Eric rose from the rocking chair with his son in his arms. Slowly, he settled Hunter into bed, and—needing to replace the comfort of his father’s touch—the child instantly reached out to snuggle with a waiting Odin.
Eric couldn’t help the proud smile that spread across his lips as he tenderly brushed Hunter’s perpetually unruly bangs from his forehead. He leaned down and gave the child his customary goodnight kiss, and was greeted with a little smile and a contented sigh coming from his resting son.
“He taught me several songs today,” Batanya said quietly from the post she’d taken up by the bathroom door. Both she and Eric had decided it was best for her to stay closer to Hunter for the time being—at least until Madden and de Castro were taken care of.
“He often sings when we are doing our woodwork,” Eric said quietly, his eyes still trained on the sleeping form of his son.
“He is not the only one,” Batanya smirked.
Eric glanced at her with his brow raised.
She chuckled, “All but one of the songs originated from your human time, Viking.”
He nodded and smiled back at his son. “Yes, he is quite the sponge.”
“He made me teach him a song of my people,” Batanya reported.
“Made you?” Eric quirked a brow in her direction.
She didn’t answer his question directly. “I taught him the song of our greatest warrior, Astrid. Even as a very young girl, she led our people to many victories. The song says that as she grew into a woman, her beauty was outshined only by her cleverness.”
“You taught him in the Britlingen language?”
“Yes,” she answered, “though I translated the story for him first.” She chuckled. “He said the song reminded him of Emma.”
Eric smirked, “All things of beauty tend to do so.”
Batanya remarked. “I was betrothed from the day of my birth. Perhaps you should settle things with the shifter.”
Eric chuckled a little. “Betrothals were common among my forebears too; however, I believe Hunter has things well in hand.”
“True,” Batanya shrugged.
The Britlingen folded her arms a little. “He has a warrior’s heart, a commander’s intellect, and a guardian’s soul. That is why I sung of Astrid to him. She was the best of our people.”
Eric nodded and brushed his son’s bangs again.
“He watched over and protected Godric as you fought. He used his gift to inform me of all the movements in the house as well.”
Eric sighed and smiled warmly at his son. Hunter’s light snoring had begun as he had settled fully into his sleep. “He is becoming the best of all of us, Batanya.”
With difficulty, he left his son’s side and nodded to Hunter’s Britlingen guard on his way out of the room.
She nodded back. “He already is.”
Eric walked downstairs and found Lafayette and Jesus in the living room, obviously waiting for him.
“You sure you’re okay?” Jesus asked as he and Lafayette rose from the couch.
“Yes—now that I am assured of Hunter’s rest, I am fine,” Eric answered. “And the fairy was able to heal you?” he asked Jesus, even as he looked at Lafayette.
Lafayette laughed, “He was right as rain in no time after tinker boy got through with him.”
Eric nodded in relief. “You prevented Hallow’s first spell from striking me. Do you know what it was to be?” he asked Jesus.
Jesus laughed ruefully. “It was a memory charm. She was trying to skew your memories by implanting a love for her—no an obsession with her—within them.”
Eric scoffed. “Fucking memory spells! Would it have worked if you had not blocked it?” he asked with some concern.
Jesus shook his head, “I didn’t want to take any chances, but I don’t think so. It would have threatened your bonds with Sookie, and you know how tenacious those are.”
Eric smiled. He was well aware.
“Even if she could have altered your memories,” Jesus speculated, “it’s not like she could have taken your bonds or Sookie’s blood from your body.” He smiled. “And from what I was able to see once she used the blood spell, your bond is poised to fight any kind of magic that threatens it, whether it be a memory charm or a temptation spell.”
“Claudette was able to use her magic to numb the fairy bond,” Eric reminded in a low voice.
Jesus nodded. “But it seems,” he paused, “that the strength of the bond has grown.”
Eric nodded; he had felt that too.
“Both of you risked yourselves today.” Eric looked at Jesus, “And you were damaged in order to help me.” He paused. “Thank you.”
Jesus laughed a little, “Eric, you were doing the same thing—risking yourself to keep everyone in this household safe—so no thanks are needed.” Jesus got a serious look on his face and took a deep breath. “A little ‘damage’ really wasn’t that significant to me, Eric.” He took a second deep breath. “I had several siblings, Eric, but you are my only true brother.”
Eric looked a bit taken aback by Jesus’s words. Through narrowed eyes, he silently studied his brujo friend for a minute.
Lafayette looked on as his beloved finally told the vampire what had been in his heart for a long time, and he hoped that Eric would respond as he expected. Eric could be a scary mother fucker―Lafayette thought―but he was also extremely protective of the people he cared about. And it had been clear for a while that Jesus had become a kind of sounding board to Eric—even more so than Pam in many ways. Over the past year, they’d had many discussions and long debates, and Lafayette had known for some time that Jesus thought of Eric as his closest friend—more like a brother than even a friend actually.
Diantha had told Lafayette that vampires and demons always got along well. Demons tended to live very long lives and enjoyed the abiding and profitable relationships they could forge with vampires. Likewise, vampires also found demons incredibly useful. Significantly, demons had a reputation for their trustworthiness and could operate during the daytime. And it didn’t fucking hurt—thought Lafayette—that vampires didn’t like demon blood either.
Finally, Eric nodded. “I accept, brujo. We are brothers.”
Seeing the happiness in his mate’s eyes and amused by Eric’s formality, Lafayette chuckled. He addressed Eric, “Well, crispy cream, looks like we’s gonna be official in-laws then. But rights now, I’s gonna drag this one home and clean him off and put him to bed—where I plan to do naughty things to him until he promises to never make me worry like he did today again!”
Eric chuckled as Lafayette grabbed a blushing Jesus’s hand and led him out the door.
The vampire quickly assessed the damage done to the first floor of the house. The windows in the kitchen that he’d heard breaking during the battle that morning had already been repaired—likely by Scott Cusmano, whom he’d smelled was part of Alcide’s group. He also knew there would be many bullet holes in the exterior of the house, but he didn’t see any other damage to the interior.
After checking on Hunter, he went outside where there had been a fire built in the fire pit. Only Miranda was sitting next to it, her feet propped up on Jarod’s customary chair. Her arm was in a sling.
“Okay?” Eric asked as he approached the fire.
“Better than,” she said with a satisfied smile.
“Still the queen of the jungle then?” Eric asked with a cheeky grin of his own.
“No question,” Miranda answered, her own grin turning wicked.
“You restrained yourself and left him for me?”
“He was begging for his life. I felt it was beneath me to end him after that. However,” she added, “when he kept calling me ‘Babe’ later, I almost changed my mind.”
Miranda spoke in a low tone so that no one else—not even a patrolling Bubba—could hear. “Quinn and I had a night once—one! And it was well before Jarod, I might add. And I was drunk. Plus, I hadn’t been laid in over a year; otherwise, I would have been more,” she paused, “discriminating.”
Eric held in his snort, but a smirk made its way onto his lips despite his best efforts. “I never thought of you as one who went to the ‘tool’ shed to find a date, Miranda.”
She glared at him. “I was very drunk.”
Again, Eric had to force himself not to laugh. “I’m sure you must have been. And?” he questioned.
She rolled her eyes. “And it was his insipidly calling me ‘Babe’ and his silly purple eyes that made me limit it to only one time. Plus, he was more like a kitten than a tiger in the bedroom. And he’s a momma’s boy. And he kept going on and on about how we could produce ligers.” She shuttered at the thought.
So did Eric. “Anything else?” Eric asked.
“Did I mention that not all big men are proportional?”
“You implied,” Eric answered with a chuckle. “More?”
“Yeah,” Miranda said. “He got a little stalky when I refused to go out with him again. The idiot thought he was all that and didn’t understand how to take no for a fucking answer.” She smiled cheekily. “That’s why I eventually decided to kick his ass in the pits. After that, there were no more calls.”
“Does Jarod know about him?” Eric asked looking toward the guesthouse.
She shook her head. “You know about it now, but that’s it,” Miranda answered. “Jarod and I have talked about our serious past relationships, of course, but we have never spoken about things from the past that mean nothing to us—things that don’t matter. And the tiger simply didn’t matter to me—until he threatened this household, that is.”
Eric nodded, “I understand this. Our pasts before we met our mates become,” he paused, “only pale comparisons. Merely lessons to learn from.”
“And if I must kill him tonight?” Eric asked.
“I have no problem with that,” Miranda shrugged with indifference. “I was ready to do so earlier today, but when I got the opportunity to let him live to be questioned, I took it. I did not expect him to give himself up like that,” she said with a little distaste. “I expected him to fight until the end.”
Eric nodded. “What else do you have to report this evening?”
Miranda sat up straighter, and Eric was once again glad he’d hired her. The Werelioness had turned into a daytime lieutenant for him—much more than a guard—and she was just as competent as Pam in her role. Moreover, she was wonderful with Hunter; she, Jarod, and little Godric were now fully part of the family Sookie had started. He found himself hoping that they would stay indefinitely.
“Our Weres from the other areas have reported only a few casualties—three dead in total. I have already arranged for restitution for their families. None of the sheriffs were injured, and only one vampire was found and staked—a young one who did not follow Rasul’s directive to go to ground somewhere unknown to humans. I spoke to Rasul a little while ago, and he informed me that the slain vampire’s maker met the true death four years ago, so there was no restitution to be made there.”
“Very well,” Eric said.
Miranda continued, “The attacks were coordinated, as we suspected they would be, but we were able to warn the others in time for them to be at the ready.”
She chuckled, “Thalia—other than her usual text to Bubba today—is still off the grid, though I emailed her a full report of what happened today. De Castro’s forces were well-trained and well-armed, but none of the sheriffs were sleeping where they were thought to be, so de Castro’s people were essentially walking into traps and were, therefore, easily taken out by our people. This,” she handed Eric a cell phone, “has rung every twenty minutes since sundown—first with a Mississippi number and then with a Las Vegas one.”
“Quinn’s?” Eric asked as he took the phone.
Miranda nodded. “We have kept our added security in place, and twenty of Tray’s Weres are guarding the perimeter of the property. With Niall’s added power, Jesus, Lafayette and Amelia raised the protection spell again as well as the privacy spell for the house itself.”
“Interesting,” Eric remarked. “And Mr. Quinn did not get ripped to shreds when the protection spell was re-raised?”
“No,” Miranda said with a smile. “I was taking video on my phone just in case his body was forced through his chains and off the property once the spell was put into place—for Pam, of course. She would have never forgiven me if I had let her miss that.”
“True,” Eric intoned. “Very interesting. So the Weretiger does not mean us harm.”
Miranda shook her head. “It seems he was merely a henchman, and now that he’s failed, he is resigned to his death.”
Eric nodded, knowing that he could use this information.
Miranda continued, “Jesus added a privacy spell to the workshop for the night too. Scott’s crew was able to repair much of the damage to the house today and will return tomorrow to do the rest. They were due to begin the stable anyway. Oh—and Ludwig says she is going to bill you double her usual rate because I interrupted her vacation.”
“Vacation to where?” Eric asked.
“She says Tahiti.” Miranda chuckled. “She arrived in a bathing suit.”
“Glad I was not awake then,” Eric smirked. “The panthers?”
Miranda scoffed, “Inbred and frighteningly crazy. A few were killed by Thalia’s human guards when they went to the basement-level looking for her.” She shook her head. “It is a shame that they never sought out other packs in order to continue their line properly. There are, however, a few of the younger ones that seem promising—still inbred, but not as fucking crazy yet.”
Eric smiled at her. “Are you giving yourself a project?”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “If the ones I speak of choose to leave that flea-infested inbreeding cesspool, then I will help them. But it will be up to them to make the move out of there. I have given them my number; the ball is in their court. The one that we were getting information from, Becky, has already decided to move. She is going to stay with Luna and Sam for the time being. Luna plans to give her a test to see what level of school she could handle. Apparently, however, the poor girl can hardly read.”
“We will arrange for a tutor and make sure that Sam and Luna are compensated for her room and board until we can make other arrangements for the girl.”
“We already did those things,” the Werelioness smiled.
“We are extremely efficient and generous then.” Eric chuckled. “So—as always—you have taken care of everything perfectly and anticipated all my wishes.”
“I cringe to think what you would do without me, Northman,” Miranda smirked.
“So do I.” The vampire bowed a little. “I trust your cub is well.”
“Yes,” Miranda said with a bigger smile. “Godric was safe with Batanya and Hunter. Your son took good care of mine while they were in the cubby.” She looked at Eric seriously. “And it did not escape my notice that you have arranged with our Britlingen friend to take Godric to safety as well should they face an imminent threat.”
“Our children will be protected,” Eric said simply but passionately.
It was Miranda’s turn to give a little bow. “Have fun with the tiger.”
She sat back in her chair and brought her feet down as Jarod came out of the guesthouse, two beers in hand.
“Godric is finally asleep,” the shifter announced, handing Miranda a beer and sitting hard into the chair that her feet had just vacated. He looked at Eric, “A teething Werelion is not an especially easy ankle biter to put down to sleep.” He grinned, “Bloody hardest thing I’ve had to do all day!”
“Took you longer to do that than the whole battle this morning,” Miranda commented.
“See,” Jarod smiled, “much bloody harder.”
Miranda had placed her feet onto her mate’s lap, and he unconsciously began to rub her legs through her jeans.
Knowing that Godric would likely sleep only a few hours before he “roared” his displeasure over his aching gums, Eric left the couple to enjoy their solace by the fire.