“Dig a little deeper and you will find that I am intrigued by you. Hell! ‘Enamored’ is a good word too!”
“Eric, I—uh—don’t think I’m—um—ready for . . . ,” she stammered.
“I know,” he cut her off. “And I won’t push. I just want you to accept the damned guards at this point! As long as you are safe, I’ll have time to worm my way into your affections,” he added with a smirk.
“Confident much?” she asked with a cut of her eyes.
“Yes, but the word I would use is sure,” he returned sincerely—maybe too earnestly for her.
“Aren’t those basically the same?” she laughed awkwardly.
“Not at all,” he smiled. “If I were merely confident, that would be about me only. But to be ‘sure’ is to be more.”
“I am sure that—once you give me a chance—you will not be able to get enough of me. Just as I’m sure I’d never be able to get enough of you.”
She’d made the unfortunate mistake of taking a drink out of the water bottle Alcide had packed before Eric spoke, and her laughter propelled the liquid out of her mouth.
“See—you truly do need a guard,” he grinned, “if only to save you from choking!”
“Okay, smartass, so what would guard duty for me be like?” she asked as she did her best to clean up the console in front of her with her shirt sleeve, though she was careful not to actually push any buttons or move any switches.
“I’d want to assign an army,” he began.
“But we are compromising,” she reminded.
“We are. So—one to two Weres or other two-natured beings on duty for day. Plus, a human male—a talented sniper I know. And one vampire for night,” he said after some contemplation. “However, there will be seven to eight individuals on your security detail altogether—at least to start.”
“How do you get from four to eight?” she asked.
“Multiplication,” he grinned boyishly.
She couldn’t help but to chuckle. “Are you multiplying how insufferable you can be by how highhanded?”
He winked at her before answering her question about the number of guards more seriously. “They’d be full-time guards. They’d need time off,” he returned. “And—in case of emergency—they could all be called upon to cover you and your friends and family.”
“Oh—okay. So—uh—would they follow me everywhere?”
He nodded. “Yes. And I would ask to build a small guard post on your property. It could be converted into a guesthouse or storage unit if the guards become unneeded, and it would be unseen from the road or your house.”
“Why would we need it?” she asked.
“Even housing five people in a hotel gets pricy very quickly. It would be more cost effective to simply build an apartment of sorts—and that would add to the guards’ comfort-level too, which is a good thing. A guesthouse would also increase the value of your property—as you could use it as a rental unit at some point. And I would make sure it had its own entrance from the road and that it would be as far away from your home as possible, while still being on your property.”
“You’ve already thought about all this?” she half-asked and half-accused.
“The flight from Russell’s to that damned parking garage was long,” he said in a low tone.
That sentence alone was enough to stop a lot of Sookie’s complaints. “The guards would live on my property?”
Eric nodded. “Yes. During low-threat times, one or two would always be patrolling when you were at home. And—one would go with you or follow while you were out, while one stayed behind to watch your home. More could be mustered temporarily during higher threat periods. Regardless, they’d be instructed to intrude upon your life as little as possible.”
“Fine,” she sighed. “But—hey—you said that Supes were attracted to me. Aren’t you worried about competition?” she smirked.
He laughed out loud. “I already have the five full-time day-guards in mind—two very gay males and three very heterosexual females. And—of course—the vampire guards will lose their fangs if they seek your romantic attentions.”
She couldn’t help but to laugh with him—at him. “You can’t be that worried about my appeal?”
“Why tempt fate?” he grinned.
She rolled her eyes.
“Actually, in truth, all of the guards are people I trust—have trusted—with my own safety. And their sexual preferences are just a happy coincidence,” he winked. “The two men, Mustapha and Warren, are a couple. Normally, I would avoid guards that might place each other’s safety over the protection of a ward; however, Mustapha and Warren are both ex-special forces. And they work very efficiently together.”
“You said one of them was a human? A sniper?” Sookie asked.
“Warren,” Eric responded.
“And the others?”
“The females are a varied bunch. Maria-Star is a member of Long Tooth, the largest pack in Shreveport; she is also the niece of the packmaster, Colonel Flood, and would be his heir apparent if Weres weren’t even more misogynistic than humans,” he said with some irritation. “The other two I’d want to hire are not Weres, but each have their own particular skills. Willow is a werehawk and would be excellent for surveillance and reconnaissance. Onawa is a shifter, though her animal of choice is a black bear.”
“A bear?” Sookie squeaked out.
Eric nodded. “Onawa is very strong, as shifters tend to be. But when she transforms into a bear, I would wager on her against almost any other two-natured creature, for she combines cunning with brute force. Other than Maria-Star, none of your guards are affiliated with a particular pack.”
“Shifters—I know—are solitary. Sam told me,” Sookie relayed. “What about the others. I thought packs were especially important for Weres. And—uh—flocks for hawks?”
Eric chuckled. “A group of hawks is called a ‘cast,’ I believe. But—to answer your question—Willow is odd to say the least. She is not a full-blooded werehawk, though she can shift because her mother was a natural witch. Werehawks, like some other groups of were-animals, tend to isolate themselves. They prefer that other species not be introduced into the bloodline. Willow was, therefore, ostracized.” He frowned. “Werepanthers are isolationists like this too, which is why the group in Hotshot is suffering from horrible inbreeding.”
“What? The folks in Hotshot are werepanthers?”
Eric nodded. “Yes, but not even all the first-borns there can shift because the blood-pool has become so fraught with recessive genes. Since they are in my area, I have tried to help them out—even offering to introduce new blood to their town. Recently, I found twenty werecougars willing to relocate, but—apparently—panthers and cougars aren’t close enough on the genetic spectrum to suit the werepanthers. Unfortunately, the best of the bunch, Calvin Norris, was killed in a dispute over V a few months ago; without him, I give the panthers one more generation before they wipe themselves out. It’s a pity, actually. Werepanthers can be quite formidable and are unmatched for stealth. Anyway—as for Mustapha—he was expelled from his pack when he came out as gay. His agreeing to donate his sperm for procreation did not placate his pack master—I’m afraid. Since then, he has worked security for a handful of vampires.”
Sookie sat in stunned silence.
“What is wrong?” Eric asked her.
“Just give me a sec to take all this in—okay?” she asked. “I’m just learning that a whole nearby town is populated by inbred panthers!” She sighed. “Not to mention the fact that you think I’m a Supe of some kind too.”
He nodded. “Yes. I’m still narrowing things down, but I’d bet a fairy, a demon, or a Siren. Tell me—can you sing well?”
She snorted—off key. “I couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket with a lid on it.”
Eric laughed. “Then—unless you have extremely recessive Siren DNA—that is not what you are.”
“Sirens are real? And demons and fairies?” she asked with incredulousness.
He nodded. “Indeed, but they are nothing like they are depicted in human folklore. Demons are not red beings with forked tails, nor are they malevolent. Indeed, they are well-known for their trustworthiness. And fairies are not small Tinkerbells. On the contrary, they tend to be quite tall and stately, though some of that might be their glamour.”
“Well—I’m not tall; that’s for sure. Wait! Fairies can glamour people to think they are beautiful?” she asked.
“Not in the same way a vampire glamours,” Eric explained. “It’s more like their innate magic makes them pleasing—especially in looks—in the realm they inhabit.”
“Realm?” Sookie gulped.
“Yes. Some Supernaturals are from other realms; planets, I suppose, is the right word for humans. Some of these planets have portals to this world—the earth. Other magical creatures seem to have originated from here.”
“Like what kind of creatures?” Sookie asked, clearly just as entranced as she was shocked by what she was hearing.
“Those like the Maenad,” he responded. “Oh—and seers. There is a vampire who was one. But each realm seems to have its own brand of witches or sorcerers.”
Sookie shook her head to clear it a little. “Telepaths?” she asked.
Eric frowned. “As you can imagine, telepaths would want to keep their powers to themselves. However, I know a few demons who have the trait, which is one reason why I think you might be part Dae. And—then there is your trustworthiness. However, Dae blood is distinctive—very distinctive. It is a turn-off to vampires—to say the least. Even if starving, I would have a difficult time keeping it down, which explains why demons and vampires have long enjoyed close working relationships.”
“And I—uh—my blood isn’t like theirs?”
“The opposite. Your blood is exquisite—among the best that I’ve ever enjoyed,” he shared quietly.
“Why did you think I might be a Siren?” she asked after a moment’s silence.
“Their allure. A Siren could talk a vampire out of his fangs,” he chuckled. “And they are beautiful. But they lack kindness. I wondered if you had inherited part of their traits, but not others. Invariably, however, they can carry a tune—especially if they’ve placed it into a bucket.”
Sookie giggled. “Don’t forget the lid. So—the last on your list is fairies?”
Eric nodded. “I’ve never heard of one being telepathic, but fairies are notoriously secretive. And they have an allure to them—beyond the physical appearance they can generate with their glamour. A full-blooded fairy’s blood is intoxicating to a vampire. The sweetness of your blood could be accounted for by a trace of the Fae.”
“Or I could just be human,” Sookie reminded.
“Perhaps,” Eric relented, though he sounded completely unconvinced.
“Who would my vampire guards be?” she asked, returning them to their previous topic.
“Mainly Thalia,” Eric responded.
“Do you recall the sour-looking vampiress that everyone seemed to fear, yet was surrounded by fans?”
“Yes,” Sookie answered after she’d thought about it for a moment. “My first night at Fangtasia—she was in the corner opposite the bar?”
“Yes,” Eric chuckled. “She hates people.”
“Um—I’m not questioning your judgment, but . . . .”
“That ‘but’ you just threw in means that you are,” he smirked. “But that’s okay. It’s your safety, after all. And you should have a say in it. As for what you are likely questioning, I would select Thalia because she hates people. She’s been looking for a way to get out of her time at Fangtasia. She’s loyal to me though. And she’s strong—maybe even stronger than I.”
“Is she older?” Sookie asked.
“We are near the same age,” Eric responded. “She could protect you without being seen—unless she needed to be. And she would love your woods,” the vampire smiled. “Indeed, she might decide to live in them, though I would employ a second vampire to take her place at least two nights per week so that she could,” he paused, “do Thalia things.”
Sookie chuckled. “You really have thought all this out.”
“And you haven’t disagreed to it yet,” he reminded.
“No. In fact, I’m going to say ‘yes’ to it,” she said after a deep breath. “But only for a year—for now.”
Immediately, Eric was digging his phone out of his pocket and texting—with both hands. Sookie immediately felt emptiness in the one he’d been holding.
“I thought you were gonna keep your hands—at least one of them—on the plane’s—uh—steering wheel,” Sookie reminded.
He chuckled. “I know you well enough to know that you might talk yourself into changing your mind if I don’t act quickly,” he said as he used his phone to type, his fingers moving almost too quickly for her to see them.
“Who are you texting?” she asked.
“Thalia. She will go straight to your home to ensure that all is well there, and then she will contact a Were to temporarily watch over you until the others can be called and assembled.”
“Already? I mean—you don’t think I need guards right now—do you?”
He gave her a sideways look. “Think of it this way, the guards will be earning a regular paycheck beginning tonight. You wouldn’t begrudge them of that—would you?”
She frowned. “How much? And how do you know that all the ones you mentioned will be available?”
“The salary will be adequate,” he replied enigmatically.
Unsurprisingly, his words were met with a frown.
But Eric soldiered on, nonetheless. “And—remember how you think I am highhanded?”
“Hard to forget,” she said dryly.
He smiled brilliantly in return. “I may have initiated a few subtle inquiries after the Maenad attack,” he relayed, emphasizing certain words as he went along.
She glared at him. “You were plannin’ to give me guards anyway—even before tonight?”
“Hoping,” he corrected, his triumphant smile not leaving his face.
As if he thought he could charm her.
Okay—maybe he could.
“I would never have forced them upon you unless I knew that a threat was looming. But our compromise is better.” He winked.
She shook her head. Indeed, his charm was getting to her.
“Okay. Guards starting tonight,” she agreed begrudgingly. “Where will the—uh—two-natured guards stay till the guest house is built?” she asked.
“There’s a lone wolf living near your home—Tray Dawson.”
“I know him,” Sookie said. “He’s a mechanic. Right?”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. “In fact, he’d have been the first I would have chosen as one of your full-time guards, but too much structure doesn’t suit Mr. Dawson. However, he’s already agreed to watch over you during the daytime until your permanent guards arrive. And he will continue to work part-time after that.” He indicated, holding up his phone to show the confirmation text he’d just received from Tray. And then a second he’d received from Thalia.
Indeed, the vampire did work fast!
“Dawson has a two-bedroom apartment over his garage. Your guards can headquarter there until the guest home is ready on your property.”
“You trust Tray that much?” she asked. She’d never heard anything particularly bad about the Were, but he had a reputation for being a bit rough around the edges.
Eric smiled. “He’s the only mechanic I would trust with one of my vettes.”
“That’s not exactly an answer,” Sookie chuckled.
Eric shrugged. “Tray could have been a packmaster, but—like me—he prefers the simple life. I’ve trusted him with my own daytime security in times of need. He has never let me down, and I’ve known him for two decades—since he was but a teenager.”
“Okay then,” Sookie said after letting out a long breath. “That’s good enough for me.”
As if it were natural, Eric retook her hand, and they were silent for a few moments as Sookie leaned sideways to try to see the ground below.
“How long till we land?” she asked.
“About twenty minutes,” he responded. “But those will not be easy minutes,” he added, his voice heavier than she’d ever heard it.
“Uh-oh,” she whimpered. “What do you mean by that?”
“Yes. Uh-oh,” he replied. “I’m sorry, Sookie, but I need you to know about a theory of mine—because, based upon something you said earlier, I’m now almost certain that it’s fact.”
“What did I say?” Sookie questioned.
“A name,” the vampire returned forebodingly. “Hadley.”
A/N: Kleannhouse caught the fact that I’m “recycling” Onawa from the UN-iverse. She was a werebear (not a shifter) in that one. I always thought it would be fun to utilize her character a bit more (though none of the guards will be developed too far—I really am trying to keep this SHORT pretty short—LOL). Also, I’ve killed off Calvin in this piece—mainly because I’m not planning to introduce the werepanthers in, and I used them in Not Without Action; I liked the idea of creating other two-natured beings and using people like Maria-Star. In that vein, I’m bringing in Warren and Mustapha early and keeping Bobby alive (for the present). Needless to say, Mustapha and Warren in this story will be quite different from their inspirations. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the chapter!
And previewing some of our two-natured beings!