I was a nervous, anxious, excited ball of energy. I was pacing back and forth, being careful to not distress my perfectly styled updo or perfectly applied makeup. While my body was maintaining a human pace, my mind was spinning faster than a normal eye would have been able to perceive. In fact, to a regular person's vision, my brain probably would have seemed to be standing still it was processing so fast. I couldn't help the restlessness...so much was going on.
A little more than a year had passed since everyone had made their own choice on whether or not to stay in sunny San Francisco. Once our lives had calmed down from the horrid mess with Malcolm, plans to head out of State took off in earnest.
Mom put her house on the market as a rental, still savvy of the real estate investment of a second free-and-clear owned home, since she also still owned the adorable Victorian house that I'd lived in for a time. She moved in with Teren and me once her house got rented out. Watching someone else live there was...weird, but with Mom in my home, it was okay. Her home would still have a nostalgic place in my dead heart, but Mom was what mattered, and the warmth that I associated with her old place would follow her to the next place, even if that was her own wing at the new ranch.
And yes, once she moved in with us, Teren and I started closing our soundproof door again.
Mom then proceeded to learn all that she could about homeschooling. She and Imogen were going to teach the children everything they would need to know. Until high school, that is. Teren insisted that they be allowed to join society, once their abilities were tightly under rein. High school was when Teren had come out, so to speak, and he'd immensely enjoyed being around his peers instead of his parents. I wanted to give my kids that too, although, we'd be having firm discussions with them about the birds and the bees and how to be safe with your bodies. I didn't need them to have all of Teren's high school experiences.
Teren and I decided to keep our place by the bay. It would be convenient to have a familiar home to go to when we came out to visit Ashley and Ben, and really, I was just too attached to the place to let it go. Smiling at how much I loved what was technically his home, Teren had warmly told me that we'd keep it forever if I wanted. And I did. I wanted it as our secret getaway spot. People have vacation homes, right?
A few months after Julian was safe and sound, Hot Ben kidnapped Tracey. Well, okay, technically he swept her away to Mexico, where they eloped. He just didn't want to wait anymore. I understood. A lot can happen while you're waiting. Being the romantic that I always knew he could be, Ben didn't tell her about it either.
Tracey and I were at work, her diligently copying and collating for me, when he'd shown up in a full tuxedo. And, god, my husband is beyond attractive, but Ben...fully decked out...brought new meaning to the word hot, even I'll admit it.
Watching him walk up to her, Tracey's mouth had hit the floor. Every other jaw dropped too...even Clarice's normally scowling one.
Standing before her, he dropped to one knee. Tracey's heart had shifted into an unnaturally fast pace when he did. I'd worried for her health there for a second, but then Ben spoke and she calmed down.
"Tracey, will you do me the honor of being my wife?"
Tears in her eyes, Tracey had giggled nervously and looked around. "Uh, Ben, you already did this part...and I already said yes."
I'd had to bite my lip to not laugh at the blush on her face. Smiling charmingly, Ben's only response had been, "Will you be my wife...today."
Her eyes widening, Tracey's gaze had locked right onto him. The entire office held their breaths - I heard the inhales -waiting for her answer. I swear I could hear every person thinking, 'say yes, you idiot.' Eventually, and with tears dripping down her cheeks, she nodded. "Yes."
Shaking my head, I'd waved goodbye at the pair and didn't see or hear from them for a week and a half. From what Tracey told me later, Ben had taken her directly from work to the airport. Having made every arrangement, even packing everything she'd need, a skill Teren must have helped him with since he was a master packer, they immediately flew to Cancun. By that evening they were married...on the beach... at sunset.
Even now it still made me sigh. My daughter wasn't the only romantic in the house.
A few months after Mr. and Mrs. Hot Ben got back, the two of them moved out of their tiny place and started renting the Victorian that Ashley had been living in. Ashley wasn't there anymore, because Ashley had decided to try living with her man. She and Christian moved in together around wintertime.
As I continued my back and forth strut on the thinly carpeted floor, an irritated voice behind me snapped out, "Would you stop moving! You're making me nervous...and I don't get nervous!"
Smiling, I twisted around to look at Halina. She was scowling at me, but with what she was wearing, I laughed, my nerves spilling into the sound. Frowning even more, she adjusted the floor length dress she had on. It was the most modest thing I'd ever seen her wear, full sleeves, empire waist, fabric lightly draping along the floor. She looked highly uncomfortable being so well covered.
Scratching her head, she also looked uncomfortable with her hair being secured into an updo as elaborately twisted and pinned as mine was. Adjusting her stance, she muttered, "I can't believe I agreed to this. I haven't been a part of a wedding ceremony...for about a million years."
The sound of a piece of bubble gum snapping behind her shifted our attentions to Starla, leaning back in a chair watching us. Smacking on the obtrusive thing, she laughed out, "Million years, huh? Sounds about right, Grandma."
Already nervous and agitated, Halina stepped towards her, her gown rustling against her body, the light color clashing with her ebony hair. "If you call me that one more time, little girl, I will end you," she snarled.
Smiling unafraid, Starla popped another bubble in her face. "No you won't. Father loves me and you love him." Smirking she added, "Face it, you're stuck with me, Grams."
Sighing, Halina rolled her eyes. "Yes, until old age finally claims you," she muttered.
Standing, Starla smoothed the tightly fitted designer dress she had on over her hips, like she was emphasizing the outfit that I knew Halina would have preferred to be in. "I wouldn't bet on that." Tilting her perfectly piecy head, she smiled slyly. "Father is brilliant. He'll find a way to help me convert." She leaned into Halina, her grin a wide one. "Then we'll be together forever."
Halina groaned as she looked back at me. "What did I get myself into?" she muttered pitifully.
I smirked and laughed, resuming my endless pacing. Starla snickered and left the room to find Jacen. Those two didn't separate for very long. They were a constant thorn in Halina's side as they stayed at the ranch with Gabriel. She made them stay in a side building, as far from her as she could get them, but with our ears it wasn't far enough. Gabriel found it all humorous. After awhile, I did too.
Halina had already informed them that they were getting their own place in Utah...preferably miles away.
Teren and I were looking for places to live in Utah too. Just last week, Teren had shown me a three bedroom home that he liked, about twenty minutes from the new ranch. Shaking my head at him, I'd finally asked him what had been rolling around in my head for awhile. "Why don't you just give it up and admit that you like it at the ranch, and you want to live there with your family?"
Dropping the real estate magazine that he'd been holding, he shrugged and looked away. "Well, yeah, I like it, but...I want us to have our own place, our own lives." Looking back at me, he'd shrugged. "Plus, a house near the city would be closer to our jobs."
Shaking my head even more, I'd sighed and slung my arms around his waist. "And why don't you just admit defeat and work at the ranch?" Ducking down, I'd met his eye. "I know you love it." If there was one thing that always happened whenever we visited his parents, it was Teren turning into a cowboy. If we were starting new lives with them, it just made sense to me to finally give in to what he loved.
Looking down and smiling, he'd shaken his head lightly. "Yeah, I do, I'll admit it." Peeking back up at me, he'd shrugged and said, "I don't know, at first I just didn't want to do the family business. I wanted to see who I was away from what I was, away from the others." Smiling wider, he rocked me in his arms. "Then I found something that I loved to do, and Dad does all right running the place with Mom and the girls."
Kissing my head, he'd held me tight against him. "Some day, when my dad can't handle it on his own, then I'll take over." Pulling back, he'd raised an eyebrow at me. "That should make you happy, right?" His smile turned cocky. "Since you secretly enjoy watching me as a cowboy."
Kissing those cocky lips, I'd sighed contently. "That I do...but you really do need to buy a hat."
He'd laughed pretty hard, kissing me tenderly when his chuckles subsided. "And what about you? Would you want to do what my mom does? Help me run the place?" His smile had been warm and soft as his fingers tucked loose strands of my hair behind my ear. The warmth in his words melted me all over, even just remembering them now.
Placing light kisses along his lips, I'd considered that future. Truly, I was still considering it. "Hmmm...although a part of me will miss office life, I think I'd really like that someday." Pulling back, I'd cupped his cheeks. "But whatever I do, whatever we do, my eternity is with you."
Remembering how heated things had gotten between us after those words had left my lips, I paused in my pacing and felt for my husband. His presence was a few rooms over, tucked away in a room with our children and the other men in our extended circle of family. I suddenly wished we had an emotional connection like our twins did, so I could let him feel the level of love for him that I had. Not that he didn't already know...I just wanted him to feel it.
As our group was leaving town in the next couple of days, the old ranch was completely cleaned out. All the cows were gone, all the hired help was gone, a new crew already waiting at the new place. From what Jack had told me, Peter Alton, their trusted crew leader for years, had everything up and running in Utah. All that was missing...was us.
Teren had finally accepted a writing job for a local magazine. He preferred the small publications, more anonymous that way. I stuck with his pattern and took a job with a small accounting firm. The hours were less, the pay was less, but that worked out just fine for us. It was a way to have time for my family but still be regular-Emma too. And for now, I still needed that, and I understood why Teren wanted to keep his day job for a little longer. We would have a lifetime ahead of us of running ranches around the Country. For now, having our own lives felt nice.
Tracey bounded into the room while I thought about our upcoming move. A part of me couldn't believe it was here already. This past year had flown by. Luckily, it had passed peacefully.
The blonde's do was as meticulous as mine and Halina's. Her outfit exactly matched ours too. Beaming at me, she giggled. "Everything's ready, Emma, is she?"
I smiled as the glowing woman stepped over to me. Her hand was instinctually covering the adorably cute, six-month baby bump. She and Ben had indeed wasted no time in starting their family. A part of me was incredibly sad that I wouldn't be her friend by the time the baby was born. I mean, I would always be her friend, until the end of her life, but she wouldn't remember it.
But for now, she did, and I slung my arm around her, my hand going over the child I could hear kicking in her stomach. Silently thanking the woman for always being there for me, even when she didn't realize that she was being there for me, I nodded at her question. "Yeah, she's ready."
As one, we both twisted to look over at my sister. Sitting in front of the vanity with our mother, doing last minute touches on the half of her head that still grew hair, she was a vision in white. Today was her wedding day. The last thing I had to take care of before we left town, was watching her walk down the aisle. I wasn't leaving her behind, until I knew for certain that she was safely in the care of another.
And she was. Christian had shown on numerous instances that he genuinely adored her. Not bothered by her looks in the slightest, he lavished her with affection. It warmed my chilly body, knowing that she would have the life I'd always hoped she'd have. And, always the strong one, she'd done it on her own terms.
As Tracey, Halina and I - her bridesmaids - walked over to her, she stood up. Tears threatening to ruin the perfect makeup around her eyes, she smiled at me. "I'm getting married today, Emma," she giggled, clasping her arms over mine.
"I know," I whispered, cinching her in a hug. "And it's about time," I added with a laugh.
Pulling back, she laughed and smacked my arm. Searching my face, she shook her head. "I love you, Emma...I'm gonna miss you."
Swallowing back the huge lump in my throat, I willed my eyes not to water. If I cried, she'd cry, and then we'd both have to get our makeup redone. And she didn't have time for that...she was about to get married. "I'm gonna miss you too, Ash." Carefully dabbing a finger under my uncooperative, watering eyes, I smacked her arm. "Now stop that, it's not like Teren and I won't be bringing the kids down every couple of months to visit with their Aunt."
She laughed and pulled me tight. "You'd better."
The small group of us got quiet as we all watched my sister for a moment. Then the sound of a church organ filled the space. Halina glanced over at me at hearing the sound, smirking. When Ashley had told us that Christian wanted to get married at a church, in a formal ceremony, I'd asked Halina if she'd be able to go. You know, being a pureblood vampire and all, churches just seemed...forbidden.
She'd actually snorted at me. "It's a building...do we need to have the conversation about me being able to go into any building I want to go into again, Emma?" I'd dropped it after that. Apparently that myth wasn't true either.
Ashley let out a quick exhale, smoothing the white satin over her flat hips. "I guess that's my cue," she said softly.
Mom hugged her and grabbed her arm, already crying a little as she prepared to walk her youngest daughter down the aisle.
Halina smiled at Ashley, gave her a swift kiss on the cheek, a very rare sign of affection from her, and then twisted to face the door. "Let's get this over with then," she muttered.
Her escort, a male friend of Christian's, met her at the door with wide eyes. Halina was intoxicatingly sensual, and men picked up on that, especially human men. His eyes glanced down her modest dress as Halina sashayed through the door. Looking back at us, she winked as she laced her arm though his. "Well, aren't Christian's friends just...edible?"
She grinned slyly and disappeared. Tracey harrumphed, still not overly liking Halina, and not really understanding her comment anyway. Mom, Ashley and I exchanged quick glances. I hoped Halina didn't mean that literally. Not that she would really take a bite of a groomsman at my sister's wedding. Well, not before the ceremony anyway...
Tracey was next, meeting up with Teren at the door. I sighed that my husband wasn't walking with me, but I was the Maid of Honor and Teren was only a groomsman. Christian had asked him to be in the wedding as a show of welcome, of melding our families together. I thought the inclusion was very sweet of him. Plus, it gave me the chance to ogle my husband in a tux again.
Smiling crookedly at him, I raised an eyebrow as he extended his elbow to Tracey. She giggled up at him as she took it. His dark hair matching his dark clothes, he looked back at me and muttered under his breath, "You look amazing in that dress...I can't wait to get you out of it." His eyes smoldered at me before he turned and left with my best friend.
I closed my eyes, feeling a flush that I knew was imaginary. My body didn't flush anymore. But Teren's words always made me feel it anyway. He was...talented in that department.
Neither my mom nor sister having heard what he'd said, they only smiled warmly at his broad back leaving. I carefully bit my lip, hoping this ceremony wasn't overly long.
Eventually it was my turn, and as Christian's brother turned up at the door, I looked back at my sister. She had tears in her eyes, watching me leave with her new family. They were in mine too as the vision of her hazed before me, softening into an angel. "I'll see you up there, sis."
What I could see of her nodded, and I twisted to the middle-aged man holding his arm out in a gentlemanly way. Smiling politely at me, he led me to the main chamber filled with pews. Each pew had a bouquet of white and pink roses attached to the end, the pale pink flowers matching the shade of the bridesmaid's dresses. Swarms of people were sitting on those benches, eyes trained on me. Some I knew, some I'd seen a couple of times, some I'd never met before in my life.
My mind blanked them all out as I stared at the altar before me. It was decked out in white chiffon, more roses, and a few tall candles. It was simple, yet gorgeous, much like my sister. My eyes drifted to the people assembled there. Halina looking uncomfortable as she held her small bouquet of flowers, Tracey looking perfectly at ease, her flowers resting right over her baby bump. The minister waiting patiently in the center, a debonair Christian standing right beside him. Last in the line of men was Christian's good friend, who was still staring at Halina, and next to him, was my husband.
After being escorted into the position next to where my sister would stand, my hand was sweetly kissed as Christian's brother slid over to stand in his appointed spot, between Teren and Christian. I couldn't keep my eyes off of Teren.
Even though we'd already done this, even though it wasn't our ceremony, it felt that way standing up there. It sort of felt like a second wedding for Teren and I. He smiled at me, tilting his head. His eyes drifted down my body for a split second and a rush of desire hit me. I narrowed my eyes at him, trying to stop the sensation. He really shouldn't be turning me on in a church. That was most definitely...forbidden.
He chuckled a little, biting his lip. I shook my head at him, loving him, warmed by the bond that was seeping into me ever since I'd started walking up the aisle. It ached to complete the connection, along with other, more intimate connections, but that could wait until after.
The music shifted and I twisted my gaze from Teren to look back down the aisle. Every human in the audience stood and looked back as well. The vampires, that the crowd here was completely unaware of, also stood. Alanna and Imogen were right in the front row, along with Gabriel, Starla and Jacen. For once, Starla and Jacen were managing to keep their hands off each other, as they attempted to be respectful of the environment.
Jack and Hot Ben were on the other side of Alanna, Jack putting his arm around his wife as a chorus of, "Aaaahs" went around the crowd. My smile was huge as my eyes glassed over again.
Julian and Nika were coming down the aisle hand in hand. Five years old now, they looked a little more grownup to me. Their fangs had grown longer, their spindly legs were each at least three inches taller, and the slight baby fat that had been on their bodies had all but vanished. They were growing up so fast. Before I knew it, they'd be teenagers, preparing to find their own soul mates. A tear dripped down my cheek at the thought alone.
Julian held a basket of flower petals and Nika was reaching in and scattering some along the ground as they walked along. The crowd was eating up the adorable pair, the miniatures of Teren and me, watching their every move. When they got to the steps leading up to the altar, they stopped as one and looked up at me.
Nika smiled brightly and waved. "Hi, Mommy. You look really pretty."
She said it pretty loudly and a chorus of chuckles went around the room. I nodded, laughing myself, and shushed her, pointing in front of me. Giggling, she and Julian stood in front of me, waiting as patiently as five year olds can. I ran my free hand through Julian's black hair, looking over at my husband again. He had tears in his eyes as he watched the three of us. Oh god, if he lost it, I was doomed.
"They're right, you do look very pretty," he muttered below the music.
Smiling, I swiped under my eyes again. "Thank you...and you're very...handsome."
He grinned at me but then the music changed again. Still standing, the crowd instantly shushed. Within seconds, my mother walked in with Ashley on her arm. I'd never seen my sister so radiant. Slightly shuffling with her walk, she still seemed to glide down the petal strewn aisle way. I gave up on holding the tears in, letting them fall down my cheeks so at least my vision would be free to see her. A netted veil was in her hair, coming down over her face to her chin. Beneath it, my eyes could easily see the pure joy and love on her face.
When she finally made the long progression to her near-husband, our mother placed Ashley's hand in his. I sighed a little, part of my worry over her lifted. She was fine. She was happy. I could let her go.
As the ceremony started, my eyes couldn't leave her. They exchanged tender vows of love and devotion and I could clearly see that they both meant them. Christian slid her wedding ring onto her with trembling fingers. She in turn, enclosed him. I idly played with the band around my finger with my thumb, the cool metal not much different than my skin now.
When it finally got to the point where she and Christian could kiss, he almost timidly pulled back the veil covering her face. The older man's fingers came up to brush the scarred skin along her jaw, not an ounce of disgust in his face. She beamed at him as I clearly heard him whisper, "I love you, wife...always." Then he lowered his lips to hers.
I sobbed as the crowd clapped.
As they twisted to face the crowd as man and wife, I finally broke my gaze from her to stare back at Teren. I laughed when I did. His cheeks were wet too. Shaking my head at him while he shrugged, I muttered, "You're such a softie." He laughed, nodding in agreeance.
Watching my sister walk away, I smiled at my husband. Below human level, I told him, "I know you're always telling the kids that I'm the most beautiful woman in the world...but I think you're wrong." He scrunched his brows at me as I looked over to my sister shuffling her way back down the aisle. "She is."
I glanced back at him as he smiled warmly at me. Slowly, he nodded. "Yeah, I think you might be right," he whispered.
Teren and I both turned to watch her walk away, Julian leaning over to tell Nika that he was going to marry Auntie Ash one day. Smiling as the wedding party started to disperse, I broke protocol and joined up with my husband to walk back down the aisle. He kissed my head as I slipped my arm through his. Both kids running off to their grandparents, now that the formal stuff was over with, I laid my head against Teren's shoulder.
Happy and content, we both walked off to celebrate the new lives blossoming around us.
After a quick round of congratulations, we moved the celebration to a nearby reception hall, where we could all help Ashley and Christian keep the festivities going until the wee hours of the morning. We all raised glasses in a toast, the undead creatures in the room faking the sips that the humans were taking. We all watched the newlyweds cut the cake, Christian daintily placing a piece of the frosted confection on her tongue. And we all silently watched the couple share their first dance as husband and wife.
The love between them lifted my spirits and reminded me of my own first dance with Teren. Extending a hand out to him, I tilted my head to the dance floor, starting to fill with people. "Dance with your wife?"
Teren grinned and grabbed my hand. "Gladly."
Pulling me to the middle of the floor, close to my sister, he laced an arm around my waist, holding my other tight to his chest. We were quickly joined by all the other couples that populated our lives - Jack and Alanna, Gabriel and Halina, Starla and Jacen, Hot Ben and Tracey. Even my mom and Imogen laughingly started twirling around the floor together.
Staring into the depths of my husband's amazingly pale eyes, it took mere seconds for our children to cut in. Giggling, the adorably dressed up pair wedged right in between us. Teren and I backed up a step, letting the youngsters hold our waists while we continued to hold each other. As a foursome, we continued dancing the night away.
When the bulk of the partygoers started leaving, Ben and Tracey approached us. I clenched my jaw, knowing that we probably wouldn't see them before the move. Well, I was sure Ben would see us off, but Tracey... We had all agreed that tonight was the best opportunity to give her a clean slate.
Placing a hand on my shoulder, Halina gave me a quick glance before stepping towards the perky blonde. I put a hand up to stop her. "Wait...can I have...just a minute," I whispered to her. Halina paused, then nodded briefly. Twisting away from me, she stepped into Gabriel's embrace, slow dancing with him even though the song playing was a fast one. Lost in their own world, the couple ignored everyone else at the party.
Glad that Halina was giving me a chance for a final goodbye, I stepped up to where Ben was shaking Teren's hand. Ben looked over at me and nodded his head. "We're gonna head out, Emma. Tracey's beat." Holding his wife's shoulders, he pulled her into his side.
Tracey smiled then yawned; she did look exhausted. Reaching out for me, she pulled me into a loose hug. "I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"
Tears in my eyes, knowing she wouldn't remember me tomorrow, I hugged her back fiercely. "I love you, Tracey. I hope somehow you always know that."
Feeling my seriousness, the emotion in my voice, she pulled back. "Hey, you okay?" I felt Teren put a supportive hand on my back, but I couldn't stop the tears now streaming down my cheeks. "Yeah, I'm great...I just..." I swallowed, knowing none of this made any sense to her, but I had to say it anyway. "You have helped me so many times without ever realizing that you were doing it, and I want to thank you for that. For being my friend...through everything."
She nodded, her eyes misting. "Hey...are you pregnant or something?"
Teren and Ben both chuckled and I eventually did too. Laughing, I hugged her fiercely again. "No, I'm just going to miss you, is all."
Now tears dropped from Tracey's eyes and she sniffed as she pulled back. "Stop that. Utah isn't so far, and Ben and I are going to visit." She rubbed her stomach. "We have to get the kids together for play dates."
I nodded, knowing that would never happen. I looked back to Halina and Gabriel dancing. "I'm ready, thank you." Halina stopped dancing and looked back at me. She gave me a sad smile, then nodded.
As she began walking towards us, Teren asked me in a barely audible level, "Are you sure you want to do this now? There really is no harm if she remembers you for a few more years."
I looked up at him, searching his light eyes. He shrugged and looked at Halina as she joined our foursome. Ignoring Tracey and Ben for a second, I quietly reaffirmed with her. "Can she remember me for awhile? At least, until my looks start to become...an issue?"
I was, after all, physically unchanging. That was the entire reason the Adams cleansed places when they left, so their never-ending youth wouldn't start people asking the wrong questions. But I still looked the age I technically was. Surely I could pull that off for awhile?
Halina frowned as she looked behind me at Tracey. Hot Ben was taking a moment to distract his wife while we conversed, asking her what baby names she was leaning towards. Loving the idea that I could maybe meet her baby, I placed my hand on Halina's arm. She sighed. Halina didn't like loose ends and she was already conceding with Ben and Ashley. There was already a plan in place for Christian too, one that involved hazing our physical appearance from him after each visit, starting in a few years, when we would need to start hiding our looks. I knew Halina would have preferred the simplicity of just wiping him completely, but he was sort of family now. Tracey...was not.
As Gabriel came up and smiled down on her, nodding slowly, Halina huffed out, "Fine...for awhile, I guess."
Looking a little irritated that she'd been outvoted, Halina rolled her eyes and muttered, "Why don't we just tell her that we're all vampires while we're at it? God forbid someone didn't find out the family secret."
I laughed at Halina's comment, then flung my arms around the teenage vampire. She sighed again and causally patted my back, maybe hoping I'd get off her soon. Sure, she'd lightened up considerably since falling in love with Gabriel, but she was still...Halina. "Not forever, Emma...but for now."
I nodded as we pulled apart. "For now is fine," I muttered, feeling the tears in my eyes spring out again. No, Tracey was not the sort of person who could calmly handle what we were, not like my sister had, or even Ben...eventually. She'd never look at me the same if she knew. She'd always be scared if she knew. I couldn't blame the girl for that...the world of vampires wasn't for everybody. But to hold onto her friendship for a few more years...that was enough.
"Uh, if everything is okay, Ben and I are going to go," Tracey hesitantly said, her hand coming out to touch my shoulder.
Ben lifted an eyebrow, not knowing the outcome of that near-silent debate. I nodded at him, then her. "Yeah, you guys are free to go."
I emphasized that for Ben and he smiled, understanding. Looking over at Halina, he inclined his head in a polite bow. "Thank you," he whispered to her.
She smiled at the show of respect then inclined her head. "You're welcome."
Not long after they left, my sister was ready to go. Christian was taking her to a secluded island in the south pacific, where she could walk up and down the beach in a two piece and not feel an ounce of self consciousness. I adored Christian already.
Giving her a bear hug, probably bruising her in the process, I weepily said goodbye. Weeping herself, she kissed my chilly cheeks. "You call me when you get to the new place," she whispered, "and I'm coming up to visit the second I get back."
I nodded, giving her a final hug before hugging Christian and wishing them both well. Halina stepped up next, hugging my sister as fiercely as I'd hugged Tracey. Then she stepped up to Christian and cordially said goodbye to him. Then she leaned in and said something to him that shocked me. In a way that I knew was a command, she told him that he would never betray Ashley. He nodded at her, obedient. Looking satisfied that her trancing ability had never failed her, and never would fail her, Halina turned to walk back to Gabriel.
Seeing me staring at her with my mouth open, she shrugged. "You can never be too careful with men...especially human men."
I opened my mouth to defend my species, but I sort of couldn't. I shrugged then too. I was pretty sure Christian never would have betrayed Ashley anyway, not with the way he openly adored her. A slow peace flowed into me as I shook my head. I guess now I didn't need to worry about it.
We waved as they took off in their limo, Teren holding me as I sobbed harder than my mom. I couldn't help it. I'd looked after her for so long, protected her as best I could...even though she'd never needed me too. But now she had Christian to do that.
Leaving the wedding with my husband, kids and mother, I felt that peace stay with me. Ash was going to be just fine. And so were we.
On the evening of our great departure to Utah, Hot Ben and Tracey saw us off. Tracey commented that she thought it was weird that we were leaving at night and I only shrugged and smiled. I couldn't exactly tell her that traveling during the day with Halina just wasn't possible, and we'd all decided to go together. Even though that meant a pit stop halfway there, so Halina could hide away from the poisonous light she missed seeing on a daily basis.
Jack and Alanna piled into Alanna's car, Imogen and my mother riding with them. Gabriel and Halina stepped into his sleek sedan, Starla and Jacen giggling as they slunk into the back seat. The rest of the cars had been shipped out to the new place weeks ago, and the ranch looked exceedingly empty as Teren and I piled the kids into his Prius. We waved as the cars filled with vampires pulled away, knowing we'd see them in a few hours and we'd be able to track them the entire time, thanks to the blood bond that joined us all.
I smiled as I glanced back at the rear seat, watching my kids start a game of cards, Spike happily nestled in the space between them. I felt our bond with them and exhaled contently, knowing that it would never be taken away from me again. Teren and I gave the ranch one final, last look - the white beauty encrusted with river rocks, the blood-red tiles gleaming in the moonlight. It was the most beautiful place...I'd miss it. But I knew we'd be back, the next time it came up in rotation.
Clasping Ben and Tracey a final time, we finally got into our car and left our castle in California behind.
On the second night of travel, Teren nudged me awake. I jerked out of my dream, momentarily confused. Then he smiled and pointed to the home that he was parked in front of. "Welcome to the new ranch...well, new to you anyway."
My mouth dropped open. It was one of those homes that you only saw on magazines catering to the independently wealthy, never in real life. We were on the edge of a wide, circular driveway. Low, bright green hedges lined the circle, with a fifteen foot fountain of a crying woman in the center of it. I blinked as I stared at where it glowed, lifelike, under the spotlights surrounding it; it was the same statue that had been inside the other ranch, only a much, much larger version.
We'd passed through a six foot high wall to get into the complex and the gate behind us was an elaborately twisted wrought iron that sort of matched the design on Teren's San Francisco home. Over the top of the gate, large metal letters spelled out ADAMS. The floodlights on either side of the gate were fixed on the family name, warming the bronze letters, even in the dead of night.
A plush, green lawn lined the drive, leading up to one of most impressive buildings I'd ever seen. It didn't even really look like a home, it looked more like an Ivy league University. It was an aesthetically pleasing, multi-leveled home, one story on the edges of the home, but lifting to at least four near the center. I had to assume it stretched just as far underground, to accommodate the pureblood in the family. Imagining those underground levels, the shape of the structure reminded me of a diamond. Fitting, for the family it protected.
Built completely out of blood-red brick, tall, slim chimneys dotted the home like castle spires. Long in length and sturdy in appearance, the building had to be as strong as the vampires that lived inside it. Three sets of dark cherry and glass front doors gave me a clear peek into the interior of the home. It already looked warm and inviting, the lights on, highlighting itself for its returning owners.
My enhanced eyes could clearly pick out the snow capped mountains creating an idyllic backdrop for the monolith. I could tell that in the daylight, the pure white in the background would contrast artistically with the dark red brick and bright green lawns. It would be a sight to see in the glory of the day. But even in moonlight, it was breathtaking.
Next to the main home, there was matching two-story building. As I stared, dazed by my surroundings, Teren informed me that it was the garage. The home for our vehicles was attached to the massive house by a cute, circular structure with a space cut out of it just large enough to drive through. A section of the circular driveway branched off that way and as Teren drove his Prius through it, to the back of the house, I could see the long line of garage doors, most of them already filled with the other's cars.
From behind the home, I could see more buildings. Teren had informed me before leaving that this ranch had an indoor pool; I assumed then that one of those long, lean buildings held it. Off to the other side of the home there was a tennis court and a basketball court. I smiled, imagining my kids growing up here. In the distance, as far as I could see to either side of the home, were the pastures. I could see dark blobs of where the cows were and smiled. It already felt like home. Of course, that could be said of any place I went with Teren.
Twisting the car to back into the garage, Teren paused a moment and leaned over the steering wheel, taking in the magnificence of this very different ranch. Smiling over at me, he cocked an eyebrow. "Like it?" I nodded, still speechless. He smiled wider, amused at my reaction. "Yeah, I probably should have warned you...the ranch in California is sort of...the small one."
He chuckled at the look on my face as I pulled my gaze from the home most would consider a mansion. Bringing his head down to rest it against mine, Teren sighed contently, the sound mixing with the duel snores coming from our children. "I love you, wife...forever," he muttered, his voice deep with peace.
Closing my eyes, I savored the connection we shared, the family we shared, the love we shared...the life we shared...even if we were dead. "I love you too, husband...forever."