I was glad that Sookie was not angry that I had not told her of my and Niall’s business venture; I had wanted to wait until things were finalized. In truth—until just a few days before—I had been half-convinced that the deal would fall through.
The buyout of the research and development site had taken quite a bit of effort from both Niall and myself. Niall had met with the current CEO of TruBlood and then the Board of Directors the previous week. I sent him as an agent for NorthCorp, which was one of my many umbrella companies and the one I had used to buy my original stock in the company that eventually manufactured TruBlood.
Truth be told, it may have been easier for Niall and me to simply start our new company from square one, instead of trading my stock for the little subsidiary, but I had wanted to employ the scientists who had so quickly developed the synthetic strain using Jason’s sample. And I also wanted to make sure that we had all of their data. Of course, I had long ago glamoured those scientists to think that they had been unsuccessful in their experiments with the new strain, but if an inspector or auditor had looked closely enough, he or she may have found a few suspicious things about the scientists’ research. They had—after all—spent a hell of a lot of time on a project that summarily “failed.” And that could have sent up some red flags with the executives.
Thus, Niall’s meetings with the CEO and the board had been crucial, and—I have to admit—we “cheated” a little in order to get the upper hand in making the deal.
A telepath who was just as savvy in business as myself was—unquestionably—an excellent partner. I chuckled as I recalled the last line of Casablanca: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” I had—almost inexplicably—always been drawn to Niall in some way. It was odd, but being around him felt like having my human father back in my life. Moreover, seeing him operate in the business world was a true delight. Indeed, “a beautiful friendship” had been forged as we’d worked together.
Using several of my other companies―but keeping the NorthCorp name out of it―I had already made quite a few bids over the years to buy the R&D site, but all had been refused, even though I had offered prices that were over the market value of the site. Basically, Niall’s initial task was to find out a price that the board members would accept. Then we planned to use another of my companies to make them an offer they would not refuse.
Niall posed as the new Vice President of Development for NorthCorp under the pretext of getting one of my monthly updates for TruBlood. My insistence on being informed monthly—instead of quarterly—about the goings-on in the company was just one of the many reasons why the CEO despised me, according to Niall’s digging in the man’s thoughts.
Frankly, the fact that the CEO found me a “nuisance” just pissed me off. I was the nuisance who had helped to make that asshole billions of fucking dollars!
As odd as it had always seemed to me, I was the only vampire who owned enough of the company to have a seat on the board. Of course, I had hired human CEOs over the years to be the “face” of NorthCorp, so the board members did not know my identity. Hell—they had no idea that vampires even existed until the AVL approached them six months before the Great Revelation! However, after that, they began to suspect that a vampire was actually in charge of NorthCorp. According to Niall, they had been trying to figure out whom, but they had been unsuccessful so far.
From the first moment I learned of the company that eventually developed TruBlood—which used to be called the Hayashi Corporation after its Japanese founder—I had been intrigued by the innovative science occurring within its research department. I had respected Denjiro Hayashi, the lead scientist and founder, and he had been a true visionary. I foresaw from the Hayashi Corporation’s work with artificial organs and early genetic mapping that a blood substitute might eventually be possible. And I had subtly pushed Denjiro in that direction. Unfortunately, his children and then his grandchildren lacked both Denjiro’s vision and his honor, but I’d been able to influence the choice of CEOs after Denjiro died—at least until the latest one was put into place six years before. He was what Jason would call a douchebag, but he had been efficient enough, so I had not pushed to have him removed.
During my inspections of the Hayashi and then TruBlood facilities over the years, I had always disguised myself as a human—something that I was actually rather good at—and I had pretended to be assistants of my own CEOs of NorthCorp. Disguising myself had, of course, been essential before the Great Revelation; the Hayashi Corporation certainly had never intended to be an avenue through which vampires could reveal themselves.
Through my CEOs, I had offered suggestions for improvements and ideas for growth—many of which had led to great profits for the Hayashi Corporation, both before and after the Great Revelation. Denjiro and then the other CEOs before the current one had always valued the input from NorthCorp, especially when it came to marketing.
What truly angered me was the fact that the current CEO had been meeting in secret with the other members of the Board of Directors for over a year, trying to figure out ways to get NorthCorp out of the picture. It seemed that the thought of working with a vampire—especially a vampire who had control of almost ten percent of the company—made them all uncomfortable. Oh—they were more than happy to make profits off of vampires, but apparently they were just a bunch of prejudiced and paranoid pricks when it came to working with one of them.
It turned out that, although the current CEO did not foresee the board members accepting any bid from another company for the R&D site that I wanted, they were amenable to hearing one from NorthCorp itself—if that meant getting me out of the picture permanently. In the last several years, I had doggedly used my votes (and a little glamouring) to block the company from going public, which I knew would ultimately lead to problems. Part of me had wanted to protect my own investment; the rest had wanted to do as I figured Denjiro would have wished. However, according to Niall, the current board hated me even more for what they thought of as “the blood-sucker’s interference.”
Having a telepath tell me what was in the CEO’s and board members’ brains had been “enlightening”—to say the least. My blood had boiled. It had been NorthCorp that had sparked the research for their most profitable product, after all! But now I was anxious to put them out of business—to “drain” them in a way that would really hurt. It would take decades to do that; however, I was confident that it could be done. And I figured that even Denjiro would have approved, especially if he saw the way that his company now operated.
The plan that Niall and I came up with was simple. We decided to use NorthCorp’s stock—my stock—in TruBlood to barter for the R&D site we wanted. And since the little site seemed to be “struggling” so much, the board members were willing to make the deal. NorthCorp got all the company’s current research—not including information on the specific formula for TruBlood, which I didn’t want anyway—as well as a nine million dollar cash settlement. And the TruBlood Corporation got my stock―stock which would be worthless within twenty years if I had anything to do with it.
According to Niall, the CEO was ecstatic about the deal, especially since the “under-performing” R&D facility in Louisiana—where he had hated to travel, by the way—was now off his plate. Niall also heard from the CEO’s head that he had wanted to close down the facility in Louisiana for a while so that he could funnel more resources to an R&D site in Lima, Peru, where he had a mistress and an illegitimate child, who were—of course—unknown to his wife.
I had theorized for a long time that no matter how much money was put into research and development, the taste of TruBlood would never be improved significantly. I hypothesized that it was the scarcity of innate magic in most human’s blood that caused TruBlood to taste so bland. And no scientists or flavorologists had been unable to improve the flavor in a measurable way—especially since the company tended to hire younger vampires as the “guinea pigs” to taste the new versions of the product.
Any older vampire could have told them that away from the source, human blood simply “lost” something. However, I had noticed—even from the sample made from Jason’s blood—that fairy magic seemed to remain within synthetic strains, and that amped up the flavor profile a lot. Logically, the strain developed from Niall’s blood would be even better. Through my own experience and through a little “taste-testing” done by Pam, I also knew that the drunken effects caused by Fae blood were negated almost entirely during the synthesizing process. However, there was a sense of overall “well-being” that went along with drinking the synthetic Fae blood. It was nothing too noticeable—just a buzz. But it would be enough to help us garner and keep customers, though I figured that the superior taste would do that all on its own.
Significantly, neither Pam nor myself had been able to trace the blood to its source—Jason—after drinking the synthetic version. The last thing I wanted was to risk the safety of my family by letting it get out that RBL was based on the blood of a fairy. In fact, the users of RBL would be misled to believe that we had found a way to improve the flavor of synthetic blood using demon magic. I had already arranged for that piece of misinformation to leak to the vampire community shortly before the launch of the product, and Mr. Cataliades had agreed to help.
I sighed contentedly as I played with the pendant that I had carved for my mate before allowing my fingers to move on to her silky skin underneath it. RBL was an ideal new venture for me, and I could tell that the fact that it was a family business pleased Sookie too, which added even more to the appeal.
I too was pleased by the nature of the new business. I had opened Fangtasia with Pam, of course, but other than that, I had never partnered with anyone in business. However, I had been enjoying working with Niall quite a bit. When he had been in the human realm with Viola, he had taken over the management of the Stackhouse family farm after both her parents had died, and under him it had flourished. He had a good head for the practical matters as well as the political maneuverings within large corporations. After all, he was a ruler in his own realm. It had been interesting and satisfying to learn new ideas and strategies from him, and he seemed to feel the same as I told him of some of the business ventures I had been involved in during my life.
“What’s next?” I asked my wife, gesturing toward the list on the coffee table. In truth, I hoped we would soon come to the end of the items we needed to discuss. I was anxious to fulfill my promise to worship every inch of my mate’s body.
Picking up by mood change from the vampire bond, Sookie grinned and gave me a flirtatious look. I waggled my eyebrows, as I knew she loved, and her grin turned into a laugh.
It was difficult for me not to take her right then, but I made myself be patient.
“Okay, just a few more things,” she assured me. “Scott wanted me to give you an update on everything. I talked to him earlier today about Hunter’s idea.”
I smiled. After our last gathering for movie night, Hunter had declared that his house was too small for his family. During our time together, I had told Hunter many stories of my human past, and from them, he had learned about the great meeting halls built by Vikings. The hall in my own village had served many roles. It had helped to foster the closeness of the people in my community, and during the height of the winters, it had been where everyone gathered to stay warm and alive.
Hunter had decided that we needed a great hall on the ætt land. Thinking about the lack of seats and square footage in our living room, Sookie and I had quickly conceded his point.
In fact, I was proud of my son for coming up with the idea to construct a large recreation/family room. He was right. We did need a larger space for gatherings. At first, Sookie and I had thought to make the hall a freestanding building. Then we decided to place it in between what had become Miranda and Jarod’s residence and Tara’s new home, which were about forty feet away from each other. The new, large room, which was going to be 40 feet by 30 feet, would basically connect those two dwellings, and that space was going to house a large television and seating area for gatherings. Also, it would serve as a play space for the kids, especially in the winter, and given the announcement the previous week that Luna and Sam were going to be giving Emma a sibling, it seemed that there would soon be more and more children who could use the space.
Sookie and I were planning to surprise Hunter with a Wii for Christmas. Though Hunter was not that interested in playing electronic games, especially when the weather was nice and he could play outside, he had enjoyed playing the Wii at the Merlottes’ residence with Emma when he and Sookie visited the weekend before. I knew that Hunter would likely have fun spending parts of cold days playing games with Emma, Coby, Lisa, and the other members of our growing family.
The large space would also have a kitchen built in one corner so that it could be used for family gatherings such as Thanksgiving as well. Hunter and I were already making plans to build an expandable table for such times. Since the two guest homes had been built in similar styles, the addition could be integrated easily to give the impression of one sprawling building. However, the occupants of both residences would still maintain their privacy.
Sookie continued. “Scott thinks that our plan for the,” she paused and rolled her eyes, “mead hall will work well.”
I chuckled. It had been Hunter’s idea to call the new space the “mead hall,” and the name had stuck, much to Sookie’s amusement and chagrin. I smiled. My wife’s emotions could certainly be “complicated” when it came to certain issues.
“And Scott sees no problem adding a light-tight safe room underneath the new family space?” I asked.
Sookie shook her head and then laughed light-heartedly. “Miranda wants the new room done—like—yesterday. She knows that she’ll need a larger play area for the kids once the twins are born. Plus,” she giggled again, “you know how much Godric loves to run around.”
I nodded in agreement. Miranda and Jared’s eldest did have boundless energy. I’d talked to Tara about the idea of the “mead hall” myself, and she’d had no problems with her dwelling being connected to the new family space either. After all, as Tara had so elegantly put it, we didn’t need her “fuckin’ permission to do jack shit.” I chuckled. Still—I wanted to make sure that Tara felt comfortable in the home that had been built with her in mind. Against all odds, Tara had become an important member of our family. She was as a sister to my bonded. She was a partner to Miranda in her work. And she was also loved by Hunter. Even I enjoyed her company on occasion. She was quite amusing, especially when Lafayette and Pam were present.
I sighed. An extremely motley group of individuals made up Sookie and my family, but I would not want it any other way now.
Sookie broke into my thoughts. “Scott also said that the vamp-cave is due to be finished on time—right at the beginning of November.”
I chuckled. “Good! Pam is anxious to get out of the cubby and move all her clothing to the ætt land. And I know that Duncan is looking forward to having a place where he and Batanya can have more privacy.” I winked at her.
“That reminds me,” Sookie said with a glint in her eyes. “Pam insists that separate privacy spells be put around their two halves of the ‘vamp-cave.’” She giggled. “She says that Batanya and Duncan make you and me sound like church mice when they—um,” she stopped mid-sentence and took on a lovely shade of red. My favorite fucking color.
I laughed and leaned in to kiss that beautiful blush. “I don’t blame Pam. They are very loud.”
“T.M.I., Eric!” Sookie insisted, covering her ears and closing her eyes. When she opened them in mock wariness, I winked at her. She rewarded me with a giggle.
“Anything else?” I asked, ready to kiss that giggle right from her lips.
“Just one more thing,” she smiled.
We both knew what we had been saving for last: our discussion of the daggers.
“What did Niall tell you about them?” I asked.
“Nothing. He told me to ask the A.P.,” Sookie answered, the annoyance clear in her tone.
I rolled my eyes. “And she told me to ask Niall.”
“I’m starting to think they are being purposely obtuse,” she said sarcastically.
“Them?” I asked in fake surprise. “Never!”
We both laughed.
“Well?” she asked.
“Let’s put them together and see what happens,” I ventured. “If we feel the urge to use them to exchange blood, then we will. Otherwise, we will just leave them together in the case. I believe that the magic within the blades will guide us, min kván.”
“I agree.” Sookie nodded and then looked at me warningly as I went to reach for the bag we had brought with us.
“No you don’t,” she said teasingly as she swatted my hand away and crawled over to the bag. I growled at the delicious sight of my mate moving like that, especially since her light robe was sneaking around her body in the most alluring of ways. She gave me a coy look and a wink over her shoulder as she carefully opened the bag. After moving some items around, she pulled out only the box that held the dagger Niall had given us in Dùraig. Unfortunately, despite craning my neck, I wasn’t able to see what else was waiting for me inside that bag.
Sookie shook her head. “Tsk, tsk. Patience,” she admonished playfully, “or no surprise for you. You’re not gonna get what’s in this bag till tomorrow night anyway, so you might as well cool your jets for now, Buck-o,” she said, calling me by the nickname she liked to use when she was feeling especially playful. I wasn’t quite sure what it was meant to reference, but I loved it anyway.
She placed the box on the coffee table, and—without a word—we both just stared at it for a minute.
Truth be told, one of the main reasons why we had wanted to come to the cabin was to bring the daggers together in a private space. I had kept the one that I had inherited from Godric in the cubby at the cabin to ensure its safety. I had kept the second dagger—the one that Niall had given to Sookie in Dùraig—close to me at the farmhouse as I had waited for Sookie to return home. Both of the daggers held a special meaning for Sookie and me. Godric’s—which had been given to him by the A.P.—was what we had used to complete our vampire bond and then to pledge. We had used the second dagger, which had been given to us by Niall―and which had obviously once belonged to Artegal—to strengthen our bonds in Dùraig after we had been separated for so long.
Both Sookie and I intuited that reuniting the blades would produce a profound effect. After all, each time we had used either of the daggers, there had been a powerful reaction, especially when we had used the second dagger in Dùraig. Truth be told, we were somewhat wary to bring them together; however, we were also being pulled to reunite them. And I felt certain that as long as Sookie and I were together, the power of the daggers would not hurt us.
Or—at least—I hoped that was the case.