Blood Bond


CHAPTER 10





"JOHN-JOHN IS A REMARKABLE YOUNG MAN."

Mom opens the conversation with a sigh of contentment.

And another diversion.

But I smile. "Yes, he is."

"And you and Daniel? How did you two become a couple? When did you become a couple? Last time we saw you, you were dating that reporter from CBS."

I laugh. "Yep. That wasn't meant to be."

Mom tilts her head to study me. "But I can see you're in love. And I can see Daniel loves you. It makes me very happy. It's what every parent wishes for their child. I'm so glad you found each other. Especially now . . ."

Catherine appears in the doorway, a tray in her hand. She's a large woman, stocky, wearing a plain shift of heavy cotton over which she's layered a starched white apron. She has a kind, moon-round face framed by a mane of gray hair pulled into a disheveled knot at the top of her head. She sets the tray on a table between Mom and me and pours us each a cup of coffee.

"Can I get you anything else?"

We both shake our heads. She starts for the door but pauses to turn and add, "Now don't overtire yourself, missus. Remember the doctor said you should get plenty of rest."

We stare at her retreating back as if knowing this is the signal we've been waiting for.

"What else do the doctors say?" I ask quietly.

Mom takes a sip of her coffee, places the cup carefully back on its saucer. She doesn't look at me but rather fixes her gaze on the vineyards outside the window. "Stage four, inoperable, caught too late for conventional cancer treatments." She rattles through the list briskly, matter-of-factly, unemotionally.

I can't be so dispassionate. "How can they be so sure? There are new breakthroughs every day. There are cancer treatment centers in the United States that are making tremendous progress. We could get you admitted to one of them now. Today. I have my jet here-"

Mom reaches over and stills my windmilling hands. "Anna, stop. Believe me, if I thought there was a chance, I would leave right now. But I don't want to spend my last days being kept alive by tubes in some sterile ward. Look at what I have here." She gestures to the window. "This beautiful place. Surrounded by the people I love most. I want the last things I see to be sunlight and vineyards and the faces of my family. You can understand that, can't you?"

I want to scream, No! I want you to fight!

But I do understand, so I whisper, "I don't want to lose you."

"You won't. Not ever. I'll always be with you and Trish and now John-John. Family is a bond that transcends life and death."

She doesn't say it, but with her last words I know she's thinking of my brother. The son she lost so many years ago. She believes they'll be reunited. It's a hallmark of her faith. It's what's giving her grace and courage now.

Is it what's keeping her from seeking treatment?

Immediately, I feel a pang of guilt. I know my mother well enough to know she wouldn't forsake Trish or me. She wouldn't choose the dead over the living. Still, I plan to question my father, make sure they've exhausted every possible remedy, procedure or technique that might improve her condition.

I catch Mom peering at me, eyes narrowed. "Don't go badgering your father about this," she says.

"What? You're psychic now?"

"Not psychic. I just know how you think. Believe me, your father has Googled, called about and written to anyone he thought might be of help. Trust me, Anna. Please. Let's enjoy the time we have left. I want to get to know John-John and catch up with Daniel. It's been a while since I heard anything about my school."

She gestures again toward the window. Frey and my father are just coming into sight, strolling across the vineyard, skirting the rows of grapes, heading for the house. Dad's face is animated as he makes a sweeping wave of his arm, no doubt explaining some vagary of wine making to Frey. Frey listens intently, hands in pockets, head bent. Seeing him unexpectedly like this makes my heart pound. When did I fall so in love?

I don't realize Mom is watching me until she chuckles and says, "This is a side of you I've never seen."

I take mental inventory. What's giving it away? Do I have a silly love-struck expression on my face? I frown, raise an eyebrow, feign ignorance. "What side?" But it's said with a lilt in my voice I can't disguise.

"See?" Mom laughs again. "It's even in your voice. When you look at Daniel, your face lights up. Ironic, isn't it? Considering how you two met?"

It is ironic. Frey and I met when I was searching for Trish. He was a teacher at her school and for a brief time, I thought he might be involved in a child pornography ring. Nothing could have been further from the truth. But Trish had run away and I was desperate to find her. In a fit of reckless abandon, I attacked and bit Frey, thinking I'd ravage the truth out of him.

I got the truth out of him, all right. But in the process of learning his innocence, broke the psychic link between vampire and shape-shifter that allows us to communicate mind to mind. So now we can no longer read each other.

Again, I decide it's a good thing. This time, though, it's not because of any negative thoughts I might let slip. As I watch Frey approach, I'm flashing back to the sensation of our bodies intertwined on the bed upstairs and I'm filled with such a heady rush of desire that heat sears my blood.

"You're smiling again," Mom says, with a smile brightening her own voice.

Color floods my cheeks. I pull myself from the bedroom back to the present, reach over and give her a hug. "It seems so strange. I'm happy-really happy-for the first time in such a long time . And I want to share it with you. I want you to be a part of our lives. But we need time-"

"I told you," she interrupts gently. "I'll always be with you. Don't feel guilty for being happy. Coming here, sharing your happiness, has been the best medicine I could have hoped for. In fact-"

Mom breaks off. She grasps my hands. There's a definite twinkle in her eyes that makes me go, Uh-oh. What are you thinking?

"I just had the most wonderful idea." She clasps her hands together. "It's the one thing you could do for me. You and Daniel."

"Go on . . ."

"Get married here. Right away. Let me do this for you. Your father and I could arrange the most beautiful wedding. Oh, Anna, it would be perfect."

The very last thing I would have expected her to say. I sit back, "But, Mom. It's too much. You can't tire yourself out. Planning a wedding is a lot of work. And Frey and I haven't even set a date yet. I don't know if he'd want to get married so soon."

"I've seen the way he looks at you. Of course he wants to get married right away. In any case, it wouldn't hurt to ask him, would it?"

"Ask who what?"

A voice from the doorway. Frey's. He and my father back from their walk. He comes over and stands between my mother's chair and mine. He smiles down at us. "Ask who what?" he says again.

I roll my eyes and look toward my mother. "Mom had an idea. Now, if you don't want to do it, I understand. It's kind of out of the blue and we haven't talked about it yet. So be honest. My feelings won't be hurt if you think it's too soon."

"Too soon for what?"

He's looking from one of us to the other. I take his hand. "Mom wants us to be married here. It's rushing things, I know and you can-"

"I think it's a wonderful idea."

Frey's answer stops me short.

"You do?"

"Of course. Why should we wait?" He looks at my mother. "My only question is how it will affect your health? Now between Anna and me and Trish and James, I'm pretty sure we can do most of the heavy lifting. But as mother of the bride, you have a big role to play. Are you really up for it?"

Mom's face radiates joy. "Nothing would make me happier."

Dad has come to join us. "What's this I hear? We're going to have a wedding?"

I look around at the three people gathered around me and find myself grinning. Not having given the ceremony any thought, I'd supposed Frey and I would elope-Vegas maybe-with David and Trish as witnesses.

But now . . .

A wedding.

We're going to have a wedding. I roll the thought around in my head, tasting it like some exotic food.

Anna Strong. Kick-ass vampire. The Chosen One.

I'm going to have a wedding.

Frey and Mom and Dad are already tossing ideas back and forth. The atmosphere is festive and full of excitement.

Hopeful. Happy.

I see the elation on my mother's face.

I'm sure it's mirrored on mine.

I'm going to have a real, honest-to-god wedding. I look at my mother. "Nothing fancy, though, okay? No long white dress and veil."

"No jeans, either," my mom quips back.

"Deal."

The four of us spend the next hour or so making lists and assigning chores. There isn't much for Frey and I to do except decide who we want to officiate and where we need to go to get the required certificates. With the help of the folks' trusty computer we soon determine in spite of all the paperwork required, a wedding in two weeks is doable.

My head is swimming. We put a call into the American Consulate in Nice and make an appointment to go the next day to set the wheels in motion. Mom says she has copies of my birth certificate. She'll dig one out to take with me to the consulate tomorrow. Frey is sure he can have a lawyer friend back in San Diego send his since most of his papers are still in the condo there. He gets right on the phone and makes arrangements.

I watch in shock and wonder. And a bit of trepidation. I can't help feeling I've pressured Frey into this. Mom plans a celebratory dinner and asks Frey and me to go into town to pick up a few things. I jump at the chance. It will give the two of us time to talk. I want Frey to understand that I love his enthusiasm but have to know it's not just for my mom's benefit. If we need to, we can get out of it.

Dad walks us outside and hands us the keys to the Citroen. "Do you remember the way into town?" he asks.

I nod. And stand on tiptoe to give his cheek a peck. "Thank you," I say.

"Are you kidding?" he shoots back. "This is the best thing that's happened to your mother in months. I can't wait to tell Trish and John-John." He stops and quirks an eyebrow at Frey. "Unless you'd rather I not say anything until you can tell him yourself, Daniel."

Frey grins. "You can tell him. He wanted us to be married as soon as Anna said yes to my proposal. He'll be thrilled!"

Once Frey and I are on the road, I ask, "Is that true? John-John wanted us to get married right away?"

Frey, in the passenger seat, glances over. "Are you afraid he would think it too soon after losing his mother?" he asks quietly.

I nod, keeping my eyes on the road.

He reaches over and squeezes my knee. "No. John-John loves you. He wants us to be a family. He'll always love his mother, but he sees in you what I do. Besides, neither of us wants to take the chance you'll change your mind."

The last is said with a hint of humor. I don't answer, my throat suddenly tight with emotion. How could I change my mind? I'm about to get everything I'd thought unobtainable to me since becoming vampire-a husband who is strong, brave and understanding and a child to love as if he was my very own.







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