Last Time: Little Johan was born.
“You will find peace not by trying to escape your problems, but by confronting them courageously. You will find peace not in denial, but in victory.”—Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters)
“Appius!” Russell said jovially. “How the hell are you?”
“The same as always,” Appius answered with a controlled smile on his face. “And you?”
“I am well,” Russell answered with a smile; his was sincere. “However, I’d been hoping that we would be celebrating an engagement by now.”
Appius sighed, just shy of dramatically. “As did I. Eric, it seems, has disappointed us both in this instance.”
Russell shrugged. “Such is life. The important thing is that my Izzy is relatively unfazed by the whole business with Eric and Freyda de Castro.”
“That is good to hear,” Appius said, though the sincerity he tried to convey wasn’t quite convincing.
“Well,” Russell said, “I suppose I should go. I have a dinner engagement in a while and need to get some work done before that.”
“Of course,” Appius said with a nod.
“Unless . . . ,” Russell began, the word hanging in the air.
“Unless?” Appius took the bait.
“Would you care to join me?” Russell asked. “I’m meeting some old friends, and I’m sure they’d appreciate seeing you.”
Appius narrowed his gaze at his contemporary. “Whom are you meeting?”
“Copley Carmichael and Niall Brigant,” Russell answered evenly.
“Oh?” Appius asked.
Russell nodded. “Niall and Copley are neighbors in the Hamptons—as you know. They drove up together and we’re to lunch. I truly hope that you will join us.”
It was the “truly” in Russell’s sentence that gave Appius pause, but it didn’t stop him from accepting the invitation. When three of the wealthiest men in New York asked someone to their table, denial wasn’t acceptable—even for someone like Appius.
“Of course,” Appius said, nodding his head.
“Excellent!” Russell responded, clapping his hands before looking down at his watch. “We’ve reserved the Dwight Room for 5:30 p.m.”
“I’ll be there,” Appius said, looking at his own watch and seeing that it was only 4:20. He’d come to the University Club for a quick drink before heading home. It was his usual habit on Fridays after work. Now he figured he’d have time to get a quick massage from Raul before he met with Russell and the others. And Raul would certainly help to “de-stress” Appius as he always did with his talented fingers—and mouth.
Appius sighed as he walked toward the concierge’s desk. He loved the University Club. It was an exclusive club—invite only, of course. And discreet. And that made it one of the few places in the city where he truly felt he could relax.
An hour later, Appius felt very relaxed, indeed. Raul had managed to lift most of the stress off of his shoulders in a mere half an hour. And then he’d provided Appius with his lovely ass so that he could fuck away the rest of his tension. Thoughts of Freyda and Eric and Andre, who’d been a bit irritating lately, had floated from his mind with each pump into his favorite masseuse’s ass.
He walked toward the Dwight Room with a lovely scotch already in his hand.
However, Appius’s good mood dissipated as soon as he opened the door of the room. Copley and Russell and Niall were there—as promised. However, Desmond Cataliades was also there. Bobby Burnham and Eric were there too. And so was Felipe de Castro.
“What is this?” Appius demanded, looking around the room, even as Henry closed the door behind him.
“It is the end,” Eric said forcefully.
“What do you mean?” Appius asked in a scalding voice.
Russell sighed. “Will you excuse us, Felipe? We will call you back in around half an hour.”
“I don’t enjoy being played with,” Felipe said gruffly as he glared in Eric’s direction, “especially not by the man who’s been playing with my daughter for much too long!”
“It’s no game,” Niall soothed. “And—after today—the situation with your daughter will be handled. You have my word.”
Felipe—looking a little uncertain about the happenings—got up to leave the room with another glare in Eric’s direction. “Half an hour! And then that boy does right by Freyda!” he gruffed before Henry, too, stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him.
“What the fuck is going on?” Appius growled.
“Come and sit,” Niall said with authority. “And I will tell you a little story.”
Reluctantly, Appius joined the gathering and sat in the seat Felipe had vacated. He glanced at Eric’s hand and saw something shining back at him. “What the fuck is that?” Appius asked.
“I’m married,” Eric responded evenly, “and I have been for weeks now. And I’m no longer going to hide it by taking off the ring my wife gave to me.”
“Married?” Appius growled. “But you cannot be. You have to get my permission to marry!”
“No,” Eric said evenly as Bobby produced their contract. “Since the woman I married meets all of the contract’s criteria, I did not have to get your direct permission.”
“Whom did you marry?” Appius asked, looking at Russell and then Copley. “Isabel? Amelia?”
Eric shook his head. “No. Sookie.”
“You breached the contract?” Appius asked, the shock clear in his voice.
Eric shook his head. “No. I did not.”
“But you married backwater trash.” Appius smiled sinisterly. “I hope you have 10 billion dollars. If you don’t you’ll soon see the inside of a jail cell.”
“I didn’t break the terms of the contract, Appius,” Eric reiterated. “It just so happened that fate gave me a gift.”
“And what was that, boy?” Appius scowled.
“My kin,” Niall growled. “One of the heirs of my uncle’s unclaimed fortune.” He smiled with satisfaction. “Miss Susanna Stackhouse—or should I say Sookie—was officially declared a Brigant and inherited her legacy the week before she married Eric.”
“Impossible!” Appius said insistently.
“Seemingly impossible—yes,” Eric responded softly. “But Sookie is a Brigant, and we are married. She meets all of the contract’s criteria—and then some,” he paused, “since—to me—the most important criterion of all is the love that we share.”
Niall glared at Appius. “And if you dare to challenge Sookie’s birthright, then you will understand my wrath, boy. DNA tests—among other things—have already proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Sookie is my kin, so if you try to interfere with her marriage to Eric, you will not live to tell the tale.”
“Don’t threaten me, old man,” Appius steamed.
“I will do as I please,” Niall warned. “And you will not do anything to hurt my kin!”
Appius shook his head. “I don’t believe this. I don’t believe any of it!”
Bobby slid a file in front of Appius. “These DNA results prove that Sookie is a Brigant.”
Appius quickly opened the file and thumbed through the results. “How do I know these aren’t fake?”
“They aren’t. Unlike some, I would never tamper with DNA results,” Niall said with a glare.
Appius ran his fingers through his hair, realizing that—at least in the matter of Eric’s marriage to the deviant—there was little he could do. And—despite his posturing—he would be reluctant to go up against Niall Brigant. He couldn’t help but to be a bit nervous about the suggestiveness of Niall’s DNA comment, however. But he thought for a moment and relaxed. There could be no way that anyone would suspect that he’d been the one to get Freyda pregnant or that he planned to do a little DNA test tampering of his own. No. He’d been too careful, and Freyda certainly hadn’t indicated to anyone that Appius was the father of her child. It was clear that she now truly believed that the child belonged to Eric.
“Fine,” Appius said, looking at Eric. “I accept your marriage to the Brigant girl.” He sat forward a little and swirled the remaining scotch in his glass. “It looks like you got what you wanted—after all. Well played.”
There was a challenge and a threatening edge to his tone.
“I still want to be your son,” Eric said in a quiet voice.
“Our own little foray into DNA testing proved that you were,” Appius said casually.
Eric shook his head. “I cannot remember a time when you were my father.”
“I can remember,” Copley Carmichael said, his tone compelling Appius to look at him. “When Eric was born, we celebrated. Do you remember how my Penelope was pregnant with James at the time? Do you remember how nervous I was? When I saw you with Eric, I was a little jealous. You were such a natural father. You were proud. You loved your son!”
Appius shook his head, trying to shake away the memories of his first few years as Eric’s father. He tried to shut out the memory of Eric’s first word: “daddy.” He tried to shut out all of the times he played blocks with his son—his son who seemed to be a budding architect even at three years old. Eric would never be without his blocks and would drag a bucket of them everywhere he went—whether it be with Appius to the office or to breakfast each morning.
Appius had bought him so many blocks.
And they’d spent hours and hours playing with them together, building structures only to tear them down and then build them again and again.
Once more, the elder Northman shook his head and steeled himself. The blocks had been the first thing that he had thrown away after Eric was packed up and sent to school.
Unless the love he’d once felt for the boy was counted.
That had been thrown out as soon as Appius had read about Stella’s affair with Peder.
“I built a life around Stella and the family I wanted with her,” Appius said gruffly. “But it tumbled down like a pile of building blocks in the hands of a toddler.”
“I’m a father now,” Eric said quietly. “I’ve made you a grandfather.”
Appius looked at his eldest son through narrowed eyes. “So you are going to do what is right by Freyda de Castro—after all? Is that why Felipe is here? He will not like that you have married another after getting his daughter pregnant.”
Eric shook his head. “You and I both know who the father of Freyda’s child really is, and it is not me—though the child and I do share some DNA.”
Appius glared at his son. “I don’t know what you are playing at, boy. But these matters are personal—family matters. And if you are not willing to live up to your responsibilities after getting Freyda pregnant, you certainly shouldn’t air your dirty laundry in front of others.”
Eric sighed and pulled a picture out of his jacket pocket. He leaned forward and slid the picture toward Appius.
The elder Northman looked down at the image.
“That picture was taken this morning. My son—Johan—will be two weeks old tomorrow,” Eric said, his voice catching with emotion as he said his beloved son’s name. “And I plan to take him home tomorrow—to my and Sookie’s home.”
Appius looked at the picture of the tiny baby. He’d had enough children of his own to be able to tell that the infant was smaller than usual, and if he had been in the hospital for two weeks, something had obviously gone wrong. However, the child looked healthy other than his slight size. He had a splash of light blond hair, but what stood out to Appius were the infant’s eyes. They were bright blue and inquisitive as he looked at the camera. If Appius didn’t know better, he would have said that the child was taunting him with those eyes. The eyes were the same color as Eric’s, and even in the infant’s tiny state, Appius could see that he was Eric’s carbon copy in every other way too—right down to the dimple on his god-forsaken chin.
“Well—at least you know he’s yours—just by looking at him,” Appius said venomously, shoving the picture back toward Eric. “I never had such an assurance. He looks like you, and you look like her.”
“Please, Appius, stop all this. And let Eric out of his contract,” Copley pleaded.
“Never,” Appius sneered. “It won’t be me who breaks our agreement—not unless Eric agrees to forfeit every bit of NP that he has or will ever have,” he growled.
“I’m not going to do that,” Eric said softly. “NP was started by my grandfather’s grandfather—the man you and my mother named me for. I won’t just give it all away to you.”
“That wouldn’t work anyway,” Desmond Cataliades said from the corner of the room where he was stationed. He had a large glass of stout in his hand and was looking at Appius as if he wanted to send a dagger with his gaze. “And you know it, Appius.”
“I suppose we’re here because of you,” Appius said, his voice laced with hatred. “You broke the confidentiality clause in my father’s Will—didn’t you? I’ll see you disbarred, and I’ll sue your goddamned firm for every single cent you have!” he yelled pounding his fist onto the table.
Desmond chuckled, though his eyes held no mirth. “Bring up disbarment proceedings if you wish. And sue me if you must. But know this—John would have been ashamed of you! He hoped that the codicil would prevent you from doing something stupid or from damaging Eric even more. He hoped that you would one day see Eric’s merit—just as he did. He hoped that one day you would become worthy of a son such as Eric!”
Appius scoffed with disbelief. “Worthy of him? The weak son of a whore?” He shook his head. “He doesn’t deserve the Northman name!”
“Appius!” Russell said, his voice managing to sound both enraged and perfectly rational. “I am not a violent man. But if you insult Stella one more time, I will become one.”
“That’s right,” Appius said, glaring at him. “You had quite the thing for my wife—didn’t you? Tell me—did she fuck you too?”
Russell growled, and everyone in the room shivered at the sound of it. “Yes—I loved Stella,” he said. “From the first moment I laid eyes on her, I loved her. Everyone did! And when my wife died giving birth to my Izzy, Stella kept me from putting a bullet through my goddamned brain and making my baby girl an orphan.”
“So you did sleep with Stella!” Appius accused.
“No!” Russell responded. “She was in love with you—you fucking fool! She never looked twice at me—except in friendship or compassion. But if she would have had me, I would have counted my fucking blessings for eternity!”
Appius glared at him.
“Instead—she settled for you. I knew about that idiotic ‘agreement’ you had made with her before you got married, and it always floored me that she was willing to let you gallivant around town, but I didn’t question it because of her,” Russell seethed. “Because when Stella told me you were a good man, I believed her.” Russell shook his head, “And you were a good man then. I remember that too! I used to like you—respect you.”
Appius downed the rest of his liquor and got up to refill his glass from a decanter in the corner of the room. His emotions were whirling all over his face, and Eric was certain that if he were alone with his father, the choking he had received from Appius in January would seem like child’s play.
However, when Appius sat back down, he looked at Eric with a cool disdain. “You orchestrated all this to tell me you were married? So that I wouldn’t interfere with that? But I’m betting you had more in mind.” He sat back and took a sip of his liquor, seemingly ready for anything Eric had to say.
“Yes,” Eric said softly. “There was another purpose.”
Eric reached into a bag at his feet and pulled out a beautifully wrapped box. “Do you recognize this?”
“No!” Appius gruffed.
“I have tried to give you this gift for many years—in fact, ever since it was given to me by my grandfather. I thought it should be yours.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Every Father’s Day. Every Christmas. Ever since I was twenty-one and received this as part of my inheritance from Grandfather John, I have wrapped this gift and brought it to you. Markus removes it from the trash every time, and he sends it back to me. Obviously, you’ve never opened it.”
“Because I want nothing from you,” Appius said nonchalantly, as if they were having a casual chat.
“Except for my suffering,” Eric sighed.
“Yes. Except for that.”
Eric reached out with the gift. “This is the last time I will try.”
Appius shook his head. “I don’t want your pathetic attempts for my affection.”
Eric nodded sadly and then opened the gift himself. Inside was the pen that had been given to his namesake Erik Northman, the first Northman in the United States—the one who started the family’s fortune.
Appius’s eyes widened.
“You recognize it,” Eric commented, reverently taking the pen out the olivewood box he’d made for it. Of course, he intended to say that the box was inherited with the pen—if asked. He set the pen onto the table and lifted up the lining of the box. There was an aged-looking piece of paper there. “It’s ironic that you could have prevented me from learning of the codicil to Grandfather John’s will if you had only taken my gift,” he lied. In truth, Agent Travis Fletcher had helped Bobby find a document specialist who had written a fake letter using a sample of John Northman’s handwriting. Although Desmond Cataliades had been ready and willing to say that he’d spilled the beans about the codicil, Eric had seen a way to keep the lawyer from facing potential trouble—the pen.
“What’s that?” Appius asked, looking at the piece of paper in Eric’s hands.
“I found this when I went to rewrap your present last Father’s Day,” he lied.
I’d never tested to see if the lining of the box could be lifted. I don’t know why I did it that time. Fate—I guess.”
Eric slid the letter toward Appius, who read it quickly, his anger obviously rising with each word.
Of course, Eric knew well what the forged letter said. It was succinct. It informed Eric of the terms of the codicil and told him to contact Desmond Cataliades. It was clear that Appius didn’t doubt the letter’s authenticity, which meant that Desmond was covered.
“It seems like my own father’s betrayal knew no bounds,” Appius said, even as he tore the letter in two.
Eric sat forward and nodded at Bobby. “You deserve this moment, bror.”
Bobby smiled at Eric. They both knew that one of the main reasons why Eric had signed the contract with Appius in the first place was so that Godric could live out the last of his days in peace.
“So you are having your fucking attack dog deal with me? Are you not man enough to do it yourself?” Appius challenged.
“Perhaps you are unaware that Bobby is my nephew’s child,” Niall said. “If you insult him—or any of my kin again—you and I will have words about it.”
“Thanks, Uncle,” Bobby said, “but I’ve had worse said about me.”
“Not in front of me,” Niall said forcefully.
Bobby smiled at his great-uncle appreciatively. He’d rarely seen Niall with his hackles up, but even pushing 85, he was formidable.
“So?” Appius asked, looking at Bobby. “What does my son wish for me to know today?”
Eric cringed as the word “son” came out of Appius’s mouth as if it were some kind of joke.
Bobby moved to stand right behind Eric and put his hand onto his friend’s shoulder and gave it a little squeeze before speaking. “My client believes that it is high time that the contract you two signed was renegotiated.”
“Why would I want to do that?” Appius asked.
“Because—if you don’t, Eric will break the contract on his thirty-fifth birthday, and then he’ll simply wait until your sixtieth birthday when you will be forced to give him the 30% of the stock you still own plus the market value of 37% more.” Bobby smiled at Appius. “That is what I have counseled that he do—you know. The codicil to John Northman’s Will is very clear, after all. Either you make Eric CEO by the time you turn sixty, or the value of the 67% of the company that John Northman left to you—plus the title of CEO—goes to Eric anyway.” Bobby closed his eyes as if savoring the moment. “Oh—we know that you’d still make a menace out of yourself, wielding the stock that you still controlled through others like Nora and Andre like a dethroned tyrant. However, no matter what you did, Eric would remain CEO. He would also have 30% of the stock, compared to the 7% he has now, which he would write over to me. And—trust me—you would make Eric incredibly wealthy by paying him the amount of 37% more.”
A low, guttural growl emanated from Appius. “I have made NP what it is today. My father had no goddamned right to produce that codicil.”
“You forget yourself,” Niall said. “Yes—NP has grown under your stewardship; however, John sold most of his other businesses in order to give you a great deal of capital to work with. It was that money that allowed you to expand NP.”
“Yes,” Desmond added. “Even in the end, John believed in you—even after he discovered how you had treated Eric. It’s why he wrote the codicil. He wanted to give you time to figure things out for yourself, and he didn’t want you to die behind your desk at NP. He figured that if he required that you retire by 60 and hand the reins over to Eric, he would be protecting both of you.”
Appius scoffed and shook his head. “No—my father knew how much I hated Eric. He knew it! Yet he still sought to torment me by forcing me to give up my company—mine—to him.” He looked at Eric with hatred glowing in his eyes. “I have given my life to NP, and because of the generosity of my father,” he intoned sarcastically, “I don’t even have a say about what happens to it.”
Eric sighed. “You could.” He looked up at Bobby.
Bobby took a folded set of papers out of his pocket. “A new contract—for your consideration,” he said, handing the papers to Appius.
A/N: As I told the readers of Uncharted, sorry about the dearth of new chapters lately. I blame mostly my work and Seph’s wonderful contest, for which I wrote a promo (and maybe more). The stories for that contest are now available to read, and they are great (another reason why I haven’t written as much—those stories absorbed me!)! Be sure to check them out, especially if you are an Eric/Sookie fan!
Next up: Will Appius renegotiate?