To say that I was nervous was an understatement.
And it wasn’t because my “highhanded” plans were left unfinished either.
Actually, as Sookie had chatted with Claude and had eaten more incredibly salty food after we’d returned home, I’d arranged for all that would be needed.
A private plane. An appointment with the county clerk to get a marriage license an hour after first dark the next night. A Justice of the Peace on standby to ensure that the human wedding would be legal. Accommodations and food—including a lot of salty water, salty tea, and salty food—for Sookie and the others who wanted to come with us to Rhode Island.
In fact, I was hoping to be on a private plane with my bonded an hour before dawn—with Jason, Tray, Claude, Pam, Tara, and Willa (whom Pam had texted had left Baton Rouge with her) in tow. Ian and Jessica would—hopefully—also fly to Rhode Island to meet us there.
Optimistically, I’d arranged for us all to stay at a private estate in Newport, Rhode Island—a large home called Clingstone, which was known as “the house on the rock” by the locals. Clingstone was owned by the King of New England, who was—luckily enough—not using it at the time and who had happily rented it out to me. It helped that I’d once saved his maker’s life.
It paid to be owed favors.
In fact, the monarch was more than happy to make the daytime travel arrangements for my party to arrive at the island by noon the next day as well. And one of his day-people would see to anything Sookie and her friends needed—or wanted—until I woke up.
Of course, being out of Louisiana—especially with alibis from human officials in the Northeast—would be useful once the bombs went off at Burrell’s vamp camp the next night. But actually marrying my beloved and, hopefully, pledging with her, too, were much more significant to me.
I just hoped that Sookie agreed with me—and didn’t get angry that I was planning to mix the business of our plausible deniability with the pleasure of our increased connection with one another.
My bonded was giving Claude a kiss on the cheek and telling him that she’d call him the next day when I walked up behind her to give Claude a nod before his exit. Granted, I was hoping that Sookie would be contacting Claude even before then, but I wasn’t ready to give my plan away to others.
Not until Sookie said “yes.”
“You’re nervous about something,” Sookie stated knowingly after she closed the door on her cousin. Why he’d not simply “popped” away from the house was beyond me. Perhaps, he was just as attuned to Sookie’s Southern manners as I was. Still, I was pleased to see that my bonded locked up and activated the house alarm I’d installed as soon as Claude had left.
“I am a little on edge,” I admitted.
“Another secret?” she asked, looking at me with warning.
“No—not really,” I responded. “More like a touch of highhandedness mixed with my desire to surprise you with something.”
She chuckled and took my hand. “Never a dull moment with you, huh, Mr. Northman.”
“I hope not,” I smirked.
Though she’d been the one to grab my hand, I led her to sit in the living room.
I thought of every minute she’d been in my world. She’d elicited so many feelings within me: fascination, amusement, longing, care, love, and—finally—profound gratefulness.
For a moment I couldn’t speak as I just stared at Sookie. She was beautiful: her hair more brilliant than the sun that I’d rarely lamented giving up for the night, her eyes with the layered colors of the earth itself, and her lips curved slightly upward as if she were already laughing at how I might get myself in trouble with her this time.
I was struck by her presence—just as I was struck by my luck in having her.
She was my true mate, a woman I’d been waiting for—unconsciously hoping for—for a thousand years.
Years when I’d thought that I’d forgotten how to hope.
She’d jolted me back to life when my existence had become monotony itself.
And then she’d jolted me again when my maker killed himself.
I found my voice as I had that thought.
“You reminded me what hope was,” I whispered, placing my hands over hers. “You reminded me what it was like to dream while I was awake. You taught me what it was like to love—truly love—when I’d given up on ever experiencing such a thing. You taught me that—though dead—I am still alive.”
“Eric,” she gasped as I got onto my knees before her. I’d voluntarily knelt before only two beings in my long life: Godric, before he killed himself; and, Bill, before he was to kill me.
Still, in kneeling this time, I never felt more alive as I took both of Sookie’s hands into one of mine and placed them all over her belly—over our children.
My other hand reaching into my pocket—for the ring.
“I loved you with all that I was even before I learned you’d made me a father. After I’d learned about our sons, I realized that I had somehow grown—somehow expanded so that I could love you even more. And love them just as much. You have made me into the best vampire—the best man—that I am capable of being,” I conveyed with love and awe.
“Eric,” she whispered again—as tears began to fall from the earth of her eyes. For once, I didn’t mind the rivers.
I maneuvered open the ring box with one hand. “This ring is the closest I have ever found to being you,” I emphasized. The golden sapphire is your fairy nature to me—brilliant and fiery. Unyielding and ethereal. It is what I should not be able to touch in you, min kära. But it is also something you have offered me freely.”
“Eric,” she said yet again, this time whimpering my name.
“Diamonds were unknown to my people,” I conveyed, using my thumb to trace the circle of diamonds around the central stone of the ring. But we did have metals and stones that were almost as brilliant—almost as bright. But they all pale in comparison to you. This ring struck me—not for its beauty, but because it sung out that it ought to be on your finger. It is the convergence of two identities which—perhaps—ought not to live in harmony, yet find a way to do so. It is a ring with greater meaning, reminding me of the offerings made in my own human time. It is a ring with as many complications as the woman I now ask to be my bride.” I took a breath I desperately needed—even though I had no physical use for it.
“Will you marry me?” I asked.
“Yes,” she sighed immediately. “Yes!”
I couldn’t have kept my lips from turning upward if I had tried. And, of course, I had no need to try.
“And will you pledge with me?” I asked.
“Pledge?” she asked.
“It is the closest that vampires can get to marriage,” I responded.
“Closer than bonding?” she frowned.
“More official,” I relayed.
She chuckled. “Why the heck not! Yes! I will pledge with you!”
I was elated, but still tense. “How about tomorrow night?” I asked, biting my bottom lip nervously. Perhaps, I was taking on some of Sookie’s nervous tics.
“Tomorrow?” she breathed.
“Are you ready for the highhanded part?” I asked, even as I slipped the ring onto Sookie’s finger. It was better that it got put there before she blasted me—if she felt I was being too highhanded.
I figured my chances were fifty-fifty.
She nodded. “Okay. Lay it on me,” she said with trepidation.
“I’ve already arranged for things,” I began somewhat reluctantly.
“What things?” she asked, still calm.
“Well. I thought that we could go to Rhode Island to get married. There’s a private plane waiting.”
“Now?” she asked with surprise.
“Yes,” I responded, glad that a vampire couldn’t sweat. Otherwise, I may very well have embarrassed myself by having perspiring palms as I held both of my bonded’s hands. “You could call your brother and Claude if you wanted them to go with us. Actually, you could call anyone you wanted to join us. The estate I have arranged for us has plenty of room. If you agree, I’ll have Pam meet us at the plane with Tara and Willa. And Ian could meet us there to do the pledging. Jessica is with him, and you like her—right? Uh—and I already have a Justice of the Peace lined up to perform the ceremony tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow night,” she gasped.
I nodded. “Preferably, I would like for us to be wed before the children are born, for I would like for us all to carry my name.”
“Who said I’d be changing my name?” she asked, her eyes suddenly holding challenge in them.
“Oh,” I said, momentarily at a loss for other words. Of all the things I thought she might be angry or upset about, that hadn’t been one of them. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Sookie had proven herself—over and over again—to be an odd mixture of modernity and traditionalism. She was so anxious to be seen as financially independent, yet the woman she respected most of all had been a housewife for most of her life. Maybe it was Sookie’s—at times— almost fanatical worry that others would perceive her as a “kept woman” which caused some of the odd contradictions in her.
I hoped to further quell that worry as I considered my words.
“I will always view you as being your own woman—even though I am prouder than I can say that you are also my woman. My equal partner in this new life that we embark upon together,” I emphasized. “Do I want you to carry my name? Yes. But I have had many names; thus, I would carry yours if you wished—just as long as our family is all one.”
I was completely serious, yet Sookie immediately released a loud laugh, even as tears dripped from her eyes.
I was confused. But—then again—I’d rarely been around pregnant women.
Let alone pregnant part-fairies.
“I was kidding!” she snorted. “But then you have to go and say the most perfect thing!” She hit my arm.
If that’s what I got for perfection . . . .
She shook her head. “I don’t need for you to be Eric Stackhouse.” She chuckled again. “I’m not even really Sookie Stackhouse when I think about it. Sometime in my family history, Niall Brigant had a son named John Stackhouse.” She shrugged. “I don’t rightly understand how that happened. But I do know that I’ve been proud to be a Stackhouse because Gran and Jason were Stackhouses. But I don’t need to keep that name to feel close to them. I’ll be proud to be Sookie Northman,” she said, stroking my cheek. “And I’ll be proud to become that tomorrow night, you silly highhanded vampire.”
“Silly?” I asked with a smirk.
And a sigh of relief.
“You know—you would get into a lot less trouble if you would just start having me involved in important decisions from the start,” she returned with a smirk of her own.
“I know,” I replied, pulling her into my arms more firmly—now that I knew she wasn’t going to blast me. “You will have to craft me into a more obliging mate.”
She chuckled. “That’ll take years! Centuries!”
I sighed. “Gods, I hope so,” I whispered as we held each other tightly.
We were silent for a few moments.
“We’re getting married tomorrow!” she finally said with a little bounce on my lap. And—oh—what a bounce it was!
I growled as my cock sprang to attention.
“Mmm,” she said, licking her lips.
I leaned in to kiss her, wanting her tongue somewhere else other than her own tempting lips. She obliged me as she wrapped her tongue around my fang before scraping it slightly to give me a taste of her blood.
I was just planning how to best get us both naked as she pulled away. “We need to pack since we’re leaving soon, and I have some calls to make,” she said coyly.
I groaned. “We have a little time.”
She decided to play with fire—and my sanity—by stroking me through my jeans. “When has ‘a little’ ever been enough for us?”
“Sookie,” I growled. Okay—maybe I whined.
“Come on, Eric,” she purred as she leaned forward to tug my earlobe into her mouth. I ground my erection against her. After she’d thoroughly “provoked” my lobe—and many other parts of my body and mind—she whispered, “I know it sounds weird, especially considering the fact that I’m carrying our children, but I’d like to wait until tomorrow night—our wedding night—before we have sex again.”
Her face flamed red with a blush.
She was trying to kill me.
“You’re tryin’ to kill me—aren’t you?” I asked, putting words to my thought.
“No. But maybe teach you a teeny lesson after your latest bout of highhandedness,” she smirked before her expression became sincere. She shrugged. “Actually, I knew from Gran’s head that she and Grandpa Earl waited till they got married to—uh—have sex. I know we can’t do that, but I’d like to try to make it a special night—you know—to plan for it?”
“Plan?” I asked, utterly lost. How much planning could there be with sex.
She reddened even more than before—further threatening my control.
Gods, she was enticing when she blushed!
“You know—candles, music, lingerie,” she whispered. “Anticipation,” she added with a hungry lick to her lips.
That lick was almost my undoing—and hers.
But then I stopped myself from doing what I wanted to do—to take those lips with mine again.
“I believe candles and soft music are doable,” I smiled softly, even as my voice caught with my desire. I was a man after all. “But what kind of lingerie would you like to see me in.”
She laughed heartily and smacked my shoulder. “Lemmie up so I can make my calls to Jason and Claude to see if they can go with us. And you have to call Pam and Ian to finalize things too—right?”
I nodded and loosened my grip upon my finance—upon my beautiful bonded.
Soon to be my wife and my pledged.
The mother of my children.
The owner of my heart.
A/N: Hello! I hope that you all had a good weekend. I don’t have time to a long author’s note, but I do hope you enjoyed this chapter and our highhanded vampire’s proposal. I do want to say that I appreciate all of you who are still reading and extra thanks to those of you who take the time to comment! You are much appreciated.
Next up: Another “INNER-Lude,” this one from Warlow’s perspective…Yep, the conflict’s getting ready to heat up.
As always, many thanks to Seph and Kleannhouse for their support and work! They are the best.