“Sookie?” I heard my name and felt a hug and woke up almost immediately with a sense of calm.
“Claudine?” I asked, hugging her back. What was she doing in my house?
“Thank God you’re okay! I was so worried. Something about your fainting brought me here,” she said, still hugging me tight.
I was awake. I had passed out. “Somebody set fire to Fangtasia and the fire department called here trying to find Eric,” I pulled away from Claudine to look into her eyes. “They said they didn’t find any casualties or fatalities inside Fangtasia,” I said and could feel my heart doubling its pace. My cousin’s proximity was keeping me from having an all out panic attack.
Claudine shushed me. “Calm down. Find your bonded. Concentrate,” she said in a soothing voice. I nodded, took deep breaths and concentrated. My shock about Fangtasia had made me forget to search for Eric’s feelings, to make sure he was okay.
“He’s angry,” I said, barely hearing my own voice. If Eric was angry he was fine.
“Pamcalled aminuteago. They apprehended thepeoplewho setdafire,” Diantha said to me or Claudine, I wasn’t sure.
“See? Eric is fine, Pam is fine. Fintan is on his way with a couple of reinforcements so that your family doesn’t have to get involved and can start rebuilding,” Claudine said. She spoke of my family and I realized she was talking about Eric and Pam, and everybody else who I cared about from Fangtasia.
“Reinforcements?” I asked, letting her help me get up from the floor. In all honesty she picked up my heavy butt with minimal effort from me. She always amazed me with her strength. I don’t know why Pam’s amazing strength never surprised me, but Claudine’s always did.
“Let’s just say it’s something you don’t have to worry about right now. I’m sure Eric will fill you in later.” She sighed, seeing I was feeling anxious and upset, the mad kind of upset. “We have these fairies that specialize in getting information, Neave and Lochlan. They’re quite ruthless, but they get the job done. Your grandfather is getting fed up with all the attempts on your life and on your loved ones’ lives, so he got them to help. I believe he wishes to dismantle the Fellowship in a more direct way. That’s why we can’t let Eric and Pam finish what they started. We don’t want them involved in anything that they can get in trouble for later,” Claudine explained.
Gladiola brought me a glass of water and sat next to me on the couch. “Someone, somewhereknowsya, and daQueengotda warning. She’s lookingintoit.”
“We’re looking into it too,” Claudine nodded and frowned worriedly. “It’s like someone is using the Fellowship for something else, to undermine the Queen of Louisiana, or something. If someone hurts you, then the Queen will be in trouble from the other kingdoms for not taking care of you.” Claudine knew the whole story of what had happened in Chicago and how all those vampires had grown reverent of little ol’ me. “I can only think that the Fellowship’s ineptitude is their own, since they haven’t succeeded in harming you, but the information that they’re getting is coming directly from a vampire,” she said with conviction, and still just as worried.
My hands trembled as I held onto the glass of water, and my mouth went dry while I mulled over Claudine’s theory. “So this may not have anything at all to do with me?” I asked, trying to understand.
“It may not,” Claudine said. “You might just be a means to mess with the Queen. We’re exploring every option. That is only one theory. The Prince is looking into it now, while Fintan does his thing.” She put her hand on my baby bump, and something she did tickled my brain. I wondered if it was the baby’s brain. “The baby is doing well. I guess your sudden panic brought me here, nothing else. I’m glad you’re okay, though. I rather appear and find nothing truly wrong than not appear when you need me.”
I shrugged and my cell phone rang. I reached for it. It was Pam’s phone. Thank God! “Pam!”
“No, it is me,” a lower voice than Pam’s said.
I breathed an even longer sigh of relief. “Eric! Are you all okay? Is everybody safe?”
“Yes, my love. What happened, how are you?”
“The assistant chief of the Shreveport Fire Department called here looking for you and I had a scare. Claudine popped by. She’s here now. Should she leave?” I asked, looking at Claudine apologetically. She made a “don’t sweat it” kind of face and took my hand in hers to calm me down.
“We will be there in ten minutes. Your grandfather and two other fairies have taken over the interrogation of the people we found that set fire to Fangtasia. We got everybody out soon after you left. All the patrons and my people are safe.”
Eric and I said our goodbyes and hung up. I was feeling immensely better. Figures we couldn’t get any sort of good news without something bad happening too. I had single-handedly won Queen Sophie-Anne’s trial for her, and earned the respect and admiration of many vampires, only to have my life threatened that same night. Then we have a wonderful night finding out the sex of our little girl and celebrating that, only to have our main business attacked and burned.
“Thank God everyone is alright,” I said. The building was easily replaced. The people were not.
Claudine popped out after promising to tell me everything she found from the interrogation. Before she left I’d wondered out loud again what those fairies did that was their specialization, and again Claudine deferred to whatever Eric would tell me about them. That told me that whatever it was, it must have been bad. The only thing I could come up with was that they would torture the people they needed to interrogate. Since they could read minds, it would be easy to get the truth out without necessarily “making them talk.” That was kind of gross. I shivered.
As promised, Eric appeared ten minutes after he called. He came to me immediately, not even giving me a chance to stand up and greet him properly. He scooped me up from the couch and took me upstairs to our bedroom. Once inside it he didn’t set me down, just hugged me tight, legs and all. I hugged him too. He was dirty with soot and smelled of smoke, but he was whole.
“I love you,” I murmured into his neck, caressing his hair. His feelings were in turmoil, but they started settling the longer he held me. Finally he set my feet on the floor and bent to me to kiss me. It was soft, not what I’d been expecting. I guessed the scare had more sway in his current actions than the smell of fairy.
I broke the kiss and pulled him to the bathroom. I ran the bathtub and took off his dingy clothes. I hadn’t been planning on joining him. My plan had been to bathe him only… but once he settled his body inside the tub he looked at me with pleading eyes and I took off my clothes and got in the bathtub too, sitting astride his legs.
I still bathed him, washing his hair and his face off soot, soaping his shoulders and chest, kissing him every so often, just happy and relieved that he was safe and in front of me. He never took his eyes off me, or his hands, sometimes holding onto my waist, sometimes caressing my face with wet hands, or soaping up our baby lovingly. It had been a very eventful night for him.
“I love you, Sookie,” he said finally, the first words out of his mouth since he’d gotten home. I kissed him softly, needing the closeness. I was sure he needed it too. I felt his length stir next to the inside of my leg. I reached between us and guided it inside me, letting out a low moan of pleasure, never taking my eyes off my husband.
Eric’s hands started their roaming anew, beginning with my bottom, slowly kneading it at the same time that he moved me over him. My whole body trembled with a small thrill as he started moving his hands forward, holding on to the tops of my thighs, one lone thumb finding my pleasure center and rubbing lightly around it. I moaned again. I ran my hands from his shoulders down to his chest, caressing it before taking his nipples between my fingers, twisting and pulling and making him growl. I kissed him again, eating his growl and enjoying every rumble afterwards.
I picked up the pace of our lovemaking and pulled away from our kiss. Eric moved his hands to my sensitive breasts, holding them pressed together so he could run the tip of his tongue back and forth over my nipples. I groaned loudly at the new sensation, which I was feeling much further down than on my chest. My hips bucked against him at the same time that he thrust up into me.
“We have to do that again,” I said, moving my hands to his shoulders for leverage, enjoying the feel of moving muscle under my fingers. Eric smiled seductively and I bucked as he thrust. We repeated the motion over and over. Every time we met he growled and I moaned my pleasure, until the rhythm of sound and motion pushed me over the edge and into one long howl of pleasure. As I came Eric sank his fangs into my breast, coming at the same time as he tasted my blood. He held me tight and steady, thrusting the last few times punctuating each thrust with a grunt at my chest.
I collapsed against him, hugging his shoulders and pressing my lips over and over on his neck. Eric pricked his thumb to finish closing the wounds at my breast; a tiny bit of comingled blood made it into the water in a lazy ribbon of red. He ran his hands soothingly over my back, and even though things were not completely right with the world, at least we had each other and we had this moment. We also had our baby girl sleeping soundly between us. I don’t know how I knew that she was sleeping, but I knew it without question. Maybe it was part of what Claude had said: that her mind was part of me. Maybe that’s how I knew she was a girl all along.
We made our way out of the bathtub slowly, me with a little help from Eric because my legs felt wobbly. We dried each other, kissing and caressing, taking our time before having to return to our life. I brushed my teeth as he dried his hair, then Eric put the lotion on my belly to avoid stretch marks. God only knew if it would work, but we had incorporated it into our nightly ritual. In other words, it was less for my vanity and more for our mutual comfort.
I felt peckish and knew there was a pint of ice cream with my name on it. Completely forgetting the fact that I’d just brushed my teeth, I made a bee line from our bedroom to the kitchen, and got out the Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream. Eric followed me, heating up a True Blood and eyeing me curiously. By the time the microwave beeped, I was sitting on the counter with my legs wrapped around his waist, making out after I swallowed every spoonful of ice cream. He liked the taste of sweet coffee on my saliva. I’d never had so much fun eating ice cream.
When I finished all my ice cream he remained between my legs and sipped his True Blood. We finally had to speak about the events of the night. Real life was calling.
“What the Queen said was that the Fellowship contacted her headquarters with a threat against your bar. She was calling the FBI at the same time that Andre was calling me. The fire started before we got everybody out, but we had already evacuated more than half the bar patrons. The rest went smoothly and we had no time to waste. We gave chase. The men that set fire to our place spilled gasoline on themselves. To say they were inept would be an understatement. They’re not who we want. We want to find the person who is after you, and why. Fintan met up with us and brought Neave and Lochlan…”
“You know them?” I interrupted. From the way he said their names, the expression on his face, it seemed that he did.
“I know their reputation,” he answered and his nostrils flared in disgust. “They are well-known interrogators and always get to the bottom of things. Not many creatures scare me, but they come close. I am happy that your family feels strongly enough to bring them, but by the same token I’d rather not have them in this realm. I hope they get to the bottom of things quickly and leave,” Eric finished with a frown.
Wow! For something to scare him and for him to (sort of) admit it, those two fairies must have been seriously deranged. I shivered involuntarily.
Something tickled my brain and I felt a kick. I knew, beyond a doubt, that our baby was awake, probably thanks to the influx of sugar from the ice cream.
“She’s up,” I said in a quiet voice. That was the second time that I had noticed the things I could tell, or maybe the third. Now that I knew what I was looking for, I was almost positive that I would be able to tell apart her mind from mine. I was trying to distract myself with the excuse of the baby, but Eric redirected my thoughts.
“My love, our baby is important, but this is important too. Your life is being threatened, and therefore the life of our child. Will you please listen?” he asked, keeping his voice in check, but I knew he was annoyed.
I took a deep breath and nodded. He was right, after all. “I’m sorry.”
He lifted my face with a gentle finger under my chin and gave me a quick kiss on the side of my mouth, just to let me know that there wasn’t anything to forgive.
“As I was saying, Fintan met us along with Neave and Lochlan, and he told us of a couple of theories he and Prince Niall have been developing. One of them, the one I find that has the most merit, is that now that you are revered among so many, one slip by the Queen and many will rise against her. In other words, someone is using you and the Fellowship as pawns in order to weaken Sophie-Anne. This person or persons are telling the Fellowship where you are, what you did in Chicago to break up their plans, and is fueling their hate of you. Fintan is beside himself. He has been trying to look for the main culprit, but had been unable to pinpoint the source. Now that we have the ones that set fire to Fangtasia, perhaps he can backtrack his investigation into the different channels and find who is doing this. I explained it to Sophie-Anne, and she is gathering her supporters, namely the vampire regents present at the summit that know about you and hold you in high esteem. They will help,” he said. I’d stared into his eyes the whole time he spoke, feeling nothing but confidence from him.
“I hope you’re right,” I mumbled, thinking that my life had taken an even stranger turn lately.
“I hope so too,” he said and hugged me tight. “Now please promise not to leave the house unless it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t go to your usual places, and don’t leave at your usual time. I’m sorry, but it’s for your own safety.”
“I understand,” I said. Of course I did. I always understood. From the moment he had walked into my life bearing the bad news that my cousin had betrayed my secret to the most powerful species on Earth, I’d had to understand that I was at the mercy of those who would protect me. I shrugged. I was used to it by now.
“Where arewegoin’?” Diantha asked. She had stolen the keys from my hand in a move that was borderline vampire fast.
“We have to go check Fangtasia. I want to see it in the light of day. Besides there may be papers and things that I should retrieve…”
“Eric hadThalia takeda safetoher ‘ouse,” she interrupted me.
“’Strue, Sookie. Hewon’twantya togoto Fangtasia,” Glad said to me standing at the door to the garage with her arms crossed over her chest, and a very close impression of Eric, actually.
I was dying to get out of the house. I’d woken up itching to do something, anything! I wished we had a pool so I could burn the excess energy by at least swimming, since I wasn’t allowed outside of our property.
“Can we go to the mall then? Maybe we can go all the way to Monroe. Nobody knows me there,” I whined.
“That’stoofar,” Glad shook her head.
“Can I visit my brother?” I asked. It was Saturday, he’d be home.
“No. Theymightbe watchinghis ‘ouse,” she pointed out.
The bottom dropped from my stomach. “All the more reason to go make sure he’s okay,” I said and moved towards Glad who put an arm up to stop me.
“Call him,” she said, for once making herself understood perfectly.
I did call my brother, and he was just fine. He was getting ready to do something with his friend Hoyt Fortenberry. I didn’t pay attention. Even if I’d gone to his house, he wouldn’t have been there.
I huffed my disappointment, grabbed a book that I hadn’t read yet, and went upstairs to our bedroom. I knew it was childish to behave that way, but I was really peeved and feeling irrational about staying cooped up in the house. I really didn’t want to read, either.
Not too long after starting my horrible bout of morning sickness, Eric had installed a TV for me in our bedroom, for the times I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. I grabbed the remote and watched TV, sitting on the bed next to Eric who was dead.
I bought a movie on Pay-Per-View, feeling guilty for spending the five bucks, but watched it anyway and tried my best to enjoy it. When it was over I decided it wouldn’t do to spend the whole day sulking. The girls gave me wide berth when I went back downstairs, and I figured they might be about as bored as me, maybe more, and they had behaved like grown-ups about it.
I started baking and making dinner, willing myself to enjoy the simple task. At the very least I could offer the girls some cookies to apologize for my earlier behavior. And by golly that was exactly what I did. When dinner and dessert were ready, I called them over, apologized, they forgave me (more like they laughed at me for wanting to escape them), and we all tucked in for dinner a few minutes before I felt Eric wake up for the night.
We were still eating when Eric found us. Hopefully no one would tell him how I’d behaved and all would be right with the world.
“We will leave as soon as you are done to go meet with the insurance adjuster,” Eric said and kissed the top of my head.
So… it would be another one of those nights. I wondered how messed up he was going to be after seeing the damage to the building. I also wondered just how much damage there would be. Whatever I’d been thinking, it didn’t prepare me for what I saw.
As soon as Eric pulled up to the front part of the building, my vision clouded with tears. Everything that Eric and Pam had built was gone. I was sure the building would have to be torn down. Neither of them owned the land, only the building that stood on it. The building that had stood on it was now a charred shell. Nothing more.
Eric immediately turned to me, his face was full of concern but for me. “This is nothing, dear one. This is just a thing. Nobody was hurt,” he said, echoing my thoughts from the night before.
“I know,” I said, because I did know. “But it’s still sad. You worked so hard for so many years…” my voice trailed and I reached for the hanky that Eric was offering me.
“Sookie, dearest, how old am I again? Four years is nothing, a blink. Pam is here. Come, she wants to make sure you’re alright too,” he said and got out of the truck. He came around and got the door for me, but Pam pushed him aside and got in front of me.
“I see you are upset,” she said in her usual stoic manner, but hugged me just the same.
“I’m so sorry, Pam,” I said, starting to cry again. These waterworks were getting old.
“You didn’t do anything, Sookie. Look at me,” she ordered me. I looked up. Eric had moved away from our truck to go talk to a man dressed business casual who was looking at the building closely and taking notes. I looked at Pam and she had a fierce look in her eye that was unexpected as much as it was scary. “You are the best thing that has happened to Eric and by extension me, in forever. Our main concern has always been to keep you safe. If we ever fail to do that, our lives are forfeit. There will be no reason to continue. This is just a… hiccup. We don’t even think you were the ultimate target. You were just a means to get to Sophie-Anne. Nevertheless, you cannot blame yourself for this, nor feel sorry for this, nor worry about this. You only have to worry about three things: this baby, that man, and yourself, not in that order.” She had pointed at my belly, at Eric over her shoulder, and at my head as she spoke. “You have to remember that this is nothing compared to many other things that we’ve gone through in our lives. Right now we are wealthy and comfortable, but it wasn’t always so. There have been times when we have lost everything, including the roof over our heads. There have been times when we’ve had to leave everything behind, like when we came to America. Losing a well-insured building is definitely not the worst thing that has happened to either of us. Now we get a chance to rebuild and we’ll make you part of the process. You will have a say about how the next Fangtasia will be,” she smiled, trying to bring me out of my funk.
Pam was making everything sound more and more appealing, as if whoever burned the building had done us a favor. I suppose it could be seen that way, since no patrons were injured, and none of Eric’s people was hurt. My grandfather and great-grandfather were helping to get to the bottom of who was targeting me, to see if the most common theory was correct. Diantha and Gladiola were doing an excellent job as bodyguards (plus I felt safer having them nearby). So why did I feel like the shit hadn’t hit the fan yet?