Emma stretched, relaxed, then stretched as far as she could and held it for a moment before rolling over to meet Andre’s warm blue gaze. He leaned over a bit to brush the dark hair from her face and didn’t stop himself from smoothing his thumb over her eyebrows. He wondered if she would object if she was aware that he’d sat on the bedside watching her sleep for the past two hours?
“Sleep well?” The natural hauteur in his voice was at a bare minimum as his eyes caressed her bare shoulders and arms. He was positive that he’d never seen anything as beautiful as his mate in her sleep, but her slight befuddlement upon waking was awfully damn charming.
“Um hum,” she hummed in affirmation as she took in the fact that he was already dressed. “Why’re you dressed already?” Although he was gorgeous dressed, she really did prefer him…unclothed.
Her voice, husky from sleep, soothed down his spine like warm fur, and he thought her subconscious pout was adorable. When the expected self-castigation at such weaknesses never came, he breathed an unnecessary sigh of relief. If he decided to think that something about her was adorable, damn it, then it was going to be fucking adorable and who was he to second guess himself? Damn it.
Andre instinctively lowered his lips to meet hers and after a very long, very thorough kiss, he leaned back enough to speak.
“In a couple of hours I have someone coming to help with a particular were problem, and we have some things to settle before they arrive.” The ring felt like it was burning a hole in his pocket. He was strangely excited…he couldn’t wait to see how his ring looked on her finger. He just couldn’t figure out exactly how he was going to get his ring on her finger.
Emma’s brow creased a bit in worry. “Tell me again about what’s going on with this were? But first, let me up. Time for a human moment,” she said as she rolled from beneath his large frame. Nature always called at the most inconvenient times.
Obligingly he sat up, and as she rose to don the robe from the foot of the bed, he saw several distinct hand- and finger-shaped bruises marring her beautiful skin. He must have been much rougher with her than he’d previously thought since his blood would surely have healed lesser contusions.
At his slight hiss, she turned around and was alarmed at the look on his face.
“Andre? What’s wrong, honey?”
“I hurt you.” He glared down at his offensive hands, then looked back up at her.
After quickly tying the robe’s belt, Emma walked over to him. “What are you talking about? I’m not hurting anywhere.”
“Bruises, Emma,” he spat. “I left bruises on your hips and back, and probably on your legs, too.” His voice was thick with self-recrimination even as his hands automatically slid around her trim waist to gently draw her nearer.
“Oh.” She thought for a moment as she slipped her arms around his neck. She decided that she loved talking to him when he was sitting down because it was so much easier to wrap her arms around his neck. “Well, geez, Andre, what did you expect?” She poured on the exasperation, and almost laughed at his surprise. “You’re a freakin’ vampire with super-human strength, honey. Bruises are going to come with the territory till you figure out how to handle sweet little ol’ human me.” She slid her hand up to his face and tilted his head back a bit. “And you will figure it out, hon. I promise. Now lemme go, I gotta pee.” She kissed his forehead and walked toward the bathroom.
“You’re not angry? You should be angry with me, Emma.” He was certain that she really should be pissed at him. After all, he’d left bruises on her small body!
“Nope. Now, if I was hurting, yeah, I’d be a little upset, but I’m fine, and I know you didn’t do it on purpose.” Before closing the door, she commanded, “And no more worrying, ok? We’ll figure it out.”
How could she be so nonchalant about it? While he didn’t remember her saying anything about being in pain the previous night, the fact remained that he had obviously, if unintentionally, hurt her at least some.
He’d never concerned himself before about hurting a human during sex, and in fact had often specifically chosen those women who enjoyed that sort of thing. Hell, he’d even been known to train a few in the past. But he’d never had to worry about tending to a woman’s care and comfort before, and now he knew not to trust himself to be as gentle as Emma needed him to be. What the fuck was he supposed to do, though? Now that he’d claimed her, there was no way he could stop…
He paused in his pacing. The Northman. The Northman had bonded himself to a human woman, and he was along the same build and strength as himself. Maybe he would have some suggestions as to how to properly care for and handle a human woman? Well, if the Northman didn’t hate him too badly, he might just ask him.
When he heard Emma start the shower, he went to the living area and contacted Emma’s maid for her to see to her mistress’s food. He then called Sigebert and Wybert to not only coordinate that evening’s guard detail for both the Queen and Emma, but to inform them that the Sheriff and the Telepath were scheduled to stop by later to aid in interrogating the were. They were to be brought to his quarters immediately.
He surprised himself by ordering the prisoner’s area and body be cleared of fresh blood and body fluids for the part-human Telepath’s comfort. Somewhat disgusted at himself for having even thought of such a thing in the first place, he stomped over to his laptop and re-checked that day’s security reports.
Andre snorted as he acknowledged that this was one of the duties that he should have completed earlier in the afternoon, but the pull to physically remain by Emma’s side, especially in her sleep, was just too strong to comfortably fight. Not that he tried very hard, he admitted to himself, but he was fine with this.
The day’s reports finally noted, he then wondered over to Emma’s beloved coffee area, and after a few…mishaps, he managed to make her a fresh cup of coffee just as she came out of the bedroom fully dressed.
“Here,” he said gruffly as he sat the cup on the table she seemed to prefer. “It might be right. Your maid will have your food here soon.”
Emma nodded and glanced down into the cup. Sure enough, he’d added exactly the right amount of milk to make it her preferred strength and color. One large sip and a groan of caffeinated satisfaction later, Andre released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.
“Perfect,” she declared with a wide, heart-felt smile, before happily downing another sip. Wow! She couldn’t believe it – Andre had actually made her a cup of coffee, and he had gotten it right!
Andre considered her obvious coffee fetish a bit weird, but he really couldn’t say anything if he was going to be her enabler, considering that he’d noticed she was getting low on what was apparently her favorite type and had already decided to task her maid with procuring more of this drink for her. She might be a bit odd in some of her choices, but she was his, so it was acceptable. He refused to overly-ponder this line of thought.
The weight in his pocket drew his attention once again. He straightened abruptly and paced a bit. He couldn’t remember a time when he’d been so nervous. It was just a ring, he thought with chagrin. Just a priceless antique heirloom engraved with his personal insignia, that’s all. Should he give it to her now, before she ate, but while they were alone? Or, should he wait until after she’d eaten, and just send the maid away? Fuck, he didn’t know what to do.
Emma sipped as she watched Andre pace, and wondered what in the world was going on with him. She finished her surprisingly perfect cup of coffee, and rose to make another one.
Just as it finished spewing into the cup, she sensed Andre right behind her and turned around.
“Here,” he said curtly as he grabbed her left hand and slid a large, cold ring on her pointer finger. “Wear this. It shows that you are mine, and as such you are under not only my protection, but the protection of this monarchy as well.”
Coffee immediately forgotten, Emma looked from Andre’s closed face to her finger now bearing the weight of a large, heavy gold ring. The gorgeous ruby in the center was enormous, and the tiny bee on each side of the stone was crafted with intricate detail.
“It…it’s beautiful, Andre,” she whispered as she tilted her finger in different directions as she gazed at the ring in awe. “It’s…an antique, isn’t it?”
As Andre started to answer, he found himself suddenly embraced in Emma’s warm arms. He would never get used to feeling her arms wrapped about his person. As his own arms drew her closer of their own accord, he felt an odd lightness in his heart and a strange prickling in his eyes. Unsure of what to make of either occurrence, he chose instead to concentrate on holding her close without crushing her ribs.
Rising up on her tiptoes, she placed a chaste kiss on his cheek, then whispered into his ear, “Thank you. It’s gorgeous and I will wear your ring with pride.” She relaxed into his large body as he began lightly running his hands up and down her back, and she didn’t fight the tears threatening to overflow.
Andre had given her a ring! A ring…from Andre. A gorgeous ring at that! A few minutes later she slowly drew back from him.
“What is this? Why are you leaking?” Surely he hadn’t held her that firmly? He brushed the tears from her cheeks as he ran a super-swift visual inspection of her body.
She laughed as she replied, “I’m fine, just crying a little. We humans do that sometimes when we’re happy. They’re good tears, I promise.” She sniffed then pulled his blond head down to kiss his firm lips. In what seemed like no time at all, but was approximately ten minutes later, they broke apart when they heard a knock at the door.
“Food time, I guess,” she said with a laugh as she headed toward the door. In less than a second she found herself seated in a chair at the table farthest from the door with a very serious Andre glaring down at her.
“I answer the door,” Andre announced in no uncertain terms. Without acknowledging her surprised nod, he opened the door, scanned the hallway, nodded to the guards Alphonse and Conall, and allowed Tracy to push the cart of food into the room.
“Serve your mistress and procure her more of that coffee she likes,” he ordered then quickly escaped to the other side of the room. He wanted a status report on the Sheriff’s progress – the drive was supposed to take five hours, but he knew how the Northman drove, so he expected them to arrive within the next two hours. Also, his enormous erection needed time to settle the fuck down. To his physical frustration, apparently any touch from her lips spoke directly to his cock.
Emma eventually ate her meal in quiet conversation with Tracy who had immediately noticed the official-looking ring on her finger. She had heeded Emma’s quite look suggesting they discuss it more fully later, and had gone over to the coffee area to make them both a cup. When she noticed the now-cold cup of coffee under the dripper, she had automatically made to dump it out, but Emma had stopped her by telling her that she didn’t want to waste it, saying that it was going to go cold before she finished drinking it anyway.
The two ladies almost got into a tiff since Tracy refused to serve her Mistress cold coffee, and Emma was determined to “practice being thrifty” as she called it.
Finally Andre stepped in. He firmly declared in no uncertain terms that in no way would his mate “practice being thrifty”, that he was not only a man of great personal means, but that as his Queen’s Second, he had the financial backing of a very wealthy state, and that there were going to be some small changes enacted presently anyway.
“Like what?” Emma was thoroughly bemused. This whole situation was so silly. All she’d wanted to do was drink a freakin’ cup of coffee, and here Andre was acting like she was offering to darn his socks and beg on the streets for goodness sakes. While she wasn’t going to be voted “Thriftiest Person of the Year” any time soon, she really didn’t like blatant waste, either. And she definitely knew how expensive those little “cups” were.
“Most notably you will need clothing more suitable for your new station.” His slightly haughty tone, arms crossed over his chest, and broad stance dared her to disagree.
“What new station?” Emma felt a bit like Alice and wondered where the rabbit hole was. She really wished he wasn’t so damn sexy when he crawled up on his high horse.
“Mine.” He fairly radiated primal male satisfaction at that proclamation.
When she simply looked at him with a raised brow and slight blush, Andre continued. “As soon as I recover Rasul and eliminate BeauChamps, I’ll be taking over my Kingdom in Arkansas. You will be my Queen. And as such,” he continued decisively despite her obvious shock, “I will tolerate no scrimping, my dear.”
He abruptly knelt before her and took her hands in his own.
“Emma, I will provide for you in all ways. Do not doubt this. I appreciate that you are no spendthrift, however as my mate, I wish to see to your every comfort, and I wish to see you adorned in fine jewels and clothing appropriate for your new station.” He paused to take an unnecessary breath before continuing.
“We may encounter some difficulties at first as you are still human, but I will tolerate no reason for you to ever lower your head.”
With a blush on her cheeks and a sweet grin curving her lips, Emma nuzzled her face into his neck and inhaled his dark, spicy scent faintly reminiscent of leather and cinnamon. After a long moment she lifted her head to lightly rub her cheek against his.
“So, no cold coffee for me, eh?” She decided she would freak out about becoming a non-vampire queen later. Much later.
Fully realizing her tactics and wishing he had brought up this subject in a better way, Andre simply shook his head. “No, no more cold coffee.”
A few minutes later Andre received a mental summons from his Maker. Emma distracted Tracy with meal-time chatter during the long but unspoken communication between Maker and Child. Eventually the silent conversation must have ended because Andre went back to his laptop, leaving the ladies to their own devices.
The beeping of Andre’s phone eventually interrupted the quiet in the room, and when his call was completed, he turned to Emma.
“Sheriff Northman and his human bonded will arrive in about half an hour. They will meet us in here.”
Emma turned to Tracy. “Well, if she’s human, she’s going to need refreshments. Tracy, can you take this stuff back and load up the cart with light snacks, appetizers, and drinks? I have no idea what she might like, but let’s do have something on hand for her.”
After Tracy left, Emma’s curiosity finally got the best of her. “Who are these people and why are they coming here, anyway?”
Smirking at her unintended yet oddly delightful impudence, Andre answered his mate. “Eric Northman is a Sheriff for the Queen in Shreveport, and he is bonded to a …human telepath.” He was positive the Telepath was more than simply human, but did not wish to take the time just yet to voice his suspicions.
“A telepath? Oh. Um, ok, so, what will she do here?” Emma wasn’t exactly sure what a telepath did, but didn’t want to appear too ignorant.
“She will attempt to read the were’s mind to determine Rasul’s location and BeauChamps’ plans.” He wondered what Emma’s reaction to this would be.
“Ewe. I certainly wouldn’t want to be her, then.” She could just imagine what all was running around loose in a kidnapping were. She shivered then changed her thoughts.
“They’re coming from Shreveport? Are they staying here in the palace for the day? I’m assuming that this Eric is a vampire, right?” She mischievously flicked her eyes sideways at the tall blond. Of course the Sheriff was most likely a vampire, but it would have been nice if Andre had been a bit more specific.
“Impudent wench,” he growled playfully. “Of course he’s a vampire.” He paused to give her an evil eye, then continued. “He has his own place in the city.”
Emma laughed, delighted at having gotten a teasing reaction from him, then glanced around their quarters. She stood and stretched, then began quickly tidying up the room.
“What are you doing,” Andre demanded.
“Just tidying up a bit, hon. Here,” she said as she tossed him a rumpled throw. “Fold that and lay it over the back of the sofa. I’m going to check out the bathroom.” She fled the room before she could burst out laughing at the stunned look on the master torturer’s face.
Andre glared at Emma’s retreating form, then glared down at the cloth in his large hands. What the fuck was he supposed to do with this damn thing? Fold it? He, Andre Paul, the Queen’s Second, future King of Arkansas, was supposed to…fold…a thin blanket?
Ten minutes later, after having quickly tidied the bathroom, Emma returned to the living area. The throw was perfectly folded and properly placed on the back of the sofa.
A/N: I had originally planned on bringing Eric and Sookie in during this chapter, but…alas, my wordy muses decided to be, um, wordy instead. And, really, you have to admit that sentence was absolutely the PERFECT stopping point for this chapter. Let me know what you think!