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.
They’d been back in Ballytyne for three weeks.
Upon their return from Boston, they landed at the airport and raced the sun home. Dawn was just peeping over the horizon when they laid down in Eric’s chamber under the stairs. ‘Home!’ Sookie thought, and then she thought no more. She hadn’t been able to sleep on the plane. She was too keyed up.
Eric was keyed up, too, which wasn’t helping. They barely spoke, but it wasn’t awkward. They sat quietly at each other’s side, holding hands or leaning, always touching. Sookie half-expected to see Pam at the airport, waiting to meet them, but instead it was another professional driver with another black sedan.
Sookie figured she wasn’t subtle about craning around, looking, because Eric had chuckled, gathering her against him, saying, “Tomorrow, Sookie. We’ll see her tomorrow.”
Eric had a new Dayman. Technically, he was Sookie’s Dayman, too. His name was Ian. He was Irish. Eric explained that it was easier having someone who was local. For what this job entailed, it was logical to find a person who had connections through family and friends. It made the obtaining of services or goods that Eric needed go through without unnecessary questions. “Fewer complications,” Eric explained, emphasizing his words with a wink.
Ian was nice enough. He was young, only a little older than Sookie. He had grown up a few towns over. His sister had introduced him to this world. She had been in a relationship with a vampire from Sophie-Anne’s court. It ended amicably enough that Ian, who had been a sharp-eyed teenager at the time, wasn’t deterred from seeking a way to continue interacting with the Fae. “I grew up with these stories,” he explained to Sookie, the lilt in his speech curling around the syllables. “I can’t think of anything better than being a part of them.”
Sookie hadn’t spent much more than a few hours with Bobby Burnham, Eric’s previous Dayman, but it was enough to know that Ian was a vast improvement.
There was a sound from the room next door. With any luck, the final work would be completed today, and the upstairs bedroom would be light-tight enough to pass Eric’s inspection. The windows had been taken out and replaced with new ones. They were a special double-pane construction that had blinds encased between them. When the blinds were lowered, they were day-safe. ‘Bullet-proof,’ the sales brochure proclaimed. The idea that bullet-proof was a selling point for Eric gave Sookie pause.
There had been a lot that gave Sookie pause since their return from America, and it re-started the conversation between her and Eric about learning more about her skills. Eric was certain she had more power than she knew, and that those skills she did know could be used defensively. Sookie wasn’t so sure. True, her scope had expanded. She could do more than pull light. She could move things and construct walls. She could hear the birds more easily; she could even mimic household magics. There were moments she seemed limited only by her imagination, but with each accomplishment, she became more unsettled. The rabbit hole she once imagined was part of stepping into this world where supernatural and normal slid past and over each other was becoming a gaping hole, and Sookie was beginning to believe it would be better to turn away from it and not look back. It’s not that it was too frightening, more that it was too tempting.
One thing she and Eric did agree about: They would keep the full bag of tricks she could do from Niall, Claudine, and the rest of Sookie’s Seelie relatives. For Eric, it was about being cautious until they understood the nature of Sookie’s gifts. For Sookie, it was about trust. “I know I should be grateful,” Sookie confessed, “but my gut is telling me that no good would come from telling them and I think I should listen to it.”
“I don’t think your gifts are Seelie,” Eric told her. “I think they are other. I think Inger, the old one, was right.”
Sookie sighed and sat back from her laptop remembering that conversation. ‘Am I a witch?’ she wondered, and then eye-rolled to be even considering the possibility. “Next I’ll be looking into pointed hats and brooms!” she growled under her breath.
Eric believed in witches. He explained to her that witches were truly human, but with a different kind of power. “No one knows if they are born with it, or if it is something they learn,” Eric explained. “They are secretive about their skills and their nature. It’s vexing.”
“Like all of you,” Sookie pointed out. “You’re careful about revealing what you are to humans. Why wouldn’t they do the same thing?” and then she’d scoffed, “As if I really believe in them, which I don’t!”
Sookie couldn’t explain why the idea of witches seemed so far-fetched, but it did. It crossed some line. Sookie could live with the idea of parallel universes where ethereal creatures flitted in and out, but humans with special skills living among them, like some Harry Potter book, was a bridge too far.
Eric accused her of being small-minded and it stung. He scolded her for not being more open to possibilities, which she turned into a sexual innuendo. He’d been willing, leading to an hour of being suspended upside down, and her laughing her head off, but the accusation still tugged.
“I’ll think about all of that tomorrow,” Sookie sighed aloud, turning her attention back to the columns of figures in front of her. Within a day of their return, Pam had arrived, boxes of papers and flash drives in hand. Sookie’s laptop was loaded with a few more programs, passwords were set up, and now she was handling the payroll, accounts receivable, and a handful of other financial transactions for Eric and Pam’s business as well as Maryann’s. The work wasn’t hard, but it was detailed, taking all Sookie’s attention.
There were three pubs now open and all were doing well. There was talk of a fourth, and Sookie was asked to set up a shell so that the expenses associated with scouting could be segregated. It ate up all her time, this sorting and assembling of records. Pam had been in charge before, and although Sookie liked her friend, she soon realized Pam was no bookkeeper. The errors were mostly small, but sorting and verifying kept her nose stuck against the computer screen for the better part of two weeks.
Things were better sorted now, and Sookie felt confident poring over the columns and balances. She flicked between spreadsheets again, double checking formulas. There was no doubt. The pub in Carrack was falling behind. Inventory numbers were comparable with the other pubs and the hours were the same. Pam reported the crowds in Carrack might be even larger than their pubs in Slievemore and the one Clancy ran in Niall’s kingdom, but the receipts were less. “Someone’s stealing,” Sookie said aloud.
“Better hope not,” Ian’s voice said from the door.
Sookie jumped. She hadn’t heard his step, but that was understandable with all the construction noise coming from next door. “How’s it going?” she asked.
“Well enough.” He jerked his chin toward the master bedroom, letting her know he was talking about the renovation work. “They are telling me they should be out in the next hour or so. I think you’ll both be pleased with the results.” He glanced at the computer, “Pam’s books?”
“Eric’s, really. Pub business,” and Sookie rolled her shoulders.
“That Pam!” Ian chuckled. “She cuts quite the figure.” There was something in the way Ian said it that had Sookie staring.
“Pam is very smart,” Sookie offered.
“Yes, quite the talker,” Ian agreed. “She has a way about her, and that’s no joke.”
“Her special friend says the same thing,” Sookie offered, figuring she’d let Ian know where things stood without exposing Pam’s lifestyle.
“Perhaps she needs more special friends,” Ian grinned, before adding, “but not really my concern, Mrs. I did want to remind you it’s lunch. I was going to take a run into town to pick something up and I could get something for you as well.”
Sookie stretched again. She knew this was Eric’s doing. Reminding Sookie to eat was one of the many things on Ian’s checklist of Dayman duties. “I have a better idea,” Sookie sighed. “I made a pasta dish last night for my dinner, but it was too much, so there’s leftovers. Why don’t I heat it up and you can give me your opinion on my latest attempt at English muffins?”
“You made them yourself?” and Ian’s eyes sparkled.
Sometimes Sookie’s baking experiments were disastrous. When that happened, she threw the offending objects away before anyone saw. What she did keep was generally pretty good, making Ian an enthusiastic test subject. ‘Good thing you’re young,’ Sookie thought. The things she baked were full of sugar or meant for jams and jellies. ‘Breakfast treats for my future menu,’ she’d explained. ‘For when I open my B&B.’
As Sookie pulled things from the refrigerator, she thought of the large sum of money sitting in her bank account. As promised, Desmond Cataliades sent along the paperwork from her Mother’s estate along with a letter. He wrote that her parents had a secret. They’d left money for Jason, but more for Sookie.
It was odd. In all the papers she’d sorted and tallied in those last days of her Mother’s life, Michele never mentioned the life insurance policy. ‘I’d almost overlooked it myself,’ the attorney wrote when she asked him about it. ‘Your mother was very ill. It’s possible, with the nature of her illness, that she didn’t remember.’
Maryann had taken Sookie to a meeting of the B&B association only last week. It confirmed everything she thought, talking with the other owners, hearing their stories. She wanted a B&B of her own, and now, with the estate settled, she had the money she needed to buy one.
Sookie glanced at the picture on the shelf beside the sink. It was the one Sam took last Thanksgiving in Boston. Sookie had folded the photo, hiding Breandan’s face before putting it in the frame. Her Mom’s face, thin but beautiful, was smiling at a pale version of herself. “Miss you, Mom,” she said under her breath. A year. Almost a year now, but it seemed longer. The breath didn’t catch in her throat any more when she thought of her mother and her chest didn’t tighten. It made Sookie feel disloyal, but it also made it easier to focus on her life now.
Ian had walked past her, heading for the garage. As she set the table, the Dayman returned, holding a bag of dry cleaning and a bouquet of flowers. “Mr. Northman said you were fond of freesia.”
Sookie breathed in the perfume and pulled out the card. ‘Mine’ it read, followed by Eric’s large ‘E.’ She wondered how he did it. “He must have a stack of these he signed at the florists,” she said aloud, waving the card at Ian. “Most folks have their cards computer-typed.”
“Old-fashioned can be best,” Ian replied, walking through with the bag of clothes. He’d hang it in the front hall closet and Sookie would take care of it later. She was pretty sure Ian knew Eric was somewhere on premises, but he’d never hinted that he knew of the room under the stairs.
They were almost finished eating lunch when the contractor came downstairs. “We’re done, now, Mrs.” he told her, touching his cap.
Sookie followed the contractor back up the stairs, trailed by Ian. The workers were packing up their equipment, folding the protective sheets they’d placed over the furniture, and pulling down their temporary lighting. The contractor handed Sookie the remote. “It’s all in the buttons, you see.” The shades were programmed to close at a certain time. The remote could hurry that process or override it. “You can rest easy, now. No hurricane is going to break those windows!” he winked.
“I know it’s silly,” Sookie smiled, sticking to the story they’d concocted to explain their installing security glass. “I’m American, you see, and being this close to the ocean, it just makes me nervous.”
“It’s a woman’s place to worry,” the contractor nodded once. He meant it as a compliment, but Sookie struggled to keep her smile in place.
“I’ll be headed out as well,” Ian announced as they watched the contractors pull away. “I’ll be back later with more receipts and such. Any messages?”
“Tell Pam I need to talk with her,” Sookie replied. “Ask if she can come out to the house.” Sookie could have texted her suspicions about the Carrack bar, but talking in person seemed safer, and she wanted Eric to weigh in as well.
“That I will!” and Ian grinned before sliding behind the wheel of his car. Sookie turned, walking through the garage. She slid her hand over the hatch of her new Hyundai Tucson. It arrived that first week, Ian grinning as he dropped the keys in her hand.
Sookie slowed, looking at her reflection in the glossy black paint. “Coward!” she laughed. Eric purposely arranged to have the car delivered while he rested, figuring, accurately, that once Sookie had time to cool down, she would accept his gift. He’d been right.
She’d fumed and cursed for an hour, but, soon enough, found herself standing in the garage, staring at the car. She’d been unable to resist, sliding behind the wheel, pushing the button that started the engine. It was all too easy, slipping the car into reverse, rolling back, and then into the lane. The car drove like a dream and she smiled, remembering how it purred around the curves, the light flashing as the trees and buildings passed by, giving her freedom from the confines of Ballytyne.
Sookie had pulled into their driveway to find her mate standing within the shade of the open garage. “It’s the most popular car in Ireland this year,” Eric told her. “Are you pleased?”
“Sneaky vampire!” she’d scolded before adding, “Yes, I love it!” and rewarding him.
It hadn’t stopped Sookie from figuring how much it cost, and then designating an account to take in most of the Euros she received from Maryann as a monthly payment. “I won’t take it,” Eric growled. “You can’t pay me back for this!”
“Then we can consider it mad money,” Sookie shrugged. “Maybe for a trip to your house in Barbados.”
“Our house,” Eric corrected, and then set about reminding his mate what else was theirs.
‘I love him,’ Sookie thought, walking away from the car and back into the house. It was overcast, which meant Eric could rise if he needed, but she hoped he wouldn’t. Rising early cost him. He made light of it, but he couldn’t hide the stress that walking in daylight caused. He’d made a point of surprising her a couple times since their return, telling her he couldn’t rest one more minute without having her. Being in love was the most miraculous feeling. It made every day better, but it also meant Sookie worried about him in ways she’d never worried about anyone before.
She started to hum as she moved around the kitchen, cleaning up. She closed her eyes and thought about the vacuum upstairs cleaning the floors, removing the smells and signs of the contractors so Eric wouldn’t be bothered by it. She wondered if her method was how the Seelie did it. The actual vacuum remained downstairs. It was more of a phantom vacuum she heard. When it was done, the area would be cleaner than if she’d done it herself. She’d have to follow up, removing the last traces of magic, but it seemed a small price to pay. She could do the same here, washing dishes, but she didn’t. Sookie had begun to appreciate that doing tasks helped to fill the hours until Eric rose.
“You need to find something outside to keep you busy,” Sookie grumbled. The books took hours in front of the laptop upstairs and there was cleaning and cooking, but it wasn’t enough. Online classes and traveling to Dublin to meet with professors would soon take up time, but that wasn’t until January. Sookie slept later, happy to nestle next to Eric, but she couldn’t stand the idea of missing the better part of the day.
It had been raining off and on, as was usual for November, but as Sookie stared out the window, a ray of light broke through. It almost danced before her eyes, appearing and then disappearing as clouds obscured it. Sookie almost looked away, and then, the light was back. There was something about it that seemed familiar, and then Sookie knew. It was forming and swaying like the light she created. She watched as the light moved purposely over the landscape, traveling up to rest on this hill in front of her house. Without another thought, Sookie headed through the utility room, grabbing boots and coat along the way.
The hike to the top of the hill was a little slicker than it had been the last time she’d hiked up, but that was what came of days of rain. She only stumbled twice, but the second time she pitched forward, catching herself with her hand. “Stupid!” she scolded. Her boots had plenty of tread. She was just too busy watching the ray of sunshine to pay attention to the ground underfoot. Finally, she emerged on the rocky hilltop, the ground like a stage overlooking gray, damp countryside. Beyond her hill, rainclouds swept toward her, but all Sookie could see was her cousin, Claudine, glowing in the shaft of light.
“Took you long enough,” Claudine laughed.
“If you wanted me to come out, you could have texted or called,” Sookie shrugged.
“Where’s the fun in that?” the Seelie laughed. “Besides, I knew you’d see the message and understand. You’re more Fae every day,” and Claudine stepped forward, the light following her. Sookie was tempted to place her hand against the shaft of light illuminating her cousin just to see if its boundaries were as solid as they looked. Claudine laughed, seeing Sookie’s gesture. “Come!” she trilled and taking Sookie’s hand, drew her to stand within the sunshine.
Immediately, Sookie felt it flowing through her. It reminded her of something, but the harder she tried to remember, the more the memory eluded her. “What…?”
“It’s life,” Claudine sighed. “The life of everything around us. Grandfather taught me the secret when he returned from saving you. I told him it wasn’t fair that you got to share it and I didn’t!”
“I don’t remember,” Sookie murmured.
“I suppose I understand that,” and Claudine kissed Sookie’s lips. “Grandfather told me you almost passed into the Shadowlands.” Claudine said it in the same way she might have said, ‘Look at that rock,’ or ‘Blue looks good on you.’ Sookie knew she had been in some danger, but hearing it said aloud by Claudine was jolting.
Claudine was looking across the countryside, but when Sookie didn’t say anything, she turned her head, “You are very lucky he came to save you.”
“Grandfather and Eric both saved me,” Sookie corrected, standing a little taller, and then added, “Yes, I am lucky.”
“Grandfather said the vampire was the reason you were injured,” Claudine sniffed. “You owe the vampire nothing. You owe Niall your life.”
“Eric isn’t the reason I was injured,” Sookie corrected. “My temper is what put me on that street. Eric’s blood is what held me long enough for Niall to come,” Sookie bit her lip, deliberately shifting the subject to safer ground, “Is he all right; Grandfather? I haven’t heard back from him and I’ve left voice mails. I wanted to tell him personally how grateful I am.”
“That’s the reason I’m here,” Claudine told her. “He wants you to know he received your messages, but he’s very busy,” and then Claudine preened. There was no other word for it. Her smile was so self-satisfied that it reminded Sookie of Amelia. “We have all been very busy,” Claudine said, emphasizing the ‘all,’ and giving Sookie an expectant stare.
“All right,” Sookie sighed, recognizing her cue, “What has kept you so busy?”
“Rogan’s kingdom!” Claudine crowed. “You broke him! You really did! He’s skulked off to his fort and locked the doors behind him. The entire North is open. Mae’s travesty of an uncle is making noises that as the last relative of Breandan’s mate, he has rights, but Rogan and Breandan were Brigant and the whole kingdom was Brigant under my Great-Grandfather, and that’s what counts!”
“So…you’ve taken over Rogan’s kingdom?” Sookie asked. She felt as though she’d stepped into a Dungeons and Dragons game, and her voice must have showed it.
“Keep up!” Claudine snapped. “Of course, we’ve stepped in. Niall is Rogan’s brother! How could he do otherwise? Now, it’s just a matter of selecting the right regent,” and Claudine’s smile grew broader.
“Oh, and you think Grandfather will select you,” Sookie guessed.
“Of course, he should!” Claudine exclaimed. “Father can’t leave Niall’s kingdom. He runs things for Niall, so it’s down to Claude or me, so there shouldn’t even be a discussion.”
“But I’m guessing there is,” Sookie guessed again.
“I think it’s really a test,” Claudine snapped, confirming Sookie’s suspicion. Her eyes squinted as she stared at her cousin, “It’s the only logical explanation. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I don’t like Claude,” Sookie shrugged. “He never did right by me or Breandan.” Sookie was about to leave it there, but it occurred to her how her words might sound if Eric heard them. “Not that I care,” she added. “It’s really none of my business, anyway.”
“You’re wrong!” Claudine exclaimed. “You may be…well, not entirely Seelie, in fact, technically vampire, but you do count. If you didn’t, Grandfather wouldn’t have saved you. Your magic…” and Claudine placed her hand on Sookie arm. “It’s special. Did you practice while you were in America?”
“I didn’t have time,” Sookie lied.
“I don’t like it when you do that,” Claudine sniffed, her lips turning down. “You aren’t that clever. I can tell you aren’t telling the truth.” Claudine drew herself up, and then she looked back toward the house, her eyes speculative. “You know, you aren’t really aligned with vampires. Grandfather never meant this arrangement with Northman to be anything more than a short-term solution. Even though that bitch of a Queen shackled you with the bond, you can still walk away. You can still be one of us.”
“What happened to my being too low a life form to ever really be Seelie?” Sookie’s eyes narrowed, too. There was something afoot and she figured if Claudine didn’t come out with it soon, she’d just ask direct questions, forcing the truth from her cousin.
“Things are different,” and Claudine touched Sookie again. “Rogan was a great power among us. His leaving has created disruption. So much territory and so few Seelie creates…challenges.” Claudine led Sookie to an outcropping of stone. “Uncertainty brings the possibility of change. If we were to assert our claim and you were to stand with us…” and Claudine smiled her brilliant smile. “We could even whisper that you are part witch.”
“Not you, too!” Sookie sighed.
Claudine laughed, “I can see you hold those creatures in the same low regard I do!”
“Great!” Sookie huffed and eye-rolled. “Seelie already think I’m lower than dirt and you’re volunteering to say I’m even lower than that? With friends like you, who needs enemies?”
“I have never treated you poorly!” Claudine protested. “I can’t be held responsible for my brother’s actions. Who helped you dress for your pledging? Who taught you to hide your scent?” The Seelie shook her hair back, “You are the one who’s not being kind!”
Sookie blushed. Claudine could be pushy, but she had been kind, speaking up for Sookie when others didn’t. “You’re right. You deserve better from me.”
“You need to decide where your loyalties lie,” Claudine said. “It will be better if you did. You don’t wish to be vampire…” and when Sookie opened her mouth to protest, Claudine continued, “Grandfather told me. The Northman should have turned you, but he didn’t because you didn’t wish it. Sookie…” and Claudine took her cousin’s hands in her own, “You are not human. You are not vampire. No person in any world can stand alone. We are your family, you should join with us.”
“But most of the Seelie don’t want me,” Sookie pointed out.
“If you agreed to use your powers for us, they would come around,” Claudine replied. “No one can see the things you do and deny that you have a place among the Fae.”
“And what’s in it for me?” The question tumbled from her lips. It wasn’t that Sookie wanted to know for herself. Instead, Sookie realized she’d just channeled Eric, probing for the agendas of those surrounding her.
“Spoken like a true Seelie!” Claudine laughed. “Well, a place among us, obviously!” She sat back, smiling, secure in her victory. “Friends, family, wealth, of course. We should be able to find a way to free you from your mate, if you wish that, or…” and Claudine winked, “we could buy your Eric’s freedom from his Queen and he could align himself with us as well. Niall likes him well enough and your vampire seems more comfortable around other species anyway. We’d find him plenty of work. He could run his businesses, like he does now.”
Sookie thought of that possibility. It didn’t sound like something Eric would embrace. “I’ll have to think on it,” she said, and in the next moment, she felt Eric’s rising. Her mouth fell open and her head turned toward the house, ‘like Pavlov’s dog,’ she scoffed.
“What’s to think about?” Claudine giggled, oblivious to Sookie’s state. “Northman will do anything you say. Grandfather told me of the power you hold over him. If he means so much to you, you might consider that joining us could protect him. It might even make his existence better.”
“I suppose.” Sookie stood, brushing off her pants. He was returning, and it was all Sookie could think of. “It was nice seeing you,” she mumbled,” I’m happy to know Grandfather got my messages. Let him know that I’d like to invite him to dinner. You, too, if you’d like. I’ll cook,” and Sookie started walking toward the path, anxious to get back to the house, hoping to be beside the vampire when his eyes opened.
“Don’t stumble!” Claudine called after her, and then a little more meanly, “Be a shame if you broke your neck in your rush!”
Sookie glanced back, realizing how rude she was being, but, at the same time, feeling almost helpless to stop, “I am sorry, but I’ve got to go! I’m sure you understand!” and she turned back, watching her footing, gauging the distance in seconds.
Of course, she didn’t make it in time. She leaned over to pull off her boots, then straightened so fast she smacked the back of her head into Eric’s nose. He’d been leaning down, and Sookie was sure she heard a crunch. “Oh my God!” she gasped, holding the back of her head while at the same time reaching for him.
“It’s fine!” Eric growled. His voice was tight and his hand was at his face. He moved it, making another crunching noise that had Sookie shuddering in disgust. There was some blood, but when he lowered his hand, nothing appeared to be bleeding. “You are trouble!” he exclaimed, and then he opened his arms.
“I am your trouble!” Sookie acknowledged and without hesitation, leaped at him, trusting him to catch her, which he did.
When they stopped kissing, Eric laughed. “There’s blood on you!”
“Blood on you, too,” Sookie replied, sliding down. “Did I break your nose?”
“Yes,” Eric shrugged, “but it’s healed.” He walked past her into the utility room and washed up at the deep sink. He opened the cabinet, removing one of the stacked towels she’d never noticed before and waved her over, using a corner to wash her face, too. When he was satisfied they were clean, he threw the towel into the waste bucket.
“Don’t you want me to wash that?” Sookie asked.
Eric looked surprised, and then felt something else. “No,” he answered. “No, once blood touches the fabric, the smell remains.”
Sookie was about to ask him why there were so many towels in their utility room when he said, “I have a confession to make.”
“That you love me?” Sookie guessed.
“There’s nothing left to confess about that,” Eric smiled warmly. “I am yours. No, it’s something else. I invited Octavia Fant here tonight.”
Sookie couldn’t help grinning, “Octavia who? What kind of name is that?”
Eric’s mood turned more serious. “Fant, and, Sookie, she’s a witch.”
“Again, with the witch thing!” and suddenly it wasn’t funny.
“Pam and I have known Octavia since she migrated here from New Orleans in America. We have a business relationship,” Eric was explaining. “She is the one I called to place a ward around this house when I first brought you here. I wanted to be certain that we wouldn’t be attacked by Seelie…”
“Is that why Claudine won’t come to the house?” Sookie asked.
Eric shook his head. “The ward allows your relatives entry. Your cousin won’t come here because she’s worried I’ll drain her.”
“Would you?” Sookie gasped.
“Seelie are delicious,” Eric laughed, “but no. Probably not. Anyway, Octavia will be here in two hours, and I will not.”
Eric was walking back into the house, stopping in the kitchen long enough to look around. Sookie knew he was checking on things, as he always did, checking for stray smells or anything that didn’t fit in. It was habit with him, doubtless born from centuries of working to stay alive, if this state could be called alive. “Why would you invite someone if you knew you weren’t going to be home?” Sookie asked. “You know how I feel about this…”
“I have been summoned to Sophie-Ann’s court,” Eric cut her off. “I have no choice in this matter. It is time for me to return to my job. I had thought she would allow me another week, but she has decided tonight is the night.” Eric sniffed, “It is within her prerogative. Octavia’s visit is already planned. I will wait until she arrives, and then I must go.”
“You could just tell this Octavia person to come another day,” Sookie suggested.
Eric stopped his walking. He looked down at Sookie and she felt captured in his eyes, “I think this is wise, Älskade. I think you should meet her now and hear what she says. If she can help you to understand your gifts…”
“What is it about everyone and my gifts, all the sudden?” Sookie protested. She told Eric about her conversation with Claudine on the hill. “I don’t like it,” she concluded. “I feel like the prize bull and everyone keeps calling, ‘Pick me!’”
Eric didn’t smile. Instead, he cupped her face with his hand, “You are precious to me,” he told her, but then, his phone chirped, and he decided to look at it was more important than continuing to stare into Sookie’s eyes. “Pam!” he grinned. “You invited her here?” and when Sookie didn’t say anything, he started walking and talking again, “This will work well. I will be with the Queen, and Pam can be with you while you talk with the witch. Pam knows Octavia,” and he glanced at Sookie, “All will be well!”
Hearing that Pam was coming did make Sookie feel a little better about all of this. “Explain again what you do for the Queen,” Sookie asked. For some reason, the cupboard full of towels in the utility room came to mind.
“I investigate,” Eric replied. They’d arrived upstairs and Eric was looking around the newly-finished bedroom. “I arrest transgressors,” he added, opening the closet doors and then peeking in the bathroom. Sookie handed him the remote, and he tested the shades before turning toward her, his fangs descended, “and I punish those found guilty.” His eyes were warming and he stroked her breast. “Would you like me to show you how I subdue suspects?”
“Does it involve handcuffs?” Sookie sighed, his stroking making more than her breasts warm.
“It could,” Eric purred. “This bed has the right headboard. It would be an easy thing to install hooks for restraints.”
“Slow down, Buster,” Sookie scolded, but she couldn’t deny that the idea of being restrained while Eric had his way with her was intriguing. Maybe not every night, but…
“I can go very slow,” he smoldered. The buttons to her shirt were open and he’d unhooked her breasts from the cups of her bra. “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time, but would you like a taste?” His long fingers were plucking and Sookie barely hesitated before nodding.
Taking her hand, he led her to the bed. “Consent is important,” he whispered. “I won’t do anything to you without your consent. You can stop me at any time. You need only ask,” and he ghosted her shirt from her, and then her pants. “There is a freedom that comes from knowing you are not in control. It can give you the permission you need to fully experience your body.”
“I don’t need permission,” Sookie panted. She rarely had trouble leaving her worries behind when Eric and she were together. She threw herself in the moment with enthusiasm, but the idea had her heart beating a little faster.
“Take off your clothes,” Eric instructed. “I’ll be back in a moment and I expect to find you on the bed.”
“Should I pull the sheets down?” Sookie asked, suddenly nervous.
“No,” Eric smiled. “But it was good that you asked.”
He wasn’t kidding. He moved so quickly it was as if he’d disappeared. Sookie pulled her underwear and socks off and had just scrambled up on the tall mattress when he was back. He was wearing only his pants, the ones that hung so low that the long lines of his hips were revealed. The hair curled in its lazy line from his navel down, and then down again, and Sookie couldn’t help it. She wet her lips, and then her breath caught as he raised his hands, showing her thin ropes. “I won’t restrain your legs,” he told her, “only your hands.” Eric walked to one side of the bed, “Lay back,” he instructed and when she did, “Give me your hand, Sookie.”
He tied the rope around her wrist in intricate knots that were, in themselves, beautiful. When he was done, he walked around to the other side of the bed and did the same. “Try to get away,” he instructed her and when she did, he asked if the bonds were too tight, and adjusted them just a little. “I don’t want you to suffer,” he said, and then he pulled the scarf from his back pocket. “But I do want your eyes. I want you to truly feel what I do to you. I don’t want you distracted by what you see. Will you allow me this?”
Sookie could feel how aroused he was, and it made her feel powerful. “Yes,” she told him. “But if it becomes too much…”
“We stop,” he finished. He leaned over and kissed her, and then, “Lift your head,” and he tied the scarf around her eyes, making sure her eyes were closed first. All ambient light went out and Sookie knew he’d turned off the lamps. He didn’t need them, and he proved it by starting at her feet. He kneaded and massaged, following fingers with tongue, running teeth lightly over the arches, before advancing to ankles and then to knees. His hands drifted up, almost reaching, but never touching where she wanted them. He framed her thighs and then her hips. His lips and breath were everywhere, wetting, cooling, at some points, teeth scratching, only to be followed by tongue and lips again.
“Eric!” she called out, “Please!”
“Not yet,” he chuckled. “Feel me, Sookie. Enjoy how I worship you!”
Sookie was sure her wrists would be bruised, she was pulling against the ropes so hard. She wanted to pluck at her own breasts. She wanted him to touch her core, but his movements over her touched everywhere but there. She wondered if he was actually hovering over her, but as soon as that thought distracted, his tongue tasted her core and she bucked under him. “Oh!’ she exclaimed.
“Don’t move your legs,” he ordered, and he brought her feet up, bending her knees and pressing to open her more. Sookie felt something that could have been fingers, and then, something else.
“Eric?” she questioned.
“Ssh,” he soothed. “You’ll like this.” It another moment, she felt the vibration and heard the slight hum. He moved the vibrator within her, pressing, then dragging, making her breath ratchet more, and then, he removed it. “Breathe,” he instructed, and the vibrator was being pushed against her back entrance.
“I’m not sure…” Sookie gasped, but Eric’s tongue was on her. He lapped and sucked, fondled and nipped, the whole time pressing and then withdrawing the vibe. Sookie felt her muscles give way, the vibe sliding within her, the pattern setting off a whole new world of sensation.
Fingers now replaced tongue, and Sookie was lost. There must have been some kind of remote, because the vibration pattern from the toy within her changed, becoming more intense. Eric’s fingers stroked and massaged, scissoring, while his mouth suckled. The pressure built quickly, almost too quickly, and Sookie was soaring, her hips lifting from the bed. Eric growled. His teeth pierced her thigh and she felt the sudden rush of fluids as she came, her mouth open, her voice one, long, breathless ‘Oh!’.
Almost before she was done, Eric was over her. “Now!” he said, and his cock pushed within her.
“It’s too much!” Sookie gasped, feeling as if she was stretching beyond what was comfortable.
“I’ll go slow,” he promised, and he withdrew, but then pushed in again, the motion playing against the vibrations from the toy, leaving Sookie gasping, her brain struggling to keep up.
“Again!” Sookie gasped, and, with a chuckle, Eric pushed.
True to his word, he kept his movements slow, allowing her to feel each ridge and roll. The pattern changed again, now more of a continuous purr, and he whispered, “Can you take more?”
“More?” she asked.
“Faster,” he translated.
She wasn’t sure when it happened, but faster sounded like a great idea. “Yes!” she agreed. “Faster!”
Eric didn’t need to be told twice. He grabbed her hips and started moving with purpose. Sookie stopped thinking of him or of her. There was only the drag and press of cock sliding, the playful thrum of the toy and the guttural sounds Eric was making. The pressure this time started in her ears. It raced and raged, her muscles clenching as she arched toward him, pressing back, never wanting this feeling to end. “Eric!” she called as she fell again, and he redoubled his efforts. He brought her legs up and over his shoulders, going a little deeper, and he snapped forward, somehow changing the tempo of the vibe once more, and then he was roaring. She could feel every pulse, every shudder, as he came within her.
He collapsed, careful not to crush her. He laid his hand on her breast, his tongue moving, licking her sweat. After a while, Sookie felt him untie her hands. He rolled her to him, rubbing her wrists. She thought about the blindfold, but was too sated to lift her hands to remove it. Eric moved her legs, removing the vibrator, then wrapped her in his arms again. He lifted the blindfold himself and asked, “Did I hurt you?”
“Not hardly!” Sookie laughed. “You might have killed me, though. I thought my heart would stop!”
“You wish us to move to this bedroom, then?” he chuckled.
“Yes, but not if we’re going to do this every night,” Sookie sighed. “I don’t think I could take it. Why don’t we trot this one out for holidays?”
Eric laughed in that rare, open way he could. “Your own a calendar of events?” His eyes were shining and he chucked her under the chin. “I like this. I like how we are together.”
“I do, too,” Sookie sighed again, stroking his chest, kissing his skin, “but we have guests coming and my legs are like Jell-O. All I want to do is close my eyes and sleep.”
“Then I please you!” and Eric didn’t bother hiding his cockiness. He rolled away and walking to her side of the bed, lifted her, carrying her to the bathroom. “Perhaps this is the answer,” he told her, setting her down to rest on the toilet. “If I keep you this way, you will never walk away from me.”
“Or you could bell me with vampire chains,” Sookie snipped.
Eric’s eyes narrowed, but then his lips curled, “Or that. Either way, I’d know where you were and not worry about the trouble you find when you go wandering off on your own.” He turned on the shower. Sookie looked longingly at the pool-sized bath, but she knew that would have to wait.
Sookie held out her hand for an assist and Eric obliged. Once she was erect, he placed hands on both shoulders, steering and supporting her into the stall. “We need a seat in here,” Sookie sighed, the warm water adding to her general sense of bliss.
“Yes, that would be good,” Eric agreed, soaping her up and then turning her under the spray. “Something at the right height so that when I lean you over…”
“Do you think we have too much sex?” Sookie asked.
Eric’s hands stopped, and Sookie could feel his surprise. “There’s too much?” he asked.
“Give me the soap!” Sookie laughed and took over the washing duties.
They walked downstairs to find Pam already in the house. She was pouring tea for another woman at the dining room table. “Sookie, I don’t think you’ve met Octavia Fant,” Pam said, as she rose and hugged Sookie. “Mmm,” she breathed in Sookie’s ear, “smells like fun!”
Sookie didn’t answer. None of Sookie’s ideas of what a witch should look like matched Octavia Fant. Octavia just looked…normal. She was an older woman, her grey hair braided and clipped to her head. She stood and Sookie realized Octavia was taller than her. She was wearing a dress Sookie saw on church-going, Irish ladies’ every day and her feet were encased in sensible heels. In other words, aside from the color of her skin, Octavia Fant looked like every Irish housewife Sookie had ever seen, right down to the pocketbook sitting on the table.
Sookie pulled her smile into place and advanced, holding out her hand, “Ms. Fant? I’m Sookie Stack… Northman,” she stumbled. “I’m sorry I wasn’t downstairs to greet you.”
“For a non-believer, you do have wonderful manners,” Octavia replied, her accent marking her as American South. Her dark eyes flicked to Eric, “I see the wards are holding up pretty well.”
“I thank you again,” Eric bowed his head. “I must apologize. I have been summoned to the Queen’s Court. I will make a point of catching up with you, but, for now, I must go.” He grinned at Sookie, “I believe you have questions for Octavia, many questions.”
“I wouldn’t exactly say that!” Sookie protested, feeling caught out.
Eric smiled. He didn’t walk to her, but Sookie felt the longing he pushed toward her, and felt her knees weaken. “I may be late.” His tone was the one he generally reserved for when they were alone and for Sookie, it felt as though they were. “I do not wish to move tonight. I wish to come home as things were.” He didn’t elaborate, but Sookie knew he was telling her he they would be sleeping under the stairs for now.
“I’ll walk you out,” Pam announced and suddenly, Sookie found herself alone, facing Octavia Fant.
They stared at each other one long moment before Octavia broke the silence, “So, you think I’m a fake.”
Sookie couldn’t help glancing toward the garage, hoping Pam would return to rescue her. It was cowardly, though, and Sookie was no coward, so she squared her shoulders, jutted out her chin, and answered, “I do.”
Octavia’s eyes narrowed, and then her face relaxed, “Well, at least, you’re honest about it.” The woman moved over to one of the chairs and asked, “May I?” before she sat down.
“Of course,” Sookie stammered, and then, “May I get you something to eat? I made some muffins this morning…”
“Toasted, with honey,” Octavia requested, and she resumed drinking tea while Sookie bustled around the kitchen, slicing and pulling out the honeypot while things toasted. While she worked, Sookie cut quick looks toward Octavia. She wasn’t sure where to start. As she walked the plate to the table, she glanced at the garage door, too, but Pam showed no signs of returning.
For her part, Octavia looked completely at ease, but as she finished spooning honey, she said, “So, you believe in fairies, you believe in vampires, but not folks like me? Seems a little high-handed. What is it about witches? Or is it just me?”
“I don’t know you!” Sookie exclaimed.
“Exactly!” Octavia replied. “What do you think it would take? I don’t presto-chango into something else. I don’t have fangs or pointy ears. I don’t ride on brooms…”
“I can’t explain it. I guess it’s just something I’ll have to work on,” Sookie replied. Her face was blushing, and she was, truly, embarrassed.
“I expect you should,” Octavia nodded. “Is there something else you want to ask me, maybe about yourself?”
Sookie’s eyes widened. For a moment she wondered if Octavia was clairvoyant, but then she remembered Eric would have told Octavia of their suspicions. “There was a woman in Minnesota,” Sookie started. “She said I was a witch. She said my Grandmother, Adele, was a witch, too.”
“Being a witch is something you choose,” Octavia replied. “I’m not saying there aren’t some born with more talent than others, but there’s not a one of us that wakes up one day and thinks, ‘Oh, I’m a witch!’ To become someone like me takes work and will.”
“And…do many women choose to become… Well…like you?” Sookie fumbled.
“Not many,” Octavia sighed. “More now, men and women. It helps that folks don’t burn us anymore.”
“Yeah,” Sookie giggled nervously, “I bet.”
“We wield power,” Octavia focused on Sookie. “With that comes tremendous responsibility. What we harness is not like Fae gifts. We tap into more fundamental elements; powers, that if we’re not careful, could consume us. Most decide to stay no more than hedge witches…”
“That’s what Inger said about my Grandmother! A hedge witch,” Sookie exclaimed. “What is that?”
Octavia drew in a great breath, and then leaned forward, looking friendlier, “A hedge witch is someone who understands herbs and plant-lore. They are usually healers. They accomplish simple magics; potions and such. They tend to be loners, solitary, living close to the land. It helps to keep the distraction of larger powers at bay.”
“Oh,” and Sookie asked, “And what about me? Inger said I was something more.”
“You’re Seelie,” Octavia shrugged. “With all that vampire blood in you, you’re practically glowing. When I truly look, I can see your Fae face. It’s lovely by the way, but witch? Perhaps. The Fae buy our services from time to time, but they don’t have the patience or focus it takes to become witches.”
“So, you don’t know if I am…” but Octavia interrupted Sookie.
“Like I said, Sookie. Witch is a choice. You might have talent. You might have tremendous talent, but unless you decide to explore it, you’ll never know. You do know you have magic. It’s like a living presence around you. It’s possible that’s what the woman in Minnesota saw.” Octavia wrapped her hands around her teacup, “Let’s say we do a little experiment. Go get yourself a teacup. There is more tea in the pot. Let’s have you take a sip and then we’ll see what we see.”
Sookie did as Octavia requested. She poured a cup of tea from the pot. Pam had used the good, loose leaf tea instead of the flimsy bags, so the leaves floated near the bottom. She drank down to the leaves, and then pushed the cup toward Octavia. The witch knocked the last crumbs of the muffins from her plate onto a napkin and then upended Sookie’s teacup. After a moment of staring, she frowned. “You are not a witch, Sookie, but you are meant to be.”
“What do you see?” Sookie asked.
“Trouble,” Octavia told her.
“Eric tells her that all the time,” Pam laughed as she finally returned from the garage. “Parlor games?” she asked, taking a chair and staring at the tea leaves on the plate.
“Not games,” Octavia sniffed, then leaned forward and took Sookie’s hand. “If you decide to explore this side of yourself, I would be honored to be your instructor, but you must choose.”
“Now?” Sookie squeaked.
“What else are you doing for the next couple months?” Pam asked.
“Well, then,” and although Sookie thought this might be a bad idea, she said, “Yeah, sure… I guess.”
“Then let’s begin…” Octavia announced. “Start a fresh pot. You can experiment on me and even Pam. I will show you how to read the leaves.”
“What about my own?” Sookie asked, but Octavia rose, taking the plate with Sookie’s leaves to the garbage pail and tipped it in.
“We walk before we run,” she announced, waiting until Sookie herself rose and started moving.