The fire was going strong enough to keep them all quite warm, and the meal was half-finished. After having endured the smell of the cooking steaks for as long as he could, Bubba was ‘safely’ away and hunting for a meal of his own. Otherwise, everyone was talking and enjoying the meal.
As Sookie popped a bite of potato salad into her mouth and listened with amusement as Miranda and Jarod disagreed about the details of how they’d met, Eric’s cell phone rang. She recognized the ring tone immediately as Pam’s; who else’s could it be with the song “Suicide Blonde” blaring?
Eric answered, “Pamela.”
After a minute, he said, “Understood. Come now, and bring those papers I had prepared.”
Eric hung up and turned to Sookie. “Bill is planning to come here tonight.” He inhaled deeply, and Sookie could tell that he was checking for Bill’s scent. “However, he is not yet on his way. If you wish, we can leave or go inside behind the privacy spell.”
Sookie squared her shoulders. “Hell no, Eric. I’m having fun tonight with my family, and nothing is gonna get in the way of that.”
Eric gave an involuntary growl at her fire, and his pride and lust for her surged through the vampire bond.
“Down boy,” Sookie giggled in a low voice.
Eric graced her with a signature smirk and mouthed the word, “Later.”
She blushed and then looked at the others. “It looks like we have a neighbor coming over—Bill.”
Lafayette gave Jesus a significant look. “Look who’s comin’ to motha fuckin’ dinner.” He shook his head. “Didn’t I tell you it’d be a supernatural shit-storm up in here? And you just had to take the job, didn’t you?”
Jesus smiled at his beloved, “Yep.”
Miranda laughed. “I do like it here, Northman,” she said before she took another bite of her perfectly cooked medium-rare steak.
About thirty restless minutes later, Eric stiffened beside Sookie and pulled the chair she was sitting in a bit closer to his own. His look and actions meant only one thing.
A few seconds later, Miranda inhaled deeply, “Compton is approaching,” she said quietly.
At the same moment, Bubba reappeared and silently placed himself behind Sookie.
“Just a visit from a neighbor,” Sookie said under her breath as she steeled herself. She gripped Eric’s hand in hers and then gave into her urge and moved over to sit on his lap. Happy for the physical connection, Eric pulled her closer and then closer still as Bill broke the tree line. Eric inhaled the scent of her hair deeply, and Sookie could tell through the vampire bond that he was calming himself. She sent him comfort and support through the bond.
Lafayette and Jesus tensed, and Miranda slowly put her beer onto the ground next to her. Jarod was standing behind his mate, also at the ready. Jason—well he just continued sipping his beer, not really knowing what was going on, but knowing enough to keep his mouth shut.
“Good evening, my king,” Eric said coolly. “You honor us with this,” he paused, “unexpected visit.”
Bill’s eyes were focused on Sookie alone, a fact that was not lost on Eric. Slowly, Eric stood, taking Sookie with him as he did. He placed her so that she was by his side but a little back from Bill. He bowed slightly.
“Sheriff,” Bill said stiffly as he nodded toward Eric without really looking at him. He continued to focus on Sookie. “Hello Sookie,” he said, his voice conveying warmth. “I have gone to Merlotte’s several nights this week hoping to find you there.”
“I’ve been taking a little honeymoon time with my husband,” Sookie said, gripping Eric’s hand tightly.
Bill’s smile was obviously fake, “I see.” He stepped toward the fire and the circle of friends as if to warm his hands. “I wished to speak to you about business, Sookie. I have a few human employees that I would like for you to read for me; I fear they may not be loyal to me.” He looked at Eric meaningfully as he said the last part of his sentence.
Eric spoke up, “Any such business with Sookie must be taken up with me, your majesty.” Eric’s voice was as smooth as silk even though Sookie could sense her husband’s frustration through the vampire bond. “As her pledged mate, I will make all arrangements for her work on behalf of the kingdom of Louisiana. You know the protocol as well as I do, Bill.”
Bill once again looked at Sookie. “Knowing Sookie as I do, I just figured that she would prefer to remain independent. After all, Sookie’s independence is of paramount importance to her—and myself.”
As Sookie noticed Bill’s eye twitching, a clear sign that he was lying, her annoyance and anger at him surpassed even Eric’s in the bond. Ironically, it was her husband who now sent her calm.
Sookie took a deep breath and put on her best Merlotte’s smile, “Bill―although I appreciate you considering how you think I would feel in this matter―I have decided to let Eric arrange all my work for Louisiana. After all, he will always be accompanying me when I do such work, so it will just expedite things since he is better aware of our schedules.” Sookie’s voice stayed relatively even, despite her frustration. She gripped Eric’s hand even tighter, thankful that she couldn’t hurt her vampire mate. “Would you care to stay for a blood, Bill?” she asked, her Southern hospitality coming through—despite the fact that she really wished that he would just go away, preferably forever.
“Yes, join us,” Eric said, his voice edged with something akin to what a predator might sound like if he were toying with his meal.
Bill took in the pair before smiling another fake smile. “That would be lovely, Sookie,” he said.
Miranda stood up. “I’m gettin’ another beer anyway. I’ll bring you a blood too.” She looked at Bill. “Feel free to take my seat, your majesty,” she said with an amused air to her voice and a little curtsy.
She winked at Eric on her way to the house, and Eric retook his seat, taking Sookie with him and resettling her onto his lap.
“Pamela,” Miranda said sarcastically after she’d closed the back door behind her and walked into the kitchen. “I thought I smelled Chanel. What are you waiting for? I thought you would have joined the party by now.”
“Oh, it’s just too much fun to follow the proceedings from in here, I think. Bill’s pathetic attempts to drive a wedge between my maker and his mate are just so amusing.” She scoffed, “Personally, I would be happy to erase Bill Compton from this world right away; however, he’s just too damned funny to watch when he thinks he’ll win. Plus,” she pouted, “Eric and Sookie have vetoed all my requests to string him up by his balls so that he can best enjoy the sunrise.”
Miranda chuckled, “That was a rather pathetic attempt on his part.” She popped the lid off a TruBlood and put the bottle into the microwave.
“How long do you think he’ll stay?” Pam asked, even as she monitored the small talk about the other sheriffs that was occurring between Eric and Bill.
“Oh, he’s already outstayed his welcome,” Miranda smiled as she took the blood out of the microwave before it was completely warm.
“Shall we wager?” Pam asked excitedly.
“An over-under bet?” Miranda asked, her eyebrow raised.
“Fifteen minutes?” Pam suggested.
“Fine,” the vampiress said. “Do you want over or under?”
“You choose,” the Werelioness said congenially.
“Oh―I’d like the under,” Pam said gleefully.
“Fine.” Miranda put the blood back into the microwave and finished warming it. “What shall we bet?”
“A dollar good for you?” Pam asked Miranda.
“Make it two,” Miranda smiled as she took the blood out of the microwave and shook it to evenly distribute the heat.
“Agreed. And I’ll even spot you three minutes before I come to join the party.”
“How kind,” Miranda said sarcastically. “Time starts right now.” She gave the vampiress a wink before walking outside to rejoin the others.
Miranda walked slowly toward the group assembled around the fire. She bowed to Bill and offered him his blood. “Your majesty,” she said deferentially. She couldn’t help but to notice the surprised look that Jarod gave her from behind the king.
“Thank you,” Bill said stiffly. He was obviously already uncomfortable. His eyes darted to Sookie, who was still sitting on Eric’s lap. Miranda stepped so that she was in Bill’s eye line, blocking the sight of the couple from his gaze.
“King Compton,” she began, “I have heard great tales of how you were able to do away with Queen Sophie-Anne. I would love to hear just how you accomplished this marvelous feat.”
From behind her, Lafayette let out a muffled, “What the fuck?” to which, Miranda turned around and gave him a glare that shut him up immediately.
Miranda looked at Bill again even as Eric and Sookie looked at each other. Since amusement was shooting from Eric’s side of the bond, Sookie decided to just go with the flow. She watched Miranda.
“So, King Compton,” Miranda said again, “will you grace us with your heroic tale?”
Somewhat confused, Bill relented, “Of course.” He tried to look again at Sookie, but Miranda was still effectively impeding his gaze. He straightened and then spoke, his Southern accent sounding thicker than ever, “Queen Sophie-Anne was intent upon acquiring Sookie, and―of course―I desired to stop her.”
Eric grunted a bit and was met with a ‘love pat’ from Sookie.
Miranda reacquired Bill’s attention, “That’s so very fascinating and gallant of you. How did you ever manage to kill her? Wasn’t she much older than you?”
Bill shifted a bit uncomfortably in his chair. “Yes―but luckily, I was working with the AVL the whole time to bring down Sophie-Anne. The whole time,” he repeated, trying to look around Miranda and catch Sookie’s eye. “The AVL helped me to establish my reign after Sophie-Anne was out of the way.”
“And then Eric helped you re-establish your reign again after you almost lost it,” Pam drawled as she stepped out from around the side of the house as if she’d just arrived. “Why hello, King William. I mean King Compton. I mean King Bill. Oh―what do you want us to call you? I’m so confused about royal titles these days. Of course, Sophie-Anne spent more time calling out my name than me hers on the few occasions that I ‘visited’ with her, so that’s of little help to me in figuring out just the right title for you.”
Bill glared at Pam and went to answer her, but Miranda spoke up first, “The king here was just regaling us with the story of how he brought down Sophie-Anne.”
“How he got help bringing her down?” Pam asked innocently before turning to give Eric a wink. The others in the group were looking on like they were witnessing a traffic accident between Bill, Miranda, and Pam. By this time, the bond between Eric and Sookie was a mix of his amusement and comfort and her confusion and anxiety. She gave up trying to figure out what was going on from what she was seeing and poked into Miranda’s head.
“How he was able to strategize brilliantly in order to insure that the queen was tidily disposed of―more like it,” Miranda said, looking at Bill with admiration in her eyes.
From behind Bill’s chair, Jarod rolled his eyes and stifled a chuckle. He knew when his mate was acting. And he knew better than to mess with her when she was.
“So Bill,” Pam said with a wink at Miranda. “How did you meet the intrepid Ms. Flanagan?”
Once again, Bill shifted uncomfortably as he took a sip of his blood. “We met in London. She found me when I was being humane with those I took blood from.” Again, he tried to catch Sookie’s eye. Miranda, however, was still in the way, which was lucky for Bill because Sookie had caught on to what Miranda and Pam were doing from the Werelioness’s head and was holding in a chuckle at Bill’s expense. She looked at her mate, and out of Bill’s sight, she mouthed the words ‘two dollars.’ The Viking grinned and kissed Sookie gently on the cheek before they both turned back to watch the show.
“Ah,” Pam voiced. “Did you get to spend any quality time with Nan in all your years working with her? I hear she was quite the ball-breaker in the sack.”
Miranda glared at Pam as Bill shifted even more uncomfortably.
Bill quickly downed his TruBlood and rose, this time side-stepping Miranda so that he could see Sookie. “Well, Sookie, thank you for your hospitality. I will be contacting you―I mean Eric―soon in order to schedule the work I have for you.”
Behind Bill’s back, Pam gave Miranda a look of utter triumph.
“Wait―Bill!” Sookie said jumping up suddenly. Eric gave her a confused look, and there was something akin to melancholy coming from his side of the bond for a moment. Sookie looked quickly at him—confused by that particular emotional surge from him—but by then, he’d recovered and was sending only love and support to her.
Sookie glanced at Pam, who was glaring at her, before she turned to Bill. “We haven’t been able to tell you about the new renovations for the house yet, and I wanted to ask about how―um,” she paused and thought for a second, “about how things are going after the Marnie thing.”
Bill looked at Sookie with a bit of hope in his eyes; however, not wanting to give him false optimism, she immediately began speaking again. “Yes―we are doing tons of renovations to make the house better for Eric and me.”
Bill’s mood soured, “Yes, I can smell that you had many Weres here today. I assume they were from a construction crew?”
“Yes,” Sookie said as Eric stood up next to her. The perceptive vampire had picked up on what Sookie was up to―stalling.
Eric took over, “Indeed, they were here today in order to begin construction on a kind of workshop for me. You can see the location right over there.” Sookie looked up at Eric gratefully. “Would you care for a tour of it, Bill?” Eric asked.
The Civil War veteran looked dumbfounded. “No thanks, Eric. There doesn’t look to be much to tour right now, and I really must be going.”
“Yes, we shouldn’t hold up the king,” Pam said quickly. “I’m sure that he has a lot of,” she paused, “pressing matters to see to―if those blondes he brought to Fangtasia the other day were any indication.”
Eric’s amusement spiked through the bond, and Sookie couldn’t help but to laugh a bit.
Bill looked at her curiously.
Sookie recovered quickly, “Oh Pam,” she chided. “I’m sure that Bill has one more minute to spare for us little people,” she looked at Pam significantly. “Just one more minute won’t hurt, will it? Anyway, he’s yet to tell us all about how things have gone following the Marnie episode. And I also wanted to ask him for the name of who he had decorate his house. I absolutely love what he’s done with the―um―entryway.” She looked at Bill expectantly.
Miranda added, “Yes, Bill, I’m sure you have handled the Marnie situation with much aplomb. I have seen your press conferences. And might I just say that they were spot on―really admirable work.”
Bill relaxed a bit and a look of pride came to his face, “Yes―the AVL has been quite pleased by the spin that I have put onto the situation. In fact, because of my efforts,” he looked significantly at Sookie, “after the Festival of Tolerance, the sympathy for vampires has risen by 15%, despite the fact that others,” he now looked at Eric crossly, “created such a bloodbath at the event.”
Eric looked coolly at Bill, “Indeed―it is a boon that we have such a wonderful P.R. man as king in this state.”
Bill shifted uncomfortably again and moved to leave once more. “Again, my thanks, Sookie.” He bowed a bit to her.
“Oh, just one more second, Bill. Let me run inside to get a piece of paper so that I can write down the name of your decorator.”
“I have one right here,” Pam said evilly, holding out a piece. “Plus, if he just says the name, I’ll keep it in my vault for you.” She motioned to her head.
“Oh, that’s okay,” Sookie said. “I wanna write it down with my other notes about the house so that everything is in one place. Let me just get my pad. It’s right inside the door.”
Sookie began walking toward the house with Bubba on her heels. Pam was fuming, and now Miranda had a triumphant look on her face. Jason and Lafayette looked like two deer caught in headlights, and Jesus, who was just then beginning to catch on, had risen to go stand next to Jarod so that Bill couldn’t see him if he lost it.
That left Bill facing Eric, who was looking at him steadily. As soon as Sookie was inside, Eric spoke to Bill, “You would do well, my liege, to remember to go through me when you need to speak to Sookie. She is my pledged, after all.” Eric’s voice was a mix of calm and ice, as only he knew how to pull off. Lafayette silently thanked God that he no longer got that tone from Eric, and he reminded himself to stay on the vampire’s good side.
Bill spoke up. “I will remember, sheriff,” he said, with anxiety and hatred competing for top honors in his tone. “However, I would not try to hold on too tightly to Sookie if I were you.”
With difficulty, Eric kept his calm, “I know exactly how to hold on to my wife, Bill.” He bowed a bit. He added with just a hint of sarcasm, “But if I ever need relationship advice, you will be at the top of the list.”
Sookie returned with Bubba a moment later. She walked to Eric’s side and looked up at him with equal parts affection and warning. He grinned at her and then kissed her lightly on the forehead, a move that caused Bill to squirm and Pam to roll her eyes.
“Alright,” Sookie said, pen in hand. She stifled her giggle as she looked up and saw an expression on Bill’s face that could only be described as constipated.
The king of Louisiana simply said, “Sommers Design, located in Shreveport. Good evening, Sookie.” And with that, he sped away at vampire speed.
Bubba lifted his nose into the air, and after a moment, he said, “He’s just past the property line, Miss Sookie.”
Eric nodded in confirmation.
“Okay,” Jason spoke up, obviously confused. “I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but someone needs to tell me what all just went on!”
At that, Jesus and Jarod, who had both been instigating and then calming each other during the previous several minutes, burst into laughter. Jarod composed himself slightly and then stated, “That’s what it looks like when a lioness and a vampiress have a mouse on a string and play with it. So cruel!” he added with another laugh.
“What. The. Fuck?” Jason questioned as Lafayette chuckled, picking up on the joke.
Sookie answered, “Well―when Miranda went inside, she and Pam made a bet.”
“A bet?” Jason asked.
“Yeah―Pam bet that Bill would leave before ten minutes was up, and Miranda bet that he’d stay longer.”
Eric spoke up, “He stayed ten minutes and forty-three seconds from the time Miranda re-emerged with his drink.” He smiled mischievously. “Over-confident, Pamela? You were the one who gave Miranda a three-minute head-start.”
Pam fumed, “He would have been gone in seven minutes and twelve seconds if it weren’t for a certain telepath that I am not talking to right now!”
“Oh Pam,” Sookie spoke up. “I couldn’t help myself.” She laughed.
“And the comment about Nan,” Eric said. He brought his fingertips to his lips and kissed them with a flourish. “It was pure artistry. I applaud you, my child.”
“Hey wait,” Lafayette said. “Does that mean that Bill slept with that cold-fish vampire bitch, Nan Flanagan?”
“So it would seem,” Eric said, an amused, but disgusted look on his face.
“Well, that explains that,” Lafayette said.
“Explains what?” Jason asked, still looking confused.
“The man gots no balls!” Lafayette trumpeted. “Nan must have taken them!”
At this, everyone―except a pouting Pam―laughed. The vampiress reached into her purse and pulled out two crisp one dollar bills. “Here,” she said, thrusting them toward Miranda. “But for the record, I am counting this as a victory for me. There is no way you would have won without Sookie and my maker.” She now leveled her glare at Eric. “Don’t think that I missed your helping them. You are supposed to be on my side.” She paused dramatically. “I require shoes, Eric!”
Eric chuckled as Sookie held out her hand to Miranda. “And I want half of that bet!” the telepath said.
The Werelioness gave a little bow and handed over a dollar. “You earned it.”
Jason spoke up, “Wait. You did all that for two bucks!”
Lafayette snickered as Jesus and Jarod once again broke into fits of laughter. Next to Sookie, Eric laughed and then snorted.
Sookie looked up at him in shock as a sheepish look passed over his face.
It was Pam’s turn to triumph. “Oh―this is rich!” she snarked. “Finally I have witnesses to your snorting, Eric Northman. I have been saying it for years, but not even Godric believed it! Ha! Best two dollars ever spent!”
“I did not snort,” Eric intoned seriously, as he tried to edge his voice with a threat.
“Yes―you did!” exclaimed Lafayette and Sookie at the same time.
“I do not snort. I have never snorted. I will never snort,” Eric said evenly.
“You snorted,” Miranda deadpanned. “We all heard it. There is no use denying it.”
“It was not a snort. It was a,” he paused, “pocket of air in my throat.”
“You lyin’ vampire!” Sookie laughed. “I can totally feel you are lyin’ through the bond! You snorted.”
“I grunted,” Eric said.
“Snorted,” Jesus said.
“Sniffed,” Eric answered, his voice staying completely even and trying to sound innocent.
“Oh―you snorted!” Pam triumphed again.
“Merely semantics,” Eric said. “I know that I do not snort!”
“Liar,” Sookie hit his arm.
Pam sat down and stretched out in the chair Bill had vacated. “This night has turned out so well! First, I get to confirm that Bill played hide the salami with Nan, and now I have seven witnesses to your snorting.”
“Not snorting,” Eric insisted.
“Excuse me, Mister Eric,” Bubba spoke up from behind them. “I am usually good with sounds and pitches and stuff, and if you don’t mind me sayin’, it sounded like a snort to me.”
“Thank you, Bubba!” Pam exclaimed. “Now you have to listen to me!”
Next to Eric, Sookie could no longer hold in her own laughter. The light-hearted and―yes―family atmosphere as well as the unique and wonderful personalities of the people around her had caught up with her, as had the whole episode with Bill as well as Eric’s hilarious denials. She broke out into a fit of joyous guffawing, and she couldn’t help herself when she snorted too.
“Of course!” Pam deadpanned. “They’re a fucking matching pair!”