Authors: Victoria Danann
Tags: #vampire romance, #vampire, #paranormal romance romance, #werewolf, #steampunk, #chick lit urban fantasy, #order of the black swan, #werewolves, #witch, #shifter romance, #shifter, #victoria danann
Aelsong's response to this exchange was to laugh and ask Ram if she could have the "other fella's" phone number. Elora stared at Song.
Great Paddy! She's Rammel in female form.
Ignoring his daughter altogether, Ethelred continued to pin Ram with an unflinching stare, accusation all over his face. "An' how is it this happened again?"
"Knife fight in a bar," Ram answered without hesitation and with the same unflinching stare. The thought fluttered across Elora's awareness that Ram might actually be enjoying this exchange on some level. He seemed to like pissing his dad off. At least he wasn't shying away from it.
Not a muscle moved in Ethelred's face and yet a palpable wave of condemnation penetrated the space between Ram and his father. Ethelred was firm in his position of censure. Ram was just as firm in his position, which had all the signs of a third finger salute.
Elora was aware that Aelsblood was watching the warring emotions cross her face. Her peripheral vision was very good and there was no question he'd been assessing, and perhaps evaluating, too.
Of course, in his position he must be practiced at interpreting communication in all its complex and nuanced forms, not just words, and, in a flash of intuition, she somehow knew that he knew. Her eyes swiveled to meet his and found a smile there. It did not touch any other part of his face, which was a trick in itself. But for a fraction of a second, she thought she might have seen admiration in Aelsblood's expression. For what? Wanting to defend Ram? To have the truth be told about who and what he was?
Looking at Aelsblood she tried to project a telepathic question. She asked if this was typical behavior between the two of them. He responded with a nod so slight she could barely discern it, then turned, and left the room without another word.
It was surprising to learn that Irish surnames were passed by matrilineal descent and that Hawking was Ram's mother's name. As soon as they were alone in the suite of rooms that had been Ram's as a boy, Elora had to ask: "So, will you be changing your name to Rammel Laiken?"
"If you wish," he said, walking toward the bath without missing a beat.
When she didn't respond, he stopped and looked over to find her staring at the floor and frowning.
"What just happened?" he asked.
She looked up. "I love your name. And I'm not just saying that. I really do. It's kind of fai..., uh, elf-tale-like. It brings up images of falconry or shape shifting."
Ram laughed as he walked over and put his arms around her. "You do have a very fine imagination, my girl."
"The thing is... I love my name, too. I mean... it's
. Maybe we can keep our own names?"
"Elora, this does no' even show up on my list of priorities. You can call me dickhead so long as I get to be the one who sleeps with my leg thrown over your beautiful body at night."
She smiled and kissed little circles around his throat. "I like the way you think."
"Ha! Since when?"
Elora's time at Derry had felt like a whirlwind of activity. Aelsong and Tepring tried to involve Elora in the event planning, but with the exception of preference of flowers, she had finally just turned it over to them. Even so, she still had to be available for fittings, for learning how to say the vows in Gaelic and learning how to dance a reel. Rammel had given her a tour of the palace, which took most of the day. Every turn seemed to inspire another story about him being in trouble for this or that as a child.
Finally overwhelmed by tales of a parent's nightmare, she sat down on a step of a little-used, side staircase and began absently stroking her flat stomach with her fingertips. "Okay. You're scaring me now. Just what am I in for here?"
Ram frowned. "Are you tired?"
"Of course not."
Ram gracefully lowered himself to the step next to her and snuggled close, smiling as he put his arm around her. "The babe has two parents who are Black Swan knights. If he was no' a little firecracker, somethin' might be off."
Elora laid her head on his shoulder, turned her face into his shirt, and groaned. He chuckled softly.
"Even if he turned out to be exactly like me, I believe I would handle it better than did my own da. We will sure no' have him livin' on his own like a half feral. You and I, we're goin' to keep him close and smother him with hugs and kisses every day whether he wants 'em or no'. He's goin' to know we want him.
"As for us, my feelin' is, that if we can survive vampire, we can survive strong-willed offsprin' and find a way to have fun doin' it." He had a way of rearranging perspective so that things never sounded half bad.
"I love you, Ram."
"You know, if you did no' weigh near three hundred pounds, I'd be scoopin' you up and takin' you to bed for naps."
She laughed and raised her head to look at him. "Wonder how much the baby's going to weigh. You think you're going to be able to pick
He stood. She raised her hand. "Help me up?"
Ram cupped his hands and yelled down the hallway: "We need a winch and pulley in the mud galley stairwell!"
She slapped at his leg, holding her stomach and laughing so hard no sound could come out.
The day promised to be busy for guest arrivals. Kay had come in the night before. He'd caught a commercial flight from Houston and said he was amazed that even first class on commercial airlines was crowded, uncomfortable, and generally barbaric.
Baka was expected from Edinburgh mid morning, Storm in mid afternoon, and Kay's entourage - composed of sisters and fiancé - would be arriving late in the afternoon.
The breakfast room at the palace in Derry, the seat of the Irish monarchy, was a long rectangle with twenty-five-foot ceilings, original wood floors and a wall of tapestries that were almost as old as elfdom. The other side of the room was a wall of windows ten feet high that looked out on gardens built in terraces above idyllic sheep pastures beyond. Spring flowers had begun to show themselves and Elora could see that the display would be dazzling in another month.
Residents and guests had come and gone from breakfast, but Ram and Elora were lingering with Tepring until late morning. The three occupied one end of a dining table that would accommodate fifty, yet somehow Ram's mother made it seem like an intimate family conversation. One of the staff brought Elora a small silver pot of hot chocolate and set it in front of her with a smile, which Elora returned with thanks and an expression of delight.
"Is the cord ready?" Tepring asked Ram, including Elora in the question with a glance her way.
"The cord?" Tepring was beginning to look concerned. "Rammel?"
"Um. I did no' think about it. I've no' done this before, you know."
Tepring made a regal huff and turned to Elora. "We must have a cord for the handfastin'. Traditionally the bride and groom choose the materials and braid it themselves. 'Tis customary to keep it somewhere prominent in the couple's bedchamber, as a symbol of the way you felt on your weddin' day. 'Tis a gift to yourselves really because there may be days when the physical, visible reminder may help you get through times that are no' so fun. There's still plenty of time, but you should attend to it sooner rather than later."
Elora nodded. It wasn't one of her traditions, but she liked the sound of it and it certainly couldn't hurt. "How long should it be?"
"Split the difference between your heights."
She looked at Ram absently while she mentally pictured how much that would be. "Okay. Any suggestions about materials?"
Tepring looked out at the gardens for a few seconds. A wistful smile took over her expression. Elora thought her mother-in-law could not possibly be remembering her own wedding to that walking coat rack with any fondness. Tepring suddenly jerked her focus back to the meeting in progress as if she had heard Elora's thoughts.
"I've noticed you like to wear clothes made from pure natural fibers like silk, linen, wool, and cotton." She leaned toward Elora and lowered her voice. "No' a thing wrong with a few wrinkles here and there."
Elora assumed she was still talking about clothing and smiled. "You're very observant."
Tepring returned her smile. "No' really. I may be overly fond of clothing."
Her eyes slid to Ram. She gave the Black Sabbath tee shirt and faded, threadbare 501's with a tear in the knee a pointed once over. Elora snickered at the implied put down. Ram just smiled, shook his head, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair as if to say, "No' a thing new."
His mother sighed. "No danger that anyone will accuse you of that, Rammel. Anyway, you could start with thick embroidery threads. Or it would go quicker if you used yarn. As you're braidin' you can weave mementos from your courtship or symbols of what you love into the braid. You both like to ride so you could add some horsehair. Elora, the flowers you chose will begin arrivin' later today. If you weave a few into the cord, they will dry prettily."
Ram looked at Elora. "You chose the flowers? Stargazer lilies, red roses, and no baby's breath."
Ram's mother laughed and clapped her hands. "That's right! Rammel, you turned out to be romantic!"
Ram gaped at his mum. "And since when have elves been concernin' ourselves with romance? I thought 'twas a human thing."
Tepring looked at Elora and rolled her eyes and that was all that needed to be said.
After asking Tepring where to find yarn, Ram and Elora went on quest for cord materials and some quiet time to combine braiding with enjoying each other's company, but as they were starting up the wide staircase leading to their wing they ran into Baka, just arriving and being shown upstairs.
Elora rushed to give him a hug which he returned far too enthusiastically to suit Ram.
Istvan Baka had lived his life as a human for thirty years before living as a vampire for six hundred years. As a result of the brand new cure for the vampire virus, developed from the antibodies in Elora's blood that had been hard won at her expense, Baka had very recently resumed life as a human. Because of his long-time ties to The Order and his unique circumstances, he had been hired to create and head up a special task force to bring about the great vampire inversion. As part of that assignment, he had been transferred to headquarters in Edinburgh where he was to reside semi-permanently.
Implementing the inversion was a monumental task and would be daunting if the prospect of ending a millennia-old plague on humanity wasn't so exciting. Sometimes, when change happened, it revolutionized with lightning speed. Overnight the knights of The Order of the Black Swan, Hunters Division, who had spent most of their lives training to become vampire slayers, were about to be retrained and retrofitted as vampire healers instead. The new mission would be to tag vamps with antidote capsules or, as the new slogan said, Shoot to Cure.
As head of the new highly specialized task force, Baka anticipated that finding and curing the vamps would be the easiest phase of the operation. The tricky part would be figuring out what to do with them afterward. There would be hundreds, perhaps even thousands of displaced souls globally, who would "wake up" to find themselves alone in the world - family and friends having aged beyond recognition or passed away. They would need help acclimating to a new life and help with motivation. Meaning that Baka expected widespread depression among the cured vampire, who would confront loss of life as they had known it, coupled with knowledge of the crimes that their bodies had perpetrated without consent. As someone who had lived through this himself, he would even go so far as to say that widespread suicide was a possibility if they didn't come up with a methodical series of steps back toward the light.
Baka foresaw that this posed endless problems of logistics relating to halfway housing, personnel, education, funding, and probably a closet full of problems he hadn't even thought of yet. As musician extraordinaire and successful author of a popular vampire romance series, making the transition to administrator would present some personal challenges. He rather liked not being accountable to anyone else for his time. But he'd do it because he loved what it represented. Not only did he get a chance at life again, he got to spend his days helping others claw their way back to lives worth living. If there was a touch of grace to be found in good works, he was willing to spend some time looking for it there.
Engel Storm wasn't especially happy about the appointment. He thought turning Baka into a bureaucrat was a waste of rare, natural talent; that Baka would have made an excellent addition to The Order's Hunters Division. Truthfully, he would probably have liked to see Baka take Elora's place on B Team, at least while she took pregnancy leave. Assuming Rammel would be able to convince her to take pregnancy leave. She had a super-annoying habit of keeping no counsel other than her own.
Baka was easy to get along with and surprisingly, he and Storm saw eye to eye on most things. Including their mutual attraction to Elora Laiken. Perhaps there was a seed of commiseration over the loss of a shared fantasy.
Ram and Elora decided to put off the cord quest so that they could have a nice lunch with Baka, play hosts, and make him feel welcome. Ram stopped by an in-house phone to call the kitchen and request light fare for three in the solarium while Elora strolled that way with Baka. On the way, she gave him as much of the tour as she could, given that she, herself, was basically a guest as well.