Last few updates to end the month, then I’ll take a break and figure out what I’m doing.  The next story is 2/3rds written.  Right now, I’m just waiting on funds/sale to purchase Affinity Publisher so I can lay everything out as a book and only have to do it ONCE.  Then I’ll be hitting three stories at once.  Blackwood, The Hunter in the Family, and the text version of Black Rose.  I’m far more confident with the help of Hemingway and Grammarly.  Plus, I have a lot of new readers on AO3 who are very encouraging.  I will be reformatting the pages of Black Rose that are up and likely deleting the old pages.  I FOUND a TON of grammatical errors on the pages that need to be fixed before printing. 🙁  I will be doing new art to go with the text version of Black Rose, btw.

October 29 Today’s Chapter!

October 29th

The next several days went by fast. Cade and Maria spent as much time as they could with each other. They were comforted by each other’s presence. Being around Cade allowed Maria to relax. She began taking her laptop over to Cade’s studio so she could work while he was working. Cade would do the same when she needed to work in her studio. Cade had a comfortable couch in his studio, and Maria would take naps on it during the day. It helped make up for her lack of sleep at night.

They also napped in the hammock daily. That was the best part of the day for both of them. There were no demands between them or expectations. They enjoyed cool afternoons and leaves fluttering down around them from the trees. During the day, they were like any other couple learning about each other.

The night was an entirely different experience. They stayed up past midnight, usually keeping each other company. Cade did not sleep at all during the night. Sleeping during the day allowed him to watch Maria’s house at all times during the night and be vigilant. Cade did not need as much sleep as Maria did. He often joined the patrols he had ordered increased in the neighborhood. Wolves and coyotes prowled, and great owls kept a watch over the entire community. Maria had no idea this level of security was out there. Everyone was ordered to stay out of sight.

Cade couldn’t leave Maria alone and had to rely on word of mouth as the securest form of communication. That was the usual way Lycean things of importance were communicated. Occasionally those messages were distorted. Word of mouth was only so reliable.

The most important message he sent out was that Maria was his intended. She was a human, and she did not know his secret and maybe never would. Maria was to be treated with respect and equal to him. Anything she said was to be listened to. Protect Maria above all. He had the entire town to help him keep Maria safe, but he was still anxious about the upcoming days.

Both Maria and Cade had come to the conclusion that Bryce was waiting for Halloween. It would offer him the best cover. They still had to remain vigilant. He could try again before Halloween expecting them to figure out his plan. That man was far slippier and smarter than he had any right being.

-=-=-=-=-

“You, you,” Charise stammered as she stared at her sister incredulously. “You, you, you.”

“I love him.” Maria smiled at Charise. They were in the middle of a delicious breakfast consisting of things from Cade’s garden and cheese. Charise was staring at her and looked like her brain had broken at the news. “I told Cade I love him, and he told me he loves me.”
“You’ve only been talking to him for a MONTH!” Charise’s blue eyes were wide in astonishment. “ONE MONTH!! You took a YEAR to tell B-Word you loved him!”

“That should have been a sign,” Maria grumbled.
“But, you’re the responsible one!” Charise could not believe what she had been told. “You told me to wait to marry Jaden!” She glanced around the room, making sure the walls were still straight, and the world hadn’t tipped over sideways. “You hate Love! You told me you would never love another guy again and… one MONTH!” Charise could not get over it. “We both knew Jaden for fifteen years. I dated him for two, and you told me to wait another year after he proposed.” Charise looked down at the table and started worrying her napkin. “I listened to you.”

“I didn’t say I was marrying him.” Maria frowned at Charise’s hysterics. “I said, I love him.”

“You’ve had two dates! Are you crazy?!” Charise jumped up and grabbed her sister’s head like she was examining it for signs of tampering.

“Stop that.” Maria batted her hands away. “Charise, you know how you two are. You wanted to get married at 20. I told you to at least wait until you were 21 and finished your college courses so you would have stable jobs. Which reminds me. Do you have a job yet?”

“I’m looking.” Charise plopped back into her chair and stared at her plate. “This isn’t like you. What did he do to you?” She paused a moment pushing things around her plate with her fork. “Maria.” Then she began crying.

Maria stared at her sister. “Charise, knock it off. “There are couples out there who know each other for years, get married, then get divorced in months. Some couples meet and get married in months and are married for a lifetime. There are no rules for when to get married. I love him. It’s nothing like it was with B-Word. It’s like what you have with Jaden. It really is.”

“I like Cade.” Charise sniffled, “But he’s a human. Why would you do that to yourself? What happens when he grows old and … and …” Charise went completely silent.

Maria frowned. “We don’t have any guarantees of a long life any more than they do. What if he’s the only man who will ever love me the way that I want to be loved? He’s the only man I’ve ever met who wants me to be me. He doesn’t want to change me.”

“You are not passing the Bechdel test right now, Maria,” Charise mumbled.

“Considering I have zero friends?” Maria raised an eyebrow at Charise. “Are you saying that I don’t have any perspective? That because he’s my only friend in the entire world that, of course, I would feel this way about him?” She picked up her plate and got up. “You’re my sister. I thought you would be more supportive.”

Charise whimpered and watched her sister leave the kitchen and head up to her studio. Then she sighed and put her own plate up. She was going right over to the King’s house, and she was going to have a conversation with Cade about Maria.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade stared at Charise. He had no clue how to handle her. She had come to his house, and he had opened the door. Now they were sitting in the living room while she wailed and couldn’t get any words out. He was supposed to be heading over to Maria’s studio to get some work done, but Charise had met him as he was leaving.

With a sigh, Cade got up, retrieved a box of tissues from the top of a bookshelf, and sat next to Charise, offering it to her. She accepted it and glanced up at him. Her face was blotchy, and her eyes were red. “You can’t do that to Maria.” She managed to sob out.

“What? Do what to Maria?” Cade looked completely confused as he patted Charise’s shoulder. “Uh, did I do something?”

“You can not tell her you love her!” Charise wailed.

“What? Why not??” Cade was baffled. He shifted away from Charise. She was mad at him? What had he done? He turned away, rubbing his hands together anxiously. A heated shame spread through him. What had he done? Charise had always been so sweet and kind to him. Now he felt awful. “Charise. I love yer sister. I really do.”

“You are not the right man for her.” Charise frowned, wiping her eyes. “You need to let her go.”

“Why?” Cade stared at Charise, looking her in the eyes.

Charise sobbed and looked at Cade. His usually bright blue eyes were dulled with sadness and confusion. She didn’t want to do this to him. He was a nice guy, and Charise liked him, but he was going to break Maria’s heart. It was unavoidable. If she could get him to break up with her now, then it wouldn’t hurt Maria as much.

“Why?” Cade repeated.

Charise hadn’t thought this far ahead. “Uhm, because you’re going to break her heart? You can’t do that!”

Cade was completely confused now. He scooted next to Charise again and tentatively wrapped an arm over her shoulders. He mumbled something under his breath, and his eyes widened at the information he got back. He was checking to see if there was something wrong with her. Was she sick? This didn’t seem normal for her. “Charise, please stop. I have no idea what I did to make ye upset with me.” Managing a hysterical, crying woman was a completely new thing for Cade. “Charise, I love yer sister. I want her in my life at her pace. I want to marry her and spend my life with her. I will never break her heart. I swear that’s not even possible.” Charise continued sobbing. Cade grumbled, patting her on the shoulder. He wasn’t sure how to fix this and get Charise out of his house.

“Charise. Ye have not given me any real reason for why yer upset other than ye care about yer sister and don’t want me to hurt her.” Cade sighed. “Am I not good enough for her? Is it something else? I know how I look. I know how people look at me. Is that how ye see me? I know she can do better.” Cade squeezed Charise’s shoulder lightly. He muttered the same thing he had before to confirm what he had sensed the first time. There was a reason she was flipping out on him, and it wasn’t what she was saying.

“No. I don’t think that at all.” Charise smiled up at Cade through the tears. “You’re a good guy. I know that. Just not for my sister. I don’t want you to hurt her.”

“I would never hurt her, Charise.” Cade smiled and leaned over to hug Charise and check a third time. Charise more than happily accepted the hug, hugging him back and then stopping her tears. “I love yer sister. Yer pretty awesome yerself. Coming over here to make sure I treat her right. Everything is going to be okay. Yer a great sister.” He laughed. “Someday ye’ll be a great mom too, I bet. Won’t that be amazing? Then ye can make yer sister and me babysit. It’ll be great.”

Charise sniffled and smiled. She felt better. She still felt upset, but it had passed. “I am so sorry, Cade. I must sound like a crazy person!”

“No.” He took her hand and patted it gently. “Why don’t ye go into the kitchen and see what my mom has on the table. She’s been baking for days. Go eat something.”

“Thank you, Cade!” Charise bounced up and wiped her eyes. “I’m starving!”

“Mom, give Charise whatever she wants!” Cade smiled and called out to his mother.

“Sure thing! Come in here, Dear, I have pumpkin pie right out of the oven!” His mother called back.

“I’m sorry.” Charise frowned for a moment. “I didn’t mean what I said. I think you’re wonderful. I’m just. I don’t know how I feel about it.”

“Go on.” Cade was still smiling as he waved her off to the kitchen. She turned and bounced out of the room.

Cade sighed and rubbed his eyes. That was interesting. Charise was flipping out at him because she was a couple of weeks pregnant and most likely had no idea she was. This was not a secret he wanted to carry, but it would make it easier to handle her in the future. He would be sure to bring something his mom baked every time he went over. Something told him the best way to deal with a pregnant woman was to always have something tasty in hand.

-=-=-=-=-

“Charise is driving me crazy!” Maria walked around her studio, waving her hands in the air. She stopped behind Cade’s chair and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Maria leaned forward and rubbed her cheek against Cade’s with a happy sigh. He grinned nervously. Then she lifted a hand and ran it over his chin. He had not shaved since Maria had told him not to, and he felt weird about it. He preferred a cleaner look. At the moment, he had a good, even, thick layer of hair that had only recently stopped itching. Cade was also getting used to the feel of hair beneath his nose.

Cade consoled himself that in a few days, he could shave and hoped that Maria wouldn’t want him to keep it. He was very self-conscious about keeping it clean and groomed. Cade had an appointment on Thursday morning with Steph to get it styled. He planned to wear his costume all day for Maria.

“Any idea what’s wrong with her?” Cade tilted his head to look up at Maria. She didn’t answer, choosing to kiss him instead. Then her hands were running over his neck and over his shoulders. “That feels nice, but don’t do that.” Cade grinned, gently pushing her back.

“I want to.” Maria squeezed her arms around him.

“This is new.” Cade mumbled, looking down at his laptop. He kept seeing Charise’s teary-eyed face and hearing her words begging him to forget about Maria. “Let’s be careful. There’s no hurry, is there? I love ye. My mom is crazy. Don’t let her get to ye.” Knowing that Charise was pregnant was a complete and total mood killer.

“I just want to touch you.” Maria kissed his cheek. She ran her fingers through his beard again, which felt incredibly good. Then she kissed the back of his neck, and Cade shivered uncontrollably. “Well, that’s interesting.” She ran her fingers down the middle of his neck, and he did it again.

“Stop that!” Cade rolled his chair away from her with an amused grin. “Don’t ye have work to do?”

“Work is boring! You’re far more interesting!”

“And I want to stay interesting.” Cade closed his laptop and got up. He was smiling, but Maria’s playfulness was overwhelming him. “Take it slow, Maria.”

Maria sat in her chair with a sigh. “Sit down, Cade. I’m just anxious. Please, don’t leave.”

Cade nodded and scooted his chair next to Maria’s. “I’m here for ye. I’ll never leave ye.”

“Charise threw a fit this morning when I told her about us,” Maria whispered.

“Yeah, she showed up on my doorstep and told me I wasn’t the right man for ye.” Cade sighed.

“She WHAT?!” Maria bolted upright and out of her chair. “I can not believe her!” She started for the door.

“Whoa! Maria!!” Cade leaped to his feet and grabbed her, wrapping his arms around her to hold her in place. “Charise seems a little stressed. Don’t yell at her. She spent fifteen minutes crying in my living room.”

“Argh!” Maria tried to struggle out of Cade’s grip. “You better let me go, or I’m going to use my taser on you!” Cade released her immediately and stood in the doorway.

“Be reasonable, Maria. She was worried about ye.”

“She has no business going up to you and telling you that you should leave me!” Maria shouted. Her face was red with anger, and Cade remained standing in the doorway. “Get out of my way, Cadeyrn Bogdan King!”

Cade’s face cracked into a smirk, then he began laughing. “My mother told ye to say that if I ‘misbehave,’ didn’t she?!” Maria was not amused. Cade was desperately searching for a way to defuse her. “Maria. Please. I’m fine. I’m not leaving ye.”

“She has no business interfering in my relationships.” Maria’s angry face contorted and then the tears began. “She’s my sister! She’s supposed to support my decisions!” She grabbed Cade around the waist and cried against his chest. “She has Jaden! Why can’t I have you?!”

Cade tentatively began rubbing Maria’s back, letting her cry against him. These crying women were going to be the death of him. What was with all the tears today? “I told ye, I’m not going anywhere. I love ye.” He whispered. “What can I do to make ye feel better?”

“Marry Me. I’m making sucky decisions right now, so I might as well decide on that one.” Maria tilted her head up and rested her chin on Cade’s chest to look at him. She seemed completely serious.

“Maria.” Cade shook his head. “Several days ago, ye couldn’t even tell me what ye wanted out of us. There is no need to rush. Let’s slow down. I don’t want ye to do something ye might not want in a few days.”

Maria pushed him back. “Cade! I am not some fickle child!” She began moving around the room in a furious pace glancing up at Cade occasionally. “You have been driving me absolutely crazy since the day I moved in! You would not get out of my head! Not even when you were singing that stupid song on my porch! I have not gone a day without thinking about you and looking for you! I didn’t even know that much about you, and I had to keep looking for you! I had to see you every day! Even if I didn’t see you, I would dream about you. Every. Single. Night. I didn’t want to, but I DID!”

Cade stared at Maria, not able to comprehend what she was saying as she continued. “When you told me you had always loved me, that’s when I knew what I wanted! It’s not normal! I have never met anyone who entered my life and insisted on staying there without even talking to me.” Maria stopped in front of Cade and looked up at him. Her brown eyes had taken on their normal fiery, passionate light. “I know what I want. I want you.”

“Uhm.” Cade swallowed hard, his eyes wide in astonishment. She was downright intimidating when she was like this. “I love ye, but we should wait to make any big decisions like that. We still have to deal with the B-Word.” Maria sighed and ran to him. She threw her arms around his waist and pressed herself tightly to him.

She ran her fingers up and down his back feeling him and listening to his heart beating. It was fast and nervous. She knew what she had done. She was scary Maria again. “I love ye,” Cade repeated, the words rumbling through his chest. “I do, but I want to wait a little longer. Ye can’t ask me to marry ye and follow it up with yer making sucky decisions. I do not want to be a sucky decision. That and yer being a little crazy right now.”

“I am not.” Maria pouted, and he could hear it in her voice as her grip on him tightened like she never wanted to let him go.

“Yer also kinda ruining this for me.” Cade sighed, running his fingers through her hair. “I told ye I’m annoyingly traditional. I want to propose to ye, and I want to do it right. I only intend to propose to a woman one time.”

“So, you’re saying yes?” Maria tilted her head up and grinned at Cade.

“Ye are so annoying.” Cade grinned back, his face taking on a shade of pink. He realized he had spoken his full intentions to her for the first time.

-=-=-=-=-

“Maria. Why is yer refrigerator empty?” Cade had brought over an apple pie for Charise and was putting it away for later. He stared inside the gaping chasm that was the Summers’ refrigerator. Maria cringed. She was sitting at the table with her sister and Jaden eating cheese sandwiches for lunch. Cade put the pie inside, closed it, and opened her freezer. He turned and glared at Maria. She looked away. “Why is yer freezer empty?”

“I should be getting a deposit tomorrow.” Maria shrugged. He was going to do it. She knew he was.

Cade began opening her cabinets while occasionally giving her tight-lipped looks. He also kept looking at Charise and Jaden. Cade grumbled, seeing only a few cans of vegetables and a box of spaghetti. He also noted the bread wrapper on top of the trash. Jaden was eating a sandwich that looked like it was made from the thin heels. “Yer cabinets are empty.” Cade stated dryly.

This would not do. Cade was the only one in the room who knew about Charise. He knew they lived on a tight budget, but he thought they were doing okay. It made his stomach turn. If he had not offered food from his garden, what would they have been eating? There were several zucchinis on the cabinet, along with onions and tomatoes. Cade mumbled something to himself and then began cursing under his breath. He sat down at the table and stared at Maria. How could he help without insulting her or embarrassing her? He decided that it could wait until morning. If he came over and Maria was not going out to do grocery shopping, he was dragging all three of them out.

“What kind of pie did you bring?” Charise grinned at Cade cheerfully.

“Apple caramel.” Cade smiled back.

“You are not allowed to talk to Cade.” Maria snapped at Charise. Charise whimpered and went back to eating her sandwich.

“It’s okay.” Cade looked from Maria to Charise and back again. This was not okay.

“I heard what you did today, Charise.” Maria growled at her. Charise’s lower lip quivered, and Cade could see her eyes filling with tears.

“Maria.” Cade interfered, casting a warning look in Maria’s direction. “There is no need for that. Let it go.”

Jaden looked from Maria to Charise and scooted a little closer to his wife. Maria was terrifying when she got like this, and he had never seen it directed at Charise before. It was worrying. “What did you do?” Cade heard Jaden whisper to Charise. She didn’t answer as big tears began rolling down her rosy cheeks.

“No. I will not. You are not allowed to talk to Cade, Charise.” Maria waved a finger at Charise. “Ever.”

“That’s unrealistic.” Cade rolled his eyes and gave Maria a thin lipped scowl. Holding this secret was not going to be fun. If he were free to tell it or if Charise knew, this wouldn’t be happening.

“Maria. Stop it.” Jaden frowned and then glared at Maria. “You’re making Charise cry.” He wrapped an arm around his wife and began whispering to her.

Maria’s face flushed as she stared at her sister. They were sisters. Charise was always the easier of the two to bring on the tears, and Maria didn’t fall for them. Right now, she couldn’t get rid of the hostile feeling she had toward Charise. She was so angry with her.

“I should go.” Cade got up.

“You just got here.” Maria frowned at him.

“I’ve been here all morning, Maria.”

“Yes, but you were at your house for the last hour.”

“Had to get some other things done. I was still here for most of the morning.” Cade sighed. “I am causing a problem, and I am going.” He looked at Maria and then walked behind Charise to pat her on the shoulder. “Yer fine, Charise. I’m not mad at ye for anything.” Charise looked relieved. At least one of them wasn’t angry with her. Cade mouthed Let it Go to Maria. Then he left.

The moment the front door closed behind Cade, Maria stood up with her hands on the table and leaned toward Charise. “How dare you! You told him he wasn’t the right man for me?! I can not believe you did that.” Then Maria began crying in anger, and Jaden was trapped between two crying women. “I love Cade. You are my sister! You are supposed to be happy for me!”

“But he’s a human, he’s going to-” Charise was whimpering.

“Stop saying that!” Maria hit the table. “I know! Don’t you think I know?!”

“Maria.” Jaden jumped to his feet in defense of his wife. “Stop talking like that to Charise.” Maria glared at Jaden, usually a look that would make him back down instantly. He didn’t. “That’s rude and uncalled for. She is happy for you. I’m happy for you. She’s worried about what happens when Cade DIES. He will die before you do. He’ll die before we all do. We all know it. Look at yourself. You’re a mess when he’s not around as it is. That is all Charise is trying to do. Save you from being an even worse disaster after you have him for 30 or 40 years, and then he dies. We know how you are. When you give your heart, you give it all. It’s not a bad thing, Maria.”

Maria’s mouth dropped open as Jaden spoke. “Then why is it worth it to be in love at all?” She whispered, turning away from the conversation. “We have no guarantees at how long we live.”

“That’s not what I’m saying.” Jaden frowned. “Of course, it’s worth it! What I’m saying is that when you are hurt, you really hurt. Like more than everyone else. Because you’re the kind of person, who gives and gives until you have nothing left. Then people like Bryce take and take and never give anything back, leaving you with nothing. Just because you put up a wall doesn’t mean anything about you actually changed behind it. Cade is a nice guy. You want to give him your life, but he’s also a human who is giving you his life, however short it may be. You are going to outlive him. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that you love him, and if you love him, then you can love someone else.”

“Only him.” Maria sighed. “I can only love him. You two need to get over the fact he’s a human. I am going to end up marrying him.” Then she motioned to Jaden. “And you of all people should not be telling me I shouldn’t marry someone because he’s not Arcadian.” Jaden winced. “You remember how mad our father was when he found out, but he still blessed your union and allowed it to happen. I stood up for you. The least you can do is stand up for me.” Maria looked from Jaden to Charise. Her little sister was still distraught, and tears were streaming down her face. “I’m sorry, Charise, but stay out of my relationship. I love Cade.”

-=-=-=-=-

Cade had a problem. The moment he left Maria’s house, he could only think about Charise and making sure she was taken care of. Her condition immediately brought up a need in him to make sure she had plenty of food. It was common for all Lyceans to make sure everyone was taken care of in the community. Nobody wanted for anything. At the same time, he did not want to insult Maria.

“Mom!” Cade went looking for her. He used his most pleasant voice. “Do we have something we can cook tonight for our neighbors? Also, I have something to tell ye that yer going to like. Yer gonna have to make me a promise!”

-=-=-=-=-

The point of dinner was leftovers that Cade would make sure went over to the Summers’ house. Charise had a healthy appetite before, and Cade assumed she would now. He wasn’t mistaken. Charise devoured her honey ginger roast chicken and went back for seconds. There were also herb roasted potatoes and steamed garden vegetables to go with the chicken. Maria and Jaden ate as well, but not as much as Charise did.

“Eat, eat.” Cade’s mother focused on Charise with a huge grin on her face. She brought around another bowl full of honey ginger carrots. All these things would be healthy for Charise. Zelda had also made sweet potato pies for dessert.

Cade sat next to Maria. He narrowed his eyes at the bowl of honey that his mother had sat in front of her. His mother was not going to quit. He had told her he had a little secret to tell her. The stipulation was that Zelda would stop talking to Maria about their relationship. She would stop trying to push for things they weren’t ready for. She had promised, but there was that jar of honey, and she had smiled at Cade as she slid it in front of Maria. His mother had often said that honey was a potent aphrodisiac and good for everything. There were little hearts all over the jar.

Maria took the drizzler and put more honey all over her carrots. Cade swore under his breath and stuffed chicken into his mouth. “This is all so good.” She smiled at Cade, and he couldn’t help but smile back. Everything seemed to be better among them. Charise was her usual smiling self. Maria wasn’t glaring at her. Jaden was making jokes and being way too sweet to his wife. Cade watched them. Before Maria, he had seen couples being all cute like that and rolled his eyes. Sometimes he had even made snide remarks. Now he realized he was very likely to do the same little affectionate things like asking if she needed more tea.

“Do ye need more tea?” Cade smiled, reaching for Maria’s empty glass along with his own.

“Sure!” Maria smiled.

-=-=-=-=-

Following dinner, everyone went out into the King’s backyard. Cade turned on some soft music rather than his standard rock playlist. Maria watched as he brought hot apple cider to Jaden and Charise. He was acting weird around Charise.

Maria assumed it was because of their fight earlier in the day. She felt so guilty for yelling at Charise and being so angry. Charise was worried about her. And now Cade was making up for it. He brought out a stack of light blankets. The weather was turning chilly, but where they were sitting on the back deck was cozy.

Cade’s mother joined them and pulled her rocking chair closer to the porch swings. Zelda ended up next to Charise and Jaden. She struck up an animated conversation with them.

Maria was baffled. Typically Cade’s mother hovered around her. She had only a passing interest in Jaden and Charise. Now she was asking all kinds of questions about when they were married. What their plans were for the future? If they intended to have children. Maria wished she could save them from the barrage of questions. But Jaden and Charise were giggling and happily talking to Zelda about it.

It didn’t bother them. Maria sighed and stared into the mug of cider that Cade had brought her. He sat down next to her and shook out the blanket in his hands. Then he spread it over their laps. They sat in silence, listening to the conversation going on nearby.

“I love ye, Maria.” Cade leaned over and kissed the top of her head.

“I love you too, Cadeyrn.” Maria smiled up at him and sipped her drink.

-=-=-=-=-=-