Sunset had been at 6:39 p.m., and it had taken Eric one hour and twenty four minutes to get Sookie settled down, trade out vehicles with the fairies, and get himself cleaned up for the drive to Mammoth Lakes, California. He’d pulled out of the driveway at Needles at exactly 8:03 p.m.
Given his new vehicle’s relatively poor gas mileage, compared to the Prius, he’d needed to stop twice for gasoline. He’d also not wanted to risk breaking the speed limit or taking a route too close to Arizona’s or Nevada’s borders; thus, it had taken Eric eight hours and three minutes to reach the cabin at Mammoth Lakes.
He parked the car at 4:06 a.m. and sighed as he looked at the woman next to him.
Thankfully, she’d slept during the entire trip, her body and mind and spirit all exhausted from what had happened earlier that day.
Moreover—given the fact that Eric had been completely healed even after being exposed to sunlight in the garage for more than sixty seconds before Sookie had covered him with the tarp and the fact that he’d not even sustained the “bleeds” as he’d stayed awake to keep his bonded company during the drive from Phoenix to Needles—it was clear that Sookie had expended much of her energy to heal him.
He sighed and looked down at his hand, laced tightly with hers. For once he’d been glad to be driving an automatic so that he could keep his fingers entwined with hers. He’d needed the contact, and every time he’d had to stop for gasoline, he’d missed the feeling of her blood flowing just underneath his touch. Of course, his blood had been busily working in her too. She’d already been fully healed of the minor abrasions, the cracked ribs, and the mild concussion she’d sustained in the parking garage. And, for several hours, he’d been moving his blood at exactly the rate of hers, piggybacking on her blood cells in a way, just so that he could feel closer to her.
So that she could—even in her sleep—feel that he was close.
“My bonded,” he whispered. He closed his eyes. Sunrise would be at 6:49 a.m., so he had a little time to get Sookie settled into their new home before he had to die for the day. He was grateful that they were staying for a while.
Their new furnishings wouldn’t arrive until the next night after sunset; they’d paid a bit more so that he could be awake to glamour the deliverymen. Thus, all that would currently be in the light tight room would be a twin-sized bed. But Eric didn’t care. He was glad that he’d have to pull Sookie in close to his body in order to share the small bed with her. As far as he was concerned, she couldn’t get close enough.
The eight hours of his drive from Needles had been spent reliving the day again and again.
The piercing feeling of the silver injection that had awoken him.
Sookie’s frantic voice and worry for him.
Her fear that she’d be caught by Ray, whose thoughts had focused upon the physical and emotional violence he’d wanted to do to her.
Her efforts to “pop” to him in the car.
The tense four hour drive from Kingman to Phoenix.
The emptying gas tank.
The fact that they’d had to stop before her fairy kin could arrive.
The Weres breaking into the Prius.
Her fear as Quinn had ordered them to come looking for her.
The Were’s graphic and abhorrent thoughts.
Having to use her light blasts before being fully confident about her skill.
Being captured by the wolf with the most repugnant thoughts of all!
Being hit in the head and then kicked by the Weres.
Having their hands on her body.
Having her clothing ripped by Ray.
Watching her mate burning.
Healing him with her light, while preserving very little energy for her own wellbeing.
Seeing the carnage left behind by him.
Another four hour drive to Needles.
Her amped-up fear as sunset had approached and her adrenaline had worn off—finally.
All of this—yet she’d survived.
Eric had lived through each occurrence with Sookie—his blood in hers telling him her every emotion. However, he was a vampire—used to battle and to blood. Part of him regretted bringing Sookie into his quest to eliminate Russell, but—then again—the Fae bond would have allowed for nothing else, especially not after the severing spell, which had, ironically, made him and Sookie closer than before.
He’d lost her blood that day, and he had ached for it again.
But now he realized that it wasn’t about the blood then.
It was about her.
Something stronger than blood.
He loved her, and he’d never deny it again—not to her and not to himself.
Eric had already used his senses to make sure that the area was secure, but he was still cautious as he got out of the vehicle. The cabin had a small detached garage, but he didn’t park in it. He’d decided to unload the car first. Quickly, he zipped up to the cabin and unlocked the door before returning to the vehicle for his most precious cargo.
He lifted Sookie carefully from her seat.
“Eric,” she whimpered a little as the cool night air invaded the warm cocoon Eric had made her with their quilt. She nestled her face into his chest.
“Shhh, min älskade,” he soothed. “We are at the cabin—safe and sound.”
She sighed a little and wrapped her arms around his neck. He didn’t need to flip on any lights as he took her to the barely-furnished master bedroom. He’d bought the Mammoths Lakes cabin—through a glamoured human, of course—after the Great Revelation; thus, he’d felt less need to have it furnished as if a human were living there. Plus, the cabin’s location was remote, which had made it even less necessary to add the trappings of humanity to the residence.
As Eric had expected, there was only a small dresser and a twin-sized bed as far as furnishings went. He settled Sookie onto the bed and tucked their quilt around her small body. It always amazed him how little she was—especially for someone so internally strong.
When he went to pull away, she whimpered and raised her arms.
“It’s okay, little one,” Eric soothed. “I’m just going to turn on the heater and then unload the car. I will be back very soon.” He bent down to kiss her forehead. “You are safe, min älskade. We are safe here.”
She murmured something unintelligible as she nestled into her covers. He spent another moment stroking her hair before he hurried to complete his tasks.
He quickly turned on the heater and then brought in their bags and the rest of their belongings. He unloaded the cooler that contained the foodstuffs that Sookie would need the next day before they could arrange for a glamoured human to get them more. He set up her coffee maker and placed the coffee and filters right next to it. She’d also brought a few dishes from the Taos home since the Mammoth Lakes cabin had been outfitted with none. Eric stowed those in the cabinets, knowing that Sookie could place them as she preferred when they got more items.
The car unloaded, he moved it to the garage and then locked the door to the little building. His next order of business was to call Brady.
“Hello?” a sleepy voice answered.
“Is the line secure?” Eric asked.
Brady chuckled. “Who do you think you’re talking to?”
Eric couldn’t help but to chuckle too. “It’s been a long day.”
“Sookie okay?” Brady asked. The perceptive Were had picked up on the fact that the woman whom Eric was going to so much trouble to protect must be important to the Viking. And though Eric was not known for being “friendly,” the Were considered the vampire to be one of his closest friends.
“Yes. How about the surveillance in and around the parking garage in Phoenix?” Eric asked.
There was a smile in Brady’s voice. “Sadly, the city’s street cameras within three blocks of the garage had a power failure around noon. Apparently, some kind of electrical surge fried some circuits. There are crews working now, but you know how long it takes such things to be repaired.”
“Do any of the businesses in the area have cameras that could have picked up Sookie or the extra vehicle with the fairies going into the garage?”
“No,” Brady said with a yawn. “My flight landed in Phoenix at around 5:00 p.m., and I was able to check everything out before King Sampson and his people finally got here. And—like we discussed earlier on the phone—I hacked into the city’s supposedly secure website and fucked with the city-owned cameras about an hour before you and Sookie even got to the garage.”
“Good,” Eric said. “So there is no trace of Sookie?”
“None,” Brady answered. He chuckled.
“I was making sure that the camera in the building to the southwest of the parking garage didn’t get an image of the fairies’ vehicle when some of King Sampson’s group arrived.” He chuckled again. “At that point, I was still stealing the video feeds from the garage. Guess who was with the king?”
“Who?” Eric asked.
“Victor. And de Castro. You should have seen their faces when they walked into the garage and found a pile of smoldering Were corpses and the Weretiger tied up with what looked to be small piece of string.” He chuckled again. “I gotta hand it to Sookie’s great-grandmother. I’ve gone back and watched all of the footage from the garage. Not only is she deadly, but she’s also got a lot of flare. And—she’s hot to boot!”
Eric chuckled. “She is probably two thousand years old too.”
“I do like my lovers to be experienced,” Brady responded.
Eric rolled his eyes, though—of course—the wolf couldn’t see it. “The footage from the garage itself?” he asked.
“Mostly destroyed,” Brady confirmed. “I even went into the system and doctored the records to indicate that most of the cameras on the main and basement levels hadn’t been functioning correctly for about a week.”
“Mostly destroyed?” Eric asked.
“Yeah—from one of the feeds, the only image captured was of Leonie, shooting her light and looking very un-Sookie-like. I decided to leave that one intact for Victor to find.”
“I would have liked to have kept a copy of the whole fight though. It was an amazing sight. Your woman held her own, and I still cannot believe that you did what you did—let alone during the daytime! I have never seen anything like it.”
“It is best that no one else sees or learns of it,” Eric said significantly.
“I understand,” Brady responded.
“So de Castro and Victor—what happened after they discovered Quinn? Did you have a chance to set up your surveillance device by then—so that we could see and hear what was going on?”
“Yeah,” Brady reported. “That was the first thing I did when I got to the area.”
“And the Weretiger didn’t know you were there?” Eric asked.
“Don’t worry. He was pretty out of it, and I ran my fiber optics through the elevator shaft, so he couldn’t have seen me, and—thanks to one of Octavia’s concoctions, which I keep handy for such occasions—he couldn’t have smelled me either.”
“What did the surveillance device pick up?”
“Victor questioned the tiger. He told a very interesting story that didn’t match the one he’d called in earlier at all,” Brady chuckled. “According to Quinn, he and the group of Weres followed the Prius into the garage, and—immediately after they’d parked and gotten out of their vehicles—a redheaded banshee emerged from the Prius and started shooting them with her light.” He chuckled again.
“Banshee?” Eric asked.
“Quinn’s word—not mine,” Brady laughed. “Victor and de Castro could tell it had been a fairy though.”
“How can you be sure?”
“She left her scent all over the tiger and the garage, and she must have done something else too because as soon as the string holding Quinn was cut off, her scent became even more potent. Hell—I could smell it from where I was set up in the building across the street!” He broke down into a bigger fit of laugher. “And then Victor and de Castro,” he paused to laugh again, “started to . . . .”
“Well—let’s just say that the tiger almost suffered the fate that the group of Weres apparently had in mind for Sookie,” Brady said, sobering up immediately.
Eric growled, sounding so menacing that he made Brady shake a little.
“As it was, there was just kissing and a little biting until the tiger managed to push them off of him. I thought that an orgy was about to break out among the vampires, but the fairy scent diminished after a couple of minutes and everyone got control of themselves. Anyway,” Brady continued, “by the time they left, de Castro and Victor were fuming mad, but they were also quite convinced that you were receiving help from a full-blooded Fae. And Sookie’s name didn’t even come up—at least, not that I heard. But—then again—why would it? The tiger described Leonie to a ‘T!’ and it sounded nothing like Sookie.”
Eric breathed a sigh of relief. “So—no trouble?”
“No,” Brady said. “As I said, Sookie got out clean.
“Victor called Russell while they were at the garage, and—from Victor’s expression—the king was plenty pissed that you’d gotten away. After he’d hung up, Victor marshalled the Weres at his disposal—including Quinn. As expected, they’re looking for the Prius; most are heading towards Texas, hoping that you’ll return to your known safe haven there.”
“Good. Russell will be very surprised—then—when the car I was traveling in ends up in Vegas this morning.”
Eric could hear the smile in Brady’s tone. “So you really are having the fairies drive it there?”
“Do you need me to tinker with any cameras?”
“No,” Eric said. “One of the fairies has the ability to cloak the car’s appearance to a certain extent. They plan to drive it right into the parking garage at Felipe’s main casino. Then Leonie will step out, wave to the camera, and then get back into the car. Then she and the other fairy will pop away—after she leaves behind a nice dosage of her scent, that is. At that point, the car will look like itself again.”
Brady chuckled. “That’s going to rile de Castro and Russell.”
“The more riled they are, the better for us,” Eric stated. “Let them stew with a bunch of unanswered questions. Meanwhile, Sookie and I will remain here—and safe—until Rhodes.”
“I’m already doing some preliminary work at the Pyramid of Gizeh, where the summit is being held. The security system is thought to be pretty tight there, but guess who just got hired as a maid?”
“You?” Eric deadpanned.
Brady chuckled. “Nope. But I’d make a good maid—don’t you think. I could get one of those French maid outfits and everything.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Eric chuckled. “So—if not you—who is now working there?”
Eric smiled. “You mean the woman who taught you everything you know?”
“Yep. That’s the one.”
“Is she well?”
“Yeah—still in remission and no traces of cancer at her last three check-ups. She’s as fit as ever again. And—you know her—she’s hoping for a good battle.”
“Yes, she always did enjoy the fray.” Eric paused. “Keep me informed. And—oh yeah—we’re gonna need another car,” he added.
“I’ve already got one for you—a Ford C-Max Hybrid. I figured Russell and his minions would be looking out for Priuses similar to the one you had. Your enclosure will be more cramped, but it gets good mileage—just like the Prius.”
They were silent for a moment.
“Hey, Eric? Be careful. It was a close call today,” Brady said more quietly.
“Yes—I know,” Eric responded as he reentered the bedroom and gazed at his beloved. “I almost lost everything,” he added in an emotion-filled voice before hanging up.
He quickly changed into lounge pants and got into the small bed carefully so that he wouldn’t wake up Sookie. She was lying exactly as he’d left her, save for one hand, which was stretched out as if looking for him. He put that hand against his heart.
“How many times and in how many ways will I fall in love with you, Sookie Stackhouse?” he asked into the quiet room, right before the sunrise took him to his sleep.