“Yes, she is,” I smiled.
“See you at home. Come over for dinner soon, okay?”
“Promise,” Jared said, kissing her forehead.
“I love you both!” she waved, fol owing Beth and Chad to another waiting vehicle.
“Where is our car?” I asked.
“I have the bike I drove over.”
I looked down to my dress. “You’re kidding.”
Jared laughed once. “No. Not at all .” He crouched and then brought up a bunched wad of my dress in his hands. “It’s a nice night. It’l be fun.”
I shook my head and shrugged. “Why not? Cynthia’s not here to freak out about it.” I took the bunched tul e and silk under my arm and then took Jared’s hand. He led us past the band to a smal dirt bike. We took several back roads that led us through a vil age or two—it was so dark I wasn’t sure if it was tin buildings passing by or just shadows cast by the trees. Before long, the trees thinned, and Jared slowed to a stop. Sounds of waves caressing the shoreline weren’t far away.
Jared took my hand, and we walked beyond the trail until I could feel wet sand breaching the borders of my sandals. The half-moon stubbornly glowed behind a thin, broken layer of clouds. We ambled to where the ocean met the sand, and walked along the beach. We didn’t talk, just walked hand in hand, listening to Little Corn.
The moon final y broke free of the clouds, and its silver light danced on the water. We came upon a large rock, and Jared motioned for me to sit.
“You must be exhausted,” he said, sitting next to me.
“I’m tired, but you only get one wedding day. I can feel a second wind coming on.”
Jared eyes turned soft, and they lingered on my lips. “I just wanted to be alone with you and the island for a little while.”
His eyes seemed to glow in the silver light, and suddenly I was nervous. It was sil y to feel that way—I was pregnant, after all —but the pressure of our wedding night made it new again. We had no constraints; no worries about a pregnancy, or being walked in on, or nightmares. It was just us, and the knowledge that we were about to consummate our marriage. For whatever reason, that made me incredibly anxious.
“What is it?” Jared asked.
Knowing I couldn’t comfortably explain my feelings without some embarrassment, I pul ed him to me and touched my lips to his.
He pul ed away, laughing once. “I’m a bit nervous about tonight, isn’t that ridiculous?”
“No,” I said, tugging on his shirt. “I’m right there with you.”
“Yeah?” he said, relieved.
I nodded, and then looked behind us. I returned to him, biting my lip. “How far are we from the casita?”
“It’s right there,” he said, nodding behind me.
“Maybe we should…I don’t know, get it over with isn’t the right word.”
Jared cleared his throat, and then offered an ornery smile. “Get naked and get the nerves out of the way?”
My mouth fel open and I laughed out loud. “Jared!”
He laughed and lifted me into his arms, walking in the direction of the casita. “I didn’t say it was a bad idea.”
He carried me a few yards, past the trees, to the familiar surroundings of our casita. He opened the screen, and then brought me inside, softly leaning me against the mattress. The moonlight faded away, and the wind picked up. With a hand on each side of my shoulders, Jared hovered over my body. Distant thunder rol ed somewhere over the ocean. He leaned down and touched his lips to mine just as the first raindrops began to spatter against the tin roof.
Jared’s lips traveled in a line down my neck, and he anchored himself with a knee as he lifted me with one hand, and unzipped the back of my wedding dress with the other. With both hands, I pushed back his jacket and slid the sleeves off of his arms, and then unbuttoned the first two buttons of his white dress shirt. Impatient, I grabbed the hem and pul ed it over his head.
Watching his bulging muscles tense and move under his smooth skin did nothing for my nerves. Determined to enjoy the comfort I usual y enjoyed when we made love, I focused on undressing him. I worked on the button of his slacks, and then ripped down the zipper.
“I said it was a good idea, but I didn’t promise not to take my time,” Jared said, kicking off his pants. He bent his elbows, letting his body press against mine.
“You can take your time,” I said. “We have all night. I think if I just get past this part I can relax,” I said, pressing my fingers into his back.
He reached under the skirt of my dress, and pul ed the thin, lacy fabric of my panties down my thighs, over my knees, and then past my ankles, letting them fal to the floor.
His hand traveled back up my leg, disappearing under the layers of silk. My legs tensed, and I sucked in a quick bit of air. A few moments later, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and let myself sink into the mattress.
“I’m glad you said that,” he said against my lips. “I ful y intend to take all night.”
I sat on the beach, listening to the waves. The last time I had come to this island, I pretended to be Mrs. Ryel. Now it was reality. I sighed, and placed my hand on my bel y. I wished things could be different; that I was like any other new bride, enjoying the beauty surrounding me on my first day as a wife. Wishing wouldn’t help, and I knew that. Another life would mean the absence of Jared. If we had never met, most of the chaos wouldn’t have happened, and the worst-case scenario would have been to find out my father was a different person than I believed him to be. Apart from that disappointment, life would have continued on—mundane and mediocre. I would have married Ryan, and worked at Titan. Bore a child or three. We would have lived day in and day out with a respect and love, facing day to day chal enges of ordinary life.
My nose wrinkled. A life without Jared was unimaginable. Coupled with that stipulation, I didn’t want it. Chaos, a constant state of being on alert and uncertain was a respectable tradeoff for a love like his. He didn’t ask for this, either, after all . The danger was what we went through to be together, and it was worth it for him. He never questioned it, and I grudgingly accepted it. It might not make sense to everyone, but then again, they could never understand. Most hadn’t experienced what I had. I’d been waited for, longed after for years. The safety, security, and calm I felt with Jared were unmatched; no one else on earth made me feel that way. No one was held as sacred by their husband as I was, so they couldn’t fathom what one might endure to protect it. Our love, in all its imperfection, was perfect.
It was then that a moment of clarity came over me. From the moment I’d learned the truth, I had fought with the feeling of loss for a normal life, but without Jared, that life wouldn’t have as much meaning. Sure, I was an individual. I was a strong person. I didn’t need someone else to complete me, but I was happier with Jared than without him. More than happy. Why settle to prove that I was free? I was, with and without him. Being with him was a choice—a choice to love and be loved and exist in an affirmative state with someone. Even with the chaos going on around us, it was more than I could have hoped for. More than most hoped for. His love was the purest example of anything a human could feel for another. The more I weighed the options in my head, the less appealing Normal became. It was downright insulting to compare the two. Suddenly I couldn’t remember why I had missed it in the first place, and scolded myself for ever letting Jared feel that I was anything but grateful for every moment he was in my life.
“How are you feeling, love?” Jared said from behind, bringing a tal glass of ice water.
“As if you have to ask. I feel real y good. It seems like every day I feel better and better. Is that normal? Aren’t I supposed to feel sick, or tired, or both?”
“Not necessarily. What is normal when you’re carrying our child?” Jared said, taking a seat beside me.
We watched the surf together. The storm from the night before had raged until the early hours of the morning…and there was a good reason that I knew that for a fact. Jared had kept his promise to take his time. I slept for an hour, maybe two, after the sun breached the horizon before venturing to the beach. The ocean was endless, stretching out until it met the sky. The only way to tel one from the other was the slight difference in shade. I took in a deep breath and leaned against my husband.
“What is it?” Jared said, grazing his lips across a smal patch of skin on my forehead.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said closing my eyes. I wanted to focus on the sounds of the waves rushing the beach, and the way the breeze blew my hair forward. If it were possible to block the frightening thoughts from my head, I would have. I wanted to pretend that the truths I had come across in recent years weren’t real. But they were, and inconceivable, nightmarish things waited for us at home. Those thoughts made it difficult to relax and enjoy my honeymoon, even with Jared’s tireless reassurance. I had final y accepted my life for what it was, but that didn’t make it less frightening.
“Look,” Jared said, nodding to a spot up the beach.
Samuel stood at least two hundred yards away, too far away for my human eyes to tel if he was watching us or the ocean.
Jared nuzzled the hair just above my ear. “He has been granted a temporary new post.”
“To babysit us?” I asked. “He must be thril ed.”
Jared chuckled. “Something like that. Hybrids don’t have Archs. Have I ever told you that?”
“No, you didn’t.”
“We don’t. Our job to protect humans, that along with our knowledge and abilities makes having our own guardian angel redundant. Not to mention the curse….”
“But you stil need protection, don’t you?” I asked.
Jared thought for a moment. “We are born to protect. I think He sees it as an infinite waste of resources.”
I nodded. “I see.”
Jared’s brows pul ed in and he cocked his head a bit. “You seem different today.”
“I do? What’s wrong with me?”
Jared laughed. “Not your general wel -being, I mean you. Your behavior. You seem less on edge. Why is that?”
My brows shot up, and I shrugged. “It’s not because I’m not worried, I can promise you that. I have one more year of col ege, I’ll be taking over Titan soon after…and I’m pregnant. The best part—my personal favorite—I have to be on guard for the next nine months just to stay alive long enough to deliver our baby, and hope the Creator of the Universe decides against his own rules to help us do that.”
“It’s actual y ten months. Forty weeks is ten months.”
I frowned. “That doesn’t help.”
Jared stifled a grin. “I was proud of you at the hearing.” When I didn’t reply, Jared explained further, “With Michael. You made a great case. It might have been what kept me out of serious trouble.”
“What might have happened? If Eli had decided against you?”
“The worst punishment would be death.”
“But…,” I began, thinking as I spoke, “you can’t die unless I do.”
“Or if I’m found guilty of disturbing The Balance. Heaven has zero tolerance for both of those things.”
“The baby supposedly disturbs The Balance,” I said, touching my bel y.
Jared put his hand on mine. “God didn’t create the baby, Nina, we did. Free wil and The Law are on opposite ends of the universe. I could explain it for the rest of your life, and you stil wouldn’t understand. Even I don’t ful y understand it all . Just know that The Law is a constant, and The Balance is a variable. In our case, it depended on Free Wil , and that makes The Balance a whole new beast.”
“My head hurts,” I said.
“I’m sorry. More water?”
I looked down to my glass. It was empty. “I hadn’t even realized I’d touched it.”
Jared moved his hand up my arm, his fingers pressuring different spots. “Your temperature is elevated, but I believe it’s due to the pregnancy.”
I nodded, staring out into the ocean. “Wil it ever be over, Jared? Once the baby is born, wil we have to keep fighting for every day?”
“No. Heaven wil have to decide at some point that enough is enough. They wil either save us or let us die. Once that decision is made, we are protected.”
I looked up to the sky. “Why doesn’t He just make it now?” Jared didn’t answer, and it was just as wel . I didn’t expect him to. “Jared…,” I hesitated. I didn’t want to ruin our perfect morning. “I think I should continue my training.”
He sighed. “You’re pregnant, Nina.”
“Yes, I know. But, can we both agree that there may come a time when I might have to defend myself...or the baby? I’m not asking you to beat the crap out of me; I’d just like to spend more time with the firearms, and for you to teach me some more complex moves.”
Jared wrapped his arms around me, resting his chin on my head. “You’re right. We have to be prepared for anything. We’ll start when we get back.”
I smiled. “Thank you.”
He leaned back, and lowered his chin so that I would meet his gaze. “You have to take it easy, though. I mean it.”
“I wil . I promise.”
Satisfied, Jared took my glass and returned moments later with a fresh batch of ice floating in the water. I took a sip and sighed, trying my best to relax.
We sat in the morning sun, waiting as it crawled across the sky, hiding every so often behind the errant cloud. Jared and I were wrapped in each other’s arms, enjoying a smal moment of peace. Eventual y, my stomach began to protest.