**Tuesday December 23, 2003**
I rose to the sound of a heartbeat in my house.
It didn’t belong.
There weren’t any pending errands to give Mahalia a reason to be making any deliveries. Even then, I was sure it wasn’t her because the heartbeat was too healthy to be that of a 250-pound woman in her sixties. Mahalia’s heart began racing between her car and the house.
The heartbeat upstairs was young and healthy… and completely relaxed.
I dressed quickly even though I was still trapped in my room for a while, and listened for clues.
Nothing. No walking, no shuffling, no bumping.
I hadn’t risen to a robbery in progress. Why would I be that lucky?
Not only would I have had the entertainment of toying with burglars, but if I wasn’t being robbed, it didn’t leave many options for why anyone would be in my house.
Whoever was waiting for me didn’t seem to appreciate how quickly their evening would take a turn for the worse.
Opening the door to my room and walking up the stairs slowly didn’t help me find the heartbeat. It was distant enough that I was sure it wasn’t coming from the kitchen…
And as soon as I opened the door to the basement, I heard, “It’s just me. I’m in the library.”
In my house?
When I walked into my office, she was sitting at my desk with her legs up. Red leather skirt, a snug gold sequined top with pumps Pam would envy and garnet jewelry… Very Christmassy and perfectly comfortable.
“Which one are you?”
She set my copy of Walden on the desk and giggled as she raised her hands to show her tattoo to me. “Do I owe you an apology for stealing your blood?”
I shook my head and sat on the sofa. “I haven’t decided who to blame for that yet. Hadley knew three years ago. Linda’s experience was two years ago. Jason’s was eight months ago… Have you calmed down from your update or do you have something to tell me too?”
She laced her fingers together and rested them on her stomach. “They all thought they were dreaming though.”
“You spend too much time with Vampires… That was a non-answer.”
She giggled again and tilted her head back. “A couple of weeks ago. I was in Hoshinoya. The hot springs… good Lord it was beautiful. Anyway, I’d gone for a swim, and then took a nap. I thought I was dreaming too. I blame the incredibly flirtatious valet and my single status for the fact that I dreamt about fucking my bed buddy… Pitch black room, trancelike euphoric sex I can hardly remember…”
I chuckled, “Oops?”
She nodded. “Funny. That’s what he said when his wife dumped water on us.”
I laughed, “Is he still alive?”
“Nope. Still dead.”
“No. Not Shawn. Thank God. Wouldn’t that be awkward… Anyway… He sat around growling because the poor bastard was blue-balled. His wife gave me a disc of info and pictures they’ve collected from the other versions they’ve dealt with. We’re really lucky to have only dealt with this a handful of times. They’ve done several skips. That’s what they call it. Skipping. It’s a Faerie thing, like an ability. Not all Faeries can do it. Apparently the Stackhouses are part of the can-do-select-few, but we need a bump from Vampire blood, maybe because we’re watered down as hybrids.”
“Pam actually came to that conclusion last night… I called Gawain. He knows something, but he didn’t say what. He’s on his way to Shreveport.”
She rolled her eyes. “He would’ve been here in a week anyway. God forbid he misses something.”
“Tell me about it.”
She sighed, “So… My awakening… I learned that Sophie-Anne is a right cunt. Apparently, she’ll play dirty to add a telepath to her menagerie. That’s a problem for me because I was planning to take some time off and stay home for a while.”
“Sookie Stackhouse shouldn’t have a problem.”
She sighed, “Except my plans to stay home for a while included some side-work in the Area… an effort to avoid a job offer from Halfdan the Horrible. August is booked to Marcos. October is booked to Rhemaxos. I need some time to learn basic Greek and Romanian… Dmitri is pushing to have me for a while starting next January…”
I snorted, “You could just tell Halfdan he can’t afford your rate.”
She snickered, “I know, right? I almost feel bad for him, but then I remind myself what he did to his child and get over the reflex.”
“What did he do?”
“He traded her to Maximo to settle a debt. She’s a sweetheart. Imagine Pam without an evil streak… When I left Saxony, Wouter was trying to buy her from Maximo. He wanted her off the continent to get her away from her Maker tout de suite… but you know how Maximo is. He invented supply and demand.”
“So the more Wouter wants her, the more Maximo wants in exchange.”
“And it’s okay because she’s happy in Venice… anyway… Tonight, I’m checking in with the Sheriff of Area 5 as an agent of Texas. Wallace should be explaining that to Sophie-Anne shortly. Officially, I’m going to church, like a good little girl… The Fellowship is gaining momentum at a frightening rate and they’re getting too much press. I’m starting here, establishing a history as a churchgoer, and cleaning up any evangelical messes I come across. Asa and Val are already working that angle at the Amarillo church. There are friends scattered in the other churches in Texas too. I’m hoping to get enough info on that wanker Steve Newlin to discredit him by the summer.”
“You’re working alone?”
“Do you want to be partners? You look nice in a suit. I’ll bring the muffins and we can ride to sunrise service together.”
I chuckled, “Cute. Do you have a guard?”
“My next stop. Thanks to the skip, I have a line on a local Were I can trust to have my back. I need someone to play house with because couples blend better than singles. Miles is… he’s not even pretend-husband material.”
That was an understatement.
“Who’s your new hubby then?”
“Funny story. It turns out, one Aunt Linda is married to his father… Alcide Herveaux. He fits the bill too. He’ll go to work on a schedule, come home to get a kiss from the wifey-poo in the foyer, and his dinner’s made. Our families are here. So we’ll have company coming and going. We’ll look legit. If he’s not interested, I’ll have Wallace send someone out.”
“You know you have my support… So, you got a brother and twin nephews for Christmas, but your first stop was to visit me? I’m flattered.”
She giggled, “Are you kidding? I’ve wanted to see this library of yours forever. This was my Christmas present to myself. When I die, put me on that shelf.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Besides, I suddenly had a brother and twin nephews to Christmas shop for. Meditating in perfect silence helped me recover from the chaos at the mall.”
“I’m sure… What did you learn during your ‘skip’? Who did you meet with?”
“You mean other than Me and My husband? Isn’t that weird enough?”
“I suppose. I think I’m jealous that you had some sort of fun since the version of you I met was bathed in her own tears.”
“If it makes you feel better, it was pretty fucking awkward to hang out long enough to get the info I needed to reset while their kids were interviewing me about how much money I make as a telepath… At least Alcide thought it was funny…”
“Kids? You said your husband was a Vampire. Adoption?”
“One of them, sort of, but the other one was hers. Mine? Fucking weird.”
“So Hadley skips town and comes home long enough to dump a baby on her cousin. I’m 99 percent sure it was the same version Hadley made her baby-delivery to. The house I woke up at matched the one Hadley remembered. It makes me want to skip again just so I can tell poor Hunter that his mom didn’t dump him so she could live it up. He’s cool with his situation, but he’s got a grudge against Hadley… and Aunt Linda died of cancer. I made an appointment for her to go to the doctor on Monday to get checked out… even though that Linda died a couple of years ago of uterine cancer and my aunt had a hysterectomy when I was in high school. Call me paranoid…”
“I’d call you initiatory.”
“Good. You can back me up when I tell her she’s going… Anyway, Sookie already had her own kid. She was raising him alone for a while because She’s a war widow. I don’t even want to think about the bullet I dodged by not dating JB for long enough to get knocked up. Really cute kid though. Anyway, I drove by the house for giggles on the way here. Not bad, but not on the market.”
“Are you avoiding mentioning your husband to me purposefully?”
She snickered, “Maybe.”
“Planning to look him up?”
“Afraid I’ll tease you?”
“With enthusiasm… I’m sure Pam will have more than a few laughs herself… So…” She reached down to the floor to lift a gift box and set it on the edge of the desk closest to me. “An early Christmas present. Something festive to wear to the party.”
Her eyebrow was pulled up to a point and she was smirking.
“I know that look.”
She shrugged. “You don’t have to wear it.”
“What’s in it for me if I do wear it?”
I was stalling. Part of me wanted to pick it up to test the weight of it. It was a sweater box, but that didn’t mean the box wasn’t full of Christmas lights and batteries.
“Are you afraid of a box?”
“I think I might be.”
She snickered, “It’s just cashmere, you pussy.”
“It’s a cashmere sweater.”
“What exactly is festive about it?”
She laughed at the ceiling, “Oh. My. God! What has Pam done to you!? It’s red. No ornaments. No grotesque baubles. No embroidery. No lights. It’s just a simple red cashmere V-neck sweater.”
As I finally reached for the box, I asked, “That’s it?”
She bit her lip and closed her eyes. “Tissue paper and a dryer sheet to get rid of the new-clothes-smell.”
I untied the ribbon around the box cautiously, wondering if there was an Asshole Day Eve I should worry about… or a package of ornaments behind the desk.
She watched me take the lid from the box, and blew a raspberry at me when I lifted the sweater to be sure nothing was under it or on the back.
It was beautiful and one of the softest cashmeres I’d ever touched… but she’d done that, made me think she was up to something, intentionally.
She snorted, “If you waited any longer to open it, I would’ve made you wear the bow…” She stood up and offered, “I’ll get out of your hair. I need to go meet my husband.”
I stood up with her and pulled the sweater over my head. “Oh no, I’m going with you. I need to see this proposal.”
She laughed through her nose and turned for the door. “I’ll wait in the Jeep. You wore your ass-kicking boots upstairs to exterminate an assassin, and you left your keys and phone downstairs.”
When I opened the passenger door of the Jeep, Sookie was moving a handful of items to the backseat, including a few manila folders… and she’d slipped a red velvet Santa hat onto her head.
I only waited until she backed out of the driveway before I reached back for the folders.
“A dossier on your husband perhaps?”
“Wallace is very thorough. Alcide’s a very good boy… The other files are our first home and my references.”
“You’ve taken the fun out of it. I want to know about the Vampire the other you is married to.”
She snorted, “He lives in your Area. You already know everything about him… unless… you’re… slipping?”
“You’re being difficult again.”
“You like a puzzle.”
I chuckled, “What did you call him while you were helping him cheat on his wife?”
She panted, “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God… I think it’s a nickname though.”
I laughed as I reached back for the padded shipping envelope. “I would hope so… I certainly don’t know anyone by that name. If you enjoyed yourself, why aren’t you planning to pay him a visit?”
“I have a bible-thumper to discredit.”
“Right. What was I thinking? You mentioned cleaning up. If Alcide’s such a good boy, then how do you know he’ll be willing to do wet-work?”
She snorted, “Do you really think I didn’t learn a few things from the company I’ve been keeping?”
“You’ve been doing your own wet-work?”
“Once you’ve see Mee work, there isn’t much to slipping something into a drink… Besides, the plan isn’t to kill anyone, just assassinate their characters. That prick Newlin probably has a video in a safe deposit box somewhere with a vaguely worded warning. ‘If you’re watching this, they finally managed to silence me.’ He dies, the wife takes the video to the press, and he’s a martyr. No thanks.”
“What’s your plan then?”
“He’s going to drug and rape me. That’s w-”
“Not really. Staged. For the next few months, he’ll be taking liberties in Dallas where the church is based… When it’s my turn, I’ll cry rape and the other crimes are discovered…”
“Where do you plan to find his other victims?”
“Vampires. They’re already lined up. Some of them will be Vampires posing as Human girls he’s drugged and taken to hotel rooms. Some of them will be posing as Vampires he’s raping during the day. The point is to paint him as a freak with a thing for limp bodies… It seems like the fastest way to have his flock disavow him; draw a direct line from Newlin’s staged behavior to the belligerent propaganda… The Anti-Vampire preacher is publically self-deprecating his own fetish… Oh, and let’s not forget that S E X outside of the holy union of marriage is bad.”
“No one’s actually going to be raped.”
“Nope. The camera’s time will be adjusted to AM from PM. Wallace pulled out the big guns and asked for Gawain to direct. We hope four ‘drugged’ rapes will be enough. Two felonies should be enough for life in prison, and God only knows if the courts will do anything about the Vampire ‘rapes’ but the connection needs to be there. Whether or not the cops choose to do anything about it is immaterial, because the videos will still be leaked. Even if his flock is disgusted by the idea of anyone having sex with a Vampire, they won’t be able to ignore the depravity.”
“And how far do you plan to go?”
“He’s going to set up his camera and I’m going to make a show of not feeling ‘right’ while he pops a couple of Viagra. I’m going to say ‘no’ a few times while he tries to get my clothes off… and then I grab the camera, run from the room, screaming bloody murder, to call the cops. The cops will find the videos of the other girls on the hard drive of his laptop, a bottle of Viagra, and the pills he used to drug me.”
“Your face will-”
“Rape victims get blurred out if they’re on television at all. No one will ever know it was me… Well, except for whoever Wallace brags to, but that’ll be a short list of people who will probably already suspect it… My script, Gawain’s direction. He’s got complete control of the production. You know he won’t let anyone get hurt. Newlin’s pulpit will be flushed down the toilet, but he isn’t even going to suffer… well, except maybe a little blue balls after he’s arrested with a system full of Viagra, but I think Wallace will probably line up a sexy way for Newlin to get his happy ending.”
“Your script? Sookie, you’re diabolical.”
She giggled, “Flatterer.”
I chuckled as I reached into the shipping envelope, “You really do spend too much time with Vampires.”
The first thing I found was a pair of velvet boxes… Probably the blandest bridal set I’d ever laid eyes on.
She giggled, “Those deserve a WASP Award. They came with a crock pot and a riding lawnmower.”
I chuckled and pulled a pair of key chains from the parcel… A pair of brass Hs with a house key dangling from each one.
The next item was a blister-pack full of blue and red pills labeled Restoril.
She offered, “I need to test-drive it so I know how it feels. It’s just a prescription sleeping pill, but I can’t slur if it doesn’t make me slur, stagger if it doesn’t make me stagger… I’m the only Human victim and we need to find a drug I can use because it needs to be in my system because they’ll test me..”
“Understandable, but what if you have a reaction?”
“We’ll try a different medication then… I don’t plan on taking it when I’m alone.”
The last of the contents were papers… A New York wedding license for Erica and Alcide. Hotel confirmations and brochures for a honeymoon suite in Niagara Falls. A cashier’s check for two million dollars made out to Alcide Herveaux. A printed email from Connelly confirming his part, which was officiating the wedding. A contract outlining Herveaux’s responsibilities as her husband and guard, including a confidentiality article. Annulment papers awarding Herveaux with the house they’ll share while they’re pretending to be happily married.
As Sookie turned into a subdivision, I snorted, “Wallace is very thorough.”
“He’s horribly bored and has plenty of time to think of every caveat.”
I definitely understood that curse/blessing.
Sookie turned the Jeep onto a double driveway and stopped next to a large pickup truck with a Herveaux & Son logo on the door.
She winked as she took her recruiting materials from me and slid from her seat.
I lagged behind, slowly making my way towards the porch, not wanting to immediately put the Were on the defensive.
When Herveaux opened the door, he took his time looking her over before offering, “Ho… Ho… Ho.”
Sookie giggled, “Did someone ask Santa for a woman who can cook, bait her own hook, and looks great in a bikini?”
“Only every year since puberty. How can I help you?”
He didn’t seem to notice when I chuckled.
She answered, “You could take me to Niagara Falls and marry me.”
He nodded slowly. “Let me grab my coat.”
She offered her hand to shake his, but he only held it. “Erica Weiss. Nice to meet you Alcide.”
“Nice to meet you too. Is this a joke?”
She shook her head. “No. I’d like to make a proposal.”
“Do you sell a lot of God dressed like that?”
She chuckled, “Funny you should mention God… I don’t guess Colonel Flood got in touch with you yet, huh?”
“He sent you?”
“No, but you were supposed to be told to expect company… Do you mind inviting me and my friend in so we can talk?”
He scanned most of his lawn before he spotted me. Sookie’s top was an incredible ice-breaker.
“As hot as you are, I’m not inviting a surprise Vampire into my house.”
She leaned towards him and whispered, “You know they don’t really need an invitation from other Supes, right? Sorry to kill your false sense of security, but I was just letting you know I’m not alone. That’s Sheriff Eric Northman.”
He sized me up and asked Sookie, “So why are you here?”
Sookie gave him a bright smile. “I just need a bodyguard.”
As he stepped back, he groaned, “A bodyguard, huh?”
“That’s it… I make an offer. You decide. We leave. Can’t hurt to hear me out.”
He growled at himself as he stepped back. “Come on in.”
A phone began ringing as he led us to his living room and invited us to sit.
Colonel Flood started the call by saying, “You know how low my threshold is for Vampire shit, right Alcide?”
Alcide eyed Sookie and me as he answered, “I’ve heard that a few times, yes sir.”
“And as irritating as their shit is, I can’t say I mind Northman, but if you tell him I said that, I’ll abjure you.”
Sookie pulled her lips over her teeth and turned towards me, but Herveaux thought it was funny too.
Alcide snorted, “I promise to keep my mouth shut.”
“I know jackshit about the King of Texas, but I just got off the phone with that loon. There’s a girl on her way to see you about a job. One of her references is the Packmaster of Cactus Plains. Huge Pack. I checked that already. Asa Forbes says she’s golden, and you can call him directly if you want a reference. Says he was her guard for five years and she’s great to work with. He also said you could call Northman for a recommendation. He’s seen her work too.”
“What’s this about?”
“Forbes told me the less I know the better, but in the long run, it’s in a Were’s best interest to get onboard with whatever she’s asking you to do.”
“Right. I guess I’ll keep an eye out.”
Flood cleared his throat and offered, “If I’m putting things together right, I have an idea of what’s going on… You let me know if you need any help with Jackson or the pack.”
Alcide argued, “Oh, that bodes well. Why the hell would I need backup with my father?”
Sookie reached into the shipping envelope and opened the ring boxes to set them on the coffee table.
Alcide’s eyes bulged and he mumbled, “I gotta go. She’s here…” He ended the call and shoved his phone into his pocket while he stared at the rings like they were rattlesnakes. “What the fuck are those?”
Sookie giggled, “Wedding rings… Want me to start explaining?”
“I’m a telepath working for King Milne. He’s having a big problem with the Fellowship. I need a bodyguard to stay with me while I spy on the Reverend of the local congregation. The best cover for that is a pair of newlyweds. Your work schedule won’t change. You’ll come and go on your schedule except for when we attend church functions. You’ll just be putting on the show for a few months while I dig around in the minds of the parishioners…”
She leaned forward, and began laying the items from her parcel on the table…
The cashier’s check and contract.
“You agree to the contract and you’ll be paid half in advance…”
The plane tickets and wedding license.
“We elope to Niagara Falls where a friend of mine will marry us…”
The file on their new house and the keys.
“We move into the house next door to Reverend Gleason…”
The annulment papers.
“And when the job is finished, our marriage will be annulled, and you’ll get another check like this one. Your bonus will be the million-dollar house we lived in.”
He raised his eyebrows and closed his eyes for a moment. “Fake marriage to cover being a bodyguard. Why do you need a bodyguard?”
“Truth be told, I don’t see a reason for one this time around. You’d be more of a matchmaker shield. Sunday services are a nightmare for singles, not to mention how much attention they get. The endgame includes staging my rape to completely discredit Newlin and all of his bigoted little satellite hate-factories. The reason Forbes mentioned that it’s in a Were’s best interest is because when y’all come out eventually, the Fellowship will revise their mission statement to include all Shifters in their manifesto. Milne’s spies have intel that Newlin’s talking about a nationwide television show. The rate of sangiucides will skyrocket if he goes national.”
“Fuck. Like the 700 Club isn’t bad enough… So this is going to be low drag. Other than the wedding thing.”
She nodded. “Minimal as far as risks are concerned because it’s Us versus Humans.”
“Why isn’t Forbes your go-to guy on this?”
“Because he’s in Amarillo with his wife. They’re watching that church for problems… My other usual guards are British. They’re… they prefer the word eccentric, but no matter how you slice it, they stand out. You’re local, so your life won’t be up-ended to go to family dinners and church with me.”
“Ever lost a guard?”
“Frequently. Miles isn’t fond of Beijing’s subway system. He was melancholy for the Tube by the time we were in Beijing for a week.”
I almost mentioned that she brutalized Asa until he warded her into a room when the World Trade Center was attacked. She wanted to go to Ground Zero to use her ability to find survivors in the rubble. She was devastated when Gawain finally took her that night. The only survivors had been located and workers were already trying to free them.
He shook his head and chuckled, “What’s in that folder then?”
She took the folder from her lap and handed it to Alcide. “My references… Call as many as you want, but the file goes with me when I leave.”
When he opened the folder he blinked several times… No doubt her Terracotta Army was daunting… For that matter, I was impressed with her list of contacts. She’d been part of more courts than I had, and I hadn’t heard any rumors to suggest she wouldn’t be welcome to return to any kingdom she’d worked in.
Sookie took the contract from the table and offered it to him. “You should probably consider this before you try to decide which King to call.”
He gulped and nodded as he took the papers from her…
Thus began the waiting.
Sookie seemed perfectly content to wait for him to scrutinize the document. She was as perfectly still as she could be. Crossed legs. Hands clasped together on her lap.
It had been nearly fifteen minutes when she finally leaned over to whisper, “Is your phone silenced? Why would Flood call Alcide before he tried to confirm anything with you?”
“I have Hadley’s phone. They were swapped in the confusion last night…” I pushed her hair over her shoulder so I could take a look at her earring. “Did you finally start buying jewelry?”
She shook her head. “I made the mistake of telling Wallace I wanted a rainbow for my birthday. The smartass sent me a rainbow of those little silk drawstring jewelry pouches, loaded with corresponding gemstones inside.”
“A game you play?”
“I try to stump him, and he always goes nuts… I asked for Will Smith a few years ago, just to see what he’d pull together. DVDs of everything he’d ever been in wasn’t enough. I got concert tickets too…”
“And the entertainment system Adele scoffs at.”
“That’s the one…”
She was interrupted by her cell phone… Before she had the chance to greet the caller, Adele huffed, “Are you quite finished with your secrets yet?”
“Why? Is something wrong or are you just stressed out about the pageant?”
“Where are you!?”
“In Shreveport on business.”
“You don’t have business in Shreveport.”
“I do now… Really, Gran, I’m in the middle of something.”
“You’ve got company. That Gawain is here.”
‘That Gawain’… as though he was a disease.
Sookie cooed, “Good. I was afraid he’d miss Asshole Day.”
Gawain argued in the background, “Oh no! I’m here to help! Asshole Day is hereby postponed until further notice!”
Sookie giggled, “I missed you, old man. Help Gran set up for the pageant while you wait for us. Eric and I will probably only be another hour or so. We’ll be there before the party starts.”
“You’re with Eric?”
“Yeah. Hadley’s phone got swapped with his during the clusterfuck last-”
Adele barked, “You. Watch. That. Mouth!”
Sookie snickered, “I forgot you were holding the phone, Gran. We’ll be there soon.”
Before Adele could hang up, she was already warning Gawain there would be children at the party and to keep his hands off of Linda.
As Sookie slid her phone into her pocket again, she whined, “Watching Trey’s head explode is part of the fun of having Gawain around.”
Gawain had accompanied Sookie home a handful of times, and his affectionate mannerisms towards Linda were ‘fun for the whole family’. Trey twitched every time Gawain’s name was uttered. Adele had chosen sides on the matter, hence ‘that Gawain’.
I chuckled, “Tell me there will be mistletoe.”
As Sookie nodded, Alcide looked up from his contract to ask, “Wait. Trey and Linda Dawson?”
Sookie nodded. “Linda’s my aunt… And you might know my sister-in-law-to-be, Marcy Taylor.”
“Your name is Weiss. I’ve known Marcy since we were kids… She’s engaged to a Human named Stackhouse.”
“Not that that means anything… I have a brother named Rousseau too, but… I piss people off for a living. I have an alias to protect my family.”
Sookie snorted, “Know him too?”
He shrugged. “There’s a guy who works in my shop named Rousseau.”
I asked, “Brandon?” When his eyes bulged, confirming the connection, I turned to Sookie and spoke in German, “I have a theory. Your Vampire husband is Alcide, but he was brought over.”
She giggled in German, “It really does seem like Stackhouse and Herveaux paths like crossing, doesn’t it?”
“Am I right?”
“No. He was just a friend of the family.”
“You mentioned that he thought something was funny.”
“He was laughing at my reaction to the way the kid was trying to sell his stepfather to me.”
“The Vampire you won’t offer any details about, yes?”
“That’s the one.”
“Is it Gawain?”
Without warning, she gagged, leaning to dry heave over my lap.
When she was finished disgusting a Vampire and a Werewolf, she put her hand over my mouth. “You’ve hit your word limit.”
I mumbled, “That wasn’t an answer.”
Alcide cleared his throat and asked, “So… the travel clause…”
Sookie continued to hold her hand over my mouth as she explained, “It’s vague just in case. Whenever possible, we’ll travel on weekends and holidays. At the moment, we’re only planning on Niagara Falls to get married and Dallas to stage my rape… but who knows, maybe we’ll get invited to go on something exciting like a retreat!”
“And we’re looking at six months, give or take.”
“Hopefully less, but yes. Newlin’s other ‘victims’ are lining up to go to Dallas as we speak.”
“All of them willing.”
“And completely aware of every facet of the plan. Yes… Steve Newlin will be glamoured to pop a Viagra and have his way with either Vampires who are playing dead, or Vampires pretending to be drugged Humans… and I doubt fake-marrying me will straighten out your boomerang.”
He actually looked embarrassed when he left his chair, mumbling to himself about finding a pen.
I asked, “Boomerang?” into Sookie’s palm.
“An ex who keeps coming back. He thought, maybe, he’d get the added bonus of Debbie moving on and leaving him alone.”
“Oh. I thought you were hinting that Johan was your husband.”
She tightened her hold over my mouth. “He’s not even Australian. He’s German.”
“But he Lords over Australia.”
Before the Wolf returned, I licked her hand, expecting her to pull it away. It worked with Pam, but Sookie just raised an eyebrow at me and snorted, “Amateur.”
With her arm raised to cover my mouth?
With her ribs exposed?
Tickling her side only made her squeeze my face more tightly…
In the midst of our battle of wills, we didn’t notice the Wolf had returned until he cleared his throat to get our attention.
He eyed us as though we were children as he asked, “What’s the plan? Wedding, moving, families? Am I going to need to get down on one knee at Christmas dinner?”
Sookie moved her hand and wiped her moist palm on my cheek before straightening her top.
“We’ll leave on New Year’s Eve. Get married. Spend the night in the honeymoon suite. Come home. I’ve been living out of suitcases for years, so I won’t need to do much…”
“Done. Milne will have the truck delivered to the house while we’re on our little honeymoon.”
“Why Niagara? Do you have a thing for it?”
She snickered, “No dream wedding ideals for me. Milne picked it because it’s cliché.”
“We get married, and then we… just wait?”
“Hanging out like roommates… Do you want to introduce me to your dad?”
He nodded. “Definitely… If Flood’s going to back me up, making my old man sweat for a few months will be fun.”
She laughed, “You’re going to let him think it’s real?”
“Shhhhhh. We’re dealing with top secret Vampire shit here.”
“Tomorrow’s Asshole Day.”
“Perfect. I’ll pop the question then. Think you can cry on cue?”
She snickered, “Not while he’s choking on his tongue… I’ll do my best. If he throws me off, I’ll just squeal… everyone stares… Instant case of red-ass.”
Alcide started chuckling, but I warned, “It’s funny until it’s your turn. She’s evil.”
She scoffed, “Pssssh. Like I ever assholed you.”
“Excuse me? You most certainly did asshole me.”
“If you’re talking about the thing with Hapi, you did that to yourself.”
“The thing with Hapi? Really? Like a dead birthday present is trivial?”
She snorted, “I didn’t say Hapi was dead. You presumed…”
“I presumed for hours.”
She giggled evilly, “You should have seen the look on Atum’s face while you went on and on…”
It was only funny two years later, but at the time, the damage I’d done to my office at Glamour wasn’t something to laugh at.
I turned to Alcide and repeated, “Evil… I sent a cat to my friend for his birthday. She called me and left a message that suggested it was dead. She said I should call the breeder, and asked if I insured the cat… She said the cat’s crate was a ‘hot mess’… It was August. I assumed some asshole left the animal to bake in the sun on a tarmac. The ‘hot mess’ she was referring to is what the cat did to its cushion while it was caged.”
He countered, “Cat.”
Sookie snickered, “Not like a frou-frou housecat. He’s an ocelot… I have one too, but she’s still in Beijing with Atum. He’ll be here shortly after the wedding though… with three cats. His, mine and ours… Sorry. They’re well-behaved inside though.”
He nodded. “The bright side- my dad will think I’m pussy-whipped for letting you have a cat.”
I chuckled in German, “He will be by the time you’re finished with him…” The way her jaw dropped was priceless. “One massage…”
She elbowed my ribs and began the silent treatment.
She turned her attention to Alcide and joked, “Bored Vampires are worse than drunk frat boys, just so you know. Most of my friends are Vampires. I’ll make sure you know how to ward your room so you don’t wake up glued into bed.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “You’re going to have Vampires coming and going while we live next door to fangaphobic bible-thumpers?”
“Not really. Just my Uncle Gawain, and cousins Eric, Pam, and Shawn… The thing is that most Humans wouldn’t know a Vampire if it bit them… So, do you want to come meet the family?”
“What’s the party for?”
“My grandmother and aunt have a sandwich shop in Bon Temps. They have a Christmas pageant every year. Games, prizes, food, stockings, door prizes.”
I added, “The door prizes are an excuse to give out gift cards to neighbors who need them.”
I nodded. “Telepathically.”
Sookie explained, “My ability is usually contracted for profit and loss prevention. It’s my attempt to keep from falling off the karmic scales.”
Bullshit. Grappling for karmic balance didn’t make people cry… But I was willing to give her credit for convincingly sounding apathetic on the topic. For all the good it would do. If Alcide joined us in Bon Temps, he’d see the truth (that she tried to keep her pathological compassion closeted) as soon as Sookie heard someone hope the power wasn’t turned off before Christmas morning.
He nodded understandingly. “Gotcha… Are you going to give your grandmother a heart attack and introduce me as your fiancé?”
“Ohhhh noooo… that would be biblically catastrophic. I’ll introduce you as my new guard tonight. I’ll tell them what’s what the day after Christmas so Gran has time to mentally browbeat me about the sanctity of marriage for a couple of days before we fly to New York.”
He chuckled, “You fucked Forbes.”
He hadn’t missed a beat.
Sookie elbowed me again when I started laughing.
She explained, “It wasn’t like that. Asa and I were together for three years before I helped him find another Were who hated the marriage-breeding pressure-cooker as much as he did. He was mine. He didn’t as much as touch his wife until after their baby was born via insemination… by then, I’d cut him loose because he wanted to be with his baby girl. Those two make an excellent case for arranged marriages.”
Alcide snorted, “So, you caught shit because your grandmother doesn’t get the bullshit, huh?”
“She understands it. Maybe because Trey explained that’s why he only ever really lofted with Long Tooth… the horrible luck he had with his first wife and all. Being pressured to keep torturing themselves. Gran never said anything about it, but as open-minded as she is, her thinking changed once we told her we found a Dueña for Cactus Plains. She couldn’t get past the idea that I was breaking Valerie’s heart…”
I added, “Which clearly wasn’t the case. Valerie Forbes treated Sookie like they were sisters…”
Sookie corrected, “Still does…” Sookie stood up and sighed, “So, are you coming? It might be worth it just for the food and the snowball fight.”
“A snowball fight in Louisiana?”
She nodded. “Your outfit’s fine. I’m extra-festive as a joke. Everyone I talked to since I got home this morning reminded me that the little red dress I wore last Christmas got too much attention. I’ll change before the party.”
I nodded. “I have photos. A teenager sat on her lap with mistletoe and took a few liberties that can’t be mentioned because he’s a minor. His mother was mortified. His father was jealous…”
While Alcide laughed that the boy was a ‘lucky little shit’, Sookie scowled at me.
I added, “What? I think you should wear that through the party. We can take bets on how many men will be caught drooling.”
She turned to leave and snorted, “Now you have to come, Alcide. Eric needs a ride.”