The bonfire blazed, the flames licking high up into the starlit night through the wide ring of the treetops.
The carefully tended acreage around them bloomed with colorful life, strategically lit to emphasize the way the master gardener had designed them for nighttime pleasure, for the nighttime pleasure she took with her lover.
The creek rippled and whooshed arrogantly just past the bonfire as if to tell Fire that Water was its master, and Fire better not forget it.
The festival of flowers, sensuality, fertility, and delight.
The perfect night for a wedding.
Strains of Mendelssohn came from the hidden speakers all around Eilis’s property, and she smiled as she closed her eyes, sniffing at the fragrance coming from the honeysuckle that climbed the stone walls and iron fence surrounding her swimming pool. She felt the slight breeze on her near-naked body and faintly tasted a hint of talc that drifted off her sleeping baby.
She opened her eyes when she felt Sebastian’s big hand encase one of hers, his big warm body pressed next to hers. He smiled at his son, his eyes reflecting the firelight. He looked to her then, held her gaze as he lifted her fingers to his lips and pressed a kiss into them.
Suddenly shy, she smiled and felt the blush creep up her cheeks.
“I need to paint you like this,” Sebastian murmured as he inspected her, head to toe. Played with the baby’s curls. “Giselle and your tailor make a good team.”
“I guess,” she whispered, still self-conscious about having her not-yet-recovered-and-newly-pregnant-again belly bared, her breasts and hips vaguely covered with flower-and-leaf-studded lingerie. With her hair caught up in a tiara made of fresh cosmos, she looked like the Green Man’s bride and indeed, she was. The Green Man himself wore simply a green-dyed leather loincloth, heavily embroidered in a leaf pattern.
A few of Sebastian’s enormous family—Eilis was never going to think of them as hers and, quite frankly, she didn’t want to—wandered around the estate laughing, eating, drinking, kissing their spouses, engaged in overt foreplay in the shadows. They were doing exactly what Sebastian had intended, as this, he had explained to her, was what Beltane was all about.
Technically, what it’s REALLY about is throwing away the wedding ring for a night without recriminations.
So tonight … ?
You won’t see that tonight. You’re dealing with a bunch of Mormons who think this is strange enough, but they’re willing to go along for the ride to indulge an eccentric relative. Even the most maverick draw the line somewhere and adultery’s one of those lines. The ones who are active in the church are as invested in their demonstrations of obedience to the Lord as they are in their spouses. They know their limits and nobody will be doing or seeing anything they shouldn’t.
A few women were as bare as Eilis, but only Bryce was brave enough to wear a loincloth like Sebastian’s.
Justice had gone to a costume shop and found iridescent wings she could wear laced to the tiny green velvet harem vest that matched her tiny velvet skirt. Her face and pregnant body glimmered and glistened in the firelight from the iridescent makeup she’d applied to her skin. The family called her Queen Mab as a half-joke, but it was no joke tonight.
Giselle wore a green merrywidow, her breasts plumped up to emphasize the slim platinum diamond-and-emerald choker around her neck, and the long strands of diamonds, emeralds, and pearls wound into her hair. A ground-length skirt consisting only of hundreds of long pastel ribbons and ropes of white beads hung from the hem of her merrywidow. Every time she took a step, the ribbons and beads all fluttered and flew.
It’s Beltane, Eilis, Giselle had said when Eilis questioned her outfit and plans for the night. I want to make love with my husband by the bonfire or in the woods.
But you aren’t pagan, Giselle.
I don’t separate my sexuality and my spirituality. I think it’s a gift from our Creators, just like nature is a gift, and I feel closer to them when I’m in nature. Plus, I think there’s truth in everything. Mormons do believe there’s a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. We just don’t assign her an active role in our lives.
What do YOU believe about the Goddess?
I pray to both the Father and the Mother. But don’t tell my mom or I’ll have to hear a lecture about how we’re supposed to respect her enough not to approach her.
Eilis didn’t really understand enough about Christianity—or any other religion—to grasp the depth of significance of all that even when Sebastian tried to explain it, but it didn’t matter. Once Sebastian had gotten serious about finding a coven, Eilis had decided to join him. They were making a new life together and because she wasn’t tied to any doctrine, she didn’t have a problem following Sebastian in this. She could think of worse things than raising good children in a Wiccan household.
“Oh, Eilis! You look gorgeous!”
Eilis turned to see Lydia Blackwood coming toward them clad in a green lace sheath dress to her knees and green-dyed Keds on her feet.
“Coming from a woman who hangs out with RuPaul, that’s quite a compliment.”
She laughed. “Oh, he would love this. What a cute baby,” she cooed. “You must be Alex.” She turned when Jack caught up to her. “Decided no?”
“God, no,” he snorted, looking down to button the plain white Oxford shirt tucked into plain jeans. “I am too old for this bullshit. Taight is the fucking craziest bastard in the country.”
“And every country in Europe,” came another amused male voice, its accent distinct.
“Hey, you made it!” Jack exclaimed and grabbed Emilio Bautista in a bro-hug while another of Sebastian’s cousins, Victoria, the one who lived in Spain, hugged Lydia, her best friend for twenty-five years. “What happened?”
“Terror threats,” Emilio said. “People who are fighting for Catalonia to secede from Spain threatened airports in Andalusia.”
“I have no idea what you just said,” Jack said.
“Similar to the Irish insurgents.”
“We had to drive to Madrid to get a plane out,” Victoria explained to Lydia and Eilis once Jack and Emilio wandered off to join Sebastian, Knox, Morgan, and Bryce. “Speeding all the way. Every flight out of southern Spain was grounded. I honestly didn’t think we’d make it on time.”
Eilis had never met Victoria so couldn’t help but stare at her, as she had never seen a more beautiful woman in her life. She, too, was dressed conservatively, in white palazzo pants with a simple green silk shell top. Emilio was dressed just like Jack.
“Vic,” Lydia said, “this is Eilis Logan, the bride. Eilis, Victoria LaMontagne Bautista. Felix’s sister.”
“Hi,” Victoria chirped right before Alex, who was also staring at Victoria, started fussing. Victoria rolled her eyes and huffed while Lydia started laughing. “Children hate me,” she said matter-of-factly.
Alex was, in fact, getting fussier. “Why?”
“They think I’m an evil witch.”
Eilis’s bottom lip dropped open. “Uh … ”
“Yours don’t,” Lydia pointed out.
“I would expect a baby out of my vagina to not cry every time it looks at me unless it’s hungry.”
“Hey, look! The preacher’s here!” Sebastian called, waving to a man strolling toward them.
Bishop Mitch Hollander, who apparently had no more intention to dress thematically than the Bautistas or Blackwoods, wore khakis and a green rugby shirt. He saw the green loincloths and immediately cast both Bryce and Sebastian a glare. Sebastian smirked. Bryce coughed to cover a laugh. Mitch snapped at Sebastian in French for quite a while, his angry tone unmistakable in any language. Whatever he said made Sebastian grin and say something snarky back. Victoria snorted and called out her two francs which apparently appeased Mitch.
It rather shocked Eilis that Mitch could be appeased.
He’s gonna kick my ass Sebastian had told Eilis when every Mormon in the family gaped at Sebastian when he told them what he was wearing. His mother had thrown a fit, as had Felix. Morgan had disapproved. When Sebastian explained to Eilis why, even she thought it was a little cruel to taunt them that way. I’m not taunting them. My religion. My wedding. My right to be the Green Man. Not my fault the green apron’s part of Mormon theology.
Victoria and Lydia both hugged Eilis before wandering off to catch up. Giselle was adjusting Justice’s faery wings, which had gotten caught in her hair. Sebastian’s Aunt Harriet was standing with her arm around her ex-daughter-in-law, who looked about ready to break down into sobs.
In the middle of all this, Eilis was alone, but she didn’t feel it. She was on her land, her son in her arms, her lover happy and laughing with men he loved and considered brothers. She didn’t need to be the center of attention nor did she feel left out of the women’s bonding. She could observe quietly and enjoy it, knowing that in a few hours, she and Sebastian and Alex would again be the only ones in this park, encased within its walls.
“There’s Daddy,” she whispered in Alex’s ear and pointed. “Wave at Daddy.” The baby looked that way and flapped his hand, but Sebastian wasn’t paying attention. He was so wound up he was almost as hyperactive as Jack, so Eilis watched. Sometimes she forgot what a god he was, tall, lean, strong, ripped and cut. He carried his clothing well, but no one would know that was underneath the suits and yacht clothes, and now the only place he wore his girl-catchers was when he was working out or painting. She’d … well, she’d stopped seeing him.
She liked that. It was comfortable, the comfort of an old married couple with a long history. It was sweet. Innocent.
Mendelssohn faded away and the only music left was that of the park: the bonfire’s crackle, the creek’s merry burbles, the whisper of the breeze in the treetops, the calls of the hoot owls. The baby shuddered sleepily against Eilis’s shoulder, rearranged himself, sighed, smacked his lips and settled into her shoulder.
Sebastian held his hand out to her with a smile and she returned it, joining him to face Mitch.
The family gathered silently to stand and watch and listen to Mitch’s remarks, which, though à propos, didn’t really seem too different from what Sebastian believed.
He directed Eilis to face Sebastian.
“Will you be my Goddess, Eilis?” Sebastian whispered.
“Always and forever. Will you be my Artist, Sebastian?”
“Always and forever.”
“Amen,” said Bishop Hollander.
The soft answer of many amens echoed through the trees as Sebastian wrapped his arms around Eilis and kissed her, the child they had made together—both children, really—between them.
So lost in her husband’s kiss for so long, Eilis didn’t notice that most of the family had started back toward the house and the rest had drifted off in their rightful pairs to the grottos and nooks they’d chosen before the sun went down, until she and Sebastian slowly parted.
Sebastian looked at Mitch. Mitch looked back at him and then Sebastian grasped Mitch to him in a bear hug.
“Elder,” Sebastian said, “you need a vacation. You look exhausted.”
“Elder,” Mitch returned, “I am, but I can’t right now.” Indeed, Eilis could see his fatigue even in the firelight.
“Tell you what. Send Trevor out for the summer. We’ll take care of him and you can take care of Mina with one less thing to worry about.”
Mitch chuckled then and said, “I fear for the boy’s salvation in your hands, Sebastian, but I’ll take you up on that. Trev’s feelings won’t be hurt at all.” He looked at Eilis then and suddenly, her heart hurt for him. He’d sacrificed a great deal to officiate his best friend’s wedding. “Please take care of him, Eilis.”
She smiled and nodded.
Mitch looked around him and said, his voice wry, “Glad I’m not staying. This isn’t exactly the kind of wedding reception I’m used to.”
“Well, Mitch, there’s the house,” Sebastian said. “The rest of the True Believing Mormons and Irrationally Prudish are in there having cake and lime-sherbet-and-7-Up punch, keeping away from us philistines in case they see something they might be tempted to try.”
Mitch laughed a hearty laugh. “No can do. My pilot’s waiting for me. See you two next month?” Once both Eilis and Sebastian had nodded, he turned and trotted across the lawn to the driveway.
“Eilis. Sebastian,” said a woman, low, seeming to appear out of the darkness. Dianne, a joyous expression on her face, took the baby gently from Eilis. She cast a soft smile at both Eilis and Sebastian, then left with the boy to head for the G-rated shelter of the house.
Sebastian untied his loincloth and dropped to the ground to laze in the grass and stare up at Eilis. She pulled off the flowered bra and wriggled out of her flower-bedecked maternity boyshorts. He offered her his hand and tugged at her until she knelt beside him and simply stared at him, at his naked body glowing in the light of the bonfire.
She languidly straddled Sebastian’s hips, wrapped her hand around Sebastian’s cock, guided him into her. He laid one hand over her pregnant belly, his fingers splayed out, and wrapped the other around her hip so far his finger caressed the sensitive spot just behind where their bodies joined. She closed her eyes and released a long, shuddering breath at the ecstasy of how his hands felt on her, how he felt inside her.
“My Goddess,” Sebastian murmured as he raised his hips, just a little. “Let me love you in the light of the Beltane fire.”
The faint sounds of a dozen other pairs of lovers taking their pleasure in each other wafted to them on the breeze, Eilis and Sebastian’s echoing, answering the rest.