The night was crystal clear, the calm sea gleaming like glass. Night flowers bloomed along the pathway, bringing bright colors to light the way. The chapel sat in the midst of a small grove of trees. Lit from within, Byron could see the stained glass windows in all of their vivid beauty. The breeze touched his face, cooled his skin, carried with it the smell and taste of the sea. He inhaled deeply, appreciating that Antonietta had chosen a setting close to nature, close to his world. The three men wound their way through the gardens to the entrance that would lead them directly to the altar.
Byron walked in through the side door, Jacques and Vlad at his side. Hundreds of candles set the chapel softly aglow.
They were all there. Her family. His family. The people he had grown to care about. Franco with Vincente and Margurite. Eleanor sat beside the two children, whispering something in Margurite's ear. Diego sat with his young children, staring enraptured at Tasha, who was already at the altar with Marita, waiting for the bride. Paul and Justine held hands. Byron was especially pleased to see that Shea was sitting very close to Josef, and whatever she was saying to him wiped the wicked, teasing grin from his face. Byron's heart contracted at the sight of them all sitting together with no separation between them.
There was music, but Byron could only hear the wild thunder of his heart. He stood, his hands folded in front of him. Waiting. There was a soft rustle at the entrance to the chapel. A second heart found the perfect rhythm of his. He turned as their guests rose to their feet.
Antoinetta stood at the back of the church, one gloved hand tucked into the crook of Don Giovanni's arm. She wore exquisite Italian lace, a dress that clung to her enticing curves and fell in graceful folds to her ankles. Her abundance of hair was swept up in some intricate knot with curling tendrils everywhere. She looked straight at him and smiled.
His heart stuttered. His breath caught and was trapped in his lungs. For one moment he was certain he was locked in a dream. She couldn't be real. Couldn't be his. Music filled the chapel. Byron locked his gaze with hers, willing her to come to him. Time stopped for him. The world forgot to turn. He felt Jacques's restraining hand and realized he had started to move toward her. And then Antonietta started up the aisle toward him. His pounding heart returned to its natural rhythm. The air moved through his lungs.
Jacques. Do you have the ring?
Byron spent hours in secret, fashioning the perfect ring of rubies and diamonds, using an ancient threading technique. The setting was unique, made just for Antonietta and her sensitive fingertips. Feeling was more important to her than vision, and he had formed a ring of texture in hopes of pleasing her.
Jacques patted his pockets, looked alarmed, than laughed softly.
Of course I have the ring, you dolt. Shea would have my head if I messed up. I'm listening.
Antonietta reminded, her smile widening.
So am I, Shea added.
Byron stepped forward to meet his bride. Don Giovanni kissed his granddaughter and placed her hand in Byron's. "I give her into your keeping."
"And she will always be safe," Byron promised solemnly.
Byron turned back to the altar and, together with Antonietta, faced the priest, his heart swelling with joy. He had found his lifemate, a woman of courage and compassion who would spend eternity at his side.
The marriage ceremony was solemn, the priest's words eloquent. Byron felt the words in his heart and in his soul. He knew it was right that they had married in the way of her people. They were blending two worlds together, and each mattered equally. He spoke his vows in a clear voice, meaning every word. Antonietta's voice was low and played over his skin like a caress.
"I love you, Byron Justicano. I will always love you," Antonietta whispered softly as he placed his ring on her finger.
The priest pronounced them man and wife.
Byron bent his head to hers as she lifted her face. Her expression of love was so passionate, his heart moved in his chest. He kissed her with exquisite tenderness.
I have always loved you, Antonietta. And I, you.
"I give you Signor and Signora Justicano."
Byron and Antonietta turned and faced their families together, hand in hand. The roar of happiness and joy spilled out of the chapel to reach up to the heavens and down to the sea.