Charlaine Harris owns almost everything. I own the rest.
This story is MA and AU. You’ll see. I’m getting ready for a nice long vacation, so forgive me if I don’t reply to reviews right away. Big love to Meridian for her help way back when I started writing this. She saved many commas lives in this story and for that I am grateful. All remaining mistakes are my own.
Sookie stuffed her last bag in the back of her car. She and Hadley had agreed to share the space, but Hadley had so much clothing that she took up more than half of the trunk and most of the back seat.
Gran leaned on the pillar on the front porch, crying silently. “Call when you get there, okay?”
“I will!” Sookie hugged her for the tenth time, guilt and the euphoria of freedom battling to control her face. “I’m going to miss you.” She had lived with her gran for eleven years, and now, she was leaving. With high school completed, her real life could begin. “Jason,” she called over her shoulder, “you take care of Gran, okay?”
Jason slouched on the bench tucked against the front of the house, still sleeping off last night’s party. He was closing in on twenty-one, but he didn’t act like it.
“Jason!” she scolded, kicking the bottom of his boot.
“Huh?” He rubbed his eyes and blinked at her.
“Take care of Gran, okay?”
“Psh, you know I will.” He stood on unsteady feet and hugged her. “Y’all have a safe drive. I’m going back to bed.”
Gran shook her head and sighed. “I think I’m going to have to whoop that boy.”
Sookie and Hadley laughed and then Hadley hugged Gran. “We’ll call, I promise, but we need to hit the road.”
Gran wiped her cheeks and nodded. She smiled and waved from her perch as Sookie squeezed in behind the wheel. Both seats had been moved up to accommodate all their stuff. Hadley slammed her door, and they drove down the driveway, leaving Sookie’s home and everything she knew behind.
* * * *
“Where are we staying again?” Sookie asked for the tenth time after they’d already been driving for a few hours.
Hadley rolled her eyes. “With my friend, Brad. He lives in New Orleans. He said there’s plenty of room for us until we find a place of our own.”
They’d been planning and saving for the better part of a year. Neither Sookie nor Hadley wanted to end up in Bon Temps, living the same stagnant lives everyone else lived. They wanted to see things. Meet people. Go places. The sheer exhilaration of leaving home squashed the uncertainty of staying with Hadley’s friend Brad. Sookie took a deep breath and smiled. She reckoned she could survive just about anything. Hadley could too. They’d both been through their fair share of devastation, Hadley’s mom’s death had been recent and long and drawn out. Cancer did that sort of thing. They didn’t talk about their parents, or the bleak futures they would have in Bon Temps. Instead, they talked about New Orleans.
After all that talking and dreaming, Sookie’s spirit sagged when they pulled up in front of an old rundown apartment complex. The worn building looked like she felt: disappointed.
“This is where we’re staying?” she asked, glaring at Hadley.
“Come on,” her cousin replied, not meeting her eyes. She bounced up the crumbling front steps and knocked on the door.
A rail-thin, greasy-haired man opened the door. He smiled and gathered Hadley in his arms and seconds later began to suck on her face so hard that Sookie took a step back. “I missed you, baby.”
Hadley grinned and popped her gum. She hadn’t been chewing gum.
Gross. Sookie grimaced.
“This is my cousin I told you about, Sookie. Sookie, this is Brad.” She bounced on the balls of her feet and smiled as she looked between them.
“Well how-de-do,” Brad drawled taking Sookie’s hand in his. Instead of shaking it, he brought it to his mouth as if he would kiss it, just before broadcasting his thoughts. Hot damn, now I’ve got one of each: blonde and brunette. This is gonna be fun!
She pulled away and fought the urge to gag. “Hey, Hadley can I have a word with you for a sec?”
Hadley gave her a long look and reluctantly followed her toward Sookie’s beat up yellow car. “Don’t,” she ground out.
“You don’t want me tell you the truth?”
She stomped her foot. “No. You’re wrong. Whatever it is you think you heard is wrong. We’re in love, and I’d appreciate it if you kept your opinion to yourself. Stay out of his head, just like you do for me.” She gave her a pointed look.
Well, that settled it. Sookie kept her mouth shut. Even though the apartment was dingy and crowded, with barely enough room for the single bed and the table with two chairs, which filled the open space. She didn’t complain when she was forced to sleep on the floor, and she also didn’t say a peep when she got stuck doing dishes after every meal.
The night Brad slithered onto the floor right into Sookie’s makeshift bed was the night she said something. Actually, it turned out to be more of a scream. Hadley couldn’t ignore the truth even though Brad begged and pleaded.
They left that night. It was the first of many moves over the next few months. Gran offered to take them both in, but Sookie refused to leave the city she had grown to love.
Eventually, Sookie found a decent job waiting tables and started saving for their own place. She kept her most beloved belongings in her car, which turned out to be far safer than any of the places Hadley led them.
Almost a year later, Hadley moved out. Sookie missed her most nights, but still got to see her every once in a while over coffee when she stopped in where Sookie worked. Every time they met, she showed off her new clothes and jewelry. She was living with someone who had money and she wasn’t shy about accepting their gifts.
Months passed before Hadley told Sookie about her sugar daddy … who turned out to be her sugar mama.
“That’s why I didn’t tell you before,” Hadley admitted, looking at the table. In the time they had been apart, Hadley had become pale and seemed to only be out at night. “Her name is Sophie-Anne. She’s actually really excited to meet you.”
“Why?” Sookie couldn’t imagine why anyone would be excited to meet a server at a café.
“Because you’re family and…” She looked down, her eyes hidden under her heavy makeup.
Sookie heard it from her brain before it came out of her mouth. She couldn’t help but listen in on Hadley when she was obviously so distressed.
“I told her about you.” She touched the side of her head.
“Hadley! How could you?” Sookie said, on the verge of shouting. The couple at the next booth stared at her.
“It just came up. Please don’t be mad at me. You’re the only family I’ve got left.”
“That’s not true and you know it. You’ve got Gran and Jason just as much as I do,” Sookie stated. “How does that just come up?” She glared at her cousin.
“We were just talking one night. She’s so easy to talk to. You’re going to love her. Please? She wants to meet you and I told her I would bring her with me tonight.”
“You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep,” Sookie said, sliding out of the booth and tucking her order pad in her apron pocket.
“Please,” she begged. She touched the nametag on Sookie’s breast and said, “Is this really what you want to do with your life?”
“No, it’s not, but I don’t have any other options right now.”
“Sophie-Anne could help you.”
“Like Brad tried to help me?” Sookie spat the words out.
“No. Not like that. She’s a businesswoman. I’ve been working for her, running errands, that sort of thing, I’m sure there’s room for you at the mansion.”
“The mansion?” Sookie’s mouth hung open. “You’ve got a lot of nerve—”
Hadley gripped her arm. “Please. One meeting. That’s all I’m asking for.”
“Fine. I’m off in two hours.”
“We’ll be waiting.” Hadley ducked out the front door and slipped inside a long black car with impossibly dark windows.
“Waiting?” Sookie mumbled to herself as she got back to work. She checked every so often, and sure enough, the sleek car didn’t move. After clocking out and hanging up her apron, she smoothed her hair and touched up her lipstick before stepping outside.
The man driving the car greeted Sookie and opened the rear door. He moved like a cat, graceful and beautiful. He had the deepest, darkest eyes she’d ever seen and she had to make a point not to stare at him. She thanked him and joined her cousin in the back seat.
“Thank you,” Hadley whispered, her shoulders fell with relief.
They didn’t speak again until the car drove along a tall brick fence and pulled up to a gate, complete with a guard in the little booth. The driver and the guard nodded to each other and the gate swung open.
“Holy shit,” Sookie whispered. “Where are we going?”
“The mansion, to meet Sophie-Anne.”
Every muscle in Sookie’s body tensed when the car stopped. The driver opened the door and offered his hand. She took it and gasped. His skin was stone cold. She tried to get into his mind, but couldn’t. Her mouth hung open.
“Everything okay?” Hadley asked from inside the open car, obviously waiting to get out.
“Yeah,” Sookie replied, pulling away and stepping back from the man. He helped her cousin out next.
“Thank you, Rasul.” She smiled when he kissed the back of her hand. “Come on, Sook.”
Sookie followed closely, glancing back at Rasul as they approached the front doors. More guards stood on either side, but they weren’t handsome like the driver. The two men appeared to be brothers, sharing the same height, long ragged hair, and crooked teeth. When one of them spoke, it was in a thick accent.
“The queen waits for you,” one said, gesturing to the two women. The other remained frozen like a statue, holding a wicked sword tightly with both hands.
Queen? This isn’t a mansion, it’s a palace!
Hadley patted his arm. “Thank you, Wybert.”
Sookie cringed as they walked past them. They were both blank brains too. Her skin began to crawl. Hadley sauntered through the lavish entryway as if she owned the place, not seeming to notice, or care, how strange everything was. “Um, I changed my mind. I don’t want to do this.”
Hadley smiled. “Just meet her, please?” She opened a door and her smile grew. “Hi baby!” Seconds later, she had her arms wrapped around a petite brunette and the room filled with the sounds of their happy reunion.
Sookie tore her eyes away, trying to give them privacy. She focused on the beautiful chandelier over her head, covered with a thousand cut crystals, which hung from an impossibly high ceiling. Everything screamed money. A lot of money. She’d never been anywhere that fancy and suddenly felt out of place in her sensible tennis shoes, jeans, and T-shirt. Heat crept up her neck.
The delicate woman cleared her throat and smiled, clutching Hadley’s hand. “You must be Sookie Stackhouse. I have heard much about you.”
“Yes ma’am. Pleased to meet you.” She did an awkward curtsy.
“My name is Sophie-Anne Leclerq. I have been wanting to meet you for some time now, it please me greatly that you are here.” She smiled at Hadley. “Please, sit.” She gestured to a table and chairs. It wasn’t a request.
Within seconds, a young man bustled into the room carrying a tray of colorful fruit and cheese, two plates, and two napkins. He stood next to the table, obviously waiting for another command.
“Please eat,” Sophie-Anne said. Hadley sat on her lap and nibbled at the strawberries on the edge of the platter.
Sookie thanked her and filled a small plate. She cleared her throat. “This is a nice place.”
Sophie-Anne smiled. “I’m quite comfortable here.” She waved her hand dismissively and the server left. “Ms. Stackhouse, I’m going to cut to the chase.”
Startled, Sookie swallowed the chunk of pineapple in her mouth. Tears sprang to her eyes as she struggled to breathe. She patted her chest and dabbed at her eyes with her napkin. “I should’ve chewed that a bit more,” she explained.
“Hadley explained that you have a rather unusual talent,” Sophie-Anne began.
Sookie shot daggers at Hadley, who crumbled under her glare.
“I’d like to offer you a job,” she stated.
“Utilizing your telepathy.”
Sophie-Anne said it blandly as if it was a skill anyone could master, like proficiency with Microsoft Office. Sookie put her napkin down and took a deep breath. “With all due respect, I’m not sure what to think of your job offer.”
“And why is that?” Sophie-Anne arched a perfect eyebrow.
She exhaled slowly, giving herself time to think of how to answer. Something was wrong with all these people, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. Hadley didn’t seem to mind, but Sookie couldn’t shake the feeling that she was in danger. “There’s something different about you. About everyone here.” She thought for a second. “Except the man who served us.”
“Different?” Sophie-Anne’s eyes sparkled as if she had a secret she was dying to share.
“Yes, so why don’t you tell me what’s going on before I walk out of here.” Sookie pressed her hands between her knees so the shaking wouldn’t give away her bluff.
Hadley’s face flickered fear before turning to look at her girlfriend.
“We are different,” Sophie-Anne confirmed. “You cannot read my mind, no?”
Sookie shook her head. “Y’all are blank spots.”
“And Robert, the young man who served you, what was he thinking?”
She blushed. “Sex. He was thinking about having sex.”
Sophie-Anne laughed, a soft, musical sound, making Hadley relax. “Anything else?”
“He wants to please you and someone named Andre.”
She nodded. “He’s a smart man.” She narrowed her eyes and stared so intently at Sookie that something inside her head twitched. “Interesting.”
“What are you doing?” Sookie asked, cocking her head.
“Nothing, apparently. You are more valuable than I could’ve guessed. We are vampires, Ms. Stackhouse. That is why you cannot read our minds.”
“Vampires.” Her mouth fell open. Her cousin, her most beloved friend, had just led her into a palace filled with mythical creatures.
“Yes,” Sophie-Anne replied, showing her fangs to prove it. Hadley whimpered and automatically tilted her head to the side offering her neck to her lover. Sophie-Anne’s teeth slid into Hadley’s throat while her fingers spread out across her breast. She held her in the intimate embrace for a few seconds before removing her mouth and showing Sookie the tiny puncture wound. Just as promptly, she healed it and made her fangs disappear. Hadley gasped for breath and nuzzled into Sophie-Anne’s wavy, chocolate brown hair. It became apparent that biting and sex went hand-in-hand.
Sookie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. While Hadley hadn’t complained, Sookie could only imagine how painful it would be to be bitten by someone. She also couldn’t quite wrap her brain around the idea of vampires being real. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m having a hard time processing this much information.”
“Take your time.” Sophie-Anne stroked Hadley’s arm.
Sookie’s mind spun but quickly calmed. For the first time in her life she realized she wasn’t alone. She wasn’t the only weirdo in the universe. She smiled. “Tell me about the job.”
Well? I know it’s just starting, but what do you think? Review and then read It Happened In Rhodes: Chapter 2