The Whitlock-Harlow Wedding
“Stop tugging on it, Ambrose.” Mother batted at my hands as I pulled on the blue silk bowtie that seemed to be cutting off all my air.
The small room in the back of the church seemed to be sweltering even though I could hear the low hum of an air conditioner somewhere. The space was tiny, all dark wood and low couches that reminded me more of a funeral parlor than a wedding, but maybe that was just my mood. I didn’t want to do this. I’d tried for days to be happy. Every omega wanted a nice wedding and a family, right? And I did want those things, but Jacob had started showing me a different side of himself, recently, one that worried me.
“School just ended. Why did we have to rush this wedding?” Mom slapped my fingers when my hand went to my tie again, hard enough to sting. I glared at her, but she ignored me, fiddling around with a buttoneer of flowers that matched my tie.
She huffed out an unappealing growl. “Rushed? Dear, I sent out the invitations a year ago.”
“It still feels fast to me.”
“Weddings always do.” She turned toward me and positioned the flowers on my lapel, a pin stuck in her teeth. She got it just so and then started sliding the pin into the cloth. I almost wanted her to slip to have a reason to put everything off a few minutes. Maybe she could puncture something serious? I shivered, knew the thought was dark, but I was feeling desperate.
“Mother, I don’t think… I barely know Jacob. And….” I sucked in a deep breath and flushed hotly. “He stayed with me through my heat last month, and he was… not the way I would have liked.” That was all the more I could bring myself to tell her. I’d never been with anyone before him, at all. I was scared at first because he was such a large man, and he didn’t care. We weren’t friends, really, barely knew each other, and he’d expected me to just throw myself at him. That wasn’t me.
“You finally got your heat?” She shot her focus to my eyes and I winced, nodding. “Thank god, why didn’t you tell me? I’ve been so worried!”
“Stay still, Ambrose. What do you mean he wasn’t the way you wanted?”
I opened my mouth to tell her about the things he had said, so different from when we first met two years ago. I wanted to tell her how he’d told me I wasn’t very good. How he was doing me a favor by taking off the time to be with me during my heat. How he’d threatened to leave after the height of my heat, when I was still hurting for a knot because it ‘wasn’t as fun’ as when I was totally out of my mind. Embarrassment consumed me. Obviously, I’d just internalized the fantasy life I’d read about and seen on television. Real alphas weren’t sweet and kind. Real alphas didn’t take care of their omegas the way I thought they might. I felt stupid and childish, and couldn’t bring myself to tell her about it.
My heart ached.
“Nothing, mother. I think I had misconceptions about what a heat would be like.”
She frowned and smoothed down my shirt with a small sigh, her eyes a little sad. “Jordan and I… your father—”
I shook my head frantically and she laughed, her blond hair catching in a ray of sunshine that had fought its way into the room around the blinds. “All right. But it gets better with time.”
“It didn’t seem right.”
“It’s because you weren’t married yet. You should be married first.” She said those words to me, but they were flat, like she wasn’t quite saying what she meant. I felt stupidly young as she stepped away and looked at the place where she’d pinned the flowers. “There. Handsome as ever.” She hugged me, smelling sweet and like home, and all at once I didn’t want to go out there even more. I wanted to stay with her or go back to school, even though the private, omegas only college had been stifling at the best of times.
“Mother, I’m scared,” I whispered to her. I didn’t know quite how to tell her exactly all of my misgivings, but they went well beyond the bedroom. Jacob didn’t seem like he even wanted me around half the time when I went to visit. She gave me an extra tight squeeze.
“Marriage is always scary, a little, but aren’t you happy too?” She leaned back and there was a desperate squint to her eyes that forced me into nodding. There was no way I could upset her today, not when she’d worked so hard to get every last detail right. The music started out in the main room, and I realized I didn’t even know how many guests there were. I had no idea who was invited, other than family. Certainly not my friends, but my parents’ business associates and their families was a good guess.
Mother led me to a small door that opened out into the back of the church, and I walked with my focus glued to my feet toward the aisle. The room was decorated with so many flowers the smell almost had me dizzy. Sunlight streamed through tall, stained glass windows on either side. I’d counted the rows of pews last night during rehearsal—which Jacob and father had been too busy to attend—and there were twenty on either side of the aisle—all full of staring people. My head got light as I walked down the aisle toward Jacob, who stood there in front of the altar at the end. Mother beamed at the crowd, hanging off my arm. She let me go when we reached the front pew. There were no groomspeople, just Jacob and I, stark in front of a preacher I’d never seen in person before last night. Apparently he baptized me as an infant, but I hadn’t seen him since. Jacob was tall, with dark hair and brilliant blue eyes that did make him handsome. His alpha scent swelled and added to the scents flying around, sending my stomach roiling.
I could remember the feel of his body against mine. The rough way he’d tossed me around when we were alone and I was in heat. My pulse raced and my stomach clenched. The way he’d left me alone in his house the last day of my heat to go sign some paperwork for something.
“What’s so important,” I’d managed to croak before he went.
“You wouldn’t understand, Ambrose. It’s business.” He’d tousled my hair on his way out of the room, leaving me naked on the bed, still sore, still hot from the heat when all I wanted to do was snuggled up to my alpha and be held, soothed, maybe slowly touched until I came again.
But no, he’d left.
I tried to smile at him, but couldn’t. He didn’t seem to care. We turned toward each other and the preacher started the ceremony, but there were a lot of things going on and my attention wandered out over the crowd. On the right hand side, in the front pew for Jacob’s family—I’d been told I’d meet his sister Deborah today—sat… Riley? He was sandwiched between a man and a woman.
My heart hammered and my entire body flushed with something like embarrassment as our eyes met. He shifted in his seat, and I swore I could nearly smell him from across the room. How silly. That light scent he had was stuck in my brain, though. He was older than the last time we met, looked nearly my age, the same as last time, only now he had a large football player’s build and a face cut into the hard lines of true adulthood instead of the softer ones I’d spent many nights thinking about.
He looked good. My throat worked, and I forced myself to look up at Jacob. Boredom had glazed over his expression and he stared at the preacher to our right. My heart hammered, and I forced myself not to think of Riley or that one pleasant afternoon we’d spent together. I’d learned he was Jacob’s nephew that night. Realized he would be forever off-limits. Nothing could have prepared me for the ache in my chest that actually catching sight of him caused.
Before I knew what was happening, Jacob was bending down to kiss me, holding my hand tightly in his. “You’re mine now,” he whispered into my ear. “Aren’t you lucky?” He leaned back to smile at me, and I tried to relax, forced a smile back.
“Of course.” My voice broke and he laughed.
“You’re shy in public. How cute. Soon you’ll be pregnant and you can stay home with our kids. No need to worry.” He smiled as he said that, and I coughed, turning away, having a hard time catching my breath. When I stood back up he was laughing and telling someone close by that I was overwhelmed, and he wasn’t wrong.
He wasn’t wrong at all.