The Next Generation (Conversion Book 4)S. C. Stephens
The Next Generation
Conversion Book Four
Copyright © 2012-2017 by S.C. Stephens
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Editing by Madison Seidler Editing Services
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Also by S.C. Stephens
It’s All Relative
For Lori, Sam, and Becky.
Thank you for all your hard work and support!
Table of Contents
About the Author
MY PENCIL WAS tapping out a furious rhythm on a blank sheet of lined 8x10 paper. The dull thudding did nothing to remove my writer’s block, but it mildly helped relieve my anxiety. A question was pounding through my brain, a question that every person in my English class was expected to answer by Monday morning. The question wasn’t difficult; most of my schoolmates would be able to write up a response in twenty minutes. But me? I was struggling with the three seemingly simple words that I’d been asked: Who am I?
Well, that was the million-dollar question, wasn’t it?
To the outside world, I was Nika Adams, an average sixteen-year-old human girl. I was best friends with my twin brother, Julian, even though we sometimes fought over stupid stuff—stuff we ended up laughing about later. I frequently chatted on the phone to my girlfriend, usually about cute boys at school that she had a crush on. I pushed the borders of my parents’ household rules, but ultimately, I loved and respected them. I enjoyed animals and nature, hoped to make a difference in the world, and wanted to find the man of my dreams someday. I was experimenting with hair and makeup, wearing shirts that made my dad frown, and skirts that made my mom march me right back upstairs. While my brother and I lived with our parents in the heart of Salt Lake City, the rest of my family lived on a working ranch, and I would much rather spend a Saturday afternoon delivering a calf than aimlessly loitering around the mall. Pizza was my favorite food, followed closely by hot fudge sundaes. My grandparents were the best people in the whole world, and my aunt Ashley was my hero.
Yes, to the outside world, that was my life in a nutshell.
But that view was flawed, and missing several important details—details that I couldn’t talk about. For one, I couldn’t talk about my father to people outside my family, not with any sort of fondness anyway. The “story” that the world was being told was that my father was a deadbeat dad who’d left me and my brother at birth. I really hated that. I’d have preferred it if my fictional dad was a war hero, died in the heat of battle. But my “mother” had picked the story, and she preferred the deadbeat dad scenario; she’d even killed him off in a bar fight, so there would never be a question of him showing up in our lives.
Even though I disliked the lie, I understood why it was necessary. None of the men in my life could pass as my father. Besides my grandfather, they all looked too young. And they all looked too young, because they were all dead, every single one of them. Most of the rest of my family, too, for that matter. Because who I really was…was a vampire. But no one could know that; it was vital that everyone believed the lie. Deception and concealment were practically family mottos in my home, ones I’d been taught since birth. Hide who you are. Don’t use your abilities in plain sight. Never show your fangs. Yeah, just like every other vampire in my family, I had fangs. But unlike most of the rest of my nest, Julian and I also had heartbeats. We were still alive…for now.
Born into this life, it was just the way we were, the way we’d always been. But being a vampire didn’t make us evil or anything. My brother and I didn’t spend our evenings trolling the city for young necks to rip open. Really, all it did was make the idea of a nice steaming cup of blood sound better than it did to a human. It was a tasty snack that we liked to indulge in on occasion, but that was about it. It was a little different for the undead members of my family. They lived on blood, needed it as much as a human being needs water. To an outsider that probably seemed barbaric, but it was just the way our species survived past death.
My real dad, Teren Adams, the one I couldn’t talk about, was a third-generation vampire. He’d died and converted into an undead creature right before his twenty-sixth birthday, so, visually, he was still in his prime. My mother, Emma, had been completely human before being converted by Dad. The story was legend in our house. She’d been attacked, near death, a true death, and Dad had swooped in and saved her. And the babies growing within her—Julian and me. That was only one of the times Dad had saved our lives. Yeah, my real father was kick-ass.
Mom had ended up being just like Dad after he’d changed her. Vampires had certain restrictions on what they could do, depending on what generation they were. The negative side effects lessened with each generation, so the four of us—Mom, Dad, Julian, and me—frequently enjoyed things the others couldn’t, like sunbathing. Dad’s mom, Alanna, wasn’t so lucky. Being second generation, she could be in daylight for short periods of time, but then it bothered her and she had to hide. I couldn’t imagine living like that.
Alanna’s husband, Grandpa Jack, was purely human and wanted to stay that way. Besides Dad, Grandpa was the coolest guy I knew. To the outside world, he technically owned the ranch. He’d also been remarried about a zillion times, all to the same woman, Grandma Alanna, of course. Since Alanna looked Dad’s age, it was necessary for Grandpa to marry her every decade or so. Typically, it was done whenever the fa
mily moved to a new area; Grandpa brought his “new” bride to the “new” ranch.
Dad and the rest of the undead female vampires at the ranch—Grandma Imogen and Grandma Halina—were being sold in the story as Alanna’s siblings. That one was weird, even for me, but Dad and the girls all looked the same age, and were eerily similar in appearance, so to group them as siblings was the easiest explanation. Even still, it was odd for me to hear Dad call his mom…sis.
Imogen and Halina were another story. They acted more like friends than mother and daughter, so it was easy to picture them as sisters. Imogen was a first-generation vampire. She tended to stay awake during the day, but couldn’t go outside at all…too painful. Halina was the only pureblood vampire in the home—the one who’d started us all. She’d been pregnant with Imogen when she’d been turned, which was how Imogen had become half-human, half-vampire. While the vampiric nature inside of me was pretty weak, it was a marvel to behold in a pureblood. Halina could do things none of us could do. She was faster, had better hearing—and that was saying a lot—and she could trance humans…basically make them do anything she told them to do. That skill was pretty handy. Especially when we needed people to forget certain things.
Halina’s temperament was also different. She could seem aloof or distant to outsiders, even cold and calculating, but it was the pureblood in her, and not really her. Being turned hadn’t made her a monster, hadn’t made her start relentlessly slaughtering people, but it had changed her. It hadn’t helped anything that Halina had been turned against her will. She’d had a certain grudge against her life for a long time, or so Dad had told me. But I’d only ever seen her happy and in love, so it was sometimes hard to picture.
Halina was in love with the smartest man I’d ever met—Gabriel. Gabriel was…well, a hunk, with blond hair, green eyes, and movie star good looks. But he’d always been like a grandfather to me—my brother and I had even called him Grandpa Gabby until we were ten—so seeing him as sexy was kind of…ew. But Halina sure did; I’d learned more about the birds and the bees from the two of them than anyone else.
The last two vampires in my life weren’t related to me in any way, but they were still a part of my extended family: Starla and her boyfriend, Jacen. As Mom had grudgingly told me, they’d both followed Gabriel into our group. Starla got on Mom’s nerves, but she was doing our family a huge favor, in one respect. Starla was taking medicine that prevented her from converting into an undead vampire, so she was just as alive as Julian and me. That allowed her to age…and that allowed her to play the role of our mother to the clueless humans around us.
Starla wasn’t thrilled about the situation, and she really hated being called Mom—said it made her feel old, which Halina only laughed about. But until the flaw in her blood that kept her from converting was fixed, a problem Gabriel was pouring all his efforts into, Starla had to keep aging. It was either age or die with her, die-die that was, so she had no choice.
The last family members in my life were all on my mom’s side of the family. Grandma Linda lived out at the ranch with the vampire girls. She’d bonded so tightly with Alanna that when our foursome had moved into the city, she’d decided to stay behind in the countryside. Mom had been surprised by her decision. I hadn’t. When my brother and I had been homeschooled by our many grandmothers, the bond between them had been pretty obvious.
Grandma Linda’s second daughter, Aunt Ashley, was still living back in San Francisco with her husband, Christian. They were as happy as could be, even though her husband was completely clueless to the true nature of his in-laws. While we all tried to get together a couple of times a year, either going down to California, or them visiting us in Utah, I missed Aunt Ash. Mom did too. Between the two of us, we talked with her almost every day.
So that was my family tree, the bits and pieces of my life that made up who I was as a person. And I couldn’t write down most of it. Here I was, living in the genealogy capital of the world, and I had to keep my genealogy as secret as possible. Sometimes deception sucked.
Sighing, I tucked a loose lock of brown hair behind my ear. It was the same shade as my real mother’s hair, not that anyone at school knew that…one more thing I couldn’t write down.
“What’s with the incessant drumming? Having trouble with your homework?”
I looked over to see my best friend, Arianna, smiling at me. Well, as best of a friend as a secretive mixed vampire could have. Julian would always be my closest friend, but the perky brunette beside me was the closest female friend I had…who wasn’t related to me. “Yeah. I’m just finding it a little…difficult…to get back into the swing of things.”
Arianna sighed and leaned back on her hands. Dropping her head back, she let the full glory of the Indian summer sun caress her. It was a beautiful day for sunbathing, and that was what I should have been doing, instead of sitting on the edge of the football field, waiting for my “mom” to pick me up. Starla was late…again. It was only the first week of returning to school and she hadn’t been on time once.
“Well, it’s supposed to be a simple, one-page, welcome-back-to-school essay. Easy peasy.” Lifting her head, Arianna pursed her lips in thought. “Let’s see… You’re Nika Adams, you live in the city during the week, then hide away on the weekends at a massive ranch in the middle-of-nowhere. You have an insanely gorgeous best friend.” She paused to wink at me. “And a brother so hot it should be illegal.”
I rolled my eyes as Arianna sighed and looked around the empty field. “Where is Julian anyway? Shouldn’t he be waiting with you?”
Her hopeful tone matched her face. Arianna had had a crush on Julian since day one of our freshman year. I knew girls found my brother attractive…my dad, too, when they saw him (Dad and Julian were practically carbon copies of each other), but they were my family, and when my girlfriends drooled over them it was equal parts weird and amusing.
I shrugged. “I don’t know where he is. How would I?”
A small smile crossed my lips as I looked over to the gymnasium on the other side of the football field. I knew exactly where Julian was…I could feel him. I could feel every member of my family. Most of them were just blurbs in my mind—a vague sense of their general direction that was calling out to me—but since Julian was so close, I could have extended my hand and pointed to the exact room he was in…the far end of the gym, up on the bleachers. I wasn’t sure why he was in there since he wasn’t on a team, and he didn’t have P.E. for his last period, but that was where he was.
Julian didn’t really have to hang out and wait for Starla though. I could let him know when she was here. I could murmur it on the breeze and let the arid wind carry my message and he’d probably hear it. Well, no, that wasn’t entirely true. We did have supernaturally good hearing, but being fourth generation, ours wasn’t as great as the rest of the family’s. And with how far away Julian was, and the pockets of noisy people loitering around the school, I would probably have to duck inside the building to whisper my message. And, even then, if Julian was preoccupied with something, he might miss it. If that were the case, I would have to yell for him, just like a regular human. Wouldn’t be the first time. Sometimes Julian got lost in himself.
I blamed his moments of self-absorption on our childhood. It wasn’t that our childhood hadn’t been great, most of it had been awesome, but there had been a dark spot…a really dark spot. And while Julian seemed fine 99 percent of the time, he did, on occasion, have episodes. It was something that the entire family helped him through...panic attacks or moments of unnecessary, paralyzing fear. Just thinking about it tightened my heart. He could be so fragile at times. Sometimes I wanted to wrap my arms around him and growl at anything that came his way. But I couldn’t be his protector forever…none of us could. Eventually I would have to let him go, have to let him sink or swim on his own.
Of course, the “special” bond between us made letting him go a challenge. It was difficult to ignore Julian’s pain or fear when I could feel
it slicing through my body as if it were my own. That was our connection though—an unbreakable, empathic bond—and it was a double-edged sword. We’d loved it when we were younger, loved knowing exactly how the other one felt all the time, but as we’d gotten older…well, it wasn’t always a gift to know exactly what someone else was feeling.
Squinting my eyes—a warm, brown shade that also matched my biological mother’s—I examined the feelings I knew were coming from Julian. Whatever he was doing in the gym, he was happy about it—darn near giddy. Shaking my head, I tuned him out. It could be any number of things making him feel all lighthearted and joyful, but I was pretty sure I knew what it was, and if I was right…I was going to have some serious words with him when we got home.
“I’m sure he’ll be here anytime…then you can drool all over him.” I grimaced, and Arianna made an offended noise.
“I am not about to drool over him!” Arianna smirked as her caramel-colored hair bobbed around her shoulders. “Maybe pant a little…but definitely no drooling.”
Rolling my eyes, I shook my head. Arianna sat up and asked, “What about you? When are you gonna drool over some guy?” She sighed. “It’s no fun if I’m the only one crushing on somebody.”
Glancing over at her, I smiled. “Somebody? You’re obsessed with half of the school.”
She giggled, looking around at some of the boys lingering in the parking lot. “I can’t help it if we’ve got so many hotties here, Nika.”
Giving up on my impossible homework assignment, I shoved the paper into my backpack and glanced around with Arianna. A pair of long-legged, gangly teens were attempting to skateboard down the handrail of the steps that led away from the main building. I watched them fall time and time again, only to get back up and give it another try…like they thought they were super-healing vampires or something. My enhanced ears heard a stream of cringe-worthy expletives coming from them, and I turned away.