LATE Chapter 094

Sang Riche & The Goddess of Mystery

 

“Bye, y’all!” Sookie waved as Jason and the guys walked back toward the garages after saying goodbye and kissing the babies.

“That was pleasant.” Eric said with a bit of surprise as he held Alex wrapped in a towel.

“I knew you’d enjoy it,” Sookie said with a laugh as she stood next to him bouncing Aubie, “you love showing off the boys. What did you do with the bear claws?”

“They’re in my pocket, and I’ll put them back in the little box when we go up.”

“Good, I want you to keep taking good care of them. It will mean so much to the boys to see them as they grow up. I’m so tickled you have them, I can’t tell you.”

“Your reaction took me by surprise.”

“It’s just so wonderful, Eric. After a thousand years, there aren’t any other remnants of your life. You don’t have family heirlooms or things like that. Having those from your human life is a blessing.”

“I was very proud of Alex remembering the story and recognizing the claws. He understands so much more than seems possible. He is a very great spirit, I believe.”

“You’re probably right. I think both boys are.”

“Absolutely.”

“Eric?”

“Yes, Bjorn?”

“It’s going on 10 o’clock. I’d like your permission to go to bed now so I’m sharp in the morning, and I’d recommend that Sookie do the same since she has to be up early. She worked very hard today.”

“That’s a very good idea. Jerry has already retired, has he not?”

“Yes. I’ll tell the guard that Jerry and I are resting so they’ll be more alert and I’ll turn it over to you. Alicia said she’s got all your packing done, and she turned in as well, but Margaret is still up if you need her. Sookie has two meals up in the fridge for later if she wakes up, there’s food for the boys and two bottles. Your travel box is ready for you in the living room.”

“Alright, Margaret can retire any time then, and Sookie and I will take the boys up so they can wind down. Thank you for your help today, Bjorn.”

“My pleasure. Good night.” Bjorn headed back through the house and told Margaret she could close the kitchen for the night. Eric leisurely took Sookie and the boys back to the elevator and into the bedroom, talking about what they wanted to do tonight.

“How about a family bath?” Sookie suggested as they reached the third floor.

“Yes, a short one might be a good idea. It will relax us all and we’ll be clean for travel.”

“Right, and then I’ll shower again when I get ready for the party tomorrow.”

“Do you know what you are wearing?”

“Alicia said she packed three options for me and shoes and a bag that will match any of them. Bless her heart, Eric, I don’t know what I’d do without her,” Sookie laughed as they took the boys into the nursery and removed their dirty diapers. Eric loved hearing that because it was another way of saying he was right about something they’d disagreed about.

“What about Aubie’s charm?”

“Freyja said not to take it off until after, so I assume that means after the Wiccaning.”

“She gave it to you?” he asked as he followed her into the bedroom.

“No, I materialized it, then we did a ritual and She appeared and told me that.”

“You materialized it? You mean out of thin air?”

“Yep. You could have knocked me over with a feather.”

“How?”

“Octavia told me how to ground and expand my energy, then I visualized what I needed and before I knew it, it burned my hand.”

Eric just looked at her.

“Pretty cool, huh?”

“Indeed.”

He started the bath while Sookie undressed and chattered to the boys who were waiting on the bed. Eric came back and removed his clothing, each of them taking a baby into the bathroom. Eric helped Sookie get situated with Aubie then he and Alex floated up into the bath. Aubie was going crazy splashing the water, making Sookie laugh.

“You know, Eric, he likes bath water better than being in the pool.”

“I wonder why?”

“I don’t know why I think this, but I think because it’s warm. I notice he likes to snuggle up against me and burrow under covers, and I think it’s because it makes him feel safe.”

“That would make sense,” Eric said absently as he put the little duckies in the water to both boys’ sheer delight.

“Duggy! Woogie, Obee, DUGGY!”

“nDuhee”

“Duggy.”

“nDubhee.”

“That’s pretty good, Aubie,” Sookie encouraged him.

“Obee dokkeen dood.”

“Yeah, Aubie’s talking good. You’re a good teacher, Alex. That’s a good boy, teaching Buddy to talk.”

“Obee ma widdow Buggy.”

Eric laughed at that. “That… is wonderful,” he said with delight, stroking Alex’s head gently.

“You like that, huh?”

“I could never have imagined the joy of hearing my babies speak. I cannot believe such joy is possible,” he rubbed his eyes trying to hide his tears. Sookie leaned over and kissed him a long time, which made Aubie splash and giggle like crazy. Sookie and Eric both laughed at that, which made Alex laugh, too. “We are a very happy group tonight, my beautiful family.”

“It was a good day,” Sookie told him. “Some amazing stuff happened, Alex got to play with Bobbie and Amelia all day, Aubie got to do magick, and we met the decorator and saw the landscaping, and had company. Nothing was traumatic today. Surprising, but not traumatic.”

“The necklace surprised you?”

“Not just that. I had my time with the book this morning, right? And I said out loud that I needed to protect Aubie from Vampires and it opened itself to a page with the charm on it. I asked Freyja how I’d remember it all and She said it was in my journal. When I woke up, it was written in my journal in my handwriting, and so was some other stuff I know I didn’t write, and more stuff appeared throughout the day today. Even Titania’s last two entries are in it in HER handwriting. Then, when I did the ritual I forgot to bring my journal down so I called “book” and THE book appeared in the circle with us!”

“You mean you can read it here?”

“Yeah, but only in the circle. And Freyja told me Niall has no idea what’s inside it because if he tries to touch it, it will kill him and he knows it. And She said he tried to hide Aubie from us with magick, but my magick is stronger than his.”

“Interesting. You’re getting stronger.”

“Yeah, I know, and Freyja is trusting me more. This was the first time I talked to Her where I didn’t feel like She cut out too early. She said She’s going to try to get the word out about who I am to prevent war.”

“Interesting. I would expect her to do it very subtly, so we’ll still make our preparations. We can’t risk being caught unaware. Turn around and I’ll wash your hair for you.”

“Goodie,” she laughed, pulling the elastic out of her hair and shifting Aubie around so he was in front of her as Eric worked on her. Alex was off to the side facing all of them and was preoccupied with the ducks. Aubie watched with big eyes as Eric wet Sookie’s hair with the handheld and then soaped it up.

“Your hair is getting very long, Sookie.”

“Should I cut it?”

“I’d prefer that you didn’t. I love very long hair. When you were…” he stopped himself. It might not be a good idea to say this to her.

“When I was Titania I had really long hair – that’s what you were going to say.”

“Yes, I started speaking before I thought that might bother you. I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be sorry. Her hair is beautiful in that painting. I wouldn’t mind letting my hair get really long like that again.”

“Again?”

“Yeah, it was really long when I was a little girl. I didn’t cut it until I was about 14. It got to be too much when we had to take showers after gym class.”

“You should do what makes you happiest, of course, but I do like long hair, especially when it is so lovely and bright.”

“Speaking of which, is there a silver grey bottle of shampoo over there, with dark blue writing?”

Eric reached toward the basket on the ledge behind them. “This one?”

“Yeah, after you rinse my hair, put some of that conditioner on it so the color will be bright tomorrow.”

“Is it a hair dye?”

“No, it’s a blue conditioner that just brightens blond hair a little. You’ll like it, trust me.”

He rinsed her hair then spread a generous amount of conditioner through her hair. “If I didn’t know what this was, I’d think it was paint,” he laughed.

“Yeah, there are two different types of color enhancements for blonde hair. Some are yellow and bring out golden highlights. This one will bring out the white highlights so it looks blonder. Sort of an optical illusion, I think. I don’t use it all the time, just when it needs a little oomph, you know? I’ll look extra-blonde tomorrow night.”

“I can’t wait to show you off tomorrow night.”

“Who is going to see me?”

“Some of the richest Vampires in the world, my Angel, and some royalty from several different places. Mama will be there.”

“Giselle, you mean?”

“Yes, you remember her?”

“Yes – she’ll want to see the babies, won’t she?”

“Yes, we’ll invite her to our suite for a nightcap and let her meet them. She adores babies.”

“Well, I guess we’ll find out how well the charm works then.”

“Yes, we will. It’s a good idea to try it in such a controlled environment before we try it at a huge event like the Wiccaning. Giselle is very old and has wonderful self-control. Even if it were ineffective, it would be the ideal situation for a test.”

Sookie blew out a big breath. “OK, Eric, you know it scares me, but I’m going to trust that you know what you’re talking about and that Aubie won’t get hurt. ”

“Thank you, my sweet wife.” He pulled her backwards a little and kissed her cheek as he finished rinsing her hair.

“Dadee, wath my ayr an Obee ayr.”

“Alex first or Aubie first?”

“Obee fuhss.”

“Alright, then, Mommy, bring Aubie around between us.”

“OK, here we go, Aubie.” She picked him up and turned so she was facing Eric, then put Aubie, support pillow and all, between them so Aubie had his back to Eric. “Daddy’s going to wash your hair, Cookie, OK?”

“Ah!”

Sookie guided him to lean back just a little and Eric made sure the flow on the handheld was very gentle, then wet Aubie’s hair. Aubie closed his eyes and was reveling in the sensation.

“Can you feel that, Eric?”

“Yes, he likes this. I’m surprised he is not afraid.”

“No, that feels good, doesn’t it, Aubie?”

“nDada” Aubie said softly as he pressed his little hands together in front of his chest, almost like he was praying.

“Yeah, Daddy’s washing your hair, isn’t he, Sweetie.”

“Ahhhhh!” Aubie said in a playful, soft, high-pitched tone.

“Alright, my son, all finished,” Eric said with a smile as he kissed Aubie’s forehead. Sookie pulled Aubie toward her and rotated him so he was facing Eric, then Eric pulled Alex facing Aubie and wet his hair.”

“Ba Bumby!” Aubie said playfully, still quiet from his shampoo.

“Yeah, Daddy’s washing Buddy’s hair now, just like he did yours, isn’t he?”

“Ahh!” Aubie was being silly now.

“Alright, Alex, all done,” Eric announced as he gave him a big kiss.

“Mamee, wath Dadee ayr!”

“Yes, it’s my turn to wash Daddy’s hair now, isn’t it?” Sookie laughed as they scooted the boys sideways so their backs were against the wall next to each other and Eric turned so his back was to Sookie. She got up on her knees and used the handheld to do Eric’s hair and the babies sat fascinated, and Sookie whispered to Eric at one point to look at the boys, because Alex was holding Aubie’s hand.

After everyone’s hair was done, Eric and Sookie washed each other, then Aubie said “Mmamma!” because he wanted her to wash him – he really liked that and Sookie could feel it, especially when she used a washcloth to wash his and Alex’s faces. Eric washed Alex and opened the drain, then made it rain over them to rinse them all off, which Alex and Aubie both made happy sounds about. Eric got out and lifted Sookie out, each of them quickly drying off, combing their hair, brushing teeth and then wrapping the boys in soft towels and heading for the nursery. Sookie diapered one twin as Eric held the other so and before long they were all snuggled in bed with the boys between them.

“Eric, are you upset that we’re not going to you-know-what tonight?” She asked as she was propped up on one elbow and using the other to stroke Aubie’s hand.

Eric’s position mirrored Sookie’s. “Not at all, Sookie, I want you to rest so you’ll be fresh tomorrow. You did huge magick today, Sweetheart, you could easily get run down if you don’t rest properly.”

“Was it really that big?”

“Sookie – you spoke to a Goddess twice. You went to Elfyria. You brought a book to you from Elfyria. You conjured your own journal to write itself. You manifested two items from thin air and then cast a spell around them. Any one of those would be so far beyond most people’s capabilities, it is unimaginable. That you did them all and did them as well as you did, and as easily – Sookie, you are a miracle.”

“Freyja did most of it…” she said as Eric smoothed her hair away from her face and fluffed it a bit.

“You are Freyja, Sweetheart and you channeled an enormous amount of energy through your body, which is still more human than not. You were told to be very careful about that. I know your vacation is over, but you must still take every opportunity to rest.”

“I need to eat something…” she said quietly as she stroked Alex’s cheek, both boys now sound asleep.

“I’ll bet there’s a salad in the mini-fridge,” Eric smiled and got up to check. He stopped first to move each baby to the new co-sleeper, which was a beige wicker style but nicely padded and gave them plenty of room to move around while still within Sookie’s reach.

“I love this thing!” Sookie said quietly, but enthusiastically. “They look so comfy and sweet.”

“I think you’ll sleep better this way, too. I think you were always aware of Alex being in bed with you and were not resting completely.”

“You do?”

“Yes, there was always a bit of stress or hesitance in the bond when you’d sleep that way. A part of you never really let go because you were afraid of hurting him.”

“Maybe – I can see that,” she nodded. “What kind of salad do I have?”

“It looks like a Caesar salad with shrimp and a piece of large bread.”

“Oh – Texas toast! That sounds yummy! I need an RM, too.”

Eric put the salad on her tray and got her set with it, then opened the RM for her and put a straw in it. He came back and sat in bed next to her as she ate.

“Do you want to watch TV?”

“Nah – I like it when it’s just us all being quiet.”

“So do I!” he leaned over and kissed her.

“Listen, the boys will want to be breast fed pretty soon. If I’m asleep, wake me up for that one, then you take the later one, as usual, OK?”

“I could just give them bottles both times…”

“No, Eric, they need breast milk this time, OK?”

  • “OK, if you say so.”

“Don’t you dare blow me off by telling me what I want to hear then let me sleep anyway, Eric.”

Eric cracked up. “You know me too well.”

“Yes, I do, so you wake me up for the next one if I’m not awake” she was shaking her fork at him for emphasis, then she scraped the last bits of salad out of the bowl. “Is there anything else up here I’m allowed to eat? What about chocolate?”

“Let me see.” Eric went back to the fridge and found two dark chocolate bars with blueberries and almonds and a bag of dark chocolate covered almonds. “Do you want one of these?” He held up the bars.

“I want both of those, gimme!” She was being silly, but she really wanted something else.

“Or would you rather have dark chocolate covered almonds?”

“Oooh – good question. Give me the bars this time, I guess. Almonds take a while to eat,” she giggled. “Put those in my tote bag for tomorrow.”

“Are you that hungry, Sookie? I can get you something else – there’s peanut butter and crackers in here, and milk…”

“Ooh, milk. Give me some milk!”

Eric laughed, “if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were pregnant.”

“I’m not, Eric, it’s too soon, plus I’m breast-feeding and I think that keeps you from getting pregnant again so soon.”

“True, it has only been one month.”

“Of course, things weren’t really normal with me…” she said as she tore into the first candy bar.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, women usually bleed for 6 to 8 weeks after, but I haven’t had any bleeding at all really.”

“Of course not – my blood healed you.”

“Yeah, so, maybe…”

“Do you think you are?” Eric said hopefully.

“No, Eric, I don’t, but seems like I should have a period by now.”

“Wednesday is a month, Sookie – maybe next week?”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. I’ll get it then. Surely nobody worked magick to make me get pregnant again so soon.”

“Dr. Ludwig said it might not be necessary next time.”

“Yeah, she did. It’s not time yet, though, and there’s no way I could feed three babies. Hopefully, I’ll get a year or two before the next one comes along.”

“I will be happy whenever it happens.”

“Good to know,” she laughed as she tore into the second one, having already inhaled the first. She let out a big yawn, then took a big bite.

“When you finish that, Sookie, you should sleep,” Eric told her as he handed her a glass of milk.

“Yeah, you’re right. You have work to do, anyway, right?”

“Yes, I do have some things that need my attention.”

“OK, I’ll be a big girl and go to sleep by myself.”

“And I will wake you as I promised.”

“OK, good night, Sweetie.” He kissed her sweetly and turned out the light in the headboard leaving her to sleep. He closed the door so the light from his office wouldn’t disturb her and went to do as much work as he could since he would be busy all weekend. Running two Vampire kingdoms, or rather, the biggest Vampire kingdom in North America, was a 7-days a week job.

Sookie lay in the dark with her eyes closed, laughing at Eric for thinking she was pregnant. While it did seem as if she should get a period soon, there was just no way she could be… shit! Sookie was suddenly in a cold sweat. Bjorn! Bjorn hadn’t used a condom, had he? That’s something that would never occur to Eric. She tried to replay their scene in the basement at Fangtasia and she was sure there had been no opportunity for him to use a condom the first time. Or the second. Or the third. FUCK!

‘OK, Sookie, calm down. It’s highly unlikely. That was what – four days ago?’ Holy Goddess, it feels like a year ago. She counted it up on her fingers and realized that it was exactly 3 weeks to the day that Alex was born. Can you ovulate within 3 weeks of giving birth?

“Computer,” Sookie said aloud and her laptop was instantly in her hands. She opened it and lay there in the dark doing an Internet search on whether this was possible. She wasn’t really human, but let’s start with that – can a human do that? A quick search seemed to indicate that the hormones from nursing prevented ovulation, but she ran across another article that said that’s not so reliable now that nutrition has improved so much. Still, they’re saying you bleed up to 8 weeks and then about 4 weeks after you stop is when you get a period. If, theoretically, the four weeks began that day because she was healed, then to have a period in 4 weeks she’d ovulate at about 3 – right around the time she hooked up with Bjorn. Oh, hell.

Did she feel pregnant? No, but she didn’t feel normal, but she wouldn’t because she was breastfeeding. No, it had to be impossible. It HAD TO BE impossible. She couldn’t handle another baby now, and she wouldn’t not have a baby if there was one, so there just absolutely had to not be one. She closed the computer and said “table” sending it over to the side table for the night.

“Sookie?” Eric peeked in the door.

“Yeah?”

“Are you alright – I felt panic in the bond.”

“Oh, I – I think I had a nightmare.”

“Alright,” he started back out the door but she called him.

“Eric?”

“Yes?”

“Seriously, you don’t really think I’m pregnant do you?”

He laughed. “No, Sookie, I was teasing you. I’m sure your appetite is from all the magick you did today. You don’t smell pregnant.”

“I don’t?”

“No, you have a delicious extra something from the breastfeeding hormones, but you don’t have that unmistakable pregnancy taste that I love so much.”

“We didn’t exchange blood tonight.”

“Do you want to do it now, or later?”

“I’d feel better if we did it now.”

“Alright, Sweetheart, as you wish.” Eric came back in and left his silk boxers on the floor, spooning up behind her with his arm under her head and his other around her waist. He kissed her ear and whispered, “I love you, Sookie, don’t be afraid. I still feel fear in you.”

“I’ll be OK. You’re going to bite me, too, right?”

“Yes, of course. Shoulder alright?”

“Yeah, definitely.”

Eric tore the wrist of the arm under her head and pressed it to her lips, then as she was suckling he grabbed her upper arm and drove his fangs into her shoulder. He was in the mood to drink deeply tonight, so he took more than usual, but not so much as to harm her. She came almost as soon as she tasted him, and he had a hard release just after. When he had all he dared take, he licked her wounds and said, “you are the most delicious thing in the world, my Angel.”

“But I don’t taste pregnant?”

“No, you do not.”

“OK, then. Good night, Sweetie.”

“Good night, Lover.” Eric smiled and went back to work. He knew exactly why Sookie was nervous. He wasn’t stupid enough not to know that she was afraid Bjorn had planted a seed, and if she’d admitted that, he’d have told her not to worry about it because Bjorn had had a vasectomy. He never told Eric that specifically, but he knew because he could smell it – living sperm had a distinct odor, but only a Vampire as old as Eric would know that. Bjorn also said once that if he ever wanted to have kids it would take a conscious decision and a trip to the doctor – but he said it to Jerry, and didn’t know Eric was in earshot.

He knew he was being mean, but not too much. To be really mean, he wouldn’t tell her at all and let her work it out over the next few weeks or months. He only intended to let her stew until he went to give her the nightly dose of Ambrosia, then he’d give her a little lecture about trusting him. He was a little hurt that she didn’t confide in him when he came back into the room, and he wanted to nip that behavior in the bud. He even considered whether he should punish her for lying to him. He was lost in his thoughts an hour later when he heard Auberon say “Mmmaaammmaaa!”

“Sookie, are you awake?” he asked as he walked around the bed to pick Aubie up.

“Hmmm – time to feed the baby?”

“Yes, it is. Are you up to it?”

“Yeah,” she pushed herself into a sitting position and he put a pillow behind her, then gave Aubie to her and she put him to her breast. She let out a big yawn and Eric sat watching her. “Why are you disappointed in me, Eric? I haven’t felt that feeling from you in a while.”

“What was your nightmare about, Sookie?”

“Alright – I didn’t have a nightmare. I was afraid…”

“Yes?”

“Remember the other night at Fangtasia…?”

“Yes?”

“Bjorn didn’t use a condom.”

“Bjorn doesn’t know that I know this, Sookie, but he has had a vasectomy.”

“He has? But I know he thought about having a kid with Bobbie.”

“It’s reversible, of course, but I’m quite confident he could not have impregnated you. I wouldn’t put you in that kind of position, Sookie. You should trust me more than that, and if you thought I hadn’t thought that far ahead, you should have told me the minute you were afraid. That is why I’m very disappointed. You didn’t honor our bond.”

“I didn’t know how you’d react.”

“Then you are afraid of me.”

“No, I’m not!”

“Sookie, I’m not going to argue about this. If you think about it for a while, you will see that I am right. You are afraid of me.”

“I am not afraid that you’d hurt me.”

“Really?” he said doubtfully.

“Yeah, I was afraid you’d hurt Bjorn.”

“Sookie, I invited Bjorn into the situation – I’m not likely to hold it against him.”

“OK, that makes sense and I should have known that, and when I didn’t I should have asked you about it. You’re right. I didn’t trust you to know what you were doing and I didn’t confide in you immediately when I should have. I’m very sorry I didn’t honor our bond, Eric, and I promise I’ll do better from now on.”

Eric sat on the bed next to her and put his arm around her, kissing her softly. “I love you, Sookie, I wouldn’t put you in a position where you could be harmed. I care about your wellbeing more than anything in this world. I considered all the risks carefully before that night. I would never risk letting another man impregnate you – that would be harmful to you physically, emotionally, and to our relationship. I would never take that chance. You mean too much to me.”

“You could have told me that…”

“True, but that would have required planning and I wasn’t sure you’d let yourself go if you thought about it too much before it happened. I wanted you to have fun.”

“I did,” she giggled. “And you’re right, as usual – if I’d thought about it too much before, I’d have talked myself out of it.”

“That’s where the trust comes in, Sweetheart. You have to trust me to think of every contingency where you are concerned, and your first instinct needs to be to come to me if you think there is a problem, especially something of this magnitude.”

“Yeah, I see that. It’s a bad habit I have. I’m used to keeping everything a secret.”

“So am I. Our strength as a couple lies in trusting each other completely.”

“Thanks for telling me you knew I wasn’t being honest.”

“Thank you for not lying to me a second time.”

“I love you, Eric.”

“I love you, too.” He kissed her on the nose, then told her “Alex is awake.”

“Help me get him over here.”

Eric got her set with both babies, and put Aubie back ten minutes later when he was full. Alex fed another twenty minutes and Sookie used the time to grill Eric about the airplane.

“OK, so tell me about this airplane we’re going to use. Am I going to be shocked?”

“I hope so,” he laughed. “I hope you’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Is it big?”

“Very.”

“How big?”

“Our bedroom has a California King-sized bed in it.”

“BEDROOM? On a plane?”

“Yes, of course. We might want to fuck as we fly,” he teased her.

“Does everybody have a bedroom?”

“No, just us – complete with one of these co-sleepers.”

“Wow!”

“Yes, it’s very nice. It’s done in shades of blue. The seats are done in a very nice light blue leather and look very comfortable. It has a bar, a place for the crew to sleep, lots of room for the guards, a formal dining room that will double as a conference room, and a 65 inch flat screen TV in the forward lounge where all of the family will sit.”

“You’re not making that stuff up? That’s all for real?”

“Oh, yes. I wish I could be there to see your pretty face when you see it for the first time, but that would have involved traveling tonight and I didn’t want to interfere with your party plans.”

“I’m sorry if I messed it up for you…”

“You didn’t mess anything up. We’ll travel together Sunday night and I’ll initiate you into the Mile High club,” he wiggled his eyebrows and made her giggle.

“I guess you’re already a member?”

“Yes, my Angel, I might actually have been the founding member, now that I think of it.”

“Well, if I can’t be your first, I’ll just have to make sure I’m your best.”

“Excellent plan, Mrs. Northman. I like the way you think,” he laughed.

“Why are we leaving so early?”

“Just because it’s our first outing and we wanted to err on the side of having more time than necessary. You might want to play in your pool or take a nap when you get there, or you can have the chef make a party for you. Don’t hesitate to make use of the room service and get anything you want, and I believe there’s a banquet for our party in the afternoon. I told the chef about your squid ink ravioli with lobster, so I’m sure you’ll have that for either lunch or dinner, and the chef has picked out some very special wines for you.”

“Oh, cool!

“What time does the club part open?”

“Most of it opens at 8 o’clock, though some of the guests are checking in tonight, but they’ll receive hospitality services.”

“These sound more like hotels.”

“Think of them that way if you want – very exclusive hotels with highly specialized personal services.”

“You know, I’m trying to keep an open mind because I promised I would, but I’m afraid a part of me will always think this is wrong.”

“Can we agree to call it ‘controversial’ rather than ‘wrong?'”

“Yeah, I can agree to that.”

“Alright, that’s a beginning.”

“Are you sure there’s no danger taking the kids there?”

“Why would there be danger?”

“If the place gets raided and they find the babies in the building, they could try to take them from us…”

“That would start a war, Sookie, and they know it. No one will raid the clubs. The Vampire community has been very discrete and we have enough contacts in law enforcement now to insure our privacy and security. These are huge private buildings, sweetheart, the boys won’t be anywhere near the guest complex. Wait until you see it.”

“Alright, Eric, but remember, this is big trust you’re asking for…”

“Yes, Sweetheart, I realize that. Give me one year. If we make enough in our first year, maybe I can divest the kingdom’s interest and sell them to someone else, though you realize, no one will run such an establishment as ethically as Bill and I will.”

“This reminds me – I was supposed to ask Bobbie or Amelia if they had a book I’m supposed to read.”

“What book is that?”

Stranger in a Strange Land.”

“The Robert Heinlein book? That’s a marvelous idea!”

“You know it?”

“Yes, there’s a very nice leather-bound copy in your office.”

“In the library? I never even thought to look there.”

“Yes, it was very influential in creating the counter culture of the 1960’s. Humans seem to benefit greatly from reading it.”

“Did you benefit from reading it?”

“I didn’t have any hang-ups to undo, but I enjoyed it. It’s was written in a time before sexism was an issue, so you might find some of the comments about women offensive, but try to ignore that and enjoy the spirit of the story. Would you like me to get it for you?”

“Yeah, Octavia said I could read I while we travel. Hey – you said something earlier about hanging out in my pool – is there a pool at the hotel?”

“There are several. There’s a very large public pool, some of the fancier rooms have private pools, and you have a private one in the penthouse.”

“I have a pool – on the roof?”

“Yes, of course. Trust me, Sookie, you’ve never seen such luxury. These clubs are built to Vampire standards, not human ones. The elegance is unmatched on this continent.”

“OK, here’s the argument that keeps going through my head – would you want your son or daughter to work in one?”

“As opposed to working for a call-out service or walking the street, absolutely. As an alternative to being Princes, of course not. Sookie, you have been to many functions where willing donors walked around with red ribbons on their clothing to identify themselves. Did you have the same problem with that?”

“Well, no – most of them enjoy what they’re doing and they’re all adults.”

“Alright, as we go through the weekend, I want you to think about this as merely a matter of degree. The hosts and hostesses are willing donors who are willing to go to more extreme lengths.”

“I see that argument intellectually, but I have an emotional reaction to the idea of sex being included.”

“This culture works very hard to teach you to have that knee-jerk emotional reaction, but it benefits no one. It reduces sex workers to virtual slaves and spreads disease.”

“What if I’m never OK with this?”

“Eventually, I would sell the chain.”

“I want you to plan to do that as soon as you can.”

“Alright, when I am able to divest the Kingdom of them, I will.”

“I want a time limit – no more than 5 years.”

“I can’t promise, but I will try to set that as a goal.”

“OK….” She thought for a minute, “OK. If I can tell myself you’re doing it to get out of doing worse things, and I know it’s temporary until you can do something better, I’ll try to handle it.”

“But you will keep your promise to approach it with an open mind?”

“Yes, I won’t break a promise to you.”

“Thank you, my Angel. Alex has gone to sleep. You tuck him in and I’ll run get that book for you. I want very much for you to read it.” He zipped down the stairs at Vampire speed as Sookie moved Alex over next to Aubie and pulled their soft little blue blanket over them. She loved this new co-sleeper. It was big and soft and they were both within arms reach. She smiled as she watched them because Alex rolled over facing Aubie and put his hand on his little tummy.

‘You’d never know they hadn’t been in the womb together,’ she smiled, but that thought went from happy to sad pretty quickly. She berated herself not to give in to feeling sad and guilty. He was home now, and fitting right in, and the boys were getting along great. She got a picture of Niall in her head and was shocked at herself when a homicidal rage washed through her.

“Sookie, what is going on?” Eric came back in the room. “You went from love and amusement to guilt and sadness to wanting to kill someone.”

“I was watching the boys sleep and got to thinking about what Aubie has missed then I got a picture of Niall in my head… I started wondering if I’m going to have to kill my own great grandfather.”

“Think about calling him before the Wiccaning, Sookie, and trying to reach a détente with him. Tell him you won’t challenge his office until 2027 and then you’ll decide at that time if you want to take the throne or not. It will buy you some time.”

Sookie nodded. “Yeah, that might work. He might not be so anxious to kill me.”

“The longer you can delay the direct conflict between you, the better.”

“How insane would it be to invite him to lunch or to tea with just me and him and talk to him about it?”

“It’s certainly a brave approach.”

“It seems very… civilized, and I like that.”

“True. You’d have all your guards available to you and you could keep the boys away from him if you wanted.”

“Wait – I’ve got it. Their one-month birthday is Wednesday. Let’s have a little party, just family, and I’ll invite him and Ludwig to come for a piece of cake and I’ll see if I can talk to him privately while he’s here.”

“Not a bad idea. A children’s birthday party should be a light atmosphere. If there’s any softness in him at all, that might reach it – though be aware, Sookie, there may be none.”

“Let’s do that, and we’ll get each boy a cake and a little toy and some ice cream. Oh, I like this idea!”

Eric laughed. “I don’t know if you’re being brave or naïve, but I will admit, it is an interesting approach. Be sure you invite Freyja.”

“Yeah, absolutely…ahhh –ahhhhhhh –ohh! Big yawn.”

“Time to sleep, Sookie. Think about it tomorrow and we’ll talk some more. You can call him Sunday afternoon if you decide you want to try it. You might mention it to Bjorn and Jerry, if there’s an opportunity, and get their input.”

“Good idea. Good night, Sweetie,” she kissed him as he bent down.

“I’ll put this book in your tote bag so you’ll have it on the plane,” Eric said as he put the book in the bag Alicia had packed for her, then bent and gave the boys each one more kiss.

Sookie was asleep again before Eric made it out the door. He slipped silently up to the gym and looked over the bag Alicia had packed for them, then did a few exercises with his katana and took it downstairs to the travel box in the living room, putting it in the lead-lined false bottom. By the time he did all that and made his nightly call to Bill, Alex was calling. “Dadee!” so he headed back into the bedroom where both boys were awake.

“nDada!”

“Hello, my sons! Be quiet so we don’t wake Mommy.” He picked Aubie up and grabbed two bottles from the little fridge. “Come fly, Alex.”

“Oday,” Alex zipped up into the air and followed them into the nursery.

“Bottles or book first, boys?”

“Obee undwy, Dadee.”

“That’s true, so we’ll warm his bottle. You want yours warm, too, Alex?”

“Eeah, pweezth.”

Eric warmed both bottles as he looked around the room. He decided the floor was his best bet again, so he sat Aubie and Alex in the glider while he brought two little bouncer seats over in front of it. He put Alex in one and gave him the bottle, which he could hold on his own, then lay on the floor next to the boys propped up on one elbow while he held the other bottle for Aubie. Aubie noticed Alex holding his own bottle and tried to hold his, too, so Eric let go of it a couple of times and let Aubie try to hold onto it. He did pretty well, though Eric had to help him keep it high enough to get the liquid out of it. When they had finished their bottles, Eric got the jars of food that Margaret had left for the boys and the two little spoons, and sat cross-legged in front of them feeding them what the label said was “creamy chicken apple compote” and “tender beef spinach.” The two boys together ate a full container of the beef, and two whole containers of the chicken-apple mixture, the latter of which they clearly preferred.

At one point, Aubie reached forward and Eric held the jar to see what he would do, letting the baby stick his finger in the jar, then in his mouth and saying “abuh!” Eric cracked up. “Yes, Auberon, very good! This has apples in it.”

Aubie began to yawn first, falling asleep while Alex was polishing off the last of the chicken. Eric picked him up, then stood and said, “come here, Alex” so that he flew up into his arms and let him take them both back to bed. As they entered the bedroom, Alex flew ahead to the co-sleeper and settled himself on the lower side of it, patting the side to show Eric where to put Aubie. Eric kissed Aubie and put him down, then bent down and kissed Alex, telling him, “you’re a very good boy, Alex. Daddy loves you very much.”

He was just giving Sookie her Ambrosia when Jerry came up the stairs. “Good morning, Jerry.”

“Good morning, your majesty.”

“Take good care of them as they travel today.”

“Always.”

“Good day,” Eric went down to his travel box feeling very content, and looking forward to the party that night. He was telling himself that Sookie would relax about the club’s purpose once she saw how elegant the clubs were, and that this would be a very good night. He couldn’t wait to see what she wore – she always made him so proud. He had a smile on his face as sleep took him.

“Remember, Sookie – take your journal with you.”

Freyja’s voice was still echoing in her mind as she awoke at 10 minutes to 9, Eric having set the alarm for 9. She looked around the room and saw that Alicia had things well in hand – her outfit for the day was hanging on the bathroom door, her train case and tote bag were sitting at the ready, and the babies were gone. Before Sookie could panic about that, Alicia was back in the room carrying Aubie.

“Good morning, Dear!”

“Hey, Alicia. I guess he’s been fed?”

“Yes, he and Alex have both had a bottle. Alex is in the gym with Bjorn. You might have to breast feed as we travel later and we’ve got lots of baby food in the diaper bags. We’re taking two to carry everything, and in case we need to split them up for any reason, one can go with each.” Alicia put Aubie gently down in the co-sleeper.

“Good idea! Do we have toys packed for them?” Sookie asked as she crawled out of bed on Eric’s side.

“Yes, we have some little stuffed animals, their shape sorting house, and a little Baby Einstein music player that some parents swear by.”

“Really?” She accepted the hairbrush Alicia handed her and began to put her hair in a ponytail.

“Yes, it’s supposed to soothe them every time. Alex will probably be able to push the button himself and it plays short little classical pieces.” Alicia handed her a cute pink thong to wear.

“Classical – babies like that?” Sookie wiggled into the underwear as they talked.

“Yes, and it has flashing lights that entertain them.”

“Was it expensive?”

Alicia laughed a little as she held the purple and black nursing dress for her to slip her arms into. “Under ten dollars so it won’t matter if they drop it.”

She put her head into the dress and then they both adjusted it so it hung properly. “That was a dumb question, wasn’t it? Why do I keep worrying about how much things cost?”

“It’s habit, Dear, don’t beat yourself up. Most people have to consider the cost of things.”

“I’m becoming very aware of all these habits I have to break.” Sookie said as she stepped into the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth.

“Awareness is the first step,” Alicia said from the doorway. “You’re growing into your new roles, and you’re finding better ways to handle things that challenge you. You have such unique circumstances, it’s reasonable to expect to have to adapt to it all. Nothing could have prepared you for the life that you have.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Sookie laughed. “No little girl grew up wanting to be a Vampire Queen.”

“Until now – little girls all over the country want to grow up to be Queen Sookie and marry a handsome Vampire King.”

“Is that for real? Do people really think that?” Sookie gave her the toothbrush, toothpaste and her facial cleanser for the train case.

“Yes, they do. The tabloids have something about you in every issue. Most of it is made-up, but people are hungry for information about you. You’re a modern Cinderella.”

Sookie pulled out her everyday makeup bag and used a big brush to put some powder all over her face. “That’s kind of a big responsibility. That means little girls are looking up to me and wanting to be like me…”

“There’s nothing wrong with that! You’re a wonderful mother and partner, you represent the Kingdom very well, you always look good and are kind to people.”

“Yeah, but some of the Vampire stuff is…” she couldn’t think of a word she could use in front of Alicia, and she stopped for a minute to concentrate on curling her lashes.

“Shady?”

“Yeah, at least,” she said as she added some very black mascara to her lashes, though they were naturally long and thick these days.

“That’s part of the attraction – everyone knows about the danger. You’re married to the ultimate bad boy.”

“Yeah, he’s a studmuffin, alright.” Sookie quipped and made them both crack up. “I just think it would freak people out if they knew how bad “bad” can be.” Sookie slicked on a perfect pink Chanel lipstick called “Génial” and pressed her lips together.

“Reality never lives up to the fantasy, Sookie. Don’t take all of that on. You be yourself, and do what comes naturally and it’s all anyone could want or expect.”

“I hope you’re right,” Sookie said as she swiped a little “Rose Temptation” blush on her outer, upper cheekbones and eyelids, but she thought Alicia probably had no concept of what kind of bad Sookie was talking about. “How do I look?”

“Very polished and pretty.”

“Good, that’s what I want. It’s not too heavy, right?” Sookie handed Alicia the makeup bag for put in her tote.

“Right.”

“Can I get away with the pink Birkies with this?”

“You could, but the black ones match your bag better. I’ve already packed the pink ones, but I’ll go get them if you want.”

“Oh, no – that’s not necessary. Black will be fine. Oh, hey – I just noticed the vanity table is gone.”

“Already packed up and downstairs with your luggage. Your tote and your train case are the last things to go.”

“Wow – and the boys are all done?”

“Yes, and everyone else is moving their things down as we speak. We’re ready to go.”

“Is my book in there?”

“This one?” Alicia held it up.

“Yeah, that’s my assigned reading for the weekend,” Sookie laughed.

“I’ve never seen you read Science Fiction before.” Alicia said as she closed up the train case and Sookie picked Aubie up.

“Hey, Cookie. We’re going on an adventure today! Yeah! We’re going to go see Daddy’s swanky club in Dallas.” She kept chatting to the baby as she and Alicia went down the stairs. Bjorn was coming through the kitchen with Alex as they got into the living room, which was dark, so Sookie could make sure Eric was OK before she locked his travel box.”

“nDada!”

“Yeah, there’s Daddy. Daddy’s going to travel this way going there, but he’ll ride the front of the plane with us coming home. We get to see Daddy’s big fancy plane today.”

“I hear it’s very luxurious,” Alicia bragged.

“That’s what he tells me. I’m a little nervous.”

“Don’t be. Just bask in it and have fun. Let everybody else worry about impressing you.”

“Right.”

“Ah, Mamee!”

“Hi, Pookie. Did you have fun with Bjorn?”

“Eeah – fyeen eye-er and eye-er an thirco!”

“And circles?” Sookie asked

“He was doing loop de loops in the air.” Bjorn laughed, “He’s quite a little acrobat. Eric must have worked with his swords last night because his smell was strong and Alex kept asking if Dadee was sleeping.”

“Yeah, he probably did, I know he hasn’t been working as hard as normal these last few months. I hope he’s as sharp as he needs to be.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about Eric getting rusty, Hon. He’s still the deadliest thing on two legs.”

Alex reached down toward the box and said, “Dadee!”

“Yeah, Daddy’s in the box so he can go with us!” Sookie tickled him and kissed him as Bjorn held him forward.

Bjorn herded everyone into the living room, then saw that the luggage was packed on the bus. Once all their gear was stored, Eric’s box included, he herded them all onto the bus and confirmed that their escorts, local guards who were just going to the airport with them, were ready to move, Bjorn pushed the button on his headset and said, “Svenska 1, 2, 3 and 4 green.”

Sookie was sitting in a special area in the middle of the bus that had more secure seating than the rest and had special seats for the babies installed. She noticed that some of the guards used a door behind her to board the bus, and then realized that Eric’s box was secured below her seat. Bobbie sat with her to help with the boys, but it was only 20 minutes to the airport so they barely got settled before they were driven into a private entrance and ready to disembark.

They attached a special tunnel to move Sookie’s party onto the plane, so she didn’t really see anything of it until they were on it. Bjorn carried Alex and Jerry carried Aubie right behind Sookie so she was the first in her party to see it after the first team of guards did a sweep through to make sure it was secure.

“Oh. My. Goddess!” This was not like any plane Sookie had ever been on. The entrance was more like a foyer in an hotel. There was a spiral staircase going up to the second floor and the staff was standing at the bottom of it to welcome them.

“Queen Sookie?” a tall, good-looking older man with slightly graying hair stepped forward and introduced them all. “I’m Captain Evan Johnston. This is my co-pilot, Mike Harris, your Stewardesses JoAnn and Macy, and your stewards James, George and Albert. If there’s anything at all we can do to make your trip more enjoyable, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

Sookie was glad they were all wearing nametags. “Well, thank you. I’m very pleased to meet you all. Thank you for helping out today. Please, just call me Sookie, and this is Aubie and Alex,” she pointed to the babies, then the guards, “and my security team Bjorn and Jerry. That’s my assistant Alicia, my doula, Bobbie, my good friends Amelia and Octavia, and I don’t know the rest of the guards. Where are they?”

“They’re coming in the back door now, your majesty,” Bjorn told her. “I’ll make sure we’re all situated before we leave.”

“OK, thanks.”

Two big guards came in carrying Eric’s travel box and took it through a door to the left.

“Is that the cockpit door?” she pointed to the door they were using.

“No, your majesty, that’s your bedroom and bathroom. The entrance to the cockpit is upstairs.”

“Oh, wow!”

“Follow me, please?” JoAnn, a tall, freckled Stewardess with dye-enhanced red hair stepped forward and showed Sookie to their seats in the forward lounge. “If you don’t mind, ma’am, I’d like to wait until we’re in the air to give you your tour.”

“Oh, that’s fine. I don’t want to be any bother.” Sookie’s eyes bugged out a bit when they walked past a couch, recliner, love seat and coffee table and what she was pretty sure was a wet bar.

“No bother at all, we just want to be sure you’re at your destination on time.”

“Thanks.” Sookie sat in an area with 4 big, light blue leather chairs that looked like recliners, two of which were specially designed to hold the babies. Bjorn and Jerry secured the boys in the seats and Sookie could face them, reach them and talk to them as they flew. “Bobbie, are you going to sit with me?”

“I’ll be sitting with you for take off, your majesty.” Bjorn told her as he went toward the back of the plane.

“Oh, OK.” Sookie needed somebody to talk to, but for the moment, she was talking to herself. ‘Alright, Sookie, take it in stride. Eric says we can afford all this. This plane couldn’t be more gorgeous! It’s like a mansion with wings! Who ever heard of a couch and a coffee table on a plane? Or a bedroom? OK, I have heard of people being able to sleep on planes, so maybe that’s not as far out as the coffee table. It’s bolted to the floor, right? Are these seats for the boys facing the right way? Bjorn would know, right? This thing has an upstairs? And there’s a dining room? Where are all the guards?”

Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats and secure your seatbelts. The stewards will walk through now to assist anyone who needs help.” JoAnn announced from the foyer.

As the stewards went back through the plane, JoAnn and Macy, a perky, medium height girl with short dark hair that reminded Sookie of that girl on Three’s Company, took everyone’s purses and jackets and stowed them in a closet that was behind where the boys were sitting.

“Excuse me, your majesty?”

“Yes, Macy?”

“If you have pacifiers for the babies, it would be a good time to use them now. That can help alleviate any ear pain that the change in cabin pressure might create.”

“Oh, OK. Alicia?”

“There’s one in each diaper bag. I’ll get them.” Alicia went up to the closet and found the pacifiers, which had little clips and ribbons on them to keep the boys from losing them. Alex got an “ewwo” ribbon, which thrilled him beyond belief, and Aubie got a green one. Both boys were fascinated by the clips on their little, slightly different shades of blue onesies, and seemed to like using them, though Alex had only had one once or twice and Sookie was pretty sure Aubie had never seen one.

Alex took his out of his mouth for a second and held it toward Sookie. “Woogie, Mamee!”

“Yeah, you’ve got a binky, haven’t you?”

“Beekee?”

“Yeah, a binky.”

“Obee godda beekee.”

“Yeah, Aubie’s got a binky, too.”

Alex patted Aubie’s hand, and held the binky toward him. “Beekee, Obee, BEE-KEE!”

“BEE!”

“Beekee.”

“Beeyee.”

“That’s pretty good, Aubie!” Sookie gushed over him as Bjorn came forward and sat next to her.

May I have your attention, please. This is Captain Johnston. We’ll be cleared for take off momentarily and we’ve got beautiful blues skies all the way. Estimated arrival time for Dallas is 10:50 AM.”

“What are those?” Bjorn asked.

“Binkys.”

“It’s a baby thing, I guess?”

“Yes. Babies like sucking on them.”

“If you say so.” Bjorn laughed. “At least you’re not talking to yourself anymore.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, a few minutes ago, you weren’t saying anything but the way your face was changing it was obvious you were having some kind of argument with yourself.”

The plane started moving forward and the babies were yawning. Sookie had a feeling they’d sleep all the way to Dallas.

“Did I look like a nut?”

“I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who noticed, Hon.”

“If you ever see me doing that, stop me, OK?”

“OK. I figured you were just freaking out over the cost of the plane, so you’d work through it in a few minutes.”

“Yeah, I guess I was. Bjorn, can Eric really afford all this?”

“Sookie, Eric could afford a fleet of these if he wanted them. He just never had a use for one until now. He was always loaded, but now that he’s got the income from the Kingdom, it’s off the hook, and these clubs are making money like crazy and they haven’t even opened yet.”

“Yeah…” she said, still completely unsure about everything.

“Think of it as a public service, Sookie.”

“That kind of service shouldn’t be public.”

“But it is, and it always has been, and it always will be and this makes it as safe as it can possibly be. Seriously, Sookie, shake it off.”

“But other people…”

“Sookie, you can’t be you and worry about what other people, especially vanilla humans, think.”

“Vanilla?”

“Yeah, you know – normal people, regular citizens who never question authority and never do anything kinky or extreme. You’ll never be one, you wouldn’t want to be if you could, so be all you’re meant to be and enjoy the good stuff when you can. Just the high rolling off of Eric in your blood bond should keep you flying for a week. He’s going to have a blast tonight.”

“Yeah, that’s true. I hear we’ve got European royalty visiting already.”

“Yeah, they say Mama is there. Remember me mentioning the Borgias…”

“Yes?”

“Rumor has it she is one. She’s supposedly Austrian now but back in the day she was the illegitimate daughter of the Borgia Pope. A lot of the money from their enterprises were channeled to her and smuggled out of Italy.”

“A Pope had an illegitimate child?”

“Not the first or the last time, Sweetie. That particular one may have had a child with his own daughter.”

“Yuck…”

“It gets worse – they say even she may not have known whether that baby was fathered by her father, the Pope, or her own brother.”

“Please don’t ever compare us to them again, Bjorn. That’s making my skin crawl.”

“I’m trying to put things in perspective for you, Sookie. There are much more twisted things in the world than an exclusive social club. These are not sleazy brothels, these are more like the highest possible class of bath house.”

“What’s a bath house? I’ve heard of them but I don’t really know what they are.”

“It’s a place where gay men go to have sex. They take a steam, go for a swim, walk around in a towel and hookup with whoever looks good in whatever combination…”

Sookie was shocked. “There are places where people actually do that? Like, that’s the intended purpose?”

“Yeah, Sookie, and there are S&M clubs where men and women go to have all kinds of kinky sex in every possible combination.”

“I was wondering what that was – Eric told me one time about meeting an English teacher in one.”

“Yeah, he told me about that, too. She schooled him in English literature and he …” Bjorn suddenly realized to whom he was talking and stopped. “Well… you get the idea.”

“See, I know people do kinky stuff, but it never occurred to me that there were places to go to do that – you know, like, businesses intended for that. I thought it was just people in their own basements, you know, or maybe a few basements like the one at Fangtasia?”

“Sookie, there’s human trafficking for sex going on all over the world – women, little kids, you name it. These clubs are the opposite of that. Everyone is a willing participant, every one is compensated fairly, treated not just humanely but lavishly in a healthy way.”

“What if I just always think it’s wrong and I can’t get past this?”

“Then you work it out with him, because he cares how you feel, but I’d bet money right now that once you’ve been to all 13 openings, you’ll have no problem with them at all.”

“Are you going to… you know?”

“If I get an hour or two off, Bobbie and I might find a friend or two.”

“Have you ever…”

“Sookie, I was a soldier. Governments tolerate and sometimes even provide prostitutes to guys in combat.”

“They DO?”

“Yeah, Sookie. This world is much more complex than you realize. On one level, that’s kind of nice, but on another level, you’re not able to put things into perspective because your worldview is limited. Your naïvete is sweet and sexy as hell, but Eric is running a Vampire Kingdom. You’re going to have to trust him to understand the ways of the world better than you do. Think of your friends here – you look up to Bobbie, Amelia and I know you really depend on Octavia’s wisdom – none of them has a conflict with this.”

“I look up to you, too, you know…?”

“The person you really need to think about looking up to is your husband and your King.”

“Yeah… I guess…” Sookie had to think about that, and she knew she’d better think long and hard. She made a promise to Eric, so she needed to keep an open mind, but even beyond that, was she dishonoring the bond by questioning his judgment here? As he had pointed out on several occasions, they were not other people they were a Fae telepath/almost Goddess/Vampire Queen and a Vampire King and Eric was over a thousand years older than she. Was she presuming too much by questioning Eric’s decision? She thought about it for a minute and she realized she cared more about that than about whether it was right or wrong in the first place. You could debate whether it was or wasn’t, but there was no debate about what she owed to Eric. He was her bonded. That came before anything.

“Excuse me, Queen Sookie?” JoAnn was standing there smiling at her.

“Yes?”

“Would you like your tour of the plane now?”

“Yes, please. I need someone to stay with the boys…”

“Go ahead, Sookie, if I need to leave I’ll get Alicia or Bobbie over here.”

“OK, thanks Bjorn.” Sookie undid her belt and stood up, saying, “OK, lead the way.”

JoAnn led her to the door on the opposite side of the foyer. “Alright, let’s start with the good stuff first. The very front of the cabin is your Master Bedroom.” She opened the door and Sookie almost fainted. It was gorgeous. There was a light blue bedspread the same color as the leather upholstery on a bed almost as big as theirs at home, complete with brand new co-sleeper on Sookie’s usual side of the bed. “You feel free to use it any time you want, of course, but we prefer that you be belted in for take off. There’s actually a belt that reaches across the bed, though, if you really need to sleep or you’re ill.” She bent to show Sookie where it was, and Sookie was trying hard to take it all in, noticing Eric’s box was under the bed. The woodwork in the room was dark cherry or mahogany – something dark with a pink tinge to it – and it was shiny and perfect. “Here’s your entertainment center – you’ve got satellite TV, TIVO, a DVD and VHS player and a lovely stereo with a 300 CD changer filled to your husband’s specifications and an iPod dock if you want to use your own. The remote to control both is on the nightstand there in a special pocket. Here’s your closet with a full-length mirror. You feel free to hang your clothing or your garment bags in here and you can leave things on the plane if you need to. This is your bathroom,” she opened the door, “you’ve got a shower and a really nice vanity here with a makeup mirror, sink, and notice it’s all done in the same beautiful blue motif as the rest of the plane. We’ve got most of your favorite toiletries stocked for you.”

She led Sookie back out to the foyer, then stopped at a gorgeous bar. “This is your wet bar, stocked specifically for both humans and Vampires. It’s also stocked with your special diet supplements and a good quality infant formula in case of emergency. There’s also a bottle warmer for baby bottles and jars of food, and we’ll stock some of their favorite foods if you give us a list.”

“Oh, that’s good to know. Thank you. Can I get a strawberry one now, please?”

“Sure, here you go. This is your main closet, of course, and your living area and front lounge with entertainment center. Now if you come down this passage way, here’s a lavatory, and this is the forward entrance to the dining room, which features the plush blue upholstery of the seating, the blue inlay around the oak table which seats 12, and a collection of fine art from the Northman Collection.”

Sookie followed her the length of the dining room. “This is beautiful. Where do you cook?”

“There’s a galley upstairs and another located right behind this room. This hutch conceals a laser printer/scanner/copier combo, telephone and fax machine for your business needs. If you’ll follow me on down the corridor, you see the galley here, a lavatory with shower, additional seating for 16 for anyone who wants to sleep and a video screen so they can watch a movie back here. Some of your friends might want to sleep back here some time while the rest of you socialize in the forward lounge. Then we have another lavatory, and this is where your security detail travels.” She opened the door to a nice area with big comfortable seating for about 30 people with nice game tables and couches throughout. The guards all looked expectantly at Sookie, who said, “hi, guys! Thanks for traveling with us this weekend?” The guards all gave her a friendly and respectful response as JoAnn led her to the back of the plane and showed her a large lavatory with four showers and 6 commodes and sinks arranged in cubicles so that every commode had its own sink, and each shower was a separate stall that afforded some privacy.

“This is so nice!”

“I think you’ll find it meets all of your party’s needs splendidly.”

This is your captain speaking. We’re making our final approach to Dallas, so everyone please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts and we’ll be landing shortly.”

“Wow, that didn’t take any time at all, did it?” Sookie laughed as she and JoAnn headed back toward the front of the plane. When Sookie got back up front, Alicia was sitting with the boys who had Cheerios on blue trays that fit on their special seats and a little music player that had their rapt attention. Alicia was just clearing away two jars of baby food.

“Here’s a card with my cell number and the pilot’s,” JoAnn finished her tour, “you call us anytime you have a request regarding your flights. I know we’ll be in the air a lot in the next few months so don’t hesitate to let us know what we can do to make you more comfortable. Here, I’ll throw those away.”

“Thank you so much.” Sookie took the card, shook her hand, then let her take the jars from Alicia as she took her seat with the boys again.

“Hey, Sookie – how was it?” Amelia called to her from another group of chairs.

Sookie found that her seat would rotate all the way around as she turned to answer. “It’s amazing. You know there’s even an area where if some of us want to sleep and not be disturbed you can go back there and lean back or watch a movie?”

“Wow, really?”

“Yeah, and there are bathrooms, one of which has a shower, then there’s a big bathroom with showers for the guards. There’s a dining room that doubles as a conference room, and you’ve got to see the Master Bedroom to believe it.”

“Wow – is it all this pretty?”

“This is nothing – wait ’til you see the dining room. They’ve even got pieces of Eric’s art collection on display in there!”

“Vampires don’t do anything small,” Octavia laughed, feeling like she was in a dream. She sure loved living with the Northmans. Life was as fun and stress-free as it had ever been for her and she was living in absolute luxury, plus she got to spend time with those amazing babies, and she was getting paid to do it. Meeting Sookie was like hitting the lottery and she felt just as lucky.

Alicia couldn’t wait to get to the club and get settled to tell Margaret about this plane. She expected it to be nice, but this was beyond anything she’d ever seen, and she had traveled with some very wealthy families.

“Sookie, did I just hear you say “Eric’s art collection?” Bjorn laughed when he came out of the lavatory. “It’s your collection, too. It’s called the Northman Collection, and you’re part of Northman.”

“I never think of it as mine…”

“Eric does, so you might as well,” Octavia told her.

“So, do you all think Eric will buy this plane?” Sookie asked a bit nervously.

Everyone laughed.

“I’d buy it if I were Eric,” Amelia said.

“Definitely,” Bobbie said. “He’d be crazy not to. As much as he’ll need to travel and with all the people we need to take with us, it’s the logical thing to do.”

“Buying this plane is LOGICAL?” Sookie couldn’t wrap her head around that.

“Actually, Dear, it is,” Alicia told her. “What if we needed to go somewhere and this weren’t available? Just moving the twins becomes a major problem on a commercial airline. Here, the problems have already been solved for you.”

“Seriously, Sookie, this is a fantastic solution to a lot of problems. You should be thrilled that he found this,” Amelia told her.

“Yeah, I guess I should,” she said, more to herself than anything.

“Mamee!”

Sookie spun around, “what do you need, Alex?”

“Mo dee-wee-osth, pweezth, an Obee.”

Alicia bent forward and gave each boy a few cheerios.

“Dayoo!”

“Ayy!” Aubie tried to copy what Alex had said.

“Alicia, how long will it take to get to the club?” Sookie asked, her mind a little numb as she put the straw in her strawberry supplement and started to drink.

“About half an hour. My guess is we’ll get there right about the time the boys want to be breast fed, so we’ll get you all situated as quickly as possible and I’ll order lunch for everyone if they don’t already have it arranged.”

The plane began its descent then and it was a nearly perfect landing. The cars and vans were waiting for them on the tarmac and were loaded quickly, then most of the party was settled into the van first, then Bjorn, Jerry, Sookie and the boys were put in the limo in the middle of the caravan and the rest of the guards loaded up and they headed out for the 25 minute drive.

The building stood among some non-descript office buildings and was a tower of black glass. You couldn’t see a thing going on inside it, and you’d have no way to figure out what it was. There wasn’t even an obvious entrance, except for a small administrative office on the first floor that existed mostly to provide a cover story and sound an alarm if necessary. The guards at the parking structure in back, which was 9 levels high, waved them all in the gate. The 9th level parking was reserved for Eric’s party and any special guests they might include, so there were already 4 limousines, three black and one white, parked there.

The limo Sookie was in pulled directly up to an elevator entrance that was obscured by black glass. Bjorn got out first, as Jerry came around from the front passenger seat, then Sookie handed each of them a baby and they helped her out of the car. It occurred to Sookie that no one could see who was getting out of the car, but she also knew that somewhere there were cameras recording everything because that’s what Eric would do. The limo pulled away and two guards led Amelia and Octavia over to the elevator and they all went up first, then were followed by Alicia, Bobbie and more guards. There was an hotel manager waiting for them at the entrance to the penthouse, which was two floors above the parking structure. The foyer was magnificent – pink and black marble floor and white marble walls and a gorgeous chandelier, with mirrors lining the entry from the elevator.

“You Majesty! Welcome!” The tall, elegant gentleman spoke with a French accent and bowed to Sookie as she stood flanked by Bjorn and Alex, and Jerry and Auberon. “I’m Giles Breton, the hotel manager.”

Sookie offered her hand and he shook it, then handed her his card. “I’m Sookie Northman. It’s very nice to meet you.”

“Welcome to Sang Riche Dallas, your majesty. Please allow me to show you around your suite.”

“Thank you.”

He led her into a huge room with a panoramic view. The carpet and the over-stuffed leather furniture were pristine white, and the tables were a bright red lacquer. The few walls that existed, back to the right, were red. The outer walls of the place were glass and it was surrounded by a concrete patio that turned out to go around three sides of the building. The black and pink marble walk way went straight down around the living area, framing the entire room. The swimming pool was directly out from the sofas and chairs. There was a long glass dining table sitting diagonal to the room on a platform that opened up to the patio, surrounded by white iron chairs with scroll work Sookie thought looked French. The chairs matched the white iron spiral staircase that went up between the red walls to who knew where, and the white iron patio furniture with red cushions that sat around the pool.

“Breath-taking, isn’t it?” Giles said proudly, giving Sookie a minute to take it all in.

“Yes, it is!”

“Everything you see here will be identical to all of the Sang Riche locations, except, of course, for the art work. Let me give you the tour. First, of course, is your living area, with your entertainment center on the wall there. You have a perfect view of the swimming pool from here. The dining area, as you see, can accommodate a large party of friends. Don’t worry about the glass – you can see out, but they cannot see in. Back around this way, you have a small kitchenette with a refrigerator, a sink, an ice machine and a wet bar. Back here is the bathroom, and on around the corner are your guest and servants rooms, each with its own bath. Now, it you’ll accompany me upstairs.”

He led the way up the spiral staircase, which was a lot sturdier than Sookie expected it to be, and she was floored by the room – it was all glass on three walls and the huge, white iron bed was on a platform that cut across the far corner of the room so that when you lay on it, you’d only see sky. There was a huge bathtub sitting out in the room in a sunken, tiled corner, too, but she didn’t see a sink or a toilet. As if he read her mind, Giles said, “back here behind the staircase, we have a large walk-in closet, and a water closet for Madame’s convenience.” He showed her the closet, and then the “water closet” which had a nice glass shower, a commode, a sink, a vanity table and chair with a lighted mirror and a nice changing table fully stocked with disposable diapers. As she came back out she saw that the fourth corner of the room had two white leather easy chairs, a reading lamp and what had to be about a four foot by four foot red leather ottoman that sat low to the floor. Sookie flushed when she saw it because she was sure she’d end up having sex on it.

“This is just beautiful!” Sookie said with awe as she walked into it and looked around. The bedspread was white fur, and she just automatically ran her hand over it and it was amazingly soft. “Is that…?”

“100% mink, Madame, of the finest quality – fit for a Queen,” he gave her a proud smile. He liked this girl’s gentle manners and he could tell she was not spoiled and privileged as you might expect her to be. So far, everything he’d read about her seemed to be true.

“Eric was right – this is the most luxurious place I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m so happy you are pleased, Madame. We’ve planned a luncheon for you and your friends which we’ll serve in the dining area downstairs at 2:00 if that’s convenient?”

“Yes, that should be fine. It will give me time to feed the boys and put them down for a nap.”

“Just as we had hoped. It’s a sampling of our chef’s specialties I think you’ll enjoy very much. Now, make yourself at home, because that is exactly what this is – your home when you are in Dallas. The kitchen is open 24 hours a day for anything you want. If there’s ever a problem, you can call me at that number, but you’ll have attendants with you most of the time that will see to any of your needs immediately. I’ll let you get settled now. Enjoy your stay!” He bowed to her again and went downstairs and she heard him give direction about which bags went where, saying “Her majesty’s luggage goes up the staircase to the loft, the rest go to the guest quarters at the back.”

“Your majesty?” a voice came from the stairs.

“Yes, Bjorn?”

“Alex is asking to be fed. Where would you like to do that?”

“Oh, up here, I guess…” Sookie sat on the big bed looking around at the dizzying view.

“Alright, Would you like them to bring your things up now?”

“Yes, please, so we can get settled a bit.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Three guards came up the steps with Sookie’s vanity table, a garment bag, a suitcase, her train case and tote bag. Once they dropped her things off, they left quickly and were followed by two big, strong guards carrying Eric’s travel box up and they set it back to the right in front of the reading corner. Bjorn came up carrying the twins. “Wow!” He said as he reached the top of the staircase.

“Yeah, that’s about the only word I can think of, too. Did you know about all of this?”

“I knew it was going to be fancy – I didn’t know you were literally going to be on top of the world.”

“Mamee ee!”

“OK, Sweetie, just a minute.” She took him from Bjorn and Bjorn brought Aubie behind her as she laid him on the bed. “Is there supposed to be a co-sleeper here?”

“Yeah, he said it was in the closet – they wanted you to get the full effect of the bedroom without it when you came up. I’ll set it up for you.”

“OK, thanks. They’re serving us all a luncheon at 2 pm – what is it now? Like, 11:30?”

“Right.”

“OK, I’m going to feed the boys and put them down for a nap, and I’ll probably read for a bit or sleep myself. Tell Alicia she can come up whenever it’s convenient to help me with my clothes, please?”

“Alright, Hon. I hope you get some rest. It’ll be a late night tonight.” Bjorn finished with the co-sleeper then helped her get the babies settled on each thigh as she sat-cross-legged in the middle of the bed.

Bjorn came down the stairs into the living room.

“Bjorn, is Sookie upstairs?”

“Yeah, Alicia, she said come on up whenever you’re ready. Brace yourself before you go up there – you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” he laughed, knowing that sounded really funny with his slight Swedish accent.

Alicia went up the spiral stairs and couldn’t contain herself when she reached the top. “OH, MY!”

“I know! Did you know about this? I feel like I’m floating!”

“No, I’m afraid I had no concept of this. Is that bedspread…?”

“MINK! And the manager told me all the clubs are exactly like this! I don’t know if I feel safe sleeping up here!”

“I’m sure it’s safe, How far can you see from there?”

“FOREVER!”

“Where’s the closet?”

“Back there behind the stairs.” Sookie pointed. “That’s where the toilet is, too. He called it a water closet – I never heard that before.”

“”Water closet” is what they call it in Europe. People there will ask for the WC instead of saying bathroom.”

“The manager is French, I think. “Giles Breton” is his name according to this card.”

“Let me have that and I’ll put the information in your phone.”

“Here, take this one with the Stewardess and Captain, too, please. I’m not over-reacting, right, anyone would be stunned by this?”

“Yes, I’d say you’re perfectly justified in being shocked. Your bed looks like an altar up there.”

“People can’t see in, right? Like, even in a helicopter, they couldn’t see us?”

“No, you saw the outside of the building – it’s completely black from the outside. You’re going to have so much fun up here – in all the clubs. Mr. Northman said they were designed for pleasure and he wasn’t kidding. Even with the co-sleeper attached to it, that’s the sexiest setting I’ve ever seen.” Alicia bragged as she hung Sookie and Eric’s clothes in the closet. “Would you want your hair and makeup done up here, or down in the living room?”

“Up here, I think. Is that OK?”

“Yes, of course. I’ll go ahead and set up your vanity table over here.”

“Thanks, Alicia. Do we know what I’m wearing tonight yet?”

“I brought three of your new dresses, but I think for the very first opening, this is my favorite,” Alicia held up a short dress with a purple bodice and spaghetti straps, and a teal sequined waist and teal chiffon skirt with a slit on the side.

“Wow – there’s not much of it!” Sookie laughed, which made the boys giggle against her as she snuggled them and they fed voraciously. “It’s really sexy, so I say let’s do it. Did you bring Eric’s favorite shoes? They’d really spark with that.”

“The pink with silver heels? You’re right, they would. I thought some dangling diamond earrings and a diamond bracelet would be all the jewelry you need. We want to take our time with your hair and makeup tonight because they’ll be taking pictures. Mr. Northman said you’d be going downstairs around 9 o’clock. I think he was planning on a family bath after dinner.”

“OK, did they tell you about lunch at 2?”

“Yes, it’s apparently going to be a tasting menu so you’ll get to try the chef’s greatest hits.”

“I hope it’s good. When the boys get done, I’m going to put them down and read a while, and maybe sleep.”

“OK, I’ll come wake you at quarter ’til two. Do you want to put on a nightgown?”

“No, but do I have a casual dress I can change into after I sleep in this one?”

“Sure, that’s no problem at all.”

“OK, thanks.”

“I’ll see you in a bit, Dear.” Alicia gave her a big smile and went back down the stairs.

“Well, boys, what do you think of this place? Daddy apparently wants to feel like he’s flying while we’re all in bed.” That made Alex giggle, which in turn made Aubie giggle. Aubie’s giggle turned into a yawn, and before long, he stopped suckling.

“Alex, stop just a minute, OK?”

“Oday.” He sat back a little and let Sookie lower him to the bed, then get Aubie tucked into the co-sleeper.

“OK, Sweetie, you want to eat more?”

“Nah. Seepeen.”

“Aubie is sleeping – you want to go to sleep, too?”

“Eeah.”

“OK,” Sookie picked him up and gave him a kiss, laughing to herself that this was the first time Alex ever admitted to being tired. She tucked him in next to Aubie and he was out instantly. Sookie got up quietly and took her journal and her copy of Stranger in a Strange Land out of her tote bag, then settled down to read. She didn’t need a light because she had the whole sky to light up the page. She wondered if she’d get a tan lying in the open this way, so just in case, she pulled off her dress and lay on the bed in her thong. Turning on her tummy, enjoying the soft fur against her bare skin, she turned to the first page.

Sookie expected to fall asleep, but after a while, she was so engrossed in the story, she forgot about the time. The story was slow at first and seemed to start in the middle. She had turned to the credits page to see that it was published in 1961 because the slang was a little weird, but the idea of a human raised on Mars by Martians coming to Earth and seeing a woman for the first time was pretty cool, and the idea that the government might be a threat to him because of his inheritance was completely believable. She liked the idea of flying taxis and real grass lawns in the living room, too. She laughed to herself that she’d better not say that to Eric or he’d get her a lawn in the living room somewhere. She laughed even harder when she realized this was the perfect place to do that.

She was just about to start Chapter 6 when she heard Alicia coming up the stairs.

“Sookie?”

“Hey, Alicia, come on up.”

“It’s almost 2, dear,” she told her as she entered the room. “You wanted a casual dress, right?”

“Right?”

“How about the pink terry dress with the zipper in front?”

“Yeah, that’s comfy. Are there any bouncers here anywhere?”

“There are two of those Swedish-style you got at Pottery Barn down there. You want to bring the babies down now?”

“Yeah, I don’t feel comfortable leaving them up here alone.”

“Alright, then, here’s your dress.” Alicia gave her the dress from the open suitcase which sat on a stand in front of the closet.

Sookie wiggled into it, then she and Alicia each took a sleeping baby and went down to the living room. Bjorn was bringing the bouncers, which had been stored in one of the bedrooms, into the living room, and Alicia and Sookie put them in gently and fastened the little belts, turning the bouncers so that when they awoke they’d be looking at the dining table.

Sookie walked over to the dining area where everyone was congregating and asked, “which end would be considered the head of the table?”

“I’d say that one there,” Alicia pointed left, “and you should sit there, then there’s room for the highchairs between you and you’ll be facing the servers as they come in. They’ll be focused on you so you definitely want to make eye contact.”

At exactly 2:00 there was a knock on the door, and Bjorn answered. Two carts of food were wheeled in, and Sookie said, “Thanks, guys – wow, that’s a lot of food!”

“This is the first course, your majesty. There are four more after this, each with a specially chosen wine from our private stock,” the main server, George, smiled at her and they put 3-section plates in front of everyone. Sookie thought to herself that George looked like the actor Kevin Spacey. When they’d all been served, George said, “This is a selection of Chef Crudo’s appetizers, From left to right, you have Tuna Tartare  Avocado Puree & House Fired White Corn Chips; Baked Dungeness Crab Dip with Wood Oven-Fired Crackers, and Prime Tenderloin Tartare with Capers, Red Onion, Quail Egg, and Hand Cut Potato Chips. Enjoy your meal.” The servers bowed and removed the tables.

“Wow – this is raw tuna?” Sookie pointed to the left,

“Yes, and that’s crab dip in the middle, and then your favorite, steak tartare on the right,” Alicia helped everyone out.

“This looks amazing,” Bobbie thought this was the coolest thing, ever.

“Did he say “four more courses?” Amelia asked. “How are we going to eat all that food?”

Octavia was looking at the food suspiciously, but she took a bite of tuna and found it delicious so she dug right in. “Mmm – this is good.”

“Well, it’s a tasting menu, so hopefully they won’t be large portions,” Alicia recalled.

Sookie asked, “are we supposed to eat these from left to right?”

“They didn’t specify that, so I’d say eat them in whatever order you want,” Alicia knew everyone was in shock at how fancy the food was.

“Mmm – this tuna is fantastic!” Sookie liked the first one, so like Octavia, she dug in and really enjoyed herself.

Everyone enjoyed their meal and chatted and in 20 minutes, when they were all mostly done, the servers came in with course number two. The same server introduced the food : Cool Cucumber Soup with Lump Crab & EVOO, and there was a platter of Burrata Mozzarella, Marinated Tomatoes, Fresh Basil w/ EVOO.

When they left, Sookie asked “What’s EVOO?”

“Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It’s very tasty and very good for you,” Alicia explained.

Sookie went wild for the soup. “I’ve never had cold soup before, but this is really yummy. And what’s the deal with the cheese, tomatoes and leaves?”

“That’s served at a lot of Italian restaurants. It’s probably buffalo milk mozzerella, then just tomato and basil drizzled with olive oil. It’s considered a salad. Just take a little on your salad plate there. You’ll love it,” Alicia encouraged her.

“Wow – that cheese is awesome. It’s from buffalos?”

“Yes, it is – that’s the very best kind,” Bobbie confirmed.

Twenty minutes later, the third course came in, again on a three-section plate: Crab Crusted Sea Bass, Crispy Skate Wing and Pan Roasted Mahi Mahi. The boys woke up then and one of the servers pulled out a special plate with pureed food.

“Specially prepared for the Princes, designed for them by our chef,” the lead server explained. “Please, continue to enjoy your meal. Francesca will feed them.”

A petite blonde server with a ponytail sat down cross-legged in front of the boys and fed them with two little spoons. Sookie watched them closely, but they seemed to be fine and she heard Alex say “dayoo” several times and both babies giggled now and then so she didn’t interfere.

“Francesca, is it?” Alicia asked from her seat.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“When he says “dayoo” that means ‘thank you.'”

“Oh, good. I thought that was what he was saying. He’s so polite!”

“Yes, they’re very good boys,” Alicia said proudly.

The Fourth course was also on divided plates: slices of Roasted Duck Breast w/Grilled Sweet Corn, Bing Cherry Sauce; Colorado Lamb Osso Bucco with Creamy Polenta and Gremolata; and Three Pepper Crusted Rib eye with Horseradish Cream.

“OK, I’m officially full for the rest of my life, but this is so good!” Sookie laughed.

The final course was dessert, and it contained tiny portions of Caramel Créme Bruleé with Bramble Berries, Peach-White Chocolate Tart with Whipped Mascarpone & Mixed Berries, and Sour Cream Apple Pie with Walnut Crumble Topping and Lavender Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

“OK, this is officially the best meal of my life,” Sookie laughed.

The servers finally came back in to clear their plates, and George left Sookie with a copy of the menu showing how much more was available if she wanted.

Francesca stood up and said, “Bye, little Princes!” and was tickled to death when both boys waved and Alex said, “Bah-bah!”

One of the servers came back into the room with a playpen, and another brought an armful of toys to put in it. They set it up in the living area at the end of the couches that faced each other, toward the pool, but still on the white carpet. Once they had it put in place, they bowed to Sookie and walked out without a word, but she gave them a big smile and said, “Thank you!”

“Please send my compliments to the Chef,” Sookie told George, “this was truly extraordinary, and special thanks for sending something for the boys. They just loved it.”

“Thank you, your majesty, I’ll tell him. He said to tell you he has a special treat for you for dinner, which we were told should be served at 8 o’clock so you can attend the party at 9?”

“Yes, that will be fine. Thank you so much.”

“Our pleasure. Enjoy your stay.”

When they were gone, Sookie asked, “so, will every club have the same food?”

“No, it will vary according to the chef at each one,” Amelia laughed.

“So we’re going to do that 12 more times? You all aren’t going to have to worry about me gaining weight. My goodness!” Sookie collapsed on the couch just as the babies got restless, but Alicia and Bobbie took them into the bathroom where the changing table was and gave them fresh nappies.

Bobbie got back with Aubie first and he was calling for “Mmamma” before he could even see Sookie, so she brought him straight to her.

“There’s my sweet boy!” Sookie was waiting for him with open arms and a big smile. She snuggled him and kissed him and blew raspberries on his tummy, which made him get the hiccups again. A minute later, Alex flew into the room on his own and landed on the couch next to Sookie and Aubie. “Hey, Darlin’ boy! Are you flying?”

“Eeah, ware di Dadee do?”

“Daddy is upstairs in his travel box. He’ll be awake in a while. What do you think of this place?’

“Eye-er an Eye-er!”

“Yeah, it looks high here, doesn’t it?”

“Sthimmeen ina poo?”

“That’s not a bad idea, actually. Bobbie, are you up for a swim?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Where’s Amelia?”

“She’s lying down. She woke up really early today. Octavia is lying down, too.”

“Bjorn and Jerry are working, I guess?”

“Jerry is resting up for tonight. Bjorn is working with the local security to make sure everything is up to his standards, and he’ll be back in a bit.”

“OK, so we need plastic pants, and I need to put my suit on. Alicia just went upstairs, right?”

“Right. You get your suit on and get the plastic pants from her, and we’ll wait here for you. I put my suit on as soon as we got here.”

Sookie cracked up at that. “I wouldn’t even have remembered to pack a swim suit. You haven’t seen the upstairs yet, have you?”

“No, is it outrageous?”

“You have no idea. Why don’t you go up and look, and you can get the plastic pants from Alicia.”

“Want me to bring your suit down and you can change in the bathroom down here?”

“Yeah, actually, that would be cool!”

“Be right back!” Bobbie was more than happy to go upstairs because she’d heard people talking about it and was dying to see it. “Holy Mother Goddess!”

Sookie laughed when she heard Bobbie’s reaction.

“It’s really something, isn’t it?” Alicia laughed as she was going through Sookie’s suitcase. “Looking for these?” She held up the plastic pants.

“Yeah, and Sookie needs her suit. She’ll change in the bathroom down there.

“OK, here’s her favorite. Did she say anything about dinner?”

“No, but I heard them say they’re going to serve it at 8.”

“Alright, they’ll need to bathe and dress before dinner. I hope they don’t mess up their clothing.”

“Have they got back-ups?”

“Yes, but I really want her to wear this outfit. It will be amazing on her and there will be photographers tonight.”

“Yeah, this will be big news in all the Vamp magazines.”

“That’s why I’m going to go ahead and steam their stuff now and give it plenty of time to hang and relax. I want them to be perfect.”

“Are you going to the party?”

“No, I’ll be part of the security team up here for the twins. They’ll stay here in the living room with Octavia and me, and Jerry, then he and Bjorn might switch off. We’re hoping they’ll sleep a good deal of the time, but she may have to come in and out a few times if they won’t take bottles.”

“She’s not that into the idea of the party, anyway.”

“Does she know… the “nature” of the clubs?”

“Yeah, do you?”

“Oh, yes, Octavia filled me in a while ago.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Everybody is a consenting adult. Beyond that, it’s none of my business. I work for Sookie.”

“Good attitude. She’s having a little trouble with it.”

“I think she’ll get over that pretty quickly. I hear they’re having guests for drinks at some point tonight?”

“Yes, some of the European royals. There’s one called Mama who will insist on seeing the boys.”

“She likes babies?”

Bobbie nodded, “she’s known for it. She’s very kind, as Vampire Queens go.”

“What’s she the Queen of?”

“Austria, I think. Sookie met her in Las Vegas.”

“Wasn’t she a little scared of her?”

“Yes, but everyone says there’s no reason to be.”

“I hope they’re right.”

“She’s definitely not a risk to Alex. Aubie is the one to worry about, but as long as he’s wearing that shield Sookie made for him, he should be safe.”

“That little necklace?”

“Yes – don’t take it off of him. It protects him.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t without asking. I know things are not always as they seem around here.

“Good. OK, we’re going in the pool.”

“There are toys and towels in a closet right behind the staircase down there.”

“Oh, cool. Thanks!” Bobbie went down the stairs and found the closet behind it. “Hey, Sookie, did you know this stuff is in here?”

“No, I didn’t. Are there any toys for the babies?” Sookie was playing with the boys. Alex was standing up holding onto the back of the couch, and Aubie was holding Sookie’s fingers trying to pull himself up.

“Look at this little bulldozer! And a whale! There’s one for each of them. They’re already inflated, too.”

“They knew we were coming,” Sookie laughed. “Lookie, Alex, what Bobbie’s got.”

“Wadiz dat?” He asked with big eyes as he looked at the bright yellow and black inflatable bulldozer. “Una Dastha!”

“Yeah, that’s a bulldozer like Uncle Jason drives, isn’t it?” Sookie was tickled that Alex recognized that. “You want to go in the pool and try it out?”

“EEAH!”

“OK, let Mommy run put her suit on and we will, OK?”

“ODAY!”

Bobbie threw her suit to her and told her “Around the corner to the right – first door after the kitchen.”

Sookie sat Aubie on the couch next to Alex, who was still standing, and went in a hurry because she wanted to get in the pool, too. The bathroom was really nice with a nice sized corner tub and shower combo that would hold two people, but only two, so it seemed small to her. She was pleased to see a fully stocked changing table in here, too. She was ready in seconds flat, and back out front.

“Hey, Sookie, have you ever seen these before?” Bobbie threw her a package.

“Swim diapers? I never heard of that.”

“Should we give them a try?”

“You all just changed them, so let’s use our regular system today, but tomorrow we’ll put these on them.” She picked Aubie up off the couch and took the inflated whale toy Bobbie gave her, and Bobbie grabbed Alex and the bulldozer.

“Will we be here long enough to swim tomorrow?” Bobbie asked as she put the dozer down and opened the door for Sookie and Aubie.

“Yeah, we’re traveling at night so Eric can see the plane.”

“Oh, good. That means we get more fancy food!”

“I know, that lunch was awesome, wasn’t it?

“Yes, it was. We forgot towels. Hang on just a minute, Alex.” She put Alex in a lounge chair and threw the dozer in the pool, then ran back in and got a stack of beach towels and put them on one of the poolside tables near the pool steps.

Sookie threw the whale in the water, then jumped in at the side with Aubie in her arms yelling “Whee!” Aubie cracked up, squealing and splashing the water. He loved to splash water.

Bobbie grabbed Alex and jumped in nearby, cracking him up, too. They were both tickling the boys and making the animal sounds they liked as they got their rides and put them in them. “Hey, these have got little covers on them!”

“That’s good. Being on a roof like this, the sun can be pretty intense.”

“Yeah, I guess. I hope this is not too much for them.”

“They love the sun, Sookie, don’t worry about that. We’ll take them in before it gets to be too much. It’s 4 o’clock, anyway so the sun won’t be strong much longer.”

“True, so we’ll just play until they get tired. If we can wear them out, maybe they’ll sleep well while we’re gone.”

“Let’s see – Eric will be up around 7, right? And you’ll have to shower and dress before dinner, so that’s at 8. We should probably feed the boys at 6:00 and put them down, then you can feed them just before 9 if you want…”

“Actually, I think we’ll try bottles at 9 so we can do our thing, then I’ll come home to feed them at 12. Eric’s bringing people up for drinks, so I’ll feed them while they visit. Then I’m praying they’ll sleep if he wants me to go back downstairs, but I hope I can talk him out of it.”

“Sookie, just make up your mind to relax and have fun. There will be insanely good food and drinks and you’ll have fun and dance…”

“Everybody keeps saying that…”

“You’ll love it, Sweetie. I can’t wait, even though I know I’ll have to take a turn babysitting.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be sorry, Hon, I’m glad to do it. Besides, I’m getting into the party of the Millennium for free. You won’t hear me complaining.”

“Is Octavia going?”

“I think she and Alicia decided to watch movies in the living room and hold down the fort. They want plenty of back-up with the boys.”

“That’s good. I’m pretty nervous about leaving them.”

“Stop being nervous, Sookie. You’re a Queen. You pay people to be nervous for you,” Bobbie laughed and Sookie lightened up and laughed, too.

“Mamee, sthimmeen!”

“OK, baby.” She pulled him out of the bulldozer and let him swim freely in the water. Bobbie pulled Aubie around, to his great delight, while Sookie chased around with Alex. “Hey, Bobbie – is anybody in the living room?”

“No, why?”

“Alex, watch Mommy!” She dove and came up a mermaid. Alex squealed and dove, coming up a merbaby and the two of them swam several quick laps before Sookie turned back and held her arms out to him. “Come to Mommy,” she giggled and Alex went to her, swishing his tail as she held him, then changing back and laughing up a storm. “When Daddy gets up, we’ll tell him we were naughty,” Sookie laughed and Alex loved it. He understood enough to know they really shouldn’t have done that here, so Mommy doing it and letting him, too, was a real treat.

“You’ll give somebody a heart attack,” Bobbie laughed.

“No harm in doing it just this once, you know?”

“Alex sure enjoyed it.”

“Ah wyg dat, Mamee!”

“You like that? You like being a merbaby?”

“Eeah, an Mamee!”

“Mommy is a mermaid, Alex is a merbaby.”

“Mamee itha muhmay an Awegs itha muhbeebee.”

“Right, and when we do that, that’s called “shifting.”

“chifteen?”

“Right, shifting. You know who else can shift?” Bjorn!”

“Borhd muhmay?”

“No, Bjorn’s not a mermaid, Bjorn is a wolf!”

“You know, I’ve never seen him shift?” Bobbie said.

“Really?”

“Yeah, he said he would some time, but there’s just never been an opportunity.”

“Where is he, anyway?”

“He was checking some of the security for tonight, and he said something about visiting the Weres with the European delegation…”

“Oh, right. They’d all want to scope each other out so they know who is what.”

“Sookie?” Alicia called out the sliding door

“Yeah?”

“What time are you planning to feed the boys next. The chef wants to send something special for them.”

“OK, 6 o’clock.”

“I’ll tell them.”

“Alicia, do they know not to use any citrus?”

“I’ll make sure.”

“Thanks.”

Bjorn came in through the living room, “Hey, Alicia – can I get a pitcher of tea. I’m going to go out and watch the babies.”

“Sure, I’ll get it for you. They left a pitcher earlier.”

“Thanks.” He went out the sliding door, “Hey, somebody having a party without me?”

“Ah, Borhd!”

“Ah-ya!” Aubie tried to copy Alex.

“Hey, Bjorn!”

“Hi, Sweetie!”

“Borhd, chifteen!”

“Shhh – Alex. That’s a secret.”

“What did he say?”

“Yeah, I was bad and did mermaid and he did merbaby, just for a minute.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Borhd, chifteen!” Alex said insistently.

“Oh – I’m sorry, Bjorn, he’s asking you to shift. I told him,” Sookie said apologetically.

“Eh, Borhd” Alex made his “come here” gesture. Alicia came out and left a pitcher of tea, and a glass on a napkin. “Hey, Alicia, I’m going to show Alex something, so don’t freak out, OK?”

“Can I stay?”

“Sure, if you want. OK, Alex, watch this.” Bjorn stood up and pulled his shirt off, kicked off his boots and socks, then shifted right out of his pants. He was magnificent! He was a huge, silver grey wolf with bright blue eyes.

Alex squealed and Aubie giggled and clapped his hands. The wolf jumped into the water and paddled out to where Sookie was holding Alex and licked his little face. Bobbie took Aubie out of the whale and let the wolf lick him, too, and Aubie petted his head gently, then pulled his hand back shyly, giggling. It swam back to Alex and “talked” just a little, projecting a picture to Sookie so she knew to put Alex on its back. He grabbed the fur and held on. The wolf swam to the steps and walked out slowly, Alex hanging on tightly. It stopped so Alicia could take Alex off his back, then it picked up his pants in its mouth and stood by the sliding door. Alicia rushed over, Alex dripping in her arms, to let it inside and it ran into the bathroom, coming out a minute later as Bjorn wearing just his pants.

“Yay, Bjorn!” Sookie laughed and clapped and the babies clapped, too. Alex wanted Bjorn to hold him so he took him from Alicia and sat for a few minutes with no shirt on.

“Dood, Borhd!” Alex was so excited.

“You like that, Alex?”

“EEAH!”

“I was a wolf – can you say “wolf,” Buddy? WOLF.”

“Oouhf.”

“Good boy, Alex. Wolf!”

“Oouhf!”

“Some time when we’re home, you can try being a wolf, too, OK?”

“Eeah!” Alex laughed, pretty sure he knew what Bjorn was saying, giving Bjorn a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“Uh-oh, Sookie, Aubie is starting to shake a little,” Bobbie told her.

“OK, I’ll take him out for a bit. I don’t want to freeze him.” Sookie went over to them, “here, baby, come to Mommy and we’ll go get warm. Yeah, we’ll get warm for a bit, OK?’ she chatted to Aubie as they came out of the water. Alicia was waiting for them, wrapping a towel around Aubie first, then wrapping one around Sookie’s waist. Sookie sat at the table with Bjorn and Alex.

“Look, Aubie, there’s Buddy! Yeah, there’s Alex and there’s Bjorn!”

“Oof!” Aubie tried to bark and Bjorn cracked up. Aubie reached for Bjorn, so he and Sookie traded babies for a minute. Aubie hugged Bjorn for the first time and Sookie saw Bjorn wipe away a tear.

“DeeBee, Mamee.”

“You want to watch TV, Sweetie? We can do that.”

Alicia came out with a terry dress Sookie could put over her suit, then took Alex as she slipped it on. Sookie took Aubie from Bjorn, who finally got a minute to get dressed again and Bobbie gathered up the toys and put them on the cement to dry.

“Hey, Sookie, I’m going to take my shower now,” Bobbie said as she went through the room.

“OK, Sweetie.”

Bjorn came in and sat on the couch opposite Sookie.

“I’ve got a surprise for Alex and Aubie,” Alicia said as she turned on the TV, then the DVD player. “Look what I found in the cabinet.” The DVD loaded and it turned out to be Teletubbies : Time to Play.

“Dewedumbeesth!” Alex was tickled pink and Aubie clapped his hands because he knew something good happened, though he wasn’t sure what it was. They wrapped the boys in dry towels and propped them up on a cushion facing the TV, but it lasted about 2 minutes before Alex had to fly up to the screen. Aubie got so excited, his little arms waving – yelling “BUMBY!” – that he floated up out of his towel, too, and went up next to Alex at the TV.

“Oh my Goddess!” Sookie couldn’t believe it was happening already. She was frozen, not knowing what to do next.

“Good job, Aubie!” Bjorn piped up, knowing Eric would be thrilled to hear about this.

“OBEE FYEEN!” Alex exclaimed, but then he went right back to paying attention to the TV.

“Aubie, Sweetie, fly back to Mommy!” Sookie called to him, still not sure what to do.

Aubie turned and zipped right back to her, landing in her arms and she covered him with kisses and hugged him tight.

“Sookie, I know you’re freaking out, but Eric is going to be thrilled.”

“Yeah, I just hoped it would take a lot longer. I don’t want to lose both of them so soon.”

“You won’t lose that one, Sookie. You won’t lose either of them, but you definitely won’t lose that one,” Bjorn told her. “Being close to you is his favorite thing. His attention strays a little now and then, but he always comes right back to you.”

“That’s exactly the way I want it. He’s mine and I’m not letting him go.” She hugged him tight and fought back tears, and Bjorn knew what she was feeling, so he let her have a minute to get a grip on herself.

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door, and a server came in with dinner for the boys.

“Wow – is it 6 o’clock already?” Sookie looked for a clock as she popped up to the TV and took Alex out of the air.

“Yeah, we spent a lot more time outside than I realized,” Bjorn agreed as he let the server in.

“Oh, hi, Francesca!” Sookie gave her a warm greeting as she stood there holding both babies.

“Hi, your majesty. They sent me again since I did OK with the Princes earlier.”

“I’m so glad, they really enjoyed the attention.”

“Thanks. I’ll just get their highchairs and be right back.” She left her serving table by the dining area and went into the kitchen area, opening a little alcove and pulling out the high chairs for the boys.

“If you have other work to do, we can feed them,” Sookie offered.

“If you don’t mind, I kind of enjoy doing it. My brothers and sisters will lose their minds when I tell them I fed the Vampire Princes.”

“Alright, well, you go right ahead. I don’t know about Aubie yet, but I know Alex loves attention from pretty girls, don’t you, Pookie?”

“Eeah!” Alex giggled as Sookie put him in one high chair, then set Aubie down in the other.

Sookie hooked the little seat belt on Aubie and explained to the girl, “Alex doesn’t really need a seat belt, but we always use on for Aubie.”

“How is his health, ma’am. I heard he was sick?”

“He was very small and had to have a nurse for some time. He’s doing well, just not quite as exceptionally well as Alex, right, Cookie?” Sookie tickled Aubie’s chin and he giggled and squirmed in the cutest way imaginable.

Francesca turned a chair around so she could sit in front of the boys and began to feed them out of little dishes with little spoons.

“Ooh, that looks good!” Sookie admired their meal.

“The chef said it’s kiddie tartare, invented just for Vampire babies. It’s mostly ground meat, but he put a little Worcestershire sauce and a few things like that to make it tasty. I hope they like it.”

“Mmmm!” Alex said when he got his first bite.

“Well, Alex likes it.” Sookie laughed as she watched the girl feed them.

Aubie made his surprised face and smacked his lips. “OK, looks like it’s a hit all around.” Sookie laughed.

“I hear my lovely wife!”

“ERIC! You’re up!” Sookie skipped over to the staircase to kiss him and he picked her up and gave her a good, long, wet one.

“Ah, Dadee!” Alex said with his mouth full.

“NnDada!” Aubie pointed at Eric.

“I hear my two very good boys!”

“Sweetie, this is Francesca. She fed the boys lunch today and they just loved her, so she’s giving them dinner.”

“Hello, Francesca. Thank you for serving my boys. They like you very much, I can tell.”

“Thank you, your majesty.”

Sookie tried not to laugh out loud when she heard the girl think Eric was the biggest, most gorgeous man she had ever seen, or when she saw Eric preening a little because he knew the girl was admiring him. Sookie’d never be jealous because she knew Eric was HERS, and she liked it when he showed off to other women… or anybody, really!

“Dadee, chifteen.”

“Alex, Sweetie, don’t talk with your mouth full, OK? We’ll tell Daddy everything we did later.”

“Oday.”

Eric swept Sookie up off her feet and sat on the couch with her. “Busy day, my Angel?”

“Very!”

“Where is everyone?

“Half resting, half showering for tonight.”

“How did you like the airplane?”

“It’s spectacular, of course! It’s like a mansion with wings.”

“How did you find the crew?”

“Very hospitable, prepared for anything, and very professional.”

“Good, just as I had hoped. Your flight was good?”

“Yep – really short, but take off and landing were easy as pie.”

Francesca was enjoying seeing how they spoke to each other. It was obvious they were very much in love. Her sisters would die when she told them!

“How do you like the suite?”

“It’s like a dream, Eric. And the food! My Goddess, you should have seen the luncheon they served us! It was a tasting menu with five courses, and each course had several items. It was officially the best meal of my life. I asked the main server to send my compliments to the chef and sent special thanks for making lunch for the boys, too.”

“He did?”

“Yes, and they’re eating a special steak tartare he created just for them and they love it.”

“He has gone above and beyond his duties, then?”

“Yes. Everyone has. The staff is all just wonderful so far.”

“Good. What is our schedule for tonight?”

“We need to shower and dress so we can have dinner at 8 o’clock and then we go to the party at 9, I guess?”

“Alright, when the boys are done we’ll do a family bath. Are our clothes ready?”

“Yes, Alicia worked on them while we were in the pool. Oh, and I started reading that book today while the boys napped. It’s so good! I can’t wait to get back to it.”

“Wonderful. Tomorrow you can sleep in late, play with the boys, read some more, play in the pool and we will all fly home together. Such a rough life, my Angel, I don’t know how you endure it.”

Sookie laughed and stuck her tongue out at him and he tickled her and kissed her. Francesca was dying. She was also done and a little sad to leave.

“Excuse me, your majesty? The boys are finished.”

“Francesca, thank you so much! Will we be seeing you again?” Sookie got up with Eric’s help.

“Yes, ma’am I’ll come with their breakfast at noon, I think?”

“Yes, that sounds right. We’ll look forward to seeing you then. Have a good night!”

“Thank you ma’am. I hope you all enjoy your stay.”

Eric stood and reached into his pocket. “Thank you, Francesca. Here’s a little bonus you don’t need to tell your boss about, alright?”

“Oh, I’m not supposed to…”

“It will be our secret.” Eric gave her a sly smile and a wink and she floated out of the room with 2 crisp hundred-dollar bills in her pocket. Sookie heard her think that she’d really be able to help her mama with the bills this month and that made her very proud that Eric did that.

When she was gone, Sookie said, “You knew she needed that, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did. She has 10 brothers and sisters and no father. They all contribute what they can to the household. When I read her profile, I told the manager I wanted to be sure that she got some special opportunities to impress me. I’ll give her a glowing report and she’ll get another bonus in her paycheck.”

“Thank you for doing that.”

“Thank you for letting her feed the boys.”

“I was a little nervous about that at first, but Alex took right to her, so I went with it. It let me concentrate on feeding my face. The food here is just unreal.”

“Well, then, let’s have our bath and you will eat some more of it,” he laughed and kissed her, then they picked up the boys and went up the spiral staircase.

“It’s so weird up here – it’s almost like being outside.”

“Yes, when we are in bed, we’ll have a nearly unobstructed view of the sky.”

“Are there any lights up here?”

“Just walk into the room,” he urged her forward and everywhere she went, tiny lights in the ceiling lit her way.

“What is that?”

“It’s called ambient lighting. Very chic, don’t you think?”

“It’s like the room knows who I am…”

“It does. Say “play” and then “music.”

“Play music,” she repeated. Seemingly from nowhere, she heard “Here Come Horses,” by Tabitha’s Secret? playing, but there was no sign of any sound system or speakers.

“The stereo or whatever knows me, too?”

“Yes, it does.”

“Unreal.”

“It’s supposed to be a fantasy setting. When we are here, it is only us in the world.”

“And there’s a room just like this at every club?”

“Yes.”

“Alicia said the bed looks like an altar,” Sookie laughed.

“Exactly. It’s where I worship the Goddess most reverently,” he wiggled his eyebrows at her and she felt it in her loins. This was going to be a long night. All she had been thinking about all day is getting him into that bed and on top of her and now they had to go out around people and wait for freaking HOURS!

She got the babies stripped down on the bed as he ran the bath in that gorgeous sunken tub. “I see Alicia remembered the supports for the boys,” Eric said from the corner where he was lighting candles.

“Yeah, she’s great,” Sookie said as she undressed.

“Sookie, I know how you feel and I agree,” he said as he came back, kissed her, then undressed.

“Agree with what?”

“Let’s get this party over with and get back to this big bed under the stars,” he bent her over backward and gave her a kiss that would melt butter.

“Why do you always do this to me?” She laughed.

“What?”

“Get me all revved up when you know it’s going to be hours before we can do anything.”

“Because I’m a selfish bastard and I want all of your attention on me tonight, not on the attractive young men – or women – who work here. I want all of your attention on what you will do to me when we get back here, and, even better, what I will do to you.”

“You don’t seriously think I’d look at anyone else, do you?”

“There are going to be attractive humans, Weres and Vampires. Royals and the very wealthy from the four corners of the world. You will be the most desirable woman in the room. I want to make sure you are focused on coming home with me. I don’t think you’d ever cheat on me, but if I’m smart – and you know I am – I’ll make sure of it.”

“Uh-huh. Let’s take a bath,” she teased him. She knew he was telling her what she wanted to hear, and she loved it. He was keeping her from being jealous of the other women by reminding her he was obsessed with her, and that was just fine with Sookie.

They each took a baby and Eric helped her get into the tub wih Aubie, then stepped in with Alex. They put the boys in the supports and started washing hair right away.

While they were working on Aubie’s hair, Alex said, “Dadee, me an Mamee an Borhd chifteen.”

Eric looked at Sookie. “He’s telling you that he and I played merpeople today and Bjorn shifted into a wolf and gave Alex a ride in the water.”

“You did?”

“Just for a minute when there was nobody around. Just for a laugh.”

“Obee fyeen.”

“Aubie was flying? Tell me this is true?” Eric was beside himself now.

“Yes, it’s true. Alex got excited about Teletubbies and flew up to the TV and Aubie got excited and followed him.”

They finished with Aubie’s hair and Eric picked him up. “Auberon, did you fly with Alex today?”

“Ah!”

“Very good boy! Daddy is very proud of you!” Eric hugged him and kissed him. “You fly with Buddy a lot and learn to fly very well, alright?”

“Ah!”

“He doesn’t know what you’re saying, Eric.”

”He knows what he feels from me in the bond. That is enough.” Eric kissed his head again and put him back in his little seat so they could wash Alex’s hair. They moved along with the bath so that they were finished by 7:15 when Alicia called up the stairs.

“Mrs. Northman?”

“Yes, Alicia, I’m ready for you!”

Alicia came up the stairs as Eric was sitting on the bed in a pair of silk boxers talking to Aubie. Alex was asleep in the co-sleeper already and Sookie had a pink robe on so Alicia could do her hair and makeup. Alicia dried her hair quickly, put it in big rollers and started doing a quick, but careful makeup job on her. They wanted her to look just a little more glam than usual, so her hair was teased a little and pulled back with a really thin black headband and she was wearing “cat’s eye” eyeliner and false lashes. Aubie went to sleep and Eric put him next to Alex, then began to put his tuxedo on. They were both dressed just before 8 o’clock, Eric whistling as Sookie modeled the short purple and teal dress with his favorite shoes.

“The shoes!”

“Like ’em, huh?”

“Yes, indeed. I’ll be in a hurry to get back here tonight.”

“Good,” she said as Alicia fastened her art deco diamond bracelet on her wrist, and handed her the diamond earrings they had chosen. “I’ll probably need to feed the boys at midnight, so that would be a good time to invite your royal visitors for a drink.”

“Good thinking. Then we can decide if we want to go back or not.”

“I hear someone at the door – let’s go down for dinner. Take the boys with us.”

Eric handed Aubie to her, then picked Alex up and they all went downstairs. They put the babies in the playpen that was between the couches and the dining area, and tucked in their Elmo and blue teddy bear next to them like they did at home.

Sookie recognized George from earlier in the day. “Hi, nice to see you again!”

“It’s a pleasure to serve you again, your majesty.”

“This is my husband, Eric Northman.”

The man bowed low to Eric. “It’s an honor to serve you, your majesty. Our chef has prepared some very special dishes for you this evening.”

“For me?” Eric was surprised at that.

“Oh, yes. Chef Crudo is on the cutting edge of the Nouvelle Vampyre cuisine trend.”

“Interesting. Bjorn, are we all here? Let’s be seated.”

The family all took their places at the table, Eric at the head and Sookie beside him, and the staff began to serve their meal.

“To begin, for his majesty, we have a bisque du sang with nasturtium flowers and almond crème. For her majesty and your guests we have a special French onion soup gratinee’ en croute.”

“Wonderful!” Eric said, in full bullshit mode. The server was pleasantly surprised to see Eric give Sookie a taste of his soup.

“Mmm – that’s delicious. Look how pretty it is with the flowers. Are they edible?”

“Yes, your majesty, humans often include them in salads. They have a peppery flavor that sparks up a dish.”

Sookie took a petal and tasted it. “Oh – interesting!”

“Yes, it’s very nice. How many courses are we having tonight?”

“We were told three courses because you’ll be eating at the party, your majesty.”

“Oh, good! I don’t think I could do 10 courses in one day,” she laughed, “even if it is the best food I’ve ever had. This onion soup is out of this world. I’ve never seen it covered in a shell of pastry before – it’s so pretty, I almost hated to break it,” Sookie laughed.

Everyone savored their soups and Eric was very impressed with the presentation of it all. When they were all done, the dishes were cleared and the next course was served.

“For his majesty, we have a terrine of aspic, leverwurst and an RM forcemeat. This is a favorite of the Austrian Queen, we are told.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, her chef consulted with Chef Crudo on this dish.”

“Giselle has a chef?” Sookie had never heard of that.

“Of course, madame! For her majesty and your guests, we have a special squid ink ravioli stuffed with crab, served with sautéed lobster in a beurre blanc with pea puree and broccolini almondine.”

“Oh, goodie!”

Eric laughed with delight at her reaction, having told the chef this was a favorite of hers. The plate was spectacular, with the purplish-black ravioli stuffed with creamy crab, Two small lobster halves, a beautiful mound of bright green stalks arranged in a creamy sauce with something green cut into it in a sunburst design, then the whole platter was sprinkled with toasted almonds.

“Oh, this is so good! How did he make this design in the sauce? What’s this?”

“That’s the beurre blanc, madame, and the green design is pea puree.”

“Oh, it’s all so good! This lobster is so tender, and the ravioli is unbelievable. The filling is heavenly!

“He’ll be thrilled that you enjoyed it, your majesty.”

“This is even better than the other time I had squid ink pasta.”

Eric was beside himself watching Sookie enjoy her dinner. The bond was singing with joy. That girl loved to eat.

“That is the lobster?” Eric asked

“Yes – want a bite? It’s really good.”

“Yes, it smells very good.”

The three servers watched in awe as Eric accepted a bite of lobster that Sookie swirled in sauce and then fed to him. They were actually seeing a Vampire eat food!

“Mmm – that is quite good.”

“Want to try some ravioli, Sweetie?”

“Yes, I would.”

Sookie cut a ravioli in quarters and swirled a piece in sauce, feeding it to him again.”

“Mm – quite tasty, but not as good as the lobster,” he laughed and smiled.

“Well, yeah, lobster is like the ultimate food,” she laughed.

The third course was desert and the chef pulled out all the stops.

“For his majesty, we have a sorbet du sang with lavender essence and gold flakes. For her majesty and your guests, we have a Crepe Suzette which I will prepare for you now.”

A table was pushed forward and the server moved some things from a plate into a beautiful copper pan, then poured Grand Marnier over it, and set it on fire.

“Oooh!” came from several people at the table. Sookie was beside herself and Eric was beaming at her. The servers would talk for weeks about how the King looked at the young Queen with such love in his eyes, and how sweet and enthusiastic she was about everything. George told the chef that the Queen was utterly irresistible – any man who spent time with her would fall in love with her.

“Mmm, Eric, taste this!” Sookie fed him a bite of her crepe and he fed her a spoonful of his blood sorbet, then they kissed and Bobbie, Bjorn, and Amelia all said “awwww!” and made everyone laugh.

“George, can I make a request for tomorrow?” Sookie asked apologetically.

“Of course, your majesty! What would you like?”

“The chef is sending breakfast for the twins at noon – would you please ask him to send a big order of that steak tartare we had at lunch today for me? I just loved it. Also, ask him if he’d consider sharing the recipe he made for the boys – they just loved that and it would be great if they could have it at home!”

“Of course, your majesty, I’ll see to that personally.”

“Thank you so much! If Francesca is working, I’d love for her to feed the boys again. She was very sweet to them.”

“Of course, your majesty.”

“Well, this has been delightful! Has everyone enjoyed their meal?” Eric asked, and everyone sang praises of the meal. “Please convey our gratitude to the Chef. I wanted this to be a very special treat for Sookie and he has exceeded even my expectations. We are most impressed.”
George and the two others cleared the plates as everyone finished, and Eric took the opportunity to move things forward. “Sookie, my Dearest, I’m afraid a Queen’s work is never done. Now you must attend a lavish party, eat more delicious food and let everyone see how lovely you look in your new dress.”

“It’s a lot, I know, but I think I can manage it?” She said with feigned exasperation, making everyone, even the servers, laugh. “Just let me touch up my lipstick and I’ll be ready to go.”

Alicia stepped into the bathroom with her and touched her up, the Sookie smiled in the mirror to make sure there was nothing in her teeth. Amelia and Bobbie came back from making their necessary adjustments and prepared to go down. Eric, Bjorn and Jerry had their heads together talking about security for the night, and Sookie waited by the dining table so she didn’t interrupt.

“Sookie, my Angel, shall we go to a party?”

“Yes, we shall,” Sookie said, trying to be a good sport but really nervous about this because she didn’t know what she was going to see. “Where is the party?”

“The Romanoff room on the 3rd floor.” Eric said as he offered her his arm. Bjorn walked in front of them and two guards walked behind. They were met by four guards on the 3rd floor, two of whom preceded them into the room, and two who spread out through the room but who were obviously shadowing them.

The room was fabulous, decorated in a Russian style with gold everywhere. The party was in full swing, couples dancing to a swing band, of all things, and different groups of people in round booths and at big round tables. Eric’s table was toward the front at the edge of the dance floor, and there were already about 12 people seated at it.

“Hello, everyone!” Eric greeted them. The men at the table stood and bowed to Sookie and waited for her to be seated. “Please everyone, sit.” Eric indicated Bjorn was to sit next to Sookie and Bobbie next to him as Eric and Sookie sat in the middle of the semi-circular table. “It is so lovely to see you all. Sookie, you remember Queen Giselle, of course, and King Stefan, King Antoine. This is the honorable Prince Badru Bast, and his wife, Amunet, These are Sookie’s attendants, Bjorn Anderson and Bobbie James. I’m afraid I haven’t met the others.” There were more introductions, but it was obvious that the others were security like Bjorn, and their dates.

“Splendid Party, Northman! The band is most enjoyable,” Stefan started the conversation. Sookie was looking around as the party progressed. Nothing untoward was happening, and everyone seemed happy and polite. Two waiters carried a huge Lazy Susan made of black wood to the table and set it down. It had tiers of dishes arranged in rows of black and white, and they told Sookie – “Black is for Vampire, White is for others,” and there was definitely something for everyone on the display. The waiters passed out little plates down the table so everyone could serve themselves.

“Hey, Sookie, check out the raw oysters,” Bobbie said softly.

“Is that what they are? How do you eat them?”

‘Most people use lemon, but in your case, hit ’em with a little hot sauce and then just swallow it.”

“For real?”

“Try it!”

Sookie did that and found that if you didn’t think about what it was, they were kind of pleasant and sexy.

Waiters brought two large buckets of ice, each with several bottles in it, and they began to pour from the bottles. The humans and Weres got a very fine French champagne and the Vampires got a special carbonated blood that was some sort of delicacy but Sookie wasn’t sure what it was. Eric offered her a drink at one point and it was fantastic and tickled her nose even more than the champagne. Giselle and a host, and Stefan and a hostess, who Sookie finally figured out were identified by a red satin cord around their wrists, went out to the dance floor and Eric became engrossed in conversation with Badru Bast.

“Heads up, Sookie,” Bjorn said as he moved to sit at the table behind them and Bast’s wife, Amunet, came to sit by Sookie. “Hi,” Sookie gave her a big smile, “you’re Amunet?”

“Yes,” the gorgeous woman smiled. She was wearing a light blue sequined dress that looked like it was from the roaring twenties and she had a shiny black bob haircut with bangs that reminded Sookie of a Cleopatra wig. “Have you heard the name before?”

“No, but it’s beautiful. Is it Egyptian?”

“Yes, it is the name of the Goddess of Mystery.”

“Oh, are you…”

“I was named for Her.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”

“Our last name is Bast.”

“There’s a Goddess Bast, right? A cat Goddess?” Sookie was sure she remembered that.

“Exactly. She is the Matron of my husband’s family, as I believe, Freyja is yours?”

“Yes, She is.”

“They are closely connected, you know, our two Goddesses?”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Bast is a Goddess of beauty, as is Freyja. They have similar tastes – cats, luxury, war, so many things. You should be wearing copper.”

“Copper?”

“Yes, you know, metals have energy as stones do. Most people associate gold with the sun and silver with the moon, but copper – She is a child of Venus, which represents the day Friday – Freyja’s Day –the day of Venus, of Aphrodite, She who Enchants with Her beauty. Your body contains copper, and it can align and perfect the polarity of your own energy. It will add power to your magick, but you must take it off and clear it regularly. Wear it on your left wrist, it will align energy as it flows into you. On the right, it will align your energies as they flow from you. For you, I think, left wrist is best – when it’s not so splendidly adorned, of course!” She pointed to the fabulous diamond bracelet on Sookie’s left wrist. “That is certainly fit for a Goddess!”

“Oh, thank you. I’ve only worn it twice.”

“I would make my husband take me to places just so I could wear that bracelet. Is it Tiffany?”

“Yes, it is!”

“I thought I recognized it. I’m mad for Tiffany – I have a closet full of those little blue boxes.”

“I do, too, actually, because Eric sent me there one day and told me to shop!”

“Mmmm – good taste and good looks, too. Some heads were born to wear the crown, you know. Everything about him makes him King.”

“Yes, I agree,” Sookie laughed as the woman gently spun the lazy susan, “Have you tried these rose candies?”

“Aren’t those for Vampires?”

“Yes, but those of us with a taste for blood can enjoy them, too. Try one – it will enhance your abilities for a bit.”

“Well, that’s always a good thing, I guess.” Sookie took one of the dark chocolate colored candies with the red rose petal on it and ate one. It didn’t really taste good or bad, but it made Sookie tingle.

Amunet gave her a knowing look and an arched brow. “There’s a Witch in the kitchen tonight. I spotted her when I tasted one of those earlier. Shall we ask for a special selection from her?”

“Are you sure it’s a “her?””

“Oh, yes, the roses are a dead giveaway. Let’s go talk to her!” The woman pulled Sookie up by the hand and led her toward the kitchen, Bjorn hot on their heels.

Eric didn’t seem alarmed when Sookie walked away, so she just went with it. This woman seemed to know a lot that it would benefit Sookie to learn.

“May I help you?” Chef Crudo, a very handsome Frenchman with long dark hair parted in the middle and a two-day beard, was obviously not happy to have visitors in the kitchen.

“This is Queen Sookie and I am Lady Amunet. We wish to speak to the woman who made those wonderful bloodrose candies.”

“Selena, you have visitors.”

Even Sookie recognized Selena as a Goddess name. The woman who walked forward was obviously a Witch, not just from the fact that even her apron was black, but that she wore an abundance of silver jewelry, and a gorgeous pentacle tattoo on her left shoulder.

“Merry met, Selena. Queen Sookie and I just wanted to tell you that your bloodrose candies are delectable. We were wondering if you had anything else around here for special… Sisters?”

“Yes, of course. Right this way, ladies…” The woman led them into a back room where she had rows upon rows of candies and hors d’oeuvres. “Wait right here.”

She went to the back corner and walked into a refrigerator, coming out with a golden platter with all kinds of chocolates, each with something “extra” in them. “I heard a rumor that the Vampire Queen was a Witch, so I made these special just in case. These (she pointed to a white chocolate rose) are for prophecy; these (dark chocolate squares with pecans on top) are for boosting your natural abilities, and these (milk chocolate clusters of something) are for making your enemies stand out from the crowd. You can’t eat them all at once, of course, so I’ll box them up and you can take them home.”

“Would these work for a Vampire?” Sookie asked as the woman filled two boxes, one larger than the other, with the candies.

“For A Vampire, no. For YOUR Vampire, maybe. I hear he can eat food?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t answer yes or no, just listen. If he can do that because he’s so old, they won’t affect him. If he’s able to do that because he feeds on you, then yes, they might work for him. It all depends on how much of you is in him. If I were you, I’d feed him one of these clusters tonight and find out.”

“Are you saying…”

“SELENA! I need you out here!” Crudo’s patience was being tested.

“Go ahead, we’ll close them up.” Amunet told her.

“Thank you!” Sookie said as the woman hurried out front.

Amunet handed Sookie the larger box and the two of them hastily headed out of the kitchen. Sookie calling over her shoulder, “Thank you, chef, your cooking is spectacular!”

Bjorn was waiting for them at the kitchen door, never having let Sookie out of his sight. He didn’t follow any closer because he knew this was Witch business and they didn’t like people listening in. He had heard enough of Sookie’s and Amunet’s conversation to know that they were cut from the same cloth. The two of them might prove to be a powerful alliance if they liked each other and Amunet had known about Sookie’s connection to Freyja. That was not generally known to anyone outside the family, and Bjorn had a suspicion Amunet’s knowledge came from a Divine Source.

Sookie and Amunet went back to the table where their husbands were still engrossed in conversation. Sookie thought maybe Selena was telling her there was a problem, but she didn’t want to interrupt Eric, so she just took out one of the chocolates and said, “Eat this, Sweetie,” and Eric did without thinking. Badru and Eric exchanged cards, and Badru took Amunet out on the dance floor. Eric got the strangest look on his face.

“Sookie, what was that I just ate?”

“Magick candy. She said it may or may not work for you, depending on how much of me is in you.”

“Is it an hallucinogen? I’m seeing strange things.”

“It’s supposed to make your enemies stand out in a crowd.”

“I see two… no three people in the room who look as if they are standing in spotlights.”

Sookie looked around and saw nothing of the sort. “Eric, I can’t see anything like that. The candy is working. I don’t know how long it will last.”

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