I rose as I had died ten hours earlier.
But I wasn’t alone in my frustration.
Sookie was feeling it too.
However, where mine stemmed from sexual frustration – unknowingly and inadvertently cock blocking ourselves in the way Adele’s brother had been handled, to the point I’d been dealing with the ramifications until just before dawn – Sookie’s seemed to stem from something else. She wasn’t in the room – a fact I didn’t particularly care for – so I couldn’t ask her, but she was close by. And whittling my way through her emotions, as she had whittled her way into my very core, I would guess hers was more of a culmination of frustrations.
A mixture of guilt and pissed off, occasionally topped off with a heaping dose of satisfaction
Would I ever understand the girl?
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the ability to sense her as she could sense others’ thoughts. I’d given her blood out of necessity the first time. At the time I had assumed she would balk at the requirement, although I was coming to learn I could assume nothing with her. But what I hadn’t expected was that I would come to take pleasure in feeling her emotions. I’d anticipated sectioning off the blood tie, only keeping it open enough for me to sense any deception or ill will from her.
Suspect of both her and her kin’s motives.
But my suspicions had been proven unfounded time and again.
Of her, at least.
By the time I’d given her a second dose – a mutual exchange of blood – she had already proven herself. Already saved my life in an impossible scenario where my preternatural speed and strength couldn’t have saved me on my own. I had already claimed her in as many words by the time of our mutual exchange, and while I wanted to claim her in body as well, there was more to it than that. I just wasn’t sure what that was.
And I wasn’t sure I would ever understand that either.
But feeling a surge of victory coming from her now had me getting dressed and seeking her out, rather than calling her to me again.
We already had Hale’s funeral to attend that night. If she had just killed someone else, we didn’t have time to fuck around before disposing of the remains.
When I felt the sun set, I set off, tracking her with my blood. But even without our weak bond, there wouldn’t have been any need.
Thanks to the whoops and hollers of my Were guards.
I found them in a large circle off to the side of the house. Each of them armed. Some of them in their wolf forms. All of them surrounding the center of my thoughts.
But seeing she was armed as well – a perfectly tailored sword from another world in each of her hands – I mentally corrected myself. This wasn’t Sookie.
That was Susannah.
I could tell – both by her emotions and the energy surrounding them all – this wasn’t a true fight. One meant to kill.
This was a test of skill. A show of dominance.
One she was winning given four of my best guards were off to the side, licking their wounds.
Her demonstration made all the more exceptional since she was blindfolded.
I had seen her square off against them before, but never against more than one at a time. Now, however, they were coming at her from all sides. Four and five at a time. I suspected she was using her gift to track them. A gift they knew nothing about. None of them dared to question or contradict me when I’d named her my personal guard, but I’d heard the whispers.
She was a witch.
She was my wench.
So I stood back and allowed them to have their asses handed to them by neither a witch nor my wench.
And allowed her, her payback.
After witnessing her lethal performance firsthand the night before, it was long overdue.
Even though the Weres seemed oblivious to my silent arrival, I was sure she could feel my presence amongst the crowd. Our blood tie unhindered by the black cloth covering her eyes. But even without it she would have known I was there once she drew blood from each of her attackers – marking them ‘out’ in their supernatural game of ‘tag’ – when I laughed out loud as she stood alone in the center and cooed, “Here kitty kitty.”
Quinn didn’t have a mark on him, so I knew he had yet to face her. She had sparred against a few of the guards in the past back at the palace, but I was certain Quinn wasn’t one of them. Up until now I had assumed it was due to his sense of professionalism.
He was the head of the Royal Guard.
She was the presumed plaything of the king.
Even after seeing her spar against me, the gossip amongst the guards was that I’d been humoring her and myself in the process. That she hadn’t been as adept with her swords as our display would have seemed. They’d only faced her in hand to hand combat, but they must have gone easy on her at the time, with the assumption I would have their heads if they’d harmed her.
And I would have.
Mounted like big game and hung in my office.
But the bleeding guards nursing their wounds on the wayside now knew better what she was capable of.
Based on her appearance and my own misconceptions, I too would have discounted her abilities, had I not known any better.
However, after all that I’d seen, now I assumed Quinn’s hesitance may have been more from his sense of survival. But he would be mocked relentlessly by the others if he didn’t rise to her taunting challenge. He had no choice but to comply.
He had a foot in height over her. Outweighed her by more than a hundred pounds in pure muscle.
And yet he looked uneasy as he took a tentative step into their makeshift ring.
I laughed out loud again.
While Quinn stalked her still body, seemingly unsure whether he should take an offensive or defensive stance, Herveaux sidled up next to me. Unmarked, it would seem at least he had known better than to square off against her and he made no attempt to keep his voice down when he chuckled out, “If it’s not too soon, I would like to throw my hat into the ring for the upcoming opening as head of the Royal Guard.”
Seeing Quinn’s furious eyes dart over to the Were at my side had me laughing out, “You’re hired.”
His playful reply of, “Sweet!” was made even more apropos because Quinn’s distraction was all Susannah needed. He was still glaring at us when, in the blink of an eye, she darted to her left rear flank and closed the ten feet that separated them, flicking her wrist and leaving an ‘S’ shaped wound in the center of his chest with her sword.
To the loud guffaws and cheers of the crowd.
Pulling the blindfold from her eyes, she smiled at her new fan club and curtsied.
An egotist after my own heart.
Quinn was still stunned and seething in turn. His eyes bled into the golden color of his animal form and his hands began to shift into claws. But he took several deep breaths to calm himself before I ended up killing him myself if he so much as looked in her direction.
Although Susannah likely would have beat me to the punch.
Once he was composed, rather than acknowledge his defeat, he only swiped at the already closing wound on his chest and reasserted his authority over the others by barking out, “We’re leaving in ten minutes. Clean up and get to your stations.”
The funeral had been forgotten by more than just me, but knowing I still had to get ready as well, I didn’t linger and returned to my chambers. Sookie was waiting for me when I emerged from my shower, still high on her victory and unaffected by my nakedness as she handed me a towel and asked, “Why are you going to the funeral to celebrate the life of a despicable man like him?”
“I’m not.” My response confused her, so I elaborated with, “I’m going to support Adele in her grief. She doesn’t know of the monstrosities committed by her brother, nor does she need to.”
The guilt I had felt from her earlier returned, but her tone was angry as she said, “The old woman was here earlier today. I didn’t see her, but I heard her thoughts. She wanted to stay busy so she would be distracted from her grief, but I caught snippets of fond memories she has of him. One was of him holding the girl Hadley on his lap. It was disgusting. She should know what he was. I would want to know.”
“Telling her serves no purpose,” I replied, walking into my closet to get dressed. “Knowing her brother was a pedophile who preyed on her own granddaughter would only hurt her more.”
“Her daughter too,” she spat out. “The girl’s mother was his victim as well.”
I ended up tearing my pants in two with her words. While I believed her – I could feel the truth in our bond – I didn’t ask how she’d known.
It would only infuriate me more if I’d known all that she’d seen and heard from his mind in his final moments.
Tossing the cloth aside, I chose another pair of pants and carefully pulled them on, before stepping back into the room. Draping my suit jacket over my arm, I finally looked at her and said, “She doesn’t need to know that either.”
Still dressed in her casual attire from earlier – still pristine as the ‘tag’ victor – I raised my brow in her direction, while sweeping my hand down the length of my black suit and said, “Match me. Black is the standard color for attire when at a funeral.”
But she only matched me in brow alone as she offered, “The only black attire I have is my leather ensemble, but I somehow doubt that would be viewed as appropriate wear when supporting an old woman grieving for a child predator.”
Her snarky reply would have told me her viewpoint on attending the funeral, even if I couldn’t feel it in her blood, but I ignored it and only asked, “You can’t use your magic?”
I’d witnessed her change outfits like the wind changed direction.
She smirked and explained, “I can’t use magic to make something from nothing. It has to exist and I have to know where it is – picture it – in order to call it to me. Everything I’ve worn has come from my own supply of clothing.”
I had been remiss in her care, not giving any thought to how she acquired her necessities. Food and shelter were a given, but I felt even more negligent when it occurred to me she wasn’t even earning a paycheck. Not that she would need one.
Not when I would give her anything she needed or desired.
But I didn’t want her to have to ask me for anything she needed or desired. I wanted to provide them without her having to ask, but short of becoming telepathic myself, I knew that was unlikely. So I resolved to have a bank account set up for her in the very near future and said, “When we return to the palace Pam will take you shopping. In the meantime, just wear something business formal and in a dark color.”
Her eyes widened at my words and while she magically changed into a navy blue dress, her voice was panicked as she asked, “Am I being punished?”
“No,” I smiled in confusion. “Why?”
“You’re sending me away when my place is at your side, guarding you. I would have to leave you during the night if I went with your child. I wouldn’t be able to sense any other vampires near you from any great distance. I wouldn’t…they would…”
She was nearly hyperventilating, so I reacted on instinct and pulled her into my arms, soothing, “Okay…it’s okay…” Gone was my little narcissist and in her place was the girl who feared for my life more than I did.
After the recent attempts on ending it, I could understand why.
So when she felt calm again, I tilted her chin and smiled down at her asking, “Does this mean I get to take you shopping?”
Renard Parish would offer her no more options than flowered muumuus and flannel shirts, so it would have to wait until we returned.
“If that is your wish,” she answered evenly.
“It is,” I smirked and added, “For once I’m actually looking forward to the dressing room fashion show.”
She shrugged her indifference at something that would have had Pam in a tizzy – like the thought of accompanying Pam on a shopping spree would have me on the verge of a killing spree – but her reaction only made me chuckle and shake my head.
The drive to the funeral took less than ten minutes and the small farmhouse came into view just as we turned off of Hummingbird Lane. I’d known from my countless talks with Adele the home had been built by her husband’s ancestors a hundred and fifty years earlier, but it wasn’t until she’d become employed by me that the old house was restored to its full glory.
I’d been pinched and hugged in tandem for my highhandedness.
The small graveside service would be held in the Sweet Home Cemetery adjacent to her land. There wasn’t cause or need for an investigation into his death, so I was able to expedite the process to give her closure that much sooner.
Adele and her grandson were Hale’s only living kin and – unsurprisingly – he wasn’t a pillar of the community, so the attendance was minimal. My guards and staff tripled the number of those who’d come to show their support of the Stackhouses and while I would have been perfectly content to let his remains rot in a Louisiana bayou, I took comfort in the fact the charade was for Adele’s benefit.
She carried enough sorrow. She didn’t need to know about the monster who had been hiding in plain sight all along.
But it was during the short ride when Sookie’s guilt returned. I hadn’t thought to ask her about it earlier since it had faded away, with her triumph over Quinn’s defeat drowning it out. And with the attack on us the night before, Quinn had insisted he ride in the limo with us – something I could have overruled – but it was a short ride.
And his presence gave Sookie something other than her guilt to focus on – her contempt for him – while simultaneously keeping me from attempting to ride my personal guard.
Even dressed demurely in a navy blue frock, she was sexy. But I knew, now wasn’t the time.
And I knew from her mood, her thoughts were elsewhere. The only other time I could recall her feeling any amount of remorse was when she’d thought I was angry at her for taking Hale’s life – something I would have wanted for myself.
But then, her emotions had still been mixed with contempt for him. Righteousness for the kill. She hadn’t regretted the act itself, but the hindsight for not giving me the opportunity.
Now there was a weight on her shoulders that had been missing the night before. And it frustrated her.
However, now wasn’t the time to get into any deep and meaningful discussions either. But as we made our way across the field, what I could only describe as a tingling sensation floated across my consciousness and pulled me from my thoughts. I could tell it wasn’t my own instincts attempting to warn me of something neither my eyes nor my mind had been alerted to.
The feeling was Sookie’s.
Concentrating on her emotions, I sensed no hostility. No contempt or defensiveness showed in her blood, so I doubted it had to do with any impending attack or malicious thoughts coming from the nearby humans. Not even the presence of Compton, who I spotted nearer to the cemetery, seemed to distract her from her thoughts. All I could sense from her was wonder.
Not wanting to wait on finding out why, I fell back into our private form of communication and asked, “What is it?”
She appeared completely calm, with none of the bewilderment she was feeling showing in her blank expression, but I could sense her mental eyes were narrowed in concentration as she replied, “I’ve been here before. Nearby.”
Had her fairy GPS activated?
Our game of Catch the Part-Fairy had taken place well to the south of Adele’s land, as was the location of Hale’s shack of a home. Even the drive to Merlotte’s had taken us east of the farmhouse and I assumed from her own confusion, she hadn’t gone wandering down Hummingbird Lane when she’d teleported me back to the palace for the day. Other than that, Sookie had been within fifty feet of me ever since the night she had entered my office, so I couldn’t understand how or why she would have been there before.
But before she could answer, Adele approached us and tearfully smiled as she said, “Your Majesty. Thank you so much for coming and for getting this done so quickly.”
“Of course, Adele,” I softly smiled in return, resigned I would have to wait for my answers. “It was no problem.”
Her gratitude wasn’t necessary, but her relief over the timeliness of the service was warranted.
While being named king wasn’t something I had ever wanted or sought out, I wasn’t above taking advantage of the perks.
In towns closer to the contamination zones, funeral parlors had cropped up like weeds. But regardless of their overabundance, the wait list was longer than Pam’s list of ‘Must-Haves’ when she’d first heard Coco Chanel hadn’t survived the nuclear fallout in Paris.
Radiation sickness and cancers of all kinds didn’t discriminate, so demand for their services was at a high and cemetery plots were at a premium. Many couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices, so most were cremated. However Adele’s family had owned their plots long before the bombs went off, so even without my help, she wouldn’t have needed my high hand in attaining one.
Thankfully, since I would just as soon flush his remains down the toilet where shit like him belonged.
We were shown to our seats and the service commenced soon thereafter, but giving zero shits about the shit they were eulogizing left my mind and eyes wandering. It would be impossible to even whisper to Sookie to get the answers I still wanted, but as my eyes traveled over the headstones of the Stackhouse family plots, more questions rose up in my mind.
It struck me as an odd coincidence that Adele’s son, Corbett Stackhouse, was born on October 27th, 1962. The same day the American U2 plane was shot down by a soviet missile. Exactly one day before the first nuclear bomb was launched.
But I was left dumbstruck seeing the actual date of his death twenty-one years earlier.
On what I now knew was the date of Sookie’s birth.
I also knew his wife had been killed at the same time. She had been ripe with child, expected to deliver at any time.
Could it be a coincidence?
Sookie was undoubtedly mostly human. But while her Fae ancestry was well established, it was her human ancestry that even she seemed to know nothing about.
And it was her human ancestry that I suddenly wanted to know everything about.
A DNA test was the first thing to come to mind, but I dismissed the idea just as quickly. Sookie’s Fae ancestry was a secret. One I was unwilling to share with anyone other than my child. I could taste it in her blood, so the risk of it showing up in any test on her blood was too great to resolve even my own curiosity.
But then another thought occurred to me.
Sookie hadn’t appeared on my doorstep only equipped with a standard fairy GPS.
No, I had been blessed with the fully equipped bells and whistles model.
Sookie had once told me she could sense the blood of her kin. I had no way of knowing the specific way her magic worked, but the way in which she’d said it led me to believe it wasn’t a passive ability. That she would have to actively seek out her kin, finding their shared blood with her own.
But would her fairy magic work on pure humans?
As the service drew to a close, I grew antsier on the inside, while trying to tell myself I was being ridiculous. The odds of Sookie being Adele’s long lost granddaughter were astronomical. But on the flipside, I knew Sookie still felt alone, despite my constant presence in her life. For all I knew she was alone in being the only human/fairy hybrid, but just as I suspected her Fae kin hadn’t been very loving or accepting of her, I was just as certain the same wouldn’t be said of Adele.
That is, if I could keep her from having a heart attack, if my suspicions proved to be true.
Adele was hosting the guests in her home after the service, having declined my offer to use the estate. But it was just as well now since the Stackhouse land was the crux of every question I had and answer I wanted.
In deference to Adele’s slower gait, everyone moved towards her house at a pace to match her own. It gave me the opportunity to linger behind with Sookie and no sooner than we were more or less alone, she began leading me away, with nothing more than her retreating footsteps and whispered words of, “This way.”
I was just as interested in how she had come to have been there in the past, so I kept my other thoughts to myself and silently followed behind. We hadn’t gone very far when she stopped. Twenty yards into the trees at most, so I was confused.
But it took only a second for me to feel the shift.
The presence of magic.
Holding her hands up in front of her, in what could be construed as a Mime’s performance, she stared off into seemingly nothingness and said, “Here. This is where I first entered this world.”
She’d spoken of the portal through which she entered this world once before.
But only in that Brigant would have sealed it upon his return.
However its location on what was likely Stackhouse property was more than just a coincidence in my mind and reminded me of a quote from Ian Fleming.
‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.’
Once: On the eve of the birth of Adele’s son, the world was irrevocably changed.
Twice: His death occurred on the eve of Sookie’s birth.
Three times: I now find out a portal to the Fae realm existed on Stackhouse land.
A million thoughts filled my head instantly. None of them good.
The Fae were a conniving bunch. Nothing they did was without cause, so sending Sookie to me should have me sending her to her death – debt or no.
But she’d had my blood. I knew I had her loyalty. Even her affection at times.
My own affection for her could quite possibly be my downfall.
However, above all of that, still seeing her hands lovingly caressing the air in front of her made my possessive side rear its ugly head. Disliking the possibility, but having a strong desire to know, my voice turned hoarse when I asked, “Can you go through the portal now?”
Up until then, it hadn’t occurred to me she could be put – willingly or otherwise – somewhere out of my reach. For some reason I couldn’t explain, that the option existed at all even though I’d known of its existence all along, burned like fire through my veins.
But before I could do or say anything else, her head was already shaking as she replied, “No. Only a full-blooded fairy can go through alone.”
Calming down some with her assurance, I wasn’t sure how to feel when her emotions were suddenly tinged with a small amount of yearning just then. Homesickness, I would guess.
I knew from her blood she didn’t know how to feel about that either.
But since I was still wondering if coincidences were nothing more than just that, I asked, “In your time here, have you tried to sense the blood of your kin?”
Her head snapped in my direction, with the confusion she felt on her face, as she declared, “No. Why would I?”
Taking a step closer, I took her hand in my own and said, “Try.”
I could feel her want to argue – to question my logic – but locking her gaze on my own, whatever she saw in my eyes was enough to quash the urge. And I felt her emotions give way to acceptance just as she said, “Okay.”
Her eyes closed.
Her breathing slowed.
Her concentration singularly focused.
And then it felt like her heart was going to beat its way out of my chest.
The next events all happened in a split second.
Her eyes shot open.
They darted towards the Stackhouse home that was just barely visible through the trees.
Still holding hands, it wasn’t surprising when the now familiar sensation of moving at an atomic level coursed through me.
Only instead of our Magical Mystery Tour ending in Adele’s living room, I needed a moment to figure out where we were when we rematerialized.
And then another moment, lost in my own confusion, when I realized exactly where we were.
Staring at Sookie, she only stared at the house before us. One I was sure she had never been to before. So I could only assume she had been able to teleport us there because someone who shared her blood was inside.
Putting two and two together, I quickly calculated the sum total and it didn’t equal a coincidence.
If what I now suspected was true, this was unequivocally enemy action.
One I would handle with extreme prejudice when the homeowner returned.