Giggling woke me up. Giggling and my feet being licked. That woke me right up. Jerking my knee forward to avoid Spike's early morning affections, I ended up smacking right into Teren's...unmentionables. That woke him up too.
As the twins clamored up onto our bed, he rolled onto his stomach, groaning. "Emma... I know I'm a tough vampire and all, but some things still really hurt."
His voice was pained and irritated and I couldn't stop the chuckle. "I'm so sorry, babe," I laughed out, genuinely feeling bad, but amused by his tone.
He peeked an eye up at me, his face not sharing in my amusement, but then Nika threw herself on his back and a smile finally broke out of the tight line of his lips. "Morning, Daddy!" she yelled, chipper as could be.
He gently shushed her, then twisted to hug her. "Good morning, sweetheart."
A shaft of light fell across the two of them, highlighting the close-knit pair. Julian crawled into the space between Teren and I, snuggling his warm body into mine. "Hi, Mommy," he muttered sleepily, not quite as awake as his sister. I clutched him to me, savoring the snugly affection of my little boy. I kissed his head and laid my cheek on him, glancing over at Teren tickling Nika. He looked back at me then too, smiling at the image of the close-knit pair beside him.
As Julian started to fall back asleep in my arms, Nika stopped her giggling and looked down at him. "Julie likes that, Mommy." I tilted my head at her, but her eyes were on my hand rubbing circles into his back. I smiled and hugged him tighter, feeling connected to him through my daughter.
"Thank you, Nika," I murmured quietly.
She smiled brightly, bouncing on Teren's stomach. "Daddy, can we go help Grandpa outside?"
Teren chuckled, halting her continuous pounding on his body. "Of course." Raising an eyebrow at her, he added. "I don't think Grandpa can run this place without us."
Nika nodded and leaned down, like she was telling him a secret. "I know, Daddy. He needs our magic."
A look passed over Teren's face then that I knew was pain...grief. He knew that his father was aging, they all did, and there was nothing that could be done about it. He was human, his life was finite. Teren successfully changing me had pretty much been a miracle, Gabriel had confirmed it. Most mixed turnings were fatal to the human. And Halina wouldn't bring someone into a full vampiric life, not that Jack wanted that life. He'd made peace with his fate long ago, and while he grieved for the future loss that Alanna and Teren would have to suffer through, he had shown no desire to live for all eternity. It was sad, but it was also a part of life.
Teren's face regained his warmth as he held his daughter, our new life to help dull the sting of the old life passing. "You're right, sweetheart. We'll go help him after breakfast, okay?"
She nodded eagerly, bouncing on his chest again. I felt Alanna exit her rooms and start to head downstairs. Nika felt it too and twisted her head to watch. Twisting back to Teren, she kissed his nose. "I'ma go help Grandma." She scrambled off his body as he nodded.
I watched her leave, skipping out the door. Shaking my head at her brightness, I looked back to him. "She gets her morning peppiness from you, you know."
Teren, looking thoughtful as he stared out the door, blinked, then looked over at me. "What?" he asked distractedly.
Carefully shifting my sleeping child to the pillows, I sat up on an elbow and placed a hand on his arm. "Hey, you okay?"
He sat up on an elbow too, looking down at Julian resting between us. "I was just thinking about what Nika said, about my dad."
His voice was quiet, speculative. Downstairs, I heard my daughter loudly proclaim her greeting to Alanna, who feigned surprise at her entrance. Cupping my husband's cheek, I brought his gaze back up to mine.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, knowing that there was nothing either one of us could do about it.
He nodded in my hands, his eyes moister. Swallowing, he added, "What you and Halina talked about last night...her afraid to move on, her worried that I would be alone forever..." His eyes drifted to the floor, to where we could both feel his mother. "She is going to have that future." He brought his eyes up to me. "And I can't do anything about it."
I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat and leaned over to kiss him. "No, you can't, Teren, but that's life, baby. That is the way nature intended us to be." I pulled back and shrugged. "Well, us humans, that is."
He nodded, then looked away from me, pulling my hand from his face. "Don't hate me for this..."
I tensed after he said that, not sure what he could possibly be referring to. "For what?"
He looked back, sighing. "I want to move with them. I want us to go to Utah."
My mouth dropped nearly to the sheet. I stammered for something to say, but really, I was too stunned to say anything. I'd just assumed that the vampires would leave without us. Truly, I hadn't even considered moving with them, not that I'd had long to think about it. I guess, since Teren and I had jobs here, and my family lived here, it just never occurred to me that we'd be moving.
Teren still looked his age, and would look his age, or close enough to it, that it wasn't necessary yet. Staring at him though, watching him bite his lip as he watched me shuffle through my thoughts, I saw the desire to leave, the conflict of being separated from his own kind. Even if Teren desperately tried to live a life of normalcy, he still needed them, needed to be with them.
I sighed, a hand resting on my son's back. "But...my family...?" I let that trail off, knowing I couldn't argue my family's importance over his own. There was just no way to do that.
He looked down, understanding that as well. "I know." He peeked up. "We could visit...constantly."
I looked down to the end of the bed, where Spike had decided to rest while he waited for us to get up. "If we left, would everyone here be wiped?"
I glanced back at him and he looked down, then slowly nodded. "Yes, not your family, of course, but everyone else...yes. They would still remember you, vaguely, but not anything about you being with me." He shrugged. "I'm sorry."
I sighed again, lying back to the pillows. I tried to imagine every friend or acquaintance I knew only hazily remembering my face, and probably not even remembering my name. I tried to imagine leaving my mother and sister, only to see them on holidays and special occasions. I couldn't picture it. Being on "bed rest" had been hard enough, and that had only been a few months. A long term separation...would be painful. Feeling the tears sting my eyes, I unfairly muttered, "But your family is immortal...mine isn't."
He brought his hand back to my face, twisting me to look at him. "My dad isn't." He shrugged, like he knew it wasn't a fair argument either.
We both sighed at the same time and I had a sudden appreciation for spouses that met and married great distances from each other's families. You pretty much had to choose which side to go over to, and there was no way to really fairly decide that.
Looking glum, he whispered, "We've always moved together..." He let that trail off and looked away from me.
I could see the guilt there and hated that he felt it. He shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to stay near the family he loved, the same as I shouldn't feel guilty. Pushing aside a decision that was still, at the minimum, a year away, I brought my fingers to his stubbled jaw. He looked back at me, sadness in his pale eyes.
I smiled warmly. We could work this out. Our being together was the most important thing anyway. Smiling even wider, I stroked his cheek. "We have time to think about it. We have time to decide what we want to do...and we'll decide together, okay?"
He smiled softly, then nodded. "Together...I like that."
His words reminiscent of a conversation held between us long ago, a conversation regarding the two miracles we'd brought into this world, I laughed lightly. He laughed with me, then leaned down across Julian's body to give me a soft kiss.
Julian stirred between us, a shudder running through him at the feel of Teren's chill. I bundled him up next to me and pushed Teren away. "Why don't you go keep your promise to your daughter, and go help your dad."
I said the last part softly and his eyes flicked over my face for long seconds before he stood up. I watched him silently as he stripped off the clothes that he'd slept in, then dressed in rugged jeans and a button-up shirt. I sighed at how attractive the man was and wished for the millionth time that he had a cowboy hat tucked away somewhere. It would just complete the fantasy for me.
Finished getting ready for the day, he leaned over me and his sleeping son, giving us each a cool kiss. "We'll be outside, if you need us." He grinned, obviously eager to show his daughter the world he secretly, or maybe not so secretly, loved.
He ruffled the fur on Spike's head as he twisted to leave. "Come on, boy." Spike thumped his tail and eagerly hopped down, following his master out of the room. Alone with a slightly snoring toddler, I rested my cheek on his head and thought about leaving my family.
I was still thinking about it when I walked downstairs awhile later with Julian in tow. His energy level now matching his boisterous sister's, he bounded into Alanna's arms when we met up with her in the kitchen. She laughed merrily and effortlessly picked him up. Sighing at the sight of them, so similar, so perfectly natural together, I thought of my own mother, bad leg and all. Alanna twisted her head to me as she held Julian on her hip. "You alright, dear?"
Her voice was quiet, subdued, like she knew exactly what thoughts were tumbling through my head. And I supposed she did, probably having heard Teren's and my entire conversation. Lack of privacy was just something you got used to, hanging around vampires.
I shrugged. "Just torn, I guess." She rustled Julian's hair then made a bowl of cereal for him, setting it in front of a stool, beside a granite island in the center of the room.
I watched him scramble up to his breakfast as she responded to my vague reply. "Don't let Teren's concerns for his father, override your own."
I looked up at her, surprised that she wouldn't immediately side with her son. Surely she would want him to stay close? Noticing my startlement, she shrugged again and lightly shook her head. "Jack will be around for several more ranch shifts. Teren has nothing to fear yet."
She smiled sadly and I wondered for a moment if she really believed that. Forcing a grin back to her features, she rested a cool hand on mine. "We've already done so much to you. We won't ask you to give up your life here." Her eyes flicked to the scar on my neck. A scar I tried to keep hidden with my hair, but one their super sight could see no matter what I did. The scar of where I'd been bitten, where my life had turned a complete one eighty.
I looked down, troubled that she felt responsible for that in any way. It really hadn't been anybody's fault. Well, except for the prick who'd actually done it. Him I blamed wholeheartedly. "Well, we haven't decided yet either way and...we have time?" I peeked up at her and she nodded slightly.
Releasing me, she went about prepping some food for her mother, tucked away in her darkened bedrooms. I watched the eternally youthful caretaker warm up a container of blood, wondering how she'd get through the torment Halina and Imogen had both suffered. I wished beyond anything that I could spare her that pain.
"Alanna...will you be alright?"
She looked back at me, her timeless eyes momentarily worn. "Of course, Emma." She turned and leaned her back to the counter, her gaze wandering outside to where I could hear Jack whistling a soft tune while he worked.
The edges of her lips curled into a small smile. "He's the love of my life. He's given me so much joy and happiness. He accepted me for what I was, because he loved me. He let go of every friend he'd ever had to be with me. He deals with the gossip of being called a cradle robber, every time we start up somewhere new. He watches me kill. He watches me drink blood. And he watches me stay young...while he ages."
Her eyes came back to mine, soft pink tears in them. "And he does it all without complaint, because he loves me, and he doesn't want to be apart from me." She shook her head, her tears falling. "He is my everything and I will take each day that I have with him, each memory that we make together, and I will cherish him for all eternity, whether he's beside me or not."
She smiled sadly while I sniffled. "But I won't condemn him to Halina's life, nor does he wish to be condemned." She shrugged softly. "I will respect his wishes, by letting him die. In the end, that is the best way that I can repay him for the sacrifices that he has made for me over the years."
I nodded, hating that I understood. A part of me wanted them together forever, like Teren and I would be. But Jack was happy human, and wished to stay that way. Alanna wouldn't have him changed for her own selfish reasons, and she was right, being with vampires was a sacrifice. I could see that, as I contemplated my own future. Jack had already given her so much, and all he'd asked in return, was a normal, typical death. And while sad and horrible, it was also the cycle we all lived by, even long-lived vampires, eventually.
Walking up to the woman, I engulfed her in a warm hug. "You will never be alone, Alanna. We will never let you be alone."
I pulled back from her, my cheeks disastrously wet. She smiled, wiping them dry. "I know." She inhaled deeply, glancing over at an obliviously eating Julian. "My family is what makes it okay for me to let him go."
The blood warming on the stove filled the air with a warm, refreshing scent, better than cinnamon on a chilly day. Alanna smiled as she poured some into a thermos for Imogen. "And I will let him go...just not today." She winked at me and then turned to go take care of her mother.
I shook my head at her as I watched her walk away, blown away by yet another woman in Teren's life.
Back at home a few days later, my mind was still tossing around Alanna's words. Even though I had an ample amount of time to decide, I was torn over which direction to take my life. Thinking of everything that Jack had sacrificed for Alanna, willingly, without complaint, made it feel a little selfish to me to do anything other than give Teren exactly what he wanted.
But I couldn't really compare the situation. Jack may have had no better option to him than his life with Alanna. Maybe what she deemed a sacrifice, really wasn't one in his eyes. Mentally, I made a note to sit and talk with Jack. Even though he wasn't the type to open up with his feelings, he'd surely have some insight for me on life with a vampire spouse.
As time went on, I thought to talk to Teren about it again, but Teren didn't seem to want to think about it again yet. No, Teren had started to fixate on something else entirely.
"So, what do you want to do?"
I sighed, setting my mammoth bag on the on the couch. Julian and Nika immediately started going through it. Watching Nika grab my cell phone and start to pretend that she was talking to Julian on it, I twisted to Teren. "Why do we have to do anything? Can't we just have a quiet night in?"
I pouted a little as he smirked and walked up to me. Slinging his arms around my waist, he shook his head. "You only turn thirty once, we should celebrate in style." He ducked down to meet my eye. "We could get that overnight sitter?"
I smiled at his attempt to get me alone for awhile, then shook my head. "I think, just this once, that I'd rather have a quiet night at home with you and the kids, maybe watching a movie."
Teren chuckled lightly, then pulled me into his body. "Alright, I guess I should cancel the clowns and pony rides."
Nika dropped my phone, staring up at us. "A pony?"
Julian peeked up too, but he frowned. "No clowns, Daddy." Clowns came with balloons, so naturally Julian didn't like either one. "Can we have a pony?" He brightened instantly and they were both wrapped around our ankles begging for their own horses.
Teren laughed and I poked him in the chest. Some things you just didn't say around kids..."pony" was one of those things. Looking down at my twins, I sighed. "No, Daddy was teasing, nobody is getting a pony."
They both groaned in unison, and still chuckling, Teren said, "Sorry, guys, no ponies this year."
As they groaned again, then twisted to storm off upstairs, Teren tightened his grip on me and whispered in my ear. "I might still get the bouncy house though." He gave me a devilish smile as he said it and my heart started to beat just a smidge faster.
From upstairs, I heard, "Yeah, bouncy house!" I rolled my eyes and sighed again. Darn super ears.
Teren laughed again and was about to respond when we both stopped and tilted out heads. A car was crunching to a stop in our half circle drive. Our place was well spaced from our neighbors' homes, so it was pretty easy to tell when someone was pulling into our drive and not next door's. Thinking it was my sister, I smacked him in the stomach a final time before disengaging myself.
As I started walking to the door, I heard a voice I knew pretty well, a voice that was not my sister. "Ugh, I hate San Francisco...it stinks of salt."
Rolling my eyes, I walked over to the door and immediately opened it. In front of me was a blonde, spoiled, princess of a vampire, one that Teren and I tolerated with as much grace as possible, since she had been the one to find us when we'd both needed her the most. Smacking on an annoyingly loud piece of gum, she popped off her bug-like sunglasses as I said hello. "Hi, Starla."
"Hi-ya," she said, immediately starting to walk into the house.
Containing a sigh, I was just about to ask her what she was doing all the way up here, when the door on her BMW opened. My jaw dropped open when Gabriel stepped out of the car. It wasn't that I was shocked he was up here, Gabriel came up a couple of times a month to see Halina and visit with the kids, but seeing him here, in broad daylight, was a little disorienting.
"Good afternoon, Emma." He walked up to me, imposing, powerful, and extraordinarily beautiful. His emerald eyes caught a fragment of the sunlight and glinted at me; they seemed more like jewels than eyes in that moment.
"Good afternoon, Gabriel," I stammered back, looking up at the sky.
Gabriel was in Alanna's generation. He could tolerate small doses of rays, but not hours of it. When he did visit, he always made the long drive at night. Tinted windows, while effective in blocking the harmful effects of the sun for humans, just wasn't enough for vampiric skin. Some of them preferred the privacy and mystery of dark glass, but really, it was just aesthetics for them.
I felt Teren walk over to me as I heard Starla sigh and plop down on our couch, making herself at home in our home. "You guys have cable?" I heard her call out, but I ignored it, fixated on the ancient mixed vampire in my doorway.
"Gabriel?" Teren asked, extending a hand out to him. "We're honored to have you, but...how are you here during the day?"
He looked up at the sky too, and Gabriel chuckled at the both of us. Smiling languidly, he indicated our house through the open door. "It is bright out here. May I come in?" he asked politely.
I felt myself flush, irritated for not immediately letting him in. Gabriel wasn't as self welcoming as Starla. "Of course, please, come inside."
Both of his feet had barely hit our threshold before he was nearly tackled by two tiny beings.
Nika and Julian attached to a leg as I softly closed the door behind him. The children had shortened his name earlier on. They spoke well for their age, or so I was told, but Gabriel was a mouthful, even for smarty pants like our little miracles. Gabriel found the nickname charming and never corrected them.
A wide smile on his handsome face, he ran an ageless, lineless hand through their hair. "Teren, Emma...my, how you've shrunk."
The twins giggled and looked up at him. "No, it's us, Grandpa Gabby."
He squatted down to their level, a genuine happiness on his face. He may be scientifically curious about our children, but he did care for them. "Well, so it is. Nika and Julian. You look so much like your parents, I didn't recognize you."
I heard Starla on the couch sigh as she started flipping though television stations. She wasn't much for coming up here, since the drive was a pretty long one. She also had a decidedly snobbish view of her home town, and saw just about everywhere else as being below it, although, she did like our home in San Francisco much better than the dirt-filled ranch.
Ignoring Starla's barely contained displeasure, I watched Gabriel scoop up a child in each arm, eyeing them closely, like he was mentally tallying their weight, height, and general health.
Looking outside at the bright, early evening sunshine, I again wondered how he'd managed to come up all this way. As our group walked into the living room, Teren asked him that very thing. "How did you make it all the way up here, Gabriel?" He shook his head as they each took a seat on the couch, Gabriel plopping down with his arms still loaded down with giggling toddlers. "Aren't you in pain?" Teren asked softly, not wanting the question to bother the kids too much.
Gabriel smiled at Nika bouncing on his knee and answered Teren's question to her. "Well, I discovered something...neat, and I decided to test it out." Nika giggled at the word and Starla tore her eyes from the mindless program she'd found to raise an eyebrow at him. Gabriel was well over a half century old and some words just sounded really strange coming from his mouth.
Teren and I looked at each other as Julian repeated, "Neat." Curious, I asked, "You discovered something?"
Gabriel looked over to me, running a hand back through his light, sandy-brown hair. Smiling, he nodded. "Yes, a compound that blocks the affects of the sun." He shifted the children to his side and leaned over his knees, going into teacher mode. His face animated, he started going over the specifics of what his brilliant mind had conjured up.
Splaying his hands out over his knees, he said, "I've been working on a way for early generation mixed to enjoy a more normal life." His lips twisted into a sad smile. "None of us should have to hide from the sun." Gabriel shrugged, and for a moment, all of his vast years were apparent on his face. He'd had to do a great deal of hiding throughout his life.
He leaned forward and the kids, no longer the center of his attention, started climbing over Starla. She groaned, but did nothing to stop them from snuggling in her lap.
Before I could ask him just what he'd created, he told me. "I made a breakthrough in a compound that I've been struggling with. I bonded it with glass and had it installed in Starla's car." He smiled as he glanced out our window. "The sun would normally have me needing a break from it after several minutes," he looked back at us, "but I was in it for hours, protected under the coated glass, and I didn't feel any hint of the pain that I would generally feel."
He smiled satisfactorily, obviously pleased with himself, and leaned back on the couch. Nika abandoned Starla to nestle in his side and he smiled down on her, a hand running over her tiny shoulders.
Teren next to me shook his head. "Wow, that's amazing, Gabriel. Can you do the same thing for full vampires?" I saw a gleam of hope in his eyes that maybe his great-grandmother could finally get to see what she'd longed to for so long.
Gabriel's smile faded as he looked over Teren's eager face. Slowly, he shook his head. "I'm sorry, Teren. Believe me, I would like to give that gift to them too." He smiled with one side of his mouth. "I've recently had a certain...personal desire to see that happen." Sighing, he shook his head. "But a full vampire's physiology is so different and complex. I just haven't been able to successfully create a coating strong enough for purebloods." He sighed again then shrugged and smiled. "It is on my to-do list though."
I laughed lightly. His to-do list probably involved things that most humans wouldn't ever accomplish in their lifetime, even the most brilliant humans on earth. And aside from the fact that Gabriel was a genius and wouldn't ever naturally die, so time wasn't really a factor, I was pretty sure that he'd have completed everything on that list anyway. He was just determined like that.
Gabriel watched my face for a second, then shifted his emerald eyes to Teren. "I've created enough to have your parents' home refitted with the new glass, so your family will feel more at ease there." He smiled widely. "Especially your grandmother. Imogen shouldn't have to hide in just a few tiny bedrooms. People should feel comfortable in their own homes."
Teren's mouth opened wide and I swear his eyes watered. My jaw dropped a little too and for a split-second, I wondered if Gabriel had done that out of compassion for the first-generation mixed, or if some part of him looked at Imogen as some sort of step-daughter.
Shaking his head, Teren reached out and clasped his arm. "Thank you. I...my family..." He looked over at me, then back to Gabriel. "We just can't thank you enough for what you've given us."
Starla snorted and popped her gum, but Gabriel beside her ignored it, focusing on the two of us instead. As Julian gave up on Starla as well, preferring to snuggle with Grandpa Gabriel, he looked down on our twins. "I'm sure you'll find some way to repay me," he said, very, very quietly.
The inquisitive look in his eyes was unsettling, but I pushed back the pang of fear in my belly. Gabriel would never hurt our children and even though he may be monitoring them visually, he would never test them without our permission. Halina would have his head if he did.
Finding comfort in the teenage vixen's protective nature, I curiously asked Gabriel, "Why is the sun harmful to vampires anyway? I've never understood that." That one myth had always seemed a little odd to me. What about being undead made the sun...unsavory?
Gabriel looked up from where my kids were listening to his silent chest. Tilting his head at me, his face back to scientific impartialness, he asked, "Have you ever heard of Solar Urticaria?"
I looked over at Teren, frowning. He was frowning too. "Um...no."
Gabriel smiled softly, like he wasn't surprised. "That is understandable. It is rare for humans." He leaned forward again, the kids on either side of him mimicking his posture. "It is a condition in which exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and in some, even rarer cases, any sort of light, induces a case of hives all over the skin."
He spread his hands out, the kids miming the motion. "All pureblood vampires suffer from a form of this condition...but a hundred times over the human variation. To them, any exposure is fatal, igniting the skin." He shrugged, and my kids followed suit. Starla looked over, smirking at them. "In mixed, the effects are diluted, and usually fade by the third generation. In first, it is the most severe, causing immense pain and discomfit, even indirectly. In second, like myself, the direct sun can be tolerated in small doses."
He leaned back, watching his tiny copycats as he did so. Smiling at them, he added, "Much like with the human version of this, no one truly understands why." He looked back up at us, a small smile on his lips as he shook his head. "The body, vampiric or otherwise, is a miraculous and complicated thing." He smiled wider. "Solving that puzzle is also on my to-do list."
I laughed a little as I leaned into Teren's side, both grateful that neither he nor I, nor our children, suffered from the rare trait that the other vampires did; it pushed us all that much closer to the normal end of the spectrum. Watching Gabriel take a moment to explain to the children how their hearts worked to pump their non self-propelling human blood, I was also grateful that the vampiric community had this brilliant man among them, striving to solve their limitations.
Looking out our wall of windows that faced the Pacific ocean, offering a sunset to die for, no pun intended, I also considered the flip side of Gabriel's research. If he did succeed in blocking vampire's limitations, they would be more prevalent among the human race. And the human race, like it or not, was right at the top of their dinner menu. A shudder running through me, I was warmed by the idea that the vial that was keeping me alive had been a five hundred year project for Gabriel. It could be several centuries before vampires roamed free under the sun, maybe a few millennia even.
Gabriel and Starla stayed until the magnificent sunsets our home afforded filled the living room windows. They sat on the couch and talked with us while we all enjoyed a plasma nightcap. Starla winced over our blood choice, preferring wild animals to "tame" mindless cattle, but Gabriel sipped his respectfully, the whole while asking our kids a wide variety of questions.
He fixated most on their ability to feel each other, asking one child what the other liked or disliked. When Julian would heatedly tell him that Nika hated broccoli, Gabriel would smile and shake his head, amazed by the connection that they shared. It made me slightly uneasy, watching him run a mini-experiment right in front of me, but he wasn't hurting or bothering them with the questions, so I let it continue.
Once the sun was nearly extinguished from the sky, he rose. Starla rose with him, muttering, "Finally." Gabriel raised a pale eyebrow at her, his face stone-like in its disapproval. She instantly bowed her head. It was a little submissive for my taste and the feministic side of me wanted to tell Starla not to do that. He may be her elder, but he wasn't her master. But, the L.A. group all deferred to Gabriel, calling him Father. And even though Starla could be stubborn and childish at times, she clearly worshipped the man and knew her place. I had the horrid feeling that if he commanded her to kneel and kiss his feet, she would.
He didn't though, he only turned away from her silent chastisement and twisted to us, a warm smile on his face. I let the knowledge of his power fade as I shook his hand. He wasn't one to abuse his position. He never insisted on people calling him Father, he never asked for adulation. All he seemed to ask for from those around him was a level of respect, to him and equally, to others. The odd cult-like glorification seemed to come more from his followers, than from Gabriel himself.
The world was lucky that Gabriel didn't desire it. Given the proper incentive, I was sure this powerful mixed vampire could do just about anything.
Clasping Teren's hand, he warmly said, "It's been a pleasure speaking with you again, Teren. I always look forward to our visits."
Teren smiled as he returned the firm shake. "As do I, Gabriel."
Gabriel's eyes shifted to me, running up and down my body. It wasn't sexual in any way, merely a doctor surveying the health of his patient. Cocking an eyebrow at me, he asked, "Any side effects from your daily dosage?"
Knowing that he meant the life-giving shot I gave myself in the hip each day, I shook my head. "No, I feel great." I patted my chest, my heart. "All is well." He nodded at hearing it, not looking surprised by my answer.
Starla beside him shifted impatiently, obviously eager to leave what she clearly considered a dump. Knowing that Gabriel wouldn't leave the city without dropping by the ranch to see Halina, I bit my cheek to hide the smile. I had to imagine that Starla would be doing a lot of sighing and eye rolling this evening. The price you paid when you chauffeured your father around.
Nika and Julian, starting to yawn as their long days caught up with them, clutched at Gabriel's legs. "Stay, Grandpa," Nika whined.
Julian immediately chimed in with, "Stay, Grandpa, stay."
Gabriel smiled and rumpled their hair. "I wish I could, children, but your grandmother is waiting for me." He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows, his face amused as he stared down at our miniatures before him. "I wouldn't want to disappoint her, now would I?"
Sighing, both children finally let him go, whispering soft goodbyes that almost had a tearful tone to them. Scooping them each up in an arm, the weight almost unnoticeable with my strength, I kissed each soft head.
Gabriel smiled warmly at them, then he and Starla both headed to the door, Starla looking like she wanted to blur right through it. Teren and I said our goodbyes again, our children softly mimicking us, and Gabriel paused with his hand on the doorknob. Looking back at us, his gaze locked on Teren's.
"Before I forget, Halina had me looking into finding someone for you. She was a little difficult to locate, living in a rather isolated rural area, but I did and I've sent her to you." He looked up at the sky, almost like he was searching for this person in the minute cracks of our ceiling. Dropping his gaze back to Teren, he shrugged. "Assuming all went well, she should be getting on a plane sometime this evening."
Teren's brows drew into a point. Mine did too. I had no idea who he was talking about. Teren, following my mental path, asked, "Who are you talking about?"
Gabriel straightened, releasing the door. Starla sighed, her perfectly styled, chunky-haired head falling backwards with a light groan.
Ignoring her, Gabriel took a step towards us. "Miss Davids...Carrie. I found her, and had her sent to you."
My heartbeat increased as that name passed his ancient lips. Teren instinctually reached out for me, his arm encircling my waist. I hadn't heard that name in awhile and the shock of it still stung a little bit. Not that there was anything wrong with the woman herself, I'd only met her once and she'd been perfectly pleasant about the whole thing, but she had an intimate history with my husband. A history that she still remembered. She remembered everything about him, right down to the pale eyes, dark hair, and love of writing. No one was allowed to remember my husband that clearly, but because he'd hidden her from his family, she did. And he'd hidden her...because he'd knocked her up. It still surprised me sometimes, that Teren had almost been a teen father.
We'd struggled to conceive in time and he'd already successfully done it once. That still blew my mind a little. But she'd lost the baby and they'd been split apart. The part of me that could look at the situation objectively saw how much that entire thing had hurt Teren. He'd lost the first love of his life because she'd been ripped apart from him. They'd never really had their moment of closure, just a tragedy that hadn't ended well for either of them. I think that was the real reason Teren wanted to find her; he wanted closure. He wanted to let his past die, so he could freely relish his future, with me.
Plus, he'd never told her what he was, and he wanted to. Before he had her mind wiped of all trace of him, he wanted to finally confess what he'd hidden from her for so long. He just needed that moment of release, and I was going to let him have it.
While I watched the emotion slide over Teren's face, I thought about Gabriel finding her. Then I thought about his last comment. Shifting my head back to where he was intently watching Teren, I asked, "What do you mean, you had her 'sent' to us?" How exactly does one send a person?
Gabriel's perfectly green eyes swung to me. "I had her compelled to come back to Teren." His eyes shifted back to Teren's as his eyebrows rose. "You did need to see her, correct?"
Teren nodded, then frowned. "You had her compelled? By a vampire?"
Gabriel nodded, like it was no different than having takeout delivered by a restaurant. "Yes. I knew one in the area, and had him pay her a visit."
Teren stepped forward, concern clear in his features. "A visit?"
Gabriel furrowed his brows and crossed his arms over his chest. "He was under instruction to not harm her, if that is your concern." Gabriel almost seemed offended that Teren would even consider that possibility.
Teren shook his head but Gabriel beat him to it. "The vampire was a friend, and trustworthy. I told him to send her to your address as soon as possible." His eyes swept down to the children laying their heads on my shoulders, nearly asleep as I held them. "I did not think you would want to fly to the northeast corner of Maine." He looked between the both of us, his eyes inquisitive. "I suppose I could have her turned around, if you'd rather go to her?" He tilted his head. "Perhaps I could watch the kids for you...while you're gone?"
Starla popped a bubble, breaking the sudden tension in the air. Gabriel twisted his lips, then held his hand out. She sighed, but immediately put her gum in his palm. Teren shook his head. "No, no, she's already on her way." He smiled lightly. "I'm just...shocked, I guess. You caught me by surprise, that's all."
Gabriel relaxed his position and nodded. Smiling softly, he said, "Well, I wouldn't worry about her safety. I can nearly guarantee that she wasn't harmed in any way." Nodding softly at us, he twisted to open the door. "Enjoy the remainder of your evening, Teren...Emma."
I nodded distractedly, fixated on the word "nearly" and said, "You too, Gabriel."
A wry smile lit his beautiful face. "Thank you, Emma. I plan on a very...enjoyable evening."
I flushed, remembering exactly where he was going and he laughed a little before exiting our home, taking the complaining Starla with him.