A few hours before sunset, Eric rose from the dead and made his way out of his bedroom. He strode through his underground lair naked. Living in Louisiana, with most of the state being low basin, he had paid a fortune to have an entire underground level built in his house. It was protected by some of the most sophisticated technology and magical safeguards available. You didn't get to be as old as he was without learning to take precautions. The walls were two feet thick solid steel with an inch of silver and another of iron. No vampires or fairies would be getting in. There was an escape hatch, and the door only opened through a retinal scan and keyed security code. It ran on a backup power source so that if anyone tampered with the electricity mains he could still make use of it.
No one had ever been to his house but Pam and a witch he'd brought here on a single occasion. He'd even gone so far as to blindfold the witch and fly her around Shreveport to confuse her before bringing her here to cast an anti-dust spell on the entire house. This way, other than the small messes he made, he had no need of a maid. As long as he picked up after himself, his house always stayed spotless. It was an easy accomplishment since he didn't eat, and he took his clothes to a laundry service once a week. Of course, once Sookie moved in with him the house might get a tad bit messier. Yet, from what he'd seen of her own house, she was an excellent housekeeper so he didn't foresee problems.
Taking a seat at his office desk, he turned on the computer. He liked being able to rise so early. Since he oversaw most of his business via the Internet and only met with his daytime managers twice a month, it allowed him to have most of his evenings free to enthrall the vermin at Fangtasia or do whatever else he wished. As his computer ran its customary virus scans and powered up, he thought, 'Tonight I wish to spend my evening with Sookie. I wonder if she appreciated the gifts.' He spent the next hour logging into the networks of his various businesses and checking their progress. He made adjustments, alterations and sent out business instructions where necessary. When he had finished all his work he moved his attention to his email.
He had several from Bobby. His day man made it apparent that Sookie had been completely unappreciative of the gifts he had bestowed upon her. Bobby went into great detail about Sookie's reaction, her demanding that everyone leave, and, of course, her calling him a jerk. Eric could easily deduce that his day man did not like Sookie, but he didn't care; Bobby wasn't being paid to approve of his decisions. He was paid to get his wishes done. Which he did, so Eric paid him well.
Bobby's most recent email indicated that Sookie's driveway had been finished, the roof replaced, and the painting would be done by the time Sookie made it home from work. Apparently, much of the house's siding had needed replacing but as Eric had paid for double crews to work, and advised them to have materials handy, they had been able to get most of the work completed on schedule. Bobby stated that the contractor had gotten Sookie's bathroom completely gutted and replaced the water heater with a larger and improved model to handle the water pressure the new bathroom would demand. He also said that they would have to hold off installing the tub and shower features Eric had selected because the piping in the bathroom needed replacing. The contractor had assured Bobby it would only put them a day behind schedule. Sookie's bathroom would be finished in two days' time and ready for use. Bobby also mentioned that the package Eric had asked to be delivered in his final email early this morning before he'd died for the day, had arrived as well and was waiting for Sookie.
Smiling at the efficiency his money bought, Eric sent a reply telling Bobby he had done a good job, and to ensure that everything was taken care of as quickly as possible. He also instructed that he wanted to make sure all the trash from Sookie's house makeover was removed before she got home. After sending that message, he scanned his inbox for any others and smirked as he saw a reply from Sookie. Clicking on it, he wondered what his little vixen had sent him.
SOOKIE: Keep dreaming Viking! If I ever wear that dress for you, it will only be so you can watch me walk OUT of your office in it—leaving you behind to handle your fantasy problem all on your own.Now he was confused as hell. 'Thank you? I expected her to rant at me for trying to buy her as she has accused me of doing before. And she thanks me? By Odin, I will never understand this woman!'
P.S. Thank you.
He was glad that she had accepted his gifts, but he didn't understand why she had without putting up her usual fight. He knew she had a large amount of pride that kept her from accepting anything she saw as charity, and, more important, she had an entrenched human morality that forbid overt displays. He'd figured she would think that accepting such things would make her a kept woman, which she would never tolerate. Shaking his head, Eric stood from his desk and headed for his bathroom. He would make a point of asking her about it this evening. For now, he wanted to shower and get ready. It was only an hour before sunset and he wanted to be ready to leave the moment it did. He'd have time to swing by Fangtasia and sign the payroll before heading to Bon Temps to pick Sookie up, perhaps just a little early.
In Bon Temps, Sookie was pulling onto her driveway and her mouth fell open. 'It's … it's beautiful!' The driveway was a nice splay of interlocking white shiny gravel that she never would have been able to afford. Both sides of the drive were ornamented with designer planters with Gerber Daisies (her favorite flower) and those nice small lanterns that absorbed the sun's rays to power themselves at night. The driveway was beautiful, but it was the house that really captured her attention. Gone was the faded, chipped, dull paint, the battered siding and rotted window casings. The house looked brand new! She could tell that most of the siding had been replaced and a nice new roof shined exultantly in the pink rays of the setting sun. The house was a pearly white with blue trim. It looked spectacular! Her family's ancestral home had never looked so good and tears filled her eyes as she pulled to a stop in front of the house behind Bobby's BMW and thought, 'Oh Gran … I wish you could see it! You'd always dreamed of our home looking like this!'
Getting out of the car, she saw Mr. Burnham making his way down her front porch steps and quickly blinked away the tears in her eyes. “Mr. Burnham, I don't know what to say … the house looks beautiful.”
“Thank my Master. He paid for all of it. I just carried out his orders. All of the outside work is complete. There is, however, a problem in your bathroom. All of the piping has to be replaced so the workmen couldn't get the tub and fixtures installed today. The contractor suggested you get the rest of your plumbing checked soon, but regardless, he'll be back tomorrow and it will take two days tops for your bathroom to be fully functional again. You'll have to use the downstairs one until then. I trust this isn't a problem?”
She nodded. “No it isn't a problem. Uh … how did you get all of this done today? It should have taken a week at least!”
“Mr. Northman paid for multiple crews so that there was never a stop from work. When one group took a break another picked up the slack. He didn't want you inconvenienced. The laborers will return to work on your bathroom at 10am. Mr. Northman wanted you to be able to sleep late.”
When he turned and started to leave she asked, “Um, Mr. Burnham?”
“Did you mention the plumbing problem to Eric?”
'Gold digging whore! Is she not thankful for what he's done already? He gave her a Mercedes, for the love of God, and she's fishing for more!'
Shaking his head, he said stiffly, “I only told him the plumbing in the bathroom needed replacing, and that I saw to it when I sent my email to him this evening.”
She ignored his rude thoughts. “Good. Don't. He'll just fix it for me. But can you please ask the contractor to give me an estimate for how much it would cost to fix the rest of the house and leave his name and number with me? I'd like to see about getting the problem fixed before it becomes a crisis.”
Mr. Burnham stared at her for a moment, clearly surprised, before nodding. “I'll tell him … and I won't mention anything to Mr. Northman. Unless he asks—then I am duty bound to tell him. Also, early this morning, Mr. Northman sent me an email asking to arrange for a package to be delivered. He didn't include it with today's earlier gifts because it was a last minute whim on his part, and, as such, there is no note for me to give you. It is inside waiting on the kitchen table for you.”
“Thank you. I appreciate you not telling him about the plumbing, and I'm sorry I was so rude this morning. I'm—well, I'm not used to this, and it all makes me really uncomfortable.”
Bobby stared, assessing her for a moment longer before turning and leaving. When he was gone, Sookie headed inside. She grimaced as she walked in and saw the faded furniture in the living room, and decided that as soon as she got around to cashing the check Eric had written her for Dallas, she would take Tara and they'd buy some new couches to replace these in the living room. Maybe get a TV as well. The rest of the money would go to paying off some of the bills that had accumulated since Gran had died. Setting her computer case and purse down on the table by the door, she headed into the kitchen to see what Eric had gotten her now.
The large rectangular box awaiting her could only be more clothing. Untying the ribbon and opening it, she gasped at the sight of the dress inside. She lifted it carefully from its tissue to examine it. It was stunning. It wasn't racy or daring like the Fangtasia dresses Eric had bought for her. It was, instead, the kind of dress she'd buy for herself—if she could afford to, and if she'd ever go somewhere nice enough to wear it to.
It was a white strapless cocktail dress with an empire bodice and flared skirt that would cover her knee demurely. A black sash tied around the fitted waist. The dress was layered silk and its top had a shirred overlay that would accentuate Sookie's bustline.
The bottom of the box held elegant black stilettos, and she was confident she would wear the outfit proud tonight. Not for Eric but for her; this was a dress that rivaled the one Bill had bought her the night of his proposal. This was perfection.
Her fingers traced up the delicate shirring and she giddily held it to herself and ran to the bathroom mirror to get a gander at how it would look against her. Yes, perfect. She marveled at Eric's choice. Her eyes danced in the mirror happily as she pivoted left and right examining the skirt's flare.
And then her happiness crashed. As much as she delighted in the sheer loveliness of the dress, she felt a pang in her heart at the knowledge that she was going to be going out on a date tonight with Eric while Bill was imprisoned by Lorena and possibly being tortured. Shame threatened to engulf her.
'No … no!' she averred. 'I'm not going to feel bad. There's nothing I can do about that. I've already done all that I can for him, and it won't do any good for me to feel ashamed of the choices I've made. I'm doing the best that I can. When Bill gets back, he'll just have to understand that.'
Nodding to her mirror self, Sookie walked back into the kitchen and carefully draped the dress over its box. She glanced around the kitchen. It was a little after six and all she'd had to eat today was that piece of toast at breakfast. Things had gotten so hectic at work she just hadn't had time to eat anything. She thought about eating now, checking in with her stomach to see how it was doing. Surprisingly, she didn't feel hungry and chalked it up to her frayed nerves. Her stomach felt tight with them. She didn't want to embarrass herself by throwing up all over Eric and ruining the evening so she decided to forego food. Folding the dress over her arms and grabbing the shoes, she headed upstairs. She would take a shower and do her hair and makeup before dressing.
An hour and a half later, she heard a knock at the front door and went to answer it, carefully managing the stairs in her high heels as she fastened her other earring. The earrings were the only nice pieces of jewelry she had that were her own, and not what she'd inherited after her mom died, and later her grandmother. On her 13th birthday, the day she started her menses strangely enough, they had arrived for her from a distant relative. There had been a simple card that said: “Sookie, you are a light in the dark and will shine brightly always. Love, NB.”
She'd asked her grandmother who NB was, but Gran had simply shook her head and said he was a very distant relation and she would probably never meet him. They were diamond solitaire earrings with small black diamonds dangling down a tiny platinum chain. They were obviously expensive since even Sookie knew that black diamonds were very rare. She had asked her Gran why this NB would get her something so nice if she'd never meet him but Gran had only shook her head again and asked her not to bring it up anymore. Out of respect for her she hadn't, but she couldn't help but store away the mystery and hope for clarification at some later date. She also couldn't help but notice that her Gran would always get a strange, almost troubled look in her eyes if she wore them, so she'd dressed in them on only a few occasions. However, she thought that tonight warranted taking them out of their box and showing them off a little. She'd idly noted that they seemed to fit her dress perfectly.
Opening the door, her mouth gaped to find Eric standing on her porch looking devastatingly gorgeous in an immaculate Armani black pinstriped suit. The suit looked tailor made. No, it looked like it had been poured on, Sookie gulped inwardly. It emphasized his broad shoulders and then tapered to his lean waist. His legs, muscular and taut, went on forever. She felt her mouth go dry. He was holding a solitary white rose. Silently, they both appraised the other. Smiling softly, Sookie said, “You look good in something besides leather and muscle shirts … though I see you just couldn't completely ditch the black.”
Gracing her with a devilish grin, Eric let his eyes travel lazily over her body, lingering on her breasts, slowly moving down to her narrow waist, the flush of her hips and then following the line of her legs down to her shapely ankles above her black stiletto heels. She felt his eyes stripping her clothes away and knew he was enjoying the blush that spread across her cheeks as his eyes rose to meet hers. Her hair was up in a French twist with a few loose curls falling against her lovely swan's neck.
The dress looked stunning on her, as he knew it would, and, just like with all the clothes he bought for her, it emphasized her bountiful cleavage. He dimly noted it did seem to be a tad looser on her than he had envisioned, but his mind dismissed it as he took in her tan skin glowing against the stark white of the silk. He wanted nothing more than to trail his fingers over her bare shoulders, to be followed quickly by his wet tongue and see if she was as impossibly soft as she looked.
He raised his gaze to her eyes. Stepping into the house, he extended the rose towards her, letting it touch her where he couldn't … her collarbone and then drawing it up the warm column of her neck and under her chin to settle against her lips before pulling it away as he leaned in close. Stopping just before their lips met, he inhaled her lush fragrance. He could hear her heart racing as her breath quickened and he whispered, “I'm glad you approve, and while you look ravishing, you could be wearing a wheat sack and still you would have me hard and aching.”
His words shot right to her womb and she felt the muscles there contract responsively. She couldn't think. 'Too close … he's too close! Oh God!' She felt swallowed in heat. Stepping back, and knowing it was a cowardly retreat she said, “Y—you're early.”
Eric said nothing about her retreat, pleased that he was affecting her so much and so soon. Holding the rose out to her, he murmured, “I found I did not want to wait.” He wanted to ask if she liked her gifts, but he was still unconvinced that she wasn't upset about what he'd done. Since he didn't want to upset her and possibly put a damper on their evening, he decided to hold off on asking her reaction to all he'd done. If she brought it up, he'd speak of it, but otherwise, he'd simply send her a text message or email after their night was done to query her.
Accepting the rose, Sookie gave him a small smile of thanks and headed for the kitchen. Her Gran had a tiny vase under the sink for single blooms like this. Pulling out the pruning shears from the drawer near the back door, she quickly retrieved the vase, ran some water from the kitchen sink, filled the vase and gave the rose a diagonal trim under water before placing it into the vase. She could feel him watching her from the doorway and it was making her very self-conscious. She'd had an emotional roller coaster of a day and she honestly didn't know what to feel. On one hand, she was so thankful for the things he'd done today. Yet, on the other she knew that all of this, everything that was happening, was the by-product of him forcing her to do his will. She could admit that she thought he was unbelievably attractive tonight and was making her heart race in a way Bill never had—okay, yes, she could admit that he was attractive any night, happy now?—but she felt guilty for feeling that way. All in all, she was quickly becoming a nervous wreck and didn't know what to do.
As Sookie busied herself with caring for the flower he brought her, Eric opened the bond between them. He could feel the whirl of emotions within her. Excitement, fear, nervousness, attraction, guilt, and a number of other emotions that rushed through her so quickly he had a hard time catching them. One thing was for certain though … she was quickly approaching meltdown.
“Sookie … calm down.”
Taking a deep breath, Sookie set the vase on her kitchen table and turned to face Eric in the doorway. “I don't know what I'm doing here, Eric. I don't know how to feel about all of this. I'm … I'm with Bill and yet I'm going out on a date with you. He's being held captive out there somewhere, and I'm safe here with you, about to go out for the night like nothing is wrong. It … it doesn't seem right.”
He was silent for a moment considering his words carefully before he suggested, “Should you spend every free moment huddled on your bed in fear for him? Should you put your life on hold simply because his Maker has forced him to do so?”
Shaking her head, she replied, “I know what you're saying. I said the same thing to myself earlier. I told myself that I've done all I can for Bill. I can't go out there and track Lorena myself, and, even if I could, I'd stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting through her to get him back. I told myself that I did what I could by calling you and making the arrangement I made … but—”
“But it doesn't make me feel any better. I'm terrified that Bill is going to come back and see all this,” making a sweeping motion with her hand to indicate her house and the front driveway beyond that held her new car. She continued, her voice choked with distress, “And think I sold him out. I'm afraid he's going to learn of what I've agreed to and feel betrayed, and worse, I'm not all that sure he's wrong.”
Shaking his head, Eric said, “You're earlier musings were correct. You have done all you can. You are a human amidst vampire politics. You have absolutely no power or influence. You did take the only option available to you. You called me and bargained. You despair that he will not understand, but what you don't understand about the supernatural community, little one, is that this is what we are. There are no acts of mercy or kindness. It is give and take. That is all we know. We do favors for others for our own benefit because it indebts them to us so we can call for favors in return … not out of the kindness of our hearts. Bill will understand the position you're in because he'll know that making the arrangement you did with me was the only way I would go after him. He won't like it … in fact, he'll hate it, but he will understand it, Sookie. And, I promise you, he'll be far angrier with me than you.”
“Promise?” Her dark eyes were glazed with hope.
His grin revealed white, even teeth. “Promise. Are you ready?”
Nodding, Sookie said, “I just have to get my purse and my phone … where are we going, by the way?”
“You'll find out when we get there. Get your things.”
When she hurried past him to collect her purse and phone, he thought, 'Oh my precious Sookie, your Bill is lost to you. When he returns, he will understand that you didn't sell him out. He'll know that not warning you of what our world was like doomed you to this fate. You did not think to protect you from me because he did not warn you that you need protecting. He did not warn you that nothing is as it seems in our world. Bill will understand that I used his foolishness to steal you from him … forever. He will blame only me … and himself.'
“I'm ready.” Sookie stood by the front door and waited for Eric to join her. It was a warm night so she didn't need a wrap, which was good since she didn't own a nice enough one to go with her dress. She wanted to thank him for what he'd done for her today, but didn't know how to broach the subject. She thought he would ask her how she liked his gifts and thus open the door for her to offer her gratitude, but he'd said nothing. Feeling awkward and confused about how effusive her thanks should be, she decided she'd wait for him, too. She didn't want to bring it up and make him think that gifts carried more weight with her than they did. While the car, clothes, shoes, phone, jewelry and laptop were nice and obviously expensive, it was the paint on her house, the paint that had transformed her home into the dream her Gran had always carried, that had cracked the resolve she held against him involving her heart. She didn't know if that was a good or a bad thing.
Once they were in the car headed towards Shreveport, Eric decided to break the silence between them. “I apologize for last night. As soon as you told me she was your friend, I should have backed off.” He knew he risked raising her ire over what had happened, but he hoped his apology would deter her from being upset with him.
“It's okay. Tara is apparently your champion now.”
Glancing at her he raised a single eyebrow. “How so? I got the impression she doesn't like me.”
“She doesn't, but she made me see ….” Stopping, Sookie could have kicked herself. She didn't want to tell Eric about the conversation she'd had with her friend today. It gave him inroads she didn't want him traveling on.
Sensing her hesitation and her desire to keep something hidden, Eric pressed, “What did she make you see?”
Sookie looked at Eric silently, biting her lip before finally conceding, “That accepting what you'd done for me didn't make me a kept woman. I thought if I took your gifts it would make me a whore, and she talked some sense into me. I … I wanted to thank you for what you did to my Gran's house.”
Startled, Eric asked, “You did not enjoy the car?”
“Oh the car's nice. Too nice, and if you were set on getting me one I would have been just as happy with a Honda, but ….” She could feel tears fill her eyes.
“Go on.” He was clearly confused.
“What you did for my Gran's house was special. She dreamed her whole life of it looking like that. It's been in our family for five generations and I don't think it's ever looked that nice. If she were still alive, she would be very pleased. That was the best gift you've given me. Hands down.”
He was silent for a moment as he contemplated her words. 'She thought nothing of the car. In fact, she said she'd prefer a Honda over the $145,000 car I got her. But a few slats of wood and a couple of coats of paint have her misty eyed? I will never understand this woman.'
His lips quirked in an ironic smile. “You confuse me Sookie. I can honestly say I've never met a woman like you, but I am pleased you enjoy your house more now.”
“Well you've got a few hidden depths yourself, Viking. Anyway, thank you, but—”
“Ah! There it is!” he shouted with a knowing grin.
Startled, Sookie asked, “There what is?”
Smirking, Eric replied, “The stubbornness. You cannot begin to imagine how confused I was to read your email when I rose today. You thanking me? No rebuke for the gifts at all? I was shocked. But here it is. Alright my dear, let me have it.”
Sookie frowned for a half second before bursting out laughing. “Oh God! Eric ….” She laughed so hard tears really did come to her eyes. When she finally had control of herself, she admitted, “I'm tempted to drop the whole thing just to prove you don't know me as well as you think you do, but I can't. I have to tell you that I don't want you buying me something as expensive as that car again. Okay?”
Pleased and thoroughly enjoying the warm throaty rumble of her laughter, Eric shook his head. “I'll make no such promise. You agreed to accept any gifts I buy you until Bill returns. I intend to take advantage of that.”
“Eric, I can't be bought.”
“I'm thoroughly aware of that fact. I already tried.”
Hesitating, but deciding to be forthright, Eric said, “I tried to buy you from Bill.”
“What?!!” Sookie could feel her anger flash white hot and demanded, “Explain.”
“In our world, humans have little value to us. This you know. They are pets at best, cattle at worst. After that first night I met you at Fangtasia I called Bill and asked to buy you from him. I offered him a half million.”
“Nice to know how much you think I'm worth,” Sookie hissed as she crossed her arms under her chest. Any feelings of affection that had been building towards him were quickly evaporating.
“Sookie, I am attempting to be honest with you here. There is more to the story if you will hear it.”
Glaring at him, she could see the serious expression on his face. “Okay. Keep going.”
“First, he was shocked. All know that I do not keep human pets. I never have in all my thousand years. Pam has many, and she knows I disapprove, though she enjoys them … but I digress. Needless to say, when I called him that first time he was beyond shocked. I have to admit I was as well. There has never been a human that has so thoroughly captured my attention. Especially not enough that I would offer to buy them from another vampire. And you have to remember that I've known many women, some of the most famous, exotic and beautiful women in the world. Yet, I wanted you. So I made an offer.”
“If you're looking for me to be flattered, it's not going to work.”
Eric smiled ruefully, “I know. However I want the significance of the action to be known to you.”
“Okay, so it's significant,” she huffed.
“Well, as you can discern, he turned me down. Then came the incident with Longshadow. Of course, it made me want you even more. I made another offer. I offered to do what I did for Jessica on your behalf. I offered to cover up his murder of Longshadow if he gave me you, and I offered him a million dollars as well.”
Now that stumped her. “Bill didn't tell me that. He told me that he had no choice but to face the Magistrate. That you'd refused to let him bargain his way out of it.”
“I'm sure he did.”
Shaking her head, Sookie maintained, “I'm still insulted. Just because you wanted me enough to go to such lengths to get me doesn't make me feel any warmer towards you right now.”
Challenged, Eric countered, “I'm not finished.” He flashed a glance at Sookie and saw her biting her lower lip again. He could feel the intensity of her anger rolling off her in waves. He continued, “It was in Dallas I realized why Bill turned me down so often. It was there that I came to understand.”
“That you can't be bought. You're not something to be given or traded. You're not something that can be taken. You are to be won.”
“Won? Won! Eric, I'm not a prize!” Her ire was spiraling upwards. She tried to suppress a groan of frustration and stared out at the landscape streaking past them caught in the illumination of the car's high beams.
“Aren't you? Sookie, being a prize is a wonderful thing. You are something special. The things you take pleasure in. The things you value. The standards you hold yourself to. The strength of your heart and spirit. Your willingness to see, and more importantly, accept things beyond the norm make you valuable. Being a treasure is not a bad thing. It is great. You are great ... and I am determined to win you.”
Sookie studied Eric intently, 'Treasure? Great? Valuable? Is this good? He makes me sound like a possession … but not. He makes me sound like so much more.'
Her inner feminist was roaring that his words were archaic and domineering, but her heart? Her heart was fluttering madly like some caged bird in her chest. Not even Bill had ever spoken so passionately about her. She didn't know what to say and told him so. “I don't know what to say. I don't know how to feel about that.”
“You can decide that another time. For now, I ask only that you know I mean no insult. I told you this so you would know that what I wanted from you the first time we met, and what I want from you now are two entirely different things.”
“What did you want from me before?”
“I wanted to make you a toy. I would have kept you locked in a cage and taken you out to play with when I wished to take pleasure in you. I would have used your gift in any way I saw fit, regardless of your feelings or morals. You would have been nothing but an object to me.”
Sookie gasped, fear flooding her. “And now?”
Turning to level a heated look at her, Eric let the silence stretch between them. He could not only scent her fear but feel it through their growing bond. “Now? Now I want more.”
She waited for him to say more but after a moment it became apparent that he would not. She decided to let the quiet cover her unease. 'What do I say to that? More? What does he mean by more? He just basically told me that he's not after my body and talent anymore … which I guess I kind of already knew. He's got my talent, and really, if all he wanted was my body, he could have forced me to give in to him by now. He's made it apparent that if he had wanted to he could have taken me as his toy the moment Bill disappeared … but he didn't. He bargained with me and treated me with respect. So what does this mean?'
All she knew for sure was that Eric was apparently here to play to win. Beyond that she'd have to give this some serious thought.
Beside her, Eric felt content. He had taken a big risk telling Sookie all of this, but he felt it was worth it. She'd known from their first meeting that he was interested in her sexually. He wanted her to know that it went beyond that now. He wanted her to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was not only her body and skill he was after, but everything she had to offer. Everything. He wanted her to love him. Completely. Without reservation. He doubted he'd love her as he believed he was incapable of the emotion. He'd been truthful with her in Dallas: he didn't understand the word. What had been between Godric and him was not love in his opinion. It was respect. It was need. It was life. That was all he knew or understood. But he knew that for Sookie, love was everything. Her love was what drove her. The same as life drove him. So he knew in order to own her completely he had to have her love, and he would.
The rest of the ride was made in silence, and when Eric finally parked at their location, Sookie turned to him, eyes wide, and said, “You can't be serious! This is where you're taking me?”
Nodding, Eric was up and out of the car to open her door before she could even undo her seatbelt. He hungrily watched her shift and slide her shapely legs out onto the pavement, their tapered smoothness ending on 4” black heels. She took his extended hand as he helped her stand. She overbalanced for a second, rushing up into his arms, clasping his shoulders, her breasts crushed against the lapels of his jacket as she sought flat ground under her stilettos. She mumbled an embarrassed apology, blushing at the absurdity of it. Moist air gusted across her hairline. In her heels, she reached his chin.
He righted her easily, his eyes darkly caressing the fullness of her breasts. He locked the car behind her, noting her abandoned purse on the seat. Gesturing toward their destination, he asked, “Do you not enjoy places like this? I was led to believe that humans took delight in this kind of thing.”
Not being able to keep the smile from her face or the laughter from her voice, Sookie nodded. “Oh, we do. But, Eric, why did you buy me this dress just to bring me here? We aren't dressed for this place.”
Taking her arm, he pressed it through the crook of his elbow and led her away from the parking lot. “Nonsense. We can wear whatever we want. This place has no dress code that I'm aware of. And I bought you the dress because I like to see you in nice things. Of course, we can go somewhere else if that is your wish. I just thought you would have fun here.”
Laughing freely now, Sookie replied, “Oh I will. I haven't been to a carnival in years!”
Smiling at her obvious pleasure, Eric led her towards the ticket booth. He threw down several hundred dollar bills and scooped up a huge chain of tickets in exchange. He then directed her under the lighted entrance archway into the bustling fairgrounds. He had never been to a carnival before, but when he'd questioned Ginger on what girls liked to do, this had been her first suggestion for a fun and lighthearted date; of course he'd gone and glamoured her to forget the conversation immediately after he'd gotten the information he wanted. He knew in order to win Sookie he'd have to become her friend first. She would not jump into bed with him if he went straight for romance. The slow and gentle approach was best.
Quite a few people were looking at them. Their expensive clothes would naturally draw stares, but Sookie found she was so delighted with Eric's choice tonight she didn't care. “What do you want to do first?”
“I've never been to a carnival, so perhaps you would be better suited to select our first activity.”
Looking around with childlike glee, Sookie thought about going to the games first, but then she remembered what a pain it was to lug around the prizes if you won. She decided that they'd save that for last. Her eyes and nose took in the wafting aromas of the food booths' offerings—Italian sausage, pepper and onion sandwiches, cotton candy, cheese steaks, french fries and beer. In the distance, she could hear the loud calliope music of a merry-go-round. Towering above the tilt-a-whirl and bumper car rides, she spotted a huge Ferris wheel.
Eyes searching, seeking—she grinned, pointing. “Let's go to the funhouse!”
Nodding, he let her lead him towards it. He handed the ticket man the required 10 tickets apiece, flashed his fangs when the man stared too long at Sookie's breasts, and let her lead him inside. Looking around in the dim lights he was amused; Sookie was rapt with excitement; this would be fun. Eric fed on her enjoyment as her small hand encircled his and he let her lead him into a room filled with mirrors. He laughed seeing their figures so foolishly altered. They were stretched and contorted, and they both squirmed in the trick glass before they headed toward a tunnel that was rotating. They watched two teenagers in front of them fall and careen through the tunnel, laughing hysterically. He liked this part even more … Sookie was in stilettos.
Stumbling on the moving surface beneath her feet. Sookie giggled as Eric scooped her up before she could fall and held her tightly to his chest. “I guess I'm not in the right footwear, huh?”
“Gives me an excuse to carry you,” he murmured seductively against her ear and easily navigated the spiraling tunnel. Setting her back on her feet on the other side he smirked down at her, again taking in the sight of the tops of her breasts. He gestured for her to continue. He enjoyed her tinkling laugh as she took his hand and led him forward.
They walked through a myriad of uneven platforms, shifting steps, and rope ladders (the stilettos actually came in handy there) before entering the dark room. The walls were padded and he watched the humans in front of them bumping and stumbling about trying to find the way out. Of course, with his enhanced senses he could see perfectly. “What is the purpose of a room humans cannot see in?” he asked, perplexed by the braying laughter he heard up ahead.
Sookie put her arms out trying to feel her way around. “It's supposed to make us afraid … a little. You know … not knowing what else is in the dark?”
He leaned down to whisper in her ear, grinning. “Like a vampire?”
Sookie giggled and felt him take hold of her hand to steer it to her left. She immediately felt a padded wall and said softly, “Thank you.”
“So you humans are supposed to stumble around in the dark and wonder what is hunting you, eh?”
“Something like that.”
“Then far be it from me to hinder your fun. Step away from me, Sookie. I will count to 100 and you have that much time to find the exit.”
There was no mistaking the erotic timber in his voice. Her heart hammered frantically, responsively. “And when you get to 100?”
His fangs dropping down, Eric replied silkily, “I hunt, and if you have not found the exit, I will claim a kiss. Flee from me, Sookie. I am hunting you.”
Gasping, Sookie stilled only for a beat before focusing. Stepping quickly away from him, she let her hand follow the wall and quickly disappeared around the corner.
Eric watched her go. He could feel the throb of his own excitement mixing with hers through their bond. “One … two … three … four ….”
Further in, Sookie cursed as she ran into a dead end. “Crap!” Turning back around, she backtracked to where she'd turned down this particular hallway. Stepping away from the wall that had been her guide, she walked forward until she felt another wall and followed it in the opposite direction. She turned down another hall that led down another. She was losing track, her fingers flying over the padding as she stopped remembering the direction she was going in. Truthfully, these rooms were not very large and only had a few dead ends, but being robbed of sight slowed anyone down. Anyone who wasn't a vampire, that is. Her heart was racing knowing that somewhere in here, standing in the dark, Eric was counting down. What was even scarier was that when he hit zero he would hunt … her. A part of her admitted she didn't have to run, could stop running—right now. 'No! I'm not going to think like that! Focus, Stackhouse! You can find your way out of a room with only one door! Get a move on!'
Back at the entrance of the dark room, Eric muttered, “ninety-nine … one hundred!” And he was off. With his speed, sight and sense of smell, it took him only seconds to find Sookie. Surprisingly, she had passed several other humans that had started off before her, but were foolish enough to not find a wall to follow. He sidled up behind her and dogged her steps. He did not want to end their game too soon.
With each step she took, Sookie could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up straighter. She'd lost count. Was it close to 100? It had to be. A shiver of fear and anticipation raced down her spine. She could barely breathe. She whispered, “Eric?”
He didn't answer her. He could smell the warm scent of her blood rising to the surface with her excitement. Her instincts were telling her that she was being hunted, but he wanted to tease her for a bit longer.
“Eric? Are you there?” Sookie took another step forward as she felt around her nervously. “Eric?”
He leaned away from her grasping fingers and chuckled inwardly. He could feel the beast inside him rousing. He could feel the desire to pounce building. 'You can feel me. You feel yourself being hunted … yes, my pet … I am here. I am always here.'
Her heart was pounding, her face was flushed. 'He had to have gotten to 100 by now. And there's no way he wouldn't be able to find me. He's here. I know it.'
She called once more. “Eric?”
Answering his siren's call, he wrapped his arms around her waist and jerked her back against his chest as he whispered huskily in her ear, “Caught you.”
Gasping in surprise, Sookie let out a yelp at the sudden feel of Eric's body enfolding her into his. “Eric! You scared me.”
“Indeed … you did not make it, Sookie. I win fair and square.”
“Eric I … I don't know, it's not right.”
“Shh …. it's just a small kiss, and you did lose. There's no one here but you and me.” Turning her in his arms, Eric secured her with one arm around her waist. He knew she would find this easier since she couldn't see him. It would be less difficult for her to take that first step in walking away from her commitment to Bill if she didn't have to look in his eyes as she did it. Taking hold of her chin, he tilted her face up, but he did not claim her lips. Placing a soft kiss on her forehead, he enjoyed the tantalizing feel of her against him. He could feel her quivering in fear and excitement. Lust was barreling across the bond from both ends.
Sookie felt Eric's cool lips press an unexpected kiss against her forehead. When her eyes fluttered closed, she felt his lips kiss each lid softly before trailing kisses down her nose and across her cheeks. He kissed everywhere but her mouth, and with each gentle caress of his lips, her breathing thrummed as electricity bolted between them.
“Eric,” she sighed breathlessly.
“Sookie,” he moaned before settling his mouth over hers. His tongue delved deep as his arms wrapped tighter around her waist to press her luscious body against his own.
She'd been so worked up from trying to get away from him in the dark, her body's senses so heightened from the pitch black around them and his gentle attentions that she couldn't find the willpower to fight him when he finally settled his lips on hers. She found herself pressing against him and opening her mouth, her very will draining away. Her arms snaked around his neck as he bent her back. In the darkness there was no right or wrong. There were no thoughts of Bill. There was only them. The excitement he'd built in her, and the need that was a constant hum of living energy between them. All thought was abandoned as she succumbed to the heat of his embrace.
'She tastes so good, so very good.' Desire raged through him and he was finding it hard to ignore the instinct to throw her to the ground to claim her.
When she could ignore her need for oxygen no longer, Sookie broke away from the kiss and buried her face in his neck, panting. She had never been more grateful for the dark as she trembled in his arms. She was glad he had such a tight hold of her; otherwise she'd fall flat on her ass because she was sure her rubbery legs wouldn't support her.
Eric stroked a hand down her back as he waited for her to calm. He knew anything he said would only ruin the moment so he waited for her to make the first move.
'I have kissed many women, and never has so simple a gesture affected me so. Yes, I was right to begin binding her to me. Once I turn her, we shall share an eternity of passion between us. I know it.'
Sookie still had her face buried in Eric's neck as she finally caught her breath. Not being able to pull away from him and not wanting to, she insisted rawly, “That can't happen again.”
Eric closed his eyes, trying to control his body and what it ached for right now. He was so very hungry. Wanting. Waiting. Understanding that her morals and sense of commitment to Bill were threatening to take her on a one-way guilt trip and destroy their evening, he replied evenly, “It will not … tonight. Beyond that I make no promises. I told you I intend to win you, Sookie. I will not give up the chase. However, for now, I promise there will be no other advances tonight. Enjoy the rest of the evening and have fun with me.”
Nodding, she replied, “O … okay.” She felt him take her hand and lead her out of the dark room of the funhouse. Once they were outside, she took a deep shuddering breath.
She needed to collect herself, she felt so out of control right now. She felt her cheeks burning and could not look him in the face. So, eyes averted, she scanned the immediate area for a fast diversion. “So … how about the bumper cars?”
A couple of hours later, after enjoying all the rides, Eric followed Sookie into the rows of game booths. Now this he knew. Acts of physical prowess or cunning were his specialty. He would win Sookie all of these cheap prizes if it would keep that beautiful smile on her face. Pointing to the game where a prize was won for swinging a hammer on a metal button to ring a bell, he asked, “Do you want a bear?”
Smiling, her eyes dancing with amusement, Sookie shook her head. “That's hardly fair, Eric. You could flick that button with your pinkie and win me that bear.”
His face alighting in a devious grin, Eric replied, “None of these humans have to know that.” Grabbing her hand, he pulled her over to the booth. Taking off his jacket, he handed it to her and handed the man the 20 tickets the game required. According to the rules, if he could get the bell to ring three times in a row, he would win Sookie a bear.
Winking at her, he acted as though it was a chore to heft the hammer and swing it down as he played the game. In the end he stood victorious, and Sookie picked out a tie-dyed fuzzy bear for her to take home.
From there they went to the game where darts had to be thrown at balloons and Sookie insisted she wanted to try and win him something. Eric merely smirked at her, clearly thinking she wouldn't succeed, but what he didn't know was that she didn't grow up in the bayou with a brother and a tomboy as your only friends and not learn to aim. She'd spent many an afternoon throwing rocks at cans. She was also an excellent marksman thanks to Jason's interest in rifles and handguns.
Taking the five darts, she threw the first one and hit, then the second and hit again. She threw the last three in rapid succession and popped balloons each time. As she'd hit every time that meant she won. Turning to look at a stunned Eric, she cocked her brow and asked, “Well are you going to pick your prize or shall I? Just to let you know, if I pick you'll be going home with that rainbow unicorn over there.”
Looking at the wall with all the balloons she'd hit and then back at her triumphant expression, Eric shook his head and grinned. “You continue to surprise me, little one, and I'll take the stuffed dog.”
She shook her head when he offered to buy her some food, and made a face when he suggested some hot out of the fryer powdered donuts instead. She said yes to a styrofoam cup of Coke and sipped it slowly as they strolled through the other game booths until coming to one where you tossed balls into bowls to win a pet Beta. Pulling Sookie over to it, he said, “This one.”
Sookie laughed at his exuberance and watched him toss the balls unerringly one by one into the small bowls until he had won five fish. She cocked an eyebrow at him, though, as if to say, 'What are you going to do with all those fish?'
Eric had strategized and knew exactly what he was going to do. He only wanted one of the fish for Sookie, but he'd seen several children playing the game with their parents previous to his success. All of them were still here and none of them had won. Holding out the five bags of fish, he turned to Sookie and said, “Pick the one you want.” When she picked an iridescent red one he grinned before turning around and approaching the children. Of course they and their happiness meant nothing to him, but he knew that what he was about to do would warm Sookie's tender heart.
“Hello children. I seem to have an abundance of fish. Would any of you care to take them off my hands?”
“Oh please, can I have one?”
Smiling at the four children, he nodded before handing out each of the fish to the boys and girl. “Thank the pretty woman over there. She was my inspiration.”
Behind him, Sookie's eyes sparkled with delight at Eric's gesture. The parents of all the children were smiling as well and she knew they had no idea that Eric was a vampire, and she certainly wasn't telling. When all the children waved at her and yelled thank you, she waved back before watching Eric give them a little salute as he returned to her side. “That was the cutest thing I've ever seen. You're just a big softy when it comes to kids.”
He was not inclined to correct her but carefully hid his smug expression as he took hold of her bear and his new dog and tucked them under one arm while slipping her arm that wasn't holding her Beta through his free one. “And I think that concludes our visit here. Come, let's go to WalMart and get you supplies to take care of your fish and then I shall take you home.”
Gratitude softened her face as she looked at him, nodding. It was after midnight now and by the time they went to the store and got back to Bon Temps, it would be approaching two. “Okay. Thank you for the bear and the fish, Eric. This has been wonderful.”
“You are very welcome. Thank you for the dog. Might I ask where you learned to throw like that? If you had a knife, you would have been deadly.”
“I know how to throw a knife. My brother taught me.”
“Ah, perhaps he is not as much of a nuisance as I thought.”
Sookie laughed, “He has his moments, that's for sure.”
An hour and a half later, Eric pulled up in front of Sookie's house. Holding open her door, he helped her out then helped carry her things into the house. He didn't see her roommate's car and figured she must be closing the bar. It was only a little after two. When she unlocked the door to let them into the house, he set her bear, purse, and bag of fish supplies down on the floor as she stood in front of him holding her fish.
“I had a nice time with you tonight, Sookie. I hope you can say the same.”
Her face was luminous and beatific. “Oh I did, Eric. In fact, I don't remember when I last had so much fun … thank you for this, for everything,” she gushed. “I love the dress," she said, running her fingers over the skirt. "This was a perfect evening.”
His teeth gleamed at Sookie's unintentional insult towards Bill, and he bowed deeply. Taking her free hand, he kissed the inside of her palm. “I'll speak with you soon, little one.” With that he turned to leave, but Sookie's voice stopped him.
“You … uh … you're not going to feed from me? You don't want me to take your blood?”
Turning around, he leaned against the door frame, snaring her gaze, blue on blue. He opened the bond between them and felt an array of emotions tumbling across it from her. Most of them pleased him. Want. Hesitancy. Need. Fear. Regret. Shaking his head, his voice was low and smoky, “No. I will take nothing from you tonight, nor will I give you anything you do not ask for.” He raised a brow as if to ask, 'Well?' When she remained silent and bit her lower lip, he gave her a soft smile. “One day, my precious, you will ask.” Bowing to her again, he turned and left.
As the door closed behind him, Sookie stood there in a stupor. She heard his car start and drive off. She toed her heels off, scrunching her toes happily as her feet hit the hardwood floor.
“Well, if that wasn't a Rhett Butler moment! Jesus Christ, Shepherd of Judea, this is going to be a hell of a lot harder than I thought.”
He had touched her tonight, gotten under her defenses and stirred something hot and bright within her. Holding up her crimson Beta, she whispered, I think I'll call you Eric.” Grinning at her own foolishness, Sookie threaded her straps of her shoes onto her arm, scooped up the bag of her fish supplies and hung it on her forearm so that she could grab her bear as well.
Turning, she made her way upstairs, unable to wipe the smile from her face. The memory of their kiss in the dark gave her goose bumps. 'Perhaps Eric isn't all bad after all.'