The television screen pulsed with images in the darkness of the hotel room. An old movie was playing, but Rosalyn had it muted. She was too distressed to try to follow the story and the chattering of the Hollywood starlettes would only aggravate the massive headache currently splitting through her skull.
Her phone buzzed with a text message precisely ninety minutes after her jarring phone call from Eric. It read simply: What hotel? Room #?
Sofitel. Lafayette Sq., Rm 243, she typed back.
In exactly three minutes, there was a soft scratch on the door. She checked the peephole. There was a black clad chest outside. Golden hair just barely swept across the pale arching mounds of the person’s extraordinarily broad shoulders. Any other details were obscured by the visitor’s massive height. The chest dipped down and the peephole filled with an icy blue eye. Ros squeaked in surprise.
“Blondie?” she said in disbelief when she opened the door. Eric stood unmoving in the hallway. “Do you need to be invited in? Because I’m not exactly thrilled to see you here at the crack of dawn.” He typed something rapidly into his phone and flipped it around for her to read.
Turn off A/C and tv.
She scrunched up her face and was about to retort, but he silenced her with a sharp wave of his finger. This night was getting exponentially strange. Sighing, she did as he asked. In the door frame, Eric closed his eyes in concentration and tilted his head back. Coming to a quick conclusion, he stepped through the doorway and tapped his ear at her. “Good to see you, pet. Master Godric sends his regards. He is most displeased to hear you’re having difficulty with the AVL.”
“Oh, yeah, well…”
Eric looked at her in warning. “We can’t accept that now, can we?”
“No, I guess not.”
“No, pet, we cannot. You serve him, at his pleasure. Isn’t that right?” His eyes went wide as he mouthed ‘yes’.
“Yeah. You know it,” she said, shrugging in frustrated incomprehension. Eric blinked slowly, nodding.
“This room is a shoddy piece of shit,” he said, fingering the polyester coverlet on the bed with disgust. “Did the AVL comp you this? Daddy-o is going to be one unhappy camper when he finds out. C’mon, we’re upgrading.”
“Erp – ” Eric clapped a hand over her mouth before she could blast him with an unscripted complaint. Ros crossed her arms as she watched Eric zip through the room collecting her things. In mere seconds, he had her bag repacked.
Eric stalked down the hall toward the elevator, Ros in tow. “Eric! Where are we going?” She was barefoot and clad only her lime green nightgown. She scuttled awkwardly with her heavy suitcase.
The elevator car dinged and Eric scowled when the doors parted to reveal a trio of scantily dressed young women inside. They looked drugged and were obviously there to work the hotel’s clientele. “Out!” he growled, sending them skittering. He had Rosalyn by the arm and he slammed the lobby floor button roughly.
“Man, what is your problem? How did you get here so fast?” she said.
“I flew.” Eric kept a steady eye on the floor numbers whizzing by.
“I didn’t even know there were flights between Shreveport and here. What did you take, a fighter jet?”
Eric glanced at her, his expression sour. “Do me a favor and shut up.” Rosalyn blinked in confusion. He had thrown a hasty glamour at her, without any finesse. The eyes monitoring the camera in the corner of the elevator car would have caught anything more purposeful. Ros wanted to speak, but her brain felt garbled about what she meant to say. Her mouth opened and closed several times. She had been silenced as callously and impatiently as her old movies stars on tv. Her headache grew worse.
At the front desk, Rosalyn could only watch as Eric intimidated a pin-neat concierge into giving him a light-tight suite. He insisted that the room be charged to the AVL’s account and it took several frantic calls to an equally flustered manager before the unreasonable demand was met with profuse apologies and two key cards. As Rosalyn waited, mutely clutching the handle of her bag, she could not help but notice the eyes that surreptitiously slid in her direction. From the bar. At the courtesy phone. In coat check. It was same way other vampires had looked at her in New York. It was deeply unsettling. Their heads never moved.
When Eric escorted her into a sumptuous room on the eighth floor, the entire experience had felt disembodied, surreal. She rolled the suitcase in the middle of the floor and stood there, forlorn. Eric first programmed a complex biometric lock that sealed the door and then scoured the room’s surfaces, looking for more listening devices. Finally, he lightly touched her shoulder. “You can speak now. The room is clean.”
The situation suddenly came into jarring focus. Adrenaline flooded Rosalyn’s system. “Eric!” he gasped. Her mind had been released only to find herself trapped.
“Shhh. It’s okay. It was necessary. Are you alright?” he said.
She slapped him. Hard. Normally, Ros loathed violence. This was pure animal instinct. “Don’t you ever do that to me again, do you understand?” The blow had zero effect on him, but it left her hand stinging. He took it between his two cool palms to soothe it.
“Listen to me. I am here to protect you. You are safe now.” He guided the trembling woman to sit at the edge of the bed and squatted at her feet, trying to minimize how intimidating he appeared. “Everything is going to be okay.”
“Okay? You roll in here with no explanation, acting like some crazed James Bond villain, then you use your terrifying mind control powers on me and drag me into this freaking inescapable dungeon of a room? Just what part of that sounds ‘okay’ to you? Cause it sounds to me like I need protection from you.”
Eric ran a hand through his hair. “I was in a rush. Please, let me explain.” He pulled a chair up and sat in it backwards.
“Oh please. Be my guest. What choice have I got,” she said, pointing to the impenetrable door.
“Ros, this is a misunderstanding.”
“Really? What part of your high-handed bullshit am I not getting?”
“Calm down, woman. I am trying to tell you that I made an error. Do I look pleased about it? I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment. I had no idea that you were messing around with the AVL folks. Why didn’t you mention it?”
“Mention it? Do you tell me how you spend your nights? We’ve texted each other a couple times, you twit! I barely know you!”
“Fair enough. Look, the AVL – they are a complete front. Part of the PR strategy for the Reveal.” Rosalyn could not believe her ears. “They’re a sham. In no way connected to the actual operation of vampire politics in the U.S.”
“That’s outrageous. They’re supposed to be incorporating Vampire Americans into our legal system!”
“No, what is outrageous is that you have been consorting with the AVL’s lobbyist. Derek Ronwe is a dick, as you say, because he’s a full-blooded demon and a damned dangerous one at that. Please tell me you haven’t signed anything he’s given you or made any agreements with him.”
“No, no, nothing like that. He tried to get me to have dinner him a couple times, but I refused.”
“Thank the gods.”
“Wait. You’re not being serious.”
“Deadly,” he said, the tips of his fangs visible.
“An actual demon,” she said.
“Okay I’m…” She shook her head, trying to dispel the shock. “That doesn’t even begin to cover why you’re here.”
Eric pursed his lips, trying to figure out where to begin. There was so much she did not know and plenty she was far safer not knowing. “Tell me first about what you are trying to accomplish in the human legislature, then maybe I can explain better.”
“Nothing, it would seem, since it turns out the AVL isn’t actually meant to do anything.” She rubbed her temples, trying to will away the pinching pain in her head. “I just want young and disadvantaged vampires to have the same opportunities as everybody else – to qualify for scholarships and go to school.”
“What do you mean why? You don’t think vampires have rights too?”
“Of course, but I mean, this is something I’ve never understood about you. I looked through every record I could find. You have had virtually no experience with our kind, which – no offense – it’s plainly obvious from how you act. Why help?”
Ros furrowed her brow. “Because it is the right thing to do.”
“No one is that much of a saint. What’s in it for you? Are you going to patent your program?”
“Of course not!” she said in disgust. “Everybody wins when curious minds are allowed to blossom.” Eric raised his eyebrows skeptically. He had lived too long to buy it. “Look, two years ago a young woman wanted to take my class. I pushed the course time past sunset to accommodate her, only to find out the school wouldn’t let her register. You know what the dean told me? ‘We don’t give credits to fangs.’”
Eric’s eyes narrowed. “What was her name?” he said, his voice frighteningly quiet.
“The dean? Eric, I don’t want you taking things into your own hands.”
“No, the vampire.”
“Did she ever get to enroll?”
“I don’t know. I never saw her again. I quit. Nobody tells me how to run my classroom.”
Eric dropped his gaze to the ground. A blond tendril of his hair fell forward. For the first time, Rosalyn saw something in his features that was not total cocky bastard. He seemed subdued – and determined. “We’ll make sure Lucy gets to take that class, Rosalyn. I wish you had told me this sooner.”
“What am I supposed to do now?”
“First thing is first. You stay the hell away from Ronwe. Clear your schedule and don’t return anyone’s phone calls. I’ll arrange to get you back to Portland tomorrow evening. The most important thing is that we keep the AVL guessing about our intentions, since they’ll have assumed that we sent you to spy on them.”
“What? Why on earth would they think that?”
He groaned. “I see my maker did not have the courtesy to explain himself. That is…typical. Let me break it down for you. Godric healed you that night at the gala. He marked you with his blood, sealing it between the layers of your skin. It’s a claim, of sorts. Or the beginning of one, at least. You’ve been parading around smelling like extraordinarily ancient vampire. It’s less noticeable now, but I bet if you were stomping around New York and DC in the late summer heat every creature within 10 miles picked up on you.”
Rosalyn’s fingertips grazed her neck and she furrowed her brow. All those creepy, sliding eyes of other vampires – they were undressing her, sniffing out her most intimate secrets. She felt violated somehow. It was not the feeling she wanted curling in her throat when she thought of that magical night. Of Godric’s sensual touch. His heated stare. Those soft, full lips. “I feel sick,” she said, closing her eyes. A fat tear threatened to escape. “How could he…”
“Don’t. He meant absolutely no offense. On the contrary…” Eric struggled for the right words, as if it were impossible to capture the full meaning of his maker’s blessing. “It is a supreme mark of honor.”
“He was so strange after he…you know. About the bite.”
Eric nodded, unable to discuss that night in the desert. “I am sorry if I frightened you tonight.”
“Sorry I smacked you. You deserved it, though.”
“I had to act quickly. You being marked – it attaches you to our family. Your hotel room was stuffed with surveillance equipment. The AVL is undoubtedly watching you like a hawk.”
“So you think that gives you the right to spy on me? To barge in and order me around? Use mind control? I am a person, damn you, not a puppet!”
“You are far more than a person. You are unique; you alone are the only mortal to bear Godric’s mark. What did I say the night we met?”
Rosalyn still had her palm placed protectively over her neck. She traced the jacquard patterns in the puffy grey bed comforter with her other hand, unwilling to meet his intense stare. “I don’t know. You said you liked me for a breather or something.”
“Tsk. My exact words were ‘you are literally my favorite breather in the entire world.’ Do I strike you as one prone to compliments?” She shrugged sheepishly. “I meant what I said, Rosalyn.” He went to the fancy wet bar built into the side wall and started rifling through the large gift baskets set on the counter. “Here. Will this help?” He handed her a foil wrapped bar.
“You can’t buy your way out of this with chocolate, Eric Northman.”
He smiled innocently. “I can try.”
She snagged it from his hands. “Keep talking, mister.”
Eric tried his best to elaborate. He was rarely candid, especially with a human. He paced the room, which seemed to keep his thoughts organized. With each lap he made across the floor, he mapped out yet another way the AVL might have attempted to exploit her. It was dizzying. And humbling. “Our family – we don’t openly support or oppose any of the many factions in our world. We certainly haven’t taken a clear stance on the AVL or even the consortium of big-time players that backs them.”
“Who do you side with then?”
Eric broke into a sly grin. “Ourselves, of course. How do you think we have survived for so long? At least now we’ve given the AVL confirmation that you play ball for our team. They will think twice about trying to use you for their own purposes.”
“I really walked into a supernatural shitstorm, didn’t I?”
Eric sighed in relief. Rosalyn had finally accepted that this was not some evil machination of his own. “Afraid so. But luckily, I’m good at cleaning up messes.”
“I guess I should be grateful you got here when you did.”
Eric kicked off his heavy leather boots, leaving them strewn on the floor and they lapsed into silence for a long moment. They were both relieved to have arrived at a better understanding of each other.
“Can I ask you something?” she said.
“Why do you live in Shreveport? I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s not exactly a buzzing hub of culture and refinement.”
“Would you believe me if I said I like the muggy weather and the alligators?”
“Nope.” Rosalyn sucked the last errant smear of chocolate off her thumb and crumpled the wrapper. She did not notice the way Eric’s nostrils flared slightly at her gesture.
“Hnnn, clever woman. Think of it this way. You used to fish with your father as a little girl, right?”
“How can you even…?”
“Facebook,” he said.
“I’m going to need more chocolate.” She pegged him in the chest with the balled-up foil.
Eric laughed and grabbed the ‘human’ guest basket. He dumped it on the bed and flopped down next to her to examine the contents. “Where do the biggest, oldest fish live in the river?” He dragged a long finger through the jumble of candies spread out between them and tapped next to a red and white peppermint. “Behind the rocks and in the bends, where the water is the calmest. All the young ones struggle in the current, flapping around furiously where the predators can see them. Meanwhile, we lay quietly waiting.”
“What are you waiting for?”
“For the most interesting snacks to come floating our way, of course!” He tapped her nose and gave a carefree laugh.
“Jerk!” she said. Eric laughed even harder. Without warning, he rolled over and pulled his black tank top over his head with a single hand, exposing an impossibly gorgeous expanse of pale skin. His chest was a sculpture to rival anything wrought in marble.
“Uh,” she stammered, suddenly very focused on peeling off the cellophane wrapper off a caramel. “I guess I’ll take the couch then.”
“Don’t be silly, Ros,” he said, his voice husky. He hopped on all fours, looking ready to pounce. “You’re going to sleep right here, on top of me.” He patted the mattress under him. The delighted twinkle in his eyes turned her beet red. She was about to tell him he could sleep on the business end of a stake when he kicked under the bedskirt and a hard-sided travel coffin rolled out. “See?”
“Ugh! You cad!” she said.
“You know it.” He winked and stole a pillow off the bed. Once inside the trundle, he squirmed around to make himself comfortable. There was very little room for his massive frame. “I took the liberty of ordering your meals for the day. They’ll leave them in the carousel.” He pointed to a little door in the wall. The array of unfamiliar technology in the room made Rosalyn feel as though she had stepped into an alternate universe. In some ways, she truly had.
“I’m assuming you’ve not seen one of these up-close before?” He slapped the edges of his titanium sleeping case. “It will tuck back under the bed when I shut the cover. Please don’t mess with it during the day. It has a really nasty security system to deter tampering and you don’t want to see how grumpy I get when I’m awoken unexpectedly.”
“Got it. Am I really going to be locked in here all day?”
“And here I thought you were an optimist,” he said. “Think of it as keeping the bad guys locked out.”
“You’re the only baddie I see around here.”
Eric laughed and dug his phone out to send some last-minute instructions to Pam. Rosalyn crawled underneath the sheets and could not help but let out a hum of appreciation. The bedding was deliciously soft. Eric had not been wrong. This room was way nicer. Rosalyn turned out the lamp.
“Eric?” she asked through a wide yawn, finally feeling sleepy. He was still tapping away on his phone. It cast a soft glow from the floor by the bed.
“I’m starting to figure you out.” Under all the arrogance and the flippancy and the sexual innuendo, Eric was profoundly good. And he was offering her his friendship.
“Should I be worried?”
“Nah, your secret is safe with me.”
“You’re still an overbearing brute, though.”
He snorted. “I know.”
A few moments later, he set his cell down. “Ros?”
“I saw your Yosemite postcard.” Rosalyn’s heart skipped a beat and she swallowed hard. “He keeps it in his wallet.” Another long silence passed. “Why does he like it? The quote, I mean.” His voice was barely audible.
Rosalyn rolled over, burrowing deeper into the covers as if she could somehow hide herself from the vampire’s intrusive questions. “It’s about our unity in nature and time,” she said.
“It’s more than that,” he countered. Contrary to all appearances, Eric was not insensitive to such things. He liked literature. He learned to read and write studying Aeschylus and Ovid. What he did not like was the looming dread that his maker was slowly slipping away from him. And this woman somehow spoke a language only she and Godric seemed to share. He desperately needed to understand.
“It means…I am haunted by that night in the desert,” she said in a whisper.
He let the thought settle over him. The compressor in the room’s mini-fridge kicked on, filling the silence with a calming buzz. “Ros?”
“Tell me another of your quotes.”
She sighed. “Just one, okay?”
She took an unsteady breath in the pitch black room. “‘If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are a-bloom with flowers.’”
Eric smiled to himself. He knew the author. “Saint-Exupéry. What was the picture?”
“One of those time-lapse shots of the night sky in the Pacific Northwest.”
His smile grew even broader.
“I see him in everything now,” she said quietly.
Normally, the Viking would respond to such sentiment with a crass joke. But in the last minutes before dawn, he found there was nothing at all funny about it. Instead, he was reminded of the first time he ever set eyes on his maker. Godric was a savage, shining boy – a face peering down into his funeral bier illuminating the dark. He had guided him through a thousand years of night.
Eric could not fathom a world without Godric’s light.
A/N: Whoa. Okay, that ended super-heavy. Breathe. Breathe again. Alright now?
HOW are these two going to conspire to bring Ros back together with Godric?! Guesses? I promise we’ll get some more Godric very soon. A LOT of Godric, if you know what I mean. **WINK** Please review! Reviewers get locked in a four star hotel with Eric. :F