I landed us at the home I’d purchased with Sookie in mind. After entering the security code, I carried her inside of the house—over the threshold.
Sookie unwrapped herself from the blanket and turned in a circle, looking around the home’s foyer before walking into the living room. I said nothing as she ran a hand over the tan sofa I’d gotten for its length and its comfort.
“Make a fire?” she requested.
Elation—I felt elation.
Feeling what I was feeling through our bond, she smiled softly at me.
Silently, I went about the task as I heard Sookie’s footsteps taking her around the rest of the ranch style home. I could feel her curiosity until she came to the stairs that led down into the basement, which had been one of the selling points for the house—that and its back porch. The porch was part old-fashioned and part modern, given the fact that it helped to frame a swimming pool. Highhandedly, I’d already taken the liberty of putting in a porch swing.
Sookie’s steps came back into the living room. The fire already blazing, I stood and turned to face her.
“You look lovely tonight,” I said. I cannot say why, but I’d wanted to wait until we were alone before I told her that.
“You aren’t wearing your customary T-shirt and jeans,” she said, gesturing to my black dress shirt and slacks. I’d already discarded my suit jacket when I’d made the fire.
“I had reason to dress up tonight.”
She acknowledged my words with a nod.
“Will Victor be a problem?” she asked.
“Only if he wants to die. Oh—and that reminds me,” I said, taking out my phone and dialing the king’s direct line.
“Northman. Speak!” Felipe answered somewhat impatiently.
“Your majesty, good evening. I will not take up too much of your time; however, I wished to make sure you knew that Miss Stackhouse and I became formally pledged tonight.”
“Pledged?” Felipe asked so loudly that even Sookie heard it.
“Ah. I thought by now Victor would have called to inform you,” I said evenly, pretending that I didn’t hear the anger in my king’s tone.
“Victor?” Felipe growled.
“Yes. He was with me when my bonded presented me with the ceremonial dagger,” I clarified. “He informed us that he would contact you; however, I wanted to share the happy news with you directly.”
“Don’t forget to tell him that we hope to honeymoon in Las Vegas and would be happy to spend two of our evenings reading the thoughts of anyone that he wishes,” Sookie said from across the room.
I looked at Sookie with surprise that was quickly replaced with pride. “Of course, my love,” I responded as if to her alone, though I knew that Felipe could easily hear all that we’d said.
“But make sure that he knows of my limitations,” she added with fake sadness, a little smirk on her lips. “After what poor Barry went through, I’ll need to be careful. And I don’t want to disappoint Felipe.”
I winked at her. “I am certain that the king will be very understanding. Why don’t you go get something to drink, dearest? I believe the refrigerator produces cold water.”
Sookie winked back and left the room.
“I am certain that you heard that, your majesty,” I said into the phone. “However, my pledged is unused to how things work. I will, of course, submit my formal request for a week off of work tomorrow night, as well as my request to enter Nevada territory for our celebratory vacation.”
“There’s no need, Northman,” Felipe returned, having already recovered from any disappointment or surprise he’d felt over the announcement of his sheriff becoming pledged to the asset he’d likely wanted to make his own. Felipe was pragmatic, after all. And he wasn’t about to risk his kingdom over an asset. “I look forward to meeting your pledged and will arrange for you to have accommodations in the honeymoon suite at my hotel.”
“You are very kind, your majesty.”
“However,” he said firmly, obviously wanting to reestablish control, “I will require Miss Stackhouse’s services for three nights during your stay.”
“Of course. However, in that case, I must request a week and a half of vacation time. Sookie becomes terribly tired and much less effective if she doesn’t have several days of rest between taxing assignments.”
“Like Stan’s telepath,” Felipe said with disdain. “I hired him for a few nights last September, and he was useless after the first of them.”
I smiled. I’d known that.
“As long as my Sookie has time to rest and has me there to help her to maintain her shields and send her strength, she will be able to give you three full nights of effective service, as you require, your majesty.”
“What do you mean that you need to be there to strengthen her?”
“It is an aspect of our bond,” I said in a low voice, as if telling a secret. “A few drops of my blood before she works can amplify her control.”
“Why didn’t you tell Victor of this?” he asked.
“Sookie and I felt we should keep this to ourselves in order to better take advantage of it. Only Sophie-Anne knew of it before; she didn’t even tell her children of it,” I lied through my teeth. “I had thought that you might feel the same way and would have told you had you inquired about using Sookie’s telepathic abilities before now.”
“She was blood-bonded to Bill Compton at some point too—was she not?” Felipe asked incisively.
“Indeed, my king. However, his blood never had the same effect on her as mine does. Perhaps, it is the fact that our bond is permanent, while they didn’t have enough exchanges to achieve that. Or, perhaps, it is related to my age. We have never been sure,” I added.
“I will expect you and Miss Stackhouse within two weeks,” he indicated after a short pause.
“Of course,” I returned. “I will have my second make arrangements with Ms. Sechrest tomorrow night.”
The king said nothing more; I hung up after he did.
“I’m off the phone,” I informed loudly. Moments later, I heard a loud popping noise.
A minute after that, Sookie returned to the room with a flute full of champagne and a goblet full of Royalty. She handed me the goblet.
“You knew I’d say yes—to the pledging?” she asked as she took a drink.
“No, but I planned for every contingency,” I responded, consciously stopping myself from moving toward her, which is what I wanted to do.
She nodded. “Who did you call earlier?”
“Cataliades, the demon lawyer.”
“You did the paperwork for a pledging, but also arranged for him to help me leave the area if I broke the bond?” she inquired.
“Like I said—every contingency.”
“There’s sweet tea in the refrigerator too.”
“I wasn’t sure whether or not you’d want a celebratory drink; there’s harder liquor in the cabinet.”
“In case I wanted to drown my sorrows?” she asked.
I nodded in confirmation.
“Every contingency,” she whispered.
Every. Fucking. One.
We were silent for a full minute as she sipped her champagne. I sipped my blood just to make her feel more comfortable. But neither of us sat.
Finally, I realized that she needed me to be the one to break; plus, I was having a difficult time bearing the silence. “You are being too quiet.”
“You thought I’d yell at you, be angry, and call you highhanded?”
“To start with,” I confirmed. “Actually, I didn’t think we’d get this far,” I added honestly, allowing my insecurities to show and to be felt by her.
“I would say that I didn’t have much choice, but you gave me choices, and there were other choices I considered too.”
I nodded. “I figured you would. Niall. Herveaux. Maybe even Quinn. Hell—maybe even Bill.”
I felt a flash of anger from her. “Do you think I’m still naïve enough to trust Bill?”
“No,” I responded quietly. “But I know you still care for him.”
“Once I care about someone, I—uh—it’s difficult for me to stop,” she informed, sitting down with her now empty glass.
“No matter what they do?”
“Do you want more?” I asked.
“I’m not used to that much alcohol, and champagne will go straight to my head.”
“So more then?” I smirked.
“Please,” she chuckled, holding out her glass.
I put my own hardly touched beverage onto the coffee table and went to the kitchen. Within a minute, I was back with the champagne, a glass of Royalty for me, and a tray of fruits and cheese for her.
She didn’t look surprised to see the food.
“What now, Eric?” she asked after she’d eaten a few grapes and drunk more champagne.
“Depends on you,” I said.
“Are we to be a fake couple, or will you allow me to try to convince you to want me for real?”
“Wanting you has never been a problem,” she said under her breath.
“What is the problem? Trusting me?”
She shook her head. “No. Trusting myself.”
“You value yourself too little,” I said softly.
“I’ll work on that,” she said seriously.
I smiled at her and raised my blood as if to toast her words.
“I want to give us a chance,” she stated firmly, after taking a few moments and a few deep, calming breaths.
“Okay. Good,” I responded, though cautiously.
“I want to keep my job,” she said, testing me.
“I know that, but I would have you imagine other things you might do too.”
“Telepathic things?” she asked suspiciously.
“Not necessarily,” I responded.
“Then what? I have very little education.”
I chuckled. “Yet you have managed to create strong ties between four supernatural communities.”
“Oh—you are right. Five,” I corrected.
“Fairies, Weres, shifters, demons, and vampires.”
“Cataliades only agreed to be my lawyer because he is yours,” I shared.
“He takes a special interest in you. I believe there is more to his interest than we yet know about. I am looking into it, but he is trustworthy, so I’m not concerned.”
She shook her head and sighed. “I don’t think I want any more interest.”
“The more that your ability—and its many limitations—”, I smirked, “become known among supernaturals, the better for you. And a rumor about your fairy heritage would be fortuitous too.”
“But you were the one who kept me from calling Niall on the night of the takeover,” she said with confusion.
“Your fairy relatives would have had to start a war that night if you had. However, now we can use them as leverage to keep people from fucking with us; they’ll be yet another deterrent.”
“But Niall’s enemies?” she asked.
“Will be easier to deal with if we know to expect them. His enemies could already know about you; your sense of security that they do not could be false.”
“Fallacious,” she muttered.
“Yes. Plus, most fairies will be deterred if they know we are pledged.”
“You think the pledging will protect us that much?” she asked somewhat incredulously.
“It should,” I returned confidently. “And if it doesn’t, I have permission to go berserker on people,” I added with a smirk.
“I think you’d like that,” she chuckled, taking another drink.
“Part of me would,” I returned unapologetically.
“Your early life . . . ,” she began.
“Yes?” I was prepared to tell her anything she wanted to know.
“I just wanted you to know—I don’t pity you.”
“I hoped you wouldn’t. I didn’t think you would. I’m glad I was right,” I returned.
“If he ever came back, I’d find a way to kill him,” she said forcefully. “I swear to you—I would.”
I didn’t need to ask who the “he” was. I believed her.
It was another reason for me to love her.
“I work tomorrow,” she said after the silence had grown between us. “I have to. Sam’s out of town.”
I nodded. “I am aware of the shifter’s situation. I can send a couple of waitresses to you tomorrow afternoon. They could lighten your load.”
“Thanks,” she said with a smile. “That would help.”
“I hate that you work at Merlotte’s,” I said honestly, knowing that she’d felt my disdain at the mention of her boss.
“Where do you want me to work—Fangtasia?”
“If you’d like, but not as a waitress. You could be my personnel manager—to start.”
“Hiring, firing, scheduling,” I responded.
She rolled her eyes. “You don’t need someone just to do that.”
“It would be for more than just Fangtasia. Plus, there’s filing,” I added.
“Let’s just see if we can actually get along first,” she said.
I raised an eyebrow.
“I’m compromising here,” she said with a shrug. “What you said about how important it is for you to look good in your world—I listened. But—for now—I keep my current job. Once Sam’s back, I’ll rethink it. Okay?”
Almost afraid to relax, I nodded. She was being too accommodating.
She chuckled, obviously reading my momentary pensiveness. “So—um—how am I gonna get there—to work?”
“There’s an extremely practical car in the garage. A Honda Civic.”
“It has GPS,” I added, “already programmed for Bon Temps.”
She sighed again.
“It’s a hybrid,” I tried.
“I didn’t take you for a Honda driver—or an environmentalist,” she responded through narrowed eyes.
“Contingencies,” I returned.
She closed her eyes and took another long drink.
I zipped into the kitchen and brought back the bottle.
“Trying to get me drunk so that I accept more contingencies?” she asked as she accepted another glass.
“You’ve accepted the car?” I asked.
She sighed. “Like I said, I listened to your reasoning. And I don’t want to give asses like Victor reason for judging you. Plus, we’re pledged now, so that’s it.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
She nodded. “I made my choice. I know I’m giving up the chance for other relationships, but since I really do want to build one with you, that’s fine. Yes—a part of me worries that you’ll get tired of me eventually, but the part that wants to be right is the part of me that trusts you with my heart. That’s the part I’ve chosen to go with. Chosen.”
I was speechless for a moment. Clearly, she’d chosen the pledging. But it was becoming more and more clear that she had chosen me too.
She looked at her glass skeptically. “I really shouldn’t have more. I don’t want a headache tomorrow at work.”
“A drop of my blood will cure any hangover you have,” I shared, coming out of my stupor.
Her eyebrows soared toward her hairline.
She was curious, surprised, and concerned, though I could feel a surge of lust from her.
“Feel free to take it after I’m already dead for the day. Otherwise, things might become heated before you’re ready.”
She nodded, took a deep breath, and then gulped a long drink—and then another deep breath.
And then another gulp.
I could tell through the bond that she was starting to feel inebriated, and I knew her inhibitions would be lowered. That she seemed comfortable enough to get drunk told me that she trusted me enough not to take advantage. I knew that, given the events of her day, she needed the liquor, and I also sensed that she had welcomed the “liquid courage” throughout our talk.
“I know my life has to change a lot now,” she sighed as she poured another glass.
“Yours too,” she acknowledged.
“Yes,” I agreed again.
“So you—uh—want us to court?” she asked, a blush blooming on her already flushed face.
“Very much so.”
“You really remember everything, Eric? Everything that happened between us?”