When Halina and Gabriel finished up with their touching moment on the roof, Teren blurred down to drive Gabriel to our place. Smiling as I listened to Gabriel break up Starla and Jacen's canoodling, I heard Halina tenderly wish him a safe trip home. As Teren's vehicle departed along with Gabriel's, I heard Halina sigh, nearly with content.

In the silence of the sleeping household, I told her, "I'm glad you didn't break up with him, Halina. You two are good together." I smiled as I thought about how similar they were. Both had been alone for a long time, having lost their respective loved ones ages ago, Gabriel even longer than Halina. Both were the protectors of their families and both could be ruthless when they needed to be. Yet, in this, in falling in love again, they were equally new and inexperienced. Almost...innocent.

Halina scoffed, blurring into the doorway beside me. "Well, I do enjoy having intercourse with him." She sniffed. "I wasn't ready to give that up yet."

Like I said...almost innocent.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head at her as I stared at my children. I could feel Teren pulling away from me in my head and sighed softly, hoping he hurried back to me. The warmth of our reuniting would help ease the growing knot of anticipation in my belly. My head couldn't stop mentally ticking off the moments. Every heartbeat I had, every breath I took, every second of time I felt passing by, was one less that I'd have...alive.

Silently watching me, Halina tilted her head, her dark hair flowing down her bare arm in the strapless dress she was wearing. "Are you freaking out?" she asked curiously.

Frowning at her, I shook my head and crossed my arms over my belly, subtly pressing in that ball of tension. "No, of course not. I know I'll be fine."

I lifted my chin, but even I felt the lie in my declaration. She surprisingly put a hand on my shoulder. "My own transformation was different from what you'll be facing, but after having watched Imogen and Alanna go through the torment, I'd be fearful of it, if I was about to experience it."

My eyes widened as the ball in my stomach grew considerably larger. Was that supposed to make me feel better? Noting my features, my accelerated heart, she shrugged. "I don't believe in coddling you. This will be painful." She raised an eyebrow. "But it is only pain and you have overcome far worse. I know you can do this, Emma."

Nodding my head at her, I actually did feel a little comforted. Looking in on my children, she smiled softly. "I'm going down to my room." Looking back at me, she gave me a serious expression. "Enjoy every moment of your last day as a human." Shaking her head, she whispered, "You won't get another."

I gave her a swift hug, even though she didn't look to be asking for one from me, then watched her languidly head down to her rooms below the earth. Once her presence was settled downstairs, I walked into my kids' bedroom. Needing to feel connected to the people that made this scary process worth having, I crawled into bed with them.

Spike shifted to lie at our feet as I nestled in-between them. Disturbing them only temporarily, I felt Nika murmur, "Hi, Mommy," across my skin as she wrapped her little arms over me. Julian muttered the same as he wrapped himself around me too. Closing my eyes, I inhaled their scent: the grass, the dirt, the baby shampoo, and the distinct essence of them. It calmed me, and that horrid knot melted away.

The next morning Teren and I filled in the rest of the family on what had happened the evening before. Imogen and Alanna were sympathetic, each giving me long hugs as we discussed my fate over breakfast. Trying not to worry, I watched my children build houses out of their French toast. I wasn't hungry, but I made myself eat. I knew that this was the last breakfast I was ever going to have, so I wanted to enjoy it. I savored every bite that I made myself take.

Jack sighed and put a hand over mine as I popped a slice of bacon in my mouth. "I'm very sorry for what you'll be going through, Emma." His warm brown eyes clearly showed that while he adored his vampiric family, he had no desire to go through it. He had no desire to become one.

I rested my hand over his, locking in the memory of how similarly warm our skin was. "Thank you, Jack."

He nodded, his eyes glassier than normal. Shifting his gaze to his wife, he asked her, "Should I stay the night somewhere else then?"

Alanna immediately nodded, her eyes protective. She didn't look at me, but I wanted to vow to her, on my very soul, that I'd never hurt him. I couldn't though. Having watched Teren suffer through it, I knew that there was a very good possibility that I might go after Jack. I hung my head at the thought. My next one immediately brought my eyes back up.

"The children!"

My panicked eyes flew to them. I could clearly hear their heartbeats, even across the table from me. Surely, they would seem appetizing to a creature literally dying of thirst? Hadn't Halina confessed that she'd nearly killed Imogen? The thought of harming them made bile rise in my throat. My trembling hand covered my mouth just as Teren rubbed his hand over my back. The combination gave me chills.

"We'll get them away, Emma," he said softly, soothingly. I looked over at him, suddenly worried that I could somehow hurt them no matter how far away they were from me. That would be my worst nightmare, my absolute worst. Teren smiled and cupped my cheek. As I heard other voices telling me that it would be alright, his sky blue eyes drew me in. "I won't let you hurt them, Emma. I'll keep them safe."

I nodded in his fingertips and he gave me a soft kiss. The kids giggled, not understanding the seriousness of the situation, only knowing that Mommy and Daddy were kissing. With a faked not-a-care-in-the-world smile, he twisted to them. "How would you two like to spend the night with Grandma Linda?"

My kids erupted in loud cheers, clapping their hands. Spike, sitting behind them in case they dropped anything to his level, barked and thumped his tail, almost like he'd understood the question and wanted to go see my mom too. I laughed at the trio and slapped on my fake smile. "Okay, but you need to go easy on Grandma. She's not as quick as your other Grandmas."

They both nodded, their little faces alive with yet another upcoming adventure. "We know, Mommy," Julian informed me. "Grandma's not a vampire." He stumbled a bit on the word, pronouncing it more with a W sound than a V, and I smiled genuinely at the innocence there. Soulless, bloodthirsty monsters? I don't think so.

I slightly frowned as I rethought that. For a moment, just a moment tonight, that was exactly what I'd be. Driven by pure eat-or-die instinct, I'd be the epitome of every late night horror show I'd ever seen. It was not a good weight to carry around, and I was relieved that my children wouldn't be there to witness it. Even though they'd go through it themselves one day, they shouldn't have to see a parent that way. It would be unsettling for them. And I wouldn't exactly be setting a good example.

Teren looked back at me while they laughed around their mouths stuffed with spiced bread. "I'll call and make arrangements for them and Spike."

I sighed and leaned into his side. "Don't tell her about me, okay?"

He kissed my hair, his arm slinking around me. "Are you sure? She would want to know what you're...going through."

Leaning my head on his shoulder, I looked over at Imogen and Alanna talking together in a bright patch of sunlight. Even though they were in a conversation themselves, about which cows should be given up...for me, I knew that they were partially listening to our conversation. "No, my mom would insist on being here, and it's not safe."

Into my hair, Teren whispered, "We could make her leave once you...fall asleep." I smiled and looked up at him. He meant when I died, but he didn't want to scare the children with that word. They still weren't entirely informed on what went down during a conversion. We weren't about to tell them either, not at three years old.

Frowning as I thought over the scenario he was referring to, I shook my head before laying it back on his shoulder. "No, I haven't told her yet about that part of this and..." Sighing, I watched Alanna twist to look at me. "No parent should have to watch their child...fall asleep."

Alanna smiled softly at me, her eyes shifting over to Teren. Imogen grabbed her hand and she looked back at her mom. I wondered if Imogen had watched her daughter die. As the youthful but grandmotherly vampire smiled remorsefully and cupped her daughter's cheek, I figured that she had.

Pulling back from Teren's shoulder, I looked up at him. "I wish you didn't have to see it." He twisted his lips and shook his head, but before he could speak, I quickly added, "But don't leave me."

His eyes watered a little and he shook his head before resting his forehead to mine. "I'm not going anywhere, Em. Nothing could tear me away from you right now." He leaned down to kiss me again, but a piece of toast sailing across the table distracted him. Straightening, he looked over at Nika and Julian pretend sword fighting with sticks of toast. "Don't play with your food."

Knowing the seriousness of our conversation, knowing the seriousness of my upcoming demise, I couldn't help my reaction at the look on his face as he instantly shifted from that seriousness to stern parent, scolding our children for improper table manners. I started laughing. In my anxiousness, I started belly laughing. Tears were streaming down my face as my children joined in on the gaiety.

Knowing I was disrupting the discipline that we usually tried to instill in them, but needing a release, I grabbed a slice of my toast and chucked it over the table at them. Their little eyes widened, but giggling at me, they started throwing food right back. I dodged half eaten chunks of bread as I tore up tiny chunks of food to glob over at them. Teren sighed, but didn't deny me my moment of fun. Softly chuckling, he eventually joined in, grabbing some fresh sticks from a platter of them in the center of the table. Only Teren started chucking them at his mom. It was about three seconds after that when a full-on food fight was in progress.

I laughed until my sides hurt. Spike happily cleaned up the mess.

Picking stray pieces of food out of my hair, I spent the bulk of the afternoon with my children. We did everything that they loved to do. We colored, we read books, we put together puzzles, and Teren and I each grabbed a child and did the vampiric version of piggyback rides, meaning we were mere streaks rushing through the house. We wore them out so much that they crashed in my arms at naptime. I stayed cuddled with them on the couch, listening to our hearts beat in unison. I tried to imagine never hearing that again, but I'd become too accustomed to it, I couldn't.

Teren stuck close to my side throughout the day, holding me when he could, kissing me repeatedly. I knew he was offering what support and encouragement he could, and I loved him all the more for it. We didn't speak of what was going to happen to me anymore. It was too hard to talk about around the children. I didn't want to worry or scare them. I would come out of this fine. I was pretty sure anyway.

After naptime, Alanna started preparing the most elaborate meal I'd ever seen; it rivaled Christmas dinner. When I asked her what she was doing, she would only tell me that she was making something special for me. It twisted my stomach at the same time that it warmed it. She was literally making me my last meal. After today, I'd be on the same all liquid diet that Teren was on. While he told me all the time that food didn't even sound appealing anymore, I really had a hard time wrapping my head around it. How could hamburgers, fries, pizzas, mochas, pasta and ice cream, suddenly not sound mouthwateringly good?

As the children played with some floured dough balls, getting the white powder all over themselves in the process, I helped Alanna cut up some vegetables. From across the house in the library, I could hear Teren call my mother, asking her if she'd like the kids for a couple of days while he whisked me away on an impromptu birthday getaway. She exclaimed her joy at the idea of having them overnight and I sighed, watching Julian help Nika squash her ball flat. It wasn't exactly the situation I'd imagined for their first night away from me. I wasn't sure how I'd handle them not being around, but I knew I needed to, for their safety.

When Teren told her that Jack would be bringing the kids by, since we were leaving shortly, I sighed again. I hated that he had to lie to my mother, but it was for the best. You just couldn't tell a parent that your heart would soon stop beating and not expect them to rush out to you. I'd always meant to tell her that it would happen to me someday, but I'd never found the time...or the courage. Like most things that happened with me, I'd have to tell her after the fact. I did feel a little guilty about that.

Alanna patted me briefly in sympathy before returning to the feast she was preparing. Teren hung up with my mother and immediately called Hot Ben, both to fill him in on the situation and to talk over his own stress with a friend. He didn't outright mention his fear, but I heard it in the tenor of his voice. I tried to stop listening, to give him some privacy, and shifted my attention to a lightly humming Alanna; she also seemed to be giving her son privacy.

"Mom?" I asked softly. She twisted to me, smiling warmly at being addressed as family. Lifting her eyebrows, she waited for my question. Curious if Alanna would have done what I'd been doing for the last few years, up until last night actually, I asked, "Would you have taken Gabriel's shot? Would you have wanted to keep aging?"

Alanna smiled and leaned back into the counter as Imogen walked into the room. Running a hand over the button up shirt tucked into her jeans, she paused to rub her empty stomach. "I would have loved to give Teren a sibling." She sighed as Imogen walked over to slink an arm around her. Looking between the two was like watching twin sisters, not a mother and daughter. Shaking her loose, black hair, Alanna shrugged. "It was hard for me to get pregnant. I would have loved to have had more time to try again."

I twisted my lips and nodded, trying to picture Teren with a brother or a sister. Imogen sighed as well, her free hand skimming over the long skirt she typically wore. "It was difficult for me as well." She squeezed Alanna tight. "You were my only miracle." Alanna smiled up at her while Imogen looked over at me. "Gabriel says that it is harder for a female vampire to conceive, than it is for a male vampire to..." She cut off, glancing down at my children watching us curiously.

Filling in the part she didn't want to say in front of my impressionable youngsters, I let her know that I understood. "Oh, I didn't know that." It was easier for vampire men to knock up humans, than vice versa.

Imogen shrugged, a strand of dark hair falling from her loose bun. "If we'd known that with Teren, we probably wouldn't have pushed him so hard." She smiled as she listened to her grandson laughing with Ben as his friend eased his mind. "He just seemed so disinterested in settling down, we were worried that he wouldn't want children...until it was too late."

All of us looked at the twins. They each smiled at the sudden attention, swinging their legs back and forth on the stools as they poked holes in the dough with their fingers. Alanna handed them some pretzel sticks, showing them how to make animals with the sticks as legs. I walked over to Imogen and she looped her cool arm around me. "We shouldn't have pushed him, I know, but look at those two..." her eyes drifted back to Nika and Julian. "How could we not pressure him for them?"

Alanna peeked her head up from in-between them, her lineless brow furrowed. "But I raised my son properly, and he knew that he had to find the right woman first, before he brought children into this world with her." Her face relaxed as she looked over at me. "Actually, I think Carrie taught him that," she whispered.

I nodded. Yes, his ex had taught him a lot about responsibility. But then, all exes teach us something about who we are, about who we want to be. Alanna smiled as she went back to making dough animals with the kids. "He just took his time finding you, is all."

"Says who?" Teren asked, finally walking back into the room. Smiling confidently, he slipped his arms around me and nuzzled my neck; the roughness made me laugh. "I think I found you just when I was meant to."

I leaned back into his arms and closed my eyes, nodding. "Yes, yes you did."

The kids started getting anxious to leave shortly before dark. They waited until Halina was awake, so she could see them off, but really, they'd been bouncing off the walls for most of the afternoon. Spending the night at my mom's house had never happened for them and it was an excitement that was nearly palpable. Especially when Teren told them that my mom had fresh blood in her fridge.

I frowned at him while the kids clapped their hands. "Where would she...?" My eyes widened as I remembered something about her getting a chicken coop a couple of days ago. "Did she get those chickens just...for that?" My eyes drifted down to my kids hugging Halina goodbye. Teren bought live chickens so he could drain them before cooking them. I knew my mom was okay with what the kids were, but her going so far as to provide a food source for them was pretty startlingly, especially since they really didn't need that much blood.

Teren held me tight and shrugged. "She said she didn't want to deny them what they needed."

I sighed, recalling her saying that to him earlier when they'd spoken. I remembered Teren's response; it was the same as my own. "She doesn't need to do that. We give them all the blood they need."

He shrugged again. "I know, but she's a proud grandma." Laughing softly he added, "I think if our kids breathed fire, she'd laugh and have them make her s'mores. Anything to make them feel special." He laughed again and kissed my neck.

I shook my head at my mom. She sure had embraced them in a way that I hadn't anticipated. I hoped her level of acceptance stretched to me as well when I came back...different. With how much she constantly surprised me with them, I was pretty sure she would.

As Jack came down the stairs with his overnight bag, a pang went through me. This was really happening. He was spending the night at our house while our kids stayed with my mom. I watched him walk over to his wife and gently kiss her goodbye. She put on a brave face but my enhanced sight saw the tremble of her lip, the moisture in her pale eyes. She probably hadn't spent a night apart from him since her own conversion. Guilt washed through me that I was forcing them apart, if even just for one evening. I knew he couldn't stay though. It was too risky. And I knew Alanna wouldn't leave me until she knew I was safe. That just wasn't her way.

Whispering words of love to each other, I pulled my sight from them, to give them as much privacy as I could. Our children detached from where they were saying goodbye to Imogen and darted to Teren and I. We each knelt down to enfold a child in our arms. Nika shivered as she held her daddy. Julian melted into me as I held him. I closed my eyes and swallowed, knowing I'd feel different the next time they held me.

"Love you, Mommy," he said merrily, not a trace of fear or worry in his voice.

I choked up, my eyes nearly overflowing. "I love you too, baby."

Nika separated from Teren to trade places with Julian. Nestling my head in her hair, I felt my tears fall free and heard them splash on her body. She peeked up at me, her fingers coming up to touch my cheek. "Why are you sad, Mommy?"

I smiled as even more tears fell. "I'm not, sweetheart. I just love you...so much."

Julian broke free from Teren to rush back to me. I crushed him to my body, suddenly not wanting to let them go, even though I knew I had to. "Don't cry, Mommy," he murmured as his little hand stroked my back.

It was too much for my stressed body and the few tears were now a torrent. I kissed each head repeatedly as I sobbed out, "I'm just so happy to be your mommy. I love you both so much."

Just when I felt myself really starting to lose it, my own emotion starting to reflect in my children as they voraciously clung to me, Teren gently pulled them back. "Okay kids, time to go, Grandma's waiting." His voice was light and soft, carefree, everything mine was currently not.

Not wanting them to know anything was wrong, I wiped my eyes dry and threw on the happiest smile that I could. "Daddy's right." I cupped their cheeks, their smiles returning as my tears dried up. "You guys have fun, okay?"

They both nodded and giggled, rushing to give Alanna a final hug before heading out the door with Teren. He glanced back at me with apologetic eyes and I mouthed, "thank you," so he would know that I wasn't upset with him for disengaging them from me. I knew he was right to break the tension. I didn't want them to feel anything but joyous about what was happening.

He nodded and left, their presence in my head shifting to the parking lot as he transferred their car seats to his dad's truck. Jack and Alanna gave each other one long, last hug before separating, Alanna handing him a bag of the supper that he'd be missing. Jack walked over to me while I held in my stomach, anxious, nervous, and sad that half of my family was forced to flee from me. Looking down at me for a second, he shook his head and then swept me up into a hug. I blinked and hugged him back fiercely.

He wasn't super affectionate, unlike Alanna and Imogen, so I knew that he was truly feeling concern for me. Patting my back while he held me tight, he whispered, "You come back now, alright?"

Swallowing, I nodded. "I will, Dad." The word still tore my heart. Having lost my father at such a young age, I'd had a hole in me that Jack had helped fill. I loved him as the surrogate father that he was, and was very grateful that he wouldn't be anywhere near my menu tonight.

Pulling apart from me, he sniffled, then headed out the door after Teren. I made myself stay in the house, but I heard my children laughing and barking with Spike. Jack said his goodbyes to his son, wishing him well with the conversion. I could hear them hug, then car doors started shutting. I turned away after that, not really wanting to hear my children leave me.

Surprisingly, I turned into Halina. The vixen said nothing, only wrapped her ice cold arms around me. I held in my tears, sniffling into her shoulder. She patted my back, soothingly murmuring, "Don't worry, they will all be safe." She hugged me a little tighter. "As will you."

She said something else after that but it was in Russian. I caught a little of it, and from what I could make out, she was saying that I would finally be a sister of the night and we would celebrate with a slaughter, bathing our bodies in blood. Or she could have been wishing me an early happy birthday. My Russian still wasn't that great.

Teren swished back into the room as the sound of tires crunching down the driveway filtered back to me. I was handed off from one vampire to another as Halina passed me over to my husband. Clinging to him, I thought that I'd probably never needed him as much as I did in that moment.

Sensing my turmoil, perhaps sharing it, he scooped me up as I laid my head on his shoulder. Too exhausted to keep standing anyway, I was grateful for the assistance. Kissing my head, he sighed. "This isn't exactly how I pictured our first overnight date without the kids."

Blinking, I peeked up at him. Smiling softly at me, he shrugged. "I'll do better next time."

I laughed lightly and he smiled wider, giving me a soft kiss. Alanna walked up to us, gently placing her hand on my back. "Hungry, dear? Dinner is ready."

She looked at the door and I knew she was thinking of her husband. Reaching out to her, to give her some comfort for her own loneliness, I nodded. "I'm starving, Mom. I would be honored." She smiled widely and started walking towards the kitchen. Even though my stomach felt too knotted to have food in it, Alanna loved providing for her family and I knew I'd just lifted her spirits by accepting it. A small sacrifice for her much larger one.

We all sat down to the feast fit for a King. Alanna had prepared all of my favorite things it seemed. Adams' ranch steaks, the best in all of California if you asked me, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, and even a lasagna. It was way too much food for only one person to eat, but I appreciated the sentiment. She piled my plate with a little bit of everything, then kissed my head as she tucked me under the table.

I thanked her and stared at my plate as the carafe of blood was doled out. I wasn't the tiniest bit hungry. It made me a little sad that I wasn't, since this would be it for me, food-wise. But really, eating was the last thought in my head; even the blood I could smell wafting in the air didn't sound good.

Handing Teren his steaming glass, Alanna patted my back. "Eat, Emma, it will help ease the...discomfort, if your stomach is full."

My eyes widened a bit, but I picked up my fork and did as she said. I trusted her advice; they all had a lot more experience with this than I did. Teren drank with his arm around me, cool and comforting. A silence settled around the table as the meal extended. It seemed to take about three times as long as a typical meal at the ranch. Probably because I was picking at my food. They all watched me too, like each vampire was waiting for my heart to beat its last beat right there in front of them. I wanted to tell them to stop, that I wasn't even late for my shot yet, but as the time went by, I started to do it too, listening internally to my steady, wet thump.

Bedtime for my kids rolled around when Alanna brought out a cake. I smiled at the chocolate treat and made myself take some. My thoughts were on my kids though. I imagined my mom laughing and reading them stories. I pictured them holding hands and telling each other goodnight. It hurt my heart that I was missing it. While I frowned, Teren kissed my head, also aware of what time it was.

As I finished with all of the food that my body could handle, the time finally passed over when I typically took my shot. It felt strange to not take it. A warning bell was dinging in my head that I had to consciously ignore. It was hard to. I'd been taking the medicine for so long now that my body was nagging at me, constantly reminding me that I was forgetting to do something. Only I wasn't forgetting. I was not doing it on purpose.

Swallowing as I leaned into Teren's side, I stared back at all of the ice blue eyes curiously watching me. Nervous and anxious, I turned my head to Teren. "If we go to Utah, what would we do for work?"

Teren startled a little, his brow narrowing. Obviously he hadn't expected me to ask that. "You want to talk about that...now?"

I nodded as I rubbed my full stomach. "Yes." My eyes drifted around the table. "Waiting around to die is started to kill me..." I narrowed my eyes as Halina smirked at me. "You know what I mean," I muttered, swinging my eyes back to Teren. "Distract me...please."

Teren smiled and shook his head. "Well, I'll get a job writing somewhere, maybe another monthly magazine, or maybe a newspaper." He smiled wider, hugging me tight. "You can get a job at another accounting firm, or...really, we could get you a job anywhere you want. Feel like changing careers?"

I pulled back from him and scowled. "How are you going to get me a job anywhere I want?"

He twisted his lips and was about to answer, but Halina across the table got my attention by smiling slyly and waving. I dropped my mouth open as I understood. They compelled their way into jobs. Twisting my head back to him, I sputtered, "That's cheating."

He shrugged. "The job market is competitive, sometimes an edge helps."

I scoffed and shook my head. "An edge...really."

He chuckled and shrugged again. As I looked around the table, I took in the opulence that the family gathered around themselves - gold cutlery, crystal goblets, fine china in a pantry against the wall. And this was just one of their ranches. Even for a successful business, it seemed a little over the top.

Looking back at Teren, I cocked an eyebrow. "Okay, I know a few things about financials." My hand swirled around in the air to indicate the luxury around us. "And a few ranches scattered across the country could not have possibly amassed the amount of money you guys have." I looked over at Halina pointedly. "This can't all be from ranching...so where did it come from?"

I heard Teren scratch his stubble, and Alanna and Imogen looked at each other. Only Halina kept my gaze. "Do you really want to know?"

Taking in the reluctance around me, I sighed. "I'm going to find it...unsavory, aren't I?"

Halina grinned widely and sat back in her chair. "That depends on your definition of unsavory," she said sweetly. "I call it survival."

Twisting my lips, I sighed, "Okay, hit me."

She smirked and shrugged. "Well, in my many years on his earth, I may have crossed paths with a millionaire or two. They may have felt...compelled to donate some of their wealth to my well being." She shrugged again as Teren shifted beside me, watching me intently.

My jaw dropped practically to the floor. "You stole it?"

She tilted her head, her youthful face contemplative. "Well, that's where the savory-unsavory line comes into play." She shrugged causally. "I asked...they gave."

I raised an eyebrow at her. "Did they have a choice?"

She grinned merrily. "No."

I sighed and leaned back in my chair, taking in the "stolen" wealth around me. "So, all of this isn't really yours?"

Imogen leaned forward, her brows concerned. "Emma, it was just to get us up and running." She smiled lightly. "I'm pretty good with financials too, and I make sure that we have sound investments, so mother doesn't have to...do that."

I scrunched my lips at her and shook my head. "But if those investments ever dried up?"

Imogen raised an eyebrow, her face confident. "They won't."

I leaned forward. "But...if they did?"

Halina snorted and crossed her arms over her chest. "They won't." Her tone was definite; she clearly meant it in the literal sense. If they lost everything they had, money-wise, then she'd find another person with an abundance of it and "ask" him or her for a charitable contribution, one that they wouldn't be able to refuse.

Shaking my head, I murmured, "Now I sort of wish I hadn't asked."

I sighed again, not sure how comfortable I was with the situation. Teren squeezed my shoulder and looked about to speak up, but his great-grandmother beat him to it. Leaning over her arms on the table, Halina shook her head at me. "Try to understand the situation, Emma, before you condemn it solely on principle."

Hanging her head, she lowered her voice. "I was turned when I was nineteen. I was alone, in a foreign body, with a newborn infant. My husband was dead. My creator was dead. And every day, I worried that I might turn on my own child." She peeked up at me, the wisdom in her eyes betraying the youth of her body.

Tilting her freely swirling mass of black hair, she indicated the land around us. "My husband left me with a fraction of this ranch that you see now, and no one here to help me with it during the day." Sighing, she looked over to the window, out to the fields where dark shapes were standing still in the distance, sleeping. Every vampire in the room was stone silent, listening to her story; no one besides me was even breathing.

Shaking her head, she muttered, "I fed on cattle and what other animals that I could find nearby, too scared to even approach a human. Too scared that once I did, a bloodlust would take me, and I wouldn't be able to stop killing humans." She looked back at me, her eyebrows raised. "Believe it or not, but I didn't want to be that kind of creature."

Shifting her eyes to her daughter, she sighed again. "But eventually the cows started to dry up. Eventually I didn't have any left to get milk for my child. Eventually, I had to go into town, to feed her." Her eyes saddened as she looked back at me, and I didn't see the sultry vixen who liked to ceaselessly tease me anymore. I saw a concerned mother, same as me.

Imogen rested her hand on her mother's shoulder as Halina continued. "I fought against my hunger, as Imogen was my priority." Her lip quavered a bit as anger filled her voice. "She was screaming she was so hungry, and out of fear and desperation, I begged a man on the street to get her food." The anger fled her voice as wonder replaced it. "To my complete surprise, he did."

She smiled as she looked down at the table, shaking her head. "I watched him walk across the street, not even bothering to move out of the way of the cars on the road. I watched him break into a closed store and come out with bundles of food - rice, bread, and bottles of milk." Looking back up at me, she shrugged. "He walked right over to me, dropped it at my feet, smiled, and then left."

I felt a shiver run through me thinking about what she'd made that man do. It was so much power for one person to hold. I wondered what I'd do with her abilities? Would I use them for "good" as Teren had once teased me?

Tilting her head, her ageless eyes as awed as her voice, she said, "I had no idea that I had that kind of power until that very moment. I tried it out on others, getting the things that I needed." Smiling softly, she looked around the home, her home. "Soon, I had food, I had cows, I had help with the ranch," she focused her eyes back to me, "and most importantly, I had a way to keep my child healthy, happy and alive." She raised her eyebrows as she let that sink in. After a second, she shrugged and grinned. "I even compelled someone to take care of her during daylight hours, when I couldn't be there."

Marveling at the woman before me, I watched her lean back in her chair and raise her chin defiantly. "Now, given my options, Emma, what would you have done differently?"

Shaking my head, nearly speechless with awe, I could only get out, "Nothing..."

She gave me her trademark smirk, then swirled her hand around the room, similar to how I'd done it earlier. "So, now, this may seem opulent to you, but I'm providing for my family, all of my family, however many generations of us may come along." Looking around the room at her family, she met and held each pair of pale eyes. Teren smiled when she got to him.

In a low, passionate voice, she continued with, "None of them have my abilities and once I go...they are all on their own. I won't leave them destitute, penniless." She swung her eyes back to me, a fire in the icy depths. With a snarl of determination she spat out, "No child of mine will ever scream for food again."

Blinking back the tears, I shook my head. "You...really are an amazing woman," I whispered.

Slapping on an effortlessly casual crooked grin, she rested her leather boots on the table. "I like to think so."

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