“A good conscience is a continual Christmas.”—Benjamin Franklin
DECEMBER 25, 2013 (two months after the previous chapter)
“You okay?” Sookie asked softly, threading her fingers into his.
Eric nodded but said nothing. His face was a little pale.
“Eric, have you lost the ability to speak?” she asked with a slight grin, though her eyes held concern.
“Maybe,” he chuckled, leaning over to give her a kiss on the cheek. “I did remember to tell you that you look beautiful—right?”
“Yes—that you remembered to do,” she said, her smile reaching her eyes now.
“You do look beautiful, Sookie,” he whispered as he gave her another kiss, this time closer to her ear.
She looked down at her dress. She’d chosen something red—because of the holiday—and flattering. The shape and material of the dress were very forgiving of the ten pounds she still wanted to lose in order to get back to the size she’d been the previous January. She had already lost a lot of the weight she’d gained with Johan—thanks to swimming and working out almost every day. Eric, too, was working hard to get back into shape after spending more than a month in a hospital bed. A physical therapist came to their home several times a week, and—in the last month—Eric had regained much of the strength he’d lost.
“Would it make you feel better to know that I’m nervous too?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Eric smiled a little.
He put his arm around her, and she sank against his body in the back of Niall’s limo. Niall and Mormor had come to Manhattan for the holiday and were staying with Claudine; however, Eric had wanted them along for the “family meeting”/Christmas dinner that was going to be taking place—ironically enough—at the Northman mansion. It would be the first time that Sookie met Alexei, Gracie, and AJ. It was also the first time that the whole “family” would be together since Appius’s death.
As `expected, the scandal that had rocketed through the gossip columns and New York high society following the shootings at the hospital had yet to die down. When it was found out by the press that one of the wealthiest men in the United States had shot his son multiple times, the reporters were like sharks in the water.
And so was Freyda de Castro. Every day, she had tried to see Eric, claiming that she had every right to see the father of her child and pretending to be the “victim” in front of the Press that had gathered outside of the hospital. And she milked that role for all it was worth, speaking to the gathered reporters every day—no matter how many times her father tried to stop her.
Thanks to Agent Batanya, not many details about what had happened—and why—were released to the media. But the reporters still dug for kernels of information—especially when Michelle Stackhouse showed up outside of the hospital five days after the shooting. Michelle gave interviews to anyone who would listen to her. And—although the reporters had hesitated to listen to the ranting woman who claimed that her daughter was involved with Eric Northman—they soon verified that Sookie and Eric were, indeed, married. And then the news broke that Eric and Sookie had had a child. After that, it hadn’t taken the Press long to circulate the story that Appius had been trying to kill Sookie and the infant—as well as Eric.
The day after that news had broken, Michelle and Jason had appeared on a gossip program with Freyda de Castro. Michelle basically called her daughter a whore and claimed that she’d seduced Eric, stealing him from the woman who truly loved him, Freyda. The next day, Freyda had tried to sneak into the hospital—this time with a knife. She was “detained,” but—somehow—Sookie came out looking like the one to blame since she wouldn’t allow Freyda to visit her “beloved Eric.” While in his coma, Eric was also spun in a negative light; after all, he’d been engaged to one woman, Isabel Edgington; married and had a child with another, the heiress Sookie Stackhouse (or Brigant, depending on which rag carried the story); and then impregnated a third, Freyda de Castro.
He was painted as the worst kind of charlatan where women were concerned.
The Press were particularly unkind to Sookie, however, especially once Michelle gave an “exclusive interview” to the New York Post’s Page Six. In it, she speculated that Sookie had likely slept with Appius as well as Eric. She questioned the paternity of Sookie’s child. She also said that Appius and Eric had both been the victims of Sookie’s “black widow ways.” She speculated that Eric’s breakdown had been because of Sookie and that the two Northman men had likely fought over her. In the end, Michelle had managed to blame Sookie completely for Appius’s homicidal rampage and his death. She also blamed Sookie for Eric’s being injured and for Freyda’s “pain and suffering.”
After that interview, Arlene, Maudette, and Dawn had all tried to get their own fifteen minutes of fame by telling reporters all they knew about Sookie and her “strange ways.” They also made up stories about witnessing Sookie in compromising situations with both Eric and Appius in her private office, which had been given to her so that her clandestine affairs with both Northman men could be hidden. That was also when the story leaked that an FBI agent, William Compton, was also implicated in Eric’s shooting. It didn’t take Michelle long to tell reporters that Bill and Sookie had been involved. And this information led to the further vilification of Sookie by the press.
Though Sookie had remained pretty insulated from the so-called “news,” some had filtered through to her, even in the cocoon of Eric’s hospital room, which Dr. Ludwig had managed like a drill instructor. The diminutive doctor had hand-picked all of Eric’s nurses as well as his physical therapist. And no one was allowed in the room unless he or she was on Ludwig’s list.
At the end of Eric’s third week in a coma, Michelle Stackhouse’s “tell-all book” was released, thanks to Andre and Nora pushing it through without Pam’s knowledge. After that, Pam had been furious. Nora insisted that she was only hoping to keep the scandal pointed away from Appius; the Press had begun depicting him as a victim of Sookie’s manipulation, and—despite the fact that he’d shot his own son multiple times—sympathy had begun to swell for him.
Pam threatened to leave NP and to tell the Press everything she knew about Appius if Andre wasn’t fired right away. And given the fact that Pam had basically been keeping NP on its feet since Appius was dead and Eric was out of commission, Nora had been forced to relent. She’d even had Michelle’s book recalled from the shelves, though the damage had already been done, and Michelle had started another circuit through the morning talk shows.
At that point, Niall and Elsa had had enough; they’d held back for a while, mostly because they were focusing on Eric and Sookie and didn’t want to prolong the scandal by fueling it. However, when the matriarch and patriarch decided to act, they literally lit the news on fire! They went on offensive, and together they were an incredible force. Michelle and Jason Stackhouse were slapped with libel suits—as was NP for publishing Michelle’s “tell-all” book. And by the end of a few interviews of their own, Niall and Elsa had convinced audiences that Michelle Stackhouse and Appius Northman were both abusive parents.
After that, at Niall’s request, Agent Batanya had given a press conference, ostensibly to update people on the case. However, what she really did was to paint a fuller picture of what had happened the day of the shooting. She indicated that Sookie and Johan had been held hostage by Appius. She also made clear that Eric had risked his life to save his beloved wife and tiny premature child—that he’d pushed a bound Sookie out of the way and covered her and his son with his own body as he was shot repeatedly by Appius. By the end of her question and answer session, Agent Batanya had made sure that the villain of the story could no longer be questioned.
Stan Davis had tried one more time to make Appius a sympathetic figure in an interview he gave to one of New York’s more respected morning programs. While he repudiated Appius’s actions, he painted Appius as a man who’d been hurt horribly by the infidelity of his first wife. A brief scandal regarding Stella ensued, but Bobby bit back by leaking all the information he’d gathered about Appius’s own extra-marital activities—including emails indicating the real paternity of Freyda’s child.
Even as the scandal had raged on, Bobby and Mr. Cataliades filed an injunction to hold the official reading of Appius’s Will until after Eric woke up and had had a chance to recuperate. Appius had—as could be expected—omitted Eric from his Will, but John Northman’s codicil prevented certain elements of Appius’s Will from being legal. Plus, there was the contract between Eric and Appius to consider.
The legalities of the situation had been a nightmare to untangle, even after Eric woke up. Andre, Stan Davis, and the Faeman siblings were still trying to keep Eric from getting anything, including his own trust fund.
But—now that he was better, Eric had had enough as well. It was time to end Appius’s influence on his life. And—ironically—that was going to take place on Christmas. After years of facing his father’s bullying at the Northman Mansion during their holiday meetings, Eric was going to be conducting his own meeting. He hoped to produce a settlement that would be good for all of his siblings; however, he was ready to use his grandfather John’s Will as leverage. And he was prepared to fight dirty.
Not surprisingly, Appius’s Will appointed Nora as CEO of NP until Eric’s thirty-fifth birthday. Then, Nora was to become Appius’s “agent” in all matters regarding the contract between Eric and Appius. Nora was also the executrix of Appius’s Will, though Sophie-Anne was due to inherit a third of his estate—not counting the NP stock he’d still held at the time of his death.
However, once Eric woke up from his coma, his remaining “opponents” in the family had a problem. And—ironically—they thought that problem stemmed from the contract itself. According to that document, Eric had to remain Deputy CEO until he became CEO, so they couldn’t force him out.
However, Eric’s opponents had an even bigger problem than they realized: John Northman’s codicil. Grace was likely the only one of them who knew about that document, and she didn’t know that Eric was privy to its existence, but it was his ace in the hole.
If need be, Eric was prepared to break the contract on his thirty-fifth birthday. Once he did, he would lose his trust fund, and he would lose his remaining 7% of NP stock. His international division would also be closed, and Elsa would lose her pension.
However, just two short months later, Eric would get back all he had lost and more. Instead of having just 7% of the company, he would get the value of the 67% of NP that John Northman had originally given Appius. The only difference was that Nora—instead of Appius—would have to pay that value from Appius’s estate.
After that, Eric could do whatever he wanted. He could make himself CEO of NP. He could reopen the international division and make it even bigger. Or he sell everything and leave New York behind. However, no matter what he did, the lion’s share of the Northman fortune would become his. All that he had to do was wait, and now that Appius was dead, that waiting would be easier.
But Eric didn’t want to hurt his other family members, not even Nora. Thus, he was hoping that those who were still his enemies—his grandmother Grace, Andre, the Faemans, Stan Davis, and maybe even Nora—would be reasonable.
And—for the ones that he knew couldn’t be? There was already a plan in motion to get them out of his way.
Niall had insisted upon picking up Eric and Sookie in his limo; however, given the way Elsa and Niall were mooning over Johan, it was clear that the child was the real reason they’d been so keen to offer the ride.
Elsa and Niall had surprised everyone earlier that month by announcing that they’d gone to Vegas to “get hitched.” Actually, they had blindsided everyone except Eric and Sookie, whom they’d told before leaving. Elsa had been worried that Eric would see her remarrying as a betrayal to his morfar’s memory, but Eric had quickly allayed those fears. He knew that his mormor’s love with his morfar was a once in a lifetime thing. She didn’t look at Niall as she’d looked at Johan Larsson.
However, she looked at Niall with great fondness, just as he looked back at her. And Eric liked the idea of both of them having companionship as they drew closer to the ends of their lives. Plus, they had revitalized each other, and Eric was happy about that. He wanted them both to stay around as long as possible to watch Johan—and hopefully more of his and Sookie’s children—grow. And, even better, his mormor was now closer geographically. She and Niall had decided to spend their summers in Sweden beginning the next year, but the rest of their time would be spent in the Hamptons. And they were enjoying the heck out of their great-grandson. And, from the sound of Johan’s cooing, the feeling was mutual.
Niall winked at Sookie as she smiled at him; then he went back to teasing Johan with a stuffed giraffe that he loved.
As the limo came to a stop at the gate to the Northman mansion, both Eric and Sookie let out ragged breaths.
“Don’t worry,” Niall said confidently. “And remember that you are the one in charge here, Eric. Whatever happens next is up to you and Sookie—as it should be.”
Mormor kissed her new husband on the cheek and then nodded at her grandson and his wife. “My handsome husband is right, min barnbarn.”
Eric and Sookie both smiled at them as the car rolled to a stop inside the gate at the Northman mansion. It was Milos, who had been riding with Mikey in the front seat, who opened the door for them.
Milos had felt guilty and responsible for Appius being able to get to Sookie and Johan and then for his shooting Eric. But Sookie and Eric had reassured him that they thought he’d done the best anyone could have in protecting them. It had been Milos against Appius, Franklin, and Sigebert—after all.
Eric looked at Niall and Elsa. “Keep him here until I call—okay?” he asked, kissing Johan on the head. He looked at Milos as he got out of the car. “Stay with them.”
Milos nodded, “Mikey and I will keep them safe.”
Eric nodded as he helped Sookie out of the limo. Henry, Bobby, Thalia, Miranda, and Mr. Cataliades got out of the SUV that had been trailing them.
“Ready?” Bobby asked.
“Definitely,” Eric said before looking down at Sookie. “You sure you want to come in for this part.”
She gave him a look—the look he got from her when he was nearing “trouble” for trying to protect her too much, the look that reminded him that they were a team!
“Okay, min älskade,” he whispered as he kissed her forehead. He led her to the kitchen door where a smiling Margaret had been waiting to let them in.
“You must be Sookie!” the older woman gushed, already pulling Sookie into a hug.
“Margaret,” Sookie greeted warmly, hugging the woman back. Two years before, she would have had trouble receiving such a sign of affection from a stranger, but she was not the same walled-up girl that she’d been then. She was a wife. She was a mother. And she was proud to be Sookie Brigant-Northman, which was now her legal name. She’d been happy to reclaim the true name of her family; she’d been even happier that she no longer shared a name with Michelle Stackhouse.
Eric was the next one to receive a big hug from Margaret. “You scared us, Eric,” she whispered.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Don’t do it again,” she ordered.
“I’ll try not to,” he assured quietly.
“Good,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. “They are not expecting you for another hour.”
“Tamara and Gracie?” Eric asked. “Stan?”
“Tamara got here with Stan about an hour ago,” Margaret winked, “just as planned. Gracie’s in the poolroom with Alexei.”
Eric nodded a little nervously.
“Don’t worry,” Margaret said. “I’ll make sure Gracie stays there until the unpleasantness is over. And Alexei knows to keep her busy too.”
“Thanks,” Eric said gratefully. “Where are they?”
“Gathered in the east living room,” Margaret said.
“And Markus knows to let in the officers when it’s time?” Eric asked.
“Yes,” Margaret responded. “He’s already at the door waiting for them.”
Eric kissed her cheek and then led the others to the east living room. Henry and Thalia planned to stay right outside the door to await Blake’s arrival, which would happen in about five minutes. They would also serve as back-up if needed.
Eric, Sookie, Bobby, and Mr. Cataliades exchanged a look and then took deep breaths as Eric opened the door. Inside the room, Grace, Sophie-Anne, Andre, Nora, Stan, and the Faeman siblings sat with their heads together, obviously planning. Eric’s first move that day was going to throw a very big monkey wrench into whatever those plans were.
“What are you doing here?” Andre asked.
“Our meeting,” Eric replied coolly.
“You’re early,” Sophie-Anne said, putting on the fake smile of a practiced hostess.
Eric nodded. “Yes.” He stepped further into the room. “There is some business that we need to take care of before the official meeting begins, however.”
“You must be Eric’s new wife, Sookie,” Sophie-Anne said, her fake smile widening. “I don’t think we’ve ever met—at least not formally.”
“No—we haven’t,” Sookie stated flatly, making no move forward to take Sophie-Anne’s now outstretched hand.
“Is your wife always this rude?” Grace Northman bit. “Of course, that would be expected from someone who marries you,” she added bitterly.
Eric ignored his grandmother’s nasty comment. He didn’t bother introducing Sookie to anyone in the room either. She already knew who they were, after all, and they were not the members of his family that he wanted her to meet.
“Eric, what’s all this about?” Nora asked cautiously.
Eric lifted an eyebrow. “Protecting my family,” he said evenly. “And doing that means getting rid of some of the people in this room.”
Grace glared at him icily. “Before you got here, this room was filled with family; you are the one set upon ruining the Northman family.”
Sookie squeezed Eric’s hand to prevent herself from walking over to Grace Northman and slapping her. That wasn’t, however, what needed to happen.
Once more, Eric ignored his paternal grandmother’s nastiness.
Voices and footsteps could be heard in the hall, and Eric quickly moved with Sookie to the side of the room farthest from the door. Bobby and Mr. Cataliades moved with them, flanking them.
“What the fuck?!” Andre demanded, just as the door opened and a group of policemen and federal agents—led by Blake and Agent Batanya—entered the room.
Agent Batanya winked at Eric and Sookie and then looked at the other occupants in the room. “Senator Stan Davis and Andre Leclerq, we have federal warrants for your arrest. I hope you don’t resist,” she intoned.
“And I hope you do,” Blake said under his breath.
A/N: Another time jump since the last one. I wanted for Eric to be getting better, and now it’s time for Eric to deal w/ his family as its new head.
Hope you liked! After the last chapter, you were wondering who was going to be helping Bill. That will remain a mystery for a bit longer.
Until next time,