THE COYOTE’S BRIDE EPILOGUE

The Coyote’s Bride

EPILOGUE

©2018 Holley Trent

Author’s note: This is bonus material that absolutely contains spoilers. It does not stand alone, so you won’t get much enjoyment out of it until you’ve read The Coyote’s Bride!

***

Lily’s strong suit had never been math, but she was reasonably sure that 35 days was five weeks. Most humans infected with shapeshifter DNA knew their fate well before four.

Closing her phone’s calendar app, she nudged her sunglasses up to the top of her head and then gave Lance’s bicep a poke. “Hey, hus-beast.”

He startled awake, gripping the arms of his beach chair and then springing to his feet only to bump his head against the bottom of the umbrella. “What? Where’s Antonio? What happened?” he asked in a rapid-fire stream as he caught the umbrella pole that threatened to crash onto the sand.

Lily snorted and waited for him to come down from his agitated state. She knew better than to wake a shifter so carelessly, but maybe she was mean. Watching him flail about was fun.

Giggling, she hooked her thumb toward her young brother. Antonio was the same place he’d been ten minutes prior when Lance had first started nodding off. The boy was giddily running in and out of the surf, splashing and leaping away from the water threatening his ankles.

Lily had probably been just as excited the first time she’d seen the ocean as a kid. In fact, she still got excited whenever she got to see open water. There were some serious drawbacks to living in a landlocked state. She was glad her mother had been able to take time off from work to join Lily and Lance in Cabo San Lucas, along with Antonio and Lily’s grandmother, Linda.

Apparently realizing he’d become the focus of the conversation, Antonio paused his splashing and waved cheerfully at them.

Sighing, Lance waved back and then plopped back into his chair. “That little daredevil is gonna give me a heart attack.”

“He’s actually way more laidback than he was the last time I saw him. Two years ago, his nanny found him in a Nightwing costume trick or treating.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“For one thing, Halloween in Mexico isn’t like in the U.S. Secondly, it was the middle of the day. Thirdly, it was March.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah. His father and Mamá had it out over that. Threatened to make Antonio come live with him if she wasn’t ensuring he was being properly minded.”

“What happened?”

“My mother called his bluff. Antonio was at his father’s place for less than a week before his father took him back to Mamá.” Lily shrugged. “He’s just an inquisitive kid. Mamá lets him explore as much as reasonable. He’s less reckless about it now.”

“All the same, that kid must have six guardian angels. I was afraid he was going to fall over the balcony railing in our hotel suite last night. Kept climbing onto that damn table to see the view. I had to drag it inside and have housekeeping come to get it.”

“Oh. So that’s where it went.” Lily had wondered where it went when she’d gone outside earlier to re-polish her chipped toenails. “He likes you, you know.”

Raising an eyebrow of skepticism, Lance dug his feet into the sand and reached into Lily’s beach tote for the sunblock. “How can you tell?”

“Because he didn’t let you sleep last night. He thinks you’re fun.”

“Glad someone does. Your abuela thinks I’m an abomination.”

Lily chuckled and raised her arms to stretch. She still hadn’t quite worked out the kinks in her body from their flights. They’d flown from Albuquerque to Mexico City to collect Lily’s family and then caught another flight the next day to Cabo San Lucas. Lance had figured that after all they’d been through in the past year, they may as well make the family reunion a vacation. The folks back in Maria could manage without them for one Christmas.

“I think something got lost in translation,” Lily said wryly. “She didn’t call you an abomination. She said you’re a big monster, which, technically, you are.” At over six feet tall and approaching two hundred pounds, there was nothing average about the coyote shifter.

Lance didn’t have to remove his mirrored sunglasses for Lily to know what his eyes were doing behind them. If he weren’t rolling them, she’d eat her shoe.

She shrugged. “Okay, so maybe she’s not up on the lingo. By monster, she meant…well, non-human creature, I guess.”

“I wish your mother hadn’t told her. She didn’t need to know.”

“Maybe not, but don’t take anything my abuela says too personally. Besides, I’m tired of keeping secrets from people.”

“She looks at me like she wants to douse me with holy water in my sleep.”

“She looks at everyone like that. She’s very pious. So pious that at this very moment, she’s sitting at the hotel bar playing for the big Bingo jackpot with my mother.” Lily held up her phone screen for him to see. “And she’s on her third daiquiri. Those suckers aren’t virgin, either.”

Lance snatched the phone. “Holy shit. Her eyes are crossed.”

Lily snickered. “Mamá said Abuela could have called Bingo but probably couldn’t see the card and Mamá was afraid to tell her.”

He tapped the screen with triumph. “Send me that. I might need it for future opportunities.”

“Behave. She’ll be nice as long as you keep taking her on trips.”

He scrolled through the earlier pictures, chuckling maniacally at Abuela in various stages of inebriation. Abuela was obviously a lightweight.

“Thanks for doing this,” Lily said softly, enjoying his amusement.

Lance lowered his sunglasses. “Doing what?”

Lily gestured to Antonio in the surf and then her phone. “All of it. Bringing us here. Swiping your credit card without so much as a sigh. Enduring my grandmother’s hour-long prayer for your immortal soul and my mother’s teasing. Letting Antonio braid your beard.”

Lance fondled the twin braids. “I kinda like it. I look like a Viking raider.”

A very tan one who wore swim trunks very well. Christmases in Cabo might have to become a tradition.

He handed her back her phone and gave her high ponytail a playful flick. “And I don’t mind. I like doing things for you. I like seeing you relax. Sucks Martha couldn’t come along, though.”

Lily sighed. “I know. I was thinking that this morning when I saw this chunky little baby at the breakfast buffet. I wish we could travel with her, but it’s too risky. I’m sure she’s having lots of fun with your mom and Blanca.”

“Yeah. They were going to the zoo in Albuquerque today.”

“I’m glad we could figure out a way for Blanca to stick around.” Her aunt Glenda had hired her on at the ranch as an H-2A worker but was going to try to arrange for something less ephemeral. It was uncharted water for all of them. Dealing with bureaucracy wasn’t Aunt Glenda’s best thing.

“I think it’ll be important for Martha to have some continuity from her old life to her new one,” Lily said. “I wish Josefina could have done the same as Blanca. She’s Martha’s closest blood relative.”

“Give her some time to get her shit together.”

“You think she will? As much as I love that little girl and would agree to keep her forever in a heartbeat, Josefina should be the one raising her.”

“I don’t know if she will or won’t, shortcake. I hope she will. I hope she can understand your logic and why Nayeli gave Martha to you, but we’ll have to just wait and see.”

“I guess so,” she said softly, reaching for his fingertips dangling over his armrest. He gave her hand a comforting squeeze before she could complete the movement. “Do I smell stressed out?”

“A little. We’re at the beach. Relax. Save your worrying for when we get back to Maria.”

She smirked. “I’ll try. There’s one thing I think I won’t have to worry about, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Have you noticed the date?” She held up her phone and showed the calendar app on her phone screen.

“Yeah. Nearly Christmas. What of it?”

“It’s been about five weeks since I got my Jaguar wound.”

Lance perked up and yanked his sunglasses off. “Shit. I forced myself not to think about it because the anxiety was fucking up my gut. It has been that long, huh?”

“Yup. Know what that means?”

“That unless you’ve been hiding some serious transformational duress from me, you’re uninfected.”

Lily gave a slow nod. “Four weeks should have done it. No signs. No changes.”

His nod was slow. Settling down into the chair again he looked toward the water and fidgeted with the arms of his shades. His mood had suddenly gone south. Lily didn’t have to have a shifter’s sense of smell to know it’d changed. She’d learned every one of his expressions, no matter how subtle. He couldn’t hide any part of himself from her. She wouldn’t let him.

“So…you’re not a Coyote, either,” he said.

Lily didn’t answer.

She stared at the waves, too, at the little girl standing much too close to her brother with hearts in her eyes because he did a so-so cartwheel.

She looked at the brilliant blue sky. The diamonds in her wedding band. The scratch on her shin from where she and French Fry had had identical reactions to a recent skunk visit to their backyard—they’d tripped over each other in their haste to run into the house.

French Fry wasn’t much of an attack dog, that was for sure.

Lance grabbed her chair arm and dragged her closer to him. “You waiting on me to get upset, shortcake?” he asked softly.

“I don’t know, it’s just…”

“Let’s be perfectly clear. Maybe I seem conflicted, but I’m relieved.”

She met his gaze. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely sure.” He cupped the back of her head and brought her in close, nose-to-nose, eyes closed. “I love you the way you are, Lily. You know that, and it has nothing to do with the fact I want to have a bunch of kids with you. I want you just like this because you’re strong like this, and I don’t think you having fur will improve you one bit. It’s just that you’re my mate, and there’s always going to be a little part of me that wonders what it’d be like if you were just like me.”

“Oh.” She certainly understood that. Not a single day went by when she didn’t consider all the “what-ifs.” Soon, she’d probably stop thinking about them all together. She was thrilled with how things are.

“I love you, Lily. You know that, right?”

“I do.” Lily pursed her lips against his. “I love you, too.”

“Yuck!” Antonio called out.

Lance pulled back just long enough to shout back, “Be nice. I’ll give you twenty bucks.”

“Okay!”

Lily could see Antonio resuming his former frolicking in her periphery.

Lily laughed.

“Quit laughing,” Lance said. “I want to kiss my wife.”

“Then, by all means, Mr. Aitkenson,” Lily said, smiling, “please do go ahead.”