“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.”
“Well,” Eric said, getting the same look in his eyes as Hunter did when he was talking about something that excited him, “Niall and I are planning to move the research and development center from Baton Rouge to Shreveport. I already own a building that can be easily converted into a much better lab than the one that is currently in place, and the new space will be easier to secure too. Also, we’re going to build a manufacturing plant between Bon Temps and Shreveport. We’ll have to develop equipment to make our product, but given the fact that I used to be part-owner of TruBlood and took many, many tours of the various production plants over the years,” he said with a wicked grin, “and given the fact that I have a very good memory and may have borrowed some plans showing the inner workings of the machinery, developing the manufacturing equipment to mass produce the product will not be a problem.”
“Borrowed,” I snickered under my breath.
“Indeed,” he replied with his signature smirk before continuing. “Meanwhile, with Niall’s blood, our scientists will be able to synthesize something very tasty.” His smirk got impossibly more mischievous. “Pam has, of course, volunteered to be the company taste-tester.”
I laughed at that, even as I shook my head at both Eric and my great-grandfather.
“I project that we will be able to produce our first batch for sale by the end of next year,” Eric reported with a look of pride on his face. “Our blood will be marketed at a higher price than TruBlood. That way we can avoid direct competition with them for a while, but we will still turn an excellent profit once the superior taste of our synthetic blood becomes well-known.” Another smirk flashed across his face. “Guess who is going to run the manufacturing plant for us?”
“Nope.” His expression was both triumphant and impish. “Jason!”
“What?” I asked, thinking briefly about how irresponsible Jason used to be. “He’s quitting the police force?”
Eric nodded and then stroked my cheek tenderly. “Niall and I wanted this to be a family business, and Jason likes the idea of being involved in it. Niall asked him a few days ago, and Jason told him ‘yes’ just today.”
I smiled. I liked the idea of a family business too, but I had some doubts about whether Jason could pull it off. It was so unlike anything he’d ever done before. “Can Jason do it? I mean—he ran the road crew, and he’s a good policeman, but overseeing a whole warehouse?”
Eric looked confident. “We’re getting him some help. A Were named Ken Vernon will be training Jason and then staying on until your brother is able to run things himself.”
I motioned for him to tell me more.
“I met Ken about forty years ago and I trust him. Well,” he grinned boyishly, “I didn’t really trust him at first, but he has more than proven himself over the years.”
I laughed at that. Eric was definitely cautious, but that was why he’d lived so long.
Eric continued, “I was introduced to Ken by Tray’s father. Ken became my Were contact when I needed daytime security in New Orleans.” He sighed. “I always made sure that I had some people of my own to guard me when I had to spend the day there. My interactions with the queen were not always as rocky as they were in the last years of her un-death, but I never trusted her fully with my safety.”
“Good instincts,” I mumbled. From what I knew of Sophie-Anne Leclerq, she would not have been above staking one of her own sheriffs in the back. “So this Ken protected you?”
Eric nodded. “Yes, he is an important member—now an elder—of Area 1’s pack and quite strong. He could have been packmaster, but he peacefully deferred to another who had more ambition for that role. Still—from what I hear—Ken is consulted by the current Alpha on all major pack issues. He and others that he hand-picked served at my daytime guards in New Orleans for years. And then his sons took over.”
“Why would he be willing to move to Area 5 then?” I asked.
I felt a brief flash of sadness from Eric’s side of the bond, though his expression remained steady. “Both of Ken’s sons were police officers in New Orleans. One of them died during Hurricane Katrina when he was trying to save a Were family that had become trapped during the storm. The other son was injured, but pulled through.” He sighed. “The very next day, the youngest of Ken’s three daughters and her husband died in a car wreck when she was trying to get to the hospital where her brothers had been flown. Their child, who was less than a year old at the time, was also in the car. Ken and his wife took in the infant. As you can imagine, he’s had a difficult time staying strong for his wife and remaining children and grandchildren.”
“Oh my God,” I gasped, feeling sorrow for the man who had protected my husband for so many years.
“To make things even more difficult for Ken, the plant where he was a foreman was flooded when the levees broke and was closed down permanently. Since then, he’s had a difficult time finding work that is comparable to what he had before. Ken is almost sixty-five, and had wanted to retire soon, but he lost a lot of his nest-egg after Katrina. Out of necessity, he’s been drifting from one short-term job to the next; however, his age has caused many companies not to hire him on a permanent basis. Of course, he’s a Were, so sixty-five to him is not the same as it would be to a human. Niall and I are offering him a good salary with a pension, and he’s signed a three-year contract with us, which should be plenty of time for Jason to get a handle on things. After that, we could find Ken another position if he still wished to work. By then, we may even be ready to open a second warehouse—if my projections are correct.”
“What about Ken’s pack?” I asked. “You said he was an elder in it?”
Eric nodded. “His remaining son, who now works for Rasul, will be staying in New Orleans and will step into his father’s place.” He sighed. “Ken is going to move to Bon Temps, and Tray is welcoming him into the Longtooth Pack. Ken thinks it will be good for his wife to get away from New Orleans at least for the time being, and his two remaining daughters, who are both married to Weres as well, have decided to move here and join Tray’s pack too. One of his daughters is an accountant, and Niall and I are going to employ her at the R&D facility. Ken’s other daughter and her husband were both detectives in New Orleans, and they have agreed to run the security for both the R&D facility and the plant. The other husband coaches baseball and will work for the school in Bon Temps.”
“But Bon Temps doesn’t have a baseball team,” I remarked, even as I squeezed my husband’s hand in appreciation for all he was doing to take care of Ken’s family.
“I expect they will after the donation we make to the school,” Eric said with a crooked smile.
“Eric?” I asked.
“What?” he replied innocently. “Coby enjoys playing Little League and will likely wish to be on a school team one day, and with relatively little money, a program can be started. Plus, Sam has informed me that Luna has informed him that the computers at the schools are ancient by today’s standards.” Eric was almost pouting at that thought. In his world, computers became ‘ancient’ almost as soon as they’d been unpacked from the box. “Plus,” he continued, “Emma is deserving of an excellent education, as are the children of our associates. Ken’s son-in-law will be taken care of as well. And,” his devilish grin was back, “I will look like an upstanding citizen—for a change.”
I giggled at the way he’d puffed up his chest at those words and smacked him playfully, causing him to “deflate” dramatically. I grinned at him. What he looked like to me was a good man.
My good man.
“Do you think that Hunter would enjoy Little League?” Eric asked. “I was always reticent about letting him participate in activities outside the ætt land while threats were looming over us, but now that Russell and Mab are gone, it might be good for him to do things like Little League. And you could be with him when I am not, so I know he would be safe. And I know from Terry that some of the Little League games are in the evenings, so I could watch him play at times.”
I smiled at the idea of Eric and me in the stands, watching Hunter play baseball—just like any other family. “I think he’d love it,” I said, feeling my cheeks burning from my wide grin. “But how would we keep Batanya from running the bases with him?”
Eric chuckled. “Hunter would have to order her to stand down.”
I nodded in agreement.
We stared at each other for a few moments, my pride and love for my mate surging through the vampire bond. From the outside, people thought Eric was cold-hearted. And he had fostered that image for a thousand years so that he would stay safe. But he was anything but cold-hearted to the people who earned his respect and trust. For them, he would do anything.
I stroked his cheek affectionately. “I’m still surprised that Jason’s gonna quit bein’ a policeman. I thought he loved bein’ on the force,” I commented.
Eric ran his hand through my hair, before absentmindedly playing with one of my curls. “He does. But he hates having to work so many nights. He likes the idea of having a set schedule with holidays off. And we will—of course—let him decide on the shift times at the plant so that he can spend more time with Jessica.” Eric paused. “In truth, Jason was nervous about running a plant, but after he heard about Ken, he felt better about it. I have no doubt that Jason will do well. Do not tell him I told you this, but he has a good deal of intelligence―when he tries.” He smiled and ran his fingertips along my arm, causing goose bumps to jump to attention.
I shivered a little from my husband’s touch and from the intensity that had entered his eyes.
“It will truly be a family business, min kära—something that will be a legacy to Hunter from his kin in both realms. This is for our son as much as it is for me or for your great-grandfather. No,” he corrected, “it is more for Hunter.”
I felt a tear rising in my eye. “You and Niall are too much.”
Eric brushed my tear away and raised it to his lips. He’d never done that before. With fascination, I watched him close his eyes as he tasted my tear.
“Many vampires enjoy the taste of human tears almost as much as blood,” he said with his eyes still closed.
“Oh?” I couldn’t help but to chuckle a little. “But this is the first time you’ve ever tasted mine like that. And I’ve cried a whole heck of a lot around you.”
A pained expression flashed across his handsome face as he opened his eyes. “Do not remind me, min kära. I have never liked your tears.”
I raised my hand to his cheek. “I know,” I said quietly. “And that’s why you’ve never tasted them before,” I stated. I didn’t need to ask.
“Why taste now?” I asked, my curiosity kicking in.
He smiled a little. “I have finally reconciled myself to the fact that you are going to cry, min kära—whether I like it or not. It is part of your nature. You will cry when you are sad, and you will cry when you are happy, and you will cry when something touches your beautiful heart.” He sighed. “I intend to do my best to ensure that you do not cry the sad tears. And,” he chuckled, “I intend to do my best to welcome the other kinds.”
I smiled. “So your tasting them is ‘welcoming’ them?”
He chuckled again, this time the smile causing his eyes to crinkle in the way that I loved.
“I was curious about what they would taste like,” he admitted a little sheepishly.
“And?” I asked. “What do they taste like?”
“Love,” he said simply, his expression causing my heart to melt a little. I put my wine glass down and leaned in to kiss my mate—to show him more of the love that he’d tasted in my tears.