We were doubled over with laughter when Eric found Glad, Diantha, Pam, Amelia, and me in the kitchen having dinner. Amelia had come with Pam, and had brought Chinese to share. Our conversation had invariably turned to sex, and then it had taken a mighty twisted turn because… well, because I was inexperienced insofar as I’d only had one partner, so everything they said made me blush and laugh shyly. I was ripe for the picking, and they were picking.
So after dinner (and as Eric looked on with thinly veiled amusement) we were about to open fortune cookies and Amelia had set the ground rules. “Take the cookie out of the wrapper. Open the cookie. Take the paper out without looking at it. Eat the whole cookie and swallow before reading your fortune. When you finish reading your fortune, add the phrase ‘in bed’ to the end of your fortune. Good luck, ladies!”
“It sounds like a contest to see who can be the most perverted,” Pam roared with laughter right away, unable to partake of the fortune cookies but willing to stick around for the festivities. We all opened our first cookies (we each had two to our names) and began eating. Amelia pointed to me first and I shot a quick look to Eric who was standing leaning against the doorjamb between the kitchen and the den, his arms crossed over his chest and his face spread into a wide grin, waiting to see my fate.
I took a deep breath. “Okay, here goes… ‘Soon life will become more interesting.’ In bed.” I was barely able to say the last sentence because I’d started laughing right away.
“So, Eric! Your new assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to make Sookie’s life more interesting in bed!” Amelia said between chuckles.
“Easily done,” he winked at me and shot me a devilish grin. I knew I’d be in trouble soon.
“Myturn!” Diantha called, opening her fortune. She read slower than she talked, thank goodness. ” ‘Your ability to accomplish tasks will follow with success,’ in bed.” She lost it too.
“Oh, I don’t like mine. I don’t like mine at all. ‘The possibility of a career change is near,’ in bed. Does that mean what I think it means?” Amelia asked. She wasn’t laughing, but we were.
“I’ll be your pimp,” Pam said. She was holding a hanky to her eyes and laughing harder than I’d seen her laugh in a long while.
“Glad?” I asked, because it was her turn. She was shaking her head slowly. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ll sayit. But Idon’tknow… ‘Being happy is not always being perfect,’ in bed,” Glad said. “Itakeissue with that. I’m always perfect and I’m always happy,” she said, enunciating the last part just so. I think I snorted from laughing and trying not to. I didn’t want to embarrass her.
We continued until all eight cookies were eaten. The most memorable fortune was “Every friend joins in your success,” which had us imagining all of us in bed, all together.
“We’ll invite Sookie’s fairy cousins. I’m sure they’ll be fun to have,” Pam suggested, making a purring noise at the thought.
“All these women are going to kill me,” Eric said, finally daring to walk in the kitchen to grab a blood. He came to stand behind me to drink his blood, using me as a shield, I supposed. I felt bad for him, a little bit, but all I could feel from him was amusement and love when he planted a kiss on my cheek.
We left soon thereafter to visit the new building. Pam and I had met with the decorator several times during the past three weeks since the building had become ours (not really mine but my husband’s), but Eric and Pam had forbidden me to see the final project. They wanted to surprise me. The place would be more upscale than the original Fangtasia, and already the ads on the radio had made it clear by sticking the phrase “dress to impress” to the end of the ad. In other words, anybody trying to come in jeans would be in for a rude awakening. We had changed the name, and after a lot of indecision they took my suggestion to heart. Nobody liked Northman’s, and they didn’t want to name it Fangtasia for fear people would just assume it was just like the old place. So… after a night or two of bad suggestions, I logged on to the computer and started researching our last names. Northman, of course, was just something Eric put together from being called the North Man for so long. Stackhouse wasn’t much better. But Ravenscroft had a long history behind it. I suggested the Raven’s Den for the name of our new club, after finding out that croft meant paddock. That wasn’t really going to work, so I chose a different word that sounded elegant but intimate.
That night, as I stared at the new outside of the building, I felt a tiny prickle of pride at seeing the name on a large sign that stood about thirty feet in the air, and was easily visible from the highway. I turned to look at the building and its surroundings. The brand new asphalt had cured to a glossy black, and it looked a little sad now with all the empty parking spots. Hopefully the next night the whole place would be hopping.
The building itself was painted gray and black (by now I knew those were standard colors), but one of the walls had a mural of a raven taking flight. It was different, and very beautiful. The front doors looked like polished chrome, and the entrance was covered by a red awning. It wasn’t a cute red awning with scalloped edges. It was actually a bit scary. The edges had been cut to look like fangs. Oooo-kay…
Eric led the way inside, holding my hand, expecting the reaction I was soon to have. My breath caught. Everything inside was shiny: chrome, mirrors, gold, polished tiles, glass tables. The dance floor was larger than I expected, and I could look up and see the tables on the second floor, next to the railing. There were booths along the walls, glowing softly each with its own source of light, and tables next to the dance floor. To the left was the bar, significantly longer than Fangtasia’s. The words “Raven’s Den” were shining eerily, sort of floating behind the bar with an odd blue glow.
“What do you think?” Pam asked because I hadn’t moved past the front door, trying to take it all in. I turned to look at her. She actually looked nervous.
“It’s so… Wow!” I said, feeling the smile that was starting to tug at my lips.
Glad and Diantha ran away to the DJ booth and Eric kept guiding me through the whole place. “The decorator did not waver from your suggestions. Do you approve?” he asked, letting go of me while I examined a booth. The booths were all circular with a table in the middle, upholstered in black with a strip of oak stained red as an accent piece. They could sit more than the standard four people.
“This is very nice, much nicer than I imagined. One thing is to see it in your mind, another is to see it in person,” I said as the music started playing all through the new bar.
“We should try out the dance floor,” Eric said. I turned around to see him holding his hand out for me. I smiled in delight. We hadn’t danced in so long, since the summit. It didn’t matter that I was wearing my pregnant uniform (tights and a flowing tunic) and he was wearing his standard jeans and a T-shirt. We were Fred and Ginger, and the dance floor was all ours.
Eric twirled me first then held me tight against him, swaying us to the music. I didn’t know what we were listening to. The girls were playing around, so one song melted into another. Pam and Amelia were still exploring the rest of the club (no sense in calling it a bar, this was so much more). I forgot everything when I looked up and got lost in Eric’s gaze. I sighed. Honestly, I could never get enough of his glacial blue eyes. They’d been one of the very first things that I’d noticed about him, other than his impressive size and the fact that he was a vampire.
I didn’t notice that we’d stopped dancing. Eric was still holding me tight, boring into me with his intense stare, until he’d had enough and finally kissed me. It reminded me of some of our first kisses, soft, deliberate, nothing like I’d been expecting from him. I returned his soft kisses, enjoying this short interlude in our lives and the fact that we had the club all to ourselves for one glorious night.
It was impossible to forget all our other problems, the ones that were breathing down our necks: the Fellowship’s vendetta against me, Victor Madden’s sudden purchase of a home in Shreveport, plus… we also knew he was extremely upset that Eric and Pam had purchased the building right from under him. That wouldn’t stop him from trying to find another building. Eric had been very busy lately, trying to track down Victor, trying to answer Queen Sophie-Anne’s questions regarding Victor, dealing with a surge of new vampires wanting to move into the area, which he said was normal for the summer when they tired of New Orleans. He also had to deal with the normal day to day (or night to night) business of the fiefdom, plus make some hiring decisions for the new club.
I caressed his hair, knowing he’d been stressed and busy. I’d tried to help, but there was only so much I could do. Pam had done a lot on her own with the club, and of course, I’d helped her as well. But even with the excitement of a new place we were still wary and weary.
The feeling of wariness didn’t dissipate on opening night. The lines to get in wound around the parking lot, and Eric had made it very clear that Thalia was to be up front together with whoever else wanted to help her. Maxwell Lee offered, and even though he wasn’t the oldest or strongest vampire, the humans didn’t know that. He still looked big, bad, and menacing, whereas Thalia only looked menacing and nuts. Either way there was always some idiot that wanted to cause trouble. That idiot turned out to be some vampire named Mickey. The humans had behaved amazingly well, and had definitely “dressed to impress,” as the ad suggested. Mickey had dressed to impress, but decided to sass Thalia. Apparently Thalia’s reputation as a deranged individual had not reached Mickey’s ears, and he ended up flying through the air landing in the greenery that separated the club from the highway.
To our immense surprise, Victor Madden and his lackeys decided to make an appearance. We were heavy on the vampire personnel tonight, so we knew he wouldn’t try anything stupid. I was watching all the goings on from the security office that was being manned by Tray Dawson, a lone Were that Alcide Herveaux suggested would be great as head of security. Tray had been a cop, and knew the laws and how to keep his cool, which was a big deal for a Were.
“Tray, keep an eye on those three,” I muttered pointing at the screen when Victor entered the club.
“Sure thing,” Tray said, moving another active camera to follow the vampires’ progress. They were making their way to where Eric and Pam were sitting. Instead of a raised dais at the end of the dance floor, they had a whole corner cordoned off, with a large table and plushier chairs. They could entertain if they so chose. That was exactly what Eric did. I saw him motion for Victor to take a seat.
“I wonder what they’re saying…” I whispered.
“It’s all being recorded, per Eric’s orders. Many of what is said in that corner is fiefdom business, and Eric wanted to make sure all the conversations would be available later,” Tray said, and pointed to one of the many complicated programs running on a computer screen. I was afraid to touch anything, or mess with Tray’s concentration, so I didn’t say anything and backed away slowly.
Diantha was waiting for me behind the closed door of the security office, so I went and joined her. Indira was making her way to me down the long corridor of the back offices.
“Eric asked for you,” she said and made a disapproving face. I had once compared her to a mama shark, and I hadn’t been that far off. Right at that moment she was my own overprotective mama shark, and she didn’t want me to go out into the vast ocean to face the meaner sharks.
I, on the other hand, had no choice. Eric wouldn’t have called for me just to show me off. There was always an important reason for everything he did. So I motioned for all of us to skedaddle out to the main floor and join Eric and Pam. Besides, I was wearing Freyja’s stones and my fairy brooch. I had Diantha right behind me, and Glad was somewhere in the club, mostly mingling. She was making sure nobody had any plans to harm me, so she was doing a type of reconnaissance.
We reached the vamps’ corner and Eric and Victor immediately stood at our arrival. Eric took my hand and directed me to the seat he’d just vacated. Pam shot me a look that… well, let’s just say that all it was missing was for her to stick her tongue out and make the universal gagging gesture. Victor was obviously one of those people.
“Darling, this is Victor Madden. Victor, this is my wife Sookie Stackhouse Northman,” Eric said.
Victor bowed low and extended his hand asking for mine. I shot Pam a quick look. She was rolling her eyes, and it was all I could do to keep from giggling as I gave Victor my hand. He kissed it. I usually had no problem touching vampires, but something about Victor gave me the creeps. I’m usually not wrong about my creepy feelings, and of course he was already persona non grata in our books.
“A pleasure, Mrs. Northman,” Victor said and we all sat except Eric and Diantha. Indira sat at the closest chair to Pam. Victor’s people had gone off somewhere else; though I’m sure it wasn’t very far. “I was just telling Sheriff Northman that your reputation precedes you. You are a celebrity amongst vampires.”
“Oh? And why would that be?” I asked, playing stupid. I wanted him to talk and see if he would trip himself up. I didn’t need Eric’s direction on this one. His sudden pride told me I was doing exactly what he wanted me to do. Great minds think alike, what can I say?
“Obviously the Pythoness took a great shining to you, and you saved your Queen by telling the Great Oracle what happened during that awful night of the engagement party. Surely you understand what it means to be god touched,” Victor said. What a strange conversation to have with someone you just met! No preambles, just blah!
“Yes, I know what the Pythoness said, I was there,” I said, not really saying anything to answer his question/statement.
“And to find that you’re with child! Was it a gift from the gods?” he asked, his dark eyes twinkling with something akin to mischief.
“Not exactly. It was a gift from our deep pockets, a generous donor, and a doctor’s hard work. But I don’t understand why this is any of your business, Mr. Madden,” I said, telling Victor in not uncertain words that I’d been impregnated through in vitro fertilization. But really, what business was it of his? I smelled a rat.
“I apologize, Mrs. Stackhouse. Like I said, you’re a celebrity and I’m being very nosy,” he said, looking properly contrite, although his excuse was lame.
“Have you filed the paperwork to remain in the area?” Eric changed the subject none too subtly.
“Yes I have, but I never received a response. I imagined that since Fangtasia burned down that our approval got lost in the mail,” Victor said. He seemed to be trying to pull the wool over Eric’s eyes. What was he playing at?
“If you had resubmitted, like you ought to have, you would know that I do not approve of nests within my area. You will have to find separate domiciles for your nest mates, and they have to file separate petitions to remain. You alone have my verbal permission to stay in my area. Your nest mates have three days to leave or submit the necessary paperwork. I can make their approval retroactive if you pay the applicable fine,” Eric said, keeping it all business. He was like the immigration officer for the area.
“Of course, Sheriff,” Victor said, still eyeing me curiously from time to time. He left the corner after a few more pleasantries, and rejoined his… people. I use the word loosely. The man looked a lot like Victor: tall, light skin, dark hair, but he was a bit brawnier. The woman was just as tall as the men, with dark skin and her hair in perfect (and probably expensive) braids.
I heard Pam harrumph quietly next to me, and Eric sat on the chair where Victor had been sitting. “Too bad you can’t read vampire minds,” he said taking my hand.
“No, but I know when someone is digging for something. I don’t know why the interest in our baby,” I said to Eric, feeling truly scared for once. It was like being told a hurricane is coming, and you batten down the hatches as best you can, but you just know that the old tree in the backyard is going to fall, and you can only hope it won’t fall on the house.
“I think it’s time, Eric. I don’t think it can be postponed anymore,” Pam said, rather cryptically.
I turned to look at Eric who sagged in the chair looking defeated. “I’ll make the phone call,” he said and stood up slowly, like an old man with creaky joints. Whatever he was about to do was a heavy burden.
I didn’t dare ask, but felt my phone vibrate inside my bra where I’d put it due to my lack of pockets. After all, I also had to dress to impress.
My phone had a message from Pam. She must have sent it as I stared at poor Eric getting up from his chair. The message said: Eric is calling QSA and asking permission to kill Victor. Once done will start war with Nevada. Only way we see to keep you safe.
The room went silent for just a split second, before my own mama shark instincts kicked into gear. There was no way that I was going to let Eric kill Victor and start a war with the state of Nevada. I couldn’t let that fall on his shoulders, not after all the stress he’d been under. So I forwarded the text to Claudine, asking for help of any kind. I only hoped that whatever help my family could send wouldn’t be too late to arrive.