Christmas Pegasus epilogue – Olly’s Wedding Nerves
This story contains spoilers for Christmas Pegasus! Make sure you’ve read it before you continue…
Olly’s Wedding Nerves
by Zoe Chant
This is fine, Olly told herself, despite all evidence to the contrary.
No, that wasn’t right. Her owl wheeled around her thoughts, searching for a weak spot. Except it was all weak spots. Everything was going perfectly. The weather was clear and still; it was the shoulder season so everyone she and Jackson had invited was able to clear their work calendars and come along, and Hannah had deputized three of her nephews to protect the cake from ravenous dragonling shifters. It was, everyone kept saying, the most drama-free wedding they’d ever heard of.
The one thing that wasn’t fine was her.
Everyone’s going to look at me, she thought with a squeak.
Across the room, dragon shifter Opal looked up from where she was fixing Olly’s matron of honor Meaghan’s hair. *Everything all right, sweetie?* she asked.
“Mm-hmm.” Olly nodded vigorously, which was a bad idea, because she’d suddenly gone very lightheaded.
Sitting patiently while Opal threaded flowers into her curly hair, Meaghan narrowed her eyes. She wasn’t a shifter, so she wouldn’t have heard Opal’s quick check-in, but she clearly didn’t need telepathic abilities to see through Olly’s lies. And if Meaghan could see how anxious she was, then how was she meant to cope with half the town looking at her?
You’re acting like prey, her owl sniffed.
I’m acting the same way I always do! she retorted, smoothing her hands over her flowing dress and willing Meaghan to stay in her chair and not storm over to demand Olly tell her what the problem was, like she usually did. You’re usually the one telling me to stalk people from out of sight! How are you handling this better than me?
Her owl ruffled its feathers smugly. Because this is the best way we will ever be able to show off our mate, it crooned.
He’s not the one who’s going to be walking down the aisle! Olly wailed internally.
There was a minor scuffle at the other end of the room as Meaghan tried to launch herself out of her chair and towards Olly, and Opal held her in place with one hand and a strategically placed hairpin. “Ouch,” Meaghan grumbled. “Olly, you’ve gone the same shade as your dress. You should sit down.”
“It’s just bridal nerves,” Opal said breezily. “All she needs is some fresh air. Why don’t you pop out back and have a breather?”
Olly bit back a sigh. Opal and Meaghan were both lovely, but right now, they were both equally unhelpful in their own ways. If Opal had let Meaghan up, she would have completely steamrolled Olly in her attempts to make things better, but Opal’s breezy just-get-some-fresh-air attitude just left Olly with even less to distract her from her own mind’s attempts to wind her up. She wondered if her friend and other bridesmaid, Abigail, might have done better, but Abigail had disappeared as soon as Opal had finished her hair and makeup, muttering about checking on the seating and the decorations. She had a thing about celebrations, the same way Meaghan had a thing about being a helpful bulldozer, the same way Olly herself had a thing about people looking at her.
Olly gathered her skirts and slipped out through the French windows into the Heartwell Lodge’s courtyard garden. Better out in the fresh air than cooped up inside. She was an owl shifter, after all. Open spaces were her natural environment.
Her owl was still picking at her worries. Aren’t you looking forward to showing our mate off? He’s so splendid. It’s a shame you have to be in human form for the ceremony, but everyone will still know he’s a pegasus. Our pegasus. Our gorgeous, shiny, magnificent…
Olly tuned her owl out as it kept listing adjectives. Opal had been right about one thing: the cool spring air with its gentle zephyrs was far more pleasant than the hairspray-and-perfume scented indoors. The courtyard was at the back of the Heartwells’ lodge, looked over by mountain peaks that were still covered in snow, although here in the garden the first spring shoots were valiantly pushing through the earth, and the blossoms Opal Heartwell had woven into her and her bridal party’s hair came from the small orchard further along the valley where the ceremony would take place. Olly was convinced the only reason the cherry trees were flowering this early in the year was due to some sneaky dragon magic. Or, more likely, dragon fire. She shut her eyes and breathed in deep, sifting through the scents on the air. Green things and frozen earth, the old wood and stone of the Heartwell family home and the new, singed accents from when Opal’s son Cole and his young cousin Ruby got too excited. And even newer, the harsh choke of truck fumes and the giddy fizz of champagne greeting the guests as they arrived.
Her guests. Her and Jackson’s guests.
Argh, she thought, and her owl rolled its eyes at her.
She sighed and found a perch on a bench, making sure it was clean and dry before gingerly sitting down. Even with all the fittings, she hadn’t really twigged to how she would have to move differently in a full-length dress with a billowing skirt. She’d already almost tripped over her own hem going up a step. If she sat down in a puddle or a patch of muddy moss and had to walk down the aisle with a massive smear on her backside…
She jumped up. Even though she’d checked the seat, it wasn’t worth the risk.
I thought I could handle it, she thought, half to her owl but mostly to herself. Yes, everyone knew she hated being the center of attention, and Jackson had told her he was fine not having a ceremony, or having a private exchange of rings and then a bridal table at the reception with enough flowers around it that she could lurk out of sight to her heart’s content, but… this was her wedding. She had been determined not to let her owl’s stalking instincts stop her from doing everything right. And after everything she’d already put Jackson through, she wanted to make it clear to him and everyone else how much she loved him.
Only now it wasn’t her owl’s instincts she was fighting. Turned out, she was cripplingly shy all on her own.
Olly raised her hands to her eyes, remembered just in time that she was wearing more makeup than she ever had done in her life, and let out a short scream.
*I was going to ask if you were having second thoughts, but now I’m worried your answer might be yes.*
Olly dropped her hands. *Jackson? What are you doing here?*
*Thought it was traditional for the groom to try and sneak a look of his bride on the big day.* Jackson’s voice was a warm burr in her mind, the psychic equivalent of rubbing her cheek against his stubble. *Now I’m wondering if I should skip straight past that and ask you to run away with me.*
He’s on the other side of that wall, Olly’s owl informed her. I know that! she retorted, wishing she had feathers of her own to fluff up.
She walked over to the garden wall and pressed one hand against it. She knew exactly where Jackson was on the other side: six inches of stone away from her palm, a few feet from the gate that led from the courtyard to the rest of the Heartwells’ mountain property. The golden mate bond that connected them thrummed at his closeness.
*I’m not going to run away,* she said. *I’m…*
*… freaking out about everyone looking at you?*
Olly sighed. *You know me too well.*
*And I love you too much to let you stress out about this by yourself. I wasn’t joking. If you don’t want to go through with the whole production, we can fly away together. Just the two of us.* He paused. *We might need to kidnap Hank, for the legal side of things, but we can get married without you being in the spotlight.*
*We can’t abandon our guests,* she protested.
Jackson was trying to reassure her, but his words had the opposite effect. Sure, everyone would understand. They would understand that poor little Olly was still so twisted up with social anxiety that she couldn’t even bear people to look at her on her own wedding day. That she would take away Jackson’s big day because of her own nerves.
Because today wasn’t just about her, even if she was the one in the massive dress and spindly shoes. Jackson had spent his whole life feeling out of place as the apparently human child of two shifter parents. Now that his inner pegasus had turned up, the missing piece that had mended the horrible fracture between him and Olly, he was finally finding his feet among the shifter community. He’d been the one who left town and all his friends here after she broke his heart. She wouldn’t take this away from him, as well.
As though he could hear what she was thinking—or feel her emotions through the mate bond, which was more likely—he moved towards the gate. *Come on,* he said gruffly. *Everyone’s arriving. If we move now—*
*I’m not going to run away!*
*Darling…* The fondness in his voice made her chest tighten. *I’m not asking you to run away. I’m asking you not to force yourself through something that frightens you for my sake.*
Damn it. He’d figured her out. *Well, I don’t want you to miss out on something you want for my sake. And I’m not frightened.* She’d experienced true terror before, and this wasn’t it. *I’m just… less prepared than I thought I was.*
*Then I know what you need.* The gate’s catch clicked. *Like I said, everyone’s here. I’ll do a quick flyover with you on my back. You can see exactly where everyone is.*
Some of the tightness in Olly’s chest eased. *That sounds good,* she admitted. *But—*
It was too late. The gate opened; Jackson’s hand appeared, and the edge of a pressed white cuff peeking out from beneath the dark sleeve of his suit jacket.
He’s not supposed to see me in my dress before the ceremony! Olly thought, panicking.
Her owl blinked. What? Why?
It’s bad luck!
Bad luck? All of her owl’s feathers stood on end. Olly tried to rally her tongue or her thoughts to tell Jackson to get back on the other side of the wall, or—what else were her options? Tear her dress off? Grooms weren’t meant to see their brides in their dresses on their wedding day, right, so if she wasn’t wearing it…
She was totally frozen. Her owl jumped into action. We’ve had enough bad luck already! it cried, and shifted.
My dress! Olly shrieked as she transformed into her owl’s form in a flurry of blinking lights.… Oh, her owl said. Then: I’m sure it will be fine!
You can’t just say that!
All her life, Olly and every other shifter she knew had thought that shifting destroyed whatever clothes you were wearing at the time. Then Jackson’s father had strolled into town. He was a flashy pegasus shifter whose suits were worth more than most people in Pine Valley made in a month, and he had brought with him the knowledge that it was possible to shift without disintegrating everything you were wearing.
But you had to be concentrating, to take your clothes with you. And Olly wasn’t convinced her owl had been.
“Olly…” Jackson was all the way through the gate now. Olly’s near-breakdown had only taken the time it took him to walk two steps.
He looked so good that Olly completely forgot that she might have just destroyed her entire wedding outfit by shifting in it.
Jackson was usually a rugged dresser—he favored worn-in corduroys and denim jackets that could withstand whatever scrapes he got into, with stubble to match. Today, though…
His dark suit was perfectly tailored to fit his muscular frame, and the cufflinks gleaming at his wrists drew attention to his strong wrists and big, work-callused hands. He was clean-shaven, and his dark hair was neater than Olly had ever seen it. The pink line of scar tissue above his eyebrow gave him a look of danger that seemed erotically at odds with his formal outfit. It matched the calluses on his hands. And she knew all the things he could do with those hands…
Jackson’s eyes widened when he saw her in her owl form. Then he slapped one hand to his forehead and swore. “That’s right. I’m not meant to see you in your dress, right?”
*Right now I feel like I shouldn’t be allowed to see you in your suit, either.* Olly flew to land on his shoulder and nibbled on his ear. *If you really wanted to convince me to ditch the ceremony, you should have led with this.*
He grinned the fast, infectious and always surprised smile that always found its way to his face when she complimented him. Then he rolled his shoulders back and shifted.
Jackson’s pegasus gleamed like the morning sun on untouched snow, so shining white it seemed to glow from within. Except…
Olly hopped from the pegasus’s shoulder down its back, peering at its wings. When Jackson first shifted, his wings had been white with a strange satined, silvery pattern. Now, though, those silvery bars had darkened to an earthy ochre. The shade was familiar, but Olly couldn’t quite place it. How had she not noticed it before? Then again, they had mostly been flying at night lately, not in the daylight.
*It’s my feathers,* Jackson said gruffly when he twisted his head back and saw her looking at his wings. *I haven’t been rolling in the dirt. Again.* His voice turned wry. *You’d think a creature as glamorous as a pegasus would be above mud baths.*
*They’re growing in different colors?*
*Just brown.* His pegasus kicked one hoof, and Olly had a sudden image of what Jackson would look like if he were in human form at that moment: straight-backed but scuffing one foot, shoulders angled as though he was ready to escape the situation if anyone questioned him too closely. *The first time I shifted, my father said my coloring was… unique,* Jackson rumbled, sounding embarrassed. *I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but this must be it.*
Olly fondly tugged a beakful of his mane. *I like it. It’s like you’re changing colors for the summer.*
*You like it?*
*Yes.* Something was niggling at the back of her mind, and her owl helped her pick at it the same way it always did: by picking at something with its beak until she untangled the knot in her brain. Unfortunately for Jackson, the thing it picked at was his mane.
*Ow,* he grumbled good-naturedly. *I thought you said you liked it?*
*Your mane hasn’t changed color,* she said absently. *Just your wings. Oh,* she added, beak-over-claw clambering down his back, *And your flanks…*
Realization struck. *Your mom’s a deer shifter, and deer change color with the seasons. I think you must have inherited more from her than you thought.*
Even after his pegasus had revealed itself, Jackson had harbored a strange feeling of betrayal about taking after his absent father rather than the mother who had raised him. Now, even though his voice was its usual gruff burr, Olly felt his wave of happy relief flowing through the mate bond.
*Good. I’ll stop worrying about it then.* He—or more likely, his pegasus—tossed its mane. Gruff to the end, Olly thought, beaming. *Let’s fly.*
He leapt into the air. Olly’s owl clung to his mane until he reached the height of his leap and flung out his wings, then peeled off and swooped ahead of him. Anywhere else in town they would have to be wary of passing tourists or human locals who didn’t know about Pine Valley’s shifter population, but the Heartwells lived so far past the edge of town that they were assured of privacy.
From everyone except their guests, that was.
*Hellhounds at ten o’clock,* Jackson murmured. She looked down to see Meaghan’s mate Caine get out of his truck. The three other members of their pack emerged from another vehicle: Flea, Rhys, and Manu, all looking more than usually uncomfortable in ill-fitting suits.
She gave Flea a wary extra glance: his hellhound had been behaving strangely ever since the previous Christmas. Whenever it saw someone breaking a rule, it went into a frenzy. Today, however, it seemed to be behaving. Flea looked completely in control—if exhausted, with dark shadows under his eyes—and Manu and Rhys were walking either side of him, almost, but not quite, like bodyguards.
Another movement caught her eye: *And there are Hannah’s nephews,* she nudged Jackson. *I thought they were meant to be looking after—oh no! Quick, we’ve got to get out of sight!*
*What?* Jackson flared his wings and dropped beneath her, as though he was shielding her from a threat. Unfortunately, that just made things more exciting for the two dragonlings that the bear shifters were escorting up to the venue. Jackson swore and swooped away towards the cover of the trees that lined the path up to the orchard. Olly followed, her wings whispering on the cool spring air.
*Want to fly!* Tiny Ruby Heartwell wriggled in her cousin Cole’s arms, a warning shimmer surrounding her. Olly winced as Cole groaned, trying to keep a hold of her.
*Aw, Rubes, nooo…* he moaned.
*Jasper!* she called out, hoping her psychic voice would reach the dragon shifter, wherever he was. *Ruby’s trying to shift—come and look after her before she flies away!*
Cole’s voice burst into her head. *Please go where she can’t see you! She always shifts when she sees people flying!*
*FLYING TIME!* Ruby shouted, her mouth turning into an ‘O’ of complaint. Olly made her exit into the trees just as Jasper ran up.
Either he convinces her not to shift, or I have a tiny dragon wedding guest, Olly thought as she found a branch to land on. No panic.
And either way, she knew what to expect. If she did see a tiny, ruby-colored dragon scuttling across the aisle when the ceremony started, at least she now had fair warning.
She scoped out the other guests as they arrived, staying hidden in the trees as she watched Abigail and Opal’s husband Hank direct everyone to their seats. The white-painted chairs were arranged in a semi-circle in front of an arch decorated with fresh spring greenery, with an aisle down the middle.
Everyone who’d RSVP’d was there, which was almost every shifter in town. And Olly realized, as she peered at each of them one by one, that she wasn’t nervous about any of them. They weren’t amorphous, faceless people, who would pin her down with looks she couldn’t decipher. They were her friends, and her family—Hannah, who always picked out the rarest cuts of the roast for her, since she knew her owl liked them; Hank and Opal, who’d let Jackson practice flying above their land for the last few months, and always had a hot drink and something tasty for them both to eat; Jackson’s mom, sweet and doe-eyed even in human form… and his father. Who might be a total douche, but at least she knew exactly what sort of douche he was. Olly’s own parents were another frustratingly known quantity. They really should have gotten ready at the Heartwells’ with Olly and her bridal party, but like always, they had insisted on not being a bother and stayed to get ready at their hotel. Which meant they would probably be late, and cause more of a bother than they would have if they hadn’t determinedly stayed out of everyone’s way, but…
*Feeling better?* Jackson stepped quietly up to the tree she was perched in and huffed a horsey breath that ruffled her feathers. She blinked down at him.
*Yes.* She heaved a deep breath. *This is just what I needed.* Not running away, and not even really seeing what she was running into if she carried on as planned—but realizing that the people who were here were here because they loved her, and even if they all stared bug-eyed at her as she walked down the aisle, they would be bug-eyed with love and support, not judgement.
That happy thought kept her going until she flew back to the lodge where she’d left the rest of her bridal party and watched Jackson fly back to the ceremony venue. He would shift back into his fancy suit with the cufflinks that drew attention to his strong wrists and hands, and she would… would…
Her ears rang. My dress!
Images flashed through her mind. She couldn’t get married without a dress! The dress that she’d taken so long to choose, and Abigail had helped her adjust to fit her perfectly—and it wasn’t just the dress. What about the expensive bra and underwear that kept all her curves in the right places to fill the dress’s bodice? What about her shoes? And her hair and her jewelry and her makeup and, and… Her outfit had so many complicated interlocking pieces. There was no way they would all have survived her thoughtless shift, and if any of them were missing…
“Olly!” Meaghan was standing in the French windows, arms braced against the frame. Her pale green bridesmaid’s dress swirled over her six-months-pregnant belly. She looked like an angry goddess of the spring. “You shifted? What about your dress? No, forget your dress. What about you? Are you okay?”
Her dress didn’t matter, Olly decided. It wasn’t what was most important.
She shifted back, gathering her human form around her. Her head felt heavy and strangely balanced; she put up one hand and found all the flowers Opal had spent so long pinning in place earlier. And if she had her flowers…
She looked down.
Her dress wasn’t the most important thing, she knew; but it was nice to have, all the same.
In the end, she didn’t notice her dress, or her tippy shoes, or any of the eyes that turned to focus on her as she stepped into the aisle. All of her attention was on Jackson. There might as well have been nothing else in the world. No spring sunlight, no green-scented fresh air, no music that she’d spent nights and nights agonizing over, no friends and family, no tiny red dragon nibbling on the wedding arch as her parents begged her in urgent whispers to come back to her seat; just her, and her gorgeous, wonderful Jackson.
His suit had survived his shifts, but his hair was mussed, as though he’d been running his hands through it ever since he’d left her at the house. She reached up—when had she gotten all the way down the aisle?—and brushed a stray lock back off his forehead. His skin was warm beneath her touch; as she lowered her hand, he caught it and kissed the very tips of her fingers.
“Hold on, kids,” Hank drawled. “We haven’t got to that part yet.”
Olly barely heard him. Her mind and heart were full of Jackson.
They’d been mates since Christmas. But after this, they would be each other’s in every way. Fated mates and legally married husband and wife.
She’d never been so happy. And she didn’t care who saw it.