To Have and To Hold
By Michaela Bray
Date: December 11, 2020
Ch. 1111

The drive to the stately mansion Barry Townsend had left his wife and children was quiet. Raphael was quite used to silence seeing as he was a rather busy man focused almost solely on his many businesses and any small talk was generally considered a waste of his time. With his lovely wife seated beside him dressed in a casual attire of white shorts, a sleeveless, ruffled blouse, and sandals, he found himself at an utter loss of things to say and strangely craving for something beyond the deafening silence that filled the car.

He glanced at her quickly and found her sitting with her back ramrod straight on the passenger seat. Her delicate features were schooled into a polite, impassive mask as she stared down the road, her green eyes deep in thought. On closer inspection, he noted she was busy fiddling with her fingers.

He reached out and intertwined their fingers, keeping his eyes on the road. Her fingers were cold and clammy and the apprehension that filled her began to seep into him. Raphael quickly pushed the thoughts away and focused on trying to make a good impression on the family.

From all accounts, their small family was quite close-knit and her two older brothers, James and Jonathan, were both married with children of their own. The mother, Sarah, was a practical and down-to-earth woman who loved Cassandra as if she were her very own. Megan had also implicitly reminded him that the brothers were extremely overprotective of their younger sister and that there might be some trouble coming from them.

Raphael smiled at that thought. Her brothers were right on that account. If his younger sister had lived to maturity, he doubted he would have found any male worthy of her.

They were met on the foyer by a middle-aged woman who had a dour expression on her face and a duster that dangled from her wrist from a frayed, crocheted strap. He stepped back as his mate kissed her cheek lightly in greeting and noted the subtle change in the woman’s features.

“Hello, Anna,” she greeted. “It’s been a long time. How have you been?”

The woman let out a long-suffering sigh as she dusted an imaginary speck of dust on one of Sarah’s vases. “Pretty much the same. The children are here for Sunday dinner so it’s going to be a bit more frantic than usual.”

“Anna likes to pretend that everything is a big hassle to her,” Casey whispered to him. “But really, she likes feeling rather useful around the house so we try to make her feel that way.”

Raphael stepped into the house and noted that despite the outward grandeur of its structure, it was quite cozy and homey on the inside. There were pictures of Cassandra and her brothers as children on the antique dresser. A huge painting of Barry and Sarah Townsend on their wedding day hung in a place of honor. Beneath that were framed pictures of Cassandra’s mother and those of her father on their wedding, too. It was a perfect portrait of how the two families came together quite lovingly.

His thoughts were disrupted when his mate tugged shyly on his sleeve. She gestured towards the backdoor. “The rest of the family is out back. We usually have lunch outside when the weather permits it. The kids love being outdoors.”

The cheerful sound of children’s voices chirping in the sunshine widened the smile on Cassandra’s tired features and Rafe noted the subtle skip in her steps. His heart clenched at the sight before them.

A picnic table was set up in the middle of the garden, under the shade of some trees. There was none of the usual grand marble fountains he was used to seeing in the homes of the old rich. Roses clambered up the walls lazily and the floor was a carpet of soft, green grass. Two dark-haired men sat with three women on the benches, chatting animatedly while the three young boys and a small girl in pigtails engaged in a game of tag.

“Aunt Casey!” the young girl squealed as she barreled straight into Cassandra’s bare legs. His mate fell back with a muffled “Oomph!” and he steadied her. She gave him a thankful smile and laughed at the little girl’s antics. “My, how you’ve grown, Celine!” she ruffled the crop of dark hair.

The other boys, seeing their aunt, joined in the welcoming committee and Raphael was briefly reminded of the caucus of a pack gathering. The children all had the dark hair and dark eyes of Cassandra’s brothers except for the little girl, who had shining gray eyes.

“Who are you?” one of the men asked him brusquely.

“James, watch your manners!” the older woman admonished quietly. She enveloped Casey in a warm hug. “You’re looking lovely, my dear. Now, who is this dashing young man you’ve brought home?”

“Oh,” Cassandra blushed and brought him forward. He could feel the slight tremor in his mate’s hands but looking at her face and the sunny smile she wore, one would never know it. “Everyone, meet Raphael Winters, my husband!”

All hell then broke loose.

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