Other than directions, there wasn’t any conversation during the drive to Sookie’s house…
The aged pavement cut through the center of more than 120 acres of thick cypress trees draped with Spanish moss. The temperature had dropped low enough that the area was perfectly still except for a few distant hoof beats… but it was easy to imagine the chorus of active spring and summer wildlife, especially given that the shoreline was deep enough for the air to smell like foliage instead of bog. Dali, Hapi and Ubasti would more than likely be unhappy whenever they needed to leave… For that matter, Atum would more than likely think of reasons to stay through the summer.
The house’s style was modern for its age. It reminded me of the Sonneveld House in Rotterdam. Nieuwe Bouw. It was a little piece of Europe nestled in the bayou. The painted brick exterior would have made the building seem austere had it not been for the curved walls made of glass blocks. Backlit by interior lights, the house seemed welcoming, if not warm… She’d found herself quite the little sanctuary.
As we stepped out of my car, I offered, “You’re very lucky I didn’t know this was on the market…”
She grinned from ear to ear. “The house isn’t anything extravagant, but it’s in great shape. I bought another place on Cross Lake a while back, but it’s not really convenient… and I should probably avoid being ‘me’ in Shreveport until I’m done with the church job.”
“I have a house on Cross Lake. It’s not quite as peaceful as this… When did you buy that one?”
She nibbled her lip, humming as she walked past both of her cars, ignoring the small porch next to the privacy fence to lead me to the front door.
It seemed odd for there to be a proper street and a driveway for a house when there weren’t any neighbors… There hadn’t been another house for miles, let alone since we turned onto Hyacinth Bayou Lane… and it ended on a cul-de-sac.
She finally answered, “I bought it just after graduation. It’s a beautiful house, but it’s too big for just me and occasional company. I’ve basically just been recharging the wards on it whenever I’m home. Asa and I snuck away to it a few times. I’ve been using it as storage mostly. It was an impulse buy. The seller was desperate enough to sell that she threw in the contents just to get it off her hands…” She unlocked the door and as she stepped into the house, she offered, “Eric, please come in.”
I had to ignore the collection of framed Da Vinci sketches to notice anything else about the foyer, but it was inviting. A cream sofa had been scattered with tapestry and damask pillows and the furniture wasn’t too large. Then again, I’d seen smaller living rooms.
While she disarmed the security system, I said, “The house doesn’t really fit its settings.”
She snickered, “That’s part of what I like about it… It was a model home. It was going to be a whole development, hence the huge parcel of land it’s on, but for whatever reason the project was abandoned. A few other foundations were poured, but they were cleared out ages ago… Given that this was built in ’38, my guess would be the War put a kibosh on funding.”
“It stands to reason. Most people were only just beginning to recover from the Depression. Anyone who had anything to invest would have been wise to be cautious.”
“Or the developer was a Vampire and he disappeared because he was drafted.”
I chuckled, “That too… New floors?”
When I’d sampled the air, I smelled recently cut wood, freshly applied latex paint, grout, and several men.
“It was due. The hardwood was buckling. I had some renovations done upstairs too…” She tilted her head towards the living room as she led the way…
The long narrow room with ample windows held turquoise furniture and accessories, a large cobalt blue area rug, and side tables made of blue geodes. The peacock accents seemed to inspire the color scheme.
“If I didn’t already know your favorite color is blue, I’d think you only enjoyed working for Rodrigo and Maximo because of the color pallet along the Mediterranean.”
She giggled, “Trust me, the beaches helped me forgive those handsy goons on a daily basis.”
“How handsy were they?”
Whitewashed floors, white walls, white ceiling… but there were little rainbows scattered about that brightened the room. The mosaic backsplash was beautiful and the spectrum bettas in the bowls on the window sill was inspired. The space along the tops of the cabinets was full of brightly colored glass bottles and vases… Unless Sookie had a room draped with pink organza and covered in rhinestones (which I seriously doubted), the kitchen would most likely be Arianna’s favorite.
Sookie joked, “Where the magic happens…”
I could smell as much.
“You’ve already tested the recipe for massage oil, haven’t you?”
She wiggled her eyebrows and pointed to the doors in the breakfast nook which was piled with boxes… On the patio, just past her new patio furniture, were four large glass bottles… just waiting for the sun to help brew them.
Four. Fucking. Gallons. And I’d been more than happy with tiny bottles that fit in my stocking.
“Tell me the back yard is warded.”
“No, but the privacy fence keeps out the gators so they don’t knock the bottles over… I didn’t mean the kitchen is where the magic happens…” She nodded towards the door behind me. “The laundry room.”
I turned to open the door and was overwhelmed with the scent of massage oil… where most people would have used the extra space for hampers or other laundry related furniture and devices, Sookie used the space as her crafting room. A rainbow of bottles and jars, an apothecary cabinet, a glass-top table, a mortar and pestle… All of it was relatively self-explanatory except for the little metal lunchbox. Curiosity got the best of me…
As soon as I opened it, I chuckled, “You keep your spell recipes in a Muppets lunchbox? This is your grimoire?” A couple of dozen laminated index cards, and a small folding photo easel. “Tell me this is temporary.”
It was actually funny, but only because everything else in the house was so deliberate, so matched, so organized.
She nodded and snickered, “Of course it is. Human skin isn’t easy to bind with. I’m working on it.”
She turned to lead me through the den… A bar was situated at one end of the space, and a curved red sofa was tucked into the bend of another glass block wall at the other end. Reds, oranges and yellows… Moroccan poufs, tables, pillows and organza sheers, making me wonder if Sookie had bought any of it herself or if Rodrigo had bought everything at a bazaar.
“Who helped you move everything?”
“When I bought the house, I hired a guy.”
“In five months, your family didn’t mention that.”
“That’s a bone of contention. I hired Ryan so I wouldn’t put anybody out, because I knew a lot of it would fall on the guys with all the heavy lifting… I found out when I got home they felt a little excluded. I didn’t turn down a single offer for them to do anything, but I guess they wanted me to be more needy… Since I didn’t tell them about the house on Cross Lake, they were really excited about me buying this one. Ryan just goes to Sandwich Island to pick up anything that comes for me, and he went to the house on Cross Lake to bring things over… And when I started getting royal Christmas presents, he started taking a lot of stuff back. The furniture in the foyer was in that house when I bought it.”
We passed through the living room again to use the stairs.
“The table with the imperial Russian eagle? I assumed you found it while traveling.”
“Nope. The joint was full of antiques among other curiosities. There are safes that still need to be cracked. Now that I’m home for a while I can do that, but I didn’t trust anyone to do it unsupervised. Asa could hear well enough to open a couple of smaller ones, but the doors on the big ones are too thick.”
“I can do it for you.”
She snickered, “Given what I’ve heard, I’m not sure I can trust you…”
“Congratulations. I’m actually offended…”
She scoffed as we reached the landing, “I was joking…”
She turned the light on in a study lined from wall to wall with sparsely loaded bookcases. A large desk, a very inviting chaise, antique Tiffany lily lamps and chandelier…
I scanned the shelves to realize most of the books in place had antique leather bindings… and there was a painting hanging over the window, obstructing most of the light that would flood the room during the day… Leda and the Swan.
All I could say was, “No.”
She snickered, “If you help me crack the safes, we might end up bickering over the contents. That house was owned by a guy who put your library to shame… And I know about your thing for Da Vinci and his codices, my friend. You should hear about what’s supposed to be in those safes.”
“How much did you pay for that house, and why the fuck didn’t I hear about the sale?” Why did she hear about it when she was globe-trotting?
“One and a half million… And if I had to guess, I’d say you just glossed over the listing since you already have a house in that neighborhood. I only found it because of a flyer for the estate sale. It was up at a restaurant I went to, but it was a few weeks old. I called and asked if any of the books listed were still up for grabs. Crazy bitch offered to give me a break on the price of the house to cover what it would cost to have everything carted off. They were dying to sell and get back home.”
I leafed through a first edition Volume One of Histoire De Ma Vie…
“Did she not have a clue what she owned?”
“She inherited it from her daddy. She wanted to be rid of it ASAP… Poor me, huh?”
“Fuck you. Poor me.”
She laughed, “Her dad’s treasury of ‘forgeries’ has already been authenticated in part… I took the ‘supposed’ Da Vinci paintings with me to New York for that… If you look up Leda and the Swan now, it says ‘recently recovered and part of a private collection’.”
“Paintings? More than one?”
“Three. Two of them were previously undiscovered…” She punctuated that with a toothy grin.
“I can’t promise to behave, but if I have to use opening safes as an excuse to see that house, so be it.”
“Are you going to be bitter when you see it?”
“Do you not realize how bitter I already am?”
She snickered, “See, we can’t settle down and get married. Our pre-nup would weigh as much as a Guttenberg Bible… This is just a fraction of the library. I only moved what I’ve read in the past couple of years, and that’s not much since I don’t like toting around first editions. I’d say… a tenth, maybe less.”
“Why wouldn’t you tell your family? The books alone… Adele would have been frothing at the mouth.”
She sighed, “I basically bought the house just for the library. When I’d been home the Christmas before graduation, I was inundated with house hunting advice because the family wanted me to come home. I really didn’t want them to get their hopes up that I’d be here for any amount of time. Tyson and Francesca were already lined up, and Wallace was pretty sure I’d be busy for as long as I wanted to be.”
“But you bought this house.”
“Now that I have to slow down to learn languages between gigs, I can actually hang my hat somewhere.”
I nodded, taking another book from the shelf. “And most of the American territories are so small, you’d only need to spend a few weeks away at a time.”
“Exactly… Put the book down and back away slowly.”
I re-shelved the book and jokingly whimpered. “You shouldn’t have shown me your office first.”
She snickered, “You know… at least you aren’t being a creep about where my bedroom is.”
As she took my hand again, I asked, “I want to know where my bedroom is. Does that count?”
She shook her head as she led me to another door to show me a room she’d clearly intended for her nieces and nephews to use. Two large bunk beds with stairs built into them… woodland animals… foxes, hedgehogs, frogs, and fish decorated the bedding… dark wood furniture with bright green and orange accessories that included little futon chairs gathered around a fake campfire, and storage bins and shelves full of toys and books.
Sookie laughed when I sprawled on a lower bunk with my feet dangling over the side…
I snuggled a large plush raccoon and offered, “Something needs to be done about the windows, but I’ve died in less comfortable quarters. Location is everything, after all.”
She snorted and walked out, mumbling to herself, “I should have brought my camera. Eric the Northman nuzzling a stuffed raccoon… Who the fuck would believe me?”
I was actually intrigued away from the room when I heard the attic access creak open.
She was just beginning to climb the folding steps when I joined her.
“I knew I’d have Vampire company often enough… The interior designer said her guys weren’t happy about the furniture they had to bring up here. Apparently, I have a bunch of new nicknames.”
I followed Sookie up the steps, enjoying the view thanks to Sookie’s Fangtasia T-shirt, and once we were in the ‘attic’, I could see what she meant about why she’d have new nicknames. The room had a low ceiling, but the space seemed close to the same size as the second floor… There were three king-sized pedestal beds and dressers arranged in groups and partitioned by pony walls… and a lounge area with an entertainment center… and a desk. All of the wood was painted black, but the plush carpet was grey, as was the bedding. The only color was blue, ranging from ice to cobalt; the pillows, Tiffany desk lamps, and small lapis boxes and crystal vases on each dresser. It wasn’t drab or gothic; I’d use the word rich, or calming…
I would have asked who her interior designer was if I wasn’t sure Sookie had been supervising the project from China.
I suggested, “And you thought you might need to keep Klaasje somewhere.”
She shrugged. “It would have only been temporary. I thought she could stay with me until she got her bearings, and then she could use the house on Cross Lake… Mee told me to expect to see her from time to time because of the massage oil. Even when Atum and Gawain aren’t acting as my guards, they think of reasons to check on me. I didn’t want to put them in a room with shutters and keep my fingers crossed…” She nodded towards the floor. “It latches from the inside, and so does the small hatch under the ottoman that leads through the ceiling in the kids’ bathroom. My friends are all old enough to take advantage of a lightproof bathroom, and that one doesn’t have a window… And I had a dumbwaiter installed just in case. Atum gets up so early he can read a whole book before sunset, but the hallway is flooded with sunlight all day so the hatch can’t be opened to pass anything to him.”
New reading material, mislaid cell phones and laptops… She’d thought of everything, right down to the gentle color scheme.
“I’m sure I’ll be very comfortable here. We should discuss a nightly rate…” When she snickered, I continued, “Is it ironic that Pam bought a house closer to your family than you did?”
“Only because of how sensitive her hearing used to be. I was looking for somewhere secluded so I could actually relax. I’ve been waiting for Old Man Compton to die so I could buy the plantation from whatever heirs he might have. I would have torn down the house and started from scratch, but the property is big enough… Watch. Now that I’m all settled in, he’ll croak.”
“That’s usually the case, but you could have just shoved the decrepit bastard down the stairs.”
She turned for the steps and snickered, “You have no idea how many times I considered it. He’s lucky I found this place.”
As I followed, I asked, “Was Patty how you found it?”
“Yeah. She had the listing forever. It was closed up with no utilities for a couple of years… When I told Shawn I was going to approach her…”
I chuckled, “Proper etiquette amongst family, Sookie? Really?”
She snorted, “Shut up. It was automatic, you turd… Anyway, as soon as I mentioned I was in the market, he suggested this place.”
“And I’m willing to house-sit for you while you’re playing house with Alcide in Shreveport.”
She snickered, “Poor you… Atum will be house-sitting here. I guess you’ll just have to look in on the house on Cross Lake.”
I sighed, “It’ll be a hardship, but I’m sure I’ll find something to-”
When she opened the door to what I thought was a bedroom, my jaw dropped.
The space had been a bedroom before it had been fitted to become what I’d imagined when Jason mentioned Pam’s ‘über closet’. There was a Union Jack ottoman and area rug, and a dressing mirror disguised as a British telephone box, but that was the extent of the furniture in the room unless I wanted to count the large red Craftsman tool carts, and I wasn’t sure what to make of those yet… One wall was dedicated to nothing but shoes and bags, and the opposite wall was full of clothing. Everything was arranged by color, but nearly all of the red or black clothing was segregated away from the array of other clothes; keeping Erica and Sookie separate.
As Sookie breezed through to the bathroom, she explained, “The office and the kids’ room are the biggest. I took the smaller two rooms because they shared a bathroom, and I had some remodeling done. Getting rid of the little closets to expand the bathroom gave me room for a much bigger tub.”
I opened the lid of one of the larger toolboxes to find an assortment of jeweled clutches, and the top drawer looked like a jeweler’s display case… Pam would have kept her diamonds in the top drawer, then her pearls, but Sookie’s top drawers were full of opals and turquoise, and aquamarine and sapphires. Full.
“For someone who doesn’t enjoy shopping…”
She started the water and giggled, “You can’t hold it against me that I had fun shopping for my new house… Most of the gifts I get are clothes and accessories, and I don’t mind shopping online… Plus it isn’t so frustrating anymore now that I have a base wardrobe.”
She had the potential to be as bad as Pam.
I didn’t know what the fuck inspired the idea to use toolboxes as jewelry cases, but I was tempted to ask if they were available in pink because they’d make an excellent gift for Pam… then again, I could always just paint them myself… I could paint them to look like Tiffany’s boxes, or leave them red and gold leaf them to look like Cartier boxes… There were definite possibilities.
She snickered, “I was talking to Jason and Shawn about making a case for me and Trey overheard. Aunt Linda uses big tackle boxes for all of her beading and embroidery supplies. It was Jason’s idea, and Hadley and Ari made the velvet pads for the drawers… Who did you get for the Secret Santa?”
“Trey. Ironic since I already bought a car for him this year… He’s getting a Corvette billiard light and accessories to go with the pool table Linda bought him.”
“Nice… Did you get anything for Jules and Emery?”
“When I noticed the game consoles at their house, I opted for Babbage’s gift certificates.”
“That was a good call considering their Tomb Raider addictions.”
“Definitely safer than trying to guess… Is Clovis…”
When I stepped into her bathroom, I almost forgot what I was saying… The glass doors that enclosed the shower and tub area hadn’t had the chance to steam up at all… I’d walked in just in time to see her shampoo suds sliding down her back… ass… legs…
She glanced over her shoulder and reminded me, “Is Clovis what?”
“Is he not sending gifts like the rest? Maximo’s furniture is obvious, Rodrigo’s Moroccan decorations are scattered throughout, and it seems like Tyson wanted you to think about him while you’re naked…”
She was smirking when she turned back to the water. “I forgot to show you the terrace. My French gifts are outside with my tropical potted plants from Saâd and Wyannie… Knock yourself out.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to see what Clovis would have sent if it meant I had to leave the bathroom, but…
Rather than gawk…
I walked down the hallway and hadn’t even opened the door to the terrace before I was laughing…
Fleur de lis… in the wrought iron table and chairs, the chaise, the rug, the lanterns, the small fire pit… I’d clearly underestimated how much Clovis wanted Erica to remember him. And I didn’t know what was funnier, the ‘miniature’ Eiffel Tower that was almost as tall as Sookie or the small stone fountain with a frog in it.
Subtle Clovis. Really subtle.
As I made my way back to Sookie, she offered, “There are Parisian throw pillows and beach towels too.”
“But if we’re going to lose you to anyone, we’ll lose you to Tyson, yes?”
When I returned to the bathroom, Sookie was scrubbing the remnants of Long Shadow from her legs.
She hummed before starting, “If I had to choose right now, yeah… but I like being a free agent. I definitely understand why you lived the nomad life for so long. I like going and doing. New places and faces. Work a little, live a little.”
“I don’t hate Louisiana though. I’m just bored… My cage is smaller than I was used to. As a Knight, I had the option to explore…”
“And you’re bored with exploring Bumfuck, Louisiana? You’re such a malcontent… you suffer from ennui-induced wanderlust.”
“Is there a cure for that?”
“There is. Fly across two time zones and call me in the morning…” Cute. “I get it though. I like it here, but I know I’d be pissed if someone told me I can’t leave. Like house arrest… Mind if I ask why you didn’t tell Sophie-Anne to fuck herself and go to Antilles? Or go to Florida or Yucatan? They would have been closer to your Caribbean interests than Shreveport.”
“Curious because of the braid?”
“Yeah. I’m wondering if there’s an Eric somewhere with sand in his shoes.”
I chuckled, “Foolish as it sounds now, I hadn’t been a Sheriff yet. It was something new. I knew if I tried Antilles or Florida, I’d find myself in Iberia again. Not that Iberia is unpleasant, just an old hat… And Southern Mexico wasn’t an option unless I wanted to leave Pam. South American politics aren’t stable.”
She snorted, “You mean how they name an heir and take a Human newborn as their hourglass on the night they’re crowned? No joke.” At least she knew about their Human egg-timers before she took a Central American contract and was introduced to one.
“Yeah… Some good, some bad… the instability thing, and taking a newborn is pretty weird until you remember that as old as some of these guys are, at least they aren’t sacrificing virgins anymore. The kid and the mom get one hell of a charmed life too… I see the appeal though. From what I hear, they pretty much just pass the throne back and forth between siblings. Vampire A is crowned, and Vampire B gets a vacation until Vampire A’s hourglass runs out; hopefully the kid dies of old age and not because someone had a grudge against Vampire A. Rinse. Repeat… I like Cancun. You should take Yucatan, then you can pass the torch to Pam for a few years so you can stretch your legs.”
I chuckled, “No.”
I snorted, “I already have a clothing-optional bar.”
She turned around to rinse and giggled, “Spoil-sport… Do you still want to be cut loose if we can manage it?”
I nodded while I tried to figure out why the fuck I was just leaning against the counter. “I’ve only thought of one hitch, but it’s a minor problem. Shawn’s a newborn… I don’t want him to be hassled by whoever takes over for me.”
“Minor in that you know I wouldn’t recommend someone who’s likely to harass someone documented as yours, or minor in that Shawn’s history should speak for itself and, as far as established residents are concerned, he’s the last Vampire who would give a new sheriff a reason to notice him?”
Why was I surprised she’d already thought of those details?
“Both… And my heart won’t be broken if the Queen isn’t accommodating. The balance on my contract isn’t worth losing one or both of our heads for. I can take a vacation…. I know… I could bring you over so you can run things for me.”
She turned the water off and wrapped herself with a towel, stepping out of her shower, walking towards me… only stopping once her feet were on either side of mine and sighing, “That might be a good idea… I think you’re slipping in your old age.”
That was cute, but she knew better than to think I hadn’t enjoyed the show.
“I’m not slipping. There’s massage oil by the pool and a room full of priceless art and books.”
The look on her face when she thought she’d been deprioritized… absolutely priceless.
It was completely worth the way she punched my side.
She didn’t budge when I pushed myself from the counter to loom over her. “I’m not sure who told you you’re aggressive, but I’m willing to challenge them. I’m half expecting to find a massage table and Christmas movies in your bedroom.”
Speaking of challenges…
Her eyebrow pulled up to a point as she slipped her fingers into my belt to begin backing towards the door on the other side of the bathroom…
She tried to lead me, tugging me towards the bed, but I didn’t cooperate, making our height difference impossible for her…
Or so I thought.
Not cooperating wasn’t enough… She didn’t even bother trying to rid me of my shirt. When she tried to reach my neck or lips by standing on my foot, she growled, grabbed my cock with one hand, and began yanking my belt with the other.
Pushing my pants down just enough to catch the base of my cock between her teeth as she lowered to her knees… rolling her tongue over that one place…
And all she needed to do was tug behind my knees to make me crash to the floor with her.
She only made eye contact with me for a split second when I growled her name… My fangs were down before she went back to proving how aggressive she was…
Trapping my cock again, dragging her teeth down as she pulsed her tongue…
Pinning my legs to the floor because she was kneeling on my pants…
And when she reached the tip… she rocked back, releasing me to let my cock slap my stomach, while she proceeded to gnaw my thighs like she was preparing me for a feeding…
Every fucking part of my body ached… and I was bound, limited to reaching for her, and taking only hair.
She was on her hands and knees, watching me while I watched her push my cock into her throat… and she knew she was in complete control.
The only rational option for me was to enjoy myself… and plan my countermove…
As though there was an alternative…
She refused any guidance I tried to give her, but she could tell I was being impatient. I wanted to cum. I needed to cum… She’d pushed me so far, so quickly, only to begin doing everything in her power to keep me…
I was on a fucking leash.
And then, just as I was sure she’d change pace again just to continue forcing me to edge, I felt like time stopped… and the way she looked at me, like she’d proved her point, when she finally let me cum, holding my wrists while my fingers were tangled in her hair… and staying exactly as she was…
Not pulling away…
Working my cock with her tongue until I pulled her off, leading her to crawl along my body so I could kiss her, hoping I could disguise that I wasn’t interested in moving yet…
Something else that could turn me into a useless retarded lump of happy.
I’d even given her time to jokingly check my pulse after she unbuttoned my shirt as an excuse to begin chewing my chest…
Any fucking time the offer was good, I would be more than happy to be her toy.
But turnabout was fair play.
When I began sitting up, she giggled, “My turn, huh?”
“If I say yes, does that mean I can hold you down and toy with you until cumming is the only thing that will make everything stop aching?”
She looked positively feral when she ran her teeth over her bottom lip.
I didn’t wait for her to answer… I turned her around, and pushed her over the end of the chaise I’d nearly splintered when she pulled me to the floor… pressing her shoulders down with one hand, and running the other along the inside of her thighs…
Already so wet…
She twitched as soon as I found her clit, swayed her hips, lifted herself to me when I pushed my fingers into her…
She squirmed… and panted… and arched her back…
She shoved the chaise out from under her body, laying her shoulders on the floor, leaving her ass in the air and curling her body around to try to reach me…
Groaning when she didn’t get her way.
The fight she gave made up for how easy it was to make her cum… shudder… wail…
She finally pleaded to be flipped, arguing that at least she’d given me my hands…
She made a fair enough point, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d be able to hold out… I wanted to fuck her too much… I might as well have not already cum…
Her limbs flopped to the floor when I rolled her over, and she looked relieved for a split second, but she wasn’t expecting me to lift her hips, leaving her head on the rug…
And I didn’t expect for her to taste so fucking good.
Because the blow job hadn’t been enough…
One taste, even if she was intolerable… the way she tasted would make up the difference…
And then there was the way her hands felt in my hair, the way she looked up at me…
Until she began gasping for me to stop and reaching for my hands… She pulled herself up, sliding her thighs over my shoulders to wrap them around my waist… hugging her arms around my neck… trembling and trying to catch her breath while she complained that she wanted to have energy left for fucking…
She ‘played the Human card’… and proceeded to ride and work my cock like no fucking Human I’d ever been with, inviting every nick and scrape my fangs gave her, making it too easy to see why the fuck other Mes had kept her…
Making me fantasize about it myself.
Finally in need of a break after hours longer than most Humans would last, she collapsed on the floor next to me, panting until her breathing settled completely, but she was otherwise still…
I gave her a few minutes, but with nothing else to do but imagine how much fun could be had if Sookie took a contract from Tyson for Svalbard, I started scanning the room…
Most of her white furniture had been shoved askew to make room for our romp, but we hadn’t as much as used a pillow from the bed… I was almost sure it would be easier for Sookie to mop the hardwood than it would be for her to wash king-sized bedding.
When she seemed to have her breathing under control enough to speak, I asked, “Is that… The Almond Blossoms?”
“That’s ‘Atum Blossoms’. He painted it for me.”
I’d let that hobby of his slip my mind.
“Did he, by any chance…”
She snickered, “No. Leda’s the real deal… He did the Van Gogh copy to kill time. He was funny while we were waiting for Ubasti to be born.”
“Was the symbolism accidental?”
“No. He knew the original was painted to celebrate a baby. That’s what got him going…” She moved to rest her head on my thigh and offered, “She’s too anxious. Ridiculous gifts I couldn’t accept only got her a ‘maybe’. Andre’s a momma’s boy and he’s going to pull something to pacify her…”
She was right about that, but pillow talk was an odd enough concept to me… political pillow talk was definitely foreign.
“I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that you went right back to thinking about work.”
She swatted my leg and snickered, “Sorry. My brain’s on overdrive. If it makes you feel better, I started off thinking about proposing you use the Vampire suite for the day as an excuse to go another round…” She pushed herself to her feet and padded to the door without dressing. “Name that segue.”
I followed her as she romped down the stairs to the kitchen… I probably paid too much attention to the way she looked in the refrigerator light while she retrieved a bottled drink.
She sipped her tea and finally explained, “You staying over led to what you might still need to do at home, which led to the call you need to make to Long Shadow’s Maker, which looped back to the business of relieving you from your position as Area 5’s babysitter… It wasn’t even a long segue.”
At least there was that.
“I can’t begin to guess what Andre might do. His creativity is incredibly dark. The only thing he’s ever been good for is unique torture techniques. Any hints from the braid?”
She shrugged. “Other than turning me so he’d have control of me, no. I’m not too worried about that though. When Wallace notified Sophie-Anne that I’m in Louisiana, she was faxed a rider that included a warning that any intentional act of aggression or coercion against me would be considered an act of war. Yeah, there are the obvious loopholes, but with Nevada and Arkansas lurking around, she really doesn’t want to mess with Texas.”
I chuckled, “Was that intentional?”
When she grinned, her nose wrinkled. “It was… So… The car didn’t work. The next step is a house if you don’t stop her.”
“How do I stop her?”
“I have a strict policy on gifts. I only accept gifts once my contract begins. Otherwise I’d be up to my ass in superfluous gifts from all the poor saps I haven’t worked for yet. I only accepted the gift certificates because they’re the equivalent of a fruit basket. My house in California isn’t mine until I check in.”
“Hearing that your policy is actually logical will most likely annoy her.”
She shrugged dismissively. “Then she also needs to hear how I decide to work for someone… A King or Queen needs to have more accolades on the books than warnings. It’s in her favor that I haven’t worked in the States a lot yet. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that when I’ve asked my employers for referrals, they’ve all said Europe is safe as a whole, as long as I avoid Halfdan.”
I shook my head. “That’s no surprise at all. What have you heard about the American territories?”
“Well… Texas, then the Carolinas for Tyson, New York, Florida, and Quebec for Clovis… According to my list the shady bitches include Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Arkansas. Ohio and Arkansas are practically on Food Stamps though, so they can’t afford me. I got friendly suggestions to work for Pacifico, Georgia, Mississippi, Four Corners and New England.”
“Where does Louisiana fall on the list?”
“Wallace is the only one who recommended against her. Even then, the only reason is that I’m local… her greed isn’t remarkable, just her pride, and I haven’t worked for her enemies yet. She just doesn’t have any friends… Avoiding her wasn’t a permanent situation. Wallace just wanted me to be established enough to have a reputation. You and Salome have gotten specific recommendations though. You and a handful of other Knights who managed to settle down somewhere.”
“What are your concerns as they pertain to Andre?”
She sipped her drink again before answering, “I’m second guessing the follow-me-back-to-my-hotel thing… A- You’re too smart for a rookie mistake like that. B- If Wallace reads Sophie-Anne the riot act, she could panic and shit the bed. C- Logistically, you following me back to my hotel room could trip us up, or it could be spun into silk…”
Following her train of thought, I suggested, “I don’t follow you. I offer to give you a ride… I might have an opportunity to see a contract while you’re in the bathroom…”
“Not just a contract though. We can spoon feed them whatever info we want. My cell phone, my luggage, any private calls I might get…”
“Why would you trust a Sheriff to know where you’re staying?”
She hummed for a moment before she offered, “A- I’m tipsy because you ply me with drinks at Fangtasia. B- I’m not dumb enough to get trapped in an extended stay at one hotel for any amount of time.”
“Fair enough… So given that I know your work history, including most of your guards and employers, you’re suggesting an Oscar-worthy performance, yes?”
She shrugged. “Other than how you come by information, carefully chosen facts dressed up in misdirection should get us through it… Replay tonight… I waltzed into Fangtasia. I had a few drinks. You gave me a ride. You looked around while I took a shower. You wooed the hell out of me…”
I chuckled, “You wooed back.”
She giggled, “Of course I did… So… The Queen wants to hire a telepath so bad she can taste it. The telepath’s only given noncommittal answers in regards to a contract, but the Queen knows she’s in a specific Area and making frequent visits to a certain establishment…”
I continued, “Which is better than nothing. She’d risk having the telepath followed… instruct her shadows to claim they were spying of their own volition if they were discovered… supposed curiosity about the infamous telepath. She’ll think someone will learn something before the telepath detects her tail.”
Sookie raised an eyebrow and sighed, “The Sheriff should be prepared for his Area to be crawling with royal ass-kissers… They’re going to be very disappointed when the telepath crawls back into the woodwork.”
“Because as of New Year’s, the telepath will be posing as a good Christian newlywed. She won’t be able to risk being seen at Fangtasia…”
“Exactly. The spies will only have until New Year’s to snoop around because I’m going off the grid to keep this shit as clean as possible. I could get away with going to Fangtasia just for something to do, but I don’t want to get lax and slip. I’ll be jogging at dawn, going to my pretend job, and coming home early enough to fix supper for my snookums every night. They aren’t going to sniff me out in suburbia… Here’s the thing though… Wallace told Sophie-Anne I’m working against the church. I mean, why else would it be kosher for an agent of Texas to be working in Louisiana, right? If she’s dumb enough to put a tail on me while I’m working towards the greater good…”
“You think we’ll need to pay a visit to New Orleans, or at least wrap up the negotiation so she has a definite answer, before your wedding.”
Her answer consisted of a long, very mature yet completely understood, raspberry.
“You were hoping I would have something to add that would-”
She blurted, “Yes!”
I shook my head. “You’re right. Any spies she might send would get in your way, if not expose you… What’s sad is that I doubt it will occur to her that threatening to sabotage the plot would be more effective than threatening it with common fuckery.”
She sighed, “That means we need to turn up how wooed I am… for this to play out in a week.”
“Was that a hint?”
She giggled, “No… What? We can’t talk business naked?”
I shook my head. “Not for long. Your time’s up.”
She squealed when I tossed her over my shoulder, and as I headed for the stairs, she giggled, “If we pull this off, it’ll be epic.”
“If we don’t, it’ll just have been fun to try.”
“Trying not to get your hopes up?”
“Absolutely. I’m trying to remind myself that, as of a couple of nights ago, I didn’t mind the idea of finishing my contract.”
“So… If freeing you up gets shot to hell, can I work for de Castro just to help him take over?”
I chuckled, “No,” and tossed her onto the bed. “That clusterfuck would take years to recover from, probably longer than the few years I have left with Sophie-Anne.”
She wiggled her eyebrows at me. “I guess you’d better get back to wooing me then.”