Almost There

A Hill Vampire
Deleted Scene

Where this scene fits:

This scene occurs before Cerissa and Henry’s wedding celebration.

Almost There by Jenna Barwin

Sierra Escondida—Three days before the wedding

A bubbly excitement welled up her throat as Cerissa Patel locked the door to her office, a grin curling her lips. Her wedding to Henry was only three days away. She strode down the hallway on the fifth floor of the Biologics Research Lab, her shoes tapping merrily on the vinyl flooring, echoing off the freshly painted tan walls, and she moved with the energy of a sixth grader on the last day of school.

A couple of months ago, construction of the first building of her research campus finished. Taking the elevator to the fourth floor, she inspected the blood clone operation. Rows of coffin-like pods housed the clones, with lab workbenches bordering the enormous room.

Progress had been smooth lately, and the harvesting process was finally working without a glitch. Her team would collect a sufficient supply of fresh blood for the wedding reception—including alcohol-enhanced blood.

While she was gone on her honeymoon, her cousin Ari would supervise the scientists who worked for the lab. The scientists included a mix of vampires, humans, and members of the Alatus Lux. They’d care for the clones, harvest a few pints from each one daily, and package the blood for sale to the vampire communities. Everything looked fine, and she continued her journey downstairs, skipping the third floor—which was empty and reserved to expand the blood clone operation.

The second floor was research labs, and the first floor comprised administration and other offices. Only vampires and members of the Lux species had offices on the fifth floor or worked with the blood clones. Humans who weren’t aware that paranormal creatures shared this world were restricted to the first two floors.

When she reached the main lobby, she rushed to her car in the spot reserved for the company’s CEO. Her vacation had begun, and she was starting with a celebratory lunch. A short drive later, she arrived at the Los Adobes Tea House and circled to find a parking space.

The reason for her vacation still felt surreal. She’d known Enrique Bautista Vasquez—Henry to his close friends—for a little over a year. It’d been a whirlwind romance and engagement, and then a one-year wait before the Hill vampires would permit them to marry.

Her maid of honor and bestie, Karen Turner, had agreed to meet Cerissa for lunch. The historic tea house, built in the late 1800s, sat in the old town section of the neighboring city of Mordida.

Karen was already seated, and after air kisses, they ordered lunch. Cerissa chose the queen’s salad, including big plump blackberries, candied walnuts, crumbled blue cheese, and grilled chicken in a balsamic vinaigrette. The extra calories weren’t a concern—she needed the energy—and her wedding sari was forgiving even if she gained weight.

But being Lux, that wouldn’t happen.

Karen indulged in the full English tea, the cute little triangular finger sandwiches and sweets on a three-tiered metal tray of china plates.

They both ordered a pot of the private reserve blend tea—rich with vanilla and grenadine—and a scone with clotted cream and raspberry jam.

After the waitress left, Karen opened a small laptop computer and brought up the program they were using to keep track of all the wedding plans. She hooked one side of her straight, shoulder-length auburn hair behind one ear, then looked up at the sun. “Do you mind if we move over one seat?” The table was set for four, two seats across from each other, and the inner seats received more shade from the overhang. “I’m going to burn if I sit in the direct sun. I don’t want to start our vacation with my face bright red.”

“Sure.” Cerissa scooted to the next chair. “Thank you again for letting us use your house for the ceremony and reception. You and Rolf have been wonderful.”

“That’s what besties are for.”

“We’re also so happy that you’re willing to join us for the honeymoon.”

Karen chuckled. “Are you kidding? A one-week cruise to Hawaii and then a week on the island? I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Besides, Rolf owed me a trip to Hawaii.”

Cerissa smiled. Karen had threatened to extract a Hawaiian vacation from Rolf for a blunder he made months ago. While few people wanted company on their honeymoon, Cerissa had recognized early she didn’t want to spend her days in a tropical paradise alone while Henry slept.

During the cruise, the guys would share an interior room to sleep in during the days—no windows—and Cerissa would have the honeymoon suite and Karen would be in the presidential suite. Both couples had access to the private pool reserved for top-tier travelers. Once they disembarked in Honolulu, Karen and Cerissa could enjoy Waikiki Beach and shopping during the daylight hours. But Henry and Cerrisa’s first night together as husband and wife would be spent at her and Henry’s house.

“Have you checked the weather?” she asked.

Having an outdoor evening wedding in October came with certain risks.

Karen returned the delicate rose-embossed teacup to its saucer, Karen tapped at the laptop keyboard. “Relax. Still clear through Sunday. No rain expected.”

Cerissa let out a long exhale. “That’s good.”

When lunch was served, Cerissa practically inhaled hers, but Karen barely touched the tiers of sandwiches and sweets.

When the waitress swung by again, Karen said, “We’d each like a glass of the sherry, please.”

The tea house served sherry in cute short glasses that had been popular during the Victorian era.

“Are you sure?” Cerissa asked. “It feels sinful to drink in the middle of the day. Especially a wine that isn’t from Vasquez Müller Wineries.”

Karen gave a devious grin. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell the guys if you won’t.”

“Well, don’t get too relaxed.” Cerissa pointed a finger at her friend, giving a mock-serious look. “We still have shopping to do.”

“One glass apiece won’t hurt anything. Just enough to loosen you up, girlfriend. You’ve been so focused on work lately you haven’t had much fun.” Karen gave a sly grin. “By the time you get to your wedding night, you should be happy and relaxed, not stressed and distracted.”

Cerissa giggled. Her bestie was right, she’d spent too much time at the new lab ensuring everything ran perfectly. Henry had been patient about her hours, and she tried very hard not to let the stress affect their relationship. But as the wedding date grew close, she realized she was going to have to delegate more work to Ari and rely on him to get the lab business off the ground while she honeymooned.

The sherry arrived, and after taking her first sip, Cerissa asked, “How is our ‘to-do’ list looking?”

“Everything has been delivered to our house and the tables set up in the living room.”

“You mean ballroom.” Rolf’s living room could fit three of Henry’s.

The caterer has confirmed. The bartenders have confirmed. Tonight, your out-of-town guests will start arriving.”

“Have all the gift bags been delivered to the house?”

“Everything is a go. Clone blood for the vampires, and wine and treats for the mortals.”

“Then what’s next?”

“My favorite—lingerie shopping! Give me just a minute.” Karen signaled the waitress and asked for a to-go box, then packaged over half of her sandwiches and sweets from lunch.

“You didn’t eat that much. Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine, really.” Karen shrugged. “I haven’t been that hungry lately. Besides, I want to make sure I fit into my maid of honor dress. There’s no time for more alterations.”

After lunch, they drove to the nearby shopping district and parked near Everything Sexy.

As they walked, Karen said, “You need a bikini swimsuit to replace your one-piece, and something sexy yet virginal for the wedding night.”

Cerissa laughed. She hadn’t been a virgin when she met Henry, and the idea of pretending on the wedding night struck her as silly. “Karen, I’m sleeping with Henry. Virginal won’t be believable.”

“Trust me dear. I’m thinking a full-length nightgown, slinky silk or satin, in cream or ivory with a full-length sheer long-sleeve penior over it. Something slightly old-fashioned that will set off all the right bells in your mate’s head. And lace panties—not a thong, it’s too modern. Your man’s tastes were set a long time ago, and you should accommodate those tastes on your wedding night. After all, unwrapping the present is almost as much fun as receiving it.”

***

Once the shopping was done, Cerissa added the purchases to her already packed luggage, except for the wedding night lingerie. The doorbell rang—too early for guests. The sun had barely set.

When she opened the door, the delivery person in a brown uniform with gloves said, “This is for Enrique Bautista Vasquez.”

“I can take it for him.”

“You must sign.” The woman held out a tablet.

Cerissa took the stylus provided and scrawled her signature.

“Thank you.” The woman accepted the tablet back and lifted her chin in the direction of the foyer table. “Are you getting married?”

Throughout the day wedding gifts had been arriving, and Cerissa had stacked them on and around one of the foyer tables that normally held a flower vase. Some packages were too big to go on the small table and were on the floor underneath it. “Yes, I’m the lucky bride.”

“Congratulations.” The delivery person sniffed the air and her brow wrinkled, then surprise filled her eyes. “Going on a honeymoon right away?”

“A cruise to Hawaii. I’m looking forward to the break.”

“Yes, weddings can be much work. Good luck.”

Cerissa closed the door and added the package to the collection. They’d discussed opening the gifts at the Sangeet party if they had the energy. Or possibly tonight, after all the guests from the East Coast arrived who were staying overnight.

Henry joined her at dusk and heated dark wine for his first meal of the evening. “Aren’t you going to have dinner?”

“Later. I had a big lunch.”

“All right. I have packing to do.” With a kiss to her cheek, he excused himself and disappeared upstairs.

She hung out in her office for a while, her dog, Bear, snoozing on the big round fuzzy bed he loved. At one year old, the German shepherd no longer had the boundless puppy energy he’d had when Rolf had first given him to her in exchange for her agreement not to spoil his two dogs, Mort and Sang. 

She looked at Bear and said, “We better find out what he’s up to.” Bear scrambled to his paws, shook off the sleep, and followed her as she wandered into Henry’s office. He wasn’t there, and the door to the lounging room was closed, so she knocked.

“Yes?” he answered, opening the door. He looked a bit disheveled instead of his perfectly groomed self. His long hair hovered over his shoulders, his usual ponytail undone, and a look of frenetic energy filled his eyes.

She looked around the room. Chaos reigned supreme. He had two large bags open, one on the floor and the other on his reclining couch. Smaller packing cubes were scattered about the room, in various stages of being filled. A garment bag, designed to insert into one of the larger bags, was hanging from the door frame to his huge walk-in closet. The garment bag was empty; potential outfits were hanging next to it from the doorway frame. Definitely not the methodological approach to packing she would have expected from Henry.

Bear slipped by and sniffed at one of his suitcases, and she called the dog back before Henry could complain. “I was wondering if you needed any help. I’m all packed.”

“No, I do not need help. This is something I must do myself.”

“Really? It looks like you could use some assistance.”

Henry acted uncharacteristically irritated with her offer. “I have been packing for myself for over two centuries. I do not need your supervision.”

“All right, don’t get testy. How long do you think it will take? Our out-of-town guests should start arriving soon.”

“I do not expect it to take the full night. But it will take what it takes.”

“Then I’ll go read downstairs and wait for the arrivals.”

“Who is taking care of Bear while we’re gone?” He glared at the dog. The vampire and the German shepherd had reached a peaceful settlement of their earlier war for her affection. Bear conceded defeat gracefully but still stood sentry whenever Henry was around, convinced that Henry was a threat to Cerissa. That is, Bear attempted to guard her at all times, but when Henry and Cerissa made love, Bear was banned from the room. Henry had won that battle early on.

Cerissa bent over to pet the dog, who knew he was the topic of the conversation. “I’m leaving him at Karen’s, so he’ll have the company of Mort and Sang”—Rolf’s two German Shepherds, and the parents of Bear—“Now that he’s no longer a puppy, it’s not a problem. And Luis has agreed to feed them and walk them twice a day, so they’ll have the use of the dog run and still not be cooped up all day. One long doggie play date.” She held down Bear’s ears to kiss the top of his soft furry head. “And Ari has volunteered to check in on them and take over as the king of entertainment—throwing the ball for them at least once each day.”

Henry cringed.

She understood why. If Rolf heard her refer to it as a “doggie play date,” he would never have agreed. Rolf thought of Mort and Sang as watchdogs, and not as family pets. Cerissa stood and walked over to where Henry had hung his potential wardrobe for the trip, Bear trotting at her heels. “Two tuxes?”

“There are three formal nights on this cruise. I like to have options.” Henry sounded slightly defensive. The cruise line was the last holdout to still offer formal nights. Most other ships had transitioned to dressy casual.

Cerissa recognized that one tux was brand new, as it sported the most recent lapel style.  Neither tux was the one he’d wear for the wedding ceremony. As much as he teased, Henry was worse than Karen when it came to keeping up with fashion trends. Cerissa was ready to cancel his GQ subscription. “Will you wear your hair long for the voyage?”

“I have not yet decided.”

“Hmm, I’m happy to trim it for you each night.” When he didn’t answer, she asked, “What kind of swimsuits are you packing?” She was much more interested in seeing him in his sexy European-style swimsuit than in a tux.

“You will find out when we get there. Is there nothing you need to do to get ready for the trip?”

“Nope. Did a last bit of shopping today. I’m all packed. Ready for our Hawaiian adventure.”

“Why do I suspect that you and Karen have this trip all planned out.”

“Because you’re a very smart vampire.” She hugged him closer, smiling at him.

“Very well. We will do it your way. But do not get the idea that everything on this trip will be done the way you and Karen want it.”

She looked away when he said that. “I know, I know. You and Rolf plan on hitting the casino.”

He softened a little when he saw the look on her face. “There will still be plenty of time for us, cariña.”

“I hope so. I’d hate to think that you’re bored with sex already,” she said, followed quickly by “Ow,” when he swatted her butt. Bear barked, followed by a low-level growl.

 Henry ignored the dog. “I am far from bored, soon to be Mrs. Patel-Vasquez.”

Although the spank hadn’t really hurt and they had a standing agreement allowing it, he’d startled her. “You didn’t have to swat me to make your point.”

“It was just a small spank. Besides, I do not plan on being too predictable. I would hate for you to get bored.”

“Somehow I don’t think that will ever happen—too much happens when we’re together.”

“This trip will be different.”

Her mouth dropped open. “How can you say that without jinxing us?”

“Rolf and I have already taken extra precautions. Do not worry.”

“Which reminds me. How do you plan on getting on board? I refuse to pretend I’m a widow on my honeymoon.”

“Understood. But as to the details, you will have to wait and see,” he said, grinning a mischievous smile.

Now she knew she was really in trouble.

©2024 Jenna Barwin