For most of Liam’s life, he’d believed in himself and not much else. Relying on others hadn’t panned out for him. His mother and father always prioritized work ahead of his needs and he’d never been particularly close to Spencer or Kara and couldn’t rely on them answering when and if he called. Likewise, he’d never had much use for prayer or religion. When he’d fallen on his knees as a child and prayed for a family like his friends had, with a mother who might hug him from time to time or a father who might help him build a boxcar instead of assigning the task to one of his servants, his pleas had gone unanswered. But science, he’d learned early on, was far more predictable. Water boiled at 212°F and froze at 32°F. The sun rose every morning and set every night. Living things were born, aged, and died. Reliable. Consistent. Certain. Like nothing else in his life ever was.
Until he met Charlotte and everything he thought he knew was turned on its head.
Maybe that was why, as he stood in front of her—stood in front of his wife—at the center of the Obsidian Palace’s great hall, he was shook to his very core. Love was unscientific and unpredictable. Love was magic. Love was a blue-eyed blonde with angel wings who, for some crazy reason, had chosen him. HIM! He was unworthy of her in so many ways. Mortal. Unaware of her world’s ways. Physically weaker. Non-magical. But for some reason she loved him.
No. That wasn’t entirely true. He did know why she loved him and why he loved her. They understood each other—the deepest, unseen parts of each other—and he knew her in a way no one else did. He could make her laugh with a single wink.
He blinked rapidly and looked up at her father, Gabriel, the king. Fuck. What had he missed while he canoed down self-evaluation river? The dragon was holding a crown bejeweled with emeralds, a smaller version of the one on his own head and similar to the one Charlotte was wearing. Shit, they must have moved from the wedding part of the ceremony to the coronation. Liam twisted the gold band on his finger
“Yes,” he said tentatively, although he had no idea what exactly he was agreeing to. He hadn’t heard a word his new father-in-law had said.
Gabriel’s mouth twitched and he raised an eyebrow. “Ready?” he whispered under his breath.
Liam gave a tiny nod.
“Do you accept responsibility for the kingdom of Paragon?” the king asked for all to hear.
“Yes,” he said firmly.
“And will you act as its prince? And serve its citizens for as long as you are called to do so?”
“Even if it means sacrifice of your life for the good of the kingdom?”
Liam glanced back at Charlotte and took solace in her smile and the smiles of the citizens watching from behind her. “Yes.”
That was easy. Easier than breathing. Every bit of his flesh, every red cell of his blood, every thump of his heart held complete certainty that he was exactly where he was supposed to be. For the first time ever, he was where he belonged.
“Then I, Gabriel, King of Paragon, crown you prince of Paragon.” Gabriel placed the crown on his head.
Applause filled the circular room and Charlotte surged forward, taking his hands in her own and kissing him firmly. He’d wondered when he’d get a chance at this part. The wedding itself had been different than the human variety. For one, brides here did not wear white. Charlotte’s dress was a vibrant royal blue, a strapless number with gems embroidered into the full, floor-length skirt. His suit was more of a tunic in a slightly darker shade of the same color, with a gold, military style sash that crossed his body shoulder to hip. They’d walked to the center of this room together and after a ceremony where they asked the goddess of the mountain for permission to marry, they’d been bound. The rings, he’d learned, weren’t strictly necessary, but he and Charlotte chose to observe the human custom.
“One last thing,” she whispered against his lips.
“There is? I don’t remember anything else from the rehearsal.”
“We have to give an offering to the goddess of the mountain, so that she’ll bless our union.”
“Oh, right.” They hadn’t practiced this part because the place they had to go was sacred and he was only allowed to set foot in it after the actual ceremony.
She led him out of the great hall to the cheers of their guests. On a small table outside the door a basket of wine and sweets waited for them. Liam insisted on carrying it for her and hooked one arm through the handle. The two of them crossed the veranda to a door in the stone he’d never know was there without her help. Through it, they descended into the bowels of the mountain.
“It’s hot down here,” he said, tugging at his collar.
“It should be. This is where the royal dragon females come to lay their eggs. Not me or my mother of course, because she was human, but Harlow did. It’s a natural incubator.”
He wiped sweat from his brow. “I think my brain is incubating.”
“Oh, sorry.” With a flash of her blue eyes, snow started to fall around him, and the temperature dropped dramatically.
“There’s the altar.” Charlotte pointed her chin toward a giant mosaic of a dark-haired woman in a bodysuit made of flowing lava.
Damn, so that was the goddess of the mountain. Depicted in a fighting stance, her muscles bulged, and her eyes burned with holy fire. “Holy shit. She’s…intense! No wonder it’s safe for us to stay here.”
“Yeah, she’s a fierce protector. None of the gods will mess with her. Plus, Zeus promised her dominion over Ouros.” Charlotte removed the offering basket from his arm and placed it on the stone slab, then slipped her hand into his.
“Now we pray silently for her blessing.”
It had been decades since Liam had prayed to any deity, but his heart swelled with gratitude. His woman was safe, and he was in love. He closed his eyes and thanked Aitna for the shelter of her mountain, the woman by his side, and the future that lay ahead of them.
“Liam,” Charlotte said softly, her eyes still closed in prayer.
“Will you take my tooth?”
“I am part dragon and if you take my tooth into you, it will make you immortal. At least, I believe it will. If it doesn’t work, I’m sure my father would provide one.”
He blinked at her. “Sure.”
She opened her eyes, giggling. “Don’t you want to know more about what it entails?”
He shrugged. “Honestly, Charlotte, I’ve learned to just go with it when it comes to this stuff with you.”
She grinned and squeezed his hand. And then they both gaped in wonder as the basket on the altar shimmered and disappeared.
* * * * *
From the top of her mountain, Aitna leaned back in her celestial throne and soaked up the warm thoughts and prayers funneling to her from below. The basket of gifts appeared by her side, accompanied by gasps from Charlotte and Liam that made her giggle. Let them be amazed. She was no absent goddess, and their offering was a pleasure to her.
“Ooh, Tribiscal wine,” Circe pulled the bottle from the basket and with a circle of her pinkie, popped the cork. A wooden chalice appeared in her hand, and she poured a sloppy helping before handing it to Aitna and repeating the process to pour her own portion.
“Thank you, dear cousin.”
She raised her cup. “The pleasure is all mine. I haven’t used this particular set of goblets since the byzantine era.”
“In that case, I’ll try my best not to set them on fire.” Aitna held the wooden cup away from the fiery liquid stone that clothed her body.
“Never fear. I’ve enchanted them. Entirely fireproof.”
Aitna gave her an appreciative nod and took a deep swig of the offering. Delicious.
“Another lovely wedding.” Circe grinned from her seat beside her. “I do confess, this one came as a surprise. I hadn’t known our angel was even courting anyone. And then all that business with the strange book and her choice of bringing Liam here.”
“I always knew Princess Charlotte would find the love she deserved.” Aitna sipped the wine, delighted as the heirs of paragon poured out into the garden, they and their children overflowing the space. Her favored family had certainly been bountiful these years and she saw a future filled with even more children, for Charlotte and Liam as well.
Circe adjusted her robes around her legs. “You did always say that the angel was your favorite.”
“It is common for the gods to prefer one from the other. It is my prerogative.”
Clearing her throat, Circe narrowed her eyes. “Curious how it all unfolded so elegantly though. And her perfect match. What are the odds?”
Aitna grinned. “Are you accusing me of meddling, Cousin?”
Circe pressed a hand to her chest. “Me? How would I know if you meddled. I haven’t physically left my island for millennia.”
Aitna scrunched her brows together, waving her hand between them. “Of course not. Likewise, I am bound to Ouros. What trouble might I be?”
A golden glow appeared beside her, widening from a pinprick into the form of a man with winged sandals. Hermes landed beside Aitna and her eyes flared with heat. The messenger god kissed her soundly on the mouth. A chair appeared beside Aitna and he sank his gold-skinned body into it. “Did I miss it?”
“The ceremony, yes,” Aitna said, “But, the bride and groom are only joining the family in the garden now. The festivities have just begun.”
Circe worked her magic and another cup appeared. She filled it with wine and handed it to the messenger god.
“There’s a cake,” Hermes said. “I love cake.” Aitna snapped her fingers and a plate of cake appeared before Hermes. He dug in.
“Did Plutus give you any trouble?”
“No. He harbored no love for the Morris family. He’s recovered his cornucopia, the matriarch has passed on to the underworld, and as for the rest of the family and their business, unfortunately, the legacy of their wealth has come to an end.”
“Quite sad,” Aitna said around a tight smile. She gestured toward the garden. “Fortunate for our Liam that he met Charlotte when he did.”
Hermes offered her a wide grin. “Almost miraculous.”
Circe studied the two of them over her drink. “Aitna! Did you have Hermes orchestrate the meeting of these two lovers?”
The goddess shrugged, her fiery garb sparking with the movement. “At times, celestial guidance is necessary for the greater good.”
Gasping and sitting up straighter, Circe fixed her with an accusatory stare. “You were responsible for the book and Charlotte’s inspiration to find Liam?”
Aitna gave a coy smile. “Perhaps.”
“But… do you mean to say that Hermes, you told no one of her visit to Earth? If that is so, Charlotte is in no danger of leaving Ouros?” Circe lifted a brow. “No other gods know she exists.”
Hermes chuckled around his glass. “I told no one. The last thing I want is to put the girl in danger. I rather like her. There’s fire in her soul.”
Circe snorted. “I hand my crown to you Aitna. You are the queen of meddling.”
The goddess of the mountain lifted her chin. “I accept this honor.”
“But … but will you tell them? Will you make it known to Charlotte and Liam that they have nothing to fear?”
Aitna sighed. “I think not. If Zeus ever found out she existed there may be trouble. She’s safer here. Besides, I like having them where I can enjoy them.”
Circe refilled her glass and tapped its edge against her cousin’s, before leaning back to survey the festivities below. Having all her descendants together again with their loved ones indeed brought her the greatest joy. “On this, at least, we can agree.”