Barak and his Bride - alexismorgan com

Alexis Morgan 1 Barak and his Bride Chapter 1: The Long Road Home Barak sipped his tea and studied the man sitting across the table. At first glance Penn Sebastian might have looked relaxed, but he wasn’t. In fact, he was vibrating with the kind of energy that was more typical of DJ Clayborne.


Texto en PDF


Alexis Morgan 1
Barak and his Bride

Chapter 1:
The Long Road Home
Barak sipped his tea and studied

the man sitting across the table
.
At first glance
Penn Sebastian

might have

looked relaxed, but he wasn’t. In fact, he was vibrating with the kind of energy that
was more typ
ical of DJ

Clayborne
. Then there
was the way the Paladin had

spent the l
ast fifteen
minute
s staring into the depths of an empty

delicate
china
tea
cup as if i
t held the answers to
all
the questions of this universe
. The evidence was clear. Something was obviously on Penn’s mind, and it had the man tied up in
knots. Barak was not normally a gambling man, but he would place a wager that whatever it was,
i
t
had something to do with him
.

Which meant it
also
had to do with the one thing the two men
had in common: Lacey
, Penn’s sister and Barak’s lover
.“Do you two need anything else?” Barak smiled at T
ate Justice, Hunter’s woman. “I think w
e’re

both

fine. Hu
nter and Larem
should be back shortly
,

and then we’ll be on our way.”“Are you sure you won’t stay for dinner?

I made a
big pot of
vegetable soup and homemade
bread.”



The offer was tempting, but Lacey was waiting fo
r him. “Thank you, but Lacey’s expe
cting both
of us home for dinner
.”Penn finally joined the conversation. “Sorry, Tate. Were you speaking to me?”She patted him on the shoulder. “
That’s okay, Penn.
Barak answered me. But I’ve gotta say, she
must be something

special
.”“She who?” Penn a
sked, looking puzzled.Tate picked up
the empty plates and the teapot as she gave him a teasing smile.

“I just figured as
distracted as you are, it must be a woman.”Penn shot Barak a quick look before answering her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to ignore you, Tate.
I’ve pulled a couple of all
-
nighters this week, and I’m still feeling the
after
effects.”Alexis Morgan 2
“That’s okay, I
—
” she started to say, but then noticed another customer

w
as waiting to check
out. “Oops
, gotta go. Don’t go so long between visits, you two, and next time bring Lacey with
you.”“We will. Thanks for everything, Tate.” As he spoke, Barak noticed Penn flexed his sword hand several times, running through the
series
of stretches that the doctors had recommended he do whenever he had time. Al
though he could
no longer wield

a sword as well as he used to, sometimes the Paladins were so shorthanded that
their leader

Devlin

gave in to Penn’s constant nagging and let

him fight.
Since losing much of
the function in hi
s right hand, the only weapon Penn

was allowed to use was a gun as he helped
with the clean up sweeps through the tunnels, hunting for stray Others who managed to slip past
the Paladins at the barrier. Lacey hated every time her brother

fought
, but so far she’d refrained from telling him how she
felt. She’d grown up knowing her older brother was hardwired to fight the ages old battle
between their world and Barak’s.

Unlike most humans who remained

blissfully unaware of the
existence of both the Paladins and their ene
mies, Lacey had spent far too many hours sitting next
to a
stainless stee
l table in the medical labs waiting

for her

only

brother to make the long journe
y
back from death.
Even worse was the
horrific
injury to Penn

suffered to his

right
hand and wrist. His body had
survived the wound, but the knowledge he
’d never regain full use of his fighting hand

had almost
killed his spirit. He was doing better latel
y, but
he
still had a long way to go.After Tate was out of hearing
, Barak decided it was time to find out what was going on. “Penn, if
you have

something to say, I wish
you would just do so.”The Paladin finally looked at Barak directly, his blue eyes so m
uch like his sister’s. “
Last night
I
got caught between two Others in the tunnels. If Lonzo hadn’t s
howed up when he did, I
would’
v
e
been skewered for sure, and maybe

even

sliced and diced.”Barak winced at the
image. Paladins were difficult to kill perma
nently but

it wasn’
t impossible.
“I’m glad that didn’t happen.”“Yeah, me, too.” Penn’s grin came and went in a hurry. “Look, we both know
my luck could run
out at any time, even though Devlin keeps me on a short leash. I’m not telling you anything you
d
on’t already know, but the point is that I don’t want Lacey to end up alone when my number
comes up.”What did numbers have t
o do with
anything?
Even so, Barak

understood was Penn was saying
—
and what he was asking. “I’m not going anywhere.

You can be
assured that I will stand by

Lacey no matter what happens.
Having said that, it is my strongest wish that you live a long and happy l
ife.
I love your sister,
Penn, but I value your friendship as well.”

Alexis Morgan 3

“Then prove it, Barak. Marry her.”



Penn had lea
ned forward as he was talking, but now he slouched back in his chair and
went back
to staring at his scarred hand
. “
Lacey

might not say anything, but I know that’s what she wants.
Hell,
when she was little,
she used to spend hours stagi
ng w
eddings for her dolls. All through
high school

and college
, s
he and her frie
nds would hit the mall to look at wedding dresses and
dream

of their day in the spotlight.”After a few seconds of silence, he looked up again. “I want that for her, Barak. I
won’t always be
around, and I need to know she’s taken care of
.

If you’re not willing to man up, then get the hell
out of her life and let her move on.”If Barak didn’t have some pretty strong protective feelings for his own sister
, he might have
taken of
fense.
Instead, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box and slid it

across the
table toward Penn.
His friend blinked and then slo
wly reached out to pick it up.
When he flipped
open the lid, a
huge

smile spread across his face.“Do you want t
o punch me now or later fo
r questioning your intentions?
I

should’ve known
better.
I

promise not to retaliate.”Barak smiled at his friend.
“That won’t be necessary, and

I don’t blame you for asking.
I know
that accepting a Kalith warrior as the mate for
your only
sister cannot be easy for you.
H
owever,
I would like to think
I have your blessing.”Penn immediately held out hi
s hand. “Yeah, you do.
I’
d be a fool if I didn’t approve
, not after
what you did to save Lacey’s life.

I told you at the time I was
ready to rent a tux.
I can’t imagine
another man who would do more to make her happy.”Barak shook hands with the man who would soon be his brother
-
in
-
law if all went as
he planned.
“Thank you, Penn.
Your sister has been a true gift in my life.”“
For sur
e Lacey’s

going to love that ring. She’s alway
s preferred sapphires to diamonds.”
Penn
hand
ed the ring box back to Barak. “When are you going to pop the question
?”Barak opened the box, enjoying the play of sunlight in the stones. “I made

reservations at
our
favorite
restaurant for tomorrow night.
The owner has become a friend, and he’s going to give us
his

best table.
I’
m having a
bouquet of
her favorite
flowers delivered, and he’ll slip the ring box
into the middle of it and bring it with
dessert.”He let out a long breath.
“Think she will approve?”Penn laughed.
“
Oh, yeah.
Women just eat
that
kind of
stuff

up
.
She’ll love it.”Alexis Morgan 4
When B
arak spotted Hunter and Larem walk
ing down the driveway
, he
slipped the ring box back
in his pocket
. Bef
ore they reached the door
, he murmured, “I’d like to keep this just between us
for now.”Penn’s grin was wicked.
“Scared she’ll say no and embarrass you?”“No.”
Then hon
esty made Barak admit, “Maybe.
I often wonder why she would settle for a man
with no
home of his own.”“If she’s dumb enough to turn you down, she and I will
have words.
Seriously,
I don’t

see that
happening, my man.” Penn started for the door.
“
And you do have a home, Barak. It’
s with us.”As he followed the Paladin outside to join
their friends, Barak played those words over in his
head, letting them settled deep inside

his heart
.

It meant a lot that his former enemies had
accepted him as one of their own, but that Penn would also entrust the care of his beloved sister
to Barak mea
nt the most.

Alexis Morgan 5

Chapter 2:
It All Goes WrongTo quote one of Lonzo’s favorite expressions, the weather

sucked big time. Barak glared out at
the downpour. What was that other word? Ah, yes, deluge. There was a deluge outside. While
Seattle might have a well
-
deserved reputation for rain, this w
as absurd. The clouds had started
rolling in the middle of the afternoon, gray and angry. As soon as the last bit of blue sky had
disappeared, the rain had started and then worsened, and
there was
still no end in sight.Lacey joined him at the window, res
ting her chin on his shoulder. “It’s pretty nasty out there.
After fighting all that traffic just to get home, do you really want to go back out in it? We’ve got
leftover s
tew

from last night that we can heat up for dinner.”Barak closed his eyes, relishi
ng the warm comfort of Lacey’s body pressed close against his
back, her arms around his waist. All things considered, it might be smarter to postpone their
planned dinner out on the town, but he didn’t want to. A quick phone call was all it would take to
c
ancel the reservations at their favorite restaurant, and he could always order a bouquet of
flowers to be delivered on another night.No, it was just that he didn’t want to go another day without putting that ring on Lacey’s finger,
a visible declaration
that she was his for all time. She’d given him no reason to doubt her love for
him, but that didn’t stop the nightmares where she suddenly looked at him and realized that she
didn’t want to tie her life to an alien. Then there was the very real threat that

someday one of his
people would end her brother’s life permanently. How could she forgive the unforgiveable? He shoved those fears back deep down inside his soul. “I’d still like to go.”“Okay.” She gave him a quick hug. “I’ll grab my coat.”Twenty mi
nutes later, they were sitting on the interstate as traffic moved along at a crawl. Barak
knew why the two of them were out in this awful weather, but he wished everyone else had
chosen to stay home. Of course, here in the Pacific Northwest, people rarely
let the rain interfere
with their plans no matter how bad it got.Alexis Morgan 6
Finally, in that mysterious way of traffic jams, the knot suddenly unraveled, and they were
finally making good time. Barring any more problems, they should make it to the restaurant only
a few minute past their reservation. They even lucked out an found a

parking spot less than a
block away. The two of them made a mad dash down the sidewalk to take shelter under the
awning in front of the restaurant. The sign in the front door was turned to “Closed.” Barak’s mood, not good to begin with, took another t
umble. He knocked on the front window,
not sure what he was hoping to accomplish considering the whole place was dark. Even if
someone came to the door, it was obvious they weren’t going to be eating their favorite pasta and
grilled vegetables for dinner t
onight.Lacey peeked through the window. “We should just go, Barak. They must have had some kind of
crisis to shut down, even on a night as bad as this one.” He looked up and down the street, looking for a better option but not seeing one. “I suppose so
. I
guess leftover soup it is.”Lacey frowned. “Barak, is something wrong? You’ve been acting a bit off all day.”He tried to reassure her. “No, I’m fine. I guess I’ve been feeling a little restless and was looking
forward to an evening out.”Before she

could respond, the restaurant door opened. Jack, the owner, smiled at them. “Barak,
Lacey, I’m so sorry. We had a pipe break late this afternoon, and the plumber didn’t get it fixed
until about half an hour ago. I’ve already let most of the staff go home,

but I was just about to
whip up some dinner for the rest of us. If you don’t mind eating in the kitchen, it wouldn’t be any
problem to add a few more veggies to the pot.”Barak looked to Lacey for her opinion before answering. When she shrugged her shoul
ders, he
nodded to Jack. “We’d love to join you.”Again, it wasn’t what Barak had planned, but eating with Jack and his staff was more appealing
than making the long trip back home hungry and disappointed. He fingered the small box in his
pocket. Maybe
the night could be salvaged after all. *****

Alexis Morgan 7
Lacey turned down another glass of wine since she’d be driving them back home soon. Not that
she was in any hurry. Barak had been in such an odd mood for the past few days, and it was nice
to see him looking
more relaxed and happy. Jack had offered to set them a place for two in the corner, but Barak had assured him that they’d
be fine eating with him and his staff at the big table. Within a few minutes they were all passing
heaping platters some of Jack’s
specialties and eating by candlelight. It was rare for Lacey to spend much time with civilians, meaning anyone outside of the Paladin
organization, but it felt good to leave that world behind for a few hours. There was something
about Jack that made
her think that he’d had his own experience with the darker side of life.
Maybe it was the tattoos that covered his arms and the scar that slashed across his right cheek.
But none of that took away from his warm brown eyes or the way he made everyone who
cr
ossed the threshold of his restaurant feel like family.Right now, he and Barak were whispering over in the corner. What were they up to now? She
pretended not to see Barak slip something to Jack. Most likely it was money, even though Jack
had told them t
onight’s meal was on the house. Maybe he’d agreed to accept a tip for his staff. It
would be just like Barak to offer and Jack to accept on behalf of his employees. Most were
college students with tuition and rent to pay. A night like this one would cost t
hem a lot.Barak was back. He sat back down beside her, his pale eyes glittering in the dim candlelight.
Despite his much improved mood, he now looked a bit nervous
. That

wasn’t like him at all. One
of the thing she loved best about him was his calm nat
ure, especially after growing up around the
often volatile nature of a Paladin father and brother. To put it simply, Barak q’Young soothed her soul. She loved him with every breath she took and
couldn’t imagine a life without him at its center. “Should

we be going so Jack can close up?”Barak shook his head, his eyes shifting toward where Jack had disappeared. “Not quite yet.” Okay, what was going on? Before she could ask, Jack was back, grinning and carrying an
enormous bouquet of alst
roe
meria in
a variety of colors. Everyone else at the table fell silent as
Jack set them down in front of her. The small lilies were beautiful and her absolute favorite.
Feeling the weight of all those eyes watching her, she leaned in to admire the flowers.“Barak,
they’re beautiful, but what’s the occasion?”Alexis Morgan 8

Her lover looked particularly somber. “Look closer.”This time she saw a small box nestled down among the flowers. A velvet covered box. Her
breath caught in her throat as she realized it was a ring box. She
picked it up with trembling
hands, afraid to open it. She looked up into her lover’s beautiful pale eyes.
“Barak?”Everything else in the room faded into the distance as Barak slipped off his chair to kneel at her
side. He gently pried the box from her
fingers and slowly lifted the lid.He enfolded her left hand in his much bigger one. “Lacey Sebastian, I love you. Would you do
me the honor of becoming my wife?”Her eyes filled with tears and her heart with joy. “Oh, Barak, yes!”Then the room
filled with cheers and the sound of champagne bottles popping their corks. Barak
slipped a stunning ring set with sapphires on her finger. Then he rose to his feet and pulled her
into his arms.Smiling down at her, he whispered, “Thank you for helping me
find my way in this world,
Lacey. You hold my heart in your hands.”None of the others in the room had any inkling that Barak was not of this planet, but they
understood the sentiment behind his words. She ignored the sting of happy tears in her eyes as
s
he kissed him slowly and with all the love in her heart.“I love you so much, Barak.” Then in a surprise move, he picked her up and twirled her around and around, a huge grin on his
face. When he finally set her back down, Jack was standing there with a

glass of champagne for
each of them.“A toast to two of my favorite customers!”When everyone had a glass to raise, he smiled at both of them. “May your lives together be long
,
your children healthy
, and
the love you share only grow stronger with time!”When he was finished, there was a chorus of “Cheers!”Alexis Morgan 9
After the shouts died away, someone turned on the music and the dancing began.

Alexis Morgan 10

Chapter 3:
The Lady’s Surprise
Lacey stared at the restaurant door, willing her friend to appear. Finding a way to meet with
Lusahn q’Arc without Barak finding out was tricky. After all
,

Lusahn was his sister and the two
were as close as two siblings could be. Plus Lacey not only lived w
ith Barak
,

but the two of them
also worked together. All of that added up to very little time when she could safely sneak off to meet with Lusahn
alone. In the end, she’d had to get her brother Penn involved. He’d dragged Barak off for a
couple of hours

of weapons practice with the other Paladins, leaving Lacey free to take a long
lunch with her friend.Lusahn walked in, thankfully alone. That was the other problem. Lusahn had two children and
often had one or both with her. Lacey loved both kids dearly
, but the purpose of this lunch was
secret, and the fewer people who knew about it the better.She stood up to hug her friend. “Glad you could make it.”Her future sister
-
in
-
law grinned at her. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Now let’s see
it!”Lacey held out her left hand, still not used to seeing the sparkle of sapphires on her ring finger.
Barak had proposed to her only a few days ago, the memory of that evening still as bright and
shiny as the stones glittering in the silver setting. “My

big brother did well!” Lusahn was smiling big time as they both sat down. “I am so proud
of him even
if

the plans he made for the occasion didn’t go quite as planned.” That was true, but the evening had been even more special for all of that. Despite the rain and
bad traffic and eating dinner with the wait staff at the restaurant, it had been an incredible
evening. Lacey

stared at her hand, the blue stones catching th
e light from overhead. “None of that
mattered. It turned out just perfect anyway. Right up until he presented me with a bouquet of my
favorite flowers with the ring box tucked in the middle, I was totally clueless about his plans. I
felt bad that everythin
g seemed to go wrong for him. But in the end, it was all wonderful.” The waiter appeared, so their conversation turned to salads and drinks. Like her brother, Lusahn
Alexis Morgan 11
was a vegetarian, and Lacey was slowly coming around to their way of thinking. Well, ex
cept
when there was a good steak on the grill. Once they’d placed their orders, Lusahn leaned back in her chair and gave Lacey a long look.
“Have you discussed wedding plans?”Okay, leave it to her friend to go right for the heart of the matter. “That’
s what I wanted to talk to
you about. Barak is leaving it all up to me. All he asks is that we make it soon. Since neither of
us want a huge, fancy affair, it shouldn’t take long to set a date and organize everything.”“Then why are you shredding your nap
kin?”Lacey looked down at the pile of paper. She hadn’t even realized that she’d been doing that. It
just showed how totally freaked she was. “I’m sorry.”“No need to apologize. Why don’t you just tell me what has you all tied up knots? If my brother
ha
s done something to upset you, I’ll take my sword to him.”She would, too. Lusahn had served her people as a Sworn Guardian just as Barak had.

There
weren’t many who could best her with a blade, including her brother.“No, it’s not him. It’s me. I’ve bee
n thinking about what kind of wedding I want and realized
that I know nothing of Kalith customs. Barak rarely complains of missing how things were done
in your world, but I know it bothers him sometimes. Since our marriage is a blend of two worlds,
I think

the ceremony should reflect that.” She met Lusahn’s gaze. “I would like to dress as a Kalith bride would unless you think that
would be too painful for you and Barak or even Larem.”Her friend’s smile was slow in coming, but then Lacey realized Lusahn

was busy blinking away
tears. Had she upset her? Damn it, that was exactly what she’d been trying to avoid. “I’m sorry, Lusahn. It’s a bad idea. Please forget that I said anything. We’ll just have a small
ceremony and keep it simple.”Lusahn dabbed her

eyes with her napkin. “No, no, Lacey. I think that’s a lovely gesture. It will
mean a lot to my brother, and I suspect Larem will be all right with it, too.”“Do you think you can help me design the right kind of outfit? I don’t even know what color it
should be. I know you all tend to wear dark colors, especially black.” She tried to picture herself walking down the aisle in a traditional wedding dress, but
done in all
black. The image wouldn’t quite come into focus. Luckily their salads came, so she had time to
gather her thoughts. But as they finished eating, she described what she’d been imagining.
Lusahn responded with laughter.Alexis Morgan 12
“Actually, weddings are o
ne of the few times we do
sometimes
wear dresses, but
that’s not the
usual custom. Our wedding attire is mostly a fancier version of our tunics and pants. The groom
often does wear black, but the bride wears the color associated with the groom’s family. Our
fam
ily color is royal blue. With the color of your hair and eyes, you should look stunning in it.”Whew! That was a relief although
Lacey

didn’t say so. If it would make Barak happy to see her
dressed in all black, she would have worn it with a smile on her fa
ce. “Great. Think you can help me design the pattern? I know someone who makes all kinds of
costumes for re
-
enactors. I can have her make the outfits and just tell her is for a costume party.”“That shouldn’t be a problem.” Lusahn sipped her tea. “Now

that we have that settled, what are
the men going to wear? I still can’t get over how they all looked at Laurel’s and Brenna’s
weddings. ‘Hot’ is the word I think we all settled on.”The memory of Barak in a tux had Lacey squirming a bit. He’d looked gre
at in the tux
—
and
even better out of it when they’d returned to their hotel room. Lusahn was sporting a rather
interesting smile herself. When their eyes met, both of them burst into laughter.When Lacey could manage a straight face, she decreed, “For the

sake of all the women in the
crowd, I definitely think tuxedos will be mandatory for all the men in attendance.” Lusahn held up her teacup in a salute. “I do love the way you think, my sister. And it seems
appropriate that the groom should dress in t
he clothing of your world since you are honoring our
people by wearing a Kalith wedding tunic.”With that settled, the two of them moved on to the other items on Lacey’s list: location, flowers,
and food. With the tough decision made, all the other plans
seemed to just fall into place.“I’ve tentatively reserved a hall that is often rented out for weddings. They had a cancellation in
five weeks.” She glanced down the list she’d made. “I see no reason we can’t pull all of this
together by then.”“My broth
er will be pleased.” Lusahn’s expression turned serious. “At one time I thought my brother was dead, that I had lost
him to the light. Even before he disappeared from our world, he was fading and found no joy in
his heart or his life. He crossed the bar
rier in order to end his suffering.”She stared into the distance, looking into the past, and it wasn’t a happy place. Lacey reached
across the table to lay her hand on Lusahn’s. Her friend blinked and then smiled as her eyes once
again focused on Lacey.“Barak found his own way into this world, but it was not an easy journey. Laurel might have
healed Barak’s body, but you have healed his soul. For that, I will ever be grateful.”Alexis Morgan 13
Lacey could be no less honest. “He has brought me such joy, Lusahn. For
so long, it was just me
and Penn. Knowing I could lose him at any time

wasn’t easy for either of us. He worried a lot
about leaving me alone, especially after he was so badly injured. Barak has helped him with that,
so I have my brother back again. With y
ou and Cullen and the kids, we’ve got a family again.”“Indeed we do!”Then they clinked their cups together and toasted that which was most important to them both.
“To family and men in tuxedos!”

Alexis Morgan 14

Chapter 4:
Boys
’

Night Out
Barak q’Young followed his future brother
-
in
-
law, Penn Sebastian into the bar. The blast of
music was an assault on his always sensitive Kalith hearing, but if the Paladins could endure it,
he would as well. It was a matter of
pride.Actually, he was more interested in what was going on. It wasn’t unusual for the Seattle
contingent of the Paladins to invite their Kalith friends along for a cold one. But those tended to
be spur of the moment events, not planned out ahead of time with a
specific time and date
involved. Not to mention the fact that Penn wasn’t the only one who’d reminded Barak that they
were going out tonight. Over the past three days, he’d gotten calls from Devlin Bane, Cullen
Finley, and even D.J. Clayborne. Penn crui
sed straight through the main room of the bar without slowing down or even looking
around to see if any of their other friends had already arrived. Very odd. Instead, Penn headed
toward a narrow hallway, stopping only long enough to make sure Barak was sti
ll following.
Just as he caught up with Penn, the Paladin took off again, this time stopping at a door at the far
end of the hall.He knocked
—
five raps followed by two more. A definite pattern. Was it some kind of code?
The door opened only far enough s
o Penn could slip through, leaving Barak to follow on his
own. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. What choice did he have? None. Besides he was growing more
curious by the second. Was he supposed to knock or walk right in? He was about to mimic the same rhy
thm that Penn
had used when the door swung open with no warning. It startled him into backing up a step, but
Trahern appeared in the doorway. He grabbed Barak by the arm and dragged him into the room.As soon as he stepped through the doorway, every man i
n the room shouted, “SURPRISE!” at
the top of their lungs. Barak didn’t know what to say. The whole scene was so bizarre.

The room
was festooned with bright colored paper ribbons, balloons, and most of the guys had paper horns
they were blowing with great
abandon between bouts of laughter and hollering.He didn’t know what to say
—
or even think. His only frame of reference was the birthday party
his sister Lusahn had hosted for her adopted daughter, Shiri. Somehow seeing these battle
-
tested
Alexis Morgan 15
warriors wearing

cone shaped hats and grinning like fools wasn’t at all the same. In fact, it was
more than a little bit scary.Penn rejoined him. “Here, put this on.”
Barak stared at the shiny blue hat with silver stars only half a second before he started shaking
his

head. He never was one for acting the fool, and he wasn’t about to start now, especially
when D.J. was standing the in corner snapping pictures like crazy.Devlin walked over, his own hat worn at a jaunty angle. “What’s the matter, Barak? Are you too
ho
ity
-
toity to partake of the party favors we picked out all special for you?”Barak wasn’t familiar with the expression hoity
-
toity. But if it meant that he had no interest in
wearing a hat more suitable for a six
-
year
-
old, then he supposed the description

fit.Penn jabbed him in the ribs with his elbow. “Put it on, so the celebration can get started. It’s your
bachelor party, after all.”He looked around at the men gathered in the room, each with a look of expectancy on his face.
All right, if they went
to all this much trouble, the least he could do was go along for the ride. He
perched the blue hat on his head and pulled the small band of elastic under his chin.“There. How do I look?” “Like a fool, but that’s only fair since the rest of us do, too.”

Cullen laughed as he popped the top
on a beer and held it out. “Here, I’m guessing after a few these, you won’t mind so much.”The beer was
Barak
’
s

favorite local micro
-
brew, another sign they’d planned this party with him
in mind. He took a long drag off
the bottle, savoring the rich malty flavor, as he considered what
to do next.“Cullen?”“Yeah?”“What am I supposed to do next?”His friend shrugged. “How the hell am I supposed to know? It’s not like we do this kind of thing
often
—
or even ever.”Okay
,

then. Barak looked around the room, realizing for the first time that there were a couple of
pool tables and an air hockey game over in the corner. He headed for the rack of pool cues on the
far wall and picked one that looked straight. He rolled it on th
e closest table and decided it would
do. The whole time he felt every eye in the room following his every move. Alexis Morgan 16
“Penn, you’re my partner, so grab another couple beers and get over here.” Then he grinned at
his friends. “Whose ass are we going to beat fir
st?”Trahern and Devlin claimed that honor. As the four of them racked the balls, the others in the
room either claimed a game of their own or found a comfortable spot to watch the action. The guys might be willing to act a bit silly and wear hats and p
lay with helium balloons, but they
took pool seriously. The game was close, with Barak and Penn only narrowly escaping defeat at
the hands of their opponents. Their last second victory might have had something to do with
Barak blowing one of the paper horn
s just as Devlin was about to make his last shot.The irate Paladin demanded a rematch, but Lonzo and D.J. had already claimed the next game.
After a good bit of grousing on Devlin’s part and accusations of cheating, Trahern yanked him
out of the way. “Co
me on. Remember, revenge is best tasted cold. Let’s go check on the food
and the surprise.”The head Paladin nodded, but he pinned Barak with a hard look. “This isn’t over.”“What surprise?” Barak asked Penn as he chalked his cue. His friend rolled his

eyes. “If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”True enough. “Fine, be that way. It’s your turn to break.”As he waited for his turn, he looked around at the men who, against all odds, had become his
brothers. Unable to stand the pain of living in his own world, he had crossed the barrier to make
his last stand. Instead, he’d found a human woman who needed his
protection from one of her
own kind. Thanks to Laurel and her lover, Devlin Bane, Barak had been accepted into the tightly
knit community of Paladins in Seattle. He was grateful for the gift of their friendship, although sometimes he hungered for time am
ong
his own kind. With that thought, it finally hit him that Larem, the only other Kalith warrior to
live among the Paladins, was not to be found. Larem was slowly coming to accept his new life in
this world, but unlike Barak, he didn’t live there by choic
e. In fact, Barak’s decision to remain on
the human side of the barrier had directly led to Larem being forced to leave their homeland
behind. He hoped
eventually the man would find the same joy living in the light that Barak had.
After all, here he wa
s, two days away from joining his life to Lacey’s Sebastian’s, the woman of
his heart. Truly, it felt like one of those fairy tales that his niece liked him to read to her. A commotion over by the door drew everyone’s attention. Devlin and Trahern were b
ack.
Several waiters followed them in carrying large trays of food they set down on the table in the
corner. They quickly arranged all of the platters and dishes and then disappeared. Almost immediately the door opened again. Hunter Fitzsimon, the Palad
in who lived alone north
of Seattle walked in. He looked around until he spotted Barak. Grinning, he stepped aside to
Alexis Morgan 17
reveal Larem standing behind him. So
the
warrior

had come after all. Good. Barak handed Penn
his pool cue and started across the room to greet the
newcomers.But when a third man walked in, Barak stumbled to a halt. It was Berk, a Sworn Guardian from
Kalithia. He was followed by three more men from Barak’s homeworld. His heart pounded in his
chest as the crowd parted to let him through to where his
countrymen stood looking a bit
uncomfortable. Considering the Paladins and their kind were
his
lifelong enemies, it was to be
expected.Larem’s stern mouth
quirked
up

in a
small

smile
. “We thought you might appreciate a few of
your friends from home being here
for the big occasion.”Barak’s eyes burned with the sting of tears as he greeted each man in turn. “This is a gift beyond
value.”Once again Devlin took charge. He offered
each of
the newcomers a bottle of beer. “A toast,
everyone!”There was a brief rush on th
e drinks, but then silence fell over the room while they waited to hear
what the big man had to say.“Here’s to Barak q’Young. I owe him a debt I can never repay. We all do. His first steps in our
world saved my wife’s life and started all of us on a new
path of understanding. To Barak!”Barak held up his own drink. “To men of honor no matter which side of the barrier they were
born on!”There were shouts of “Here! Here!” and “Damn straight!” from around the room, followed by
D.J. yelling, “Can we eat no
w?”Penn appeared at Barak’s side and handed him a plate. “You’re the guest of honor. Go load up
on all those veggies you weirdoes insist on eating so the rest of us can chow down on the real
food.”After some good
-
natured pushing and shoving, everyone m
ade it through the food line. Barak
joined Berk and his Blademates over in the corner. Berk watched the Paladins for several seconds before turning his attention to Barak. “Old friend,
I am pleased that you have found some peace at last. It is a good thi
ng.”Barak couldn’t agree more. “Yes, it is. It also means a lot that you came.

You
all

honor me with
your presence.”The Sworn Guardian smiled. “We will be staying here for the wedding as well. It was Larem’s
idea to invite us. Since your marriage is a
joining of both worlds, he thought there should be
more than just him and your sister to represent Kalithia.”

Alexis Morgan 18

That came as a surprise, but it was a welcome one. Barak sought Larem in the crowd and spotted
him standing with Hunter. Although the Paladin had

the most reason to hate their kind, he had
formed a close bond with Larem. An odd pairing to be sure, but their friendship was rock solid.When Larem noticed Barak watching him, Barak raised his drink in a silent toast. The Kalith
warrior nodded in under
standing. They’d both walked a long path to reach this time and place.
Barak knew it wasn’t the journey that was important but the people who walked at his side.And in this room full of warriors, Barak had the best of both worlds.

Alexis Morgan 19 Chapter 5:
A Warrior’s VowThe clothes felt strange, but the moment felt right. Perfect. Overdue. The soft strains of music
filtered through the walls, stirring his soul. This was it. The moment he’d been striving for his
entire life. He studied his image, trying to see if the pro
found nature of what he was about to undertake had
left its mark on his face or if the change was only etched in his heart and anchored in his bones. All things considered, he looked the same even if the man on the inside sure felt so different.“You lo
ok pretty, Barak. Quit hogging the mirror.”Penn Sebastian elbowed him out of the way, making a big deal of straightening his already
perfect bow tie. In turn, Cullen Finley shoved Penn back out of the way. “You’re not the star of tonight’s
festivities
, Penn. Barak is. If he wants to make goo
-
goo eyes at himself in the mirror, let him.”Barak wasn’t sure what goo
-
goo eyes were, but he did know his friends were trying to help him
remain calm before the ceremony. He didn’t need their assistance, but neit
her would he deny
them the chance to offer it. Tonight he would publicly claim Lacey Sebastian as his mate although she’d truly belonged to
him from the first moment their eyes had met from across that room not long after he’d moved to
this world. Tonigh
t was merely the bow on the package as they honored their love for each other
with friends and family.“How are you holding up?”Barak turned to face Devlin Bane, the Paladin who had once reluctantly stood over Barak’s
bleeding body against his fellow Pa
ladins, demanding his life be spared. Now they were friends,
enemies no more.“I am fine. These two are so
-
so.“ He waggled his hand in the air, showing what he meant. “Still,
I think they’ll hold it together through the ceremony.”Alexis Morgan 20
“Hey!” Penn protested.
“I’m steady as a rock. Besides, I’m giving the bride away. That’s major.
I don’t want to screw things up for my sister. Lacey’s got a temper in case you haven’t noticed.”Devlin just rolled his eyes, well used to dealing with the antics of his fellow Pala
dins. “Well,
everyone’s in place, so let’s get this show on the road.” Barak let his friends file out of the small room ahead of him. He paused long enough to glance
one more time at the mirror. This time he saw it
—
the change he’d been looking for. For
the first
time in years, he was at peace.* * * * *Lacey stared at the stranger in the mirror. “Maybe I should have worn a traditional dress.” Barak’s sister, Lusahn q’ Arc, smiled at Lacey from over her shoulder. “You’re lovely, and my
brother will be honored by your gift. The
other
Kalith in attendance will also understand the
symbolism
in

your choice
of

wedding clothes.”She gave Lusahn a qui
ck hug. “Sorry. I know that. It’s just the “OMG I’M GETTING
MARRIED IN TEN MINUTES” jitters talking.”Lacey turned away from the mirror to study the other women in the room, all similarly attired in
the traditional wedding style of her future husband’s pe
ople. Her own outfit consisted of a tunic
length jacket over close fitting pants, both done in a deep royal blue. Her attendants wore a
slightly lighter shade in the same tone. Their shoes were ballerina slippers complete with satin
ribbons worn crisscross
ed up the leg to just below the knee. She wore matching ribbons twinned through her blond hair. All in all, she was pleased with how
she looked. It was Barak’s reaction she was worried about. Thanks to the human tradition of
keeping the bride’s dress a
secret, he had no idea what she’d done. He wouldn’t get his first hint
until the music started and the bridesmaids started down the aisle. Her broth
er

Penn was acting as father
-
of
-
the
-
bride. Devlin was best man and Laurel was maid
-
of
-
honor. The rest of the

wedding party included Lusahn, Brenna, and Tate, who were being
escorted by Berk, Cullen, and Trahern. The sound of a knock caught everyone’s attention. Devlin’s deep voice carried through the
closed door. “Showtime, ladies.”Lusahn handed Lacey her b
ouquet of pale blue alst
r
oemeria. Everyone else would carry white
flowers with ribbons that matched their outfits. Laurel, recently married herself, smiled at her. “You’re beautiful. Barak will be speechless.”That was probably true. He was by nature a
quiet man, but he still managed to communicate
quite nicely how he felt about her, with or without words. Especially without words. Her body
Alexis Morgan 21
flushed hot, anticipating their plans for the night after the wedding and the party following were
over. She coul
dn’t wait to strip her man out of that tux he’d be wearing. Something of what she was thinking must have shown in her expression because Brenna was
grinning at her. She also gave Lacey a hug and whispered, “Down, girl. You still have to get
through the
ceremony and everything before your private party can get started.” Lacey knew she was blushing but that was all right. She met each woman’s eyes head on. “Don’t
tell me none of you have been thinking about all those hunky guys out there wearing tuxedos

and
looking damn fine.”Tate giggled. “Guilty as charged, but I would hope I don’t look like I might just attack Hunter on
the way down the aisle as tempting as the thought might be.”Lacey loved the small circle of friends she’d made, all women who loved their warrior mates
with such fierce passion. “Shall we?” she asked, and led the procession out into the hallway and toward the man who held
her heart in his hands.* * * * *The
music soothed Barak’s last minute tension. Devlin had asked a couple of Paladins who were
also musicians to play for the ceremony. They had all agreed that it would be better that no
outsiders be involved. Even the judge who was presiding was a Regent. Bar
ak didn’t know how
Devlin had convinced the man to perform the ceremony and didn’t care. All that mattered that
Lacey was getting the wedding she’d always dreamed of.The musicians brought the piece to a close, immediately segueing into the song that mark
ed the
entrance of the first bridesmaid. He was glad. The groomsmen were escorting the ladies down
the aisle, which meant he was standing there alone. Some company would be nice.Tate appeared in the doorway on Sworn Guardian Berk’s arm. His old friend lo
oked odd in
human clothes, but then no stranger than did Barak himself. It wasn’t until the pair was half way
down the aisle that Barak saw what Tate was wearing. His pulse sped up as he recognized the traditional Kalith style. He watched the doorway. Su
re
enough, Brenna wore the same outfit accompanied by her own husband, Trahern. They were
followed by Lusahn
walking with

Cullen
, her mate
. When she caught Barak’s eye, she smiled
and nodded, acknowledging his unasked question.Devlin led his wife Laurel
down the aisle. When they separated, Devlin took his position at
Barak’s back. Good. He might just need the Paladin’s strength to get through this after all.The music rose in a brief flourish as Penn Sebastian, former enemy and now friend and brother
-
in
-
law
, stepped into the doorway. He held out his arm to his sister.

Alexis Morgan 22

Barak’s heart swelled to the breaking point as his human lover started down the aisle dressed in
the clothes of his people and
w
ith
her heart in her pretty blue eyes. He had no word
s for the
priceless gift she’d just given him. This was definitely a melding of two people, two cultures,
two worlds. When she reached his side, Penn pressed a quick kiss on his sister’s cheek. Then he surprised
everyone
by
hugg
ing

Barak a
s he

whispered,

“Keep her safe.
Make

her happy.
”He knew her brother lived in terror of dying and leaving his sister alone in this world. That he
would entrust her care to Barak was another gift he would cherish always. “I will, my brother.
This I so vow.” Then he and

Lacey joined hands and then joined their lives. *****Barak closed the door and turned the lock, shutting out the world. Both worlds. He was alone
with the woman he loved, his wife. He tried out those words again. Wife. His.Yeah, he liked the sound of that. Right now Lacey was standing at the floor to cei
ling window
across the room, staring out into the Seattle night. She was still wearing the blue tunic and
trousers that his sister had helped her obtain. Although he thought Lacey looked good in
anything she wor
e
—
and even better when she wore nothing but t
hat special smile she
saved

just
for him
. S
eeing her in the traditional wedding clothes had been driving him crazy for hours. If he didn’t know better, he would have suspected that his rented tux had grown two sizes
smaller over the course of the evening.

That was the only possible explanation why everything
felt too tight, too constricting. Or it could be the way his body reacted every time he looked at his
wife and imagined unlacing those ribbons that wound their way up her lovely legs.From there, he’d

peel down those trousers and then tug off her tunic

. . . As if sensing the direction of his thoughts, Lacey turned to face him. “Got something on your
mind
?”He m
anaged to nod. “I’ve been thinking about how much I was going to enjoy stripping you out
of that outfit, starting with those ribbons. Then I plan on showing you how a Kalith warrior takes
his lover to new heights.”She started toward him with that swagger

a woman had when she knew her man

wanted her
.

“That sounds nice, husband
. However,

I

have

a few plans of my own, starting with ripping that
tuxedo off of you and having my wicked, wicked way with you.”Alexis Morgan 23
He actually backed up a step. “The tux is a rental. We’
ll have to pay for any damage.”“Fine with me.” She kept coming until only inches separated them. “I guess we’ll have to toss a coin to see whose
fantasy comes true.”“Better yet.” Barak snatched the coin out of the air. “How about I g
o first
? I promise you won’t
regret it. And then
—
“He leaned forward to brush his lips across hers. “I’ll put the tux back on, and we’ll start all over
again.”His lady’s smile intensified. “I do love a man with a plan.”Lacey reached up to loosen his tie
and used it to
pull

him toward the enormous bed in the center
of the room. Then she sat down
and held out her right foot. “You said something about untying
these.”“I did, didn’t I?” He smiled as he knelt down at her feet and reac
hed for the first ribbon.