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Chapter 1: In His Sight
Dixon Azel cast a long, lapping gaze around the garden, certain that the angels themselves could not have painted a more perfect day for a wedding. The autumn air had cooled to a temperature well matched to the skin of the guests, affecting an atmosphere of comfort matched only by the womb. The morning sun touched the cheeks of the smiling people as gently as it caressed the leaves of the canopy as it filtered down. Heaven paled at the sight.
Nature seemed to hum with giddy anticipation of the nuptial celebration. A yellow-breasted bird called excitedly from the branch overhanging the bamboo gazebo where Dixon and Julia Porter stood flanking the elder witch who would preside over the ceremony. The air was punctuated by hundreds of butterflies darting about like fussy decorators making last-minute adjustments to the tableau. Tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails displayed their shining formal wear as they perched atop the petals of Fire Wheels and Copper Kings planted along the processional path. Painted ladies dotted the sugar bush with their deep orange wings fanned in repose. An ice blue and black butterfly lighted to kiss the open pink mouth of a desert willow blossom overhead. The flowers and foliage around them was adorned with fragile wings of every size and color, opening and closing like hundreds of sleepily blinking eyes waiting patiently for the magical union.
Dixon heaved a lengthy sigh, born partly of contentment and partly contempt. He appreciated the placid beauty of the arboretum, certainly, but it was a begrudging acceptance. As he surveyed the guests, he felt robbed of the usual advantages of a wedding ceremony’s aphrodisiac effect on young women. He knew that he would not have an opportunity to take part in a romantic tryst with a bridesmaid or lusty guest after the vows were exchanged. The fun part of the wedding was killed for Dixon.
Instinctively, his eyes fell on Julia. She was lovely with an excited flush in her cheeks and shining pride in her dark eyes. Her caramel hair was pulled away from her tanned skin with a wood-toned band decorated with dark ivy and tiny bunches of lavender and autumn sage flowers cascading over her right ear. The supple folds of her pale silver empire-waist dress draped sensually over the curve of her hips and settled teasingly over her ample breasts. He had experienced so many pleasures with Julia, and looked forward to more.
He stared at her, willing her to look him in the eyes so he could see the answer to his meaningful gaze, but she would not regard him. She was distracted, staring toward the end of the path. Nervous energy had taken control of her left hand, which was continuously smoothing the fine woven cotton of her dress over her belly and hip. She made Dixon nervous after a few minutes of obsessive patting, and he cleared his throat in a nearly inaudible attempt to bring her attention to her actions. Her eyes flicked briefly to Dixon, then shamefully to her midsection. The fidgeting stopped.
Like an infectious yawn, Dixon’s hands began absent-mindedly to straighten the cuffs of his gray linen jacket, pulling the hem straight in a precise line below his narrow waist. His fingertips glanced over his lean, muscular chest, flattening the edge of one starched lapel. He straightened to his full six feet and four inches to demonstrate better the lines of the light suit. No one seemed to notice his stunning good looks or the gorgeous contrast of his silken black hair and blue eyes against the pale gray linen suit. His face sagged with disappointment for a moment before he fixed a charming smile upon it.
Dixon and Julia stood at attention before the seated collection of Council witches, angels, and their human peers. The guests, pleasantly chattering and buzzing with excitement, paid no attention to the pair of demons before them. Their beauty was familiar, rather than stunning. The guests knew Dixon and Julia so well that they simply blended in with the flowers and swags of ivy and sage. Dixon knew all of them by name or reputation, and was bored by the absence of adventure.
In Dixon’s periphery, the elder gentleman witch moved toward the altar, causing Julia and Dixon to stiffen in alert. They, along with the guests, turned at once to peer down the path toward the garden entrance. The crowd ceased to breathe when the faint twitter of a woody flute rose over the desert spoon agave that sprawled behind the last row of chairs. Julia flushed as her smile spread to expose her even, white teeth.
As the trill grew closer, it was joined in harmony with two more flutes playing lower tones in a song that evoked thoughts of blossoms spreading their faces to the sun. The players came into view, treading with soft, even steps. Their long, blonde locks dangled in ringlets intertwined with dark leaves and tiny flowers in muted shades of red, lavender, and white. They bore identical looks of joyful concentration as they played with the precision of a single artist. Dixon silently lamented the fact that he would never bed those lovely triplets.