A week passed after the Authority’s announcement about Eric’s ascension to the twin throne of Louisiana and Mississippi. As Eric had wearily predicted, it threw us into a spotlight that neither of us would have wished on even the keenest media whore.
For starters, there were the brown nosers. Thousands of them. They lined up around the block at Fangtasia to pay their new king his fealty, which of course was required by all vampires in some form or another (a cordial email or pretty trinket would have done just as well), but it seemed nearly every vampire in five hundred miles felt it necessary to come to Shreveport, cow tow into the bar, and dry hump Eric’s last nerve with their smarmy oaths of everlasting loyalty. In our stolen moments when we laid out in the sunshine, miles away from Shreveport and deep in the long grass, he would caress my bare back while he seethed that those idiots hadn’t even bothered to change the wording to the exact same oath they’d sworn to Sophie Anne and Russell.
I didn’t point out that Eric had been responsible for both of their demises and it was a damn good thing none of these idiots had stepped up to help their “beloved” monarchs.
When I felt his disgust begin to boil over, I placed little baby kisses on his chest and sent him soothing thoughts until he settled down and went back to basking in the light with me. On the one occasion when he’d had a particularly trying forty-five minutes with a sycophant who refused to leave without burrowing up Eric’s ass, I had to up my ante. I’d laid him down in one of our many secluded forest hideouts, taken my pendant blade and nicked his inner thigh. His snarling anger turned to into gritty Swedish moans as I sipped and nibbled and licked. After that, he managed to keep a less dour outlook as he bore through the procession.
The second thing he was forced to deal with was the prospect of his coronation. He flatly refused. The Authority insisted that all monarchs were required to receive their new rank with all of the official pomp and ceremony. Vampires did enjoy a good public ritual. But my vampire, as usual, didn’t follow the fold.
“No,” he repeated to Domingo as the Spaniard stood in the middle of his back office.
He cast a glance at me as I tried to make myself invisible reading a book on the sofa. Eric was slouched so far down in his chair that he was in danger of slithering under his desk.
“I’m afraid we must insist. All monarchs must be presented. It will mollify your subjects that order has indeed been restored.”
“They don’t need a cake to know it’s my birthday, Paulo. I didn’t ask for a Sweet Sixteen. And I don’t need the fucking headache of being strutted around like a debutante, preening for the hard-ons who are hoping for a titty squeeze in the coatroom. My subjects know I’m king. If they need me for an actual reason, they know where to find me.”
I smothered my smile at the mental picture and lifted my book higher, hiding my face. I hadn’t processed a single word of it since Domingo had entered over ten minutes ago.
Domingo made a gutteral noise of impatience. “Many will take it as an insult, like you’re too good for your own constituents. Others will see it as a sign of weakness, that you don’t fully embrace your appointment. Is this what you want?”
“I want to run my kingdoms,” Eric countered coldly. “As you recall, I was given a rather large piece of real estate to manage. I can’t govern effectively if I have to stand up for a verbal blowjob every half hour. I plan to make it clear from the beginning; Everybody get back to work and don’t waste my fucking time unless there’s cause. That means no coronation. No orgies. No pool parties with jacuzzis filled with blood. No granting of royal favors. And no fucking court.” He paused. “I’m offering the Authority the most boring, efficient, law abiding kingdom in the country. How does that tickle you, Domingo?”
My fingertips bit deeper into the cover. Lord, but he made it hard for me to keep my shit together and not laugh my ass off in front of a VIP. The blur of dense words in front of me blocked my view, but the silence the followed felt tense.
At last, the man sighed. “The Magister will not be happy.”
“I have every confidence in your ability to sell my views.”
I risked a peek over my book.
Domingo caught it. With a slight bow, he signalled the end of their meeting. “I trust you will glamor your companion. Our conversations are intensely private, Majesty. I’m sure you understand.”
Eric made an equal bow of his head, pulling off sincerity with a master liar’s skill. “If you wish. My Sookie is completely trustworthy, but if it assuages your concern. I’ll take care of her once you’re gone.”
I managed not to react either way. Domingo looked doubtfully between us. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather do it now?”
Eric made a magnanimous gesture in my direction. “You may do it yourself, if you fear I’m disingenuous.”
Goddammit. My ability to keep a straight face had never been so sorely tested in my life. Somehow, I managed to look up at Domingo, the picture of total acceptance to whatever these vampire men decided regarding my memory.
Luckily, the offer seemed to reassure him. He waved it off. “No, no need, mi rey. I am sure you keep your house in excellent order.”
He turned without further ado and left the room, the door clicking into place behind him.
I began idly fingering a calla lily, which was sitting in a small glass vase by my seat. I blinked rapidly. “What just happened? Where are we? Who are you and what do you want with me?”
He snorted and flicked an offending piece of paper away from his hand. “I just sold you to the Seasame Street count. You’re his now.” He undulated his fingers magically at me. “You will not mock his constant counting or fag opera cape. You’ll be a good pet. A goooood pet.” His crooning made my lips crack wide open.
I picked up the flower, tracing my own face with its soft body. “Yes, Eric. Though I’m lodging a complaint. I’m pissed at being traded down the royalty ladder. From a king to a count? Tongues will wag about my inability to please you.”
He watched as my flower slid down my cheek. Under my chin.
I hid my smile behind it.
Eric may have been extremely busy, but that didn’t mean I suffered a single second of neglect as his companion. We still made love every day. He still brought me with him everywhere he went, provided I wanted to go (of course I did). He asked my opinion on many things, like the contents of his contract as king, new regime changes, his wardrobe, plans for where we would live, possible punishments for lawbreaking vampires, and he asked for it no matter who was present.
But, most of all, he remained a sneaky sumbitch.
After I received an avalanche of African daisies the day after his appointment, I gave him a real earful about thrift and overkill. He delighted in my scolding and what he deemed my “pointless austerity”, and decided to buck against it. Hard.
Hence, his home and office became a minefield. I’d be pulling out socks from a drawer, or looking for a spoon, or helping him with small administrative jobs like filing, and I’d stumble across a strategically placed photograph. At first, they were always flowers. I found a picture of Bells of Ireland taped to my toothbrush. Smiling with puzzlement, I admired the pretty green flowers, then set the photo aside and cleaned my teeth. The next day, the same damn thing happened with Bells of Ireland as it had with daisies. Some poor delivery guy kept showing up every few hours, bent under the weight an arrangement of nothing but bells. I thanked him every time, then started apologizing after the fourth time he knocked on the door. By the end of the day, I had over two hundred stems.
I cursed Eric’s name right to his face. Nothing but oily pride met my anger.
The next night, I found a picture of a single red rose tied to Kitty Eric’s collar when he jaunted downstairs for his dinner. I cocked my head at the photo, nonplussed by the stately stem with its crimson, slightly dropping head. It had never been a favorite of mine. I’d always kinda seen them as a lazy fallback for men who didn’t put much thought into what they gave their sweethearts for Valentine’s Day. Like they were the closest flower to the door, no need to venture further into some girly florist, just grab a dozen, toss the lady two crumpled twenties, and be done with the whole emasculating experience. It seemed a crime, given all the other beautiful flowers in the world. There was just no imagination in a rose, only precedent. I shrugged, unhooked the picture from my cat, and fed him.
No roses came the next day.
What did appear was another photo. This one of calla lilies. I instantly warmed and smiled when I saw it tucked away under my pillow. It had always been Gran’s favorite and I thought of her every time I saw one. Their large, singular petals reminded me of her simple, kind grace. I felt my eyes well with unshed tears as I held it by its corner and traced over their white coned bodies. My biggest regret in the whole world was losing Gran too early. I kissed the photo and put it back under my pillow.
By the end of the next day, I was bombarded with calla lilies. Five hundred at least. They came in boxes. In vases. In pots for the garden. White. Pink. Yellow. Orange. And the final bouquet, in which the lilies were so purple they were almost black. With so many bullhorn-shaped blooms, I could almost hear Gran chuckling at the silliness of it all, amused as all getout that “my beau sure was sweet on me“.
My tears got the better of me. I didn’t yell at Eric that day.
My ridiculous, wonderful vampire had been reading my moods, gauging my interest in each bloom as I found his little visual cues. He knew that if he’d asked me again for my preference, I wouldn’t have told him since he’d go crazy and buy me too many. But I couldn’t hide my reaction from him when confronted with pretty images. Not anymore, anyway. Sly bastard.
Now I was finding pictures everywhere. Several a day. And not just flowers anymore, much to my dismay. I found several magazine cutouts of sports cars. Glossy eight-by-tens of diamond chokers and ankle bracelets. A pamphlet on how to care for horses. A map with the entire Caribbean Sea circled.
Every time, I slammed my eyes closed, shut down the bond as best I could while trying not to think about ponies and tropical islands, and put the offending little snitch into a drawer in my nightstand. I’d tried several times to throw them away, but I found the sentiment behind the trickery too wonderful. I’d keep the photos. The limp, shiny paper meant more than the advertized products ever could.
Behind my closed eyes, I could feel him, his eyes narrowing into shrew little slits. “No one doubts that you please me,” he said quietly. “I’d fuck you on my throne in front of hundreds, if you’d let me.”
I smirked. “No, you wouldn’t.” No. He wouldn’t. Not anymore. Not since he fell in love with me. Not since he’d developed one helluva jealous bone whenever someone so much as looked at me. I’d bet five hundred lillies on it.
Across the room, he snorted. “Perhaps not.”
Tenting his fingers, he changed the subject. “Are you worried about later?”
I tossed my unread book aside and stretched my arms above my head. “Yes,” I said simply.
Rising from his desk, he took two large steps and he was suddenly above me, looking down with a pensive expression. I craned my neck until my head was between my shoulders. “Aren’t you?”
He blinked. “I don’t know.”
“Dr. Ludwig is coming to the house tonight and might inform you that you’re my baby’s daddy. That doesn’t sit weird with you at all?”
“Of course it does. But she might also tell me that my mate is perfectly healthy and childless.” He paused. “We will not suggest to her that any child you may carry is mine, Sookie. I will not expose him to the supernatural world’s scrutiny. As far as anyone will ever know, he will be a human child, born of human parents.”
I tugged at his hand, indicating he sit by me and give my neck a rest. He did so. My worry was steadily increasing at the hard lines around his mouth. I squeezed his fingers. “I don’t want the supernatural world thinking that I stepped out on you, Eric. I’d have trouble not killing anyone who accused me of cheating on the man I love.”
“I’d save you that trouble,” he promised. “I’d tie their legs into fucking Winsdor knots as punishment. But our bonding is recent and our relationship is new. I’ll make sure it’s known that you were with child before we came together.”
I pouted. He smiled. “I’ll simply tell everyone that you were so sick with love for me that you balled some blonde stranger just to dull the pain. That you tried so hard not to scream my name as he fucked you… and failed miserably.”
I stuck my tongue out. “I failed not to scream your name? Or he failed to fuck me?”
“Given how perfectly you suit me, Sookie, I imagine everyone failed to fuck you properly before me.”
“We are not going there. You know there was only one other before you, and I won’t speak ill of the dead.”
“So he did fail to fuck you properly?”
I inhaled slowly, gazing at his lap. “He was a kind introduction to the sport. That’s all I’m going to say.”
I didn’t like talking about Bill. Especially about my intimacy with him. Eric, to an extent, had given me my past and my feelings for him without too much jealous interference. But on this subject, he tipped my chin up until I met his chilly, demanding eyes. “I’m the only one who can fuck the Radia out of you.”
After everything we’d shared, it still amazed me how often he wanted to hear my devotion. “Yes. You’re the only one,” I echoed. “My perfect fit.”
Satisfied, his eyes grew warmer. A comfortable silence filled the space between us as he continued to finger my jaw and throat. I felt the slow, familiar surge of hunger well up in his mind as my fairy blood teased him from under my skin. I let him play for a little while, then spoke.
He grunted, staring intently at the spot under my ear where he liked to bury his face and breathe for long periods of time.
Instead of crawling into his lap, I scooted down into the cushion and pulled him to lie down partially on top of me. He propped himself up on one elbow, then allowed the rest of his body to melt onto mine. I felt his surprise at my positioning. Sitting on him was my usual move. But right now, I wanted the comfort of his heavier, broader frame around me. I arched my back, adjusting under the weighty warmth that enveloped me. With my breasts and belly pressed under his torso and his head just under mine, I turned to look at his desk.
He rumbled with pleasure, nuzzling into my pulse.
A click. A nip. And a long sigh that was mine.
Just like always, the beehive of Eric’s thoughts was brought to a standstill. Suddenly he was blank with pleasure. The shock of the perfect food dulled his sharp mind and dazzled his ancient soul. I murmured happily, my hands smoothing over the dense ripples of his back. This got me every time. Every time he fed, he rejoiced. Even the coldest, most calculating facets of his character flipped onto their backs and purred, letting my blood tickle their bellies. He’d said it before- I made him drunk.
My eyes fluttered shut. I felt so wonderfully warm and squished.
A rough hand moved out of my hair and trailed my body until it found the hem of my dress. I felt it slither beneath the fabric and I couldn’t help but giggle. He really was insatiable.
But my giggle didn’t last long. He bypassed my panties entirely, his palm claiming my stomach. The tips of his fingers pressed into my flesh. He growled with lust into my ear, his hand pressing meaningfully between my hipbones.
“Mine,” he muttered absently between sips.
“No,” he disengaged and licked my throat. He had started softly bucking and butting into me. “Him,” he pressed harder on my tummy. “He’s mine.”
A small gust of air left my lungs and I was pushed into the sofa and snuggled by a vampire king who seemed too dazed to hear himself. I petted up and down his ribcage, agreeing silently. If there was anything for the good doctor to find, whatever it was, it was most certainly Eric’s. As I traced the steely ridges of his battle-hardened body, I wondered if the baby would take after their skyscraping, beautiful father.
“You keep claiming Stackhouses at this rate, you’ll have a menagerie.”
He pushed me further into the couch. “He’s a Northman.”
“We could hyphenate it. Stackhouse-Northman.”
“Fuck you. My semen, my rules.”
“Um, do I even need to point out that your semen is currently rent dodging in my womb? My uterus, my rules.”
I gasped as my dress was ripped open right up the center (again!) and Eric slid down my body and hunched territorially over my belly. I lost his attention as he dove nose, eyes, cheeks and ears on my bellybutton. Sniffing, listening, searching for a bump that wasn’t there, he was nonetheless confident.
“I’m king of all I survey, goddammit. Louisiana is mine. Mississippi is mine. Hadley’s mine. Hunter’s mine. Pam is mine. You are mine. And this,” he kissed into my stomach, “is absolutely mine.”
“No one’s disagreeing, your majesty. In fact, no one would touch that assorted collection of WT except you.”
It was a lie and we both knew it. On paper, the poorest southern states and the Stackhouse clan weren’t much to look at, but no ambitious vamp would turn down a monarchy and no vamp on earth would pass up my family once they got a whiff of us. Still, I couldn’t not tease him. Not when he rankled so easily when I undersold myself.
“Besides,” I continued quickly. “This might turn into much ado about nothing. My period is due in a few days. If the doctor can’t tell us anything, Aunt Flo sure as hell will.”
I looked down at him, hoping to coax the Sookie Smile out. He gazed back at me quizically, his eyes skipping over my exposed body, falling short of my eyes and landing on my neck.
I gave him a questioning look. “What?”
He lifted slightly, staring. “Your throat.”
I put my hand over where he’d bitten. It felt fine. “What about it?”
“My mark is gone.”
My fingers traced over where he’d bitten me. There was no seeping blood, no holes, nothing but smooth skin. “So what?”
“I didn’t heal you.”
Now he had my attention. I rose up on my elbows. “You must have. It’s completely healed and I haven’t had your blood in two days.”
He didn’t answer, merely continued to stare at me with unnerving seriousness.
I bucked beneath him. “Scoot off.”
He lifted slightly and I wiggled out from under him, holding the ragged pieces of my dress together and I grabbed my purse from the floor and rooted around for my compact. “You sure you just didn’t notice when you pricked your finger? You kinda go ga-ga when you feed.”
From the couch, he watched me like a hawk. “Your blood is heaven, lover. Not Rohypnol. I don’t black out when I taste you.”
I found my mirror and flipped it open. Pulling my hair back, I examined my neck carefully, angling the compact this way and that, seeing nothing but a tiny smear of blood where Eric had licked me. The bite itself was gone. I bit my lip in confusion. Eric fed me his blood often and liberally, but not even that would explain how I healed in a matter of minutes when my last sip had been forty-eight hours ago.
I snapped the case shut.
“Well, I guess we can just chalk it up to your blood and our bonds. We get another bonus. Sookie healing powers. Yay Team Stackhouse-Northman.”
He didn’t move and looked totally unconvinced. “We’ll ask the doctor about that as well,” he said dryly.
“Fine.” I checked my watch. “It’ll be dawn in a few hours. You should oversee closing.”
Muttering under his breath, he rose and went into the storage area to fetch me another box with another pretty dress in it, which never seemed to run out, no matter how many he ruined. As I took the box and thanked him, I suspected that Pam was in charge of keeping the dress pool filled to capacity. I took off the lid and peeled back the tissue paper.
I looked up at him. “Another one?”
He looked over at the identical dress that he’d given me the first time he’d torn my dress in his office. Nude color, slimming cut, softest material I’d ever felt. He shrugged and pulled his leather jacket over his t-shirt. “I didn’t get to enjoy you in the first one.”
I slipped off my tattered sundress and pulled the nude one up my hips. I angled into the halter top and twirled for him. “Still like it?”
He pointedly didn’t turn as he paused at the door before stepping out into the bar. His back tensed up. His head turned just enough so that I could see his profile, but not his eyes. “You’re so beautiful, even looking at you tests me. Stand with Pam behind the bar. Hopefully they’ll be no more wellwishers tonight and everyone else will just go the fuck home.”
He turned his head back to the door and spoke to it. “Please, my angel.”
There was a tiredness in his voice, a longing to only be with me, that made me ache. “Okay,” was my only reply.
He nodded gratefully and strode out, Angry Vampire Get-the-Fuck-Out-My-Way King Eric stomping up to his throne and sitting disdainfully. The crowd was still in full swing. Humans scattered from his path. Vampires lowered their heads. Eric flicked his hand, a simultaneous Fuck You and As You Were signal. The crowd went back to drinking and hunting.
I slid behind the bar. Pam greeted me with a nod.
I sat demurely on a stool by the liquor bottles as Pam took a portly woman’s order for a Bloody Mary. How original. Pam kept her eyeroll in check as she dutifully mixed V8 and Tobasco while I handed her the vodka.
She slid the glass over to the woman, ignoring her awed gaze at being served by the couture dead. “Less fun that eating fairy all night.”
“I’m not the only one in the world, you know. If you want one of us so bad, go fuck your own tinkerbell.”
She snarled. “Would that I could. What kind of fucking suicidal fairy would come to where I work all night?”
I smiled. “Poor baby. Try Craig’s List.”
“Fuck you, glitter cunt.”
I chuckled, watching Eric as his fingers flicked dizzyingly over his phone keypad, his slouched frame all but oozing his irritation at his surroundings. My phone buzzed in my clutch purse. I took it out and opened the envelope.
I grinned. Eric had sent me an emoticon. Two little wings flapping gently. They looked just like angel’s wings, except instead of pearly white, they were black as a bat’s. I quickly pulled up a smooching kiss emoticon and sent it back.
Pam had glanced over casually as she pulled out a leather ledger by the till to update inventory. “Bat wings?”
I shook my head. “Angel wings. Eric calls me his angel all the time, though Christ knows why. I’m about as far from angelic as you can get. I kill, I cuss, I have terrible thoughts about some people, I have tons of sex out of wedlock. God’ll set me down for a loooong talk when I finally meet him. Still, Eric insists I’m an angel.” I looked down at his message again. “I don’t know why the wings are black, though. Just him bein’ vampy, I ‘spose.”
Pam gave me a strange look before flipping the ledger open and finding the page she needed.
I cocked my head at her. “What?”
She gave a small shrug, scribbling faster than I could detect. “Nothing.”
“You have a look.”
“Then don’t look at me.”
“Quit being a bitch and tell me what you’re thinking.”
She turned towards me and put her hand on her hip. “Fine,” she drawled, looking over to Eric and jutting her chin at him. “You got the wrong end of the angel stick, that’s all.”
“Meaning what, exactly?”
Having stifled her eyerolls all night for the rubes, she gave me one that nearly popped them from their sockets. “Meaning when Eric calls you an angel, Sweetie Cakes, he isn’t referring to your retarded Christian angels that fell out of Walt Disney’s ass. He means you’re his angel. A Viking angel.”
She drew a peeved breath. “His valkyrie.”
I squinted at the word. She saw my incomprehension.
“Look,” she said. “When Eric turned me, the first thing he did was teach me his mother language. That included Norse mythology. In Old Norse, valkyrie literally means ‘Chooser of the slain’. They’re the female angels that decide who lives and dies in battle. If a warrior is Chosen, he’s taken to Valhalla, or Viking Heaven. There, they often become lovers. The Valkyrie offer them mead, made from the finest honey in the world.”
Her gaze cut quickly to my throat before she continued.
“To be Chosen by a valkyrie is the highest honor a Viking warrior can hope for. She’ll fuck him silly and feed him ambrosia for all eternity as a reward for his bravery in life. Viking men believed their valkyries watched over them in life in the form of ravens.”
She slowly closed the ledge before sliding it back against the cash register. She finally looked at my shocked expression before panning to look at her grumpy maker as he cracked a Sookie Smile at the cartoon kiss I sent him.
“Black wings,” she concluded softly.