Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
“We don’t need to be bonded for me to know you’re freaking out!” Pam scolded. “What do you think is going to happen? I know my Maker and he’s not that bad!”
“You’re not the one…” and Sookie looked out the window, “Never mind!”
Pam glanced at her human friend. A part of her did sympathize. Had she not been turned, Pam would have faced an arranged marriage. She remembered how angry she felt, to be forced to give herself to someone without any say in the matter, just because she was female. Pam knew Sookie well enough to know it was a trait they shared. “At least you know Eric,” she offered, “and you did agree.”
“I guess,” Sookie whispered.
“Can you feel him now?” Pam asked. She knew Eric and Sookie had exchanged blood. Her Maker told her it wasn’t a strong tie, but he also told her things that implied he could feel Sookie’s emotions.
“No, not unless I’m in the same area with him,” Sookie shrugged.
Pam glanced at Sookie again. She weighed the options and decided to say the things she knew her friend needed to hear, whether they were exactly true or not. “Well, you know I can feel Eric. I feel him all the time, unless he cuts off the bond between us or I do.”
“You can do that?” Sookie asked.
“Of course! He’s my Maker!” and Pam rolled her eyes. “What’s important is I am feeling him now and he’s feeling a lot like you look.”
“Pissed off?” Sookie asked.
“Well, no,” and Pam glanced at Sookie again. “That’s your pissed off look? Could have fooled me!”
“It’s my pissed at myself look,” Sookie clarified. “It’s my ‘top of the class stupid,’ look.”
“You know, there’s about a hundred women who would give their eyeteeth to trade places with you right now,” Pam huffed.
“Oh yeah?” Sookie snarled, “Got a phone number? I’ll give them a call!”
“Well, I don’t think Eric would like that!” Pam snapped back. “Fact is, Eric hasn’t been the same since he came back from Boston. He made sure we were in Slievemore because he was sure that’s where you’d end up.”
“What are you saying?” Sookie asked in spite of herself.
“I’m saying that there were much better places we could have set up business, but he was determined. He didn’t say it, but I know he insisted because he was sure you’d end up there.” When Sookie’s mouth softened a little, Pam nodded, “That’s right! He was an absolute pain! He candy-assed his way around those Fae every day gathering information, trying to find out when you’d arrive. He didn’t ask about you, of course, but he figured you’d be with Claude’s butt boy.”
Sookie swallowed hard. The image of Breandan kissing Claude came back. She knew she should have been angry, but she wasn’t. It was just proof of how stupid she’d been about everything.
“I know something happened between you and Eric,” Pam was saying. “It was when you were living at The Grand and you were coming for dinner a lot. There was that night when Breandan left for his trip, before you fought with Mae. The bartender told me Eric walked you home, but when he returned he was nasty. You started avoiding him and he was terrible to be around!”
“I didn’t know that,” and Sookie remembered that night in the park. She had kissed Eric Northman. She had wanted to kiss him. The fact was, she was happy when she was near Eric. She would look for him whenever she thought he might be near. He always seemed happy to see her. It was as if they were drawn to each other and that attraction made it all too easy to forget the things she should do for the things she wanted.
Sookie started to think more about the questions she’d been turning over in her head. Some seemed foolish, but some were really starting to bother her. “Will I be the only one Eric feeds from after this?” She couldn’t even look at Pam when she asked, it felt so silly.
“If you want to be,” and Pam gave her a longer look. “Feeding… I don’t know if you know this, but feeding is an intimate act for a vampire. If the person involved is someone you care about or someone you desire, there is an almost irresistible urge to mate that goes along with it.”
“He has had my blood,” Sookie informed Pam.
“And not taking it to the next step cost him each time,” Pam informed her.
“Oh my God!” Sookie exclaimed. “You felt that?”
“It was unexpected,” Pam told her, “for Eric, I mean. If he’d realized how he’d react, he would have closed off the bond with me.”
“You ‘feel’ each other having sex with other people?” The picture Sookie was getting was not flattering.
“We aren’t stalkers,” Pam snarked, giving her best eyeroll. “Usually, the reaction is so low key I don’t even notice. What I’m trying to say is that what he feels for you when he’s with you is on a totally different level. He likes you, Sookie! I think it’s more!”
“I can’t explain what I feel when he’s around, either,” Sookie sighed. “It’s like I just can’t say no.”
“So, in answer to your question, if you ask, I think he’d want you to be the only one he feeds from, but you’d have to be ready for everything that goes with that.” Pam checked her phone, “Shit, we’re running late.”
“Like what?” Sookie asked. “What else goes with it, besides sex?”
“Vampires are possessive,” Pam shrugged. “Really possessive. There are rules. You can’t give your blood to anyone else. If anyone goes after you, Eric is required to try to kill them. Eric can’t give his blood to anyone else without your permission. If he does, you can ask the Queen to sentence him to punishment or final death.”
“What?” Sookie cried. “Final death? For not getting my permission?”
“Blood offense,” Pam shrugged. “Since you’re only tied and pledged, the Queen would probably let him get away with torture. If you were bonded, it would be final death for sure.”
“What about me?” Sookie was thinking she might not want to hear the answer.
“You’re not vampire,” Pam shrugged. “You’d probably get away with a serious dressing down and an offer to Eric to divorce you as being unworthy.”
“He really gets the shit end of the stick in this, doesn’t he?” Sookie asked. It was beginning to occur to her that Eric might be giving up more than she would.
“I don’t know,” Pam laughed. “He’s pretty attached to you. If you didn’t agree, he’d just have to keep on mooning around, wondering when you’ll show up, and finding excuses to give you work, stuff like that.”
“You really think he wants this?” Sookie wanted to believe it. Eric had told her he did, but hearing it from Pam seemed more credible.
“I think he’s attracted to you in a way he doesn’t understand,” Pam told her. “I think he fights it from time to time, but if you ask me? I think you could be his one.”
That gave Sookie pause. She didn’t think Pam would lie to her. She thought again about her own reaction to Eric, ‘Is he my one?’ she wondered, but, for once, her internal voice was silent.
“What do you know about his house, the one in Ballytyne?” Sookie asked instead.
“I don’t know it well,” Pam cocked her head a little. “It’s white, like a lot of houses. It’s newer, but looks old, if you know what I mean.” Sookie nodded. She was getting an image of the cottage in Killary, which made her happy and sad at the same time. “It’s on a hill overlooking town. We are a little paranoid about being around a lot of people when we rest, for obvious reasons.”
“How will that work if he’s…well…sleeping with me?” It slipped out and Sookie wished she could have taken it back.
“’I am not having sex with Eric Northman!’” Pam mimicked Sookie’s voice pretty well, and then she turned to her friend. “He’s fun and smart. He loves joking and he’s a great dancer. He’s read more books than I knew existed. You could do a lot worse!”
“It’s not him,” Sookie conceded, “It’s the whole thing. These are modern times, but when I’m around you people…”
“You people?” and Pam gave Sookie the stink-eye.
“You know what I mean!” Sookie sighed. “I didn’t know I was Fae or hybrid, or whatever it is I’m supposed to call myself. I didn’t know anything about this! All I worried about was getting a college degree and finding a job, maybe getting married someday and having a family…” and Sookie stopped. She looked out the window.
“If you really want children and you decide to stay with Eric, there are ways,” Pam told her.
“You all figure we’re supposed to divorce, so there’s no reason to talk about it,” Sookie could hear the brittle tone of her voice and her inner voice did finally speak up, telling her, ‘Live each moment. Make it count!’
For the first time, they saw a street sign for Ballytyne. It was ten kilometers away. “Barely nine miles,” Sookie translated. She turned back to Pam, “So, he’s a bartender and he’s a Sheriff? How does that work?”
“He’s Sheriff of most of Ireland. There are other Sheriffs, but Eric’s the oldest, so that makes him the most important. Age matters to vampires. The older you are, the more gifts you manifest. It also tells another vampire that you were smart enough and strong enough to survive. You might as well know, Sookie, vampires aren’t the most popular of the Fae!” and Pam smiled broadly, flashing her fangs. “There will be those who will think you’ve lowered yourself to join with one of us but, in the end? We’re the ones anyone comes to when they’re in trouble!”
“So, you’re telling me that I’m a hybrid, which makes me a loser, joining with the loser species on the Fae totem pole?” and Sookie couldn’t help herself. She laughed.
Pam laughed, too. “Safety in numbers!” she told her friend. “We can all be losers together!”
“Seriously,” Sookie asked once the silence stretched for a bit, “How does the sleeping thing work?”
“You’ll have to figure that out,” Pam shrugged. “I suspect it will pretty much depend on you. I don’t know how Eric’s room is set up in this house, but it’s probably in the basement. There will be locked doors, we generally use steel. The locks extend beyond the door jambs and Eric always seems to have two. The doors lock from the inside for obvious reasons, so if you were down there with him, it would be pretty hard to leave, only because of locking up after.” Pam pressed her lips, “Of course, technology is available…”
“So, if I wasn’t with him in his bed?” and Sookie left the question hanging.
“You’ll probably have another bedroom you’ll use in the house,” Pam shrugged.
Sookie sighed. It sounded lonely, and then she squared her shoulders. She didn’t want to sleep with Eric and then she was worried about waking up alone? “So, how do we introduce ourselves to non-vampires?” she asked instead.
“There aren’t a lot of pledged mixed couples, but when vampires pledge, they generally use the same honorifics. This is Ireland, so expect to be Mrs. Northman.”
“Mrs. Northman,” Sookie repeated, and she felt her heart quicken just a bit.
“We’re here!” Pam said and she pulled the car over to the side of the road.
‘Here’ was a large house perched on a hill. Sookie swung her feet out and, with Pam’s help, substituted the Crocs for the strappy sandals. She stood up and almost immediately started to topple, the heels sinking into the soft berm. “Hold on!” Pam called and Sookie found herself scooped up and being swiftly carried up the driveway, bridal style.
“Crap!” Sookie exclaimed. “I knew you were strong, but…”
“Vampire!” Pam laughed. They arrived at a stone patio and Pam set her down. There were two guards watching them, but Pam didn’t acknowledge them until she’d finished helping Sookie set herself to rights.
“Sookie Stackhouse to see the Queen,” she told the guards. “I believe Sophie-Ann expects her.”
The guards were both tall and wore all black. They didn’t bother hiding their thorough appraisal and Sookie could see their admiration. “She is,” one said. “She just wondered when she,” and he cocked his head toward Sookie, “would show up.”
“What are you?” the other asked.
“Late!” Pam announced and taking Sookie’s arm, walked her past the guards and into the house.
When Eric disconnected from his conversation with Pam, he saw the sign for Ballytyne. Just before he entered the town limits, he took the left that led to a small hill overlooking town. It was there he had built his Court house. That’s how he thought of it, because he only rested here when he had official business that required him to stay in the area more than one night.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like the area. Originally, he’d planned to spend most of his time here. This was vampire territory and the town was pleasant. The roads were fine and the location made it easy to reach almost anywhere with few detours. There were some business opportunities, but the real attraction was the countryside itself. It was also where the Queen presided, though Sophie-Ann’s presence made these environs less inviting.
Whenever Eric was in residence, the Queen made a point of claiming his attention. She could demand sex from him and had at one point. It wasn’t that it was a hardship; it was that she could command him and that didn’t sit right with Eric. He was old, too old to put up with the ego-driven tantrums of a younger vampire with delusions of grandeur. In short, Sophie-Ann LeClerq was tedious and Eric Northman had allowed her to drive him away from the home he’d built.
Within ten minutes, the driveway came into view and Eric made the turn that took him over a stream and then up another rise to the house. It looked old, but it wasn’t. The front was U-shaped, the wide front door set back up from flagstone steps. There was a two-car garage attached to the left of the building and Eric was pleased to see the door to one of the bays open as he drove closer. The lights were on, which meant Bobby Burnham had beat him here. Eric drove into the bay and turned off his car. He didn’t bother to hit the switch to lower the doors. Bobby would handle that later.
The door into the house went through the utility room toward the back. It was more of a glorified mudroom and Eric had built it with the idea of housing the cabinets that held his weapons. There was a deep, stainless steel sink that would come in handy when clean-up after torture was required. In fact, the entire room was designed to be scrubbed down if needed, and the bathroom complete with a shower for this floor opened from here. Through the utility room was the kitchen and that’s where Eric found Bobby.
“Master!” Bobby smiled and bowed low. Bobby had come highly recommended by a fellow Sheriff in England. Bobby had recently moved to Ireland to be closer to his sister. Eric’s counterpart had warned him that Bobby was a toady, willing to do anything to earn the privilege of being turned. The British Sheriff hadn’t felt Burnham deserved it. Eric was willing to give the Dayman the benefit of the doubt.
“I understand you will be hosting a female here,” Bobby said, using his most clinical tone.
“It is my intention to have Sookie live here,” Eric said as patiently as he could. “She is more than my female. She will be my mate, my pledged.” Eric told Bobby.
“Mate!” and Bobby’s eyebrows rose along with his voice. Eric watched him struggle for a moment, and then he rallied. “My congratulations, Master,” he bowed again. “When might we expect your mate to take up residence?”
“Tomorrow night,” Eric let drop.
Eric watched Bobby’s face tense, and then he flicked his eyes to a clipboard he was carrying. “That doesn’t give us much time. If I may ask, is she vampire?”
“No,” Eric shook his head, “No, my mate is not.”
“Oh,” and Bobby looked around the kitchen, “Then that complicates things.” Eric wasn’t sure what was causing the Dayman problems. Other than the dead mouse in the corner of the kitchen, things looked pretty much as Eric had last left them. When Eric motioned that Bobby should explain, the Dayman took a breath, rocked back on his heels, and began. “Well, we can start here in the kitchen. As you can see, the electricity is on. The refrigerator and microwave are both working, but you never installed a stove,” and he gestured to an open space on the wall. “If your mate is not vampire, she will want to eat, and that will require a stove, unless you intend to have the local restaurants provide all her food.”
“No,” Eric shook his head. Now that Bobby had pointed it out, Eric did notice the omission. “What else?”
“The water was just turned on. I’ll have someone out tomorrow to check the pressure, but baths and showers are possible. You may also wish to consider installing a dishwasher. It’s been awhile since you purchased the refrigerator, but the matching models and colors may still be available.”
“Is that important?” Eric frowned.
“From the design catalogs I’ve seen, it would appear most females like matching appliances.” He said it in a way that gave Eric to believe he had actually checked.
Bobby moved through the dining room and into the family gathering space toward the front of the house. “Both of the fireplaces, here and in the library, are working. I’m assuming you’d like peat brought in.” When Eric nodded, Bobby checked off something on his list.
They both walked across the central hall. The circular staircase rose to the second floor where hidden behind a clever door in the base was the entrance to the stairs that led down to Eric’s chamber.
“I took the liberty of checking upstairs,” Bobby was telling him. “Other than the washer and dryer, there are no furnishings upstairs of any kind.”
Eric thought about that, “I want her to have the master bedroom available,” he told Bobby. “How quickly can you arrange a canopy bed? Something with posts?” Eric had a sudden image of Sookie, her arms spread-eagled, tied by the wrist, and panting under his hands, and he could barely keep his fangs from dropping. “Something romantic,” Eric added, “Like a dressing table with a large mirror.
“You said she’d be here tomorrow night?” Bobby sighed. “I will do my best, Master, but what you describe will not be easy to locate.”
“I know who can find it,” Eric smirked and pulled his phone from his pocket. “I know a certain Fae King who owes me several favors. I’ll expect you to be here tomorrow to supervise them.”
“Of course,” Bobby was bowing again and Eric was tempted to swat him. They finished walking up the stairs. There were originally four bedrooms in the floor plan, but Eric had combined those on the left side into one large master suite. The original bathroom over the garage was now a large walk-in closet and the whole back of the house was the private bath. The tub was big enough for two and there was a separate shower stall. Eric had installed a toilet as well as a sink, and now he was happy he had.
The other two bedrooms were unfurnished and the washer and dryer took up the closet space in one. There was another bathroom shared between the rooms. “I will want the front bedroom set up as my office,” Eric told Bobby. “You will arrange for my furniture from Slievemore to be transported here.”
“All of it?” Bobby asked.
“All but my bed. The bed in my resting chamber here is adequate, and Bobby…” Eric waited until he was sure he had Burnham’s attention, “Make sure they are careful with my books! I want them brought and installed in the library downstairs.”
Eric walked back into the Master bedroom. “My clothes will be installed downstairs,” and he waved at the closet space. “This space is for your Mistress’ belongings.” It gave the vampire a strange thrill, referring to Sookie in this way. He looked back at the bedroom. There was a fireplace on the front wall. “Peat for this one, too, and make sure the bed is set back. I want space so we can enjoy the flame.”
“Of course,” Bobby was nodding and making notes. “If I may suggest…” and Bobby pointed out where televisions and Internet connections would make sense. Eric vetoed the idea of televisions in the bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom.
“I enjoy my quiet,” he pointed out. He thought of the single television in Sookie’s apartment and he could count the number of times he’d seen it her using it one hand. “Sookie also appreciates a less electronic life,” he stated as if he knew it for sure.
It felt good, thinking of Sookie here. Eric glanced at the windows. Originally, he had planned on converting this into light tight space. The central staircase was easily secured and the idea of resting and rising here with Sookie at his side, was appealing.
Eric stuck his hand in his pocket and his finger hit the ring Sookie had handed him. He pulled it from his pocket and held it between his thumb and index finger, allowing it to catch the light. “Is that for her?” Bobby asked politely.
“No,” Eric shook his head. “It will never be for her!” He held the ring out and when Bobby extended his hand, Eric dropped it onto his waiting palm. “Take this into town to Cohen’s. I have an account there. Have them give you an assortment of gold bands, various weights, nothing fancy! They can use this ring for size.”
“Are you sure you don’t want a stone?” Bobby asked.
“A plain, gold band,” Eric repeated. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t want something fancier. He supposed that Sookie, who refused to take help, would be embarrassed by something too flashy on her finger. Besides, a band was something that matched her customs, not his. If she decided to stay with him, he would get her to wear jewels. There would be functions they would attend as part of the Queen’s retinue and it warmed him to think of her with her chin raised, his chains around her neck and his bracelets adorning her arms. She would be draped in things he’d given her, proclaiming to everyone who mattered that she was his!
“Master!” Bobby interrupted. Eric realized Bobby had been trying to get his attention for some time.
“I’m sorry, Burnham,” Eric ran his hand through his hair. “There is much to be made ready before tomorrow.”
“Indeed,” and Bobby executed another annoying bow. “I am assuming linens, towels…”
“Equip the bathroom,” Eric frowned. “Bath gels, candles. I wish all to be ready.”
“By tomorrow night,” and Bobby looked a bit pale. He wrote more on his checklist, but Eric could see he was turning something over in his head. He rolled his eyes and rocked back on his heels. He glanced at Eric, then looked away. He licked his lips, then made a small noise.
“Speak!” Eric barked.
Bobby actually squeaked! He looked his most abject before saying, “It’s just that ‘Sookie’ is an unusual name. There’s talk that Rogan Brigant and his son have a captive, a hybrid with that name.” Bobby waited, not making eye contact, so Eric waited, too. “It’s just that… well, is there any possibility that the new Mistress might be the same Sookie?”
Eric decided to put Burnham out of his misery. “What of it?” he asked.
Now Bobby did look concerned. He looked directly at Eric, his courage found, “If you are stealing her, it could mean war!”
“I am not stealing her,” Eric shrugged, looking as nonchalant as possible. “She comes to me of her own free will. She has chosen me and I, her. Brigant can fume, but she is not obligated to him. He has lost her consent and no magic or force was required.”
“And will Rogan see it that way?” Bobby had clearly found all kinds of courage. His chin was up and his shoulders squared. “He has a reputation. He killed his daughter-in-law over the hybrid. Everyone is talking of it.”
“Rogan will think twice about crossing Sophie-Ann,” Eric shrugged.
“Of course!” Bobby seemed to relax a little, “You’ll get the Queen’s backing! A smart move, but, still, if she’s here, so far from guards…” and Bobby glanced around the room again.
Eric wondered that he hadn’t already followed this line of thought. It wasn’t like him not to consider every possibility and he realized, looking at the Master bedroom again, how the thought of having Sookie had distracted him. He considered asking Niall for help, then thought about the problems Niall already faced. Niall’s own son and heir preferred to ignore the situation. It wouldn’t take much to set a match to the old angers that simmered just under the surface of Niall’s kingdom.
There were other sources for day guards, but none that Eric had used in past. He pulled out his phone and thumbed through the contacts until he found Octavia Fant. She was not native to this part of Ireland, but she had risen quickly in the ranks of the local coven. Eric met her from time to time. For the most part, vampires steered clear of witches, but he knew that they worked for other Supernaturals. Despite the hour, he pushed the call button.
It was a sleepy voice that answered, “This better be good!”
“I am sorry to disturb you,” Eric used his most charming tone. “My name is Eric Northman…”
“I know who you are,” the voice sighed. “Your name came up.” Eric didn’t remember giving the witch his number, but he filed that away for another day.
“My Dayman, Bobby Burnham, will be in touch with you tomorrow. I need to arrange wards for my house and for a person. I wanted you to know he has my authority to negotiate.” Eric stared at Bobby, making sure that Burnham was paying attention.
“Great!” Octavia said, “Super! Just make sure your lackey doesn’t call until after ten, and I’m charging you for this!” and the line disconnected.
“Something that keeps Fae with bad intentions away from her and this house,” Eric told Bobby. “See if Niall and his family can be exempt. I don’t want there to be a problem there.”
Bobby scratched away and Eric sent Burnham the contact info for Octavia from his phone. “I think that’s it for now,” Eric told his Dayman. “Go home and get some sleep. I need everything done by tomorrow night. We should be here around midnight.”
“I just don’t know…” Bobby stuttered.
“I heard you were a miracle worker,” Eric hissed. “Hire people! Find a way! Impress me and you’ll get your wish!”
“You’ll turn me!” and Bobby’s eyes widened.
“I will find someone suitable to turn you,” Eric corrected. He had no interest in having this toady as his child, but he could think of several decent vampires who would love the endless bending and fetching that Burnham would represent.
Bobby left with an extra skip in his step, vowing everything would be ready. Eric wondered if the Dayman would drive the forty miles to his house or if he’d park and sleep down the road. Cable and utilities would likely come early, and when the Fae made their deliveries they liked to be done and out before others started to crowd the roads.
Eric took a last walk through the house. He tried to see it with new eyes, eyes that considered the needs of a human. It had been many centuries since he’d tried to live with a human. The last had been Suzanne. She was Sookie’s opposite in coloring, but just as curious. She was funny and made him laugh, but he hadn’t appreciated her enough. He’d been careless and she’d fallen under Claude’s spell.
After Claude released her, Suzanne was a shadow of herself. She had a taste for rough sex and she abandoned Eric soon after, taking up a place in the local whorehouse. He saw her from time to time, her looks fading. In the end, Suzanne took her own life, opening her wrists in a bath. “I should have been more watchful over you,” Eric said out loud.
He doublechecked the locks on the doors, then opened the panel that led down into his chamber. Most of the cost of building this place had been in having the basement dug. The land had been important, finding soil that was neither too wet nor too rocky. The result was a large room stretching nearly the length of the house, offering a solid foundation that would resist shifting, even if a truck was driven at the structure at full speed. While there was nothing that could be done about the lack of windows, Eric still had the walls finished in light colors and had soft lighting installed. There were built-in bookcases and his over-sized bed was mounted on its own platform. The floor was tiled, but covered with thick rugs.
Stripping, Eric walked into the bathroom and turned the shower on. He liked his water hot. It made sliding under the blankets that much more enjoyable. Drying himself, he glanced around and for the first time noticed he hadn’t installed a toilet. He wondered if Sookie would wish to join him here, in this place. He couldn’t imagine it, then realized he hoped that she would. “You will be trouble,” he half-smiled, and then picking up his phone, texted Bobby to remember to have flowers brought into the house.
“Sookie Stackhouse!” Eric said out loud. He closed his eyes and allowed the approaching daylight to pull him into his rest.
When Eric rose, it was to find a certain tension in his chest. He recognized it. It was the same whine of adrenaline he experienced before tense meetings or going into battle. ‘This is neither of those,’ he chided himself, but the tension didn’t ease.
He emerged to find Bobby busy in the back of the house. There were sounds from the rooms overhead and Eric noticed a van pulling away. “Master!” his Dayman rushed to greet him.
“Success?” Eric asked.
“Nearly,” Bobby smiled nervously. “They are working on appliances now. The Internet is up and running and your office has been equipped. The bed arrived, but those fools forgot the mattress. They will return soon. I personally took care of the bathroom. I believe you will be pleased.”
Bobby checked his clipboard. “The peat will be delivered tomorrow during the day,” and he glanced at Eric. “Your books arrived only an hour ago. They are placing them now in case you’d like to offer any guidance?” When Eric didn’t move, Bobby continued, “The groceries came. I took the liberty of leaning toward fresh fruit and vegetables. I cut out sugar. Wouldn’t want your mate to start bad habits!” Eric’s eyes narrowed, and Bobby immediately looked less chipper. “I didn’t mean anything by that, of course!” he back-pedaled, then broke eye contact and scuttled away.
Eric walked slowly through the rooms. There were several strangers, but Eric wasn’t worried. He knew Bobby would only use vampire-friendly companies. There was a knock at the front door, so Eric opened it. Bobby was beside him in an instant, “Upstairs!” he barked.
The men were obviously Fae. They trundled a large mattress between them and more followed with a box spring and a dresser made of some honey-colored wood.
Eric glanced down at his dark-colored slacks and white shirt. He’d opted to forego the tie, but had decided to bring a jacket, just in case. One never knew what tone Sophie-Ann would set on any given evening and she wanted her courtiers to match her mood. Showing up business casual was almost always appropriate. Eric thought of the dress Sookie would wear, the same one he’d seen last night. It was black and casual, so they would match.
There was a crash from upstairs. Eric headed up the stairs to find a vase of flowers had been overturned. The Fae appeared to ignore it, but after one noticed Eric, he waved his hand and the flowers were set back to rights. “Maybe I should hire one of you as a house elf,” Eric chuckled.
“You could hire me,” the workman smirked. “I’d take your fee out in trade. I’d make you regret having me haul that bed upstairs, though. You’d spend all kinds of time tied to those posts!”
“Tell Niall I appreciate it,” Eric bowed slightly. The room was beautiful. The canopy included curtains and they looked thick enough. There were matching curtains on the two small windows as well. He would be able to linger here, even sleep through the day without much worry. “It was thoughtful.”
“Our King must hold you in high regard,” another of the workmen commented. “He oversaw the selection of the furniture himself,” and he blew Eric a kiss.
Eric allowed his smile to be their answer. He glanced in the bathroom. There were candles and flowers. The gels were scented with sandalwood and spices. ‘Burnham!’ Eric thought, and then wondered if Sookie even liked flowery scents. In all the times he’d been close to her, Eric hadn’t noticed that she smelled of anything but herself.
The office was operational. Eric sat in his chair and turned on the computer. He scrolled through emails and then texts. There were a few complaints among them. “The work of a Sheriff,” he mumbled. Most looked minor and he texted back asking for a few days. One was more concerning and he forwarded it to Pam, asking her to look into it. He thought about Pam’s telling him that every woman expected a honeymoon. “You’re not like every woman, though, are you?” he said aloud to no one in particular.
Once he’d finished with the most pressing matters, he returned downstairs. All but the man in the library were gone. Eric greeted him and confirmed the man’s placement of books by type and time period. He glanced around, then headed for the dining room where he could hear his Dayman.
There were several long, black, cases set on the table. As Eric walked through the doorway, Bobby started opening the cases, displaying rows of wedding bands. “Are you intending to marry her according to human custom as well?” Bobby asked.
“Do you think she’d want that?” Eric’s brows drew together. “It doesn’t seem necessary.”
“Well, it’s just that these are rather traditional,” and Bobby waved at the display.
“She is a young woman who will be known to be living here with me,” Eric shrugged. “A vampire would expect jewels, but humans will expect a visual display. I won’t have anyone thinking less of her,” and he gave Bobby a close look.
“Of course!” Bobby almost applauded. “You think of every detail!”
It was Burnham’s typical fawning and easy for Eric to dismiss. He moved around the table. The rings were all the same size, but of varying materials and weights. He closed the case of platinum rings almost immediately. “She must fit in here. Traditional rings in Ballytyne are gold,” he commented.
There were Claddagh rings as well, but Eric dismissed them as too sentimental. “No one takes me for Irish,” he smirked. It was the tray of rose gold that caught his attention.
“Those are true Irish gold,” Bobby commented.
Most had etched designs and some had gems inset, although Eric’s instructions had been for plain bands. He plucked one that was thicker than most. It’s slightly pink color shone and it would fit heavy on her finger. “It will remind her,” he commented.
“Of what?” Bobby asked.
“Nothing,” Eric shrugged, tucking the ring in his pocket and then holding out his hand, “And where’s the Fae Prince’s ring?”
“Oh!” Bobby almost blushed, “Here!” He dug it from his pants pocket and dropped it in Eric’s hand. The vampire looked again at the platinum and diamonds, so much more decorative than the band he’d chosen. It made him more certain of his selection, not wanting Sookie to see any reminder of Breandan Brigant when she looked at her hand.
Eric checked his phone again. He was certain Pam would be with her by now. Only a few more hours. Suddenly, the house seemed too small. “You’ve done well,” Eric told Bobby. “I will arrange things. There is a female I know who would welcome a companion.” Bobby’s face dropped. Eric knew Bobby had hoped Eric would agree to be his Maker, but, for all Bobby knew of vampires, Eric was certain there were aspects of a Maker/Child relationship that Bobby didn’t understand. “You will be happier,” he assured the Dayman, “but you know what is expected. You must find your replacement first. Notify me when you have candidates ready for me to interview.” Eric took one last look around, “You really have outdone yourself.”
Giving the Dayman what he wished would rob Eric of the spectacle of Sookie putting him in his place, but the vampire realized as he looked around that what he wished most was that this woman would be happy here. He wished them both to be happy. It was a sentiment he hadn’t much thought of in a long time.
Eric considered driving to the Queen’s house, but then he thought of how Sookie had been when they’d flown together. She’d clutched at him, not truly afraid, and so, he launched himself into the air. “You’re looking forward to this!” Eric realized and it felt wonderful.
Eric arrived at the Queen’s home shortly before eleven. He barely nodded to the guards, and then had to purposely slow his step as he maneuvered his way toward the Queen’s hall. There were those who knew him and wanted to chat. He reached out with his feelings. The tie between him and Sookie was fading, but if she were here, they would be close enough that he should be able to feel her, but there was nothing. He searched for Pam and found her, but still far away. He glanced at his watch. Where were they? He reached for Pam again, thinking to poke her, but felt her abruptly shut off the bond between them and it made him growl. “Sorry!” he explained to those he’d startled. “My Child!” They nodded, their stances becoming relaxed again.
Eric took the time to listen to one of his fellow Sheriffs. Xavier was complaining about how some in his Area were making their presence more noticeable and wanted to know if Eric was seeing similar behavior. “I don’t understand what sense it makes, putting a spotlight on yourself. In one hundred years, humans haven’t changed. What makes these fools think it’s different now?”
“The Queen is asking for you,” It was Sigebert, one of the Queen’s children. He was an ugly hulk of a man. He and his brother, Wybert, were turned by Sophie-Ann when the Anglos and Saxons were fighting in England. They functioned as her personal bodyguards.
“Excuse me,” Eric bowed to Xavier, then followed Sigebert. Those crowding the hall parted before them, they could hardly help it. Sigebert was bigger than most and those who didn’t move were pushed by a massive hand. There were those who bowed as they passed and those who called out to Eric, asking for time later. It was nearing midnight and Eric’s teeth clenched, wondering where Pam and Sookie could be. Already, the Queen was showing signs of restlessness. Her hair was pulled back tonight and she was wearing one of her larger crowns. She was dressed all in white and her heels gave her another three inches.
“Northman!” she purred. “It’s been too long! Andre,” and she trailed her fingers across her Second’s chest, “just told me you would be here. Naughty boy, not calling me yourself!”
“It’s always a pleasure to see you, Majesty,” and Eric bowed low. “I regret I don’t have the opportunity to be here more often.”
“And who’s fault is that?” Sophie-Ann pouted. “You know you are always welcome,” and she stalked down from her throne, standing close and running sly fingers across the front of his pants. “Typical though. You come, you tease, you show great promise, and then you hide away! Perhaps you are holding out for the right offer?”
Eric sensed danger. The Queen in this mood was at her most mercurial, and so he stepped back a bit, shocking her. Her face registered a burst of anger, and then turned calculating. “So, you didn’t mention why you are here.”
“I didn’t,” Eric agreed. “It is a personal matter, but one that requires the arrival of Pam,” and Eric glanced at the door.
The Queen’s mouth dropped and Eric sensed her interest dropping as well, always a good sign. “Well, Sheriff, as long as you’re here, perhaps you’d be so kind as to go with Andre. We have received a request from our counterpart in Spain. You knew her, didn’t you?”
Eric had served in the Spanish Queen’s Court for a short period. He had no choice, so, bowing, he went with Andre to the Queen’s offices, hoping against hope that his business could be finished and he would be returned to the hall before Sookie arrived.
It was not to be so. The correspondence involved a complicated series of trades that had been made between the Queens, and now Carlotta was accusing Sophie-Ann of cheating her. Andre sketched out the basics of the exchange. It involved horses and racing rights. The snarl required an accountant and Eric told Andre as much, but, still, the Second insisted they pour over records for another half hour.
By the time they walked back into the hall, Eric was seething. He reached out, but no Pam. He searched his emotions for Sookie and he found her. She was somewhere nearby, the tie so thin now as to be almost indistinct. Eric’s eyes searched. The Queen was in the front of the room talking with an elegant woman who was bowing before her. Sophie-Ann wasn’t saying much, but Eric could see she was making an effort, which meant she wanted something from the woman. Eric scanned again and he saw Pam. She was standing near the throne and when she caught his eye, she glanced meaningfully toward the Queen. Eric stepped forward. The dress was wrong, so at this angle it was hard to tell.
The woman straightened, and it was her. “Sookie!” he whispered. She was beautiful! He felt his fangs itching, and his feet carried him closer. There were people around him, but no one else existed, just him and the vision before him dressed in blue.
“Of course, you are welcome here,” Sophie-Ann was lisping. “With your patronage, I could hardly deny you. I’m sure you will be letting your Grandfather know that I made things pleasant,” and the Queen fixed Sookie with her sharp, green eyes.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Sookie replied. His Sookie’s back was straight, but she was keeping her eyes downcast, giving Sophie-Ann the appearance of groveling the Queen liked best.
“And here’s our Sheriff!” Sophie-Ann exclaimed. “Come here, Eric, and meet the newest vassal to my kingdom. She’s a bit of a mystery, but don’t look to me to explain! All you need to know is she has my protection!”
Sookie’s eyes came up then, and Eric found himself captured by them. Her hair was upswept and her ears sparkled. Chains lay across her white bosom and the silk of her dress kissed her curves. She smiled when she saw him and if the Queen said more, Eric didn’t hear it.
“I was wondering where you were,” Sookie said. She bit her lip a little and then looked down, taking her bag. “I have something…” she said, half to herself.
Eric couldn’t speak. He stepped just a little closer and she turned so she was facing him. If he’d needed to breath, he would have held his breath now. Her hand came up and the velvet bag was there. “For you,” she said.
Eric smiled for her and her eyes went from worried to hopeful. He took her hand in his, holding it around the bag for just a moment, then took the bag from her, untied the velvet ropes, and withdrew the jeweled dagger.
Everything around him seemed to still. He lifted the dagger to his lips, never once breaking eye contact with her. “I accept,” he said clearly and kissed the blade.
It was as if they were suddenly in a cauldron of snakes. Those around them erupted in hissing, but for Eric, there was only her; the woman, the dress, the eyes, the smile. He placed the knife back in its bag and dropped it into his jacket pocket. He withdrew the heavy gold band and stepping forward, took Sookie’s hand. Once he slid the band into place, he pulled her forward and kissed her.
She was stiff at first but, then, as the kiss progressed, she relaxed against him, her lips moving beneath his and her hands coming up to rest at his waist.
“Mine!” he whispered to her and her eyes were his whole world.