“The king believes I killed you—rather than let you get close to me—and Bill has joined with Russell and is very anxious for my demise as well.”
“Is that what you would have done if it weren’t for the Fae bond?” Sookie asked, her voice shaking. “Kill me?”
“No,” Eric answered honestly and quickly. “No,” he reiterated. “Perhaps I should have, but. . . .” He stopped midsentence.
“But?” Sookie asked.
“Russell is correct that it is dangerous for a vampire to let anyone close to him or her—to let anyone know of his or her vulnerabilities.”
“And you’ve let me in,” she whispered.
“Yes,” he said, his look unreadable. “No human has ever known as much about me as you do. And no vampire either—not even Godric.”
Sookie blinked as she tried to soak in that information. “Not even Godric?”
Eric’s eyes lightened a little. “Godric was many things to me, but first and foremost, he was my maker. As such, he was always in ultimate control of me, so our relationship could have never been balanced. Plus . . . .” He stopped for a moment.
“Godric held much back from me,” Eric said. “It is the vampire way.”
“You and I held nothing back from each other,” Sookie stated as she thought about their time together in Slidell.
“No,” he agreed, “we didn’t hold anything back.”
“Do you regret it?” she asked, worrying her bottom lip a little.
“I should,” he said. “The harsh truth is that I should have killed you when I first felt myself wanting to share myself with you.”
She sighed. “Because of the Fae bond.”
He shook his head. “Not just because of the bond, Sookie.”
She looked at him with a little confusion.
“The night Bill brought you into Fangtasia after the Maenad had almost killed you—that was when I knew that I could never bring harm to you.”
“But you barely knew me then,” Sookie whispered.
He shrugged. “Once Dr. Ludwig said that you would be well, I realized just how much I would have missed you in this world if you’d not recovered,” he answered candidly. “And that was before the blood tie or the Fae bond.”
She smiled a little. “Thank you for telling me that. And thanks for . . . .” She paused for a moment, chewing on her lower lip again.
She chuckled. “For not killin’ me even though I discombobulated you.”
He chuckled heartily. “That you did do. And thanks to you too.”
“Did I not discombobulate you as well?” he asked with a lifted eyebrow and mischief in his eyes.
She snorted out a giggle. “Yep.”
“Well—then thanks for not staking me,” he intoned.
She bit back her smile. “You’re welcome.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “That was from me to you. The bond had nothing to do with it.”
He leered playfully at her. “Can I kiss you back, Sookie?”
“If it’s from you,” she said as she jutted out her chin a little.
“Then yes,” she whispered.
He leaned in and gave her a lingering kiss on her cheek to match the one she’d given him.
“Thank you,” she said with a little sigh.
He nodded as he leaned back.
“So—uh—anything else from Rasul?” she asked, trying to change the subject before she launched herself into a full-blown kiss with him. She didn’t think either of them were ready for that.
“Just that he’s made contact with Chow, whom Russell has planning a Fangtasia-like bar in Jackson,” Eric reported.
Sookie smirked. “As if there could ever be a Fangtasia without you on a throne,” she intoned.
Eric chuckled. “Indeed. Chow on a throne won’t have the same effect.”
She giggled, but then sobered a bit. “And you know you can trust them? Chow and Rasul?”
Eric nodded. “I know I can trust Rasul, and Chow seems content to give information to Rasul without asking any questions. And it doesn’t hurt that Chow owes me his life—several times over. He won’t risk his own skin, but—if he can safely do it—he will help.”
Sookie nodded. She still didn’t understand a lot about vampire politics, but she was coming to understand that Eric inspired a lot of loyalty from those around him.
Eric sighed. “Unfortunately, Rasul has spent only one night in Mississippi since Sophie-Anne and Russell were married. Sophie-Anne was always sheriff of Area 1 in name, but Rasul ran everything. Russell has kept him in that role. According to Rasul, the king is now traveling to New Orleans with Bill in order to meet up with Victor and Hallow, so—hopefully—Rasul will be able to get a better sense of the security forces traveling with Russell.
Sookie shivered. “It’s frightening to know that Victor and Hallow were that close to us,” she whispered. “And Bill and Russell were only a night behind.”
“It just confirms the efficacy of the severing spell and the power of Octavia’s other spells,” Eric comforted.
Sookie scoffed a little. “Well—I don’t think Bill’s bein’ with Russell will help him out much anymore.”
“Why’s that?” Eric asked with some amusement.
“Cause crazy doesn’t help crazy to be less crazy,” Sookie drawled.
Eric chuckled at Sookie’s choice of words as she went to rinse her now empty dish.
“Where did you stop today?” Eric asked as she turned off the water.
“Uh—the gas station in Crowley and the little café outside of Beaumont.” Remembering that, Sookie got a piece of pecan pie before warming up another TrueBlood for Eric. Once she was back in her seat, she took a bite of her dessert and moaned in appreciation.
“Good?” Eric asked with a smirk as he took a drink of his blood—which tasted like cardboard to him. At least the foul tasting liquid helped him to ignore the twitching of his cock at the sound she’d made.
She blushed a little. “Yeah. I—uh—hadn’t had pecan pie since Gran died, but I got some at the café. It isn’t as good as hers, but it’s still good.”
Eric nodded and quickly scrolled through the encrypted site that Brady had set up. Estimating the time Sookie would have been in Crowley, he searched through the video feed Brady had gotten from the gas station. It didn’t take him long to find the image of Sookie parking the Prius. He paused the footage and turned the laptop toward her before getting up to stand behind her so that they could both see the screen.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“You at the gas station,” he answered. “I had Brady send me the video feed from it. He was tapped into the systems of all the places where you might have stopped today.”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. “But a safe one.” Eric reached around Sookie’s shoulder and restarted the feed. She sighed as his hand brushed against hers, but she quickly pulled both her hands into her lap.
“Try to park as much in the middle of the building as you can,” Eric said, pointing to the screen. “The outside cameras tend to be along the corners of the building. If you had parked two places down, the car wouldn’t have been captured in the image.”
“Okay,” she said as she looked at the screen, which showed eight different camera views. Five of them were feeds of the interior of the store, which she’d not entered. She kept her eyes on the cameras that showed the exterior of the store. She saw herself get out of the car and then move out of the frame of the camera. All that anyone would have been able to see was a brunette wearing an innocuous dark baseball cap.
“Good,” Eric said. “You kept your head down and to the side. “Excellent. Be sure not to wear that sweater when the temperature is warm though. It makes you stand out. If you are cold, wear the gray hoodie. That style is more common.”
Sookie nodded. “Okay.” She didn’t tell Eric that she had worn the sweater only in order to breathe in his scent, which clung to the garment like a second skin.
They continued watching as Sookie came back to the car and quickly got in. She pulled out of the parking space just as Eric had instructed so that the license plate was not picked up.
“Regardless, I will change to a Texas license plate later tonight,” he commented.
Sookie nodded as he changed the feed to show the single camera from inside the little café. It showed a side view of the counter. Again, estimating her time of arrival, he quickly found Sookie on the feed.
Eric smiled, pleased by what he saw when she entered the café.
“You saw the camera?” he asked.
“No,” she responded. “But I guessed where one would be if they had one.”
“You have good instincts,” he commented as he studied the way that Sookie had kept the camera from getting a good image of her, even as she interacted with the cashier in a friendly manner.
“Thanks,” Sookie smiled proudly as she watched her image. “You’re right about the sweater. Everyone else is in a T-shirt.”
“It is a little thing, Sookie. Do not concern yourself with it.”
He sat back down next to her and closed his laptop. “Tomorrow, we will be beyond Brady’s scouting, so you will have to find your own places to stop.”
“Okay,” she said a little nervously.
Stifling his desire to kiss her forehead to comfort her, Eric gave Sookie a little smile. “Do not worry. You did well, and you will do even better tomorrow.”
“Now,” he said as he packed up the laptop, “tell me of the humans you can hear. Start with the house next door to our right.” He pointed in the direction he wanted her to listen in first. “And try to target just in that direction—if you can.”
Sookie nodded and then stretched out her telepathy. She closed her eyes. “There are two people inside. They are both thinking about a movie they’re watching. The wife is thinking about how handsome one of the actors is, and the husband is thankful that his wife chose a war movie to watch instead of a chick flick.”
Eric chuckled. “Good. How about the house beyond that?”
She concentrated and tried to expand her range. “Uh—I can’t be sure, but I don’t think there is anyone there.”
“You’re right,” Eric said, causing Sookie’s eyes to pop open.
“How can you know?”
“I have a very acute sense of smell,” he said. “Like flight, it is one of my vampire gifts. None know of it now, except for you. Godric knew, but he is gone.”
“What about Pam?”
“She knows my sense of smell is strong, but she doesn’t know it is beyond what a normal thousand-year-old would have.”
“Thanks,” Sookie said.
“Trusting me with that information,” she said.
He couldn’t stop himself from resting his hand on one of her knees. “We will eventually have no secrets from each other, little one. That is inevitable.”
“Can your gift go beyond that house?”
Sookie closed her eyes. “In the third house over, a teenager is babysitting an infant. She’s trying to decide what color to paint her toenails.” She took a deep breath. “I can tell there’s someone in the fourth house over, but his thoughts are fuzzy—not like a Were’s thoughts, but just not quite in my range.”
“Try on the other side of us.”
Sookie nodded, and then continued to tell Eric of the thoughts she heard from the people living all around the safe house.
“Good,” Eric said after she’d pushed the range of her telepathy to its limits. “We will practice each night.” He smiled. “Plus, as a bonus, your telepathy will help me to know whom to glamour to run our errands for us. Go ahead and write down any food items you need for the next few days. I assume the cooler kept things from spoiling?”
“Yeah—those re-freezable blue blocks kept things nice and cold,” she responded. “I have them in the freezer getting them ready for tomorrow.”
“Good,” Eric said again. “I will return in a moment.” The vampire pulled his hand from Sookie’s knee and went to unload the car. He put most of the things in the garage and then brought in his bag. He could have left the other things in the vehicle, but he didn’t want to chance them being lost if something unforeseeable such as a car accident occurred while the human he planned to glamour was getting gasoline. He took his bag directly to the basement where he found his small, light-tight room. He would not be resting there for the day, but he would shower and change there.
When Eric got back to the kitchen, Sookie was doing the few dishes she’d used. “Why do you have things like pots and pans in your safe houses?” she asked as she wiped the counter.
“The more it seems like a human could live here, the better.”
“But don’t the neighbors know there’s no one living here?”
“No,” he smirked. “This home is officially owned by the couple next door, though they have been glamoured to forget that. Their names are Mike and Diane Aldridge.”
“Huh?” she asked. “You don’t own this house?”
He shook his head. “No—though I did pay for it. When I buy a new residence for one of my escape routes, I glamour a human to do it,” he responded. “I have to visit in order to initiate the purchase, and then I must return in order to be invited inside the home. The Aldridges have also been glamoured to tell others around this neighborhood that the person who lives here—a man named Jacob Brown—likes to keep to himself and travels a lot. The lights are on a timing system and turn on and off at various times throughout the month. And Diane is glamoured to clean this home every other month, while Mike oversees the yard. In return, I send them a money order from “Jacob Brown” each year which more than covers their expenses, time, the house’s bills and the property taxes. I have similar arrangements for most of the residences we’ll be using. In fact, all of them—except for the one where we’ll stay in California—were bought before the Great Revelation, so I thought it best to place human items in them.”
Sookie shook her head a little. “It all sounds really complicated and must be time-consuming to pull together.”
Eric smiled. “Sometimes it is. However, Godric taught me the value of having an escape route.” He paused. “When I was a young vampire—probably a hundred or so—an enemy of Godric’s hunted us down. It was then that I came to understand the use of having a well-thought-out plan to follow if need be. Godric and I hid and bided our time until his enemy—who was quite a bit older than Godric—let his guard down. And then we struck. When I separated from my maker, I always made sure to have my own route in place, and I try to update things every five years or so, especially the security of the residences. Pam had another route to follow—as I told you before.”
“Yeah—but she gets to stay with Elvis,” she pouted a little.
“Bubba,” Eric corrected.
Sookie nodded as she recalled what Eric had told her about Elvis’s transformation. “Well,” she said, “at least, all of your places have coffee makers.”
Eric chuckled. “Indeed—that is one of the things that humans always seem to have in their homes; however, as I said, our last destination will require that we get furniture and supplies. In fact, I thought that you might enjoy furnishing it.”
“Me?” she asked with surprise.
“Yes. You can order most things online so that they arrive the evening after we arrive. I will glamour the deliverymen so that they do not remember us. You can get anything you want. I will draw you a layout of the house so that you can begin shopping as we get closer.”
She smiled a little. “That actually sounds fun.”
“Good,” he remarked, picking up the short list she’d made for the grocery store. “Check on the person across the street again for me?” he requested.
She stretched out her telepathy. “He’s still alone and watching the baseball ballgame.”
Eric quickly opened the door to the garage. “Come,” he said, reaching out his hand. Sookie, who had just dried her hands, took his. He led them out of the house through the garage and inhaled deeply to make sure no one was around before picking her up into his arms and flying them swiftly across the street.
She gasped and her fear rose as they were in the air.
“I have you, little one,” Eric assured before landing and setting her softly onto her feet. “You know what to do?” he asked in a whisper.
She nodded, steeled her resolve, and went up to the front door. She rang the doorbell and stepped back. About thirty seconds later, a man opened the door.
“Can I help ya?” he asked.
Within the next instant, Eric had zipped in front of Sookie, and had captured the man’s eyes.
“Invite us in,” Eric said.
“Would y’all please come in?” the man said in a deep Texas accent.
Eric and Sookie quickly went inside. The vampire immediately began to speak. “Are you expecting anyone to come here during the next two hours?”
“No,” the man answered, with the glazed-over expression that Sookie associated with glamour. “My wife works the night shift at the hospital. She won’t be home till 4:00 a.m.”
“Good. You will take these keys,” Eric said, handing the man a spare set of keys for the Prius, “and walk across the street. There is a car in the garage, and you will drive the car to the nearest gas station to fill it up. After that, you will go to a nearby grocery store and get these items.” He handed over Sookie’s short grocery list. “If you see someone you know and they ask you about the vehicle, you will say that your own car is in the shop, and you are borrowing a friend’s car. You will not recall us and will believe that this errand is for you and your wife.”
The man nodded again as Eric handed him enough cash to cover the purchases.
“After your errands, you will return the car to the garage across the street, leave the keys and items you purchased inside of it, and return here. You will not remember that you had visitors or that you left your house tonight.”
The man nodded mindlessly and then walked out of the front door. Eric waited until the man had pulled the car out of the garage before he grabbed Sookie’s hand again. He made sure that the front door of the man’s house was unlocked before quickly flying Sookie back across the street and into the safe house. He quickly closed the garage door. He would open it again when he heard the car approaching.
Sookie breathed out a big sigh of relief.
Eric squeezed her hand before dropping it.
“Is that how you always do stuff like that?” she asked with a little awe in her voice.
“Only when I don’t want to be seen—though it is easier with you along,” he chuckled.
“How so?” she asked.
“As I indicated before, with your telepathy, you can help me to make sure that I choose the best human for the job. And your presence at the door at night is much less threatening than my own.” He winked at her.
She giggled. “Well—it is good to be of use.”
“You are,” he said smiling sincerely. “You know—if I had to be stuck in a Fae bond, I am glad it is with you,” he said, remembering her words from that morning when she’d thought that he was dead for the day.
She felt her lips rise into a little smile. “I’m glad it’s you too, Eric.”
“I saw that you were reading the book Niall left you,” he said breaking them out of the tender moment. “Did you learn anything?”
She sighed. “Not much yet, but I read for only a little while. It was talking about how the light I can shoot from my hands is connected to my spark, which seems to be connected to my emotions. I guess that’s why I’ve been able to use it only when I’ve been scared or mad. But the book also said that I could learn how to control the light without my emotions.”
Eric nodded. “Good. You should read as much of it as you can during the next week, and we will soon be in secluded places where you can practice your gift too.”
“Is there something happening in a week?” she asked.
“Yes,” Eric nodded. “Your great-grandfather will likely not be back in this realm for a while, and I get the impression that he has cut off all ties with you since you are,” he paused, “bonded to a vampire.”
Sookie’s face fell. “I guess I already knew that—or guessed it.”
“I’m sorry. I know you treasure your family,” Eric said softly.
“Niall’s not my family,” Sookie said quickly. “Jason is. Tara and Lafayette are. And you.”
The vampire smiled a little and nodded in acknowledgment of her words. “Your cousin, Claudine will also be leaving this realm—as Niall no longer feels she can protect you with me around.” He scoffed, “Niall seems to forget the fact that I cannot protect you during the day and that your cousin could help you then.”
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” she said sadly.
Eric wanted to take her hand again, but refrained. “After meeting your great-grandfather, I’m not either. But you will meet your cousin Claudine for one day next week.”
Sookie’s eyebrows raised in question.
“I negotiated an agreement with Niall. Claudine will be meeting you during the day in six days’ time. She will come at sunrise and stay until sunset. During that day, you can train with her and ask any questions that you have about your fairy family. She may be instructed not to answer some things, however.”
“So I’ll get to meet Claudine?” Sookie asked with a mixture of surprise and hope in her voice.
“Yes,” Eric responded. “I suggest that you learn what you can from the book Niall gave you so that your time with her will be better spent. I will make sure that we are in a secluded place for your meeting. It will add a bit of time to our trip to California, but I think it will be worthwhile.”
Sookie smiled at the prospect of meeting another member of her family. “I just hope she’s not like Niall.”
“Me too,” Eric smiled.
“Thanks,” Sookie said sincerely, reaching out unconsciously to take his hand.
Eric smiled and brought her hand to his lips. “It will be good for both of us if you learn to master your light.”
She nodded in agreement.
“On another topic, there are also some things concerning Hunter that I have arranged.”
She tensed a little.
“I believe you will approve,” he said comfortingly, squeezing her hand. “The night you were taken, I arranged with Mr. Cataliades to find the boy. And Niall agreed last night to pass along Hunter’s last known address to Cataliades.”
“Okay,” Sookie said. “What about after he’s found? I mean—I assume we can’t make direct contact with him.”
“No,” Eric said regretfully, “at least not until the Russell problem has been solved, but I have made arrangements regarding him nonetheless.”
“What arrangements?” she asked.
“Just a moment,” Eric said as he quickly zipped from the kitchen to the garage, opening the garage door. The vampire stayed in the shadows as the man from across the street drove the car into the garage and parked. The man quickly exited the vehicle and then walked out of the garage and across the street. Once he was inside his own home, Eric lowered the garage door.”
The vampire took the two bags of groceries out of the car as well as the extra keys out of the ignition before going into the kitchen where Sookie was waiting.
“Can you read his thoughts?” Eric requested.
“I already did,” Sookie responded. “He’s returned to watching the game on television, and nothing seems out of the ordinary to him. He thinks that he must have dosed off for a while.”
Eric nodded and placed the groceries on the counter. “I will do a quick scan of the area while you put these away, and then we can talk more about Hunter. Shall we meet in the living room in ten minutes?”
Sookie nodded and then put away the perishable groceries while Eric went out into the backyard. He flew in a carefully constructed pattern around the neighborhood in order to make sure that there was nothing amiss. On his earlier sweep, he’d already determined that the faint Were scent he’d picked up on was nothing to be concerned about. Then he returned to the garage to quickly change the license plate on the Prius.
Meanwhile, after putting away the groceries, Sookie decided to get comfortable by changing into her nightgown. She paused momentarily before doing this, but Eric had seen her in her sleeping garment so many times that it didn’t make a difference. She grabbed the quilt she’d brought from Slidell since there were no throw blankets in the living room and the house was cool due to the air conditioning she’d turned on when they arrived.
When she got to the living room, Eric was already sitting on one end of the couch.
“You brought the quilt from Slidell,” he observed.
“Yeah—uh—Gran always said you should have a blanket in the car,” she stammered.
Eric nodded and gestured toward the other end of the long couch.
She got herself comfortable.
“So—concerning Hunter,” he began again. “After finding him, Mr. Cataliades will have someone make an assessment of the father. If he is found to be of adequate nature to care for a telepath, he will be approached by an acquaintance of Mr. Cataliades who teaches demon children who are telepaths. The teacher, Finola, is half demon and will stay with or near Hunter until he is trained adequately.”
“What about if Hunter’s dad isn’t . . . .” She stopped midsentence. “What if his dad is like my mom was?”
“If that is the case, Mr. Cataliades will arrange for guardians for the boy—Weres or demons since he’d have a harder time reading their thoughts. Finola will still train him. There is also to be a trust set up for Hunter. He will be taken care of financially—no matter what happens to us—and Cataliades will do what he can to make sure Hunter’s telepathy remains a secret.”
Sookie looked at Eric with wonder. “You did all this? When?”
“The night you disappeared,” he answered quietly.
“Before you learned of the Fae bond,” she said with a bit of resignation in her tone.
“If you want to take it away, I’ll understand,” she said evenly. “It sounds like all this will cost a lot of money, and I don’t know how I could ever repay you.”
“I have more money than even Pam could spend,” Eric answered evenly. “Plus—we are together now, and your concerns are my concerns.”
She inhaled deeply. “I don’t know how to thank you—not just for this with Hunter, but for the way you haven’t blamed me for what’s happened.”
“You will never have to thank me for anything,” he said, his eyes boring into her.
Sookie caught her breath. It seemed as if he were looking right into her soul.
“We have one more thing to discuss, and then you should get some sleep,” he continued quietly. “Tomorrow, we will leave here around dawn. I will wake you an hour before we go so that you can eat your morning meal and so that we can discuss tomorrow’s route before I get into the enclosure in the car.”
She nodded and they were silent for a few minutes.
“Okay. What else do you want to discuss?” Sookie finally asked.
“Forming a vampire bond,” he responded.