Last Time:“Yes,” Eric responded. “These ‘immigrants’ elect one member to the Council. Currently it is a Dae member. The remaining native groups elect the final member. There is a Troll in the position now.”
“Is that—uh—what Dr. Ludwig is?” Sookie asked with fascination.
Eric let out a guffaw. “No! As unexpected as it may be to you, trolls are actually quite pleasant, placid creatures, and no one would ever accuse Dr. Ludwig of being that.”
“True,” Sookie giggled. “So—what is she?”
“I cannot tell you,” Eric said with a smirk.
“Why? Is it something you have to keep secret?” the telepath asked.
“No,” Eric chuckled. “I cannot tell you because I honestly cannot pronounce the word for what she is. No one other than her own kind can tackle the damned thing!”
“Really? It’s that hard?”
“Even for my extremely talented tongue,” Eric said suggestively.
Sookie blushed. “Can you try?”
Eric cringed and looked as if in extreme concentration before carefully plodding through the longest ‘word’ Sookie had ever heard.
Sookie’s eyes widened as Eric finished. “Was that really a word?” she asked with a laugh.
Eric shook his head. “No. I know I messed it up—in more than one spot. Ludwig’s language strings together an amalgam of sounds that ought not be mixed!” he pronounced with surety and also frustration. “Of course, most of her kind are just as unpleasant as she, so they might have made up their species name just to fuck with the rest of us.”
Sookie giggled. “You know—knowing her, I could see that.”
Sookie’s stomach chose that moment to growl.
“Do you require food?” Eric asked.
“It’s too close to bed for a full meal,” the telepath said thoughtfully, “but I do think I’ll have a piece of banana nut bread. Hold that thought,” she ordered, looking at his hands, which were still rubbing her foot. “You gave my right foot more time, and this one wants the same attention.”
The vampire laughed as Sookie got up—sans sock—and rushed into the kitchen to prepare her snack after making a quick pit-stop in the bathroom to take care of her human needs and wash her hands.
As soon as she returned to the living room and settled onto the couch with her treat and a glass of milk, she presented her “under-rubbed” left foot to Eric and wiggled her toes. The vampire obliged.
“So—what does the Supernatural Council do exactly?”
“It oversees all Supernatural groups—at least to an extent,” Eric responded. “It commissions and oversees judges for Supernatural tribunals and enforcers.” He lowered his voice, though he knew that no ears were close enough to the house to hear him. “Karin has done much work for the Council—as an enforcer.”
Sookie nodded in understanding, as Eric had told her a little about his eldest child during their plane ride.
“More recently,” Eric continued at his normal volume, “the Supernatural Council formed the AVL and other similar groups around the world to help the Great Revelation,” he paused, “go well. The Council also oversees the more significant disputes between vampires, specifically between Heads of State. They manage large inter-species disputes. They had a hand in the development of TrueBlood, and they are currently in the final stages of planning the reveal for the two-natured, which should occur within the next year.”
“Wow! That’s a lot,” Sookie exclaimed.
“Yes. And that is only the tip of the iceberg—believe it or not.”
“Will I ever be dealing with them—the Supernatural Council?” Sookie asked.
Eric nodded. “I cannot be certain, but it is very likely that they will wish to meet you—once they know of you. They may even try to hire you themselves, although—with a seer as one of their ranks—they likely have little need of a telepath. Also, I believe that the Dae on the Council is a telepath. So, more likely, you will have to deal with one of the Council members or one of their proxies after you work for Sophie-Anne.”
“Why after that?” Sookie asked.
“I speculate that the Arkansas King has ulterior motives in his pursuit of the queen. If you are able to confirm this, Sophie-Anne will have to lodge an official complaint with the Council. If things come to a head and she must kill the king—whose name is Peter Threadgill, by the way—a Council inquiry will take place automatically. Inquiries between kings and queens most often take place at a vampire assembly or summit—where at least one Council member will preside.”
“Does the whole Council decide what will happen—when there’s an inquiry?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Eric shook his head. “The Council member assigned to a summit will oversee the selection of a panel of monarchs and other older, respected vampires to settle all disputes at a particular summit. The selection of that panel is not unlike your jury duty. The Council member draws lots of vampires in the region of the summit to determine the ‘jury pool.’ Any vampire not involved in a dispute is eligible for membership. Sometimes vampires will recuse themselves from certain disputes if they have a vested interest in one side. The panel is like,” he paused, “the human concept of a jury of one’s peers. It is only in the case of a deadlocked panel that the Council member inserts himself or herself to either make a final decision or opt to take the matter to the full Council for decision.”
“Sounds incredibly diplomatic and peaceful—for vampires. No offense,” Sookie added quickly.
“None taken, and I think that you will find that—at our highest ranks—most vampires have a great desire for order. And for honor,” he said more quietly—almost introspectively.
Sookie was beginning to understand just how important the concept of honor was to the vampire sharing her time.
“And you are right,” Eric continued. “The process is quite methodical and orderly. Very few vampires would dare to cause trouble or contest a ruling, especially in high-profile cases. After all, with a Council member overseeing, it is always on everyone’s mind that the Ancient Pythoness—with one call—could destroy any deceiver’s case.”
Sookie shook her head and let out a little chuckle. “Still—it all sounds intimidating to be a part of. It makes me hope King Peter is on the up-and-up.”
“You would do fine giving testimony to a Council member or at a trial, Dearest One,” Eric said supportively. “And I would be there with you in such a case. Plus,” his eyes glinted with mischief, “if we did go to a summit, we could take the opportunity to advertise!” He winked. “We’d have Pam man the booth!”
Sookie’s eyes widened. “What? There’s like—uh—trade fairs at these things?”
Eric nodded in confirmation. “Of course, we won’t need such advertising—not really. Plus, I plan to be very selective about your initial clientele. And there certainly wouldn’t be any demonstration of your gifts—at least not for the general public.”
“Then why the booth?” Sookie asked. “Just to torture Pam?”
Eric chuckled. “No, but that would be fun. Having a booth would raise your profile and help to solidify that we are running a business and that you are owned by no vampires,” he finished forcefully. “Otherwise, others might believe that Queen Sophie-Anne controls you.”
“So other monarchs might think they could? Control me? That they could get their very own Sookie Stackhouse?” the telepath asked nervously.
The Viking sighed. “Perhaps. Or—perhaps—some might assume you were aligned with Sophie-Anne’s interests. For the sake of your business and yourself, it is best to seem as independent as possible—neutral. Meanwhile, know that I will protect you from any who try anything that would harm you!” he growled.
“I know,” she said with a sigh of her own, her voice soothing and confident. “Keep rubbing,” she whispered, smiling up at the vampire whose touch had remained gentle, despite his fervor—his passion about her safety.
His tension seemed to melt a little, and he did as she requested.
After a few minutes of silence, during which she was lost in her own thoughts (and he was willing to let her be), Sookie took a deep breath and then let it out slowly as she leaned over to put her empty plate on the coffee table. “I have so much to learn about the Supe world; it’s overwhelming sometimes. Everything you tell me makes me think of another twenty questions.”
Eric grinned almost boyishly. “Well! This is excellent for me!”
“Huh?” Sookie asked with confusion.
“The more questions you have of me, the more time I will get to spend with you.”
Sookie giggled and shook her head. “Ever the opportunist?”
“I will plead guilty to that.”
“Even without a jury of vampire kings and queens making you?” Sookie teased.
“See!” Eric chuckled. “You are learning already.” He glanced at the clock. “But it is approaching the time when you should probably take your rest, Dearest One.”
Sookie sighed and then shrugged. “Soon. I do wanna go over a couple of contract things first—if you still have some time.”
“Of course,” Eric smiled.
After Sookie reluctantly pulled her well-rubbed foot from him and put back on her sock, she grabbed the first set of documents.
“Okay—let’s start with the business plan,” she said assertively.
Eric smiled at the confidence in her tone. “What would you like to ask?”
“Why isn’t my name on the contract yet?” she asked.
“To protect your anonymity—just in case you didn’t want to go through with this,” he said. “I wrote the initial plan, but—since I had an attorney type up the official contract—I didn’t want to include your name.”
She nodded. “I thought that might be it.”
“Your name will be added when we meet with the attorney.”
“Okay. Uh—there is something else. It’s about the money,” Sookie informed.
Eric frowned. “Please, Dearest One. The one area where I intend to be quite firm is in ensuring that you earn what you are worth.”
Sookie cringed. “I really am tryin’ to come to terms with my hirin’ fee being so high. But I’m not asking about that part. If I’m right about what it says,” Sookie paused, pointing to a paragraph that she’d marked with a post-it note, “I’ll be makin’ a salary and being paid per job. That can’t be right—right?”
“You’ll be paid for each job. And, of course, you will receive a yearly retainer,” Eric returned as if he were confused about why she was asking.
“But that’s like gettin’ paid twice!” Sookie returned, shaking her head. “I really have reconciled myself to accepting five hundred dollars per ‘standard read,'” she said, pointing to the language of the contract. “And—after hyperventilatin’ a little—I’m okay with the five thousand minimum for a ‘large-crowd situation.’ But a salary on top of that?”
Eric asked, “Sookie, have you not heard of a lawyer being placed on a retainer?”
The telepath blushed a little. “Yeah. But I have to admit to not knowin’ exactly what that means.”
The vampire smiled softly. “I doubt the practice is common around here since most people hire attorneys for only a single case at a time.”
She smiled at him, grateful that he never patronized or belittled her for her lack of knowledge—not like Bill had.
“Some lawyers are given a sum—usually annually—if a client needs their services throughout the year for a variety of things. For instance, the sum that your own yearly retainer is to be, fifty-thousand dollars, is less than what I pay to three separate human law firms. Two of those are corporate firms and handle business issues for me. The third is a criminal defense attorney who is on stand-by for things like the raid that occurred the first night we met. These lawyers are familiar with my interests—at least the aspects that relate to their work—and having them on retainer means that they will drop whatever else they are working on to deal with my issues. However, when they work, I still pay their hourly fees.”
Sookie’s brow wrinkled as she took in what he was saying. “But I’m not a lawyer.”
“No,” Eric returned. “But, by structuring our business plan this way, you can be assured of the yearly amount—just in case you need time between jobs to,” he paused, “decompress.”
The telepath frowned. “But if I get the yearly—uh—retainer, then why would I also get paid per job. And—uh—this is a company we’re startin’ from the ground up—together! And you are putting in all the costs up front to start it ’cause I can’t.” She shook her head. “Eric, it doesn’t seem right that I’m getting a salary when it seems clear from the business plan that you won’t be getting one. Also—it’s partly my business—right? And it’s not like a lawyer pays herself a retainer! Plus, I’m sure that—if we make a profit—we’ll have to pay something to the queen.”
Eric considered for a moment. “We will make a profit,” he said confidently. “And you make some fair points, Sookie. However, I don’t need as much return from the business as you do. It is your only source of income and—more importantly—it is your talent.”
“And those guards outside aren’t working for free,” she reminded. “Eric, I know that you are planning to take half of what we charge people for my readings, but—with you paying for the guards and everything, as well as this retainer thing for me . . . .” She paused for a moment. “It just doesn’t seem fair, Eric.”
“Do you have a counter-plan?” the vampire asked, seeing the determination in the telepath’s eyes.
She nodded. “Yeah. I like the salary idea because it’s something I can count on, but I think I should take less of the overall percentage fee per customer. You should get eighty percent of that to help cover the business costs and the guards and the payment to Sophie-Anne.”
The Viking smiled. “Sixty.”
“Seventy-five,” the telepath countered.
“Seventy it is,” Sookie grinned, reaching out to shake his hand.
Eric indulged her in the gesture before leaning forward to kiss the back of her hand.
“Nice doing business with you, Miss Stackhouse.”
“What other questions do you have?” Eric asked.
“Nothing about the business plan. But I do have questions about this,” the telepath said, holding up a much thinner document. “I thought you verbally claiming me—and me agreeing to that claim—was enough for other vampires.”
“I wondered when you would ask me about that,” Eric said of the document in Sookie’s hand. Basically, it was an official claiming document, a rarity among his kind. “As I told you, a verbal claim of a pet, companion, or asset is generally enough.”
“You’re worried it won’t be with me?” Sookie asked nervously.
The thousand-year-old shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know. However, I want to cover every base that we can. A claiming document is basically a step between a verbal claim and pledging.”
“I noticed that the contract allows me to null your claim with just a ‘verbal renouncement,'” she said, reading.
“Yes. I do not want you to feel trapped,” he said gently. “Never trapped.”
Sookie couldn’t help but to think about her time in the trunk. “You make me feel the opposite of trapped,” she returned, just as softly. “Thank you.”
“You are agreeable then?” he asked, gesturing toward the document. “To my,” he paused, “claiming you?”
“Yes,” she answered, the word meaning much more than the obvious, “I am sure.”
“Would you like to sign everything on Monday night? Fangtasia is closed, and I believe Mr. Cataliades would oblige such short notice.”
“Let me guess; he’s on retainer?” she smirked.
“Yes,” Eric chuckled. “But he’s not one of the three I mentioned before since Cataliades is strictly a Supernatural attorney. Plus, his biggest employer is the queen, so any work for her would supersede my needs.”
“Is it—uh—wise—to employ him? I mean—what if we can’t actually trust the queen?”
“The Dae cannot commit acts of betrayal,” Eric said simply. “Magic prevents it.”
“Dr. Smith said that she could never tell what we discussed because of Britlingen magic,” Sookie mused.
“Similar magical rules bind the Dae to their word. Fairies, too, cannot lie. However, unlike the Dae and Britlingens, the Fae are extremely adept at speaking half-truths. Almost all magical species have rules, however.”
“Like vampires not entering human homes,” Sookie observed.
“Yes,” the Viking smiled, even as he pulled out his phone to send a text to the Dae lawyer.
Less than a minute later, there was an answer.
Eric looked pleased. “I’ll send him the revisions to your pay scale before dawn, and I’ll have him add a clause about dire situations that might lead to your being turned; Mr. Cataliades can make the alterations before we meet. We will meet him at Fangtasia at 9:00 p.m. on Monday—if that is agreeable to you.”
“Sure,” Sookie smiled. “I’m anxious to get started with the training.”
“Okay. How about we plan on your working four nights per week. On one of those nights—you can read my human and two-natured employees and associates. We can do these readings in an office and in a controlled way—varying things like the number of people you ‘read’ at a time and your distance from them. Two nights per week, you can ‘read’ Fangtasia customers.”
“Which will prepare me for crowds,” Sookie said with understanding.
“Yes—in a less than controlled situation,” Eric said. “Also, to be frank, I wouldn’t mind knowing how far the Fellowship has gotten in scoping us out.”
Sookie frowned. “You think they’ve sent spies into your club?”
“I know it,” Eric said confidently and unconcernedly. “Although the vampires of Area 5 rarely,” he paused, “misbehave with humans, the number of Fellowship members in the area continues to grow. It is only a matter of time before they do something violent. My vampires are warned and prepared, but any warning regarding the Fellowship’s specific plans that you could give would be invaluable.”
“You think their target will be Fangtasia?” Sookie asked.
“Yes. Or fangbangers,” the vampire shared. “At least, that is my speculation. I don’t think the Fellowship has reached the level of sophistication to know that going after our human business associates would hit us harder than targeting our more public businesses and what accounts as only about a quarter of most vampires’ food source.”
Sookie nodded. “Okay—so I listen at Fangtasia twice a week and to your employees and associates once a week. What about the fourth night, and why only four? Isn’t five work days the standard?”
Eric shook his head fondly. “You are anything but standard, Dearest One. Also, I don’t want to overtax your mind. Even three nights of heavy ‘reading’ might prove to be too much. Your stamina is one element we will be testing as you train. As for the remaining night, I figure that one could be spent with Pam or myself teaching you more about vampires and other Supernaturals. Also, there will be etiquette to deal with, as well as security protocols to develop with Thalia for both your work based in Shreveport and that which we will travel for. And—of course—you will want to take time to register for and enroll in classes if you wish to begin in the Spring semester at the LSU annex in Shreveport.”
“You really think I could start so soon?” Sookie asked doubtfully.
“One of Pam’s pets is in admissions,” Eric winked.
“I wouldn’t want special treatment,” Sookie frowned. “But . . . .”
“But?” the vampire prodded.
“But I’ll take it anyway,” the telepath smirked.
Eric chuckled heartily, “Why, Miss Stackhouse, I’m surprised you would be so easily corrupted.”
Sookie shook her head. “As long as I’m not takin’ a spot away from some other student, I’m okay with takin’ the leg up. Just—uh—have Pam make sure someone else won’t be hurt by the favor—okay?”
“I will make sure of it,” Eric said, assuaging Sookie’s concerns. Not for the first time, the vampire found himself “warmed” by Sookie’s caring nature. Of course, she would not want anyone else to “lose out” just because she’d been helped. As promised, Eric would make sure that would not be the case; however, he would also do what was necessary—glamouring if need be—in order to make sure the Sookie wasn’t held up in pursuing her education. From what Eric knew, attending school had been difficult for the telepath when she’d been younger. He was anxious for her to be able to meet the intellectual potential he saw so clearly from her—every time she thought outside of the box or applied her own brand of logic to a situation. The vampire speculated that a formal education would only help her to flourish.
Sookie yawned widely, interrupting Eric’s train of thought.
“How about I bid you goodnight?” the Viking suggested, rising from the couch and reaching out to take Sookie’s hand.
“Okay,” Sookie said even as she moved to wrap her arms around the vampire who’d managed to ease her mind even more than the trained psychologist had. Indeed, just being with Eric seemed to provide a balm for any troubling thoughts she had.
After a few moments, Eric and Sookie backed away from each other and moved toward the front door.
“Would it bother you if I brought the wood in while you sleep?” he asked.
“No. Just don’t go banging any doors,” she warned playfully.
“I shall endeavor to be stealthy then,” he grinned boyishly.
“See that you do,” she giggled. “Oh hey!” she said as if remembering something. She rushed toward a small buffet table in the dining room and opened a drawer before rifling around and finding a little key. She rushed back to Eric.
“To your heart?” the vampire asked playfully, causing Sookie to blush a little.
“No—to the shed out back. There’s an axe in there—for the wood,” she said.
“I will return the key when I am done,” Eric assured before putting the object in his pocket.
“Thanks,” the telepath said, meaning the word to cover a lot more than the promised return of the little key.
Eric opened the front door and Sookie shivered a little before grabbing a crocheted shawl from an old-fashioned coatrack and wrapping it around her shoulders.
The vampire could smell both Sookie and another female scent on the shawl. As if reading his mind, Sookie informed, “It was Gran’s. It still smells like her, even to my nose.”
Eric acknowledged that information with a nod before taking her hand and leading her out onto the porch.
“What time will you be expecting me for our date?” he asked with a sparkle in his eyes.
“Is 8:00 p.m. too early?” she asked.
“Not at all,” he assured.
The two stood still, just looking at one another for a moment.
“May I claim a goodnight kiss?” she asked, biting her lower lip nervously—but enticingly to the vampire.
Eric simply nodded and bent down toward her. The kiss began slowly, softly. And it remained slow and soft, even as the new couple deepened the kiss to explore each other’s mouths.
Before either could get carried away, Eric pulled back and rested his forehead against Sookie’s in an affectionate way.
“You kiss really well, Mr. Northman,” Sookie sighed.
Eric chuckled. “One does not kiss that well alone, Miss Stackhouse.”
She reached up a hand to cup his cheek. “No. Not alone at all,” she said meaningfully.
He bent to place one more soft kiss onto her lips.
“We’re totally doing the dating thing all out of order,” she sighed.
“And you feel melancholy about that?” he asked, having “felt” her emotions shift in their blood tie.
“I’m just afraid because I don’t wanna mess this up,” she replied softly. “I mean—can we even still call tomorrow our first date anymore? We were just plannin’ to hang out here anyway. So how will it be any different from tonight?” she asked, her eyes wide.
“Because—tonight I am on my best behavior—my best friend behavior,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Tomorrow night, I plan to wine and dine you.”
She chuckled. “I can’t believe that human saying means that much to you.” “How about sweep you off your feet?” he asked playfully.
“That I know you can do,” she giggled, even as he hovered for a moment in the air.
“I promise tomorrow will feel different for you, Dearest One,” the vampire said, serious again. “It will be special because it will be you and I—taking a step forward together.”
She nodded, and he felt a sense of peace and resolve come into their blood tie. “You’re right,” she said as she yawned again.
“Good night, Dearest One,” he said softly.
She smiled and bit her lower lip unconsciously—enticingly to the vampire. “I’ve noticed that you’ve gone from calling me Dear One to Dearest One. Why?” she asked curiously.
He chuckled. “Dear just didn’t seem enough anymore.”
The telepath blushed through the compliment. “I like it, but maybe you shouldn’t have skipped the ‘Dearer One’ step?” she asked with a smirk.
He laughed loudly. “Ah—but I had to!”
“Why’s that?” she smiled.
“Because ‘dearer’ is a comparative word. And there is just no comparing you to anyone else.”
Her blush deepened. “You, Mr. Northman, were supposed to wait to sweep my off of my feet till tomorrow night,” she playfully chided. “You’re using up all your best lines tonight.”
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” he grinned boyishly before bending down to kiss her forehead; after that, they leaned—forehead to forehead—against each other for a few moments.
“Night, Dearest One.”
A/N: So the “non-date” is finally over. I hope that you all enjoyed this prolonged interaction between Eric and Sookie. I know that many of you were a little frustrated that I kept them apart for the first part of this story; however—for those who have stuck with this story—I hope you are now seeing the method to my madness.
So—I have some “bad” news. I won’t be able to post again until the middle of next week. But that’s actually good news for me. I’m taking a bit of a vacation to see family, and I’m hoping for a good visit with them. I’ll try to get you the next chapter shortly after I get home next week.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope you will comment if you have the time and/or inclination.