Eric parked the rental car a block from the little duplex that Hadley and Hunter were currently calling home. The other half of the structure was not occupied at that time. Eric inhaled deeply as he exited the car. There were twenty-seven humans in the little neighborhood, including Sookie. He also ascertained that Conway was a little more than one-hundred feet from where they had parked. He smelled Hadley as well.
But there was another scent, one that shot a sense of dread into Eric’s heart. In moments, he was at the other side of the car and holding Sookie’s hand tightly in his.
Feeling through the bond that something was wrong, Sookie looked up at him in question. “Eric? What is it?”
Eric’s sharp eyes took in his surroundings as he inhaled again. “Fairy,” he whispered. “I smell that a fairy has been here recently.”
“Fuck,” Sookie said quietly as she got out of the car. “And now? Is it here now?”
Eric shook his head, “But the scent is recent―not more than ten minutes old.”
“So the man that was watching Hadley and Hunter wasn’t Bill’s P.I.—was he?”
“Probably not,” Eric said. “And even if he was, he is now the least of our worries.” Eric walked them cautiously to where Conway was waiting.
“Northman,” the P.I. greeted from the shadows. He looked at Sookie but said nothing to her as he went on with the job he’d been hired for.
By reading Conway’s mind, Sookie quickly discovered that he was competent, discrete and―like Litner—completely uninterested in who she was. All he cared about was doing his paid-for job efficiently so that he would be rehired by Eric, who paid top-dollar for his work and who showed him more respect than those of his profession usually got.
Conway spoke quietly as he pointed, “That’s the house right there. The woman and boy are used to a night schedule, so they are both still awake. They are in the living room watching television.” He pointed to a group of bushes across the street. “That is where I spotted the other man watching them. Once I lost sight of him, I checked the area thoroughly; he has not returned.”
Sookie looked up at Eric and he nodded a bit, letting her know silently that the man in the bushes had indeed been the fairy Conway had seen. The smell was unmistakable to Eric.
Eric smoke to Conway. “Keep watching and call if there is anything to report.” Eric knew that his own nose would tell him if the fairy returned before Conway could, but he also knew enough about the unpredictability of situations to take every set of hands he could get in a scenario that involved unknown variables.
Sookie looked at Eric nervously, “We should go.”
He nodded but looked at Conway. “Do you have a weapon?”
Conway nodded, “Yeah, I have two firearms.”
“Give me one,” Eric demanded.
Without protest, Conway stooped to get a gun out of an ankle harness. Eric examined it and then looked at Sookie, “This is similar to the gun you used before, right?”
She looked at it cautiously. “Yes,” she said resolutely.
He handed her the weapon and then looked back at Conway. “I will return this to you once you return to Louisiana.” Sookie quickly put the gun into the right hand pocket of her jacket, which she was glad was quite deep.
The private detective nodded and pulled his other weapon out. Sookie read from his mind that Eric’s actions had put him on alert and that he wasn’t going to be caught without his gun in his hand if there was a problem.
Once again taking a firm hold of Sookie’s hand, Eric led them across the street of the quiet neighborhood. Once they were away so that Conway couldn’t hear them, Sookie said in a low voice, “Eric, do you think the fairy will be back tonight? Do you think this gun can even do anything against a fairy?”
“I don’t know on either account, I’m afraid,” he whispered. “The fairy may have just been watching for now―establishing Hadley and Hunter’s location. As for the firearm, I want you to have a back-up to your light power. If fairies are like vampires, a bullet wound will hurt them, though perhaps not kill them.”
Sookie took a deep breath as they approached the door. “Uh-oh,” she sounded out.
“What is it?”
“It’s Hunter; he’s sensed that we’re here.”
“Has he told his mother?” Eric asked.
“No,” Sookie shook her head. “I’ve told him that we are coming to the door, and I’ve asked him to wait to tell Hadley about you. I’ve explained that we’re not gonna hurt him.”
Eric rang the bell and stepped back. The last time he’d seen Hadley, he’d purposely made her afraid of him using his blood tie with her. His intention had been to frighten her into doing exactly as he’d wished. He and Sookie had decided on the plane that she would need to take the lead—but they also needed to get inside quickly.
Hadley opened the door warily. There was a chain in place. She was indeed a brunette, but otherwise, she looked healthy. “Sookie?” she asked with surprise in her voice. “What are you doin’ here?”
“Listen, Hadley,” Sookie said quickly. “You might be in danger, okay? We need to come in, and then I’ll explain everything to you.”
Hadley moved slightly so that she could see who the “we” was. When she did see Eric, she shrank back a bit in fear. “What’s he doin’ here, Sook?” She stammered, “He tried to kill me.”
Eric quickly caught Hadley’s eye as he and Sookie had planned. “Invite us in,” he said in a silky voice.
The glamoured Hadley quickly opened the door and stepped aside. “You two can come on in,” she said a bit dreamily.
“Keep hold of my hand in case she rescinds it,” Eric told Sookie in a low voice as they entered. She looked at their joined hands and nodded.
Eric quickly dropped his glamour.
“Sorry, Hadley,” Sookie said quickly. “We just needed to get inside quick. We have reason to believe that someone’s been watchin’ you.”
Hadley trembled noticeably and looked like she might rescind Eric’s invitation.
Sookie spoke again, “Hadley, if you rescind his invitation, I’m goin’ with him.” She gestured toward their shared grip. “Eric is my pledged mate, according to vampire law. We’re basically married. I know that he hurt you before, and he’s sorry about that, but he was tryin’ to get Sophie-Anne to tell him why she was fixated on me. He’s not gonna hurt you again―I promise.”
Hadley spoke in a low voice. “Does he know?” she looked over to where a frightened Hunter was standing in the doorframe leading to the living room.
Sookie nodded, “Yes, Eric knows that Hunter is like me, and he’s not gonna do anything to harm him either. I know you are gonna find it hard to do, Hadley, but you have got to trust me when I tell you that Eric won’t hurt you or Hunter.”
Hadley looked scared and skeptical as Hunter cautiously approached his mother and reached up to take her hand. He spoke in a timid voice, “Mommy, it’s okay. Aunt Sookie is sure about him.” He looked up at Eric and spoke a bit louder, “Are you a real vampire?”
Eric looked down at the tiny human in front of him. Hunter stood at just over three feet tall, so Eric bent down to speak to him, “I am.”
Hunter continued, “Mommy said that vampires are bad and will hurt me.”
“They can be,” Eric said. “But I will not harm you.”
Hadley pulled Hunter closer to her and put herself between Eric and her child. “Sookie, you might think you love him and that he loves you, but I know vampires, and they lie.” Tears were forming in her eyes. “Sophie said that she loved me, but she didn’t―not really. She would have let him kill me,” she gestured toward Eric, “and she wanted you. She even sent someone to seduce you.”
Eric stood back up and stiffened. Sookie could tell that he was angry with Hadley over the part that she’d played in Sophie-Anne’s initial interest in Sookie. Sookie squeezed her husband’s hand to calm him. Truth be told, Sookie was also angry at Hadley, but anger would do them no good in that moment.
“Listen, Hadley,” Sookie said, trying to stay calm. “Eric and I have a blood bond. Do you know what that is?”
Hadley looked at them with surprise and a bit of jealousy. “Yes―Sophie said once that she wanted to form one with me, but she never did.”
“Well―if you know about bonds, then you know that they are strong. Eric can’t lie to me, Hadley. That’s how I can be sure that he won’t harm you. You need to trust us right now.”
Hadley nodded a bit and then walked with Hunter into the living room. She sat down in a chair with him on her lap, as Eric and Sookie sat on the couch, their hands still linked. Hunter’s eyes went from Sookie, to Eric, to their shared grasp—before settling on the vampire’s eyes.
Eric began, “Hadley, are you aware that Sophie-Anne was killed?”
“I thought that had to be the case,” she said quietly, the sadness clear in her voice. “I figured she was dead when she never came to track me down once I took off with Hunter. I figured she could find me with the blood she made me take; that’s why I got as far away from Louisiana as I was able to.”
Eric continued, “There is a new king in Louisiana―Bill Compton.”
“What?” Hadley asked with real surprise. “But the queen said Bill was young. She used to make fun of him.”
“He killed Sophie-Anne,” Eric said evenly, “and with the help of the AVL, he became king.”
“Okay, so what’s that got to do with me?” Hadley asked.
“He has hired someone to find you,” Sookie said. “He wants me, but since he can’t have me, he’s decided to come after you.”
Hadley inhaled deeply, “Sophie let him taste me a few times. Is that why he wants me?”
“Yes,” Sookie said slowly, not wanting to upset Hunter too much with her words. “We taste better than normal humans, Hadley, because of the fairy blood in us. That’s also where my telepathy comes from—and Hunter’s.”
Hadley looked even more frightened, “Does Bill know about Hunter?”
Sookie shook her head, “No―well he knows you have a son, but he doesn’t seem to suspect that Hunter is like me—at least, not yet.”
Hadley breathed a sigh of relief.
“Listen, there’s more, and it gets worse. When we got here tonight, Eric was able to smell that a fairy has been watchin’ you,” Sookie said.
“What?” Hadley asked, pulling Hunter closer to her. “A fairy watching me?”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed.
Sookie took a deep breath. “They took me to their world last year Hadley―as part of a kind of round-up of people who are part fairy. They tried to keep me there too by forcing me to each this magical fruit, but I escaped. Hadley, Grandpa Earl was there―had been there the whole time he was missin’.”
“What?” Hadley gasped.
“It’s true―time doesn’t work the same way there, Hadley. I escaped after I was there for only fifteen minutes―twenty at most―but when I got back, I had missed more than a year.”
Eric grasped Sookie’s hand more tightly―though not enough to hurt her―as he thought about that empty year without her.
“Grandpa Earl?” Hadley asked again.
“Yeah,” Sookie said sadly, “and when he tried to come back with me to this world, he died because he’d eaten the fruit.” She sniffed to keep from crying. “Hadley, we don’t know why the fairy was here or even if he plans to take you. And we don’t wanna find out either. We wanna take you somewhere safe.”
“Where?” Hadley asked.
Eric spoke up, “We’ll start by taking you to a house I own near Shreveport. Your presence there can be hidden.” Eric and Sookie had planned to take them to his most secure home other than the cabin.
“After you are there,” Eric continued, “I will transfer the property to you legally, so you will be able to keep vampires out. I will also have some,” he paused, though it was barely noticeable, “friends of ours, who are witches, ward the property so that those who wish to harm you cannot enter onto it. After that, we will have to see. But the priority needs to be taking you somewhere secure now.”
“Why would you do this―help us?” Hadley was asking both Sookie and Eric.
“Hadley, you are family,” Sookie answered, “and Gran taught us to take care of each other.”
Hadley nodded and took a minute to think. “Okay,” she finally said. “We’ll go with you.”
Eric stood, “Pack a few bags, but pack light. I want to be gone within ten minutes.” Hadley nodded and quickly led Hunter down a little hall. When Sookie moved to help them, Eric looked at her and their joined hands with pleading eyes.
“If Hadley changes her mind and rescinds,” he stopped for a moment and shook his head. “I cannot be outside while you are in, Sookie. I cannot be in the position we were in with Debbie Pelt—not ever again.”
Sookie nodded, “Then we can both go help, and don’t worry. I’m not lettin’ go of you, Viking.”
“Better not,” he gave her his lop-sided grin.