Unfortunately—for me—I knew that Sookie was too tired for me to use her body as my own preferred fount of mouthwash, and she disappeared back into the bathroom—after chiding me for interrupting her routine.
I wasn’t about to deny any claim that my pregnant bonded mate made when she was fatigued.
As I heard Sookie swishing her mouthwash and then spitting, I chuckled softly. I knew that she’d follow that up by swishing some water because she didn’t like how strong of a taste the mouthwash left behind.
Again, I found myself truly blissful that I was learning all about the mundane things that made up Sookie’s daily patterns. I had never imagined that I would enjoy being “domesticated.” I would have thought that the practice of adhering to habits and routines would have caused me to feel trapped—claustrophobic even.
But as I imaged countless years of sharing these small rituals with Sookie, I couldn’t imagine a better constant for my life. Like the sound of waves, I would never tire of the sounds of the world Sookie had given to me—the one she was now at the heart of. And I didn’t expect that I’d tire of the sights, the tastes, the touches, or the scents either.
And—of course—it didn’t hurt that the waves I loved so much could go from calm to tempestuous in a moment. Indeed, though the sounds, smells, and sights of them might have seemed consistent, no two waves in the millennium I’d been alive had ever been the same. Similarly, I knew that no moment with my bonded wife would ever truly be the same as another one. No matter the patterns we followed, each stitch would be unique and help to create the art of us.
“If you keep on sending so much love into the bond, I’m going to be cryin’ on the toilet!” Sookie chided tenderly after she spit out the water she’d rinsed with.
I chuckled. “I will save my pondering for after you take care of your human needs then, min kära.”
“Thanks,” she said with a smile in her voice.
Gods—I loved how I was learning the meaning of each pitch of her voice!
“I thought you said you’d save it, Northman,” she chuckled as she leaned around the door again. I could see that she had tears in her eyes because she had felt the intensity of my emotions for her.
“I will try harder,” I smiled at her. I did so hate her tears, and she was always too close to them because of her changing hormones.
“See that you do,” she winked before disappearing into the bathroom yet again —this time closing the door so that she could take care of her human needs.
So that I wouldn’t risk unwittingly making her cry as she sat on her toilet, I reviewed my night thus far.
FLASHBACK—EARLIER THAT NIGHT
After Ian had been introduced to the rest of the “team,” he, Thalia, and I escorted Andy to the Compton mansion. Terry, Arlene, and their children—along with Holly’s sons—had arrived a little earlier and were in the kitchen fixing a snack from the food I’d had stocked. I led Andy to Bill’s office.
“This ain’t right,” Andy said as I showed him the paperwork Mr. Cataliades had faxed over—paperwork that would change the ownership of Compton’s Bon Temps land and all the property upon it. I had to hand it to Compton in one way: he had managed to obtain adequate office equipment during his tenure as king.
So his time hadn’t been a complete waste.
“Why? Price too high?” I smirked. “Need to borrow that dollar?”
Andy shook his head. “You’re basically giving this place away, and now I find out that you’re wantin’ to pay rent for the use of the apartments!” He shook his head even harder. “I can’t allow that!”
“Which part?” I asked.
“Any of it,” he returned stubbornly.
“Then you will allow me to build a silver-enclosed panic room for your daughters at your grandmother’s house?” I asked.
“She’d never allow that,” the sheriff sighed. “In fact, I don’t rightly know how I’m gonna explain the girls to her. She was pissed enough at me for lettin’ Terry, Arlene, and the kids stay in the house after their place burned down.” He shook his head in disgust. “The old bat even made me promise to let them use only one of her guestrooms—so they wouldn’t get too comfortable and not look for a new place for themselves.” He lifted his chin in a sign of defiance. “But I didn’t think that was right—so I let Arlene and Terry take my room so they could have their privacy. I just slept on the couch. And then the girls arrived, and I had to open up another of Caroline’s precious guestrooms for them,” he commented sarcastically. “I had to beg Portia not to tell Caroline about any of it.”
“You refer to your grandmother by her first name?” I asked.
“She insists,” Andy shrugged. “She didn’t have much interest in me after I didn’t wanna take on my father’s business. Matter-of-fact, she only let me stay livin’ in the house ’cause she wanted a free errand boy.”
“And what business was your father in?” I asked curiously. It seemed that Andy and I had something else in common: we’d both be pressured to follow in our fathers’ footsteps.
“My dad was a lawyer. Portia ended up takin’ over the practice. She was always the smart one—anyway. And I like bein’ a sheriff,” he explained.
“You have the instinct to protect your own,” I commented.
“Well—sure,” he answered.
“Then sign it,” I smirked as I gestured toward the contract.
He growled. Obviously, he’d been hanging around Weres too much.
“This dwelling contains vampire-proof spaces. And—as soon as the wards are in place—your children will be safer here than anywhere else I can think of,” I reasoned.
The father before me was clearly fighting his pride, so I was silent for the moment. Best to let him defeat himself—rather than to add to his discomfort by doing it for him.
Finally, he sighed loudly. “Okay—but Terry ought to be co-owner. He’s just as much Bill’s descendent as I am.”
“Done,” I smirked, pointing to a second version of the paperwork, which I’d thought to have drawn up.
Andy looked down and was surprised to see that Terry Bellefleur was already listed as co-owner on it.
He muttered something about “manipulative bastards” as I zipped out of the room to collect Terry.
Thankfully, Terry didn’t argue over the situation after Andy explained that Bill had been their relation, and—with a few swirls of the pen—Compton’s old manor-house became the new Bellefleur home.
Immediately, the vampires inside—myself included—were forced toward the nearest exit. Andy was quick enough to realize that we now needed an invitation, and he managed to issue one before we were flung outdoors.
After that, Ian, Thalia, and I zipped back to Sookie and my home to get the witches. And then the girls “popped” to their father’s side, and each gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before running off to claim their rooms. Coby and Lisa, discerning what their cousins were up to, quickly went to fight with them over the living spaces. Holly stopped her sons, Wade and Rocky, from following the others by reminding them that they were “guests.” As a consolation, I told them about the video game consoles Bill kept in the living room. The teens looked uncertain; clearly a part of them wanted to play the games, while another part wanted to run after the girls—whom they had clearly noticed with appreciation.
Much to Andy’s chagrin.
In the end, Halo won out for the teen boys, so Andy felt no need to draw his actual firearm.
Soon enough, Terry and Andy had to go upstairs to “referee” their children, who were bickering loudly over the bedrooms. I chuckled. Since the estate boasted many bedrooms—not counting any of the apartments—I couldn’t see much chance in the family running out of room.
Even as large as Andy’s family had become—seemingly overnight.
A fire forcing Terry’s family of five to move in with Andy and Portia (who was now, thankfully, out of the picture).
The birth and rapid growth of four children—with three of them having reached their adulthood.
The addition of Holly, whom Andy clearly loved, and her two boys.
I could empathize with Andy’s “growing pains.”
I was about to “help” with the situation by reminding the adults that the math actually worked out perfectly. There were eight children, counting the infant, Mikey. And there were two couples. And there were ten bedrooms. The only real issue I could foresee would be between the adult couples, who might want to fight over Bill’s old master bedroom. I’d never been in it—thank the gods—but, considering Bill’s love for ostentation, I imagined that it was much larger than the other bedrooms and probably had an opulent bathroom attached. Of course, my logic (and math) didn’t account for Holly needing a “fake” bedroom so that Andy and she could “sneak around.”
Chuckling at that thought, I texted Brady to revise my former instructions. Instead of having our “new” Weres use the apartment above the Bellefleur garage between their shifts, I told him to arrange to have them split up between three of the five multi-bedroom apartments spread around the perimeters of the property. The fourth could be used by Maria-Star and Amelia. And the fifth could serve Tray and Mustapha for the time being. As decided before, Brady would stay in the third bedroom in my and Sookie’s home—at least for the time being.
Because the over-the-garage apartment was now “free” for use, I suggested to Holly that her boys might be more comfortable there. Not only were they older—at least in the number of years they’d been alive—than the other children, but also Andy would certainly prefer the extra space between his daughters and the teens.
Of course, the Bellefleur girls had—unbeknownst to the Cleary boys—already made claims to other males. I smirked, not envying Andy the potential “issues” he’d have with his beautiful young daughters—at least until they were “safely” off the market.
Holly, who’d been watching Amelia work as the stronger witch prepped the ingredients she needed for the wards, kissed me on the cheek in thanks for the garage idea and hurried off to make the suggestion to Andy. Enthusiastically, he agreed! A few minutes later, it was decided that Coby would be invited to join the boys in the garage apartment and that at least one video game console would be moved there.
After that, the adults in the “family” had a small meeting to decide upon what they wanted their cornerstone to be for the wards. It was then that I finally learned what Amelia had been talking about when she referred to the Polaroid.
As Amelia described the concept of the cornerstone to Arlene, Terry, and Andy (Holly already knew, of course), it was difficult for me to control my emotions, for I realized that Sookie—my bonded, my pledged, my wife—had determined that she wanted for me to be the “rock” entrusted with holding together and strengthening our family.
The faith that she placed in me—the confidence and surety—was the greatest gift I’d ever been given.
Except for her love.
And our sons.
Of course, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the witch had been kidding earlier when she put forth the notion that I should be the cornerstone for the Bellefleur home as well.
Though another Polaroid was involved.
This time, however, it wasn’t a photo of me.
It was a picture of Terry and Andy standing next to the large hearth in the living room of the home, which was likely the only piece of the original home left. Certainly, they were not Supes, but Amelia seemed adamant that there could be no greater foundation for protection wards than two fathers who desired to safeguard their families. The fact that the two fathers in question were related by blood—and the fact that that blood was also connected to the home’s hearth—also seemed to make a difference in the witch’s eyes.
After the men left to corral the younger children into their beds since it was already past 2:00 a.m. and only Mikey was currently sleeping, I found myself wondering why the mothers in the home didn’t insist upon being a part of the photo, too. Likewise, I wondered why Sookie didn’t have a photo taken with both of us in it.
Certainly, my bonded was a “modern” woman in the sense that she treasured independence. And I had been lucky enough to have been born in a time and place where women’s roles were viewed as being just as valuable as men’s roles—where women were thought to be just as strong as men, though in different ways.
Indeed, though my culture recognized that women were physically weaker in certain biological aspects, we also acknowledged their capability to endure in ways a man couldn’t. For example, none of the men in my culture envied women the practice of childbirth!
Moreover, when the men were at sea, it was the womenfolk who did the work in the village: farming; fishing; hunting; raising livestock; keeping their homes; raising their children; caring for the elderly, sick, and infirmed; and never, ever complaining about it!
Trust me—men complained at sea all the fucking time! We complained of cold, of seasickness, of hunger, of boredom, of body odor, etc.
My father had been a well-renowned leader and warrior, but—even as a young man—I had respected my mother more than him. And, to my father’s credit, he seemed to recognize my mother’s superiority as well.
“What has you thinking so hard?” Amelia asked me.
“The cornerstones,” I said. “I was wondering why they were so,” I paused, “male heavy.”
Both Amelia and Holly chuckled.
“What?” I asked.
“Just the way you put that,” Holly replied with a grin.
I shrugged. “I’m simply curious.”
Amelia contemplated for a moment. “Women nurture; men protect.”
I smirked. “What of feminism?”
“It’s alive and well in this house,” Holly said firmly. “I assure you.”
“Stereotyping?” I asked.
“Tradition,” Amelia corrected. “And magic is strongest when it has deep roots. Don’t get me wrong: if Sookie had wanted to make herself the cornerstone of the wards around your home, I believe they would have been strong. But she chose to honor you as the protector of your family. Her knight. Her faith in you has made the wards even stronger.”
“Most women appreciate a worthy knight in their lives,” Holly winked, “even if he’s a little overweight and losing his hair.”
Amelia nodded in agreement. “Or even if the knight is a she, who changes into a wolf whenever she wants.”
“And you don’t need to be a damsel in distress to appreciate a good knight either,” Holly added.
I wasn’t about to argue with them on that point.
The muffled sound of the toilet flushing through the closed bathroom door brought my attention back to the present. Sookie was adamant that she take care of her “human needs” in private because “there were some things that couples shouldn’t share”—even if I could hear everything. She’d already told me that she was determined to “forget” about my hearing whenever she “took care of things.”
Though I’d chuckled at Sookie’s modesty—I, honestly, couldn’t agree more with her. Human bodily excretions were not something I missed. And I’d had to “participate” amidst too many of them on sea voyages or frigid Arctic nights—when going outside to do one’s business was ill-advised.
Frostbite on one’s fingers or toes was bad enough. But on one’s cock and balls?
No thank you.
“How did Andy take getting the new house?” Sookie asked over the sound of the water as she washed her hands.
“He argued at first—of course,” I responded loudly as I got into bed, though my blood had also enhanced her hearing to a certain extent.
“But you convinced him?” Sookie asked as she turned off the water. I heard her drying her hands.
“Thanks to just a wee bit of manipulation,” I commented with a smirk as she emerged from our bedroom.
“You? Manipulation?” she asked in mock surprise. “Say it isn’t so,” she deadpanned.
“It isn’t so,” I replied with all the sincerity I could muster.
I very much enjoyed the view as Sookie slipped her dress over her head and removed her panties. She left her bra on.
She chuckled when she read the question in my eyes. “Anything that supports the girls is a welcome friend at this point—even if this bra’s uncomfortable in other ways.”
“The lesser of two evils?” I asked.
She nodded and then nestled against my body in a spooning position. Immediately, my hands were drawn to her belly, though I didn’t get the immediate kicking I’d become accustomed to.
“They’re sleeping,” she said in a soft voice. “Even their minds are quiet.”
I kissed her neck, but—feeling her fatigue—my kiss wasn’t meant to “start anything.”
“So Andy argued?” she asked, taking us back to our previous topic.
“Yeah, but the Bill being a relative thing helped—thanks for that, by the way—as did the fact that a human must own the home in order for vampires to need an invitation. It also helped that I had Cataliades add Terry as a co-owner.”
Sookie chuckled. “You’re a crafty one—aren’t you?”
“I do try,” I said as I gently kissed her neck.
She moaned a little in my arms, but yawned loudly, so I stopped myself from pressing more kisses into her warm skin.
“What about the Authority? Didn’t they help Bill pay for all of the repairs and stuff to the house so that he’d look ‘kingly?'”
“Yes. But Bill also used state funds. Sophie-Anne had a lot of things that could be liquidated.”
I could “feel” Sookie’s frown even though her back was turned to me. “Shouldn’t that have gone to the state coffers rather than to Bill’s remodeling?”
“Yes,” I concurred. “But it’s not as if the repairs can be undone, and Bill still owned the property. Since it had been declared the ‘royal headquarters,’ it was mine as soon as I was appointed interim king—just as Sophie-Anne’s estate was given to Bill. He sold that to help fund his estate’s repairs, by the way.”
Sookie turned to face me. “What about now? Where are my king’s headquarters?” she asked somewhat flirtingly.
“Always with you,” I leered before kissing her gently. “But, officially, the royal headquarters became Fangtasia about an hour before I signed over the Compton place.”
“Is it weird that I’m already thinking of it as the Bellefleur house?” Sookie asked. “As if Bill had never been there at all?”
“No,” I responded, caressing my bonded’s cheek. “We have been forging a new life together. I suspect that you view your past much as I view mine.”
“How do you view your past?” she asked curiously.
“As over,” I said matter-of-factly. “As something to have been learned from. But—with you—my life is now completely new! But also what I’ve always wished for. What I’ve never dreamed I would have. Everything before us was but prologue—necessary exposition, perhaps—but not essential to the true story of my life. You are the true story of me.”
She sniffled. “You know—you really shouldn’t say things like that to a pregnant woman.”
“I cannot help but to say things like that,” I said sincerely, “because you are miraculously carrying our children. It is a miracle that I have feelings. And more of a miracle that you pull them from me so easily,” I reported.
She held me tighter; no—she gripped me to her.
We were silent for several minutes—long enough for me to wonder if she’d fallen asleep.
“I’m glad Terry, Arlene, and their kids will have a true home now. And I’m even more grateful that Andy and the kids don’t have to go back to their old place—even after it’s repaired.” she sighed.
I nodded, letting my wife feel my affirmative motion against her hair, instead of speaking out my agreement. Neither of us needed to say out loud that it was better that the girls didn’t have to live where their sister had died. I’d been ready to mention that argument out with Andy, but was glad I’d not needed it.
Sookie sighed. “The girls have the whole basement as a panic area now. And that makes me feel much better. And—now that Thalia is theirs,” she chuckled, “I don’t think they could be safer.”
Again, I nodded in agreement. “And—honestly—as soon as I signed over the damned place, I felt as if a burden had been lifted from me.”
“They’ll make the place their own,” Sookie mused.
“It’s weird that the house is likely as grand now as it was the first time Bill died,” she mused. “His family owned lots of slaves, you know. Stackhouses owned some too, but the Comptons were the most prominent family in the county—according to the Descendants of the Glorious Dead.”
“Your grandmother’s group,” I remembered.
“Yeah. But I never really agreed,” she returned.
“Hmmm?” I asked.
“It’s always been hard for me romanticize anything about what happened during the Civil War era. After all, my best friends—the only ones who accepted me growing up—were Tara and Lafayette. The so-called ‘glorious dead’ owned their ancestors.” She scoffed. “I can’t believe I let Bill charm me with his olden ways—and all because Sophie-Anne wanted me for her slave. Of course, what I truly became a slave to were my feelings for Bill, feelings that may never have been real at all.”
“My feelings for you are real,” I said sincerely, stroking her arm soothingly.
“And mine for you,” she said with equal sincerity.
“You know that my ways are even more,” I paused, “olden than Bill’s were.”
“At least you evolved,” she countered with a little snort.
“I did at that,” I agreed.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this chapter!
The bad news is that this story needs to go on hiatus for a bit. I am determined to finish Not Without Action, which I’ve started posting again. As soon as that’s done, I promise that I will finish this one and begin posting it again. I’m hoping that this hiatus won’t be long-maybe a month or so?
I hope that you will be patient and continue to support this labor of love.
Many thanks to Kleannhouse and Seph for your hard work on my behalf. I love you ladies!