Charlaine Harris owns almost everything. I own the rest.
This chapter is short. Just warning you now! I stayed up entirely too late one night thinking about this story and realized I needed to rewrite this chapter (and the rest of the story), so I did. It’s still short, but I’m much happier with it. I hope you enjoy reading!
Sookie laced her fingers through Eric’s and held onto him tightly as they walked up the front steps toward the palace. Her ankles wobbled in her new heels and she became lightheaded.
“Breathe,” Eric whispered, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.
She nodded and took a deep breath, feeling remarkably better. One step after another led her to the front doors. A vampire guarded either side, wearing the same uniform the vamp at the gate had. The woman held a wicked blade in her hands and a long curtain of black hair hid half her face. With her visible eye, she observed Sookie with keen interest. The man attempted to keep his focus on Eric as they exchanged greetings, but failed miserably. Sookie leaned against Eric, wishing she could hide behind him and disappear, and then he started moving inside.
A lavish hall sprawled ahead of them. Fine carved furniture lining the walls while an enormous chandelier hung overhead, the multitude of crystals throwing colored light on the creamy white walls. As if making an entrance in an epic film, a young woman sashayed down a curved, glossy staircase at the end of the hall.
“Welcome,” she called, her silk gown flowing around her as if it weighed nothing.
Eric took a step away from Sookie, released her hand, and bowed. “My queen.”
She smiled. “I see you survived the wilderness, Eric. And this must be Sookie Stackhouse.” The queen finished her descent and floated toward them. Her small frame didn’t diminish her strength; instead, it seemed to enhance it. Like a fine Japanese sword: delicate, beautiful, and deadly. “My, aren’t you lovely?”
Sookie shifted from foot to foot under the scrutiny, the familiar heat of a blush creeping up her neck. Finally remembering her manners, she curtsied. “Ma’am.”
The queen tittered. “Please, call me Sophie-Anne.” The accent that had been hiding behind most of her words emerged when she spoke her name. She gestured to a door leading to an extravagant office. “Please, sit.”
Sookie passed Sophie-Anne as she went into the room. The queen inhaled deeply and gave Eric a satisfied smile. Sookie sat on the edge of a chair that looked like it belonged in a museum. She held as still as she could, afraid it might break under her. The queen sat in a chair nearby, but Eric remained standing between them.
“Eric, I am most pleased with the outcome of your work. Your debt has been paid. I hope you will consider taking a position here, with me.”
A smile fluttered around the corners of his mouth and then disappeared. “Thank you, Sophie-Anne.”
Debt? Eric owes her something? He never mentioned that. Sookie knew well enough to keep her mouth shut. She could ask him later.
“You may leave,” the queen said.
“I would like him to stay,” Sookie said.
The queen looked from Eric to Sookie, raising one perfect eyebrow. “You’ve become attached, I see.”
Sookie nodded slowly and straightened her back hoping Eric wouldn’t leave. He didn’t. He stood next to her. That simple thing, not leaving, filled her heart with hope. Maybe he wasn’t just using me.
The queen narrowed her eyes. “You are very interesting. Do you know why you’re here?”
Sookie glanced at Eric, who still hadn’t moved. “Eric said you wanted to talk to me about something, but not until Bill’s blood was gone.”
“Bill.” Sophie-Anne scoffed. “I sent him to do one little job and not only did he fail me, but he seems as though he were trying to undermine me. If that’s the case—”
“What job? Sheriff Pam mentioned something like that the first night I met her, but it’s all a little foggy, what with being drugged and all.” She lifted one eyebrow, waiting for the queen to respond.
“Bill is – was my procurer. He was sent to acquire you, but apparently he had other plans. I keep waiting for him to admit his guilt, but he hasn’t said a word. The night he took you to Fangtasia was the first time I knew he had found you. Imagine my surprise finding that he’d claimed you.”
“Claimed me?” Her forehead creased. Never mind the fact that the queen had just referred to her as if she were property. The queen also spoke about Bill as if she’d seen him recently. Maybe she knows where he is!
“He gave you his blood. Quite a lot.”
She almost defended him, praising how he had saved her from the Rats, but she knew that wasn’t the whole truth. He had saved her, but only because he’d probably arrived late on purpose so she would need to be saved. She couldn’t complain about having Bill out of her system, but that didn’t make the queen’s actions right. “Why would him giving me his blood undermine you?”
The queen relaxed into her chair. “Well, you see, when a human has vampire blood, it creates a bond. It’s weak at first, but full strength with the third exchange. It influences your brain, your emotions, and your decisions. Bill had influence over you the moment you took your first swallow.”
“And you didn’t want his influence?” she guessed.
“Exactly.” Sophie-Anne smiled. “It was obvious I couldn’t trust him after such a grievous error.”
Sookie leaned forward. “So I had to pay for Bill’s mistake.”
“I wouldn’t look at it that way,” the queen said, her smile tightening.
“Wouldn’t you? I was treated like a prisoner. Tied up, handcuffed, and drugged because I had Bill’s blood inside me.” Sookie gripped the arms of her chair to keep her hands from shaking. “Why didn’t you just tell me what was going on and let me make a choice about what to do?”
The smile fell from Sophie-Anne’s face. “In my experience, humans aren’t willing to listen.”
“I’m not a regular human, am I?” Sookie asked, challenging her.
“No, you’re not,” she answered, shifting forward and reaching toward the desk. “In fact, you are a descendant of Niall’s,” she said with awe.
Sookie frowned. Who’s that? Why is she acting so weird?
Eric took a step between them, his hands balling into fists, preparing for a fight.
“Relax, Eric,” the queen commanded before lifting a folder. “Here is the information I could find about your fairy heritage.”
Sookie’s mouth hung open. She reached out and took it. Newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, and old photographs poked out of the edge. She had no idea what she might find in that folder, so she put it on her lap, determined to read every last scrap of paper on her own. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“You’re welcome.” When the queen relaxed into her chair, Eric took his neutral position between them. “Now, let’s get on with things. I would like to offer you a job where I can benefit from you telepathy.”
Sookie had been expecting that and countered with, “What are your terms?”
“Oh!” Sophie-Anne laughed, noticeably delighted. “I am willing to pay two hundred thousand a year.”
Sookie nodded, pretending that two hundred thousand dollars wasn’t a big deal. Working at Merlotte’s had barely covered utilities, and not for lack of effort. She worked until her entire body ached for next to nothing. Now, she was being offered a job that paid ten times as much. How could she say no? “Hours?”
“They will vary. I’ll need you to be available for meetings and when I travel. We can discuss that more fully when we draw up a contract.”
The queen’s presumptuous statement put Sookie off. When we draw up a contract? When?! As if I don’t have a say in this! “Before I agree to anything, I’m going to need an apology,” she stated, waiting for the shock to disappear from the queen’s face and ignoring the tension in Eric’s body.
She nodded. “For my treatment. I don’t blame Eric. He was following orders and made every effort to take care of my needs. You gave those orders and I want you to apologize.” She held the queen’s eyes with her own, never wavering, no matter how fast her heart hammered against her chest or how light-headed she became.
Sophie-Anne took her time, but eventually said, “I am sorry for your distress.”
“Distress?” Sookie asked. “Do you have any idea how painful that spell was?” She narrowed her gaze. “It felt like my body was being ripped apart from the inside.”
“I apologize,” the queen murmured with more feeling than her previous statement.
“My personal life is my own business, including whomever might be influencing me.” She couldn’t stop. All the anger, pain, and bitterness about how she had been handled came to the surface and forced its way out of her throat. “Don’t ever assume to know me.”
“Understood.” The queen nodded once.
Sookie was breathing hard and her hands shook, not from fear, but from the power of standing up for herself. Eric took a step between Sookie and the queen, his entire body coiled tight. Fear radiated from him. She took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
Sophie-Anne frowned. “This is not what I expected of this meeting.”
“Sookie has been through a lot and is still recovering,” Eric said.
She stood behind him, angrier than ever that she wasn’t included in the conversation anymore.
“Perhaps we can meet again, once she’s had a chance to rest more fully,” the queen said. “Please let me know when she’s ready.”
He bowed slightly and pulled Sookie against his body. Despite her position, she didn’t feel peaceful in his arms. She wanted to fight for her rights and make sure the queen understood how pissed she was, but Eric ushered her out of the room before she could open her mouth.
At the door, she finally broke free. “I want to see Bill,” she blurted.
The queen’s eyes met hers again. “I’ll be in touch.”
Originally, I had written Sookie going with the flow and accepting the job outright, but after I thought about it long and hard I decided that she needed to be angry … angry enough to stand up for herself and hold the queen accountable for her actions. I was inspired to make the changes because of a comment Meridian made about Detox. Thanks for planting those seeds in my brain!
On to Relapse: Chapter 3