“Because you can’t,” Henry said, his steely tone allowing for no arguments.
“But I’m the best goddamned tracker here,” Alcide responded—loudly.
“That doesn’t matter, and you fucking know it,” Henry returned reasonably. “You’re staying here at least until after the fight begins, and that’s the end of it.”
Alcide growled but nodded—in deference—to the Were to whom he’d sworn fealty. In truth, he knew that Henry was one-hundred percent right, but he was pissed off that Debbie Pelt continued to be a nuisance in his life. He shook his head a little as he tried to push back his fond memories of her—to separate the Debbie who had been born only one day after he was and with whom he’d been inseparable for years with the Debbie who was now a bat-shit-crazy V-addict.
A homicidal one.
“I need to get back,” Henry said.
“Where?” Alcide asked.
“You know I’m guarding someone of importance,” Henry reminded.
Henry’s eyebrow rose.
“Okay—I get it,” Alcide sighed. “It’s need to know. And I don’t.”
Henry chuckled. “You were made from the Alpha mold, Alcide. I know you are frustrated.”
Alcide sighed and looked at Tara. “Maybe. But we are looking for a quiet life after this.”
Henry grinned. “You will have that life as long as you stay with my pack. However, when you are ready, there are enough of the pack members who want to return to Mississippi to reform the old pack there. You are the leader I’d most trust for them.”
Alcide shook his head a little. “I don’t know.”
“When you do know, let me know,” Henry responded, grasping Alcide’s shoulder fondly before leaving the little room Alcide was sharing with Tara.
“He’s right,” Tara said softly, reaching out to touch Alcide’s arm. “You’re strong. And brave. I can’t imagine anyone better suited to lead a new pack.”
“If we make it out of this alive,” Alcide said sourly.
Tara chuckled. “There is that issue—yes.”
“I fucking hate that Debbie’s here,” Alcide said sullenly.
“I fucking hate that we didn’t kill her when we had the chance,” Tara added.
Alcide smiled down at her. “You can be vicious, Miss Thornton.”
“You don’t know the half of it, Mr. Herveaux,” she growled, reaching up to pull him down into a forceful kiss.
The kiss soon turned into nipping, licking, and tickling.
Alcide stopped them right before the first piece of clothing was discarded.
Tara panted. “What is it?”
“These walls are thin,” Alcide gasped. “And Were hearing is excellent.”
“Are you confusing me with someone who’s modest?” she challenged.
His grin was feral. “Not anymore.”
An hour later, Tara and Alcide lay twined together—and spent.
“What are you thinking?” Tara asked her “boyfriend.”
Of course, neither Alcide nor Tara had outwardly announced that they were “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” Both were too afraid to jinx things.
“I’m pissed off that I still,” Alcide paused, “care whether that bitch lives or dies. And I’m even more pissed off that I thought about her after we had sex.”
“But not while?” Tara asked coyly.
Alcide chuckled. “Woman, you make me lose the ability to think while.”
Tara giggled. “That’s a good thing.”
“Very fucking good,” Alcide chuckled.
Tara took Alcide’s hand and threaded his fingers with hers.
Having always had a jealous streak a mile wide, Tara had been surprised that she’d never been jealous where Alcide was concerned. It was as if being around him brought out the reason in her—the peace—and it was a feeling that she liked.
During their trip North, Alcide had talked at length about Debbie and even about his once-burgeoning feelings for Sookie, but Tara hadn’t had a moment’s pause—or a moment’s insecurity—when it came to the Were who was holding her. That was likely because Alcide seemed to take her exactly as she was—a first for Tara. That made it easy for her to take him as he was in return.
“You still care about her because you are a good man, Alcide Herveaux,” Tara said sincerely.
“I feel fuckin’ useless,” the Were said with frustration.
Tara chuckled. “Imagine being the only human in a group of Weres. Then we’ll talk about useless.”
Alcide leaned forward to kiss her. “You aren’t useless—not to me. Never.”
Tara’s heart stopped for a moment. “I know,” she sighed. “But I’m just as sidelined here as you are. I was at Russell’s with Franklin; plus, my scent was all over Sookie’s house, and that means I’d be recognized too. By Debbie and maybe Russell’s other Weres, too.”
Alcide nodded and touched his forehead to hers. He didn’t like to hear Franklin Mott’s name. He didn’t like thinking about the vampire hurting the woman whom he’d begun thinking of as “his.”
She was his!
To stop his thoughts about how Mott had hurt her, he leaned in to kiss her again and again.
And then he claimed her until neither of them could catch their breaths.
“I fucking love you!” Dane panted as he lifted himself off of Hallow’s lithe and slender body.
“Love?” the witch asked, her tone laced with amusement.
The Alpha chuckled. “You have bewitched me.”
Hallow cackled. “And you have fucked me into submission.”
Dane moved so that he was on his side, looking at his lover. “Promise me that—after this—you will no longer fuck the vampire.”
“Bill?” Hallow asked. “An easy promise to make. He’s been amusing to toy with, but his skills when fucking are lacking—especially for a vampire. Hell—if I didn’t know otherwise, I would venture to guess that he’d been a vanilla-loving missionary during his human life!”
Dane chuckled. “So no loss?”
“Hmm,” Hallow contemplated. “Not much of one. He’s outlived his usefulness—I think.”
“Then you will be mine and mine alone?” Dane asked with a possessive growl.
Hallow stifled an eye roll and moved to mirror his pose. She nodded. “Yes. At least until you father a pup for me.”
Dane growled. “And after that?”
“Keep me satisfied, and I will be yours only,” Hallow returned.
“Oh—I will,” Dane said confidently. “I can’t see what you ever fucking saw in Compton though,” he added with a growl.
“A consistent vampire blood source so that I can strengthen my powers,” she responded airily.
The Alpha sighed. “Russell gives you blood.”
“Yes. But only when doing so serves his purposes,” Hallow returned.
Dane didn’t respond to her words or the slight derision in them. He was loyal to his master—completely loyal. And the only thing he didn’t like about his chosen mate was her subtle disrespect toward Russell.
Hallow smiled softly, her eyes looking uncharacteristically innocent for a moment. “I know you are loyal to your master; rest assured, I would not move against Russell Edgington. I’ve never much liked vampires, but he’s my kind of,” she paused, “preferred business associate. Plus, I’m no fool; he is stronger than I am. And,” she paused, “it would be unfair to make you choose between us.”
Dane held her tight against his broad chest. Unbeknownst to the Were, the witch’s sincere look soon turned to a smirk. What she wasn’t saying was that she hoped—one day—to be stronger than even Russell himself. Or—at the very least—to leave an heir that was. That’s where Dane came in. He was strong—a worthy stud for a child.
But he was ultimately expendable.
On the other hand, Bill had provided her with a steady supply of vampire blood from the vein—more punch than vialed blood and much less chance of addiction. The last thing Hallow wanted was to turn into a Debbie fucking Pelt! And—given that Bill was a short-sighted putz—he didn’t even realize that she was using him for blood and amusement.
Of course, that amusement wasn’t of the physical kind. Bill was too selfish of a lover for that. Hell—even Dane had more stamina and more knowledge of what to do with a clit.
Of course—Hallow had been enjoying manipulating the foolish, egotistical vampire. He was endlessly entertaining in his ignorance and arrogance.
“What are you thinking about?” Dane asked, running his fingers over her lean hip.
“The future,” the witch answered.
Sookie woke up at 3:30 p.m. Eric’s arm was around her, as if pulling her closer even in his death-sleep. She smiled but then panicked a moment later when she realized just how full her bladder was.
Without a steady supply of Eric’s blood for the last two weeks, she was no longer as strong as she’d been before.
However, with a grateful grunt, she wormed her way out from under Eric’s arm and sprinted to the bathroom. Her relief was quickly found.
And, if all went well, she’d have a new infusion of vampire blood later that night.
She knocked on the wood of the cabinet.
FLASHBACK: FOURTEEN DAYS EARLIER, 4:39 P.M.
Sookie’s three favorite words had become “natural hot springs.”
Leonie chuckled from next to her . . . her . . . friend? Her student? In truth Sookie felt like more than that to the fairy.
Leonie shrugged. Humans would have labeled Ione as Leonie’s great-aunt—times ten or eleven. That would make Eric her second cousin, though nine times removed. Or ten. Or was it eight? Heck, without the family scrolls, Leonie was useless at figuring such things exactly! Thus, that officially made Sookie her—what? Second cousin in-law—eight, nine, or ten times removed? Leonie shrugged again, giving up. Figuring out how humans labeled their relatives was too damned confusing.
In the Faerie realm, Leonie and Eric would simply be mitalan—a word that meant “family.” Their “lights” would have recognized each other as kin from the first time they’d met—if it had been in the magic-filled Fae realm. In the human world, it had taken the magic of Sookie’s light to illuminate Eric’s light for all to see—finally.
“What are you thinking about?” Sookie asked.
“Family,” Leonie smiled, even as she got out of the hot springs. Still modest, Sookie averted her eyes from the naked form of the fairy. Not surprisingly, Sookie had on a bikini since there was “company.”
Respecting her friend’s sensibilities, Leonie stifled her laugh as she quickly wrapped a towel around her lissome form.
Though it was cold outside, the fairy seemed unaffected. Sookie shivered a little—in sympathy. The only bad thing about the hot springs was the chilly dash that had to be made into the house following a soak.
“Will you be back tomorrow?” Sookie asked even as she lay her head back against the smooth rock bank of the natural hot springs. Practicing with Leonie was helpful, and she really liked hanging out with the woman, but their teleporting training sessions always exhausted her.
Leonie giggled as if reading Sookie’s mind. Heck—maybe she was. Sookie was too exhausted to know one way or the other at that point.
“I think I’ll let you rest for a day or two; perhaps, the teleportation practice took much out of you,” Leonie added with a twinge of concern.
“You could—uh—just come by tomorrow afternoon. For lunch? To visit?” Sookie asked almost shyly.
“I would like that very much. I will see you tomorrow,” Leonie smiled back before “popping” away.
Sookie chuckled. She’d learned that Supernaturals’ phone etiquette—or lack thereof, since none of them ever said goodbye—was just a reflection of how they were in their normal lives. She sighed as she pondered why that might be before coming to the conclusion that their goodbyes must be both easier and harder for them. For two immortals, the concept would be practically moot, for “goodbye” didn’t apply to them—at least not as it did for mortals. And—when a vampire or a fairy did become attached to a human or two-natured being—the “goodbye” was likely a reminder that future “goodbyes” ought to be avoided.
“Or maybe they’re just rude,” Sookie chuckled, digging herself out of her own “deep thoughts.” She was bone-tired, and letting herself get lost inside of her musings would only keep her head spinning.
She couldn’t help but to smile when she “felt” Eric wake up through their bonds. She could feel the initial “stretching” of his mind and senses, which she now knew was him automatically checking his surroundings: the habit of a one-thousand-year-old survivor. The next feeling she got from him was disappointment, but it was followed quickly by anticipation and lust.
But not from the cold outside.
She felt that he was disappointed that she hadn’t been with him in their bed when he woke up. But he’d used his blood to hone in on her position and was obviously planning to join her in the hot springs. She sent him a dosage of her own lust.
She couldn’t hear her mate’s growl, but she could feel it as if it were vibrating throughout her body. She stretched into that feeling—and then took off her bikini to wait for him.
No need to lose another one.
The sun wouldn’t officially set until 6:45 p.m., but Eric knew he’d be able to leave the room ten minutes before that. Due to the positioning of the cabin, the sun disappeared behind a mountain before it dipped into the horizon. Hell—with all the tree cover and Sookie’s blood in him, he probably could have risked going to her fifteen minutes before sunset.
But he didn’t want to risk being the cause of her concern.
Plus, he enjoyed the anticipation.
He set himself to the task of making a fire in their bedroom fireplace. Then he placed quilts in front of it, including “their” quilt from Slidell. Seeing it always stirred something within him—stirred the man who’d found a home.
He smiled at that thought.
Figuring that he and his beloved might be quite wet when they got back to the house, he put several towels over the pallet in order to save the blankets from the moisture.
Finishing his task, he began to pace—waiting for the sun.
Not finding her cuddled next to him when he rose had been disappointing, but imagining her in the water of the hot springs, her beautiful breasts swaying upward in the gentle waves, caused a certain muscle in Eric’s body to sway upward. He felt the sounds of his desire vibrating through him, reverberating inside of his very soul.
But then he felt her weariness, right alongside her lust, and the husband within him calmed the beast. Still, the vampire made his way to his mate as soon as it was safe to do so. Sookie looked just as ethereal in the last ambient rays of the sun as he’d imagined she would; no—she looked even more beautiful.
Steam rose from water and rock as she leaned into the embrace of the earth’s natural bath. Her skin was pinkened—her cheeks even more so. Her hair—still golden as her god had intended—was bound in a loose bun on the top of her head. Her bikini was already tossed safely to the side.
Smart. She was very smart.
It’s not as if pulling a few strings on a bathing costume was hard for him—usually. But his mate could make him so hard that even the easiest of tasks became impossible.
“You might get frostbite if you don’t get in,” she said flirtingly, even as she gave him a burst of lust from their bonds and a come-hither look that almost made him cum.
He stood motionless for a moment longer, resolving to keep his animal-side at bay since she was tired. In the past—the very recent past—he would have just initiated a blood exchange to restore her energy. But part of their plan involved her needing to show evidence of wounds. His blood inside of her would already strive to heal her—despite it being two weeks until Rhodes. However, any fresh infusions during the next fourteen days would likely prevent her body from “keeping” the evidence of any wounds at all.
His expression clouded.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, sensing his darkening mood.
The vampire couldn’t help it. The thought of his pledged being in any pain cut into his un-dead heart.
“I was just thinking about the unpleasantness of any of my extremities being lost due to frostbite,” he answered, trying to smirk, as he smoothly got into the natural bath and moved toward Sookie with immeasurable grace.
“You’re lying,” she observed.
“Hmm,” he answered noncommittally, stopping just shy of touching her.
Her eyebrow rose, imploring him to spill his thought—as if into the water still between them.
“You are tired,” he said quietly.
She nodded her head. “Yeah. A long day of sparring with Leonie. And lots of teleporting,” she added with distaste.
“I wish we could exchange,” he admitted.
She covered the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him. “I wish we could exchange blood every night. And we will—just as soon as the job is done.”
He nodded. “I won’t feed from you tonight,” he said stubbornly.
She sighed, but nodded. “I’ll make steaks tomorrow. And Leonie’s coming over tomorrow afternoon, but only to eat and hang out—not to spar.”
“If she is to share the meal, you should make extra—much extra,” he joked, needing to lighten the mood. Neither one of them wanted to think about the distasteful task she’d be doing in Rhodes the night before the battle—the one that required that she not take her mate’s blood for the time being.
Sookie giggled. “She eats more than Jason ever did.”
“No sparring for us tonight either,” Eric announced as Sookie leaned against him and placed her head onto his shoulder.
“But . . . ,” she started.
“Will you listen to my reasoning? And then decide?” he asked.
Sookie leaned up so that he could see that she was smirking in his direction. He’d learned during their short weeks together that asking those two questions always led to her listening to him.
And usually agreeing.
“Teleporting is a good skill to have, but I would suggest that you practice it—at maximum—only one to two times per day. And, even then, only once every few training sessions. For the time being, you cannot have my blood to limit the tiredness you feel.” He sighed. “None of your other Fae gifts take this much energy from you. And you are not overly tired by our practices with the sword either. Please, consider this, Sookie. I would not have you worn down before we go to Rhodes.”
She was quiet for a few moments. “I think that’s a good idea. I’ll tell Leonie tomorrow.”
She shook her head. “You’re right. And teleportation isn’t really practical for us during this situation either.”
“Sookie . . . ,” he started, gearing up to argue. He wanted to know that she could escape if the situation were dire.
“Will you listen to my reasoning? And then decide?” she interrupted, throwing his own words back at him.
He chuckled. “It’s only fair.”
He felt her grinning against his flesh as she snuggled into him.
“This is where I belong—by your side. I won’t teleport away from it—not unless it will save both of us. And—even then—I wouldn’t stay gone for long.”
The vampire tightened his hold upon his beloved. He couldn’t argue with her words since he would never leave her side either—not unless it was to save them both. And—even then—it would only be for a little while.
“Sookie,” he sighed as he moved to kiss her lips gently. When she needed to breathe, he moved his lips to her cheek and then to her chin—before nipping at her neck.
For her part, Sookie let her mate—her husband—love her. She was tired. But—more than that—she recognized that he needed to make love to her tenderly.
As he worked her body up slowly, she marveled at the vampire in her arms. She remembered the first time she’d seen him—dressed all in black and looking just as dangerous as he did alluring. The words “loving” and “gentle” had been the furthest ones from her mind that night, but now she knew that Eric could be those things.
“My Sookie,” he sighed as he finally moved her body onto his so that they could join fully. The hot water had warmed him to a certain extent, but his member was still blissfully cool inside of her—as it stretched her. They moved together in the calm waves of the warm water for a while before Eric lifted them out of the spring until he was sitting on the edge of the bank. He brought her down to straddle him. The steam from the pool still warming her, but the water no longer interfered with the friction they were both ready for.
He moved fingertips to her clit and found purchase there, and moments later, they were both gasping out their releases.
She shivered against him—in bliss. But eventually he felt a different type of shivering and lowered them back into the heated water, cradling her body to his own.
They both closed their eyes and sank into each other and into the healing waters.
It was not long before a dim golden light was bouncing off of the natural bath’s surface.
It was Sookie who noticed it first. “This is a good compromise,” she said with a smile in her tone as she looked up at her husband’s serene face. His own eyes were still closed.
She chuckled. “You’ve found a way to strengthen my light without messing with the vamp-blood ratio thing,” she offered, not quite knowing how to clearly state her point.
“Open your eyes,” Sookie said, her voice half-playful and half-awestruck.
When Eric did, they immediately widened. After learning that his Fae gift, his own light, worked to strengthen him—and, in turn, his mate—the Viking had been grateful for it. He’d even seen use for it—knowing that it would make him stronger than Russell expected, knowing that it could keep him “fresh” if the fight were a long one. But he was even happier for its current use—replenishing the strength of his mate after she’d had a taxing day.
She chuckled and slapped his chest playfully. “I’m still going to do the teleporting thing sparingly—just in case you’re charging your blood in me, too, Mr. Goldilocks.”
“I think I prefer Mr. Goldenrod,” he leered, letting her feel that his “rod” had, indeed, stayed hard for her.
“How about Colonel Mustard?” she teased but then gasped as he quickly took them out of the water and flew them inside to the pallet he’d made for them.
It took her a moment to catch her breath due to the sudden cold and then the contrasting warmth of the roaring fire, and when she did, he stole it again.
Half an hour later, when they were finally sated—for the time being, at least—she chuckled in his arms.
“What is it, min kära?”
“I know who did it?”
She giggled a little louder. “Yep. It was Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe in the bedroom!”
He pulled her closer and laughed with her.
Sookie had quickly finished her business in bathroom. After that, she tried to curl her body back into her husband’s side, but her worries about the coming night soon started to fill her mind.
Sensing her mood, Tray and Mustapha gave her a wide berth when she ventured into the living area.
She tried watching some television, but nothing caught her interest.
She tried monitoring the surveillance footage of the lobby from the computer Brady had set up, but she couldn’t focus.
Given her anxiety, she tried eating something light—crackers and ginger ale. Soon enough, she deposited her “meal” into the toilet.
And then there was nothing to be done—but to wait for her mate to rise.
A/N: I didn’t want to keep Eric and Sookie in Mammoth Lakes for too many chapters, but I will be using some flashbacks to help you see what they learned/planned there. Hope you liked! Pretty early, I wanted get Alcide and Tara together. I think that-as they were portrayed through S3-they are actually well-suited for each other. I hope you agree.
As always, thanks Seph for the banners and thanks Kleannhouse for the beta work! I don’t always remember to thank these two wonderful women with every chapter, but I want everyone to know that they are always behind-the-scene essentials to my work!