Ch. 5: A Thief in the Night

Lillian woke several hours later to the sounds of Eric and Pam arguing heatedly in hushed tones. The bed had never been properly broken in and was hard as a rock, and the now sliced-up comforter was drafty. Alas, several hours of fairly crummy sleep was better than no rest at all. The two vampires whipped their heads towards the door when she emerged. They were sitting on the carpet, sorting through a stack of papers. Judging by their stunned looks, Lillian mused that they were probably not used to having a strange human wandering around their crash pad

“So what’s the status?” she asked.

“Your food is in the fridge. I took the liberty of discarding your little ‘gift’ for my maker.”

“Oh thanks, Pam. I, uh, feel kinda stupid about that one.” Lillian shifted her weight and scratched her leg, feeling uncomfortable standing before them in Eric’s long Fangtasy t-shirt.

“Here,” Pam said, pushing two glossy bags across the carpet. “These are for you.”

Lillian hoisted one up. It was surprisingly hefty. Fingering one of the tags inside, she saw that the jeans alone cost over $150. “Pam! I can’t afford these clothes! It will take forever to pay you back!”

“Well then it’s a good thing you don’t have to,” she replied dryly.

She stood there agape. “Seriously, what is with you guys and ostentatious gifts? I mean, thanks, I really appreciate the gesture and all, but…” She pawed through the bag, noting a number of delicate blouses. “You two are just way over the top. You know some people might take it as insulting.”

“Are you one of them?” Pam retorted. Pam didn’t strike her as exactly the flowery, wear-her-heart-on-her-sleeve type gal, so Lillian wasn’t going to give her a hard time if this is how she expressed herself. Anyhow, Pam probably developed the habit from King Outlandish seated across from her.

“Well, no. I know your heart was in the right place.”

“Cupcake, my heart stopped beating in 1849. Whatever place that useless organ is in is irrelevant.”

“Okay, well, thanks for these.” Pam just shrugged and turned back to Eric and what appeared to be a pile of spreadsheets.

Lillian changed quickly and hunted down a yogurt cup once back in the main room. Both vampires wrinkled their noses when she opened the fridge. She was glad her sense of smell couldn’t pick up whatever traces of her regrettable indiscretion remained. Unfortunately, she hadn’t had the foresight to ask about flatware and discovered that she had no other option but to drink it sloppily from the container.

“What have you found out? Did you get the video feed to rewind?”

“Yes.” Eric didn’t offer more.

“And…?” Lillian pressed.

“It was Longshadow.”

“Oh jeez. Was it because I got him fired? Wait, is he a you-know-what as well?”

“Respectively, we don’t know and yes,” Eric answered. Pam eyed him warily. She didn’t like her maker revealing so much. Eric had argued that since Lillian was already collateral damage in this mess, she at least deserved to know enough to keep her head above water.

“What did the cameras show?” she asked.

“Nothing much. He came in the back, slammed the storage door, and ran out.”

“So are you thinking maybe this is just revenge? Did he know I was in there too?”

Eric tapped on the phone and pulled up the video to show her. Hitting play, she saw a blur flash in front of the hallway camera and then disappear. He hit pause. The footage was only several seconds long. “Oh,” she gasped. Her eyes were too slow to even discern what, or who, it was. It could have been a moth flickering by momentarily for all she knew.

“It is difficult to know whether he scented you or not.”

“But he knew someone was in there, right? And he’d obviously planned this. Were you able to go back and find when he took off the door handle? Or confirm that he was acting alone?”

It was Eric’s turn to glare at Pam. For a human, his Lila’s mind worked very quickly. Ordinarily, he relished Pam’s brazen sauciness. He was born and raised among female Viking warriors, after all. His respect was reserved exclusively for people who challenged him to be a better, more dynamic man. However, he profoundly disliked when Pamela challenged his judgment in crucial matters. She’d grievously erred in questioning whether Lillian Choate had merited his respect, and as unlikely as it seemed, an improbable measure of his trust. After a millennium, there simply wasn’t much that surprised him (save of course the present predicament in which his total fucking idiocy was the front and center star). Lillian had indeed intrigued him from the moment she sauntered into his bar with her odd request. Now that she’d gotten him out of a jam he never should have fallen into in the first place, he was even more curious. Trapped in his own bloody bar by an underling grunt he should have staked long ago! He was fuming at himself for making such a grotesquely basic mistake: the storage room was meant to be used as an interrogation room and holding cell if needed, but one always built in secret redundancies for self-protection. When Pamela gave him shit earlier tonight, forgetting herself because she had been truly frightened for him, it sent him over the edge. She knew she’d damn well crossed the line when he’d laid into her in full blown Old Norse. Between them, modern Swedish was for privacy, but the ancient tongue was reserved for one thing and one thing only: Eric’s fury.

To add insult to injury, he was now perversely being set back by his hyper-precautious nature. Lillian was right about needing to see the older video, but he couldn’t get to the hub where he managed his diverse computing exploits until he had fully assessed the situation. It was simply a poor idea to leave the safe house without more information. He sighed. “No Lila, anything older than a week is automatically routed to an off-site server. Otherwise it would eat up too much of the in-house system’s memory and it’s more secure to keep the long-term digital archive elsewhere.”

Lillian furrowed her brow in concentration and plopped down on the floor to join the impromptu war council. Before them, she realized, were a zillion printouts from an accounting software program.

“Fangtasy’s books?”

“Yeah,” Pam said. “I usually review our accountant’s work. Eric has…other responsibilities. But I haven’t spotted any inconsistencies. I printed this hot mess off the computer this evening. We’re trying to spot check everything since the beginning of this fiscal year to see if there’s anything funny. If Longshadow got caught stealing from you, then maybe I missed something.” She avoided looking at Eric. His mouth was set in a hard line.

“May I?”

“Be my guest.” Pam shoved some of the stack her way.

Lillian sifted through the paperwork. Absentmindedly, she commented, “You know, one thing I don’t get is why anyone would go through the trouble of stealing, what, something on the order of $50 bucks from me? I mean, who takes such a big risk for so little? Especially since it seems that, given that your ‘condition,’ money isn’t really a problem, right?”

“It has puzzled me too,” Eric murmured. “We pay well and Longshadow is too old to have nothing to show for himself.”

“How old?” she wondered aloud. It just fascinated her to no end to think that there could be people around her with so much more experience, people who had witnessed so much history. She wasn’t going to even start thinking about the fact that Pam had just casually dropped that she was turned in 1849. “Sorry, is that a vulgar question?”

“No, it is relevant to our situation. He’s not yet a century old, and if he has any particular talents, they certainly have not manifested themselves yet. He poses virtually no threat to myself or Pam. I cannot explain his actions.”

They pored over the papers until something occurred to Lillian.

“Pam, these are just accounts receivable and accounts payable ledgers, no? I think you’re right, everything looks normal. If it looked like you were bleeding money…I mean if you were in the red…Shit! You know what I mean!” In the company of wolves, it seemed like a bad idea to draw attention to the fact that she was the lamb in this equation. “If anything, you’ve been making more money over the past couple of months, not less.”

Pam flashed a smile. “My ladies undergarment line has been a big hit,” she gloated at Eric. Her world clearly revolved around his approval.

Did that count as having daddy issues? Actually, how do vampires think about kinship? They clearly still reckon family through familial blood ties, but… Lillian had to stop herself or she’d never stay focused. Money, Longshadow, trapped in a steel vault with the undead. Focus!

“Well, I’m just wondering…Do you have the actual itemized records from your credit card machines? Like each time a card was swiped?”

“What are you thinking Lillian?” Eric reached over to one of the banker’s boxes and rifled through it until he found the right files.

“Well, it’s just a wild guess. But once – this was a couple years ago – I was buying some specialty pens at a fabric and art supply store. When I got home, I happened to look at the receipt and realized the total was way too much. I wasn’t paying attention when I was being checked out. I thought maybe the cashier had double scanned the stuff I got on accident, but then I saw that the receipt said I’d received $20 cash back. I hadn’t. I’d just swiped my card and spaced out. I remembered thinking at the time that the lady was kind of weird – too talkative and kind of jumpy. She’d also been wearing a cast on her arm which is something you usually notice, like, ‘oh she’s hurt herself.’ But it had looked too loose for her arm. I saw it, you know, but I didn’t think anything of it. I realized in retrospect that she must have hit the cash back button on the register and slipped the bill down the cast while I was distracted. The manager credited my card when I went back, but still. Do you think maybe Longshadow could have been doing something like that? I mean, if he can use vamp speed, he obviously wouldn’t need a diversion like a fake cast. Drunk people never look at their receipts anyways. All they want is to get their pitcher and get back to their table.”

She had Eric and Pam’s full attention now.

“You have an incredible knack for getting ripped off,” Pam offered.

“Thanks, Pam. But think about it, it’s not a bad scam. You rip off the customer, not your boss, since in this case your boss would probably rip off your head, and what’s coming out of the till is always balanced out by your Visa/Mastercard intake, so nothing seems out of the ordinary. The poor customer just wakes up hungover the next morning sixpence none the wiser. They’re probably thinking they went a little overboard, not noticing that their bill was maybe $10 or $20 dollars more. That’s the difference of just one or two of your absurdly overpriced drinks.” Lillian winked at Eric, goading him on. “Hell, I’ve seen the floor at closing – it’s littered with forgotten and discarded receipts. People are careless when they’re out for a good time.”

“Our exorbitant prices keep high octane petrol in my performance vehicles and those Louboutins on Pam’s perfectly pedicured feet, thank you very much. Our customers are happy to pay for watered down corn syrup if it means they get a glimpse of the Northman.” Eric drew a hand down his firm chest in exaggeration and girls both snickered.

“Har har, Captain Ego. Is that off the record or can I quote you on that?” Lillian joked, then realized her joke wasn’t so funny. In fact, not funny at all. She’d been too carried away with recent events to consider their effect on her research. Would they even let her write her book now? Even if she kept their secrets – and of course she would keep them – maybe everything had changed. No, everything had changed. Her entire worldview had been upended. If she couldn’t publish…She blanched at the thought…”Fuck, I’m going to get fired!”

Eric cocked an eyebrow. He instinctively followed her train of thought. “Don’t worry about the book now,” he reassured her. “It’s going to be fine. Look, I think you’re on to something. Since we also sell merchandise, we have the debit machines out on the end of the bar, checkout counter style, as opposed to behind it. It is an atypical setup for a club. If you’re right, Lila, it also explains why he would go to such lengths to cheat you for practically nothing. It makes sense to steal a little bit from everyone – it would eventually add up,” said Eric.

“Maybe Longshadow ripping me off was him just getting bold.”

“Longshadow is an idiot. Let’s see if you’re right and then there will be some head ripping,” Pam chimed in gleefully. The excited glitter in her eyes made Lillian think that Pam was not joking as much as she would like her to be. “Let’s figure out when the moron was on duty and compare how often customers were asking for cash back versus when he wasn’t working and see if there’s something to your theory.”

The trio dug in, and after an hour of silence punctuated by the shuffling of papers, Pam startled everyone with a sudden cry. “Well fuck a zombie!” she exclaimed, waving a series of transactions around in the air. “You were right, Lillian!”

Eric looked up from his work slowly and narrowed his eyes at Pam in his best ‘told-you-so-and-now-I-crush-your-soul’ stares. Lillian was too absorbed trying to find a similar looking debit in her own stack to notice when Pam gently put a hand over one of Eric’s and whispered, “Förlåt mig, mäster.” [Forgive me, master]. He was motionless for more then a second, then nodded imperceptibly. Relief washed over Pam. She never should have criticized her maker when she knew he was distraught and already punishing himself for having made a dumb error. If she was going to be truthful, she was jealous that he’d secured Lillian’s attentions first. He always claimed the interesting ones first. Now she worried that he was distracted by her to the point of endangering them all. And to be even more brutally honest with herself, on a deeper level she recognized that Lillian was similar in some ways to herself – the ways that had first attracted Eric to consider keeping Pam at his side on an extended basis. Her fate was entwined with her maker’s, and more than a few of her kind relied upon him to keep them moving safely through their eternal nights.

At least now they had a small breakthrough. The proof was in the pudding. Longshadow had been secretly adding cash back requests on people’s cards who had started tabs, as well as customers who’d had larger single orders. It made little sense to take money if you were wrapping up an evening out and paying for all your drinks on a credit card, and people who ordered a bunch of drinks all at once were expecting an expensive check, likely because they were in a large group and hence distracted, so it obscured the small additional amount. By contrast, when Kandi or Chow had been working, very few people sought cash back. It appeared they’d caught him red-handed.

“But why?” Pam asked the million dollar question. In actuality, it was more like the $36,000 question. They only had this year’s records, but from their rough estimate, Longshadow had been pocketing around $200 on nights he tended bar. Eric leaned back on his arms in thought. All three were splayed out on the floor, covered in papers. Lillian sucked at another yogurt cup. This one was peach.

“Can you actually live on that stuff?” Pam asked.

“You’d be amazed at the crap I ate in grad school. It barely qualified as food.”

“Hm.” She didn’t inquire further. On second thought, Lillian didn’t want to recall her days of Ramen and Pabst Blue Ribbon either.

She changed the topic. “So, how many years did Longshadow work for you? If he’s been doing this all along, he seriously owes you some money.”

Eric was now flat on his back, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. “We took him on about three years back, as a favor to…” Pausing mid-sentence, he jerked upright. Pam gestured to Eric. “As a favor to Greysolon!” they said in unison.

“Lillian, you little inquisitive imp!” Eric said animatedly. “That’s it! You and your interminable questions. You’re constantly asking me about the things I take for granted when I’m trying to think eight steps ahead.”

“I get paid to be observant. Who’s Greysolon?”

“Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut. Longshadow’s maker,” replied Pam.

“Huh. The Lord of Lhut? Where’s that?”

Eric’s wheels were now spinning in high gear. But he needed to pace himself, all things in good time. “Lila, this knowledge about our world…”

“I swear I won’t tell! I’ll take it to my grave.” Oh Christ, she did it again. Lamb over here! Lambchop! Lamb kebob!

“It’s more than that, Lila.” Pam nodded in solemn agreement. “In our world, if there’s anything you need to understand, it’s this: knowledge is power, and power is power. You were right about what you said before. You’ve gone down the rabbit hole, although no one meant for it to happen. The more you learn, the more dangerous this gets for you. Neither Pam nor I want to pull you deeper into our vampire shit.”

“Lillian, revealing ourselves to humans can be punished by death,” added Pam. “With what has happened, I cannot overstress to you how serious this matter is.”

“Well, you’ve already pulled me into your drama. I take your point to heart, though, Wonderland isn’t so wonderful.” She let herself flop on the floor dejectedly. This was just too much weight for one day. “Now if only I could stop my evil subconscious from making me slip out with morbid puns, reminding everyone here that I’m snack-sized.” She started to giggle. “If this is Wonderland, are you sure there’s not a sign on my back that says ‘Eat me’?” She started laughing uncontrollably.

Pam turned to Eric in disgust, “I think the human is broken. What’s wrong with it?”

“She’s just exhausted. Min älskling Lila [my darling Violet], go get one of your little silver cans in the fridge.” They contain enough caffeine to raise the dead, he thought wickedly. He found her Freudian slips charming. It wasn’t that she was afraid of them especially – he could hear her heart rate was steady and calm and she had no scent of adrenaline. Rather, she wanted to minimize their differences. She was trying to be polite.

Lillian leaned over the green formica kitchen counter and downed her Red Bull. Pam might be mildly covetous of her, but she wasn’t going to deny herself or anyone else a nice view. The filmy white tunic Lillian was now wearing, courtesy Madame de Beaufort, had a deep V neckline that gave a delicious view of her tanned neck and the luscious curves of her bosom. And if you had a sign that said ‘Drink Me,’ Eric mused darkly, continuing with his game, I would drink deeply, and you’d make this Viking grow…substantially larger. He lingered on the thought, only to be intruded upon by yet another volley of Lillian’s questions.

“Wait, so can we back up for a sec? I know you two are all ‘I’m a beast of the night, fear my secrets’ and whatnot, but I’m in this regardless. So let me ask you this…”

“Do we have a choice?” snarked Pam.

Lillian ignored her. “If Longshadow shut the locker door knowing I was in there too, how does this change things for him? Maybe originally, he intended on trapping Eric, but what purpose did that serve and how do you figure his plans changed once he found us both in there?”

“We’re still trying to figure that out, kitten,” replied Pam.

“He traps Eric with me, knowing that dawn is near and he’ll be forced to reveal himself to me. Does that give him leverage over Eric? You said he could be killed for telling me.”

Neither spoke up and Pam shifted her weight nervously. It must be one of her tells. Was Lillian onto something? Vampires didn’t get fidgety, did they? Or did they? There was so much she didn’t know.

“Dangit, help me out here. What’s your government like? Is it the same as in Charlaine’s books – appointed monarchs organized by territories? Do I need to worry about some bitch vamp queen from hell making me quietly disappear and staking tall, blond, and dead here?” She gestured to the Viking.

Eric sighed. She had a remarkable way of wearing his resistance thin. “No, we’re not run by monarchies in the traditional sense, but we do have territories. I told you that power was power. Whomever is the oldest vampire in a given area has, by fiat, the right to assert his or her authority. Should that person not wish to declare their presence or simply wants to be left out of political dealings, the right is abdicated to the next oldest vampire, and so on.”

“So you’re a gerontocracy in extremis.”

“Exactly. The older one is, the more powerful.”

“Power as in physically and in terms of other ‘gifts’ too? Like X-Men supernatural powers?”

Eric’s mouth twitched in amusement. “Most gifts are not so terribly spectacular. It is more the enhancement of something one had before, like mathematical intelligence, say, or a knack for making friends of anyone, or the ability to convince people of virtually any crazy thing. Even these mundane skills mature with time and become remarkable tools. There are rarer abilities – flight, invisibility, telekinesis, mind-reading, and so on – but these are fiercely guarded secrets even among our own kind. Rumored strengths can be as powerful as demonstrated ones. And then there is always the virtue of maintaining an element of surprise, keeping ones’ enemies guessing…”

What were their gifts?! Lillian held up her hand, pleading for him to stop. It was too tempting. “You know I’m dying to ask, but I’m going to restrain myself here. I know you’re being generous sharing even this much.”  She continued, “So if you’re 1000, are you the authority around here?”

“Most of the time.”

“So most of the time then, I presume it would be up to you to enforce your no revealing policy?”

“Clever woman.”

“So barring you losing your patience with me or you being racked with guilt over your indiscretion, we’re good. And when you are mostly not in charge? What’s to stop somebody older from swooping in and claiming the right to rule? It’s all so Pascalian – might equals right and what.”

“First of all, contrary to what every bit of pop culture seems to suggest, vampires are not constantly wasting their immortal lives by being caught up in petty squabbles and endless power grabs. It’s exhausting and wasteful for one, and it is mostly just human projection of what matters to your people – greed, jealousy, taking offense at silly slights.”

Pam had seated herself atop a bar stool at the kitchen counter and was busy filing her nails. She’d remained quiet, but clearly had been following the conversation. “Truly, Lillian, if the Salvatore brothers did exist, I’d hike to Mystic Falls in a hot minute and deliver those two the blessing of final death. I’ve never heard such petty dribble in all my life. ‘Elena’s mine, no she’s mine, no you’re stupid, no you’re stupider!’ Why does this girl not have them both and get on with things? I tell you what. Stake, stake, splash. Et fin!” She cackled evilly.

“Aw, Pam,” teased Lillian, “You do have a heart! Let me guess, your gift is the gift of empathy?”

“Pshah. My gift is fabulous taste and truly epic nails. Look at these!” she showed off her long, perfectly rounded tips.

“I sense a diversion tactic. You may keep your secrets for now. But seriously, Eric. I still have a million questions. If a person’s positive attributes can become enhanced when they are reborn, can’t their negative traits do so as well? Doesn’t that make for trouble? And you’re avoiding answering why you are not always in power. I don’t mean to rub it in your face or anything, just help me understand our risk.”

“By the gods lilla Lila [little Violet], you never stop!” He tossed the papers still in hand and tackled her on the couch, laying down the length of the sofa and letting his long legs arch over her lap. She stroked one of his soft pale feet. After a moment, she realized his body temperature adjusted to hers. She hadn’t noticed this yesterday (she was otherwise occupied!). She caressed his ankle in experiment. It too warmed slightly under her touch, then cooled once she took her hand off. His body absorbed her own heat and equalized to it. Curious.

Eric paid no mind to her gentle touches. He lay there staring at the ceiling once more. She had noticed he liked to look up when pensive. Maybe it was a habit from his early days, going out ‘a viking. His people had vast astronomical knowledge and relied on the skies to find their bearings. He was orienting himself now. Taking a deep, unnecessary breath, he began.

“I shall tell you this much. You don’t need to worry about my having been revealed to you, at least where our customary law is concerned. It is thus for several reasons. My kind, for the better part, is not as driven by material gain as humans. Our survival depends largely on having a light hold on things – otherwise the constant change would destroy our sanity. My body doesn’t crave comfort and luxury as yours does, because it is not fragile and fleeting as yours. We don’t cling to objects to connect us to events we cannot fathom or grasp onto stuff as proof of our history, because we can comprehend even the deepest stretches of time and we are history’s proof. Even the youngest of us still living within what would have otherwise been our human lifespan can find someone older to enliven any one of a great many pasts. Of course, at the same time, it’s hard not to end up accruing all sorts of stuff. A perk of the undead; we’re not not going to live it up. But it’s dangerous if we find ourselves too attached. It’s why you perhaps thought me so flippant in giving you that folio. To me, the words on those vellum pages cannot be destroyed because I heard them spoken by Will himself. What do I care to save old sheets of ink when my memory is perfect, and the lilting sound of one man’s strong voice can never be captured on a page? You know I have treasures, mementos from many episodes in my life – my father’s sword, Grendl, for example, or a little bronze trifle dug up in a field that made you tremble so. But I know even these will fall prey to the ravages of time – they are as we speak – whilst I remain untouched. So, you see, so much for pettiness and in-fighting, they just aren’t good motivating factors for political intrigue.” He face darkened, and he added heatedly, “They are deplorable habits in a vampire and I squash any such behaviors the moment they are brought to my attention.”

Lillian considered her next words carefully. “I think your philosophy is elegant and true. But you’re speaking both as a noble ruler and someone who rightfully has survived the ages because you live by these time-tested principles. I say this with all due respect, Eric, but I’m calling bullshit.”

Pam froze momentarily, then snickered and continued with her ministrations. She could get used to being around this breather. She had spunk.

“Is that so?” he arched an eyebrow at the feisty morsel next to him.

“Yes. You already admitted that vampires are motivated to hide their powers from each other, because as you said, knowledge is power. You clearly use disinformation and partial truths to maneuver people where you want them– you’ve done it with me from the day we met. You also owned up to the fact that your kind does have enemies, hence the existence of whatever qualifies as your ‘vampire shit.'” I’ve no doubt you are deeply committed to your hyper-materialistic live in the moment but anti-materialist survive the longue durée philosophy. But it strikes me that you still very much identify yourself as a Viking, and some of your ideas and orientations, I can only guess, refract out of the attitudes of your day. Vikings didn’t have a terribly elaborate material culture. You were farmers when you had access to good land and tradespeople and conquerors when your crops failed, right? Adaptation and flexibility were essential parts of your reality. A good sword and a ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude was your way of life. I’m not criticizing; you are living proof that whatever you’re doing has been working for you. I wouldn’t stop now.” She winked at him and stroked his leg. “It just strikes me that there’s nothing to stop younglings from failing to understand these ideas. If they don’t evolve away from the superficialities of their time, they don’t last, am I right? But in the meantime, I reckon they get into all manner of trouble.”

Eric was truly taken aback. For all his dissimulation and devious ways, she saw straight through him and called him on his bs. Yet, in spite of it all, she appreciated him for exactly what he was. There was nothing to say. He pulled her to his chest and kissed her tenderly. She lay there, her head on those broad shoulders, twirling a strand of his hair around a finger.

He spoke quietly then. There wasn’t any point in keeping things from her. “With regard to our territories, there’s enough space for the elders to keep at very peaceable distances from each other. Anyone old enough to claim authority has long had a territory carved out. If and when elders choose to travel or relocate, it doesn’t do to try and destabilize the balance of things or attempt to grab land from another. The trouble with immortality is that you have to live with each other for a rather long time. It is always preferable to defer to the reigning figure, unless that person requests someone with seniority to take on the job, or else negotiate an arrangement that works for everyone. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Or in reality, the poor chap who must mediate between underlings with fairly inane issues – how to care for a newly turned one, cases of inheritance, etc. The one exception to the rule of seniority, my lover, is the authority of a ruler’s maker. We are bound by whatever magic animates us to follow our makers in all matters when compelled, so when mine comes here, as he does occasionally, his authority automatically trumps mine.” He shifted so that he was lying on the couch by her side, face to face.

“And like Pamela, I too was fortunate to have…a truly just and phenomenal being bring me over.”

Lillian would have expected Pamela to jump at an opportunity to take her usual jab at Eric – she did love winding him up. But her face remained impassive. Eric was using a thin veil of humor to cover a profound admiration and love. Perhaps he felt this weakened him. She couldn’t be certain, but she felt she had no right to push further. “May I ask you his name?”

“He is Godric. And he is infinitely more wise than I, a creature endowed with strengths that defy belief.” Eric’s hand snaked down her long neck and over the curves of her hips. He nipped at her chin and mouth playfully, breaking the heaviness of the moment.

You know,” she spoke quietly, not wanting to offend him, “I think I get the fundamental problem. I’m sorry, I know I’m being a major dork. Bear with me.” She let her fingers run over a harden nipple beneath his shirt. He hissed, tightening his hold on her. “Basically, if I understand you right, there are two competing principles in your political order. Gerontocratic rule doesn’t preclude intergenerational squabbling. People of equal age are more or less fairly matched in strengths and weaknesses, no? So baby vamps can gang up on baby vamps, elders on elders. At the same time, your hierarchies are shot through with various lineage allegiances. As Godric is to you, you are to Pam. Generally speaking then, one’s position as an elder B.C. badass of the land gets complicated by whatever drama he’s got going on in his family.”

“B.C. badass?”

“Yeah, you know. Before Christ, old man!”

Eric let out a low, seductive growl. Listening to her unravel his mysteries like a kid giddily tearing off wrapping paper at Christmas made him intensely aroused. Her stroking his chest didn’t help matters. He wanted all of her. Now. “Yield to me, Lila,” he whispered huskily.

“Eric! I’m being serious!” she swatted at him. “You still haven’t told me why did this Daniel Greysolon character rang a bell for you? How was hiring Longshadow a favor to him?”

“I am being serious. Yield maiden!” he grinned lustily, flashing the razor sharp tips of his canines.

“Dammit Viking!

“Ah, min nyfikna blomma [my curious flower], that is a whole story unto itself. But I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait! Dawn is approaching, and I believe you enjoyed tucking me in. Come along now.” Faster than her eyes could register, he whisked her off the couch, tossed her over one shoulder, and walked down the hall to the bedroom. Lillian barely had a moment to implore Pam for help.

“Pamela, rescue me from this big brute!” The bedroom door had already shut. Pam was still filing at her nails in boredom.

“Oh, the Viking always takes what he wants, sweetbean.”

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