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.
Of course, her mother was enthusiastic about Sookie’s date, every time Sookie reminded her. It was frustrating. Sookie would walk out of her bedroom with a dress in hand and Michele would ask, “Where are you going?”
“I have a date tonight,” Sookie would tell her again. Michele immediately got happy and offered to help. If they were together, Michele was engaged, but then Michele would offer to go get makeup, or she offered to make them both tea and when Sookie went to find her, Michele would have a blank expression on her face and Sookie would have to go through the story all over again.
After several false starts, Sookie landed on a simple dress with a floral print. It had a soft neckline and showed a little more cleavage than Sookie felt she should, but her mother insisted she looked wonderful. Because of how the apartment door was situated, it was agreed that Amelia would text her when they were out front to pick her up. That way there was no reason for Sam to answer the door first, a situation Sookie was anxious to avoid.
When Sookie’s phone buzzed, she practically jumped out of her skin. “You look beautiful, Sweetheart,” her Mother assured her. “Have a good time!”
Sookie tried not to rush down the stairs, but she hopelessly failed. She pulled open the door to find Breandan O’Hara standing on her front porch. He was dressed in nice slacks and another button-down shirt that was open at the neck. His almost too-handsome face lit up and smiled directly at her before he said, “I am the luckiest man I know.” Sookie’s eyes widened and she felt her breath catch a little, but then Breandan said, “I know Amelia said we should wait in the car, but I was just that anxious to see you.” Sookie couldn’t speak. She knew he was handsome, but somehow, under the porch light with his hair pulled back he looked more like a movie star than a real person. “Shall we?” he said, breaking into her daydream, and Breandan turned a little and offered his arm. Sookie linked hers through his and all the way down the walk she wondered when she’d awaken.
They went to a local family restaurant. The menu wasn’t fancy, but everything was good. The waitress asked for their drink orders and Sookie asked for a glass of white wine. When it was Breandan’s turn, he ordered an imported beer. When the waitress dropped off their drink orders, Sookie noticed the logo. “I see people order that all the time,” she mentioned. “Do people in Ireland really drink it? I mean, there’s plenty of imported beers you find out are basically just for tourists.”
Breandan pointed to the logo, a stylized crown, “I can tell you for a fact it’s very popular in Ireland. My family manufactures this, so I’m pretty pleased to see it being offered in a place like this.”
Sean grinned, “I figured your family had connections, after all, you do have the best view in the building. I didn’t know you were that rich, though.”
Breandan smiled broadly, but then he sensed Sookie move. She sat back and shifted just a little, so she was further away from him. Breandan covered his preening with a quick shrug, “It’s my family, like I said. I’m just one in a mob. Not like the profits go directly into my bank account.” It wasn’t a lie. The profits went into the family trust first, and then Breandan turned so he could ask Sookie, “Would it be a problem with you, if I did have a little cash of my own?”
“I’ve never been rich,” Sookie stammered. She knew Amelia and Sean came from families who were more than comfortable, but it wasn’t anything she talked about and she was starting to feel like a fish out of water. “I guess I never thought about it.”
“I won’t say money is meaningless,” Breandan’s face was serious. He turned fully toward Sookie and looked directly into her eyes. It wasn’t glamour, but Breandan knew that charm could work as well with humans. “What I can tell you, coming from people who don’t have to scratch for a living, is that money is not the most important thing, not even the second most important thing.” He smiled just a little, knowing how it lifted his eyes and made his dimple appear, “What’s in a person’s heart is what’s important. It’s a person’s character that defines them, not the limit on their credit card.” Breandan looked at Sean and Amelia as if he’d embarrassed himself, “At least, it’s how I’d like to be defined.”
“I believe that, too,” Amelia agreed and she raised her wine glass, “To good people and good character!” and the others joined in.
There was a bit of an awkward lull. Sean had stretched his arm around Amelia’s shoulder and Sookie was all too conscious of Breandan’s knee alongside hers. He had his hands on the table and she kept finding herself looking at his long fingers, wondering what they might feel like, and it kept her tongue-tied. Fortunately, the waitress came with their dinners and Sean laughed, “Saved by the bell!” For whatever reason, they all seemed to find it funny and while they laughed, the tension left.
Once they started eating, Breandan launched into a story about arranging a recent music gig for Sean’s band that involved a series of misadventures. Sean added to the story from time to time, but it was Breandan who wove the tale so skillfully, both Amelia and Sookie were helpless with laughter. “And the upshot is, we’re playing the place next Thursday, but I’m still not sure if it’s pants optional,” Breandan concluded.
“You are a wonderful storyteller,” Sookie complimented her date.
“It comes with the heritage,” Breandan acknowledged. “I don’t believe you can be Irish and not be able to tell a tale or sing a song,” and then he touched her hand with the side of his fingers and the feel of him caused Sookie to still. “And what about you, Sookie Stackhouse? What gifts has your heritage given you?”
Sookie’s mouth opened and she wasn’t quite sure what to say, and then she did. “I grew up everywhere,” she told Breandan. “We were always moving. I saw more of this country than most people ever do.”
“Why did you move so often?” Amelia asked her friend.
“My Daddy’s work,” Sookie shrugged. It was the excuse she had grown up with. “It had us moving every couple of years.”
“That must have been hard,” Sean was looking at her with pity and it put steel in Sookie’s spine.
“There were some hard parts,” Sookie agreed, “but it gave me skills. I can fit in anywhere. I learned to walk into a roomful of strangers and find friends. I think that’s a real gift.”
“You are a remarkable woman,” Breandan told her and when Sookie looked at him, somehow, he looked more real to her than he had earlier.
“So,” Sookie looked across the table, eager to move the conversation away from her, “What about you, Sean?”
Sean launched into how he’d grown up south of Boston, in the seaside town of Duxbury, and Amelia’s eyes grew wide. “No way!” she exclaimed. “You didn’t tell me that!” Over the next half-hour, Sean and Amelia determined they’d grown up only one town away from each other, played sports against each other’s schools, and then found several friends they had in common. For Sookie, it was like watching a real-life romance unfold. With each exchange, she could see her friend lean closer to Sean, their comments becoming more and more personal. They had stopped eating altogether, and Sean was holding Amelia’s hand when they realized they’d been monopolizing the conversation.
“Oh, good grief, I’m sorry!” Amelia apologized. “I got carried away. After all, this is supposed to be your date.”
“There’s nothing wrong with watching people who enjoy each other,” Breandan said kindly. In that moment, Sookie found herself thinking this person beside her might be the real thing. He turned to Sookie and looking straight at her, said, “I hope I find that someday. I truly do.”
Sean and Breandan insisted they order dessert. When the women hesitated, Breandan plunged in and ordered four different items, each more decadent than the last. “You can try them or not,” he grinned at Amelia, “but I’m going to enjoy them all!”
It restored levity to the table, and so they each sampled. “It’s so strange,” Amelia told Breandan, “I can’t explain it, but I feel as if I’ve known you forever.”
“That happens sometimes,” Breandan said. “Where I come from, the old ones might say it’s because our souls met in another life.”
“Do you believe in that stuff?” Sean asked. When Breandan gave him a questioning look, Sean explained, “You know. Fairies and leprechauns. Folklore.”
Breandan’s face lost its easy smile, “Indeed, I do,” he said quietly.
“Fran at the diner says your family is linked to fairytales,” Sookie told Breandan. His eyes flared for a moment. He thought of the short woman he’d met only the once and decided he’d have to pay more attention to her.
“If we were in Ireland, people would consider that a lucky thing,” Breandan deflected. “If you’re interested, I’ll tell you a story that’s been in my family for a long time.”
“Oh, yes!” Amelia squealed and she moved closer to Sean.
Breandan used it as his opportunity and he held his hand out flat on the table and looked at Sookie. She raised her eyes to his, answering with her own smile as she laid her own in his. “Aye,” he said quietly, “That’s grand,” and then he shifted her hand to his other one, pulled her closer, and laid his arm across the back of her chair. It was neatly done and before she could protest, he leaned back, looked across the table, and started.
“The story dates back to the time of the British,” Breandan told them. “As you may have heard, it was not a happy time for the Irish, and we had to hide our culture. Playing our music was outlawed, even speaking our language. It was a time the Irish learned to hide secrets and guard their tongues. It was also a hungry time, so for those who lived near the sea, many hours were spent in gathering sea moss for soup.”
“People were eating seaweed?” Amelia asked.
“And happy they were for it,” Breandan nodded. “The mussels and clams were taken, too. We had boats and we fished and considered ourselves luckier than those further inland. For us, at least, we wouldn’t starve.” Breandan glanced at Sookie. She seemed to have settled to his touch and he gifted her with a smile before continuing. “The British weren’t happy though. They’d try to steal the fish from our catches, claiming it was taxes, and when we complained, they called us rebels and took even more. Now, one man in my family, he was a great fisherman, but he always gave part of his catch to the seals that followed him. He claimed the seals drove the fish to his nets and he claimed they watched over him.”
“Seals?” Amelia smiled.
“Indeed,” Breandan nodded. “And it could have been there was something to it because even when others came home with nothing, my relative always came home with something. The townspeople all knew the seals followed his boat and when they saw him in the ocean, don’t you know the seals would be bobbing all about him? He went out in all weather. He didn’t worry about fog or rain. He said that the seals would make sure he didn’t become lost.”
“And did they?” Sookie asked and Breandan squeezed her hand, happy to see she was listening.
“Well, it depends on how you consider the next part. You see, the British came and took my relative’s boat. They told him they were certain he was smuggling and my relative was sure this would mean an end to him. Without a boat, he couldn’t earn his living. He wouldn’t have the money to pay the rent on his cottage and it would be eviction for him, but as he was wandering near the ocean’s edge, what do you think he found?” and he smiled at Sookie.
“What?” she asked, clearly caught up in his story.
“A woman,” Breandan told her. “A dark-eyed, dark-haired, woman wrapped in seaweed, lying on the beach.”
“Who was she?” Amelia leaned forward.
“A Selkie,” Breandan told her. “A seal woman who had cast off her skin to become human.”
“You’re kidding,” Sean laughed.
“Not at all,” Breandan replied. “Now, my relative thought she was a shipwreck survivor. The coast there is famous for its storms, so he wrapped her in his coat and he took her home. From that day forward, luck seemed to follow him. A neighbor passed and left my relative his boat. The net his woman wove him seemed to call the fish to it. Even the British seemed to forget where his door lay. Of course, one thing led to another and the priest insisted there be a hasty marriage, and she gave him many children, all dark-haired and dark-eyed, like her.”
“And did they live happily ever after?” Amelia sighed.
“Alas, no,” Breandan shook his head. “It’s said you can be happy with the Fae for a bit, but mixing with the Unseelie will never make you happy for long.”
“Unseelie?” Sookie asked.
“The dark Fae,” Breandan told her. “Selkies belong to that group. They aren’t like the shining ones.”
“So, what happened?” and Sean used it as an excuse to pull Amelia’s hand under the table, only to have her pull it back and swat him.
“It’s said she went wandering on the beach one day and found her true skin caught under a rock. As much as she loved her children and my relative, she loved the sea more, and so she pulled her skin over her and was never seen again in that part of Ireland.”
“What did your relative do?” Sookie asked, a smile playing over her lips.
“It’s said his heart was broken,” Breandan told her, “but he had the children she left him and to this day, there is one child in each generation in that family who is born with the sign.”
“That’s one hell of a fish tale!” Sean laughed and the others laughed, too.
The bill was paid and Breandan helped Sookie on with her coat, and then wound his arm around her, steering her toward the door. As they stepped onto the sidewalk, Breandan switched places with her, moving her away from the street. Sookie had read about men doing that, but she’d never been out with anyone who actually had. It made her feel special.
When they got to the car, Breandan stood beside her and opened her door for her. He came around to the other side and folded his long legs up to fit behind Amelia’s seat. “I can sit back there,” Amelia offered.
“No worries,” Breandan replied and, instead of waiting, reached across and took Sookie’s hand between his own. “I’m perfectly happy to be back here,” and he smiled so warmly that Sookie beamed back.
As they pulled up to her house, Sookie noticed the thugs were back in the playground down the street. When Sean pulled over, Breandan jumped out of the car, ran around to open Sookie’s door, and then took her hand to help her out. Tucking her hand back under his arm, he walked her up the long path and then waited as she fitted her key in each of the deadbolts.
Sookie turned back and she half-expected he’d kiss her but, instead, Breandan leaned back on his heels, and taking her hand in his, said, “You have the most beautiful smile. I’ll be remembering how sweet it is when I go to sleep tonight.”
Sookie felt momentarily confused, but then she knew what she wanted, so she stepped forward, put her hand on Breandan’s shoulder and pulled herself up on tiptoe, so she could touch her lips to his. His reaction was fast. He released her other hand and snaked his arm around her waist, pulling her to him and returning her kiss. His lips were soft, but not soft. They moved over hers and his head slanted so he covered her mouth more fully. Her lips parted and Breandan’s tongue darted forward, and then, as if he’d caught himself doing something wrong, he pulled back. His eyes were wary, but Sookie lifted her chin and said, “I had a really nice time tonight.”
“Then you’ll be coming out with me again?” Breandan asked.
“Yes,” Sookie smiled, “I will.”
Breandan took her hand. He turned it so he was looking at her palm and when his eyes raised to hers, there was a light in them that was almost familiar. “You are sure that’s what you want?” he asked.
There was a sound from the playground, loud laughter and the sound of glass breaking. Breandan turned toward the sound and then looking back, he said, “You better be getting inside. I’ll wait until I hear the locks. I want to make sure you’re safe.” He reached up and stroked her cheek with one finger, then dropping his hand, stepped back, and crossed his hands in front of him.
Sookie was smiling as she stepped inside, but then remembered she hadn’t answered his question, so before she closed the door, Sookie turned and said, “Yes, Breandan. I do want to see you again.”
“Lock the door, Sookie,” he told her, and she could see him through the glass transom, standing on her porch until the last of the deadbolts was engaged.
She didn’t watch Breandan walking back toward the waiting car or see her date wave at the black dog that sat just outside the fence surrounding the yard. “I’ll let you know when I fuck her,” Breandan whispered to the animal as he walked by, never breaking eye contact with the car. “Then you can tell my Father and return home.”
Inside, Sookie turned on the lights in her room and floated into bed. She’d never been treated so well by any man and she laughed out loud, feeling every inch the fairytale princess. “And Breandan O’Hara is my Prince Charming,” she said to the night, and then snuggling under her blankets, Sookie turned out the light.
Sookie was working when Fran called her. “Someone was just here,” she said, and she held out a bouquet of flowers.
“Breandan?” and Sookie couldn’t help looking out the front windows as she took the flowers from Fran’s hands.
“No, he didn’t come himself. It was a drop off from the florist, but there’s a card,” and Fran looked archly toward the bouquet.
Sookie just laughed, “I can’t believe it,” she said out loud and reached for the envelope.
“I’ll take those,” Fran took back the flowers. “I’ll put them in some water for you. You go ahead and see what he has to say,” and as the woman walked away she said, “This is what it means to be courted.”
“I like it,” Sookie said out loud.
‘I can’t wait to see you again’ the card read, signed by a single ‘B.’
“So, when are you and the lad stepping out again?” Pat asked as Sookie tucked the card into her apron pocket.
“We didn’t set a date,” she said, but the thought of Breandan thinking enough to send her flowers at work had her smiling for the rest of the night. When Amelia was getting ready to head out, Sookie told her, “If you see Breandan tonight, tell him I’m thinking about him, too.”
“You got it bad, don’t you?” Amelia teased.
“Well, he is gorgeous,” Sookie teased back, but then, more quietly, “and he seems real nice. I know it’s only been the once and he could still turn out to be a big phony, but I really want to believe he’s for real.”
It was slow after midnight as Tuesdays often were, so Pat announced they’d be closing at one instead of two in the morning, like always. Sookie attacked her side work and scrubbed her station and the other stations, too. It was a little before closing when Pat sent her on her way, and Sookie pulled her coat around her and fished in her pocket for her keys.
As she stepped onto the sidewalk, a familiar voice said, “I could drive you home if you like.” Sookie looked up to find Breandan O’Hara standing under the restaurant light. He was wearing a barn coat and for some reason, the way the light shone on him almost made him look as though he was glowing.
“What are you doing here?” Sookie asked.
“I was playing at Sean’s,” Breandan shrugged. “Amelia gave me your message and it occurred to me that I wanted to see you, too, so I had Sean drop me off.”
“And what was your plan if I said no?” Sookie asked, not bothering to hide how pleased she was.
“I figured I’d charm Fran into giving me a lift,” Breandan flirted right back.
“Well, I’d hate to lose out to my boss,” and Sookie sighed. “I guess I’d better give you a lift home.”
They walked side by side the rest of the way to Sookie’s car and Breandan asked, “Would you like me to drive? You’re probably tired. I know when I’ve been on my feet, the best time is when I first sit down. I like to close my eyes and just relax for those few minutes.”
“Me, too,” Sookie agreed almost before she thought about it. She bit her lip, looked at her keys, and then dropped them in Breandan’s outstretched hand. “I should warn you that I am pretty tired, so if you think you’re going to play some game where you try to kidnap me or run me around town, I’ll kill you dead and let you take me with you!”
Breandan looked shocked, and then he looked delighted. “You are sassy!” he grinned.
“And tired,” Sookie reminded him, “Don’t forget tired, so straight over to Sean’s and no delays!”
There was a moment when Breandan put the key in the ignition that Sookie thought, ‘Oh, please start!’ It had been colder and lately the car had become a little more temperamental, but that wasn’t the problem tonight. When they didn’t take the turn toward Commonwealth, Sookie said, “Where are you going?”
“I’m taking you home,” Breandan told her. “I’ve got my transportation waiting over at your place. I’m not going to add time to your night just for me,” and he picked up her hand and kissed it. “I just wanted to be able to walk you back up to your door again,” he told her, “and hope you’d kiss me like you did last night.”
“Thank you for the flowers,” Sookie told him. She stared at the bouquet of yellow roses in their vase. She was holding it on her lap.
“I hope we are friends,” Breandan told her and when she didn’t say anything, he nodded toward the flowers, “They have a language. I thought about pink roses, but they would have been too forward. You’re not my sweetheart yet.”
“No,” Sookie swallowed, then looked out the side window, “not yet.”
It seemed Breandan knew where she parked her car because she didn’t need to tell him. He just pulled the car into the back of the stores and parked where Sookie always did. She almost asked him about it, but he was outside the door, opening it, and holding out his hand. They walked past the playground, but it was quiet. It wasn’t exactly warm, but it was still mild as early October could be. The trees were only just starting to turn, the mild weather delaying things, and Sookie found herself wishing there were a few extra blocks between the house and the car. Before she knew it, they were standing on her front porch and Breandan took the vase from her hands. “Unlock things,” he instructed her, so she did. When she reached for the doorknob, he said, “No. Don’t open it yet,” and he leaned down to set the vase on the porch floor.
“I’m a mess,” Sookie protested, but Breandan didn’t seem to mind. She was in his arms and she snaked her own around his neck. His lips were more insistent tonight, but so were hers. She sighed and he slipped his tongue into her mouth, sparring and tasting. There was a sound and Sookie realized it was her. Breandan lifted his face from hers and brought his hands up to frame her face.
“You are beautiful,” he told her. “I know you are working, but could you come with me tomorrow? Just for lunch. It’s supposed to be beautiful. I’ll take you to the Esplanade in Boston. We can eat lunch.”
His thumb was tracing her lower lip and she wanted to say yes, but then she remembered who she was and what she was doing. “I can’t,” she sighed. “There are things I need to do. I don’t know if Amelia or Sean told you. My Mother is here. I live with her. She’s…”
“They told me she’s not well,” Breandan nodded, then leaned forward to capture Sookie’s lips again. He seemed to kiss her for a long time and just when Sookie thought she’d never breath again, he pulled back. “I’m sorry. I wish I could make that better for you.”
“I wish you could, too,” Sookie told him, then took a steady, definite, step back. “I have to go. You’re sure you have a way to get home?”
“I have a motorcycle,” Breandan told her. “I dropped it over there earlier,” and he gestured toward the far end of the yard. Sookie could see the slight shine of dark metal and she nodded.
“This was really sweet of you,” she said, reluctant to leave.
“Not sweet,” Breandan growled and he pulled her to him and held her tight. “Just motivated.” She could feel him, hard against her stomach, and she was too shocked to protest, and then, just as quickly, he released her, picked up the vase of flowers, and deposited it in her hands. “Sleep well,” he said and stepped back, giving her more space.
Sookie swallowed, flustered, and she laughed as much at herself as at the circumstances. She felt happy. “You’re a piece of work,” she told Breandan, and then slipped inside, wondering in a vague way how she would ever manage to invite him in.
Breandan walked out to the fence. He kept a sharp eye on the house before turning to the vampire who stood in the shadows. “I’m surprised you’re still here, Northman,” the Fae said.
“So am I,” Eric smirked, “but then again,” and he looked toward the house, “maybe not.”
“You can see things are well in hand,” Breandan didn’t bother to hide his disgust. “Why linger? Haven’t you worked off your debt, or did you get yourself into something particularly difficult? You should know better than betting with my Father. He will take twice out of you whatever the price.”
“Spoken like a loyal son,” Eric snarked right back. He allowed the Fae to wait and when he sensed that Breandan’s temper was rising, only then did Eric say, “Of course, what I’m doing now isn’t about debt. It’s about gaining concessions.”
“What are you talking about?” Breandan flared. He was talking with his Father almost every night, delivering progress reports like a paid lackey, and it grated. What grated more was whenever he questioned his Father about Eric Northman’s purpose, his Father told him it was between the vampire and Rogan, to stay out of it!
“I’m surprised you didn’t mention the danger the girl faces every night, just walking home,” Eric looked toward the playground. “When I described the situation, Rogan was most appreciative I had offered her my services.”
“As a dog,” Breandan sneered.
“As a protector,” Eric corrected. “I’m surprised you didn’t take the time to arrange something yourself.” Breandan opened his mouth to deliver a cutting remark, but then closed it. The vampire was right and it rankled. He had been too concerned about his mission, not the details surrounding it.
“Why is she so important?” Eric asked. Breandan’s eyes snapped over and he almost said something, and then realized that’s why the vampire had engineered the conversation the way he had. He’d goaded Breandan, knowing he’d prick the Fae’s pride, then he intended to use the Fae’s temper to gain the information he wanted.
“Ask my Father,” Breandan sneered. “As you’ve pointed out, I’m just my Father’s errand boy. Why do you think he’d confide in me?”
“I did ask,” Eric confirmed, a confession which surprised Breandan.
“You’re a vampire. She’s human. Why do you care?” Breandan asked.
“She’s not quite human though, is she?” Eric countered. “She’s not high Fae, like you, not a member of the Seelie, but she’s definitely not mundane either.”
“She’s not your concern,” Breandan repeated. “It would be better for you if you wrapped up your involvement here, collected your pay, and forgot you ever knew anything about Sookie Stackhouse.”
“What about her family?” Eric asked and, for one minute, Breandan wondered if the vampire knew more than he was saying but, in another instant, Breandan dismissed the idea. No one would remember the story about the human and Niall Brigant, and those who were most involved were either incented to stay quiet or dead. Breandan concluded the vampire was talking about Sookie’s human relations.
“Her Mother, if that’s who she is, is not my concern,” Breandan felt that giving that information would not be saying too much.
“She’s very ill,” Eric had told Breandan this news before. “She won’t live long,” the vampire added. “I can smell it on her.”
“You’ve been inside?” Breandan hissed.
“No,” Eric shook his head. “Without the invitation of the owner of the house, I can’t go beyond the fence. I don’t have to see the Mother, though. I can smell it on Sookie when she leaves the house at night.”
“How long?” Breandan asked. “Can you tell?”
“A month,” Eric shrugged. “Maybe more.”
Breandan nodded, his mind twirling. It wasn’t optimal, but, still, it was a valid excuse. His Father couldn’t push too hard if the Mother truly was that close to death and, once she was gone, Sookie would be at loose ends. It would be a perfect time for Sookie to start a new life that would take her overseas. “I have my foot in the door,” Breandan nodded. “It shouldn’t be much longer, a week, maybe more.”
“She is very young in many ways,” Eric observed. “Innocent…trusting.”
“You are attracted to her,” Breandan should have been crowing, but somewhere inside him he felt that tendril of jealousy again, a jealousy that a Fae should never experience.
“I don’t know what that means,” Eric sighed, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize something rare when I see it. She is different.”
“So you’ve said before,” Breandan shrugged, “What of it?”
“I’m not sure,” Eric acknowledged, “but I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy watching you figure it out.”
The vampire’s words seemed prophetic. Breandan found he had to work twice as hard as he ever had to engineer time to spend with Sookie. Sookie was working every night. She explained to Breandan how much they needed the money and she refused to consider taking any kind of loan. “What kind of woman would that make me?” she hissed. “I like you, but I’m smart enough to know the fastest way to screw up a friendship is money!” Breandan couldn’t disagree.
It took a combination of negotiating and cajoling, but Breandan convinced Sookie that she could slip out to spend one hour most days with Breandan while her Mother napped. It wasn’t optimal, but the arrangement had some advantages, first and foremost, by giving Breandan access to the woman. The second advantage was since these rendezvous were during daytime hours, there was no vampire sentinel to watch and make comments, but there turned out to be a third thing that was unexpected.
The short time meant Breandan had to plan carefully to get full advantage of the minutes available, which made him think about Sookie in a different way. For the first time in his life, he considered what another person might find interesting. He spent hours finding the perfect thing that would fit in the tiny time slot. His time examining Sookie Stackhouse taught him there would be parameters for these excursions. She would not enjoy events that were too fussy or cost too much. She preferred things that were entertaining or relaxing, so events with shock value or venues that tested your sensibilities were counterproductive.
As first, the work it took to find perfect venues for each day of the week made Breandan grumpy, but within a short time, his anger turned into grudging, and then active excitement. It became a challenge and the payoff was seeing the look of delight on Sookie Stackhouse’s face.
He found a small art gallery that featured watercolor landscapes he thought she’d enjoy. He found a group performing an impromptu acapella concert in a local park. Breandan took her to small restaurants and abandoned riverbeds. He planned each excursion with the intent of charming her, but as each short hour visit passed with Sookie, Breandan came to realize it was he who was being charmed.
It wasn’t just the exquisite, jewel-like moments. It was the woman herself.
Sookie Stackhouse never talked about herself unless he pulled it out of her. Instead, she asked about him and the questions she asked! She asked how he grew up. She asked about his favorite music and what color he preferred. When he told her he liked cinnamon, she brought a batch of warm cinnamon cookies to their next afternoon that were so delicate, they melted in his mouth. Before he knew it, he’d eaten them all and when he tried to apologize, she insisted on kissing the sugar from his lips, a reaction that left him wanting more than spice! Sookie was funny and clever. She saw things around her in a different way. When he remarked on it, Sookie laughed and said, “I thank you for that. Believe me, it’s the kind of talk that made me an outsider in a whole bunch of places,” and the thought that this fascinating woman had been lonely or ostracized awakened other feelings in Breandan he hadn’t felt in more years than he could remember.
A week passed, and then another. Hallowe’en was approaching, and although Breandan had yet to be inside Sookie’s apartment, he found he could easily deflect his Father’s frustration. “She is eating out of my hand,” Breandan assured Rogan. “If the Mother wasn’t so ill, I would have been inside for dinner already.” Sookie had apologized for not introducing Breandan to her Mother. Apparently, Michele had caught a cold and with her impaired immune system, she had to restrict any possible sources of additional infection, including other people.
“Patience!” Breandan chided his Father. “She is an only child, a daughter, and the Mother will die soon. The vampire told me he could smell it and I’m sure he told you as well.”
“What about hotel rooms?” his Father groused. “Why not take her to one of those places in your little hour and get between her legs?”
“I think you overrate the value of sex in this situation,” Breandan said mirthlessly. “There is a power to consent there, too, especially with this one. Surely, even you agree trying to remove her from her dying mother, a woman she has put aside her own life to help, would not be likely to gain that consent?”
“Are you sure you’re not enjoying your little romance more than you should?” Rogan asked. “You seem to have many excuses these days. I begin to doubt your resolve.”
“She is not one of us,” Breandan said coldly, but his Father read him well. Even as he said it, Breandan felt he was betraying Sookie and it made him realize he liked the woman far more than he should.
“Perhaps I should send Claude there,” Rogan said. “It might help you to focus.”
“While I always enjoy seeing my cousin, you know Claude would be hard-pressed not to play games. He becomes quickly bored and having both a vampire and human to tinker with might prove irresistible.”
“That’s right,” Rogan chuckled. “Claude loathes Eric. Well,” and Breandan could hear his Father was ready to let it go, “it sounds as if you have a plan. You are spending time with her and the vampire reports she speaks of you. You need to meet the Mother. Find a way and make your own assessment. If the vampire is wrong, there might be something I could do to help speed this along.”
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Breandan heard himself say. “If the woman isn’t firmly in thrall to me, her Mother’s death could send her into retreat. Time is our friend in this situation. Let me do this my way.”
Rogan was quiet and, for a minute, Breandan thought his Father would bark orders, but instead, he sighed. “Time is passing, Breandan. Get it done.”