Vane noticed the look of sadness on Deirdre’s face, but she didn’t say anything as she sat there and put her napkin in her lap.
Bride’s father said the blessing and then stood up to carve the turkey while her mother began passing the side dishes.
Vane held the bowls while Bride served both him and herself.
"Is there anything you don’t like?" Bride asked him.
She smiled at that. "You’re so easy."
He impulsively kissed her cheek, until he realized that her family was staring at them. "I’m sorry," he said, afraid he’d done something wrong.
"Don’t be," Joyce said. "I’m just glad to see my baby smiling for once."
Vane passed the mashed potatoes across Bride to Fury, who stared at them with a fierce frown. "What are these?" he asked.
"Potatoes," Vane told him.
"What did they do to them?"
"Just eat them, Fury," Vane said. "You’ll like them, trust me."
Patrick snorted. "Where are you from that you’ve never seen mashed potatoes before?"
"Mars," Fury said as he frowned at the way the potatoes clung to the spoon. He only took a little, then passed them over to Paul. Fury leaned forward a bit and sniffed at the potatoes in a very canine manner.
Bride felt Vane’s leg reach over hers to kick at Fury’s chair under the table. Fury snapped upright and looked at Vane, who was giving him a warning stare.
"Really, where are you from?" Deirdre asked again. "Did you guys grow up here?"
"No," Vane answered. "We traveled a lot growing up. We’ve lived just about everywhere."
Her sister gave him a gimlet stare. "What brings you to New Orleans?"
"Deirdre," Bride said. "Since when is this the Inquisition?"
"Since Mom said you were serious about him. I think we ought to know something more about your new boyfriend than the fact that he looks good in a pair of jeans."
"Deirdre," Paul said in a low but stern tone. "Don’t make Bride and Vane pay for the crimes of Josh."
"Fine," Deirdre snapped angrily. "But when he runs off with his secretary and leaves her alone to explain to her kids why Daddy’s a jerk, I hope you remember this." She got up and left the room.
"I’m sorry," Joyce said, rising. "Y’all go ahead and eat. I’ll be back in a minute."
"Deirdre’s husband left her a few months ago," Bride explained to Vane.
"Her kids are with him for the holiday and Deirdre’s having a hard time with it."
"Why would a hum" Fury stretched the syllable out in a way that let Bride know he was about to say "human." "Humongous jackass do that?" he said, finishing it off.
"I don’t know why some men do what they do," Paul said. "I figure though that it’s good riddance to bad rubbish."
"I agree," Bride said, looking at Vane, who was playing with her thigh under the table and making her extremely hot. His touch was electrifying.
Joyce returned to get Deirdre’s plate, then left the room again.
Paul sighed. "I wish I could make it better for her. There’s nothing worse than seeing one of your children in pain and not being able to stop it."
"I could kill him for her," Fury offered.
Vane cleared his throat.
"Well, he could have an accident," Fury tried again. "Humans have those all the time."
Patrick gave an evil laugh. "I have a shovel."
"Screw that," Paul said before he sipped his wine. "I have a gator in the backyard."
They all laughed.
Joyce returned and sat back down. "Sorry about that."
"Is she okay?" Bride asked.
"She will be. It just takes time."
Vane sensed Bride’s sadness. He squeezed her thigh comfortingly.
"I probably shouldn’t have brought Vane. It was insensitive of me."
"Oh bah!" Joyce snapped. "You didn’t do anything wrong, Bride. We wanted to meet him." She smiled at Vane. "This is Deirdre’s issue, okay?"
They finished their meal in peace while Patrick and Paul bantered back and forth. Then Joyce brought out a pecan pie and a four-layer chocolate cake.
Bride cut a small piece of pie.
"Don’t you want any cake?" Vane asked. "I know chocolate’s your favorite."
She stared at it longingly. "No, I better not."
Before she could pass it over, Vane set a slice down on her plate.
"You wanted it. I know that look."
She rolled her eyes at him and picked up her fork. "Thank you."
Vane nodded. He felt her mother watching him. Glancing over, he received a grateful smile from Joyce, who reached over and gently patted his forearm.
It sent the strangest sensation through him. Was that what it was like to have a real mother’s touch?
After dinner, Bride decided she had tortured Vane and Fury enough for one day.
"We probably should head back," she said.
"What?" her father asked. "No game?"
"You and Patrick can watch the game, Dad."
To her utter shock, her father actually pouted.
Bride gave him a hug for being so kind to Vane and Fury. "I’m going to go say goodbye to Deirdre. Be nice to the guys until I get back."
Bride headed up the stairs to the guest rooms. She found Deirdre in the last room on the hall.
"Hey hon," she said, pushing open the door. "You okay?"
Deirdre’s eyes were rimmed in red as she sat on the bed, clutching a pillow to her stomach. Her plate of food was still untouched on the nightstand. "I’m fine. I guess."
Wishing she could do something to help her sister, Bride walked over to the bed. How she sympathized with Deirdre’s broken heart. She’d felt the same until Vane had come her way and made her smile. "I’m so sorry."
"Don’t be. I’m glad the ass**le’s gone, but you you should let go of Vane."
It wasn’t so much her sister’s words that shocked her as the rancor in Deirdre’s tone. "Excuse me?"
"C’mon, Bride. Don’t be stupid. Look at him. Look at you. The two of you don’t belong together."
Bride gaped at her sister. "I beg your pardon?"
"Taylor was a great guyyou should have held on to him with both hands. He was reliable and stable. Most of all, he was well respected in the community. But instead of doing what he wanted, you refused to lose weight and he left you because you’re fat. Now this guy comes along and you jump all over him like Taylor never existed. Not that I blame you. He is prime, but don’t be a fool."
Oh, that was a low blow and, quite honestly, Bride was tired of being the "smart" one while Deirdre was always known as the "pretty" one. "Just because you married a snake doesn’t mean that Vane is a dog."
Bride hesitated at that. Actually Vane was a dog, kind of. But not like that.
"Vane would never cheat on me."
"Yeah, right. Look at me, Bride. I was the first runner-up for Miss Louisiana and would have won had I not been so young at the time. I’m still damn attractive and yet my husband ran off on me. What chance do you stand?"
Angry at her "perfect" sister, Bride refused to look at her. Instead, she moved to the window that faced out onto the backyard where she saw Vane and Fury with her father.
"You married Josh for money, remember?" Bride said as she watched them with the dogs. "You actually told me that the night before the wedding."
"Oh, and I suppose you love Vane for his personality? I’m not stupid. You love him for how nice his ass looks."
And yet as Bride watched her mate, she knew the truth. Vane wasn’t human.
He didn’t think or act like a human. Unlike Taylor and Josh, he would never leave her because she wasn’t what he wanted her to be.
He loved her just as she was. Not once had Vane tried to change her or alter her in any way. He just accepted her, faults and all.
Vane would never cheat on her. Never lie. But he would kill anyone who hurt her. And in that moment as she watched him pet a dog that no one had been able to reach, she realized how much she loved him.
Just how much she needed him.
The very idea of living without him killed her.
She couldn’t. In the last few weeks, he had become an integral part of her life. Most of all, he was an integral part of her heart.
Her eyes teared as the reality of that thought crashed down on her.
She really, truly loved him in a way she had never known a woman could love a man.
"You have no idea what you’re talking about, Dee. Vane is kind and considerate. He takes care of me."
"You’ve only known him for a couple of weeks on the heels of breaking up with Taylor. It’s shameless the way you hang all over him."
Bride looked back at her sister. She felt sorry for Deirdre, but that didn’t give her sister the right to try and make her feel bad. "You’re just jealous."
"No, Bride, I’m not. I’m a realist. Vane’s way out of your league."
Bride glared at her perfect sister, but deep down, she felt so very sorry that Deirdre would most likely never know the love she had with Vane.
If she could, she would give her sister that gift. But it wasn’t within her control.
"Whatever, Dee. I’ll see you later."
Vane and Fury were outside in the yard with the Lab again.
"You wouldn’t want to take him home with you, would you?" Paul asked as Fury played with the dog. "Valerius would piss his drawers," Fury said. "Can I?"
Vane laughed. "Sure. But Cujo will probably end up at Sanctuary."
"You know," Paul said, "I should have thought of asking the bears about that myself."
Vane gave Paul a suspicious look. "Pardon?"
"But then, since he’s just a dog and not a Were, I didn’t think about the bears welcoming him in."
Vane couldn’t have been more stunned had Paul kicked him.
"Close your mouth, Vane," Paul said in a fatherly tone. "I’m the leading vet in the state. Carson is still learning the practice. Who do you think he calls when there’s something he can’t deal with?"
Carson was the resident veterinarian at Sanctuary. A Were-Hunter himself, he was only fifty years old, which in their world made him not much more than a child. "I know all about Fang, too," Paul continued.
Fury came forward to stand before the fence. He put his hand up on the links as he stared in disbelief at Paul. "Why did you let us come here?"
Paul took Vane’s hand in his. The mark was hidden. "You didn’t have to cover it.
I knew the minute Bride told me your name what had happened. And I know how you guys guard your mates. I can’t say I’m exactly happy about this, but at least I don’t have to fear you will ever hurt her the way Deirdre was hurt."
Vane clenched his fists. "Does Joyce"
"No. She knows nothing about your world and I want to keep it that way.
I’ve never told anyone about Sanctuary." Paul let go of Vane’s hand. "If you’re looking for my blessing, you have it. I wasn’t sure until I saw you two at dinner. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my little girl so happy. But remember, if you ever hurt her" He glanced over to where a dog was in a cage with a cone around his head.
"Ah man," Fury breathed. "That’s just sick."
"I definitely concur," Vane agreed.
"Yeah well, Bride is my baby and I know how to use a tranq gun and a scalpel."
Vane cringed as Fury cupped himself.
They turned to see Bride walking toward them.
Paul stepped back. "Let me get you a leash for"
"We won’t need it," Fury said, opening the gate and letting the dog out with him.
"No, I guess not," Paul said. He went to pet the dog, who snapped at him.
"Behave," Fury said, pulling Cujo back.
Bride hesitated as she drew near.
"And you better not nip at Bride," Vane warned. "Or we’ll leave you here."
The dog wagged its tail and sat down.
"Is he coming with us?" she asked.
Her father nodded. "They were kind enough to adopt him."
"That was sweet of you," she said to Vane.
Fury scoffed. "Not really. I feel for anyone who gets tossed into a ditch."
Bride reached out and hugged Fury. She felt for the wolf and what he’d been through.
Fury cleared his throat and stepped back. "Don’t get mushy on me, Bride, I don’t know how to handle it. Much like Cujo, my first instinct is to attack and that would cause Vane to make me look like that poor guy over there."
Bride saw the dog with the cone. "Ouch."
Vane wrapped his arm around her and together they walked back to the house with her father, Fury, and Cujo following them.
Joyce looked up in surprise to see the dog with them, but didn’t say anything as she handed Bride a large sack of Tupperware. "I split the leftovers with everyone."
"Did we get any potatoes?" Fury asked.
Vane cocked a brow. "So now you like them?"
"Yeah, they were good."