Chapter 83 – Ceremony – Raine's POV

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Chapter 83 – Ceremony – Raine's POV

I stared at Talia in the mirror while two attendants painted white swirls and flowers on my upper body, to camouflage my scars for my Mating Ceremony to Alaric. She had suggested it. She knew how heartbroken I had been after Cage told me the damage inflicted by the whip had been too severe to heal all of the way, even with Armand's blood.

The scars were a painful reminder for Alaric as well. He had apologized to me again and again, still struggling with his guilt. And each time I tried to make him see that he was not at fault; we had made the decision together. I hoped one day he would believe me.

Alaric may have struggled with guilt, but struggled with self-consciousness and embarrassment. He had told me over and over that my beauty was not diminished in the least by them. But I didn't feel that way. I thought they were ugly and didn't want anybody else to see them. And I sure as hell didn't want to give Quinn the satisfaction.

We were both stubborn, I guess.

Talia murmured, "You look beautiful."

I glanced down to examine the attendant's progress in the mirror. The delicate pattern began low on my hips. It continued up my torso and covered both breasts, before trailing higher on my right shoulder, and then onto my neck. My right arm had also been adorned, all of the way down to the back of my hand; while my left arm and shoulder remained bare.

We had decided on the body paint in lieu of a dress. Besides the glaring fact that everyone was going to see me naked anyway, all of the dresses I had considered were see-through. So it didn't really matter that I would be topless when joined to Alaric. In addition to the body paint, I would wear a traditional wedding veil and lacy white panties. Never in a million years, did I ever anticipate I would be getting married looking like that. But with a ceremony that included public consummation, I guess it was to be expected.

Once the painting was complete, they added gorgeous crystal accents along my breast line, and up to my neck. As well as a swirl pattern on my belly and a few scattered on my arm. The last item for me to put on was the veil. It was made out of traditional white tulle, and hung from a headpiece down to my butt, further concealing my back.

Finally, I was ready.

I stood shakily to my feet. Talia grasped my hand and squeezed it encouragingly. I hadn't seen Alaric in the past two days, as was tradition, so Talia had stayed by my side. I don't know what I would have done without her.

I tried to return her smile, but don't think I was very successful.

"This is as far as I can go, but everything will be okay," she whispered.

I stared at her with wide eyes, desperately wishing I could believe her. I exited the preparation room and found General Raed waiting for me in the hallway. We didn't speak as he walked me to the Council room. When we reached the door, I was shaking uncontrollably. He turned me to face him, and surprised me when he lowered his lips to my forehead. He kept them there for a moment as he breathed, "You can do this."

His reassurance helped reduce my trembling. I nodded, but there were still too many butterflies in my belly for me to answer. He opened the door and we stepped through.

I knew who would be in attendance. From Alaric's kingdom, King Quinn would be there along with all five of his High Council members. I had only seen the council members twice. The first time was the day I arrived, and then subsequently at the Alliance Meeting.

Council member Ludvig was presiding over our ceremony. He was nice enough, but didn't seem to care one way or the other about me, and I didn't mind his disinterest.

Ladislava had never warmed up to me, looking irritated by my very presence. Her behavior still made me wonder if she harbored some unspoken emotion for Alaric.

And Ramir still made my skin crawl. He had watched me with cruel anticipation when I first arrived, and blatantly stared at my chest during the meeting, having the audacity to lick his lips while doing so. I had no doubt his hand would be in his pants as soon as possible. The thought made me shudder.

The two remaining Council members, Iva and Hanon, had made an attempt to get to know me better during the meeting, and I had appreciated their kindness.

From my side, King Armand would be there along with his council members, and of course, Cage.

It had been three days since I last saw him. Once again, our goodbye had torn a fresh hole in my heart. It felt worse that time... Because we knew the next time we saw each other, I would be joined to Alaric for eternity.

I had decided that I would not look at him when I entered the room. It would be hard enough for me to complete the ceremony as it was. I didn't think I would have the willpower or the strength to accomplish it, if I saw the agony on Cage's face first.

Since I didn't know where he would be seated, I purposefully did not look at anyone and kept my eyes on Alaric, as I walked through the room to him. However, I wasn't quite able to avoid seeing the large bed that had been brought in for the occasion. Nerves fluttered up and down my spine, and I worked to control my breathing. It would certainly not help for me to hyperventilate right now.

When I reached Alaric, he took my hand and whispered in my ear, "You look stunning." I gripped his hand tightly, holding onto him like a lifeline. We turned to face Ludvig.

I was suddenly struck by the fact that this was as far as I had gotten during my failed mating ceremony with Cage before Vladimir had interrupted, and revealed that I was the daughter of Brialle.

Ludvig began to speak, and almost as if my life were on a loop, a male voice behind me interrupted, "Stop!" For a moment, I assumed I had conjured the voice in my imagination, a result of my thinking about Vladimir's interruption.

But less than a blink later, I realized that a man had indeed come through the doors, and clearly had a point to make. I spun around and breathed in shock, "Felaern!"

In the same moment, I heard Armand gasp loudly, "Brialle!"

Time seemed to slow down and then halt altogether as my gaze went from Felearn and rested on the woman standing next to him – my mother!

She truly was beautiful, even prettier than the picture Armand had given to me. Once again, I was struck by the irony that she looked nothing like me, with dark sable hair and caramel brown eyes. And then she shocked the hell out of me when she stated emphatically, "You cannot continue with the ceremony. Raine cannot join with Prince Alaric!"

Loud gasps could be heard around the room along with murmuring.

Armand stared silently, as if he had forgotten how to speak.

I couldn't breathe.

I knew Felaern had pushed for Cage and I to join, before my true identity had been revealed, but I never expected him to try to stop me from joining with Alaric.

I struggled to understand what was happening.

Armand seemed to have found his words again and said, "I will not disregard treaties and agreements that have been in place for hundreds of years...Not even for you."

She replied firmly, "And certainly you shouldn't. I am not suggesting that. I'm telling you that Raine cannot complete the ceremony, because she is not  your firstborn daughter."

Armand struggled to understand and argued, "She is my daughter. I saw my family crest appear on her when she ingested my blood!"

Brialle explained patiently, "Indeed, you are correct. Raine most certainly belongs to you. However, she was born second..."

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