Queen Sophie-Anne’s visit with Emma and Sookie lasted a vigorous eleven minutes. The main purpose of her visit, she said after gifting Emma with a brief hug, was to see for herself that her friend Emma was being cared for properly, and to notify both Emma and Sookie that their vampires were already en route back to the palace with their primary objective, and several prisoners, in tow.
Sigebert had shown a rare moment of obvious humor when he then winked at Emma and translated quite gutturally, “Brodder fought well, won, got Rasul, got prisoners, now come home. We will…re-educate the prisoners.” The pride and approval in his semi-feral grin was unmistakable.
Sookie looked over at Emma and both ladies shivered. They could only imagine what “re-educate” meant. Emma noticed when Sophie-Anne’s expression then turned serious.
“The bad news…it seems BeauChamps rather unfortunately managed to escape capture. However, they did remove most of his known allies, and will hopefully gain the information necessary to find his other resting areas. Prisoners can be so delightfully informative when given the proper incentives.” Her certifiably evil grin gave proof to the ruthless nature which had won and vigorously protected her cherished territory for ages.
A moment later she stilled as only a vampire can, then stated that the “extraction team” was back, and that they were securing the prisoners. She turned to leave, paused, and turned back around to lay her hand on Sookie’s arm.
“It is very nice to see you, Sookie. I am extremely glad that you and Emma seem to be getting along so well. She will need someone of your intelligence, wit, and capability in her new life as I understand she is to become the first non-vampire queen of Arkansas. She would do quite well as it is, but with your help, she might even enjoy this new adventure.” After a brief pause, she unexpectedly asked, “Do I smell silk?”
With that, Sophie-Anne shrugged her shoulders, turned and, in the midst of her dramatic exit from the room, paused to gleefully remind the ladies of “the after-effects of blood lust”, then recommenced with her dramatic exit. Sigebert gave both ladies a suggestively toothy grin as he nodded goodbye.
As soon as the door closed behind him, all three women turned to each other and enjoyed a bout of laughter.
“Well,” Sookie started, still giggling, “that reminds me.” She picked up two bags, one of them quite heavy, and handed them over to Emma. “Here! I saw these things when I was shopping, and thought you might like them.”
Surprised by the weight of one of the bags, Emma exclaimed, “Wow! This one is heavy! Really, you didn’t have to get me anything!” Emma’s eyes lit up with curiosity and joy.
“I know, I know, but when I saw these things, they just screamed at me. What did you want me to do, run?”
All three ladies laughed. Emma and Sookie returned to the sofa where they’d been sitting earlier, and both noticed at the same time that they needed something else to drink. Seeing their expressions, Tracy just snickered and told them that she’d get it.
Curiosity suddenly piqued as she remembered what Sophie-Anne had said earlier, Emma asked Tracy if everyone in the palace knew that Andre meant for her to be his queen.
Tracy smirked and nodded happily. “Yep,” she said, popping the ‘p’, “everyone knows. Gossip runs rampant around here – you’d be shocked at how fast everyone hears everything. And, I have to say, we’re all quite happy and proud for you. You’ll make an awesome queen.” The were placed the coffee and iced tea on the table, then lowered herself into a nearby chair to sip her own drink. “Come on, open them!”
Wanting to savor the anticipation of discovering what was in the heavy bag, she first withdrew an odd, flat box from the other bag. When she opened it, she exclaimed, “Ohh, I love it! It’s gorgeous!”
She carefully unfolded the long, cobalt blue silk scarf from its tissue paper wrapping.
Sookie supplied, “You mentioned the other night that you like cobalt blue, so when I saw that, I just knew I had to get it for you.”
“It’s beautiful – this is my favorite shade of blue! I love the feel of silk, but I don’t generally like wearing it because it has no give, but a scarf is absolutely perfect. Thank you, Sookie,” she exclaimed as she ran the soft, delicate fabric through her fingers several times.
“You also said that you admire locally hand-crafted items, too, right? Well, next is something, well, three somethings made locally that you might like.”
Emma realized that Sookie was apparently afraid that she might not like the upcoming surprises because she kept watching her so intently. Even if she’d hated them, though, her manners, plus her genuine liking for the blonde, would have made sure her appreciation was known regardless.
“Oh! I love orange marmalade? And Meyer lemon marmalade? And…what’s this…” she mumbled as she fished the last item out of the bag. “Oh! Little baguettes! Aww, these are the cutest little baguettes I’ve ever seen!” She turned to Sookie, wanting to put her somewhat apprehensive friend to ease. “I love it! Where did you find such cute little loaves? And lemon marmalade? I’ve never even heard of that before!”
As Sookie told her where she’d bought the items, Emma rose and walked over to the “kitchen table” as she called it, and grabbed some of the plates and silverware she’d confiscated from the food carts and sat back down.
“Ok, y’all, we have got to get into these marmalades!” She opened both small jars and plopped a spoon into each, then opened the bag containing the mini-baguettes and placed them on the table so everyone could help themselves. “Here, dig in,” she enjoined her companions as she broke her bread into small pieces before spooning some of each marmalade onto her plate.
Tracy and Sookie helped themselves to some of the bread and orange variety, but Sookie didn’t touch the lemon, choosing instead to carefully watch Emma as she tasted it.
“Yo-woah, that’s tart! Don’t get me wrong, it’s awfully good, just…wow – super tart.” She finished her bite and sipped her coffee to clear her palate. She really hoped the orange version wasn’t as…fierce. She missed the look of confusion that briefly crossed Sookie’s face.
“Wow – you’re so right! The lemon is super strong,” Tracy said in agreement before also sipping on her own cup of coffee.
All three agreed, however, that the orange variety was very good. Under Sookie’s curiously watchful supervision, Emma nibbled another bite of the lemon-coated bread, then reached eagerly for the last gift bag.
“Hummm…wonder what’s in this bag that’s so heavy,” she teased as she “tested the weight” of the bag in her hand. “I guess I’ll just have to open it up and see!” With a giggle, she did just that. In seconds she had the huge amount of tissue paper covering the item removed, and soon held a medium-sized black wrought iron cup tree in her hands. Her mouth fell open. The scrollwork was very intricate and it had more than enough hooks to hold her growing collection of coffee mugs.
“Sookie! This is brilliant! I love it! This will go perfect over there on the so-called kitchen table. It’s…just perfect!” She jumped up, sat the heavy wrought iron cup tree on the table, and gave Sookie a huge hug.
After thanking her repeatedly with lots of “I really appreciate it”‘s and being “You’re so welcome”‘d several times, she took the heavy object over to the table and sat it beside the coffee brewer and immediately began hanging her collection coffee mugs on it.
“There, perfect,” she exclaimed in satisfaction before returning to the sofa. “Now, then, how much do I owe you?”
“Oh, no – no way. Nothing. Nada. I’m so not getting in the middle of a “don’t buy me things” quarrel between you and Andre.” Sookie shivered. While her observations of their interactions had indeed eased her concerns about his treatment of his mate, she still remembered… Thankfully the sound of someone opening the door interrupted her uncomfortable train of thought.
Andre and Eric strode through the door like conquering heroes of old. Freshly showered and exuding hearty success and vitality, the two powerful vampires radiated confidence, masculine prowess, and a strong, smoldering intensity that Sookie and Tracy instantly understood.
Emma was instinctively aware that there was something different about Andre, that he somehow seemed much more…carnal, wild and untamed, even, than he usually did. The thin veneer of tight control that he usually wore seemed to be strangely missing, replaced by something potent and…erotic? She shook her head, took a deep breath, and tried to tame the corresponding “energy” tingling in her girly bits.
Sookie noticed that, in this particular moment at least, there was a strong camaraderie between the two males. For just a moment in time, the one was not a Sheriff, and the other was not a future king; they were brothers-in-arms. Astonishingly, Andre somehow appeared almost…likable.
Shaking herself out of that oddly dazed state as she suddenly remembered her hostess duties, Emma stood and asked if either vampire wanted a True Blood heated up. As both vampires declined her offer, she tried to ignore the fact that her feet were instinctively drawn toward her mate, who was stalking toward her with leonine grace.
When they reached each other, both temporarily forgot the presence of their guests as Andre rested his hands on Emma’s hips to draw her into him as she placed her hands on his chest. She savored his firm strength as she very quietly asked, “Are you ok?”
Unknowingly mirroring Eric’s own movements, Andre dipped his head into that sweet spot where her neck met her shoulder, and inhaled slowly and deeply. As he lightly trailed his nose along her throat, he purred, “I am fine. BeauChamps eluded us, but we did retrieve Rasul. We fought hard, and killed many,” he replied before nipping along her jaw. “We also have several prisoners,” he added with gloating satisfaction.
Suddenly remembering that they weren’t alone, Emma laughed huskily and unsuccessfully tried to step back a bit. “Oh, honey, you and your beloved prisoners!” She shook her head in mock resignation, but Andre could see by the light in her dark brown eyes that she was truly happy for him. He had fought hard and accomplished his primary mission objective, and now had the possible means with which to achieve his ultimate goal, and had the full approval, and dimpled grin, of his beloved mate.
Wait…his brain screeched…beloved? He would freely admit to a select few that he cared deeply for her, and that yes, he had considered loving her before now, but…beloved?
Maybe it was because of the beast inside of him, hot from fighting and spilling the blood of his enemies, but for some reason that thought did not seem to bother him all that much, at least, not as much as he assumed it should. Maybe it really didn’t bother him at all, he admitted to himself as he dipped his head to capture her sweet lips with his own.
Eric had also taken his own mate into his arms and was thoroughly kissing her…until he caught the scent of lemons. He cast a worried glance at Sookie when he spied the lemon marmalade on the coffee table in front of the sofa, and when he was sure that she was fine, his curiosity took over. She returned his look with a minute shake of her head as she shrugged her shoulders.
Not really caring all that much about Emma’s ancestry and satisfied that Sookie hadn’t been harmed by the lemon that she, herself, must have brought to test the brunette, he quirked his brow as he leered at the lovely lady in his arms. She blushed at his glance, then pointedly looked over toward Andre and Emma, then laughed. They were actively engaged in Eric’s favorite “preliminary activity”.
Sookie’s laughter startled Emma, who jerked away from Andre and blushed the most becoming shade of pink Eric had seen on anyone other than his pledged and bonded mate.
Apparently thinking that Eric’s appreciative gaze had lingered a bit too long on his woman, Andre growled a warning too low for the humans to hear, but didn’t bother to hide the challenging expression on his face. Understanding the frustrations of a newly-mated male vampire all too well, the Viking simply nodded his head and looked away. He couldn’t help letting a wee smirk at the Master Torturer’s expense grace his lips, which earned him a rib nudge from Sookie as she rolled her eyes at both males.
After exchanging a few pleasantries and accepting Eric’s invitation to join them in his box at the opera the next night, the Sheriff and his Telepath quickly took their leave. Tracy, understanding how these things worked, simply nodded to Andre and Emma before following them out.
As the door shut behind them, Andre turned his bright sea-blue gaze upon his mate.
**I’d like to imagine that they’re going to see Marschner’s The Vampire (Der Vampyr) at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts…
Also: For this chapter, I came *SO* close to publishing exactly this (just ask MissRissa81 – who is a fuckawesome cheerleader, btw): “Chapter 22: People Talked. The end. Please proceed in an orderly fashion to Chapter 23 where you will find several servings of lemony goodness. Thank you and please tip your waitress.” Rly.
Oh, and btw: Chapter 23 really IS scheduled to have said lemony goodness assuming my muse cooperates and doesn’t hijack my brainbox with something else…**