Every year my family and friends get together for a Memorial Day cookout, like a lot of Americans do. Though, we have a special tradition to honor our men and women of service. Both those who have passed away while on active duty or simply passed of old age. J We also honor those who still stand and fight for our country because without them we wouldn’t be free to live the way we do. My grandfather passed away last year. He was a Vietnam veteran. My uncles served in Desert Storm and Iraq. And my older brother lost quite a few friends while in Afghanistan. My younger cousin is currently serving in Korea and I miss him dearly and worry for his safety every single day.
In their honor, my family and I light lanterns at night and send them off into the sky. I got to thinking about our tradition this year and thought I could integrate it into a short story. It’s nothing special, but consider it a way for me to remember and for you to enjoy. Happy Memorial Day to you, to our men and women out fighting to give us peace, and especially to those who have given their lives to protect our country. We love you all.
A Royal Memorial Day
“What is going on?”
Rowe’s eyes flitted back and forth, taking in the scene playing out in the back gardens. Small children splashed around in the pond. A tag team of older boys chased each other with water guns, zipping by Rowe and Dan. A spray of water hit the prince in the face. He scowled, turning to his mate.
“I repeat, what is going on, Daniel?” Not Dan or pet, just Daniel. Rowe was angry.
Dan put a large beach towel on the nearest patio table. “It’s Memorial Day, Rowe.”
“And?” The Prince gestured to the compound chefs directing a long commercial grill onto the grass.
“And it’s Memorial Day.” Dan laughed, grabbing Rowe’s hand. “Walk with me, you big oaf.” Dan tugged.
“Must I really? It’s disgustingly hot out there and it’s nice in the shade. Besides, when you ask to take a walk that means I’m in for talking to. I’d rather avoid it all together, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“You want to avoid spending time with me? Gee, thanks.” Dan let go of Rowe’s hand, shaking his head. “Fine. I’m going to get some sun all by myself.”
Rowe gaped when Dan pulled his shirt over his head and traipsed over the lawn with his beach towel in hand.
“Put your shirt back on, pet!” Rowe flashed a look of warning at some Royals lounging in chairs a few feet away. “Eyes to yourself before I rip them out.”
The Royals chuckled, going back to their conversation. Rowe didn’t share their amusement. He stomped over to Dan. His mate was laying out his towel on a sun drenched plot of grass. The prince bent down, snatching up Dan’s shirt. He threw it at Dan. “Shirt. On. Now.”
“No.” Dan plopped down on the towel. He stretched out, putting his hands behind his head. His eye closed, Dan smiled. “You’re blocking my rays, Rowen.”
“I’ll block more than your rays, Daniel Gerard.”
“I don’t even know what that means.” Dan shooed him away. “Stop fucking around. I’m trying to get a tan.”
“You’re already tan.” Rowe flapped the shirt madly, and laid it over Dan’s bare stomach. “Stop with this non-sense. I get it. I pissed you off. But don’t think for one second I’ll allow you to bare you skin for anyone other than me.”
“Oh. My. God. Chill out! It’s my chest, not my dick. I swim in the pool in less than this.” Dan put his hand above his eyes, squinting in the sun. “What is your problem?”
“You swim… in less than this?” Rowe growled. His fangs poked at his bottom lip. “With who?”
“Unless you’re planning on murdering a swimming pool, I suggest you get your shit together, and sit down. Sometimes, Rowe, I have no idea what to do with you.” Dan flopped onto his back again. “I wanted to take a walk to find a proper place to tan without anyone watching us, and possibly explain the festivities, since you haven’t seemed to notice all the planning going on around you this week. But yet again you can’t seem to tame your inner Neanderthal and just be with me.”
“Don’t start with me. You know how much I hate it when you call me Daniel. You make it sound like I’m a child and not your mate. There’s no winning with you, Rowe.” Dan rolled over, putting his chin in his hands. He closed his eyes when Rowe rubbed his back.
Rowe lay next to him. “I apologize, pet,” he murmured. “You know how I get when they plan things without telling me. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”
“Rowe, I’ve told you three times in the last two days about this party. You don’t listen.” Dan squirmed away. “I wondered why you were all dressed up. Guess I thought you just didn’t like doing the casual thing.”
“I also wondered why you were wearing those god awful shorts. I didn’t even know they made shorts in such a shade of green.”
“Green happens to be my favorite color, and it’s called mint, you asshole.” Dan got to his feet. “Go back inside, Rowe. No one wants a party pooper, especially your mother. This day was her idea for Hill and King, but mostly Hill. It’s special to them.” Dan yanked on the towel until Rowe stood up.
Rowe groaned. “Why? What am I missing? What is so special about that heinous grill and children spraying me in the face with water?”
“It’s not about all the stuff, Rowe. Jesus, you’re dense.” Dan marched away, almost tripping over a folded patio umbrella lying in the grass. He clenched his teeth in pain, too pissed to let Rowe see it had hurt.
Hot on Dan’s heels, Rowe began to feel the heat bleeding through his jacket. He tore it off, leaving the blasted thing in the yard. “Pet, don’t you run from me! I will catch you.”
“Twenty bucks says Dan doesn’t last another five minutes before Rowe carries him off to the woods.” Isaac leaned back on Knox in their lounge chair. He held up a folded twenty between his fingers.
Knox bent down, biting the twenty. He chucked between his teeth then slipped the twenty onto the table next to them. “I say two. You’re on.”
The blue haired vampire lifted a red cocktail to his mate’s lips, pushing aside the umbrella with his finger. “Or was that just a hint you wanted to be carried off into the woods?”
Isaac swallowed. He shrugged. “We promised Nina we would help her get those lanterns together”
“How cool are you, being so blasé about hot sex in the woods.”
“We haven’t done it in three days, Knox. I’m trying to keep my cool and not talk about anything stimulating at the moment. She’s had us so busy, and no one has left us alone… just be quiet and let me drink.” Isaac snatched the drink up, guzzling half the contents. “Happy Memorial Day,” he quietly saluted the staff scampering around the grounds.
“Hey.” Knox nuzzled his nose in Isaac’s neck. “It will be, I promise. After tonight everything will die down and we can go into the city if you want, just the two of us.”
“You promised Nova you would take him to The Sickness concert tomorrow. You know if we get a room in the city, we won’t be leaving it for the next three days.” Isaac smiled lazily, daydreaming of what it would be like.
“Shit. That’s tomorrow? I totally forgot. I’ll... it’s just some stupid rock band. We can take him to another show next time.”
“He was really excited, Knox. They’re his new favorite. I should have never given him that cd for Christmas. He’s starting to become one hell of a fangirl. Did you see that poster he has of Rebel Beltaine in his room now? It’s life size.”
“Who knew the quiet one would be such a little groupie. For a Goth rock group at that… Damn, that’s weird. One day it’s books and the next it’s rock bands. I can’t keep up with him.” Knox hugged Isaac close.
“I know it’s been a long time since you guys found him, but he’s still adjusting. It’s why he absorbs everything he can about the new world. It’s like he thinks it’ll all disappear on him and he needs to grasp it all while he can.”
Knox kissed Isaac’s shoulder, watching the yard for anyone staring at them. Content that no one could see them on their private terrace jutting off their rooms, Knox sucked at Isaac’s neck. “Why do you have to be so smart?”
Isaac reached up, tangling his fingers in Knox’s hair. “Because one of us has to be.”
“Smartass.” Knox’s fangs raked over Isaac’s neck.
“I can’t take it anymore. We’re going inside and you’re going to finish this. No more teasing.” Isaac stood up. He realized his mistake too late.
Nina whistled at him from below. “There you are, Isaac. I’ve been calling both you and Knoxtian and no one answered. I was about to come up there, but what luck! The lanterns have arrived. Come down and help me, would you? Oh, and is that Knoxtian?”
Isaac grumbled. “Yes.”
Nina put a hand on her hip, somewhere between exasperated and relieved. “Bring him along. Hurry up. Hill and King will be arriving shortly. I want everything ready.”
“We’ll be right there,” Isaac called. After Nina walked away, directing the staff in only a way the queen could do, Isaac turned to his mate. “I swear to god if you haven’t fucked me by tonight, I’m raping you in your sleep.”
Knox tried to keep a straight face, but lost it. He laughed, pulling Isaac into his lap. “Brat. You can try.”
“What?” Isaac raised his brows. “It’s not like I haven’t done it before.”
Narrowing his eyes playfully, Knox brought his face inches from Isaac’s. “Let’s see you try it this time. I’ll be ready.”
“You’re on,” Isaac hissed, showcasing his fangs. “You’re so on.”
King waited for his mate to get out of the vehicle. He made a few grunts, reached a hand forward then stopped himself, biting his lip. He was always anxious when Chloe unbuckled Ryder from his car seat and tried to balance the diaper bag in one arm and their son in the other.
“Careful.” The word slipped from his mouth. He cringed, backing away.
Chloe growled, standing up straight. Baby Ryder was fast asleep across her chest. “Here.” She shoved the diaper bag into King.
“I didn’t mean it. It was an accident.” King groaned. “You know how I get.”
“Distrusting, that’s how you get it. Oh, I know all too well.” She rolled her eyes.
Her long red hair whipped around in a silken curtain as she gave him her back. “Door,” she barked.
King received an emphatic glance from Hill, who came to his rescue around the vehicle. “You gotta watch it, bro. I know it’s hard. I was the same way. You watch those kids being born and your entire perception changes. You want to beat your chest every time someone so much as glances at them, or do some damage when someone hurts them, accidentally or not. But that’s your mate, King. She’s not the enemy.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” King rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s just that I never went through this with Nan. Sure, I was and still am protective and she’s my little fucking girl, bro… but I saw him like… I was there when Chloe… ah, man. It’s so much worse this time. Am I terrible for not being this crazy with Nan? Should I be more aggressive with her?”
Immediately, Hill shook his head. “I don’t think Jaska would care for that very much.”
King growled. “Fucking Jaska touching my baby girl.”
“See?” Hill clapped him on the back. “You’re just as crazy with her.”
“I don’t know how you keep your cool like you do. You’re a friggin general when the boys act out, but you keep it together, man. How the hell do you that all the time?” King caught himself when Hill looked away. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. My bad, bro, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“No.” Hill smiled at him. “Don’t ever feel bad for talking about my boy. He’ll… he’ll come around.”
“No word yet then?” King shut the door, glancing at his mate, who was making her way inside.
King saw the sadness enter Hill’s eyes. Never before had he seen Hill look depressed. The queen’s mate was the level headed one of the bunch; even more so than Micah. In fact, out of all of the Guardians, he’d always seemed the happiest since arriving at the compound twenty-four years ago. It hurt King to see his brother in pain.
Hill turned to King. “Blaze called, said they weren’t coming up this weekend. Nina wanted to have dinner tonight with all of us; however, Blaze relayed Cage wasn’t down for it in the guiltiest response ever. Not only has he put Blaze in a compromising messenger position, my son truly believes he can just move off and become this, I don’t know, vigilante lone ranger in the middle of the most dangerous pit of vampire gangs on this planet. Jesus,” Hill let all the air escape his lungs. He inhaled deeply, on a gasp.
King allowed his brother to get it all out. Cage, Hill’s son was out there, alone and confused, yet one hell of a fighter who they desperately needed in their company. It may seem healthy and happy on the home front to the Royals sucked back into their glamorous lifestyles; the death of Thomas, Thierry, and Anton gave the Royals their moment to shine. But the Guardians were not under that impression.
They all knew the dangers still lurking in their city. Every single one of them was well aware, them and their prince. Rowe knew better than anyone. He was in the middle of a war now. He and Cade commanded a brutal taskforce. They infiltrated the city on a steady rotation, eradicating a hefty percentage of Rush dealers and the heavy gang players, who never failed to have fangs.
There was now a true to word underworld lurking in New York City, where kingpins, vampires, and every day no one’s mingled intimately. It was a bloody, cruel, yet strangely alluring kind of place. Yet not at all attractive when your kid decided he wanted to tag along, but hang in the corner where you couldn’t keep an eye on him. That shit was bad news. King could never think of his son out there acting a fool, when he was grown up, being exactly in the same predicament.
“Fuck,” he whispered.
Hill put his hand up, eyes desperate. “That’s it,” he responded to King’s realization. “Valjana, that kid, he doesn’t realize he’s hurting her… and me. Hell, everyone misses him. Axel is the only one he talks to now.”
King nodded, walking beside Hill into the compound. “That sucks, bro. At least Axel’s still getting through, though. There’s still hope for Cage yet. No, I promise you, we will get your son back on the straight and narrow. He’s blowin off steam. Let him catch back up to the program and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
Hill cleared his throat, issuing his courteous end of this conversation look. This was the point where he had reached his limit and it was cool with King. Hill grunted. “And for you, too. Just watch it around Chloe. If there’s one thing I know about our females, they don’t like it when their mate doesn’t trust them with their child. Or acts like they don’t, that’s what I meant.”
“Noted.” King grinned. Hill was switching the subject and he let it slide. King was happy enough his brother opened up to him, no matter how short their conversations were. Hill wanted King to know how he felt. That was an honor in itself.
On top of the human holiday that meant so much them both of them, King knew the weight on Hill’s shoulder was only heavier with Cage not being near. “Bro?”
“I got you. You know that, right?” King kept walking next to him.
“No doubt in my mind, King. I got you, too.” Hill stopped. “I’m gonna go find Nina. You should continue groveling with Chloe. If you ever want to see that kid of yours, I mean.”
King blew out a slow breath. “Time to get creative. She’s not going to let me off that easy this time. I said careful, which to her is the equivalent of… I think you’re going to drop my son, hold the fuck up.”
Hill cringed. “Ouch, Valjana. Grovel.”
“Exactly.” King pointed to him. He withdrew his excitement, only to replace it with a still calm, targeting something towards the Great Room. “Hey wait. Do you smell steak?”
“King, you dream about steak. Is this the part where you tell me you’ve actually lost your mind?”
King clucked his tongue in a way that reminded Hill of this ghetto chick with her name attached to earrings he knew back in the sixth grade. She would stick out her lips as she crossed her arms, bobbing her head while she looked her at her girlfriends randomly. Just to see if they were gonna watch her beat his ass. Hill smiled widely, shaking his head.
“No, man.” King pushed him gently. “Check it out. For real, smell the damn air.”
“I thought we were vampires, not hunting dogs.” Hill pushed open the great room doors, suddenly blanketed with the heavy aroma of perfectly grilled steak. “Fucking hell that’s incredible, you aren’t crazy.”
“It’s called trust. I think I taught myself a lesson, and if I know anything about my mate, it’s that she’s a sucker for a good steak and it’s one of the many qualities I love about her. This will go over just fine. She can’t deny me forgiveness while she’s holding the world’s cutest kid and eating steak. It just isn’t done, not by her at least.”
Hill bumped King’s shoulder with his fist. “Perfect execution, my friend; couldn’t have done it better myself.”
“Why thank you.” King bowed a little. “Let’s do this.”
King lowered his sunglasses, giving his best award winning smile. The doors underneath the stairs in the Great Room opened under a staff member’s hand. The sun pelted down on them both, revealing the heavenly scene in the back gardens.
“Mother of god, I think we’ve entered a barbeque.” Hill’s excitement could only be found in the gleam of his eyes, but it was there. There was something about a barbeque, in a place that would have to Google barbeque to even know what it was that couldn’t help but leave a smile on your face.
George met them on the grass. “Good, you’re here. Cade wanted you to know Rowe is in a mood of the teasing variety, which translates to the prince is playing the part of a cat today. You’ve been warned. Also, this is supposed to be a surprise, but I headed you off luckily, so it would be wise of you both to go out there prepared and charming. Nina, excuse me, the queen has put every last ounce of her energy and thought into this event. I believe you understand?”
“You’re saying my mate did this for the two of us?” Hill’s brows shot up. “Why?”
“Memorial Day, of course. The two of you had a brief conversation two weeks ago about it. Don’t worry. None of us know the details, so please don’t be offended. It’s just Nina thought it would be nice to attach one of your traditions to ours and everyone was taken with the idea. We also have those who have fallen. In the scheme of things, this gesture allows us to honor all of those who have fought for our home and given the ultimate sacrifice. Your mate respects you dearly, Hill. She’s proud of those men and women. She’s proud of you.”
“Bravo, George.” King winked. “That was a beautiful speech.”
Hill held out his hand to George. “Agreed.”
The butler obliged, shaking hands with one of his race’s great Guardians. “Thank you, my lord.”
“Thanks, George.” Before things got too uncomfortable, Hill departed with King to find their mates.
Nina pulled the elegant lady card and rose from her chair on the patio. She stood there, ever Royal, and waited for her warrior to come to her. With her change of wardrobe, wearing one hell of a red sundress, Hill had never been so happy to come home in his entire life. His mate was good, really good. He was proud of her, too.
She held up a beer. The timing was perfect. He couldn’t have asked for a better day, any more perfect weather, an even better mate, and the blending of their fallen. To see Nina there, knowing she had done all of this because she too felt his pain, and loved him fiercely, was beautiful.
“Goddamn it, woman, the things you do to me.”
“I thought you might like it.” She leaned against the railing, confidence winning over her nerves. “And you, King?”
King stopped a foot in front of his mate. He addressed his queen, still focused on Chloe, “I’m honored.”
He was shocked with how smooth he could be. He wasn’t being arrogant, but his execution was stunning. Chloe had been looking right at him, holding their child while King burned the words into her with his eyes. His mate surely took it the way he meant it, only for her, but double the sentiment.
“Good,” was all Chloe replied, lifting her mental block for him. She lifted her plate. “I’ll take some more fruit salad and Jess needs a water bottle. Speaking of which, where are Rowe and Dan? They’re supposed to be doing this.”
“It’s fine, Chloe. For the hundredth time, I am perfectly comfortable right here, although a water bottle does sound nice.” Jess tilted back the wide brim of her sun hat and put a hand on her finally starting to show belly. Her dark sunglasses helped to create the glamorous pregnant woman seated under the shade of an umbrella.
“I got it, baby.” Frank unscrewed the cap off a bottle he brought to the table. “Here.”
“Like I said, I’m perfectly comfortable.” Jess smiled, hiding her sparkling green eyes behind her shades. “Thank you.” She kissed Frank on the cheek.
Everyone thought when Jess finally became pregnant for Dan and Rowe, after visits with Theo, that Frank would be jealous and want to keep the child. But the truth in Frank’s strength came out when he sincerely declared that he was all for giving his brother and brother-in-law a family. He’d said they deserved one, too. And Jess, she couldn’t have been happier to see Dan smile like that, not even with all the money in the world.
“Good lookin out, Frank.” King nodded before he went to get his girl some fruit salad.
The party picked up. For a barbeque, cookout, whatever these vampires deemed appropriate for this shindig, King noticed how much they enjoyed it. The Royal events had usually centered around deaths, laws, or networking as glamorously as they could. To see them all mingling in a carefree way was nice.
Cade and Micah met King at the grill. Rowe was scheming next to them. His violet eyes preyed on Dan gathering food on a plate. His lips twitched with a plan. King could see it all coming.
“Not today, Rowe. This is a rare event and I’d like to continue enjoying it.” King grabbed a beer from the staff tray.
“Rare event?” Rowe sniffed, losing his idea. “Yes, just the person I needed to talk to about all of this. Maybe if I smooth things over with you, Dan will calm down. It was an honest lapse in memory, due to my increasingly busy work load, not that Dan was to blame for any of it. I only forgot he’d mentioned this event to me earlier and I might have been a little shocked by all of this.” Rowe nodded at the grill. “So I took it out by asserting my dominance a little too much. Will you please tell my mate that in no way was I trying to be disrespectful to anyone’s memory on this holiday, that I’m happy he helped plan such a beautiful event with mother, and that I still love him?”
“I think he heard you, smooth operator.” King sniggered with Cade and Micah.
Dan peeked over his shoulder. “I heard you. It’s just a matter of whether I want to believe it or not.”
“Ouch.” King acted as if he’d been burned.
Micah and Cade laughed even harder. They’d taken every bit of what Dan and Rowe had thrown at them over the years. This little spat didn’t fail to entertain.
Dan whisked his plate away, heading for a table. When he glanced back at Rowe, the prince didn’t waste another second standing there. Oh yeah, Rowe was most certainly whipped, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
Their mating was a good one. Dan was strong enough to hold his chin high and let Rowe’s behavior slide. He knew his mate cared. He was also getting a bit tired of their game of hide-and-seek for the day. Dan wanted to enjoy the event with Rowe. He made that clear by edging out a chair with his foot for his mate as he sat down.
And as the other couples and friends began to settle in for the afternoon, eating and laughing, there was finally peace.
“Why did she sign us up for this again?” Knox surveyed a few hundred lanterns to be set off into the night sky. They were all ready to go, strewn over the courtyard. An American flag had been stationed next to the Royal cross in the center, fluttering gently in the night breeze.
Isaac smacked his arm. “Don’t you feel terrible saying those sorts of things? We’re doing this for those who should be remembered.”
“Excuse me, brat. I wasn’t saying it like that. I meant why us. And since when are you all patriotic?” Knox held up his hands. “Not that you shouldn’t be. I’ve just never known you to be passionate about war.”
“Don’t ask me to explain it. Seeing all of these lanterns, I guess. They make you think of how many people aren’t here anymore because they wanted to protect us.” Isaac stepped closer to Knox. He didn’t grab for his hand. Their bond didn’t have to be showy for them to understand.
“I get it, Iz.” Knox squished in closer, grabbing his mate’s hand discretely. “The human warriors that fought for their country… We may be vampires, fighting our own war, but the human war is much larger. Those men and women die every day and they don’t get the kind of recognition our soldiers do. You’re right, Iz, it does make you think.” Knox glanced at Isaac. “We were meant to protect them, the humans. And here they are serving up their lives because of how much they love us, vampires or not. That’s real strength. That’s a real warrior.”
Isaac bumped Knox with his shoulder. “Don’t cry, okay?”
Knox snorted. “So much for being serious.”
In a rare move on Isaac’s part, he openly hugged his mate, allowing the staff to see. “You’re nothing but a big softy.”
“I’ll have to disprove that later.” Knox clapped his hands on Isaac’s ass, giving him a good squeeze.
“Talk about ruining the moment.” Isaac laughed. “Come on, big guy, let’s get the rest of this done. I want to see the look on King and Hill’s faces when they get a load of this.”
“Twenty bucks says Hill bawls like a baby.” Knox produced Isaac’s twenty out of his pocket. “Game?”
“Always.” Isaac got on his tip toes and kissed his mate quickly.
Hill’s day had been perfect. Nina knew how much he missed his human brothers in the Navy Seals, and all the memories he had of those days. He’d told her on many occasions, after they were mated, of the men he’d watched perish, and subjected her to a few scary moments where he couldn’t wake up from a reminiscent nightmare. And still she thought to honor those men and women, even human, and instill a sense of tradition within their own race to give them pause and think on their fallen warriors.
To Hill, nothing could have been more special for his mate to think of him in that way – a man of honor and valor; a man who she was proud of. To think his experience and gratitude for his human brothers would spark her sense of pride within the vampire warriors was truly amazing. So when she led him out to the courtyard, guiding a procession of full bellied vampires onto the cobblestone, he had to catch his breath at the sight of hundreds of lanterns.
“What is this?”
The queen kissed his hand. “Do you think it’s cheesy?”
“No, I just don’t understand.” He squeezed her hand.
“They’re lanterns to be sent up into the sky, to honor our perished warriors, both human and vampire.” She smiled. “I thought it would be beautiful.”
King and Chloe joined them. “It is,” King assured her. “It really is, Nina. Thank you.”
Ex-Army himself, King knew exactly how Hill felt. Nina couldn’t possibly know how much good she’d done. Hill cleared his throat, nodding. “Thank you… my mate,” he whispered. “This means a lot.”
The queen bowed slightly, filled with emotion. “Anything to honor my mate and his brothers. Such strength should be remembered, even if it is gone from this earth.”
“Seriously, woman, you’re killing me here.” Hill swept her into his side, hugging her tight. “Let’s go give our boys and girls one hell of show.”
“Okay.” She wiped underneath her swirling eyes.
Nina proudly walked her soldier to the middle of the courtyard. Everyone was handed a lighter as they made their way onto the cobblestone. The Guardians faced their race, holding onto their lanterns. Nina nudged her son. “This is what Memorial Day is.”
Rowe could feel the air thicken with emotion. These people had lost their mates, their children, and their loved ones to war. They had stood strong at the side of their warriors, even if they had long since passed on. His pet was right. Today wasn’t about him or his childish behavior. Today was about honoring those who served them, and those who had died to protect them, both human and vampire. He realized his mother’s need to honor them. He realized her yearning to give back to her mate and King, who had bravely risked their lives on their behalf and on behalf of their country for decades.
Rowe stood before his warriors, Guardians and Guards. He felt a little silly doing it, but knew he got it right when he saluted them. “You honor us with your dedication to protect your people. You honor us with your memories and your strength. You honor those who have fallen next to you with the men and women you have become. To all of you, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now let us thank those who can’t be here with us today.”
A tiny flame danced inside of Hill’s lantern as he let the breeze take it into the sky. Against the darkness of night, the creamy tissue paper lantern looked a ship sailing into the stars. He put his hand against his forehead and saluted his fallen. The other Guardians hefted theirs into the air, letting go. Soon after, hundreds of lights filled the night sky, sending thanks to those who lived beyond their reach.
The vampires stood in awe. A sense of love washed over them all. They now knew what it was to remember. In their loved ones memory, and for all who had served the great country they now lived in, they remembered them well.
King retired with his mate and child to their rooms, holding his family close. Dan led Rowe to the back gardens, just to sit and watch the lights in the sky. Cade and Micah had a few more drinks with George and Maggie, reminiscing about the warriors of old. Knox took back his twenty when he and Isaac reached the front entrance.
“I told you.”
“Shush.” Isaac hugged his mate. “It’s okay to miss them.”
They watched Hill continue to hold his mate. The big male pressed his face into Nina’s slender neck.
Knox rested his chin on Isaac’s head. “It is.” He looked up into the sky, murmuring, “Thank you.”
Isaac led his big softy back into the main house to let Hill and Nina have a moment alone. Everyone needed to let the day sink in and reflect, not on them, but to cherish what they had because of those who had laid down their lives to give them peace.
Nina finally looked up at her mate. “Every day you make me proud to be at your side.”
“And every day I live to fight for you. Every day I live to keep you safe.” Hill brushed her hair away from her face. “Just as they did and still do.”
Nina threaded her fingers through Hill’s. “Thank you.”
Hill gave her a boyish look, one filled with joy. “Are you cold? We can go inside.”
“No,” she tugged on his hand, “let’s a stay a little while longer. They’re so beautiful.” Nina looked to the sky.
Hill admired his mate’s handiwork, still floating in the night. With all the things he wanted to say, he chose to silently send up his gratitude with a smile. He would never forget them.