I’d felt various levels of Sookie’s tumult all night. But I knew better than to try to belittle or delegitimize what she was feeling by using our bond to take away her emotions. Of course, I had not ignored her tumultuous feelings; indeed, I’d made sure that she could sense my own fears and anxieties too, for—like the good in our lives—I had realized that the bad had to be shared between us too. Of course, I had offered to sooth her at times through our bond, and—once in a while when she was particularly nervous or weary—she’d even let me.
But I was careful not to be sneaky in my attempts to calm her, nor would I ever try to “creep” an emotion into her. I wasn’t about to undermine the trust between us in that way.
That being said, I had relished—both on a physical and an emotional level—the sensation when she’d accepted my help through the bond. Physically, our bond had reverberated with our connection, strengthening itself like a human muscle being worked out. Emotionally, I had been warmed by the trust within Sookie as she’d allowed me to take the edge off of her nervousness.
And—when she’d begun to send me comforting and supportive sensations? I’d welcomed every damned one!
Yes—it was safe to say that I loved our bond. As a matter of fact, I’d savored feeling Sookie’s emotions—feeling her life—when we’d had only our blood tie.
As confused as I’d been after Hallow’s spell, I’d never been confused about one thing: being able to feel—down to my very core—that Sookie existed in the world was one of the greatest gifts I’d ever been given.
I’d just been an idiot when it came to showing her that.
And—as I ventured into a committed, full-time relationship for the first time in my existence—I figured that I’d continue having moments of idiocy, but I was determined that they would never again hammer at the foundation of my bonded and my love for one another.
I turned my focus from checking on Sookie back to the pile of plans before me.
Yes—I’d outlined many ideas for Louisiana even before I killed Felipe.
Perhaps, that preparation had been merely wishful thinking.
Or just something to do as I’d waited to strike down my enemies.
Some would have cautioned me against making any plans—for fear of “jinxing myself.”
But I didn’t believe in such curses. I believed in forecasting contingencies until I’d exhausted every possibility in my mind. Indeed, as soon as Sookie had truly made herself my partner in all things, I’d proceeded as if I would be king.
Of course, I had prepared Sookie for the possibility that I might be executed, though I’d thought my chances to live on and be made king were better than a coin flip. Ironically, it was Felipe’s relationship with and similarities to my maker—as far as corrupt authority went—that had ultimately swayed some of the Council members to favor me.
Even Michelina, who hated Karin, finally had to acknowledge Felipe’s delegitimization of his own crown! A good monarch—and all the monarchs on the current Vampire Council were good at what they did—would never undermine his or her own sheriff! It just wasn’t done, nor was the overtaxing of subjects without legitimate cause. Indeed, all monarchs had to sign a contract—more like a covenant—to serve their vassals and to endeavor to their utmost to deserve their fealty.
“Deserve” was a word for which Felipe had forgotten the meaning over the years.
Indeed, when Sandy made it known that Felipe had been part-architect of my marriage contract with Freyda—and that Appius’s motive had been to strip me of both my dignity and happiness—I knew that the monarchs who held my fate in their hands would overlook that I had killed my king (not to mention the fact that Victor’s death looked damned suspicious as well).
It was one thing for a king to punish an unworthy or disobedient subject. But I had been neither, even where my bonded was concerned. Had Felipe negotiated a reasonable working arrangement with Sookie, I would have supported that. Hell—I’d even sent Felipe a proposal for Sookie to work in Las Vegas for up to one month per year as long as I could be with her and she had ample daytime protection. I’d never even heard back from him. The fact that Felipe had never even tried to negotiate with me over Sookie’s services had told me all that I needed to know—that he eventually intended to take her.
Similarly, it was one thing for a maker to punish an unruly child. What Appius had done to me during my first few centuries as a vampire had been enough to demonstrate that he was a monster, and—even back then—most other vampires of a certain age thought that Appius had gone too far in his ill-treatment of me.
Vampires, by rule, did not make children just to hate and torment them. Even those as twisted as Lorena made children in order to thrust their insane versions of love—not hate—upon them. And—even Appius—showed that he could make such a child out of “love.” As fucked up as Alexei had been, he’d also been an object of Appius’s deep affection.
I had never achieved that status.
Honestly, looking back, I posited that Appius had finally let me leave his side at least in part because other older vampires had begun to question him about my ill-treatment. After all, by that time, I was not disobedient. In fact, after my first decade, I did not even fight my maker’s commands—even when he asked me to participate in things that I did not wish to do. Yet, still—after many centuries together—he had enjoyed, upon occasion, punishing me for no reason and/or humiliating me in public.
I knew that, despite the obedience I showed him, Appius had sensed that he could never break me completely—that my will was just too strong to fully disappear—even if he could compel my body to do whatever he wanted.
But one night—one of the most important of my long life—Appius had become frustrated because he did not “feel” enough reverence from me. We’d been in Italy at the time, traveling from one court to another; Appius would barter my services for an opulent, though temporary, home for himself.
On that particular, significant night, he stripped me and whipped me in front of the King of Florence and his courtiers, before chaining me down with silver for anyone who wanted to “use” me. I had been almost four centuries old at the time—and already respected by many important vampires for the work I’d performed for them as a warrior.
I was raped many times that night before I heard a voice questioning why Appius was punishing me. Though I did not know him at the time, that voice had belonged to Stan Davis’s maker, Domingo. When Appius had been unable to state a reason for my punishment, Domingo had given me an odd look.
“What is your child’s name?” he’d asked my maker.
“You don’t need to know that to enjoy him,” Appius had leered. “And he doesn’t deserve his own name at this point,” he added with a cruel laugh aimed at my battered and used body.
Domingo had bent down a little in order to look me in the eye. I had not seen pity in his gaze. I’d been surprised to see respect.
“I am sure that I will hear your name spoken eventually, Viking. Your work for the Prussian king was remarkable,” he said with a slight nod before finishing his check-in with the Florentine king and leaving the court.
Indeed, my work in Prussia had been noteworthy and had earned Appius much gold.
The night after my “punishment”—inexplicably—Appius had sent me away from his presence, claiming that he was bored with me. Likely, he’d really done that in order to avoid potential conflicts with vampires like Domingo—those who had enough honor to question his brutal treatment of a child.
Indeed, one of the reasons why I’d enlisted Sookie to aid Stan Davis in Dallas was because I felt that I owed Stan’s maker—though I’d still never formally met Domingo.
However, for Appius to reappear in my life—after centuries—in order to damage me was an even greater transgression (according to vampire tradition) than his early treatment of me. And—for Felipe to participate in Appius’s plans was even worse in some ways! After all, it was well-known that I was loyal to both my maker and my king.
Indeed, I had never spoken ill of Appius. Moreover, every decade, I would send him an appropriate tribute as my wealth increased—as was expected by vampires of Appius’s age. I made sincere attempts to make the situation with Felipe work as well. The only occasion when my actions might have been questionable involved the pledging. However, since I wasn’t a monarch then, I needed no permission to pledge with Sookie as I had. Indeed, no vampires had to inform their monarchs when they made such personal decisions as blood ties, bonds, or pledgings—unless they could negatively affect the crown. And my increased connection with Sookie only solidified her connection to Felipe through me. At least, that was how I’d presented the situation.
Of course, in truth, the bond in and of itself ought to have made both Felipe and Madden back the hell off when it came to Sookie! Fuck! Even calling her “mine” would have been enough for an honorable vampire! Hell! Even Andre had backed off when I’d bonded with Sookie!
I shook my head. Madden, de Castro, and Appius were all gone now, and I refused to allow them to haunt me. That was one of the reasons I wasn’t keeping any of the sheriffs that de Castro had appointed in the state, though—other than Madden—they had proven to be competent. Indeed, the Sheriff of Area 2, Brian Bartlemy, and the Sheriff of Areas 3 and 4, Sharon McDowell, had never been anything other than professional and pleasant with me. But that didn’t mean I was ready to trust them.
According to Palomino and Maxwell Lee—who had already met with Brian and Sharon—there were no signs that there would anyone fighting in the name of Felipe de Castro in Areas 2 through 4.
Rasul was on the way to Area 1 to gauge any potential problems in New Orleans, but I couldn’t imagine that Madden would have generated much loyalty among the vampires there; indeed, it was very likely that any of Victor’s true supporters were slain with him at Fangtasia the night before. In fact, I had recognized one or two of Victor’s guards as paid mercenaries, which meant that he had not even enjoyed enough loyal supporters to employ as guards!
He’d needed to outsource!
I shook my head. It was really no wonder that neither Madden nor de Castro had much loyalty from their subjects in the end. Felipe had lost his “shine” because of his policy of over-taxing his subjects. And Madden was just an asshole.
I noticed a new email from Sandy and saw that she’d offered both Brian and Sharon positions in Nevada, for she knew them to be competent vampires. I was pleased to see that both had accepted the opportunity to return “home.” All that they asked was that I pay them for the week of time that Sandy had required they spend helping their replacements understand their bookkeeping systems. Sandy vouched for the two, guaranteeing that they would not undermine Palomino or Maxwell Lee. I quickly sent her a text, accepting the offer of Brian’s and Sharon’s help and promising both the week’s pay and a generous bonus if Palomino and Maxwell Lee reported that they had—indeed—helped to foster a smooth transition of power.
Almost immediately, I received a confirmation from the new Queen of Nevada, as well as copies of the latest financial reports Felipe had received from all areas of Louisiana other than my own—which, of course, I already had.
I looked at Area 1’s report first. I wasn’t surprised to see that Madden (given that he spent a great deal of his time and energy trying to fuck with me in Area 5) hadn’t generated the kind of income that such a region as Area 1 should have. I was pleased, however, to see that Area 2 and Area 3/4 were performing almost as well as they’d been doing before the takeover. Of course, Felipe had demanded financial success, and—to their credit—the sheriffs he’d installed had produced, despite the pressure. Or maybe they had produced because of the implicit threats that Felipe made if they did not. And then, of course, there were Madden’s more explicit threats.
Seeing the confirmation of the rate at which Louisiana’s vampires had been being taxed, I immediately sent out an email to Rasul, Maxwell Lee, Palomino, Karin and Pam giving them instructions.
I smiled to myself as I recalled a lesson that my human father had once taught me about being a good leader: Never do something that will make your subjects resent you.
Machiavelli later wrote down a similar lesson in The Prince—that a leader was doomed if he was hated.
The author may or may not have been discussing the issue with me the night before he wrote that particular passage.
Indeed, many of the precepts my father taught me about leadership were ones I’d used to rule my little corner of Louisiana. But I also knew that I could no longer isolate myself in my leadership; I would have to look outward in order to help my state to thrive as it had in the heyday of Sophie-Anne’s rule.
No—actually—I wanted to do better than Sophie-Anne had done.
And I knew that I could too! And that wasn’t me being arrogant—though I was certainly capable of arrogance. No—I just somehow knew that I would be a good king as long as my queen was with me.
I smiled at that thought.
I already had many ideas about how to help Louisiana right away, and the first was not to bleed my subjects of too much of their wealth when I offered nothing to show of it! A monarch could determine how much tribute to ask for, but there was a certain percentage that was common—except during times of emergency.
Though Louisiana was in something of an emergency because of Felipe’s mismanagement, I would still be returning Louisiana to the standard rate.
However, I would also encourage any vampire that wanted to contribute to Louisiana’s Regrowth Fund (the LRF)—a charity which Cataliades was setting up—to do so.
Donations would be tax deductible, of course.
In addition, donations would also be tracked so that the donor would be able to see what happened to his or her money.
In fact, one of Warren’s main duties would be to operate the LRF, and Molly would ensure that its effects were reported online. And I had already seeded the fund with some of my own considerable wealth to set a good example for others. The vampires in my state would see my contributions and feel the effects upon their businesses, and then their loyalty would grow.
So would their willingness to voluntarily contribute.
As my phone beeped, I looked down to see that I’d received a text from Jacob, an 800-year-old vampire of my acquaintance who was currently living in Canada.
I chuckled. It seemed that the Supernatural rumor mill was working quickly.
Like anyone who lived for a very long time, vampires went through certain stages. At times, we liked to be active in business pursuits. Other times, we spent stints in studies. Sometimes, we enjoyed seclusion. Rarely, even monarchs got tired of dealing with the politics involved in running a nation, and transfers of power were made. Though the vampire texting me had never been a monarch, he had been the right-hand man of the French king for several centuries, which was how I met him.
Jacob was asking if he could relocate to my state. He was tired of Canada’s cold weather and had been considering asking Russell for permission to move to Mississippi; however, he preferred the idea of moving to New Orleans. I immediately okayed his request.
I knew that many vampires would be intimidated by those of Jacob’s age wanting to enter their territory, but I was not. Certainly, kingdoms could and had been taken over from within (I’d done just that earlier that night!), but I simply wouldn’t accept any older vampires who would do something like that. Hell—if Jacob wanted a territory, he would simply ask the Vampire Council for a kingdom and bide his time until one—like Arkansas—was available. And Jacob certainly wouldn’t undermine a friend!
I shook my head. It was difficult for me to understand why some monarchs—like de Castro—had never wanted to surround themselves with the strongest and worthiest of our kind. And—even when Felipe did find himself in the company of worthy vampires, like Sandy Sechrest—he did not know how to work with them effectively. Instead, de Castro’s choice of “older” friends had been limited to vampires like my maker—vampires who would never have been allowed to rule a kingdom (at least, not for long) because they would have been the worst kind of tyrants.
Of course, Appius had never sought to be a king. He was just too damned selfish to take on that kind of responsibility! He’d much preferred to be a parasite upon other vampires’ courts.
Yes—Felipe’s bad choice in friends had been one reason for his downfall. After all, with friends like Victor Madden and Appius, who the fuck needed enemies?
I knew down to my bones that I would be a better king than Felipe had been—partly because I didn’t suffer the company of sycophants or maniacs. And, of course, my bonded would be by my side to keep me grounded.
My phone rang.
I looked at the caller ID and smiled. Speaking of a good friend . . . .
“Rasul,” I greeted. In many ways, my new Sheriff of Area 1 had the hardest job to do in Louisiana—as he had to fix Victor’s messes. For that reason, I’d sent several others, including Indira (whom I knew to be his beloved), with him.
“I have arrived at the State Residence,” he informed.
“Any resistance to my taking the throne?” I asked.
“None,” he responded. “As we thought, the only ones truly loyal to Victor were killed alongside him at Fangtasia. Even those who had been faithful to Felipe had their issues with him. Most have promised fealty to you and have already pledged to me as Sheriff of Area 1. A few have requested to leave the state.”
“And you granted those requests?” I asked.
“Yes,” he returned, “just as you instructed should be done. They have a week to complete any business they have in the area, and I’ve informed them that they must check in nightly and will be watched until they are gone.”
“Good—what of Victor’s books? Sandy sent me his last official report, but I cannot imagine it’s accurate,” I commented.
“The young vampire you sent with me, Molly, has already broken into Madden’s computer in his chambers. And I have already changed all the passwords I have on electronic devices,” he chuckled. “As you hypothesized, there are two sets of books—an official one and the one reflecting how Victor was skimming from his subjects and misreporting the profits of his businesses to Felipe. Molly will email you copies of Victor’s real financial reports, and she is already working to hack into his personal data to find his bank accounts. She believes that she will be able to secure his money by dawn.”
“Excellent,” I said with a little smile. “Have her transfer any funds she can access directly to the LRF, and feel free to draw upon it as you see fit to help New Orleans recover. Begin with vampire interests.”
“On the plane ride here, I began compiling a list of Area 1’s vampires who are most in need of help,” he responded with a sigh. “There is still much to be done in New Orleans to help her recover. Sophie-Anne was trying to get the city back on its feet when Rhodes occurred. However, Madden wasn’t interested in helping the humans—or the remaining vampires in the area, for that matter. But you already know this. His ‘real’ books only confirm his personal ambitions and lack of attention to the people he ruled over,” Rasul said with distaste.
“Tell me your immediate plans,” I requested of Rasul.
As I listened to my sheriff’s full report, I monitored my bonded, as had become second nature to me. After we’d returned to the farmhouse, she’d spent some time with Amelia, discussing the warding of other properties, and then she’d done some packing.
Now, she was speaking with Compton. She’d wanted to be the one to tell him that he was no longer welcome in Louisiana; however, I could tell that the situation was a difficult one for her. But—mostly—as she’d spoken to him, she’d been annoyed.
I wished that I could spare her any additional pain or annoyance from Bill Compton, but she had insisted that she needed her closure. Of course, if Compton ever entered Louisiana again after the next night, I would take him out myself. I also had a suspicion that Thalia would eventually be solving the Bill issue once and for all—whether or not the side-burned shithead actually behaved.
I hung up my call with Rasul and then quickly checked in with Pam and Karin before heading to my bonded’s room, which had been made light-tight by Thalia and Bubba—also at Sookie’s insistence. As I sat down on the bed and took off my boots, I found myself steeped in memories of my nights spent in Sookie’s farmhouse.
My bonded was anxious to leave behind most of her old life, but I knew that this house would always be special to her—and to me. It was where we first made love—and where we reconnected after I got my memories back.
It was where she fell in love with Eric Northman, the man. It was where a cursed me had given himself over completely to an emotion that the un-cursed me been too cautious to acknowledge at the time because Appius had still been alive.
I shook my head. It was ironic that the witch’s curse had been necessary to both Sookie and me in many ways.
I used my senses to assess the house and the property outside. I quickly confirmed that there were four vampires patrolling the property—Bubba, Thalia, and two others in my employ.
I knew that Calvin, two other werepanthers, Mustapha, and Warren would arrive near sun-up.
But—in truth—the witches had already proven that the house we were in was warded tightly enough that the guards were simply back-up.
Thinking of Bob and Amelia, I noted that they were sleeping soundly. Earlier, they’d had a rigorous fuck session. Given Sookie’s modesty, it was likely better that she’d not been able to hear Bob calling Amelia his “goddess.”
Sookie was still speaking with Bill, so I moved to the shower. I’d gotten bloody during the battle, and I was anxious to eliminate the scents of Felipe and his guards from my body before I shared a resting place with my bonded.
I closed my eyes and enjoyed the hot water hitting my body.
Not long after I got into the shower, I heard my bonded tell her first lover a final goodbye, one that made it very clear that Bill Compton would no longer be welcome in our lives.
I could hear her footsteps as she made her way into her bedroom. I could feel her anticipation as she determined that I was in the shower. The soft sounds of garments being discarded made me smile, as did the scent of her arousal as she entered the bathroom.
She stepped into the shower behind me, her arms twining around my waist.
The hot water had made me warmer, yet I still sighed at the heat of her flesh against mine. I was glad that she seemed to enjoy my cool just as much.
She was completely still for several minutes, and I laced my fingers with hers.
I felt her relief.
I let her feel mine.
Our struggles were not over, but our lives together had truly begun.
I felt comfort from Eric. Comfort and confidence.
Through our bond, he “felt” like everything that a king ought to. But he also felt all man to me.
And—most importantly—he felt like home.
There was a time when accepting Eric Northman for all that he was had frightened me. Now, it was only the idea of losing him that truly scared me.
I reached for the soap and began to lather up his strong back before moving downward to his marvelous bottom. I leaned down to wash the backs of his legs before allowing my hands to return to his bottom and using my fingers to stroke his rear entrance and then his balls.
“Sookie,” he moaned. “Look what you do to me,” he growled, turning around to show me that his “plenty” was very “gracious” indeed!
Gracious and ready.
I smiled coyly at him before taking one of his hands and leading it to my entrance, which was wetter than the water raining down upon us.
“And look at what you do to me,” I whispered as he dragged his fingers through my folds and drew circles around my clit.
His talented fingers were obviously capable of doing a fine job without mine guiding them, so I put my own fingers to better use by gripping his shaft.
For a moment, Eric looked unsure.
“What is it?” I asked, feeling his uncertainty.
“I don’t know whether to use my fingers, tongue, or cock to satisfy you, lover,” he smirked. “All options would please me.”
I giggled. “What time is it?” I asked.
He closed his eyes. “Twenty minutes before sunrise.”
“Then use your cock,” I said wantonly, even though I felt my blush burst forward at my forwardness. “But your tongue and fingers owe me a raincheck.”
He growled and hoisted me upward. In the next moment, I was sandwiched between the cool wall of the shower and the cool wall of Eric’s chest. And he was buried inside of me.
“Gods—I love you,” he whispered right as he began to move in and out of me.
As his fingers joined into our dance and began to circle my clit again, I moaned. “Don’t think this lets those fingers off the hook tomorrow night.”
He chuckled. “I wouldn’t dream of it, lover,” he groaned as he hit the sweet spot inside of me and my internal muscles tightened around him.
“I’m so close,” I said after he’d been thrusting in and out of me for less than a minute.
He was just that good!
“Me too,” he shared, as he continued his movements with both hand and cock. The pressure in me built and then burst forth, and within moments, he was yelling as he filled me with his release.
He bit into my neck, an action which caused my orgasm to elongate and strengthen in intensity. Instinctively, I bit into his pectoral muscle, my blunt teeth enough to create a wound just deep enough to draw a little of his blood.
A stream of words I didn’t understand fell from Eric’s lips as he continued his thrusting into me. In moments, I had orgasmed again. A minute later, he took me over the edge yet again and he followed.
I took a second to thank God that vampires had such a quick recovery time.
From his expression, I figured that Eric was doing the same.
Though my legs were shaky as he put me down so that we could use the shower for its “official” purpose, I smiled up at him.
“I love vampire stamina,” I blushed.
He chuckled as he washed me. “And I love you, min kära. Plus, one does not have stamina alone,” he added, waggling his eyebrows. “One needs an able partner.”
I giggled as he turned off the shower and then moaned as he took great care in drying me off.
It was quite a while after the sun came up before we were done “taking care” of one another.
A/N: Hi all! I hope you enjoyed the latest chapter! This story hasn’t had much lemony goodness because of its compressed time-line, but I wanted to take a few and let our hero and heroine have some quality time after their very, VERY long night. 🙂
So—we are nearing the end! One more chapter and then an epilogue.
As always, I couldn’t do this without Seph and Kleannhouse!