His plan was simplified by the death of the family; now he needed no invite to enter the house. After making a quick sweep of the perimeter to ensure that there was nothing he was missing, Sargon deftly made his way into the house. He could hear Sophie-Anne and her children “enjoying” the three females inside, and he put on a flash of speed to bring him to the entrance of the family room. He stood silently, graceful and deadly, surveying the scene before him. The lifeless bodies of the parents and children were strewn about the floor, their blood soaking the carpet and filling the air with a thick coppery perfume. The taint of bile and excrement mixed with the blood; he didn’t have to imagine the last moments of this poor family, it was there for anyone to see. Scattered about the room were Sophie-Anne and her children and Sargon’s eyes narrowed with deadly intent at the sight of them.
His surging rage coiled deep inside him and he fought every impulse that wanted to rush forward and deal the lot of them a painful death. He was reviled by the monstrous tableau. He forced himself to calm, to examine the possibilities that lay before him, to plot and let his fury abate before he acted rashly.
Sophie-Anne was once again sitting in the armchair. She had her hand fisted in the hair of the girl kneeling before her who was being forced to perform oral sex while Jason raped her anally from behind. On the floor, the twins were brutally raping the other two girls who were sobbing and pleading for mercy. It was a disgusting scene, and Sargon again swore to himself he would never allow his Sookie to learn of what her brother had done here. Never. The vampires had been so lost to their lust and enjoyment of the pain they were inflicting they hadn’t noticed his presence. To be fair, though, at his age he moved with far more speed and silence than any vampire they had come across, but it was still time to make his presence known.
All eyes darted to the figure standing in the entrance of the living room. Sophie-Anne’s fangs immediately snapped down as she shoved the girl away from her cunt. She shot up, confrontationally. “Who the fuck are you?”
Around her, her children were quickly abandoning their own play to stand at the ready as well while everyone took in the intruder. Sargon was dressed in black pants and boots with a dark blue silk shirt stretched across his muscular torso. His hair hung in wild ropes about his shoulders, tangled from his hasty flight, and his eyes were lit with a dark and unnatural energy as he stood before them with his own fangs drawn and fists clenched.
He stepped further into the room, and snarled, “You have made many mistakes, Sophie-Anne, in your short pathetic existence, but none so grave as turning my love’s brother and forcing him into such acts of despicable cruelty. I would strike you down now if I hadn’t promised Sookie to do all that I can to save him.”
At the mention of Sookie, the queen stiffened, her eyes narrowing in disbelief.
Casting his eyes about the room to take in the entirety of the carnage around him, Sargon gave a barely perceptible nod as he shook his head in disgust. “In six thousand years I have witnessed this world reshaped time and again, and yet the one thing that always seems to stay the same is the stupidity of vampires like you. Even if I had not come tonight you did not actually believe that your foolish plan to draw Tara out to get to Sookie would have worked, do you?”
At Sophie-Anne’s stunned expression, Sargon glared about the room and taunted, “Honestly, do you really think the Northman doesn’t have precautions in place for something like this? Are you actually stupid enough to believe you could outwit him so easily?”
The tension in the air was a physical animal clawing angrily at her chest, were she human she’d have been gasping for breath. An aura of power radiated off this vampire in front of her, frightening her even as she again unwisely demanded, “Who the fuck are you? How do you know me?”
Sargon’s eyes had gone gunmetal black, his lips drawn tight into a grimace. He snapped his attention to Sophie-Anne’s as his chest rumbled in a snarl, “I am Lord Sargon, last of the true Ancients, wielder of magic, and future High King of this world and all others. As such, I am defender and future consort to someone you are well familiar with. Sookie Stackhouse, my adored queen. And have sworn upon the True Death to do everything I can to protect her.”
Stepping closer to Sophie-Anne, Sargon’s fangs gleamed in the ambient light cast by the lone lamp lit near the wall. He finished, “So I am here to take you and Jason into custody while all magical means to separate the two of you and free him from your control are researched. First, however, I am going to kill your other children while you watch. Northman got Andre, but the twins? They’re all mine.”
Sophie-Anne threw her head back and laughed. “You! Sargon? Please! He is nothing but a myth! At best, a forgotten legend in vampire history! You are delusional! I don’t know who you are, but you’re about to meet the True Death! No one threatens me! Seize him!”
The queen’s children did not have a chance to follow her order as Sargon was already moving. Holding out his hand, he muttered an incantation in an ancient language and a pulse of power radiated out to wash over the four vampires before him. The effect was immediate—they were all immobilized. Different than the freezing spell he’d used at Sookie’s compound before when everyone had been frozen in time and space, this time he only desired to immobilize the bodies of the vampires in front of him. He intended them aware for what was coming next.
Sophie-Anne watched Sargon raise his hand, muttering something so softly even she could not hear it, before a wave of power emanated from his hand. Her head went to follow the arc of power and she discovered she couldn’t move it. Nor turn her neck; in fact, she couldn’t move at all. All she could do was move her mouth and eyes. Panic raced icily through her body. “What have you done?”
Flashing forward to stand directly in front of Sophie-Anne, Sargon leaned down to meet her terrified gaze and growled, “I used my magic to stop you and your children. I want you to stand here, watching helplessly, unable to do a damn thing, as I kill your children. We do not have much time before dawn, so I don’t have the luxury of torturing them in the manner I would like to, but you will watch me destroy them piece by piece. And you will be unable to do anything to stop me.”
He smiled, fire flashing in his dark eyes, before he reached up to stroke a cold finger down Sophie-Anne’s blood smeared cheek. He added in a deadly soft voice, “But be assured, once I get you and Jason secured at my compound, I will spend many of the coming nights punishing you for your actions here as well as the pain you have inflicted on my Sookie. I will wring cries of anguish from you over and over. You will be secured by silver so healing will be impossible. Night after night I will employ unique methodologies to up the ante, and trust me, shortly you will be begging me for your Final Death. But I won’t give it. Not immediately. You will pay for harming my Sookie as you have.”
Sophie-Anne’s eyes filled with fear. “Are you really Sargon?”
Smirking cruelly, Sargon assured, “Indeed. Six thousand years ago my magic revealed to me Sookie’s birth, showing me the greatness of her destiny, and I swore she would be mine. And while I still intend to be High King, my priority now is my Sookie. You have hurt her time and again, and I will make sure you pay a thousand times over for your transgressions against my future mate, queen, and mother to my children.”
When the fallen queen’s eyes widened at the news Sookie would have children, Sargon shook his head and tsked her. “You cannot even begin to imagine how special and unique she is. At this very moment Sookie is carrying the Northman’s son, the boy I will lay claim to and raise as my own once I do away with him and bring Sookie to my side. She will be the mother of vampire gods. Together we will rule this world and all others!”
He turned to face Jason. “I will do my best to save you, boy, and furthermore I will endeavor to make sure Sookie never learns of what you have done while under this whore’s rule.”
“Don’t talk about my Maker like that!” Jason shouted defiantly, struggling against the magic holding him in place, but he couldn’t so much as flinch he was so tightly bound by Sargon’s power. “Sookie is shit to me!” he spewed furiously. “She’s a stupid little girl that doesn’t understand a damn thing! I’m going to lure her away from Northman and then Sophie-Anne and I are going to rape and drain her! She will pay for her crimes against my Maker!”
Every word from Jason’s mouth only enraged Sargon further, and his gaze snapped to Sophie-Anne’s as he hissed, “Look at what you have done to him! How dare you hurt my love this way?!”
Despite her rising fear that this was indeed the Sargon of legends in front of her, couldn’t help but sneer, “That backwater slut should never have defied me! She should have been happy to be my child and serve me in any way I please!”
Sargon’s expression filled with loathing and the promise of unthinkable pain. “On all that I hold dear, I swear I will destroy you down to your very soul. I will break you mind, body, and spirit, and when there is nothing left of you, when all avenues of freeing Jason from you are researched, I will end you. No one will remember you. No one will miss you. It will be more than ceasing to exist; it will be as if you never existed at all. You won’t even be a footnote in my and Sookie’s path to greatness!”
Stepping back from the redheaded whore in front of him, Sargon gifted her with a particularly cruel smirk before taunting, “And I begin my destruction of you with your children!”
He spun away from Sophie-Anne and Jason, and approached the twins. Their eyes followed him warily, and he smiled viciously at them as he looked from one to the other before pondering aloud, “So which of you should I kill first, hmm?”
Looking to Siegbert, he asked, “Would you like to die before or after your brother?”
Wybert snapped his fangs at the vampire before him and spat, “I’ll kill you, you fucker!”
Sargon threw his head back and laughed heartily. “And just how do you plan to do that? My magic has bound you, and you can’t move anything other than your mouth. You are just as stupid and short sighted as your queen, but you have helped me decide who to kill first.”
Reaching out, he grabbed ahold of Siegbert’s arm and yanked down, severing the beefy limb from the twin’s corpulent, sweaty body. His bones cracked, blood shot out and sprayed his clothing and the floor around them while Siegbert let out a howl of pain. “I’ll start with your brother. You get to watch.”
He cast his eyes back over his shoulder to look at Sophie-Anne as he held the severed arm away from his body. “You all get to watch.”
“No! Leave my brother alone!”
“Don’t hurt my child!”
Wybert and Sophie-Anne had both cried out at the sight of Sargon tearing Siegbert’s arm off while Jason growled and hissed behind him, but Sargon paid them no mind as he tossed the arm over his shoulder and announced, “That will do for now. I must take care of these girls and send them home before I finish with you four.”
Turning away from the twins, Sargon looked at the three girls who were cowering in the corner of the living room after he’d interrupted their rapes. He gentled his voice and filled it with his power to calm them as he soothed, “Do not be afraid. I am not here to hurt you.”
They were crying heavily, their legs smeared with blood from the brutal violation they had endured, their bodies shaking uncontrollably. The tallest of them begged, “Please! Please don’t hurt us! We just want to go home!”
“And you shall. Come here and take my hands, the three of you. Form a circle with me. I will use my power to heal your bodies and minds and then I will see to it you make it home safely. I give you my word.”
When he saw the girls remained huddled on the floor, he assured, “I obviously mean you no harm. You saw me stop these pitiful vampires from hurting you, and you have heard with your own ears that I will make sure they pay for what has happened to you and the family that owned this house.”
The girls shared a quick glance before the youngest asked, “You aren’t going to hurt us?”
“No, I am not a vampire who takes enjoyment from hurting innocents. I do my best to be the kind of man my woman deserves, and she would be devastated to learn what happened to you three. I will heal you and send you home, I swear it.”
The girls slowly stood up from the corner and approached Sargon tremulously, trying to hide their state of undress. When he held his palms out to them they again glanced at each other before reaching out and taking his hands in their own to form a circle. “How are you going to heal us?” one of them ventured.
“Like this.” Sargon called forth his power. It radiated out of his center and down his arms to flow into each of the girls. Their bodies began to glow and the bruises, bite marks, lacerations and other wounds of their sexual assaults began to heal immediately. In only a few moments they were once again whole, and Sargon sent a pulse of power out again to clothe the girls in identical simple white matching dresses as the garments they had been wearing had been destroyed when Sophie-Anne and her children had torn them off. He gently let go of the two girls who had taken hold of his hands before smiling at all three of them. “Now I am going to remove your memories of this night. Your bodies are healed; your virginities have been restored. It will be like this night has never happened.”
“Yes! Please! I don’t ever want to remember this!”
“Please! Make it all go away!”
Sargon moved from one girl to the next, glamouring the evening’s horrific events from their minds and replacing them instead with a night spent amongst friends. He then gave them a handful of twenties and made a call to a cab company to pick them up at the end of the street. He watched the girls leave with satisfaction, their minds flush with new memories even as their faces wore the vacant expressions from their glamour. By the time they returned to their homes, even the walk to the cab would be forgotten.
He watched a moment longer to see the cab arrive and then turned back to the four vampires. His voice was deceptively congenial. “Now, where was I? Oh yes, time to finish up with you four.”
Grinning, he darted to Siegbert’s side and tore him in half, easily ripping through his thick, blubbery body as if it were only thin gauze. It was over so fast, the blink of an eye, and the vampire dissolved into a red mush. The room erupted in shrieks of horror and shock.
Sargon’s voice held the promise of menace. “Or should I say you three?”
There was a beat of stunned silence as Sophie-Anne felt the bond she shared with Siegbert ripped out of her just as Andre’s had been two nights before. Tendrils of his presence ghosted for a moment and then he was gone, eternally, and what was left was raw, ragged links snapping painfully in his absence. The pain was overwhelming, she tried to fixate on anything but it but her own energies were being diverted to Wybert who was spewing obscenities and snarling in rage. Watching his brother destroyed in such a manner had sent him into a psychotic state as he swore vengeance, fighting futilely against the magical hold keeping him in place.
“Stop! Please!” Sophie-Anne’s bloody tears zigzagged down her cheeks, the only movement as she watched Sargon walk through the bloody pool that had been her child and begin to circle his twin brother slowly, dangerously, a panther and his easy prey. He even moved like one, lithe and agile, his shoulders rolling as he approached.
She tried to shove the pain down even as the loss darted around inside her like a frightened bird. She searched for the right words. “Please!” she croaked. “Please don’t kill him! I will leave Sookie be! I swear it! I will take my children and go!”
Shaking his head, Sargon replied, “Even if I believed that—which I don’t,” he turned to flash a smile over his shoulders at her, “as fools like you never learn your lesson, I cannot acquiesce to your request. You have committed unforgiveable offenses against my beloved, and I intend to make you pay for them.”
He stood behind Wybert, arms folded and lips pursed as if attempting to arrive at a decision. Wybert, try as he might, could not do anything more than snarl obscenities at the vampire. His eyes locked on his Maker’s who unsuccessfully was trying to send calm through their bond. All he was receiving was empty, empty, empty, the vastness of nothingness viral under the skin.
“Your fate was secured the moment you sent that Compton out to procure her and I have no doubt that Northman will see that he gets what he deserves for that measure of pain he dealt our Sookie. But that wasn’t enough for you, you vermin, you insignificant gnat. What you wished to do to Sookie will be repaid in spades. You will be tortured each and every night while we research a way to free Jason from you. If he cannot be freed I will give him a quick death before slowly and methodically torturing you to death. No, Sophie-Anne, your fate is set. Northman can have Compton, but you? You are all mine!”
Taking hold of Wybert’s head he gave a quick yank to separate it from the vampire’s body while maintaining a feral eye contact with Sophie-Anne. As Wybert disintegrated in front of him, fury rode every word as he hissed, “Sookie will have vengeance! I will give it to her!”
Sophie-Anne let out an anguished bellow as she watched yet another one of her children destroyed right before her eyes while she stood helpless a few feet away. Rivulets of bloody tears ran down her cheeks as she sobbed. “No! My children! What have you done?”
“I’ve rid the world of your abominations. You are getting only what you deserve.” Flashing forward in front of Sophie-Anne, Sargon promised, “You cannot imagine the kind of pain I am going to cause you, Sophie-Anne. I have mastered the art of torture during my long years, and I will utilize all my skills to make sure you are made to pay for your crimes against my Sookie.”
His eyes sliced for a moment to Jason before focusing back on Sophie-Anne as he finished, “It is only your connection to Sookie’s brother that spares your life now, but do not doubt you will face the True Death at my hands.”
Leaning close to her, his lips curled. He swore darkly, “And it will be far more painful than anything you could have ever imagined inflicting on my love. I promise you that.”
Moments later Sargon had set the house on fire with his magic, ensuring the flames burned hot enough to incinerate the bodies of the human family inside. In the morning, all that would be found would be their charred remains. He could not allow the bloodbath that had taken place in the home to reach the attention of the authorities. He had taken vengeance in the name of the family that had once lived there, and that would be enough. With the scene sanitized, Sargon quickly collected Sophie-Anne and Jason and flew to the safe house he’d ordered prepared a few miles away. He would spend the day there and then speak to Sookie first thing the next evening. He was so eager to tell her how he’d saved her brother and, by default, her friend Tara. He was tempted to call her now, but he knew she was probably sleeping, and in her condition he didn’t want to disturb her rest.
It didn’t take him long to find the house his trusted day man had ordered secured for him, and he took particular joy in silvering Sophie-Anne, making sure the chains cut deeply into the soft flesh of her breasts and thighs, causing smoke to waft from her burning skin as she cried out and hurled invectives at him. Jason, being Sookie’s brother, was treated much more kindly. The silver chains he was secured with were wrapped in fabric to keep the metal from coming in contact with his skin. With one final, disgusted glare, Sargon left his prisoners in the sealed-off garage of the house and made his way into the light-tight secret room in the center of the house. It wasn’t much, but since this was a temporary safe house he didn’t mind. In truth all he could think about was how happy Sookie was going to be when she found out he’d rescued her brother. While he didn’t intend to tell her of the things Jason had done at Sophie-Anne’s insistence, he did intend to tell her the things he would have done. Certainly that would endear Sookie to him.
With a smile on his face, Sargon let death take him as the first rays of the sun rose. He was normally awake for much longer, but today he wanted time to pass quickly. He wanted the night to come as soon as possible so that he could speak with Sookie and prove to her how much he cared about her, how much he loved her.
The next evening Eric rose to find Sookie sitting cross-legged on the grass covered couch in the living room going through dozens of boxes with Lafayette. Sam was nowhere to be seen so Eric assumed he was working at his bar. Before dawn this morning, after his failed baking attempt, he’d pulled Sookie aside before going to rest and asked if they could speak this evening. The last few weeks as he established his rule as King of Louisiana and began to build the foundation for his rule over the entire supernatural community, he and Sookie had not had much of a chance to talk. Truthfully they were both too busy to do more than exchange blood before they were both pulled away to their duties.
While he was building his empire, Sookie was organizing their compound and trying to learn to wield her power. He’d tried to insist she rest, but Sookie was the type of woman that couldn’t not work, and trying to force her into inaction just took up more time and energy. So with that in mind he’d put her in charge of the compound. She delivered a report to him each evening, proving herself more efficient than even he would have anticipated. She oversaw shift details, purchase orders for all the construction crews, worked out menus with Lafayette for all the various species, and had even established a weekly compound meeting that allowed her to peek in the heads of her guards to ensure they hadn’t been compromised. On top of all that, she was still doing her magic lessons and practicing with different vampires each night to see if she could break through the voids of their minds. She had finally been able to catch a few words from Haldar the previous night, and whatever he’d been thinking had caused Sookie to go beet red before glaring at Eric’s friend and telling him he was a pig, and she was going to tell Pam what he was thinking.
Eric felt the loss of her presence keenly. He was used to having her all to himself, and he didn’t like the amount of time they were spending apart. He knew a lot of it was due to their hectic schedules which would calm down once they had everything organized, but he was also aware that Sookie purposefully avoided being in the same room with him. He could only hope that his disastrous attempt at baking the previous night had softened her resolve against him somewhat, because he needed to talk to her. While some of what he needed to speak to her about was business, mainly he simply wanted to talk to her like they had at the cabin. He wanted to feel that connection with her again, the connection she was denying him every time he walked into a room and she gave him that disappointed look before suddenly remembering she needed to do something in another room and abandoning him as soon as she could.
Clearing his throat to Sookie and Lafayette’s attention, he greeted, “Good evening, my lov—Sookie.”
He’d nearly called her his lover again, but since that upset her, he’d refrained. He still thought of her that way, but he needed to win her forgiveness first before he could call her such again without her looking at him with ire.
Sookie looked up from the box she was digging through to see Eric standing in the entryway of the living room. Pam and Haldar weren’t with him, and she assumed they’d both already left to feed. Taking in Eric’s determined expression, she guessed he wished to talk to her. She was still upset with him, and still determined to keep the distance between them until he recognized her as his equal and apologized, but after last night she was willing to give him a chance to grovel.
When Sookie and Lafayette both looked at him but said nothing, Eric asked, “What are all these boxes?”
“Christmas decorations. With everything that’s been going on I haven’t really thought about it, but Christmas is next week and I want to celebrate. The guards brought all the boxes down this afternoon, and Lafayette and I were going to decorate with Frannie while you go to Fangtasia tonight.”
Eric felt his stomach drop, and if his heart still beat it would have skipped one right then. He didn’t know if what Sookie had said was a deliberate strike against him, but it hurt all the same. He could vividly remember a discussion they’d had at the cabin about Christmas and how much it meant to her, and he promised he’d celebrate with her. Hearing her exclude him now upset him. Even if he wasn’t Christian.
“Eric, can we talk about something?”
Cuddled in bed, Eric’s fingers were trailing lazily up the smooth skin of Sookie’s hip while she lay tucked against his side, her head on his shoulder and her arm draped across his naked chest.
“Do you celebrate holidays?”
“My people celebrated many festivities. We didn’t dwell on dates, exactly, but we celebrated the summer and winter solstices, and other things.”
Looking up at Eric, Sookie clarified, “That’s not what I meant. I mean do you celebrate holidays now?”
“Are you not aware of the many holiday parties we hold at Fangtasia? They are some of our biggest earning nights. Halloween and Valentines Day, especially.”
Rolling her eyes, Sookie explained, “Eric, I mean do you personally celebrate holidays? Not partake in human customs to make money or appear to fit in.”
“Well, I hope you don’t celebrate birthdays at this point. I think it would be selfish to celebrate more than three hundred when most people don’t even get one hundred.”
Knowing Sookie was teasing, Eric pinched her bottom, and laughed, “Are you calling me old?”
“Sure am, gramps.”
“Now I’m insulted.”
“Are you sure? At your advanced age you might have misheard me.”
“Somebody is obviously in need of a spanking.”
Sookie giggled when Eric rolled her beneath him and began tickling her sides. Soon enough she begged, “Mercy! Mercy!”
He laughed before leaning down and claiming her lips for a kiss. When he pulled back he asked, “Now why are you asking me about holidays?”
Biting her lip, she explained shyly, “I celebrate holidays.”
Putting two and two together, he quickly assured, “Sookie, I have told you before that I wish to share my life with you. That goes both ways. As I share with you, I wish for you to share with me. I will greatly enjoy celebrating holidays with you. I might not believe in some of them, but that does not mean I cannot take joy in them with you. And that is what is important to you, isn’t it? That we have joy together?”
“Oh Eric, yes! I want to know joy with you, but I don’t want you to just go through the motions to make me happy because you’re happy when I’m happy.”
“I do not understand. What is wrong with me not believing in something but taking part in it because I care about and respect you and wish to see you happy?”
“There is nothing wrong with that, it’s just …”
Casting around in her mind for a way to explain, she finally began, “When I was 11, Gran had one of her worst financial years ever. We nearly lost the house that year, and even though it hurt her pride mightily, Gran had to go to the food pantry quite a few times just to feed us. So I knew that year we weren’t going to get very many presents.”
Eric never enjoyed hearing about how painful her childhood was, but he could tell that the memory she was sharing with him now was one of her favorites, even though it was borne out of hardship. Staring deeply into her dark eyes, he braced himself above her with one arm and brushed his fingers across her cheek as he encouraged, “Keep going.”
Tears built in Sookie’s eyes as she shared one of her favorite memories, “Gran sat us down a few days before Christmas and told us that she’d done her best to buy us what we wanted for Christmas, but that money was tight. Jason was thirteen by then and understood about our finances; he wasn’t happy, but he never let Gran know, and of course I was a telepath and always knew how precarious our finances were. Anyway, neither of us made a fuss, and we assured our Gran that we were just happy to be with her.”
Her smile was bright as she continued, “So since Gran couldn’t buy us very much, she decided to give us an adventure. Christmas eve after we’d gone to sleep, she took all our presents from beneath the tree and hid them around the property. Some were in the house and some were hidden outside. Under the tree she left notes for me and Jason with clues.”
Eric grinned, “She made you a scavenger hunt.”
“No,” Sookie corrected, “she made us a Christmas hunt. It’s been a tradition ever since. Jason and I spent all day searching for our presents and trying to figure out our clues. We each only got four gifts, and they were all pretty small, but we had so much fun! At one point Jason was crawling under the front porch with a flashlight because he was certain his clue was telling him his present was there.”
Laughing as she remembered Jason crawling back out from under the porch covered in dirt and cobwebs sans present, Sookie replied, “No. The clue was, ‘It’s dark, it’s damp, and it’s no place for a scamp!’ After checking the attic, all the closets, and the guest shower for some reason, he decided it must be under the porch.”
“Where was it?”
“The storm cellar out back of the house.”
“And where were your presents hidden?”
“One was under Jason’s bed, one was in the toolshed, one was in our mailbox, and the last one was hidden under the kitchen sink.”
Genuine amusement lit his eyes. “Did you enjoy your gifts?”
Smiling up at him, she said, “You know I don’t even remember what they were. Silly things that children want so desperately and then six months later they forget what they have. What I still remember are all the smiles and laughter we shared that day. Gran had such a hoot watching us scurry about the place trying to find our gifts. She kept laughing at our attempts to bribe more clues out of her, and every time we found one we’d come running back into the house with it in our hands brandishing it about like it was a trophy! Jason and I were competing to see who could find all our gifts first, and every time we found one we’d stack it on the kitchen table and then we’d get another clue from Gran for the next gift and head off again while she cooked in the kitchen. It was so much fun. After that, every year Gran would hide one of our gifts and we’d have to find it. I—I want …”
As Sookie’s words trailed off with her uncertainty, her insecurities still keeping her from being freely open with him, Eric gentled his voice and promised, “I swear I will do my best to be happy with you. I am not Christian, and I have never celebrated Christmas like you, but I will now. I will hide all your presents, and laugh at you all day as you search for them. And when you hide mine, I promise not to show you up and find them in seconds. I’ll go slowly since I know you’re such a sore loser.”
Grinning up at her Viking, she wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. “Do you promise? Do you promise you’ll have fun with me on Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day and all those other holidays that you probably think are foolish?”
“I promise.” Wanting to soothe her insecurities, he added, “You must remember that the façade I keep around others is a cultivated one, and not who I really am. Yes, I’ve never celebrated these holidays like you have, but that is because I did not have anyone to celebrate with them.”
His thumb and forefinger lifted her chin, his eyes dropping to her full lips. He brushed his finger across them, feeling her soft kiss in response. Eric concluded, “I have you now. You will show me how to celebrate these holidays, and together we will enjoy them. I will laugh and play with you, and you will swear to me to share none of the pictures with Pam.”
“Now you know I can’t make that promise, Viking!”
Her breath hitched as he let his free hand trail between their bodies to dip between her thighs. Eric purred, “Oh I’m sure I can persuade you.”
Now, seeing Sookie setting up for Christmas without even asking him to help her decorate, he felt wounded, it was a painful blow to Eric. He wanted to demand she stop, that she wasn’t allowed to decorate their house for Christmas without him, but he definitely wasn’t going to reveal his emotional insecurities around Lafayette. Instead he focused his eyes on Sookie’s friend and said, “Would you give us a moment, Lafayette? I have several things I need to discuss with Sookie.”
While he didn’t particularly like having to ask Lafayette to leave when he would have much preferred to simply order him out, he had made the decision to be nicer to Sookie’s friends in an effort to make her happy. When Lafayette didn’t leave immediately and instead looked to Sookie with a raised brow, Eric forced himself not to growl at the boy who was clearly challenging his authority by not following his order without hesitation.
Sookie noticed Lafayette’s indecision to leave her with Eric, and saw how Eric stiffened at her friend’s refusal to leave as soon as he was told. She was pleased that Eric didn’t lunge to throw Lafayette out for looking to her to see what she wanted, and it was further proof in her mind that Eric was coming around. Still, she and Eric did need to talk. They needed to talk about many things, but lately they’d both been far too busy to talk about the elephant in the room. It seemed, however, that Eric had carved some time out of his busy schedule to make sure they could talk tonight.
Sookie gave Lafayette a reassuring smile. “It’s okay, Laf; Eric and I really do need to talk about some things. Why don’t you go get everything ready in the kitchen for us to make Christmas cookies when Frannie gets back?”
“Sure thing, Sook.”
When Lafayette was gone after leveling a glare at Eric that clearly said he hadn’t forgiven the Viking vampire for hurting his friend, Sookie asked, “You wanted to talk?”
Eric stepped further into the room and pointed at the boxes as he remarked, “You are decorating for Christmas.”
“Yes. I know it probably seems silly to you for me to want to celebrate this with everything that is going on, but I can’t miss Christmas. I want some normalcy around here.”
Eric was silent as he studied Sookie’s face. He could detect no great emotion in her or in their bond. There was a certain amount of wariness in her for him radiating in the bond, but that had been there since the night he had forced her to kneel. However, it was obvious to him that Sookie hadn’t even thought to ask him to help her decorate for Christmas, and he didn’t know what that meant for them. All he knew is that for him it hurt. That she would leave him out of something that meant so much to her hurt him deeply.
When Eric simply continued to stand in front of her with a somewhat lost expression on his face, Sookie asked hesitantly, “Eric, is everything okay?”
“No. No, nothing is okay.”
“Eric, what are you—“
“You’re decorating for Christmas.”
Sookie nodded her head slowly and replied, “Yes, I thought we covered that, but I don’t think Christmas decorations are what we should be talking about.”
Looking deeply into Sookie’s eyes, Eric stated, “No. I should not be talking about Christmas decorations with you. I should be speaking to you about the many issues facing my kingdom. I should be speaking to you about the trouble I am having developing a reliable sheriffs’ network with my fears of Sargon’s spies. I should be talking to you about the coronation ceremony we are going to have to take part in at Fangtasia in two days, and all the security risks it will entail. Instead I am standing here and all I want to talk to you about is the fact you are decorating for Christmas without me.”
He moved closer to crouch down in front of Sookie where she sat in the armchair and whispered softly, “You said you wanted to celebrate this holiday with me. You said you wanted to make Christmas memories with me. Yet here you are making them without me.”
He had never looked more like a lost little boy to her than he did now, and she fought against her need to reach out and soothe him. Instead, she mumbled, “I didn’t think you would believe it was important enough.”
Reaching out to slowly draw Sookie’s hands into his own, rubbing his thumbs gently across her palms, he asked, “How could you think that? You told me what this holiday meant to you, and you know what you mean to me. How could you think I wouldn’t want to do this with you?”
“I don’t know what I mean to you, Eric.”
“Sookie, how can you say that? You are everything to me!”
Looking deeply into his naked gaze, she explained, “Eric, I thought we were both on the same page about us. I thought we were both in this together, but, more and more, I can’t help but think that the way you see us is very different from the way I see us.”
“You’re wrong. We are in this together.”
“Maybe, but as what?”
“I do not understand.”
Pulling her hands from his, and doing her best not to let her heart melt at his saddened expression, she explained, “I thought we were partners. When you were always telling me about how I would have to act in front of your vampire superiors, I thought it meant you didn’t want to see me in such subservient positions, but that I had to do it to keep us safe, to keep someone from challenging you and trying to take me. I thought that if it was in your power to control I wouldn’t have to act like a pet, and yet here you are, King of Louisiana, soon to be High King of the supernatural world, surrounded by those who have sworn loyalty to us, and yet you forced me to my knees to make a point. You did it like it was nothing, and since then I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I’ve realized that maybe you really do think I belong at your feet. Maybe you see me as something you truly own like any other vampire would see their human. Maybe you don’t believe I deserve respect because of who I am, but simply because I’m yours. Maybe … maybe I don’t mean as much to you as you mean to me.”
Eric reeled back as if hit. He knew he’d hurt Sookie’s pride and feelings that night two and a half weeks ago, but he hadn’t thought things between them were this bad. For her to think, for her to doubt, that she was everything to him stunned him, and made him bone deep terrified. She could not leave him! She could not stop loving him! He didn’t know if he could go on if Sookie stopped loving him.
His hands darted out and retook hers as he insisted, “I assure you that’s not true. You do deserve respect. You are smart, and beautiful, and talented, and caring, and powerful, and loyal, and so many other admirable qualities that make me need you. I know I don’t love, and I wish I could—for you—but I need you the way I need blood. You’re my sustenance. You are such a part of me now I don’t know how to be okay without you. You … you cannot doubt us, Sookie. We’re going to get through this. We have to. I cannot lose you.”
She looked hard into his eyes for several long moments and finally demanded, “Do I belong at your feet, Eric?”
He was silent. Her gaze was unwavering, and held a strength to it that he easily recognized. She would not back down from this, and he knew if he refused to answer her it would not end well for him. But how could he answer? She was not his equal. He was a thousand years old. He was a leader, a warrior, a chieftain, and a king. He had seen and done things she couldn’t imagine, and he had been a part of the supernatural world long enough to know that there was no such thing as equals. There were those that gave orders, and those that took them, but he knew he’d never get Sookie to understand that. Her ideals, her dreams and hopes for the world would not allow her to see the world as it really was. All she saw is what she wanted it to be. The harsh realities of it, despite her telepathy, seemed to escape her.
‘She is not my equal, and she can never be. No matter how long she lives, no matter what she does, I will always be older and more experienced. I will always be the one that leads, and it is her place to follow. It is her place to stay where I put her, to be safe and content while I fight our battles for us. She should not know war or death. She should know no pain or suffering. I do own her, but she is not a fucking pet! She is my Sookie! Mine to hold and protect and make happy and safe! Why can’t she see that?’
He could feel her gaze boring into him, judging him, waiting for him to give her words he could not. As much as he wanted her forgiveness, as much as he wanted her to come back into his arms and let him hold and shelter her, he would not lie. He could not tell her she was his equal when he did not believe her to be.
‘But is that really what she is asking? She may not be my equal, but I can’t ignore that Sookie and Pam have both made good points. She is my mate, and perhaps because of that I should treat her differently than other vampires treat their humans. I know I should. She should be treated far better than any other human, but I can’t let my feelings for her, my need for her make me appear weak in front of other vampires. I am definitely going to need to put some more thought into this. I need to figure out Sookie’s exact place soon, especially with the coronation in a few days.’
To himself he could admit that he had acted foolishly that night by forcing to kneel. Now that he’d had a chance to put some time and distance between the events of that night, he could see that he had punished Sookie for Tara’s actions. If Sookie had been the one to challenge him, then yes, it would have been appropriate to remind her of her place, but he should not have forced her to kneel to force Tara into realizing who was in charge. He’d used Sookie like a tool that night, a tool to reinforce his control, and he should apologize for that … no matter how much it hurt his pride.
“I should not have forced you to kneel that night. You were right. I did use you to strike out at Tara, and that was wrong of me. I am sorry.”
Sookie’s mouth dropped open at Eric’s declaration. When she’d asked him if she belonged at his feet she expected him to go into another long tirade about how she didn’t understand how the supernatural world worked and that they would never be equals. She certainly hadn’t expected him to accept responsibility for what he’d done and admit he’d been wrong. She was nearly overjoyed with his words before she forced an inner calm. He’d admitted he was wrong for making her kneel that night, but he hadn’t said she didn’t belong at his feet.
“I’m proud of you for accepting the fact that you were wrong to punish me for something someone else did, but you didn’t answer my question, Eric.”
He had been hoping she wouldn’t notice that. He’d been hoping she would be so pleased with his admission she would launch herself into his arms and things would be right between them again. Apparently that wasn’t going to happen. Releasing a very human like sigh, Eric began, “Sookie, I do not want to fight with you.”
“That’s good, because I don’t want to fight with you either, but I’ve already told you I’m done brushing things aside.”
“No.” At Eric’s shocked expression, she continued, “I understand things are hard for you right now, and I know my keeping my distance is hurting you, and for that I’m sorry, but just as you are a king now I am also a queen, and I can’t back down from this. I see my path now. I know what I have to do, and I’m doing. I’m standing my ground, so I ask again, do I belong at your feet?”
When he remained silent, she pressed, “When you envision our future, what do you see?”
“You. Always you. I see you in bed with me when I rise each night. I see you beside me caring for our younger children while I teach our son how to wield a sword. I see us going on dates each week. I see us celebrating your human holidays as a family. I see you beside me every night for the rest of eternity. When I envision the future, all I see is you.”
His words delighted her and gave her hope for their future. It was obvious that Eric’s heart was warring with his mind. His heart, the one he claimed he didn’t have, or didn’t work properly, knew exactly what Eric wanted. It was Eric’s thick, hard head that was getting in the way. Everything he’d been through in the past thousand years, everything he’d experienced since becoming a vampire and joining the supernatural world, had taught him that she should sit at his feet. His logic was trying to force her into the only role he knew of. His heart? His heart told him she belonged beside him despite the fact she wasn’t a vampire. She just had to get his head out of his ass long enough to listen to his heart.
“If you envision me beside you, then how can you ask me to sit at your feet? How can you demand it?”
Quietly, he held his mate’s determined gaze. Her words made him pause. She was right; she couldn’t be in two places at once. If he wanted her at his side, then he couldn’t demand she sit at his feet. She was still not his equal. Would never be. And most assuredly his word would be law, but Sookie did not belong at his feet like a pet. And he wasn’t going to make her sit there just to keep up appearances.
‘She’s right. I am king. I am High King, and what I say goes. Just because Sookie is not my equal does not mean she has to sit at my feet like human pets do with their vampire masters. No vampire has ever mated a human, but that does not negate the fact she is my mate. I will place her beside me, and any vampire that has a problem with that will be put to death. I will just have to make sure that Sookie knows even if she is beside me, I’m the one that is giving the orders. She cannot challenge me, but she should not have to kneel.’
His decision made, Eric promised, “You’re right, my lover. You do not belong at my feet. You belong at no one’s feet. I will never force you to kneel again. I give you my word.”
Sookie’s smile lit up her face as she finally launched herself into Eric’s arms. She knew the battle wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot. Her big Viking might think he was being clever, but she’d noticed how he hadn’t admitted she was his equal. And she knew it was because he didn’t believe her to be, but this was most definitely progress. Huge progress. Two weeks ago he thought it was perfectly fine to force her to kneel in a room full of people she cared about, and now he was admitting it was wrong for him to do so and he was promising to never do it again. She would be satisfied with that for now.
“Oh Eric! Thank you! You don’t know what it means to me that you’ve changed your mind about this.”
Eric accepted the weight of Sookie into his arms happily. As her arms went around his neck his encased hers completely, pulling her small body into the shelter of his own as he buried his face into her fragrant locks and breathed her. The pure scent of her filled him and eased so much of the strain and tension he’d felt over the past few weeks as she’d kept herself from him. Holding her tightly he whispered into her ear, “I’ve missed you, Sookie, so fucking much.”
“I miss you too. Every moment of every day.”
“I’m so glad you’re coming back to me.”
Sookie stilled and could have slapped herself for failing to realize Eric would take her hug as a sign all was perfect between them … which it wasn’t. He’d given her a lot tonight, but not everything, and she would settle for nothing less than everything she deserved. Giving him one last hug she forced herself to pull back and hesitantly started, “Eric, this doesn’t mean everything is fine between us. Not by a long shot.”
“I do not understand,” he sputtered. “I apologized and promised to never make you kneel again. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Part of it. Now all I need is for you to realize we’re equals.”
“Sookie, we’ve been over this. My age, my experience, my knowledge, my powers, they all make me your—“
“Shhh,” Sookie said softly as she pressed her fingers to Eric’s lips. “I don’t want to have that fight right now. We can argue about it later. I want to enjoy this moment with you. We’ve made a huge step forward in our relationship tonight, Viking, and I don’t want you ruining it.”
“So you are no longer in doubt about us?”
“I’m no longer terrified we won’t make it. You’ve just proven you can change for the better, that you are changing for the better. I can be patient for a little longer.”
Shaking his head, he tried to insist, “I cannot change who I am for you. I am older, wiser, stronger, faster, and far more capable to lead than you will ever be. It is because of this that—“
“Eric! Stop talking right now!” Glaring at him, she hissed, “We’re having a beautiful moment right now, you hard headed ass! Don’t ruin it! Now shut up and give me a kiss, jerk!”
He decided he’d get Sookie to see reason later. He hadn’t kissed her in over two weeks. He was dying to get his mouth on hers again. Reaching forward he pulled Sookie from the chair into the space between his thighs from where he crouched in front of her. Fisting a hand into her golden hair, he tilted her head back and devoured her lips. The kiss was no gentle caress; it was a claiming. His mouth moved over hers hungrily, all fire and heat, as he poured all of his want and need into the embrace, desperately wanting to show Sookie how much she meant to him.
When he finally allowed her to pull back to breathe, Sookie whimpered, “I almost forgot what a good kisser you are.”
“I will be happy to remind you as often as you like.”
She smiled and then pushed at his arms so he would let her up. “Now tell me about this coronation. Pam mentioned it last week, and I’ve heard you talking about it, but I didn’t think it was something I would have to go to.”
Allowing Sookie to lead them to the couch so they both could sit down, Eric responded, “It is not something that I want you to go to at all, but it must be done. As the new King of Louisiana, I must have a coronation.”
“What happens at a coronation?”
“I officially appoint each of my sheriffs and log them with the Council representative that will be sent. I also give out my official decrees if they differ from the laws that Sophie-Anne had.”
“I’m guessing you have a lot of new laws, huh?”
Eric nodded, “Oh yes. Sophie-Anne was a poor ruler and I must create order where she allowed chaos.”
Lacing his fingers with Sookie’s, glad she was allowing such casual contact again, even if it was only for tonight, he continued hesitantly, “I must also introduce you, and that is why you must be there. You will wear your charm that shields your pregnancy, so no one there will know, and hopefully I can get us in and out quickly, but I must take you with me. I need to declare you my mate and order your protection above all else to my people.”
Guessing at his thoughts, she observed, “You really don’t want me to go, do you?”
“No, not at all. You know I do not want you out of the barrier until Sargon is found and destroyed.”
“And you know I don’t want to be kept in a cage. You already agreed to take me shopping for baby clothes.”
“I have, and I will, but I’ve also decided to take you during the day with your newly fairy-inoculated vampire guards. Sargon cannot go out during the day, and it is when you will be most safe.”
Sookie cocked a brow. “Won’t you be recognized? You’re a pretty famous vampire around these parts, Eric.”
“Which is why we are going shopping in Los Angeles.”
Her tone did not hide her incredulity. “Are you serious?”
Seeing his mate’s pleased expression, Eric explained, “I am going to have your fairy guard teleport us there. It is another layer of protection we can use against Sargon as he will not expect us to teleport from here to L.A. to shop for baby supplies. Also, maybe we’ll have a chance to visit the beach before we’ll need to get you back inside the barrier.”
Sookie’s delight with Eric was rising by leaps and bounds, and she gushed, “Oh Eric, that would be wonderful! I can’t wait! And I already have a list!”
Chuckling, he replied, “Oh I know. I was able to get a glance at it the other day, but I have to ask at what point it stopped being a list and became a novel. I do believe ten pages and growing constitutes more than a list.”
Eyes narrowing, Sookie insisted, “Babies need a lot of stuff! Besides, I included some photos so that’s why it is so long.”
“Of course that’s the reason.”
She just laughed and kissed his cheek while the house phone rang. She quickly called out, “Laf! Can you get that? It’s probably Frannie calling for a ride from the library!”
Focusing back on Eric, she asked, “When are we going?”
He placed his hand over Sookie’s stomach, where their rapidly growing son had already caused a small hard bump to form. He was glad that, for now, it was only noticeable when she was naked or if his hand was over it like now. “Soon. Depending on how the coronation goes this weekend, hopefully. I’d like the nursery to be put together as soon as possible.”
Before Sookie could reply, Lafayette came into the room. With one look at his face from over Eric’s shoulder Sookie knew something was terribly wrong. “Lafayette, what’s wrong?”
Eric turned on the couch to face Lafayette who stood in the entrance to the living room with the cordless phone in his hand. The black man was as ashen as he could be, his eyes wearing a terrified expression, shock mixed with fear. “Lafayette,” Eric asked again when Sookie’s friend simply stood there.
Lafayette seemed to shake himself out of his stupor and held his shaking hand out as he whispered, “It’s Sargon. He’s calling for Sookie.”
Eric moved so fast he was a blur as he took hold of the phone and demanded, “Why are you calling?”
Sookie quickly went to Eric’s side and mouthed to Lafayette, “Alert the hackers. See if they can trace his call.”
While Lafayette darted out of the house as fast as his human legs could carry him, Sookie set her hand on Eric’s arm and did her best to listen. Eric was taut with fury; the idea that Sargon could invade their sanctuary was repulsive and a violation.
In Texas, Sargon sat in a chair sipping donor blood from a wine glass as he smirked at Sophie-Anne and Jason still bound before him. A recovery team was on its way to escort them back to his compound while he made a quick trip to Shreveport. He wanted to get a look at Eric’s new security measures. He didn’t know what the Viking was doing, but whatever it was he was getting good at evading his technological surveillance.
“I am calling to talk to Sookie.”
“No,” Eric denied harshly. “You are done talking to her. If you have something to say, then say it to me.”
Eric was in no mood to allow Sargon any type of contact with Sookie. Beside him, Sookie rolled her eyes at Eric’s possessiveness. She thought they’d agreed to use Sargon’s feelings for her against him, but obviously Eric had forgotten that fact. Or decided to act childish. She was leaning a bit towards the latter.
Sargon had anticipated Eric’s refusal and simply stated, “I’m here with her brother, and I thought she might like to know what is going on, but if you refuse to let me speak with her I can just hang up.”
Eric stilled for a brief second before snarling, “If you do anything to hurt him I will end you!”
“I am not going to hurt him,” Sargon insisted. “I would never do something to hurt Sookie, you know this. I have her brother because you were foolish enough to let him leave with Sophie-Anne, who I also have in my custody. I’m afraid I found it necessary to dispose of her other children, but she and Jason are quite safe. Now let me speak to Sookie so I may inform her of what is going on, Northman.”
Eric hesitated. On one hand he didn’t want Sargon speaking to Sookie at all. Ever again. On the other hand, if he denied Sargon it could lead to harm to Jason and Sookie would never forgive him for that. With no other alternative Eric handed the phone to Sookie.
Sookie took the phone hesitantly. “Hello?”
Sargon’s voice was pure silk as he greeted, “Hello, Sookie. Please let me assure you that nothing is wrong. I need to speak to you about Jason.”
“Jason! What about him? What have you done to my brother?!”
In Dallas, Sargon flinched at Sookie’s angry accusation. Her immediate belief that he had done something to hurt her brother wounded him. Her lack of trust was understandable, but it upset him nonetheless.
“Sookie, please calm down.”
“You better not lay a finger on Jason! I swear, I’ll kill you myself if you do!”
Her words were like hot oil pouring over his skin. The pain of them would not leave him soon, he was certain. “Sookie, please, I assure you I have done nothing to hurt your brother. On the contrary, I have saved him.”
“Indeed. Your Viking was a fool to let Sophie-Anne and her children leave as he did. Sophie-Anne followed Tara and had come up with a clever plot to draw the girl away from the Fellowship compound where she is currently residing with her boyfriend. She and Jason were then going to torture your friend to lure you away from your sanctuary. I will spare you the details of what Sophie-Anne intended to do with you once she had you.”
Sargon decided not to mention to Sookie that he was certain Sophie-Anne’s plan had little chance of success to start with. He wanted to endear himself as much as possible to her, and the more he played up how he was sparing her further pain and torment, the better in his mind. Nor would he mention the atrocities Jason had already partaken of at his Maker’s behest.
Sookie’s eyes darted to Eric’s at Sargon’s words as she asked, “How can I be sure you are telling the truth?”
“I have never lied to you, Sookie; your distrust wounds me. A video file has been delivered to Northman’s email. Along with plenty of my people’s surveillance. I was tracking Sophie-Anne from the moment she left Fangtasia. The Northman should have thought to do the same, knowing what she was capable of,” he sighed. “Nevertheless, all the proof you need can be found in those files.”
“You could have people create that evidence.”
“Indeed, but I have not. I would allow you to speak to Jason, but as he is not himself he would only say hurtful things to you, which I will not allow. Once I have him safely secured at my compound I will have a webcam placed in his cell if you would like and send the link to you so that you may monitor him whenever you wish while a way to sever him from his pitiful maker is researched.”
“You could just deliver him back to us,” Sookie pointed out hopefully.
There was a moment of silence before Sargon asked, “Is that what you would like?”
Sookie looked up at Eric and mouthed, “Is it?”
Eric gave the matter some thought before he nodded. With Eric’s input, Sookie asked, “If we did want you to deliver him to us how would we know it isn’t a trap?”
“You would have to trust me.”
“Fair enough.” Sargon gave the matter some thought and finally offered, “I don’t know what to tell you to put your mind at ease, Sookie. All I can say is that if you want Jason and Sophie-Anne delivered back to you, I will make it happen.” He dearly regretted the offer because he had plans for Sophie-Anne, but he could deny Sookie nothing. He hoped she would see that the gesture proved the depth of his love, the certainty of his sincerity, the sacrifice he was willing to make to have her happy. He continued, “I had planned to keep the boy under close guard until his circumstances could be resolved, but if it would make you happier to have him under your watch so be it. I want to please you.”
“Then deliver my brother back to me and then go away and never come back.”
Sargon chose to be amused by Sookie’s words instead of hurt by them. “I’m sorry, Sookie, but I can’t do that.”
“Can’t blame a girl for trying.”
“No, I guess I can’t,” he chuckled.
Eric was not pleased. The talk between Sookie and Sargon sounded far too much like flirting in his opinion and he impulsively reached out to snatch the phone out of her hand as he hissed, “That is enough! You do not speak to her like that! She is not yours to laugh and joke with! She is mine!”
Eric let out an earthshaking roar and hurled the phone at the wall so hard it shattered into dozens of pieces. “Motherfucker!”
“Eric!” Sookie cried as she stared in dismay at the broken phone. “I wasn’t done talking to him!”
Grabbing Sookie’s shoulders, Eric jerked her forward against his chest and claimed her lips. Sargon had neatly thrown in Sookie’s face how he’d failed to protect her brother yet again! Hearing how Sargon had spared Sookie more pain pissed him off, and then hearing Sookie joke with him, no matter how small, had been all he could take.
She could feel his desperation, feel his need to reaffirm himself that she was his, and she answered in kind. Her arms snaked up around his neck as she gave herself over to the kiss, doing her best to pull Eric back from his rage and fear. And he was afraid. Eric was terrified he would lose her, and she was just as terrified she would lose him. They both needed this kiss.
Eric pulled back, searching her face earnestly. “You’re mine, Sookie. Not his. Mine. Only mine.”
Reaching up to stroke Eric’s angry brow, Sookie soothed, “I know, Eric. I’m yours and you are mine. Sargon isn’t going to change that. We’re going to beat him.”
“I will tear him to pieces and bathe in his blood before coming home to you.”
“I know you will, Viking, I know.”
Sookie’s expression was gentle, as she added, “But you need to be calm when he calls, Eric. Any information I can get out of him is information we can use against him. You can’t keep going off like that. Not to mention that’s the second phone you’ve shattered in a month.”
Eric realized her effort to lighten his mood, and finally agreed, “I know. He just—he keeps saying you’ll be his. It angers me. No one can take you from me.”
“No one will. Eric, we’re going to win this war. We’re going to shatter Sargon’s control and make him the crazy one, but in order to do that we’ll need to stay calm. Stay focused. Eye on the prize, big guy, eye on the prize.”
Arching a brow, Eric asked, “Big guy? What did I say about inappropriate pet names for me?”
“Inappropriate? I’ll give you inappropriate! How about I call you my lil’ honeykins from now on?”
Eric blanched before offering, “Big guy will do.”
“I thought as much, now are you going to stay calm the next time Sargon calls?”
“I will not throw a phone again.”
“That’s a good boy.”
Eric responded by pinching Sookie’s butt, but neither had a chance to say anything else as the front door opened and Han appeared. He bowed deeply to Eric and Sookie. “The main line is ringing. It is Sargon again. The hackers tracked his last call. He did nothing to hide his location. He is in Dallas. They have him on satellite right now. A team has arrived and from the images the hackers showed me Sargon has Jason.”
Looking up at Eric, Sookie said, “Well at least we know he didn’t lie. What should we do?”
Eric mulled the situation over for a moment before telling Han, “Bring me a phone. Sookie will speak to him again.”
When Han left to follow out his orders, Eric looked down at Sookie and said, “Tell him that we will provide him a location to deliver Jason and Sophie-Anne to tomorrow during the day. He will not be able to be present when they are delivered, and we will allow only one human to drop them off.”
“Okay, anything else?”
“See if you can find out what he knows about our security now. See if he’s discovered we have hackers.”
“Okay. Do—do you want to wait outside while I speak to him?”
“You do not think I can control yourself?”
“When it comes to me? When it comes to Sargon speaking to me, talking to me about taking me away from you? No, I don’t think you can control yourself at all.”
Eric gave her a small smile before leaning down to kiss her brow as he agreed, “You are right. I will go speak with your guards about the security measures we will need for the coronation ceremony while you speak to that fool.”
Taking Eric’s hand to give it a reassuring squeeze, Sookie promised, “I don’t want to talk to him, Eric; you know that, I’m doing this because I have to. I’m trying to get him to loosen up around me and maybe give away something we can use. I don’t enjoy playing nice with him. I don’t enjoy having to play nice with the monster that wants to kill you and our baby.”
At this point Han returned with a new phone and handed it to Sookie. She watched Eric walk out of the house leaving Han to guard her before putting the phone to her ear and admonishing, “Why do you have to push him like that?”
“The Northman is young and unstable. He is not good enough for you.”
“He is perfect for me, and if you continue to insult him or try to get a rise out of him I won’t speak to you at all anymore. You forget I love him.”
Sargon bit back a reply before agreeing, “Very well. Have you decided what you wish for me to do with Jason?”
“Yes. Tomorrow during the day have someone call back and we will provide a location for you to drop off Jason and Sophie-Anne. Only one human is to drop them off. No one else.”
Sargon smiled at their cleverness. Even with all his power he could not day walk. He could stay awake all day, for several days really, but he could not be in sunlight. They were insuring he could not be there. “You really do not trust me at all, do you?”
“Not even a little. You’ve made it clear you are going to do your best to kill my mate, and the fact you even threatened my son makes me despise you.”
“Please do not say that.”
Sookie took a deep breath and reminded herself she needed to play to Sargon’s delusions. With this in mind she asked, “Are you still watching me?”
“You know I cannot. The statues you put up prevent me from doing so.”
When Sookie said nothing else, Sargon guessed, “Ahh, you want to know if I am still able to spy on you with my technology? I’m taking it you and your Viking have been beefing up security, and now you want me to divulge whether or not it is working.”
“In a nutshell. Are you going to tell me?”
Sargon considered it a beat before confessing, “At the moment my ability to monitor you through my technological resources is being hindered quite effectively. I’m not sure who it is you’ve got helping you now, but they are certainly talented. I am confident that my people will break into your security soon enough, but whatever you’re doing right now is keeping you beyond my surveillance capabilities.”
Sookie felt a surge of relief flood through her before she asked, “Can you tell me where your compound is?”
“I’m afraid I can’t give that much away, Sookie. I want to make you happy. I want to please you, but I cannot endanger my own plans. I will say that it is not where we will live once I bring you to my side. I know how much you love Tara and I had one built for you almost a decade ago. It is ready and waiting for us. Peanut’s nursery is right next to our room, but I have not decorated it. I have decorated nothing. I want you to be able to decorate our home to your taste.”
Anger coursed through her veins and she forgot her own words to Eric about playing nice with Sargon in order to get more out of him and hissed, “You asshole! How dare you try to take the dreams Eric and I have! And don’t talk about Peanut! You have no right to mention my son!”
Sargon, sensing this conversation was spiraling out of control quickly, and definitely not going the way he’d wished it to, said, “I think perhaps we should say goodnight.”
“Very well, but before we do there is something I must discuss with your Viking.”
“You just want to upset him again.”
“No, I care very little for the Viking, but he needs to know what I have to tell him … it is about Jason.”
Suddenly very interested in what he had to say, Sookie insisted, “If it is about Jason, then tell me.”
“Absolutely not. You will never hear this from me. If your Viking chooses to tell you so be it, but I will guard your heart to the best of my ability.”
“You said he was okay!”
Hurrying to assure her, Sargon promised, “He is. He is not harmed at all. The silver chains he is wearing are even padded to keep them from burning him, but there is something about him that I need to discuss with the Viking.”
After only a moment’s hesitation, Sookie said, “Hold on.”
A few moments later she joined Eric outside near the pool where he was speaking to Haldar and Ivan. She didn’t see Pam and figured the other woman was in the guesthouse with Amelia. As usual. Coming up behind Eric Sookie announced, “He said he needs to discuss something with you.”
Eric had heard Sookie approaching and turned to face her as she held out the phone. He held her gaze as he brought it to his ear and growled, “What?”
“Can Sookie hear me?”
Eric knew that she was standing close enough to hear the faint echo of Sargon’s voice so he moved ten paces away and said, “Not now. What is it you need to share with me?”
“While in Dallas Sophie-Anne ordered Jason to rape a man and his family, including his small children. Jason also raped three teenage girls. Jason is cruel now, a vicious minion, and while I will deliver him to you as Sookie wishes, you must be prepared to shield her from him. He will say evil, heartless things to her. Her heart must be protected.”
Eric’s eyes darted to Sookie as he realized the impact of what Sargon was telling him would have. If Jason was delivered to them Sookie would insist on seeing them, and no doubt Jason would delight in telling her all the horrible things he’d done at his Maker’s insistence. It would break Sookie’s heart. In this moment he would take Sargon’s advice and found himself asking, “Is there some magic you can use to silence him? Otherwise Sookie will find a way to talk to him.”
“There is, and I will do it, but in exchange I need a vow from you.”
“When the time comes to end Sophie-Anne, I will be the one to do it. I’m quite certain I’ll have killed you and claimed Sookie and Peanut for myself long before all avenues of separating Jason from Sophie-Anne are researched, but in the event you manage to drag this war out longer than I intend and the time comes to end that pitiful excuse for a vampire, you will deliver her to me for the True Death.”
It took ferocious will for Eric not to react to Sargon’s goading words, and instead he snarled, “Her death is mine! She hurt my mate and will pay for it!”
“You got Andre, and no doubt you’ll end Bill before I get to him, so Sophie-Anne is mine. If you want me to put the silencing spell on Jason to keep him from striking out at Sookie you will make this vow.”
“I thought you cared about protecting Sookie?”
“I do, and that is why I had originally planned to keep them both secure at my compound, but Sookie has asked for you to keep watch over them. If Sookie is with you and I deliver Jason to you as well is it not your responsibility to keep her safe? If he has no silencing spell on him he will say cruel and vicious things to her, and every wound to her heart will be your fault.”
‘Fuck, I have no choice! I cannot allow Jason to come here without that silencing spell. The things he would say to Sookie would break her heart, and I would not be able to keep her from speaking to him.’
Eric was about to make the agreement before he remembered something Sargon didn’t know. He had his own powerful witches now. He had dozens of them working for him, and he had the entire royal fae family at his beck and call. Fuck Sargon and his magic!
With a victorious smug grin on his face, Eric said, “I will make no such vow, and I will protect my mate from all harm. I don’t need your help. Deliver the boy and that fucking bitch to the location my security team will provide you. One human to drop them off.”
This was a move Sargon had not expected and he was not pleased with Eric’s refusal to bow to his demands. He practiced a cool retort. “I could just keep them.”
“And I will tell Sookie that you are. It will prove to her your word cannot be trusted.”
Now Sargon was stuck. He’d promised Sookie he would deliver Jason to her, and he could not back out now. He had expected Eric to give in to his demand, that he would have no other choice, but obviously Eric was either unconcerned with Jason hurting Sookie, or he had an alternative means to silence the boy. He was pretty sure Eric had some kind of trick up his sleeve. Finally, with no other alternative, Sargon growled, “They will be delivered tomorrow to the location you provide.”
Eric smirked as he hung up his own phone. He’d finally gotten one up on the ancient vampire threatening to take away his family, and oh, it felt good. Turning to face Haldar, Ivan, Sookie, and Han, he began, “Haldar, meet with the hackers and see what they were able to find out from Sargon’s call. Han, scout a location outside of town for Jason to be delivered. Some place open. I want eyes everywhere and then get a Were team ready to pick him and Sophie-Anne up. Ivan, make sure we have somewhere suitable to keep our guests.
When the men had left to carry out Eric’s orders, Sookie asked, “What did he need to tell you?”
Eric looked at Sookie and replied, “My lover, I cannot tell you.”
“Eric, you promised we were in this together.”
“We are. What Sargon had to tell me had nothing to do with our fight with him, or the trouble in saving Jason.”
“Then what did he have to say?”
Moving forward to brush the back of his fingers across her cheek, Eric implored, “Sookie, I am asking you to trust me. What he told me is nothing you need to know, nothing you should know, and nothing I want you to know. It is something you wouldn’t want to know either.”
Sookie stared up into Eric’s eyes for a few moments before slowly nodding and saying, “Okay, I trust you. I won’t ask again.”
“Thank you. Now there is much I wish to speak to you about, but now I must go and speak to the witches. Will you wait for me in the house? When I am done I will help you put up the Christmas decorations.”
Smiling softly, Sookie leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss him quickly before agreeing, “Okay. I’ll see you inside.”
Eric watched her turn away from him and go inside the house before he headed towards the witches house. He knew Pam was there with Amelia, but they were going to have to stop “becoming friends” long enough for him to order the witches to work out a silencing spell for Jason.
An hour later Sookie sat beside Eric on the floor digging out all her favorite Christmas decorations as she listened to Pam and Haldar going at it again. Lafayette and Frannie were in the kitchen working on the next batch of cookies. And Thor was once again gnawing on his too big deer leg bone. As promised Eric had returned to her quickly and had immediately set out to put together her artificial Christmas tree while she and Lafayette sorted out the outside decorations from the inside decorations. Once that was done her vampires had quickly hung all the outside Christmas lights for her before coming back inside so they could all begin decorating the house. At the moment Han and Ivan were wrapping her staircase with the garland. Pam and Haldar were supposed to be hanging the tinsel on the tree, but Pam seemed to think that Haldar was hanging it wrong, and Haldar was just as certain that Pam was only being a bitch. And Sookie was finding it all incredibly fun as she sat next to Eric on the couch while they got the ornaments ready to hang.
“Listen to me, you overgrown hairball! You can’t just throw it on there! You have to hang the strands evenly!”
“It’s fucking tinsel, Pam! No one cares whether it’s perfect or not but you!”
“Sookie cares! Don’t you, Sookie?”
“You see! She doesn’t give a shit!”
Fangs snapping down, Pam growled, “She does too! And why the fuck are you even here?! Eric said we’re celebrating Christmas as a family with Sookie, and you are not family!”
“The fuck I’m not! Eric and I are blood brothers!”
“You’re the shit clinging to his shoe!”
“You’re just jealous he likes me better!”
“Fucktard! He doesn’t ….”
While Pam and Haldar continued to argue, Eric leaned over to Sookie and whispered, “I am sorry if they are ruining your holiday. I can tell them to leave if you’d like.”
Shaking her head, Sookie replied, “No thanks. Family arguments are kind of a staple during the holidays. Makes me feel normal.”
“Does it really?”
“Yep.” Handing Eric a tray of white Christmas lights for him to hang on the tree, Sookie insisted, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without some yelling.”
Before Eric could reply, Pam hissed, “That’s it! You and me outside! I’m going to kick your ass!”
As Pam threw down her wad of tinsel and headed out of the house, Haldar was one step behind her saying, “We all know you only challenge me so you can get your hands on me. Really, Pam, if you want to touch me so much all you have to do is ask!”
There was a loud crashing sound the second they were outside and the side of the house shook. Sookie was guessing that Pam had shoved Haldar against the house, and said as much to Eric.
Shaking his head, Eric suggested, “I bet she kicked him into the house. Did you see those shoes she was wearing? Six inch stilettos. She’d definitely want to do some damage with them.”
Moving towards the tree Eric began to wrap the lights on the artificial branches as Sookie said, “Start from the top, Eric, that strand won’t go around the whole tree. You’ll have to use another one with it, and then the plug will be at the bottom.”
There was an outraged scream from outside followed by another loud crash, immediately followed by the sound of Sookie’s car alarm going off. Eric rolled his eyes, looked at Sookie and muttered, “I’m guessing we’ll need to go car shopping for you in L.A. too.”
Sookie giggled. She loved Christmas!