Ryker stood beneath the wedding arch looking into the eyes of Kaya McCarthy. He’d never expected to find himself in this position. Among his own people he was considered an outcast and often outsiders feared his kind. He counted himself the luckiest man in the world to have found Kaya.
The two had opted for a small wedding ceremony attended by a few close family members and one very new friend. Alfhild wasn’t quite sure what she thought of this young woman standing beside her. For her part, Lyrika gazed inquisitively at the elderly woman before quickly looking back at what she considered her surrogate mommy and daddy.
Kaya smiled lovingly at Ryker. She knew some might find it odd that she was marrying him, but she knew there was no one else in the world that she would rather spend the rest of her life with. She knew their relationship would bring some unique challenges, but Kaya knew that she was willing to work through anything life threw at her for Ryker.
Kaya and Ryker shared their first dance together while the rest of the guests partook in a slice of cake. Neither one had a particular sweet tooth, so they didn’t feel like they’d missed out on anything by not eating any. Besides, in a few short hours Ryker would need to get into his coffin leaving Kaya and Lyrika with the house to themselves until the sun set again. Both wanted to take full advantage of what time they had been given.
Late the next afternoon found Toren making his second visit to the Kim household. He had a feeling that the only way to get a glimpse into Lyrika’s past was to establish a firm friendship with the zombie. He was nervous, since making friends had never come naturally for him. That had been his sister’s forte. That was why he’d wanted Silvana to be present for their first encounter, but for some reason Si had never shown up. He let out a breath when Lyrika smiled, “Hi Uncle Toren!”
The first meeting had obviously gone well since she’d seemed happy to see him. Toren still unsure, tried to engage Lyrika in chess. Chess had always been relaxing for him and so he’d felt that it would give him the best chance to connect with Lyrika. However, things weren’t exactly going as planned.
The two played in an uneasy silence for quite some time. Lyrika didn’t want to be rude, but she didn’t much like this game. It was too hard. She’d much rather go play on the swings or play with her dollhouse. After a while Toren realized he needed to try something else. “You don’t like this game do you?” Lyrika smiled sheepishly, “Not really. Can we do something else please?”
After putting away the pieces, Toren slid onto the floor of the study. He wasn’t quite ready to leave the safety of the chess board just yet. “So…” he began slowly. He sighed. Why was this so hard? He could talk to Rhia and Lir with no trouble at all. Lyrika was technically no more than a child. Shouldn’t this be easy? Lyrika stared off into the distance. Everyone had been nice to her here, but she missed her papa. She wanted to go home.
“ Have you found a way to take me home yet?” Lyrika asked hopefully. She pulled her knees up toward her chin and wrapped her arms around them. She blinked a few times and sniffed to hide how upset she was. She knew Toren had kids, and well seeing another papa made her remember hers was far away.
Toren frowned feeling sorry for the girl across from him. Sometimes he forgot that Gal was this girl’s father. She seemed to sweet to have that for a father. But then.. To be honest he had not expected Lyrika to want to go home or for her to miss Gal as much as she clearly did. He’d seen the look in Lyrika’s eyes before from his own daughter. It felt strange to think of the man that had murdered so many of his family members having a daughter that loved him as much as Lyrika so obviously did. He sighed, “Not yet Lyrika, but don’t worry. I’ll find a way to get you home.”
Lyrika had smiled at him then and then begged him to listen to her play the new song Silvana had taught her. Toren had been more than happy to agree. He stood over her shoulder and could not keep the smile off his face as Lyrika played Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the piano for him. He left soon after promising to come and visit again soon.
Ryker had come down stairs right as Toren had left. He had felt encouraged by the look in Lyrika’s eyes as Toren had left. It seemed the two were getting along. He wondered though how long it would take Toren to establish a strong enough relationship to dream awake. He also still wondered if Toren would ever be able to control his gift enough to dream awake about something at will. As far as he knew, no vampire had ever done so. He wanted to believe Toren could do it, but still as he washed the dishes he couldn’t banish all the dark thoughts from his head.
Ryker sat in the living room of his home reading. He and Kaya had put Lyrika to bed around eight and had spent about two hours together before Kaya had headed off to bed. He let out a sigh. He may be married and be living in a house with two other people, but in some ways the vampire’s life had not changed. He still spent most of his time completely alone.
Ryker nearly jumped straight out of his chair when he noticed Kaya in the doorway. “I thought you went to bed, K?” Kaya moved across the hardwood floor, “I did, but I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. So I figured I might as well come down here and keep you company.”
Ryker sat back down in his chair after putting away his book. He looked at his wife a concerned look on his face. “K, you don’t have to lose sleep on my account.” He laughed and tried to smile, “I’m used to it really.”
Kaya smiled and shook her head. “Ryker, I’m not losing sleep on your account. I’ve always been like this. I sleep a few hours and then I wake up. Sometimes I take a little nap in the afternoons if I get tired, but I guess aliens just don’t need as much sleep as everyone else.”
Kaya looked out the window, “Guess you could say we were made for each other huh?” Ryker smiled, “Please tell me you’re thinking what I’m thinking.” “ I think we are. Come on.”
Soon Ryker was playing in the hot-tub at two thirty in the morning. He hadn’t had company at two thirty in the morning in years. It felt good to not be alone. And Kaya had the most beautiful laugh!
Ryker pulled Kaya close into his arms and rubbed circles on her back. Kaya sighed. It had been a long time since someone had sat up with her, and well Iruviel wasn’t Ryker. Neither said a word, but right now both were enjoying the silence.
Kaya broke the silence first, “So you are going to hire a nanny to help with raising the six kids right?”
Kaya let out a musical laugh sending a huge wave of water into Ryker’s face. “I’m only teasing!” Ryker spluttered, “Oh..uh I knew that.” “ Sure you did.”
“ I love you, K.” Kaya wrapped her arms around his shoulders, “Love you too vamps.”
The two had finally stopped snuggling in the hot-tub long enough to come in and get a bite of breakfast before heading to Kaya’s room. Well technically he supposed it was their room, but he was hardly ever there. As the time drew closer for him to return to his coffin he asked softly, “You do know that I..I mean I don’t hate kids Kaya.” “ Hmm? Oh, I know that. Just…I know I’ve always been family minded…it’s just I don’t want you to feel like you have to become a father before you’re ready. I’m willing to wait until we’ve figured some things out first.”
Ryker had slid into his coffin just as his wife had re-entered their bedroom after letting Iruviel into the house. He assumed as he began to drift off that she was going to get dressed for a fun filled day with her friends.
However, Kaya slid into bed instead stifling a yawn. She’d not expected to feel tired, but she did feel a little sleepy. A few hours sleep would be nice. Iruviel could keep an eye on things until she woke up.
The “kid” was playing on the piano again. And Iruviel’s nerves had taken about as much of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as they were capable. Plus, Ryker’s house was anything but relaxing. It was too dark and without enough windows for her taste, too claustrophobic. She needed fresh air. She’d headed out into the crisp fall air and had taken a seat on the lonesome swing. An impish grin touched her lips. Maybe she could just this once.
She pushed her feet back and forth a few times, but soon she let go and let herself fly through the air. Her small smile grew into a large one as she closed her eyes letting the cool air hit her in the face and blow her hair back. Iruviel had always loved swinging, though, due to age and social norms she’d had to give it up years ago. But for the moment it felt good to let go of stress.
Iruviel stopped with a start when she felt someone approach. She was well aware that whoever it was had caught her swinging and even worse singing. Her smile faded and her hands clenched the chains. The valen did not dare to turn around. From behind Toren looked down at his cousin his usual unreadable mask on his face. Even if she’d turned around she wouldn’t have been able to tell what he was thinking. Toren moved slowly to stand closer behind her.
Iruviel was surprised when she saw strong hands grab the chains pulling her back off the ground and giving her a gentle push. She’d not expected this and so she barely kept from falling face first into the dirt. She laughed loudly as Toren’s familiar deep laugh filled the air, “Toren!” she squealed, “you did that on purpose!” Toren’s warm deep laughter continued, “Naturally.”
Iruviel had quickly dragged her feet on the ground and gotten off the swing. She rounded the side of the swing glaring playfully at Toren. He had a lopsided grin on his face. “So should I be running for cover?” Iruviel cocked her head to the side, “I told you before I don’t hit family. But don’t ever sneak up on me again or I may make an exception to that rule.”
Toren’s thumb went up in the air. “Don’t ever sneak up on elfin cousins. Check.” Iruviel laughed again. She didn’t understand her cousin. He was so difficult to read. She wasn’t quite sure how Silvana had put up with him all these years. Most of the time he seemed so serious and detached from the world, and yet he never felt unapproachable. You could always be yourself with him, even if he wore that stupid mask most of the time. Well she could fix that. “You look like you need a hug.”
Toren had dashed off around the side of the house and past Kaya who had just slipped into the hot-tub with Silvana. Silvana was barely controlling her laughter, while her cousin was calling out, “It’s just easier to give her the hug Tor!” On a more serious note Kaya asked, “Silvana where were you the other day? It’s not like you to not be somewhere when you say you will.” And if she was going to not show up, Silvana would usually call. But Silvana hadn’t, and this left Kaya worried.
Silvana put her hands up defensively. “It was only one time. I don’t see what the big deal is.” Kaya looked confused. She’d never heard Silvana snap like that before. “Are you alright Si?” “ I’m fine.” In truth Silvana hadn’t been feeling well all day, but she didn’t want her cousins worrying. She had gotten out of the house to try and relax, not to rehash the fact that her stomach had been bothering her.
“ Come on Tor! Give me a hug already.” Toren laughed, “Hey I’ve heard the stories. Say you’ll give a guy a hug and then you turn right around and put them in a headlock.” Iruviel tried to look offended, “I’d never do that.” She paused hearing the phone ring. Lyrika soon called out the door, “Hey Ruvie, it’s your sister Tala.”
Iruviel mumbled as she headed into the house, “I’ve told her not to call me that.” Toren laughed causing his cousin to stop just inside the door. She gave him an impish look. “Hey Lyrika, I was about to play water war with Uncle Toren. You mind playing with him for me? I’d hate for him to miss out on getting soaked.” Lyrika had been more than happy to agree.
She let out a childish giggle as she watched the water balloon hit Toren right in the face. She crouched down waiting for Toren to throw one back. After a moment she asked confused, “Hey, Toren you don’t have any water balloons. How were you going to have a water war with Auntie Ruvie without any balloons?” Toren spluttered, “Uh, Guess I just got so excited about the game I forgot to bring mine.” As Lyrika dashed off into the house to get him some of her balloons, Toren made a mental note to be careful how long he teased his cousin.
She’d spent the whole day with Toren and her other friends, but nothing had been as fun as the water war with Toren. She stood next to the chess table as the sun was setting, “Do you really have to go home Uncle Toren?” She let out a tiny yawn, “I’m not sleepy, honest.” Toren smiled a little, “I’ve got to get home to spend some time with my own kids Lyrika.” “ Oh, yeah. I bet Rhia and Lir miss you.” She gave him a quick hug before running upstairs. Toren glanced helplessly at Kaya and Silvana. Kaya waved him on mouthing, “She’ll be okay.”
The next morning found Rhiannon playing in the toilet and flooding the bathroom floor. She was actually quite a neat child, but at the same time she did love water.
And when she got caught, she always got the chance to play in the bath-tub. Kali looked down into the matching eyes as the warm water ran. “You know you could just ask for a bath Rhia. No need to flood the bathroom and give your old grandma more work to do.” Rhia just smiled innocently up at Kali before blurting out, “Mu-mu, Nana, Mu-mu!” “ You want to swim?” Kali corrected. It had taken the family a while to decode Rhia’s toddler word for swimming. Where she’d gotten Mu-mu from was anybody’s guess. As she checked the water level she teased, “I swear child you are going to turn into a fish with all the time you spend in the water!”
After her morning swim, Rhia had been left with her toys downstairs so her Nana could clean up the mess she’d made. Tristen had been in bed a lot more recently and everyone suspected she was pregnant with child number three. Rhia clapped her hands as the square fit into its hole. She picked up the circle and began to play again.
But the circle wasn’t going in the hole fast enough for Rhia’s liking. She quickly lost her temper scrunching up her face. The child that had been laughing moments before began to shout angrily pounding the wooden block against the square hole. “In now!” When the wood piece still wouldn’t go into the hole Rhiannon began kicking the floor. “In now!” From the kitchen a deep warm voice called, “Rhia honey, try the other hole.”
Toren had helped her get the wood in the correct hole knowing her temper would not subside until she’d succeeded at the task she’d set out to do. He’d scooped her up then and changed her into her PJ’s for a nap. But Rhiannon was having none of that. He’d finally given up and ended up sitting himself beside her on the floor. “We need to play quietly Rhia, mommy’s sleeping.” Rhia smiled happily. She tried to imitate her papa’s quiet voice, “Rhia be quiet. Shhh!”
“ So, did you finally get Rhia down for an afternoon nap?” Ravi asked in a low whisper so he wouldn’t wake his baby sister. “I hear she’s got a stubborn streak.” Toren sat in the chair opposite his friend keeping his voice low, “From what I’ve heard you’ve got your hands as full as mine.” he countered.
Ravi smiled as he thought about his children. “Ely’s very sweet and we have a hard time prying her away from her grandparents. I worry she’s going to be spoiled rotten.” He laughed. “But we’re grateful to have them around. My work guarding the borders keeps me away from home and Tala’s second pregnancy didn’t go so well.”
“ But Zeric turned out healthy. I’d love to stay and chat Toren, but I really only had time to pop in and let you know about the baby. I need to go check on Avri and the east patrol. I’ll try to stop in later this week.” Toren stood up and watched his friend go, “Don’t work yourself to hard.”
Sure enough everyone’s suspicions about Tristen turned out to be correct. She was in fact pregnant with again. Toren rubbed her belly affectionately. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but we’re gonna have twins.” Tristen looked down at her swollen stomach. Twins? Well she supposed it made sense being a twin herself. She smiled, “Think we can handle two more?” “ After Rhia, I think we’ll be fine.”
Rhia was a handful; so full of energy that she hardly ever slowed down. Her parents had put off teaching her to walk as long as they were able knowing her mischief would only get worse once she was mobile. But finally, Tristen had to give in and teach her daughter to move. “Come on sweet-pea you can do it.” Rhiannon after falling down a few times had started to get angry and had started throwing one of her trademark tantrums in the living room. After a soothing word from Toren, instruction had started again in the study. Both parents were hoping that once she grew up a little some of Rhia’s violent temper would disappear.
And it wasn’t long before Rhiannon was going to be out of diapers. With two more on the way and Lir still a baby everyone was happy at least one of the kids would be a little self-sufficient. Toren did the honors of bringing his eldest to the birthday cake.
Rhiannon grew into a very lovely little girl who was still a spitting image of her father. She’d insisted on having her hair fixed like a princess almost immediately. She’d then cornered Toren in her new room. “You got me another present? What is it!”
Toren tapped his chin, “Hmm I don’t know. I think I saw your Auntie Ruvie leave something for you that I spent all day putting together. Now what was it again?” “ Daddy!” Rhiannon griped. She stomped her foot and almost balled her fist but stopped when Toren gave her a look.
“ Calm down Rhia. You want to take a guess?” Rhiannon guessed, “A dog? A dollhouse?” no a dollhouse wouldn’t be outside, “a water whobbler? A Pool!” Toren laughed, “No, I’m afraid none of those are correct. But I still think you’ll like it Why don’t you go see.” She didn’t need to be told twice. Rhiannon bolted out the door and down the stairs two at a time and headed for the yard.
It turned out her Auntie Ruvie had bought her a swing-set. Rhiannon let out a yell as she flew through the air. It might not be a pool but this was still pretty fun! As she came back down from the sky her eyes grew big. Was that? It was! Rhiannon didn’t even bother waiting on the swing to stop, she simply leapt off the swing and dashed across the lawn.
She slowed down as she got closer. This was a vampire after all and she bet Ryker was like the ones in all her grandpa Glyn’s stories.
She reached up and nervously took his hand. She’d expected it to feel cold, but it didn’t at all. Rhiannon smiled and introduced herself using her best manners, “Good evening. My name is Rhiannon, and you must be Uncle Ryker.” Ryker smiled down and tilted his head, “Very nice to meet you Miss Rhiannon. You wouldn’t want to play a game of chess would you?” Rhiannon beamed, “Sure.”
Rhiannon tried to keep herself calm. She’d never played chess before. What if she was bad at it? She knew that everyone in her family was supposed to be good at it, especially her daddy, and well Rhiannon wasn’t worried. Not really. After all she was smart. She’d be a whiz at it in less than five minutes, probably.
But as it turned out, chess was a lot harder than she thought. Ryker was surprised he was actually winning. He was terrible at chess and the idea that Toren’s daughter of all things was worse was well shocking. She was probably just being nice to him, which was very sweet. Rhiannon looked nervously at the pieces. Why was this stupid game so hard! Her daddy could play it why couldn’t she? She wanted to prove she was smart; no she had to.
She cringed as she moved another piece. She had no idea if she was doing it right or not, but she hoped so. “Was that okay?” she asked biting her lower lip. As Ryker took another piece, Rhiannon became desperate.
She knew cheating was wrong, but Rhiannon didn’t want to look stupid not in front of Ryker. She pointed behind Ryker and asked innocently, “Uncle Ryker, what’s that?” Ryker turned to look at what had caught Rhiannon’s attention.
When he turned around he caught Rhiannon with one of his pieces in her hand. So much for her being sweet. He threw his hands in the air asking in bewilderment, “Come on now. You’re cheating?” Rhiannon froze hand over the board. She was close to tears. She just wanted Ryker to see she was smart! She wanted him to like her.
Ryker still not understanding crossed his arms, “Kid I’m not good at this game, why on earth would you need to cheat? I would have thought your parents would have taught you better.” Rhiannon was on the verge of tears. She was stupid. “I..I’m sorry Uncle Ryker.”
Rhiannon began to put the pieces away sniffing to stop the tears. She dropped her head so the vampire wouldn’t see her crying. But Ryker did see the large tear rolling down her right cheek. He looked at the girl uncomfortably.
Rhiannon quickly wiped the tears away. She wouldn’t cry. She was a big girl now. And girls her age didn’t cry. But her daddy was going to be mad. And she was going to get into trouble. No, if she got into trouble it was her own fault. She knew better than to cheat like that. Rhiannon had a knot in her stomach. She started to trudge off to her room. After all, Ryker wouldn’t want to spend time with her anymore and soon her daddy was going to know she cheated. And then…
Ryker couldn’t leave her looking like that. He was starting to realize that Rhiannon had actually not known how to play chess. “Hey, chin up there Rhia. Sorry I flew off on ya. Vampires are known for having pretty crazy tempers. Tell you what why don’t we just forget that happened and play something else instead?” Rhiannon looked up hopefully, “Really? You still want to play with me?” “ Sure,” Ryker smiled. How could he stay mad at her when she looked like that? “How about we play darts instead. You look like you’d be good at it.
“ Ok,” Rhainnon answered nervously. She’d never played darts before either. But this time Ryker made sure she’d do fine. “ Now just hold onto the dart with two fingers. That’s right. Now line everything up by taking a few practice “shots” before you let go of the dart.”
Rhiannon jumped up and down at the dart hit the board. It didn’t hit the dead center, but she didn’t care. After all Ryker had said she’d done great for her first shot. “Was it really a good shot Uncle Ryker?”
“ It was a very good shot there.” He placed his hands on his hips and watched as she marked her score on the board. A small smile spread across his lips as she bounded back to the line with another dart to try again.
Silvana cringed as she nervously moved the bishop the ticking of the grandfather clock in the study reminding her that at any moment her husband would be coming home from work. How on earth was she going to tell him that she was pregnant? She tried to tell herself it was going to be fine, but her gut was telling her otherwise.