Finally, Mara and Skywalker's wedding day arrived.
Shada took her time getting dressed, wanting to look perfect. For the occasion, she styled her black hair into an even more elaborate coiffure than she normally wore. She carefully arranged the gold zinji needles in her hair so that they resembled the tines of a starburst tiara. She was just putting on the final touches of her cosmetics when there was a knock on her door.
"Come in," she called.
Karrde entered already dressed impeccably in his wedding clothes. She rose from her place at the dressing table and walked over to him. He looked even more handsome and distinguished than usual. She had always liked seeing him seeing him in formal attire. "Captain Karrde, you look a like a very respectable father of the bride," she teased him with a smile.
"Perish the thought, Shada," he said, but he returned her smile.
"Just give me a few more minutes and I'll be ready. I just have to put on my dress."
"There's no rush," he assured her. He took a box out of his pocket and handed it to her. "I actually have something to complete your ensemble."
Shada opened the box to find earrings and a pair of cuff bracelets made of the same blue enameled chased gold as her zinji needles. "Oh, Karrde, you shouldn't have."
"Of course, I should have."
"Thank you." She was always overwhelmed by his generosity. It was more than that of an employer or even a friend. She sometimes wondered if this was his way of courting her.
"You're welcome as always. I'll leave you to finish dressing."
After he left, Shada quickly shed her robe and donned her beautiful blue gown. She put on the earrings and bracelets and then gave herself one last inspection in the mirror before joining the others in the living room.
Aves gave a low whistle when she came out of her room and she smiled. Karrde bowed low over her hand, "My dear Shada, you look like a queen."
She laughed, "The Queen of Smugglers, I suppose."
Karrde offered her his arm. "Shall we go?"
She felt like every eye in the crowd was on her as Karrde handed her out of the speeder. She slid her arm through his and he led her through the crowd to the entrance of the Imperial Gardens where the members of Rogue Squadron were acting as ushers.
Shada could hear the whispers trailing after them as she glided into the gardens on Karrde's arm. She held her head high and ignored them. He led her to the front row where she sat down. Karrde still held her hand and bowed low over it again bringing it to his lips.
"You do delight in creating a spectacle, don't you?" she asked.
He straightened and shrugged with a devilish smile. "It seems to be that sort of occasion. And you look magnificent. Why shouldn't I worship at your feet?" Shada couldn't stop herself from blushing and Karrde's smile widened. "I'm going back to Mara."
Aves slid in beside her. "The boss is enjoying this way too much," he said tugging at his high collar.
Shada smiled. That was true. Normally, Karrde liked to fly under the sensors, but on this occasion seemed determined to demonstrate his power.
Dankin leaned up from his place in the second row and asked, "Who would have thought we would end up here all those years ago on Myrkr?"
"Thought Mara would've killed him by now," Chin said from further down the row.
"It was a near thing. Several times over."
Shada surveyed the rest of the crowd. Most of the seats were already filled. "They're late," she said.
"Weddings never start on time," Aves said unconcernedly.
"You think there'll be an open bar at the reception?" Dankin asked.
"At this kind of swanky event? You bet."
She watched Wedge Antilles come in and gather the Rogues. He looked nervous. They conferred for a few minutes and filed out.
"Something's going on."
"Probably just fussing with the dress," Aves responded.
"That required the help of all of Rogue Squadron?"
"Right. Probably not their forte." He looked behind them stretching his neck to see over the other heads. "Oh, wait here comes Skywalker and Solo."
A short time later, Karrde and Mara came down the aisle. After Karrde had handed off Mara to Skywalker, Aves slid over allowing Karrde to sit next to Shada. She leaned close and whispered in his ear, "Is everything okay?"
He stretched his arm along the back of her seat drawing her close to him. "There's a plot afoot to interrupt the ceremony. The Rogues and some of the Jedi are taking care of it."
Shada tensed, "Do they need help?"
His fingers toyed with the satiny fabric of her dress at her shoulder. "I'm sure they can handle it. They're professionals."
She nodded and thought he would remove his arm but he left it there, his fingers occasionally skimming her bare arm. Shada tried to focus on the ceremony, but before it could progress any further it was interrupted by a human in an Ithorian costume of all things.
She was on her feet in an instant, her hand going to one of the zenji needles in her hair. Karrde grabbed her arm stopping her. "Wait." She lowered her arm and Karrde still held onto her hand.
They watched Skywalker diffuse the situation and then the ceremony continued.
Shada spent a good portion of the reception on Karrde's arm as they made the rounds to speak to all the New Republic officials that they needed to stay on good terms with. She pasted a bland disinterested smile on her face and sipped her sparkling wine as Karrde skillfully politicked. As usual most of the politicians ignored her, thinking of her nothing more than a powerful man's decorative companion. Not for the first time she wondered at Karrde's seemingly bottomless patience in these types of situations. Finally, Aves came up and rescued her. "Excuse me, Boss. Could I steal Shada away for a dance?"
"How thoughtless of me," he said, glancing at Shada looking slightly bemused. "Of course, you must be bored with all this, my dear."
She handed her nearly empty wine glass to Karrde and went with Aves to the dance floor. "Thanks, Aves."
"No problem. I noticed you were getting that stabby look in your eye."
"I swear I don't know Karrde does it."
After Aves had liberated her from Karrde's side, she had no end of dance partners. Apparently, most people found the infamous Talon Karrde intimidating. Every time she glanced his way she found his eyes on her, tracking her movements across the dance floor. Finally, he seemed to run out of politicians and she made his way back to his side, picking up two glasses of sparkling wine from a serving droid on her way. She handed him a glass.
"Were you having fun?" he asked.
"More than you."
"Quite true. I think my patience is shot as well," he said taking a long drink of wine.
"Not the unflappable Talon Karrde."
"Yes, me." He took a deep breath. "You seem to have an awful lot of suitors," he observed.
"Yes, I think you've been scaring them away."
"Have I now?" He seemed amused by that possibility. "And did you find any prospects for your new option?"
"Well, Wes Janson did ask me to run away with him to Jerrilek," she told him conspiratorially.
"Is that so? Will I be losing your services then?"
"Certainly not for Janson."
"Not for a hero of the New Republic? Ah, the fickleness of woman."
She pinned him with a glare and he smirked at her. "Oh and before I forget, Leia invited us to dinner before we leave Coruscant."
"Fantastic." Shada grimaced and took a sip of her wine.
"Are you still holding a grudge against her for not accepting your services?"
"Of course not."
"What? It still irritates me that she pushed me off on you without giving me a chance, okay?"
"I like to think our partnership has worked out well for us both."
"It has." She smiled at him. "And I wouldn't join the New Republic now for all the spice on Kessel."
"Skywalker, I'm afraid I have to steal your lovely bride away for at least one dance," Karrde said as they approached the newlyweds.
"Of course." He turned to Shada and smiled, "I guess that just leaves us, doesn't it?"
"Thank you, Master Skywalker."
"Luke, please," he told her leading her out onto the dance floor. "You've been good for him," he said nodding towards where Karrde and Mara were dancing. "I've never seen him happier."
Shada sighed. "I'm afraid you misunderstand our relationship. I'm his bodyguard and his business associate. Nothing more."
"I think we both know that's not true. He cares very deeply about you and you him."
"He cares about all of his employees."
"You are correct on that point, but you are very special to him. Trust me on that."
"As a Jedi?"
He nodded, "I can sense his affection for you even though he tries to hide it. Knowing Karrde, he wouldn't feel it's appropriate to act on it."
"It's not," she countered. "He's my employer."
"Life is short for us all, Shada. Don't let happiness pass you by when it's right before you."
Mara and Karrde came back to them and Luke told Shada, "Thank you for the dance. Don't forget what I told you."
"What was that about?" Karrde asked as he led her away.
"Mystical Jedi stuff," she said, waving his curiosity away. "You know how they are."
Karrde eyed her for a moment as if he didn't entirely believe her, but then he smiled. "Will you do me the honor of a dance?"
He led her back onto the dance floor and pulled her close to him as a slow tune played. With her high heeled evening shoes on she was nearly of a height with him, so she rested her cheek against his bearded one breathing in the exotic spicy scent of his cologne. She relaxed against him and he pulled her even closer to him if that was possible.
"Karrde?" she said into his ear.
"Yes, my dear?"
"Are you satisfied with the current state of our relationship?"
She felt him tense up, but he didn't pull away. "Satisfied, no. But as your employer I don't believe it would be honorable to ask anything further of you."
"You don't have to ask."
He pulled back from her a fraction and met her steady gaze. "Shada?"
"Everyone thinks we're having an affair anyway, why are we missing out on the fun part?"
He laughed and pulled her back close to him. She felt him press a fleeting kiss to her neck before he whispered in her ear. "Why indeed?"
After the music ended, Karrde maneuvered her rapidly into a secluded area of the gardens. "Shada, are you serious about this?
"It's not something I take lightly."
"Nor do I." He studied her intently. "We have been dancing around this for some time, haven't we?"
"I'm tired of fighting against it," she admitted.
"Me too," he leaned in and gave her a kiss that quickly turned heated.
She found herself pressed up against a tree reveling in the feel of his mouth on hers and his hands running over her body. He trailed kisses down her neck and her hands tightened in his hair when he found a particular sensitive spot.
"Can we leave now?" she asked breathlessly.
She felt a laugh rumble in his chest and he pulled away from his exploration of her neck. He took a deep breath. "Unfortunately, we have to stay until Mara and Skywalker take their leave." He held her loosely in his arms and she rested her forehead on his shoulder.
"I wish they would hurry."
He laughed again. "We should rejoin the party before we're missed."
She reluctantly pulled away from him and began straightening her gown where his roaming hands had tugged it askew. She glanced at Karrde who was doing the same with his own clothes. She saw his hair was in wild disarray where she had run her hands through it. She combed through it with her fingers making it as neat as possible.
She took his offered arm and he gave her one last lingering kiss before they made their way back toward the reception.
After what seemed like an eternity, Mara and Skywalker finally left and the reception began to break up. Karrde and Shada departed as quickly as possible deflecting several invitations to continue the celebrations at other venues.
Once they were in the speeder back to the hotel, Shada leaned her head back against seat and closed her eyes for a moment trying to compose herself. Her head felt a little fuzzy from all the wine she'd drunk and nervous anticipation bubbled in her chest. She opened her eyes and rotated her head slightly to look at Karrde. He smiled easily at her, but she thought she could detect a bit of nervousness in him as well.
The speeder pulled up to the hotel. Karrde helped her out. She slid her arm through his and they made their way to their suite. Once they arrived, Shada immediately sank into the couch and began to remove her shoes.
Karrde went to the sideboard. "Would you like a brandy? I think I would."
Shada accepted the glass, hoping it would take off the edge of her nervousness. Karrde didn't sit down, he just stood in the middle of room cradling his glass while trying not to look awkward and failing.
Neither one of them knew quite how to begin this without the thoughtless heat of the moment. Finally, he sat down beside her. He gave her a self-depricating smile. "I'm not being very smooth, am I?"
"It is rather refreshing."
"No one has ever affected me the way you do, Shada," he admitted and she could have said the same thing about him. He reached out and caressed her cheek with the back of his hand before lightly touching the carefully coiled loop of hair above her ear. "May I take your hair down?"
She nodded and turned her back to him. He gently began removing the zenji needles and pins that held her hair in place. He slid his fingers through her unbound hair, trailing kisses down the nape of her neck and across her bare shoulders until she felt like she was going to melt.
Later that night, she lay wrapped tightly in his arms. His chest was warm against her back and she felt more content than she could even remember feeling before. She was just beginning to drift off to sleep when he spoke. "So, tell me, Shada, are you satisfied with current state of our relationship," he asked, calling back her words from earlier in the night.
"At this moment, I have never been more satisfied in my life," she answered honestly.
"Good," he said. A moment later he loosened his arms and shifted her so that she was facing him. She reached out and pulled his head down to hers for a languid kiss. When they parted, he told her, "I will do everything in my power to make you happy."
She smiled, "You already do."