A/N: This INNER-Lude should be read after INNER-Lude 7–Nora
I sighed contentedly as I breathed in the fresh air from the open car window. A part of me missed the saltier scent of the sea breeze in New Orleans, but the air right on the gulf was almost too “full” for me.
Perhaps that was because my father was an expert in blowing hot air in my direction—even if I was convinced that it was as full of love as it was of disapproval. However, I’d learned that both could be oppressive. Thankfully, the weight of the air he blew from New Orleans didn’t affect me in Shreveport as much as it had when I was living in the same city as he did.
I took another deep breath to keep myself centered, focused, and calm. Unfortunately, my father had not made it a mystery that he hated almost every step I’d taken during the last few years of my life. In many ways I’d stifled my true self until I read a letter that my mother had written for me right before she’d died, for, up until then, I’d tried to be the daughter my father wanted me to be.
Thus, when my father blamed my mother for my transformations, he was partly right.
My father, Copley Carmichael, and my mother, Esmerelda Broadway, had not been compatible—not for the long term—but I do believe that they truly loved each other. And—at least for my father—that love had never died. They’d met when they were both at college—him for a business degree and her for an art history degree. He’d finished both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before she decided to quit college. After that, he’d supported her in her endeavor to become a full-time sculptress and even bought her a studio as an engagement present, much to the horror of his well-to-do parents.
They were “old money”—what some might call “bona fide.”
To me, they’d always seemed like bona fide snobs!
Needless to say, my paternal grandparents were more mortified by the thought of their son marrying my mother than they were by the fact that he’d invested in her “art,” though that didn’t stop them from thinking that her art was extremely “odd” and “archaic-looking.” Of course, I couldn’t blame them for that. In truth, my mother didn’t create art for its own sake; she used her sculptures as a medium for her greater interest: witchcraft.
For, like me, my mother had been a natural witch.
She would place spells in her sculptures. The pieces were meant to bring protection, prosperity, luck, etc.—whatever the customer was after, as long as the request wasn’t for black magic. And my mother was actually quite good at her craft. In fact, that’s how Octavia Fant learned about her, and—after a while—my mother and she developed a friendship.
Or a mutual respect at the very least.
Octavia would refer customers my mother’s way, and those believers in magic would commission pieces from her.
However, as with many things, my mother eventually became bored with sculpting her “little charms.” And she turned her focus onto motherhood—at least for a little while.
Unfortunately, she left me and my father the week before my fourth birthday—having become bored with us too. Though I’d received some random cards and gifts from her over the years, she didn’t really return into my life until twelve years later—after she learned that she was dying.
It was safe to say that—despite her character flaws—my mother was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Even as cancer was slowly making her disappear, she retained a measure of that beauty, but the pictures of her that my father had hidden away in the family attic—the ones he didn’t think I knew about—were truly amazing! Esmerelda Broadway could have easily been a model—with her jet-black hair, her captivating dark blue eyes, her snowy complexion, her naturally blood-red lips, her innate pink blush, and her lithe 5’10” body. She was the embodiment of Snow White’s hotter big sister! From her, I inherited only her light complexion. Sadly, I took mostly after my father when it came to looks.
I had mousy brown hair—just like him.
I had dark brown eyes—just like him.
I was shorter than average—just like him.
And he’d always wanted for me to be just like him in other ways too. For a long time, I’d wanted that too.
Or, at least, I’d tried to convince myself that I did.
Oddly enough, he and my mother had never divorced. His parents had made sure that my mother signed a prenuptial agreement before she and my father married. My mother had not hesitated, and my father had seen the document as a nonissue since they were “going to be in love forever.”
When my mother left him, my father could have been a complete bastard and divorced her for abandonment. But he didn’t. I’d later learned that, about once a year, she would send him a letter asking for money, and he would always send her a generous amount.
Esmerelda Broadway was a restless spirit—always traveling and wanting to learn more about “the craft.” My father had loved her enough to “let her go.” And, in fact—as the old saying went—she did return to him when she could no longer take care of herself.
When she’d shown up out of the blue, I’d spent a good deal of time being bitter at her on his behalf since he couldn’t muster anything but love for her. In fact, as soon as she’d told us that she had inoperable cancer, my father insisted that she move in with us so that he could take care of her.
And he did take care of her.
In fact, he did more than that. He made sure that she had everything she wanted—anything that made her happier or more comfortable. He made sure that all the best doctors cared for her. He “willed” me to offer her a second chance at being a mother—not wanting any of us to have any regrets.
Thus, during the last four months of her life when she lived with us, I got to know Esmerelda Broadway for the first time. And, oddly enough, she seemed to sense who I was deep down inside—in a way that no one ever had.
Not even my father.
She quickly accepted the person that she “sensed” inside of me too. Perhaps even odder was the fact that I never really viewed her as my mother. I had nannies who’d shown me more maternal care than she ever did. But I did come to treasure Esmerelda as a friend in the few months that I knew her.
By contrast, my father had always been an excellent parent. He made sure that I had everything I needed—more than I needed, in fact—and hardly a day went by as I grew up when he didn’t tell me that he loved me. He encouraged me to try out a variety of activities when I was young, and he supported the ones that I was interested in pursuing. He was at every piano recital. Every equestrian event. Every basketball game. Every science fair.
The only interest that I kept from him was the one that seemed to be the most “natural” part of me: witchcraft. I knew from an early age that my father believed that my mother’s “nature” was what had caused her to leave us. And I didn’t want him to worry about losing me too. So I would secretly check out books on the subjects of witches and magic, and eventually I talked my nanny into taking me to magic shops—without telling my father.
Actually, it would be more accurate to say that my nanny had been the first “victim” of my magic. I’d tried to do a simple influencing spell, but my nanny had basically become my puppet for a few days. Thankfully, my mother’s old friend, Octavia, was the proprietress of one of the shops I visited during that time. She’d recognized my name and had helped me release my nanny from my spell.
She’d been helping me with my gift—and with how to control it—ever since.
Coincidentally, my first imperfect foray into witchcraft had come only one month before my mother showed up. Esmerelda had recognized the gift she’d passed down to me at once, though she didn’t mention it to my father. She was too weak to help me hone my craft—though she did offer me some advice and told me where I could find the stockpile of ingredients and spell books that she’d collected during her travels. She asked only that I share the information and resources with Octavia, which was something I would have done anyway.
Indeed, it had been nice to have a witch for a mother/friend, though our friendship lasted for less than half a year before the cancer killed her. Still, she seemed to intrinsically “know” things about me that my father, with whom I was much closer, didn’t recognize.
That sad irony didn’t really surprise me.
Copley Carmichael was a man who had been hurt very deeply by the woman he loved. Yet he’d continued to love her. He was a father who wanted the best for his daughter, and—probably because of how badly he’d been hurt by the woman who’d given birth to me—he “needed” me to follow his version of what was “best” for my life. But I ended up following in my mother’s footsteps instead.
And that meant that I ended up hurting him.
I frowned sadly.
It was my mother who first guessed that I was bisexual. There was never a question that she accepted me as I was. Hell! She was even envious of me, telling me that she wished that she could have been like me—so that she’d been “less restricted” in her choices of bedfellows.
I hadn’t needed to hear that from her!
Sadly, my father’s reaction when I finally came “out” to him when I was seventeen—almost a year and a half after I’d read my mother’s letter, in which she’d encouraged me to “be who I was meant to be”—was quite different.
In fact, that was the day when I first heard my father speak unkind words about Esmerelda. Having become a more conservative man over the years, he cursed my mother, blaming her for somehow causing me to “turn into a lesbian.”
And, in that moment, my relationship with my father irrevocably—and sadly—changed.
I realized that, although my father had tried his best to love me unconditionally, he didn’t. He wanted me to be the young woman he envisioned in his mind—not the person I really was.
I had disappointed him.
But we were even. He had disappointed me too—for the first time.
Sadly, we continued to disappoint each other. Only a month after I told him I was bisexual, I found the courage to tell him that I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps and become the “heir” to the Carmichaels’ business empire. In fact, I wanted to major in chemistry rather than business. He’d used guilt to pressure me to do a double major—to get a degree in business “to fall back on”—and he even threatened to cut me out of his life if I didn’t.
Grieving for one parent already, I spent two years being “good” before I dropped the business major. Simply put, slugging through the business classes was making me miserable. As a donor to the university’s business school, my father found out that I’d “broken our deal” quickly. And he stopped paying my tuition, so I had to drop out of college, which meant that I was also without a home since I’d been living in the dorms.
However, I didn’t move back home with my tail between my legs as my father had expected me to. Using the little bit of money that my mother had left me, I got an apartment. And then I found a job. Actually, I found two part-time jobs: one as a waitress and one as a cashier at Octavia’s magic shop.
And—in another act of rebellion—I legally changed my name to Amelia Broadway in order to hurt my father, who had hurt me because of his lack of acceptance.
I could admit that we were both being immature assholes by that time.
I took another deep breath of the cool air as I turned from one county road to another on my way to Bon Temps.
Eventually, my father had tracked me down, despite my new name, and he begged for a reconciliation. In tears, he told me he’d been an ass, and he offered to fund the rest of my college career—even if I didn’t want to pick up the business major again. I took him up on his offer and was able to finish my chemistry major within a year.
After my graduation, my father actually bought the apartment complex where I had been living and said he’d let me stay there rent free if I managed the small complex for him while I was searching for a job in my “chosen field.” He even paid me a small salary. It wasn’t hard to tell that he was trying to get me to “magically” discover that I wanted to be a businesswoman after all. However, despite my father’s thinly veiled intentions, I was glad that our relationship was good again. So, again, I took him up on his offer. The work was easy, and I didn’t mind it. I actually did such a good job that he asked me to manage another small property he owned. Oh—it wasn’t difficult to figure out that he eventually wanted to make me more and more a part of his world, but—again—I didn’t mind. I was able to quit my waitressing job and focus even more of my energy on the “craft” because of my father’s “generosity.”
Of course, my father didn’t know that I’d gotten my chemistry degree only because I wanted to be a better witch—not because I hoped to go into pharmaceuticals or something.
But eventually, he figured this out. Sadly, my father and my détente ended when a private detective he hired found out that—although I was no longer “officially” employed by Octavia—I was spending all of my free time learning from her and using my chemistry degree in the pursuit of “hocus pocus,” as he called the craft. Needless to say, my father wasn’t thrilled that my mom’s influence had rubbed off on me even more than he’d feared. He even threatened to take away my job and apartment so that I wouldn’t be able to continue with my “foolishness.”
In a rage, I told him that he was welcome to both!
Yes. Once again we disappointed each other.
I moved into the small apartment above Octavia’s magic shop the next day. Room and board in exchange for work and a full-time apprenticeship seemed like a good arrangement to me! And that’s how I’d spent most of the last three years of my life.
However—eventually—my dad had begged for my forgiveness again, accepting a little more of my true self this time, though he still didn’t agree with my choices.
He wanted me safe and secure with a “good marriage” and 2.3 kids—grandkids for him. But, in his defense, he also wanted me to be happy. He just couldn’t stop himself from wishing that his conception of my happiness would eventually match the reality of my life.
I knew it never would. And that made me sad for him.
Meanwhile, I’d thrived under Octavia’s tutelage—and eventually in my personal life too.
Living at the magic shop, I served after-hours customers (which were always Supes), and that was how I met Maria-Star. She’d been visiting a friend in New Orleans, and they came into the shop to see if we had anything that could cause impotence for a man. Generally, the opposite was requested, so her query caught my interest even before I looked up to see her.
After that, I had been lost.
I’d heard about love at first sight, and—as a witch—I understood that, when real, the concept was tied to the natural magic that existed within the universe. The intrinsic magic in one’s body could—and would—react to the elements within another person’s body if those elements were truly compatible.
The concept of soul mates had originated so that “remarkable” examples of compatibility could be explained in an understandable way to humans. Finding one’s true soul mate was actually an extremely rare thing, but I hadn’t resisted my pull to Maria-Star, and—soon enough—I was looking for any excuse to visit her in Shreveport.
After I’d learned about why she’d wanted the impotence spell—that is.
As it had turned out, Maria-Star had been trying to “discourage” the packmaster of the pack she’d recently left because he’d tried to rape her! I’d made certain to add extra potency to the spell I’d cooked up so that the bastard’s dick would become an uncomfortable “innie” any time he saw Maria-Star!
Even more skeptical about concepts like “true love” than I, Maria-Star pretended not to be as enamored with me as I was with her during the first couple of weeks we were together. However—after I stayed with her during the time that it took me to deal with the aftermath of the Marnie Stonebrook situation for Octavia—Maria-Star didn’t want me to leave her home. And I couldn’t have been happier to stay in our home.
My father, sadly, didn’t approve when I’d told him that I’d fallen in love with a woman; he’d been holding out hope that the male-loving part of my “bi”-side would win out. However, we still spoke on the phone a few times a week, and we continued to “try to get along” with one another. I knew he loved me, but it was taking him more time than I’d hoped it would take him to realize that the woman he’d wanted me to be just wasn’t the one that I was. Still—I had faith in him. I knew that the man who’d raised me with such care and kindness—the one who had held the hand of his estranged wife through the most harrowing days of her disease—would come around. He was just afraid of losing me.
And I wasn’t going to let that happen—even if it hurt to keep him.
Of course, that resolution didn’t make dealing with him any less difficult at times. He had “tried” to understand why I’d felt the need to move in with Maria-Star; however, he didn’t seem anxious to meet her any time soon even though I mentioned wanting to make the introduction whenever we spoke. Truthfully, Maria-Star didn’t seem that anxious to meet him either, so I figured it would be best to wait for a while—although I missed him, despite the guilt trips he inadvertently laid upon me.
And—yes—despite the hot air he blew in my general direction.
Nowadays, I tried to let it warm me—instead of smother me.
Of course, I hadn’t wanted to “freeload” off of Maria-Star. Since Octavia had enough confidence in my skills to outsource the work she had in Northern Louisiana to me, my income was steadily increasing, and I knew I’d soon be getting referrals from satisfied customers. I’d even been thinking about opening a shop in Shreveport—a “satellite” of Octavia’s magic shop in New Orleans.
On the other hand, Maria-Star had been unhappily unemployed for several weeks, so she’d been pleased to get a call to become a guard for Area 5’s Sheriff and the current vampire King of Louisiana, Eric Northman. Pretty much all Supernaturals in the state had been relieved to hear that King Bill had been replaced—or “Mr. Bill” as he was nicknamed in countless disparaging comics. Yep—Supes had their own version of the “funny pages,” and the publication could be scathing! In my opinion, Mr. Bill had deserved the ire of the Supe cartoonists, however. After all, he’d been the one who’d let the Marnie situation get out of hand because he’d been too stupid to call in Octavia immediately!
The idiot had had three fucking numbers for her!
And Octavia had even tried to initiate a working relationship with the new king almost as soon as his succession of Sophie-Anne Leclerq had been announced. Sophie-Anne had certainly been imperfect, but she’d understood the benefits—the necessity—of having the state’s most powerful witch on her speed dial; however, Mr. Bill had seemed to lack the wisdom to understand that.
The fact that he’d not called Octavia when he’d first learned that Marie was being possessed by a necromancer—a witch who could control the dead—was unconscionable in my opinion! Vampires had died because of Mr. Bill’s incompetence!
I grunted in my anger, but used my trusty David Bowie CD to calm me down.
And by the time I’d turned onto Hummingbird Lane, following the directions Maria-Star had given me, I was smiling to myself. I was happy to be called in to make wards for the new king. Both Octavia and I had been excited about the prospect of reestablishing a working relationship with Louisiana’s vampire monarch, given the fact that it could mean more income for the working witches of the state. Undeniably, Mr. Bill’s tenure had led to the tightening of many an honest witch’s belt.
Octavia had let me know that Eric Northman had called her to check “my references” and to promise that I’d be given unlimited resources to get anything I needed. The call to my mentor demonstrated that King Eric was professional and respected Octavia’s opinion. The call from my beloved Maria-Star had demonstrated that King Eric was ready, willing, and able to accept help from “non-vampires.”
And female ones at that.
A positive sign—to say the least.
I grinned as an old, but restored, farmhouse came into view. I couldn’t help myself. Wards were my favorite kinds of spells to construct because they required creativity and needed to be “shaped” to fit the home’s occupants. Moreover, I had another good reason to smile; my beloved was sitting on the porch waiting for me. She had a familiar smirk on her beautiful face as if she were in the process of undressing me with her eyes as I approached her and another Were—a male—whom I could immediately tell was in charge.
Some people just had that aura of “don’t fucking mess with me” about them. Octavia had the same aura.
And I was smart enough to respect it immediately.
“Based on this one’s reaction, I don’t need to ask if you’re Amelia,” the male Were commented as he gestured toward my mate before looking at her. “You said your Amelia was cute, but you didn’t tell me that I might consider switching sides for her,” he added.
Maria-Star growled, making goosebumps rise up on my skin. I could have guessed that the man was joking even if my infallible “gaydar” hadn’t already told me that he would never “switch sides.”
I approached the porch and gave Maria-Star a quick kiss on the lips before closing my eyes and inhaling deeply. I could smell magic in the air, but there was nothing human about it.
It emanated from the life forces of the creatures on the property.
It was Were.
It was vampire.
It was fairy.
“Fairy?” I asked in awe.
“I was ordered not to mention that on the phone,” Maria-Star said, gesturing toward the male Were.
“I’m Brady, by the way,” he smiled and stretched out his hand for me to shake.
I tilted my head as I took it. “You’re a good man,” I commented.
“Debatable,” he said with a glint in his eye.
“He’s a sarcastic ass,” Maria-Star corrected, hitting his arm as if he were her brother.
I chuckled. It was nice to see my beloved so comfortable among others. And so soon. “So are you,” I reminded.
As I inhaled again, I felt as if my mind were being tapped upon. “Telepaths?” I asked as I looked at the house with awe.
“Yep,” Brady answered. “There are five in there right now.”
“Five!” I exclaimed excitedly.
“Seven,” corrected a pregnant woman who stepped out onto the porch. She extended her hand to me. “I’m Sookie Northman, but call me Sookie, and Brady is forgetting that the boys are telepaths too.” She rubbed her protruding belly. “They seem to like you—by the way—if their kicking is any indication.”
I smiled widely. “I had no idea this job was going to be so interesting and fun!” I enthused.
“So you’re Maria-Star’s girlfriend?” Sookie asked.
She smiled widely. “I can’t thank either of you two enough for coming to help.” She made a gesture with her hand. “Oh—I know you’re gettin’ paid and all, but that doesn’t matter. You’re both sweet to help us on such short notice,” she added, patting Maria-Star’s arm.
My girlfriend actually accepted the affectionate gesture without her usual discomfort of “strangers” and smiled back at Sookie. I might have been jealous if I hadn’t sensed that Sookie Northman had a way about her that could likely put any Supe at ease.
Just then, Maria-Star and Brady turned their heads toward the road, and a few seconds later, two more Weres thundered onto the porch. I recognized one of them as Maria-Star’s friend, Tray Dawson. In the next second, a fairy—clearly full-blooded—popped in front of us.
“Mustapha!” Brady said to the second Were as he handed him a weapon.
Sookie was the first to relax. “It’s just Lafayette—bringing the lunches from Merlotte’s that Sam promised yesterday. And an apology for me,” she sniffled a little.
“Stay!” Brady ordered as he looked at Sookie sternly. “You are lucky I’m even letting you out onto the porch.”
Sookie giggled, but nodded obediently, even as she stroked her belly protectively.
I had a feeling that Sookie was more capable of damage than even the Alpha Were I’d just met.
Brady muttered something about Sookie’s stubbornness and about how he’d never have let her out at all if his other men hadn’t already arrived to patrol the property’s borders. Meanwhile, Tray confirmed my suspicions as he commented that Sookie could probably take care of Warlow better than any one of them with her badass “light” even as he jogged down to help Lafayette with what seemed to be two dozen bags.
The group bustled as it got the food inside and set up, though I stayed relatively quiet as I watched everyone’s interactions. I’d need to know their relationships in order to create the most effective wards, after all. Very soon, it became clear to me that Maria-Star had already been accepted as an integral part of the group. And I smiled as she joked around with Tray and helped him take more than twenty Styrofoam cartons from the bags.
Sookie bustled about for a moment and then introduced me to Andy Bellefleur and his daughters; Claude—the full-blooded fairy—introduced himself as Sookie and Lafayette went to the mud porch to talk something out. I got the feeling that Lafayette was asking Sookie to forgive him for something significant. And I got an even stronger feeling that Sookie was happy to do just that.
Soon, the rather flamboyant African American man was making a call and telling whoever Sam was that he was going to be eating lunch where he was. And Lafayette’s aura was a lot clearer too. I already knew that he had a lot of natural magic in him and figured I’d ask him if he wanted some instruction later. After all, with so much power, he could create “accidents” if he wasn’t careful.
I then turned my attention to the young fairies in the group.
It became clear after only a few minutes of observing them that they’d been adults for only a day or two.
It was also clear that their father was still grieving for a fourth child, a girl who’d died at the hands of the creature that I was needed to ward against. Andy Bellefleur watched his remaining children as if they might suddenly disappear. Adilyn seemed ready to comfort him at every turn, going so far as asking if he’d make her a plate because he would do it best.
The father had beamed as he’d gone about his task.
An empath—I’d thought.
“She is an empath,” Danika confirmed, coming up behind me. “And your thoughts are the loudest I’ve ever heard!” she added, before going over to Sookie and whispering something to her.
Sookie smiled at me and brought “Danny” back over to me, saying that I was the perfect candidate to help the young woman with her “shields.” After some instructions, which were given verbally, and more—which were obviously offered telepathically—Danny seemed pleased as she shook my hand. Then she bounced away to fix her own plate.
Sookie explained that the other two girls, Braelyn and Adilyn—or Brae and Addy—had been born with a slightly different form of telepathy and didn’t need help mastering their “shields” because the skill of “keeping out others’ thoughts” came naturally.
I nodded as Maria-Star gestured for me to come and sit next to her after I’d fixed a plate of my own.
It didn’t escape my notice that Brady had stayed outside, and it also didn’t escape my notice that Sookie got a mischievous look on her face right before she asked Lafayette to take Brady one of his world famous burgers.
The hamburgers were very good, but I wondered if the way to Brady’s heart would really be through his stomach. Honestly, I figured that Lafayette’s—Lala’s—kickass body might be a more tempting motivation. The cook clearly took care of himself and had biceps that I appreciated very much, even though I was off the market. I thanked God that I was bisexual for about the thousandth time in my life.
Because I was, I was able to appreciate the beauty of both genders.
“What’s bisexual?” Danny asked me pointedly.
Andy Bellefleur choked on a bite.
“It means she’s attracted to both guys and girls,” Lafayette said as he sauntered toward the front door. “Lucky bitch,” he said more quietly as he passed me and winked.
Didn’t I know it!
Danny, who seemed to be the leader of the Bellefleur sisters, looked at me with a smirk. “You’re with Maria-Star—right?”
My girlfriend tensed a bit next to me.
“Yes,” I answered proudly.
Andy looked slightly uncomfortable. Clearly he was trying to be “progressive” for the sakes of his daughters, but progressiveness was sometimes difficult for men of his age who’d been brought up conservatively. I just appreciated that I wasn’t feeling judgment from him. That would have made doing a protection spell involving him much harder. If anything, I felt Andy’s active attempt at acceptance, and that effort was good enough for me.
Danny smiled. “I don’t blame you. Maria-Star’s pretty, and if I didn’t have my mate already picked out,” the girl paused, “who knows?”
I giggled at the girl’s brazenness even as Maria-Star flushed red and suddenly decided that she needed to go make a patrol.
“So who’s your mate?” I asked the young woman.
“The one on the right,” she said, pointing at Sookie’s belly. “Our right. Not Sookie’s.”
I snorted out a laugh.
“The one on the left is mine,” Adilyn said more shyly, looking at her father to gauge his reaction and then patting his hand comfortingly. “But not too soon.”
Andy seemed to sigh with relief, and I let out another laugh.
“So—uh—the wards?” I asked. “I need to know who is gonna be living here full-time. And Maria-Star mentioned another house, too.”
Sookie nodded. “Yeah—uh—the old Compton mansion. It was restored when Bill became the King of Louisiana, and Eric has control of it now, though I can tell he doesn’t really want it. By right, it should probably be Andy’s or Terry’s,” she added somewhat pensively.
“What?” Andy asked incredulously.
Sookie took a big gulp of the water that she’d just laced with six teaspoons of salt before looking at Andy somewhat sheepishly. “Didn’t you know that Bill was your kin?”
“Huh? What?” he asked.
Sookie took another drink as if the salty mixture was sweet ambrosia. As soon as the glass was empty, Adilyn picked it up and went to refill it as if the move had been choreographed. I grinned at the empath, who was already mixing salt into the water even before she put it in front of Sookie.
“Yeah,” Sookie said to Andy as she gratefully took the refilled glass and stirred in the salt, “This morning, I remembered something Gran said once, and I looked it up in the bible Terry brought over.”
“Bible?” Andy asked, clearly confused.
“Daddy, cousin Terry brought over the bible with your clothes this morning—before you got up,” Braelyn informed.
“But we want to call him Uncle Terry if that’s okay,” Danika said.
“Because you two are really more like brothers than cousins,” Adilyn added.
“And we don’t like Aunt Portia anyway,” Danika informed, “so can we just not call her anything? Or ever again?” she finished snidely.
“Oh, and if we call Cousin Terry, ‘Uncle Terry,’ can we call Arlene, ‘Aunt Arlene?'” Braelyn asked sweetly.
“We like her,” Adilyn and Danika chimed at the same time.
“Uh—yeah,” Andy said, though he was still looking confused. “Uncle Terry and Aunt Arlene. Sure. I’m sure they’d like that.”
“Thanks!” Adilyn and Braelyn enthused.
“And no Portia?” Danika asked with a mischievous glint in her eye.
“Sure. No Portia,” Andy relented. “Wait—Terry brought over our family bible?” he asked, getting back on topic and finally catching up a little.
Sookie nodded. “Yeah. Terry thought it might give you some comfort—after what happened.” She paused to wipe away a tear from her eye, and Andy cleared his throat as if besieged with sudden emotion. Sookie quickly changed the topic. “Um—the bible’s so pretty and reminded me of Gran’s family bible, and that’s when I remembered that Gran mentioned once—years ago—that the Bellefleurs should have helped out old Jessie Compton after he had that fall that broke his hip. When I asked her why, she said that she thought that y’all were related.”
“Related?” Andy asked. “Related to old Jessie? No one ever mentioned that!”
Sookie shrugged. “I don’t know if Bill knew either. But, according to your family’s bible, Bill’s daughter married a Bellefleur in the 1870s. That makes Bill your great-great-great-great grandfather,” she added, counting out the “greats” on her fingers before taking another drink.
Andy turned a little green. “But Bill dated Portia!” he cringed. “I think they might have even—uh—um.” He looked sick.
Sookie spit out a drink of water. “Andy Bellefleur! Not another word. We do not need to think about that!”
“I don’t either,” Andy agreed. “Um—I’m sure that Portia didn’t know, and she doesn’t seem to remember dating Bill at all anymore. In fact, she seemed a little scared of him the last time he was mentioned. I figured that Bill got tired of her—since she tends to get a little clingy—and did his glamour thing on her.”
“Or he found out about your family’s relationship to him,” Sookie offered, wiping up her spewed water with a pile of thin Merlotte’s napkins.
“Hopefully before anything too serious happened,” Andy commented.
Sookie agreed with a nod.
“Probably better that Portia never knows,” Andy winced.
Sookie agreed with another nod.
Luckily, neither of them saw the wicked look on Danika’s face. It was clear that the girls didn’t care for “Aunt” Portia, and I didn’t doubt that they’d be using the information about her relationship with “Grandpa” Bill against her if she ever crossed them.
I sort of pitied Portia Bellefleur, though I’d already gotten the impression that she wasn’t worth my emotion.
“Oh—uh—well. So we’re related to Bill. That’s weird news,” Andy said gruffly, changing the subject from the possible “distant” incest which had occurred between Bill and his sister.
“Yeah. And I think that you and Terry should have Bill’s old house,” Sookie said firmly, “at least until your place is fixed. Plus, ‘Bellefleur Manor,'” she added, using air quotes, “always seemed more like your grandmother Carolyn’s place and—now—Portia’s place. Oh—by the way—Eric’s on that.”
“On what?” Andy asked, clearly confused again. “On Portia!”
“No!” Sookie exclaimed, half laughing at the misunderstanding and half furious at the thought. “No!” She laughed at her own anger. “I meant that Eric has already arranged for the repairs on your house.”
“He didn’t—uh—have to,” Andy stammered.
“He wanted to,” Sookie said with a soft smile. “Anyway, like I was saying, I think Bill’s old house should belong to you and Terry. It’d be plenty big for both of your families. Plus, it’d be nice to have y’all living across the way from us,” she enthused.
The Bellefleur girls seemed to be teeming with excitement as well.
“But—uh—shouldn’t the house go to Bill’s vampire kid? Jessica?” Andy asked.
“Actually, like I said, Eric owns the house right now,” Sookie said. “And—from what he told me—Bill left Jess some money. I doubt she’d want the house anyway.”
“How is it that Eric owns the house?” Andy asked.
Sookie bit her lower lip, clearly contemplating how much to tell Andy about vampire politics. “Eric is the acting vampire king of the state,” she said after a few quiet moments. “Bill’s estate reverted to Eric since it was the official residence of the monarchy.”
“Are you the queen?” Danika asked excitedly.
Sookie almost snorted out another drink of water.
“Hell no!” she laughed. “And—if I know my husband—he’s already thinking of ways to not be king. But, while he is king, I think it’d be a good idea for him to get rid of Bill’s estate and establish the ‘official seat’ elsewhere. I’m not comfortable with the next king or queen living next door—even if Eric handpicks him or her.”
“You’re too damned perceptive for your own good sometimes,” Tray muttered as he looked up from eating his third Lafayette burger.
Sookie rolled her eyes in Tray’s direction, but quickly brought them back to Andy. “Eric was intending to use Bill’s mansion as a headquarters for his vampire stuff, but I know he really doesn’t want to. Anyway, Terry, Arlene, Coby, and Lisa are already staying there—at least until your house is repaired. Um—and the girls could actually use the dungeon as a protective space—since—uh—the cells there have silver bars.”
Andy frowned. “Shouldn’t we talk about all of this with Eric? Plus—uh—we wouldn’t want to put y’all out any more than we already have.”
“You aren’t putting us out,” she smiled sweetly. “And—frankly—Eric initially contemplated using Bill’s old place before we knew about the boys. Now that they are on the way, I don’t think Eric would be upset about conducting Area business far away from here—far away from both your girls and my boys,” she added significantly.
Andy frowned. “We’ll talk about this again—after Eric wakes up,” he said firmly.
Sookie simply smiled and winked.
“I could add a spell to the ward to interfere with all the fairy scents when they are on either property,” I offered. “It would basically make y’all smell like ‘vanilla humans’ to anyone not able to get past the wards.”
“But vanilla is good!” Braelyn commented.
Sookie chuckled. “I know. But supposedly it means plain or uninteresting. I always thought that saying was ridiculous, too.”
“Me too,” I smiled. “But it might help.”
“Thank you. We appreciate anything that would help. So—uh—what do you need for your wards?” Sookie asked, focusing her attention onto me.
I thought for a moment. “Now that I’ve been here, I know that there are a couple of ingredients I’ll need that I don’t have. Am I right that you are the primary owner of the house?” I asked Sookie.
She nodded. “Yeah. It’s Eric’s house too and our babies’ house, of course, but Eric was worried that vampires could get in without an invitation, so he signed it back over to me. Um—I don’t know how things will work with the guards. I think some of them will be staying here too. And, of course, so will Andy and the girls and Holly unless they move to the other place.”
I nodded as I took in the information and made some mental calculations. “I think I can find the fresh ingredients I need at a grocery store,” I said with a smile. “I came with a trunk full of almost anything else I could think of. All you have to do is provide the cornerstone.”
“Cornerstone?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yeah.” I smiled. “It’s symbolic really.” I gestured around the room. “What holds all of this together? I’ll need something that is representative of that ‘glue’—that foundation. The ward will work without it, but a cornerstone would make it stronger.”
Sookie thought for a moment and then got up and went to an old buffet table. She smiled when she found a Polaroid camera in it.
“I’ll be right back,” she said determinedly.
Five minutes later she was back, shaking a freshly taken Polaroid picture of Eric Northman. “My husband is the strongest piece in this house—the cornerstone,” she said confidently. “The foundation. Would this work?” she asked, handing me the picture.
“It’s perfect,” I said with a smile. “It won’t take me long at all to get what I need, and then I’ll set the wards, though they won’t mature until after King Eric awakens.”
“Mature?” Sookie asked.
“It can take up to a day for a ward to fully mature; however—don’t worry—the wards will keep out most things right away,” I comforted.
“What wouldn’t they keep out?” Sookie asked.
“Anything with a great hold over magic and with a commanding knowledge of how wards work could, perhaps, get through immature wards, but even my mentor would have a hard time making a breech.”
Sookie nodded but bit her bottom lip worriedly. “Why does it take wards so long to mature?” she asked.
“The cornerstone, in this case, King Eric, will have to ‘prove’ himself to the magic—prove worthy—but I doubt if that will be an issue,” I added with a smirk as I examined the picture. Undeniably, King Eric was one handsome dead guy! Yanking my thoughts from my appreciation of the vampire king, I stood. “Well—I’m gonna get goin’,” I said as I moved toward the door.
Sookie followed me. I wasn’t sure if she was coming to see me out or call me out for momentarily ogling the picture of her mate.
Luckily, it was the former. “So—uh—do you need anything else?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No. And don’t worry. I’ll be able to build a strong ward here,” I smiled. “And then I’ll get to work on the other house. Given the strong auras of the girls and their dad, I’ll be able to build a strong one there too, but I’ll need to meet the other residents to make sure I make it as effective as possible. They are human—right?”
“Yeah. Terry and Arlene are both working until about midnight,” she said.
“Then I’ll plan on staying late,” I smiled.
“Will your ward really keep Warlow out? Off the property?” Sookie asked, her voice quivering with apprehension for the first time. Clearly, she’d been putting on a brave front. “He killed one of Andy’s girls,” she whispered, “and I just can’t bear to imagine . . . .”
Her voice caught as she placed her hand over her belly.
Love emanated from Sookie Northman like a shockwave of magic.
“Incredible,” I whispered.
“What?” she asked.
“A fairy and a vampire made babies,” I grinned.
“How do you know they’re Eric’s?” she asked me with concern.
“Because of the magic in this house,” I said looking around me. “Every curtain. Every piece of furniture. Every plank. Every swish of paint. Every piece of wallpaper. Everything tells me that there’s immeasurable love here.”
“Eric restored the house for me,” Sookie whispered. “Piece by piece. Board by board. I went missing for a year, and he had no way of knowing if I was alive or dead. Everyone else gave up on me, but he never did,” she said in an almost unworldly tone. “And that was before we were even together.”
I took Sookie’s hand and enjoyed the feeling of her uncontained magic flowing around the room—and into me. I knew that I would set a better ward because of it. “Your magic comes from love,” I whispered.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
“Love for your vampire,” I said.
She seemed a little “lost” in the moment. No. A better word was “gone.” Perhaps, she had gone to the place where her mate was sleeping—dead to everything except the magic within him which kept his body whole. Or, perhaps, she was drawing upon the elements of the earth itself.
Yes. Around the Northman home, I would be able to make a very strong ward indeed!
I reiterated that fact aloud as Sookie seemed to come back to herself.
“Maria-Star’s gonna be here a lot, and you are welcome any time, Amelia,” she said sincerely.
I chuckled. “So that Danny can practice on my loud mind,” I said, lightening the mood.
Sookie nodded. “Yeah.” She closed her eyes. “Speaking of loud minds,” she grinned widely, “Lafayette is quite taken with Brady.”
I giggled. “Someone would have to be in love with someone else not to be,” I replied knowingly.
She snorted. “Except Brady seemed to be into my brother last night.”
“Is your brother gay?”
I winked. “I’ve known Lafayette for about a minute, but I can already tell he’d be difficult not to love.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“We’d had a falling out. Lala lost someone he loved recently. And then Tara, his cousin and my best friend, was brought over—by Eric’s child actually. Tara didn’t take it well at first, and Lala blamed me because he couldn’t bear the fact that he was the one who first suggested that Tara be turned.”
I frowned. “It’s always easier to blame other people—when we don’t want to blame ourselves. Or when we don’t want to blame the person we love the most,” I said, thinking about my father.
I sighed. I knew my father loved me more than anything, but that’s what made my relationship with him so hard. And it was also the reason why I hadn’t cut him out of my life—no matter how difficult it had been to face his disapproval.
Maria-Star thought that I was too forgiving when it came to him, especially since my frequent calls from him always ended in a guilt trip. She had a point when she told me that if he really did love me, he wouldn’t see my character traits as faults. He’d simply love me as I was. But she didn’t know my father. I knew that he was scared that all of my choices were taking me away from him, and I knew that was because my mother had left him.
I couldn’t help but to wonder if Lafayette had loved Tara more than anything. If so, blaming Sookie for Tara’s rejection of him would have been a defense mechanism—just as blaming my mother for all my “rejections” continued to be my father’s excuse for being a douchebag at times.
I was not really surprised when Sookie hugged me as I moved to open the door.
“Wait just a sec,” she whispered when she let me go. Her eyes were closed as if she were concentrating.
“What is it?” I asked in a whisper of my own.
“Lala and Brady are flirting with each other, and Lala is wondering if it’s too soon to ask for his number since Jesus died so recently. He’s feeling guilty about being attracted to someone.”
“Oh!” I said, amazed by her gift. Being a natural witch meant that I had a strong sense of the magic around me and a good instinct about how to use it; however, Sookie’s magic emanated from within.
After another thirty seconds or so, my new friend grinned and opened her eyes. “Brady just asked Lafayette for his number. And for a date once the Warlow thing is over.” She sighed and her smile faded. “If the Warlow thing is ever over.”
“It will be,” I said, even though I had no way of knowing that for sure.
“Thanks for trying,” she returned sincerely, though she’d obviously heard my doubts.
“Since Maria-Star isn’t back from her patrol yet, I’ll go to the store with you,” Tray suggested, approaching from the dining room.
“You think Amelia might be in danger?” Sookie asked worriedly.
“Probably not,” Tray said. “I doubt she’d be on Warlow’s radar, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Sookie nodded in agreement and told me to be careful as Tray and I went out onto the porch.
Lafayette was waving a goodbye in Brady’s direction and getting into his car.
“Hooking up on the job?” Tray teased.
“Multitasking,” Brady said with a twinkle in his eyes. From the level of power and energy that Brady emanated, I figured that not much could get past him even when he was “multitasking.”
“I’ll be going with Amelia to the store so that she can get what she needs to do her ward,” Tray said with a smile in my direction. I couldn’t help it that my heart went pitter patter a little. I could certainly see how Tray Dawson would be the man of many women’s dreams, and—if I hadn’t already found the woman of my dreams—I might have been tempted to do some flirting of my own.
But I had found her.
And on Hummingbird Lane, I felt like I’d also found something else: a lot of potential friends and allies.
And I was anxious to help to protect them.
A/N: Hello all! Sorry that the INNER-Verse has been missing from its weekly postings for a while. However, I’ve got enough drafted to get us back on track. So, hopefully, I won’t have to delay the story again. I’ve certainly not lost my passion for writing this and my other stories, but my list of duties at work has grown, so I have less free time to write. Plus, there’s always laundry to do, dishes to wash, a carpet to vacuum, etc. I’m doing the best I can to find time to write so that I don’t go insane, but I’m dealing with more interruptions—unfortunately.
That being said, I hope you liked this INNER-Lude. I know that it’s LONG, but I wanted to introduce you to this Amelia (she’s quite different from my others) and give you more information about Maria-Star in the process. Plus, I wanted to give you an idea of what is going on this “day” as Eric is “dead.”
Anyway, next week, we’ll be back with Eric’s POV in From the Inside Out. And we’ll get some Eric/Sookie alone time if any of you are craving that.
Following the chronological order of the entire INNER-Verse, “Back” takes you to “INNER-Lude 7–Nora.” “Next” takes you to Chapter 30 of From the Inside Out.