“And do you Russell Edgington agree to take Sophie Anne as your one and only Queen, working with her for the betterment of both Louisiana and Mississippi, to increase your wealth and the wealth of the vampire nation?”
“I will,” he agreed solemnly as I raised the dagger to cut his wrist. He at least looked excited at the prospect of the future, Sophie Anne looked as though she might take the dagger from my hand and cut her own throat with it at any moment.
After I left Sookie in Bon Temps things had moved at a dizzying pace. We had rescued Pam, charmed the Magister into taking custody of Lorena and secured Russell’s unholy union in two nights. Invitations had gone out for the ceremony that I had been drafted to conduct, and three nights later I found myself standing before the vampire elite performing a wedding ceremony.
I missed Sookie. Saying these ceremonial words called to mind the way I had teased her about Bill before everything had changed between us. It my hope that once this marriage was completed I would be freed to return to her side again. There was so much we needed to discuss and each moment it waited I feared the outcome even more.
I passed the chalice first to Sophie Anne who sipped at the blood delicately, taking only the barest amount before passing it on to Russell who gulped it down with relish before turning to the crowd who had come to witness the union of Mississippi and Louisiana.
Russell raised his hands in the air, ever the master of drama and crowed with delight. “Thank you all for coming here tonight to bear witness to our union!” He handed me the chalice and then swept off the raised podium and out into the crowd continuing to crow. “For your dining pleasure we have a fine selection of volunteers. You will recognize them by the red arm bands they are wearing. For those of you who are mainstreaming, there is True Blood available in all the flavors you could ever desire. My chef has created some marvelous treats for us, blood sorbet and the like. Please, mingle, and feel welcome in my fine new kingdom!”
Sophie Anne rolled her eyes and stepped down off the podium, refusing to be out divaed in her own house. I lingered, using my vantage point to watch the crowd. Pam was winding her way through the guests looking amazing as usual. She was in her element and I was sure that Russell would want to keep her on his personal staff to organize parties and events that were worthy of his new position.
He had also offered me a position as his chief of security, a position that would pay a fortune, but would keep me on the move when he traveled. It was potentially problematic to any future I might have with Sookie. First, I would reside here in New Orleans, and second, I would be glued to Russell’s side until I had managed to train and secure a team that I would feel ready to trust in my absence.
Part of me wanted to refuse, but I knew it was a fantasy to think I would be allowed to return to my quiet existence in Shreveport. My bar would have to be closed unless I could find someone to trust that could run it in my absence. Since the only person I trusted who was up the task had just become his party planner, Fangtasia’s future looked dim.
My eyes caught sight of Chancellor’s Agrippa and Gainsborough making their way through the crowd to Russell’s side. Nora did not look at me, and I was careful not to linger on her very long either. No one knew that she was my sister and we both saw it as advantageous to keep it that way. Still, I felt a cold chill up my back when they spread out around Russell and started schmoozing.
Salome was legendary in her belief that salvation lay between her thighs. I hid my smile as I imagined how very disappointed she would be to realize that Russell was immune to her charms. “Could we speak somewhere privately, Russell?” Salome asked, leaning into his personal space to bat her eyes. “There is some Authority business that we would like to discuss.”
“Of course, my dear! Of course!” He glanced back to me. I stepped down, falling into line behind him as they stepped out of the main hall and into what had been Sophie Anne’s ridiculous sun room. I took a position outside the closed door, barring entry of any additional guests, while I used my vampire hearing to satisfy my burning curiosity about what the Authority could possible want from him.
“We are so sorry to hear of the loss of Talbot,” Nora began, almost sounding like she meant it.
“Yes, a tragedy,” Salome chimed in. Russell made the appropriate sounds of a vampire in mourning. He did sound like he meant it. I had found him several times during our stay in New Orleans holding the jar that still contained Talbot’s bloody remains, stroking it and whispering his deluded wishes about finding a way to bring him back.
There was no way back from the True Death. To think otherwise was self-delusion at best, madness at worst, and there were moments when I thought I saw that glint of crazy shine in his eyes like a small sun. In those moments I feared that even if Sookie were open to coming with me, it would be selfish beyond words to expose her to Russell’s mental decay. If he went ass over teacups into the land of crazy there was no way I could stop him or protect her.
“We wanted to let you know that if you plan retribution against the humans who took Talbot from us you have the support of the Authority behind you.” I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. Had Roman lost his mind? He was the mastermind behind mainstreaming and True Blood. Was he ready to abandon all his accomplishments and pursue vengeance against all humans for the murderous deeds of a few?
I was suspicious of their motives and very aware of the fact that while they were speaking for Roman he was not present to speak for himself. I knew my sister, she loved power above all things. It was why she had left Godric and myself to forge her own path in politics. He had never said, but I always suspected that Godric had been a little disappointed in her for that choice.
“You know who was behind the bombing of Club Dead?” Russell asked, even though we had already determined that it was the Fellowship of the Sun behind this bombing as it had been in Dallas. Something did need to be done, I believed that as well, but it must be done cautiously, otherwise we risked escalating what was already a very dangerous situation.
“Yes, Reverend Newlin and the Fellowship of the Sun were behind the attack. The bomber was a dedicated follower of their beliefs. He left a note claiming that his sacrifice would expose us to the world, and then they would all know us for the monsters we truly are.”
“And what do you propose we do?” Russell asked them, wanting them to show their hand first.
“Officially, the AVL will not take a stance, but if you plan to seek retribution we can offer you soldiers.”
“I have no plans for retribution.” I could hear the lie in that. When they went on I could tell they did as well, but if they couldn’t make him admit it, they would leave here empty handed.
“Surely, Russell, this will not stand. Newlin and his followers grow bolder every day, how many more must fall to them before we show them what they are truly dealing with when they seek to destroy us?” Salome was working up a righteous lather. “There are those who are not happy with Roman’s mainstreaming agenda. Those who think we should take our true place in this world that we should not stoop to partnering with an inferior race.”
“Sanguanistas,” Russell said, clearly amused at having cornered Salome into showing her hand, which was in direct opposition to the Chief Chancellor and the AVL.
“Yes,” Nora said, stepping into take the full brunt of responsibility for this conversation. What the fuck was she doing? If Russell turned her in to Roman as a Sanguanista supporter she would be silvered and staked! “The Sanguanistas believe that we should treat the humans as nothing more than chattel. That we should roam the night free to feed and fuck as we were made to do!”
My sister had lost her fucking mind. She knew what had happened to me when I had tried that in France. I had been in love with my own arrogance and I had paid dearly for it. I was banished to the ass end of the world after watching the woman I cared deeply for die at the end of a sword.
“Their support grows each night,” Nora added.
“As do their sympathizers,” Russell added, tightening the noose around her reckless neck.
“More than you know,” she added, implying that other members of the Authority were with them, even if Roman was not.
“With the support of vampire like you, Russell, their cause could advance, leaping years ahead of where they are now.” Salome was still quiet, no doubt knitting her plausible deniability even as her presence condoned Nora’s pitch to recruit Russell into their intrigue.
“You ladies,” he said chuckling in a chiding tone that turned from friendly to freezing cold in a split second, “Have seriously overstepped yourselves this evening. What say we chalk it up to all the excitement of the wedding and go on about our business as if this conversation never happened?”
Silence fell in the room. Salome and Nora were being offered a gracious retreat from treason, or at least it seemed that way. Somehow I doubted it would be that easy. “Of course,” Salome agreed, finding her graciousness and her voice at last. “If Chancellor Gainsborough has offended you, your Majesty, please accept my apologies on behalf of the Authority and let us return to the celebration of your wedding.”
They exited the room immediately, smiles plastered on their faces, but they looked pale and frightened. “You ladies go on ahead, I will join you a moment,” Russell told them stopping beside me. “Eric,” he said, stepping back into the room. As I turned to enter I caught a flash of red from the corner of my eye and turned back to see Sophie Anne moving toward Nora and Salome, with a look in her eyes that told me she knew what had just been discussed and she wanted in on it.
Sighing internally, I entered the room and closed the door. If Sophie Anne forged an alliance with my sister and Salome nothing good would ever come of it. I knew that Sophie Anne was not pleased to be married to Russell, if she could find a way to turn this information regarding their favor toward the Sanguanista movement she would certainly do it. That was the thing about vampires, they could always play the long game because they had forever.
“What are your thoughts on what just happened?” Russell cut right to the chase and I had to admit I admired that about him.
“I don’t believe that Roman knows they are sympathizers. They were too frightened that you would expose them to be secure in their positions.”
“Agreed. What else?” I stopped, thinking over how to say what was really on my mind.
“We believe that we are superior to humans. If that is true, then we should be able to find a better way than falling into the same patterns that have enslaved the humans to their own natures for all time.”
“You don’t believe we are superior to them?” He was very interested in my response.
“I see little in our actions to convince me of our superiority, but Godric believed that if we were to thrive as a race we had to find a way to work together with the humans. It was a belief that he was willing to die for, and one that forced him to meet the sun when he lost his vision of how to make that happen.”
“It was a terrible waste,” Russell said, his own sadness coming to the forefront again.
“As was the loss of Talbot.” His eyes met mine and again I saw the madness wrestling with his reason. “I did not know Talbot, but Godric would have wanted me to find a way to make his dream a reality.” A sad smile lifted a side of his mouth.
“Talbot was mad for humans. Their taste, their fashion, their short lives lived with such flourish and hunger. The madder they were the better. He said they sometimes burned so brightly that for a moment he could lose himself and his years in the face of their flash, making him feel alive again as he had been before I turned him.
“At first, I did not understand, but I saw how happy he was when he was caught up in his flights of fancy with his pets. Eventually, I realized that even if I did not understand his passion for humans, what mattered was his passion.”
“And that he shared it with you,” I added quietly, understanding perfectly what he meant because it was exactly how Sookie made me feel. Even when we fought her passion energized me as nothing else ever had before, but to bed her, to feel her in my blood was an ecstasy I had never imagined possible.
His sad smile bloomed fully. “You are thinking of your pet?”
“Yes. The experiences I have shared with her give me some small understanding of the passion that you say Talbot felt, and that he shared with you.”
“You should go to her. Now. Tonight.”
“Majesty?” He shook his head, clearing his eyes and looking at me.
“I have my guards here. Take a few nights to remind yourself of what it means to be alive and then return here to me. Bring your Sookie if you wish. I will make a place for her with you.”
“I plan to give her the choice, but I will not force her.” He looked at me sharply. I was risking much, because my affections were now laid bare, but I would not force her into this with me, even if it meant that Russell ended me right now. After a long moment he nodded his understanding, but not did not speak on it further. His acceptance touched me, and I was moved to warn him.
“When you asked me in here I saw Sophie Anne approach the Chancellors. I had the impression that she was aware of what was said here, though she was nowhere near the door.” Russell smiled again.
“This is her house. I suspect she has some hidey holes that we have yet to discover.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “And hidden in them are agendas of her own making.” He laughed then, looking much younger than his three thousand years.
“Let’s hope so. I would hate to think this is going to be boring!”
I had never known what it was to miss someone the way I missed Eric. It was a constant pain inside me that made me restless. I paced, I cleaned, I paid my bills, feeling him gone even more when I found the ten thousand dollars he owed me for Dallas deposited in my bank account.
I made arrangements to repair my drive way, I took a few shifts at Merlotte’s, looking up anxiously every time the door opened after sunset, wanting it to be him, but it never was.
Aside from missing him, I also thought of Bill, replaying each interaction with clearer eyes, wondering at all the things I had missed before. Then I turned those clearer eyes on Eric Northman, questioning this new relationship in the face of the travesty that had been my first.
Bill had wanted me, I was sure of that, and I had certainly made it easy. I felt like an utter fool, but I kept putting that aside to try and figure out the why. Why had Bill proposed to me? I had known it was not what I wanted, not really, it was why I hesitated. Had he proposed because he thought marriage mattered to me?
When I thought about it, it seemed ridiculous that he would propose to me. He was immortal and lived a life that I realized now was so vastly different from my own that I felt an even greater fool for being seduced by the trappings of him pretending to be human. I would have given almost anything for a chance to ask him, but I had missed that chance while childish visions of an impossible dream clouded my eyes.
What made Eric different? If I continued my relationship with him, what would be different?
That was the answer that kept coming back to me. Eric loved who he was, and he accepted me just I was as well. When I thought of how wonderful that had felt when he kissed me, I knew that while this was not the typical human relationship it was not the same as it had been with Bill either.
This was something new, and it was something that I was not ready to let go of, not yet.
I was sitting on my porch five nights after he had left me, staring at his beautiful red Corvette wishing that he were here when suddenly he was. “Sookie,” he said, making my skin break out in goose bumps as he fell to his knees in front of me, pulling me into his long arms. I hugged him tightly, sobbing a little and laughing, too to have him here at last. When I pulled back to look at him, he kissed me, reminding me what a good kisser he was, as if I could have forgotten. I melted into him, pulling him closer as I felt myself relax for the first time in a week.
Before I realized it he had sat down in the old porch swing and pulled me into his lap, his hands roaming over my old cotton gown. His touch was not possessive or demanding, it was more that he was reassuring himself that I was here and that all was well with me.
It was endearing in a way that little else had ever been. I enjoyed his concern for my well-being almost as much as I had enjoyed his kisses. As it was with his acceptance of me, his concern was a new sensation that I savored. I curled into him, my head resting on his shoulder as his large hand found mine, twining his fingers gently with mine before settling, almost sighing, as I felt the tension leave his body. It was another precious sensation that I calmed him with my only my presence.
The crickets sang their night song as we just enjoyed each other for a while. It was the kind of feeling I had always imagined I could share if anyone could have truly loved me. I was cherished and it was intoxicating. I wanted him to be as drunk on me as I was on him. “I missed you,” I whispered to him, my thumb rubbing the back of his hand as he brought it up for a kiss.
“Not nearly as much as I have missed you, Miss Stackhouse.” I smiled. So it was going to be like that?
“Never tell a lady her own mind, Mr. Northman,” I teased him, making him chuckle and squeeze me tighter for a moment.
“Then you tell me, Sookie. Tell me how you have missed me.” My free hand came up to his jaw, caressing him.
“I missed you every day, in everything I did, I thought of you. Every time the door opened at Merlotte’s I wanted it to be you coming back to me.” He growled softly, deep in his chest, a sound of pure animal pleasure as I touched him with my hand and my confessions. “I missed you in my bed. I started coming out here in case you showed up, so I could see you that much sooner.” He kissed me then, overwhelmed at my simple words and hiding his emotions by making my own eyes close in dreamy slowness from his attentions.
“You were worried for me?” he asked when he finally released my lips. His voice was filled with an insecurity that seemed so unlike the arrogant vampire I knew so well that he spun me.
“No,” he grunted as if I had punched him, “And yes,” I added quickly, because I had, but not really. “I knew you could handle yourself. So, no there was no real worry that you would come back to me. I just worried about when. I wanted it to be sooner rather than later.” He growled again, appeased by my explanation. I went on.
“That night you left, I was in shock. Not just from the explosion, but from realizing that my entire relationship with Bill had been a sham. I was feeling the fool and not handling it well. I didn’t mean to take it on you. I never even thanked you for saving me that night.” I dropped my head at the last, truly ashamed to have failed to let him know how much his trying to protect me from the explosion had meant. “You let yourself get tattered for me again, and I was too wrapped up in my own head once again to appreciate it.” His thumb came up under my chin, forcing me to look at him.
“You saved me, too.” His voice was quiet and sure, but I was not convinced. When I tried to look away he refused to let me. “You have no idea, Sookie. Not just by telling me about the bomb, but also because you stopped me from trying to kill Russell in the aftermath.” I frowned. “You held my hand, you held me as I thought to rush him in what would have surely been the end of me. You were the voice of reason when my own had deserted me.”
“I don’t understand. Is this about what happened just before we kissed at the table?”
“Yes, how did you know that something was wrong?” I shook my head.
“I could just feel something swelling up inside you, and that you needed me.” He pressed his forehead to mine.
“And you were there for me, thank you.”
“But what was wrong? What happened that made you feel that way?”
“I realized that Russell was the vampire that had killed my family.”
“What? Oh, my God, Eric!”
“If you hadn’t distracted me, found a reason to get me out of there, held my hand when I was thinking of rushing him, it all would have turned out very differently.” I swallowed and forced my mouth to shut as it hung open in shock from his words.
“So, what happened after you left me?”
“When we were at Russell’s house he gave me my father’s crown back, and gave me the closest thing I am ever going to get to an apology. Then he offered Lorena in my place for the V and saved Pam.”
“That’s wonderful! I am so glad that Pam is all right!” I was also thrilled that Lorena had finally gotten her comeuppance. No one ever had it coming more, as far as I was concerned.
“Russell married Sophie Anne tonight, and is now the King of Louisiana.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“I’m not sure yet. He has offered me a position as his chief of security.”
“What does that mean?”
“That my quiet life as a bar owner is at an end.” The bottom dropped out of my stomach.
“You have to leave?” I was not able to hide the pain and dread I felt about this revelation.
“Yes, I will have to travel with the king between New Orleans and Jackson.”
“Oh,” it was a sad sound that did nothing to convey that full depth of what I was feeling. I was going to lose him. I should have pulled myself out of lap, and held my head high as I wished him all the best, but I couldn’t find the strength. I curled further into him, clinging even more tightly, dreading the moment speeding at me when he was going to set me aside and fly off into the night, away from me forever.
“You could come with me.” It took a moment for the words to sink in. I sat up looking at him, probably like he was crazy. “Russell has said that he will make a place for you in his retinue, if you wish to come.”
“What would that be like?” I babbled, seeing a possible light at the end of the tunnel.
“Dangerous.” And the light grew dimmer even as he went on. “If we were right, and Bill was working for Sophie Anne, this will take you right to her. In addition, Russell is unstable. The loss of Talbot has him on edge, and he could tip over into madness. As much as it pains me to admit it, I am no protection from a three thousand year old vampire, Sookie. He could snap me like a twig, but know this. I would die to save you, and do it gladly.”
“Would me being there make it dangerous for you?” I needed to see all the sides of this thing, because if we went in, we went in together. Was I really considering this? Yes, I was. The idea of losing him was not something I was ready for at all.
“Yes. You make me vulnerable like none other than Pam.” I usually loved his blunt honesty, but right now it was less appealing than usual.
“Then why would you offer this?”
“Because I can’t bear the thought of my world without you in it, Sookie Stackhouse.” My insides had been spinning, but his words pinned me down, sealing my fate as surely as they warmed me from the inside out.
“I’m falling in love with you. You should know that, Eric. Maybe it’s lost on you, but this isn’t just a fling for me. I don’t want to lose you, but if I come with you, I’m only going to get in deeper.” He blinked, letting out a soft rush of air in his surprise.
She was falling in love…with me? With me? I knew that, I felt that, but hearing her say it was a shock. Sookie was always so circumspect with her emotions, especially when it came to me. I had been terrified that the withdrawal when last I had seen her meant that we were finished, and now, she had just said she was falling in love with me. With me.
“I understand, at least as much as I can, that these vampires are old and strong and devious, but if I go with you, and I let myself really love you, I will take on any of them that even think of hurting you. They might get me in the end, but I will make damn sure to take some of them with me when I go!”
“I love you, too.” I hadn’t planned to say it but when I opened my mouth to speak it just pushed past all the other words I had planned to say and burst out. At least I had the satisfaction of seeing the same shock on her face that I was feeling from her declaration. My devilish nature snuck up on me, making my lips curl with a smile as I decided to tease her. “I win.” She blinked.
“I said it first.” Her eyes narrowed at me.
“I said it first!”
“No. You said you were falling in love with me. That’s a very different thing from me telling you that I love you.”
“I swear, Eric Northman! Only you could make something as dangerous as this into a game and proclaim yourself the winner on a technicality!”
“Is loving me so dangerous, Sookie?”
“Because the things you make me feel take away my common sense and makes me want it to never come back.” I had thought she was going to yell some more, and to be honest I was looking forward to seeing her all spit and fire, but her words were soft and deadly, driving into me like nails in my coffin.
“You would consider this?” My humor evaporated in the face of the very real possibility that she would come with me into this strange new world. I was elated and horrified at what I was asking of her. She might not understand, but I surely did.
I was being incredibly selfish. I should leave her now, tell her goodbye and leave her to live a peaceful life with a man who could marry her and give her children. Instead, I was asking her to place her life in constant jeopardy, and pretending that telling her of my love was not the most selfish act of all. If l loved her, I should be thinking of her, and not how empty my life would be without her.
“Is there any other way that I won’t spend the rest of my life hoping it’s you every time a door opens?”
“I don’t believe there is,” and that was the truest truth I had spoken here tonight. It was this or nothing for us, at least for now. She nodded, resolving herself to the decision.
“Then take me to bed and show me all the reasons I am making the right decision. Then, you can teach me what I need to know to keep us both alive while we try and make this life together.”