When Sookie had said she’d taken care of our travel arrangements, I assumed she’d just chartered a jet like Dinh usually did.
Even though we’d only spent a week together, I should have learned Sookie never just does anything. In Dinh’s defense, I was sure he hadn’t traveled enough to know the difference between one jet to the next.
I’d already prepared myself for less than posh quarters in a luggage hold for the duration of the flight because most planes don’t have interior access between compartments.
The jet Sookie chartered had been fitted specifically for Vampires… In addition to the usual seating area, there was a compartment with three bunks along either side. All of them were equipped with curtains for privacy. Gawain and I joked about how much privacy one could possibly need in such a small space, but eventually we asked the pilot how to contact the company who provided the features. As much as Sookie traveled professionally, and as much traveling as I intended to do recreationally, having our own plane was actually sensible.
I wasn’t forced to spend several waking hours trying to fill my idle time while Edward and Richard complained about missing baseball and fantasized about starting a European league.
I sat in the comfort of the cabin, reading the last half of Notorious while Sookie used the time to write, until it was time to retreat to the lightproof bunks… and I emerged from my bunk to spend the last few hours of the flight in the cabin as well.
The flight was much more enjoyable than I expected. It was almost bittersweet given what I knew would be waiting for us in Eijsden, but at least I could enjoy the calm before the storm.
We hadn’t expected for the isolated airfield to be complete bedlam… The hundreds of shrieking, spastic, unhinged fans waiting at the edge of the tarmac didn’t paint a promising picture of what the estate would be like now that word had nine hours to spread.
Sookie whimpered another apology as we watched through the small windows of the plane… Armed guards enforcing wooden barricades containing Ana Louis devotees with handmade signs in four languages offering congratulations, claiming to be ‘team Aaron’ or ‘team Ryan’, or declaring Tina Bishop as their personal hero…
The craze might have been tedious, especially considering she’d become used to it, but it was still remarkable.
We’d already donned our coats and stood to leave… I was holding Jenny because she was still coming back to herself, and Ema was ‘bogarting’ Hope again… As soon as the steps were in place, Gerrit opened the door and stepped in with Dylan just behind him.
He gave a tense smile and blew out a deep breath before starting, “More or less, this size crowd is waiting at the castle. This greeting was planned. We leaked the flight details intentionally so the mob would wane at the estate long enough for the barricades to be moved. The caterers couldn’t set up because the fans caught on and began getting in the way.”
He shook his head. “Nothing surprising with a showing this big. A girl tripped and skinned her knee on the road. A group of teenagers tried to sneak onto the property, but a Wolf scared them away. A while later, a group of boys tried the same and they were sprayed by a skunk. Eijsden stands to make millions from parking citations and impound fines. Most of the livestock has been relocated to the neighbor’s barn. The horses have been boarded in your stable… Majesty, you married a troublemaker.”
He didn’t realize Sookie was a troublemaker when ‘she’ bested him?
I nodded. “Her pros outweigh her cons… I assume the auxiliary teams have arrived. Everything is running smoothly, yes?”
He nodded. “Thanks to Swaantje and Brandon. They’ve been coordinating everything in the parlor with Herveaux, St. Cyr, Masse, and the Commander. I think the biggest problem as far as security is concerned is St. Cyr’s accent, but we’re catching on and his men understand him.”
Sookie asked, “Did you say Brandon?”
Gerrit paused before rolling his eyes and groaning, “Please tell me you have a brother named Brandon.”
Sookie nodded. “I do, but we weren’t expecting him.”
“He arrived with the Cane River Pack. His bitch is with him. They’re helping Saskia and Dinh with the house and feast.”
Corbett sighed, “God bless’em… You know those kids were swamped. We should’a thought about that last night.”
Selma cleared her throat and nodded towards the door. “We should get on with this. Impatient crowds are like dominoes, darling. We’ve seen much smaller gatherings get out of hand.”
Sookie hugged my arm as we walked the gauntlet, giving our party some time to climb into the limo.
She smiled and waved and signed the clothing of fans standing along the barrier for a few minutes, making sure to pat the guards’ shoulders and thank them as we passed… Then she apologized that she’d never been able to get used to ‘winters that knew what they were doing’ after being raised in a subtropical climate as our excuse to leave.
We hadn’t walked far, perhaps halfway between the fans and the limo, before Gerrit and Dylan focused on something behind us and there was a sudden hush sweeping over the pandemonium…
Turning, seeing the reason for the sudden hush, was almost heartwarming… a little boy, much smaller than Lindy, was toddling towards Sookie with his arms open while a woman reluctantly watched from the hold of two guards…
I couldn’t understand why a child so young would be so star-struck by seeing Ana Louis until he was close enough for me to smell brimstone.
As Sookie released my arm, she whispered, “It’s alright,” and lifted him from the ground… He hugged her as though he was greeting a parent after a long absence. His eyes were pinched shut and his little arms were wrapped around her neck.
‘Alright’ or not, the Vampires and Shifters in our party surrounded us to be sure.
Sookie cooed, “You’re probably the cutest little two-year old I’ve ever been attacked by. How old are you really?”
He leaned back to give her a surprised look. “I’m six. I’m Homer. You know what I am!?”
She nodded and whispered, “You’re a Daemon, said the Faerie hybrid.”
The boy was excited enough to hug her neck again, but thanks to the blinding assault of camera flashes, it was difficult to see much of anything else.
A bizarre warmth began spreading through my body just before the boy whispered, “I don’t want you to be cold.”
He was warming her?
He was… and I was feeling it.
I didn’t just feel warmed. My body temperature was actually higher… even though I’d been standing in zero degree weather for several minutes.
Sookie hummed and pet his head. “Oh Homer, you’re the King of Hugs, little man. You’d better be careful; I might fall asleep.”
Okay. That was adorable.
If he was actually an adult in retrograde, then the behavior would be wildly inappropriate.
Sookie was still feeling so warm, I could have mistaken her location for a tropical beach when she sighed, “I’m going to pass you to one of my friends so he can take you back to your mom…”
“Shhhh… I’m almost done.”
“Almost done doing what?”
“I’m fixing you…”
Sookie’s heart began to race and, in spite of her warmth, she had a chill.
Homer kissed her cheek as he leaned back again. “There. All better. My brother has to practice reading, so he reads your books to me. I love them.”
“I’m glad you love them. Thank you for the awesome hug.”
As she set him down, he grinned wider. “Nooooo problem.” He took Dylan’s hand and began walking to the barricaded area to his mother who was impatiently watching from the barricade.
For the short drive to the castle from the airfield, Sookie felt a strange variety of curiosity. Every time she tried to distract herself, she’d quickly return to it over and over…
I was surprised that I wasn’t as disappointed to see it as I expected to be, but that probably had a lot to do with the girls’ reactions…
In spite of the fact that they’d only spent a couple of days at Kasteel Eijsden, the sight of it seemed to make the girls happy… and Lindy joked to Hope that hundreds of boys would be tossed into the moat by the time my Legion reached adulthood.
Meanwhile, Gawain seemed just as focused on Sookie as I was.
The castle grounds had undergone an incredible improvement from the state I’d seen in the photos online. Along the way there was a horde of fans on one side of the street, but there weren’t any cars blocking traffic from passing, and the garden was clear of unwanted animals.
The menagerie of Shifters was something else entirely. There were at least a dozen birds on the roof and in the trees and just as many canines standing watch with Vampires… they were all congregated around small fire pits scattered along the edge of the driveway.
As we climbed out of the car in the courtyard, a Raven landed on Misty’s shoulder and squawked, “Nevermore.”
It might have been funnier if he hadn’t been using the same shtick for at least a decade.
Misty giggled, “Much I marveled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly…” Jenny and Lindy joined in, “Though its answer little meaning little relevancy bore; for we cannot help agreeing that no living human being ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door. Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door, with such name as…”
The girls paused and waited, but instead of finishing the stanza with ‘nevermore’, Nigel squawked, “Marry me!”
Imbeciles ran in the family.
While the girls laughed at him, I offered, “Ladies, this is Nigel Jeffries. He’s Miles’s older brother…”
Misty nodded, seeming completely unfazed to have a Shifter on her shoulder. “We know. Miles told us he was calling his family to help Gerrit. Kelly and Alice should be slinking around too.”
Slinking? He must have mentioned they’d be haunting the castle as cats.
From the other side of the car, Gawain offered, “I found Kelly… Well, she found me.”
Given that he was looking in the direction of his feet, Kelly was probably doing to his ankles what she usually did to his cock. It was completely bizarre that the girl could make a meow sound sultry.
Corbett pointed towards the tree, bringing my attention to the other black cat as he walked towards it. “And unless you got a bunch’a parlor panthers, I think I spotted Alice…” He grabbed one of the lower branches of the tree and practically walked up the trunk until he could reach her… then he released the branch and landed again as though he was a cat himself.
He held Alice, stroking her back while she purred, completely casually.
And again, Sookie had only been distracted from her odd feeling temporarily.
Once inside, Sookie walked directly to Brandon and Ashley to hug them and thank them for being ‘sneaky assholes’… and then she crossed the foyer to hug Dinh, Saskia, Daan, Lars, Alcide, Simon, Igon and Swaantje for holding down the fort.
The only individuals who weren’t hugged were Cornelius and Mee… Gawain and the boys watched them gawk at my very friendly wife as though they were afraid for their turn to be hugged, but Sookie stopped and offered a respectful nod and waited to be properly introduced.
I explained in Mandarin, “She’ll probably continue to hug after I bring her over. She’s a Fae hybrid who was raised by Weres. She’s very physical…” Mee actually showed a hint of surprise under her usually cool façade. I continued in English, “Lord Mee of Eindhoven and Lord Cornelius of Zuid Holland are responsible for the Vampire soldiers on the property. Swaantje is Domina for Limburg’s pack under her husband, Morphbaas Gerrit Rutger. Lars Masse is Morphbaas of Rotterdam. Simon St. Cyr is Packmaster of the Cane River pack in Louisiana, and Alcide Herveaux is his Lieutenant. Igon Baroja commands the Joint Forces Tactical Extraction Division, to which Dillon Rutger is assigned. Brandon Rousseau is Sookie’s brother, and the little girl who climbed up to sit on his shoulders is Lindy. Ashley Matthews is his fiancé. Daan Klompenhower is a local boy who’s friends with the children. Dinh and Saskia Jung are my steward and housekeeper. If you need anything, just ask them. Selma Kansu is Sookie’s publicist and an old friend of mine. Corbett Stackhouse is Sookie’s father and he’s holding Alice Jeffries. Misty is Sookie’s daughter. Nigel Jeffries is on her shoulder. Ema Oswald is Mine. She isn’t just my property, she’s an asset to the Kingdom. She’s to be protected with the same zeal as my family. She’s holding Hope. Behind me are Lord Magistrate Gawain Green and Lords Edward and Richard Page of Luxembourg… And I’m holding Jenny, Sookie’s daughter… Sookie Stackhouse is also known as the best-selling children’s author Ana Louis. Her new title is Queen Consort Sookie Northman of the Northern Empire… Any questions?”
As far as I knew, it was the most crowded the foyer had ever been.
After a moment of blank stares or shaking heads, Misty asked, “What’s that smell?”
Freshly cut pink roses because the florist had made another delivery… and spices similar to the ones I smelled when Sookie made gumbo.
Ashley giggled, “Everything. Miles got here with coolers full of crawdads and other yums… Simon helped me and Saskia make a big dinner… etouffee, jambalaya, red beans and rice, maque choux, cornbread…”
Before Ashley could finish listing the bill of fare, Misty left for the kitchen.
Sookie giggled, “Do you want to split up? I’ll get the news from the chewers while you’ll get updated by your Lords. We can compare notes when I’m done eating my weight in red beans?”
I was still too curious about her mood to let her out of my sight. I would have only scrutinized it from my office.
I shook my head and started for the kitchen. “That would separate the publicist from the ground support dealing with the public. We’ll join you so we can get it all out of the way at once. Emre and Allecks should be arriving shortly, and we still need to make an appearance at the feast.”
Misty was already on a barstool, loading what looked like a melamine cafeteria tray with scoops of slop in a rainbow of colors, and everyone lined up behind her… Nigel was still on her shoulder.
After Dillon watched Misty feed a crumble of cornbread to the bird, he shooed Nigel from Misty’s shoulder. “Fuck off, Nigel. Get back to work.”
As Nigel flew from the room, he squawked, “Arse!”
Dillon eyed Alice until she hissed and jumped from Corbett’s arms… she ran past me just as I set Jenny down so she could prepare her plate. It had been hours since the last of the food Sookie packed had been devoured, and even though Jenny hadn’t complained, her stomach had.
I took Hope from Ema so she could eat, and the Vampires followed as I passed through the kitchen to wait in the dining room… Misty was the first to join us, and she paused for just a moment before setting her plate and glass of tea in front of Edward and climbed up to sit on his lap.
The table only had twenty-four chairs… She was making sure everyone had somewhere to sit.
I didn’t have time to remind Cornelius and Mee who Misty was (since everyone was introduced in bulk) before Hope gave me a present Misty could hear from the other end of the table.
Misty giggled, “You want me to-?”
I shook my head as I stood up. “I’ll take care of her. You need to eat… Was the diaper bag brought from the car?”
“I know Selma had it, but I don’t know if she put it down in the foyer or the kitchen…”
It was in the kitchen… and there was still a bottle left too. Thankfully, I wasn’t forced to fumble through making my first bottle with witnesses. I could certainly manage the microwave without embarrassing myself. I changed Hope in the den, and when I returned to the dining room, Cornelius and Mee were watching the archway for me to return.
Mee asked, “Did you just change a diaper?”
When I nodded, Gawain chuckled, “Her ovaries exploded.”
Mee scowled at him. “What does that mean?”
“As I understand it, an ovary explosion is an exaggeration of the female reaction to seeing a sexy alpha male performing tasks of an unexpectedly comforting or gentle nature…”
He was going to show off his evidence.
“I have pictures of other instances to have caused ovary explosions.”
I knew it.
When he fished his phone from his pocket, Mee shook her head. “No. I understand… It’s not exactly an exaggeration.”
Selma snickered, “It really isn’t… Especially when you’ve known Eric as long as we have.”
I called to Sookie, “New rule. You aren’t allowed to teach Gawain anything new without my approval.”
She peeked into the dining room and giggled, “What did I start?”
Before I could answer, Edward offered, “He changed Hope and returned with a bottle to feed her.”
Sookie cringed. “I’m sorry… Whose ovaries did he get?”
Selma and Mee raised their hands… and so did Cornelius.
One at a time, everyone trickled into the dining room…
Jenny stationed herself on Richard’s lap.
Lindy sat on Selma’s.
Corbett didn’t pause before taking the empty seat between Mee and Cornelius.
Ema blushed when Dillon demonstrated enough etiquette to pull out her chair.
Daan followed Brandon into the dining room to sit with him, so I assumed they’d spent at least a portion of their day discussing telepathy.
Sookie chatted with everyone else in the kitchen while they filled their plates… She thanked Ashley, Saskia and Simon for the delicious homecoming meal, and was the last person to enter the dining room… I almost didn’t see her behind Herveaux and St. Cyr.
I’d only ordered such a large table to fill the space, but it was finally serving a purpose.
I asked, “Have the auxiliary guards settled into their accommodations? Are there any complaints?”
Simon shook his head. “Ha! Not a one’a Cane River. Gate’ pourri, them. ‘Lessa yun turn up some heat, we happy Wolves, us.”
I was almost sure I understood him, since the only real surprise was ‘gate’ pourri’… French for ‘spoiled’.
Swaantje smiled and translated, “Cane River is becoming spoiled. The only way they could be happier is if it was warmer.”
Simon winked at her and took a sip of his beer. “Ya gettin’ it, you.”
Lars added, “The same could be said for Rotterdam, Majesty… As far as the grand accommodations are concerned. Of course, Rotterdammers know cold.”
Igon nodded, “The JFTED feels just as spoiled, Majesty… Morphbaas Masse was the first to deploy. When he mustered his men, he established the chain of command. His men answer to Morphbaas and Domina Rutger over him. I didn’t see any reason to disassemble something that worked…”
Alcide corrected, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it… or more colloquially, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Igon grinned and nodded. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Yes… I’ve been commanding my men tactically because they’re armed, but they’ve been mustered to accept orders from the Rutgers. Their function is limited as a NATO division so the Rutgers know any aggressive measures need to be carried out without our knowledge.”
I nodded. “Understandable. The primary concern at the moment is keeping the madness from the estate. The crowd’s excitement seems to be benevolent in nature… Unless Daan found something we should hear about.”
The boy’s eyes widened and he nearly choked on a mouthful of rice. When he stopped coughing, he explained, “Just a lot of Shifters and Human kids who like Notorious for normal reasons. It was difficult to stay focused though. A lot of my schoolmates are out there.”
Gerrit added, “So are most of the children belonging to Limburg and Noord Brabant…”
Swaantje continued, “I’ve been phoned all day about autographs.”
Sookie snickered, “Is the number of schools they attend manageable or do y’all do pack functions where I can make a cameo? What’s the best way to do that?”
Swaantje blinked a few times before she shook her head. “I wasn’t asking, Majesty…”
Sookie nodded. “Oh, just call me Sookie around here… How about I’ll exchange an autographed book for an hour of certified service? It’s always fun to see what a kid considers helpful. And little ones can get in on it because they can help their moms with housework.”
Perfect… not to mention magnanimous.
Alcide chuckled, “What are you going to do when the moms make you their hero for getting their kids to do chores?”
“I’ll cross that bridge later… So… is everyone behaving as much as can be expected in all this craziness?”
Lars sighed, “One of my men was extremely disrespectful to Brandon and Ashley. I couldn’t be more embarrassed by his behavior. He was completely out of line and he’s been sent back to Rotterdam.”
If only I were telepathic… I wanted to ask the others if it was just me or if Lars made anyone else think of what Merlotte would be like if he wasn’t an idiot.
I offered, “If the Shifter has been sent home, and there aren’t any hard feelings between the collateral parties, I don’t see why the incident needs to be revisited.”
Brandon shrugged. “I don’t have anything against Lars. He warned Hein that Ashley’s mine…”
Lars sighed again, “I’m only thankful there was a handful of witnesses to Brandon’s zeal concerning his bitch… Hein’s sutures will heal long before his packmates are bored with ridiculing him for being bested by a Human… No offense intended, Brandon, but he’s a competitive kick-boxer.”
Brandon chuckled, “Discipline doesn’t have anything on the blind rage of a pissed off redneck, dude. No offense taken.”
Sookie snickered, “So what are we dealing with in the crowd?”
Before the Packmaster, Lords or Morphbazen could answer, Brandon explained, “Sullivan came and went, and apologized for not being able to make any promises. Poor bastard’s scared to death someone’s going to get through the perimeter, and plans to be back daily to reinforce the wards… You got two Vampires out there who aren’t with Mee or Cornelius’s crews. They’re really young, like haven’t made it through their first century yet. They come out for a while and mingle, then go warm up. They’re just curious though… The Shifters out there know they’re Shifters… A couple of Daemons, but they left… The Humans out there are thinking Charles & Di, or Ranier & Grace. The only shittiness I’ve come across is parental, you know, hoping like hell their kids grow out of the Notorious phase before they freeze their balls off… which reminds me; the popular opinion is that you should’ve gotten married in the summer…”
Brandon paused long enough to chuckle when Gawain took a photo of Mee and Cornelius’s faces.
“So you’ve got a legit crowd of fans who just want to say they were here…”
Sookie nodded while she finished chewing. “There’s a bookstore in town.”
Brandon offered, “Talked to them today- well, Miles did. He translated for me. They’re on standby.”
Selma nodded approvingly and removed her phone from her pocket. While she dialed, she explained, “Consider a truckload of books and swag on the way already.”
Sookie giggled, “I guess I’ll practice my new autograph…” She turned to Mee and Cornelius, and offered, “My fans are usually easily pacified. A signed book and a photo opportunity should calm the situation substantially…”
Selma explained, “As a minimum, the parents will insist upon returning to their homes, and the adults will want to upload their photos. The crowd will dwindle faster if they get what they want.”
I nodded. “After sunset.”
Dillon volunteered, “We’ll sweep the bookstore during the day tomorrow.”
Brandon nodded. “I’m on board with that.”
Igon cleared his throat and nodded towards Mee and Cornelius before starting, “At the risk of offending, we’ve discussed the Vampire soldiers. The general consensus is that it’s in their best interest to be relieved. The freezing temperatures make them quite fragile. Since we seem to have reached the conclusion that crowd control is the objective, I’m sure the Shifters can manage that since we aren’t likely to lose extremities due to exposure. Or perhaps, they could be kept in reserve where they’re less at risk. The garage is heated, and as quickly as they can move, they could respond in seconds.”
Hurt feelings or not, he made an excellent point.
I asked, “Is their well-being your only concern?”
Alcide offered, “That and the fact that the poor bastards have no clue how to handle a mob of kids. One tried to move a group back and showed his fangs, but all the kids did was start asking stupid questions about Vampires. Don’t get me wrong, even I thought this could be much easier if they all got glamoured to go home, but if that isn’t in the cards, there isn’t a point in having them freezing their asses off.”
Simon added, “We knew is cold, yah. We bring cases’a hot packs, so dem be in’eir pockets, but ears n’toes, dey fucked.”
I chuckled, “I would have killed for thermal packs just to keep my fingers… They make a fine point. There isn’t a point in having Vampires risk extremities to the elements… Shifters are far better equipped to tolerate the weather, and since there are so many of them, they can be relieved from watch more frequently.”
Cornelius nodded. “We’ll dismiss them when we adjourn.”
Sookie nodded as she stood up, taking her plate back to the kitchen to refill it while she greeted Allecks. “Selma, Allecks is here, so if you could… You know.”
As Sookie left the room, Selma started, “As for the Stackhouse family, they’re Fae hybrids. Hope and Corbett are the only members of the family present who aren’t telepathic. Sookie is completely open about her ability among other Supernaturals, but her ex-husband is Human. Allecks Auers didn’t react well when she tried to explain her ability to him. The only Supernatural creatures he’s aware of are Vampires. He’d known me for a while before the Revelation, and he thought it was a hoax.”
Lindy huffed, “Poppa’s brain is scientific to a fault. He can’t even appreciate abstract art. He needs everything to have an explanation.”
I continued, “He’ll be with us for the weekend. As Sookie’s first husband, he’s been approached by the press several times. I don’t have any faith that he’d be allowed the privacy to visit with the children, and he travels from Bern to see them.”
Corbett finally stopped eating long enough to state, “And Brandon’s gonna behave his ass off while Allecks is here.”
Brandon narrowed his eyes at his father and growled, but he didn’t argue.
When Sookie opened the front door for Allecks, she giggled, “Thanks for making sure he got to the door safely, guys.”
As no less than four sets of heavy paws retreated, Allecks breathed, “Wolves Sookie? Is that the safest way to protect the house?”
She giggled, “They’re very well-behaved Wolves.”
“The soldiers with guns should be enough though…” I heard the flapping of wings, followed by what sounded like the yelp of a woman (not Sookie), making everyone in the dining room laugh quietly at Allecks’s expense. “What is that!?”
“It’s a Raven. His name is Nigel.”
“In the house?”
Dillon chuckled and whispered, “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to shift more in my life.”
Alcide chuckled and bumped fists with him. “I hear that.”
As Sookie led Allecks to the kitchen she explained, “We just got home a few minutes ago. Everyone’s in the dining room. We’re doing the security briefing over a late dinner.”
“Sookie, that thing… It’s staring at me.”
The Shifters in the room were doing their best to laugh quietly, even the Commander.
Sookie continued, “Security got a handle on the chaos pretty quickly, all things considered. I’m going to do a signing tomorrow night in town. After we see how that goes, we’ll know more.”
“You have a bird on your shoulder.”
Richard began whispering plans for Whitey and Yogi (the alligators) into Jenny’s ear.
It was difficult enough to keep a straight face, but Sookie said, “It’s time I told you. I was born a boy.”
“Is it sanitary for him to be in the kitchen?”
That was it… the dam broke… Simon nearly drowned on a mouthful of beer. Alcide and the Commander leaned against each other to laugh. Swaantje wiped tears from her eyes… Even Mee cracked a smile. Everyone was so completely amused (if not hysterical) that Hope grinned around the nipple of her bottle.
Brandon managed to pull himself together first… He whistled and called, “Nigel, cornbread?”
Given the look on Brandon’s face, he had every intention of finishing his meal with Nigel on his shoulder just to annoy his former brother-in-law… but I had to wonder what sort of grudge Brandon could possibly have. Allecks and Sookie had divorced before Brandon met her.
As Nigel flew into the room, Brandon held up a scrap of cornbread and slid his plate closer to Ashley. “I’d love another mountain of etouffee, sweetness. That shit was on point…”
She giggled as she left with their plates that his Fae was in overdrive .
Allecks balked (nearly dropping his plate) when Sookie led him into the dining room… because Nigel was nibbling bits of cornbread from between Brandon’s fingers.
Sookie walked the length of the table, introducing everyone with a brief description as she moved, before taking her seat next to me… but Allecks’s eyes never left Nigel.
Selma snickered, “Are you superstitious, Allecks? It’s just a bird.”
“Is it tame?”
The Rutgers began snickering because the Jeffries family was anything but tame.
Lindy giggled, “Poppa, he wouldn’t be in the house if he was going to poop all over the place. He’s housebroken.”
I offered, “If he wasn’t housebroken, he’d have been baked into a pie by now… We were just discussing that security seems to be quite taken care of.”
Allecks chose the available seat furthest from Brandon and Nigel. “That’s good news. I was worried there would be a horde big enough to keep you from the castle gates. There was a news release a few hours ago that mentioned Sookie’s commitment to Good Morning America had been canceled.”
“The arrangements for the interview were made while we still planned to deny the gossip… Sookie will still be interviewed, but it will be tomorrow night.”
“And what’s planned for tonight?”
“Sookie will appease the crowd with a brief appearance. Otherwise, we’re meeting with my lawyer about finalizing adoptions and acquiring new documentation for Sookie and the girls.”
“Documentation? Are you planning to travel again so soon?”
“Having their papers in order will ease traveling across the Human political borders within my Kingdom… And yes, we’ll be traveling within my Kingdom until we return to the States for Easter.”
“No. A few nights at a time. We’ll take your schedule into consideration, but you should try to keep in mind that pre-production for the Notorious movies will be hectic for a while…”
Brandon interrupted, “There’s a delivery… from Antwerp?”
That was for me…
When I stood up to greet the messenger, I handed Hope to Cornelius just for fun… and the camera flash behind me gave me something to look forward to since I was sure Gawain photographed the look on Cornelius’s face.
When I opened the door, four Wolves flanked a Human courier with a briefcase nervously clutched to his chest.
I instructed the Wolves to wait, and led the courier to my office…
I hadn’t expected there to be many choices considering the short notice… Of the seven beautiful rings I had to choose from, one of them stood apart from the others…
I’d called the diamond broker with simple instructions, and hoped I wouldn’t be forced to call another broker later…
The girls’ jewelry was simple, more age appropriate… the broker would have needed to try to fuck them up…
It was the jewelry for Sookie I was concerned with…
But everything was perfect.
The courier seemed even more nervous to leave with cash than he had been to carry the diamonds, and once I dismissed him, I called Sookie to my office…
She stopped in the doorway with her eyebrow raised. “You know I was cheating, right?”
“Then you know my only complaint is that a Human courier was sent. Were you at least deterred by his seed language?”
She nodded and giggled, “A little. You’re learning… Let me see what you did.”
“You haven’t figured out how to control the bond yet… I know you like it.”
“It’s… Jesus Eric… It’s like staring into the sun.”
“It’s only seven carats.”
As she walked towards me, she snorted, “And the pavé weight?”
“Only another two carats… and it’s set in platinum.”
She still hadn’t reached for it, so I lifted her hand and slid the ring into place… She immediately dropped her shoulder as though the ring was so heavy it weighed her down.
I laughed, “Don’t be a brat… You had the opportunity to issue my limitations when I first mentioned ring shopping last night.”
She giggled as she straightened and stretched up to kiss me. “Okay then… why a yellow diamond when we have druzy?”
“Druzy are absolutely perfect for us. They’re still ours, but I thought it was fitting for you to have something that looked like the sun.”
“Because you like the scent of sunshine.”
“Because it wasn’t until you came along that I realized how dark I’d let myself become… I’d become everything I’ve always hated, and I needed you to shed some light on that.”
Her eyes watered and she slapped my chest. “Are you trying to make me cry?”
“No. I hate it… Distract yourself. Call the girls.”
While I waited, I replaced Sookie’s modest gold hoops with the earrings that matched her ring…
When Misty entered my office, she cooed, “Ooh la la, tres magnifique.”
“I’m glad you approve. You’re next.”
I nodded and pulled her princess cut solitaire from the box. “It serves you right. You didn’t buy a druzy for yourself.”
She scowled at me as I lifted her hand and slid it onto her middle finger.
I tried, “You realize that anyone who pisses you off will have to suffer a one-carat dent, don’t you?”
When she realized she was smiling, she bit her lip.
I handed her the box for her earrings and moved on to give Lindy her diamonds…
She didn’t argue, but she stared at her ring with her earring box in her hand until I was reaching for Jenny’s hand. “This is a fake, right? You wouldn’t give real diamonds to kids, right?”
“I wouldn’t give diamonds to kids, but you’re not just kids.”
Jenny’s hand was shaking when I slid her ring into place. “What if we lose them? I… how much… Eric… they’re…”
I finished, “The ring isn’t worth a fraction of the finger it’s on… You own it. It doesn’t own you… and if I have to, I’ll buy every fucking diamond in Antwerp just to make sure you understand that.”
Jenny looked like it was killing her to hold her face up so I could help her with her earrings, and as soon as I was finished, she wrapped her arms around my waist.
I was completely fucking lost.
And looking to Sookie for clues didn’t help… she sniffled, “There go my ovaries again.”