Rayna wasn't sure how long she and Gabriel sat there like that, consoling each other and commiserating together. She felt so peaceful leaning against him, and any remaining resistance to the notion that they were truly family was forced out of her psyche completely. No one but family would ever be able to share such a moment with her, and only someone like Gabriel could begin to understand how she felt. She wasn't sure what to make of that. She wasn't sure why it took a vampire before she found someone who could fully relate to her, but she supposed that it had everything to do with their mutual feelings of loss. They had both suffered through such grief, and while that was a bond that she wouldn't wish on anyone, she found that she was glad to be at Gabriel's side.
All she had wanted this entire month since Hannah's murder was to feel the sort of comfort that she felt as she sat in the Martine Chapel Cemetery, snug and secure against the eternal patriarch of her family. No one else had been able to offer her this solace – not Alex, not Sadie, no one at all – and if she had known that this was what waited for her here in California, she would have tracked down Gabriel a long time ago, not to accuse him or torment him, but to connect with him.
She wished that she had known all along how very much they needed each other, and perhaps she would have been able to spare them both some measure of the pain that burdened each of them. There was nothing that she could do about Gabriel's oldest and deepest hurts, but no one could help him through that. There was no way to turn back time and bring back his wife and all of the other people who had aged and died before his eyes while he remained unchanged and timeless beyond the reach of death, just as there was no way to undo what had been done to him. Rayna knew only one cure for vampirism, and after knowing Gabriel for only a week, she was willing to stand between him and anyone who dared to brandish a wooden stake in the direction of his heart. She hoped that she would never have to make such a stand, but it was enough that she knew that she was willing to do it, even if she wouldn't be particularly happy about it.
The only one of Gabriel's pains that she could relieve was the present itself. She could help him reconnect with the modern world and with his mortal family all at the same time. She had already been with him to take the first steps back into the world that awaited him beyond the stone fence around Martine Chapel, and she was on the brink of dragging him farther away from his comfort zone than he had ever been, but at least she was here. She was at his side, and she would be there for every step of his journey back into the modern world. But far more important than what she could teach him about convenience stores and freeways and cell phones was what she was doing right now. All she really needed to do was be near him. More than any modern technology, what Gabriel really needed was his family.
She was going to have so much to explain when she got home.
Rayna knew that she was going to see Sadie first, and she wasn't sure if that was a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, at least Sadie knew about Gabriel and what he was, so she wouldn't have to start by breaking the news to someone that vampires were real and, oh by the way, she had just driven cross-country to enlist a couple of them to help her track down a serial killer because it seemed like the thing to do when someone was stalking and killing your friends. But Sadie also knew better than anyone else how Rayna had always felt about Gabriel and his kind, and she would be the one who was most suspicious and curious about Rayna's sudden about-face concerning the undead in the family. Sadie usually didn't merely accept anything on faith, and Rayna wasn't sure that she could put into words exactly what had changed within her. She knew what it was now, or at least she was pretty sure that she knew, but she wasn't sure that she could express it to anyone else. This was hers. It was all inside her, and it was enough for now that she knew about it and had made her peace with it. She wasn't sure when she would be ready to let anyone else in, even Sadie, and even if someone tried to force her hand, she wasn't sure what she could really tell them. It was too emotional and there was so much wreckage wrapped up with it…
Seeing Sadie first was probably not going to be the easiest way to start her homecoming, but no doubt, explaining everything to Alex was going to be even worse. She knew before she had ever left Indianapolis that she would have to come up with some cover story to tell Alex when she got home, and that it had to be a pretty thorough explanation if she expected him to forgive her for running off in the middle of the night and leaving him behind. She had even planted the seeds of her tale when she had called and spoken to Alex and led him to believe that Gabriel was a family friend and some kind of investigator or profiler. But all that was before she had ever imagined that she would be bringing Gabriel and Radek home with her. There was no way that Alex was just going to accept that she had run away from her troubles at home to see these two gorgeous men to ask them for their help. Alex trusted her, but he wasn't stupid.
No matter how she looked at it, a cover story just couldn't explain all of this away in such a way that Alex wouldn't immediately dump her as a cheating liar. She had to face the fact that she was going to have to tell Alex some version of the truth. Maybe not all of it, but enough that he could understand why she had done what she had done, and why she had kept so much of it from him. She would have to tell him enough that he could believe that she wasn't cheating on him, and that Gabriel was indeed family, and that he would just have to accept that it was weird and bizarre and more than he should ever have to deal with as a boyfriend, but it was the truth and there was nothing for it.
It had only taken Rayna her entire lifetime to accept Gabriel for what he was. She felt slightly sick to her stomach when she thought about how Alex would respond when all of this was dumped in his lap after everything that he already endured with her in the last couple of months. This was just bad. Probably even worse than she was imagining. She found it almost impossible to hope that Alex would stick around after this, and she wouldn't blame him if he did leave her.
No matter to whom she spoke first when she got home, it was going to be ugly and she didn't want to face it. Staying out here in the middle of nowhere, comfortably off the radar with Gabriel, was starting to look better and better the more she thought about it, even though she knew that it really wasn't an option to disappear. Sadie knew where she was and who she was with, and even Rayna knew that she would only be able to tolerate the isolation and quiet for so long before it drove her stark raving mad and she would have to go back into town to rejoin the modern world. She supposed that she could always ask Radek if she could move in with him, but that would probably turn out even worse than just staying out here at Martine Chapel.
Maybe it was about time for her to consider a third option. Maybe it was about time for her to run away from home and join the circus for real this time, or at the very least, move to Fiji or some other far away place where no one knew her and she could start over, far away from all of her worldly troubles…
Except that would never work, because at the end of every month, she would know – deep down inside – that someone else was dead. She would always know that the serial killer was still out there, and that he was still stalking the people in her life, and that one by one, they were all dying. She would always know that while she was hiding and looking for an easy out, the people that she knew and loved and left behind were dying because of her, and eventually, she was sure that the guilt would eat her alive from the inside out, and that she would have to either confront reality and deal with it, or she would have to throw herself off a bridge to make the pain go away.
She was done running. She was going home, with Gabriel and Radek at her side, and she would deal with whatever waited for her there. She could handle Sadie's doubts and questions. She would find a way to tell Alex the truth that he deserved to know, and if he decided to walk away from her, then she would find a way to deal with that, too. If the cops wanted to track her down and ask her a million questions about where she had run off to and why she had skipped town, she would try to be patient with them, knowing that all she had to do was tell Detective Anderson the truth, or some watered-down version of the real truth, because she hadn't done anything wrong. And the next time this serial killer dared to crawl out from under his rock and try to take someone else from her, she would be there to confront him and face him and take her life back from him once and for all.
Running away from all of it had been nice while it lasted, but the real world was waiting for her, and Rayna was as ready as she was ever going to be to stand up and face it all.
She finally settled back into herself again, and turned her head slowly to face Gabriel, only to find that he was as still and serene as the last time that she had looked at him. He was calmly gazing at his wife's tombstone, expressionless and unmoving. She watched him for a long moment, sure that he was neither blinking nor breathing, and while she wondered what might be going on in his head in light of all the turmoil that had just dashed through her own mind while she sat there lost in thought with him, she knew that this was not the time to ask such a question.
It was time to go home.
"Gabriel," Rayna said gently, leaning away from him but leaving her arm looped through his elbow so that they were still connected and sharing whatever was left of this wonderful moment. "Gabriel, it's time to go."
"I know it is, my dear," Gabriel replied quietly, finally breaking free from his stony reverie to glance down at Rayna and offer her one of his distant smiles. "I know."
"Come on, then. Let's go before either one of us has a chance to change our mind."
"Goodbye, Elisabet – until we meet again, in this world or the next," Gabriel murmured as he and Rayna rose to stand side-by-side in front of the gravestone. He paused for only another second or two before he turned on his heel and he and Rayna slowly walked back toward the chapel, leaving the neat rows of graves behind them. He paused at the door, fumbling with his umbrella, but Rayna was sure that he was fighting the urge to look back over his shoulder one more time. To her surprise and relief, he never turned around, and instead, stepped back into the chapel. He closed the door and lowered a heavy timber across the exit, sealing them away from the cemetery and all of the memories that he kept so carefully tended there.
A tinkling sound from the harpsichord greeted them, and they rounded the corner toward the altar to find Radek lounging behind the elegant instrument, idly toying with the keys in such a way that he wasn't making music but rather a pretty, bored noise. He had a strange expression on his face, and Rayna wasn't sure that she had ever seen him looking quite like this before. There was something innocent and lost about his face today, and if he would have broken out his characteristic smirk right now, it would have looked entirely out of place. Instead of smirking, he merely smiled, and rose to join them as they passed by the harpsichord.
"Have we kept you waiting?" Gabriel asked as Radek fell into step behind them without a word of greeting or any of the ribbing that Rayna had expected from him as he had surely witnessed her epiphany in the cemetery.
"Not for long," Radek answered simply.
"I never thought that I would say these words, but I suppose that I'm ready to go," Gabriel said as they walked through the final pool of multi-colored light shining through the stained glass windows of the chapel. Rayna thought that he seemed resigned, but not particularly sad about his decision, but she tightened her grip on his elbow anyway, just in case. He reached across his chest and patted her hand in acknowledgement, as the same calm, distant smile that always settled on his face hid whatever might really be going through his head. They left the chapel, continuing at a steady pace up the corridor and toward the sitting room.
"Radek, I trust that all is ready?" Gabriel asked, slowing his pace to check that the hearth was dark and cold in the sitting room.
"It is. Everything is secure, locked, and extinguished."
"Thank you, old friend."
"I'm sure that this old place will be fine until your return."
"It's lasted this long, so I'm sure that you're right," Gabriel agreed, slipping free from Rayna's grasp as he turned to face Radek. "All will be well until our return." Gabriel placed particular emphasis on 'our', and Rayna could no longer hold her tongue. She was fairly sure that it wasn't her place, but she didn't feel much like starting a huge road trip with all this weirdness hanging over them.
"Okay, that's enough – what the hell is up with you two?" she asked, folding her arms across her chest and looking from Radek to Gabriel and back again.
"What do you mean, my dear?" Gabriel asked.
"Don't give me that. I know there's a lot going on this morning, but that's no reason for both of you to be acting so goddamn weird. I was just starting to get you both figured out a little bit, and so you both have to go and pull this shit. Gabriel, I expected you to be all quiet and freaked out this morning because we're leaving, and instead, you've got this Zen Master thing going and you're all calm and mellow about the whole thing. And Radek – I don't even know where to start with you. No wisecracks, no bravado, no smirk – it's like you're not even you this morning. Since when are you so quiet and reserved? What the hell?" Rayna sputtered, shaking her head and wagging her finger at each vampire in turn.
"I survived our excursion yesterday, and after a bit of time to reflect on all of it, I think my curiosity is getting the best of me this morning," Gabriel replied with a slight shrug. "I don't think that you and Radek would have the time and the energy to play nursemaid to me all the way across the country, so perhaps it's time that I make my peace with the world again. This is an important errand, and even more than that, I'm going to have the chance to meet even more of my family. Your half-sister, Sadie, will be waiting for your return, and perhaps I'll even have the chance to see Anthony again."
"So that's it? We had to drag you out of here yesterday, but this morning – poof – you're fine with leaving? I don't buy that, Gabriel. I'm glad that you're not wigging out, but agoraphobia doesn't just vanish like that."
"Fortune favors the brave," Gabriel replied cryptically.
"Okay then – so what about you, Radek? What's your story today?" Rayna pressed, realizing that she was suddenly the one who was dragging her feet and delaying their departure, but when it came right down to it, this was her trip and her party, and if she wanted to clear the air before they left, she decided that it was her right to do exactly that.
"I don't have a story today."
"You heard me. Bullshit. Try again because I'm not buying the innocent act. You've got something going on in there," Rayna paused to gesture in a broad circle directly in front of Radek's face, "and I'm not moving until you tell me what it is."
"Miss Rayna, now is hardly the time…"
"Now is the perfect time," Rayna interrupted before Radek had the chance to fully evade her question. "I'm not getting in the car for two thousand miles of this. If you've got something on your mind, or if you've changed your mind, or whatever it is, I just want you to spill it now so that we can all get past it and hit the road."
"This has been a busy morning, and I only wanted to give you and Gabriel a chance to spend whatever time you needed together outside earlier. I had no idea that it would lead to so many doubts and so many questions. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes even my motives are pure enough."
"That explains why you've been out of sight since I got up, but that doesn't explain the hundred-mile stare and why you're being so quiet and downright submissive this morning. Keep going…"
"Miss Rayna…" Radek began with a slight sigh, but Gabriel interrupted him this time.
"You're not being replaced, you know," Gabriel remarked, turning his gentle gaze toward Radek who visibly stiffened and fell silent as Gabriel's words hung over the room.
"Oh, for the love of God…" Rayna muttered, evidently not nearly as under her breath as she had intended.
"I will not have this conversation with you, Gabriel," Radek hissed, instantly dropping his placid, vacant demeanor and replacing it with a cold scowl that he immediately leveled at Rayna. "Not in front of a human."
"What did I do?" Rayna asked no one in particular, throwing her hands in the air to dramatically illustrate her query.
"Evidently, you've usurped Radek," Gabriel observed, drawing Radek's glare away from Rayna and prompting him to add, "as far as he's concerned."
"I've not been usurped, and I will not have this," Radek snarled, stepping away from Gabriel and Rayna while glowering at both of them.
"Radek, you're acting like a child," Gabriel scolded gently, taking a step forward, which only pushed Radek farther back into the sitting room. They immediately started sniping back and forth at each other in rapid, vicious French, and their entire argument was lost on Rayna except for the obvious fact that they were not pleased with each other. That much would have been clear to anyone with functional eyes or ears, regardless of the language barrier.
Rayna took a deep breath and walked slowly to the front of the room, closest to the door. She kept the vampires in her sight simply because she was slightly nervous to turn her back on Radek because he really did seem to be incredibly angry with her right now, though she wasn't completely clear what she had done to aggravate him so badly this time. She leaned against the wall and watched while the argument continued, silently pulling for Gabriel to smooth the situation over so that they could get on the road.
Undead drama certainly was colorful and more than a bit alarming to watch. Radek was growing more feral by the moment, and she fully expected that he would be all fangs and claws before too much longer, which was a sight that she didn't really want to see, but if that was where this was headed, all she could do was hope that Gabriel could reign him back in before it got really ugly. Gabriel was as calm and composed as she had ever seen him, not that it was doing him any good. Every time Gabriel reached out for Radek, the raven-haired vampire recoiled with a snarl, slowly backing himself completely into a corner against the rough stones of the hearth.
Rayna wondered what Gabriel meant when he said that she had usurped Radek. Who uses a word like 'usurp' anymore, anyway? It sounded unsanitary, and she certainly hadn't done anything unsanitary with Radek, now or ever. She hadn't been that drunk the night before, after all. Despite the headache that was still threatening to grind its way through the back of her eyeballs, Rayna pondered the details of what Gabriel and Radek were arguing about. Clearly, it had something to do with her, and it had to be something fairly recent…
Rayna's jaw dropped open when the pieces fell painfully into place and she figured out what everyone else who wasn't hung over and exhausted would have probably understood from the very start. Radek's feelings were hurt, but unlike most people who would mope or pout or sulk, he was taking a more visceral, violent approach to venting his emotions. Radek had been Gabriel's only link to the waking world for decades, or maybe more, and all of a sudden, Rayna had barged in and upset the order of his entire world. Not only had she convinced Gabriel to leave the chapel, she was bonding with him in a way that Radek probably couldn't, regardless of how close he really was to Gabriel. Rayna was family – genuine blood relation – and that was something that Radek would never share with Gabriel, no matter how intimate their existing relationship might be.
Rayna opened her mouth to join the fray, wondering if she could say something that would make it clear to Radek that she had no intention of pushing him out of Gabriel's life and taking his place as her great-great-grandfather's caretaker, but as Radek exploded with another scathing tirade, Rayna pursed her lips together and reconsidered. She couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't come out sounding like she was just using Gabriel to find Hannah's killer, and she didn't want to say anything that would hurt Gabriel, because that wasn't exactly the whole truth, and now that she was bonding with him, she wondered if she wanted a little bit more than merely resolution to her current woes. So maybe she was stepping on Radek's toes a little bit – or maybe a lot more than just a little bit. And in that case, it was not a good idea for her to wade into the middle of this argument. At best, she was sure that she could make it a whole lot worse, and at worst, she imagined that she could probably get herself maimed in the process, because even though Gabriel looked a lot better than he had when she first arrived at Martine Chapel, she was still pretty sure that he would be no match against Radek in a fight, and that didn't really bode all that well for her right now.
She hadn't considered that option until now, and she immediately regretted letting her mind wander on to that idea. What if Radek really was angry and hurt enough that he was willing to throw aside whatever truce they had settled on that evening in the garden? What if he was even willing to risk angering Gabriel just to be rid of her? Was there really a chance that he was upset enough to do something like that? Rayna hoped that even the mercurial vampire wouldn't be able to shift his mood and opinion so completely in such a short time without trying to talk to them and get all of the facts first, but as he was currently talking with Gabriel, she wasn't sure how much good words would do to allay his insecurities.
She didn't even understand why a vampire like Radek would still harbor such insecurities after all this time. After all, he had told her that she was little more than a temporary addition to their lives, even if she decided to stick around every second until she died of old age. No matter how she looked at it, there was no way that she would ever be able to replace Radek's role in Gabriel's life. She might be family, but Gabriel and Radek had history, and there was something to be said for that. Rayna and Hannah had history, too, though not nearly as long, and the bond that she had always shared with her best friend was stronger than the bonds of family could ever be. Like everyone said, you were stuck with whoever fate handed you as family, but you could freely choose your friends, and that made the bonds of friendship a lot tighter than blood.
And that was what she wanted to say to Radek right now, whether it was a good idea or not.
"Umm, guys? Gabriel? Radek?" Rayna interrupted, trying to find the right volume to get their attention without shouting at them. Maybe it was a credit to vampire hearing, but she seemed to have succeeded on the first try as the argument stopped in mid-sentence and both vampires turned to look at her, Gabriel with a kindly smile and Radek with a decidedly spiteful scowl.
"Look, I'm sure that you guys have had it out like this a lot over the years, and it's probably not as big a deal as it looks, and all that. And I'm sure that it's not really any of my business and not my place to even say anything, but this is a little stupid, even by my puny human standards," Rayna said, trying to keep her voice calm and even because her nerves were suddenly threatening to steal all of her volume, to say nothing of her odds of producing a rational proclamation. "Nobody's being replaced, and nobody's being usurped, and don't you both think that it's a little bit silly to even have this argument in the first place? I mean, there's not even anything to argue about."
"I would have to agree, Miss Rayna," Gabriel nodded with a thoughtful smile. "Not about this being none of your business, but about the trivial and ridiculous nature of this entire discussion."
"Argument," Rayna corrected. "When there's so much yelling involved, it's not a discussion anymore. You and Radek are fighting."
Radek muttered something in a sharp, lyrical language that Rayna didn't recognize at all, and she guessed that it must be Romani – the tongue of his Gypsy heritage. In any case, Gabriel seemed to understand what he said, leaving Rayna out of the loop again. They went back and forth again for a bit, and Rayna was relieved to note that they kept their voices at normal speaking levels with only the occasional minor outburst from Radek, who really was starting to look more and more like a bratty child who had just been called out and scolded by his older relatives, which was made all the stranger by her knowledge that Radek was by far the oldest creature in the room.
"Okay, guys," Rayna interjected during a brief lull in their exchange. "Here's the thing. Gabriel, you and Radek have been together from the beginning, right?"
"We first met when I was still human, though I didn't know precisely what he was at the time," Gabriel acknowledged with a nostalgic smile.
"Humans rarely recognize their superiors," Radek mumbled, speaking in English again, which Rayna took to be a good sign, regardless of the disparagement that was no doubt directed squarely at her.
"And you've stayed together, right? Gabriel was made into a vampire, and Radek, you decided to stick around, even though whoever made you both took off. Gabriel's wife died, and his family slowly moved away, and Radek stuck around through all of that. Gabriel, you stopped going out completely and did your whole depression thing – or whatever you want to call it," Rayna rapidly added when she saw that Gabriel was about to interrupt her to correct her assessment of his state of mind, "and Radek stuck around for that, too. You've both said that the only way that Gabriel survived through all of that was because Radek was out here taking care of him and making sure that he was okay, or at least as okay as a vampire in complete isolation can be. Right?"
Both Gabriel and Radek nodded, though neither of them said anything, so Rayna took that as a good sign and pressed on, hoping that she could avoid her usual tangents because she was doing so well to this point.
"And you've both known that Gabriel has family this whole time. You've both known that there were generations of Martines out there, and that there was always the chance that we might show up one day, out of the blue. Maybe neither one of you really thought that it would happen, but you both knew that it was a possibility. But it didn't change anything between the two of you, right? Radek, you kept taking care of Gabriel even though you knew that he had family who should probably be the ones watching over him so that you could go out and be a vampire without worrying about how he was doing, and Gabriel, you kept leaning on Radek even though you might have wanted one of us to come out here and be the one to move in with you to keep you company and make sure that you were… eating, or whatever. Right?"
Both vampires nodded again, sneaking a glance at each other before returning their attention to Rayna.
"So everything was fine for all these years, and just because I showed up doesn't mean that any of that has to change. I think we all agree that it's a good thing that Gabriel is willing to leave this place for a little while to try to reconnect with the real world, and who really cares why he's decided that now is the right time to do that? If it's what we all want, then can't we just accept that it's for the best and move on without getting all upset about why something good is happening?" Rayna paused to see if either Gabriel or Radek would have anything to say in response to what she thought was a simple, but reasonable, resolution to their dispute.
Radek's scowl deepened, and he folded his arms across his chest and tapped his toe rapidly on the stone floor. Rayna was sure that the gesture was intended to make him look impatient and dangerous, but at this point, it only made him appear even more petulant, yet it did nothing at all to erode his 'sexy undead' status. Rayna wasn't all that sure how he managed to pull that trick off, but he did, and he did it very well. Distractingly well, as a matter of fact. She had the worst feeling that introducing Sadie and Radek was going to be one of those decisions that would come back to haunt her…
Gabriel remained unchanged and downright serene, with the same omnipresent, gentle smile that was proving to be his answer to everything. There was something about his eyes that Rayna found encouraging – as though he was somehow agreeing with every word she said and nudging her to continue even though she still wasn't convinced that it was her place to interfere in whatever drama was playing out between the two old friends. When neither vampire said anything, she sighed slightly and had no choice but to keep going.
"So as far as this 'Rayna replacing Radek' thing is concerned, you know how ridiculous that sounds, don't you? And it's not that I'm making fun of either one of you for it, but it's just so far-fetched. I mean, you two have been together – in whatever way – for like a hundred and fifty years, and I've only been here for a week. No one would ever think that a week with someone could even come close to touching a hundred and fifty years of friendship and all the stuff that you guys have been through together. That doesn't even make sense. I get that this is the first change that you guys have had to deal with in a long time, and it's sort of a big, ugly change with the murders and everything, but that's no reason to freak out. I'm the one who's supposed to be doing all the freaking out right now, and I've pretty well got that part covered, so there's no need for you two to start doing it, too." Rayna hoped for at least a chuckle from one of them at her little jab of self-disparagement, but neither of them reacted at all, so she pressed on with her final appeal.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is that you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family. I've believed that for a really long time – like since I was a little kid and Dad first told me that I was related to a vampire. Sorry, Gabriel, I'm sure this isn't what you want to hear again, but I hated that fate had stuck me in the Martine family. All I really wanted was to be someone else, so that I could have a normal family like all of my friends and classmates had. But there was nothing I could do about it, so I just rebelled and made sure that I was as far away from the Martines as I could be, and I focused on my friends instead. I got to pick the people that I was close to, and they became the nice, normal family that I thought I always wanted – except that I don't think that any of us are exactly what most people would consider 'normal'. But that's not the point.
"The point is that Gabriel and I are related by blood because that was the hand that fate dealt to us, and there's nothing that either one of us can do to change that now. We're stuck together whether we get along or not, whether we're good for each other or not, whether we want to be or not. But Radek, you and Gabriel are friends. I know that there's some vampire blood thing that connects you, too, but at the end of the day – at the end of the century – you're together because you both choose to be. And that kind of bond is a lot more meaningful than being stuck together as a family. Either one of you could have walked away at any time, but you didn't, and after all this time, I'm guessing that you never will.
"So chill out, okay? There won't be any replacing or usurping or anything else like that. Not now, and not when we get to Indianapolis, and not after that, either. It's not like this is a competition, anyway. We made a truce between us a while back, for Gabriel's sake, and I think that was a good call. There's more than enough room for both of us in his life, and that's fine by me. So is everyone okay with this, or is there going to be another round of yelling and stuff before we hit the road?" Rayna concluded, feeling a faint blush coloring her cheeks because she hadn't intended to sound like such a sap, but there wasn't anything that she could do about it now.
Gabriel's smile broadened slightly, and he nodded his head slowly at Rayna. That only left Radek, and Rayna wasn't looking forward to his reaction.
One look at his face proved that her dread was well warranted and that she had left herself wide open for whatever bile he was about to toss in her direction. His smirk was creeping back across his face, and as his countenance gradually returned to nearly normal, Rayna felt her own spirits sinking. She braced herself to catch it with both barrels as Radek turned his dancing eyes first to Gabriel and then back to her. He walked toward her with Gabriel close behind, and all Rayna could do was stand there with her back to the wall and shake her head in frustrated dismay.
"For a mere human, you have a surprisingly clear view of the way of things," Radek said quietly, leaning close to her in such a way that it looked like he was sharing an intimate secret with a trusted friend. His smirk softened into what she could only call a genuine smile, and just as quickly as his temper had flared, it was suddenly gone and Radek was himself again. "Just don't expect me to thank you and fall into your debt for your insights."
"Okay…" Rayna mumbled, allowing her mouth to fall open and not particularly caring if she looked like an idiot or if both of the vampires could tell that she was shocked and confused by this unexpected turn of events and mood.
"Shall we, then?" Radek asked, pulling away from Rayna and gesturing for her to lead the way to the door.
"What?" Rayna stammered through a dry throat before she found her voice and her full volume again. "You've got to be kidding me. You fight and you yell and you fucking pout like that, and then all of a sudden – just like that – boom. You're fine, and Gabriel is fine, and you and Gabriel are fine, and I'm fine, and everything is just fucking fine, and we're ready to go again? Shut up already. It's not that easy. It's never that easy."
"Such language from a lady in front of her poor grandfather – you should be ashamed," Radek clicked his tongue at Rayna as he took a step toward the exit.
"Radek, neither of us believe your façade," Gabriel admonished calmly, holding his ground next to Rayna who continued to stare incredulously at the tempestuous vampire before them.
"Ahh, and so now I face the united front of the Martine family?" Radek purred, the unreadable smile still curling his thin lips.
"Enough of your games, my dear friend," Gabriel advised evenly. "I know you far too well for this."
"So, at the end of it all, the girl is allowed to rampage from one side of the country to the other and back again fueled by nothing but her grief and prejudices, and you are free to wallow in whatever misery, self-pity, and self-loathing that you see fit, but I am expected to either feel nothing at all or to merely swallow whatever I am feeling so that I don't inconvenience either of you in your own self-absorbed pursuits?" Radek asked in a cloying, almost sweet tone that starkly contrasted the intensity burning within his dark eyes. He lifted his eyebrows and smiled at Gabriel and Rayna again, as though waiting for some kind of answer.
Rayna snapped her mouth shut, clenching her jaw to stem the outburst that she felt building within her. She could understand what Radek was feeling now that he had spelled it out for them, but that was really no excuse for the way that he was behaving right now. He had sunk below the level of mere sulking child into some kind of full-on snit that was obviously going to contain a fair amount of lashing out. This was lower than self-pity, and more far more frustrating than petulance. There was no excuse for turning her grief and Gabriel's phobias against them. That was spiteful, bordering on hateful, and no matter how badly he might be feeling right now, Radek had no right to attack the two of them like that, especially when they were making a sincere effort to address his hurt feelings. Rayna just hoped that Gabriel had a more diplomatic way of dealing with Radek, because she was sure that anything she had to say right now would only make the situation exponentially worse.
"Perhaps if you would be a bit more honest and forthcoming from time to time, I would be more accustomed to recognizing and accommodating your emotions before they turn into full-blown tantrums," Gabriel replied in a slightly harsher tone than he normally used. Rayna glanced over at him, and found a mirror of Radek's snide expression fixed on Gabriel's face, and she braced herself for their next flurry of venomous French.
"You know that I've never been so open about such things," Radek replied quietly, much to Rayna's surprise.
"I know, and I've never been very good at reading your mind, and yet you continue to expect that I can," Gabriel sighed.
"Have you ever considered that I might occasionally relish the drama?" Radek asked. Rayna couldn't tell if he was serious about that question or not, and since she was beyond confounded by the whole conversation, she decided to just sit the whole thing out and see what would happen.
"I have no doubt, but usually your timing is a bit better than this."
"Perhaps. But this was my last chance."
"And you couldn't simply let it go, could you?"
"And it never occurred to you to say something to me, in private, rather than stage your little production in front of everyone?"
"One human girl hardly counts as 'everyone'."
"Evidently, she counts for far more than you're willing to admit because I've never seen you care so much about what a human thinks of you."
"You don't get out much, either, now do you?"
"Radek, we both know that we could continue this for days on end, but I'll say it again, now is really not the time for your games. Is there any possible way that we can simply skip ahead to the conclusion so that we can leave?"
"I never thought that I would hear you so eager to put to rest any excuse to walking out that door."
"Perhaps it's time for both of us to change a bit."
"Perhaps at least one of us already has," Radek accused, pointedly staring at Gabriel. Rayna wished that she could quietly slink out of the room unnoticed by the vampires, because something about Radek's tone of voice made her feel uncomfortable – like she was witnessing something so intimate and so personal that this was the last place on earth that she should be right now. If there had been any doubt left in her mind that Gabriel and Radek were a little bit more than friends, that doubt was erased now, and she was convinced that this was more a lovers' spat than simply two old friends hashing out a little dispute. In any case, she didn't want to be in the room to watch the rest of it play out, and this was probably going to be her last chance to escape, seen or not.
"Okay, guys. This is obviously something between the two of you, and that's fine, but I don't need to be here, so I'm not going to be here. Just take whatever time you need – within puny mortal standards, of course – and I'll be… Well, I don't really know where I'll be. I just won't be here anymore. Okay?" Rayna babbled, hugging the wall as she inched closer and closer to Radek so that she could slip past him and escape.
"Miss Rayna," Gabriel sighed, sounding almost exasperated before Rayna cut him off without turning all the way around to face him.
"No, really, Gabriel. It's fine. I've said what I had to say, and there's nothing else for me to add, and this is really between you guys anyway. It doesn't even concern me, really. I mean, I'm concerned and everything, but it doesn't involve me. Maybe that's a better way to say it. Whatever. This is between you and Radek, and you need to work this out, and I think that will happen a lot faster and a lot better if I'm not standing here when it does. Back me up on this, Radek, because I know that you don't really want me standing here right now, either."
"You truly do have remarkable perception sometimes, human," Radek replied, though he said 'human' in a softer, less condescending tone this time, so Rayna shrugged and accepted that as progress, even just a little.
"Sounds good. So, I'm going to go load the car, or smell the roses, or whatever, and you guys just keep doing what you're doing, and work it out. Okay?" Rayna concluded, scurrying the last few feet past Radek and through the doorway out of the sitting room. "Just don't take all day, because we've got to get going pretty soon. I'm starving. Not that this all about me, I'm just saying that I'm on the verge of gnawing on my own arm here. But take all the time you need. Work it out. Soon. Bye-bye."
Before Gabriel had the chance to voice the protest that was clearly marked on his face, and before Radek had the chance to say anything snippy, Rayna turned and dashed toward the front door, glad that someone had already removed the heavy bar from its brackets so that all she had to do was tug the massive door open, and she was outside in the bright sunshine that was painting the roses in the garden even more brilliant shades of red, pink, and yellow than she had seen during the entirety of her stay here at Martine Chapel. It seemed almost a shame to drag Gabriel away from his gardens, because Rayna wasn't sure how well they would fare without him here to tend to them, but it was a chance that Gabriel was willing to take, and that would just have to be good enough for her. Besides, they weren't even her roses, so why was she so worried about them? When all of this was over, Gabriel would come back here and spend the next hundred and fifty years repairing whatever damage might be done to his roses, and then everything would be back to normal and all would be right and good with the world again.
Admittedly, Rayna didn't believe that – not even a little bit – but if she could convince herself that it was true, it would make the rest of this trip a whole lot easier to deal with. In fact, it would make her foreseeable future a whole lot more manageable. She needed to find a way to keep the peace between the three of them long enough to make the drive back to Indianapolis, and then she needed to find a way to sneak back into her life without bringing the cops down on her like she was a fugitive coming back from Mars, and then she needed to figure out how to convince Alex that the two hot guys with her were no threat to him – even though they really sort of were, just not in the way that the over-protective boyfriend side of Alex was going to think they were, and then she needed to figure out who was going to find out that Gabriel and Radek were vampires, and then – oh yeah – they all needed to put their heads together and find this serial killer without having any sort of real clue to go on. And Rayna realized with a start that they would have to bury Kira while they were at it, too. She chilled despite the warm, early afternoon sun shining down on her when she remembered that Sadie's cousin had been murdered, and that was what spurred this sudden return in the first place. She didn't think that she had really forgotten about Kira, exactly, but more like she had pushed the latest murder to the back of her mind because she was so far away, and there was already so much that she was dealing with, and maybe she wasn't even sure that she could process anything else right now while she was so far away from home and reality.
Reality. Now there was a thought that she wasn't much looking forward to. There was so much reality waiting for her at home, and she didn't want to face any of it right now, and she doubted that two thousand miles in a car with a pair of bickering vampires was going to do anything to brace her for whatever she was walking back in to. Sadie would be grieving by the time she got home. Kira would still be dead, but Rayna knew that she should have time to process that loss while the long miles slowly ticked past, so Kira would be truly dead by the time she got home. Alex was just going to be pissed, and there was no other way to describe it. Poppy would be freaked, and mad, and happy, and spacey, and high, and all of the other whirlwind of things that Poppy always was. Her dad might even get into the act, especially if Gabriel decided that he wanted to catch up with his great-grandson while he was in town, but Rayna really didn't want to think about that until she had to. And then there was Detective Anderson, who was probably chewing through his muzzle wanting to talk to her about this latest murder, so it was only a matter of time before he figured out that she was home, and if she wasn't incredibly careful, he would find out about her two mysterious visitors, too, and no one wanted that – or at least she hoped that no one wanted that because she doubted that two vampires would do so well with Anderson. Or maybe more to the point, she was sure that Anderson wouldn't fare so well against two vampires.
And then there was the small matter of the serial killer who was still making his mark in Indianapolis, waiting for her to come back home. No matter where Rayna went or what else might be on her mind, there was no way to escape that little aspect of reality. He had three victims now, in three consecutive months, and Rayna had no reason to hope that he would suddenly stop, or slow down, or change his mind and decide to pick off someone else's friends and family. Particularly since his next "date" was her twenty-eighth birthday at the end of October.
Rayna had always loved that she was born on the day before Halloween, but it wasn't seeming nearly as fun this year as it always had in the past. She wasn't thinking about what wonderful costume she was going to put together for the annual combo party that they always threw to celebrate both her birthday and Halloween. She didn't care who would come over to the house, or what they would be wearing, or how drunk everyone would get, or what naked couple she would chase out of the laundry room this year. Hannah wouldn't be there, and for all she knew, one of the masked partygoers would be the serial killer, closing in on her in plain sight as the crowning achievement in his twisted game plan.
Nope. No matter how Rayna looked at it, reality sucked right now, and she wanted no further part of it. Reality was suspended until further notice due to lack of interest, lack of sanity, and her total lack of enough strength and energy to face the whole mess alone.
But she wasn't alone, was she? In a way, that was the whole point of this trip now that she knew that Gabriel was innocent of Hannah's murder. She was gathering allies to her, gearing up for the big finale on her birthday. If life was a movie, there would be an energetic rock song playing in the background right now, and everyone would be packing the car and loading guns in time to a pulsing beat, and as the music slowly faded at the end of the song, everyone would be ready, and she would be at home, and all the pieces would be in place for the climactic battle. But life wasn't a movie, even when it all felt this unreal, and even though she had managed to recruit two supernatural allies, she was no closer to being ready for the final confrontation with the serial killer than she had been when she had first found Hannah's body.
Rayna pinched a velvety rose petal between her fingers and leaned forward to bury her nose in the nearest full bloom. Her mind was blank all of a sudden because she just didn't have anything left. She was tired and hung over, and her head hurt, and she was hungry, and she was just used up. Instead of fighting it, she embraced it. She had a two thousand mile drive ahead of her to hash through everything yet again, so why not give in and simply fade to black for a little bit while she could? No one would know, and no one would blame her anyway. As she stood up straight again, she sighed and let everything go, content with her dull, flat mental emptiness.
She walked back to the chapel door, stepping inside just long enough to grab her suitcase and purse, then trudged back down the garden path, wheeling her luggage behind her. She paused at the break in the fence, noticing for the first time that her borrowed BMW sat alone in the clearing. She was sure that Radek had parked here the night before because she had been too drunk to walk much farther than the short distance through the garden. She furrowed her brow for a moment, then shrugged and struggled to drag her suitcase through the tall grass. She knew that she would have to drive back to Indiana, and she had assumed that the vampires would be in her car with her during the long drive, but now that she gave it a little bit of thought, it made more sense that Radek would drive his car, too. If not, the vampires would end up stranded in Indianapolis when all of this was over, and she hoped that wasn't part of their plan. Sure, she was glad for their help and company now, but she wasn't planning to make their alliance permanent, which meant that Radek and Gabriel would need to get back to California somehow, and she wasn't planning to volunteer for another four thousand mile round trip.
In any case, Rayna loaded her suitcase into the trunk this time, just in case she would need the backseat for passengers. She left the trunk open and meandered past the fragrant roses again, making several more trips back and forth until she had carried all of the pricey matched luggage, arranging and rearranging the contents of the trunk until she had everything neatly tucked away so that it wouldn't slide around once they were underway.
And she just hoped that would be sooner rather than later.
Rayna squinted through the sunlight back toward the chapel, doing her best to send a motivating vibe Gabriel's way, not that such a thing would ever work. She sighed again and sat down on the stone fence separating the clearing from the garden and carefully stretched out until she was flat on her back on the surprisingly level stones. She draped her arm over her eyes to zone out until the vampires had sorted out their little spat, done whatever they needed to do to make up, and decided to get their undead asses in gear.