Sookie smiled as she felt her husband’s emotions through their bond. He was happy. He was confident. He was sure.
He was anxious.
It was that last emotion that struck her the most. She’d not felt it from him before—except on the night of their pledging—and knowing it was unusual for him made her smile even wider. Her mate loved to experience things that were rare.
And, of course, he was not feeling that emotion alone. She was right there with him.
They were both anxious—as in “ready”—to finally be trussing themselves to each other in the human world’s eyes. They’d already connected themselves in every other way they could. They’d certainly given their hearts to one another. They were pledged according to vampire tradition. And they had formed both vampire and Fae bonds.
Of course, those bonds were now long gone.
Both their vampire and fairy bonds had been destroyed the night that she and Eric had used the two daggers that had bound Britomart and Artegal together.
Sookie felt her eyes brighten with tears as she thought back to that night in the cabin when they’d decided to bring together the daggers. They’d already used the first—the ceremonial dagger that had passed to Eric from Godric—to seal their vampire bond and to pledge. They’d used the second while they were together in the “in-between” place. Every time they’d used the daggers, something profound had happened.
But they were not expecting anything close to the effect that came when they reunited Britomart and Artegal’s daggers, which were still apparently steeped with her Fae magic and his Dæmon magic. They’d been made even stronger because of Eric and Sookie’s previous blood exchanges. Brought together—they were extremely powerful.
No. Things had not gone as she and Eric had expected, but Sookie would never regret their decision to reconnect the daggers.
When they had each held one of the blades next to one another, Sookie could feel the magic coursing through the weapons, her mate, and herself. And something inside of her had known—beyond any doubt—that the magic at the core of the daggers was more ancient and powerful than Fae magic or Dæmon magic or human magic or vampire magic or any other magic she had ever experienced before.
And that elemental magic had cut them to the quick.
That night, the magic of the daggers literally attacked both of their bonds—vampire and fairy—and severed them.
But amidst that destruction, something different—better—came about. It was a transformative fusing of their two bonds that the daggers had apparently “wanted.”
The daggers made two into one.
Eric, ever the pragmatist, had immediately recognized that their single, new bond was more “efficient.” And it was—much more efficient and much more powerful.
The fairy bond had always had greater “reach” than the vampire bond; Eric and Sookie could feel their connection through it even when located in two different realms. But the vampire bond had been their way of sharing emotions. Now they had the best of both in the merged bond that had been left behind in the wake of the daggers’ power. They could feel each other’s emotions even when Sookie was in the “in-between place” and Eric was in the human realm. Distance didn’t seem to matter at all. The amplitude of their connection was the same, whether or not they were in the same room, in the same city, or in the same realm.
The new bond also gave them more control over what emotions they shared. Indeed, they could shield their feelings from each other easily, but—after a long discussion and some experimentation with using the shields—they’d chosen not to. They both felt too empty when they did not share themselves with each other. However, they did agree that they would keep certain things private—whether it was surprises that they wanted to hide for the short-term or feelings that they wanted to get a handle on before sharing. The former had happened quite a bit—the latter almost never. Both Sookie and Eric had realized quickly that they could work through their emotions and conflicts much better if they did so together. But they did love to surprise each other on occasion.
In addition, during the more than three years since their bonds had merged, Sookie and Eric had been able to hone and better control the powers that they’d shared before.
Niall posited that it was initially Eric’s vampire ability to “call” a bonded one to him that allowed them to actually “speak” to each other through their fused bond. It definitely was not the same as telepathy, for their “talking” was not a reading of minds. They had to directly “speak” into the bond to hear each other, and Eric had indicated that the process of doing that reminded him of “calling” Pam to him.
Eric still had the ability to act as a conduit for Sookie’s light magic; in fact, he could fire bursts that were more powerful than hers, though doing so quickly drained his energy if Sookie wasn’t there to replenish him. Ever the pragmatist, Eric had not let that gift be known outside their family.
Sookie sighed. Her husband could also use his light power to heal, and his own self-healing vampire magic even amplified that ability. They had learned that he had this ability the hard way.
About a month earlier, Hunter had fallen from a tree that he and Emma had been climbing. Actually, Emma had started to lose her footing first, and their brave little boy had risked himself to make sure she regained her balance. Everything had happened so fast that Breeta had been unable to catch Hunter when he fell, a fact that she still lamented even though no one believed that she could have prevented the accident. Bubba also blamed himself, for he’d been out hunting at the time. Both of Hunter’s guardians had been loath to leave the little boy’s side since then.
Eric and Sookie had been in their office when Eric had heard Hunter’s cry. He’d zipped out of the room faster than Sookie had ever seen him move, and by the time she’d run to them, Hunter had been healed of the broken leg and collar bone he’d suffered. At first, Sookie thought that Eric had given Hunter his blood to heal him, but that hadn’t been the case. He’d used his version of her fairy light, and it turned out that it was extremely “efficient.” In fact, his ability to heal was much more profound than even Niall’s, though—again—using that ability weakened him.
The bringing together of their bonds had worked to amplify their shared gifts and to tighten Eric and Sookie’s connection, but that didn’t mean it had changed that connection. Eric was still not immune to the sun, though he was able to enjoy the mornings and early evenings each day because of Sookie’s blood and healing magic. However, without those things, his body would have burned in the sun’s rays. And every day, like clock-work, he was called to his day-rest about ninety minutes after sunrise, but he was also able to wake up easily during the day if Sookie called to him.
Similarly, Sookie had not spontaneously developed Eric’s gift of flight or a pair of fangs, and her hearing and scent range were as they’d always been. But—in the end—they’d been just as glad for what they didn’t share as they were thankful for what they did. Despite their bonds coming together and intensifying what had been present before within the vampire and fairy bonds, they’d stayed as they’d always been. He was still a bit too high-handed for her sometimes, and she remained too stubborn for him, but those traits were just two of the many things that had made them fall in love with each other.
Yes. Sookie was anxious—more than ready to marry Eric and connect herself to him in yet another way.
But she—no they—felt the other kind of anxiety too: butterflies in the stomach.
When they’d first talked about their human marriage ceremony, they’d been tempted to go to the county courthouse and marry without any fanfare. But they’d changed their minds when they thought about their family and friends. That’s when they realized that they wanted the works—a celebration that would honor the struggles they had faced as well as the life they had built together, a celebration that could include all those who had helped them survive their journey thus far.
Plus, when Sookie had thought of Hunter in a tuxedo, she couldn’t resist the urge to have a more traditional wedding. And when she’d thought of Eric in a tuxedo—well—that had eliminated any lingering doubts immediately. As Gran would say, he cleaned up nice.
Moreover, after all the hard work that had been done by Tara, Miranda, and countless others, she and Eric realized that they wanted for there to be a “public element” to their wedding too. They drew the line at inviting complete strangers, though some of those in attendance were barely acquaintances and had made it onto the guest list only because they had helped with the marriage legislation in some way. But those people were needed. They would be important in making future laws that would ensure the equality of shifters and Weres when they made their existence public in the near future.
Eric and Sookie knew that those laws would make it possible for their son to marry the girl he loved. They would ensure that their grandchildren would face less prejudice because of their mixed “species.”
The A.P.’s situation also made them want their wedding to be something “bigger” than just an intimate affair between the two of them or their immediate family. Sookie blinked to stop the tears rising in her eyes when she thought of the A.P. disappearing from their lives. She and Eric had had many discussions—some of them with Hunter—about that real possibility.
Artegal had said that as soon as a couple like them was accepted by the world, then Britomart would be able to leave this plane to rejoin him. And—because of the marriage legislation and the fact that “normal” people were getting used to the idea of vampires marrying humans—acceptance was happening more and more each day. Of course, there would always be some prejudiced people who felt it was their duty to step in the way of open-mindedness and change; however, on this night—their wedding night—the work of so many and the good that ruled the majority of people in the state would be symbolized in her and Eric’s union.
And maybe—just maybe—that goodwill would be enough to set the A.P. free. Maybe—just maybe—she could go to her Artegal. Finally.
Sookie both wanted that for the A.P. and didn’t want it. But she knew what she would want if she were in the A.P.’s shoes and had been separated from Eric for thousands of years. She would want to go to him—just as soon as she could.
Sookie blinked back another tear. So—yes—she and Eric had opted to have a big wedding for several reasons. And they had decided to invite important vampires, humans, and the two-natured, who would make good allies in the continual push for true equality. They had decided to pose for pictures that would be funneled to the press, pictures that they knew would capture and document their happiness. And maybe some of those people who were still on the fence about vampire-human marriage would recognize that—at the heart of things—Eric and Sookie were simply two beings in love who wanted to share their lives. Maybe a couple that was reticent about sharing their lives and vows because of fear would see their picture and take a leap of faith. And maybe—slowly—the attitudes of even people like the Newlins would change.
Sookie was not naïve. She knew that many people still didn’t approve of vampire-human marriage or gay marriage or any kind of marriage that didn’t fit with their views of the world, but the majority of voters in Louisiana had. She wanted to honor them too. And she and Eric had also agreed to do one more interview for the AVL, which was now working to influence the federal government to enact both marriage and adoption legislation similar to that which had been passed by the people of Louisiana.
In the end, Sookie and Eric agreed to have a public wedding, but they were determined to have a private marriage. They would continue to work behind the scenes, but the AVL would have to find another poster couple. Up to this point, they’d managed to control the amount of public exposure they’d had, but she and Eric both craved privacy more than anything else. And they didn’t want their role in the AVL to take away from their family; becoming the “National Face of Vampire Marriage,” as the new AVL spokesman had wanted, would have done just that. So they’d turned down that role. And when the AVL had tried to push the issue, Thalia reminded them that she still had a few bombs hidden in strategic places and that they should leave the people in her retinue “the fuck alone.”
Most importantly, neither Eric nor Sookie wanted more attention to be brought upon Hunter. Soon after Sookie came back to the human realm, she and Eric had decided that Hunter should be able to live his life beyond the confines of the protection spell. And they didn’t want to hide the fact that he was theirs. Plus, once they officially adopted him—which they’d always planned to do, even if only Sookie could have legally done it—his connection to them couldn’t have been hidden.
They decided that to keep Hunter safest, they should be the ones to control the information about him, rather than let the Supernatural community conjecture. Sookie’s telepathy—because of de Castro—had become well-known; they didn’t want the same to happen with Hunter. As far as the vampire community was aware, Hunter was the orphaned child of a cousin of Sookie’s and had no supernatural powers whatsoever. It was also very well-known that Eric would deal “harshly” with anyone who tried to use his family against him.
Before they stepped foot outside of the protection spell the first time, Sookie had taught Hunter to “pop” to the “in-between place” if he felt any danger, and Hunter never left the ætt land without at least two people with him, usually Duncan and Batanya at night or Breeta and Miranda in the daytime—unless, of course, he was with his parents.
The one time during the last three years that someone had come for Hunter and Sookie, a very strong message had been sent to anyone else who would consider trying to do the same. Hunter and Sookie, along with Batanya, had gone to the mall in Bossier City to shop for Christmas presents. A group of Weres sent by the Queen of New York—who turned out to be a power-hungry bitch who wanted to try to ransom them and then kill Eric and Thalia so that she could get her money-grubbing hands on three lucrative states—tried to abduct Sookie and Hunter in a Dillard’s.
It did not end up well for her.
Sookie read the Weres’ minds as they approached; however, the protective shield that she automatically placed around Hunter each time they went out would have kept him safe anyway. Before the Weres could move against them, Sookie had told Hunter telepathically that he needed to “pop” to the “in-between place” and get Claude before “popping” back home.
Her brave little boy hadn’t hesitated.
Before Claude could even join them at the mall, Sookie had “subdued” the Weres with her “Jedi mind trick,” and they had spilled everything they knew. She sent them back to the Queen of New York, having “influenced” them to tell her that the defenses around Sookie and Hunter were impenetrable. In addition, the Weres became Sookie’s spies in the queen’s court.
As soon as all of the queen’s plans and accomplices had been found out, Sookie and Eric’s retribution had been swift and thorough, and the Council had needed to find a new monarch for New York. Even though no one could confirm who had killed the queen and her allies so surgically, there were enough rumors in the Supernatural community to send a clear message to any potential enemies Eric and she might face. Those added to the rumors that Eric had defeated Russell Edgington not once, but twice also fueled the lore surrounding the Viking. And no one in their right minds wanted to fuck with Thalia.
Luckily, very few vampires were rogue or crazy enough to have a death wish.
Sookie sighed. Yes. She was anxious to settle down to a very quiet life with her family, a life away from both human and vampire politics—with the exception of her husband’s sheriff duties.
Still, Sookie felt she owed the people of Louisiana something before she and Eric resumed those quiet lives. She felt her eyes welling up at the thought of the letters she and Eric had gotten from people that they’d never even met—vampires, humans, and the two-natured alike—which had included thank-you’s for the hope that she and Eric had given them.
Pam’s voice stopped her tears on a dime. “Sookie Stackhouse!”
“Stackhouse-Northman, Sissy,” Hunter stepped in quickly to correct her.
Everyone in the room laughed. “Stackhouse-Northman” had become the refrain of a standing joke amongst the family members. However, Hunter’s tone had not been joking. Now that he was officially a “Northman,” he seemed just as ready to make his Mamma one as his daddy was.
Sookie’s tears immediately threatened to fall for a different reason as she looked at her handsome son, who was growing like a weed. Jessica—thank God—had some mad sewing skills which she’d learned from her human mother, or Hunter’s pants would have been half an inch too short. Jessica had needed to re-hem Hunter’s pants earlier that evening since he’d shot up so much since his fitting just the month before. As Sookie looked at her son, her emotions sling-shot between being proud of the little man he was becoming to being sad that he was growing up so fast.
“Don’t you cry!” Pam said reprovingly. “I am not going to fix your make-up yet again!”
Sookie almost did cry again as she remembered what had caused her minor meltdown earlier, but Hunter’s concerned voice stopped her.
“Please don’t cry again, Mamma.” He sighed—just like Eric did when he thought of her tears. “I don’t like seeing you cry.”
Of course, his words and expression almost set her off again, but she held it together—thanks in no small part to a burst of strength from her mate. “Sorry, sweetie,” Sookie said as she smiled and reached out to gently squeeze his little shoulder. “But I can’t help but to cry when I’m so happy.”
“You’re not supposed to cry when you get presents,” Hunter said with a furrowed brow that also looked like one of his daddy’s expressions.
Sookie chuckled and had to force herself not to ruffle his bangs, which were tamed for once—due in no small part to the same kind of gel that she was certain was currently keeping his father’s hair in place too. It seemed that all Northman boys—whether they were genetically Northmans or just Northmans by choice—had zero control when it came to their bangs.
“Anyway,” Sookie joked, trying to lighten the mood so that she wouldn’t cry, “that was not my fault earlier.” She smiled at Hunter and then around the room at those gathered. “You all ambushed me.”
She received smiles back from those in her wedding party who had gathered around her since she’d almost finished dressing—except for putting on her veil—and since it was so close to the ceremony time. Molly, who was acting as their photographer, had wanted to get some candid shots before the ceremony. She’d done the same with Eric and the wedding party about an hour before. Sookie had already been shown a shot of Eric helping Hunter tie his bow tie.
Yes. A lot of things had made her want to cry that evening.
The men in the room—who included Claude, Jesus, Lafayette, Jason, Jarod, Tray, and Duncan—all looked handsome in their tuxes, though Sookie was certain that the handsomest young man in the room was her son. All of the men—including Hunter—wore matching tuxedos, except for Lafayette, who’d opted for all-black with velvet trim. The ladies in the group—Tara, Batanya, Amelia, Miranda, Pam, and little Emma—were all dressed in black as well. All of them, except Pam, wore floor-length dresses in styles that they had chosen. Sookie had opted not to have matching dresses for the women in the wedding party, though all of the dresses were complementary. Pam was dressed in a tux, which had been specially made for her by someone at Armani. Sookie suspected that Pam’s outfit cost more than her own dress, but she had to admit that the vampiress looked stunning.
Jessica had come into the room and was making sure that Tara, Batanya, Amelia, and Miranda had their bouquets. Sookie smiled as she took in the women—each one unique and beautiful.
Sookie and Eric had chosen five types of flowers for their wedding, all in whites and blues. Sookie’s favorites, blue hydrangeas made up the largest part of her own bouquet, but some stephanotis had been added to it since Eric’s buttonhole was made from them. She’d decided that the women would each carry a bouquet of a single flower. Amelia had chosen the calla lilies, while Miranda had opted for the lavender. Tara had fallen in love with the stephanotis bouquet, and that left Batanya with the delphiniums, which had pleased her because of their connection to the A.P.
Sookie knew from private conversations with Batanya that it had been the A.P. who had influenced the Britlingen to agree to Eric’s initial request to guard Hunter, and the ancient vampiress had even supplemented the pay that Eric could offer so that the Britlingen council would accept the contract without delay. Batanya knew that the A.P. had seen her future too, and Batanya was grateful for the happiness that future had afforded her. Even then, she was leaning against Duncan, who was now her bonded one. The two had also been pledged by both vampire and Britlingen custom, and as far as Sookie could tell, the couple seemed almost as blissful as she and Eric, and that was saying a lot. Sookie gave the Britlingen a little nod and then continued to move her eyes around the room.
Little Emma had a basket full of blue hydrangea blossoms to scatter down the aisle and a wreath of lavender in her hair. Pam had opted not to go with a bouquet and had instead opted to wear the same kind of lavender boutonnière that the men—other than Eric—were wearing.
Her eyes dropped to Hunter, who was trying to make sure his own lavender boutonnière was straight. Once more, Sookie felt tears storm to her eyes.
Once more Pam was there to stop them with a warning. “Sookie!”
Hunter chuckled. “Are you still thinkin’ about your surprise, Mamma?”
Sookie could only nod as she watched Emma come over to help her little boy move his buttonhole so that it was positioned just right.
The truth was that there were many happy thoughts that were pushing Sookie to the verge of tears, including the sight before her of her son being fussed over by the girl she was more and more certain each day would eventually be her daughter-in-law and the mother of her grandbabies.
But the surprise Hunter had been referring to—which her family had given to her about thirty minutes earlier—had caused tears to spring forward that even Pam hadn’t been able to halt—despite her litany of threats. Sookie let her mind drift back as she looked at the lovely bracelet on her wrist.
Her tears had started because of Jason, of all people. Without preamble or explanation, Jason had presented Sookie with a beautifully wrapped package—coincidentally, right after Pam had finished up her make-up.
Inside the box was an antique bracelet that Sookie recognized immediately as being the one that Gran had worn when she’d married Earl. The pattern of roses in the middle of the bracelet had been yellowed with age, but that—in Sookie’s eyes—made it even more beautiful.
“But where?” Sookie asked, even as the first tears fell from her eyes and the first barely audible, muttered, and PG’d curse about the subject of smeared make-up escaped from Pam’s lips.
Jason smiled at her widely. “Me and Jess found it when we was cleanin’ up the attic a while back. And we figured you’d like to have it and wear it today.”
Wordlessly, Sookie nodded.
“And,” Jessica piped in, “it’s somethin’ old.” She paused. “But—um—can I borrow it when Jason and I get married? It can be my borrowed.”
Trying to hold back sobs, Sookie brought them both in for a long hug as she nodded vigorously. Miraculously―mostly due to the handkerchief that seemed to magically materialize in front of her thanks to Jesus―she managed not to get snot or tears on any of them.
She noticed that Jessica’s eyes were red-rimmed, and the young vampiress quickly excused herself to take care of any last-minute problems. Not for the first time, Sookie was thankful that Jessica had mad wedding-planning skills as well as sewing prowess. If Pam had been in charge—rather than just a “consultant”—Sookie feared that her wedding would have included an unfortunate amount of white leather and fur.
As soon as Jessica left, Pam thrust out a larger box, though it was wrapped in the same way as the first.
“Something new. And expensive,” Pam purred.
Sookie looked suspiciously at the box, but she gasped when she took in the beauty that was inside. Pam had made it her personal mission to buy Sookie “appropriate footwear” at least a few times a year since Sookie—left up to her own devices—preferred flip-flops or sneakers, but Sookie could admit to herself—only herself—that Pam was converting her to the wonderful worlds of Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik. They were nice worlds, and the shoes in the box were wonderful, easily eclipsing the plain ones she’d planned to wear.
Sookie pulled Pam into a hug even as the vampiress murmured about having to fix make-up and getting some waterproof mascara. Seeing the red in the corners of Pam’s eyes, Sookie knew that the vampiress meant her own eyes as well as Sookie’s, but Sookie didn’t bring attention to that fact.
“Something borrowed,” Claude piped in, handing her another box.
Sookie gasped a little as she opened it. Inside was a beautiful handmade handkerchief. She recognized the lace immediately.
“In case Eric forgets to have one handy for you,” Jesus said playfully, gesturing toward the handkerchief that he’d given her a few moments earlier. “Now you’ll have your own too.”
“My other mom made it,” Hunter supplied, “from Gran’s wedding dress.”
More tears fell from Sookie’s eyes, but she didn’t dab them with the exquisite handkerchief Hadley had made. Instead, she tried to douse them with Jesus’s quickly dampening offering.
Sookie remembered placing Gran’s wedding dress—which the Maenad had done her best to desecrate—into a garbage bag after Maryann’s death. It had been stained with Maryann’s black blood, but she’d been unable to throw it away. She sighed and smiled a little. After Eric had bought the farmhouse during Sookie’s first disappearance to Faerie, he found the dress in the hall closet. Sensing its importance, her vampire had made sure that Gran’s wedding dress was cleaned as much at it could be—even going so far as having Octavia remove the Maenad’s blood and scent from it—though the garment was well past repairing. Still Eric had placed it carefully into a box and had kept it stored safely. When Hadley decided to make her daughter—Gran’s namesake, Adele—a kind of christening gown, it seemed only right that they give Hadley the wedding dress.
Hadley had been able to salvage some of the lace to include on the outfit, and Sookie recognized additional lace from the gown framing the handkerchief.
“You gotta give it back to Mom though, Mamma,” Hunter said conspiratorially.
Sookie smiled at her son. By now everyone was used to hearing Hunter call the two maternal figures in his life by the monikers he’d given them. Somewhere along the way, Hadley had become “Mom,” and Sookie had been dubbed “Mamma” by Hunter. Given that he used the Swedish pronunciation for Sookie’s word, she saw it as even more special.
“Why’s that, sweetie?” Sookie asked her little—well, not so little—boy.
“‘Cause she’s gotta marry Uncle Claude with it,” he said as if it were a fact.
Claude sort of sputtered. “Hunt,” he started.
“Do tell, oh tied one,” Pam chuckled, sensing the proverbial blood in the water. “I didn’t know you’d finally grown a big enough pair of . . . .”
She was cut off by a swat from Miranda. “Pam—language,” the Werelioness chastised as she looked meaningfully from Emma to Hunter.
The vampiress rolled her eyes at the Werelioness, who had—indeed—become the language police whenever there was a child in the room. Pam refocused on Claude. “What I meant was that I didn’t know you’d found enough courage to finally ask her,” she teased.
Sookie chuckled. Her tanu and Pam had—especially since they’d been tied by their exchange of blood—developed a kind of sibling relationship of their own, and Pam had mercilessly ribbed him for not taking the next step with Hadley—even though when Hunter and Claude weren’t around, she insisted upon reminding everyone that Hadley wasn’t nearly good enough for her “tied one.”
Sookie looked at Claude and thrust a question into his head, one that Hunter “overheard.”
“Nope!” Hunter said aloud, answering for Claude. “He hasn’t asked her yet. Remember—he’s waitin’ for her to ask him. So, Sissy, you shouldn’t be mean to him,” he instructed sternly.
Pam pouted and huffed.
Claude gave Hunter a pat on the shoulder. It was common knowledge among the family that he had told Hadley that he was ready to marry her and bond with her whenever she was ready; after all, since she was developing her empathy more and more each day, it was difficult for him to hide his feelings. So he’d been honest, though he continued to make sure she didn’t feel pressured by his feelings for her.
Hadley still bore the emotional scars from Joren attacking her. To her, it seemed like only a little over a year since the rape had happened. Moreover, she was working to come to terms with the roots of her self-destructive behavior: her mother’s long-term illness and death, her father’s abandonment of her, and Uncle Bartlett’s abuse. Deep down, however, the hardest thing for Hadley to deal with was the fact that even when Aunt Linda hadn’t been ill, she didn’t seem to care about Hadley, nor did she spend much time with her. In truth, Hadley had never felt loved until she was with Sophie-Anne. And part of her still grieved the death of the vampiress.
Sookie also knew that Hadley was scared—especially after her failures with Hunter—that she was incapable of being a good mother. However, thus far, she’d been doing a great job with Adele from everything that Sookie had seen. And Sookie was actually grateful that Hadley was trying to deal with the pain inside of her before pursuing a relationship with Claude. She wanted her tanu to be happy, but a broken Hadley would make him miserable.
Pam’s scoff broke Sookie out of her reverie. “You know—if you would just let go of my blood,” she told Claude, “then I wouldn’t have to feel your mooning over Hadley all the time.”
“It is you who is clinging to my blood,” Claude teased back.
Hunter giggled at Pam and Claude. In fact, the blood tie that Claude and Pam had formed the night of the war with Russell and his Weres had been tenacious and longer-lasting than the norm. But Sookie knew that—deep down—neither of them minded. Despite their almost constant razzing of each other, it was clear that they cared for one another and were happy to be able to “keep track of each other” through their tie.
Pam rolled her eyes. “I mean—seriously—you just need to,” she looked at both children in the room and censored herself, “act on your feelings. Sweep her off her feet.”
Pam began to say something else, but stopped when she got a look from Sookie.
“Fine,” Pam said in a huff. “But you know how I feel about all this waiting business.”
Yes—Sookie thought with a smile—everyone in the family did. But Sookie knew even more than that. Pam had shared with Sookie one night—in the strictest of confidence—that she had felt drawn to Claude—almost romantically—for “about a minute” in Pam’s words. But that feeling had shifted in the vampiress, whose own romance during the last three years had consisted of an on-again, off-again liaison with Molly.
Truth be told, part of Sookie wished that Pam and Claude would get together, but she knew that Pam would likely eat her tanu alive if they did—both literally and figuratively. Plus, she knew how much Claude truly loved Hadley—no matter how unworthy Sookie thought her cousin was for him at times.
In fact, Hadley had redeemed herself in Sookie’s eyes—at least to a certain extent—when she’d pulled her head out of her ass and moved back to the “in-between” place. Of course, Sookie knew that Claude had influenced the move more than Hadley’s own desire to make the time disparity between Faerie and the human realm a nonissue. Simply put, Claude had set Hadley down one day during one of her visits to him and had told her all that she was missing. He convinced her that if she came to live with him in the part of his house that he’d built for her, she would lose nothing, given the fact that a whole settlement of people was now filtering to the “in-between place.” Plus, others could visit her whenever she wished, and Katherine, Hadley’s closest friend, was living there. Seeing the home built for her already and sensing the importance of the issue to Claude, Hadley had begrudgingly agreed.
Since Hadley’s move, things had been decidedly easier on Hunter. He had enjoyed getting to know his new baby sister—whom he may never have even met if Hadley had not agreed to move.
However, Hunter consciously kept himself at arm’s length from both Hadley and Adele.
Sookie sighed. Hunter was no dummy. He was aware that Niall, Claude, and she continued to hide some of Hadley’s thoughts from him—though he’d stopped actively looking for them. Hunter seemed to have reconciled himself to the fact that his first mother had her flaws and could “hurt” him.
However, after a long talk with Eric, Hunter had decided not to give her that power over him. Instead, he focused upon his life in Bon Temps, though he did enjoy going to the “in-between place” once a week for school. All in all, Hunter still loved Hadley, and he was also fond of Adele, but Sookie knew that he saw them as more distant extensions of his family, rather than a part of its core. And Sookie just didn’t allow herself to feel guilty about that anymore. Hunter had a right to his choices and had a good reason for making them, so Sookie was not about to question her child.
No. She could only be thankful that he’d chosen her as the mother of his heart.
Interrupting her thoughts, Duncan held out a fourth box. “He wanted you to wear these, lass,” the Scotsman said simply. “And there’s a note inside.”
Sookie opened the lid of the box to see the sapphire earrings Eric had gotten made to match her ring. She’d worn them on the night of their pledging, but they still took her breath away.
She turned around to read the note because she knew that it was going to elicit more tears from her.
You would—most likely—send me to my final death if I bought you more jewels—though you know I would gladly buy you enough diamonds to fill our home. But—these—you have already accepted, so I will stay out of trouble by giving them to you once more.
Sookie chuckled. Her husband was right. She continued reading.
I remember how the light in them almost rivaled the light in your eyes the night that we pledged ourselves to each other. Almost.
Okay—it was not even close, but they did try.
Will you do me the honor of wearing them during our human wedding as you wore them for our vampire pledging? Will you allow me the pleasure of knowing that I have been responsible for placing something precious upon your body since you have placed something infinitely more precious into my very soul?
I cannot wait to see them―and you, min kván.
P.S. Sadly, the Hope Diamond was not for sell; I did look into it. I was also in negotiations to secure some nice little baubles once worn by Catherine the Great before I thought better of it. Are you not proud of my triumph in self-discipline?
Knowing her husband was joking, Sookie laughed through her tears. She ran her fingers over the earrings and examined the way the sapphires looked in the light. The blue of the jewels did not hold a candle to her mate’s eyes.
Sookie was brought back to the present by a warmth coming through the bond. She smiled, knowing that Eric must have felt her own surge of affection.
Indeed, the traditional gifts of something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue had been enough to require Pam to start over again on Sookie’s make-up, this time with waterproof mascara—even though Sookie was not looking forward to having to remove it later.
“May I?” Sookie heard Tara ask, as her oldest friend held up Sookie’s veil.
Sookie smiled at Tara. “Please,” she said.
Tara smiled as she put the veil onto Sookie’s head and added a few bobby pins to make sure it would stay in place. Sookie had opted for an elegant bun so that her neck would be exposed for her mate, and the style of veil she’d chosen complemented the hairstyle well. She hadn’t wanted a veil that covered her face. She wanted to see every little detail of her mate’s face—every flash in his eyes—as they wed. She’d opted for a cathedral length veil that would extend behind her even further than her dress’s short train.
“Promise you won’t cry?” Tara asked before she allowed Sookie to turn to look in the mirror to see the finished product.
Sookie’s lip quivered.
“Promise!” Tara said sternly, doing her best impression of Pam.
Sookie managed a nod and felt a huge burst to strength from Eric at the same time.
She sent gratefulness to him.
Satisfied, Tara turned Sookie around, and for the first time, Sookie saw herself in full bride mode in the mirror.
Hunter’s bright face was looking in the mirror with her.
“Daddy’s gonna have a cow when he sees you!” her little man exclaimed. He’d been picking up more and more slang from Jason lately.
“He’d gonna have two,” Tara agreed. She leaned in and whispered into Sookie’s ear. “Gran would be so proud of you, Sook.”
Sookie nodded as she took Hunter’s hand and looked at herself. She’d never been so thankful for waterproof mascara in her life.
A/N: Thanks for all of you who reviewed the last chapter—and thanks to those of you who are reading but not reviewing. I can “feel” you out there.
If you want to see Sookie’s old, new, borrowed, and blue, you can find pictures in the “bonus features” for this chapter.