Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Eric checked his tracker. In another fifteen minutes they would land in New Orleans. The airport was close to the Palace, which meant soon he’d be home. He was ready. He’d traveled to Boston to stand with his wife during Fran Miller’s funeral services, then finished the night in his travel coffin so he could rise in Dallas. He glanced over to where Hunter Savoy was dozing. Doubtless the young man would want to go out on the town tonight, taking advantage of the attractions one found in a city where night was just another reason to be awake. Since Desmond Cataliades had cautioned about leaving Hunter to his own devices, Eric had taken care to see there was someone around to serve as Hunter’s keeper. Most recently, the duty had fallen to Eric.
It wasn’t difficult, exactly. Hunter was pleasant and humorous in his way. He enjoyed spending time with ‘Uncle’ Eric and didn’t try to escape or slip his leash. In fact, it was the opposite. Hunter Savoy was enjoying success in having the Viking as his wingman, too much success. Women had always been attracted to Eric and now that he was King, that attraction seemed magnified. It wasn’t as if Eric was tempted, not at all.
Still, because he was in bars, there was an assumption, and women could be quite provocative when they wished. Hunter liked it because he trusted Eric to turn them all down. ‘I’m a great consolation prize,’ Hunter joked. Eric tried to spend his time working his phone or just people-watching, but at some point, Hunter would goad him into dancing, or press him into making conversation with the friend of whomever he’d targeted for the night. Some of these women were pleasant. None were Sookie.
It had been a long time since Eric felt the need to resort to his own hand. He was torn between annoyed and amused, but there it was. There was no time in Boston and now, every night since he’d been in Dallas, Eric found himself retreating to his room or spending hours in the shower. He imagined the feel of her or the way she looked as her orgasm began to build. There was that small sound she made, somewhere between a moan and inhalation… and Eric groaned. Once more he was hard and he shifted, first one way and then another, seeking to relieve the pressure.
“Is there something I can do for you?” The flight attendant was suddenly there, leaning across his seat. She was lovely, sloe-eyed and sleek.
“No, I’m fine,” Eric smiled. She retreated and Eric used his momentary privacy to press his hand against his erection. It didn’t work. In the old days, he would have simply called the flight attendant, fed, taken her, and settled back to work. That was then. Now, things were different. Eric didn’t regret it, it just didn’t come easily, this monogamy his mate insisted they maintain. Even in his human days, bed slaves were understood. Now, they weren’t.
“Got a problem over there?” Hunter asked.
“Go back to sleep,” Eric growled, but as he did, the bell sounded and the captain announced they were on their final approach to the airport. “Looks early,” and Hunter stretched. “There’s a new club just off the Quarter. I hear the women are…”
“I’ll see if Maxwell is available,” Eric interrupted. “I need to sit in for reports tonight. It would be helpful if you’d consider giving up one night of pleasure to sit in as well. There will be humans consulting for the vampires. They will have the details on both the money and the deals.”
“Cock block!” Hunter whispered, but he didn’t seem too upset. Eric looked out the window. He could see Sookie’s nephew moving around behind him in the window’s reflection. Hunter was gathering his things, bumping his head on the seat in front of him, and struggling with his own backrest. Sighing, Eric turned back around, giving the button the right amount of pressure to bring the other man’s seat upright.
“Are you worried about that other King?” Hunter asked.
“What King?” Eric tried to cover his surprise. Isaiah, the King of Kentucky, had unexpectedly arrived in Dallas. He had made efforts to keep his visit secret, but it appeared he’d failed.
“The one the guard was thinking about,” Hunter explained. “Why? Was it a secret?”
“Yes,” Eric growled, settling back in his chair. “It would be best if you forgot you saw him.”
“Well, I can’t,” and Hunter shrugged. “I suppose you could try to glamour it out of me, or you could tell me why a King with a reputation for hating travel came all the way to Texas.”
“You ask too many questions,” Eric deflected.
“I thought that was something you liked about me,” Hunter laughed. “Easy enough for me to pull the details from someone…”
“Not if you expect to keep living,” Thalia growled from the backseats.
Hunter leaned into the aisle so he could see where Thalia was sitting. “Promises, promises,” he jeered, then, turning back, whispered, “She knows she loves me!”
“There’s no one to probe,” Eric said coldly, not making eye contact as he gathered his own things. There were few things he liked less than being threatened, even if those threats were meant in jest.
Thalia was audibly growling. It was a low, guttural sound even Eric couldn’t ignore. “I get it!” Hunter protested, standing to look at Thalia. “I was joking! I swear!” When Thalia stopped, Hunter sat down, but quickly leaned across the aisle to say, “Really, Uncle Eric, I heard plenty of stuff in Dallas. If I knew what was going on, I might know if what I heard means something.”
Eric considered it. Hunter had proven, despite his danger-seeking, he handled assignments well. “After we reach the Palace,” Eric sighed, and it was agreed.
Hunter occupied himself in the car by playing some new game on his phone. The sound was off, but the swiftly changing screens kept catching Eric’s eye. Giving in, he retreated to his own phone, scrolling through messages he’d already read and checking message boards for anything new. He reached out through his bond. He thought he could feel her, the slightest tremor at the edge of his senses. She would be at Fran Miller’s house. Tomorrow, she would rise in Rhode Island. ‘Cranes.’ It seemed too great a coincidence. Niall Brigant, Sookie’s great-grandfather, once told Eric that the Fae honored cranes, which was why his family used the birds as their last name when walking in this world. He closed his eyes, recalling his dance with Brigid Meaney. He’d carefully evaluated every aspect: her feel, her scent, her demeanor, but nothing hinted that she was other than human. Of course, he’d thought that about Sookie too, until he tasted her. Then he’d known.
“We’re here,” Hunter chirped. He sat forward, even though there was nowhere to go until either Thalia or Eric got out.
Thalia’s door opened, and she came around car to stand next to the driver as he opened Eric’s door. There was a small crowd, but it was past the dinner hour so most organized tours were over. The usual flash of cameras started, accompanied by the usual shouts of ‘There he is!’ and ‘Eric! Over here!’
“We have a protester,” Thalia hissed. Eric followed her gaze to see a lone man holding a sign that read, Protect Your Own! Vampires = Death. It featured the usual bloody fangs.
“He’s actually a fan,” Hunter corrected, having joined them. “He hoped we’d look his way and holding that sign got him what he wanted.”
On a whim, Eric dropped his fangs and the crowd cheered, as they always did. He smiled and waved, turning to make sure he covered everyone before following his bags into the Palace.
Once inside, the suitcases headed one way and Eric another. Guards talked in their headsets, alerting staff. It was a quick ride downstairs with Thalia to the donor area. There were hours to go and feeding after returning from any trip was habit. When they returned upstairs, Maxwell Lee was awaiting them. “Majesty,” he welcomed, bowing.
“Things appear quiet,” Eric replied, and the evening began. The work on the hotels was nearly complete and opening activities were being planned. It was agreed Pam and Sookie would take over those projects. “So, what will be our next venture, and when?”
“There is an opportunity to become involved in the Museum,” Maxwell said smugly. That was a surprise. Although New Orleans had a reputation for diversity, there were still some projects where only ‘the right people’ were permitted to donate, and this was one of them. It signaled a new level of acceptance for his kind and Eric savored the moment.
“Congratulations, Maxwell,” he hissed, knowing the humans who were in the room couldn’t understand, “This will go far toward cementing our position among their kind. This is your doing and I am grateful.” He glanced at Thalia, then reverted to normal speech. “Thalia, this is a great honor, and I am most grateful to be included in so worthy an effort. Without Maxwell, I don’t know if we ever would have had this opportunity. This kind of success deserves rewards. I would like Maxwell to be made partner in both of our new hotels. These were his ideas as well. His efforts will improve the city for all of us. Maxwell should benefit,” and Eric inclined his head toward his Sheriff, returning a show of respect.
“Majesty!” and Maxwell bowed low. Eric watched his Sheriff’s action, but even as he registered the thanks, he knew he was also a danger. This reward would either cement his Sheriff’s loyalty or encourage Lee to feel superior, and then entitled. He and Thalia would bet on it later, whether Maxwell Lee would become closer or use his new-found luck to betray his King. Eric would take the side of loyalty. Pam liked Maxwell and Eric found himself wanting to like the tall, dapper vampire as well.
After Max left to show their guests out, Hunter stood, walking over to drop onto a closer couch. “The humans who ran through the numbers are approving,” he reported. “They like working with Max and after watching you reward him, they’d really like to work for you directly.”
“Get their names. We can gather more information about them, their positions. It might prove helpful at some point,” Eric instructed. “There is always another opportunity.”
“That’s it for tonight,” Thalia announced. “If you have no more need of me…”
“Thank you, old friend,” and Eric released her.
“Does that mean you’d like to play a game upstairs?” Hunter grinned. They didn’t have time often, but Eric found he enjoyed the same first-person shooter games the younger man preferred. The offering tonight was Fortnite. Hunter quickly located Eric’s avatar and they headed out into the landscape. Hunter enjoyed finding materials, but for Eric it was the hunt. It was deep in the blood, the satisfaction the Viking felt in identifying and killing prey.
“So, who was he, exactly?” Hunter asked.
Eric didn’t bother pretending not to understand. “Isaiah of Kentucky.”
“So, he doesn’t like to travel much?” and Hunter’s avatar was shot from behind.
“You’re not paying attention,” Eric grinned, then powered down the game. “No, Isaiah doesn’t travel often. He enjoys the woods and prefers to live far from humans. He’s known well-enough by those around his Palace. He doesn’t have many vampires in his kingdom, but that suits him.” Eric grinned, “He’s a true hunter.”
“So, why all the secrecy?” and Hunter sat back. “If I hadn’t stumbled across that guard I wouldn’t have known anything at all.”
“I’m surprised you found out. Sloppy. All the guards should have been glamoured.” Eric picked up his phone. “Do you remember the guard’s name?” and when Hunter gave it, Eric texted Stan a quick message. When Hunter kept staring, Eric sighed and then explained. “Isaiah feels obligated to us, well, mostly to your Aunt Sookie. You see, we were all at a Summit once, in Rhodes. There was a plot and the hotel was bombed. Sookie warned Isaiah and he was saved.”
“So, if he likes y’all, why sneak around?” Hunter glanced around, “I mean, he didn’t come to the Ball and I remember Aunt Sookie saying he was on the guest list. He could have just called you. Couldn’t have been easy, arranging the trip and then making everyone forget it happened,” and then Hunter grinned, “Or maybe he’s just paranoid.”
Eric thought of Isaiah and his penchant for security. “He is paranoid, but in this case, he didn’t wish others to know he’s helping us. It would seem our mutual neighbor, Russell Edgington, is trying to turn vampires against me… against us.” ‘He is accusing you of being under a witch’s influence,’ Isaiah had shared. ‘I’m not the only one Russell’s called. He’s making the rounds.’
“I knew I didn’t like him,” Hunter huffed, and then, “Edgington,” when Eric glanced his way. “It was in the way he acted when he was here, oiling around. He made out like he was all friendly, but then you’d see him looking at people all cold and sharp. I’m pretty sure he was testing Rick. Rick didn’t say anything, but there were a couple times I’d see Rick kind of jump and Russell would be staring at him.”
“And you didn’t think to say anything?” Eric’s eyes narrowed.
“If I’m right, it wasn’t really my place to say. Didn’t Rick?” Hunter shot back.
‘Rick.’ Eric had an uncomfortable feeling. ‘Russell says she sold her soul to catch your child,’ Isaiah told him. ‘He’s reminding folks how far fangbangers will go to keep vampire mates.’ “Sookie’s vampire now,” Eric had countered. ‘But not that long,’ Isaiah pointed out. ‘I like her, always felt she should be one of us, but she’s a newborn and you’ve made her your Queen. You know things don’t work like that.’
Kentucky had said more. He talked about how several quasi-religious groups in his own state had started talk about vampires refusing to follow the natural order of things. ‘They point at you, Viking, and your natural child as proof that vampires could have reproduced ‘naturally’ all along. They are accusing us of choosing to seduce and destroy them instead. It’s a dangerous idea, Eric, the kind that makes people want to do something about it.’ It gave Eric pause. Of the many outcomes he’d contemplated, having Rick used against their kind and their mainstreaming efforts hadn’t been one of them.
Hunter was staring at him, waiting for an answer, so he gave it. “No, Rick didn’t mention anything about Russell. I think your cousin was too anxious to head north and show his woman the house to worry about telling his parents much.”
“Yeah, I guess he was,” and Hunter settled back. “Did Rick tell you we met Uncle Jason while we were up there?”
“No,” Eric confirmed, “Mustapha Khan told me. It seems your cousin has had a change of heart.”
“Losing his wife hurt him,” Hunter nodded. “Guess he’s been the center of some woman’s universe as long as he’s been alive. He has women now, but it’s not the same. She left him over his being a Werepanther.” Hunter seemed to turn something over before asking, “So, how did that happen? I mean, Stackhouses aren’t Were, so…”
“Jason was abducted,” Eric explained. “It’s not usual for Weres to force their nature on others, but that was the case with Stackhouse. His cock led him into trouble and now he lives with the consequences,” and Eric gave Hunter a meaningful stare.
“I know!” Hunter laughed. “Don’t lecture me! I’m all lectured out on that topic.”
“And yet, you persist in courting danger,” Eric sniffed. He checked his phone, “Thalia tells me you have an arrangement with one of my guards. You’re trading your telepathy for her blood.” Hunter had the grace to blush. “The arrangement is over.”
“It didn’t mean anything!” Hunter protested.
“She did something without telling her superior. There can be no secrets in a Palace. She has been transferred to Indira’s care where her new duties won’t include putting the safety of others above her own.” Eric gave Hunter a long look, “And if you didn’t come home with so much damage, you wouldn’t need vampire blood. Will you need a supply to help you wean off its effects?”
“I haven’t been taking that much,” Hunter sighed. “No addiction, I swear.”
“I need to call your Aunt Sookie,” and Eric stood. “You have tremendous talent, Hunter. We enjoy your company, but whether you will survive long enough to remain among us is up to you.”
“I’m not…” Hunter started to protest.
“You are,” Eric interrupted. “You have enjoyed your new freedom, but now it’s time for you to decide what you will be. You are no child. You are a man and it’s time to take a man’s path.”
“I hear you,” Hunter tossed out as he headed toward the door. Eric could only hope that was truly the case.
He called Sookie’s phone, but it was Pam who answered. “She’s resting with me,” his daughter informed him. “She had a rough night.”
“You’ll be leaving in the morning?” Eric confirmed.
“It’s all arranged,” and he could hear the cushions creak as his daughter shifted in the coffin. “Why? Trouble?”
“You’re not resting in the witch’s house, are you?” Eric asked.
“No,” Pam confirmed. “We returned to the hotel.”
“Good,” and as Pam described their visit, Eric found himself wishing they were already gone from Boston and witches and the trouble witches brought.
‘Fae!’ Eric stared out the special windows of their family quarters into the dark night. It didn’t seem possible, and yet he couldn’t escape a feeling that somehow this was inevitable. ‘Perhaps they attract each other,’ he thought, and then staring down at his dark pants found himself smiling, ‘like lint!’ In all his long years, he’d had encounters with the Fae. Niall Brigant Prince of the Sky Fae had known him by name, but that still didn’t mean those encounters were frequent. That is, until he met Sookie Stackhouse. Suddenly his life was a revolving door of Fae plots and counterplots, an unwelcome addition to the already crowded morass of politics that was his normal vampire existence. ‘Fae!’ he thought again.
Sookie assured him they hadn’t been followed, but she also let drop that she’d threatened them. She and Pam had already taken the extra step of moving up their pickup time. His women would rest in the bonded warehouse at the airport until their flight was ready to leave. It didn’t mean a full Fae wouldn’t be able to attack them, but Sookie was certain the Cranes she’d encountered weren’t full Fae. ‘Hybrids,’ she’d called them. ‘Not exactly like me,’ she’d said.
Eric thought about it. It was possible that other Fae had mated with humans. It was possible that other families like the Stackhouses existed, but unlike Brigant’s child, it seemed the Cranes’ progenitor had more properly cared for his descendants. Brigant had tremendous wealth he shuffled through foundations and corporations, but he’d allowed Sookie and her family to live in relative poverty. Yes, there’d been the story about Fintan hiding his progeny and Eric knew the Sky Fae attitude toward hybrids. When Breandan, Prince of the Water Fae, had Sookie kidnapped and tortured, Eric had assumed it was about destroying an abomination, but now, knowing about these Cranes, he wasn’t so sure. Even after Brigant knew he’d be leaving this world, he’d left Sookie only scraps of his wealth. Perhaps the Fae disdain for hybrids was simply a Sky Fae problem.
What was clear was the prejudice against those born without that essential spark was race-wide. Eric thought of Brigid. He wished he’d been there to see his mate claim the girl. He wouldn’t have predicted that reaction from Sookie, but that was his wife: surprising. ‘Another one under my protection,’ he thought, and then he remembered the way his son watched Brigid. He’d seen the dance of attraction many times over his long life and he could see what Sookie resisted. His son loved this woman and had claimed her. For Eric, that meant only one thing. Even without Sookie’s words, Brigid Meaney was already under his protection, and Eric was pleased Sookie made that clear to her family. What wasn’t clear was where his son and his woman had gone.
‘They questioned Brigid’s roommate,’ Sookie told him. ‘She said Rick arranged everything.’ Neither of them thought that was likely. While they hadn’t watched him closely, Eric had bank records and phone calls pulled. Rick hadn’t told them he’d left Boston and gone to St. Petersburg, Florida. He hadn’t checked in with any of the local leadership. Eric traced him to a marina, but no one seemed to know what boat he’d sailed on or when he’d left.
But, his Sookie was clever. ‘I wonder if it’s someone from Chester,’ she’d said, and told him she’d call Sarah Chandler when she rose. ‘Sarah knows what’s going on in that town. Goodness knows, there’s plenty of people in Chester with the kind of money it takes to have a boat in Florida!’
Eric glanced at his watch. Sookie and Pam should be in transit. They would have to be in their coffins to pass into the warehouse and that would be difficult for Sookie. She didn’t like being in confined spaces. He thought about his daughter taking Sookie into her coffin the night before and it made him hard again. Sighing, he headed for the shower one last time. ‘Come home,’ he thought as he turned the water first hot and then cold.
When Eric Northman rose, he was alone in his bed. Growling, he stalked into his antechamber, then stopped. Her coffin was there, the lid closed. “Sookie!” he whispered. His fingers ghosted under the curve of the lid, finding the buttons. He quickly keyed in the code that released the locks, then stood back as the lid lifted. Her face was set in its rest and Eric’s eyes lingered before stepping forward and scooping her into his arms. It was a matter of minutes to wrestle the clothing from her. He gave up with the blouse, simply ripping the edges, scattering buttons. She was wearing a lacy nude-tone bra that altered his tone from frustration to approval. It was cleverly cut, accentuating rather than hiding, so he took care, knowing he’d like to see her more actively model this particular garment.
Finally, she was naked, and Eric arranged her on her side of their bed, drawing her to her side, positioning her leg just so. He wanted his Sookie to open her eyes to him, and he turned on his side to meet her. He reached out through their bond, but she was still so far away. He took advantage of her rest to sketch her face. He drew his thumb along the line of her lip, then lifted a stray curl away from her cheek, tucking it behind her ear. He leaned close and drew in the scent of her. “You’re home, Lover,” he purred, and his cock rose from its nest of curls, waiting just as impatiently as he.
He sang to her, a song of the sea he’d learned long ago. It told of a lover waiting on the shore for her lover to return. “I am that Lover,” he crooned. “I am lost when you go far from me and only find my happiness at your return.”
“It’s not fair,” Sookie whispered, her eyes closed. “You get that great ass and a voice, too. Not fair!”
“I have counted each second since you left,” Eric whispered in return, then leaned forward to capture her lips.
Sookie’s lips curved under his own and she leaned forward, pressing and pushing until she was astride him, sitting over his thighs and daring him to watch her. “Someone’s happy to see me,” she teased, then licked her hand and used it to wrap around him.
She felt wonderful and Eric arched into her grasp. After a few strokes, she pushed even further down the bed, lowering her tongue toward him. She barely touched her tongue to him and he came. “Jeez, Eric!” she laughed, and then lowered her head, adding suction to finish him.
“I missed you,” Eric explained.
“I guess you did!” his wife agreed, then kissed and licked her way back to his side. Her hand remained wrapped around him and he clasped that hand in his own, showing her how he wanted to be stroked until he was hard again.
“Your turn,” he growled. He started slowly, exploring ears and throat, shoulder and palm. Each inch of flesh was tasted and explored. He rubbed her against his body, coating himself in her scent, luxuriating in the feel of her. He finally reached her breast, taking her pert nipple into his mouth. He plucked and nipped, tweaked and chilled until she couldn’t stop moving under him.
“Get on with it!” she growled.
“And what do you want?” Eric asked. This was a favorite game. She couldn’t blush as she did in past, but it still amused him how Sookie had trouble asking for what she desired.
“Your mouth,” she grated, and then pointed toward her lower lips. “Down there!”
“And…” and Eric made sure she watched as he slithered lower. “What should I do now I’m here?” He parted her lips and paused, turning his head first one way and then another.
“You know!” Sookie growled. “Now, get on with it!”
“I love it when you’re bossy,” Eric purred, dipping and flicking his tongue quickly before pulling back. “I might say you’re being high-handed.”
“I might say you talk too much!” Sookie snipped, and putting her hand on his head, she pushed. Eric could have resisted, but not resisting promised to be more fun, and he was right.
Eric would have remained longer in their quarters, but Sookie had other needs that drove her. He would have taken her back to their bed after feeding, but she resisted. “I can’t stop thinking about it,” she sighed, batting his hands away. “I was sure Sarah would know something about who could have given Rick that boat, but she didn’t! There has to be someone…”
“What about Peter?” Eric was giving up the idea of enjoying his wife’s body any more this night. Now that she was fully aware, her worry for their son flavored her every mood.
“Of course!” and Sookie rewarded him with a quick kiss.
“Don’t tease me with what you’re not willing to offer,” Eric growled.
“What?” and Sookie’s look turned sour as her hands fisted on her hips. “You didn’t get enough? I swear, Eric! There’s times I wonder about you!”
“You could stop wondering if you were under me,” and he leaned closer, herding her toward the hall wall. “Or, we could get something straight between us right here.”
“Or, we could get some business out of the way and head upstairs early. What time are we leaving tomorrow?”
Eric grinned, lightly running his fingers over her breasts, and when she pushed his hand away, moving further south to thigh and higher. “Rubio has prisoners. Hunter will travel with us. We should leave in the morning, but I think you’ve had enough time in coffins.”
“That’s saying a mouthful!” Sookie agreed. “But, do you think we could take a side trip? Surely, you’d like to see how Karin and Peter are doing?”
“I know how they’re doing,” Eric shrugged. “They are minding Rasul’s Area while he partners with Rubio.” Eric’s eyes narrowed. “I hadn’t expected it. Rasul has held a Sheriff’s position before. Why do you think he asked to spend time with Rubio Hermosa, Lover?”
“I couldn’t say,” Sookie shrugged, all wide-eyed innocence as she slipped away and resumed her progress down the hall. “Maybe he felt he’d been out of the kingdom too long.”
“Maybe…” and Eric followed her.
“So, about Lafayette.” Eric felt Sookie’s determination and he found himself agreeing to a side trip. They would head to Lafayette to speak with Karin and Peter Chandler before journeying on to Shreveport. Hunter Savoy, however, would head directly to Shreveport ahead of them. Peter didn’t like Hunter. It wasn’t anything that was said, but because Peter didn’t like him, Karin didn’t either.
“I want you to check right in,” Sookie scolded her nephew when he appeared. “Don’t think that because I’m away I don’t know what’s been going on around here.”
“Nothing’s been going on,” Hunter assured her. “Hell, we’ve been on and off planes and Uncle Eric’s been with me the whole time. I behaved,” and he cast his eyes in Eric’s direction. “Right? Tell her I’ve been minding my manners.”
Eric knew Hunter’s definition of manners and Sookie’s were vastly different, but he backed up the telepath. “He hasn’t done anything stupid.” It occurred to Eric that Hunter’s description of how they’d spent their nights might create friction and he intended to spend more hours loving his wife this evening, not fighting over Hunter Savoy. “I’m sending Thalia with you,” Eric added. “She may prove helpful to my Sheriffs.”
“Great!” and Hunter sighed. “You know she doesn’t like me.”
Sookie didn’t ask but she didn’t have to. Eric could feel the question through the bond. “She calls him Whoreson.”
“Well,” and Sookie gave Hunter the stink-eye. “That’s certainly descriptive!” Hunter had the good grace to look ashamed.
Thalia was summoned and the arrangements started. They would travel to Lafayette tomorrow at first rising. It was only a couple hours’ drive, and they would spend the evening at the residence. At next nightfall, they would continue their journey to north. Eric spoke as though they would be resting in Shreveport. He didn’t exactly say it, and Sookie was so distracted by the idea that Peter might hold to the key to where Rick was headed that she didn’t question him.
Eric had received news that the work on the house in Bon Temps was complete. The rooms were fitted and the doors replaced. If someone were determined, they would still be able to break in, but if the worst happened, the cubby now relocated to below a closet off the kitchen led to a true chamber below the house, complete with bed and lighting. It was built using an old bomb shelter blueprint, and Eric knew it could be sealed off if needed. ‘My forever,’ he thought, then caught himself grinning as Sookie bent over Hunter, literally shaking her finger in the young man’s face.
“I think young Hunter has had enough mothering for one night,” he teased his mate.
Eric handed Sookie the reports and overviews for the hotels and waited until she was seated to give her the information on the Museum project. “You know what this means?” Sookie asked, her eyes glowing.
“I do,” Eric replied, lifting her hand to his lips. “I give you credit, my wife. Maxwell was able to have the conversation because your charm opened the door. It wasn’t easy, appearing on television, making jokes, but you have done what none of us could, you have charmed humans.
“Just treated them the way I’d like to be treated,” Sookie huffed, but Eric could tell she was flattered. “Wait until Pam comes back!” and Sookie hunched over the museum folder, flipping pages and admiring photos.
Eric wandered to his laptop and pulled up the account monarchs used to correspond with each other. He was expecting an invitation from North Carolina, but it wasn’t there. He sent a polite inquiry, then scanned other email. “How’s Karin been settling in, anyway?” Sookie asked and Eric found it too easy to walk away from official business to the more enjoyable business of spending time with his wife.
“It’s been many years since I’ve been here,” Eric told Karin. “Not since Gervaise was Sheriff.” He felt, rather than saw her jump. “Sookie?”
“It’s nothing!” Sookie assured him, but she looked wistful before asking, “The same Gervaise from Rhodes?”
“The same,” Eric confirmed. Gervaise had been Sheriff in the days of Sophie-Ann. He’d come to Rhodes as part of her retinue, but hadn’t survived the bombing.
“I haven’t thought about him in a long time,” his wife said. She was looking around and Eric felt an uncomfortable twist he recognized as jealousy.
“I hadn’t been aware you knew him well.” The words sounded harsher than he’d meant, but his wife just laughed.
“I don’t know if you knew this, but I shared a room with his friend, Carla. She was a piece of work, but so alive. It’s just… I haven’t thought of those days in a long time.” When she took his hand, he saw her eyes glitter. “What interesting lives we live!”
“Sometimes it’s better not to have so many adventures,” he answered, but as he stared into those blue eyes that held every answer he needed, he knew he’d never decline a one as long as this woman was beside him.
“Are you just going to just stand there, staring at each other all night?” Karin sighed.
It was Sookie who looked away first, her humor kicking in. “Come on, show us around!” she cajoled, pushing and prodding in her pleasant way, somehow maneuvering Karin into playing the role of hostess with some good grace. “So, where’s Peter?” she asked as they finished their tour near the outside pool.
“Where isn’t he?” Karin grumbled, but she didn’t look angry. “He’ll be home soon. He’s already found a band. There’s a dance at the college. Cajun music. It didn’t make sense, his wanting to leave Chester, but I guess he was telling the truth. He’s happy here.”
Sookie was looking around, saying all the right things. Eric almost missed it, the quick thrill that tasted triumphant, convincing him his wife knew more about Peter Chandler’s change of mind than she was saying.
“How are you settling in?” he asked instead. “My impression was Stan’s presence in the west has been a steadying factor.”
“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean there aren’t problems here,” Karin shrugged. They settled on the porch furniture as Karin walked them through the concerns she’d found. Crimes against vampires weren’t significant, but there was a persistent prejudice that made the Area unfavorable. “There have been vampires who traveled here, drawn by the college and countryside, but they don’t stay. We have fewer vampires here than in any other Area.”
Eric frowned. He’d known the Area was sparsely populated, but it hadn’t occurred to him that there might be reasons vampires didn’t wish to stay. “Have you identified it? Is it zealots? Business opportunities?”
“I’m working on it,” Karin shrugged. “This whole Sheriff thing is new.”
“So much easier when you can question at the edge of a knife,” Eric teased his progeny.
“Torture is easier,” Karin grinned, “but there’s something pleasant about this. I don’t spend so much time looking over my shoulder and I know where I’m rising each night.”
They all turned at the sound of tires turning on the driveway. “Peter,” Karin said softly, and, in an instant, she was gone.
“She looks happy,” Sookie observed.
When Peter and Karin walked through the patio doors, they weren’t touching, but they didn’t need to be. Anyone could see they were a couple. Sookie noticed the shared scent. It was almost as though she could see the net that joined them through her senses. ‘I wonder if that’s how Eric and I appear?’ she thought, but just as quickly, she was in Peter’s arms, kissing the young man’s cheek. “I remember when I didn’t have to pull you down just to get some sugar!” she teased.
“And you never change,” Peter replied. Peter had. Sookie could see the first hints of age. It was in the small crinkles in the corners of his eyes and the slight loosening of his jaw. He was still whip thin, his second-hand jeans hanging loosely over thin hips.
“Oh, I don’t know, Cher,” he joked, his speak changing to the soft slur of Cajun. “Me, I change every day!”
“Karin tells me you have made your place here,” Eric remarked.
“The music here is amazing,” Peter nodded. “Of course, New Orleans’ music scene is so deep, you don’t know what end to start with. Blues, jazz, folk… it’s all there. Here? The Cajun traditions are strong. It’s in the way they play, the way they sequence,” and Peter launched into a surprisingly technical dissertation about phrasing and bow handling. His passion infected them all and Eric found himself following the explanation and being honestly interested. From music, Peter moved on to the influence of the college in the town, his hunt for a new B&B property, and the state of craft breweries in the area. “I think I’m going to have to give up any hope there!” he concluded. “Everyone and their brother has a brew down here and they’re all damn good!”
Eric listened to the outpouring with surprise. He knew Sookie was feeling the same. In all the years his daughter had been with this man, he’d never heard so many words come from Peter at one time. It was as if he was seeing someone new. “I can’t tell If this place is just good for you or what!” Sookie echoed his thoughts. “Does your Mother know you talk so much?”
Peter laughed, and beside him, Karin laughed, too. “It’s just settling into new places,” Peter assured Sookie. “There’s a vibe here. It’s like perpetual Spring. Makes me wax a little poetic, I guess.”
“Well,” and Sookie slapped Peter’s knee, “I like it!”
“If you’re trying to understand why vampires are having problems here, I’d suggest you ask your mate,” Eric told Karin. “He seems to have an in-depth understanding of your Area, for all he’s just arrived.”
Karin’s eyes widened, and Eric saw his advice take root. “Might make you pay for those secrets,” Peter was teasing, but when he held out his hand, Karin’s readily came to rest within it.
“Well, as long as you’re in a talkative mood,” and Sookie leaned forward. “You know Rick’s taken off with Brigid.”
Karin nodded, and Peter said “Sailing across the Atlantic. Got to hand it to him. He never does things by half.”
“Including giving his parents a lot of restless nights,” Sookie snapped, and then sighed, “Sorry! I’m just so worried.” Eric laid his hand on her shoulder and she grasped it. “I met Brigid’s family. They’re part Fae.” Karin’s eyes glittered, and Sookie laughed. “If you’re thinking fairy blood would be a nice little appetizer, I might be joining you. I’ve never met a nastier group. Makes me like Brigid a whole lot more… except for the part where she got Rick into this stupid idea.”
“Chub makes his own bad decisions,” Peter interrupted. “Been that way as long as I’ve known him.” He glanced at Karin, “You could see it, the whole time he was growing. One way would be safe and the other would be dangerous. Guess which path he’d choose, every damn time.”
“He’s adventurous,” Eric said proudly.
“He’s giving his Mama a heart attack,” Sookie growled. “Anyway, these Cranes said Rick found the boat. All I could think was this had to be someone from Chester. He didn’t seem to have any friends in Boston, except for Brigid and her friends. It had to be Chester. I asked your Mother, but she couldn’t think of anyone.”
“Professor West,” Peter shrugged. “Dan told me Brigid called him.” When Sookie sat up straighter, Peter grinned. “Figured everyone knew Dan was having that boat built. He’s been all over the message boards, looking for crew. Brigid offered to crew just for the experience, but he said he couldn’t have anyone work like that for free, and we figured out what would be fair.”
“Do you know their destination?” Eric asked.
“Liverpool,” Peter shrugged.
“Liverpool,” and Sookie let out a long breath.
“I’m sending Thalia,” Eric told her, his phone in hand, then turning to Peter, “What’s the name of the boat?”
“Greyhound,” Peter provided.
“Thalia on a search and rescue mission?” Karin laughed. “That won’t improve her mood.”
“You know Thalia calls Hunter ‘Whoreson’!” Sookie huffed.
Eric laughed. “She does have a way with words, Lover.”
“She’s got a pet name for Rick, too,” Karin teased.
“Oh?” and Sookie sat back. “Do I want to know?”
“I think you’ll find it appropriate under the circumstances,” Eric said, not looking away from his phone.
“Arseling,” Karin laughed. ”Thalia calls Rick, Arseling.”
‘And that’s when he’s behaving,’ Eric thought. He suspected by the time Thalia brought them back, Rick would have several new names and none of them would be so nice.