A Horse Of A Different Color
Saturday, January 16th…
After the way Kevin walked into Fangtasia this morning like we were still in Billings… I wasn’t so sure we’d be waking up.
The Big Sky pack outnumbered all of the Northern Territory’s vampires by itself so there was a safety in numbers kind of thing going on up there…
I tried to remind him that Louisiana is the Vampire capitol of the States… Which is why I ended up doing the talking after Kevin pissed off the bartender and we got surrounded by fangs.
If he hadn’t walked in there like he owned the place and just told the guy that we had a delivery for Justice Stackhouse (like I ended up doing) everything would have been fine.
So as it was, my ‘travel companions’ elected me to be the one to deal with ‘her’…
Supreme Justice Sookie Stackhouse…
All I had to go on was a grainy picture of some tiny blonde almost hiding under the arm of a big Were named ‘PM’.
‘Our’ instructions were to be on our best behavior and be afraid.
I’d met a lot of girls that a guy should be scared of… even if the picture was grainy, she didn’t look like one of them.
I can’t say it mattered much… Our job was to show up and tend to the horses until we weren’t needed anymore.
Shreveport. Horses. Billings.
I don’t know why I was the only one who knew to mind my damn manners when I’m the only one who doesn’t work for the king.
By the time we got up and tended to the horses, we had just enough time to get yet another takeout breakfast… and the idiots I was with acted like McMuffins were gifts from god.
It pissed me off even more when we pulled into the strip mall and noticed that there was a mom & pop type of diner.
I was ready to drink out of a real coffee cup instead of Styrofoam…
Kevin, Lenny and Colton stood by the trucks and made bets on who could feel up the Justice first while we waited and I kicked back with my iPod in the truck, just enjoying listening to something other than Lonestar and Reba… There’s only so many times a guy can hear another guy sing Fancy.
When they pulled up, four of them got out of a Burb… a tall blond guy and a smaller blond woman were in the front, and the ‘Justice’ and the PM got out of the back.
They approached slow… like the ones in the front were bodyguards. They smelled like vampires, but since it was so light out I guessed they were some of those types to pump up with vamp blood to make themselves stronger…
Over the smell of vamp, the nasty bastards I rode with and the horses… Stronger than all that, was magic.
And it all seemed to be coming from the tiny blond in the low rise jeans and halter top. Big tits, bright eyes, tight little abs… anything that hot and smelling that thick of magic… No wonder they told us to be afraid.
The guards flanked the justice and the PM on their way over and the smell only got stronger.
We went down on one knee like we were told and waited.
The justice was the first to make any noise.
I’d been expecting her to sound scary like some Disney Villainess, but she giggled, “Alright, get up. What can we do for y’all?”
The chicken shits I was with all looked at me to do the talking. “The king of the Northern Territories has tasked us with delivering and settling a thank you gift… We’ve been told to stay for as long as you need us to board the horses and help you to find qualified stablemen…” I handed the bigger guard the folder with the horses’ pedigrees and records in them. She didn’t even blink when he started to leaf through. Coppersmith would’ve had his guard’s head on a plate for it. “…King Coppersmith handpicked all 8 of them himself. He heard that you have 2 little ones and sent 2 very well tempered black and white leopard mares. Do your kids like 101 Dalmatians?”
She nodded and I swear she looked like Santa left her a pony. “How long have they been in there?”
“The better part of 4 days, ma’am.”
“That can’t be good for them. Let’s get them home. We can track down tack and feed while they settle.”
As soon as she spoke the four of them turned to get back into their truck. It didn’t leave any room for discussion like where we were supposed to board and they didn’t ask for our security clearances either.
As soon as the truck was in gear Colton started in.
“Did you see the shitter on that critter? Damn!”
“Do you think it matters? I couldn’t breathe from her smell and she’s with the PM.”
“What fucking difference does that make? I’d stick it in her.”
“I doubt stable boys are her type since Coppersmith bows to her. If she’s got vamps giving her tribute…”
“Fuck that! If she’s down with the wolf… Hey, you think they swing at full moons?”
“She was wrapped around him in that picture we got of her. She’s got no less than 2 guards that stink of vamp blood. That woman doesn’t get touched. He’s not passing her around for breeding. Even if they do that down here, he isn’t putting extra miles on her.”
“She ain’t Were… What do you think she is?”
“The Supreme Mystical Court Justice, idiot. A Justice with a rock the size of my car on her ring finger.”
“With tits made for motor boating.”
“Just proves she puts out.”
“You need help.”
“No. I need proof she’s a natural blond.”
“Look asshole… You need to keep your dick in your pants. If you act like a fucking creep, you’re going to get us all killed.”
“You’re a fucking buzz kill. I tell you what… don’t be a piss-ant. You just know you ain’t got a chance.”
I started laughing. “I’m trying to tell you that you don’t either, but I don’t want a chance. I like my dick right where it is. Thank you very much!”
“Pussy.” Ooooh, how original.
“That’s really getting old. I’m a cougar and you’re a bear… We’ve already proven I can take you down. Human. Were. And on a horse or bull. Shut your mouth and do your best to not get us killed. I’m telling you right now, you won’t get anywhere near Justice Stackhouse.”
When we got to the gate, a guard came over to Colton’s window. This one introduced himself as Skip and smelled nothing like vampire. All Were.
“You got copies of your security clearances from Montana?”
I unbuckled to reach behind the seat and hand it over.
He started leafing through it. “How close y’all get to Sookie?”
Colton grumbled under his breath, “Not close enough.” He really was suicidal.
Skip scowled at him. “That shit don’t fly here, Baloo. Keep it up. See how fast you go missing.” Baloo? He could smell that?
“Pshhhh. It’s gonna take more than a blood head guard to keep me from looking at something that fine.”
“Who’s a blood head?”
“Those two guards she had with her.”
Skip started smiling and I swear, he looked like it was all he could do to not laugh. “Ohhhh, you mean the big blond guy and dirty blond in the leather jacket?”
He started chuckling. “Y’all don’t get out much up in Montana, huh?”
“What do you mean?”
He started shaking his head and looked up at me. “What about you, kid? You got something dirty to say about how close you got to Sookie?”
“Uh, no. I was the closest. I guess about 4 feet.”
“What’s Sookie smell like to you?”
“I don’t know. Sweet, like magic but there was other stuff…”
“Damn right, there’s other stuff. That’s the stuff y’all should be scared of too.” He leaned back and called over. “Hey, majesty?”
I heard the window motor before a deep voice answered, “Yes, Skip?”
“These guys say they were only a few feet from y’all. Get anything you’re worried about. Their papers look good.”
“Keep them and call Tobin to have him confirm everything. We didn’t catch anything… troubling.”
He waited a second before, he turned back to us. “Yes sir. Y’all are good to go…” He looked back to Colton. “You need to watch it. I’m not playing. That ‘blood head guard’ will pull your limbs off like wings from a fly if you fuck with Sookie.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever.”
He started laughing, slapping the hood of the truck and backing away. “You’ve been warned.”
“What the fuck? J… Why would they have stables already?”
“Why the fuck are you asking me? Maybe they were already planning on getting horses and never got to it.”
“And who… you think those are more guards?” I work with retards.
“Yeah, Colt. Probably. Watch out. That short one in the Cookie Monster hoodie looks like he means business.”
“Idiot. You know there’s kids. They’re probably family or friends. What difference does it make?”
He had the balls to look at me like he was surprised to be called an idiot….
I started sliding out of the truck and as soon as I cracked the door, I could smell it again. Magic and Were and Vampire…
I’d managed to unload all four of the horses from our trailer while Colton, Kevin and Leonard fucked around behind the other… talking shit that would most likely get us killed.
I was putting the pin in the gate when I saw the train wreck starting to happen. The red roan… broke away from Len and took off… He wasn’t barreling out into the acres of nothing…
He was charging straight for a kid. A tiny little boy… and the poor thing was just as frozen as I was…
The only thing moving for me was the heart attack waiting in my chest.
I watched (the other guys were dumbass enough to chase the roan) and the little boy didn’t move except to lift his hand.
I had no clue how to react when the horse dug his hooves in and stopped on a dime… He dropped his head and took the last couple of steps to nuzzle at the boy’s chest and neck.
The big blonde guard went over, running his hand along the roan’s back like he knew something about horses and lifted the kid up…
I was still waiting for my heart to drop out of my throat while I watched them talk… like they were talking to the horse.
I started inching my way over, now that the horse was calming down, I figured I’d lead him into the pen.
I was almost there when the guard swung his leg up and slid himself onto the horse’s back… and then lifted the boy…
“Oh shit… Mister… you can’t…”
I was cut off by an ice cold hand on my arm, holding me back when I didn’t even realize I was going anywhere.
It was the dirty blonde guard… “He knows what he’s doing. He hated the transition to cars. He always groomed his own horses when we traveled… Son of a bitch used to leave me alone in the carriage to ride along side. My first 50 years was spent in downtime.”
Uhhhhh… I didn’t even know where to start on what she said. “First 50 years? Transition to cars? How the hell is that?”
The guard smiled, but the Justice started laughing from behind me. “Jeremy, Coppersmith didn’t tell you that Northman and Ravenscroft are Vampire too? They’re daywalkers.” Day wal… NO! Part of me was hoping like hell that the other guys hadn’t heard her because I was keeping that shit to myself. ‘Blood heads’… no wonder the guard at the gate looked like he was eating his face to not laugh at Colton’s hard on!
“It’s not every day that you see that!”
She giggled, sliding her hand under my arm. “Well, maybe not you. Come on, I’ll give you and your guys a tour of the stable and bunk house. Then we’ll run in and track down some supplies…”
She started leading the way, with the PM and ‘Ravenscroft’ following along…
“Jeremy, this is Pam. She’s the Lieutenant, Eric’s second… He’s the guy that took off…”
“Seriously? That was KING Northman?”
“Eric around the house, but yeah, that’s him. And this is Packmaster Herveaux. Alcide…” I reached past her to shake his hand. If we ended up being in Shreveport for a while, I’d be looking forward to a run… and soon. “And I’m Sookie.”
“Who is everyone else?”
“Family. We’ll get to them later.”
The PM cleared his throat. “Eric and I were going to be putting some feelers out next month for grooms. We promised the kids horses so we were going to be shopping when things settled down anyway… He built the house and the stable at the same time, planning on having some, but the foundation was barely poured before shit started hitting the fan down here.”
‘Some’ horses my ass… There were 12 stalls and the enclosed corral was big enough for a barreling course…
“What breed were y’all thinking?”
“He’s the one to talk to about that. I know squat. I’ve only been on a horse once. I was at another kid’s birthday party and my sister wouldn’t ride alone… He mentioned something about Welsh Cobs? because they’re sturdy and pretty docile. What are these?”
“Appaloosa. They’re indigenous to the states… Coppersmith is Nez Perce. He’s got a couple horses that are descended from the ones he had when he was alive. He calls them his children. Anyway… Welsh ponies are sturdy, but if y’all are just looking for recreational riding, you wouldn’t need anything that sturdy. These guys are fine even for longer rides with guys your size.”
Pam slid her hand under my other arm. “We had Cobs and Clydesdales when we lived in England… He kept Lippizans not long ago… And… well… the Chincoteague ponies… They’re his.” No way.
She laughed quietly. “Well, when he sailed for Virginia, his ship ran aground during a storm. He only lost a couple of stallions, but the ‘pirates’- they weren’t really, but he calls them that… anyway, the pirates that made it to land slaughtered and fed on one of them while he was at rest. Sheer laziness, they could’ve just gone hunting. He drained their captain as a lesson to the crew and then moved them to the island because he knew the sailors couldn’t make it across the channel.” Holy SHIT! I’d been to the auction once as a kid… The folks in Chincoteague would shit a brick!
“Why didn’t he just leave the sailors behind?”
“Because he was still diving for his belongings. He ditched them after a few days. He only took the few he needed to carry his things.” Ain’t that some shit!
“The legend says it was a Spanish galleon…”
“It was. Eric hired the crew to move shortly after word of Jamestown reached the old world… Anyway, he’s kept horses for ages… I’m surprised that he took so long getting any this time. Shit hitting the fan aside.”
The justice giggled as she towed me into the bunkhouse. “Y’all better be calling me the fan!”
The PM laughed. “Of course, Shug. That’s it. You’re the fan.”
We were pretty much done with the tour of the bunkhouse… the nicest fucking bunkhouse I’d ever laid eyes on… when all four of us heard a woman screech…
If I didn’t already know that Pam was a vampire from how she was like a cold compress against my arm, when she took off I almost didn’t see her except for the door bouncing off the wall from the breeze she made…
The rest of us sounded like a stampede to get downstairs. Before we were even to the bottom of the stairs, Pam let everyone know that everything was ok…
I can only guess that it was the woman included in the ‘family’ description that did the yelping, but the reason was more obvious…
Standing in the middle of the barn, was the most gorgeous- like show winning beautiful- white horse… she actually looked more like a hornless unicorn to be honest…
She was standing about 14 hands, all white, curly mane like it had been braided for dressage, bright green eyes though…
And the PM walked right up to her and patted the side of her neck…“Little girl, what if you used up your energy and can’t change to fly tonight.” Little girl?
But Sookie shrugged off her jacket, shaking her head… “Miss thing… You get your butt into one of those stalls and change back right now so you can go apologize to Janice for scaring the crap out of her. Showing off is fine, but there is a right time and a wrong time.”
The PM growled at Sookie.
“Don’t you look at me like that. If your sister had ever seen a change, I would be proud as punch for her, but she didn’t think before she used a power and that deserved a scolding…”
PM backed down a little and gave the justice a hug.
“…I don’t want to be the heavy. I wanted to give her a huge hug. She was beautiful, but she has so much power that she needs to learn how to shore it up a bit when it’s called for.”
“You’re right, Shug. I’ll talk to her.”
“I already fussed at her. She doesn’t need to be ganged up on. Just next time, you gotta be bad cop. K?”
The only reason I knew my mouth was hanging open was because my damn tongue dried out…
I couldn’t… I… yeah. I needed a jump start.
The ‘horse’ that went into the stall with Sookie’s jacket came out of the stall… the little girl I’d seen earlier… Oh. My… Jesus H. Christ!
I watched the Justice scold her before the PM took her off to apologize to the woman that she freaked out…
And once they were outside, Sookie turned to me and asked if I was ready to go find the tack we’d need for the horses…
“That’s a lucky little girl. When I changed during the day to hunt with a friend, I was 15 and both my parents took turns whooping my ass.”
She giggled at me. “You deserved it though.” Not really, but how would she know?
“Why do you say that?”
Her eyebrow went up as she took a step over to me. “Because, you did it on the first weekend of mountain lion season… Come on, let’s find saddles and feed. Store hours will be short today.”
I was frozen up long enough that I had to run to catch up to her. “How did you know? About what I turn to and when I hunted.”
“I’m a telepath. I read minds.”
She stopped and looked like I’d dared her. “Really. Leonard, Kevin and Colton were pissed about coming down here on the errand but you didn’t mind at all because you haven’t been able to run since October when season opened and you’re getting cagey. Don’t worry. Alcide will invite you to run. There’s a pack cookout next week too.”
“Ok, so we’ll be here a week or so, I guess. Who all stays here and what are they?”
“I’m Sookie and I’m a mutt with a lot of random powers. That’s my brother Jason, he’s a shifter with a whole lot of random powers. The little guy that took off on the horse with Eric, Hunter, is ours, he is a mentalist; telepathy, foresight, that kind of thing. You met Manen, she’s ours too. Full shifter plus bonuses. Janice is Alcide’s younger sister and the little boy is hers, Tommy. They are normal humans. Eric and Pam are both vampires…”
“Wow that’s a full house. When you say that Hunter and Manen are ‘yours’, do you mean that they are yours and the Packmaster’s or you and Eric adopted them?” I was pressing my luck, but… fuck if any of this was normal compared to what I’m used to.
She giggled. “The 4 of us are all their parents. We are Mummy, Daddy, Momma and Far. And…I wasn’t done. Angela is a Vampire and our governess. Alcide won’t let my Personal Assistant live in but he’s here a lot. His name is Tobin; he’s a Were. And we have two live in guards. Febes and Dozer. Speaking of which…”
I looked around, thinking that she was pointing someone else out to me, but all of a sudden, there was a tall, thin woman in front of me. If she didn’t smell like shifter, I’d have sworn she popped like I heard Faeries could.
“…Jeremy, this is my cousin Febes, she is one of our two live in guards. Dozer is asleep because he drank too much last night… Where’s your side arm?”
They started talking about guns and ordering guns to be taken out to the bunkhouse while I tried to process shit…
And all I kept going back to was that Skip had said we should be afraid… Febes ‘popped’ like a Faerie… and all I’d ever heard was that if I ever met a Faerie, to go the other way…
The guy waiting against the front of the garage got a growl from Febes, but Sookie didn’t seem to mind him at all.
“Hey Tobin! What brings you out on this fine Saturday?”
“It was late when I got done with my shopping Thursday and yesterday I was trapped on campus all day. I wanted to bring your card back and bring you your computer. I had a tech help me set them up and load some networking and scheduling software for you. Who’s the new guy? Not replacing me already I hope.”
She laughed and pecked his cheek. “I guess I made someone very happy. I was gifted 8 horses and loaned 4 grooms this morning. This is Jeremy…” He shook my hand. “…He’s from the Billings Pack but for now we have him.”
“Billings, huh? That’s a big pack… like 200 members. More lurkers.”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
He shrugged. “Weres look into that kind of shit when they apply to colleges. Long Tooth won.”
Febes snapped in his direction. “Do you think Alcide will hate Jeremy as much as he hates Tobin?”
Sookie reached over and slapped her ass hard enough that I’d be surprised if she didn’t leave a handprint. “Don’t be a nasty bird! Alcide doesn’t hate Tobin. He just doesn’t want to like him. He’s warming up. Besides, I have inside information that Alcide is going to forget all about Tobin.”
Tobin’s head cocked over like he wanted the gossip… “That’s good to hear, but who’s the poor bastard going into the hot seat?”
Sookie leaned in and whispered something to him that made them both laugh their asses off.
Tobin finally pulled himself together and had to wipe his eyes. “Since I’m here and salaried, what can I do ya for?”
“Well, on Monday, we’ll need to set it up for my house to get packed the rest of the way. I found a friend to take care of the property for me. For now, Jeremy will probably need some help finding supplies. I need to go to the grocery. You staying for the boil tonight?” What the fuck is a ‘boil’?
“Ooh! Yeah! We eating outside?”
“Yeah, it’ll be easier to clean it up and it won’t stink the vampires out that way…”
She started walking around between the cars in the driveway, sniffing around like a bomb dog…
“…Tobin, your oil is burning.”
“I know, I’m not allowed to change it at my complex and I haven’t had the chance to take it in.”
“I’ll take care of it for you. I need to change the oil in the Suburban anyway…”
We followed her in and watched her lean into the window of a cherry red Corvette to pop the hood.
“…Ok, the Vette just got added to the list. Tobin, 94 Grand Am; 3.1 Liter V6, right?”
“Uh, yeah. You were serious? You don’t need to do that. If you have ramps and don’t mind, I’ll take a few minutes on Monday to do it.”
“Naw, like I said, I need to do the truck and the Corvette anyway.”
Tobin started laughing at her.
“What are you laughing at?”
“Oh, nothin’, except the Supe Queen of North America is going to change my oil! I can’t picture the Lieutenant Governor’s wife doing her own nail polish but you tune up your staff’s cars.”
She started giggling. “Eric can try as hard as he wants but he’ll never get all of the simple country girl out of me.”
“So you love sports, work on cars, you shoot a gun like dirty Harry, you can hold your own in a keg stand, and you can spar like a 6’4” Were.”
The PM brushed past me to sneak up on the Justice and wrap her up from behind. “You left out that she’s a supermom, she can cook anything, she can’t be beat in bed, she can work a pole like a porn star and has the body to match.”
She reached back and slapped his face so he set her down. She turned and snarled at him, “You behave.”
He moved quick to put his hands under her thighs and pick her up. “What if I don’t?”
I started studying the ceiling. Tobin was standing right next to me, shaking his head…They ended up taking off for the back of the house… Leaving me standing there with Tobin and Febes.
He grumbled as he reached into a cabinet. “Shit. When we finally track down what you need, I’m going to have to go interrupt them… Damn it.”
Febes teased him. “Pussy?”
“Nope. I’m fine with being a wolf, Lil Miss ADD.”
She slapped his cheek. “You’re gonna pay for that.”
“Promise?” He leaned over and gave her a kiss that she wasn’t expecting.
“Don’t you have something better to do?”
“Better than fucking with you? Not really.”
“Get to work.”
“I’m going to beat your ass, you know that right?”
“After dinner… Now, take your gun and go play with the boys. Leave me to the women’s work.”
She started laughing and bit his cheek on her way out… passing Colton on her way…
He stopped dead in his tracks to watch the strut she meant for Tobin.
“Mine, bear. Back off.”
Tobin looked at me. “You got another word for it in Big Sky?”
“Nope. He’s just an idiot.”
Colton pulled his arm back, probably planning to punch me in the shoulder. Why not? He isn’t any smarter than a 6th grader…
But Tobin, no shit, caught Colt’s fist, twisted it up behind his back and pinned his face to the wall. “You might run without a leash in Montana, but that shit isn’t cool here. If you’re too nut-numb to show some fucking respect, you should just settle into the fact that there isn’t a bitch on this property that isn’t spoken for. It looks like Jeremy is the only one of you to catch on.”
“Fine. I won’t sniff around your bitch. Back the fuck off of me.”
Colt grunted. “Yes, yours.”
“Awww, good Teddy.” Tobin grabbed his head and fucked up his hair before setting him loose… and I started laughing my ass off.
“How’d you know I’m a bear?”
“Got a Kodiak hibernating upstairs. We know the smell… you’re just… smaller.”
“A… a fucking Kodiak?”
“Yeah. Now go make yourself useful and unhitch the trailers so we can go get supplies.”
He growled, “GO.”
Tobin grabbed the phone book from where it fell on the floor and handed it to me as soon as Colton was through the door. “I have no idea how to even look up… is it a saddlery, livery?”
“Saddlery… I warned him. He really is an idiot.”
“I gotta ask…”
“He was talking shit about Sookie while tailgating a thousand year old vampire on empty streets with his window open. We knew before y’all were through the gate.”
I almost choked. “No shit! That’s good to know.”
“Something tells me, you’ll be fine. Skip says you’re smart enough to know better.”
“I gotta admit, I’m lost. Sookie… is it ok for me to call her that?”
“How’d she introduce herself?”
“She touch you?”
“Yeah. Like… held my arm while we…”
He started smiling and nodding. “Yeah, call her Sookie.”
“K… Sookie gave me the rundown on the way back to the house. Daywalkers, and shifting kids, and telepaths and… Febes popped…”
He rolled his eyes. “Show off. She’s part Fae.”
“You’re doing, uh dating a… I’ve always been told to stay the fuck away from them.”
“She’s only part Fae. A lot less than Sookie and Jason too… It’s the full Fae that you really need to watch out for… So, what kind of cat are you?”
He nodded like it was interesting… maybe down here, but we’re a dime a dozen in Montana. He handed me the wall phone and grabbed our security clearances to call to confirm them…
I was confirming a supply list with Low Country Tack & Feed while he was using a radio to confirm our clearances with the guards…
I couldn’t help but worry about what would’ve happened if one of us hadn’t checked out.
When we got outside, Colton fished the keys out of his pocket and I started laughing again when Tobin yanked them out of his hand and tossed them to me.
Colton jumped in his face, but Tobin didn’t budge- he actually smiled. “Sport? You fucking punk, I’ll show you a…”
Colt looked like he was going to piss himself.
Tobin actually turned his back on him, laughing, and told him to put his ‘mangy’ ass in the other trucks with the other ‘nasty fucks’.
I wouldn’t have guessed he had it in him by his looks, but… Tobin had more backbone than I’d give him credit for.
We ended up loading the feed and tack for nearly an hour…
And when we finally got back to the King’s property, Northman and Hunter were just crossing the property on the way back to the stable.
The kid had a huge smile on his face and sat on the bench to watch us unload everything, stacking bales, hanging saddles…
While Northman and Tobin seemed to be having a stare-down…
When the weirdness was over, the king walked over and picked up the kid… and popped. I’d never seen a vampire fucking pop in all my life and I’d been living on Coppersmith’s property since I was 8…
I was going crazy.
That’s all there was to it. I was off my rocker… I started wondering if it was possible to hallucinate from the body odor of other Weres.
The sun was starting to set by the time we were done and Tobin had stayed to help the whole time.
Leonard had actually asked him where we could grab some dinner when we were finishing putting hay in the stalls.
Tobin shook his head at him. “Y’all need to take your nasty asses upstairs and shower. Sookie will be starting dinner in just a few. She’s doing a boil.”
“What the fuck is a boil?”
“Dads, shrimp, lobster, potatoes, corn… boiled up with spices. Good shit, but y’all aren’t in any shape to eat with folks.”
“Who are you to order us to take a shower?”
“I’m the personal fucking assistant to the Round Table; King Northman, his Lieu and Justices Stackhouse and Herveaux. That’s who I am.”
“What’s he like? The King?”
“He’s a good guy.”
“A vampire. A ‘good guy’? Really?”
Tobin shrugged. “Pays great, treats his women like queens and takes his kids for horseback rides. So yeah, I’d say he’s a good guy.”
All three of them stopped breathing and I loved every second it took for Kevin to get words to come to him. “Horseback… the big…?”
Tobin snorted at him. “You mean the big blonde, blood head guard? The day-walking, popping, mind reading, vampire king of two states?”
They all stared at him until he started laughing.
“Tell you what… keep thinking about raw-dogging Sookie and you’ll get quick proof that I’m not fucking with you. Go clean yourselves up. Use soap. By the way, Colton, you’re at the top of his list.”
Colt choked on a gasp. “What did I do!?”
“From what I heard, you spent too much time running your mouth about the shitter on HIS critter.”
“I wasn’t… Jeremy, you fuck!”
I laughed at him. “I didn’t say anything, idiot. I told you to shut up. Even a blood head might have heard you running your yapper.”
“But I… she’s with the PM though.”
“And the Lieu, but that’s none of your business. It’s just the four of them. There’s already a silver-bullet-order for one dense fucker who won’t back off of Sookie’s scent and she’s the one that bought the bullets and loaded the clips.”
I was still laughing… I managed to get my stuff from the truck, take my shower and get back outside before the rest of them stopped gossiping…
When I got to the back door, the PM was the one to wave me in…
He was sitting at the table with the cute little boy that rode with the king and the Last Unicorn and the thought had barely filtered into my head when Hunter giggled. Oops… Sookie said he’s a mentalist.
I figured I’d own up to it… “I think he’s laughing because I thought Manen looked like a unicorn earlier.” He started nodding.
The PM grinned and patted her back and she perked up. “The markings were too busy for me so I just didn’t use them. Do you really think I looked like a unicorn?”
I nodded. That little girl was impressive. “Yeah, what… I mean what do you usually turn into?”
“An Osprey. I like flying. I’m shifting tonight too.”
“Really? Good on you then. I’d need a nap.,. You got a lot of birds in the pack, PM?”
“Alcide. And no. Febes is a Shifter. Eric flies. They’ll go up with her.”
Manen pouted. “It’s no fair. Hunter gets to go up and he already went riding with Far.”
Hunter giggled under his breath. “You shifted earlier. You used a power. I used a power. Seems fair to me.”
Alcide started chuckling. “Me too, what about you, Jeremy? Sound fair?”
“What power did you use?”
Hunter looked up from his notebook where he was practicing his Gs with a fat pencil. “I talked to him… I named him Torch. He likes it. What was his name before?” Talked to… the… horse…
Uh… wow. “Uh… Marauder In Red. We just called him Marty.”
The little guy shot me a look. “No wonder he likes Torch… besides, if I don’t go up with Far, then who’ll tell him when you get tired?”
She snorted and called him a goober before she bounced off the PM’s lap and skipped off to call dibs on the TV.
The PM got up and went to the fridge, offering me a drink. “Hear you haven’t been able to run… If you want, just let the guards know and knock yourself out. Hunting is fine, just don’t leave a mess.”
“Really? I’m going nuts.”
“I bet. You got plenty of company though. Most everyone on compound shifts. You could run every night for two weeks and have different company every time.”
“Oh, God. I’m in heaven.”
“My only advice; stay away from local panthers. They’re a pack of their own.”
“Got something against cats?” I was only half joking. The tone he used wasn’t exactly friendly.
“I have a Tiger grudge, but that’s a whole different story… There’s a place called Hotshot out in the sticks. Inbred so bad their PM, their strongest can’t hold himself together. They’ve all got issues… All kinds of issues.”
“That’s good to know.” That’s the last kind of bullshit I needed… Well, the next to last kind of shit… the first kind is one of my group getting me killed.
The room started filling up pretty quick…
As everyone came in, Alcide introduced me and they all shook my hand… Janice, Jason, Dozer, then Tobin and Febes came back in and said hello again.
Hunter finally got up and showed his work to Alcide.
“This last row is all kinds of sloppy, kid. What’s with that?”
“I was in a hurry. His friends are on the way to the house and I don’t like how they think about Momma.” Oh, that poor boy! That’s got to suck more than a little!
The PM’s nostrils flared and he clenched his jaw… “I’ll let Angela know. Go on to the den and get your shields up.”
The little guy nodded and kissed the PM before he ran off, just in time to miss the arrival of Leonard, Colton and Kevin…
None of them got a handshake. None of them were invited into any conversation. They all filled in seats and probably thought the room had been boring before they came in…
When the king came into the room… I almost died laughing, along with most everyone else… I suppose if Tobin hadn’t mentioned that he was a good guy, I might not have thought it was funny, but…
He came down the back stairs with Sookie and Pam… leading them both at arm’s length with their hair as a leash… Both of them were giggling like they’d been up to something.
He kinda shoved Pam so that she’d end up over Alcide’s lap. “Do something with her.”
PM laughed and whacked her on the ass. “You’ve had her longer than I have! If you haven’t figured it out, what makes you think I’ll do any better?”
“Holding her down is enough. Their timing is horrible.”
Pam turned over, staying on Alcide’s legs. “I’m as much a victim as Eric. This is all Sookie’s doing.”
Eric let Sookie go and she smiled up at him and puckered her lips… he actually looked like he might not want to, but he bent over slowly for her to put a ‘grandma kiss’ on his cheek before she went out through the garage.
Sookie came and went while the room joked around (and ignored my ‘friends’ the whole time)… she ended up settling onto the counter behind a pretty redheaded vampire and then calling Dozer over…
Then she started glowing like branding iron with her hands on his head and ended up fussing at him for being hung over…
I must’ve been staring because Alcide told me that she can heal with her hands because of being part Fae…
That’s got to be a better power than reading the minds of dirty assholes like Kevin, Len and Colt. Fucking assholes. Even if they knew that the little guy could hear their thoughts, they wouldn’t stop.
Sookie ended up snuggling back around the shy vampire (Angela) and gave me a smile. “Jeremy, whatcha get for us?”
“We got a saddle for each horse, ranch style for comfort, and two youth saddles. Tobin says the little one, Tommy, wouldn’t fit one so we grabbed a buddy seat for him. We found blankets and bridles and feed and all the brushes and whatnot. We bought everything I had hoped to find and the tack guy gave me the number of a local farrier. I called him and he’s coming out on Monday to make sure the trip wasn’t too hard on the shoes. He said he’d give me the names of a couple equine vets that he likes too. You should be good to go.”
Eric gave a nod. He’d watched us unload like he was making sure we got everything. After Pam mentioned how well he knows horses, I wasn’t surprised or bothered either. “It sounds like everything is taken care of then?”
“Yes sir, except for finding a groom. The farrier or the vet might be able to help with that.”
“Certainly all four of you shouldn’t have to stay until we find one. If you like, one of you could stay behind and then I will fly the last one home when we find his replacement.” Shit. If those assholes stayed back, they’d end up starting a war with the Northern Territory…
“Sir, I can stay behind. The other guys are anxious to get home.”
“Do the rest of you mind not having him to share the driving?”
Colt cleared his throat, getting a scowl from Tobin. “We’ll manage. Without the horses to worry about, we can take our time.”
“If you’re sure.” Northman looked like someone had kicked him to make him be polite.
“Yeah, as a matter of fact, we can probably get halfway to Wichita before we’d need to stop for the night, right guys?”
Len started nodding. “Yup, a quick stop to gas up and we can head on out.”
Sookie slid off of the counter and walked to the garage again. She looked pissed…
Northman watched her leave, like he was worried, but he pulled his wallet out and handed Colt a wad of bills and called it a travel allowance…
The assholes bolted through the back doors like they were on fire…
And that was it. They were gone.
Northman ended up asking me to follow him and led me back to an office to shut the door.
“Did I do something wrong?”
“Not at all. Sookie is… Alcide calls it ‘bat-shit-pissed’, whatever that means. Your travel companions managed to irritate someone who has always told me that one can’t help what one thinks…” I was laughing by the time he was done saying ‘whatever’… Vampires don’t talk like that… like ever.
When he chuckled, I knew I was caught.
“I’m sorry, it’s hard to get used to the idea of having someone hear my thoughts.”
“No doubt. I’ve found that it’s helpful in character assessment. For instance, while you were suffering through your ‘oh shit moment’, paranoid that you’d forgotten something while locating the horses’ needs, the other three fools were making Hunter wonder about blood-heads and 69s.”
His eyebrows went up. “Exactly… We’ll need to discuss your pay and particulars, but before I contact Coppersmith this evening about keeping you on, you should call your family, yes?” Oh shit.
“Yeah. I guess so.”
He grinned and shook my hand… a vampire shook hands? This place was too fucking fun. And he chuckled again. “I’ll leave you some privacy. Welcome to Shreveport.”
Not only did he shake hands, he left me alone in his office… If other vampires knew he was friendly, they’d be pissed that he was ruining the image…
I heard him start laughing before he stuck his head back in. “They know.”
I felt weird enough about sitting behind the desk that I moved the phone and sat in front of it…
“Hey baby! Are you in Louisiana?”
“Yeah. Got here late last night.”
“You haven’t called before?”
“Kevin said he left a message for Dad and someone talked to him about our security clearances.”
“Oh, he didn’t mention.” Of course he wouldn’t…
“Sorry. I was beat last night and we’ve been busy settling the horses today.”
“So? Did the Justice like them?”
“Yeah. Matter of fact, they were planning on getting horses anyway on account of the kids. The King went for a ride right away. Before we had saddles even.”
“Well, I guess saddles were optional way back… how old is this one.”
“About a thousand. He’s pretty decent too. Whole family is…”
“Wait… how did he go for a ride right away?”
“Day-walkers. Him and his Lieu.”
She gasped, and sounded like a kid. It was funny. “Ohhhh, wow!”
“Yeah. The guys managed to make themselves unwelcome pretty fast though.”
“Oh no! What…? Joe, Jeremy says the guys made a mess of things!”
He started bitching under his breath and I heard the leg rest of his recliner snap down before he took the phone from my mom. “What the fuck happened? Shreveport. Horses. Billings. Period. How’d you fuck ups manage to botch it? Did you end up in Alaska?” Nice to talk to you too, shit head.
“No. We’re in Shreveport. The Justice, the King and their 4 year old kid… all telepaths. They can read minds and the guys were being dirt bags.”
“The Justice is really pretty. Blond, great body… the kid was hearing their thoughts about her. And they wouldn’t stop. Colt nearly got his head ripped off for eyeing one of these guys’ women… I’ve been worried about making it out of Louisiana alive since we met them this morning.”
“SHIT! How bad? Does the king have them? Did he turn them over to the pack down there?”
“No. He asked me to stay and tend to the horses now that they’re settled in. He gave them cash for travel expenses and they’re packing up now.”
“He’s cutting them loose?”
“But you’re staying? How long?”
“I dunno. At least a week. Horses aren’t huge down here. They’ll probably have to hire someone from out of state. Northman said he’d fly me home when I’m ready.”
“How’d you manage to not piss him off?”
“I know how to behave. Plain and simple. The PM offered to let me run the huge parcel of land here… The king asked me to stay on indefinitely… I got a damn tour of the bunkhouse with a Vampire Lieutenant on one arm and the Faerie fiancé of the King on the other… Whatever, however I did, they seem fine with me.”
“You what!? You touched his bitch!…”
I lost track of what Dad was bitching about when Eric came back into the office with a raised eyebrow and his hand out for the phone. “This time it was my hearing. I’ll quiet him down.”
I smiled at him. “Have at it, boss.”
He nodded and put the phone to her ear. “Mr. Paulson?”
“Oh. Hello Majesty. What can I do for you?”
“As a start you can apologize for sending 3 uncouth Neanderthals to deliver gifts to my fiancé. Miss Stackhouse and I were appalled by their behavior. Lunar Justice Herveaux wasn’t impressed either.” Alcide’s a lunar justice? Oh the guys are sooooo fucked. Eric gave me a quick nod, confirming how bad they’d done themselves.
“I am sorry. I’ll be reprimanding them and bringing the situation to the King’s attention.”
Dad didn’t say anything and I had the feeling that Eric was letting him get nervous on purpose.
“…You can make it up to my family though. Jeremy has already proven himself to be quite capable of managing the stock he delivered to us. We’d like to keep him on as long as he sees fit to hire and train someone of his experience and decorum.”
“uh… Uh, sure. Yeah. No problem.”
“Fine. Now let me speak with your wife.”
“Are you losing you’re hearing or do you enjoy repeating things redundantly?” He was smirking when he winked at me. Even he was having fun.
I heard Mom trip over her tongue a bit when she got the phone back. “Yeah? Hello?”
“Mrs. Paulson?” Actually, Davis since my asshole father hadn’t ever bothered marrying her.
“I just wanted to take the opportunity to express my thanks. Out of the four men that arrived on my property today, your son was the only one with any regard for others. Sookie would call it ‘raising’. Jeremy has been the epitome of moral standard.”
“Oh, I don’t know what to say. He’s always been a good boy.”
“So I’ve gathered. He’s fitting in very well. He’s already been accepted by the Packmaster and has the endorsement of three telepaths.”
I heard her giggle. “I hope he manages to keep it, the endorsement that is.”
“I’m sure of it, but if he falters, we’ll blame his father.”
It took me about 3 minutes to realize that I like ‘boils’… formally a ‘Low Country Boil’ wouldn’t have had lobster (so I’m told, like I would know the difference), but I wasn’t about to complain since I’d never had a lobster like the ones Sookie served. They were big enough to move luggage… The few I’d had were more like glorified shrimp in comparison.
Sookie and Jason had used colanders to fish everything out of a huge tub of boiling water and dump it all into the middle of the table… like a feeding frenzy… and the vampires even sat around the table…
The most fun part… all of the shell cracking and digging for meat, left plenty of time for talk. It was a nice change from TV trays and the Biography Channel.
When the conversation ended up on me, I didn’t mind so much. I’d been learning about all of them for most of the day.
I did feel bad for Janice though… I’d mentioned having brothers and as soon as she asked how they were older than me and still Weres, I could see it on her face that she was embarrassed that she didn’t know. At least that seemed like a national standard; unchanging Weres being kept in the dark about details…
I used a mouthful of food to buy time so I could answer her without making her feel dumb or anything. “Yeah… um… my mom was… popular. 5 boys, all of us have different last names, none of us look alike and only 2 of us are wolves. I only know where one of them is because he’s only 4 years older than me, he’s a bodyguard for some vampire in Dallas. I guess I could try to get in touch with him while I’m here. The oldest is like 35 and he’s a cop but my mom stopped talking to him when he had my dad arrested for knocking her around while he brought his wife up to meet us. I was 9 the last time I saw him.” The other two were in the wind though… As of last year, Chris and Mickey were dead ends. I couldn’t even find their fathers.
Sookie ended up saving me from more explanations when she stole Febes’s radio to call the front gate to have the guards come meet me after the shift change.
Eric started staring at me and I was starting to get nervous… worried that something I’d said triggered a warning flag of some kind.
“Jeremy, you need to understand something about us. We are… well, this is kind of the family that fate built. All of us have gotten together under some very ‘unreal’ circumstances. You might not believe the details, but as you might have noticed we are a very unlikely combination. As a rule, Were and Vampire don’t mix. Fae and Vampire don’t mix. Yet, somehow, here we all are. Somehow, we have all managed to make an unprecedented family unit… Most importantly, you are about to find, that for some all roads lead to this grouping.” Er… Jonestown much? It was the first creepy or off-kilter thing I’d heard him say so I guess it wasn’t too bad for vampire standards, but the weird thing was that everyone at the damn table was nodding like they knew something I didn’t.
Except Sookie… She’d wandered away from Eric’s lap to go make a phone call and when she came back, she told him that somebody was sending extra security guards…
I felt like I was playing connect-the-dots, but some asshole erased all the numbers…
And everyone was still staring at me.
When boots landed, coming up the patio steps, most everyone looked past me and I felt like I could breathe again. The tension had finally lifted enough to not feel so self conscious.
Sookie lit up with a big smile. “Hey there guys. Jeremy these are two more of our guards.” God bless a good diversion. I stood up and wiped my hands so I could meet more of the Pack…
Sookie stepped over and put her hands on one of the guys shoulders like Vanna White showing a new Maytag. “Jeremy, this is Shaun.”
I took his hand and he gave me a nice to meet you before he apologized for needing to head out because his wife was holding dinner for him.
Once he took off, Sookie stepped over to ‘prize number two’. “Jeremy, this is Alonzo. We call him Azo.” Huh, funny fluke. My brother…
It was that uncomplicated. There wasn’t any way for him to really be… I was hallucinating.
There’s got to be something in the pollen here… fuck. No pollen in January…
I must’ve stared at him for a year.
I barely remembered what he looked like, but he would have been having a worse time of it… I was in fourth grade the last time I saw him… his hair was shorter… it wasn’t as gray…he was bigger. No, I was smaller. SHIT!
The world stopped until he asked Sookie, ‘how?’.
She giggled, “Everybody was asking the new guy personal questions. He got probed about his family.”
…The only real reason I agreed to come to Louisiana was because Mom begged me to get out. She threw it up in my face that if I didn’t stretch my legs, I would settle on Billings. And the major selling point was that I might be able to go on a run…
I was done. The staring had gone on long enough…
Even if I was hallucinating, I still wanted to hug my big brother.
I probably looked like an idiot, but I didn’t care… especially once he picked me up… and grumbled that I wasn’t as heavy last time…
When we stepped back (barely) Sookie was misty-eyed and grinning from ear to ear. “Hey guys, you two go catch up. Jimmy will be here in a few hours.”
Azo cocked his head over. “You know Jimmy?”
She nodded. “So do you. But we called him Goose.”
“No way! Does he know?”
She shook her head. “No, I just called Stan and told him that I missed the guy. Stan said that he’d be on the road within the hour.”
Azo took his arm away from my shoulder to jerk Sookie up into a crazy big hug.
I couldn’t help but shake my head. “I thought Mr. Northman was off his rocker when he started talking about fate… He wasn’t kidding, was he?”
When Azo set her down she stepped over to give me a hug. “No, it seems like everything here happens for a very good reason. Now get out of here. I’ll let you know when Goose gets here.”
I was plenty happy to take off…
Azo and me started the long walk back to the bunkhouse…
“You really still go by Azo?”
He chuckled. “It stuck… You know the night I met Sookie, the night I got hired on, she asked how I got it.”
“So how did Jimmy get stuck with Goose?”
He looked up at nothing, laughing hard enough to hurt himself. “Sookie and one of her guys were fooling around, just killing time until the Texas and Mississippi crews got here to visit… When she got outside, she stunk of heat and Were… and he’d never met her… he gave her the low squeeze… Eric and Alcide nearly took his head off, but Sookie wouldn’t let them. She scares the shit out of him. He laid low the whole visit.”
“I bet. Northman…”
“Just call him Eric. He’s as normal a guy around here as us. He’s only formal around other vampires.”
“Yeah, well unless you count that him and Alcide share the ladies… He’s funny… he’s got Sookie teaching him to cook for the kids. And that family dinner thing, that’s the norm around here. If they’re home, even the fangs are around the table for meals.”
“So I might like working here?”
“WHAT? You might stay?”
“Well, I was thinking about it… It’d get me out of Billings. Eric already mentioned pay and whatnot. You like working here?”
He snorted. “Easy fucking gig. Good folks and low drama…” His cell started ringing. “Speaking of drama… Hello, light of my life.”
I could hear her snort. “You big putz. You worried me.”
“It couldn’t be helped. I’m busy.”
“A 19 year old.”
She started laughing. “What’s up?”
“Sookie’s one hell of a seeker.”
“Would you stop with the Harry Potter jokes before I turn you into a toad?”
“You’d love me anyway. Warts and all. You’re a freak like that.”
“Alonzo Houston! If you don’t tell me why you’re not home right now, I’ll put Jilly on the line.”
“Awww, don’t threaten me with a kid… I ran into an old friend here at the compound.”
“A 19 year old ‘old’ friend… AZO!? Not your brother?”
“Jeremy. He ended up bringing some horses down as a gift for Sookie.”
She squealed into the phone so loud the crickets stopped for a second. “I can’t believe that!”
“Sure you can. You’ve heard about Sookie in your bitches coven… but there’s more.”
“You remember that asshole I was telling you about. The grunt from Dallas that grabbed Sookie’s ass?”
“That’s the one… His real name is James Felton. He’s on the way here from Dallas. Sookie called in a favor with Stan and kind of bought his ass.”
She started laughing. “Well then what are you talking to me for, stupid? Go catch up. Call me later. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
He smiled at me as he slid his phone back into his pocket. “Do you remember Kelly?”
“Barely. It was a long time ago.”
“We’ve been married 10 years in November.”
“And you have kids?”
“Two. Jillian is 6 and Nathan is 2.”
“She’s a witch?”
“Yeah. Both kids too. Met her when I was still a cop.”
“Damn… Mom’s a grandmother?”
“No. You can’t get grandkids from a kid you disown.” I couldn’t argue with that…
“That was bullshit.”
“No kidding. I know he’s your dad and all…”
“I wouldn’t defend them. Don’t worry about it. I know he’s not worth the bottle he crawls into and she’s not much better considering she’s put up with it for 20 years.”
“Goose was smart to take off when he did.”
“And Chris and Mickey were lucky to have their Dad’s to fall back on.”
“With being bitter? Fuck yeah.”
He started laughing. “Good.”
We’d barely settled into the couches in the bunkhouse when there was a knock on the door…
Sookie had sent Febes out with a shitload of leftovers and a bag full of sodas and beer…
And a little while later, Jason knocked on the door because he was sent out with a box full of random supplies like toilet paper and bedding and garbage bags…
We barely noticed how much time had gone by while we caught up and it was after 1 o’clock when we got another visitor.
Azo answered the door this time… I only knew what he looked like because I’d been keeping up with him on MySpace…
He’d ‘met’ Azo not long ago, so seeing him didn’t help. He was staring at Sookie like her head was on backwards when I got to the door…
“Jimmy! What’s wrong? You don’t know your own brothers when you see us?”
He only looked at me for a second before he started studying Azo. “M o t h e r f u c k e r… The whole time I was here, I was trying to figure out how I knew you… I stared so much that the Jackson crew accused me of having a crush!”
Azo shrugged. “I’m fucking beautiful. It could happen.”
He started laughing. “Beautiful, my ass… You got old!”
When they got done hugging, I got my turn to call someone old… I hadn’t seen him since I was 7… and he left to live with his aunt.
Sookie managed to slip away after setting some bags inside the door full of more sandwiches and drinks…
We were still eating when I decided that there was no way in hell that I was going to leave Louisiana…
Not if I could help it.