Lady Valentina Tempeste, Mistress of Chicago, Keeper of the Lore, Regent of the Eastern March and Princess of the Sidhe tucked an errant hair behind her ear and took a bite of toast. It was smeared with a thick jam made from blood and sweet strawberries, butter and a touch of molasses. Valentina liked her evening meal to be sweet, it set the tone for the rest of the night.
She sat perched in a leather-backed dining chair dressed in leather shorts and a white tee-shirt that said “Kiss Me, I’m Sweet,” with one leg tucked under her and her waist-length black hair hanging like a curtain of satin. If you didn’t know she was Mistress of the City, you’d have thought she was a young teen having a quick bite.
“Love, what about the wedding?” Dominique asked.
The pretty blonde woman looked only slightly older than her partner. Her hair was held in tight braids that hung down her back, accentuating the loose white gown she wore over her nude form and bare feet. She was sitting demurely in a matching chair drinking tea from a mug Raven had given her many years before. It said “#1 Stepmom.”
Valentina didn’t look up from her newspaper. There was an article about the human President, who seemed to think he was in charge and free to do as he pleased, ruining treaties and relationships older than the country itself. Something would need to be done.
“Raven has made it clear she doesn’t want my help.”
Dominique smiled. “No, my love. She said she didn’t want to do it your way. She wants a wedding that is about her and her bride, not the Totentanz. And it is tonight.”
Valentina went cold. Had she really paid so little attention?
“Tonight? Are you certain?”
“Yes, Val, at midnight. You hadn’t noticed the caterers and florists wandering the Manor? Perhaps we should find you something suitable to wear?”
Valentina had, of course, seen the extra workers around the house, she assumed they were doing something important that didn’t require her involvement. It wasn’t important, what was important was she’d been so busy with Thaddeus, Selene, Sable, Court, and her own hurt feelings she’d let time get away from her. It happened all too often. She regretted not being there more when Raven was a child. She regretted even more not realizing one of the biggest weddings in her life was about to happen. Raven deserved better.
She stood and extended a hand to Dominique. “What do you suggest?”
Dominique took the offered hand and stood. “Raven and Aspen have chosen a mix of Fae and Vampire traditions. I took the liberty of having appropriate outfits made for both of us.”
Valentina kissed her. “Thank you, my heart. What would I do without you?”
“Be lost, my love. But you shall never be without me, as long as we both live. Come upstairs with me, we have only a few hours.”
Dressing for the wedding took far less time than Valentina would normally expect. The…outfits, as Dominique described them, were much less than most vampires wore to official events. Valentina’s consisted of a web of bejeweled and feathered black leather that danced over her curves, hiding just enough to not be scandalous. It ended in a long loincloth that hung to the floor and high boots that were of Fae design, save that the heels were very tall, adding almost six inches to her diminutive height. The gown was finished with a red-lined cloak to keep out the winter chill, and a clasp that held the Tempeste family crest.
Valentina fussed with the clasp and examined herself in the mirror. She looked good, for an elder vampire. Her waist was tiny, her flesh was pale and her eyes were wide, almost doll-like. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been in public without a corset, and the bare skin made her feel exposed.
“Mini, are you sure this is alright? I feel underdressed.”
Dominique entered from the massive bathroom they shared. Her own outfit was similar to Valentina’s, save it was made of white leather with sapphire accents and flat boots. Her long hair flowed over her shoulders into a silver clasp that held it at the tips and her face was expertly made up, accentuating her high cheekbones and Nordic nose.
“You look ravishing, Val. The girls tried very hard to accommodate both families in the designs. What do you think?” Dominque asked.
“I look like a child lost at a BDSM convention,” Valentina replied.
“No, love. That is how you look at Court most nights,” Dominique replied. “Especially when you insist I attend from my knees.”
Valentina felt a moment of anger, washed away by regret. Perhaps that display of power hadn’t been the best move, but the point had been made nonetheless.
“I apologize, love. You will never kneel by my side again,” she said. “I already told you.”
“And I heard you,” Dominique replied, wrapping her arms around Valentina. “Raven and Aspen manage their relationship as any loving couple does. We should learn from them, not hold to ancient, out of date traditions.”
She didn’t disagree, but Valentina had misgivings about moving vampires too far too fast. It was a mistake humans had made, and the backlash wasn’t pleasant. People could be very afraid of progress, even when it benefited them.
She disengaged herself from Dominique’s warm arms and pushed aside the royal red curtains that hid the room’s wide window. It overlooked the courtyard behind the Manor and gave a view of the distant city. Below, the courtyard was decorated in a modern style as befit a Chicago wedding, mixed with touches that represented both the House Tempeste colors of white and black and the House Fyre colors purple and green. From above, it was a colorful tableau of streamers, balloons, taffeta, curtains, and flowers all carefully arranged by someone who knew how, which meant not likely a vampire. Vampires had no talent for decoration.
“It is beautiful,” she whispered.
“They did well,” Dominique agreed. “We should finish getting ready. There is a bottle of Claret for you, sip before we join the festivities.”
Valentina didn’t turn. Raven was standing beside a young man she didn’t recognize, but who must have been the Faepriest selected for the wedding, given he was wearing merely a collection of pieced leather skins and a crown of flowers. Raven looked beautiful in a black leather gown that left her shoulders bare yet her arms covered. It was long on one side, as a vampire would wear, yet with a hip-high slit on the other, showing skin as was traditional in Fae lands. Her father’s sword, Hrung, was sheathed across her back and she wore flat ankle boots. The Tempeste family crest and jewels hung around her neck, honoring her family and her place as Fürstin.
“My girl is getting married, and she did it so much better than I could have.”
She felt Dominique’s hand on her back. “You should trust her more, love. She may not do what you would, but she always does the right thing.”
“Indeed she does.”
Valentina turned away. The Plague she’d been bewitched by would never be gone, she needed to feed regularly or she would waste away and die. Claret would suffice this night, but she would need fresh blood by daybreak. There was a tasty-looking human politician in the larder, no doubt well-fed on beef and cheese. Though he didn’t know it, he’d voted against expanding vampire lands outside Old Town, a mistake he would pay for with his life.
With that thought in her head, she smiled and finished brushing her hair.