Sunset had fallen while he was visiting with the queen and his eldest brother. He smiled as he strode through the trees, knowing what he would find when he got back to the house. Isabelle would be busy in the kitchen, putting together another concoction.
She was determined to improve her cooking skills in spite of several set backs. Each failure had been met with a frustrated groan and a declaration of “our daughter is not growing up on take out.” Alasdair would take whatever disaster she was lamenting over and dispose of it while trying not to chuckle. Countless hours of training with blades and bows had taught him perfection was not created overnight in spite of a person’s desire for it to be that easy. Some of her attempts were great successes and he was enjoying exploring modern human cuisine.
In the month and a half since his return to the human realm the house had gradually started to fill up with baby books, baby clothes, and furniture for the nursery. They had cleared out the bedroom across the hall from the master and painted the walls in cheerful greens and yellows. She had told him she was nesting and he thought it was adorable how she had thrown herself into making sure the baby’s room had everything she could possibly think of for their little princess.
If nothing else, her preparations kept her busy while he visited his family in the faerie realm and worked with Bernie on creating an identity for himself so he marry her in this realm. While he was content to have taken her as his mate in the private faerie way he knew it was important to her that they be married in the human ritual as well. Nothing big, she had told him. He wasn’t sure what that meant so he just smiled when she suggested just a few friends as witnesses and a small party to celebrate.
He would need an identity to fulfill her desire for a honeymoon. It would have been easier to spend a few weeks in his realm but she wanted to show him her favourite places in somewhere called Hawaii and he was intrigued. He had every intention of taking her to the faerie realm for at least a few weeks before the baby came and they started their new roles as parents.
His steps picked up speed as he exited the trees. He was curious to see what she had come up with today and, more importantly, he didn’t like to be away from her longer than necessary. After seeing how she had suffered with morning sickness he was carrying more guilt than he was expecting. She’d tried to placate him by insisting that the discomfort was worth it but it was upsetting for him to see his mate in such distress.
Lights in the driveway drew his attention. She hadn’t mentioned anyone coming by for dinner. His hand immediately went to the amulet and he murmured the incantation quickly. His wings slid through the clever slits she had cut into his shirt and he leapt into the air. He arrived at the house within minutes, landing softly on the deck. The incantation to hide his wings fell from his lips as he made his way around the house.
Isabelle was hurrying down the stairs to greet the guests as he rounded the corner. He could just barely make out her cries of surprise when he caught a familiar scent. Well honed warrior instincts raged to the surface of his brain. He sprinted the rest of the way, snatching a stake out of the flower garden as he passed it, and grabbed the amulet with a quick cry of the incantation.
“Lass! Get inside!” She turned from hugging the woman who’d gotten out of the car to watch in amazement as her mate’s wings exploded into sight and he grabbed the man standing near the trunk of the car.
“What the hell are you doing?” The man he had pinned cried out. Both women stood stunned for a moment and then pandemonium broke out.
The women shouted at Alasdair, Isabelle grabbed at his left arm trying to pull his hand away from the man’s throat. The other woman pulled at his right arm trying to keep him from stabbing the man with the stake. The man had his hands out trying to find Alasdair’s throat. Alasdair was trying to shake everyone off without injuring the women and drive the stake into the man’s chest. He turned his attention to Isabelle.
“Get inside. I’ll take care of this demon. You must protect the babe,” he said the words through gritted teeth.
“Demon?” The woman on his right cried. “He’s not a demon.”
“She’s right,” the man grunted.
“Wait.” The woman looked past Alasdair at Isabelle. “Did he say baby? Belle, are you pregnant?”
“She is,” Alasdair answered.
“Honey.” Isabelle yanked at his arm again. “Can you please stop trying to kill our guest so I can say hi to my cousin?”
“This thing is your cousin?” He moved to stab the man again.
“No. I am,” the woman on his right said loudly. “And this is my friend. He’s not a demon I promise.”
“But he is a vampire.” Alasdair looked at her.
“A vampire?” Isabelle looked at the man. “How can you tell?”
“I can smell death on him,” Alasdair growled.
“Hey. You wouldn’t smell too great either after what we’ve been through,” the woman said loudly.
“What’s going on?” Isabelle asked.
“If your boyfriend would stop trying to kill my friend for a minute I can explain,” the woman answered.
“I’m her mate,” Alasdair grunted and pulled at his arms again. Neither woman let go.
“What?” The woman finally got a good look at Alasdair and noticed the wings flared out from his back. “Belle. I think you have some explaining to do too.”
“Alasdair will you please let him go so we can go inside and talk?” Isabelle entreated. He eyed the man for a moment and then with one final shove he let him go.
“Don’t—” Alasdair started.
“You two come in.” Isabelle looked up at Alasdair’s frustrated glare. “What? Dinner’s almost ready. I can’t stay out here while my lasagna burns.”
“Do you not know anything about these creatures?” Alasdair threw his hands up. “You just invited him in to our home.”
She stared at him for a moment then smiled at the man Alasdair had been trying to stake. “Do you promise not to kill us?” she asked. The man swallowed a laugh and nodded. “There you go,” she said to Alasdair. He glared at the man and tightened his grip on the stake. The woman took the man’s hand and pulled him toward the house, making sure to give the faerie a wide berth.
The vampire sighed softly as he was ushered into the house. Isabelle’s cousin gave him a little smile, stopped near the entryway closest, and kicked her boots off. The vampire followed suit then turned as the couple stopped behind him. The woman put her hand out toward the vampire, he gripped her fingers lightly.
“Em has always been terrible at introductions,” she said with a little laugh. “I’m Isabelle and this is Alasdair.” She looked up at the winged man. Alasdair gripped a stone that was wrapped in a leather cord around his neck and murmured something. “As you can see—” Alasdair’s wings disappeared. “Or have seen—” She looked at the vampire. “He’s not human either.” He smiled at her. At the distance they were standing, less than two feet, he could feel the slight vibration emanating from her belly. “He’s faerie.” The vampire blinked. Faerie had vanished from the world before he’d been turned but he’d heard stories about them. Older vamps spoke about faerie blood with longing in their voices.
There was magic in Alasdair’s blood. Delicious, powerful, magic. And in the blood of that little baby Isabelle was carrying. No wonder Alasdair had risked exposing himself.
“Balthazar,” the vampire said with a little smile.
Isabelle shook his hand and then looked back at Alasdair. “That’s Emmeline but everyone calls her Em.”
Em smiled briefly at the faerie then looked at Isabelle. “Belle,” she said as she patted Balthazar’s arm. “It was a really long drive. Do you mind if we freshen up?”
“Of course, you know where the main washroom is.” She eyed the over sized clothes Balthazar was wearing. “I’ll grab you something to wear if you want to have a quick shower?” Balthazar’s gaze shifted to Alasdair, who was standing right behind Isabelle, so close he was almost leaning over her. She realized what he was thinking and laughed. “I’m sure I have something.” Em grabbed Balthazar’s arm and led him off to the stairs. Isabelle smiled up at Alasdair then took off to gather clothes for the couple.
Alasdair was right on her heels as she hurried up the stairs. She disappeared into the closest while he leaned against the door jam with a frown on his handsome face.
Isabelle pulled a box of John’s old clothes out from the back of the closet and rifled through it quickly, smiling as she found a couple of pairs of jeans that were almost new. When she bought them they had ended up being too long for John but she hadn’t had a chance to have them hemmed before he died. She pulled out a couple of t shirts.
“Lass,” Alasdair said as he straightened.
She shoved the clothes into his arms. “Hold these for a second.” She spun around and went to her dresser, pulled out a pair of yoga pants. She held her hand out behind her and waved them at her mate. He moved behind her and took the pants with a little sigh. “You’re not going to tell me to throw them out.” She heard him take a breath, preparing to respond. She yanked a shirt out of a drawer and turned to him. “She’s family.” His frown softened. “Let’s at least find out what’s going on.”
“He’s a vampire,” he said softly. “They are not kind.”
“Maybe he’s the tortured soul kind like in Anne’s Rice’s books.” She took the clothes from him then pushed herself onto her toes and planted a soft kiss on his jaw. He smiled slightly. If he wasn’t vigilant Isabelle was going to mother every soul in sight as she prepared herself for their daughter’s arrival. Before he could say anything else Isabelle had side stepped him and was on her way down the hall. He hurried after her but didn’t really need to. Em had opened the door in response to Isabelle’s knock, taken the clothes, and closed the door. Isabelle swung around and grabbed Alasdair’s hand. “Come help me with dinner.” He let his mate pull him down the stairs but refused to let go of the garden stake when she tried to take it.
Em lingered in the shower while Balthazar went down stairs and asked if he could pull their car into the garage. Isabelle gave him the key and he left the couple in the kitchen. She was coming back to the kitchen, her arms full of linens when he came back inside.
She smiled at the vampire. “Is the bedroom in the basement okay?”
His shoulders relaxed slightly. The thought of having to spend a night with only a wall or two between him and the faerie was more than a little uncomfortable. “That would be perfect actually,” Balthazar said.
“We can put something over the window to block out the light if it’s—” She shrugged slightly. “Too bright.” She dropped the linens on the counter and moved to where Alasdair was pulling plates out of the cupboard. Her hand settled on his back. “Honey can you—?” Her other hand smoothed her belly. “Please?”
Alasdair’s eyes moved to Balthazar who was watching the exchange with interest.
“Can I help with something?” Balthazar asked.
“No, but thank you.” She turned to look at him. “It’s something silly only he can do.”
“Well now I’m curious.” Balthazar moved closer and held his hands out to take the plates from the faerie, ignoring the glare Alasdair leveled on him.
“Lass.” Alasdair leaned down and brushed his lips across her cheek.
“She’s going to drive me crazy until you do it.” She looked at Balthazar who was setting the plates on the table. “She hasn’t even been born yet and she’s already a daddy’s girl.” Her hand smoothed the bump again. “She won’t settle down until he acknowledges her.” She smiled up at her mate. “Not that I blame her.” Balthazar watched as Alasdair knelt down in front of her and cupped the roundness of her belly in his hand. Isabelle sighed as his head rested against her.
“I didn’t know babies could hear that well,” Balthazar said as he leaned against the island to watch them.
“She’s definitely not an average baby,” Isabelle said proudly. “Are you my little goofball?” Her hand covered Alasdair’s.
Balthazar watched them for a second. “We shouldn’t have come,” he said softly.
“Why did you?” Isabelle looked up from Alasdair. “I haven’t heard from Em since Jason’s funeral.”
“It’s probably best if I let her explain,” he answered quietly.
“Are the two of you dating?” Isabelle asked, there was a smile dancing around in her eyes. Alasdair whispered something Balthazar couldn’t make out but it caused the smile to move from her eyes to her lips.
“I’m her neighbour,” Balthazar answered.
“And my friend,” Em said as she walked in. “Thanks Belle, I feel almost human now.”
“The clothes fit okay?” Isabelle asked and leaned to the side to peek around the island to look her over. “A little baggy but you always were thinner than me.”
“Oh please,” Em said, “They fit perfectly. Thank you for lending them to me.”
“You should probably keep them. It’s not like I’m going to be wearing them for a while.” She looked down at Alasdair, smoothed his hair gently, then reached over to grab a pair of pot holders that were sitting on the counter. “Okay everybody, sit.” She watched Alasdair stand and gave him a little nod toward the table. She took the hot pan from it’s resting place on the stove and marched to the table. “I need test subjects and you’ve all been nominated. Congratulations.” Em laughed but did as she was told. Alasdair and Balthazar followed after a brief glare filled hesitation. “If everyone gets along and behaves themselves there’s cherry pie for dessert,” she said brightly as she took a seat next to Alasdair then looked at Balthazar. “I’m sorry, I didn’t ask if you can eat.”
“He can.” Em patted Balthazar’s leg under the table.
“Oh good.” Isabelle passed the pan to him. “Trying to decipher what’s true from all the stories and legends is a bit confusing at times.”
“Tell me about it,” Em murmured, “So how did you two meet?” Isabelle’s cheeks turned pink under Em’s interested gaze. “I’ll bet it’s an interesting story.”
“I was trapped in a book,” Alasdair said softly.
“What?” Em looked at him, the forkful of lasagna hovered in the air between her plate and her face.
“You should start at the beginning,” Isabelle said with a little laugh.
Alasdair smiled at his mate then looked at Em. “She bought a book that I had been trapped in by a witch several hundred years ago.” Em’s fork sank down and rested against her plate with a little clink. “She mistakenly thought I’d impregnated her daughter.”
“Well, that beats any how we met story I’ve ever heard,” Balthazar said with a little shake of his head.
“You were innocent?” Em asked.
“I was not aware of the truth but yes I was.” Alasdair took Isabelle’s hand under the table. “And she set me free.”
“Our daughter did actually,” Isabelle squeezed his fingers. “She was the key to the spell.”
“And now you’re married?” Em asked softly.
“We’re mated.” Isabelle smiled at Alasdair. “But he’s agreed to marry me.”
“I’m confused.” Em swallowed the food in her mouth and waved her fork.
“It’s just to satisfy the legalities of your realm,” Alasdair answered.
“Maybe you could stay a few weeks so you could be there?” Isabelle asked.
“I’d love to,” Em leaned forward.
“We should keep moving,” Balthazar reminded her softly.
“No one knows we’re here,” Em murmured.
“What kind of trouble are you in?” Alasdair asked as he looked Em, obviously concerned for his newly met family member.
“It’s just a misunderstanding really.” Em tried to smile but it failed to reach her lips.
“I doubt he’s confused about who you’re with,” Balthazar said. Em looked at him and shook her head slightly.
“Em? What’s going on?” Isabelle reached for Alasdair’s hand.
“Another vampire decided he wanted to keep me for himself,” Em said quietly. “I don’t know why.” She took a little breath and looked at Balthazar. “He and his brother had me locked away in a house so he could try to convince me to stay. He was using Balthazar to try to get me on his side.” Balthazar reached over and took her free hand from where it was resting on the table. She squeezed his fingers with a grateful smile on her face. “It didn’t work,” she said softly. “I got him out of there and he got us here.”
“If I’d known your situation I would have thought of something else,” Balthazar said as he looked at Isabelle.
“Since no one knows you’re here you should be safe while we figure something out,” Isabelle said with a smile.
“Lass,” Alasdair said gently.
Isabelle looked at him with a stubborn glint in her eyes. “We’d do the same if Haelan or the twins or Amie or any other faerie who showed up on our door step.” He settled back in his chair slightly. She had him there. “Finish your dinner so I can get to the pie. I’ve had a craving for cherries all damn day.” A hint of a smile played across Alasdair’s lips. His mate’s sweet tooth had ended several conversations already and it appeared this one, even with it’s serious nature, was not going to be an exception.