Remember this takes place before Quartet of Queens, and a couple of months after Sully and Callum rebuild the bar in Dog River.
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER EPILOGUE
AUTHOR NOTE: Yuey is Russian, and the dialogue that he has is stilted on purpose.
“Well, what do you think?” I asked Nick.
He held the tiny box with the soft blue felt in his hands. He stared at the ring inside longer than I expected. Something wistful passed over his features, then his classic smile grew on his face.
“She will love it. When do you plan to do it?” he asked, handing the box back to me.
The 5-carat moonstone oval sat between two platinum crescent moons. Cabe had designed the ring, but Aydan had retrieved the gem from the Azure River in Winter. I was going to ask Tinley to marry me. I just hadn’t come up with the best way to do it.
I groaned. “I don’t know. I would love to plan something special, but I’m honestly not good at that stuff.”
“I hope you aren’t asking for my advice. I won’t be able to help you,” Nick laughed. Delaney emerged from the small cabin. She leaned down, kissed him on the cheek, then handed him a beer. She handed a second one to me.
“He does alright,” she grinned, then went back into the cabin.
We clinked our bottles together. “To good women,” Nick said.
“To very good women,” I agreed.
The ring burned a hole in my pocket. I carried it everywhere, waiting for the opportunity to present itself. Killian had called earlier in the day and asked me to work the bar. He claimed that he had a gig. I didn’t ask.
I opened up Hot Tin Roof with the key that the family had given to me for times like these. It spread through the pack that I’d be serving drinks. We’d have a full house.
“I’ll get the liquor out. You haul in the ice,” Tinley instructed.
“Yes, ma’am. So bossy,” I commented.
She grinned and shooed me toward the back door. A small utility building sat outside. Inside there was an ice machine plus other storage. I dipped ice into a large blue container when a shadow darkened the door.
“You are supposed to be getting the liquor,” I said as I dipped ice.
“I guess I missed that assignment,” a female voice, not Tinley, said.
“Lyra!” I exclaimed.
“Hey, quiet down. I want to surprise her,” she said. I dropped the scoop and gave her a hug.
“How long have you been back?” I asked.
“Yuey and I flew into Atlanta yesterday and decided to pay Shady Grove a visit before heading back to Dog River,” she explained.
I was relieved to see her. I wanted to properly ask for Tinley’s hand. Nick had given his blessing as her Alpha, but I knew that Lyra would have the final word.
“That’s good. I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” I replied.
“Yes, you can marry her,” she replied.
My mouth dropped open. “Is it that obvious?”
“I know that she talks about you constantly. I see it in every picture she sends. You adore her. I also know you are a good man. If she loves you and says yes, then you certainly have my blessing,” she said.
“Thank you. That means a lot.” A burden lifted off my shoulders.
“The ring better be good,” she said. Yuey walked up to join us.
“Privyet, Al’fa,” Yuey said, greeting me in Russian.
“Did you find any good information in the homeland?” I asked.
“Nyet,” Yuey replied.
“Precious little. We have some leads,” Lyra said.
“Russian packs are scattered. Evil fairy woman plucked the best for her project in the south. I want her dead,” Yuey snarled.
“Yeah, get in line,” I replied. “By the way, she’s inside. Please let me get in there before you appear. I want to see the look on her face.”
She grinned at me. I knew I was being silly, but I loved Tinley’s faces and reactions. I wanted to see the joy on her face. Lifting the enormous ice bucket over my shoulder, I moved out of the building. Lyra and Yuey made room for me to pass.
I carried it into the bar where I found Tinley on a step ladder taking liquor bottles out of the upper shelves.
“I couldn’t find any gin. I thought for sure I saw a bottle of Conniption and Henrick’s up here,” she said. The ladder teetered, and she maintained her balance but got wide-eyed.
“Don’t make me save you,” I quipped.
She rolled her eyes and went back to digging in the overhead cabinet. Yuey and Lyra tip-toed into the bar. I leaned back on the counter, waiting for Tinley to notice.
“Are you going to dump that ice or let it sit there and melt?” Tinley asked without taking her eyes off the liquor storage.
“I think I’ll let it melt,” I replied.
She spun around, the ladder teetered and dumped her off of it into my arms. I grinned at her, then she saw her sister standing over my shoulder.
“Lyra!” she squealed and pushed out of my arms.
The empty bar was filled with the delightful tones of high-pitched women's voices for nearly two whole minutes. Yuey and I just stood back and let it happen. They hugged and danced around each other. I decided it was a good time to dump the ice, so I lifted the container over the bin and poured it. The ice drowned out the voices.
“You are brave, Al’fa,” Yuey said.
“No, he’s stupid, but I love him despite it,” Tinley grinned.
“I’m sorry. Did my work interrupt you?” I asked.
“Aren’t you going to say hello?” Tinley asked.
“Yeah, did that outside,” I replied. “Yuey, beer?”
“Da,” he replied.
“Pick your poison,” I offered.
Tinley and Lyra moved out to one of the tables and sat down, telling each other about everything that had happened in their lives since they’d last seen each other. It had been a while.
“Whatever is on the tap,” he replied.
“I’ve got this new stuff. Sully and Callum have opened a craft brewery in Dog River.” I drew a pint of Crescent Moon Ale for him.
“I had heard the old place burned down in a fight with an eight-legged kelpie,” he said.
“Yeah, it was wild,” I replied.
“The damn Vikings didn’t play when it came to their gods,” he said as he took a sip of the beer.
“Ah, is good for American beer,” he said.
“And what is wrong with American beer in general?” I asked.
“Nothing. But we all know the Germans do it better than anyone,” he replied.
“How was the trip?” I asked.
He took another long sip of the ale and smiled. I think he liked it more than he cared to mention. “I forget how damned cold it is in Russia.”
“Right? Very different from Alabama,” I said.
“I think Russian borders on Winter,” he replied. I knew he meant the realm. Not the season.
“That all? Just cold?”
He shook his head. “No, there are things happening in the world that are converging to a point. I feel it in my bones. I’m sure you feel it too.” I nodded that I did. “I fear a great time of death is coming to the shifters and fairies of this world. A darkness is coming.”
That wasn’t foreboding at all.
“I feel it, but I also see the light. It too is building. We will meet it head on. I dare the darkness to come. We will show it our teeth and our claws,” I said.
“This is why you are good, Al’fa.” He finished the ale and slid the glass to me. I refilled it. “You say things like that with a calm face, but your inner warrior makes every word as heavy as a stone. A big one. Big stone. Da?”
I leaned over the counter and shot a look at the ladies. “My stones are in my jeans,” I said.
Yuey laughed loudly. Tinley and Lyra stopped talking for all of five seconds.
“I have Mexican friend. He calls them cajones, but that sounds like Italian pastry to me.”
I slapped my knee. “It’s the cream inside.”
Yuey tilted his head back and laughed louder than he did before.
“Wolf man, pipe down,” Lyra shot back at him.
“Devushka-volk, come make me,” he replied.
I saw the fire flash in Lyra’s eyes, then she turned back to Tinley.
“Hold up. Are you and Lyra together?” I asked, lowering my voice. She could hear me, but still, rude.
“She is amazing woman,” he replied, dipping his head to his beer. He finished it off and pushed it forward for more. I was sure the Russian could drink me under the table. I pulled another pint for him. “She has damaged heart. I want to fix it.”
I wanted to say that the damage she’d done was mostly her own fault, but I stayed out of it. “You think you are the man to do it?”
“I am the wolf to do it. You fix great white wolf. I fix her sister. We will be brothers,” he said, holding his fist up to mine.
I bumped it in response. “I hope so.”
Hot Tin filled to the brim with wolves and fairies who had heard Yuey and Lyra had returned. The Russian only got louder as the night carried on, but he was a jovial thing. Everyone loved him. I also saw the glint in Lyra’s eyes watching him play darts with some of the pack.
“I didn’t expect it,” she said, catching me off guard. I’d leaned up on the bar to take a rest. The crowd had thinned out, and I knew this had been a workout. Tinley sat across the room with some of the females of the pack, including my sisters who were allowed in the bar, but not allowed to drink until our father approved of it. All except Cammie, who was still in Dog River.
“To find your heart again?” I asked.
“To breathe again,” she replied.
“He’s a good man.”
She sighed. “I hear that tone, Mark Maynard. This isn’t about Nick. I fucked up with that. I know I did. I won’t do that to Yuey. I swear it.” The bar shook a little beneath her light oath. She’d better swear it. Nick was an alpha and could handle his own. Yuey was a member of my pack, and therefore my family.
I leaned back and grabbed a clean glass to wipe. It didn’t need to be dried or wiped. I’d seen Nestor do it a hundred times and never fully understood it until I learned to tend bar. As I mindlessly wiped the glass, it gave me the appearance of focusing on a task while all the time, my senses stretched out across the room. I saw the adoring eyes of the woman I loved. I saw the cluster of men eyeing my sisters. I heard the laughter of a man in love. I heard the sigh of deep regret, but the drawing in of the breath of hope.
Dark days were coming, but I was confident we would stand through it.