I woke up to sunlight streaming through my window and Eric sleeping soundly at my side. I reached over and pet him, forgiving him for being so lovable to my uninvited guest last night.
“Judas,” I accused anyway. He cracked two large, green eyes at me, then promptly shut them again, the sunshine dragging him against his will back to his catnap. He and the vampire had even more in common than I’d considered. They both dropped like stones when the sun was out. I rubbed my own eyes and checked the clock. Eleven fifteen. Damn. I had the lunch shift in an hour.
Kicking off my blankets, I cursed the luck of maenads and vampires and whatever damn else out there, who had the luxury of living forever and accumulating vast amounts of gold and art and money, then investing it in the 21st Century so they could sit on their ass while it multiplied. Sure beat the crap out of minimum wage and sucky hours. I wondered vaguely how much money Eric had stockpiled away. Probably millions. Possibly billions. Especially since I was sure he wasn’t above killing for it. Or glamoring, at the very least. I snorted as I stripped out of my jammies and grabbed a towel. Then again, maybe not. Eric seemed to enjoy challenges too much to simply take what he wanted. Better to cajole, lie, trick and charm his way into money. That way he was paid twice: once with cash, twice with the satisfaction of proving that humans were just rubes easily duped.
The shower sprang to life as I turned the handle. I stood back and let it warm up. As it did, I noticed where my mind had immediately gone.
He was like Rome. All thoughts eventually led to him.
I stepped into the water and sighed as it sluiced away the burger grease from last night’s shift…and the residual, smoky fragrance of leather. I scrubbed myself harder than I normally would.
When I was sure I smelled like me again, I rinsed off and stepped out. I wasn’t sure why it was such a big deal to get Eric’s jacket out of my skin. After all, I’d given into my attraction to him last night. Or rather, I’d let him know by putting the moves on him first, instead of the usual other way round. I guessed it had something to do with just wanting to be me. Not Bill’s, not the Queen’s and most certainly not the King’s. Not even Eric’s, as alluring as that prospect sometimes seemed. Just regular ole Sookie Stackhouse, resident weirdo and borderline recluse. No one caring what I did or thought, and certainly not caring about bizzaro things like how I tasted. Maybe I was longing for the simpler days, when I was the only oddity in town.
I tossed on my Merlotte’s uniform and hurried downstairs. I needed to grab something to eat before I left and I wasn’t even sure I had flour, much less actual food. I checked the fridge and rejoiced. Cold pizza. Perfect. I yanked two slices and devoured them as I grabbed my keys. I was ready to tear out the door when a small piece of paper on the knob brought me up short. I shoved the last of the second slice in my mouth and picked it up. A startlingly elegant script greeted me.
I cannot stand the idea of you coming to me at Fangtasia. A car will pick you up after work and bring you to my home. I will rise shortly after. Wear white.
I swallowed carefully and reread the note. A car? His home? Rise? Wear white? He couldn’t be serious.
I was already late and didn’t have time to think about it. I ran upstairs, grabbed one of my white summer dresses and – sheepishly – a prettier set of underwear. I was already in white sandals, so I didn’t bother with shoes. Shoving my clothes into an overnight bag, I flew out of the house, into my car, and gunned it towards work.
The shift dragged like the stubbornest mule.
It didn’t help that it wasn’t busy. I tried to fill the time by cleaning tables that weren’t in my station and refilling whatever containers were less than brimming with condiments, but busy hands couldn’t stop my overactive brain.
Ericericericeric wearwhite ericericericeric you coming to me ericericericeric bring you to my home ericericericeric
Good God in heaven, why did thoughts of that man torture me so? Bill had never invaded my head this badly, not even in the beginning when I was a naive hayseed just happy to be with someone I didn’t have to mentally listen to. Maybe that was the difference. I knew what I was now. Just as I now knew more fully what a vampire was, what they were capable of. I was a fairy hybrid. Eric was an unapologetic vamp. We knew each other, warts and all. I had not had that with Bill, not until his false intentions had been stripped away, one after the other, and he stood quivering and leaking blood from his eyes. He’d been sorry. He’d been wrong. Still. I felt nothing but revulsion.
With Eric, it was backwards. Revulsion slowly evolving into… I stopped pouring mustard into a yellow bottle and considered. Evolving. But into what, I still didn’t know. But it was big, whatever it was. Hairy, with lots of bells and whistles and consequences and god knows what else attached to it. I gulped and continued my work. Tonight, he and I were going to have a nice, well-lit, asexual conversation about the elephant in the room that we were finally addressing. And I wasn’t going to weaken. Not one single iota. I was going to stay on the rails and ask well-considered, relevant questions about our future together and he would respond in a respectful, informative manner.
It was settled, then.
A car was waiting for me when I stepped outside into the parking lot. I’d quickly changed into my dress and tussled my hair with water in the bathroom sink. And despite my ongoing pep talk to myself about how there’d be no hanky-panky tonight, I pulled on the sexy panties and bra. My rationale was when a girl wears a pretty dress, she does a disservice to herself by not wearing pretty underthings. Horse puck, my brain accused me. I snorted and ignored it. Who cared what it thought anyway?
My driver was polite and nondescript. He opened the door of an expensive, understated black sedan. I thanked him and stepped in. He moved to the driver’s seat and without a word, took off down the highway. He didn’t put the radio on. He didn’t look at me in the mirror. He might as well have been a robot. I found I didn’t mind. I felt weird enough being fetched for his employer. I immediately banked any jealous thoughts about this being a regular gig for my quiet friend at the wheel. If Eric was in the habit of having women brought to him via chauffeur, well. I looked out the window at the rapidly fading sunlight and jutted my chin. Well, he just better not is all I can say.
We pulled up at a fancy wrought iron gate. The driver punched in five digits and it opened. He pulled up a circular driveway to an elegant home that was probably six times the size of my own house. It was a muted, clean white with lots of stone work. Granite, if I had to guess, and was very impressed if it was. I knew from Jason that granite was expensive to work in, difficult to sculpt and heavy as hell to move. Yet there were many polished pieces of it littering the front entry, including the steps to the door. Fancy pants.
The driver opened my door and gestured for me to step out. I did so, my eyes never leaving the house.
“Master requests that you enter alone. He asks you to make yourself comfortable. He will be with you very soon.” His voice startled me.
I jumped slightly and turned to him. “Is there anyone else here? Pam? Other employees?”
He shook his head. “No, ma’am. Mr. Northman lives alone.”
This pleased and terrified me all at once. We’d be alone for our little talk. We’d also be alone for any not talking we decided to do. But I showed nothing as I nodded to him. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate the ride.”
He seemed amused at my gratitude. “Good evening, Miss Stackhouse.”
With that, he was back in his car and disappearing down the drive. I was left alone in the dusky light in front of a mansion. I took a deep breath and hurried up the stairs, the sudden solitude of an unfamiliar place giving me the creeps. I tried the knob and it turned with no trouble. Either Eric left it open for me, or he saw little point in locking it. Somehow, I figured it was the former. I entered the foyer, closing the heavy oak door behind me. My shoes made stark, loud clicks as the granite continued into the house, its unforgiving surface creating clacking footfalls for my otherwise soft shoes. I hated the noise. It let everyone in the house know where I was. I slipped off my sandals and left them by the door, instantly happier as my bare feet slid silently along the tiles.
The living room was beautiful. The kitchen was surprisingly big and well-appointed. The library was filled to capacity. The dining room was fit for heads of state.
Nothing surprised me about Eric’s display of tasteful wealth, but nevertheless, I could not help but marvel. He had excellent taste. Hardwoods and metals and tapestries and spatial design. Everything worked harmoniously. As I moved through the rooms, I touched surfaces, book spines, pots, bowls, chair backs, door frames. The house smelled so clean, I knew Eric would have no trouble picking up my scent in these rooms. I wanted him to know I’d been there, looking at his things. Touching them. Thinking about him as I did so. I got a strange thrill imagining him as he followed my trail like a police dog. The only thing I didn’t touch (but sorely wanted to) was an ancient looking crown that he had discreetly displayed in his study. It had an odd shape to it, with almost no adornment except the excellence of the forging itself. It looked much older than the crowns I’d seen in books about monarchs in the Middle Ages. It looked as if it were for a king in a time when kingdoms were not yet formed. Countries were merely collections of chiefdoms. Royalty were simply elders of means and battlefield prowess. And since no other artifacts accompanied it, I willed my hands away and left it on its plain stand.
It wasn’t meant to be touched. Not unless its owner gave permission.
I turned away from it and checked my watch. It was almost six. The sun would go down in about thirty minutes. I was already tired of waiting.
I found a stairwell and ascended to the top floor. Living quarters. Exactly what I wanted.
I followed the intuitive flow of the hallway until it led to a large double door. I didn’t look in the other rooms. I already knew they were filled with more extravagance. The intricate carving and lovely French handles beckoned me. This was his room. I was certain of it. Without thinking, I opened them both and pulled them wide, swirling into the room and closing them swiftly behind me.
Utter darkness met me. I stayed still until my eyes adjusted and I could make out a lamp on a console table. I reached out and switched it on. Weak light spilled into the room and landed on the bed against the other wall. Pure satisfaction surged through me as I looked at the sleeping form lying on his back amid an ocean of $2,000 sheets.
Naked to his waist and maybe more, pale and beautiful. Eric. I’d found him.
Granted, he had invited me here. And he hadn’t locked his bedroom door, so he clearly wasn’t concerned about me walking in. Still. I felt an almost predatory victory that I’d trespassed into my vampire’s lair and found him helpless as a babe.
I instantly checked myself. A vampire’s lair.
With a shameless voyeurism that would have given Gran the vapors, I walked right over to him, pulling up a large wingback chair closest to his side, and pulled my legs under my ass as I sat down into it. I arranged my dress so that I was at least covered respectfully, then settled back and stared openly at a sight most humans weren’t trusted with.
I liked what I saw. Not even for the most obvious reasons, either. I liked that in sleep, Eric’s stunningly perfect body wasn’t being used as intimidation. I liked that in the nude, it wasn’t dressed to frighten or leave people awe-struck with black and leather. I like that his hair was messed up. I like that his eyes weren’t narrowed and his mouth wasn’t drawn tight. I liked that, despite the lack of breath, I could almost see a man lying there. Not a killer. Not a monster. A man.
Again, I was struck by how different my thoughts were for Eric than they’d been for Bill. When Bill slept, I’d had an almost comical sense of contentment wash over me. Like a mother would with her sleeping children. It was calm and sweet and fulfilling.
I didn’t feel full looking at Eric. I felt ravenous. I wanted to throw myself on his cold form and slap him awake. I wanted to tear open his chest, cup his dead heart and resuscitate it with my bare hands. I wanted to bite and lick and kiss and scream and hit and hear him roar with pleasure, knowing he’d respond with the same craving for angry, violent, insatiable need. It wasn’t calm. It wouldn’t be sweet. I was no longer Snow White. Now, I infinitely preferred red.
I don’t know how long I sat there staring at him. I guess it was long enough to lose focus.
Suddenly his eyes were open, returning my frank appraisal. His head was turned towards me. His eyes stayed soft. So did his mouth.
“A lovely sight,” he murmured appreciatively. There was no mocking in his tone.
I took in the overwhelming vision of naked, living Eric and made a decision. “You blood bonded to me last night,” I said softly.
His expression didn’t change. “Correct.”
“Without my permission.”
Still no change. “To prove a point. It will fade in time, should you wish.”
I took a steadying breath. Decision spoken aloud in three, two, one.
“I do not wish.”
He flipped to his side, his muscles rolling with the movement. His sheets slipped low on his hips. He propped his head up in his hand. “Speak plainly, lover. I don’t like a tease.”
I snorted. Like hell he didn’t. Still, I was done playing around. “Your claim on me. A blood bond with me. All of it. I want it. Are you still interested?”
The room dropped several degrees. Eric’s face turned to stone. Slowly, he pressed his hands into the mattress, vaulting his weight slightly towards me, as if preparing to pounce. “Yes,” he growled harshly.
I nodded, ignoring him as he riled himself up. “Great,” I replied. “But I have conditions.”
“There will be none.”
I ignored him again. Stay on the rails, Sook, I chanted. Stay on the rails. “You bet your ass there will be, or I leave right now.”
That stopped his advance. Sadly, his eyes slid back into their usual glare of arrogance and his mouth pulled tight against his teeth. Part of me wanted to skip this whole talky part and just concentrate on kissing them soft again. I knew I could do it. I knew I could even make him smile. But I wasn’t about to give up another inch of turf in this argument until he and I had a fuckin’ understanding.
I jutted my chin. “I want you, Eric. I won’t waste time and deny it anymore. And I…feel…something. It’s strong and it bothers the hell out of me.” I paused and looked him dead in eye. He knew what I wanted.
He looked away and answered stoically. “And I for you. You distract me. You irritate me. I dislike how much I think about you.”
Most girls would have sobbed to hear their beaus speak so meanly. Me? I chuckled softly. I understood perfectly what he meant. We felt exactly the same. I bit my lip in thought. “So here’s my offer. I’ll give you everything you’ve asked for. I’ll feed you. I’ll make love with you. I’ll exchange blood with you and make our bond permanent. Do you agree to that?”
I felt almost giddy with reckless power. After keeping a tight lid on myself for so long, I was throwing everything I could think of at the man, not feeling one dot of regret. Hell, let him have me. Let him protect me. Care for me. Prove himself to me, like he seems so damn eager to do. What else did I have going on?
And it was working. His eyes had gone round again. I’d shocked the arrogance right out of him. Good.
He slid closer to me while still on his side. The sheet slithered with him. Oh, he was a tempting man. “And your conditions?”
I leaned forward in my chair, planting a hand on the mattress, my face so very close to his. “I don’t share, Eric. I will give myself to you and you alone, but I’m a very greedy woman. No more fangers. No more blood whores. Anything you drink, anyone you fuck, it’s going to be me. And no more lies. No more keeping me in the dark because you think it’s prudent or somehow protects me. You say you’re not Bill, I want you to prove it. I want to be able to trust the man I’m with.” I dropped my eyes from his. I hadn’t meant to say anything so graphic, but there it was. At least there was no mistaking me. “Do we have a deal?”
I don’t really know what happened next.
All I know is that I wasn’t in a chair. Eric wasn’t beside me.
I was in his bed, my hips pinned under his, my dress pressed into his naked body. His face loomed over mine, his expression one I’d never seen before. Disbelief? Anger? Pleasure? Joy? I swallowed and gently reached up to stroke his cheek. “Answer me,” I entreated quietly. Why did he have to look so beautiful when I was trying to make him promise? “Do we have a deal?”
His fangs clicked loudly in the hush of the room as he lowered his lips to mine. “I am yours, then. Only yours.” He kissed me lightly. I shivered, knowing harder, frenzied contact was soon to follow.
He grabbed my chin and yanked my head up, baring my throat to him. “And you, my lover,” he hissed adoringly into my pulse, “at last, are mine.”