TWENTY MINUTES AFTER THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER
“Must I wait to eat?” Alexei pouted—as he took in the four humans Bill had secured for their night’s second meal.
Bill looked at the humans as well, though his goal was not to assess them for his meal or to covet them as Alexei was doing. No—he was inventorying them, trying to determine whether his master would be pleased by the buffet he’d secured for the rest of the night. There were three men and one woman. He’d gotten some variety of blood types (an A-positive, an O-negative, and two O-positives); it wasn’t an ideal sampling, but at least the group included Alexei’s favorite type, A-positive.
Unfortunately, securing humans that could be drained without their being missed on such short notice had necessitated Bill’s getting people addled by drug habits. He’d lucked out, finding all four of the humans in a single alleyway where they were smoking methamphetamines. All drugs left an aftertaste in humans; however, meth was the least offensive. Cocaine and crack made human blood seemingly lose its heartiness, while something like heroine turned blood almost sour. And after humans took ecstasy, they were practically tasteless for at least a week!
Any pollution of the blood was a negative—to be sure. However, four “meth-heads” could disappear without too many questions being asked. And—even if there was an investigation—there would be no evidence to tie their disappearance to vampires.
“Go ahead and choose one,” Bill said of the four heavily glamoured meals.
Alexei’s fangs came down immediately, and he rushed to the humans, his nose flaring as he took in their scents.
Bill watched as Alexei circled the foursome, hissing and snarling. Of course, Bill had glamoured the four to be docile. He’d also glamoured them to discard their foul clothing into a heavy-duty trash bag before bathing, so all were nude and clean. Two of the men were young and could have been attractive—had it not been for their drug usage. The third male was older and less attractive, but the drug had not yet taken away all of the plumpness he must have carried before his habit overtook him. The female was on the scrawny side; she was blonde with blue eyes, and—had she been healthier—she would have had nice curves, given her bone structure.
She made Bill think of Sookie.
Alexei chose the woman—the A-positive.
“Try not to kill it until Appius returns,” Bill guided gently.
Alexei turned and hissed at his current “baby sitter.”
Bill put up his hands in appeasement. “Brother, I just ask you to wait because you know that our Master enjoys watching you kill,” he spoke softly.
Alexei was immediately placated. “Thank you, William,” he smiled. “You are right that Father would be disappointed if I killed without him here. Will you eat with me?”
“No,” Bill said, bowing his head a little. “I displeased Appius, so I will wait until he gives me permission to feed.”
The younger vampire nodded solemnly. “Father was displeased with you. But do not worry. He will let you eat soon,” he said, his voice taking on as much sympathy as he was capable of producing—which was not much.
Bill turned away from the sight of Alexei biting the Sookie-ish woman and went to the home’s foyer, chastising himself for his tendency to think about Sookie to distraction.
Appius had been endeavoring to guide him toward the necessary cleansing of his emotions for the telepath. And Bill knew that he was doing better in viewing Sookie as she ought to be viewed: a bag of blood with a talent and, perhaps, the potential to be a noteworthy vampire. But his efforts still were not adequate; his earlier outbursts had taught him that.
He stripped his body of clothing and then dropped down to his knees before the front door, knowing that Appius would enter that way. He concentrated for a moment on the distinctive sounds of Alexei feeding and fucking his choice of donor and envied his “brother’s” appetites for a moment. Alexei, though he had been turned too far gone to be a vampire of great intellect and prudence, was—according to Appius—the perfect vampire in many ways.
He was insatiable for blood, and he had been gifted with a lack of conscience that rivaled even his maker’s—when it came to humans. Of course, Bill recognized that Alexei could never be on his own, for his lack of conscience extended to even vampires much older than himself. Simply put, if Alexei was on his own, it would not take long for a vampire monarch to end him because Alexei would most certainly either kill in a way that would be difficult to cover up or insult the wrong vampire.
Bill acknowledged that Appius spoiled his child, but he envied his “brother” that, too. Lorena had always found reasons to withhold things from Bill, no matter how obedient he attempted to be. By contrast, Appius might punish Bill, but his punishments were never about withholding.
They were about giving Bill exactly what he needed.
“I am William,” the vampire emphasized to himself as he tried to indoctrinate even his inner dialogue to view himself as Appius wished him to be.
“I am William,” he repeated—this time more loudly and confidently.
He closed his eyes and visualized the vampire that Appius had promised to make him.
He smiled a little as he foresaw the power he would have after he morphed into the kind of vampire the gods had intended. He would be the dominator of his territory and of those around him—save for one individual: his Master. With Appius by his side, vampires such as Eric Northman would have no dominion over him. He would take from humans at will, making them his meals, his entertainment, or his pets. A flash of Sookie entered his mind. He shook his head vehemently. There would be no more possibility of becoming too ensnared by his emotions for any human, even a special one like her! Under Appius’s tutelage, he would command his feelings! And, in turn, he would command any human he wished!
Yes. He would begin with Sookie. And once she understood her place in comparison to him—just as William understood his place in relationship to Appius—she would subjugate herself as he was now doing.
For the pleasure of her better—her Master.
He imagined her assuming a position similar to the one that he now occupied. He could foresee a scenario when she would misbehave. He would give her some time to contemplate her error, just as Appius had allowed him time to understand the ways in which he had been a disappointment during the meeting with Hallow, for William was certain that was the reason why his Master had lingered to speak privately with the witches.
And William had come to understand that he needed punishment—extreme punishment—for his lack of decorum in front of lesser beings such as witches.
Yes. Like him, Sookie would not always demonstrate perfect behavior, but she would learn to self-reflect and to acknowledge her defects. He imagined himself returning to her after he’d graciously allowed her such reflection time. He licked his lips as he contemplated her waiting for him—nude and on her knees in anticipation.
Would he reward her show of supplication? Would he punish her in spite of it? Would she learn to get such satisfaction from her punishments as William had learned to get from his?
William wondered what Appius would do to him even as he heard what had to be the elder vampire landing outside. He felt himself getting hard at all of the possibilities.
“What a lovely sight,” Appius commented coolly as he entered the home.
“Master,” William greeted, his head lowered.
In the next moment, the younger vampire felt himself being slammed into the marble floor, Appius’s knee pressing into his back. There was a crack as bones in his spine gave way under the pressure. William remained perfectly still as Appius bent his head down to whisper into his ear.
“You looked beautiful on your knees before me. However, you look even more beautiful now that you are prostrate on the floor. You will remember this?”
“Yes. Thank you, Master,” William managed to say, despite being in a lot of pain.
“What have you learned tonight?” Appius asked.
“I have yet to master my emotions where the telepath is concerned. I spoke her name, despite your guidance that I should think of her only as an object to be used,” William responded.
“You embarrassed me in front of the witches. You made me seem to lack control over one of my own—the child I have chosen to rear. The only vampire I have ever taken under my wing in such a way.” He snarled. “Why should I not end you now, William? Why should I bother continuing to train you when you are just going to continue old habits? To disappoint me?”
“Please, Master. Do not abandon me! Correct me!” William begged.
“Oh, I will!” Appius said ominously.
William heard a loud zipping sound, and he licked his lips—anticipating what was to come.
Anticipating becoming the perfect child to Appius—perfect in a way that Eric had never achieved.
So perfect that he would eclipse Eric in Appius’s mind.
So perfect that Eric could be eliminated—purged from the world finally. He would laugh over his ashy remains.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 12 • 11:40 p.m.
Though to an outside observer, Eric would have looked completely relaxed, he was anything but. And his anxiety was coming from one place: his bond with Sookie.
From his side of the bond, he sent strength and pride, even as she maintained a perfectly neutral expression that matched his own. She was on the other side of the room from him—not a separation that he enjoyed.
Moreover, she did not smell like him, nor did he smell like her. The witch’s potions had seen to that. He did not enjoy that lack of connection either!
But concealing his bond and connection with Sookie was tactical, given the situation. After all, to most of the others in the room, Sookie—or Susanna Saunders—was a fully human, unbonded member of the queen’s staff: the Queen’s Liaison.
Still, the Viking was anxious to have Sookie by his side again—to touch her. His fingers twitched for her, as did his cock. She gave him the slightest of glances and a smirk, obviously feeling his sudden burst of lust for her, despite her overarching anxiety about the situation.
Eric concentrated on being patient—not only when it came to holding his mate in his arms, but also when it came to learning what his bonded was “reading” from the minds of those around her.
Meanwhile, he had been following the marriage negotiations, which had been happening out loud and which had—thus far—consisted of innocuous haggling over asset allocations and the status of trade treaties the two monarchs already had with other states and countries.
In other words, it had been a boring meeting.
Still, it seemed as though Sophie-Anne and Peter Threadgill were quite pleased with each other on a personal level. Of course, Eric knew that Sophie-Anne preferred women when it came to sex, but she had no problems flirting with men, and Peter was the target of her many charms.
And he was clearly charmed.
Rough around the edges and quite young for a king, Peter Threadgill wasn’t without charms of his own. Between the more business-related moments of the negotiations, Peter would regale Sophie-Anne with tales of his role during the Mexican-American War, as well as the time he spent in Asia as a young vampire. There, he’d “learned the ropes” from his maker and had worked as an infamous enforcer for a few decades. He told her one particularly interesting story, which had led to a Japanese poet writing about his Bowie knife. Though not much older than Bill Compton and a bit younger than Pam, Eric knew that Peter was stronger and more ruthless than both. It was something that the Viking could sense.
One thing was certain; by the minute, Eric was doubting more and more the notion that Peter was planning to do anything against Sophie-Anne. On the contrary, the Viking would bet a good deal of his fortune that the Arkansas king was sincere in his desire to align kingdoms with her. Despite Arkansas being the poorer state—in both monetary and vampire assets—Peter’s portfolio showed that he was a good king.
Indeed, he was a monarch who believed strongly in investing in the promising vampires of his state. And his fortunes were on an upswing.
Eric admired this about the king. He was playing a long-term game, garnering favors and respect along the path he had put himself upon. Clearly, Threadgill recognized that the miserly collection of assets for oneself was a dishonorable—and unwise—way to rule. In fact, Peter reminded Eric a good deal of his human father—and himself.
Of course, there were differences between Eric and Peter—big differences. The chief among them was that Peter had chosen to become a king. On the other hand, Eric had never wanted to be a monarch—not because he wouldn’t have been able to navigate the politics of alliances such as the fledgling one before him, but because he simply didn’t want to.
So the question was: How could Eric’s supposition that the Arkansas King’s motives were on the up-and-up align with Sookie’s obvious disquiet during the negotiations? Could it be that Eric was completely wrong about Peter—that the king was such an accomplished liar that the experienced warrior was missing his true motives?
In addition to keeping an eye on Peter during the meeting, Eric had also studied the vampires the king had brought with him. Of particular note—both in terms of power and position—were only two: Jade Flower and Jennifer Cater.
Jennifer Cater, according to everything Eric had learned about her over the years (and he’d learned a lot because he’d made a point of studying the kingdom that shared a border with Area 5), was an efficient vampiress. Peter had likely had her efficiency—as well as her ability for diplomacy—in mind when he appointed her to be third-in-command in his state. She was also the de facto sheriff of Area 1 in Arkansas, though Peter himself held that title on paper.
In his dealings with her, Eric had always found her to be fair-minded. And it was Jennifer whom Peter would send whenever there were jurisdiction issues between Arkansas and Area 5. She was a solid deal-maker and understood the meaning of the word “compromise”—as well as the benefits of the practice.
As far as strength went, Jennifer was formidable, but not above average for a 350-year-old. Her king was her obvious better when it came to strength, despite his being younger.
On the other hand, Jade Flower was clearly deadlier than any other 600-year-old Eric had ever encountered. By reputation, she was cunning—the kind of individual whom a person wouldn’t know carried a grudge until he or she was flayed under Jade’s knife or impaled by her yubi-bo, which Eric speculated was underneath her skirt just waiting for a victim.
Though he’d not had the opportunity to directly interact with Jade often, he knew better than to turn his back on her. However, by all accounts, she was an invaluable and loyal lieutenant to Threadgill, an enforcer not afraid to get her hands dirty for her king.
In another life, Eric would have admired her. In this one, he sensed that she was not to be trusted—that she had motives beyond her king’s, even if one of those was not to supplant him.
Feeling another jolt of anxiety from his bonded, Eric knew that he would soon find out for sure if his speculations were anywhere near the target.
“I wish to take some time with my advisors to consider the newest addendum to the contract,” Sophie-Anne said as the two monarchs ran out of questions for one another.
“Perhaps, you and I could have a private meeting later—once we’ve both had time to discuss the details of the contract with our people,” Peter returned.
Sophie-Anne’s eyebrow rose almost to her hairline. “Oh? And what would you wish to discuss in private?”
“Nothing at all,” Peter said with a smirk. “I’d just like to offer you a preview of the kind of attention I’ll be givin’ you once per year and,” he paused and sat forward in his chair, “any other time you get an itch for a visit from the north.”
Sophie-Anne giggled with delight. “Oh, Peter! Are you so certain of your prowess?” she flirted, her eyelashes batting.
The king chuckled. “A test drive, Majesty. You might enjoy the ride enough for it to be a factor in your decision.”
“Or the vehicle might wreck due to a bloated reputation,” she returned flatly, though there was a twinkle in her eyes.
“Only one way to know for sure,” he grinned.
“I’m afraid my meetings might last all night,” Sophie-Anne returned coyly.
“Ah—anticipation then,” Peter responded. “Perhaps a rendezvous tomorrow evening—before the ball?”
“Well—we are already scheduled to meet at 9:00 p.m. in order to make our final decision about whether to go ahead with our,” she paused, “connection. I suppose a private meeting before that—to make any necessary tweaks to the contract—would be prudent.”
“What time should I attend to your tweaks, Your Highness?” he asked rakishly.
She giggled. “At 8:00 p.m., I will have a bit of time for,” she paused, “final negotiating.”
He lifted her hand and brought it to his lips. “I will count the moments until then.”
“You’ll be dead for most of that time,” Sophie-Anne countered dryly.
He chuckled and rose to his feet before signaling to his people. “Until tomorrow night,” he said as he exited the room, followed by his entourage.
Sookie glanced at Eric before looking at the queen.
“Majesty, might I ask for an audience?” Eric asked Sophie-Anne.
Sophie-Anne focused on Eric, even as Andre rolled his eyes behind her. “Come in half an hour. My private chamber has the strongest privacy wards,” she said to her most trusted sheriff as she stood.
Eric nodded. “I will be there. Thank you, my queen.”
Sophie-Anne nodded toward him and then left the room, flanked by Wybert and Sigebert. Andre and a somewhat nervous-looking, though well-behaved Hadley trailed behind.
The tiger, Quinn, huffed as soon as Sophie-Anne was gone. He flexed his muscles in an obvious attempt to get Sookie’s attention. Eric wondered if the kitty ever flexed his brain.
“Now that that’s over, why don’t we get something to eat, Babe?” Quinn asked.
“I’m not hungry, Babe,” Thalia said in a flat tone. Though she was in the room to guard Sookie, she seemed to be just another of the queen’s advisors.
“I wasn’t asking you,” Quinn said, his expression indicating surprise and a bit of disgust.
“Oh—I thought you were offering to feed me,” Thalia said, her fangs elongating. “I have not had tiger blood in years.”
“Charlie Sheen,” coughed Maria-Star.
Quinn glared at the Were, but softened his expression as he turned his attention back to Sookie.
“Susanna,” he said, “would you care to take a break from present company and get a late dinner with me?”
Sookie stood, even as Eric watched on in amusement.
“I’m afraid I already have a dinner date, Mr. Quinn,” she said evenly before turning toward the exit of the room that was furthest away from Quinn. Maria-Star, who was on her heals, cackled.
Eric smirked as he stood. “I’ll gladly have dinner off of you, Quinn,” he purred suggestively.
“Mr. Northman,” Sookie said brusquely as she turned around to face him.
“Miss Saunders?” the vampire responded, though it was difficult for him to ignore the look of horror on Quinn’s face.
“You’ve gotten your idioms mixed up again. You should have said dinner with him.”
“There was no error,” Eric leered as he winked at Quinn and made a move toward him.
“Oh—well. My mistake then,” Sookie said, biting back her smile as she left the room.
“My offer?” Eric asked the weretiger.
“Um—no thanks,” Quinn said, even as he moved toward the door Sookie had used to exit. Eric zipped in front of him, ensuring he couldn’t leave, even as Thalia slipped out of the room to join Sookie and Maria-Star.
Eric slowly dragged his fingers down Quinn’s cheek, eliciting a growl from the weretiger.
“Don’t do that!” Quinn yelled, stepping back from Eric.
“My apologies,” Eric said with a little bow. “Perhaps, I misread your suggestive looks at me during the meeting?” he ogled.
“My what?” Quinn asked, clearly stunned. “I was not—uh—looking at—uh—you!” he stuttered insistently.
“My loss, I’m sure,” Eric said with a sigh. “Well—if you change your mind, come see me in Area 5 sometime. Or—you could just follow me to my room right now?”
“I won’t!” Quinn responded quickly.
“Change your mind? Or follow me for a quick fuck?” Eric asked with a tilt of his head.
“Neither one!” the weretiger growled.
Feeling that his bonded was well away from the conference room, Eric gave Quinn one more wink before exiting through the door that Sookie had. He had a strong feeling the tiger wouldn’t follow that way.
FIVE MINUTES LATER
“Our bond was tellin’ me just how much fun you were havin’ with Quinn after I left the room,” Sookie giggled as Eric grinded his gracious plenty against her aching core; too bad they were clothed.
And, even worse, they didn’t have time to get unclothed.
Sookie had waited for Eric in the only “dead zone” for surveillance in the tunnel leading from Sophie-Anne’s residence to the guest house.
Maria-Star and Thalia had taken up places at either end of the tunnel to allow the couple a few moments of privacy. Thalia had absolutely “forbidden” Sookie from meeting with Eric back at the guest home; rightly, she worried that such a rendezvous would keep the couple from being on time to their meeting with the queen.
“Gods, you don’t smell enough like me,” Eric panted as he rubbed his nose along Sookie’s jawbone. “I don’t like this fucking spell that the witch has made up.”
“Amelia’s scent-covering spell will wear off before we have to sleep,” Sookie assured before moving her mouth into a collision course with his.
The couple kissed deeply even as Eric picked Sookie up. Automatically, her legs wrapped around his body.
“The things I want to do with you, woman,” Eric growled as he moved his kisses to her cheek and then neck when she needed to breathe.
“I can’t wait,” she panted.
“You can’t?” he asked rakishly, even as he let her feel the evidence of his arousal.
She chuckled. “I wasn’t bein’ literal. You don’t get to have sex with me in the tunnel, Eric,” she warned playfully.
“Even though you don’t smell like yourself or me right now, I can smell that you want me,” he responded with a smirk.
“We have work to do,” she reminded, though she was highly tempted to shirk her responsibilities. But then she remembered all that she’d heard.
“Eric, put me down and go to the other side of the tunnel,” she ordered, pointing to the opposite side. Of course, her message was a bit muddled since her legs were still wrapped snuggly around his waist.
“What? Why?” the vampire asked as he continued his kisses.
“We need to talk about the things I’ve heard tonight,” she insisted.
“You talk; I’ll kiss,” he grinned as he did just that.
“I can’t concentrate with you doing that,” she gasped as he nipped her earlobe.
“I missed you when I woke up,” he sighed, stopping his kisses for a moment to simply embrace her.
She smiled to herself as she recognized the moment as the kind during which Eric’s lust would soften into only the love he felt for her. Always, those moments came when he would be reminded of a way in which their lives had become enriched since they’d been together.
They enjoyed the simple embrace for a minute. Work could wait that long. Finally, he put her onto her feet.
“I love you,” he said, letting her feel the strength of his emotions.
“I love you,” she repeated, opening herself to his love and letting him feel her own.
He smirked and broke their embrace before moving to the opposite side of the 6-foot wide tunnel.
“Alright, lover, I’m ready to hear what you’ve found out,” Eric announced.
Sookie chuckled and dove in to her findings.
A/N: So this was a weird chapter to write—since I wanted to finish up the Appius/Bill/Alexei stuff (for the moment) and get us back to Eric and Sookie. I also wanted to show very different kinds of interactions and tones between Appius and Eric—as well as how they assess and evaluate others. Appius likes Bill because he’s so easily malleable; it’s because Appius is actually quite weak. On the other hand, Eric looks for admirable & strong qualities in others when he assesses them. He is not intimidated, nor does he need to prop himself up on the backs of those weaker than himself. And—by the end of the chapter—I wanted to show how playful Eric can be, both with Quinn and Sookie. I also wanted to show a strong contrast between Bill and him. Bill has become so sick and twisted that he loves even the punishments that Appius gives him. Bill is actually warped enough to think that he could eventually supplant Eric in Appius’s eyes, but the more Bill demeans himself, the more Appius will find him weak. Anyway, that’s why the odd shifts in this chapter. I was trying something a bit different from usual.
I hope you enjoyed it!
Please leave a comment if you have the time and/or inclination.
All the best,