CHAPTER 2 – SURPRISE
The embrace ended abruptly. Acting as if she’d burned him, Eric pulled back. It wasn’t to get away from her though, it was to get a good look at what he’d felt. Sookie was dressed in traditional Fairy clothing, a long, flowing, gossamer dress with a full-length cloak covering her. The clothing hid her news, the embrace did not. Carefully, he pulled back the sides of the cloak, and tightened the fabric of her gown to reveal a large baby bump. “Sookie?” His word was a question with layers that were understood, but not heard. In a flash, he realized what had happened and he turned to Niall, standing protectively in front of Sookie. “You said you saved her!” In his rage, he spit the words out, but tried to control his urge to lash out further, an angry Eric would not help Sookie right now.
“Yes, but not until after Mab had her in the program.”
Eric restrained his reaction with great difficulty. Sookie was raped. Niall used words like mated and program, but they all boiled down to the violation. He’d speak more to Niall about his lack of action for his great-granddaughter later. Right now, he needed to understand what the hell had happened. The last night he’d seen Sookie was the night they handled the Maenad and found her friend Lala’s killer. It had been a good night, they had kissed, multiple times, and when Bill had shown up, she refused his claim on her. Then nothing. She’d vanished by the next night.
“Sookie, what happened after the Maenad situation? I called the next day to see if you were alright and you were gone.”
She shook her head and started to speak, but she never looked up at Eric, “No. After you dropped me at home, I went to bed. I woke the next morning and got ready for work. There was a note from Bill on my car, but honestly, after the way he treated me in Dallas, calling me a whore for kissing you, well, you know… Anyway, he left this note like everything was fine and I tossed it in the trash.” She shook her head. “I’m getting off track. On my drive to Merlotte’s, it happened,” she started to cry and Eric pulled out a handkerchief. The two men waited for her to take some breaths and calm down before she continued, “I was in my car…”
He couldn’t stand her cowering stance any longer, so he interrupted her, “Sookie, stop.” She stopped talking, but did not look up, “Look at me. Why are you looking down?”
Niall interjected, “Knowing I was planning to have her pose as your pet for protection, we trained her for you.”
“We didn’t use punishment, Eric. It was a review of the rules as we know them.”
Eric stared at the Fairy Prince for a moment, trying to ensure Niall knew how pissed he was. Then he softened and turned back to Sookie, “Sookie, look at me.” She made no change to her stance. “Please, I want to see your beautiful eyes. I’ve missed them for over a year now.”
Slowly Sookie raised her head and Eric had to stifle a gasp. The woman in front of him was Sookie, the object of his infatuation, the girl that lit up rooms, and brightened his spirits. At the same time, the woman in front of him wasn’t that Sookie. Her time away had been wearing on her, her light was gone. Instead of calling attention to her changed appearance, he smiled and said, “There you are. I’ve missed you.” He hoped his statement would get her smiling, but it had no effect. ‘We have a long road ahead of us. I can see that.’
Sookie had spent months in a cell, she’d been beaten, she’d been raped, and she’d been told repeatedly that she was worthless. As a result, she took his comments as an admonishment, “I’m sorry, Master, I didn’t leave on purpose.”
The word ‘Master’ got caught in his throat when he tried to reply. Niall may have been accurate that she would need to refer to him as ‘Master’ per protocol, but that didn’t mean he liked it.
He offered the prince a scowl before he responded to Sookie.
“Sookie, please don’t call me Master. I don’t like it. My comments were not scolding. I know you had nothing to do with your disappearance. I wanted you to know that while we hadn’t known each other for long, your departure had an impact on me personally.” He moved her to a chair and he sat in front of her. “Can you continue your story? You were trying to drive to work?”
She nodded. “I never made it,” she shook her head and continued. From her description, one moment she was in the car, the next there was a flash, and she was in some garden. Eric realized this was why her car was found smashed into a tree on the side of the road. Sookie went on to explain that at first, the place looked like a paradise. To her surprise, she saw her brother, Jason, in the garden as well. As soon as she’d mentioned Jason, the crying started again, and Eric looked to Niall for answers.
Niall shook his head and answered Eric’s unspoken question, “Jason was killed as a lesson to Sookie. Sadly, the women are more valuable, so the decision to hurt, and then kill Jason to punish Sookie was made.”
From what he knew of Sookie, Jason was her only family since her Gran was killed. He pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry, Sookie,” stroking her hair, he spoke other soothing words, “I know how much you loved your brother.”
Meekly, she offered, “I have nothing left.”
Eric kept his mouth shut at her comment. Sookie had a baby on the way, she had friends (he hoped), she had him. Right now, she didn’t need a lecture on what she had, she deserved time to grieve over everything she’d lost, and what had been done to her. He decided to change the subject so they could move forward with her emotional healing by having her live with him, “Sookie, I need to make some preparations for your arrival. Since the work is extensive, I can relocate my palace to Shreveport, close to Bon Temps if you’d like that. I can also refurbish this palace. I’ll leave that to you.”
“There is no reason to be close to Bon Temps. Sam is the only person there that would be of interest to me, and I don’t know how seeing him will go,” Sam had been on her case about vampires before she left for Dallas. Now she’s returning after being hurt and violated by yet another race? Knowing how judgmental Sam could be, she wouldn’t risk it.
Eric chose not to concentrate on the Shifter. Relations between the two of them were combative ever since Sookie went missing. “Arlene, Tara?” He knew all her friends since he’d searched for her for months.
“How do you know them?”
“Sookie, I searched for you for months, and met those two as a result. I regret that the takeover and fighting stopped my search. Well, it wasn’t the fighting as much as taking over the states.”
Sookie looked at him sideways and asked about his new position, recalling that he’d never wanted to be more than a Sheriff. Glad she was talking, he spent time on the story, leaving out the parts that related to her in the takeover. There would be plenty of time to cover that given all the threats were gone. For a few minutes, Eric got a glimpse of the old Sookie, she was attentive and interested in the story. It seemed that talking about the fight for a takeover, Pam’s new full-time shopping job in Vegas, and his boring kingdom had taken her mind off her plight. That lasted until the baby moved. Instantly, her hand went to her stomach, and Eric could see the slight shift under the dress. Instead of causing a look of joy from the expectant mother, Sookie deflated. That, he would need to discuss with Niall. From what he knew of Sookie, motherhood would be a natural fit for her big heart.
Since the distraction of his kingdom was over, he returned Sookie to her friends, he wanted to be sure of his Palace location. “So, Sookie, your friends? As I said, my kingdom has taken me away from the search personally. I want you to know though, that I’ve had three investigators searching the world for you. Because I dropped out personally, I lost track of your friends, but surely you can reconnect.”
She shook her head as tears formed. Rather than explaining, she gave Niall a pleading look and he responded, “I’ve researched these friends. Arlene got herself in trouble committing a hate crime on behalf of the Fellowship of the Sun, so she’s in jail. Tara ran off, no sign of her. I have someone following up. I believe she’ll be found as soon as she starts working or using some type of identification.”
“I’ll follow-up as well, Sookie. We’ll find her,” he took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “It boils down to where you want to live, Sookie.”
“If you really don’t mind, Shreveport, maybe a suburb, would be quieter for me.”
“Done,” he waved his hand like it was magic and the new palace would be ready. “I’ll have something constructed immediately.”
Sookie nodded, and looked at Eric with a question in her eyes. She wanted to ask him about his search. She wanted to know why he searched for her. Eric could see the unspoken question, and encouraged her to ask. With a deep breath, she spoke, “Why did you search for me?” She put her hand out to stop him from answering immediately, “And don’t lie.”
His eyebrows rose as he realized Sookie had no idea that he was interested in her, “Sookie, I missed you.”
She scoffed, “You missed my telepathy!” She waved her hand to dismiss his words, “I told you not to lie, if you searched for me because you wanted my telepathy, I need to know.”
He knelt at her feet and took her hands, “Sookie, you’ve been through the ringer, you’re stuck with me regardless of how this conversation goes. Right now, I’m asking you to trust me that my interest in you was not telepathy, and we’ll talk more when you return. You look tired, and I don’t want to push you into too long of a visit when I have no place for you to rest right now.” His hand moved to her face to wipe her tears. “Can you trust me on this for now?” She cleaned her face for a moment, then nodded.
As Sookie stood to leave, Eric asked her for any specific requests on her new home. She hadnone. Luckily, he’d kept up the expenses on both her and her brother’s home. Perhaps he would be able to use items from them to help make her comfortable. Niall left with Sookie, and returned quickly so he and Eric could finalize the timing of the construction and Sookie’s return.
Niall knew the conversation was going to be difficult. Eric had held back in front of Sookie. “Let it out, Northman, I know you kept your comments to yourself.”
Eric didn’t disappoint, “SHE. WAS. RAPED!” Niall took a breath, and Eric stopped him from speaking, “Don’t say mated, or bred, or in the program, the word is raped!”
“You don’t think I know that? I can see the results when she walks into a room. I’m reminded of her abuse when she cowers at a raised voice. The hardest to witness is the lack of any maternal feelings an expectant mother normally has. She refuses to acknowledge the baby and if the topic does come up, she calls the baby ‘his’ and not ‘hers’,” he inhaled a large breath to clear his head, and the Viking noticed the pained look on his face. “I know you’ve seen that in your few minutes with her. That came from Mab’s program, the babies are never considered to belong to the birth mothers,” Eric flinched at that wording and Niall knew he needed to disclose as much as possible so the king could prepare. “There’s more.”
“Sookie is stubborn, and she didn’t exactly comply with their wishes,” he paused and gave Eric an apologetic look. “She has scars from her early lessons.” Niall stammered over what he needed to say, “Physical scars and beyond, she’d timid and nervous. I know she has a long road of healing ahead.”
Eric seethed. How could he have let her be taken!? One moment, he was driving her home from the orgy, the next she was gone. Why did it take so long for Niall to rescue her? The questions in his head were flying in and escalating his anger by the second. His look was ominous when he glared at Niall. Unfazed by the anger, and acting like he could read the vampire’s thoughts, Niall spoke calmly, “If you kill me now, you’ll never get her back. My staff are caring for her in Fairy, but they don’t know how to get her to you.”
“Someone needs to pay for the crimes against her!” Eric yelled. “Where is the animal that touched her?”
“Still with Mab.”
“I want him.”
Niall thought long and hard about the answer, and Eric gave him the time. The fairy knew who the baby’s father was, and he deserved a lengthy and painful punishment for his actions against Sookie and other hybrids, but he was a fertile male fairy. While he hated his wife’s actions, her motivation remained a problem on Fairy as the population was dwindling. The fact was Preston, Sookie’s rapist, might be needed to repopulate. Looking at Eric though, knowing he was leaving his very troubled great-granddaughter with him for protection and he hoped, healing, he acquiesced, “I will do everything I can to save him in the fighting so he can be brought to you.”
“That’s a good start,” he moved to sit behind his desk and gestured for Niall to sit as well. “How will I handle the scent of the baby? He or she will likely smell strongly of Fairy, I guess.”
“It’s a she, and you are correct,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a glass vial with a silvery liquid. “One drop of this after a bath, and the scent will be covered. When I return with Sookie, I’ll ensure you have a significant supply.”
Eric took the container from Niall and opened it to sniff. It smelled of nothing, so he was concerned about its effectiveness. Guessing where Eric was headed with his frown, Niall explained that it was a proven serum and used by thousands of young fairies on Earth. Knowing he had no choice but to trust the prince, he put the vial in a desk drawer, and moved onto his next topic, “I’d like to know more history, please. How were Sookie and her brother found? Did you know Sookie and I already knew each other? Anything else that hasn’t been covered.”
“I knew I had family on Earth, but my son hid them with magic. When Adele Stackhouse was killed, the spell hiding them was lifted. Mab found them.”
“I don’t understand. Did some beacon turn on at the farmhouse when Adele died?”
Niall shook his head, “No. Adele came to Fairy on her way to the Summerlands, she’d been blessed with this gift as the bearer of Fae children. Since Fintan, my son, was already dead when she arrived, Sookie’s grandmother was seen by one of my other grandchildren, Claudette. Unfortunately, Claudette has been tainted by my wife’s beliefs and to gain her mother’s respect, she started the hunt for Jason and Sookie. I didn’t know about Adele’s visit or the hunt until it was too late, after Jason and Sookie had been captured.”
“And what did you know of Sookie and me?”
“I knew you’d met, interacted a few times. From my Earth investigators, I also know that Compton was here to enslave her for the Queen,” Eric nodded. “I guess you found out?”
“I still have Compton in a cell that I visit on a regular basis. His crimes go further than that. Queen Sophie-Anne, I learned, only wanted to have Sookie brought to her for her vampire child, Hadley. The enslavement was Compton’s part, and he’d double-crossed his Queen in an attempt to gain a Sheriff territory in Nevada under DeCastro. This was all handled by DeCastro’s lieutenant, Victor Madden. He’s currently Bill’s neighbor in my cells,” Eric let out an angry breath before continuing, “Compton had lost Sookie and needed to make it up to DeCastro. He and Victor planned the takeover, and Bill enabled the Nevada vamps to get into key areas of the Palace.”
“They didn’t count on you.”
“I would have fought for my Queen and her court as her Sheriff, but at that point, I found out about the plans for Sookie. It added to my enthusiasm,” Niall nodded in approval. “I can arrange for you to visit them if you’d like.”
“I would. Compton took Sookie’s virginity under false pretenses. I’d like to tell her I made him answer for it.”
“Sookie knows what Bill had planned?”
“Yes. I didn’t keep any secrets of what I discovered when I researched happenings on Earth for her,” the Prince leaned forward over Eric’s desk. “I also understand that she was an infatuation of yours when you first met.”
Eric stiffened. His feelings for Sookie were not Niall’s business, and he wondered how the fairy had heard about his interest in Sookie. Of course, referring to it as an interest was lying, Eric became smitten with Sookie the moment she stood up to him at Fangtasia. His feelings had only grown. He’d made up reasons to see her. Dallas hadn’t been his idea, but he was happy to have her there. That is, until she opened her mouth to infiltrate the Fellowship during the day. He was mad then, and her bravery made him mad now as he thought of it, but he was getting off track, and Niall was staring at him, expecting something, “I won’t deny that.”
The Fairy chuckled before he added, “Before the takeover occupied you, I know you personally searched for Sookie. Once your Kingdom drew your time, you continued to spend significant time, resources, and money searching for her via others. I think I’m leaving her in good hands.” He rose now and smoothed the nonexistent wrinkles from sitting. “Speaking of leaving her, I’ll join her in Fairy while you get to work,” he pulled a phone out and handed it to Eric. “I’m in the contact list of this phone. It’s the only way to reach me directly. Call when you’re ready.”
Niall added with a twinkle in his eye, “I’ll meet with Compton when I return.”
Eric’s phone rang as Niall was disappearing, “Pam.”
“What has been going on, Eric? Karin and I can barely keep up with your moods.”
“She’s back, Pam.”
In Nevada, Pam smiled, knowing exactly who the she was. Her maker‘s reaction to the missing girl was like nothing she’d ever felt from him, grief, full-blow grief over the loss of Sookie. By the next night, he’d transferred his grief into his obsession with finding her. Pam knew that while he went on day-to-day with the Kingdom, some part of her master pined each night for the lost telepath. She was relieved and happy for him, “That’s great news! Where was she?”
He sighed, ready to dig into what he knew with his child, “It’s a long and difficult story.”
For the next few months, Eric threw his efforts into selecting a property, designing two buildings (a residence and offices for his kingdom work), securing staff for Sookie, and most importantly, brushing up on babies. It had been over one-thousand years for him, and things may have changed.
Once the initial decisions for the buildings were complete, he focused on the people Sookie would need. For the birth, Eric had met with Dr. Ludwig and she would arrive the same day as Sookie, and stay through the birth.
Ludwig had recommended a demon counselor, and she was also moving into the residence. Eric spent time meeting with the counselor so she would be prepared to help Sookie on the first day. Eric was confident that Sookie and the baby’s physical needs would be met, but it was the emotional recovery that would be the problem.
He was most pleased with the hire of a caretaker for Sookie, Carrie Williams. The woman would serve as a doula for the birth, then as a nanny and aide for Sookie. She was caring, she was excited to help with a baby, and she was a Werewolf. The Were part added a layer of security he couldn’t pass up.
Once the buildings were close to completion, Pam flew in to help decorate. Eric and his youngest child spent two days combing through Sookie’s farmhouse for ideas and furniture they could use in the new house. Eric was proud of his youngest child, she refrained from saying anything snarky or nasty about the farmhouse and its collection of old, worn furniture. She tagged items for a move, all while keeping a rough layout of the new living area in mind, and then moved on to the next task.
In the attic, Eric found something that he thought Sookie would enjoy and he decided to design a nursery around the piece. It was an old rocking chair made of dark stained maple with soft, green painted swirls as highlights. He could match the furniture to the wood of the rocker, and use the green as a base color for the walls. From there, Sookie could incorporate whatever linens and decorations she wanted to customize the room. He hoped she’d want to do that for the baby, but given her lack of enthusiasm over pregnancy, he wasn’t confident that she’d want to outfit a nursery.
Pam was also given the additional task/reward of shopping for Sookie’s clothing. She filled a closet with the maternity clothes needed for the next two months and started a collection of post-maternity wear that she placed in storage for now. Pam was pleased to buy all designer labels for the woman, knowing Sookie would likely yell. She had enjoyed Sookie’s fire before she disappeared.
With a team working overtime, the house was outfitted for Sookie, her baby, and staff, so he made the call to Niall.
“Niall, we’re ready.”