Closing her eyes, she imagined her and Wulf in his house, with a passel of children running around them.
Funny how she had never dared dream for a single child and now she wanted more time to have as many as possible.
But then, all of her people wished for more time on this earth. Her mother, even her sister.
You could go Daimon too.
Maybe, but then the man she loved would be honor bound to kill her.
No, she couldn’t do that to either one of them. Like all the Apollites here, she would meet her death with the dignity Wulf had written of.
And he would be left behind to weep for her…
Cassandra winced at that. How she wished she dared run so that he would never see her die. Never know when she passed away. It was so cruel to him.
But it was too late for that. There was no way to escape him while she needed his protection. All she could do was try to keep him from loving her as much as she loved him.
For the next three days, Cassandra had the distinct feeling that something was up. Whenever she drew near Wulf and Kat when they were together, they would immediately become quiet and act nervous.
Chris had taken up with a group of young female Apollites that Phoebe had introduced him to when she’d taken him shopping to buy electronics that would keep him from being bored. The Apollite girls thought his dark coloring was "exotic" and they adored the fact that he was so into computers and technology.
"I have died and gone to Valhalla!" Chris had exclaimed the night he met them. "These women appreciate a man with a brain and they don’t care that I don’t tan. None of their people do either. It’s great!"
"They’re Apollites, Chris," Wulf had warned him.
"Yeah, so? You got an Apollite babe. I want one too. Or two or three or four of them. This is so cool."
Wulf had shaken his head and left Chris to them with one last warning. "If they make a move on your neck, run."
By day five, Cassandra was really starting to worry. Wulf had been nervous since the moment she woke up. What’s more, he and Kat had been gone for hours the night before and neither one of them would tell her what they’d been up to.
He reminded her of a skittish colt.
"Is there something I need to know?" Cassandra asked after she cornered him in the living room.
"I’m going to go find Phoebe or something," Kat said, shooting for the door.
She made a hasty exit.
"There’s just something, I…" Wulf paused.
"Well?" she prompted.
"Wait here." He left her to go to Chris’s room.
A few minutes later, he came back with an old Viking sword. She remembered having seen it in a special glass case in his cellar. The two of them must have gone back to his place last night to retrieve it. But why they would take such a chance, she couldn’t imagine.
Holding the sword in his hands between them, Wulf took a deep breath. "This isn’t something I’ve thought about doing in more than twelve hundred years and I’m trying to remember everything, so give me a second."
She didn’t like the sound of that. She drew her brows into a deep vee. "What are you going to do? Cut my head off?"
He gave her a peeved stare. "No, not hardly."
She watched as he took two gold bands out of his pocket and placed them on the blade. Then he presented them to her.
"Cassandra Elaine Peters, I would like to marry you."
She was dumbstruck by his proposal. The thought of marriage had never even entered her mind. "What?"
His dark eyes burned into hers. "I know our son had a strange conception, and will most definitely have an odd life, but I want him to be born the old-fashioned way-to married parents."
Cassandra covered her face with her hands as tears welled. "What is it about you that you make me cry all the time? I swear, I never wept until the day I met you."
He looked as if she had struck him.
"I don’t mean it in a bad way, Wulf. You just do things that touch me so deeply in my heart that it makes me cry."
"So you’ll marry me?"
"Of course, you silly man."
He moved to kiss her. The sword tilted and the rings went rolling across the floor. "Damn," he snapped as they scattered. "I knew I was going to botch this. Hold on."
He got down on his hands and knees and retrieved the rings from under the couch. Then he returned to her and kissed her lips hotly.
Cassandra savored the taste of him. He had given her so much more than she ever hoped for or dreamed of.
Nipping her lips, he pulled back. "In Norse custom, we did things backward. The couple exchanged plain bands at the betrothal. You’ll receive your diamond ring when we get married."
He slid her smaller ring on her trembling hand, then handed her the larger one.
Cassandra’s hand shook even more as she saw the intricate Norse design of a highly stylized dragon. She slid it onto his finger, then kissed the back of his hand. "Thank you."
He cupped her face gently and kissed her. Cassandra was instantly dizzy.
"I have everything planned for Friday night if that’s okay with you," he said quietly.
"My people always married on Fridays to pay tribute to the goddess Frigga. I thought we could combine the customs of your people with mine. Since the Apollites have no set day of the week, Phoebe said it wouldn’t matter to you."
Cassandra pulled him back to her lips and kissed the devil out of him. Who knew an ancient barbarian could be so thoughtful?
The only thing that would make this more perfect would be to have her father present, but Cassandra had learned long ago not to ask for the impossible.
"Thank you, Wulf."
He nodded. "Now Kat and Phoebe need you to go shopping for a wedding dress."
He opened the front door only to have Phoebe and Kat spill into the room.
They both gave false smiles as they righted themselves.
"Oops," Kat said. "We just wanted to make sure everything was going as planned."
Wulf shook his head.
"Of course it is," Cassandra said. "How could it not?"
And before she knew it, they had whisked her away to a small shop down in the main part of the city while Wulf stayed in the apartment.
Cassandra hadn’t really been back to the city after Wulf’s "warm" reception and her horrifying discovery of Phoebe and Urian together.
Rather, she and Wulf had spent most of their time confined to their apartment where she was safe and didn’t have to worry about anyone insulting him.
It was nice to be out now, even if the air was recycled rather than fresh. Phoebe took her into a dress store that was owned by a friend of hers who was expecting them. In fact, all the women in the store were surprisingly friendly toward her.
Cassandra had a suspicion most of that was because they owed so much to Phoebe’s husband.
Melissa, the clerk assigned to help them, appeared around the age of twenty. She was a skinny blond woman no taller than five ten, which for a Daimon was tiny.
"This one could be easily altered by Friday," Melissa said, holding up a sleek, gauzy dress that shimmered in the faint light. It was an iridescent silvery white. "Would you like to try it on?"
As soon as Cassandra saw it in the full-length mirror, she knew there was no need to go any further. It was gorgeous and she felt like a fairy princess in it. The material was buttery soft and slid sensuously against her skin.
"You’re so beautiful," Phoebe whispered as she stared at her in the mirror. "How I wish Mom and Dad could see you right now."
Cassandra smiled at her. It was hard to feel beautiful with her stomach sticking out a mile, but at least she had a good reason for being fat.
"You are lovely," Kat concurred as she helped to adjust the floor-length hem.
"What do you think?" Melissa asked. "I have more if-"
"I’ll take it."
Smiling, Melissa moved forward and helped her out of it, then took measurements for the alterations. Kat and Phoebe left the dressing room and went outside to look for accessories.
"You know," Melissa said as she measured Cassandra’s waist, "I have to say that I admire you for what you’ve done."
Cassandra looked at her with consternation. "What do you mean?"
"Finding a Dark-Hunter to protect you," Melissa said as she made notes on a small PDA. "I wish I had someone like that to look after my little ones when I’m gone. My husband died three months ago, and though I have another two years, I can’t help but worry about them."
Melissa looked younger than that. It was hard to imagine the vibrant, healthy salesclerk dying of old age in such a short time.
The poor woman had lost her husband. Most Apollites married people within a few months of their own age for that reason. It was considered a bonus to find a spouse who shared your birthday.
"Is it… painful?" Cassandra asked hesitantly. She’d never seen an Apollite die of "natural" causes.
Melissa made another note. "We make a vow here to let no one die alone."
"You haven’t answered my question."
Melissa met her gaze. Her eyes were filled with unspoken emotions, but it was the fear there that reached out and made Cassandra shiver. "Do you want the truth?"
"It’s unbearable. My husband was a strong man. He cried like a baby all night long from the pain of it."
Melissa cleared her throat as if her own pain were too much to bear. "I sometimes understand why so many of our people kill themselves the night before. I even thought about moving my children to a new community so that they would have the choice, but up on the surface, we have too many predators to fight. Other Apollites, Daimons, Were-Hunters, humans, and Dark-Hunters who are looking for our brethren. My mother brought me here when I was just a child. But I remember the upper world well. It’s so much safer here. At least we can live openly without fear of someone learning about us."
Cassandra couldn’t breathe as thoughts tore through her. She had known it wouldn’t be pleasant, but what Melissa described was so much worse than what she had imagined.
It would be bad enough for her to suffer… but what of the baby? He was so innocent. He didn’t deserve such a fate.
But then who did?
"Oh, here now," Melissa said quickly, "I didn’t mean to upset you."
"It’s okay," Cassandra said past the lump in her throat. "I asked and I appreciate your honesty."
As soon as they were finished, Cassandra no longer felt festive, nor did she want to continue shopping. She needed to see Wulf.
She found him in the bedroom of their apartment, flipping channels on the TV. He turned it off the instant he saw her. "Is something wrong?"
She hesitated at the foot of the bed. He sat back against the pillows, his feet bare and one leg bent. The concern in his eyes meant the world to her, but it wasn’t enough.
"Will you hunt my baby, Wulf?"
He scowled. "What?"
"If our son grows up and decides he doesn’t want to die. Will you kill him for it?"
Wulf held his breath as he debated. "I don’t know, Cassandra. I really don’t. My honor commands it. But I don’t know if I can."
"Swear to me you won’t hurt him," she said, moving to stand beside him. She grabbed his shirt and held tight as fear and agony washed through her. "Promise me that when he’s grown, if he turns Daimon you’ll let him go."
"Then why are we here?" she shrieked at him. "What good is having you as his father if you’re going to kill him anyway?"
"Cassandra, please. Be reasonable."
"You be reasonable!" she shouted. "I’m going to die, Wulf. Die! Painfully. And I’m almost out of time." She let go of him and paced back and forth, trying to breathe. "Don’t you see. I won’t remember anything after I’m dead. I’ll be gone. Gone from all of this. From all of you." She looked around the room frantically. "I won’t see these colors. Your face. Nothing. I’m going to die. Die!"
Wulf pulled her into his arms as she sobbed against his chest. "It’s okay, Cassandra, I have you."
"Stop saying it’s okay, Wulf. It’s not okay. Nothing we can do will stop this. What am I going to do? I’m only twenty-six. I don’t understand. Why do I have to do this? Why can’t I see my baby grow up?"
"There has to be something to help you," he insisted. "Maybe Kat can talk to Artemis. There’s always a loophole."
"Like you have?" she demanded hysterically. "You can’t escape being a Dark-Hunter any more than I can escape being an Apollite. Why are we even getting married? What’s the point?"
His gaze burned into hers. "Because I’m not going to let it end like this," he growled fiercely. "I have lost everything I cared about in my life. I’m not going to lose you or my child to this. Do you hear me?"
She heard him, but it changed nothing. "What’s the solution?"
He pulled her roughly against his chest. "I don’t know. But there has to be something."