Home > 'Til Death (Conversion #3)(10)

'Til Death (Conversion #3)(10)
Author: S.C. Stephens

"Thank you, Halina," I said modestly, my cheeks heating a bit as her ancient eyes swept over my bikini-clad body.

She shrugged again. "It gives me a good excuse to see Gabriel, at any rate."

An odd expression crossed her face, almost...grief, if I didn't know any better. But Halina, while not exactly happy with the hand that fate had dealt her, was rarely sad about it. I'd only seen her emotional a few times, and that was generally over the loss of her husband, the human husband that she had inadvertently killed after her conversion.

The youthful face turned away from us, the youthful body starting to turn away as well. She was wrapped in a dress so tight that a human wouldn't have been able to breathe in it, and I was pretty sure it was leather. It matched the thigh high boots she preferred to wear. But the evocatively dressed vixen that she usually played so effortlessly seemed cracked to me as she slowly moved back towards the house.

Actually feeling concern for her, I called out her name. "Halina?"

She stopped and looked back at me, her ageless eyes tired, her black-as-night hair billowing around her in the slight breeze. "Emma?" She raised her lip in a smirk after she said my name, almost daring me to call her on her mood.

As Halina could still intimidate me, even after all these years, I shook my head and motioned upstairs. Completely changing what I had been going to say, I sputtered, "We promised the kids you'd see them when you got in." Smiling softly, I added, "They've missed you."

A genuine smile broke over her face as she looked up to where they were. "I've missed them too," she muttered, then she streaked away.

I blinked at the afterimage of her glowing eyes still in my vision. She was fast, faster than everyone. Teren's arm came around my shoulders, delightfully still warm. I sighed contently, and cuddled into his side. Dangling our feet in the steamy water, we listened to Halina greeting our children in Russian. They instantly awoke at hearing her voice and laughter and the sound of soft kisses filtered down to us.

I shook my head, a little marveled at the various sides of Halina. She could be a cold, ruthless killer, a sexed-up male fantasy, or, as she was being now, a devoted mother and grandmother, cooing and coddling our children like they were her own. A part of me now understood why she amused Teren so much. The majority of me was careful to never piss her off. Unless she really, really loved you, you probably wouldn't survive it.

When our children's laughter turned into quiet yawns, Halina started singing them a lullaby. It was naturally in her native language and was remarkably beautiful. But as I leaned against my husband, I heard the melancholy in her timbre, the sadness in her words. Looking up at Teren, I quietly asked, "Is she okay?"

He furrowed his brow, like he didn't know who I meant. I flicked my eyes up at where she was singing to our kids, not wanting to get her attention by saying her name. Teren looked up at the window that was the twins' bedroom here and then back down to me. "Sure, she seems fine to me."

I pursed my lips and lightly shook my head. As perceptive as Teren could be at times, he was still a man, and the male species sometimes had to be hit over the head with things, since they tended to lack the ability to pick up on subtleties. He furrowed his brow at me. "What?"

I shook my head again and rolled my eyes. He hadn't seen the emotion in Halina, but I had, and it did concern me. "She just seemed...off."

He kissed my head. "I'm sure it's nothing. Maybe she's just thinking about the upcoming move too." He pulled back and raised an eyebrow at me. "It will put her that much farther from Gabriel."

He shrugged and I dropped my mouth at him. I hadn't thought of that. Of course that would be upsetting to her. I shook my head again. And just when I thought my husband was oblivious. He furrowed his brows again. "What?"

He laughed a little at the look on my face and I joined him, leaning up to kiss him. "Nothing, you just...amaze me."

He laughed a little more while we kissed, then he pulled back. "I should go put those vials in the car." His eyes flicked down my body and I felt the unasked question in them - how much longer are you going to use them? I only smiled and nodded, not answering his unasked question. I didn't have an answer yet anyway. I wasn't sure.

He stood up, the beaded water running down his chest and dripping off his shorts. I bit my lip and studied the pleasing shape of him. He smiled and studied the pleasing shape of me. Raising an eyebrow, he softly said, "I'll be back for you in a minute."

I laughed and nodded, sinking back into the water. I felt him causally walk away from me, not in any rush, just enjoying the evening. Closing my eyes, I felt the heat of the tub. I could practically feel it entering my body, soothing my muscles, warming the very bones. The scent of chlorine was nearly overpowering, but it was worth it, for the comfort.

Listening to my children wish each other goodnight again, I felt Halina move away from them. Then I felt her presence lift higher into the air. Confused, I opened my eyes and looked up to where I felt her. Above the two-story main building, there was a belfry. Okay, it wasn't actually a belfry, but I preferred to think of that way, since the whole home kind of had a castle feel to it. What it really was though, was a raised section of the roof, like a covered patio.

I could see Halina standing up there, still and silent with her back to me as she looked out over the hills of Mount Diablo. I sat up and got out of the water, watching her appear to be deep in thought. Halina was different from the others, being pure, not mixed. Not looks-wise, she had the same dark hair and pale eyes, although her skin was snow white, no trace or hint of any sunlight ever having hit it. No, it was more her attitude that was different.

She had a presence about her, a lethalness under the surface. She struggled less with the ethics of being a natural born killer. She would do it, if she wanted to, although, she did still have some morality to her and only killed those that she felt deserved the death. But the reluctant vampire had admitted that she felt foreign, that she no longer felt human, and that foreignness was evident in her at times. She could, at first glance, seem cold and standoffish, but I'd seen her heart and I knew she still had one, beating or not.

My concern for her overriding my common sense, I wrapped a fluffy robe around my body and walked over to the edge of the building.

Wondering how the hell to get up there, I looked around for a ladder or something. There wasn't one. I sighed softly, realizing that this was a private place that the vampires went to, and vampires had no need for ladders. Hoping my enhanced body was enhanced enough, I took a few steps back and made a running leap for it.

I realized just how stupid my attempt was just as I caught the lip of the roof. For one, I hated heights. For another, as I was constantly telling Teren, I was mostly human and couldn't heal like the undead vamps around here. If I fell...well, it would suck.

"Shit," I muttered, my fingers starting to slip. Cool fingers wrapped around my wrists and deadweight lifted me into the air.

Holding me dangling over the edge, Halina cocked an eyebrow at me. "What are you doing, little heartbeater?"

At the same time that she asked that, I heard Teren's panicked voice calling my name. Looking down at just how far the patio cement was beneath me, I looked back up at Halina with wide eyes. "Put me down...please."

She smirked and set me down next to her. I closed my eyes, relieved at being back on solid ground. The stronger wind up here whipped around me, instantly chilling me, and holding my robe tighter, I answered Teren, who was worriedly asking me if I was alright. "I'm fine...just sightseeing with Halina."

He sighed while Halina's smirk widened. "Emma...good lord, you just about gave me a heart attack." I bit my lip to not nervously laugh. Teren couldn't have a heart attack anymore, but I'd nearly given myself one; my ticker was even still beating extra hard. I felt Teren's location shift back into the house. "I'll be in our room...when you come down." I heard him muttering about how maybe my worry-wortness could start including myself as he walked to our bedroom.

Halina crossed her arms over her chest as she listened to him. She was leaning back on one of the wooden beams holding up the raised roof section, not seeming to be worried in the slightest about the drop-off behind her. Tilting her head as I moved to stand in the center of the tiled square, she asked, "What are you doing up here?"

Wondering that myself, I shrugged. "You seemed...down. I thought you might want to..." I let that trail off, wondering just what I'd expected to happen up here with the generally closed-off person in front of me.

Instead of the biting remark that I expected from her, she shifted her gaze back to the view. The wind blew strands of dark hair across her cheek as she looked south, towards Los Angeles. She sniffed. "I smell death in the air...some cows were attacked while I was gone... " Looking back at me, she raised an eyebrow just like Teren did sometimes. "Weren't they?"

I nodded, my brows furrowed that she'd be so upset over that. She frowned and shook her head, looking over the fields again. "I should have been here. My job is to protect the family, that includes protecting the food supply." She paused, and just when I thought to tell her that it wasn't her fault, she added, "I've been too distracted lately...with Gabriel." She bit her lip, then nodded. "I'm thinking of breaking things off with him."

My eyes widening, I took a step towards her. "Why? Because of a couple of cows?" While I didn't quite know what they had together, they both seemed happy. You didn't sacrifice true happiness over a few easily replaceable cattle. "This doesn't have anything to do with cows...does it?"

She looked back to me, tucking the hair across her cheek behind her ear. "No, not really." She shrugged in a casual way. "But Gabriel and I have run its course. Besides, I'm not used to being with just one man. It feels...restrictive." Her voice warbled and her eyes reddened before she looked away. I knew she was lying.

"Halina..." I said softly, walking up and putting a hand on her chilly arm. I made myself ignore the fact that nothing was behind her but open air; standoffish or not, she'd never let me fall.

When she looked back to me, her eyes were definitely moist with blood-red tears. "I enjoy the company of men...but I don't ever feel for them and I'm starting to feel...." She shook her head, a bloody tear dropping to her cheek. "I cannot fall for him. It's wrong."

Amazed at the depth of feeling she was showing me, I brushed off her tear. "Why not? Isn't falling in love a good thing?"

She cringed at the word love and shook her head, staring at the floor. "No...no, I can't. I'm...I'm betraying Nicolis...and I've already done so much to betray him."

She looked up at me and there was so much guilt in her face, my heart constricted for her. Nicolis was the husband she'd killed, the husband she still mourned. Swallowing the lump of emotion in my own throat, I stroked her arm. "Oh, Halina, no...he would want you to be happy."

She sighed sadly, looking over my shoulder. "Would he? He died because of me."

I stepped into her line of vision, bringing her glowing eyes back to mine. "What you did to him wasn't your fault, Halina." I shook my head at her as my other hand clasped her other arm. "You didn't ask for this, you didn't know what you were or what the urges you felt were. You couldn't possibly have stopped yourself." She started to look away but I held her gaze. "I watched Teren go through it, and even knowing what he was, he could barely stop himself."

Her eyes drifted over my face for a long moment, and just when I thought our bonding was over, she quietly said, "I almost killed Imogen too." She shrugged. "If my anger hadn't surfaced, I think I would have." Looking away from me, that anger became apparent in her features. "I've held onto that anger for so long. It's how I survive. It's how I get through...the day."

I sighed and started to lean in to hug her. She instantly looked back at me and I stopped, thinking maybe she wasn't ready for that. Sighing again, I moved aside a lock of hair in her eyes. "Nicolis would want you to release that anger. He would want you happy."

Her eyes narrowed as she locked gazes with me, the anger in the depths still apparent to my enhanced sight. "Would you? If Teren had killed you, would you wish him peace with someone else?"

My stomach tightened at the thought, but I instantly answered her. "Yes." A sudden chill running down my spine, I wrapped my arms around my body.

Watching me, she pushed away from the supportive beam. With long, languid steps, she walked around me, her eyes appraising. "So, when you agreed to a relationship with Teren, knowing full well his fate and your own, you didn't want him to mourn you for eternity in solitude?"

Shaking my head, I twisted to keep my body facing hers. "No, no I never wanted that." A little surprised that she'd think I'd wish that on a loved one, I whispered, "Did you think I wanted him to be alone? Crying over me every day?"

Just as I was feeling a little dizzy, she stopped her endless circling. "He openly admitted that he'd never love anyone else." She shook her head. "I didn't want my life for my grandchild," she whispered.

I stepped up to her, placing a hand on her arm. "Neither did I. I kept myself from thinking about it for the most part, but when I did...it killed me." I sighed and looked down at my bare feet on the tiled ground. "If my fate were a regular human's, I'd want him to move on. I would wish him love." I peeked back up at her, her youthful face seemingly torn by my words. "A life alone...is no life at all."

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