I was momentary speechless. Eric had just told me that he would do anything for me—including make himself a prisoner for a century longer than his maker had intended.
I had once doubted Eric’s ability to put me first; now, I understood just how wrong I’d been.
“I won’t let you give up your freedom like that—not for me! You’re too valuable of a vampire! Surely, Felipe recognizes that!” I exclaimed.
Eric smirked. “I am strong. And I have some connections, but a vampire of my age is much more common than a telepath. Of the two of us, I am the more expendable in Felipe’s eyes.”
“No,” I whispered.
“Yes,” he returned evenly. “Moreover—sadly—the one thing that makes me truly unique among my kind is not something that any monarch would respect me for,” he added sourly.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I am a thousand-year-old vampire still bound by his maker’s wishes.” He shook his head as if he were being told a lie. “Do you know how many vampires I’ve known of who are still bound by their makers’ commands or wishes at my age?”
“How many?” I whispered.
“None. I might as well be a fucking unicorn,” he scoffed, even as I felt his pain through the bond. “By vampire custom, three-hundred is the ideal and acceptable year to set a child free. Four-hundred if the child is unruly but has promise. And—as for the others?”
“The others?” I asked.
“Truly incorrigible vampires are killed by their makers long before the age of four hundred. Or one of the various Vampire Councils around the globe will see to the slaying.”
“But Appius never freed you,” I stated.
“No. On my three-hundredth birthday, he surprised me with a visit—but only to offer me a hope that was as false as . . . .” He stopped midsentence.
“I cannot find a comparison,” he said stiffly.
“What did he do?” I asked nervously.
“You don’t want to know,” he responded.
“I want to be able to support you, Eric,” I whispered. “If you can tell me what he did. If you can’t, I’ll understand,” I added.
Eric was silent for a moment.
“On my three-hundredth ‘birthday,’ Appius came to tell me about the tradition of setting children free. He told me that I had proven that I had adequate control and fortitude to prosper outside of his command. However, instead of freeing me, he raped me to remind me who I was owned by,” Eric said emotionlessly, though I could feel so many emotions from him in that moment. “And at every century marker of my life after that date, I’ve had to wonder if he would come to me again—to commemorate the ‘special occasion’—as he always called it.”
“Did he?” I whimpered.
“Twice—during my six hundredth year and again during my nine hundredth,” he responded in a whisper.
“Oh, Eric,” I said, as tears fell down my cheeks in hot streams. “When he was here? Did he . . . ?” I couldn’t complete my thought.
A large red drop fell from his eye. “I promised you faithfulness, so I fought him,” the vampire responded with a small sob.
“Oh God!” I cried as I felt the weight of Eric’s pain and guilt through the bond.
“I was lucky,” he said evenly, despite his avalanche of feelings. “Alexei became jealous and enraged, so Appius had to stop before he was done.” Another tear swept down his snowy cheek. “I did try to keep my word to you, min kära.”
I found myself in his arms in the next moment, and I wept there for a while before I looked up at him. “I’m the one who’s sorry, Eric. About so many things. But—please—don’t think you were unfaithful because of anything Appius did to you.”
“But—when Bill was with Lorena, you . . . ,” he started.
I cut him off with a shake of my head. “I’ve grown up a lot since then. Plus, I know you didn’t want that with Appius. I’m not sure about Bill—especially not when he first went to Lorena,” I said. “Anyway, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Appius is gone now.”
“But he is still attempting to control my life—even finding a way to continue making me a whore,” he said bitterly.
“Can’t you just deny the marriage claim?” I asked. “After all, Appius is dead! Can’t you just say you won’t do it? Don’t maker’s commands go away when a maker dies?”
I sighed, fearing that the other shoe would soon drop. So far—though it had been difficult—the talk with Sookie had gone well. Maybe too well. Despite the challenging topics, she’d not threatened to storm out once. But I worried that—once I told her that I would have to go through with Appius’s contract unless the demon got my out of it—she would blame me and run.
“Eric? Surely Appius’s dying means that you don’t have to obey him anymore? Right?” she asked pleadingly.
“If Cataliades is able to successfully argue that Appius had no right to sell me off in the first place, then there will be nothing to worry about,” I responded, trying to infuse my voice with confidence and the bond with comfort.
She wasn’t buying what I was trying to sell, however.
“What are the chances of that?” she asked.
I sighed. Her question was another one I didn’t want to answer. But I did anyway. “About a twenty-five percent chance—I’d reckon. It all depends on who the vampires on the next Council are. The Council members rotate—you know. Sadly, decisions like this are often political in nature. So if a powerful monarch with conservative beliefs is appointed to the Council, others will follow his or her lead. In the end, what happens to me will be of very little consequence to them—unless they have done business with me in the past. And many vampires are wary of the ‘slippery slope effect’ that such a case might cause.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
I scoffed. “Could you imagine vampires of Bill’s age or younger suddenly trying to ’emancipate’ themselves from their makers?”
“But it’s not the same,” Sookie frowned. “Surely, most vampires would agree that Appius should have freed you centuries ago.”
I shrugged. “Yes. But he didn’t. And—in the end—it was his right to do with me what he willed since he turned me. So—unless I have a sympathetic Council—I will be ordered to complete the terms of the contract.”
“But it would help you if they knew I was a supernatural!” she exclaimed.
I nodded. “If you claimed me—pretended to have chosen the bond and the pledge—then that could make a difference. But it wouldn’t be a guarantee. And—like I said—I don’t want more people learning about your fairy lineage.”
We were silent for a moment.
“Eric, if I went ahead and broke the bond, it would be like I was putting my stamp of approval on Appius’s contract—wouldn’t it?” she frowned.
“You mustn’t think in such ways,” I sighed. “Even now, I know why you might want the bond gone. And I cannot blame you. It was forced upon you. And you likely still have doubts about it.” I paused. “I should have helped you to understand the bond better—from the start.”
“You tried,” she sighed. “But I was afraid to hear anything about the bond. Eric, I can’t stand the thought of you having to be with Freyda. Of you not being free for a century—or more.” She bit her bottom lip. “Could we run?”
“We,” I whispered. “We?”
She nodded and brought her hand up to my cheek. “If I ever made you think that I wasn’t totally committed to you, I’m sorry. Part of why I wanted to break the bond was to know that I really loved you. And—yes—’we’.”
I couldn’t keep myself from kissing her—soundly.
“I love you, Sookie,” I whispered as I broke the kiss so that she could breathe.
“And I love you, Eric,” she returned with more fervency than she’d ever said the words before.
I could have sworn that my heart tugged as if wanting to beat.
“If the contract is upheld, I’d be hunted if I tried to escape it,” I told her honestly. “There are a few places where I could probably continue my undead life for a while, but I would not subject you to them. I would have to become a recluse. I would never be free to return to vampire society.” I paused. “Likely, I would be found and executed. Or I would be driven mad and eventually meet the sun. If I want to live—if I want to ever acquire the rights to my own life—I would have to fulfill the terms of my maker’s contract.” I paused. “I just hope that there are no other contracts floating around in the world.”
Sookie frowned deeply and gripped me tighter. “Please, Eric,” she begged, “what can I do to help you?”
“Don’t break our bond, Sookie,” I said my voice sounding raw to my ears. “But don’t leave it intact because you are trying to protect me or because you pity me. Please, Sookie,” I added, bearing my soul to her, “leave it intact because of this.”
I opened my side of the bond to her fully, letting her feel the overwhelming nature of my love for her.
“Eric,” she whispered, tentatively using the bond to push her own feelings toward me.”
She felt relieved. She felt worried. She felt a lot of love—for me.
“Why are you relieved?” I asked her.
“I was afraid that a talk about the bond would end up with you deciding you were better off without me—especially since I haven’t agreed to become a vampire,” she said as she buried herself in my arms.
Gods—she felt good there.
“Huh?” she asked.
“We’re both idiots,” I said bluntly.
“I thought a talk about all of this would have you running,” I answered.
“Maybe we should hire Amelia as a relationship counselor,” she offered.
“How about a marriage counselor? Would you marry me?” I found myself asking. I should have gotten the ring I’d bought for her, but it was in my desk—too far away.
And I didn’t want to break our embrace.
“But you said we’re already married,” she said with confusion.
I chuckled. “Yet you still sound and feel skeptical about our pledging. So—how about we have a human ceremony too.”
“Would that help us with the Freyda thing?” she asked hopefully.
“I’m afraid not,” I said.
“Well—why not?” she asked with frustration.
“Vampires don’t recognize human/vampire marriage any more than most states do. In fact, if Freyda wins the suit for me, I would be forced to break our pledge. But she wouldn’t care whatsoever if we remained married according to human custom. Of course, if I did have to go to her and you ever wanted a divorce in order to be with someone else, I would give you one,” I added quickly, not wanting her to ever feel trapped as I would be.
“Break the pledge!? Divorce!? Be with someone else!?” she demanded.
Eric’s words had hit me in the gut, and I was angry.
“What kind of man asks a girl to marry him only to offer to divorce her in the next minute?” I stormed.
“The selfish kind,” Eric sighed. “And the practical kind.”
I frowned as his words and resignation blew away my anger.
He was both selfish and practical. And I couldn’t help but to smile a little as I realized that he was selfish when it came to wanting me. Of course, the infuriating vampire was also selflessly practical when it came to me, too. He viewed a divorce as practical if I decided I wanted it one day. He viewed the loss of another hundred years of his freedom as practical if it ensured my safety. And he viewed keeping my lineage a secret as practical for the same reason.
But I wasn’t going to fucking allow his practicality to take him away from me—at least, not without a fight!
I’d hated the fact that Eric hadn’t told me what I was doing when I brought him the pledging dagger. I’d hated the blood bond because I’d thought that it had caused my feelings to form.
I’d hated being powerless in the forming of both the bond and the pledge.
But none of that compared to the powerlessness that I felt at the thought of losing him.
Then—of course—there was my own hypocrisy, which I couldn’t ignore! I’d been more than ready—just hours before—to make Eric powerless in the breaking of our bond!
I held him close, burying my tear-stained face into his chest.
“I owe you another shirt,” I muttered.
He chuckled. “It’s okay.”
“And I owe you an apology for even considering breaking the bond—especially without your knowing,” I whispered.
“It’s okay,” he repeated.
“It’s not,” I said, “but I love you even more for saying that.”
He smirked. “So what have we accomplished here tonight—other than proving that my policy of keeping extra shirts in my office is a good idea?”
I chuckled and smacked his arm, grateful to him for lightening the mood.
“Well—I can tell you one thing: I’m not gonna break the bond,” I whispered to him. “Not ever.”
He bent down to kiss my lips gently. “Thank you.”
“And I’m going to call Mr. Cataliades first thing tomorrow morning,” I said firmly before smirking. “It’s about time I got to do some of the claiming in this relationship—after all.”
He shook his head. “No. The fewer people who know that you are part fairy, the better,” Eric said firmly.
“Eric, the Genie is out of the bottle about me,” I sighed.
He looked down, and I felt guilt from him.
“Why do you feel guilty?’ I asked him.
“It’s my fault that knowledge of your telepathy is known,” he whispered.
“No,” I frowned, “it’s not.
“No?” he asked with challenge. “Was it not I who arranged for you to work in Dallas? Rumors of your gift only grew after that. And after Jackson too.”
I sighed. “Eric, Hadley was the root cause of my ability being known. And—looking back—I’m glad I helped Farrell in Dallas. And I’m glad I helped Betty Joe in Jackson.” I shook my head. “I tend to blame myself for the bad things related to my telepathy. But—because of you—I’ve done some good things with it, too. I’ve saved lives—like in Rhodes.” I smiled at the Viking. “And I think that—after Rhodes—any hope of keeping my telepathy relatively secret was gone. But I wouldn’t change what I did there; I’m proud that I tried to help people trapped in the rubble after the explosions.”
“And I am proud of you,” Eric said sincerely. “But there is still a chance to make sure that not many people learn of your Fae heritage.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “You really think that?”
“Felipe didn’t know before you were kidnapped by the Fae, and I doubt he’s broadcasted the knowledge since then. He’s too selfish—covetous. Indeed, your Fae lineage is likely unknown beyond him and Victor. And—as things are—I couldn’t protect you if it were widely known.”
“What do you mean? As things are?” I asked.
He closed his eyes. “Your home has wards around it, but what about the roads leading from it to Merlotte’s? The studies I’ve had conducted have shown that fewer than one car passes by the entrance to Hummingbird Lane each minute. In fact, the number is 0.86 cars per 60 seconds. And the police in your town hardly ever patrol the area, despite the high rate of danger which has befallen you. And you know how few cars actually turn onto your road.”
“You had a study done? On traffic near my home?” I asked incredulously.
He looked concerned. “You likely think of this as highhanded, but I needed to know what I was up against.” He paused. “I am sorry if you are upset.”
“I’m not upset,” I said, even as I realized that I would have been the day before. “What else have you had studied?” I asked.
“Merlotte’s,” he confessed. “Entrances, exits. The time you are in the bar—where you could be fired at with a weapon through the windows. The time you are in the storeroom. The ladies’ room. The office. The parking lot. There are many variables,” he frowned before closing his eyes tightly. “Sandra Pelt is too emotional and apparently too short-sighted to be efficient. Still—she has caused you some danger. I do not want to think about how difficult it would be to protect you if it was commonly known that you had Fae blood. No,” he said with certainty, “I don’t want to risk it.”
“What if I had guards?” I found myself asking.
“You would consider allowing me to provide you with guards?” he asked with surprise.
I shrugged. “I might.”
He nodded. “As we both now know too well, one such as Bubba wouldn’t do. I would employ Thalia and Indira at night. Indira is both strong and social enough to accompany you into places where you might wish to go at night. As a female, she could also go into public restrooms with you—without causing an uproar. I doubt that even the shifter—uh Merlotte—would begrudge her presence. But Thalia would be the true muscle behind the scenes. And—during the day—I would have to find Weres. At least three,” he said thoughtfully. “But four would be better. And I wouldn’t trust anyone from the Longtooth pack, so I’d have to pay the Weres to relocate,” he said as if he were already in planning mode.
I found myself wondering whether Claude and Dermot could help with my protection, but then I began to really contemplate what Eric had said. Was Claude just using me? Was he just waiting until the right opportunity arose to punish me for Claudine’s death? After all, Claude had always treated me badly—unless he wanted something from me. And was Dermot really interested in me romantically? Sam had suggested the same idea. One thing was for certain, however.
If I truly was to claim my relationship with Eric, I needed to get my priorities straight. And that meant putting him first too.
“Do you really think that Claude and Dermot are up to no good?” I asked.
“I really hope they prove trustworthy, Sookie, for your sake, but I doubt their intentions more and more,” he responded. “I know what bitterness looks like, and I am almost certain that Claude has it where you are concerned. Dermot, on the other hand, looks at you with longing—as if he desires your love.”
“That’s so gross!” I exclaimed. “He’s my uncle!”
“Fairies have different rules about familial relations,” he replied. “Ask yourself this: Do they wish to know Jason as they wish to know you?”
“No,” I responded.
“You were right to question Niall for not showing as equal of an interest in your brother as he did you,” Eric said contemplatively. “Niall’s actions helped to explain what he found to be of the most worth. It was not family, Sookie—at least not how you view family. It was your spark and your potential worth to him. However—I trusted Niall about a hundred times more than I trust the other two fairies because he actually seemed to have some affection for you.
I felt myself frowning. In fact, neither Dermot nor Claude had shown much interest in Jason at all, though I’d made a point to have “family dinners” in hopes of changing that fact. Claude just seemed bored and impatient when Jason was around. And Dermot hardly spoke to him at all.
“Like I said,” Eric continued after a moment, “I hope they prove worthy of your trust, but I will remain wary of them—as I have been of all of your fairy kin, except for Claudine. She—I found honorable.”
“You distrusted Niall?” I asked him.
He nodded. “When Niall contacted me to act as a go-between, I questioned his motives. I did believe that he wanted to get to know you, but I also questioned the potential cost. Your grandfather Fintan had taken many steps to protect you, and—though he’d failed to protect your mother and father from the Water Fae—he had effectively covered up the existence of the rest of his family. But Niall was insistent, and I had but two choices.”
“What were they?” I asked.
“Help him or die,” Eric said evenly. “Either way, he would have approached you.”
“He threatened you?” I gasped.
The vampire chuckled. “Niall eventually came to appreciate the fact that I cared for you—loved you. But it took a while.” He shrugged.
Clearly, Eric had thought nothing about the fact that Niall had threatened his life. I shook my head. No wonder he doubted the benevolence of the Fae.
“Tell me how much money it would take to guard me if I kept living as I was,” I said.
He frowned. “Money isn’t a concern.”
I scoffed. Maybe it was just the fact that my eyes seemed wider that night, but I could recognize that Eric would have to pay five or six guards more than I would ever hope to make at Merlotte’s—no matter how big my tips were. And, that seemed like a big waste to me.
“You are filled with,” he paused, “planning. What are you contemplating?”
“Niall and Claudine left me quite a bit of money. I was thinking about giving some of it to Sam—to help keep Merlotte’s afloat,” I mused.
Eric tensed. “Do you love him? Would you prefer him to me?”
“No!” I said immediately. “Where did that come from? Why would you think that?” I asked.
“You seem to prefer him—sometimes,” he returned. I could feel vulnerability from him, and I found myself wanting to take that emotion away.
I sighed. “Sam’s my friend and he hired me when no one else would. But I don’t want to be with him romantically. You need to trust me on that—just as I have trusted you tonight,” I added.
He relaxed immediately. “I do trust you.”
“That’s good to know,” I said softly, squeezing his hand.
“So—you wish to invest in Merlotte’s to help to offset the damage that Vic’s Redneck Roadhouse had caused to your friend,” he said calmly.
“Yes,” I responded. “The truth is that I doubt that Victor would have targeted that area if it weren’t for me.”
“You are correct,” Eric returned. “Clearly, he is trying to fuck with the both of us.”
“Then we need to stop him before the damage he causes is too great.”
A/N: I hope that you liked this chapter as Eric and Sookie continued their talk. Yes—Sookie is going to claim Eric, and—in so doing—she will be claiming her Fae nature. And she now understands what would happen if Eric didn’t follow through with the contract Appius made. And—unlike in the books—Sookie won’t do a turnabout and have a guilt-fest when she helps plan Victor’s demise.