The waiters started bringing out plates and filling the wineglasses.
Valerius took her hand into his, then kissed her knuckles. The sensation of his lips on her hand set fire to her. She’d never known a human being could be so happy and yet terrified at the same time.
Once everyone was served, Gilbert stood up to toast them.
The band stopped playing.
Gilbert opened his mouth, but before he could speak, a deep, accented voice interrupted him.
"I know that it’s typical for the best man to toast the couple, but I think Gilbert might forgive me for usurping his place for a minute."
Tabitha had to force herself not to gape as Zarek approached their table from out in the crowd.
Valerius’s grip tightened on her hand.
Zarek paused directly in front of them and stared meaningfully at his brother. "Weddings have always been a fascinating thing to me," he said, his voice ringing out. "A time when two people look into each other’s eyes and promise each other that they will never allow anyone or anything to divide them.
"Out of two families, they come together to form a separate branch that links back to their roots. It’s a time when two families are joined together because of the hearts of two people. A time when ill will and bad feelings should be put to rest along with the past."
Zarek’s gaze went down the table, stopping at each of the current and former Dark-Hunters. "Weddings signify a new beginning. After all, no human alive has ever been able to choose his family… God knows, I would never have chosen mine." He quirked a smile at Valerius. "But as the Roman playwright Terence once wrote, ‘From many a bad beginning great friendships have formed.’"
Zarek lifted a glass to them. "Here’s to my brother, Valerius, and his wife Tabitha. May you both come to enjoy the happiness I have known with my own wife. And may you give one another all the love you both deserve."
Tabitha wasn’t sure which of them was the most stunned by Zarek’s words. Her family, unaware of what an unexpected moment this was, cheered Zarek’s toast.
Shocked beyond comprehension, neither of them took a drink.
Zarek walked over and gave them a wry, almost mocking grin. "You’re supposed to take a drink now."
They did, but Valerius choked on his. He sniffed the glass suspiciously.
"Did you poison me?" he asked Zarek in a low tone.
Zarek rubbed his eyebrow with his middle finger. "No, Valerius. Even I’m not that cruel."
"It’s nectar," a woman’s voice said.
Tabitha turned to see a beautiful blonde pregnant woman behind her.
The woman placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, then kissed her on the cheek. "I’m Zarek’s wife, Astrid," she said in a low tone that only the two of them could hear. She turned to Valerius and gave him a kiss as well. "We couldn’t decide what to give the two of you for a wedding gift, so Zarek thought the best gift would be eternity together."
"Yeah," Zarek said in a surly tone. "That’s the polite version of what I said."
Astrid gave him a playfully mean look before she looked back at them. "Congratulations to you both."
She handed Valerius a small bowl of something that reminded Tabitha of Jell-O. "It’s ambrosia," she said to Valerius. "Eat it and you’ll be able to hurl lightning bolts back at Zarek whenever he gets playful with you."
"Hey!" Zarek snapped. "I never agreed to that."
Astrid gave him an innocent stare. "This way, I figure you’ll play nicer in the future with your brother."
Tabitha laughed. "You know, I think I like my new sister-in-law."
Astrid left them to join Zarek, who looked less than pleased. "Don’t worry, hon, I’ll make sure you have plenty of other things to occupy your time with than harassing Valerius."
Zarek’s gaze softened the instant she touched him.
Valerius rose to his feet and walked around the table until he stood before Astrid and Zarek. "Thank you," he said.
He held his hand out to Zarek, who looked at it suspiciously. Tabitha half-expected him to turn away.
Taking Valerius’s hand, he clapped him on the back, then released him. "Your woman loves you more than you know. She’s a hell of a fire-cat. I probably should have given you something in Kevlar."
Valerius laughed at that. "I hope you two will stay for the reception."
"We’d love to," Astrid said before Zarek could answer.
The two of them took a seat at the table with Selena and Bill while Valerius came back to her.
"Bon appetit," Tabitha said as she held the ambrosia out to him.
He ate it, then kissed her.
"Mmm," Tabitha breathed, inhaling the scent of her husband. "Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo."
I intend to have my way with you upstairs and down.
Valerius smiled. "And I intend to let you." His face turned serious as he stared at her and his love for her consumed him. "Amo, Tabitha. Amo."
One year later
"Look at the poor bastard," Kyrian said as he sat inside the Cafe Pontalba with Amanda, Grace, Julian, Bill, and Selena having dinner. "I should have been kind and killed him when I had the chance."
Through the doorway on their right, they could see Tabitha and Valerius walking toward the St. Louis Cathedral.
The women frowned as they watched them.
"What?" Amanda asked.
"He’s so screwed," Bill said before taking a drink of his beer. "I wonder what he did wrong this time."
"What are you two talking about?" Selena asked.
"I know that Devereaux walk," Kyrian said, shaking his head. "It’s the ‘You’re not going to get any tonight, pal, so don’t even ask’ walk."
"Oh, hell yeah," Bill agreed. "Be glad you married the only one of the sisters who won’t rack you in a fit of anger, Kyrian. You seriously lucked out."
"I beg your pardon?" Selena glared at her husband.
"I wouldn’t laugh if I were you," Amanda said, her voice tense as they saw Tabitha tell Valerius to "talk to the hand."
Then she continued to walk in front of him as Valerius followed and made placating gestures.
"I really hate that walk," Bill muttered.
"I think you’re both going to see that walk up close and personal tonight," Julian said before he pulled out his Nextel phone. He scrolled through the names before he clicked the talk button. "Hey, Otto? Where are you?"
"Cafe Du Monde. Why?"
"Can you see Valerius and Tabitha? They look like they’re heading down the Pedestrian Mall toward you."
Otto made a sound of disgust. "Yeah, the two of them need to go get a room."
"Pardon?" Julian asked.
"They’re lip-locked like two horny teenagers."
Amanda and Selena gave their husbands indignant glares.
"No way." Kyrian got up and dashed out the doorway with Bill one step behind him.
He walked the block over to see Tabitha and Valerius stopped in front of Selena’s store.
Sure enough, the two of them were necking.
"Excuse me?" Bill said. "You know, there are public decency laws here?"
Tabitha scoffed at Bill. "Do you remember what happened to you the last time you tried to tell a Devereaux what the city laws were?"
Bill went pale.
Tabitha laughed, then returned to what she’d been doing before Bill so rudely interrupted her.