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.
One night turned into two. Sookie found herself so hungry for Eric that when he was close, she walked out the front door and stood in the driveway, her desire causing her to literally bounce on the balls of her feet as she watched for the lights of his car. It was hurried and joyful. It made true every bit about the heart growing fonder. “How will we manage this?” she whispered. They hadn’t made it past the front hall. He’d slammed the door, but it was nearing winter and her skin prickled with goose bumps.
“As with all things,” and he’d stood, slipping from her, and then lifting her to him, “one night at a time.”
She awoke before him and spent an hour lying there, stroking him, memorizing the lines of his face with her fingers. She felt the flutter and then the rush of his rising, and she’d met him, fingers interlaced, sharing breath. “I wish you could stay,” she’d said out loud.
“We had this time,” he replied, being sensible.
He told her of his work in Northern Ireland, interviewing those who had worked for the former Sheriff of that territory. “Some are human, some are vampire,” he said. “Most are anxious to keep their positions, but they need to be loyal to me.” The way Eric described it, it was painstaking, sorting those he would keep from the examples he would set by casting them aside.
“Still,” he sighed, pulling on his shoes, “It is an investment that will reap dividends. If I have eyes and ears I can trust, it is less that I have to do myself.”
“Text me when you get there,” Sookie smiled. ‘Three nights, maybe four,’ he’d told her, and it was hard to keep her smile in place.
There was no question of Eric’s feeding from others. He promised he wouldn’t fuck them and that was enough. Sookie waved as he drove away. As she walked in through the garage, she realized the house felt empty. ‘You need to get busy!’ she scolded herself, but the thought of not seeing Eric again for so long preyed on her.
Sookie ate, and then, starting in the utility room, she cleaned. She hated it. Dusting and vacuuming were the jobs she loathed as a child. She remembered her mother telling her that it didn’t matter if you were poor as long as you were clean, and it prompted Sookie to check the calendar. Thanksgiving was only a few weeks away. In another month, it would be a year since she’d become an orphan and her adventure here began. Sookie thought of how she’d grown up with her Father away, sometimes weeks at a time, finding new jobs. ‘Places we could hide,’ she realized. “How did you do it?” she asked aloud, and she marveled at her Mother’s strength.
“You loved Daddy every bit as much as I love Eric,” she said to her Mother’s photo in the kitchen. “You survived,” and the memory straightened Sookie’s backbone.
There was no telling how long this would go on. Eric was non-committal. Sookie accused him of being evasive, but she backed off when he told her he just didn’t know. “Sophie-Ann is angry with me,” he shrugged. “She’s been angry before. We are vampire. Time flows differently for us. It may take a while.”
He did become evasive when Sookie pressed him on how he’d resolved things in past, so Sookie let it drop. She didn’t need to ask. She knew, and she knew she wouldn’t be okay with using those same methods to resolve things this time. “It’s okay,” she’d smiled. “Something will come up. Things will get better.” Staring at her Mother’s picture, thinking of all those years her parents endured long separations, she wondered if she was the one who was lying.
She finished her cleaning, shutting the door on the upstairs bedroom. She couldn’t look at the bed without thinking of the only time they’d played there. It hurt her heart. Instead, she retreated to her office in the back bedroom. She booted the computer, eagerly looking for new files left by Pam and Maryann. “I need to get more clients,” she said aloud, when things finished too quickly.
Ian has been here yesterday. Sookie had no expectation of seeing him again until Eric returned. Ian was thrilled to be helping Eric. His work had him staying in nice hotels near Belfast and other places. Ian liked the adventure and wasn’t quiet about it. “Even Ian sees you more than me!” Sookie told her reflection in the computer screen, thinking of the injustice of it.
Another hour passed. “I shouldn’t have slept so late,” Sookie scolded herself. She went downstairs and turned on the television. She almost never did, but she felt trapped. “At least Mom had kids,” she grumbled and then felt terrible that she’d said it.
She could find nothing. The movies she used to like held no interest. The television shows seemed stale. Turning off the set, she stalked the house, finally ending in the library. She perused the shelves, pressing her nose to the spines, inhaling the scents she knew Eric loved. “You have got to get a handle on this!” Sookie gasped. “It’s not that bad!”
Sookie returned to the kitchen and pulled out a piece of paper. After a moment, she wrote, ‘Research B&B.’ She’d been to one meeting. There was another coming up next week, but she’d done no particular work on finding possible locations. She had money in the bank. Her mother’s life insurance made buying a B&B of her own possible, although Sookie still couldn’t believe her Mom had money to pay for that kind of coverage. “But where?” she thought.
And then it occurred to her. Rogan was gone. Pam had hinted at it, but with no Rogan and no Breandan, there was no one left to tell Sookie she couldn’t return to Slievemore. ‘I’m free!’ The thought left her breathless. Until this moment, it hadn’t occurred to Sookie how much Ballytyne felt like exile. Yes, she and Eric had spent their first months as a couple here, and, yes, they had altered the upstairs to be light tight. It wasn’t enough. For Sookie, Slievemore with its harbor and shops; its pubs and tourist trade would always feel more like home.
‘It’s where we first met, well, in human form at least.’ Sookie remembered kissing Eric in the little park when she hadn’t known that he was her one, and it confirmed her warm feelings about the town.
Sookie glanced at the clock. It was late, but, if she left now, she could be back in Slievemore in less than an hour. Grabbing her phone, she pushed the numbers. “Sookie?” Maryann answered. “Everything all right?”
“Fine,” and Sookie took a deep breath. “Would you have a room I could use for a couple nights? I’m lonely hanging out here. I could use some friend time.”
“I have a whole inn practically empty,” Maryann told her. “It’s low season, you know how that is. I’d love the company. Pam is in Carrack and it makes the nights long.”
“Days, too,” Sookie replied, and it was decided.
It took Sookie less than ten minutes to pack. ‘I’m getting too good at this,’ and the thought made her sad. She had hoped that Ireland would mean putting down roots and staying in one place. Instead, she found herself hopping from one town to another, married to a man who had houses in many towns. “Perhaps this is my fate,” she told the mirror, then fluffing her hair, she headed downstairs.
Maryann had the lights on as Sookie pulled up. Her friend opened her arms and Sookie walked into them. Maryann put her in one of the larger rooms downstairs near the hostess apartment. Sookie could see the garage from her window, the apartment where she’d lived all dark. She knew Maryann hadn’t hired anyone yet, and, for one, mad moment, Sookie considered asking for her old job again. It had been easier, living here, working, “But you weren’t married,” she told herself. “You’d be without him,” and her chest constricted at the thought.
Pulling out her phone, Sookie texted, letting Eric know where she was. It was an agreement. She would only call in an emergency. His text back was immediate.
E: ‘Why are you there? Was there trouble?’
S: ‘No. I was lonely. How are you?’
E: ‘Fine. Is Pam there?’
Sookie frowned. ‘No.’ she texted. After a moment, the phone rang.
“It’s late,” Eric said, “When do you plan on driving home?”
“I don’t,” Sookie answered. “I’m going to stay here for a couple days, Eric. It’s not like Rogan’s orders are still in force… Are they?”
That seemed to give Eric pause, but then he said, “It doesn’t matter. The wards are in Ballytyne. You should return there immediately.”
“Don’t order me!” Sookie felt her temper rise. “I’m doing the best I can, here. You have things to do, and I support you, but you have to support me in getting the things I need, too, and right now, I need to be with friends.”
“But anything could happen…” Eric growled.
“Like it always does,” Sookie sighed. “Look, if there were some danger or someone stalking me, Claudine would have said so,” and then something occurred to Sookie. “What is it? Do you know about something, something you’re not telling me?”
“No,” he answered, his voice sulky, “It’s just you should stay where…”
“Where what?” Sookie challenged. “Where you put me? Is that where you’re going?”
“No,” he answered and Sookie knew he was lying. It made her smile.
“Sure, you weren’t,” she laughed. “Look, Eric, you know Maryann, you know Pam’s here a lot. I like it here. I have friends, people I know. Fact is…” and she drew in breath, not knowing how he’d take it, “Fact is, I want to move back here. I like it here.”
“But I closed up my house…” he replied.
“I know, and we just spent money renovating, but I can’t help it,” and Sookie waited.
“Is this because of Breandan?” Eric asked.
It caught Sookie by surprise. She rarely thought of Breandan now and realizing that left her feeling both relieved and guilty. The Fae Prince meant something to her once. Her hesitation did not go unnoticed.
“You do!” Eric hissed. “You regret…”
“I’m not regretting anything!” Sookie barked. “Stop! Stop right now before you get yourself worked up over nothing!” She could feel his seething through their bond and she made an effort to send back how she felt about him. When she felt a slight change, she said, “You caught me off guard, asking that, Eric. Truth is, I don’t think about him at all and until you brought him up, it hadn’t occurred to me. It makes me feel kind of sad, that he should have turned out to mean so little. I was going to marry him.”
“You are too kind-hearted,” Eric growled.
“And you are too possessive,” Sookie snapped back. “But it doesn’t matter, because everything I am is yours. Go ahead and bond-fondle me. You know I’m telling you the truth.”
He did. She could feel it and she wasn’t sure whether she should feel angry that he didn’t just take her word for it, or flattered that she meant so much. “Well?” she asked after a bit.
“I…” and he paused. Instead, he sent her a wave of feeling. It was complex: contrition and desire.
“I love you,” she told him.
“Me, too,” his voice a whisper.
“You’re not alone,” she stated.
“Not entirely,” he answered, “not ever.”
“You’re sure you’re okay?” she asked.
“I will do my best to return to you soon. I will send Ian back to Slievemore to open my house. It would be better… I would like you…”
“Eric?” Sookie interrupted, “Have Ian give me a call when he’s in town. I can meet him at Ghoul’s Kiss, and Eric? If the house needs to be re-opened, I’d like to be the one to do it.” She knew it was just a job to Eric, but, to her, it felt important, like something a wife would do.
“I wish I was with you now,” he breathed.
“Me, too,” Sookie sighed. “I love you, Eric Northman. Go be a bad ass Sheriff and get your stuff in order so you can come home.”
“To you…” he finished.
“To me,” she agreed.
“Don’t forget about Octavia,” he reminded her, and the call disconnected.
“Aargh!” Sookie groaned, and laying back, slipped her fingers into her panties. She imagined they were his fingers. She closed her eyes, thinking of the way he smirked as he watched her reactions. It didn’t take long. She arched, his name tumbling from her lips. It was enough to take the edge off, but, in the end, not nearly enough.
Sighing, Sookie picked her phone back up and texted Octavia Fant.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen some of the places we go,” Ian was telling her. He was muscling through a second bowl of fish chowder and had just sent the waitress back for more bread.
“Don’t you eat?” Sookie asked.
“Not much,” Ian shrugged. “Of course, Mr. Northman doesn’t stop for such things,” and he flicked a quick glance at Sookie. Sookie figured the Dayman was feeling guilty about watching when Eric did eat.
“Don’t worry,” Sookie dismissed, “Eric and I are good about his feeding from others.”
“He’s lucky to have you,” Ian grinned, and Sookie couldn’t help it. She felt jealous. It took every ounce of willpower not to start grilling the Dayman about who Eric was feeding from and what was happening after. ‘Don’t!’ she ordered herself and literally bit her lip to keep from asking anyway.
When she felt she had her baser instincts under control, she asked, “So, where’s his Slievemore house?”
“Not far,” Ian replied, wiping his mouth. “We can walk there. He drew me a map, didn’t trust the Google thing. I was surprised it’s in town. Most of his others I’ve seen are set away from people, if you know what I mean.” Sookie did. “I think he had another around here, but he sold it for some reason. He said to tell you not to be discouraged by the furnishings. Said to spend whatever you want.”
Sookie thought about that. She knew Eric enjoyed living well, so the idea that he would feel the need to apologize was unexpected. She knew he opened Ghoul’s Kiss right after he returned from Boston. Pam had told her that Eric insisted the new bar be located in Slievemore because he was sure it was where Sookie would show up. That was over a year ago. “Maybe he just bought the house?” Sookie asked.
“I don’t think so,” Ian shrugged. “But easy enough to find out. People in a place like this can tell you the pedigree of every house on the street!”
“It will be nice to be in town,” Sookie smiled, deciding to move on. “Did Eric tell you this was where we met?”
Ian frowned, “No, in fact, Mr. Northman told me he met you in America.”
She couldn’t help it; Sookie blushed, thinking of Eric in his dog form licking her face. “Mr. Northman saw me in America,” Sookie corrected, “but we actually met here.” Sookie looked around the pub. It was still day, so Mick, the vampire bartender, wasn’t on duty yet. There were plenty of placards on the walls making clear that local music was still the main draw, but now there were other signs, too. There were stars on the door and framed news reviews testifying to the quality of the food. Even though it was winter, the tables were full. Ghoul’s Kiss had become popular and Sookie felt proud.
In truth, Sookie couldn’t stop smiling. Every moment, from sitting with Maryann in the kitchen at Seacoast Shores this morning to climbing the cobbled street to Ghoul’s Kiss, was like a homecoming. Shopkeepers who knew her when she worked at The Grand stopped her. Children she recognized waved as they ran by. Even the paneled wood entrance of The Grand, the hotel Breandan ran, looked inviting. ‘Wonder if Preston Pardloe’s on duty?’ she wondered, but couldn’t bring herself to step in to check. She knew…well… She was pretty sure things would be different with Rogan and Breandan gone, but she wasn’t ready to test it.
As if to prove that she was back where she belonged, Moira, one of the waitresses Sookie knew, chose that moment come in. “Faith!” she exclaimed, before walking straight over to Sookie’s table. “You’re back! I heard it was a long honeymoon, and then you might move away altogether, closer to Eric’s new place. So good to see you!”
Sookie gladly returned Moira’s hug. She tilted her chin and declared, “We are, back, I mean.”
It was all she got to say. Moira was already talking. “So, why didn’t you choose to get married here, in Ireland? There’s plenty who would have come. Eric’s popular and that Pam would have thrown a helluva party!” Moira didn’t say it, but her eyes traveled over Sookie’s stomach, making clear her suspicions as to why Eric and Sookie had married in haste. With a quick shake of her head, Moira set her apron on the table and stared at Ian. “Well, and here I am, interrupting your lunch, and you would be…” The waitress stretched out her hand to Ian, but flicked her eyes toward Sookie.
“Ian Murphy.” Ian stood, bowing a bit, and answered the unasked question, “Mr. Northman’s special assistant.”
“So, rising up in the world, then,” Moira observed, her eyebrows arched in question. “The pubs must be doing well.”
“And other things,” Ian answered. “Mr. Northman’s holdings are extensive.”
“Holdings? And will you listen to him?” Moira sniffed. She turned back to Sookie, hugging her again, “I’ll be saying that I knew you when, but it’s as it should be. Good things should come to good people.” Moira glanced around the bar, “I’d better be getting on. I’m bartending now as well as waitressing.”
Sookie knew Moira was just curious, but it didn’t take more than a few minutes for Sookie’s identity as the wife of the owner to have made its way through the new staff. “Sorry, Missus,” their waitress stammered when she returned to their table. “Had I known…”
“You were great,” Sookie assured her, but Sookie could see things changed. The other two waitresses were staring at her and the woman waiting their table started coming over too often, falling over herself to be helpful.
“Ready to go?” Ian asked after the second time the young woman flew over to refill their almost-full water glasses.
“Sure,” and Sookie found herself standing awkwardly when Ian swooped up the check. “Thanks again!” she called to the waitresses, then walked outside to wait. The boot shop was still across the street and Sookie flexed her feet, remembering.
“It’s down this way,” Ian gestured, then touched her arm. They walked in the opposite direction from The Grand, each step reminding Sookie of the night Eric walked her home and she’d kissed him. Sure enough, they took the same turn, and just before they reached the small park, Ian said, “It’s this one.”
‘This one’ was a solid, stone house painted bright blue, sandwiched between two other houses. The door was varnished wood with a fancy door knocker and there were two prim windows to either side. While Ian fumbled with his keys, he walked a little past the house, “Place for a couple cars over here,” he called to her. “That’s good to have, living in town.” He didn’t bother with the old-fashioned lock below the handle, but inserted the key in the deadbolt lock above.
He turned and then pushed, and then pushed again. The door seemed to stick a bit at the top. “Not unusual,” Ian said, half to himself. “The damp here, and all.” The blinds were pulled and Ian stepped inside. Sookie stepped behind him. The light coming from the street was filtered, but she could see she was standing in a combination living room and front parlor. There was a small couch and a chair facing a fire place that was blocked with an iron stove. The staircase was lit by its landing hosting one of the front windows, and the whole effect was one of general shabbiness.
“He must have bought the place furnished,” Sookie mused. She couldn’t see Eric really using any of the fussy, worn furniture.
“Kitchen through here,” Ian called, but Sookie could see his disapproval. The room had a sink and a refrigerator that Ian was plugging onto the wall. The stove was a two-burner contraption and the floor was dirty.
There was a door into a small, fenced yard. “Could put a table back here,” Ian sniffed before walking past her back into the house.
“I suppose,” Sookie sighed. She marched up the stairs to find two bedrooms. One had a double bed and there was a single in the other. There were a few pieces of mismatched furniture and a third door opened to an old-fashioned bathroom complete with an iron tub. As Sookie walked past the smaller of the bedrooms, she noticed the old-fashioned lace hanging in the window. “It could be charming,” she said as much to herself as to Ian.
“Now, here’s something,” Ian told her, gesturing to a door she hadn’t noticed at the far end of the hall. There was a keypad and the soft glow letting her know the door was alarmed. “He didn’t give me a code. Said you’d know it,” he told her.
Of course, there were codes at the house in Ballytyne. Sookie teased Eric about being such a security freak, but she did understand. The alarm looked like the one of their garage, so she keyed in the five-digit code, ‘lover,’ and she heard the lock snick open.
Ian had retreated down the hall while she disarmed the alarm, but he returned now, “Would you like me to go up first?”
Neither of them needed to open the door to know there would be stairway. It seemed that a vampire did sleep here, and he chose to do it under the eaves.
“Nope, I’m good,” Sookie answered. She knew it wasn’t likely, in fact was impossible, but she half-hoped she’d find Eric resting. “Wait here,” she instructed, taking the flashlight Ian handed her.
The stairs were steep, almost a ladder, and she was reminded of the staircase in the cottage in Killary. The walls were unfinished wood and the ceiling as she emerged was so low she had to stoop, but once she took a step forward, she could stand. There was a large bed against the far wall and a desk with an outlet strip affixed to it. The chair was large and Sookie couldn’t help touching it, knowing he’d sat there.
Unlike the beds downstairs, this one was made, but as she stepped forward, there was a skittering sound. “Great, mice,” she groaned. There was dust everywhere, and Sookie had a hard time believing this was where Eric lived when she first came to Slievemore. “It’s just not your style,” she told the desk chair.
“Someone up there with you?” Ian called.
“Nope,” Sookie sighed. “Just talking to myself.”
“Well,” Ian huffed, and Sookie knew he didn’t exactly approve.
“I’m coming down,” Sookie told him and she carefully picked her way back to the first-floor hallway.
“The place needs a bit of work,” Ian offered.
Sookie couldn’t help her wry smile before replying, “That’s the king of understatements!”
“He said if you did buy some place in the country for your B&B you’d likely have to do some renovating,” and Ian gestured around them.
“Eric told you about that?” She and Eric rarely talked about her dream, not that they had time to talk much at all. She didn’t know why, but she got the impression he wasn’t entirely on board, so hearing that he’d mentioned the B&B to his Dayman touched her.
“He talks about you a lot,” Ian continued. “Misses you,” he added, but nodded briskly, letting Sookie know he felt he was betraying confidences.
“Well, good to know,” Sookie sniffed. “I didn’t bring paper, but I guess I can get started making lists.”
“I’m sure your friend, Maryann, knows some tradesmen. We should start with the water.”
It was an old house. There was a propane heater that looked as if it would simply disintegrate into a pile of rust and the hot water was barely a trickle. There were no heater units in any of the rooms and the drafts from the old, single-pane windows moved the curtains. “My Mom would have called this a ‘fixer-upper,’” Sookie told Ian.
“My Mam would have called it ready for a sale,” he answered.
“It has good bones,” Sookie declared and rolling up her sleeves, she started dictating into her phone.
“Tell me about the house on Goat Street,” Sookie asked Pam that night.
When Maryann asked the address, Sookie told her, describing the state of the rooms. “It’s the mystery house, then?” Maryann stated, before going on to say, “No one ever sees anyone going in or out. There’s a rumor the place is haunted.”
“By Eric,” Sookie shrugged.
“What do you want to know?” Pam answered.
There was something in Pam’s voice that made Sookie curious. “It’s just not what I expected. What’s going on there?”
“It’s the emergency house,” Pam dismissed.
“Emergency house?” Maryann asked.
“The place you go if things go sideways and you can’t make it to your usual resting place. Or if you have extra guests, you can put them there.” She cut eyes at Sookie, “You found all the rooms?”
“You mean the attic?” Sookie asked. “Sure, I found it. He used the same code he uses on our garage.”
“He does that,” Pam nodded, then asked Maryann about her off-season bookings.
There was something in the way Pam was acting. Sookie couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she knew Pam wasn’t being entirely truthful. “Are there other rooms at my house? Ones I didn’t see?” Sookie asked and was rewarded by Pam’s quick sideways glance.
“Nope, you seem to have seen it all. Little place,” Pam said quickly, only adding to Sookie’s suspicion.
“Come on!” Sookie challenged, “What aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing,” Pam protested, but then, she seemed to give in. “Or at least, nothing you need to worry about. Look, I’ll arrange the contractors. You give me a list of things you’d like done.”
“How about ‘whole house?’” Sookie grinned. “Is that descriptive enough?”
“The way I remember the place? Yes, it’s pretty much a whole makeover,” Pam agreed.
“And let me guess,” Sookie leaned over the table. “There is something else, but I’m going to have to get it out of Eric.”
“You are clever,” and Pam patted her hand and confirming Sookie’s thoughts, added, “He needs to be the one to show you.”
The next morning, Sookie got up early. Together with Maryann, they made some lists, and once the pubs opened, marched to the one down the street from The Grand where Brian worked. “I heard you were back in town,” he greeted Sookie.
“I’ll forever be in your debt for introducing me to Maryann,” Sookie replied.
“I should think so,” Brian quipped. “Of course, if I’d thought to matchmake between yourself and Northman, it’s famous I’d be. I’d be known as the greatest fixer in all Ireland.”
“Or the man to avoid if you want to enjoy the single life!” Maryann joked back.
“News travels,” Sookie sighed.
“It’s a small town and the tourists are gone. What else do we have to talk of than our neighbors?” Wiping the bar, Brian said, “I heard you were in and out of the ghost house yesterday.”
“People really must be bored!” Sookie laughed.
“And that’s why we’re here,” Maryann grinned.
Brian had a list of those tradesmen who were local. A few were between jobs, men whose work he knew well. “Pam won’t be happy,” Sookie told her friend as they walked down the street toward Ghoul’s Kiss.
“She should be grateful,” Maryann shrugged. “Whenever possible, always remember to use local contractors. The permits go easier and the goodwill you buy can make all the difference. And if Pam’s really worried, she can just wipe their memories!”
“That’s a terrible thing to say!” Sookie choked.
“But you can’t say you weren’t thinking it,” Maryann smirked. They were just walking past The Grand. “Do you want to poke your head in?’ Maryann asked. “That horse’s ass, Pardloe, is gone. There’s another fancy man behind the desk these days. Nicer, in most ways, and the perfect desk man. He’s got that way of eyeing you that keeps those he falls over feeling superior.”
Sookie didn’t want to, not really. The Grand was where she’d worked. There would be more people she recognized, but many of them hadn’t been kind. Still… “Sure, I’d love to see who’s running things now,” she said, her chin held high.
The lobby was as she remembered. The wood paneling still had that gloss that was able to shine, even when the sun wasn’t out. The Fae behind the desk had his back to her. He had black hair that tumbled artfully over his collar. His shoulders looked broad in his well-fitting suit, leading the eye to tapered hips. ‘Claude!’ she thought, but in the next moment, he turned. His lip lifted, but then he seemed to recognize her.
“Welcome back to The Grand, Sookie Stackhouse,” and the Seelie bowed to her.
“Sookie Northman,” Sookie replied. “Thanks, it’s been awhile. I was curious.” She lifted her chin a little higher, “This is my friend, Maryann…”
“We have been introduced,” the Fae continued. “But allow me,” and he bowed deeper. “I am Francis Collins.”
“That’s a nice name,” Sookie replied, bowing as well.
“It works,” the Fae said shortly, letting Sookie know he had another name that went with the face she saw sliding just beneath the handsome one he was showing. Guests were walking down the stairs and Francis’ gaze flicked to them, before picking up the phone. “You have family in town,” he said, sounding as if they were old friends. “Just a moment.”
Sookie imagined he meant Claudine, or even her Grandfather. The desk man’s attention slid to the hotel guests. Watching him was like watching a play, each move exquisitely choreographed. Sookie found herself watching so intently that she didn’t notice the person behind her until she heard Maryann say, “I haven’t seen you in some time.”
It was Claude. He ignored Maryann altogether, waiting for Sookie to acknowledge him. Sookie couldn’t. Her throat was dry and the million things she’d meant to say to this person jumbled over themselves in her mind. She opened her mouth and then closed it again.
“I miss him,” Claude said, and it disarmed her. “You have every reason to dislike me, but perhaps you would be willing to sit,” and he gestured toward the hotel’s restaurant.
“I don’t have anything to say,” Sookie stammered.
Claude nodded, “Perhaps, just to share a few memories. Please?”
He sounded so sincere. There were tears in his eyes. Maryann was biting her lip. Sookie’s friend had known Breandan, too, and, once upon a time, had told Sookie she thought her former fiancé was wonderful. “Sure,” Sookie agreed, although her inner voice was telling her this was a bad idea.
Claude led them to a booth toward the back. Water appeared and then a round of shot glasses. “Whiskey,” Claude smiled. “A drink of heather for those lost.” He raised his glass, “To Breandan.”
“To Breandan,” Maryann echoed.
“Breandan,” Sookie repeated, and they drank. It was wonderful whiskey, old and mellow. Sookie felt the warmth spread through her, tingling toes and making her hair rise. She met Claude’s eyes, knowing there was something else there, too, some enchantment. Her breath caught, but Claude looked away and started speaking.
“He loved this place. I watched him age here so many times. I can’t say which was my favorite masque. He never showed himself as a youth. I suppose he thought it wouldn’t fit with whom he was supposed to be. He had a way with playing middle age. He made it look so graceful.” Claude didn’t bother hiding the tear that slipped down his perfect cheek, and Sookie noticed the wrinkled skin that appeared as the drop fell.
“What brings you here?” Sookie asked. She couldn’t help feeling the pull. Breandan had been a big part of her dreams, but he had also betrayed her, and with the man who now sat across from her.
“I am proving myself,” Claude replied. “Father suggested work to heal a troubled heart.”
“I heard Grandfather was taking over this area, what with…” and Sookie stopped talking. Maryann was staring between them. Sookie knew Pam and Maryann talked, but she wasn’t sure how much her friend knew about Seelie business.
“Why don’t I meet you back at The Shores?” Maryann suggested, reading her friend. “I have some shopping to do, so if you end up not being too long, we can meet at the grocery and walk back together.”
It was a kindness and Sookie let her friend know she appreciated it. Once Maryann had walked away, Sookie asked, “Does this mean you’re the manager here now?”
“No,” Claude told her. “Unlike Claudine who’s decided climbing up Niall’s asshole will gain favor, I’m traveling between all the businesses, assessing staff, making sure things are running well. He stared at the ceiling, visibly struggling, “I couldn’t stand to stay here too long. Too many memories.”
Sookie couldn’t help it. She was starting to feel sorry for Claude. “I think I can understand that,” she said aloud.
“You married Northman.” It was sudden, the shift in Claude’s attitude. His eyes flared and Sookie felt the prickle of panic return.
“I did,” she nodded. “At Grandfather’s suggestion.”
“Grandfather had you pledge to him, but that wasn’t enough for you,” Claude growled. “You took him back to America and married him your way, and he went along with it.”
“We’re bonded,” Sookie pointed out. “That wasn’t our choice, but it means we’re stuck together. I still work and live in this world…well, we all do. Human marriage gives us legal rights, particularly in America. I have relatives there…”
“How easily lies slip from you,” Claude sneered, but then he pulled himself back, the wistful look softening his features. “I’m sorry. I suppose I can also understand.”
“What do you want, Claude?” Sookie asked.
“I want you to tell me you really cared for him,” Claude leaned forward, grabbing her hand. “I want you to convince me that Breandan didn’t cross over for no reason.”
“Is he…” Sookie stammered. Breandan in seal form was one thing. Breandan gone forever was something else.
“He might as well be!” Claude hissed. “It’s worse! I know he’s out there, beyond my reach. I stand on the shore, waiting, but he hasn’t forgiven me. Tell me that at least you loved him!”
“I did, once,” Sookie swallowed past the lump in her throat. It hadn’t been the kind of love she felt for Eric, not even close, but it had existed.
Claude stared at her and when she didn’t elaborate, he eventually nodded and looked away. Suddenly, the room seemed too small, and Sookie jumped up, “I have to go,” she stammered. Sookie could feel Claude’s stare, burning through her back. She couldn’t get out of the hotel soon enough and she almost gasped in relief when she stepped out into the raw wind.
Texting, she met Maryann just coming out of the grocer and grabbed a bag. “Everything’s all right then?” her friend asked.
“I’m not sure,” Sookie replied, but when she heard through the grapevine that Claude had left town, she wasn’t sorry.
Eric wasn’t happy to hear about it, but it became easy to dismiss his scolding. Sookie’s days were filling with construction planning, bookkeeping, and helping with small projects around Maryann’s B&B. Pam hadn’t been happy about their choices in contractors, but a story about locking off the attic to ‘keep the Good Folk happy’ had been enough to keep the locals in line. The house had a reputation for being strange. The story Sookie and Maryann gave added just enough spice for the skeptics and confirmed the beliefs of others. It had the contractors showing up regularly, and stories of strange noises or glowing lights started making the rounds at the town’s pubs.
Pam was in Slievemore regularly. She and Sookie spent evenings going over the receipts from the Carrack pub. When Pam wasn’t able to discover anything after a few weeks, Sookie segregated receipts between supplies and the bar tabs, hoping she would be able to more closely pinpoint where the stealing was happening. One week it was the bar, the next it was from the alcohol orders, and then the shortages came from the kitchen. Sookie changed the ledger accounts again, this time segregating by morning and night, but then, the shortages stopped. “Maybe they figured it out and it’s over,” Maryann suggested hopefully.
“Thieves never stop,” Pam growled, but another week passed, and the receipts suggested their problems had ended.
There was no explanation. There had been no change in staff or suppliers. Everything and everyone was in place. “Maybe they realized you dropping by so often meant you were on to them,” was another theory. Sookie continued her investigation, but Pam felt free to spend more time at the Slievemore Ghoul’s Kiss, which was her own, which meant more time with Maryann and Sookie.
Eric usually made it back to Slievemore once a week. The Sheriff candidates were in Ireland and according to Eric, they were more party boys than vampires. “They are so young, they have little caution about hiding their true nature,” Eric complained. “They’ve never lived through a time when humans searched for them.” When they spoke, Eric was full of stories about his charges. He found them to be spoiled and not a little entitled. They thought nothing of enticing humans for feeding and fucking, and then leaving Eric to clean up their mess. “They don’t truly harm them,” Eric hastened to add when Sookie expressed her disgust, “but they aren’t careful. I almost believe they are doing it on purpose.”
Weeks passed, but things didn’t seem to improve. Eric didn’t say it, but Sookie could sense there’d been some sort of escalation in the push and pull between Eric and Sheriff trainees.
In the time they’d been in Ireland, Sookie heard any number of stories about the Sheriffs, but she’d never met them. She knew their names were James and Dion. There were nights Eric couldn’t hide his frustration and Sookie would feel it tumbling through the bond. She’d text, asking which of his pupils had pissed him off this time. Dion was the steady one. James was a prankster who delighted in goading Dion until some mayhem ensued. Sometimes the mayhem was funny. Other times, the mayhem seemed aimed at causing Eric trouble. Once, Pam let slip that she’d been brought in to help, and Sookie got the impression things were nowhere near as amusing as Eric told the story later.
Sookie found herself suggesting, “Perhaps they are testing you.” Eric had shown up unexpectedly in Slievemore and they were in her room at Maryann’s B&B. She ran her hands over Eric’s bare chest, tracing each line of muscle and bone. The hours they had together were never enough. It was more than his lovemaking. Sookie craved him; his voice, his scent, the feel of him under her fingers. She tried to pretend everything about her living in Slievemore was fine for his sake; describing the house, her new and renewed friendships with the people of Slievemore, anything to keep him talking.
“I will be happy to see them go,” he’d confided before pulling her against him, settling her as a prelude to soothing her to sleep. It was their agreement. She wouldn’t meet the dawn with him, because it meant she’d cry.
“I can’t stand it,” he told her. “The sadness I feel from you. It makes my being apart from you harder to bear.”
Thanksgiving passed. Maryann found a turkey and Sookie made an American Thanksgiving for their Slievemore friends. They invited some of the contractors and Brian, the ‘fixer,’ along with his wife and family. The tables in the breakfast room of the B&B were all placed end to end and for Sookie, it was a wonderful night. They laughed and played cards. It was perfect…almost. Pam was in Carrack, and Eric? Eric was somewhere to the East, tending to a problem he’d only explained in the vaguest terms. Sookie hadn’t bothered setting him a chair. It was too much to hope for.
Every few days, Octavia came to visit. They had their ‘fencing’ lessons in the garage in back of the house. Sookie ran through her magics and Octavia attacked her each time, forcing that magic to work against Sookie, allowing Sookie to find ways to wrest control back. It was as exhausting as the old witch told Sookie it would be.
She’d wake the next morning, her eyes glue, but Sookie had to admit that she was anything but bored. Every day was filled with tasks and duties. Most mornings were spent meeting with the contractors and inspecting progress at the Goat Road house. The back yard was filling with the extension that would contain the new kitchen and dining area. The old kitchen was swallowed into the front room and plans were made to build in shelving to hold Eric’s books. One bedroom was kept and the other transformed into an office space with built-in desks. Wiring, plumbing, flooring…the house was a mess of plaster and broken spaces. It was the season of raw, ocean cold, and Sookie often returned to the Shores from her time in town, her hands aching.
Afternoons found Sookie spending hours at her laptop, ordering the next round of supplies for work at the house, and then starting her bookkeeping duties. As Maryann predicted, her services were in demand. Word of mouth spread, and Sookie had to stop accepting customers. In addition to Pam and Maryann, she now handled the accounting for Brian, one of the electricians working on the house, and two gift shop owners from town.
Nights were hardest. Sometimes, Sookie continued to work until well past dinner, her shoulders tired and her eyes aching from staring at screens, but it was easier than facing her empty bed.
The week before Christmas, Eric announced he would be taking her to the Queen’s ball. It was an annual event Sophie-Ann hosted. Sookie knew that sometimes vampires from other countries attended, and Eric told her Robert, the King she’d met in Boston would be coming to escort his new Sheriffs home. “Good riddance,” Pam had muttered when Sookie mentioned it.
Pam brought dresses out to the B&B for Sookie’s inspection. Alterations were made and Sookie was forced to walk on a series of heels until both Maryann and Pam were satisfied she had the perfect pair. “Miss the chains?” Pam teased her. Sookie pretended to be angry, but, in truth, she was nervous. The two times she’d been to a vampire Court hadn’t gone well for her.
The night before the big event arrived. Eric would be arriving, but not until later. He was coming from the other coast and there had been frost. Sookie found herself standing on the seawall across the street from the B&B, looking out across the harbor. She shoved her hands deeper into her pockets, staving off the cold. Off to her left, the lights of Slievemore twinkled in the still air, the town settling into their night. In the last rays of day, she stared across the waves and realized she was looking at a herd of seals. They were not that far off shore, bobbing in the waves. As she watched them, their eyes started to glow; nothing persistent, just a flash, first from one and then from another. For one wild moment, Sookie wondered what it would be like to join them. Somewhere in the back of her head, she could almost hear them calling to her, but she regained herself, and shaking her head, stepped back from the wall.
“Eric’s coming,” she told no one in particular, and then realized she was reminding herself.