Gabriel squeezed his eyes shut as well, clenching his jaw through a wave of pain that rose like acid in his throat.
“I’m sorry I never told you,” she continued, “I’m sorry for many things. Countless things. Sorry for being blind and foolish. For my misguided stubbornness. For making you carry my burdens. For being so selfish. For hurting you unforgivably…”
“Stop,” he beseeched her, giving her hand a gentle squeeze, as much pressure as he dared exert on her brittle bones.
“No,” she answered strongly and took a deep breath for fortification. “Indulge my selfishness one last time.”
With visible effort, she peeled open her eyes, as if raising the heavy lids required strength equal to raising a castle drawbridge. Her pale blue eyes glittering with unshed tears—from anger, frustration or remorse, he could not tell—she pierced straight into his soul with their laser lights.
“I want Benji to have a mother.”
Gabriel sucked in a gulp of air and would have interrupted her if not for the quick, resolute shake of her head.
“It is my last request,” she told him firmly. “I have all the necessary paperwork prepared.”
Gabriel sat straight suddenly as if lightning lit his veins afire.
“Her name is Nana Chastain.”
He’d heard of her, but he had never met her.
In the years since the “incident,” his wife had sometimes spoken of this Nana with great affection and respect. But Gabriel knew nothing of his wife’s friend and confidante, didn’t even know how they met, or anything about who she was. Other than his wife’s words, there was never even a trace of physical evidence proving that Ms. Chastain’s existence wasn’t simply imaginary.
As Gabriel’s ears rang with inner alarm, his wife went on, “I want you and Nana to raise Benji together. I know Benji will love her madly if he doesn’t already.”
What? When had their son met this mysterious woman?
“Do it for Benji,” his wife implored, “Do it for me.”
She didn’t add—do it for yourself.
Maybe those closest to death had the most insight to life.
Somehow she knew that Nana Chastain was exactly what Gabriel needed to rejoin the living. All the time, energy and emotion he’d wasted on her over the years had worn him down just as surely as disease had worn her down. If not for Benji, she thought he would have gladly, disastrously, chosen to join her in the afterlife.
“Have I a choice?” her husband whispered, his voice shaking, his head bent, eyes squeezed tightly shut.
He already knew the answer. She had made her decision, and she was Benji’s mother.
She sighed, hearing the reluctant acceptance in his words, and the strength all at once seemed to seep out of her, her eyes closing again on their own volition, her hand going limp in his grasp.
“You’ll like her,” she promised, her voice so soft he could barely hear her over the radiator.
Time marched onward.
*** *** *** ***
Inanna watched the couple through the thin wall of the hospice, seeing clearly every hair, every eye-lash.
For the most part, her unique ability could be likened to infrared vision, but it was much more powerful than that: she could see through walls as if they were entirely transparent, and she could zoom distant objects into focus to the finest detail.
His chin-length hair hid most of his expression, but Inanna understood the exchange between husband and wife as if she’d heard every word. She knew what was being discussed; Olivia had told her late last night after Gabriel had taken Benji home.
Inanna’s new son.
How did a four-thousand year-old vampire get into this predicament?
Because she was greedy, that’s how. She’d fallen in love with the little boy and his bouncy, blond curls at first sight. And first sight was before he had any hair, right after he was delivered, in fact, at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley-Komansky Children’s Hospital.
But who was she kidding, Inanna silently chided herself. She wasn’t just in love with the boy.
She was head over heels in lust with the husband.
Inanna turned away from the hospice room and walked briskly outside toward her sun-proofed gun-metal Lamborghini Aventador. Folding her long limbs into the vehicle, she fired up the ignition and raced out of the hospice parking lot, into the pitch-black night.
She would grant husband and wife one last night together before collecting on Olivia’s Blood-Contract.
And fulfilling her own.
*** *** *** ***