ERIC POV, continued
Thankfully, Victor always showered after his meals. Sadly, he didn’t have very much stamina, so he was back in my office not twenty minutes after he’d left it. Currently, he was rifling through my filing cabinets, obviously leaving them purposely out of order.
Of course, I had everything scanned and in electronic copy too—a virtual filing cabinet, if you will. So, if Victor managed to conveniently “lose” anything, there was that to fall back on.
At intervals, Victor grunted and scoffed with disapproval and condemnation, even as he made notes in the little book that he carried with him at all times.
I paid him little mind as I worked on. However, schooling my emotions had become more difficult than I’d ever imagined it would. And it wasn’t because I was angry and frustrated at Victor. No—covering that up was easy.
On the other hand, covering up my excitement over the fact that my bonded was getting closer and closer was not easy.
Approximately thirteen miles away.
Was she coming to pledge with me?
Or—in that stubborn, reckless way that she behaved on occasion—was she coming to throw the knife at me—blade first?
I prayed that the latter was not the case as I gauged her mood through our bond—which she’d clearly not broken.
A good sign?
She was anxious, but determined.
Another good sign?
Victor chose that moment to begin a lecture about filing methods, and—for once—I was grateful for his prattling. Not being good at multi-tasking, the idiot couldn’t talk and sabotage at the same time, so as he sat down, I was actually able to relax into my own thoughts as my bonded approached.
I thought about the various times I’d seen her. And I knew that what she was wearing would signal her intentions.
If she had decided to turn me down and spit in my face, she would have on her Merlotte’s uniform. I also knew that I would know from the cadence of her steps if she were stomping her way back to my office to break my un-beating heart. And—if that were the case—I hoped to stop her from doing herself damage by immediately telling her to keep the item I’d sent to her. With luck, that would stop her in her tracks. And, as she was befuddled, I’d make sure to remind her that Victor was present to audit Area 5. With more luck, her survival instincts would set in and she’d choose her words carefully.
I allowed myself a moment to think about what she might be wearing if she had accepted the pledging. She was not a dainty Southern belle by any stretch of the imagination—despite what Compton might say. No. Sookie Stackhouse was a proud woman; however, because I had conveyed to her the nature of the pledging, she would likely choose something lovely and feminine on her “wedding” day.
She favored sun dresses that I knew made her feel both beautiful and adequately covered. I pictured her in the one I’d first seen her in—white with red flowers. Pam liked to tease me about being fixated on that garment, but I had been fixated on the woman, not the dress. As a matter of fact, my favorite of Sookie’s garments that I’d seen was a yellow sundress. It contrasted with her sun-kissed skin. And her golden hair put the threads of the garment to shame.
Of course, I’d never seen a garment that hadn’t been put to shame by the curves of her body.
I nodded and grunted in response to an idiotic question Victor posed as I continued to picture Sookie in my mind’s eye.
She wasn’t a tall woman, but she had a way of holding herself that made her seem much taller than she was. I’d always been quite tall comparatively. Though Vikings were now thought to all have been huge people—that just wasn’t the case. Most of the men I knew during my human days were much closer to Sookie’s height than my own.
I was the freak back then.
Standing out by standing up straight had been strictly forbidden by my maker; being shorter than I was, Appius didn’t like having to look up to address me. That is why he would rarely speak to me unless I was on my knees before him.
Thus, I had stooped my way through centuries, only learning how to stand to my full height—both literally and figuratively—in stages. Still, there were often occasions when I was compelled to stoop—to defer to vampires who took dominion over me. I couldn’t help but to think about what my life would be—will be—like when I outlived all who would degrade and defile me.
Seeing them all become dust or sludge before me was one of the motivations that had dragged me from lifetime to lifetime—one of the motivating factors that had compelled me to accumulate wealth, status, education, and favors.
I understood well that I was doing myself no favors politically by pledging with Sookie. As a loyal subject, I should have given the telepath to Sophie-Anne, and then immediately after the takeover, I should have transferred her to Felipe.
But those choices would have been impossible for me.
For there were two simple, undeniable truths that were as much a part of me now as my blood.
First, I loved her.
Second, she made me wish to never stoop again.
And for those reasons, I was hers.
I could hardly keep a thought in my head as I waited the two minutes it took her to drive that mile.
I felt her arrival outside of Fangtasia. She was still for a moment. I imagined her taking several deep breaths.
There was more nervousness.
There was more determination.
And there was also something else—hope.
The steps that she took out of her car and then through Fangtasia were not angry stomps.
They were hurried paces.
There was a knock at the door.
“Master,” Pam said professionally, “Sookie Stackhouse is here.”
V ictor’s gaze immediately shot to the door, becoming as predatory as I’d ever seen it. Pam ignored him, and so did I.
Soon he wouldn’t matter.
“Please, tell my bonded that I would be happy to see her,” I said.
Pam bowed a little and left. Not ten seconds later, Sookie entered the office with Pam trailing her. She wore a strapless ice-blue sundress that reminded me of the dress she’d worn to the ball in Rhodes.
Her wedding dress.
She glanced at Victor for only a moment, but clearly only to inventory his presence as the letter had told her to do.
“Miss Stackhouse,” Victor greeted, his tone as oily as the man himself.
Sookie said nothing to him as she approached me. I stood at my full height, even as she stood at hers.
As she looked up at me, her eyes showed the determination that I felt within her and the same kind of fire that had enlivened me from our first acquaintance.
“How lovely to see you,” Victor said with a smarmy smile.
However, instead of turning toward him to acknowledge his second attempt at a greeting, she reached into her clutch and pulled out the dagger.
Before Victor could speak out a protest—or even process the scene—I’d taken the weapon and kissed it.
“What?” came Victor’s question as if he were having a difficult speaking even a single word.
“A pledging!” came Pam’s surprised voice.
Sookie and I said nothing for a moment. We didn’t need to. Our bond was speaking for us. I could tell that she felt my happiness and my relief. And I felt similar emotions from her.
I was even happier when I saw that Victor looked about as unhappy and constipated as Compton always did. However, with a force of will I didn’t know he possessed, he quickly got ahold of his emotions, though I could still sense that his blood was boiling.
“Very interesting,” Victor said finally.
“Thank you,” Sookie responded as if he’d just offered us his congratulations.
“Then I’ll take the tiger’s request off the table,” he said smarmily. “Our king was unhappy about him wanting to relocate from Nevada anyway.”
“Quinn?” Sookie asked, looking up at me.
Victor looked at Sookie almost triumphantly. He was obviously trying to cause dissention between me and my pledged wife.
A big no-no. It just proved how stupid he was.
And how ready for death.
Soon, I promised myself.
“Yes,” I responded to Sookie. “Only tonight Victor made me aware that the Were-tiger wished to see you in private in order to try to convince you to recommence your relationship with him. He was willing to relocate for you,” I added evenly, praying to my gods that Sookie wouldn’t be disappointed that the tiger would no longer have his chance to petition her.
I smiled when I felt no disappointment from the bond.
“Oh—well,” Sookie said, looking at Victor. “Too little. Too late. Quinn and I are finished; we said pretty much all that needed to be said the last time he came into my house.”
“And when would that have been?” Victor weaseled.
“The morning after the takeover. He came to apologize.”
“Apologize?” Victor asked.
Sookie shrugged noncommittally. “It wasn’t as if I needed an apology from him. By then, Eric had already explained to me that Felipe was powerful and would be good at running Louisiana,” she conveyed with the savvy and sincerity of a career politician.
I’d rarely been as proud of anyone as I was of her in that moment.
“Still, I know that the tiger will be disappointed,” Victor said.
“Well,” Sookie smiled, “now that Eric and I are pledged it will be better for Quinn. He will have to finally accept that he and I just weren’t going to work out long-term for a variety of reasons.”
I could feel the truth in her words. I knew that she’d once cared for John Quinn, but clearly that ship had sailed for her many months before.
Her new ship: Viking longboat.
Victor looked at Sookie through narrowed eyes and then turned those orbs toward me.
“Of course, I’ll inform my master about your prior claim. We acknowledge your formal attachment to this one,” he said as if he were being forced to drink rotten blood. He moved to leave my office.
I felt my pledged one’s anger at his calling her “this one” rather than by her name, but to her credit, she simply moved to stand next to me as we faced him.
“What of the rest of your audit?” I asked as he moved past Pam.
“I’ve seen all I want to see here,” he muttered before turning on his heel and leaving.
I placed a finger over my mouth to indicate that he would still be able to hear us. Likely he’d planted a bug or two in my filing cabinets too. I sighed. Indeed, it would take several sweeps before I would be comfortable speaking freely in my own goddamned office again.
“Where’s your coat?” I asked Sookie, who was looking up at me nervously now. I was even more proud that she’d been able to hide that anxiety up until this point.
“I’ll get it,” Pam volunteered, zipping from the room. She was back a moment later.
I placed the dagger into my jacket pocket before helping Sookie into her coat.
“Will you fly with me?” I asked her.
“Isn’t it a little cold for that?” she asked with a slight smirk.
“On it,” Pam said. After zipping out and then in again, she had a thick blanket in her hands.
“Fleece,” my child informed. “And brand new to the gift shop. On the house.”
It was clear to me that Pam desperately wanted to ask me about the pledging, but she was wise enough to keep her questions to herself for the time being.
Sookie seemed to sense Pam’s anxiousness too and smirked at my child. “Thanks, Pam.”
After making sure that Sookie was wrapped up as warmly as possible, I took her up to the roof, knowing that it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Victor to be lying in wait to ambush us. Until our status as a pledged couple was known, we would be vulnerable. To that end, I quickly took out my phone and dialed the number I’d preprogrammed.
It was answered on the first ring.
“It is done. File the paperwork. The witnesses were Victor Madden and Pamela Ravenscroft.” I hung up and then picked Sookie up bridal style. It seemed appropriate.
By instinct, she buried her face against my chest, and I made sure the sides of my jacket would help to protect her from the cold wind.
“It’s a short flight,” I promised as I took off into the air. Indeed, it was always quick to travel as the birds flew.
I’d never been happier that assholes couldn’t fly.
A/N: Well? They are pledged! Of course, now they need to talk. For these two, that’ll be the hard part.