and the pageantry, but she'd stayed. His wife. His mate. The creature of his imaginings had been infinitely inferior to the reality before him. He drew her close with his free hand and nuzzled her gently as was her way before he placed his lips over hers -- as was his way.
Cassadara's eyes widened in surprised. Her free hand found its way to the back of his neck, turning the kiss into something more passionate than the chaste public kiss he'd expected. Unadulterated joy filled his heart.
Her voice came as a soft caress against his cheek. "This mating of the lips is called a kiss."
He shifted back to her own language, lest their words become too public. "Mmm. I like your description better. 'Tis another kind of mating my body desires of you. I have hungered for you unimaginably during the days of your convalescence."
"Ye shall have to wait longer," she teased.
Desire warred with concern, dampening his spirits. "Are you not recovered yet, Mael amin? We could have postponed this pageantry yet another week."
"I am well. I was recovered a week ago. Know ye not I am a Shaman? I heal quickly. My mother's touch did much to fight off the Orc's fever spells. I meant only that ye would have to wait through a long afternoon of feasting and well wishing before ye can fulfill thy other desires."
He growled against her ear. "We shall see about that."
Grasping her bound hand in his, Mâkakao turned them both to face the crowd, raising their hands high together. "Friends, I present to you Lady Yarishet!"
Another cheer shook the grand hall. At his signal, the musicians began to play a traditional wedding ballad. The guests moved aside to clear the center of the marble floor as Mâk swept Cassadara into his arms.
Way of the Wolf (Northlanders Volume 1)