“Sol!” Avery is angry with me for speaking to Jenn so harshly.
“No, Avery. He’s right. I have no business being here. I never did but I don’t plan on sticking around and continuing to be anyone’s problem.” Jenn streaks from the room and out the front door. I immediately feel the pain in Avery’s heart. I want to comfort her but I’m not sure it’ll be welcome.
Shit. What have I done?
I have to try to make this right. “I’m sorry, baby doll. I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
“You have to go after her.” Her voice–and mind–is drenched in panic. “She doesn’t know how to survive outside this compound yet.”
I put my hand to my forehead and then push it back through my hair as the realization sets in. She’s right. Jenn has been living in a bubble and has no idea how to get along on her own.
This is nothing but a mess–a gigantic one. And I’m its creator.
Avery grabs my face and forces me to look at her. “Stop it, Sol. I feel your guilt but this isn’t your fault. Jenn is a hothead. She always has been but it’s compounded now that she’s a vampire.”
The family–minus Chansey and the babies–enter Jenn’s bedroom before I’m able to reply. “Don’t worry. We’ll all pitch in to help find her,” Gia says.
Avery walks toward the door. “I need my jacket.”
Oh, hell no. She can’t possibly think I’m letting her out of this compound at night. “You’re not going out there.”
I feel her preparing for a showdown. “Why can’t I come? She’s my family.”
Avery and I are a team but I’m forced to draw a line on how much say she gets when it comes to her safety. I’m now the overbearing alpha male that will be calling all the shots. And it’s going to piss her off royally. “No. It’s too dangerous.”
She’s frustrated but not furious as I anticipated. “My circumstances are never changing. I’ll always be a blood jewel. Does that mean I’m never going to be allowed out of the walls surrounding this compound?”
Sounds like a great plan to me. “Maybe not if it keeps you safe.”
Avery stands with her hands on her hips and her weight shifted to one foot. I’ve seen Chansey in that same stance while angry with Curry and I can only wonder if it’s a coincidence or some kind of agápe characteristic. “I want to help find my sister.”
I play the card I’m certain will get through to her. “I know you do but you’ll only slow us down. We can find Jenn much faster if you stay here. Isn’t that what you want? For us to find her as soon as possible?”
I feel her conceding. “I know you’re right but I’ll feel useless if I stay here.”
“You won’t be of no use,” Curry says. “Chansey will need your help with the babies while I’m out. I can’t go if you don’t stay with her.”
“See? You’re needed here.” I’ll need to thank Curry for that later.
She’s hesitant as she appears to be thinking it over but finally agrees. “Okay. I wouldn’t want Chansey to be left alone.”
Curry tells me over his shoulder as he leaves the room, “I’ll meet you out front after I tell Chansey what’s happening.”
We leave Jenn’s bedroom and walk toward the foyer since she used the front door when she left. The others gather outside and begin forming the plan as I stop to kiss Avery. “Don’t worry. We’ll bring Jenn home.”
“Ugh!” she groans. “I hate this.”
“Me, too. But think of this as an opportunity. You’ll have the luxury of being able to speak freely with Chansey about the agápe bond. She can tell you things firsthand that no one else can. The good and the bad.”
“Okay. I’ll do that.”
She pulls me in for a tight squeeze before letting me go. “Please. Please. Please. Be careful.”
I squeeze her back. “Don’t worry about me, baby doll. There’s a reason I’m almost three hundred years old. I know how to take care of myself.”
“I know but I can’t stop myself from worrying. I realize it’s your duty to protect me so please understand my position when I worry about you. I can’t help it.” Hmm. Good point and one I’ve never considered.
I kiss her hard and place my forehead against hers. Curry walks past us in the foyer to join the others and it’s my cue to leave. “We’ll be back before you know it. With Jenn.”
I’m the last one to join the huddle outside the front door. “So, what’s the plan?”
Sebastian inhales deeply. “She went northwest judging by the direction of her scent. Since there’s seven of us, we’ll break into three groups.” He points in the direction of each assignment. “Gia, Lairah and Thatcher will take the far west corner. Curry and Sol will search the middle while Sully and I scan the far eastern section. Spread an acre apart so that gives us a wide span and we’ll push north. First group to find her sends out a text to notify the others. Any questions?”
Everyone voices their understanding and we split into our designated groups to begin searching. “I really screwed up.”
“You can’t blame yourself. This is something Jenn’s gotta accept and find a way to deal with. No way it’s your fault.” He’s being supportive but I wonder if he heard the harsh things I said to her.
“I told Jenn she needed to leave if she couldn’t accept my relationship with Avery.”
Curry stops. “I heard everything but you were protecting Avery from Jenn’s verbal attack. That’s what we do for our agápes because we can do no less.” I feel minimally better knowing he understands where I’m coming from but I still have Avery to worry about. I’m not certain she understands.
“But what if we don’t find her? Avery may never forgive me if that happens.” It was a possibility I had to consider.
“First of all, we will find Jenn. She’s still a fledgling so she has no idea how to thwart seven experienced vampires from tracking her. Secondly, that’s not how it works with your agápe. Avery can’t not forgive you. It isn’t her nature to hold a grudge against her beloved because she loves you too much.”
I hadn’t considered that. “I hope so.”
Our phones vibrate simultaneously. “See? Someone has already found her.”
The message is from Sebastian. He wants us to come to his location. “I don’t think this means they found Jenn. He would ask us to meet them at the house if they had recovered her.”
I’m instantly worried. “I hope this doesn’t mean something has happened to Jenn.” I’m not convinced Avery would forgive me so easily if that were the case.
We head in Sebastian’s direction. “I’m sure it’s nothing so don’t jump to conclusions.”
We’re the last ones to arrive where the family is gathered in the middle of the compound property. Jenn is nowhere in sight so I’m immediately alarmed. “What’s going on?”
“I picked up on Jenn’s scent and followed it here,” Sebastian says. “Sully and I agree that we smell something else. Or rather someone else.”
Curry and I both inhale deeply and he’s right. “Other vampires have been here.”
“None of us recognize the scents so I don’t believe we have friendly company on our grounds.”
Curry and I look at one another and say his name at the same time. “Vincent.”
I feel horror rising from my stomach and all thoughts about finding Jenn dissipate. “If Vincent has breached the walls of the compound then he knows we are the ones that took Avery. There’s no one in the house to stop him from getting to her.”
“Or my family.” Hysteria floods Curry’s voice.
“Nooo!” I yell the moment I pick up on Avery’s sudden onset of intense fear. “He’s inside the house.”
The seven of us race toward the compound. I’m the first one inside with Curry on my heels. He rushes past me toward the nursery and I fear what he will find because I don’t suspect Vincent’s one to hesitate in making infants his victims.
“Avery!” I yell as I fall to my knees. I don’t have to search the house for my beloved. I already know she is no longer here because I feel the cold distance growing between us.
I put my fists to my eyes and a sound I’ve never heard–or produced–roars from deep within my chest. I rise to stand from where I’m kneeling and do the only thing I can. I pound my fists into the walls over and over until they’re bloody with open wounds. I’m not sure how long I use the walls as a punching bag but I stop after I register Thatcher’s hand on my shoulder. “You need to go to Curry’s quarters right now.”
I walk the hall terrified of what I will find at the end when I reach Curry and Chansey’s bedroom. I listen for any clue of what I’m walking into but the only thing I hear is eery silence–and then the rapid beats of two tiny hearts. I sigh with relief in knowing the babies are alive and still here.
Curry is standing between their cribs looking over his children as they sleep. He doesn’t turn when I enter. “He took Chansey too. His scent is in our bedroom but not the nursery. She must have shut the door since they were sleeping. He probably never even realized there were two half-agápe babies right in the next room.” Anna Grace stirs in her sleep and Curry lifts her from her crib. He cradles her in his arms and stares at her angelic face. “I can’t even bear to imagine what he’d have done to my children if he’d found them.” Curry kisses the top of his daughter’s head and places her back in the crib.
The entire family is standing in the nursery. “Lairah, can you and Gia take care of the babies while the rest of us work on a plan to get Chansey and Avery back.”