I smiled as I thought of Hunter’s involvement in the “plan” that I was now hatching.
About a week before, Eric and I had told Hunter of our idea to spend a few nights at the cabin. We had wanted to make sure that we gave him plenty of notice. For one thing, Eric and I needed to know that Hunter was really okay with us being gone for a while because the last thing we wanted to do was upset him. We’d both agreed that if Hunter was genuinely frightened by the notion of us being away, we’d postpone the trip. After all, it had been less than two months since Russell had taken Eric—less than two months since Hunter had been afraid that he would never see his daddy again.
Although Hunter was clearly somewhat nervous about the thought of either Eric or me being away from him—especially Eric, whom Hunter still watched over like a hawk—the beautiful and unselfish boy recognized that we needed “alone time.” And he insisted that we go on what he immediately began calling our “play-date.”
I grinned as I thought about the day after Eric and I had told Hunter that we were going to the cabin.
While his daddy had slept, Hunter pulled me into his room; gave the cutest possible “covert” signal to Batanya, who immediately ensured that the house was “clear”; and then told me about his and Emma’s plan to make sure that his daddy and I had fun on our “play-date,” which—in Hunter’s mind—was inextricably linked to the concept of “dating” in general.
That’s how I found out that every single one of Hunter and Emma’s “play-dates” was actually a “date” in the kids’ minds, though their actions during these “dates” were as innocent as one might expect from a seven-year-old and an eight-year-old. Regardless, I was pretty sure that Sam wouldn’t like the idea that Hunter already considered himself to be “dating” little Emma, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to be the one to break that news to him.
I sighed as I finished setting up the camera. Before Hunter told me the details of his plan, his little face had tensed up, and he asked me if I thought he was a “scaredy cat.” Frankly, I’d been dumbfounded by his question. When I asked him why he would think that he was a “scaredy cat,” Hunter told me that he was worried his daddy might be taken away by a bad vampire again. It was then that I realized that Eric and Hunter both had the same fear welled up inside of them. Eric was fearful that I might be taken away from him again, and Hunter was concerned that his daddy might disappear from his life.
And—in true Northman form—both of them were trying to push down their fears.
I sighed again. After his confession of his fears, I had taken Hunter into my arms and held him close. I told him that he was the bravest little boy I had ever met, and I let him see the truth of my words by opening my mind to him. I also told him that it was okay to be scared of losing the ones that we loved. I assured him that I was scared sometimes—and even his daddy was scared of losing Hunter and me. I told him that everyone who loved someone had those same fears—that they were natural and that they did not make someone a “scaredy cat.” I also told him that his daddy and I would do everything we could to keep our family safe. Finally, I offered to postpone Eric and my getaway for a while.
However, Hunter wouldn’t have that. I heard from his surface thoughts that my words had made him feel better about the fact that he was a little apprehensive. He insisted that he wanted Eric and me to go; he just made me swear that his daddy and I would be safe and that we would protect each other. In fact, he even offered to send all “his” guards with us.
I reassured Hunter that his daddy and I would be safe and in a secret place. I also guaranteed him that I would blast anyone who tried to take Eric from us; that thought seemed to dispel Hunter’s fears.
After our heart-to-heart exchange, Hunter made me promise not to tell his daddy about his anxieties, especially now that his fears had been alleviated. Hunter—it seemed—understood Eric almost as well as I did. We both knew that Eric wouldn’t leave the ætt land if he thought that Hunter was even a little fearful. Knowing that I would have to be able to keep some of Hunter’s confidences if I was going to be the mother he needed me to be, I agreed not to tell my mate, but I made Hunter promise that he would call me if he wanted us to come home. I assured him that we could come at any time—whether it was day or night—if he needed us.
After that, Hunter had been comfortable with Eric and I going away for a couple of nights—a fact which I had quickly double-checked in his head.
In fact, Hunter soon let me know that he and Emma had spent the better part of that morning talking on the phone about Eric and my “play-date,” and they had decided on what we had to do in order to make it special.
I admit that I was nervous as heck and had my shields up as tight as I could get them because I didn’t want Hunter to know what I had already planned to do with and to Eric in order to make things “special” for him. I was also worried that Hunter had picked up ideas of an “adult” nature from someone’s head, and I was already preparing to chastise the culprit. However, it turned out that I had been nervous for no reason.
Hunter had been so serious—and so cute—when he’d told me about his and Emma’s idea for our “play-date” that I’d almost laughed out loud. But then I realized that I loved the kids’ suggestion, so I quickly agreed to go along with it.
Basically, Hunter had decided that what his daddy and I really needed to do was to have a prom! Apparently, Emma had learned about the concept of proms from a classmate who had an older sister, and from there, Hunter and Emma were off to the races. To convince me that it was the best plan, Hunter pointed out how happy Eric and I looked in the picture he had of us dancing after we’d pledged. It had been a fabulous night, and I did love dancing with Eric, so I let the kids take over.
The Sunday before, while Eric had been at Fangtasia conducting Area 5 business, there had been a “meeting” at Thalia’s residence. Emma had brought along her mother, and Hunter had brought along Pam, who had—in the space of one evening—read seemingly everything there was to know about proms. With Hunter, Emma, and Pam at the helm, I was just along for the ride—so to speak. Heck, I counted myself lucky that I had even been invited to the meeting!
Hunter and Emma had a list of things that they knew about proms, but since Hunter liked the idea that the whole thing would be a surprise for his daddy, they had to scrap some of the traditions that might have given the plan away, like decorations and a prom theme. Secretly, I was thankful that those things were off the table, especially when I saw the glint in Pam’s eyes when Luna mentioned that her own prom’s theme had been “Under the Sea.”
However, what couldn’t be scrapped—apparently—was the concept of the prom dress. Thankfully, I was able to talk a very excited—and, therefore, pushy—Pam out of a “traditional” prom dress. The last thing I wanted was something that looked like it belonged on a teenager or a bridesmaid. That’s when Pam asked if I still had the dress I wore the first time I came to Fangtasia. Although I didn’t because of the Maenad’s “visit,” an idea was born, and we all scoured the Internet looking for a dress similar to that one. Of course, the catch was that it would have to be available from somewhere that could get the dress to me quickly. Luckily, thanks to Thalia’s state-of-the-art computers, we found the perfect dress, which the adorable Emma announced was even more perfect because it already came with its own flowers.
With a very serious look, Hunter had nodded at Emma’s proclamation and crossed off “dress” and “flowers” from his list, which was a very good thing since carrying live flowers to the cabin would have alerted Eric to the fact that something was up.
The dress and “flowers” found, music became the next topic of discussion. Hunter was actually a tremendous resource there. Hunter—for lack of a better word—was a giant sponge, and he knew of several “dancing songs” that his daddy liked. Apparently, Eric had been teaching Hunter about different genres of music during the time they spent employed in their woodshop. The winter before, they had pulled out Gran’s old record player and had listened to quite a few of her old records, which provided a couple of items for the playlist. Hunter reported that the song “This Never Happened Before” by Paul McCartney was the one that always seemed to remind his daddy of me. We also added “Something,” which had been one of Gran’s favorite Beatle’s songs. Bubba’s song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” had to be included since he’d sung it to Eric and me on the night of our pledging. To those we added Ella Fitzgerald’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which was also Hunter’s suggestion, and Norah Jones’s “Come Away with Me,” which Luna really loved. Emma’s contribution was Taylor Swift’s “Today Was a Fairy Tale,” which I hadn’t been familiar with, but was a cute song. Thinking it was appropriate for Eric and my story, I also added The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand B You.” Pam’s suggestion, “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye, was added after the kids had gone to sleep.
The cutest part was that Hunter seemed to be taking mental notes of all the songs that Emma mentioned liking. I had only been around Hunter and Emma for a few weeks, but I could already tell that they were just as much soul mates as Eric and I. Their personalities meshed perfectly, and they both accepted each other’s differences as if they were nothing. And Hunter respected Emma—maybe more than anyone else besides Eric. He listened to every single one of her words, but I never felt his mind stretch out to listen to her thoughts as I felt him do with others. Simply put, though he was only seven and she was only eight, the two of them loved each other. And if I were the sort of person who bet on things, I would say that their staying together was a pretty sure thing.
“What about pictures, Mamma?” Hunter had asked me after the songs had all been chosen.
I’d had to work very hard to keep my tears at bay. That had been the third time that Hunter had called me “Mamma,” and he didn’t even seem to know he was doing it. Luna and Pam had both given me knowing looks, though neither of them had said a word. I hadn’t either, though I swear that Emma had given me a wink, even as she’d kissed Hunter on his cheek. At age seven, one might have expected for Hunter to wipe off that kiss, but he seemed to celebrate it, though he reddened noticeably. Emma had given me a smile that let me know that she was on my side and that she thought I was a worthy mother for her guy. For some reason, gaining her approval had meant a lot to me. But having Hunter think of me as his mother—even on an unconscious level—had meant the world.
Even as I had been grinning from ear to ear because of Hunter’s new “name” for me, Hunter and Emma were contemplating how to get proper prom pictures. As excited as Hunter was about planning the “play-date” that would make his daddy happy, he seemed disappointed that he wouldn’t get to see us dancing. And he was worried that we wouldn’t be able to get a “prom” picture of Eric and me. Hunter wanted one to put on his shelf of family pictures.
Seeing that worried look on his face, I’d wanted to do even more than just give him a picture.
That’s when we’d enlisted Molly into our little confederacy to help us in the audio-visual department. At first, I figured that I could videotape Eric and me dancing a little. That way, Hunter could watch it later, and we could capture some still images from the video for Hunter’s pictures.
But Molly had suggested something even better. She’d developed a more sophisticated and secure version of Skype which she assured would be easy enough for even me to use. When Hunter had realized that he would get to talk to and see Eric and me live, he got even more excited than he had been. Talking to us would work to reassure him of our safety and would give him the chance to share our “prom” a little bit.
Smiling at the memory of Hunter’s excited face, I held my breath and said a little prayer as I opened the tiny laptop Molly had given me. Thankfully, after the young vampiress had determined that my experience with computers was limited to surfing the Internet and using a word processor, she declared me “helpless” and made things so easy that even a cavewoman could do it—so to speak. Immediately, the little machine came to life without any additional help from me. Hopefully, the whirs it was making meant that it was doing what Molly had set it up to do: find a signal and connect to the encrypted wireless router (whatever that was) that Molly said Eric would have in the cabin.
“Fuck!” I exclaimed loudly as the machine prompted me for a password. Molly had warned me that that would happen. When I’d asked her earlier if there was some kind of password-breaking thingy she could use, she’d rolled her eyes and reminded me that it was Eric who had arranged for the system in the cabin. I took that as a “No.”
“Was that an invitation?” Eric voice sounded in the bond.
“Huh?” I responded.
“To fuck, lover,” he purred. “There are still seven minutes to go, but I could be persuaded to join you now.”
“Actually,” I said seductively into the bond, “I need something else from you.”
“I will give you anything you require,” he said throatily.
I bit my lip and felt his lust. “I need the password to the router so that I can access the Internet,” I said, parroting the phrase that Molly had made me memorize.
“Huh?” It was Eric’s turn to say the inelegant line.
“The password to the router?” I repeated.
“Why is that, Lover? And did I hear a piece of computer equipment power on a few moments ago.”
“Bat ears,” I muttered out loud.
He chuckled. “May I know why you need it?”
“You may—in just under seven minutes,” I said firmly.
“Fine,” he relented. “You ready?”
“Uh-huh,” I said, my hands poised over the keyboard.
“It has numbers and letters in it; all the letters are uppercase.”
“Got it,” I said turning on the caps lock.
“How do you remember stuff like that?” I asked as he finished the code.
He chuckled into the bond. “I will see you in six minutes, Lover, and I will show you what else I remember.”
Yep—those words guaranteed that my panties would be wet before I even saw him. My lust was forgotten for a moment, however, as I celebrated the tell-tale sounds of Molly’s system working. As soon as the Internet hook-up occurred, the little machine caused the camera I’d set up to hum, just as Molly said it would. I pulled a side-table out a little to set the laptop on. All I would have to do now was click on the icon Molly had showed me, and the machine would “call” Hunter, who would be waiting at his computer at exactly 9:15. Then Eric and I would be able to talk to him. One more button would then make the camera motion-sensitive so that it could follow us while we danced so that Hunter could watch for a while. I’d just have to make sure that the camera got turned off before we did more than dancing.
Hunter did not need to see that—ever!
I knew that going through all this was a lot to do just to ensure that Hunter got a “prom” picture of Eric and me, but I knew there was more to it too—a lot more. First and foremost, Hunter wanted to make sure his daddy had something special, and I couldn’t blame him. Hunter might not have the bond with Eric that I did, but he could read Eric’s emotions in his eyes almost as well as I could.
And—truth be told—Eric was still reeling from the trials of the last several years. I could feel that the long periods of time while I was in Faerie had taken their toll on my mate, especially during the months when Claudette’s curse had numbed the fairy bond to the point that Eric could no longer feel me at all. I had felt the emptiness caused by that curse for only a few hours; for Eric, it had been much, much worse.
Then, there had been what happened with Russell Edgington. I knew that Eric was still dealing with the fact that Russell had tortured and violated him. I took a deep breath. Russell had raped him. My husband was an incredibly strong individual, and he wasn’t allowing Russell’s sins to affect his actions or choices, but I knew firsthand that some things couldn’t be overcome quickly or easily.
And added to all those stresses were the things that Eric did every night of his life. He worried about Hunter’s happiness and safety. He worried about my happiness and safety. He monitored the security of everyone on the ætt land and in Area 5 in a way that I would have never understood or truly appreciated unless I’d seen him do it—felt him do it.
He put the weight of our family’s wellbeing and care onto his shoulders, and I loved him for it, but I wanted to see more lightness in his eyes, and I was sure that was what Hunter wanted too. That was why it was so important to Hunter that Eric and I had this time apart—despite the fact that he too was anxious. That wonderful, special little boy intuited that his daddy needed something that had been planned just for him—something fun and away from his everyday responsibilities.
I smiled as I lit the candles placed around the room. Although I tried to keep out of Hunter’s head, sometimes his thoughts shot out of him with the force of a cannon. All he wanted was to see Eric—and now me—happy. He’d accepted me into his and Eric’s routine like I’d always been a part of it. Hunter trusted me to take care of his daddy and to make him happy.
And my heart was full of joy because of that trust.
So—yes—maybe using military-grade communication equipment to allow Hunter to talk to us on our “prom night” and to see us dance a little may have been a bit excessive. After all, we could have just had our “prom” on a night when we were at home with Hunter, but our little boy wanted it to be special for us. So—by God—I wanted it to be special for him too.
I wanted for him to see his parents happy and dressed up. I wanted for him to see us dancing to the tunes he had picked out and to know that he had been greatly responsible for the smile that I was sure was about to be on Eric’s face. I wanted him to see what two parents in love looked like so that he could treat his little Emma just as good as Eric treated me. I hadn’t been able to see such an example when I was growing up. My mother’s thoughts were always jealous when it came to my father, and her actions seemed meant to steal his affections away from his children more than to indicate love. I had, however, heard about enduring love from Gran. And that was what I wanted Hunter to see.
Of course, Hunter did not need to see the plans I had for Eric later. And he certainly didn’t need to know about the lacey red underwear I had on underneath my “prom” dress. And he didn’t care about the shoes I was finally putting on. His instructions to me had been simple: to look pretty, to smell nice, to hold his daddy’s hand, and to dance—a lot.
It seemed like a brilliant plan to me.
“One minute,” I heard from Eric through the bond as I looked around excitedly. Given the lust and anticipation building from his end of the bond, I decided to wait to turn on the camera, just in case Eric came in and “attacked.” I took a deep breath as I felt my husband approaching.
A/N: Hello! I hope that you don’t find the concept of a “prom” to be too cheesy. This idea actually sprang from a talk I recently had with my eleven-year-old nephew, who asked me what proms were when his “girlfriend” asked him to be her prom date. Now, I know that sixth grade is a bit early to procure a prom date, but my nephew’s “girlfriend” obviously wants to be prepared. LOL.
After that talk, I started thinking about what a seven-year-old Hunter might imagine to be a good “play date,” and then I thought about the dancing that Hunter and Emma will do during Eric and Sookie’s wedding (in CBTM), and this idea was born. Hunter (and Emma) insisted, and since Hunter has become one of my favorite characters to write about, how could I resist him.