I woke to birdsong and the smell of coffee.
I glanced at the clock near my bed. It was after nine! I rarely slept past sunrise. I always felt it calling before it even reached the earth beneath my feet, and I greeted it nearly every morning. I felt a little loss at not being under the sky to greet my friend as it brought light to this part of the world. I hadn’t sung my morning aubade as it rose, thanking it for shining another day.
My father and brother thought that was the silliest thing they had ever heard when I came home one summer with a gibberish (to them) song on my lips and more racket than they could handle at such an early hour. The sun would always rise, they said. It was just science, no need to thank it like it was a person, it couldn’t hear me singing anyway. They could, and they wanted to sleep.
But it had been the first Fae rite I connected deeply with, giving thanks to the light, so I began walking myself to the park near our house in Monroe in the wee hours and softly offering my devotions where I wouldn’t disturb anyone. My father and brother never cottoned on to my morning ritual, as I always made it back home and started breakfast before they woke.
Now that I was alone and had acres of woods to myself, I simply stayed barefoot in my yard and let them loose. It was often my favorite part of the day.
Frustrated with myself for being lazy, I jumped from my bed to investigate the source of the coffee smell.
Claude was sitting in the kitchen with a mug steaming before him looking woefully at the cast-iron pan on my stove.
“Hello, Cousin. You’re up late. I made coffee. Now you make breakfast, but not in that,” He said nodding to the pan on the stove.
I sighed. Fairies were only direct when they wanted something, and Claude was… well, Claude. Insufferable. Pig-headed. Frustrating. Rude. But I loved the big jerk, and I knew he had real affection for me.
I pulled out a stainless pan to replace the one made of iron, but sadly as I knew breakfast wasn’t going to taste the same not cooked on the heirloom that had belonged to my Great-Great-Great-Grandmother. However, not killing my cousin came before taste I suppose. I began frying and soon had two plates of eggs and bacon to set before us. I took the seat opposite him.
“Why didn’t you just pop in last night?” I asked. “I almost jumped out of my skin when I answered the door and no one was there. I’m sure you were laughing your head off.”
“I wasn’t here last night.”
“Now, you just stop that this minute. It’s not polite to scare a woman living all by her lonesome.”
“I’m not joking around, Nan. I wasn’t here.”
I considered him for a moment. He looked very serious. As a matter of fact, he looked concerned, and darn it if that just wasn’t the nail in the coffin.
I started to laugh. “Alright. You weren’t here. Don’t do it again.”
“Anabelle, have you noticed anyone strange lately? Anyone looking at you, or staring?”
“Claude, let it go. It’s not funny anymore. And since when do you call me that? Jeez. Whenever anyone calls me Anabelle, I feel like I’m gonna be grounded.”
Claude was visibly upset.
“No, Claude. No one has been staring, no one has been anything. I haven’t left here in days, even to go into town.”
He relaxed. “You probably were hearing things. Thanks for blaming me, Cousin. You know, I may try to scare you just for being suspicious of me, after all, haven’t I been your protector and only friend most of your life? You can be very rude and hurtful at times.”
I just shook my head. He preened.
“I am going into Shreveport today though. I wanted to see if I could get my hands on that last book in the Tower series. I’ve been looking for it forever. They had a beat up copy at LSU but I never got around to it then.”
“That’s by the author that was royalty?”
“No, he wasn’t actually a royal anything. His name was King.”
“Humans are so pretentious.”
“Claude, he didn’t choose that name, he was born with it.”
“Who cares about some long dead wordsmith anyway?”
I ignored this last jibe. Claude was not a reader, he just couldn’t be still long enough, but I loved reading. Everything. Anything.
He looked uncomfortable for a moment, as if debating something unpleasant. “Shall I join you, Nan? I want to get some things for the club anyway.”
“Actually, I’d like that, ” I replied. It was nice going places with him because it kept me from being stared at and gave me a blank mind to focus in on when the din got overwhelming. “But I’m not going in another one of those bondage stores. You can just shop for that meat-market alone.”
“And no! I will not approve your purchases either!” I yelled on the way back to my room to dress and ready myself. I’d moved myself into the master bedroom after my daddy died if only to break the habit of staring at the door wistfully every time I passed it. The change made it easier to cope.
“Prude!” He called after me.
That stung a bit. He was right. I was a prude, but I had about as much experience with men as I ever wanted. They thought things that made me squirm. I didn’t know how to handle that.
I often tried to feel like my heroines. Bold. Fearless. Uncompromising. But when I went to put the feelings into practice, I felt lost, uncertain, and small. Better to read about grand adventures than have them, I suppose. I could live a thousand lives and a thousand years in the pages I immersed myself in.
Claude poked his head in my bedroom as I was lacing my shoes. “Why are you searching out some dusty volume when you have this?” He help up my holopad. “You can read with this. I’ve seen it.”
I took the little silvery disk from him and set it on my nightstand. “Holopad reading isn’t the same.” I found myself repeating for the millionth time.
“But it holds all the information you could possibly need in this realm.”
“Claude, I don’t expect you to understand. Technology is just not a replacement. I don’t even have to turn pages with that thing. It just knows when I’m ready for the next passage. It’s creepy. It has no substance. I want to be able to hold and smell a book.” I shrugged.
“Humans have advanced in so many areas and you cling to the old ways.”
“Well, I’m not exactly human,” I replied sadly.
“No. You’re not,” he agreed dispassionately.
By the time I had returned home, my fiery friend was making its way to the other side of the world and leaving me bereft. I jumped from the passenger seat and bolted for the back garden. I threw my shoes over my shoulder after I tore them off and sunk my bare toes into the earth. I watched it dip down, ignoring my impatient and very annoyed cousin, and began to sing to the sun so it would return to me in the morning. I usually don’t offer evening devotions, but I missed this morning’s and wanted to fill the emptiness inside me somehow.
“You are so stupid,” Claude intoned mildly. Evening devotions did not exist in Fae. Morning devotions were simply a matter of starting your day with gratitude for what was always there. Why ask the sun to return in a land of perpetual day? It was something I had made up with Siobhan when I was little. I told her I was sad when the sun went down where I lived, so we made up a lullaby that I would sing to give it a peaceful night’s sleep.
“Yeah, I know, ” I said after I’d finished.He began pulling me toward the house. He was impatient with me as I pulled away to gather my hastily discarded shoes and socks. One had landed in the ferns near the line of trees and I pulled my hand from his and scuttled to retrieve it.
“Nan! Come on!” He whined.
I bent to feel around in the fronds for my missing sock. “Jeez, just hold your horses! What wild hair has crawled up your butt tonight? I need my…” I looked up and lost my thought as if it had never existed.
In front of me stood a huge, ragged looking vampire.
The vampire bent slowly in front of me, his sapphire eyes never leaving mine. He whispered something too low for me to make out. His arms extended to touch mine, and I shivered. He hesitated, and did not make physical contact.
Until, of course, I was grabbed by my cousin. I felt the sizzle, and I knew Claude was going to pop us to… away anyway, but the vampire seized my shoulders with a speed I couldn’t fathom in a vise-like grip and I was wrenched into the air and out of the familiar hands of family.
Claude’s curses and howls followed us for a short time before stopping abruptly. I knew he had gone to tell Niall.
Curiously, I didn’t care. I wasn’t afraid. Every sane part of my brain screamed that I should be terrified, but I was calmly waiting for our flight to end in the arms of a very large, very dirty, and very familiar somehow dead man.
We were not airborne long. He set me down on a dilapidated porch and just looked at me. It wasn’t a comfortable stare, so I cast my eyes around and took in my surroundings. I could see the cemetery in the distance. We were on the old Compton porch.
I recalled being told ghost stories about this house. Rumors of vampire kings living under the floor, and all manner of nonsense.
In my history classes, we covered The Great Revelation, but it was mostly believed that vampires were all but exterminated by militant religious groups. Steve Newlin was often compared to Adolf Hitler in his dedication to the eradication of their race. They were so very rarely seen anymore. Synthetic blood was no longer carried just anywhere but instead was offered by private and secure shipment to…wherever vamps lived now. Sweden, maybe. Alaska. Somewhere where no one – no humans ever found them.
And here stood a very real specimen.
I sighed. I didn’t know anything about vampires that I didn’t read in books, the most reliable of them being the Sookie-Book, but I knew he could probably sit and stare at me for… indefinitely. I wasn’t about to put up with that.
“So…” I began lamely. He just continued to study me like I was a science project. “My name’s Nan. Well, actually it’s Anabelle. Anabelle Sookie Merlotte. But everyone just calls me Nan. I know you don’t shake hands, so I won’t try,” I waited for the large blonde to offer his name but he didn’t. “You, uh, seem nice,” (come on, Nan, really?) “but my cousin is probably having a heart attack and my great-grandfather… won’t be happy either.” I finished lamely.
“I care nothing for the feelings of fairies.”
So he knew I was part fairy. Suddenly I remembered Sookie’s words about fairies being vampire-crack, and felt real fear finally present. I was barely a fairy, but was that enough? It seemed to be enough for the Fae I encountered, but maybe that was just Niall making everyone be nice to me…
“You gonna bite me?” I asked, suddenly feeling more equal to the situation. If he was going to drain me, I was going to put up one hell of a fight.
“Would you like me to?”
“Not especially, no.”
“Will you take me home now? Like I said, they’ll be worried…”
“Niall Brigant can suffer until I am satisfied.”
“Hey! You know…” Who was this? Why did he know Niall? I mentally did a vampire checklist, trying to fit this… man? into a being I could identify. The only big blonde in my Sookie-Book was almost always referred to as ‘The Viking,’ as if naming him would be like summoning him from hell. I tried desperately to remember his name…
It came suddenly.
“Northman.” Said a familiar voice behind me. “You have an annoying habit of harassing my granddaughters,” said Niall with all pleasantness. I knew that tone of voice. The sweeter he sounded, the more furious he truly was inside. I cringed.
“She… is like her, ” Eric stated.
“Yes,” Niall replied softly.
Eric simply resumed staring at me.
I huffed. I’d had enough. They were getting all cryptic and… supernatural on me and it wasn’t fair. I was sick of it. I turned on my heel, ignoring the inevitable resulting splitters in my bare feet, and stormed off through the overgrowth in the direction of home.