Chapter 23 – Charging the Mark

Author’s Note: It has been an unsettled time in my house, and it feels like the turning of things has come early. My thanks to both Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy. Your kindness and support means a great deal to me. Thank you for giving of your talent so freely.

To my readers and especially those who leave comments , those identified and guests alike, I hope this meets with your approval.

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.

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Nautical Note: When you are racing sailboats, there is an art to lining up at the start of the race. It’s not like racehorses, where there is a gate, or runners where there is a hard and distinct line. Instead you are milling about with other sailboats, sailing up to the line and then tacking to sail back, all the while avoiding your competitors and trying not to cross the imaginary line that stretches between some fixed object, like a buoy, and the marker on a starter boat. If you cross the line too soon, before the horn blows, you have to turn around, sail back and cross again. You watch the clock and judge the distance, and if your skills are good and luck is with you, you are able at the signal, to charge the mark and fly ahead of your fellows into clean air.

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Las Vegas

“How is he doing?” Felipe de Castro asked Angie, his child and now his second.

“The same,” she said flatly. The tall, thin woman was stretched out on a padded chaise, cucumbers cooling her closed eyes, her manicured hand hanging over the end of the chair above her head. Angie knew that this position made her breasts lie almost flat against her chest and showed off the slight concavity between belly and hip. Felipe might favor females in his bed but there was something about androgyny that attracted him.

“Did you get a timeframe?” the King asked, a note of irritation creeping into his questioning.

Shit, tell me he isn’t missing that dickhead,’ Angie thought. “No, and I thought it best not to get too specific. What we don’t know can’t be held against us later.” The female vampire shifted slowly, giving every appearance of being both relaxed and bored. Time stretched but Angie could tell her Maker was not relaxing. This time in his night garden was usually restorative, but since he had started things in motion he had become increasingly tense. Rather than allow him to work himself into yet another round of questions and answers, Angie chose to deflect him. “Oh, and I wish you would stop sending those fools to stir shit in Louisiana. It’s a wasted effort at the moment and a needless drain of resource and attention. Northman isn’t going anywhere. From what I hear, he’s likely to self-destruct, so why expose yourself? Focus on where there is something to gain,” She could almost hear her Maker’s teeth grinding. ‘He knows I’m right,’ she thought, carefully remaining still. ‘He knows he needs to stop indulging his emotions.’

Felipe didn’t speak for some time. Then he said, “Of course, you are right, Angie. As you are about so many things.” Felipe paused again. Angie supposed this was to give her the sense that he was putting proper weight to her request. She knew that he had been toying with the idea of abandoning the harassment of the Louisiana King, but he didn’t know she had overheard his conversation. He sighed and she found it hard to maintain a neutral face. “I will call today. It is as you say. There is no reason to continue that campaign at present.” Angie waited. He would want something for what he had presented as a concession. “Did you speak with him personally?”

And there it was. Angie knew the King was not referring to the Viking. “Of course not. Everything went through intermediaries. You hear the gossip. He’s doing very well, but with each success the danger around him escalates. Everyone knows his work because no one can tell it’s him. There are those who try to copycat, but he is a master.”

“Always so talented,” Felipe agreed.

“Which is why you knew he was the only one for this job,” Angie purred. Had they been talking about anyone else, she was sure De Castro would have caught the thin thread of sarcasm in her tone, but he was too busy indulging in memories and he trusted her.

“It is hard not to feel that I had something to do with it, his success,” Felipe agreed and then with that he finally seemed to relax, satisfied.

Angie shifted a little to bring her hips more fully flat. ‘Soon he will be just one more treasured memory,’ she thought with some satisfaction. There was a saying about hell and scorned women, but just because it was an old adage didn’t make it any less true. All the pieces were in place. As soon as the job was done, the little trails of evidence would begin to surface. Angie was sure she had chosen her agent wisely. After all, there was another little saying that was just as true. Still waters did run deep.

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New Orleans

Like every night for over a thousand years, sentience returned like a great wave to Eric Northman. Tonight did not start differently, and then it did.

For every vampire there is a helplessness that is part of their day death. It is the certainty that at this time even the strongest vampire is vulnerable. Whether in day death or in twilight, there is little they can do to save themselves if danger finds them. It is why from the time of their first making a vampire is schooled in the need to keep a resting place secret. If secrecy is not adequate, security must make up the difference. For all his long years, when Eric had control of his unlife, when he wasn’t under a command by his Maker, he had taken care that his resting place be secure.

Tonight, as he lay in twilight, there was a sense that things were not right. He awoke with a strange, unsettled feeling. His eyes snapped open and he found himself almost nose to nose with his Intended.

“Jesus, Eric! You scared the daylights out of me!” she yelled, rocking back quickly. Eric sat up just as quickly, the blanket falling from his bare chest to puddle around his hips.

The Viking raked his eyes over her, taking in both how she was dressed and the state of the room. Sookie sat on the bed, legs crossed. She was wearing one of his t-shirts and some soft shorts. She had wound her hair around itself in a loose, long coil that hung forward over her shoulder. Eric could detect signs of makeup that had been rubbed off. Her lips were just a little too rosey and there were mascara smudges under her eyes. The room was uncharacteristically messy. There were clothes on the floor and on the chair. It looked as if his telepath had not been able to decide what to wear and in the process, had sampled half the closet. He caught sight of something red toward the end of the bed and he lifted it up. He dangled the short garment by spaghetti strings to reveal ribbons of cloth caught in some fine mesh designed to expose and then cover. His lips curved up as he imagined her breasts playing peek-a-boo with him and his fangs descended.

“What did you have in mind with this?” he asked, turning the see-through lingerie first one way and then another.

“I was thinking I’d seduce you so you’d stop being such a rat,” Sookie replied in a matter of fact tone. “I figured once I had your mind on your dick I could work you around to talking with me.” When Eric’s eyebrows rose, Sookie shrugged, “Yeah, pretty shallow, even for me.”

Eric’s expression turned speculative, “Who made you believe you were shallow?” he asked.

Sookie rolled her eyes, “Don’t even pretend you haven’t heard it, because I know you have.” She bit her lip and looked away, her bare feet crossing in front of her. “You know Phoebe thinks I’m beneath you? She thinks by you being with me you are betraying vampires.”

Eric shrugged, “She is a traditionalist.” Saying it reminded him that he needed to maintain some distance. He could see in her face the minute she realized he had withdrawn from her, and he felt a momentary pang in his chest. Schooling his expression, he turned to swing his feet to the ground and rise from the bed.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Sookie asked.

“I have meetings that need my attention,” he said with a casual smile.

“Don’t you even start that shit with me again!” Sookie growled.

“And what would you be talking about, Sookie? I am not sure that I understand you,” Eric said, his voice perfectly reasonable. Sookie looked up at his carefully neutral face and she growled louder.

“You’re treating me like I’m just some stranger, Eric! What the hell?” He tried to maintain his reserve. He could feel her confusion, and then her hurt mixed with anger battering at him. He checked the separation that was keeping his own bond in check.

“Well, Sookie, it would appear that we are just that, strangers to one another. We talk, but there is no true understanding between us. We now share a bond, but it doesn’t seem to work as it would between vampires. There is no true clarity, it only serves to complicate issues.” Sookie grabbed his hands in her own and he looked down at them, their hands together. “Perhaps this was just some dream,” he said in a way that was as much for himself as it was for her.

Sookie tightened her grip and pulled against him. “Well, it is for me too!” she said, her words tinged with a hint of desperation. Eric looked at her, and although he kept his bond closed, he let the hurt he was feeling show on his face. He knew it was a test, a show of vulnerability meant to demonstrate to himself that in the end, she could not really understand him.

He was proven wrong. She saw. His telepath looked in his eyes, and without words or the truth of the bond, she saw his pain. Her eyes widened, “Oh, Eric!” she sighed, and she pulled herself up onto her knees, using their entwined hands as leverage, and threw her arms around his neck. “I love you!” she whispered in his ear and she stroked his hair. “I am so sorry!” she told him. Her scent was enhanced by the scent of tears. She was crying, and he could feel the moisture against his neck and cheek.

“You know I don’t like your tears,” he whispered back. Her arms were around him, soothing and stroking. His heart which should not know pain, ached. He remembered a time she had held him like this, her stroking bringing him this unreasonable sense of safety and well-being. He thought about the room he had tried to recreate next door for her, for them. He brought his own arms around her in return, and buried his face in her neck. “Min älskade,” he murmured.

“Jag älskar dig,” she said in return, placing wet kisses on his neck and cheek.

When she pulled back from him, he could see the traces of those tears, but her eyes were dry. “Do you remember that time when you lost your memory? I think that’s the last time I felt this way with you,” she told him, and she softly stroked his cheek.

Eric found his mouth twitching with a smile. It was these moments, when they found themselves thinking the same thing at the same time that gave him hope. “I remember certain aspects of that time more clearly than others,” he teased, and he ran his hand up her thigh.

“You are a pig!” she laughed, slapping at him. Sookie sniffed once, and then ran her hand quickly over her cheeks, wiping away the last remnants of her tears. The look she gave him from under her eyelashes was tentative. He could see her make up her mind and she raised her face to stare at him, her eyes open and unclouded. “Tell me about the donors, Eric.”

Eric shook his head. He could feel his anger returning. It didn’t matter how he tried to heal this thing between them, she was not going to let it go. He could feel his own lips thin, and he pulled away to stand up. She came scrambling across the bed, grabbing at his arm, and then as her hands slipped, throwing herself forward and wrapping her arms around his middle, her face pressing against his back. “Sookie, let go,” he told her. She just tightened her grip, turned her head against him, and bit the top of his butt!

Just like that, Eric felt the anger drain from him. How could he stay mad at this crazy woman? When he hesitated, Sookie said, “I’m not angry, Eric, really I’m not. Frankly, I don’t know what I think at this point. What I do know is I didn’t understand what you were telling me. I think if I understood more about vampires and the way they see things, I wouldn’t have been surprised.”

Eric turned around, allowing her to keep her arms around him. She stared up at him, even when his rousing cock brushed against her. The sight of her mouth and guileless eyes so close to his awakening erection caused him to stiffen further. He found his gaze turning from interested to needing. She understood him again. Her cheeks flushed just a bit, the faintest pink blossoming beneath her skin. Her mouth opened, and her tongue dipped to lick him, her eyes never leaving his.

Eric watched her, his finger stroking her cheek. “Do you mean that, Sookie?” He couldn’t keep the challenge from his voice. How many times had she agreed to something only to deny it later? Eric was sure he could count each instance, but knew if he did it would only serve to harden his heart. He knew Thalia was right. There had been many nights that he had been distracted by his Intended’s games to the point of endangering himself and all those around him. It had been provocative. Sookie’s whiplash sensibilities and hair trigger temper kept him guessing, off balance, in a way he had not experienced in a very long time.

Sookie Stackhouse had tricked him and piqued his interest. She had cajoled him and teased him. One by one, she had scaled the walls he had constructed around himself. Piece by piece she had picked apart the knots and snares that years under Appius’ attentive tutelage had built around his emotions.

Eric remembered the night in Jackson when he had laid himself bare before her. It had been a promise as much to himself as to her that he would place no barrier between them. His reward had been the bitterness of knowing she did not accept things he could not change. Looking at her now, her eyes so soft, her mouth asking him for his help, he wondered if this was just another lesson that his Maker would approve, a demonstration of the folly of caring too much. “I tried that once. I had the impression I bored you,” he told her.

To his surprise, Sookie didn’t deny it. “You’re right,” she told him. “I wasn’t ready to hear it. I was thinking about myself. Truth be told? I was a little miffed because you said the only reason you were telling me was because Pam had pushed you into doing it. I’m not proud of it, but I was jealous of Pam.”

Eric’s smile came swiftly, “Pam has been jealous of you too, Lover.”

Sookie smiled up at him and shrugged, “But it did mean something to me that you tried to tell me.” Sookie took his hand then and sat back, pulling at him to rejoin her on the bed. “Please, Eric. I don’t want to wake up another morning feeling like you and I are not on the same side of things. I love you. I’m yours, and that means that I choose to live in this world,” Sookie turned his hand and kissed it, then looked at him again. “But I need to know the rules. I can’t keep stumbling around because when I make a mistake here, it means someone dies.”

“Death is a part of who we are,” Eric replied, but he squeezed her hand and then followed her, positioning himself with his back against the headboard. Sookie lifted his arm and scooted forward so that her head was against his chest and her leg thrown over his. Eric leaned down and kissed the top of her head.

“We sure are a pair,” Sookie murmured, kissing his chest. Eric nodded and drew a deep breath, taking in her scent and holding it, like something precious within him. “Owen explained it would have been dangerous to let them go,” Sookie said quietly. Eric glanced down at her, but she was looking toward the door.

“That is so,” he nodded, “But that was not the only reason. What was done was expected. If I had let them live, there are many among us who would have decided that I had become less than vampire. It would have been a signal that I was not worthy. If I was not willing to do this hard thing, what else would I balk at doing? Part of the reason I was chosen was because I have a reputation as a warrior. I am known as someone capable of enforcing through violence. It seems cruel to you, but it was not really a choice. I know you can not understand that.”

“I don’t like it,” Sookie told him, “But hearing you explain it, I understand it a little better.”

“I tell you this because I have told you all about me, Sookie, but if you share this with anyone, even those who respect me, it will hurt me. I did not want to do this thing, but if I released them or sent them away it would have damaged me, damaged us,” Eric closed his eyes and found that, for a moment, he could feel that lost man again, the one that awoke with a monster in a cave a thousand years ago. “It takes everything I have to keep us safe every day. I could not allow any chance that I would be seen as weak, even if that made me a monster.”

Sookie looked at her Eric. “You are no monster, Eric Northman. You are the bravest man, well, vampire I know. I know there is some answer to all this and I’m going to think on it really hard for both of us,” Sookie then smiled up at him and Eric couldn’t help but smile back. Sookie turned her head to kiss his chest again, and then feathered her fingers across his abdomen. “Any luck with the banks?” she asked.

“No,” Eric could feel his own frustration and then tamped it down. “The contact we have been given has had no success. I suspect if I were willing to travel to New York, there might be some who could be persuaded, but I am reluctant to head into that territory.” Eric had never met the New York King. That, in itself, was unusual. With Eric’s age and the relatively few vampires that held positions of authority, most had at least been introduced.

He glanced down. He could almost smell the telepath thinking. He could see her mouth was pursed. Then she spoke, “Do you think if I were to go and sit in, that would help?”

Eric found he was touched by her offer. She had only just returned to New Orleans and he could see the signs of fatigue around her eyes. “Perhaps, Lover,” he told her, falling back to using his favorite endearment for her. “But I think it would only serve to confirm that the real reason is a reluctance to help vampires.”

Sookie nodded, “I hear it from the folks I’ve been reading during those contract talks. Even those fellas in Kentucky who knew Isaiah pretty well weren’t exactly anxious to invite him into their homes. It’s not like the Fellowship…”

“No, it is not like that anymore,” Eric agreed. “Now it is more subtle. It is not said out loud, but implied.” Eric shrugged. “It is much harder to overcome. When it was blatant you could put a word to it. Now it is too easily denied.”

Sookie ran her fingers through the hair that trailed down from Eric’s navel. She combed it one way and then another. “How much do we need?” she asked.

“$18 million,” Eric told her. Sookie’s fingers stilled. She had been so proud of the money in her account. She felt like a rich woman for the first time, but $18 million dollars? She couldn’t conceive of that kind of money.

“Shit, Eric! Who has that kind of cash?”

She knew Eric was smiling above her, “Banks. Vampires,” he said reasonably.

“But we don’t!” Sookie exclaimed.

“Not at the moment,” Eric confirmed. It occurred to Eric that he should probably discuss his financial worth with Sookie and explain their assets. It ran against all his training, but he recalled Pam telling him that money was the number one cause for divorce. As he was thinking about how to explain it, Sookie looked up at him.

“You hungry?” she asked. “I know I kind of surprised you, but if you would like your supper,” and she shifted to rise to her knees. Sookie straddled his lap, her hands on his shoulders. “Why don’t you eat and we can get cleaned up?”

Eric looked into his Beloved’s face. She was smiling gently and her eyes were warm. Somehow it was all good between them again, he knew that she was a mystery to him, and he found himself grateful. “I am hungry,” he agreed, “but I find I would rather talk first. It occurs to me, Älskade, that we have a habit of feeding and fucking before we talk. I want to try changing the order of things,” and his smile overtook him as he saw the blush rise in her cheeks, “If that meets with your approval.”

“Well hell, Eric,” Sookie stammered, “We don’t have to fuck if you don’t want to…”

The growl escaped his throat before he even realized it. “That is the point, Lover,” he told her, his voice low with just a hint of snarl. “You have been gone too long. I intend to fuck you. I intend to make you cry out and beg,” Eric opened the bond between them then, letting her feel his need for her. “There are many places we have yet to explore, my Sookie, and I wish to hear you screaming my name in each of those places.” Sookie managed a small, strangled ‘Eep’ noise and Eric could smell the sweetness that was her intensify, just as the flush under her skin turned from rose to something darker. He hooded his eyes then, making his predator step back and allowing the man to come forward. “I missed you,” he told her simply, running his thumb across her lips.

Sookie shifted uncomfortably, and then sat back on her legs, her butt resting on Eric’s thighs. “Fuck a zombie, Eric! You sure have a way of sweet talking a girl!” and the telepath started fanning herself with her hand. Eric threw his head back then and laughed. Sookie smiled and then she laughed too. The Viking pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her, and positioning them both so that she was resting against the headboard and he could rest his head on her chest. He liked listening to her heart beating and the swoosh of her blood as it coursed through her veins.

Sookie’s hand stroked his hair. “Money is pretty important to vampires, isn’t it?” Sookie asked.

“Not money in and of itself,” Eric answered her, “But the power it represents? Yes, money is important for that reason.”

Sookie’s eye caught the red nightgown that lay crumpled toward the foot of the bed. She thought of all the clothes she had just picked out and the prices on the labels she couldn’t help but notice. “You sure I need all those new clothes for San Antonio?” she asked. “I have plenty of business clothes already…”

“When you are hunting money, Lover, it is important to appear as if you have no need of it,” Eric was talking in an even and reasonable way, but Sookie could feel his intensity through the bond. She could tell this was important. “Money is more than power. It is a shield against those who would seek to take or hurt. When you are in the role of the seeker, as we are now, it is most important that all details appear perfect. Whether it is following the customs of vampires or the appearance of the King’s Intended, nothing can distract from the appearance that we belong and can be trusted to make more money,” Eric turned his head to meet her eyes. “Do you understand?” he asked. Eric didn’t look away from her until he could sense her agreement through the bond as well as the nodding of her head. When he was satisfied, he turned back to contemplating the waistband of the shorts she wore. He popped the button and unzipped them, He carefully turned back each half, exposing the sparse border of hair that could be seen just above lace waistband of her panties. He hummed a little as he played gently with the hair that was there. “I have not yet thanked you for the loan you made the kingdom,” he said gently.

“Well, it’s our money, Eric,” Sookie shrugged.

“No, Sookie. It is your money by right,” Eric shifted a little, bringing his nose a little closer to her center and causing her to blush further when he inhaled sharply. When he released his breath, he said, “Every woman should have her own money. You should not be dependent on anyone for things you wish for yourself. If you were different, I would have given you an account, but you would have accused me of all bad things and thrown it back in my face.”

“Guess you know me pretty well!” Sookie smiled.

Eric allowed his fingers to stray further, running his fingertips slowly along her lower lips under the cloth of her shorts. He pushed his digits between her thighs and Sookie shifted her legs apart to give him easier access. “There will be those who watch the preparations for my Coronation and use it to gauge my strength. You have removed a worry. I am grateful,” he purred.

Eric could feel that his fairy was becoming restless beneath him, so he shifted to pin her a little more securely in place, then resumed his unhurried stroking. Above him Sookie made a noise that was almost a moan. Eric chuckled and he could feel her physically still beneath him. “Can you believe that Alcide?” she huffed. He could tell she was trying to distract both herself and him, and her opening had the desired effect. Eric could feel the growl forming in his chest, his dislike of the Packmaster dismissing for the moment all thoughts of teasing his woman further.

“You waste yourself on those dogs,” the Viking snarled.

He felt the minute she made the connection, and there was some small part of him that rejoiced. “You are going to hurt him, aren’t you?” When Eric didn’t respond, Sookie asked, “Are you going to kill him?”

Eric turned his head slowly and met her eyes. He made sure his expression gave away nothing. “He deserves death,” he said, allowing no inflection to color his response.

Sookie’s eyes widened. He could feel her protest forming and then, she did something he didn’t expect. Sookie bit her lip, nodded her head in a short, jerky motion and said, “Yup, I expect he does.”

“You surprise me, Sookie,” Eric said slowly. He turned his head as if he half-expected that what he had heard would change if he looked at her from a different angle. “I expected you to protest, defend him.”

“I expect you did,” she agreed, her eyes sad. “I don’t want you to hurt him, Eric. He has a wife and children, but if it’s his safety or ours? Eric, from now on I’m choosing us every time.” Eric let his pride flow to her. He could see her eyes widen and then warm.

“You do understand what you are saying, Sookie?” When she nodded, he decided to push it. “So, if Thalia went there tonight and killed him, you would not protest?” Sookie nodded, and when he relaxed, he could feel her question, so he answered it, “No, I won’t have him killed, but he will be punished,” Eric turned his head to look at her. “His actions were witnessed. He has played a part in the troubles there.”

“Yeah, maybe more than you know,” Sookie mumbled. She knew immediately he’d heard, so she took a deep breath. “His home office was bugged. That’s probably how the bad guys knew things.”

Eric shook his head and huffed in disgust, “Pam has never liked him. He isn’t even smart enough to secure the safety of his own. I lost vampires in that Area. The only thing that saves him is that I don’t suspect him of directing the kill. If things weren’t so unstable I would remove him. He is one more variable than I need right now.”

“This really is how you think, isn’t it? Everyone is just pieces moving around to you, aren’t they?” Sookie was looking at him, her feelings bordering on worried. He supposed she wondered if that was how he saw her too.

“Strategy does require that I prepare for the future,” he told her. “Our future.” Eric took her hand and stroked her fingers, one at a time. “Perhaps that seems cold to you?” Sookie shook her head. She knew she had passed a test, but there was a part of her that worried that the outcome might more resemble falling down a rabbit hole than grabbing a brass ring.

“How were the Queens?” Eric asked her. “I know it took longer than you thought to conclude their research deal. I take it Phoebe gave you a hard time.”

“She doesn’t like vampires and non-vampires mixing much,” Sookie agreed. “She pretty much told me not to leave my room during daylight.”

“Some vampires feel that every creature should remember their place. Phoebe doesn’t socialize much. She has her books and her science. She mainstreams, but only according to her definition of mainstreaming. But surely she came around?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t expect I’ll get an invite back any time soon and, if I do?” Sookie fixed Eric with a clear eye, “I’m staying in a hotel. She can pay my expenses all the way!”

Eric smiled up at her, “Thinking like a true business woman,” he chuckled. “And your friend, Maude? What did she have to say?”

Sookie’s smile faltered a little, “She thinks I should encourage you to marry a vampire and take my place as your consort since I’m not likely to die anytime soon.” Eric could feel his telepath’s uncertainty, quickly followed by what he thought was her idea of resolve.

Eric avoided her eyes, “And what did you think of that suggestion, Lover?”

“She made it sound practical, Eric. She told me that under the right circumstances, we would live together and you would only have to see your vampire mate occasionally. She told me that it is how kingdoms gain strength.”

“That’s not what I asked, Sookie,” he said, dropping the intonation of his voice so that she had to strain to hear him. “I asked what you would suggest I do.”

“Please don’t ask me that,” Sookie sighed. “I know what a kind and loving person would say. I know what a noble person would say.” Sookie looked up to the ceiling, surprised by the quick smart of tears, and then in the same breath feeling exasperated because her reaction was probably fueled as much by hormones as it was by circumstance. “I just don’t feel like I can be either person when it comes to something like this.”

“It would not be my first choice, Lover, or even my second. I suppose I must consider it, though. It wouldn’t be the first time I was whored out. Appius wouldn’t even sell me, he would just give my services away,” Eric rolled off her and lay on his back. He crossed his arms under his head and stared at the ceiling. “With the right partner and the right contract it might be livable. I would require a clause that there would be no expectation of sharing you, ever.” Eric rolled his head to look at her. “I couldn’t do that, Sookie. I am too possessive. You need to know that if anyone were to have you now, I would kill them.” The way he said it Sookie had no doubt he meant it. There was a part of her that rejoiced that he felt this way, but another part of her that rebelled against being so tightly held by any single person.

Sookie examined her own feelings. If she knew that Eric was headed to some Summit where he was expected to sleep with some Queen, even if it was just for one night, how would she feel about that? “I don’t know if I could live with it either,” she heard herself say. “I am selfish, Eric. Selfish and self-centered. I don’t think I could share you, even if it meant our lives would be easier.” Eric smiled then and nodded.

“It would be best if there were another way,” he agreed. Sookie stroked his golden hair and sighed.

“And what of the rest of your trip, min krigare kvinna, any other surprises I should know about?” Sookie thought of her conversation with Bellenos. She couldn’t see that Eric would be interested in what the elf had to tell her about her family. Somehow it just seemed like something that required more thought before she shared it around. Then she remembered something they had not discussed in a bit.

“Well,” she said, “Being cooped up in the Iowa palace so many hours, I did get a lot of time to practice a couple things.”

“Do tell,” Eric smirked. He rolled on his side and looked down at her bare thigh.

“Well,” Sookie started, and then dragged in a ragged breath when her vampire first licked and then dragged his fangs up the inside of one thigh. “I got pretty good at bringing things to me.”

Eric had started placing cool, wet kisses between her legs, the damp causing gooseflesh to rise. “Like what, for instance?” he asked, never raising his head from the slow trail he was making up and up.

“Like a glass of water,” Sookie said, her breath starting to come in gasps as Eric bit and chewed at the part of the shorts that covered her lady parts. He started dragging the shorts down with his teeth and Sookie raised her hips to help the process along.

“What else?” he asked softly.

“A book…” she stammered. The Viking had returned to the juncture between her legs and had used his hands to stretch her underwear tight against her lower lips. When she could feel the fabric straining, he used tongue and mouth to nip and tease until she was a squirming, panting mess, her hands clutching at his hair.

“Show me,” he whispered against her. “Bring me something, Lover,” and he punctuated his request by pulling her panty fabric aside and licking her exposed sex with his tongue. “Bring me something,” he repeated.

“I need to focus,” she gasped, bringing her own hands up and under her t-shirt to tweak and twist her nipples. She was always so sensitive this time of the month, it didn’t take much for her to climb toward release.

“Bring me something,” Eric growled. “Think, Lover.” He raised his head and lifted her shirt, replacing one of her hands with his mouth. He raised his eyes to hers and then released her with a pop. “Do it now, Sookie.” When she looked at him, her expression dazed, he smiled like the cat that ate the canary.

Sookie narrowed her eyes, her breathing becoming labored as she tried to regain some focus. She thought about Eric’s long fingers and the release she craved and an object came into her mind. She thought in that peripheral way that made her think that the object she wanted had been there all along.

“Impressive!” Eric told her, and then he inhaled deeply. In an instant his eyes turned from teasing to pure predator. Sookie saw his eyes darken and his fangs descend. “That is an added benefit, Lover,” he growled. “Do you have any idea how you smell?” Eric leaned forward, burying his face between her breasts, licking and rubbing himself, first one side and then the other. When he lifted his face he sent the full force of his desire, his lust her way.

Eric licked his lips and took the vibrator from her. “Do you know how I appreciate your creativity?” he whispered. The feelings he was sending over her and through her were driving all coherent thought from her mind. Sookie nodded and the Viking rose to his knees. He pulled Sookie so that she was kneeling in front of him. He looked down and it was almost as though he had forgotten that she had the t-shirt on. The look he gave her was both feral and triumphant. He set the toy on the bed so he would have both hands. With a quick movement, the t-shirt hung loose, ripped down the center. Her bare breasts pointed at him, her nipples erect. Sookie found herself blushing as he swept a long, hungry look over her. He reached down and picked up the toy, touched buttons, and then raised one hand to her face. “Time to scream, little Sookie,” he growled.

Outside the doors the guards heard laughter followed by a shriek. Charles rolled his eyes, chuckling. “All is right with the world,” he shrugged.

James couldn’t keep the relief from his face. The past weeks hadn’t been pleasant. Everyone in the palace came to know the King without his distraction, and it wasn’t a fun place. As the days had passed, the Viking had become quicker to anger. He had started pressing himself hard, and, by extension pressing everyone around him with the same grim determination. Things that had pleased him in the past seemed to annoy him now and there was no guessing what task he could find or what standard he would set. He wasn’t cruel or unkind, just generally pissed off with the world.

As a second shriek came from behind the door followed by a very suggestive moan, James couldn’t keep the wide grin from taking over his face. “Here, buddy,” he said, and he leaned toward Charles to drop a pair of orange shooters plugs in his partner’s hand. He lifted his own set and positioned them in his ears. He nodded to no one in particular and said, “Yup, back to normal.”

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The gas fireplace made a soft glow that warmed the pallor of Eric’s skin. Sookie was lying on her back, her elbow up, and her hand absently stroking her favorite part of his anatomy. Eric was on his stomach, his back arched as he leaned over several layers of pillows. He focused on the pages of the book before him.

“Listen to this passage,” he said,”In times of stress Jack Aubrey had two main reactions: he either became aggressive or he became amorous; he longed either for the violent catharsis of action or for that of making love. He loved a battle: he loved a wench.”” Eric looked over his shoulder, “You see, this has both action and romance. There is a whole series. We could be reading these stories for months.”

Eric was making a pitch for their reading The Jack Aubrey Series by Patrick O’Brian together. They had enjoyed sharing The Lord of the Rings in Jackson but had not agreed on the next book to read.

They had taken their respective edges off, not once, but twice. Eric had picked her up, her legs hooked around his waist, and carried her into the room he had arranged for them. He told her it was their sanctum, their retreat from the world. He set Sookie on the fainting couch and draped her with Gran’s afghan. Sookie had huffed and brought a towel to herself, using her Fae powers so she wouldn’t drip on the upholstery. That had triggered another round of lovemaking, and both of them had ended up on the floor, a tangle of legs and arms. Once Sookie’s breathing had returned to normal and her heart stopped its racing, Eric had started the gas fire and built a nest on the rug in front of the flames. He lifted her, towel and all, over to that side of the room and then positioned himself, welcoming her to join him. They had spent the past hour pulling first one book and then another from the shelf, reading favorite passages and debating the merits of the shared experience.

Eric had sent down for dinner and left word that there would be no meetings until later. Sookie wasn’t sure how the servants would manage it, but for the moment she didn’t care. “I can tell why you are attracted to the character,” she told him. “He sounds like you. Attracted to battle or women. Total Eric Northman!”

“There are women characters in the series,” Eric replied. “The captain is married and his doctor marries too – a strong woman.”

“Do either of those women go with their husbands on their adventures?” Sookie asked.

“Well, no..” Eric replied.

“Yeah, pass,” Sookie replied with a shake of her head. Eric scanned the shelves again.

“Well, what about Horatio Hornblower?” he asked. There was a sound outside the closed door. Eric stood up and headed to the door in all his naked glory. He threw a blanket at Sookie, “Stay warm,” he called. “I’ll be right back.”

Sookie heard a surprised sound followed by voices talking. Eric returned after a minute, pushing the door open with his foot and carrying a tray. He kicked the door closed and walked rather gracefully for a tall, naked man balancing a food tray. Sookie couldn’t help noticing that he needed a shower, and she found herself blushing that at least one of the servants had seen the proof of their coupling dabbled over his rather amazing body. For his part, Eric showed no signs of embarrassment at all. In fact, he was sending her a very satisfied, very happy wave of emotion and in spite of herself, Sookie couldn’t help grinning broadly right back at him.

“Well, what do you think?” he asked. Sookie realized she had been staring at the Gracious Plenty and felt her cheeks burning again.

“About what?” she squeaked.

Eric gave her a knowing smile, set down the tray, took himself in hand, and shaking at her said, “Hornblower.” Sookie felt her cheeks burn even brighter and Eric laughed aloud. “The book, Sookie, not the action,” he teased.

Sookie remembered seeing the movie once long ago with her Gran. It had starred Gregory Peck and her Gran had told her with a giggle that made her look like a young girl that she had always thought the star was dreamy. Sookie remembered that there was a woman in the movie too, and they met at sea. “Sure,” she said, keeping her eyes down. “That sounds good.”

Eric hooked his finger under her chin and raised her face for his kiss. “Good, then it’s settled,” he smiled. He went to find the first book in the series, leaving her with her dinner tray beside her. The kitchen had sent up a stew made with oysters that she enjoyed. When Eric looked at one of the shellfish on her spoon he laughed again.

“What?” Sookie asked.

“I think that the palace is happy we are not fighting, Lover,” he told her. “I suspect that I have been less than charming lately.”

“What makes you think that?” the telepath asked him.

Eric pointed at her spoon. “Oysters, Älskade. They are an aphrodisiac. I believe the cook staff is telling us something.”

Sookie put the spoon down and threw her hands up, “Cheese and rice, Eric! Is everyone here talking about our sex life? You know that Charles and James bet on us?”

Eric’s expression turned angry in a heartbeat, “Did you hear them talking about it?” he said in a way that made Sookie realize he knew and had probably said something already.

“No, Eric. But I can read them!” and then Sookie wasn’t so mad. She shrugged and shook her head, “By the way, Charles is ahead, just so you know,” and Sookie found herself laughing because there was nothing more to do and damn it, she was happy. She was happy Eric was talking with her. She was happy she was home. She was happy the bond was open. In spite of all the screwed up things that seemed to keep popping up to get in the way, she was bare-assed naked with the love of her life and things just couldn’t get better. When Eric looked like he was still grumpy about the guards, she launched herself against him, making him fall over and she kissed him and kissed him and kissed him until he kissed her back.

 

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35 thoughts on “Chapter 23 – Charging the Mark

    1. You are quite right! So, now all is right with what is between them. Sookie will think twice before jumping to judgment. Eric will do what he must, but is willing to tell her secrets and explain his actions. If they can only find a way to get the rest of their world to accept who and what they are!

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  1. I am so happy these two worked things out. I hope Eric truly sees how much Sookie has grown. I hate it when they are at odds with each other! I feel like a weight has been lifted just by reading this chapter:)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That was a great chapter. They’re making a lot of progress together. I’m so glad they talked about so much stuff. The chapter felt serious and important and fun and sexy and loving.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I thought it important that they talk first and take care of all the other stuff after. One thing I love about these two – they love their sex! Nothing wrong with that but it did seem like they would write off things they discussed afterwards like after-sex bliss instead of serious commitments. Didn’t want any misunderstandings this time! I don’t think Sookie will ever be okay with killings, but now Eric has been able to confess that he wasn’t exactly either. Doesn’t mean he wouldn’t again, but it gives them that connection. Here’s hoping she can make good on her vow to find a way for them both to be able to deal and still save face.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. In the end, they love each other. There is really no going back for either of them and they understand that now. It was a terrible thing but from it there has come a new level of connection and understanding for our couple. They have accepted each other and come through that with a mutual respect. Eric is such a strong character, and Sookie comes with baggage and background one doesn’t normally associate with strong. For the story I have in mind, they will both need to be leaders. I think they are in that position (or almost there) now.
      And, of course, there is that wonderful rapport between them! Here’s hoping they can keep their humor and sense of just liking to spend time with eachother!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. As you may have gathered, I’ve written quite of bit of background material for these stories. Donors and blood slaves were mentioned in the original books and I spent some time working through options. Where I landed was not pretty – but these vampires are not really domesticated. Sookie will never be entirely comfortable with the killing that is part of the vampire world, but she should stop and ask before judging next time. I have allowed Eric to not be entirely comfortable with it either, but in the end, he likes being a vampire and accepts it as his destiny so, unless there is some compelling reason, he would do the same thing again. Sookie has said that she will figure something out to resolve this contradiction and potential future conflict. I think you will see them working and loving together from here on out.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I work at making them three-dimensional with motivations and feelings and doubts. So, our couple is not perfect but they are committed and together. It will become clear that although they are not officially pledged or married they now view themselves that way. As I’ve mentioned in other responses to this chapter, the challenges for their relationship will now be entirely from the outside.

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    1. Not promising they won’t spat again, but this was a turning point for both of them. Neither of them will backtrack again. They see themselves as a couple now – Eric and Sookie against the world! (Or ruling the world…)

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Sigh, that was so worth waiting for! Happy that Sookie put her foot down and didn’t let Eric leave the room and they finally cleared the air. Truly hope they can find a way to enhance the kingdom without Eric having to make a marriage contract with another vampire! Excitedly waiting for next update…

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    1. It was time she asserted herself in a positive way. She has had her opportunity, and chose to fight for their relationship. As mentioned in my other replies to this chapter, Eric and Sookie now see themselves as married in spirit, if not in fact yet. It will allow them to do or consider what ever is needed to stay together. I think it’s safe to say that Sookie won’t be marrying some Fae lord or human sugar daddy unless she wants Eric showing up in the middle of the night to rip his throat out! Now if they can only find a way to ‘save’ Eric too!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh yeah I remember that scene back in “Dead in the Family” where Eric explained about Vampire clans etc…Sookie didn’t seem interested at all!
    All she wanted to do is have mind blowing sex with her Viking!
    Now they seem to back on the same page again,how long will that last though?
    Intriguing interaction between Felipe and Angie…hmm I wonder what was that about?
    Jackie69

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Our couple will have their misunderstandings, like any couple, but they won’t be walking away from each other willingly ever again. I felt that Sookie coming to terms with the violence that is the vampire world was a critical step for both of them. Eric wants to believe and, as long as she doesn’t give him another reason to doubt her, he won’t be giving her the cold shoulder any time too soon.
    As for our friends in Las Vegas? It’s hard to keep a good villain down, and changes in the bigger world are right around the corner.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amazing chapter as always. I’m glad Eric and Sookie got to talk, really talk. They seem to be on an even setting again which will only benefit both them and the Kingdom in the long run. I hope Sookie brings up the letter from the previous chapter. I wanna see how Eric will react to one of his underlings ordering Sookie around and using his name to do it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, you know me~ the letter will mean something….. sometime. For now, our favorite couple has some immediate concerns to deal with – like money and a marriage that will be respected. Zeus will signal a start of a number of things…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great chapter! Really good conversation as Eric and Sookie pulled no punches and although it was painful, they both addressed the problems that stand between them and risk to not just separate them but even cause them to be defeated by their enemies. Although difficult it certainly seemed fruitful and it is good to see there are more and more at court that see Sookie as a positive influence rather than a ‘distraction’.

    The mostly cryptic conversation between Felipe and Angie was intriguing… So Felipe’s been the one causing trouble on the border areas… I guess not a big surprise but I do wonder who Felipe is missing… I am sure you’ve left us clues but I can’t figure it out…

    Liked by 2 people

  8. The ‘reveal’ you mention won’t take long – 2-3 chapters at most and the (next) game will be afoot. For now – our favorite couple has resolved all of the major issues between them. Now, if they can resolve how their supporters view them they should be in clear air to move ahead together.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Finally, they are learning to give and take! Great chapter. I think there are a lot of backstabbers to be wary of so they need to be able to focus on that rather than doubting each other. I have a feeling there a more than a few surprises coming up!

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