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Sookie fell asleep against him almost as soon as the wheels left the tarmac. The crew was efficient and the flight attendant showed proper discretion in her treatment. She made a point of interacting with Sookie, making his mate feel comfortable, and then she made herself scarce so Eric could entice his wife closer.
‘I love you,’ she’d whispered, stroking his chest with her fine fingers. Now that she’d said it, she seemed to like saying the words often. It wasn’t that Eric didn’t want her to. Truth be told, he liked hearing her say them, and that was what was making him uncomfortable.
Sookie’s human wedding had stirred a Pandora’s box of memories. Eric hadn’t thought of his turning in many ages and now, he couldn’t stop. He remembered his lost bride’s face, even if he didn’t remember her name. He remembered the smell of her family’s cattle, drifting across the field the moment he saw the bundle of rags that was Appius. Eric had been proud, a blooded warrior. Appius spent their first few years together breaking that pride.
Eric understood now that forcing him to become nothing allowed him to be rebuilt into the man he was today. Eric may have doubted his Maker’s method, but he both loved and feared Appius. Appius Livius Ocella was a great man, a colossus among vampires. Appius refused to take a crown, although it was his right. Appius scoffed that royal concerns were petty concerns; beneath him, and Eric acknowledged some part of his reluctance to enter politics was because of his Maker.
When Eric handed Maude’s envoy the keys to the car, the woman’s eyebrows rose. Eric had made a cursory effort to clean off well wishes and toilet paper, but traces remained. The envoy said nothing, yet Eric could see her scorn. ‘What would Appius say?’ The thought sprang into his head, and haunted all his interactions with Sookie.
“Wake me when we get there?” Sookie raised the armrest and laid her head in his lap. Her eyes shone. She was sleepy and her quiet state made her emotions more pronounced. She did love him. He could feel her adoration. It made him warm. He wanted to return the words, but knew he couldn’t. He was vampire. He honored her too well to tell her things he couldn’t, shouldn’t, feel.
“Of course, min hustru,” he said instead. “Sleep now.” He sighed once she slipped away. It was easier when she wasn’t conscious.
They were met at Logan by the New England King’s emissary. “I am James,” the tall Were informed them. “King Robert extends his welcome to you, Sheriff.”
“Is your King in town?” Eric asked.
“Not tonight,” and Eric saw James’ eyes drop to where Sookie’s fingers were entwined with his own. “You may not have heard, but our Clan Summit starts in two nights. There are preparations underway and the King returns tomorrow. Robert has instructed me to extend an invitation to you to attend as his special guest,” and his eyes traveled to Sookie’s face, “along with your Bonded.”
“We will be honored,” Eric replied, then bowed. He could feel Sookie’s irritation. He supposed it was because he didn’t ask her consent first. He was vampire. She was his mate. It was time she learned her place. “This is Sookie Northman,” then using his teaching voice, he instructed Sookie, “It is our custom to bow when introduced, Sookie. A slight incline of the head is appropriate for someone of James’ standing.”
Sookie was nothing if not polite and she followed Eric’s prompt, but the vampire could feel her temper flickering and when they followed James through the terminal, she made no move to take his hand again.
James rode in the back of the black car with them. After offering Sookie a soft drink, he turned his attention to Eric, chatting about the upcoming Summit and identifying which of the Moshup Clan royalty would be in attendance.
Sookie stared out the window, freeing Eric from making an effort to include her in the conversation. As they pulled up to the hotel, James remarked, “I heard your time in Maude’s kingdom was spent indulging in local customs, Sheriff.”
It was lightly done, though pointed enough. “Observing the customs of one’s Bonded is honorable,” Eric replied.
“Of course,” James smirked, staring out the window. “One must expect variety when bonding with someone so… Alive.”
The car pulled to the curb, and, as it stopped, James stepped out. He leaned back in the car, offering Sookie his hand, ignoring protocols which forbid touching a vampire’s human without her vampire’s express permission. The rule didn’t exactly apply to vampire mates, but Sookie wasn’t vampire.
Eric’s jaw clenched. Sookie was smiling, unconscious of rules being broken and disrespect being shown. Eric stepped between James and Sookie, forcing the Were to step back as he secured her arm through his own. “I will be speaking with your Master. I will be certain to let him know the courtesy extended in his name.”
James flinched. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. As Eric pulled Sookie after him, he snarked, “Oh, and you’ll take care of the luggage, won’t you, James? Good dog.”
Sookie’s unhappiness stilled as they stepped into the small lobby. Her eyes widened and she sighed, “This place is beautiful.” They were staying at a vampire-friendly hotel located in the Beacon Hill section of the city. From the outside, it looked like every other door on the street, but, inside, it was classic opulence. With a Summit in town, every place with light-tight accommodations would be booked, but there was always a room for one’s most-favored guest and, in this place, Eric was a most-favored guest.
Jeffrey, the hotel concierge, was waiting for them. “Welcome back, Mr. Northman.” He was short and impeccably dressed. He wore no tie. Suits had fallen from favor in the world of concierges. Instead, Jeffrey wore casual slacks and a bespoke white shirt. “And this must be your Bonded!” He bowed a little more deeply to Sookie. “Welcome to Grave House, Mrs. Northman. You are more beautiful than rumor reports. Always a pleasure when fact outstrips gossip.”
“My Bonded is fatigued,” Eric answered for Sookie again. He knew his actions were angering her, but he ignored it. She was his human mate; his answering for her was expected. There would be time upstairs to explain. Behaving as they did in Minnesota surrounded by humans was one thing, but they were in his world now, and it was becoming clear from the reactions of those around them that there was a problem. A vampire’s reputation was built over centuries, but could be destroyed in moments. Years of training were telling Eric he was in danger. His mind clicked, thinking through the nuances and protocols.
“We are not prepared to attend Robert’s Summit,” Eric informed Jeffrey as the concierge showed them their rooms. “I have a tailor here who stores my suits, but my Bonded will need proper clothing.”
“Of course,” the concierge bowed. “The opening ball is in two nights, so there is no rush. I will make arrangements.” He directed the porters with their luggage and oversaw the unpacking before turning to Sookie, “Perhaps you would join me for lunch tomorrow, Mrs. Northman? I can have showings from several shops arranged for your pleasure at that time,” and he handed Sookie his card. “You need only call me when you are ready. We’ll eat and then enjoy the show. I must apologize, but I wasn’t able to determine if you have any food allergies. I would like to make certain your meal suits you…”
“Sookie doesn’t have allergies…” Eric interjected.
“Sookie can speak for herself,” Sookie snapped. “Thank you, Jeffrey. I don’t have any food allergies. Perhaps a salad, some chicken?”
“My Bonded likes desserts,” Eric offered. He meant it to be kind, but Sookie’s eyes narrowed.
“No need, Jeffrey,” she contradicted. “I’ve had plenty of sugar over the past few days, and I could use a break.” She shot Eric a look that told the vampire Sookie was really talking about him.
“Thank you, Jeffrey,” and Jeffrey knew it was his cue to leave.
As the concierge reached the door, he offered, “It is still quite early for the city and the weather is lovely. If you aren’t too tired, I could recommend a bistro around the corner.” He looked at Eric, “They are familiar with the guests here and are most accommodating. I can arrange a table.”
Eric could feel Sookie’s hunger, but he purposely waited for her answer. “That would be nice,” she said after a bit, and then “Thank you.”
The door shut behind the concierge and Eric counted two before Sookie turned on him, “Why are you being such an asshole?”
“We may be in danger.” Eric didn’t sugarcoat it, “You remember what Pam told you, about being a target.”
Sookie’s mouth fell open, “But you said…”
“I may have been too optimistic,” Eric conceded. “America is different. Vampires here can be brash. As you know, vampires choose to live by many rules, and those in America follow them closely. A vampire who steps outside the lines is respected…or challenged. One rule is that vampires, particularly those in positions of power, don’t marry…”
“Humans,” Sookie let out a breath. “So, what did you see that has you worried?”
Eric explained the envoy in Minnesota, “By itself, her reaction was nothing, but as soon as we landed, there was James,” and Eric explained the double meaning behind James’ words. “I don’t believe in coincidence. Two slights in different geographic areas in the same evening are concerning.”
“Okay,” and she calmed, demonstrating the level-headedness Eric admired. “Then what’s the game plan?”
Sookie’s eyes were less cold, although Eric could feel her happiness slipping. “We follow vampire protocol. We work to make you more vampire than those around you. I will have to check in with Robert tomorrow night, and I will mention your connection to Niall.”
“I guess, if you think that’s the only way.” Sookie looked away before she asked, “Are we really in trouble, Eric, or are you just ashamed of me?”
“You are my mate!” Eric protested. “I will defend you to the death.” Sookie’s words struck close to something, but he continued, “I hadn’t realized there was a Summit here; these American Clans and their formalities! We could make excuses, not go, but if we don’t attend, it will fuel rumors. If we attend, and Robert treats us with respect, it will send a message…”
“…And allow you to keep your pride,” Sookie finished. She was smiling, but her eyes were sad.
“It isn’t that!” he protested again. “I am sworn to protect you. If those in our world doubt my ability to do that, you will be in danger. Trust me!”
“I do,” she said, but Eric could feel her uncertainty and it grated.
Her stomach growled, and Eric leaned over to kiss her. He told himself it was for her benefit, but he knew it was for his own, “When would you like to go to dinner?”
Jeffrey was called, and Sookie took a quick shower, changing into a dress. It was warm, and they found themselves seated at a sidewalk table, watching young people intent on entertainment streaming past. The ambient noise made it hard to hear those seated near them, and Eric positioned his chair next to Sookie so they could use this time to talk about what was needed.
“It would be best if you enjoyed the showing tomorrow. Jeffrey knows what to do,” Eric started. “The dresses you will see will be expensive. Narrow it down to two or three. I would like to be included in your final choice. Do not ask about price! There will be no tags and if you appear concerned about money, it will be passed along. Remember, anyone who visits the hotel knows what we are, and that means they have connections to others in the supernatural world.”
“And you worry about what they’ll say,” and Sookie rolled her eyes. “I don’t understand it and I don’t want to! I have never lived my life to meet someone else’s expectations. My Daddy said…”
“And your Daddy is dead, probably killed. That is the reality of our world now, Sookie. I am sorry I agreed to this Boston diversion. It would have been better if we’d simply returned to Ireland or continued someplace else, but we are here and trouble has found us.” Eric sat back, waiting for their server to take orders and place a basket of rolls on the table.
“So you say,” Sookie muttered. She didn’t look at him, instead paying attention to the roll between her fingers. She broke it apart, and then broke off another piece. Eric thought she would eat, but instead she shifted the pieces around the small plate, using it as an excuse.
Exasperated, Eric took Sookie’s fingers, tugging gently until she exhaled. “I am old, Sookie, and I survived this long by paying attention to the signs around me. You may think I’m being paranoid…”
“I think something happened in Minnesota,” Sookie confronted him. “I think being reminded of your human life made you question things. You pulled back from me, from us, and I can feel it.”
“Nothing has changed between us,” Eric replied. “This is a new situation.”
“I’m going to see Amelia tomorrow,” Sookie replied, changing the subject.
“I don’t think…” and Eric sat back as Sookie leaned in toward him.
“You are not the boss of me! I came here to see Amelia. I’ll do the lunch thing and I’ll pick out a dress, but I’m going to meet my friend for dinner, Eric. You can join us or not. It’s up to you, but I’m going.” Eric found himself at a loss for words. Sookie wasn’t angry, she wasn’t sad. Instead, she was determined, and it both frustrated and impressed him.
“I will arrange someone to drive you,” he nodded.
“A babysitter?” Sookie was staring right at him and Eric could see she wasn’t going to let him off the hook.
“A guard, yes,” he nodded. “It will be someone discrete. Your friend, Amelia, will be impressed. She likes the trappings of money.”
“He’d better do what I tell him,” Sookie stated and Eric knew he’d won this round.
“I will use that time to check in with Robert,” Eric nodded.
“Well, if he offers you a blood buffet, don’t feel like you have to hold back on my account.” She was trying to remain calm, even cold toward him, but, for a moment, he felt the hurt under Sookie’s words and his heart, which shouldn’t have existed, ached.
“I gave you a promise, Älskade. I do not wish to take it back. I…” and he took her hand, “I may fail you from time to time, but, Sookie, that doesn’t mean that I don’t wish to try to be worthy of you.” He kissed the back of her hand, and he heard her breath catch. “Please, my Lover. Please understand that I only wish you to be safe, that I wish you…” and he pulled back, hooding his eyes and emotions as the server approached with their meals. For Sookie, there was a large salad, and for him, a dark goblet.
“You seem to wish that I’m something I’m not,” Sookie told him.
“No, I am not asking you to change. I’m asking you to act in a way that will safeguard us. Don’t tell me you’ve never acted, Sookie! Don’t tell me you haven’t done things you didn’t wish to make others more comfortable around you. Acting doesn’t change who you are but, in this case, it may allow us to continue doing as we wish.” Eric looked out at the passers-by who crowded Boston’s sidewalks. “I enjoy this. I enjoy sitting in the open, watching the living swirl around me. It was not always this way.”
Eric sat back, “There was a time when my kind hid in the shadows. We ruled the night and feared the day, because angry humans hunted, seeking to destroy us in our day death. We were hated, Sookie! Reviled!” He took her hand, “Feared. It taught us that our natural instincts could cause our destruction. We learned to act; hide what we most wanted, and our reward is this,” and Eric gestured at those around them. “I can sit here in the middle of humanity and with some precautions, not worry about being staked in my sleep.” He looked at his mate, “Do you understand?”
“I’m not a vampire, Eric,” Sookie pointed out.
“No, you are bonded to a vampire. That makes you my responsibility,” and when Sookie drew in breath, Eric added, “in my world. Sookie,” and he leaned forward, “that means we are one. Perhaps it would be easier if you considered you are responsible for me as well. Your actions can endanger me. Your unwillingness to respect the rules can invite rivals to challenge me. Is that what you want?”
“No,” Sookie sighed. “Fine. You tell me what I need to do and I’ll try.”
“It’s all I’m asking,” Eric assured her, but he knew that wasn’t exactly true. “First, you should know there are many rules! I blame it on our memories. We are immortal and incapable of forgetting, so remembering and perfectly executing is a matter of pride.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Sookie grated.
“Most social conventions are,” Eric agreed. “Ties? What purpose do they serve, but someone decided it was a rule and so we wear them.” Sookie smiled, and Eric took that as a sign, “Let’s start with bowing. It is more than a bow; it tells everyone what you think without having to use words.” Eric started with the obvious degrees, those who were given head bows versus those whose rank required more.
When he started on angles, Sookie protested, “I’m not a vampire, Eric! I’ll never remember all of this! I can figure out ninety degrees, but forty? Really?”
“You are new to our world. It’s known and you may be viewed as a new Child, so you’ll be forgiven much.” He covered her hand with his own before saying, “Let’s move on to touching protocols.”
“How many rules are there?” Sookie groaned.
“Many,” Eric grinned, “and I will confess something to you. Because I am the oldest in most gatherings, when someone irks me, I make up another rule.”
It caught Sookie. She exhaled and her eyes warmed. “You really are a pain the ass, aren’t you, Eric?”
“How can they dispute what I say?” He laughed. “I tell them some pedigree or circumstance and they glaze over, filing it away to beat their friends with later.” She laughed, and he used her sudden good humor as an excuse to pull her to him and kiss her. He hungered for her. It had been many hours since he’d had her on the plane and he wanted her again.
Sookie pulled back from him. She knew. He hadn’t held back his feelings, but instead of suggesting they leave, she said, “So, about those touching protocols.” She lifted her fork to her lips and smiled as she flicked out her tongue before taking in her food. His cock twitched and she smiled wider.
“You should be vampire,” he hissed.
“I don’t want to be vampire,” she shrugged. “Not now. I like who I am, even if I have to act. Touching protocols, Eric!”
“Fine,” and he admired her through narrowed eyes. “No one is allowed to touch you without my permission. Vampires are sensitive to their environments, so even touch leaves trace scent. As mine, you should only smell of me.”
“And what about you?” Sookie asked.
“If you were vampire, you could demand the same,” Eric told her.
Tilting her head, Sookie challenged, “Well, I’m your Bonded. Doesn’t that count?”
“If you make a claim, you have to be willing to fight for it,” Eric explained. “It’s understood that my claim to you can be challenged, which means a fight, Sookie. Vampires don’t fight without purpose. A fight means final death.”
“Great!” and Sookie was unhappy, “So, every time you vampires get together, someone dies?”
Eric wondered that she made that assumption, then remembered Queen Sophie-Ann’s was the only vampire gathering Sookie had seen. The incident with the young blood donor had left an impression and Sookie had mentioned it more than once. “We are not so uncivilized,” he assured her. “When open combat happens now, it is usually an excuse to air out other grievances.” Eric’s thoughts shifted to the Summit. If things were unsettled and he was viewed as vulnerable, challenging for the rights to Sookie would be a good excuse to try and end him, so Eric added ‘sword’ to the list of items he wished to discuss with Robert.
“So, let me get this straight,” and Eric’s thoughts returned to his woman, “you can demand people not touch me, but I can’t stop people from fondling you. So, where does that leave me? Don’t I have any rights?”
“You are unique,” Eric frowned. “I don’t think any vampire can remember a bonding where one of the partners wasn’t vampire. There are songs, of course…”
“Songs,” and Sookie stared at him. “I sure hope they’re good ones! Look, if it’s been that long, why don’t you just make up some rules? Like you said, not like anyone’s seen something like us before. Just tell them the rules come from some legendary couple.”
Eric couldn’t help smiling, “You are clever, my wife. With your Fae feel and the unusual nature of our bonding, it would be easy enough to plant a few hints. They may not believe it, but the possibility would give them pause, and that, combined with Robert’s good grace, would be all we’d need.” Eric looked out into the crowd, “They would wonder. We must make certain the dress is spectacular. You should reveal your true face…”
“Let’s not get carried away!” Sookie protested. “I’m pretty good at hiding my scent, but I’m not sure I’m ready to pull a reveal standing in a shark tank.”
“Shark tank?” Eric asked.
Sookie blushed, realizing what she said. “It’s something Claudine told me. She calls vampires the Fae version of sharks.”
Eric threw his head back and laughed. People around them stared and then smiled. He knew he was handsome and this aspect never failed to gain him compliments. “It’s a good description, much kinder than what I call the Seelie.”
Sookie was smiling for him now and that made him feel better. “What do you call them?” she asked.
Eric leaned forward, waiting for her to lean forward as well. “Assholes,” he said and was rewarded by her bright laughter.
The mood between them lightened, and Eric gestured for the dessert tray. “I shouldn’t,” Sookie sighed, staring at the offerings.
“I prefer not to hurt myself,” Eric teased. When Sookie looked puzzled, he answered, “Skinny is sharp,” making her blush, but also incenting her to choose the slice of lemon cake.
“So,” she said, licking her fork in a way that made Eric’s cock twitch again, ‘What are the rules about humans and vampires?”
“Most involve blood slaves.” Her tongue had distracted him and he cursed himself, watching her still.
“Do vampires have those?” Her voice was small and she set her fork down.
“These days, it’s humans who are willing,” Eric lied. “We call them pets, not very kind, but less open to misinterpretation. They are like the humans in Sophie-Ann’s court. They align themselves with vampires in hopes of becoming one themselves. Often, there is affection between the vampire and their human. I suppose it is the equivalent of dating.”
“You’re being clever with me,” Sookie observed, and then asked, “Have you ever kept a blood slave, Eric?”
“I have had a companion,” he offered instead, and then cocked his head, “But we could play at blood slave, if you wish. It is a passionate relationship, one where the Master gets to dictate apparel and services.” He allowed just the tips of his fangs to show below his lip and he pushed his lust at her.
“And I suppose you get to be the Master?” and Sookie placed her hand on his knee.
“I think it’s your turn,” and Eric ran her hand further up his leg until she was cupping him.
“Well, then,” and Sookie stood, “I think we can start by you settling the bill.”
As they walked back to the hotel, Sookie sighed, “Will my life ever be simple again?”
“Do you wish that?” Eric asked. “I find that simple lives have moments of interest, but long stretches of boredom. Times like these may feel draining, but the alternate can feel like death.” He pulled Sookie’s arm through his, “You are a restless, curious soul. You may think that sitting in a chair, watching the world walk past would suit you, but I know it wouldn’t. You would chafe in that life. It would be like Ballytyne all over again, pacing the house like a bound lion, staring through windows, waiting to fly free.”
“I guess you know me pretty well,” Sookie sniffed. “It’s just I could do with a little less trouble.”
“And soon we will be back in Ireland. We will settle into a routine. I will work and you will begin your university and your work as well. Those around us will begin to recognize our routines, and we will find enough sameness to satisfy you, Lover. For now, life is bright and hard. Enjoy the feeling, for it is in danger that we are truly alive.” Sookie seemed to accept what he said and his mind flipped through the hours ahead. He would make love with his mate, finding his release many times before day death took him. Tomorrow, there was Robert and arrangements, and then, the Summit.
‘The attorney,’ he remembered. Somewhere, close by, Mr. Cataliades was living in a human house, biding his time. Sookie described him as her neighbor, but Eric knew Desmond Cataliades as a demon, an Unseelie, and he knew the attorney worked for Niall Brigant.
It had been over a year since Sookie’s mother’s death and yet, Sookie told him the estate hadn’t been settled. When the vampire was first approached by the Seelie King, Eric offered to place a sum of money into Sookie’s hands through Mr. Cataliades, freeing her, but Niall forbid it. Now, Eric had done Niall’s bidding, pledging to his granddaughter, providing her protection, and, still, the estate remained open. It made Eric wonder what the Seelie King had in mind.
“I can never tell if you’re sincere in your courtesies, or If your bow is another way of telling us to go fuck ourselves,” Robert dead-panned.
“For you?” and Eric’s eyebrow cocked, “Always sincere!”
“Yes,” Robert laughed “I thought so.” The King gestured to the seat across from him, “I didn’t expect to see you back in my kingdom so soon. I missed you on your last visit. What was it, again? Errands?”
“A job for a business partner,” Eric replied, setting his elbows on the armrests.
“And now, you return, bonded.” Robert’s smile dropped, “I was sorry to hear about it. Sophie-Ann was wrong to force this on you. I can’t imagine the inconvenience, but I’m told she’s fragile, your human. I’m surprised you haven’t worked yourself up to it already. I’m told the pain will be profound, but quick.” Robert sipped, his eyes far away, “Your Maker taught you harder lessons. You know how to endure pain.”
Eric watched the King. He and Robert weren’t exactly friends, but they had known each other for ages. “Sookie is not quite human,” he offered.
“But you gave her a human marriage,” Robert pointed out.
Eric felt the weight of Robert’s stare. “I did,” he confirmed, cursing himself for not taking more time to clean the car in Minnesota. He might have lied when he returned it, claiming it was borrowed, but his own name was written many times in cake icing and soap. “As I told Sophie-Ann, my mate is personal business and I am content with this. I pledged to her of my own free will.”
“I see.” Robert sat back. “I’m sure there’s more to the story. Surely, there is some business advantage.”
Eric forced his jaw to relax. The King knew something, but wasn’t revealing how much. Eric supposed Robert hoped to catch Eric in a lie. “She is the descendent of Niall Brigant,” Eric offered.
“I did hear that. And she…her name is Sookie, isn’t it? At any rate, she was here, in my kingdom, all that time. I remember when Niall parked his woman in this country. I suppose she would have been Sookie’s grandmother.” Robert templed his fingers, “The old trickster waltzed in and out of Maude’s kingdom, thinking himself too smart to be noticed. Seelie!”
“They do think much of themselves,” Eric agreed, waiting, every instinct on alert. When Robert didn’t speak, Eric added, “When Sookie’s presence was revealed, Niall made his interest known.”
The King appeared bored until you noticed his sharp eyes. “Still, that’s not who brought you to Boston in the first place, Eric. You are Rogan’s business partner and Rogan sent his own son to fetch her. I heard your Bonded arrived in Ireland as Breandan’s concubine.”
“Not concubine,” Eric corrected. “Breandan planned to marry her, according to her rites. Rogan was most distressed.”
“So, it wasn’t a betrayal, but an intervention?” Robert rolled his goblet between his fingers, “I hear Breandan is now lost, become Unseelie. Rogan has retreated into self-exile, mourning, I suppose. It’s said his kingdom drifts, leaderless, awaiting some strong sword to take it.”
“I’m not sure that’s an accurate description,” Eric smiled. “But, if your source is in Ireland, I’m not surprised. The Irish do tend toward the dramatic.”
“Quite,” and Robert sipped. “After all, the great Eric Northman wouldn’t betray a partner over a woman…or would you?”
“Niall suggested our pledging.” It was the right thing to say, but Eric couldn’t help feeling he was betraying his mate.
“Oh,” and Robert smiled. “So, this was about a favor. It’s good to hear that Niall has finally asserted himself. Rogan deserves it. Revenge, then! That is honorable.”
“You have always known me to be honorable,” Eric forced his own smile in return.
“And you will have your Sookie with you at my Summit. I’m told she has a twinge of something otherworldly, but it’s easy to miss. It would be best to display her in a manner everyone understands. She is your mate, but presenting her as what she is, an asset, would cause fewer questions.” Robert waited for Eric’s response. It was on the tip of the Viking’s tongue to protest, but he swallowed it, nodding instead.
“Good! The right dress and a sufficient number of chains should do the trick,” and Robert seemed satisfied.
“I didn’t bring jewelry with me,” Eric shrugged. “We are headed back to Ireland soon and with the Summit tomorrow, I’m afraid…”
“Say no more!” Robert waved his hand. “I will be happy to loan you the appropriate jewels. My last companion passed. Of course, I retired her many years ago, but I was fond of her. I wouldn’t loan her jewelry if she were still among the living. A kindness, you understand?”
“Of course,” and Eric saw the trap closing in. “And a favor.”
“Which I’ll collect at some time,” and Robert rose. “For the moment, let’s call it a kindness between two old friends.”
Eric left with a black, wooden box. The chains were lovely; platinum and studded with jewels. They reminded him of the chains Niall had gifted Sookie as part of her bride price. Those had been Seelie, but these were crafted to declare the wearer a vampire’s possession. As Eric sat in the back of the taxi, inching through traffic toward the hotel, he called Pam.
“I can’t believe I’m missing the Summit!” she exclaimed. “Does Robert still wear that stick up his ass?”
Eric chuckled, “He hasn’t changed.” He told Pam of his conversation with the vampire king of New England.
“He’s still well-informed. Too well-informed. It has to be someone in Sophie-Ann’s court,” Pam growled.
“Or one of the Sheriffs,” Eric sighed. “Xavier and I both worked with Robert before he decided to emigrate. There’s others, even Andre has a connection.”
“It doesn’t matter. You go, you charm, and you jump on the first plane home. It’s not as interesting around here. Business is good and everyone seems to want to pretend nothing’s going on.” Eric could hear her shift and a murmur, and then Pam added, “We loved the pictures. She really did make a lovely bride.”
“Not as elegant as her pledging, but she didn’t have you to dress her this time,” Eric praised.
“Please tell me you got her a decent dress for the Summit. Not that those American vampires matter all that much, but it’s still important.” In the background, Eric heard a voice he recognized as Maryann’s add, “ask about the shoes.”
Eric bit back his irritation, explaining, “The concierge here is quite good. There were several dresses in our room when I rose. I’m assuming I’ll have a viewing once Sookie returns.”
“Returns?” Pam asked. “Are you in trouble?”
“No,” and Eric frowned, “Why do you ask?”
“You rose and your mate wasn’t there. You went to talk with Robert and didn’t take her. Are you and Sookie fighting?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Eric heard Maryann chirp.
“Why would we be fighting?” Eric tried to sound aggrieved, but he couldn’t even convince himself.
“More like how are you able to get along?” Pam hooted. “She’s stubborn and so are you! You are talking with her, right? Explaining things?”
“I know how to conduct my own affairs,” Eric protested.
“But, Sookie isn’t an affair. She’s your wife, and that’s new for you. Please tell me you are treating her with respect, not just ordering her around,” Pam scolded.
“She wouldn’t listen if I did,” Eric huffed, much to Pam’s delight. “She is as stubborn as you say.”
“And proud,” Pam added. “Treat her as your equal and you won’t have any problems.”
Eric stared at the box beside him, “Robert suggested she wear chains,” he said. “In fact, he insisted.”
“What?” Pam squawked and then, “Tell me you charmed him out of that idea.”
“It would have required revealing more. He pressed me about Rogan, wondering why I was putting her ahead of business… Vampires…”
“To which you said, ‘None of your business,’” Pam pushed.
“Don’t be foolish,” Eric hissed. “Sookie is already attracting too much attention. I told him of her relationship to Brigant, which wasn’t any secret to Robert, by the way. He’s convinced she’s part of a bargain I struck with Niall, so I left it that way.”
“You better hope no one explains those chains to her,” Pam growled.
“I will be at her side all night. No one would dare insult her with me there. We make our appearances, we dance the first few numbers, and then make our apologies. We stay only long enough to visit Cataliades…”
“I didn’t know he was there!” and then Pam whispered to Maryann, telling her she’d explain later.
“He’s been here all along. He’s working for Niall. Sookie thinks he’s her Mother’s attorney, settling the estate.” Eric pulled his phone back to check for any messages from the demon, “I texted him, but the bastard isn’t responding. Probably waiting for instructions from his boss.”
“I’ll grant you, it’s odd,” Pam agreed, “but a demon lawyer isn’t going to be your biggest problem. You need to tell Sookie what’s going on. Not planning for the worst isn’t like you, Eric, and having her hear herself being described as your possession and you not being in a position to contradict that isn’t going to go well.”
“You worry too much,” Eric shrugged, “but I will speak with her.” The taxi pulled up outside the hotel, “I will let you know about the Summit.”
“Send me a picture of the dress,” Pam asked. “Better yet, a picture of the two of you all dolled up. I’ll put it in my family album.”
“You have a family album?” Eric wasn’t sure exactly what Pam meant.
“You better tell her, Eric,” Pam scolded, “Or the page will be labeled, ‘Before,’ and your fangs, yanked out, will be labeled ‘After.’”
“You are wise,” Eric chuckled, “I will tell her.” Eric could feel Sookie was here already and he barely nodded to the woman at the front desk as he headed up to their rooms. His mate was sitting down, staring out the windows, but she rose when he walked in.
“Hungry?” she asked.
“You are kind to notice,” and Eric walked forward, wrapping her in his arms. Drawing her to him, kissing her, holding her, seemed so perfect. She fit within his grasp as if she was made for him, and even though he could feel she was upset, he could also feel her calm within his arms.
“Guess you’re happy to see me,” she spoke against his chest.
“I am content, now” Eric answered honestly. He set the box down and then drew Sookie to sit on the end of the bed. “How was your visit with Amelia?”
“Oh…you know,” she sighed, leaning her head over in response to his nuzzling.
“I’m not sure I do,” he whispered, licking along the column of her neck, enjoying her scent and the thrum of her blood racing through her veins. “You should be happy, excited, and instead, you are muted. Was your friend not happy to see you?”
“She takes credit for calling our wedding,” Sookie answered, and then stretched into him, drawing in a sharp breath, warming. Eric added hands, stroking her breast and Sookie covered his hand, encouraging him to squeeze.
“Too many clothes,” Eric rasped and together, they moved with purpose. When Eric’s fingers stumbled over her buttons, Sookie pushed his hands away to simply pull her shirt over her head. She wasn’t entirely ready when Eric pushed into her, but he wished to feel his possession. Once within her, though, he stilled. He looked down at her, shifting her leg to pull it more fully over his hip, allowing him that last inch.
“I want it to always be like this between us,” Sookie told him.
“How’s that?” Eric asked, drawing his thumb down the curve of her cheek.
“Hungry. Happy. I love you, Eric,” and she smiled a little before saying, “Now, move!”
“As my lady commands,” he answered. He drew it out, teasing, bringing her to the brink and then stilling, substituting kisses for stimulation, allowing her breath to slow, and then stoking her fires again.
When he did it a second time, she growled, “Cut it out! You’re driving me crazy.”
“What do you want from me, Sookie?” and when her eyes locked with his, he growled, “Say it! Tell me what you want!”
“Fuck me!” she gasped. “I need you to be the Master this time.”
His fangs clicked down and his cock twitched. Vampires were possessive by nature. Hearing the words fed his inner beast, “As you wish.”
“Are you quoting “Princess Bride” to me?” Sookie gasped as he started moving more briskly.
“Perhaps,” Eric smirked, “but what I would like to hear from you is something else.” He grabbed her hands, then pulled from her. “On your knees, Princess. Ass in the air.” He pushed her knees apart a little more before lining up with her again. He stroked back and forth a few times, gathering their moisture on his fingers. “I know you like to have all your holes engaged,” he purred, petting her rosebud. “I didn’t think to bring something for your mouth, but we will be home soon enough. Besides, I want to hear the noises you make,” and he worked his thumb into her.
Her sharp exhale and her quickened heartbeat were his reward. “I love to feel myself moving within you, Sookie. Now, I’m going to use a second finger. Play with yourself, Lover. You know how to do it.” He could feel her walls tightening around him already. It wouldn’t take her long to cum. Sookie was no novice to anal, but Eric hadn’t attempted yet. He found preparing was half the fun and their first time would be with her in control and a better brand of lubricant close by.
The second finger was a tight fit and he knew it was a little uncomfortable. “Rub harder,” he encouraged, “Concentrate on your fingers and let yourself go.” He pumped, both cock and fingers and she gasped and then moaned. “Yes, that’s it!” he encouraged. “Feel me, Älskade! I am filling you, fucking you,” and she cramped around him.
Her voice was strangled, “No!” he growled. “Tell me what I want to hear!”
“Eric!” she gasped, “Yes!”
“Yes!” and he pumped harder, riding her through her orgasm, twisting his fingers to give her just a touch of pain to counteract the pleasure. Her climb was precipitous and he felt her crash, her breath coming in threaded gasps.
He removed his fingers, but left his cock within her. “Come, Sookie!” and he shifted, drawing her up against his chest. She was so warm, so docile, and he ran his nose to where her neck met her shoulder, concentrating her sweet scent, and struck. Her blood tickled his tongue and he only took a few mouthfuls before the need to mate overcame his hunger.
Eric flipped her onto her back, “Hold on!” and drew her hands over her head. When she started to falter, he drew her legs over his shoulders, stroking deep and strong. He drew his head past that spot within her, over and over, finding the right rhythm until she fisted and then clenched, pulling him with her. Sookie’s head was thrown back, her mouth open in a silent scream, and Eric purred with satisfaction. This was right. This was as it should be.
He pumped a few more times, encouraging her, riding through the aftershocks, and then, when she relaxed, rolled and pulled her with him, a tangle of arms and legs. “Damn, you’re good,” she sighed.
“You are the best I’ve ever had,” he praised her.
“Bullshit, but thanks for saying it,” Sookie chuckled.
Her eyes were heavy and Eric basked in the afterglow, but then she sighed. Eric ignored it. It was what he usually did, and then she sighed again. Whenever his bedmates sighed like that, it always meant they wished to talk about the state of their relationship. They wanted to make demands of him, and then Eric stilled. That wouldn’t be the case with Sookie. There was no need for that tiresome conversation. He was hers, bonded. He could feel her preoccupation, so he asked, “Is your unhappiness tied to your visit today?”
“Fucking bond,” Sookie sighed and Eric couldn’t help his grin, hearing his own thoughts echoed. “I suppose. She’s changed, Eric. Money changed her.”
“In what way, my Lover?” Eric found he didn’t really care, except that talking seemed to settle the bond.
“When I knew her, Amelia was a waitress, kind of like me. She didn’t take herself so seriously. You should have seen her, today, all dolled up in her high-end clothes, moaning and groaning like being pregnant was some terminal disease!” Sookie’s mood was unhappy, but she started stroking Eric’s chest and that felt fine.
“And the money!” Sookie continued, “Amelia isn’t working, not at all. Sean is pulling down some big salary, and both their families are showering them with gifts. Her parents gave them a house on the Cape…the Cape! Because they’re pregnant!”
That caused Eric to frown. Sookie had never been comfortable accepting the things money could give her and this rant seemed to be reinforcing that behavior. “Perhaps it’s not the generosity of her family and husband that upsets you,” Eric suggested. “Perhaps it is your friend’s lack of gratitude?”
“Unlimited wealth just spoils people,” Sookie continued. “She barely asked about me, other than congratulating herself on pointing you out as the better mate, and wasn’t she smart to suggest it? Oh, and she told me she saw Claude and Breandan kissing in Ireland. She couldn’t explain why she didn’t tell me. She knew!” Sookie rolled over and propped herself up on her elbow. “What kind of friend knows a thing like that and doesn’t tell you? When I think of all the heartache it could have saved me…”
“Heartache?” Eric didn’t like where this was headed at all. “Why are you talking about Brigant and heartache? Do you want him back?”
“No!” and Sookie exhaled, rolling her eyes. “No, Eric, and if I did, if I was unhappy being with you, you’d feel it, right?” and she pulled his chest hair, making sure she had his attention, “Right?”
Eric had to nod before Sookie settled back to her story, “It’s just friends don’t keep that kind of information to themselves.”
“It’s possible Amelia was glamoured,” Eric shrugged.
“Glamoured?” and Sookie squinted, mulling over this new idea. “But, if she was, why would she remember it now?”
“Because the Seelie can’t glamour permanently,” Eric grinned. “Only vampires know the art.”
“Okay,” and Sookie sighed, “Maybe I can cut Amelia some slack for that,” but Sookie laid her head against his chest and he could feel her unhappiness. “All she talked about was the country club and housekeepers and how inconvenient it was not fitting into her clothes. She’s barely showing! If it was me…”
This was a new conversation; one Eric wasn’t sure he wished to pursue. Things between them were complicated enough. Vampires sometimes took companions with children. Sometimes the children became their donors, too, but Sookie didn’t already have children, and the idea of anyone else touching her made his fangs itch. Fortunately, she moved on, “You know, she quizzed me about where I’m living in Ireland? I guess she was deciding whether I rated being her friend, now that she’s so important. You were right about the bodyguard, though. When she realized he’d waited for me and wasn’t just some Uber driver, she got all gushy, promising to stay in touch. It was the saddest hour I’ve spent in a long time.”
“I’m sorry your friend has changed,” Eric said, not sad at all. One less wild card in their existence was fine with him. “You have new friends, now, Pam and Maryann. I spoke with Pam earlier. She asked for a picture of you in the dress.”
“How’s she doing?” and Sookie settled, making it easier to relax. After a bit, she turned her head, “What’s that?” Eric realized she’d noticed the black wood box.
“A loan from Robert,” he told her. He thought about the meaning of the chains and he thought about how angry Amelia’s materialism made Sookie. “Jewelry, for tomorrow. I warned you about this. Vampires expect a certain show. It was a kindness from the King, so I hope…”
“That was nice of him,” Sookie agreed. In the back of Eric’s head, a voice was yelling, ‘tell her,’ but then Sookie stroked his cock and sucked his nipple and the voice was lost in the noise of other concerns.