Eric helped Hunter down the attic steps and then was happy―as he always was―when his son grasped his hand for their walk to the first floor.
Eric smiled widely as they reached the bottom of the stairs and he could more strongly smell the soup that he’d asked Lafayette to warm―in addition to the rest of the Christmas Eve meal of chicken and dumplings that Lafayette was preparing. Hunter broke Eric’s grasp to go say hello to Emma, who had just arrived with Sam and Luna.
Eric took in the two shifters in front of him, and then he noticed the modest diamond ring sitting on Luna’s left hand, even as Emma excitedly said, “I’m gonna get a new Daddy too, Hunter!”
Eric walked over to the couple and bowed. “Thank you for coming. It seems that I must congratulate you both.”
Luna smiled widely, “Yes―we’ve decided to get married in the summer.”
Sam’s smile matched his fiancé’s, “She finally agreed!”
Eric nodded, “I told you that consistency was the key—consistency and the time needed to wear them down.” Eric smiled to himself as he remembered when it had been so difficult for him to give Sookie the time that she’d required to make her own choices.
“You took relationship advice from him?” Luna asked with a surprised chuckle as she looked at her mate.
Eric chuckled as well, “It was purely by accident―I assure you.”
From across the room, they all heard Hunter ask Emma, “What kinda ring do you want when we get married, Emma?”
Lafayette, who had just come into the room and had apparently just taken a drink of his special blend of apple cider―which Eric would make sure Hunter did NOT touch given the high alcohol content inside of it—sprayed liquid across the room as he heard Hunter’s question.
Lafayette’s eyes widened and he went to speak, but then he turned abruptly and walked back into the kitchen. Eric heard him mutter a quick succession of words in a low voice no one else picked up on, “Mother fuckin’ chip off the block, if you ask me. Oh―and he’ll get her too, just like tall, blonde, and toothy got Sook. He’ll stay after her till he does. Mark my words. Jeez! I give it thirteen fuckin’ years or so, but he’ll get her. Mother fuck.”
Eric chuckled and shrugged as he looked at a smiling Luna and a somewhat horror-stricken Sam.
Emma responded in a serious tone after contemplating for a moment, “Big and sparkly―like a princess.”
With seriousness, Hunter seemed to be taking in and cataloging Emma’s answer for a future date, and then the two ran over to the cabinet that held all the games and pulled out Chutes and Ladders.
Eric chuckled again and led Sam and Luna to the dining room. He offered Sam a cup of Lafayette’s special cider; the shifter looked like he could use it.
“Welcome to fatherhood,” Eric said as Sam downed the drink and gestured for another.
Luna’s eyes widened as she gestured toward the living room. “You don’t think they’ll really . . . ,” her voice trailed off.
Eric shrugged, “Hunter has had what I believe is termed ‘puppy love’ for your girl since their first meeting. And he is tenacious. Who knows? But the match would well please me if Hunter is happy.”
“Hold on there,” Sam said, choking on his second cup of cider, “let’s not get ahead of ourselves with makin’ matches. Emma’s only seven.”
Eric chuckled again and covertly winked at Luna before turning to Sam and speaking in a serious tone, “In my culture, marriage arrangements were often decided at birth. Is it too soon to enter into negotiations, Sam? Would you like to wait until you are formally wed to the mother? I assure you, I will forego the bride-price. My father wished for me to wed at fifteen, you know.”
Sam’s eyes widened again as he stood speechless for a moment. Luna turned around so that her fiancé couldn’t see her stifling a giggle.
Eric nodded, “Later then.” He walked out of the room with one last furtive wink at Luna. After about a minute, Eric heard her let Sam off the hook as she assured him that Eric had only been joking.
Eric walked into the kitchen, where Lafayette was rolling out dumplings and still muttering―though now it was general incoherent ramblings about marriage and vampires and stubbornness.
Eric chuckled, “Do not worry, Lafayette. It will be many years before Hunter is allowed by law to marry. And he will likely change his mind many times about whom he loves between now and then.”
“When does that boy ever change his mind? That’s what I wants to know,” Lafayette mumbled.
Eric laughed, “Never―but there is always a first time.”
“Not likely,” Lafayette said, shaking his head. “Takes after you’s too much. When was the last time you changed yo’ mind ‘bout somethin’?”
Eric thought for a moment, “I did not kill you when I caught you selling V. I had thought to do so at first.”
Lafayette chuckled at the calmness of Eric’s tone. Only a vampire―probably this one in particular―would bring up that moment and make a joke out of it. More strange, however, was the fact that Lafayette was not frightened in the least by Eric’s words.
“Well bitch―now I’s bets you’s is thankin’ yo’ lucky-ass stars that you’s didn’t.”
“Indeed,” Eric said sincerely, though there was a twinkle in his eye. He lifted the lid of Sookie’s soup and smelled it deeply. The vegetables had lost some of their freshness by being in the freezer for so long, but Eric smiled as he took in the scent of Sookie’s creation. “It is still good? Can Hunter taste some?”
“Yeah,” Lafayette said. “There’s one thing that a Southern woman knows how to do better than anyone else, and that’s putting up food.” Lafayette watched as Eric inhaled the soup once again. He’d come to know in the more-than-year that he’d been working for Eric that the vampire was often quite driven by his nose and was always interested in the choices that Lafayette made in combining ingredients for foods.
This particular soup—what Eric referred to as Sookie’s soup—seemed to be sending the vampire over the moon, so to speak. Lafayette had already started writing down the ingredients he could see and taste in it. Later, he would try to find the recipe in Gran’s handwritten book so that he could make the soup again for Eric to smell.
Lafayette shook his head; the thought of cooking a soup for a vampire would be ridiculous in any other household except for the one he found himself belonging to. However, he knew that he would be doing it anyway.
At that moment, Jason came in the back door with Jessica. He immediately came over to the stove and started poking around in the various pots and then the containers on the counter while Jessica, who didn’t really like the smell of human food anymore, went quickly into the living room, where Eric heard her immediately getting pulled into the Chutes and Ladders game.
“Hooker, you’s needs to get you’s hands outta my business,” Lafayette said, slapping Jason’s hand as he tried to take a taste of cherry cheesecake.
“You let him do it,” Jason said, with injustice in his voice, as he looked at Eric, who was still standing over the pot of Sookie’s left-over soup.
“Well―he’s a vampire that can kills me if I’s try to stop him, and you’s just,” he paused, “you. Now―gets the fuck out; skedaddle!” Lafayette lifted his rolling pin threateningly at Jason, who quickly left the kitchen.
Eric chuckled. Miranda and Jarod walked in the back door next; Jarod was holding a bouncing and drooling Godric in his hands. Miranda gave Eric a meaningful look and gestured outside.
Eric nodded and looked at Lafayette, “See that Hunter stays inside.”
Lafayette tensed and nodded. He didn’t know what the hell was up, but he’d gotten to know Eric well enough to be sure that something had been happening for the last several days. Eric caught Sam’s eye and gestured for him to come over. Sensing Eric’s change of mood, Sam tensed, gave Luna a kiss on the cheek, and whispered to her before following Miranda and Eric outside.
Tray, Jesus, and Pam were already waiting for them around a fire.
Once Miranda, Eric, and Sam joined them, the Werelioness spoke. “I went this morning to check the scent in New Orleans. I am sure it was the Weretiger, Quinn, just as it was in Ferriday last week.”
“How can you be so certain?” Sam asked, still hoping that there was a mistake.
Pam drawled, “Oh Miranda would know. She’s had the pleasure of fighting him before―in the ‘Pits,’ correct?”
Miranda’s lips turned up, “Correct―I kicked his ass in two rounds.”
Pam quirked an eyebrow. “I heard it was three,” she teased.
“You heard incorrectly,” Miranda said, not taking Pam’s bait.
Eric nodded, “So―that is at least twice in the last month that he’s been scented in Louisiana―first in Isabel’s area and now in Rasul’s.”
“But not here―right?” Sam asked.
“Not that we are aware. He could be avoiding this area because of Miranda, but he may very well have been elsewhere without our picking up on it. It was only by chance that Amelia and Tray went to New Orleans to pick up her things yesterday. If Tray had not picked up a distinctive Were scent, we would know nothing of Quinn’s time there.”
“So, if Quinn is hanging around Louisiana, then we have a big problem, right?” Jesus asked.
Eric nodded. “It can only mean that Felipe de Castro’s interest in Louisiana has been reignited.” Just then, Thalia and Bubba joined them at the fire.
Thalia’s eyes were bright, “I can confirm that. An hour ago, the dumbass issued a formal marriage request.” She scoffed.
Eric heard a low growl and was surprised to find it coming from the normally gentle Bubba. “Miss Thalia ain’t gonna marry him though. She’s my girl!”
“No, I’m not, and yes, I am,” Thalia said with a scowl on her face. “De Castro is a swarthy infant and even seeing him one time in a hundred years would be too much for me.”
“You turned him down then, I assume?” Eric chuckled.
“Unequivocally. Even if I could tolerate those fucking capes he wears,” Thalia sneered, “I cannot abide his sending his kitty to check out my state covertly.”
“We’re sure Quinn was not in the state for another reason?” Tray asked.
“No,” Pam answered. “Extreme(ly Elegant) Events, the company he is a partner for, has no events upcoming in this state. There can be only one reason for his being here then, and it isn’t for vacation.”
“Reconnaissance,” Eric supplied. “He knew Thalia would refuse him,” he commented.
“Of course, he knew,” Thalia confirmed. “He’s an insufferable ass, but he’s not a complete idiot.”
“Yes,” Eric agreed. “So his overture of marriage is actually a preamble to war.”
“But he can’t possibly think he could defeat Thalia,” Sam said. “It’d be,” he paused and looked at the petite warrior, “suicide.”
“Oh―he will work covertly. He would never be direct, nor would he ever face Thalia one-on-one,” Eric said. “His sending the tiger is proof of that. And there have been stirrings in the Authority that he has their support.”
Thalia nodded. “The sycophant makes them many promises and gives certain members money under the table,” she spat out.
Eric sighed. “His most likely ploy is to try to take us by surprise―probably during the day if he follows his past patterns. It would be prudent, my queen, for you to stay here on the property and within the protective spell of this place until the threat is over.”
Thalia went to rebuff Eric, but stopped. “I will stay in the ground here with Bubba in the day, but I will not leave my home or be cowered in the night.”
Eric bowed respectfully. “As I knew you would not, my queen. I believe that Quinn has been sent to find our daytime resting places. Do you agree, Miranda?”
The Werelioness nodded, “The scent in New Orleans was close to where Rasul takes his rest.”
Eric added, “And the scent in Isabel’s territory last week was also close to one of her main nests.” Eric smirked. “However—despite her visibility there, she no longer uses that one as a resting place.”
“Your residences are well-known,” Tray said, looking at Eric and then Thalia. “However, it is not known that you have a protection spell in place here, and it wouldn’t be expected of a vampire’s residence.”
Jesus nodded, “Especially not after last year and the stuff with Marnie.”
Eric nodded, “Isabel is already being more careful about where she rests―even more than usual. And I’ll contact the other sheriffs.”
Miranda spoke up. “When they strike, the cat will likely come here. The targets that he handles will be the most valuable ones―Thalia across the way and you here. Plus, it is known that I am one of your guards in the day, and Quinn will think that he can best me, especially if I am taken by surprise. He is also something of a chauvinist, and he might think I am weaker now that I have a child.”
“Pity the fool,” Pam smirked. “You are even nastier―if possible―since you had your cub. Much less pleasant. Meaner.”
Miranda snorted but then smirked at Pam. “You are right. You―especially―should not cross me, Sissy,” she joked.
Sam looked at Eric, “What do you want me to do?”
Eric looked at Sam and then Tray. “Unfortunately, not all the area sheriffs enjoy close relationships with the Were or shifter communities yet. Isabel has carried on the tradition of having a close alliance with the other Supernaturals of her area just as Godric did, and Rasul has some rapport with a group of Werewolves in New Orleans, but Marcos, the Area 2 sheriff, has no alliances with the two-natured. Tray, I would like to hire some of the Weres of your pack to bolster Rasul’s and Marcos’s security. If one sheriff falls, we will all be more vulnerable.”
Tray nodded. “I can arrange that. And here?”
“Well,” Eric said, “I want to hire Weres and shifters to secure the perimeter and others to be stationed about five miles away from the property so that the groups can rotate in shifts, and additional forces are always at the ready. Any immediate threat here will be kept out by the protection spell, but if we have Weres and shifters that can move in behind any attackers, they can be trapped and dealt with so that they can neither give Felipe information nor come back to try again. And, Jesus,” the vampire turned his attention to the brujo, “once again, I need for you to make sure the protection spell and the privacy spell stay up and are as strong as possible. It might be prudent for you and Lafayette to stay in your room in the guesthouse as well.”
The small group continued to plan for a few more minutes before Eric declared, “I will contact my person in Felipe’s court and have him put his nose to the ground, especially concerning the movements of the Weretiger. But for now, it is Christmas Eve, and I want to get in to my son―and,” he winked at Sam, “my future daughter-in-law.” Eric chuckled as he walked back into the house, which was now even more filled with the delicious scent of Sookie’s soup.