Charlaine Harris owns almost everything. I own the rest. Big love to FairytaleAmber for all her help. All remaining mistakes are my own.
“I know about Bill’s project,” she started, knowing she walked a very fine line between life and death. “And more importantly, so does Mississippi.” That got her attention.
Sophie-Anne’s posture relaxed. “Go on.”
Sookie sighed and then told the story of Bill’s abduction and Lorena torturing him for information. “He told her everything.”
Sophie-Anne swore in French. “I suppose I need to negotiate with Russell now. I will not allow him to usurp me! Eric, why didn’t you tell me about Bill’s situation?”
Sookie held up her hand. “There’s just one more thing. They don’t have the program. I do.”
Delight spread across the queen’s face.
“When Eric informed me that Bill had gone missing, we decided to rescue him before a war started between Louisiana and Mississippi.”
“How very diplomatic of you.”
“It was Eric’s idea, ma’am. He knew Bill was working on a special project for you, but he didn’t know what it entailed. I do.” She paused and looked right at queen Sophie-Anne. “He was working on a database. Of vampires.” She hoped like hell she was right.
“Yes. A very profitable venture into the digital world. Just imagine!” Her eyes glittered. “And you, my darling Sookie, have saved it from the greedy hands of Mississippi.”
“Yes, I have.” She had to resist the urge to sit down. The emotional rollercoaster of their conversation left her weak in the knees. She leaned against Eric and tried to keep her hands from shaking.
“I am in your debt,” the queen said. She wasn’t happy about it, either. She circled around Sookie, sizing her up.
Hadley sighed and smiled at Sookie.
“What would you like for it?”
“Oh I don’t…” Sookie said stopping herself before she finished with want it as she realized the queen wanted to pay her for it. Taking a humble approach, she looked down. “It belongs to you.”
“True,” Sophie-Anne said, and then she added, “but I think you should be rewarded for your courage and loyalty. You could’ve handed it over to Mississippi just as easily.”
“That’s exactly what Bill wanted to do. I have more integrity than that.”
The queen let out a short, surprised laugh. “I like you. You speak your mind, and you’re more fearless than any other human I’ve met.”
Sookie blushed. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“There must be something I can do for you.”
Sookie sighed. As much as she hated to admit it, she needed a lot of things. “My driveway needs to be re-graveled, and my water heater is on its last leg.”
“So practical,” she said, looking at Eric. She nodded at Sookie. “Done. I would also like to offer you a job.”
“I’m not interested in moving,” Sookie stated before the queen got carried away.
“No need. When I need you, I’ll give you notice and send a driver to you. I will expect you to attend meetings and conference with me, once or twice a week, perhaps a little more if the situation arises. You will be under my protection at all times. Eric will make sure of that.” She looked up at him and lifted her eyebrows expectantly.
“Of course, my queen.”
“That sounds fair,” Sookie said.
“One hundred?” the queen asked Sookie.
She frowned. One hundred what? Before she could ask, Eric spoke again.
He shook his head. “Two hundred.”
“Done.” Sophie-Anne nodded. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I will get someone to draw up a contract.” She took Hadley’s hand and they left the room together.
“What just happened?” Sookie whispered.
“You nearly got yourself killed, but you explained why she shouldn’t kill you, and then you negotiated a job.” Eric sighed.
“Two hundred what? What were you talking about?”
“Your salary. Two hundred thousand.”
“Dollars?” she shouted and then covered her mouth. “A year?”
“Yes, but with as quickly as she agreed, I should’ve started higher.” He clenched his jaw.
“What in the world am I going to do with that much money?” Her head swam.
“Whatever you like.” He kissed her.
The door opened again, and that time, a young man accompanied the queen. “Andre, this is Sookie. She’s going to be working with us. She’s a telepath.”
Andre bowed slightly and smiled, sending a shiver down Sookie’s spine.
“Here is your contract, please look it over. It is for two years. After that, we can renegotiate.” She motioned for Sookie to step up to the table.
Sookie read each line carefully and signed the bottom.
Sophie-Anne smiled and handed the contract to Andre, and then gave Sookie a check for ten thousand dollars. “I have no idea how much gravel and water heaters cost. Will this be sufficient?”
Sookie nodded trying to keep her mouth from falling open. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“Did you bring the program with you?” she asked.
“Yes. It’s in my car,” Eric answered. “I will go get it for you.” He left before Sookie could protest. She didn’t want to be left alone, but then it occurred to her that she would be spending a lot of one-on-one time with the queen and she should probably get used to it.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry I was so rude earlier, about Bill,” Sookie said to Sophie-Anne.
The queen waved her hand dismissively. “I’ll allow it this time. Many men have wronged me too. It didn’t end well for any of them, just as it won’t for Bill.”
As Sookie tried to figure out what she meant by that, Eric returned with the box.
Sophie-Anne clapped her hands together. “Excellent. I thank you both for coming to me.”
Eric took Sookie’s hand. “We have a long drive ahead of us. Thank you for seeing us on such short notice.” He bowed toward the queen while Sookie curtsied.
“I look forward to working with you. I’ll be in touch,” she said to Sookie.
* * * *
Once they pulled out of the city, Sookie turned toward Eric and said, “The queen said something strange. While you were getting the stuff.”
He glanced at her and frowned before turning his attention to the dark road that stretched out in front of them. “What did she say?”
“Well, I apologized for being rude, about her sending Bill to get me.”
Eric let out a short laugh. “Of course you did.”
“My gran raised me with manners, and I apologized for letting my anger get the better of me. Anyway, she said men had wronged her too and that it never ended well for them, and then she said it wouldn’t end well for Bill either. What do you think she meant?”
He shrugged after a few seconds. “It’s hard to tell with her. I’m surprised you made it out of there alive. I’m strong, but she’s stronger. There would only be so much I could do to protect you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind in the future.” She swallowed hard. “I’m just so damn mad about the way Bill manipulated me.” She clenched her jaw. “I know I shouldn’t have talked to her like that.”
“She said she liked you. That’s rare.”
Sookie let out a low whistle. “And Hadley? When the hell did that happen?”
“Were you close?”
“When we were kids. We talked about everything, and then after her mom died, she split. I haven’t seen her since. I’ve got to say, Hadley being a part of the queen’s team had a lot to do with me agreeing to work with her. I hope I get to see her while I’m on assignment.” She grinned. “I guess I’ll have to quit Merlotte’s. Sam is going to be so mad! But I can’t work both jobs, can I? And why should I bust my ass every night for lousy tips when I’ve got a steady job?”
“You shouldn’t.” He laughed.
“You’re happy,” Sookie stated. She knew it for a fact. She could feel it coming off of him. “How can I feel you? Earlier, when I was putting my foot in my mouth, I almost threw up because you were so anxious!”
Eric slowed down, pulled onto the side of the road, and looked at her. “I can feel you too. At Russell’s, you were so angry … well, I thought it was anger. Jealousy and anger are difficult to distinguish. And then when I held you, it turned to bliss. You have had my blood…”
“I thought it took a few times.” She frowned.
“Three,” Eric said, but he looked right through her. “It takes three for bonding.”
“Dallas and then at Russell’s. That’s two.”
He shook his head and his eyes focused on hers. “The night Callisto joined the group in the woods. When she filled them with madness and left them there to die…”
Sookie shivered and rubbed her shoulders. “I’ve tried to forget that night.”
“Bill and I held you up. Your entire body convulsed. I put my hand over your mouth.” He paused and then added, “You bit me.”
A flash from that night came back to her, including his sweet viscous blood coating her tongue. “I’ve had your blood three times.” She pushed the car door open, suddenly desperate for fresh air.
Her head swam. She stepped outside, leaned against the car, and took several deep breaths trying to sort everything out. The cool, dark night surrounded her.
I’m bonded to Eric.