Copyright © Samantha Cayto 2018. All Rights Reserved, Totally Entwined Group Limited, T/A Pride Publishing.
Emil entered his empty kitchen just as the eastern sky started to turn rosy. He liked working before others typically came looking for freshly prepared meals. The peace appealed to him. He liked cooking on his own, too—not that he didn’t appreciate the staff that Alex provided him. Sometimes it was nice to go back to his roots of concocting massive quantities of food for his shipmates. He took great satisfaction in pleasing them, even in this small way. It certainly was more attractive than fighting some bloody human war beside them. He did that as well, of course, yet he simply enjoyed stuffing them with canapes more.
And this day was particularly important. It wasn’t only his own kind he would be cooking for. It wasn’t some ordinary meal or even a big feast to celebrate a victory. This was a unique event for them. After a thousand years on this planet, this was the first time any of them were getting married. Not even Harry and Lucien had been afforded the opportunity to go through this most human of rituals, having made quick work of their marriage at city hall years after they’d produced their son. Val and Mackie were treading new ground, and Emil was determined that their big, important day would be perfect.
Everything was set, the main floor having been closed to the members and turned into a kind of natural church. Not that Emil had had anything to do with that. No, Quinn and the other boys—under Mackie’s critical eye—had set it all up complete with beautiful decorations that gave homage to the humans’ many holidays at year end. It looked like something out of a human fairytale and Emil wasn’t surprised. Mackie loved beauty, and Val loved Mackie. The bratty boy was getting his way in all things, and his joyous appreciation belied his label. Mackie was no bridezilla. Having come from so little, he valued how much he was given.
Emil wanted his contribution—the food and wedding cake—to be as perfect as he could make it. He grabbed a big mug of the pre-brewed coffee and entered his enormous walk-in refrigerator. The five-layer chocolate cake with hazelnut cream filling stood right where he’d left it the night before. He eyed it critically, checking to make sure the fondant was flawless. He’d sprayed it a light silver and festooned it with red and black icing roses. The flavor had been Mackie’s choice, but he’d left the decorating to Emil. Honoring the colors favored by his people had been an odd choice by human standards, but Emil believed that Val deserved them. It was his wedding, too, and despite his show of indulging only Mackie, the man’s nerves were easy to spot.
In less than twelve hours, he was going to stand in front of family and friends and pledge himself forevermore to his beloved boy. He would have someone to warm his bed, source his blood and eventually bear his sons. It was hard not to feel envious, except Emil knew how hard their journey had been. To find a human who could accept a lover who was an alien vampire was extraordinary. Some of his compatriots had been lucky in that. Others, like Dracul, had simply taken whatever they’d wanted. Emil had long ago made peace with the idea that being alone was better than being a monster.
He took a long gulp of his coffee, enjoying the almost instant buzz it gave him. He studied the cake some more, tempted to fuss over it. It was perfect, however, even if he said so himself. Best to get on with marinating the tenderloins and prepping for the side dishes and the hors d’oeuvres. Returning to the kitchen, he set about doing just that. He turned on the radio to listen to classical music. The variety of human music delighted him and he enjoyed the often raucous genres that normally infused the club. Here in his domain, however, he liked soothing, and there was no one to even roll their eyes at his choices.
Mise en place. There was an order and a rhythm to cooking that he welcomed. Everything needed to be laid out for him to begin to build the components of his menu. He had his lists and utensils. There was almost nothing available in the world of cooking that he didn’t possess. There was one long stainless-steel prepping table that only he used. It was spotless because he had made sure it was. He wasn’t one to delegate menial tasks to others. Pride forced him to scrub and order his work space as if the queen herself would walk in and do an inspection.
Not that she existed on this puny world…or ever would. He’d met her only once and could still conjure up the exquisite pleasure of the one time he’d serviced her as a good drone should. That memory served him well in the hours when he lay in his big bed all by himself, making do with his hand. But he didn’t bring it out often. No, he would never disrespect the woman in that way. Instead, he liked to imagine a pretty human boy in his bed. He’d always liked them, even though he avoided such entanglement for the most part. They were too delicate and he was too hulking and strong. He worried that his big hands would crush them like they sometimes did with small foods.
Unlike the little amuse-bouches that he intended to prepare for the wedding, however, he didn’t try to navigate humans. One could always toss away damaged food. Not so, damaged people.
Emil looked up from what he was doing, surprised to find his sous chef, Damien, sauntering in. The guy looked like he’d come straight from a night out clubbing. “What are you doing here so early?”
The kid gave him a tired smile as he headed straight for the coffee. “Seriously? This is…like, the big day, right? I knew you’d be up before the birds, cooking your heart out. No pre-made sandwiches or cold salads for the happy couple, right? Thought I’d come give you a hand.”
Damien filled a mug and came over. His short, dark hair stood in gelled spikes and his neck tattoos showed above the collar of his too-thin jacket. The boy didn’t take nearly good enough care of himself. “Holy crap, Chef! I knew you’d go overboard, but you do know that the entire city hasn’t been invited, right?”
Emil stared down at his prep table. “I want to make sure there’s plenty of variety and no one goes hungry.”
Damien snorted. “You could pass this out to everyone at Fenway Stadium and still have leftovers.”
Emil sniffed. “It’s the wrong season for baseball.”
Damien grinned over the rim of his mug. “Okay, so make it Gillette Stadium. Same dif.” He shook his head. “Is that the marinade for the beef?”
“Yup.” He had two big bowls filled already. While he’d never gotten over his reluctance to slaughter animals for cooking himself, he wasn’t above making do with the sanitized version found in supermarkets. And everyone did enjoy a nice cut of well-seasoned meat.
“I’ll get the tenderloins soaking for you.” Damien reached for one of the bowls.
“You don’t have to. You look dead on your feet. Go home and get some sleep then come in at your regular time.”
“Come on, Chef. Don’t be a control freak. I’ve got this. I may have been up all night and got fucked silly by this totally hot construction worker…but I’m young. I can sleep when I’m dead.” He shot Emil a cocky grin. “Besides, I like helping you out. I haven’t forgotten how you gave me a chance when I was just some snotty-nosed kid with zero training.”
That reminder of Damien’s difficult past and how much the boy appreciated the opportunity Emil had given him was what allowed Emil to let go. “You’re right,” he said, holding up his hands. “I’ve got other things to do and I appreciate the help. After you get the meat marinating, start killing the lobsters. You know how I hate that,” he added with a sigh. Lambs or crustaceans… Emil had a soft spot for them both. It was humans and his own kind that he could kill when necessary, because they gave him reason to, unfortunately.
Damien grinned broadly. “You’re just an old softy, Chef.”
It also made him uncomfortable being called something that he officially wasn’t. Much as he’d wanted to, he’d never had the chance to attend a culinary institute. As a self-taught cook, he shouldn’t answer to the title of ‘chef’ but he’d long given up correcting his staff. Maybe someday when Dracul and his minions had been permanently destroyed, he could indulge himself by going to school. There was always something new to learn.
In the meantime, he could strive for such normalcy as the internecine war permitted. Today was the most important cooking day of his life. Everything had to be perfect. With the two of them working, the time passed quickly. Emil was ultimately grateful for both the help and the company. It was breakfast before he knew it, so he started on the more mundane task of cooking eggs, bacon and toast for the hordes that were about to descend from the living quarters.
Mackie was the first to come flying in, with Demi in his wake. He had some kind of green goo slathered all over his face. “Emil, I have to see the cake! Please say I can.” He rushed over to the counter. “Ooh, bacon.”
“Mackie!” Demi cried out. “Don’t eat yet or you’ll crack your mask. You’re not even supposed to be talking.”
Emil picked up a slice of bacon and handed it over. “Here. We can’t have you fainting at your own wedding. And what’s the stuff on your face supposed to do, anyhow?”
“Clean and tighten his pores,” Demi huffed. “It’s his big day, after all.”
“Your skin is perfect already,” Emil told the groom with a smile, which broadened as he watched the boy consume the bacon with a blissful look. “And of course you can see your cake. Come on.”
He led him over to the walk-in refrigerator and opened the door with a flourish. For a few seconds, Mackie said nothing. He simply stood and stared. Then he gasped.
“Oh, it’s gorgeous.” He turned moist eyes toward Emil. “It’s like something you’d see on TV.”
“Oh my God,” Demi moaned. “Don’t cry. That will ruin your mask, too.”
“I don’t care.” Mackie flung himself into Emil’s arms. “Thank you so much. If I weren’t already madly in love with Val, I’d marry you instead.”
Stunned by the praise and affection, Emil awkwardly hugged him back. “It gives me great pleasure to make you happy.” He tried not to worry about the green stuff getting on his whites.
“Am I going to have to kill you, Emil, for stealing my boy?” Val drawled out the question as he sauntered into the kitchen and headed for breakfast.
Both Demi and Mackie shrieked. Mackie jumped away from Emil and turned his back to his fiancé. “Val, what are you doing here?”
“Yeah,” Demi chimed in, using his body to shield Mackie from Val’s line of sight. “You’re not supposed to see him before the wedding starts.”
Val paused with a piece of bacon halfway to his mouth. “Why the fuck not? I just spent the night with my dick up his ass. Doesn’t that count as ‘seeing him’?”
“Don’t be crude,” Mackie called out as he inched his way over to the door. “I can always change my mind about marrying you.”
Val snorted. “I don’t think so. Try it and I’ll be forced to add a paddling into the ceremony.”
There was another gasp from Mackie and a giggle before he and Demi left the room. “Come back and get your breakfast when Val is gone,” Emil called after them with a shake of his head.
Val grabbed a plate and started filling it with food. “I’ll pile on enough for the two of them and take it up.” He shook his head. “Do you understand any of this nonsense?”
“No,” Emil replied, shutting the refrigerator door. “But your fiancé does and that’s all that matters, right?”
Val shrugged. He shot Emil a wistful expression. “Yeah, I guess that’s right. I want this day to be perfect for him.”
“Me too. So get your food and theirs, then scram. I need room and no distractions if I’m going to get everything done in time.”
“Got it.” After pouring himself a mug of coffee, Val took the meal and himself out of the room, except he paused in the doorway and looked over his shoulder. “Thanks, Emil. You have become as a brother to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever told you how much I truly value you.”
The sentiment caused Emil’s heart to squeeze a bit. Their kind wasn’t much for expressing emotions, at least among males. “Thank you, Val. I return the feeling. Now get the hell out of my kitchen.”
* * * *
The dance floor had been converted into a nave with an enchanted bower running along the edges, complete with a canopy of greens where Val and Mackie would recite their vows at one end. The stripper poles were festooned with colorful ribbons, reminding him of the maypoles of long ago. Emil stood to one side, trying not to tug at the collar of his Canali tuxedo. He hated formal wear and was never so happy as when he was lounging around in a T-shirt and jeans—or his chef’s whites. But Mackie wanted formal and the kid had gone through a lot of misery, much of it in the last few months. He deserved whatever he wanted. One didn’t have to be head-over-heels in love with him to want this wedding to meet his dreams.
That included Alex officiating through some Internet certification that mystified Emil. And he was also surprised to find himself standing for Val as his Best Man in the time-honored human tradition. He had been stunned to be asked and terrified he’d fuck up his one role in the ceremony. For the umpteenth time since getting dressed, he felt in his pocket to make sure the wedding bands were there. Then he eyed the long table set at the far end where the cake sat proudly for perusal. It was a knock-out, if he said so himself. Once the ceremony was over, he would dash back to the kitchen and start laying out the food.
All of the staff, including the go-go boys, were in attendance, as were a few club members that Val and Mackie especially liked. Kitty stood nearby, gorgeous and stately in a skin-hugging red strapless satin gown. She looked every inch a queen, which was probably why he and his compatriots felt such an affinity for her. And on the other side of the room was the cop, Duncan, looking uncomfortable in a natty, pinstriped suit. Demi circled around the poor man, like a minnow harrying a shark. Emil’s money was on the minnow, if it came down to it.
He craned his neck to check out the dark corners of the room and was relieved to see Logan lurking there. Although she was a grown female, perfectly capable of taking care of herself, he still worried about her. The colder it got outside, the more he wanted to keep her safely within his orbit. She was stubbornly resistant to the idea, although she did sometimes sleep in the done-over storage room he’d presented her. She had openly dismissed the invitation to attend the wedding. Yet, here she was, and it allowed Emil to breathe just a bit easier.
The music started, getting everyone’s attention. Voices stilled and all eyes turned to the end of the bower where Val and Mackie walked hand-in-hand to the strains of Pachelbel’s Christmas canon. Val wore a Victorian-era charcoal-gray tuxedo, complete with a champagne jacquard vest and jabot. The outfit would have been considered vintage if not for the fact that he’d bought it himself more than a hundred years earlier. Mackie wore pants in a matching shade of gray, but his jacket was a tunic-style white damask with a Mandarin collar. The ruffles of his white regency shirt cascaded down his front and peeped out from the end of his sleeves. Their combined beauty stunned Emil and caused a strange longing to rise inside him.
There was no time to dwell on his reaction, however. Soon the ceremony started with Alex reciting age-old homilies about why they had all gathered together. Then, first Mackie, followed by Val, recited the old English vows they’d agreed upon.
With a clear, yet shaky voice, Mackie said, “I, Mackenzie Andrew Fraser, take you, Valeriu Stelalux, as my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, to cherish and to obey, till death us do part.”
There was a little snickering by some of the attendants at the ‘obey’ part, but it was good-natured. Everyone knew Mackie was Val’s boy. Then Val pledged nearly the same and in only a slightly more controlled voice that made Emil smile. Alex turned to Emil for the rings, which he managed to liberate from his pocket without dropping. He breathed easier now that his role was over.
A few more traditional words were spoken, but the ceremony wasn’t quite over yet. Val pulled a narrow, supple black collar out of his pants pocket with a gold tag hanging off the D ring. The tag was etched with their new monogram as a married couple—a stylized S bracketed by a V and an M. There were gold lines tooled all around the leather that looked simply like a pretty design, except that Emil and all his kind would recognize them as their language. It spoke of devotion and protection that meant more to Val than the human vows he’d given. The way Mackie gasped at its sight and looked at his husband with tears in his eyes, it was obvious he hadn’t expected his wedding would also serve as a collaring ceremony for a Dom and his sub.
Val presented it. “Will you wear this, Mackie?”
The boy nodded and whispered. “Yes. Yes, Master.”
Val buckled it around Mackie’s neck, laying the tag on the ruffles of his shirt for all to see. He took the boy’s hand, turned to their guests and held their arms up. Everyone clapped and cheered. Val swung Mackie into his arms, bent him over and kissed him silly. When they finally came up for air, Alex was the first to congratulate the married couple. Quinn hugged them both, and soon everyone crowded around them, giving their best wishes.
Emil used the opportunity to slip away and into the kitchen. He was tugging off his bow tie before he hit the swinging doors. There would be time enough to express his happiness to his friends. For now, his duty was to get the food out. Everyone was in the mood to party and there was no reception without plenty to drink and eat.
He took a second to pause and appreciate the quiet space he considered his domain. He loved this kitchen and he loved cooking. There was nothing he wanted so much in this world that he’d been forced to adopt than to pursue this simple pleasure in peace. If only he could. For now, there was a lull from the fighting. But how long would it last? Not long, by his experience. Tonight, though, he could let go of his worry, and it started by getting the hors d’oeuvres into the oven.