TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2011, 4:43 A.M. (A FEW MINUTES BEFORE THE END OF THE LAST CHAPTER)
“Within a week.”
That had been the only warning I’d gotten to let me know that I should prepare myself for my maker’s impending death.
Two weeks before, Appius had finally traveled to the United States—but only so far as New York, where Alastair had been keeping him and Alexei company. My maker hadn’t even bothered to call me to tell me that he was on the same continent as I was, but that was fine with me.
Since I had no idea of the exact time (or even the day) when Marion would rid me of my bane, I had stayed in my sleeping chamber since receiving the cryptic message three nights before. I knew that the severing of my bond with Appius would be painful for me. And I didn’t want to risk being vulnerable at an inopportune time.
Though Area 5 was generally a “peaceful” place, there was the random problem every once in a while. I thought back to how I’d had to finally do away with the “disco triplets”—as Sookie had so amusingly described them—the month before. Saving them from arson had been a low priority for me, but I’d done it nonetheless, and—because of that—the three had “owed” me. And they’d actually been decently behaved for a long time. But—eventually—they had gone back to their old ways, which included keeping human pets as slaves.
Indeed, dealing with them hadn’t been difficult—even though there were three of them, and I took only Clancy with me. But if I had keeled over in pain (say, from my maker’s unexpected death), then the triplets might have seized the advantage.
There was no use risking my life—not for Appius!
The good news was that the pain from the bond breaking wouldn’t affect my own children—beyond them feeling that I was in some distress. Pam had already been coached to ignore any discomfort she felt from me as she oversaw my duties at Fangtasia. The “official” story explaining my absence was that “it was nobody’s damned business what I did with my fucking time!”
If the queen happened to question me, which—let’s face it—she wasn’t likely to do since I was still fulfilling my duties thanks to the Internet, I would tell her that I had grown tired of the vermin and wanted a few nights of quiet. Such a thing would be well-within the realm of possibility, given how tired I truly was of indulging fangbangers, who had grown more and more pathetic throughout the years. In fact, my current “freedom” from Fangtasia, during which I had simply completed my work and then read in peace, was enough to convince me to bring in some new “eye candy” to complete the throne duty at the club. And—if profits suffered—well—I really didn’t give a damn.
Peace from Fangtasia was nice. But I was still cagey as I waited. Of course, I knew no specifics regarding Marion’s plans to kill Appius, though I did know that Karin had recently traveled to New York. Was she involved in the plan? It wouldn’t surprise me. In fact, it would please me.
I sighed and looked at the clock: 4:44 a.m.
I thought of Sookie and wished for her.
And then I sighed again.
The only appointment that I regretted not fulfilling during my self-sequestering had been my weekly trip to Adele’s grave. And, to make matters worse, I’d learned upon my rising that night that Bobby had been in a car wreck on his way to fulfill the task of delivering Adele’s flowers for me! And that meant that Sookie hadn’t gotten her daisies either!
I growled. It didn’t matter that the car wreck wasn’t Bobby’s fault or that his leg was broken in three places; I was still pissed off enough to have already decided to replace him!
However, any anger I felt for Bobby was ripped away from me, as an excruciating pain tore through me.
I fell to my knees and yelled out.
And then—for the first time in my long existence as a vampire—I died before the day came.
TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2011, 8:24 P.M.
I woke up exactly at sunset with the oddest sensation.
At first the sensation was painful—though nothing like the pain I’d felt the night before.
No—it wasn’t pain. It was more like discomfort—as if there was an empty space inside of my body—a space that wouldn’t quite collapse in on itself. It took me a moment to understand that the sensation was actually an absence—an echo. Even though I had rarely “felt” my maker’s emotions, our maker-child bond had always told me that he still lived. I had felt him in my body for a thousand years, similar to how one might feel the nose on one’s face. One could touch it and know it was there, but it wasn’t something that one concentrated upon feeling all the time. In fact, a nose was felt only when hurting—or missing.
Not that I missed Appius.
Still, I knew that I would notice the absence of my bond with my maker for a long time before I got used to the sensation—or was it the lack of sensation. Regardless, the feeling of it quickly evolved from discomfort to pleasantness.
Appius would be a welcome absence.
I smiled in the dark of my day chamber. I now knew what “freedom” felt like. It was startling and wonderful!
More amazing than the feeling of it, however, was knowing just what I wanted to do now that I had it.
TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2011, 8:48 P.M.
After quickly dressing, I flew to the old farmhouse at top speed.
It took me only twenty minutes to reach it from my favorite home, but it seemed to take so much longer.
I suppose it had taken me years to get there.
But now that my list of tasks was completed, I couldn’t get to her fast enough.
Despite the assurances I’d gotten from the Ancient Pythoness, I wondered if Sookie would forgive me for not taking up immediate residence in her life.
Would she even want me in her life? When vampires had been the harbingers of doom in her first existence?
I was selfish enough to find out.
Selfish enough to want to discover what that other Eric had known so well that he had been capable of wishing Sookie through time and space.
I landed silently in her yard and inhaled deeply.
No Weres. No vampires. No fairies.
The faint scent of shifter. Not Merlotte, but one of his children.
The barest hint of Britlingen—signaling that Clovache was doing her job somewhere nearby.
Other scents—human ones—were more recent. Oddly, Dawn’s scent was among the most prevalent. But there was only one person currently in the home: the one I wanted to see more than any other.
Sookie opened the door immediately after I knocked and looked surprised to see me.
Relieved to see me.
Happy to see me.
Confused to see me.
“Did you get my note?” she greeted.
She frowned slightly. “I sent you a letter yesterday—promising not to steal any more of the flowers. Is that why you didn’t bring any the other night?”
I stepped forward and pushed an errant strand of Sookie’s hair behind her ear. The action seemed natural—automatic—even though it was the first time I’d ever done it.
I tried not to be jealous of the other me, who’d likely done it hundreds of times.
It was then that I noticed that I was inside the house with her.
“How?” I asked.
Sookie seemed to immediately know what I was asking about. “Gran never rescinded your invitation. And then—after I became the owner—I reissued it.” She looked down and blushed a little. “Just in case.”
I smiled softly and lifted up her chin.
“I’m sorry I missed bringing the flowers on Sunday. And—for the record—the daisies always were for you.”
She bit her lower lip shyly. “I’d hoped that was the case. But I wasn’t sure. And when the flowers weren’t there yesterday morning, I worried you’d been hurt.”
“I’m sorry,” I frowned. “And I’m sorry that I didn’t come here before now. I’m sorry it took me so damned long to finish it!”
“Finish what?” she asked, her eyes glistening. She seemed unsteady on her feet, so I lifted her up gently and carried her to the couch. Her hands gripped my neck as if they were meant to be attached to it.
We both sighed when I set her down and broke the touch. I reached into my jeans pocket and pulled out a well-worn piece of paper: the list I’d made.
When I handed it to her, she unfolded it carefully.
On it were only names—now mostly crossed out. All the threats to her.
“I memorized that list a long time ago, but I kept it as a reminder of what needed to be done before I returned,” I said.
“Returned to you,” I clarified.
“Did you mean to?” she asked. “Return to me all along? I thought you didn’t want to.”
I tried to hear if there was anger in her tone. But there wasn’t.
“I always wanted to, but I wasn’t sure it could all be done,” I said, gesturing toward the list in her hands. “I didn’t want to make a promise to you that I couldn’t keep.”
“Bill?” she asked of the first crossed-out name, even as I sat down in the chair across from her.
“In South America with his maker. Banished from Louisiana. There will never be a reason for him to seek you out.”
She took a deep breath and nodded. “Longshadow?”
“Dealt with years ago in such a way that even Hot Rain didn’t get offended. Longshadow forfeited a lot of money and was banished from Louisiana, but he’s intact. He’s with his maker in Wyoming.”
“Steve Newlin is in prison,” Sookie said, looking at the next crossed-out name. Indeed, she likely didn’t need me to tell her anything about the notorious man’s fate. His trial had been all over the news once he was arrested for planning the Rhodes bombing. And—even though he failed—he was still sentenced to a long prison term. Unfortunately, he’d hanged himself before he’d served even a month of it. His church had pretty much fallen apart in the years following the first Rhodes summit.
“Sophie-Anne?” she asked.
“I’m sure you’ve seen her on television,” I said with a smirk.
“She turned Hadley, but commanded her not to speak about her family. She was so pissed off that Hadley had misled her regarding you.”
“Good. That’s good,” Sookie whispered. “Good for Hunter.”
“Yes. Sophie-Anne seems to have forgotten all about you. And—of course—Hadley still lives, but her command is still in place.”
“I hated her for never contacting Gran,” Sookie said forlornly. “Maybe I judged her too harshly.
“No,” I returned quickly. “Hadley is selfish. According to my source, she was ordered not to speak about your family in Sophie-Anne’s presence; she was not ordered not to contact you or Adele or Hunter on her own.”
“How do you know she hasn’t contacted him—Hunter?” she asked.
“Thalia is in place as Hunter’s guard. And Bubba visits him,” I informed. “In fact, Bubba has become friendly with Remy and Hunter—as well as the demon who visits Hunter twice a week.”
“Mr. Cataliades?” she asked. I was surprised she didn’t know more about the matter since I knew that she’d visited the demon lawyer years before.
“No,” I said. “Gladiola.”
Sookie smiled softly. “I’m really glad she made it this time around.”
I nodded in agreement.
“I felt bad—for never tellin’ Gran about Hadley being alive—and then undead. Or about Hunter,” Sookie shared, even as a tear fell from her eye.
I found that I hated that tear.
I considered for a moment. “There are so many reasons to wonder if the things we’ve done during the last seven years were the right things to do.”
Sookie exhaled loudly and reached out toward me. I took her hand gratefully.
“Andre?” she asked, looking back at the list in her other hand. “He’s not a problem anymore either?”
“Other than being an annoying prick as always?” I chuckled. “No, he’s no worry to you. Sophie-Anne is very content, and her queendom has never been stronger. Even if she learned of you, she wouldn’t desire you with the same fervency as before.”
Sookie smiled a little. “Felipe?”
“Madden killed him,” I chuckled.
“He did?” she asked as if reacting to a television show. “Well? What happened to Victor? He’s crossed off the list too.”
I grinned at her curiosity. “Karin played on Victor’s ambition and delusions of grandeur in order to influence him to kill de Castro in a very public way. But, contrary to what Victor thought would happen, he was not made king. He was executed by Felipe’s people. Sandy Sechrest is queen now.”
Sookie shook her head. “I really shouldn’t be so glad that they’re both finally dead this time around; after all, they didn’t even affect our lives.”
“But you are—glad,” I smirked.
“Yes. Yes. I really am,” she chuckled at herself.
“What about Freyda?” she followed-up.
“Thanks to Jade Flower, the Queen of Arkansas, she has never been an issue,” I responded.
“Jade Flower? But she was a bad guy,” she frowned. “She killed Gladiola.”
I chuckled. “This time around, Jade’s a ‘good guy.'”
“How’d that happen?”
“I made sure Sophie-Anne didn’t get involved in marriage talks with Peter Threadgill by stirring the pot about the conflict over the border between Louisiana and Arkansas. I also manufactured a few rumors that Threadgill might attempt a takeover.”
Sookie smirked. “So Sophie-Anne didn’t ever pursue him.”
I shook my head. “No. Peter tried other marriage attempts, looking for a way to bolster the finances of his state. Meanwhile, Jennifer Cater wanted him to focus on building up Arkansas’s infrastructure, but he spent most of his money on excessive courtship gifts. The last straw was when Threadgill offered Jade Flower’s head to Elizabeth, the Queen of Michigan, as a gift—if she agreed to a marriage with him.”
“Jade has been a bodyguard or enforcer for centuries—not unlike Karin,” I shared. “One of Jade’s previous jobs was to kill one of Elizabeth’s vampire siblings. Peter misinterpreted the situation, however. He didn’t do enough homework, so he didn’t know that Elizabeth’s own maker, Robert, had been Jade’s employer. The slain child had been uncontrollable, not unlike Alexei. Robert did what Appius should have done years ago—arranged for the child to be killed. He couldn’t bring himself to do it himself, however. Elizabeth felt like she owed Jade Flower a tremendous debt for seeing to the duty humanely and ensuring that Robert suffered as little as possible. Given those facts, it is unsurprising that Elizabeth told Jade about Peter’s offer. It’s also unsurprising that Jade took his head.”
“Geez! What a soap opera!” Sookie exclaimed.
I chuckled. “It was quite the subject of gossip for a while.”
“Why didn’t Jennifer Cater take over Arkansas?”
“She didn’t want to be queen,” I responded, impressed by Sookie’s thoughtful questioning about vampire politics.
“Jennifer isn’t really old enough to be an effective monarch,” I added. “However, she was astute enough to recognize that fact. When she turned down the position, Jade was offered the monarchy. Jennifer has stayed on as Jade’s Lieutenant and financial advisor. The state is doing better that ever before.”
“How does all that relate to Freyda?” she asked.
“In your other life, Freyda wanted me to become her consort because she thought she needed someone strong so that her monarchy wouldn’t be challenged. And she noticed me in Rhodes in 2005, but this time I didn’t even go to Rhodes until earlier this year.”
Realization dawned on Sookie’s face. “And, in this timeline, Freyda merely had to look next door to see exactly what she wanted: a strong warrior who no one would want to fuck with. And a marriage to another monarch sounds much better than a marriage to a sheriff. No offense,” she quickly added.
“None taken,” I laughed. “In truth, without Appius in Freyda’s kingdom, she probably wouldn’t have considered me for a marriage partner—even though she’d noticed me in your previous reality. After all, you indicated that she’d not contacted me directly after Rhodes. Likely, once Alexei was threatened with punishment, Appius talked me up to her—like a fucking used car salesman.”
Sookie frowned, but nodded. “Well—I’m glad Freyda isn’t an issue. And I suppose that the reason I thought of her as a bitch was because she wanted you—and wouldn’t let you out of the contract.” She sighed. “She let Appius force you,” she added softly, looking down at her hand in mine. “I admit that I wouldn’t mind if she had died this time around too.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “But Freyda will not be a problem for either of us. In fact, she and Jade have formed an alliance with Sophie-Anne. They call themselves the ‘Three Queens,’ and the region is strong and peaceful.”
“I’m glad of that,” Sookie said with a nod. “What about Stan and Russell?”
“Both are fine. Stan and Sophie-Anne are actually married.”
“No!” Sookie giggled. “Why wasn’t it on the news?”
I chuckled. “Do you really want to know?”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Well—Stan is actually quite shy around the Press. And Sophie-Anne doesn’t think they photograph well together. So—the alliance hasn’t been discussed with the human Press.”
Sookie laughed heartily.
I smiled at the sound. “Now that Sophie-Anne is so popular and Louisiana is one of the strongest and most profitable kingdoms on the continent, she gets along better with everyone. Thus, she has a better working relationship with Russell too,” I shared.
Sookie’s laughter faded as she looked back down as the list. “There are several fairy names crossed out here. I need to know about them.”
ONLY ONE MORE CHAPTER LEFT!
I hope you enjoyed this reconnection chapter. I spent a lot of time thinking about how Sookie would react when Eric just showed up out of nowhere. Should she have been mad at him? Should she have told him that he was too late—that he’d left her alone too long? Maybe. In the end, I figured they’d suffered enough. Plus, this is a Sookie who learned from life one. She is a Sookie who understands sacrifice. And I think she understands Eric enough to know that he would need to get through his list.
Anyway, I will try to post this chapter at some point tomorrow, but—like I told in the post—it might be Wednesday before I post it. If not, it will be later tomorrow.
Much love to Kleannhouse, Seph, and all my readers!!!!