MY VAMPIRE'S HUSBAND
An hour later, Teren, Gabriel and I, were at the hospital where my sister worked. We'd called the ranch moments after getting off the phone with Malcolm and explained Gabriel's idea to her. Ashley had insisted that if we were going through with this crazy plan, then she was coming with. I'd wanted to object, but Hot Ben had been out at the ranch and had offered to bring her out to us.
With my sister having an escort, I'd felt better about her leaving Alanna and Imogen's supervision. Once Julian had been taken, she'd stopped going to work, stopped going to see Christian. Pretty much stopped having a life. I hated that mine was so affecting hers, but I wanted her to be safe. I didn't really know if Malcolm would snatch another family member or not, but it wasn't a risk I was willing to take. Ash either. She knew the stakes, knew what could happen to her if she crossed paths with a vampire with an attitude. My sister was brave, but she wasn't an idiot.
As she led our band through the halls of where she worked, she waved and acknowledged several of the people we passed by. None of the people working here gave her looks a moment's pause. They were too interested to hear how the family tragedy that had kept her away was going. Ash had told the hospital the same sob story that I'd told Tracey: that we'd gone out of town for a funeral. The nurses and doctors that we met along the way all wanted to know if Ashley was okay. It warmed me that she was so completely accepted here. She really did have a second family to fall back on. Well, maybe a third, since the Adams had all pretty much adopted her.
Stopping at the doors where the recently deceased bodies were stored, Ashley glanced around the empty halls. "They don't like people being down here that aren't supposed to be, but Christian has me come down sometimes to collect donor tissue, so no one should find it too odd for me to be here." She looked around at the group assembled before her. "Now the rest of you...well, I'm just glad it's getting late. This is just a waiting area, so it should be empty until morning."
Teren sighed. "Yeah, it's getting late. We're running out of time, we need to hurry."
Ashley nodded and opened the doors. Teren paused before going through, placing his hand on her arm. "I'm very sorry you got dragged into this, Ashley."
Looking up at him, she shook her head. "He's my nephew, Teren. There's nothing I wouldn't do for him."
Smiling warmly at her, Teren leaned down and kissed her bare scalp. My sister squeezed his arm, patting him through the door. I came through last, slinging my arm around Ashley as the doors swung closed behind us.
The smell of disinfectant hit me first, then...the smell of blood. Teren had walked over to the cold storage drawers and had found what we'd come here to find. Two freshly killed bodies. From what Gabriel had told us when laying out his idea, they'd shot each other in some petty, territorial, gang fight. The hospital had tried to save them, but the damage had been too great and they'd each died on the table.
I inhaled deeply, the scent in the air heavenly and a bit disgusting, since I knew where I was and what I was doing. The human side of me cringed away from being in a cold, sterile room with fresh corpses. The vampiric side of me growled in pleasure.
Hot Ben looked back at me, his eyes wide, and I realized that the vampiric side of me had actually growled in pleasure. I shrugged at him as I looked around at all of the people staring at me. "Sorry...it smells good in here." I looked down at the floor. "I'm sort of hungry," I mumbled.
Ben made some sort of disgusted noise as he started digging into his backpack. Gabriel smiled crookedly and nodded, not a big deal, and Teren ignored me completely, his eyes focused on the two dead bodies lying under sheets on metal slabs in the otherwise empty room. My sister held my waist tighter and whispered, "I could get a blood bag for you, if you need something?"
Embarrassed beyond belief that my sister was going to steal blood that could be used to save someone else's life, just because I'd had a hankering, I mumbled that I was fine and stepped up to Gabriel.
"How did you know about this?" I indicated the two men that Teren had revealed when he'd pulled the sheets away from their faces. One had deep skin and dark hair, the other was paler with sandy hair. I couldn't help but think, staring at them, that to someone out there, these two were just as important as Julian was to us...and they'd lost them today. My heart sank a little as I gave them a respectful moment of silence.
Gabriel took a second to answer me, almost like he was also giving them a moment. "It was on the news earlier today. I heard it broadcasted while I waited in the car." Walking up to the sandy brown-haired man, he bent over and studied his face. "Then they were displaying their pictures on a television screen in a house that we were driving past." He touched the dead man's face, angling him so he was looking directly at him. "I thought it intriguing that this one looked a bit like me."
I blinked at Gabriel. He was right, while shorter and slimmer, the face on the slab was oddly similar, if not as refined as the vampire before me. He'd caught a split second of a news program as we drove past and had seen enough to recall the dead man later in the evening? Gabriel's brain mystified me.
"Oh," was all I could think to respond with. My brain was less mystifying.
As Ashley stared at the bodies with a blank look on her face, a purposely held in place blank look, Hot Ben handed my husband a butcher knife. Teren stared at the knife and then looked back up at Ben. "It's sort of big, isn't it?" he asked, his lips twisting at what he had to do with it.
Ben shrugged. "You said to bring a knife so you wouldn't have to waste time swiping one. You said you had to cut out a heart with it." He indicated the long blade in Teren's hands. "I figured bigger would be better."
I shook my head at Ben. My husband told him he needed help cutting out a dead man's heart, and he only responded with - how big should the knife be?
Teren frowned as he stared down at the sandy haired dead man. Even though the blood around the bullet holes smelled wonderful, I didn't relish this act being caught in my mental photo album. Twisting around, I grabbed my sister and made her look away.
She protested at first. "I'm a nurse, Em, this is nothing compared to what I've seen." But then the sounds of bones cracking filled the room, as the boys forced back the poor man's ribcage, and she stopped trying to turn back around. "This was not something I ever pictured myself being a party to," she muttered.
As I inhaled and exhaled the more intense smell of blood in the air, I shook my head. "You and me both, sis."
Hearing Hot Ben mutter, "Oh, god, I'm gonna be sick," I tried not to picture what they were doing in my head. It was a little difficult, since I could hear each squishy sound they made. One last suctioning noise, and then the sounds stopped. I risked a glance and turned back around. Hot Ben was a little green as he watched Teren hand a lumpy, red thing over to Gabriel.
Teren popped a finger in his mouth once he handed it over, like he was cleaning off a tasty snack. Hot Ben's hand covered his own mouth as he shoved Teren's shoulder away from him. "Dude, I know you're a vampire and all, but that's disgusting!"
Teren stopped sucking on his finger and looked down at his hand sheepishly. "Sorry, Ben...I guess I'm a little hungry too."
He looked over at me and shrugged, wiping his hand on a towel that Ben handed him from his bag. Gabriel studied the bloody mess before him, then walked over to a sink. My brow furrowed as I watched him studiously rinse it clean. Trying not to think about what he was holding, I asked him, "Why are you doing that? Won't a clean heart be kind of...obvious?"
Gabriel smiled at me as he carefully removed any trace of blood from around the organ. "No, dear, a human heart would be all too obvious."
Finishing, he glanced up at Teren. "May I see that?" He nodded his head at the knife in Teren's hand. Teren's looked at it, shrugged, then walked over to him. Gabriel glanced at Ashley. "Do you have a container we could put this in? Something generic, that we could have gotten anywhere?" Ashley nodded and ducked into a cabinet. Seconds later she was back, handing him a typical plastic bowl with a lid. Smiling and thanking her, Gabriel tenderly placed the organ in it.
Glancing over at Ben as he walked up to us, Gabriel smirked. "You may not want to watch this either, if the blood is bothering you?"
Hot Ben locked gazes with me and Ashley and lifted his chin. "No, I'm fine."
Shrugging, Gabriel held his arm over the bowl and shoved the knife blade in. Hot Ben hissed as a stream of dark red blood flowed from the knife point, but he didn't say anything else. Teren watched Gabriel keep the point in his arm so that the wound wouldn't heal. "The heart will smell like you now, not like a human's. I wouldn't have thought of that."
Gabriel twisted his lips. "I know Malcolm. He will test it." Once a convincing amount of blood was covering the organ, Gabriel pulled the knife from his arm; it healed instantly.
When Gabriel was done, the knife was cleaned and put back into Ben's backpack, along with the dead gang member's heart. I hoped that some good would come from the pointless death that had happened today. I hoped that no more deaths happened today. After Teren, Gabriel and Ben cleaned themselves up, Ben scrubbing his hands until they were practically raw, we all turned back to the body.
Sighing at the mess they'd left, Teren grabbed the last item we'd needed from Ben's bag. Pulling out a Polaroid camera, he aimed it at the body, trying to get the right angle on the face so that it looked enough like Gabriel to be convincing. Finally happy with the shot, he snapped a picture.
He took a couple more just to be sure, then pointed at the body. "We can't just leave him like this. That would make the National news."
Wrapping his body up in the sheet, Gabriel lifted him effortlessly. "I will take care of it, Teren. A missing body will raise less attention than a ripped apart body, at least, until I can get a vampire here to make some adjustments." Tilting his head at Teren, he seriously told him, "You go out to the farmhouse and I will meet you there. After Malcolm tells you where to find Julian, I will take him down, and this will finally be over." That was Gabriel's master plan, to convince Malcolm that Teren had indeed killed him, then jump out and bring swift justice down on Malcolm, once Julian was found.
Teren nodded. Gabriel twisted to leave and Teren put a hand on his arm. Gabriel's beautiful face looked back at Teren's as he nodded his head at the body in Gabriel's arms. "Don't just dump him somewhere. Bury him...respectfully. He may have just bought my son's freedom with his life."
Gabriel tilted his head, then nodded. Turning away, he blurred out of the room so fast a human's eyes would have barely registered the movement.
Putting the empty room back in order, the rest of us walked out of the hospital like nothing weird had just happened. Clasping Teren's hand as we hurriedly walked along, I wondered how my life had deviated so far from the realm of normalcy.
In the parking lot, I put my hand on Ashley's arm. "Go back to the ranch, watch over Nika."
Ashley shook her head. "I want to come with you. I want to help get Julian back." She lifted her chin and I saw no trace of fear in her. She'd seen a lot in the past few years. She'd faced a lot of fears, most revolving around family members. It had strengthened the already strong woman.
I rested my head against hers; she burned hot against my chilly skin. "I know you could handle yourself if you came with, Ashley." I pulled back to look into her deep brown eyes, eyes that reminded me of all of the moments that we'd shared together over our lifetime. "But I can't handle anything happening to you. I'm sorry, I know it's selfish, but I need you to stay away from this."
She twisted her scarred lips as she stared at me, but she didn't have an objection that would work against my need to keep her away from the darkness I sometimes found myself in. As she slowly nodded, I tilted my head back at the hospital. "Besides, I think you've done enough. Most people wouldn't willingly help their sister steal an organ."
I twisted my lips at the thought of what we'd just done and she grinned. Giving me a soft kiss on the cheek, she nodded again. "Go get Julian back...I'll keep your daughter safe."
Hot Ben tossed her the keys to his SUV then opened the rear door of Teren's Prius. Teren and I both twisted to stare at him and he defiantly met our eyes. "I'm not hiding away with the women." His eyes held Teren's. "I've got your back, Teren, always have...always will."
Teren smiled, nodding his head as he opened his door. Waving a goodbye to my sister, I watched her in the parking lot as we pulled away. Careful to not draw the attention of any cops, since we really couldn't explain away a butcher knife and a bloody heart, and we didn't have a mind wiping vampire along, although, she was closing fast, Teren drove as quickly as he could out of the city.
I examined the photos he'd taken as he sped us to the place where he'd died. Before heading out to the hospital, we'd talked with Imogen at length about the farmhouse, so she could tell us exactly where it was. She and Halina had been able to find the place that pernicious night, so many years ago, by tracking the scent of the man around where they'd last felt Teren's location, but we'd been sort of out of it that day and I couldn't remember where to go.
Imogen's description had brought back the memory of driving away from there though. Horridly enough, I was certain I could find it again if I needed to. And apparently, I needed to. Malcolm knew about Teren's transformation there. Or maybe he'd just pieced together the facts. If that was a stopping point for his "client" in this State, maybe Malcolm had delivered his supplies there. Since he knew that Teren had killed the man, maybe he'd pieced together that the death had happened there, at the man's favorite location. He was equally as ingenious as Gabriel after all.
I was stressed enough over our upcoming subterfuge that I wished my heart could thump again. At least the thudding beat would have been an outlet for my nerves. Squinting my eyes at the instant photo, I tried to see Gabriel's face in the gangster. I could see it...if I wasn't aware of the truth.
Sighing, I laid my head back on the seat. I just wanted all of this to be over with. I just wanted to live in peace with my family. I just wanted my son back. I wanted to go back to debating whether or not to move. That seemed an easy task now. Teren's hands gripped the wheel as he sped out of town. We had enough time to make it, but he was pushing himself, anxious as well.
As we neared the property, I felt something that concerned me. Except for my daughter, every blip on my vampire-radar was moving, following our location. Teren looked over at me, sensing it too. Hot Ben leaned forward in the back seat, looking between the two of us. "What is it?" he asked, his lips pressed together.
I tucked the photos back in Ben's backpack and grabbed Teren's phone from his side. Frowning, I answered Ben. "I'm not sure." The phone started ringing before I could dial. I startled at the unexpectedness, then answered it as the ranch's number popped up on the screen. "Hello?"
"Oh, hi, sweetie," my mom's voice answered me. I frowned that she was still awake, but didn't say anything; sleep wasn't really easy for anyone lately. Before I could ask anything, my mother started talking. "Alanna wanted me to call and explain?" She said it like she didn't quite understand. The bond we all felt was a little puzzling to her.
Teren's voice answered her, loud enough for her human ears to hear. "Why did my mother and grandmother leave the ranch? Why aren't they staying with you and Nika?"
My mom paused before whispering in my ear, "He can hear me? Through the phone?"
I smiled slightly but Teren frowned. "Yes, I can hear you, even whispering. What happened?"
My mom sighed. "Ashley called the house, let us know that you guys got what you needed." She paused again, then added, "Did you really...? No, never mind...I don't want to know."
Wanting to forget what we'd done, I tried prodding my mom along. "And...?"
She cleared her throat. "Right, well, Alanna and Imogen both decided that what you were doing was dangerous, and they couldn't just sit at home while you were out there...meeting with that man." In a slightly softer voice she added, "Are they right? Are you in danger, Emma?"
Wanting to reassure her, I quickly said, "No, of course not, Mom. He's not interested in hurting us, and we're not alone. Gabriel and Ben are with us. Alanna and Imogen really should have stayed with you. I don't want you left alone..."
Teren sighed irritably. "I wanted Mom and Gran away from this. I wanted to know that they at least were safe."
My mother heard him, and knowing that he could hear her, she answered with, "Teren, Emma, the threat is where you are, not here. Jack, Ash and I will be fine, and we'll keep Nika safe. But, as a parent, it is nearly impossible to stay away when a child is in peril. You, of all people, should understand that. If I were as indestructible as your mother, Teren, you couldn't keep me away either...and I know your father feels the same."
Teren looked down but didn't say anything. Hot Ben put a hand on his shoulder and Teren raised his eyes to look at him in the mirror. "It's like you said when Julian first disappeared, Teren, when you called me into this...we need everybody."
Teren smiled slightly at him and looked over at me. "Alright, then we'll use everybody."
I smiled that my husband was finally accepting the supernatural help around him instead of trying to do everything himself. Thanking my mother, I told her to give Nika a big hug and a kiss for me. Mom sighed in my ear. "I will. I'll probably be cuddled up next to her all night, worried about how you are."
Sighing softly myself, I looked out the window. "I'll be fine, Mom, and when I come home...I'll have my son with me."
Mom sniffled and wished me luck. Putting Teren's phone back, I grasped his thigh and hoped that what I'd just told my mom was what was really going to happen tonight. Teren glanced over at me, then pressed his foot down even farther, pushing his little car to its max.
What felt like hours later, we pulled onto a bumpy, dirt drive. Memories flooded me as each bounce jolted my body. Even though the car was deathly silent, Teren and I not even breathing, I heard the echo of Teren's pain filled cries in my head. I even saw his blood soaked jeans in my vision. Teren glanced over at me, his jaw tight and his eyes wide; he was remembering too.
"Wow," Ben muttered from the back, "creepy."
In front of us was a decrepit building. Planks missing, the windows boarded over, the front door half off its hinges, it looked like the home a chainsaw wielding serial killer would use. And in a way, I suppose it had been home to an equally deranged man. I glanced down at the dirt packed ground as we pulled up to the house. Somewhere in the basement levels of this place, that man had lost his life...at my hands. Mine and Teren's both.
Shoving the past aside, I tried to focus on the now. The soft glow of the dash showed that we'd made it a few minutes before midnight; we hadn't missed him. Two of the blips on my radar were already here, their sonic bursts of speed faster than Teren's drive. The third vampire approaching us was closing the distance at a strikingly fast speed. Maybe feeling all of us together and away from the ranch, Halina had realized that something was going down and ditched her slower moving car. I wasn't sure if Gabriel was here or not, but figured he was. He wanted this over as much as we did.
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