After my ill-conceived and unfruitful visit with Graham, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter both Lysander and Thaddeus on the way back to the apartment. Despite the sheer size of the city, it would seem my future husband and I were destined to meet each other around every corner.
I was also pleased to see them apparently bonding. Lysander had never spoken much of his father in all his years at the Blackwell estate, and it seemed that more than a butler’s usual discretion was responsible. Penny seemed to appreciate her father’s quiet dignity and mature sophistication, but Lysander had spent little time in his father’s company since Penny and Thaddeus’ reconciliation.
How nice it must be to reunite with one’s father after so long, if one’s father were like Thaddeus Lyons. Perhaps if she’d had more of her father’s positive influence, we never would’ve found her in such a compromising position.
“Penny,” I admonished in my most proper Big Sister voice. “That isn’t the least bit ladylike.”
How could she put such a filthy thing in her mouth? Didn’t she have even the faintest idea where it had been? Byron had had three hundred years to put it in all sorts of wildly inappropriate places–some of which I was unfortunately aware of. Poor, poor Penny–ignorance was truly bliss.
“I feel faint,” Lysander said.
“Ah, the famous Lyons’ dedication combined with her mother’s kindness,” Thaddeus said. “That’s my girl–no task too daunting or too dirty. And fear not, son: Master Blackwell hasn’t brought out the pruning shears just yet.”
Fortunately, Thaddeus’s cryptic comment seemed to prevent Lysander from swooning further. As endearing as I found his moments of weakness, I preferred a strong man. The illusion shattered whenever I had to carry him into bed.
“Byron, put that away immediately,” I said.
“We should’ve done it in your bedroom,” Penny muttered.
Byron reached for one of the seven pairs of undergarments I’d mailed him. “But the bed was more comfortable…” His pants had somehow ended up draped over a ceiling light and presently proved to be unrecoverable.
“Byron,” I sighed, gesturing toward his groin.
He finally covered himself in a somewhat satisfactory manner. “Sorry…”
“So am I,” Penny said. “I’ll make sure you finish next time.”
Someone groaned behind me. Hopefully that wasn’t indicative of an imminent fainting spell. Someone else was chuckling–Thaddeus, perhaps?
“Ah–Miss Blackwell,” Lysander said. “May I speak with you in private…?”
“I suppose,” I said. We discreetly left the children with Thaddeus and reunited in the Wedding Planning Room.
“Miss Bianca,” Lysander began, “I take it you noticed, ah, precisely what sort of act my sister was performing on Master Byron…?”
I shuddered. “Indeed. I apologize, Lysander–truly. I’ll speak to Byron and ensure it never happens again, or at least not where either of us might witness such depravity.”
“Miss Bianca, ah…” He mumbled something.
“Do speak up, Lysander. It isn’t all like you to mumble.” His clear enunciation was one of the many things I fell in love with.
“I thought, perhaps, ah, you might…consider performing something similar…for me?”
Sweat was beading on his brow. “I only thought…since we must contain our…desires until our wedding night…we might find other ways to be together, Miss Bianca.”
I stared at this man I thought I knew so well. “You want me to put my…my mouth…on your…?”
“If you wouldn’t find it too distasteful, Miss Bianca.”
What could possibly have gotten into him? Between repeatedly trying tempting me with his sternest, most threatening Mister Chutney-Worthington (wearing his whitest gloves), without a thought to propriety…and now making such filthy requests of an unmarried woman? If I agreed, I would never be able to marry another man should our engagement fall through. Couldn’t he be more considerate?
“I don’t have time,” I said, more brusquely than I’d intended. “I have an entire wedding to plan, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“…Yes, Miss Bianca.”
“In fact, I think I’ll get some shopping done tonight, while I can. I might as well take Penny with me–it would be best to separate the two of them before they’re rutting on the kitchen table for the world to see. Send her in here, won’t you? I need to have a word with her first, where Byron can’t hear.”
He gave me one last long look before accepting my request as the dismissal it was.
“Penny,” I said in relief when she finally entered the Wedding Planning Room.
“Hey.” It was difficult not to look at her mouth when she spoke without immediately conjuring a mental image of the unspeakable act I’d so recently witnessed up close.
“I hope you know that you don’t have to do everything a man tells you to,” I said softly. “If Byron pressured you in any manner…” I couldn’t imagine my little brother ever daring to, but he’d acted quite out-of-character in recent months.
“He didn’t. I offered.”
“…I see. Well.” I smiled gently at her. “Penny, I suppose you’re the very first person I should tell: Your brother and I are getting married.”
“Indeed. Our wedding will be of the highest quality, despite the budget and guest list constraints.” I tried to contain the sisterly affection I felt for the poor creature. “I’d like to ask you to be my maid of honor, Penny.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Then sure, I guess.” Her enthusiasm almost warmed my frozen, withered heart.
“I have some shopping to do tonight. I thought you might like to join me.”
“This is another one of those I-don’t-have-a-choice things, right?” Penny understood me so well. It made me feel less unpleasant over the entire horrific conversation with Lysander.
And then we were off, two Modern City Women planning the wedding of the century…on a budget. I was getting quite skilled at using my phone to take me exactly where I wanted to go. And where I wanted to go happened to be a rather upscale wedding boutique uptown.
“So what do you even need?” Penny asked from behind me.
“Oh, Penny,” I sighed. “What don’t I need?” Something stirred in my belly. The ensuing burp was accompanied by a familiar tinge of nausea.
“Perfectly fine, thank you. Let’s shop, shall we?”
A little gas–as gauche as it was to even acknowledge it–wasn’t going to interfere with my wedding.
Penny tried to pretend as though she were completely uninterested by the various wedding trappings, but I harbored certain suspicions that she was already making plans of her own. But would the groom be Byron…? I supposed that after what she did tonight, she would have no choice but to marry him or die a spinster.
“This shit is way overpriced,” Penny said.
“Weddings are always expensive,” I chided her gently. “Especially weddings of quality. But I’m not entirely pleased with the sort of aesthetic they seem to promote here–I have very particular tastes.” I took out my phone and consulted the careful records I kept of all my brilliant wedding ideas.
Penny glanced over at the screen. “…Particular is one word for it.”
I smiled to myself as I scrolled through.
I sighed as I eventually put my phone away. “Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to look around while we’re here.”
Penny attempted to hide her obvious interest in a certain sparkly dress in the window–one that exposed a daring amount of decolletage–but I was far too perceptive. “Try it on if you like,” I said generously, even if it were my wedding we were planning. She was probably nervous about her now-limited marriage prospects.
“I’d rather die than wear something like that.”
“If you say so.” I felt it best not to remind her that she’d soon be undead; Lysander already fussed enough over it. “You’ll have to wear something as my maid of honor, you know.”
“Hopefully not a dress,” Penny muttered.
“That…actually may not be a terrible idea,” I said thoughtfully as she followed me up to the second level of the shop.
Yes, Penny’s preferred fashion choices might help mitigate the risk of any out-of-wedlock mishaps occurring on the night of my wedding. Byron wouldn’t be able to handle the sight of her in a proper dress, and vampire weddings had a tendency to get out of hand, with all that blood and simmering passion…
“…Seriously?” Penny gave me a rather ungrateful look as I returned to the dressing area I’d installed her in a short while later.
“…I guess it beats a dress. Kind of.”
Well, that was settled, then; at least this outing had been somewhat productive. We made one last stop in the basement level to pick out cakes. (No vampire would partake, of course; I’d have to order a plasma fruitcake elsewhere, but a normal cake would suffice for our human guests.) However, the overpowering smell of baked goods made my nausea return in full force.
“Sure you’re okay?”
“Of course.” I was so very tired of being asked.
“I miss wanting to eat,” Penny said quietly, her eyes wandering over the glass case of cakes and pastries. “It’s like…like looking at nothing. Or like a rock somebody painted to look like a cake or whatever. I guess it looks good, but I don’t feel an urge to eat it.”
“You’ll get used to it, Penny. I promise you.”
Her voice was almost a whisper. “But I don’t want to get used to it.”
“We’ll leave this for another night,” I said. “It’s one of the least pressing concerns.” Or at least less pressing than Penny’s discomfort. Together we set out for home, accompanied by the ever-present but slightly muted sounds of the city.
Penny didn’t speak, so I did. “You’ll never be alone, Penny,” I said. “You’re going to be my sister. Being a vampire is…difficult, truth be told, but I’ll be happy to guide you as best as only a sister can.”
For a few long moments, she was silent. “Thanks, Bianca,” she said at last. “I think I really need my family right now.”
Family. Why did the word suddenly make me sad?