I could feel Eric’s growing excitement – and relief – the closer I got to Fangtasia. We’d returned to Louisiana the night after we’d completed our bond months earlier and hadn’t spent more than a few hours apart at all in that time. But I’d had a few errands to run, so I’d left while the sun was still up and hadn’t seen him since that morning.
He lived with me now. Niall had popped Pam and Karin back to Shreveport while Eric and I were…reuniting, and they’d had the foresight to go ahead and make the farmhouse light tight before we got back. At one time I would’ve accused them of being highhanded, like some Makers I knew. But I had a different view of the world now that my head was out of my ass and instead I’d gratefully hugged them both when we found them waiting for us when we’d returned.
They were looking at me pretty gratefully too, so we were even.
Eric and I were still blissfully unaware of anything but our own happiness at being together again, but there had been an awkward moment that night when Sam showed up unexpectedly. I hadn’t warned anyone I would be away for a while, so my month long disappearance had raised a few eyebrows. Karin had told Sam I’d gone away on a trip, but he hadn’t believed her, believing instead that I had once again been snatched up by the evil Supes I’d been a magnet for.
Instead Sam had been the one to be snatched up by a jealous bonded vampire when he blew through the front door without knocking first.
And then he got knocked around a bit by a not-so-jolly green giant.
At one time I would have thrown myself into the fray without giving a second’s thought to my own safety to try and stop them, but I wasn’t that same dumbass anymore. I didn’t want either one of them to hurt the other – neither one deserved an ass whoopin’, but I knew they had their own issues they needed to work out – so I left them to it and went and took a nice long bath instead.
I knew Sam would calm down once he got a few licks in and even though Eric could easily kill him, I knew he wouldn’t.
Like Eric had said, he would never purposely hurt me.
And he knew Sam’s death would hurt me, so I wasn’t surprised to find them both standing there, a little worse for wear, staring at me with shocked looks on their faces – and wild hair and blood stained clothes – when I eventually came out of the bathroom in my robe.
“Feel better?” I asked and as soon as they each nodded, I gestured to the now trashed living room and said, “Good. Now clean this mess up.”
And I had a good long laugh over my cup of coffee watching Eric trying to work a broom again.
Some things never changed.
The whole time they worked at cleaning up the mess from their reunion, the tension in the air hadn’t dissipated at all. So once everything was squared away, all I had to do was look at Eric and push my need for him to understand, for him to leave the room so I could speak with Sam alone. I knew he could hear our conversation from any room in the house, but Sam deserved at least the appearance of having some privacy for what would come next.
He’d kept a lock on his thoughts from the moment I’d left the bathroom, so I only had his expression to work with. And knowing he could smell Eric’s blood in me – among other things – I pulled up my big girl panties and admitted, “I love him Sam. I never stopped loving him, even though I denied it to myself the whole time he was gone. I’m sorry if that hurts you.”
Running his hands through his hair, he didn’t look so much hurt over hearing I’d been in love with another man the entire time we were together as much as he was resigned when he said, “You’re bonded to him. Again.”
It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t an accusation. It was a statement of fact, so I didn’t respond.
“He loves you,” he offered quietly when the silence in the room had grown uncomfortable.
Also not a question, but I replied anyway and answered, “More than anything.”
I could feel Eric’s pride, love, and affection coming from him at hearing my words. So much that if I hadn’t already been sitting down, my knees would’ve buckled.
Our bond – while missed – would take some getting used to again.
I pushed my own love back at him while I waited for Sam to say something. To say I was surprised would be an understatement when he finally said, “Well then I’m happy for you. You deserve it Chere. You deserve to be happy.”
But it shouldn’t have surprised me, really. Sam had always been a good man and an even better friend to me. It was what helped me believe we could maybe be more to one another once upon a time, but while he could be charming, there could only ever be one Prince Charming in my fairytale and he wasn’t Sam.
“So do you, you know,” I smiled through my tears and got up to hug him. “You deserve to be happy too.”
I would always love Sam. I could just never love him like I loved Eric.
And while I wouldn’t call them friendly, they were at least able to be civil to one another now. However having a bromance blossom between the two of them just wasn’t in the cards and I was okay with that too.
But that was our last free night for the next several weeks. Eric needed to establish his rule over Louisiana – something he did with a sense of dread. Kind of like going to the gynecologist – you didn’t look forward to it, but you knew it had to be done. But the transition had gone a lot smoother than when de Castro had taken over. Felipe had ruled through fear with a heavy hand and while Eric was certainly no pushover, he didn’t push back unless someone gave him a reason to. He valued honor and loyalty above everything and most of the vampires who were left in the state had known him when he was a Sheriff. Most of them even seemed relieved to have him back and when it had become clear there wouldn’t be anyone challenging him for the throne, he promptly abdicated his rule to Karin.
She had been traveling for centuries, but she’d come to like Louisiana and was ready to put down roots. With her sister as one of her Sheriffs and her thousand year old maker (and his fairy sidekick) residing in her territory, anyone would be a fool to attack her.
We protected what was ours. Viciously.
Anyone who doubted that would merely have to look at the fang dangling from the platinum chain around her neck to know. But with Stan Davis bordering one side and Russell Edgington ruling the other two, we were left in peace.
Eric and I were married in a small ceremony right in our backyard in late September. He’d put a ring on my finger the night we’d arrived at the palace in New Orleans, but we waited until the dust settled to plan the wedding. The only people who were invited were the only ones we really cared about. Pam was my Maid of Honor and Karin stood up for Eric. My brother was there with his wife and Mr. C officiated the ceremony, but I was surprised when Niall had shown up to give me away. I shouldn’t have been though.
He’d proven to me beyond a shadow of doubt he was my family and in my corner.
As he walked me down the aisle towards my future, he leaned down and whispered, “Do you remember when I told you, you were meant for great things?” When I nodded, recalling those words spoken to me so long ago, he glanced over at an exultant looking Eric watching our distance shorten with every step we took, and smiled, “Do you believe me now?”
I’d been a fool not to see it all along. I’d been so stubborn in holding onto the belief that I could be normal. Have a normal life. I hadn’t allowed myself to believe I could keep Eric and my heartbeat, but it was only when I finally accepted both who and what I was, that my dreams were made possible.
Besides, who would want a normal life when you could have an extraordinary one?
And I repeated those same two words only moments later, binding myself to Eric in every way possible and sealing my fate. The one I’d always been meant for, with the one I’d always been meant for.
We’d only just returned from our honeymoon a few days earlier. He promised to take me to see the Seven Wonders of the World, but we’d only hit two so far on our month long getaway. We had close to forever to see them all, so I was in no rush. We’d be leaving again in a few weeks to head for Eric’s homeland where we would spend our first Christmas together as a married couple. I’d been shopping for thermals and mittens, but Eric was doing his damnedest to convince me I didn’t need anything more than my toothbrush.
My jar full of orgasms had been traded in for a barrel. I would have to upgrade to a silo soon, but it wasn’t something I was going to complain about.
We still had our share of arguments. We were both still as pigheaded as the day was long, but now our fights weren’t centered on whatever it was we were disagreeing about. It was more about seeing how long we could keep up the charade until we couldn’t keep our clothes on.
No new gifts emerged after our bonding, unless you counted the fact Eric could stay up past sunrise. He couldn’t go out in the sun – something we learned the hard way, with him reaching out into the sun’s rays and me pouncing on him with a blanket when his hand had begun to smoke – but he could tolerate being in the shadows. He got to watch me through the window standing in the sunlight and then we both got to enjoy him basking in the scent and taste of it on my skin when I came inside.
Not a bad prize for runner up.
But what had shocked me the most was how much I hadn’t changed. Yes, I was more fairy than human and yes, I could carry the title of the ultimate grill master until my dying day, But a large part of me was still the same girl who had been once been wonderstruck at finding out there was a whole other world where folklore and fact collided. The only difference now was I knew my place in it. I accepted the fact I was a part of both worlds and that I would always be.
A little of this and a little of that. That was me. A mutt.
And I was okay with that.
And just like I would never change, I no longer expected Eric to either. We made compromises, but we accepted who each of us were. I loved him at his most powerful and at his weakest, just like he loved me and all of the baggage I brought with me. We were a mess at times, but we untangled it all together.
Just like now. He was shooting his impatience at my delayed arrival through our bond, practically pushing my foot down on the accelerator with nothing more than his blood inside of me.
So I shot him back with my annoyance, practically screaming at him, ‘I can’t make the traffic light turn green any faster!’
Like I’d said, I hadn’t gotten any new fairy powers.
One of my errands had been a visit to Dr. Ludwig’s. She’d made a request through Pam, asking for my help. There was a Were – a female, barely old enough to shift – who had been separated from the pack during her first run almost a month earlier. She’d come back the next day, but hadn’t spoken a single word since and her parents were desperate to know what was wrong. There were no physical signs – no clues for them to work with – but Weres healed quickly and since she wasn’t talking, Dr. Ludwig asked me to listen. Normally, I wouldn’t have wanted to intrude on someone’s private thoughts in such a way, but after speaking – and listening in – to her parents, I couldn’t ignore their concern for their daughter. They were desperate to help her. They just didn’t know how.
She’d sat there quietly, her body curled into a ball in one of the plastic chairs in the room, so I sat next to her, quietly listening. And then my stomach curled in on itself, hearing what was going through her head.
She’d been attacked. Raped by another pack member when she’d been separated from the group.
It brought back the memories of my own childhood trauma and I know I might have benefitted from having someone like me around for that experience alone. It had gone on much longer than it would have because I had to work up the courage to tell someone what my Uncle Bartlett had been doing to me. This girl could’ve been subjected to her attacker all over again at the next full moon if I hadn’t been able to warn her parents, but now she didn’t have to.
I offered the use of my other fairy power to her family before I left, but the experience – while traumatic for both sides involved – made me realize how much good I could do with my telepathy. When the FBI had been pursuing me after my display in Rhodes, I’d run for the figurative hills, afraid of what would happen to me. Scared at being permanently outed as not being normal. Frightened to admit even to myself that I would never be normal, but I wasn’t. I knew that now and if I could embrace that now, then why shouldn’t I use my gift to help others? I would never use it for something greed driven – like parking my ass in a casino – but if I could use it to help others who’ve been traumatized by not having to relive it by speaking of it, then why wouldn’t I?
I had a feeling maybe this was one of those great things I was meant for too.
Eric internally chuffed at my rebuke, so I harrumphed at him in turn until he went the other route and began caressing me through our bond in ways that would have made me blush once upon a time.
But not now.
Now I enjoyed every feathery touch I felt on the inside and couldn’t wait to feel them in person.
Pam was still running Fangtasia, like Eric had when he’d still been Sheriff, but she’d made us promise to visit there whenever we were in town. Not because she missed her Maker, so much as whenever he made an appearance, their profits were blacker than the walls of the club. So he was up on the dais sitting on his throne when I casually strolled through the door. Pretending I didn’t notice him, I sauntered over to the bar and ordered a drink. Turning to lean my back against it with my glass in hand, I acted like I couldn’t feel his eyes burning a path across my intentionally displayed cleavage and began scanning the room, filtering through the thoughts of the humans, while ignoring the brigade of women trying to goad my husband into biting them.
Among other things.
Eric’s fidelity wasn’t something I would ever question. If anything, I was still a bit awestruck by the strength of his devotion to me. It was similar to what I’d felt from him before everything had gone to hell in a hand basket, but it was different too.
Different in that neither one of us questioned our feelings for the other any longer.
There were times when I still felt like I didn’t deserve it or him, but it wasn’t like I was going to give him up. I’d learned my lesson and wouldn’t be repeating that mistake, but perhaps it had been a mistake to ignore my bigheaded bonded because I felt when he’d hit his limit at being disregarded just as I felt his body pressed against my own.
“Why do you taunt me so?” he purred into my ear, rubbing his hands up and down my side.
“What else do I have to do for the next century?” I asked and smiled, hearing his throaty chuckle merge with the vibration still rumbling through his chest.
“I can make you a list if you’d like,” he offered. And feeling his writing instrument poking me through his pants, I didn’t need a bond or to be a mind reader to know what was on his.
But because Eric was still full of surprises, instead of trying to convince me to become reacquainted with his former office – which was what I’d expected – he pulled me out onto the dance floor. And for the next few hours he twirled me around it like we didn’t have a care in the world.
And honestly? We didn’t.
He’d known I always loved to dance and he was certainly no slouch as a partner, so it was no skin off my nose to bump and grind against him. Eric met each of my moves with ones of his own, but we both managed to resist the sadistic foreplay we were bestowing on the other.
And Pam could’ve rested completely safe from the sun’s rays the following morning underneath the pile of money we made her that night.
But our resistance only lasted until we pulled up to the farmhouse. Eric had flown to Fangtasia, so we’d driven back together in my car, but one too many not-so-innocent double entendres on how well he could work a stick shift made for one frisky vampire.
Which made for more scraps of fabric for my collection of once upon a time dresses.
“You’d think you would have learned by now, not to taunt me,” he leered when I gasped in mock outrage over my decimated dress.
Matching every step he made – backwards, forwards, side to side – I taunted, “You’d think you would have learned by now, I can be pretty thick.”
My eyebrow went up in challenge. His waggled at me in return.
Then he was on me like white on rice, knocking me to the ground and talking over my fit of giggles saying, “I’ll show you thick.”
And boy, did he.
By the time we were done – although we were never really done – I could tell by the light in the sky the sun would be up soon. Eric felt it too because he wrapped me tighter in his arms before saying, “We should get inside.”
“In a minute,” I whispered, with my mind taking in everything. Everything over the past year – the past four years really – and everything the future held when it really hit me.
I was holding everything.
So I enjoyed my arms around him, the sense of him not just next to me, but within me. And if you were to ask me, I would confess that I no longer had any doubts Eric and I would be together, not just until Christmas, but for always. I couldn’t imagine a future without him. He wouldn’t turn away from me any more than I could turn away from him and no matter what the future held for us, it would be us who faced that future together. We were survivors and together we would find a way to flourish like the yard that still bloomed and grew around my family home. But it wasn’t the house or the yard I was attached to any longer. No matter where I hung my hat, it would always be the man at my side that made wherever I was my home.
I’m Sookie Northman. I belong with him.