Moving through the crowd, wandering aimlessly down Bourbon Street, my thoughts weren’t on my current mission.
It was wandering aimlessly down the path named Sookie. In the week since I’d last seen her, I’d done little else.
While her name hadn’t been familiar in any way, something told me she wasn’t unfamiliar to me either.
I just couldn’t figure out why.
When I’d finally gotten out of the bed I’d risen in the night she’d saved me from a bomb that didn’t in fact go boom, I realized fairly quickly I was in a house.
A farmhouse to be specific.
Not that it was a working farm, but the age and style told me it had been at some point in its history.
While there weren’t any signs of anyone living there recently – the refrigerator was empty as were the closets, bureaus, and trash cans – the rooms themselves were fully furnished and dust free.
It put me in mind of a museum.
But then what should one expect when touring a house owned by the Cleaner?
There were pictures on the mantle of the family I could only assume had once called those four walls home. Black and white photos taken in the 40’s and 50’s – given their dated clothing and hairstyles – gave way to color photographs, seemingly showing a family history spanning three generations at least.
I didn’t understand how or why that particular house had been chosen as one of her safe houses until my eyes landed on the very last picture of the group.
A young girl, no more than ten years old, smiled at the camera, with a slightly older boy – a sibling given the similarity in their appearance – at her side.
There was no doubt in my mind the girl was Sookie.
There was no mistaking her bright blue eyes, even if the light behind them was missing. Instead there was a darkness that I recognized all too well.
The kind that could only be brought about by whatever horrors and pain had been inflicted on her.
I nearly called her then and there. Her name and number in the palm of my hand, her leaving me to discover I was in her family’s home meant I had even more questions I wanted answers to.
Answers she could provide if she answered her phone.
But having no signal inside of the house, I was forced to step outside.
And forced to realize I had been there before, nearly ten years earlier.
“I’m in Shreveport, Louisiana,” I replied into the phone, as though she didn’t know.
Not that I’d given her any notice of where I would be that evening, but she was a seer for Christ’s sake.
She would know where in the hell I would be before I would.
Never mind the fact it was on her orders two nights earlier I take my search to northern Louisiana.
“North of you is a small town named Bon Temps. There is a farmhouse on Hummingbird Road. Find it and find the scent of the girl who lives there. Track her location if you can until the prince arrives.”
I didn’t think she’d meant any purple paisley covered singer – although we did share a similar appreciation for Little Red Corvettes – but even if I’d had the balls to question the Ancient Pythoness’ orders, I couldn’t.
Because she’d hung up.
So I hung up the notion I would be tracking the vampire I’d been looking for that night and found a dark alley, where I shot into the sky heading north. Having traveled much of the state – Anne Rice’s books had been the cause for many newborn vampire to travel to Louisiana, as though it was our birthright – so I had a general idea of where the town was.
But landing at the only farmhouse on Hummingbird Road that didn’t appear to be condemned, one look inside told me no one inside had had a good time that night, despite the translation of the town’s name.
Blood covered nearly every surface. The body of an old woman lied just inside of the doorway, with the body of a teenage boy lying a few feet from her. The magic that kept us out of human homes without an invitation was still intact, so I knew at least one of the occupants still lived.
And I knew just as well it wasn’t either one of them.
It looked like they’d been mauled by animals, but scenting the air, it wasn’t any animal I smelled.
Not in the conventional sense of the word.
Instead I smelled a different kind of animal.
It was only due to my age and innate stubbornness that I was able to keep my head clear and my mind free of their narcotizing aroma. But spotting another trail of blood – one that led out of the house and into the yard – I focused on it alone and determined it hadn’t come from either of the ones inside.
I assumed it belonged to the girl I’d been sent to track, but it was contaminated with the scent of fairy. Knowing they were the likely culprit, I breathed in deeply and allowed their scent to fill every part of me.
It wasn’t the first time I’d hunted a fairy, so it didn’t take long for that particular muscle memory to make its way to the forefront. Taking off in the direction my senses and instincts led me, it wasn’t long before I found them.
Miles away from civilization sat a ramshackle hunting cabin in the middle of the woods. Even without the light glowing through the windows or the scent of blood and fairy emanating from it, I would have known it was occupied.
I’d heard her screams before I’d ever laid eyes on it.
My orders had been to track her down until this prince arrived.
But having seen some of the horrors she’d already been forced to endure that night, I found myself unwilling to allow her to be forced to endure any more.
I could tell by the lack of a slight glow, indicating the hovel wasn’t owned by a living human, that I could freely enter.
So enter, I did.
Bursting through the door, I found not one, but two fairies. A brother and sister duo I’d had the displeasure of dealing with before.
Neave and Lochlan.
They were sadistic – even for their kind – and the female’s silver capped teeth bared at me only reiterated that fact.
The girl was lying on the dirty floor at their feet. Based on her size and style of clothing, she couldn’t have been more than fourteen years old.
It was difficult to tell now that there wasn’t an inch of her that wasn’t covered in blood.
I couldn’t even tell what color her hair was, other than blood red. What skin was showing through her shredded clothes had been torn to ribbons.
I was surprised she was still alive.
But her soft whimpers and beating heart told me she was.
And when her eyes managed to open and find mine through the swollen slits, her stare alone told me she had a warrior’s spirit.
The kinship I felt with her in that moment propelled me further into the room and straight at her assailants. Taking one of the bloody carving tools from their bench of horrors, I used it to nearly sever Lochlan’s head on the first pass.
The second pass finished the job.
Watching her brother’s body turn into a pile of fairy dust, Neave screeched in fury, with her silver teeth latching onto my left arm and ripping through the muscle caught in her bite.
So it was a good thing I was right handed.
It was in that hand that I held the knife, so I used it to thrust into her body just above her pubic bone and cut a path straight up to her collarbone. It wasn’t enough to kill her immediately, but her pained scream was enough to make her disengage her locked jaw from around my arm.
She dropped to the floor and with the scent of fairy blood all around me, I forced myself to not breathe so I wouldn’t give in to my baser instincts.
It was the last thing the girl needed to see.
Instead I took off my jacket – my favorite one, now torn at the sleeve thanks to bitchy fairies – and kicked Neave on my way by in fashion retribution before using it to cover the girl.
She didn’t appear to be afraid of me, but she was likely in shock. So I gently pushed the blood matted hair away from her face and softly said, “You’re safe.”
Staring back at me, a single tear fell from her eye, cleaning a path through the blood covering her face and disappeared into her hairline.
She was a blond.
But after hearing her earlier screams and seeing all of the devastation that had been forced on her that night, I was surprised she’d had any tears left to shed.
From the angle of her jaw, I suspected it was broken, so I didn’t ask her any questions. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway when the prince arrived seconds later.
The Prince of the Sky Fae, Niall Brigant.
Sword in hand, he took in the room, with rage filling his every feature seeing Neave squirming on the floor in pain, next to the pile of fairy dust her brother had become.
But when his eyes moved to me, and then the girl, he sheathed his sword and stepped forward saying, “I am in your debt, vampire.”
Gently laying a hand on the girl, who I doubted would live through the night – and after all that she’d been through, it would be kinder if she didn’t – before he popped them away, he pointedly looked down at Neave and then gave me a knowing look, saying, “Enjoy your dinner.”
But my fairy dinner – which I had enjoyed – was no longer a fond memory.
How could it be, now knowing that girl must have been Sookie?
Never in a million years would I have suspected they were one and the same. In my mind that girl had died.
She should have died, given the amount of injuries she’d suffered, along with the blood loss.
I doubted even my blood would have been enough to save her, but then – with Brigant’s arrival – I hadn’t been given the time to try.
I had no way of knowing now, if I even would have tried.
But what I did know was that I would do more than that if I’d found Sookie under similar circumstances, knowing her as I did now.
Gus. Lola. Sookie.
I would have gone to her no matter what she’d called herself.
But it never occurred to me to go back to the farmhouse where the trail first began. I’d had no reason to.
My mission had been accomplished.
Humans were no concern of mine and even if I’d felt a fleeting kinship with that particular human, in my mind she had died.
There was nothing I could do for a dead girl.
The Ancient Pythoness had never brought up that night again. Only after seeing who the mysterious prince was she’d been referring to, did I make my own assumptions as to why she’d sent me after the girl to begin with. Her Grace had many cards up her sleeve and being an ally of the Prince of the Sky Fae was only one of many.
It was an ace – for sure – but only one of many.
Now, with all of my newfound knowledge, I had more answers.
And even more questions.
Where I had once wondered if her seeming aloofness, by keeping her distance from me at the time, stemmed from me finally being caught in her chase, now I wondered what the chase itself had stemmed from at all. She’d taken me to that house for a reason. She would have known I would have put the pieces together.
Her first words when I’d first risen there that night had been repeated back to me from nearly a decade earlier.
She couldn’t have chosen them at random.
But she did say she’d given me enough clues about her identity.
And she had.
And I now knew where the Ancient Pythoness’ amusement stemmed from.
She saw every-fucking-thing that happened from miles away. Literally.
Her seeing this happening would have had her chuckling at the very least.
I could only assume it was the prince’s magic that healed her body. And I now knew where those faint scars I’d felt on her legs had come from.
Silver capped teeth.
I would have had identical scars if it weren’t for the magic of our blood healing our wounds. It was only through the magic of consuming vast amounts of fairy blood that night that staved off the effects of the silver poisoning I would have had otherwise.
With the pungent aroma of fairy in the shack that night, there was no way for me to discern the unique candy scent of her blood I now knew she normally emanated, for me to have made the connection earlier.
But it wasn’t our shared past that kept me from contacting Sookie once I’d made the connection.
It was our shared present that I was concerned with.
As much as I wanted her – and I undoubtedly did want her – I didn’t want her as a form of payment.
A thank-you-fuck as recompense for saving her life.
No fucking thank you.
So I hadn’t called her yet because I didn’t want to find out if that was why she’d sought me out to begin with.
Because as long as I didn’t call her, I could pretend there would be another round of ‘This and That’ in our future, in spite of our past.
Finding the illegally made newborn vampire in the French Quarter was about as difficult as finding an actual quarter in the bottom of my pocket.
Like her bright red hair wasn’t enough of a homing beacon, the trail of dead truckers she left in her wake was.
“I’m sorry, mister!” she shrieked, now that I had her body suspended in the air, with my hand around her neck. “I didn’t know we wasn’t supposed to kill ‘em. But I was just so hungry!”
“You don’t know proper grammar either,” I sighed, with an eye roll.
This was why newborns had to be vetted prior to being made vampire or else idiots would taint the gene pool.
Bubba was more than enough.
Either she didn’t understand the insult or she was too worried about trying to breathe to say anything else.
To breathe air she didn’t need.
Knowing I would be calling Sookie to take care of the dead truckers at the very least, I was already in a sour mood – because my brief stay in the land of denial was being forced to draw to a close – and it came across in my tone, when I shook her by the neck and asked, “Who is your Maker?”
“My what?” she asked in return, with a vacant look in her eyes. “Do you mean, God?”
And then believing she must have latched onto something that would allow her to see another night, she nodded as much as she was able to – my hand was big and her neck was small – and said, “Yes! Yes, I am a good Christian girl and I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.”
“He can’t save you now,” I sighed, closing my eyes and rubbing the bridge of my nose.
Maybe I was getting too old for this shit?
I couldn’t know for sure.
My mood was sour, after all.
But what I could know for sure was my blood tie to Sookie – one that I suspected she had purposely shut down the moment she left me with the ghosts of her past – flared to life. Nothing like the flash she’d given me that night in the ballroom, now I could only describe it as something akin to a Maker’s call.
She was frightened.
Giving the girl in my grasp one last firm shake, I warned, “I will return for you. Feed on vagrants in the meantime and don’t leave their bodies where they will be found. This is Louisiana. The state bird is an alligator for fuck’s sake. Use them.”
With those final words of wisdom, I dropped her to the ground and took off into the air. Sookie wasn’t close, but she was close enough for me to reach her in less than an hour, flying at top speed.
Her emotional state during that time fluctuated. Scared in one moment, she felt perfectly at peace in the next.
But I had no clue what was causing the flip flop in her feelings until I found her.
Asleep in the bed in the house filled with the ghosts of her past.
Seeing her lying there, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I’d found her in a similar position. So different and yet so similar, my own emotional state was doing its own flip flopping.
But seeing her lying there, I couldn’t help but toe off my shoes and slide into the bed behind her, pulling her back against my front.
It turned out, I did like to cuddle.
And so long as she slept, I could still linger in the land of denial, where she hadn’t sought me out for a thank you fuck and instead it had been because she’d wanted to.
Nearly two hours had passed by the time she woke up, but even if I hadn’t noticed the change in her breathing patterns, her body tensing in my arms would have been yet another clue she had given me.
Sherlock fucking Holmes. That was me.
So I gave her a clue of her own – one that couldn’t be denied by either one of us any longer – alluding to both our past and our present connection to one another, by repeating what was becoming our secret password.
Tensing even more, her body shot upright on the mattress, with her head whipping around to see me lying at her side. But I couldn’t tell if she was agitated or surprised – because the moment she regained consciousness, all sense of her in my blood disappeared – when she asked, “What are you doing here?”
“No,” she shook her head, trying to clear the last bits of sleep from her mind. Then gesturing to our surroundings, she repeated, “What are you doing here.”
I’d done some research on the home and found it had been held in trust ever since the last homeowner died, but the current owner’s name wasn’t listed anywhere.
The Law Offices of Desmond Cataliades was.
But rather than point out the fact she obviously hadn’t rescinded my invitation, I only explained, “You called me.”
In a sense.
Her eyes narrowed, putting together her own clues, I suspected, because after a moment she didn’t ask for any further explanation and only shrugged with her reply of, “I didn’t mean to.”
“So you misdialed?” I teased.
She was still too tense for my liking, so I hoped to ease what I suspected was troubling her by lightening the mood in the room. Peppering her with the million questions I wanted answers to no longer seemed as important.
I didn’t like seeing her feel uncomfortable in my presence more.
“I…” she began, stopped, and started again, “I was dreaming. I’m sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing for dreaming?”
I thought it a better path to take than to acknowledge what she’d been dreaming about.
“I don’t know,” she mumbled, with her eyes trained on her fidgeting hands in her lap. “I didn’t want this. I don’t want this, but it felt like I was lying to you every time I saw you, so when the opportunity presented itself, I took you here.”
Her rambling words were like a slap to the face.
She didn’t want this.
She doesn’t want this.
And my anger came through loud and clear when I said, “So you brought me here so I would understand you were merely showing me your gratitude for rescuing you as a girl, by fucking me as a woman, and now your thanks are done.”
My words were like a slap to the face.
My face because she slapped her hand across it and leaned forward, completely unafraid both seeing and hearing my fangs snap down, as she snarled out, “How dare you.”
I had her pinned on her back on the mattress, with my body on top of hers a split second later, but she only appeared even more defiant when she spat out, “I’m no one’s whore.”
“And I’m no one’s john,” I snarled back. “My job might be to collect on debts owed, but you owed me nothing. So you can keep your thank-you-fucks and consider yourself paid in full.”
Pulling myself away to get the fuck out of there proved to be more difficult than I’d anticipated.
I was caught in the nets of the sea.
Or rather, Sookie’s body wrapped around mine, but before I could hurt her by physically removing her from my body, her next words stopped me.
“That’s what you think this is?”
More than her words, it was her tone.
Disbelief. Mild amusement.
I gave her no response because – obviously – yes, that’s what I thought this was.
I had been quite clear.
The lingering sting on my cheek was proof of that.
But she didn’t push for an answer and instead offered one of her own by saying, “When I said I didn’t want this, I meant I didn’t want you to be with me because you felt sorry for me. You didn’t just save me from the worst time of my life – you saw me during the worst time of my life. That’s why I didn’t tell you who I was at first. I didn’t want your pity and I still don’t. When you looked at me, I didn’t want you to see that terrified little girl on death’s door. I wanted you to see me for who I am now. But the more time I spent with you, the more it felt like I was lying to you. So I ripped it off like a band-aid and showed you what you would have inevitably found out anyway.”
She could have been right. Had I known all along who she was I may have viewed her differently.
But my views of her both then and now differed greatly from how she thought I would see her.
“I saw a warrior that night in the shack,” I began. “She was bitten, battered, and bloodied, but in her eyes I could see she refused to be beaten. Had I known who you were all along I would have been even more impressed with you than I already was. The fact that you’re even alive is proof of how strong you are, so no. I don’t feel pity when I look at you. I feel awed.”
Among other things.
But now wasn’t the time for that.
Looking as though she was trying to convince herself I was being truthful, she admitted, “I’m not sure how to feel about the fact you came running to save me again the moment you felt whatever it was when I was dreaming. I’m having a sort of chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Did you show up because of who I once was or because of who I am?”
“I’m not sure I can separate the two anymore,” I admitted. “But I am sure that I would have come to you even only knowing you as Lola.”
Nothing would have stopped me from going to her, feeling her terror.
But now having my own chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, I forced myself to man up and asked, “Why did you seek me out?”
“Do you not remember all of the dirty things you promised would happen if we ever met up whenever we spoke on the phone?” she laughed.
But now wasn’t the time for that.
Now I needed answers – to this question in particular – more than I needed another romp in the sheets.
But if her answer was to this particular question was acceptable, I would make time for that later on.
“We flirted for five years,” I reminded her.
Five long years.
So I braced myself for whatever her answer may be and asked, “Why me?”
“Have you looked in a mirror lately?” she teased. “Don’t believe the hype. You can see your own reflection.”
I smiled more with my eyes than my lips, so when I didn’t say any more, she eventually sighed, “Are you asking me if I accept Eric Northman as my personal savior? Then the answer is yes, I do. It’s hard not to. But if you’re asking if I came looking for you out of some trauma-induced hero worship, then the answer is no. I gave myself a five year window to make sure of that before I acted on my impulses. You’re sexy as all get out and you have a great sense of humor. Why wouldn’t I want to sample the goods?”
I still had more questions I wanted answers to and I suspected there would always be something about her I would be eager to learn about. But seeing her playful leer when she’d asked her rhetorical question and feeling our tie open wide, I felt a different kind of call coming from her and decided I had enough answers for now.
And more than enough time to play another round of ‘This and That’ before sunrise would call an end to our fun.