Eric raised his hand and stroked his wife’s cheek gently. “I will call Conway to find out the details, but I . . . ,” Eric paused, at a loss for what he wanted to say. A foreign feeling of uncertainty—almost dread—washed over him.
“What is it?” Sookie asked. She touched his arm. “Eric, what’s wrong?”
“Sookie, may I speak to Conway first―talk to him without the speaker turned on?”
“Why?” Sookie was confused. “Is there something you know already?”
Eric shook his head, “No―but as I’ve told you, I can’t feel your cousin, despite having had some of her blood in the past. It may be that she is just too far away and that the tie is too weak; however,” his voice trailed off.
“However?” Sookie asked, lifting her hand to her husband’s cheek in an action that mirrored his own.
Eric sighed. “However, I do not know what Conway is going to say, and if it’s not good,” he paused again. “If it is not good, I do not want you to hear of it from a stranger’s voice.”
Sookie looked at her vampire in surprise, and her heart leaped inside of her chest as if it wanted to jump straight into him. Every time she thought she couldn’t love him more, he did or said something that proved her wrong. She nodded and removed her hand from his cheek, kissing him lightly where it had been. “Okay Eric. I understand, but I can’t stay here while you’re talking; I’d get too nervous. I’m gonna go see to the dishes and tidy the kitchen. You come get me when you know.”
Eric jumped to his feet and helped her up, giving her a soft kiss on the forehead. He wanted to protect his mate from all threats, even things that might make her unhappy. However, in that moment, he realized that he couldn’t succeed in his desire. He couldn’t keep secret all the bad things in the world, nor did he want for her to be in the dark about the dangers they might face. There would be times when he’d have to tell her things that would make her fearful, angry, or sad―things that would strip away the peace that he so desperately wanted her to feel at all times.
He closed his eyes tightly at that thought. Still―his instincts made him always want to be the one to tell her of any bad things which were coming their way―to be there always to comfort her in the face of sorrows.
His thoughts turned to the night Sookie had found her Gran dead in their kitchen. When she had spoken of that night, Eric had seen the scars of the trauma prominent in her eyes. And he still often felt the crush of his wife’s grief for her Gran through the vampire bond. The night she’d died, however, Sookie’d had the scheming Bill Compton―with his dark agenda―as her main comfort. Merlotte had also been there too, but neither one gave Sookie what she’d needed in the face of such pain. The thought of his wife on her hands and knees cleaning her own grandmother’s blood from the kitchen floor made his dead heart ache. That thought also made him want to kill Bill Compton even more; Bill—at the very least—should have taken care of that task. If Bill had really cared for Sookie at all—and not just his duty to the queen or his desire to have Sookie for himself—he would have taken care of it.
For the thousandth time, Eric wished that he’d been an integral part of Sookie’s life during that period. He sighed, wondering how it was even possible for a vampire’s dead heart to hurt with regret, but knowing that his was doing just that. Sookie’s Gran had died after Eric had met Sookie but before the Longshadow incident. He’d certainly been thinking about her the night that her Gran had died; in fact, he’d been thinking about her almost constantly from the moment he first saw her―always tempted to come to her. However, cognizant of Bill’s claim on her, Eric hadn’t yet given into his instincts to seek her out. If only he had, he may have prevented that horrible night when Sookie found Gran. Or, at least, he could have been there to hold her through the tragedy―to offer her the kind of support she needed, but didn’t get from those around her.
Eric vowed that he would do everything in his power to soften all grief that his wife felt from that point on. If she became vampire with him, there would be much grief in her life as human and Were friends died, but even in a normal human lifespan, there was much he would have to comfort Sookie through.
As he dialed Conway’s number, he hoped that the private detective would not be the source of such grief.
Ten minutes later, Eric stepped into the kitchen, and Sookie looked up with him with trepidation in her eyes. He’d been sending her reassurance through the vampire bond as he’d been speaking with Conway.
However, when he saw the worry in her expression, he immediately sent her additional calm through their bond. “They are both well, min kära,” he said quickly so that she would no longer feel her intense apprehension. “I will tell you everything he told me, and then we can decide what to do from there.”
Sookie’s relief washed over her, and she rushed into Eric’s arms. She sighed heavily, “Thank God.” She looked up at Eric, “And thank you. I’m so happy you’ve found them and they’re okay.”
“Come, my love.” Eric led her back to the fire. They sat cross-legged facing each other.
“Where are they?” Sookie asked.
“Santa Fe,” Eric answered. “They are going by the names of Maureen and Jeffrey Jones. Hadley is working as a waitress at an all-night truck stop where she is allowed to bring Hunter. He watches television or sleeps in a back room on a cot while she works. Though five years old, Hunter has not been put in public school. Hadley is schooling him as home, it seems. According to Conway, they live in a small apartment three blocks from the truck stop, and they walk to and from Hadley’s work. Conway has witnessed no contact with anyone other than the people Hadley works with in the two days he’s been watching her and trying to confirm her identity. He sent me these photos.” Eric held out his phone to Sookie, who looked at the downloaded pictures. “I have verified that the woman is Hadley, and I assume that the child is Hunter.”
There were a couple of images, obviously taken with a telephoto lens, of the pair walking. The woman, despite her dyed dark brown hair, was obviously Hadley, and Sookie recognized Hunter as well, despite the fact that he too had darker hair. Hadley looked thinner but well enough, and Hunter also looked healthy.
She handed Eric back the phone. “It’s Hunter,” she confirmed. “Do we know anything else?”
Eric nodded, “Yes. The boy’s father, Remy Savoy, filed kidnapping charges against Hadley when she failed to return him after an overnight visit Savoy authorized. That was about fifteen months ago.”
Sookie nodded, “She must have run off with him after I confirmed he was a telepath that day I met her at the aquarium. She was awfully scared.”
Eric continued, “The case has gone cold.” Eric snorted derisively. “Actually, it doesn’t seem that much effort was put into finding them since the taker was the mother. The detective in charge of the case feels that the child is probably better off away from Remy anyway.”
Sookie looked up at Eric with questions in her eyes.
He explained, “According to Conway, the father seemed relieved that the child was gone and is likely an alcoholic. Savoy told the detective in charge of the kidnapping case that Hunter had mental deficiencies that made him difficult to handle. In fact, a good deal of time was spent by the police trying to ascertain whether Remy had killed the boy himself—in order to avoid taking care of him.”
Eric shook his head almost angrily, “The lead detective was quite forthcoming about the case after several scotches, according to Conway. It seems that Savoy has not inquired about the case in five months. The detective feels that the child, if alive, is better off with the mother.”
“So―how did your P.I. find them?” Sookie asked.
Eric sighed. “We are not the only ones who have looked for Hadley. Conway was told by the police detective that another P.I. made inquiries about ten months ago. Conway figured out who it was from the detective’s description and then broke into the other P.I.’s office to see if there was any usable information there.”
“Who hired the P.I.―Remy?”
“No,” Eric answered, shaking his head solemnly. “It was Bill.”
“The good news is that this other P.I. was not initially looking for the boy as well―only Hadley. That means Bill doesn’t know that Hunter is telepathic. I am guessing that Bill wanted Hadley only for her taste once he thought you were gone forever.”
“Bastard,” Sookie muttered.
“Indeed,” Eric agreed. “Luckily, the P.I. Bill hired is not as good as Conway. There was a lead to the Santa Fe area, and the other P.I. did follow it, but he failed to find them. Conway followed the same lead, but succeeded.”
“Is this other P.I. still looking for them?” Sookie asked.
Eric nodded. “It seems that after little progress was made in the first few months of the search, Bill called it off, but he rehired the man last week to restart the investigation.”
Sookie sighed, “So the P.I. might make his way to Santa Fe again.”
Eric nodded. “I have instructed Conway to keep watching Hunter and Hadley from a distance. If Bill’s P.I. shows himself or if there’s another imminent threat, I have instructed Conway to contact us immediately.”
Sookie took both of Eric’s hands into hers. “Bill is too close―as far as I’m concerned―if his P.I. has the same information that led Conway to them.”
“I agree,” Eric said, squeezing her hands lightly.
“We have to get them out of there.”
“I agree with that too.”
“Then, we need to go get them—and the sooner the better. Can we go right after Bill leaves tomorrow night?”
“I can fly us there,” Eric said, nodding.
“All the way to New Mexico?”
Eric grinned widely, “I have an airplane Sookie. A private plane comes in handy more than you might think, and the best thing is that Bill knows nothing about it. It’s under an alias―as is my pilot’s license.”
“Shoot, vampire,” Sookie said playfully hitting his arm. “Is there anything you can’t do?”
“Hmm,” Eric sounded as he took her into his arms, “I can’t get enough of you.”
Sookie embraced him tightly.
He breathed her in for a few moments and then leaned back. “Ready for your movie?”
She grinned and nodded. “You think I’ll actually get through it tonight, cowboy?”
“Not a fucking chance,” he grinned naughtily as he reached for the remote control and turned on the television.