Fucking Doctor. Fucking incompetent wolf guards supposedly protecting her. Fucking mystery fire. Fucking eagle shifter fucking flapping around my fucking property and reporting who-fucking-knows-what to that magisterial fuckwad.
Sookie was looking at our joined hands, her brow knitted with fear as her mouth formed a hard, determined line. She was already burying Ludwig, filing her away alongside our many dead acquaintances, readying herself to endure yet another horror all by herself: the birth of our child. I pressed our hands harder over him, forging my determination with hers.
“She may live,” I soothed. “She’s only human, but she’s tough. And she has the weres to help her. Perhaps they were attacked, or perhaps the engine simply sparked up. We can’t know for sure.”
Sookie’s mouth turned down sourly. “Please. Their engine just happened to overheat while coming to help us fight the Magister? She’s dead. The weres are dead. If all of them were drinking silver and their cars were coated in the same stuff, then the vampires following them simply improvised and let the fire do all the work. They might all be tough, but humans and weres and every other fucking species respond to fire the same way.” She lifted her hands, her fingers dancing upwards as she mimed little flames flitting into the sky.
“Possible. But unverified.”
“Probable. And we need to assume that until she scuttles through the front door, you’re my new midwife.”
I nodded, but did not speak. Instead of voicing my fear, I punched the doctor’s number on my phone. Pointless, perhaps, but it was stupid not to at least try to reach her. Several rings led to her voicemail. Of course. I tried the wolf guards posted to her. The ringer droned on and on.
“Fuck,” I muttered in Swedish.
“Better find your forceps, doc,” she answered right back.
Even now, her speaking to me in one of my native tongues surprised me. “Are you in labor?”
She huffed, “No.”
“Then hush. We have time.”
She mumbled something sarcastically, but I was already turning away, pulling up the app that showed me everyone’s GPS coordinates. Pam was close and driving fast. Herveaux’s truck (presumably with Hadley and Hunter in it) was making its speedy way towards the airport. After they parked in the long-term lot, I’d lose them. Just as I’d wanted. I had not queried the big wolf on exactly where he would take them when I gave him the signal to run. He didn’t know, either. I’d glamored him to choose a random destination no closer than five thousand miles from Shreveport. Nowhere in the states, nowhere in Mexico, Canada, or the Gulf islands. He would not even know his own choice until he got to the airport with three other pack members, half a million in cash, and a private jet waiting for his command. Rome. Siberia. Korea. Swaziland. His brain would throw a dart at a map, and then they’d be gone. Forever, if he didn’t hear from me via a blog dedicated to some idiotic cable show. Yet another piece of information I’d buried deep in his suppressed memory. He’d check it twice a week for the foreseeable future.
Jason’s truck was parked in his driveway. I could only imagine he was in his house, eating that putrid bucket chicken and watching online porn.
Merlotte’s van was behind his bar.
Ludwig’s car and the escort vehicle were stationary and their tracking devices unresponsive about fifteen miles away. Under no circumstances would I leave Sookie, not even to investigate a crash that would take me two minutes to fly over.
“Pam and Jessica are almost here. They’ll help,” I offered.
“Great,” she muttered.
Irritated at her attitude, I flashed right in front of her face. My sudden closeness startled her, as always. “Do not,” I warned, “despair. I need Strong Sookie right now. I need my fire angel. I need my fearless, fucked-off fairy. Adam needs her. Do you hear me?”
She stared at me, blinking rapidly until the misery slowly cleared from her expression and she took a resolute breath. “You’re right,” she sighed. “I’m sorry. All hands on deck, right? I promise I won’t bitch anymore.”
“Bitch all you like. But kill the people pissing you off. Don’t surrender before they even get here.”
“Yes,” she nodded, “yes, I hear you.”
“Good,” I held out my hand. “I’m afraid I can’t let you rest like I’d hoped.”
She waved me off and slowly pushed herself up from the sofa. “Like I could sit around on my ass with all of this going on. I’m ready to jump out of my skin.”
I grabbed her by the waist and pulled her up to me, her belly pressed tightly between us. “Please don’t. I love this skin.” I traced a finger down her cheek.
She smiled and looked down at her purple pajamas. “I should change.”
“Why? Are you worried your would-be killers will snigger at your jammy jams?”
She stuck her tongue out. “I’m a product of my raise, all right? Decent folks get dressed if they’re expecting company.”
“I see. What is the dress code for receiving assassins?”
“A simple house dress sprinkled with polka dots made of sunshine, smartass.”
Her hands Lit up warningly against my chest and made me purr as they vibrated so tantalizingly close to my Radia. “The bigger sunny polka dots come later.”
“I said later. And the ones I’m brewin’ right now certainly ain’t for you.”
“Then show me the other kind now.”
She smirked. Her hands intensified and I braced myself for a blast of pure joy. But then they dimmed and pushed me away. “Those are coming much later.”
My chest throbbed so badly from disappointment that my fangs clicked into place. My Radia knew my mistress so well, so why did it torture me when she decided to be cruel? I did nothing but cherish that savage little sun, but my devotion went unnoticed and my heart was clenched in anger. Air puffed from my lungs as they edged away from their neighbor’s punishment.
“It’s painful,” I whispered as I released her.
Sookie was working her hair into a tight ponytail, pulling the blonde strands away from her face. She looked up at me. “What is?”
She cocked her head. “Why? Cuz I won’t shoot you? I think you can manage without it for a few hours, you big baby.”
I reached out and placed my fingertip on her lavender chest, just over her heart. “I wish I were Fae. I wish I could gift you with my own Light, if only so you could know this feeling. This… ache.”
She paused in twisting her hair round and round. “Is it really that bad?”
Knowing what she meant, I nodded. No, it wasn’t bad. But yes, it was that serious.
At once, she was more thoughtful, stepping into my space again. She put her head on my chest, her ear pressed directly into my heart. When she started speaking, I knew it wasn’t to me.
“Let him be,” she whispered. “You’re part of me, now you’re part of him. He’s ours and he’ll never betray us. So be kind, you little shit. Quit beating him up in there.”
I was about to tell her it was useless. That I’d tried a hundred times to reason with that heart thief with no result. The Radia in my body was a dungeon master. A jealous demoness. A sun goddess, proud and vengeful. She threw tantrums and wild fits of desire. She was beautiful, if anyone could bear to look upon her terrifying splendour. She was mad. She was merciless. And she and I were melted together for all eternity.
I adored her.
I could never, ever, hope to tame her.
Sookie, with her sweetness and innocence, stood no chance at all.
She squeezed her eyes shut and buried her face harder into my shirt. “Obey me, Light.”
And suddenly the floor turned to liquid beneath my feet. I staggered slightly, then stood straight, holding Sookie to me. Peace filled me, pouring in from my groin to my scalp. I groaned softly as my eyes slid shut. This was not pacification. This was not simply getting my fix.
Her Light expanded from its white-knuckled clutch on my heart into all of me, lapping as calmly as water. My head stayed clear. My goals were still in sharp focus. But my fears were gone. My uncertainties. There was only silence now. Sookie once compared my mind to a raging swarm of bees. I was now as quiet and as full of intent as a cathedral.
“Amazing,” I rasped.
She looked up at me hopefully. “Good? Better than Light balls?”
“No. But much more useful. I feel centered now. Reinforced.” I looked at her in awe. “How do you know? How do you always know what to do? These abilities of yours…” I shook my head. “You must be the most powerful creature in existence.”
She snorted, patting my chest as she stepped back again. “Ha! Think I’d be hiding under a plantation home in Louisiana if I were?”
“You are twenty-six. A child. By the time you’re two hundred, you’ll be the only religion in the world.”
“Shush your mouth!” she cried out in horror, her eyes turning upwards in apology. “Sorry, Jesus. He’s only kidding.”
I was about to tell Jesus where he could go, but Sookie held her finger up warningly. “And!” she chirped, “Being yours isn’t all flowers and lollipops, either. My blood turns into liquid screaming when you’re not close by. I can barely leave the room before my feet start dragging. So cry me a river.”
I couldn’t believe I was willing to continue arguing over who had it worse, given our situation, but she made me so fucking crazy, I nearly capitulated. I opened my fanged mouth to retort that vampire blood had nothing on a fairy Radia when it came to securing a mate, only to snap it shut as the outer electric garage door buzzed in alert. Someone had given the correct codes to descend into the tunnel. I checked my GPS again. Pam’s car was pulling up.
I sauntered past her. “I still win.”
“Like hell you do!”
Luckily, my woman was too heavy with my son to keep up with me. I strode into the main garage and awaited Pam’s car to appear from the dark, cavernous entry.
“Hey!” Sookie’s voice echoed as she huffed across the room. “Donchu lie your ass off, then run away!”
My back to her, I smiled. “Do something about it.”
“Don’t think I won’t!”
I heard an engine rumbling in the tunnel. Pam’s dark blue Mercedes emerged from its depths, the blonde and redhead women sitting in the front seats. Sookie was already breathless when she reached my side. I got a sharp elbow into the ribs.
“Don’t fight in front of guests. Gran would faint.”
“You don’t get to invoke Gran!”
“Sssshhhh,” I soothed condescendingly as Pam killed the engine and they stepped out. Pam was in black. Flat shoes. She outfit clicked quietly as I detected the sound of silver chains and spikes alongside wooden stakes. She sounded as though she were made of watch parts. Jessica was still casual, though she was looking much better these days. She was clearly eating regularly again. She hair and skin had revived. She wore simple jeans and a fitted white tee. She smiled at us nervously.
I watched both of them pause as they saw Sookie’s enormous belly. Their pupils went from normal to completely blown. The scent of her luscious, healthy blood reached them, and even though Adam’s scent was still masked, their fangs dropped at the allure of his mother. She’d always smelled fantastic. Pregnancy, which smelled good on any woman, made her positively pulse with life. She saw their expressions and blushed, stepping discreetly closer to me.
She was shy at their wordless compliment. I was less coy at their insolence.
“Keep your dicks in your pants and tell me your status,” I warned with no humor.
They immediately looked down, forcing their teeth into human dimensions again. I noticed it took some will.
“We were followed. We pulled over and had a nice chat with our stalkers about their regrettable line of work. I suggested other avenues. There was Power Point involved and-,”
“Pam,” I interrupted.
Jessica looked at me sheepishly. “She killed them. Like, murdered the shit outta them.”
I nodded back. “Then fine. Anything else?”
Pam smirked with pride at her body count. “Two cars on Highway 43 were on fire.”
“Did you stop? Look for survivors?”
She arched a brow. “If anything, I sped up.”
I sighed. Regrettable, but probably wise. The attackers might have been waiting for Pam, using the doctor as bait and hoping my second would come to her aid. Thankfully, my second was a self-serving bitch.
“Did you at least see anything?”
Pam didn’t move, but Jessica shook her head hard. “Nothing. Not even bodies strapped into the seats. If anyone died in the cars, they were slumped over or in the trunk.”
“Unlikely,” I said. “I’m sure a doctor would always wear her seatbelt. I’m also sure that Massawa would want prisoners for questioning.” I looked hard at Pam. “Did you come here directly after seeing the crash?”
At that, she shook her head once. “I pulled over fifteen miles later and watched the road. Jessica searched the woods for scouts. No one came after us. Before we left, we tore up the pavement for fifty feet, then covered the mess with two-inch nails.”
“Nails?” asked Sookie incredulously.
Pam’s pride doubled. “Never leave home without a bucket of nails, honey. Rocks and trees can be pushed off the road in seconds, but even vampires need time to sweep itty-bitty nails out of the way.”
Sookie whistled. “And to think I already owe you a kiss.”
Pam chuckled and slid her tongue over her lips.
I growled. “Dick. Pants.”
Sookie folded both hands into the crook of my arm. “Maybe you wanna bring them up to speed? Tell them everything they don’t already know?”
I stepped forward into Pam’s face, staring her down sternly before turning away and giving a quick synopsis of everything I’d told Sookie minutes before. They listened intently.
Jessica looked frightened. “So it’s just us? Nobody else can help? Against an army or an ancient Egyptian or anything?”
Sookie smiled gently at her. I felt momentarily bad about involving a fledgling in a fight that would surely claim her life. “There is no one else,” I answered. “No vampires can be trusted. Massawa is too well placed. My hope to protect Sookie with an army provided by the Authority is pointless if the commander of that army wants her dead. Humans are only weaknesses at this point. Any who matter to Sookie have been removed from the situation for their protection. Weres are with the doctor and Herveaux. I assume those with Ludwig are dead. Last I checked, Herveaux was progressing as planned.”
They digested this. I felt a ripple of fear from Sookie at the thought of Hadley and Hunter’s capture. There was little I could do to reassure her. I’d done what I could to protect her cousin, but the girl’s existence was known in the vampire community and her past made her very, very hard to forget. And Massawa forgot nothing. If he was interested in Hadley, then Herveaux would prove as deterring as a paper umbrella. Hunter would be discovered purely by accident. A windfall apple. He would be eaten on sight, rendered as tribute to Massawa, or simply sold. I had far more hope for his adult companions than I did the Fae child.
I would have swallowed my own tongue before saying as much to Sookie.
Jessica sensed the sorrow in the room. “I’m sure they’re fine,” she said aloud. No one commented.
“So what now? Do we knit booties?” asked Pam.
I rolled my eyes. “Save your little wooden needles for something more constructive and go patrol. I shot a spying shifter fifteen minutes ago. Go find more and bring them here. I want answers as to when Massawa plans to move on us.”
They bowed their heads in deference to their maker, friend and king. Jessica looked up. “Won’t he bring that army, though. Won’t we see them coming a mile off?”
Sookie’s fingers tensed in my arm slightly. “Eric?”
I shook my head, rubbing her fingers with my own. “You never see men like him. They come at you sideways. As much as I’ve prepared, I’ll doubt I’ve thought of his plan of attack.”
My mate leaned into my slightly and whispered into my side. “Eric?”
Pam clucked her tongue in irritation. “So where first? The woods? The house? That bowling lane you call a driveway?”
“House perimeter, then work your way out. No one gets through unless they’re pinioned by you and ready for questioning.” I reached into my back pocket and retrieved two phones. I threw them at each woman. Each caught hers with no effort. “Burners. Call me with anything suspicious. Or if you’re killed. I’ll need to restrategize.”
Pam made an indelicate gesture and Jessica nodded seriously, as though she absolutely planned to call and alert me if she was staked into a gooey puddle in the dirt.
They zipped back up into the dark tunnel. I lost sight of them in seconds.
There was a gentle tug at my sleeve.
I looked down at Sookie. She looked back with eyes so wide with fear that each and every bone in my body turned to ice. But not because of her eyes.
Her skin. Her beautiful skin that I told her not to jump out of, was glowing a pure, shimmering gold. She was Midas’ daughter in all of her horrifying glory. “Eric?”
“What, Sookie? What is it?”
She wet her lips, then bit them inwards. “I feel them. Everywhere. They’re coming.”
“What’s happening to you? Who is coming?” I swooped down with both arms and locked her in. She was not leaving me. Not even if she shimmered away into nothingness. I was going with her.
“The fairies,” a tremulous, terrified squeak. “I can sense them. Lots of them.”
She took my hand and placed it on her beautiful stomach, nestled snugly between us. “And him. He’s coming, too. Right now.”