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“Don’t look for your usual warm welcome at Court,” Pam warned Eric. They had walked outside, leaving Sookie inside with their guest.
Leaving Sookie alone with Octavia Fant had not been Eric’s intent. He thought to visit with the witch, allowing Sookie to become accustomed to her. He wondered if Sookie’s trouble with the idea of witches was tied to her religion. Christianity had a long history of persecuting witches. Sookie rarely spoke of her religious beliefs, but if it wasn’t that, he was at a loss to explain his mate’s prejudice. His mate was so flexible with all the other revelations about her new life, this was the only secret that seemed to throw her. ‘Maybe it’s her Seelie coming out,’ he thought.
“It’s not as if I’ve been on the warmest of terms with Sophie-Ann in some time,” he shrugged.
“This is different,” Pam insisted. “Before you flirted with her and joined in when she needed someone for a threesome. Now you’re bonded, you won’t be buttering her pumpkin. She’s taking heat for not moving on Rogan’s kingdom. You know how lazy she is! It never occurred to her to have ambition until Carmela and some of the others started goading her.”
“Why do the other rulers care?” Eric asked, but he already knew the answer.
Pam did, too, “She blames it on you. She is saying that if you’d kept your nose clean and stuck to your own species, Rogan would still be King of the North, Breandan would still be walking, and things would be normal.”
“She blames Sookie?” and he felt his chest clench.
“She blames you!” and Pam poked his chest. “It’s the old argument, ‘Why did he have to consort with the Seelie? Why did he have to be friends with Brigants?’”
“I am still her vassal,” Eric sniffed.
“And she intends to make you work like one,” Pam replied.
Pam was right.
“I didn’t expect you to cause trouble while you were there!” Sophie-Ann fumed. “You know Robert! How hard was it to simply visit, convey my best wishes, and return? Instead, you manage to cause an incident. Robert owes favors, which means I owe favors, Northman. I don’t like to be in debt to anyone!”
“It was an accident, Majesty.” Eric was on his knees, his forehead almost touching the floor. Even Pam had underestimated the Queen’s anger.
“You keep saying that, but it doesn’t change the bill!” Sophie-Ann sniffed, then glanced at Andre. Her Second had said little, but his self-satisfied smile spoke volumes. Eric figured they were communicating in some way because Sophie-Ann sighed and said, “All right, Andre, you’re right. Get up, Northman! Even I can’t stand to see you groveling this way.”
“You did bond them,” Andre said aloud.
“I did,” the Queen acknowledged, “I just thought he’d kill her by now.” Sophie-Ann straightened in her chair, “Why haven’t you, Eric? To pledge for business is one thing, but being tied to the creature?”
“It suits me,” he answered. He could see his answer surprised her, and then he wished he’d found something less revealing to say.
The Queen looked at Andre again and when she looked back, her face was almost sympathetic. “I heard other things from Robert,” she told him. “I am sorry, Sheriff. I should not have done this, but done is done. All I can do, as your monarch and friend, is position you to minimize the damage.” She held out her hand and a courtier Eric recognized as the Queen’s secretary stepped forward. He handed the Queen a piece of paper. The Queen read it, and then looked up. “Your orders, Northman. It occurs to me that I have been lax on the matter of your duties. My other Sheriffs work hard. They don’t have time for pubs and extracurricular visits to other countries. I can’t imagine why I treated you differently.”
Of course, that was a lie. Sophie-Ann had been holding out hope that Eric would become her consort, and so his duties had been perfunctory at best.
“Here,” and she held out the list. “I am assigning you the whole of Ireland. Xavier is taking England. You will also be required to train new Sheriffs for Robert. He is sending them here; they arrive next week. It will pay off the debt I owe him because of you. And, Eric?” She waited for him to show proper obedience, “You are not to corrupt them! No special audiences with Seelie! Find a place to house them. They will be your responsibility and I expect you to pay for their upkeep. That will wipe your little adventure in America off the books.” As Eric stepped back, keeping his head bowed, the Queen added, “Even Maude complained. What were you thinking?”
“My mate…” Eric started.
“Is under my protection,” Sophie-Ann cut him off. “That’s all I intend to say on the matter. You may bring her to Summits and gatherings, as long as she knows how to behave. Since you’ve decided to keep her, she is your responsibility as well and, Eric? If I hear from Niall Brigant that there’s a problem, I will exact punishment for that, too. You understand?”
It was hard to keep his teeth from grinding. Eric knew Andre had had a hand in the Queen’s pronouncements. Left on her own, Sophie-Ann might have restricted the orders to training the new Sheriffs. Adding Sheriff duties for the whole of Ireland took it to a new level. Still, for a vampire of Eric’s age and reputation, the terms were reasonable and there were none around him who would feel he was being excessively ill-treated. He waited until he’d stepped back and another stood before the Queen before examining the paper in his hand. It was an impressive punishment and all within the definition of his job. He would carry the work of three Sheriffs. He was required to complete all paperwork himself and submit verbal as well as written reports. He was not allowed to hire others to help in collecting tithes. He was allowed to hire others to investigate crimes, but he was required to personally dispense the Queen’s justice.
In other words, Eric Northman would be busy from the moment of his rising well into the dawn hours. He would need to spend nights away from Ballytyne, which meant re-opening safe houses and finding and equipping new ones. There was a link and password to lists of all known registered vampires in Ireland, along with tax rolls and complaint lists. “Skit!” he swore.
“Welcome to it,” Xavier agreed. “She’s released the others and until you get yourself back in her good graces, you’re going to earn your place, along with me”
“All of England for you?” Eric asked. “What did you do? She seems to be just as unhappy with you, Brother.”
“Nothing as creative as you,” Xavier replied dismissively, but Eric knew he’d just found Robert’s spy.
“And your assignments?” Eric asked.
“Much the same,” and Xavier indicated the list in Eric’s hand. “And, of course, it’s not as if we can slack off…” They both knew the penalty for failure.
“Andre is a conniving little shit,” Eric growled, recognizing the Second’s hand in all of this.
“But effective,” Xavier shrugged. “We cost her. She’s angry. We pay until she’s happy and Andre makes sure the punishment is sufficient to satisfy any audience.”
“It should only take fifty years or so,” Eric grinned, but then his grin faded. His situation wasn’t unusual. He’d found himself on the wrong side of monarchs and paid off these kinds of debts many times over the years, but now it was different. ‘Sookie!’
“Sophie-Ann’s doing you a favor,” Xavier said, correctly reading Eric’s sudden change in attitude. “By the time things resolve, your little problem will be gone. Time is the great leveler.”
Eric’s chest squeezed again. To not see Sookie, to not wake to her, seemed impossible. Eric drew in breath to force the pressure he felt to subside, and then, carefully, he drew his mask back into place. “I can see the Queen means well,” he answered.
“Even when she’s angry, she likes you too much to truly hurt you,” Xavier agreed.
“Where did she send the others?” Eric asked.
“Other Sheriffs?” Xavier confirmed. “Spain, mostly. That horse racing thing? Sophie-Ann lost a lot of money. Carmela needed muscle. Sophie-Ann sold their contracts for almost nothing. If it helps, I heard Carmela specifically said to exclude you.”
Eric chuckled, “I would have thought she’d forgiven that by now.”
“You do have a way of getting under peoples’ skin,” Xavier looked up, “Andre’s coming over,” he hissed.
“And here they are!” Andre’s smile was over-sized as he sketched a bow to them both. “The long arm of the Queen’s law…all two of them!”
“Sophie-Ann isn’t worried about the lack of coverage?” Eric asked. “Were I thinking of causing trouble, I would take this as a sign to start.”
“Sophie-Ann has complete trust in your abilities. After all, anyone who can create an international incident,” and he nodded to Eric, “and provide news to the world,” and he nodded to Xavier, “should have no trouble keeping the Queen’s peace.”
“The lists are up to date?” Xavier asked, moving the conversation to business. It was a concern. There were always complaints about the state of the Queen’s secretarial staff. Registering changes of address were always late, making tracking of wrong-doers more difficult.
“As they always are,” Andre grinned. “Of course, your territory will be easier,” he told Xavier. “Northman’s will be complicated by all the newcomers.”
“Newcomers?” Eric asked.
“News of your in-law’s retreat from the world travels. Open territory means new opportunities and with no clear rule in place…” and Andre shrugged.
“Niall Brigant is claiming sovereignty,” Eric replied, passing the information he’d heard from Sookie.
“That’s interesting,” and Andre’s eyes narrowed. “What does that mean for you, Eric?”
“Nothing,” and Eric stilled.
“Come, come now, Eric,” and Andre leaned close as though they were friends exchanging secrets, “Surely the good son of a Seelie King benefits when kingdoms grow.”
“Niall doesn’t like me,” Eric replied.
“He likes you well enough to drop everything and come to America,” Xavier added, earning a frown from Andre.
“It wasn’t for me,” Eric shrugged. “It was for my mate. Were it me, the Queen would have a new pair of fangs for her collection.”
“And she would miss you,” Andre purred, then, shaking back his hair, he chuckled, “Well, if that’s how things stand, you better work very hard,” Andre sniffed. “Those who exist on sufferance are usually the first to pay the price when things turn sour and things in the North are likely to turn sour fast.”
Xavier and Eric watched Andre return to the Queen. “Why didn’t you turn her?” Xavier asked. “You could have delayed this, claiming the need to train her. No one would have questioned which duty came first.”
“Niall would have exacted revenge,” Eric lied.
“You’ve really screwed yourself, haven’t you, Northman?” and Xavier laughed. “You leave her human and the Queen seethes. You turn her and the Seelie come after you. Only you can find yourself in this kind of trouble!” He laughed again and said, “Come on! I’ll buy you a donor!”
“I would join you,” Eric smiled, “but Pam is waiting for me. She will need to be told.” It was another lie. Soon enough, Eric would be forced to turn to donors. He would be resting under Earth and soliciting information using every trick he had available. He wondered how he would explain this to Sookie, or if he should even try. Sookie knew he was a Sheriff. She understood the rudiments, but somehow, he didn’t believe the finer points would meet with her approval.
“Assizes is next month. I’ll see you then,” Xavier bowed. “I look forward to meeting this woman who is costing you so much.”
“She is no bother,” Eric bowed back. “She is my mate.”
“You’re not trying,” Octavia scolded. “With your affinity for the things around you, you should reveal the ward with ease!”
“Think of it like a river around the house,” Pam suggested, “Or wind.”
“Wind…” Sookie repeated. Sookie closed her eyes and thought of how she created walls that forced wind to travel around her. She thought of making all the small vibrations in the air around them visible. It was more a wish, but when she opened her eyes, she was confronted by a silver, shimmering wall that arched high into the sky, up and up until it was part of the stars. “Oh!”
“Impressive!” Pam clucked.
“It shouldn’t have taken so long,” Octavia tutted. “You really have no training at all! Hasn’t anyone talked with you about your skills?”
“My Daddy showed me how to do one thing…” Sookie started.
“I’ve never seen it,” Pam didn’t bother hiding her enthusiasm. “Would you?”
Sookie glanced around. She was sure there was no one near to see, but she couldn’t help but feel as if someone might be watching. “Wait!” Octavia instructed. The older woman merely waved her hand and the shimmering wall that was Octavia’s ward around them turned milky. “There, we’re masked.”
“Nice trick!” Pam nodded, then turning back, watched Sookie expectantly.
Sookie held up her hand and the column formed. It was so easy now. Sookie barely had to think of it. She glanced at Pam’s open-mouthed stare and then Octavia. “Well,” the witch shrugged, “Go ahead!”
With a quick nod, Sookie looked at her whirlwind and made it larger. When it was as tall as herself, she had it jump to the ground and then jump over and around them, landing at various places, sometimes stationary, sometimes swaying in that odd dance-like motion it had. “Can you make it stronger?” Octavia asked.
Sookie nodded again. Keeping the column some distance from them, she thought of it as being burly. It was hard to explain, but the column gained substance and they could hear the sound of its turning. It reminded Sookie of a phantom engine, the roar there, yet still far away. There was something about it. Sookie found herself pushing it, growing it incrementally. She added color. She added speed. Leaves started to flap and small branches were drawn to it. A broken gorse branch whipped past them, pulled into the column. “Stop!” Octavia ordered. Sookie jumped, her focus broken, and the column slowed, and then, slowly, it faded.
“I don’t understand,” Sookie stammered. “Usually it just disappears.”
“That’s one powerful piece of magic you have,” Octavia replied. “You’ve always been able to do that?”
“Since the time I was little,” Sookie nodded, “though not like that. I used to just think they were pretty.”
“So, is she a witch?” Pam asked.
“No,” Octavia shook her head. “Like I told Sookie, Fae magic and witchcraft are different.”
“I still don’t understand,” Sookie confessed.
“I’ll show you,” and Octavia took Sookie’s hand, opening it so her palm was stretched out. “Go ahead, make your little column. It doesn’t have to be big.” Sookie nodded and did as the witch asked. “You have it under your control?” Octavia asked.
“I do,” Sookie nodded.
“You’re sure?” and Octavia leaned forward, staring at Sookie.
“You can’t glamour me,” Sookie sighed. “It doesn’t work.”
“That’s interesting,” Octavia replied, and then the witch moved her hand. Whichever way she moved, Sookie moved, too. Octavia forced Sookie to send the column to sit on the witch’s car, and then to roll along a nearby rock face. She moved Sookie’s hand first one way and then another and after a minute, she closed her hand and the column disappeared.
“How did you do that?” Sookie gasped.
“I didn’t have to control your magic,” Octavia told her. “I only had to control you. That’s witchcraft. Channeling the natural abilities of the people and things around you to serve your own purposes.”
Pam shuddered, “It’s why we don’t like witches,” she told Sookie. “They are the only creatures who can stop us.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.
“With humans, even Seelie, they may defeat us, but at least we can fight back. A witch can take you over so completely, you could walk into the sun and not be able to do a thing about it.” Pam shuddered again.
“What’s to keep witches from taking over?” Sookie asked. She felt funny asking it. Even though Octavia didn’t resemble her in any way, Sookie couldn’t help thinking of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. She’d been terrified of the character as a child.
Octavia just laughed, “Remember what I told you before? “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If witches were to try anything like that, our own power would burn us out! It would be suicide. Each time we use our influence, and I call it ‘influence’ because that’s what it is, it costs us something. You see, maintaining the ward here doesn’t take much, but it still drains me. Just doing that little demonstration for you was exhausting. The most intense part of training witches is building up the ability to dispense and sustain power.” When Sookie looked confused, Octavia explained, “Think of it like batteries or building muscle. It takes exercise and time.”
“So,” and Sookie looked at Pam, “if this is mostly a learned skill, why don’t vampires learn? Or Seelie? I can’t believe they haven’t tried…”
“The dead are the dead,” Octavia shrugged.
“Believe me, there are those of us who’ve tried!” Pam added. “There have been wars fought over it. Eric told me the story of a nest who tried holding some hostage. The witches took over the vampires, leaving them standing together in closets when they weren’t using them. It went on for years.”
“Natural minions,” Octavia added. “Dead flesh is the easiest to influence.”
“Good to know,” Sookie plastered her smile in place, not wanting to think too much more about ‘dead flesh’ with Eric coming home. “And the other Fae?”
“For some it’s against their law,” Octavia told her. “For others, they feel it’s beneath them. Better to buy our services and use us up. As you may guess, with the way using our powers can drain us, most witches die young. The Fae cling to their immortality. They won’t do anything to endanger it.”
It made an odd kind of sense. “And what about me?” Sookie asked.
“What about you?” Octavia cocked her head. “You were easy enough to control, but you say you can’t be glamoured?” Sookie nodded and Octavia asked Sookie what other magics she could do. Sookie bit her lip and then made a decision. Eric trusted this woman and Pam did as well. She told Octavia about the birds and animals. She told Octavia about moving things and sending things and her housekeeping tricks. “I’d imagine you can pull together rain clouds if you wish or find sunshine,” Octavia prompted.
“I’ve never really tried it, but my cousin, Claudine, can,” Sookie replied.
“Well, I’d say you have most, if not all, of the Seelie magic,” Octavia told her, “and maybe more. It could be Northman’s blood has amplified your abilities. Vampire blood is pure magic. But you have something else and I think if we worked on it, you’d find it helpful.”
“What’s that?” Pam asked.
“She can resist glamouring.” Octavia turned to Sookie, “If you were able to develop that into a skill, you might find it useful.”
“I don’t understand,” Sookie replied. “Vampires can’t glamour me. Seelie can’t either, but what else would I use it for?”
“You might find that it helps you resist all types of magic,” Octavia told her. “You could be immune to witches and anyone else who tried to influence you.”
“Would it interfere with the bond?” Pam asked.
Octavia frowned, “I don’t know.”
“I can’t have that!” Sookie exclaimed. It was one of those moments when she realized how much Eric had come to mean to her. Just the idea of not being able to share with him through their bond was unthinkable.
“I understand,” Pam soothed her friend. “I wouldn’t want to give it up, either. Eric does have that effect on the people he cares about.”
“I’m sure you’re fond of him. Eric attracts people in a very natural way, but I’m sure you wouldn’t object to being able to control how much you experience and when…” and Octavia waited.
“I’m not sure,” Sookie answered, surprising even herself.
Octavia frowned, “It gives him tremendous power over you.”
“I trust him.” The words tumbled so quickly, Sookie immediately wondered at her own resolve.
“Spoken like a vampire!” Pam laughed. “You really should consider becoming one of us.”
“And miss my witch lessons?” Sookie laughed weakly. “Not for the world.”
‘Still,” and Pam stepped between Sookie and Octavia, “Would this shorten her life? She is already so fragile…”
“I don’t know,” Octavia replied, “but not exploring the possibility might not be good either. If Sookie is determined to live among the Fae, she should understand and be able to use all the weapons she has available.” Octavia took Sookie’s hands and turned them palms up, “Mortals who play with the Fae rarely end well.”
“I’d like to try,” Sookie nodded. “If it turns out to be too hard or there are side effects, I’ll stop.” When Pam still looked worried, Sookie added, “I’ve pretty much turned down any training with the Seelie. I can’t explain it, but every time the subject of my magic comes up, I get the feeling there’s something they want from me and whatever it is, I won’t be happy about it later.”
“I can understand that,” Pam nodded. “They are a slippery bunch and things are…well, there’s…”
“Rogan’s disappearance,” Sookie finished Pam’s sentence.
“Territory and wealth up for grabs can make even good people turn dark,” Octavia nodded. “I’ve turned down several jobs already. I don’t want to become ensnared in that mess, but there are others among my kind who aren’t so particular. Your family…” and she nodded to Sookie, “are offering vast sums of money and some of the jobs being floated are particularly worrying.”
“Like what?” Sookie asked.
“I don’t deal in death and neither should any of us,” Octavia sniffed. “But enough of that and don’t ask me anymore! I won’t betray confidences. If I did, my life wouldn’t be worth the dirt we’re standing on. Let’s see if we can use your wall-building to keep out the metaphorical as well as the physical.” She waved her hand and Sookie found herself being pressed to the ground. “Concentrate!” Octavia ordered. “Don’t panic! Think of the pressure as wind and create your wall to deflect it.”
They worked for over an hour, Pam encouraging and teasing, until Sookie was able to move out of a crouch. “You are much stronger than you know,” Octavia praised her. “If you wish to continue, I would be willing to work with you. You will have to pay me, of course. Three times a week?”
“Why not every night?” Sookie asked. “Or every day? We could practice while Eric rests.”
“I know you’re excited, but tomorrow you will find you’re exhausted. It may take you a few days to recover. Drink from him…” and when Sookie blushed, Octavia clucked. “Don’t be embarrassed around me! I know how these things work! Do whatever you need to do to recharge yourself. Sharing blood should also help your powers shape to accommodate him. In fact, you might consider drinking blood from anyone you want to include in your little circle.”
“That’s okay,” Sookie mumbled. “Just Eric.”
“Nice!” Pam huffed and when Sookie started apologizing, Pam added, “Not a problem! Now I know where I stand.”
“You two can sort things out later,” Octavia announced. “I’ve already stayed longer than I expected.” She walked back into the house and straight to the dining room where she picked up her purse. As she shook hands with Sookie, she asked, “So, you think we’re still drivel?”
“No,” Sookie answered. “I apologize. It was insensitive of me.”
Octavia gave a quick nod, “Well, it’s a start. I’ll be back in three nights. I expect you to be ready. Oh, and Sookie?” The older woman fumbled for her keys, “I think we should do a little practicing with your Seelie magic, too. I can’t train you the way a Seelie could, but I may be able to suggest possibilities for you to try.”
“Couldn’t hurt,” Pam added, and it was decided.
As they watched Octavia pull away, Pam asked, “So, why did you want to see me tonight?”
“Carrack,” Sookie told her. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
Together, they reviewed the receipts and expenses. “I can’t think of another explanation,” Sookie told Pam. “Maybe there’s something you know? Second set of books? Money laundering?” Sookie meant it to be funny, but Pam didn’t miss a beat.
“We don’t run our other operations through the pubs,” Pam said, staring at the screen. “Too messy.”
‘Other operations?’ Sookie thought and filed it away for later.
“Maryann was right,” Pam continued as she pulled up the income statement, “You have a real talent for this. I don’t think I would have put it all together. Who knows how long this has been going on?”
“I don’t think it’s been that long,” Sookie consoled her friend. “I went back to check.” Sookie pulled the keyboard over, pulling up some older balance sheets, “Your place down South just opened and Slievemore hasn’t been open a year yet, so it was easy to spot. It looks like it may have started two, maybe three months ago…” and she pointed at the columns and where the change registered. “It was small, but now, it’s noticeable.”
“That should help. It’s a relief to know it was so recent. Chow has been our partner for a long time. Probably means it isn’t him.” Chow was the permanent manager of the Ghoul’s Kiss in Carrack and Sookie knew he got a larger cut, but it was the first time she’d heard him confirmed as a partner. “We’ve had some turnover in staff. Things with Rogan were never easy. He was a competitor for all he was also our landlord of sorts. When he was still running the hotel in Carrack, he made a point of head hunting our staff, particularly the good ones. Made keeping things running harder, but I guess that was the point.”
Sookie found herself thinking of the words Octavia has used earlier that evening, “And now, territory and money are up for grabs,” she repeated.
“I’m glad Eric’s back,” Pam sighed, but then she pulled up a chair. “What did he tell you about the Queen?”
“Other than she’s angry with him?” Sookie asked. “Nothing, why? Is there more?”
“Can you feel him?” Pam asked.
Sookie stilled. It occurred to her that she’d been feeling sad, almost depressed, for a while. “Is that him?” she asked.
“Yes,” Pam nodded. “He hasn’t texted. He may not be able to, but he’s not happy.”
“She won’t hurt him, will she?” Sookie examined her feelings more closely, sorting out her own from the ones she realized were Eric’s. “He doesn’t feel injured.”
“Sophie-Ann doesn’t have to torture him,” and Pam laid her hand on Sookie’s arm. “All she has to do to make him miserable is make sure he has no free time.”
Sookie knew Eric had the Sheriff job, but she’d figured it was either ceremonial or didn’t require a lot of time. “I didn’t realize there was more to being Sheriff than what I saw, which wasn’t much.” Sookie thought of stories she’d read or seen on television about police and their families. She remembered most of them featured divorce. “How bad could this get?”
“I don’t think she’ll sell his contract,” Pam pulled out her phone and stared at the screen.
“What does that mean?” Sookie pulled her phone out, too. She hadn’t realized it was so late and there was no message from Eric, just her growing sense of unease.
“The Queen has the right to sell Eric’s contract to another monarch, maybe Asia or America. He’d have to move,” Pam looked at Sookie, “You’d have to move, too. With the bond, you can be separated for days, but not weeks. You’d have to be close enough to exchange regularly. You might be able to fly to him, but there is a reality to being vampire, Sookie. Eric needs…any of us need to have safe houses, places of refuge. You know we can withstand filtered sun, but…”
“I know how it works,” Sookie was starting to feel more worried, “but you don’t think Sophie-Ann would do that.”
“No,” Pam sighed, “I think she’ll just work his ass off. She’ll load him down with so many duties he won’t have time for anything else.”
“Can he quit?” Sookie already knew the answer.
“Only with difficulty,” Pam confirmed.
Then, Sookie remembered something Claudine had mentioned earlier, “What if Grandfather arranges to buy his contract? I heard that might be arranged. I’d have to agree to do some things for them, but Eric would be free.”
“Why would you shame him?” Pam looked as if Sookie had let out a bad smell. “Eric wouldn’t be able to hold his head up among our kind. Neither would I.”
“Well, it was just a thought!” Sookie flushed, ashamed at the sense of relief she felt. When Pam continued to stare, she added, “I’m sorry! I didn’t know!”
“I suppose you didn’t,” Pam concluded. With a sigh, she texted on her phone. “I’m heading home. Maryann’s been waiting. Look, Sookie,” and Pam took Sookie’s hand. “I have a feeling Eric’s coming home with bad news. I’m grateful you told me about Carrack and I’ll call you back tomorrow. Maybe there’s a way we can pinpoint how they’re doing it; bar, supplies, you know.”
“You think I’m going to blow up when he tells me, don’t you?” Sookie thought about what it would be like, waking to an empty bed and she couldn’t feel angry. “I could always go with him,” she suggested, “like a deputy.”
“Probably not,” Pam snapped. Sookie followed Pam downstairs. “Just try to be kind when he does get home. You’re important to him. He won’t want to let you down and that might make him behave…well, badly.”
“I love him,” Sookie told her friend.
“I hope that’s enough,” Pam said as she hugged Sookie close.
Sookie closed the door and turned off lights. It was well past midnight and the exhaustion Octavia predicted seemed to find her in a great wave. Sookie’s fingers fumbled with the latch that opened the door under the stairs and she gripped the handrail extra tight, worried she’d miss her footing. The lights turned on, everything the way they’d left it earlier. She thought again of the way they had loved each other in the upstairs bedroom and her blush blossomed. “I don’t know if I can do without you,” she whispered to the empty bed.
It was just a few steps to the little bathroom. Sookie thought about putting on her sensible nightshirt and then, in an act of rebellion, she chose the red teddy instead. It was held together with bows and the lace left little to the imagination. She posed on top of the comforter, but, as the hour dragged by, she chilled and gave up. Before she turned the lights off, she checked her phone again. Two o’clock. Dawn would come in four hours. Her eyes felt like sand had been thrown in them. She grabbed his pillow and then went to the closet to grab his shirt from last night. Eric didn’t really smell. It was more of a combination of aftershave and something that was uniquely him, but breathing it in made Sookie feel calm and then, she felt nothing.
“Sshh,” he said, and then he jostled her again.
“Jeez, Eric! What time is it?” Sookie felt as though she hadn’t closed her eyes at all.
“Dawn is approaching,” he whispered. He shifted her against him and then said, “What are you wearing?” She couldn’t help groaning as he pulled the blanket back. “Is this for me?” His eyes were glowing.
“It was,” Sookie growled, “a couple hours ago. Now, it’s a reminder of what you miss when you don’t bother to come home!”
“I am sorry, my wife,” he sighed. “It couldn’t be helped.”
“Are you all right?” Sookie turned into him. His arms came around her, bringing her close. It felt wonderful.
“I will need to leave here tomorrow,” he sighed.
“For how long?” Sookie curled her fingers through his chest hair, as though she could hold him by tugging those short curls.
“A night, maybe two.” He pulled her even closer, kissing her head. “How is it that you have become so much a part of me? The thought of falling to my day death without you beside me is painful.”
Sookie was wide awake now. She pulled away and rolled over to turn on the light. “I guess you better tell me what happened.” She sat up and Eric sat up beside her.
“Nothing,” he said. “It is as I said it would be. We have returned, and it is time for me to return to my duties. You have your work…”
“Are you really going with that line?” Sookie rolled her eyes. “After everything we’ve promised to each other? Really?”
Eric stared at her, his face still. His feelings were still as well, something Sookie was beginning to recognize, and then they transformed into a hum “Stop it!” Sookie demanded, shoving him. “You were thinking about coming clean, and then you started to plot! I can feel it!”
Eric’s eyes blazed, “You know too much for your own good!”
“Well, forgive me for loving you!” Sookie growled back. “I could walk away! I could decide all this shit is too much and I could go back to living behind Maryann’s, but, Eric…” and she leaned over, burying her nose in his chest, “I don’t want to. I have a feeling you leaving tomorrow night won’t be the last time we’re separated. There’s something going on, so you should just tell me.”
“You won’t be happy,” he said aloud.
“I know,” Sookie nodded, “but I’ll be even more unhappy if I have to find out on my own.”
“Why can’t you just accept what I tell you?” Eric huffed, but Sookie knew she’d won.
“You’d be pretty disappointed if I did!” and she kissed his chest. Looking up, she squeezed, “Tell me!”
“I am now Sheriff of all of Ireland,” he told her.
“And that’s a bad thing,” Sookie stated.
“I shared this territory with three others. I was chief, but they handled many of the duties, even in my territory. Collecting tithes, managing staff. Now, there is only me.”
“What happened to the others?” Sookie asked, feeling faintly ill at the possibilities.
“Nothing that terrible!” Eric laughed, correctly interpreting her thoughts. “They are headed to Spain and Carmela’s court. Not bad duty. The weather is better.”
“Are there that many vampires in Ireland?” Sookie asked. “I mean, I’ve seen the ones at Sophie-Ann’s Court, but I kind of figured that was it.”
“There are many who live here. You did see most. They travel for Assizes, we are not that big a country, but there are more who live solitary lives. They are the ones who forget to pay taxes or cause trouble.” Eric sighed and leaned back, throwing his arm behind his head. “And Robert is sending two vampires here for me to train.”
“Oh,” and Sookie thought about that. “Well, with the new bedroom ready upstairs, we could let them use this chamber if they don’t mind…”
“I don’t know if you will meet them.” Eric didn’t look at her, but she could feel his frustration.
Sookie swallowed, “I see. How long will they be here?”
“Weeks,” Eric bit out. “I will set up a house for them…”
“Would it be better if you stayed with them?” Sookie hated the way her voice was getting smaller, but she was getting an idea of what being bonded to her was costing Eric and it didn’t feel good.
Eric’s look told her the answer, but he said, “No,” instead.
“Liar!” Sookie whispered.
“I don’t wish to talk of this anymore,” Eric told her. “Dawn is here. Let me go to my day death with you in my arms. I wish to pretend it will be this way every dawn. We will have time to talk more tomorrow night.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Sookie told him. “I love you. We’ll figure out a way. As long as we’re together, I know things will be fine.”
“You lie as well!” Eric grinned.
“Then let’s go for a whopper,” and Sookie laid her hand over his and then lifted it to cover the bow that held the teddy together over her breasts. “Let’s pretend it’s still an hour to dawn and we have plenty of time to unwrap presents.”
“I love you,” he murmured, his long fingers pulling the ribbon.
“I said it first,” Sookie reminded him, capturing his lips.