New York City, 1932
The sounds of children playing echoed in the street behind him as Eric Northman dropped his keys when he tried to open the door to his office at Northman & Northman. The investment business had dropped off severally since the crash of the market a few years before. He really only had one valuable client left, and she was due here in the next few minutes.
The last time he had seen her was at the funeral of her grandfather Earl who had passed nearly five years before. It had been a somber day and though he had wanted to comfort her, his grandfather Appius had accompanied him to the service. He had never approved of Sookie nor any kindness that Eric shown for her. Eric had been unsure what to say in any case, so he had kept his distance.
Picking up his keys and jiggling the door to get it open he went in and set about making coffee. His pleasure at finding the precious beans made him smile. Sookie adored coffee and though he was at a loss as to how to show her, his only desire in the world was to see her happy. Starting the fire in the wood stove that heated his offices he placed the pot on the stove and took a deep breath to calm his racing heart. He moved to his desk and opened the top drawer to pull out his most prized possession, telegrams from Sookie from all over the world.
They had met for the first time right here in this office when he was eleven and she was eight. Earl Stackhouse had approached Appius about having Northman & Northman take on a small portion of his massive fortune to manage. Despite years of wheedling and begging Earl had never revealed his true worth to the Northman’s making it plain that he was cautious, downright distrustful even, of someone who was more interested in his net worth than in shaking his hand and looking him directly in the eye. Despite that, he and Appius had become friends in a way. Probably because Appius valued the dollar above all things and he was sure that Earl Stackhouse had plenty of those.
Little Sookie had accompanied her grandfather to that first meeting. Eric had been there because his grandfather insisted that he learn the business at his knee as soon as he was old enough to count to a thousand without stopping or hesitating. He had been sitting at his desk in the corner of the room when they came in. When he glanced up expecting another dull adult discussion about investments he had gotten his first look at Miss Sookie Stackhouse.
Her blond hair was perfectly curled with large blue bow in it that matched her dress. Her pink lips had curled into a cat like smile when she saw him in the corner and she had made a bee line to his side. “I’m Sookie,” she had said curtsying, her manners impeccable despite the mischievous glint in her eye.
“Eric,” he had answered, sounding slightly breathless, forgetting for a moment to return her greeting with a slight bow from the waist, his eyes never leaving her face. When she smiled at him it felt like the sun had come out his dusty old office. She had immediately pulled up a chair and started talking a mile a minute.
As Earl and Appius spoke of money and return rates on investment Sookie told him that she had traveled to Egypt last year with her grandfather to see the pyramids and do some excavation for the British government. The year before she had been in the Dakota foothills here in America with Earl when they were excavating the Indian burial grounds there. In a few months they were leaving for Africa on a commission from the British Museum again to look for evidence of a lost tribe.
Eric was captivated by her every strange word. Her life sounded so much more exciting than his, trapped here with sums, figures and the dust that floated lazily through the sunbeams that came in through the window in the late afternoon.
More than once he had been awakened with a hard knock on the back of his head from his grandfather’s cane for drifting off in the afternoons when the office was warm and he was full from lunch. Appius had soon gained control of his napping as he did everything else, with cold practical thought. He stopped feeding Eric lunch. The growling of his stomach kept his alert through the whole afternoon now. The result was that his latest growth spurt had left him rail thin causing the children in his neighborhood to refer to him as Scarecrow Northman.
There was no way he was telling her about that.
So he had said nothing on the rare occasions she paused for breath, but she had still smiled at him kindly despite his awkwardness at holding up his end of the conversation. That day was the beginning. When they would visit Eric and Sookie would retire to his small corner in his grandfather’s office and she would tell him fabulous stories about her adventures. He looked forward to her visits more than anything else in his small world and she never disappointed him. Sometimes she brought candies for them to share as they talked and he couldn’t help but think they were not nearly as sweet as the girl herself.
He kept his secret of how much she meant to himself but Appius had been watching them carefully and knew that Eric was quite taken with little Miss Stackhouse. On their final visit to the office before their departure for Africa Sookie had promised Eric that she would send him a telegram each month she was away. She had hugged him before they left, hurling her tiny body at his tall bony frame with a force that had knocked him back a step.
If he had had time to think about it he never would have hugged her back, but she was leaving and it was all happening so fast he didn’t have time to think. He just wrapped his long thin arms around her and buried his face in her tiny neck taking a deep breath. The scent of her washed over him and felt his heart break a little that he would likely never see her again. “I will send them, I promise!” she had whispered in his ear breathy and excited to face this new adventure. “I wish you could come, too!” He had bit his tongue until it bled to keep from begging to do just that, and held her to him that much tighter.
It was the first time he had ever wanted anything that much in all his eleven years.
As soon as the door closed behind her Appius had pounced. “Eric Andrew Northman! I will not have you making a fool out of yourself over that gutter trash, I don’t care how much money her grandfather has!” Eric had turned on his grandfather with rage filling his entire body.
“Stop talking about her that way!” His outburst gained him a caning that left it impossible to lay down comfortably for nearly a week. Appius had ranted every day of that week about how his good Northman blood would never be sullied with the likes of that Stackhouse slut. Eric would clench his little fists and hold his tongue.
They were just words and they couldn’t hurt him if he didn’t let them.
Appius had been away at club business lunch when the first telegram came. Eric had signed for it, his first piece of correspondence! When he was alone he had clutched it to his chest and nearly jumped for joy to hear from her. He had to make himself calm down because he was afraid in his excitement that he would accidentally tear the telegram if he tried to open it when his hands were shaking so much. Finally, he calmed enough to open it.
Africa is hot STOP
We leave town for the dig site tomorrow STOP
Wish you were here STOP
Miss you STOP
He wiped a tear as he thought of her and wished that he was there, too. By the time his grandfather returned from his lunch there was no evidence that anything out of the ordinary had occurred. As the months passed Eric was able to keep his secret from Appius but something was happening inside him. Every day he missed her more. Every telegram he got he longed to say something back.
Somehow the distance between them made it feel possible for him to tell her all the things that he had never been able to say when she was here. He started writing her letters. He had no way to get them to her but that felt right, too, because he could reveal himself without worrying of what she would think. Sometimes he imagined what she would say if she ever got them, mostly though he focused on opening himself up to her, sharing all the secrets of his heart.
He kept her telegrams along with his letters behind a loose board in his threadbare room at his grandfathers’ house. True to her word for the next two years she had sent him a telegram each month. They were always too short and only hinted at what was happening in her world. It was almost three years before he saw her again. She came and went from his life like the seasons, always connected through her telegrams no matter where she was in the world always right there, but never close enough for his satisfaction.
Over the years he learned the business from Appius and when the market had crashed in 1929 leaving them barely enough money to not lose their home and the offices, Appius had taken ill. Now he rarely left the house. There was little business to transact so he left it to Eric with the admonition that even he couldn’t mess up something that no longer existed. The irony wasn’t lost on Eric that the one man who his grandfather held with the greatest contempt was the one reason they weren’t out on the streets, even though Earl Stackhouse had passed two years before the crash.
He had been meticulous in his investments and careful to make sure that his granddaughter was secure in her future. To everyone’s surprise but Eric’s she had elected to carry on his work. Since Earl’s passing she had traveled the world working on commissions for archaeological digs picking up where he left off. She still sent Eric a telegram once a month no matter where she was and they still made him smile and feel just as excited as the first one had when he was eleven.
Now he was twenty-seven and Sookie was twenty-four. She had been part of his life for more than half of it. When his eyes opened in the morning he wondered where she was and what she was doing. When they closed at night he said a small prayer for her safety. He still wrote her letters, though with less frequency and with more adult thoughts. Eric was alone, lonely even perhaps but other than Sookie he had never had a friend.
When his grandfather bothered to talk to him at all he would make comments how it was time for Eric to marry and produce an heir. As he had for past nine years he ignored his grandfather’s words. There was only one woman he wanted to marry and it was the one woman who he could never have. He had nothing to offer her. He was all but broke, his only funds were what she paid him and he had never in all their years actually answered a telegram. In fact, in her presence he became that same quiet eleven year old boy that was so completely overwhelmed by her he could barely utter a word.
The coffee starting to boil jarring him from his reverie. He put the telegrams back in the drawer and moved to get them two cups. He had just set them out when he heard the outer door open. Forcing himself to take a deep breath first he turned to greet Sookie Stackhouse for the first time in five years. At the sight of her his mouth fell open in shock.
She was wearing trousers! And was that a bull whip in her hand?! And a men’s fedora on her head?! Eric closed his eyes and took another breath, sure that he was dreaming or mad. When he opened them again she was still standing there in those clothes, with that whip and that hat and that smile. My God, that smile!
Feeling behind him for a chair he fell into it hard and continued to stare at the woman who had appeared in his office dressed more for an outing in the jungle than a business meeting to discuss her finances. His heart was racing, his mind with wanting her turn around so he could see her backside in those trousers, and maybe something about that whip but he wasn’t ready to process that thought yet.
“You like?” she flashed him the siren version of her eight year old pink lipped smile and pirouetted for him. He gasped when he did indeed catch a flash of her backside of those trousers. When she turned she had let the whip unfurl on the floor giving it a loud crack when she was facing him again. He shifted in his seat and quickly crossed his legs to hide his body’s response. The mischievousness that had filled her eyes at eight was replaced now by all the fires and temptations of Heaven and Hell. He could those eyes them burning him wherever they touched his skin. He shifted again, crossing and uncrossing his legs.
He couldn’t pour coffee like this! He couldn’t even move without shaming himself!
“I got the idea from this archaeologist I ran into last year. Professor Something Jones, I wasn’t really listening. I think he was looking for the Lost Ark? Maybe a crystal skull, I forget. It doesn’t matter,” she said waving her hand dismissively. “The point is that he had a great look for the field so, I stole it!” She giggled then, refolded her whip and moved to get the coffee pot off the stove. “You remembered!” she gushed as she poured coffee for us both, returned the pot the stove before sitting across from him. She picked up her cup and started to blow on the coffee, her pursed lips making him shift again in his chair. She snickered.
“Well, despite the lack of compliments I can tell that you did notice,” she purred at him.
What had happened to my sweet Sookie? Completely unsure of what was happening he fell back to the high ground. “Miss Stackhouse, I believe you wanted to discuss your investments,” he said trying to assert some control into the situation.
“No,” she said and then took a sip of her coffee.
“No?” he repeated.
“No,” she said again. He cleared his throat, his eyebrow going up.
“Then to what do I owe the honor of this visit, Miss Stackhouse?”
“Sookie,” she said, looking at him again intently. “My name is Sookie, and just once Eric Northman I want to hear you say it.”
“Sookie,” he said barely above a whisper.
“Sookie. Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie Adele Stackhouse.” Her eyes fluttered shut and her tongue came out to swipe her bottom lip slowly. She opened them again and pinned him to the chair.
“Eric Andrew Northman,” she said in the same quiet reverent tone he had used when speaking her name. He barely managed to stifle to moan that rose up in his chest. Not thinking he reached for his cup and took a big mouth full. A second later he spit it out screaming from the burn on his tongue caused by the near boiling beverage.
The next thing he knew she was right beside him, telling him to open up and let her see how bad the burn was. He did as she asked. She moved to get him a glass of water returning to his side immediately. “Here take some of this and hold it in your mouth.” He was sure that his mouth was still hurting but she was practically sitting his lap, her hair was down and she had removed her hat. One breath took him back to the hug she had given him all those years ago, doing more to soothe him than any water ever could. “This isn’t going at all like I had hoped,” she said, sitting back on the arm of his chair and sighing.
“I had planned to come in here, wow you with my outfit and then ask you…” she stopped then. Sookie never stopped talking! He opened his mouth to ask her what was wrong, and found himself choking on the water he had been holding on his mouth. Coughing uncontrollably he rose from the chair trying to expel the water while he caught his breath he wound up halfway across the office, hand leaning on the wall as he struggled for air.
Again, she was right there, inserting herself between his long lean frame and the wall, her breasts were almost touching his chest, a thought that was not helping his breathing. “Breathe, baby, just breathe.” She reached up and ran her hand through his hair to soothe him. He was getting agitated and would have probably yelled at her that he knew how to breathe if he could have figured out how to get enough air in his lungs to speak.
“Did (cough) you (cough, cough) just (cough) call me baby?!”
“Maybe,” she said, her face completely serious. He pushed back off the wall and away from her, moving a few steps back, he doubled over resting his hands on his knees as he started to get his coughing under control. Finally, he looked up at her.
“What the hell, Sookie?” She frowned.
“What the hell, what, Eric?”
“You, come in here dressed like that and call me ‘baby’! What the hell, Sookie? Who are you and where is my sweet Sookie?”
“Your ‘sweet Sookie?” she asked stalking toward him now. He wanted to run, but he held his ground and stood to his full height of six four, glaring down at her from nearly a foot above her. “So, I’m your ‘sweet Sookie’, huh, Eric?” She was purring again and it made him just as unsure as it did before. He blurted out the first thing that came to his mind.
“No, you’re not! That’s the point. I don’t know who you are or what you want if you didn’t come here to talk about your finances.” She closed the rest of the distance between them, pressed her body tight to his and pulled his head down to hers. The moment their lips touched Eric split into two different men.
One was dancing like he was eleven and getting his first telegram from the prettiest girl he had ever seen, the other was Appius Northman’s grandson whose head was filled with words like gutter trash and harlot. He put his hands on her shoulders to push her way while his lips pressed closer to hers. She moaned and opened her mouth for him. His tongue danced with hers while his body closed the small distance his hands had created between them.
He had dreamed of this for so long.
Maybe he was dreaming now? She nipped his lip with her teeth, making him moan and deepen the kiss. The slight sting of her bite assured him he was not dreaming. This was really happening.
This was incredible. Every fiber of his being told him this was incredible.
This was wrong. All the voices in his head, Appius being the loudest, told him this was wrong.
His hands won the battle and shoved her away. “STOP!” he roared at her.
Her face flushed and tears filled her eyes. She fought them back. Sookie might be soft hearted but she didn’t show it to just anyone. She was smart that way. She took a deep shuddering breath and returned to her seat, picking up her coffee again as though the most life altering thing that had ever happened to him had not just happened.
“Sookie, what the HELL?” he screamed again.
“Why am I your ‘sweet Sookie’? Not once, not ever did you answer me when I wrote to you. How am I anything to you at all?”
“Sookie, I didn’t have the money to send telegrams.”
“You could have answered my letters, Eric. Paper and postage are not that much. I even sent some money to you to cover it but you never said a word.”
“What?” He ran his hand through his hair. She dropped her head.
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” she said to her cup. Then she placed it back on the table. “Look, I came here to tell you that I am leaving for Greece next week. I am leading an excavation at Rhodes. I wanted to ask you to come with me. I can see now that I was wrong to think that you might be interested in that…sort of thing. I’m sorry to have taken up so much of your time. I won’t bother you again.”
His head was reeling, his heart was breaking, his mouth was hurting and he had no idea what the hell was happening here. Just before her hand touched the door she stopped and turned back to look at him one last time. “I wish things could have been different for us, Eric. I wish…you had just once said something back to me. I’m sorry I mistook your silence for shyness when it was clearly a lack of interest in me.”
She walked out the door.