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Although Derek attempted to swing a pink flower garland over Xavier’s head just as Vivienne was about to start walking down the aisle, I was relieved to see that he hadn’t done anything outrageous to the groom’s appearance. I suspected actually that Derek had nothing to do with Xavier’s smart black tuxedo and gelled-back hair, and that rather Ibrahim was behind it all.

I caught Derek’s eye, and mouthed, I won.

He took one look at Vivienne and nodded back.

Vivienne reached Xavier, and Ibrahim conducted the ceremony. They exchanged rings and when it finally came time to kiss, the crowds erupted with cheers. Then to everyone’s surprise, Vivienne yelled out at the top of her lungs, “I love you, Xavier!”

She threw her bouquet into the crowd. Abby dove for it with her vampire speed and a huge goofy smile spread across her face when she caught it.

Tears glinted in both of the newlyweds’ eyes as they enveloped themselves in each other’s arms and kissed once again.

As if the crowds weren’t already going wild enough, Ibrahim caught hold of Corrine, whisked her up in his arms and stood her at the side of the altar. Then he bent down on one knee, reached into his pocket and withdrew a large diamond ring. Corrine’s face became the color of a raspberry and she looked as though she was about to hyperventilate.

“Oh, God,” she gasped. “Ibrahim, oh, you…” For once, Corrine had been rendered speechless by a male. “Yes!” she shouted finally. Ibrahim put the heavy engagement ring on her finger and drew her against his body, kissing her in front of everyone and not attempting to hide the heat of his embrace one little bit. Corrine responded with abandon.

Wolf-whistles abounded, the cheers and clapping deafening.

“Gate-crashers!” Zinnia yelled through the crowds, laughing and pumping her fist in the air.

“Well, if they’re doing it…” Gavin grabbed Zinnia’s arm and tugged on her to stand up. I gasped and thought for a moment that he was about to propose, but instead he said, “Come on! Let’s make out!”

Zinnia howled with laughter, but followed him up onto the altar next to the two already kissing couples, and they began eating each other’s faces off.

It didn’t take much more encouragement for Claudia to haul Yuri up to the stage; now there were four kissing couples.

Oh, no…

I had been avoiding looking toward Derek's direction, but he was having none of it. He made his way over to me and grabbed me by the waist. He carried me up to the altar and stood us next to Xavier and Vivienne.

“Oh, what the heck!” I said, brushing away all embarrassment I had about letting myself go in front of Aiden, and eased myself into Derek’s embrace.

I was half expecting more couples to join us, but with ten people already on stage, and Yuri and Claudia being particularly carefree in their motions, there really wasn’t any more room.

Instead, couples began standing up in their seats or wherever else there was space. In between Derek’s affections, I was thrilled to see Cameron and Liana sharing a kiss in the aisle. And then Kyle and Anna.

On spotting Ashley still seated, trying to smile but clearly failing at it, I shouted out. “Okay, enough! Let’s have some music!”

A group of witches took up some instruments and began playing a beautiful slow melody. I was relieved to see Landis be a gentleman and lead Ashley to a dance.

Abby, feeling left out, made her way over to Aiden and the twins to ask them to dance. Derek and I laughed as my father did the best he could to satisfy her with two babies in his arms.

I danced with Derek for over an hour, but eventually pulled him away from the dance floor. We walked over to Aiden. The ever-enthusiastic Abby had now given him a break and preoccupied herself with a game of chase with Shadow, upending tables and leaving a trail of chaos behind them as they ran. I giggled as Eli chased after the dog, trying to reattach his leash.

I took Ben from my father, while Derek took Rose. We walked to find a quieter spot away from the crowds and dancing, but which still allowed us a good view over the festivities.

Derek didn’t ask what I was doing. One look in his eyes, and I could tell he had already sensed what I was dying for. I sat between Derek’s legs and leaned my back against his chest, placing both twins on my lap. I loosened the straps of my dress and asked him to hold up a tablecloth to cover me.

And then I fed our two little babies. I finally allowed myself the simple pleasure my body had been crying out for ever since I’d been separated from them all that time ago.

Derek kissed my shoulders and rocked us gently from side to side, humming a haunting melody into my ear beneath the loud party music.

Our melody.

Chapter 44: Sofia

After Vivienne and Xavier’s wedding, things settled into more of a routine in The Shade. The humans’ residences were finished and I almost cried with joy upon seeing what a thoughtful job the witches had done. They’d created town houses, much like you’d see in any city, with all the amenities that a human could need.

Playgrounds were created for children. A group of witches even started up a school for them, which Abby eagerly attended.

Ibrahim and Corrine managed to figure out a way to modify Cora’s spell to allow the sun to stream down onto a small stretch of beach, north of the island. Humans lounging around there, swimming in the sea and getting a tan, soon became a common sight.

But more than any of this, we instituted a law that any human was allowed to leave The Shade at any time. I persuaded Derek that even if they went to the police, there was no way they could ever find us. And, in any case, I trusted that most of the humans would not wish us harm any more. For The Shade was no longer the cruel dictatorship it once was. They were no longer treated as slaves, but as citizens.

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