Just an employee.
Just an employee.
Just an employee.
No matter which way I tried to say it, or how often I repeated it to myself, it made no difference.
It sounded like shit. It felt like shit, which would describe my overall mood as well.
But in the two weeks since I’d last seen Eric, I’d been doing my best to combat those feeling by eating my weight in chocolate and ice cream. So now instead of competing with Pillsbury in the amount of rolls we could make, we’d switched things up to biscuits.
Because I felt like a popped can of them wearing my now too tight dress.
But like my heartache, I ignored it and strolled through the room repeating my new mantra.
I’m just an employee.
And that’s what I was there to act like. Somebody from Northman Inc. had to make an appearance at the dinner being held in honor of the whoop-dee-fucking-do summit being hosted in Los Angeles that week. The world’s financial movers and shakers would all be gathered in one room to discuss the world’s economy.
Blah blah blah, et al.
Personally, I didn’t give a shit. I may have felt like shit, but I didn’t give one. But if they asked, I’d tell them I gave at the office.
After all, I was just an employee. But it would make Northman Inc. look like shit if no one from our company showed up. And since Eric was off doing whatever the fuck, and Victor was in the wind thanks to his thievery, it was left to me to pick up the slack.
So the day ended in ‘Y’.
Gin and tonic in hand, I casually walked around the room, nodding and smiling at anyone who looked my way. But because I was also a multitasker, I did it while simultaneously thanking and cursing the invention of Spanx because I was certain I would need a lower torso amputation by the time I peeled those suckers off thanks to my deadened appendages.
And I ignored how helpful a shot of magic serum might be in that scenario. Just like I was ignoring a lot of things lately that ended in ‘Northman’.
So it was a good thing the company’s name ended in ‘Inc.’
Fuck. My. Life.
I didn’t have to turn around to know who’d be standing there, but I rotated my planet-sized ass around anyway.
Surprise surprise. It was John Quinn.
I’d emailed him his promised glowing recommendation a week earlier and he’d responded – several times – with an open invitation to dinner.
Invitations I’d immediately deleted without even opening them.
“I think I might have the wrong email address for you,” he smiled. “I’ve sent you a few, asking you out on a date, but I never heard back.”
It was a lie. We both knew it because he’d used the reply button from my email to him. But since I had nothing better to do and no one better to do it with, I smiled and said, “Oh?”
I wasn’t about to go out with him – not that I couldn’t go out with him since I was just an employee – but if nothing else, by talking to Quinn it would keep me away from the dessert table.
My Spanx were silver lined.
Ignoring his mention of any dates, I tried to steer the conversation back into neutral territory and asked, “So are you here working or networking?”
The spread was above par – something I knew his company was capable of throwing, which is why I’d chosen them to organize our event – but I didn’t want to assume.
The last time I did it made me out to be an ass and then bit me in mine.
“A little of both,” he smiled, with a knowing look. But all it did was let me know I’d given him the wrong impression by asking anything about him.
Oh well. I was certainly willing to teach him all about shits and how tough they could be.
Moving to stand closer, he leaned down and asked, “So, is your boss around? I’d hate to get you in trouble if he saw us talking.”
That’s what he was. After all, I was just an employee.
Wishing I had a Tic-Tac to get rid of the bitter aftertaste in my mouth from repeating my mantra over and over, I was about to answer when someone else entered our conversation by asking, “Yes, where is the famed Eric Northman?”
Turning around towards the sound to put a face with the voice, I found I didn’t recognize him. Something he must have figured out when he smiled contritely and said, “Pardon me. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Russell Edgington.”
His name I did recognize and, doing my impersonation of Godric, I immediately pulled up every little detail about the man I could recall.
He was born choking on a silver spoon thanks to being a direct descendant of one of those wealthy tycoons you always saw in old black and white films. The kind wearing a derby on their bald heads and schlepping their giant bellies around with the aid of a walking stick, staring down their noses through a monocle at everyone else who was rightfully beneath them. He was born with an even bigger ego and gave Merriam-Webster the standard of how to define pretentious. He’d been a prototype for the faux-lebrity before the days of Hiltons, Kardashians, and twenty-four hour news cycles. But he’d dropped out of the limelight nearly a decade earlier and I’d just assumed he’d finally tired of living his jet set lifestyle. And at his age it would make sense for him to choose the quiet life.
So it was his age and disappearance from the gossip rags that made him harder to recognize initially, but now that I’d heard the name I could definitely place the face. I smiled automatically, just like a good employee, and said, “Of course, Mr. Edgington. I’m Sookie…”
“Stackhouse,” he smiled as he interrupted me. Giving Quinn a look that said, ‘Go away servant,’ which Quinn heeded – no monocle necessary – he then turned back to face me. Looking as sweet as Andy Taylor’s Aunt Bee, he said, “From what I hear, you’re Eric Northman’s right hand gal.”
Keeping my smile in place – instead of the grimace trying to take its place – I went for humble over hostile by replying, “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I’m just his employee.”
That’s what he’d said. And if I remembered to later on, I was getting that shit printed onto my business cards.
Just An Employee
It would be a hell of a lot easier to pass those around to whoever asked rather than keep admitting it out loud.
“And modest too,” he laughed warmly. “My dear, I’ve heard he wouldn’t get a single thing done if it wasn’t for you.”
He certainly wouldn’t be walking around right now if it wasn’t for me.
Not that he bothered saying squat about it.
That had been gnawing away at me too, wondering if maybe he was angry I’d done something so drastic without his consent. He didn’t look too happy to have clicky fangs now, but he could just sit next to Quinn when I gave my lecture on tough shits.
And like the man had just said, he wouldn’t get anything done if it wasn’t for me. Only now that included walking and talking.
But since I was playing the role of modest inconsequential just an employee, I merely smiled in return and said, “Mr. Northman got along just fine before me and I’m sure he’d do fine without me.”
I knew because he’d told me to leave and don’t come back two weeks ago. He must be doing fine without me because I left.
And I didn’t go back.
Glancing around expectantly, he asked, “So is Eric here?”
I felt my face falter for a split second – overcome with everything I was trying not to think about – but I didn’t think he noticed when I finally offered, “No. Mr. Northman is away on sabbatical. Personal issues,” I added seeing his inquisitive expression.
He could take that however he wanted, but I was surprised when he nodded like he knew something and said, “Ah yes, the issue with Madden. Surprising, a man like that embezzling money from someone he considered his own son.”
The gossip mill around the office had been churning at maximum power once it became known Victor’s untimely disappearance – from the building and payroll – coincided with the company hiring a forensic accounting firm to audit the books.
Not everyone needed to be a genius to put two and two together.
But I didn’t realize the news had already spread so far. He hadn’t shown his face at all since I’d first hired the Brigant team and even though we now had indisputable evidence it was Victor who’d stolen the money, I’d made the executive decision to just write it off, sweep it under the rug, and be done with it. Sure, the bitch in me would’ve loved to traipse him through the courts – criminal or civil – and embarrass the shit out of him. But since Eric was off pretending he was dead – more than just dead to me or his non-pitter pattering heart – I didn’t want to chance the off-chance he’d be needed for any charges to be filed.
Sometimes being just an employee worked out for me because as his Executive Assistant, I’d made an executive decision and said fuck it.
Something I didn’t need Wharton to teach me.
Now, if only I could get my heart to say the same to Eric then all would be well.
But just like Eric’s house, I wasn’t going there. And since it wasn’t publically known that Victor was as crooked as his smarmy smiles, I didn’t give Edgington any reaction. So he took my silence and handed me his card in return, saying, “Be a dear and please ask Eric to give me a call when he returns from…where did you say he’s gone to?”
“Sabbatical,” I smiled.
I might be just an employee, but I wasn’t stupid.
“Of course,” he said and repeated, “Sabbatical.”
Both his eyes and his tone told me he didn’t believe me, but that landed directly into the ‘I don’t give a shit’ pile I’d been amassing over the last two weeks.
It was quite a pile.
And after he wandered away, I continued to circle.
Away from Quinn.
Around the dessert table.
But it was the circle attached to my shoulders that I couldn’t wander away from or the thoughts that circled through it. Thoughts on what I could do to keep myself busy now that I had so much Eric-free time. His giant ass had taken up a large portion of it, so I thought perhaps I’d go back to what I used to do with my free time.
Read a book.
Soak in the tub until I looked like the sister of a California Raisin.
Lie on the beach so I’d be as dark as one too.
I’d tried doing one if not all three on various days in the last two weeks, but none of them did me any good. And I hated that I didn’t know what to do with myself when I took Eric out of the equation. But as much as I missed him, I wasn’t going to be the one to make the first move. I wasn’t going to beg him to see me.
I wasn’t that girl.
I’d never been that girl. I had way too much self-esteem and way too much pigheadedness ingrained in me to do anything of the sort.
If he wanted me, he knew where to find me.
But at least it appeared no one knew where to find Eric, wolves or otherwise. And if anyone asked me for specifics, I’d tell them Sabbatical was three clicks north of East Jabip.
It was in my downtime that was the hardest to ignore it all. Lying awake at night and replaying the events over in my mind didn’t help any either. I kept picking out the little things he’d said, but now I saw them in a whole new light.
“You have to let go. I can’t…I don’t want…you just have to let go of me.”
Had that been more about him telling me to let go of the idea we could stay together instead of the literal way I’d taken it?
When his heart stopped beating did whatever he feel for me stop with it?
I just didn’t know. I wanted to believe he still cared, but the fact he hadn’t tried calling me at all was leading me to believe otherwise.
Had he been leading me on all along?
My gut told me no.
So then why the fuck had he stayed away?
Maybe he was mad at me. Mocking his fears probably wasn’t the brightest thing I’d ever done, but still. I thought I made it pretty clear I didn’t care about any of it so long as I had him.
Only for him to take himself away from me by sending me away.
As wrong as it felt leaving that way – at all, really – I didn’t have it in me to fight with him about it at the time. With everything I’d already gone through in the previous few hours – the fear, adrenaline, heartbreak, elation – I was exhausted. My mind was jumbled – just like the status of our relationship – so I took my broken heart and ran with it.
And fuck him for not coming after it.
And fuck me for thinking he would.
My thoughts were circling through my head faster than shit circled down the drain. It was always the same. Round and round. Giving Eric the benefit of the doubt one second and then wanting to filet his dick the next.
It was tiring.
Which is why I thought maybe I’d had one too many gin and tonics and my Spanx were tighter than was healthy when I started feeling a little lightheaded. My sleepless nights weren’t helping any, so I decided I’d had enough moving and shaking amongst the movers and shakers for one night. It was winding down anyway, so I made another executive decision, figuring I’d hung around for long enough, and beat my tired feet to the door.
But it was while I was outside waiting for the valet to bring my car around that I became confused. I assumed the limousine that pulled up to the curb was for another guest, but as I began walking further down the sidewalk to where I thought my car would be brought to, the rear door opened and I was pulled inside without warning.
The tires squealed – just like me – as they pulled back onto the road, with the force of it knocking me head first into the seat. And just as I thought to do something – yell, scream, stab my stiletto into their ball sack – I felt the cold hard steel barrel press into my side.
“Don’t even think about it,” my now identifiable kidnapper warned.
I’d already thought it, but I didn’t do anything else besides try to right myself into the seat. My heart was hammering in my chest over my unexpected shanghai – hopefully not to Shanghai – and I was already eyeballing the rate of speed we were traveling against the likelihood I’d be roadkill if I just threw myself out of the door.
I sure missed having Godric around for more reasons than one. He’d tell me in a nanosecond.
I’d left my phone at Eric’s when I left and I didn’t go back for it either. Per the boss’s orders. So I’d foregone having a cell phone and gone with the mantra of my inner drunken father and used up stripper mother instead.
But now it was my titties that wouldn’t be tough enough to handle the asphalt at sixty miles per hour.
It made me wonder if my ass would be covered by Spanx that may or may not be NHTSA approved.
Not having any other choice, I slid as far away from him as I could before finally turning to face him and asked, “What? Why are you doing this? Where are you taking me?”
He ignored my questions and asked one of his own with, “That’s all you have to say? I’m shocked.”
That made two of us, but all I said was, “What else should I say, Victor?”
Why did you steal from Eric? Why are you such a knob? How in the hell did you become so dirt poor with your salary?
But I already knew the answers to all three questions. Being a knob was innate, but the rest Maxwell Lee had found out. Victor had been living way beyond his means. He owned more homes than I owned shoes. Cars. Vacations to exotic locations. Everything was paid for by credit and before long his pile of debt was nearly as big as my pile of ‘I don’t give a shit’. All of his homes were in foreclosure with the exception of his primary one and the mortgage for that one was in arrears too. He’d gotten to the point where he didn’t have any credit left and needed the cash to save his house.
Something Eric would’ve helped him with if he’d only asked.
But since he wasn’t a telepath, he just inflicted me with his crooked smarmy smile and said, “Oh, I don’t know. How about how much you think you’re worth.”
By the hour?
By the pound?
By the square foot?
“You see, I think you’re worth a lot. More than I ever gave you credit for, but being short on cash has a way of making one creative. I’ve heard rumors. Done some digging and between what little Eric confided in me about his research and those who would like for all of Eric’s confidences to be shared on the werewolf front, I’ve decided to hold a bidding war.”
“What in the hell are you talking about? A bidding war over what?”
Because I sure as hell didn’t know. The real estate market was nowhere what it once was.
“Who,” he said, confusing me even more. But then he knocked me for a loop by adding, “For you Miss Stackhouse.”
Say what? Like eBay?
At my gobsmacked expression, he explained, “Eric told me you two are together now, so I know he’ll pay any cost to have you returned unharmed. But the others who want to know everything Eric knows will pay just as handsomely for me to turn you over to them. You are quite the bargaining chip. Either way, I will be a very rich man.”
He would be a very dead man if I had my way, but unable to keep my hurt in any longer, I laughed like a crazy person and said, “You’re just as shitty at wheeling and dealing as you are at embezzling money. Eric doesn’t care about me! I believe his exact words to me were, ‘You’re just my employee’ . You’ve got nothing.”
Just like me.
And just because I was feeling especially bitchy, I taunted, “Just like what’s in your bank account.”
But in my semi-delusional state, I’d forgotten we weren’t playing office politics or even Eric’s favorites anymore. He’d kidnapped me at gun point. Informed me he was holding me hostage for ransom. So I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when he backhanded me across my face.
It made me wish I had clicky fangs so I could give him a what for.
But knowing I didn’t have fangs or a way out of there, I felt my heart rate spike again. My cheek was hurting like a son of a bitch and I silently slid my shoes off, planning to make a run for it if I could.
If we ever stopped.
But then it felt like everything stopped all at once.
Except for the sound of the sunroof shattering.
Godzilla? Is that you?
I didn’t see any giant green lizards, but then I didn’t see Victor anymore either. I only knew he was snatched through the now broken sunroof when his shoe dropped back down into my lap. But even if I hadn’t heard the sound, I still would’ve known he managed to squeeze the trigger on his way out.
I knew by the searing pain in my side.
And I saw no need to hold back, so my screeched out, “FUCK!” only added to the noise, but that too was cut off by my surprise.
Because my night wasn’t going bad enough – kidnapped, shot, Spanx were too tight – the driver must have been either startled or suicidal because the next thing I knew we were airborne and falling fast.
I never liked flying. And when not strapped into an airplane, it was especially true. Which made it all the more bizarre when I suddenly found myself still flying, but horizontally now instead of vertically. But my kidnapper car hadn’t Go-Go-Gadgeted into an airplane or anything.
And so far as I could tell, neither had Eric, which made me wonder how in the hell he was keeping us in the air at all. Having snatched my flailing, screaming, Spanx encased ass through the sunroof, he now held me bridal style, and while there were a million things I wanted to say to him.
Throw at him.
The only thing I could do was smile at him and say, “Well, that’s convenient.”