“I’m gettin’ married in the morning! Ding dong, the bells are gonna riiiiiiiing!”
“Will you stop that!” I whapped Jim on its furry black shoulder, sending a quick glance across the small room to make sure no one had heard my demon in doggy form singing.
“So help me god, Jim, if you let anyone catch you talking—”
“What was that, dear?” Paula, my stepmother, turned from where she was chatting to the others. “Where can he be? Did you need something? Oh, Aisling, no, sweetheart, a bride doesn’t sit on her wedding day. Lean against the wall if you’re tired. Does your dog need to go out to do its business? David, can you take the dog out? Although why you insist on having a dog as part of the ceremony…dog hair is impossible to get out, everyone knows that. Oh, where can he be? It’s half-past already!”
My stepfather, the personification of the absent-minded professor stereotype, wandered over wearing his usual befuddled expression as Paula muttered to herself while brushing black dog hairs off my lovely gold and green lace dress.
“What dog?” he asked, clearly missing the gigantic black Newfoundland standing next to me.
I smiled fondly and patted him on the arm. “It’s OK, Dad, Jim doesn’t need to go walkies. And I’m fine, too. We’re both fine. In fact, I’m so fine, why don’t you all go out with the others so you can at least enjoy yourselves? I’ll just lean against the wall here and take a quick nap while I wait for Drake to show up.”
“We couldn’t leave you alone,” Paula said on a horrified gasp. “That wouldn’t be fitting at all…goodness, what would people say? And dresses wrinkle so badly these days. Girls these days just take everything so casually, not at all like it was in my day…where can he be? David? Where is he?”
“Who?” my step dad asked, looking as confused as ever.
“The groom, of course. Drake. It’s very bad luck for a groom to not show up for a wedding. Not that he’s going to jilt you, my dear, heaven knows I’m sure that’s the furthest thing from his mind. I wonder if he was in a car accident? People drive so fast here, and on the wrong side of the road, although I’m sure to them it’s the right side, but still, they go so fast! Drake could be lying dead on the side of the road, and we wouldn’t know it…”
Long experience with my stepmother had me shooting a look of utter desperation over her head to where my uncle stood in the corner, legs braced wide, arms crossed over his chest, a cigar clamped tightly between his teeth in blatant disregard of both the smoking laws, and the fact that we were in one of the oldest churches in London.
Uncle Damian, as ever, accurately read the plea in my glance, and marched over to where my stepmother fussed around plucking and tweaking my dress.
“That’s enough, Paula,” he said in his usual gruff voice. “You go tend the guests. They’ll be wondering what the delay is. And take your husband with you.”
She looked toward the door leading out of the vestry to the church proper, clearly torn between a desire to do her duty and remain at my side until my groom showed up, and the need to be social. “Well…I’m sure they are wondering what’s taking so long…”
“I’ll watch Aisling,” Uncle Damian reassured her as he gave her a non-too-gentle shove toward the door. “David, escort your wife. Tell everyone that there’s a slight delay, but the wedding will get going shortly.”
“I can’t imagine what they’re thinking…this wedding isn’t at all what I would have arranged, although it’s very nice, dear, with lovely flowers, and the bouquet is exquisite, but I would have made sure that people arrived on time…” As she left, she bumped into the rector scheduled to perform the ceremony, scattering apologies and vague half-finished sentences behind her.
“Go sit out in the first row, Dad,” I said, giving my stepfather another smile I felt far from feeling. “I’ll be out there shortly.”
“I’m sure Draco isn’t dead,” he said, patting my hand. “He probably just can’t get his tie done. I had a devil of a time with mine. Your mother had to do it for me.”
He toddled out of the room after Paula. I was tempted to send Jim out to make sure he arrived at the pew where my close family members were to sit, knowing full well he was capable of wandering off to who-knew-where, but Jim was currently in a giddy mood due to an extended weekend spent in Paris visiting Amelie, who owned the elderly Welsh Corgi upon which Jim had a massive, if platonic, crush.
The rector spoke in undertones to Uncle Damian, shooting me a sympathetic glance that contained more pity than reassurance before hurrying off to resume the watch for Drake.
“I don’t hold with men jilting women at the altar,” Uncle Damian said abruptly, giving me a gimlet eye. A little jingling noise came from his pocket. He pulled out a cell phone, looked at the number, and said something about having to take the call.
“And I thought Drake’s mom was bad,” Jim said in a low voice.
I glanced over to my uncle, but he was across the room, grunting into the phone and barking orders to some poor underling.
“Your family takes the cake, though. Why didn’t you tell me your uncle was Ernest Hemingway?”
I whapped Jim again. “Don’t be facetious. He’s not even remotely like Ernest Hemingway.”
Jim cocked a furry eyebrow.
“Well…all right, there’s a slight similarity. Very slight. Uncle Damian isn’t a boozer, and doesn’t like to shoot innocent animals, although he was in the army and makes dark references to wanting to shoot a few of his superior officers. And I can’t help my family—as far as that goes, Paula has been very good for Dad. He was lost when my mom died, and since I was only fourteen at the time, Paula was a godsend to us both. She drives me nuts sometimes with her ditziness and her endless chatter, but she’s always been fond of me, and she takes care of Dad so I don’t have to.” I eyed the clock sitting on the rector’s desk, trying to quell the butterflies that were threatening to twist my stomach into a knot. “I don’t suppose it would do me any good to ask if you know where my errant groom is?”
Jim shook its head. “I’m a demon, not a seer. I told you we shouldn’t have left home last night.”
“I didn’t really have a choice. Uncle Damian is a bit like a steamroller in that opposition just gets flattened before him, and my argument that his silly notion about brides having to spend the night separated from the groom was outdated and unrealistic didn’t stand a chance. Besides, the hotel was pretty nice.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” Jim answered, pursing its lips.
I sighed, and fretted with the lace on my wrist. “I know, but I’m doing the very best I can to hang onto my sanity. It hasn’t been an easy month, you know, what with Fiat disappearing, and the red dragons continuing their war on us, and having to organize this wedding. I’d have gone stark, raving mad if it hadn’t been for Tracy.”
The moment the name left my lips, I realized what I’d done. I slapped a hand over my mouth but it was too late—the air in front of us shimmered for a second before collecting itself into the form of a middle-aged man of non-descript features.
“You summoned me, my lord?” the demon asked, its expression the usual one of mild annoyance.
I glanced hurriedly over to my uncle, praying he hadn’t noticed the sudden materialization, but the determined way snapped a good-bye into the phone before jamming it into his pocket and marching determinedly toward us pretty much killed that particular hope.
“Well, now you’ve done it,” Jim said in a cheerful little voice. “Uncle Damian at twelve o’clock!”
“Jim!” I shouted, wrapping both my hands around its muzzle.
Uncle Damian’s firm step hesitated for a second as he looked at Jim.
“Sowwy,” was my demon’s muffled reply from beneath my hands.
“I think you have some explaining to do, Aisling,” Uncle Damian said in his no-nonsense voice as he stopped in front of me, his steely eyes taking in all three of us.
I felt like I was ten again, and had been caught using my uncle’s Cuban cigars as miniature canoes in the toilet.
“Um,” I said, trying to kick-start my brain into thinking up a brilliant explanation that would completely bypass the truth.
“My lord, would you like me to deal with this mortal?” Tracy asked, a note of weary resignation in its voice.
“My lord?” Uncle Damian asked, a puzzled frown pulling down his bushy black eyebrows. “Who is this man? How did he just appear out of nothing? And just what the hell is going on with that monstrous dog of yours?”
I looked at Jim. Jim looked back at me, its lips pursed. A familiar black, warm presence nudged my awareness. You can show him the true extent of your powers. You will have his respect for what you have become.
“Shut up!” I snarled through gritted teeth, hurriedly adding, “Not you, Uncle Damian. I was talking to…er…”
“She hears voices in her head,” Jim said succinctly. When I glared at it, it shrugged. “He’d already heard me talk. I think you’re going to have to tell him what’s going on.”
“Which I wouldn’t have to do if you’d kept your lips zipped like I asked!”
“Asked, but not ordered,” Jim pointed out, trying hard to adopt an angelic air.
“A mistake I won’t make again. No, Tracy, thank you, I don’t need you. I didn’t intend to summon you. Er…how’s everything in Paris?”
The demon’s lips thinned. “Unpleasant.”
“Good. I’ll talk to you in a couple of days, as we planned. Bye-bye.”
Tracy opened its mouth to no doubt continue its protest at being put in charge of the European Otherworld, but I didn’t have time to listen to its complaints, not today, not on what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. I waved my hand at Tracy, and the demon disappeared.
Uncle Damian’s eyes narrowed. “What the devil is going on, Aisling? I want an answer, and I want it right now.”