Nick said he didn’t mind footing the bill, that the money was going to make us a lot happier than it could make him alone. And since we were getting married, it was going to be half mine anyway. Besides, he said, it wasn’t as if he was getting nothing out of the deal. With the presentation of the newly bound pack history to Pops, my grandfather had finally, grudgingly accepted Nick as my mate. And he’d agreed to share as much of the area’s folklore as he could remember. Nick’s entire career could be spent in the valley, taking down the folk tales and lore as told by my grandfather and publishing them as just that, folklore and wild tales.


While the big issues of housing, hunting, and pack structure were sort of easy to work out, it was the little things that caught us off guard, like what to serve at the village’s Christmas dinner (ham versus turkey) or whether to watch the American Hockey League or the NHL on the community center TV. There were a few false starts and more than one dispute that ended in the two packs fighting it out in the middle of Main Street. But fortunately, the newcomers were younger and looking for the kind of guidance from the elder generation that they’d been lacking for so long. They tended to revere and dote on the older members of the pack, which was kind of nice.

Alicia and Clay were going to move out of Billie’s place, but by the time they’d decided to pack up, it just made more sense for them to stay there. Plus, it seemed that Alicia and Samson might be heading up the aisle themselves pretty soon. And Teresa and Clay had already declared their mating. They were just nice enough to wait another month to have their own ceremony. We were all about compromise.

Still, I didn’t want to test Alicia’s patience or generosity of spirit by making her a bridesmaid. Instead, I inflicted that on Mo and Kara . . . because it amused me to see them in matching baby-pink dresses with huge bows on their asses.

I stumbled a little over my hem, snapping me out of my musings and back to the present as Cooper caught my elbow and subtly righted me. Even though Mo and Mom had let me keep the dress pretty simple, I was having a hard time maneuvering in the full-length skirt. I had, however, let Mo strap me into some of that fancy miracle lingerie she loved so much, because I wanted to see Nick’s eyelids flap like window shades later. I only hoped that shimmery lip goop Kara had smeared on me an hour before would last long enough to make Nick’s face all sparkly for the photos. I had to find the bright spots somewhere.

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Nick had been worried about the ceremony. His buddy Dane, the best man, had posted our engagement announcement on the video game’s Web site. I assumed it was to prove to the fan boys that one could have both games and a sex life. The announcement got a lot of traction on the Internet. Nick was convinced that his mom would show up to cause trouble. He, Cooper, and Clay were discussing increasing security around the valley for the wedding, until I pulled him aside and asked, “Have I ever mentioned that we have very, very distant cousins in Kentucky?”


“Well, we do. And I asked them to drop by and visit your mother in Nashville. Just to talk to her, convince her that the loving, selfless thing to do would be to stop harassing you and let you move on with your life. I just wanted her to know that you’re part of a family now and have people watching out for you. I don’t think she’ll be calling again anytime soon.”

Other than subtly threatening my future mother-in-law, I was far more interested in planning our life after the wedding than in the actual wedding, which, according to the one bridal Web site I was willing to admit to looking at, was a good sign. I was enrolling in a few online classes at U of Alaska Anchorage. I hadn’t mentioned it to Nick yet, but I was sure he’d be thrilled and would probably help me if I had any problems. I foresaw a lot of study sessions that ended up with us being naked.

And then, of course, Mom found my brochures, which I’d stashed under my mattress like dirty magazines. When I confessed my interest in taking a few classes, she burst into tears. I immediately said that I was just holding the brochures for a friend. Then Mom sniffled and said she was so proud, which I have to admit was a new thing for me. I swore her to secrecy, because given the level of crap I gave Cooper over wanting me to go to college, I didn’t think I could live through the epic “I told you so.”

“I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” I whispered after Cooper had handed me off to Nick. “We could have gone to Vegas!”

“You’re beautiful,” he told me.

I was probably the only bride to scowl at her husband while being led to the altar. (Well, the only non-mail-order bride, at least.) But when Nick turned with me toward Pops, who oversaw the vows as the oldest member of the pack, I was grinning like a big, happy idiot.

I tried to think of some other words to describe my state. But big, happy, and idiot seemed to sum it right up. I would probably learn fancier words when I started those college classes. Nick clasped my hand in his, and I mentally calculated exactly how many hours stood between us and boarding the ferry to Washington. Nick was finally going to visit my happy place, in the less sexual sense of the word.

Surely, normal brides did not have these thoughts as their grandfathers/officiants began reciting the wedding vows.

I grinned up at Nick, and he winked at me. We turned toward Pops with joined hands. I was going to see the world, a little bit at a time. But for right now, I was where I was needed, and loved.

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