“You can’t be serious. It’s the bride and groom who are supposed to kiss—not the best man and maid of honor.” Sophia Waterhouse looked at her sister in horror but Olivia just smiled happily. Clearly she was too firmly cocooned is nearly-wedded bliss to worry about the severe emotional trauma she was about to inflict on her twin.
“Don’t be silly, Sophie,” she said, adjusting her veil for the fourteenth time and peering anxiously at her reflection in the full-length holo-viewer. It had been specially set up in the dressing tent for the bride and her attendants and it was getting a lot of use. “It’s not a big deal—Sylvan doesn’t bite.”
“Oh yes he does! He’s a Blood Kindred, or did you forget?” Sophie put a hand on her hip causing the long, form-fitting bridesmaid’s gown to make a soft swishing sound. She had to admit the deep emerald color looked great with her green eyes and the cut was very becoming to her hourglass figure but no dress, no matter how gorgeous, was enough to distract her from the matter at hand. “I mean, he’s got fangs,” she pointed out, still glaring at her sister. “Honest to God fangs.”
“Yes, but they won’t get sharp enough to pierce flesh until he finds a woman he wants to mate.” Jillian Holms, an old high school friend who had also been “drafted” or called as a bride to the Kindred Mother ship, smiled smugly and adjusted her neckline. Her bridesmaid’s gown which was a deep violet which went well with her tan skin. Green and purple were holy colors to the Kindred—the colors of the sacred grove, in fact, where Olivia and Baird, the Kindred warrior who had called her, were about to say their vows.
Sophie shot the other woman a resentful look. Jillian had been no more than a passing acquaintance back when they all attended Hillsborough High. Now she was practically Olivia’s best friend—or at least that was how it felt to Sophie who was used to being her sister’s closest confident. “How do you know so much about the Tranq Kindred?” she asked, trying to keep the irritation she felt out of her voice. “I thought you were called by two of the Twin Kindred?”
“I was—and you’ll never meet a sweeter pair of guys than my two hubbies.” Jillian giggled. “Everyone thinks they’re these ferocious warriors when they’re actually just big teddy bears. Well, except in bed. They can be plenty ferocious there.”
“How nice for you,” Sophie said dryly. “But I still don’t see how you can know about Blood Kindred when your husbands are Twins.”
“Oh, that.” Jillian made a shooing gesture. “You get to know things up here. I mean, the mating habits of the different Kindred are practically all we brides ever talk about—isn’t that right, Livvy?” She nudged Olivia and let out another high-pitched giggle.
Sophie frowned. There she goes again. Jillian’s “look at me, I’m such a perfect little Kindred wife” routine was getting pretty damn old. It was enough to make Sophie wish she’d never heard of the Kindred. Although if she hadn’t, she and the rest of the people on Earth would probably be dead or enslaved.
The Kindred were a race of alien warriors, humanoid in form but much more massive in scale than the average human male. They had come to the rescue at the eleventh hour when Earth was attacked by a menacing force from space called the Scourge. The Kindred Mother ship still orbited the planet, keeping the attackers at bay but there was a hitch. In exchange for their continued protection, the Kindred had demanded a genetic trade.
From previous trades the Kindred were divided into three separate races, The Beast Kindred who had animalistic lusts, the Twin Kindred who always shared a bride and could not be separated, and the Blood or Tranq Kindred who bit and drew blood when they had sex. Like freaking vampires. Sophie shuddered at the thought. She had always hated shots and needles and anything to do with blood—which was why Olivia was a nurse while she was an Elementary art teacher.
Because their race was ninety-five percent male the Kindred needed willing females to mate with. Accordingly, an Earth-wide draft was established. All women between the ages of nineteen and thirty-five were required to participate and though it was rare to be called as a Kindred bride, it did happen on a regular basis.
It had happened to Olivia and Jillian both and while Olivia had fought it at first, she was blissfully happy now. Of course it was her wedding day—or bonding day as the Kindred called it. So Sophie supposed she could excuse her sister’s blissed-out state. Although she wished Olivia would have consulted with her before adding the “Luck Kiss” to her bonding ceremony.
“Liv,” she said, trying to get back on point. “It’s not that I want to ruin your ceremony—I mean, it’s your special day and you should have anything you want. But Sylvan doesn’t even like me. He’s not going to want to kiss me anymore than I want to kiss him.”
“What are you talking about?” Olivia was fussing with her train now. “Why wouldn’t he like you? He barely knows you.”
“He knows me well enough to hate me, I bet,” Sophie said gloomily. “I was pretty rude to him during your claiming period. I was so angry at Baird for trying to take you away from me and, well, I kind of took it out on Sylvan. A lot.” She cringed with embarrassment when she remembered the way she’d yelled at him and accused him of trying to steal her twin sister away on several occasions. Oh yeah, he definitely hated her. Not that Sophie blamed him.
Olivia waved her fears away with a flip of her train. “I’m sure that’s all forgotten now. And besides, the Luck Kiss is just a quick peck on the lips—it’s really not a big deal.”
“Actually, it’s a lot more than just a peck,” Jillian spoke up. “And doing it right is a big deal. If you don’t give it everything you’ve got, it’s bad luck for the bride and groom. So you better really lay one on him, Sophia because it’s up to the girl to kiss the guy in this case, not the other way around.”
“Are you serious?” Sophie put a hand to her head, actually feeling a little faint. “You mean I’m really supposed to give some guy I’m not even on speaking terms with a passionate kiss in the middle of the bonding ceremony?”
“It’s at the end of the ceremony, actually. Right after the bride and groom kiss.” Jillian smiled. “Some couples make it a contest. You know—to see who can put on the best show?” She giggled again in a way that Sophie was beginning to find really annoying. How do her two husbands stand it? They must want to strangle her half the time.
“How do you know so much about it?” she demanded. “Was it part of your ceremony too? I mean, is it some kind of sacred Kindred tradition or something? Because this is the first I’ve heard of it.” Which really wasn’t fair. Her twin could have at least warned her she was expected to lock lips with the best man in front of God and everybody instead of just springing it on her at the last minute.
“Of course I had it in my ceremony—it’s a Twin Moons rite.” Jillian primped in front of the holo-viewer, fussing with her long blonde curls. “More and more of the other Kindred are picking it up because it’s so romantic. In fact, I’m the one who convinced Livvy to put it in.”
“Oh you did, did you?” Sophie was normally mild-mannered in the extreme but just now she could cheerfully have strangled the overly-perky Jillian.
“Yes, Jillian has been a big help in incorporating Kindred culture into the traditional ceremony. I just want everything to be a mixture—the perfect blend of Earth and Kindred traditions.” Olivia smiled dreamily. “That way when I tell our sons about it, they can understand that they truly are the children of both worlds.”
“Listen to her—not even married yet and she’s already thinking of babies.” Jillian gave Olivia a sisterly squeeze that made Sophie wince. It wasn’t that she was jealous of the other woman it was just…Oh hell, just admit it. You ARE jealous, muttered a little voice in her head. After all, before Olivia had been called as a bride she and Sophie had been inseparable. And now, even though Sophie and her twin spoke on the Think-me—the Kindred version of a telepathic cell phone—constantly, she still didn’t get to see her every day the way Jillian did.
I miss her, she thought sadly. She’s moving on with her life, leaving me behind. I wouldn’t mind so much if she wasn’t so far away. But the only way we could go back to being in each other’s lives on a daily basis is if I got drafted too. Just the thought of it—of being called as a bride to one of the huge, muscular Kindred—made her shiver. She was really glad that her twin was so happy but that didn’t mean she wanted the same kind of life for herself.
The Kindred were so big for one thing and their levels of sexual aggression were off the charts—at least to hear Olivia and Jillian tell it. Olivia hadn’t had much experience before being called by Baird but she’d managed all right. Unfortunately, compared with her twin Sophie was practically a virgin. She’d only been with one guy—a boyfriend from high school who hadn’t exactly been gentle…Sophie pushed the memory away. The point was, sex was bad enough without adding biting to the mix. Not that all the Kindred warriors bit their brides—only the Blood Kindred did that. And of course that’s the kind I’m supposed to kiss! Sophie thought, staring at her reflection in the holo-viewer. Next to her radiantly happy sister she looked positively gloomy.
Olivia seemed to think the same thing because she finally snapped out of her bridal bliss long enough to notice her sister’s distress. “Sophie,” she said, turning away from Jillian and giving her twin a searching look. “What is it? Is this Luck Kiss thing making you that unhappy? I mean, is there some other reason besides a few hard words that you don’t want to kiss Sylvan?”
As a matter of fact, there was—an extremely big and embarrassing reason as far as Sophie was concerned. But there was no way she was going to come right out and divulge such humiliating information—not in front of the smug Jillian who had a knowing little smile pasted on her perfectly made-up face.
How could Sophie explain that Sylvan had been on her mind a lot recently? A lot more than a prospective brother-in-law should be, anyway. Not that she wanted to think of him—somehow he just…intruded. And lately his spiky blond hair and ice-blue eyes had been cropping up everywhere—including Sophie’s art. She hadn’t painted a single picture in the past month that didn’t include him. Even if she tried purposefully to leave him out, he always snuck in somehow. She’d be painting a landscape and realize that he was there, under a tree. Or a bowl of fruit and suddenly he was taking a bite out of one of the apples. It was bizarre, and not in a good way as far as Sophie was concerned.
“I…” she tried, but couldn’t think how to put it. He’s ruining my art and I can’t stop thinking about him just sounded…weird. Like she had some kind of metal problem—Kindred inspired OCD or something equally bizarre. “It’s nothing,” she said at last. “Nothing, really.”
“Yes, it is. Come on, fess up womb-mate.” Olivia took her hands. “Please?”
Sophie couldn’t help wishing Kat was there instead of Jillian—she was a close friend and a much better choice for a second bridesmaid in Sophie’s opinion. But Kat had decided to use her organizational skills to pull the ceremony and reception together so Olivia didn’t have to worry about anything on her special day. She was probably in the sacred grove somewhere, bustling around making sure everything was perfect and directing the guests to their seats. Sophie wished she had such a fearless, take-charge personality but she couldn’t help it—she was terminally shy.
“It’s nothing,” she lied bravely. “Just that…that I don’t think he likes me. That’s all. And you know how I get stage fright. Remember that time in third grade when the teacher picked me to play Princess Primrose in the school play?”
“And you went completely white and fainted the minute the curtain went up.” Olivia put a hand to her head. “You know, I had forgotten about that. I’m so sorry, Sophie—what was I thinking? I don’t want you to be miserable. We’ll just cut the kiss.”
“You can’t do that,” said Jillian, butting in where she was least wanted—at least in Sophie’s opinion. “It’s been added to the printed program. If they don’t do it you’ll have bad luck for your entire marriage. And besides, people will talk and talk and—”
“I don’t care if they talk—I care about Sophie.” Olivia frowned. “And I don’t believe in bad luck. That’s just silly.”
Jillian rolled her eyes and gave Sophie a pitying glance. “All right then, if you really feel like you can’t handle it…”
“Enough.” Sophie raised her hand. “I’ll do it.”
“No, you won’t,” Olivia said decisively.
“Oh, yes I will.” Sophie shot Jillian a glare. There was no way she was backing down now. “It’s just one kiss. I can manage that,” she said, hoping it was true.
“Are you sure?” Olivia looked at her uncertainly.
“Sure, I’m sure. We’re not in third grade anymore you know, Liv.”
“No, we’re not, are we?” Olivia sighed. “I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. It seems like yesterday you were fainting in that stupid play. And now we’re all grown up and I’m about to get married. I just wish…” Her voice wavered. “I wish Mom and Dad were here to see it.”
“Oh, honey, I know.” Sophia put an arm around her sister’s waist and gave her a hug. Their parents had died in a car wreck—victims of a drunk driver—when the girls were in their last year of high school. “But I know they’d be proud,” she said, giving her twin another squeeze. “Look at you—you’re so beautiful in Mom’s wedding dress.” She nodded at the viewer again where they were both reflected.
The twins looked so much alike in the face it was hard to tell them apart. Only the fact that Sophia had brown hair and green eyes while her twin had blonde hair and gray eyes let people know who was who. But today the white lace dress had transformed Olivia’s appearance—making her look radiantly happy and so gorgeous Sophie wanted to cry. Blinking back tears, she kissed her sister’s cheek. “Baird is going to go crazy when he sees you. I hope he knows how lucky he is to be getting my sister as his bride.”
“He knows.” Olivia gave her a watery smile and then sniffed. “Oh God, I can’t cry—I’ll ruin my make-up!”
“Then cheer up,” Sophie commanded. “You’re not allowed to cry—that’s my job, remember?”
The soft strains of Pachelbel’s canon began drifting through the air, signaling the start of the ceremony and pulling her out of her sisterly reverie. She’d been so caught up in the sisterly moment with Olivia she’d almost forgotten when she had agreed to do. Now it all came rushing back. The Luck Kiss…crap—why did I say yes?
“Hey, enough with the heart to heart sister stuff,” Jillian hissed. “It’s starting.”
“Oh my God, it is.” Olivia fluttered nervously. “Is my veil straight? Does everything look all right?”
Her sister’s nerves helped steady Sophie. “You look wonderful and everything is going to be fine,” she said firmly. “It’s your day of all days. And it’s going to be perfect—I just know it.” All except the part where I have to lay a hot one on my future brother-in-law. But she refused to let herself think about that. If she did, she was liable to freak out like she had way back in third grade. And she was determined not to ruin her beloved sister’s wedding—not even if she had to kiss a hundred huge Kindred warriors. Except she only had to kiss one—the one who just happened to invade her every waking thought.
God, what was she going to do?