“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”—Vince Lombardi
“Are you secure behind the supplies?” Eric asked Sookie moments after she’d ‘popped’ out of the car.
“Yes,” she whispered.
He heard quite a few vehicle doors opening and slamming, and he smelled the odors of eleven different creatures, most of them werewolves, though the Weretiger was among them.
“They parked a little away from the car,” Sookie whispered into the Bluetooth—too far away to be picking up your scent yet. They think I am ducked down in the car; even with their enhanced vision, they can’t see much through the tinted windows.”
“Good,” Eric returned. “You are far enough away so that they cannot hear you speaking?” he asked.
“They can’t hear me,” she confirmed. “I’m on the other side of the garage, but I can see their cars and our car. They are crouched behind their vehicles making a plan.”
“The one in charge is named Quinn,” she said.
“He is the Weretiger?” Eric asked for confirmation. There were few Weretigers left in the world, and he’d heard of John Quinn, who used to be unbeatable in the fighting pits in Nevada.
“Yes. He is de Castro’s head of Were security, so the others are letting him take the lead. Plus,” she paused,” they are intimidated by him. I haven’t been able to fully see him yet, but in the minds of the others, he’s huge.”
“Keep listening,” Eric said. “And tell me when they have a plan.”
There was a minute or two of silence.
“They are going to circle the car and break in,” Sookie said desperately.
Eric heard several banging sounds as if the lids of the cargo spaces of the other vehicles had been opened and then shut.
“They have crowbars and one has a gun,” Sookie said. “Quinn just told that guy from the café, Ray, that he could—uh—have me—uh . . . .” She stopped and let out a little sob.
“What is it, min älskade?”
“Quinn said that Ray could have me first. Oh God, Eric! Some of them are planning to—rape me,” she stammered, her fear causing her voice to quiver. “They have never seen a fairy before, but they want to—try—me before the vampires rise.”
Eric’s growl was low as Sookie continued. “They are joking that it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission from the vampires, which is why they plan to do it now. They are afraid that their chance to have a fairy will be lost after the vampires rise for the night. From their minds I can tell that only three of them don’t plan to join in. Two of the Weres think it’s wrong to violate a woman, but are afraid to go against the ‘mob mentality.’ Quinn isn’t planning to join in either. Oh God,” she said, “his own mother was gang-raped. But he is thinking about how rabid the wolves in the group are after such a long pursuit. And to keep control of them, he has agreed to let them do whatever they want to me—as long as I’m not permanently damaged.”
“That will not happen, Sookie,” Eric said in a low voice. A dangerous voice. “You will stay hidden no matter what. They will not find you.”
He received another text from Leonie. They’d just gotten off the freeway. From there, it had taken Sookie and him six minutes to get to the parking garage.
As the Weres closed in on the Prius, Eric said another quick prayer for his bonded, this time praying to Odin, the All-father.
All at once, the car was under attack from all sides as metal hit metal.
“Where the fuck is she?” one of the Werewolves yelled.
“I don’t see her in the car,” another shouted. “Did she have time to escape before y’all got here?”
“No!” came another voice. “We pulled in not thirty seconds after her, and I’m positive I saw her moving in there—looking around. Then she ducked down. So she’s gotta be in here.”
“Are you certain she smelled of fairy?” Quinn asked Ray.
“I’ve told you a thousand times—yes!” Ray responded with a snarl. “I know fairy!”
Eric committed both of their voices to his memory. And he committed the smells of every single one of the Weres to his memory too. They would die at his hands—no matter how long it took or how far he would need to track them.
John Quinn could smell the vampire in the car now that he was practically on top of it. His sense of smell was usually much more acute, but there was something else in the air as well—magic.
Quinn examined the vehicle and then the Werewolves surrounding it. All of them had been worked into a frenzy during their pursuit across Arizona. It had been Quinn’s idea to simply follow the woman in the suspicious car until she was forced to stop, which had been only a matter of time. He’d wanted to give the vampires time to awaken for the night. He’d figured that that was the only way the woman could remain “unsoiled.”
But that wasn’t possible now.
He’d been surprised when the woman had pulled into the parking garage. And now he felt unease, his senses telling him that the location of their stop had been premeditated by their quarry—that they might have fallen for some kind of ambush. Despite the fact that they were in the middle of Phoenix, they were alone. The parking garage’s basement level had clearly been shut down for the day.
“I don’t fucking see her!” Ray snarled, his eyes turning yellow with unquenched desire.
Quinn nodded in the direction of the surly-looking Werewolf. Ray had been the one who had first seen the woman, the one who had put out an alert that he’d seen someone who looked a lot like the woman they’d all been searching for a few weeks before: one Sookie Stackhouse. However, according to Ray, the woman had been a redhead and appeared a little older than the age that had been given to them for Miss Stackhouse. Quinn had tried to get a look at the woman once he’d caught up to the little convoy following her, but the side windows of the Prius were too tinted for that.
Now, he peered into the windshield, which was much less tinted, but he saw no one. The other Weres in his group were also looking baffled.
Quinn motioned toward one of the Weres to use his crowbar to break the glass of the hatchback. The first strike of the crowbar didn’t shatter the glass, and the Werewolves got even more riled up because of that. The Weretiger wished that he could have picked a more controlled team.
Hundreds of miles before, they had made clear their desire to have their way with the woman. And even though Quinn thought that was detestable on a personal level—due to what had happened to his mom—he knew well what the supernatural world was like. The fact that Quinn hated it didn’t matter; he was a part of it—a big part, given his place in de Castro’s regime.
“Goddammit!” one of the Weres yelled. “This goddamned glass won’t shatter!”
“Give it to me!” insisted Ray. Swinging as hard as he could, the Were broke through the glass and opened the hatchback using the inner latch. Immediately some of the Werewolves began trying to break into the encasement which held the vampire. Others crawled into the backseat of the vehicle, looking for the girl.
“Where is she?” Ray yelled.
Quinn growled and peered closer into the car. “Fan out!” the Weretiger ordered. “Find her! We’ll deal with the vamp later! It’s still hours until nightfall!”
Sookie heard Quinn give the order for the others to search for her both with her ears and from his mind.
“Just stay where you are and keep down,” Eric whispered through the Blue Tooth.
She nodded though she knew that he wouldn’t be able to see her response.
Sookie shook as the Weres began their search. Their thoughts—so twisted, but amplified because they were all thinking about her and because she’d drunk Eric’s blood lately—made her nauseated, just as her uncle’s had done so many years before.
“They’re coming,” Sookie whispered as she picked up a thought from Quinn that they should investigate the corner that she was in. “And I’m not sure I can teleport again—not so soon after the last time.”
“Then you will fight them, min älskade.”
“Okay,” she said, her hands already rising but also shaking violently.
Eric’s whole body was shaking in his enclosure. As advertised, his encasement had not been damaged when the Weres tried to break in, but that was the least of his worries. Truth be told, he wished that the rabid Weres had kept trying. That would have kept them busy.
He used his senses to track each of the ten Weres looking for Sookie. And the Weretiger.
Their scents and sounds were a sea of information for him.
Adrenaline. Testosterone. Endorphins.
Faster, harder heartbeats.
Thudding footsteps—slower at first and then faster. Seeking. Searching.
And then a howl.
Eric closed his eyes. That could mean only one thing: Sookie had been found.
He heard the unmistakable whizzes of Sookie’s Fae light hitting its targets. One, two, three, four, five times. Whizz. Thump. Yelp.
And then a scream. Sookie’s!
“Eric! They have me!” she yelled, her voice filled with terror. “Oh, God! No! No! No!”
It was not even close to nightfall. There were still at least five uninjured Weres. And the Weretiger. Eric closed his eyes for a split second. Leonie and Claude were coming, but he couldn’t be sure about the when. They were already past their estimated time of arrival by twenty seconds.
What if they had caught all the fucking red lights in Phoenix?!
“Stop fighting, bitch!” came a yell.
Then Eric heard a punch and felt Sookie’s pain. And then there was a rip of clothing—hers.
Sookie let out a bloodcurdling scream.
In the next instant, Eric was out of his box. He knew that being raped—being defiled by both the bodies and the thoughts of multiple Weres—would kill Sookie in a way that was more fundamental than physical death. And—as her bonded—he would not fucking allow that!
Immediately the light of the sun began to scald his skin, but Eric didn’t care. He figured he’d have a good forty seconds before he became a liability to Sookie, and he planned to make the most of them.
Quinn watched powerlessly as Ray ripped the pretty young woman’s shirt and bra. He couldn’t get a real good look at her face, but he could tell that she was lovely, and—though redheads were not to his taste—he couldn’t help but to appreciate the set of tits that were exposed, even as he judged the one who had exposed them.
“Hold her!” Ray yelled to the Werewolf next to him.
Though growling and obviously impatient for his own turn, the second wolf complied. Quinn stepped back—just hoping at this point that the girl would live, even if she didn’t want to.
In the next moment, there was a whirr that went by him faster than a jet plane. And in the next instant, Quinn saw blood—a lot of blood as Ray’s head was torn from his shoulders. Quinn had barely registered the fact that a slightly smoldering Eric Northman was in their presence before he heard two more necks snap. The redhead fell into the vampire’s arms, and he lay her gently onto the concrete floor before ripping another head from its shoulders. More heads followed.
A battle cry—a yell so terrifying and barbaric that Quinn knew it would fill his nightmares for the rest of his life—echoed throughout the parking structure.
Quinn felt as if he were anchored to the ground—unable to move, either to flee or to help the others. He’d seen pictures of the Viking and he’d heard reports of his ferocity, but it was difficult to fathom just what he was seeing: a vampire—fully awake during the day, fighting like a savage, and tearing limbs and heads from bodies. Northman was—in that moment—every inch the berserker! But he was also starting to scald in earnest now, and Quinn was smart enough to back off and let the sun do its work.
However, even as Quinn moved to take cover from the Viking’s wrath, he heard brakes. And then—in the next moment—he felt an impact against his back. He fell onto the floor unconscious.
FORTY SECONDS EARLIER
Sookie’s head hurt badly where she’d been punched by Ray. But that pain was nothing compared to the horror of hearing the thoughts of the rabid Weres.
She registered that her T-shirt and bra had been ripped. And—then she felt Ray’s hands on her. But only for a moment.
And then the Fae bond within her burned brighter than the sun, and she was free.
Strong hands laid her down on cool concrete, and she almost wept with the comforting feeling of both.
She shook her head, trying to clear it a little. She’d successfully shot a few Weres with her light before she’d been captured from behind. After that, she’d tried to teleport away, but she’d been hit from behind before she could muster her energy.
She blinked a few times, hoping the world would come into better focus. Then she planted her hands onto the concrete floor and pushed. Her hands slipped on blood.
A body fell to his knees in front of her. Sookie registered the smell of smoke before she saw it.
Suddenly, she didn’t feel her own pain. As she saw her vampire beginning to burn in front of her, she didn’t notice anything else but him.
Though the slick blood on the floor made it difficult, she managed to half crawl and half slide until she was right in front of Eric.
“Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” she whimpered as she looked around them for anything to cover her vampire with.
Eric’s eyes were glazed over, the leftover rage and the pain sharing space in them.
She located a tarp and draped it over the both of them, not giving a damn about what was happening around them in that moment. She barely registered that two fairies had joined them in the garage. She heard one crying Were. With her mind, she also quickly registered that the Weretiger, Quinn, was alive but unconscious. All their other enemies had been killed by her or the man in front of her.
“Eric,” she said softly. “Please. Please be okay.”
Eric’s eyes slowly gained recognition, and she could see the stormy midnight blue getting replaced with the lighter shade that had made her fall in love with them.
“Sookie?” he questioned before weakly pulling her into his arms. “You’re safe?”
“Yes. Thanks to you. But you’re burned.”
For the first time, Eric seemed to diagnose that he had, indeed, been hurt. He seemed to consider for a moment, and his face distorted in pure pain as he did. “Sookie, I have to get back into the coffin in the car. I am still picking up some residual light and need . . . .”
His voice trailed off, and suddenly Sookie felt a stirring from inside of herself. Without another thought, she called her light to her more strongly than she’d ever called it before, and she touched her bonded’s chest with that light.
And—along with that touch—she also sent a prayer to God that the man she loved would be okay.