“Sookie! Sorry to call you so early but I need a favor.”
Awareness bleeding into her, she sat up rubbing her eyes and asked, “Sam? Is everything okay?”
“Yeah … Cher, everything's fine … I … uh … I just gotta go out of town for awhile and I'm not certain when I'll get back. I was wondering if you could look after the bar for me? Take care of the books and make sure the food and liquor orders come in on time … you know, just keep everything on the up and up until I get back?”
Dragging a hand through her bed hair, Sookie thought for a moment. 'I have my deal with Eric but I can make this work. Sam's done so much for me, I can't turn my back on him now. I'll talk to Eric, and make him understand that I have to do this.' She nodded to herself and replied decisively, “Yeah Sam, I can do that. I have plans for a few nights during the week, but I can get most of the work done during the day, and have Tara lock up on those nights. Is everything okay, though? Where are you going?”
Sam hesitated. “Everything is fine, Sookie, I just have some personal business to take care off. I'll be back soon. But hey … you said you needed off yesterday and that you'd talk to me about it today. Do you want to tell me now? I'm leaving as soon as I get off the phone with you, but if it's important, I can stick around for another day or so.”
Sookie debated whether to tell Sam about what had happened to Bill and the arrangement she'd made with Eric because of it. 'No. He sounds stressed, and I don't want to add to that.' Hating the lie, she said, “It's not that important. We can talk about it after you get back. Try to check in from time to time, okay? And remember you can call me if you need me.”
“Thanks, Sook. That means a lot to me. I locked my office and the key is under the register. Keep it, since it's a spare. I left instructions on my desk with the numbers of everyone you might need to talk to. I left messages with all my vendors that you were in charge in my absence, so you shouldn't have any trouble with orders or the deliveries. All the paperwork and account information are in the safe, and the combination is 5-2-25. I'll call when I can, and thanks for this, Sook.”
“No problem. Bye, Sam. Be safe.”
“Same to you, Cher.”
When Sam hung up, Sookie looked at the clock and saw it was a little after 6am, and decided she'd better get up and start her day. Sam usually opened the Merlotte's around 10:30am and she wanted to get there early to familiarize herself. She took a nice long shower to ease her muscles before heading downstairs in her robe to eat breakfast. At 8am as she was about to walk out the door in her Merlotte's uniform, someone knocked. Not expecting anyone, she decided it was probably Eric's day man again to deliver the new contract she was supposed to look over. Opening the door, she was greeted by a large, balding gentleman in glasses.
“Hello. Can I help you?”
“Miss Stackhouse, I presume?”
“I am Mr. Cataliades, Mr. Northman's attorney," he said in a surprisingly melodious voice as he extended his hand to shake. Sookie's small hand was engulfed in his as he vigorously shook it, smiling. He stood 6' tall and resembled the Michelin tire man, his body a series of circles, the biggest being his belly.
"He called me last night and informed me the previous contract I'd drawn up for him was not to your liking, and that we were to renegotiate today. He's informed me of your wishes, and I've made another draft. Mr. Northman did, however, mention you'd want to look over it again, and possibly make some additional changes. He's informed me of his requirements and authorized me to negotiate on his behalf.”
She was getting an odd buzz off the man, a static sort of vibe that told her the person before her was some sort of supernatural creature. Made sense if he was representing Eric. He wasn't a vampire but what was he? She wanted to ask but politeness kept her from doing so.
“Oh … oh no … well, you see, something has come up, and I have to go into work today and I'll probably be there all day.”
“That is a problem. Mr. Northman made it very clear that this was of the utmost importance and had to be completed today. He also led me to believe you had already agreed to this negotiation.” The man peered at her through small round dark eyes behind thick black frames. He was dressed in a black suit and tie laying against a crisp white shirt. His black shoes gleamed of polish. He looked more like a funeral director than a lawyer, Sookie thought.
Sookie worried her lip between her teeth before replying, “I … well, I did, sort of, I guess … but, well like I said, something's come up, and I have to go into work.”
Mr. Cataliades hesitated significantly, “Well, I guess that leaves me only one option. I'll leave the contract with you, and hopefully you'll have time to look over it today and make note of any issues you have with the terms. If you can do this before sunset, just fax it to the number on the top, and I'll make a final draft to have ready for Mr. Northman this evening. Otherwise, when the sun sets, I'll have to call Mr. Northman, and tell him you were delayed today, and have the contract still. What happens after that will be between the two of you.”
“I guess that will be okay.”
Mr. Cataliades was silent for a moment before offering, “If I may Miss Stackhouse … I've known Mr. Northman for several centuries and—”
Offering her an indulgent smile, Mr. Cataliades replied, “Indeed. As I was saying, I've known Mr. Northman for several centuries, and he does not take kindly to others going back on their word to him. As you agreed to this negotiation, I would suggest, if it is at all possible, you try to help me get this contract signed before sunset.”
Sookie nodded, “I know how difficult Eric can be, and I understand why you'd caution me. I wish I could promise to be available to you before sunset, but I just can't. As I said, something unexpected has come up and someone very dear to me has asked me for help. I can't, in all good conscience, turn my back on them. I will try to make time to look over the contract and fax it to you before sunset, but I make no promises. If you speak with Eric before I do, please tell him I've very sorry, and I'll explain everything as soon as I can.”
Handing her the folder containing the new contract, Mr. Cataliades nodded. “Very well, my dear. I guess that is the best option we have. I hope whatever calls you away so suddenly turns out well.”
“Thank you, sir.” Taking the folder, Sookie watched him turn and head down her porch to return to his Mercedes in her drive. When he was gone, she opened the folder and flipped through it a bit. This contract was even longer than the last, and she knew she'd have to go over it with a fine-tooth comb to be sure Eric wasn't scamming her, but she really didn't have the time. Tucking the folder under her arm, she headed for her car to start her day.
Unfortunately, her day went from bad to worse. She'd used the time before the bar opened to go over Sam's list of instructions and to familiarize herself with his computer, the business programs, the record books, and to make necessary phone calls. Everyone but Arlene arrived at 10am on the dot ready to start the day, and Sookie filled them in on what was going on. Tara said she was good at working the bar solo, and Terry said he could handle the kitchen if Lafayette needed to assist her at any point. Everyone agreed to pitch in to make sure everything ran smoothly while Sam was gone. Then just 10 minutes before they were scheduled to open, Arlene, who was scheduled to work a double, called to say Toby was sick with the flu, and she couldn't come in. That meant Sookie was going to have to take her shift, and wouldn't have time to look over her contract. She put it with the list of instructions Sam had left her and locked it in the safe, praying she'd get time to look it over before sunset.
From there, it was one problem after another. Sookie was working the floor with the new waitress who was brought in to replace Daphne who had replaced Amy who had replaced Dawn. Regrettably, the girl was a total klutz, and Sookie spent more time cleaning up her messes than waiting her own tables. She also spent a good deal of time on the phone with the meat and seafood vendor who was insisting that he'd had a deal with Sam to pay $30 more a crate on crawfish, and Sookie insisting right back that Sam had left no note saying as much and therefore she couldn't sign off on the invoice without verification. With the mad pace, she made no notice of the sun setting. She did, however, notice a very angry Eric striding into the bar. Everyone noticed, in fact. Just like last time he'd shown up, all conversation stilled. All eyes turned to look at him. She'd been taking her brother and his friends their orders when the 6'5 Viking walked in, and she promptly lost her train of thought. The only thing in her mind was, 'Oh shit.'
When Eric had risen that night, he had expected to find the completed contract on his desk at Fangtasia waiting only for his signature. He expected to only need to see what compromises he'd authorized Mr. Cataliades to make before signing so that Mr. Cataliades could then log the finished contract with the Council. He wanted to get Sookie under his formal protection as soon as possible. For some reason, his instincts were railing at him and making him feel like this was very necessary, and he had not survived this long by ignoring his instincts.
However, what had greeted him instead was a message taken by Ginger from Mr. Cataliades saying that Sookie had informed him something had come up and she had been unable to see to the negotiations as she'd agreed to. He had been less than pleased. He'd called his day man Bobby and asked if he'd delivered the packages he'd ordered for Sookie and Bobby had told him he'd arrived at Sookie's house at 10am to find her gone, and waited there until 1pm, but she had never returned. Bobby told him he'd left the packages on her doorstep before leaving to attend to Eric's other errands for him. This further aggravated Eric, and he'd hung up on Bobby. He'd then proceeded to call Sookie's house and cell phone, but got no answer. Frustration gave way to anger. He'd told Pam to take care of the bar for the evening as he had a wayward telepath to yank back in line. Pam had simply grinned. So now here he stood in full Fangtasia regalia as he scanned the bar for the object of his ire. His eyes settling on her form near the back by her idiot brother, he scowled and crossed the room toward her.
Sookie watched as Eric made his way towards her and swallowed the rising panic in her chest. There was something menacing in his approach. As always, he looked savagely handsome. His long legs were encased in black leather pants and matching boots and he wore a red silk shirt that sat well on his wide shoulders. It was opened to the 4th button revealing his toned chest. Before she had time to strengthen her shields, she heard some of the thoughts of quite a few women (and even a man or two) in the bar, and they were all wondering where to find a man like that. “Uh … Eric … I was going to call ....”
Coming to stand in front of her, he clasped his hands behind his back. He quirked an eyebrow, narrowed his eyes and said tersely, “Indeed?”
Looking around and noticing their audience, she leaned around Eric and looked at Tara nervously, “Tara will you help wait tables and have Lafayette man the bar for a bit? I just have to take care of this real quick.” Not waiting for Tara's response, Sookie slid carefully to step around Eric and started to lead him to the office when Jason's voice stopped her.
Recognizing Eric and seeing the tense scene before him, Jason decided to step in, “Everything alright, Sook?”
Amused by the boy, Eric's eyes glittered menacingly, “And if it were not, what would you do?”
She saw Jason prepare to stand and she noticed peripherally some of the other patrons getting restless, namely the drunk and Neanderthal rowdies back by the pool table. Sookie grabbed Eric's hand and tugged gently as she looked at her brother and replied soothingly, “Everything's fine, Jason … I just need to talk to Eric about something. Business. Go back to your drinks. Tara will have your food up in a bit.” Turning pleading eyes to Eric, she begged him silently not to make a further scene.
A small, satisfied smile settled on his lips. Deciding to humor her, Eric let her lead him out of the main bar area towards the cramped office of the shifter in the back. When she'd shut the door behind them, he advanced on her and backed her up against it, so their bodies were mere inches apart. Blue eyes watchful, he demanded, “Explain. Now.”
Taking a deep breath, Sookie leaned her head all the way back to hold his steely gaze. “Sam called early this morning. Something urgent came up and he asked me to look after the bar while he's gone. He's done so much for me over the years, I couldn't say no. I tried to look at the contract today, but things just kept going wrong. Our waitresses seem to keep dying off lately, so right now there are only three of us. Arlene called in because her son is sick, and Holly is new and hasn't gotten the hang of it yet. I've been swamped. I've never had to deal with managing a bar before, and, well … I got behind. I'm really sorry. I meant to call you, but I just never found the time.”
Eric was silent as he regarded her. Through their growing bond, he could sense she was not lying. “I told you any issues with the shifter you were to work out on your own. I made it very clear this contract was important.”
This was neither the time nor place for this argument. Feeling her own annoyance rising, as she'd been running ragged all day and had been through a rough couple of days as well, Sookie pushed against his chest and seethed, “What do you want from me, Eric?! I'm trying, okay? I'm trying to make everything work! Sam is the only boss I've had that hasn't fired me for being a freak or tried to take advantage of me and he's always been there when I needed him so I couldn't leave him hanging. I'm trying to get through this thing with you so you'll help me find Bill, and you're being a total jerk about it! My whole life has changed in the past few days and I'm doing the best I can!”
Feeling her emotional turmoil through the bond, Eric decided not to punish her for her tone. “I will forgive you this one transgression. However, from this point forward, when you give your word to me you will keep it. As for your problems with the waitress staff, I shall send over two waitresses from Fangtasia to help you until you have found suitable replacements.”
“Do not interrupt me,” Eric told her sharply. She winced at his tone. He continued more evenly, “As this was unexpected for you, I will give you tonight to get things in order. Before you retire for the evening, you are to call me and give me your schedule for tomorrow so that I can send Mr. Cataliades to you to look over and make revisions to the contract. Tomorrow night I will send a car for you, and you will come to Fangtasia so we may both sign the finalized version, and you may begin reading my employees before scanning the bar patrons again. Do you understand?”
“Uh … well … I'm not sure what time I'll get out of here tonight. Fangtasia might be closed by then.”
His eyes dropped from her face to the swell of her breasts beneath her Merlotte shirt. Eric replied, “I had several packages delivered to you today. My day man left them on your porch. In one of these packages is a work phone. You are to keep it on you at all times, but especially at night. My numbers are programmed in it, including my cell. Call me on that from now on.”
She ignored the sudden prickle of heat his eyes engendered. She was not going down that path! She clung to her shock and irritation. “What else did you send me? I'm not your pet, and I don't want you giving me things I don't need.”
“I'll decide what you need and don't need, little one,” Eric replied, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her against his chest. Burying his head in her hair, he ignored her struggles to push away from him and murmured, “I wish I could taste you, my sweet, but neither of us has the time. I will speak to you later tonight.” Placing a soft kiss on her temple, he released her and was out of the office before she could even think to yell at him for his forwardness.
Sookie took a moment to regain her senses before muttering, “Jerk!” and swiping her forehead clear of the traces of his mouth. Leaving the office, she headed back towards the bar area to resume her seemingly never ending duties tonight. Of course, the moment she was within sight, everyone looked her way for some sort of explanation as to what that had all been about. Annoyance bubbling up to the surface, she glared at everyone in a sweeping motion and said, “Mind your own business!” The rest of the night passed in a blur, and she swore when Sam returned she'd tell him how much more she appreciated him, because it was obvious there was more to his job than cleaning glasses and barking out orders.
When she was finally done for the night, it was nearing 5am and she was practically dead on her feet. It had taken her hours to get the nightly totals done. She really wasn't familiar with the bookkeeping program, and Sam's records and shorthand had been damn near unreadable to boot. She'd gone back and forth with Sam's notations, ascertaining 1s from 7s and 3s from 5s and then 4s from 9s, making errors in the tally, huffing when the numbers didn't add up and adjusting until they did. His pigeon-scratch made the job grueling and more than once she swore under her breath.
Making her way home, she groaned when she found the tower of boxes on her front porch. Dragging them all inside, she grabbed the smallest and prayed it held the cell phone because she honestly didn't think she'd have it in her to dig through them all tonight.
Opening the box, she sent a quick thanks to God when the shiny new red Blackberry met her eyes, but, when she turned it on, she damn near snarled to see the background image. Eric had taken a photo of himself naked and set it as her default background. 'Well that's changing first thing tomorrow,' she thought, doing her best to ignore anything south of his border. Deciding he was just that arrogant, she pressed the 2 button and held it down. As expected, the phone setting popped up on the screen and showed that it was dialing Eric's cell.
“Hello, my lover. Did you enjoy opening your packages?”
“Hardly. I just got home and grabbed the smallest, figuring the phone had to be in it. I'll open the others tomorrow when my eyes aren't burning.”
Lying on the bed in one of his safe houses where he took his nightly conquests, Eric pushed the head of the new Fangtasia waitress back down on his cock. He had several of these houses scattered in and around Shreveport and used them for his nightly romps with whichever woman or women was lucky enough to receive his attentions for the night-that is, if he wanted more than a quick fuck in his office. He never took anyone to his true home where he returned once he was done with his entertainment for the evening. Pam was the only one who knew where he lived, but soon that would change. Very shortly, Sookie would be by his side and would live with him and know where he rested as well.
He glared at the girl slurping on his cock and held up a warning finger to shush her. When he'd greeted Sookie as 'my lover' she had made a noise of protest and he didn't appreciate it. She was here to serve one purpose and one purpose only. Snapping his fingers to indicate she should continue her attentions to his manhood, he said to Sookie, “You said you would work late, but I did not expect you to work till nearly five. If you had that many problems, you should have called. I could have sent you a waitress tonight to lighten your load.”
“It wasn't the customers that were the problem, it was the paperwork. I've never had to do anything like that before, and apparently Sam isn't the best bookkeeper, but I'm really tired and don't want to talk more than I have to tonight, Eric. All I want to do is sleep. You said to call, so I'm calling.”
Grinning at her feistiness despite how tired she obviously felt, Eric said, “Yes. So what are your plans for tomorrow?”
“I was going to work the lunch and early dinner shifts so that I will be able to go to Fangtasia afterwards. I have to be at Merlotte's by 10am in order to do that, so you can have Mr. Cataliades come here at 8pm for us to go over the contract.”
The girl working on his cock began to trail her hands up his abdomen. He grabbed her by the hair and shoved her off the bed as he would apparently be on the phone with Sookie longer than expected and didn't want to be distracted. Besides, he had not given the girl leave to touch anything other than his dick. “That would give you only a few hours of sleep, and you are already exhausted from the past few days. You will sleep until 10am and open the bar an hour later than normal. I will have Mr. Cataliades come to the bar tomorrow night and we can finalize the contract together at that time. I will have you begin reading my employees your next scheduled shift.”
Feeling too exhausted to debate, she acknowledged, “I'm too tired to argue with you, and sleep sounds like the most beautiful thing in the world.”
Chuckling he replied, “I might have to keep you tired if it makes you this compliant.”
“You would say something like that, wouldn't you?” Sookie grimaced with exasperation, running a flustered hand through her hair. “Is there anything else?”
“That was the only matter of business I had to discuss with you this evening. Several of the packages I sent contain more clothing for you to wear to Fangtasia, so be sure you leave the shifter's bar early enough to change. As I said before, I will send a car for you at 8pm. I will leave you to your sleep.”
“Thank you. Good night, Eric.”
“Good night. Oh and Sookie ….”
Grinning madly, Eric watched the waitress he had shoved to the floor slinking around the bed to grovel at his side pathetically as he asked, “Did you enjoy your screensaver?”
Laughing, he tossed his phone on the nightstand and said, “Get back to work. You have not lived up to your earlier boasts this evening, and if you ever hope to be my meal and entertainment for the night again, you'd better improve your performance.”
Smiling seductively at her Master, Richelle began alternately licking and kissing her way up his legs as she purred, “I will please you, Master. I swear it.” She was determined he would forget the name Sookie Stackhouse by the end of the evening.
“We shall see.”
Back in Bon Temps, Sookie stumbled into her room and set her alarm clock for 9:30am. A small defiance to Eric. That would give her time to get up, take a quick shower, and get to the bar just a tad late. She could eat something there and who cared if she sported wet hair? Some of the bar patrons could certainly take a hint from her bathing habits and apply it to their own lacking hygiene in her opinion. With the alarm set, she fell into bed and drifted off to sleep.
The next day went by much smoother as she got into the rhythm of the work. As promised, Ginger and another girl Sookie hadn't met before, arrived at 1pm to work until closing, and despite not liking Eric's highhanded manner, she was grateful for the help. They informed her that Eric was paying them to work there and all they required was to be assigned a section. She was uncomfortable with the not-paying -them-on-the-Merlotte's-payroll part, but decided she'd fix that later. She set them up with their stations and they started work easily. When Tara arrived at 3pm, she talked to her about locking up for the night as she had prior plans for the evening, and her friend assured her she could handle it. Sookie knew she'd have to come in earlier the next day to tally the day's earnings since she wouldn't be closing herself, but she didn't think it would be so hard now that she had a grasp on Sam's bookkeeping method and what passed for his handwriting. With everything set, and Tara swearing she would close up for the night and be sure to lock everything, Sookie headed home around 5:30pm.
She decided to take another quick shower to get the grime of the day off her. After blow drying her hair, she slipped on a robe and headed for the living room to go through the packages. She noticed a sealed envelope taped to one of the boxes. She figured it would be more instructions from Eric and it was best to start with that before she opened anything else.
She pulled it from the box, tore it open and slid out a check and a tri-folded letter. Glancing at the check, did a double take as her eyes read and then reread again the amount. $25,000. It was a personal check from Eric and she couldn't understand what it was for. Shaking her head in confusion, she opened the letter and read:
You went above and beyond in Dallas, and, as such, I decided you deserved a bonus on top of what was promised in our agreement.
I have sent several chargers as well as a backup battery to accompany your work phone, and therefore I expect you never to be unavailable without just cause. You are to carry it with you at all times.
More clothing has been provided for you to wear when you are to work at Fangtasia. Hopefully they are better suited to your taste than the leather. Remember the dress code is nonnegotiable.
Everything I have sent is necessary to your position in my retinue though some of it you will not need now. You are to keep them handy, regardless.
See you soon, lover.
Scowling, Sookie set it and the check aside. She would not be accepting the extra $15,000. They agreed on ten and that's what he would pay her. She'd insist on it. With that set in mind, she began opening the packages. Two of the boxes contained dresses much like the one she'd worn her first shift at Fangtasia. All were obviously expensive, and each straddled the line of inappropriateness without actually crossing it. Two of the boxes held matching shoes, purses and accessories for the dresses. Opening another box, her breath snagged in her chest as she was met with the sight of dozens of different lingerie sets to go with each outfit. Slamming the lid shut, she tossed that box aside and moved on to the next. The last box contained a softside zippered computer case with a brand new Apple laptop inside.
In one of the pockets were several credit cards with her name on them and a note from Eric that said she was to use them when she was working for him and had expenses. Powering up the laptop, she was accosted once more with the sight of yet another photo of a naked Eric as her wallpaper. The bastard. She immediately changed it to a neutral one of oceanic blues, and made a mental note to change the one on her phone as soon as possible.
She tried to talk herself out of taking any of this from Eric, but the only things she felt would stand up in an argument with the vampire sheriff were the lingerie, which she would definitely and emphatically be returning, and the laptop. She really couldn't see what she'd need it for. The clothing she'd already agreed to, and she might very well need use of the credit cards in the future since she was working for Eric now. Considering this, she picked out one of the little black dresses, matching shoes and purse but forwent any of the jewelry. She dressed quickly before gathering up everything she intended to return to Eric and stacking it by the door. She put her new phone in her purse along with her old one. Heading into the kitchen, she ate a few pieces of toast, carefully leaning over the sink, so as not to get any crumbs on her dress, and then waited for her ride to arrive. At 8pm, there was a knock on her door and she opened it to find Chow standing there.
Inclining his head, he replied, “Miss Stackhouse. You are ready, I take it?”
“Yes. I just have to get these boxes. Will there be room in your car?”
Sookie picked up the large box of lingerie, shouldered the computer case, and stuffed the check into her purse before following Chow towards the black Lincoln Navigator in her driveway. The ride was made in silence, but Sookie was grateful for the quiet. She took the time to change the screensaver on the phone and erased the one Eric set from the phone's memory. Chow didn't drive as fast as Eric and Pam so they arrived at Fangtasia just at 9pm. She was somewhat annoyed that he hadn't offered to help her with all of her packages, but was quickly learning that vampires extended no courtesy towards humans they had no personal interest in. Just as Pam had, Chow took her in through the front entrance and she was treated to another healthy dose of scornful thoughts from the fangbangers forced to wait in line. Chow pointed towards the back, and said tonelessly, “The Master is waiting for you in his office,” before he headed for the bar to resume his duties.
Sookie made her way towards Eric's office, ignoring the stares of the fangbangers and the glares of those who remembered her and disliked how the Master seemed to favor her. Reaching Eric's office, she shifted the box and laptop to free up her hand to knock on the closed door as her manners demanded of her, and waited for him to tell her to come in. When he did, she found him sitting behind his desk with Mr. Cataliades in a chair that had been moved before it.
“Sookie … I see you come bearing gifts of your own,” Eric said drolly as he watched his pet enter.
Sookie shot Eric an icy glare before smiling at Mr. Cataliades and saying, “It's a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Cataliades. I'm sorry I didn't have time to meet with you yesterday.”
“That's quite alright, my dear. I understand how things come up. Do you need help with any of that?”
“No, thank you. These are just some things I need to return to Eric,” Sookie replied, with another meaningful glare at Eric. “I'll discuss it with him after we handle our business.”
“Very well then, shall we proceed?”
Sookie nodded and set the box and laptop down on Eric's couch before taking a seat in the empty chair that had been placed in front of Eric's desk. Over the next hour and a half, Sookie and Eric negotiated the terms of her contract with Mr. Cataliades, making the appropriate changes on his laptop. When they had both agreed on the finalized version, Mr. Cataliades printed off three copies from the portable printer he'd brought with him. Turning to her, he asked, “Now, Eric assures me you understand that this is a binding contract that will officially make you a part of his personal retinue. In the eyes of vampire society, you will be considered under his personal protection. Do you realize this, Miss Stackhouse?”
Why was he was asking her this? Concern crossed her face and she shifted uncomfortably, glancing at Eric whose face was a blank canvas. She thought the contract was pretty clear. She met Mr. Cataliades' careful gaze and nodded, “Yes, I understand.”
For his part, Eric could barely contain himself. He knew that Sookie didn't truly comprehend what she was agreeing to, but Mr. Cataliades didn't know that. What his lawyer was getting at was that Eric wasn't securing Sookie as an asset for Area 5, but for himself personally. She would be a part of his personal retinue and not what he presided over as sheriff. This meant if he ever left Louisiana, she would still belong to him and him alone. Mr. Cataliades was the most respected demon lawyer in North America, and truthfully, in the world. Any contract he drew up would be recognized the world over, and few would dare try to contest it. This contract would give him complete rights over Sookie for the rest of her life or until he released her … which was never going to happen.
Shaking his head with obvious confusion as to why she would allow such a thing, Mr. Cataliades added his signature to all three copies before handing them to Eric and Sookie to add their own. When all the required signatures were there, he gave each of them a copy before taking the final one and putting it in his briefcase. As he packed up his computer and portable printer he said, “Very well. Our business is completed. I shall send the finalized contract to the council for official recognition. Mr. Northman, you should receive verification of the logging of your new asset within a week. Congratulations, and the best to the both of you.” With that, Mr. Cataliades left the two of them in the office.
When he was gone, Sookie looked at Eric and asked, “What was that about 'asset'?”
Waving his hand dismissively, he replied, “I know it offends you, but in my world, humans are categorized as the useful and the non-useful. The non-useful are nothing more than meals and entertainment, those that are useful and officially recognized are called assets. By signing this contract with me, you have become my asset. It is merely a title. Think no more on it. Now, what have you brought me?”
Deciding to let the whole 'asset' thing go, she moved to pick up the box from the couch and handed it to him. “You had to know I wouldn't accept something like this!”
Opening the lid, he smiled as he casually glanced at some of the lingerie sets he'd picked out for her within. “I'd certainly hoped, though. Why will you not accept them? You took the clothing.”
“I took the clothing because they're my uniform, as you so delicately put it. Those, however, are not necessary. No one can see them, and I won't take them.”
Setting the box down beside him Eric said, “Soon you will accept such gifts from me.”
Eric's face wore a sardonic smile as he waved his hand imperiously and said, “Continue.”
Indicating the computer case, she said, “I don't know what you want me to have a laptop for. What could I possibly need it for? I've never had a computer and don't really think I need one.”
“There are many reasons you might need a laptop. You may not need it now but eventually you will. I wish you to have it on hand now, and to familiarize yourself with it and its programs so that when you do need it you can use it.”
Sookie was silent for a moment before finally agreeing, “Okay. I guess that will work.”
“Did you enjoy the desktops? I made it and the one on your phone special for you,” Eric crooned with a leer.
She glared at him. “I erased them both. You can keep your special desktops to yourself!”
Laughing, Eric shook his head and continued, “Is that all?”
“No, one more thing.” She reached into her purse and pulled out the check. “I won't take this. We agreed on $10,000.00, not $25,000.00. Write a new one.”
Looking at the check she'd placed on his desk, Eric leaned back in his chair. “You did an excellent job in Dallas, and, as you yourself pointed out, ended up walking into a trap because of me. In my opinion, you have earned the bonus. What you did for me regarding Godric, in the end, warrants the added amount. Every tear you shed for him on that roof top is worth thousands to me.”
Her eyes misted as she remembered sharing the final moments with the great vampire. She couldn't hide the melancholy in her voice. “I didn't do that for you, and I didn't do it for money. I did it for Godric. He deserved not to be alone in the end. I've never met anyone more worthy of my tears … and they can't be bought. I won't take this.”
Pain briefly crossed his features and he was silent for a moment before nodding. “I don't understand you, Sookie, but I find I'm enjoying that about you. Your reasoning on this matter impresses me … and pleases me. Most humans would not turn down this money. For that, I respect you all the more. I will write you a new one and give it to you at the end of the night. Now, are you ready to entertain the vermin?”
Sookie sighed audibly as she stood and headed out of the office to follow Eric down the hall. She took her seat beside him on the dais and began the process of lowering her shields. Almost immediately she was bombarded with thoughts that were directed right at her. Not only were many of the fangbangers thinking cruel and vicious things about her for once again sitting right beside Eric, but Richelle, the waitress from before, was quite clearly broadcasting images her way of her sexcapades with Eric the night before.
Rolling her eyes, she looked at Eric and snarled, “You know you could have let me leave you a message. You didn't have to stop. That was just rude.”
Eric cocked a brow at her and replied, “Meaning?”
Slanting her eyes towards Richelle, Sookie continued, “And you didn't have to be so mean to her, either. For a self proclaimed Casanova, one would think you'd know that shoving a girl off a bed isn't exactly romantic. I'd have kicked you where the sun don't shine and stormed out to let you take care of yourself. Guess her standards aren't as high, though.”
Throwing his head back, he roared with unadulterated laughter. He finished, caught Sookie's scowl and burst out laughing again. Every head in the bar turned to look at him, including Pam who was standing inside the door checking IDs. She had never heard her Master laugh like that before, and was curious what the human had said to him to get that kind of reaction. All of the fangbangers were clearly startled, and again their jealousy pointedly fixed on Sookie as the cause.
When he finally had control of himself, Eric gave her a stunning smile and said, “You truly please me, Sookie.”
Sookie returned her attention to the bar patrons, a small smirk on her own face. She let her shields open so that she could take in the thoughts of those around her while Eric busied himself on his phone. She noticed that he spent most of his time on it, and seemed content to let the people around him bask in his “greatness”. He apparently thought that they should be grateful for his mere presence, and that his attention wasn't necessary. After about thirty minutes, she heard her phone buzzing in her purse and took it out. Seeing she had a text message she clicked on it and rolled her eyes at the sender. Really, she should have known who it was from since she'd just gotten the phone yesterday.
ERIC: Want to go into my office for a quickie?
Looking at him and seeing his mischievous leer, she said, “You didn't really think I'd say yes, did you?”
“I'll wear you down eventually.”
“The Grand Canyon wore down faster than I will.”
His smile broadening, Eric replied, “We'll see.” He so enjoyed a challenge.
Shaking her head, she went back to listening. Twenty minutes later, there was another buzz. She debated ignoring it, but knew he'd simply send another and another until she got so annoyed she had to respond. She pulled out the phone once more and clicked on it to retrieve the message.
ERIC: Since you returned the undergarments I bought you, may I ask what color are the ones you're wearing?
Shooting him an icy glare, she opted for a silent response and ignored him. Ten minutes passed. Buzz.
ERIC: Are they red? I like red on you the best.
“Will you stop! You wanted me here to work so let me.”
Sending a heart stopping smile her way, Eric replied, “You are a bright creature, Sookie. I have no doubt you are quite capable of multitasking. Besides, I reserve the right to continue my seduction of you at any time I choose.”
“Seduction? Please! This is harassment.”
“Oh, I have yet to harass you, my darling Sookie.”
Grimacing, she turned away from him, and again focused on the crowd. Twenty minutes passed. Buzz.
ERIC: Are you wearing a thong? I prefer boy shorts, but I'd like to see you in a thong as well.
“Oh my Lord! You have no shame!”
“None. So? Inquiring minds want to know.”
Deciding to give as good as she was getting, Sookie smirked at him and leaned forward conspiratorially to whisper in his ear, “Keep wondering, boss. Sadly for you, I have a strict policy on employer and employee relationships, and, as such, my morals and code of conduct prevent me from ever letting you find out. Too bad for you.”
When she leaned back, Eric growled, “You play with fire, Sookie.”
“We'll see who gets burned first.”
They lapsed into silence again and another hour passed before the buzzing started again.
ERIC: You're off tomorrow night, so I won't technically be your boss. How about a peek then?
This time, Sookie turned her phone off and made sure Eric saw her do it. The rest of the night passed uneventfully. Sookie picked up that one of the bar patrons was using a stolen credit card, and that one of the fangbangers had gotten in with a fake ID, but other than that, things were quiet. At around 1am, Eric decided she'd found all she was going to find tonight, and told her he'd drive her home. They went to his office where he wrote her a new check, and, once she'd retrieved her computer case, they headed out. Sookie was tired and dreading the coming blood exchange, while Eric was damn near giddy. He had something special planned for tonight. Slanting his eyes at Sookie's body next to him, he thought, 'This will certainly be interesting.'