Forest received a phone call around noon one day, just as he was waking up.
It was Valerie Ursine-Mentary, one of Flynn’s inner circle of advisers. “I think it’s time to talk about my situation,” Valerie said. “I’m going to be at the Crypt Club before work if you can make the time.”
So Hunter made the time.
The Crypt Club was deserted at 4pm in the afternoon. When he arrived, he only had the bartender to keep him company. In most cases, he wouldn’t be concerned about that at all. With the kind of business that went on at the Crypt Club, bartenders knew to keep their stories to themselves. But this was different — he had a feeling this conversation was going to intrude on the Emperor of Evil’s private business.
When Valerie appeared, he held up his drink and gestured with it back toward the stairs. “It’s stuffy in here,” he said. “I’m going to take a walk, and you’re welcome to join me.”
Valerie gave him a wry smile. She knew how the game worked.
[Sorry. They really did talk, but I had a screen snap fail. As in I failed to take screen snaps.]
They strolled down back paths together for a while, not bothering to make smalltalk. When Forest decided they were as safe as they were going to get, he spoke. “You have a problem I can help with?”
Ursine-Mentary gave an expressive shrug, though she didn’t stop walking. “I seem to have my foot caught in the door, and I think you have personal interest in my current assignment.”
Forest said nothing and waited for her to continue. If he had any reaction, it was hidden behind his mirrored glasses.
“You know I am personally assigned to Robbin Baerwyn.”
Forest nodded. “I hear you two are engaged. Congratulations.”
Valerie looked daggers at him. “It’s not much of a risk. He’s 92 with a weak heart. He enjoys having a younger woman to hang on his arm, and it keeps me in his confidence.”
“Go on.” Forest kept his face impassive, but he knew that was hardly the whole story. Valerie was a young widow because her first husband, noted scientist Dr. U. Mentary, hadn’t been much older than that when she married him. She had a thing for older men. Much older men. And these days she had a son to support alone as well. Whatever she felt for Baerwyn, it couldn’t hurt to have access to his assets.
“Robbin is obsessed with finding immortality, and he’s trying to sell his family out to do it. He has struck a deal with Flynn over his daughter Eliana. I don’t know all the details, but I know Flynn was keeping her as a receptionist and late-night snack for a while, and something changed his mind. Now that Robbin’s health is really starting to fail, he’s getting desperate, and he plans to try again to get Flynn to accept Eliana as payment for Flynn’s favor.” None of them ever said vampire aloud, but Valerie knew just as well as Forest what Flynn was. Baerwyn wanted Flynn to turn him.
“Flynn is never going to do it, you know,” Forest said. “He doesn’t need the competition.”
Valerie offered a mirthless smile. “Of course,” she said. “But Robbin doesn’t know that, and Eliana doesn’t know what end is up. I know you have some kind of personal interest in the Baerwyn family. Eliana could use a white knight to ride in to her rescue right about how.”
Forest let out a chuckle in spite of himself. “Nobody,” he said, “has ever accused me of being a white knight.”
Every since Hunter had seen that sparkling white fairy tale create, he’d been obsessed with finding it again. The owner of the Alchemy Academy knew him by sight now. He had read every book they had on unicorns, and now he had even more obscure ones on order.
Unicorns were powerful nature spirits. They appeared mostly in the darkest night in places away from civilization. Hunter could work in his garden at any time, so he moved to a nocturnal schedule and began roaming the woods and the seashores with Enigma at night.
He was scouting an old medieval ruin called Dragon Rock the night he ran into Eliana Baerwyn.
She had climbed to the top of the highest remaining rampart and was looking down into the remains of the moat with empty eyes. Hunter’s chest squeezed with pity at the sight of her. “Eliana!” he called.
Eliana jumped. Then she saw him. “Hunter!”
“I know I’m being kind of a jerk,” Hunter said. “But I’ve seen stones up there pull loose without reason. I couldn’t bear it if you fell in and got hurt.”
Eliana’s eyes were so filled with despair that it scared Hunter just to look at her. “I didn’t think you’d care that much,” she said.
Hunter was perplexed. “You didn’t call me back because your dad said not to? Why do you let him have that kind of power over you?”
Eliana trembled. “You don’t know my father.”
“Lead the way,” Eliana said.
They ran for the Sample house together and dripped on the doormat. The house was dark. Everyone was asleep except Forest, who was at work.
“This is beautiful,” Eliana breathed. “I had no idea you lived in a place like this.”
Hunter blushed. “The Samples were kind of a big name in Sunset Valley, where we moved from,” he admitted. “There’s money in the family. But I never wanted to live on that. Come on. I want to show you something.”
He took her hand and drew her into the arboretum. “This is mine,” he said, gesturing to the rows of fruits and vegetables. “I’m making a business at it, and it’s almost self-sufficient.”
At first, Hunter could barely breathe. Then he breathed into her hair. “You’re trembling. You shouldn’t be standing in the night air soaked through like that.” He forced himself to pull away and fetch her some warm sweats.
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” Eliana said. “You’re so caring and kind.”
Hunter blushed and shrugged. “Thanks,” he said.
Eliana looked at him, and her eyes brimmed with tears. “You’re too good a person to get involved with me,” she said. “You should give it up.”
Hunter scowled. “Why do you said that?” he demanded.
“Hunter,” she said, “I’m pregnant.”
That was one thing he hadn’t been expecting to hear. “What?” he said. “How? I– If you– I would never get in the way–“
Forest shook his head. “Please don’t let me interrupt,” he said. “If you can keep Ms. Baerwyn entertained down here, I’ll see what I can do to find her someplace to sleep.”
“What?” Hunter and Eliana said together.
Forest lifted his glasses and gave Eliana a look that chilled her blood. “Ms Baerwyn,” Forest said seriously, “I think it’s a fortunate coincidence that you ended up here. Here we can offer you protection. I don’t think you should go home.”
Well, THIS post got a little bit away from me.
StoryProgression hates me. Just as Hunter is getting ready to ask Eliana to be his girlfriend, I get the notification that she and Weston Mentary had a little “unexpected software failure” or however that notification is phrased. I’d intended to ask her to move into the house while Hunter finished his LTW, but now we have a baby too. With all of Hunter’s pets and Veronica still alive and kicking, the household got overstuffed and crazy.
But, hey, Eliana turned out to be a Great Kisser, so Hunter really did have the time of his life :).
She’s also an Angler and a Loser, which seems like it ties into becoming the victim of her father’s plots.