Author’s Note: I have two lovely women who beta my work. Breathesgirl has been with me from the beginning and Ms Buffy, who is giving me a whole new appreciation for the technique of proper writing. I am most beholden to them. When you read these words, if you are entertained, be sure to thank them. Their touch is here.
Nautical Note: When racing sailboats you need to watch out that your rival doesn’t manage to come up behind you. If he does he can steal your wind with his sail, leaving you becalmed in his wind shadow.
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.
Pam linked her arm through Sookie’s and drew her quite forcefully towards the stairs. Sookie could tell that Eric had also stood, and now was standing behind her. She could feel his emotions returning to some even place that she assumed was his work mode. Pam, on the other hand, was sending a barrage of curiosity, irritation and frustration. Sookie found she could differentiate Pam’s emotions from her own, but the sheer volume was overwhelming her.
Sookie pulled back and closed her eyes. Eric’s hand went to her shoulder in an instant and she could feel his worry directed toward her, but it was only adding to the whirl within. Sookie found that place within herself, that door that linked her to Eric and everyone he carried and she pushed it slowly and completely shut. The minute she imagined it closed, the swirl within her stopped. She drew a deep breath and opened her eyes.
Eric’s face was directly in front of hers. “Sookie?” he asked. Sookie didn’t need to feel him to know that he was experiencing a sense of loss. She was too.
‘I am strong,’ she thought. ‘I am strong enough for both of us.’ Sookie smiled in her most genuine way and placed her hand on Eric’s cheek. “It’s fine,” she told him. “I just need to learn to sort everything. It’s like before. I need to figure out how to put the right walls in place. This is all just so new to me. Nothing’s wrong.” Then she leaned forward and kissed the Viking gently. When he smiled back at her, she turned to Pam. “Okay, what’s first for tonight?”
Pam’s eyes widened. “You’ve changed,” she said.
“You’re always telling me that,” Sookie said with a sassy smile.
“You are always changing,” Pam replied with no smile at all.
Once they reached the bottom of the stairs, Sookie found Thalia. When Thalia nodded, the telepath nodded in return. “Evening,” Sookie greeted. “Good to see you again.”
Thalia’s eyes widened as she bowed. “And to you, Mistress.” Her gaze swept to include Eric. “Congratulations,” she said. “I am pleased that all things are resolved between you.”
Sookie giggled and shook her head. “Well, that’s probably saying too much, but thank you for thinking it.” Sookie schooled her face into a gentler smile. “I’m very happy,” she said.
Thalia turned to lead the way towards the elevator. From over her shoulder she asked, “Sookie, would you be able to start screening the guards? I know that working with Weres is a challenge, but and most here are two-natured. Our doing this would create the right attitude and respect. Your reputation is known. They don’t need to know the limits of your gift.”
“I’d be happy to, Thalia,” Sookie volunteered. “I was thinking I’d like to start screening tonight. Could you ask Devrah to have her staff ready for tomorrow?”
“The donors, too” Thalia added with a smile. Sookie couldn’t hide her surprise. She had figured she would have to specifically ask to include them since anything about the donors seemed to create some level of resistance with her vampires. Sookie was going to thank Thalia and just as she started to, she noticed the smile on Thalia’s face was not friendly. It was something else; something that reminded her of fairies with sharp teeth.
“Yes, I can include the donors tomorrow too,” Sookie agreed and then continued forward, feeling strangely unsettled.
Everyone crowded into the elevator, except Thalia who said she would take the stairs. Sookie automatically reached out to the Were who ran the king’s elevator. ‘Saul,’ Sookie thought in her head. ‘His name is Saul.’ “Hi!” she said in a bright voice. “How long you been here?” The Were was surprised that she was addressing him directly and he automatically smiled in reply.
“Since the days of the Queen,” he replied.
Sookie found she could hear him clearly. He was nearing retirement and he was hoping he would survive to enjoy it. He was thinking that it might be more likely with this new king but only if Eric could manage to keep his crown long enough. There was talk that the kingdom was bankrupt and the Viking seemed to spend more time satisfying the needs of his dick than working for the good of the kingdom. Saul could understand it, seeing Sookie, but thought it was worrying that Eric had taken on the responsibility for so many lives only to neglect them while he pursued his own pleasures. Saul was surprised because the Viking had had a reputation for hard work and problem solving. He had heard the rumor that Sookie was Fae and thought that probably had something to do with the king’s befuddlement. After all, everyone knew that the Fae were sinister and tricky. Sookie found herself taking a painful swallow. She wondered how many others she would hear during the screenings who would echo these same thoughts. She glanced at Eric, whose perfect profile faced forward. As if sensing her gaze, her Viking looked down at her and slipped his hand into hers. Sookie returned his smile but found herself remembering every remark Pam or Karin had ever made about the danger she presented to Eric, how her being in his life was dangerous for him.
“Twy and Dechlan are set up in the main room,” Pam said as they emerged from the elevator. “They have a presentation for the Coronation ceremony. I took a peek and I think you’ll like it.” Sookie shot a look at Eric. ‘How could they afford a coronation if they didn’t have any money?’ Sookie wanted to ask him, but knew she couldn’t look as if she was questioning him in front of others. She schooled her face into her Crazy Sookie smile and walked forward, Eric’s hand at her back, to see what their first official occasion would look like.
Dechlan walked forward to meet them. He was sporting a new haircut and looked more flamboyant than the time they had seen him in Jackson. He was wearing a purple E(E)E shirt and he had the same portfolio in his hand. “So happy to be back in the City of the Crescent Moon!” he proclaimed. “And so nice to see you both again.“ He made a point of kissing Pam on the cheek, and then turned to smile warmly at Sookie. “You look wonderful!” he proclaimed. He grasped Pam’s hand in one of his and Sookie’s in the other and drew them forward to a series of stand-up posters showing three different themes complete with different color schemes and accessories.
“First we need to decide which theme will best promote the message you are trying to convey,” he stated, then proceeded to point out how each of the different formats would facilitate traffic and create a certain atmosphere. One theme he declared as being most formal. Chairs were set in standard rows and there was a central aisle that led to a dais that held a real throne. The next theme was more modern. Chairs were set in different groupings and the throne was really more of a chair. The last theme was the most informal, and staged the ceremony in the garden under a large tent.
Twy was standing to the side, her head cocked while she talked on her phone. Sookie saw Sonder standing along the wall thumbing over a tablet. Sookie noticed that the assistant didn’t seem any the worse for wear. When Thomas walked in and handed Pam something during Dechlan’s presentation, Sonder didn’t seem to notice. Sookie figured the glamour must have worked. As Dechlan was wrapping up, Twy walked over to join them. “I would strongly recommend the most formal option,” she said in her clipped accent. “I don’t think we can overdo the majesty on this one. All gold leaf and ornate. With the king’s hair and coloring it should look like Midas touched or like a god from Mount Olympus.” Pam looked at Eric who shrugged. Sookie thought it all looked pretty good, but she couldn’t help but wonder how much this was all going to cost and where they would find the money.
Then Twy turned to Sookie and said, “Do you have a minute? I need to talk with you.” There was something in the way Twy was looking at her that caused Sookie’s danger sensor to flash. The tall, thin woman almost looked apologetic. Sookie looked at Eric. He was standing next to Pam while Dechlan was walking them through a preliminary ceremony.
Sookie turned back to Twy. “Sure,” she said. “Do you want to talk here or do you want to go into the office?”
Twy looked at Eric and Pam as well, then she said, “Why don’t we step into the office? It might be more private.” Eric was looking at them now and Sookie was pretty sure he had heard everything.
“Okay,” Sookie said. She looked up at Eric and put a smile on her face. “We’ll just be a minute,” she said cheerfully.
Twy followed Sookie into the beautiful crème colored office and sat down in the chair opposite the one that Sookie chose. Sonder had followed them and stationed herself in front of the closed door like a sentinel. Once she was settled, the publicist looked directly at Sookie and said, “Sweetie, I deliver bad news to people all the time and I’ve found the best way is to just say it straight out, so here it is. You know I had some folks nosing around to see what would pop if your name started showing up in the news, right?” Sookie nodded. She realized she was kneading her hands together, so she forced herself to place her hands on the arms of the chair and sit back. “Well,” Twy said, “What they found is not great. You’re still married. You know that. From what I’ve been told, you’re going to stay married for some time to come.”
“My attorney and I are hopeful it could be over as soon as next month,” Sookie protested.
“I’m sure you are hoping that,” Twy said, “but married is still married. As far as mainstream America is concerned, you are living in sin and cheating on your hard-working, missing-in-action husband with a supernatural creature. So this would be the same husband who wanted you so much that he filed a protest to your divorce with the Louisiana court? Yet now, your husband is mysteriously missing, right?” Sookie didn’t know what to say or do. She bit her lip and just stared at Twy. “You show up sporting your expensive ring,” and Twy waved at Sookie’s hand, “and hanging all over a famous vampire and I guarantee there won’t be one kind word printed about you. What’s more, people are going to want to ask your husband what he thinks about all this. When they can’t find him, they’ll start digging. Is that what you want?”
Sookie sat very still and then forced herself to take a deep breath. “No,” she heard herself say. “No,” she said again, but with more conviction. “Eric needs to look as good as possible right now. I don’t want my troubles to be made into a problem for him.”
Twy nodded. “That’s what I figured. I am sorry,” she said and she leaned over and handed Sookie a Kleenex. “I hear things. I know there are problems here right now. Your Eric needs to look large and in charge. I just think that in your current circumstances you could end up being a little too news-worthy and that could splash back on your vampire.”
Sookie looked down, “So I don’t have to worry about the interview tomorrow?” Twy looked at her with sympathy and shook her head. It was that look of pity more than anything she had heard that almost caused Sookie to break. She laced her hands together around the tissue and smiled her Crazy Sookie smile. “For the coronation?”
Twy nodded a little. “Of course you could be his escort for the evening. That would be acceptable.”
“But not his Consort,” Sookie finished.
“I’d be careful about mentioning your being a couple at all. You might be better off presenting yourself as Pam’s friend. The public would be kinder about you being gay then cheating on your husband.”
Sookie nodded. It felt harsh and bitter. “I understand,” she said. “I’m just not sure how to explain it to Eric.”
“I don’t think he’s going to be very understanding,” Twy agreed.
Sookie nodded then and shrugged. “It won’t be easy. I don’t think you can appreciate how hard it’s been just to come this far. Still, one thing I know about Eric, he’s pragmatic. He knows what it takes to survive. I’m sure if I explain it to him and let him know that I’m okay with it he’ll go along. After all, it’s not forever. Like you said, the last thing I want is to be the cause of more drama around here.” Sookie put her hand over her mouth and breathed for a minute until she was calm. Twy watched her in a way that reminded Sookie of a bird watching a caterpillar. When Sookie nodded and smiled again, Twy sat forward.
“Well, I do have some good news. This may make you smile,” Twy continued. “You remember that little conversation we had about your literary pal?”
“Bill Compton?” Sookie asked.
“Yeah, Bitch-slap Bill. Well, it turns out I do know his editor. Tilda and I went to college together, and guess what? She loves the idea of a sequel where the hero turns out to be an asshole! When I told her I was personally interested in promoting it, I thought I was hearing the Second Coming,” and Twy smirked. “So to speak. Anyway, Bill Drip Dick is locked into a three book deal, and he hasn’t sent them one sentence since the last book tour. He took the money and right now no one is looking to cut him any breaks. Tilda mentioned he has stopped returning calls and I’d imagine his in-box is full.” Then Twy turned towards Sonder who was hovering at the door. She held out her hand and Sonder ran forward, opening her folder. “The email from Tilda,” Twy prompted. When the paper was in her hand, she handed it to Sookie.
“This is great,” Sookie said softly as she glanced over the rather caustic memo. Bill’s editor was not happy and the words ‘breach of promise’ and ‘litigation’ were liberally scattered through the body of the message.
“Damn straight it’s great,” Twy replied. “Billy Beefchafe will be stuck writing his worst nightmare. If he doesn’t get on the stick, Tilda will just hire a ghostwriter and put his name to the work. They don’t mess around when they sense a balky writer.“ Twy got a satisfied smile on her face. “Think about it. Your buddy gets to write the story of how Eric Northman bested him, and believe you me, everyone wants Eric Northman to be the real hero. Tall? Proud? Killer smile? They’ll want sex, lots of steamy sex.” Twy shook her head a little. “Yup, Compton’s worst nightmare, and it will live forever.”
Sookie tried to look enthusiastic, but somehow hearing about the bad things coming Bill’s way only made her think more about the not so nice things she was facing. ‘It’s only temporary,’ she told herself. ‘This will all work out.’ “Thank you again for sharing this with me,” Sookie said, and then she stood.
“Hold on Toots,” Twy waved, “There’s more.” Sonder scuttled forward again and handed Twy the tablet. Twy hit it with her finger a couple times and then handed it over to Sookie. Sookie found herself watching a video of a conversation with someone named Chase who was from a major movie company. When Sookie raised her eyebrows in question, Twy supplied, “It’s his producer talking about the scripting for the movie deal.”
Sookie watched with a combination of interest and dread as the young, tan man chattered enthusiastically about the potential if the film had a tie in with the gorgeous Eric Northman. He was sure that with a combination of rescue, broad with tits and some sex the movie would be a blockbuster. He said his team wanted to start looking for the right actor to play the part of Leif. They wanted someone like Chris Helmsworth, all chest and biceps but less expensive. For the part of Shanna they wanted a newcomer. The producer was saying that all that was really needed was blond, a good rack and some acting skill. He seemed to think that if they had the right male lead the actress would be pulled along. “I don’t want another Orlando Bloom/Keira Knightley disaster” he was saying. “I don’t want the gal to outact the guy. It looks bad.” Then he started talking about casting Troy. Chase was talking about Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch for the role. “Smarmy and charming and evil to the core,” he said. “I want someone who people just love to hate.” Twy was laughing and she reached across, took the tablet away and shut off the video as Chase was asking about Twy’s love life.
Sookie pasted her smile on her face. “That sure is funny,” she said, “but we should get back. I’m sure Eric will be wondering where I’ve gone to.” Sookie was sure that Twy could see right through her. Twy reached across and patted her knee.
As they both stood, Twy held out another Kleenex which Sookie declined. “I really am sorry about all this, Blondie,” Twy said. “Try to think of it this way, this time next year you’ll be hosting the wedding of the century; everyone will be clamoring to see it! The two of you will be another Hollywood success story. The movie will be hitting the screens at the same time. It will be like a fairy tale, right?” Sookie nodded but felt her lip tremble just a bit.
Twy gave her a hard look. “You don’t want to ruin this for him, right?”
Sookie took a deep breath and found something that felt like steel snap together within her. “No,” she said in a voice much calmer than she felt within. “No I don’t. This is too important to Eric, to all of us. I’m sure I can explain it.” Then Sookie turned and walked back to the meeting room, her head held high.
As the three walked into the meeting room, Dechlan was telling Pam he would need the invitation list soon. From behind Sookie Twy said, “I would recommend you take a more conservative approach in whom and how many you invite. Nothing says exclusivity like a limited guest list. It builds media fervor!. Everyone wants to know who made it and who didn’t.”
Pam was smiling and Sookie then realized that the two women were working through some kind of script they had rehearsed in advance. Twy walked forward and reviewed all the decisions made so far. She suggested innovative uses for traditional materials. Sookie noticed that most of the suggestions also seemed to steer away from the more extravagant items. Then the topic of providing blood for the guests was raised.
“Donors are a problem,” Dechlan proclaimed. “There really is no place to put that many and have them go unnoticed in a venue like this. You have to figure that there will great attention and many,many photographers.”
Twy nodded. “I think you’ll have to go with Royalty Blended. That’s the real deal in a bottle, right?” Pam was nodding. Sookie glanced over to see how Eric was reacting to all of this. As the Royalty Blended was discussed along with suggested quantities, Sookie could see the skin around Eric’s eyes tighten.
Then Eric turned to Sookie and held out his hand. “We haven’t discussed Sookie’s role yet,” he said to Dechlan.
“There’s plenty of time to go through particulars,” Twy interjected. “Now that we have the main points we should let Dechlan get started. Lots to order and organize. The actual ceremonies and the scripting for everyone should happen a little closer to the event.”
Eric flashed the publicist an irritated look, but Sookie laid her hand on his arm and he turned to look at her. “I’m sure that you have things you need to go over with the sheriffs,” Sookie said. “I’ll get together with Thalia. I’d like to get a start on the screening tonight so I have time tomorrow to wrap things up before I head to Iowa.”
Eric nodded. “Of course, but not too late,” and he looked at her with that smoldering smile that made her remember she wasn’t wearing underwear. Sookie couldn’t help but smile in return.
“Midnight?” She asked, and she could feel the blush rise in her cheeks.
Eric raised her hand, the hand which now wore his ring. He rubbed the ruby with his thumb and looked into her eyes. “You have a date,” he purred and kissed her hand.
Sookie walked to the door and as she did she caught Thalia’s eye. “I’m ready if you want to get things set up,” she said to the smaller vampire.
Thalia fell into step beside her. As they entered the hallway, Thalia asked, “What happened, breather?”
“What do you mean?” Sookie replied, but before she gave Thalia a chance to answer she swung into one of the rooms next to the little office and said, “Why don’t we set up in here? If it’s okay with you I’d like you to ask the questions, and I’ll just sit off to the side and take notes. That way I’m not distracted.” Sookie started to drag a chair over and then she stopped when she realized Thalia hadn’t moved. “What?” she asked, allowing her irritation to show.
“What happened with the tall bitch?” Thalia asked again.
Sookie smiled and she dug deep. She was worried if she said too much the hurt she was feeling would break through and she wouldn’t have the strength to say what had to be said, so she decided to use Thalia as a test run.“Twy did some checking with her friends to see how things would go if I were to be presented as Eric’s fiancée It looks like we should really wait until the divorce is final and all that nastiness is behind us,” and Sookie pasted on her Crazy Sookie smile.
“When will you tell the North Man?” Thalia asked.“ is looking forward to presenting you as his Consort.”
“I’ll talk it over with him tonight,” Sookie replied. “I know if we push my being his Consort we could find ourselves answering all kinds of questions. We could be spending time that could throw the real work off track and there is still so much that needs to get done.” Sookie started re-arranging the furniture again, but when Thalia still didn’t move Sookie stood up once again. “What? What else do you want to know?”
Thalia shrugged and picked up a table by herself, placing it in the right position. “You are ready to sacrifice your wishes for the kingdom,” she said. “I did not expect it.” Thalia looked at Sookie then in a direct way. “You are more than I thought,” and Thalia inclined her head. “I will inform the housekeeper and have her bring supplies. Do you need water or food?”
“Water would be nice,” Sookie said. The telepath sat down heavily once Thalia left. ‘I’ll put him first, Gran,’ she said in her head. ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to keep him safe. Just like you did for me.’ Sookie smoothed her hair and prepared for the first screening interview.
Sookie was surprised to see Shari Decker walk through the door as the first one. As they had sketched out, Thalia sat down on one of the armchairs and Shari was seated on the loveseat facing it. Sookie sat off to the side at a little desk. Thalia had a list of routine questions. She asked how Shari was liking the palace and what she thought of the job so far. She asked if people were treating her fairly and if there was anything she felt could be improved.
While Shari answered the questions in a cheerful and firm voice, Sookie could hear that she was distracted. She knew that Sookie was a telepath and figured she was having her brain picked. It made her cautious in her thoughts, but Sookie still found she had no problems pulling what she needed. Sookie found nothing different then what she had heard before. Shari was pleased to be here. She was a little more cautious about Sookie than she had been a couple days ago. Owen had told her about the fairy incident in Bon Temps and she was wondering if she would be able to do a better job than her male counterpart in withstanding Fae magic.
Thalia finished in about fifteen minutes and excused Shari. “Well?” she asked Sookie.
“I got a real clear read on her,” Sookie confirmed. She wondered if she should tell the vampire about the enhancement to her gift, her new found ability to read Weres so well. Then she figured the less people who knew the safer things might be. If Eric wanted to tell Thalia that would be okay, but for now Sookie would play it close to the vest. “Pretty much what you see is what you get,” the telepath continued. “She was much more reserved because I was in the room. Can we set this up so they can’t see me?”
Thalia thought and then held up her cell phone. “I will conduct the interview next door. There will be an open line and you will be able to hear what we say. Will this be close enough to get a read?”
Sookie thought about it. “Should be,” she confirmed. “Why don’t we have you test it with Owen? I’ve already read him top to bottom so it should be a good test.” Thalia nodded, her face fixed in a toothy smile.
“You will record what you hear in that book?” the dark vampire confirmed.
“Sure,” Sookie shrugged. “Why not?” Sookie labeled the page she had been writing on ‘Shari Decker’ and turned to the next. “So, this one took fifteen minutes. If we hold to that time I should be able to get through another couple before midnight. Then Eric is coming for me,” Sookie said.
“I heard him,” Thalia confirmed.
“Stop scowling,” Sookie scolded. “He’ll tuck me into bed and be right back. You know I can’t stay awake long. I won’t keep him.” Then Sookie flashed a bit of a smile. “Promise! Cross my heart!.”
Thalia didn’t smile, but she shook her head and Sookie could tell she wasn’t really irritated. “It will only take a few minutes to change things. I will call your number when I am ready.” The dark vampire stepped out the door and then returned with Shari.
“You are cleared to start your duties,” Thalia told the Were. “Guard her well.” Shari’s head bobbed to Thalia and then cut her eyes at Sookie. Shari’s head bobbed again and then shepositioned herself near the door.
Sookie was about to say something when there was a knock. Shari opened the door to find Charles on the other side. The king’s guard nodded to Shari and then bowed to Sookie.
“Mistress? There is a person here who has requested an audience. She insists she knows you. When I heard her name I thought it best to ask if you wished to see her.”
Sookie was curious and then she saw a face in the Were’s mind she had not expected. “Yes, you may show her in,” Sookie answered. When Shari shot her a questioning look, Sookie said, “I want you to stay. I don’t want to be left alone with this woman.”
Shari nodded and, when the door opened, Bernie Merlotte walked through it.
Sookie glanced at Charles hovering in the hallway. “Charles?” she asked. “Please let Thalia know that I will need twenty minutes before we start.” She saw the Were bob his head. Bernie looked behind her to catch the acknowledgement, and then she turned and walked towards Sookie. Sookie stepped forward and met Sam’s mother near the chairs. The telepath couldn’t ignore how the older Were had aged. It had been many years since she had seen Bernie last, the wedding really, but the lines on the older woman’s face were lines of grief and worry.
“Sookie?” Bernie opened. “You sure are looking good.”
“Bernie?” Sookie acknowledged, and then she remembered her manners and spoke in a far kinder, more relaxed way. “Please sit down. Can I get you something? Some water or coffee?” Bernie Merlotte sat on the chair that was offered declining anything else.
“I’m looking for Sam,” she said without any more introductions. Sookie watched with some alarm as Bernie’s eyes filled with tears and then Sookie rose to get the box of Kleenex from the desk. The Were took some, dabbed her eyes, and then asked, “Have you heard from him at all?” Sookie bit her lip and shook her head. She couldn’t imagine what this woman was thinking. Bernie Merlotte had never been anything but kind to her. Sookie had wondered how someone so pleasant could have raised someone as monstrous as Sam Merlotte. She knew that this was not the time to try and explore those kinds of questions but she found her mind racing while she faced the mother of the man who had caused her such grief.
“When did you get to New Orleans?” Sookie managed to ask.
“I went to Bon Temps first, to see if you were there. I mean I knew Sam had probably left you. The last couple times I heard from him he was in Las Vegas and then he was in Nashville. He told me he was planning on coming home to see me by the holidays, but they came and went. I didn’t know where to ask about him and his phone wasn’t answering. I mean, it’s not as if he didn’t go for long periods not answering my calls. When I called him again last week, someone answered and told me that his number had been reassigned,” Bernie looked down in her lap, and then dabbed her eyes again. “So I got in the car and I drove here to find him,” she finished.
“You saw the restaurant and where the house was,” Sookie stated letting Bernie know it wasn’t a question. Bernie nodded. “Then what?”
The older woman took a deep breath to steady herself. “Well, I saw the policeman you knew. Andy Bellefleur? He told me about the fire and that he had heard you filed for divorce, so I drove over to the Shreveport Courthouse. I figured they might have contact information for him,” Sookie could see an image of Bernie speaking with the same man she had seen shaking Mr. Cataliades’ hand in the hallway. She wondered if this was the information that Twy had that had made her so cautious about the divorce coming through. Then she dismissed the thought. How could the publicist know something like this?
Bernie continued, “Then they told me that he hadn’t shown up for the first appointment. They had another address for him, somewhere in Nevada. Of course they had your address, so I figured I’d come here to see if you could tell me something.” Bernie looked down at her hands, hands that were twisting the tissue to shreds. “I just have the worst feeling that something bad has happened to my little boy,” she said and tears spilled over the older Were’s cheeks as her shoulders shook with sobs she tried to suppress. Sookie was unable to stop herself. She shifted to the sofa and put her arms around this woman. She knew on some level she blamed Bernie for the bastard that she had raised but she also knew that she was incapable of sitting by and not trying to do something to bring a fellow human being, a mother who had lost a son, some degree of comfort.
When her crying slowed, Bernie pulled back and smiled wanly at Sookie. “What happened with you two?” she asked. “Sam always told me how proud he was of you and that you were so beautiful. I thought you were happy.”
“I think sons always want their mommas to think the best,” Sookie said. Then she looked down and considered how much she should tell Bernie. Would a mother ever believe the kinds of things Sookie could tell about her son? She thought if it was her, she would never be able to accept that her own child was a monster, no matter what the evidence said. So Sookie chose the polite, kind thing. “We just grew apart. We wanted different things.”
Bernie sniffed and nodded. “I always thought you were the best thing that ever happened to him,” she said. Then she looked around her. “So, you’re with the dead man now?”
Sookie felt her lips thin and her own eyes narrow. “Eric Northman and I are planning on getting married. I love him, Bernie, and he treats me better than anyone deserves.”
Bernie, to her credit, flushed a little. “Of course, I didn’t mean anything by it. You know I love you, Sookie. I’ll always think of you as my daughter.” Sookie nodded and pulled the woman back into a hug, but deep down she realized she had no real feelings left for this person. All the affection she felt for Bernie or any part of this family had been burned out in Bon Temps. There was a knock on the door and Thalia stepped in, her gaze cool. Sookie looked up and then back at Bernie.
“I am sorry, Bernie. I have things I have to get done tonight, kingdom business. Is there anything else I can do for you. You have a place to stay?”
“I’ve already got a room and I’m leaving in the morning for home. Then I’ll think what to do next. I may head to Nevada to see if anyone there knows anything.” Sookie found that she felt first relieved that Bernie had declined a roof for the night and then alarmed that she would be venturing into De Castro territory. True, they hadn’t heard anything from the Nevada king since Nashville but he wasn’t truly dead.
“Let me know if there’s something I can do to help,” Sookie smiled. She rose and walked with Bernie to the door of the office. As the woman walked down the corridor with Charles, Sookie turned to Thalia. “She shouldn’t go to Vegas,” she said.
“She could disappear,” Thalia replied.
“Jeez, why is death the only answer for you?” Sookie snapped. “Why don’t you just have someone glamour her?” Sookie turned back and walked into the office to sit down heavily at the desk. She stared at the journal in front of her and wondered why she felt so conflicted about Bernie Merlotte. She stared unseeing for a bit, until there was a noise at door. She raised her head to see Thalia returned.
“Are you ready to resume the interviews?” the vampire asked. Sookie nodded and then caught Shari’s eyes. She didn’t need to read the woman’s mind to know that the Were felt sorry for her. The phone beside Sookie rang, Thalia confirmed the connection, and the interview with Owen began.
As they neared 11:30, Thalia returned to the office.“No more for tonight,” she announced. Sookie nodded and stood up to flex her back. “You are satisfied that you are getting what you need?” Thalia asked.
“Yes,” Sookie replied. “So far it’s just been the folks we know pretty well, and I have had a chance to peek at them before, so no big surprises, but tomorrow? I’m thinking that Owen can ask the questions instead of you. Same set up. If we get through this fast we might keep ahead of the talk about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
Thalia nodded. “You are thinking like a vampire,” she said.
“I would hope she would continue to think like Sookie Stackhouse. That is quite smart enough,” Mr. Cataliades said as he presented himself. “Good evening, Sookie. Do you have a few minutes you can spare me?”
“Of course,” Sookie said. Thalia nodded and left to find the king.
The attorney glanced at Shari. “Good evening Miss Decker,” he said pleasantly. “Nice to see that you are on duty. Miss Stackhouse is fortunate to have your expertise.” Shari smiled back but didn’t move from her place. Sookie gestured to the loveseat and then walked to the sideboard to pour some coffee in a cup. She turned with the sugar tongs in her hand and Mr. Cataliades held up three fingers. Sookie couldn’t keep her eyebrows from raising while she dropped three cubes into the little cup.
While she placed the cup on the table in front of him, she politely asked, “How are you tonight, Desmond?”
“I am doing quite well,” the attorney responded. “In some ways, so are you. I have the balance sheets from your bank accounts. More specifically, I have the statements from the escrow I set up on your behalf for your Grandfather. You are not the wealthiest woman, but you have a considerable nest egg.”
Sookie looked at the statement that showed a little over $300,000 in the account. When she looked at the attorney he explained, “It is the annuity you receive from the Prince’s liquidated assets. There is a monthly check of $5,000 deposited in your name. You haven’t touched it in some time and it has accumulated. Of course, you should be investing it to allow it to work harder for you. We can set up some time to talk through options.” Sookie found herself wondering how much a coronation might cost.
“Is this all my money?” she asked.
Mr. Cataliades’ eyebrows drew together. “Well, no. There is the fee you earned for your work in Louisville as well as the fee you will earn for your trip to Iowa in a few days. The Shreveport Pack has offered a retainer of $15,000 for use of your services as Shaman. I have started the contract wording by the way and will need some time to review that with you as well.”
“Sure,” Sookie replied. She was thinking about what it would take to tide Eric over. How much was enough? “You mentioned a retainer. Do you think that all the Packs would be willing to hand over money for an assurance that I’d work for them?”
“Probably,” the attorney confirmed, “but you may want to think this through. You could find yourself traveling for most of the year. It would be exhausting not to mention the impact to your life here.” Then Mr. Cataliades leaned forward and took her hand. “I should offer you my congratulations. I can sense the bond is now in place. It is a great relief, but it makes me even more concerned that you might find yourself spending too much time apart from Mr. Northman. I hear that bonded couples have difficulties with long periods of physical separation.”
Then the attorney looked straight at her. “I am disappointed that Mr. Northman did not yet inform you of the visit from Alabama.” Sookie felt a nudge of concern. “I have already drafted the rejection for her proposal and it will be on its way tomorrow morning. I can tell that you have not been informed but it is only a matter of time. I would rather you hear it from a concerned voice than pick it up in random gossip. I’m surprised you haven’t learned of it through your screening yet. It was most negligent of Mr. Northman to have not prepared you, knowing you would be screening staff.”
Sookie huffed, “Well I don’t think Eric knew I was screening until tonight. So, what was in this proposal?”
“It was a proposal, Sookie, a formal vampire proposal.”
Sookie felt her eyes widen and her mouth drop. She turned to Shari who nodded slightly. Sookie clamped down on herself hard, and when she was sure she was relatively calm, she said, “And Eric rejected it?” The attorney nodded. “Yet the Queen thought he might be interested, right?”
Mr. Cataliades shrugged. “Vampires are always looking to find beneficial opportunities. An alliance with someone such as Eric Northman would bring obvious advantages to someone like Sibyl. She is not well-liked and that can lead to threats of takeover. Someone like your Viking is a strong fighter and known for his planning. It should not be a surprise that she would offer for him.”
“He would have to get something out of it, right?” Sookie asked, and just like that she knew. “Money. He would gain access to money.”
Mr. Cataliades nodded. “It is a small world they live in and there are few secrets that remain secrets for long. That is why these screenings and the security of their homes are so important. With lives as long as theirs what else have they but plotting and planning?”
Sookie thought about the Queen’s offering, and she found herself remembering another time in Bon Temps when a Queen had offered and she had been the last to know. “Did you have a chance to speak with that Were Alcide told us about?”
“Brian? Yes, I did and at some length,” Mr. Cataliades told her. “I’m sorry, Sookie. He won’t be able to help us. He was involved in a motorcycle accident several months ago. There was traumatic brain injury. He has almost no memory of that time left.” Sookie felt as if a cold hand had been laid over her heart. There would be no fast divorce, and Eric Northman would have to look like the most eligible crowned vampire in Amun Clan.
Sookie glanced at her wristwatch. She knew that in a few minutes her vampire would walk through that door and there would be truths that would need to be said between them. Suddenly her absence of panties didn’t make her feel sexy anymore. It just made her feel cold