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This morning I ended up driving behind this guy who continually wove to the right and was driving about five miles under the speed limit in the fast (left) lane. I didn’t want to go around him on the right because he was hugging the center line rather treacherously, so I stayed behind him, and I noticed that, of course, he was on the phone. He kept looking to the right as though he were looking for something, and he drove like this for about a mile, and I stayed behind him. He didn’t seem to notice the gigantic Suburban on his tail. Then he hung up his phone. Immediately, his speed increased to just under the speed limit, he straightened out in the lane, and kept his eyes on the road.

Hmmm.

*sniffle* They were just showing the story of Hochiko, the Japanese Akita who waited for a decade for his master to come home from work (his master died suddenly, and Hochiko never left his vigil). There's a statue at the Tokyo station where people come from all over Japan to meet. I'm all teary-eyed now (apparently there's going to be an Americanized version of the story at the movies this winter).





Chapter Nine


Texas spread out before them much like the landscape before it, but Sean Patrick, like that
fellow from the Greek myths, seemed to gain in strength and joy as they crossed deeper into a
slightly more lush desert, where things seemed a little more dense, trees more thick, and the
sounds of the night grew louder outside of the car. After passing through the military border
town of El Paso, Bonnie fell silent and watched the landscape blur past, trying to still the
nervousness in her stomach and the fluttering of her heart.

Meeting the family scared her. She admitted it to herself and all the demons of her
imagination burst loose and whirled around her head in a frenzy of hideous, and likely imaginary,
scenarios, all of them involving the names they would call her and ending with the very unlikely
vision of Sean Patrick actually asking her to marry him, which really scared her. She liked her
life the way it was, and she had no wish to settle down as a wife.

Or did she? Was that what really scared her, deep down, was that she wasn't "better than" a
wife? That she secretly wanted to be one? That she was in love with Sean Patrick?

Bonnie gripped her hands in her lap and dared to look sideways at him, singing along with
some pop song she didn't know and tapping his hands on his steering wheel, relaxed and happy in
his own environment. He pointed out things along the way, rivers and streams he'd crossed long
ago on horseback, little towns bearing family names, stands of wild oak and pine where he'd
hunted for squirrel and javelina. This was the land where he'd been able to walk in the sunshine,
and he obviously never forgot it.

She did love him, she realized, but it was a comfortable love, not a romantic love. Certainly
she liked the sex, but more, she liked being with him, talking with him, spending time with him.
She liked his taste and his sense of humor and his singing voice. She liked his boyishness and
his twinkling eyes and his keen intellect, miles ahead of hers. He could always be counted on to
answer questions she had about almost anything. He was there when she needed someone to
open a jar but he'd never once gotten in her way when she just wanted to be herself. And she
cared about him deeply, worrying when he didn't take care of himself or when he fell into his
moods.

"Sean Patrick," she said at length, when she could see the lights of San Antonio ahead of
them, smeared against a night sky which was faintly starting to turn purple with the first hints of
sunrise, "Just take me to the airport. I can leave right away, this morning. I think we have time
before the sun rises, don't we?"

Sean Patrick turned his head from the straight roadway a moment, the look in his eyes
undecipherable. He was silent, revving the engine slightly and taking on speed, before he
suddenly slowed down and pulled to the side. He put the car in gear and turned to her, closing
the space between them on the bench seat. "Bonnie, I don't ask a lot from you," he said in a very
soft voice. She had to admit that was true. He'd given her everything she'd ever wanted but all
he ever really asked for was sex and occasional support. She felt the blood rush to her head.
"But I'm asking this. It's not going to hurt you any to meet my folks. That's all I want. Okay?"

She swallowed hard. "All right," she squeaked out. "I'll go."

"Thanks, honey. Honest, it's not gonna hurt any. They're good folks."

"That's the part I'm afraid of. Nice folks don't usually 'cozy up' to women like me," she
said as he put the car back into gear and pulled back onto the highway.

"Just hold onto your horses, honey. You'll see when we get there. It's not too much
further."

The lights of San Antonio grew closer, but they hadn't passed into the city limits when Sean
Patrick pulled off at an exit and turned north, drove a few miles, then turned west again. The
road was paved for several more miles, then gave way to fine and deep gravel that crunched
beneath the wheels, leading up a sweeping driveway shadowed beneath a canopy of enormous
sycamores, trees so big around Bonnie was certain she couldn't put her arms around them. "My
daddy planted them trees when I was just a baby," said Sean Patrick.

She looked again at the huge old trees and then at the man beside her with a renewed
understanding of just how old he really was. The drive opened to curl around a wide, emerald-
green lawn. To the left wide pastures spread out behind a fence where a couple dozen beautiful
horses were grazing. A man on a gorgeous Appaloosa lifted a hand toward the car as Sean
Patrick pulled around and up to the deeply shadowed front porch of the gigantic main house. He
waved back before putting the car in park. A boy of about ten or so shot off the porch shouting,
"Uncle Sean Patrick's back!" He slammed into Sean Patrick at full speed, but Sean Patrick
caught him, heaving him into the air effortlessly.

"Hey, kiddo!"

A swarm of children of all ages flooded out of the house, thundering down the steps like a
herd of cattle, although the cattle themselves appeared to be very well-behaved, standing
mildly in the pastures.

While the children greeted their obviously beloved uncle, Bonnie looked around at the
pasture lands. Beyond the main house were other buildings, stables and barns and car garages,
smaller houses where brown children played in the dust, although they had started to migrate
toward the front of the main house, along with all the white children. Although, she considered,
some of them were almost as dark, just like Sean Patrick might look if he were able to go into the
sun.

"Senor Sean Patrick!" A middle-aged Mexican man came from the depths of the porch.
Sean Patrick tossed him the keys to the big Pontiac. "Welcome home!"

"Hey, Miguel. Park her for me, would you?"

"Of course, Senor. I'll have Juan haul your stuff upstairs."

"Gracias, amigo." Sean Patrick waded through the mass of kids to assist Bonnie through the
crowd. "Clear the way, clear the way, you bunch of curtain climbers," he said with good cheer.
"Presents later, I promise. I never forget, do I? Three, you sonofagun!"

A tall man with messy, dirty-blond hair and an oddly plain, long face with sleepy eyes had
appeared on the top step of the porch. Bonnie recognized him from the picture. The porch itself
was reached by three shallow, wide steps, with beams on each side that appeared to be the trunks
of massive oaks. The porch circled the outside of the house, with similar beams set at regular
intervals. Comfortable chairs and tables were scattered here and there. The windows were large,
and the massive front door was wide open, leading into an arched front foyer with polished
hardwood floors. A rustic braided rug decorated the floor under a simple drop lamp which was
lit against the early morning dimness. The rising sun had cast most of the front of the house into
shadow, so Sean Patrick didn't seem to be worried about it, as though returning to the safety of
his own home had given him invincibility.

The two men gripped hands, then embraced. "About damned time you came home," Three
said, his accent as slow and laconic as Sean Patrick's own. He smiled at
Bonnie, his smile, like that of his uncle, dazzling enough to make his plain face rather attractive.
"None of you kids heard me say that."

"Okay," said the oldest boy, who looked about fifteen.

"Three, this here is Bonnie. Bonnie, this is my grand-nephew, Matthew O'Connor the Third.
Just call him Three. Like I told you, that's his idea."

"Just until I find a name that's all my own," he said with that same wonderful smile, gripping
her hand in both of his and kissing it. "There's way too many Matts on this ranch as it is. But I
think you're the one and only Bonnie."

"She's a Scot, but don't hold it against her," said Sean Patrick cheerfully.

"I never said I was Scottish," she protested, instead of saying "nice to meet you," which was
what she'd meant to say.

"Your name is Bonnie Michaels, honey. You've just walked into a big ol' nest of Irish folk,"
replied Sean Patrick with a grin.

"Who is she, Uncle Sean Patrick?" asked one of the kids, a little boy with a shock of curly
brown hair like his uncle's.

"This is my friend Bonnie, Ian," said Sean Patrick, ruffling the boy's hair affectionately.

Bonnie smiled up at Three. "It is nice to meet you."

"I'm glad Sean Patrick brought you to see us," he said, his voice warm. "We've been eager
to--"

"Size me up?" she supplied helpfully. He laughed.

"Not just that. Anyone who makes Sean Patrick that happy," he jerked his thumb at the
vampire, who was on his knees amidst the smallest of the kids, listening raptly to a very
important story about lizards, "is very all right with us."

"Hey, all you kids, vamooose outta heeyah," came a slow drawl in a voice that was very like
Sean Patrick's, only weighted with age, and an old man appeared at the other opening of the
foyer. The kids immediately dispersed, scattering before the old man, and Sean Patrick rose
slowly to his feet to turn to face him. "About damned time you got your skinny ass back
heeyah," said the old man, drawing his words out, slow. There was a flash in his eyes that was
part anger, but part affection and relief.

"Language, Matt," said Sean Patrick mildly. "Matt, this here's my friend Bonnie. Bonnie,
this is Matthew O'Connor Jr."

Despite Sean Patrick's cavalier attitude, she could feel the vast respect he had for the old
man, and she immediately felt it, as well. "Pleased to meet you, sir," she said, managing to resist
dropping into a curtsey. She was fixed by his stern, brown-eyed gaze. His eyes were enormous,
like his uncle's, but they didn't have the same sparkle. Age had made him fiercely adult, rather
than boyishly childlike.

"Good to meet ya, young lady. Sean Patrick, I wanna talk to you, boy. Matt, son, take the
little lady and let your wife settle her in good, would you?"

"Will do, Daddy," replied Three. Matt grabbed Sean Patrick's arm and dragged him off.
Three took Bonnie's elbow, but in a much nicer way. "Come on, Bonnie. Let's see if we can
find my lovely bride and she can, as Daddy said, settle you in."

"How long have you been married?" she asked him, looking at his face as they followed the
others out of the foyer and into the main front room of the house.

Her attempt at small talk faded and she barely heard him answer, "About a year and a half,"
as she stared in awe at the exquisite, massive ballroom, which seemed to stretch the entire length
of the house. Two more wide, shallow steps led down to a highly polished hardwood floor which
spread out to a pair of sweeping staircases that made semi-circles up the far end of the room,
leading up to balconies that overlooked the room. Beneath each of the balconies were raised
daises, one of which had an arch behind it, leading off deeper into the house, while the other
simply had richly brocaded drapes at the back. There were a couple of tabby cats sleeping on the
velvet divan against this wall, next to the arch.

"This is lovely," Bonnie breathed.

"Thanks," he said, so casually she realized it didn't even occur to him that a stranger might
be flabbergasted by his home, the place he walked through every day without even seeing it. He
led her to the left-handed stairway and called, "Blythe! You in earshot, honey?"

"I'm coming, I'm coming. I wasn't dressed when the kids sounded the Return of the
Vampire," came a cheerful feminine Texas accent, slightly different from that of the other
members of the O'Connor family. The voice was followed by the most beautiful woman that
Bonnie had ever seen in her life.

The photograph had simply not done Blythe O'Connor justice. She was rather shorter than
Bonnie, with a warm, dusky complexion and sultry, dark brown eyes. Her heavy, thick, black
hair was swept up in a loose, casual knot on the back of her head, and she was dressed in plain
jeans and a man's checked shirt, wearing the same dusty cowboy boots that apparently everyone
here wore, and the plain clothes only made her even more beautiful. She wasn't too thin, but her
figure was perfect, her apple-red cheeks softly rounded, her elegant, graceful arms decorated with
several brightly jangling bangle bracelets. She appeared to be quite young, no more than twenty-
five at the most, making Bonnie look curiously at Three. Blythe's appearance had made him
sparkle, his whole face lighting up. "Hey there, darlin'," he said, "Sean Patrick's brought us a
guest."

"Bonnie!" Blythe cried as though greeting an old, dear friend. Bonnie reached out a hand,
expecting to shake, but was instead enveloped in a warm and rib-crushing hug. "It's so good to
meet you at last!"

"I'm gonna head back down to get the hands out to the fields, honey," said Three, kissing his
wife on the cheek, "if you'll take care of Bonnie."

"I will certainly do that. Don't you have any bags, hon'?"

"Someone was bringing them up?" said Bonnie, making it more of a question. She was
feeling a little overwhelmed, but so far, everyone was marvelous in the enormous O'Connor
house.

"Of course, probably Juan or one of the other boys. Come on this way, sugar. I'm assumin'
you'll be stayin' in Sean Patrick's room, right?"

"I guess so."

"Unless you want your own room. The good Lord knows we have enough space."

"It's a beautiful house," said Bonnie.

"Oh, I thought so, too, sugar, when I first came here with Three," said Blythe, sliding her arm
through Bonnie's. "There's miles of house to explore, and every nook and cranny is filled with
little O'Connors." She guided them up one of the sweeping staircases.

"I noticed. Are any of them yours?" asked Bonnie, before remembering Three had said
they'd only been married a little over a year. But Blythe didn't appear offended.

"Not yet. We'll get there, though. If there's one thing these boys can do, it's father
children," said Blythe with a laugh. "Sean Patrick's room is the third door on the right, here.
The master bedroom is the first door."

"And the second one?"

"It's Matt's office, but Sean Patrick told me once it was his mother's dressing room when he
was a boy. I don't think any of the ladies of the house have used it that way since Maria died."

"Maria?"

"Sean Patrick's mother. I know Letty didn't use it," said Blythe. "That was Matt's wife,
Letty. She was a sure firebrand, that one. I am so sorry I didn't get to know her better, but she
passed on before Three and I married."

"What happened to her?"

"She took a fall from her jumper," said Blythe, "broke her neck straight out, wasn't a thing
anyone could do for her. But I gotta say, she sure died as she lived. This is Sean Patrick's
room." She opened the solid dark wood door into a large, gloomy room. She crossed to the
windows and pulled back the heavy drapes, letting in the cool morning light. "Fortunately for
him, it faces west, so he can leave the drapes open part of the day, provided he's awake to close
'em before the sun comes over the house," she said.

With the drapes open, Bonnie could see the room was actually rather warmly furnished, for
all its size; the wood was dark but the bedclothes were rust-and-gold, the rug a bright gold color
and there were several nice paintings on the wall, featuring landscapes and animals much like
those she could see right out the window. There was also a rather complex genealogy, with the
O'Connor crest on it, starting with Liam and Maria O'Connor. Sean Patrick was the first name
beneath theirs, along with Matthew and Michael. "That's the start of our impressive dynasty,"
said Blythe, noticing where she was looking.

"As soon as your things are here, you can freshen up," she went on. "The washroom is in
here, and there is fortunately indoor plumbing. Old Matt had it installed back in the forties, had
the whole place piped and plumbed. Apparently it was quite the project."

"There's no mirror on the vanity," said Bonnie. "Because Sean Patrick is--?"

"Oh, no. I asked him the same thing once, and he told me it was broken when he was a boy,
and his folks never replaced it," Blythe replied. "He wouldn't tell me how it got broke, though.
Maybe you can get that out of him." She grinned, dimpling a little, and squeezed Bonnie's hands
again. "I'm so glad you're here. I've been just dying to meet you."

"Really? I mean... I am...." Bonnie hesitated.

"Oh, don't you fuss about that," said Blythe. "You make Sean Patrick happy, and that makes
all of us happy. We know what he, well, what he needs from you. That doesn't make you a bad
person. I just hope you don't mind if that doesn't get bandied about outside the family, though.
We all keep the secret about Sean Patrick being a vampire. Him having a mistress is just another
family secret."

Bonnie smiled, even though she felt her cheeks coloring. "Thank you, Blythe."

Blythe winked. "Get some rest, honey. I'll see if I can pry Matt away from Sean Patrick and
let him come up to you." She closed the door behind her as she left.

Bonnie looked around the room. It seemed bigger than her whole house. Sean Patrick's bed
was much narrower than she'd expected, but it was also long enough to accommodate his tall
frame. There was, not unexpectedly, a calico cat crouched in the center of the thick coverlet,
blinking steady whiskey-colored eyes at her. The vanity, desk, and tall bureau all matched, dark
solid walnut, she guessed, or maybe mahogany, with a great many scrolls and engravings and
flourishes, well-polished and oiled but cracked and worn with age. The struts on the vanity still
stood, showing there had been a mirror once; in its place Sean Patrick had hung a decorative
display of arrowheads, set on red velvet in a gilt-edged wooden frame, which had a neat
description at the bottom stating they had all been found on O'Connor lands. The whole room
felt like him, as though his presence had permeated the very wood of the floor, the beams of the
ceilings, the faded paper on the walls and the cherished photographs on the vanity, desk, and
bureau; photos of a couple she guessed to be his parents, of Three and Blythe at their wedding, of
a much younger Matt and a blonde woman who could only be Three's mother, for she had his
same long, plain-yet-oddly-attractive face. Blythe looked more closely at her, realizing she'd
seen the woman before, in one of the photos Sean Patrick carried in his wallet. There were
pictures of many of the children, of men on horses, and many other faces, all with that stamp of
familiarity that told her they were all, somehow, O'Connors.

It was a tidy, well-loved, comfortable bedroom, long used and very like him, neat without
being fussy, masculine without being overpowering, smelling slightly like whiskey and spearmint
and cigarettes. It spoke of wealth without being garish, the home of old, proud money, like the
rest of the house. She looked at his bookshelves, not at all surprised by the wide range of
literature there, then sat at his desk. From here she could see out at the fields spread out as far as
the eye could see, a line of more trees that must mark a river, the crystalline blue sky beyond.
There was a smallish portable television on a stand next to the desk which could be easily seen
from the bed, stacked beneath with copies of TV Guide, most of them a few weeks old since of
course he hadn't been home in a while.

When the door opened it was just a young Mexican man with their luggage. He smiled
at her and spoke in Spanish, but all she understood was "Senor Sean Patrick." She smiled and
said "Gracias," though, as he put down all the bags he carried. He closed the door behind him.
Bonnie found her own small suitcase, which had now only dirty clothes in it with her overnight
bag, and sighed. Sean Patrick had given her the idea this would be a short trip. They'd already
been gone well over a week. She had nothing at all to wear, and the only woman she'd met thus
far was Blythe, who couldn't possibly share clothes with her, they weren't anywhere near the
same size.

She'd never been able to be one of those women who could wear her boyfriend's clothes.
Sean Patrick's shirts barely closed over her breasts and she couldn't even try to squeeze
her hips into his narrow jeans. Hopefully there was someplace she could do laundry. Well, no
doubt there was, she'd just have to find it. She unpacked what she had and put her overnight bag
into the washroom, a nice if old-fashioned setup, then laid down on his bed.

She woke up when Sean Patrick finally came back in. He had a stubborn scowl on his face,
but he brightened when he saw her. "Hey, Bonnie-girl. I sure am glad you came home with me."

"What's going on?" she asked.

"We're going to get a little sleep while the house gets on with its daily activities. The rug
rats know better than to come up here during the day," said Sean Patrick, closing the heavy
drapes again and shutting out the endless Texas scenery. He turned to her, starting to pull off his
shirt. "And we might do some other things." He was grinning, but his eyes were still a little
angry, the happy crinkles didn't show at the corners. Bonnie slipped off the bed and went to him,
sliding her hands up his chest to his shoulders.

"Are you all right?" she asked softly.

"I'll be fine, honey," he responded, relaxing a little at her touch, "just a little welcome-home
fracas. Junior thinks he can run my world and at his age, it's hard to argue with him. He thinks
I'm just a kid."

"Well, I suppose, to him, you kinda look like it," she said. "Three is, what, nearly forty?
And he gets treated the same way."

"You noticed that, did you? Three is not forty, he's only thirty-seven. Or will be, in
November."

"Oh, only," said Bonnie, teasing, hugging his neck. "You do realize I haven't any clothes at
all, don't you? Everything I brought I've worn, some of them twice. Even the clothes I bought in
Tombstone. I didn't realize this was going to be a long road trip."

"Ah, yes. Well, hold that thought." He detangled himself and snapped his shirt shut again.
"Gimme your laundry."

"I can do it later."

"Give me your laundry," he enunciated more clearly, opening his own bags and taking out
the clothes he'd worn on his trip. He took her clothes, too, and set the whole pile outside in the
hallway. "There. It'll be done by supper. Now. Where were we?" He turned to gather her back
into his arms, bending over her. Bonnie eagerly kissed him back.

"Are you sure? I don't want to put anyone out," she said, when their lips parted.

He frowned a little, as though she'd asked quite a puzzler. "What? Oh, no, honey, that's just
standard practice. One of the maids will take care of it."

"Of course you have maids."

"House this big, we need 'em." He was as casual about it as Three had been. "I pay a maid
for you, don't I?"

"Certainly, but she only comes in three times a week and I do my own laundry," replied
Bonnie.

"Nothin' wrong with that," he said, and picked her up. "You know, I've never made love to
anyone in this bed."

She caught the way he qualified that sentence. "I take that to mean there has been sex?" she
questioned.

"You know, honey, you sell yourself short when you say you're not bright. You pick up stuff
pretty quick," he replied, kissing her on the nose as he laid her down on the extraordinarily soft
pale rust-colored sheets, disturbing the cat, who jumped down and vanished. "All I'll say to that
one is yes, there has been sex. We're gonna make that all better now."

Making love. It seemed a strange, almost alien concept, and yet, Bonnie didn't mind it when
he said it, especially since he did make her feel loved when he gently caressed her and drew her
to those lovely highs he could always take her to. She had worried, especially when he wanted to
bring her home, about the word "love." It wasn't supposed to be love, although sometimes when
she looked at him and her heart gave a leap and started to race, she found herself concerned. The
last thing she wanted to do to herself was fall in love with him. But oh, when he made her glow
like this, from the inside, it was so hard; and when he did that vampire thing with his sharp fangs
against her neck, instead of fear it made her yearn for more and more of him because it made her
know him so well.

Bonnie woke up much later with only a moment's disorientation, almost expecting to be back
at the B and B. Sean Patrick stayed deeply asleep when she moved, instead of coming instantly
awake, and she guessed it was because he was so relaxed in his own bed. She smiled at his
sleeping face, which always looked so very young and innocent, completely carefree. It gave her
the chance to do something she'd never been able to but had always wanted to, touch the smooth
skin of his face while he slept, brushing the unruly curls off his forehead. He murmured a little,
but didn't wake, shifting a little on his pillow and turning toward her. He let out a low breath and
said clearly, "Moira."

Something cold gripped her stomach. That only happened in fiction, didn't it? One's lover
talking in their sleep, speaking an unfamiliar name. But Sean Patrick had never given her any
promises. She knew, she'd always known, that despite his courtesy, despite his kindness,
despite all the wonderful gifts he showered on her and the loving way he treated her, he did not
love her. She knew that. It shouldn't bother her that he whispered another woman's name in his
sleep. It didn't. Yet somehow it did.

Who was Moira? Was he dreaming about her? Was she real? Bonnie once more lightly
touched his face. He sighed, but he didn't speak again. He seemed to sink a little deeper into
sleep, even. Bonnie carefully slid out of the narrow bed, not disturbing him, and went into the
little washroom.

There was no mirror here, either, and this she guessed was likely deliberate, since when the
room was added it was with the knowledge that its vampire inhabitant would not need one. She
brushed her hair and washed her face, then rinsed her mouth and brushed her teeth. Naked, she
looked around the room and found a heavy red velvet robe. She slipped it on then carefully
cracked open the door. As he'd said, this wing of the house appeared to be empty of people, no
one wanting to disturb the sleeping vampire, but on the carved wooden valet that stood in the hall
outside the door, she found all their clothes already cleaned, his suit and her dresses neatly and
expertly pressed, hanging on heavy wooden hangers, the rest of the clothes folded into tidy piles,
hers and his. Bonnie gathered them up and brought them inside, pulling on a pair of slacks and a
blouse before returning his robe to the hook she'd found it on.

Moira. Moira. The name chased itself around in her head no matter how hard she tried to
push it out. Someone he'd known when he'd been human? Another vampire? Not his sire
Amanda, she knew somehow he'd never whisper that name in his sleep, not with that happy,
loving voice. Yes, the name had been caressed by his subconscious voice, said with such
affection Bonnie couldn't put words to it. She wondered if she should stay in the room or if it
would be all right to explore the house, and after only a moment, decided on the latter. Surely he
wouldn't mind if she looked around a little at the impressive mansion. Hacienda. Whatever.

The hallway led either back to the stairs down to the large main ballroom, or the other way,
all the way around the house in a square until she arrived at the opposite stairway down. Along
the way she passed doors on both the left and right, some opened; she peered into some of
them and found the ones on the right-hand side looked out, into the pastures and fields, while the
ones on the left offered a view of a massive courtyard that the house was built in a square around,
a central garden that put her own to shame. She ventured into an empty room to peer out at the
courtyard, where there was a large fountain surrounded by white gravel paths leading through
flowering plants and cacti, with decorative statues of animals here and there and a few large
shade trees spread over benches. One of the benches was occupied by a young couple who were
kissing. Bonnie left them their privacy and continued around the square until she reached the
ballroom again, then went down the stairs and started to circle the house on the ground floor.
Past the ballroom was a large main parlor, deeply shadowed with all the drapes closed, and then a
warm and welcoming family room, where a large console television stood against the far wall.
There was a ping-pong table, a card table, and a piano. Blythe was here, curled in a chair by the
wide-open window, reading a book. She looked up as Bonnie came in.

"Oh, good, you're up," she said, putting a bookmark between the pages she was reading and
sitting up. "Hungry?"

"I am," replied Bonnie. "Sean Patrick is still sleeping. I thought I'd look around a little."

"Sometimes when he gets back from these trips he doesn't stir until after sundown," said
Blythe, dismissing Sean Patrick with a wave of one hand. She sat forward, patting her hands
together. "First, let's get you a little breakfast."

"Do you call it breakfast at this time of the day?"

"Oh, in this house, it's called breakfast any time Sean Patrick wants to eat it. He really does
make the whole place light up when he's here," said Blythe. She rose and took Bonnie's arm,
threading it through her own. "Come on. The kitchen's this way. We can find you something to
eat and we can chat. I'm hoping that tomorrow you might get up a little earlier, though. Maybe
you and I can go into town and do a little shopping."

"You want to go shopping with me?" Bonnie asked, startled.

"Well, of course, honey." Blythe's smile was like a perfect sunrise, spreading light and
warmth over all it touched. Her warm brown eyes sparkled with honest affection.

"It's not a bad idea. Sean Patrick didn't really warn me about coming out here. I only
packed enough for a couple of days, and we passed that a couple of days ago," said Bonnie.

"I always like to find new shopping partners, honey," said Blythe with a grin that was not at
all unlike the expressions Bonnie's friends back home wore when talking about shopping, "I'll be
honest, sometimes I get crazy out here in the sticks. I was born and raised in Dallas."

"I couldn't help but notice that you're, well, a little younger..." Bonnie started hesitantly.

"Than my Three? Yes, yes." She waved a hand, dismissing the problem. "He's almost
sixteen years older than me. We're actually literally a May-November romance. That is, my
birthday's in May and his is in November." She grinned, winking at Bonnie.

"So how did that come about?" asked Bonnie.

Blythe led her into the huge, mostly stainless-steel kitchen and sat her down at a welcoming
nook, where it was clear the family often had impromptu snacks. She rummaged in the
refrigerator, ignoring the cats who milled around her feet, as she answered, "Well, Three was an
invitee at my coming-out. He was an 'eligible bachelor,' so he got an invite just like all the
others. A coming out is just like the prince's ball in Cinderella. They parade you like bait to
catch the best husband." She grinned again, pulling out a tray of cold cuts and loaf of homemade
bread. She set them on the table in front of Bonnie, then followed it with a jar of dill pickles, a
crock of fresh mayonnaise and a lump of butter, which Bonnie guessed was also homemade.
"What do you like to drink? We have the usual, Dr Pepper and this morning's milk, and there's
beer, of course."

"Milk, I think."

"Oh, and there's some lemonade, too," said Blythe, putting both a pitcher of milk and a
pitcher of lemonade on the table with the glasses. "Dig in." She started to make herself a thick
sandwich.

"You had a coming-out?"

"Yes. My daddy wouldn't have it any other way. Mother wasn't as keen on it, but she was
willing to go along with tradition. Daddy comes from one of these American royal families, too,
so it's not like I wasn't prepared for it. Anyway, Three says he saw me and it was love at first
sight, yeah, right. I know what he saw. There I was, just as cute as could be, a little girl in a
pretty white dress--"

"You do know what you look like, don't you?"asked Bonnie, smiling.

Blythe rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Anyway, we got to talking that night and I found out that
he's probably the greatest man in the world. I didn't fall in love with him at first sight, but it was
probably somewhere that night. So he went the old-fashioned route and asked Daddy for my
hand, and my parents made us wait until I was twenty, or rather, they wanted us to wait for me to
turn twenty. We ended up getting married just before my nineteenth birthday." She looked at the
big diamond on her finger and smiled. "My parents really just wanted to make sure it was a right
match, and not just a good match. Three, he was certainly eligible. Rich, well-placed, one of the
best names in central Texas. But for me, he's just special. I'm one lucky girl. Depending on how
things go with San Antonio, someday this place will be ours. But you know, I'd love him if we
were living in a hovel somewhere."

"That's wonderful," said Bonnie, trying to imagine someone actually falling in love with her,
making him light up the way Three did when he saw Blythe. She made her own sandwich and
ate hungrily, enjoying the amazing freshness of everything, the coldcuts obviously home-roasted
meats, possibly even raised right here on the ranch. Even the pickles had been put up by
someone here. It was all spectacularly delicious. They were finishing up, chatting about books
and wines and Bonnie was telling Blythe all about Las Vegas, when Sean Patrick showed up at
the door, dressed in a plain grey shirt and worn jeans.

"Ah, there we are," he said, running his hand through his hair. He hadn't bothered to
pomade it at all, so the curls were loose around his face, giving him a casual, homey appearance.
"Oh, man. Them's Maria's pickles, ain't they?"

"Maria's pickles and Bridget's bread," said Blythe. "Join us, handsome."

"Believe I will. Is there any wine?"

"Of course there is."

He bent and opened a wine cooler next to the refrigerator and took out a bottle, then found a
corkscrew. "So you enjoyin' yourself, there, Bonnie-girl?" he asked, pouring himself a glass of
semi-sweet white wine.

"I am. And the food is amazing."

"Nothin' like Ocee food," he replied with a pleased, proud expression. "Blythe, honey, you're
a consummate hostess," he said, kissing her on the cheek.

A Mexican woman came in through one of the other doors, one that lead outside, and
dropped a basket of laundry when she saw him. "Senor Sean Patrick!"

"Maria, my sweet, you are a sight for sore eyes!" he replied, catching the heavy-set older
woman in his arms and lifting her as easily as he did with the children. "I don't know how I live
without your cooking." He kissed her tenderly, somewhat enthusiastically, making Bonnie's
eyebrows go up, but Blythe just chuckled, going back to her sandwich. The door opened again
and an elderly Mexican man came in.

"Senor Sean Patrick, mi amigo, I'll thank you to drop mi esposa," he said in a mild, cheerful
voice.

Sean Patrick laughed and set Maria on her feet. "Howdy, Guillaime."

"Good to have you home, Senor." The men shook hands.

Sean Patrick picked up his glass and sat at the table with Bonnie and Blythe, settling in next
to Bonnie and hugging her shoulders. "This is one of my favorite places in the whole wide
world, Bonnie-girl, right here in this kitchen."

"That's because he eats like seven men," said Blythe.

"I've noticed," said Bonnie. She saw the way the two looked at each other, and gave Sean
Patrick a curious look.

"Don't worry, Bonnie-girl," he said. "Blythe and I just flirt, nothing further. She's so firmly
attached to that horse-faced fella of hers she doesn't even see me most of the time."

"Horse-faced?" Three's voice came from behind them, and Bonnie had the idea Sean Patrick
knew he was there before he'd said it, especially the way he grinned into his wine glass. "Look
who's talking." Three settled into the nook next to Blythe. "I've never seen anyone as ugly as
you, vampire."

"Jealousy, jealousy," tsked Sean Patrick.

Three helped himself to Sean Patrick's wine bottle. "So what're the plans, my girls?" he
asked, pouring himself a glass.

"I want to take Bonnie to town tomorrow," said Blythe.

"Good idea. She didn't bring a lot of clothes with her," said Sean Patrick.

"Well, besides that, it's a good time to start Christmas shopping," said Blythe, sticking out
her tongue at him. "She might have brought enough if you'd told her she was coming here."

"Yeah, if I'd warned her what I had in mind, she wouldn't have come."

"You planned this?" squeaked Bonnie. "You bastard."

"Language, language," said Sean Patrick. "Yes, I planned this. I did want to go back and
stand on my grave, though, so you gave me that opening. I would have figured out something
else eventually, though. I wanted to bring you home to meet everyone. You just have to deal
with it, darlin'. Now, then. When you head off to town tomorrow, don't forget to pick me up a
couple of chocolate bars. I wiped out what was here this morning."

"When did you do that?" asked Bonnie.

"Between talking to Junior and coming up to bed," replied Sean Patrick. He finished the
wine in his glass and refilled it. "I needed it."

"I would guess that Daddy drilled you down and you needed to relax," said Three, doing the
same with his glass. "I swear to God, there's a power in chocolate that soothes the savage
vampire breast."

"Oh, maybe," said Sean Patrick.

"That explains how he managed to wipe out an entire box of See's Candies in fifteen
minutes," said Bonnie. "But then, I also watched him eat most of a roast turkey along with a
sweet potato the size of my head at our little Thanksgiving-before-Thanksgiving party."

Sean Patrick grinned. Blythe perked up. "See's? He brought us some of that once.
Best candy I ever ate, and that's counting home-made pralines!"

"Some of the best," Bonnie agreed. "Not quite as good as Ethel M's, but then, I'm a Vegas
girl."

Sean Patrick reached for the platter and built himself a massive sandwich, layering meat and
bread, pausing a moment and looking around. "No mustard? No tomatoes? No lettuce?"

"We ate the tomato," said Blythe. "I didn't want to cut too much."

"And you don't like mustard, I know," said Sean Patrick, going back to the fridge for
mustard and lettuce. "I'm surprised Bonnie didn't ask."

"I liked the fresh mayo and butter," she said. "The butter is amazingly delicious. I've never
tasted anything so good."

"Best in the state, milk and butter from O'Connor cows," said Sean Patrick. "And
considering I'm talking about Texas, that means some remarkable cattle."

The small talk continued until Maria announced dinner, but since the foursome were stuffed
with sandwiches, only Sean Patrick actually ate very much. Bonnie shared the wine with Three
and Blythe, and felt very much at home by the time they went back to bed.

Several wonderful, bright days passed, bringing more delicious food, several trips to town
for shopping and dancing and movies. Blythe loved to play, and she dragged along her newfound
friend with delight. "It's great to have another couple to go out with," she told Bonnie
enthusiastically.

"There are other couples on the ranch, aren't there?" Bonnie asked.

"Well, yes, but our own age, who like to go out and play," replied Blythe, ignoring the vast
difference in their actual ages, meaning their mental outlook. Bonnie chuckled and tucked her
arm through Blythe's. Today there would be more shopping, a visit to the beauty parlor, and a
casual afternoon tea with Blythe's other friends, high society women who didn't know what
Bonnie was, and as far as they were concerned, any friend of Blythe O'Connor was their friend,
as well.

"Sometimes I don't understand why you don't mind me coming along to these parties,"
Bonnie said to Blythe one afternoon after the ladies had left and Paloma was clearing away the
tea things. "I feel like I'm going to be caught out in a gigantic lie."

Blythe made a rude noise that would have scandalized her fine lady friends. "Posh," she said.
"You're the most genuine person I know, honey, and you just need to stop selling yourself short.
I'd proudly tell them everything about you if it didn't mean I'd have to tell 'em about Sean Patrick,
too."

"How is it that no one knows about him?" asked Bonnie, leaning her chin on her crossed
fingers. "It can't go unnoticed that he's never changed, can it?"

Blythe shrugged. "I guess people see what they want to see. I know there're folks in the old
town of O'Connor who certainly must know, they've known him and the rest of the family for
decades, but since the O'Connors are important to this part of the country, they keep the secret. I
know there's always been that catch-22, technically magic is illegal in Texas, and therefore
magickal critters like Sean Patrick, but on the other hand, a lot of people don't or won't believe
magic still exists or ever did." She reached over and snatched a pastry off the tray before Paloma
cleared it away. "I think it worries him sometimes."

Bonnie turned slightly to look out the window at the vast Texas landscape. "I think that's one
of the reasons he likes Las Vegas. No one there cares much what anyone else does."

Blythe waited until Paloma left the room, then glanced around as though checking to make
sure they were completely alone. "Now the important question," she said, her grin turning
mischievous, "What's he like in bed?"

"Blythe!" The two women giggled and whispered about bedroom habits until Sean Patrick
and Three appeared.

"No grub?" asked Three, sitting by his wife and looking with disappointment at the clean
table. "What's the topic under discussion?"

"Girl talk," replied Blythe, giving Sean Patrick a sly smile, making him frown a little in
confusion and look sideways at Bonnie, who grinned. "We can go in for dinner any time."

"We were thinking about going out, actually," said Sean Patrick.

"That suits us gals just fine," replied Blythe, standing. She grabbed Bonnie's hand and they
fled the room, still giggling like schoolgirls.

The warm Texas days were starting to shorten, but didn't seem much cooler, and the nights
were getting long. Bonnie liked to get up during the day and walk around the grounds,
sometimes pitching in and helping with the chores, before Sean Patrick rose and their days
began. She'd lost track of how long she'd been there, and was starting not to care, when she came
out to the porch to find Matt sitting in one of the wooden chairs, whittling, his knife drawing out
a herd of galloping horses trapped within the rather pretty wood. He saw her as she walked past
and said, "C'mere, Miss Michaels."

Unwilling to disobey him, Bonnie came and sat on the chair he indicated. "Yes, sir?" she
asked politely.

"I wanna talk to you a little," he said. "You don't have any ideas about Sean Patrick, do you,
gal?"

"Ideas, sir?"

He blew shavings away from his carving and set the horses to one side. "Sean Patrick's not
your common fellow, you know."

"I'm aware of that, sir," she said, wishing she knew how to gain some amount of traction with
him, but she felt so very much a little girl with him it was hard to not call him 'sir,' hard not to
defer to him, and she felt certain she couldn't flirt with him. She coughed a little. "I'm his
mistress. Nothing more. He comes to me for something he needs. Something he quite frankly
can't get from the women here." Might as well be honest with him. Surely the old man
understood.

He seemed to. He nodded. "Yep, I know, honey," he said. "And I know he brought you here
because he's a stubborn jackass who never listens to a thing I tell him." His eyebrows drew down
in a frown, but his lips were smiling, a strangely quirky expression that told her he wasn't upset
with her. "Plain truth is, we're pretty comfortable with our vampire. But it's a lot more than
that," he looked hard at her. "We protect him. He's important to us. We wouldn't be who we are
if it weren't for him. I want you to be aware of that, little girl."

"I do know what he is," she said softly. "I understand, you know, Matt."

Matt reached forward to take her hand. "Sean Patrick has his needs. I know that better than
most people, better than even he knows. But I don't want him getting involved in anything he
can't get himself out of. You can't be his wife."

Bonnie swallowed. "I know that."

"Do you really, honey? No offense, darlin', but you're gonna get old. He ain't. He can't love
a human woman, he can't marry you. I think it's best all around if you two would remember the
arrangement you have. I'll admit I had my reservations about him settin' you up, but since he's
done it, I have to admit it's done him a world of good. Until he brought you here."

Bonnie blinked a few times, trying not to get upset. Matt was right, of course. She'd been
getting far too comfortable in this, pretending to be a real wife instead of the mistress. He
squeezed her hand, and when she looked back at him, she saw there was kindness in his brown
eyes, just as kind as his uncle and his son. "I know who I am, too, sir," she whispered, her voice
tightening.

"Now, girl, don't get like that. If he were a human boy and brought you home to us I'd have
been first in line to welcome you to our family. I wish he could marry you. You're a fine gal, and
a lovely lady, so don't you be thinking poorly of yourself. I'm sayin' what I'm sayin' because you
are a fine woman, and you deserve better than a fellow who treats you so shoddy. If I had my
way, he'd cut you loose and you could find a man who'd treat you decent."

Bonnie stared at him in surprise. "I asked for this, you know," she said. "If it hadn't been
him, it would have been some other older man. That's... that's the way I was raised."

"Well, bull," said Matt, dismissing her childhood as easily as Sean Patrick had done. "You
could be anything you want to be. I'm just hoping you don't come to expect more from our
vampire."

"Don't worry, Matt," said Bonnie. She smiled a little. "He doesn't love me."

"Sean Patrick falls in love easy, girl."

"Not with me," she replied, then she dared to ask. "Who is Moira?"

Matt's cheeks colored slightly. "Where'd you hear that name?"

"He said it once, in his sleep," she replied, trying hard to quell the weird feelings that
admission made in her stomach. "I don't know who she is, but I know she means a great deal to
him. We do share the blood-bond. I can feel a little of what he feels."

"You and I have that much in common, girl," he grunted, rubbing his neck. How many
people here had Sean Patrick fed on? How few didn't want to feed the vampire who bound their
family together? "Moira was a woman he knew, back in the thirties. They used to write to each
other. He'd go off to England once in a while to visit her, and bear in mind, that was before
international jet flights. But then she got married, to someone human. I don't think he ever got
over it. Obviously not, if he's still dreaming about her." He paused, then shrugged. "I don't want
to see either of you hurt."

"He doesn't love me," said Bonnie again, her voice tight.

Matt patted her on the shoulder. "But you love him, don'tcha, girl?"

It wasn't really a question. Bonnie shook her head, denying it, but no amount of denial could
change the way her stomach flopped about, or the lead weights on her heart at the casual
discussion of the love that had haunted Sean Patrick for at least thirty years. She swallowed
against a lump in her throat. "I don't," she whispered.

"Keep on saying that to yourself, sugar." He patted her again, then startled her by leaning
forward and kissing her on the cheek. "You're a nice gal. I wish he were a normal boy and I
didn't have to say this, but I really do think on the whole it's best if you tell him to send you
home, and y'all go back to your arrangement, where he has to travel to visit you, and only once in
a while. Best for both of you." He picked up his carving and his knife.

"You're probably right," she said, drawing in a deep breath. She'd been pretending for too
long.

"I hope you don't think I'm throwin' you out, honey," he went on. "I'm just tellin' you what I
think, and hope you understand. If you want to, you can stay as long as you'd like. I know you
and Blythe are thick as thieves, and it's good for her to have a friend she can really confide in. I
can yell at Sean Patrick later."

Bonnie managed to smile. "No, don't do that. I'll tell him I want to go home." Matt smiled
at her, then offered her lemonade. She accepted, and sat with him in the early evening twilight as
the chickens clucked around the porch steps and he finished his carving. After a few minutes, he
reached across the table and handed it to her.

Later that night, resting in bed with her cheek resting on Sean Patrick's chest, she said, "I
really ought to be heading home." She could feel the slow, steady vampire pulse against her skin.
"I love it here, but I've been away for a long time." She managed to say it without her voice
catching, without sobbing, as she wanted to. She needed to get out of Cinderella's castle and
back to her own little home and her lack of ambition. "I miss Sinatra."

"Yeah, we need to get you back, I suppose," he said, although he didn't sound at all as
though that was high on his list of priorities. "I was kinda hoping you'd stay with us through the
holidays."

"That's almost three months, Sean Patrick. I can't keep asking my friends to take care of my
house all that time. Why don't you come for a visit during the holidays? We could have another
Thanksgiving-before-Thanksgiving feast, just the two of us."

Sean Patrick shifted and looked down at her, a slight frown putting that crease between his
eyebrows. "Are you sure you're having a good time?"

"I'm sure," she said, stroking his chest, liking the feel of the crisp curls there, his chest hair
sparse either due to the youth of his human body or his Indian blood, she wasn't sure which.
"I'm having a marvelous time." She paused, then said, "Can you tell me more about Blythe? She
tells me anything I want to know, but I just feel so odd asking her questions. She was telling me
about her coming out party, when she met Three, and I knew I was with a woman of some
quality. I didn't want to pry... but I am curious."

Sean Patrick's stomach bumped as he chuckled. "She's quality, all right. Her daddy was the
American ambassador to India. That's where he met her mama."

"That's why she's so dark!" Bonnie lifted her head. "You knew that's what I wanted to
know. She's got such an exotic look!"

"She's half Indian, yep. And not the same sort of Indian that Three is, either. I always joke
that their kids is gonna be Indian all around, redskin and brown."

"But Three is almost blond," she said.

"Yeah, his mama was mostly Danish or Swedish or some such. She came down to Texas
from the upper Midwest, one of them Norwegian farming families. Letty was some woman," he
said that in a way that made her a little jealous again, and she steered the conversation away from
the subject of Three's mother.

"So Blythe is an ambassador's daughter."

"Yeah. Her father's James Robert Kinsella. Nice man. Good head for business. It took
some work for Three to win him over to marry Blythe. Half the men in the country wanted to
marry her. Made quite a stink when she and Three up and announced their engagement. I think
folks thought he was having a mid-life crisis hell, pardon me, at only thirty-five and she was
some kind of gold digger, but it's not like the Kinsellas don't have money of their own. It was a
love match. Anyone who looks at 'em can see that."

Bonnie nodded. Maybe that was what was affecting her so badly, watching two people so
obviously in love as Three and Blythe O'Connor were. They couldn't pass each other without
touching, each always looked for the other when they walked into a room, they had looks meant
only for each other, whispered jokes that made only them laugh, and they could finish one
another's sentences without it being weird or awkward. Bonnie had managed thus far to keep her
own annoying feelings away from Sean Patrick, but he was so observant it was only a matter of
time before he noticed, and then what?

She was not a wife, no matter how much she wanted to be, and she never could be. "I am
kind of homesick, though," she said suddenly.

"Well, honey, it's selfish of me to keep you away from home. I'll get you a plane ticket and
we'll get you back to Sinatra and your girlfriends," he said it sadly, and it made her feel a little
better inside to know he'd miss her.

"I've never flown before," she said.

"Really?" the admission made him give her an incredulous look, as though she'd said 'I've
never breathed before.'

"Why would I? I've lived all my life in Las Vegas, I've never really traveled anywhere that
required a plane. Until I came here, of course."

"Well, then, I'm glad I'm able to give you something you've never had before," he said,
grinning.

"You've already done that."




Looking over the new fall preview and schedule, I don't see Chuck anywhere. *frowny face* I wonder when NBC is gonna deign to give it back to us... (according to IMDB, it won't be until freakin' MARCH).

Anyway, most of it's not too bad. I'm going to give Vampire Diaries a try, although I expect it to be little more than 90210 with vampires, but hey... it's vampires. And I don't know what Flashforward will be like, but again, I'll give it a try. I know LOST isn't back until January. The rest of the spread looks rather meh for a fall season, really. Speaking of television, I wish the group who does the theme from Pysch would release it as a single or something (there are whole web boards devoted to people wishing the same thing). They've cleared out Monday nights well enough since I'm really not interested in Heroes anymore, nothing on Tuesdays but NCIS, Wednesdays haven't changed at all, and then everything's stacked up on Thursdays until I decide on FF and VD; and Ugly Betty has moved to Friday.

Speaking of Psych, I'm finally watching last Friday's episode tonight. It's VERY hard to take Ray Wise as a priest after Reaper.

Adopt one today! * Adopt one today! * Adopt one today! * Adopt one today! * Adopt one today!


Insanity reigns supreme: http://dragcave.net/user/wildrider


Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
sillymagpie
Sep. 3rd, 2009 05:30 am (UTC)
I really want the bumper sticker you have: "Hang Up and Drive!" Our company makes us sign s form that promises we won't talk on the phone while driving anywhere on company business. I refuse to phone and drive--it's more dangerous than being drunk. ::bitch whine::

Wise was great as the devil. I miss Reaper.
wildrider
Sep. 3rd, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
I need a new one, mine is old and has severe sun damage.

Me, too. :-(
ljs
Sep. 3rd, 2009 10:32 am (UTC)
Interesting Texas bits in the chapter!

And the story of the Akita is heartrending -- it's the unhappy-ending version of a story in LM Montgomery's Rilla of Ingleside...

[hugs]
wildrider
Sep. 3rd, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)
I haven't read Rilla in AGES, but I think I remember the story you mean...!

I love the fact that Hochiko's loyalty has been so memorialized, though! (And there was a similar, and just as surprisingly sad, story done in, of all places, Futurama! Beware the episode entitled "Jurassic Bark" if you don't want to cry over an episode of Futurama!)

wildrider
Sep. 3rd, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
BTW, I'm glad you're enjoying my silly "little" tale! :-)

*HUGS*
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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