That night, after dinner, Charlie gathered his entire pack in the den at the back of the house. There were fifty-two people in attendance including pups and wolflings (teenage wolves), and the room was uncomfortably full. It was strange, but when Charlie had bought this house two years ago, he’d never imagined it not being big enough.
Thank the moon goddess we don’t meet like this often.
Standing with his feet wide apart and his hands behind his back, Charlie addressed his family. “In three days, about two dozen of the Delgado clan are going to be visiting us. They’ll be here through the first week in January. In fact, the day they leave is the day I have to return to SearchLight Academy.”
There was some grumbling. Charlie waited it out.
“I know most of you aren’t thrilled that I have to go back and teach. I’m not exactly happy myself. But it’ll be only until the end of January if Blau Lepa, the adjunct I’ve been sort of training, is approved to take over in the spring semester. If he’s not, he’ll surely have the green light by summer’s first session.”
More muttering, but less intense.
Charlie nodded. “You did a great job during the fall term, and I’m looking to all of you to be strong while I’m gone again. As always, Luis is the final authority on anything, but just as you do while I’m here, take your concerns first to Jeremy.
“Now. Let’s talk about our guests. They will not
be staying here. There just isn’t enough room for twenty-four more people, and I refuse to show favoritism by inviting a few to stay here and relegating the rest to a secondary location.
“Remind me who speaks Spanish?”
Five people stood, including Luis. Charlie grinned at his mate’s cheekiness. Of course he
spoke Spanish. These were his relatives. “All right. You’ll be our ambassadors. And the first two rules of diplomacy are: listen much more than you talk, and treat everyone with the respect you enjoy in this pack.” He turned to Ethan, who wasn’t standing. “I’m counting on you, as Luis’s best friend and the calmest person I’ve ever met, to figure out, with Luis’s help, whom the most powerful—politically and emotionally—family members are. You will cater to them personally.”
Ethan nodded, but Charlie picked up a wave of nervousness on the telepathic bandwidth.
“Go ahead,” he invited.
“I don’t speak perfect Spanish,” Ethan said at once.
“Luis has assured me most of his family is bilingual. I’m counting more on your ability to soothe than your perfect verb forms.”
“All right.” Ethan sounded reassured.
Jeremy took his mate’s hand.
Charlie considered the five people who still stood. “It’s your responsibility to make sure one of you is available at all times to act as translator if translation’s needed. All of you work, so I want you to figure out how to divide the duty among yourselves. Those who work for SearchLight—under me, in other words—just let me know what full or partial days you need off. The members of SearchLight who don’t speak Spanish and/or don’t live here will take up the slack and probably be grateful for the overtime just before the winter holidays.
“Um…” He felt uncomfortable saying this next part. All of his wolves and most of the nonwolves would be able to tell if he lied. So he would tell the truth even though it sounded like he was pawning everything off on Luis. “Luis’s family isn’t just coming for a visit. Luis and I are getting married according to the traditions of his people.”
No one stirred.
Oh hell. I was hoping I’d have to reassure them that I’m not spitting on our traditions by adopting another’s
. Instead, his pack was waiting for him to weigh in on the topic. That tendency argued well for their ability to work with xenophobic people, but it also left Charlie feeling exposed. He gathered his strength. “I love Luis. If this makes him happy, I’ll do it.”
“But you’re already mated,” said Jeremy. “That doesn’t count?”
“It counts,” Luis said before Charlie could. “But a psychic vampire wedding is awesome. Not to be missed. And I want to bind myself to our alpha in a way that my family will acknowledge and respect.”
“Aren’t most psychic vampires a little…racist?” asked Georgina, one of the triplets’ two mothers.
“More like species-ist,” Luis said, but he sounded amused. He always did when coining a new term.
Charlie said, “We’re hoping that seeing all of you living peacefully together will help them view Luis’s and my love in a better light.”
Charlie took in the whole room with a sweep of his psychic sense more than with his weak eyes. “Does anyone have any questions?”
Brit stood, making herself easily visible. “Will there be piñatas?”
Charlie gestured to Luis to field the question.
“Probably not,” his mate said. “Those are largely confined to children’s birthdays.”
“But China, Aus, and I have our birthday on the seventeenth. It would be great to have piñatas.”
Charlie waited to see what Luis would say.
“I’ll see what I can do about making sure the fun’s as inclusive as possible.”
It was a more diplomatic answer than Charlie had expected, and it put the hair up on the back of his neck. Luis being careful with his speech was stranger than a June snowstorm. He touched his lover’s mind. “What problem do you anticipate?”
“If my mother will accept werewolves celebrating a Latino tradition that, while it has been shared with non-Hispanic cultures through the years, has remained largely split between the psychic vampires and Spanish-speaking humans.”
Xenophobic down to the games they play, Charlie thought. Oh, this is going to be fun. “Would it help if we said we’d provide the piñatas?”
“I doubt it.”
Already Charlie loved this. He returned his attention to his wolves. “Any other questions?”
No one answered.
“All right then. Everyone’s free to go. Thank you for sitting through this.” As all the gathered magical creatures and humans got up to leave, Charlie went to Luis and took his hand. “Upstairs?” he asked quietly while chatter broke out all around them.
They escaped to their bedroom. With the door shut and locked against disruption and the stereo turned up loud to avoid leaking their noises throughout the house, Charlie and Luis tumbled into bed fully clothed.
They needed to make up for their long separation caused first by Charlie’s stint at SearchLight academy—he’d been called in to replace a fired languages professor back in August—and then by Luis’s visit to see his family. Even though the beginning of Luis’s vacation and the end of Charlie’s required absence had overlapped by several days, Charlie felt like he’d been gone from Luis’s arms for years rather than months. He drew Luis against him, laid his head on Luis’s chest, and listened to his heartbeat. He slowed his breathing until it was in time with the rise and fall of the psychic vampire’s rib cage. Then he said, “I missed you.”
“I missed you too. Phone sex just hasn’t been cutting it.”
Charlie snorted. “Is that all you do, think with your dick?”
“Why not? It’s the smartest part of me. It got me you.”