Just before I stepped into the charter, I heard Asa chuckle, “You don’t get to tease me just because I can’t get away from you.”
She snorted, “Who’s teasing? I just put my feet on your lap.”
He’d been exaggerating… Sookie had only turned her chair to face his and rest her feet on his knee while she read Mystic River. She looked enviably comfortable in a pair of layered tank dresses. Turquoise over brown… she’d left her little sandals on the floor in front of her… And Dali seemed to be completely happy to share Sookie’s seat with her.
Sookie looked up at me and smiled. “Hey you!” She reached into her large carry-on, she offered, “I got a present for you.”
I sat across from her and reached into my bag. “What a coincidence.”
It was even more coincidental that my parcel seemed to be a book like her gift. There was a note on top of the book when she passed it to me, just as there was a note on hers.
She gave me an impish look before reading her note… and immediately began laughing.
I wasn’t sure what could be funny about, “Even though Milne trusts you, I’d be surprised if Tyson doesn’t try to test you in some way. –E”
But then I read her note… “The pilot is a Shifter. The stewardess has been glamoured until she’s retarded. And there’s a Vampire in the belly of the plane. Older than I’m used to (+1500) and listening to everything going on up here. I know you’re a friend of Tyson’s, but I’m being tested so watch what you say. –E”
Cute… I chuckled at the idea that Sookie Erica was taking the work out of my working vacation as she pulled the gift wrap away from her book.
She only stared at it until Asa offered, “It’s one of her favorites. She made me read it.”
I’d almost written the message to Sookie on the signature page at the beginning of the book, but changed my mind, using a page in the back instead. I couldn’t even guess as to why Sookie flipped the book over to begin leafing through the back pages of the new paperback first.
“Because I wouldn’t even have considered ignoring your messages, my response would have been something like this:
I don’t have training to be any sort of therapist to you, but I can tell you this: You aren’t allowed to let the actions of others define who you are or what you’re capable of. Yes, you’ve been victimized, and you have every right to do whatever you need to do in order to move past that, but do move past it. Turn the page. Keep going. Learn from your struggles and villains, and then leave them behind you as you become the heroine of your own story, rather than a victim in someone else’s.
Think of how sad Monte Cristo would be if Edmond died wallowing in Chateau d’If.
Having spent most of a night considering how I would have responded back then, I came to the conclusion that you were probably better off to not hear from me. I’ve spent most of the past few nights thinking of simple things I could have done differently. I truly regret that my actions (failures would be more fitting) caused you to be so isolated. I know too well how miserable that is and you deserved so much better than silence. No amount of apologies will excuse how I neglected you, but I am sorry.
By the time I’d followed her eyes halfway through my message, I was surprised she could still read through her tears…
It was painful to watch, waiting until she was finished reading, because I’d made her cry.
I was very close to fidgeting when Asa asked if she was alright. She nodded as she pulled her feet from his leg so she could stand up to hug me. “Thank you. That was incredibly sweet.”
“You’re welcome, but I wasn’t trying to be sweet.”
“I wasn’t talking about the book. I meant everything behind it…” She kissed my cheek as she backed away. “We’ll talk more when Asa isn’t around. He’s a turd about secrets.”
As she sat down again, he winked at her and scoffed, “It’s no secret that your book obsession is out of hand.”
She began moving her hands as she nodded towards my lap where my gift was still waiting to be opened.
Her hands continued to move, briskly and deliberately, until Asa gave her an ‘okay’ signal. They were using sign language. Very clever, and completely unsurprising.
What’s more… my gift was a book on American Sign Language.
While I looked for a message in the beginning of the book, Sookie offered, “Since you’re supervising and all.”
She’d written, “Normally, Asa stands behind me in standard guard stance. He can’t see my face and my ass doesn’t offer any hints. He can think the Gettysburg Address to me, but since I can’t answer him, that isn’t much help either. I’ll show a subtle sign to Asa. It’s usually a letter of the alphabet that represents a preset word. It’s not terribly complicated, so I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it in no time. -S”
It was oddly reassuring that she seemed to be sharing her decoder ring with me, trusting me as she clearly trusted the Were resting his hand on her ankle as though it was a familiar position.
I thanked her as I scanned the alphabet list, seeing the signals that had been predetermined, and then flipping through to find the sign for each letter.
After a few minutes, Sookie made a sign, extending her thumb and index finger…
L. Love… asking if she was reading my reaction to the gift correctly.
I nodded. “I’m tempted to become fluent just to taunt Pam.” It would be another language I could use surreptitiously.
She giggled, “That’s mean. I love it… Asa and I do it all the time. German’s good for that too.”
“You speak Spanish as well, yes?”
She nodded. “Wallace’s household staff was primarily from Durango. It was sink or swim… And my French is…”
Asa offered, “Complete shit, but it’s better than mine,” just as his phone began ringing, but he didn’t seem to have any intention of answering it.
Sookie nudged his leg and giggled, “Answer it.”
He scoffed and pulled his phone out of his pocket, looking at Sookie as though she smelled like shit.
He huffed, “Hello.”
A female voice drawled, “Asa, is that you darlin’?”
He closed his eyes and cringed for a moment before he started rubbing his eyes. “Who else would have answered my phone?”
“Oh. You don’t sound happy…”
“I can’t really talk right now. The plane’s about to take off.”
“Oh. I was just… I went to the jeweler today. They said you called and…”
“I didn’t like the ones you picked. I’ll find something myself.”
“Oh… Uh… Darlin’, I know you don’t feel like you need to prove anything, but… I think the diamonds would look good on your hand. It’s just a channel set, lots of guys wear ‘em…”
“Are you going to fight me every step of the way on this wedding?”
“Because I’m a stingy prick and you seem like you want to spend everything on a glorified cookout.”
“If you want to wear a plain band, that’s one thing, but downsizing the bride from eight carats is insulting.”
He rolled his eyes and scoffed, “I don’t care about them enough to spend six figures on them.”
After a moment, the female groaned, “Goddammit… That girl’s gotten under your skin, hasn’t she? You’re going to cancel.”
He sighed, “Oudia, stop spending my money. I’ll do whatever the fuck I want to do.” He began absently stroking the top of Sookie’s foot… while he was discussing marrying someone else.
What. The. Fuck.
The woman asked, “Should I just call the whole thing off?”
“I didn’t say that. Just stop buying shit just because it’s the most expensive option. That doesn’t make it better.”
“It doesn’t make it worse…”
“It makes it bigger and if you keep it up, it won’t fit up my ass with everything else I have to bend over and take. I’m rapidly approaching my fucking breaking point. Back. The. Fuck. Off. There’s an excellent reason why you’re on an allowance as it is.”
“Don’t talk to me like that… The kids…”
“Don’t even bring them into it.”
“How about the pack then? Am I allowed to mention that?”
“No. I’m hanging up now. Not another penny.”
He tossed his phone to the other end of the cabin and raised an eyebrow at Sookie.
She snorted, “Don’t be a baby.”
He stuck his tongue out at her, and apparently that was the end of their conversation.
Of course, I had plenty of questions, but I was ‘studying’.
I wasn’t supposed to overhear a conversation that would lead any rational person to believe that Asa had a family he was hiding from Sookie. Of course, with Sookie’s ability, I had to wonder how he maintained secrecy… but replaying the conversation to myself, his half, I might have believed he was just dealing with a money-grubbing relative or business associate.
My only option was studying to distract myself from what could be an emotional powder keg for Sookie. After seeing how she reacted to my lie of necessity, I wasn’t sure I wanted to witness her reaction to not just being cheated on, but being Asa’s other woman…
It didn’t distract me as much as I wanted it to. On any given night at Glamour I could point out no less than a hundred girls who weren’t more than what Pam called ‘booty calls’. There were pets, girls with nothing to offer, girls who were more of a bother than they were worth, girls who weren’t worth the ink it would take to jot down their phone numbers… Sookie wasn’t one of those girls. The idea that Asa was just fucking her, killing time until his wedding, was infuriating…
But I was very happy to know our destination so well. It would certainly make hiding Asa’s body easier.
After an hour of the flight, I made a fist with my thumb tucked between my index and middle fingers. T. Test. Sookie gave me a bright smile and tucked Monte Cristo into her seat, taking a break from her reading to issue my pop quiz.
She turned away from me, showing what I assumed was her usual stance, with her hands behind her back and showed one sign after another. The only ones that weren’t simple were J and Z and they included a motion to go along with the hand position.
Even if someone realized they were signals, they weren’t terribly likely to decipher them right away since there were too many options… I was sure Gawain would be just as quick to learn them all as I was.
The flight was so long and uneventful that even I was beginning to feel restless, but Sookie and Asa seemed to be perfectly content to read for most of the trip. They took breaks from their books long enough to use the microwave to heat their dinners (trenchers piled high with beef, carrots and potatoes), and a second break to eat large turkey sandwiches. Dali enjoyed her own serving of each, of course, and she still seemed to realize how spoiled she was.
What little bit of conversation there was, didn’t teach me much about Asa.
He was still, as far as I knew, just Sookie’s guard and lover… who may or may not have been secretly engaged to someone else.
He was definitely from Texas. He definitely needed to shop for souvenirs. He was still nursing a hangover from Shawn and Hadley’s wedding. He seemed to be enjoying War Of The Worlds, and when he was finished with that, he began reading The Sleeper Awakes. And since his hair constantly flopped over his eyes, he needed a haircut.
There just didn’t seem to be a subtle way to ask him about himself… at least, there didn’t seem to be a subtle way to ask if Sookie knew about his fiancé.
When the stewardess (who had been relatively useless) came from the cockpit just long enough to mention we’d be landing in the next half-hour, Sookie and Asa finally became active. It was as though someone threw a switch…
They left their seats, taking fresh clothing from the same garment bag, and changing. Other than revealing the large saguaro cactus tattoo Asa had along his ribs, that Sookie had been coached on what to wear because Tyson abhorred women in drab business attire, and how completely casual they were with each other, there wasn’t much to be learned…
They used the tiny bathroom to brush their teeth at the same time… he zipped her skirt without being asked… she tied his tie without being asked… he baited Dali into her crate with a package of meat from the refrigerator as Sookie tended to her hair and makeup… and while he buckled the straps on her pumps, she slipped his phone into the pocket of his suit jacket. He tidied up the plane while she folded their discarded clothing and packed it in their garment bag.
They’d clearly been together long enough to establish a routine. Their ‘romance’ could have been a farce, but it didn’t seem likely, and the longer I watched them for hints, the more curious I became.
And then it occurred to me that Adele mentioned Marcy, and Shawn’s children, but Asa was completely omitted from the update I was given.
So many questions.
The plane had hardly come to a stop when Sookie announced that the castaway had left the cargo hold and was waiting on the tarmac with another Vampire who was even older than him… And Joyce Beck had been sent to greet us.
At 3:30, there wasn’t much time to spare, but the advantage to landing just before dawn was that there wouldn’t be much traffic to compete with between the airport and Hampstead.
Joyce Beck smiled brightly in spite of her tired bloodshot eyes, and as Dali and our belongings were taken to the van, she ushered us to the limousine. The Vampires who’d been sent as advance scouts were already gone.
As soon as we were settled, Joyce started, “Sheriff Northman, Miss Weiss, Mr. Forbes, I hope the flight was uneventful.”
Sookie nodded. “Long flights are perfect excuses to binge-read. It’s hard to find a justification to read two books in one sitting otherwise.”
“Lovely. I’ve never been a reader myself, but the last time I went on holiday, I watched three films in one sitting… Mr. Tyson is very excited about your arrival. He’s quite preoccupied by making sure you’re comfortable and pleased with the accommodations.”
Sookie snickered, “You probably weren’t supposed to mention that…” Joyce nibbled the corner of her lip, anxious about her slip. “I doubt I’m the reason for the excitement anyway. Mr. Tyson and Mr. Northman are old friends… What languages do you speak?”
“Only English and French… Is that a problem?”
“Not that I’m aware of. I was only curious… So, just between us girls, tell me about Mr. Tyson.”
Joyce glanced in my direction for a moment before asking, “What do you mean?”
“You know, what are his pet peeves? What’s his sense of humor like? Will I get a better reaction out of him with charm or does he like the occasional crack o’ the whip? I’ll be staying at the Hampstead for a while, so I’d love a few pointers…” Sookie looked at me and Asa and scoffed, “Jesus, you two… stop staring. You’re making her nervous. Look at the pretty buildings older than America or something.”
Asa chuckled when I did, but we did what we were told… even though the limo hadn’t budged yet.
Joyce cleared her throat and straightened her skirt anxiously. “He’s… he’s a lovely man. Quite serious about business matters. His sense of humor is a little dark, but he does have a lovely laugh.”
Sookie Erica snorted, “The only man that lovely is the one a woman’s fucking.”
That settled it. She was definitely worse at sugar-coating than I was. I needed to find a prize for the title.
Joyce gasped, “Oh, I could think highly of my employer without sleeping with him. He’s quite clever and very educated.” She’d almost raised her voice to make her point and everything.
Sookie smiled and nodded. “I suppose you wouldn’t have started sleeping with him if you didn’t think highly of him. I wasn’t judging you. Mr. Northman told me Mr. Tyson is a very sexy man with a brogue that’ll singe your knickers.”
Joyce blushed until her ears seemed like they were sunburned. “Are you trying to embarrass me, Miss Weiss?”
“Of course not. I’m sorry. Maybe girl-talk is just something Americans do? I’ll leave you alone about it.”
After a long moment, Joyce leaned towards Sookie and whispered, “I’m sorry for that. It’s just frowned upon to… fraternize.”
Sookie shrugged indifferently. “I’ll drop it. Care to change the subject?”
Joyce nodded and looked around before asking, “That’s a large carrier. I thought you said you have a cat.”
“I do. She’s the size of a Springer Spaniel. Dali is an ocelot. She can’t decide if she’s a housecat or a jaguar.”
“Ohhhh… Mr. Tyson might not have realized… He’s quite fond of his ravens.”
Asa chuckled, “I’m sure Dali will leave Mr. Tyson’s Ravens alone. The hares and squirrels in the garden should watch themselves though.” Apparently, he’d been clued in to the fact that the Ravens on Tyson’s property were Shifters.
Joyce frowned. “I’m the one fond of those, perhaps, because I grew up in the countryside.”
Sookie offered, “So did I, but I still prefer keeping company with the top of the food chain.”
Joyce mewled, “I’m a vegetarian.”
Sookie smirked and breathed, “Poor… little… bunny,” as she turned her attention to the scenery.
I couldn’t decide if it was funny because Sookie could tell Joyce was being fed from or if it was funny because of how Vampire-like she seemed when she spoke… either way, I chuckled. I was seeing Erica Weiss come out to play.
When we arrived at Tyson’s humble abode (one of the largest houses in Hampstead), we were led into the front foyer, to see Tyson waiting… dripping wet, in nothing but a towel.
If I didn’t know it was all part of his MO, I would have laughed. He was already testing Sookie, pushing to find her comfort threshold.
He whistled and pointed to the floor at his feet for her to approach him, and he actually showed his surprise when she complied without hesitation.
He studied her, staring for long enough that anyone might become intimidated, but she didn’t as much as fidget. Meanwhile, Joyce was very close to cardiac arrest until Tyson nodded for her to wait in another room.
Tyson started, “Wallace told me you’re a sight, but I was expecting something more… manly given the source.” He placed his hand on her jaw and ordered, “Open.”
Evaluating her as a slave? Really?
When he was finished checking her mouth as though broken teeth had anything to do with how well she could read minds, he took her hands and lifted them from her side, ordering her to turn.
Again, as though her body had anything to do with her ability.
Sookie didn’t as much as roll her eyes when she turned though… Apparently, Erica Weiss had shoved Sookie Stackhouse out of her way.
Poor Tyson actually seemed disappointed that he hadn’t gotten a rise from his new toy.
He grumbled, “You’re about a stone light, love.”
Sookie answered coolly, “I can hardly help that, sir. I have a hearty appetite.”
“Perhaps your Wolf should spend more time exercising with his wife.”
Still no rise, not even from Asa… I should have researched him. With a name like Asa Forbes, I could have at least performed a background check.
Sookie argued diplomatically, “But then I’d have to shop for new clothes, and Valerie’s so much taller than me, we couldn’t even closet-swap.”
Sookie knew her name and how she was built? And if Valerie was his wife, who the fuck is Ouida?
Tyson actually cracked a smile. “Are you completely unflappable, or did Wallace and Eric coach you?”
“Eric didn’t do anything of the sort, and Wallace only suggested I avoid dressing like a headmistress.”
If that was the only coaching Milne had to offer, she was a natural, but Tyson had made the mistake of appreciating her orange and red ensemble a couple of times. Mee wasn’t allowed to wear black or slacks.
“And what did you learn on your way to see me?”
She leaned towards him to whisper, “Your pilot needed the stewardess to blow him three times to keep him awake for the flight. And she really shouldn’t be glamoured much more because her brain function is seriously diminished.”
He chuckled, “Nothing else?”
“There was a stowaway in the luggage hold. Older than Eric, but not as old as you. He left the plane as soon as we landed, met with another Vampire on the tarmac for a moment before they both took off. The Vampire waiting for him is close to your age…” Tyson opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, Sookie pointed towards the northeast corner of the house and offered, “They’re on the property, sir. In that direction with another Vampire, slightly younger than Eric, and you’ve got eleven Humans. One Vampire is an average height white man. He was the extra passenger. The older Vampire waiting on the tarmac is a very tall black man. The third, the one slightly younger than Eric, is a young female… Gawain, Atum, and Tilda, in that order. The eleven Humans are enjoying the pool and the open bar. They miss you… well, nine of them miss you, the other two are enjoying Atum’s attention.”
I was smiling, just because I was proud of her… seeing how incredible she was, how in control of her ability she was… She wasn’t the little girl desperate to be normal I’d met so many years ago.
Erica Weiss was astounding.
She had, whether she’d just impressed a Vampire old enough to have seen everything or not (two of us), worked her way to the top of the food chain.
He grinned and asked, “Anything else, Miss Weiss?”
“Joyce is terrified that I’ve been hired to replace her. It isn’t job security she’s concerned about, but her dreams of eventually being Missus Ailill Tyson and bearer of a dozen of your children… As much as I made her think, she refused to say anything specific about you because she considered it a betrayal… I counted fourteen shifted guards and six unshifted, and a Human staff of ten who’s trying to eavesdrop from the dining room with no luck… And you should consider having a stasis spell performed on your pool so you don’t have to suffer the smell of chlorine.”
He laughed, “You’ll have to find a Witch I can trust… Eric, where did you find her?”
“In Pam’s teahouse. When I hired one of her family members, she negotiated their contract. She was nine.”
He shook his head. “Fuck. Poor Wallace thought he was the first to come across this little treasure.”
Sookie offered, “Wallace might have been the first to wear me, but Eric was the one to make me worth the price of my setting.”
She was giving me credit?
He snorted, “And then some…” He slipped his arm around her back and began leading her through the house. “Let’s introduce you before we all have to rest…”
Asa only paused long enough to open Dali’s crate and the cat raced past everyone to tear into the garden, effectively scaring several Ravens from the lawn.
Sookie offered, “She can tell the difference, but Wallace has a Shifter who teases her as a Hawk. She wants to play with them.”
Tyson snorted, “Fuck ‘em if they can’t escape a little cat…” As we stepped outside, he teased in German, “Gawain, she knew you were on the plane.”
Gawain scoffed, “Of course she did. She’s a telepath. I told you she’d know I was there.”
“She knew who was who once you were on the property as well.”
His brilliant argument was, “How!?” just before we turned the corner and came into view.
Sookie answered, “Basic positioning. The donors began sizing you up when you arrived.” I wasn’t sure if it was her technique or if they were surprised she spoke German, but they all seemed shocked.
Tyson chuckled, “Even if she finds nothing, she’s already worth the ticket price… Fancy a swim?”
Sookie shook her head. “No thank you, but the fresh air is great after being cooped up on the plane.”
Tyson nodded towards the bar and offered, “A nightcap then,” and tossed his towel to a chaise before stepping into the pool.
Pools: the best way to trick a donor to bathe. One night, eventually, one of my friends would surprise me.
Sookie smiled politely at Tilda as she removed her shoes, and then helped herself to a glass of rum from the bar.
She didn’t seem to register that everyone was nude, or that Atum was staring at her while a donor went down on him… It made me believe the rumors I’d heard about Milne’s parties.
Sookie settled on the edge of the pool with her long skirt pulled up to drape over her knees while she soaked her feet, watching Dali dart in and out of hedges for moment before offering, “The brunette with brown eyes… She’s…” Sookie paused to chuckle evilly, “She seems to appreciate your collection of Monets… She’s casing your house, Tyson.”
He actually let the girl leave the pool and try to run while he argued, “How the fuck did she think she could manage-?”
He stopped to watch Asa head the girl off, but the rest of us laughed at the little bitch because she didn’t even bother denying Erica’s accusation. Asa was incredibly spry for something so big.
Asa loomed over her and asked, “What did you think you could do with Tyson’s art? How did you think you’d get off the property without being detected? Are you working with a partner? Who knows you’re here?”
I would have called his questions perfect if he’d left any time for the girl to answer.
After a moment, Sookie snorted, “She was prepared to cut them from the frames and sell them if her boyfriend found a buyer through his shady friends. Her cousin was a maid here, but she isn’t part of it. Ally’s remembering a drunken rant about how her cousin wished she had the money you spent on one of your paintings. Hannah was fired for… oh, Hannah was just fucking off and got sacked for watching movies in your theater… Anyway, Ally figured she could get out of the house with a painting or two, folded under her clothes, and sell them for a few grand each…”
Brilliant. Monets were worth millions and she would have ruined them for a few thousand quid.
Sookie sighed, “Sorry to shit on your party, Tyson, but that brunette steals flatware and makes jewelry from it because it’s gold. And that one…” Sookie nodded towards a freckled blonde and sipped her drink. “That one needs to be sent home to her mother. She’s only sixteen.”
Tyson grumbled, “That’s the age of consent here.”
Sookie grinned and raised her glass. “Nevermind then. Now I know…”
Atum actually used his donor’s hair to pull her away from his dick and ask, “This one?”
Sookie shrugged and shook her head. “She’s fine. She’s just tense because everyone got serious.”
Atum shrugged and pushed his donor down on his cock again, and Gawain snorted, “You really did shit on the party.”
Sookie sighed, “I was actually in the room with Wallace when he warned Tyson that the body count would skyrocket once I come to town.”
Tyson chuckled and left the pool to grab the would-be art thief. “But he also promised I’d be bored once she leaves… You boys take care of the witnesses… Tilda, show our guests to their rooms.”
Tilda licked her lips and wiggled her eyebrows. “Aye. Gladly…” She walked directly to me and cooed, “I owe you a proper ride. You saved me from babysitting the Yank. Shame on you for waiting until just before dawn to arrive.”
“Poor me. I’m sure we can find some time tomorrow night.”
“I might have to share you with Mee by then. She’ll be here with bells on once she hears you’re visiting.”
“Careful. You’ll have Sophie-Anne to deal with if you convince me to stay. With Mee’s help, you might succeed.”
She laughed in her throat and offered, “I boxed that cunt once. I won’t forget the silver next time… Oy! Yank! Get your animals so I can tuck you in.”
When she turned to lead us inside, I grabbed her hair and pulled her back. “You’ll be as friendly to Erica and Asa as you possibly can. She just saved your Maker millions, Human or not.”
She growled, “You’re defending a Human?”
“How often have you seen it happen?”
She narrowed her eyes and sighed, “Noted.”
I released her hair and swatted her ass. “Good. Lead the way.”
As Tilda led us though the house, she called for Joyce… Sookie and Asa were unceremoniously left at their room when Tilda pointed to the door, and Joyce followed them in.
Tilda gave me a much more friendly delivery to my room, which was just next door to Sookie and Asa’s, and reminded me that I knew where to find her when I rose.
Why the fuck did I leave London? Oh, that’s right, Appius was on the same continent. That was more than enough reason to put a few time zones between me and a favorite playground.
With only half an hour left before dawn, I opted to kill some time with a shower just because I’d spent most of the night completely idle.
I listened to Joyce give Sookie and Asa a tour of their room as though they weren’t familiar with a microwave or coffee maker, and explain that the kitchen (and anything they could want to eat) was only a call away… Any sightseeing they wanted to do was just a call away… and anything they needed was just a call away… I might have thought she was more annoying if I hadn’t recently fired a day-guy for being a complete prick to Simza when she was passing through my Area.
And when I stepped out of the shower, Gawain was standing there, offering a towel to me.
I chuckled, “You spent eight hours in a cargo hold.”
“When Tyson said he’d hired a telepath I couldn’t help but be curious. When he said you asked for me specifically, I was sure you were playing a prank.”
“And how disappointed were you when we didn’t spend the flight scripting your segment of Candid Camera?”
“I wasn’t. What were you doing, when you were blurting out random words; bored, neutral, chess, bullshit?”
“Deciphering Erica’s signals to her guard. Since you’re part of her security detail now, I’m sure you’ll be clued in.”
“She’s phenomenal. Why were you sitting on her instead of taking advantage of her?”
“She was a child.”
“She’s grown up quite nicely.”
I nodded. “She was a beautiful little girl as well.”
“She fucks like a beast. You should see the surveillance footage. That Were of hers…”
Good. It didn’t matter that he was trying to goad me. He knew something.
“What do you know about him? I haven’t had time to have him investigated.”
“From what I’ve seen, he’s really flexible, but she is too… circus agility…”
I scoffed, “You know I meant his life away from ‘work’.”
He shrugged. “You mean Packmaster Forbes of Cactus Plains Pack?”
“Packmaster? At his age?” He didn’t seem like he could be much older than Sookie.
He shrugged. “As far as I know, Tyson hasn’t bothered researching him because Milne sent along his information. Milne vetted him to protect Erica. Impressive little fuck ascended at seventeen to fill his dearly departed father’s paw prints… in battle… He went to university in Houston for military science.”
“Tyson asked about his wife.”
Gawain shrugged. “They aren’t married yet… You know how Weres are. It’s probably an arranged marriage and he’s just enjoying an available blonde while he’s free. Worried about Sookie being his little harlot?”
“No- Wait. You used her real name.”
He snorted, “Are you surprised? Asa used it as they boarded the plane.”
Bullshit. If that were true, he wouldn’t have bothered to continue calling her Erica during the flight. For that matter, he’d barely spoken to her aloud.
“You’re lying. I don’t care where you heard it, but don’t use it. She works under a pseudonym to protect her family… Besides, she might want to retire eventually.”
“You lied too. You are worried that she’s involved with a betrothed Were.”
“The call he answered before the plane left Shreveport made me wonder if she knew he was engaged, but after Tyson mentioned it, I’m not concerned, just curious.”
“You’re not telling me everything.”
The same could be said for him.
“Are you planning to reciprocate or do you want to play games?”
He shrugged as though he hadn’t considered otherwise. “I’ll reciprocate.”
Once I was dry, I led the way from the bathroom and offered, “Erica’s grandmother was our assistant for years. She applied for the position because she found herself raising her grandchildren after her son and his wife died. Pam liked her right away, so we took a chance on her, and we’ve never regretted anything like that annoying façade of dying a few years ago because we lost Adele in the process. Adele was the only assistant we’ve ever had that we didn’t fantasize about killing.”
“And what? You’re going to need to be more specific with dawn just a few minutes away.”
“And when did you discover that Erica is a telepath?”
“When she realized I’m ‘different’…” That wasn’t a complete lie. “Pam and I kept our distance from her because of exposure. There was a close call, and I thought I’d glamoured her, but apparently her ability prevented it.”
“That’s not the whole story.”
I shook my head. “It’s not, but I’m sure it doesn’t have anything to do with her work. She was just a child and she’s entitled to some privacy… Now, what do you know?”
“Why do I have to share? You weren’t completely honest.”
“I didn’t lie. I only omitted what I shouldn’t know. Skeletons in her family’s closet. Nothing to concern yourself with.”
“Fine. Milne met her while she was stripping. She warned him that his donor was HIV-positive because she didn’t know it doesn’t matter to Vampires.”
“She was stripping?”
“Why don’t you know this?”
“I told you; Liz and I ‘died’. She was in high school at the time. We weren’t in contact until Erica approached me. A photograph of me in the newspaper made her realize our deaths were staged. I’ve only been in contact with her family again for a few nights. There are only so many questions one can politely ask in a sitting.”
“She could be a stripper. I’d pay a cover charge to see those-”
I snorted, “You’re always going to be an exasperating asshole, aren’t you?”
He nodded. “I hope so… She was at the bar with friends. It was a drag club and one of Milne’s sweethearts was performing. She really did warn him about a donor with HIV though. Of course, he was intrigued about how she knew… the rest is history I suppose.”
“What about Asa?”
“His father was a rancher and left everything to him. His stepmother and half-siblings live off of his inheritance. Dear Daddy didn’t include them in the will, but Asa didn’t turn them out. The wife-to-be is completely fuckable. Lusciously thick. Why the fuck are women so thin now?”
I snorted, “I don’t know… Why does it matter? I’m not fond of the fact that Sookie doesn’t have more respect for herself than being part of a collection places for her guard to put his cock.”
He chuckled, “I’m not sure how to feel about this, Eric. You’re very protective of her and the last time you pulled rank on a friend was when your boys were brought over.”
“THE boys. They weren’t mine.”
He raised an eyebrow at me and shook his head. “I was there when you warned Francesca… You grabbed the same handful of hair as you did with Tilda just now.”
“Tilda and Francesca aren’t the only…”
I was interrupted by a knock on my door.
Gawain crooned, “If Asa’s allowed to have extras, perhaps Erica is too…”
I grumbled, “Leave her alone, asshole,” as I wrapped my towel around my waist, and opened the door.
Sookie was smiling, still wearing the outfit that had impressed Tyson, and holding a rocks glass full of scotch. “Nightcap?”
I almost chuckled at her offer until I realized that there was something scribbled on the napkin under it.
She stretched up to kiss my cheek and offered, “G’night Eric…”
Gawain scoffed, “What about me?”
Sookie turned and began walking away, “Get your own nightcap, you nosy putz.”
He gasped, “Nosy!”
“Yeah nosy. The walls aren’t that thick…”
I watched him follow her, but somehow he couldn’t enter her room.
She giggled, “Goodnight,” and shut the door in his face.
He opened the door and argued, “What the fuck is this?”
“Maybe I met a Witch while I was stripping.”
Hadley’s ‘bestie’ Zee.
“You warded your room?”
“Only against nosy putzes.”
Gawain gave me a dirty look when I began laughing.
Her telepathic performance was impressive enough, but seeing that she could rile Gawain was incredible.
Asa chuckled, “Hon, you probably shouldn’t piss off one of your guards. Tell him you’re sorry and come to bed.”
“What if I don’t want him in bed?”
He snorted, “You know what I mean.”
“Fine… I’m sorry, Gawain. I was just making a joke. I ward our room because I tend to make enemies as quickly as I make friends, you know, like Human staff members.”
“No kiss goodnight?”
She sighed, “Sorry. Eric got my last smooch. Goodnight.”
She closed the door again and I followed suit by shutting mine, but just as I sat on my bed with my nightcap, Gawain returned.
Why did I miss him?
“Are we bunking together?”
He shrugged and tossed himself onto my bed. “I can slip away listening to the telepath fuck her Wolf.”
I snorted, “They make these things called televisions now. It’s a less depraved method of being a voyeur.”
He snorted, “What’s on the note?”
My science teacher has shingles so we have a substitute. Mrs. St. Cyr is different. Not like you’re different. You’re like a big calm cloud. She’s like one of those plasma globes like at the science museum, only red. I can hear her though, not like you. It’s weird and cool at the same time. I might have only noticed because I was listening instead of blocking, and then on the way home from school, I realized one of the kids on my bus is the same way. Cool huh?
I wrote that one shortly after school started again in the fall. I remember hoping that you’d find out what they were for me. It took a couple of years, but I finally realized they were Weres. I might have flipped out if you’d told me what they were before Mrs. St. Cyr became one of my favorite teachers. Since I was accused of having crushes, that teacher’s son was my actual first crush. Simon was just dreamy. It didn’t matter that he was twenty years older than me. He winked at me when he chaperoned a field trip once, so we were meant to be together. –E”
I chuckled and raised my voice, “I would have told you.”
I heard Asa repeat what I’d said for her and she answered, “See, that was a good one to miss.”
Before Gawain could have any bright ideas, I took the napkin to the bathroom and flushed it.
He was scowling at the ceiling when I returned. “That was unadulterated killjoy just now. When did you become such a twat?”
“At some point since I moved to the States. You should have come with me because I clearly need supervision.”
He chuckled, “I missed you, you sarcastic cunt.”
“I missed you too, you nosy putz… Get out so I can die in peace.”
He finally left my bed, waiting until he was at the door before asking, “Should I call Pam and ask what she knows?”
“Feel free, but I’d be surprised if you learn more from her. Why aren’t my answers good enough?”
“Because you’ve made an art of giftwrapping lies in tiny bits of truth.”
“Yes, but when have I ever done that with you?”
“How would I know?”
I snorted, “Fair enough. Tell her I spent hours at Harrods and only bought a pair of shoes for myself.”
“When would you have managed that?”
“The time difference won’t occur to her before she has the chance to tell you why she has pink hair.”
I nodded. “She looks like cotton candy.”
“My God. How long will that last?”
“Her punishment will be over by the time you’re in New York, but I have photos. I made her go to the mall and have Glamour Shots done.”
He shook his head as he left and immediately knocked on Sookie’s door. “Erica. I’m going to need a ward of my own so I don’t rise with pink hair.”
She snickered, “You need to get your ass to your room before you start sizzling like bacon. You’re on your own today.”
“Can’t I snuggle with you?”
“Sorry, between Asa and Dali, there’s hardly room on the bed for me.”
“How many wives does Asa have?”
After a moment, Sookie began to cackle, “I was just joking… Stop! No! Don’t tickle!” After a minute of listening to Sookie gasp for air, begging Asa to stop, she calmed down as though he stopped tickling her only to shout, “Two!”
He growled, “You’re going to get it,” and her laughter flared up again.
I settled into bed as I began to feel the pull of sunrise, and Gawain was already long gone by the time Sookie shouted, “None! None! None! You win!”
At least he wasn’t always ridiculously stoic. I was beginning to think he didn’t have any personality at all.
The last thing I heard as I was slipping away was Asa asking Sookie, “How many wives would I have if you weren’t such a stubborn bitch?”