Hunter had known something was wrong that morning right after he’d woken up. Every morning―even on the ones when his Daddy slept in his cubby―Hunter would go in and check on him. He’d simply touch his daddy’s hand or cheek, and then he’d go on about his day. The fact that Eric was virtually a corpse had never bothered Hunter at all. His daddy was just his daddy. That was all Hunter knew.
However, when his daddy was not there at all that morning, it did bother him.
What bothered him more was that no one would tell him where his daddy was. And even worse, no one knew.
Hunter was scared, and no one would talk to him about what was wrong. Their minds all screamed that they wanted to protect him from pain and fear. But it was too late for that.
So Hunter did what he needed to do; he started to dig into heads. Of course, everyone was on guard against this, but Hunter had learned how to use his gift with much more efficiency in the last year, and he was able to delve into people’s minds while they were in the next room. Only Uncle Claude would have known that Hunter was in his head—and he wasn’t there—and only Daddy knew about his increase in range.
But hearing everyone’s thoughts didn’t make Hunter feel any better.
There were many apprehensive thoughts coming from his people, mostly because they knew so little about what was going on. They were all scared too.
From Uncle Lala’s head, he heard that Sissy had called very early in the morning to tell them all to stay inside the protection spell and to keep Hunter inside the house for until further notice. Since it was raining again, Miranda had used that as an excuse to keep him inside, but Hunter “heard” about Sissy’s call from Miranda’s head too.
From Amelia’s head, he heard about an even worse phone call. Miranda had called her and Tray and told them to get to the ætt land as soon as possible. Sissy wanted to make sure that they were inside the protection spell too.
From Uncle Jason’s head, Hunter had learned that Jesus had called Emma’s new daddy, Sam, and told them to either hold up someplace where no one knew they would be or come home as soon as possible and drive straight to the ætt land. And Uncle Jason, who’d been hanging out with Jessica the night before, had been told by Jarod to stay put and not even go to work. And Uncle Jason was a cop, so Hunter knew that things must be bad. Hunter shivered in fear as he remembered Uncle Jason’s worried thoughts.
Hunter had gone to his room and called his Emma right after hearing those things, and she told him they were in New Mexico and would be staying in what was called a Bed and Breakfast for a few more days. Hearing her voice had made him feel lots better, but he still asked Miranda if they were gonna be safe there. His Werelioness protector and teacher seemed a little surprised when he asked her that, but then she confirmed that they would be safe there.
Hunter was satisfied that they were okay since Miranda’s head was so sure about it. However, she’d not told him anything else about his daddy or what was going on.
Then, Terry had brought over a whole bunch of groceries in the afternoon so that they’d have food for several days and wouldn’t have to leave.
Hunter heard from Jesus’s head that Jessica, Uncle Loki, Bubba, and Thalia were all in the cubby. He probed deeper into his brain and learned that Sissy had not been able to get to the house before sunrise but would be coming first thing that night if she could. When Hunter probed even more, he found out that Sissy had told Jesus that something was wrong with Daddy, but that Jesus didn’t know what it was yet.
However, Hunter knew that Jesus was really worried, and Hunter saw him hugging Uncle Lala a lot that day.
Hunter’s fears continued to escalate throughout the day, and by 3:00 he was near tears. He’d been unable to learn anything more from anyone else’s head, and it’d been the longest day of his life up to that point.
Since everyone continued to act like there was nothing wrong, Hunter had gotten frustrated and had gone into his daddy’s room with Batanya. He’d directly asked the Britlingen what she knew, but she had been told only what he had already found out: that Eric was not there and that Pam had called to say that something was wrong. She’d added that no one wanted Hunter to be worried since they had so little information, but she’d, of course, known what he was up to—digging into everyone’s heads—all day.
After about half an hour spent lying on his daddy’s pillow, Hunter had marched downstairs and had announced to everyone that he knew something was wrong—very wrong—and he didn’t want anyone pretending things were okay.
The rest of the day had been tense, and Hunter had gone back into his Daddy’s room to look at his pictures and to soak in his presence as much as he could. Batanya had stood watch over him, and knowing that her young charge needed to be alone, the Britlingen had kept the others away from him.
Almost at sunset, Hunter had come downstairs and had fed the cat, just as he knew his Daddy always did, but the creature refused the food. And it was in that moment that Hunter had let his tears fall for the first time. It had been Tara who had scooped him up into her embrace. And Hunter had been comforted by her thoughts more than anyone else’s that day. All that she was thinking about was that Eric was the craftiest vampire that she’d ever met, and she was certain that if he was in trouble, he’d already be working on lots of ways to get out of it. She was also certain that no one and nothing could keep Eric from returning home to Hunter and Sookie. And she was mad at the others for trying to keep what they knew from Hunter at the beginning of the day.
Hunter had clung to her gratefully.
Uncle Loki, Bubba, Thalia, and Jessica had come into the living room at nightfall, but Thalia had immediately left. Bubba had gone outside to keep watch, and Uncle Loki had tried to contact Sissy, but hadn’t been able to get her on the phone. After that, he’d taken up a position right next to Batanya and had been standing guard over him.
Jessica had gone off into the bedroom with Jason. Hunter could tell from his Uncle Jason’s thoughts that Jessica was worried about Sissy.
It had been an hour after dark before Sissy had finally arrived, and her clothes were covered with dirt. He’d never seen his sissy like that before, and it frightened him. Through Miranda’s head, Hunter had heard his Sissy tell the Werelioness something about a person named Lillith, who had tried to hurt her but couldn’t. Hunter was grateful for that, but he needed answers.
Miranda and Pam had been talking quietly in the dining room while most of the others had been thinking of ways to distract Hunter in the living room. Hunter gave Batanya and Uncle Loki a determined look before he got up and stomped into the dining room. He sat down in his daddy’s chair and folded his arms as he’d seen his daddy fold them a million times. He calmed himself as his daddy had been teaching him to do before trying to solve problems.
With a mixture of worry and amusement in both of their expressions, Duncan and Batanya took up sentry-like positions behind the little boy.
Hunter leveled an Eric-worthy stare right in his sissy’s direction. “I know I’m a kid, Sissy. I’m a kid, and no one wants me to be scared.” He looked at Miranda. “No one thinks a kid should be scared, but I can hear what everyone’s thinkin’, Sissy, and I am scared already ‘cause I don’t know where my daddy is.”
Hunter fought his tears with another deep breath; he felt Batanya’s comforting hand on his shoulder. “I need to know where Daddy is, Sissy. Will you tell me?”
Pam looked at Hunter with pride in her eyes. “I’ll tell you everything I know, Brother.”
Hunter nodded and reached his hand out to stroke Odin, who had raised his head up to the chair and propped his chin on Hunter’s leg. The action comforted him a little as steeled himself to listen to his Sissy’s words.
Pam spoke, “Your daddy is my maker, Hunter.”
“I know,” Hunter said.
“And that means that I can feel him. I can feel his emotions, and he can call me to him if he wants, so I want you to know one thing—right from the start, okay?”
Hunter nodded again.
“Your daddy is alive, Hunter. He is hurt, but he is alive.” Pam’s voice was forceful, and she reached out to take Hunter’s free hand. Duncan’s hand had moved to the shoulder that Batanya wasn’t steadying already.
Hunter once again took in a deep breath so that he could hold in a sob, but that did not stop the tears from streaking down his cheeks. “He’s hurt?” Hunter asked in a quiet voice.
“Yes—he’s in trouble,” Pam continued even as the people that were in the living room came in to hear what she was saying too. Hunter noticed that Tara and Uncle Lala were both holding onto Jesus’s hands.
Pam went on. “Late last night, your daddy called me through our bond. Many, many years ago, Eric taught me a special signal that he would use through our bond only when he was in trouble—trouble that I could not help with. This signal meant that I had to stay away from him and seek safety for myself. A little less than a year ago, he ordered that if I received that signal from him that I was to come here and keep everyone safe. He commanded me not to try to come for him and not to tell others how to find him—unless it was Sookie.”
“Commanded you?” Duncan asked.
Her gaze still on Hunter, Pam nodded. “Yes, he ordered me to protect that which he loves most.” She squeezed her little brother’s hand. “That is you, Hunter.”
The boy’s lips quivered as he tried to stay strong.
“You know that a vampire child can never go against his or her maker’s commands—right Hunter?” Pam asked.
Hunter couldn’t stop his sobs now. He stammered out, “I know, but Sissy, we have to go get Daddy.”
Pam shook her head and wiped a red tear before it fell. “I cannot tell anyone where he is, Hunter, and I cannot go to him. I would if I could. But he has commanded me not to, and I cannot break that command.”
Duncan spoke quietly, “Can you find a loophole, Pam? Can you write down his location—write it like you are writing a letter to Sookie? Can you give me a general direction or even an area where I can start looking for him?”
Pam shook her head pitifully. “No. He was very,” she paused and brushed away another tear, “thorough in his command. I am to keep my brother safe. I am to try to keep everyone here safe. I can do nothing else.” This time, a red tear did escape from her eye.
“I can feel where he is and sense that he’s alive, but there is nothing else I can do for him,” Pam said sorrowfully.
Duncan nodded and spoke softly. “It is okay, Pamela. He gave you that command because it was what he felt was the right thing to do. And we must follow his orders now more than ever; we must wait.”
She gave him a little smile and nodded.
Pam took an unnecessary breath and looked back at Hunter. “Do you remember when your daddy told you that there was a good reason—an important reason—why your aunt Sookie needed to stay in the fairy world longer?”
Hunter nodded, and Pam couldn’t help but to notice many others in the room nodding along with him as they listened to her.
Pam continued, “Do you remember the A.P.?”
Hunter nodded again.
“She is able to predict the future, and she knew that your daddy would one day face a big threat—a bad guy. But she also said that if Sookie got the training she needed with her fairy powers, then she would be able to save your daddy. I think that the future she saw is happening now, Hunter. I think that your daddy is in a lot of trouble, but I also trust that your aunt Sookie is going to help him.”
Hunter took in what Pam was saying faster than anyone else in the room. “So Aunt Sookie is gonna save Daddy,” he stated, rather than asked.
“That’s what I think, Hunter,” Pam said, trying to sound confident. “And that is what your father thought too. He trusts that Sookie will protect him—he trusts her with everything that he is.”
“Who has him?” Miranda asked.
Pam shook her head. “I don’t know. All I know is that Lillith is involved, and she may have known Russell’s location.”
Hunter felt everyone in the room tense up at the mention of that name. He zeroed in on Tara’s thoughts as she pictured a scary-looking vampire with crazy eyes. “Who’s Russell?” Hunter asked.
Pam answered him. “He is a very strong vampire, Hunt.”
“Stronger than Daddy?” the little boy asked fearfully.
“Yes,” Miranda said when Pam couldn’t speak the word for fear that she’d lose her composure completely.
Hunter noticed that Miranda had taken his sissy’s other hand.
Duncan moved around to Hunter’s side and bent down on one knee so that he was eye-level with the child. “Little mac-bràthair,” the Scotsman said tenderly.
Hunter answered with a sniff.
“I know that you want to go get your daddy right now. I want to do that too, but we need to follow your daddy’s plan right now. He needs to know that we are all safe here so that he doesn’t worry about us—do you understand?” Duncan asked.
Hunter wiped away a few tears with the back of his hand. “So Aunt Sookie’s gonna bring me my daddy back?”
“I believe that is true,” Duncan assured; he looked around the room and then back at Hunter. “We all have to believe—just like your daddy believes.
Pam had composed herself and leaned toward Hunter. “Yes, Hunter. It’s going to be tough to just wait here, but we have to trust Sookie and your daddy.”
Hunter’s eyebrows furrowed, but he nodded as if he’d come to an internal decision. In that moment he looked so like Eric that more than one person in the room had to stifle a cry. “Okay, Sissy. So we’re gonna be strong and brave and protect this house just like Daddy always says. And Aunt Sookie’s gonna blast the bad guys with her light and bring me my daddy!”
“That’s exactly right,” Pam said, smiling, even though she’d begun feeling tremendous pain through her bond with Eric. She’d felt some pain from him for most of the night, but he was obviously trying to keep it from coming through their bond. The fact that it was still finding its way through worried her greatly.
Though she hated to do it, she had to dampen down the bond on her end in order to keep from doubling over in pain, but she kept a sliver of it open so that she could still feel him—so that she could know that he was still there.
Jessica was looking at her with concern, but Pam gave her a warning look. She looked at Hunter but raised the volume of her voice so that she was clearly speaking to the whole room. “And Eric is very strong—so very strong—and he’s gonna hang on until Sookie can get to him.”
Hunter unconsciously narrowed his eyes as Eric sometimes did. “Sissy, will you always be able to tell if Daddy is alive in your bond?”
Pam nodded. “And I will tell you if he,” she paused, her voice catching, “dies. I promise.”
Hunter sniffed and nodded again. He got up from his chair without another word and went upstairs to his daddy’s room, followed by Batanya, Duncan, and Odin.
The vampire and the Britlingen stood watch outside of the door while Odin went inside to comfort his master.
Within moments, Hunter was in tears once more and was saying a prayer for his daddy and his aunt Sookie.
Hearing the child’s cries, Duncan started to move into the room. Batanya shook her head slightly and placed her hand on his forearm.
“What he needs right now is the most difficult thing for us to do for him,” she said quietly as she closed the door to give Hunter his privacy. “Let him speak to his god for a while.”
Duncan stopped his progress and looked into Batanya’s eyes. “But he is crying,” Duncan whispered.
“He needs to,” she said softly. “He has been trying to be remain strong all day, “Let him be alone with his father’s things and cry into his father’s pillow. Soon—I will have you retrieve his sister; until then, let him have this time,” she said, keeping her hand on his arm.
He nodded. “You’re right.”
The Britlingen looked at the closed door of the room. “His world is gone from his side, and he needs to retreat for a while. But like the true fighter he is, Hunter will soon find a way to deal with what has come to him.”
Duncan smiled at her a little. “You like to speak in battle metaphors. I like that you are a warrior.”
She gave him a little smirk, “And I like that you are not one to be defeated.”
His look turned serious. “I feel defeated right now. My brother is out there, and I can do nothing for him.”
“You trust him,” Batanya said, raising her hand to stroke his cheek. “That is something. You protect his son. That is something. You helped today by keeping them all calm—by keeping them from running off to try to save him. That is something.”
He gave her another half-smile, his blue eyes dancing with turquoise specks as he took her in. “You are a beautiful woman, my warrior.”
She rolled her eyes. “Beauty is not important,” she said.
“Your kind is,” Duncan said sincerely. “Your kind cuts into me unlike anything I have ever felt before.”
She finally gave in and gave him a hint of a smile. “I could love you forever, Duncan Scott.”
Duncan’s surprise at her tender words showed on his handsome face. “You could?” he asked a bit dumbly.
She chuckled at his reaction, “Loving you would not be a difficulty for me, but I will not share. The fact that Britlingen women so outnumber our men required that I share my husband with twenty others as I had my children and raised them until they were of age. I did not,” she paused, “like that, even though I did not care for my arranged husband.”
Duncan raised his hand to her cheek. “I believe you would be more than enough for me, Batanya.”
She narrowed her eyes a little. “Belief is a good start. When you know, I will keep you.”
“If you continue to say things like that, woman,” he growled a little, “you will never be rid of me.”
She smirked and grabbed the back of his neck to bring his lips to hers. She took her time with them, and then she demanded entrance into his mouth with her tongue. That demand brought down his fangs.
Batanya purposefully slit her tongue on one of those razor-sharp fangs and then quickly pulled back from the kiss.
Knowing that Britlingen blood was often not enjoyed by vampires, she studied Duncan’s reaction. His eyes were closed, and he was obviously sampling the few drops that he’d been given by her. He moaned a little, and a smile spread over his face as he relished her unique flavor.
“I do not just believe; I know,” he said softly as his eyes opened and bore into her with a mixture of lust and love. It was a look unlike any he’d ever given before.
It was a look unlike any she’d ever received before. And she was looking at him the same way.
“Then I will keep you,” she vowed.
He took her hand and raised it to his lips tenderly. “I will enjoy being kept by you through all of my undead life and beyond it.”
She smirked. “If you stray, I will run a stake through your heart.”
“You say the most romantic things,” he smiled roguishly. “But if I stray, I will deserve the stake.”
They stared at each other intensely and intently for a long while.
“I will not leave Hunter during his life unless my daughter, Breeta, or Clovache comes to him—and even then—I will not leave him for long,” Batanya said.
“I do not intend to leave this my brother’s side, so that is convenient,” he smiled. “And I will keep guard over this child as well,” he vowed as he looked at the door to Eric and Sookie’s room. “I will die before the likes of Russell Edgington touches him!”
Again, Batanya gripped the back of his neck and pulled his lips to hers―this time even more forcefully. She broke the kiss after a few minutes, leaving a little groan in his mouth as she did.
His fangs were still down, and this time she left them even bloodier.