Author’s Note: Thank you to my readers. Your support for this story has been a gift. I appreciate your sharing this with me. Your attention is most appreciated. Thank you to my wonderful, funny, smart and talented beta readers, Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy. You are my compass and the wind in my sails.
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.
Thierry trailed his fingers down the Carolinas Queen’s arm and when he reached her hand, he brought his own around to take hold. “I think you’ve been trumped,” he whispered in her ear.
Nabila watched the Ancient Pythoness’ handmaiden and her uncle, considering options. It took only moments for her to make her decision. “So it would appear,” she replied flatly. Nabila carefully shaped her expression into one of good humor and slight superiority, the look that had served her so well for so many years and stepped away from the Sheriff, pulling her hand free in the process.
As the Queen approached her fellow monarchs, it was Bartlett who sought to smooth feathers, “You do look wonderful, darling,” he purred. “Your dress is amazing, and all the more so because of how only you can wear it.”
Nabila smiled with warmth and returned, “Thank you, Bartlett, you and your consort King set such high standards, I am always thrilled when I can approach anywhere near your style.” Nabila saw Isaiah’s eyes narrow, but she ignored him. Kentucky was a Philistine, more comfortable in a shack with a dirt floor than among the civilized. Any fool could see that even if Northman were to agree to her terms it could damage her standing with her fellows. Best to start damage control now. “Rasul,” she inclined her head gracefully, “and Maude. A pleasure to see you both.”
“What do you make of that crown?” Maude didn’t pull any punches, and Nabila hadn’t expected she would.
“It was a surprise, of course, but I have always had the utmost respect for both of them. In fact, I left the decision of a marriage to Sookie. It was what I would have done for a sister Queen,” Nabila looked directly at Diantha who was watching her right back, all round, open eyes and a mouth slightly agape showing sharply pointed teeth. “Still, a crown? I wonder if the Ancient Pythoness is sending us all a message?” The Queen knew she had shifted the attention from herself to Diantha. “Would I be right?” and she paired her polite smile with a shift back to her heels, demonstrating effectively to every vampire her wish to avoid physical conflict.
“I expect you’re right,” Mr. Cataliades said smoothly from his position slightly behind his niece. “Of course, it comes down to who will choose to listen.” The attorney swung his head to look at Stan and he allowed his eyes to narrow. The move was effective as the focus of the entire group now placed the Texas monarch in their spotlight.
The Texas monarch’s smile was less gracious. He pretended he hadn’t noticed Mr. Cataliades’ hostility and instead turned to Mississippi. “Well, Russell, you always said she was something special. Wonder if Sookie Stackhouse isn’t the real prize in this kingdom after all?”
Rather than reduce the tension, Stan’s words ratcheted up the suspicion and sense of deteriorating amity between them. Russell could see Isaiah had lost any semblance of humor and was now leaning forward, his hands hooking slightly. The Mississippi king purposely broadened his accent, making sure his next words were lighthearted, “I don’t know, Stan. You know how cryptic the old girl can be. Maybe she’s telling us just the opposite, that Miss Stackhouse is meant to rule us all.” He laughed at his own jest, allowing them all to acknowledge the foolishness of the idea.
“I gave up trying to second guess her a long time ago. She does what she does and it always makes sense somewhere down the road,” Maude shrugged.
Maxwell Lee chose that moment to approach them and he bowed. “I was wondering if I might interest you in some music. There is a lovely club within a few blocks of here that is open specifically for your enjoyment. We have cordoned off the area. You and your retinues are welcome to stay until dawn draws you to your rest, compliments of the Kingdom of Louisiana, the Pack, and the vampires of Area 1.”
No one sighed, but the excuse to change venues and restore harmony was palpable. The monarchs signaled retinue while Dechlan and his staff texted to have the cars lined up for those who would choose to ride. Most chose to walk the night streets, relying on the Were guards, their own numbers, and notoriety to enhance the adventure and fun that only New Orleans could provide.
Maude, Rasul, and Isaiah had decided to walk together and they were just in the hallway when the Queen’s emergency phone rang. There were only two people who had this number. One of those people was here with her and the Queen could see her in the corridor. The other was Deirdre, her assistant/day-person.
Her second was watching her closely as Maude answered the phone. “Your Majesty,” Deirdre’s voice was strained and harsh as if she’d been weeping. “A great calamity for us all.” Those around Maude stilled and there were hissed whispers as the message to listen was passed.
“What is it, Deirdre?” Maude asked, the corridor silent around her in spite of all the beings crowded together.
“I received a call from Connecticut, Majesty, from Barbara.” The next hiss came from Maude’s throat. Barbara was the housekeeper of Sanctum. Every supernatural knew of the place, it was sacred to them all. Sanctum offered sanctuary and healing to those who had been grievously injured by the world in which they lived. The Lady chose those who would receive its grace and they were always those who had been badly used and deserved better. Its neutrality was inviolate. All monarchs included within their contracts and blood oaths the protection of Sanctum. It was not possible that the words ‘Sanctum’ and ‘calamity’ should be paired.
“Tell me,” Maude hissed.
Deirdre hiccupped, and then seemed to take a deep breath, steadying herself.“Barbara called to tell you that the Lady of Sanctum is no more…” and Maude could hear her assistant’s voice choking.
The corridor around Maude erupted with the sounds of hissing and cries of dismay. It was unthinkable that someone would touch its keeper, much less assassinate her. It was known there were wards surrounding the property and the house. It was generally accepted that the Lady herself was protected by powerful spells. If the Lady had been killed, it meant a power far greater than anything they had ever faced before was now loose in the world.
Maude felt the sharp pain of grief beginning within her chest. Lydia had been more to her than a place of refuge. Lydia had been her friend. Maude threw back her head and managed to control the grief that threatened tears. She flung up her hand in a signal to those around her, but Isaiah didn’t wait for his fellows to notice. “Silence!” he yelled and the corridor again fell to a deadly silence.
Bartlett had walked over to Maude and laid a hand on her shoulder. When he could see that the Queen was struggling to form the questions that needed to be asked, he took the phone from her nerveless hand and said what they were all thinking, “Deirdre, this is Bart. You know there will be no hiding for her killer. Do they know who was responsible?”
Deirdre had met Bartlett Crowe in Minnesota many times, so she showed no surprise. If anything, hearing the Indiana monarch’s voice seemed to settle her. “There was no killer, Majesty,” Deirdre replied. “It would appear that the Lady Lydia took her own life,” and then the housekeeper’s control broke and she was sobbing on the other end of the line. Bartlett disconnected and handed the phone back to Maude.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” Isaiah placed his hand on Maude’s shoulder, but hesitated to offer more.
Maude stood, stunned for a moment more before she pulled herself up, turned back to the phone, and dialed the next number. It answered on the third ring.
“Barbara?” the Minnesota Queen confirmed.
“Maude! I can’t believe it!” Barbara sounded thin and hollow.
“When did this happen?” Maude asked her.
“This morning,” Barbara said dully, “At sunrise…” and the woman’s voice hitched.
“I’m coming,” Maude told her. “I have a Coronation to take care of tomorrow night and I’ll be on the next plane. Is there anything you need right now?”
Barbara took a moment, “Let me know when you will arrive. I will have someone meet you at the airport. She knew you would come. There are envelopes here for you, instructions…” and she trailed off again.
“I will, Barbara. I will let you know the minute my reservations are confirmed,” and Maude was signaling her second to start making calls. “Anything else?”
“Yes,” Barbara sighed. “Sookie Stackhouse. Do you have a way to get in touch with her?”
Maude’s eyes went round and she looked directly at Bartlett, not bothering to hide her surprise, “Yes, she’s here with me now. Why?”
“You need to bring her with you. Lydia left me a list. Sookie Stackhouse coming here is on the list. Why would she do it?” and Barbara was crying. Maude wanted to comfort her, but the Queen realized the tears she had controlled before were now flowing freely, red streaks appearing on her dress as they fell from her cheeks. She felt another hand on her arm and turned to see Pam. “I’ll be there soon,” the Queen choked. She disconnected the phone and Pam did what Kentucky had been afraid to do, she put her arm around the Monarch and steered her back down the corridor and toward the elevator. The Queen’s second detached herself from the crowd to follow.
As the three women stood in the elevator, Pam kissed her friend and mentor’s shorter head. “You know, don’t you?”
Maude nodded gravely, “Of course I do,” her voice small and defeated, “She lost her Robert.”
When Sookie woke up she felt like something was… well, not exactly wrong, but not exactly right. Eric had held her last night, letting her cry out her anxiety until exhaustion had taken over. He had carried her to their bed and stripped the clothes from her as he would a child, gently smoothing her hair and rumpled nerves back into place. He could have left her to head back to their guests, but he hadn’t. He had stripped off his own clothes and crawled under the covers. He drew her back against him, back to chest, and spooned around her. He hummed a tune she recognized from their days in Jackson, one large hand stroking her head, and her eyes drooped as she fell into the surprising warmth she felt from his touch.
He was still here, draped around her. There were no sounds, no talking from outside the door. The bedside clock told her it was mid-afternoon. ‘Coronation day!’ a loud voice in her head reminded her. Sookie slid from the bed, heading toward the bathroom to take care of human needs, and to take a shower before going to the roof for some sunshine. ‘No,’ she thought. ‘That’s not it. It’s not the Coronation. There is something else bothering me.’
Once she was toweled and dressed, she looked around the room. Sometimes Eric left her messages if there was something she needed to know or something he wanted to say to her, but there was nothing. Her uneasy feeling was such that she even looked under the bed just to make sure nothing had fallen from view. There was something under the bed and Sookie pulled it out. It was a wooden box of dirt and she remembered. “How romantic,” she grumbled.
As she straightened and walked toward the door, she stopped for a minute to kiss Eric’s cheek. “Tonight is all for you,” she told him, even though she knew he couldn’t hear her. She smoothed her fingers over the place she had kissed, wiping away, or it could have been wiping in, any remnants of moisture from her lips. Her heart tightened just a moment, reminding her in no uncertain terms that being with him was now and forever her ‘happy place.’ “See you in a couple hours,” she assured both him and herself and then she walked through to the sitting area.
Sookie picked up her phone from the table and texted Devrah that she was up and heading to the roof. It wasn’t unusual for her to leave her phone out here. It kept her from being interrupted as she rested. Eric had his on complete silence, but Sookie always worried that something would happen with Jason or his family and she would miss the call, so she left it on vibrate. Eric had watched her restlessly checking her screen every time it buzzed or dinged throughout several nights in a row, waking and then falling back into fitful sleep, her mood becoming increasingly erratic, and he had talked with her about it. Although he made his case carefully, Sookie was tired and irritable and she told him to mind his own business. He then made the mistake of telling her she was being irrational in that superior way he sometimes took and Sookie had dug her heels in about the whole thing. She refused to take the phone off vibrate and let him know that he was not the boss of her and she would do as she pleased with her own things.
He had been grumpy and she had said her piece, but that night she started ‘forgetting’ the phone on the table in the sitting area. She figured Eric knew exactly what she was doing, but in a supreme moment of maturity had chosen not to call her on it. “You can be smart when you choose to be,” Sookie said out loud, looking at the bedroom door. She scrolled through some emails, and then noticed there was a text message. It was from Maude telling her she needed to speak with Mr. Cataliades when she woke up. Sookie drew a quick breath, found the lawyer’s contact information, and texted him. She received a response almost immediately and he agreed to join her for her brunch on the roof.
Sookie was just a step from the door to the hallway when she glanced toward the room that was their retreat. They had had almost no time to spend there in the past weeks. Between Eric’s nonstop meetings and her time spent with Pam, Max, and Devrah they were lucky if they saw each other for an hour each night before Sookie was drooping. At least she was there in his arms most evenings when he rose, but even that time was short. There was simply too much to do and not enough hours to do it. But now, there was another attraction in the room and Sookie purposely turned and pushed through the door. Everything was much as they’d last left it. Gran’s afghan hung across the back of the chaise. There were rugs and pillows and books strewn about the floor in front of the fireplace. Sookie could tell that someone had been dusting, but whoever it was had taken some great care not to disturb the sense that she and Eric had just stepped out and would return soon.
The one new thing was the box sitting on the foot of the chaise. The wood shone, glossy like burnished gold in the lighting and when she lifted it, she noticed the carving in the top of the box that looked like a peach or a pomegranate. The wood felt warm to her fingers, as if it was some living thing. She tipped the lid back on its hinges revealing an interior lined with purple fabric and there, shining all on its own, was the crown. It was too small for a tiara and Sookie imagined it would need to be pinned to her head if she meant to wear it.
Sookie found that her fingers were drawn to it and she glanced to find the long mirror that leaned against the wall. With a small, determined nod Sookie picked up the crown and walked to the mirror. She placed it on her head and watched as it glowed stronger and then more softly. She lowered her fingers and realized she didn’t need to secure it. It was as if the crown had become a part of her, its ethereal glow now reflected by her own person. Sookie reached up and the crown lifted easily away, but her own glow remained, faint in the light of the room. She thought about Eric’s reaction to her when she used her magic and wondered if wearing this crown was going to trigger the same reaction, but this time in a room full of vampires. She decided she would test it out when he rose and she replaced the jewel in its box and headed to the rooftop.
Shari was her guard at the door today. Sookie hadn’t seen a great deal of the Were lately since she’d been on vacation and visiting with her family in Shreveport. “Mistress,” she greeted and bowed as Sookie entered the hallway.
“Nice to have you back,” Sookie smiled. As they headed to the stairway they could see Meg just ahead of them carrying up the breakfast tray. Sookie settled down at the table and had just started to nibble her melon when Mr. Cataliades exited the stairs and stepped into the light.
The attorney sat down across from her and accepted the cup of coffee she offered. He smiled, but there was something in how he was looking at her and Sookie knew that the uneasiness she had felt earlier was the something that the demon sitting across from her was going to be able to explain. “What is it?” she asked.
“Nothing that won’t wait,” he responded, “Finish your meal. It is going to be a long day and a longer night,” and he sat back, crossing his hands over his rounded stomach. Sookie was going to press him for more information, but he turned his head up towards the bright sunshine, closed his eyes, and seemed to go into some kind of restive state. Sookie had never seen him do something like this before, but instead of it making her more nervous, it seemed to calm her down. After all, if the thing he needed to tell her was so very horrible, he would have said it straight out, so whatever it was, it didn’t represent immediate danger.
Sookie finished everything on the plate and was pouring her third cup of coffee when she looked up to see the attorney’s eyes had fastened on her again. “All right, Desmond,” she nodded. “Eric rises in just a couple hours and the beauty detail will be here sooner than that. You better tell me.” Mr. Cataliades rose and walked around the table. He took the seat directly next to her and then held out his hand for hers. “Someone died,” Sookie said out loud. Her breath caught, “Please tell me it wasn’t Jason or Michele or the boys…” she whispered, panic starting to catch at her nerves.
“No, Sookie, it’s no one in your immediate family. It was Lydia,” and when Sookie’s eyes went wide, he added, “The Lady of Sanctum.”
“What?” It didn’t seem real. Sookie had learned a great deal when she had stayed there about the wards and the protections that guarded Sanctum. She knew about the tradition and the blood bonds that insured that the retreat was a true sanctuary for supernaturals, regardless of their enemies. “She’s dead?” When Mr. Cataliades nodded, the telepath asked, “How did it happen?”
“She was not killed,” the attorney answered the question that was foremost in Sookie’s mind; “she died by her own hand.”
Sookie blinked and sat back. She could hear the words but they made no sense. This was a healer, her healer! Sookie had wanted to die and this was the person who had made her see that this life was worth fighting to hold on to. “That can’t be right!” Sookie said and she wrapped her arms around herself, feeling chilled in spite of the sunlight. “They must have it wrong.”
“There is no doubt. There were letters and instructions letting her housekeeper know where she could be found. There have already been trackers and it’s been verified.”
Sookie felt a great hole opening inside her and although she swallowed, it felt like the hole kept getting bigger and bigger, pressing against her. “Lydia,” she said out loud.
“The Minnesota Queen was contacted last night after you retired. She has made arrangements to leave from here for Sanctum tomorrow during the day. The housekeeper at Sanctum, Barbara?” Sookie nodded and Mr. Cataliades squeezed Sookie’s hand, “Barbara, yes. She asked Minnesota if she could bring you as well. The Lady specifically asked that you travel there.”
The hole that was growing within her seemed to stop. It jabbed at Sookie with a sharp, pointy stick and tears started to slip from her eyes. “Come,” Mr. Cataliades took her hand again, and then pulled her to the little loveseat that sat under the shade maker. He wrapped his arms around her and the hole within her burst, allowing her to feel such sadness that it almost felt like she was under water.
“I haven’t called her,” Sookie wept. “I haven’t called her in weeks and weeks. I didn’t keep in touch. I owe her everything and I just let her slip away.” For his part the attorney held her, patting her back and letting her emotions spill from her. And then, abruptly, Sookie stopped. “Oh my God, I’ve got to go!” she told Desmond. She scrubbed the tears from her face and she ran for the stairs. She could feel that her grief had reached Eric. He was rising for her.
Sookie ran past Shari and then flew down the stairwell, taking the stairs two and three at a time. James was on the door for the King and he managed to swiftly open it when he saw her coming. Sookie was halfway to their chamber when that door opened and Eric staggered forward. “It’s okay!” she told him, and she took his hand and pushed him back toward the room.
“You are injured?” he slurred.
“No, Eric. No, I got some upsetting news, that’s all. I’m fine,” and she walked past him and pulled him back to the bed. He collapsed across the mattress and Sookie crawled up on the bed curling into him, stroking his face. “Do not leave me,” he mumbled.
Sookie stroked his lips with her fingers and then replaced them with her lips. “I never would,” she assured him.
Sookie lay there in the dark wrapped around Eric. ‘I owe this to you,’ she thought. ‘I owe my happiness to you. I owe Eric to you. I might have ended up in Bon Temps or Jackson or somewhere else and never realized that he was my one.’ She thought of her time in Sanctum, and how Lydia looked, wrapped in her shawl, the light playing on her white gray hair. She thought of the way her eyes crinkled when she laughed or how her head would turn to the side when she waited for Sookie to make some connection that would inform her about herself. Sookie remembered the sunlight in her room and way the fields looked blanketed under snow. She remembered the warmth of the kitchen and the laughter they had shared. ‘Why?’ she asked herself, and she allowed her tears to slip from her eyes making the blanket under her cheek wet. She rested her forehead against Eric’s unmoving chest and replayed every moment she could recall of the woman who had saved her.
Sookie had ignored the knocking on the door. She didn’t want to leave Eric, both for his sake and her own. ‘It can wait,’ she thought.
When Eric did rise, it was earlier than usual and his first action was to raise his hand to her face, “Tell me, Lover. What happened?” Sookie told him what she knew. She told him that she would leave with Maude the next day for Connecticut, and then she kissed him warmly and firmly.
“It caught me by surprise, Eric. I won’t lie to you and tell you it doesn’t hurt. It does, but I can’t think about it right now. There will be plenty of time for all the sadness soon. For now? The best thing I can do to honor everything she gave me is to live this life she helped me find. Tonight is about you, about us!” and she leaned forward and kissed him more forcefully, “We are living today and I know Lydia would be happy for us.”
“Perhaps the better word would be ‘existing’,” Eric said with a wry smile that transformed into a question.
“It’s every kind of living I ever want for the rest of my life!” she retorted, and then she leaned forward and bit his lip, drawing blood that she sucked into herself as she pulled him close.
Eric’s hands were tearing her clothes from her as he growled, “You’re sure?”
Sookie smiled. “Eric, we got dirt under the bed. Why don’t you show me what that means?”
His hand traveled to rest between her legs, stroking her and when she parted her thighs, he pinched her clit. She reached for him, stroking him firmly, his cock becoming harder with each up twist of her wrist. He hissed when she ran her thumb over his head. “It signifies how we were made, arising from dirt. It is the moment of our creation, and we celebrate by fucking and drinking,” and he shifted suddenly, bringing her under him, and entering her in a single surge. She gasped and he stopped, “Tell me,” he demanded.
“You are mine!” Sookie told him and then gasped again as he withdrew just as swiftly, leaving his head just breaching her.
“Yes,” he said solemnly, “I am yours,” and he surged forward again. He turned them to their sides, lifting her knee over his hip so she was more open to him. He inserted one finger into her rosebud as he set a slow but persistent rhythm. “Can you reach around to put your finger in me?” he asked. She could just reach and she found herself timing her movements to his. He found an angle that allowed him to drag himself across her clit with each thrust and she could feel a new tension forming within her. Grief was pushed away by the sensations that were building within her. She could feel her pussy starting to tense, gripping him within her, holding him as her arm was holding him. She increased the tempo of her finger and vaguely felt him add a second. It stretched and burned, but any discomfort was negated by the tremors and pressure she was feeling as her orgasm approached, a glittering horizon just out of reach and then it was there. She opened her eyes to him, her mouth in a soundless scream as her completion took her by surprise. She clenched his cock so hard she thought she would squeeze him out of her and her ass was cumming too. Her breasts tingled, her nipples registering every time his chest rubbed against her. “Sookie!” her name sprang from him, a battle cry, a prayer, and she could feel every pulse as he filled her, cool streams of essence that were too soon seeping down her thigh. He gathered her into him, pumping slowly, her walls pulsing with each slide. “Sookie,” he said more quietly, “I am yours,” and he licked her neck twice before sliding his fangs into her.
When he stopped cramping around her, she removed her finger and used her other hand to hold his head in place against her neck, “And I am yours, Eric Northman,” she whispered in return.
The knocking returned, loud and insistent. Even Sookie could hear the sound of high heels just on the other side of the door. “Pamela!” Eric roared, “You will wait!” lifting his head quickly from her neck. Sookie was sure she could hear angry mumbling from the Regent.
Eric carefully daubed his blood on her neck to heal his marks. Sookie thought of how fortunate they had been. “Time to get crowned,” Sookie whispered against his skin and so their night began.
Pam bullied and pushed the stylist until Sookie could hear that the woman was going to throw down her brush and leave. Sookie turned to Pam and said in her meanest voice, “If you say one more word, Pamela, I’ll get out of this chair and kick your ass and you know that I can! She is doing her best! Just check your tone!”
Pam’s eyes narrowed, “We are all horribly late because you were too busy….”
“So what?” Sookie fired back. “It’s not like anyone is starting without us! There is plenty of blood to be had, the weather is amazing, and there is a band that will play until we walk through the doors. Just scale back your bitch train by half a second and let this poor woman get my hair pinned right so I don’t look like trailer trash halfway through the night!”
Pam actually looked taken aback and it occurred to Sookie that she hadn’t ever dressed her friend down. Sookie shot her an ‘are we done?’ look, and then she couldn’t stop the smile from tickling at the edges of her lips. Pam arched an eyebrow in a move that was classic Eric, and then she was smiling as well. “Well, I guess you do have a point. Can’t do a Coronation without a King.”
Eric chose that moment to walk through the door. His black tuxedo was cut to perfection and his tie and shirtfront were starched and immaculate. The stylist took one look, her hand suspended above Sookie’s head. Sookie could feel the woman’s negative attitude toward vampires shift. Sookie’s eyes narrowed and she said, perhaps a bit too sharply, “Are we almost done then?” and the stylist’s eyes snapped back to her job and she moved quickly to finish.
Eric met Sookie’s eyes in the mirror and continued making his way through the room and into their retreat. He returned a few minutes later, when the stylist was spraying the telepath’s hair to keep the upswept French twist in place, small tendrils framing her face. “You look like the Princess you are, Älskade,” Eric told her, his voice low. Pam pushed the stylist’s things into her bag and walked the woman through the door.
“Too bad,” Sookie told Pam once they had the room to themselves, “I love what she did and after tonight she has no intention of returning.”
“What are you talking about? She just about tore her clothes off to get Eric’s attention!” Eric turned to Pam, clearly skeptical, and Pam scolded him, “I can’t believe how blind you’ve allowed yourself to become! You should at least notice!”
“I’m fine with him only having eyes for me, thank you very much!” Sookie said sharply. Eric smirked at her words and walked forward, the crown box and another in his hands.
Eric handed her the second box. It was made of a wood more red in tone than the crown box and was tied with a navy blue ribbon. Sookie looked up at him, her beautiful Viking, and he nodded to her. She pulled the ribbon and then opened the top revealing a double strand of pearls nestled in velvet. They weren’t huge, but they weren’t small either. “I wish you to wear these tonight,” he said, his fingers tracing the line of her neck, and then running across her bare shoulder. “To wear pearls is to wear moonlight. As Sky Fae, the moonlight is as much yours as it is mine,” He lifted the strands and lowered them in front of her, drawing the clasp around to the back of her neck. He was nimble and Sookie wondered how many other women’s necks he had graced with jewels in his long existence. She knew he could sense her quick stab of jealousy and his eyes met hers in the mirror once more. He shook his head slightly, chiding her for her foolishness and then leaned down to kiss her shoulder. He smoothed both hands across her skin, resting them on her upper arms. “Jewels are like flowers, my Lover, they have meaning. Pearls attract luck and wealth. They represent wisdom through experience. They are perfect for you,” and his eyes lingered on hers again.
“Eric,” Sookie was almost afraid to say what she was thinking out loud, but it tumbled out anyway, “Can we afford it?”
His expression never changed, but she could feel something… regret, or maybe sorrow. “I wish you to have them,” he told her. Sookie placed her hands over his and she smiled sweetly for him, for them, and believed.
From behind her, Pam drawled, “Okay, are we done now? The limo has been downstairs idling for the past half hour. Let’s go and get this done already!”
Eric withdrew his hands and reached for the crown box. He lifted the jewel and was turning back when Sookie exclaimed, “Wait!”
“What for now?” Pam snarled.
“I tried the crown on earlier and it did something… it was like a light. I can’t tell if it makes me smell more Fae or not. Eric?” and she looked at her Viking.
“Of course,” he understood immediately, “Pamela, please wait outside and shut the door behind you.”
Pam did as she was told but before she shut the door, she growled, “You better not be using this as some excuse for more funny business. I will come in and interrupt this time, and your guards will be paying off to a couple of your sheriffs!”
Sookie let out a breath and shook her head, “We really are going to have to do something about that. I heard the bets are starting to spill over to the household staff,” and then she said, “Are you ready?”
Eric placed the crown on her head. There was another flare of light and Sookie could see her own hand glowing slightly, much like the glow she could see from vampires. Eric deliberately drew in a breath and then let it out, a slight smile playing across his lips, “There is no scent, Lover,” and then his eyes softened, “You look magnificent!”
Sookie stood up, turned, and smiled brightly up, “Well, maybe the shine will make folks think I look even half as wonderful as my King,” and she raised herself on tiptoe. Eric leaned down enough that they could kiss. It was brief. Eric raised his head to look toward the door and Sookie looped her arm through his. He placed his hand over hers, and they started to walk, “Together.”
The crowds had waited for them, the limo letting them know that although the schedule was off, royalty was still expected. When the guards emerged from the building, Twy jerked her chin, and Sonder recognized the signal to alert the camera crews and others who had been waiting. The publicist walked forward to meet Eric and Sookie and to make sure they walked the fifty feet or so along the barricade. The people along this walk were mostly winners of contests and surveys who had ‘won’ a chance to greet the king and be on national television. They were mostly women and they had banners and t-shirts.
The roar of approval was satisfactory as Eric exited the building. Twy swept her arm in the direction she expected them to progress and Sonder was at their elbow with a magic marker so Eric could autograph items. Sookie held back until she realized that there were photographs of her own face on some of the posters. Girls and young men were calling her name and Twy pushed her forward. Sookie realized she was blushing furiously at the idea that anyone would want her signature. It felt like she had stepped into some strange universe where she didn’t really belong.
As they neared the end of the line, Sookie caught another set of thoughts. There was something different about them and she swiveled her head until she located those who were sending them. It was a smaller group across the street. As she focused on them she could hear them more clearly. They were sad and angry. They were also waving pictures, but they were of different people, people who had disappeared, and that these people suspected had become victims of vampires. They were chanting for justice. The surrounding crowd was drowning them out, but Sookie heard them. Eric felt her change and although he was still smiling and waving, she could see the question on his face. ‘Another time,’ she thought and she dragged his hand until they were in the limo and headed to the House of Broel.
The crowds were waiting for them there too, although they were more spread out. Everyone here seemed happier and there were street musicians and even food vendors moving among the bystanders making the whole event one large street party. Once Sookie and Eric walked through the wrought iron gates, the pathway was clear to the house and grounds where Eric would be crowned. They walked slowly down the path, aware of the cameras clicking. Sookie did another scan, but couldn’t locate any but happy and excited thoughts. There was going to be some event for these people involving giveaways and interviews and everyone seemed happy. The all-too-noticeable drink glasses in everyone’s hands were probably contributing to the general exuberance. ‘These folks sure know how to party!’ Sookie thought.
“Laissez les bon temps roullez,” Eric agreed beside her.