Despite his errant hands and clear interest in doing something else, we talked.
True to his confession, touching me did indeed seem to calm him. His palms cupped my breasts. His fingertips played over my ribs like piano keys. They slithered lower, inching between my parted thighs. He collected each and every place that I enjoyed being touched. But he reserved his lips for speaking. A combination of surprise, pride, amusement and disappointment swirled in me as he continued to prime me while talking nothing but business. He didn’t seem distracted by it at all. Au contraire. My body seemed to act like his keystone, the very center of his concentration. He skimmed from my nipples to my bellybutton, from my throat to the soft, blond hair below my hipbone. I wasn’t a sex object. I was a Ouija board. His questions slowly became answers as he teased them out, one letter at a time.
My eyes kept closing in pleasure and my tongue tripped over a few words, but I did my best to stay on topic.
On the agenda: Eric’s decision to hire supe guards for Hunter. I approved. We should monitor our dual bonds constantly, in case the fairies tried to take me to Mab while Eric was sleeping or out of range. At some point, we should continue with my training. Now that I could Still, Eric wanted to probe its limitations. Did I need to be touching the object to manipulate it? How strong was my Stilling if I could control Eric? Or could I simply control him easily because he was mine? I offered to experiment right then and there on random objects in the room, but he declined. He loved his books too much to risk them on an unwieldy fairy test, girlfriend or no. I couldn’t help myself. I raised a single finger in the air and let it glow.
“Are you sure? What if I could make your entire Marlowe collection dance the Can Can?”
A large fist closed over my finger. “Perhaps Sophie Anne was right to bind you. Clearly nothing is sacred if you’re threatening my books.”
I willed my finger to buzz in his hand. It sounded like he’d caught a bee. He expelled a small puff of air, awed at the sensation. “You’d risk more than your books, as long as I keep blowing your mind like this,” I noted.
He nodded mutely, his chin digging into my shoulder. The way his stubble scratched me made all of me shiver. My finger settled and he released it. “I’ll practice outside,” I conceded.
“My trees are at your disposal.”
“If they truly valued their lives as my books did, they’d have something interesting written on them.”
“Are you kidding? They all saw me disembowel that sycamore. They’re all probably praying for Mark Twain himself to drag his skeletal ass out of his grave in New York and come sign every last one of their leaves.”
“They should be praying to Ben Jonson. I would show more mercy.”
A soft ping behind us on the desk. His computer was on email alert. With an annoyed growl, he closed my robe and set me on my feet before dismounting the desk and moving to his chair.
I smoothed the panels back into place. “Something important?” I asked.
“I never assume otherwise.”
I frowned, disliking the loss of heat at my back where my warm vampire had been. “Who’d email you at nine in the morning?”
He slouched deep in his seat and moved the mouse to wake up the screen. His eyes moved so quickly over the text, it didn’t really look like reading. Suddenly the bond between us went still. He didn’t look up as he said, “The message was delayed. It’s from the Authority.”
God fuckin’ dammit. If it wasn’t one group of almighty crazies, it was another.
“What do they want? Is it about Hadley?”
“Not quite.” He reread it before looking at me. “They have appointed a new Magister. I have been summoned, along with the other sheriffs and monarchs of seven southern states, to swear my loyalty.”
“I thought you only had to do that when a new monarch was chosen.”
“No. Hierarchy is crucial for vampires. We must make a show of our submission.”
“Huh,” I offered lamely, bending at my waist and putting my elbows on his desk, staring across at him. “When?”
“What the hell? So, you were supposed to read it when you rose tonight? They’d give you zero notice like that?”
He chuckled again. This one held no warmth at all. “Giving me zero notice means I’d be forced to react without planning. There’d be no time for it. They want us all to come running, eager to please and unable to scheme.”
I smirked. “Little do they know.”
His gaze turned smug and predatory as he leered down his fairy’s cleavage. An oily, possessive conceit slithered over the desk towards me. He loved that he had me. Not only did he love me, he loved that owning me gave him a perpetual ace in the hole. I was the gift that kept on giving. I smiled back at him, my own sense of conceited ownership taking over. I hadn’t done too badly, either.
“Yes,” he agreed simply.
“So? Who’s the new boss? Or do they reveal it in front of a panel of washed-up actors and put the whole thing on TV?”
“God fucking forbid we ever mainstream that completely,” he muttered, his mouse coasting and clicking at a furious pace. “The new Magister’s name is not given. Another means to keep us from plotting. He or she will be named tonight.” He looked up at me, scanning my robe with a clinical eye. “You will need a gown.”
I blinked. What?
“A gown, lover. I’ve bought you many clothes, but I’ve yet to buy you an evening dress. You’ll need to look the part as my bonded companion.”
I blinked again. “As in, I’m going with you?”
“I wouldn’t dress you formally, then leave you at home.” He looked at me like I was an idiot.
I huffed. “Well, duh. Rhetorical question. I was implying that perhaps it’s not such a hot idea to wander into a vampire party smelling like a crackpipe and possibly pregnant with Mo.” I pressed my tummy lightly. Eric’s eyes flicked over it briefly. A sudden, surprising burst of pride shot through him, then vanished. I cocked my head. That was weird.
“Unfortunate, but necessary. I’ve registered you as my bonded. Domingo has already met you and will wonder why you’re not in attendance. If you’re absent, he may wonder if I’ve allowed you to take your cousin into hiding.”
I swallowed. “You think he’ll be thinking about Hadley?”
“With Sophie Anne absent, you’ll hear Hadley’s name whispered many times tonight.”
And she was just sitting on Jason’s couch as we spoke, eating greasy eggs over easy and waiting for the ax to fall. I sent a quick prayer, asking God to please keep her ass on that couch and away from trouble until we were able to sort this mess out. I stood up straight. “I guess I need to go shopping, then,” I said finally.
Eric nodded. “I’ll escort you.”
“My ass, you will. Unless you plan to wear a burka.”
“Your Light will protect me.”
“Not from getting recognized, it won’t. How many Shreveport citizens are Fangtasia fans, I wonder. One sighting in the mall, or one photo taken of you in the parking lot in broad daylight, and our little secret makes international news.” I held my hands up to block each word: “Local Vampire Sheriff Seen Shopping at Hot Topic at 11:30am. Miracle Or Fraud?” I lowered them. “Humans will think you faked being a vampire in the first place, and the Authority will shit grenades.”
This irked him. “You cannot go out without me, lover. I can’t risk it.”
I waved him off. “Nothing will happen to me in the daytime, Eric. I’ll go to the store, pick up something pretty, then come right back. If I get in trouble, come save me. But we can’t risk letting you be seen. Agreed?”
His jaw ticked with irritation. He didn’t like that I was leaving him. To be honest, I couldn’t say I felt differently. His blood in my system must have heard us. It was starting to boil up, furious at the very idea of being separated. My Light in his chest also tugged at me, letting me know that if I chose to leave this house, it was going to tear our hearts to pieces until I came back and slackened its grip. I squared my shoulders. I understood their anger, but this wasn’t up for discussion. Eric’s safety trumped their selfish demands.
“I’d rather call a professional and have them come here with something, then have it fitted to you.”
“That’s sweet, but I’m not letting anyone find out where you live. Not even some harmless old biddy seamstress.”
He raked his hair in annoyance and stood up. “Fine. Go shopping. But stick to public areas and return home at once.” He saw my arched brow and softened slightly. “Please.”
“Manners look so hot on you.”
He grunted. “If they get you to listen, I’ll use them every day.”
I bowed with exaggerated graciousness. “Thank you,” I returned ever-so-politely. “I’ll be quicker than a hummingbird on speed. In the meantime, you can do me a favor and get some rest. You’ll need your strength.”
His eyes darted to his computer. My finger shot up. “No scheming! Not until I get home, anyway. Nap first. Underhanded sneakiness later. Deal?”
My vampire fox sighed in resignation, hating that he’d have to save his outfoxing for a few hours. He came around his desk, took my hands and kissed them. “Your Light is a slaver. She demands that I surrender myself to your wishes.”
I smiled, opening my fingers and trapping his cheeks between them. “Your blood is a thief. I used to be strong and independent and stuff. Now look at me. Robbed.”
He did. Slowly, he reached out and traced the thin bone of my outer eye socket. “Good,” he said quietly. “It cannot just be me.”
My smile turned embarrassed and I shooed his hands away. “All right, enough mushy stuff. I’m gonna go get ready.” I thought a minute. “Can I borrow your car? Mine’s still in Bon Temp.”
“Whichever one doesn’t draw attention. Do you even own a Toyota?”
“I’d rather you took an amored tank.”
“I’m not even going to ask if you have one. I don’t want to know.”
He zipped out of the room and zipped back so quickly that my robe fluttered in the breeze. A single key on a key chain dangled between his pinched fingers. “Take this one.”
I took it from him. “Tell me it ain’t a tank.”
“It’s a bimmer.”
“A car made by BMW.”
I scrunched my nose. “You mean beemer.”
He shook his head. “A common misconception. A beemer is a BMW motorcycle.”
“Huh,” I looked skeptical. I’d have to ask Jason about that. “So. You have a BMW. I guess that’s about as modest as I can expect from you, isn’t it?”
His ancient smiled tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I have a Bugatti, if you’d rather.”
I waved him off again and headed for the stairs. I didn’t know what a Bugatti was, exactly, but I was guessing that it was a million miles away from modest.
I was trying on a dress at a small boutique off of Canal Street when my phone beeped, letting know I had a message. I tugged out of the pink silk shift (totally not my look) and fished it out of my bag, clicking on the little envelope. My heart skipped a beat, thinking it was Eric. I’d seen him all of thirty minutes ago when he’d stood in his garage as I pulled away. If I hadn’t know any better, I could have sworn my supermodel warrior of a boyfriend had been pouting at me. Pouting. Like a little girl. I’d waved teasingly and sped off down his driveway. We hadn’t been together all that long, but in that time, we’d been separated all of three times. It was amazing we weren’t sick of each other yet. I’d wondered briefly if our bonds were going to allow us any breathing space at all. Or would we need to be up each other’s ass all the time, even when we were mad at each other, or even when one of us needed to work alone.
Did they have operations that surgically sewed two people together? They could separate conjoined twins, so how hard could it be to reverse the process?
I shook my head. Stupid bonds. I guess we were never going to be able to plan surprises for each other. If I wasn’t close enough to him to hear the phone call to arrange it, I’d eat my hat.
I looked at the open message. It was from Alcide.
Sook, meeting Hadley 4 lunch. She sounded nervous when she called. Everything OK?
My ears perked up in interest. Hadley called Alcide? And asked him out to lunch? Huh. I thumbed back a quick answer.
We’re all good. No problems since we last talked. She must looooooove you. -S
I smirked and tossed the phone back into my purse. That should get him good and riled up. He might not have liked the idea of Hadley belonging to Eric, but that hadn’t stopped his thoughts from taking him in all kinds of romantic directions. I was hopeful. Both of them had made some unlucky choices and needed to heal. They couldn’t have found a better person in each other to heal with, even if they had kinda tripped over each other. Hey, it was a way better How-I-Met-Your-Mother story than if they’d gotten their lattes mixed up at a Starbucks.
I turned in the small dressing room and gave a mournful stare at the pile of dresses I’d picked. All of them were nice, but none of them really suited me. Not that I thought Eric would object to any of them, in fact I was pretty sure he’d smile at anything I chose. Still. He wasn’t exactly hard to please when it came to me. He thought my Walmart robe was hot shit. Sweet, silly man.
My eyes shifted and caught my reflection in the long mirror. Standing in nothing but my underwear (lavender this time), I watched my hands slither over my flat stomach. Breathing slowly, I pressed into my skin, probing for a Light that I’d tried to convince myself wasn’t there. Nothing but warm flesh met my fingers.
I looked into my own eyes.
Was I really a mom?
My breath turned ragged as I thought of that word for the first time. I’d been thinking ‘pregnant’ since Claudine’s visit. Not ‘mom’. Or ‘dad’. Or bouncing, giggling little baby. I’d been thinking of some weird creature with lasers for eyes and elephant feet, climbing his way up the Empire State Building and calling on the fairies of the world to unite. Smacking an airplane or two as
they shot at him. Pew! Pew!
My throat tightened and suddenly I really did want Eric to call me. The last thing I needed to do was freak out in a dress shop and make him come pick me up like some dithering waif with pregnant brain. At least he could try and talk me down. But I bit my lips and willed myself to stay calm. Nothing was certain yet. Claudine was a fairy, not an OBGYN. She might see something in me, but she said herself it was most likely impossible for me to have this scion thingy. We’d just have to wait and talk to a few more people about it. Starting with Mab. Maybe Dr. Ludwig. Actually, that was a good idea. I quickly texted Eric myself and asked him to make an appointment with her. I didn’t mention the reason. He’d know, and I was now paranoid about who might be spying on us.
He texted back quickly. Done. -E
I was about to attack the pile of dresses again, hoping maybe I’d missed the perfect one somewhere in the bottom, when a knock on the door startled me.
“Miss? Everything okay?”
“Sure!” I called out automatically to the sales lady, then immediately reconsidered. I unlocked the door and stood there in my underthings while gazing at her sadly. “Actually, no. There’s this big party tonight and I need a dress that’ll make my boyfriend feel…” I looked for the right word.
The fortysomething woman smiled knowingly at me. “Breathless?”
The word startled a laugh from me. “Exactly. Breathless.” Be still his unbeating heart. Spike his nonexistent blood pressure.
She nodded and held up her finger. “I think I have just the thing in the back. Size six, right?”
I nodded back and she closed the door between us and disappeared. I stood there for a second or two, until I heard her pad back to the door and open it. She held a dress up by a hanger in one hand, cradling the body, showing it off.
“What do you think of this one?”
I didn’t think.
I didn’t breathe.
I didn’t sputter one single word as I stared at the dress I knew I’d be buying. I didn’t care if it cost ten thousand dollars. As I slowly reached out and fingered the cherry red material, I could swear to God that the dress was calling to me telepathically.
And it had a dirty mind.
This. This was the red dress I’d imagined buying to surprise Eric with. It was silky with a slight sheen. Its deep, plunging neckline would show off my cleavage to perfection. It was floor length, but had a slit straight up to the hip. There was no flare in it, it hugged everything God gave me, and then some. It was naughtier than if I went to the party naked, and yet didn’t advertise anything overt. It let your imagination do that.
The woman was thinking at me. Is she all right? I thought she’d like it maybe it’s the wrong color maybe it ain’t that kind of party Why is she so quiet? I can find something else if this isn’t what she-
“No!” I nearly shouted, then put my hand to my mouth. She couldn’t take it away! It was perfect. It was my Chase-Me-Catch-Me-Fuck-Me dress and it wasn’t going anywhere except home with me, like the saucy minx that it was. “I…um. Sorry, ma’am. It’s just so pretty. I’d love – love – to try it on. May I?”
Her smile grew wider and she handed me the hanger. “Be sure to step out here and let me see. We just got it in today!”
I agreed enthusiastically and nearly ripped the thing off the wire, slipping my legs through and pulling it up to my shoulders. I zipped it up at the side, smoothed it down, and turned back to the mirror.
My breath hitched. My eyes grew wide. Even without makeup, even without heels and jewelry, even with just plain old me inside this dress, I could have caused a ten-car pileup. I looked sexy. I looked classy. I looked untouchable, unattainable to all with the exception of a supermodel warrior. I looked like I belonged to Eric Northman, and nobody could mistake me for belonging to anyone less.
At the risk of being vain and crass, I was one high end piece of ass.
I turned to the side just to make sure. The side slit flashed my tan legs at me and my butt looked like a crimson work of art. High. End. Ass.
I grinned and blushed with pride. There were some days when I felt that I wasn’t half bad to look at.
I opened the door and stepped out to my waiting audience. Suddenly I was nervous again. Hopefully she saw what I saw. Looking at the floor, I asked subconsciously. “So? How do I look? Pretty?”
She didn’t answer right away. I looked up, hoping to get words so I didn’t have to dip into her head. She was pressing her hand to her throat, then to her lips. “Oh, honey,” she breathed. “Your man’s gonna fall to his knees.”
I bit into my lower lip. “Think so?”
“If I owned this store, I’d give the dress to you, free of charge. It’d be a sin on anyone else.”
I agreed. My credit card was practically leaping out of my wallet. I wasn’t going to disappoint it. “Do you have any shoes? And a necklace or something? I’d like to go the whole nine yards.”
She was already herding me back into the dressing room, wanting me to take it off so I didn’t wrinkle it. “Honey, you picked the right store.”
And sure enough. She found some red slingback heels, complete with a modest platform so that I didn’t kill myself hobbling around like a giraffe on her tiptoes. She showed me several necklaces, all of which were sterling silver. I shook my head, smiling softly, and started to ask if she had beads or a fabric choker or something, but then I stopped. One of the silver necklaces was a solid piece of curved metal with a bright red stone inlaid at the throat. Out of curiosity, I held up my ring to compare the stones.
Their color matched perfectly.
Eric wouldn’t be able to touch it.
No big deal, I supposed. I wasn’t like we’d be necking at a formal shindig. And it was awfully pretty.
But something else ocurred to me. Something that had me lifting the necklace from its black velvet display and putting it on the counter next to my dress and shoes. “That one.”
“A lovely choice. Would you like to see the matching bracelet and earrings?”
“That’s really kind of you, but I don’t need to see them. Just add them to the pile.”
She reached into the glass case and took out each. I really did like them. The earrings dangled and the bracelet was actually a pair of thick cuffs. I swiped my Visa (I still didn’t check the prices and nor did I plan to) as she carefully zipped the dress in a black protective sleeve and the rest in a large paper bag.
“Is there a pharmacy around here?” I asked casually.
She nodded, handing back my card. “Sure is. Just across the street and four stores down, next to The Body Shop.”
I smiled, thanked her effusively for my things, and walked out. I crossed the street, hopping into The Body shop to pick up some makeup, then into the pharmacy.
They had both of the things I was looking for.