Sookie took a deep breath as the vans came to a stop at the outskirts of the warehouse district along the Red River. They were in some kind of parking structure.
“Okay,” Alcide said, “according to the address Sookie gave us, we’re five blocks away.”
Her nerves frayed, Sookie jumped a little when Tray knocked on the windowless back of the van. Jarod leaned over to open it. Scott Cusmano, who was standing next to Tray, gave Sookie a warm smile.
“It’s good to have you back, Sookie,” he said as Tray leaned in to take Amelia’s hand for a moment.
“Thanks, Scott. And thanks for all your help,” Sookie replied with a gracious smile that her Gran would have been proud of.
The distinguished-looking Were nodded, and from his head, Sookie learned that he was more than happy to help—as was everyone in the pack. Apparently, under Tray’s tenure and because of the employment Eric and other vampires in the area had been giving them, the last two years had been among the most prosperous that the pack had ever had.
Tray spoke, “Is everyone here, Scott?”
“Almost,” Scott said as he glanced over his shoulder at a cluster of SUVs and one pick-up truck behind him. “We’re got 40 here on this level. We can consolidate into seven vehicles.”
“I thought we had fifty,” Sookie remarked.
“We’ll end up with fifty-two,” came a voice from behind Tray.
Sookie looked up to see a mountain of a man—probably an inch or so taller than Eric and broader than Alcide. His bald head picked up even the dim lights of the parking garage, and from his oddly-colored purplish eyes, Sookie knew exactly who he was.
“You must be Sookie Stackhouse,” John Quinn said with a little smirk, mixed with a lot of leer.
Sookie just rolled her eyes and spoke evenly, “And you’re a dead man if you ever look at me like that when my bonded is around, Mr. Quinn.”
“Just Quinn, babe,” the Weretiger said with a little laugh.
Sookie plastered a fake smile on her face and replied in a saccharine-sweet voice, “You’ll also be a dead man if I ever hear you call me ‘babe’ again. I’m not a pig from a movie, and I’m definitely not someone that you will ever know well enough to call ‘babe.’ Got it?”
No one could have missed the razor-sharp edge to Sookie’s voice, and Quinn looked taken aback.
Tray snickered, “I’d believe her if I were you, Quinn. She once sent a vampire flying across a parking lot and into a car for calling her ‘darling.’”
Quinn’s laugh turned a little nervous. “Sorry,” he said, putting his hands up in surrender. “Old habits,” he added by way of an explanation.
“Adopt new ones,” Sookie said sternly even as she finished up the exploration of Quinn’s mind that she’d been conducting ever since she’d first laid eyes on him. In fact, the only reason she’d allowed their inane exchange to occur in the first place was so that she could explore his thoughts. Despite being arrogant and clearly having something of a death wish—who, in his right mind, would flirt with Eric Northman’s bonded, after all?—Quinn was loyal to Eric. In fact, he was grateful to him.
A quick scan told Sookie of Quinn’s family history as well as what Eric had done for the Quinns in the last six months. It seemed that Quinn was extremely devoted to his sister and mother, and they were both flourishing now that they were out from under the influence of Felipe de Castro.
At the same time, Sookie had been scanning the minds of the Weres in the other vehicles. Most were there out of loyalty to Tray and his pack. Others were there mostly for the money. And all were there because they liked a good fight. No one, however, was a threat.
Tray, who knew that it was part of Sookie’s plan to check the loyalty of their little army, waited for her to give him a nod before he spoke.
“Rasul’s group is not here yet. They are about half an hour away. There are seven Weres with him. And five more—three of Isabel’s people and two of mine—are guarding Clancy, Chow, and Isabel, who are two floors above us in this structure.”
Sookie nodded and quickly pushed her telepathy out a bit farther to check the minds of those Weres too.
Tray once more waited for her nod of confirmation.
“We’ll position the main force now, and the others will come in when the vampires do,” Tray informed.
Sookie nodded. “Okay—just make sure that they don’t come before I give y’all the signal.”
Quinn spoke, “Don’t worry. There’s equipment in that van,” he gestured toward the vehicle that Tray had been driving, “that’ll let us keep in constant contact with everyone—at least until we start shifting.”
Sookie nodded again. “Well—let’s get started then.” She looked at Jarod, who was fiddling with the computer equipment in their van.
“I’m ready, babe,” he said with a teasing lilt to his voice.
Sookie just rolled her eyes. “Don’t make me kick your ass, Jarod. I wouldn’t want Miranda to be mad at me.”
“Good idea,” Jarod said with his eyes shining. “Her hormones are horrible with the twins baking in the oven.”
Sookie smacked his arm.
“Alright,” Tray said with a chuckle, before he looked at Quinn and then Scott, “we’re gonna get as close as we can. Once Jarod finds the signal and we get set, you’ll proceed to our position—two or three vehicles at a time.”
Quinn and Scott both nodded, and Scott gave Sookie a pat on the arm. “See you soon, Sookie.”
She gave him a little smile.
Tray returned to the second van and got inside. Soon, Alcide pulled out of the parking garage with Tray following.
They went north about a block before Sookie spoke. “Okay—stop for a second.” She closed her eyes and reached out with her telepathy—further than she’d ever gone before. Slowly, but surely, she started “finding” Russell’s Weres and cataloging their positions into her mind.
Sookie’s first goal was to get the vans and then the other vehicles as close as possible to the warehouse without them being detected. Using a map of the area, Sookie began to mark where all Russell’s Weres were located.
“Okay,” Sookie breathed out as she handed the map to Jarod. “This is where they are right now. These two,” she pointed, “are the ones on the roof of the warehouse.”
“Can you tell me where on the roof?” Jarod asked.
Sookie was able to isolate just those two Weres pretty quickly, and then she looked into their thoughts. She was pleased that her range was now so good. She immediately grinned.
“What is it, Luv?” Jarod asked.
“They’re eatin’ right now. And they’re on the north side of the building,” Sookie informed.
Jarod also grinned, knowing that the position of the Weres would make it impossible for them to see the approaching convoy. After he quickly looked at the map once more, he leaned up and spoke to Alcide. “Go north another block.”
Alcide slowly took the vehicle forward as Sookie looked out the windshield, which was the only window in the vehicle. They were lucky. The old district—though almost devoid of street traffic—had a plethora of large abandoned warehouses to provide good cover.
Once they were at the next block, Jarod instructed, “Now turn right, and go to the next block. Then take us north one more.” Again, Alcide followed his directions, making sure to go slowly.
Sookie realized that she was squeezing Jesus’s hand tightly, so she let up on the pressure. “Sorry,” she said sheepishly.
Jesus had a little strain on his face.
“Me too,” Amelia said, as Sookie noticed that the witch had Jesus’s other hand.
They all smiled at each other, though their smiles were tight.
“Keep going straight,” Jarod instructed as they reached the next block. Sookie could “hear” that Russell’s Weres were getting closer, but none of them had noticed the two vehicles.
After half a block, Jarod spoke, “There.” He was pointing to a small parking lot to the left, which was in the shadow of a tall building. They were about a block and a half south and a block east of where Eric was being kept now. “Park in there,” Jarod instructed as he quickly went over to a computer station in the van.
Alcide followed Jarod’s directions; Sookie saw that Tray had pulled up in front of them.
“Are we close enough?” Sookie asked Jarod in a nervous whisper as she continued to monitor the Weres’ minds.
Jarod smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I’ve found a signal originating from about 1200 feet to the north-northwest. It’s encrypted, but it’s gotta be them.”
“Okay, Alcide. Here is good,” Sookie said apprehensively.
“Sook,” Jarod said, “are those Weres on the roof still where they were before?”
Sookie knew where to look for their minds now, and she found them quickly. “Yeah.”
Jarod showed her the map and pointed to two groups of Weres. “Have these Weres moved at all?” he followed up.
Sookie once more reached out with her telepathy, this time focusing on only those Weres that Jarod had indicated. “Not much,” she said. “Here and here,” she said, pointing to the map.
Jarod nodded and picked up his phone. “Scott,” he said a moment later. “Change of plans. Bring everyone at once. We have a window of opportunity here. Go east one block and north three and a half; you’ll see us on the left.”
Sookie bit her lip nervously as Jarod leaned over and showed her the map again. “Keep an ear on these two.” He pointed to the two Weres that were on the northwest side of the block that they were parked on. Though a large warehouse separated the Weres from the parking lot where their vans sat, Sookie knew that Jarod was worried that those Weres would move so that they could see the street that the convoy would be coming down.
While Jarod called Tray to tell him about the change of plans, everyone else in the van seemed to be holding their breaths as they waited for the rest of their group to join them.
About five minutes later, Scott pulled his truck up next to them. His vehicle was quickly followed by the others, which arranged themselves in a large circle with the front ends of their vehicles facing the center.
Sookie kept monitoring Russell’s Weres throughout the process, and as soon as the last SUV had parked, she gave the nod to Jesus, who jumped out of the back of the van. Amelia quickly joined him. Jesus grabbed a jar full of a salt-like substance, and he quickly began to circle a large area—including all their vehicles—with it. That done, he and Amelia chanted a privacy spell, similar to the one that Jesus had used in his backyard when Sookie and he had first talked over her dreams together.
Their spell completed, everyone in the group immediately relaxed. The Weres filtered out of the SUVs to stretch their legs, and Scott made sure to remind them all to stay inside the circle of the spell.
Amelia went to Tray’s side, and―in an uncharacteristic display―the Were picked the petite witch up into his arms and laid a huge, wet kiss onto her lips. He whispered something into her ear, but Sookie heard it loud and clear from Amelia’s head. He said, “You’re sexy as hell when you do your witch thing.”
Sookie stifled her chuckle.
Quinn exited his vehicle. “So—let me get this straight,” he asked, “as long as we stay inside this circle, they won’t be able to sense us here?”
“Well good,” Quinn said, smacking Jesus lightly on the back. “Finally a witch that isn’t a pain in my ass!”
Jesus just rolled his eyes and looked at Sookie. “What’s next?” he asked her.
She looked at her watch. It was 45 minutes until sunset. She picked up her cell phone and dialed Miranda.
“We’re in position,” she said to the Werelioness.
Sookie hung up and then spoke to Jesus. “Well—right now, I’m goin’ fishin’.”
Jesus smiled and nodded as Sookie sat in the back of the van, her legs dangling out. She closed her eyes tightly.
“What’s she doin’?” Quinn whispered to Jesus as he looked at Sookie with interest.
Jesus gave the Weretiger a wary, sideways glance. “She’s looking into the heads of Russell’s Weres to see if any of them have ‘permission’ to enter the basement where Eric is being held. She’s also looking for information about the witch that set up the exclusion spell.”
“She can do all that?” Quinn asked, obviously impressed.
Jesus nodded. “You have no idea.” He paused. “And Quinn?”
The Weretiger tore his eyes from Sookie and looked at Jesus.
“Eric is not the only one capable of kicking your ass if you keep looking at Sookie like you are—understand?” Jesus asked, his voice quivering with a kind of otherworldliness that Quinn had never heard before and wasn’t really interested in hearing again.
Quinn nodded, his eyes showing a little apprehension, “Okay man. I got it. No looking. No touching.”
Jesus smiled as he felt the demon inside of him settle down. “Then we will have no problem.”
“Why the fuck are there two fairies standing over me?” Pam demanded as she sat up in the bed in the cubby. “And why the fuck am I awake forty minutes before sunrise?”
Claude grinned at Pam. Over the last several months, they’d developed a kind of ‘sparring’ relationship, but he knew that when it came to those she was loyal to, she was fierce. He held up an empty vial. “I gave you some of my blood,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
Pam looked around the room and saw that Duncan was awake as well.
“I got the older one’s blood,” the Scotsman said with a little smirk.
Pam glared at Claude. “Then—why the fuck aren’t we drunk?” she asked. She smacked her lips together. “And why can’t I taste blood in my mouth?”
Claude smirked. “We concocted a little spell so that you would not feel intoxicated because of our blood.”
Pam scoffed. “You couldn’t at least leave the taste?” she asked saucily.
“Sorry,” Claude snickered.
Pam growled a little. “Fine—I suppose this was Sookie’s idea. Why did she need us awake?”
Niall spoke up. “First, we are going to get you up to speed with Sookie’s plan. Then, you are going to get ready for battle.”
“Where’s Sookie?” Pam asked with curiosity.
“About two city blocks from Eric—under the cover of a privacy spell,” Niall informed.
“What about Jessica and Bubba?” Duncan asked.
“We will awaken Jessica a few minutes before sunset so that she can prepare,” Niall said as he looked over at Claude. “Miranda is likely ready.”
Claude nodded and watched as Niall “popped” out of the room.
“Where did he go?” Pam asked.
Claude smirked. “To collect your girlfriend.”
Pam glared at him as Duncan laughed.
“You’ve not hidden it well, Pamela,” Duncan said.
She seethed as her eyebrow lifted. “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
Claude and Duncan both met her denial with a chuckle as Pam went over to the cubby stairs and quickly zoomed up them.
Batanya and Hunter were waiting for them as the three exited the cubby. Hunter looked a little pensive, but still had a little smile on his face.
“We will soon have visitors,” Batanya said. “The Ancient Pythoness approaches, as do Clovache and my daughter.”
Duncan gave her a toothy grin. “All this trouble just to introduce me to your family, dear?”
Batanya resisted the urge to attack him—but just barely.