The next morning I woke up to a surprisingly quiet house. I was used to Sadie coming into the room Eric and I shared to wake me up when she decided it was time I be up for the day. For some ungodly reason our daughter was an early riser. Given that her father was a vampire, she didn’t exactly keep the same hours as the average child. Then again, she didn’t have to be up early to go to school like most kids. Her tutor didn’t come until around what was lunch time for most people.
I did notice, however, that the older she got, the later she slept. She was also a heavy sleeper, which was a good thing. Once Sadie was out, she was out. I wondered if she got that from Eric because I certainly hadn’t ever been a heavy sleeper and becoming a mother only made me more prone to waking up at odd hours. There had been nights when she was a baby that it seemed like I had gotten up to check on her every hour on the dot, and that was with Eric being awake to handle things himself.
That was one of the hidden blessings of having a nocturnal partner. Eric insisted that I rest at night and give him some time alone with our daughter. He took parenting much more seriously than I ever could have imagined, and even though I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by it, I absolutely was. It also made me love him just a little bit more.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and went downstairs to use the bathroom. I didn’t hear Gran and Sadie talking quietly and when I went to the kitchen I found a note on the counter from Gran. She had taken Sadie to church.
Ah ha. That explained it.
There was a pot of coffee ready to go for me, along with a plate in the oven—Gran’s homemade biscuits and gravy. I was in heaven.
My cell phone was charging on the counter so I picked it up to check it. I had a picture message from Eric of the view from his room in Rhodes and it made me smile. As a king, he was allotted one of the fancier suites and I knew he was sharing the room with Pam and Karin. The three of them together looked like they could be distant relatives with their blond hair and blue eyes. Karin was taller than her sister, but not nearly as tall as Eric. Pam was eternally nineteen and I wasn’t sure how old Karin had been when she was turned, but she couldn’t have been much older than that. Both women were beautiful and if I didn’t know any better, I might be worried about what was going on in that suite without me.
I was aware of the sexual relationships he’d had with each of his children at some point. I could hardly judge him for either of them but there was a teeny part of me that didn’t like it either. It was simple, human jealousy and nothing more. There was nothing to worry about, however. Pam had her pet, Miriam, whom she was completely faithful to, as far as I knew. I didn’t know what Karin’s romantic situation was, but vampire on vampire ‘romances’ never lasted for very long.
Besides, Eric knew I would divorce him every way I could if he ever cheated on me.
We had come to an agreement about feeding because there were times when I couldn’t go with him on trips and it was expected that he feed on others. Usually he would abstain and stick to TruBlood, but there were certain instances where he couldn’t go that route. I made him swear up and down that it would be just feeding and not sex. To help ensure it, I insisted that he feed only from men. I knew Eric was capable of feeding without fucking his meal, and he swore to me there wouldn’t be sex involved. Our blood bond would tell me if he was lying to me and Eric always told me if he fed from someone else.
I didn’t really like it, but it was the reality of being married to a vampire and knowing how tricky and laced with landmines their political shit could get. He could say that he wasn’t feeding from others out of respect for his wife, but that made a statement that in the eyes of other vampires, he was weak. If he refused to feed from other humans that meant he let his little human woman rule him.
Oddly enough, a little human woman did rule him and she was currently at church.
Eric had to make his own compromises to be with me and deal with human traditions so it balanced out in the long run. Marriage was about compromise and Eric and I had to make plenty of them. I had to learn I couldn’t always have my way and he had to learn that using “I’m a vampire” wasn’t a good enough reason to win an argument sometimes. Honestly he was lucky he didn’t have to deal too much with Niall and the fairy side of my family in addition to the human side.
We weren’t just dealing with a difference in culture, but a difference in species. All three had different rules they were governed by and it sometimes made for interesting arguments between us.
I poured myself some coffee and sat down at the old kitchen table that had hosted several generations of Stackhouses for meals. My cell phone rang halfway through my breakfast and I looked to see Quinn’s name on the ID window.
“Good morning, Quinn,” I said after swallowing the bite in my mouth.
“Good morning, Sookie. I just wanted to report that everything is good here at church,” he said, sounding stressed.
“That’s good to know…” I trailed off. I felt like there was more coming.
“I uh… my sister called. My mother is having one of her episodes,” he explained.
Quinn had needed to take an emergency leave before on account of his mother. The trauma she suffered that resulted in Frannie’s birth had left her permanently damaged. Every now and then the rape would come back to her and she would go into this meltdown that only Quinn seemed to be able to stop. It was sort of like Terry Bellefleur with his Vietnam War flashbacks he had sometimes.
“I’m sorry to hear that. If you need to take off, go ahead. I can call in another guard to take your place. I’m sure Sadie and Gran will be fine at church,” I told him.
“Thank you, Sookie. I’ll call when I know how long I’ll be gone,” he said.
“It’s fine, Quinn, take your time.” He worked seven days a week so if he needed a few days off to deal with a family emergency, it was fine with me. “We’ll make it work, just go take care of your family.”
Quinn thanked me again before hanging up. I was in no rush to call anyone in. We were in Bon Temps and with the exception of our security team, Pam and Karin, no one even knew where we were instead of being in Rhodes with Eric. I didn’t see any reason to worry and immediately replace Quinn.
I finished my breakfast and then went upstairs to shower. I was hoping to go see Sam and Tara while I was in town. Tara and I had agreed to meet at Merlotte’s that afternoon and I was excited to see her. Talking over Skype wasn’t the same as being face to face in the same room. Usually there were other people around, typically of the child-like variety, so there were some things we didn’t discuss because little ears heard everything and didn’t understand why it was bad to repeat it back later.
I put on a taupe sleeveless tunic, a pair of jeans and a pair of tan suede boots. I grabbed a tan cardigan as well, and left that on my bed while I dried my hair. I left it down hanging in waves and did my makeup a little heavier than usual, but it was nice to get a little pretty for a change. My usual uniform around the house consisted of yoga pants and old jeans with whatever t-shirt I could find that wouldn’t look too ridiculous. There wasn’t much glamorous about having a six-year-old to chase around.
Just as I was getting ready to go, I heard Sadie and Gran coming back inside. I grabbed my purse and slipped my cardigan on before going downstairs. Sadie was wearing the dress Gran had given her along with the jean jacket I’d packed just in case.
“You look pretty, Mommy,” Sadie said when she saw me coming down the stairs.
“You look pretty, too, sweetheart. Granny did a good job picking out that dress for you,” I said, and paused to hug my daughter. “How was church?”
“It was good. Mrs. Fortenberry tooted when she was getting up from the prayer bench,” Sadie informed me. I looked to Gran and she was barely containing her laughter.
“Oh… well… I’m sorry I missed that,” I said with a little chuckle.
“It was stinky,” Sadie scrunched up her nose and Gran lost her battle with her laughter.
I joined in and Sadie hugged me again. Every now and then she’d get clingy for reason I didn’t know and never bothered to ask. I rubbed her back while Gran caught me up on the rest of the service and let me know that Quinn had departed after letting her know he was leaving.
“I’ll call home when I get back from lunch with Tara to get someone else up here to cover him,” I told Gran.
“Oh don’t worry about it,” Gran waved it off. “Who is going to bother us here? Besides, Bubba will be here after dark.”
“I know, I know, but Eric will have a fit if I don’t call for a replacement and I’d rather be safe than sorry. I shouldn’t be gone for too long. Call me if you need anything,” I said to Gran before kneeling down in front of my daughter. “And you, little missy, be good for Granny, okay?”
“I will, Mommy,” Sadie said, and leaned forward to give me a kiss.
“Thank you, baby. I love you.”
“I love you too, Mommy,” Sadie said.
“Come on, Sadie, let’s go get started on lunch,” Gran said.
“Can we make chicken?”
“We’ll have that for supper. It’s already soaking in buttermilk. For lunch we’re having jambalaya,” Gran said. Gran made amazing jambalaya. I was almost considering canceling on Tara so I could stay and have that instead.
Then I remembered the Burger Lafayette and changed my mind.
“Have fun you two,” I called after them and then walked out the front door.
§ ☼ §
One look at Tara and I was a little worried. She looked dangerously thin. She’d always been on the small side, but she not only bounced back quickly after giving birth to her twins, she seemed to keep on losing weight.
When I asked her about it she said, “I just forget to eat sometimes. I’m so busy with Robbie and Sara plus the house and the shop that it just slips my mind. I get up early to get the kids ready for school and after I drop them off I open the shop. I’m usually there by myself so I just sort of pick at whatever snacks I have lying around. When I get home from work I make dinner, but I never seem to get to eat very much because one kid needs this, JB needs that or the dog is acting up…”
“Honey, you have to take care of yourself,” I told her. “Your family would fall apart without you and it will if you make yourself sick.”
“I know,” she sighed. “I’m trying to get better at remembering.”
“Well, you’re going to eat that entire burger if we have to sit here all afternoon,” I said as I glanced at the burger sitting in front of her.
Tara smiled at me and picked up half of the burger to take a bite. Her eyes rolled, she moaned and said, “Man, that’s good.”
I smiled back at her and popped a fried pickle chip in my mouth. I nodded my agreement and then took a bite of my own burger.
“So how are things with you? Enjoying being the queen of Louisiana?” she teased.
“Ha! I’m hardly the queen. I’m like a glorified royal consort. The only way I could be queen is if Eric turned me and I’m still not sure I want to go down that road.”
“What about Sadie?” she asked. “Has she ever asked if she could be a vampire like Eric?”
“Not yet, but I’m sure that day will come.” It was something I thought about fairly regularly and it was the one thing that could potentially change my mind about wanting to be turned myself.
“If she wanted to be turned would you change your mind?”
“I don’t know. I honestly always thought I would just live out my human life and when the time came, I would die like any other human. I guess we’ll wait and see what Sadie wants. If she wants to be turned after she’s eighteen there’s nothing either of us can do about it, but I won’t let her get turned before then,” I said.
If you can help it.
Tara’s thought was the very one that I’d had myself many times. With that in mind, literally, I pulled my cell from my bag and sent off a text message to the daytime head of security to request a new guard be sent up since Quinn was unavailable until further notice.
Within moments I got a response that Mustafa was being dispatched and would arrive as soon as possible. With that out of the way, I slipped my phone back in my bag and focused on the conversation I was having with Tara. The bar was a little too busy with the after church crowd for Sam to come and join us like we had hoped.
“Have you and JB thought about having more kids?” I asked her. It wasn’t going to happen for Eric and me, but Sadie was enough for us to handle.
“We’ve talked about it, but I think we might be done. Robbie and Sara are getting so big and we have so much going on all the time. I couldn’t imagine throwing a newborn into the mix. Then I’d really never eat or get any sleep,” Tara said with a tired smile.
“We have a hard enough time with just Sadie sometimes so I don’t know how you do it with two. There was point when Sadie was two that I thought about giving her up for adoption,” I joked.
“Oh trust me, I understand,” Tara laughed. “When they were two they decided to give each other haircuts and Robbie ended up with a big bald spot right on top of his head.”
I laughed at that, both thankful and a little sad that Sadie didn’t have a partner in crime to do those kinds of things with.
“It’s not all bad, though, right?”
“No, not all bad. They’re thick as thieves even though they do their share of fighting. They remind me a lot of you and Jason when you were kids.”
Ah yes, my brother who would pick on me mercilessly but would beat the stuffing out of any kid that dared to tease me for being different. I was a freak, but I was his freak.
“Speak of the devil,” Tara said with a nod to the front door.
I turned my head to see my brother swaggering in, dressed in his uniform. After getting divorced Jason realized he’d been wasting a lot of his life and making one bad decision after another. He got tired of being led around by his hormones and decided it was time to do something to better himself. He’d always looked up to police officers, despite all the trouble he’d caused in his teen years, and decided to finish school so he could become a police officer.
It was a lot of hard work, but Jason loved every minute of it. He excelled at his job and liked the idea of being a mentor to younger people. Heck, Jason liked being looked up to in any capacity, which was probably part of the reason he’d been such a good football player before that damn knee injury that took him out of the game. Jason had been offered a full football scholarship to the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He’d been two years into his education when he was injured in the second to last game of the season.
Since he wasn’t doing well enough academically to maintain his scholarship, it was revoked after finishing out the second year of school. He got discouraged and resigned himself to working for the road crew instead. It wasn’t that bad of a gig since it was technically a government job. The benefits were good, he made decent money and his popularity among the crew members saw him rising up the ranks quickly. He was had been a supervisor for four years when he decided to quit so he could pursue becoming a cop instead.
“Hey Sook!” Jason raised a hand to wave at us.
I waved back as he strode toward us. I scooted over so Jason could sit down and he plucked a pickle chip from my basket as he did so.
“Hey! Get your grubby, unwashed hands out of my food,” I elbowed him.
Tara laughed and said, “Good to see some things never change.”
“Where’s my niece?” Jason asked.
“She’s at Gran’s. They were about to have jambalaya. I’m sure you can still mooch some if you hurry.”
“Nah, gotta make my rounds,” Jason said, and helped himself to another pickle chip… and another elbow in the ribs. “Hey, you realize that’s assault on a police officer, right?”
“And you realize that if Gran was here she’d whoop you for picking off of someone else’s plate, right?”
Jason just shrugged.
“How long are y’all in town for?” he asked, despite my having told him the answer to that question just last week.
“Three more days. Eric’s up in Rhodes for the annual summit,” I reminded him.
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” he nodded.
“So Jase, seein’ anyone new?” Tara asked with amusement.
No, but only ‘cuz Jess is seein’ Hoyt. It wouldn’t be that bad if I flirted with her. It’s just flirtin’. I flirt all the time. Hoyt knows that.
“Been too busy lately, but there’s this redhead that’s been hanging out lately with Hoyt—“
“Jason Mitchell Stackhouse you are not going to steal your best friend’s girl,” I said in my stern mother’s voice.
“Of course not, but I got eyes, don’t I?”
“Yeah, and unfortunately their connected to the head below your belt,” I snickered, and it made Jason cringe.
“Sook, no,” he shook his head.
“She’s not wrong,” Tara giggled.
“So what’s so great about this redhead that you’d think about stealing him from your best friend?” I asked.
“Sook, I ain’t thinking about that,” Jason said and I rolled my eyes.
“Did you forget I’m a mind reader?” I quirked an eyebrow at him.
“Darn it, Sookie, stay outta my head!” Jason glared at me.
It was my turn to shrug, so I did.
Usually I stayed out of my brother’s romantic affairs, but I was curious about this redhead of his. I dipped into his mind and caught the image of a busty redhead with big, blue eyes and an innocent smile. She was tall and curvy, and obviously very much into Hoyt.
That had to chap Jason’s ass something awful. He was used to being the one the girls went crazy over. Hoyt was the shy, polite and respectful type. He was the nice guy that most girls immediately cast into the friend zone because he was too shy to make a move. I liked Hoyt. He was a nice balance to Jason’s much more extroverted personality and Hoyt was one of the very few people who never had a nasty thought in his head.
When he saw a pretty girl he didn’t immediately try to picture her naked or try to figure out the minimum of things he would need to do in order to get her into bed like Jason did. He pulled out chairs, opened doors, and took off his hat for ladies. It was almost like he was born at the wrong time, except more guys should have been like Hoyt instead of him being like them.
“You know if you were as polite and respectful as Hoyt maybe you’d find a nice girl,” I suggested.
Jason glared at me.
“Crystal was nice,” he sneered.
“You mean before you caught her with her heels to Jesus for Dove Beck?” I fired right back.
“Alright, alright enough,” Tara said. “Don’t make me move the tables outta the way so y’all can fight to the death.”
Gran used to say that to us all the time when Jase and I were kids and we’d get at each other.
Just then Tara’s phone rang and she sighed before answering the call. “Hello? JB, I’m at—I know. No, don’t let them—well shit. JB you tell them to knock it off right now or I’m going to whoop him so hard his great-great-grandson feels it! Alright, fine. Fine! Yes, I’ll be home in a few minutes.” Tara hung up and slammed her phone down in frustration. “I swear he’s useless sometimes. What’s so hard about telling Robbie he can’t have a WWE style tables, ladders and chairs match in the backyard with his friends?”
My eyes went wide at that.
“Well, it is pretty cool,” Jason shrugged.
“You’re not helping, Jase,” Tara narrowed his eyes.
“He’s a boy, Tara. He’s gonna do shit like that sometimes.”
“Yeah, well, it’s my job as his mother to keep him from ending up in the hospital. I don’t need other mothers calling up and bitching me out because JB wasn’t bright enough to tell the boys not to rough house like that.”
“At least he didn’t want a steel cage match,” Jason shrugged, earning glares from both of us that made him get up from the table. “Good luck, Tara. Sook, I’ll see ya later.”
I shook my head as Jason walked away.
“I’m sorry to cut this short, Sookie, but I gotta go,” Tara said as she dug some cash out of her purse.
“I got it, Tara, just go deal with Robbie,” I told her.
“Thanks, hon. I’ll call you later. Maybe we can get the kids together before you have to go back.”
“Yes, I would love that. We don’t really have any plans so just let me know what works for you,” I said as she slid out of the booth.
“Sure thing,” she said with a wave and then high-tailed it out of the store.
I finished my lunch and then paid the bill. Sam was still too busy for a chat but I promised I would come by the next night to see him so we could get caught up. The drive home was only going to take a few minutes and I felt a little bad that Tara had to cut her lunch short because JB couldn’t handle the kids for just a few hours.
Since Sadie wasn’t in the car with me I didn’t have to listen to her kids’ music, so I cranked up Luke Bryan and shoot it as best I could while driving at the same time. When I made the right hand turn onto Hummingbird Lane I saw a pickup truck speeding toward me. It was light blue with rusty spots all over it and a camper shell on the back. It was the norm for Bon Temps so I didn’t really think anything of it, other than it was swerving back and forth across the center line of the two lane road.
I pulled closer to the shoulder to avoid being hit by the speeding truck. I assumed it was just a drunk redneck on his way back from the local fishing hole. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened to me. I shook my head as the truck passed me, seeing a man behind the wheel but the glare from the sun prevented me from really seeing his face. I saw a flash of blonde hair and on the head of what had to be a child, and I felt my heart leap up into my throat.
I glanced into the rearview mirror to get the license plate number but the truck was going too fast for me to get before it whipped around the corner without stopping at the stop sign. I said a little prayer for the people in that truck that the idiot behind the wheel would get wherever he was going without getting himself, or the kid he was with, killed.
I let myself get lost in the next Luke Bryan song on my iPod and started toward Gran’s again. I passed by Bill’s house first and contemplated whether or not I should stop by and say hello. He and I had parted on bad terms when I discovered he’d cheated on me with his maker. He blamed their bond and Lorena’s control over him, but to me that didn’t excuse it. Ultimately I decided that as long as his maker could pull his strings, it was probably better that we weren’t together. For all I knew, she could command him to kill me and there was nothing I could do about it.
At least Eric’s maker was dead.
Eric’s blood brother, Alexi, was one of the Romanovs and had gone a little crazy a few years before I met Eric. Well, Alexi idled at crazy but something set him off and he ended up staking Ocella during a nasty fight after breaking his maker’s neck and crushing his windpipe so he couldn’t issue a command for his child to stop.
After hearing about some of the awful things Ocella had done to Eric when he was a young vampire, I didn’t feel the least amount of sympathy for the way he met the true death. I felt worse for Alexi, who was a sick child when he was turned. After killing his maker and coming to his senses again, Alexi met the sun, thereby finally ending his own life. From what Eric told me, Alexi never cared for being a vampire. Considering he was only a little more than a century old, Alexi was incredibly dangerous and stronger than some vampires that were more than twice his age.
I pulled into Gran’s driveway and turned down the music. I quietly sang along with the rest of the song, but stopped when I saw the front door of the house wide open.
“Darn it, Sadie,” I muttered. She should have known better than to leave the door open like that.
I turned the car off, grabbed my purse and headed inside. When I got to the screen door I stopped. It was off the hinges at the top and the window of the front door was broken. Immediately I dropped my mental shields and ran inside.
“Gran! Sadie!” I hollered as my feet crunched over broken glass.
I could smell the jambalaya Gran had made them for lunch and I hadn’t been gone for too long. What the hell happened here?
“Gran! Sadie!” I sensed a brain in the living room so I turned to the right to see Gran just barely inside the room, lying on the floor in a bloodied, battered heap. “Gran!” I ran to her and knelt down on the floor beside her.
She was bleeding from several places on her head that I could see. I shook her, but she didn’t wake up and her arm was resting at an unnatural angle from her shoulder.
“Gran, wake up!” I shouted, but got no response.
Even worse, I wasn’t sensing Sadie anywhere.
Where the hell was my daughter?
I got up off the floor and ran from room to room, checking every place I could think of where a child might hide while I called 9-1-1 for help.
“9-1-1, please state your name and your emergency,” the dispatcher, Rosy, said.
As I continued to look around I said, “Rosy, it’s Sookie Northman. Someone broke into Gran’s and my daughter is missing. Gran’s knocked out and bleeding and I think her arm is broken. Someone stole my baby. Oh God, my baby’s gone.”