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BLUE HORIZON, BOOK 4

— Episode 34

"Forever and Always"
by Eileen Blasingame

 

Once upon a time… on a little planet named Dennier, in a chapel painted white, a wolf named Merlin Sinclair stood in front of a long dress mirror, grumbling in frustration. 

He hated ties.

Merlin growled lowly, muttering beneath his breath as he again tried to adjust his tie so that it looked perfect. It had to look perfect. Everything about this day had to be perfect. Wedding days were supposed to be perfect in every way. He’d been captain of a space freighter that had fought off pirates at a great deal of risk to his own life, yet on his wedding day, he was as nervous as a teenage male was on his first date.  He had butterflies the size of birds in his belly, making his fingers shake as he tried to make the knot look pleasing to the eye.  It wasn’t working out so well. He growled again in impatience, amber eyes narrowed in irritation.

Renny gave a soft amused sigh and went over to help his former commander, having watched Merlin fumble with the tie for about fifteen minutes.

“I don’t know why you didn’t choose a clip-on bow tie,” the cheetah said as he easily fixed the tie, tucking the blood red, gold and black striped cloth into his friend’s jacket and patting him on the chest in an affectionate brotherly fashion. “Would have been loads easier.”

“I hate bow ties the most, always have,” the groom muttered, turning away and looking at himself in the mirror, making minor adjustments to the rich black suit made by Arlanistadus of Alexandrius. The wolf steadfastly refused to wear a tuxedo and the much-dreaded bow tie, opting for a more comfortable, if as expensively-tailored suit.  Merlin looked over his shoulder and smirked at his best man. “They look stupid on me. I’d rather have gone with no tie at all, but Sam looked as if I’d sprouted another head when I mentioned the idea to her. Thanks for the help. This looks lots better.”

Renny was going to make a crack about Merlin spending more time in front of the mirror today than his bride would be, when the door opened, admitting the wolf’s sister who was wearing a pretty light blue dress. “Aren’t you ready yet?” Shannon asked incredulously, moving forward to straighten out both males’ ties and make sure the pink-kissed white roses were attached neatly to both of their lapels. “It’s almost time! You should already be in the sanctuary!”

“Okay, mother hen. We’re going,” Merlin teased, flashing a quick smile at his sister before he licked her gently on the cheek.  He and Renny moved outside into the foyer and directly across from the bride’s room, which was a flurry of activity in itself. Renny grinned hugely at Merlin and tugged on his sleeve.

“Wanna go over and peek?” he asked, earning a swat on the shoulder from the groom.      

*** 

Her adoptive mother fluttered about her, primping here, curling there, putting the finishing touches into Samantha’s dress and hair. Guinevere stared at her canine daughter with a critical, yet practiced eye. The lovely unicorn mare fussed about, sometimes having to dodge around the vixen in the room. The fox gave an apologetic grin to the graceful equine and found a place to sit out of the way. Taro was looking quite lovely as well, her hair done as a riot of cinnamon curls that fell loosely about her shoulders. There were diamond hair clips placed strategically through her hair, and she was garbed in a dress of light blue silk and velvet that made soft noises on the expensive carpet.

“Something’s missing,” the Silloni said thoughtfully, brown eyes darting here and there. Samantha stood patiently, eyeing her friend and maid of honor with some amusement tinged with exasperation, waiting for the older equine to pronounce her ‘perfect.’ Guinevere would not do so until she was absolutely sure that the Border collie before her was, in her learned opinion, quite flawless. The unicorn would not leave anything to chance. Samantha’s wedding had to be perfection.

“I still think you should have chosen the dress with the corset,” joked Laura, Guinevere’s daughter.  “Go for the bratty heiress look.”

“I love this one, it’s beautiful. Besides, corsets are your style; I’d look silly in it,” Sam countered her bridesmaid, chuckling. “By the way, you are so going to get it for the ‘bratty heiress’ thing.”

The dress was indeed beautiful, satin halter-top gown with an overlay of tulle, cotton lace that had long belled sleeves and was artfully draped across the back of her shoulders, as well as a small train.  While not extremely elaborate, especially for someone as wealthy as the bride was, it was much more sophisticated looking than its price tag would have one believe.

For the life of her, she couldn’t think of anything that was missing. What was Guinevere looking for? What had been omitted from her garments? Not even Gwen looked sure, even though she was snapping her dark eyes over Sam’s form, her brow wrinkled in concentration.

“What I still can’t believe is how you talked Merlin into having a Terran-style wedding ceremony. There are plenty of wedding customs in the Alignment to choose from, such as from Dennier, Alexandrius and Sillon,” Taro said, trying to calm her friend’s nerves by diverting the conversation to something other than the whatever Gwen could not find on the gown.

“I’m the bride, the choice of wedding customs was mine to make. Merlin wasn’t happy at first, especially with his history with humans, but he came around to my choice,” Sam answered as Gwen poked and prodded her. “Besides, I did keep a couple of Dennieran wedding customs in the ceremony, like the linking of two handfuls of water to show unity, or two becoming one, and also the throwing of sugared nuts at the couple instead of birdseed or rice.”

“Being pelted with sugared nuts?” Laura smirked slightly. “That has to hurt.”

“Hopefully no one will be throwing them with all their strength, but yeah, it has to do with something about life being sweet. I looked over several other wedding ceremonies and customs as well, and this seems easier done than the others are. Alexandrius has a custom of jumping through a fiery hoop together. As for Sillon… well, let’s just say I don’t have the proper equipment for such things, nor does Merlin.”

“Horns are definitely required for Silloni wedding customs,” Gwen said, smiling broadly and patting her charge with motherly affection. “Tristan did offer to allow you and Merlin both to use some old discarded horns of our ancestors, but you said no, pup.”

“I prefer not to look stupid, my well-loved step mom,” Sam chuckled. “Horns are for the Silloni race, not just some nobody adopted puppy from Alexandrius.”  

“My pup is not just some nobody!” said a deep commanding voice, causing the females in the room to turn in unison.  A huge unicorn stallion entered, dressed in a charcoal colored suit, escorting a small female lynx with bright green eyes and a pretty dress that matched both of those worn by Taro and Laura. He had a box in his hand that he set on the nearest vanity. None of the occupants in the room actually noticed it; they were intent upon the arrival of another in the bridal party.  “Must be talk of wedding customs again.”

“I think they should have chosen a Fynian ceremony myself,” squeaked the little cat as the bride swiftly shook her head in answer. “My wedding was beautiful! Elegant and simple!”

“Your wedding was amongst friends only, Sparky,” Sam said, coming over and hugging the cat, happy to see the former ship’s cook. “I just don’t want to see all of our guests completely stripped down to their fur. One should never see one’s parent’s bits, especially mine. I like the ceremony I have planned.”

This caused momentary laughter, all of which was affectionate. Taro replaced the collie in her friend’s arms, as Gwen raked a critical eye over the bride yet again.

 “I see living on Sillon agrees with you,” Taro teased, the Hestran holding the slender feline out at arm distance and sweeping her eyes over her friend. It had been pretty hard convincing the lynx to wear the gown; she much preferred wearing the colorful silken cheongsams and kimonos to western style dresses.

“She agrees with Sillon too,” answered the huge black unicorn after he placed an affectionate kiss upon the velvety lips of his wife. “Since hiring Ivy, the Dragon Loft has had several nice write-ups in the interplanetary travel guides as well as a Five Star review of her cooking in Zagrats! Her Fynian Wonder Meal has been featured in ‘Holly’s Culinary Journeys’ for INN as one of the best food finds in the whole of the Alignment.”

The little cat flushed beneath her fur, flattered by her employer’s words. Such praise from someone who had once been a regent!  She gave a slight bow and said in the slightly squeaky tones of hers, “Thank you. I think that working in such a lovely, positive place has made my cooking even better than I had ever imagined! Although I can say that it’s hard for me to be unable to supervise the staff here, to make sure that all the food is perfectly seasoned and whatnot.”

Sam looked that the lynx, frowning ever so slightly. “Sparky, you weren’t in the kitchen again, where you? You’ll ruin that lovely gown I had made for you. I’m sure Rafael and the rest of your hand-picked staff is doing just fine.”

“I caught her in there three times, tasting the sauces,” Tristan revealed, his tone light as the little feline fidgeted in a guilty manner. “It’s one of the reasons why I think she should stay up here with you ladies, to keep her from meddling in the kitchen, as well as to get together with the rest of the wedding party. The time for the bridal party to enter the church is drawing near. By the way, I saw Lorelei outside with the children; she seemed to have them stirred up over something. They were growling, I think.”

 “She just wouldn’t shut up about my dad’s company. I got sick of her holistic healing nonsense and had to throw her out of the room to keep my sanity,” Sam said as her adopted mother moved even more frantically about her. “I have enough pressure as it is today.”

“Oh dear!” said Gwen as the mare looked over Samantha again and still not satisfied at all. “I can’t send you out there yet, not without whatever it is that you are missing.”

Her mate moved to her side, looking down upon the tiny canine that was all but his adopted daughter. He gave the bride a fond smile and asked, “Something is missing? Have you thought of the five old human customs that you are so intent on copying this day?”

There was an uncomfortable silence as the females tried to figure out what customs the large stallion was talking about, each looking very perplexed.

“You didn’t study,” Tristan teased. “I should have known, Little One. Very well, I shall list them for you again in order. The customs are as follows: Something old.”

“Yes, I have that,” Samantha said, her tail wagging a little. Her fingers brushed a diamond and pearl necklace that she was wearing. “It’s my great grandmother’s that’s been passed down to all the Holden females.”

“Something new?”

“I bought the earrings Sam is wearing,” said Taro in response, pointing out the dangly gemstones hanging from her friend’s ears. “I gifted them to her this morning.”

 “Something borrowed?” The unicorn continued, nodding as the women around him were beginning to catch on. Jazz was beginning to dig through her little handbag looking intently for something as her father spoke.

“She borrowed my diamond bracelet,” Gwen said with a grin. “Her own just was too gaudy for the occasion. Mine matched the rest of her jewelry a lot better.”

“Something blue?”

The women looked at one another. “I don’t have anything blue!” Samantha said softly, looking rather troubled at the thought and a slight hint of concern in her voice. “If you don’t comply with this little custom it’s bad luck, isn’t it?”

Gwen wrapped a motherly arm about Sam’s shoulders as her husband went to retrieve the box he had laid on the vanity. “Don’t worry so, pup. These customs are just a bit of human silliness.”

“I want everything to be perfect.” The collie said mournfully. “It has to be exactly right.”

“Listen to Guinevere, Little One. Your day certainly will not be ruined by a bit of trifling silliness, human or furman. Nevertheless, just in case. I brought this.”  Tristan removed a pretty tiara from the box; it was studded with diamonds, blue sapphires and pearls. Giving it to his wife, he watched as she set it into Samantha’s upswept hair, just in front of the veil. The unicorn mare stepped back, looked at her charge and finally pronounced her perfect. 

Just then, they heard the music from the sanctuary, signaling to the bridal party to take their positions. Tristan lowered the veil over the collie’s face after placing a fatherly kiss on her cheek. They were just about to head out of the bride’s room when Jazz gave pronounced “AaaHAAAA!” and produced a small coin to which she moved to the bride’s side.

“Father forgot the last of the customs Sami, the fifth. Something old, new, borrowed, blue,” she counted off on her fingers, folding them down. “The fifth is ‘and a penny in your shoe.’ Here, take this old copper that I got on Earth and put it in your shoe.  No bad luck for you today!”

Sam smiled gratefully and as Laura slipped the coin into her shoe. Nothing was going to ruin her wedding; it was definitely going off without a hitch! She gave a little shake, looked up at her Master and slipped a hand on his arm, letting him lead her into the church.     

*** 

Merlin felt a twinge of nervousness standing in the front of the church with Renny, waiting for the ceremony to start. The doors to the foyer were still closed, but he knew that behind them, the bridal party was assembling. His golden eyes watched as Guinevere of Sillon finally took a seat in the front of the auditorium on the bride’s side, the last of the guests seated. The priest, an otter named Father Lonergan, stood patiently by his side, occasionally making a small joke to calm Merlin’s nerves. The wolf was thankful for that.

The doors opened as the music began to swell, trumpeting the arrival of his bride. He looked in that direction, but couldn’t see Samantha, even though he could see her escort, the massive unicorn easily discerned from the rest of the group of females. First to enter was Merlin’s niece Marissa, and Sparky’s daughter Kayla, the tiny children dressed in white matching with blue ribbons tied to their dresses, as well as a circlet of white, pink and blue roses in their hair, and carrying baskets of rose petals that they were throwing on the carpet.  Following them, Merlin’s nephews, Shane and Jaran were dressed in matching tiny dark suits and holding a pillow between them.

Merlin heard a slight chuckle from behind him, and glanced over his shoulder at Renny who was smiling. It was hard not to smile, even if he had no idea what the children were doing, for the four cubs were baring their teeth, making claw fingers and growling “GrrrrrrrRarrrr!!!” at the guests on either side of them. Merlin glanced shortly at his sister Shannon, who had her face buried in her hands, her shoulders shaking in silent laughter. It was a relief to see that most of the guests were responding to the kids in that manner, soft laughter echoed through the church.

Behind the children and looking like she wanted to stop her daughter from doing her little act ahead of her was Ivy Sparks, the little Lynx looking somewhat slightly scandalized by her daughter’s actions.   Her gaze met Merlin’s for a moment and she shrugged apologetically, but kept a smile on her face.

Next was Lori, the white bunny so giddy from joy at the occasion that she was practically skipping down the aisle behind Sparky, she waved and giggled at some of the guests that she recognized. Nothing, not even being thrown unceremoniously out of the bridal chambers by Samantha, could dampen the day for Lorelei.

She was followed by Laura, better known to the Blue Horizon crew as Jazz, former crewmember of the Lady of Dreams. Laura and Sam had grown up together, been friends and sisters since they were old enough to remember. Even if the Lady of Dreams had not been destroyed in the Siilv War, the former communications officer would have made it here for the wedding. She owed Samantha’s late father her very life.

Then the Maid of Honor entered. The Hestran vixen smiled in the direction of the groom and his best man, looking lovely as ever. Merlin felt a bit of warmth seeing her dressed so pretty and looking so happy. It was hard to believe that they had once thought Taro dead.

It was then the music changed, and in stepped his bride. Merlin felt as if his heart had leapt into his throat. The gown was lovely, but his eyes were caught by the vision wearing it. She was smiling, even though she wore a veil. To Merlin, she was the most beautiful creature in the known universe, and she was about to take his name in tradition.

Samantha tightened her grip on her Master’s arm when she met the gaze of her chosen mate. The unicorn smiled down at her gently and told her to, please, leave him with some circulation in his arm, if she would not mind. She blushed as he laughed and relaxed her grip, giving the large equine an apologetic look before looking once again to Merlin. She was simply on cloud nine, practically walking on air.   It was no wonder that she hadn’t heard the two children that were carrying her long train doing as their siblings had. Joey Carlton and Jacob Wallace were posturing and growling at the assembled guests.

He stopped as the priest asked who “offers this woman” and after affirming that he was, Tristan placed a kiss on the little collie’s cheek and transferred her hand to Merlin’s arm. He took a seat beside his wife, who was now crying as she always did at weddings.  Gwen grasped the lapels of her husband’s suit, buried her face in his shirt and sobbed loudly. This was echoed by Lorelei the white bunny crying out “I’m so moved!” as tears streamed down in her face fur.

 The wedding was simple yet elegant, the couple trying hard not to be seen as overwhelmingly extravagant. As they read their vows to one another, they individually scooped some water from a crystalline bowl and combined them as one to symbolize the act of beginning their lives as one body and soul, each half of the whole.

The rings were soon exchanged, and Sam had trouble getting Merlin’s ring onto his lupine finger, causing Father Lonergan to joke about the “swelling of fear” to chuckles from the congregation. Then after being pronounced husband and wife, they kissed and the couple was introduced to their guests in Terran fashion as Mr. and Mrs. Merlin Sinclair.

The wolf and his mate ran the gauntlet of sugared nuts, the children not exactly knowing to undo their bags first and throwing them at the couple. One bag beaned Merlin in the head just as he was getting into the limousine to take them to the reception hall.

The reception was held at a very upscale restaurant called The Manor at Cliffside that was just outside of Grandstorm proper. The human-owned Manor was a large building that resembled a tasteful mixture of Grecian and Roman design, with lovely sloping lawns and high marble columns. There were lovely gazebos doting the immaculate landscaping, along with fountains and koi ponds here and there. It was a wedding photographer’s dream, though personally Merlin couldn’t understand the fascination with fountains designed to resemble small, fat human children with wings and urinating into a reflecting pool. He refused be photographed anywhere near the thing.

As the wedding party was being photographed, their guests filed into the lovely dining hall with a large dance floor and a view of the back lawn that was exquisitely decorated and took seats at the surrounding tables, some of which were outside on the patio. The wait staff, which were all canine types and dressed in crisp white linen shirts and black slacks with small blue tinted roses pinned onto the right side of their chests. They took orders for the diners, asking if each party chose the chicken, fish or steak. There were also vegetarian choices for those of the herbivore types and those dieting.

The band was set up in a corner next to the dance floor. When the members of Dragon, Wolf and Tiger tired, across the dance floor from them was a DJ, who was currently playing soft romantic favorites as the guests milled about talking to one another. The photographer’s assistant soon arrived and whispered to the DJ, who announced the arrival of the wedding party.

Moving through a floral gateway were the bridesmaids, each on the arm of one of the ushers. Lori Easter was on the arm of Jerad “Pockets” Porter, the short raccoon all bright smiles and waving cheerfully. Laura came in on the arm of Max Sinclair, the handsome young German shepherd looking very pleased to be included. Sparky was on the arm of her husband, Roland, and Taro Nichols being the maid of honor walked in on the arm of the Best Man, Renny Thornton.

The children followed the adults into the hall, a little more subdued than they had been at the church, as they were no longer growling, making faces and claw hands at the assembly. The reason for this was simple and the sister-in-law of the newlyweds had asked about it.  “Why were you making such horrible faces and snarling, pups?” asked Shannon Wallace as they had ridden in the limousine to the reception hall, looking over the small upturned faces of the assembled children. Kayla and Joey Carlton glanced at one another in confusion, since they were certainly not puppies. “Shane? Jaran? Marissa? Kayla? Anyone care to explain?”

At once, Shannon got what she was asking for as the pack of children related in that tone little kids use when they know that they have been caught doing something wrong and punished for it, that high pitch as well as in unison. It took Shannon the rest of the drive to get the actual story from the little ones, even though each seemed to want to override the others in the telling.

She gleaned this bit from the young bearers and flower girls: the kids thought that Lori had said that they were ring “bears” and train “bears”, which set off a whole spectacle of wild growling, face and claw making with the boys. Wanting to be ferocious bears too, the flower girls had decided to follow the example of their brothers and made faces and claws as well. Samantha and Merlin were not angry over the children being children; in fact, they were rather amused and even had one photo taken of themselves and the children being fierce bears in the west gazebo.

The DJ asked the assembled party to rise as he introduced the bride and groom, the couple looking so very happy as they entered the room underneath the flower strewn archway. Finally taking their seats in the central section of the long table, the reception got underway. Music played and people rose from their tables to dance and mingle, chatting happily as they greeted the newlyweds. The assembled children, which now included those of her Royal Highness Princess Tinara Aris, were soon in a game of tag, racing around the dance floor, often times around and between the older guests.

Merlin and Samantha were separated as old friends offered congratulations and then struck up conversations. Merlin turned as he felt a small hand on his arm. In front of him was the vision that could only be Tinara, princess of the Aris monarchy, the lovely coyote wearing a pretty and somewhat revealing dress in the royal shade of dark purple. She smiled up at the wolf, her hand lingering on his sleeve longer than most.

“It’s good to see you again, Merlin,” she said softly, looking over him rather boldly. “You look just as handsome as always.” She uttered a small sigh. “Your wife is very a lucky girl, but you could have had a princess, not just an heiress.”

“You look beautiful as always, Princess,” Merlin said, and shifted his feet as a momentary look of discomfort crossed his face. The announcement of the birth of Tinara’s coywolf pups had generated a lot of speculation amongst his crew, even though he had assured them that he had not fathered the cubs himself, which was the truth. However, it was well known that Tinara would not be indifferent to sharing a bed with the captain of the Blue Horizon at any time.  “I love Samantha, and her wealth has nothing to do with it.”

The princess leaned up to whisper in the wolf’s ear as she pressed her body close to his. “You know, the offer still stands. I would certainly be very happy if you shared my bed, Merlin.”

“Princess, this is hardly the place or the time, though the answer is still ‘No’. How dense can you be?” Merlin growled, tugging his arm from her grip, feeling a surge of anger. What was wrong with this woman?

Tinara smiled, but didn’t apologize. As Tinara leaned to whisper again to Merlin, Samantha narrowed her eyes, the curl in her tail straightening out. She’d been watching the coyote from the moment she approached her husband, and felt a sharp twinge of irritation as the woman pressed herself to the wolf and openly flirted with him.

She never had liked Tinara. The coyote was too clingy with Merlin, always trying to coax him into her bed, no matter if either was in a relationship. There were ugly rumors concerning the parentage of the coyote’s young coywolf pups. Sam chose to believe Merlin when the wolf said that he didn’t father them, but it didn’t mean she wanted that little scheming wench anywhere near her husband. She’d not wanted to invite Tinara or anyone of the Aris royal family to the wedding, but knowing that such a thing would look like bad form especially in Merlin’s case, given his business history with the family, Sam reluctantly gave in.

Excusing herself from the guests she had been talking to, a couple of friends of her parents, Sam determinedly made her way over to where Merlin and Tinara were standing, having to dodge the children as they raced past, squealing with laughter. Sam had gotten within earshot of the couple just as the coyote said something about domesticated canine heiresses. Oh, but it took every ounce of decorum she possessed not to deck that smirking cur, to show her just a little of the Silloni martial arts she had been trained in. Instead, Sam decided to use words. A good thing, too since Merlin looked like he was going to say something not so nice. Merlin tended, as most males were, to be blunt when angered. His words would be like getting hit over the head with a sledge hammer. Sam’s words were more like being sliced apart with a scalpel. Razor sharp and precise in the cutting.  

“Hello my handsome, sexy husband.” Slipping an arm through Merlin’s and snuggling into the wolf’s side, Sam grinned at her mate and licked his muzzle rather thoroughly, knowing Merlin would respond nicely. He did. Once the couple stopped kissing and licking, Sam looked over at the princess.  She knew exactly what to say to the snide little coyote.

“Oh, is that you, Mrs. Navarre? Didn’t see you there. I thought I had my husband all to myself,” she said airily, though there was a slightly dismissive tone to her voice. It was something of a snub not to use the coyote’s title when in public, as well as to use the last name of her husband. Kal Navarre had taken the royal family’s name when he had married her, as per the laws of the Aris Monarchy. Samantha had been raised by the regent of Sillon, which was a sovereignty much older than that of the Tanthean coyotes as well as a multibillion credit heiress. Sam knew this like the back of her hand, what with all that etiquette training she had been forced to endure as a kid. It was too bad her guest was not as well trained, only being royalty and all.  She was going to be schooled now. Sam delighted in being the smug wench’s teacher.

Ears going flat when the collie used her husband’s name, Tinara knew that Samantha had overheard her last comment, as well as possibly witnessed her making yet another play for the wolf that was Sam’s new husband. This was a serious breach of etiquette, and her own father would be scandalized by Princess Tinara’s behavior. The coyote knew what she had to do; she would have to apologize to the heiress. 

Before the other female could express regret for her words and actions, the smaller Border collie turned her back on the princess, refusing to acknowledge her presence in the room any further. With her father’s successful business spread out across the Planetary Alignment, Sam knew she could buy and sell the Aris aristocracy and not even blink. It didn’t matter if the company lost the Tanthe accounts after this. It was about time this whelp knew her place. 

“I think it is time for our first dance, love,” Sam said brightly, leading Merlin away from her royal highness and onto the dance floor. Stepping up to the microphone as the couple moved into the middle of the dance floor, Adam Singlebet, the lupine member of Dragon, Wolf and Tiger announced that they would be performing a new song, titled “Union” in honor of the happy couple. Sam placed a small hand on Merlin’s shoulder as the music swelled.

“That was very naughty, my lovely Samantha,” Merlin said quietly, a smile stealing onto his face. “And pretty funny too. Thanks for the timely rescue. I might not have been as nice.”

“I wanted to punch her in the face,” Sam said, chuckling. “But I didn’t want our wedding to be remembered as the one in which I decked a crowned princess. I’m not worried about how this will affect Holden Pharmaceuticals on Tanthe, either. I’m sure Alex and Ayana will smooth things over.”

“I’m sure they will,” Merlin agreed, and then he deftly changed the subject. “Looking forward to Ocean City?”

“OOOOhhh, am I ever! The beach, the ocean and the lovely Victorian architecture. Oh yeah, and spending some quality time with a certain wolf.”

The song ended, and there was a dull boom of cannonade, raining confetti on the guests. The children let out a loud chorus of oooo’s and ahhhh’s, momentarily distracted from their chasing games.  

“You remembered!” the lupine captain said happily, before giving his mate an exuberant kiss.  

“I told you I wouldn’t forget the wedding cannons; you ought to believe me,” Sam said, snuggling a little closer. Males and their love of loud noises, second only to their affection for power tools. “I knew that these Dennieran customs would make you happy.”

Merlin whispered to her. “You entertain the guests for a few minutes.  I see an old friend I want to talk to.”

“Sure, but don’t be gone long. This is our day together.” Her mate licked her on the end of the nose and then walked away through the crowd towards the new arrival. She turned almost directly into the chest of one of her taller guests, a young Siberian tiger. There were so many of feline species here. The Carltons, the Bengoros, Carson Vetter of DWT, and others.

“Sorry... I wasn’t watching where I was going… Oh my goodness! Pan? Pan Arkane?” she asked, eyes widening in surprise. She hadn’t seen this particular tiger in several years, ten at the very least. He was about eight years younger than she was and his family being very wealthy stayed at the Dragon Loft when they were on vacation, even though they were from a non-PA planet in the Mytha System known as Ryu. Sam had been his cub-sitter back when Tristan had finally retired from the role as Silloni regent and opened the renowned vacation lodge.   

The handsome feline smiled fondly at her, nodding at her question. Sam hugged him enthusiastically, her tail wagging furiously. She couldn’t believe how tall Pan had gotten since she’d last seen him. The Arkane males were rather large, especially since they were of the largest subspecies of tiger in the known galaxy. He was almost as tall as Tristan himself.

“How are Marlin and little Giah? Heavens, how is your grandfather, is he still with us? And most importantly, how in the world did you know? About the wedding, I mean?” Sam asked, taken aback at the sight of the big tiger.

“My oldest brother is doing well, I’m sorry to tell you that his mate and cub died in an accident a few months back. He wishes you joy, though. Giah is about as tall as you are and now about twenty-one and studying at the Alexandrius branch of the University of the Alliance. As for the ‘how’, I was vacationing at the Dragon Loft when your invitation to Tristan and Guinevere arrived. I simply insisted that I see you get married. Tristan brought us with him when the family left Sillon for the wedding.”

Sam felt a momentary bit of sadness at the news of his brother’s loss. Marlin Arkane had always been a dear friend, almost an older brother being that he was a year older than Sam herself. But Pan moved his left hand as he was speaking and light caught the band of gold about his forth finger.  Several cultures in the PA had retained the Terran wedding band as a symbol of fidelity between the married couple. Sam could hardly believe what she was seeing.

“You sly kittykat! When were you married and why wasn’t I invited?” she scolded, wagging an admonishing finger at the tiger. “I think I should feel insulted! Yes, indeed I should! I’m insulted.”

“You have never pouted well, so stop that at once.” The feline commanded with a smirk. “I was married a little over a year ago. As to why you hadn’t been invited, it is well known that you were off traipsing the known universe with your wolf at the time, on Argeia, I believe.”

“Okay, you have a good excuse. So, where is the bride of my favorite oversized tiger, hmmm?” She looked around, expecting to see a tigress like Wendy Bengoro and her mother, Tess.

Pan motioned towards a group of young women talking. His bride was feline, yes. A Tiger, no.

“Lori?” he said gently and a short yet very pretty American Rag Doll cat turned in his direction, she had cream colored fur that darkened to a shade closer to that of chocolate milk on her ears and tail as well as her muzzle. Her hands were white as was a small bib of fur on her chest. The coloring on her face made her lovely blue eyes stand out more. She also looked to be very pregnant. The poor thing was huge! The little cat snuggled into the tall tiger’s embrace, her expression happy. Sam blinked back sudden tears at the tender expressions on the feline’s faces.  Young love. Her big kitty has grown up and found himself a mate! 

“Loralei, I’d like you to meet Samantha Holden.”

“Sinclair,” the collie corrected fondly, patting Pan’s arm as the cat’s smile went wider as her eyes grew slightly round. Sam gave a slight start at the name, especially since the Loris and the Lorelei’s of her acquaintance usually were somewhat flighty. Okay, the one Lorelei she had ever met was a bit flakey. Besides this was Lor-ah-lay, not Lor-eh-lie.

The girl extricated herself from Pan’s hug and took Sam’s hands in her own.

“I’ve always wanted to meet you!” the cat said brightly, if slightly breathless from her mate’s embrace. “I could scarcely believe Pan when he said he knew you personally.  We talked about you in my Women In Business class at the University. “I wrote a paper about you.”

Samantha grinned and gave the cat a gentle hug. “I’m happy to meet you, too Loralei. Anyone who makes my le tigre cub happy, is a friend for life. I do hope to see you both more often, and I want to see that cub! I swear I saw a not so… pregnant version of you here earlier.”

The girl laughed. “You saw my twin sister, Liana. She’s somewhere here with Pan’s cousin Mikhal.”

Just then, Merlin returned, wrapping his arms about his wife from behind and held her, nodding towards the felines to whom she was talking. Sam let him regain his composure before she introduced the wolf to her newfound friends.

“Merlin, this is Pan and Loralei Arkane. I used to cub-sit Pan when he was just a little shaver. This is my husband, Merlin Sinclair, President and CEO of Blue Horizon Freight Transfer.”

Personally, Merlin could never imagine that the young tiger who grinned and pumped his hand eagerly ever had been a ‘little shaver’. The kid was massive. He was probably taller than Sam had been when she had been his sitter.

“Nice to meet you both. Sam has mentioned you on and off to me since I’ve known her.”

“She did?” the young tiger asked, laughing a bit. “Did she ever tell you that I was always teasing her about eloping?”

Merlin raised an eyebrow, but since the affection the young soon to be parents was genuine, he had no doubts that this was just a running joke between old friends, much like the lighthearted sniping that Sam and Renny had engaged in on board the ship. He listened to the playful banter for a few minutes more, letting the feelings of affection for his chosen mate wash over him as she smiled back and touched him frequently throughout the conversation with the tiger and his mate.

Knowing that they had other guests to attend to, the Sinclairs bid the younger couple a good evening and exchanged contact addresses so that they could keep in touch. As they moved away, Sam placed a hand on Merlin’s arm, giving him a concerned look

“Is everything okay?” she asked noting that the wolf had been distracted when she had been in conversation with the Arkanes.

“Everything’s fine, my love.” Merlin answered warmly, taking his bride into his arms as he changed then the subject. “How much longer do we have to stay at the reception?”

“Well, we still have to sit down to dinner, cut the cake, toss the garter and throw the bouquet. I may just cut those last two.”

“Change your carefully scripted Terran wedding reception?’ teased her husband.  “Horrors.”

“And here I thought you were eager to get to Ocean City,” Samantha shot back, sliding her arms about his waist. “You wanted to stay in that pretty Victorian bed and breakfast with the warm ocean breezes ruffling your fur. I think you also said something about a personal massage for both of us, with a spritz of perfume in my fur and a bit of cinnamon in yours.” 

“There is that. Let’s drop the garter and bouquet throws; I don’t think anyone but humans would miss them anyway.” Merlin looked around, his ears perking up “Looks like it’s time to sit down and eat, so let’s go. I’m starving.”

The meal was wonderful, typical of Sparky and her crew. Renny gave his toast, which was laden with cheerful quips about the boss and his new wife. Lorelei asked if Samantha was going to keep her maiden name. The Border collie shook her head. While she would always be the heir and CEO of her father’s company, Samantha chose to go the old-fashioned route to take her husband’s last name. She would always be a Holden, but now considered herself Samantha Sinclair.

Then it was time to cut the cake. Merlin and Samantha stood close together as they sliced the confection and fed it to one another. There was no attempt to mash the cake into one another’s face. This bit pleased Sparky greatly, for the little lynx had been scandalized by the video Sam had shown her on Terran wedding customs. The tiny chef begged the canine couple not to ruin a perfectly good cake in such a way. Sam and Merlin readily agreed, since that custom bothered them both.

After the cake was served to the guests, Taro noted that Merlin and Sam had disappeared. She got to her feet to say something, when the couple returned dressed in everyday clothes. Moving quickly, they ran the gauntlet of thrown rice, seed and more sugared nuts to their car. The guests watched as the vehicle lights faded down the street.

The canine couple was finally off to their honeymoon in the little scenic ocean front villa in Ocean City.

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Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.