After a few minutes of comfortable and comforting silence, Eric spoke. “I find that I am actually looking forward to going with you to Dùraig each Saturday. I will be able to,” he paused, “hang out with Claude a bit more.”
I giggled a little. It always amused me when my thousand-year-old vampire used expressions like “hang out.”
“And,” I contemplated, “if we left before sunrise here each Saturday, then that would put us in the fairy realm for quite a bit of time each week so that the aging thing will continue to work in our favor. And, of course, if Niall is in Dùraig, you can ‘hang out’ with him too. Goodness knows, you two are thick as thieves these days.” I winked at him and he smirked back at me; I could tell there was something behind that smirk, but decided to hold off on asking him about it for the moment. “And others have moved to Dùraig as well,” I added. “It’ll be—uh,” I paused, “interesting for them to meet a vampire.”
He grinned mischievously. “Especially one who doesn’t want to eat them.”
I giggled and nodded before I felt my face fall a bit. “Hadley will probably be there sometimes too.”
Eric tensed at the mention of my cousin, but then immediately schooled his features. I could sense his concern from our vampire bond, however. Hunter’s last visit with Hadley had been “awkward” for him. Actually, “awkward” was an understatement. It had been quite trying for the little boy—the little boy that I already loved as if he were my own.
I just wished that Hadley had felt that same kind of maternal love for Hunter during our visit. More importantly, I wished that Hunter would have felt it coming from her. Oh—it was clear that Hadley loved Hunter, but the love she had for her unborn child contained no reservations whatsoever. And it contrasted sharply to the affection she felt for Hunter.
To be fair, to Hadley, the timing of the visit was very different than it was for Hunter. From her point of view, she’d been inside of Faerie proper for less than a day since she’d seen her son. However, from Hunter’s perspective, it had been more than six months since he’d last seen his mother.
Hadley had been busy setting up her new life during her short time away from Hunter. Thus, she really hadn’t felt their separation much at all; she’d yet to miss her son. Of course, she had been happy to have her visit with Hunter, but it was clear that she was not nearly as affected by their time apart as Hunter had been.
And that had—clearly—affected Hunter.
In truth, seeing the effects of his mother’s ambivalence to his absence on Hunter had hurt me more than the bonding sickness had. With Niall’s help, I had worked to keep Hunter from inadvertently accessing Hadley’s more troubling thoughts. And he was able to control his telepathy quite well most of the time, but—like me—his ability to shield and to keep out of others’ minds was hindered if he became upset or if he was nervous. And he had been nervous to see his mother again. Thus, Hadley’s surface thoughts were easily accessible by him.
Unfortunately, those surface thoughts—though innocent enough from Hadley’s perspective—did upset Hunter.
Rather than focusing fully on the beautiful child before her, Hadley had been distracted by the things that she needed to do in Faerie, and she was wondering how frequent Hunter’s visits would seem to her. In a way, she was happy that they would occur so often from her point of view. On the other hand, she wondered if their frequency would interfere with the flow of the life she wanted to establish in Faerie. The two sides of that “argument” waged in Hadley for only a few moments before Niall and I were able to shut Hunter out of those thoughts, but he had heard enough.
Meanwhile, Hunter’s thoughts were also a jumble. Despite his nerves, he’d been looking forward to seeing his mother again; after all, he’d been waiting for months because he and I needed to initiate the visit in order for the time thing to work out. However, he was also hurt by the fact that she was obviously distracted during the visit. To make matters worse, he still felt guilt over loving his daddy more than Hadley. And—from his subconscious mind—I felt additional guilt from him, though I didn’t push to learn the source of it. Later, Niall told me telepathically that Hunter’s additional guilt was stemming from the fact that he was beginning to see me, rather than Hadley, as his mother.
Talk about mixed feelings! On the one hand, I had already intuited that Hunter was beginning to see me that way, and the thought of it made me happier than I could say. On the other hand, it was clear that those feelings would bring Hunter some guilt and pain, and that was the last thing that I wanted. I vowed that I would do my best to make sure that Hunter knew it was okay to love both Hadley and me—that it was okay to think of himself as having two women who wanted to be his mom. He would never have to choose between us, and he needed to know that whatever he felt for Hadley and me would be “right.”
With difficulty, I also asked Niall not to tell me anything else he picked up from the depths of Hunter’s mind. Niall—and even Claude to a great extent—had no compunction about “over-hearing” people’s thoughts, but I still believed that people deserved their privacy. Because of Hunter’s empathy, he projected many of his emotions too, so I would be able to tell if he was in great distress over something. Only then would I be willing to delve into his mind. It was important to me that Hunter not be pushed to confront things that he was not ready to deal with yet—even if the telepaths in the family could pick things up from his head.
Hunter was like Eric in the way he handled something that was bothering him. They both needed to take the time to process their thoughts before speaking about them. And I knew that as soon as Hunter was ready to speak, he would go to his daddy—just as Eric always came to me when he was ready.
Even as Hunter was trying to process the litany of emotions he was feeling, I became more and more pissed off at Hadley during our short time in Dùraig. Really pissed! And the bonding sickness certainly didn’t help to calm me down. I was furious that Hadley once again seemed to be prioritizing other things above her own child. And—given the fact that Claude had already built her a comfortable place where she could live in Dùraig—I was also pissed that Hadley didn’t simply move back there so that the time difference would no longer be an issue. Why she wouldn’t do that for Hunter—who was such a precious gift—made me seethe with anger, which I had to make a Herculean effort to shield from Hunter so that he wouldn’t hear me thinking about throttling his mother!
Truth be told, when Hadley’s thoughts turned to the new curtains she planned to make when Hunter was excitedly telling her about his sword practice and his school, I almost shook her! And seeing the deflated look on Hunter’s face when he caught her disinterested thought made me want to slap some sense into her—literally.
Knowing that I was raging, Niall had motioned for me to leave the area for a while. Thankfully Claude had been there to prevent me for going back and causing my cousin bodily harm. How my tanu loved her so much was a mystery to me sometimes. Once I had calmed down, however, I realized that the physical pain I was feeling had caused my temper to flare more than it usually would have. Rationally, I knew that Hadley hadn’t meant to hurt Hunter and that kicking her ass would only upset the little boy more. But the irrational part of me wanted to cause her pain—even for the inadvertent pain she’d caused to Hunter.
In the end, Hunter had enjoyed the visit to Dùraig to some extent, especially when Claude showed him some of the games that Fae children liked to play. I felt myself smiling as I remembered Hunter, Niall, and Claude playing a game that was a lot like horseshoes. Hunter did have fun during that part of the visit, though it still pissed me off that it wasn’t due to anything Hadley had done.
However, something shifted inside of Hunter that day. Something became more certain in his mind. He’d seen firsthand that his mother was doing okay, and it was almost as if that was the last thing Hunter had needed to know before he could fully embrace his life in Bon Temps—without feeling so much guilt. After the short visit, Hunter had been more than ready to head for home—and to his Daddy. The two of them had gone to the workshop and had talked throughout much of the night, well past Hunter’s bedtime. However, after that, Hunter no longer felt bad that he was so happy since he knew that his mom was happy too. Despite the problematic nature of that visit, a weight lifted off of his little shoulders that day.
Eric broke me out of my thoughts.
“I think that we should encourage Hunter to come with us when we travel to Dùraig,” he commented. “I believe that there would be many benefits if he did, and I would feel better if he was with us.”
I nodded in agreement. “Me too. He could meet other telepaths—kids—and Niall and Claude could work with him on his other gifts.” I sighed. “And Hadley would know when he’s due to visit each time, and since the timeframe will be parallel once we’re there, she can choose when she wants to come during the twelve or so hours that we’re there each week. Or every other week. Or every month. If once a week is too much for her schedule.” I could hear my voice becoming more and more bitter.
Eric sighed, an irate expression briefly crossing his beautiful face. “Yes—that would make her thoughts less likely to be,” he paused, “self-focused during her visits with our son.”
I caressed Eric’s arm to comfort him—as well as myself—and I could feel us both calming down through the vampire bond.
“Do you think that you’ll have any trouble staying in Dùraig for that long of a time?” I asked, changing the subject a little.
Eric shook his head. “Your tanu has honored you, me, and Hunter by including a place for us in his own home, so if I am called to sleep at all, I will have a safe place to do so. And since I have been having regular doses of your blood,” he leered and licked his lips, causing my lust to surge a bit, “it will be easier for me to stay there, especially if I supplement that with synthetic Fae blood. Of course, the manufacturing of our ‘new and improved’ version of fairy blood is already in the early stages, so a more potent version of what I used before will be readily available to me soon.”
I shook my head fondly. “I still can’t believe you convinced Niall to have a full-blooded fairy donate so that a ‘new and improved’ synthetic strain could be developed.”
Eric grinned. “Niall suggested it.”
“He did?” I asked with surprise, turning in his arms so that I was facing him.
He nodded. “And he donated the sample himself.”
“What?” I asked, dumfounded by the notion.
“That was his idea too,” Eric shrugged.
“Really?” It seemed like I couldn’t string more than one or two words together in that moment.
“Yes—once Niall and Claude finally accepted my offer to build them a cottage of their own on the ætt land for when they are in this realm, Niall approached me with his idea for a new business venture here—something to help occupy his time.”
I shook my head a little. I had been both happy and surprised when Niall told us that he’d decided not to go back into Faerie fulltime. He’d opted instead to make two new homes—one in Dùraig and one with us in the human realm. Hunter had been beyond ecstatic. And Niall’s presence would likely mean that the A.P. would be visiting more often too; Eric—especially—was happy about that possibility.
Before Niall’s announcement, I’d already reconciled myself to the idea that my great-grandfather would be going back into Faerie and that we would have to settle for occasional visits in Dùraig with him. But he’d explained that since Mab was dead, her followers had become disjointed; thus, a more moderate Water Fae faction was now in power. They were seeking peace with both the Sky Fae and the Earth Fae. And peace between the three remaining factions in Faerie meant that Niall would not be needed there as often.
Like Claude, Niall had the ability to go into Faerie for chunks of time without being pulled into its timeline. So as long as the peace was kept, he would be able to travel there often enough to oversee things but still keep to the human timetable, which is what he wanted to do for the time being—at least until Hunter reached adulthood.
In Dùraig, Niall was living with Claude for the time being and conducting meetings from his son’s home, but his own new dwelling and several others were under construction around Claude’s. Katherine too had decided to build there so that there would be no time lapse between herself and her students. I secretly hoped that her being in Dùraig would be extra incentive for Hadley to move there as well. Thinking of Katherine, I chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” Eric asked.
“Oh—an interesting piece of gossip I heard from Claude the other day,” I said.
“It seems that Katherine is dating Barry,” I reported.
“The bellhop from Dallas?” Eric grinned.
“Yep,” I confirmed.
“Funny,” Eric agreed.
I squared a look at him. “What’s funny, Mr. Vampire, is you and Niall. And your business scheming!”
Eric grinned like the cat that ate the canary. My husband had been so excited about the new division of TruBlood he was developing that the only word to describe him was “cute.” And Niall’s hand was—apparently—in that pot even more than I had first thought.
“It is going to make us very rich,” he grinned.
“Like we need more money,” I said, smacking his arm.
He shrugged as his grin widened. “We will be around for a long time, lover. And it is prudent to have reserves in place in case there are hard times.”
I had to agree with that. “You’re right,” I relented.
“Beautiful words,” he teased, closing his eyes as if savoring them.
I couldn’t hold back my giggle, and I smacked his arm again. “So it was Niall’s idea to donate his blood for your business venture?”
Eric confirmed this with a nod while I took another sip of wine. He refilled my glass when I set it back down, and I kissed his bare knee as his reward.
“What is Niall getting out of this?”
Eric smirked. “Fifty percent ownership.”
“How did you get that by the board of directors of TruBlood?” I asked
“I didn’t have to,” Eric grinned broadly. “And it’s not exactly a division of TruBlood that we own either.
The vampire bond was full of mirth and surprise—his mirth and my surprise. “What did you do, Vampire?” I asked with a laugh.
“Well—as of this afternoon, that little subsidiary of TruBlood that I was negotiating for is now owned outright by me and Niall—with no remaining ties to TruBlood. You are looking at the owner of the other 50% of the company.”
“Huh?” I asked, catching myself making an extremely inelegant sound but not caring. My knowledge of and interest in business was growing because Eric had so many business ventures, but I didn’t think I’d ever understand all the ins and outs of what Eric did.
He gave me another little tickle. “Niall and I bought the research and development site that put together the synthetic fairy blood that I used to get to Dùraig. I traded all my stock in TruBlood for it, and then Niall reimbursed me for half of the value of that stock.”
“How much of TruBlood did you own?” I asked, almost afraid to get the answer.
“Only nine percent,” he said with a smirk.
“Only,” I breathed out shaking my head. “So how much was that worth?”
“About 1.2 billion,” he stated in an even voice.
“Billion with a ‘B’?” I squeaked out.
He winked at me. “Indeed. The best thing is that I bought my stock for only a couple hundred thousand many decades ago. It has been a very lucrative investment, but forming a separate company will eventually generate even more profits; plus, it will help us to avoid questions about the new flavors of blood we will be developing.”
I couldn’t help the pride I felt for my husband in that moment. “You really are good at this business stuff—aren’t you?”
Eric shrugged. “I enjoy the challenge of new things. Plus, something had to be done to pay for Pam’s wardrobe.”
I giggled. “So—how did you manage to get the people at TruBlood to agree to sell you the research facility? Didn’t they know that their scientists had developed a new ‘flavor?’” I couldn’t help myself from using air quotes.
“Easy,” Eric reported, looking incredibly smug. “Since I glamoured the scientists at the research center not to know what they were working on for me, no one is the wiser. To the higher-ups, it seemed like the division I bought had been unsuccessful at improving the flavor of TruBlood.” He continued more seriously. “So we now own all of the experimental data produced at that site related to our little project.”
“What about the people who worked there?” I asked, not liking the idea of anyone losing his or her job in this economy.
“The manager and many of the support staff have been transferred. The scientists and lab techs were let go by the TruBlood Corporation.”
“But they’re the ones that made what you needed,” I said with concern.
“Exactly,” Eric grinned. “That’s why I’ve made them all offers so that the new company can keep them. No one will lose his or her job, min kära.”
“Oh,” I said with relief. “So—as of today—you and Niall are TruBlood’s competitor?”
“That we are,” Eric said with a smirk. “Of course, the board members at TruBlood think I’m an eccentric dumbass with no business acumen whatsoever. In other words, they think I’m fucking insane for trading my percentage of the business for what they see as a failed R & D department.”
I giggled again. “Language, Mister,” I chastised.
“Sorry,” he said with mock apology. “They think I’m fuckin’ off my rocker.”
I giggled even louder at Eric’s use of slang and an exaggerated Southern accent. “I can’t believe you’ve done all this in five weeks!”
“Oh―I’ve been positioning to take over that particular site since they first produced the synthetic fairy blood—both to make sure that the source of the previous strain—Jason’s blood—was kept under wraps and to make sure that we would be the ones to get richer if it became viable to mass produce the new synthetic blood.”
I was still a little floored, but very grateful to know that nobody would be able to trace the experimental strain to Jason. “Why didn’t you tell me about all this before?”
“You aren’t the only one who likes to surprise their mate,” he gestured toward the bag we’d brought—the one that contained the surprise I had brought for him for the next night.
“And,” he said with a mischievous glint in his eyes, “there’s more.”
I chuckled at his excitement and leaned in to place a kiss on his shoulder. “Then tell me the ‘more,’ Vampire.”