Well, readers, this is the last chapter of this story that I'll be posting in LiveJournal. Due to the new user restrictions here, I'm going to be moving to a new permanent web home at some point, but for the moment, I'll continue posting this story on Wattpad. You can find me there using the address here. Also note that I'll be taking the rest of the summer off, so I'll be posting the first chapter of Book 4 there on September 16, 2017.
This is the last chapter that my editor-in-chief, gwoman was able to help me in editing. Her help was invaluable in bringing this story to you, so please give her a round of thanks for her role in this story.
Back to Chapter 56
Lex looked at herself in the mirror in Lily's room again, her earlier foreboding gone. At that moment, she felt only wonder.
“Serena, you've outdone yourself,” she said, turning from side to side to look at herself. The redness on her face that would certainly be bruises later had been hidden, and Serena had done something that only seemed to enhance the other-worldliness of Lex’s neon green eyes.
Serena appeared in the mirror behind her, meeting Lex's gaze in the reflection. “You're sure you like it? I had to use more than I wanted to in order to cover up some of the damage they did.”
Lex looked up at Serena as the back of her friend's fingers barely stroked her cheek along where the bruises would appear. She took Serena's hand as the other woman began to move away. “Are you all right?” Lex asked in a low, serious voice.
As Serena turned away, Lex thought she could see the sparkle of tears in her friend's eyes. “I'm fine, I'm just being silly,” Serena replied, her voice heavy and sad. After a moment, she continued. “It's just that when I saw all of you like that...I felt so worried that I'd never see you alive again, and I couldn't do a thing!”
Her voice broke then, and Lex stood up, taking hold of both of her friend's arms. “Hey, hey,” Lex murmured. “Don't cry Serena. If you start crying, you're going to make me do it, too, and then I'll spoil all your good work.”
Sniffling, Serena took the tissue that Lex offered her. “Sorry.”
“Don't be sorry! I saw what you did. You saved us all. So much for there being nothing you could do,” Lex replied, trying to catch Serena's downcast eyes.
Finally Serena looked up and smiled, although her eyes still seemed watery. “That looks more like you,” Lex said, squeezing her friend's hand and letting go. “Are you feeling better now?”
“Yes, I'm fine,” Serena replied, and Lex thought she heard her friend's breath still catching as she inhaled, but her smile seemed more confident now. “Don't worry about me: it's your day.”
Lex shook her head at that idea as she grinned in response, but took a final look at herself in the mirror. She'd helped Rolf put on his suit before she'd changed her outfit to the green dress they'd discussed earlier. Serena had also styled her hair, sprayed floral-smelling perfume on her, and had brought some simple jewelry for Lex to wear, which had completed her outfit well. Turning to look at Serena, Lex thought she looked as if she'd gotten her upset feelings out of her system
“All right, let's go downstairs and catch up with everyone else,” Lex said after a few seconds, turning to leave with Serena.
When they got to the living room, however, Lex only saw Casey and Lily, who'd been about halfway done with Casey's makeup by the time Lex had arrived in her room from changing her dress. “Where are the guys?” Lex asked in confusion.
“I told the transport to go on to the hotel,” Serena answered. “If you need them to take you somewhere later, they'll be there, but it made more sense for me to take you over there myself.”
“All right, I guess we can go whenever you're ready, then,” Lex replied, giving Lily's black satin gown and Casey's makeup and wedding dress a final glance before noting the nods of agreement the other two sent her way.
Casey and Lily came closer to Serena, and then all four of them appeared near the front of the room they'd rented for the wedding, just behind a table with a large flower arrangement on it. Lex peered at the rest of the area from behind the irises and tulips, pleased at the way the sunlight coming through the stained glass windows caused them to glow and added to the light in the room. Formally dressed people stood all around the room talking, and no one seemed to have spotted them yet. When Lex caught Rolf's eye, picking him out from a small cluster of people on the opposite side of the front of the room, she couldn't help but smile at the look on his face.
He put his hand on Lou's arm, and the two of them turned around to look at Lex and Casey. Lex glanced up at Casey's brilliant smile, matching Lou's grin across the room. When she met Rolf's eyes again, her breath caught as time seemed to stop for a moment, then catch up with them again.
She noticed movement out of the corner of her eye then, and it seemed some of Rolf's cousins had been watching him, because they'd noticed him turn and then spotted the new arrivals. The news seemed to travel through the room in waves as the conversation slowed or stopped and their guests began looking to the front.
Rolf stepped out from the group he’d been with and came to the center of the room and held his hand out, waiting and looking at Lex with a smile. She couldn’t help but return it, but felt hesitant as she glanced across the room, now hushed with everyone looking in their direction. All of her concerns seemed to melt away, however, when she focused on Rolf as he took a step closer, still holding out his hand, patiently watching her.
Lex smiled brightly then even though it still felt uncomfortable, and moved forward herself, followed by Casey. The applause from the room beyond them sounded muffled, as if the small group of them had somehow become isolated.
“Are you ready?” Rolf asked in a quiet tone, his gold eyes shining.
“Definitely,” Lex replied, feeling a wave of assurance wash through her. She squeezed his hand before letting go and turning to see past Casey to her left as the celebrant came to stand between Lou and Casey, facing the rest of the room.
The excitement of the day seemed to catch up to Lex then, and she missed the introduction to the ceremony as she took a moment to appreciate the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows, creating colorful patches on the wooden floor. She smiled as she turned her head to look at some of the flower arrangements that stood on a long table behind the man speaking to the crowd. Lex had worried she wouldn't fit the colors they'd chosen, since she'd had to change her dress, but she realized now that she shouldn't have been concerned. Turning to the small knot of people Lou and Rolf had been standing with as her group had arrived, Lex caught Victor's eye and smiled, then glanced over at the flowers again. He met her eye as she gazed in his direction once more, giving her a small grin in return.
She found her attention pulled back to the ceremony again as she heard the lead-in to the vows. The four of them had gotten together to write something they could all agree on. Love, honor, and cherish had been at the top of the list. “After all,” as Casey had put it, leaning over to push her shoulder against Lou's, “I try to do all of that right now, anyway.”
At the wedding, however, she'd mumbled her way through the initial vows, the events of the day seeming to make her forget them even as she said them, though she’d remembered each one clearly as they’d written them, but she could remember the final vow clearly.
“Do you, Lex, take Rolf to be your lawfully wedded husband?” the man finally asked her.
Lex found her eyes glued to Rolf's. “I do,” she answered, feeling a tight knot she hadn't realized had taken residence in her chest unwind.
“Do you, Rolf, take Lex to be your lawfully wedded wife?” he asked.
Rolf continued to meet her gaze, his gold eyes steady and deep. “I do,” he said, his voice low and emphatic.
Since Lex and Rolf had been last to speak, the celebrant smiled. “Congratulations, I now pronounce you both,” he said, looking first at Casey and Lou, and then at Rolf and Lex, “man and wife. You may now kiss your brides.”
Lex felt a surge go through her as she and Rolf seemed to step forward as one. She smiled and closed her eyes as the two of them came together, gently at first, and then hungrier, as Lex ignored the twinge in her recovering mouth and pushed forward, opening Rolf’s lips along with her own. Taking a sharp breath through her nose in surprise as he pulled back to run his tongue quickly along her lower lip, she shivered, then relaxed as his arms tightened around her.
She blinked as they pulled apart, the two of them both out of breath. Rolf looked at her with a raised eyebrow, trying to make sure she was all right. Lex grinned as she moved back, keeping her hand in his. “Come on, Rolf,” she said, her voice pitched low enough for only him to hear. “Everyone's going to want to see my new husband.”
He gave her a huge smile at that and turned along with her towards the crowd they'd invited r, and only then could she hear the applause and cheers surrounding them. Lex smiled as she looked the room over, nodding at her friends from work and at her new relatives on Rolf's side. She turned her head to look at Lou and Casey, who both sported grins of their own. When Casey spotted Lex looking, she leaned over to give her friend a playful nudge.
“Come on, Lex, we have to get down there and say hi to everyone,” Casey said, still grinning.
Lex nodded and turned to Rolf. Tugging on her hand, he went towards the left side of the crowd while Casey and Lou headed towards the right. They all began shaking hands and hugging people as their guests surged forward to give their congratulations. Over an hour later, Lex smiled in relief when it seemed they'd greeted everyone, and she and Rolf arrived at the table near the front of the room where places had been set for them.
As they sat at one end of the long table, Lex looked out over the room at all of their friends and relatives. Serena had moved on from talking to Captain Shapiro and his wife and had now begun to chat up one of Rolf's older cousins, a slim man about a head taller than Serena, his dark hair cut short with longer bangs in front that seemed to bring attention to his deep blue eyes. Riss had taken over a quiet corner of the room just behind one of the flower arrangements and had a laptop open, looking focused but not as serious as usual. Derek and Victor sat one table away with a plate of food between them that they seemed to have forgotten as the two of them discussed something, Victor's hands moving as he talked and Derek nodding, then speaking up himself.
Mr. Chen, Ron, and Lily had sat at a table on the other side of the room, nearer to Lou and Casey, but Lex could see them together, Ron and Mr. Chen conversing as the boy stood by his grandfather's chair, and Lily eating beside them as she watched the two. Lou and Casey stood behind their places at the table, talking to Tamara and Meg, and Lex took a moment to admire Meg's off-the-shoulder red taffeta dress before turning to survey the rest of the room.
Before she had a chance, one of Rolf's younger cousins put two plates of food in front of them and then continued on his way. “Hilda thought you two wouldn't have been able to eat before this, and I owed her a favor, so enjoy!” he said, grinning over his shoulder.
Lex returned it, also taking a moment to gaze over the room, her heart expanding at seeing all of the happy people that had come together. “This is real, isn't it?” she asked, giving Rolf a sidelong gaze and a tentative smile.
“As real as it could be,” he replied, moving a fork full of mashed potatoes in her direction. “Why? Having second thoughts?”
He kept his tone light, but Lex could hear a real inquiry there. As she swallowed the food, she said, “Not at all. I was just thinking that everything seems too good to be true.”
Rolf grinned then as Lex picked up some of the pasta salad on her plate and brought it over to feed Rolf. “I know what you mean,” Rolf replied just before he ate what she'd offered him.
They continued eating, sometimes from their own plates and sometimes feeding one another, until a few minutes later when Rolf's mother arrived at their table, out of breath.
“You two, you two,” she began, waving her hands around and blushing. “You looked so lovely up there, but I wanted to say–”
“Mother,” Rolf interrupted in a quiet voice, but when he observed her drooping expression after he did, he started again in a gentler tone. “Mom, I just wanted to say thanks. Aunt Lucy told me how you and Uncle Claus volunteered to keep charge of everyone and protect our friends here.”
Giselle blushed and turned her face to the side. “I wanted to be there to help you, but I knew Lucy would do so much better than I would. Besides, we wanted everyone to be safe and we didn't know if anyone would be coming here.”
“It was good thinking,” Rolf replied. “You may have heard that it was the same people who did the series of bank burglaries last year. Somehow they found out about our wedding today, so they could easily have sent someone out here as well.”
“I'm just so glad you're all right,” Giselle replied with a sigh. “We were ready for anything, but the only thing I ended up doing here was minding Ron for a while. He's such a smart young man, so polite and curious!”
“You know,” Lex jumped in, “his mother and grandfather are the only family he has on this continent. I'm sure he wouldn't mind being adopted by another grandmother.”
Smiling at the idea, Giselle turned to look at Rolf, but her smile seemed to evaporate as she thought of something else. “I am so sorry that I couldn't convince your father to be here,” she said in a strangled tone, trying not to be heard over the swell of voices surrounding them.
Rolf reached for her hand, his face serious. “It doesn't matter that he didn't come, or Karl and Sandra, either. It matters that you came.”
Giselle looked as if she didn't know whether to smile or cry, instead leaning in to kiss her son's cheek and then Lex's. “Bless you both,” she said, and Lex started to feel herself blinking back tears just the way Giselle seemed to be doing.
The moment ended up being short lived, however, since Ron had caught sight of her at the next table. “Auntie Giselle!” he said, standing beside his chair and waving.
Giving a final smile at Rolf and Lex, Giselle moved off to stop at the Chens' table, taking a seat beside Mr. Chen after a few minutes. Lex smiled to see the small group of them talking together and then looked at Rolf. His expression seemed melancholy, but he shook it off as he returned Lex's gaze.
“You know,” he said before taking another bite of food, “I think we'd better eat as fast as we can, because otherwise I don't think we will at all.”
Lex laughed in response and nodded. After a few minutes, however, she found her over-excited stomach nearing its capacity and slowed down. She looked at the wooden floor in the center of the room, ringed by tables but otherwise free of obstructions, and at the DJ who stood setting up gear at the other end of the room, and she grinned.
“You know, I think I'd like to dance with you later this evening,” she said, giving Rolf a playful glance.
“Really?” he replied, trying to keep a straight face as he appeared to think about the matter. “Well, in that case, I'll see what can be done about that.”
A group of Rolf's cousins they hadn't had a chance to greet earlier stopped by their table at that moment, so Rolf dropped the subject until about an hour had passed. All four of them took to the dance floor then while some half-remembered Frank Sinatra song played in the background.
“You said you wanted some dancing, so here we are,” Rolf said, murmuring the words in her ear as he held her close, swaying along with her to the slow beat of the music.
Lex couldn't help but smile as the edges of his hair tickled the side of her face. “Well done, but I wonder who picked this music out?” She glanced over at the table the DJ had set up at, seeing Riss lecturing the man with a stern look on her face, her hands on her hips. “I guess Riss thinks the same way. He'd better watch out: if he pisses her off too much, she'll fire him on the spot and break out her laptop instead.”
She could feel the chuckle reverberate through Rolf's chest due to the close hold they had on one another. As they moved together, Lex couldn't help but think about Hardy's threat and what might happen if he managed to make good on it, at least until she felt Rolf pulling his head back to look at her. She smiled but looked away as she saw his expression.
“I know you too well to think you've forgotten about what happened earlier,” Rolf began, pulling her close again and murmuring into her ear. “However, I do want to remind you that even if Hardy does his worst, which I admit is likely, it will probably be weeks before even he can get the right connections, which should be plenty of time for us to go on vacation and be back to work before we need to figure out what to do.”
She'd started out listening while biting her lip, but Lex had been forced to let it go as she really heard what Rolf had to say and couldn't help smiling again. “You're right, of course,” she responded, “and I'll try to forget about it for a while, but I can't swear that I'll actually be able to.”
“As long as you give it a try, that's all I ask,” Rolf replied, turning his head to catch her eye and return her smile. “After all, we should try to enjoy our time off. I don't think we've had the time to go to the beach together before.”
She smiled at that, nuzzling into the side of Rolf's neck while thinking of having the next couple of weeks with him alone in a small cottage along a quiet beach. A minute later, however, Lex turned her head to listen as the song ended and the music changed over to something that sounded more like the electronica that Riss favored, and she nodded.
“Apparently she got him to see reason,” Lex said with a low chuckle.
She felt Rolf draw breath to respond, but he didn't end up saying anything, instead looking up as a shadow fell across them. “How do you feel about switching partners?” Lou asked, leaning over to look at Rolf and Lex.
The two exchanged glances and Lex shrugged with a gentle grin. “All right,” Rolf replied, moving away from Lex, “but only for this dance.”
Watching as Rolf took Casey's hand and moved a few feet away, Lex craned her neck to look Lou in the eye. “I think I'm going to get a cramp looking up at you,” she said, moving closer as Lou put his arms around her waist. After a moment of trying to get comfortable with her hands barely able to reach his shoulders, Lex sighed. “I don't think this is working so well,” she said. “My arms are kind of short.”
Lou chuckled and looked down at her with a smile. “Why don't you just rest them on my arms, or put them around my waist? It should be easier to talk that way anyway.”
Lex found herself grinning again as she settled one arm on Lou's bicep and the other on his forearm. “Good point. So, how are you feeling after all that excitement this morning?”
She watched as his face darkened for a moment, but he looked thoughtful as he returned her gaze again. “Not bad, all things considered. They couldn't really do anything to me or Casey without firing, just threaten us, so we're both fine. Casey is still upset about it, though.”
Raising an eyebrow, Lex asked, “Is she just shaken up, or what?”
“She blames herself that it happened since they caught her first,” Lou explained.
“It's not her fault,” Lex replied, shaking her head. “No one knew they were watching us. It was just luck; it could have as easily been any one of the rest of us.”
“I know, I've told her that,” Lou said with a sigh. “You know how stubborn she can be, though, when she takes up for something.”
Lex nodded, her mind flung back to waking up for the first time with new eyes to find Casey at her bedside. “I know, I know. Not that that's always a bad thing, though.”
Lou smiled in return, seemingly calling on some memories of his own. “Not at all.”
After a few seconds of silence, Lex brought Lou back by asking, “So, are you two ready for your honeymoon? You're going to the mountains, right?”
Nodding, Lou replied, “Yes. Since Casey grew up in the plains and never really saw anything more than some of the lower hills in the Appalachians, she's been wanting to see something taller ever since. It should be a good time of year to get some hiking in, and there are a couple of small towns we're planning to visit high in the mountains.”
“How's your German?” Lex asked, remembering going over their proposed route with Casey and that most of the places they'd discussed visiting were in Switzerland or Austria.
Making a face, Lou shrugged. “Mine's not bad, I suppose, but I seem to have been improving my French more. Casey's been getting good with it, though, at least according to what Rolf said.”
Lex looked over at the pair a few feet away on the dance floor and smiled again as she realized the scraps of conversation she'd been hearing were indeed in German. “Looks like you'll be in good hands, then.”
“How about the two of you?” Lou asked with a knowing smile. “To the south of France, then?”
Unable to stop her wide smile, Lex did ease down on it when she felt the stab of pain in her face. “Yes. We found a nice cottage on a remote beach, and we're planning to spend most of our time just enjoying the solitude.”
Lou nodded then, still smiling. “Sounds just perfect.”
They danced and talked for a few more minutes through the end of the song, and Lex found herself and Lou rejoined by Rolf and Casey. More people had moved out onto the dance floor, and they formed a loose group as they continued dancing, since the next song had a strong, fast beat to it.
As the evening wore on, Lex found herself dancing with Rolf as often as with someone else during slow songs, either her coworkers or some of Rolf's cousins or uncles. At one point during a run of fast songs, Lex was dancing surrounded by some of the women who'd made this moment possible—Casey, Lily, Riss, Kate—with Derek and Victor not far away.
After talking to Casey when the song ended, to make sure her friend knew she didn't blame her for the events early in the day, Lex took the opportunity when Rolf had gone off to get more drinks for the two of them, and she spotted Derek standing by one of the flower arrangements next to the dance floor.
“If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have been celebrating a wedding today at all. Thank you for saving my life.”
Lex had looked right into Derek's eyes as she'd said that, and couldn't help but smile as Derek blushed bright red and looked away. “Now, Ms. Lex, that's not how I see it at all.”
Raising an eyebrow, she said, “How else do you see it?”
“Well, when I first came here, I tried to kill you. I didn't, I know, but if Victor hadn't shown up just that minute, I might have done it. I still have nightmares like that sometimes. Anyway, I figured you'd be mad when I talked to you, because you had every right to be, but you weren't like that. Instead of taking everything away from me, you and everyone else gave everything to me that I never had. There isn't a way to repay a debt that big. All I did today was, hopefully, wipe out some of my bad actions from when we met.”
She swallowed then and blinked back tears as she smiled. “That's a really generous thing to say. At any rate, though, the reason we're still having a wedding today is because of you, so thank you.”
When his blush came back again, she grinned. “I was glad I could help, Ms. Lex, really glad,” he replied, then looked down at the floor.
Later that evening, when some of the older people had started to drift off to their rooms or their homes, Lex danced with Rolf to a dreamy slow song with a few other young couples around them. While she had to admit that she felt happy and safe now, something inside her also seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Rolf,” she said, her voice pitched low enough so no one else would hear, “do you think we'll ever be able to just live a regular life?”
He leaned his head back to look her in the eye, then held her more tightly, his hair brushing up against her cheek and ear. “I doubt it,” he replied softly. “After all, our job will keep things interesting, if nothing else. But,” he continued, turning to look at Lex again, “it's nothing we're going to have to face alone. If anything happens, all of us will take it on together.”
She heard the concern and the certainty in his voice and sighed while she smiled, “Yes, we will,” she said, before burying her fingers in his hair and bringing him in for another kiss.
End of Book 3
TBC at Wattpad at the following address: https://www.wattpad.com/9430224-super-author%27s-notes
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!