Four hours and ten minutes earlier
Russell snapped his phone shut and sauntered back over to Eric, who was leaning casually against the bar and watching Yvetta eat out Sophie-Anne as if it were a stage show.
Nothing about Eric’s demeanor betrayed his own apprehension, though inside, the Viking couldn’t help but to be frightened. He figured that the chances were great that he was about to meet his true death. He hoped that he could at least offer his child the time she would need to flee. And he was comforted by the fact that he felt her moving farther and farther from him by the second.
Regardless, Eric’s acting ability during the next few moments would determine whether he lived or died. He called upon a thousand years of control and tilted his head, seemingly to better take in the actions of Yvetta and Sophie-Anne.
“Her blood is exquisite, your majesty,” Eric said, giving Russell a little bow. “I know you prefer men, but you might, perhaps, take a taste at some point.” He motioned toward Yvetta. “She’s also quite skilled in the art of giving oral pleasure, as you can hear from Sophie-Anne.”
Russell glanced over at the writhing women with disgust. He turned back to Eric. “Lesbianism has never appealed to me, I’m afraid. However, I might take you up on your offer for her blood—after my lovely wife is done with her, that is.”
Eric smirked and gave another little bow of the head. Inside, he was happy to note that Pam was now moving past the Shreveport city limits.
“Where did your progeny go, Northman?” Russell asked casually.
Eric answered just as nonchalantly. “I suspected that Yvetta might not be to your liking, so I sent Pam to hurry along a couple of donors you might like better.” Internally, Eric celebrated as Domitri and Kenneth walked through the door from the back of the bar. Perhaps the donors would distract Russell.
The Viking nodded toward the newcomers. “The larger one is a bouncer here. His blood is delicious—a rare find. He’s from Tasmania originally, so his blood tastes of few pollutants.”
“Ah—fresh as mountain spring water,” Russell said jokingly. “And the other? I like the looks of him.”
“He is called Domitri. I’m afraid he’s quite bland compared to the fare that was presented to us by Talbot, my liege. However, what he lacks in flavor, he more than makes up for in other ways,” Eric leered suggestively. “He was a gymnast at one point—I believe.”
“Mmmm,” Russell said, licking his lips in the direction of the two male donors. “Your hospitality is appreciated, Northman. I would, however,” he turned his head back in Eric’s direction, “like to thank your progeny personally for arranging such a tribute.”
Eric kept his expression indifferent, other than the tiny smirk he allowed to push up the corner of his mouth. “I imagine that she is feeding as well, my liege. I gave her leave to do so after she secured your meal. She drank from one of our barmaids earlier—in order to heal her worst wounds—but she found the taste unsatisfying. She had hoped to have sated herself with Yvetta, but as you can see,” he said motioning toward the corner, “Yvetta had another offer.”
Eric chuckled. “If I know Pam, she is probably in a similar position as Sophie-Anne―even now. After that, she is to make sure all traces of our ‘guest’ downstairs are removed.” In actuality, Eric had texted Chow to come to the bar in two hour’s time to perform the clean-up and to take the Magister’s remains to a nearby alligator farm.
Russell looked into Eric’s eyes searchingly, but then chuckled. For just a moment, Eric thought he saw recognition in Russell’s eyes, but the Viking held his countenance.
Russell spoke casually, “Talbot says that you enjoyed my collection of artifacts.”
“Quite,” Eric answered without missing a beat, though he was careful not to sound overly enthusiastic. “You have many lovely pieces. The Japanese vampire erotica was especially,” Eric leered at Russell, “instructive.”
Russell smiled. “Talbot was surprised that you seemed to show the most interest in a little crown I’d picked up in Scandinavia.”
“Ah—yes,” Eric said unconcernedly, though with a little interest in his tone. “It is rare that I come across Viking artifacts that are so well-preserved. As you know, my original people were not ones for the preservation of relics.” He chuckled. “We tended to burn our things with the dead.”
“A terrible waste,” Russell said with a smirk.
“Yes,” Eric agreed, “though—even at the time, I don’t believe I ever saw a crown as fine as the one you have. I grew up in a relatively poor village, and any metal we got our hands on was used to forge weapons.” He paused. “So it was a treat to see your relic.”
Russell nodded. “I took that crown from a minor ruler in what is now Sweden—from a town near the North Sea. That must have been,” Russell paused and looked at Eric significantly, “a little more than a thousand years ago.”
The Viking nodded. “Ah—that would account for the unusual shape of the crown. My own people were from what is now Norway. Still—the crown is lovely and reminded me of my human days for a few moments.”
“Perhaps I should make a gift of it to you then?” Russell asked, his voice almost snakelike.
Eric bowed a bit. “It would be an honor, your majesty,” he said evenly, “one that I would gladly accept. However, I would not wish to see your collection broken up.”
Russell gestured in such a way as to indicate that the gift would be nothing even as he continued to study Eric’s face. “Trust me, that particular piece is of little value to me; it never has been.”
Using all of his strength and control, Eric nodded noncommittally. “Then, I would love to accept it—if you are certain.”
Luckily, before Russell could further comment, Sophie-Anne let out a satisfied scream, indicating her orgasm.
Eric looked over toward the corner.
“Perhaps we should be on our way now that my queen has finished her meal,” Russell said with a disgusted look on his face.
Eric smirked. “You may have the young men as ‘take-out’ if you wish, your majesty. I’m certain that they would make the trip to Mississippi pass more,” he paused, “pleasurably. Will I have the pleasure of accompanying you as well?” he asked Russell with a hope-filled toned.
Russell smirked. “Sadly—no.”
Eric forced disappointment to wash over his face for a moment.
“I have a quick errand to see to before I return to Mississippi. It seems that your Miss Stackhouse has escaped, along with her friend, Miss Thornton. Bill Compton is also missing. Would you have any ideas about Miss Stackhouse’s location?”
Eric, still struggling to keep up his act and to maintain his casual stance, smirked. “Ah, the intrepid Miss Stackhouse strikes again. I did tell you that she was something,” he paused, “unique.”
“So true,” Russell grinned.
“I would check her residence first if I were you,” Eric said. “I will give you the address—if you do not already have it. It is actually across the cemetery from Compton’s residence. She loves him to such a great distraction that she will likely be where he is.”
“The file Mott collected also mentions a brother—a Jason Stackhouse.”
Eric nodded as if digging for a file from his own memory. “Yes. Jason Stackhouse is a nice looking man, but his blood doesn’t smell like his sister’s—I’m afraid. They have been somewhat estranged, I think. For a while he was affiliated with the Fellowship of the Sun, but I believe that he is back in Bon Temps now.” Eric knew that he was telling Russell things that Mott would have reported to him already, but there was also a part of him that intuited how distraught Sookie would be if her brother were harmed so he downplayed the closeness of their relationship.
“I would place surveillance on Jason Stackhouse if you don’t find Sookie immediately,” Eric said, speaking pragmatically. “She will eventually contact him—or he will lead you to her. He is not the brightest human. You may also wish to place surveillance on Sam Merlotte, a shifter in Bon Temps. He is Sookie’s employer.” Eric knew that that information, too, would be in Mott’s file. And—of course—if the king chose to have the shifter and Sookie’s brother followed, then they wouldn’t be harmed.
Russell took in Eric’s words and nodded, even as he continued to regard the Viking closely.
Eric thought about his options; unfortunately, at this moment, there was only one. He needed to keep his composure, or the already suspicious king would kill him without a second thought.
Had his responses to Russell’s questions quelled the suspicions that Eric intuited had been rising in the king? Or had Russell searched through his long-ago memories and stumbled upon the young Viking, who had looked straight at him following the deaths of his family. Russell had taken a moment to warn him not to follow—not to be a hero. Russell had been cloaked, so Eric hadn’t seen his face, but Eric had not been disguised in any way. He’d been a few years younger then—than at the time of his turning. And his hair had been longer. However, other than some dirt on his face, he’d looked virtually the same.
No—Eric thought, trying to comfort himself. If Russell had recognized him, he’d already be dead.
However, Eric was not naïve. And he certainly wasn’t an optimist. Russell had all the dots he needed now, and it would only be a matter of time before he connected them. Nothing could prevent that now. His father’s crown would lead the ancient vampire to his memory of taking it, and that would inevitably lead him to remember the young man who had wanted so desperately to avenge the deaths of his parents and sister, but who had been unable to act in that moment.
Eric own memories as a vampire were all vivid, like a storehouse of perfectly preserved files, just waiting to be accessed. Thus, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Russell now held the keys to linking him to that Viking teen from a thousand years before. The only question was when that would happen.
When it did, Eric would be dead—if he were still in the king’s range.
Eric spoke, “I will take you to Sookie Stackhouse’s home if you wish. I have been there once and still have an invitation—unless she has been clever enough to rescind it. However, she is likely too trusting to have done that.”
“And why would she trust you enough to invite you into her home?”
“She invited me in so that I could kill a Werewolf that was planning to attack her. I’m afraid I didn’t know he was one of yours. Apologies, your majesty.”
Russell cackled a little and slapped Eric on the back in almost a brotherly way. “Well—no worries! Wolves are a dime a dozen these days,” he winked.
“So—shall we go to the telepath’s home?” Eric asked nonchalantly.
“No—I have another, more pressing task for you,” Russell said with an almost patronizing air. “I trust that your child can take care of Area 5’s business.”
Eric nodded. “Yes, of course, your majesty. She is a good lieutenant.”
“Good,” Russell said. “Have her see to your duties. I want you to join Talbot. He is,” Russell paused, “currently distraught and needs a good distraction.” Russell leered at Eric.
The Viking bowed. “Of course.”
“Good. You have the ability to fly—is that correct?” he asked.
Eric nodded. “Indeed.”
“Excellent. Then I want you to go to Mississippi tonight and placate Talbot. I suppose you can be there before dawn?”
Eric nodded again. “Of course—probably about half an hour before if I leave now.”
Russell nodded. “Good. I will stay in the area tonight.” He paused. “Of course, I’ll expect Talbot to be in good spirits when I return home with the Stackhouse girl and my new bride tomorrow night.”
Eric smiled, “I will make sure of it, your majesty. And may I offer you my residence to stay in tomorrow during the day?”
Russell grinned, “That would be lovely. I had already planned on using it. I know the location from Franklin’s work.
Eric smiled wider. “Mr. Mott is quite thorough, but which address did he supply you with?”
Russell smirked. “3471 Wister Road.”
Eric nodded. “That is a comfortable residence, but not my most luxurious or secure, your majesty.” Eric grabbed a pad and wrote down two other addresses. “Both of these are better suited for someone such as yourself.”
Russell looked at Eric through narrowed eyes. Of course, Eric knew that Russell would probably already know of these homes as well, but even if he didn’t, neither one was what Eric considered his essential residence. They were more secret than the property on Wister Road, so they might serve to deflate Russell’s suspicions of him for a little while; however, Eric generally didn’t die for the day at either of those residences, nor did he keep anything important there.
Eric bowed. “I will be on my way now, your majesty, unless you require anything else of me.”
Russell shook his head. “After I take care of Miss Stackhouse, I will enjoy the donors you have procured, and if they are worthy, perhaps I will take them as a gift for my Talbot.”
Eric nodded and bowed once more to his king—his enemy.
Russell looked Eric up and down. “You may go,” he dismissed.
Eric walked quickly toward the back door of the club—but not too quickly. Once the door was opened, he smelled the night air and took off into it, flying on a path that would lead him to Mississippi and Russell’s mansion.
He’d been flying only a few minutes when he picked up the scent of another vampire—a faster vampire. The scent was behind him, but he didn’t deviate from his path. The Viking had been expecting this. Eric closed his eyes as he continued flying at a consistent rate. His superior sense of smell, one of his vampire gifts which he’d kept a closely guarded secret—to the point that only Godric had known of it—told him exactly who the other vampire was: Russell.
He knew that the elder vampire was checking up on him—that Russell had begun to suspect that things were not quite as they seemed with him.
Russell followed Eric for a while—though he stayed quite far behind him. Eric figured that he was at the edge of the king’s range, so there would be no reason for the three-thousand-year-old vampire to suspect that Eric could smell him as well. In fact, Eric knew of none who had as acute of a sense of smell as himself, though Russell was the oldest vampire he’d ever met.
Eric knew that it was a time of reckoning. Once Russell connected Eric to the young Viking who had just lost his family, the king would not hesitate to kill him. However, even if Russell just suspected that Eric had been hiding something from him, his nights would be numbered. And there wasn’t a damned thing the Viking could do about it, so he flew on, straight toward Mississippi and Talbot as if he were following Russell’s orders like a good little lapdog.
The Viking had flown another twenty miles before Russell turned back. He flew another twenty before he stopped and backtracked—just to make sure that the king was not still on his trail.
Eric hovered for a moment, making even more certain that Russell was not still pursuing him. He sighed with relief. He was clear. All he needed to do was to fly away—to go to the first place on his escape route—where he would cover his scent and then disappear.
But he didn’t.
Sookie was weaker than even before, and his blood inside of her was calling to him. It told him that Sookie would soon die. “Loving” its position inside of her—where it had tied itself to her own cells—his blood called for him to come and save her, to pour more of himself into her body in order to guarantee that her life went on. Eric shivered at the sensation of his own blood calling him from Sookie’s body. He’d never—in all of his thousand years—felt anything similar. His flight toward Mississippi had put him closer to her location, and with every mile, her blood had pulled him more. Or was it his blood pulling him. He could no longer tell.
He closed his eyes. He had a choice to make. He could flee and ensure his own safety. Or he could go to Sookie Stackhouse. In the end, he gave it very little thought, his body automatically leading him in the direction it needed to go.
A/N: Hi! Thanks to all who have been commenting on, favoriting, and alerting this story!