I barely registered the sound of kitty Sam’s screech, just as he jumped from the bed, when I’d screamed out and sat up, having woken myself from my nightmare.
As I tried to calm down, I could see on Eric’s charging cell phone it was just after four in the afternoon. So I brushed back the hair that was plastered to my damp forehead – knowing there was no way I’d be going back to sleep anytime soon, now that my heart felt like it was going to beat its way out of my chest – while I tried to erase the disturbing images from my mind of Jason killing Gran.
No matter how he’d acted the night before, I knew he couldn’t have done that to her.
But seeing him had scared me. Not because he’d hit me, but because he was hardly recognizable as the brother I’d last seen – in my mind at least – only a couple of months ago.
His beautiful blond hair was gone, now shaved close to his head. And while he’d always been tan from being on the road crew, his skin was darker.
Just like the rest of him seemed to be.
He’d never been a slouch when it came to keeping himself in shape, but now he had muscles only hours spent lifting weights – or a year of hard labor – could form.
But the biggest change of all had been everything else that lied underneath what the eye could see.
I normally did my best to keep my shields up around my friends and family out of respect to them, but I was so emotional seeing him again that it had been impossible to shield myself from his thoughts.
Eric had been right when he said Jason wasn’t the same man I’d been forced to leave behind because where he’d once been laidback and a friend to everybody, now his thoughts were like a massive swarm of angry bees.
He was full of hatred and venom and every despicable thing imaginable towards all things vampires.
And – because I hadn’t denied his accusations – full of hatred toward me too.
The pain seared through my body, as I fell back down onto the bed and gasped out a sob, feeling as though Jason had died too.
Just like Gran.
But, I supposed – in a way – the brother I knew was dead.
That didn’t mean I would give up on him – on trying to figure out some way to help him. But even I could see that no matter what happened in the future, he would never be the same again.
I mourned the loss of what I no longer had – of who he no longer was and would never again be.
I gasped again – only in surprise this time – feeling Eric’s arms wrap around me, as he pulled me back into his chest and shushed my soft cries, while asking, “What is wrong lover?”
The fact he seemed at least partially awake was enough to startle me out of my grief a little, so I ignored his question and asked, “How are you up?”
We hadn’t even exchanged blood the night before. In fact, he hadn’t fed on me at all, but I knew it would still be a little while until sundown.
“I felt your pain,” he murmured against my neck and repeated, “What is wrong?”
“I…” I started, but couldn’t bring myself to say I felt like my brother had died.
That I had no family left or how I was all alone. So the tears running from my eyes had to do the talking for me.
I started to wonder who the telepath in the bed really was, when Eric moved his body on top of mine and gently kissed my tears away, saying, “You are not alone. You have me.”
I might have even questioned him about his potential telepathic abilities, if his lips weren’t suddenly on mine. But instead of feeling the passion and lust that normally came from him when we kissed, I only felt his concern and need to comfort me.
They were the same things I’d felt in droves, coming from him the night before and I doubted I would’ve been able to get through it at all had he not been there with me.
I’d come to need him more than I could’ve ever imagined and if there was anything I could ever thank Niall for, it would be for leaving me with Eric.
He’d been there for me when I didn’t think I was strong enough to go on without Gran.
He’d tried to give me my brother back in the only way he could, when neither one of us knew he was already gone too.
The only person left in my life I wouldn’t be able to stand losing was Eric himself because in the short time I’d come to know him, he’d become my rock to lean on.
His was the voice of reason my conscience didn’t always want, but needed, to hear.
He was the one I’d always felt safest with even when logically I shouldn’t have.
Eric was the only person who’d ever made me feel cherished unconditionally in every way.
Even now, I could feel his need to make me feel better and in that moment I didn’t want to feel the pain anymore. But he’d already given me so much.
Could I ask him to take the pain away too, even if only for just a little while?
Physical comfort was never something I’d been able to enjoy, not without enduring the harsh repercussions that came from touching someone else so that their mind was wide open to me. So being able to relax in Eric’s embrace was both new and old at the same time.
Just being able to touch someone without being bombarded by their thoughts was still a novelty, but while his thoughts were still mostly silent to me, what I had been able to hear so far only brought me comfort.
But the strangest thing of all was how natural it felt being with him, like I’d known him my whole life, and was probably what had given me the courage to never back down from him.
Even when I probably should have.
Now he was like a soft warm blanket I could pull tight around my body to keep out the cold, despite the cool temperature of his skin or the hard planes of his body.
He was like my childhood teddy bear that I would hug with all of my strength, when the thunder boomed across the night sky, and never uttered one word of complaint.
He was like walking into the kitchen to the smell of Gran’s apple pie cooling on the counter after a long hard day and knowing there was no better remedy for whatever ailed you.
Eric was like home.
My hands wove into his long blond hair, as I deepened our still somewhat chaste kiss because I needed to feel his body surround mine to keep out the cold harsh reality I was now facing.
I needed to hug him with everything I had because I knew he would protect me from the storm I could feel coming our way, without one word of complaint.
But most of all, I knew he could make the hurt go away and just wanted to feel like I was home again.
I could feel the telltale signs that Eric’s body was responding to my touch and his fangs snapped down, when my hands wandered further south. So I raked my tongue across one just hard enough to draw a small amount of blood, earning a growl from him.
The vibration of it reverberated through my body and my legs automatically wrapped around his hips, but I whimpered when he pulled away and hoarsely asked, “Sookie?”
Hearing him call me Sookie wasn’t a good sign, when what I really needed was for him to call me lover.
I needed to feel like his lover for the distraction from everything else I was desperately trying not to feel.
And what better way than to let him show me what a thousand years’ worth of sexual experience felt like.
I’d never imagined myself begging a man to take my virginity, but in this case I’d do almost anything to hide from my pain, so I whispered, “Please Eric? I just…I just want to feel something else besides sad.”
So when he seemed hesitant, I pulled his lips back to mine and pleaded, “Make me feel something else.”
No matter how much we’d touched one another or how often we seemed to find ourselves naked together, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him exactly what I wanted.
But I thought Eric seemed to take the hint, when he tenderly kissed me back before pulling away again and with his lips pressed to mine, he whispered, “No lover.”
The sting of rejection ran through me as quickly as the sting of tears burned in my eyes.
But the man was a walking contradiction because his emotions were suddenly flooded with warmth and affection, as he left what felt like a thousand kisses across my face.
And when he was done, he looked down into my eyes and said, “I want you more than I have ever wanted anything or anyone. You can feel my words are true.”
He was right.
But that didn’t mean his rejection hurt any less, which I guessed was the reason for his sighed out admission of, “While I look forward to the day you might find it within you to truly give yourself to me, I will not take your innocence from you under these circumstances. It is a gift that can only be given once, lover, and you deserve better than to toss it away so freely. If you choose to be with me, I want it to be because it is what you want, not because you don’t want to be sad.”
I wanted to yell and scream at him.
To run away from the hurt I already felt and the shame slowly creeping up on me.
But it would seem – no matter the situation – Eric would always be my voice of reason.
And I knew deep down he was right.
I was certain that Eric would be my choice when the time was right, but the longer I laid there underneath his intense gaze, the more horrible I felt for having tried to use him in that way.
I was no better than any of the other women who constantly threw themselves at him, wanting nothing more than the pleasure he could give them.
But looking up into his eyes I was taken aback by how much emotion they held and I knew all of it was for me.
I didn’t feel like I deserved him for what I’d almost done – what I would have done had he not stopped me – but all I could say was, “I’m sorry.”
A small smile played on his lips before he playfully rubbed noses with me and said, “Lover, you have no need to apologize to me. Trust me when I say it was a hard refusal to make.”
He’d punctuated that statement by bearing his hips down on top of mine, so I could feel exactly how hard it was.
And feeling like a contradiction myself, I smacked his arm and playfully scowled at him, while I chided, “You’re filthy!”
I was sure he could feel that I loved every minute of it, but his next words and heated stare did far more damage to my willpower in keeping my chastity intact, when he said, “I hope I can show you one day soon just how filthy we can get. And then I’ll show you how much filthier our shower can be afterward.”
Well, if he’d been aiming to make me feel something other than sad without even touching me, he was doing a mighty fine job of it.
And his soft growl told me he could feel it too, but it only made my longing worse.
If it could be called worse.
So I was left surprised, when he got out of bed and sped into his closet, before coming back out in another pair of track pants that hid nothing.
“Where are you going?” I asked dumbfounded, by many things considering I couldn’t think straight.
“Chivalry is not a quality I have much practice in lover, therefore it would be better for me to get up for the evening now before you inadvertently make a liar out of me.”
Before I could teasingly ask if it was due to a fear of his pants possibly catching on fire, he held his hand out to me, saying, “Come. We will do your scans and pin code, so that you may leave the room during the day when you wish, and then I will catch up on what I can of the work I missed yesterday, while you get something to eat.”
I’d been so wrapped up in my own drama I didn’t even think about everything Eric must have put on hold to spend the entire evening with me.
So I quickly got out of bed, while apologizing, “I’m so sorry Eric. I know you have better things to do than deal with my problems.”
“Nonsense lover,” he said, while taking my right hand and scanning my pointer finger before having me enter in a ten digit number I would remember.
It wasn’t very original, but I used the day, month, and year of my birthday and tacked on 1000 at the end for his age. I figured if somehow somebody had a need to hack the code, it would be the least of my worries because they likely would have already removed my finger, needing that as well.
Of course Eric saw what my code was and I could feel the amusement in him, but he didn’t say anything as I followed him into the living area to find something to snack on.
There were slim pickings, since there was nothing more than a microwave to cook with and Eric must have felt my hunger and indifference to what there was to eat because he said, “Pam will take you to eat something more substantial when she rises or you can tell her what you would like and it will be brought here.”
I nodded my agreement and picked up an apple, when it dawned on me that he hadn’t eaten anything either.
So I turned to him and shyly asked, “Umm…are you…hungry? We can…you know…”
I remembered all too well how good it felt when he’d fed on me before, but then I’d fed on him too. And even though I knew I wasn’t in the right mindset to even think about permanently bonding to him, I couldn’t deny the urge I had to take his blood again.
I knew V was addictive and hoped I wasn’t in danger of becoming an addict, but when I took a moment to analyze my feelings, I realized it wasn’t really his blood I was craving.
It was him that I wanted.
Eric must have felt the jolt of lust that shot through me because he was in front of me a second later and claimed my lips in a kiss that left me breathless, when he pulled away and said, “I am always hungry for you lover, but I will wait until we return later on this evening.”
His eyes darkened as he added, “If I feed from you now I will likely not get any work done.”
I didn’t have to ask why because I knew darn good and well how we’d likely spend the rest of the night.
So I just nodded and stuck the apple in my mouth before I ended up jumping on the man and begging him to pillage me.
While Eric went off to his office to take care of whatever work had piled up from the night before, I went back into my room to take a shower and change. But as I selected an outfit to wear for the night I wondered if I shouldn’t just move my things into his room.
After hesitating for a moment I decided it would be too presumptuous of me to do it on my own, without Eric mentioning it first, so I just went about getting cleaned up.
By the time I went back out into the living area Pam was already up and sitting on the couch. But seeing what she was wearing made me giggle and ask, “Is it your birthday?”
She was wearing a plastic tiara covered in rhinestones and glitter meant for a child.
And it honestly didn’t really look out of place, since she kind of reminded me of an Alice in Wonderland.
Only with fangs.
But she didn’t even look up from the magazine she was flipping through, as she smiled at my question and answered, “Since Eric is too busy being your Prince Charming, I feel it is my right to assume the throne and become Queen, now that he’s been leaving all of the work of running the kingdom to me. This is my warning to him that a takeover is imminent.”
Then she glanced up at me and grinned, “It is also a warning that I will be using his money to have a real tiara made, if he doesn’t shape up.”
It never occurred to me that Pam would be left doing everything in Eric’s absence and I sat down next to her, feeling completely awful, while I apologized, “I’m so sorry, Pam. It’s my fault that you’ve had so much extra work.”
“I don’t mind, Sookie,” she smiled, putting the magazine down and meeting my eyes. “Honestly, Eric has been festering inside for a while now and it only got worse once he had to assume the mantle of being King. But since you’ve been here he’s been like a giddy schoolgirl that just got asked to the prom by the captain of the football team.”
Then appraising me with her eyes, she added, “You – my little friend – are like the medication human women take, when they are cranky and bloated every month.”
Nodding, to emphasize the conviction of her beliefs, she stated, “You are Vamprin.”
“Pam!” I snickered, feeling my skin heating up in embarrassment. “What would Eric say if he heard you?”
She stood up and shrugged her indifference, just as Eric walked back into the room, and answered for her by saying, “I would say Pam is in danger of having the pet fish she doesn’t want to take care of.”
I knew I was missing something, thanks to the scowl on Pam’s face and the glee I could feel coming from Eric.
But before I could ask, he turned to her and said, “You will accompany Sookie, so that she may have a more substantial meal. Have the cooks prepare whatever she would like to be stored here that can be heated up in the microwave.”
He then turned to me and added, “I must attend to some business in my office, but you may join me when you are ready.”
I didn’t know how to act now that there was something more to whatever it was we were to each other and wondered if I should kiss him goodbye or tell him to have a nice day – or night – at work.
But he took the guessing away by sweeping me into his arms and giving me a kiss that ended way too soon and left me breathless before striding from the room.
I forgot all about Pam standing there a witness to it all, until I heard her say, “See?”
So when I could see straight again and looked over at her, she emphatically stated, “Vamprin.”
Shaking my head at her silliness, my skin flushed hot at her next words when she added, “I would guess that you are due to have your monthly soon, so in return Eric could be your Tampax. Your Vampax.”
Then elbowing me, like I wasn’t seconds away from succumbing to a case of the vapors, she snickered, “Two body parts of his in particular come to mind that he could use.”
“Pam!” I flushed bright red – which only made her chuckle – while I started towards the door and deflected with, “How do you even know about those things? Vampires don’t get their… their monthly, do they?”
“No,” she replied, not hiding her delight.
Whether or not it was due to my embarrassment or the fact she didn’t have those issues, I didn’t know.
“Our bodies are frozen in a type of suspended animation when we are turned and unable to sustain life as we once could while still human,” she explained.
But before I could feel any kind of relief she might have given up on turning me into walking, talking tomato, she Eric-eyed me and provocatively purred out, “Vampire cannot reproduce in the old fashioned way, but we do enjoy trying.”
Pam was always good for informing me of the ways of vampires – in the most embarrassing way possible – but I knew they weren’t normally so forthcoming.
I liked that she was with me, even if I was in a near constant shade of crimson around her.
When we got to the dining room I was surprised to not recognize even one of the donors we came across.
In fact, every last one of them were blond – with ample bosoms – and I must have scowled, when my jealousy reared up because Pam was quick to say, “I chose them. Eric no longer has need for the donors, but I still have a need to tease him.”
That actually made perfect sense to me – knowing her as I did – and I felt foolish for being jealous at all, considering Eric hadn’t given me any reason to be.
But as we were sitting there, with me enjoying the best steak I could ever remember having, I was entertained by watching Pam scowling at everyone that passed us by. All of them were giving her strange looks, with small smiles on their lips, and I had a hard time not laughing out loud since I could hear what made them so tickled.
I was nearly done eating when I decided to step in because Pam scared one of the palace staff by hissing at the poor guy when he’d only grinned at her.
So I put my fork down and made sure my mouth was free of food before asking with a smirk, “Forget something?”
“What do you mean?” she asked confused.
I grinned back at her, with my eyes flicking up to the top of her head, and she hissed again, ripping the tiara from her head, while I tried to not fall out of my chair from laughing so hard.
If I didn’t think Eric would lose his mind, I would’ve held out my wrist and offered her a dose of Vamprin.
But instead I just ducked, when she threw her plastic crown across the room, while I tried to catch my breath.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” she snarled at me, but I could see her lips fighting off a smile.
So I pursed my own lips, while trying to muster up a single ounce of sympathy to no avail, and said, “But you looked so pretty.”
“Bitch,” she muttered under her breath.
“Takes one to know one,” I smiled back at her and went back to finishing my meal.
When I was done eating I made up a list of some simple meals I could keep down in Eric’s chambers and then we walked together to Eric’s office.
Pam was completely stoic and fierce looking whenever we passed anyone, but as soon as they were out of sight she would playfully knock her hips into mine, while giving me grief for not telling her she looked like a guest at Renesmee Cullen’s birthday party.
If anything, she was only giving me ideas that involved her and glitter.
But we both straightened up when we walked into Eric’s office and saw he wasn’t alone.
I could tell by her shadowy mind that she was at least part demon, but I had a difficult time trying to decipher her thoughts because it seemed like her mental voice was one long stream of words, with no breaks in between them.
And even though she was standing completely still, it still felt like she was vibrating.
All of it went hand in hand with her busy patterned clothing, so as a whole she made me dizzy.
But Pam immediately moved me to stand behind Eric’s desk, while acknowledging the girl standing there with a nod and greeting her with, “Diantha.”
The girl silently nodded in return, but her eyes stayed on me, until the sound of Eric’s voice drew her gaze to him when he said, “Inform your uncle I will meet with him in person.”
“Thankyouyourmajesty,” poured from her lips, as she bowed quickly and sped from the room.
As soon as we were alone Pam said, “I thought he was dead.”
“It would seem rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated,” he replied thoughtfully.
Eric must have felt my confusion because he turned to me and offered, “Desmond Cataliades, the lawyer whom I told you about yesterday. It was assumed he’d perished in the bombing in Rhodes, but the lack of his corpse meant nothing at the time, as he would’ve been removed and disposed of by his kind. Demons do not decompose and his body would have had to have been burned. But it was the lack of his manifestation following the bombing – and absence of any denials from those close to him – that led us to believe his existence was no more.”
Eric sighed, which he seemed to be doing a lot lately, and pulled me down into his lap, adding, “He heard of your sudden reappearance into this world at my coronation and has asked to speak with me concerning you.”
“But why?” I half-whined half-grumbled.
I’d never been more popular in my life and I’d never wanted it less.
I had enough problems going on lately and the last thing I needed was having anything more added onto them.
“We will find out together tomorrow evening lover, but have no fear,” he soothed. “I do not believe Cataliades to be a danger to you, but we will remain prepared for anything.”
Everything from his voice to his emotions projected nothing but reassurance, but I still couldn’t help feeling a little nervous, considering what I’d overheard from the other demon the night of Eric’s coronation, so I asked, “Who was the demon from that night?”
“He is an associate of Cataliades’ brother-in-law, Simon Maimonides,” he replied, with narrowed eyes. “However, they maintained separate law practices from one another, so while Maimonides might remain suspect due to his association, I believe Cataliades’ regard for your fairy kin makes him less dubious when it comes to your welfare.”
Well, at least one of us was confident because I didn’t know the man from Adam. But I trusted Eric unconditionally and knew he wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen to me.
I was still curious about my fairy heritage now that he’d confirmed it for me, so I asked, “Have you heard from Niall?”
Preston was still a wildcard as far as I was concerned, but I wondered if he’d be willing to answer a few questions I had.
If anything, I would be able to tell if he was lying to me and when Eric shook his head in response, I said, “Maybe I should go and talk to Preston again. He might know what the demons want with me.”
Eric’s body stiffened underneath me – and not in a good way – while I heard Pam mutter, “Oh, here we go,” just as Eric seemed to find his voice by snarling, “No!”
Since all I could get from his emotions was raging jealousy, without a hint of concern for my safety, I knew what his issue was and said, “I have a feeling why you’re against this, but you’re being ridiculous!”
“Ridiculous?” he scoffed and then scowled, “He is the one who is ridiculous! He thinks you are his!”
“And Pam thinks I’m the cure to your Vampire Menstrual Syndrome,” I scowled back and then scoffed, “So bite me and get over it because I think it’s a good idea!”
We continued to glare at one another until Pam broke the hostile silence between us, by saying, “Dear Abby says couples must learn to compromise in order for their relationship to flourish.”
She waited until two sets of blue glares drilled into her to add, “Might I suggest you both wait to hear what Cataliades has to say tomorrow evening and if he cannot provide you with all of the answers you seek, then Sookie can question her fairy fan afterward.”
When neither one of us conceded to her admittedly sound rationale – because really, we were each as stubborn as the day was long – she turned to Eric and said, “But if you’re not willing to take up Sookie on her offer, I do feel a bit bloated and a little peckish, so do you mind if I do? I have a feeling I’d quite enjoy taking my medicine.”
My cheeks heated up, knowing exactly what she was implying, but I couldn’t stop my lips from forming into a grin seeing Eric’s obvious distaste at the thought of her feeding – among other things – from me.
But it was enough for him to finally relax underneath me and say, “Sookie and I will wait to see what Cataliades has to say and go from there. But I offer no promises, other than if you continue to provoke me Pamela, you will need to purchase yourself some fish food for your new pet.”
I didn’t understand what the big deal was over having a pet goldfish and was about to ask, when there was a knock on the door.
Knowing he needed to look kingly and not cuddly, I got up off of Eric’s lap and moved to the couch, while Pam moved to open the door where she greeted the vampire I couldn’t see – but could sense – on the other side.
What kind of vampire would be named Bubba?