Chapter Fourteen

The Bonds That Hold

The following night found Corbin at a popular outdoor ice skating rink which was swarming with people of all ages. Flanked by Amanda and Lydia, he awkwardly attempted to balance himself on the thin blades of his skates with his arms cocked beside him, ready to reach for help should he start to fall. He wobbled along as Amanda glided smoothly by his side while Lydia began to cut large circles around them both as she snickered at the amusing sight of her brother's first time on ice skates.

"Don't be afraid Corbin, Gale can heal whatever you injure if you fall," Lydia joked.

"Yeah, but she's not here right now, is she?" Corbin responded as he teetered a bit on the skates, trying hard to keep his attention on staying upright as several other skaters zipped by.

Amanda's cell phone rang and she took it out of her coat pocket to see who was calling. Stopping on the ice, she signaled for Corbin and Lydia to continue while she took the call. Lydia zoomed gracefully over to take Amanda's place of security at Corbin's side. He reached an unsteady arm out to her.

"Okay, I think it's time for a break," he suggested.

His teenage sister took him by the arm and guided him carefully over to a nearby bench at the edge of the rink. After seeing that he was seated without incident, she flew off on the ice to join the more experienced skaters in free-flowing laps around the rink. Corbin relaxed on the bench, admiring the sight of adept skaters of all ages who seemed to master the ice with little to no effort. When an occasional newbie like himself stuttered past, he grinned at the sight, knowing his efforts resembled theirs all too well.

Amanda whizzed by with Lydia, then on the next lap she cut away from her to join Corbin on the bench. She noticed how out of place her sweetheart seemed as he watched the other skaters. "Oh, you'll be flying around out there soon enough. Just give it some time," she said as she nudged his shoulder encouragingly.

"Mmm, I'm not so sure," he answered lightly. "But thanks for the vote of confidence," he added as he turned to her with his boyish smile.

She leaned over and kissed him, then quipped through a lover's smile,"Anytime."

Her smile retreated behind a sudden, deeply concerned look that captured Corbin's full attention.

"You gotta promise me that you won't pull another reckless stunt like you did with that Dr. Harper," she implored.

Corbin sighed as he lowered his head in guilt. "I know I messed up, it's just that..."

His voice trailed off as he sought a reason for his actions, a reason he still wasn't sure about himself. Amanda gave him a few seconds to continue, then reached over and took his hand with an affectionate squeeze, steering his lowered gaze back to her with her touch. His sorrowful expression, which assured her he understood the gravity of what could have happened to him as well as the toll on his loved ones, looked for solace in her sincere gray eyes.

"I've lived for more than nine hundred years thinking I knew what love was, then I met you. You mean so much to me Corbin, the thought of something happening to you...well, is too much to bear," she confided.

Corbin reached over and tenderly stroked her cheek with the backside of his hand, conveying in the Allender way how much she meant to him. They held an adoring gaze between them for a moment, then a whimsical smile crept across Corbin's face.

"Nine hundred years huh," he said, then he began pointing between them. "I guess that makes our relationship the most extreme May/December relationship ever," he joked, bringing an amused smirk to the face of the dark-haired vampire he loved dearly.

Before Amanda could add her own colorful remark to his comment, Lydia came gliding over to the bench, backwards and sliding to a quick stop on the ice. Corbin looked up at her, shaking his head in mock disgust.

"Show-off!" he playfully accused.

Lydia feigned a haughty expression as she stuck her tongue out at him. He reacted with an overly shocked, gaping face that made her break the facade with a humored grin. She took a seat on the bench beside Amanda, who suddenly remembered to tell them both something.

"Oh, that was Gideon who called a few minutes ago. He'll be back at the manor tonight," she informed, garnering pleased nods from Corbin and Lydia. Then she turned to Lydia with an idea. "Wanna try your gift's new ability out on me, see if you can hear my thoughts?"

Lydia shrugged compliantly and said,"Sure."

They twisted around on the bench to face each other as best they could while Corbin watched silently from over Amanda's back. Lydia closed her eyes and scrunched her face a little as she focused on intercepting whatever thoughts Amanda was directing at her. After a few moments of diligently trying, she finally opened her eyes and shook her head with a disappointed frown.

"Nothing?" Amanda asked. "I was sending a wave of thoughts at you," she added.

Lydia shook her head again, then snuck a glance over Amanda's shoulder at Corbin. "It only seems to work with Corbin," she admitted.

Amanda turned around to meet Corbin with her arms folded under a playfully accusing stare. "Good thing I'm not the jealous type," she quipped, holding back a smirk.

Corbin's only defense was an innocent smile. He leaned forward on the bench to shoot a fun wink around Amanda to his little sister, who received it with a happy grin. She hopped up off the bench and tugged at Amanda.

"Come on, let's skate. I need someone out there who can keep up," she grinned, taking a shot at Corbin.

Amanda looked at Corbin who just shrugged, unable to deny the novice truth Lydia aimed at him. "Go ahead, I'm having fun just watching you two," he assured, persuading them both to skate off hand-in-hand and join the flow of other skaters on the rink.

Back at the large gothic house the Allenders called home, Gale returned from her week-long stay at her fiancé Ethan's house. Having been kept informed about the events which transpired during her absence, and assured repeatedly that her insistence on returning early was unwarranted because all was now thankfully well, she breathed a deep sigh of comfort at the manors welcoming presence.

Shade helped her bring in her luggage, then they met in the kitchen where they patiently waited with small talk over a brewing pot of coffee. With steaming hot cups in hand, the two sisters, who were as visibly different as night is from day, moved the conversation to the parlor where Gale listened eagerly as Shade divulged every last detail she could conjure concerning the weeks nefarious encounters with Colonel Merrick and Dr. Harper.

By the time both their cups were dry, Gale was up to speed on everything she had missed. They took a trip back to the kitchen for refills, which gave Gale a few minutes to mull over all that Shade had told her, but before she could start in with her own thoughts the doorbell distracted them both with its deep chimes.

"Must be Gideon," Shade surmised. "He called earlier," she added, then bolted off in a blur toward the front door.

A few moments later the tall, stately vampire entered the kitchen with Shade following like his shadow. He and Gale exchanged pleasant greetings, then Shade addressed the purpose of his trip from which he had just returned.

"So, did you turn up anything in Laughton about that Dr. Walsh?"

"Mmm, I am afraid not. It appears that Vincent Walsh perished in an unfortunate accident which occurred at his place of employment some two years ago. We need not bother with that trail any further," he said convincingly, eyeing both sisters.

"Too bad," Gale remarked.

"Yes," Gideon concurred as he walked between them then spun around with his hand rubbing his chin in thought.

"Dr. Harper has proven that we shall each have to keep a more alertful eye out for trouble in the future, but something Merrick told Amanda and myself still troubles me greatly," he confessed.

"What is it?" Shade asked as she stepped up beside Gale.

Gideon folded his arms across his chest, then roved over Gale and Shade's waiting faces with a careful glance before speaking with a weighty tone.

"I am not certain if he meant simply to stir my own ire, or if he was attempting to distract my intentions at the time; nonetheless, whatever the reason, it is something to be mindful of.

He claimed, rather adamantly, that Jarell's death only rendered him temporarily banished from this plane of existence until he is able, through some unspecified means, to find his way back."

Gale and Shade shared concerned expressions at Gideon's words, but Gale's caring blue eyes and regal features were unable to hide the worry that rose quickly inside her. She took a single, urgent step toward Gideon.

"Do you believe him? Is that possible?" she frantically inquired.

Gideon studied the eldest daughter of his beloved Emma for a moment, regretting that he had rattled her so with something he felt they needed to be aware of. His most earnest desire was for the children of the White Raven to live free of the darkness that one such as Jarell could bring. He reached out with both arms and took Gale assuringly by her shoulders, looking down at her with a fierce determination burning in his gray eyes.

"Be it true or not, I stand ever ready to protect those I love, and if Jarell does return, and is foolish enough to move against this family...," Gideon paused as a knowing, confident smirk climbed proudly upon his face,"...Well, he shall find that the Allender children are not such easy prey."

Gale's worry subsided in Gideon's comforting arms, and he looked past her to an emboldened Shade who stood ready like a confident soldier prepared for whatever may come. She crossed her arms with a slow nod, agreeing wholeheartedly with his statement.