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“Get out! Get out!” The Queen shouted. Wybert and Sigebert trundled past Eric and his party, herding courtiers from the room. Eric took Sookie’s hand and turned her, thinking to leave as well. His mate hadn’t said anything since handing him the knife, but her eyes were shining and that was enough.
“Not you, Northman!” Andre stepped in front of Eric, blocking their way. Pam moved swiftly, taking up position behind Eric’s right shoulder. Immediately, the tension around them seemed to escalate from moderate to flash flood warning.
“Eric?” Sookie didn’t sound frightened, merely cautious, and he marveled at her again. Sookie hadn’t wavered.
“Where do you think you’re going, Eric?” Andre mocked. Eric stared Andre down. The threat of danger crowded them, so Eric pulled Sookie to stand between himself and Pam.
“My Queen has asked for her privacy,” Eric replied smoothly. “I thought to give it to her.”
“You tricked me!” Sophie-Ann used her speed to join Andre. Her crown was askew and her eyes were flint.
“In what way, my Queen?” Eric cocked his head and shifted, to all appearances the bewildered vassal. The Queen was nearly vibrating with anger. Eric’s slight movement had freed his sword arm, although he had not thought to bring his blade. He flicked his eyes around him. If Sophie-Ann chose to attack, he could make quick work of her. Pam would have to get around him to move on Andre, although that still left Wybert and Sigebert. The odds were against them and Eric wasn’t certain how far Sookie’s bravery would extend.
“Personal business? Personal?” Sophie-Ann’s voice was climbing. “This,” and she pointed at Sookie, her fangs extending, “This is your personal business? Niall Brigant’s by-blow?”
“She is,” Eric shrugged. He lowered his eyes and shifted again. “I know how little you care for these personal arrangements, but, as I am your Sheriff, I wanted you to know. As my Pledged, Sookie may pick up the phone for me or assist in my work. I didn’t want her to be a stranger to you.”
“Oh!” and Sophie-Ann’s eyes narrowed, “So this was you doing me a favor?”
“Not a favor,” and Eric slightly bowed his head. “Merely giving you the courtesy of information.”
“You lie as smoothly as any Seelie snake!” the Queen snarled.
“Are you questioning my honor?” Eric asked quietly, yet the effect was immediate. The Queen’s children went still in that way only vampires can. If the Queen accepted this as a challenge, there would be a fight and Eric would either meet the final death or emerge as King. With his age, the outcome was in his favor and Sophie-Ann’s eyes widened as she realized the danger.
“Of course not,” and she flattened her mouth in a straight line. “You should have told me when I first asked you,” and she sounded aggrieved.
“I explained that I was waiting for Pam,” Eric answered reasonably. “My Child was bringing Sookie. I thought it would take less of your time to explain this once. Had you not sent me from the hall to look into your money problems,” Andre made a hissing noise and beside him, Sookie jumped, “I would have been in your presence and ready to make introductions.”
“So, now this is my fault?” and the Queen looked angry again.
“Of course not, my Queen!” Eric inclined his head. “Only that circumstances sometimes work in strange ways. I knew you were aware of my Pledged. Her Grandfather informed me he would be calling you. I thought by pledging before you, you could put any worry Niall might have for his Granddaughter to rest. You can tell him she is content. Surely, that is worth something?”
It was smoothly done, but Sophie-Ann was no fool. She could see the beginnings of the manipulation forming. “So, this was all for my benefit?” She sounded mollified, but Eric wasn’t a fool either. Sophie-Ann was well and truly angry. It was in the set of her shoulders and the tension vibrating through her children. Sigebert and Wybert had taken positions to either side of Eric’s group. At a word, they could move in, using their massive strength to trap and crush.
“It was not meant to deceive you,” Eric clarified. He glanced at Sookie, “You know I went to Boston for a month.” Sookie’s eyes shot to his. She’d known Eric had been there, just not how long he spent watching her. “I first met Sookie then. I didn’t know who she was or her connections. I only knew she was Fae, but even that didn’t matter to me.”
“You’re saying you’re attached to her?” Andre smirked.
Eric held out his hand, willing Sookie to take it and she didn’t disappoint him. Squeezing her fingers, he pulled Sookie to stand closer to his side. “I am,” he replied.
“The great Eric Northman brought low by a Seelie or should I say, an almost-Seelie,” Sophie-Ann stalked around them. “How quaint! How unexpected!” Eric didn’t watch her, he kept his gaze focused on Andre. If the Queen ordered an attack now, it would be Andre who would move first.
“Not fully Fae, are you?” Sophie-Ann brought her face, fangs extended, close to Sookie, hoping to make the woman flinch, but Sookie didn’t.
Through their fraying connection, Eric could feel Sookie’s fear, but looking at her, he didn’t see it. Her chin was up and her mouth pressed tight. Her shoulders were back and her eyes were clear. ‘Magnificent!’ he thought, pleased that fate had conspired to hand him this woman.
“Well, if those are the circumstances, I suppose I must wish you well,” Sophie-Ann’s voice changed to a purr. “How often is it that a vampire finds ‘love’ in its life?”
‘Love’ was not concept that vampires embraced. There was attraction, there was need, but ‘love’ was something reserved for the weak. “I am content with her, Majesty,” Eric corrected. “We are well suited, and I believe my mate will serve you well.”
“Will she?” and the hard edge was back. “And in what way, I wonder? I know some things about this creature, Sheriff.” The Queen stalked back to her throne and draped herself across it, forcing Eric, Pam, and Sookie to turn in order to watch her. It was a move that allowed Wybert and Sigebert to reposition themselves and Eric could feel the threat of danger crawling across his skin.
“Your mate,” and the Queen fastened her eye on Sookie, “arrived in this country on the arm of Breandan Brigant. Rogan is no friend to our kind, although he seems willing to make exceptions for you, Sheriff.” Pam hissed, but Sophie-Ann waved her hand. “But, who doesn’t? You have a rare talent for making friends, Northman, everyone says it.” She signaled to Andre and he stepped away from where he’d been standing behind Pam’s shoulder. “I’m thirsty,” the Queen told him. “Go get me something fresh.”
Andre walked behind the throne and the Queen continued, “We all heard about it. Brigant flaunted her in front of his wife and his Lover. There were jealous spats and unrest. No one could understand it. What was so important about this hybrid? I must confess, even I was surprised by Niall’s admission. It wasn’t until he explained that I put the pieces together. I remember the rumors of his unfortunate liaison and I certainly remember the Seelie war that followed! And now, she is here, Niall’s bad penny returned to the scene of the crime.”
There was a noise and Sookie jumped again. Eric squeezed her hand to give her courage. The tie between them was thinner, seeming to fade by the second and Eric doubted he could send her his comfort as he wished. Andre came from behind the throne leading a young girl. She was naked. Eric glanced at Sookie whose face went pale. “Look at me,” he urged her. “Give me your eyes.”
Sookie swallowed, still staring, and Eric wondered if she’d heard him, and then she lifted her chin. Her mouth trembled. “What…”
Eric shook his head, “Just watch me. Don’t look.”
Eric knew the Queen meant to shock Sookie. It was in how Sophie-Ann circled and stroked the girl, who was obviously glamoured. She tweaked the girl’s small nipple and glanced back toward Eric and his people. When she saw that Sookie wasn’t watching, her mouth turned down. The Queen fully extended her fangs and struck in a way designed to inflict maximum pain. The girl cried out and Sookie flinched.
“Watch me!” Eric warned Sookie. He sent her his pride and his courage, hoping she could feel even a little. Sookie bit her lip and he saw tears swimming in her eyes. “It will be over soon,” he said, meaning to comfort her.
When the Queen realized she wouldn’t get what she wished, she finished, but allowed the blood to drip from her mouth, red stains that blossomed like poppies on her white dress. Walking proudly down the steps of her dais, she stopped once she was close to Sookie. Eric flicked his eyes toward her, but said nothing. “You want me to believe this is a love match?” Sophie-Ann snarled. “You who talks to everyone, except, it seems, your Pledged? Look at her! She knows nothing of our ways! Love? In what way do you define it, Sheriff? I can barely smell anything of you in her!”
Eric readied himself to say something, but Sookie’s chin jutted and her eyes darkened. She whirled to face the Queen, her hands rising to fist against her hips. “What?” she demanded. “Now you’re going to criticize us because I wanted to wait? Because I wanted my wedding night with Eric to be special? He cares enough about me to care what I think, which is something loving people do, not that I’d expect you to understand!”
The Queen stepped back, her face registering first surprise and then darkening. “She meant no disrespect, Majesty!” Eric hastened to apologize. “You are right! She doesn’t know our ways. My Sookie is passionate in her beliefs and her loyalty. This is my fault and I will teach her.”
“You were saving yourself for him?” Sophie-Ann seemed to find that amusing. “How quaint! Tell me, Hybrid, in which way were you saving yourself? You are no virgin! If you knew anything about us, you wouldn’t try such a blatant lie!” The Queen tapped the end of her nose, giving Sookie a too vivid idea of how she knew Sookie’s state.
“Having something be special, something worth waiting for, isn’t just about sex,” Sookie said civilly.
“Too true,” the Queen replied. “And you are wrong. I do understand deeper emotions.” She gestured and Andre drew close to her. She kissed her Child, transferring wet blood from her face to his. They smiled gently at each other, but when Sophie-Ann turned back to Eric and Sookie, her face was hard and her tone matched. “You think you are both so smart with your fact twisting, but let me tell you what I know! I know that Niall Brigant wasn’t expecting to be confronted by his indiscretion. He may have fallen prey to your ancestor, Miss Stackhouse, but when he was done with her, he was perfectly happy to leave her an ocean away! Now, his darling brother, whose hatred every vampire knows, has found you. Old Niall must have had a few sleepless nights, wondering if Rogan would put you on display before his kingdom.”
“My Grandfather…” Sookie started, her temper clearly up, but Eric stopped her. He grasped her shoulder and she closed her mouth, biting back harsh words.
The Queen watched their interplay through narrowing eyes. “Your Grandfather paid a fortune to Rogan and his perfect Seelie courtiers decided that taking a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude would be best for everyone. But something’s changed!” Sophie-Ann started stalking around Eric and Sookie, tapping her finger against her lips, “What is it? Maybe ‘Grandfather’ tired of paying tribute for you. Maybe he decided it was time to steal you away from Rogan.”
“No one stole me!” Sookie huffed. “Like I told you, being with Eric is my choice!”
“Of course, you discovered your ‘love’ for a vampire!” the Queen sniffed. “How quickly did that happen? Was is before you wore Brigant’s token, or does Breandan believe you are his still? Does he even know you are here?”
Sophie-Ann didn’t wait for an answer. “I’ll tell you what I believe. I think Niall Brigant tired of paying tribute. He offered you something, Sheriff,” and Sophie-Ann smiled at Eric, “Something you saw as being of value. What was it? A concession? Unlimited access to his territory so you could open businesses, making up for the ones you’d be losing? Of course, the price wouldn’t be too high. You do get this thrown into the bargain.” The Queen transferred her satisfied smirk to Sookie, “You know how appealing your blood is to our kind, don’t you? Even part Fae, you would be delectable!” When Sookie’s eyes widened, Sophie turned back to Eric. “Whatever it was, you have succeeded in bringing her here, parking her in my kingdom, and tempting trouble. What’s to say her presence doesn’t spark another war? If she does, it will be fought on my lands, among my people!”
“Rogan wouldn’t break the treaty he has with you, Majesty,” Eric replied.
“That you’ve thought about that tells me everything I need to know!” the Queen declared.
“All it says is that I have taken the time to consider the consequences of my actions,” Eric replied. “Thinking ahead is one of the reasons I have survived so long.”
It was a low blow, reminding the Queen of his age, and he knew he’d hit the mark when her eyes narrowed again. “And yet, you were willing to take the risk both for yourself and your Queen!” she hissed. She walked some more and Eric could see her turning something over in her head.
“While I appreciate your assurances, Northman, you must see things from my perspective,” Sophie-Ann returned to her throne and sat down. “Niall was willing to pay a great deal to keep his brother quiet. All he offered me was some future wish and that seems thin payment in view of the potential danger.” Eric felt his caution rise as the Queen continued. “There’s also a rumor that the lovely Miss Stackhouse possesses a wild magic and her Grandfather asked for permission to visit her here. Why? To train her?” She leaned back and steepled her fingers, “I would be foolish not to have some assurance, some guarantee that Miss Stackhouse presents no danger to my kingdom. For all I know, she’s put you under her spell. It would explain a great deal, after all, you’ve refused to pledge before!”
Eric drew himself up. Sophie-Ann was leading up to something. She cocked her head and waited, but he said nothing. Eric knew it was best to hear what the Queen proposed, and so he allowed the silence to stretch between them. Sookie stood at his side and he sensed Pam stepping closer. “A blood tie,” Sophie-Ann finally said. “I want her to form a tie with Wybert. You will allow my Child to drink from her once a week, not much, just enough to keep an eye on her!”
“No!” and Eric instinctively pulled Sookie a little behind him.
“You would defy me?” the Queen snarled.
Eric knew he was in a corner. The Queen’s request was reasonable in many ways. Sophie-Ann hadn’t suggested Wybert give his blood to Sookie, so there would be no element of control to interfere with her decisions. What the blood tie would do was place Sookie on a leash, her movements and emotions under constant surveillance. “Perhaps you doubt my loyalty?” Eric asked again.
“You have sworn me your fealty,” Sophie-Ann conceded.
“And offered you my blood,” Eric reminded her. “I would take Sookie’s place, if it’s a demonstration you require.”
Pam hissed and beside him, Sookie gasped. “Interesting,” Sophie-Ann shrugged, “but it doesn’t solve the problem, does it? I already know you. The danger,” and Sophie-Ann nodded toward Sookie, “would still be unknown, that is…” and she smiled. Her eyes flicked around and her children began to smile, too.
“It would be an elegant solution,” Andre said. Eric had long believed the Queen enjoyed an almost telepathic link with her children. Behind him, Wybert and Sigebert started to laugh, and now Eric was sure.
“I hear she can’t be glamoured,” the Queen was smiling. “So, since you ‘love’ her so dearly, bonding isn’t too much to expect. After all, as your bonded mate, you would have dominion over her.”
Eric could see Sookie bristling. He pushed her calm, but between his own troubled emotions and the erosion of their tie, he doubted she could feel it. Bonded! It would link him to Sookie in a permanent way and she to him. If they bonded now, before he turned her, there would be a problem. It meant an eventual death sentence for one or the other. Couples who bonded before one became vampire rarely survived the other’s final death. It was a sequence in steps that only the most devoted couples took. But, couples who bonded without both turning suffered as well. If Sookie remained human, Eric would be forced to share her aging and she would learn to regret his eternal youth. When she died, it would be a hole in his existence that would never fill, even if he bonded with another. The few vampires who had chosen this path eventually despaired and met the sun.
Eric thought of the repercussions and the simple cruelty of the Queen’s plan. He realized there was nothing he could do, so he replied, “Of course, I had planned on discussing this with Sookie,” Eric tried to play for time. “Still, as you are aware, there is a preferred sequence to things.”
“Oh, so you were planning on turning her?” Sophie-Ann guessed. Sookie pulled her hand from his and he could see his plans unraveling with his Pledged’s rising temper. “I wonder what Niall would think of your little plan? Or were you keeping that a secret?” Sookie was staring at him, her mouth opening, and the Queen laughed out loud. “It would seem you didn’t both informing your Pledged either, Sheriff. Was that the little surprise you had planned for your wedding night? You should have told me. I would have dug you a hole.”
“No,” Eric exclaimed and set his hands on Sookie’s shoulders. He turned her toward him. “No. I would never turn you, Sookie, not unless you asked it of me. I promise you.”
Sookie nodded and Eric nodded back. “Well, then,” the Queen interrupted, “You know your options, Sheriff.”
“You could always send your little hybrid back to the Americas,” Andre offered.
“But he wouldn’t do that,” Sophie-Ann drawled. “He won’t because he ‘loves’ her, don’t you, Eric? You won’t send her back to be hunted and trapped again. Of course, you could go with her, but you owe me an oath of fealty. Fifty more years unless I release you and we both know that isn’t likely. If you ran with her, you’d be an oath-breaker. Every supernatural with an itch for money or adventure would be looking for you and they wouldn’t be too particular if your mate got in the way.”
Eric was trapped and for one, wild, moment, he considered delivering Sookie here and allowing Wybert to feed from her, and then, he thought of what that would mean for her, for them. “You have my word that we will bond,” Eric said.
“What are you saying?” Sookie challenged.
“I will explain it when we are home,” Eric told her. He bowed and taking Sookie’s hand, he turned as if to leave, but Sophie-Ann was not having it.
“Where do you think you’re going, Sheriff?” she asked. When Eric stilled, she added, “After such a declaration? The least I can do is to offer you the hospitality of my home. Andre, surely, we can find a room for our happy couple? Someplace they can celebrate?”
“You are most kind,” Eric bowed, “but I have prepared my home here in Ballytyne…”
“I insist,” Sophie-Anne interrupted. “You have promised to bond with your mate? I expect to find it’s done when we rise tomorrow. And because I care about you,” and she smirked at Eric, “I will make sure you are guarded just in case it turns out she really is a spy and a danger to us all.”
“You are welcome to rest with me,” Andre offered Pam.
“Too kind,” Pam smiled, but she didn’t look happy.
“This way,” Wybert growled and Eric realized there was no choice. Wybert started to walk toward a hallway, not waiting to see if Eric and Sookie followed.
“What’s going on, Eric?” Sookie hissed.
“You are going to have to trust me,” Eric replied. He took her arm and linked it through his and then laid his hand over hers. Sookie was doing well, but he wasn’t sure how much longer that would last. They walked down a corridor and took a right and Eric had a sinking feeling he knew where they were going. When they stopped outside the door Eric remembered, he said, “Surely, there’s another room.”
Wybert gave his dry, choking laugh, “You made the Little Mother angry. You should have agreed to let me taste her. Now you’re trapped by your own lies, Viking.” He opened the door and stood back.
The room she entered was every bad romance novel Sookie had ever read. The walls were covered in red wallpaper flocked with black designs and the middle of the room was dominated by a large, round bed. There seemed to be a hundred lights, all aimed to draw the eye. There were spotlights highlighting equipment that lined the walls, and the surface of the bed glowed. Sookie saw spanking benches and a cross, swings, and things whose function she could only guess at.
“What is wrong with you people?” Sookie hissed. “And what’s with you promising to do this bonding thing without even asking me?” and she shoved Eric in her frustration.
Throughout the nightmare in the throne room, she felt Eric, but not strongly. By the time the Queen decided to send them here, Sookie couldn’t feel the vampire at all. She wondered if it was the strength of her own anger or her adrenaline that burned through what was left of the tie between them. Either way, it didn’t matter. What did matter was she was in this nasty place, expected to ‘bond,’ and her new husband had made that decision for her.
Eric glanced around before moving to the first piece of equipment. He reached up to the light fixture and twisted. Once the light was extinguished, he went to the next and repeated his movements. “This was unexpected,” he said after a bit. “I did not anticipate Sophie-Ann would force a bond between us.”
“Why?” Sookie asked. She watched him as he worked his way around the room. She was still angry, but Eric turning the lights off meant that whatever this bonding thing entailed, it wouldn’t include any of these devices and she felt a little happier about that.
Eric looked away. Sookie didn’t need the tie to see he was considering how to frame his answer. “The Queen has long wished me for her own. Bonding to another removes that possibility,” he explained. Sookie examined his face and she believed he was being truthful about this.
“Well, no problem,” Sookie shrugged. “I refuse. I’m not bonding to anyone.”
Eric glanced around the room before looking back at Sookie. “She is my Queen,” Eric told her. “It is my duty to follow her orders.”
“Well!” and Sookie thought about how she’d been bullied in the throne room. She accepted that people seemed to think she was in some kind of danger, but the idea that she would have to trade the bullying she’d received from Mae at The Grand for the bullying of some Vampire Queen made her blood boil. “She may be your Queen, Eric, but she sure as hell isn’t mine!”
Eric was across the room so fast Sookie didn’t see him move. He grabbed her hand and held it up, so his ring was before her face, “When you handed me the knife, in front of this Queen, you agreed to join yourself to me. We are pledged, Sookie, and that means you are required to uphold my loyalties.”
“So, what? So, I have to do what you say and jump when you tell me?” Sookie hissed. “What kind of backward…”
“If I had offered you the knife in front of your people, I would have been agreeing to follow your customs,” Eric said, heading Sookie off.
“Well,” and Sookie licked her lips and swallowed before saying, “Would have been nice if someone had explained that.”
“If it was possible, Sookie, if Sophie-Ann agreed to release me and Niall allowed you to stand before his Court, I would have done that,” Eric assured her. Sookie was pretty sure Eric didn’t really mean it, but at least he made the effort to say it. “Things are what they are,” he continued. “We are pledged and you are under the protection of my people. Our Queen,” and he emphasized the word, “has demanded we prove that ours is a love match.”
“She really doesn’t trust you, does she?” Sookie asked.
Eric chuckled. He walked back to where he’d left off with the spotlights, getting back to work. “It’s understandable, in a way. I am much older than her. Vampires in my position are generally higher in the hierarchy. I have not wished to climb. It makes those above me nervous.”
“I don’t get it. If you could be King, why not?” Sookie asked.
“I don’t like the politics,” Eric shrugged. “I’d be forced to stay in one place, holding Court. Being Sheriff suits me.”
“All the authority, but none of the responsibility?” Sookie huffed. “You sound like a spoiled trust fund baby.”
“What?” Eric cocked his head to the side, staring at her.
“Boys in college who came from money,” Sookie explained. “They didn’t apply themselves, never worked too hard. They wore the best clothes and made fun of everyone, but you just knew they’d have good jobs no matter how badly they performed. They felt themselves entitled, and they made it hell on the rest of us who had to work for our positions.”
“You have a poor opinion of your husband,” Eric smirked. He turned off the last spotlight, and then started on the lights that outlined the bed.
“I wouldn’t call it a poor opinion, exactly,” Sookie said, her voice weakening. The room was getting darker and Sookie realized that was leading to the thing she said she wouldn’t do. “It’s just, I don’t know what’s coming and I’m nervous.”
Eric was in front of her then, “I think you know what’s coming,” he told her. “I also think you know me well enough to know I will take care of you.” He stepped back, standing under one of the remaining lights and started to unbutton his shirt. He held her eyes, steady, strong, never wavering as Sookie felt her heart start racing and her nervousness take hold. When he finished, pulling the shirt from his pants, allowing it to hang open, he unbuttoned his cuffs and folded them back. “Do you find me beautiful?” he asked.
“That’s a stupid question,” Sookie replied. She could hear the waver in her voice, so she dug deep, lifting her chin. “I don’t want to do this,” she told him.
“I wish I had a choice as well,” he replied. “I thought that when we joined, it would be later. We would have spent many more nights talking. You would have become used to me. I confess to you, Sookie. I have dreamed of you coming to me, asking me to make you mine. It is you that reaches out and takes my hand, as you did in the park the first time you kissed me. I regret having that dream stolen.”
Sookie’s eyes darted to the fetish equipment around them. “Don’t,” Eric ordered. “Don’t look there. Look at me.” He took his shirt off. He didn’t move toward her. “I will follow your lead,” he told her.
“We could just say we did it,” Sookie whispered.
“We will be checked,” he replied, telling her what she already knew. “Look at me, Älskade. When I saw you tonight, so brave, no one else existed for me. You have captured me, Sookie, and from tonight, I will have no other.”
“But it’s not what you want,” Sookie cried.
“You don’t know that,” Eric told her. He smiled at her and rocked back on his heels, allowing his muscles to ripple. Sookie couldn’t help it. There were a lot of muscles. Then he did something unexpected. Eric Northman cocked his head and recited,
Come live with me, and be my love:
And we will all the pleasures prove
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses
With a thousand fragrant posies.
“I know that,” Sookie smiled. “But you’re missing words.”
“Christopher Marlowe was my friend,” Eric told her. “We kept company, once upon a time. I hope you don’t mind that I borrowed his words to say what I wish.” When Sookie didn’t move, Eric told her, “Vampires speak eloquently of need and desire. We can tell you in many ways what we covet or what we wish to take. Our words are not so many when it comes to the place I now find myself. What I wish from you is not something I can take, nor something I can demand.”
“What do you wish from me?” Sookie asked, half fearing and half hoping to hear the answer.
“I wish you to come to me,” he shrugged. “I wish you to take my hand, as I dreamed. I wish this to be your choice. I have no desire to force you.”
“Would you?” It was something she needed to know.
“I wish to continue living,” Eric told her and Sookie felt her heart sink, “but that would destroy what honor I have. No, I will not force you. Instead, I will trust you not to condemn me to my final death.”
“Jeez, guilt spill, aisle three,” Sookie stuttered, her nerves dancing.
“Will you, Sookie?” There was that small smile playing over his face and Eric extended his hand to her.
Sookie thought about leaving. She thought of refusing him, but she knew she wouldn’t. This was Eric, the man she kissed, even when she shouldn’t. This was Eric, the man her eyes followed. There were so many good reasons she should refuse to cooperate, but none of them seemed to matter.
“No,” Sookie told him. She could see his disappointment, but then she reached up and started pulling the pins from her hair. Eric’s eyes lifted and his fangs peeked from behind his upper lip. One by one, she found each pin, pulling and dropping it to the floor. Sookie pulled the combs and when her hair finally fell, she shook her head so her curls would lie more naturally. Sookie lifted her chin and holding out her hand, she said, “Eric Northman, I desire you. Will you come to me?”
He didn’t rush. He moved forward with that rolling gait that reminded Sookie more of stalking than walking. He let her see each stage of his approach and when he reached her, he took her hand and raised it, kissing her knuckles. His eyes dropped to sweep over her as he stroked her cheek with his hand.
“License my roving hands and let them go,” he whispered. He leaned down to kiss her forehead, and then, rubbed his cheek along the curve of her cheek. Sookie could smell him and it reminded her of the sea. He captured the lobe of her ear and nibbled, sending the most delightful shivers through her. “Before, behind, above, below,” he whispered. His hands ghosted down her arms and his lips continued to explore first her jaw and then her neck. He was behind her and she heard the zipper of her dress opening. “O, my America, my Newfoundland,” he continued.
Sookie dress slipped from her shoulders and Eric’s lips moved to her shoulder, following the silk. “My kingdom, safest when, with one man mann’d; My mine of precious stones, my empery!” and Eric’s hands encircled her, drawing her back against him. He used one arm around her waist, pulling her so she could feel his hard length against her back. With his other hand, he pulled down the cup of her bra, then captured her breast, teasing her nipple. Sookie moaned. He was moving against her, rising and falling, simulating what was to come. His lips and fangs lightly scored her neck and he whispered, “How am I blest in thus discovering thee.”
Eric’s tongue slid skillfully back to trace the veins of her neck, followed by teeth, and Sookie hooked her arm up, arching her breast more fully into the vampire’s hand as she turned her head, capturing his lips with her own.
His kiss never failed to engage her. Sookie closed her eyes and lost herself in the way his lips moved. He nipped her lower lip, then sucked it. He traced her mouth with his tongue and then sucked her own, not too hard, just hard enough. “Eric!” she groaned.
“I would worship you,” he told her. “I would have you rise above me and below me. I intend to mark you as my own.”
He walked back around her, his hands everywhere, smoothing, teasing. “And what would you be to me?” Sookie asked. It was hard to speak sensibly, but there were questions she needed to ask.
“I will be your husband, your Lover, your bonded,” he told her.
Sookie captured the hand that was playing with her nipple and twined her fingers with his. “Tell me about bonding,” she commanded.
Eric smiled, but he never stopped touching her. “We will exchange,” he rumbled as he captured her ear lobe again, and then kissed and rubbed the hollow just beneath it with his nose. “It will involve more blood than before. There are some who say that when the bond forms, they feel transported to somewhere else, a place where there is light and loving.”
‘Is that what you think?” Sookie asked him.
“I intend that we should find out, together,” he replied and Sookie had no doubt that ‘together’ was meant in more than a metaphorical way. Her breathing became labored. She wondered how this man was able to make her feel so intensely. She thought of how she reacted to Breandan and, in that instant, she felt guilty. Somehow, in spite of their near absent link, Eric knew. “Stay with me,” he whispered. “Feel my hands on you. Feel my need for you.” It pulled Sookie away from her thoughts, away from any other sensation but him and now.
Somehow her panties were gone. The garter belt was in place, along with the heels, but his fingers were stroking her bare sex and Sookie moaned aloud as his fingers plucked and pulled.
“Yes, my Lover,” he encouraged, “Feel me. Feel my desire.”
He backed Sookie up slowly, inch by slow inch, until her legs hit the edge of the bed. Eric’s head bent, his mouth taking in first one nipple and then the other. “You are so sensitive,” he praised. “Your body dances for me, my Sookie.” He lowered her, his arms around her so strong that Sookie never worried about falling. There was something about it, knowing he had the ability to control their movements. It made Sookie feel safe. “Raise your legs,” he breathed against her stomach. He helped her bring her heeled feet to the bed.
“Let your knees fall apart, Lover,” he sighed. “Let me see you open before me.”
Sookie felt half-drunk. She watched him from beneath hooded eyes as he lowered his pants, standing at the end of the bed. His sex was larger than she anticipated and it made her feel both nervous and anxious. He was laughing, and she held out her hand to him. “I told you I wanted you,” she reminded him.
He kneeled between her legs and she tensed as he came over her, but it wasn’t his cock that found her entrance. He inserted first one finger, and then another, pumping within her, playing her clit with his thumb. “I am a large man,” he told her as he watched her eyes. “You are so tight and I wish you to enjoy our joining.”
When he scissored his fingers Sookie wasn’t sure if it was pain or pleasure, the feeling balancing so delicately between the two. What she did know was she seemed to be out of breath. She was running for some distant goal, and when Eric’s mouth returned to her breasts, alternately sucking and biting, she found it. She arched under him, her feet pushing from the mattress, forcing his fingers deeper as her pussy clenched around him, her juices flowing around his fingers and down her thighs. “Eric!” she gasped.
“I am here, my Lover,” he assured her. “I am here with you.” He was closer now, his fingers gone, replaced with the blunt head of his cock. “Feel me in you,” he whispered and his arms, so muscled and defined, were fencing her, his legs lifting her thighs as he opened her even further to him. He moved slowly. There were moments when the slide of him stretched her beyond bearing and he knew it. He watched her eyes and when they widened, his thumb found her clit, rubbing, pressing, until she relaxed around him.
It seemed to take forever. There were moments he withdrew, only to press forward again, each time moving further within her. “You are tight, my wife,” he sighed at one point. It occurred to Sookie it was the first time he had called her that and she smiled at him.
“Husband,” she called. He withdrew again, and then pressed forward and she felt his balls against her.
He groaned, “Please, Sookie! Please,” and he was moving within her. It was uncomfortable, and then pleasurable, and then it was something that took her from herself, losing all thought as she moved with him, one moment, one body, one.
She knew on some level she was calling his name, her nails buried in his back, her heels dug into his hips. He was moving over her, his head thrown back, and then his mouth open, his fangs extended. “Sookie!” he cried again, the veins in his neck standing out.
“Yes!” she cried, “Now!” She didn’t know why she said it, but he pressed into her, arching his back and drew his nail across his chest. There was a bright arc of blood and he cupped her neck with his hand, drawing her to him.
“Drink, my mate,” he gasped, “Drink.”
And she did. She felt it when he sank his fangs into her neck, but it was the feel of him stretching her, massaging her, that brought her with him, her orgasm grabbing her so strongly, she was robbed of breath. She was an endless wave, rolling over him and with him. Finally, her breath returned in ragged, breathy gasps. Her nipples so hard they ached as his chest rubbed past her, his hips forcing her legs further apart, Once, twice, and he threw his head back, his fangs bloody, his length pulsing within her. It was the most primal moment she had ever known and Sookie’s inner voice told her, with no doubt, she had found her mate.
He had brought her leg over him, which seemed silly. She was leaking, which meant he was getting sticky, too, but Eric seemed content with it. She could tell. It was like the tie, only more, somehow. “It doesn’t feel so raw,” Sookie mentioned, rubbing her thigh over his, enjoying the feel of his hair against her freshly-shaved skin, “Different.”
“It is pleasurable,” Eric rumbled. Her head was on his shoulder and he was massaging her scalp with his massive hand. “I had not thought it would feel so refined.”
It was a good word for the bond. The tie was intense in feeling. This was much more comfortable, something a person could live with for a long time. “Is this really forever?” Sookie asked.
“Yes, min hustru.” Eric sounded blissed out.
“What’s ‘min hustru?’ That’s a new one.” Sookie asked, looking up so she could see his face.
“My wife,” Eric smiled, and then he took a deep breath. His eyes closed and he looked very happy.
“I didn’t know you needed to breath,” Sookie remarked.
“I don’t,” he sighed, “I just enjoy your scent, the scent of us together. It is calming.”
Sookie rolled over enough to be able to look into the vampire’s face, “So, you’re okay with this?”
“I am content,” he said, his eyes closed. He looked as if that was true, but Sookie could feel that there was something moving just under the feelings he seemed to be sending that wasn’t content.
“I can tell you’re not telling me the whole truth,” she sniffed.
“I am telling you how I feel,” and he cracked an eye, making a face to let her know how wrong she was.
It didn’t matter, Sookie could feel what was real and what was real was not full-on happiness. “Whatever,” she whispered and she found herself being reminded of Breandan’s masque. This bond was like that, it showed you what was on the surface and what lay beneath.
“We are more closely bonded than I anticipated,” Eric grumbled and sat up. “You will need to learn to sift primary concerns from lesser ones,” he told her. “It is the first thing a Child is taught by its Maker. We all have many feelings about the things we experience. If you focus on those that are less important, you will misinterpret and become confused.”
“Hide all you want,” Sookie huffed. “Tell me I don’t know what I’m feeling, if that makes you feel better,” and she rolled over and away from him.
“Fine!” Eric growled, “I am not entirely content about our bonding.” When Sookie rolled back to look at him, he nodded once. “It is permanent. You are not vampire. That means there will be complications in the future that were not necessary.”
“Like what?” Sookie asked. She sat up cross-legged beside him and drew a sheet up to drape over her.
Eric sighed, and then flopped on his back. He placed his hands behind his head looking very comfortable and very naked. He explained to Sookie how the bond linked them, day by day, further entwining their emotions until eventually they would have a hard time functioning without the other. “It is a deep commitment,” he explained. “Were you vampire, the risk would be that one of us would meet the final death. The loss of one in a bonded pair is terrible, but it is possible for the survivor to continue.”
“But I’m not vampire,” Sookie pointed out.
“No, you are not. If you remain as you are, you will age and when you are finally lost, I will mourn you for the rest of my immortal life.” Eric met her eyes. “Because we are bonded, when you are gone, a part of me will be gone as well.”
“Does it make me terrible that I kind of like that idea?” Sookie asked.
“It shows you have a streak of cruelty,” Eric smirked. “You have the makings of a true vampire.”
That reminded Sookie of things she’d heard tonight. “What did the Queen mean when she asked you about turning me? Would you do that?” Sookie first felt Eric’s unease, and then his resignation.
“I promised you I wouldn’t, not without your consent,” he replied, “but you might consider allowing me to amend that promise. What if you are injured? I have said it before, you are trouble, Sookie. Trouble follows you. You have been badly damaged once already. Rogan will be angry and he is capable of killing. If you were to be injured again, it might be the only way to save you.”
“Which would save you,” Sookie pointed out.
“Which, being a cruel person, means nothing to you,” Eric teased.
“Ouch!” Sookie retorted. “Actually, Mr. Northman, it might interest you to know that the fact that you’d consider turning me is kind of flattering.” When Eric expressed his skepticism, Sookie explained, “Pam told me about how of all the people you’d met, you saw something unique in her and you turned her. She doesn’t regret it. In fact, she says it’s the best thing ever.”
“You’d welcome it?” and Eric’s surprise was turning to delight.
“No,” Sookie huffed. “Not now. Maybe not ever, but I’m not ruling it out. I just don’t know enough about any of this to say one way or the other.”
“A Fae vampire,” Eric declared, and then, he giggled. There was no other word for it. “A Faepire!” he gasped.
“Are you drunk?” and Sookie’s eyes narrowed.
“Maybe,” Eric sighed and he closed his eyes, “A little. Fae blood is intoxicating to us and you are more Fae than human.”
“Says you,” Sookie snorted. “Guess the joke’s really on me. Not Fae enough for the Fae, but too Fae for vampires.”
Eric stretched then. It was a full body stretch involving many muscle groups, and it left Sookie feeling a little dopey herself. He had his arm over his eyes, but Sookie could see a glint. She was pretty sure he knew the effect he had on her, but then he did close his eyes. He seemed to have gone into some trance, almost like sleep, and Sookie suddenly found herself alone in her emotions and feeling self-conscious. “I’m going to find a bathroom,” she announced, suddenly anxious to get away from him.
Eric didn’t move and Sookie wondered if somewhere it was dawn and she’d just seen him fall into his day death. That’s what Pam called it, but then Eric moved. He waved toward the other side of the room and said, “Over there.” Sookie saw a door in the direction Eric had signaled. Sookie crawled off the bed, taking the sheet, and wrapping it around her. It seemed silly, after all, he’d seen everything, but looking back at non-responsive Eric, she was starting to feel self-conscious.
She used the toilet and glanced at the shower. She considered using it, then thought of the vampire on the bed outside. The love-making had been intense, taking her places she’d never gone, but it occurred to her that he seemed in no hurry to go there again. He’d rocked her world, but Sookie started to worry that maybe she hadn’t quite measured up. “He’s a thousand years old,” she whispered and in that moment, Sookie felt miserable.
“Sookie?” He called to her.
“Fucking bond,” Sookie sniffed to herself before calling out, “I’m okay.” She cleaned up and washed her hands. She looked in the mirror to find racoon eyes where her mascara had smeared and her hair ratted up on one side. Misery turned to humiliation, so Sookie ran the water, washing off Claudine’s makeup. There was no brush, so she used her fingers to smooth her hair as best she could. “Wow! Real beauty queen,” she told her reflection.
When she walked back into the horror of a bedroom, Eric was using his phone to flip through emails. He glanced at her, “What is it? You don’t feel happy.”
“Nothing,” Sookie shrugged, wondering if she could make a place for herself on the far side of the bed.
He dropped his phone, “Your nothings are big things.” He held out his hand and Sookie dragged her way back toward him. He pulled her until she was close, and then he pulled her again so she was lying against him. He arranged her, placing her head on his chest, and placing her hand on his chest. “I like you here,” he purred. He started to drop back into that comatose state, seemingly content, and Sookie couldn’t help it. She felt disappointed.
“What is it?” Eric growled. He sat up, tumbling her over on her back.
“Nothing,” she said again, gathering the sheet to cover herself again. He was still staring, and so Sookie said, “Look, I get it. You were obligated. We, I mean. We were obligated. You did what you had to. I guess, I just…”
Eric was watching her carefully and she felt even smaller. Maybe it was because she was mostly naked, lying next to a gorgeous man, a man who seemed perfectly content making love to her only once. It wasn’t what she was used to. Breandan would…and her face burned.
“You are not happy,” he told her. “You are…” and he looked closely at her again. “Tell me what you are feeling, Sookie! Your emotions are too tangled. I can’t interpret them.”
“It’s nothing,” she said for the third time. “I guess… I guess I just thought somehow this would be different.”
Eric looked honestly confused. “Are you disappointed that I didn’t give you a honeymoon?” he asked. “Pam said…”
“A what?” Sookie blinked. “No!” She looked around, “I’m being foolish. I don’t have any right. I mean we got talked into this arranged marriage and you got tricked into bonding to me. I can see this wouldn’t be anything you wanted, I mean, you told me you wouldn’t have bonded with me. I’m just tired, that’s all.”
Eric’s eyes narrowed, “You are worried,” he said almost to himself. He seemed to be reading her emotions like another would taste wine, rolling them around and dissecting their flavors. His eyes weren’t looking at her, instead they were focused on the task at hand, and that task seemed to be sorting Sookie. “You are not content. Are you feeling…regret?”
“Not exactly,” Sookie sighed. “I just…”
“I did not wish to force you,” Eric pronounced and he gave her a more direct look.
“I don’t feel forced by you,” Sookie blustered.
Eric was leaning toward her, “And you are not regretting me,” he stated.
“No,” Sookie licked her lips. “You’d know it if I were!”
And Eric laughed. It was a startling sound and Sookie found herself smiling. She realized in some hazy way that what was making her happy was Eric’s own sense of triumph. His hand came up to cup her sex, “And you agree that this is mine?” he asked, his face suddenly close to hers.
“Uh…” Sookie stammered.
Eric took her hand, placing it against him. He was hard again and Sookie wondered that she hadn’t seen it. “And I agree that this is yours,” he assured her. “Perhaps you would feel better if you took possession of it.” He smiled and his eyes were brilliant. It was as though flood gates opened and Sookie felt Eric’s desire and affection wash over her. “You thought I didn’t want you?” he hissed. “You thought I lacked interest? I didn’t wish to hurry you, but I can see that hiding my needs was a mistake!” He was over her, his mouth smiling in a way that reminded her more of the Big Bad Wolf than any Prince Charming. “You are passionate, my wife. It’s not what I expected, but I should have known better. You always seem to surprise me!”
What followed was joyous. Sookie found herself jumping up at one point when a particularly athletic position had her inner thigh cramping. Eric just fed her more of his blood and bent her into another pretzel shape. They fucked and laughed, and fucked some more. When Sookie made an embarrassing sound, Eric burst into song about the joy of flatulence and they giggled and teased, until their joy turned to lust and they found their rhythm again.
She was atop him when he sighed, “Dawn has come, my wild woman! I will need to leave you soon.”
He sped up, stroking and plucking until she gripped him. He opened his wrist and as she fed, he sat up so he could sink his fangs into her breast. They came, he with a roar and she calling his name, before collapsing together into the tangled sheets.
“I am yours,” he whispered to her. They were the same words Breandan had given her once, but when Eric Northman said them, they weren’t the same at all.
“I’m yours, too,” Sookie sighed and she kissed his cheek, only to find that Eric Northman was gone.