“Turn left in one quarter of a mile.”
I rolled my eyes. Zoe thought it was hilarious to change the voice on my map app. I never knew whether I’d be getting a posh British man or a weird hillbilly woman. Oh well. Her giggles from the backseat after every direction made up for it.
“Mommmmyyyyyy! How much longer?” Then again, her whining…
“The map says seven minutes, Doodlebug. Are you excited?” Why did I ask such a ridiculously stupid question? The next ten minutes and 3 red lights I had to sit through were filled with Zoe’s incessant chatter about all things Eric and Godric, adorable and oh so very annoying.
We rounded the corner to a thin, almost alley like street, only to see Eric waiting by an open gate. He was pacing and very nearly vibrating as he turned to see our car. His face broke into a beaming smile and Zoe’s squeal of delight from the backseat just cemented how glad I was to be down here.
“Hey!” I called as I rolled my window down. He crossed the small gap between him and my car, leaning his head into the open window to plant a soft kiss on my lips.
Seriously, he was perfect.
“Just, follow the drive until you see the house. I’m gonna shut the gate and follow you.” I nodded and he backed away to allow me to drive.
The property was beautiful. The hedges were perfectly trimmed and the trees shading the small bungalow were tall and stately. The pool, despite the lack of a screen, was immaculate and sparkling. I parked next to Eric’s Acura and paused to take a deep breath.
I’d never had a connection to a man like this. Lafayette and Jesus were my best friends, but it was different. I had no idea if we were moving too fast or too slow, but I couldn’t help but feel like everything between us was just…right.
“Mommy, come on!!!” Zoe’s demanding knock on her window snapped me out of my musings and I glared at my daughter through the rear view mirror.
“You need to cool it. You’re being a butt. I can still turn around and drive right back home. You don’t start filming for a week.” Her yelp of protest followed by blessed silence was music to my ears. Sometimes she was a little too big for her britches.
“Please may I get out, Mommy? I can see Eric coming.”
“Much better. Hang on, I’ll let you out.” I pushed my door open and swung my stiff legs out, not even bothering to slip on the flip flops resting on the floorboard.
“Well, hey there beautiful!” I could feel my face crack into a smile as I swung around to see Eric loping toward us. How he could honestly mean that when I looked like such a mess was beyond me. I mean, my hair was thrown up high and messy, I was wearing scrubby sweats, and I had absolutely no makeup on. But it was entirely too clear that he meant what he said. He thought I was beautiful.
“Hey yourself.” I stood clumsily, stepping toward him as he reached for me. He folded me into his arms and placed a gentle kiss on the top of my head. “Aw, I’m so glad to be out of that car!”
“Oh really now?” His eyes shone as I tipped my head up, our lips meeting in a soft peck of a kiss. I sighed as he broke away slightly to tug open the back door of the car, releasing Zoe from her prison.
“Definitely. Your co-star here,” Zoe smiled beatifically at the hairy eyeball I shot her way, “was being a butt of epic proportions all the way down.”
He guffawed loudly as he tugged Zoe towards us, folding her in between us for a hug. She hugged his legs tightly, her eyes staring up at him in…awe might’ve been the closest word to describe it. I could already see how enamored she was with him and I couldn’t help but feel a teeny blip of fear that this would hurt her if anything happened between Eric and I.
But damn it, I deserved a shot. Didn’t I?
One look between Zoe and Eric just solidified my resolve to give this-whatever this was and whatever it had the potential to become-a chance.
We stood together for a moment, just savoring the feel of being together before Eric cleared his throat. “We should get you guys inside. Come on and I’ll get your bags.”
“Good luck with that. Little Miss Diva here has like three bags!”
Zoe rolled her eyes as she skipped ahead, stopping at the side of the crystal clear pool to slide her sandal off and stick her toes in. “Mommy, I want to swim! Can we please swim?”
“Maybe in a little while, Doodlebug. We need to get settled in. And I think we need some lunch,” I added as my stomach growled. I slid past her to approach the front door of the cottage, smirking when I caught sight of the welcome mat. That definitely had a story behind it.
I reached out a hand and twisted the knob as I glanced behind me, making sure Zoe was close and Eric was managing the bags. But as I pushed through the door and stepped into the foyer, my jaw dropped as a bright flash nearly blinded me.
Sookie’s yelp was what prompted me to drop the bags. Zoe’s yelp was what pushed me to run across the small front yard even faster. What the fuck could’ve happened in the twenty seconds since they walked away?!? They were in my house!
“Sookie! What’s wro–” I skidded to a stop right behind her, my eyes widened as it became very clear what was wrong. My brothers were going to die. I was going to murder them and then laugh as I got some voodoo guy to resurrect them so I could murder them again.
Apparently my brothers thought it would be funny to pilfer Pam’s old poster collection-or hell, maybe she’d donated to the cause-and plastered every inch of my foyer and living room with boy band posters from the 90’s. Oh and My Little Pony. My eyes swept around the room and landed on a huge collection of My Little Pony toys. And…a full size cardboard cutout of the Backstreet Boys. All five of them. Holy shit!
And, to top off the epic fucking douchecake, my mother stood sheepishly in the corner, her high powered professional camera around her neck. She was chewing her thumbnail nervously, though as soon as my eyes landed on her, she lifted the camera to snap a quick picture. Probably of my face. I couldn’t have said what expression was there, but murder-y might’ve been an accurate description.
Zoe’s excited squeal from behind me drew my attention and she darted past me to the living room, straight to the toys. Well, maybe this prank wasn’t a total loss. But goddamn, I was still gonna kill my brothers!!
“Eric! Oh honey, I’m so glad you’re home!” My mom’s melodious voice floated across the room and I numbly swung my eyes toward her.
“Mom. What the fuck is going on?!”
“Language, young man!” Sookie snorted behind me and I turned exasperatedly. Her arms were crossed over her stomach and her small body was shaking with restrained laughter.
“It’s a mom thing, Eric.” She leaned to the side, into my mom’s eyeline. “And it’s fine, ma’am. She hears much worse from one of her dads. And her uncles, come to think of it.”
Sookie shrugged and I began to relax, not even aware how tense I’d been until I felt the ache set into my muscles.
“Oh please, call me Claudine. Ma’am makes me feel old.” Within the blink of an eye, she’d shot past me to wrap her tall frame around Sookie, who incidentally looked positively terrified at the new turn of events.
Uh, okay. There was a strange woman-Eric’s adopted mom apparently-trying to hug me to death. I raised my hand and patted her awkwardly on the back. When she finally released me, I sucked in a huge breath and she giggled softly.
“Sorry, dear. I get a little excited.” She grabbed my hand in hers and tugged me toward Eric. “It’s just that this one here hasn’t ever brought a girl home. Especially one as beautiful as you. I mean, he and Godric haven’t talked about much else besides you and your daughter since y’all met.”
Eric groaned and dragged his hand down his face. “Mooooommm!”
“Oh, hush you! Now, where is the little munchkin, hmm? I need to start spoiling her now.”
“Oh no, really, you don’t…” Eric shook his head as I stammered.
“It’s gonna happen, Sook. No use fighting it.”
I felt my lips twitch upward in a small grin. “Well, as long as it’s within reason. I reserve the right to reign you in.” I held my hand out to Claudine and she broke into a huge smile.
“Oh, I like you. You’ll fit in just fine.”
“Thanks. Zoe! Come here, Doodlebug!”
A small groan echoed from the living room before she shuffled back into the entryway, her arms full of ponies. “Yes, Mommy?”
Claudine crouched down to Zoe’s level and held her hand out, her eyes twinkling in happiness. “Hello. I’m Claudine. I’m Eric’s mommy. What’s your name?”
My daughter eyed the woman’s hand warily for a moment, then looked to Eric. “She’s your mommy? But-you don’t look like her.”
Oh my god! Seriously, this child needed to learn some tact! “Zoe! That’s not polite!”
Claudine waved off my mortification and chuckled. “Well, you’re right. We don’t look alike. Eric had a different mommy and daddy when he was younger. But they had to go away, so Eric and his brothers came to live with us. He’s just as much my baby as Godric and Pam are.”
“They went away? You mean they died?”
Mortification level one million.
Eric folded himself down to sit on the floor near his mom and pulled Zoe to sit on his lap. “Yeah, they died. But Claudine has always been my mom in every way that counts. Your Daddy Lala isn’t related to you by blood, right?”
Zoe’s nose scrunched slightly. “Yes.”
“But he’s still your daddy, right?” The light in her eyes sparked as Eric’s explanation clicked in her mind. Seriously, this man was perfect. The way his mom beamed at the two of them was just precious and her eyes cut up to mine for a moment before fixing back onto her son and my daughter.
“Oooohhhh. Yeah he is. I get it.” Zoe’s smile was adorable and she pushed the ponies off her lap to stand. “Hi Eric’s mommy. I’m Zoe.”
Her tiny hand hovered in front of Claudine who seemed to be biting back a giggle. She gently wrapped Zoe’s hand in her own. “It’s very nice to meet you, Zoe. You don’t have to call me Eric’s mommy. You can call me Claudine or grandma, if it’s alright with Eric and your mom.”
Eric eyed me warily and I wasn’t quite sure what he was thinking. “You can decide later, Doodlebug. For now, how about if you take your ponies to the bedroom and let the grown ups talk?”
Zoe shrugged and bent to pick up the toys. Eric pointed the way to the guest room he’d decided would be hers (the biggest and best, according to him) and she scampered down the hall, humming happily.
My legs felt like lead as I uncurled them and pulled myself to my feet. I had really hoped to get Sookie and Zoe settled before the chaos that was my family descended on them.
My heart was in my throat as I stepped toward Sookie, terrified that she would pull away. But she stepped into my body and curled herself against me. Whew!
“Sorry about Mom. She can be…a handful.”
Sookie giggled. “You do realize she’s right here, don’cha?”
Mom giggled as she pulled herself up gracefully. “Oh he knows. My kids have never shied away from saying what they feel. And I don’t get offended easily, so it’s all good.”
Sookie grinned. “Good to know. Besides, once you meet Lafayette you’ll understand why I’m not all that phased.”
Oh yeah. That would explain it. I opened my mouth to ask Sookie about lunch, but was interrupted.
“Zoe, you know it’s not okay to shout across the house.” Sookie reminded in her mom voice. It was weirdly hot and I immediately felt like a perv. I leaned down to plant a kiss on her forehead-
“Okay, but I was just wondering who the strange man in my bed was.”
My lips stopped millimeters from their target as the words registered in my brain. And then I was running, tearing off through my house before I’d consciously decided to.
Who the fuck was in my house?!? First my mother and the fucking posters, now some random person in my house?! Sookie was never going to trust me with Zoe! I rounded the corner, my hands clenched into fists-to find Thomas sprawled on his stomach across the bed, waggling a pony toy in Zoe’s adorably skeptical face.
“Well, I told her that I was your cousin, but she didn’t believe me.”
I exhaled noisily as Sookie skidded to a stop behind me, her eyes darting around the room frantically.
“It’s fine, Lover. It’s just Thomas.”
Sookie’s eyebrow raised in question. “That’s all fine and everything, but who’s Thomas?”
She stepped around me and yanked Zoe backwards gently as she eyed my cousin warily.
He smirked as he sprang up. “Thomas Hyde, at your service my lady!” He bowed dramatically and seized Sookie’s hand as he laid a gentle kiss on the back of it.
I could feel the…anger welling in my chest as I saw Sookie’s cheeks flush a soft pink. I’d never been angry at Thomas. Well, not seriously angry. But if he didn’t get his hand off my girl in the next two seconds, he’d lose it. And a handless engineer would be pretty useless.
I tugged Sookie toward me as I lifted Zoe gently to perch her on my hip. “So, why exactly are you here, jackass?”
He scoffed as Mom ambled through the door, crowding the small room. “Believe it or not, he missed you, honey. Godric let it slip that you were letting Sookie stay here before you guys left for Lake Charles. Thomas had some time off and figured he’d stop by, try to steal your girl, and annoy you.”
Sookie snorted and choked on her saliva at my mom’s words and I shot a glare at my cousin who was smiling cheekily.
“Oh, by the way,” Mom said as she touched my shoulder gently. “Alex is in the house, watching on the cameras.”
Eric glanced at me and I held my arms out for Zoe. “Go ahead.”
Thomas smirked as Eric’s eyes cut toward his Mom. “Am I allowed to kill him?”
“No, but he’s been such a little horn dog lately, maybe some maiming would be alright.”
And he tore off through the house, nearly as fast as when he’d run to Zoe. I had a feeling there was going to be a Northman beatdown in the next few minutes.
“Come on, darling. Let’s retire to the kitchen while Eric exacts his revenge.” Thomas led the me and Eric’s mom down the small hallway and into the cozy little kitchen.
He waved off any offers of help from Claudine and I, though he heartily embraced Zoe’s special brand of ‘help’ as they prepared lunch. Ah, there was the similarity. I grinned as he pulled out a small step stool so she could stand next to him.
“So, Thomas. Where’d the accent come from?” I was curious, I’ll admit. Eric’s family dynamic was so…convoluted and confusing to me. I had family, but it was fairly straightforward. This mashed together menagerie of love was befuddling, but was becoming something I was increasingly enamored with.
He chuckled heartily as he pulled a loaf of bread out of the microwave and instructed Zoe to count out precisely 10 pieces. “I spent most of the summers of my youth in England and returned to study when I graduated from high school. It just stuck.”
I could understand that. I picked up all sorts of accents, most noticeably trading my southern drawl for a more New England sound when Jason came home.
“And you, lovely lady, I’ve heard the bare minimum from my cousin. Tell me about yourself and your lovely little girl.”
Claudine giggled again as Zoe stepped carefully down and crossed the small space to hand her a plate. “Thank you, baby. This looks delicious!”
A strangled shout startled me enough that I shot to my feet, my head whipping around frantically.
“Don’t mind that, love. It’s just the hooligans having their fun.”
I chuckled lightly as I sat back down, startled as a plate seemed to appear before me. I raised an eyebrow at Thomas again, who smirked down at me. “Eric stocked the kitchen for your stay. I assumed turkey would be fine.”
I nodded my thanks as I took a small bite, warily watching Claudine scarf hers down. How did these people stay so thin?! Seriously I’d seen Eric and Godric eat enough to feed a small army and it looked like it was a learned trait. Zoe giggled as Claudine deposited her empty plate in the sink next to her. “It was indeed delicious. Thank you again.” The older woman placed a gentle kiss on Zoe’s head and my daughter ate up the attention like a sun starved plant. She turned her attention next to Thomas, who playfully grabbed her around the waist and dipped her down low over his knee.
This was a family of total hams…and I was loving every second I was spending with them. Claudine came after me next, pulling me up to wrap her arms around my neck tightly and this time there was no hesitation as I returned the embrace.
“Thank you. For pulling him out of his head and giving me back the son I’ve missed so much. I can never begin to tell you how much it means to me.” Her eyes glistened with tears and her voice cracked as she spoke. “And now-” she cleared her throat and turned to the room’s other occupants, “-I have a meeting to get to. We have another gala to plan for next month and of course Mrs. Harris nominated me to do it. Foolish old bat! She always hates what I plan, so I don’t’ know why she tortures herself.”
I laughed as Zoe stared at us blankly. Another sharp shout brought our attention to the large window overlooking the pool and driveway. Eric whizzed past, sliding on what sounded like gravel, as a younger dark haired version of him ran for his life.
Incoherent screams and insistent threats echoed around the front yard as Claudine shook her head. “I should go break them up. Ah, a mother’s duties are never done!”
Thomas bowed theatrically as his aunt sauntered away and he paused for a moment, listening intently.
“What? What’s wrong?” I noticed the distinct lack of noise at the moment and wondered if he knew something I didn’t. Like the possibilities of impending chaos and terror.
“Oh, shit!” Without a backward glance he darted toward the front of the house and I grabbed Zoe to follow, curious to what had happened.
I found him standing framed in the open front door, a manic smile threatening to break his face as he stared at whatever lay beyond. I peeked around his lanky frame to see Eric and his brother facing off with each other, Claudine planted in the middle with her hands on her hips.
“Don’t you dare do it, boys. I’m warning you now!” Her eyes glanced toward our little group. “See, what kind of example is this setting for Zoe?”
Eric grinned our way before he flung himself forward, catching his mom in his arms as his brother caged her from the other side. And with a sharp cheer from the little girl in my arms, all three of them tumbled into the pool.
Thomas turned to grin over his shoulder and I shifted back so he could turn. “Ah, now that that’s settled-back to lunch?”
“Okay guys, come on. Let’s get started!”
I rolled my eyes behind Godric’s back, twisting my face into some ugly mask as Zoe burst into giggles. I composed my face quickly before Godric spun around, smiling innocently as Sookie stuffed her fist in her mouth.
“Eric! Seriously? We only have this location for the next month!”
“You’re right, you’re right, I’m sorry!” He spun back around and Sookie smirked as I pulled another face. Luckily, Zoe had already turned away or I’d be in trouble again.
We’d finally gotten all the necessary components together and it was day one of filming. I had been floating on a cloud for the last week, due mostly to the fact that in between meetings and readings, I could hang out with Sookie and Zoe at my house.
I’d been sleeping in the main house, but still-Sookie was sleeping in my bed. Zoe was in ‘her’ room down the hall. It was so easy to pretend that I’d be going home with them at the end of the night, that I wouldn’t have to leave them in the pool house not even 1000 feet from the main house. I should be panicked. I’d never in my life had-or even wanted-this type of connection with a woman. But Sookie…well, Sookie was different.
Most guys my age would have run screaming the other way from a woman with a kid. But Zoe was different too. I could sit with her for hours, coloring or reading-and not get bored. Godric walked in on us the other day reading my old Marvel comic books while we sprawled out in my “office”. Immediately he’d called for Sookie, who had of course come running, and skidded around the tile in her socked feet. Her giggles were worth the heart attack she gave me as she nearly fell on her spectacular ass. The girls, including my mother, had cooked up a storm the night before last. They’d laughed and giggled for hours as they made a complete mess of my kitchen and then pawned off the cleaning on Thomas and I. The late night cuddles, whispered conversations and stolen kisses only served to make me that much more infatuated with Sookie.
And so the last week had been-in short-heaven.
My brain jolted back to the present as Zoe wrapped herself around my leg, her beaming smile aimed my way. Sookie chuckled as she ambled over behind her daughter, ducking between the people milling around.
I reached down and hauled Zoe up on my hip, making fake chomping noises as Sookie grabbed her arm to “nibble a wing”. All three of us laughed uproariously and Godric glanced our way from where he was talking to a crew member near the window.
The grin slid right off my face as I saw the woman-although that may be a generous description-who was to star opposite Zoe and I. I’d seen her other movies and she was an okay actress…but her attitude left much to be desired. It was the downfall of so many Hollywood starlets and just another reason why I lo-liked Sookie so much.
Yeah, no I don’t love her…I don’t think. I shook my head again at the wild tangent my brain decided to take, focusing again on the two ladies who had quickly become so important to me.
Sookie sighed as Zoe tightened her grip around my neck. My ears already hurt from the whining and she’d only said my name. This wasn’t going to end well. I spun reluctantly, propping Zoe on my hip as I reached for Sookie’s hand. “Yes, Amelia? Do you need something?”
The brunette sauntered in what she probably thought was an alluring way towards us, ignoring the child in my arms and the woman by my side. Her claw-like nails ran down my bare arm and I shuddered, thankful when Sookie yanked our joined hands away, therefore breaking her contact with my skin.
“Aww, don’t be like that. Why don’t you let these-” She shot a sneer at Sookie and her daughter before turning her too heavily made up eyes to me again. “-girls go do whatever they need to while you help me with my lines?”
I could hear the implication in her voice and I knew Sookie did as well when her fingers tightened in my own. But I was disgusted when Zoe leaned close to me, nuzzling into my neck as she whispered, “Eric, why is the witch lady trying to make sexy faces at you?”
Sookie’s hand shot to her mouth, trying to conceal the bark of laughter she let out, and Amelia glared between the three of us as I bit my lip to silence myself.
“Yes, Amelia. Why are you trying to make sexy faces at my lead actor? Shouldn’t you be running lines with Bill, the one you actually have scenes with?”
I’d never been more thankful for Godric in my life. The harpy turned, the ends of her hair whipping at Sookie and I as she flounced away. Godric’s nose wrinkled as he stared after her, his head cocked to the side as he clucked his tongue.
“Sometimes I wish I had enough money to do this without backers who had ridiculous requests.”
Sookie looked confused as her free hand began stroking up and down my arm. Her touch sent tingles through my skin and that strange feeling settled itself in my chest once again.
“What ridiculous requests?”
Godric rolled his eyes. “Amelia. Her father is one of the backers and the only condition for basically a blank check was that she get a part.”
Sookie snorted lightly as her eyes cut over to the witch at the craft services table, though what she was doing there I had no idea since she weighed about 60 pounds soaking wet. It was going to be painful to shoot the one scene I had with her. We’d have to (gag) dance and I’d have to hold her…all those pointy angles-no thanks. I’d take Sookie’s luscious curves any day.
I glanced toward Zoe and felt my eyes soften as I noticed her head resting on my shoulder, her breaths deep and even as she slept. Godric smirked, motioning silently toward the back bedroom. Sookie smiled as she led me by the hand, her thumb rubbing gentle circles on mine as we walked.
I watched from the doorway as Eric lowered himself gently to the bed, swinging Zoe around to carefully lay her down. His large hands swept the hair off her forehead and I felt tears stinging the back of my eyes as he bent to press a soft kiss to her cheek.
His eyes darted around, landing on the soft blue blanket Godric had picked just for Zoe. He plucked it up and covered my daughter, making sure everything from her feet to her neck were covered sufficiently.
My heart ached with love. I had come to that startling realization a few days before, though I wasn’t exactly letting on yet. Even though we were taking things slow, Eric Northman had managed to wedge himself into my heart so thoroughly that I wasn’t quite sure I could get him out if I wanted to. Staying in his house had been a dream come true, though if I was honest I would have preferred that he stay there as well.
He stood slowly, backing away as he kept his eyes on Zoe, not stopping until he was by my side. I snuggled against him, his arm going around my shoulders as he pressed a kiss to my temple.
“Well, isn’t this cozy?”
I felt Eric stiffen and I held back the groan trying to force it’s way out of my throat. I carefully grabbed the doorknob and pulled the door mostly closed before I sucked in a deep breath. I spun, taking Eric with me, to face the newcomer in the hallway.
“What can we do for you, Bill? I thought Godric had Amelia running lines with you?”
Eric’s free hand fell to my hip, rubbing gentle circles against the soft cotton of my LSU shirt as he pulled me slightly in front of him. I felt his chin rest on my head as I trained my eyes on the rather annoying man in front of me.
Ever since we’d come out to the beach house and met the rest of the crew, Bill had been…the word creeper seemed appropriate. He hadn’t done anything really, but he seemed to like me a little too much. Especially since Eric had made it abundantly clear that we were together.
“Well, Sookeh-I wanted to see if you’d perhaps like to take a stroll with me along the beach. I heard Amelia mention needing Eric and obviously your child is out of the picture now-”
My eyes shot wide as Eric stiffened even further behind me, his fingers now digging almost painfully into my hipbone. “Uh, my daughter is not out of the picture Bill, she’s napping. It’s what young children do. And I do believe Eric has already booked me for any free time I may have. Boyfriend privileges, you understand, right?”
I shot a sickly sweet smile at him as I quickly pulled Eric past him, rounding the corner hurriedly before Eric shoved me unceremoniously into another vacant bedroom. I stumbled forward, landing face first on the bed with a giggle as Eric leaned back against the door.
A sharp click sounded and he took a step forward, so slowly that it would have been menacing if not for the adoration shining in his eyes. He lowered himself slowly, stretching his lithe frame out beside me as his hand rested under his head.
“So…” He smirked and tilted his head even further. “…I have boyfriend privileges now?”
I bit my lip nervously as my eyes darted away from him. “Do you want boyfriend privileges?”
I was suddenly afraid-absolutely terrified as a matter of fact-of the unlikely possibility that he’d reject me. It was irrational, I knew, given the week we’d had and the immediate connection. And yet…my heart beat slightly faster as I felt a finger come to rest under my chin.
His blue eyes shone with happiness, slight crinkles from the smile splitting his face highlighting his incredible good looks in a way that was extremely real-not the fake, tanned, plastic handsome I expected before we met. He leaned forward slowly, his full lips pressing softly against mine as I sighed with relief.
His fingers wove through my slightly tangled hair, entwined in the strands as he rested his hand on the back of my neck. His thumb traced my cheekbone as he pulled back, our eyes slowly opening to gaze at each other.
“I would love nothing more.”