for better or worse
The car drops us in the middle of nowhere, right in front of this remote little cottage Chris found online. It was built in a clearing at the heart of an old forest. Birds are chirping, ducks are quacking noisily in a sparkling little pond, and wildflowers are blooming everywhere. It's a Thomas Kinkaide painting come to astonishing life.
My sister strongly opposed the "rustic" destination honeymoon. She'd insisted the woods were the perfect place for a masked man to murder us and bury our bodies, and that no one would be the wiser. I'd insisted it was picturesque and that she'd just been watching too many horror movies.
Now I feel almost smug, like I was one hundred percent right. Take that, Sarah. This place looks like concept art from Snow White; all that's missing are the fluffy bunnies come to help with household chores. It's beautiful and tranquil and I can't wait to spend a week here.
I look over at Chris. I can tell he's been waiting, gauging my reaction while simultaneously compiling a mental list of alternate destinations in case this one's not to my liking. He's a bit of a worrier, and the striped suit makes him look a bit like a praying mantis, but it's all part of his charm. It's endearing, and the familiarity of it all makes me smile even more than the locale.
"It's beautiful," I tell him sincerely, and his face splits into a wide grin.
"Isn't it?" he replies, sounding relieved. "Brilliant, because I'm not sure we could get air fare to Bermuda on such short notice."
"Ha ha," I say dryly, heading for the door. Which…is locked, of course.
Chris saunters over to my side holding up an ornate silver key, a single brown eyebrow perfectly arched.
"Planning to climb in through a window, Kate?" he inquires. I roll my eyes and take the key.
"You're in rare form today, aren't you?"
"That happens when I'm deliriously happy, yes," he says cheerfully, and my smack to his arm doesn't have any sting to it.
I fit the key into the lock and with a bit of jiggling, we're inside. Chris locks the door behind us while I get a look around. The inside, all dark wood and cushy-looking furniture (and no animal heads mounted on the wall, thank god), is just as warm and homey as the outside. Definitely Snow White. Still no unnaturally helpful deer or rabbits, but you can't have everything in life.
"So what do you think?" Chris asks, coming up behind me.
I turn to face him, beaming like an idiot. (It's alright because he has the exact same look on his face.) "It's perfect. You did good. You did great."
"Did I? Fantastic. Suppose I've earned some sort of reward, then?"
He really has, so I pull him in for a kiss.
And that's when the front door is kicked off its hinges.
I stand there with my mouth hanging open, stunned, frozen even though every nerve in my body is shrieking for me to do something. Chris, on the other hand, moves immediately, stepping in front of me and pulling something from his coat in one swift, flowing movement.
Dully, my mind registers the object in his hands as a crossbow. A crossbow being expertly pointed at a giant goddamn wolf looming on its hind legs in our doorway.
I've cracked. Lost my marbles. Someone spiked the wine at the reception. I accidently took some of Ma's meds instead of my birth control (the bottles do look very similar) and it's making me hallucinate.
It'd be a lot easier to convince myself any of those theories were true if my husband weren't currently addressing my hallucination.
"That was very rude," he tells it calmly, not lowering the crossbow.
A low growling noise rumbles up from deep in the wolf's chest.
"Your territory? Hmm. Must've slipped my mind," Chris remarks, sounding for all the world like he misread the weather report and now we're going to get a bit of rain instead of the promised sunshine. Sorry Katie, accidentally picked the wrong place; looks like we're going to be eaten now!
The wolf growls again, louder this time.
"Yes, yes, I'm aware," Chris responds with a hint of impatience. "But is there any chance we can save it for another time? I'm sort of on my honeymoon."
The wolf's eyes fix on me, yellow and alien and terrifying, while I hold my breath and just pray I don't look like I'd taste nice with a side salad.
"Next week," Chris says firmly. "I'll come back sometime next week and we can settle all this properly then, yes?"
The wolf looks back to him, and I exhale slowly.
Slowly, unbelievably, the thing nods.
"Good," Chris says brightly, lowering the crossbow. "That's all squared away, then. You can be on your way."
The wolf drops to all fours and clambers out over the wreckage of the door. I try very hard not to whimper or scream or make any other sort of embarrassing noise.
"Oh, and by the way," Chris adds. The wolf looks back over its shoulder and I want to kill him for antagonizing it.
"I catch you or any of your pack sniffing around this place while we're here, truce is off," he warns.
There's a darkness, a steeliness in his voice that I've never heard before, and it's off-putting to say the least. The wolf must hear it too because it doesn't do anything that could be construed as argumentative, just snorts and lumbers away.
A few moments pass in complete silence before the whole thing sinks in proper and I say shrilly (well, alright, maybe scream is a better word) "What the hell was all that?!"
Chris turns back to me, crossbow still in hand, and gives me the winning smile he only brings out when he's really royally screwed something up.
"Right," he says sheepishly. "I guess I never told you what my family does for a living."
I'm beyond words. Nothing but a strangled sort of squeak manages to wrest its way out of my throat.
He steps forward and takes both my hands, rubbing his thumbs over them in what he seems to think is a comforting gesture.
"So what would you do," he asks cheerfully, "if I were to tell you that's you're married to a part-time werewolf hunter? Well, hunter is a strong word; often it's more like diplomat, but, erm…Katie?"
We've been married less than twenty-four hours, but giant hulking intelligent wolves be damned—I may just kill him myself.