EdenBy: Jamie McGuire
Happily Ever After. That was The End, right? The hard part was over. It was smooth sailing now. I lay in bed next to my handsome, celestial Prince Charming, the tropical breeze blowing through the window screens of our little Caribbean hut, waiting for the sun to rise so I could begin my wedding day.
Funny how Happily Ever After isn’t the end after all …at least, not when Hel is trying to kill you.
That trivial little fact was easy to ignore with the light rain tapping the tin roof, and the palm fronds brushing against our casita as the wind gently pushed its way through the trees. The first glimmers of sunlight danced along the ceiling as translucent dashes of warmth. Those shuddering, glowing dots above me were the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. Jared Ryel was the second. He smiled, waiting for my eyes to focus.
“It’s tomorrow,” he whispered.
Splatters of pinks and purples had just breached the windows, and the rain had all but left us for the bigger island, reduced to droplets. The fading purple splotches on Jared’s forehead, cheek and chin stood out in the early light, and they brought back a flood of memories from the days before.
He and I had already survived the impossible—coming face to face with one of the most frightening beings in Hel and a few hundred of his minions, human and demon alike. Simply celebrating another day would have sufficed. That was the moment realization hit, and Jared’s eyes brightened with amusement as my sleepy expression perked.
“It’s today?” I said softly. I reached up to touch his skin, and the residual marks from his skirmish with Shax.
Jared pushed himself onto his elbows, and then leaned his head closer to my stomach. “Good morning, little Bean.”
“Bean?” I said, one eyebrow shooting up.
“Yes, she’s no bigger than a bean. That’s what the book says, anyway.”
Jared reached to the floor, pulling up a thick book, its cover dripping in hideous pastel colors and childish writing.
“I thought I should be prepared for anything that might come up.” Jared flipped through the pages, and then peered up at me, waiting for approval.
“Is there a chapter on balance-disrupting angel babies?” I said, grinning when Jared’s eyebrows pushed together.
He tossed the book to the floor and then playful y situated himself over me, nuzzling my neck.
“Jared!” I squealed, making a poor attempt to push him away. “Stop!”
“I’ll stop if you say it,” he said, his voice muffled against my skin.
“Say what?” I laughed, wiggling in vain.
Jared lifted his head to look me in the eyes. “Bean,” he said, his eyes a soft blue-gray.
I pressed my lips together, forming a hard line, but when he tickled me again, I caved. “Okay!” I pleaded. “Bean!”
A wide grin spread across his face. “I wish I’d known how wel this tactic of persuasion works on you three years ago. Life would have been somewhat easier.”
I swatted at him, knowing he would duck. “Not fair.”
Jared kissed my lips, his warmth soaking into my skin. It didn’t seem as warm as usual, but I attributed it to the tropical heat raising my own temperature.
“You know what’s not fair? I don’t get to see you until this afternoon.” He left me alone on the bed, pulling a white T-shirt over his head.
“What do you mean?” I said, pushing up on my elbows.
“You’d better get dressed, sweetheart. We’re expecting company in five minutes.”
Jared tossed a tan summer dress to the bed, and I scrambled to put it on, knowing better than anyone that Jared wasn’t mistaken about things like time. I pul ed my hair into a messy ponytail, and then stood awkwardly while Jared opened the tin door. A line of vil agers made their way to our casita, led by a frazzled-looking Beth. She held a white garment bag, and when her eyes met mine, her smile widened to its limit.
“Beth!” I said, rushing down the steps. Mud squished between my bare toes as I ran to her, enveloping her in my arms. Her auburn hair was damp, plastered to her forehead and cheeks. She was sweaty and red-faced, trying to catch her breath as Chad pul ed the garment bag from her fingers.
“She wouldn’t let anyone else carry it,” he said, shaking his head. He held the bag out for Jared, but Beth quickly grabbed it back, smacking his hand away.
“Jared can’t see it!” she said. She held the long bag up, away from the mud, but behind her to protect it from Jared’s hands.
Jared was amused. “I won’t look, Beth. I’m going to take Chad to the chapel now. You two have the whole day.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised—Jared could arrange anything—but I was speechless. Beth and Chad had arrived just eight hours after us.
“How did you…?” I began.
Jared’s smile widened. “We’ve taken care of everything. I didn’t want you stressed.”
“We…?” I frowned, more confused.
“Mom is waiting for me at the chapel. See you there.” He grinned from ear to ear. I’d never seen him so happy. He leaned down to kiss my cheek, and then gestured for Chad to fol ow.
“You’ve maneuvered a motorcycle before?”
Chad paused. “Yeah. Why?”
“It’s a bit of a drive.” Jared patted Chad on the shoulder, encouraging him along. Poor Chad seemed total y out of his element. Even though the men weren’t that close, I had ful confidence in my husband-to-be to make Chad feel at ease. That responsibility would serve as double duty to soothe Jared’s nerves.
“Wait ‘til you see this dress!” Beth squealed, pulling me inside. She hooked the bag onto a wooden lip above the closet, and then rubbed her sore shoulder. “It was a long, muddy walk.”
“It is,” I nodded. “Would you like me to get some ice for your shoulder?”
Beth’s eyes lit up again. She pul ed down the zipper of the garment bag, turning to me.
I blinked in disbelief. “That’s the…um…”
Beth’s eyes were wild with excitement. “The dress from the magazine that you picked out two years ago? Yes!”
“But...how is it here? How did he….”
Beth couldn’t wait for me to spit out the words. “I have been hanging on to this thing for ever! Can you believe it? Lil ian brought it to the apartment.
She said you had picked it out, and Jared bought it, and they made me bottle this up for two years! It was awful! Why do you think I hounded you about a wedding date all those times?”
Beth nodded. “I know, right? That’s what I said. His mom said he was excited; he wanted to surprise you, blah, blah, blah. I personal y think he just wanted to torture me because it’s been hell.”
I couldn’t stop staring at the flowing, silky whiteness in front of me. I remembered sitting on our couch in the loft while I healed, thumbing through magazines with Lil ian and pausing on a picture, unable to turn the page. It was just days after I was discharged from the hospital, the day Claire left to eliminate all the humans that threatened us. A dress identical to the one I showed a partisan interest in almost two years earlier dangled from a hanger just feet from me.
“Beth?” I said, stil staring at the dress.
“You’re going to have to take it down a few notches. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.”
Beth’s head bobbed quickly, and then she took a seat in the corner. After a deep breath, she began again, “It’s beautiful.”
I almost asked Beth if she knew why Lil ian didn’t keep the dress at her house, but it was a foolish question. Beth was safe. No one would blow up her apartment, or bust through her windows in the middle of the night—and it would give Jared an extra all y in vying for a wedding date.
“He’s bril iant,” I said, in awe.
Beth gripped her knees and bit her lip, struggling with every passing second. “Are you stil overwhelmed?”
“I’m feeling better.”