Something was up.
Master had been acting weird ever since we’d returned from rescuing King Davis three nights earlier. Once I’d finished explaining as best as I could about teleportation – that it was a matter of matter, and once broken down by magic, it all weighed the same – his mystification went away and we’d returned to business as usual.
Or rather, unusual. For us anyway.
While those nights had been busy, between questioning the pathetic human – who we found out had been secretly working for a faction of The Brotherhood – and fortifying his compound in the event the unknown fairy returned, he hadn’t so much as looked at me inappropriately. Even with me being in his chambers each night when he rose, he would get straight to business.
Which was nowhere near my lady business.
I tried not to take it personally. I knew he had a lot to contend with and being able to sense his mood, I knew he wasn’t angry with me. If anything, he only felt more affectionate whenever he would look at me, but he never acted on those feelings, even when we were alone.
It left me feeling confused.
And being able to sense my moods, whenever I felt that way, he would distract me by talking strategy.
It worked every time.
And I hated it.
But while he was mine, he was also my king. It wasn’t my place to try to initiate any kind of intimate relations.
Not that I would even know where to begin.
And unfortunately, our swords had remained free of blood for the last three nights, so bloodlust couldn’t be used to help get things started.
I’d returned his child to the palace the night after her attack. She’d been placed under strict orders to remain within the palace walls and have a guard with her at all times, so she could oversee the same type of renovations there that were taking place at his estate.
And while at first I’d been excited at the thought of having her there to help me tease him, in actuality I was glad to see her go and couldn’t get rid of her fast enough.
If I’d heard one more chorus of, ‘Master and his badass, sitting in a tree…’ I would have popped her into a tree.
The same one I’d grabbed the assassin with the rocket propelled grenade from.
That would be a very long walk back home.
But she did have her good points, like when she’d been kind enough to send along King Davis’s regards before we’d left.
In front of Master.
So maybe I missed her a little.
My previous days had been filled with overseeing the installation of various reinforcements made of iron. Master had followed my recommendation of using very little iron in the room where Madden had been ended because too much would keep the unknown assailant from entering the room.
We wanted to catch them.
We would kill them after we had our answers.
But it was thanks to his child’s penchant for perfume that gave me the idea to install motion activated atomizers along the walls, ceiling, and floor in the room. They would have to uncloak themselves for it to work, but if they did they would be besieged with a watered down mixture of pure lemon juice.
It wouldn’t kill them straight away, but it would hurt.
And with the iron accents now in place in all corners of the room, they would be too weak to pop away again.
Being raised in the Fae realm came in handy for building fairy traps. Especially since I was immune to those weaknesses.
Too human, I supposed.
But with all of that work now completed – much to the Were guards’ confusion and the vampire guards’ suspicion – my task for the day was to come up with a way to teach all of his guards how to defend against a fairy attack when they wouldn’t be able to see their attacker.
Or without telling them the attacker would be a fairy.
It was no easy feat. And I suspected that had been his plan all along.
To distract me.
And it was working.
And I hated it.
The guards were still in the dark as to my origins and he wanted to keep it that way, so I couldn’t tell them much. But it made no difference since I couldn’t teach them something that was innate to me. What I now knew was a telepathic gift, it was something I’d been born with. While it didn’t work on fairies in the same way, I could at least sense their presence. Their natural light gave them away in my mind, and thanks to the attack on his prisoner, I now knew I could sense them even when they were cloaked.
But how could I teach his guards to be suspect of the light turning on when they were blind to it?
I would, however, try to find a way regardless.
But my concentration wasn’t helped any when the old woman returned to work, with the girl and oaf in tow. I’d had no choice but to leave his chambers in order to focus on my task because if I remained in his room, I inevitably focused on him.
It was yet another distraction I could do without.
But I wouldn’t go farther than I could sense any others’ thoughts near to him, so that meant I was forced to sift through their ridiculous thoughts as well.
It was annoying.
Master had ordered the old woman to take a few days off to see to her granddaughter’s welfare, but now she had returned.
And brought everyone with her.
Both she and the oaf were currently fussing over the girl, treating her as an invalid, while she was being too kind to tell them to stop, even though that was what she was wishing for. And unable to concentrate with their mental yammering, I decided to come to her rescue once more and entered the kitchen where they were all gathered around.
Intruding on the old woman’s umpteenth offer of getting her something, I asked, “Why do you treat her as disabled?”
“What?” the old woman asked, turning to face me.
“You’re treating her as though she’s weak when she has proven herself to be quite the opposite,” I replied.
The girl’s mental, ‘You tell ‘em’ only bolstered my stance, so I didn’t shy away when the old woman responded, “I know you are the king’s…associate, but that doesn’t give you the right to pass judgment on how I take care of my granddaughter. I don’t know how you were raised, but she’s been through a horrible ordeal and deserves to be pampered.”
The unconditional love I could feel she had for her grandchildren was something I’d only ever felt from Great-grandfather. Even my cousins hadn’t really taken to me, as the girl and the oaf seemed to take to one another.
Claudine, I suspected, was only nice to me because she’d felt pity for me. A hybrid – no matter my destiny – wasn’t looked upon kindly.
And Claudette, while fun to be around, I suspected only did so to enhance her reputation.
Her reputation for being bad.
And Claude, well…
But finding my silver lining, I shot back with, “I was raised to believe surviving is the ultimate victory. It’s something you should praise her for instead of pitying her. I was taught to defend myself and others. Perhaps if she hadn’t been coddled as a child, she would have been able to avoid all of the horrible ordeals she was forced to endure.”
The old woman’s brother among them.
“How dare you,” the old woman seethed, pulling herself to her feet.
But it was the girl they’d thought so weak who showed she still had her backbone intact, when she too stood and put herself in front of her grandmother, saying, “She’s right, Gran. Just because you don’t like hearing it, doesn’t make it any less true. I appreciate everything you’re doing for me – everything you’ve done for me – but I would give anything to have been a little more like her and a little less like me.”
“Sweetheart,” the old woman sighed and cupped the girl’s cheek. “I love you just the way you are.”
“And I love you, Gran,” she softly smiled back. “But I wouldn’t mind knowing how to kick a little ass, like Susannah can.” And then turning to face me, she asked hopefully, “You’ll still teach me, won’t you?”
“Of course,” I smiled.
But it was the oaf who took umbrage and stood from his chair, saying, “I should be the one teachin’ you things like that. I’m the man around here.”
I laughed – heartily – and said, “It is the female who is the deadlier of the species. Or didn’t you learn that on the night when we first met?”
“Heeyyy,” he grimaced and puffed out his chest. “That ain’t my fault. I wasn’t expectin’ it and besides, I was taught I shouldn’t go around hittin’ girls.”
I raised my eyebrow in challenge and said, “Perhaps if you hadn’t been coddled, I would have had a more difficult time throwing you to the ground.” And seeing his anger, I poked him further by adding, “But I doubt it.”
“I mighta been raised to never hit a girl, but you’re pushin’ your luck, missy.”
“I was raised to never be bested by anyone, much less an inferior foe, so feel free to push your own luck.”
“Care to take this outside?” he asked and cockily added, “Best two outta three?”
I smiled and headed for the door that led to the backyard, saying, “If you’re sure you can count that high.”
The others got up and followed behind us, with the old woman wondering if she had been too coddling with her grandchildren, and at the same time admonishing, “Jason! I don’t want you fighting anyone!”
“See?” I asked, squaring off to face him with a grin. “Even your grandmother knows you will fail.”
“Nah,” he smiled back. “She’s just worried the king’ll be pissed when I knock his associate on her ass.”
And with that he charged at me – reminding me again of a mastodon – but I easily moved aside and grabbed onto his wrist, wrenching his arm behind his back and throwing him face down into the grass.
“In case you’ve already lost count,” I happily whispered into his ear, “That makes two.”
I moved off of him and smiled, while he brushed at the grass stains now on his clothes. But it would seem I had a partner in this pitiful fight when the girl laughed and said, “Don’t forget to pick up your bruised ego, Jay.”
But the old woman wasn’t as amused – and was now questioning her own parenting abilities – when she grumbled, “I swear. If I didn’t know any better, I would swear you two were siblings. Corbett and Linda used to do the same thing. I had to go after them with the hose more than once.”
“Hah!” Jason chuckled, taking his beat down surprisingly well. And looking at me, he said, “Be glad you ain’t my sister.”
I am glad I ain’t.
I was already digging through his mind, so I would see his next move before he could even move forward, when his next thoughts froze me where I stood. Like my mind, my body was stuck in place as he ran towards me. Easily knocking me to the ground, he pinned my shoulders and stared down at me with a goofy smile on his face, saying out loud what I’d already heard from his mind.
“’Cuz you woulda been named Sookie.”
Even hearing the name – my nickname – coming from his lips wasn’t enough to unfreeze my limbs.
Or my mind.
“Jason!” the old woman called out. “You let Susannah up right now young man!”
I was Susannah.
But I couldn’t deny I was also Sookie.
Even though he’d climbed off of me, I remained on the ground, with the mental wind knocked out of me.
Could it be a coincidence?
While Sookie wasn’t a common name amongst my people at all, I didn’t know if it was more prevalent in this realm. The nickname had come from Great-grandfather.
He’d called it unique, like me.
Could that be a coincidence?
I pushed myself into a sitting position and looked back at the grinning oaf, who was holding one finger up on one hand and two on the other, and repeated, “Sookie?”
And then turning to the old woman, I added, “I thought you’d said your kin didn’t know the sex of the child lost.”
“We didn’t,” she answered sadly.
But it was the oaf who added, “Momma was just sure she was havin’ a girl. She even decorated the nursery in nothin’ but pink and had me practice sayin’ the name Sookie over and over, on a count I kept sayin’ Sucky.”
And then giving me a teasing glance, he added, “Now that would probably suit you just fine.”
It was too much.
All of it was too much.
My mind was a mass of turmoil, so I got to my feet and without saying another word, I ran.
Could it be?
I’d been told my father died before I was born and my mother during my birth. The way it had been explained to me led me to believe they’d known all along what my purpose was and had been proud to have conceived the unique hybrid, destined to fulfill the debt.
That they had known all along what the significance of my birth was.
But if it was true – if I was the sibling of the oaf – then why would the mother decorate a nursery for the child?
Had Master known?
Was that why he’d taken me here?
Was that why he had a fondness for the Stackhouse family?
It had been at his behest that I searched my blood for my own the night we’d rescued the girl.
So was everything he’d done for them his way of showing me some sort of kindness by taking care of my kin?
Did it matter?
Any of it?
I was still having a difficult time believing I was that closely related to any of them. I could tell just by looking at them, none of them had the essential spark.
Wouldn’t my own brother have traces of our light as well?
But if all of it was true and he had been born with the spark, then he would have been the chosen one meant to repay our debt.
And then I wouldn’t be here now.
Or probably anywhere at all.
Before I knew it I came to the pond where Master and I had played our hunting game. It seemed like a lifetime ago now, but it had only been a few days.
And yet so much had changed.
I was just barely within reach of being able to sense those within the house, so I plopped down onto the grass and kept one mental eye on him, while the rest of me tried to sort through the mess that was my thoughts.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make much progress.
Because it was as I was working my way through my tangled mind, when the telltale light appeared just behind me, as did the voice that went with it, asking, “Why so sad, Princess?”
I was on my feet, with my called swords in my hands, before I even turned around. And seeing the unfamiliar face staring back at me, I was surprised to find he hadn’t cloaked himself.
And that he was smiling.
His smile only grew when I launched myself at him, laughing as he blocked my blows with a sword of his own, while he said, “You live up to expectations.”
“And you will die with mine,” I gritted out and re-launched my offensive.
He was obviously skilled with a sword and blocked every thrust and lunge I made towards him. But finally getting the outlet all of my recent frustrations demanded, I was glad for it.
Master avoiding the elephant in the room that was me.
My impossible-to-me ties to the Stackhouses.
My confusion and growing doubt about all that I’d been told about my origins.
And therefore my doubts about everything my great-grandfather had ever told me.
It would be a shame to kill him so soon when I had all of that built up within me.
“Why did you kill Madden?” I asked, dodging his sword just as he deftly avoided my own.
It was an assumption on my part that he had been the one, but it proved correct when he narrowed his eyes with his reply of, “For the same reason you ended Compton.”
Madden had harmed his kin?
“I didn’t,” I argued, not caring for his reasons when they went against Master’s interests, and hissed when he managed to nick my forearm, drawing blood with the two inch wound. “His king ended him for treason.”
“And you would have done it yourself if you hadn’t deferred to him instead,” he argued.
It was an argument I’d learned from Master’s child.
But his presumption about Compton’s death meant nothing. You didn’t need to be a telepath to know that.
But as I continued to attack him – while he continued to evade every intended blow – I noticed there was something different about his light. Instead of appearing like a distant star, as did every other I’d ever known, his was like looking at a light, fully encased within a bubble.
I didn’t know what to make of it.
“You’re quite good with a sword,” he offered.
Unfortunately, so was he.
“You speak as though you know me,” I volleyed back. “But I know we’ve never met before.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t know who you are,” he smiled wistfully. “I’ve been waiting to meet you for a very long time. I just didn’t expect to have to wait this long.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, unable to not be sucked in by his words.
And in the process, unable to avoid the tip of his sword on his next lunge, which left another two inch cut to my shoulder.
“Just how many fairies do you think are left in this realm?” he asked. And before I could answer, he did it for me and said, “Before you there was only me.”
“And why would I care?” I asked and then added, “And why would you when I am not a full blooded fairy?”
“Why would I care you’re not full-blooded?” he asked in return. “I have been alone for a very long time, Princess. It was full-blooded fairies who abandoned me in this realm at the end of the war, just as your great-grandfather abandoned you here. The very same man who sealed my fate when he sealed the portals and set me on this path.”
I hadn’t been abandoned.
“You don’t have to be alone, Princess,” he smiled. “Neither one of us do.”
I wasn’t alone.
I had Master.
He had been distant lately, but he hadn’t attempted to send me away. And he still felt affection for me.
That I was sure of.
But instead of choosing that path to argue over, I chose another and asked, “What path is that?”
Not that I cared. I was hoping to distract him enough in order to deliver a fatal blow.
But then it was I who received a metaphorical blow when he revealed, “The one that has led me to you.”
And I had a feeling he wasn’t talking about our fight.
“I know you have had his blood,” he challenged. I didn’t need to ask whose, so when I didn’t acknowledge his statement, he offered, “I can teach you how to block the blood magic that would allow him to find you. It would even work against your fairy kin. Something I would know since I’ve had to use it myself in order to remain undetected by my own full-blooded Fae kin who have turned against me and entered this realm over the years to try and hunt me down. We can flee together right now, if you are willing.”
“Why would I?” I scoffed. “I have no need to hide from my kin, nor my Master. I made a vow and I intend to keep it!”
He smiled back at me ruefully and then moved quicker than I was prepared for. Scratching a small ‘X’ onto my chest over my heart, he darted back out of my reach and said, “I know. But I want you to know I am not your enemy, Princess. Niall isn’t as saintly as you believe him to be. The fact you stand here now, proud to be the slave to a vampire, should tell you that. But know this. A war is coming. And you should think long and hard before choosing which side to stand on when it begins.”
I already knew which side I would be standing on, but hearing him refer to me as a slave struck hard in my heart. I was used to being subjected to disdain by my kind, but only because I wasn’t fully their kind.
Never had my destiny been the cause for disparagement of any kind.
“We shall meet again, Princess,” he called out before he popped away.
I stood there in shock for I don’t know how long, with grass in my hair from my earlier bout with the oaf, and now cuts on my body and blood on my clothes from the fairy whose name I didn’t even know.
When I could finally gather the will, I teleported myself to Master’s chambers, questioning everything I thought I knew.
Was my great-grandfather as disingenuous as he’d claimed?
I didn’t want to believe so, but even Master had come out and said he didn’t trust him. I’d brushed it off as him just being cautious of a fairy he hardly knew, but perhaps there was more to it?
And what about the Stackhouses?
Could the old woman actually be my grandmother?
And worse yet – could the oaf be my brother?
I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Any of it. And now that I was back to looking at my initial frustration, lying on the bed dead to the world, I had to wonder if perhaps he’d spoken out of turn when claiming me as his girlfriend to another vampire king. He hadn’t acted like a boyfriend.
Not that I would know, really.
But maybe he regretted it now. Or perhaps he thought I would read too much into his words and have expectations of him.
Maybe he wanted to take the words back.
It would explain the distance that he put between us. His affection for me was still there, but sometimes those things couldn’t be helped.
I knew that firsthand.
But, even if so, he didn’t view me as his slave, did he?
At least that thought was easily cast aside, recalling when he’d attempted to release me from our debt, after I’d saved his life on the highway.
No, he saw me as something else.
I’d shielded my mind from everything when I returned to his chambers. I needed to be alone in my head to try and work my way through everything going through it. And with him in my physical sight, I didn’t have to worry about his welfare.
But still mired down in all of my thoughts, I hadn’t sensed him awakening until he sat up in the bed and whipped his head toward me. The movement startled me and my head snapped up in time to see his fangs snap down, with his eyes narrowing at me as he asked in a deadly tone, “Who did this to you?”
All of you.
I didn’t say those words, but since I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, I remained silent. So he moved forward – and every inch he closed between us seemed to correlate to the amount of wetness I could feel filling my eyes – when he repeated, “Who. Did. This?”
His hand moved to trail over my cuts, giving me my first and only clue as to what he was asking, but my answer tumbled out of my lips without thought.
“Does it matter?”
Did he truly care?
I hated feeling this way. I wanted it to all go away. To go back to when everything was fine.
When I knew my great-grandfather was a great man.
When I knew my human kin were dead.
When I knew who I was.
The treacherous tears escaped from my eyes and his hand gently tilted my chin, so that he could wipe them away. He said nothing at all until I finally met his gaze and his tone softened as he asked, “What is wrong?”
But I didn’t say that because my mouth was just as treacherous as my tears it seemed and the question fell out of my heart and through my lips before I could stop it.
“Do I matter?”