My nights had changed drastically in the short time since I’d left Sookie.
On the docks.
Left her bleeding, feeling more pain than any physical wound could cause, with nothing but the memory of me being a monster.
But I hadn’t really left her. Not completely. My blood inside of her told me where she was. How she was feeling. It had called out to me and demanded my return, from the moment my feet lifted from the ground. Demanded I shield her from her pain. To heal the heartache inside of her that spread like a cancer through her body, with every minute that ticked by.
But I didn’t.
She had played her part in our collaborative ruse and now it was time for me to play mine. So I returned to my casino. To my nightly routine. Acting as though I wasn’t being ripped in two from the inside out.
It wasn’t easy.
My resolve to stay away had taken a hit the moment I’d returned to my penthouse. My intent to change into my normal business attire had been met with her scent the moment I’d stepped into my closet.
She had been there.
As recently as the day before and noticing the door within leading to my chambers was slightly ajar had left me leery.
Had I left it open?
Had she somehow managed to open it?
Had she searched my room as she’d searched every other in her quest to make FBLiar of the Year?
But all it took was stepping into the room to find the answers. Her scent couldn’t be found lurking anywhere beyond the doorframe. Even without my heightened sense of smell, a few clicks of my mouse were all it took to see the truth.
Of both my erroneous assumptions and her magnanimous actions.
In my haste to leave for my country home that morning I had left it open.
And she had noticed.
But instead of taking advantage of her find – rifling through my things like I had feared she might, in light of what I now knew – she merely cast an inquisitive glance into the room and left.
With nary a strand of her hair crossing the boundary of my inner most sanctum.
She didn’t know about the cameras. At the time she hadn’t known about my supernatural senses. She couldn’t have known she would be found out if she had gone in.
Even now she didn’t know anything more than I had fangs and drank blood. Blood she would’ve found bagged away inside of the small refrigerator I kept in my room.
If she had looked.
If she had gone in.
If she had invaded my privacy, as she had invaded my every thought and action from the moment I’d laid eyes on her.
It would’ve given her the insight I truly was a monster, even if it would’ve likely led her to the false assumption I was the monster she had been sent to find.
And yet she did not. Had not. Found the evidence she would’ve needed because she hadn’t sought it out. Hadn’t gone into my room. Hadn’t betrayed the trust I’d done nothing to earn, regardless of her mission – her purpose – as the emissary sent to investigate me.
Instead she had given me the benefit of doubt.
Something I hadn’t had the decency to do with her.
Mere minutes had passed since I’d left her. The force behind her sorrow was powerful enough tears threatened to fill my own eyes. But I could not give in. I could not go to her. For her I had to remain strong or else her every action that night would’ve been for nothing.
And she was better off without me.
Changing quickly, I went downstairs to put on one of her dog and pony shows. But all it took was walking into the nightclub for me to see.
To see yet another consequence of my decision.
To see what my life would now be like without her in it.
Now seeing the wanton women gathering around me.
The very ones I would’ve gladly had my way with had I not been infected by the Sookievirus a week earlier.
It clouded my judgment then just as it did now, but not because I had let her in.
But because I had left her there.
And the errors of my ways – both pre and post Sookie – continued to bombard me nightly in the days that followed.
Pre-Sookie I saw nothing wrong with the life I had managed to carve out for myself. Building an empire and then protecting it with extreme prejudice. Taking what I wanted without thought or consideration for any other save me.
It was the vampire way.
I’d been disciplined. Dedicated.
Like a lethal two year old, I demanded things be done my way or else heads would literally roll.
But now – post-Sookie – I could see I had merely been surviving. Doing what I knew. Doing what worked.
In spite of my absent heartbeat, I’d thought I’d been living a pretty good life.
Only now – with her gone from my life – could I see, I hadn’t been living at all.
I knew because I’d left my heartbeat back on the docks.
When that realization struck, it was quite possible I felt even more a monster than I had on my first night rising vampire.
I certainly felt deader.
Thinking I’d been doing right by her by leaving her had been asinine. The more I felt the throb of her pain inside, the more I realized what a fool I’d been to think she would be safer without me by her side.
I’d done quite well in surviving for over a thousand years.
How hard could it be to keep a twenty-two year old girl alive?
Any doubts I had over whether or not it was love I’d felt for her disappeared.
What else but love could cause so much pain?
I monitored her with my blood over the following nights. I felt each and every lie she told, even if I didn’t know the particulars of the particular tale she had spun.
I felt every flare of deception – manipulation – within her, with every piece of information she set down on her invisible chess board. Followed by her hope and satisfaction at what I guessed was their acceptance of her lies. But I could not find it within me to feel proud of her.
I could not rejoice over her accomplishments.
Instead I felt shame now knowing without a doubt she had never felt that way when speaking to me.
Doing my part in keeping with the story she’d come up with, I tasked Purifoy, my Were executive assistant, to have her things packed and returned to her at the hospital. Staying away from her was nearly impossible by then. I’d already made up my mind I would go to her – beg her forgiveness if I had to – but I would wait until she was out of the hospital. Out from under the magnifying glass she’d thrown herself under – for me.
Her selfless actions were yet more proof of my idiocy by allowing the divide between us.
But until I could rectify that, so she would know I had not truly abandoned her, I left Purifoy with instructions to obtain a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to her at the hospital.
Hyacinths to portray my sorrow and ask for her forgiveness.
Honeysuckle to convey our deep bond she had yet to learn about.
Ferns for my sincerity.
And a single iris to hold as my promise.
Different colored carnations held more meaning – red to say my heart belonged to her, striped to say I wished to be with her, but I couldn’t do it. Not because I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea.
But because who the fuck gave the woman they wanted an eternity with fucking carnations?
The flower shops were closed by the time the thought had struck, so I left it in Purifoy’s capable hands. Knowing there might be some difficulty in finding everything I wanted in the short time allotted, I gave him some leeway to improvise if necessary.
He’d always been proficient so I had no reason to suspect he wouldn’t do as he was told now.
The handwritten note, however, I personally secured in the glove box of her death trap of a car, along with the cell phone I’d previously given her. Just in case prying eyes found it before she did, I made it simple.
‘Call me maybe?’
She’d hummed the blasted tune on and off for the rest of the evening after our trek through the club on her first night.
It was on night four of our forced separation, after my nightly trek through the trolls in the club to keep up appearances, when I returned to my office and turned on the news.
Where I got to see the crowned FBLiar of the year, giving a press conference.
But instead of feeling any amusement at their utter stupidity, I only felt elation.
They’d bought it.
She’d sold her story and they bought it.
And she’d done it all for me.
It hadn’t eluded me that she didn’t know of my plans. My feelings. For her or for us. She was still in the dark, but that had been necessary at the time.
It wasn’t any longer.
I knew from my spies within the hospital she would be released the following day. Those same spies had informed me she’d quit her job with the FBI too, so I planned on waiting until just before sunrise to head to my country estate. The one I’d last stepped foot in with her. It was closer to her home – where I assumed she would be returning to during the day – and I could reach her that much sooner when I rose for the night.
Knowing there were mere hours separating us now, rather than forever – as it had felt – I was antsy.
What if she denied me? Denied my presence? My affection?
What if my exhibition in assholery had caused irreparable harm?
When the press conference ended, I found myself standing in the doorway to her suite. It was the closest I could be to her in that moment and I was counting down the minutes until I could remedy that.
I’d only counted as high as twenty-two when I felt it.
The distance between us.
It was growing.
No longer stationary, she was mobile. Moving farther away.
Miles. Not feet.
It was the middle of the night!
There was a fucking hurricane making landfall!
What the fuck was she thinking?
And who did I have to fucking kill for allowing her to leave?
But then another thought occurred to me.
Was she leaving now – with the concussion I could still feel throbbing in her skull and in the middle of a hurricane – because she had decided in her time away from me that she wanted to be away from me?
Me – a literal monster – who had left her in the dark for all of this time.
Also known as a highhanded asshole.
I’d felt everything she’d been feeling in our time apart. Every hurt. Every longing. I’d denied us both my presence in order to not throw away every stride she’d made in getting her employers to believe her story.
One – if found out to be false – could be just as detrimental to her for lying.
But what if my newest secret had cost me her? Not giving her any sign other than flowers that I wanted to reclaim whatever it was we’d had together?
What if she had decided flowers just weren’t enough.
Suddenly I couldn’t get to her fast enough. After letting Purifoy know I would be back when I was goddamn ready to be back – I might need a month to convince her to return and if not, there were always those penguins for her to frolic with in Antarctica – I set off for my private elevator.
Flying would be the most expedient way to travel, but I had serious doubts her car would make the trip. So I decided to take one of my own, knowing I could still easily catch her on the interstate.
Or maybe I would take the Suburban.
The backseat could come in handy if all went well.
So my thoughts were in the backseat – as it were – when I reached the garage level and the elevator doors opened, revealing an unwelcome sight.
More than the stench of Were, she was as rank as I remembered. And not in the mood to entertain her in any way, I narrowed my eyes and asked, “Shouldn’t you be out enjoying the rough surf, Flipper?”
Where the fuck was Chow?
He and his men should have headed her off before she could reach me. But I knew my private elevator could neither be viewed nor tracked by the casino’s main security system. Only I had access to those feeds. I liked my privacy.
It was biting me in the ass right now.
“My offer still stands,” she smiled and her eyes narrowed in return as she warned, “Unless of course you like having to fork over thousands for lawsuits when your guests begin to trip over thin air or fall ill due to food poisoning. Or maybe I’ll ensure Lady Luck will smile down on every table and slot machine. Surely the use of your body for seven nights and fifty percent of your profits would cost much less than that.”
Chow’s research following her one and only appointment with me had revealed she dabbled in magic, but I’d been assured she was in no way powerful. However, reading between the lines and feeling outraged at her outrageous demands, my fangs and voice descended when I asked, “Are you threatening me?”
I hadn’t allowed her to finish her preposterous proposal, during our one and only meeting in my office.
Not when I had a much more pressing meeting to attend.
One where my dick was pressed against my own leather pants because my assistance was needed to rip the leather pants off of my new assistant.
And I snarled again. At the memory of that night, the change in my former assistant’s employment status, and the Were’s threat.
“It’s not a threat,” she smiled. “It’s a promise.”
“And I promise you,” I warned. “You have a piss poor sense of timing. Leave now and I will let you live.”
I was pissed.
Pissed that Sookie’s emotional state was rapidly deteriorating with every mile she put between us.
Pissed that this bitch was keeping me from her for that much longer.
Pissed that my security team failed to keep her from reentering the casino to begin with.
How fucking hard was it to track her?
She smelled like she made her home on Bubba Gump’s fucking shrimp trawler!
Licking her lips, her eyes traveled from my head to my toes and back again before saying, “I only see you and me here. So I would say my timing couldn’t be any better.”
My timer – the one that rang like the fucking Bells of Saint Mary when I was done with bullshit – went off with her words.
Pressing the intercom that fed directly into Chow’s earpiece, I calmly said, “Clean up in aisle six.”
And then I ripped her head from her shoulders.
And then I was swallowed up by darkness.
Before my eyes even opened, I’d known she was there.
More than from her warm flesh still pressed against my own, I knew it from our bond.
It was so much stronger.
And yet it wasn’t strong enough.
So when my eyes finally did open, they locked onto her sleeping face. My head felt scrambled – similar to when she’d banged hers against the shipping container – and it was while I was trying to sort through everything that her eyes opened.
I wasn’t sure why I had addressed her so formerly. Perhaps it was because it was as though I was seeing her for the first time all over again and my lips automatically repeated the same words I had said to her then. But feeling her hope flicker out. Feeling the devastation swallowing her up from the inside, I was momentarily distracted from my thoughts, once again impressed when she showed none of it on her face as she simply returned, “Mr. Northman.”
Her stomach rolled. Her hands shook. Her eyes filled up with unshed tears.
Just like the first time she’d woken up in my home.
But this time I didn’t ignore it.
This time I couldn’t ignore it.
Because whereas before I’d been angry. Hurt. When I had only suspected I had been falling in love with her.
Now I knew.
I knew I loved her.
And I remembered every other time she’d woken up in my house since then.
But I was still irrationally angry and hurt now.
That she could think my feelings for her were brought on by some fucking black magic mutt!
She gasped when I covered her body with my own, but even now, she felt no fear.
That alone should have dispelled any doubts she had about my feelings for her.
But my sad little lover was still in the dark.
She still thought I couldn’t remember.
So I enlightened her by looking into her eyes and saying, “You’re an idiot.”
I had my own sense of style.
“Thanks?” she whispered, now looking more confused than sad.
It was a start.
She looked even more confused when I leaned down and gave her chaste kiss, but she didn’t try to push me away. And the confusion gave way to understanding when I explained, “You’re an idiot for thinking some magical cuntcoction was behind my feelings for you. I love you Sookie Stackhouse. I may have forgotten who I was for a time, but I never forgot that.”
Although I wasn’t fool enough to believe, had it not been for that bitch’s interference, we would be where we were now.
She may have forgiven me by then.
She may have even been in my bed.
But without having lost every memory I had but the love I had for her, Sookie wouldn’t have known the softer side of me. The one without walls or defenses firmly in place. The one that had kept me alive for a thousand years.
Not so easily or so quickly.
As I was then, I wouldn’t have allowed it.
It would have been yet another error on my part.
“But…but…” she stuttered. “Octavia said! She said you wouldn’t remember!”
Her sorrow had given way to hope, but her doubt still lingered. So I smiled and showed her with my words I remembered all of me by asking, “When will you learn? You can only ever be certain I am always right.”
My playful words seemed to put her at ease, so she playfully huffed, “And don’t forget arrogant.”
“And handsome,” I added.
“And bigheaded,” she smirked.
“Oh yes,” I agreed. And remembering just how well my big head fit into her tantalizingly taunting mouth, I pressed my hips to hers and said, “I seem to recall, you like my big head very much.”
“Is that so?” she mocked, raising both her hips and a challenging brow. “Are you sure now? Your memory isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.”
Reassuring her more than my memory had returned, I returned her hips’ movement with my own so she could feel the effect she had on me and said, “I’m sure.”
She fought to keep her eyes from rolling into the back of her head, just as she fought to remain coherent and asked, “You really remember? Everything?”
Peppering her jaw with kisses, unable to stop myself from acting the sap, I assured her, “I do.”
And because I was a sap and wanted hear her reaffirm her feelings for me, I reminded her by saying, “And you love me too.”
Her eyes misted over and her voice dropped to a whisper, while she held my gaze and returned, “I do.”
Her tears were yet another thing I could remember and even if they were due to her happiness, I could think of better ways to make her happy.
Ways to make both of us happy.
So I allowed my hands to move about freely, with one inching her shirt up while the other went to work on ridding her of her pants and reminded her of something else I could remember.
“Now what were you saying? Something about this is where the magic happens?”
“Are you sure you want to?” she asked, with her laugh turning into a moan when my lips trailed across her skin. In spite of her words, her disrobing hands mimicked my own, while she added, “What if you’re still not in your right mind?”
“Who are you to judge?” I countered, nipping at her skin. “You are obviously the crazy one in this pairing for denying us both for all of this time.” Pulling back to look into her eyes, I let my incredulousness shine through them as I added, “How could you possibly have believed I would have been angry if we’d had sex once my memories returned? The only anger I would’ve felt would’ve been if I couldn’t remember it.”
She shrugged her shoulders and used my raised position to her advantage by removing my shirt, only saying, “How was I supposed to know? I can’t read your mind.”
I hadn’t forgotten about her useful gift either. But I couldn’t care less about that at the moment.
Not when her lips blazed a trail across my bare chest.
Each of us seemed to have decided the conversation was over with for now. Just like my tolerance for her half-clothed state because in the next moment I ripped them free from her body. I hadn’t yet seen her completely nude, but only one word came to mind.
I couldn’t decide where to taste her first, so I let my instincts decide, with my lips choosing her breasts and my hands selecting points farther south. The scent of her arousal permeated the air, only driving my hunger for her that much more, with the sound of my fangs snapping down echoing into the air around us.
While I was still marveling over her acceptance of my true nature, my lover wasn’t as indecisive about what she wanted and freed me of my denim constraints, with her hand wrapping around my cock. Shimmying her hips into position and pumping me twice, she put me at her entrance. With her lust beating against my own, she leaned up and licked each of my fangs in turn, causing a moan to leave my throat. Victory flowed through her, pleased with the reaction she’d caused. But rather than give voice to that, she only smiled knowingly and said, “I think we’ve practiced enough. Put me in coach.”
I could deny her nothing. Certainly not this. And she was right.
We’d been engaging in some form of foreplay from the moment she’d walked into my life.
And if I had my way, we’d have an eternity to play.
But like every other, that discussion could wait as well and I kissed her lips, sinking into her depths at the same time as I replied, “As you wish.”
Matchy matchy as always, we gasped in unison at the sensation.
Of me filling her.
Of her surrounding me.
Suspecting it would be beyond my wildest dreams was nothing compared to the truth of how it felt to finally be connected to her in that way. But it wasn’t the physical sensation that overwhelmed me.
It was the emotional connection.
I’d bedded thousands in my lifetime. Men and women alike. But not one did I love.
Therefore there were none to prepare me for the likes of her.
Her hips began to move just as it was becoming unbearable for me to not move. And with every thrust of my body into hers – with every beat of her heart filling me with the love she had for me – so too did I drown in her. Letting it wash over me. Filling me up until I was sure I would burst from the intensity of it.
I felt the same.
But knowing she would be unable to feel it and wanting to be connected to her in every way, I held the back of her head and brought her lips to my neck. Scraping her own with my fangs, I said, “Bite me lover. Drink me in so we can be one for always.”
There was no hesitation.
There was no doubt.
There was only our matching bites into one another’s skin.
The explosion of our newly formed bond caused our bodies to explode as well. It was unavoidable.
It was magnificent.
And together we rode the cresting waves and aftershocks of our mutual orgasms, each of us feeling complete in a way I never knew possible.
When the last tremors died down, I gently disengaged from her warm depths and moved beside her, pulling her into my arms.
“I feel you,” she mused aloud, tracing invisible patterns across my chest.
So I ran my hand down her back and – like an ass – I cupped her spectacular ass and teased, “I feel you too.”
Snorting, she slapped my chest and playfully chastised, “Dirty old man.” I felt the light bulb go off above her head in the next moment, just as she raised it and asked, “How old are you anyway?”
“I was turned roughly a thousand years ago.”
Shock filled her veins, just as she let her head fall back to my chest, and she nervously chuckled out, “I’m gonna need a minute. Your turn. Anything you want to know?”
Since she asked…
Telepathy and fairy godmothers be damned.
Tipping her chin so her eyes would meet my own, I gave voice to the one question that had been on my mind since before I’d lost my memories.
“Who is Betty?”