Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author’s Note: Thank you for your patience. My vacation to Edinburgh was lovely. I hiked Arthur’s Seat and gained a new appreciation for whiskey and walking. No more trips planned until May 2018 when I’ll return to Ireland for the Kerry Circle.
At first, the time of atonement had filled Eric with a silent fury. The timelines and tasks on the Queen’s list took every waking hour and a great deal of ingenuity, but soon Eric had reached smoother waters. Hard work was part of it, but a part was also his legendary luck that caused circumstances to present themselves. Things between himself and the Queen had resolved more quickly than he’d hoped. ‘But you have Robert to thank for that, too,’ he smiled.
Part of his success was due to his past. He had played this game before. Eric might have railed against Sophie-Ann, cursing her for his fate, but, if he was being perfectly honest, he had to acknowledge that part of the blame lay with him. It was a pattern. His life would be going well, and then some opportunity would come along and he’d be unable to turn away. He would be tempted by possibilities and, in the end, he’d manage to offend someone, usually the person who held authority over him. Eric could count off six of those instances without even trying. Now, this one, accepting Niall’s offer to pledge to his Granddaughter, added to his list.
Of course, ‘this one’ was different. None of the other clusterfucks he’d inflicted on himself had resulted in a bonded mate. ‘My wife,’ he purred, embracing the words and emotions that came with them. When Eric was relaxed and had time to bask, it was a most pleasant thought. Sookie was pleasant. She suited him in most particulars. She was adventurous, even aggressive in bed, her work ethic matched his own, and she wasn’t afraid to tell him when she disagreed with him. As angry as he became, he had to admit he enjoyed fighting with her.
It was how he’d grown up. In his Father’s house, they fought. He fought for food, he fought to be heard, he fought for respect. He learned to use weapons, both sharp-edged and sharp-tongued. The women of his youth were as quick-witted and staunch-hearted as the men, sometimes more. Eric believed that rare combination of clever, brave, and caring in females had disappeared into another age. The women he’d met since being turned never fought him. They simpered; they demanded. They were soft. They were not Viking.
She was also something else. There was her magic.
The door to his office opened, interrupting his thoughts, and the two American Sheriffs walked in, grumbling and sullen. ‘Five more nights,’ Eric reminded himself. In five more nights, these twin thorns would be turned over to their spymaster and this charade would come to an end.
Eric had stopped resting with them within nights of their arrival. Had Dion and James legitimately been in Ireland for training as Sheriffs, Eric might have remained, even encouraged their nesting. There was a bonding that happened between nestmates. Nestmates shared blood as well as beds and the experience created an aura that was picked up by other vampires. It signaled allegiances and mutual defense arrangements, but Eric sensed almost immediately that Dion and James were not what they claimed.
As he assessed them in that first week, Eric wondered what had inspired Robert to choose these two. Eric found the candidates not just incompetent; he found them unsuitable. Robert and Eric were not friends nor allies, but they did know each other. At various points in their long lives, they had even worked together. Eric knew his Maker thought well of Robert, which was why it was easy to believe that after his time in America, Robert would feel the need to test Eric. It was in character for Robert to send two bumblers, waiting to see if Eric had the strength and ingenuity needed to transform them.
To be a Sheriff required tremendous discipline. Being vampire meant you were assailed with sensations. You heard with perfect, sometimes painful, clarity. You smelled every scent for miles around and with such intensity that you could taste the scent as though it coated your tongue as well as your nostrils. The world of a vampire was a series of distractions, each one more beguiling than the next.
Sheriffs had to be able to separate themselves from all that. It is a Sheriff’s job to acknowledge the world of sensations, but, rather than immersing oneself, to dissect and define. Of all the scents he or she experienced, a Sheriff had to be able to pick through and find the one scent that mattered. Instead of glamouring to gain consent, a Sheriff has to use strategy and patience to discover the one truth. It took specific qualities for a vampire to succeed as a Sheriff and Eric saw few of those qualities in either Dion or James.
Most people thought of vampires as violent, but, in fact, vampires preferred glamour to subdue their victims, taking what they needed, and fading into the night. It was trained into them, the need for secrecy and stealth. Every vampire knew that calling attention to oneself was a quick way to find a pointy object and nothing attracted attention like a damaged body and blood. It was one of the reasons most vampires shied away from torture. The fresh scent of blood triggered too many needs. The point of torture was not to kill the victim, at least, not quickly. Once the blood started to flow, the desire to drain could be overwhelming. Restraining oneself was one of the hardest things a Sheriff had to do, which was what kept Eric guessing for a bit. Dion and James excelled at torture.
What they didn’t excel at were all the other tasks and duties a Sheriff was expected to perform. Eric allowed the new recruits two mistakes apiece, then started meting out physical reminders. He started with small punishments: a broken finger, a bloody nose. After the recruits failed at improving, the punishments became more severe, and then more inventive. Finally, Eric resorted to Appius’ old trick; he made them damage each other, which finally resulted in the right impression.
Of the two, Dion was the more plausible candidate. He, at least, made an effort to focus, sometimes catching the subtle clues around him. James was wholly unbelievable. His attention shifted at lightning speed from one thing to the next, his eyes taking in everything. He questioned as well, his appetite for facts and figures an irritant.
Eventually, the Viking came to the decision that Dion and James were not meant to be Sheriffs. ‘Of course, by then you’d got what you came for,’ Eric thought, looking at the two.
Dion started swearing again, the words flowing out in a soft hiss they were meant to ignore. “Done?” Eric barked. James and Dion stopped their work to look at him, their eyes shooting daggers. ‘If looks could kill.’ It was one of Sookie’s phrases and the thought of her made his lips twitch. “Work!” Eric ordered.
The Sheriff candidates turned back to their task, noisily poking at their keyboards, working through tall piles of paperwork. It was the part of a Sheriff’s job the Viking liked least, completing the endless forms and narratives and everyone knew it. It was why the Queen’s order specified Eric had to do all his own paperwork. Of course, he’d put it off. In truth, he’d been putting it off even before these two miscreants arrived, so it had accumulated. Now that he was back in the Queen’s good graces, Eric was free to turn over this part of his job. It seemed only fitting that the Sheriff candidates should spend their last nights in Ireland glued to computer terminals, catching up Eric’s backlog. It almost made up for the trouble they’d caused with them.
Eric stretched, thinking back to his first clue as to the Sheriffs’ real purpose in Ireland. It started with their unexplained disappearances. Eric would track them down, checking up, only to find the Sheriff candidates weren’t working together. Night after night, one or the other would be missing. “He needed to feed,” was a common excuse. “He’s checking into something we found,” was another excuse. Sometimes the offending Sheriff would return quickly. More often, the offending Sheriff was gone for hours.
‘If they were really smart, they would have known I’d have them followed,’ Eric thought. Even now, James and Dion seemed oblivious to their peril. In all the many weeks they’d been traveling far and wide, they didn’t seem to grasp the need to take even simple precautions. Of course, Eric’s watchers were skilled, but it was a poor excuse of a vampire who didn’t make the slightest effort to throw a tracker from their scent.
Eric’s people first reported seeing the Sheriff candidates in nearby towns, but, as nights passed, reports came back to Eric with stories that Dion and James were spreading their range in an ever-widening circle. Some sightings were so far north or south, Eric started to wonder if one or both of his guests had the gift of flight. Because Eric’s watchers were also vampire, they couldn’t get too close without being detected, but on occasion, one would report finding themselves having been witness to meetings with locals, including vampires and Fae. Another time, Dion set up in a pub, using a laptop that he glamoured from a woman, typing for hours before wiping the browser history and leaving. Eric started to map the reports, tracking the vampires’ movements and within a month, a grid formed.
“They are assessing the kingdom,” Eric announced. He handed Andre the map and described what his employees were telling him. “I think our Sheriffs are an advance guard. Robert is planning a takeover.”
Andre was openly skeptical, and Sophie-Ann laughed out loud. She hurled insults and told Eric he was imagining things. It took hours of arguing and cajoling before the Queen agreed to allow Eric to contact Niall Brigant, cashing in the favor the Fae King gave in exchange for her offering protection to Sookie.
“Niall can bring you the assistance of the Seelie and his allies. They can get closer to my American charges and they have a wider territory. With their help, you will know whether Dion and James are just spies, or if I am right, and they plot for your final death. Wouldn’t you like to know?” Eric pressed.
Sophie-Ann made Eric wait before giving her consent, but, in the end, the map and her own paranoia won.
Eric made the call and Niall’s answer was a return call to the Queen’s private number.
Andre answered and held the phone up so they could all hear. “Tell your Queen I am most willing to provide this favor,” Niall replied. “I will direct my own people and I will ask the assistance of all my allies, for which I will ask nothing in return.” It was a Princely gesture, causing Sophie-Ann and Andre’s eyes to meet.
“Surely there is something you wish,” Eric asked, voicing the question he knew hung over them.
“I give this willingly,” Niall assured them. “Your Queen extended my Granddaughter protection when she needed it. She gave my Granddaughter the gift of bonding to her most trusted Sheriff. I consider these kindnesses to set the balance level between us.”
And Eric knew he’d won. Sophie-Ann’s shocked look and Andre’s satisfied smile told him he wouldn’t need worry about his future. He would be reinstated, and he’d won acceptance for Sookie in the world of vampires as well.
Within hours, reports were flying in from all over the island. Dion and James’ wandering over the past weeks had taken them even farther than Eric realized, their nightly routines a complex network of intersecting tracks. Various Fae had spotted the strange vampires in all sorts of places. Eric’s people were restricted to towns where their presence was expected. Niall’s Fae were different. It was the way of the Seelie to be on the roads or in barren places at night. There were Fae who lingered at wells or under bridges, in groves of trees and in the glens. They noticed things and their memories were sharp.
The map in Andre’s hand was improved. Timelines were developed and Eric’s suspicions were borne out.
Now that the Fae were mobilized, it didn’t take long to identify those Dion and James visited more than once. Wybert and Sigebert were dispatched to pick up two of the vampires the Sheriff candidates had visited for questioning. Eric called in Pam and they spent a night in the basement of the Queen’s palace, ‘entertaining’ the would-be accomplices.
Within hours, the two were betraying Dion and James. “They promised me money,” one hapless vampire wailed, “and a lifetime reprieve from tithes. I am barely making it here!”
“This Queen asks too much!” the other cried through broken teeth. “There is wealth here for someone with the ambition to take it.”
“Fools,” the Queen fumed. Lists of those under suspicion were made. Xavier, Eric’s fellow Sheriff, was added. Even though Xavier was in England, Andre confirmed to Eric that his colleague had been identified as feeding Robert information in the months before Eric’s trip to America.
“Mostly gossip,” Andre confirmed. “Nothing overt, but in view of what’s happened, it might have been with purpose.”
“I can’t believe Xavier would betray us,” Pam told Eric as they were cleaning up together in the bathroom next to the Queen’s dungeons.
Eric agreed, “Still, there will be extra measures put in place around him, just in case.” There was no sign the spying had continued, which was the reason Xavier was told to stay away from the Summit. Had he been summoned, Eric knew the fate that would have awaited his former friend.
As Eric dropped his blood-soaked boots into the bin, he couldn’t help asking, “Headed back to Slievemore?”
“She misses you,” Pam answered, reading her Maker’s mind.
Eric nodded. ‘Not yet,’ he reminded himself, then found he was staring at the blood on his hands. “I wonder if she would miss me so much if she saw me now.”
Pam laughed, “Don’t underestimate her, Eric. Sookie has an amazing capacity to adapt. This is your job. You should trust her.”
He chuckled, “Sookie says the same thing.” They had a few hours before Pam had to leave and Eric pressed her to fill him in with the details of Sookie’s work. Eric received texts from his wife and sometimes pictures, telling him of her days, but it wasn’t enough. Pam described the ongoing work at the house on Goat Street, Eric making her describe Sookie’s reactions, even down to the expressions on his Lover’s face. While he was pleased to hear the shortages at the Carrack Ghoul’s Kiss had stopped, he was more pleased to hear Sookie’s part in discovering them. Pam launched into a word by word recounting of her dinner the night before with Maryann and Sookie. Pam was a credible mimic and with her perfect memory, she voiced each part, until Eric placed his hand on his chest, “Stop.”
It was hard watching his Child leave that night, knowing she would see his mate. ‘Soon,’ he promised himself.
Nights passed. Eric continued to ‘work’ with the Sheriffs. He turned just enough of a blind eye to allow them to continue their wandering, but not enough of a blind eye to raise suspicions. Between Eric’s network and Niall’s, there was nowhere Dion and James went, no one they spoke with who wasn’t noted and reported. Names were taken and weaknesses found. The Americans were giving Sophie-Ann and Andre a blueprint they could follow to shore up the kingdom’s defenses for another hundred years.
“I can’t believe it,” Sophie-Ann exclaimed as they went over the most recent reports. “Whatever is Robert thinking? He’s all the way over there, an ocean away! Does he really think he can stage a take-over and have it last?”
“Technology changes things,” Andre observed.
“I agree,” Eric added. “Robert has never lacked for ambition…or imagination.”
They all knew it to be true. It had been many years since Robert left the continent for America. He was one of the first of the European vampires to risk what was then a hazardous ocean voyage to the New World. He landed in New York and swiftly asserted his claim, creating safe havens for their kind, pushing out rivals.
Over the ensuing centuries, Robert expanded his territory. He staged bloody takeovers of surrounding kingdoms, killing rivals. When the Industrial Revolution gave way to World War I, he changed. The Robert of old, acquisitive and savage, morphed into a tailored man who wore a more civilized face. His taking of territory slowed, trade agreements replacing coups. Those in America settled into a network of Clans and disputes started to settle with Summits rather than assassinations.
Still, Robert’s kingdom extended over all of New England and part of New Jersey. There were persistent rumors he had staged a bloodless coup in Philadelphia and was ruling through a puppet King.
“I think he believes this time of technology will allow him to spread his wings overseas to us,” Andre mused. “There are ties between our territory and his, at least historically. As for his intent? We are seeing the proof presented nightly.”
“Thanks to Eric,” Sophie-Ann purred.
“Thanks to Eric,” Andre agreed.
Eric almost purred at the memory. He looked at the Sheriff candidates through narrowed eyes. He hungered for his mate, but he also knew he needed to maintain the charade. In five nights, Robert would arrive for the Queen’s Summit and the performance would be over. Five nights was not so high a price to pay when Eric thought of all he gained.
High on the list was winning Sophie-Ann’s complete support, but, more importantly, he now had Andre’s gratitude as well. All knew that Sophie-Ann’s moods were mercurial. If you wished to be on solid ground, you needed to have the support of her Second. Once the Summit was over, there would be no question of Eric hiring and training more Sheriffs. Once more, Ireland would be patrolled by vampires whose first loyalty would be to him. He would train them, nesting until the bonds were strong.
Where the cost of maintaining more Sheriffs might have given the Queen pause, there was another benefit that even Eric had not anticipated.
Niall Brigant approached Andre about formalizing business ties between their people. “As you know, I am faced with challenges, safe-guarding my brother’s kingdom as well as my own during Rogan’s time of sorrow. We have a need for night managers in my hotels, cleaning crews. Perhaps your people…”
It was unprecedented. All knew the Seelie didn’t trust or like vampires. Brigant had laughed when Andre asked him to repeat the offer, but talks were underway. Penalties for transgressions would be high, “But if Eric Northman can make this work, surely Kings and Queens can do no less.” The benefits were more than simply financial. Ireland was a country that didn’t have many all-night businesses. Vampires flocked to those jobs that were available, pubs, office cleaning, and merchandise stocking, but the opportunities were not enough to employ all Sophie-Ann’s subjects. Opening the hotel trade was a handsome offer and Eric knew the Queen was already plotting ways to spend her future tithes.
‘Maybe I can hire an extra Sheriff and just supervise,’ Eric smiled, as he watched the piles of folders slowly shrink.
Another benefit was Pam’s place here in Ireland was now secure. His Child would be welcomed to choose any post and Sophie-Ann would agree. If Eric wanted to leave Ireland at some point in the future, his Child could rest assured she had the trust of this Queen. Pam was free to make her own way, and that meant leverage for arrangements with other kingdoms as well. ‘Free.’ It gave Eric pause. He had long supported Pam, telling her his goal was to establish her so he could truly cut her loose, assured that none would deny her opportunities. Now, that was a reality, and he found it wasn’t entirely pleasing. It made no sense. What Maker didn’t wish to see his Child become independent? ‘Perhaps she isn’t ready,’ he wondered, but he knew that wasn’t right, so he filed his confusion away to discuss with Sookie.
For some reason, Eric remembered his Father returning from a long journey. Eric had been young, sleeping in his Mother’s bed, keeping her warm. His Father had cast aside the heavy curtain, his face alight, words tumbling from his lips. Eric would hear the stories of that voyage from his Father many times over the following weeks, but he’d been struck that of everyone, the person his Father had most wanted to tell was his Mother.
In the years that followed, Eric returned from his own voyages. He told many stories around the hall fires, but he never understood why his Father always made a special effort to find his Mother first. Now, he did.
Thinking of his lovely mate, Eric found his hand reaching for his crotch. He stopped himself with a growl that earned a glance from James and Dion. “Work!” Eric barked again, but in the next minute, his lips curved up. He couldn’t help it.
‘She will be honored by all,’ he thought. ‘I have won and soon I will tell her.’ He imagined how her eyes would warm and how she, of all people, would understand what this meant to them. Some part of him thought he might be setting his expectations too high, but he assured himself that the bond would fill in any gaps in understanding between them.
‘But it wasn’t the bond that made her shame you in Boston.’ Eric remembered how Sookie had fought with him, refusing his offer to follow her into the Shadowlands. ‘She places me before herself,’ he mused, replaying his mate’s words and gestures. ‘She loves me,’ he smiled. He opened his eyes to the Sheriff candidates’ stares. “What are you looking at?” Eric snarled. “Are you done? The Queen would like to hear you give oral reports as well.” That snapped them back to task, but Eric couldn’t help seeing Sookie’s face before him again. “Mine,” his lips whispered.
Eric arrived at Seacoast Shores, driving a new, red Corvette. It was the latest model, low and sleek. He took the dress bag and suitcase from Pam, moving too swiftly. Sookie could feel Eric’s excitement. He was almost giddy.
“Nice ride,” Sookie offered.
Eric didn’t reply to her, but he was grinning like a loon. “I’ll see you tomorrow night,” he said instead to Pam.
“You’re sure you can’t come?” Sookie asked Maryann.
“I promised my sisters,” Maryann repeated her excuse. Pam would be going to the Summit, but Sookie couldn’t help feeling down about it. She was sure she’d be the only non-vampire at the Queen’s court. She’d be a lone minnow, swimming in an ocean of sharks.
“Come, Sookie,” Eric pressed. He offered her his hand and when she took his, he tucked her hand through his arm, escorting her toward the car.
“It really is lovely,” Sookie told him and she could feel from his reaction how pleased he was with her words.
“I’ve wanted one for some time,” he confided before adding, “I can’t wait to see you sitting in it.”
Sookie allowed him to hand her into her seat. She waited until he was in the driver’s seat before giving him the words she knew he wanted to hear. “It’s beautiful, Eric. I love it.”
“You are beautiful,” he told her and taking her hand, he kissed her palm. His eyes traveled and his fangs dropped. “I want you,” he told her.
The pull was undeniable. “Get out of town first,” Sookie told him. “There’s that hilltop, you know the one.” It was a dirt road that cut off the paved road, leading to a hilltop that looked out over the ocean.
“The car may not make it,” he frowned.
“We can leave it on the road if you want,” Sookie grinned.
He didn’t. Eric picked his way up the rutted trail, only bottoming out once. He parked the Vette so the hood faced away from the expanse of dark that was sea and stars meeting. Leaving the headlights on, he leaned Sookie over the hood, freeing breasts and then pushing her pants to fall to her ankles. He left her coat on, pushing up the back just enough to give him access. The first time didn’t last long, but the second did, Sookie staring at the stars over his shoulder as he found ways to make her fly.
“You seem happier,” Sookie sighed, basking in the afterglow.
“All is right with our world, Älskade. Soon, you will see that for yourself.” Eric was looking down at her, his eyes glowing. He picked up a tendril of her hair, twirling it between his fingers. “You will stand beside me at the Summit. You will wear your wedding jewels. Everyone will see that the real gem is you.”
“Sure we can’t just skip it?” Sookie asked, not for the first time, but when Eric opened his mouth to answer, she hurried to add, “Just kidding! Really, it’s okay!”
But it wasn’t. Not for her.
Sookie could feel the nervousness that had been plaguing her return. When the Summit had been a week away, she barely thought of it. Even two nights ago, she’d been okay, but now, with the Summit only one night away, she found she needed to distract herself. Sookie watched the landscape slip past them once they were back on the road. She tried to focus on talking with Eric, describing the progress she was making with the Slievemore house. “It will be finished by Christmas,” she proudly proclaimed.
“How excited you are,” Eric remarked. “You see, it isn’t so hard to have more than one property. Having the means to be able to change surroundings, buying what you wish is pleasurable.”
Sookie’s eyes narrowed, “Is that why you gave me that wreck?” she asked. “So you could tempt me into becoming some kind of rich bitch? That was really sneaky! I am never turning into Amelia! I don’t care how many sad house makeovers you throw at me!”
“Of course,” Eric purred, but his lip curled, thinking of the amounts of money his Sookie had already spent and the improvements she had made, never asking about the bill.
“I mean it, Northman!” Sookie grumbled, but, after a bit, she couldn’t help herself. She gave him a side-eye and admitted, “I do really love the place.”
They were almost at Ballytyne and as they pulled up the driveway, the lights were on. “How…?” Sookie asked.
“I had Ian open it for us,” Eric grinned. “There is food in the kitchen…everything to make our stay here pleasant.”
He was around the car in an instant, pulling her to him. “I have missed you,” he whispered, not hiding the hardness he pressed against her.
“You can miss me all you want,” Sookie sighed, touching his cheek.
Later, as they lay in the canopy bed in the upstairs bedroom, Eric fed her sips of champagne so he could delicately lick it from her lips. The room was lit with candles and the peat glowed on the fireplace grate. “I want it to be like this for us, forever,” Sookie told him, stroking Eric’s face.
“For us, it will,” Eric assured her.
Sookie rose late, not surprising as Eric and she had stayed awake until he’d literally fallen from her, caught in his day death. She was fixing her second cup of coffee when the door opened and Ian stepped in.
“I’m sorry!” he apologized. “I thought you might still be upstairs. I should have texted to let you know I was coming.”
“Human needs,” Sookie shrugged, holding up her coffee cup.
Ian had a couple bags in hand, “I’ll just take these through,” he explained. Sookie could see one was a clothing bag, and she assumed the other involved other items for Eric. Ian walked past her and before she could offer him tea, headed back outside, returning with a flower arrangement, and then, another. It started to look like a comedy. Ian placed blush pink roses on the dining room table where she was seated, and then red roses in the family room. There were more pink roses for the library and a nosegay of yellow roses and baby’s breath for her desk upstairs.
“We planning for a funeral?” Sookie quipped.
“He’s happy to see you,” Ian shrugged, then added, “You’re a lucky woman.”
“What’s going on?” Sookie asked. “I thought Eric was in trouble and now, there’s a new car and all these flowers? I’m sure you…”
“You’ll have to ask him,” Ian interrupted. “This is between you and Mr. Northman.”
Ian declined tea, probably guessing Sookie would try to ply him with questions. Alone and fretting, Sookie found herself staring out the window. She looked at the roses and thought of the confidence she’d felt from Eric last night. ‘What does it mean?’ she kept asking herself. ‘Could be its just what Ian said? Eric’s happy to see you. You know he loves his gestures,’ and she ran her finger over the creamy surface of a rose petal.
‘Or it could mean he’s in big trouble and making the best of it for my sake,’ the doubting part of her suggested.
When she felt the faint stirrings of Eric returning to her, Sookie ran upstairs, running the bath and setting the stage. It wasn’t entirely for his benefit. She figured if she worked this right, he’d spill whatever was going on. ‘Did I tell him I hate secrets?’ she asked herself, pinning her hair up, knowing how he loved to watch it spill over his fingers. ‘Would he really keep it from me if he was in trouble?’ she asked her reflection, but she already knew the answer. He would and he had.
She was barely settled in the tub before he appeared at the door. His eyes swept over her, his lip curled, and she marveled again at how surreal it seemed that someone this beautiful found her beautiful, too.
“You are the most beautiful woman I have ever known,” he told her, echoing her thoughts in that uncanny way he had.
“You are very sweet to say it,” Sookie stammered, turning pink under his gaze.
Almost before she realized what had happened, she was settling back against him, the water sloshing over the edges of the tub in Eric’s haste to join her. His hard length ran up her back, but he seemed content to take the cloth and scrub her. “How long did you rest?” he asked.
“Late,” she smiled. “I had a really late lunch. Ian was here. Thank you for the flowers.”
“He brought the other things?” Eric asked.
“Your clothes? Yup, they’re in the front closet,” and Sookie reached for another washcloth.
“Did you check them?” and Eric’s hands stilled.
“No,” and Sookie turned around to look at Eric. “Why? I didn’t think…”
“It’s fine,” and easy, happy Eric was back. “I didn’t expect you to.”
Sookie twisted around, “Okay, I’ve had enough of this. What’s going on? New car? Flowers? What aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing!” Eric laughed, turning Sookie back in his arms. “Everything is fine, I promise you. Trust me!”
And there it was. It was on the tip of Sookie’s tongue to tell him to cut the crap, but he was laughing, that way she heard so rarely. There was no undertone, no agenda. Eric Northman was happy.
They helped each other dress. Eric proved remarkably adept at twisting her hair up. “I was once involved with a theater troupe,” he volunteered, meeting her questioning look. His fingers tied his bow tie without his checking once and Sookie found herself marveling yet again at this amazing man who was hers.
As she turned toward the bedroom door, Eric stayed her. He walked her to her dressing table and pressed her to sit. Walking behind her, he draped the necklace she’d received from the Fae around her neck. The many diamonds caught up in the fine threads of chain sparkled in the bedroom lights. Sookie laid her hand over his before reaching for the earrings. She fastened them in place and looked up to see Eric in the mirror. He was watching her, and she realized he was holding something.
“For you,” he said and moved his hand.
Sookie turned around. He was holding a ring box. A band encrusted with diamonds held a single marquis ruby. It shone almost black until Eric moved, and then Sookie saw the red glow flickering. Her eyes flew to him, “It’s…” and her voice failed her. ‘I’m living a fairy tale,’ she thought, standing to reach for him.
He held her hand, his thumb rubbing over the ring he’d slid in place the whole drive, only loosing her hand when he had to shift gears. Sookie felt so starry-eyed, she forgot to be nervous until they pulled up the wide drive to the Queen’s palace. Eric was out of the car, taking her hand within seconds of their arrival. Pam was on the front step, awaiting them.
“Red really is your color,” she assured Sookie, forgoing the bow in favor of a hug. “I am pleased for you my Maker,” she said far more formally to Eric. She bowed her head and Eric pulled Pam close, kissing her forehead.
“It is a night of triumph for us both,” he replied, somewhat mysteriously.
One of the huge vampires Sookie remembered from her previous visit was standing near the front door. “Keeping the riff raff out?” Pam joked.
“No longer includes you,” the giant growled and Pam laughed.
It was all around them. Heads bowed as they passed. Beautifully dressed vampires nodded, politely averting their eyes, but it seemed more a sign of respect than anything else. They walked through the hall, Eric’s hand securing her arm in place through his. Still, Sookie couldn’t help feeling the sweat prickle under her arms as they approached the Queen’s throne.
Instead of a haughty woman, though, the vampire Queen came down the steps, all smiles. “My favorite Sheriff!” she trilled, and then she looked directly at Sookie, “And his most beautiful Bonded. Welcome!” and she bowed her head. Eric bowed lower and he pulled Sookie to do the same. When she straightened, the courtiers around them applauded.
“Eric?” Sookie questioned.
“Dance with me,” he answered.
“I will tell you everything,” he promised, holding her close. “Later, when we’re home. For now,” and he raised her fingers to his lips, “Enjoy it, min hustru. This is our moment.”
It was like a fairy tale. Sookie danced and danced, Eric refusing to give her up to any other. When she finally asked for a drink, Eric escorted her from the dance floor. He signaled a waiter and Sookie found a tray with a single plastic bottle of water. It looked a little odd in such an elegant setting, but, then again, maybe not. There was a scattering of other humans around them, but Sookie knew they were definitely in the minority.
“Good evening,” the vampire called Andre greeted her with a small bow. He turned to Eric, “Robert will be here shortly. You are ready?”
“Of course,” and Eric nodded, looking away. Sookie followed his gaze to see Bobby Burnham, Eric’s former Dayman walking toward them.
“You’re vampire,” Sookie said aloud. She’d known, but seeing the change in Bobby surprised her anyway.
Sookie was sure Bobby was about to say something nasty, but his eyes flicked to Eric and he said, “And I am most grateful,” instead.
“Stay with Bobby,” Eric told her. “I will return shortly.”
Sookie found herself standing alone with Bobby, but that didn’t last long. Other vampires started to rather purposely drift near, chatting with Bobby, and then making a point of being introduced. ‘I’m a celebrity,’ Sookie began to realize. The reception was so different from the one she’d had before, both here and in Boston, that she kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“You will be a more regular visitor, I’m sure,” another vampire was saying.
“I’m not sure,” Sookie stammered. “I live in Slievemore,” and she blushed, fearing she’d broken some rule or other.
“Our loss,” the vampire replied, as smooth as silk. “Don’t let Northman keep you all to himself.”
He glided off to be replaced by a tall, pale woman. “Felicia,” she bowed, introducing herself. “I hope Bobby has been his usual charming self.
“My Maker,” Bobby purred, bowing back. Sookie stared at Felicia, now that she knew who she was. Bobby was making some small talk, assuring the woman that he was doing his best to keep up with the stellar Ms. Stackhouse. Sookie smiled, ignoring the oversight, trying to compare the relationship she was seeing to Pam and Eric’s. She concluded there was something missing, although she knew she had no real basis for making that assumption.
“I must ask your pardon,” Felicia interrupted Sookie’s thoughts. “I will bring Bobby back in a few minutes. Do you mind?”
“Not a problem,” Sookie replied, actually relieved. It had been some time since Eric left her, so she was beginning to become curious.
As soon as Bobby and Felicia wandered away, Sookie headed in the direction Eric and Andre had taken. There was a short hallway and within a few steps, she heard Eric saying, “Surely you didn’t think we wouldn’t notice.”
Another step brought her to the partially open door. She could see Eric’s back. Robert, the King from Boston was there along with Pam, Andre and two vampires she didn’t know.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Robert said, his voice aggrieved. “If you are making an accusation, be clear. Honestly, Eric. I don’t know what has happened to you. Your Maker…”
“Trained me well,” Eric interrupted. “My Maker is a great vampire.”
“Don’t insult us,” Andre hissed. “These idiots underestimated us. We have proof of what they’ve been doing…”
“What you ordered them to do,” Sophie-Ann added. “Really, Robert. I expected better of you.” She waved her hand as though brushing away a fly.
In the blink of an eye, there was a sword in Eric’s hand and the heads of the two strangers came off their shoulders, as smoothly as any cartoon, except cartoons didn’t have sheets of blood that sprayed across the room, or twitching bodies falling awkwardly forward, limbs twitching. It was over in an instant, but Sookie found she couldn’t pull her eyes away. It was then Eric noticed her.
He was in her head, lacing himself through her shock. Her mouth closed and fell open again. She looked at her feet to find a head staring blankly up at her. She wanted to scream, but everything seemed locked in place.
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Pam said, suddenly beside her. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to wash the blood out of that silk. It may stain.” She tugged harder, trying to make Sookie’s feet move.
Sookie closed her eyes and just shutting out the horror allowed one foot to step, and then the other. Pam had her arm in a vise grip and when Sookie slipped, almost falling on her heels, Pam kept her upright. “Only a few more steps,” she hissed. “Come on.”
They were in a Ladies’ Room, which seemed strange since vampires didn’t need to use the stalls. There were a few though, seated at the long counter, touching up makeup and hair. “We need the area,” Pam snarled, and the women rose and left.
“Sit,” Pam ordered and Sookie’s legs gave way.
In another minute, Eric was there. He walked, stalked really, advancing slowly. He stopped at the sink and washed his hands. His shirt sleeves were covered in blood, and he held his arms under the water, rinsing until the stain was pink. He kept looking at her and Sookie kept looking back. He was the same man who danced with her earlier, the same one who held her in the bath and made love to her, but every time she closed her eyes, she saw him sweeping the great sword and the blood as the bodies fell.
He made an effort to wring out his shirt sleeves, then turned them up. “Sookie,” he said, and walked toward her. He crouched in front of her, but when he took her hands, she couldn’t help it. She pulled away. “Watch the door,” Eric told Pam. His eyes never left Sookie’s.
Once Pam was gone, Eric reached for her hands and held tight. “I wasn’t ready for you to know about me,” he said.
“You killed them,” Sookie stammered, finally finding her voice.
“Yes,” Eric nodded. “It was my job.”
“To kill people?” Sookie felt a bubble of panic rising in her throat. “That’s what you do? Really?”
“Yes,” Eric nodded. “They were spies…worse. They were sent here to help Robert invade. If they’d been successful, Sophie-Ann, Andre… Everyone we know would have been killed.”
“Do you do that often?” Sookie stammered. She knew she sounded stupid, but the sword swinging kept playing over and over in her head.
“No,” Eric shook his head. “Not often. It is a fate saved for only those who place the lives of the Queen’s own in jeopardy. Sookie,” and he squeezed her hands. “It is expected. I know you think they are dead, but you must understand, they are already dead. The bodies you saw are crumbling to dust. If we were to walk back, you wouldn’t find them anymore. Only their fangs will be left.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Sookie demanded. “I…” and she stared at their hands entwined, the ruby he’d placed on her finger winking up at her. “I don’t know what to think about this.”
“I am asking you to trust me,” Eric told her. “Please.”
“And what am I supposed to trust here, Eric?” Sookie hiccupped.
“That there is a reason for what I do,” he explained. “That when I do something like this, it has a purpose. That I would never hurt you.”
It made no sense, but, for some reason, Sookie thought about the Grimm Fairytales she’d read as a child. Some of the stories were happy, but many had a dark side that left her shivering and open-eyed under her blankets. “So, this really is a fairy tale,” she said. She could see Eric didn’t understand, but she found herself nodding. “I won’t say I’m a hundred percent on this, Eric, but I do trust you. At least, I want to.”
He stood and drew her up as well. “I love you,” he told her. He hesitated, but then he touched the side of her face. “I trust you, too.”
She was walking toward the door and it occurred to her that just outside of the Ladies’ Room there were vampires who would be dancing. They would walk up to her, making small talk, as if her gown wasn’t smeared with blood. “Can we go home?” Sookie asked.
Eric hesitated, “With me?” he asked and Sookie realized he was half-expecting her to reject him.
“Yes, Eric,” she answered, making her voice sound surer than she felt. “It wouldn’t be home without you.”