“Sebastian’s seen her when he’s been coming home from Yvana’s.”

Caia moaned, cupping her chin forlornly in her hand. “I can’t even imagine what my life will be like if he actually mates with her.”

“If who actually mates with whom?” Sebastian whispered, sliding into the seat beside her.

“If Lucien mates with Alexa,” Jaeden answered.

“Why would that bother you, Caia?” Sebastian looked suspicious, pulling his chair closer to hers.

Her heart picked up tempo, as her eyes flew wildly to Jaeden. Sebastian couldn’t know. No one else could.

“Uh.” Jaeden swung her pencil about as she tried to think of something. “Um... oh, because Alexa hates Caia. If she was Lucien’s mate, I mean ... she could cause trouble for her.”

Sebastian smirked and put his arm around Caia’s shoulder, his tawny eyes twinkling as he looked into hers. “You don’t have anything to worry about. I’ll protect you.”

Caia grunted and pulled from his embrace as the bell rang. She gathered her things and stood up before them. “Thanks Sebastian, but no. If the worst comes to the worst... I’ve always wanted to go to China.”

Saturday morning arrived quickly. The nervous energy in the house was at breaking point as Ella flew between Irini’s and Caia’s rooms to make sure their preparations for the mating ritual were going well. Eventually, Caia had decided to leave Irini in the capable hands of her mother and Lucia, who was fixing her hair for her, and stay out of the way in her bedroom. She had changed already, her slender figure wrapped in the dusky pink satin dress they’d chosen. It was floor-length and figure-hugging, creating the illusion that she was taller than she was. She was a little self-conscious of the thin straps and low cowl neckline, but Ella assured her she looked perfect. Lucia had twisted her long, pale hair into a French twist, and placed tiny pink rose buds into the style. She sighed, turning to the side to make sure the dress wasn’t wrinkled from sitting in it. She didn’t care what Ella said, this certainly felt like a bridesmaid dress. Caia turned at the sound of someone clearing their throat, and immediately flushed at the sight of Lucien standing tall and elegant in a dark suit. Oh my, he was handsome, her heart fluttered uncontrollably.


He smiled at her, his eyes drinking her in. She flushed again.

“You look...” he stepped into the room and stopped a few feet from her, his hands jammed casually into his suit trouser pockets. “Wow.” He met her gaze and grinned. “You look beautiful.”

Oh boy, she was sure he must hear her heart thumping rapidly in her chest; she felt like it was going to explode. Did he actually say she looked beautiful? Was he just being polite?

“Thank you,” she managed, and then had to clear her throat when it came out all breathy. Dammit. “So do you.” She flushed again and stammered. “I... I m-m-mean you look nice.”

Lucien laughed and her eyes got caught in his. They weren’t as electrifyingly silver today, more of an intense dark smoke. “Don’t be nervous, Caia.”

“Nervous. Why should I be nervous?”

He shrugged. “Because you’ve never been to one of these before.”

“Oh, right.” She rolled her eyes at her own obtuseness.

“Why aren’t you with all the other females, primping and fawning over Irini?”

Caia laughed dryly. “Ah, no thank you. I’m safer here.”

Lucien smiled softly. “You’re really not like the others, are you?”

She stilled under his gaze and gulped. Well she’d heard that before. “Is that a bad thing?”

He took another step towards her, his voice low as he said, “No. Not at all.”

“Caia, there you are.” Ella came bustling into the room, unaware of the electrical tension that was miraculously sparking. She brushed by Lucien, smiling distractedly at him, and grabbed Caia’s wrist. “You’re needed for pre-ritual photographs.”

Caia docilely followed her, her gaze glued to Lucien until Ella pulled her out of the room, jerking her eyes unstuck. Her mind was whirring. Had they just had a moment together? It had certainly felt like a moment. She had goosebumps. You didn’t get goosebumps from ordinary interactions... right?

Her mind was distractedly on the dreaded Alpha for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon as they bustled about with setting the house up for the post-ritual party, and settling Irini’s nerves. The backyard had been set up with white lawn chairs for the ceremony, all facing towards the woods where Irini and Aidan would stand before Magnus. The ritual would take place as darkness fell, when the moon was out, and they could call upon Artemis to bind their two souls. By six-thirty the driveway was chock full of cars and the pack were settling themselves in their finery out back in the chairs. The thrum of their voices floated through the quiet house. Caia took a deep breath. She would sit in the front row beside Ella, Lucien, Ryder, and Yvana. As Ella had already mentioned, her seat with the family and the fact that she was wearing the same color as Irini and Ella was deliberate, so that the pack viewed her as family as much as they themselves did. She would sit in between Ella and Lucien, since Yvana, although she had apologized for her outburst, was clearly still affronted by Caia’s mere presence.

“It’s time.” Ella took hold of her hand and led her through the kitchen behind Lucien and Aidan’s family.

“Ella, are you crying already?” she whispered, aghast at the tears in the Elder’s eyes.

“I’m just so happy and yet so sad. I just got her back, you know.”

Caia squeezed her hand and pulled her closer. “You still have her. She’s not going anywhere.”

Ella smiled, and they quieted as they strolled towards their seats. Seeing the family of the mating couple, the pack’s voices dissipated into silence.

Irini and Aidan approached Magnus from either side. He stood with his back to the woods. He smiled at the couple and welcomed the pack. When he stilled so did everyone else, and Caia’s skin prickled at the hush that washed over them all. Magnus tilted his head back and gazed up at the moon. Caia followed his movement, but then looked back at him when she realized that was what everyone else was doing.

“Artemis,” he called in his brandy warm voice. “Potnia Theron,” he appealed, using the lykans ‘mother’ title for the goddess. The rest of his recital was in Greek - the mystery of those words floated across her skin, as gentle and as awakening as the night’s breeze. “Artemis,” he finished, taking Aidan’s hand and placing it on top of Irini’s and holding the two in a bind. “Potnia Theron,” he continued in English, “Bind these two souls together in eternal devotion to each other and to you, their mother.”

Caia gasped as Irini’s and Aidan’s eyes widened, watching as they did as a moon-colored light emanated from their clasped hands and rushed exquisitely through their bodies. Magnus’ expression remained unchanged, but Caia was in awe, her gaze turning to Ella and Lucien to see if they were just as astounded. But no, they remained as still as Magnus, watching as the light burned brighter and then dissolved just as suddenly. Magnus grinned and stepped back releasing their hands. “Artemis has blessed this union.”

Aidan grinned and pulled Irini into a heated kiss that made Caia blush. Irini laughed and pulled back, and turned to smile happily at her mother. The pack was suddenly on their feet, whooping and rushing towards the couple in congratulations. Caia took a step back to let the others by.

“Amazing, huh?” Jaeden suddenly appeared, resting her chin on Caia’s shoulder, draping an elegant arm over the other.

“It was beautiful,” Caia whispered.

“I remember when I saw my first. It was for Christian and Lucia. Pretty awesome... to know that Artemis is really out there, watching over us.”

Caia turned to her with sadness in her eyes. “If she hadn’t bound Irini and Aidan together that would have meant they weren’t soul mates.”

Jaeden shrugged. “Yeah. But supernaturals rarely confuse these things.”

“But it happens?” Caia bit her lip, sympathizing with lovers who had gone before Artemis, believing they were in love, only to have Artemis refuse to mate them. “Artemis says no and a couple can’t... have children together.”

Jaeden nodded distractedly, her eyes on the happy couple. “Yeah, exactly. Come on.” She grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the kitchen. “Get your head out of the dark clouds and into the house. We need to choose the music before someone else destroys the night with ABBA, or something.”

“What’s wrong with ABBA?” Caia mumbled, glancing back at the crowds around Irini and Aidan. She was glad for them. They seemed safe and happy in their little world. She hoped it would always be so for them.

His house was filled with laughter and warmth; people in the sitting room, kitchen, and hallways, all drinking, and dancing, and celebrating. It was a fantastic atmosphere, and he really should be more into it than he was. But he was distracted.

Lucien sighed and leaned against the stairwell in the hallway, beer in hand, watching the festivities around him. Aidan was dancing to Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah with his elder sister in the sitting room. Her face was flushed with happiness and excitement, and Lucien was more than glad for her. One of his biggest regrets was that Irini had had to leave her pack behind. Ten years was a long time to be away, but she was home and in love, and she was safe. That was all that mattered now. He sighed again and turned to surreptitiously watch Caia laughing with Jaeden and Daniel in the kitchen. He’d been doing that since their ‘moment’ in her bedroom this morning. The sight of her standing in the dress as the sunlight filtered across her face just... ah, it was like he’d been punched in the gut, the force of the feeling was that strong. He had been going to kiss her. He knew he would have if his mother hadn’t walked in. That woman had good timing; kissing Caia then would have been a mistake; it would have frightened her and... well... it just wasn’t the right time.

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