Teren's phone call to Gabriel was brief and to the point. He didn't want to give away any of his turmoil to the ancient vampire. Our only chance to make this work was to catch Gabriel completely off guard. And that, of course, was why Malcolm had chosen Teren for this assignment. One, we had something of tremendous value to lose, and two, we could get Gabriel alone. He trusted us, regarded us as family. He'd never suspect that we'd betray him, not after everything he'd done for us.
I hated that we would, if we had no other choice.
Teren sat on the bottom step of the staircase, waiting for Gabriel to arrive. I'd heard their conversation. Gabriel was anxious to see what Teren had found and was speeding south to us. He'd been in one of his specially designed cars, so he could drive around without pain in direct sunlight. Even still, he wouldn't be at our door until morning.
Watching Teren finger the stake in his hands, I figured he'd stay in that spot until morning, contemplating. Averting their attention from the stake in his palm, I saw my mother and sister off to bed. When Teren didn't even acknowledge them as they passed by on the second staircase, I assured them that his distraction was only due to his worry for our lost child. I heard them up in their room later though, debating if his introspection was only because of Julian, or if he was actually considering Malcolm's plan. I didn't let them know that he was. That we both were.
Sitting beside him on the stair, I put my hand on his lap and rested my head on his shoulder. A soft sigh was his only reaction as he continually stroked the weapon in his hands.
Somewhere in leaning against him, my own exhaustion swept over me and I fell asleep. I woke up when I heard tires crunching over the gravel on the driveway. Blinking, I lifted my head off of Teren's shoulder; he hadn't moved at all since he'd sat down there, right after calling Gabriel. I watched him as I listened to two cars pulling up. I knew who was in the cars, I could feel them. It wasn't Gabriel yet, it was the evening search party returning, most likely empty handed.
Teren and I both glanced at the front door at the same time, right as it opened. A worn and weary Imogen walked through, shaking her head as she met our gaze. I nodded and swallowed hard; I hadn't really been expecting them to find him anyway. Alanna and Jack came through next, also looking worn and dejected. Alanna couldn't meet our eye, only stared at the floor in front of us and muttered that they found nothing - no trail, no clue, no scent.
Even though it was expected, tears still stung my eyes. If only we could find the hole he'd been thrust into, then Teren wouldn't have to do the awful thing he felt he had to do. Jack sighed wearily as he strode into the room, Alanna closing the doors behind the trio. My un-beating heart cracked at yet another door being closed on my missing baby.
The aging rancher stepped up to the pair of us, looking even more worn than Alanna and Imogen. As I watched the lines on his face seemingly deepen right before me, I suddenly saw the mortality of Teren's father. He was aging, daily, and it was beginning to show. His hair was more touched with gray than it had been the first time I'd met him, and his joints creaked as he sat on the step beside Teren.
I was sure he was still a good couple of decades away from the grave, but still, that was his path. A path he'd chosen. Placing an arm around his son, he exhaled heavily as he stared at the stake in Teren's hands. "What are you thinking, Teren?" he asked softly.
His question got the attention of Imogen and Alanna and they pulled their gazes from the sun rising in the east to look our way. Not having Teren's or my ability to walk freely in the sunshine all day, they'd had to call off their search early, and it clearly bothered them. Although, as they noticed what Teren was twisting in his palms, they looked even more bothered.
As they stepped in front of him, Teren shifted his eyes to his dad. Speaking for the first time in hours, he whispered, "I don't know what to do, Dad. I don't know what not to do either." Teren's eyes continuously searched his father's, perhaps looking for an answer in them.
Jack sighed, running a hand over his mouth. His eyes glossy, he shook his head. "I can't tell you that, son. I don't know either. For once, this area is just too gray."
Imogen stepped forward. "No, it isn't. Gabriel is a person, ancient or not." She lifted her chin. "And we don't kill people."
Teren looked up to his grandmother, his face as aged as his father's from his inner struggle. I looked up at Imogen too. I could see her youthful chin tremble as she swiped loose stands of jet-black hair behind her ears. Her statement wasn't entirely accurate, and she knew that. Halina would kill, if the mood strikes her, and if she found a victim she deemed worth the death. And Imogen herself had even taken a life or two, although she was deeply remorseful for her actions. But I understood her sentiment. No one in the family wanted to take part in the murder of a good man. And beneath all the power and detached scientific demeanor, Gabriel was a good person. A person that had saved my life. That's what I wanted to believe about him anyway.
Seeing the debate in Teren's features, Imogen shook her head. "Mother loves him. If you kill him...I don't know what she would do."
Her voice was quiet but it seemed to crash around the house. This was something I hadn't considered. Halina could be...fiery when she got upset. Killing the man that she was in love with would certainly upset her. How far would she take that anger? Anger she'd admitted to me that she purposely forged to survive. Would she take vengeance out on her own grandson? I wasn't sure...but what other choice did we have?
Teren's eyes slid over to mine. I could see my thoughts reflected in the pale blue depths. He didn't know what Halina would do either, but again, we were out of options.
As Alanna stepped forward, placing her arm on her mother's, Teren opened his mouth to speak. He stopped when the sound of more tires crushing over gravel filled all of our ears.
I stood up along with Teren. Alanna and Imogen twisted to look at the front door and Jack, seeing all of the vampires reacting to something he couldn't yet perceive, stood as well.
Feeling Halina still miles away from here, stationary as she hid out the day, I knew that it was Gabriel approaching us. Teren's target was coming within range. He'd never get another chance to take him by surprise like he would right now. Teren took a step towards the door, shoving the silver piece in his back pocket and hiding it with shirt. Imogen grabbed his arm as he walked past. "There has to be another way," she whispered.
Teren's eyes dull and lifeless, he shrugged. "If you know of one...tell me now, because I don't see another option at this point." His eyes swept the room, swept over the faces of the people he'd do nearly anything to protect. "Do any of you?" he whispered.
No one answered him.
Exhaling softly, he twisted to walk to the front door. Without pausing, he opened it with his left hand, his right snaking around behind him to rest on the spike there. I wanted to hold my breath, I wanted to beg him to stop, I wanted to shout a warning to Gabriel...but I couldn't, my son's life was at stake. And I knew it was wrong, I knew I'd hate myself every day, but if I was being forced to choose between Julian and Gabriel...there was no choice.
Imogen grabbed my hand, clenching it hard while Alanna grabbed Jack. Trying to seem bereaved but not anxious, we all breathlessly watched Teren swing the door open. I was suddenly grateful my heart was no longer beating. Surely the rapid, thumping beat would have made Gabriel suspicious.
The intrinsic beauty of Gabriel was the first thing I noticed. He was tall and trim, well shaped, with sandy brown hair and sharply green eyes. His face was flawless among human standards. Among vampires, that could see faults and imperfections that humans couldn't, he was astounding.
Frowning slightly as he stepped through the door, out of the sunlight that would eventually irritate his skin, he grasped Teren's elbow, his right elbow. Teren stiffened and twisted around so his back was to the door as Gabriel stepped into the room. For a moment I thought that Gabriel somehow knew, but then he spoke.
"What did you find, Teren? Can I see it?" His voice was rushed, eager, as his jade eyes searched my husband's.
Teren took a step back from him, regarding him for a moment. Gabriel released his hand from Teren and tilted his head, watching Teren and then twisting to watch us. "What happened?" he asked calmly, the scientific detachment back in his voice.
I bit my lip, too afraid of answering, of even moving. Everyone around me was equally silent and still and the room quickly filled with tension. Before I shut off my breathing, the sharp scent of pine drifted to me from Gabriel, like he'd been out searching forests. I instantly wondered if that was where my son could be, shoved in a cold, dark cave, alone and terrified. My eyes watered, hoping this sacrifice would be worth it.
Gabriel's eyes slowly swung back to Teren, right as Teren brought his stake wielding hand around. As I clenched my hand around Imogen's, Teren whispered, "I'm so sorry."
Gabriel's eyes widened as he watched the silver streaking towards his heart. He took a step back, but Teren lunged forward. His eyes wide, but unafraid, Gabriel seemed completely thrown. As the beginning of a sob rose up my throat, Teren jabbed the point into Gabriel's chest...and completely stopped moving.
My cry fumbling in my throat, I swallowed and scrunched my brows, confused. Everybody else seemed confused too as nervous shifting sounded around me. I could see that the sharp stake had cut the expensive fabric of Gabriel's shirt, but I couldn't see any blood; Teren had only pierced his clothing, halting his momentum before slicing through skin and bone. His arm shaking, he held the stake over Gabriel's heart.
Gabriel's eyes flicked to the near mortal wound he'd almost received then back up to Teren, shaking with restraint in front of him.
He jaw trembling so bad his worlds came out stuttered, Teren murmured, "Give me a reason. Give me a reason to not give Malcolm what he wants. Give me a reason to not kill you...please," he added, his face softening.
Gabriel blinked, but didn't move. "Is that what he wants? My head...by your hand?" His lips lifted fractionally. "Clever, I didn't see that coming." Teren pressed forward a smidge with the stake and Gabriel sighed, not seeming to be worried in the slightest that he was a shove away from death. He shook his head, his face sagging. "I have no reason that will be worth the price of your son, Teren." He lifted his shoulders. "You should kill me."
Teren bunched his body, the tendons in his forearm straining with his resolve to do it, but still he balked, his eyes flicking over Gabriel's. Tilting his head, Gabriel looked at him calmly. "I have lived a long time, Teren. Several lifetimes have passed me by. I would not blame you, if you chose to end my life so your son could live." He raised his eyebrows. "But ultimately, this price will be yours. The question isn't really whether or not I should die. It's whether or not you should kill me. Do you want that weight?"
Teren blinked, then dropped the stake. It clanged to the marble floor, hurting my ears. I immediately rushed up to Teren as he slumped, looking a little sick. Throwing my arms around his waist, I helped him stay standing when he looked like he wanted to sink to the floor. Feeling the emotional resolve draining from him, my eyes started stinging. I didn't want my husband to take a life either, but he'd just shut the door on our only chance to get Julian back.
Teren's entire body started shaking. "I'm sorry, Emma. I can't..."
I squeezed him tight, kissing his head."I know. I love you because you can't."
He nodded solemnly while Gabriel watched us. Pressing his lips into a hard line, Gabriel stared down at the stake on the floor. "You spoke with Malcolm?"
He cocked an eyebrow at us and I nodded. "He found us while we were searching for Julian. Told Teren that he would let him star..." I choked and had to start again, "starve to death if we didn't deliver you to him...dead."
Teren looked up at Gabriel, guilt in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to do."
Gabriel dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "I don't blame you, Teren. If my own children were placed in harm's way, I'd have made the same choice." He smiled slightly as his eyes got a faraway look, one I registered with him checking in on his distant family. "Any father would," he said quietly.
Frowning, Gabriel shook his head. "There is no clue, is there?"
Teren frowned as well, his body relaxing as the turmoil and guilt released. "No, I just needed you to come over."
Gabriel sighed and nodded. Walking over to the fountain of the crying woman, he swiped his thumb over her never-ending tears. "Yes, well, I'm sorry to hear that." He looked up at Teren as we all took a step towards him. "Since taking your son, Malcolm has fallen off the grid I had in place. It's quite possible that the brief moment you had with him, is the only time he's surfaced. Wherever he is hiding, it is deep and remote."
Gabriel cracked a small smile. "It must be torture for him. He always preferred living extravagantly, right in the middle of human life. A wolf among sheep." He twisted his head to Jack, the only pure human in the room. "No offense." He nodded his head politely.
Jack's eyes widened but he shook his head. "None taken. I know what we are...to some of you."
Gabriel smirked and shrugged. Teren released himself from me and took a step forward to stand on the other side of the fountain. "Malcolm told me some things about you, about your early research. Was any of that true?"
Gabriel stared at him silently, his green eyes clearly processing. "I'm assuming he painted me in an unsavory light for you? Told you I slaughtered hundreds of our kind, to develop a drug that, to him, never produced the results I was looking for?"
Teren nodded and looked over at me. Malcolm had made Gabriel seem quite cold, and we knew he could be...distant at times.
Gabriel sighed and shrugged. "I won't lie, some vampires were inadvertently killed along the way, although, not nearly as many as he probably made you believe." He smiled softly, shaking his head. "Several of them were my friends. They all either had something to gain by trying the drug," he looked up at Teren, "or nothing to lose." He shook his head again. "But either way, they all volunteered, they all knew the risks. I forced this on no one, Teren, no one. And each death was respected, cataloged, analyzed, mistakes were corrected...no vampire's sacrifice was taken for granted."
Looking away, Teren scowled and closed his eyes. Slowly returning them to Gabriel, he asked, "Then what is it between you and Malcolm? Why did he leave you? Why does he have such resentment...?"
Gabriel laughed softly. "Did he call me a cult leader? That was always his favorite description." His eyes locked to the fountain, watching the water twist and slide down the marble woman's body. "Malcolm, at first, wanted to help with the drug, wanted to help our kind." He shook his head, fingering the water again. "But whenever I brought in another vampire out of the cold, gave them food and shelter, a safe place to convert, he grew a little...jealous." His eyes came back up to Teren's. "He wanted the attention, he wanted the accolade, but...he was demanding in his attempt to get it."
Gabriel sighed and stepped back. His eyes shifting around the ranch, the ranch he'd altered to help the mixed inside, he shook his head. "I only ever tried to help. The attention, the adoration, I never asked for it." Sighing, he looked over to me. "Maybe I should have tried harder to dissuade the follower mentality, but, the research was my focus. And if the people I brought in deferred to me, the nest was calm."
Smiling, he looked over to Alanna and Imogen. "And, as you know, a calm nest is a happy nest." Shrugging, he twisted to Teren. "We are a social species. We generally clump together if possible, deferring to one leader, generally the eldest, though not always."
The slight smile fell off his face. "But Malcolm resented the affection that he could not create through force. Over time, that resentment turned nasty...made him bitter." Gabriel sighed. "I think the final straw for Malcolm was when it became clear that I would never charge our brethren for my assistance."
Gabriel looked out the windows, over the fields. "I had money, whoever joined with me, contributed to the wealth of the family, but that wasn't enough for Malcolm. He saw dollar signs with our work...I disagreed."
Swinging his eyes back to Teren, Gabriel shrugged. "When our disagreements disrupted the research, we parted ways. It was mostly an amicable split...on my part at least."
His head down, he shook it. "I had no idea he stole from me before he left." He peeked up at Teren. "He knew what that version of the formula did, he knew that I never wanted that mixture released...and he took it anyway." His face softened as his usually impartial eyes filled with emotion. "He still saw dollar signs...and our brothers and sisters paid the price." His sad eyes flicked down Teren's body, remembering that Teren had paid that price.
Running a hand down his worn face, he sighed. "I studied alone for awhile after that, until Jordan came to me. I didn't even let him enter the lab until I was sure that his motives were as," he smirked as he locked gazes with Teren, "altruistic, as mine."
Teren smiled softly at his accusation towards Gabriel repeated to him.
I stepped forward and timidly put a hand on Gabriel's arm. "So, you really are a good man?"
He looked over at me, every single one of his years apparent on his youthful face. "I'm not perfect, Emma, and I am no saint." He smiled wearily. "But I do try to be a good man, a good father...to those who need one."
He shrugged, taking in every person in the room. "That is all I have ever tried to do."
Teren stepped forward and put his hand over mine on Gabriel's arm. "I believe that about you." He raised his eyebrows. "So what do we do about Malcolm? How do we get my son back?"
Gabriel smiled wearily as he shook his head. "I do not know, Teren. Finding Malcolm and bringing him to justice was one thing. Finding him and making him give up the location of your child, is quite another." Gabriel shrugged as he looked down to the floor. His words echoing slightly in the large, quiet room, he said, "I've already spread the word that he is not to be harmed, that he must be taken alive, but vampires..."
Shrugging, he looked back up at us. "We can be an emotional lot, purebloods even more so." He scrunched his lips. "A part of me hopes that he stays hidden, so the fool does not get himself killed before Julian can be found."
Teren sighed and rested back against the fountain. A hand massaging his forehead, he sat on the lip of the water bowl in silence. Watching my husband, memories of our meeting with Malcolm flooded through me. Teren's weariness, Malcolm's desperation, his coldly laid out plan to end Gabriel's life, the things he'd already done to warn off the ancient vampire stalking him...
Shifting my gaze to the man who was also staring at Teren, I asked Gabriel, "Did you know that he killed Carrie?"
As the others in the room that didn't know that gasped, Teren lifted his head. Gabriel sighed as he looked over to me. From the tiredness I saw in the perfectly green depths, I assumed that he had known, possibly from the very beginning.
Alanna stepped forward as Teren straightened from the fountain. "Her death wasn't an accident?" she asked.
Teren sniffled as he stepped up to Gabriel again. "No, Malcolm admitted that he took her, fed on her, and then left her to die in the wildfire...as a warning to you. Did you know that?"
Holding his gaze, Gabriel nodded. "I did. I suspected something was...amiss with the situation with Miss Davids. A vampire's trance would not have let her leave the city so easily. I figured she was taken against her will. Since I don't believe in coincidences, and her being found in my backyard was too...convenient, I started to believe that Malcolm was responsible."
Gabriel paused, appraising Teren before speaking again. "I examined her body at the morgue." He raised his eyebrows at Teren. "There was no trace of soot in her lungs. She was dead before the fire got to her."
Teren staggered, his hand going to his stomach. "She...? But...?" He looked over to me, his eyes misting. "He told us he purposely left her alive, so she would feel it, just to get back at you." His eyes drifted back to Gabriel's. "He thought she was yours."
Gabriel twisted his lips. Alanna came up to Teren, putting her arms around him comfortingly. Stunned, my mind was reeling through that conversation we'd had with Malcolm. Watching Jack also walk over to his son, Gabriel dryly said, "Well, that may have been his intention, but however he left her in those woods, the wounds were too severe for her to make it." He smiled a sad, reassuring smile at Teren. "She died in peace, Teren. The flames did not bother her."
Teren's head sank into his hands as grief and relief crashed through him. It crashed through me too, and as my knees became soft and watery, I felt Imogen standing by my side, supporting me. Twisting my head to Gabriel, I spouted something logical, even though I was feeling like all logic had left my life ages ago. "Don't the police know that? Aren't they looking for a killer now? If they are on Malcolm's tail too..."
Gabriel smiled crookedly. "The medical examiner was brought to believe that she died in the fire, a pure accident, and Carrie was promptly cremated and returned to the remaining members of her family."
My eyes widened before I shut them. Hearing my husband's grieved voice, I opened them again. "Why didn't you tell me back then? You've known for awhile now that she was murdered. Wasn't that something I should have known?"
Gabriel sighed, placing a hand on Teren's shoulder. "No, it wasn't. As you said, Malcolm believed that she was here for me. He believed that he was doing something to harm me. The message was solely intended for me, Teren. There was no good that would have come from you knowing the truth."
Teren closed his eyes, straightening his stance. "You have pushed a desperate man into desperate actions. Actions that have involved people that I care about. Carrie...my wife...and now my son. If you had just stopped-"
Gabriel tilted his head, removing his hand from Teren's shoulder. "And let the man who is ultimately responsible for the torture and murder of countless of our species...for numerous children and adults alike...to go free?" He raised his eyebrows as he shook his head. "Should I have let him go with only a warning for his crimes? Would that have been fair?"
Teren sighed, slumping his head. "No," he finally muttered.
Sighing, Gabriel touched his hand to Teren's cheek. "I'm sorry this has involved you so much. I tried to keep the ugliness of it away from you and your family, I truly did. But...obviously, I have failed in doing that."
Teren locked gazes with him, his jaw tight. "Your family matter is now my family matter. That lunatic now has my son, and the price of his freedom is your head. If you know anything else...now would be the time to spill it."
Gabriel smiled at the look of determination on Teren's face, then nodded. "Of course, Teren. I will tell you whatever you wish to know."
We all adjourned to the more comfortable living room, walking through the glass double doors that led that way. As Teren walked through, he reached behind himself to grab my hand. Holding me tight, we stepped into the ski lodge-like room with the rest of his family. As Gabriel stood before the dormant fireplace, I instantly recalled the last time Gabriel was in this room, giving another speech that involved apologies towards our family. As his deep voice started going into detail about how he and Malcolm first met, back in the old days, the medieval old days, I recalled him telling me that I would die in this room.
And all because of one lone vampire. He had truly done more damage than I'd first believed he could. Gabriel seemed so powerful, so well connected, but Malcolm had slipped through his nets for years. But eventually the noose around him had tightened enough to make Malcolm act violently, and violently he had. As Gabriel went over happier times, when they'd started their lab together, I thought of Carrie. Caught in the middle of a war she knew nothing about, she'd paid the ultimate price. And she'd had no clue why. We'd wiped her clean. She wouldn't have even known who Teren was, let alone what he was. As Malcolm had been feeding off of her, it would have been her first and only experience with vampires. She'd died thinking we were all as evil as the horror movies made us out to be. She'd died not knowing that there were very good vampires too. And she'd loved one, nearly had his child.
It made my stomach crawl. Carrie had died, I'd died, and Starla had nearly died, all over money. It seemed childish and pointless, but to some people it wasn't, I guess. To some, if they had nothing else, money was everything. Maybe life had gotten stagnant for Malcolm. As I listened to Gabriel gloss over the hundreds of years in their relationship like it was nothing more than a handful of weeks, I began to believe that was a possibility. Were we destined to become cold and unfeeling towards others, simply because we were so long lived? Would humans eventually mean nothing, because they came and went as quickly as house flies?
Teren squeezed my hand as I considered our longevity. Glancing over at him, I watched his light eyes flick over mine. Then I turned to regard the other sets of light eyes in the room, all of them listening raptly to Gabriel's life with our son's kidnapper.
Alanna had her arms around Jack while Imogen had her arms around Alanna. The love and warmth passing between the three people was nearly palpable to me. I thought of Halina, her presence a blip in my head, her actual location still hundreds of miles away. She could seem indifferent at times, but I'd seen her soften as Gabriel's love warmed her. Perhaps it wasn't Malcolm's long life that had dulled his humanity. Perhaps it was just how long he'd been alone. Even as Gabriel described the times they'd been together, it still sounded like Malcolm had been alone. Jealous, petty, and demanding the affection of others, he'd never actually let anybody in.
I squeezed Teren's hand back as my gaze returned to his. No, the Adams would never fall into the lifeless rut that Malcolm had. We had each other, for eternity, and I knew that the bonds in his family would keep our souls in check.
Now we just had to find a way to get all of our family back together again...alive and intact.
As soon as Gabriel finished filling us in on everything he knew of Malcolm, Teren and I resumed our search of Julian. We knew it was pointless, but we felt like someone in the family should still be looking and we were the best equipped for daylight hours. We drove a lot though, and took breaks frequently. Teren didn't want to become so weak again that he couldn't put up a better fight, should we run into Malcolm. Teren stopped to drink more often in that one afternoon than I'd seen him drink since the night of his conversion. It helped though; he was more animated and alert than he'd been since Julian's abduction.
Gabriel joined us for our search, mostly staying secluded in the safety of his tinted vehicle, but venturing out with us if the location was shaded enough. He gave us better direction, places that would appeal to Malcolm or places he would never go, places that were the likelier targets. It nearly seemed that we had our own criminal profiler along with us. It made the process feel more streamlined, and I finally felt like we weren't just aimlessly looking around.
When he wasn't out traipsing around the countryside with us, Gabriel was on the phone with his vast array of contacts. He'd left a search party up north when he'd blazed back to us, and he kept them in a constant state of movement, much like he was keeping us. He also checked in with his lab, seeing how the new batch was coming along under Jordan's watchful eye. I remembered the coolly professional, dark-skinned vampire and thought he was probably in hog heaven, taking over while the boss was away.
Gabriel even checked in on Starla and Jacen. Once he'd sent them south, they'd kept going. From their last conversation, it seemed like they were in Mexico. While I'm sure Jacen was taking his task with all seriousness, I was equally sure that Starla was sipping margaritas.
When the sun set, the last Adams member that I could feel stirred and started heading our way again. By how quickly her form was closing the distance, I'd say she'd be in town well before morning. We called her as soon as we could, filling her in on the meeting with Malcolm. We did not mention that Teren had nearly driven a stake through Gabriel's heart. That was just something that was better for everyone if she never found out about it.
While we were debating trudging through the sewers, Teren's cell phone on his hip rang.
Probably thinking it was one of our parents, he answered it without looking at the ID. "Hello?" he said curtly, popping open a storm cover for Gabriel.
As Gabriel surveyed the dark hole, I heard the caller's response, "I'm not in there, Teren. I don't hide in sewers. That's just disgusting."
Teren's entire body went rigid and he dropped the manhole cover. Gabriel stepped back as the heavy slab clanged down to the ground, wedging sideways in the hole that he'd just been staring into.
Teren twisted around and searched the dark buildings along the empty stretch of road that we were on. I searched too, wondering if he was close enough to see us, or if he'd just heard something that had given away what we'd been doing.
"Where are you then?" Teren said it calmly, but his eyes betrayed the franticness he felt, darting from location to location, never once resting.
"Not in a hole in the ground," was Malcolm's snide response. "I know I'm early, but I find I'm getting impatient. Have you completed your task?"
I straightened and stopped looking around. Teren did too. As one, we looked over at Gabriel silently staring at us. Teren gave him the hush symbol and Gabriel nodded. Malcolm had just asked if Teren had killed Gabriel yet. That meant he couldn't see us, otherwise he'd see Gabriel too. He must have been sarcastically tossing out an idea of where we were, and happened to nail it right on the head.
With a growl of conviction, Teren murmured, "Yes...Gabriel is on his way to me now. It's as good as done. Now where's my son?"
"As good as done, isn't done, Adams." Malcolm laughed lightly. "Besides, do you expect me to take your word for it? I want to see the body. I want to hold his lifeless heart...then you get your boy."
Teren closed his eyes. "Fine, then I'll bring it to you...when I've taken it, I'll bring you his heart. Just tell me where to meet you."
"How about the place where this all started? Hmmm, that would be poetic, wouldn't it?"
Teren opened his eyes, scrunching his brow as he searched my face. I shrugged, not understanding either. "What are you talking about?"
Malcolm chuckled again, his laugh raw, like he was parched. I instantly prayed that he wasn't hungry enough to feed on Julian. "One of my deceased client's favorite haunts was in California, not too terribly far from your home. An old, abandoned farmhouse? I believe you know it, yes?"
A flood of ice ran through me as I remembered that hunter taking us, locking us up like prisoners in a bad horror flick. We'd been thrown into the cellar of an old farm house. That was where he wanted to meet? Teren's lips pressed into a hard line. "Yeah, I know it. Alright, I'll meet you there."
Malcolm's tone got serious as he bit out, "Bring me his heart...along with a photo of the rest of his body. The instant kind...one that you can't doctor. I want to know that this is real before I tell you where to find your child."
Teren sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "And how do I know you even will? How do I even know that he's still alive?"
Malcolm sighed then a muffled thump came through the phone. Like he was talking to a dog, he said, "Speak."
Instantly a tiny voice filled the line, a voice I knew so well, I heard it in my head in the middle of the night. "Daddy? I wanna go home."
My hands flew to my mouth as my eyes instantly watered and my knees threatened to buckle in half. Julian's voice was angelic, the cleanest, purest sound I'd ever head. All the more so, because I was sure I'd never hear it again.
Teren's knees did buckle. Catching himself before he fell, he took a stumbling step and cupped the phone to his ear. "Julian, baby, are you okay? Did he hurt you? Daddy's coming to get you, okay, Daddy's coming-"
Malcolm's voice snapped back onto the phone line. "I will be at the farmhouse at midnight. I will wait twenty minutes. If you don't show, I skip town and never come back. If you try and deceive me, I skip town and don't ever come back. If you try and trap me-"
Teren grit his jaw. "Yeah, I get it...you'll leave Julian to die..."
Malcolm chuckled softly, coldly "Good, you understand. Give me the proof, I'll give you your son's location...everybody wins."
"Except Gabriel," Teren whispered, locking eyes with the ancient vampire silently listening, his brow deeply furrowed.
Malcolm snorted. "Yeah, well, as with most things in life, for someone to win, someone else needs to lose. Midnight, Adams. Don't keep me waiting." Then the line went dead.
I started sniffling, my lip trembling. Julian's voice rang through my entire body. I wanted to reach out and hug him, tell him that everything was going to be okay, but I had no idea where he was. His hand shaking, Teren closed his phone and put it back. He closed his eyes, inhaling and exhaling as slowly and intently as I was.
"Well," a voice began. Teren opened his eyes and we both looked over at Gabriel. Twisting his lips, Gabriel shook his head. "It would seem that you need a heart."
Teren sighed and slumped, shrugging his shoulders. "Yeah, it would seem I do...any ideas?
Smirking with one edge of his lip, Gabriel slowly nodded. "Yes, I do have...one idea."