The gathering was exactly what I’d feared it would be. Crowded and boring. As I guided Sookie through the doors and into the main space, I recognized most faces as they glanced at our entry. Knowing me as well as I knew them, their eyes moved dismissively from my face and settled annoyingly on my woman.
She was spectacular. Dressed as she was, she outshone every stunning immortal female in the room, and that was no small feat. Women who represented centuries of enviable beauty. They’d been lovely human specimens, chosen by their vampire makers for their stunning faces and curvy bodies. In death, they remained as perfect as when they were pulled out of the filth of their huts, cleaned off and saved from their rotting teeth, typhoid and inevitable old age. Forever young.
Next to Sookie, however, they were death masks. Pale moons next to the morning sun as it burst onto the horizon and diminished their pale glows to nothing.
As my golden mate walked calmly by my side, I felt myself growing taller. Bigger. Until it felt as though I’d doubled in size. Sookie Stackhouse was perfect. Every head in the room turned to watch her as we passed. I felt her spine propel forwards, showing she was not afraid. I inhaled. Her scent was faint and tainted by her silver jewellery, but under the metal, the air shimmered and laughed as she passed through it. The smell of a healthy woman intertwined with my secret orchard and stash of honeycomb. It could have been mistaken for the world’s finest, purest perfume, and I hoped to god that it was.
My kind swarmed all around us. It was imperative that they not know that smell of honey was actually her blood… any more than they could discover my warmed skin, telltale sign that my human had bestowed a Fae gift to me.
Her scent was mine. Her honey blood was mine. And her gift of daywalking, the gift that had allowed me to hear bees buzz for the first time in a thousand years, was also mine.
I copied her impervious posture and took her to the bar.
I wasn’t surprised to see him as he slithered up to greet us.
As the top of Domingo’s shiny black head dipped in front of me, I concealed my snarl of distaste and my instinct to snatch Sookie away from the vampire that had tried to steal her from me using bullshit diplomatic tactics. Instead, I dipped my chin slightly at his words.
“Of course,” I answered. “We are honoured by your invitation.”
He straightened, his tux resettling. His eyes rested on Sookie and he smiled gently. He had no idea how close he was coming to losing his head. I wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
“I hope we’re not keeping you up past your bedtime, Miss Stackhouse,” he said.
Sookie kept her Bloody Mary clasped firmly in both hands, not allowing for him to take her hand in greeting, should he have tried. Unlikely, but not out of line. She smiled in return. “I keep darker hours these days, Mr. Domingo. I don’t even remember the last time I saw the sun.”
“Of course,” he replied congenially. “You are a thoughtful companion to become nocturnal. No doubt the sheriff would miss you terribly, should you spend your waking hours in the day.”
Bastard. I silently cursed him through my blank expression as he subtly suggested I was moony for my human. True, perhaps, but a dig at my expense nonetheless.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” she chuckled. “I think he’d manage just fine. But I’d certainly be miserable.”
I almost took her hand to kiss it, she was so adept at saying exactly the right thing. Instead, I nudged my chin in her direction. Almost nuzzling her face, but not quite. “You’re so wrong,” I sighed dramatically, now that she’d given me room to play the indulgent master. “I would pine for you until I wasted away to nothing.”
Sookie laughed softly and shrugged her shoulders at Domingo. “It’s a good thing I like pork. I bonded to such a ham.”
He watched our display politely. “Indeed.”
“So,” I mused. “Do I owe you congratulations, Paulo? Are you the man we’ve all come to honor?”
He put his hands up modestly. “No, no, no,” he clipped with Spanish stops. “I am not the new Magister. I’m afraid I lack the talent for such a delicate position.”
“Oh?” I replied. “I disagree. You seem a very able statesman.”
He smiled wanly at my flattery. “Most kind. However the man chosen to wear the robes is far more capable than I.”
Sookie took a nervous sip from her drink. Domingo continued to watch her from the corner of his eye as he spoke. “In fact, he wishes to speak with you.”
“Before the official announcement?”
He shrugged. “He fears if we wait until after, he won’t get the opportunity to discuss a rather serious matter with you. Too many well-wishers and ass-kissers to humour.” He waved dismissively at the throng around us.
A serious matter. Fuck. I did not like the sound of that.
“I do not wish to presume,” I countered. “I am happy to wait my turn and receive his message after his induction.”
He shook his head. “The wish is his. I’m afraid this cannot wait.”
He stepped to the side and gestured between the staircases. “Please follow me.”
Sookie automatically took both our drinks and set them on the bar before slipping her hand into the crook of my elbow. Just as I’d believed, her etiquette was flawless. One didn’t meet a newly-appointed magister while holding a martini. It was disrespectful. Her face was serene. Her mind was swirling with fear. I clenched my arm into my side, squeezing her fingers. I sent calm to her. I nodded to Domingo, who took my sign and began easing our way through the crowd, towards a large yew door just inside the alcove.
Several sets of eyes watched our exit.
I caught a whisper as we passed the sheriff of Louisiana Area One, his eyes slitted with annoyance as he turned towards his vampire companion. “Jesus Christ, he’s actually going to do it. The fucking vulgarity of it.”
My unease increased. I blocked it from Sookie as best as I could, letting the heavy door shut loudly behind us.
We weren’t kept in suspense for long.
Domingo led us into a well-appointed study not too different from my own library. Fifteen feet high, floor to ceiling bookshelves, all filled to capacity with volumes no younger than two hundred years. At the center of the room was a large desk, yew, just like the door we’d just entered, and a leather wingback chair that smelt of Corinthian leather.
Okalo Massawa, attaché to the former Magister, ebony sphinx thousands of years my senior, sat upon it.
He was immaculate. His black tailored suit clung to his wiry frame like a second skin as he sat ramrod straight. His shirt was crisp as frost. He’d placed his hands palms down on the wood in front of him.
Fuck. Fucking, cunting fuck.
I bowed my head to my elder and my probable new Boss of Everyfuckinthing. “Attaché Massawa,” I greeted him by his old title. “An honor to see you again.”
I held out my arm, indicating Sookie allow me to present her. “You remember my bonded, Miss Stackhouse.” It wasn’t a question. Vampires forgot nothing.
“Of course. Miss Stackhouse, you look lovely. You could charm the birds from the trees.”
To my surprise, Sookie lowered her head and stepped one foot behind the other in a small, graceful curtsey. She’d never performed one to any monarch I’d seen her presented to. Her nimble mind must have realized that while Russell and that redheaded whore weren’t worth the spare change in her purse, Massawa was not a vampire with whom to fuck. His demeanour made anyone who wasn’t a fool hold their tongue, keep their manners, and offer every courtesy owed.
Sookie bowed because she felt genuine awe.
A sliver of jealousy ran through me. She had not shown any deference to me at our first encounter.
She slipped back to my side, peeking at him from lowered lashes.
“Mr. Massawa,” she greeted. She looked up and gave a hesitant smile. “Are you the cause of all the hubbub out front?”
I cracked a smile of surprise, as did the other two vampires. Even when demur, she was just too damn cute.
Massawa nodded fractionally and gestured to the two large chairs identical to his own in front of his desk. “Yes, bird charmer. The Authority has decreed. I have accepted the honor of Magister.”
I bowed my head again before sitting, as was expected of me. “Magister,” I murmured. “You honor us with your private audience.”
Sookie took her seat next to mine, her face expressionless as she gazed at the man who held all vampires’ fates in his hands, and by extension, all pets, bondeds, fangbangers, and innocent bystanders. A crook of his finger, and any of the above could be imprisoned, glamoured, tortured, executed. A vampire who fed openly on a human. A pet who grew overly attached and deranged, threatening to cry rape and force feeds because their vampire possessor had discarded them. A fangbanger with Hep D. A small child belonging to them. An old woman who witnessed a vampire’s misdeeds. One little crook.
Sookie showed nothing but calm civility.
I swelled with pride. Charmer, indeed.
I allowed myself to settle back, getting just comfortable enough without slouching. Sookie often teased me about my lazy, sexy slouch. I smiled faintly.
Domingo took a second’s place directly behind Massawa as his boss began to speak.
“I do not ask you here to honor you, Sheriff. I’m afraid I have called you here to ask a sacrifice of you.”
My gut coiled instantly. I kept my smile. My eyes went dead.
Sookie. He wanted Sookie. I’d been stupid to think he couldn’t smell her Fae heritage. Stupid to think her honeyed essence didn’t fill his head as intoxicatingly as it did mine. Stupid to bring her here. Stupid to offer her up to the hundreds of fucking animals lurking on the other side of the door, just waiting for Massawa to march her right back out there and fill their champagne glasses with her blood.
She was to be his acceptance toast.
His token for their good graces.
He would take her and I would die trying to stop him. And fail. I’d already failed her at the whore’s palace, against inbred wolves no less. I would never succeed against Massawa, never mind a nest of this size. Not even her Light and silver skin would save her.
My mind reeled at an unbidden thought. Our unborn child would also die…
I didn’t remember Claudine’s words about our Fae bond protecting us against such an event, nor did I remember that I’d smote an entire room of vampires who’d tried the very same thing. I was frozen with panic at his ominous tone.
It was only when Sookie placed a shockingly calm hand on my arm, squeezing reassuringly, before I realized I’d been glaring at the man, rudely ignoring his pause where I was supposed to inquire further.
“Oh?” was all I managed.
He raised his elbows to the desk, tenting his fingers. “Sadly.”
“And what might that be?”
I made my instant peace with my own death. I would lunge for his throat the moment he said her name. I would lose. But I would try.
I took an unneeded gasp when I remembered that my death also meant Sookie’s. The instant Massawa tore my head from my body, Sookie would crumple in her seat, her Light snuffed out. My death was her death, her Fae powers had ensured this. It would be a gift compared to what these vampires would inflict upon her, the biting, the rapes, the inevitable draining, but I still ached at the thought of a world without my angel.
Her hand squeezed again. A dulling wave of calm tried to smother my panic. Sookie was desperate for me to keep my shit together. I bit my cheek and waited.
Massawa watched us though black, all-seeing eyes before he finally said. “I need your help, Mr. Northman. My task list is long and unpleasant, and unfortunately, I cannot afford to waste a vampire such as you in a sheriff’s position. Two southern states are in chaotic disarray. The Authority wants swift, brutal reestablishment of order, before any unruly vampires take advantage of the vacuum. Your distaste for higher politics aside, I require you to accept the position as King.”
Sookie inhaled, soft and sharp.
I blinked. I dared nothing else.
“And Mississippi,” he replied.
I blinked again.
Sookie let the breath go in a whispered, shaky exhalation. “I shoulda held onto my drink,” she said quietly.
I let several seconds pass before proceeding carefully. “There are no monarchs that control two states.”
Domingo spoke for the first time. “Would you rather the title of Emperor?”
“Don’t get cute, Paulo,” Massawa didn’t look at him as he admonished.
“I merely point out that it’s unprecedented,” I said. “This… request of yours.” I paused. “It is a request, yes?”
“No monarch has ever been forced,” Massawa answered. “They ascend or abdicate as they wish.”
I felt locked into his gaze, unable to look elsewhere. “I…Magister, I…”
“Think carefully before you refuse,” he suggested.
“I plan to think carefully regardless. Your offer is… unexpected.”
For a split second, his gaze flickered to Sookie. I tensed up all over again. “As I say,” he replied. “I cannot waste you. You are old. You are rational. You are known to vampires in all states. I need such a man to restore order.”
“But why both? Surely there are two vampires whom you trust. To offer me both may not command the respect you hope for. Some might find it… vulgar.” Just ask the sheriff of Area One.
Massawa didn’t react. “I’m not going to take a poll. Nor is my nominee up for debate. Louisiana and Mississippi are sufficiently low in vampire population to be controlled by one man. If any have a problem with your interstate rule, then they can move.” A tiny, malicious smile appeared on his lips. “Or they can bring their displeasure to me.”
I snorted. Like my rule would upset anyone enough to bitch about it to the Authority directly. Their fangs, their lands and businesses, their pets, their freedom, mattered far more. The Authority had taken more than that for more trifling complaints.
I looked between the two men. “I need time to consider.”
“No,” Domingo countered. “We’re announcing it tonight alongside Massawa’s induction. You are free to accept for refuse, but you must decide now.”
I bit the inside of my cheek and probed Sookie’s feelings. She felt remarkably still, given the topic. She had been so hopeful that we might eventually become forgotten by everyone. Just she and I, working my small establishments, quietly accruing my ever-growing fortune, ignored by the world, laughing and fucking and watching our sunrises. It would have been more than enough for her. Even without Sookie in my life, it had been more than enough for me. Now that I had her, it felt like obscene good fortune.
And obscene good fortune, as always, was too good to be true.
Now she sat, ever the lady with her ankles crossed and making calm eye contact with my would-be coronation committee. The sound of her voice startled me.
“What kind of perk package does a king receive, sir?”
Three pairs of eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. Domingo made a congenial show of his open hands. “It is quite substantial, Miss Stackhouse. You and Mr. Northman would be free to inhabit any of the Authority’s domiciles, including this one, or you could choose to live in your own home, though we suggest you consider otherwise, given your need for an extensive security staff. An annual stipend of five million dollars, taxable by the IRS, of course. Permission to retain all current business holdings you may have. Diplomatic, financial and military support from the Authority, within reason. A voice within all council decisions involving the states’ welfare. Higher security clearance. Access to most of our records. All perks, as you say, would be outlined by the lawyers when the contract is drawn up.”
She nodded, her wide, dark eyes giving her the appearance of a cautious deer once again. I bit my cheek harder. In my human days, I had loved to hunt deer. Their sleek appearance, feminine faces and luminous eyes made for beautiful prey. Sookie turned to me. My lovely doe smiled nervously.
“It sounds… interesting.”
The two men smiled at her politeness. Holding her gaze, I gophered into her mind, rooting out its sincerity. To become king (of two states, no less) would catapult us into vampire politics. I would become known on a national level of importance. Sookie would be transported from barmaid and sheriff companion to the enviable and highly-visible station of royal consort. Hiding in obscurity would no longer be an option. We would become mini-celebrities.
And yet, I felt the tentative beginnings of her willingness.
“So… this military support, Mr. Domingo. Why would we need it?” she asked.
Over Massawa’s stony shoulder, the Spaniard shrugged. “Should a usurper attempt to take the throne, or should any vampire factions become more trouble than your security team can handle, we would step in.”
She recrossed her ankles, leaning forward. “What about other supernatural factions? Like… weres, or like the maenad that attacked Bon Temps? Would the Authority help if any of them caused serious trouble?”
The man shrugged again. “Of course. We do not take kindly to supernatural disruption. They are PR nightmares, often used by humans to incite violence against vampires, since we are the only supernaturals they are aware of. If the monarch deems it worthy of an intervention, he may request assistance.”
Insight broke over me. I instantly felt more relaxed. As I carefully picked through Sookie’s calm mood, I realized that this was why she was cautiously optimistic about this new possibility.
Vampires might covet my companion, but an army conscripted to protect us would give any rogue vampires or potential Fae kidnappers a good fucking reason to reconsider. Interlopers like Herveaux. Fairy queens like Mab. Even pathetic shifters like Merlotte. With a royal crest of protection, Sookie would become a far more expensive pursuit. Even speaking to her and invoking a king’s displeasure could bring down a wrath too dear for them to even consider.
A calculated risk, but we would be protected.
Perhaps a life in the limelight might be a perk in and of itself.
I turned back to Massawa. “When would my tenure begin?”
“And we could stay in Louisiana? Not Mississippi?”
“Two residences will be kept for you. The second will be kept in Jackson for business that brings you across the border. Where you reside in Louisiana is your decision, as Paulo said.”
I slouched further down. Fuck my poor posture.
“I am inclined to accept.”
I waited for a ripple of objection from Sookie, either against my decision or at the slight of not being consulted. Through the strong, twisting rope of emotions between us, nothing rose to the surface. It stayed calm and loving. Her willingness to play the second class citizen in front of vampires was repaid by my silent, heated approval. Holding her tongue helped us. Far from the little hothead I met not so long ago, my mate was fast becoming too wise for her years.
Domingo chuckled dryly. “Is there anything we can do to solidify your inclination into certainty?”
My mind scrolled quickly. Surely there were variables that I wasn’t seeing. What enemies would I incur with this promotion? What allies could I solicit? Would this news reach Mab’s ears in the Fae realm? Would it cow any plans she might have had for Sookie? Would it exacerbate her ire and fast track her wish to bring Sookie into their world permanently? Would I be able to breach their world if they did? If so, how could I use the Authority’s military to wage against her?
Massawa watched me very closely.
At length, he spoke. “Paulo. Leave us.”
The Spaniard looked at the stately vampire in front of him. “Magister?”
“Leave. I believe I can persuade Mr. Northman in private.”
Domingo hesitated, but then stepped to his superior’s side and bowed. “Of course.”
As he crossed the room, Sookie rose as well, clutching her purse and offering a small nod to Massawa, assuming he wanted her to leave as well.
Massawa held his hand up and stayed her. “No,” he said. “Please sit.”
Glancing between the two of us, uncertain, she nodded again and resumed her seat.
Once the door closed, Massawa cocked his head, listening to Domingo’s retreat down the hall. When he was satisfied the three of us were sufficiently alone, he stood up, placing his weight on his palms and leaning towards us as if to whisper.
Looking squarely at Sookie, he said, “The silver was a clever ploy, young fairy, but I’m afraid I can still smell you.”
My fangs dropped to their fullest length and I rose from my seat like a shot. I’d been right all along. Massawa was too old to fool. Too old to kill. Sookie and I would meet our deaths in this room.
The ancient African merely looked at me. “Calm yourself.”
“You have no options with me, Viking. You can posture all you like, but if I want you dead, you shall be so. If I want the girl, I can take her. Sit your ass down and comport yourself. We have very little time.”
I stayed upright, moving between Sookie’s chair and the desk, blocking her from his view. “I said fuck you, Nubian. Try and take her from me and you’ll see what happens. She is mine!”
He stared me down for several moments. Then, sighing heavily, he sat down himself, leaning back into his chair with the same contempt for erect posture that I maintained. From his slouched position, he gestured to my chair. “I do not want her, Eric. Please retract your fangs and sit.”
At my back, Sookie stood up and put her hands on my shoulders. “Eric?” she said softly. “He’s right. If you fight, it won’t end well for any of us. If he wins, you die. If you win…” she pushed the queen’s demise into my head. “…. Well, we’ll have a lot of explaining to do.”
She was right. If by some miracle, I bested Massawa or Sookie’s Radia rose from my body and destroyed him, we still had a horde of vampires on the other side of the door. I couldn’t kill all of them, and burning them all into puddles would cause a national outrage in our community. With Herculean effort, I shoved my fangs back into my gums.
Sookie sighed behind me, relieved.
Massawa looked pleased.
Still. I wasn’t about to concede that everything was civil and gentlemanly between us. I moved to my chair, but I yanked Sookie from hers and landed her in my lap. There was a momentary sting of silver as my hand touched hers. She came with a yelp, her hands closing over the slits up her thigh and down her cleavage, trying not to pop out of them as she struggled on her very unladylike vampire cushion.
I banded one arm around her, careful not to use my hands, and ripped my driving gloves from my pockets and jammed them on. Now that our little secret was out, there was no need to risk her sitting on her own.
“Eric!” she hissed, scandalized. “Lemme go!”
I glared at Massawa and held her tighter. “Talk,” I barked at him.
I gripped Sookie by the waist and willed her to still. She wasn’t going anywhere, so she might as well settle down. My lover huffed in defiance, but stopped squirming. Her mental signals had met with a brick wall. She knew I wasn’t going to relent. Our host watched with indifference as I grappled with my poison-tipped angel, noting as we silently came to an understanding without words.
He cracked a minute smile. “Ingenious, I must say. The other guests think her jewellery is merely a tasteless joke. Only a vampire of significant age can detect the fainter smell of silver atoms beneath it. Tell me, is there anywhere safe to touch her?”
Her lips. Her perfect, kissable lips. “No,” I answered coldly. “And I said talk.”
His eyes closed briefly, a look of tiredness settling over him. I didn’t relax. A vampire his age could rival the speed of light. A look of vulnerability meant nothing when he could kill us both in a thousandth of a second. I doubted even Sookie’s Radia could respond to a threat that quickly. So I remained vigilant.
“And I said comport yourself. You have nothing to fear from me.” He tapped his chest, giving me a meaningful look. “I would never pit myself against a Radia, sheriff. I am not a fool.”
If I’d had a heartbeat, it would have stopped cold. “How…?”
“Another advantage to extreme age. From this distance, I feel as though I’m sitting across from a space heater.”
Sookie pushed herself further into me, her mouth dropping in shock. “You can feel that? You can tell that he’s warm?”
The Nubian waved his hand. “Yes, Miss Stackhouse. And since I hear no beating heart, I can safely assume you have not revived him.” He paused and smiled with a bit more warmth at her. “Your people are powerful, but I doubt you are able to raise the dead. Instead, you’ve Chosen Eric as your mate. Correct?”
I couldn’t think. Couldn’t scheme, as Sookie accused. I was frozen in disbelief. How could he know? The secrets of the Fae had been forgotten for centuries. Even members of their own race, like Sookie, were ignorant of them. How could he know? Sookie, mouth still agape, merely nodded. Apparently she too was incapable of guise at the moment.
“You… you know that I’m a fairy. You know about Radia and being Chosen. How…? How do you know? My people… I mean… I mean even Eric had never heard of-,”
“Your people,” Massawa scoffed, shaking his head slowly. “Your people are vain creatures. So besotted with themselves and their powers, they often forget that other supernaturals have been around for almost as long as they have.”
To my astonishment, he tapped his nose and winked. “To we few, fairies are not as mysterious as they’d like to think.”
Sookie fell back completely against my chest. “So… you knew? You knew about us when we first met? This whole time?”
“Be calm, bird charmer. Yes, I knew. Just as I know the true identities of many creatures I meet who delude themselves into believing they are undetectable. For four thousand years, I have witnessed the flourish and extinction of many races. Some once ruled this world. Some, like vampires, slithered through it, cowering in caves, praying for the inattention of man. Creatures of all description and ambitions. I have seen them. You,” he pointed at Sookie, “are a welcome sight. I haven’t set eyes on a fairy in many, many years.”
Sookie gave him a tight half-smile. “Half fairy, sir.”
“Of course,” he amended. “Half. But a great sight, nonetheless. A pity you are so thoroughly attached. I would have enjoyed hunting you.”
There was no malice behind his wistful remark. Merely regret. I hissed loud and angrily anyway, holding my lover by the throat, hiding her pulse from him.
He chuckled dryly. “I mean what I say. I will not challenge a Radia, sheriff. I have seen the result.”
Sookie’s curiosity pricked my mind. “Really?” she asked. “In another vampire?”
“Noooo,” he answered low and long. “I have never seen or even heard of such an unlikely thing as a fairy Choosing a vampire. But I have seen vampires attempt to separate and feed on bonded Fae mates. The result was… unattractive.”
Aside from Sookie’s heartbeat, the room went quiet as the three of us regarded each other. I felt her raised pulse under my fingers. My thumbs began to circle, one against her jaw line and the other just under her breast. Her ass tensed in my lap at the caress.
“So,” she said stiffly. “Uh… what now?”
Massawa raised his brow questioningly.
She swallowed. “Well, you know our little secret, but you seem to be awfully sweet about it. And I’m hoping that we can count on your discretion…” Her pitch went up slightly, as though it were a question.
Brow still up, Massawa nodded. “Disclosing your secret helps no one. Vampires, ignorant of the Radia’s destruction, will try to take you. I would incur Mab’s wrath for revealing one of her kind. Assassinating the sheriff will only result in your death as well, so no one can hope to possess you by killing your mate. So, yes. You may count on my secrecy.”
Sookie’s nose crinkled at such a cold, calculated explanation of his silence. I, however, overflowed with relief. Had he flattered us with humble assurances that he would never breathe a word out of the goodness of his heart, or because he respected me, or that mainstreaming prohibited him from challenging another vampire for his mate, I would have begun making plans to have Massawa assassinated. Instead, he’d made it clear that he’d looked at our situation from each angle, seen no advantage, and had decided against our exposure or deaths.
His turn of mind was very similar to my own.
“Then her question remains,” I spoke finally. “What now?”
“The situation is exactly the same the moment you came through that door. I need a reliable king for two states. You require a stronger political position, should your companion’s heritage become public knowledge. A fairy might be worth challenging a sheriff for, but most will defer the pleasure if they must risk themselves against a king. I see our predicaments as mutually beneficial.”
“And this is why you asked me specifically?” His choice made sense now.
He laughed through his nose. “I asked you because the best vampire for the job is smart enough to decline the offer, knowing what a pain in the ass it will be.” He gave me a knowing look. “Would you have accepted, were it not for your mate?”
His hand made a small flourish. “Precisely.”
I continued to roll the prospect around in my head. Massawa seemed sincere. More importantly, his insight into Sookie’s bloodline seemed to stop there. Not once had he glanced at her womb, nor suggested that he detected the smell of a fetus. In that, I felt immense relief. I smelt nothing either, but then again, his nose was three thousand years keener than mine.
My bird charmer spoke from her perch on me. “What about Hadley? Has the Authority made a decision about what do to with my cousin?”
I tensed beneath her. She did not know, but it was bad manners to question superiors about upcoming verdicts or their sentences.
The Magister gave her a kind look. “The queen killer?”
Sookie drew herself up, unflinching. “The kingmaker.”
This startled a laugh from Massawa. “I guess she is at that. As far as I am aware, the Authority are still discussing her case.” He paused a moment, cutting his eyes to me. “Perhaps this could be an added perk, sheriff?”
“The girl is guilty of five vampire deaths. There is no way I can prevent the Authority from finding her so, but perhaps…” he tapped the desk. “Perhaps, for her sentence, they will agree to remanding her to your permanent custody. She would be your responsibility until her natural death, but she would be free. Would that be sufficient?”
Sookie’s hope flew up wildly between us, untethered, wings flapping crazily. I flicked my wrist at him. “I need a guarantee. If you can promise me Hadley, then I’ll accept your offer now.”
He brought his hands together and struck them twice in opposing directions. “Done.”
He rose. “I’m afraid I must go mingle with the crowd before the announcement. In twenty minutes, I expect you by my side at the podium.” He smoothed out his suit. “I would suggest you take the time to mark your companion, Eric. Silver aside, she smells devastating. It would be wise to find a clean spot and bite.” Suit adjusted, he walked towards the door. “They are not all as civilized as we.”
The door shut quietly behind him.
The charmer and I were alone.
Sookie expelled a breath that she’d been holding for at least ten minutes.
“Jesus God Almighty,” she sighed, getting up from my lap and standing above me. “Tell me I just hallucinated that whole thing.”
“I’m afraid not. I’m as shocked as you.”
“Oh, I doubt that very much,” she scoffed quietly. Leaning down, she kissed me on the cheek. “You saved Hadley. And Hunter. Again. Thank you, Eric.”
I stifled the urge to nuzzle her back, knowing it wasn’t safe. “Pay me back. Make her marry the wolf.”
She stood up with a laugh. “Don’t worry. I’m already working on it.”
She sighed again and walked two steps to the desk. She turned and placed her hands backward on it, vaulting herself to sit between the Tiffany lamps. With company gone, she crossed her legs at the knee, her slinky dress falling open over her smooth, bare legs. She leaned back.
“So,” she chirped conversationally. “King, huh?”
I bowed deeply to her from my seat. “My queen.”
She laughed again. “No, sir. None of that queenie talk for me. It’s bad enough to be a ‘royal consort’. God, that sounds sleazy. I sound like some ordained whore, entrusted to keep the king from contracting blue balls.” She shuddered in disgust.
Smirking, I stood up. “You will accept the title, your displeasure aside. You have no idea how deeply it’s respected in my world. Yes, it implies that you are entrusted with fucking me, but it’s also an untouchable station. I would never be expected to share you. I could legally kill anyone who even looked at you without my permission. Your freedom—or rather my freedom as your master—is absolute. I can display you to everyone and drag you to every function, or I can hide you away in a locked room, never seeing another living soul.”
I grinned when she stuck her tongue out at me. I placed my gloved hands over her bare knees, gently prying them open. She let her thighs part, her dress sliding up around her hips as I slid between them.
No panties. She bit her lip at her sudden exposure, eyes dipping shyly.
“My point, Sookie, is that we are free to act as we please. No behaviour is unseemly. You are no one’s inferior.”
I bumped her naked pussy with my clothed, pounding dick. “Except mine.”
She jolted at our contact. Her brow arched in challenge. “So I owe fealty to you, is what you’re saying? Like everyone else?”
“Nothing like everyone else.”
Her brow climbed higher as my black index fingers traced her lovely collar bones. “I’m afraid you owe me far more, and more often, than any of my subjects.”
“That a fact?”
I bumped her again. Harder this time. She gasped, leaning back further on her hands. My gloved fingers dragged the silky red fabric to the outer swells of her breasts, baring her feminine body even more to me.
Her heart was racing. Her mind was trying not to capitulate to my touch as I partially undressed her. “L-looking for a clean spot?” she stammered. “Going to mark me so everyone can see? Like a monogram on your luggage?”
I traced her bare breasts slowly, swirling in ever-decreasing circles until I reached her peaked nipples. She mewled when I pinched them softly. “No,” I answered. “I won’t bite you in this place. The scent of your blood is too much to risk.”
Her eyes fluttered. “Then what are you doing?”
Still massaging one breast, I opened my fly with the other hand, releasing myself just inches away from her. “I am accepting your fealty,” I replied. I took a great risk and guided myself to her folds. She whimpered in fear for me. As our skin touched, my hopes were vindicated. She hadn’t sprayed the silver this deeply between her legs. “You are doing your job.”
I pushed into her a single inch.
Both of us moaned. It had been twenty-four hours since we’d made love. Coming against each other’s mouths like we had that morning was satisfying, but nothing soothed my feral soul more than when her tight, hot Heaven embraced me. One day had felt like eons. I groaned as once again, I discovered total enlightenment in the body of my mate.
“Eric,” she whispered, arching off the desk, scared to touch me, yet compelled to offer herself.
Knowing it was safe, I sank into her until she had all of me. “My queen,” I whispered back. And she was. My queen. My goddess. My absolutely everything.
I grabbed her hips and plunged again. And again. And again until I lost myself to the hard, angry rhythm we chose. She brought one hand up to stroke down my buttoned shirt. I was riveted to the bounce of her tits and didn’t pay attention when she undid three of them and leaned forward.
“Here’s my fealty.” She parted the fabric and kissed my chest. She kept her lips perfectly still. I paused my thrusts, as deep inside her as possible, and looked down at the top of her head. She broke away with a wet smack and looked at the perfect red kiss she stamped on my skin.
Smiling proudly, she leaned back again, her eyes never leaving mine as she slowly dragged of my hands away from her waist and up to her mouth. Staring over the back of my hand, she gently bit the end of my middle finger, catching the leather between her teeth. Holding my wrist in her other hand, she drew the glove off my hand.
I reared back and shoved hard into her again, unable to take the sight of her seducing me so expertly. She let out an adorable little squeak as her pussy stretched wider to accommodate my roughness. Turning her head, she opened her mouth and dropped my glove.
“You don’t have a ring for me to kiss,” she noted, looking at my pale hand. “I guess I’ll have to give you one.”
With that, she rolled her hips, answering my thrusts, and sucked my ring finger deep into her hot little mouth.
“Fffffffuck,” I hissed low and angry. My head tipped back and I succumbed to my instincts. Still holding her hip with one hand, I skipped making love and gave into a hard, pounding fuck. My mind shut down completely, too consumed with experiencing Sookie’s hot, wet suction in two places at once.
Her tongue swirled around me. Her inner cheeks smoothed along my skin. Her pussy rippled and shimmered around my desperate cock.
“Love you,” I choked out. “My queen. My angel. My glorious…perfect…wife!” I roared as I came, marking her exactly as I’d intended as my seed filled her up and imprinted her with the smell of Eric Northman, her royal possessor.
Sookie sobbed, releasing my finger from her mouth and grabbing my lapels, burying her face in my clothes as she ripped and burned and tore her way through her own climax.
Mine. And the whole world would know. Minemineminemine!
Her legs were wrapped around me. I trembled and blinked profusely, trying to regain my sight as I came down from another unfathomable high. Sookie panted against me, her face pressed against my black suit, shying away from my ungloved hand.
I needed to hold her.
My protected hand slid up her back. I snaked my other arm around her exposed neck. I dropped my face next to hers. So close. Never close enough.
“I love you,” I repeated. “All of this, I do for you.” I put my lips as close her ear as I dared and whispered. “For our child. If you carry him. I do this for him as well.”
I was coming to grips with the idea. No longer did I look at the implausibility of it. If it was a fact and I had impregnated my soul mate, then he was mine as much as she was. And to be mine meant that my undead heart belonged to him as much as it did his mother. To be mine meant that he would be protected, come hell or high water. Just like his mother, he tore my love from me without even trying. The possibility of him was enough. I was his.
Sookie shivered slightly, adrenaline buzzing through her veins.
“My king,” she whispered against me. “You’ve always been my king. From the moment we kissed all those months ago. I… I’ve felt that way.” She looked up at me. My startled little doe. “I hope I am,” she breathed. “I hope I’m pregnant. I want to give him to you.”
My body raged in displeasure as I slowly withdrew from her. As I zipped myself up, Sookie very carefully rebuttoned my shirt and smoothed my tie, her secret, red fealty nestled next to my heart. I drew her dress back over her breasts with one hand. I backed away enough to let her jump down and smooth out the long skirt. She looked as untouched as when she entered. Only vampires would know she’d been recently fucked. And fucked well.
She bent down and retrieved my glove, handing it to me as I stuffed them into my pockets.
Her heart was still racing as she took my elbow and pointed us towards the door. “Do you think he suspects?” she murmured.
I willed the need for silence into the bond. We couldn’t discuss it here. For all we knew, Massawa had cameras in this room. I didn’t care if he’d filmed us fucking, but I wasn’t about to muse about Sookie’s possible pregnancy.
She nodded at my suggestion.
As I waved my hand at the door, indicating we should exit, she chuckled.
I looked at it and realized that she’d done exactly as she’d said. On my right ring finger was a perfect band of red lipstick. The king’s ring. Only instead of kissing it, she’d created it by blowing my finger while performing her other duty as consort.
For a split second longer than I should have, I considered keeping it.
“You are dangerous,” I scoffed, wiping the lipstick off with my silk handkerchief.
She smiled her wide, happy smile. The one that made her look like a little girl, free of care. “Just doin’ my part for king and country.”
As we left the library, I could hear Domingo’s voice as he began his keynote speech. Massawa’s induction was under way. In a few minutes, he would be named Magister. As part of his acceptance speech, I would be named King of Louisiana and Mississippi.
Sookie’s kiss still felt warm on my chest. I focused on the feeling, determined to let it center me as I bore the rest of the night.
“I love you, too,” my fairy whispered as we entered grand foyer. Several heads turned in our direction, but most stayed intent on the Spaniard and the Nubian as they stood on a stage in the middle of the cavernous space. In a room full of supernatural hearing, she added, “My king.”