Godric stared at the swirling ripples his toes spun out across the pool’s surface. He sat at the edge of the diving board, uncaring that the cuffs of his pants were soaked. The opulent tile room was lit only by the underwater pool lamps and his movements sent chaotic ribbons of light dancing on the ceiling overhead.
“You are hovering, Eric.”
It was not untrue, Eric knew, but he was not sure what else to do. He had come to Dallas nearly every chance he could escape work. This was the third time this month. Each visit he had invariably found his maker lost in thought, contemplating the wood grain patterns on a table or the shadows cast by a flickering candle. It was not that Godric was neglecting his duties as Sheriff; he simply engaged nothing and no one in his free time. Occasionally, Eric caught him with one hand resting over his mouth, gently inhaling a now long since faded scent. At least then he could hazard a guess at where the Celt’s inscrutable mind had wandered.
Eric avoided the topic altogether. He could not even begin that discussion now if he wanted. He tried to ask Godric the night after the gala. His maker had responded by raising a single, terrifying finger in warning. The threatening gesture was accompanied by a shock of command so ferocious that Eric swore it was still ricocheting through their preternatural bond. It left him chilled to the very bone. Henceforth, he had no choice but to stick with safer conversational terrains.
“I need your input on someone who’s moved into my area.” It was not a lie, but it was also clearly an excuse. Godric sighed and got up sluggishly from his perch. He took the file in Eric’s hand and walked past without looking at him.
In the mansion’s massive oak paneled office, Godric flipped through the various papers half-heartedly. He paused over a section of the residency application before continuing. It was the same bit of information that also gave Eric reason to doubt the subject’s honesty.
The blond waited patiently, studying the room’s décor to pass the time. Though his maker and his small retinue had occupied the estate since assuming control of Area Nine, the place had remained virtually untouched. The previous sheriff had held some bold and downright questionable Texan aesthetics. After four years, however, it was beginning to irk Eric that his maker had not refashioned the house to his liking. Or more to the point, that he had not ditched it altogether. The community’s need for reassurances of continuity had long since passed. The area was one of the most stable in North America and Godric was, not surprisingly, revered and staunchly defended by his subjects. Now the outdated and ugly schema just seemed offensive and at odds with the quietly extraordinary vampire living here. Perhaps Eric would arrange to have it conveniently burned to the ground the next time the residents were out of town. It would not be the first time he had taken fire to one of their domiciles in order to solve a problem.
“I’m surprised Isabelle hasn’t redone this room.” Eric winced at the grotesque stuffed elk head looming over the oversized fireplace. Its beady glass eyes did nothing to lend it a simulacrum of life. “It’s absolutely dreadful.”
“What makes you think Stan isn’t the in-house talent?” Godric asked drily. The Viking erupted in laughter, relieved to see at least a hint of his maker’s humor. “Isabelle’s been busy,” he continued, unconcerned. He typed a bit of information into his laptop to crosscheck it and hit ‘enter’. “Besides, I do not view my subordinates as free interior decorators.” He gave his child a sidelong glance.
“What?” Eric asked innocently. “Pamela cannot be stopped, you know this. I’d happily offer you her services if I thought she could be trusted not to transform this place into a shabby chic nightmare.”
“It might look nice.”
“For some reason you’ve never struck me as a chintz and gold kind of man. It didn’t really work for you in the 18th century either.”
The loving jibe elicited a rare, raspy chuckle from the sheriff. “I’m told metrosexual is the new dandy. Or is that already out too?”
“Inconclusive. I believe they want to be called ‘hipsters’ now.”
“Hmm,” he murmured, eyes skipping over the text on his screen.
“It involves a lot of second-hand clothing, unfortunately.” The thought of donning fabrics covered with hundreds of strange scents involuntarily sent shivers down their spines. “We could pop into Duncan Quinn to have something made to suit us. It’s been years since we’ve had a bespoke date with a tailor,” he said, trying not to sound too eager.
“New York is…” ‘Inconceivable,’ Godric seemed ready to say. “…a no.” Like many of their kind, they had gone a bit wild during the excesses of the ’80s.
“They have a shop in L.A. now,” Eric tried, as though this was actually an alternative. Godric narrowed his eyes. “Oh come on. It’s chockablock with beautiful girls and boys. They all reek of desperation and hunger. Remember you used to –”
The ancient vampire slammed his fist over the file. He swiveled back to his child with a sharp, precise twist. Eric blinked, quickly tabulating all the details of Godric’s sudden violent reaction. The ancient was not displeased, exactly. Just agitated by their inconsequential banter. Disinterested in doing things they used to enjoy. The bitter pinch of frustration in Eric’s throat ratcheted up his bloodlust several degrees. It made his fingers twitch. He toggled the steel ring on his middle finger in concentration. He had worn the gift from his maker nearly his entire undead life and it calmed him. Each twist brought his mind into increasingly sharper focus.
“This Compton is definitely a spy. That much is obvious,” Godric said. He spoke in a frighteningly gentle voice. His mood swings were bewildering to the uninitiated.
“Yes,” Eric said slowly, thinking. “It’s almost as if the Queen wants me to know I’m being watched.”
“But why? I thought we were clear on our arrangement.” The last problem Eric wanted was a high-profile title and all the bullshit that accompanied having to defend it. Having two ancient vampires – maker and progeny, no less – living anywhere in such close proximity made everyone nervous. Alas, it could not be helped.
Godric settled back in the overstuffed leather office chair. It gave a creaky moan in protest. He mindlessly pinched the inside of his collar and ran the tips of his fingers down the placard of his pale linen shirt, unaware of his own beauty and how inviting the action seemed.
Eric rolled his ring again.
“He could just be dimwitted,” Godric said, unconvinced. “The way he describes wanting to return to his homestead? No self-respecting vampire speaks in such archaic English.”
Accommoda et prosperabitur. Adapt and thrive. It was the basic tenet of Godric’s vampire species manifesto. “You should have heard his ridiculous accent during our interview,” Eric said. “The bastard happily chattered away about how he’d spent the better part of the last 25 years in the UK. Never once let slip with a British colloquialism. He’s purposefully fashioning himself as some Southern gent holdover.”
Godric lifted up the required headshot attached to the application and raised an amused eyebrow. Compton had Xeroxed a tin type of himself. Eric shook his head in consternation. The whole thing smacked of inexperience. “I’m giving the States another couple decades. If they can’t get it together by 2040, I say we chalk this up to a failed experiment and move back to the Old World.”
“It could be misdirection, child.”
Eric groaned. Of course he had considered this. “Any fool can smell the stink on Rhett Butler here. How do you propose I handle him?”
The brunette nodded. “Keep him close. Who do you have at your disposal to tail him?”
They discussed trivial details for the next few hours, never veering back to more personal matters.
Eric returned to Shreveport feeling no less apprehensive about his maker. To make matters worse, he arrived at his nighclub the next evening and found a parcel on his office desk. It was a large box, taped to a fare-thee-well at every corner and seam. It bore an unmistakable scent – the sweaty reek of money. He swore under his breath.
The tall Viking vampire was entirely unfamiliar with failure. Eric Northman did not simply get results: he was accustomed to getting his way exactly as he chose, when he desired it, as he saw fit. These missteps and minor catastrophes were beginning to feel like a house of cards stacked around him, threatening to fall at a misplaced breath. Allowing the fragile architecture of his world to come undone was not an option. This situation was entirely un-fucking-tenable.
Out on the Fangtasia dancefloor, Pamela flinched as she heard the inevitable crash in Eric’s office. She had been anxiously awaiting it since Eric slipped in through the staff entry. In the pulsing din of club’s music, only the vampires present heard the roar of furious curses that followed.
She lazily made her way to the back hallway, trying not to raise alarm among the supernatural patrons. She found Eric sitting amongst a flurry of green paper. Bills of cash were still fluttering down around him like snow.
He was officially at a loss. “What does this human want?”
Thus far Eric had sent Rosalyn Murray a bevy of gifts as tribute: jewelry, several different automobiles, entire lines of designer clothing. All of it was sent back to the retailers without a single word. It was disheartening enough to receive apologetic email after email from upset curriers and shopping assistants who thought they were to blame and were terrified of losing an A-list – and V-list – client.
The substantial addition to Rosalyn’s savings account had actually been one of his first contributions, but apparently it had only just been noticed. Even in the thick of his anger, Eric could not help but appreciate the woman’s audacity. Unable to trace the carefully obscured account numbers from which he had wired the money, Ros had the nerve to withdraw it and send a little over a half a million dollars through the U.S. postal service. Unregistered, nevermind uninsured.
“What can I do?” Pamela said without any hint of her usual snark.
“Pick up this mess and put it into a blind trust for her.”
“I’m already on it. Maybe it’s time to contact her directly?”
“And say what?”
“She had to look up the club to send this. Use that?” she suggested.
He pinched his brow and pulled himself together. Sometimes Eric could not believe he waited as long as he did to turn a child. But then, no one could fill Pamela’s shoes quite like her. She was a brilliant businesswoman and as crafty as a fox. “That’s my girl,” he murmured and pressed an appreciative kiss on her forehead. In a flash, he was gone from the club.
At high noon, the sun was baking its heat into the Shreveport asphalt and only the cicadas bothered to stir and whine in complaint. It was hotter than Hell in northern Louisiana this time of year and every A/C unit on the block was churning overtime.
The deafening screech of an alarm clock pierced through the thick haze of Eric’s daytime slumber. He slammed it off blindly with a hand and forced himself to sit up. It was disorienting and slightly nauseating to wake at such an unnatural hour. After chugging a glass of reheated blood, he felt clearheaded enough to dial Rosalyn’s number. Few causes would have him up and running around during the day, but his maker’s well-being was certainly at the top of that very short list.
Her phone rang and went to voicemail. He dialed again. There was no response. He punched redial with determination. Still no answer. A thin stream of blood began to find its way out of his left ear. He tried yet again, this time thumbing the touch screen with unnecessary force. “Answer,” he commanded, as though he could bend the technology to his will.
The line continued to ring. Eric was about to leave a tart message when a tinny voice answered on the far end of the line. “This had better be an emergency.”
“Well hello to you too, Ms. Murray.”
There was a pause on her end. Rosalyn quickly pieced together the identity of her unknown caller. “It’s Dr. Murray and I’m in the middle of a meeting.”
“That’s no way to greet a friend,” he said.
“I wasn’t aware we were on friendly terms. I need to go.”
Eric smiled to himself. “And yet you’ve been Google stalking me. No need to be coy about it. I just received your package.” He crossed his legs, smoothing out the silk of his pajama pants. “So, I take it you found our webpage. What do you think of my little empire in the south?”
“It looks trashy, to be perfectly honest.”
“Oh, certainly. Nothing less would please the humans. But it’s very successful. Would you like to see it in person? I can arrange a flight.”
“Absolutely not,” she said flatly.
“Your words wound me, Ros. I must tell you, I am equally hurt that you have rejected my attempts to care for you.”
She sucked in a breath of air. He pulled the cellphone away from his ear, readying himself for the inevitable. Perhaps he had let her stew over this too long. “Inundating a perfect stranger with useless stuff is not caring for someone,” she said. “It’s not even in the ballpark of ‘care’. It’s no surprise that a playboy like you doesn’t get it. You can’t just buy people or whatever you’re trying to do!”
“Playboy? Hmm. I haven’t been in Playgirl for decades, if that’s what you mean,” he said, purposefully misconstruing her words. Flirtatiousness was a habitual fallback for him, regardless of appropriateness. “I’ll admit the mustache was a bit outré, even for me, but then – ”
“Eric,” she warned, cutting his inane musings short.
He switched tactics with dizzying efficiency. “Do you realize how rare it is for me to want to help out a breather? Your kind break so easily, so quickly. You should be flattered to have me in your debt.”
“Charming. Really charming,” she huffed. “I don’t understand this obligation you seem to feel toward me, but I can tell you it is truly, deeply misguided.”
“Then tell me how to look after you, milady,” he said as sweetly as possible, pouring a heavy glamour into his voice.
“It’s not your job to look after me!”
Eric rolled his eyes. He still was not able to influence people by voice alone as his maker could, but it was worth a try. Maybe he would gain the ability in another hundred years. For now, it amounted to yet another failure.
Ros was about to continue deriding him when she was interrupted by what he assumed was a colleague. A hand rustled over the receiver to muffle the conversation. She was unaware that he could hear every inconsequential word. “Sorry. What was I saying?” she said when she returned to the phone.
“You were presuming to tell me about my duties and my desires, about which you know precious little of either, I’m afraid.”
“Right. You are not my keeper. Please stop sending me things I haven’t asked for.”
“Then ask me for something you do want.”
“What I want is for you to stop…”
“Giving you things? Fine. Message received.”
“Okay,” she said, determined to have the last word. An uncomfortable silence crossed the line, punctuated only by the sound of him sniffing back a trickle of blood. “Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?”
“Care to explain why you’re up in the middle of the day?”
“To call you, of course. Unless you prefer that I wake you at 3am? I needn’t remind you that it’s not especially easy for me to tailor my schedule to suit you.”
It successfully threw her off course. He could hear the swish of a strand of hair being nervously tucked behind her hear. “Why?”
“For starters? To find out why you are hell bent on embarrassing me when I’ve taken a solemn vow to serve you.”
“Embarrassing you?” She snorted in disbelief. A door thudded in the background and her little human sounds suddenly reverberated in a cascade of echoes beyond the phone. Tile, he wagered. She had shut herself in a water closet for privacy. “You’re the one foisting your unwanted and uninvited attentions on me. If you’re embarrassed by your own stupid behavior, then too stinking bad. You had a sports car with a giant bow on its roof brought to me at my school, for Christ’s sake. The faculty think I’m being wooed by a drug dealer!”
Eric was quiet for a long moment. “Clearly that was not my intention.”
“Well the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Eric let out a rumbling chuckle. He liked the rhythms of her lively riposte. “So it would seem.”
“Oh, that’s funny to you?”
“I like this,” he said, stretching out on his large mattress. His bleeds were growing worse by the minute and now trailed down his neck and pooled in the hollow at the base of his throat. But even these could not dampen his optimism. He had her talking. It was something. A thin something, but it was a start. “I apologize for interrupting your work. I’ll let you get back to it. Would you be so good as to call me sometime soon? At your convenience, of course, though I am regrettably indisposed before 6pm central time. That’s two hours ahead of Portland.”
“Look, Eric, I know you mean well, but this is just…weird.”
“He thinks of you constantly.” It was Eric’s only weapon, but he deployed it perfectly. Ros took a staccatoed breath. “If I text you an address where you can reach him, will you write?” Static filled the connection. “Please?”
“I don’t really know what to say, but…sure. I’ll try.”
“Thank you.” Eric breathes in relief, wiping his nose with a tissue.
“Just no more gifts, okay?”
“It is tribute.”
“Whatever. No more, please.”
“I’ll consider your request.”
She laughed at the blatant refusal and it set a grin on his face. He recognized a thick strain of stubbornness in her spirit, not unlike his own. “Talk soon, Madame Doctor.”
“Go to sleep, big bad vampire. It’s past your bedtime.”