Eric and I kissed unhurriedly for a while as contentment swelled inside the vampire bond.
When I finally broke our kisses to catch my breath, I commented, “You’re a good man, Mr. Northman.”
“Not everyone agrees,” Eric laughed a little. “In fact, I think Sam is ready to stake me. He probably would if it weren’t for the fact that Emma and Hunter are so close.”
I looked at him with some confusion and concern. “Sam? Why would he wanna stake you? Well—why would he wanna do that anymore?”
Mirth flooded Eric’s side of the vampire bond. “I’m mostly stealing Terry from Sam so that he can be Jason’s assistant foreman and train under Ken as well. For now, Terry is going to cut down to only a couple of shifts a week at Merlotte’s, but he eventually wants to quit altogether—or work only on rare occasions—once Sam finds someone to replace him.”
“I can see why Sam wants to stake you then,” I said with a giggle. “First you stole Lala and now Terry.”
Eric shrugged. “I,” he paused, “like Terry, and he and Arlene are thinking about having more children. He wants a better-paying job. And a large manufacturing company nearby will boost the economy and bring in more people to the region, so Sam will win in the end too. Tray is in talks with a group of Weres in Michigan who want to relocate and mix bloodlines with the Shreveport pack. They would make up a lot of our security force for the new manufacturing plant. Plus, there are a lot of humans out of work in the area, and we would be able to hire at least twenty builders—both human and Were—to start and then others to work at the plant.”
“My husband, the philanthropist,” I grinned.
“The pragmatist,” he corrected.
I rolled my eyes. “Wait,” I asked as a sudden question struck me, “how the heck was Niall able to pay you for his half of the company already? How does he have human money, and why would he need more?”
Eric smirked. “The last thing your great-grandfather needs is more money.”
“When Niall was with Viola, the ætt land was a working farm and quite profitable,” Eric began.
“I know,” I said. “Gran told me that the farm used to be quite grand before she married Grandpa Earl. But there were some hard years because of drought and then flooding, so the family had to sell off all of the farmland—a little at a time. Gran said it broke Grandpa Earl’s heart to have to sell the last field.”
“I am sure it did,” Eric said with a faraway look in his eyes. “My human father taught me to treasure and to protect the land that sustained my village.”
“But you’ve bought back most of my—our—family’s land now,” I smiled as I touched his chest. I let the bond tell him how grateful I was for that.
He placed his hand over mine. “Claude has asked to use some of the old farmland for his agricultural work if that is okay with you.”
I smiled. “He asked me too. It’ll be nice to see it be a working farm again—to see our family workin’ it.”
He leaned forward to kiss my forehead.
“And Emma wants to plant a field of flowers—oh—and cucumbers,” I added with a smile.
Eric looked at me in question.
“She loves homemade pickles,” I responded. “And flowers and other fresh vegetables aren’t a bad idea either. We could help the kids plant them in the fertile soil near the creek and then let them sell anything that we don’t use at the farmer’s market.”
Eric smiled. “Sounds like a plan. I’m sure Claude would help them. And Pam.”
“Pam?” I asked with surprise.
He grinned. “Oh yes! I have years of stored up punishments that I have yet to give her. Seeing her pulling weeds will be a wonderful!” He closed his eyes as if savoring the thought of it. “I should make her wear her favorite shoes while she does it.”
I popped his arm and giggled. “You wouldn’t be that cruel, would you?”
“Perhaps not,” he relented, though I could see that the wheels were still turning in his head.
“So—you said Niall had a lot of money. How?” I asked, going back to our previous topic.
“With the profits from the farm during his years in this realm, Niall made some modest investments in General Electric, Ford, and several oil companies that have gone on to make him a lot of money.” Eric paused and chuckled. “I hate to admit it, but he was better at selecting his investments than even I was.”
“So those ‘modest’ investments are not so modest anymore?” I laughed a little.
“They are not,” Eric confirmed. “Let’s just say that Niall was able to pay for his half of the company easily. And he also insists upon paying for the cost of his and Claude’s cottage.”
“Of course he would,” I laughed again.
“And he is footing the bill for twenty-five percent of the company’s start-up costs.”
“Of course he is,” I said, sounding a little like a broken record.
“And he’s investing in Claude’s work in this realm. And he’s helping out some of the hybrid families here too.”
I chuckled. “Those must have been some pretty kick-ass investments.”
Eric nodded in agreement as his face became serious. “Niall made those investments long ago with the intention of keeping his family here comfortable. He left them in a trust for your grandfather Earl; however, Earl’s aunt and her husband, who took over raising the child when Niall had to return to Faerie to fight Mab, died in an accident before Earl had reached adulthood. Earl never knew about the stocks that would have made your family rich.”
I gasped in surprise. “Really?”
Eric nodded. “Shortly after you returned from the fairy realm, Niall asked me to look into the matter. He had assumed that Earl had sold off the stocks over the years to help to maintain your family, and—given the fact that Niall had not spent much time in the human realm since Viola’s death—he had no idea what their worth might be. Cataliades tracked them down, and they had been untouched by Earl. Neither of Earl’s guardians had left a will, so your grandfather had no idea that the stocks were even there.”
“So all those years that Gran struggled to pay the property taxes or had to patch up the old roof because we couldn’t afford a new one,” I stopped myself midsentence and shook my head.
Yes—having money might have made Gran more comfortable, and I would have done anything so that she could have had an easier time of things in the last decades of her life, but wealth wouldn’t have changed her or made her any happier. She’d never cared much about possessions, and she’d taught Jason and me to appreciate that true wealth came from our family and friends. Sure—we’d lived a humble life, but I knew that I was a better person because of the way I grew up. From Gran, I learned what was important and to appreciate everything that I had. And those were the lessons that Eric and I wanted to teach Hunter too, despite the fact that Eric had so much money.
I smiled at my husband. I was proud of the fact that he’d not spoiled Hunter. He’d bought him just enough clothing―but not too much―and the only designer labels in his closet were from his sissy, and Eric had somehow managed to rein even Pam in so that she didn’t spoil Hunter either. Of course, Eric had bought Hunter some toys; he had a veritable army of dinosaurs. But Hunter played with every toy he had. There weren’t boxes and boxes of things he didn’t use. In truth, Hunter seemed to prefer playing games, and he had about ten of those altogether, though many of them were old games that had already been around the house. Eric had bought Hunter things like a computer to help with his studies. But nothing had been in excess—except when it came to books. But, then again, Hunter loved to have stories read to him, and he was becoming an excellent reader himself.
I smiled. Each time Eric read Hunter a new story, the two of them would talk about whether Hunter had liked it or not, and Hunter was not shy about sharing his opinions. If Hunter didn’t enjoy a book enough to want to read it again, he would either give it to Emma if he thought she’d like it or set it aside so that it could be donated to the school. Luna had told me that the elementary school’s librarian was now one of Eric’s biggest fans because of the box of books that arrived every few months.
Of course, now that I was back, I had introduced Hunter to the public library and to the concept of borrowing books.
I sighed and let my fingers roam over Eric’s broad shoulders. On them, he had placed Hunter’s care and well-being. And he was teaching Hunter to be such a good and strong boy. Hunter didn’t ask for a lot of “things” as far as I had seen, though he enjoyed what he had. But the things that Hunter enjoyed most—such as helping Eric in the woodshop or practicing with his little wooden sword—cost nothing more than his father’s time.
Of course, I hadn’t been surprised at all by Eric’s actions regarding Hunter. When I asked Eric to take care of him before Hadley and I were forced to go to Faerie, I’d had no doubt that he would do right by Hunter.
I smiled at my vampire. At heart, Eric was frugal, still the careful Viking his human father had taught him to be. He didn’t live in excess even though he could have. He didn’t have a closet full of clothing that he didn’t wear, nor did he buy many things for himself. Sure—he kept up with the latest cell phones and laptops and traded for the newest technology about once every six months, but that didn’t seem too excessive to me. He’d spent a lot of money for our home’s renovation and to build other homes for our “family,” but nothing was over the top or more than we needed. For every luxury item we had—like our amazing shower or our pool—there was something modest—like the simple, though comfortable chairs that Eric and Hunter had built or the bicycle that Hunter rode around the yard. Eric hadn’t bought Hunter the most expensive bike in the world; he’d just gotten him a “normal” bike—a green one because it was Hunter’s favorite color.
And—after a discussion we had a couple of days after I got back from the fairy realm—Eric had even promised not to spoil me too much. Yes—my pledging ring was expensive, as were the matching earrings he’d had made, but he knew me well enough not to try to drown me in expensive jewelry. The pendant that he’d carved with our entwined initials meant so much more to me than some flashy diamond necklace would have, and I found myself touching it even then.
As if he could read my thoughts, he placed his hand over mine and fiddled with the pendant as well for a few minutes as we just looked at each other silently—intently.
We’d been doing that a lot since I’d gotten home. I sighed. No, my Eric was not one to spoil me with things, but he was one to spoil me with his affection, and I loved him all the more for that.
Of course, there were a few “things” waiting for me when I got home—gifts that Eric had gotten for me when I was trapped inside Faerie. There was one for each birthday, for each Christmas, and for the one anniversary that I was not home—all of them bought or made when he had no idea when I would be returning. Thankfully, there were only five gifts waiting for me when I got home—all stacked neatly in our new walk-in closet, which had been otherwise bare upon my return. I took hold of his hand and held it against my heart as I thought about all the room that was in that closet, room that I was glad that he didn’t have to fill with hundreds of unopened gifts as he waited decades or even centuries for me to return to him.
As a few tears slipped from my eyes, Eric brushed them away with his thumb, but this time he didn’t taste them.
“What has you so sad, min kära?” he asked.
“All the room in the closet,” I whispered answering him honestly. “And the gifts you would have put in there for me if I hadn’t come back sooner.”
I sniffled and tried to get hold of my tears before others fell.
“But you enjoyed the gifts I got you—did you not?” he asked with a little smile. I could tell that he was trying to lighten the mood I had fallen into.
In fact, I had enjoyed all of his presents to me. But more than that—I had enjoyed the thought behind each gift. And the care. The day after I’d gotten back, I’d found them when I was moving Eric and my clothing into the new closet while he slept. I had—as Eric and Hunter had slept—curled up on that closet floor wrapped up in Gran’s afghan, which now carried my husband’s scent so strongly. I had looked at each of the beautifully wrapped packages and had cried my eyes out so that I wouldn’t cry so much when I opened them.
After Hunter had gone to bed that night, I led Eric to the closet and we sat in there on the floor as I opened each gift in the order that he’d gotten them for me. The first was from the first Christmas I’d been gone. It was a small twig, which Eric had broken off from one of the peach trees he’d planted for us. The second gift had been for my birthday that year; it was a nifty computer/messenger bag that Eric thought I could use when I started college. The next gift was for the first anniversary of our pledging. Eric had made me a beautiful jewelry box, complete with a rendering of our entwined initials on the underside of the lid. For the second Christmas that I was gone, he’d gotten me the most extravagant gift of the ones he’d given me. It was an antique locket, made in Sweden in about 1900, and it took my breath away. Its chain and casing were white gold, but the body of the locket was made of rich royal blue enamels. Underneath the blue was an intricately engraved design that looked like a starburst. But it was what I found inside the locket that had brought tears to my eyes. It held a lock of Hunter’s hair and a tiny picture of him and Eric as they’d sat in their chair together.
Given the age of the beautiful piece of jewelry, I’d decided that it would reside in the jewelry box most of the time, but I intended to wear it at family get-togethers. I loved the thought of having a symbol of my two boys close to my heart.
The last birthday present had been something that Eric had made for us after his visit to Dùraig. It was a beautifully carved box that he’d designed to hold the two daggers that had belonged to Britomart and Artegal so long ago. On the underside of the lid, it had Eric and my initials carved, just as they’d been on the jewelry box. On the top of the lid were the initials “B” and “A” to symbolize the couple who had originally bonded with the daggers: Britomart and Artegal.
The box held only one of the daggers right now, and part of the reason we’d come to the cabin was to “reunite” it with the dagger that Godric had passed along to Eric.
I pulled Eric’s hand to my lips and kissed his palm. “It must have been a bit of a shock to Niall when he found out that he was so wealthy in this realm,” I remarked.
Eric smiled and kissed my hand in return. “He was regretful that the wealth was not enjoyed by Earl and Adele or their children, but now I think he just wants to use it to build a legacy for Hunter and his family, as well as Jason and his family.”
I smiled. “I think that’s pretty wonderful of him.”
Eric nodded in agreement even as a wicked grin appeared on his face.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I have not yet told you the name that Niall has picked for our new company.”
“What’s the name?” I asked, taking another sip of my wine.
Eric smirked. “You know Niall. He likes the idea that the first product we produce will be based on his blood—even though hardly anyone else will know about that. He thinks it’s amusing. He also likes the idea that I will oversee the company as a whole, while Jason will run the plant. And he hopes that Hunter will one day wish to be involved in the business. He has named the company RBL.”
“It’s short for Royal blood line.”
I snorted, which caused mirth to fill the bond from Eric’s end. “So Niall’s making an inside joke with the name.”
“Arrogantly so,” Eric added with a chuckle.
We both shared a laugh at that thought.
A/N: I wanted to thank you all for your messages—both about the last chapter and the PM’s that I’ve been getting from many of you, telling me how much my stories have meant to you this last year. It warms my heart that many of you used my stories as an aid through stresses or hard times. It makes me smile to imagine my stories taking your mind away from sickness or work. But as much of a help as my stories may have been to you, you have been even more of a blessing to me. Your kind words and your support are gifts to me (gifts that I don’t have to wait until Christmas to open). You all have made me want to be a better writer, and you have spurred me to write more, which has made my life better.