"Hell, no. Believe me, I'm the last person you'd want in charge of your meals. I pulled some favors from Savannah , Gabrielle, and the other women. Your stomach is in very good hands."

"But I was just with all of them earlier today and no one said anything about this." "I wanted to surprise you. They wanted to surprise you, too."

She didn't say anything more, and he couldn't help noticing that Renata's steps had slowed the closer they got to the dining room. Mira, however, was crackling with excitement. As soon as they reached the arched entryway, she broke away from Niko's loose hold and ran into the gathering, chattering a mile a minute as though she'd lived there all her life. But not Renata.

She was silent, unmoving. She took one look inside at the table full of dishes and fine porcelain settings and drew in a shallow breath. She said nothing as she looked at the faces of the warriors and their Breedmates, every gaze lifted in welcome as she and Nikolai stood at the door.

"Oh, God," she finally whispered, her voice broken and raw.

Niko followed her as she backed away, turning into the hallway like she wanted to bolt.

Damn it. He'd been so sure she would enjoy a nice dinner with everyone, but obviously he'd been wrong.

When she spoke to him, her voice was choked with emotion. "Everyone's waiting in there...for us?"

"Don't worry about it," he said, drawing her into his arms. "I wanted to do something special for you, and I screwed it up. I'm sorry. You don't have to do this - "

"Nikolai." She looked up at him, her eyes glittering with tears. "I've never seen anything lovelier than that table in there, with everyone gathered around it."

He frowned, baffled now. "Then what's wrong?"

She shook her head, swallowed a strangled laugh. "Nothing's wrong. That's just it. Nothing is wrong at all. I'm just so happy. You have made me so completely happy. I'm afraid to hold on to this feeling. I've never known what it was like, and I'm scared to death that it's only a dream."

"Not a dream," he said gently, caressing the stray tear from her cheek. "And you can hold on to me if you feel afraid. I'm going to be here beside you as long as you'll have me."

"Forever," she said, beaming up at him.

Nikolai nodded. "Yes, love. Forever."

Renata's elated laugh bubbled out of her. She kissed him hard, then nestled up against his side and walked with him under the shelter of his arm, back to join the others. Back to join the rest of their family.


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