Eric remained in his car, poised for the moment Sookie pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot. He wondered that he’d allowed her to meet him there, and also that it had occurred to him that some part of him had expected instead to pick her up, so that she did not have to drive herself. He’d already received an earful from Pam, regarding the necessity of a ‘working’ dinner that did not involve working. Eric hadn’t had an answer for her.
A sleek, new luxury SUV passed in front of him, and he caught sight of Sookie’s long, blond hair. Eric quickly exited his car to beat her to the door. He chuckled as she locked and unlocked the vehicle several times, her face creased with worry. His laugh, however, dried up in his throat as Sookie caught sight of him.
“I love that car!” she exclaimed loudly, her enthusiasm giving her a bounce to her step that accentuated the bounce in her other body parts.
Eric unconsciously adjusted the collar of his shirt, smoothing his long fingers along his tie. There was no reason for it, in that vampires did not fidget, nor did this particular one give much thought to his appearance. “You like it?” he asked unnecessarily once she was in front of him.
Sookie’s eyes widened and she beamed up at him. “Yes! In fact, you may never get it back from me!” she said happily, nudging him in the arm. She eyed him appreciatively in his suit and gently grasped the lapel of his jacket. “Don’t you clean up nice?”
“You look…nice, as well.” She looked beautiful, and that he wanted to tell her so gave him the same feeling he’d had the evening before when speaking with her on the phone. Eric was frequently finding himself reaching out to Sookie in unfamiliar ways, possibly ways he should not. When she’d mentioned over the phone the urge to speed in her new vehicle, he’d automatically offered to increase the insurance on it, to increase the protection on her life. When she complimented him on his attractiveness, he wanted to do the same with her. What was different for him, was that it was not coming from a place of taking, or a place of giving to get what he wanted. He didn’t know what it was, but he wasn’t sure he liked it, or trusted it.
“Thanks.” Sookie stared up at his face. “Everything okay?”
“You ask that too often,” he said quietly, holding open the door to usher her inside.
“Sorry,” she replied and mentally scolded herself. She couldn’t read him, and his vampire expressions were so subtle, she was finding herself at a loss as to how to act around him. The words ‘more professionally’ jumped into her mind, along with ‘hands to yourself,’ and ‘no alcohol tonight.’
Eric silently offered her his arm and nodded to the maitre d’. They were led along the side of the main dining area, and Sookie immediately lowered her mental shields. There was an unsettling vibe about the place, and she couldn’t figure it out. Something, or someone, to her left was producing a loud drone inside her head, and she gasped when it abruptly stopped as she passed, as did all the other mental hums she could hear.
Without thinking Sookie dropped Eric’s arm and took a tiny step backward. She almost laughed at the invisible threshold she seemed to be crossing, the drone starting and stopping as she stepped back and forth, until she noticed Eric and the maitre d’ watching her strange dance. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “Heel…got stuck.” She gave a fake yank to her foot and smiled. “I’m good.”
Their table was private and intimate, hidden as most of the them were, by an ornate screen and several plants. Sookie immediately dipped her red face behind her menu and searched for something to order. Why anyone would put up with her, she didn’t know, and she was grateful that Eric seemed to have such impeccable manners, that he probably wouldn’t fire her in public.
“Sookie,” he said softly, and she lowered the menu. He glanced at the hovering waiter she hadn’t noticed and raised an eyebrow. “Something to drink?”
“Sparkling water would be fine,” she said softly, returning her eyes to the French words in front of her. Growing up in Louisiana had at least given her the ability to safely choose at an entree, and she was suddenly grateful she wasn’t a vegetarian. The waiter returned with her drink and a smaller menu for Eric, politely nodding as she stumbled her way through her order. She was pretty sure she’d asked for chicken. Her jaw almost dropped when Eric engaged the waiter in a lengthier conversation, entirely in French, regarding something on his menu.
The expression on Sookie’s face threw him. “Do you wish to change your order?” Eric asked, ready to summon back the waiter.
“How many languages do you speak?”
He lifted his fingers from the table and half-shrugged. “Too many. Why?”
Sookie took a good look at the handsome man in front of her. She wondered who he really was and what his life had been like. She realized just how little she knew, not only of vampires, but of him. While Eric looked to be about Sookie’s age, his mannerisms and looks were definitely not. Most of all, she wondered why she was there.
“No reason,” she lied. Eric was her new boss, and he had asked her to a business dinner, and she was going to act right and do her job. “This restaurant is really nice.”
“I am pleased you like it.”
‘Like’ was not the word she would have used, but she smiled anyway. “It’s different.”
“How so?” he asked.
Sookie’s thoughts ran from the odd mental signatures she’d picked up, to the apparent ‘dead zone’ they’d walked through that blocked her telepathy, to the overall weird feeling surrounding the whole place. She wondered where Eric would like to her start. “They serve blood,” she said, finally coming up with something. “That must be nice for you.” And since the choices came with their own menu, Sookie was willing to bet there was more than just TrueBlood offered.
“I suppose it is.” Eric cocked his head as if trying to solve something. “What happened on the way to our table, Sookie?”
“Huh?” she asked, stalling. “When I got stuck?”
She had appeared, to Eric, to be stuck, but not to the floor. If anything, he would have guessed she was listening to something, as if trying to fine-tune a radio signal that wasn’t clear. He wondered if Sookie had noticed that not only were most of the other patrons not visible, the magic of the restaurant made most conversations inaudible, as well. Eric also knew, that if Sookie were honestly relaxed and enjoying the place, she would say so.
“Perhaps you should be more careful,” he observed.
“Um, I should,” she agreed. They both stared at each other until they were interrupted by the arrival of their meals.
Eric watched with pleasure as Sookie began to eat. “That dish historically was prepared with blood,” he said casually, gesturing to her coq au vin.
Sookie swallowed the food in her mouth and grinned. “Still is, in some places,” she said. “I grew up poor on a farm, Eric. You’re not gonna scare me with the things humans are willing to eat.” She pointed to the glasses in front of him. “I hear that’s prepared with blood, too.”
His loud laughter surprised her, and she held her napkin up to her mouth to avoid spitting her food on him. “So I will not scare you with the things vampires are willing to eat?” he asked, amused.
Sookie dabbed at the tears in her eyes from nearly choking and cleared her throat. “Is it good, then?” she asked.
Eric nodded slowly and eyed the glasses. “The vessel is wrong,” he started, waggling his eyebrows at her, “but the taste is actually quite good.”
“Better from the source?” she asked.
“Indeed.” A still liquid in a cup did not compare to the pulsatile blood pumping from an artery. “Perhaps you could compare it to the orgasm you experience with masturbation, as opposed to the type experienced during-”
That time Sookie was not quick enough with her napkin, but thankfully she had only been sipping her water. “Eric!”
“I imagine that is how you might sound, as well,” he said, pretending to be oblivious to her embarrassment.
Sookie stared at him hard, but she was unable to come up with the emotions she usually had when someone made an inappropriate sexual comment around her. Her final argument with Sam flashed through her mind, but there was none of the anger or disgust she’d felt that day. On the contrary, a part of her wanted to smartly ask Eric if he were offering, and another part of her wisely told the other part to shut up.
“Are you imagining?” he whispered, smirking at her dazed expression.
“Is this…um, is this how you are with all your employees?” she asked honestly. Sookie knew most of his female ones had slept with him, so she wondered if this were his method. She couldn’t imagine he needed one, and she’d certainly not seen any memories of a shared meal or conversation.
Eric snorted. “No.” He had no interest in bantering with the humans who worked for him at Fangtasia, or any of his businesses, nor had he ever had the urge to take one somewhere private for a meal with the intent of spending time with her.
They both looked at each other again, their frowns mirroring the other’s. “Shall we leave?” he offered.
“Sure,” she agreed. It wasn’t until they approached Sookie’s car that either spoke. “I’m sorry we didn’t get much done.”
Eric snatched the keys from her hands and swiftly unlocked and opened the passenger door. “We will continue our discussion at the club,” he said briskly.
“Are you driving my-”
Her words were cut off by the slamming of the door, and she gasped at Eric’s sudden appearance in the driver’s seat. “I prefer to drive myself.”
“I can see that,” she said peevishly. They arrived at Fangtasia within minutes, thanks to Eric’s maniacal driving, and Sookie contemplated kissing the asphalt as she eagerly tumbled from the vehicle.
“I expect you to park here,” Eric announced, pointing to one of the three other parking spaces by the side of the building. “One of them will always remain empty for you.”
The rear door of the building swung open before Sookie could comment, and Pam appeared, scowling. Eric brushed past her, and she quickly turned to follow. Both reached the end of the hallway before realizing that Sookie was not with them.
The two of them zipped back, crowding the doorway to see her still standing in the parking lot, a confused and somewhat upset look on her face.
“Is she leaking?” Pam asked.
She glanced between them and back to her car before throwing her hands up in frustration. “What the hell am I doing here?” she asked, her voice breaking.
“You are working,” Eric said, looking to Pam for confirmation, who nodded.
“Doing what?” Sookie asked, her voice shrill. “We go to dinner, suddenly we’re leaving, you’re acting all weird, hijacking my car, nearly killing us to get here. You’re telling me where to park, then the two of you hustle off, practically slamming the door in my face!”
“Perhaps we should bring her inside,” Pam suggested lowly.
“Leave us,” Eric said, waving her off. “Sookie…”
“That restaurant was strange,” she said defensively as he slowly approached her.
“I see,” he said calmly, holding out his hand to her.
“But the food was good.”
“It was,” he agreed, smiling at the feel of her warm hand in his cool one.
“I didn’t mean to say you were weird.”
“Of course not.” Eric had managed to get her back through the door, and the tension he had felt in his chest when he thought she had left released.
“I promise I can do this,” Sookie said solemnly. “I’m sorry for freaking out back there.”
“You are used to having a schedule, and knowing what is expected of you,” he replied. It was something he would have to work on, as he would be content to simply have her follow him around while he was up for the night. “You expect to work, it is nothing for which you should apologize.”
“You said to give it a week, and here I am throwing a fit the second day.”
Eric laughed and opened the door to his office. “If this is you ‘throwing a fit,’ I will not have any problems with your behavior.” He gestured for her to sit on the couch that lined one of the walls as he took a seat at his desk and began typing at his computer. A few minutes later he pulled something from his printer and brought it to her, sitting next to her on the couch. “Your schedule.”
Sookie scanned the paper, nodding as she read it. “Five nights a week?” she asked.
“We are closed Sundays, and you may take any other evening off, if you desire, as long as I do not have more urgent matters for you to attend.” He planned on needing her urgently every evening.
“Only five hours a night?” While it was great pay, Sookie had expected to work more than a part-time schedule.
“I may have things for you to do during the day, or I may expect you to stay longer on any given evening.” That, too, was guaranteed, as far as Eric was concerned.
“Well, I’m available more than this, so don’t be afraid to call me.”
He wouldn’t. “Excellent.”
“Thanks for this,” she said sincerely. “It helps.”
“We will join Pam out at the bar. The more you are seen, the better…acclimated you will become.”
“Seen by whom?” Sookie asked. “And can you walk a little slower?” she huffed, struggling to keep up with Eric’s long strides.
He abruptly stopped in front of her, producing a phone from his pocket and distractedly handing Sookie off to Pam, who was seated at the bar. “Watch her,” he said, staring at the small screen in front of him, as he turned on his heel and retreated back down the hallway.
Sookie snickered and climbed onto the stool next to Pam, who indeed did seem to be ‘watching’ Sookie. “You guys…” she sighed, shaking her head.
Pam appraised her coolly. “What?” she asked, surprising herself that she was curious as to how Sookie would finish her thought. For a human, Pam supposed Sookie was the least like one. She also did not appear to be going anywhere soon, so Pam would tolerate Sookie, for her Master.
“In a way, it’s fine,” Sookie explained, staring at the signs posted above the busy bar. Signs, a bunch of them, reminding the vampires not to act like vampires. Sookie’s upbringing had been drenched in manners, human manners. “I mean, I’ll get used to it.”
“You do not make sense.”
“Like that!” Sookie said excitedly, pointing at Pam. “You tell it like it is! It just comes right out.” It was sort of thrilling, the honesty and what some would see as rudeness. “I like it.” Or at the very least, as she had said, she would get used to it. A lifetime of hearing what people thought, and then hearing what they said, which was usually very different, had always worn on Sookie. And while she doubted very much that vampires never lied, she was beginning to see that they didn’t waste much time on things that didn’t matter. “It’s fine,” she repeated.
“So glad that’s cleared up,” Pam said drily, motioning to the bartender. When their drinks appeared, she pushed Sookie’s toward her. “What is wrong?” she asked reflexively at the expression on the girl’s face. “Are you…ill?” Sookie’s face was drained of all color, and her scent had become acrid. Eric would have a fit, if he hadn’t already felt the jolt in his Child.
Sookie stared wide-eyed at the signs, her eyes fixed on the warning about forbidding blood exchanges on the premises. “Pam?” she asked.
The vampire’s eyes followed Sookie’s. “No harm will come to you here,” she said seriously. Perhaps that was Sookie’s concern, that she would be drained, as if Eric would allow anyone’s fangs but his own near her. “Do not concern yourself with those-”
Sookie’s warm hand on Pam’s arm stopped her assurances mid-sentence. “P-Pam…” Sookie stammered. “I think we have a problem.”