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Andre met Pam in Carrack. They parked in the lot next to the local heritage museum and walked the several blocks to the hotel where Rogan Brigant was based. “Is he expecting us?” Andre asked.
“I left a message with his front desk,” Pam answered. They didn’t look at each other. There was always the chance Rogan had heard about what happened in Sophie-Ann’s Court and they were walking into a trap. Human families passed them, their children laughing, the soft, evening light making their faces glow.
“There must be a concert tonight,” Andre observed, pointing at a sign near the town park. Andre wasn’t one for chitchat under normal circumstances, which was how Pam knew he was nervous.
“If Rogan knew what happened, he would have contacted us first and insisted we meet somewhere private,” Pam replied. Andre reply, but Pam saw him roll his shoulders and let his guard drop just a bit.
They walked together into the lobby and Pam approached the desk manager standing behind the reception desk, “Ms. Ravenscoft and Mr. LeClerq to see Charles O’Hara.” The manager was Fae, so he didn’t bother hiding his disdain, his lip curled as he looked down his perfect nose.
“Is he expecting you?” It was in the way he said it. His tone let them know he knew exactly what they were. He was so condescending that Pam couldn’t help it. She allowed her fangs to peek from behind her lip for just a second. The Fae’s eyes widened. He hadn’t expected her to threaten exposure in the front lobby with all these humans around them, but, then again, the Seelie never did. “I will find him!” he squeaked before scuttling away.
“Seelie!” Andre snorted.
“Poser!” Pam agreed. They scanned those who walked through the busy lobby. Most were human, their eyes slightly glassy as they took in the old-fashioned grandeur. The wood glowed and the floors shone. Pam squinted, picking out the minor glamours used to make the place look just that little bit better than anywhere else.
“He is in his office,” the Fae manager interrupted, stepping in front of them to gain their attention. He didn’t bow, as was courtesy, but he did gesture toward a back hall.
Pam insisted the manager precede them. Rogan may not have known they were coming before, but he did now and if there was gossip leaking, the time they waited in the lobby would have given the King time to learn it. Let the Fae manager walk through the door first and deal with whatever was waiting! But nothing was. Rogan was seated in a chair near a couple of other chairs, sipping tea. He did rise when they came into the room, and he did bow while the manager left, pulling the door shut behind him. “Miss Ravenscroft! And the Queen’s own Second! To what do I owe this honor? Surely, it must be important to pull you both from your own business?”
“It has been many years,” Andre returned the bow. “Greetings from my Queen and best wishes for the continued prosperity of your kingdom.”
“May the night lend her many blessings to yours as well!” Rogan replied, and then gestured toward the chairs. “My person will be back shortly with TruBlood for you. It’s so nice to have something to offer guests of your kind, at long last, something other than the usual,” and Rogan allowed his eyes to twinkle at his little joke.
“Most enlightened,” Andre smiled. Vampires rarely stayed at Seelie establishments, although there were the exceptions. Fae blood was too enticing and being in close proximity was an excuse for accidents and accusations.
“I am told your pub is temporarily closed,” Rogan commented, turning to Pam. “I heard the sign reads, ‘Family business’?”
“It is the reason we are here,” Pam replied, keeping her party manners in place. “But we should wait until we have privacy to speak.”
“Of course,” and Rogan’s brows pulled together, all concern and curiosity. As if on cue, another Fae knocked, then walked in with two mugs filled with dark liquid. His eyes flicked to Rogan, but Pam couldn’t see any signal pass between them. She waited for Rogan to lift his teacup before lifting her own, sniffing delicately.
“You should know, the Queen is aware of our business with you tonight,” Andre said, holding Rogan’s gaze. They all knew Andre was giving Rogan a thinly-veiled threat. If the blood was altered in any way, or an attack planned, Rogan would face Sophie-Ann’s wrath.
“Now you have made me curious,” Rogan replied. He sat back, for all appearances in good humor.
The courtesies satisfied, Pam set her mug down, “I am here to deliver the most wonderful news. My Maker has decided to take a mate. He bonded last night.”
Rogan’s eyebrows lifted, “Really? I didn’t think vampires did that anymore. How extraordinary.” Rogan set his cup down before continuing, “and rare. My felicitations!” He turned toward Andre, “And, I am sure Sophie-Ann is most pleased. She has wished this joining for many years, and to enhance it with a bond.”
Andre cocked his head to the side, “I think you misunderstand my presence. I’m here because the Northman is my Queen’s primary Sheriff in this kingdom and, as you say, a bonding is a rare event. They are, both Northman and his mate, under the Queen’s direct protection, so informing her closest neighbors and those with whom she has so many business connections is the least I can do.”
Rogan’s eyes flicked back to Pam. They could see the Fae King was beginning to gather there was something more going on. Pam kept her smile in place as she said, “In celebration, we closed all our establishments, giving our employees paid time off; a family event, as our sign said. Eric is most pleased and so is she.”
“She?” Rogan’s smile was becoming more brittle. “’She’ must be a very special person.”
Pam held out her hand and waited until Rogan held out his own. Pam dropped Breandan’s ring into the King’s open palm before saying, “Sookie Stackhouse is. But you already knew that.”
Rogan’s face shifted and his Fae nature was revealed. “I should kill you,” he hissed.
“You and all your people wouldn’t survive the night,” Andre shrugged. “Consider who I am and what attacking us would mean.”
“You, of all people, knew the importance of consent,” Pam added. “Breandan broke it with her. Sookie did this of her own free will.” When Rogan didn’t respond, Pam added, “Consider this. She is bonded to a vampire. She is removed from any Seelie society forever. She can never be seen as anything other than a vampire by your people, despite her background.” And then Pam looked at the ring Rogan had set on the table between them, “And then, there’s that ring. Did you know your son gave that to her? I’m sure he didn’t mean to marry her under Seelie law. I don’t think that’s even possible, but he did intend to marry her by human rites.” Rogan was still looking ugly, so Pam delivered her next blow, “Breandan told Sookie he loved her. Did he tell you?”
“He wouldn’t,” Rogan hissed.
“Sookie told me, herself,” Pam nodded. “I asked if she was certain. She wasn’t lying.” That did the trick. Rogan’s eyes narrowed and the vampires could feel the Fae’s rage start to transform into something else. “I think you’re lucky Sookie chose the vampire,” Pam continued. “If Breandan told Sookie something like that, how long before he shamed himself more? We both know what comes of a Fae who is captured by a human. I think my Maker has done you another favor.”
Rogan glanced at the ring again, “I may have misjudged the situation in Slievemore,” he conceded. The silence stretched, and then Rogan stood. “I thank you for bringing me this information. It was most kind of you to deliver this news in person. He looked directly at Andre, “Feel free to share my reactions with your Queen. Far be it for me to deny Sophie-Ann any type of entertainment, no matter how cruel or distasteful.”
“My Queen is always happy to provide information to her allies,” Andre bowed. It was formal, but the smirk on his face made clear he was enjoying the Fae King’s discomfort.
“May my Maker continue to operate within your kingdoms?” Pam asked. She didn’t stand and in that moment, Pam realized how much the news had affected Rogan. He looked almost lost, and then, gathering himself, he sat back down.
“Of course,” he said and rather fussily, adjusted the crease in his pants. They all knew the King was playing for time, so they waited. He glanced at his teacup, and then he sighed. “Sookie Stackhouse has caused enough trouble,” he pronounced. “The businesses may stay open,” and then he looked at Pam, “But I don’t want Northman personally managing the ones in my kingdom.” When Pam looked as if she’d say something, Rogan raised his hand. “I’m assuming my son doesn’t know of this development,” and he gestured toward the ring.
“Neither my Maker nor myself has notified him,” Pam confirmed.
“If things are as you say and my son has betrayed himself, there is no reason to believe he wouldn’t further compound his shame by making trouble for your Maker.” The King licked his lips. “These are not Northman’s only establishments and his manager here is competent. I am sure you can tolerate this concession.”
“You are most generous,” Andre answered. “It is a reasonable request.”
“But, Eric isn’t barred from traveling through your kingdoms or visiting his holdings?” Pam persisted.
“As long as he doesn’t stay long,” Rogan waved his hand. “I make this demand as much for your protection as for ours. But as for the hybrid,” and Rogan glanced again at the ring. “For now, she is banned. There could be no good from her coming into my territory and I rescind any permission extended to her.”
As she and Andre walked back to their cars, Pam acknowledged her surprise at how well Rogan took the news. She had expected his reaction would be far worse. After all, there had to be considerable cost to send his son to find Sookie, and more cost to bring Sookie here. According to Eric, there was the matter of blackmail being paid by Niall, which Rogan had to know would end. Rogan’s reaction should have been stronger and throughout the remainder of the interview, which wasn’t long, Pam kept waiting for the other shoe to fall.
“It doesn’t add up,” Pam told Andre. “He went through a lot of trouble to bring her here and now? He’s just going to roll over? He bans her from his territory and that’s it? Is it possible that word of her magic hasn’t reached him?”
“Who knows what goes on in a Seelie’s mind?” Andre shrugged. “They run hot and then ice cold. Perhaps he’s most worried about his son’s obsession with her.”
“Perhaps,” Pam nodded, “still, I don’t trust him.”
“If you were that worried, you should have made it known while we were there,” Andre scolded. “You could have asked the old bastard directly. It’s not as if he could lie. As it is, he has not made unreasonable demands, he has agreed to fair treatment for the Queen’s Sheriff, and my mission here is done.”
Pam climbed behind the wheel and pulled up her radio station. It would be an hour before she was back in Slievemore and Maryann was waiting for her. As Pam cleared the first roundabout and gained speed, she thought again of the meeting. “You’re up to something,” she said to no one in particular. She’d known too many Fae and seen most of Rogan’s moods. “It’s just a matter of time,” she told her reflection in the rearview mirror. “You’ll be coming after us. I know it!”
Rogan sat in his office, staring at his empty teacup. Ages of planning and plotting and it had come to this. Two vampires felt free to stand in his own office, laughing at his humiliation. True, the sweetness of his vengeance against Niall had soured. It wasn’t anything Rogan could put his finger on, but he had the feeling that paying tribute didn’t hurt Niall as much as it should have and the times they spoke, his brother’s voice lacked a certain desperation. It was almost as though his brother was content to have the hybrid remain in Rogan’s care.
Added to that, the demands from Mae’s family had started, or to be more accurate, the demands from Mae’s sole surviving relative. At the time, her lack of relatives had counted against her. It suggested an inability on the part of her family to reproduce, which was her sole purpose, but her dowry was substantial and no Seelie could overlook her family name coupled with the kind of gold she brought.
Rogan cursed his temper again. He never should have struck out at her as he did. Her relative was smart. He went to the other kings and queens first, his messages reaching across continents, mourning the unnecessary death of one of their own. He emphasized her beauty and their own lack of numbers. He made sure there was some doubt as to whether the inability to reproduce was truly Mae’s or the Brigant line losing its potency. Most damning, though, was that in a time when they faced extinction, it had been a Fae who struck Mae down, and Rogan was beginning to taste the bitterness of censure from his fellow Seelie in ways both small and large. Even the Selkies, his allies, had harsh words for his action and deep down, Rogan knew he deserved all this and more.
‘Sookie Stackhouse!’ and Rogan’s mind cringed, just thinking her name. It was her fault. Not her fault in particular, although she was an annoying person who didn’t know her place. It was because she was a classic example of why hybrids were dangerous. She was attractive. She brought out bad behavior in those around her and called bad luck to her. Her own Father perished under mysterious circumstances and her Mother died of disease. Her brother abandoned her. From the time Breandan came into contact with her, he changed, softened.
Rogan looked at the ring on the table. He knew the minute he saw it that Breandan had given it to that thing. It was one of Aoife’s rings, diamonds set in platinum. When his wife showed it to him so many years ago, she’d laughed, saying it reminded her of stars scattered across the Milky Way. “Your Mother’s ring,” and Rogan’s heart contracted.
Rogan could never fault Aoife, but this disaster was the result of her kindness. Her son had faced a challenge and he failed. He should have been able to resist something as tainted as Sookie Stackhouse, but instead, he’d fallen under her thrall. Rogan’s anger began to shift. He blamed Sookie, but his disappointment in Breandan loomed larger. ‘I need to bring him here,’ Rogan thought. ‘I can begin his retraining. I will find ways to beat the softness, the weakness, from him. I never should have listened to his Mother, and now I am reaping the harvest of my own failures.’
The hybrid was lost, but the consolation was she was equally lost to Niall. Bonded to a vampire made her beneath them. If Niall wished to reclaim her, it would be a guarantee of war in his kingdom as well as with vampires. She was officially vampire now and they would fight for Northman’s claim to her.
“Get my car,” he told his manager as he walked into the lobby. “I’m going to Slievemore to fetch my son.”
Breandan texted Sookie again. He frowned. They fought before she left, and he’d ignored her for a couple days to punish her, but his anger had passed, and now, he was returning her texts. He checked the phone again. It wasn’t like her to not respond. She usually texted him right away. ‘I apologize,’ he texted. ‘I am so anxious to have you here. I have a surprise for you and I find I am as anxious as a child to give it to you. I love you. Please answer me.’
“Can’t you wait?” Claude asked. He was stretched out on the bed beside Breandan. He’d stopped fighting Breandan’s decision, agreeing that when Sookie returned from her hike, he’d disappear.
“I know this is hard for you,” Breandan conceded, “but you know this is temporary. She makes me happy, cousin. She makes my heart happy. If you love me as you say you do, you will allow me this interlude. When she ages, you can return. For now, I don’t want her jealous or troubled.” He thought of his German guests. “When she is clear in her thoughts, it’s like water feeding my soul. Allow me that.”
“This won’t be as uncomplicated as you think,” Claude sighed. “She is not a simple creature.”
“But she is for me,” Breandan smiled. “It takes so little. My willingness to forego sex with others will be a hardship, but Sookie is inventive and willing to learn new things. If variety is the sacrifice I must make to gain the rest of what she brings me, I’m willing to do it. Smiles, sailing, walking in the woods. Her joy can be as bright and healing as the sun itself, and I wish to bask in it. Don’t discourage me, cousin. Don’t make me question our affection.”
Sookie is the reason Mae died,” Claude reminded Breandan. “For all her faults, I liked Mae. She was an interesting person, and Seelie.”
“Rogan is the reason Mae died,” Breandan corrected. He kissed Claude before saying, “My Father lost his temper. He thought of no one but himself.” Breandan got out of bed, picking up his clothes. They were in a guest room upstairs. Breandan refused Claude entrance to the manager’s apartment downstairs. He wanted to be certain there would be no stray hairs or awkward mementoes for Sookie to find on her return. He’d gone as far as replacing all the sheets and several of the chairs in an effort to make the space reminiscent of Killary. He had plans for the cottage as well. All would be as Sookie wished.
He checked his phone again. “You don’t suppose something happened to her?” he asked.
“You’d know,” Claude shrugged, then stretched, stroking himself and watching Breandan, a clear invitation to return to bed. “The Selkies would tell you or the others. You know how it is with us, gossip, gossip, gossip!”
“Still,” Breandan frowned. “I am starting to worry,” and he laughed. “I am worried about her. It’s remarkable.”
“Yes, remarkable,” Claude echoed, clearly unimpressed. “You sure you don’t have another minute or ten to spare me?”
“You put yourself in that state,” and Breandan gestured toward Claude’s erection, “You take care of it. I told you I have to go downstairs.”
It wasn’t a long walk, only one flight to the lobby. “Did mail come earlier for me?” he asked Preston as he passed. His Assistant Manager handed him a stack of envelopes and Breandan stopped to sort through them. The one he sought was halfway down the pile. He slit it open and pulled out his Marriage Registration Form. It had taken some finessing. By the rules, he should have presented himself with Sookie, but he glamoured the official to think she’d been there. The identifying documents had been easy to procure, but the three-month waiting period less easy to circumvent. In the end, money and a liberal dose of glamour had done the trick. “She will be so pleased,” he said out loud, smiling at Preston. Preston smiled back. All the Fae in the hotel had been warned about their behavior. There would be no more accidents arising due to their treatment of Sookie Stackhouse. Breandan interrogated them one by one and any he thought lacking in sincerity were replaced. From now on, The Grand would be a place his Sookie enjoyed ruling. ‘My consort,’ he thought, even though he knew that title could never be hers.
It had been a trying day, but this evening was better. Sookie was due to cross back into his territory in just a few days. She’d been spotted in Carreigh, which meant she had to have reached vampire territory on her homeward leg. Soon, she would reach his border and he would pick her up to start their new life together.
‘I will let her choose the venue,’ he thought as he walked back to his apartment. He would prepare a list of possible places he and Sookie could use to exchange the words. As long as the place was public, gaining permission from the Registry Office to hold the human ceremony wouldn’t be difficult. Breandan knew everyone who worked there and they were always ready to do him small favors, as was right.
Breandan was in high spirits when he emerged from his shower, dressed and ready to start his day. He wasn’t expecting his Father.
“What brings you here?” Breandan asked, alarm bells sounding in his head. It was in how his Father was watching him.
The King reached into his jacket pocket and removed something, then set it on the table. Breandan moaned. It was her ring. “What have you done?” he croaked.
“Pull yourself together,” Rogan barked. “You are a disgrace! I’ve warned you and now you will see I was right.”
“You killed her?” and Breandan stepped forward.
“Of course not!” Rogan snapped. “She returned it. She had her pet vampires bring it to my office so I would know how low you have sunk. How could you? Your Mother’s ring? Have you learned nothing?”
Breandan collapsed in the chair. He looked away, trying to absorb what he was hearing. “Vampires? What vampires? Why do they have it?”
“Because your hybrid has pledged herself to one,” and Rogan leaned forward. He spoke as he would to a child. “You betrayed yourself and what did it get you? The hybrid has thrown herself away, Son. She has given herself to Eric Northman.”
“I knew that bastard had designs on her!” Breandan exclaimed, jumping up. “I’m going to stake him myself. How dare he!”
“If I were truly cruel, I would let you,” Rogan sighed. “Sit down, Breandan. You are going to do no such thing. It wouldn’t help now, anyway. The hybrid is beyond our reach. She has bonded to Northman and you and I both know what that means.”
“Why?” Breandan collapsed in a chair. He couldn’t breath and his chest ached. “Why would Sookie do such a thing?” and then, “My poor Sookie! She must have been threatened.”
“Sophie-Ann sent Andre to see me,” Rogan continued. “She couldn’t be bothered to come herself. He almost crowed over it. It was her choice. Your hybrid chose Northman, Son.”
“But, I love her.” Breandan stared down at his hands. Nothing made sense. He looked again at the ring on the table and remembered how happy he had been, slipping it on her hand. He thought of the Marriage Registration form, sitting open on the bookcase near the door. His Father was talking, saying Breandan would be returning to Carrack with him. Rogan was putting Preston Pardloe in charge of the properties here. He was telling Breandan that, in the end, Breandan would appreciate the steps his Father was taking today. It was inevitable that Breandan would face similar challenges in the future and Rogan blamed himself for not training Breandan to make right choices. The room was closing in. Breandan said, “Claude is upstairs, Father. Let me go up and tell him I’m leaving.”
“Why don’t you have him come with us?” Rogan suggested, and then the King said, “I do blame myself for this. I wasn’t hard enough on you when you needed it,” and Breandan saw his future.
It was a moment of perfect clarity. Breandan rose. “Thank you, Father,” he said. He even smiled before walking through the lobby, but Breandan didn’t head upstairs. The harbor was close, only a block away and it took less time than he thought to walk into the water and feel it close around him, and then over him, welcoming him into its embrace.
Niall Brigant twisted his cane under his hand. Outside, the sun played peek-a-boo through the clouds. Four nights ago, he’d received a voicemail from Pam Ravenscroft. Just three words, “They are bonded.” Since then, there had been nothing.
Which each hour, Niall felt the tension build. He waited for Northman to call. He waiting for Rogan to rage. He waited, but days were slipping by, and then nights, with no further word. To simply show up at a vampire’s home was dangerous, but Niall considered doing it anyway. “I could call his Queen…” Niall growled, when Dillon, his son, swept into the hall.
“Claude is returned to my house and I have accepted him,” Dillon informed him.
“And you have no qualms about his allegiances?” Niall was surprised. He had assumed Claude would remain with Breandan, now that Sookie was gone.
“Not this time,” Dillon shook his head. “Breandan is gone. He has pledged himself to the Selkies. He’s adopted their form. You may not have accepted the depth of Claude and Breandan’s affection, Father, but I did long ago. They are mated, even if they never asked for permission to declare it. Claude will take a long time to come to terms with this sundering and he wishes to heal with his family.”
“So strange, how fate works,” Niall mused, turning over this strange turn in events. “It is as if I am watching the slow erosion of our kind. Mae killed. Breandan abandoning his kind. Sookie…”
“Don’t list her with her betters,” Dillon interrupted. “You might consider that it is her coming that has been the cause of these calamities.”
“None of this was her choice,” Niall retorted. “Blaming her for the prejudices of our people is like blaming a rock for the ground being hard.”
“Had she never been made…” Dillon’s eyes started to take on that steely glint that signaled his anger.
“You never stood against me, Son,” Niall said quietly, “but you never stood with me either.”
“My children took sides,” Dillon pointed out, “and look what that has cost me. Was your disgrace worth my Claudia’s life? Was it worth all the blood that was spilt?”
“No one required Branna to rebel,” Niall pointed out. “You might consider that your Mother only needed the excuse.”
The anger hung in the air between them for a long moment, before Dillon shook his head. “It is as you say, but the matter remains one that inflames us all. The saving grace is that this time, the hybrid is truly removed. Bonded to a vampire means she is vampire in our eyes. It would be dishonorable for any Seelie to fight over any person so low.”
“I blame Northman,” Niall sighed. “I refuse to believe he couldn’t find a way around bonding to her. He told me months ago he would have her and now he does. That’s what comes of trusting a vampire.”
“It ends your need to pay Rogan,” Dillon said, arching an eyebrow. Niall hadn’t been aware his son knew of Rogan’s blackmail, but he could see he’d underestimated Dillon. “Even if Rogan chooses to reveal her lineage, her status prevents even the most traditional from commenting. I hope in time you come to appreciate the favor Northman has done us, Father.”
“But what of her magic?” Niall asked. “I am sure it is powerful and she will need to be trained to control it. Unless Sookie understands how to use it, she could still be a danger to us.”
“Claudine tells me she releases pheromones when she practices, like any Fae. Why not encourage her to show the vampires at the Queen’s Court? It would over in a moment.” and Dillon chuckled.
“Northman would never let that happen,” Niall snapped back. “He will defend her, even to the death. I believe he would have done so even before the bonding and now, he has no choice.”
“He didn’t turn her,” Dillon shrugged. “Surely the vampire bond wouldn’t demand Northman’s death with hers?”
“No,” Niall conceded. “I have studied the lore and were she made vampire now, after the bonding, one’s death would cause the other’s end as well.” Niall couldn’t help his smile, “So, whether he was forced or he was being tricky, Northman finds himself in a corner. I suppose the truth is that Sophie-Ann decided to punish him. Northman does have a way of making people wish the worst for him.”
“It’s his arrogance,” Dillon sniffed. “He never accepted his place.” The Fae Prince looked out the window as he said, “I wonder if someone else would be willing to turn her?”
“I won’t have it!” Niall hissed. “She is the picture of her Grandmother. In time, there may be a way to gain greater acceptance in our world.”
“For what purpose? For forcing this forlorn hope you insist on holding? Father! We are a proud race. Allow us to meet our extinction with dignity.” He sat down next to Niall and wrapped his arms around the King. It immediately made them both feel better, as contact with their own kind always did. “We will be the subject of song. Our tales will be told across the ages and we will have met our ends as we started. Diluting our blood will not change our end. What use is having a piece of one person or a part of another? We should not degrade ourselves.”
“As King, how can I accept that?” Niall asked. “Not when our bodies make it so easy to join with others? Tell me, Son, did it ever occur to you that the natural way may not be our extinction, but by becoming a part of all that surrounds us? Maybe our end lies not in extinction, but in becoming part of everything?”
“Your heart has ever been one seeking answers, Father,” Dillon comforted. “But you see where that leads. Breandan had fallen. Rogan pays Mae’s cousin restitution for an act that had no merit.” Dillon kissed his Father’s cheek, “Claude tells me Breandan was set to betray himself as you did. Like you, he became enamored of her. He intended to marry her by human rites. Claude was certain he would have given her anything she wished, children perhaps, or long life.”
“Like her Grandmother,” Niall nodded, a single, crystal tear falling over his cheek. In that moment, the King’s grief allowed a brief line to appear on his face, a sign of his immense age.
“You must accept what is,” Dillon comforted his Father. “Claude is returned to us. The hybrid…” and he paused, and then said, “Sookie is vampire. Your brother is in pain, and it is in these times of grief that bridges may be rebuilt. Perhaps it would be a good time to extend a hand to him.”
“As I have in past? Look what that earned me,” Niall sniffed.
“He has lost his Son,” Dillon pushed. “To lose a child changes how you see the world.”
Niall looked in Dillon’s face and saw the grief his Son would always carry. He nodded, “You are wise enough now to guide a King. It will be as you say.”
“Pam will be joining us tonight,” Eric informed Sookie. He was seated at his desk. Sookie had come from the other bedroom, which was now her office. Transforming is had been Bobby Burnham’s last act as Eric’s human Dayman. Bobby was now resting somewhere deep underground with his new Maker, a female vampire from Sophie-Ann’s court.
Sookie was waving a piece of paper, “I’ve told Maryann she needs to find another bookkeeper, but she insists…”
Eric examined Sookie’s feelings. They were confined to the house, using Octavia Fant’s protection spell to ward off danger. He could feel Sookie’s restlessness and hoped that whatever danger might be, it would pass more quickly. He forced a smile and said, “Why would you wish her to stop using your services? She’s happy with the work you do for her and it fills your time. Just because the distance between you delays balancing her ledgers by a few days makes no difference.”
“I suppose,” Sookie sighed, then drew another deep breath. “Do you think we’ll get the all-clear to travel soon?” It wasn’t the first time Sookie asked that question tonight.
“We’ll see what news Pam brings” Eric replied.
On Pam’s first visit, she recounted her visit with Rogan. Pam and Eric agreed it was best to exercise caution. “It could be your stay-at-home honeymoon,” Pam had laughed. The news that Sookie was banned from Rogan’s territory caused some tears, but on the surface, Sookie seemed to accept the plan. Unfortunately, what Sookie said and what she felt were different, and Eric had been the beneficiary of her frustration at being barred from seeing the people and places she’d come to love.
Sookie turned as if to leave, but then turned back. Eric didn’t have to reach out, he knew Sookie felt like a caged animal. “I can feel your unhappiness,” he acknowledged. “Your exile from Slievemore sits heavy with you.” Sookie’s eyes looked bruised, and although he didn’t wish her to cry, he told her the truth. “Sookie, you must not hold out hope that Rogan will change his mind. Why not focus on what you’d like to explore in this area? We haven’t ventured into Ballytyne yet, but I’m sure Pam will tell us we are free. You may find it interesting. There are shops there and people for you to meet.” Eric held out his hand and Sookie complied.
Pulling her toward him, Eric soothed, “I know you will be happy to see Pam again. I’m sure she will confirm we can leave our home without worry.” He pulled some more, looking to bring Sookie into his lap, but she resisted.
“Why do you do that?” she challenged, stiffening against his hold.
“What?” Her reaction confused him, her emotions opaque.
Sookie’s mouth was downturned, “You are always pulling me to sit on your lap. Children sit on laps, Eric, not grown women. Is that how you see me? Some kind of child?” and Sookie jerked her hand away from him.
“No,” Eric sighed. The first few days here with Sookie had been blissful. When Sookie did something that irritated him or when her pacing got on his last nerve, he initiated sex, which smoothed things over, but that cure was starting to wear thin. “My wishing to have you sit against me is not about dominance, it’s about being Fae,” he explained, wishing she would just accept do what he wanted and stop questioning everything. “We feel best when we are in physical contact with each other. Don’t you feel that way?”
“I do,” Sookie conceded, “But sitting in your lap? I don’t know…it just feels demeaning.”
“Well, we could achieve the same thing by lying together on the bed,” Eric offered, although at the moment he was not interested in having sex. In fact, they hadn’t had sex tonight at all. He’d risen to find Sookie sitting beside him. There was no smile, and her hands and body smelled vaguely of cleaning solutions. She’d sighed, cocked her head to the side and waited. It had been an unfulfilling experience. Eric was starting to understand that his new wife needed the open air. She needed to be doing things she felt to be of value, and Internet shopping didn’t qualify.
Eric was less frustrated with the temporary restrictions than Sookie. He had work to do and being stuck inside shouldn’t have been a hardship. He liked Sookie, maybe more, but her actions as she flailed against her temporary loss of independence were beginning to fray his patience.
“No,” Sookie was sighing, crossing her arms and tapping her foot, “It’s just it’s always me in your lap, or… I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“Here,” and Eric stood up. He grabbed Sookie and dropped her into his chair and then sat on her lap. He kept most of his weight off her, but with the difference in size, he dwarfed her. Wrapping his arms awkwardly around her neck, he pressed against her thighs a little, “Does that feel better?”
“Get off me, you giant!” Sookie laughed. “Point taken.”
“Are you sure?” Eric chuckled, grinding his butt against her, giving her more of his weight. “I’m pretty comfortable here. Doesn’t bother me at all.”
“Yeah, sure,” Sookie laughed and as he lowered himself even further, she shrieked and batted at him, “Get off! You’re crushing me. You have a really bony butt.”
Eric stood and, pushing Sookie”s chair back, leaned over his desk and shook his butt at her. “I thought you liked my butt? I thought you considered it my best feature.”
“That and your gracious plenty,” Sookie giggled.
“My what?” and Eric turned, delighted. “You’ve given him a new name?”
“I have.” Sookie rolled her eyes. “Tristan is not a good name. There’s nothing about that…” and she stared pointedly at Eric’s crotch, “that’s sad. You should have that thing bronzed. It deserves a museum… and she looked back at his face, “along with your butt.”
Her flattery was making Eric rethink the bed idea, but Sookie eyerolled again and stood. “I’ll go find something to do until Pam arrives,” she sighed.
“Don’t go,” Eric called to her. “You had something else on your mind when you walked in here.” When Sookie just shrugged, Eric persisted, “What? Tell me!”
“I was reading emails,” Sookie sighed. “My brother, Jason is going to visit my Aunt Linda in Minnesota. The Navy gave him leave and Linda asked if I could come. He’ll only have a couple weeks before he redeploys and he was asking about me.”
“I’m not sure we should leave Ireland right now,” Eric told her, confirming what she’d already guessed. “You have your papers, but with the unrest? It’s possible the Queen won’t agree to grant me permission and I don’t wish you traveling without me.”
She nodded, but Eric could feel her unhappiness. “It doesn’t matter,” Sookie sighed. “It’s not like I have the money. Squaring away my citizenship took pretty much everything I had. I’ll need to rebuild my piggybank before I can think about doing any world traveling.”
Eric could tell Sookie was sincere. She wasn’t hinting for money, as other women had, and that realization both attracted and irritated him. He was about to remind her that he had money when Sookie asked, “What’s that?” She turned from him to look out the window.
“Pam,” Eric smiled. “She‘s almost here. You’re feeling her.” Eric had felt his Child’s progress for several minutes, but it surprised him that Sookie felt Pam as well. He instinctively reached for that part of his connection to Sookie that allowed him to assess how close she was to turning. It was something every vampire could do; an essential part of controlling donors and today it told him Sookie wasn’t close to becoming vampire, even if her reactions said otherwise.
Still, her sensitivity to Pam made him frown as he followed her down the stairs. They were in the kitchen when Pam breezed in. “Wow!” she laughed, “No sex tonight? Honeymoon over already?”
“What are you talking about?” Sookie huffed. Pam was right, but she didn’t know how her friend knew.
“Nose knows,” Pam laughed, then laughed some more as Sookie cringed.
“You have news?” Eric asked, cutting off Pam’s teasing.
“It’s not great,” Pam replied, switching to all business. “I told you I didn’t trust Rogan’s easy acceptance. I haven’t heard anything particular but there’s all kinds of mischief going on. She glanced at Sookie, “Breandan’s disappeared.”
“What do you mean ‘disappeared’?” Sookie knew she shouldn’t care, but her knees felt weak and she walked to one of the dining room chairs and sat down.
“Preston Pardloe took over as acting manager at The Grand and he isn’t talking. The Seelie are in an uproar. Rogan was in Slievemore…” and Pam gave Eric a look.
“I don’t believe Rogan would kill him,” Eric said, turning as Sookie moaned. His eyebrows pulled together as he felt her grief. He stopped for a moment to truly experience it and the feeling gave him pause. Grief, yes, but guilt too and he didn’t like it. If he had to put a name to his reaction, he might have called it jealousy, but in the same instant, he pushed that idea away.
“I’ll be back,” he said, biting back the angry words he wanted to aim at Sookie. He left the room, moving at top speed up the stairs and closed his office door before pulling out his phone to call Niall Brigant’s private number.
“Poor Breandan,” Sookie sniffled.
“You left him,” Pam reminded her. “You are bonded with my Maker.”
“It’s not that,” Sookie exclaimed. “I don’t regret leaving Breandan, but he didn’t deserve this.”
“And what do you think happened, Sookie? Do you really believe Rogan would kill his only child?” Pam asked.
“I don’t know,” Sookie replied. “All I do know is I don’t trust Rogan. I never did. He killed Mae! Even Breandan was afraid of him, he never said it out loud, but I know he was,” Sookie couldn’t help it. Her heart was hammering and tears slipped down her cheeks. All she could think of was Breandan as he’d been in Boston, sitting in the bathroom that first night, stroking her Mother’s back, rescuing them both. He’d been so beautiful and she imagined never seeing him again, losing him as she’d lost her Mother, and with that, her grief crashed over her.
“You must pull yourself together,” Pam hissed, grabbing Sookie’s hand. “Even I can feel you. Your emotions are powerful and Eric can’t afford to be distracted right now.”
Sookie sucked in one breath and then two, trying to get ahold of herself, but it was no good. “I’m sorry!” she sobbed, and in the next instant, she was in Eric’s grasp. His arms wrapped around her and he carried her to the front hall.
“Wait for me,” he called to Pam, and then his voice was in Sookie’s ear, “It is alright, Älskade. I am here. I have you,” and Sookie let the floodgates of her mourning open. She cried for her Mother and she cried for the strain of the past week. She cried for Breandan and her family and the fate that made her different from everyone she knew. She sobbed and when she fumbled for tissues, Eric brought her a roll of toilet paper before wrapping her tightly in his arms again.
“I’m sorry,” Sookie stammered again.
“You are entitled,” Eric crooned. She started to calm, and as her stormy emotions receded, she felt his. He wasn’t unhappy, just resigned. “I must speak with Pam,” he explained. “Are you feeling better? Perhaps you would like to nap?”
“I am exhausted,” Sookie nodded. She didn’t want to be left alone, but she was also ashamed at how she’d allowed her emotions to wash over them both.
Eric kissed her forehead, “I will return. I won’t be long.” He pulled the blanket back and tucked her into bed. He kissed her cheek and left the toilet paper roll beside her.
“No Kleenex, huh?” Sookie sniffed.
“I had no need for them before you came,” Eric said quietly. “Now, that has changed.”
Eric walked up the stairs and clicked the door shut behind him. He took a deep breath, although it wasn’t needed. It helped to settle him, and then, for the first time since they’d bonded, he dampened the tie between himself and Sookie. She was calmer, but her sorrow still colored his thoughts. He walked back into the dining room. Pam was sitting at the table, flicking a knife into the air and catching it, first handle, then blade, over and over. “Let’s see if Niall has called back,” he said, pulling out his phone.
Eric flashed the screen, showing an icon of the Lucky Charms leprechaun, then hit the redial button. The Fae King answered immediately, “I’m assuming you’ve heard then?”
Eric hit the speaker button, “Pam is here with me. We heard Breandan Brigant is missing, but we don’t know what that means.”
“Breandan has exercised his option. He cast off his Father’s lineage and now swims with the Selkies,” Niall explained.
“I didn’t know that was an option for any of you,” Eric’s eyebrows drew together. Any Fae could pledge himself to another race, but that didn’t change what he fundamentally was. Niall’s words made it sound as if there was more to Breandan’s defection.
“It is a rather dubious gift passed through his Mother’s line,” Niall explained. “There was a story in Aoife’s family that one of her ancestors mated with a Selkie and that for one child in each generation, the ability to transform is granted.”
“What are you saying?” Pam asked. “The Selkie are sea creatures…”
“And now, so is Breandan,” Niall finished. “He has thrown off his human appearance and pledged to their King. He will never be able to return to the Seelie.”
“How did you find out?” Eric asked.
“Claude returned,” Niall told them. “He told his Father what happened. Rogan is distraught. My brother has lost everything.”
“Are we in danger?” Pam asked.
“I don’t think so,” Niall sighed. “Not at the moment at least, but soon Rogan’s mourning may give way to rage. At least, that has been how he’s handled his setbacks in past.”
Eric remained quiet, absorbing what he’d heard, and then he made his decision. Looking directly at Pam he said, “My Child is more than ready to handle things here on my behalf for a time. I will ask my Queen to allow her to act as interim Sheriff in my absence. Rogan has no reason to hate her.” He pushed his decision at Pam until she bowed her assent, and then, turning back to the phone he continued, “Sookie expressed a desire to visit her Aunt in the United States. I think it makes sense under the circumstances for both of us to be absent from Ireland for a while.”
“It might be best,” Niall agreed. “Yes, taking her overseas would remove her from harm’s way, at least until Rogan has time to accept what has happened.”
“I’ll remind you of your gratitude when it comes time for my Maker to ask for that favor,” Pam said without hesitation. Eric shot her a look, but she just smiled and eventually Eric grinned, too.
“Is my Granddaughter there?” Niall asked. “I would like to hear Sookie’s voice.”
“My mate is resting,” Eric snapped back. He had no reason to feel protective, but his instincts kicked in before he could help it.
“Is she well?” Niall asked.
“She was saddened by the news of Breandan’s fall,” Pam volunteered.
“Why?” Pam and Eric didn’t need to be in the same room to know Niall was genuinely surprised.
“She is a woman,” Eric growled. “Who can explain the mysteries of women?”
“I would think that of anyone, you could explain anything related to my Granddaughter now, Northman. You’ve tied her to you.” And there it was. Eric and Niall hadn’t spoken directly about the bonding and Eric wondered if the King would bring it up, and now that he had, Eric thought of Sookie’s fretting over being housebound. He wondered if some part of her agitation was really about being bonded.
“I find it difficult to overlook this, Northman. I feel you have stolen her from me. Now there may be no hope of reclaiming her. I want you to tell me you had no choice. Tell me this bonding wasn’t your way of fulfilling your vow to take her.”
“The bonding was not my choice,” Eric replied, “but I won’t regret it.” It was pride that pushed the Viking to claim his state. Pam watched her Maker with glowing eyes. It wasn’t in the great Eric Northman to regret any thing that happened to him, and she knew Eric would find what was best in his circumstances.
“I will expect you to make certain my Granddaughter feels the same way,” Niall told the vampire. “I won’t be pleased if she doesn’t. Understand me, Viking,” and the call ended.
“So, Breandan isn’t dead,” Pam said after a bit.
“No,” Eric shook his head, “But for some, his current state is worse. Rogan is in a difficult place. His killing Mae created larger troubles. None doubt it was his right, but for Sookie? No Seelie would see Sookie as being worthy of the death of one of their own and that was when they considered her a bastard child. Now, joined to a vampire, she’s worth even less.” Eric opened his tie with Sookie. She was resting, but not sleeping. Her feelings were less stormy, but still sad. “Most will see Breandan’s action as proof that Rogan disgraced himself. No one will blame Sookie. I think we can risk leaving the boundaries of the house now.”
“When do you plan to leave for America?” Pam asked.
“As soon as I secure the Queen’s permission,” Eric replied. “You are ready to step into my role while I travel?”
“Well,” and Pam grinned, “You already told Niall I am, so I guess the answer is ‘yes.’”
“Do you want the business in Slievemore for your own?” Eric asked.
“Truly?” and Pam’s grin widened. “I do find I like the place. Yes, absolutely!”
“You are fond of your human, aren’t you?” Eric asked.
“Being fond of humans seems to be a family trait,” Pam teased. “Yes, I am fond of Maryann. We suit each other. She puts me in my place when I need it.”
“With Breandan gone, Rogan has no excuse to continue Sookie’s exile,” Eric mused. He reached out for his wife again, playing at the bond like a sore tooth. “Sookie will miss seeing you. She misses the place she made her home. It would be better if she was free to travel as she likes.”
“You don’t think she’d find Slievemore holds too many bad memories?” Pam asked. “Humans are sentimental about things, Eric. I’ll grant you, Ballytyne is going to be too small for her, but there are other places. She wanted a B&B. Maybe you should encourage her to pursue that.”
“She won’t take my money,” Eric growled. “She said she would, but she won’t. I tried to buy her a car. She agreed, but we spent hours looking over the Internet and she rejected every one. I don’t understand it! Every woman I have met was anxious to use my money. Every woman, until now.”
“Maryann told me that she and her husband divorced over money,” Pam nodded. “She said they never talked about it enough, and so it became a problem between them. They fought over who paid bills and what investments to make. I looked it up on the Internet and it says money is the number one reason people divorce.”
“There is no reason to discuss it,” Eric fumed. “I have more money than I can spend. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Sookie is proud,” Pam grinned. “She wants to know she can contribute, like a team.” When Eric continued to scowl, Pam laughed. “You really don’t have a clue, do you? Don’t you remember being married before?”
“Aude brought a dowry,” Eric snorted, but then he made an effort to try and remember all the rules and traditions. Aude and been his brother’s wife, and she became his when his brother died. Their marrying kept her dowry and her family’s pledge to defend in times of war intact. They’d married, fucked, and that had been all. Eric moved into his brother’s house, took over his brother’s possessions, which included Aude, and added to their wealth as he could.
“Aude rarely spoke to me,” Eric remembered. “She knew her place and I knew mine.”
“Well, things are different now and sharing this kind of information goes with the territory,” Pam told him. “It’s not just the money that has you growling, Eric. What else is bothering you?”
“It’s not easy sharing my house,” Eric conceded.
“Why? Does Sookie throw wild parties while you’re resting?” Pam snorted.
Eric mentally smacked Pam and she punched his arm in return. “No,” he sighed, “It’s not any one thing. It’s many things. She… she wears her shoes in the house. She knows I don’t like it, but she does.” When Pam’s eyes narrowed, Eric continued, “And she cleans! She uses cleanser and soaps. It changes how things smell. I never know what I’m going to walk into. Yesterday she cleaned the bathroom in our chamber. I thought I’d be sick when I rose. I told her not to do it again, and she became angry with me.”
Pam was biting her lips, and Eric had a sneaking suspicion she was trying not to laugh. “And there’s more!” he continued. “She cooks things and the whole house smells. The books in my library were out of order, and she leaves her computer running. It makes the room smell of ozone.”
“Anything else?” Pam choked.
“No,” Eric shook his head. He felt disloyal, complaining this way, and he found himself reaching out to check on Sookie again.
“Why don’t you go see how she’s doing?” and Pam did laugh. “I can feel you poking at her. She was pretty upset earlier and you’ve left her alone too long. Besides, I want to get back before it gets too late.”
“Sookie is a grown woman,” Eric protested, clearly caught out. “She knows what she needs. I don’t need to be running after her.”
“But you want to,” Pam laughed. “You want to be with her all the time.”
“I have better things to do,” Eric protested. “Many things. I am not…”
“In love with her?” Pam finished. “Yeah, you are, but don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me,” Pam stood and gathered her things. “I’ll keep my ear to the ground. Let me know when you finalize your plans. Tell Sookie goodbye for me, and tell her I’ll bring Maryann out to visit before you leave.”
Eric sighed, and then rose, wrapping his daughter in his embrace, “You are most precious to me, Pam. Turning you was my finest moment.”
“You’re sweet to acknowledge it,” Pam grinned. “Tell Sookie goodbye for me,” and she left, racing through the kitchen, slamming the door on the way.
Eric turned off lights before heading back downstairs. Sookie was cuddled on her side, reading a book of poetry she’d borrowed from his library upstairs. “Pam sends her regards and wishes you to know she will be back to visit soon,” he told her. “She’ll bring Maryann.”
“I’m sorry I fell apart,” Sookie sighed. “I should have come upstairs to say goodbye, but frankly, I was ashamed for the way I behaved.”
“I understand,” Eric told her, although he really didn’t.
“You cut me off for a while, didn’t you?” Sookie asked.
Eric wondered if she’d realize what he’d done. “Yes, I muted our bond. Your grief… I spoke with your Grandfather. I know what happened to Breandan.” He sat on the bed and gathered Sookie into his arms. Once more, he felt his body relax, just being in contact with her. She laid her head on his shoulder and he told her what Niall said.
“Breandan told me that story about his family and the Selkies when we were in Boston,” Sookie told Eric. “I told him it was a little too leprechauns and shamrocks for me. I feel most days like I’ve stumbled into a mad world where nothing makes sense.”
“It is uncomfortable, knowing that legends are true,” Eric comforted her. “Fairy tales are tricky that way. They can be both good and bad but you can’t have one without the other.” He waited as Sookie settled more before saying, “When you get up tomorrow, you can go outside.” He looked at her under lowered eyebrows, “And if you’d agreed to the car you might have been able to explore further than the land around the house.”
“Really?” and Eric felt Sookie’s sudden happiness. “Outside?”
“I think we should take that trip to America, as well,” Eric nodded. “I think you should see your brother.”
“Really?” and Sookie stilled in his arms.
It was there, that growing hope that warmed Eric. “Yes,” he told her. “It would please you?”
“I can’t afford it,” and he felt Sookie’s sense of defeat.
“But I can,” Eric told her, and when Sookie turned away, he said, “We are pledged. Everything I have is yours, and what’s yours is now mine.”
He could feel he’d caught her with a new thought and she snorted, “Well, you got the shit end of the stick then, Mr. Northman, because I have nothing!”
“You’re wrong, Sookie. You have everything,” Eric crooned and as he captured her lips, he realized it was true. When he pulled back he used Pam’s words, “I am told that money issues are the reason most couples become unhappy. Perhaps we should talk about this now, before it causes more strife between us.”
It took close to an hour, and there were still things that were unresolved, but they did decide on a joint checking account. Sookie would handle the bills and they would both discuss larger purchases. Eric didn’t mention his other accounts, taking victory from the progress they’d made.
“What else?” Sookie asked. Eric thought about not mentioning more, but he knew she’d felt something.
“I will confess to you that I am still struggling with sharing my space,” Eric told her.
“Thank goodness,” Sookie sighed. “Me too! I mean, with Breandan, it was easier.” When Eric started to look stormy, Sookie grabbed his sleeve, “Let me explain. That didn’t come out right. It’s just, with Breandan, I always had this feeling in the back of my head that it wasn’t going to last. He didn’t bug me because, I guess, in some stupid way I didn’t think he wasn’t permanent.” Sookie rolled her eyes, “This is all coming out wrong, but, bottom line, I knew he wasn’t the one.”
“Then, why did you agree to marry him?” Eric stilled. He hadn’t thought this question was important, but suddenly, it was.
“I told myself I was overthinking things,” Sookie explained. “All my life, my Mom told me I thought things to death. She told me that I missed opportunities because I was too busy analyzing. The way he asked? The setting? I thought if I just went along, somehow it would all turn out, but I knew in my heart it was a mistake.”
“And now?” Eric asked her. “How do you feel about me?”
“With you, Eric, I’m in real danger,” Sookie said, looking directly in his eyes. “I want to believe we won’t work. I want to believe you’re like him.” Eric found himself growling, but he stopped when Sookie laid her hand against his chest. “But you’re not like him, not at all! You care about me. I just behaved horribly, and any other guy would have been angry and mean, but you? You are sitting here, making it better. You try. You talk with me, and I feel myself slipping past the point of no return with you.”
“You bother me,” Eric nodded. “You break my rules. You move things around. Things smell differently. I should be angry, but I’m not.”
“Do you think this is love?” Sookie asked.
“Pam says it is,” Eric told her. He closed his eyes and leaned into Sookie’s touch.
“That Pam,” Sookie smiled, “She knows things,” and grabbing the front of Eric’s shirt, Sookie raised her lips to capture his.