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The man she was following stood in the deserted parking area below one of the Celtic hill forts in Galicia. It was night, so he had no business being there. Neither did she.
Word of Beryl’s death spread quickly among the vampire community. It made vampires wary about talking with strangers, particularly about dhampirs. What Thalia hadn’t predicted was her presence in Spain being noticed so quickly and conclusions being drawn. As far as she could tell, this meeting was the first the researcher had managed since Beryl’s assassination and telling people he had spoken with that he blamed Eric Northman.
Thalia first caught up with the researcher in Zaragoza where he tried unsuccessfully to speak with a local vampire known as Winston.
Winston wasn’t his original name. Thalia wasn’t sure she’d ever known it. ‘Winston’ was the vampire’s latest persona in a long history of characters he’d adopted over the centuries. Winston had an unfortunate habit of taking on not only the name but certain, less desirable, personality traits of the person he’d ‘adopted’. ‘Winston’ was Winston Churchill and the character the vampire created included slipper wearing, long speeches, and out-sized material comforts. Since the Revelation, Winston had become something of a celebrity around the city, but not now. The researcher, Clive, was refused an audience and once Clive started actively stalking the vampire, Winston disappeared, having told his fans he needed a long-overdue vacation and was rumored to have fled to Northern Africa.
Clive hadn’t lingered long. He packed his bags, heading north to Leon. As soon as Thalia found out, she knew whom he was targeting. Blanca had taken up residence in Leon long ago, spending her time drifting from one cathedral to the next. There were some younger vampires who’d found refuge along Spain’s northern border, enjoying the commerce brought by the Camino de Santiago, but only Blanca was old enough to have the memories Clive wished to discuss.
This area held legends of the guaxa, so Clive’s first order of business was to spend hours in the archives running down stories and pinpointing locations. He was smart, not falling for the lies planted over the years to throw humans off the scent. He seemed to have an instinct for what was worth his time and what was bullshit.
Until Beryl’s death put fear in their undead hearts, the vampires of Spain readily met with him. One of the old ones from Madrid actually contacted Thalia afterward, then quickly apologized for his indiscretion and pleaded for his life. It had been an informative conversation, letting Thalia know where Clive was heading.
The Iberian Queen knew Thalia was in her kingdom as well, but there’d been no formal acknowledgement. Thalia supposed that allowed the Queen the freedom to be outraged, demanding retribution if one of her vassals turned up dead. Thalia could have explained the coincidences surrounding Beryl’s death, but fear was a good motivator. As long as Spain’s monarch didn’t interfere, Thalia felt she could keep her purpose to herself.
As it turned out, Clive’s stay in Leon was equally short. Blanca sent word that the signs were not good. She abandoned her houses and didn’t appear in any of her usual haunts. Clive was sent a message that he needed to move on and he was smart enough to listen.
Now, he had arrived here in the northwestern-most corner of Spain. Thalia wasn’t sure who had lured him there, but it was an old part of the world, which meant there were several possibilities. Rather than track the vampire he was meeting, Thalia tracked Clive. It was a mild night, but that didn’t stop the wind off the ocean from biting at her. One hour passed and then another.
Far below them, the church bells rang midnight. Thalia shifted, then came alert as Clive walked toward the gateway that led up to the fort. Thalia stretched first one way, then another, but there was no reason for Clive to have moved. When he reached the gate, he turned and said in a clear, calm voice, “Are you going to show yourself? I know you’re here.”
Thalia glanced around but there was no movement. As far as she could tell, only she and Clive were on the hill. “I’m waiting,” he said aloud. “I figured you’d follow me here. My guess is you’re the same one Marte spoke with. She knew you weren’t Beryl. If you want to know what I’m doing, it might be easier just to ask. Can’t be comfortable following me around like you are.”
Thalia checked the placement of her sword. It was possible the human had a gun. Being shot wouldn’t kill her, although it would slow her down and still might be a trick. She took in air one more time, but didn’t detect anyone. It was in her nature. She couldn’t back down and so Thalia stood. She knew the minute his eyes found her, a dark shadow against more darkness.
He didn’t move and for a long moment, they stared at each other and then, rather formally, he bowed at the waist, “Greetings. My name is Clive Thorne. As you can tell, I’m not from here, but I consider Spain my second home.” He rocked back on his heels, “I have been interviewing vampires…well, making the effort at least, but you know that.” His voice was steady but Thalia could smell his fear.
“Maybe they don’t want to talk with you because there’s nothing to say,” Thalia replied before starting to make her way down the hill.
“There’s always something to say about vampires,” Clive corrected. “Your kind is a subject that’s fascinated humans across the ages.”
“Until the Revelation, you would have been called a crank,” Thalia pointed out. “Certainly not a serious scholar.” They were about twenty feet apart. She knew he could see her face.
“But now people know I was right,” and Clive’s nostrils flared as she came closer. He squared his shoulders. “Are you the one called Karin the Slaughterer?”
“No,” Thalia answered. “If I was, you’d be dead. Now,” and she moved very quickly, stopping barely an inch from him, “I’d like to know who wants to know about dhampirs and you’ll tell me.”
“It’s no secret,” Clive stuttered. “Marte and I were both hired by Edward Madden. He’s attached to the Vampire King in England.”
“I know who Edward Madden is,” Thalia hissed. She stared at Clive, focusing on his mouth and then his hairline. It was a move that always seemed to panic humans and the researcher was no exception. “When Edward hired you, did he happen to mention why?”
“He told me he was gathering information for a friend in the States, someone particularly interested in dhampirs,” Clive answered, visibly shaking. “Marte and I think it’s the one called The Viking, the famous one with the dhampir child. Madden promised I’d be paid for each report I sent him and he has, paid, I mean.”
“And what information have you provided so far?” and Thalia leaned forward. Clive was taller, but he didn’t look it at the moment. “Be precise, Researcher! If you lie, I’ll know.”
Clive nodded and then half-turned, walking to the stone retaining wall. “This may take a bit. You don’t mind if I sit?” he asked.
He looked calmer, but Thalia could hear his heart hammering. She didn’t answer his question, but she didn’t move closer, either. “There’s what I knew already,” Clive began. “Dhampirs are the natural issue of vampires and human females. Most appear human, but they’re gifted with long life, except those who are sickly. It happens. They were born paler than human children and died young. Some aren’t vampiric at all, but most need blood.” He took a deep breath, looking into the sky as he continued his recitation. “They are day walkers. That means…”
“I know what it means,” Thalia growled. “What else?”
Clive licked his lips, closing his eyes this time. “They are charismatic. They smell good. They are stronger than humans, and can see in the dark. They are said to have fangs, although I’m not sure. You see, there are so many legends about them. Do they really inherit their fathers’ gifts? We know they can reproduce, but are second-generation dhampirs also vampiric? So many questions! That’s why we’ve been trying to find descendants, the children of dhampirs, to see how the bloodline developed.”
“And have you succeeded?” Thalia asked.
“No,” and Clive sighed. “Based on my research, I don’t think dhampirs happened often, except in Transylvania. The bloodlines I’ve found all faltered at some point.”
“If by ‘falter,’ you mean they were killed, then you’d be right,” Thalia sniffed. Thalia thought back to the few she’d known and the bad ends they’d met. “Crusades, Inquisitions, Pogroms. Vampires were creatures and anyone with a tie to a vampire was branded the enemy. Did you know there were bounties placed on us?”
“I did,” Clive answered. “Then, you knew some, dhampirs, I mean?”
Thalia didn’t answer right away, but then she made up her mind. “Yes,” she told him.
“So, do they have fangs?” Clive asked, his fear replaced by his desire to know.
“Yes,” Thalia said again before volunteering, “They can feed on both blood and human food.”
“Have you met the Viking’s dhampir?” Clive asked. He wasn’t watching her anymore. Instead, his fingers were flying, recording notes on his phone, every inch the detective.
“I have met him,” Thalia nodded. “He is typical for his kind, except he’s blond like his parents. Most of the others I knew were dark.”
“So, they do inherit traits from their parents,” Clive was speaking to himself as he typed, and then he seemed to catch himself, remembering there was someone very scary standing near him. His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “Some texts say dhampirs were created through cellular manipulation, not through a more human reproductive process. Do you know how the one in America was made?”
Thalia found her patience at an end. “The Viking’s dhampir was made in the usual way,” she snapped.
Clive’s mouth opened. He clearly wanted to question Thalia further, but he seemed to sense the time for questions was drawing to an end. He thought for a moment before he asked, “It’s said dhampirs can sense other vampires. There are stories about dhampirs becoming vampire hunters. Is the legend true?”
Thalia’s reaction to the last question flashed through her mind before she told her lie. “That’s a story.” Thalia flexed her shoulders, her joints audibly popping before declaring, “Your research is at an end, Breather. You have your phone out. Use it to let Madden know your job is done. That includes your colleague, Marte. Contact her and if I find either of you harassing vampires about dhampirs without my permission,” and she leaned forward so Clive could clearly see her eyes, “I’ll be back!”
Thalia kept her weight forward, even after Clive agreed. It was second nature. She assessed the cost benefit in allowing this human to live. If she killed, she’d need to move quickly. It was dry up here. She’d snap his neck and carry him somewhere else, otherwise the blood pool would be noticed by the tourists arriving tomorrow. It was too much risk for too little reward. Clive’s research might prove useful later. For all Amy Ludwig seemed to know things about dhampirs, she’d made the Viking beg for it and even then, doled it out like precious stones.
Clive was sweating. Thalia could smell it. He was diligently punching at his phone screen, creating first one text and then another. He showed each to her before he hit send. Edward Madden’s message quickly resulted in a return message. ‘Sorry to hear it. I’ll let my factor know.’
Once he’d finished, Clive returned to staring at her. “I guess you’re not going to kill me,” he said after a bit.
“Are you surprised?” Thalia asked.
“Yes,” he confessed. She could smell his relief. Any other human would have been content, but not this one. He further risked her irritation by asking, “Will you at least tell me your name?”
Thalia found herself laughing. “You are brave, Clive, I’ll give you that,” she hissed, “but giving you my name serves no purpose. You won’t forget me, not my voice or my face. I may contact you again and I expect you’ll answer me.” She turned to walk away, but Clive stopped her.
“Please! I can tell you’re old,” he stammered. “You’ve seen dhampirs, both the new one and the others. Your insight would be invaluable!” He took a tentative step forward. “We could collaborate. I’d like to publish a paper,” and he started picking up steam. “See, with a real dhampir around, there will be an audience. I mean, we know about Madden’s customer and he isn’t the only one.” Clive’s eyes were bright. “I’d give you credit. Your name would be right next to mine. It won’t be just academics. There are other possibilities. People are making a lot of money on vampire books. There’s TV and Hollywood. We could be creative consultants.”
“You seem to want a lot of things,” Thalia huffed, “but there will be no more research, not unless I contact you. As for your desire for fame? You’ll have to learn to live with disappointment.” She used her full speed to run back to her previous hiding place, returning with her sword. She balanced it on her hand, watching Clive’s lip sheen with sweat. “I think it’s time you left Spain. I’d do it now, before I decide it would be more convenient not to have you live at all.”
Thalia watched Clive stumble down the pathway to his car and waited until he was driving back down the hill before she allowed the tension to leave her shoulders. It was possible the researcher would break his word. It was also possible he’d recorded their conversation and Thalia almost went after him to check him for bugs, but then she didn’t. The researcher had been foolish, yet honest in his own way. The encounter likely was what it was. Still, Thalia took her time circling the hill, climbing until she reached the top. She crouched against a low stone wall for another hour, listening to the sounds of the night, and then she allowed another hour to pass before pulling out her phone. She had a text message waiting.
‘666.’ There was no user ID, but Thalia knew. Karin had finished her job in Russia. It was their shared joke that they did the devil’s work. Thalia thought about responding, then decided against it. Too much chatter, even the electronic kind, could be dangerous to a vampire in Karin’s profession. Karin would know to meet her in England. Thalia pulled up the site for Anubis Airlines, looking for flights. If Clive’s associate, Marte, realized she wasn’t Beryl, then Madden knew, too. He’d have put two and two together. Thalia knew he’d be waiting for her to make her way back to him.
A night bird called. Thalia looked at the ruins surrounding her. Over a thousand years ago, the Celts who lived here looked across the sea as she did now, toward England. ‘At least I know what’s waiting for me,’ she thought. One more job, one more answer to find, and then home. ‘Home,’ and Thalia’s lips curved. Eric Northman had done what no one else had. He’d given her both standing and respect. It paid all debts between them and more. ‘Home,’ she thought again, and Thalia knew for the first time since her making where that was.
Sookie stood against the wall, the light from the moon streaming through the long windows. Maxwell Lee stood just outside the door to this room, guarding the hall, and in the area in front of the fireplace, Rasul was on his knees in front of her mate.
Rasul had anticipated their arrival. His door was open and he’d been standing in the driveway, waiting for them. He’d bowed low, exposing his neck, then fallen to his knees on the gravel as Eric approached. “Get up!” her husband had snapped. “Not out here!”
Rasul made an effort to keep his hands away from his sides, his fingers lax. He didn’t want to give any appearance of resisting. Maxwell Lee and Remy, a vampire who had only recently arrived in Louisiana had followed them. When they reached the front door, Maxwell trailed them inside, disappearing up the stairs. Remy remained outside.
Sookie knew Remy was a deft hand with a sword. She’d watched him spar against Eric in the arsenal under their Palace. He seemed to carry a great number of knives and when pressed, he could make them appear as if from air.
When Maxwell returned downstairs, confirming they were alone, they moved from the front hall and into the room Rasul would have used for Assizes and other official business. The open area on the floor is where supplicants would stand, and it was where Eric Northman stood now, his arms crossed, his biceps straining against the sleeves of his black t-shirt.
The moon gave Eric’s hair a soft glow, almost matching the glow of his skin. His fangs were exposed and the sneer on his face was one Sookie recognized. She thought of it as his ‘enthralling the vermin’ look. Just looking at him brought back so many memories of Fangtasia and days when she wasn’t sure what she felt for this man. Of course, she did now and for the first time, Sookie allowed herself to enjoy this badass, ill-humored Eric Northman. As he stared down his nose, looking as though he’d kick his Sheriff at any moment, Sookie had to hold back a purr. Bad boy Eric Northman was hot and she’d fallen far enough away from her Southern Belle sensibilities to appreciate it.
Eric chose that moment to look her way. His pupils were blown and his lip curled. “Even my mate is sickened by you,” he sneered.
“I should have told you, Master,” Rasul groaned, tilting further forward, his forehead almost touching the floor.
“What do you think, my Lover?” It was in the way he said it. Eric didn’t just look like his old self, he was channeling that vampire now. In an instant, Sookie understood. This wasn’t some act. There was a deep instinct driving Eric’s behavior and her presence wasn’t helping.
“I’m heading outside to check on Pam,” she announced as she pushed herself forward. “Call me if you need my help.”
In an instant, he flashed from preening to anger. “I don’t need assistance!” he hissed as she passed him. Sookie made a point of trailing her fingers over Eric’s cheek, marking him with her scent, effectively tagging him as hers. She kept her eyes on Eric’s as she moved past, then kept her eyes carefully forward, never glancing toward Maxwell or Rasul. She realized she’d never seen Eric like this before, but her instincts proved true. She could feel him settling as she stepped outside.
It was easy for Sookie to pick up Rick’s scent and Pam’s. They were across the lawn near a copse of trees. “Is Rasul lying to us?” Sookie asked her son as soon as she joined them.
“No,” Rick answered. His face was tight and Sookie could see Rick wasn’t happy. “He’s sincere. He’s also resigned to meeting his final death.” Rick glanced at Pam before asking, “Is that going to happen?”
Sookie decided on honesty. “I don’t know,” She took in a deep breath, allowing the motion to center her and she closed her eyes, focusing on the bond. “He’s better,” she breathed. “More himself.”
Pam’s eyes narrowed, “What do you mean?”
“Dad’s jealous,” Rick shrugged. “He has a real hard time around Rasul. He thinks Rasul has the hots for Mom and he was getting off on the whole domination thing.”
“For someone who tells me he had a hard time walking into other people’s heads, you sure stepped into your Father’s fast enough,” Sookie scolded.
“He’s being a real ass!” Rick huffed.
“He’s your Father!” Sookie reminded her son. “Respect his privacy! I won’t say I like what’s going on with him right now, but I do understand it. It’s instinct and you shouldn’t judge him, Rick. I just needed to step outside and now he’s better, right?”
“Maybe I should head inside,” Pam eye-rolled. She nudged Rick, “You have your cell? Text what you’re hearing. I’ll text our questions.” She snapped her eyes toward Sookie. “And you!” Pam’s lips curved up. “Good call.”
Rick’s fingers started flying. “His mind’s pretty open,” he explained to his Mom. “He started spying for Russell Edgington almost as soon as he was shipped off to Michigan. That guy you used to work for, De Castro…”
“Felipe de Castro,” Sookie murmured, “He was the King here before your Father.”
“Yeah,” Rick shrugged, “Well, Rasul hated him. Something about a Queen?”
“Sofie-Ann?” Sookie asked.
“Yeah,” and Rick took a deep breath. “Rasul saw her killed,” and Rick’s eyes met his Mom’s. “It was pretty terrible. She was… There was something wrong with her.”
“She’d been caught in an explosion,” Sookie told her son. “She’d lost limbs. I think she’d been burned as well. Your Father told me she was healing, but it was taking a long time.”
“She was below the Palace in some basement room,” Rick nodded. “That guy, De Castro, killed most of the guards. There were a few, like Rasul, who were knocked out and tied with silver. That’s how he survived. They made them kneel in the chamber, like Rasul’s kneeling now. De Castro didn’t just kill her, Mom,” and Rick swallowed, his throat working. “He played with her. She took a long time to die.”
Sookie felt her chest squeeze as she watched her son’s face. “Oh, Rick!” She wished he was a small boy again so she could pull him into her lap and tell him it was just a bad dream. “Vampires haven’t lived easy lives. All I can tell you is I don’t see anything like that, not anymore. The Revelation…”
“You can tell yourself that if it makes you feel better. All I can say is it’s a good thing you left when you did,” Rick was stiff in her arms. “Dad was thinking about ripping Rasul’s arm off. He figured it would be a good motivator.”
“Keep texting,” Sookie sighed. “Pam, feed Eric what you’re hearing. As long as there’s progress, things will move along okay.”
She stepped back from him and Rick resumed, his head bent over the keypad. Sookie heard a noise across the yard and honed in on it. It was Remy completing a patrol. He saw her, nodded, and disappeared into the trees again. Rick’s fingers were moving, his eyes unfocused as he concentrated on transcribing what only he could hear. It struck her again, how much Rick looked like Eric, but then he sighed and she saw an expression she recognized from her own mirror. Almost unconsciously, she laid her hand on Rick’s arm. “What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she smiled. “What else is Rasul saying?”
“He’s telling Dad he deserves the final death,” Rick shrugged.
“That’s not what I meant,” and Sookie gave him that Mommy look she’d used every time Rick skated the edge of the truth with her in past.
And Rick smiled. “I know!” he chuckled, and Sookie could see from the way his shoulders relaxed that her reminding him of other times had helped. “Rasul hated Felipe, wanted him dead, but he was in Michigan. De Castro didn’t give him much choice. Death or spy for him, you know?” Sookie did know and told Rick so. “Anyway, I guess he could have gone up there and just disappeared, but then he got the offer from Russell. He jumped at it. He told Russell anything and everything. He worked his friendships down here, keeping in touch. He made friends in Nevada. He funneled everything he could to Mississippi. Stuff on his neighbors, Maude and Phoebe. He would have done it for free, just to hurt the guy, you know?”
“Because of Sofie-Ann?” Sookie asked.
“Rasul really admired her,” Rick nodded. “He felt he owed her a lot. She treated him well. He thinks she was a great Queen,” and he ducked his head a little. “Better than Dad,” he murmured.
“Well, I hope you didn’t text that!” Sookie sniffed.
Rick shook his head, a quick grin taking over his face as he started texting again. As she watched him relaying something he’d picked from the Sheriff’s thoughts, Sookie found herself caught in her own memories of those days. Hadley’s face hovered before her eyes. Hadley was Sookie’s cousin and Sofie-Ann’s lover. Hadley betrayed Sookie’s secret to the Queen and, as a result, Bill Compton entered her life. It seemed hard to reconcile, how the lives of vampires had become so intertwined with her own, but then Sookie looked at her son. Hadley’s betrayal started a chain of events that led here, to her tall, handsome son, and Sookie couldn’t find herself wishing it turned out any other way. “Did Rasul think about why he didn’t come clean with us sooner?” Sookie asked.
Rick didn’t look up, but he nodded. “I sent that already. He meant to. By the time he got here, you were already Queen and the other Sheriff spots were filled. Everyone knew Dad’s reputation wasn’t good.” Rick’s eyes flicked to his Mother’s. “Most vampires were betting you’d both meet the final death in a takeover. They all figured it would be Russell Edgington or Stan Davis.”
“Wish I’d known,” Sookie huffed. “I’d have made some money on that action.”
Rick gave a half-smile. Sookie could see he wasn’t fooled. “Anyway, when Rasul got the offer, he figured he would be welcomed with open arms. Instead, he got treated like an apprentice. He stopped feeding Russell, but he didn’t confess when he should have. He did his part to find the glamoured humans, but he didn’t tell what he knew about them.”
“So, Russell Edgington’s been behind this?” Sookie asked.
“Rasul heard it was someone named Talbot who figured out how to do it. Rasul knows how bad it looks. He knew it then. He’s been waiting for the right time to come clean with Dad.” Rick glanced at Sookie. “He didn’t want to do it when you were around. He figured Dad would write off anything he said as showing off for you.” Rick’s lips lifted. “He has Dad figured out pretty well.”
“Waiting never makes secrets any easier,” Sookie sighed. “Take it from me.” She glanced at the house. The bond lay open between herself and Eric and there was no hint at anger, only disappointment. “Are they wrapping up in there?”
“No,” and Rick’s eyes were troubled again. “I guess there’s going to be some kind of punishment.”
“Then, you don’t need to listen anymore,” and Sookie gestured at the phone. “Text Pam that you and I are taking a walk.”
They had just started walking toward the tree line when there was a scream. “Don’t judge your Father too harshly,” Sookie told their son. “He is one of the most progressive vampire rulers. I know right now that doesn’t sound like much, but it is. It puts us both in danger. Vampires are hunters, Rick, which means they punish weakness. By being willing to change, your Father looks weak to many of them. He’s really the bravest…” Sookie knew she was making a mess of it.
“Were you afraid?” Rick asked.
“I’m never afraid when I’m with your Father,” Sookie snorted.
“That’s not what I meant,” and Rick slowed down. “When you were waiting for me to be born, were you afraid?”
In an instant, Sookie thought of the skull she’d seen stretched over Brigid’s face. She’d decided it was nothing more than her stress, but now… “Have you seen something? Are you worried about your safety?” Sookie asked, ready to call Eric away from his work if necessary.
“No!” Rick exclaimed. “We’re fine… I mean, we’re safe. It’s just…” and when he looked at her, Sookie knew.
“This is about the baby, isn’t it? You feeling a little overwhelmed?” Sookie asked.
“Terrified,” Rick whispered. “I don’t think I’m ready for this.”
Sookie slipped her arm around her son. “I remember feeling the same way,” she confessed. “At first I was so afraid that Sam would find out and come storming up to Boston and drag me back home, but by the time I was where Brigid is, I’d figured out that wasn’t likely.” She sighed, remembering the toxic brew of emotions that had fueled her then: abandonment, heartache, determination. She stared up at her son. “I’m so sorry I can’t be with you through this.”
“It’s okay,” her son told her, but Sookie knew it wasn’t.
“If it makes you feel any better,” she said, pulling Rick to get him walking, “I don’t think any new parent really knows what’s coming. You read, and you get lots of advice, but in the end, raising your own little baby is something you learn day by day.” She nudged her son, “There were days you scared me to death!”
“Like all that climbing I used to do,” Rick grinned.
“And the way you ran!” She took Rick’s hand in hers, “But you were such a good baby! You smiled, and you were curious about everything. You were just good-natured and I’m betting your little baby will be the same.” They’d reached the end of the woods where it gave way to pavement. “Let’s walk a little more,” she suggested. “I figure your Father will call when he’s ready.”
“You can really do that?” Rick asked.
“Through the bond,” Sookie nodded. “Yes.” It was a personal question, but they seemed to be having a personal conversation. “What about you? Can’t you feel Brigid that way?”
“Turns out there is one thing dhampirs can’t do,” Rick shrugged. “No bonding.”
“Oh,” and then Sookie laughed. “If you’d asked me twenty years ago, I’d have told you bonding was terrible, but I have to say, I’m sorry for both you and Brigid.” Sookie glanced again toward the house where she could feel Eric. “Bonding has it’s challenges, but it’s a level of intimacy I never knew I wanted, until I didn’t have it.” Since Rick was opening up, Sookie asked the other question that had been nagging at her. “Are the two of you thinking about marriage at all?”
“Well, aren’t you the Nosy Nancy,” Rick smirked. He stared into the sky, “Yeah, I’ve thought about it. Brigid thinks it’s too soon. Says she’s happy the way things are. I am, too. There’s so much changing right now in our lives, I’m not sure throwing marriage into the mix would be a good idea.” Sookie opened her mouth to say something, but Rick squeezed her hand. “After the baby, okay? We can talk about it then.”
They walked a little more. Rick was watching the woods and Sookie realized he was tracking Remy as the vampire circled the perimeter. “Have you talked about baby names?” Sookie asked.
Rick just sighed, but he was smiling. “Yes, we’ve talked names,” but he didn’t say anything more.
Sookie knew he was teasing her, and finally she pulled him to a stop. “Well? What are you naming my grandchild?”
Rick laughed, his teeth flashing white against his beard. “Go ahead, throw the Grandma card.”
“The way you’re making me pull things out of you, I need all the leverage I can get!” Sookie huffed, and when he shrugged again, his eyes sparkling, she crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “Well?”
“Jason, if it’s a boy.” Rick looked at her. “I’d like Peter or Rubio for a middle name.” He glanced toward the house. “What do you think?”
“Are you asking if I think your Father will be hurt if you don’t use his name?” Sookie asked. She knew that was exactly what Rick wanted to know. “I don’t think your Father will think one thing about it. If you use Rubio that might be a bit much, but…”
“Mr. Hermosa saved you,” Rick said quickly.
“You and your Father saved me,” Sookie corrected before asking, “So, what about a girl?”
“I wasn’t thinking Sookie, either,” Rick told her.
“Good,” his Mother said. “It wasn’t the easiest name to grow up with. Any name you choose should be one a child can grow into, one that won’t get them teased all their life.”
“Francis,” he said.
Sookie felt tears prick at her eyes. “Oh, Rick, your Auntie would be so happy!” She turned her face up, allowing the tears to slip over her cheeks. “I wish she was here to see you now.”
“I imagine she’d have some choice words for me,” and Rick ducked his head.
“Your Aunt Fran adored Brigid. She’d be so happy to see the two of you together.” Sookie felt the first probing from Eric. He was done and wanted her to join him. “I think it’s a wonderful name.”
“We’re thinking Barbara for a middle name. That was Brigid’s Mom.”
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing,” and Sookie gave her son the eye. “There’s going to be one Auntie who isn’t going to like being left out the mix one little bit!”
“Pam can just get over herself!” Rick chuckled. “Don’t get me wrong! She’s been nice and all. I don’t think there’s a week that goes by we don’t get something. We can do the entire nursery in elephants and then switch it around to giraffes. I had no idea there were so many different baby books. We almost need a room just for those!”
“She’s excited to be this close to a baby that’s not her own,” Sookie explained.
“So,” and their moment was over. “You leaving from here for your next television thing?”
Sookie nodded. “We drop you off and then on to Shreveport and the plane. Our travel coffins are on board. We start in Chicago and then west. We don’t have a lot of stops. We’ll only be gone a week and Patti knows if anything happens here, we’re postponing everything and getting on a plane.” Sookie hugged her son, “We’re only a few hours away.”
“And Pam’s off to Texas,” Rick nodded.
“She’ll head back to Shreveport as soon as she’s done,” Sookie confirmed. She took Rick’s hand in hers, “Don’t worry, honey. The whole clan will be waiting. I don’t think you’ll have time to get worried with all your relatives hanging around.”
Eric was waiting near the car. He’d changed. “We still have a Sheriff?” Sookie asked.
Eric’s eyes flicked to Rick and then back. “I took a fang,” he explained. “Visible, but not too inconvenient.” Turning back to Rick he said, “You understand why I did that.”
“I don’t like it,” Rick sighed, “but I do.”
Remy appeared beside them. He bowed low to Eric and then to Sookie. “I thank you for allowing me to serve you,” he said rather formally, then turned his head as Maxwell came out of the house.
“Things are settled?” Eric asked.
“We will rest here for another couple nights,” Maxwell confirmed. “Mistress,” and he also bowed low.
Rick climbed into the back of the Range Rover for the trip back to Bon Temps. By the time they got there, it would be late. Jason would be waiting at the house with Brigid, but Hunter had already left for Iowa. Sookie pulled down the mirror, using it to glance at Rick. When she and Eric returned next, their son would be a Father. Her heart squeezed as she realized the chances of them riding together again, just the three, were unlikely.
Eric turned on the radio, the satellite station automatically bringing up WDED. “Monster Mash” was playing and Eric started singing the chorus. He didn’t sing often, and Sookie saw Rick’s surprise. ‘Where’d you think you got that voice of yours?’ she thought. ‘Goodness knows, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket!’ When the song reached the next chorus, Rick joined in, creating some harmony, and by the time they hit the highway, even Sookie was croaking out the words. It was a perfect moment and Sookie filed it away as one to cherish in the years to come.