Allecks seemed grateful for the distraction as we left the dining room… or perhaps he was just pleased to be included in the meeting with the lawyer after he worried I was going to steal the girls from him.
The standing plan was to meet with Emre, and then walk across the street so Sookie could greet her fans. Since Hope seemed to have her own fan club for the time being, we wouldn’t need to assign someone in particular to look after her. And while we were entertaining Sookie’s fans, Allecks would have a heart-to-heart with the girls about the aspect of their lives he’d missed out on.
Other than tolerating the mob of well-wishers, it all seemed very simple…
But then we walked into my office…
Misty and Jenny were sitting on my desk facing Emre, and Lindy was sitting on his lap… Given how uncomfortable he looked, she might as well have a sword to his throat… I was almost certain they were flirting with him.
Too. Young. When Lindy joked about bodies being flung into the moat, it was cute. Not so much anymore.
I asked, “What have you done to him?”
Misty shrugged. “Nothing. He’s just uptight.”
The way Lindy was fidgeting on his lap probably had something to do with that.
“You can’t break him… He has a lot of work to do.”
I hadn’t necessarily been thrilled to retain a lawyer who’d barely been practicing for a decade (and none of his experience was international), but it wasn’t as though I’d given myself many options when I ascended. Since being hired, Emre had proven to be worth his weight in platinum, even if he thanked Perry Mason and John Grisham for his legal prowess.
They weren’t allowed to break him.
Lindy patted his arm and giggled, “We’re taking it easy on him, I swear.”
Sookie settled on my lap as Allecks leaned against the wall…
I offered, “If you three were easy on him, I want to file a grievance.”
Lindy giggled again, “Denied… You were a big ole turd. Mr. Asker’s really friendly, huggable even…” She bounced enough to peck his cheek and took a document from him to hold it out for Allecks. “And he spotted a loophole in like the first minute.”
Emre shook his head. “Not necessarily. I’m not completely sure of the bigger picture. There are several options to explore… If you order Allecks Auers to relocate, as per your custodial claim on his daughter as her stepfather, your order usurps any existing clauses requiring Mr. Auers’s management of the property. The executor would be forced to maintain the hotel as part of Linda Auers’s trust.”
“As though the will had been written to retain the holdings until she reaches adulthood all along, yes?”
He nodded. “In my experience, a royal summons, especially when there are obvious concerns as to Linda Auers’s safety if she were to leave the King’s Empire without an entourage of security, would be the fastest and cleanest method of escaping the clause that limits his availability to his child. Of course, there are other ways…”
I asked, “Such as?”
“There isn’t a clause preventing Allecks Auers from expanding his daughter’s entitlement. He could purchase a small local hotel as an expansion. As manager for that establishment, he would technically be managing Auershaus in part… Or he could simply take a secondary management position such as scheduling, which he could perform at a distance… Honestly, the will is worded in such a way, I’m almost sure the authoring lawyer intended for it to be breeched. On the first read, I found a handful of viable loopholes to exploit… I still recommend the royal summons, and if all else fails, there isn’t a codicil preventing someone from purchasing the estate from the trust once Mr. Auers violates the conditions. Options. You have plenty.”
Sookie huffed out a deep breath and asked, “To clarify, if Eric summons Allecks to live in his Kingdom so he can more effectively protect Lindy during visitations, then… I guess I’m asking about the steps that would need to be taken.”
“I’d draft the King’s order, and then the petition for the court in Bern. Mr. Auers would pack… Anything else would be a private matter between the King and Mr. Auers.”
Lindy offered, “If I have to pick one, I like that one best.”
Allecks asked, “Do you have another idea?”
She nodded. “Quit. I don’t want it. I don’t want their houses. I don’t want their money. I don’t want their stupid hotel. They were nasty people who treated you like crap for wanting to be a doctor, and treated Mommy like crap for being working-class. Everything listed in that will is poison. You don’t deserve to be punished until I’m old enough to legally walk away from it, because that’s exactly what I’ll do. Give it up, Poppa. Just walk away. Don’t spend the next fifteen years doing something you hate so I can have something I don’t want… Are you convinced yet? I can do this all night.”
Allecks took a deep breath and asked, “Does any part of your reasoning have to do with your ability?”
She didn’t wait a heartbeat before she nodded. “Yeah. As long as I can remember, anything that made you happy embarrassed them. That included me… I don’t want my ‘birthright’ any more than you ever did. They crapped on your book, on your doctorate, on your marriage, on your kid… screw them. They made you, by extension your family, miserable for long enough.”
Allecks sighed, “I’ll think about it.”
“Nuh-uh. You want to give me time to change my mind. It’s not gonna happen. If your parents were right about anything, it’s that I’m just like my obstinate mother… ‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony…’ Argue with Ghandi. I dare you.”
Allecks snorted out a chuckle. “You are just like your obstinate mother.”
She shrugged. “My father doesn’t like wearing a leash either.”
He sighed, repeating, “I’ll think about it.”
Lindy turned enough to raise an eyebrow at Emre. “And Mommy’s the only obstinate one, right? I don’t think so…”
Sookie groaned, “Mr. Asker, I’m sorry… She’s usually energetic as it is, but she was cooped up on a plane for nine hours, and she just loaded up on carbs and sugar.”
Lindy nodded and whispered, “And Simon made Bananas Foster too. Do you like Bananas Foster?”
He leaned back stiffly, looking slightly panicked, and shook his head. “I can’t say I’ve ever tried it.”
“Bananas, ice cream, rum sauce… I haven’t tried Simon’s Bananas Foster, but any Bananas Foster is good Bananas Foster…”
I chuckled, “It’s as though she’s in sugarlust.”
Misty droned, “And if she doesn’t stop bouncing around I’m going to get motion sickness just watching her. I didn’t like dinner enough to taste the remix… Lindy! Don’t make me tie you down. Eric’s got like a million ties.”
Lindy blew a raspberry at her and chirped, “The adoptions. They’re next, right?”
I nodded. “Only if you settle down.”
She bit her lip and cringed. “Yeah. Sorry. I’ll try.”
“Good… Emre, Allecks and Sookie filed to adopt Misty and Jenny. They’re in the standard waiting period between filing and finalization. What’s the fastest way to bypass that? They underwent a home study that’s been quite obviously upended by the media attention…”
“That’s easy. I’ll spend a day in court at The Hague. It’ll be final by the time my coffee cup’s empty…”
Lindy interrupted, “Coffee! We have coffee. Do you want some?”
Emre closed his eyes and shook his head. “No thank you… I only need their documentation and an order from you. I’ll only need a couple of additional days to obtain their new documents, but that’s because I’ll have to hold a bureaucratic peon’s hand through data entry. I’ll begin making rounds on Monday and I should have everything wrapped up by Friday.”
At least there was one perk to being King.
“And Hope’s adoption?”
“As long as I can obtain the birth-mother’s signature, it won’t take-”
Sookie offered, “I have it. I had the old family lawyer draw up papers as soon as I found out about the baby. Hadley signed them before I left Louisiana. I wasn’t going to take that risk. The last thing I needed was headlines about an international abduction.”
He snorted, “Do you think your fans would notice? When I drove through, a couple of women were debating what color your wedding gown was. You’re American, so it had to be white, but you married a Vampire, so it had to be black or red.”
Sookie snorted, “What? No theories we were naked and bathed in blood? The adult readers are hung up on other fictions.”
He shook his head. “Not that I heard, but a younger child suggested the King keeps a Minotaur… Is there anything else you need me to do?”
I answered, “Sookie’s name and title change. In an effort to preserve her family’s anonymity, she’s forgoing middle names. Queen Consort Sookie Northman with a legal alias of Ana Louis.”
He nodded. “Simple enough-”
Misty interrupted, “When you do the paperwork for our adoptions, we want new middle names. We were going to keep Delahoussaye, but we changed our minds. And don’t forget to fix Jenn’s name.”
Emre raised an eyebrow in my direction, so I explained, “Jenny’s mother misspelled Genevieve with a J. She wants to change her name to Jennifer… What do you plan to use as a middle name?”
Stackhouse wasn’t a good idea. If the public noticed the trend, that all of them shared a common middle name, it would lead the press directly to Corbett’s house.
Misty offered, “Misty Kendal Auers… Jennifer Elizabeth Auers…”
It was fitting given their personalities. Winifred Kendal had been rebellious and independent, and by the time she adopted the name Elizabeth Pennington, she’d mellowed enough to become a student of Human nature. Elizabeth was much more compassionate than Winifred.
I tried to ignore the lump in my throat by focusing on Allecks’s approving nod.
He grinned and asked, “They definitely fit with your first names. How did you pick Kendal and Elizabeth?”
“She’s an awesome character in a series we’ve been reading. She’s perfectly flawed and has the potential to be anything she wants. She got out of a situation that made her miserable. She never looked back and she never forgot what side her bread was buttered on.”
Perfect description… and perfectly paralleled.
Sookie cleared her throat and sniffled, “Talk about fitting… Eric, are you alright with that?”
It would have been nice to know their plans beforehand so I could brace myself.
Lindy giggled, “Stop talking about it. You’re making him feel things.”
Gawain knocked on the door to my office in perfect time.
“Mind if I interrupt?” He was already walking in to return Hope to me. “The chaos seems to bother her.”
Of course it did. She was accustomed to being in a small house with calm Vampires.
“We were just finishing Emre’s list of chores.”
“Ah. You offered to let Ema explore. I think she’ll be able to make a safe getaway while you’re attending your feast.”
“Are you planning to escort her?”
“No. I’ll be in public, fawning over my new Queen. Dillon offered. He knows the area and he’s armed.”
“Good choice…” As I stood up, I suggested, “Emre, you’re welcome to use my office while we’re gone.”
He was thanking me when I heard the front door open, followed by high-heels and an unfamiliar female voice… “For the love of Hendrix. It’s like Woodstock without the drugs… Sierra Littleton, and who are you?”
Gerrit stammered for a moment before he answered, “Morphbaas Rutger.”
The woman cooed, “It’s lovely to meet you, Morphbaas. Is my Maker available or should I present myself to the King? Selma Kansu. She should be expecting me.”
The girls jumped from their seats and ran from the room, yelling for, “Seeeeeeee AIR ahhhhhh!” I was almost sure they couldn’t hear her voice, so they’d either sensed her mind or saw her in Gerrit’s thoughts.
Sookie took my hand to lead the way as she sighed, “I assume Selma called Sierra.” When we turned the corner, the girls were aggressively hugging her while the men filling the hallway stared at Sierra like the women had stared at Emre earlier.
Apparently, Selma had been downstairs unpacking and stopped next to Sookie. “Eric, I hope you don’t mind, but I sent my child shopping for Sookie. I’m sure she left most of her ‘public appearance’ attire in Bern.”
That explained the large suitcase and garment bag Jenny had just sat on, but…
The more the merrier? Unless Edward’s widow ran the house as an inn, the house hadn’t ever been so active… The only real problem was the limited number of light-proof rooms, but we’d managed in Bon Temps.
“I don’t mind.”
“King Eric Northman, my child Sierra Littleton. I found her in Paris fifty years ago, but she’s very well-behaved for her age.”
Sierra smiled at her Maker before offering a deep bow in my direction…
I’d half-expected the women to react jealously, like the men had when our respective partners were drooling over Emre, but… the women were staring at Sierra too. She was… stunning.
Selma asked her child, “Now what caused your frenetic mood?”
She removed her leather gloves as she sighed, “The usual rush. Of course, as soon as I was given a project with a deadline, the rest of the world decided to slow down around me. Cashiers, drivers… Sel, Brandies called me as soon as I crossed into Germany. I wasn’t sure what to tell him, so I just told him I was on an errand for you.”
Selma rolled her eyes. “He knows Ana Louis is my client, but he’s paranoid enough to…”
Richard snorted, “It’s confirmed that Llewellyn and Sabine have been assassinated. I just received word. No news on Tadlocke yet…”
Gawain offered, “I have confirmation on his death too. Clovis used the news of the wedding as an excuse to summon them.”
How perfectly expedient of Clovis.
Richard continued, “If Brandies hasn’t been told why they were ended, he’d think Eric is making a move on France while everyone watches the circus in Eijsden. Selma being here, even if Ana Louis has always been Selma’s client, implies that she’s been drafted. Especially given the recent Lordships that have been vacated in the Northern Empire.”
I explained, “Once Brandies calls Clovis, his paranoia should be extinguished.”
Sierra nodded. “Not that such matters are any of my concern, but it makes me feel better to know the situation will resolve itself.”
Sookie asked, “So what did you bring me?”
Sierra shrugged, “After I stared into your closet for a while, I gave up and performed a tactical strike at our boutique.”
Sookie snorted, “You’re a bigger turd about my wardrobe than Selma is, I swear…” After a moment Sookie groaned, “I’m out of stalls, aren’t I? Time to go into the cold.”
Gawain snorted, “How the fuck do you live in Bern for years without getting used to the cold?”
“Traveling between different climates a lot… Oh, and you can kiss my ass, Mr. Eric Should Annex Louisiana. You prefer warmer weather too.”
Swaantje left the foyer for just a moment before returning with a clipboard. “We do have something you could stall with… Some of the gifts are perishable… King Maximo sent a truck full of Italian wine, the prettiest tomatoes I’ve ever laid eyes on, fish…”
Sookie gasped, “Turbot?”
Swaantje nodded. “There are more than a hundred of them. Several cases of scallops and muscles, and a variety of breads and cheeses… The driver said, ‘King Maximo sends his congratulations and says you should feed your wife because she’s too thin’…”
Sookie was giggling when Swaantje continued, “The driver said there was a lot of cursing. You’re a son of a bitch for being lucky enough to meet Ana after her divorce.”
“Sookie, are there any Kings who haven’t tried to keep you?”
Allecks shook his head. “Rodrigo offered to let her keep me as a nanny… in my presence.”
Sookie snorted, “Rodrigo loves being told ‘no’, by the way… Like he didn’t have a harem of mostly naked women roaming around… Anyway, I guess we’ll have Italian for dinner tomorrow night. We’ll be able to plow through Max’s gift with as much company as we have.”
Max. I was almost sure he allowed the nickname too.
Simon chuckled, “You got my help. Love a new recipe, me.”
Swaantje offered, “I’ll help too… King Nicholas is responsible for the steer. The message was just… ‘Bullshit’…” Gawain, Selma, Edward, Richard, Mee, Cornelius and I interrupted Swaantje by laughing. “And the sheep are from Wouter. The message was, ‘There’s a saying about pulling the wool over someone’s eyes. You’re up to something’.”
It was safe to assume they hadn’t met Sookie.
Edward said, “We’ll make sure Nicolas is invited to the Luxembourg reception. We’ll tell Bronya to invite Wouter to hers.”
Sookie huffed, “And I guess a butcher needs to be called about all the livestock. We can keep some for us, but most of the meat can be distributed.”
Dinh nodded as he pulled his phone from his pocket. “I’ll start calling butchers and slaughterhouses at dawn.”
Sookie added, “Swaantje, you can call the local bitches to have them fill their freezers. I’d hate for any of it to spoil, and I’m sure the caterers have guidelines even if there isn’t a USDA to breathe down their necks here… Who sent the chickens? Tyson?”
Swaantje flipped a few pages on her clipboard before adding, “And the swine. His message was, ‘I offered to hire a chef. You know where to find me when the Swede wears on you’.”
Sookie hid her face in her hands and laughed quietly, so Misty explained, “She told him she couldn’t move to another country where she couldn’t find decent fried chicken and waffles or barbecue.”
Sookie laughed into her hands, “I don’t even really like chicken and waffles as a rule, not together, but… I guess… Belgian waffles…”
I sighed, “Do I want to know what Clovis sent? Perhaps a better marriage proposal?”
Selma shook her head. “He didn’t meet her in person. He assumed I was ghostwriting the Notorious books.”
It was probably better that way. That prick might have had the Eiffel Tower painted her favorite color and flown in enough honeysuckle to line the Seine.
Swaantje flipped through the papers on the clipboard again and offered, “He sent a painting. A Cézanne, but that was delivered before the wedding news reached us…”
A thank you gift for telling him about his bad seeds, no doubt.
Swaantje continued, “Earlier tonight, several pastry chefs arrived from Paris with trucks full of ingredients. They’ve been working at the restaurants in town to provide sweets for the feast… King Dmitri sent his congratulations on a plane full of vodka, caviar and smoked sturgeon. King Marcos sent a shipment of Ouzo, loukaniko and cheeses with his congratulations…”
Misty giggled, “I can get used to this. The best part of traveling is the food.”
Jenny asked, “What kind of horses did that Lord send?”
Swaantje answered, “Lord Connelly sent beautiful thoroughbreds. Two stallions and three mares… gray or black… If you need Atja for anything, she’s probably in the stable with them… uhhhh, Sookie…”
Sookie whimpered, “Everybody else just sent stuff that can be sorted out anytime, didn’t they?”
Swaantje snickered, “I’ll light a fire in the den for you?”
Sookie gave her a little smile, but then she blew a raspberry at Alcide before grabbing the handle on the suitcase Sierra brought with her.
She grumbled as she walked away, “I don’t see your Lwizyané ass volunteering to go outside.”
Jenny held her arms out to take the baby from me and offered, “We’re going upstairs with Onkel. It’s quiet in the back of the house.”
After handing Hope over to Jenny, I offered, “She finished her bottle, but she could erupt again.”
Jenny giggled, “Nahhh… she’ll save it for you.”
More than likely.
I grabbed the girls’ suitcases and Hope’s hammock, carrying them upstairs with an entourage just behind me… specifically, the Stackhouse clan, Ema, Allecks and Daan.
After leaving the girls in their room with Allecks, and settling Ema in hers, I set out in search of Sookie…
She was squatting next to the suitcase Sierra brought, digging through the contents when I walked into our room.
I might have let myself become preoccupied with the concept if the hammock Dinh had bought for Hope didn’t serve as a distraction…
The frame was more rustic in design than the one Sookie had bought in the States… and when I caught myself realizing what Dinh meant about playing with new toys (specifically, that I begrudged him for assembling the hammock), I realized I probably should have just concentrated on my other novelty. It was easier to think about sharing my resting place with Sookie than it was to realize I was fucking nesting.
I sat on the corner of the bed and watched Sookie try to plan her ensemble until she stood with an armful of items, leaving the suitcase nearly empty, and tossed everything to the bed…
She proceeded to straddle my legs and surprise me with a long kiss…
I interrupted it by chuckling, “You’re using me to stall.”
She tightened her hands in my hair and argued, “Am not. I’m thanking you for being such a high-handed prick.”
“Allecks’s reaction is more sedated than any of you expected, yes?”
“No… Actually, he’s furious and annoyed… but the energy we expected is bubbling up from the guilt fountain… Lindy couldn’t be more excited to hear him thinking of questions to ask about her ability. Brandon’s going to monitor things while we’re outside…”
She was interrupted by a heated debate upstairs… Vampires and Shifters bickering about who thought it was a good idea to allow Sookie and me to come to our room unsupervised… The argument was over who would have to interrupt us.
Apparently, Sookie’s knitting needle/sounding threat had taken root.
It was amusing to say the least… listening to Vampires call ‘not it’, argue for drawing straws, and debate why the fuck paper beats rock.
Who finally ‘bit the bullet’ was even more amusing…
While everyone else bickered, Simon and Alcide chuckled to themselves as they made their way downstairs.
One of them knocked, but Sookie didn’t say anything before she started laughing… I was still waiting for an explanation when she came from the bathroom. Yes, she’d laughed that hard…
Simon and Alcide had thought the love theme from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to distract Sookie…
That was actually funny… but no sooner than Sookie began pulling her clothing off, she stopped.
Stopped smiling, giggling, changing… She had her back to me, tilting her head downward and that bizarre curiosity had returned to our bond…
I finally asked, “What’s wrong?”
She turned around slowly enough to make me worry…
She faced me, in nothing but her panties… staring back at me with her mouth agape…
“Homer,” was all she could say.
Homer… the boy had said he was fixing her.
Sookie’s scar… it was gone.
There wasn’t the slightest hint that she’d ever been in a car accident…
“You’ve been feeling oddly curious since you held the boy.”
She ran her hand over where her scar used to be and cleared her throat. “I… uh… I was… There’s a version where Hadley settled down with a Daemon… their baby ended up with a healing ability…”
“You were wondering if Homer shares an ability with that child, yes?”
“Minerva’s only a few years old… She just… Eric, this isn’t possible…”
“You say that as though your scars could be hiding on your back… Sookie, you don’t even have the faint stretch marks on your hips any longer.”
She whimpered, pushing down the front of her panties, running her hand over the only physical imperfection she’d ever had.
It was as though she didn’t want to allow herself to be happy.
I closed the gap between us and wrapped my arms around her… I had a sneaking suspicion I knew what her emotional hurdle was…
“Are you wondering if your internal scarring is gone as well?”
She croaked, “It doesn’t matter…”
“It does… Scarring is the only reason my Legion isn’t big enough to take over the world…”
At least she was slightly amused.
“Is there a procedure, something that isn’t terribly invasive, that can reveal what we’re already sure of?”
She whimpered, “Probably.”
“Then while we’re waiting for the media frenzy to die down a bit, you can decide…”
She blurted, “To be honest, I hated being pregnant. It slowed me down. Maybe I just wanted more because…”
“Because the accident robbed you from the rest of the experience.”
She whimpered again, “Yeah.”
One of the Weres in the hallway subtly reminded us they could hear our conversation by clearing his throat… Like it really mattered.
“Then, it seems like Homer gave you a second chance.”
“But what? After you tolerated my bellicose efforts to have a chance to see Liz again… Do you think I’d begrudge you for wanting another child? You might as well… I’ll already be tossing Hope’s suitors into the moat…”
She choked out a laugh and rested her forehead on my shoulder. “You’re such a shit… First you talked me into taking Hope…”
“I’m not talking you into anything, Sookie. I’m talking you out of convincing yourself I’ll make you regret it… It’s completely your decision.”
At her age, she had plenty of time to consider carrying another child… and she’d probably regret not taking advantage of the opportunity forever.
“We’d have to find a donor…”
“From what I hear, you don’t need to be too selective. Hadley’s an excellent illustration of that theory… Besides, didn’t you decide that a rapist had fathered the cutest of your braid-babies?”
She snickered, but Alcide mumbled to whoever had just entered the hallway, “You might not want to-”
Before he could finish, the door to the room opened, and Gawain walked directly towards us with a sheet of paper in his hand…
“The cat’s out of the bag in regards to Ema… Dillon went to fetch her. He was more than slightly troubled to find her zoned out. She’d only sat at her new desk to look at the art supplies Dinh found, and she was found feverishly drawing. Ema’s already cognizant again, and promised to explain to Dillon while they’re touring the area. He’s been told to avoid any sort of artistic medium while they’re out…”
Sookie was pressed against me, covering her body as much as possible… not that it did any good. She was only wearing a g-string.
He shook his head. “Oh no. I want to see…” When Sookie growled at him, he grabbed her shirt from the bed and rolled his eyes as he offered it to her. “As tiny as your bikini tops are, how do you have any modesty? And you should be accustomed to my nosiness by now.”
She growled again and used the shirt to cover her chest as she stepped away from me. “You’re such a damn turd.”
He smiled and shrugged, passing the sheet of paper to me before reaching for Sookie…
He crouched down in front of her to put one hand on each of her hips, and she seemed to be bracing herself as he squeezed, but he wasn’t causing any pain.
He was smirking when he offered, “I’ve been curious since the boy said he was fixing you… I didn’t want to say anything… Optimism is a nasty twat…” As he stood up, he folded his arms and nodded towards the page in my hand. “Mazel tov?”
If I hadn’t lifted the page to look at it, Sookie might have taken it from me so she could see it.
I wasn’t sure either of us could have thought of something to say if it had been scripted for us.
The drawing was of Sookie, using my shoulder as her pillow with her hand resting on the back of an infant sprawled out on my chest as Hope had been when I rose in the braid…
In spite of Hope’s curls, the baby in the drawing was practically bald.
In spite of the litany of other versions of Sookies and Erics, the ring on Sookie’s finger was the one I’d just given her, and the baby’s little hand had snagged the chain from my druzy.
I’m not sure why I was letting myself analyze the minutia of the sketch…
Not only had Ema created the drawing at the exact time that we realized he was possible, but…
Winston Northman was clearly written across the bottom of the page.