THE NEXT HOURS ARE A BLUR OF ACTIVITY THAT for a time, at least, dulls the pain. I call my pilot, arrange for him to file a flight plan. John-John and Frey have passports but they're in Monument Valley so we plan a layover in Farmington, New Mexico-the closest airport large enough to handle my jet. A call to Frey's friend Officer Kayani and he agrees to pick up the passports and meet us at the airport, a good two and a half hours from their home.
At first I thought it might not be good for John-John to be exposed to a situation so close to what he's recently been through-the loss of his own mother. But when Frey and I sat him down and explained that I had to go to France because my mother had been taken very ill, his only question was when were we leaving? Whether he had picked up on my fear and sadness or whether it was just a child's intuition, he seemed to know his presence and that of his father was something I desperately wanted. I never loved him more.
At two, David and Tracey arrive to take us to the airport. Frey and John-John never had a chance to unpack so it was simply a process of loading their suitcases into David's Hummer. I finished my own packing just as David and Tracey got to the cottage and my single duffle was the last item to get put in.
Jimsair, the private terminal at Lindbergh Field in San Diego, is set apart from the main airport structure. When we pull up, I go inside to let my pilot know I've arrived and he sends a baggage handler out to the Hummer to transport our luggage to the plane. On a pleasure trip, it never fails to impress me how much nicer it is to travel by private than commercial jet. Today, though, all I can think about is how it will get me to my mom that much faster.
My mom. Dying of cancer.
We board after saying good-bye to David and Tracey. John-John gets treated to a tour of the cockpit by my pilot as Frey and I settle ourselves in. The cabin of the plane seats six and we swivel seats around so that we can all three fly facing each other. When the jet engines roar to life, the copilot brings John-John back to us.
He's sporting a pair of wings on the collar of his jacket.
I smile a thanks to the copilot and lift John-John into his seat. He points to the pin. "Look. Just like the pilot."
I buckle him in and give his cheek a kiss. "Just like the pilot."
Frey and I buckle in, too. "Watch out the window, John-John," Frey says. "You'll see we fly right over the ocean."
Excitement shines in John-John's eyes and he turns his face to press it against the glass.
Frey takes my hand. "I don't know what's going to happen in France, Anna," he says. "But you're not alone. We'll face it together."
Tears sting my eyes. A few hours ago I was so happy. I felt positive about the future. Couldn't wait to tell Mom about Frey and John-John. Well, I'm going to get the chance now. But not in the way I envisioned.
It's a relatively short flight to New Mexico. Frey asks the pilot to call ahead. We are told Kayani will be waiting for us when we arrive at the terminal.
Security allows him to come on board. He's in his Navajo Nation Police uniform, looking as crisp and tailored as the last time I saw him. He sweeps a round-brimmed hat off his head. His eyes are serious. Frey told him the reason for our trip on the phone and he expresses his sympathy to me.
For John-John, he has a smile and a hug.
He hands a manila envelope to Frey. "Travel safely, sida," he says. "I will take care of the house and horses while you are gone."
Frey reaches out his hand. "Thank you for making such a long trip. Anna and I appreciate it."
Kayani smiles. "Not nearly as long as the journey you are about to make." He drops Frey's hand and turns to me. "Be well, Anna. I wish the best for your mother. I will remember her in my prayers."
He stoops and speaks to John-John in Navajo. John-John nods solemnly and holds out his arms. Kayani embraces him, and in that simple act, it comes rushing back to me how close Kayani, John-John and his mother, Sarah, used to be. I have no doubt he once looked forward to the three of them being a family the way I look forward to Frey, John-John and I forming that bond. My heart knows it can't be easy for him to see the three of us together.
Impulsively, I follow him to the doorway of the plane. I take his hand. "Thank you, Kayani."
He looks toward John-John. "Take care of the little one. I want only for him to be happy."
"I will. And you will always be a part of his life. Frey and I will see to it."
He releases a breath. "Hagoonee', Anna."
"Hagoonee', my friend."
* * *
WE PUT JOHN-JOHN TO SLEEP IN THE BEDROOM AT THE tail of the plane and Frey and I sit close on the small couch opposite the bar. The jet was outfitted by an old-soul vampire who spared no expense-the bar and tables are teak, thick carpets run along the floor and up the sides of the fuselage, all the seating accommodations are of the softest leather. In the bedroom, there's a full bathroom, queen-sized bed and a dressing table. Where there might be mirrors, original oil paintings fill the spaces. Avery, the bastard, appreciated his luxury.
Now Frey and I are the beneficiaries of his decadence. For a long time, I refused any of the inheritance due me because of the right of blood vengeance. Avery, an old-soul vampire who pretended to want to mentor me when, in fact, he wanted nothing more than to control the Chosen One, betrayed me. I killed him in defense of my own life. Slowly, over the last eighteen months, and because with Warren Williams' death, there was no one else to do it, I took over handling the estate myself. I kept the jet for my own use, agreed to my parents inheriting his winery in Provence and kept Avery's hilltop estate in La Jolla. But other things, his money, for instance, went to dozens of charities and foundations, donated anonymously. His art and a hidden treasure trove of ancient artifacts showed up mysteriously in the collections of museums around the country.
Now there's just the house, shut up, furniture shrouded with sheeting, a caretaker on premises to see the landscaping is tended to and the place secure. I haven't decided what to do with the property-it's in one of the most expensive areas in San Diego with a view that sweeps the Pacific-but in the back of my mind, I envision it being Trish's legacy. And now-my eyes drift toward the bedroom-John-John's, too
. A brick-and-mortar security blanket available to them for college, setting up their own households, hell, anything they want.
I know I'll never live there.
Frey strokes my hair, bringing me back. "What are you thinking?"
I snuggle close, legs drawn up, head on his chest. "We've come so far to get here. When I introduced you to my family, I wanted it to be perfect. I've brought them so much unhappiness. Withdrawn almost completely from their lives. This-us-was to be a happy thing. Another grandchild. An extended family . . ."
My voice drops, strangled by a wave of emotion that chokes off the words.
Frey gathers me in his arms. "I think you may be misjudging the impact our being together will have on your family," he says. "For your mother, in particular. It's every parent's dream to see her child happy. When she sees you with me, with John-John, she will see what I see. A woman loving and loved. I think this is the best present you could give her."
"How do you always know what to say to make me feel better?" I ask, smiling into his chest.
There's a rustle of movement from the bedroom. I sit up. "It may frighten John-John to wake up in a strange place. Maybe we should join him, stretch out for a while." I glance at my watch. "We still have hours before we reach France."
Frey stands, takes my hands, pulls me to my feet. "One thing," he says.
He tips my head up, draws me closer, and kisses me. "I love you, Anna Strong," he breathes.
For a moment, I have to remember where we are, who we're with, why we're on this trip. His kiss ignites such passion in me, I can't keep from pressing my body against his, wanting more, wanting him inside me, wanting to taste him.
Frey senses the need. His arms tighten around me. "Patience," he whispers. "We have all the time in the world."
I suck in a breath, pull back, let my blood cool. "Keep reminding me."
He takes my hand and we walk back to the bedroom, cocoon John-John between us on the bed. I lay down, but I'm too keyed-up to sleep. Twenty-four hours ago I thought my life was perfect. I should have known better. That's when my dad called.
John-John cuddles closer.
I wrap the blanket tighter around him and snuggle him against my chest. He never seems to mind that my skin is cold. It's almost as if he's trying to share his body warmth with me. To make me warm.
I put my head to John-John's chest, listen to his heartbeat-steady, strong. I concentrate on it, and my mind starts drifting. In spite of all the uncertainty ahead, and with the soft rhythm of John-John's heartbeat in my ear, I've soon fallen asleep.
* * *
BETWEEN ONE FUEL STOP, THIRTEEN HOURS FLYING time and the crossing of nine time zones, we touch down at the Cannes Mandelieu Airport about nine a.m. There are airports closer to my family's estate, but they either don't have runways long enough to accommodate the jet or there are no facilities for parking the plane. I've given my crew the choice of either flying back home and waiting for my call or taking a paid vacation on the Cote d'Azur. Two confirmed bachelors. Guess which they chose?
I've been here three times before. I think it's one of the most picturesque airports I've ever seen, ringed by verdant hills on three sides and the sea on the fourth. We're guided to the hangar by a yellow-vested member of the ground crew who in turn is greeted by the pilots, first off. A customs agent comes on board, checks our passports and wishes us a pleasant stay.
I wish it were so.
Then the pilots supervise the unloading of the bags. John-John, Frey and I deplane to a beautiful, soft-breezed spring day, the cloudless sky the color of the Mediterranean. John-John is all big eyes and breathless excitement. I let Frey take him ahead to the terminal while I give instructions for the bags to be taken inside, tip the baggage handler, make sure the pilots have my parents' telephone number and slip envelopes with some spending money to my crew.
One of the first things I learned upon deciding to accept responsibility for an airplane was that having a crew ready and eager to fly for you is essential. Paying them well is a budget stretcher, but it's worth it at times like this.
I leave them on the tarmac to see to the jet and follow John-John and Frey into the terminal. My father is picking us up at ten. We have thirty minutes to wait. I make a quick stop at a kiosk just inside the door to exchange dollars for euros then look around for John-John and Frey.
John-John and Frey are seated in the small restaurant area. Everything gleams in the sunlight. It pours through big plate-glass windows that muffle engine noise but reflect with quiet brilliance from the stainless-steel podiums and stair rails and walls. John-John has a cup of hot chocolate in front of him, Frey an espresso.
He pulls out a chair for me to sit. "Want anything?"
I shake my head. "Not now. Thanks. Dad will be here to pick us up at ten."
I say it like it's the reason for not wanting coffee, but now that there are no more decisions to be made-travel plans, the packing, the calls back and forth to let my dad know when we'd arrive-my stomach clenches like a fist. I've managed to push away thoughts of what I'm going to hear from Dad about Mom's condition by focusing on getting here. We're here. Dad will be arriving any moment. I can't keep those thoughts from intruding any longer.
John-John slurps up the rest of his chocolate. He is sober-faced when he leans toward me. "I'm glad you let us come with you," he says. "Daddy and I will help."
He has picked up the timbre of my thoughts. I feel tears sting. "You and your daddy have already helped," I say. "Just by being with me." I put my arms around his shoulders. "And I know you're going to love my parents' home. It's perfect for a young boy. Lots of room to run. Lots of trees to climb."
I release a breath. "And wait until you meet my dad and mom. And Trish. They're going to love you as much as I do."
I hear my name paged and my heart jumps. Time to go. The three of us walk through the stone-tiled passenger terminal to a concierge desk. I'm told my dad is outside at the waiting area. My luggage is in a cart beside the door.
I hold John-John's hand in my right, Frey's in my left and we step into the sunshine.