With the paparazzi fiasco, Godric’s hand had been forced. He had to reopen his nest. Cases were awaiting adjudication. To leave pending cases unaddressed now would look sloppy, at best. Viewed more conservatively, it read as downright negligent. He had to face the inevitable avalanche of questions. Why was a 2000 year old Sheriff out cavorting in a candy shop with a human – licking ice cream off of him in public, no less – while the good citizens of Area Nine were barred from their commons and made to wait? Who was this mortal woman who had seemingly been granted precedence over a maker’s request or an appeal to relocate?
While Godric greeted the suspicions and rumors of his people, Rosalyn was banished to the bedroom with one very testy Viking as her bodyguard. Eric scanned one newspaper after another. There must be no less than two dozen at his feet. All were splashed with sensational headlines and images of his maker and human companion giggling and smooching in each other’s company. His maker did not ‘giggle’ – especially not in full-color, front page articles. With every paper he tossed down, his mood grew worse.
Beauty and the Beast: Can mystery woman tame Dallas’ most notorious vamp?
America’s Most Powerful Vamp Mainstreaming!
Vampire Assault in Dallas Streets: Photographer in ER
“Bullshit,” Eric muttered to himself.
Rosalyn, meanwhile, ignored his grumbling. She took the opportunity to look more closely at the music collection in Godric’s room. It was vast and incoherently ordered, just like his library. Selecting a record at random, she set it on the turntable and listened to the song for a moment. She jumped the needle to a different track, then to a third song, then she switched out the record for another. Much to Eric’s chagrin, she did it again. And again.
And again. “That is extremely annoying, Ros.”
“It’s an experiment. I’m trying to figure out what kind of music Godric likes.”
Ros slipped another record from its sleeve. There was no identifying label on it. It hissed under the needle, playing only a fuzzy silence. It must be faulty, she supposed. She moved to take it off when a tinny voice suddenly came on. The sound quality was warped and the accent oddly old fashioned and posh, but there was no mistaking the speaker: it was Eric, speaking out of time.
“Hello old chap. Happy un-birthday!”
In the background, Pam cut in. “Congrats gramps. You are still old as dirt – ”
“ – Can it! What we wished to say is that we regret that we cannot be with you to celebrate. Along with the phonograph you will find a selection of the finest tunes available. Keep up with the times, am I right? I am also sending some street sounds from New York which I have taken the trouble to record for you, including the new subway. This city is truly wild. I do wish you would reconsider -“
Eric’s large hand cut the album short. “It wasn’t labeled,” Ros said. She had not meant to stumble on something so personal.
Eric’s face was unreadable. “I thought he had lost those. They were wax cylinder recordings, you know. He must have transferred them when records became available.”
“That was – ”
“A century ago? Yes.”
Ros put the disc in its paper jacket with reverence and slid it back into its place on the shelf. Eric flicked a dismissive hand at the cabinet. “They are memories, mostly, from the last hundred years. The sounds are just mnemonics. They evoke a particular time or place.”
“Oh, wow. Like the soundtrack to a tiny portion of his life.” She rocked back onto her heels. “Tell me about New York back then.”
“It stunk of piss and factories, but the choice of blood was good.”
“Nothing I care to share with you,” he said resolutely.
“Why don’t you pick an album and tell me about it. Please?” The tinge of desperation in her voice was not forced. She was anxious. It was one thing to meet Godric at a party in a nameless sea of faces. Tonight she was meeting his subjects – those whose obedience and respect his authority relied upon.
Eric refused. “These aren’t my stories to tell, little human, even if I did know what they meant to my maker.”
“Come on, Mr. Bad Attitude. If you’re going to be stuck babysitting me, you can at least try to distract us. You know as well as I do all we’re thinking about is how it’s going out there with Godric.”
“We could paint each other’s toenails and talk about our crushes,” he said.
“Oh, shut up. Surely you’ve got one decent memory worth sharing.”
“Nope. I’m drawing a blank.”
“You’re chicken,” she said. He was unimpressed. “You know what? You’re probably right. Let it be noted that Eric Northman’s life was a blur of blood and forgettable women.”
Eric’s eyes narrowed and he set his jaw. “Do not speak of my legacy so.”
She was not deterred by his unsettling stare. “Why should I not? You do.”
“Fine. I will tell you one story. One, Ros.” He folded his long legs up and hunted down the long row. He tugged a couple albums out and quickly rejected them until he hit upon one that suited him. He set the record in the player, but did not start it. “You do not repeat this.”
“Obviously,” she said.
“And you will apologize afterwards.”
“Yeah. We’ll see about that.”
“You will,” he said firmly. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “How is it supposed to go? Once upon a time, long before you were born?” Ros nodded, scooting closer to listen. “It was springtime in Paris. The year was 1849, just after the revolution. I’d wandered to the city alone. I had been alone for some time. An acquaintance invited me to attend the theatre. There was hype about some new type of lighting they were going to introduce – a spotlight that mimicked sunlight. I hate French opera, but out of curiosity, I decided to attend. Do you know Paris?”
“Not really. I’ve only been there once.”
“Well, back then, the national theatre was further north than where it is today. I had apartments near the river and it was an absolute nightmare to travel. Many of the streets were still barricaded from the summer before. Twice I considered telling the coach to turn around.”
“Couldn’t you just fly?”
“I could have, but it matters that I didn’t. So, I made it before the curtain call just in time. The opera turned out to be utter garbage. The music was overwrought nonsense, the scenes were too long, everyone was doused in cloying perfume, and the fancy light turned out to be nothing extraordinary. Just a spotlight, only a little brighter.”
“Wow, Eric. Really uplifting.”
“Was I finished? Stop interrupting.” Eric cleared his throat and placed the needle on the record. The haunting sounds of a Chopin nocturne filled the room. It was not one she recognized.
“Close your eyes,” he suggested. He paused, letting the soft music seep through them in ebbs and soaring flows. “Between acts I ditched the theatre and took to the streets by foot. In the distance someone was trying to play one of Chopin’s pieces. This one. Can you hear it?”
She imagined Eric in a top hat and opera cape. Light pattering raindrops clung to him. Around him the scene bled in watery colors of burnt umber and shadow. Gaslights reflected on the wet pavers in bleary streaks.
“The music was such a relief from the noise of that opera house. I let the sound direct my feet and I wondered if it was actually Chopin practicing. I’d heard him perform once, years before. If it was indeed him, he was in rough shape. The player stumbled on the long chord runs and flubbed several of the trills. Perhaps it was someone simply trying to learn it.”
“Was it him?” Ros said, breaking the daydream.
Eric smiled. “That’s just it. I don’t know. I never made it that far.”
“What happened?” she pressed, fully hooked.
Eric’s smile broadened, touching the corners of his eyes. “I met Pamela.” Ros bit her lip. “In a city where I didn’t belong, in a neighborhood I had no business being in. Walking when I could have flown. It was all chance and a little bit of Chopin that drew me down a particular road one night. But what a road it turned out to be.”
“Thank goodness for Chopin.”
“And terrible French opera.”
Ros gave a sheepish grin. “Don’t ever let go of that. The awe. The magic in your memory. It’s what Godric forgot.”
He ran a hand over Godric’s record collection, lost in thought. “Memories can just as easily be part of the problem, you know. It’s the living where you forget.”
“And it’s the forgetting that settles into both diamonds and rust.” He grunted in agreement. They both contemplated the idea in silence. “I’m sorry I teased you, Blondie.”
“It is forgiven.”
She booped his nose. “Careful now. Your human side is showing.”
He was about to say something more when a shiver trailed down his spine.
“He’s ready for us so soon?” she said.
“You’ll do fine.” He helped pull her to her feet. “We’ll be right there at your side.”
As they unlocked the secure door, she stopped him. “Thank you, Eric.” She gave his hand a squeeze. He dipped his head, knowing exactly how she felt.
“Sure you don’t want me to glamour you for courage?”
“Hell no. Just stick with me, you big dork.”
The din in the large meeting room grew quiet when Eric entered. Trailing behind him was a solidly built human clad in pleated culottes and a linen top. In the delicate curve of her neck, a blood mark unlike any other shimmered and thrummed in tune to her pulse. As she turned, it was plain to see she bore a pair – deep wells of ancient blood embracing the arteries on either side of her throat. Godric had given her the second only hours ago after he woke. Several vampires crossed themselves automatically. Unsure of proper protocol, a few bowed as she passed. Everyone, absolutely everyone, stared. Godric stood and drew Rosalyn to his side.
“Good people, I know you have many questions about this young woman. This is Dr. Rosalyn Murray. She is a loyal friend to our kind and more importantly, a loyal friend to me.”
“Smells like more than that!” someone snickered.
“I expect her to be treated with the same respect you would offer myself or Isabelle. In this area, you are to address her as Dr. Murray or Madame.”
There were shouts. Godric had anticipated the outburst and already had a hand up to silence them.
“Sheriff, no offense, but are you fuckin’ with us?”
Godric’s eyes found the tall cowboy leaning against the wall. “No, Stan. This is my order.”
“But she’s a pet,” he sneered. “You really expect us to act like she’s a member of the nest?”
“She is a person, first and foremost. From this night forward, the term ‘pet’ is banned in Area Nine. Ownership of humans is forbidden. Isabelle is circulating the edict. Read it carefully. Any of you in disagreement with its terms are welcome to leave, or else face the penalties.”
A hand raised in the midst of the group. Isabelle acknowledged the subject. “Yes, Mable?”
“I understand these are your wishes, Sheriff. But how are we to refer to Madame Rosalyn? If you are not claiming her, what…what is she, you know, to you?”
The anticipation was palpable. “For the time being, you may think of her as my intended.” The declaration was met with another outburst of commotion. Rosalyn whipped her head. Her mouth hung open. This was not what they had discussed.
“I think I speak for many of us when I say we aren’t sure what that means,” Mable said.
“My intentions are my own business, underling. Now unless there is anything else, this meeting is adjourned.”
With that, the room burst into conversation. Three attendees got up and left – seemingly for good. Their copies of the paper flyer with the Sheriff’s new rules lay crumpled on the ground.
Godric tooks his seat once more. “What are you doing? Why did you say that?” Ros whispered harshly.
He smiled gently. “We will discuss this later. Let us receive our guests in the meantime.” The receiving line was already taking shape in front of them. A stream of vampires offered congratulations and thanks – some even sounded heartfelt.
At the back of the crowd, someone started clapping. It was a slow clap. A clap meant to taunt. Eric shot to his feet to search out the offender.
“Very, very impressive,” a voice remarked.
“Flannigan,” Eric hissed.
Godric reached over and placed a protective hand on Rosalyn’s knee. When he saw who followed in her wake, a growl ripped from his throat. “You come unannounced to my home with that creature in tow?” The demon Derek Ronwe smiled at the insult. Vampires leaned away from him in disgust as he sauntered by.
Godric and Eric formed a wall of muscle to shield Rosalyn. “You are not on our guest list, Ms. Flannigan, nor Mr. Ronwe,” Isabelle said calmly. “The Sheriff would be happy to accommodate you if you’ll just make an appointment – ”
“Pfffft. I don’t need an appointment,” she scoffed. Her heels clacked impertinently on the tile.
“Everyone needs an appointment. Even you, sweetcakes,” Eric said.
“I’m on tv, Northman.” She looked at him appraisingly. “And you two idiots are all over the news. Roman sent me. Where can we talk in private?”
Eric and Godric glanced at each other. “Escort Ros back to my chambers,” Godric ordered.
“I don’t have all night, boys. You think you’re the only ones on my shit list for the evening? Now means now. Let’s go.”
Godric guided Rosalyn toward Isabelle, shaking his head in dismay.
“Come, Dr. Murray.” Isabelle tried to escort Rosalyn out.
She held her ground. “I’ve just been introduced to these fine people. I’m not going to be stowed away like some poor relation. I dare say Godric believes in his subjects; he knows they are trustworthy. We’re here to meet each other, are we not?” She gave a pointed look at Isabelle and then turned eagerly to the crowd of residents. The vampiress allowed her a little space, though not without trepidation.
A woman with a victory roll hairdo came forward and gave her an awkward handshake, as if she was out of practice. “Name is Mable. I’m real pleased to make your acquaintance. About time something interesting happened in this town.” She laughed nervously.
“Pleasure to meet you, Mable. I’m Ros. How long have you lived in Area Nine?”
“Seventy-four years. Can you believe it?”
“You don’t think anything interesting has happened in nearly eight decades?”
“Nah, well…nothing ’cept for the dying. That was different!” She gave a hearty laugh that was contagious. Other vampires saw Rosalyn and Mable chatting like old neighbors and, following Mable’s good example, introduced themselves. A group gathered around the human.
How did Dr. Murray like Dallas? What did she think about the Great Reveal? Did she know about the new school for vampires? Would she vote for a Vampire-American president?
Their questions were all so ordinary. They were as naturally curious about her as she was about them. Even Isabelle relaxed slightly. Someone put on some music and the tension of the house resolved itself into a pleasant, cocktail hour mood. A drink sounded quite nice to Rosalyn. Many of the other guests already had martini glasses filled with warm blood.
“Excuse me, just for a moment.” Ros escaped to the kitchen while Isabelle was distracted in conversation. She grabbed her special striped glass from the human cupboard and was confronted with a wiry body.
“Derek,” she said.
“You don’t sound happy to see me.”
“You stopped returning my calls. That hurt my feelings.” His fake frown was more of a grimace. Rosalyn eyed the alarm pad on the wall beside Ronwe. It was too far to hit the panic button without diving past him. “Don’t take it personally,” she said. “It wasn’t about you.” She tried to open a bottle of wine, but her hands were shaky.
Ronwe took the bottle from her. “Allow me.” He poured a long drink, twisting the bottle with a flourish at the end. “For someone who seems so intent on meddling in our politics, you aren’t very savvy.”
“I’m catching up,” she said.
“I thought we had a deal.” His breath was hot in her face.
“I didn’t agree to anything and you know it. Nothing.”
“Maybe not, but you sold the school idea out from under us and my master is pissed. You ponied up with the wrong team!” He grabbed her wrist. His grip was boiling hot. Rosalyn screamed and chucked the wine in his face.
In a fraction of a second, Godric was at her side. He had smashed through not one, but two doors. Her glass was still spinning in the air as he arrived. It shattered on the floor before his feet. The smell of charred flesh and the sound of Rosalyn’s terror was all he needed to know. “You dare trespass the peace in my home.” He stalked forward. The glass shards crunched under his shoes. “You dare assault this woman.”
The demon cowered. “It was an accident!” he sputtered through the wine dripping out of his hair.
Rosalyn was patently aware of the staring audience gathered behind them. Godric lifted Rosalyn’s hand by two fingers and displayed the scald on her wrist. “You. Dare.”
“Roman…Roman wants the girl!”
A ferocious growl tore from Godric’s chest. “You are as good as dead,” he declared.
The demon swore and made a break for it. He tried to crash through the bystanders, but he had miscalculated the loyalty of Godric’s retinue. They wrestled him to the ground in seconds. “God dammit, Derek!” Nan cursed when she saw the mess he had made. “This was supposed to be a courtesy call, not a national fucking disaster! Godric – ”
“Silence,” Godric ordered. He could not tear his eyes from the welt in Rosalyn’s skin.
“You’re fucked,” Eric whispered into Nan’s ear. He could not resist gloating.
“I did not think it necessary to state the obvious,” Godric said. “But it appears some of you are unwilling to read between the lines.” He pointed to the marks in Rosalyn’s neck. “An injury against this woman is a blood offense against my House and Line. We will seek justice without mercy.”
Nan rolled her eyes. “Quit with the theatrics, Sheriff. It’s a scratch. A little blood and she’s good as new.”
Godric turned his glare on her. “Run.”
“Oh please…” she scoffed.
“I said run. Run while you still can.”
Suddenly the gravity of the situation dawned on Nan Flannigan. She sucked in a ragged breath and took a shambling step backwards, bumping past Eric. Eric and Godric growled in unison at her and she fled, clickety clacking out of the nest as fast as her legs could carry her. “Start the car! Start the car!” she screamed down the driveway.
Eric sucked at his cheek. “Well. That went well.”
A/N: The song Eric plays is Chopin’s Nocturne #20 in C sharp minor.
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