Blood Bond


TWO HOURS LATER, FREY AND I ARE FRESHLY SHOWERED AND RESPECTABLE AND SITTING AT THE DINING ROOM TABLE ACROSS FROM A MAN AND WOMAN who represent the company that's officiating at our wedding ceremony-tomorrow. My head swims at the thought.

The man is well dressed, suit and tie, carefully slicked-back hair framing what I've come to think of as a "French" face-closely shaven, well-groomed, thin nose, dark eyes. He's wearing a citrusy cologne or aftershave, I can't tell which it is. But it's strong. His name is Pierre.

His partner, Lorraine, is beautiful. Tall, model thin, expertly and subtly made up. Her dark eyes have a slight upward tilt and she has a mouth that begs to be kissed, wide, full-lipped and eager. I have to give Frey a surreptitious elbow more than once to stop him from staring at those lips.

Pierre is reading us examples of vows that we might choose from. We decide on a simple recitation that combines the traditional with a modern spin. The entire ceremony will take no more than fifteen minutes.

We are finished with the technicalities in less than an hour.

Frey gives them a credit card. They process the payment. Then we usher them to the door. As they leave, a truck pulls into the driveway. The crew who is to transform the back of the house into a tented, flower- and ribbon-strewn wonderland has arrived. Mom made all the arrangements, only consulting me on things requiring my opinion, so that Frey and I would be surprised. We have strict orders to point the workmen to the site, but not to peek as the work progresses.

When we are back inside, I look at Frey. "Can you believe we're getting married day after tomorrow?"

He puts his arms around me. "Getting cold feet?"

"Vampire, remember?" I tease. "Cold feet, cold hands."

"Not always."

And then we're kissing and he proves how right he is. But before things take their natural progression with us, we hear my folks' car in the driveway.

John-John is the first through the door, holding a white paper bag up high. "Guess what they call doughnuts in French?" he asks, running to greet us. "Beignets!"

I catch Mom's eyes over his head. The circle of life. Memories of my brother and I heading home after church, in the backseat of my parents car, a bag of hot, fresh doughnuts between us. My eyes fill with tears. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

* * *

FREY IS AT THE WHEEL OF DAD'S CAR AND WE'RE ON OUR way to Cannes to pick up David and Tracey. The pilot called to let us know they would be in at three. I'm slumped back on the seat, window open to the warm spring day, thoughts cascading through my head in a stream of consciousness that is making me dizzy.

"Anna?" Frey's voice. "What are you thinking?"

I swivel on the seat to face him. "You really want to know?"

His eyebrows shoot up. "Uh-oh. Am I going to regret asking?"

I give his knee a squeeze. "No. It's nothing like that. I'm not going to call off the wedding."

"Well that's a relief. I don't think I'd get my twelve hundred bucks back from Pierre and Hot Lips."

I swat his arm.

Frey's expression sobers. "No, really, Anna. Are you upset about something?" He catches himself. "That was stupid. Of course you're upset about your mother. But I get the feeling it's more than that. You have a very serious look on your face. Are you thinking about last night? Because I am fine."

I reach over and touch his knee. "I know you are," I kid. "You proved it this morning, remember?" But even his smile doesn't chase away the uneasiness still clouding my thoughts. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

He picks up my hand and kisses it. "I don't intend you'll ever have to find out."

I lay my head back against the headrest and close my eyes. "Do you remember the first time we met?"

"No. When was it?"

The tone of his voice gives lie to his words. There's humor there and a hint of a tease. He chuckles, then says, "Let's see. You came to see me at school, convinced I might have had something to do with Trish's disappearance. You were ready to tear my head off."

"You won't ever forget that will you?"

"Well, it turned out all right. Considering you bit me and almost sucked me dry to get at the truth."

"And considering how we ended up, your neck wasn't the only thing I sucked."

Frey laughs. "First time we made love. You did it for the blood . . ."

His voice trails off.

"I wish I had been smart enough to realize then what I know now. It would have saved us both a lot of mistakes. Me with Max and Lance and Stephen. You with-what was her name?"

Frey looks at me with a raised eyebrow. "I don't remember."

"Good answer." I pause a moment, sorting the images flashing in my head. "Then there was Belinda Burke. I almost got you killed the night of the demon raising. I'll never forget how I felt seeing you lying at that bitch's feet."

More mental snapshots, flying by like frames in a PowerPoint presentation. "You saved Culebra by letting yourself be put under a spell because I asked you to. You saved me by coming to Palm Springs when I'd been burned. You helped me prepare for the vampire convocation that very probably would have resulted in my death if it hadn't been for you. Then, you stood by me when I dragged you to Monument Valley, even when John-John's mother was killed-" The flow of words stops, choked off by a strong surge of emotion.

Frey shakes his head, tightening his grip on my hand resting on his knee. "Anna, that's all water under the bridge. Why are you thinking of those things now?"

Why am I?

I don't know.

I close my eyes.

I do know. I look at Frey. "Do you know how important you are to me? You've been the only real constant in my life since I became vampire. You've never judged me or tried to make me change. You've been by my side no matter how difficult the situation or what it ended up costing you. I don't know why you love me. You shouldn't, you know. I don't give back to you half of what you give to me." I close my eyes, feeling tears threaten. "I don't know why you love me," I repeat softly. "I'm just so glad that you do."

Frey is quiet a moment. The muscles in his jaw tremble, then clench. He swallows hard and draws a deep breath. Finally he says simply, "I love you because it's all I'm capable of doing ."

My heart leaps. I lean over and kiss his cheek. "That's the nicest declaration of love I've ever heard," I whisper.

* * *

DAVID AND TRACEY ARE SUITABLY IMPRESSED BY THE JET, by Cannes, by the drive to my folks'. They grill Frey and me about the details of the wedding, how we've been spending our time since we arrived (that gets a raised eyebrow from Frey), how John-John likes France. The subject that doesn't come up is Mom. I can tell David is hesitant to ask about her condition. I bring it up myself before we get to the estate. I assure him she's determined to play the mother of the bride to the hilt and that he'll be surprised at how good she looks. I also tell them not to treat her any differently than they have before. David is skeptical that he can pull it off.

But he needn't have worried. As soon as we stop in the driveway, the family is out the door to greet us. While my folks have never been big fans of David (bounty hunting was not their job of choice for their only child), Mom's greeting is so warm and welcoming, her demeanor so relaxed, any qualms David had about how to act around her are quickly forgotten.

Mom shepherds everyone inside, to a feast waiting for us in the dining room. Frey, John-John and I sit on one side of the table, David, Tracey and Trish on the other, Mom and Dad at opposite ends. Everyone I love is here. Except one.

I bump Frey's arm and whisper, "We didn't invite Culebra." Guilt that I hadn't thought of inviting him before now floods my heart. He's been as constant in my life as Frey and I didn't think of him before right now.

David hears my comment and pauses, a forkful of coq au vin halfway to his lips. "Oh, I invited him," he says. "Figured you'd want him here since you spent so much time in Mexico. You know, with Max . . ." His voice falters. Mentioning Max reminds us both that he is gone-killed in Mexico by a drug lord we helped put away.

The wound is raw. Still, I skewer David with a look. "How'd you know where to reach Culebra?"

"Searched your phone records."


"Hey, it's what we do, right?"

I give him a mocking evil eye. "So. What did Culebra say?"

"Congratulations. And he sends his apologies. His niece is in her first drama production at her school and he has to attend. He said you'd understand."

That makes me grin. His "niece" is a girl we rescued on that same trip. One of the few bright points in an otherwise nightmarish experience. She must be doing well. Couple that with Culebra's reluctance to leave the confines of his supernatural kingdom in Beso de la Muerte, it isn't surprising that he'd elect not to come. And perfectly understandable.

I sigh and give David a grudging smile. "Thanks for taking care of that for me. But stay out of my phone records from now on, okay?"

Tracey shakes her head at David. "I told you she wouldn't be happy with your snooping."

"Yeah, but look at her face now. She's glad I did, aren't you, Anna?"

"Don't press your luck, David."

It's what I say, but I have to admit it, I am glad.

With the crowd at the table it's easy to pretend I, too, am enjoying a meal that has every face beaming. Between John-John and Frey subtly helping themselves to nibbles from my plate and Mom spiriting away a napkin full of food to replace it with a clean one, neither David nor Tracey, my Dad nor Trish notices that I haven't eaten a morsel.

After dinner Frey and I offer to clean up so David and Tracey can visit with my folks. We make short work of clearing the table, storing away leftovers and loading the dishwasher. As the machine cycles on, I lean against it, pulling Frey close.

"Just a few more hours of freedom. How do you want to spend them?"

At that moment, David appears in the doorway, Dad by his side. "We've been discussing that," David says. "You need a bachelor party. Let's go."

"Go where?" Frey's tone is as surprised as his expression.

"I know just the place," Dad says. "In the village. Come on. It's your last night of freedom."

Frey glances at me. I lift my shoulders. "Sounds like the menfolk have it all thought out." I stand on tiptoe, peck his cheek, give David a hard look over Frey's shoulder. "No strippers." Then I whisper in Frey's ear, "And no shifters."

Dad and David take Frey by each arm before he can resist and hustle him toward the door. "No promises," David says.

"Don't wait up," Dad adds, winking at me.

"Good luck," I call to Frey as the door slams behind them.

* * *


"Well. Should I leave and come back?"

Mom laughs and pats the seat beside her on the couch. "Course not. I was just giving Tracey a hint about what to expect tomorrow."

Tracey's eyes sparkle. "It's going to be beautiful, Anna. I'm so jealous."

Trish and John-John are sitting across from us, and John-John says, "Aren't you and David going to get married, too?"

Trish gives him an elbow nudge. "That's not a polite question."

He turns wide innocent eyes her way. "Why?"

Tracey interjects before Trish can reply. "No. It's an honest question and, John-John, I wish I could answer it. David and I care about each other very much, but I'm not sure David is ready for marriage."

She sounds wistful and a little frustrated. I can't help thinking one of the reasons David is reluctant to commit is a bombshell bitch named Gloria.

But it's not my place to offer an opinion.

Mom deftly steers the conversation to another topic. "I hope you can stay on after the ceremony. It's so beautiful in Provence this time of year."

"We can stay a day or two," Tracey replies. "But I'm afraid we have work waiting for us. And we don't want to take advantage of your hospitality."

And so the discussion turns to how best to make the most of a short trip, what to see, where to go. I watch Mom closely for any sign of fatigue, any indication that she's not feeling well. All I see are bright eyes and a luminous smile, an erect bearing radiating happiness.

Maybe the doctors are wrong. Maybe Chael doesn't know what he's talking about. This glowing woman cannot be dying.

It has to be a mistake.

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