Sookie’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much, but she couldn’t stop herself.
The first couple of hours after the wedding had moved by in a hazy blur—a blissful one—full of food and laughter.
And so much love.
Unlike the ceremony itself, the reception was a private party at the ætt land for only family and close friends. Leaning back in her padded seat, Sookie was glad that she and Eric had opted not to have a more formal reception with all their guests. Still, there were a lot people at the party—well over fifty when all the kids in attendance were counted. The air was thick with laughter as everyone ate and chatted.
Yes. So much love that it almost hurt her.
Sookie thought back to the days when she’d lain in the yard during the hot summers, soaking up the sun so that she’d feel warm and not so lonely. Now, she felt like she was cocooned in a warmth that was more intense and comforting than any sunlight on her skin had ever been.
Unconsciously, she reached out and took her mate’s hand softly into her own. That simple gesture was Eric and Sookie’s most common habit of physical closeness, so natural that neither of them really registered the touch, though both unknowingly sighed into it.
Eric continued his conversation with Duncan, Lafayette, and Jesus even as his thumb began to paint small strokes along the ridges of Sookie’s hand.
The people around her caught up in their own conversations, Sookie took a moment to once more take in the beautiful setting. Eric had arranged for a wooden dance floor to be built, and it took up about half the space inside the big tent that had been constructed for the reception.
Actually, it was somewhat of a disservice to call it a tent. The structure, though not enclosed, was a haven from the cooling November night, and the heaters that had been placed around the perimeter of the tent were doing a good job keeping the temperature comfortable. Sookie had been pleased to see that the tent’s ceiling was clear, and the large white lights that illuminated the setting played second fiddle to the full moon that was making a thankfully slow trek toward the middle of the night sky. Sookie smiled, knowing that their shifter and Were friends were planning to take a run in the woods a bit later on.
She smiled as she looked upward. She was enchanted by the lights and elegant decorations inside the space. Hunter, Claude, Jesus, Lafayette, Tara and Pam had done most of the planning for the reception space. As soon as the structure had been completed around 11:00 that morning, Sookie had been sequestered to the front yard—by Hunter—so that she would be surprised by the finished product.
Luckily, however, the dance floor had been newly completed before she’d been ordered to go, so she’d gotten to share a dance with her son. It had been a special moment for them both as they’d chatted about the night to come. Sookie shored up that memory tightly inside her mind, knowing that she would treasure it well after Hunter had grown up to have a wedding of his own.
When they’d arrived at the ætt land that evening, Sookie had been wowed by the completed reception space. In addition to the lights along the ceiling of the tent, there was an array of blue lanterns, which Hunter had picked out, hung all around the outside of the tent. Sookie loved the shade of color they poured into the moonlit night. Thirty feet away from where the tent had been set up, the tree line burst forth with thousands of white fairy lights, which had been put in place by Duncan and Bubba sometime during the previous night. The overall effect of the white lights, moonlight, and bursts from the blue lanterns was magical.
Four long banquet tables had been set up in a square formation with other tables to the side holding a bounty of food and drink. The tables were covered with off-white linen table cloths. Small flower arrangements were placed at intervals along the middle of each table, but in contrast to the wedding flowers, roses of various colors had been used. All the flowers had come from Gran’s rose bushes, which were still blooming due to the mildness of the season, Eric’s care of them, and—Sookie suspected—a little magic from Jesus and Claude. The sweet aroma of the flowers filled the air, and Sookie couldn’t help but to remember the countless times she’d seen Gran pruning, talking, and even humming to her roses. In that moment, Sookie had a sharp sensation that Gran was looking in on her. She closed her eyes to hold in a tear and inhaled deeply.
“You okay?” Eric whispered as he placed a soft kiss onto her temple.
“Yeah,” she responded quietly, “just thinking about how much I wish Gran were here.”
He placed butterfly kisses along her hairline before nuzzling into her neck. “I wish that too, min kván.”
Eric understood well his wife’s feeling of melancholy. He’d had the same kind of thoughts about Godric and his human parents before he’d gone to his rest earlier that day. In the dim early morning light that his wife’s blood allowed him to enjoy, Eric had thought about the people who had “made” him—his mother, his father, and later Godric. There was something tragic—strange even—about not having them with him on what he knew would be an important day.
A happy day.
“Loss” had been the reality that he’d tried to hide from for a thousand years, but—in avoiding the possibility of loss—he’d also hidden from “life.” Now that Eric had opened himself as he’d never allowed before, he had become vulnerable—just as he’d feared. He knew that there would be an endless stream of losses in his life from now on. And he knew that each one would hurt.
He placed a gentle kiss onto his wife’s shoulder. She was the one who had taught him not to fear the pain of loss. She was the one who had taught him that the pain was there for a reason. No. It was there for the “best” reason. It was there because love had been there. The pain’s job was to “mark” the love—to honor it—to keep it steady and safe. Looking at the A.P., who sat across from him, Eric knew that he’d soon have another “mark” upon his spirit. That etching would pain him, but he would treasure it all the same.
Eric understood how lucky he was—luckier than anyone he’d ever known. He knew that he wouldn’t have to face his pain or losses alone. He knew that his link to his mate now precluded their separation. He knew that they would walk the earth together and then walk into the next plane of existence together too. Thus, the one loss that he would not be able to endure would never plague him.
As he brushed her shoulder with another kiss, Sookie sighed and smiled at him, her eyes lit up with love.
“Did you get enough food, min kära?” Eric asked.
Sookie shrugged and allowed her mood to lighten. She leaned into Eric and kissed his cheek. “It was yummy, but . . . .” She paused dramatically.
“But?” He couldn’t help but to chuckle as he felt her jollity through their bond.
“But I’d love some more gumbo.” She half-pouted and half-grinned. “If only someone strong and valiant were willing to brave the food line and get it for me,” she said with mock resignation.
Eric’s eyebrow soared upward as he took in the “line” at the buffet, a line which included only Jason and Diantha. “Indeed,” he said seriously. “A perilous undertaking. However, I have braved many battles before, and if you agree to granting me your,” he paused and bit her shoulder lightly with his blunt teeth, “favor, I will endeavor to fulfill all your hungers.”
Sookie felt an immediate spike of lust from her mate and inside herself. A big part of her wanted to “disappear” with Eric for a while so he could take care of her “hunger.” However, she knew that once they “disappeared,” they likely wouldn’t return for hours, and she wanted to enjoy her reception.
She decided to tease him; it would make her later “plans” for him all the more satisfying if he were a little worked up. “Hmm,” she sounded with a subtle lick of her lips, which drew his eyes immediately. “I am very hungry,” she paused and squeezed his upper thigh, “for gumbo.”
He looked at her with mock hurt, though his eyes held only mirth. “Only that?” he asked suggestively.
“Hmm,” she seemed to be thinking as her hand moved slightly inward. “I could go for something,” she paused “dirty too.”
Eric swallowed hard and leaned in to nibble her ear. “I can be very dirty, lover.”
“I know,” she gasped at his touch. “But can you get me some dirty rice to go along with my gumbo.”
He chuckled and kissed her cheek. “You are cruel, wife,” he whispered. “We’ve been married less than three hours, and you are already withholding sex.”
She giggled and gave him a little swat on the thigh. “I’m just tryin’ to build up my strength so that I can fully satisfy my husband later,” she said with a blush.
He buttoned his jacket and adjusted himself so that the erection their play had provoked would not be visible to the others. “Mmmm,” he sounded. “I like that idea.”
He got up and turned to go to the buffet.
“You’d better bring me a big portion,” she said saucily as she eyed the spot he’d just concealed. “I think I’m going to need it.”
Eric couldn’t stop his wide grin as he turned again and walked over to the food table. He felt her eyes on his ass the whole way and rewarded her with a surge of lust through the bond and a lusty look over his shoulder.
Sookie didn’t mind being “caught” by Eric as she ogled his glorious bottom. What she did mind was that one of the Weres they’d hired to keep the buffet stocked was gawking at her man too. Sookie couldn’t help but to growl a little, a sound that elicited a chuckle from the A.P. However, Sookie ignored her as she took a quick dip into the young woman’s thoughts. Sookie immediately relaxed. The Were’s head told Sookie that although she was “admiring the view,” she knew that the sheriff was off limits. The Were, a twenty-year-old college student named Cindy from Tray’s pack, quickly went back to work as she determined what food or drink she should bring out next.
In truth, Sookie could live with those kinds of thoughts from the women who came in contact with her mate. After all, he was a walking, talking sex god. It was only natural for them to “look.” It was only the ones that thought about “touching” him that really pissed her off. He was hers.
As if he could hear Sookie’s thoughts, Eric caught her eye and gave her a toothy grin from over Jason’s shoulder. He’d felt her momentary jealousy, followed immediately by her contemplation and then her calm. He figured the female Were who was part of the wait-staff was the cause. Truth be told—however—he loved the fact that his wife was so possessive of him.
As Jason returned to the table, Eric quickly piled a plate with dirty rice and then got a bowl for the gumbo. He inhaled deeply, taking in the array of spices from the feast. Led by Sookie―Lafayette, Terry, Sam, Arlene, Luna, Hunter, and Emma had been cooking Cajun-style food―all of which had come from Adele’s recipes—for the last several days so that it would be ready for the party. Eric had tried to convince his mate that they should just hire someone to cater, but she’d insisted on planning and then helping to prepare the meal.
She’d insisted so vigorously, in fact, that he’d had to take her hard against the wall of their bedroom. However, feeling how happy she’d been the last few days as she’d prepared the food had quelled any doubts that he’d had about her overworking herself. Since everything they’d made—in his wife’s words—“gained flavor by sitting a while,” the preparation had been done the afternoon before. Thus, she’d not been overwhelmed, which was what Eric had feared.
Eric smiled. When he had thought about it more, he was honored that Sookie had gone to so much trouble in preparing their wedding feast. It reminded him of what the women would do to prepare for a wedding feast in his human days. As he placed a piece of bread that he knew had been kneaded by his wife’s hands onto her plate, he felt intense pride in her.
Just as Eric was finishing his wife’s plate, Isabel walked up to the table next to him and poured herself another cup of blood from one of the heated decanters there.
“I quite like the third one,” she said as she lifted the decanter in her hand a bit. “And it’s the cheapest to make?”
Eric nodded, happy to hear Isabel’s opinion. He had arranged for several cases of all three varieties of RBL, the synthetic blood from his latest business endeavor, to be available for the wedding. Ever practical, Eric had set up a kind of tasting for the vampires at the party, so he could get their feedback about the different “flavors.” In fact, the vampires at the reception were among the first to taste his newest product—except for Pam, of course, who had dubbed herself the “taste master” for his company.
Though everyone present knew that Eric owned RBL, only six others knew that Niall was the co-owner: Sookie, Claude, Pam, Duncan, Batanya, and Hunter. Eric and Niall started RBL about a month after Sookie had returned from Faerie. Their first two products, named after Old Norse numbers—RBL: Einn and RBL: Tvær—had been huge successes, and though RBL was currently more expensive than TruBlood, it had found a niche in the market. In fact, it now outsold Royalty Blended when it came to the more high-end bloods. Of course, the hint of synthetic fairy blood—the “secret ingredient” in the beverages—didn’t hurt sales at all. RBL: Þrír, the third product from the company, was to be a more economic version of the first two; however, according to Pam and now Isabel, it was still tasty.
Isabel took a sip of the blood. “It is somewhat tangier—spicier—than the other two, but I quite like that. What did you do to it?”
Actually, it had been a “who” more than a “what,” but Eric wasn’t about to spill those beans. RBL: Þrír contained a small synthetic version of blood that had been collected from Claude. Niall had been the source of Einn, and Katherine had volunteered to be the source of Tvær. Pam had insisted that Claude be the source of Þrír because his blood seemed to contain an element that Niall’s and Katherine’s did not—probably because he was half Water Fae. The cheaper cost of RBL: Þrír had come about because Eric had been working to develop a more efficient way to manufacture the blood once it was synthesized, and that is what he told Isabel as he answered her question.
In fact, if the new method was as successful as he thought it would be, Eric intended to change the process for making the other two flavors of RBL as well, and then he’d really be giving TruBlood a run for its money.
After nodding to Isabel, Eric returned to his seat, placing a kiss on Sookie’s cheek as he placed her food in front of her.
She sighed and gave him a look of gratitude as she spooned the first bite of gumbo into her mouth. Eric placed his hand on her knee even as Duncan got his attention.
Sookie happily set about stuffing herself as she looked around at all the people present. Across the table from her, the A.P. and Niall were speaking quietly together. Niall had kept his sister’s hand in his for most of the night, and Sookie had heard them reminiscing about their childhoods during much of the evening. Claude, who was sitting on Sookie’s other side, was teasing Pam mercilessly about some pictures Miranda had taken of her during the bachelorette party. The Werelioness, of course, had joined Claude in ribbing Pam. Jarod’s chair was pulled in close to Miranda’s, and his arm was draped comfortably over her shoulder, even as he spoke to Jason, who was sitting next to a smiling Jessica. Duncan was sitting next to Eric and had leaned in to tell him something which caused a vibration of laughter through her husband’s body. Sookie sighed and reached down to grab his hand on her knee with her free hand. He gave her hand a little squeeze as he continued speaking with his vampire brother. Next to Duncan, Batanya was keeping an extra set of eyes on Hunter, even though Breeta and Clovache, who would be joining their household if the A.P. did leave them, were stationed nearby. Lala and Jesus made up the last two members of their table, and Sookie smiled as she saw them share a quick kiss as Jesus cuddled their sleepy baby close to his chest.
The table to her left erupted with laughter as Scott Cusmano animatedly told a story. His wife, Carol, popped Scott’s arm hard, causing another round of laughter at the table. Tray added to whatever Scott was saying, eliciting an arm pop from Amelia as well. And then Maria-Star seemed to be speaking for all the women at the table, even as an intelligently silent Alcide bounced a laughing Mia on his knee. As whatever story being told ended, Sookie smiled as Arlene and Luna seemed to pick back up on a conversation they’d been having before. Sam, Terry, and Henry also seemed to fall into a previous discussion, and from their hand movements, it seemed like they must be talking about fishing. Only Tara, who was tucked into Henry’s side, wasn’t speaking with anyone at the table, but the look on her face told Sookie that she was content.
As if sensing that Sookie was looking at her, Tara looked back, and the two shared a little smile. When they were younger, neither one of them would have guessed that they would one day have such a large family, and both of their expressions showed appreciation.
Sookie turned her attention to the table to her right. She couldn’t help but to grin as she noticed Hoyt and Katherine sitting close to each other at one end of it. Sookie had been ecstatic when Hoyt, Jason, and Jessica resumed their friendship about two years before. Hoyt was now running the parish road crew that Jason had once been a part of, and, from the looks of things, he was doing some pretty heavy flirting with the beautiful Katherine. Next to the fairy, Diantha was in an animated discussion with Molly and Octavia. Desmond Cataliades was speaking to Thalia, even as Bubba held her hand as if for “safety” since the group was so large. Sookie smiled as she saw Thalia whisper something to Bubba which lit his face up with a smile and immediately caused him to relax. Rasul was sitting on Bubba’s other side and was in a deep conversation with Clancy, Chow, and Kibwe. Isabel and Holly seemed to be comparing handbags as Andy looked on, trying to look enthused as the women got his opinion about their purses. Every once in a while, he glanced longingly at Sam, Terry, and Henry, obviously wishing that he was a part of their conversation.
Finished with her second helping, Sookie turned her attention to Hunter as she heard his laughter. He was at the table opposite hers—the one that was reserved for the kids in the group. She squeezed Eric’s hand and gestured for him to look over at their son, who was—in effect—ruling his little table. Even Coby and Lisa, who were much older, deferred to Hunter, who was even then taking off his own jacket so that Emma could wear it.
She leaned into Eric’s side and sighed as he gave her a kiss on the forehead.
“He’s a little you,” she whispered to her husband.
He kissed her again. “He’s a little us. You are the manners teacher, min kära.”
She smiled. “Gran would be so proud of him.”
“And of you,” Eric said as he smelled the peach blossom in her hair, pulled her chair closer to his, and then leaned into her.
Eric had tossed his own jacket onto the back of his chair, and his cool felt good to Sookie against the heat created by the gathering of people.
She nestled serenely into his side as she once more took in the many and diverse people around her. She really didn’t have a word for how she felt. “Contented” didn’t seem enough anymore. “Bliss” was the closest she could get.
Eric was—for lack of a better word—antsy. What he wanted—no needed—was to be closer to her. Closer.
Never close enough.
Paradoxically, he was also happy as he was—just sitting next to his bonded, feeling happiness from her through their bond and within himself. It had been a long fucking time in coming, and as his wife leaned into him further, he didn’t intend to ever let that feeling go.
He draped his arm over her bare shoulder and ran his fingers down her arm. She shivered a bit.
“Cold, min kván?” he whispered, hoping that his cool flesh on hers was not bringing a chill to her.
“No,” she whispered as she looked up at him with eyes darkening in desire. He growled a little. “I just love your touch. I want more of it,” she added with a small smirk.
“I can arrange that,” Eric said quietly as he went to get up, his lust spiking. Surely a quick moment with his wife—or not so quick—would be excused by all. And if it wasn’t? Well, “all” could go and fuck themselves.
Sadly, the cock-block brigade seemed to be out in force as Pam hissed and gave him a stern look. Duncan clicked his tongue in mock disapproval as Sookie chuckled and soothed her hand over Eric’s chest. She had felt what he desired, and he knew that part of her wanted the same. Of course, Eric also sensed that she wanted to enjoy her wedding reception for a while before he divested her of her dress. He decided that—for at least a little while longer—he could go without being inside of her as long as he could be beside her.
After feeling her husband quell his lust somewhat, Sookie winked over at Jesus, knowing that soon enough her little “plan” for her mate would be set into motion thanks to Jesus and Batanya, the two that she’d chosen as her confederates in her “mission.” She chuckled. They were always Hunter’s first choices for allies too. What could she say? Her little boy had a great eye for talent.
Eric felt Sookie’s mirth in their bond and looked at her in question. Her feigned innocent expression stirred both his curiosity and his loins, but just as he went to ask her what was going through that beautiful mind of hers, Pam stood up, followed quickly by Lafayette.
“What are they up to?” she asked him quietly.
Eric had a vague idea as Jesus looked at him apologetically, and Claude diverted his eyes from Sookie.
“I think they bought the speeches,” Eric whispered.
“Huh?” Sookie asked inelegantly as Lafayette cleared his throat.
Eric motioned toward Lafayette, who was clanging the back of his spoon against his glass to get everyone’s attention.
Once he had it, he began, “Eric, Sook, I knows that you was expectin’ Jesus and Claude to be your official toastmasters tonight, but . . . .”
Pam interrupted, “We have secured the honor from them.”
“Claude?” Sookie asked with an accusatory look, even as she heard Hunter’s giggle from across the room. She turned to wink at her son before looking back at her tanu.
“Pam promised that she would make no snide comments—after tonight—for two months, Tanah,” Claude said in his defense. “None at all!” his eyes glistened with mirth.
Sookie rolled her eyes and then looked at Jesus. “And you?”
“No night feedings for me for two months,” Jesus said as he rocked a now fussy Kyle in his arms.
“Traitor,” Eric said good-naturedly, before giving Pam a look of warning as he subtly gestured toward the table full of kids.
Pam rolled her eyes and muttered something about being sure to keep things PG-ish.
Lafayette winked at Sookie and then began to address the crowd again; his eyes had fallen on Tara. “The first time I met Sookie Stackhouse was when Tara brought her over to my house after school one day.” He looked back at Sookie. “Your blonde pigtails was runnin’ amuck, but I knews right away that there was somethin’ ‘bout you that I liked. Wasn’t long after that that I’s was a regular here.” He gestured toward the old farmhouse. “‘Course it was different then—before your sugar daddy got here,” he winked at Eric. “But Gran kept it nice.” He chuckled. “It was Gran that taught me how to cook my first meal, but, Sook, both you and she made me feel like I had a real home for the first time in my life when I was here.”
Sookie sank into Eric as a tear began to run down her cheek; it was immediately stopped in its path by a fresh handkerchief.
“Eric,” Lafayette continued, “it surprised the heck outta me that this place became my adult home too—especially after the way we was—uh—introduced.” He paused as both he and Eric remembered their first encounter in Fangtasia’s basement. Lafayette had been caught selling V in the parking lot of Merlotte’s, and that blood had come from a vampire missing in Eric’s area. Both Eric and Lafayette knew that Eric would have likely killed him, except for one thing and one thing only: Sookie. However, since then, so much had changed.
“Anyways, you two is both my family now. And this is the best home I could asks for.” He brushed away a tear and raised his glass. “To Eric and Sookie.”
The clinking of glasses and a few “Here-here’s” were heard around the room before Pam started speaking.
She began in that sarcastic tone that everyone was used to from her. “Sookie, first, let me say that I’ve finally come to an important decision.”
Sookie raised her brow, already suspicious about what was to come.
“It turns out that I’m glad that the rocket I fired at you didn’t do you any damage,” Pam deadpanned.
There was laughter among the group. The rocket launcher story had become one of Sookie’s favorites to tease Pam with.
The vampiress continued, “To be honest, I didn’t think you were good enough for my maker when I first met you. In fact, I thought that you were the witch after I saw how much Eric was enamored by you and how different he was around you. But,” she paused, “I, too, eventually had to admit that there was something,” she paused, “scrumptious about you. You were the fire that he was missing from his life, and—truth be told—I was a little jealous that you didn’t swing my way.” She leered at Sookie, which caused Eric to growl a little.
“Well—aside from all the extra growling that Eric has to do to assert his—uh—territory,” she sniggered, “I’ve come to amend my original opinion of you. You’re my maker’s match, Sookie Stackhouse-Northman. And—what’s more—you are likely the only person that I would ever find good enough for him because he’s,” her voice caught. She blinked a few times, obviously trying to keep her emotions from bubbling to the surface.
After a few moments, her tone once more turned to sarcasm. “Well—he did pick me, after all.” She raised her glass. “So here’s to Sookie and Eric―especially Eric’s glorious taste in women!”
There was some snickering among the crowd as Eric and Sookie rose to thank their toast-makers. Sookie gave an indulgent Pam a big hug while Eric gave Lafayette a playful kiss on the cheek. Then Lafayette pulled Sookie into a bear hug as Eric gave Pam a heartfelt kiss on the forehead.
Lafayette whispered something into Sookie’s ear as they embraced.
Eric felt his wife’s emotions ricochet from surprise to hopefulness to anxiety. He immediately pulled her into his arms as she broke her hug with Lafayette.
“Sookie?” Eric asked.
“Gran’s really here?” Sookie whispered.
Lafayette nodded. “Yeah, and she wants to talk to you both.”
A/N: If you are interested, there are a few pictures of the reception decorations in the Bonus Features for this chapter.