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Eric raised his chin. It wasn’t comfortable being on his knees, but his body remembered the position and his mind automatically found the place where his focus shifted from the strain on his body to what mattered, his Maker.
“Robert should have known better than to try and fool you,” Appius purred. “I trained you too well.”
His Maker hadn’t changed, he never did. The casual slacks suited his wiry frame. He was wearing a plum-tone cashmere pullover sweater. He’d insisted Eric change into similar attire, only Eric’s sweater was an ice blue. He’d purred that the color matched Eric’s eyes and there had been an uncomfortable moment when Eric thought his Maker would decide to use Eric’s body, but the moment passed. Instead, Appius signaled over a glamoured, clearly terrified youth, settling him between his legs. Even now, Appius shifted as the youth’s mouth did its work. “Tell me how you discovered the plot,” Appius smirked, burying his fingers in the youth’s curly hair and directing his movements more forcefully.
By the time Eric finished the story, his Maker had finished, releasing his toy to recover. For a moment, Eric thought Appius would kick the youth, but instead, he glanced at Eric. “Clean me up,” he ordered, and Eric did. He crawled forward and completed the ritual he’d performed countless times over the centuries he’d traveled with his Maker. When he finished buckling the thin belt, he tilted his face up for his Maker’s kiss.
“I’ve released you,” Appius snorted. “I don’t reward you with kisses anymore.”
“As you wish,” Eric bowed, and at his Maker’s signal, returned to his prior position.
“Just because I don’t visit you often, don’t think I’m any less proud of you,” Appius smiled. “You are one of my greatest creations. I enjoy receiving news of you.”
“I am pleased to have made you proud,” Eric replied. He couldn’t help the shiver of pleasure he felt. Praise from Appius was hard-won. It had taken him over a hundred years to earn the right to use his Master’s first name and, even now, he used it carefully. “You are a great vampire,” Eric added.
“Yes, yes…” Appius sniffed. “You look uncomfortable, Eric. Are you uncomfortable?”
Eric recognized this as a trick question. He couldn’t help the small smile that crossed his face. As if he would forget! “I am pleased to await your pleasure,” he replied, as his Maker had taught him.
Appius didn’t beam, though. Instead he looked bored. He nudged the youth who was still lying on the ground with his foot. “Get up! Are you damaged?” The dark-haired man levered himself up. Eric could see the tears on his face and it reminded him of other times.
“Does he please you?” Eric asked.
“Enough to keep?” and Appius ran his hand along the youth’s smooth face. “He’s young enough.” He glanced at Eric, “Younger than you.”
“I was not your first choice,” Eric bowed his head.
“But I was starving,” Appius grinned. “It was an opportune night for both of us.”
“I am forever grateful,” Eric bowed lower. In the back of his head, though, something stirred. He recalled that night again and the way he’d felt, anticipating his bride. It was a memory he’d not given himself permission to consider, not in a long time; not until his bonding with Sookie.
“What is it?” Appius asked, and Eric felt his sudden interest.
“Nothing,” and Eric pushed the thought from his head. He found his place of meditation again, imagining a placid pool on which his Maker’s words were the only ripple.
“Open your thoughts to me,” Appius demanded, so Eric did. He dove into the pool he could see so clearly, swimming endlessly through blue water, watching the sunlight spear through from above. He felt Appius in his head, sifting and savoring. It seemed a long time before his Maker withdrew. “Thank you, my Child,” and Appius’ eyes returned to the young man beside him.
“Not enough,” he said gently, and, with a wave of his hand, the youth’s neck snapped. As the body fell forward, Appius said, “Take care of that, will you?”
Eric rushed forward, knowing that if he moved quickly enough, the body wouldn’t have time to evacuate, making the job of cleaning the room in this safe house that much harder. ‘Call Xavier for help,’ his mind clicked, starting the mental list of what must be done. He trusted that his Maker found this man among the homeless and helpless. There would be no one looking for him, but, still, hiding bodies was harder than it had once been. There was too much technology now, DNA testing and fingerprinting. In some ways, Eric wished Appius would prey on the Fae instead. Their bodies had the advantage of falling to dust, even if paying retribution was expensive.
“I don’t get enough of what I deserve,” Appius sighed. “It’s become too hard to travel with what I truly wish.” Eric knew what his Maker meant. Appius preferred younger men, teenagers. He enjoyed the smooth texture of their skin and the lean lines of their body. It had been what saved Eric. The winter that year had been exceptionally hard, and Eric’s body was half-starved, as happened when stores ran low. It gave Appius the lean lines over muscle he desired. He’d made Eric shave most of his body before turning him, so that as a vampire, the Viking would have little body hair to hamper the slide of the older vampire’s hands. “People see an older man with a youth and they ask too many questions,” Appius snarled. “They should mind their own business, but there are too many humans to glamour. Too much trouble.”
Eric said nothing, tying the shower curtain tightly above and below. ‘Lucky.’ The word sprang into his head and he immediately dismissed it. It was not his place to judge his Master, not ever.
“With your permission,” Eric smiled, and at his Maker’s grace, he stood, lifting the corpse in its plastic sheathing.
Stopping on the back landing, Eric texted Xavier. Appius Livius Ocella had registered his presence with Xavier upon his arrival. Eric’s counterpart had taken the unusual step of traveling to Edinburgh to receive Appius’ assurances to abide by the rules in person. None of them were fooled. Appius would do as he wished, and Xavier would remain close until his Maker decided to return to Russia. ‘Xavier is making sure things don’t get out of hand.’ The rebellious thought sprang into Eric’s head and he pinched it off. That kind of thinking never led anywhere good, not when it came to Appius.
Now it looked as if Xavier’s fears were confirmed. Eric shifted from one foot to the other, counting the minutes it took for the short knock down below. The Viking knew the longer Appius sat alone, the angrier he would become. He was here to see his progeny, so it was Eric’s place to remain by his side until it was time to leave. If Appius created conditions that forced their separation during this time, it was a test. Eric must be clever and prove his Maker’s faith in him. He must engineer things so that Appius remained happy.
Finally, the knock came, and Eric raced down the stairs, setting down the bundle to open the door.
“How many is this so far?” Xavier hissed.
Eric didn’t look at him. Instead, he stepped past to hand the bundle to the cleaning crew standing behind Xavier. These vampires would process the body, making sure its former owner remained among the missing. Eric couldn’t meet their eyes. He knew he’d see their judgment.
“How many?” Xavier asked the supervisor of the cleaning crew.
“Twice this week,” the vampire answered. Xavier waved him away and waited for the truck to leave. Eric waited, too. He could feel Appius’ growing frustration, but not talking with Xavier might lead to larger problems.
“This can’t go on,” Xavier hissed. “How long is he going to be here?”
“It is not my place to dictate my Maker’s plans,” Eric hissed back.
“I appreciate the difficulty…” Xavier started to say, but Eric interrupted.
“My Maker is a great vampire!” It sprang from Eric’s lips. No one was allowed to insult his Master. It was not to be borne!
“I understand,” Xavier conceded, “but I must let Andre know. It would be better if the old one didn’t free range this way.” When Eric opened his mouth to protest, Xavier added, “If this were my Maker and we were in your territory, you’d be telling me the same thing.” Eric’s colleague held up his hand, “I know, Eric, and I don’t want you to answer. We all know your Maker’s reputation.”
“Don’t pity me!” Eric hissed. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen this look from other vampires, but it was unacceptable. If you accepted that others felt sorry for you, it meant accepting his Maker was a monster, and that way led to memories Eric never wished to revisit. Appius punished weakness. He punished pity and self-loathing. Appius rewarded strength and if Eric could show that he was strong, Appius would be satisfied and leave. That was how it always happened.
“Robert sent him, didn’t he?” Xavier asked.
“Don’t think I don’t know about your channel to Robert,” and Eric pulled himself taller. “Spying against your Queen?”
“It wasn’t like that,” Xavier protested. “Robert and I worked together, fought together, once upon a time. He’s changed.”
“Vampires don’t change,” Eric snorted.
“Vampires change all the time,” Xavier shot back. “Look at you!”
“I haven’t changed!” Eric flared.
“Then what do you call what you’re doing with Brigant’s whelp?” Xavier hissed. “You think I’m blind? It’s Suzanne all over again…” and when Eric’s eyes widened, Xavier leaned in, “Only more this time, isn’t it?”
Eric couldn’t help it. His eyes flicked back to the house, brow furrowed with worry. He could pinpoint his Maker’s position in the house, too far to overhear them. “Don’t worry,” and Xavier leaned closer. “I won’t tell, but, Eric, if Appius stays, he will find out about her, if he doesn’t know already.” Xavier looked at the road the cleaning crew had taken. “When Appius orders you to end her, what then?”
“There is no reason for my Maker to believe that anyone has taken precedence over him,” Eric answered. “He wishes my loyalty to him to be beyond question. It is. He is my Maker.”
“How are you going to keep him here?” Xavier asked. “What are you going to do when he demands you return with him to Ireland?”
“He has no interest in visiting Ireland,” Eric answered. His chest felt tight and although he had no need to breathe, he found it hard to speak. “He and Sophie-Anne are not friendly.”
“So, you think this is a social call and he’ll return to Moscow…” and Xavier let the question hover in the air between them.
“Soon,” Eric answered. “I will do better to keep my Maker entertained. Perhaps you might arrange a suitable blood supply.”
“Supervised,” Xavier nodded. “It won’t be easy, but it’s possible. No one is going to offer up escorts if he,” and Xavier glanced at the house, “is going to kill them.”
“Young,” and Eric’s mouth felt dry. “Male…”
“We all know Appius’ appetites,” Xavier shrugged. “I mean it. No more deaths!”
“I will inform my Maker,” and Eric bowed low.
When Eric walked back into the room where his Maker waited, he dropped to his knees. He kept his chin high, his hands on his thighs. “The Sheriff has been here.”
“I heard his voice,” Appius sniffed. “Complaining, I expect.”
“He did not understand your needs,” Eric explained. “He will arrange a blood supply for you. He will have someone bring you suitable donors…”
“Tame cattle,” Appius sneered.
“Xavier reminds me of the rules of this kingdom,” Eric replied.
Appius’ teeth clenched, and his black eyes snapped. “There was a time we ruled the night,” he snarled. “We were the supreme predators, the shade in the night that humans whispered about around their fires. We had power, wealth…”
“Until the humans learned how to destroy us,” Eric interrupted. Eric kept his eyes downcast. Even though it was a risk, it was better to cut off these monologues before they got started. Once Appius worked himself up to righteous indignation, he would feel compelled to kill, just to prove he could.
Appius hissed, lashing Eric with his annoyance, but then, he stopped. Eric looked up, surprised. His Maker had collapsed back on the chair. “I’m feeling my years, Viking.” Appius picked at the arm of his chair, his long, pointed nail ripping into the fabric. “There are moments I feel the same freedom, but more often…” and his eyes flicked to Eric, “I wonder if I’ve outlived my time.”
“Never!” Eric protested. “You are a giant among us, King of our kind. Are there any older than you? You define us, you are a colossus…”
“Yes, yes,” and Appius smiled briefly. “You flatter me.”
“I do not mean to appear insincere,” Eric assured him, and he pushed his feelings, inviting Appius to explore them, but the older vampire didn’t.
“There are still places in the world where money buys me some semblance of how things should be, but I can’t escape knowing it’s an illusion.” Appius sighed. It was so out of character, Eric was stunned into silence. “I confess,” the old Roman said quietly, “I have thought of meeting the sun.”
“No!” It was heartfelt and yet, it wasn’t. Eric couldn’t imagine a world where this vampire, who had made him, didn’t exist. What lay between them was stronger than blood, stronger than love. Appius Livius Ocella had forged Eric Northman. He had taken a man and broken him over and over, until there was nothing left. Eric remembered his despair, and then, one night, Appius had rewarded him. It was a little thing, but Eric found he craved any kind word from this vampire. Over time, he learned how to please his Maker. He remembered how devastated he’d been when Appius released him. There had been no warning. His Maker told him it was time and Eric was alone, having to trust in the training he’d received, to make his way in the world. There were those who assured him his success had nothing to do with Appius, but Eric knew they were wrong. This vampire was why he survived, and no one could convince him otherwise.
And yet… There was a small voice that whispered, ‘What about Sookie?’ That voice reminded him that he was faced with two worlds: the world of Appius and the world where he loved. ‘Those worlds can’t meet!” the voice sang, and Eric knew it was true.
Eric brought himself back under control and opened his mouth to protest, and that’s when he noticed. Appius was staring at him. It had been a test! “I bow to your superiority,” Eric smiled, and he did bow low, touching his forehead to the floor.
“Yes, yes, enough of this playing,” Appius sniffed, his good temper restored. “Tell me of your time here. Do you enjoy playing Sheriff to the child Queen?”
“Sophie-Ann is pleased with me,” Eric sat back on his heels. He allowed himself a smile. “I assume you knew of Robert’s plan to take over her kingdom?”
“Robert has done well for himself,” Appius replied. “He finds ways to make peace with this new world, hiding and striking from the corners.”
“He hasn’t your strength, Master,” Eric purred, and when Appius settled back, Eric continued. “I spotted the inconsistencies with his Sheriffs right away. It did take me two weeks to develop my suspicions, but every trick you taught me was of value. I followed, I observed. When Sophie-Ann and Andre were skeptical, Pam and I…”
“How is your progeny?” Appius interrupted. It was rare Appius asked and when he did, Eric rarely felt easy about it.
“Pam has earned her place among us,” Eric replied. It was hard to keep his pride from showing. He was proud of his daughter, but he knew his Maker didn’t approve.
It had been a near disaster when Appius returned following Pam’s turning. Appius had no use for women and he sneered that Eric had gone back to his prior preferences. ‘It shows a lack of progress,’ Appius had hissed. The old Roman toyed with Eric for days, flattering Pam to her face, and then telling Eric that he felt he’d need to order Eric to end her. ‘She is unworthy of you,’ Appius taunted him. ‘She will never make a true vampire.’ To this night Eric wasn’t sure why Appius relented, and it still left him cold any time Appius took notice of her.
“She was a mistake,” Appius sniffed. “Look at you! Still only a Sheriff to an unworthy Queen, but what else could be hoped? Who would take you as consort, knowing it means that baggage comes with the bargain?”
“Pam has earned her place!” Eric repeated.
“So,” and Appius’ eyes narrowed, “does that mean you have freed her?”
“I…” and Eric’s words caught before he steadied himself. “I have not told her, but it is my intention.”
“Then do it,” and Appius’ lip curled. “You have my permission to use your phone. Go ahead, cut her loose!”
Eric knew his Master was enjoying the idea of hurting Pam, but Eric reminded him, “It wouldn’t be recognized. There is paperwork required now, but I take your meaning. I will make arrangements to make it official. You are wise in all matters, my Master. It is past time.”
Appius sniffed and his eyes narrowed again. “So, Andre is still Sophie-Ann’s Second?” Eric knew what his Master was asking.
“Sophie-Ann has suggested I join her as consort,” Eric offered, “but with Andre in place, I did not consider that position advantageous.”
“She is too attached to Andre,” Appius nodded. “You would have to kill him.”
“It would destroy any chance to rule through her,” Eric advised, “but there is money to be made and influence to wield. My position is unique. I have leave to travel and take on any opportunities I wish.”
“And what do you receive in exchange for your body?” Appius asked.
Eric’s eyes widened. It was unrealistic to believe his Maker didn’t know of his bonding, but he had hoped. “As I have told you, I have unfettered freedom. I have Sheriffs who report to me supported by the kingdom. My tithes are nothing. I am welcome in Court and my words carry weight. Ireland is uniquely positioned…”
“It crawls with Fae,” Appius sneered. “Dancing, prancing…”
“Wealthy, powerful,” Eric countered.
“Don’t contradict me!” and Appius slapped the arm of his chair. “You think well of yourself! Too well!” The older vampire’s mouth was working. Eric recognized that look and it took everything not to show fear. After a long moment, the older vampire settled back again, “No one asked my permission.”
“Sophie-Ann did not ask my permission either,” Eric replied, throwing the Queen under the bus in an effort to distract his Maker from where this conversation would lead.
“You should have ended her!” Appius snarled. “She forced you? My Child?”
“It seemed a small thing,” Eric shrugged. “Temporary.”
“I hear this bride of yours is Seelie,” and Appius’ head tilted. “Blonde with tits like a cow.” His lip curled, but Eric didn’t miss the sharp way the black eyes watched him. When Eric didn’t respond, Appius pressed, “Well? What of it?”
“She is under Niall Brigant’s protection,” Eric informed Appius. “She is his issue through a human lover.”
“Temporary?” Appius asked, following up on Eric’s remark.
“She’s mostly human,” Eric lied. “Fragile.”
“But under Brigant’s protection,” Appius confirmed. “I understand why you haven’t ended her yet. The old fox has sharp teeth. Tweaking him requires great care.” Appius tented his fingers, appearing lost in thought.
Eric knew the stories. Appius and Niall loathed each other. On those rare occasions they did run across each other’s paths, there was generally some incident. Eric also knew his Maker was almost always the loser in these encounters. Although he knew he wasn’t meant to feel it, the Viking couldn’t miss the undertone of fear that laced Appius’ anger. When the Roman flicked his eyes in Eric’s direction, the younger vampire wisely dropped his eyes, refusing to show any sign of apprehension. Like a storm passing, the tension in the room dropped and Appius asked, “So, what have you done to profit from this arrangement?”
“I operate pubs within Brigant’s territories, for which he asks no consideration.” Eric listed other assets: houses and relationships. “Most recently, the Seelie King has opened his business ventures for vampire employees,” Eric concluded.
“But these only benefit Sophie-Ann,” Appius pointed out. “Your choice of occupation troubles me. I released you because I believed you would prosper and what do you have to show for yourself? A lower level position sworn to serve a weak Queen! You are tied up with the worst sorts of people and vampires who should be your peers feel compelled to track me down, worried about your future.”
“If this is about Robert…” Eric felt a rush of anger. This wasn’t new. How many times had vampires complained about Eric in past, seeking to harm him? In Appius they always found a willing audience. “Why do you believe everyone but me?” The words slipped out and Eric immediately realized his mistake. “I don’t mean to challenge you, Master!” he quickly apologized, bowing his head. “It is your right to make these decisions. You only seek to improve me…”
“As you should know without having to retract hasty words,” Appius said coldly. “I begin to believe that Robert was right. You are forgetting your destiny. You are allowing shiny objects and a warm cunt to distract you.”
“I believe I am doing a poor job in describing the network I have established,” Eric countered. It was a gamble, but he added, “Perhaps, if you returned with me to Ireland as my guest, you would see…”
“I loathe Ireland,” Appius growled, but he looked closely at his progeny. “It does mean something to me that you would be willing to show me, child. Perhaps Robert was hasty.”
“Perhaps Robert was looking to overthrow my Queen,” Eric added. “Perhaps this is simply mischief intent on weakening her position so that he might return to complete what he started.”
Appius grinned. On another person it might have been taken for humor, but Eric knew better. “Perhaps he wanted to free you from your folly.” There was a thought forming and it didn’t make Eric comfortable, but Appius interrupted it by saying, “Still, things don’t seem to be as Robert said. I will return to Moscow. You could come with me…” but before Eric could answer, Appius concluded, “No. You are doing well here, in spite of your unfortunate circumstances.”
Appius rose then, walking until he stood before Eric. He laid his hand on the Viking’s blond head, “Consider your situation, my child. Consider whether this is the future I trained you to assume. I’ve warned you before. These other creatures are beguiling, but they should not turn you from your true purpose. Now, you may show your Maker your gratitude.”
“Yes, Master,” Eric nodded, and reaching for Appius’ belt, laid his head against his Maker’s thigh.
“Jesus, you’re going to kill me!” Sookie gasped. She was laughing, her blonde hair tumbling around her face. Her skin wore a faint sheen of sweat and she smelled wonderful, that unique combination of sun and warmed wheat.
“Again!” Eric laughed, pulling her legs toward him.
“Slow down, Buster!” Sookie giggled, and slapped at his hands. “Give my poor pussy a minute to catch her breath!”
“But, I’m hungry for you!” he play-growled, running tongue and teeth along her belly. Her scent here was strong. It offset everything he didn’t wish to remember.
“Well, then you can take care of yourself,” Sookie smirked. “I’ll be right here, and you can watch yourself run out of me, Mr. Happy.”
“And what will you do?” Eric asked, his eyebrow arched.
“I’m going to enjoy the show,” Sookie assured him, “and I suspect at some point, I’ll be joining in.”
Eric leaned against the poster of the bedstead, his legs spreading as he slowly stroked. His eyes were hooded, watching his mate. “Happy to have you back, too,” Sookie said, then bit her lip, fondling her breast and pinching her nipple, knowing he liked watching her. When his hand started to move a little more quickly, she asked, “So, how was Scotland?”
Eric’s stroke slowed. “Long,” he told her. “Satisfactory.”
“Did you see Xavier?” she asked. He knew she wanted him to tell her what had kept him there, but he wasn’t ready to talk of Appius, not yet.
“I saw many people,” he countered. “And I will tell you all about it, Lover, but first, I wish to have your taste on my tongue.”
“Don’t vampires ever get tired?” Sookie laughed.
“We regenerate,” Eric teased, “and when we are with Seelie women, our stalks grow strong.”
“Poetic,” Sookie declared, but obliged him by getting on all fours and presenting herself again. His tongue was within her almost at once and she couldn’t help her sigh followed by her moan. They had been at it for hours, ever since he rose. She’d found him beside her this morning. There’d been no warning. For night after night he’d ignored her texts. No messages, no calls. Even Pam hadn’t heard from him, or so she said.
When fingers joined tongue, Sookie winced, but then any residual pain disappeared. Some part of her brain told her he’d probably laved her with his blood, but the most part of her was enjoying the ride. Even when they’d first married, he hadn’t been like this, so insatiable. ‘What happened?’ her inner voice asked. ‘He’s making up for something,’ then Sookie dismissed it. ‘I trust him!’ she reminded herself, sighing as he quickened his movements, drawing another orgasm from her, sinking teeth at the optimal moment.
The sky was lightening by the time they cuddled together. “Okay, Marathon Man, I think you’d better tell me what happened,” Sookie insisted.
Eric didn’t play coy. “My Maker was in Scotland,” he told her.
“Your Maker?” Sookie remembered Felicia and Bobby Burnham. “Is he coming here to visit?”
“No,” Eric chuckled. “He’s returning to Russia. I think he’s living in Moscow now.” When Sookie continued to stare, he laughed, “It’s just as well, Lover. Appius Livius Ocella feels women have their place, but he prefers the company of men. With your temper, you would soon say the wrong thing, and then there would be no end to the kind of trouble only you could cause!” Eric said it lightly, but Sookie somehow knew what Eric described was no laughing matter.
“Why didn’t you return my texts?” Sookie asked.
“Appius requires my attention,” Eric shrugged. When Sookie continued to stare, he added, “I turn off my phone when I have the opportunity to see him. Appius is old. He doesn’t approve of new technology.” That wasn’t entirely true, on many counts. Eric did turn off his phone, but he also handed it to his Maker along with his password. Eric was fairly certain Appius used any time they were apart to review Eric’s messages, but, as his Maker, that was Appius’ privilege. “Besides, I thought you were tiring of my attention,” and Eric cupped Sookie’s sex.
Shoving his hand away, Sookie just shook her head. “Be that way!” she laughed. “Just tell me you’re okay and everything’s all right.”
Eric’s eyes softened, “That would be enough for you, Älskade? Truly?”
“I trust you,” Sookie confirmed, and followed her words with a kiss.
The feeling that overcame him was surprising in its strength. He would gladly give this woman anything, including the truth if she asked it. As it was, he returned her kiss and pulling her within his arms, declared, “You are more precious to me than I can explain. You are the thing I didn’t know I was missing.”
“I love you, too,” Sookie assured him, and when his grip loosened, she smiled, stroking his lips with her fingers.
“Why were you texting me?” he finally asked, and Sookie told him of Carrack. “Did Chow find out who was glamouring the employees?” Eric asked.
“No,” Sookie shook her head. “Whoever did it was smart, too. The staff only stole during daylight hours. This could have gone on for a long time.”
“It makes no sense,” Eric’s eyebrows drew together. “Of course, it would be caught. Vampires keep a close eye on their finances. What I don’t understand is why the money was given away.” Each of the staff people who stole was followed and each disposed of the money, but seemed to have no conscious thought of what they were doing. It was like watching sleepwalkers. The waitress, Finola, deposited her stolen cash with homeless people. Another waitress deposited hers in a mailbox that was on her walk to the bus. The bartender threw his in a trashcan. “It was as though someone knew a daytime person would be needed…” and Eric pulled Sookie closer.
“Do you think this was about me?” Sookie asked, and then dismissed it in the next breath. “That’s a crazy thought! I don’t even live in that town. There was no way anyone could think I’d go to Carrack. I’ll grant you, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s more likely someone just wanted to cause you problems. Look at all the time it’s already taken and if I hadn’t bullied Chow, he would have hurt someone, and you could be facing a whole other set of problems.”
“I do have my detractors,” Eric nodded. He wasn’t smiling and Sookie noticed his eyes seemed far away.
“Are you in trouble?” she asked.
“No,” he quickly answered. “No, all is well. What’s important is we discovered the issue and countermeasures have been taken. Pam has paid for a charm and now, if we have any further glamour problems, we will see the glow around that person.”
“Octavia says you’re becoming her best customer,” Sookie teased.
“She is willing to provide the service,” Eric nodded. “She is fond of you.”
“Well, I’m fond of her, too.” Sookie snuggled closer. “Who’d have thought it? Witches! What a world!”
“What is more troubling is this talk of an ill wish,” and Eric drew his Mate closer. “Usually these things require contact of some kind, a charm among your belongings, or something you take… Food perhaps?”
“I haven’t found anything,” Sookie replied. “I’ve been pretty busy, but I’ve also been living out of suitcases again. If there was something new, I think I’d notice it.”
“Niall said it was gone?” Eric asked. When Sookie nodded, Eric still seemed troubled. “Sometimes these things return,” he told her. Sookie had heard that from Octavia as well, but Eric continued, “Still, having it banished by a Seelie King should hold.” He stroked her bare arm, “I certainly don’t feel anything clinging to you.”
“You sure don’t!” Sookie sassed, meaning something different. She could feel the pull of another dawn on him and how he was fighting it. “It’s okay,” she soothed. “We can talk some more tonight. I’ll be right here.”
“So will I,” he answered, but Sookie fancied the words were as much for him as they were for her. His eyes met hers as he turned on his side and, in an instant, Eric Northman was gone.
“What do you know about Eric’s Maker?” Sookie asked Pam.
Pam’s mouth fell open and her eyes darted around before she asked, “What do you want to know?” in return.
“Did you know he was the reason Eric went to Scotland?” Sookie asked.
“I found out,” Pam shrugged. “I just assumed Eric told you.”
“No, you didn’t,” Sookie snapped. “You didn’t assume any such thing or you would have said it.”
“Look,” and Pam took a deep breath, even though she didn’t need it. “Eric’s Maker is bad news. I don’t even like to say his name in case he’s like Beetlejuice and it summons him. He’s the reason people are afraid of vampires.” When Sookie didn’t look convinced, Pam looked around again, but this time Sookie was pretty sure it was to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard, not because her friend was worried.
“He’s old,” Pam started. “Really old, like one of the oldest vampires walking. There’s one who’s older that I know of, but other than her, he might be it. Vampires call him the Old Roman, or The Centurion. Think B.C.”
“Like, before Christ? Yeah, Eric told me that once,” Sookie nodded.
“He hates me,” Pam continued.
“Why?” Sookie asked. “I’d think he’d be pretty pleased.”
“He hates women,” Pam told her.
“So, it’s a good thing you’re Eric’s and not his,” Sookie smiled, trying to be supportive.
“He almost ordered Eric to end me,” Pam pressed.
“What are you saying?” and now Sookie started to worry. “But he didn’t, so…”
“Only because he relented at the last minute,” Pam continued.
There was something there, behind Pam’s eyes. “How did that happen?” Sookie asked.
“Eric had to persuade him,” Pam answered, “and that’s all I’m going to say. Appius Livius Ocella is bad news. I couldn’t believe he traveled to Scotland. Most of the time, it’s like he forgets Eric exists, and then something happens and he shows up like the bad penny he is.” Pam made an angry noise and hissed, “I think Robert had something to do with this!” Pam ripped a napkin into small pieces, then made a sound Sookie was pretty sure meant Pam was laughing at herself.
“Robert headed back to New York with his tail between his legs. Most vampires would accept they had lost and move on, but Robert’s always been petty,” Pam explained. “He knows Appius and he knows the kind of havoc that old bastard creates. It would be just like him to track the Roman down and sic him on Eric.”
“But if he’s Eric’s Maker, he’d stand up for Eric, right?” Sookie asked.
“Appius loves pain,” Pam answered. “He’s a real sick fuck. I wouldn’t have survived being his Child. Eric’s the only one who has…survived, I mean.”
“There have been others?” Sookie felt the room had become too warm.
“Enough,” Pam nodded. “I don’t know how many he made before I came along, but Eric feels it when Appius turns someone, and he definitely feels it when they’re ended.”
“He kills his own children?” Sookie gasped.
“Or arranges it,” Pam nodded. “There are rules, of course, and, now, if you intend to turn someone, you have to file paperwork and get permission from the ruler in your area. No one likes the idea of unsupervised progeny running around.”
“Why?” Sookie asked. With the number of times becoming a vampire had come up, she found she had more than a passing interest in the subject.
“For one thing, there’s impulse control,” Pam said, ticking her fingers. “There’s the sensory overload, intense hunger, disorientation…” and then Pam honed in on Sookie. “It’s not that bad! Really! Your Maker siphons off most of the effects. Eric pretty much wrapped me in cotton for the first few months. By the time he let everything come through, I was more than ready to handle it.”
“Sounds like a pretty close relationship,” Sookie said, biting her lips.
“I told you before how it was,” Pam pointed out. “Over a hundred years ago, but, yeah, that’s how it is with most Makers and progeny. You’re like two sides of the same coin. It’s intense.”
Sookie nodded. She understood what wasn’t spoken, that the relationship also included a sexual aspect. Pushing that inconvenient idea to the back of her head, Sookie asked, “So, if it’s so intense, how can Appius bring himself to kill his own progeny? Wouldn’t that be like cutting off some part of himself?”
“Appius is different,” Pam said flatly. “Eric always makes excuses, says it’s bad luck, but Appius is too sneaky to be so careless when it comes to his progeny.” Pam stared at Sookie, “He feeds on fear. If he thinks you’re afraid, he’ll keep the pressure up to see just how terrified he can make you.”
“That’s terrible!” Sookie sighed. “At least, he doesn’t do that to Eric.” Pam’s eyebrow lifted, and Sookie gasped, “He doesn’t, does he?”
“It would be best if you never met the old bastard,” Pam replied, “although that’s a stupid wish. If you remain with Eric, it’s inevitable.”
Sookie thought of the times Eric had talked about Appius. “Have you noticed that whenever his Maker comes up, Eric kind of sleep talks this little phrase?”
“’Appius is a great vampire,’ or something like that?” Pam asked. “Yeah, we all see it.”
“What is that about?” Sookie asked. “It feels like brainwashing…”
“Or survival,” Pam finished. “You have to understand; a Maker has absolute power over his progeny. If Appius ordered Eric to end me, he would. Eric would feel terrible about it, but he wouldn’t be able to stop himself.”
“And Eric would do that kind of thing to you?” Sookie asked.
“He could, but he wouldn’t,” Pam answered. “I’m told that once a Maker releases you, the power to command fades.”
“But you don’t know.” Sookie finished. “So, that means Eric hasn’t released you?”
“Not yet,” Pam nodded, then added, “Don’t get any ideas! Being released isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. With the tie between us, Eric’s responsible for me, kind of a big safety net. No one questions what I do, or holds me accountable. It all goes back to my Maker.”
Sookie thought about that, and then thought she’d better confirm, “But Eric’s Maker did release him.”
“Yes,” Pam nodded. “But…no. I don’t know. There’s something between them that’s not how I’ve seen others behave. I mean, Eric is recognized as freed, but it’s like the power Appius holds over him is still absolute. It’s odd.”
Eric walked into the Kiss and his face broke into a smile. His happiness was like a living, breathing thing, and Sookie found herself on her feet, walking into his arms, and meeting his lips. “What were you talking about?” he asked when she finally pulled away, mussed and bemused.
“My Grandsire,” Pam remarked.
It was as if a cool breeze blew through and Sookie shivered in Eric’s arms. “Do you have questions?” he asked his mate.
“Pam says your Maker hates women.” Sookie glanced at her friend, worried she might be breaking trust, but Pam nodded her agreement.
“My Maker prefers men,” Eric confirmed.
“Young men,” Pam added.
Eric shot her a sharp look, but then confirmed Pam’s words, adding, “It comes from his time. It was more appropriate for Roman soldiers to have a youth as a lover. Wives were arranged, and they remained behind walls. Your social life was spent with male company.”
Sookie was getting a picture and it wasn’t pretty. “I guess it’s a good thing he decided to return to Russia, or wherever,” she said.
“I would be honored if my Maker were to come here!” Eric protested. “My Maker…”
“Is a great vampire,” Sookie finished, “yeah, I know.”
Seeming to make a decision, Eric took Sookie’s hand and led her back to the office. He sat down and started to pull her onto his lap, but then thought better of it and sat her on the desk in front of him. “One thing my Maker’s coming has brought to mind,” and Eric stroked Sookie’s hands. “We have talked of your turning, but we haven’t come to a decision.”
“I thought we had,” Sookie answered. “I mean, I thought you understood how much I’d miss sunshine and birds.” Sookie ran her fingers over Eric’s upturned lips, “If I grow old, are you going to have to set me aside, like Chow and Octavia?”
“It would be expected,” Eric nodded, “but I’ve promised Niall I would not. I will remain beside you until you are no more.” He looked sad and Sookie could feel a strange emptiness she was sure came from him.
“We have a long time until that happens,” Sookie assured him.
“Twenty years,” Eric smiled softly, “Thirty. A moment for someone like me.”
“I know you don’t want to hear this, Eric, but I don’t think I ever want to become a vampire,” Sookie sighed. “It’s more than just missing daylight. It’s the idea that someone could have the kind of power over me that you have over Pam…or your Maker has over you.” Eric didn’t disagree, which only steadied Sookie’s resolve. “I accept my mortality, Eric. I accept that each moment with you is just that. There is no forever and for that reason alone, I cherish every second we have. Does that make sense?”
“When we could have forever?” he sniffed. “No. It doesn’t make sense to me, but I won’t force you. I love you too much to do that.”
Sookie could tell she’d disappointed him, but after everything Pam told her and her own reservations, Sookie knew this wasn’t anything she wished.
“I told you I would continue,” and Eric pressed her hand to his lips. “You told me you wish that for me, but I tell you now, I don’t believe it’s possible. There is something more than the bond between us, Sookie. The idea of not having you in this world is not possible.”
“Just wait until I go grey and saggy,” Sookie joked, but the look Eric gave her told her he didn’t find anything about this funny. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “That was thoughtless.”
“Being vampire is a wonderful life,” Eric told her. “You are so close to Fae now, why not choose to complete that journey?”
He was pleading. It was in his voice and in the feelings he was sending her. Sookie could feel his sincere desire. “I’ll think about it,” she told him, knowing that even as he wrapped her in his arms, she was lying.