“Wade Daniel Waters, do you take Cordelia Anne Blue for your lawful wedded wife, to live in the holy state of matrimony? Will you love, honor, comfort, and cherish her from this day forward, forsaking all others, keeping only unto her for as long as you both shall live?” The pastor looked to my almost husband.
“I do,” Wade smiled, then added, “always, forever and united.”
“Can we stick to the script?” Trent said. He stood next to Wade, his chest puffed with best man importance.
“Cordelia Anne Blue, do you take Wade Daniel Waters for your lawful wedded husband, to live in the holy state of matrimony? Will you love, honor, comfort, and cherish him from this day forward, forsaking all others, keeping only unto him for as long as you both shall live?”
“I do,” I replied. “Always, forever and united.”
Trent rolled his eyes, and I stifled a giggle. Wade slipped a ring onto my finger, a plain white gold band that sparkled in the sunlight. I slipped the matching one onto his. The pastor declared we were now husband and wife. Wade was free to kiss me, as many times as he wanted, and for as long as we both desired.
His head dipped, his eyes flashing black. I circled my arms around his neck and forgot about everyone else standing on the beach watching us. It was our moment, our first act as husband and wife, king and queen. We would be officially coronated during the wedding breakfast. But I forgot all that as I softened against him. Ignoring all the staring eyes, I focused instead on his lips and wished we could bypass the coming feast and head straight to our new bedroom. But that would have to wait. There were family and well-wishers to greet.
Maya handed me my bouquet, an exquisite array of Birds of Paradise that complimented the arrangements decorating the aisle. The fragrance carried sweetly in the air. Wade walked me back down the aisle, our bare feet sinking into the soft sand, to a thunderous applause and a few loud wolf whistles. Trent was the main culprit. He and Maya stood together at the altar, maid of honor and best man, watching us go.
I lifted my dress as we walked along the cobblestone path. We followed the winding walkway under the aqueduct, vines softening their angular edges and now heavy with plump, ripe grapes, toward the palace steps and the courtyard where the banquet was waiting for us.
“You’re so beautiful. I haven’t had a chance to tell you. When you came walking down the aisle, I thought I was dreaming.” Wade’s voice was thick with emotion as he cupped my elbow and guided me along the path.
“You too,” I replied. I couldn’t manage more words. I was afraid I would cry from sheer happiness, from the magnitude of the whole thing, and from the blissful relief that finally, everything had gone the right way for us.
“We deserve it.” Wade read my thoughts. “We’ve been through so much. It’s our time now.”
“It is.” I clutched his hand as we mounted the stone steps. Halfway up, we turned and waved to our people, who were approaching the cobblestone path. “Give me a minute,” I said as we arrived at the palace entrance, a vast marble arch boasting exquisite architecture, softened by vibrant flowers hanging from the balconies. “I need to freshen up.”
Wade drew me to his side. “Take a few. Now we’re married, I won’t worry when you’re out of my sight.”
“Worry?” I questioned.
Wade smiled sheepishly and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Ever since we had that argument on the plane and I realized I loved you more than you loved me, I worried I might lose you.”
“Not necessarily to another guy, but maybe to your family or a career or even to the blue chamber and the High Council or…I don’t really know to what. But you’ve got my ring on your finger now. Two of them. It’s the most relaxed I’ve felt in months.” He chuckled and kissed my nose. “So take a moment, take a few. We have the rest of our lives to love each other.”
I rested a hand on his cheek. “Exactly,” I said. “And you shouldn’t have worried. I was naïve back then, on the plane. It may have only been a year ago, but it’s been a long year and we went through a lot together. I grew up. We both did. We were forced to. I don’t regret any of it. It was a stupid argument. If I’d known we would be married a year later…but here we are, where we should be, and I’m smiling at you, always. Don’t ever doubt my love for you, Wade Waters. And please don’t hide your worries from me. And for the record, back then, it was me who loved you more.”
Wade took my hand from his cheek and gently brushed the ends of my fingers. “Thank you.” He gestured for me to carry on to the bathroom.
I turned away, but not before I caught the tears in his eyes. I disappeared into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror, taking in my appearance. My ivory dress was a one shoulder affair made from delicate chiffon. A soft trail of chiffon cascaded from one shoulder and puddled on the floor. Attached to the bodice were several white lace butterflies that looked ready to carry me away to a whimsical land. The same butterflies adorned my wild, red hair. I wore Wade’s charm bracelet on my wrist, my father’s ‘C’ pendant at my neck, and Trent and Maya’s diamond earrings. Presents I’d received for my eighteenth birthday. I looked at the new ring on my finger, nestled close to my engagement ring, a perfect pair. I was now married. To Wade. The enormity of the idea flooded over me, and I had to grip the cold marble sink to steady myself.
Maya found me there. “I thought you might need a few minutes alone.”
I splashed water on my face and patted myself dry with a paper towel. “It’s all so perfect. And I’m afraid.”
“You’ve been through all the bad stuff. We all have.” Maya clutched my arm. “This last year on Atlantis has been perfect, and it will continue to be so. Don’t start doubting now.”
“So you didn’t rush back to check The Mermaid Chronicles just now?”
Maya blushed. “The pages are changing. They’re flapping about all over the place.”
Fear swelled in my throat. I pointed at her image in the mirror. “No. Not today.”
Maya raised a palm. “I can’t do anything until they stop turning, anyway.”
“Well, let’s hope it’s like last time, after we arrived, a future full of rainbows and unicorns.”
“I’m sure.” She hugged me. “It’s most likely about the future leaders of Atlantis.” She looked pointedly at my stomach.
“I am way too young to be a mother.”
Maya laughed. “There are worse things.”
We spent a few more minutes in the bathroom. She touched up my make-up, adding blusher to my pale cheeks and a shimmering lipstick to my lips. We faced the mirror again together. Her silk sarong dress of peach-blossom orange complimented my wedding dress perfectly. She had fastened one of the lace butterflies in her blonde hair.
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you too,” she replied and gave me another quick squeeze. “We should join the banquet. People will start wondering where you are.”
I opened the door to the sound of laughter and clinking glasses, animated conversation, and the soft notes of a piano. I followed Maya to the courtyard and prepared myself for the crowd.
Someone thrust a champagne flute into my hand and Wade appeared at my side, steering me through the crowd with a comforting hand on my elbow. I sipped at the champagne as we made our way through the throng of people, accepting handshakes and kisses on cheeks, congratulations and words of advice. Wade handled them all expertly, never staying too long, but never short enough to appear rude. He refilled my glass when it was necessary, and it wasn’t long before we only had our families left to greet.
My parents appeared. My father had tears in his eyes and my mother’s spilled freely. She held her arms wide and swept us both into a hug.
“I’m so happy,” she said.
“I am the proudest father on the planet,” Dad said, wiping self-consciously under his eye. “This day is so much more than…I don’t know what, it’s just more.”
“I know,” Wade said. “I feel a little that way myself. I love Cordelia. I always have. I think since I was thirteen. And then we met again, fell in love, and I knew I couldn’t be without her. But making it so…” Wade shook his head. “It’s a whole other plane of emotion. It’s more than I thought I was capable of feeling, more than I thought I deserved.”
There was a strange gurgling sound in my throat. My mother choked out another sob.
“I’m going to leave before I go through all the tissues on Atlantis,” she laughed.
Well-wishers swept by, their noise and love dazzling and overwhelming. I remained mute. Wade had a way of saying things to me that seemed to stop time. The surrounding crowds blurred into a mirage of whirling colors as I reveled in Wade’s words. He had loved me since he was thirteen. I could barely breathe. I was afraid the swelling in my heart would pass and I wasn’t ready for it to pass.
“I…” I wanted to say something that would mirror his words, that would tell him I felt exactly the same way, more.
“I love you, Cordelia Blue,” he said.
I smiled. “You can’t call me that anymore. I think you’ll find my last name is Waters now.”
“You’ll always be Cordelia Blue to me.”
The sun sparkled over the mountain, beginning its descent, its heat still strong and vibrant. Wade and I leaned against the stone balcony, the coolness refreshing my flushed skin. We stole a moment to ourselves. Wade cupped my face in his hands and kissed me. We had kissed countless times before, but this kiss stole my breath. It made me feel as though I’d been tossed overboard, immersed in the ocean, buoyed by wonder, and wrung through with love.
It went on, his warm lips devouring me, nipping at my ears, tracing the length of my jaw, nestling into the crevice of my neck. It was perfect.
When he pulled away, we were both breathless. He kept his hands on the small of my back and a tingling heat swam up my spine. We stood close, holding hands, whispering to each other, our noses almost touching. I couldn’t stand not to be touching him. The feelings rushing over me were all-consuming, intense, and I wanted more.
A bell sounded, signaling it was time for the feast to begin. Wade led me to a pair of ornately carved chairs and pulled one out for me. It was a long, traditional head table. Trent sat to my left, and Maya to Wade’s right. Our parents and siblings were further along. With the exception of Wade’s father. We’d only heard from him twice in the last year.
A band struck up, and a buffet was laid for all the inhabitants of the island. Everyone was in attendance.
As my eyes rolled over the feast, a deep sense of loss pulled at my heart. Gal. I missed him terribly. His death had left a hole in my heart, one I wasn’t sure would ever heal.
He had once described a feast like this to me, a royal wedding party with piles of food and plentiful drinks. Closing my eyes against the wave of emotion, I sought his presence. I hoped he was here, somehow, watching over me with a smile on his broad face, proud of how far I’d come.
“It’s our turn for food.” Wade helped me to my feet and led me to the buffet.
I didn’t know where to start. The buffet tables were covered with fine white linen, piled high with glazed food, drink fountains, and three-foot vases, each supporting a striking arrangement of Birds of Paradise that matched my bouquet. A rich green ivy twisted its way down the stem of each vase and spilled over the white tablecloth.
As for the food itself, there were honey-glazed hams adorned with pineapples and sweet cherries, barbequed lambs lathered in a marinade of strawberry jam, beef wellingtons with the puff of the pastry an inch high, chicken kebabs, whole roast guinea fowl. There were piles of mussels, clams, oysters, and shrimp with accompanying Marie Rose, garlic butter, and marinara sauces. The vegetables had been harvested from the palace gardens. There were zucchinis, their meat scooped out and replaced with rice, goat’s cheese and roasted peppers, stuffed tomatoes, foot-long ears of corn, a medley of roasted orange vegetables. My mouth watered.
Wade took my plate from my hand and piled it high with food. We laughed when my stomach growled noisily in response.
“Congrats, sis.” Dylan stood at my side. He held two glasses of champagne. He knocked one back in an instant. Most of the buttons on his shirt were undone and the shirt itself was creased and stained with the evidence of more than one night of indulgence. “It was a beautiful ceremony.” His words slurred and he swayed on his feet.
“Thanks,” I replied, grabbing his arm to steady him. “Thanks for organizing all the drinks.”
Dylan had taken over the running of the main tavern. He spent most of his time there. When he wasn’t playing barman and telling stories of his adventures in the water, he was in his apartment above. But never on the balcony. I’d never seen him sitting there. Or in the ocean. Not once. I wondered if he still knew how to swim. Did mermaid tails ever disappear with lack of use?
Wade frowned as Dylan knocked back the second drink. He removed a fraying cigarette from his pocket, lit it, and inhaled deeply. He exhaled the smoke in my face.
“Looks like I’m empty,” Dylan said, tapping his glass. “Catch you later.” He stumbled away from us.
Something in my chest pinched as I watched him retreat, slapping the backs of some, tripping over the feet of others, but always with a fake smile plastered on his face. I didn’t know how to help him. Every time I tried to raise the subject of his drinking, he shot me down.
“What am I going to do about him?”
Wade rested his head on top of mine. “Dylan is not today’s problem.”
“I need to deal with him.”
“What more can you do?” Wade said. “He needs to learn to stand on his own two feet.”
“It’s not that easy…especially with everything he’s been through.”
“I know.” Wade kissed me. “But not tonight.”
“No, not tonight.”
As the sun set, the courtyard came alive with laughter and dancing. The flowers were removed and dessert was laid out. A stunning ice sculpture of a mermaid and selachii made an extraordinary center piece. The figures held hands as they swam through an ocean, their tails hovering high above their heads as though they were traveling along the crest of a wave. I ran a finger over the frigid carving, admiring the likeness to Wade and me.
The dessert tables held a mountain of sweetness. Cakes, ice creams, a champagne sorbet, a rum flavored frozen yogurt, and a profiterole tower. Syllabubs, mousses, trifles, and puddings. But the best, of course, was the wedding cake. It was a five layered affair, orange Birds of Paradise sugar flowers decorating its flanks with the real thing adorning the top. Wade and I cut into the cake together and fed each other the first delicious morsels in front of a cheering crowd.
The sun dipped under the horizon, and the night sky mantled the distant, snow-capped mountain. The band began a familiar number and Wade took me in his arms and whisked me onto the middle of the dance floor. Paper lanterns were ignited and set loose in the sky, competing with the endless stars. When other couples floated around us, Wade circled his arms around me and held me tight. Nothing could mar the perfection of this day. Nothing.
Instead of laying my head on Wade’s shoulder and soaking up his ocean scent, I scanned the crowd, craning my neck to inspect the more distant groups of people hovering by the buffet tables and refilling glasses by the champagne tower.
“She’s not here. I haven’t seen her all day,” I said.
“That’s a good thing, right?” Wade asked.
“I suppose. I didn’t know what to expect. I haven’t spoken to her once in the last year.”
“Me neither. I think she’s giving us the space we asked for.”
A thread of anxiety weaved through my stomach. The trouble Stephanie had caused was almost a distant memory, but I never expected her to stay quiet for this long.
Jordan, Wade’s cousin, approached us. He ran a hand through his lengthening dark hair as he tipped his champagne flute at us. “Congrats, cousins.”
Wade and Jordan shook hands.
“She’s not coming, if you were wondering,” Jordan said.
That answered that question. Although Stephanie and Wade’s sister, Marina, were still close, she’d spent most of her time with Jordan over the last year, exploring the caves and mountains of the island, often disappearing for days on end, camping wild and living off the rivers.
“She’s welcome if she wants to,” Wade said.
“Uh-huh,” Jordan said, taking a long sip of his drink.
“Is she okay?” I asked.
“She’s great.” A smile warmed Jordan’s hard features. “I’m not usually one for sloppy seconds, but you know, the heart doesn’t choose.”
“It certainly doesn’t,” Wade said, with a wink in my direction. I socked his shoulder. “Hey, no beating up your husband on our wedding day.”
“Oh, come on, you barely felt it,” I said. “You and your increased strength.”
“We could all use some of that,” Jordan said before he disappeared into the crowd.
“He seems happy,” I said.
“As long as someone is occupying Steph’s attention, that’s all I care about.”
We danced until the moon was high, until my feet ached, and until the crowds dispersed. The cooling air curled around me, bringing with it the scents of the island at night; the ocean, the moonflowers, and Wade. Always Wade.
“My feet hurt,” I said. “I can’t eat anymore, and I can’t drink anymore, not if I want to remember today.”
“It is getting late.” A mischievous smile bloomed on Wade’s face.
I placed my hand on the small of his back, slipping my fingertips into the top of his trousers. “It is.”
Without another word, and without saying goodnight to anyone, Wade led me from the wedding feast. We rushed through the echoing palace hallways, up the marble staircase and into our new suite of rooms. I hadn’t yet seen the rooms which had been bestowed on us as the royal couple. I didn’t much care to inspect them now. There was only one thing I was interested in. In fact, it had been on my mind for most of the day, ever since I first laid eyes on Wade in his beige chinos and flowing white linen shirt, waiting for me at the altar. The day had been filled with heat, my fingertips often bursting into flames. I ached to be near him, to feel his touch, for him to take me as his wife.
Without another word, Wade circled his fingers around my wrists and pulled me tight against him. He kissed me, his tongue parting my lips, testing, teasing.
“Please…I can’t…I need you…now,” I begged, tugging at the sleeves of his shirt.
“Patience, Cordelia,” he whispered as he kissed me again.
“I’ve been patient all day.”
But he wouldn’t be rushed. He unzipped the back of my dress, painstakingly slowly, and after removing the delicate chiffon from my shoulder, let it pool on the floor at our feet. I stood in my underwear, shivering in the moonlight, as he examined me with his eyes. But I wasn’t cold for long. He wrapped his powerful arms around me, and my skin flushed with heat.
I pulled his shirt over his head and ran my hands along his defined arms. The Power of the Sea had gifted him with extraordinary strength, and it showed in every part of his body. His chest and his back were chiseled to perfection, and I fit perfectly into the fold of his arms.
Unable to wait any longer, I pushed him onto the bed and swept a leg over him. I took him inside me and cried out immediately. I hovered over him, feeling him fill me, then rocked my hips against his. Wade held my hips and moved them so our rhythms matched. It wasn’t long before the ecstasy washed over me, my voice carrying Wade’s name through the echoing halls and out the windows to the party-goers dancing on the courtyard below. But I didn’t care, and neither did Wade.
He shifted on top of me and filled me deeper. A second wave of bliss engulfed my body. I clutched his back, pulling him tight against me, spasming against him.
“Cordelia,” Wade cried. Then he collapsed against me.
We lay in the light of the moon, curled in each other’s arms, watching the shadows filter through our arched windows. Wade pulled the duvet over our cooling skin. He entwined his fingers in my hair, teasing the lace butterflies loose, letting them fall to the rug below.
“Are you glad we didn’t rush?” Wade asked.
“For now,” I replied. “But I’m not done with you yet.”