Palladian (palladian23) wrote in superwebnovel,

Chapter 51: Revelations

Author's Notes/Warnings: Meet the parents! Also, spooky explanations and more new faces, some allies and some enemies...

Hey, All, I'm really excited and proud to announce that my third e-book for this series, Super: Exile, is now available for sale! So far, it only seems to be up on Amazon, here, but I'll post links to other e-retailers as they become available. If you want to get a jump on this story, the e-book includes up through chapter 57, so check it out!

As always, many thanks to my editor-in-chief, gwoman for helping me improve this story for all of you.

Back to Chapter 50

“I know I mentioned to you that my grandmother was a shaman,” Rolf said, lifting an eyebrow. Lex nodded in response, coming to sit next to him on the bed, sensing that this would be a long story.

“Well, one of her strong talents, along with transformation, was for visions of the future.” He paused a moment, seeming to consider his words before he continued. “I asked her about it once and she told me that it felt like seeing through another person's eyes, but like someone had taken bits of some memories, put them into a blender at high speed, then served them up with the blender still going. She said it sometimes took her awhile before she could get the visions to make sense due to that, so she used to write them down so that she could think about them. This is the last book she used to make notes on them,” Rolf concluded, putting his hand on the spiral-bound notebook that he'd pulled out from under his bed.

Lex looked at the notebook with awe but just saw a plain book of lined paper with a brown cover and one end of the spiral binding coming loose. Someone had twisted the wire back over the top loop to keep it from completely unraveling. “Did she give that to you?” Lex finally asked, looking over at Rolf curiously.

Sighing, Rolf replied, “No, I had to fight for it.”

When Lex looked at him with a raised eyebrow, he sighed again. “I guess that's more figurative than literal, but I did have to go through a lot of trouble to get this. You see, my father knew about my grandmother's gift and her habit of using a journal to record her visions, so when she died, he searched the house that she'd raised me in until he found this notebook.”

He looked at her again, his fingers trailing along the edge of the spiral binding, and he swallowed before he continued. “I thought at the time that something about me that my family disliked or hated caused them to send me away,” Rolf admitted, his eyes focused on the notebook still. “But I've thought back on it now, and I wonder if it wasn't fear that they showed instead.” Rolf shook his head as if to clear it. “At any rate, the year I graduated from high school and before I went to university, my family insisted that I spend the summer here. I'm still not sure why, because mostly we fought the whole time when I wasn't able to find space to be by myself—or just with Theo—but I started thinking of this notebook. Since my parents wouldn't allow me to get a summer job to occupy my time, I began searching the house for my grandmother's journal instead. It took me the better part of two months, but I finally found it in part of the attic space upstairs. There's a board that's loose under the bed here, so I could hide it. Since no one but me ever seems to go into this room, it's been here ever since.”

Rolf held the notebook out for Lex to look at and she took it, then carefully leafed through the pages. Whoever had written in it had had good penmanship and had written distinctly. “How are your German reading skills?” Rolf asked her.

“So-so,” she admitted, handing the notebook back to Rolf with care. “Could you read it to me?”

He ducked his head, as if he'd been expecting the request but unsure what to say in response. “I will but...well, I think you may find it surprising.”

Lex gave him a curious look, but Rolf didn't glance at her before turning to a page in the book. “The one I wanted to show you is dated a few months before my grandmother's death,” he said. “Although I knew she kept this journal, I never looked at it because she'd always tell me anything that I needed to know if she saw something about me or her in the future. I'm not sure why she didn't share this one with me, but I have to admit to being shocked when I finally read it that summer when I was eighteen; maybe that's why.”

He did glance at Lex then, possibly to make sure she was listening, and Lex smiled at him, all of her attention directed his way. “’I had a dream tonight,’” Rolf read, raising the notebook, “’and I saw Rolf looking in the mirror. I don't know why I worry so much, because he'd become exactly the sort of man any parent would be proud of: strong, handsome, kind, and wise. I felt such relief that my heart sang, and then I saw her standing next to him, his mate. Her eyes were the color of spring while her hair was the color of winter, even though she looked younger than him. She seemed his equal in all things, and though the wisdom and strength she'd gained had come at terrible cost to her, I could see that she was one who'd reach out her hand to help another in a bad situation, not reach out her foot to stomp them down.

“’I could see then how these two would be the salvation of this family and would right the things I was unable to. They would stop the rot at its heart from sickening and killing all of its members, and would allow those who have become sick at heart to become healthy and to thrive again. Some might stand against these two, but they would not prosper as a result.’”

Rolf paused, his expression serious as he looked up at Lex, who met his eyes, her own brow furrowed as she listened. Lifting the notebook again, he continued, “’Since I've been sensing my work here is nearing its end, I am happy to know that it will not be unfinished and that once again the student will surpass the master, which is as it should be. My heart now feels very light.’”

He closed the book then and stared down at it for what seemed a long time. Finally, he looked back up at Lex. “I'm sorry I didn't mention this sooner, but I really didn't know how to tell you. Frankly, after I read through this book, I didn't think about any of what she wrote for a long time. It all seemed sort of farfetched, you know?”

Lex tilted her head to the side. “Did all of her other visions seem strange as well?”

Rolf smiled then. “Well, no. By the time I'd found this book, actually, a number of her visions had come to pass. Most of what she saw seemed to make sense, but...well, I guess I might have been weirded out that she'd actually seen my future as an adult. I think I tried to forget it, but apparently my family hasn't.”

Lex laughed softly. “That's for sure! I thought your brother Karl was going to jump out of his skin when he saw me. I almost wanted to turn and see if a monster had appeared behind me.”

“I think he may be worried that his days in charge are numbered,” Rolf said with a smile. “Although I have no idea what it is that we're supposed to do. I didn't have any plans other than to come out here because they summoned me, whether or not you chose to go. As I said before, there's nothing they can do to stop us from being together,” he finished, reaching for Lex's hand with his left hand while putting the notebook on the bed with his right.

Lex thought about it for a moment. “Well,” she finally replied, “I didn't have anything in mind other than coming out here to be with you, and to make sure that your family behaves themselves.” She shook her head as he gave her an odd look. “I can see from the way they treat you that you've put up with a lot of crap from them, and I think you're a strong person for doing it, but that doesn't make it right. I don't mind biting my tongue more, though, if you'd prefer it.”

Rolf shook his head. “I got used to being at the bottom of the heap here and just putting up with whatever they wanted to do because I only came here a couple times a year. You make a good point, though; I shouldn't have to put up with their abuse just because they want to heap it on me. Don't feel you need to hold back on my account, because it'll give me more reason to speak up about it as well. I don't think there's any way they're going to warm up to us regardless of what we do, so just be yourself.”

Smiling, Lex squeezed Rolf's hand and then stood up, tugging at it. “Come on,” she said, pulling him into the bathroom. Once they both got there, she moved until they stood in front of the medicine cabinet mirror, side by side. “I wonder if she saw something like this,” Lex said, meeting Rolf's eyes in the reflection. “She saw the real color of my hair, too.”

“I hope she did,” he replied, his eyes shining as he smiled. “I’d want her to see how beautiful you are.”

Lex blushed and dipped her head as she laughed, but felt a spike of heat run through her as Rolf slid his arm around her waist and pulled her close. “You always look away when I tell you how lovely you are,” he murmured into her ear in a way that made Lex squirm closer to him. “Come with me and I’ll show you just how beautiful I think you are.”

Their late night caused them to get up later than planned the next day, and although Lex didn’t feel nervous, she held Rolf’s hand as they descended the stairs because, though he appeared calm, she hadn’t missed the tension in the way he held himself. She'd noted before they'd left their room that it had gotten to past ten in the morning, so later, when they got downstairs, she and Rolf found a nervous-looking woman waiting for them in the front entrance hall.

Her shoulder-length, straight hair had been cut so that it moved artfully as she turned her head to see the two of them descend. Lex took note of the many grey threads woven in with the chestnut brown shade and the way the woman's eyes widened as she met Lex's face. Something in the woman's posture changed, and she moved from standing hunched over to something much closer to standing tall. The tan dress she wore and the unobtrusive makeup seemed to say that she wished to blend in more than anything, however, and she dropped her eyes the moment she met Lex's curious gaze.

Lex watched as Rolf stepped forward to reach out to the woman. “Mother,” he said in a clipped tone as he kissed her on the cheek, “I'd like you to meet my fiancée, Lex.”

The woman came forward, her posture timid again, and took Lex's outstretched hand. “It's so nice to finally meet you, my dear. Rolf has said so many good things about you.”

“Thanks,” Lex replied in a serious tone, shaking the delicate hand that had been placed into her own with a minimum of force. “It's great to meet you as well.”

Before she had a chance to add anything more personal to her greeting, she turned as she heard a door bang, and the large man who strode in behind them captured Lex's attention. He seemed to blot out any light coming from the back passage as he strode through the door frame, looking as if his shoulders and the top of his head just cleared the edges. This must be Richard, Lex thought as she studied his curly hair, which had once probably been as black as Rolf's but now appeared more salt and pepper, and then felt a quick sensation of alarm run through her as she compared his height with her own father's. That feeling passed, however, as she watched the way the man in front of her moved. He strode over to her and Rolf with a certain amount of deliberation, in direct opposition to her own father's quick gait. It reminded her of the difference between a bison and a snake.

When their eyes met, however, the deliberation that Richard had shown to that point flagged. He paused and drew his head back, staring at Lex's eyes, his own wide with surprise and dismay, as if his world had been turned on its head in a moment. The pause only lasted a second, but he looked away from Lex as he came forward again, his gaze on Rolf then. He stopped once he towered over the two of them and looked down at the both of them.

“My dear, it's nice to finally meet you,” he said, extending a hand. “Welcome to my home.”

“Thank you,” Lex said, trying to keep her tone neutral as they shook hands. “Please call me Lex, Mr. Kaiser.”

“No need to be so formal,” he said as he let her hand go. “Please call me Father.”

Lex's eyes narrowed for a moment, but that passed and she nodded. At least he doesn't want me to call him Dad, she thought. “All right...Father.”

He turned to Rolf then, and as Lex watched, his eyes seemed to change, becoming stormy. “If you don't mind,” Richard said, “I'd like to speak with Rolf for a while. There are some things we need to catch up on.”

She stared at him for a second, remembering the ways he'd hurt Rolf, before turning to her fiancé. She tried to ask Rolf with her eyes if he wanted her to do anything. He met her gaze with a nod that seemed to tell her that he was all right, so she nodded in response. “All right,” she said with a small smile. “He hasn't had breakfast yet, though, so please don't be long.”

Richard gave a smile that showed too many teeth. “Of course not! Giselle, could you please make sure this charming young lady gets something to eat?”

Rolf's mother nodded as Richard strode past the two of them towards what looked like a study that had been carved out of the living room on the left side of the house. Lex watched for a moment as Rolf followed his father, and then turned to Giselle and smiled. The other woman smiled in return, but looked away.

“We can get you something to eat in the kitchen, if you like,” Giselle said in a small voice. “Or, if you prefer the dining room, you can eat there.”

“The kitchen sounds fine to me,” Lex replied with another smile.

“I like it better, too,” Giselle explained in a low tone as she drew closer to Lex. “The dining room is so big that, unless there are lots of people here, it feels cold and drafty.”

She led Lex past the entrance to the dining room and beyond the stairwell. Taking a door on the right, they came to a large kitchen with a table in the near corner, one big enough to fit four chairs around. Beyond that lay a kitchen island workspace surrounded by cabinets and a sink along the wall, a six-burner range with a stove above and below it, and modern appliances spread in an even row along the counter space next to the sink. A woman Lex hadn't seen before stood rinsing dishes in the sink and stacking them into a dishwasher.

Giselle turned to Lex, her face troubled. “Lex, Mina mentioned that you're a vegetarian? I didn't hear about that before now, so I didn't have time to get the kitchen stocked.”

“Please, don't go to any trouble,” Lex replied, holding up her hands. “I'm pretty flexible about what I'll eat; I just need to avoid anything that came from an animal. My stomach just can't put up with it, I'm afraid.”

“I see,” Giselle responded, looking thoughtful for a moment. “Lenore, please come over here,” she continued after a pause, raising her voice so that the woman heard over the running water. “I need you to go shopping to get some things so that we can properly feed Rolf's fiancée.”

The cook smiled at the two of them as she dried her hands on a nearby dishtowel and came over with a pad of paper and a pen. After a short conversation about what Lex liked to eat, Lenore prepared to go after gathering the ingredients to fix some beans on toast and showing Lex all the relevant appliances.

Lex stirred the beans and watched her future mother-in-law wield a paring knife, cutting up some fruit for a salad that the two of them had decided to share. It surprised Lex to realize that she and Giselle shared the same height, since their body types couldn't be more different otherwise. Giselle's delicate bone structure and slim frame seemed to remind Lex of an exotic, rare bird, and she knew that if she ever hugged the woman that she'd want to put her arms around Giselle without any pressure for fear of breaking her.

Giselle seemed to sense Lex's eyes on her after a while and looked up with a smile that appeared strained, then stared back down at the cutting board. Since they'd met, Lex had felt that the other woman wanted to say something, but Giselle seemed to be having a hard time getting it out. Resolving to be patient, Lex tried to draw her out with silence.

By the time they'd sat at the table and had begun to eat, Lex had almost given up on the idea that Giselle would speak about whatever had been bothering her, though. The food tasted delicious, however, and Lex ate with gusto. The small voice to her left caught her by surprise when it finally began.

“This is the most relaxed that I've ever seen Rolf when he's visited us,” Giselle said, fidgeting in her chair. “I think we have you to thank for that.”

Lex shrugged as she finished her bite of tangy beans and swallowed. “I don't know about that. Rolf is one of the most relaxed, together people I know.”

Giselle shook her head in response, looking at the table. “No, it's more than that. Before now, he's always been so watchful and aware of what every one of us is doing. Now...well, he's more focused, and I saw the way he looks at you, as if nothing bad could ever happen to him again.”

“Well, he does know that I have his back,” Lex said with a smile, “the same way I know he has mine.”

Lex took another bite during the long pause that followed, but listened with care as Giselle continued speaking in a near whisper. “Over the next few days, there are likely to be efforts here to stop all of that. I don't know what Rolf has told you about this family, but you may find out some things you don't like.”

A chill ran through Lex at the other woman's soft pronouncement, but then she smiled when she realized that Giselle was trying to warn her of whatever the rest of the family had planned and of the fact that they had secrets that Lex might not know. “Giselle,” she said, reaching out to cover the other woman's hand with hers, “nothing that will happen here will cause me to change things or break things off with Rolf. I know he feels the same way about me. We'll stick together no matter what, OK?”

Giselle looked up after a couple of seconds, and Lex felt her heart jump into her throat as she saw the tears on the woman's face. “Thank god for you,” she said, her voice sounding husky and half-strangled. “Thank god he has someone to take care of him like he deserves. I wanted to protect him as a child, but I couldn't go against my husband's wishes, so the only thing I ended up being able to do was to make it a matter of family pride to force my husband to send him to the best schools so that at least he could get a good education.” She stopped speaking for a moment to rest her forehead in her hand. “He must hate me, and I don't blame him for it.”

Lex bit her lip and thought about what to say before she finally spoke. “He doesn't hate you. I think he realizes that things were difficult for you and complicated, but he seems to think of you as an ally.”

“Really?” Giselle looked up again, her eyes reddened and full of surprise.

“That's what he told me on the way here while he described all the people I'd meet when we visited and who we would probably be able to count on for help if we needed it. There are some things that he's not supposed to tell me, I know, but from what the two of you have said, I'm assuming there might be some trouble. Don't worry, I'm ready to handle it if it comes.” Lex smiled at the other woman in a way she hoped looked confident, but her heart had started to trip faster as her brain continued working on the problem of what the Kaiser family would throw her way.

“I still can't directly oppose my husband, but I will not allow either of you to be hurt,” Giselle replied in a voice stronger than anything Lex had heard from her so far. “I'll do whatever I can from behind the scenes as well.”

Lex gave a careful squeeze to the delicate hand under hers, and Giselle's other hand came to rest on top of Lex's. “Thank you. I knew we could count on you if we really needed it.” They both paused for a moment then, Lex looking at the table and feeling suddenly shy. “Would you like another cup of tea?” she asked after a long silence.

When Giselle shot her a grateful look, nodding, Lex smiled in return and got up to putter around the kitchen and get all the necessary things together. Once she had two cups of steaming tea, however, Lex thought to look at the clock on the wall and frowned. “They've been in there almost an hour,” she said as she sat back down at the kitchen table with her future mother-in-law. “What do you think they're talking about?”

With the mention of Rolf and her husband, Giselle looked nervous again, her eyes darting from Lex's to look at the table surface. “I don't know for sure, but he seemed furious after, uh...” Giselle answered, trailing off at the end as she glanced over and met Lex's eyes.

Lex felt her shoulders slump. “You know, Rolf told me all about his grandmother's vision of me,” she said, trying not to make it sound like it had happened the previous evening. She couldn't help but smile when Giselle looked at her with wide eyes. “We tell each other pretty much everything, except what he had to promise not to talk about.”

Giselle glanced up again, almost as if caught. Lex grinned back at her and continued. “Although he didn't tell me about your family, I guessed. It's pretty common for people in the Special Forces to have abilities that run in their families.”

“Oh,” Giselle replied, looking more relaxed. After a moment, however, she looked at Lex with a smile. “So does that mean you–”

She stopped speaking as Lex shook her head. “The things I can do aren't like what your family can do, although I do have a friend who does similar things,” Lex said, returning the smile. “Unfortunately, I'll have to keep what I can do a secret for now, just in case I need to use it.” Lex watched Giselle nod in understanding before she stopped speaking, and she glanced at the wall clock one more time and sighed. “You know, Rolf and your husband have been in there way too long. I'm going to go get him back. If your husband gets angry, you can just blame it on me.”

Lex looked at the other woman, expecting a disapproving expression, but instead Giselle gave her a nod. “I'll be here when you both get back,” Giselle replied, taking a sip of her tea, and Lex could swear that she seemed to be trying to hide a growing smile.

Approaching the study from the main hall, Lex could hear raised voices. Or rather, upon reflection, one raised voice, since she could hear a loud voice, not Rolf's, saying something about, “...don't know what you're doing with that girl...” right through the heavy wood door of the study. In the interval after the loud voice, Lex could hear the low murmur of someone replying, and she thought she recognized Rolf's voice, but it sounded too muffled to be certain. Taking a strong stance in front of the door, Lex reached forward and gave a few resounding knocks.

“I'm sorry to interrupt,” she said, turning the handle a second later and finding to her gratification that the door hadn't been locked.

She smiled in what she hoped was a winning way as she leaned her head inside to see Richard standing in front of a big desk, looming over Rolf with an angry expression, and Rolf sitting in a leather upholstered chair, glaring up at his father with an obstinate look.

“My apologies for interrupting,” Lex repeated, continuing to smile although the effort made her cheeks ache. “I know both of you have a lot to catch up on, but Rolf hasn't had anything to eat for hours. Your wife has done an excellent job of entertaining and feeding me, but I was starting to feel lonely for my fiancé. I hope you don't mind if I borrow him for now, and you can finish catching up later.”

Richard had stared at her through her short speech, and Lex had finished half expecting him to shout at her and try to throw her out of the study, but instead something surprising happened. He straightened up and rubbed the back of his head with one big hand as he looked down at the desk, appearing embarrassed. “No, no, that's all right, my dear,” he said, shooting Lex one more quick look and then glancing away again. “You two have a nice breakfast together, and Rolf and I will talk more later.”

Lex finally chanced a look at Rolf, not sure what to expect and hoping he wasn't angry that she'd butted in on something that he seemed to be handling fine on his own, but her heart leaped as she saw his sly grin. “Talk to you later, Father,” he said, his response a shade more casual than Richard appeared to appreciate.

Something in her chest leaped at his touch as he took her hand in his, clasped like he'd never let go, as they walked back to the kitchen. “I hope you don't mind,” she said, her eyes darting to his.

He smiled over at her. “I'm glad you came. I didn't really have any desire to talk to my father for hours on end.”

She grinned back like his partner in crime as she felt his fingers squeeze hers, and they both picked up their pace to arrive in the kitchen almost running. Rolf pulled back for a moment when he saw his mother still sitting at the kitchen table, but Lex moved forward, holding his hand and grinning.

“Come on, Rolf,” she said, pulling him over to take a seat by his mother. “Let's get you something to eat.”

Although it had been stilted at first, by the time Rolf finished eating, the three of them seemed to be having a comfortable conversation, which made Lex smile to herself. Giselle had seemed so hopeful when the two of them had come through the door that Lex wanted to do what she could to show her that Rolf didn't hate her. After they'd finished and she and Rolf had rinsed their dishes off and loaded them in the dishwasher, Giselle told them, “Be sure to dress up for dinner tonight. Your aunts and uncles will be here, and we'll be eating at seven. Everyone will probably start to show up around six thirty, though, so you may want to be downstairs by then to see them. I know your Aunt Lucy has been asking about you,” she concluded, throwing a wistful look at Rolf and a faded smile.

He reached out and grasped his mother's hand and squeezed it once before letting go. “Thanks, Mother. We'll be sure to be around to greet everyone as they get here.”

Giselle smiled brightly but dipped her head, and Lex thought she could see a tear run down the woman's cheek when she nodded at them as they passed by on their way out of the kitchen.

Rolf glanced at Lex as they climbed the stairs back to their room and said, “We don't have time to go all the way out to where my grandmother raised me and get back here for dinner, so how would you like to go for a shorter hike around? I can show you the general outline of the terrain near the house, at any rate. It's not as nice as when the leaves are on the hardwoods, but there are still a lot of spots you'd probably enjoy seeing. What do you think?”

“Will your father come looking for you?” Lex asked, trying not to frown.

Rolf gave a quiet laugh, but the look in his eyes didn't seem humorous. “No, I think he'll leave it for the time being. There's an event coming up soon that I think he's got something sneaky planned for, though. I'll keep my eyes open and try to prevent whatever plot he's got going on, but keep your own open as well, and don't hesitate to defend yourself at any point if you feel threatened, all right?”

Lex nodded but said nothing as they got back to their room and started picking out some warm layers for a hike outside. Once she and Rolf had left the house, she zipped her fleece tighter around her neck and snuggled into it, glad she'd taken the time to dress with care. It had turned out to be a bright, cold, wintry day where the sky blazed a watery blue and the sun shone but didn't seem to heat what it lit up. She followed Rolf as he led her on a circular route around the house, pointing out some of the nearby features he liked the most, but she began taking mental notes as she realized that he might really be showing her some of the most common routes through the forest from the house, and some features of the land that others might not know. Lex didn't ask Rolf about it, figuring from the concerned looks he gave her when he thought she'd faced the other way that he couldn't talk about it, and tried to clamp down on her worry, which had started to take on monumental proportions if the upset mess that was her stomach was any indication.

After they'd both had a shower and began dressing for dinner that evening, Lex started to feel more at ease. She'd only brought one dress with her: a black wool knit, fitted from its turtleneck and long sleeves through the waist where it flared out to end just below her knee. The black boots with the short heel that she wore with it didn't give it any more color, but she wore a patterned silk scarf with jeweled tones of emerald green and a red that seemed to match her hair. For jewelry, she wore only the ring Rolf had given her and a silver metal belt of open links to echo the ring itself. Smiling as she looked at Rolf in the mirror, she asked, “So, what do you think?”

He took a moment from struggling with his tie to look at her. “I think you'll be the most beautiful woman there,” he replied with a grin. “I wonder, though, do you have any experience with this sort of tie?”

Lex grinned in return. “Not really, but I'll help if I can.”

Somehow, the two of them figured out how to do up the bow tie, and when they'd finished, Lex stepped back to see how Rolf looked. She studied his black jacket and slacks, his starched shirt and tie, and had to glance away. “What?” he asked, now frowning in the mirror. “Does it look bad?”

“No, quite the opposite,” Lex said, turning to meet his eyes in the reflection. “It made me wonder how it would look coming off you. Maybe we should get downstairs before we're very late.”

He grinned again and kissed her. She melted into it for a moment, then forced herself to step back and take his arm. As she walked at his side down the stairs, she saw Theo and Mina as they neared the ground floor, Theo also in black tie and Mina in an off-the-shoulder red dress that seemed to emphasize the delicate lines of her collarbones and shoulders before it dipped to a V-neck and a fitted bodice and then billowed out into a full skirt. Lex smiled as she noticed the shade of Mina's dress when she came close to hug the other woman.

“I feel like I fit in here, somehow,” she said as she leaned her head on Mina's shoulder, noting how close her hair color was to the color of the dress.

Mina chuckled in return. “I wanted to make you feel at home,” she said, giving Lex a broad smile.

Theo and Rolf shook hands and greeted one another with grins as they moved into the living room to a long table along one wall that had been set up like a bar. Mina and Lex followed them and arrived just in time for Theo to hand a glass to Lex.

“Rolf mentioned that you don't drink, so how about a tonic water and lime?” he asked.

She smiled and nodded as she took the drink, and the four of them clinked glasses after Rolf finished pouring a beer for himself. Lex couldn't seem to stop smiling at the other three, and they all just grinned back as if they'd all figured out the same secret. Lex studied Theo for a moment and realized the suit he wore seemed similar to Rolf's. She'd been about to ask when she heard another woman say, “You girls both look so beautiful.”

Lex and Mina turned at the same time to see Giselle entering the room on Richard's arm. “Thank you,” Mina said, taking Lex's hand as she went forward to kiss her mother-in-law on the cheek.

Mina stepped back and Lex smiled as she looked at Giselle. “You look wonderful as well,” Lex said, surveying the woman's lacy white dress with its square neckline, puffed shoulders, fitted bodice, and long, trailing skirt.

Giselle blushed as she allowed herself to be guided towards the rest of the group, where Richard had hurried over and seemed to be trying to intimidate his two sons. Lex felt the smile on her face turn sly as she watched Rolf give his much larger father a calm glance, not bothered by his tactics. Theo looked worried but appeared to gain some courage by Rolf's display and so continued to stand at his brother's side. Lex sidled up to Rolf and took his hand as she smiled at Richard.

“Hello, Father!” she said, trying her best to make it sound as cheerful as possible.

“Ah,” he said, straightening up and taking a step back. “Hello, Lex. I see these boys had the manners to get you something to drink at least.”

“They were very charming about it. You must be so proud to have two wonderful sons like them,” she said, grinning at Rolf and Theo and completely sincere for the moment.

Rolf looked away, seeming embarrassed, but Theo just raised an eyebrow and beamed back at her. Richard's head drew back with a surprised expression before he nodded. “Yes, of course I am,” he said after a long pause, his voice still betraying a measure of bewilderment.

“Could I get you something to drink, Father?” Theo asked, still grinning.

Richard had been about to answer when a noise at the living room entrance grabbed everyone's attention. Two boys, one around age five and one maybe ten, Lex estimated, rushed in. The younger stumbled as if pushed and the older of the two yelled something about having had a toy broken.

“Boys!” A loud voice from the entrance to the room captured Lex’s attention, and most everyone else’s, and Lex turned to stare at Sandra. She couldn't help but smirk at the woman's obviously thwarted desire to have a grand entrance; she stood with one arm raised, pointing at the boys, her dark blue dress tight in the bodice and with a dipping neckline that showed off her cleavage. The skirt of her dress looked voluminous and spread out around her like waves. “You will behave yourselves in front of your grandparents! Go greet them at once.”

The two boys seemed cowed by her words, and Lex watched them walk over to where Giselle and Mina stood by the table with their drinks. “Hello, Grandmother,” the boys said in unison. Lex frowned as she realized the two of them also wore suits, and as they moved closer after greeting Giselle, she could see that their attire seemed identical, although the two boys who wore them seemed quite different in temperament and appearance. The older of the two had almost black hair, blue eyes, and a manner straightforward enough to be abrasive, continuing to push his brother around to follow him. The younger seemed quiet and thoughtful, his hair chestnut colored and his eyes hazel, and he reluctantly came with his brother, seeming as if he would prefer a quiet corner and a book instead.

“Hello, Grandfather,” they chorused, having moved to stop in front of Richard.

Lex heard Richard ask the boys about what they'd done that day, but she found her attention drawn to the younger boy, who stood quiet instead of replying. Instead of listening to what his brother was saying, he'd turned his head in Lex's direction and stood looking her in the eye, his expression serious. Returning his look, Lex gave a gentle smile. The boy's eyes rounded in surprise, then he appeared to relax and smiled tentatively in return.

Bending her knees so that she and the boy stood at more of an even height, Lex said, “Hi, I'm Lex. What's your name?”

“Will,” he said, looking at her once again with a serious expression.

She nodded and offered him her hand, which he shook with equal gravity. “It's nice to meet you, Will. I don't know if you've heard, but I'm going to marry your uncle Rolf.”

He began to nod in response but got interrupted by a voice at his elbow. “Her eyes are a weird color!”

Lex and Will both turned to look at the other boy, who now stood staring into Lex's face. She straightened up to get away from the older boy, but felt taken by surprise as Will replied in a calm tone. “I think they're beautiful. Like spring.”

A breath of silence seemed to follow Will's pronouncement, and Lex felt a chill as a number of people's eyes met around the room. Lex lifted her own gaze to meet up with Rolf's, and she found herself smiling again to match his. The older child's voice broke the silence, however. “They're weird,” he insisted, turning to his younger brother. “Just like you. Even grandfather says she's a freak.”

The silence seemed more pronounced for a second, followed by an attempt at a return to conversation by Giselle and Mina, both of whom couldn't seem to look at anything other than the floor. Sandra appeared in a moment to grab the boys' arms and lead them away, her face pale. Lex couldn't help but find the situation funny, wondering how a man who could turn into a wolf felt comfortable labeling someone else a freak, but she tried not to laugh, instead looking up to meet Richard's eye for a moment even though he seemed to be trying to evade hers.

“Well, I'd say that's a rather harsh judgment, all things considered,” Lex turned to reply to the older boy just before Sandra hauled him away, but by the time she finished speaking, keeping great emphasis on the final three words, she'd finally met Richard's eye.

The man looked alarmed, as if wondering what Lex seemed to know, but then three new arrivals coming in the front door, appearing at the same time as Karl, captured Lex's attention. As the new people walked inside, however, Lex spotted Sandra pulling Karl back towards the stairs, her free hand on his as she leaned close to him, muttering and frowning.

Lex felt a hand tugging on hers and looked over to see something she loved: Rolf's excited, happy smile. “Come on, I want to introduce you to some of my aunts and uncles.”

She smiled herself as she let him pull her in the direction of the front hall. She saw the three people there—two men and a woman—in various stages of removing their coats. The taller of the two men helped the woman off with her coat. He stood about a head shorter than Richard but his build seemed much slimmer. Once he'd hung up his wife's coat, Lex guessed, he took off his own to reveal a suit not too different from what Rolf wore and glanced about with an anxious expression. The other man stood a couple inches taller than Rolf with black. curly hair and a wry grin. He wore his suit and black tie with the air of someone who suffers it because it's expected, but to Lex it somehow seemed like he secretly considered the whole thing a joke. Just looking at him made Lex's smile widen, and she felt she liked him already.

The woman who'd arrived at the same time turned first towards Rolf and Lex, however. She stood an inch or two shorter than Lex and had shoulder-length, wavy blonde hair and warm brown eyes. As Rolf met her gaze, she smiled as if in reply to Rolf's.

“Hello, Aunt Lucy,” he said, still grinning. “I'd like to introduce you to my intended, Lex McKilliam.”

The woman turned to Lex, her expression open and happy. “It's so nice to finally meet you, Lex. I can tell you've been making Rolf happy,” she continued, turning to look at her nephew, who ducked his head and blushed. “Welcome to the family.”

Lex tried not to beam in reply, feeling shy, but something else overrode that feeling and she asked, “Aunt Lucy, would it be all right if I gave you a hug?”

Although she looked surprised, Lucy didn't draw back but instead laughed. “Of course, Lex.”

Smiling, Lex leaned in and took the woman in her arms for a hug, gently at first since she'd had Giselle's delicate fragility in mind, but she hugged Lucy tighter as she felt strong, wiry arms wrap around her to give her a real embrace. Lex spoke softly as her lips ended up near Lucy's ear.

“I wanted to thank you for taking such good care of Rolf when he was younger,” Lex said, feeling a jolt of surprise pass through Lucy's frame at her words. “He hasn't forgotten what you did, and neither will I.”

She leaned back as she and Lucy separated, and Lex held onto the blonde's forearms with a smile for a moment before letting Lucy go. Lucy had a shocked expression on her face, but after a second her brown eyes began to get bright, Lex noticed, before Lucy ducked her head.

When she looked up a moment later, she had a fond smile on her face. “No thanks are necessary, Lex. It's always my pleasure to have him with us.” She paused then, looking Lex up and down for a minute. “I see his judgment continues to be as good as I remember it, not that I expected anything less.”

Something about the way she spoke, although her German sounded clear and well-pronounced, made Lex think of another language. “Are you from England, by any chance?”

Lucy gave her a big smile this time. “Oh, so Rolf didn't mention that?” she asked, in English this time, turning to Rolf with a teasing expression.

Lex looked over at Rolf as well, taking in his fond, sheepish expression as he looked at the two of them. “Well, Rolf didn't seem to like to talk about his family too much, and I didn't want to pry because I certainly couldn't blame him. I don't like to talk about my family a lot, either.”

That statement made Lucy raise an eyebrow. “Well, you may need to make an exception tonight,” she said in an undertone. “If anything goes too badly or if you need to leave at any time this week, call me right away,” Lucy continued, looking at both Rolf and Lex. “The two of you can stay with us for as long as you like.”

Lex's thanks stuck in her throat as she blinked a few times to deal with her own overly bright eyes, and she watched as Lucy stepped back. “I should apologize for being rude,” she said, switching back into German. “I haven't introduced my husband yet. Lex, this is Rolf's Uncle Claus,” she said, taking his hand in hers and stepping forward so that he followed her.

“It's so nice to meet you,” Lex said as the two of them shook hands. “I understand that Rolf spent some time with the two of you while he was a teenager. Thank you for your hospitality.”

The man seemed to flinch but smiled grimly nonetheless. “Not at all, young lady,” he said, his voice low. “He was always a good boy.”

His tone sounded sure, but something about what he said seemed to make him nervous again, and Lex followed his gaze as he looked across the room, finally ending on Richard. She made sure to be smiling as Claus looked back at her. He nodded, then looked over at his wife, offering his arm. Lucy smiled at him as she took it.

“I'm so glad to finally meet you, Lex,” Lucy said just before she and Claus walked into the living room. “I'd like to have the two of you over for dinner or something before you leave the area, if nothing's been planned for you late this week.”

Lex watched Rolf return his Aunt's smile. “I think we could manage to get away at the end at least. I'll check and let you know,” he replied.

As Claus and Lucy walked away, Rolf stepped forward with a happy grin. “Uncle Pete,” he said as they both shook hands, “I'd like you to meet my intended, Lex.”

He stepped back to allow Lex to come forward. She couldn't help but match the man's devilish grin. Pete spent a moment looking her over, trying to seem thoughtful, although he couldn't seem to keep a serious air. “Well, Rolf,” he finally said as he stood back, regarding Lex as someone would a work of art. “I offer you my congratulations. Welcome to the family, Lex,” he finished as he reached forward to shake her hand.

She found that she continued to grin as she shook Pete's outstretched hand. “Thank you,” she finally replied, “and thank you for everything you did for Rolf over the years.”

Lex watched as his eyes darkened as he looked to the side, his lips turned down. “I never did very much,” he said in a quiet voice.

“That's not the way I hear it,” she replied, and smiled as his gaze turned back to hers, his expression softening as he looked at her.

“Smart, beautiful, and kind,” he said, glancing over at Rolf and shaking his head. “I can see why you fell for this one, Rolf.”

Rolf just grinned in reply, squeezing Lex's hand as they stood together.

“So,” Pete continued, looking at Rolf, “do you think your fiancée would object to being escorted by two men this evening?”

He crooked his elbow as he finished speaking, looking over at Lex now. Lex glanced up at Rolf, who lifted an eyebrow as if to say to make her own decision. She smiled and slipped one hand onto Pete's forearm. “Sounds lovely to me,” Lex replied as Rolf moved to her other side.

“All right then,” Pete murmured, just loud enough for the two of them to hear, “let's have some fun.”

Lex knew she wasn't the only one still grinning as the three of them walked into the living room. Just for a moment, she felt most of the eyes in the room on her, and she swept the group, taking in Theo's return grin as he held up a fresh drink for her, Mina's gentle smile as she stood between her husband and Giselle, Giselle's hopeful eyes, and Lucy's wide smile as she looked back and forth between Rolf and Lex. Claus stood behind Lucy, seeming to take strength from her proximity though still he wouldn't look in Richard's direction. Richard stood slightly apart from the group, regarding the three of them with an expression that, to Lex's mind, appeared troubled. As they reached the middle of the room and Lex took her hand from Pete's arm in order to accept the drink Theo offered her, everyone seemed to pause as an icy voice sounded out from the hallway.

“What is all of this about?”

Turning, Lex spotted Karl and Sandra standing behind an older couple. The woman seemed not far from Karl's height and wore a beaded black dress with a high neck and severe lines, but her long auburn hair fell freely down her back as she gave the room in general a frown. The man standing just behind her had a self-effacing air and gazed off to one side, as if something on the wall had caught his interest. His blonde hair had been cut short above his starched collar, and he wore the same type of black suit as the rest of the men in the room.

After a moment of surprise, Rolf stepped forward, taking Lex's hand. “Aunt Brigitte, Uncle Fred, I'd like to introduce my intended, Lex.”

Brigitte raised an eyebrow in what appeared to be skepticism. “Is that her real name?”

Lex broke in, adding, “My full name is Alexandra McKilliam. Pleased to meet you. I'll have to apologize for the informal introduction, but I am a former American.”

She held out a hand and smiled at Brigitte, half expecting to be rebuffed. Brigitte studied her for a moment, then tipped her head back as if considering something. “Alexandra, eh?” she finally said, fixing Lex with a quick look. “I can see why you prefer the nickname. Lex, then.”

Brigitte nodded as she took Lex's hand and shook it once before letting go. She walked into the living room then, headed in the direction of the makeshift bar, and her husband followed her with a quick pace after stopping for a second to bow to Lex. Karl and Sandra slunk into the room a moment later, Karl glaring in the general direction of where Rolf and Lex stood before he headed for the bar as well.

At that point, the servant Lex had seen the previous day at dinner appeared at the entrance to the living room to announce that dinner was ready, and suddenly Rolf and Pete appeared at Lex's elbows.

“My lady,” Pete said, his voice low-pitched and struggling to keep his expression grave, “if we could escort you to dinner?”

Lex looked at Rolf in turn and noted his small, amused grin. “That sounds wonderful,” she said as she put one hand on Rolf forearm and her other on Pete's and matched her pace to theirs on their way to the dining room.

Forward to Chapter 52
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