“Polaroid?” I asked for a third time when Sookie seemed more intent to try the soup than to answer my question.
I still didn’t get my answer, however, because Jason Stackhouse chose that moment to jet into the room to get his meal with the girls at his heels. The small kitchen quickly became crowded, but no one seemed to mind as more and more people filtered in and out serving themselves at the makeshift buffet Holly had overseen.
Knowing that my bonded would wait until every fucking person on the property had his or her meal before she served herself—despite the fact that I could hear her stomach growling even over the noise of the “horde” in the kitchen—I “cut” in line to fix her a serving. I inhaled deeply as I did so, once again appreciating the rustic nature of the food.
I wondered briefly if Holly might accept a job offer to cook for Sookie and the boys, but my wife stopped that train of thought with a slap to my arm.
“What?” I feigned innocence.
“You’re making me be a bad hostess,” she admonished. “And,” she lowered her voice, “I am fully capable of cooking for me and our sons—just as soon as the ‘horde’ moves on.”
As I put Sookie’s food down on the table and pulled her chair out for her, I raised an eyebrow at her in order to acknowledge that this had been the second time that she’d heard my thoughts. When she realized that, she rolled her eyes and placed my hand on top of her belly.
“Your sons,” she smirked, emphasizing the “your” without giving away why they’d suddenly become “mine.”
It seemed even clearer now that one or both of them would be able to hear vampires’ thoughts, a probability which I wanted to keep as secret as possible.
After getting Sookie settled, I was “ordered” to take Brady some food, so I got back in “line.” As I waited for Andy to build what seemed to be a bread fortress, I texted Ian for a status update. He had apparently stopped off in Dallas to gather some of Godric’s books, which Isabel had been storing. Ian hoped that the ancient tomes might include information about Warlow and how to kill him. I texted him back to applaud his good idea. Then, I instructed him to inform Brady of his arrival time as soon as he had it so that someone could be sent to the private airfield to pick him up.
“Don’t make Brady give you a report until after he’s eaten, or his soup will get cold,” Sookie said right before taking a huge bite of bread.
“Yes, ma’am,” I chuckled.
“And give him a break if he needs it,” Holly added. “He hasn’t left the front porch or yard area all day.”
“Not even for ‘human needs,'” Sookie added euphemistically.
As if Brady were human.
Or as if he needed a bathroom to take care of his “needs.”
As if a wolf couldn’t shit in the woods.
As if males of almost every species didn’t prefer pissing against a tree whenever possible.
Indeed, most males—myself included—couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mark a little territory—however we could manage.
Knowing that Sookie would scold me for “impolite dinner conversation” if I shared my thoughts aloud, I merely nodded obediently and went about completing my assigned task.
I wasn’t about to piss off the pregnant fairy in the room any more than I already had.
As I walked out onto the porch with a large bowl of soup and a plate of bread in my hands—as if I were a fucking waiter—Brady was standing in the middle of the porch, looking out towards the woods to the east, and inhaling deeply. However, his relaxed posture didn’t indicate that there was anything amiss. I noticed that he’d clearly adopted the porch as his “office.” I couldn’t say that I was surprised that he had stationed himself between the entry to the house and anyone who might have meant those inside harm.
There were two laptops open on the table I’d placed on the porch during the remodel so that Sookie could take her meals outside when the weather was good. There was some other electronic equipment scattered around the table as well.
“Anything of concern?” I asked, though my own nose had already told me that there wasn’t a nearby threat.
Brady shook his head. “I don’t think so. Maria-Star thought she heard something. She and Thalia are checking it out, and the witch has gone with them to check her wards in that area. But it seems to be nothing.”
He turned toward me, immediately laughing. “If you’re my waiter for the evening, can I get a refill of tea too?” he smirked as I handed him his food. He sat down at the table and pushed his laptops out of the way in order to create room for his meal.
“No,” I answered with a chuckle. “The food was the price I paid for Sookie to sit down and eat before every other person in creation had finished doing so. She did not negotiate a beverage for you.”
“Extra napkins?” he asked.
He laughed a little louder. “Next time.”
“I’ve also been instructed that I can’t ask you for your report until after you’ve eaten,” I said with a shake of the head. “By both Holly and Sookie. Apparently, it would be rude to make you eat cold soup.”
“Beyond what I just told you, there’s nothing immediate. And I’ll eat quickly,” he promised.
As he dug in, Thalia, Maria-Star, and Amelia approached from the woods.
“Anything?” I asked them.
All three shook their heads.
“Nothing that I could discern,” Thalia said.
I looked at Maria-Star. “What did you hear?”
She frowned. “It’s hard to describe. It sounded like a breeze out of place, and I felt as if I were being watched for a moment, but I couldn’t pick up a scent. I wanted a second opinion though—just in case.”
“Is there anything off with the wards?” I asked Amelia.
“No—nothing,” she replied. “In fact, they’re getting stronger, even though they’re already the strongest I’ve ever made,” she added with some pride.
Seeing Amelia eying Brady’s meal, I told Maria-Star and her witch that they should eat before Sookie sent out a hunting party for them. Following them in, I zipped down to the cubby in order to grab a couple bags of blood for Thalia. My vampire cousin was even older than I—which meant that she didn’t need large meals—but I wanted her well-fed before she met with Danika.
Knowing that my pregnant fairy wife would scold me—and likely pelt me with her light (and not in a good way)—if she found out that I’d not heated Thalia’s meal, I made my way to the kitchen, stopping for a moment to kiss my bonded on her forehead. She leaned into my kiss, but didn’t stop the conversation that she was having with Holly and Tray—though she did pause long enough to tell Maria-Star and Amelia that there were T.V. trays set up for them next to the couch in the living room. Mustapha, Andy, and Dr. Ludwig were also sitting in the dining room at the “grown-up” table. The Bellefleur girls and Jason were using the card table in the living room as their eating surface. Jason, who clearly loved being the center of attention, was telling the girls a story about a hunting trip he’d once taken with his friend Hoyt. Not surprisingly, Braelyn looked enthralled, Adilyn was listening politely, and Danika was rolling her eyes.
I chuckled and shook my head. A year ago—even a week ago—the thought of having so many people in one of my homes—let alone in my main residence—would have been—well—unthinkable. My wife’s influence over me was clear, but I found that I didn’t mind our current company. However, I was looking forward to our home being occupied only by my wife, sons, and me—at least most of the time.
Call me selfish.
Thalia was still on the porch when I returned. She took the blood I brought her with a question in her eyes. Though she wasn’t surprised that I was offering her blood, the amount was unusual. However, she didn’t question me out loud; instead, she simply moved to the end of the porch and began drinking the first bag.
“You really are the prettiest waiter I’ve ever seen,” Brady winked.
I rolled my eyes as I noticed that the Were had already eaten—more like inhaled—his entire meal in the three minutes that I’d been inside.
“Finally finished eating?” I joked with him as he stood up to join me.
“Finally finished fucking?” he joked right back.
Not many were so casual with me, but I actually enjoyed Brady’s company, so I answered his sarcasm-laced question. “For now,” I said with a smirk.
Brady looked at me knowingly—and approvingly. No doubt—one of the reasons why we’d always gotten along was that we both refused to stop living, even when life became dangerous or complicated.
“I believe my mate would permit me to ask you for your report now,” I chuckled.
Brady immediately went into work mode. “The Governor Burrell situation couldn’t be going any better. The idiot got so wound up at a press conference this morning that he called for the immediate extermination of all vampires. And I quote: ‘If you think that makes me seem like some kind of genocidal monster, consider the monsters whom I wish to eradicate!'” the Were quoted dramatically.
“Lovely,” I deadpanned. “Does Burrell have any noteworthy sympathizers? Supporters?” I asked.
“None that are willing to support him publically. Even the political pundits who usually speak out against vampire rights have stated—officially at least—that Burrell went too far. And the leftover Fellowship nuts who have spoken up are only making Burrell’s situation worse because they are actually trying to defend the existence of the Vamp Camps, which most of the media are continuing to compare to concentration camps.”
The Were grinned evilly, reminding me that it had been he who’d manipulated the Press into making that comparison because of the information he’d leaked to them.
Not that the correlation was a great mental leap to make.
But one never knew with the media.
“And—now,” Brady went on, “Burrell is the chief suspect in the disappearance of Sarah Newlin. There is new speculation that he and Sarah had something to do with the bombings of the TrueBlood factories too,” he smirked. “I have no idea how that idea was introduced to the Press.”
I chuckled. Brady really was a crafty asshole.
“And, just fifteen minutes ago,” Brady went on, “General Michaels gave a press conference that lent credibility to that theory. The good general also suggested that Burrell and Sarah Newlin had encouraged her ex-husband to go on his killing sprees with Russell in order to prove that vampires were—indeed—monsters. Michaels didn’t come right out and say that Burrell killed Sarah to cover up his own misdeeds, but he certainly didn’t deny the possibility either,” he smirked.
Sarah’s new maker looked amused as she joined us, having finished her second bag of blood. Thalia looked as pink as I’d ever seen her—except in battle. “It’s too bad for Burrell that my progeny will never resurface in order to take any of the blame or backlash.”
“Too bad indeed,” I chuckled.
No—Sarah Newlin would serve her purpose as Dr. Ludwig’s guinea pig for the Hep-V antidote trial, and then she would be staked—thus preventing her from causing any more harm. For my wife’s sake, I’d make sure that Sarah was killed quickly; however, it would be done. And—of course—the bitch would have to endure the effects of Ludwig’s experimentation—just as she’d wanted to subject all vampires to similar tortures.
Poetic. Fucking. Justice.
I might not admit it to my wife, but I hoped that Sarah would suffer as few had suffered before.
“Nora was with General Michaels at the Press briefing,” Brady said somewhat cautiously.
I whipped my head around to him. “Where was the press conference held? It wouldn’t yet be night in California.”
“It was held in New Orleans,” the Were responded.
“Is Nora a problem?” Thalia asked. I was well aware that my vampire cousin didn’t like Nora, which was one of the reasons why Thalia preferred to keep our “family” status a secret. In fact, I had gotten the distinct impression that Thalia would have killed Nora more than just a time or two if it hadn’t been for Godric and me.
Nora may have gotten the gift of flight from our maker, but she’d not been gifted with the strong senses of smell or hearing that Godric had passed down to me. She did have better eyesight than most vampires her age, but she’d never been able to smell the similarities between Thalia’s blood and our own, though they were clear to me from early on.
“I hope she isn’t,” I answered sincerely. “But—if Nora finds her way to this house rather than back to California, then it will be clear that she is a problem, and I will act accordingly.”
“Will you kill her?” Thalia asked, an edge to her voice. Her blue eyes glinted with violent excitement.
“If she tries to harm Sookie or our sons—yes. If she tries to undermine our life together—yes,” I returned coldly. “It is one thing to know that Nora disapproves of my choices from afar; her disapproval or even her secret fantasies that she and I could eventually be intimate again mean nothing. But if she threatens my family, she will have proven that she is no longer a part of that family, despite her having Godric’s blood. And I will end her.”
Thalia nodded with satisfaction. It was clear that she hoped that Nora would misbehave. “Ήθελε πάντα να είναι διαθέσιμη όταν είχε μια ιδιοτροπία σας,” Thalia pointed out in Greek. “Τώρα, που εποφθαλμιά αυτό που έχει πάντα αρνήθηκε. Εάν έρχεται, εγώ θα αναλάβει τη φροντίδα της, αν προτιμάτε να μην. Για χάρη του Godric.” [Translation: “She always wanted you to be available when she had a whim for you. Now, she covets what she has been forever denied. If she comes, I will take care of her—if you would prefer not to. For Godric’s sake.”]
I placed a hand upon Thalia’s shoulder, appreciative of her loyalty and her attempt to prevent any guilt I might feel at killing Nora.
“I will deal with her—if she truly is a problem,” I said gravely.
The part of me who had loved Nora as a sister and sometimes lover over the centuries still hoped that she would move on to other preoccupations. Nora had always been one to throw herself passionately into any pursuit she found herself believing in. That’s how she’d ended up dying of the fucking black plague—after all. However, Nora’s pursuits had a tendency to be somewhat short-lived, which was only one of the reasons why she and I never stayed together for long. She would tire of me, and I’d tire of her inconsistencies.
Despite Ian’s reports, I had been hoping that Nora would have already begun to tire of the notion that she and I were somehow “supposed” to be together. After all, a string of temporary trysts that always ended with us being well and truly fed up with each other did not the template for a permanent relationship make! I’d hoped that Nora had been trying to cling to me because of her grief for our maker’s third death; however, if that were the case, becoming Guardian should have given her something else to focus upon.
I sighed. I had few regrets in my life, but fucking Nora to try to forget about Sookie was certainly one of them. Of course, I hadn’t expected for Nora to behave like a stalker when I made it clear that I was with Sookie—permanently. With regret, I had to admit that Thalia was probably right: Nora now coveted me because I was unavailable to her.
Brady broke me from my thoughts by continuing his report.
“Our Were back-up from my pack arrived at 9:47 a.m. They’ve been patrolling the property ever since receiving their orders,” he informed.
“Are they competent?” I asked.
“More than. My packmaster, Colonel Flood, sent some of his best. I know and trust them all. Moreover, they are prepared to work at the agreed-upon rate—for as long as you need them. I believe that my packmaster wants to curry a bit of favor with you,” he smirked.
“Why?” Thalia asked somewhat suspiciously.
“Our pack’s situation in Pensacola isn’t ideal anymore,” Brady explained. “The new vampire monarch of Florida is a douche; in fact, he’s in the same class as Compton was: originally selected because he was willing to be a yes-man to Nan Flanagan. And now, an Alabama pack is trying to encroach upon our territory, but the new king has refused to allow Colonel Flood to act because the douche is courting Alabama’s queen. Given the lack of discipline and organization of the Weres in this state, Colonel Flood was wondering if the current Louisiana king might invite him to move our pack to Area 5 territory in order to take hold of things here.”
I smiled sincerely. “The current king would invite such a relocation.”
Brady raised an eyebrow. “To make that happen, the only thing Flood would need is an assurance that the next king of this state won’t be an infant or an ass-kissing, PR-loving sycophant,” Brady said.
I frowned. “I don’t plan to stay king any longer than I must, but I will promise Flood this: I won’t accept a replacement whom I don’t respect enough to serve as sheriff. Would that vow be enough to convince him?”
Brady nodded. “More than.”
“Good,” I said. “Contact the colonel, and ask him to email me a proposal for the pack’s relocation costs. I am also willing to provide short-term housing until the pack can make arrangements of their own.”
“Short term?” Brady asked.
“A year,” I clarified.
He nodded and then moved on with his report. “Amelia, the witch, is talented. I’d suggest you put her on retainer. Even with my limited understanding of magic, I can sense and smell the strength of her wards.”
“As can I,” Thalia agreed.
“I was already planning on securing Amelia’s services. It helps that Sookie approves of and likes the witch. Plus, Amelia is the mate to Maria-Star, with whom I’d also like to negotiate a full-time, permanent contract—if you concur,” I queried Brady.
“I do,” the Were said with a chuckle. “I know I haven’t known her long, but she’s one smart and tough bitch. Female Weres generally have more endurance than males, but they aren’t usually as strong or as fast. After seeing Maria-Star in her wolf form, I can tell that she’s faster than I am—and more agile. I’m stronger—and trained in combat—but beating her in a one-on-one fight would be a challenge,” he admitted. “Plus, her sense of smell is at least equal to my own,” he added. “At the risk of wounding the pride of Tray or Mustapha, I want your permission to appoint her as my second when it comes to security—if she accepts the permanent position.”
“I will consider it and make my final decision in a week or so. Until then, make Tray your second, but feel free to bring Maria-Star into the loop as you wish. Tray won’t mind being demoted if I decide to advance Maria-Star, or they could both act as your lieutenants. Given the fact that they are already friends, I wouldn’t foresee that as being a problem.”
Talking about Maria-Star and her witch reminded me that I needed to ask about the damned Polaroid again.
“So—when do we hunt?” Thalia asked.
I chuckled at my cousin’s obvious excitement. In truth, I was teeming for a hunt as well. “Has Ian confirmed his arrival time?” I asked Brady.
“Yeah. His plane will arrive shortly after midnight,” the Were responded.
“Send Maria-Star to pick him up,” I instructed. If Brady was right about her, then she’d be best suited to aid Ian if there was any trouble. Plus, I’d like to get Ian’s opinion about her work. Ian was an excellent judge of character, and I could tell that Thalia already had respect for the female Were—and it didn’t even seem to be begrudging respect.
“No problem,” Brady said.
I looked at Thalia. “Ian’s coming a little later than expected will actually serve us well. Danika would like to meet you—in person.”
“What?” Thalia asked with surprise and no small amount of horror. “Out of the fucking question!”
A/N: I really appreciate everyone who’s still with me for this story! Remember—though I absolutely know that Colonel Flood was briefly in one episode of TB—he was so OOC and ultimately irrelevant that I decided to pretend like he was never mention so that I can use (and redeem) him a bit in this story.
Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed this chapter and Eric’s “catch-up” to the day’s events.