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.
Sookie lay in her bed after Jason left. Fran had offered her brother a place to sleep in the house, but he declined. Sookie’s brother didn’t travel much and Sookie was pretty clear that a night drinking his way across Boston was more enticing than spending a night with two women and tea. That left Sookie alone with her sure knowledge that she needed to call Sam before Jason got home.
Twice she picked up the phone and thumbed up Sam’s contact information. Twice she pushed the button only to dismiss it. Finally, looking at the clock, she knew she couldn’t delay any longer. It was late here, but Sam would just be headed back to his trailer in Bon Temps. Merlotte’s would be closed. Sookie could see him as clearly as if she was standing there. Sam’s ginger hair would be ruffled and standing on end. His shirt would be stained with the sweat of closing and cleaning after turning the air conditioners off. It was just too expensive to run them once the customers left for the night. She could smell him, musty and slightly sour. She remembered thinking it was a relief to smell Sam after the dry, sawgrass scent of Eric, but she had been angry.
Sookie brought up the number, stabbed the call button, and closed her eyes as she raised the phone to her ear. It rang, and then it rang again. “Hello?” a female voice answered.
“Can I talk with Sam?” Sookie asked.
“Who is this?” the woman asked, her voice sharp.
“No one you need worry about,” Sookie sighed, “Just an old friend.”
There was a sigh in return, and Sookie wondered if she was going to have to try to reach Sam at work when she heard Sam’s voice say, “Who is it, Cher?” Hearing him call another woman the same endearment he used for her put steel in Sookie’s spine. A minute later, Sam was on the phone asking, “Hello? Who is this?”
“It’s Sookie, Sam.” Sookie didn’t feel shy or awkward. This was now just a job that had to be done and done right, because the only man in her life who mattered was sleeping just across the hall in the converted sitting room, his fist jammed in his mouth.
“Sookie?” Sam sounded happy to hear from her at first, then, “Well, hell girl. What do you want?” Sookie figured the rapid change in tone must have been when Sam caught the stink-eye from his new girlfriend.
“I have something I need to tell you before you hear it from someone else,” Sookie told Sam, “and I’m not sure how you’ll feel about it.”
“You want to come back and start working at Merlotte’s again?” Sam guessed. He didn’t say it happy. He didn’t say it happy at all.
“No, Sam, that’s not it,” Sookie let him off the hook. “Truth is; I don’t ever want to come back to Bon Temps. I’ve moved on with my life, and from what Jason tells me, you have, too.”
“Jase said he was coming up to find you,” Sam’s voice was friendly enough. “I guess he did.”
“Saw him tonight,” Sookie confirmed. “I told him what I just told you. I’m happy here. But there’s something else. You see, when I came up here I had a baby.” Sookie didn’t know what else to say, so she waited.
Sookie could hear Sam moving and then she heard the trailer door slam, so she figured he’d walked outside. “Well,” he said cautiously, “I guess that’s good news. You told me you didn’t want children, but I’m guessing you changed your mind.”
Sookie could hear the unasked question and she didn’t hesitate, “I guess I owe you an apology. I should have told you sooner.”
Now the silence stretched longer. She figured Sam had been hoping she’d say it was someone else’s. When the silence continued, Sookie said, “I think you should know I don’t want anything from you. I don’t want money. Truth is, I just want to live here like I’ve been living.”
“You weren’t going to tell me at all?” Sookie couldn’t tell what Sam was feeling. When his voice got quiet like this, it could go either way.
“I was,” Sookie said. “I should have told you sooner.”
“What is it?” Sam asked.
“A boy,” Sookie answered. “He was born right on May first.”
There was some quiet again. Sookie was just about to speak again when Sam asked, “Does he look like me?”
There was something about it, and Sookie laughed, “Not a lick! He’s Stackhouse through and through. Blond and blue-eyed.”
There was some more silence and Sookie got an uncomfortable feeling, but then Sam said, “You heard I’ve moved on.”
“I heard,” Sookie answered, “and I’m happy for you. I don’t want to make any problems for you. Goodness knows, I put you through enough. Fact is, I’d like you to sign papers saying you won’t push parental rights.” It was a bold move, and Sookie heard Sam’s gasp. When he didn’t say anything, she said, “I’m sorry. Maybe I was too harsh. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings about this.”
“Can you text me a picture?” Sam’s voice was tight.
“Right now?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Sam growled. “Right now!” Sookie pulled the phone away from her ear and did a quick search through the photo gallery. She had a new photo from today of Ricky smiling his happy, two-tooth smile and she texted it to Sam.
“I sent it,” she told him.
The line was quiet again and she could hear him moving a little. After a moment, Sam was back on the phone, “I’m okay with doing what you ask.” It surprised Sookie and hurt her a little, how quickly Sam was willing to give up his own blood.
“Fine,” she replied. “I’ll send along some paperwork, probably with Mr. Cataliades. You remember him.”
“Yeah,” and Sookie could hear the bitterness in Sam’s voice. “Yeah, I remember your trained dog. I’ll be looking for him. And Sookie? I don’t want you to call me again. I really don’t. I’m happy and I want to stay that way. You’ve never been nothing but trouble for me.”
The line disconnected and Sookie sat, stunned, on the bed. She had the outcome she wanted. Sam was signing away any claim to that sweet boy in the room next door and it just made her so angry. How could he turn his back on his child that way? How could he throw away his own flesh and blood? “I’m never telling you what a bastard your father is,” Sookie vowed, staring toward the open door that led to her son. “You will never know anything but that you are loved!”
Mr. Cataliades was dispatched and he returned within the week, all the paperwork signed and sealed. “I will file this. You have sole custody,” he informed Sookie.
“Sam threw him away like he was garbage,” Sookie sighed.
“You have the best possible outcome for all parties,” Mr. Cataliades said diplomatically. He didn’t tell Sookie about the angry tirade the Shifter launched, accusing Sookie of trying to pass some other man’s child off as his. Sam had said that without a DNA test, there was no way he would believe the child in the photograph was a Merlotte. Sam told the attorney that the last five generations of Merlottes were all ginger-haired babies. If Sookie wasn’t asking for a paternity test or money, he wasn’t either, and Sam signed the papers and sent the attorney on his way, damning him and Sookie to hell in the process.
Mr. Cataliades was invited to Thanksgiving, and, one week later, their little group was seated around the kitchen table, candles burning and fall leaves decorating the chandelier and buffet. The turkey was brined and roasted to perfection, and Sookie added collards and corn bread to the tradition. Ricky sat in his high chair beside her, fisting turkey and mashed potatoes into his mouth, making noises and pointing.
“It is a night to be thankful!” Fran sighed and, looking around the table, Sookie quite agreed. When Ricky yawned, Sookie lifted him from his chair, and making her excuses, took her boy upstairs for a bath.
“Can I interest you in a Port and some apple pie?” Fran asked the attorney.
Mr. Cataliades helped the witch climb the stairs to the floor that hosted her bedroom. With a wave of her hands, the fireplace and candles in her seating area blazed to life. Handing her into her chair, Mr. Cataliades turned to head downstairs, but Fran laughed. She chanted words and the tray appeared. “What’s the good of all that magic if you don’t pull it out and show it off sometimes?” she asked.
“Most impressive,” the demon bowed.
“But it leaves a hell of a stink,” Fran nodded. “Attracts trouble from miles around. Better not to show off too often. I don’t need too many people taking notice.”
“Magic does have a distinctive smell,” and Mr. Cataliades poured glasses for them both. They could hear Sookie singing and the sounds of water. “She is very happy,” he sighed. “I am happy for her, and grateful to you. You gave her sanctuary when others would have turned her away.”
“Truth is, that little family upstairs has given me a new lease on life,” Fran smiled ruefully. “I thought I was pretty well done, but now there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for that little boy. The sun rises and sets on him, and I never thought I’d say that about another living creature.”
It was noticed by everyone who came to the house that Fran had a new bounce to her step. She was more interested in things and her comments included laughter and light. Even Fran’s balance seemed to improve, and she made it up and down the stairs several times a day without help. Her hips still ached and her knees cracked and popped, but, for the first time in many years, she walked outside on the sidewalks, accompanying Sookie for walks around the Common, and even going to the occasional baby playdate at the local community center.
Ricky returned the affection. He would smile when his mother came into the room, but he saved his enthusiasm for Fran. He would lift his arms when she walked into view and he always chuckled for her. She received his jarring, open-mouthed kisses and joyfully wiped his drool from her cheek. He pulled her gray hair, and howled when it was bedtime and he was taken from her lap.
“He is a special young man,” Mr. Cataliades agreed, “But then, Sookie has always been special.”
They sat together and stared at the fire, sipping their wine. Finally, Fran said, “My group was here last week. They are not hearing any more about the troubles.”
The attorney nodded, “It would appear a compromise has been found. There is a rumor that the monarchs met and some things were resolved.”
“Do you believe it?” Fran didn’t look up as she said it, “I’m old, but I’ve never lived through an all-out war. We’ve all heard the stories and it was brutal.”
“They were fighting the Fae then,” the attorney replied. “I don’t think a war amongst themselves would have the same level of violence. Vampires tend to keep their killing to contained spaces away from the public eye.”
“Doesn’t mean they won’t take prisoners and rack up the body count,” Fran shook her head. “Thank goodness there aren’t that many of them, still, it’s not like they’re discriminating. If there are humans standing too close, they go, too.”
“Vampires are thorough,” the attorney agreed, “but, as I said, things seem to be cooling.”
“How close are you to all of this, Mr. Cataliades?” Fran turned her head, her eyes now seeking his.
“If we’re going to have this conversation, I suppose you should call me Desmond,” the demon smiled, then leaning back and lacing his fingers over his rounded belly, he said, “I am officially a member of Felipe de Castro’s retinue at the moment.”
Fran didn’t say anything, but her mouth turned down, “That’s kind of in the kill zone, isn’t it, Desmond? I’d think the King keeps you on a pretty short leash.” What she was saying was that most members of a paranoid vampire’s retinue were under constant monitoring and surveillance.
“I have a distinct advantage that is not commonly known,” Desmond replied with a small, satisfied smile.
“I’m imagining you do,” Fran nodded, “but even demons can find themselves running.”
“True,” the attorney laughed sharply, “and I did find myself in that situation once.” He turned to Fran, his face wreathed in smiles, “but it was a witch who put me there, not a vampire!”
“Are you asking for my protection?” Fran’s voice was mild.
“I would consider protection from you an honor,” Desmond nodded, “but, as I said, the circumstances at the moment do not appear alarming in any particular.”
Fran looked back to the fire and smiled as they both heard the sound of Ricky’s laughter from upstairs. “Thank goodness for peace,” Fran said.
“Thank goodness,” Desmond Cataliades agreed.
For the first time in many years, the brownstone celebrated the Yule season. There were decorations brought out of storage and a special tree gifted from friends who lived near Concord. It arrived in the very early morning tied to the top of a large SUV. There was a stand as well and the tree was carried up, or more lifted up vertically, from the stairs to the library. The central table surface was swung, so it could sit flat against the far wall and the tree was set up, all ten feet of it, in the high-ceilinged room. The very top was tied to nails set near the crown molding by tying fishing line. It was a perfect tree, tall and narrow, it’s stiff branches covered with soft, green needles.
Lora and others of Fran’s group came to the house one evening for a tree-trimming party. Ricky sat on a blanket on the floor, adored and petted by women as they brought down boxes of antique ornaments from the floors above. Earlier, Sookie had spent hours up on a ladder while her son napped, wrapping string after string of colored and white lights through the branches. Now, the lights were plugged in, so the women could see more clearly where there were holes to be filled. A tall ladder was used for the balls hung high and a step ladder for those hung low. Lora brought small speakers and was streaming Christmas music through her tablet.
Sookie enjoyed herself, running up and down the stairs to carry wine and punch, cookies and cakes, up to the library. The room was a whirl of movement and chatter, and, in the middle, the tree. Sookie stopped at one point to just look at it, tall and sparkling, and Fran came up beside her, encircling the younger woman’s waist with her arm. “You coming here has made this old house live again,” Fran told her.
“Don’t be silly,” Sookie hugged Fran back. “I’ve done nothing but made fuss and noise! Your life is a lot messier now!”
“Life is supposed to be messy,” Fran laughed, then nudged Sookie, and looked at the floor. Ricky was sound asleep on his blanket, his fist wrapped around a cloth bird that was meant for the tree. Sookie leaned down to pick him up, “I’ll take him downstairs,” she said out loud.
Ricky was an unusual child. Everyone said it. He seemed to understand what was going on around him. He rarely cried. He was good-humored and traveled well. He tolerated strangers and even seemed to enjoy new things. He also slept a great deal. Even as a newborn, he only woke once or twice during the night.
Sookie had discussed it with the pediatrician, but other than his sleepiness and the near translucent quality of his skin, no one could find any fault with him. ‘He’s a big boy and growing quickly,’ was the general explanation. It was true. Ricky was a chunk of a child and Sookie learned that she needed to lift him with her knees, not her back.
When she came back up the stairs to the library, she saw Sean Bailey had joined them. He had a sprig of mistletoe in his hand and he held it over Fran and kissed her cheek. “Well, screw that!” Fran exclaimed, and grabbing Sean’s ears, kissed him full on the mouth to the enjoyment of all.
Sean was beaming bright red as the women lined up, each ready for her turn. “You brought it on yourself, bringing that into the house,” Fran teased him. Sookie held back, but Fran goaded her, “Don’t be such a wimp! Get in line, Miss Fancy Pants!”
When it was Sookie’s turn, she felt suddenly shy. Sean was a full head taller than her, and his eyes that had been laughing before turned softer. He gamely held up the sprig, but when he bent his head to touch his lips to hers, Sookie found she was returning the kiss. Startled at her reaction, she stepped back abruptly, and blushing, turned to see Fran watching her closely. “I’ll take the empty glasses downstairs,” Sookie could hear her voice was tight.
“You do that,” Fran said, and Sookie heard her say, “Close your mouth, Sean! You’ll catch flies in there!” and it made Sookie blush harder.
When First Night came, Sean asked Sookie if she’d like to come with him to listen to the music on the Charles River Esplanade and watch the fireworks afterward, and she said yes. They ate with Fran and Ricky, and after Sookie put Ricky to sleep for the night, they let themselves out the front door and walked the short distance to the park that ran along the water.
Sookie glanced behind her a couple times, but Sean said, “Don’t worry. If he wakes up, Fran will call you.” Sookie knew her son wouldn’t wake. He never did, but there was something about being alone with Sean that made her nervous. It wasn’t that she didn’t like him, she did. What worried Sookie was the reason she was with Sean was because she was lonely and not because she wanted him. It was a difference, but one that mattered with a man as wonderful as this one.
Together they stood on the frozen ground with all the other concert-goers, listening to classical music pouring from the band shell, the notes pure and crisp in the cold night air. Almost as soon as the music stopped, the first of the fireworks bloomed over the river, and Sookie looked up, her mouth open.
As she smiled, her voice saying, “Aaah!” Sean leaned over and placed his lips on hers. It was almost as lovely as the evening he’d brought the mistletoe to the house, and Sookie found she enjoyed kissing him. She was a little embarrassed when he lifted his head, but he grinned broadly and tucked her hand through his arm.
“Are you cold?” he asked.
“Yes,” Sookie nodded. “A little.”
Sean looked disappointed, but he quickly said, “Then let me walk you back. Things will be crazy tomorrow, but maybe you’d let me cook you something special this coming Monday? I have an idea and I’d like your opinion.” It was a simple thing to say, but it made Sookie feel special and she nodded.
When they walked up the stairs, Sean waited while Sookie unlocked the door. She turned to say good night, and Sean placed his hands on her waist and pulled her close. His mustache tickled, but his lips were warm. Sookie’s hands found their way to hold onto his lapels and she tried to relax into the feeling of this man’s arms, but Sookie felt it, the moment she disconnected. The larger part of her protested that this was not right, this was not best.
When Sookie opened her eyes and stepped back, she was surprised by the sharp stab of disappointment she felt. There was no reason for her to feel that way and every reason not to, but there it was, and she ducked her head. “I’m sorry, Sean,” she murmured, “It’s not you. It’s me.” Turning, Sookie opened the door and stepped inside. She didn’t look at him as she closed the door.
The next evening, Fran asked Sookie if she would like to take a ride to a friend’s bookstore. It wasn’t far, just a couple stops down on the T, and Sookie said she and Ricky would love to come.
“It’s an old student of mine, “Fran explained. “She’s published a book and she showed up, asking if she could do an impromptu talk and book signing. I told her I’d come for moral support.” When Sookie arrived in Boston, Fran never would have attempted something like this. She was simply too frail and bent with pain. Now this kind of excursion happened more frequently.
Sookie figured since the book store was named, ‘Sign of the Cat,’ the subject material was likely witchcraft, but this was Boston. No one looked twice at this sort of thing here.
Right after dinner, they bundled up against the cold. Sookie used her baby sling in lieu of the stroller. Ricky was heavy and the sling would make her back ache after a bit, but the stroller just didn’t work well on the snowy sidewalks of the City.
Ricky laughed and chirped, so happy to be outside. He loved winter, and his head swiveled this way and that in the hat Lora bought him. It was red and had green on top, knitted to look like the top of a tomato, and, with his bright face, Sookie thought her son looked like a Munchkin from the Wizard of Oz.
He didn’t act like one, though. He kept trying to pull his mittens off, and Sookie and Fran had their hands full keeping ahead of him. Ricky clearly thought it was a game because he started watching for when they weren’t looking, and then crowed in delight when he tricked them, freeing his hands to the night.
The book event was more crowded than either of the women anticipated, and soon they were feeling overheated. A chair was found for Fran, and Sookie helped her remove first her coat and then Ricky’s. As soon as she plopped her son in Fran’s lap, the authoress became the second attraction in the shop, the women gravitating to the handsome, laughing child who seemed delighted with everything.
After an hour, Fran announced it was time to head home, and Sookie dutifully helped first Fran and then Ricky get suited up again. It wasn’t late, only seven thirty or so, but Ricky was already yawning and becoming increasingly heavy as he started to slide toward slumber. They walked slowly to the T station. It wasn’t far away, but as they turned the corner, they walked into a crowd that was cordoned off by police. There were photographers spaced along the sidewalk just ahead. Sookie recognized the façade as one of the exclusive boutique hotels that dotted this section of Boston and she figured they must be expecting celebrities. “Should we go around?” Sookie asked Fran.
“No, let’s give it a couple minutes,” Fran replied. “Chances are the high and mighty will pull up in a minute, wave, and we can move forward.” To walk around would take at least ten minutes and a dark street, so Sookie shrugged and shifted Ricky to a more comfortable position. He was already asleep and she was just adjusting his hat when there was a cheer. Looking up, Sookie could see the limousine pull up to the curb and the door open. What she wasn’t prepared for was the sight of Eric Northman unfolding from the backseat. He glanced around and then leaned toward the car. When he straightened up, Freyda was at the end of his hand. She was dressed beautifully in a long white fur coat and she said something as she waved. It must have been to Eric because he grinned, and then he laughed. It was that wonderful, throaty laugh he used to have when Sookie said something he thought was clever. Freyda looked at Eric and Sookie could see the happiness that passed between them.
Sookie felt her knees start to give way, but then there was a shout. Sookie leaned forward along with everyone else as a protester burst through the barricade and threw red paint on Freyda’s coat.
Eric moved so quickly, Sookie couldn’t register it, and the protester was in Eric’s hand, her feet dangling. The police were there then, and Eric released the protester. He turned to Freyda, and the way he leaned toward her, the way he placed his hand against her cheek… Sookie must have made a noise because Eric’s head snapped up and Sookie realized he was looking in her direction. She ducked her head as quickly as she could and Fran hissed at her, “Come on! Let’s get out of here!”
Eric made sure that Freyda hadn’t been injured. His wife wasn’t planning on coming with him to this Summit, but she changed her mind at the last minute. She teased him with promises of dancing and after-hours museums, and he told her he’d take her for a flight over the harbor at night. It was a good life, a comfortable life they shared. It wasn’t love, but Eric knew now that having those kinds of emotions or attachments for any creature was weakness. This kind of easy friendship was best.
Then he heard it, and, for a split second, he was back in Louisiana. It was something about the tone of the sound, the timbre of the voice, and he immediately looked to find the source of that sound. It had to be her.
He scanned, his eyes searching every face, every head, but he didn’t see her. He didn’t notice the hooded women walking around the corner or the red-capped boy peeking at him over a shoulder.
When they got home, Sookie walked straight up to her room. She undressed Ricky as carefully as she could, washed him up, and tucked him into bed. All the while, she was holding herself tightly as if she had to keep every emotion within her on a tight rein.
When she had her son settled, she walked into her room and closed the door. She undressed, her fingers trembling. She thought about getting in the shower, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she pulled the covers back and slipped into bed in her underwear, the sweat of her body still cooling, and she shivered for a long while. When she finally warmed, it was worse because then the grief came, and she cried, stuffing her pillow in her mouth to stifle the sound, so she wouldn’t wake Ricky.
She cried for the way Eric looked at Freyda and she cried for the way he protected her. She cried for the way his eyes were warm when he looked at the vampire and she cried for the way his laughter was meant for another, but mostly she cried because seeing him had ripped open the small door that guarded the hole where her heart had been. Sookie was reminded that no matter how much she loved her son, how much his life meant to her, she would always be Eric Northman’s, and that knowledge burned like ice in her chest.
The next night was Monday, but Sookie called off their usual dinner with Sean. “I’m sick,” she explained and asked Sean to just drop by the receipts.
Fran watched her friend with anxious eyes. The witch knew who Eric Northman was, and she knew who he had been to Sookie. Long hours over tea left them with few secrets from each other. What Fran hadn’t anticipated was that her friend would re-enter mourning. It was in the line of her shoulder and the sound of her sighs.
Each night, shortly after sundown, Sookie would bundle up Ricky and the two of them would head off to the Common for a walk. Fran asked the first night if they wanted company, but Sookie’s fraught face told the story. Sookie was going outside to walk until her sadness was controllable, and she was walking at night because it was when she felt closest to him. She would return after an hour, sometimes more, her eyes haunted. Fran saw in Sookie her own face in those first years after Clare’s death, and her heart hurt for a fate so cruel that it would tempt her friend with something that could never be.
The following Monday, Sean came through the back door and his eyes automatically looked toward the stairs. “Sean,” Fran said to him. “Sit down. Sookie isn’t here yet, and you need to know something about her.”
Sean sat, and he smiled easily, but Fran could see him bracing. “What is it?” he asked.
“You need to let her go,” Fran told him. When he opened his mouth to protest, Fran held up her hand, “Look, I think the world of Sookie. I love her and Ricky like they were my own. I like you, too, and that’s why I don’t want to see you hurt.”
“Why do you think she’d hurt me?” Sean was skeptical and he didn’t bother to hide it. “Sookie is a grown woman and I am not some young stud. I know what I’m doing.”
“You think you do,” Fran nodded, “And if things were different, I’d step back and let you bruise your heart from now until Sunday, but there’s something about her you should know. I’m guessing you know that Sookie had a sweetheart, but what you don’t know is that sweetheart was a vampire. Now, I don’t think she was his pet or anything like that. In truth, I think that their relationship was extraordinarily close and complex.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Sean sat back, unhappy now.
“You know a bit about Supernaturals. I don’t know if you’ve ever met a woman who was kept by a vampire, but I have. Sean, they’re never quite the same. They get released for whatever reason. Usually it’s because they grow older and the attraction fades. That wasn’t what happened with Sookie and her vampire. It was more complicated than that, but there is something I do know about all of this. They come back to their lives, these women like Sookie, but they are never really able to reclaim themselves.”
“You’re saying Sookie is what? Some kind of Renfield?” and Sean stood up, running his hand through his hair.
“No, I’m not saying she’s in thrall. I’m saying that the connection that holds her to this vampire can’t be broken. I’m sorry. You deserve better, you both do, but I don’t want you to look for more than she can give,” and Fran sighed and clasped her hands. “I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I can see what’s happening with you and it isn’t fair. She can never be free of him, Sean. It’s not a choice. It’s just the way it is.”
When Sookie came in, Sean helped her with Ricky. He was kind to her, and they walked through their Monday night like any other Monday night. They were friendly and pleasant. Sean cooked and Sookie cleaned up. Ricky went to bed early, the three of them sat at the table playing cards and talking quietly about events in the city. Never once did Sookie’s eyes light up to his. She didn’t laugh in her light-hearted way at the jokes or stories. It was the same people around the table, but, for Sean, everything was different.
When it came time to say goodnight, he saw how Sookie hung back. He didn’t know what had happened, but he could see something had.
He walked home alone down the streets and thought about the beautiful woman who kept so many secrets. He reasoned with himself that pursuing a relationship with her would be an exercise in futility. He told himself he deserved better. He reminded himself that living the bachelor life had many advantages. He talked to himself the whole way back to his apartment, and didn’t notice the two still figures who stood on the corner, their coats open, not noticing the cold at all.
Eric escorted Freyda into the hotel before returning to the lobby to give a statement to the police. They warned him the protester might file a lawsuit against him for manhandling her, but Eric knew that wouldn’t happen. His bodyguards had her scent. She would wake up tomorrow morning bruised and battered, but with no memory of what happened, or why she should be angry with Eric Northman. Glamour was a good thing.
Freyda’s companion was with her when he arrived at the suite. It was pleasant, traveling to this city. The hotel gave each guest a full floor of the converted residence. There were all the amenities and a concierge who arranged anything they wished. “I suppose it’s hopeless!” his wife pouted. The coat was in the companion’s arms and the concierge was also looking at it, his mouth pursed.
“It is some kind of oil-based paint, Madame,” the concierge said. “I can make a call to an expert I know, but, unfortunately, I have had experience in these matters and the fur will never be quite the same.”
Freyda groaned as she stroked an undamaged part, “I loved this coat! Always so warm and it made me look spectacular!”
“You don’t need a coat to look spectacular,” Eric assured her. It was a little thing, saying the compliments that made any life easier. They both knew there was an element of insincerity, but the courtesy was appreciated.
“Why do you think she did it?” Freyda asked, watching the coat heading out the door in the arms of her companion. “Do you think someone paid her?”
“If I may,” the concierge bowed, “Boston has an active PETA community…”
“PETA?” Freyda grimaced.
“Animal Protection people. They were not protesting you. They were protesting your coat,” and the concierge bowed again before saying, “Is there anything I can arrange to help you recover from such a shock? Boston is a wonderful city and it grieves me that this should be your welcome here.”
“Donors,” Freyda sniffed. “At least three. I want to sample and relax.” She glanced at Eric, “You’ll join me?”
“If you’d like,” Eric smiled tightly.
“My companion will give you the particulars,” Freyda told the waiting concierge, and when he left and the door shut, she looked at her consort. He had moved to the window and was looking down into the street. “What is it?” she asked. “Something is bothering you. Do you think there will be trouble here?”
Eric realized his thoughts had gone far away. It was unlike him to be distracted, and he schooled his face before turning back to Freyda, “No, I don’t.” He assured her. “If I thought there was a danger here, I would have asked you not to come.”
Freyda unfolded from her chair. She was an elegant woman, and Eric could tell that her concern was honest. “Then what is it, Eric? I can tell there’s something.”
“I am distracted,” he confessed, and he took her hand and pulled her close. They didn’t actually touch. Vampires didn’t like physical contact unless there were other inducements like feeding and fucking, but standing close was comforting. “Karin is in the City for the Summit. If you wouldn’t mind, I’ll touch base with her just to get the lay of the land. Once I have her report, I’ll stop fretting.”
“You are a handsome man,” Freyda smiled up at her consort, “but fretting is not your best look. Don’t worry about knocking when you return. I won’t keep them overnight and I would like to rise with you.”
“You are sure you don’t wish me to stay? The coat? It was a shock. I can see Karin tomorrow…” Eric hoped against hope that Freyda would not ask it of him, and, once again, he was pleased with her ability to read him.
“Don’t be silly!” she laughed. “I’m intend to enjoy myself and I know you don’t appreciate these mixed parties. Take care of your business, Eric. I’ll be here when you’re ready,” and she pulled him down just a little so she could kiss his cheek. She was a tall woman, taller than those he generally preferred, and he found his thoughts rushing to compare hers to another blond whose head had fit so perfectly against his chest. It had been months since he had last exchanged blood with Freyda and Eric was profoundly grateful that his Queen couldn’t read him that closely anymore.
Eric swung out of his hotel. He called Karin on his cell and then took to the skies to get to her more quickly. She wasn’t far, only a few streets over, and she was waiting for him on the sidewalk.
“Welcome to Boston, My Maker,” she bowed rather formally. Eric noticed there were other vampires around and rightly guessed they were standing in front of the hotel where the Summit would be held.
“Your travel here was uneventful?” Eric asked.
“Yours wasn’t,” Karin answered. Eric wasn’t surprised that the news of Freyda’s attack was already known. Vampires were inveterate gossips and the doings of their small community was a source of endless fascination for them.
“The hotel people think it was an animal activist,” Eric shrugged. “It had nothing to do with Freyda or us.”
“Humans,” Karin sniffed. “They fight for stupid things. Animals fighting for other animals!” and she didn’t bother to hide her disdain.
“How are things here?” Eric asked, and he wondered how he could work this conversation around to what he really wanted to know.
“The preparations for the Summit are well in hand,” Karin smiled briefly. “Our booth is prepared and the retinue understands their duties. The ball will feature several dances your Queen prefers. I handled it myself. The City itself is excited about hosting vampires. There are fans here. You may be approached to sign autographs or take pictures. I have alerted the bodyguards and they will be prepared.”
“Nothing else…unusual?” and Eric wondered at his hesitation.
“Unusual?” Karin’s face gave nothing.
“I thought I heard someone,” Eric leaned forward, speaking in a low hiss, “Tonight, outside my hotel. Someone from my past.”
Karin’s eyes widened and Eric felt her surprise, but there was something else behind that surprise, something she quickly hid as she said, “You think an old enemy is tracking you?”
“No!” and in his frustration, Eric took her arm, and said the name that was on his lips every night as he fell into his day death, “Sookie! Sookie Stackhouse. Is she here? Is this where she went?”
Karin’s shock appeared real and she shook her arm a little until her Maker released her. “I have no idea, Eric,” she hissed in return. “I can see this has you agitated, so I’ll check into it.”
Eric ran his hand through his hair and he seemed to recover himself. “It’s not a priority,” he told her. “I just want to know.”
“It will be as you say,” his daughter assured him, and then she took him inside and walked him through the exhibitors’ hall and the meeting rooms. After he left, Karin called the two bodyguards she trusted most and she had them meet her in her room.
“I want you to locate someone,” she told them. “She’s here in the City. Don’t approach her, but I want to know where she lives and what she does.” She provided the address of the restaurant where she’d last seen Sookie and a piece of the telepath’s clothing that she kept in a Ziploc bag.
It wasn’t that Karin believed Sookie would approach her Maker. The fact was that, of the two of them, Karin trusted Sookie to keep to the contract. It was Eric whom Karin didn’t trust. She wasn’t particularly close to him now, but ever since Sookie had left, Karin had spent more time doing special jobs for her Maker, like serving as point for this Summit.
Karin believed in being prepared, and the idea of Sookie and Eric together, in the same city at the same time, made her nerves tingle.
Once the bodyguards left, Karin sat back in her room enjoying a warmed Royalty, wondering whether it would be kinder to just tell Eric that his obsession had destroyed her body with some human’s whelp, but she knew it wouldn’t be welcome. No one appreciated the messenger who bore bad news. No, better by far to keep Sookie Stackhouse under watch and do what was necessary to keep the two of them as far apart as possible.