Bride (Ali Hazelwood) by Ali Hazelwood


                             This marriage, it’s going to be a problem.

                She is going to be a problem.

This war of ours, the one between the Vampyres and the Weres, began several centuries ago with brutal escalations of violence, culminated amid flowing torrents of varicolored blood, and ended in a whimper of buttercream cake on the day I met my husband for the first time.

            Which, as it happens, was also the day of our wedding.

            Not quite the stuff of childhood dreams. Then again, I’m no dreamer. I only ever contemplated marriage once, back in the gloomy days of my childhood. Following a few too-harsh punishments and a poorly executed assassination attempt, Serena and I concocted plans for a grand escape, which was going to involve pyrotechnics-based diversions, stealing our math tutor’s car, and flipping off our caregivers in the rearview mirror.

            “We’ll stop by the animal shelter and adopt one of those shaggy dogs. Pick up a Slurpee for me, some blood for you. Disappear forever into Human territory.”

            “Will they let me in if I’m not Human?” I asked, even though that was the least of our plan’s flaws. We were both eleven. Neither of us could drive. Interspecies peace in the Southwest region relied, quite literally, on me staying the hell put.

            “I’ll vouch for you.”

            “Will that be enough?”

            “I’ll marry you! They’ll believe you’re Human—my Human wife.”

            As proposals went, it seemed solid. So I nodded solemnly and said, “I accept.”

            That was fourteen years ago, though, and Serena never married me. In fact, she’s long gone. I’m here alone, with a giant heap of expensive wedding favors that’ll hopefully fool guests into overlooking the lack of love, genetic compatibility, or even previous acquaintance between me and the groom.

            I did try to arrange a meeting. Suggested to my people that they suggest to his people that we could grab lunch the week before the ceremony. Coffee the previous day. A glass of tap water the morning of—anything to avoid a “How do you do?” in front of the officiant. My request was escalated to the Vampyre council, and resulted in a phone call from one of the members’ aides. His tone managed to be polite while heavily implying that I was a cuckoo nutbird. “He’s a Were. A very powerful and dangerous Were. Just the logistics of providing security for such a meeting would be—”

            “I’ll be marrying this dangerous Were,” I pointed out evenly, and a bashful throat was cleared.

            “He is an Alpha, Miss Lark. Too busy to meet.”

            “Busy with . . . ?”

            “His pack, Miss Lark.”

            I pictured him in a home gym, tirelessly working on his abs, and shrugged.

            Ten days have passed, and I have yet to meet my groom. Instead, I’ve become a project—one that requires a concerted effort from an interdisciplinary crew to look weddable. A manicurist coaxes my nails into pink ovals. A facialist smacks my cheeks with relish. A hairdresser magically hides my pointed ears under a web of dark blond braids, and a makeup expert paints a different face on top of mine, something interesting and sophisticated and zygomatic.

            “This is art,” I tell him, studying the contouring in the mirror. “You should be a Guggenheim fellow.”

            “I know. And I’m not done,” he reprimands, before dipping his thumb in a pot of dark green stain and swiping it over the insides of my wrists. The base of my throat on both sides. My nape.

            “What’s this?”

            “Just a bit of color.”

            “What for?”

            A snort. “I pulled strings and researched Were customs. Your husband will like it.” He whooshes away, leaving me alone with five odd markings and a newfound bone structure. I squeeze into the bridal jumpsuit that the stylist begged me not to refer to as a onesie, and then my twin brother comes to retrieve me.

            “You look stunning,” Owen says flatly, distrustfully, squinting at me like I’m a fake ten-dollar bill.