“A picture is a poem without words.”—Horace
As soon as Sookie and Eric left his office, Appius pulled up the program that gave him access to all the security feeds in the building. Quickly, he accessed the one for his private elevator and listened to the conversation between his son and Miss Stackhouse.
“She is a little dim,” Andre observed wryly. “And mousy,” he added with distaste.
“Her demeanor is understandable, given her family background,” Appius commented, even as he replayed the part of the video which showed his son’s discomfort.
“Why play nice with her at all?” Andre asked.
“If I can win Miss Stackhouse’s affections—make her count on me more than she counts on Eric—then he will lose her completely. I imagine that she’s the kind of woman who would have only one lover at a time.”
“You intend to sleep with her?” Andre asked incredulously.
“Perhaps,” Appius confirmed. “I cannot think of anything that would hurt Eric more, except—perhaps—if I produced a little bastard with her.” He smiled heartlessly.
Andre’s face betrayed his aversion to the idea. “I can’t imagine that being her lover would be pleasurable for you.”
Appius shrugged. “The pleasure would be in taking what Eric loves. You saw the way he looked at her.”
Andre nodded. “Yes. And you should have seen him in his office earlier. I thought he was going to actually strike me a few times.”
“I did see him,” Appius chuckled, pointing to the monitor. “Offering your help to Eric if he became your lover was an inspired idea.”
Andre smirked. “Yes—I knew that wouldn’t fly, but it was certainly fun to see his reaction.”
“Who know?” Appius mused. “Perhaps, you can work on him, even as I work on her.” He winked at Andre.
“You would allow me to fuck him?” Andre asked.
Appius shrugged. “More hurt for him and more pleasure for you? Of course, I would allow it—if you truly do find him attractive.”
Andre smiled sinisterly. “It would be fun to toy with him—even if I am not ultimately successful in seducing him.”
“My thoughts about Miss Stackhouse exactly,” Appius mused.
“Do you think that you will be able to win the Stackhouse girl?”
Appius shrugged. “Perhaps. She was obviously impressed by me, though it is clear that her first impression was soiled by information he has given her.”
“It is doubtful that he confides in her much,” Andre indicated with a sneer.
“Agreed,” Appius said, clicking on the feed to Eric’s office. Appius had long ago given himself complete access to Eric’s office. It had the normal video feeds that all the private offices in the building had; however, it was also bugged.
Appius contemplated the screen, which showed a very angry-looking Eric getting a glass of scotch and downing it quickly before pouring another and walking into his private bathroom. “Of course,” Appius said contemplatively, “in truth, I’d prefer not to take my seduction of Miss Stackhouse all the way. I find that I have been much less fond of sexual encounters with women in recent years.” He looked up at Andre. “No offense to Sophie-Anne, of course.”
Andre chuckled. “I’m sure she wouldn’t take any offense considering her own preferences.”
Appius nodded and continued, “But even if I decide not to sleep with Sookie, having her count on me and trust me so that I can undermine her relationship with Eric will be enough. After all, if I were to sleep with her, Eric might cut ties with her. And I don’t want that. I want to be able to use her against him for at least a few years. Thus, I will have to play it by ear in regards to Miss Stackhouse,” he added with a put-upon sigh.
Andre smiled and approached his lover; he unbuttoned Appius’s suit jacket. “You need to relax, my love.”
Appius smirked. “Do you have something in mind to relax me?”
Andre nodded and began to plant feather-light kisses onto Appius’s neck. “I hope that my making you happy has contributed to your dissatisfaction with others,” he cooed as he ran his fingers over Appius’s broad chest.
Appius smiled a little. “Yes—you are a wonderful lover,” he groaned as Andre leaned forward and began to place harder, open-mouthed kisses on his jaw line. “Lock the door,” Appius ordered.
Andre gave Appius a nod and quickly complied. As he walked back toward his lover, he purred, “Would you like me bent over your desk or on my knees in front of it?”
“On your knees,” Appius said with a smirk.
Eric had had very little time to get Sookie a warning after Andre’s visit that morning. And there had been even less time to come up with a plan about how to choreograph the meeting with Appius. It had needed to be perfect, lest Appius become suspicious at the worst possible time—the day before Sookie was scheduled to leave New York.
Eric could admit that a part of him—a small fraction—hoped for a screw-up, which would necessitate Sookie’s staying longer. But the biggest part of him wasn’t going to rest easily until he knew that she was away—safely free from Appius and his fucked up games.
In the end, it had been Bobby’s help that had saved the day—again. Eric had texted his friend with the information about the meeting Appius had called. And then Bobby had texted Sookie. Bobby had ditched his current tracker, the slippery Franklin Mott, who had begun shadowing him earlier that week. Luckily, as slick as Franklin was, Bobby was even more elusive.
For instance, Franklin was currently entrenched across the street from Bobby’s house even though Bobby had left it hours before via a little-known rooftop passage from his building to the next, which had been put in by one of Bobby’s less scrupulous neighbors.
Even as Bobby had eluded his shadow, Sookie had been overt about her movements, going to a nearby café with Holly for lunch. As Wybert had watched her from the front of the café, Bobby had slipped into the back and then into the women’s restroom, where he’d met up with Sookie to plan what to do during the meeting with Appius. Eric had been able to sneak several texts from his private bathroom, which—thanks to a bug detector from Thalia—he knew wasn’t monitored. His sickness earlier gave him a cover. And a plan had been formed.
Sookie would act appropriately reverent and ignorant around Appius. Eric would act frustrated—guilty even—certainly not a stretch for him, given the situation.
Eric knew that Appius would try to accomplish one of two things during the meeting. Either he would threaten and intimidate Sookie, or he would cajole and make her promises. Both strategies would be designed to make Sookie doubt Eric—to begin driving a wedge between them. Appius had opted for the second strategy. He’d been nice to Sookie, charming even. He’d offered her paternal, caring words. And he’d done it all while trying to introduce a splinter of distrust between Sookie and Eric.
Appius had been the one to tell Sookie about the apartment hunting. He had been the one to offer her a raise in pay and remind her of the good she could do with it. He had been the one to alleviate her fears about her and Eric’s changing situation. And Eric had been the one to receive the blame for that change. Yes—if the situation had been as Appius thought it was—his strategy would have been perfect.
Sookie had played her part flawlessly—from the moment that Eric had gone to her office to get her five minutes before their meeting time with Appius to the moment he’d left her—ostensibly to go back to work.
Eric had no doubt that Sookie had convinced Appius that she was naïve and meek—easy prey for a predator of Appius’s ilk.
Appius couldn’t have been more incorrect.
Eric had understood well that his father’s invitation to leave work early was predicated upon Eric’s finishing up a “list” of things to do that Appius had sent over that morning. Again, Appius had wanted it to be Eric who disappointed Sookie by not accompanying her home. Appius likely wanted Sookie to interpret the situation as Eric prioritizing work over her, even when the president of the company had told Eric he could have the afternoon off.
But Eric was even more efficient at his work when he was angry. And given the fact that this was to be his last night with Sookie anyway, Eric had cleared his schedule and pre-prepared a number of unnecessary reports that he’d anticipated his father might ask for. Thus, just forty-five minutes after he’d said goodbye to Sookie, he was getting into a cab and changing their dinner reservation for earlier. They’d eaten from their customary hotdog stand the Sunday before, and he wanted very much to take her to the first restaurant he’d ever taken her to so that she could get her favorite dinner before she left town, but that was only the start of his plans for the night.
Sookie was sitting on the couch, petting a very happy Ned, when Eric texted her, saying that he was on his way home and that he’d changed their dinner reservation from 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sookie was glad about that, actually. She was anxious for more time alone with Eric; however, she couldn’t help but to appreciate his gesture of wanting to take her to the site where they’d had their first official “date.”
It was also her favorite restaurant, and she understood well that he had made the reservation so that she could enjoy it one last time. She glanced at the clock. It was just after 4:00 p.m. If traffic wasn’t bad, Eric would be home in half an hour, and then they’d leave for the restaurant soon after that.
Sookie rubbed Ned’s belly once more and then went to change clothes. She’d already decided that she would wear the dress Pam had bought her for Christmas, something she’d yet to have an occasion for. She took the time to curl her long blond hair into soft waves, choosing the style because Eric didn’t seem to be able to keep his hands off of her hair when it was like that.
She smiled. “Like cat-nip—eh?” she asked a lounging Ned, who seemed to look up at her with great understanding.
As Sookie went to put on her shoes, she looked around her side of the closet. It was still much the same as it had been when she’d moved in, though she’d kept to her plan to add a few work garments at a time. As of yet, she’d made no move to pack a stitch of clothing. She’d wait until Eric was gone the next day. And, given the fact that she wouldn’t be able to fit everything into the one suitcase Bobby told her she could take, she planned to leave some things behind. She wouldn’t leave Eric with an empty closet, not after what Bobby had said about the last time all of her things had been moved.
Plus—during the previous year—Sookie had learned that being a little selfish was okay. And she wanted her things to stay in Eric’s home, which was—in truth—the only home she’d ever felt was hers too. And it wasn’t the fancy things inside the place that really made it her home. After all, a bed was just a bed, and a couch was just a couch. The extras were nice, but the thing that made it her home was a 6’4″ human being, with whom she would be happy even in a hovel.
“You look beautiful,” came the voice of that human being.
She smiled and turned to face him.
“It’s the dress Pam got me for Christmas.” She looked down at the designer garment. The fabric’s background was ombré, black fading into gray and then back again. What Sookie loved about the dress was the bright flowers scattered around the print. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the garment was ruched and had a V-neck that emphasized her “girls” without being too revealing.
“It looks perfect on you,” Eric said, his voice a little gruff. “We should get out of here before I rip it off of you though.”
Sookie giggled and blushed a little. “Lead the way.”
He crooked his elbow to her, and she thread her arm through his.
When they reached the lobby, Henry smiled at them.
“Alcide’s right outside,” he said.
Eric nodded. Though things had radically changed the previous Saturday, and having a guard for Sookie was no longer prudent, he’d already hired Alcide Herveaux and hadn’t wanted to leave the veteran without employment for the two-week period they’d already agreed upon—especially since Alcide still worked only part-time for Henry. Thus, Eric had asked Alcide to drive him and Sookie to the restaurant that night.
But before he led Sookie outside, Eric pulled out his phone and turned on the camera feature.
“Sookie looks beautiful tonight—doesn’t she?” he asked Henry.
Henry chuckled. “She’s even tempting to me tonight.” He winked at her.
Sookie grinned back. She hated not telling Henry of her plan to leave the next day, but it was better not to give him any advanced warning.
“Take our picture together?” Eric asked, trying not to let the emotion overcome his voice.
Immediately, tears rose into Sookie’s eyes, but she forced them away.
“Sure,” Henry said easily, taking the camera from Eric. He quickly snapped a few shots.
“With mine too?” Sookie asked, handing Henry her phone as well.
Thanks to those of you who are still tuning in for this story! I appreciate your reading! And a special thanks to those who have sent well-wishes regarding my health. Your support and concern mean a lot to me.
Next up: stock up on your Kleenex