WHEN WE GET BACK TO THE ESTATE, MOM AND Catherine are marshaling the troops in the kitchen like a general and her aide. John-John runs up to me when Frey and I come in and hugs my legs. He doesn't have to say a word, his shining eyes say it all. Trish follows him over, encircling Frey and I and John-John in a group hug that threatens to topple us all over in its enthusiasm.
Laughing, I pull back. "What's all this about?" I ask innocently.
Then everyone, Mom, Dad, Trish and John-John are talking at once, each offering a suggestion about what they want to do to help with the wedding preparations. I can tell it's all they've talked about since Frey and I departed. Already, Mom has lined up a caterer, a party planner to handle renting tables and chairs and a local baker to make the cake.
"Wait a minute." I hold up a hand in protest. "This is supposed to be a small affair, remember?"
"It will be," Mom insists. "But there are some neighbors we'd like to invite and I'm sure you and Daniel will want to include friends from San Diego. David, for instance. Which reminds me, no time to mail out invitations. You'll have to call everyone. Better do that tonight. You said your jet was here? Maybe you could arrange to fly-"
She continues to babble happily on. I tilt my head, studying her. I'm happy to see her so animated. I find myself smiling, agreeing to every suggestion. No way will I ruin her glow.
At that moment a tiny germ of an idea takes root. Something Chael said this afternoon.
Maybe I won't have to.
* * *
THE TRIP TO THE CONSULATE GOES SMOOTHLY. UNTIL we're presented a list of the documentation necessary to marry in France. One item jumps off the page-medical certificate. Blood tests and a medical exam by a French doctor have to be completed before the marriage application can be approved.
The clerk helping us offers a list of doctors to consult, but for the same reason I have avoided my own doctor in San Diego, I know I can't go to just any doctor in France. I have no idea how vampire physiology differs from human, but I don't intend to find out now. I glance at Frey. Chances are, he would pass a normal exam and routine blood tests. He is more human than not.
Everything else, passports, birth certificates, certificates certifying that we are free to marry, proof of domicile-all are dispatched with alacrity. Frey has his lawyer friend in San Diego with whom he's already talked. I call David and he promises to get the bureaucratic wheels spinning for me. After, of course, an excited chorus of whoops from both he and Tracey when I tell him why I'm calling.
Then he says, "By the way, Harris stopped by the office yesterday. You are never going to guess what's happened? They've identified Warren Williams' killer! And the same guy confessed to killing Judith Williams, too. Can you believe it?"
My breath catches. Not possible. Warren Williams' killer is a vampire long dead. By my hand. Judith was killed in Monument Valley. Frey's hands were on that weapon, but I was at his side, urging him to take the shot. It takes me a second to compose myself enough to ask, "Who?"
"Some lowlife ex-con who had a grudge against the chief. Confessed to killing them both and burying Judith Williams' body in the desert. Left a beautiful letter addressed to the DA before blowing his brains out in front of SDPD headquarters."
Frey is watching me, reading my body language. We're back in the car, getting ready to head home. As soon as I end the call with David, he asks, "What's wrong?"
When I repeat what David told me, he's as shocked as I am. "Somebody engineered this," he says. "But who?"
"And why?" If I'm supposed to be relieved that Harris will no longer be harassing Frey and me, the feeling is overwhelmed by a sense of dread. Whoever did me this "favor" will undoubtedly be around at some point to collect for it.
"Jesus, Frey. A man is dead. The case tied up with a pretty ribbon. What the fuck?"
Frey's eyes meet mine.
"I can't help feeling this has Chael's signature all over it."
Frey is shaking his head. "Well, we can't do anything about it now. When we get back home, we'll do some digging." He spreads his hands. "Right now we have a wedding to plan, right? I saw how you reacted when you saw that medical requirement. Let's tackle that problem."
Frey is right. I close my eyes for a minute, push Williams to the back of my head, focus on the present.
Where Chael is once again front and center. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"I know he wouldn't be your first choice as a go-to guy, but maybe Chael can help," he says, proving that we are indeed thinking the same thing. "He's obviously spent a lot of time in France. He speaks the language like a native."
I release a breath. "I hate going to Chael for anything. He's such a smug bastard. But you're right, he's been around for a long time. I'm sure there's a network he can tap into. I can't be the only vampire to ever get married in France." I glance at Frey. "What about you? Could you pass a routine physical?"
. "Of course. Have many times. Only my DNA contains the strand that would identify me as a shape-shifter and I doubt they're going to run DNA tests on us. Or recognize what it was if they did."
Frey is at the wheel and has guided the car onto the road so I dig my cell phone out of my pocket. "Never thought I'd ever be calling Chael for a favor," I mumble, calling up his number from the contact list. He gave the number to me in Monument Valley and some inexplicable impulse made me program it into the phone even as I swore it'd be a cold day in hell before I used it.
Wonder what the temperature is in the Syrian Desert today?
The phone rings once before the call is answered with a brisk, officious male voice that rattles off an impressive greeting in Arabic.
I didn't think before calling that there's no mental connectivity through a phone line. Stupid. I hesitate before saying, "Anna Strong, calling for Chael."
There's not even an instant's hesitation on the part of the unidentified male on the other end. "Ms. Strong, how nice of you to call." The switch to English is done effortlessly. "I am Chael's assistant. Can I be of service?"
Okay, now what? May as well just tell him why I'm calling. Since he recognized my name, he must know my nature. "I am planning to marry in France. I need a doctor to handle the necessary medical paperwork. Does Chael know of someone who can help?"
Again, the answer comes instantaneously. "Of course. I will see to it right away. Is there anything else?"
I have the feeling if I'd asked for a full moon on the night of our wedding, he would have answered the same way.
And probably swung it.
"No, that's it," I reply. "Thank you."
"I will tell Chael that you called. He is a great admirer."
I hike my eyebrows at Frey as I ring off. "Maybe I need to get an assistant like that."
"Are we all set?"
"Oh yeah," I say, grinning. "We're good to go."
* * *
THE NEXT MORNING, BEFORE THE HOUSEHOLD HAS time to gather for breakfast, there is a ring at the front door.
Since Frey, John-John and I are already up, I rise from the breakfast table to answer it. A man in the familiar brown UPS uniform hands me an envelope and a clipboard.
I sign at the "x", the messenger bids me "bonjour" and is off down the driveway in his truck.
"Wow, that was fast," I comment to Frey, rejoining them in the dining room. "David must have worked all night to get this stuff together so fast."
But when I tear open the envelope, I see I am wrong about who it is from. Four official-looking French documents are inside. Along with a note, written in a precise hand:
Miss Strong, here are the documents you requested. Present them to the Mairie at the consulate. Chael suggested I take the liberty of including documents for your fiance as well. I hope you don't think it presumptuous.
Chael also asked that I pass on to you the information that the meeting has been set as you requested. He suggests you meet him at Le Course cafe and he will take you to the castle. 6:30, Thursday.
Please do not hesitate to call on us if we can be of more assistance.
The note is signed with theatrical flourish: Pierre LeDoux.
I look up at Frey and hand him the documents. "I definitely need an assistant like this."
His brow furrows as he notes the set of certificates with his name on them. "How does he know my blood type?" he asks, scanning the pages. "And my exact height and weight. This is creepy."
I nod. "Yes, it is. But then Chael is creepy, so I guess we should be thankful he seems to be on our side now."
"What does the note say?" Frey asks, slipping the papers back into the envelope.
I read the first paragraph aloud, hesitating before going on to the second. For a split second, I consider not telling him that the meeting has been set. Wondering again if I should go alone.
But I don't want to lie to him. And I don't want to have to sneak away. I continue reading.
John-John catches the word "castle" and pipes up, "You're going to a castle? A real castle? Can I go, too?"
We both look at John-John, then at each other. "There are lots of castles around here," I answer, taking my place next to him at the table. "And if it doesn't work out this time, I promise we'll plan to go again, okay?"
He agrees with a bob of his head and digs a spoon into his cereal.
"So what's on the agenda for today?" I ask John-John, squeezing his shoulders.
"James said he'd take me on the tractor to show me how they water the vines," he replies with a grin. "Then when Trish gets home from school, we're going next door to see the horses."
"Sounds like a pretty good day," I say. "Much better than the one your daddy and I have planned. More running around to finish the paperwork for the wedding."
"We have to go shopping sometime, too," Frey adds. "A suit for me. A suit for the best man, here." He leans in and tickles John-John's ribs.
"And the bride needs a dress." Trish is suddenly in the doorway, grinning. "So tonight, we go shopping."