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Episode 6

A few days later, we were packing up the kids and their things for a weekend at the ranch. We tried to go out there most weekends, especially when they were in-between busy times and the hired help wasn't around, so the toddlers could frolic and play uninhibited. There, safe at the ranch, we let the twins play to their full capacity. They loved it, loved the freedom of not having to rein in anything.

Personally, I loved it too. It was unbelievably frustrating to have to walk at a normal pace when you were in a hurry to get something. It was so hard to not blur down to the espresso stand on the corner and then blur back. I knew I could do it in the same amount of time it would have taken me to brew a pot in the break room, but I wasn't going to blow my cover for coffee...even really good coffee.
Pulling out my daughter's favorite fuzzy pink blanket and my son's must-have fire truck, I shoved both coveted items in an overnight bag for them. I followed that up with about six pairs of clothing changes; the kids got remarkably dirty playing out in the countryside.

Teren slipped his arms around my waist, kissing my neck. I shivered as his cool breath tickled me. "You know, we could always leave them overnight and go on a date."

I twisted to look back at him. "An overnight date?"

He smiled and nodded, holding me tighter. Cocking an eyebrow, he added, "You wouldn't have to worry about being quiet."

I flushed and smacked his chest, then thought about it. We hadn't spent a night apart from them since they'd been born. Sure, we'd gone on dates - a movie here, dinner there, drinks with Hot Ben and Tracey - but we kept it to a three or four hour maximum. Maybe it was because they were so young, maybe it was because I missed being with them for the bulk of the day while I was at work, or maybe it was just because I was a first time mom, but the thought of them being gone an entire night tightened my stomach.

I bit my lip and shook my head, tears even stinging my eyes at just the thought of not hearing them say goodnight to each other. Teren cupped my cheek as he watched the emotion flood my face. "Not yet...they're not ready. They're still too young."

He smiled crookedly, clearly knowing that I meant that I wasn't ready, but he didn't call me on it. Instead, he only kissed me softly. Our tender moment was interrupted by a set of giggles at the door. We both twisted to look at the children we both knew were there, watching.

Nika held her hand over her mouth as she laughed. Julian tilted his head, curious. Smiling at them, I asked, "Are you two ready to go?"

Julian dashed off to their bedroom, but Nika stayed, pouting. "Can we bring Spike, Mommy?"

I walked over to her, frowning. Explaining the situation to a toddler was tricky. Halina had a thing for dogs. I really didn't want to freak out my daughter by telling her that though. She loved Spike. She loved Halina. Just as I was about to tell her that Spike would want to stay home, Teren walked over and squatted in front of her. "Do you really want him to come?" he asked, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

She nodded, cupping her hands together in a prayer position. "Please, Daddy?"

I glanced over at the big bad vampire literally melting into putty for his daughter. He grinned, ruffling her hair. "I think we can do that."

She squealed and flung her arms around him. From down the hall I heard Julian hoot his agreement, exclaiming, "Thank you, Daddy." Nika repeated the sentiment and dashed off to join her brother, gathering the rest of their treasures.

As Teren stood, I put my hands on my hips, a playful smirk on my face. He looked over my expression and shrugged. "She did the hand thing. How am I supposed to say no to that?"

I shook my head at him, slinging my arms around his waist. "You are the biggest softy."

He leaned down and kissed me, grinning against my lips. "Quiet, you'll ruin my reputation."

I pulled back and cocked an eyebrow at him. He actually did have a reputation in the vampire community, one that, if it weren't for Gabriel and his influence, may have been an issue for us. He'd provoked and even...interrogated several nests of local vamps.

That sort of thing had repercussions. We'd even been approached by a pissed off vampire once. Luckily Halina had been with us at the time. She'd flung the vamp into a wall, warning him to get over himself. Not really wanting a fight, the man had run off and we hadn't heard from him again. I had the distinct feeling that Halina had gone to her boyfriend afterwards and the two of them had "taken care of it." I'm not sure how. I don't ask about stuff like that.

After that moment, no other vamps bothered us. Gabriel had only said that at Halina's request, he'd put the word out that we were untouchable. The word gave me pause. Untouchable? It made him seem like some vampiric crime lord. But, regardless, he was a good person, so I tried to ignore the power he held. And his power stuck; we hadn't been bothered again.

Shaking my head, I changed the channel of my thoughts. "Are you sure about bringing Spike? What about Halina?" I whispered that, even though the kids could hear me anyway.

He looked down the hall towards their room, but they were busy laughing and picking out way more toys than we had room for in their bags. Looking back to me, he whispered, "She won't do anything that would make those two cry. She won't touch Spike."

I smirked, not able to help the thought that Spike was also...untouchable.

Sighing, I shrugged and tossed my arms around him. "You're right."

He kissed my nose. "Aren't I always?"

I laughed genuinely at his comment and he frowned; I laughed harder. He pulled away from me when the tears started stinging my eyes. "It wasn't that funny."

The giggles overtook me at the look on his face. I couldn't help it. There were so many times when he had been so incredibly was just funny to me now. Holding my stomach, I watched him cross his arms over his chest, his face looking not amused in the slightest.

I tried to control my giddiness, but I'd entered into that everything-is-funny stage and his expression was only making it worse. As his hands went to his waist and he actually started tapping his foot, I had to double over, the reaction was so strong. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I was quickly joined by two tiny, laughing faces looking up at me. They laughed right along with me, not really understanding what was so funny, and Teren sighed exasperatedly.

Knowing that I was pushing the limits of even his tolerance, I scooped up the kids in each arm. "Let's go get Spike." I told their excited faces.

We hurried out of the room, Teren shaking his head with his lips pursed when I looked back at him. Still chuckling softly as I walked down the stairs, I tossed a "sorry" over my shoulder.

The only sound that answered me was something similar to, "uh-huh." I smiled and shook my head. I could make it up to him another time.

Later, as the car made its way around the last turn in the Adams' super-long driveway, I inhaled a deep breath. The midmorning sun glinted off of the red Spanish tile, a visual reminder of the one thing that coming here afforded a family of vampires. Blood. Very, very fresh blood. And practically as much as we wanted, since they kept the "open-air" pantry pretty full.

The kids squealed upon seeing the house, announcing our arrival verbally, since our approach had already been felt. I laughed and leaned my head back on the seat, enjoying the way my enhanced eyes saw the beauty of this ranch.

The sharp points of the white stucco walls were easily apparent to me. The seamless wall of flat river rocks encrusted into that stucco finish along the bottom of the home, seemed even more impressive. My eyes could see the mortar holding each stone in place, could see the way they lined up perfectly. I could even see faint cracks in the rocks that I'd never noticed before.

And that was from the parking lot-sized driveway.

The rest of the home was no less impressive. Flat, clean glass windows shifted colors in the sunlight, showing me the rainbow gleam of freshly applied cleaner. The ancient logs, both structural and decorative, released a scent in the air that reminded me of summer camp, even through the confines of the car.

As Teren opened the door to get out, the other smell that was abundant at this place hit me. Cattle. Lots of cattle. Even to human noses that smell wasn't always a welcome one, but as I opened my door and stood up, I inhaled, savoring it. Somewhere in all that mess of animal was the tang of a wounded one. It smelled incredible.

Looking over at Teren as I opened Julian's door, I noticed his brows furrowing as he scanned the fields of long, waving tan grass. He smelled it too.

"Everything alright?" I asked, unbuckling Julian from his restraints.

Teren glanced down at me, then moved to open Nika's door. He nodded and shrugged. "Yeah, probably. That's just a weird place for the smell of blood to come from, and there's a lot of it." He shook his head. "We've had cougar attacks down there before." Tilting his head, he indicated a stream running between two low hills.

Unbuckling Nika's seat, he pulled her out, her tiny arms closing around his neck. "There may have been an attack last night. I should let my dad know." He shook his head and frowned.

I frowned too. The cattle were important to the Adams for more reasons than just the vampire's survival. They were also the primary source of the family's wealth. Although, they seemed affluent, even for successful ranchers.

Julian hopped out of his seat and darted off to the massive oak overhang covering the front door. Nika squirmed as she watched him run, so Teren set her down; she was instantly on her brother's tail. Spike, having fallen asleep between his two favorite people, woke up and chased after them.

As I watched the trio approach the massive double doors that led into the warmest home I'd ever been to, I watched those doors open at just the right moment to let them all rush inside. Spike barked and sniffed everything while Nika and Julian leapt into the awaiting arms of their grandmother.

As she hugged them tight, kneeling in front of the door, her sky blue eyes looked over to her son.

Teren's mother was like all of the vampires in the family. Well, all except Nika. Alanna had the straight, jet-black hair and crystal clear blue eyes, all in a face and body that belied her true age. She looked no older than Teren. She looked a bit younger than me. That made calling her "mom" feel a little odd, but I did it, to please her.

"Good morning, my lovelies," she said warmly, kissing a grandchild on each head.

Teren and I waved our greetings then grabbed the various bags that accumulated whenever you went anywhere with kids. It wasn't as if the ranch didn't have every toy or luxury they could have asked for, but try telling that to a three-year-old who needed to bring his set of army men or her plastic ponies. It was a good thing for Teren and me that we had super strength.

We walked to the house, fully loaded down, as the kids broke off from Alanna to go say hi to their great-grandma, Grandma Immy, as they called her. I watched them flee up the impressive duel staircase that lead to Imogen's rooms, Julian tripping halfway up and Nika pausing to help him.

Smiling as Imogen greeted them through the walls, I dropped my bags and engulfed the woman who had brought my husband into the world. "Hi, Mom," I said warmly as I patted her chilly back.

"Hello, Daughter," she replied just as warmly. When we separated, she naturally drifted over to Teren, squeezing his waist tight.

He laughed and tried to hug her back around his armful of bags. "Morning, Mom. Does dad know about-?"

Alanna straightened and shook her head, cutting him off. "Yes, I told him about the cows when I woke up and smelled it. He's out examining them now." She stepped away from her son, folding her arms over her chest. "We don't usually have a predator problem, but with Grandma gone..." She shrugged.

I let my senses pinpoint the location of the one vampire not with us. It being daylight, I knew that the pureblood vampire was sleeping, but Halina wasn't at the ranch. She wasn't even in the city. She was down south, way down south in L.A., visiting with her sort of boyfriend. Her location had been down in that direction all week. Since she was a night owl, she'd naturally kept the property pretty clear of threats, being the biggest one herself. Her absence had let a little bit of bravery seep into those hungry creatures.

Teren looked over at where we'd smelled the blood, then back to me. "I should give him a hand cleaning up."

I smiled and nodded, loving how Teren turned into rancher-Teren, anytime he came here. It was sexy on him.

He smiled crookedly, as if he were aware of my thoughts, then he grabbed the bags I'd dropped on the floor and blurred away upstairs. Once back down, he paused briefly to kiss my cheek, then he darted out to help his father. I watched the effortless streaking, feeling him in my head as the distance between us lengthened.

Alanna laughed and shook her head. "For someone who refuses to seclude himself here...he sure does love it." She grinned wryly at her son's opposing attitudes about his life, and I joined her.

She had a point. Teren lived in the city so he could feel a part of society. The vamps here mostly stayed to themselves, keeping contact with the outside world minimal. Teren enjoyed feeling as normal as he could and refused to hide away. Of course, he also had the least amount of side effects from his condition, so he could do that pretty easily, so long as he didn't have to eat in front of anyone and no one lovingly rested their head against his silent chest. No one but me, that is.

But when he got out here, you had to wonder why he went through all the effort. This was a place he obviously loved, a lifestyle that was completely natural on him. But for his stubbornness, he could easily stay and run this place with his dad...and be perfectly content doing it.

Spike sat at the floor near my feet, thumping his tail on the cool marble entryway. Alanna reached down to ruffle his fur, not bothered in the least by his presence. "Would you like something to eat, boy," she cooed, just like she would have for the children. He thumped his tail more and her ice eyes flashed up to me. "What about you? Hungry, dear?"

I smiled and shook my head. Alanna never stopped trying to do things for people. She was the mother I hoped to be one day. Patting Spike's back as he started walking to the kitchen, I debated when and if I'd see the full vampire. Maybe we hadn't had to worry about Spike's safety after all. "Is Halina gone to Gabriel's all weekend then?" I asked casually, mainly just curious if she'd be back, but also wondering how that pairing was doing.


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