Claudine and I got ready for breakfast quickly. There wasn’t anyone demanding our presence, we were just hungry. It was more like a brunch than a breakfast anyway, and since we were on the Queen’s dime, we went for the works. I had crepes with strawberry sauce, hard-boiled eggs with butter, a croissant, coffee (it’s okay during pregnancy in moderation, I’d checked), juice, bacon, fresh fruit… But my appetite was nothing compared to Claudine’s. That girl was putting it away like she meant business.
“It’s part of the fairy metabolism,” she confided in a low voice. “Remember I told you we have an energy core?” I nodded and she continued, “It takes a lot of food to keep up the energy. Someone already figured out we need about double the calories as a human to be in tip-top shape.”
That was fascinating. “So about four thousand calories?”
“Claude probably needs more, since he’s a block of muscle,” Claudine giggled, then grew serious. “But you can do something no other fairy can do.”
“What’s that?” I asked, surprised.
“You can sense vampires. That’s truly amazing. What do you see?” she looked at me curious.
I thought about it. “It’s a void where a mind should be. It’s hard to describe.” So instead of describing it, I showed her.
“Interesting,” she said, and I could hear my mind echoed in hers while she lowered her shields. She seemed to have caught a shifter’s mind in the vicinity, or so I gathered, before she shielded her thoughts again. It was great that she could do that. It was like hanging out with a vampire.
“Hello, Claudine. It’s such a surprise to see you here. How are you this morning?” The man who spoke was standing a little behind me and to my right, which was very rude of him. He should have moved into my line of vision if he knew his manners.
“Hello, Quinn. It’s a surprise to see you here too,” Claudine said. If I hadn’t known her I would have never known she was forcing her smile. But I did know her. She was uncomfortable.
The man named Quinn moved so he was now in my line of vision. He was huge, by golly! He reminded me a lot of Alcide but wider, and with no hair. If he’d been wearing an earring I would have called him Mister Clean. “What brings you two lovely ladies to New Orleans? Surely not Sophie-Anne’s engagement,” he said, moving his purple eyes to me. I gave him a polite smile that did not reach my eyes.
“No, Quinn, but I can guess that’s why you’re here,” Claudine said, not wanting to offer any more information.
I was trying to read Quinn’s shifter brain, finding it particularly difficult too, when he extended his hand. “I’m John Quinn, Senior Events Coordinator for (Extreme)ly Elegant Events,” he said with a smile.
Tell him you’re Sookie Brigant
, came the very loud and very clear intention from the other side of the table. “I’m Sookie Brigant, Claudine’s cousin,” I said extending my hand. As soon as I touched him his thoughts became clearer, maybe because he was extremely confused (like the name of his business). He was wondering how many Sookies could there possibly be in this world, because Eric Northman was married to a Sookie. Claudine winced very slightly, able to read exactly the same thing I just had.
“My pleasure to meet you, Sookie. Nice to see you again, Claudine,” he bent to give Claudine a kiss on the cheek and left the restaurant.
“What was that about?” I asked. My curiosity meter was seriously spiking.
“Quinn and I dated for a little bit. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. Ugh! I really didn’t expect him to know Eric was married to you. It’s not a big deal, but I still don’t want to announce that you’re here alone,” she said, making a face before she let out a big puff of air. “I’m sure he won’t tell anyone, and even if he did it would only be to the people who already know you’re here.”
“Meaning he would tell the Queen?” I asked.
“Yes, or somebody close to her. So it really isn’t so bad. I just wasn’t expecting to see him here in particular, though I should have known, with the engagement party and all.” She shook her head.
We finished our breakfast and caught a cab to Hadley’s house. Amelia met us outside when she heard the main gate open.
“Do you girls need any help?” she asked, hoping that we would let her because she was bored at home.
Claudine and I looked at each other and shrugged. This was my party, so I answered. “Come on. We have to scour the whole apartment, so the more the merrier.”
Hadley’s apartment was once again clean, but still the faint smell of a vampire death lingered. I set to open a few windows to air out the place. At that moment I didn’t care about the cold so much as getting rid of the stench completely. I started in one of the closets, the one in Hadley’s bedroom, perusing through every box and article of clothing, while Claudine and Amelia busied themselves in the spare bedroom. I found a small safe, the portable kind, and set it aside. I looked through the rest of the bedroom when my search inside the closet turned out nothing. Hadley’s jewelry looked expensive, perhaps gifts from Sophie-Anne. Everything was set in real gold, and there were several pieces: necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and a couple of rings. Among everything I found a key. The small safe only opened with a combination, so I was out of luck there. I pocketed the key and went to find Claudine, carrying the safe.
“What do you think?” I asked, holding out the safe to her.
She took it from my hands, holding it in both of hers. Amelia and I watched as the box shimmered and disappeared, landing on the floor below Claudine’s hands. Claudine was holding on to the contents. She had made the box disappear from around its contents.
“That is awesome!” I jumped. “And I can’t even make a candy bar appear!”
Claudine and Amelia laughed at me before we all turned our attention to the contents of the box. One was a piece of paper with information for a safe deposit box at a bank. That sounded promising. “I wonder if this key will open the safe deposit box,” I said out loud, getting the key from the pocket of my jeans.
“Maybe. Keep it near just in case,” Claudine said. The rest wasn’t all that interesting. No large diamond set into a bracelet, for instance.
We made our way to the living room and kitchen. I started looking through the cabinets, finding nothing at all. Of course, Hadley was a vampire. Inside the last cabinet, the one closest to the fridge, I did find two cans of coffee unopened. I frowned. Why in the world would Hadley keep coffee? Maybe she was like me and loved her coffee, but did she remain a coffee lover as a vampire? Highly doubtful. There was no coffeemaker in the kitchen, or any other accouterments needed to brew coffee. There weren’t even any cups.
I pulled the cans down and opened them. There were both still sealed. Again, odd. Even if Hadley had wanted the coffee to enjoy it purely for aromatic reasons, she would have peeled the lid back. So I did. Or tried. It wasn’t giving as it should have. I smelled a rat.
“Claudine, can you open this?” I asked, holding out the can. Both girls approached, looking at the can with different expressions of confusion on their faces.
“You want coffee now?” Claudine asked, knowing my affinity for it.
“No,” I rolled my eyes. “There is no reason for a vampire to keep two cans of coffee unopened, and this can isn’t opening easy as it should. I suspect foul play.”
“Alright, Miss Marple.” Claudine’s confusion cleared as she took the can. She made opening it look easy, while I had struggled as if it had been Crazy Glued. “It’s just coffee,” she frowned, but then reached inside. Her eyes widened as she took her hand out.
Tangled in her fingers we saw the largest bracelet I’d ever seen. It was thick white gold or platinum, with a giant diamond set like a charm dangling from it. “The bracelet,” Amelia breathed.
“I’ll call Mr. C.,” I said, getting my cell phone immediately and calling the attorney.
Okay, so now I had saved the Queen and her husband-to-be would see she had both pieces, marry her, hopefully not kill her, etc. That still left the problem of having to find Hadley, for no other reason than the fact that she was my cousin and Adele Stackhouse had taught me better than to just forget about her.
Mr. C. arrived with his nieces, looking all kinds of relieved when we gave him the bracelet. “The Queen will be most pleased,” he said, handling the jewel carefully.
Just as we were leaving, the tall and burly John Quinn showed up. When he stood in the doorway of Hadley’s apartment he obscured all the light that filtered in from the outside. I could have sworn he had to enter sideways to fit through the door frame.
“Mr. Quinn, good to see you. This is where it all happened,” Mr. C. said to Quinn. The two men shook hands in greeting.
“Wait! Where what all happened?” Amelia piped up and moved forward.
“One of my employees went missing a few nights ago after he was sent to pick up the woman who lives here. He never returned, and she never showed up to the party. Mr. Cataliades thinks that he fits the description of the vampire that attacked last night,” Quinn explained.
Hm! Hadley made a vampire child. And now he was dead. Not only was he dead, he had died the very night he would have woken up as a vampire for the first time. If that was the case, where was his maker? Where was Hadley? I knew enough now to know that makers didn’t leave their children to fend for themselves for months, even years. Eric had cared for Pam for about fifty years before they parted ways. Godric was still taking care of Chris. Hadley was a pain in my behind, but she was otherwise not mean. I didn’t think she would have left her vampire child by himself on the first night of his awakening.
“Something happened to Hadley,” I murmured. Every eye in the room was trained on me. I told everyone my theory about Hadley making Quinn’s employee her child. The motive for it escaped me, other than she was feeling lonely perhaps.
Quinn looked at Amelia. “Do you mind? It will only take a minute,” he said.
Amelia stood aside and made a motion with her hand for him to proceed with whatever task he’d set for himself. He stuck his nose up in the air and opened his mouth, scenting the air like a cat, like Eric did sometimes. Except there was a difference: Quinn’s eyes turned from purple to yellow, with slits for pupils, very much like a cat’s eyes. I scooted closer to Claudine and she put her arm over my shoulder to calm me down. What kind of shifter was Quinn? Whatever he was, he must have been massive. Maybe a lion or a leopard.
“Tiger,” Claudine whispered in my ear. My thoughts turned to Sam, who could turn into anything he wanted. I wondered if he could also turn into a tiger. “Yes he can,” said Claudine in another whisper.
We all watched as Quinn made his way to Hadley’s light-tight bedroom. When he came back he was shaking his head sadly. “He must have turned in the bedroom, but it was definitely him.”
“I’m sorry,” Claudine said. “He was about to attack me and Sookie, and I had to protect her.”
“IgothimtooIdid,” Gladiola said, walking forward. “Ifshehadn’tkilledhim, Iwould’ve.”
“I understand. I don’t think he would have ever wanted to live as a vampire. He was a Were,” Quinn explained to be met with a collective gasp.
“Why would Hadley do such a thing?” Claudine asked to no one at all.
In the end it didn’t really matter. The man was dead, and I didn’t even know his name. Hadley had made him a vampire, even though he was a Were. From the room’s reaction, I could tell that was a big no-no. Then Hadley failed to take care of him. Now I needed to find her for a different reason. The man’s family needed answers, something, anything!
“We need to go to that bank,” I said to Claudine and Amelia. They both agreed by nodding and after seeing everybody out of Hadley’s apartment, we piled into Amelia’s Mustang as she drove us to the nearest Bank of America.
“We’re like the Three Amigas,” Amelia said as we walked into the bank. It broke the tension and made us laugh. “I would call us the Three Musketeers, but only Claudine gets to use a sword.”
I was allowed to enter the vault and look at Hadley’s box because I’d been named beneficiary of her estate. Okay, great. If she had met with final death then I would return all that she had to Sophie-Anne, so whatever. I would return everything but what I found in the safe deposit box: My Aunt Linda’s obituary, Gran’s obituary, Hadley’s birth certificate, the birth certificate to one Hunter Savoy (which almost made me faint when I saw the name of the mother), a marriage certificate and a divorce decree only one year later to Remy Savoy, and the court findings regarding Hunter’s paternity, custody, and visiting arrangements with his mother. I did a quick calculation. Remy Savoy had been granted full custody of Hunter when the boy was only four months old. Hadley had left her baby behind. Tears started to smart my eyes wondering if I could ever leave my baby, and I felt a horrible pain wrench my soul. How could she?
Claudine must have done her fairy thing to someone, because she appeared by my side a few moments later. She had been reading my mind the whole time.
“Well now I know how she was able to leave her vampire child. She left her biological child behind,” I shook my head and wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my sweater.
“You and I both know she would have never been in a position to care for a child. You’re so much stronger than she ever was. So now we need to find her, help her,” Claudine said.
“Do you think she went to see Remy Savoy?” I asked, showing her the paper.
“I don’t know, but it’s worth a try. Let’s call Fintan and let him handle it. You and I need some girl time on the Queen’s dime,” Claudine said, taking papers off my hands and replacing them inside the safe deposit box.
Claudine invited Amelia to hang out with us. We were thinking spa. Claudine had a horrible night the day before, I’d just gotten a shock, and Amelia deserved something nice for helping us when it really wasn’t her problem. True, she was Hadley’s landlady, but other than that she could have just as easily stepped aside.
We all got massages and facials, and mani-pedis. In conversation we told Amelia I was pregnant, but didn’t say how. She figured it out anyway.
“Freyja’s stones?” she asked.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“She’s the goddess of fertility, and she came to lick Eric’s chin. A goddess won’t lick just anybody’s chin, you know?” Amelia said and snickered. We were getting our nails done by then, gossiping like old women.
“So what’s the story with that Quinn?” Amelia asked Claudine. Right then I knew Amelia was definitely an empath. She could see things others couldn’t, or more like feel them. Right then she was remembering how Claudine had seemed ill at ease when Quinn showed up. Claudine’s features hadn’t changed. I knew this because I’d been watching her, making sure she was okay with Quinn there.
Claudine understood immediately and knew she’d have to answer. “Quinn and I used to date. But I don’t put out, and he was all about the sex. It didn’t work out. Unfortunately I have to see him too often for my tastes because of what he does.”
“He does seem like he would be a tiger in bed,” Amelia mused, sending me into a fit of giggles. Amelia didn’t know why I was laughing. She didn’t know what Quinn was other than he was a shifter, but I would have to tell her later. There were too many humans at the spa. Talk of a goddess in New Orleans: that was regular gossip. Talk of a weretiger: that was something else entirely different.
“Let’s go shopping!” Claudine said when we were done. “After lunch, that is. Sookie’s looking like she’s about to die of starvation.”
“Maybe not, but my stomach is sure having homicidal thoughts,” I said, hearing it grumble and complain.
For the first time in my life I felt normal: a normal 26-year-old doing normal things with her girlfriends. Amelia was such an open book that it really didn’t bother me to be inside her head. She meant what she said and said what she meant, and didn’t have any problem saying what she thought out loud if the need called for it. As a consequence, I didn’t find myself staring at her blankly reading her mind and listening with my ears. I’d seldom encountered people like her. Claudine, of course, was completely closed unless she decided to open up. In my world, that was as close to normal as I could get, with the exception of hanging out with Pam or my Eric.
My Eric. I did miss him, even though it was nearly two in the afternoon and he was sleeping. I missed the comfort of having him nearby. But I put on my big girl britches and made a concerted effort to enjoy the time with Claudine and Amelia. How often did I get times like these?
We had a hearty lunch and then went shopping. I needed to walk off the apple pie I’d had for dessert. I still had a thing for apples.
“We were the lucky beneficiaries of Sookie’s apple craving. She baked five apple pies one night and brought two to our house,” Claudine told Amelia.
“I should have known I was pregnant when I got that sudden craving. I still have it. I bought so many apples that Eric asked me if I’d bought the whole store,” I laughed. I hadn’t bought the whole store, but I cleaned them out of all the unblemished Pink Lady apples I could find.
We spent several hours shopping, mostly window-shopping, though Claudine did make me buy a dress for the Queen’s engagement party. We weren’t sure if I was going because Eric wasn’t sure if he would be able to make it, and I wasn’t going by myself, Heaven forbid.
“But if he suddenly decides to go, you’ll be ready,” Claudine argued.
Amelia, the native, took us to a little boutique hole-in-the-wall type of place where I found the cutest dress. It was a simple sheath with a wide belt, in a silvery metallic fabric. I tried it on and the size 8 fit perfectly. I had the perfect high-heeled sandals at home, the same ones I’d worn for my first date with Eric. My ruby earrings wouldn’t exactly match, but Amelia said they would be perfect, and I trusted her.
I yawned into my hand as we walked back to the hotel.
“I think Viking Junior wants his mommy to take a nap,” Amelia giggled.
“I think you’re right,” I said, unable to contain another yawn.
The girls delivered me to the hotel room, where I fell asleep the second my head hit the pillow. I didn’t even care that they had stayed in the room watching TV. It was easy for me to fall asleep with other people around, like when I made good use of Eric’s couch in his office. The funny part for me was when I incorporated what I heard into my dream. As soon as I woke up from my nap, I knew Fintan was there, because I’d had a dream about him.
“Hello, Sookie,” he said when he saw my eyes flutter open.
“Hi, Grandpa Fintan,” I said half asleep still. I’d never been sure what to call him, and in my sleep addled state I picked the first thing that came to mind.
He chuckled and sat on the bed beside me. He took my hand and kissed it. It was a familiar touch, something Gran would have done. “I hear you will be adding to our family soon.”
I nodded, rubbing my eyes. “I’m due in September.”
Fintan put his hand on my cheek. His smile was full of love, but he looked sad. “I should have met you sooner. I thought that our meeting would have interfered with your life, when in truth we could have avoided so much of the bad things that happened to you and Hadley.”
Talk of Hadley made me take notice. I finally sat up so I could give him my full attention. “Did something happen to her?”
Fintan looked at Claudine, which made me look at Claudine too. Her face was somber. I felt the bottom drop from my stomach. Oh, no! Not again…
“We can’t find her anywhere. Father and I believe she is no longer of this world,” Fintan said.
“No longer of this world,” I mumbled. That meant she was dead, didn’t it? I looked down at my hands on my lap, unable to keep the tears at bay. I’d been mad at her, just like I’d been mad at Bill, but I didn’t want her to die. “Who killed her?”
“Look up, Sookie,” Fintan commanded in a tone that sounded almost mad. I obeyed. “This isn’t your fault. Hadley was a damaged child and you had nothing, nothing to do with that. Later in life she was free to make her own choices, and she chose wrong, using her abuse as a crutch. There’s only so much one can blame on the past. She never took responsibility for the rest.”
Fintan was right. I hadn’t let my own abuse dictate the way I would behave as an adult. Granted, Hadley had suffered more than I had. I still couldn’t shake the burden of wishing evil upon her. At most I’d wanted her to find all four of her car’s tires flat one night. I never wished her physical injury.
My grandfather shushed me and hugged me. As always, whenever I hugged my fairy family, I felt better immediately. I was filled with a sense of peace and comfort. It was the reassurance of kinship, I supposed. Whatever it was, it made me feel whole.
“I called Mr. Cataliades and told him. He said he’s going to make sure there’s an investigation into Hadley’s death,” Claudine said. I was sure if Mr. C. didn’t do it, then the Queen would launch the investigation herself. “In the meantime, Amelia went to make sure the apartment is completely closed to anyone uninvited. Since it doesn’t belong to a human, anyone can enter it.”
I nodded. That made sense. “How long was I asleep?” I asked looking around me. It was well past six. “Oh, my word! I have to call Eric!”
I jumped from the bed and took the phone to the bathroom with me, because my bladder was not going to wait for me while I talked to Eric. He would just have to listen to me pee.
“My love, you must have read my mind. I was about to call you,” he said as soon as he answered the phone. Then with a mocking tone he asked me if I was in the bathroom.
“I couldn’t hold it while I talked to you, and I need to tell you everything that happened,” I said. I told him about the Were, how Hadley had turned him and left him to fend for himself, what I’d found in the safe deposit box, and what Fintan and Niall had found about Hadley. I skipped the spa and the shopping trip. He didn’t need to know about that at that very moment.
There was silence on the line for a moment. “I want you on the first plane out of New Orleans. Tell Claudine, and get both of you home right this second. If someone killed Hadley it was to upset the Queen, and nobody wants to upset the Queen more than the King of Arkansas. You’re too close. I want you out now.”
“We’re gone,” I said. We hung up after a couple more instructions, and when I returned to the bedroom I found Claudine already packing our bags. Sometimes mind reading came really handy.