Joie, can you believe this night?” Gabrielle Sanders stared out the window at the stars scattered across the sky. The night was almost a navy blue, with so many stars overhead it would be impossible to count them. The moon was rising, a beautiful half-crescent of shining light. “It’s perfection. Everything I dreamed of.”
Her wedding night. She’d dreamed of it for so long. At last, this was the evening she’d waited for, and the weather was cooperating, just as if it knew she was marrying the man of her dreams.
“We’ve got to get you ready, Gabby,” Joie answered. “Come back here. I need to make certain you have everything you need and give you the ‘talk.’”
Gabrielle turned back with a short laugh. “I’m marrying Gary, Joie, the love of my life. I certainly don’t need the ‘talk.’ I love Gary Jansen with every breath in my body,” she whispered, as her sister smoothed a hand down the filmy ivory and lace gown and stepped back to survey her handiwork.
“Daratrazanoff,” Joie corrected, a hint of worry in her voice. “You still persist in acting as if you’re human, Gabrielle. You aren’t. Neither is Gary. Both of you are fully Carpathian. When Gary rose Carpathian, he rose as a true Daratrazanoff. He’s from one of the most powerful lineages the Carpathian people have. You can’t pretend he isn’t.”
“He’s still Gary,” Gabrielle protested gently. She took both of her sister’s hands in hers. “Be happy for me. Truly, I’ve never been happier than this night. We waited so long to be together.”
“I am happy for you,” Joie said immediately, smiling at her sister. “You look so beautiful. Like a princess.”
Gabrielle looked at herself in the mirror. Her dress was exactly right. The perfect fit, a lovely fall to her ankles, swirling around her so that she appeared to be ethereal. She loved the square lace neckline and the fitted bodice showing off her small waist. She was tall enough to pull off elegant, and the gown did just that.
Joie didn’t understand. None of them did. Only Gary. He knew. He saw inside of her. Way down deep where no one else had ever looked.
“Joie, I’m not like you or Jubal,” she admitted, referring to her brother. “I’m not a woman who craves adventure. I’m not a warrior who wants to go fight the injustices of the world. I’m just Gabrielle, no one special, and I like my life simple. Peaceful. I like to sing when I wake up and hum all day long. I like picnics. Horses. Galloping across the fields and jumping over tree trunks and streams. I love sitting on a porch swing and talking quietly with someone I love. That someone is Gary.”
“Oh, Gabby.” Joie put her arms around Gabrielle. “I didn’t realize you’ve been so unhappy. You have, haven’t you?”
Gabrielle hugged Joie back, feeling lucky to have a sister and brother who loved her so much. She felt their love at all times. Their support. More than anything, she wanted Joie’s support now in the biggest moment of her life.
“I don’t fit in this world, Joie,” she said gently, trying to find a way to carefully explain. Joie pulled back and looked at her with liquid eyes. Gabrielle’s heart beat louder. She didn’t want to hurt her sister, but she wanted to be honest. “I like to observe people from a distance, not be in the middle of some kind of crazy battle between vampires and shifters. I didn’t even know there were such things as shifters or vampires in the world. Carpathians. Lycans. Mages. Jaguars. It’s all crazy, like a mad nightmare, Joie. Violence and war aren’t big on my agenda. In fact, the entire Carpathian way of life is totally foreign to my nature.”
She had, thankfully, never heard of Carpathians when she was growing up. And she’d always thought vampires were a myth. She wished she still thought that. Carpathians never killed for blood, but they slept in the rejuvenating ground, couldn’t be in the sunlight, and existed on blood. They hunted the vampires who lived to kill their victims.
Gabrielle gave a little shiver. She’d had enough of battles. Of wars. Of seeing someone she loved—such as Gary—nearly lose his life when it wasn’t even his fight. She had nearly lost him. Gregori had converted him, bringing him fully into the Carpathian world—as if they hadn’t already brought him there.
Gary had somehow become an integral part of Carpathian life, so essential to them that even the prince sought his opinion on matters Carpathian. Gregori, second to the prince, was always with Gary now. It wasn’t as if Gary was born a Daratrazanoff. He was born Gary Jansen, a genius, off-the-charts intelligent, a tall, thin reed of a man with glasses and a thirst for knowledge. A geek. Like her.
Now he was a tall, completely filled out, walking warrior. He went into battles without flinching. Even before Gregori had converted him he had. She’d watched him slowly change from her nerdy geek to a completely different man as the Carpathians put more and more demands on him.
Joie moved to a chair as if Gabrielle was delivering a terrible blow, and she probably was. She hadn’t told anyone but Gary her true feelings. Her beloved Gary. He was quiet and solid. He could always, always, be counted on. Everyone counted on him, but especially Gabrielle.
She kept trying to make her sister understand. “Joie, you and Jubal belong in the Carpathian world. I don’t. I don’t even want to be here. Not anymore.”
Joie inhaled sharply. “Gabby . . .”
Gabrielle shook her head. This had to be said. She wanted Joie to understand just what Gary meant to her. What he’d been for her in the past and what he would be in her future. “I hope, after tonight, after I marry Gary, we’ll go away together and live in a beautiful little house. Nothing big. Nothing fancy. Just small and snug and filled with love. That’s it. That’s my dream. Gary and my little house tucked away someplace where there are no such things as vampires, and women carry their children to full term and give birth to healthy, happy babies. No wars. Just peace and happiness.”