Small, leathery hands moved methodically over her soft, toned belly.
I kept my fangs in check. The good doctor was doing her job and nothing else. She had no interest in Sookie as she asked my lover to strip out of her clothes and lie on my sofa as she performed her physical. Sookie had balked at removing her clothes. I had balked at doing this in my office at Fangtasia instead of our comfortable bed at home.
Sookie had scolded me for “telling the whole dang tri-state area” where I rested.
Doctor Ludwig scolded Sookie for “imagining she gave a fuck about modesty and she wasn’t paid by the hour, so take’em off so she could examine Sookie properly”.
I had relented and told Ludwig to meet us after closing.
Sookie, equally chagrinned, removed her dress and stood in her underthings, waiting for Ludwig to instruct her.
I watched from behind my desk, noting every fingerprint that woman left behind on her lovely skin. I must have growled quietly as the doctor moved from listening to her heart between her breasts with a stethoscope to leaning over her stomach, prodding gently with expert fingers.
“Be quiet, vampire,” she admonished distractedly. Her eyes never left her task. “I’m not copping a feel.”
I knew that. I even liked the woman. She was so dismissive and surly towards my kind, showing no fear whatsoever, instead more of a mother-in-law’s irritation. She reminded me of Sookie in that, never imagining for one second that I might be so rude as to kill her for speaking to me frankly. I huffed, my eyes sliding to the floor, silencing the vibrations in my chest.
Sookie watched nervously, her fingers fisting and twirling around each other as she kept her arms stiffly at her sides. Even her mind felt sweaty with anticipation. I sent her calm, petting our bond and slowly ridding it of its slimy, worried essence. Sookie nodded, feeling my influence. To break the silence, she asked the doctor about her bite earlier this evening and why it had healed so quickly. Ludwig merely grunted and scribbled some notes. “I’ll look into it,” was all she said, and carried on with her checkup.
Sookie needn’t have felt so worried.
Whatever the doctor found in her, no matter her diagnosis, Sookie was going to be fine. I would ensure it. She could stand up and calmly inform us that Sookie was carrying a litter of puppies. We would handle it.
It felt like an eternity, but after measuring all of her vital signs and taking two vials of blood from Sookie’s arm and a cup of her urine, the doctor collected her things (including the twelve pregnancy sticks that Sookie had tested over the week with blank results) and told Sookie she could dress.
“Well?” I asked.
“Congratulations, Northman. You have a very healthy human pet. Remarkably so.”
“She’s not my pet, and I’m not paying you two thousand dollars to tell me what I already know.”
Ludwig eyed me warily. As her bag snapped shut, she shouldered it and moved to sit down in the chair on the other side of my desk. Without asking. Fucking precious.
“If I find that she is actually pregnant, I need your word that you won’t terminate the child.”
The bond spiked with Sookie’s astonishment. “What?!”
The ancient woman didn’t break eye contact with me. “She’s your companion. Your royal consort even. But if she’s pregnant with another man’s child, I need you to swear to me that you won’t go all male lion and kill a cub that isn’t yours.” She gave me a disdainful twist of her lips. “Your kind are irrationally territorial, but you seem to have a little more brains than the rest. Swear to me that the child, if there is one, will be born, and that once so, plans will be in place to care for it.”
I flicked a brow at her presumption. “You dictate no terms for those plans, then?”
She barked a mirthless laugh. “I have no illusions. You’ll do as you damn well please. If the girl wants an abortion of her own free will, then so be it. If she wants to raise the baby under your roof, then God help her. If she wants to give the baby to a relation or adoption agency, then I put my hand up right now in support for it. The point is that she chooses. And the infant isn’t killed by your hand, or groomed for food. Those are my terms if you want my help. You can keep my fee.”
As I said, I liked her.
“If my mate is pregnant, then I shall tend her however she wishes. The child will come to no harm. By anyone. She honors me by wanting to raise him in my home and under my protection. If you suggest ever again that I would kill him, or eat him, or allow him to be raised by strangers, I’ll murder your whole family. Starting with Ethan and Elias.”
She blinked at the name of her grandsons. Her lips pressed into a thin, steely line. She knew better than to ask how I knew of them. I was king. I fucking knew everything.
The sound of a black ballet shoe tapping impatiently brought us out of our glaring contest and redirected our eyes to Sookie, now fully clothed, standing by the sofa and looking none too pleased.
“Are y’all finished talking about me like I’m in a coma?”
The doctor rose from her seat, readjusting her bag’s strap on her shoulder. Neither of us bothered to look chastened.
“Great,” Sookie said, as if we’d gushed apologies. “So? What’s the deal, doc?”
“When was your last period?” Ludwig asked.
“Almost four weeks ago.”
“You’re due any day?”
“Then if you are pregnant, it would only have begun two weeks ago. Home pregnancy tests can be sketchy at that time, because the hormones that trigger a positive are still weak. But since yours are completely blank, I’ll conduct my own tests of your urine and blood. However…” she drew a steadying breath, looking between the two of us. “Something is up. I can tell you’re different, Miss Stackhouse. Don’t bother denying it, as the tests will mostly likely prove you’re not as human as you appear. Even so, your stomach wall has thickened since I last examined you last year. You flinched slightly when I probed your breasts. I can detect a faint acceleration in your pulse, indicating more blood volume than usual. If I were examining a normal human, I would inform her that I believe her to be three months along.”
“Shut the fuck up.” Sookie gasped and smacked a hand over her elder-sassing mouth.
I rose from my chair. “Impossible.”
“Merely possible,” Ludwig corrected as she swept towards the door. “It is an initial diagnosis. I’ll call to confirm once I’ve tested her blood. And Northman,” she turned and shot me another withering glance. “I have your word. The girl and her child are safe with you.” She tilted her head, thinking. “And I’ll take my two thousand bucks. As payment for putting my grandbabies’ names in your filthy mouth.”
With a dignity that belied five feet of height, she marched out.
Sookie watched her go, her hand still over her lips. She wasn’t even breathing, she was so shocked.
“Humans need air, Sookie,” I reminded softly.
It left her in a gush and she rounded on me with huge eyes. “Like hell, I do. What this human needs is a double scotch neat.”
I wagged a finger. “Not until you’re done breastfeeding.”
“Fuck you,” she uttered in exasperation. She threw herself down on the sofa in a huff, her dress swirling around with her movements. “This is so stupid. First it’s so hard to tell I’m pregnant and probably aren’t in the first place because my man is a vampire, and now I’m three months along? Did we have sex so hard that we time traveled? Ugh!” She smacked her forehead and fell back against the cushions.
I watched her closely. “Was there someone else, Sookie? A human? Three months ago?”
She shot right back up, her mouth hanging open. “How dare you?! There was Bill! And that was it!”
I carefull arranged my honest curiosity and sent it to her mind like a bouquet of flowers. “You owe me no explanations for your life before me. I merely ask. Couples often fight. Some break up. Some revenge fuck. It’s normal. You never have to hide your past from me.”
With that, she launched herself across the room, took a broad stance in front of my desk and pointed her dainty finger in my face. “Double fuck you,” she repeated, eyes blazing. “I know I don’t answer to you. I know what I owe and what I don’t. If there any been anyone else…if this could have been explained any other way…I would have told you. You KNOW that!”
She turned on her heel and stomped to the other side of the room, as far away as she could get from me.
Before I could offer anything, she spun again, her finger still jabbing the air. “Oh! And you’re buying her grandbabies shares in Disneyland. Threatening to kill them? Are you serious? I’d skin you alive if it didn’t grow back so damn fast!”
She spun again, arms folded, huffing in rage.
Slowly, I rose from my desk and advanced towards her.
“No!” she snipped over her shoulder. “Don’t come over here. I’m mad at you.”
“I know,” I replied, taking very slow steps. “My beautiful fairy is even more glorious when she’s pissed off and demanding.”
She snorted in digust and made a break for the door. In a blur, I was blocking it, towering over my little ball of angry glitter. “You’re an angel,” I grinned at her.
She punched into my stomach. “And dirt bikes. You’re buying them dirt bikes.”
“Kiss me and they’ll have a fleet of them.”
“That diamond choker you gave me a picture of? You’re buying one for every resident at the Shady Pines Retirement Home.”
“The men as well?”
“Two for the men!”
“UGH!” she shouted, smiling through her frown. Her arms went around me and I was bear hugged. “I HATE you!”
I hugged her back, revelling in the soft material of her lovely dress. “Angel,” I accused again.
She went still in my arms, our bond churning from fire to silk. I kissed the top of her head and spoke a hated possibility.
“Could it be that Bill is resonsible if you’re with child?”
She went stiff against me and the silk between us turned to barbed wire. “Absolutely not.”
“How can you be certain?”
“Cuz I am, dammit. If I’m pregnant, it’s yours. Claudine said so. I say so. I had my periods regularly with him, plus I never Chose him. It’s not possible.”
Her points were valid, but I enjoyed her emphatic denial more. Fairies were such stubborn creatures, I truly believed, more than her observations, that if Sookie wanted my child and no other vampire’s, then her body would bend to her will.
I smiled against her crown. “I believe you.”
We stood for some moments, silently, enjoying the feel of eath other’s arms, when my phone buzzed in my pocket.
Sookie stepped away to allow me to answer it. “Hurry,” she said. “Dawn’s in less than an hour. We need to get home. Or somewhere safe, if you want sunny time.”
Herveaux’s name blinked on the screen as I answered. “What?”
“Majesty,” he quipped, as if he were saying “asshole.”
“I’m in my PJs, wolf. Is this important?”
“I’m out the back of your bar. Before I take Hadley home for the day, might I beg an audience? Highness?” His deep Southern twang bit into each polished word and rusted them straight through with sarcasm.
“Two minutes.” I ended the call and looked at Sookie. “Herveaux’s outside. He wants to talk.”
“Now?” she asked as she gathered our things. “Cuttin’ it close, ain’t he? Can’t he just take Had home and talk to you at dusk tomorrow?”
“I’ll be fast.”
She smiled. “Tell him she’s waiting for him at the bar. And that it’s rude to keep a vampire up past his bedtime.”
I headed down the hall towards the emergency exit. The wolf had been in my employ as Hadley’s guard for just under a week now. He’s bitched and moaned at first, claiming he wasn’t a damned babysitter and he already had a grownup job where people depended on him. Negotiations always bored me. I told him to name his price.
“A hunnert grand a month,” he threw out, knowing full well I never paid a dime more than was called for.
“Fine,” I replied.
His eyes had rounded. “What?”
“One hundred thousand dollars every thirty days. In that time, you’ll guard the girl with your life, take her where she wants to go, install security in the new home I bought her, and escort her to and from work here at Fangtasia, all of this you’ll do until further notice and give me a report every three days on all activity. You have yourself a deal.”
“You can’t be fuckin’ serious.”
“Because I’m such a fucking kidder.”
“One point two million bucks a year? For following a little girl around while she grocery shops and vacuums?”
I’d flicked my hand. “If she asks, you may fuck her as well. Provided it doesn’t distract you. My claim to her and her child is for Sookie only. Now that the Authority have warded her to me, their interest in what I do with her has died. I will employ her and house her. That is all.”
“Shut your damn mouth,” he’d growled. “You ain’t her goddamn pimp. And making her work as a fanger waitress all her life ain’t exactly living the dream. She should be allowed to work wherever she wants.”
Despite my scowl, I was pleased. I knew Sookie would approve of a guard who told me to go to hell for pimping her cousin and demanding she be permitted to make her own choices. I tossed my hands up in indifference. “She works here because she’s an ex-pet, ex-addict, high school dropout with no marketable skills who needs to be protected by someone with more clout than a McManager.”
“You’re a big fish, Northman, but you ain’t the only one in the sea. She could work for me at the construction company. Office assistant or something. My pack would keep a close eye on her.”
True. Nor would they eat her, as was possible with some of my less respectful clientele. She was no Sookie, but she still smelled and looked better than 90% of what walked through my club.
I made another impatient gesture. “Ask her then. If she prefers filing to mixing, then she’s free to work for you.” I watched the wheels turn in his head before adding, “I suggest you keep an open mind about the fucking. Sookie believes you two would be good for each other.”
More choice profanity was tossed at me before he left.
Now, as I opened the back door, I found the burly were leaning against his truck, taking the air through his keen nose.
“Evenin’, sire,” he said casually. He reached through his open windown and retrieved some papers from the seat. “Updates. Her house has been reinforced to the nines. I brought in a friend, best in the business, who installed the latest in home surveillance and protection. Military grade. And this,” he held up another sheet, “is her movement sheet. Every place she’s been in the last three days.” He held them out to me.
“Is your email broken, Herveaux?” I took the paper, eyeing the dark sky with feigned nervousness. The sun was coming soon. Oh-fucking-no.
He eyed it with me. When he spoke, he spoke to the waning stars. “I think we may have a problem. Thought I’d share it in person.”
He brought his gaze back to me, leaning in slightly, lowering his voice. “The last thirty-six hours, we’ve had a tail.”
“Woman. Pretty. Beautiful. Mid-thirties. Walks behind us in public. Never seen her in a car, though. She keeps some serious distance. I wouldn’t a noticed her normally, but she smells like a million Sookies. Sweeter than cotton candy. Somethin’ else too. I can’t place it, but it gave me the mother of all hard-ons, which was a bitch to hide from Hadley when we were runnin’ chores.”
Fairy. Obviously. “Does she know you’ve spotted her?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. I smell her more than I see her. What do you want me to do about her?”
Kill her. “Watch her.”
“Do you know who she is? Would I be able to stop her if she tries anything?”
He blew out a slow breath. “Great.” After a moment, “I don’t get the feeling she’s hostile, but tails don’t usually follow you if all’s they plan to do is hand you a muffin basket. If you know what I’m up against, then you need to tell me. Hadley starts her supervised visits with Hunter this week, and then I’ll have two lambs to protect instead of one. Do I have your permission to circle my pack around their meeting place? Just in case there’s trouble?”
I was starting to like Herveaux with the same distant admiration I had for the doctor. “Yes. Any time Hadley and Hunter are together, you bring whatever backup you trust. I may know this woman, maybe not, and if so, she might be one of the people responsible for Sookie’s absence these last few months.”
A low growl erupted from the other man. “She won’t have arms if she tries that shit with Hadley. What the fuck does she want with Stackhouses anyway?”
A family reunion. “Unknown.”
“Goddammit,” he cursed and kicked at glass kernels under his boot. “You got anyone watching Jason?”
“Why the hell not?”
“Does Jason smell like cotton candy and fuckability to you?”
“He smells like fucking all right, but nothing I would ever want a piece of.”
“Exactly. I think we can assume that Stackhouse women drive supes crazy with sweetness, a sweetness that skipped Jason entirely. I’m fairly certain this woman and her people have no interest in him.”
“You might wanna ask Sookie,” he replied. “She’ll be heartbroken if her only brother goes missing. Or worse.”
Another truth. How many damn weres would I end up with on my payroll? “I’ll ask.”
“Good,” he glanced up at the sky once again with a smug appraisal meant to put me in my nocturnal place. “Might wanna turn in for the day.”
“Indeed. Hadley is waiting for you at the bar.”
He nodded and followed me in. He found his blonde temptress sitting on a high stool. She greeted him shyly, her little yellow dress flirting around her knees as she tried to smooth it out, a canary surrounded by crows. She’d already made me a ridiculous amount of money from vampire patrons who loved to imagine that she looked and tasted as innocent as a Shirley Temple. She and the wolf avoided each other’s eyes and made it painfully clear that they’d be riding each other stupid inside of a week. Predictable mortals.
I found my own blonde temptress where I’d left her in my office.
She shrieked playfully when I snatched her up and exploded out the door and into the lightening sky. She was right. I needed some sunny time while I brought her up to speed.