Seeing him standing there in front of me, it felt like for the first time in four years I could breathe again.
Or maybe Baby Fortenberry had just dropped down some more into the birth canal?
But screw it. I was having a moment.
A moment spent wondering, had he always been so tall?
His Eric-ness made him appealing in every way.
But more than the physical attraction I obviously still felt for him, it was who he was on the inside that still held my heart. I’d known for a long time now that I was still in love with him, so I don’t know why I was so surprised to hear him say he still loved me too.
His reaction to Baby Fortenberry had been enough to tell me he still gave a damn.
And – admittedly – his awkward uncomfortable stance since he’d walked through the door amused me to no end.
But his words were spoken by the Eric I’d come to know first. The one who was sure of foot and who would surely put his foot up your ass if you didn’t comply with his commands.
However his body told me a different story. Almost timid in his movements, like he would dart from the room at any given moment, he reminded me of a time when he’d lost a thousand years’ worth of memories.
Standing before me was a perfect meld of the two Eric’s I’d come to know and love.
It was like he was giving me a glimpse of our past.
Back when a stubborn barmaid had fallen in love with an amnesiac vampire.
But, just like his admission, my telepathy was no help in telling me what our future might hold.
I’d had no choice but to throw up my shields after digging through the brains of my friends and family – I’d had no idea Jason had had dreams of Eric too until then – but seeing him standing there, in the house he’d turned back into a home just for me, was too surreal for words.
Words he didn’t give me any time to formulate in my head, much less speak, by continuing on to say, “I want you back in my life. I want to be a part of yours. I want you to be mine.”
My heart stuttered in my chest as he paused for a moment. I suspected he was waiting for me to rant, rave, and rail against the word. To take it at face value and wrongly equate it to being his property.
I was almost certain he was waiting for me to declare I was my own woman and no one else’s. But those days were long gone and it would have been a lie anyway.
The fact was I was his and had been for four long years now.
The woman sitting in front of him had learned over that time that four letter word was synonymous with another four letter word, when coming from the man in front of her.
So when I merely sat there, waiting to see what else he would say – because the woman in front of him hadn’t changed so much that she would make it that easy on him – he went on to add, “I don’t expect it to happen overnight, but I need to know now if you’re even willing to take a chance on me. And if you’re not – if you tell me no – I’ll take you at your word. I’ll walk away and I will leave you to your life. But believe me when I say it will be the last time you’ll say no to me.”
His demeanor. His expression. His words.
But instead of answering his question, I asked my own so he wouldn’t have any doubts where I stood when I finally gave him one.
“Do you know why I’ve spent the last four years alone?”
Here we go…
Waiting for the inevitable – the ‘I’m my own woman’ bullshit – I only cocked my brow in response and then locked my jaw – lest it gape – hearing what she ultimately had to say.
“Once upon a time, I went into the Fae realm for fifteen minutes and came back to find I’d been gone for a year. A year in which my own brother had given up hope and sold the home that had been in our family for generations out from under me. A year in which the man I thought I loved and who I thought loved me in return had moved on and become king, restoring his own family’s homestead and not showing a single ounce of faith that I would one day come back.”
She took a deep breath and pierced my eyes with her own, as she went on to say, “But within fifteen minutes of returning home, my heart should have realized what my eyes were trying to tell it. Every last detail had been seen to in a way that was exactly how I would have wanted. Only love could have made it so perfect and perfect for me, but it wasn’t any love for the house itself that had made it so grand. It was the love the new owner had for the former one. You were the only one who hadn’t given up hope. You were the only one willing to bet on my return. You were the only one to have faith in me.
Those same piercing brown eyes filled with a warmth I hadn’t seen since I’d been strapped in silver underneath her house to keep me from falling under the witch’s command to meet the sun, when she ended her tale with, “So for the last four years I have painstakingly done the same, renovating my heart and keeping it ready because I never lost faith that you would one day return to claim it.”
Her unexpected words ran riot through my mind, but not finding the confirmation I had been seeking amongst them, my order sounded more like a plea to even my own ears as I said, “Say it.”
She’d said plenty already, but I needed for her to say it.
Smiling, she teased, “What? That I wasn’t the only one betting that you would return? If I’d bothered to read their minds and you’d bothered to keep in touch, we could be the ones holding the pot right now. Tim just bought himself a car a few months ago, so he doesn’t really need it, but did you ever replace the corvette you’d given to Laf?”
Moving closer, it was either the centrifugal force of the earth’s rotation or the force of my feelings for the woman in front of me that pulled me forward even more and had me sitting on the couch beside her.
But unwilling to play any games right now, I ordered more forcefully, “Say. It.”
But I should have known better.
After all, I remembered all too well how well she’d responded to my orders in the past.
And proving me right – that fairy hybrids didn’t necessarily change all of their spots – she left me hanging on her every teasing word, ignoring my plea and grinning, “Need me to co-sign on a car loan for you? I can do that now that I have a good paying job. Or I can just give you the money. Maybe a dollar at a time, while you dance for it? I don’t want you to think you’re being a kept man or anything.”
“Sookie,” I growled.
“Eric,” she playfully whisper growled in return.
Unable to keep control of much of anything anymore now that she was so close, my hands moved of their own accord into her hair. Bringing her lips that much closer to mine, her eyes danced defiantly, while the rest of her body submitted to my actions, as I asked, “Why are you so fucking stubborn?”
“Hello, Pot. Meet Kettle,” she giggled. “Besides, it’s one of the things you love about me.”
And because we were so equally matched on that front, I was disinclined to give in to the just as equal want I suspected we both had for me to close the mere millimeters that still separated our lips.
But more than just victory rose up in me when she closed the distance herself, pressing her mouth against my own and breathing life back into my long dead heart by saying, “I love you, Eric. More than anything. And if you walk out the door and out of my life for good, I will still love you until my last breath.”
Her last breath.
I hoped to be there to witness it.
Only to witness her rise as my vampire child the following night.
But…one thing at a time.
A wanton moan reverberated through my lips and into his mouth, but he swallowed it whole and took over the kiss he’d had control over all along anyway, while arching his body over my much larger than usual frame.
I didn’t know whether to curse Baby Fortenberry or thank it for being there, having a feeling, without my intrusive belly in the way, I would have already climbed onto his lap and put a certain Estonian dancer to shame.
To my own shame, given I still had a yard filled with friends and family.
Eric didn’t seem to mind or even notice – either my guests or my baby belly – and kept pressing into me further.
Or maybe I was pulling him onto me?
But it wasn’t just my nether regions sobbing in relief at the feel of him in my arms again.
Tears leaked from my eyes as he pulled away and I pushed my body upright, while my lungs angrily expanded again, pulling the much needed oxygen in through my lips and into the spare tire that was my midsection.
So when all he did was stare at me, with concern filling his eyes, he then chuckled at my grimace when I admitted, “I can’t breathe on my back. The baby uses my lungs as pillows.”
And my bladder as a trampoline.
And apparently our shared umbilical cord also acted as a cat o’ nine tails/dinner bell because one swift yank from Baby Fortenberry knocked the breath right out of me, while simultaneously making my stomach growl louder than an amnesiac vampire eying my fairy godmother.
“Hungry?” he mused with a smile.
And he chuckled again, as he gently pulled me to my feet, while I grumbled, “For more than just turkey.”
Hungrily eying another part of my body that had grown in size over the last thirty-seven weeks – twins, you could call them – he smirked, “Kettle, was it? I am Pot. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m more interested in your ladle at the moment,” I snickered. “But the Fortenberry freeloader is demanding candied yams.”
But another set of lips were salivating, hearing him seductively whisper into my ear, “Well then I suppose I’ll have to wait to fully enjoy your candied gams.”
It was one of his best qualities, as far as I was concerned.
But just as I was about to throw caution and propriety to the wind – and my legs around his head – I heard several happy squeals of surprise coming from outside, shouting, “Pam!”
“Pam?” I asked no one in particular, but sounding just as surprised as everyone else.
“Pam,” he sighed, sounding none too surprised and then pulled me with him out onto the front porch.
That was where I saw the beautiful blond vampire standing beside the table, looking both amused and disgusted at the same time.
So the day ended in ‘Y’.
Sensing our appearance, her head turned, with her eyes raking over me and her disgusted amusement shone even brighter as she acknowledged, “Sookie.”
And then sounding very much like Doctor Phil after a lobotomy, she followed up with, “Dear Abby says eating your emotions isn’t healthy.”
“Pam,” I nodded in return and returned her snark with, “Eating your customers is bad for business, but that doesn’t seem to stop you.”
Now looking more amused than disgusted, she smiled with, “They certainly don’t complain.”
But before I could complain about not being in the mood for her lesbian weirdness – because there were candied yams to snarf down – she turned her eyes on her Maker and said, “She is leaking.”
She was as emotionally adept as a pet rock.
But I’d missed her too.
Wiping away the tear tracks that must have still been on my face, her eyes dropped further down my body, making me and everyone else look down there too.
And then Eric’s voice, worriedly calling my name, was the only thing I could hear as I then doubled over, just as the first contraction hit.
“No,” she quietly argued. “Down in the cubby.”
I suspected it was only due to her weariness from being in the hospital for two days that made her so accommodating to allow me to carry her into the house.
If I had known it could make her so agreeable, I may have been more apt to call 911 in the past.
But I did as she bade, using my gift of flight to gently lower us to the underground floor, and felt her arms tighten around my neck, just as she gasped when her eyes took in the room.
I’d returned to the house on the night following the birth to fetch the bag Sookie had packed in preparation for her stay in the hospital. When she’d unexpectedly gone into to labor, no one thought to grab it.
Perhaps still in shock over watching me grab her and shoot up into the sky to get her to the hospital as quickly as possible.
Knowing no amount of my blood would have solved that issue for her.
But the angry glares I’d received from Compton’s progeny and her human disappeared shortly before they were able to hold the gift my lover had so graciously given them, adorned with a shock of red hair and bow shaped lips.
Too many candied yams, I supposed.
But no longer having a blood tie to Sookie, I could only base my suppositions as to her physical and emotional state on her words and body language.
And for now they were both telling me she was tired.
But even so, as I laid her in the bed, she couldn’t take her eyes from the corner of the room and softly stated, “You did this.”
Not a question, I still felt it warranted an answer and admitted, “I did.”
Lying beside her, I pressed my front against her back and she burrowed further back into my body, seemingly enjoying the contact just as much. But I didn’t need to take my gaze from her to know what she was marveling at.
“When?” she asked softly, still staring in concentration.
Knowing she wasn’t asking when I’d had the time to put it in place, I answered, “During your travels.”
“Why?”’ she asked, sounding more awed than anything else.
It was a question I’d often posed to myself in the past, but I hadn’t been able to admit the answer to myself until now.
An admission I gave to her in allusion alone, teasing, “What else would I have use for? Commemorative spoons? Shot glasses?”
Finally tearing her gaze away, she turned in my arms to face me and snickered, “Well you do own a bar.”
“Don’t remind me,” I playfully sighed, with a roll of my eyes.
Fangtasia had lost its appeal right around the time a certain mouthy blond had stopped gracing its doorway with her presence.
“I missed you,” she whispered softly, but sounded more ardent as she tightened her hold on me and followed up with, “I’ve missed this.”
“The feeling is mutual, lover.”
Although, lying in bed with her without the need of silver chains to keep me from meeting my true death under the sun’s unforgiving rays, was preferable.
“So,” she faintly smiled, “We’re really doing this? You and me?”
My confirmation was laced with more conviction than I’d felt in a very long time.
We were absolutely doing this.
Her smile lit up the room, brighter than any star in the sky, but I suspected my own gave her a run for her money when she said, “I want to blood bond with you.”
As much as I wanted the same – as much as I had to force myself to not rip into my wrist in the next second and press the open wound to her lips – I felt the need to say, “We don’t have to if you are unsure. I know you felt blood was to blame for many of your…hardships. I am perfectly willing to prove myself to you without it.”
“You have nothing to prove,” she smiled, with conviction lacing her own voice. “I have no doubts as to how I feel about you and if I’d had any as to how you felt about me before…”
Jutting her head in the direction of my little surprise for her in the corner, she added, “That would have done away with them.”
But because I was greedy for everything about her, I pressed closer to her body and slyly smiled, asking, “And how is it again that you feel about me?”
She’d said it numerous times over the last two nights, but I doubted I would ever hear it enough.
So she grinned, just as she pressed her lips to my own, and said, “I love you.”
“As I love you.”
The words were garbled, thanks to my tongue in her mouth, but I was sure she got the gist of them.
If not, she would be hearing them again and again.
But feeling her tongue teasing the tips of my fangs made me feel other things.
Especially where there was one tip in particular, wanting to get reacquainted with her mouth, among other parts of her body.
But the fresh scent of her blood, permeating the air from her recent ordeal giving birth, reminded me she was in no shape for that kind of a reunion. Even having a good amount of my blood now would likely not be enough to ready her for those activities tonight, but I’d waited four long years to have her.
I could certainly wait for a few more nights.
So before she could test my resolve any further – or test the endurance of the zipper on my jeans – I turned her body, placing her back against my front once more.
Her groan of protest quieted when I trailed my fingertip down her neck and softly asked, “You are sure?”
The goose bumps that rose up on her skin pleased me to no end, but her reply pleased me even more when she said, “More sure than I’ve ever been.”
Raising my wrist to my mouth, my fangs slid easily into my skin, and I placed the open wound in front of her, just as my lips descended to her neck.
Licking the pulsing artery there, she mimicked the action against my wrist and my groan didn’t have an ounce of protest in it when her blood soon flowed into my mouth, right as she pulled my own down her throat and I couldn’t help the gasp that left my lips, feeling our tie begin to reform.
I remembered the loss I’d felt when it had disappeared before, but perhaps it was my anger and frustration that had left me in denial about how much I’d truly mourned its departure.
With its reformation, I was nearly overwhelmed by my joy.
So I was grateful when my wound closed, lovingly licked clean by my love in my arms, and she didn’t turn around to witness my near breakdown. Instead she pulled that same arm tighter around her body and burrowed further back against me, as our shared blood burrowed into every part of our bodies.
My eyes were once again transfixed by the twinkling lights of the small Christmas tree in the corner of the room, adorned with the ornaments depicting all of the places I’d traveled to in my time away. Seeing them only corroborated my feelings from back then.
That Eric had traveled to all of those places with me, regardless of missing his physical presence.
In the next moment, I could feel his smile forming against my skin, matching the smile I could hear in his voice, when he softly whispered into the room, “This is the beginning.”
He’d said those same four words to me once before more than four years earlier. We’d been lying together in bed then too.
But this wasn’t a dream.
Nor was it a fantasy.
This was real.
Just like our love for each other was real.
I knew that without any doubts now, so I settled back further into his embrace, settling into the start of the rest of my life.
This was the beginning.
And I would be able to handle whatever happened next, so long as I always had Eric at my side.
Now and for always it was where we belonged.