In the dead of night, there was very little traffic, so Eric let his mind travel back to 24 hours before.
So that Sookie could get some sleep, Eric had driven them from Taos to his safe house in Gallup, where he and Sookie had spent a few glorious hours. There, they’d had sex—no, they’d made love—and then he’d held her close as she’d rested for her upcoming drive. About twenty minutes before dawn, he’d climbed into his coffin in the Prius, and they’d taken off in the predawn hours. Sunrise was at 7:09 a.m., but he’d stayed awake for a few minutes after that, enjoying the sound of Sookie’s voice in the Bluetooth.
Yes—the night before and that morning had gone exactly as planned. But things went to hell when Sookie succumbed to the demands of her human bladder and stopped at a small café in Kingman, Arizona. She’d chosen a perfect place to stop, having absorbed all of the lessons he’d taught her about concealing her identity while she was “on the run.”
Indeed, she’d done everything right; however, things had gone horribly wrong for her.
[FLASHBACK: 12:06 P.M., EARLIER THAT DAY]
Eric was rocked out of his sleep a little after noon according to his internal clock. He immediately felt Sookie’s stress along with the pain of the liquid silver shooting into his body.
“Eric?” Sookie whispered desperately into the Bluetooth. “Eric?”
Hearing the panic in her voice, the Viking put aside his pain. Instinctively, he inhaled deeply, gauging his surroundings; there was a Werewolf very close to the car—probably only twenty or so feet away.
“I’m here,” he answered Sookie. “What is wrong?”
“We’re at a café outside of Kingman, Arizona. I was in here using the bathroom and getting coffee when I heard a Were brain outside. At first, he didn’t seem dangerous. He was just thinking about whether to get a piece of pie while he was waiting for the people he was gonna meet here.” She was breathing hard and talking very fast. “But then he started thinking about who he was meeting.”
“Who?” Eric asked. He was closely monitoring the scent of the Were, hyperaware of the fact that Octavia’s potion wouldn’t cover his own scent if the Were got to within ten feet of him.
Sookie took a deep, shaky breath. “Felipe is coming to visit King Sampson tonight. Sampson has a ranch nearby, and the Weres meeting the one that’s here are some of Felipe’s guards. They are going to discuss security. I heard him—his name’s Ray, by the way—thinking this while I was at the counter, paying for my coffee. The problem was that he was waiting right outside the door, smoking a cigarette. I figured I could just wait inside and be inconspicuous until he came in; then I planned to slip out. But then Ray decided to skip the damned pie!” she said with exasperation. “He decided to wait for Felipe’s people outside so that he could keeping smoking.” She paused. “Eric, that’s when I really fucked up.”
“What happened?” the vampire asked as the Were, Ray, drew nearer to the car, his pace of approach now deliberate. Eric was certain that Ray was now in range and could smell him.
“I figured that I should just leave the café as inconspicuously as possible and go to the car,” Sookie whispered, “before the others got here. So I tried to be casual. I took my coffee and started for the car, but the idiot Were likes redheads, so he noticed me. And that was when I saw a picture of me in his head.”
“What do you mean—a picture of you?” Eric asked.
Sookie let out another haggard breath. “In his truck, Ray has a poster with our pictures on it. It lists my height, weight, eye color—everything! It says I’m telepathic. And it even describes my scent! He’s been,” she cringed, “giving himself physical pleasure while looking at my picture.”
Sookie went on. “Ray’s first thought when he saw me was that it was ME—Sookie Stackhouse—only better because I was a redhead. But then he recalled that the girl in the picture he has is dead. And it’s only the vampire in the poster that they’re still looking for. He was disappointed, but then he decided that he was gonna approach me anyway—if only to—uh—have some fun with me. Ray reckoned that he’d be able to do whatever he wanted with me ’cause the owners here are scared of the biker group he belongs to. They don’t know they’re Weres, but they do know they’re bad news. Ray figured that all he had to do was get me to his truck where he’s got chloroform and some of that date rape drug in the glove compartment. He was gonna force me to take some of it and then use the chloroform to knock me out. You see—he’s done stuff like this to other women too! Once I was unconscious, he was just gonna go on with his meeting; he planned to ‘play’ with me after it was over,” Sookie added with fear and disgust. “And then he’d dump me in the woods a few miles from here. Apparently, between the chloroform and the date rape drug, the girls he’s done this to before don’t remember a thing about what’s happened to them! And—since most of them are just passing through and are traveling by themselves—they just get into their cars and move on!”
Again, the vampire growled.
“After hearing this from Ray’s thoughts—seeing what he wanted to do with me—I turned around and came back into the café,” Sookie continued. “But my coming back inside made him suspicious of me again. He started to wonder if I actually could be the ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ they’d originally been told to look for. With that in mind, he decided not to come into the café after me; he figured that—if I really was a telepath—I would be able to know what he was thinkin’ and maybe sneak out. He decided it would be best to find my car and wait next to it in order to make sure I can’t get to it. Then—when the others get here—he thinks they can surround me and get me.”
“Sookie calm down. It’s okay,” Eric said when it sounded like Sookie might hyperventilate from her fear and from speaking too quickly to breathe properly. “Take a breath, min älskade.”
He heard her take a deep breath. “It didn’t take Ray long to figure out which car was ours. He noticed that its proportions were a little ‘off.’ And now that he’s realized that a vampire is inside of it, he’s really thinking it’s us! What should I do? If I zap him, I’ll draw all kinds of attention to myself! But if I don’t, I’ll be a sitting duck when the others get here.” She took another deep breath. “I don’t know what to do, Eric! I had to wake you up!
“It’s okay. I’m glad you woke me, min älskade. Where are you now?” Eric asked.
“In the bathroom,” she responded. “Locked in.”
The vampire inhaled deeply. “The Were is right next to the car now. You are covering your scent fully—correct?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“And you put on some of Octavia’s potion too?” he asked.
“Yes—to cover the scent of my things,” she confirmed.
“Good. What is the Were thinking now?” the vampire asked.
“His brain is still churning with the picture of me; he’s wondering what I smell like. He’s wondering what kind of reward he’ll get if we turn out to be us. He hopes that I’ll be the reward.”
Knowing he needed to stay calm for his bonded, Eric held in his growl this time. “It’s going to be okay, Sookie,” he soothed. “Just let me think for a moment.”
“Shit!” she cried.
“What is it?”
“I can hear Ray’s thoughts plain as day, and he’s thinking that he and the other Weres should take the car to King Sampson’s home and cover it with silver netting! Eric. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do! It’s all my fault that I was spotted, and now you’re in danger!”
“It is okay, Sookie.” He heard her beginning to sob more uncontrollably. “Sookie!” he said sharply, almost harshly.
“Yes?” she whimpered.
“I need you to be strong right now. I need you, min älskade. You have done nothing wrong. And you need to hold yourself together until we can get out of this. You can fall apart later, Sookie. I swear that you can fall apart when we are safe.”
Through the tie, Eric could feel her building her resolve. He was proud of her—more proud than he’d ever been of anyone. And more frightened than he’d ever been in his long life—frightened for her.
“Okay,” she said. He could hear the scraping of her feet and knew that she was rising.
“Sookie,” he said softly. “When we talked about your scent the other day, you mentioned that you’d been working on scent manipulation with Leonie and Claudine, but you didn’t go into specifics. Can you alter your scent or just enhance it?”
He heard Sookie exhale deeply. “I can manipulate it a little. If I get an imprint from another fairy, I am able to replicate the other fairy’s scent for a few minutes before my own scent comes through. But I can do it only with a fairy and only for a little while, so I didn’t think it would be very useful to us.”
“Sookie, did you get an imprint of Leonie’s scent?”
“Yeah. I practiced with both her and Claudine’s scents.”
“Good. I need you to do exactly as I say. Can you do that?”
She didn’t answer, but Eric could feel her resolve, and the slight whishing of her hair told him that she was nodding in affirmation.
“Good girl,” he said. “First, I need you to wipe down the bathroom—any place you touched, including the outer doorknob. Do that part first.”
“Wipe down?” she asked.
“Yes. Wet a paper towel and then wash the surfaces you may have touched. You are trying to remove fingerprints.”
“Okay,” Sookie said.
Eric heard the sound of water running as she began her task.
“Is there a camera in the café?” Eric asked, ready to dial Brady if there was.
“No. I didn’t see one,” Sookie said. “It’s a busy café, but it’s not that big; it’s owned by a family—not the kind of place that usually has a camera.”
“We need to be sure,” Eric instructed. “I need you to use the fairy kind of telepathy—like you practiced on Elina. I need you to find the manager of the café and go into his head. You need to confirm that there’s not a camera.”
Eric heard Sookie inhale and exhale several times. He could feel her intense concentration; he could also feel the effort she was exerting, for this kind of telepathic exercise was new to her.
“There’s not a camera,” she said after a couple of minutes. “Eric,” she said in a panic, “the Were!”
“I know. I heard the call he made, Sookie,” the vampire said. While Sookie had been rifling through the manager’s head, the Were had called the others he was meeting. He’d relayed the license plate number of the car Eric was in and had told them about the situation, though he’d—thankfully—not mentioned that he thought that the woman inside might be the supposedly dead girl on the poster. Eric hoped that Ray would keep this theory to himself—lest the others think he was letting his imagination get the best of him. More likely, however, Ray was just waiting until he saw the other Weres to give them that information. Ray had finished the call by asking the others for their estimated time of arrival. Eric had not been able to hear their answer. “How long?” he asked Sookie.
“Five minutes until they get here,” Sookie said, even as her body shook. “They told Ray to stay put where he was.”
“Okay,” Eric said. “You’re doing great. I need you to keep a tight rein on your own scent, even as you wash off Octavia’s potion. Then I need you to take on Leonie’s scent. Amp it up, min älskade—as much as you can. The Were and I need to be able to smell it all the way out here.”
Eric immediately heard the water turn on and thirty seconds later, he smelled an exquisite scent—totally fairy and completely unlike Sookie’s scent.
“Good,” Eric said. “I can smell you. Now—when I tell you to do it, I need you to pop into this car.”
“Eric, I don’t know if I can be that accurate with where I end up,” she said nervously. “And I’ve never carried anything other than my clothes. I have my purse and keys with me.”
“You will do it,” Eric said confidently. “Those things are small, no different than the clothes on your back. Get ready. And bring the coffee you got if you can. It may have your prints and DNA on it.”
“Eric—I’m scared. The Were is right next to the car.”
“I know,” Eric said. “Just a moment or two longer, and he will smell you.”
Eric’s hands were balled into fists as he, too, waited. The Were was slightly upwind from where Eric lay. However, the Viking knew that the scent Sookie was projecting would hit him soon—despite the fact that he’d just lit another cigarette.
“He’s trying to call someone else,” Sookie whispered. “His packmaster. But it’s gone to voicemail. He’s told the machine that he might need back-up. Now, he’s hung up and is trying another number.”
“What are his thoughts?” Eric asked.
“He’s thinking—over and over—about how I look like the girl on the poster. He’s wondering if you are the vampire in the car. He’s wondering if the girl in the picture has a twin sister. He’s wondering again if he will be allowed to keep me as a prize. He wants to—uh—do things to me.” Her voice trailed off.
Eric growled, low and visceral. “He will not touch you, min älskade. I swear it.”
“Eric,” she whispered, “he’s picked up my scent. He doesn’t know what it is for sure. But he’s being drawn inside. He’s coming.”
Eric monitored the Were carefully as the creature moved toward his bonded.
The vampire wanted to tear the Were limb from limb, but he was trapped in the car by the sun. Once the Were was twenty feet from where Sookie was hiding in the restroom, he spoke. “Now, Sookie. Come to me now.”
“Eric, I’m trying,” Sookie said into the Bluetooth. “I’m trying and nothing is happening. Oh God, he’s at the door, twisting the knob,” she said in a whisper.
“Turn off the scent,” Eric said. If Ray got to Sookie, the vampire didn’t want the Were to be in a frenzy.
“Eric,” Sookie said in a shaky, barely audible whisper. “The Were.”
Eric heard a raised voice and loud knocking from the Were, who was now threatening to kick in the door. He could also tell that humans had been disturbed by the Were’s loud banging and were rushing to him. The vampire hoped that would buy them some time.
“Sookie,” Eric said as gently as he could, “come to my side. Think of me—only me. Think of our bond. Can you feel it?”
“Yes,” she said.
Eric could feel her fear as if it were his own.
“You ran to me in the Dallas church, Sookie. You took those silver chains off of me. Come to me again, min älskade.”
In the next moment, Eric heard a popping noise. He felt through the tie that she was in the driver’s seat. He heard her breathing even though he couldn’t smell her.
“Drive, Sookie,” he said into the Bluetooth.
“Okay,” she responded, though panting and obviously tired because of teleporting.
“Get on Interstate 40 and go east,” he instructed. “De Castro’s people will be coming from the west.”
“Okay,” she said, this time a little louder. “Eric, I . . . .”
He could feel her guilt rising.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, min älskade,” he said, interrupting her. “You were perfect. You chose the perfect place to stop. You did right in trying to leave as you did. And then you used your gifts perfectly—your telepathy, your scent control, and your teleporting. You did everything right, Sookie, and we’re going to be fine,” he added firmly.
She was breathing more steadily now, and the intense fear was beginning to leave her. “Will you go back to sleep now?” she asked.
“Min älskade,” he started cautiously, “they have our license plate number and will be looking for you.”
Immediately, her fear ratcheted back up.
“We will be fine,” Eric reiterated. “I am already planning what’s to be done. I’m going to call Leonie for help. I want you to keep heading east until you get to Highway 93. Then go south. That highway will take us to Phoenix. If Felipe is visiting, then Sampson will likely have most of his people in the north today, so we’ll go south.”
“Okay,” Sookie said.
“It will be okay. I’ll be talking to Leonie for a few minutes, but I will leave on the Bluetooth so that you can hear my end of things. Keep your telepathy stretched out as far as you can, and tell me if you pick up anyone following us.”
“Okay,” Sookie whimpered a little.
“We will be fine, min älskade.”
“You keep calling me that. What does it mean?”
“What?” he asked.
“Min älskare?” he asked.
“No—with a ‘d,’ I think.”
Eric hadn’t even been conscious that he’d been calling her that and wondered if she could be mistaking the pronunciation. Min älskade meant my beloved one. It meant that he loved her. He’d called her his lover before, but the word for that in Swedish was älskare.
“What does it mean?” she asked again.
“It means that you are my woman, Sookie,” he responded intensely, not able to tell her what it really meant—not able to say it out loud—still wondering if he felt it.
Sookie didn’t say anything at his words, but he felt a little surge of happiness from her, even through her nerves.
In turn, he felt his own pang of happiness too. When he’d heard her say that she belonged to Bill the first night he met her, he’d hated the thought of her belonging to anyone at all—hated the thought of her being tethered. Now he knew that he hated the thought of her belonging to anyone—other than him. And he also knew that he would never tether her.
Eric took out his phone and dialed the number Leonie had given to him. He’d already committed it to memory.
“Hello?” came a chipper female voice.
“It is Northman,” Eric said.
Immediately, the fairy’s tone changed. “It is the day. What has happened?”
Eric explained the situation to Leonie, even as he felt Sookie get off the Interstate and head south.
“Eric!” Sookie exclaimed, as soon as they were on the other highway.
“What is it, Sookie?” the vampire asked, pausing in his conversation with Leonie.
“When I turned off, I heard them. They know this is the car from the café, and they are following me. They just weren’t close enough for me to hear until we exited the Interstate!”
Eric inhaled deeply. He couldn’t smell them, so he knew that they must be staying pretty far back, though being in his car coffin and struggling to stay awake certainly impeded his range.
“Can you hear them now?” he asked.
“No. There is a part-human with them,” Sookie responded. “That’s the only one I heard, but now he’s too far away again.”
“What can you tell me?”
“They have been told to follow, but not be seen. Ray is catching up, and others from his pack want to catch up too. There are a few ahead of us, and they intend to join the others in following me until I have to stop. Then they are going to surround me and take the car.”
“How much gas is in the car?” he asked.
“About half a tank—a little under half a tank.”
“So we have some time, min älskade. Just keep driving—okay?” This time he registered it as he spoke the endearment; again, he’d not intended to say it, but there is was—like a beacon to his unconscious mind.
“Okay,” he said, before returning to his conversation with Leonie. “We will definitely be needing your aid now. Can you teleport to Sookie?”
“No,” the elder fairy answered, the concern thick in her tone. She’d obviously picked up on what was now happening through the Bluetooth conversation he’d had with Sookie. Eric made a mental note never to say anything he wanted to conceal when a fairy was nearby. Their hearing likely surpassed even his own.
Leonie continued. “I am not skilled in teleporting to people I have known—just to places. Claudine was able to find Sookie and teleport to her because she is a strong empath, which means her teleportation skills are maximized when it comes to people she shares a blood connection with. Neither mine nor Claude’s empathy is that strong.”
“Can we get Claudine here?”
“Not in time,” Leonie said. “The time difference has swung even farther. Right now, a few seconds there is months here. So even if I could pop to Faerie and go right to Claudine, it wouldn’t help.”
“How, specifically, do your teleportation skills work?” Eric asked. “If I give you a place, can you teleport there?”
“No. Most fairies can teleport only to where they have physically been before—somewhere that they have ‘imprinted’ themselves onto. Or we can be taken to a location by another. Wait a moment!” she exclaimed as she seemed to get an idea. Eric could make out muffled voices in the background, but couldn’t make out the language being spoken. “You are in Arizona—right?” her voice came back.
“Yes. We are heading toward Phoenix.”
Leonie spoke with someone else again—again in the fairy language. “Claude lives outside of Palm Springs part of the time. He has a home to the east of the city and a fast car. He can teleport us there, and we can be in Phoenix in three and a half hours. There is a small airport in Palm Springs, but making flight arrangements would take even longer than driving.”
“We are less than three hours away from Phoenix,” Eric said.
“Then slow down. Call me again in half an hour with the plan. We’ll be on our way to you by then.” Leonie disconnected the call.
“Sookie,” Eric said, “slow down.”
“Huh?” she asked.
“Drive seven miles under the speed limit,” he said, doing some quick math in his head.
“Um, okay,” Sookie said. “But won’t they get suspicious?”
“Maybe,” Eric said, “but slow down anyway. Just keep yourself open to their thoughts and let me know if their plans change.”
“Eric?” she asked.
“Sookie?” he returned, trying to keep his tone light.
“What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to stall.”