Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Breandan lit a fire while Sookie pulled the cushions off the small couch so they could lay on the floor. There was really no need for a fire, but the light of the flames emphasized the reconnection they felt. “Hungry?” Sookie asked. She walked through to the kitchen, turning on the lights. She glanced at her reflection in the sunroom glass, wondering if she was giving her new neighbors a peep show.
“We’re all alone out here,” Breandan came up behind her, pulling her against him and burying his nose in the place where her neck met her shoulder. “No one to see me devour you,” he whispered.
“Well, good!” Sookie giggled. “Then we know what we’re having for dessert.”
Naked cooking turned out to be more fun than either of them expected. There was touching and tickling to interrupt searing and plating. Breandan carried the dishes back into the living room and they sat on the floor, using the small coffee table to hold their food. They soon discovered that food fed from the other’s plate was more interesting and that food taken from body parts was most interesting of all.
“Do you ever intend to sleep?” Sookie asked many hours later, Breandan kissing his way back up her body, his length stiffening against her.
“I’m making up for lost time,” he teased, nipping her inner thigh. “There was that long flight and that longer ride here. And now my Father will be here for dinner tomorrow night, or perhaps I should say tonight…”
“What are you talking about?” and Sookie sat up, tumbling Breandan off her. He laid on his back and his mouth fell open.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, “I meant to tell you earlier. My Father, Rogan, he is coming here for dinner.”
“He invited himself?” Sookie was starting to get up, but Breandan was reluctant to let her go. He grabbed at her hand and when she shook him off, he grabbed at her ankle.
“No,” and Breandan smirked, “I invited him.”
“You what!” Sookie squeaked and that was it. She jumped up and started grabbing her clothes. It made no sense. Rogan would have to eat at their table. He would owe Sookie a favor in exchange, and then Mae’s words came back to Breandan. Sookie didn’t understand. She knew almost nothing of their world and he realized it was time to correct some part of that.
“This is a good thing,” Breandan held out his arms, trying to block her heading to the staircase. “You don’t understand!”
“I’ll tell you what I understand!” Sookie spun around, her lip jutting out and her eyes snapping. “You decided to invite your Father, whom I’ve never met and whom you tell me pretty much hates my guts, to dinner, a dinner that apparently, you expect me to cook. I’m in a strange house. I still don’t know where everything is and I don’t have any of my cookbooks. Oh, and you expect me to do it in what? Twelve hours?”
Breandan glanced at the clock on the bookcase, “He won’t be here until six tonight,” he told the bristling woman in front of him. “There is plenty…”
“Of what? Time for me to pull some special dinner out of my ass? And how are you helping? By keeping me up all night so I look like shit later! Fuck!” and Sookie stamped her foot and then punched Breandan in the arm. Her reaction was so unexpected, Breandan took a step back.
“You don’t understand!” Breandan repeated. He darted forward to grab Sookie’s upper arms. He thought to hold her in place, so he could explain, but she was having none of it.
She twisted in his arms and her face grew angry, “You better take your hands off me this minute, Breandan O’Hara, or you’re going to wish you did!”
It occurred to Breandan that Sookie was facing him and his vulnerable parts were only a kneejerk away, so he released her arms, bowed his head a little, and stepped back, saying, “Just give me one minute, please! You know we are Fae. Rogan’s coming here and agreeing to eat your food is a very good thing!” He cocked his head, meeting Sookie’s eyes, and gestured toward the leather chair, “Please, Sookie.”
Sookie’s hands fisted, but she sat down on the leather chair, then bounced back up, putting her pants between her and the cold seat. She pulled her shirt over her head and wrapped her arms around her. “Well?” she challenged.
Breandan advanced toward her. He kept his movements slow and he lowered himself to his knees so she wouldn’t have to look up to him. “It’s an old tradition,” he told her. “It started long ago, even before the Christians hunted us. Humans would leave us food, offerings. In exchange, we would give them favors. You see?” and Breandan waited.
“Like in the fairy tales?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Breandan nodded. “Many of those stories have their roots in truth. If Rogan accepts food from your hands and eats it, he will owe you a wish.” Breandan thought of the wish he had once wanted Sookie to ask and he felt his heart clench, knowing it could never be. Instead, he continued, “You can make the wish at that time or you can remain silent, tucking the wish away for a rainy day. You don’t need to say it. Rogan will know.”
“What about if he gives me food?” Sookie asked.
“It would be best not to eat anything from his hand. You are remarkably resistant to our glamour,” and when Sookie’s eyebrows drew together, Breandan explained, “a Fae’s ability to influence. Still, Rogan is our King and his power is greater than others.”
“King?” Sookie latched onto that word. “And that would make you?”
“His son,” Breandan shrugged.
“You have brothers or sisters?” Sookie asked. It seemed a funny time to be learning things that seemed so basic and Sookie remembered her Aunt Linda’s words. At the end of the day, she really didn’t know a lot about Breandan O’Hara.
“No,” Breandan was telling her. “Just me.”
“I guess I understand why your Dad might not be too happy about me,” Sookie said to her clasped hands. “Bet he really wants you married to some Fae woman, right?”
Breandan laid his hand over hers. When she looked at him, he answered truthfully, “Yes.”
“So, he figures I’m in the way?” Sookie asked.
“He doesn’t see you that way,” Breandan told her and that was the truth, too. “He wishes to meet you and he intends to offer you a place here.”
“Just not with you,” Sookie said quietly.
“Perhaps you will change his mind,” Breandan answered. Sookie shivered and Breandan leaned forward, drawing her to him. She came readily this time and soon, Breandan was sitting in the chair with Sookie in his lap. “You are not without your own powers,” he told her. “Remember, you are not wholly human. You are attractive to us.” When Sookie snorted, Breandan said, “I expressed that poorly. It’s not a physical thing, Sookie. There is some part of your make-up, that part of you that is Fae, that calls to us. Father will notice it. It will work to your advantage.”
“Can I wish for him to be okay with us being together?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Breandan shook his head. “No, wishes don’t work that way. You can’t wish for a Fae to change what they are. You can only ask for their help where your goals align. Father might help you improve a business deal or get a better potato crop.” When Sookie laughed, Breandan added, “Anything to do with nature is something we do well. We are aligned with living things here. He can help you with money, but he can’t change your fate or deliver you from a place you don’t wish to be.”
“Do people here know what you are?” Sookie asked, thinking of the couple in the store yesterday.
“Most people don’t believe we exist,” Breandan shrugged. “They are too busy watching their televisions and driving their cars. They don’t pay attention to what’s around them. I blame cell phones!” and he laughed and Sookie laughed with him. When they grew quiet, he said, “Still, there’s some who hold onto the old ways. They’d never ask, of course, since that would risk our wrath. And us? We’d never tell them and neither can you. The reason all of this works is because we keep our ways and our gifts among us. If humans were to know about us, it would be terrible. They are a greedy lot, almost as greedy as us, and soon they’d be trying to capture us and force us to dance to their tune.”
“What would happen?” Sookie asked.
“We’d have to destroy them,” Breandan told her, “and in the end, they’d destroy us instead.”
“I’m sorry for you,” Sookie sighed and laid her head on Breandan’s shoulder, her hand finding its place against his smooth chest.
“It’s the price of being different,” Breandan sighed, knowing full well that these words would resonate with this woman. He felt it again, the tightening in his chest. It seemed constant at times and he wondered what it meant. He knew it wasn’t an illness. The Fae were never ill. Still, when Sookie snuggled against him, whispering her love, he almost winced at the sharpness of it.
It was agreed that Breandan would go out in the morning in search of supplies. Sookie went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, and then pulled open the drawers and baskets in the pantry. “Chicken,” she announced, pulling a bird from the freezer and sliding it into the refrigerator. “Roasted potatoes and salad.” She pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and started writing. “And I’m making him my Mom’s pound cake,” Sookie nodded. “It’s the only one I can remember without a recipe and it’s wonderful!”
Once the list was finished, Sookie thrust it at Breandan, “You’d better put that in a safe place!” she told him, “and now, we’re going to bed!”
“To play?” Breandan asked hopefully.
“To sleep!” Sookie scolded him, but he could see she wasn’t as angry as she’d been earlier.
“I’ll have to go into Slievemore for some of this,” Breandan told her in the morning as he looked at the list.
“Well, you have no one to blame but yourself!” Sookie shrugged. “Next time, give a girl a little warning!”
“You could send me on my way with a smile,” Breandan added, pushing Sookie against the wall and letting her know what kind of smile he meant.
“You should be practically beaming after what you got last night!” Sookie laughed. “But, I’ll tell you what. You get back before three and I’ll give you dessert early.”
“I want it in the kitchen,” Breandan purred. “I want you leaning over with your hands on the sink so I can use my fingers and my tongue on you. I want to see every drop of honey you give me, Sookie, and you can expect me to demand seconds,” and he leaned in, capturing her mouth, plundering, giving no quarter.
He kissed her until she was panting, and then Breandan stepped back so suddenly, Sookie stumbled. He smirked, knowing what he’d done to her and he grabbed her hand, laying it against him so she would know he felt the same before he swung out the door.
“Bastard!” Sookie laughed, then rubbed her hands over her aching breasts, caressing them before taking a deep breath. “Okay,” she announced to the empty hall, “Let’s go see what we’ve got!” and she headed to the kitchen.
Sookie walked into the pantry first, pulling out the potatoes she intended to use tonight. There were some dried herbs and she pulled out thyme, salt and pepper. She opened another basket on the floor to find onions and she pulled out a couple of those, too.
Next, she walked to the refrigerator. There were greens, a cucumber, and one, lonely tomato in the bin. It started to occur to her that living on an island, even in a temperate zone, would mean that fresh produce in winter would be scarce. “Glad I picked pound cake,” Sookie mumbled out loud.
There was something about the bird defrosting on the shelf, and Sookie pulled it out. It didn’t look like any chicken she’d ever seen, and suddenly she realized what she was looking at. “Shit! Shit!” It was a goose. Sookie had never cooked one before, but she remembered stories of women doing it wrong and the bird coming out tough and greasy. She looked around the kitchen again, confirming what she already knew. No cookbooks. There were none in the living room either. She’d checked.
“Stop panicking! Think!” Sookie scolded herself and ran to her purse to pull out her cell phone. She thumbed in her password, then looked at the static screen. There were no bars. Apparently, she was in a dead zone. She checked her setting, changed to roaming regardless of the cost, but with the same result. “Shit!” she swore again. She couldn’t search for recipes. She couldn’t call Breandan. “How did I not notice this?” she asked the reflection in the hall mirror, and then she knew. She didn’t have anyone left to call.
It knocked the wind from her. “I’m alone,” she told herself, “except for Breandan, I don’t have anyone else here.” She started to hyperventilate and she abruptly sat down on the floor to keep herself from falling. “What were you thinking?” she put it out there. “Aunt Linda told you…” but then Sookie got ahold of herself. All her life she had to be the grown up. She had walked into a hundred new places and met hundreds of new faces. “Think!” she scolded herself.
“Get up!” she ordered and she stood on firmer legs. She looked at her sneakers and thought about the long walk into town along the beach. “You know there’s a road that goes there,” she reasoned with herself. “There’s only one road to the house and it has to go back to the town road. It can’t be far and it’ll be easier than trudging through the sand.”
Sookie made herself put on her sneakers. She wore a heavier wool sock this time, figuring it would help protect her feet a little better. “Good thing Breandan healed you up,” Sookie cheered herself, “See, you were meant to do this!” She knew she was being silly, talking to herself, rallying her more timid self into doing what needed to be done, but it was a technique she’d learned over the course of her life. It was how she managed to overcome her nervousness and get through the things that needed to be done.
She reached for her coat, swallowed down her misgivings, and opened the front door to find a strange woman standing there with her hand upraised. “Oh, my God!” Sookie yelled and jumped back into the house.
“Oh, Christ!” the woman said at the same time, holding her hand over her heart. After a moment, the woman said, “I’m sorry, but you scared the Bejeezus out of me!”
“I guess!” Sookie exhaled, then held out her hand, “I’m Sookie Stackhouse.”
“I’m Paula Brady,” the woman replied. “I’m your neighbor up the road. We’re the farm that drops off food for the place. I just stopped by to see if you needed anything.”
“Brady…” and Sookie remembered the people at the store in town mentioning the name in connection with a farm. “Well, thank you,” Sookie said, at a loss for words.
“You’re American,” Paula cocked her head and her expression dropped.
“Yes,” Sookie answered, “Why do you do that?”
“What?” Paula asked her.
“The people at the store in Killary did the same thing. They looked at me as if I was some victim,” and Sookie realized she was being rude. “Again, I apologize for catching you off guard. Why don’t you step in. Maybe you can save me.” Sookie laughed, but there was something in Paula’s face. “What I mean is I could use some help. I’ve got to cook a dinner tonight and I thought the bird in the freezer was a chicken, but…”
“That would be the goose for Christmas,” Paula nodded.
“Exactly!” Sookie answered, ”But Breandan’s Father is coming for dinner tonight and I thought it was a chicken. Now, Breandan is running around looking for sour cream and lemons, and I have no cell service to ask him to pick up a chicken.” Sookie was walking toward the kitchen, and Paula was following slowly behind her.
When Sookie got to the kitchen, she turned around to find Paula still in the living room, her eyes taking everything in. “You’ve never been inside?” Sookie asked.
“Oh, goodness, no!” Paula told her. “I expect my Tom won’t be happy to hear I’ve been gallivanting about, either.”
Sookie pointed at the goose, “Can you help?” she asked.
Paula seemed to come to herself and her face settled, “Well, of course I can! I have a fresh chicken all ready and it’s just up the road. I’ll give Tom a call and he’ll run it right down. Is there anything else you’d be needing?”
Sookie described the menu and the cake she was making for dessert. “I’m pretty nervous,” she confided to Paula. “I know Breandan’s Father thinks I’m a little nobody from nowhere, but Breandan seems to think feeding him will make a difference.”
“Feeding himself sweets is a good bet,” Paula said as if she knew something. “I have some strawberry sauce you can put over the cake. It’s too sweet for me, but I’ll be willing to bet your intended’s Father loves it!”
“Breandan isn’t my intended,” Sookie swallowed, squaring her shoulders. “We haven’t known each other all that long. We met in Boston and when my Mother…” and Sookie’s voice caught. She turned away, steeling herself not to show too much emotion to this stranger. When she was under control, Sookie turned back, “When my Mother passed, I came here with Breandan.”
“So, he captured you?” and Paula’s face had that sad look again.
“My heart?” Sookie volunteered. “Yes, I guess he did!”
Paula pulled out her phone pushed the buttons. She waited for someone to pick up and she had a quick conversation. “Why don’t we wait outside?” she suggested, “Tom will be here in a jiff.”
Sookie didn’t think much about it, but afterwards she wondered if Paula had been serious about not wanting her husband to know she’d been inside the cottage.
Tom Brady was a short, thick man. His shoulders seemed as broad as he was tall and his nose and cheeks were red. He tipped his hat to Sookie, but refused to take her hand, instead handing over some bags. “Happy to be of service to you,” he told her, then turning to Paula, said, “We should be headed home, then.”
“We’re right down the road,” Paula told Sookie. “Walk down the lane and you’ll see our gate to the left. I’m around most days.” Tom didn’t say anything, but he didn’t look happy.
“Thanks again,” Sookie told them both, opening her wallet, but they refused her money.
“Just tell the O’Hara we were happy to help,” Tom Brady told her. He gestured Paula toward her car and he stalked to the utility vehicle he’d driven down the lane.
“Hope the dinner goes well for you,” Paula said kindly and then she was in her car, turning around in the area in front of the garage shed.
Sookie headed in and started arranging things. She pulled out the flour and eggs she’d seen earlier, wondering if the eggs came from the Bradys, too. All too soon, she was out of things she could do and still the hours dragged. Sookie checked her cell, then remembered the laptop in the office at the other end of the house. She checked, only to find it was password protected. Even the shows on television seemed designed to remind her she was in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do but wait.
It was just past noon and cold outside, but sunny. Reluctantly, Sookie pulled on her sneakers and headed back to the beach. ‘I won’t go far,’ she promised herself. In no time, she was so intent on finding sea glass and small shells she didn’t notice the hour fly by or the bobbing heads of the seals who remained just outside the wave line, watching her.
“I’m back!” It was Breandan, standing on the small bluff next to the house and Sookie found herself running to meet him, her hands full of small treasures.
“Success?” she asked, almost missing his kiss in her hurry to get inside and get started.
A couple of the fresh herbs he brought had seen better days, but the lemons were perfect. Sookie moved with purpose, mixing first dry ingredients and then wet, folding and flavoring, the oven heating as she worked. When the sensor indicated the oven was ready, Sookie slid the cake onto the middle shelf. Breandan was hovering, so Sookie handed him the mixing bowl. “I had a different thing in mind for my hands,” Breandan told her, but Sookie laughed and asked him if he’d like to lick the bowl instead.
Potatoes would have to wait, but she added the pepper and carrots Breandan had found to the salad. She sniffed and then tasted the dressing he’d found. Red raspberry and poppy seed. It was sweet and Sookie remembered Paula’s certainty that sweet was the way to gain Rogan’s approval.
Sookie glanced at the clock again. The cake would come out just in time for the chicken to start baking. She took a deep breath to steady herself. “He doesn’t bite,” Breandan assured her.
“We need to get my phone figured out,” Sookie answered, wanting to steer the conversation away from tonight. “I have no service here. I tried to call you, but I couldn’t.” She told him of her earlier adventure and how the Bradys helped.
“Did you tell them anything?” Breandan asked.
“Like what?” Sookie asked. “Paula was really nice. She sent over some strawberry sauce for the cake, you know, for later. I’m going to take them a couple pieces in the morning as a thank you.”
“It’s not necessary,” Breandan shrugged.
“Of course, it’s necessary!” Sookie snorted. “I’m guessing you pay them for keeping the place stocked, but it’s always necessary to repay a kindness.” Sookie took the bowl from Breandan’s hands and as she placed it in the sink, asked, “Is there some reason people here feel sorry for me?”
“What did the Bradys say to you?” Breandan asked.
Sookie wasn’t looking at him, but there was something in his tone that made the hair on the back of Sookie’s neck stand up. She’d never thought of Breandan as anything other than mostly human, even when he dropped his disguises, but now, she did. Her breath caught and she couldn’t turn around to look at him, almost afraid of what she’d see.
“Nothing,” she answered, wetting her lips. She threw her head back, pulled her smile back in place, and came up with a story. “It’s just the way they look at me. Is it so wrong to be American? I know you think being Irish is all that, but do people here really think we’re that pathetic?”
“We think all Americans are mad for work and don’t have a clue how to live,” Sookie’s Breandan was back. He didn’t look like the scary creature who said words that made her shiver.
‘I’m imagining things,’ she chided herself, but she was unsettled enough that she avoided his advances, pleading nerves about tonight. Before long, it was true. Minutes seemed to rush past. Sookie’s hands flew, preparing vegetables, setting the table in the sunroom, then finding candles to add ambience. Breandan set wine glasses on the table and pulled two clear bottles of some clear wine from a closet in the cottage. When the cake finished cooling, Sookie dusted it with confectioner’s sugar, then ran upstairs to dress. Although Breandan told her it would be informal, Sookie chose to wear a dress with stockings anyway. She pulled her hair back, wrapping it in a low bun gathered at the base of her neck.
“No,” Breandan told her, stepping into the bathroom. “Leave your hair loose. It is better.”
“I just don’t want it getting into everything,” Sookie scowled.
“Trust me,” Breandan insisted, then reached up and pulled the pins out of her hair himself. His eyes were hard as he worked and Sookie remembered his voice earlier.
‘It’s just nerves,’ she told herself, and then there was a knock at the door.
Breandan didn’t wait for her before opening it and Sookie found herself navigating narrow steps and stepping around Breandan before she could offer her hand.
“Charles O’Hara,” the tall man introduced himself. He didn’t take her hand. Instead, he made a slight bow.
“Charles…?” and Sookie glanced at Breandan. He had told her his Father’s name was Rogan. She caught Breandan’s eye and he shook his head.
“Pleased to meet you!” Sookie replied and made her own more awkward bow.
Breandan’s Father wasn’t how she’d imagined him. Now that she could see under a Fae’s disguise, it was distracting. Charles O’Hara looked as if he had a transparent mask in place over his real features. On the surface, Charles was a greying, distinguished businessman in an open-collared shirt and dress pants, but just underneath was a dark-haired man with sharp, flinty eyes. “So, you are Adele’s child,” he greeted her, leaning forward.
“I’m sorry?” Sookie answered, “My Mother’s name was Michele.” She remembered the birth certificate then and asked, “Maybe you mean my Grandmother?”
He was staring at her in that odd, unnerving way, one layer of blue, laughing eyes and just under it, the black eyes of a snake. “Adele was your Grandmother? How charming!” he nodded. “Yes, that must be it. And is Adele still living?”
He took hold of her wrist, but it wasn’t like when Breandan touched her. This man’s touch left her feeling cold. “No, Father,” Breandan answered. “As I told you, Sookie has no living grandparents.”
“Or parents,” Sookie added, starting to feel bullied. It brought out the fighter in her and she resolved not to let Breandan’s Father throw her. If he wanted to be unpleasant, she’d bury him in kindness! He wouldn’t get the best of her! “Won’t you come in?” she smiled broadly, then ‘Breandan, why don’t you take your Father’s coat?” Turning, she led the way into the living room. Breandan had started a fire and there was a decanter of some dark liquid Sookie hadn’t seen before and glasses on the side table.
“Dinner will be in about a half hour,” she announced, then went to fetch the plate of cheeses and marinated vegetables she’d prepared. It looked pretty on the coffee table and Sookie felt a little more confident. Breandan was handing his Father a small dram glass of the dark liquid.
“Sookie?” he asked, tilting the decanter toward her.
“None for me,” Sookie smiled pleasantly. “I’ll have wine with dinner,” then sat back to watch the two faces of the man sitting across from her slide over each other. Sookie opened their visit with her tried and true question, “How was your journey out here?”
Sookie relied on every lesson in manners she’d ever been taught. She asked Charles questions about himself, listening and following up. She laughed at his small jokes and pretended to not understand when he said something nasty or cutting. Her smile never faltered and by the time she brought the cake out with its lovely cut glass bowl filled with strawberry sauce, Charles was doing his part to be charming as well.
“I can understand Breandan’s desire to keep you all to himself, Sookie,” Charles purred as he lifted a second bite of the pound cake to his mouth. “You are a charming person!”
“I am comfortable here,” Sookie replied, “May I pour you a second cup of tea?”
“No,” Charles waved his hand. “Wine, though, and you. You should have another glass, I insist!”
The golden wine Breandan poured with dinner was unlike anything Sookie had tasted before. It had hints of honey and something else that seemed to go right to her head. Breandan dutifully poured, but his eyes looked worried. As the dinner progressed, Breandan seemed to say less and less and now, he was talking only when his Father asked him something directly.
When Sookie had taken a sip, Charles leaned forward a little, “I’m sure Breandan has told you he will return to work at the hotel next week. What he may not have mentioned is that he will be running the hotel in Slievemore. It is an important responsibility and will require a great deal of his time.” He waited for Sookie to absorb this information. “There may be some travel required of him,” Charles added, his eyes watching her, never blinking.
“I understand. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity,” Sookie replied. ‘Careful!’ her inner voice told her.
“It’s just that you so far away and with the hours he’ll be required to work, well, it hardly seems fair that his few leisure hours should be spent driving,” and Charles smiled as if the idea of her not seeing his son anymore didn’t bother him in the least.
“What would you suggest?” and Sookie smiled her most winning smile.
“This really is wonderful cake,” Charles deflected, looking as though he was debating things before saying, “I suppose the apartment at the hotel could be made available. It’s not as romantic as this cottage, of course, but at least then Breandan wouldn’t be required to risk his safety every night on these dark roads.”
‘Don’t do it!’ the voice was telling her and her words said, “That’s a kind thought.” She waited, and Charles waited, too. Finally, Sookie asked, “What would something like that require?”
“You need only ask and I would be happy to arrange it,” Charles O’Hara couldn’t hide the narrowing of his eyes. ‘It’s a trap!’ Sookie thought. ‘He’s trying to get you to waste your wish!’
“I really appreciate your offer,” Sookie almost purred. “Of course, I want Breandan to be happy.” She could see the way Charles leaned forward in anticipation. “Breandan and I will talk about it later,” and she smiled demurely, making a point of flashing what she hoped was a dopey look toward Breandan.
She stood and the men rose, too. Sookie was pretty sure dinner was over, but she couldn’t resist one last jab. “So, Charles, do you live around here? Breandan never said, but with Christmas right around the corner, maybe we could plan on getting together for holiday dinner?”
Sookie was sure she heard a hiss, but she couldn’t see where either of them had moved. She pasted her smile in place and stood her ground, trying to look unperturbed until Charles turned to his son, “Breandan, I will see you next week.” Charles O’Hara turned to Sookie next, his smile tight, “Thank you for a fascinating dinner. I look forward to our next encounter.” He bowed, but when he left, it was Rogan Sookie saw, not the elegant businessman and Sookie was pretty sure she’d made an enemy.
“I think it would be best if I checked in with my Father first,” Breandan told her as they parked the car in Slievemore. He had barely spoken with her after dinner last night. They went to bed shortly afterward. Breandan stripped as he always did but, instead of initiating foreplay, he snuggled against her back, holding her against him. When Sookie started stroking the long line of his thigh, he’d scolded her. “Go to sleep, Sookie,” then loosened his grip and turned away from her.
Sookie asked if she’d done something wrong last night and again in the car this morning, but Breandan dodged the question. Instead, he’d explained the landscape they were driving through and confirmed his Father lived in Carrack, many miles away. “There will be no repeat of last night,” he told her in a way that sounded as though he meant more than one thing.
“Do you want me to go with you?” Sookie asked.
She wasn’t surprised when he told her it wasn’t necessary. “The best place for boots is up the hill,” he said instead. He gave her directions, and then drew a map so she wouldn’t get lost. “This won’t take long. I’ll meet you there.” Sookie half-expected he’d kiss her before he left and she couldn’t help feeling disappointed when he didn’t.
“Thought I’d be seeing this place with you,” she grumbled to herself as she started navigating the route Breandan outlined. The streets were as he named, but the distance between them was longer than Sookie anticipated, or maybe it was that it was a new place, so everything seemed bigger. When she took the left turn, she was faced with climbing a fairly steep hill. The sidewalks were wet and the street was cobblestone, which guaranteed her sneakers would slip. There were cars navigating down the street in single file between other cars parked on both sides of the road, many partially blocking the sidewalks. It was a tight squeeze and soon Sookie was panting, her winter coat and wool sweater, which had been fine this morning when they left, now feeling like too many layers. When she reached the top of the hill, she checked the map, but the street name on the sign didn’t match. The street she’d been climbing ended, so she scanned down the other side of the road and saw a sign with the name she needed tucked between buildings. Sookie carefully walked down the sidewalk on the right side until she reached the street, which was more accurately an alley, then she turned in.
The sides of the buildings were very close to the road but, after a bit, they backed away and the storefronts looked more modern. She spotted the store Breandan named just ahead of her and walked in. The boots were toward the back and Sookie was soon fitted with a pair of green, waterproof Wellingtons and another pair of leather boots that were both comfortable and waterproof. Sookie glanced at the window looking for Breandan as the clerk packed her purchases.
In no time, she was standing outside the store. “Now what?” she asked out loud. Breandan was nowhere to be seen and a drizzle started to fall. Sookie glanced around her and saw a pub right across the street. It looked pleasant enough with windows facing the clothing store, so she could keep a look out. She noticed the name of the place, ‘The Ghoul’s Kiss.’ “That sounds promising,” she mumbled sarcastically and squaring her shoulders, crossed the street and walked inside.
The door opened with the sound of a bell that was nailed above. There were some people inside and they all turned to stare at her as she walked in. “Not promising after all,” Sookie said to herself, wondering if she should just turn around and head back to wait at the car.
“It’s Sookie, isn’t it?” Sookie looked up and then around. She wasn’t sure who said that. It wasn’t as if her name was all that common. She swiveled her head again and almost jumped back when a tall, blond giant seemed to appear from nowhere. “It is you,” he half-smiled.
“Do I know you?” Sookie asked.
“In a way,” he replied rather cryptically. “What’s more important at the moment, though, is I know you. Where’s Breandan? Has he abandoned you already?”
“I think I’ll be going,” Sookie smiled tightly.
“Where?” the tall man asked. His smile was mocking. “You might as well wait here, out of the rain. If you’re worried, you might consider that I already know who you are and who your boyfriend is, which means it’s a safe bet that your boyfriend knows me as well.”
“I don’t think anything around here is a safe bet,” Sookie snipped.
“She’s smart, too,” a short, blond woman seemed to glide to stand beside the man.
“Who are you?” Sookie asked, then realizing how rude she sounded, held out her hand and said, “I’m Sookie Stackhouse.”
The woman just stared at Sookie’s hand, then lifting her eyes, said, “Pam. Pam Ravenscroft.” When Sookie glanced at the man, the woman she now knew as Pam said, “And this is Eric Northman. We own this place.”
“And you know Breandan?” Sookie asked the woman.
“We know all the Brigants,” Pam answered, “or, should I say, the O’Haras?”
“People sure seem to have a lot of names around here!” Sookie said, mostly to herself. It must have been a funny thing to say because both Pam and Eric laughed. Sookie couldn’t help staring at them. She could tell there was something different about them, but it wasn’t the same way Breandan and his relatives were different. There was no face under the face with Pam and Eric; no, it was something else.
“May I get you something while you wait?” Eric asked.
Sookie glanced around. The place didn’t look like a restaurant. It looked like a bar, but it was a little early to start drinking. “Coffee?” Sookie asked, hopefully.
Eric glanced at Pam who headed down a short hallway in back of the bar. “Anything else?” he asked. There was something about him, something almost familiar, which was crazy. He wasn’t like anyone she’d ever seen. He was taller than most men and too handsome to go unnoticed in any crowd. He seemed to know it, too, because when Sookie stared a tick too long, his smile crept up in a very knowing way.
“Coffee will do it,” Sookie said, a little too loudly, and then, “Thank you.” She glanced around again, “I’ll just sit over there by the window if that’s all right, you know, to watch for Breandan. He said he would meet me here, I mean, over there…” She gestured toward the clothing store. She realized she was rambling and without warning, her blush took over. Pasting her smile over her face, she ducked her head and scuttled over to sit at one of the tables along the front windows.
“We have just opened here,” Eric had followed her and he slid into the seat across from her as if she had invited him. He glanced at the window and adjusted the curtain so the slight light was blocked out on his side. “This is my second place. I have a pub like this in Carrack.”
“How nice for you,” Sookie knew her smile was making her look a little crazy, but she couldn’t think what else to do. The rain outside had picked up and the idea of walking back down the hill, slipping and sliding, was not attractive.
“It is, actually,” Eric laughed a little. Pam appeared with a cup of coffee she’d clearly purchased somewhere. “Thank you, Pam,” and Eric gestured. The woman set the coffee down and walked away. “This is not my usual territory, you see. I had to gain a concession from Rogan Brigant. I’m sure you’ve met him already,” and Eric looked at her, waiting.
Sookie figured a name like ‘Rogan’ couldn’t be that common, even here. “I met him last night,” Sookie nodded. “He said his name was Charles O’Hara.”
Eric nodded, “But, of course, it isn’t. They use the name O’Hara, but they’re all Brigants.”
“Even Breandan…” It was clicking for Sookie and the conclusions she was starting to reach didn’t feel good, and then she remembered. She remembered the way Breandan looked at her and the way he took care of her. She remembered the way he’d been with her Mother and how he helped without complaining. She remembered his music and the way he made her laugh and her eyes narrowed. “I’m sure there are good reasons why they choose to hide their identities. I’m betting even you can think of a reason or two!”
“You are loyal,” Eric nodded. “I could tell that about you. You have a pure heart,” and then he looked at her more directly. “You should not have come here. You should have stayed on your side of the ocean.”
Sookie’s mouth fell open. She couldn’t see where this stranger got off telling her anything. He was trying to cause trouble between her and Breandan and he had a way of looking at her that wasn’t quite polite. “Thank you for the coffee,” she stood up. “I’m sure Breandan is looking for me. I’ll be sure to let him know I saw you!”
“He can see that for himself,” Eric told her and he gestured toward the window. Breandan was standing across the street, staring at her. His face wasn’t exactly pleased, but Sookie smiled and waved.
Once he walked indoors, Breandan wasted no time picking up Sookie’s bag from the floor. “Are you ready?” he asked before turning to Eric. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m starting a business,” Eric sat back and pushed his long legs out in front of him. “You remember me telling you I was working for a concession? Well, this is it! Another bar and right here in Slievemore!”
“Of all towns, you had to locate in this one?” Breandan looked angry. Sookie walked very deliberately to stand behind Breandan, making clear where her allegiance lay. When Breandan glanced at her, Sookie placed her hand on his back and she felt that connection to him again. She could tell by the way he relaxed, just a hair, that he felt it, too, and it made her feel wonderful that she could do this for him.
Eric was staring at her and Sookie kept her eyes from his until he looked back to Breandan, “You know how this works. My place in Carrack is popular. This one will be, too. Who doesn’t like to take a little walk on the wild side, listening to music, and drinking into the wee hours?”
“You running this place on your own?” Breandan was looking around and Sookie could feel his unhappiness.
“Pam is here to help get things going. Once it’s up and running, she’ll go back to Carrack. I expect I’ll like the landscape here better,” and Eric reached over to pick up the cup of coffee from the table. “Don’t forget this,” he told Sookie, holding it out to her. “It’s important to stay warm against Irish rains!”
Without thinking, Sookie took the cup from Eric’s hand and sipped it. Breandan hissed and Sookie took a step back, startled at his reaction. “What?” she snapped. “It’s coffee!”
Breandan almost snarled at Eric, “She isn’t like others! She can’t be glamoured, so you can keep your tricks to yourself!”
“That may be,” Eric nodded, “but she is still a person and you know this isn’t going to end well for her!”
“What’s going on?” Sookie asked. She could tell something was being said that she didn’t understand and her worry returned.
“The ghoul is looking to make trouble,” Breandan turned to Sookie and wrapped his arms around her. “I am sorry I’m late. Father is leaving soon and there were things that needed to be said, but now, I’m here. Why don’t we go back to the car and drop off your things and I’ll buy you some lunch? Then I can give you a tour of Slievemore. We can see the hotel and take a walk around the harbor?” When Sookie glanced at the rain outside the window, Breandan pulled an umbrella from nowhere. It was her Breandan again and Sookie sensed nothing more than his happiness to be with her and she found she was eager to forget Eric Northman and the unsettled state of her morning.
“Perhaps you’d like to come by and grace us with your music?” Eric interrupted. Breandan turned from Sookie, but before he could say anything, Eric added, “It’s open session here every night and I have to say, the talent’s been impressive. Sessions start around nine, but you’ll have to be here a little early if you’re looking for a seat.”
“I’m sure you’re doing well,” Breandan nodded, “But maybe it’s just that you’re new. There’s lots of music pubs in Slievemore.”
Sookie thought Breandan’s words sounded like a threat, but Eric didn’t. He just laughed and said, “We’ll see!” and then bowed to Sookie. “You are welcome to visit anytime,” he told her. “Remember, you have a friend here.” Sookie could tell that Breandan wasn’t pleased, but she did the polite thing.
Breandan wrapped his arm around Sookie and soon they were walking down the street. As soon as her feet slipped on the sidewalk, though, Breandan swept her up into his arms, like some knight in shining armor and carried her into the first little shop. He insisted on helping her change her shoes for the boots she’d purchased and soon they were walking sure-footed over sidewalks. Breandan dragged her in and out of little stores, introducing her to shopkeepers and keeping her laughing with stories about the people they saw and local happenings. The stores were sporting their holiday decorations and Sookie found herself sighing. “I don’t suppose you do Christmas trees,” she said as they walked out of another store decorated in holly and wreaths.
“I haven’t,” Breandan told her, “but we could decorate the cottage if you like. Greens are traditional. There’s evergreen and holly growing near the cottage. We could cut some and bring it inside. Would you like that?”
“Our first Christmas together,” Sookie sighed.
“Yes, our first,” Breandan agreed and he steered her into the next shop, insisting on buying her some glass ornaments for the mantle above the fire. Her face was shining and her happiness warmed him. He almost forgot the unpleasant conversation with his Father and the deal he’d struck, agreeing to leave Sookie for manufactured trips come February in exchange for the gift of their privacy through January. He wondered again if he should have fought his Father. There had been a moment he almost told Rogan to stuff it, that he’d take his hybrid and return to the United States, but he hadn’t. He had knuckled under. Breandan looked at his face in the window’s reflection and the person he saw looking back was a coward.