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Men of Mars

 
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Chase Rhovnik
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 27, 2011 3:10 pm    Post subject: Men of Mars Reply with quote

“If we die killing, well and good, but if we fight hard enough, viciously enough, we will kill and live. Live to return home to our family and our girl as conquering heroes -- men of Mars.”
- General George S. Patton


The summer seemed determined to get in several final parting blows as it died out but while the heat radiating from the brutal sun was keeping most of RhyDin's citizens indoors or at least under shade, a small crowd had gathered in a clearing behind the Rhovnik Manor -- a modest (relatively speaking, of course) piece of property in New Haven that the family kept for whichever members of the family happened to be in town. With Sophie living farther north in a home with Alain and Chase in a penthouse with Caitlin, the large house typically sat empty.

However, today the grounds were serving as host to a sparring session among members of Chase's field division. Water bottles littered the manicured lawns and dull sparring weapons were resting on benches in the rose garden. It was enough to outrage the steward but it didn't stop him from watching curiously right along side the grounds keepers and chamber maids, particularly when Chase Rhovnik found himself facing off against one of his men.

With a heavy single-handed German-style sparring sword in hand, he blocked the incoming Jian as it sliced in at him. Although the two weapons were roughly the same size, the Chinese Jian balanced more closely to the hand which served its tall lean holder well but Chase's weapon was heavier and, therefore, much more powerful. Just as the Rhovnik knights of old, he swung it expertly around to parry away the taller man's weapon. The power in the move caused Chase's sparring partner to lose his grip. The sword fell uselessly into the grass. Then with a sweep of an inner foot, Chase disrupted the man's balance, causing him to tumble onto his back. In one fluid movement, he viciously yanked the heavy weapon around, bringing it to a stop inches above his neck.

Shaking his head and lifting his voice over the clash of weapons around him, Chase backed off, letting his sword drop to his side. "Get up. Let's go again. It's still too easily read."

It was as close to the perfect time as possible for one of Alain's knights to make an appearance, no surprise at a sparring match... Maybe not perfect, Seamus thought with an outward grin at the others and an inward grimace, what with my bad news and him with a weapon in his hands. In a minute he reached the front of the crowd, one hand resting on the battered hilt of his trusted broadsword for comfort; then he gave Chase an upnod. I've got a message for you, it said, and he steeled himself for what came next.

Seamus got an upward nod. Usually his presence would earn a grin but surrounded by his men and in full field commander mode, Chase had no smiles to give out. Chase tossed the dull weapon in his hands towards the thickly built man at his side. "Eric, show him what I mean."

Chase's second in command took his position as Chase stepped off towards the side, motioning Seamus to a more private spot where he had abandoned a water bottle on top of a neatly trimmed hedge. Twisting off the top from the bottle, he took a long swallow before finding his voice. His tone was only a shade less gruff when it came. "I've got a feeling this isn't a social visit, Seamus."

"Your powers of perception are vast indeed, milord," Seamus bowed his head in reply, with a kink to his grin at the formal greeting. He glanced for a moment at the beginning of the next match... but he didn't share his liege's habits. He looked a man in the eye when he gave him news, good or bad.

"They signed it, all of them, even Urson. Twenty-one countries recognized the Barony of Saint Aldwin's sovereignty, and don't seem to mind bowing their heads to Al any more than I do. We share our tech, they boost our trade... a few deals were cut."

Chase's eyes swept from the match to Seamus, crossing his arms over his chest. There was something else he wasn't saying. They had talked about the treaty before. In fact, Seamus was the only person Chase had admitted to that he didn't understand why Sophie was sinking so much effort and resources into an agreement that would merely acknowledge the Barony of St Aldwin. It certainly did not promote Rhovnik interests. "Great," he replied dryly.

Seamus' lips twitched. "You care 'bout as much as I do, milord. I'll get to the meat of it, then."

He licked the back of his teeth. All this foreign meddling in his country's affairs, in Alain and Sophie's 'concentration of power,' enraged him to no end, but there was someone else's anger he had in mind. "They talked about the issue of... succession. Future concentration of power in the shared hands of Houses Rhovnik and DeMuer. They came to an understanding."

Chase felt his shoulders tense, squaring himself for bad news. It was as if his body knew the truth before his mind accepted it. "What sort of understanding?"

"Lady Sofia Rhovnik, in a month's time, will become Baroness Sofia DeMuer... meaning you become House Rhovnik, Chase."
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Chase Rhovnik
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2011 1:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Outside the large panes of glass, the gentle lapping waves of Lake Erie rolled up onto the rocky shoreline that served as Elsie Rhovnik’s backyard. The serene scene did nothing for Chase’s anger. He rolled his hands over the arch of his knees as he sat on the dainty sofa, feeling far too large and rough for the room.

He wanted to break something. He wanted to smash every priceless antique, every family heirloom, every expensive vase until he was surrounded by broken porcelain and shards of glass. How could Sophie do this? How could she abandon her family for DeMuer? How could she and his grandmother allow him to be told by one of DeMuer’s knights? It didn’t matter that Seamus was his friend. It was a Rhovnik matter.

“Your grandmother will see you now, Mr. Rhovnik.”

The voice of Elsie’s secretary drove him out of his all encompassing fury. Realizing he’d unconsciously clenched his fists, he forced his hands to relax as he rose slowly to his feet. It took another split second to realize that Mrs. Krasovic had referred to him as ‘Mr. Rhovnik’. The iron-fisted matriarch’s equally stern secretary had always called him ‘Chase’. She’d put him in time out when he was little, snuck him the comic books his father outlawed as a teenager, and always sent care packages around finals week when he was in college.

He was no longer just Chase. He was now the next leader of an old and powerful family.

The breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding was released and he stepped through the doorway into Elsie’s study. Mrs. Krasovic closed the door behind him, leaving him in private with his grandmother.

He had expected her behind her desk. Whenever she had a serious matter to discuss with him, he always found her there. When he was ten and got caught planting a frog in the butler’s pantry, Elsie had sat at her desk and lectured him about treating the staff with respect. When he’d dated and dumped the daughter of the Governor of Terkaj, she’d sat in the chair behind the desk to lecture him on how to treat a lady. Yet, now, when he felt he desperately needed such a lecture on how to behave to guide him in his new role, he did not find her behind her desk but at an over stuffed chair beside a window, staring out at the same view that Chase had been drawn to when while he waited in the other room.

Her large blue eyes swept to Chase. They were the mirror image of Sophie’s eyes. The decided gaze of those two pillars of strength always make him more confident. Sophie and Elsie always believed they were making the right decision. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t but their decisiveness was reassuring. Yet now when he needed them the most, Elsie had none of that confidence on her face and Sophie had abandoned him to the wolves.

“My dear, dear Chase,” Elsie stated softly with a sad smile.

Any anger that he was holding towards her was swept away with her sadness. With long strides, he crossed the room and dropped to a crouch at her side. “Whatever you need of me, Grandma. I live to serve.”

The repetition of the family motto caused another flicker of a smile across Elsie’s face as she laid a hand on top of her grandson’s bowed head. “When your mother had you she told me that she was certain that you were a fourteenth century Rhovnik knight reborn. I laughed at her. You know how I feel about such silly reincarnation talk. However, you have made me doubt my disbelief every day since.”

His gaze lifted to her face and her hand dropped to give his cheek a quick pat before the hand ultimately fell back to her lap. “And no matter what may be said, I am confident that I have made the right decision. You will lead our family well.”
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2011 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Would you mind coming here for a minute? I need your help hanging a new picture I got,” Cait called from the bedroom of their New Haven apartment. “I think I’d like it over my dresser.”

Chase exhaled heavily from his seat on the couch surrounded by a mountain of folders. With the long hours he worked, he hated bringing work home but there seemed no end to the amount of decisions he was needed to weigh in on and the amount of information he was expected to know. Yet, he didn’t want to blame his reluctance to being dragged into his girlfriend’s project on work.

“Right this second? The game is--” He glanced up from the mountain towards the television to discover the baseball game he’d flipped on when he got home was toiling through a rain delay. With no other ready excuse handy, he dropped the folder in his hand on top of the rest before pushing himself off the couch to head for the bedroom.

“Like a photo or art? You know how I feel about having photos all over the place,” he complained along the way.

“It’s kind of artistic -- inspirational, really. I think you’ll like it. It’s simple. Black and white. Very modern.” Chase heard the smirk in Cait’s tone before he rounded the corner and saw it planted on her face. She stepped towards him with a bright smile, reaching the frame out with the photo facing the floor.

A disgruntled sigh signaled his discontent but he didn’t have it in him to argue with her. In the end, Cait typically got her way, wielding her sweet temper and charm better than most women could manipulate with bitter insults and angry barbs. He reached out to take the frame from her and turned it over to check exactly what he was about to hang on his wall.

As his dark eyes dipped to find an ultrasound picture in the frame every muscle in his body froze in place. There was a full heartbeat of nothing -- no sound, no movement, no emotion. Then he turned the frame around to face her to show her what she had just handed him.

“Cait... what is this?”

“It’s a baby. A seven week old baby. Our baby.” Tears welled up in her eyes but her smile was just as good-natured and lovely as ever. Her hands settled on her lower abdomen to signal what she was talking about as well as to calm the butterflies there. “I’m pregnant.”

Three steps backwards drew him to the bed and once the back of his legs hit it, he sunk onto it with the frame still in his hands. His eyes were riveted to the ultrasound photo. A little arrow had been drawn to point on the little speck with the word “baby” typed out beside it. He was now responsible for something so tiny and fragile that it had to be labeled.

“You’re pregnant. In the middle of all of this,” he muttered under his breath more to himself than to her.

Even though the words weren’t meant for her, it didn’t keep her from hearing them nor stop them from causing her concern. Her laugh was nervous. Sniffling back tears, she nodded. “Yeah. Kat kind of suspected Friday and she talked me into getting a test on Saturday. I thought she was crazy but she said I should so I did and it was positive. All ten of them were positive. She took me to see her doctor this morning. I just wanted to be certain before saying anything. And then with everything that has happened since the Treaty was signed.... Well, I guess you can see why I’ve been freaked out.”

Cait was prone to babbling when anxious and his reaction -- or lack thereof -- was more than enough to stoke her apprehension. She bit down on her bottom lip, stifling a frown. “I’m really happy. I know the timing is awful, but I’m really, really happy, Chase.”

“You’ve had an idea since Friday and then knew for sure yesterday and you didn’t tell me? My sister even knew?” Although there was an accusation in the words themselves, there was none in his tone. In fact, there was no emotion at all in his tone or on his face. The frame slipped free of his fingers and thumped softly on the bed as he rose to his feet.

“I just wanted to be one hundred percent sure before I told you, especially considering what’s going on. I know how much this means to you and I didn’t want to give you false hope. And then I was worried about needlessly stressing you out if I wasn’t with everything that happened yesterday. I wanted to surprise you.” The final sentence was whispered softly. Any trace of a smile had now disappeared from her face and the nervous tears were now flowing harder and faster. Fear weighed heavy in her tone. “I know the timing isn’t good but this happened weeks ago! This is what we wanted! Aren’t you happy?”

There had been so much dumped on him since the news that Seamus brought that it took her asking that final question for him to search his emotions long enough to discover the answer. There had so much he had mixed emotions over the last several days, so many conversations that he knew were coming that he dreaded. He’d given up trying to decide how he felt about any of them. They just were. He was to be the head of the Rhovniks and there was nothing to be done but to accept it and move on.

But this... With her question, he finally let himself feel. For a moment he stopped being the gritty field commander his family had always needed him to be and instead allowed himself to be the man he could only be around Cait. With the sudden rush of emotions, he dropped back to a seat on the edge of the bed with a soft laugh.

The words he’d said earlier were repeated but with a newfound awe and joy seeping into his tone. “Christ. You’re pregnant.”
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 01, 2011 7:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The six men and one lone woman gathered around the deep black marble conference table appeared uncomfortable. One shifted his tie. The next tapped his pen against the notepad before him. A third bounced a leg restlessly beneath the table. Chase knew the topic they wished to broach but he was in no mood to do it for them. He waited for someone to gain the courage to start the conversation.

“I know you do not wish to hear this, Mr. Rhovnik, but we need to have the discussion,” began Ron Egerton cautiously as he set his pen down beside the notebook.

Chase shook his head firmly. “No, we do not.”

The idea of Chase in charge hardly sat well with any of the council gathered at the table. After all, the last time he was in charge while Sofia was missing and presumed dead, he had begun making preparations for a war against one of RhyDin’s biggest moguls. With everything that had followed, Chase was starting to believe that he should have killed Alain DeMuer after all.

“I respectfully disagree, sir. We would not be appropriately advising you if we did not,” Ron asserted nervously.

The subject matter called for a woman’s touch and that was often the role that Marlene Ferdinand was called to play on this council. Gently, she spoke up with a sympathetic tilt of her head. “Considering your reputation it would be best if we shore up your power base by creating an alliance. There are plenty of perfectly acceptable women of a similar age and background from a variety of prominent families throughout the multiverse--”

Charles Farah unwisely interrupted with a smug smile. “I believe you would look well with a title, sir. How does Count Chase Rhovnik sound?”

“Ridiculous.” Chase’s reply to the question came quickly and dryly.

Marlene shot a frustrated look down the table at Charles. However, the man did not seem to notice that he was making a bad situation worse. If there ever was a chance to show off his lack of tact, Charles Farah seemed to jump at the opportunity to take it. Half expecting Charles to say something inappropriate enough to give Chase an excuse to come across the conference table at him, Marlene jumped back in to try to smoothly present their position once more. “There is always the Laroche girl, of course. It has long been our hope that the two of you might marry.”

“I will be marrying Caitlin Keavy.”

The tone had a note of an order to it that left the seven other people seated at the table stunned into silence. Chase’s manner never encouraged the open, frank discussions that Sofia always had but on this point he seemed particularly stern. The council was left struggling to put together polite opposition.

“That’s simply not possible,” Marlene began with as much sensitivity as she could muster. “While Miss Keavy is a lovely young woman, she is not suitable as the wife of the heir of the Rhovniks. Your deal with your grandmother to choose your own wife made sense when you were merely Sofia Rhovnik’s muscle. To be perfectly frank, back then no man of importance wanted you to marry his daughter because of your, well, violent reputation. However, now you are the heir to a most powerful family and as such you must choose an appropriate wife and there are plenty of fathers who have changed their mind on your desirability as a son-in-law.”

“If we are so damn powerful why can I not still choose my own wife?”

Charles crossed his arms across the great expanse of his chest and leveled his gaze on Chase. There was an unwise sternness to his tone. One that immediately caused its target to bristle. “Because as the muscle of the Rhovniks you ruffled some feathers. Now you must smooth those feathers over -- or at least hush their victims -- by creating a powerful alliance. Miss Keavy does not bring us such an alliance. She is the daughter of an insignificant attorney from Colorado. Wealthy, yes, but no important connections and completely unknown in the circles in which you move.”

Chase leaned forward and in a near growl, leveled a harsh blow to the council’s plans. “And you all better start talking about her with a good deal of respect because she’s the mother of my child.”

The verbal sucker punch took them all by surprise. It was certainly a wrinkle that they had not expected. The news was a headache at a time when their heads were already pounding from tension. Finally, Ron cleared his throat and sent a warning look down the length of the table at the other council members present. “Word of her pregnancy will not leave this room.”

“There are plenty of Rhovnik men with children born out of wedlock. You can support the child and its mother without marrying her,” Charles stated firmly.

The idea drew a bitter laugh from Chase. “That’s unacceptable.”

“I understand that you feel responsible for the child and its mother, Mr. Rhovnik. But you have greater responsibilities now,” Marlene reminded quietly. Taking a deep breath, she gently drew him towards the unhappy truth. “However, you must accept that your path has changed and Miss Keavy no longer fits into your future.”
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 10, 2011 8:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Although gossip spread quickly that Rhovniks had closed ranks and that their new heir was lying low during the transition, Zoe Laroche knew where to find her former boyfriend. The Rhovnik-owned Papillon Resort on a small remote island called Kalao was only accessible through portals that were all controlled exclusively by Rhovniks and only a select few even knew which planet it was located on. There was no place safer, no place more discreet and there was no place that Chase Rhovnik felt more secure.

Somewhere far out to sea a large storm was churning up the sea, sending rough waves as far as Kalao Isle. According to the elderly hermit that lived in the center of the isle, the storm would never reach shore. Despite the man’s blindness and advanced age, his weather predictions were never off so activity at the Papillon Resort continued on at his word as it had for decades.

Yet, even as a fish storm, the violent waves and the swath of unusual clouds framed Chase’s mood. With his arms crossed over his chest, he stood on the shoreline watching the waves swell until they had frothy tips and then slam back down to the sand in a brutal explosion of foam and salt water.

With sandals in hand, Zoe approached barefooted through the sand, ignoring the chill that ran up her spine. That chill was always her problem when it came to Chase. Not only did his anger and passion scare her but the fear excited her. It cut through her boredom and for a brief moment, she could cling to that passion and feel herself.

She received the quickest of glances and by the time his eyes returned to the ocean, his jaw was set even firmer. “Why are you here, Zoe?”

Such rudeness would never be accepted in anyone else. After all, she was the daughter of the Baron of Albany. She was one of the most charming beauties in their social circle. Her hand in marriage was wanted by dukes and princes and the heads of the most important families. Why did she keep taking Chase’s abuse? She exhaled her anger before finding her voice. “I have come to try to talk some sense into you, of course. You cannot marry that girl.”

“And why not?” His anger exploded on her with the crash of another wave. He spun to face her fully and for a moment she braced herself for a physical attack that never came.

“It would be selfish, Chase,” Zoe responded evenly, gathering her strength to meet his gaze unwaveringly. “Nobody else has the nerve to talk to you bluntly. Everyone else is afraid of you. Sophie took the selfish route. She chose the man she loved over her family and over her duty and over her responsibility. As the heir to the Rhovniks, you must marry wisely. Do not follow in Sophie’s footsteps. Be the man I know you to be. Be the man that your family needs you to be.”

Her words rattled him out of his anger, leaving him swimming in doubt. A hand slipped to the outside of his upper arm, rubbing just beneath the sleeve of his t-shirt over the tattoo of his family crest inked into his bicep. The words “dum vivimus servimus” beneath seemed especially dark tonight as if reminding him that he only lived to serve.

“You have never liked Cait,” Chase replied weakly.

Zoe’s bitter laugh seemed too loud for her ears even with the background noise of the waves crashing several dozen yards away. “I’ve always thought you could do better than the fragile daughter of a nobody who doesn’t have the guts to stand up for herself much less stand beside a man like you.”

Roughly, he reached out to grab Zoe by the arm, giving her a shake as he growled in a low tone. “Don’t you ever talk about her like that again, do you understand me?”

She yanked her arm out of his grasp, glaring hotly in return. “And why not, Chase? What are you going to do? That’s the question, isn’t it? You’re standing here trying to figure out a way you can make her important enough that she is worthy of marrying the heir of the Rhovniks, right? How many people are you willing to kill so that you can claim her as your own? How many of your own men are you willing to lose? How much of your family’s power are you willing to throw away? How much of yourself are you going to lose in the process?”

The series of questions were met by stony, brooding silence from Chase. Only the breaking of the waves filled the air between them. His arms crossed back over his chest and his dark gaze was once again stuck on the ocean.

Zoe quietly watched as a large exotic bird glided down over the turbulent water, searching out dinner. Her hand rubbed over the spot on her opposite arm where he had grabbed her. There certainly would be a mark and it would hardly be the first mark that Chase had left on her body. His gruffness matched the intensity of the water beyond. It was almost as if he and the raging ocean were feeding off of one another. The foam swirled as a particularly strong wave rushed up towards them, dying a handful of feet before it reached their position.

As she felt his anger reduce to a slow simmer once more, she lifted her voice over the crash of waves again. “Aminor’s diplomats are still spreading this story that Caitlin’s father is a dear old friend and his old biddy of an aunt is actually putting feelers out for marriage prospects for her as a favor to her father since her mother is not in the picture. I believe people are actually starting to buy it.”

Zoe’s comments were not news to Chase. He had heard the same gossip. Aminor, King of Urson, was up to no good. That was certain. He never did anything that didn’t benefit him. He’d struggled for weeks trying to figure out what benefit was in this particular matter for the charming but treacherous Aminor. “I don’t understand what he’s up to. Cait would have to be more than a dear, old friend to the King of Urson to make her an acceptable match for marriage for me. She’d need to be the member of an old family.”

“Or have a title.” Zoe agreed with a slow, thoughtful nod. “And you would think he would be too busy to worry about your love life with the Asitranians causing problems in the demilitarized zone between Urson and Asitrania.”

It was not as if the words that Zoe spoke were new to Chase. However, hearing them spoken aloud jarred the pieces of the puzzle in his head, causing them to twist and slide into place so that he finally could see the entire picture. The realization drew a single humorless laugh.

The option before him wasn’t pretty but it was the only path making itself available to him.

Knowing him as well as she did, Zoe could tell by a quick glance to his face that Chase had found a solution. A brow lifted and a half-smile appeared on her lips at seeing even a measure of relief on the face of the man she couldn’t seem to stop caring for. “You figured it out.”

“I did. I think I know what Aminor is up to,” Chase replied with a slow nod before cutting a glance over to her. “And you are going to help me.”

The idea of assisting Chase on whatever more than likely insane mission he had thought up caused a shrill note of laughter to escape Zoe. She shook her head firmly at him. There was no way she was going to get involved in some scheme that could possibly end up with her dead or, worse yet, in trouble with her father in order to help Chase marry a girl she didn’t even like. “What in the world would be in it for me?”

A slow smile spread across Chase’s lips. “How does becoming the Queen of Urson sound?”

And with that question, Zoe Laroche was hooked.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 11, 2011 8:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Standing on stilted legs over the calmer bay that cut into Kalao Isle was the over-the-water hut that was always made available for Chase when he visited Papillon Resort. Zoe had been right to assume that he would flee here but she had guessed incorrectly as to the reason for his chosen seclusion. It wasn’t because he felt under attack but because he had to hide his pregnant girlfriend until he could find a way to marry her.

Caitlin had shucked the covers off at some point in her sleep and was lying in a tangle of limbs, sheets, and hair. With his head propped up on his hand and an elbow resting on his pillow, he studied her sleeping form. He had more than ample opportunity as of late. These early weeks of her pregnancy seemed to be focused solely on eating, sleeping, and vicious bouts of nausea.

And he clung to every memory of them, pocketing them to revisit while he was away. He would be leaving and, although leaving her behind felt entirely wrong, it was also the only way to make this right.

“Is it dangerous? When are you leaving?” She had asked, taking a step back away from him and out of his grasp. His arms had fallen uselessly back to his sides. “I don’t understand how Aminor can help us. I don’t understand how anyone can. I’m not good enough for those people.”

There was no question in her tone as to her worthiness and the lack of hope. It was a statement of fact and as much as he wanted to fight her hopelessness, he didn’t want to answer any questions about what he was about to do.

He knew it was wrong -- both what he was going to do and the fact that he was keeping the consequences from Cait. Cait should have an opportunity to have a say in her destiny and in her child’s future.... but he was too afraid of her choosing to leave him to care. He’d suffer whatever repercussions came from keeping this from her. All he could say in reply was a simple, “I leave in the morning.”


The reflection of this planet’s close moon sparkled on the crystal clear water and the ocean breeze swept in through the doors left open and lightly stirred Cait’s dark locks. The woman herself, though, never budged. So complete was this pregnancy induced exhaustion that he was fully convinced she could sleep through a boat crashing into the hut.

He settled a large hand over her almost flat abdomen and whispered softly so as not to wake her. “If... if I don’t make it back, take care of your mom, okay? And... I love you already little buddy. No matter what happens my heart will always be with you and your mom. I promise that.”

His hand lifted to brush her hair back away from her face so he could lean in and press a kiss against her cheek. Then, without looking back, he rose from bed and grabbed his pack on his way out the door.

“I’ll do whatever you need right now, Cait. Just tell me what to do because I’m kind of at a loss here.”

“You’re doing everything right,” she responded bravely, forcing a smile through tears. She had never been more beautiful to him than that moment. Pregnant and teary-eyed though she may have been, she was the picture of strength. Zoe was wrong. Cait was strong enough to handle this life. “You’re keeping your promise to me and the baby and you’re fixing everything and probably putting your life on the line to do it, even though you wouldn’t tell me one way or another. And it’s so selfish but I don’t want to let you go even though I know it’s what we need to do.”


David Webber, the head of Cait’s security team, was waiting at the end of the pier for him. Pulling the strap of his pack more fully on his shoulder he gave his trusted employee a brief nod as David fell in step beside him.

“I’m leaving her in your hands,” Chase stated in a low tone, reminding David of the responsibility that rested on his shoulders. Not only was the safety of Caitlin resting on David’s good judgement but now the safety of the unborn first member of the next generation of Rhovniks rested there as well.

The reminder got a somber nod in return. “Don’t worry about things here. I have it all under control.”

Chase hesitated only a brief moment before he could address the unthinkable aloud. “And if I don’t make it back I need you to forge the appropriate documents to make it appear as if Cait and I married a month or so ago.”

The question caused David to square his shoulders against the possibility. It was not one he wanted to consider. Yet, the man at his side -- the husband who was not yet a husband, the father who was not yet a father -- needed to be reassured that his family would be cared for if he were not capable of doing so himself. It was a sentiment with which David very well could relate. Therefore, without pause, David gave another grim, determined nod. “Of course.”

“Thank you,” Chase replied, reaching up to clap David on the shoulder. With his greatest concern placed on the shoulders of another, their paths diverged. David stood in place on the path, watching Chase disappear into the inky darkness before he turned to head back to his post at Caitlin's door.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The king of Asitrania, Emeric V, received the pair of influential visitors in the Throne Room of the Ibolya Fort on the mountainous western edge of Asitrania near its border with the demilitarized zone known as Killdare.

Zoe Laroche found King Emeric V’s need to preside with a show of his majesty over the meeting with representatives from two of the more powerful of the old families as a show of weakness rather than the show of power that Emeric V believed it to be. The room was certainly as impressive as Emeric thought it to be. In his traditional garb, Emeric sat regally in a golden throne situated on a short platform at the end of the room watching Zoe and Chase approach side-by-side across the marble floors. The giant candelabras that hung overhead tossed light off the gilded walls. In fact, the illusion created so much light that one could almost forget that it was a windowless room. This was a fort, after all, not a palace. For centuries, the western edge of Asitrania had been far too dangerous to build a ostentatious palace and, thus, creating an easy target for their Urson neighbors.

It wasn’t the room nor his clothing nor his stature that showed him to be weak. Those things were all impressive enough. Instead, it was his need to put his wealth and power on display for Chase and Zoe.

As she watched the King’s fingers curl anxiously around the arms of his throne, she had to silently admit that she and Chase made an impressive pair. In an iridescent dress of rich green silk and family jewels sparkling from her ears, neck, and fingers, Zoe was the very picture of wealth. Combined with her aristocratic mannerisms and well-known charm, she was every bit her father’s daughter and Pierre Laroche, the Baron of Albany, was a man that even kings and emperors took counsel from.

Chase at her side carried more than enough of his own clout as the heir to a family who had served as knights for centuries to some of their world’s greatest leaders. They spurned titles of their own but had no problem pulling the strings of puppet princes in the background. Zoe had seen that Chase’s reputation as his family’s hot-tempered, rabid pit bull was enhanced by insisting he appear to this meeting in full camouflage with his family’s crest on a patch on his sleeve. Chase hadn’t needed much convincing and, though, Chase had conceded to the pale-faced adviser's hand wringing and pleading for him to leave the gun that had been slung across his back at the door, there was no doubt in Zoe’s mind that word had gotten back to Emeric that the vicious Rhovnik had come to the palatial fort stone-faced and armed.

Although situated in an unadorned hardback chair off the platform that held Emeric’s throne, there was little Emeric could do to downplay the beauty that sat at his elbow. Even dressed in the black, conservative garb that signaled her widowhood, Bianca the Delicate was a bright light in the opulent room. Her skin was pale from being kept here under virtual house arrest but that only seemed to make her copper locks stand out more vibrantly. Although silent and sporting an impassive expression, the King’s younger sister burned with a fiery anger that was impossible to ignore and made her far more regal than her elder sibling.

Emeric smiled tightly as Chase and Zoe drew to a stop. Although Zoe dipped her head in polite acknowledgement to the King, neither bowed and Chase met Emeric’s gaze coldly. “A Rhovnik and a Laroche, I see. I must apologize that you have caught us at a rather tense moment and, therefore, I fear our hospitality will not be what it should be. But perhaps the timing was planned?”

Zoe offered a cool smile and a slow nod. “We have heard you are having trouble with your western neighbor.”

“Aminor of Urson is testing our resolve in Killdare. The Killdare province is an independent demilitarized zone between Urson and our Asitrania established by our grandfathers to put an end to centuries of bloodshed, solidified by our fathers with the arrangement of the marriage of my sister to Aminor’s brother but now Aminor is going to destroy the two generations of peace that have existed between us. My scouts tell me of border raids into Killdare, of the men of Killdare being pressed into military service for Urson, of the women of Killdare being raped by their barbaric soldiers. We cannot sit here and allow these atrocities to continue just outside the safety of our border.”

The grim frown which ended a beat too soon and the hand falling from the arm of the throne to Emeric’s leg told Zoe all she needed about his truthfulness. Liars express emotion a beat too slow and a liar often draws his limbs in close to his body to take up less space. Emeric was lying and he wasn’t even doing a very good job of it.

Out of the corner of her eye, Zoe noticed Bianca’s bottom jaw tighten at the set of lies. “Do not mention my husband to further your agenda,” she stated through clenched teeth. “Not after what you had done to him.”

She couldn’t fight the power of Bianca’s anger and as much as she didn’t want to meet the rage head-on, Zoe’s dark eyes were drawn away from Emeric to Bianca. She was beautiful and mind numbingly sad at the same time. Emeric had been telling the truth about their father arranging Bianca’s marriage to Aminor of Urson’s younger brother, Linos. Arranged though the union may have initially been, the pair had come to love one another and produced two children.

Two children who stood as Emeric’s heir until he produced offspring of his own.

“Forgive my little sister’s revisionist history,” Emeric began apologetically, shooting Bianca a sharp look. She would pay for her statement but she did not blanch at the threat that sat in Emeric’s look. “She has become swept up in widowhood but Linos was not a good man. He was an agitator and we would not be in this mess with Urson if it were not for the problems he started in Killdare.”

Another lie. Bianca shook with rage. Zoe struggled to keep an impassive look on her face. Linos had hardly been an agitator. Zoe had met him once in Urson before he had married Bianca when Zoe was still a preteen and Linos was a striking young man. Linos was studious and intelligent. He concerned himself more with studying agricultural practices and had innovative ideas on irrigation that assisted the Killdare region immensely than with politics and intrigue. When Emeric had begun raids into Killdare under the pretense that Aminor of Urson was trying to regain control of it and, more importantly, the thoroughway that was the mighty Ibrocul River which ran through Killdare, Linos had argued loudly against the move.

Emeric couldn’t ignore him. The people of Asitrania, Killdare, and Urson loved him and Bianca too much. Trumped up charges of treason were produced. Linos was dragged into an kangaroo court made up of Emeric’s own councillors. By dawn of the day after the arrest of Linos, his corpse swung from a noose outside the House of Councillors.

“There’s no need for you to apologize for her disloyalty,” Chase stated gruffly. Bianca’s accusing eyes swung to him. Any hope that the old families had sent the pair to negotiate her and her children’s release was dashed. Chase’s posture was firm. His dark eyes never strayed over to Bianca as if she did not even warrant a glance.

While the hope in Bianca’s face died, Zoe watched it grow on Emeric’s. Could it be that the old families were taking his side over Aminor? After all, Aminor had always been a favorite among them. Emeric clasped his hands in his lap, nodding solemnly as if deeply upset by Bianca’s disloyalty. “Might I dare to hope that you are here to offer your support to Asitrania in its time of need?”

“We are,” Chase responded with a firm nod. “Your military leadership here in Asitrania is lacking. I have plenty of experience in the field and I have a force of several thousand men on their way as we speak. And there is no better diplomatic envoy than Miss Laroche.”

Zoe’s lips settled into a smile as Emeric’s gaze turned back to her. The offer of help seemed to give him pause. She watched the emotions cross his face as he connected the dots. The old families would never get involved unless there was something in it for them. “And what will your assistance cost me?”

The grim solemnity on Chase’s expression broke as a dry smile cracked his lips. “I am sure we can work out a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 26, 2011 8:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

King Emeric V had wasted little time. Word of the old families’ involvement would get back to Aminor soon enough. He wanted to crush Urson before Aminor had a chance to call in his own assistance. Thus, as soon as Chase’s force of Rhovnik-loyal mercenaries had arrived, the well-trained Rhovnik force along with the Asitranian troops had entered the demilitarized region of Killdare.

The muddy season was upon them and Blackmon valley which sat at the foot of the scraggly Vela mountain range had been turned into a bog of thick, sticky mud that seemed to coat everything -- vehicles, horses, weapons, tents, soldiers. Troop movement took twice the time it would have only a month prior. If it were not for the beauty of the mighty Itius river that they traveled beside reminding him of the power and fortune of Killdare and Urson, Emeric may have given up and returned to the comforts and luxuries of home.

His company certainly left much to be desired. Chase remained a sullen, solemn force who neither bowed nor scraped to his betters. In fact, he did not seem to even recognize that Emeric was his better. The men -- even Emeric’s own -- listened to his orders and the dark, grim manner in which he went about this business of preparing for invasion infiltrated the entire camp. Chase had also insisted that Emeric bring along Bianca and her two rugrats for safe-keeping for Chase did not trust her to be left to her own devices at the Ibolya Fort where she would not have the opportunity to conspire behind their backs. It was best, according to Chase, to keep Emeric’s defiant little sister under their thumb. While Emeric could not find fault with Chase’s reasoning, he was disappointed that he would be in such close quarters to Bianca’s accusatory looks and vengeful rage.

Zoe Laroche remained the sole bright spot in the camp for Emeric.

She lived up to the rumors and stories that he had heard tell of the Laroche girls and, in some ways, even exceeded Emeric’s expectations. Her smile was charming, her wit sharp, and her taste expensive. The wonderfully politically manipulative mind was an added bonus that a man in Emeric’s situation could not overlook.

It was this distraction that kept him from focusing as he stood at Chase’s side over a topographical map of the Killdare-Urson border in the central command tent while the man bored him with details of troop movement.

“I know your commanders feel we should take Winter Water Gap here,” Chase stated tapping the wide center pass through the Vela mountains that would allow them to spill out at the Urson border. “And Aminor will know that as well. Winter Water Gap is wider and will allow equipment and men to move through more quickly, lessening the chance of getting bottle-necked between the mountains. So Aminor will position the elite Urson Guard here and his less experienced troops to guard the opening of the Fir Tree Pass in the north and the Phydel Pass to the south.”

Emeric stifled a yawn, nodding slowly. “So what do you suggest then?”

“I suggest we leave a guard here at the Killdare side of Winter Water Gap while you head north to Fir Tree Pass with your troops and I head south to Phydel Pass with mine. Those are much narrower passes and less obvious crossings so the Urson soldiers guarding these points will be nothing but poorly equipped farmers. We slam through them and create a pincer by joining our two forces, trapping the elite Urson Guard against the mountain. If they try to escape through Winter Water Gap, our guard on the other side will be waiting for them.”

“And then we have Urson?” Emeric questioned.

Chase gave a slow nod without lifting his gaze from the map. “That would be the plan.”

Emeric pursed his lips as he rose to his full height, crossing his arms over his broad chest. “And then what?”

The question seemed to take Chase by surprise. His brows furrowed as he lifted his dark eyes from the map to the leader of Asitrania. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you know I cannot rule Urson. The people of Urson and Killdare do not approve of our little invasion. They will not believe the accusations that Aminor has been causing trouble in the demilitarized zone.” Emeric chose his words carefully. It would be as close as he would come to admitting his lies.

Chase drew his lips into a thoughtful frown, allowing his gaze to shift past Emeric to the opening of the tent which was flapping in the breeze. “As you know, my expertise lies in military matters. However, if you are asking my opinion, I agree. I do not believe that you can ever rule Urson and I believe that you will be in a very difficult position in Killdare. It would be best to find someone with similar goals whom you can rule Urson through.”

“Like a wife,” Emeric suggested, gently pushing Chase towards the conclusion that Emeric had already come to.

The suggestion was met with a shrug of acknowledgment and a nod. “A wife would work. One that was popular with the people of Urson. She could stand as Queen of Urson while you remain King of Asitrania and now Killdare.”

“One that was popular with the people of Urson and would create a strong international alliance,” Emeric amended thoughtfully at which Chase gave another nod. Emeric slid his hands into the pockets of his long coat and allowed his eyes to dip back down to the map before them. “Perhaps Miss Laroche would be interested in a title.”

Emeric’s gaze had traced up to Chase to watch the emotion play across his face. Had Emeric been better at reading body language, he may have noticed that the reaction was practiced. Unfortunately for Emeric, he was not and took the thoughtfully intrigued expression on Chase’s face as genuine. “I believe that should would be and I believe her father would be well inclined to give his blessing to such a union.”

A wide, smug grin spread across Emeric’s face. He would have Killdare, Urson, and the hand of one of the most sought after beauties in the land. So startling was his success becoming that he was half convinced that should he lay his hand upon the table under the map, it may very well turn to gold. “Now all we must do is convince the lady.”

“And win this war,” Chase added in a low, solemn tone as the map stole his attention once again.
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

King Emeric V lay on his back in his cot shivering as he stared up at the top of the canvas tent. No amount of blankets, no amount of clothing, no amount of cold weather gear could have prepared them for the night that had just passed. Although only autumn, nights in the mountainous Killdare region were already turning brutal.

The tent’s opening flapped in the wind but at least since they had moved into the Fir Tree Pass they had old weathered mountains on either side to protect them from much of the howling wind. His commanders had warned against setting up camp in the narrow pass. They feared bottle necking should an attack fall upon them. Emeric dismissed their concerns. The Ursons would not enter Killdare. With the Rhovniks and Laroches on the Asitranians’ side, Aminor of Urson was probably already desperate to negotiate a peace.

However, there would be no peace. Emeric would rule Urson. This unnatural division between Asitrania and Urson would be ended after centuries of conflict. That would be his legacy.

There was commotion outside his tent in the early morning light but Emeric couldn’t force himself just yet to leave the relative warmth of his sleeping bag to investigate. It was his military leaders job to deal with the nuisance of soldiers in a large encampment, anyway. He let his eyes fall shut and let his mind drift to visions of wealth, power, and Zoe Laroche who was the embodiment of both.

“Your Highness!”

The anxious voice ripped Emeric from the sleep that had just retaken him. He bolted upright with wide eyes and mussed hair to take in the pale-faced commander before him. It took Emeric’s mind a moment to shake off sleep enough to command his voice box. “What? What is it?”

“We are surrounded,” the man stated with defeat heavy in his voice.

The statement drew a laugh from Emeric. He drew a hand through his hair and then gave a firm shake of his head. “How can that be? A shot has not even been fired.”

“The Urson troops have moved into Killdare territory. They are lining the edge of the pass preparing for us. We will be stuck within.” The commander remained rigidly standing beside the opening of the tent and with a look of despair he wait for Emeric to come to grips with the hopelessness of the situation.

The look rattled Emeric but he couldn’t figure out the cause for it. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed. “We have greater numbers. We can break out through their lines or escape out the other way to make our entrance into Urson through one of the passes further south.”

“We cannot get out of the pass.”

“What do mean? Of course we can.” There had to be something Emeric was missing. He shoved himself to his feet. Why could they not just turn around and go out the way they had come in?

The flustered field commander shook his head mournfully. “There are Rhovnik forces on the other side of the pass.”

Frustration began to bubble over in Emeric as he still failed to understand the depth of the issue. He could hear the commotion outside the tent. It sounded as if the men were preparing for battle. He could see the despair on the commander’s face. But there seemed to be no apparent reason for either. “But the Rhovnik forces are supposed to be south at the Phydel Pass. And, anyway, why would they keep us from getting out of the pass?”

“They have lowered our flag and raised the flag of Urson. Zoe Laroche and your sister are missing. It is assumed that they slipped away from our camp before dawn. The Rhovnik forces have radioed to us to surrender.”

The words hung in the cold morning air. They were literally trapped between a rock and a hard place. The Urson troops stood before them, the well-oiled Rhovnik soldiers behind, and on either side loomed the great mountains to box them in. Any attack they tried to mount would be bottle necked and doomed from the start. Dread began to overtake Emeric and then as the full weight of the treachery sank in, it was abandoned for rage.

“That sorry son of a bitch!” The shout shook the eerie calm in the tent but was just another noise among the chaotic din of the greater camp.

The commander’s voice was strained and his posture tight as he awaited orders now that Emeric had a full grasp of the situation. “What would you have us do, sir?”

Silence filled the air for a long moment before Emeric smiled grimly and lifted his eyes to the man again. “Die.”

The word caused his eyes to widen in surprise and brows to lift. Surely he had not heard that correctly. “Excuse me, sir?”

But Emeric’s black resolve remained. He gave a nod to confirm the order after the dark smile had fallen from his lips. “To the last man. We shall go down fighting.”
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 10, 2011 4:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The battle of the Fir Tree Pass would be chronicled as one of the bloodiest in the long cruel history in Urson and Asitrania’s fighting over the Killdare region. The Asitranians had followed Emeric’s order to stand firm until the last man fell almost completely. There were far more corpses to bury than prisoners to guard at the end of the day. Emeric himself was one of those corpses. He had lost his life as well but by his own hand rather than in the thick of battle.

So at odds was the vicious battle in the narrow mountain gorge from the state dinner at the lavish Urson palace to celebrate the end of hostilities that Chase had a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that it had only been five short days from the last shot to the extravagant dinner now before him. Zoe Laroche sat at his right elbow and, for once, he was appreciative for his presence. It was hard for him to sit in a tuxedo listening attentively to the conversation around him so soon after the Fir Tree battle. Zoe understood that and made sure to take the lead in any conversation that he was drawn into.

King Aminor smiled warmly at them from across the table and as he began to address them in a somber tone every other voice at the table silenced. Even those at surrounding tables strained to hear. He didn’t seem to mind that he was clearly being over heard. In fact, that was the point of having this conversation in so public of a place. “Urson and Killdare both thank you, Miss Laroche and Mr. Rhovnik. As I’m sure does dear Bianca here.”

Bianca’s smile was easy in reply to her dead husband’s brother. Gone was the haunted caged animal glint to her eyes. With her brother’s death, a sense of resolution had settled upon her. The father of her children would not come back from the dead. However, her children were safe from Emeric and their husband’s death had been avenged. “I do indeed. I look forward to hosting you in Asitrania in the coming years as I restore it to its former grace.”

“I am sure you will be an excellent Queen to your people, Your Highness,” Zoe replied with a smooth smile. Although, genuine expressions of emotions flowed so rarely from Zoe’s mouth, Chase was sure she believed that statement and he did as well. If anyone could right the wrongs of Emeric, it was Bianca. If anyone could restore Asitrania to the peace loving nation it had once been, it was Bianca. “Have you decided on what shall become of Killdare?”

Aminor gave a solemn nod of his head as he set down his fork, lifting his chin a touch. If every ear in the room wasn’t tilted towards their table now, Chase would have been shocked. “It shall become a protectorate of Urson but shall remain a demilitarized zone. I shall be naming my dear friend, Caitlin Keavy, as Duchess of Killdare to ensure the peace and stability of the region.”

“Chase, dear, you are friends with Miss Keavy, are you not?” Bianca posed the question innocently with only the slightest hint of an ironic smile.

Chase waited until he set down his glass and lifted his eyes to Bianca to respond with a nod of acknowledgment. “I do know Miss Keavy.”

“Have I not heard that you are trying to arrange an advantageous marriage for Miss Keavy, Your Highness?” Zoe asked of Aminor with a tilt of her head. “Perhaps it comes at a wonderful time that Miss Keavy is in need of a match at the same moment that the Rhovniks are hoping that their heir will marry.”

Aminor nodded slowly and thoughtfully as if the idea had never dawned on him, as if the plan was not his to begin with. “Of course it would be wonderful to have a Rhovnik tie to our region. Our families go back so many generations. However, I am afraid that I would not be able to extend the title of ‘duke’ to Chase. We would want to avoid the problems that arose when his cousin became engage to the Baron of St. Aldwin.”

Chase gave a warm laugh that, he was proud to admit, seemed relatively unrehearsed to his ears. “I am not duke material so that stipulation would not make me opposed to such an arrangement. Perhaps we can discuss it in more detail tomorrow.”

Bianca leaned in towards Aminor and dropped her voice to a sly tone while cutting a mischievous glance across the table to Zoe. “And when, pray tell, are you planning on announcing your own engagement to the lovely Miss Laroche.”

Aminor grinned brightly as he too let his eyes slide to Zoe. Her cheeks were flushed so lightly that it almost appeared natural. Maybe it was. Maybe Zoe would finally be at peace as the Queen of Urson. Even Chase had to admit that he would find no better queen to his kingdom than the woman who was seated at his elbow. “After dinner, I plan to announce the happy news to our guests.”

The conversation turned towards corn yields, allowing Zoe ample cover to dip in towards Chase’s ear to whisper in a soft, teasing tone. “So we have both gotten what we want after all, no?”

“Almost,” came the barely audible reply from Chase as he lifted his glass once more. “Almost.”
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 3:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“You’re not going to tell her?”

Chase ignored the incredulous tone in his best friend and best man, Eric’s, voice as he continued to button up his shirt without turning from the full length mirror. He felt his bottom jaw tighten with tension but refused to allow it to slip into his tone, hoping feign ignorance. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, E. You’re going to have to be more specific.”

The tumbler in Eric’s hand was set down hard against the dresser. The glass clinked and the ice inside rustled but, thankfully, the glass stood up to the violent treatment. He crossed the room to stand beside the mirror in order to catch Chase’s gaze.

“You just turned your bride into a duchess. We both know that she doesn’t want to be a duchess and if she decides she can’t put up with it her only option is going to step aside and hand the title to your unborn child. Don’t you think she should at least be informed of this before she walks down the aisle? This is only going to end badly. She’s only going to feel like you lied to get her to marry you.”

Chase’s hands fell from his shirt and he turned his eyes on Eric. The tension in his jaw was only growing, spreading to his shoulders, through his arms to his fingers, and down his back. His tone was low and angry. “Look. I did what I had to do to marry that woman while maintaining my position as head of this family. She lost her right to back out of this the minute she got pregnant.”

The angry words settled in the air between them. Eric’s features fell into a look of disappointment that Chase couldn’t bare. His gaze zipped back to the mirror and his hands lifted to finish off the remaining buttons. By sunset, Caitlin Keavy would be his wife and he refused to let the rest of it taint this night. Eric clapped a hand against Chase’s back, giving a slow nod. “Aright, Chase. Alright. Let’s go get you married.”

***

"Chase, repeat after me. I, Chase, give to you, Caitlin, this ring as a symbol of my commitment to you as powerful and endless as the sea."

There was a hitch in his breath as he slid the ring on Cait's finger. "I, Chase, give you, Caitlin, this ring as a symbol of my commitment to you, as powerful and endless as the sea."

With the ring now on Cait's finger, the minister nodded to Kat who stepped forward to hand Cait Chase's ring. "And now, Cait, repeat after me. I, Caitlin, give you, Chase, this ring as a symbol of my commitment to you, as powerful and endless as the sea."

While Chase slid the ring on her finger, she practically bounced happily. Biting down on her lip to try and keep her growing smile in check, she nodded to the minister when he told her, her line. Taking Chase's hand after trading her flowers off to Kat, she lightly caressed his hand with hers a moment and then began to slide on his ring. " I, Caitlin, give you, Chase, this ring as a symbol of my commitment to you, as powerful and endless as the sea." Once the ring was on, she held his hand firmly and let out a soft relieved breath.

His relief matched hers. The ring which he had at first balked at wearing when Kat had insisted that he pick out before he left felt like a natural extension of his being. His eyes finally lifted from their hands to her face and finally there was a flicker of a private smile for her.

"Because Caitlin and Chase have showered our hearts with expressions of their love and promised each other the joy of all their days, it gives me great honor and pleasure to now pronounce them husband and wife," the minister stated with a note of growing jubilation to his tone. "Chase, you may now kiss your bride."

One hand slid around her back while the opposite hand lifted to encompass her jawbone with his thumb against her cheek and his fingers loosely wrapped around the nape of her neck. The kiss was definitely restrained. Her father, after all, wasn't sitting too terribly far away and Chase was still had to tell him in a few short days that he had asked for his permission to marry his daughter without mentioning the fact that she was already pregnant. But restraint aside, there was no doubting the very real passion and love that was held in that kiss.

"It is my pleasure to be the first to introduce to their friends and family, Mr. and Mrs. Chase Rhovnik."
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