The sweet peace that Eric was feeling turned sour when he picked up a distinct and unfamiliar Were scent in the cemetery between his house and Thalia’s. The vampire stayed upwind of the owner of the scent and far enough away not to be picked up himself. He perched soundlessly in a tree as he listened to a large man―larger than himself even―talking on his cell phone.
Eric examined the man. Big, muscled, and bald―likely John Quinn by the smell of him. Eric had never seen the famed Weretiger in person before; however, he’d seen pictures of him. His scent was similar to Miranda’s―though he would never tell the Werelioness that. He had no desire to meet the short end of a wooden stake.
At that moment, the man turned around slightly, as if smelling into the air. Eric knew that the Were was not picking up his scent. He was simply monitoring the area, but the glint of the Were’s violet eyes in the gray of the approaching dawn left no doubt about his identity.
Though Quinn wasn’t speaking loudly, Eric could pick up his side of the conversation easily. The other part, unfortunately, was beyond even his ears.
“The layout here is ideal,” the Weretiger was saying. “The cemetery provides ample cover and is far enough from both residences to allow for a force to converge without detection by Were or vamp.”
There was a pause as the Were listened to whomever he was on the phone with.
“No—I am far enough out of range so that not even Bubba could detect me here, and you know of his reputation.”
There was another pause.
“I assure you. I am quite positive that I am not in his range where I am.”
“No—the Werelioness has a similar range to my own, so I am certain that she will not pick me up here because I cannot scent her from this distance.”
There was a loud sigh from Quinn. “No—the witch is not with me now.”
“I don’t know why. Ask your boss why he didn’t send her with me this time. Maybe he just wanted me to scope things out first”
A shorter pause.
“Yes—I have the spell and will use it to cover my tracks as I am leaving.”
Another pause and another sigh.
“I know how to use the covering spell, Victor. I’m positive that my scent will not be detected, just as it hasn’t been anywhere else in the state.”
Eric smiled. He now knew who Quinn was talking to, Victor Madden. The very thought of that slippery bastard made Eric’s skin crawl. Eric turned his thoughts to Quinn as the Weretiger was listening to Madden speaking. He was thankful for Quinn’s overconfidence; it could be used against him.
Eric was even more thankful for the gifts he had been given as vampire. Once again, his extra-sensitive nose and ears would save his ass. Not for the first time, Eric wondered if he would still be alive without them; he figured he would not. In that moment, Eric was also very thankful for his luck. Suddenly, an image of the A.P. flashed into his mind. He shook his head. Maybe it wasn’t luck at all. The timing of Sookie’s call to him? The timing of his coming home? Perhaps the Old Bat had foreseen all of this and set things up to happen at just the right moment. He wouldn’t put it past her. Perhaps she was even the source of his gifts. The vampire shook his head again and focused once more on the Weretiger.
Quinn clearly felt he was alone and unseen; however, the Weretiger would sniff into the air periodically to make sure his position was still secure.
Quinn spoke again. “No―the spy could tell me nothing new.”
There was a pause.
“I don’t care what she told you. She is not in the inner circle here. She knows nothing of Northman’s schedule except for the fact that he visits Fangtasia on some Mondays to take care of Area disputes, but he generally stays for only an hour or two. Other than that, she doesn’t have a clue about his schedule.”
“I don’t know why he spends so little time there.”
“Well—it seems there aren’t a lot of disputes. The area is extremely well-run, from the looks of things.”
After another pause, Quinn spoke with a bit of frustration, “Listen, he’s got a tight area. The Weres seem to be at peace with the vamps here. And the shifter that owns the local bar—Merlotte—won’t be an ally to us either. And from the impression I got today, the other shifters in the area respect Northman.”
There was another pause.
“Look, Madden, I know that shifters tend to hate vampires, but Merlotte brought his family over to the vamp’s house earlier tonight, so it seems they are friends. In my opinion, you should try to cater to Northman—draw him to your side.”
There was a longer pause.
“Fine then,” Quinn said in an exasperated tone. “The vamp seems too loyal to switch sides anyway, but perhaps if we can immobilize him on the day of the takeover and then offer him his life and position in exchange for his loyalty, he would be willing to change sides.”
“Calm down, Madden. I am not questioning you. I’m just saying that he is a good sheriff and runs an extremely well-structured area by all accounts. He could be an asset.”
There was a sigh from Quinn’s end after another long pause.
“Fine—I will not suggest it again. There is a fringe group of Werepanthers in the area that I can use, but they will be good only for a diversion. Their inbreeding makes them inept for anything covert.”
“Yes, I have been able to confirm that. The telepath is gone―and has been for over a year now. The spy is certain of that.”
“Yes―the Werelioness does have a young child. I have definitely confirmed that there is a child at the residence.”
A longer pause.
“Listen, as I have been explaining, there are no strong allies to be made in Area 5 as there were in the other areas.” The Weretiger was obviously irritated. “As I said, the sheriff seems to have few enemies―except for those you already know of. And no one messes with Thalia―I can tell you that much for sure.”
As Quinn continued listening to Madden, he began to walk toward the woods behind the cemetery, where Eric knew there was an access road. “That part I can confirm. There is some kind of protection spell around the house. I can barely detect it by scent, but I felt it myself when I tried to move onto the property. I could not pass.”
Eric flew along with the Weretiger as he walked toward the access road, making sure to stay upwind and equidistant from him.
“Fine—I’ll bring the witch later during the daytime to see if she can determine the nature of the spell.” The Weretiger hung up his phone, looked around, and sniffed the air. He approached a parked truck and unlocked it before reaching in and pulling out what looked to be a Ziploc bag full of powder. Quinn mumbled a few words in Latin, opened the Ziploc, and then spilled its contents onto the ground. He sniffed the air a final time before getting into the truck and driving away.
Eric flew back to his home; it was only twelve minutes to dawn, but he texted Pam and Miranda to meet him in the living room. There, he found that the bicycle had been miraculously completed and had a huge green ribbon on it. He spared a little smile. His son’s favorite color was green.
Pam was already waiting for him in the living room, an angry look on her face.
“What made you so happy earlier?” she asked in an accusatory voice. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were,” Pam stopped and then shook her head. “Eric if you were out fucking a random fangbanger, I will defang you myself. Tell me that you weren’t,” she paused.
“Out fucking?” Eric added with a smirk. “Oh—I was, Pam. I definitely was.”
Pam looked horrified, “Eric! I was the first to tell you that monogamy was idiotic, but,” she paused and her look became angry. “You bastard! You cheated on Sookie? Dammit Eric how could you possibly . . . .”
Eric cut her off with a chuckle. Normally, he would string her along, but he smelled that Miranda was on her way from the guesthouse. “No, Pam. Sookie pulled me into her dream tonight. She repaired the fairy bond, and then she pulled me into her dream.” He smiled.
Pam’s expression became one of surprise. “So you,” she started.
“I was making love to my wife, Pam. And then I was fucking her.” Eric winked, as self-satisfied look on his face.
Pam didn’t have time to respond again before Miranda had joined them.
As she did, Eric tone immediately went into general mode.
“Quinn was in the cemetery tonight. He knows that Sookie is not here, but he doesn’t know of Hunter. There is apparently a spy in our midst―a female―most likely at Fangtasia. Her information is incomplete, but I want to find out who it is and use her to our advantage.” Eric paused, “Unfortunately, Quinn is aware of the spell around the property. He is bringing a witch in the day tomorrow to try to assess the nature of the spell. And he intends to use the Hotshot group as a diversion when he attacks. He had hoped to recruit other Weres and shifters in the area to help with his assault, but has found no additional support here. Likely, that was his purpose for being in the other areas as well—in addition to discovering the resting places of the sheriffs. So we will need to inform the others so that they can covertly gauge the loyalties of the Weres in their areas.”
He looked as the Werelioness, who was seething at the thought of Quinn being in her territory.
Eric smirked, “Miranda, I want you to talk to Jason about the Hotshot group this morning. If he can give us the name of someone who is more intelligent than the rest, we can use him or her for information so that we can know when and where the diversion is coming; that will likely help us to know the time of the real attack too. However, don’t let Jason contact anyone in Hotshot. Pam, you will seek out the person Jason suggests later tonight in order to glamour him or her to aid us without his or her knowledge.”
Eric continued as the light-tight shades clicked into place, “Miranda, I want you to call Tray. If their witch brings down the spell, we’ll need more people at the ready to fight during the day.”
Miranda nodded. “Should I stop the witch and Quinn when they are here later?” Miranda asked, almost chomping at the bit for a fight.
“No,” Eric said after a moment of consideration. He rushed up to his room and back down, carrying a box. “In here is a prototype for a surveillance devise that is almost undetectable. I want to see who this witch is before we do anything. Quinn accessed the cemetery from the dirt road to the north and walked through the center point, directly between Thalia’s property and this one. I think he will follow the same path tomorrow since it is the least likely to be detected. Since it is Christmas, Jason is going to Adele’s grave this morning; make sure he goes early. Have him take this as well and show him how to place it in the flowers he plans to put on the grave. If Quinn follows the path he did today, the recording will show us the witch.”
Miranda nodded and took the device.
“Quinn plans to attack from the cemetery. After the witch and the tiger complete their assessment today, we will place motion detectors and additional next-generation cameras in the area so that we will know when they are coming. If the protection spell goes down and there is a breach during daylight, I want Hunter and Godric taken to the cubby with Batanya and whomever you see fit. I do not think an attack will come tomorrow, but I have a feeling it will come within the next month or two.”
Miranda nodded and then left with the equipment. Dead on her feet—so to speak—Pam went to the cubby, and Eric trudged upstairs, feeling the weight of the day, which was already five minutes old. Apparently, Sookie’s magic and blood from their shared dream would not help him stay awake during the day.
He took a moment to look in on Hunter and nodded to Batanya, who he knew had heard the conversation between Miranda, Pam, and himself.
“Do not fear for the young one,” she said. “I was told well before I took this assignment that the boy would not be touched as long as you are here to fight for him, and I stay by his side. And I do not intend to leave it.”
Eric looked at Batanya in momentary confusion before realization hit him. “I am not your only employer, am I?”
Batanya smirked. “You are not.”
Eric spoke evenly though there was an edge to his voice. “I do not want a spy in my home—not even one for the Ancient Pythoness.”
“She needs no information from me, Northman,” Batanya said calmly. “And even if she did ask, I would say nothing. It is the boy who is my charge and my,” she smirked, “boss.”
Eric chuckled. “Hunter has a way about him—does he not?”
Batanya nodded and then straightened. “As I said, Viking, your child will be kept safe by me. I swear it.”
Eric nodded gratefully. He knew that Batanya would keep her promise. The dawn pulling him, he went to his bed. He spared a look at the picture of Sookie and fought sleep for one more minute as he reviewed the events―both wonderful and troubling―of the long December night. He pulled the afghan around his body. The last thought he had before entering sleep was of his wife’s laughter.