“Are you going to be a good girl for your mother while I’m away?” Eric asked Sadie as he finished up with his packing for Rhodes. He was leaving the night before us since he hated traveling in the coffins Anubis provided for their passengers.
“Yes,” Sadie answered in her sing-song voice while she played beauty parlor with my hair. “Mommy look to the left, please.”
I turned my head and looked up at Eric, who looked amused by what our daughter was doing to my hair.
The two of them began conversing in Old Norse, leaving me feeling a bit like a third wheel. I was torn between being annoyed by it and being proud of my baby for leaning a second language so quickly. It was important for Eric to talk to her in his language because otherwise Sadie would forget it, and I didn’t want her to forget. Besides, they were entitled to having their secrets. Sadie and I had ours, too.
After a few minutes of speaking in Norse, Sadie pronounced me finished. I got up to go look in the bathroom mirror, as was our custom, and I had to hold back a shriek. Vidal Sassoon my baby was not, but I admired her creativity.
“I never would have thought to put a ponytail there,” I said while touching just above my right temple.
“Do you like it?” Sadie asked hopefully.
“I love it. You did a wonderful job,” I told her.
Sadie held up her little hand for a high five, and after getting her reward she ran back to Eric.
“Daddy, do you have to go? I want you to come to Granny’s with us,” Sadie pouted. She even hauled out her gigantic bottom lip in the hopes of swaying her father. She was good—too good.
“I wish I could, minn hjarta, but I have to go to that big meeting at the pyramid with all the other vampires,” Eric said. To anyone else it probably would have sounded like crazy talk, but it was normal as a sunny day in our house.
Sadie huffed and asked, “Will you bring me a present?”
Of course a present would excuse his absence.
“Of course, minn hjarta,” he smiled at her and Sadie’s Sad Lip disappeared. “Why don’t you run and get your practice sword and we’ll work on your swing for a while before I have to go?”
Sadie grinned and jumped off the big bed Eric and I shared to go to the little room Eric had set up for just that reason.
“For what it’s worth, I wish you were coming with us, too,” I told him.
“So do I, but I can’t miss Rhodes,” Eric said as he zipped up his suitcase.
I knew he couldn’t miss it. Important information was traded and discussed at the summit. A large amount of vampire business was done and edicts were revoked, altered or handed down to change the vampire standard operating procedure. Trials were conducted and the Ancient Pythoness was present to give her rulings on matters that couldn’t be determined elsewhere. Being that Eric was now a king, his presence was mandatory.
“Who is running area five while Karin is out of town?” I asked.
“Thalia,” Eric said with a hint of a smile and my eyebrow arched.
Thalia took some getting used to and I had just barely gotten there myself after knowing her for almost a decade. She was rude to just about everyone, although she was respectful to Eric since he was first her sheriff, and then her king. As his bonded and pledged, she was just as respectful to me and she was never cruel to Sadie.
In homage to Eric’s Viking ancestry, we’d planned a traditional naming ceremony for Sadie after she was born. I had her baptized, as was my way, and Eric got his naming ceremony. It was wonderful for Sadie to be immersed in two very different cultures, and Eric had even commissioned a costumer to create authentic clothing from the time he was human. He had heavily consulted on the designs, of course, and the tradition called for two sets of ‘foster parents’ to be called forth. I selected one and Eric selected the other.
I chose Tara and my brother to be one set, as well as Sadie’s godparents. Eric chose Pam and Stan Davis, king of Texas and a close friend of Eric’s, to be the other set of foster parents for the ceremony. We had waited until the first day of spring to have the ceremony. Well, that first night, I should say, and even though it was still a bit chilly outside, it was absolutely lovely. I knew it made Eric proud to be able to show off his daughter in such a way.
Every vampire in the state of Louisiana had attended the affair, along with several other regents that Eric had befriended over the years, including Russell Edgington and his husband, Bartholomew who was the king of Indiana. It was nice having powerful allies and the vampires in the state had extended their fealty to Eric’s child. He was a good king, just as he had been a good sheriff. The position wasn’t one Eric had aspired to, but he never did anything halfway.
His retinue noticed.
The state flourished under his leadership and despite a few setbacks in the first few weeks after Sadie was born, things had gone remarkably smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that it made me nervous. Some sixth sense was always tingling in the back of my mind, warning me that something was going to happen. It drove me insane and sometimes made me a little paranoid.
Becoming a mother made me more cautious and aware of my surroundings. I stopped putting up a fuss about having a security detail, if only because I wanted to protect my daughter. Thalia might be mean as a hornet’s next on a hot summer day but I knew she would fight to the death for Sadie. She had given her word to Eric and she was low on options as far as states that would give her residency. Eric had learned how to handle Thalia, however.
She was a great secret weapon to have because she looked relatively innocent and harmless, but she was as deadly as they come. I wasn’t sure how old she was, but after the fight for the throne she’d had to regenerate a hand. She located the one she’d lost in the fight and I watched as it reattached itself to her body.
I stood there stunned with my mouth hanging open, blinking like I couldn’t believe what I was saying. Being that I was so pregnant at the time, the need to pee overtook my curiosity and I was forced to step around the puddles of goo to find a place to relieve myself. It was easier said than done.
“She wants a sheriff’s position. This is her chance to prove to me that she can handle it without scaring the humans and running the vampires in her retinue out of her area. Honestly, she’s much better suited for Montana or the Dakotas, but she hates winter,” Eric told me.
“Well, I hope she doesn’t disappoint you,” I said.
Eric picked up his luggage and put it by the door.
“So do I,” he replied. “Are you going to come and watch us practice?”
“No, I think I’ll give you two some time alone. Sadie’s going to miss you.”
In the blink of an eye, Eric was standing before me with his large, cool hands cradling my face. “What about you, my lover, will you miss me?”
“Of course I’ll miss you,” I smiled up at him and he lowered his head to kiss me sweetly. My hands wrapped around his wrists and we stood there just kissing for a minute before he broke away to go play with our daughter.
§ ☼ §
Despite having access to a private plane that could take us up to Shreveport, I decided I wanted to drive up there. First of all, I wanted to have my own car with me. Eric had the thing reinforced and made virtually death-proof before he would let me drive it at all and if Sadie was traveling anywhere, she’d better be in that car. It was damn near a tank, which meant I had to stop far too frequently to refuel. On the bright side, it meant Sadie was able to get out and stretch her legs. Quinn didn’t seem to mind the frequent breaks either, for that matter.
What should have been a six hour drive took closer to eight and a half with all of the stops we had to make, but it was well worth it when we finally pulled into Gran’s driveway. Eric had worked it out so that Quinn would be watching us during the day and Bubba would be patrolling the woods at night. Gran loved it when Bubba came by. The first time she saw the undead King of Rock ‘n Roll gracing her doorstep she about had a spell.
There was a time when Sadie was a baby and I had been staying with Gran while Eric was out of town on vampire business. Sadie was teething at the time so she was waking up frequently in the middle of the night. I was pacing around the house, trying to comfort my wailing daughter and Bubba had started to sing for her. It was sweet to hear him croon and it was a rare thing. His voice had soothed her, however, and Sadie had watched him with wonder in her eyes like she too, somehow, knew who was singing to her and what a rare treat it was.
When I told Gran that Bubba was coming to town she went into a tizzy to get the house in order. I doubted he cared much about dust or any little cobwebs that might be up in the corners, but Gran was never the kind to rest on her laurels and accept company with a messy house. To keep her from getting up on a step ladder from which she could potentially fall and break a hip—or her neck—I had insisted she let me hire a cleaning lady to come in once a week to do those sorts of things for her. Gran had poo pooed the idea at first, but I was insistent on it.
After her dear friend Everlee Mason took a tumble and broke her hip, Gran changed her tune about the cleaning lady. At Gran’s age, recovering from those sorts of injuries would be a nightmare for her, and if there was anything she hated, it was being restricted. Gran was very much the independent sort and she didn’t want to burden anyone else with her troubles. She was a steel magnolia through and through.
Gran was waiting for us on the front porch swing with a magazine in her hands, more than likely it was Cooking With Paula Deen. I’d gotten her a subscription the previous Christmas and she loved it. She stood up slowly as the car came to a stop and Quinn pulling up right beside me. The first time Gran laid eyes on Quinn they about bugged out of her head. I couldn’t really blame her for that. Quinn was taller than Eric by about an inch and he was definitely beefier.
Prior to being assigned as Sadie’s guard, Quinn was working off a debt he owed to the second of the king of Nevada. Victor Madden had bailed Quinn out after he’d killed a group of men that had gang raped his mother. Quinn needed help getting rid of the bodies and Victor agreed to help on the condition that Quinn would fight in the “pits”. The pits hosted gladiator style fights for shapeshifters. At the time Eric bought out Quinn’s marker, Quinn had been undefeated and Victor was plenty pissed off when Eric went over his head to Felipe de Castro to buy Quinn’s freedom. Mostly, I suspect, Victor was pissed off about the money he was losing since Eric paid the king directly instead of Victor.
“No running in Gran’s house,” I reminded Sadie as I turned the car off.
“I know, Mommy,” she said as she took off her seatbelt.
“And no jumping on Granny either.”
Sadie let herself out of the car and ran straight for Gran, who had shuffled over to the steps to wait for us. Quinn met me outside my door when I got out of the car. He had a concerned look on his face as he watched Sadie fling her arms around Gran’s waist.
“She’s looking a little frail, Sookie,” Quinn said.
“I know,” I sighed. “I don’t like her being alone out here but she won’t move down to New Orleans with us. Karin comes out to check on her every few days and I know Bill stops in from time to time to see how she’s doing. Plus my brother’s gotten better about taking care of her in the last few years.”
“But you’d still feel better if she was with you,” Quinn supplied.
“Bingo,” I smiled and headed to the back to open the gate.
Quinn followed behind me and refused to let me get the bags from the back. I liked Quinn. At first I was a little intimidated by him, but I quickly realized that just like Eric, he was a teddy bear when you got to know him. Eric certainly didn’t let his playful side out in public too often, but he was known for his sense of humor and almost childlike excitement when it came to fighting. I wouldn’t say Quinn had the same joie de vivre that Eric had, but he wasn’t nearly as scary as his appearance might suggest.
Sadie was talking a mile a minute when Quinn and I got to the porch and poor Gran already looked a little overwhelmed. It was probably a good thing we were only fixing to be in town for four days.
“Hey, Gran,” I smiled up at her when Sadie finally put a cork in it for a few seconds.
“Hello, sweetheart,” Gran said, holding her arms out to me.
I climbed up the steps to give Gran a hug. The smell of her perfume and the unmistakable scent of freshly made biscuits filled my nose, and I smiled big. I missed her cooking. It was probably a good thing Eric didn’t eat human food because if he did, he would have gained fifty pounds by now thanks to Gran. She was always sending me back home with pies, casseroles, fried chicken or some other southern staple that was great for comforting and murder on the waistline.
“How was the drive?” Gran asked.
“Alright. That tank of mine required we stop for gas more than I would have liked but the alternative was flying up here,” I told her.
“Count your blessings that you had a choice,” Gran said, and then pulled back. “Mr. Quinn, it’s nice to see you again.”
“You too, ma’am,” he said respectfully.
“Well, come on in and get yourselves settled,” Gran told us. She stepped out of the way so I could open the screen door.
Sadie ran inside, despite my recent reminder not to run in Gran’s house.
“Sadie Adele, what’s the rule about running in Granny’s house?” I called after her.
“Sorry, Mommy!” she called back as she headed for the bedroom that had once been mine. She liked being in the bedroom I had once called mine. The walls were covered in off-white wallpaper with little yellow roses on it that had started to gray with age. The bedding matched the wallpaper and the twin size mattress always creaked a little in its white metal frame.
Quinn set Sadie’s little suitcase on her bed and she immediately got to work putting her clothes away in the old, white dresser. Gran had painted the piece herself when she found out she was going to be a great-grandmother.
“Sadie, honey, there’s a little something for you in the closet,” Gran said from the doorway.
“Gran,” I looked over at her, but she just shrugged.
I rolled my eyes while Sadie flung the closet door open to reveal a pretty new dress with a neon, salmon-like color underlay and a white eyelet overlay. It was perfect for Sadie and I knew immediately it would become her new favorite thing.
“Thank you, Granny!” Sadie said with excitement as she looked at her new dress.
“You’re welcome, sugar,” Gran said, and eagerly accepted the hug she got from Sadie.
Gran and I were going to have to have a talk about the spoiling later.
§ ☼ §
“I love you too, Daddy, goodnight,” Sadie said before handing the phone over to me.
She was bathed and ready for Gran to put her to bed.
“I’ll be in, in a minute,” I said before bringing the phone back to my ear. Sadie went back inside and I sat on the porch swing since I got better reception outside than inside.
“Has Bubba arrived yet?” Eric asked.
“Yes, he’s here. He and Gran have been playing Checkers for the last hour.”
“Of course,” Eric said with a small chuckle.
“How’s Rhodes? Have I missed anything good?”
“Same shit, different year. I got the chance to talk to Stan last night for a bit. He has a new pet he’s very enthusiastic about.”
“Oh yeah? Good for him,” I smiled.
“She seems very nice, although a little young.”
“Eric, you realize there’s an extreme age difference between you and I, right?” I reminded him.
“Yes, but I wasn’t referring to chronology,” he explained. “She has those things in her ears all the time and she’s got more holes in her face than a Pygmy.”
I rolled my eyes at that.
“So then I should cancel Sadie’s nose piercing appointment?” I teased.
“No, you can pierce her; I’ll just take it out when I get home and heal her again,” Eric told me.
“Don’t worry, Eric, I’m not interested in piercing our baby’s face.”
“Good. She’s beautiful just the way she is.”
“Yes, she is,” I agreed.
“I should get going. We have the welcome meeting at ten and I’m sure Gran will need bailing out any moment.”
“You’re probably right,” I smiled. “Okay, well… have fun. Call me tomorrow night.”
“I will. I love you, wife.”
“I love you too, husband,” I responded and hung up.
I tucked my phone back in my pocket and then went inside to find my daughter dancing with Bubba in the living room. She was mostly bouncing around, looking dangerously close to someone having a grand mal seizure, while Bubba was doing the classic pelvis moving. Gran looked a little scandalized, but her eyes were glued to Bubba.
I cleared my throat and I swear I saw Gran blush.
“Say goodnight to Bubba, Sadie,” I said, putting a stop to their fun.
“Goodnight, Bubba. Thanks for dancing with me,” Sadie said before letting me pick her up.
“Goodnight, Miss Sadie,” Bubba said with a polite not. “If you don’t need me in the house anymore, Miss Sookie, I’d sure like to go hunting.”
“Of course, Bubba, we’ll be fine here,” I told him.
“Miss Adele, I’ll be back to finish our game,” he promised.
“I’ll be waiting for you,” Gran said with a smile that nearly made me blush.
Once Bubba was out of the house Sadie started to giggle.
As I walked toward the bedroom she started loudly singing, “Granny and Bubba sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G…”
That invoked a mental image that would surely haunt my dreams for the duration of our trip.
Minn hjarta- My heart