Emma woke earlier than usual the next afternoon and decided to treat herself to the luxury of a long soak in the huge bathtub after her gallon of “wake up” coffee. That lovely tub looked so inviting, and the bottles surrounding it looked so interesting. She had yet to ask Andre about the accumulation of luxurious bath products…especially the bubble baths. Somehow, they’d never had time to have such an inane discussion – everything seemed to be either about security or sex.
Frowning as she pondered just how very little time they’d been able to spend together, she walked over to the brewer and noticed an envelope propped up where she couldn’t miss it. It was addressed to her, but she set it to the side to quickly brew her first cup of the day, then sat in her usual place. She automatically clicked the remote to open the TV cabinet, then clicked another button to actually watch the TV – just because she couldn’t take part in the outside world right now didn’t mean she should be ignorant of current events. She snorted to herself as she remembered how long it’d taken her to figure out what button did what on that horrible little remote.
After a long sip of her coffee, she gave into her curiosity and opened the envelope. As she extracted the folded piece of paper with handwriting on it, a credit card slid out. Huh, so Andre’s last name is Paul…
Surprising her own self, her eyes suddenly filled with tears, and she just lowered her head to her arms and sobbed as she realized how little she knew about the man she loved. She had no idea what he liked, what he hated, what his dreams were, what his favorite books were, nothing. They never sat and simply talked, or just hung out with each other like normal couples did. She had no idea what his favorite color was, what his favorite places to visit were… She’d had to find out his last name via a damn credit card!
There were so many things they didn’t know about each other, and instead of shrinking, that list was growing daily. By necessity their relationship had progressed at warp speed, and that worried her. While there was no way they could have had a normal, dating, get-to-know-you courtship, the fact remained that they each really should know so much more about the other than they did.
Eventually her better sense took over and reminded her that since they’d met, there really hadn’t been time for hanging out or chatting. She just hoped that everything would calm down soon so that they could. With that wish in mind, she went to the bathroom to blow her nose and splash cold water on her face, and gave up and got in the shower while she was there.
As she finished drying off and put on a pair of blue stretch pants and a red knit top, she concentrated on thinking that she knew the most important things about Andre, and she hoped that he knew the most important things about her, too. They did seem to have a very strong mutual trust society going on, and good grief but they got along fantastic in bed. While he might try to be overbearing and highhanded when he felt the need, the only time he felt said need was when her safety was in question. He might be a raging lion, but he was her raging lion, and boy could he purr.
Resolved to have a happier day, Emma grinned as she remembered Andre’s delicious purring, then tossed back the cool contents of her cup as if it were hard liquor. She made herself another cup of coffee, then read the letter Andre had written.
She crossed then uncrossed her eyes as she thought that as long as he’d been around, his handwriting should have been better. She’d really been hoping that the last note he’d left her had been written in haste, but…oh, well, plugging on…
Apparently she was to use that unlimited credit card to order herself whatever she wanted online. He had even provided a long list of companies where she could select and pay for what she wanted, then have Tracy go and pick up her order that same day or evening.
Well, she thought, that’s convenient!
Reading on, she deciphered that he “highly suggested” she begin procuring for herself at least two wardrobes of clothing “worthy of a queen.” She subconsciously shook her head – she was nowhere near ready to start thinking about queenly things, and that included clothing. As an unemployed accountant, she had plenty of “business casual” clothing that might actually still work in her new role…or maybe not. She huffed to herself…frankly, all things considered, her “real world” unemployment had turned out to be a good thing…even if she was supposedly “employed” by the Queen. She’d yet to figure out what she was supposed to be doing, but that point was rather moot by now. And…back to the letter…
He’d also provided the password for his laptop. Fat lot of good all the previous information would have done her if he hadn’t, she snarked to herself. He went on to mention that a new mattress would arrive shortly after dusk this evening. She snorted even as she blushed a bit at that.
Then she reached the more serious portion of the letter. She was not to request anything from the kitchen until all potential threats had been eliminated, and that Tracy had been instructed to purchase any desired foodstuffs for the foreseeable future.
Sighing, Emma was glad for the gallon and a half of milk currently residing in her, well, their fridge. It was strange how quickly she’d gotten used to seeing his bottles of spendy fake blood gathered right up next to her jugs of milk in the small-sized version of a full-sized fridge he’d quickly had brought in for her benefit. She still had a couple of those mini-baguettes left over, several containers of yogurt, and the orange and Meyer lemon marmalades, too. Well, she shivered in memory, she had orange marmalade left. The lemon stuff was just too strong, and made her jaws cringe and her tongue tingle. So, to keep from needlessly bothering Tracy, she grabbed a yogurt, a mini-loaf, the orange marmalade, and his laptop.
She started his laptop and left it to load while eating her makeshift breakfast, the she started educating herself on the types of clothing available at the different stores he’d suggested. Some of the stores listed also carried fine gentlemen’s goods, too, she was glad to see. He had the most beautiful eyes, and she knew just the color of blue that would make them sparkle.
Several hours and way more money than she’d ever spent at once later, Andre rose and, eventually, came into the living area.
Unbeknownst to her, upon rising he had immediately located her and accessed her health and emotions through the bond. Satisfied with the information, he had then gathered and tossed the shredded bed linens and had propped the abused mattress beside the door into their bedroom. Once those tasks had been completed and he’d showered and dressed, he chose to take a few moments to remember the events of the previous night.
When memories of Emma’s lovemaking…he was chagrinned to have to admit it, but in truth that’s exactly what it was….began having the usual effect on his body, he turned his thoughts back to the threats facing him and his. A brief mental check-in with his Maker confirmed her fine state of “health”, and he once again pondered the odd situation with the potentially innocent vampire in the basement. Well, less “innocent” and more “unwilling participant,” he theorized. When Eric arrived, he planned on having him “visit” with all the prisoners before they left for their plans…or maybe not, time depending.
Oh, fuck…the plans, he’d suddenly realized. Hell, fire, shit and damnation, but he was going to have to cancel their visit to the opera. There was no way in hell he was going to expose his Emma to the insane lack of security that outing would present.
But she had been looking forward to going somewhere with such anticipation, he thought sadly. Well, she still had to eat, and now that the kitchen was off-limits… Yes, they would just have to go and eat somewhere instead. Surely buildings were humans ate were far easier to secure. Not being in the habit of feeding humans, he wasn’t sure of where to go, but maybe the Northman, being much more accustomed to the needs and likes of eaters, would know of a small, supe-owned establishment that could be much more easily secured.
With that thought in mind, he’d exited the bedroom and immediately spied his Emma fully engrossed in some tv show about dragons, of all things. Taking advantage of her unusual preoccupation, he stood immobile as only a vampire could, and simply observed her for a few minutes. From his vantage point, he could see the minute changes in her appearance directly attributable to the changes in her circumstances since he first met her. The minute lines forming around her eyes, and the barely noticeable grooves slowly forming around her mouth told him of the stress she was suffering from worry and lack of freedom. Instead of wallowing in the sense of failure tugging at his heart, he became more determined than ever to bring an abundance of joy and laughter to her days and nights.
Thoroughly engrossed in an old fauxcumentary about dragons, she had barely sensed his approach until he dropped a kiss to her forehead en route to his evening blood.
“Em,” he started as he heated his blood. “I hate to do this, but I don’t think we should go to the opera tonight. The security issues alone would be a fiasco, and I simply cannot risk your safety in such a way.”
She turned her sad gaze to him, and the disappointment in her eyes, combined with the barest tremble in her lower lip, felt oddly like stakes to his heart.
“However,” he hurriedly added as he felt through the bond just how her heart sank, “unless you have a preferred eating establishment, I’m going to call the Northman to see if he knows of a place, preferably supe-owned, where we can protect you much easier.”
Emma’s heart had dropped as she matched his words to his casual attire. She’d really been looking forward to going out on something approaching a date with Andre…hell, she’d just been looking forward to going out, period…and now, this. She could see where he was coming from with the security issues, but…damn. She exhaled a puff of air, and shrugged her shoulders, knowing that any place she might have mentioned wouldn’t have met Andre’s “standards” for a future queen…or for her security, either, probably.
Andre put his half-filled bottle on the table and knelt at her feet. He cupped her cheeks with his palms, and leaned forward to rest his forehead against hers.
“I cannot imagine how difficult all these recent changes must be for you, and I am sorry. I can promise you that Beauchamp will not remain free forever. In the meantime, though, my first priority is your safety. I cannot allow anything to happen to you, Em. I just…there is no risk I will take with your life.”
He lightly grazed his lips over hers, then nestled his face into the curve of her shoulder. “Even now, my instincts are screaming to cancel our plans for this night, but I am going to trust the Northman, and ten other guards, to help me see to your safety.” He leaned back to gaze into her eyes. “I realize that you have been held almost as a prisoner here, and for that, I truly apologize.”
Although she was still learning how to read and use the bond between them, Emma could still sense the sincerity behind his words. She did allow a big sigh to escape, but allowed that he was right – it just wasn’t safe for her yet.
With a wry grin and a sad laugh, she replied, “Then I guess it’s a good thing your card is unlimited, isn’t it.” To satisfy some innate need that she didn’t really understand, she stroked her cheek across his own a few times, then inhaled his richly masculine scent. She met his concerned gaze after placing a chaste kiss to his throat.
“You’re right, it really does suck pretty bad that I’m cooped up in here every damn minute of every damn day, and it really is starting to wear on my nerves, but I know that not only is this the way it has to be, but that this is temporary.”
Equanimity partially restored, she softly smiled at her bonded, and told him to go ahead and call Eric, that she had no preference as to where they ate so long as there wasn’t any seafood involved since she was not in the mood for it, and make their plans.
With a kiss that left her breathless, Andre agreed, then rose to grab his phone. The discussion with the Sheriff didn’t take very long as he was surprisingly understanding. After a brief discussion between the Sheriff and his Bonded, a suitable location was chosen. As soon as that call was disconnected, Andre immediately called Sigebert to have him gather appropriate guards and proceed as soon as possible to the restaurant and appropriately prepare and secure the area. Emma decided that she didn’t want to know exactly what that meant, and made herself another cup of coffee.
Seconds after Andre ended his call, her phone rang; she laughed at the timing as she answered. Tracy was calling to let her know that she was on her way up, and that she and two palace guards were loaded down with collected shopping bags…and donuts. “Not beignets,” the were stressed with a laugh, “but ‘plain ol’ glazed donuts’ and those Alka Seltzers you wanted for the heartburn you said you’d get from eating the donuts you said you wanted.”
Andre leaned against the table near his dark-haired mate, and finished his now-cold blood. He reveled in her sparkling laughter at the were’s joke even if he, himself, didn’t understand the humor. Why ask for something if you know it will cause you discomfort? Humans, he knew for a fact, often made little sense. He guessed his mate was no different at times.
Minutes later Tracy and the two guards arrived and they were, indeed, loaded down with shopping bags, he was pleased to see. He recognized the store logos on the bags and knew they came from two of the places he’d suggested in his letter. He snickered when Emma snuck a donut from the box she had immediately taken from the were…and laughed when she then grabbed the box itself before going with Tracy into the bedroom to explore the contents of the bags. Note to self, he thought, Emma loves donuts.
Resigning himself to waiting alone while his mate and her maid whispered and laughed and ate donuts behind the closed bedroom door, he opened the cabinet housing his links to the palace security system. He scanned the day’s reports, then scanned the accumulated videos from the day, paying special attention to any visitors and any activities by palace personnel. Pausing for a moment, he savored and examined his mate’s emotions flooding the bond; she was happy, calmly excited, and, curiously, she was also feeling a bit mischievous, too. He shrugged then switched his attention to the cameras in the kitchen areas, and quickly scanned those logged videos. Frustratingly, nothing seemed out of either place or routine.
Per his usual custom, he then scanned the time-lapse videos of the area in front of his Queen’s quarters as no one was allowed inside during daylight hours. Lastly, the dungeon feed showed that all was progressing well; even the prisoner’s pathetic moans were finally quieting down.
He heated himself up another blood and quickly drank it down while torturing himself with the memory of the flavor, scent, and texture of his Emma’s blood. He was tempted to rinse his mouth out with water to rid himself of the subpar taste and texture of the false blood, but decided not to. The residual chlorine in the water was just as bad.
A few minutes later, the one person on the planet he would never consider a mere blood bag emerged from the bedroom dressed in a lovely knee-length gown. The varying shades of pink silk showed her creamy skin tone to perfection, and made her dark eyes shine, and her dark hair seem even darker. He was pleased to see that she hadn’t worn those ridiculous high heels women seemed determined to endure. Flats were a much better choice from a security standpoint, and were much less likely to cause a walking malfunction. Plus, she was short, and he kind of liked that about her.
He walked over to his beautiful mate and took her hand to twirl her around a few times as he enjoyed her resulting laughter.
“Beautiful,” he pronounced emphatically.
Emma’s bright smile, complete with dimples, brightened the part of his heart that he was happily coming to realize would never be his own again.
“So this will do?” She had no idea where they were going, and hadn’t known exactly how to dress for the evening, but had loved this dress the instant she saw it online.
“You’re perfect,” he growled lightly, letting some fang show in masculine appreciation.
He pulled her to his chest with a bit more force than necessary and was in the process of kissing her senseless when there was a knock at the door. Emma laughed a bit breathlessly at his grunt of displeasure as he ended the kiss.
Emma blushed brick red – as luck would have it, both the replacement mattress and their guests for the evening had arrived at same time. Andre, who she would later swear was silently crowing, magnanimously invited everyone in, offered Eric and Sookie a seat while he supervised the mattress situation, and showed the delivery men to the bedroom.
When the men carted the destroyed mattress out, it was all Emma could do to keep from hiding her face in her hands as it seemed they were determined to show off Andre’s mattress demolition skills to everyone.
Internally Andre snickered at Emma’s reaction. In the vampire world, sexual prowess was a valuable part of a vampire’s reputation, and this situation had subtly bolstered his reputation even more to their guests, not that it needed reinforcing, he amended to himself. He wouldn’t embarrass his mate by trying to explain such things to her, at least, not just yet. She was dealing with enough as it was. Discussions of vampire quirks could wait a bit.
Speaking softly so that the humans in the other room wouldn’t hear him, Andre stated, “Northman, we will speak with our dungeon guests after our outing. No sense in delaying their meal.” He gestured to Emma and Sookie.
“That suits me fine. Maybe a few more hours curing will help loosen their tongues.”
“You have weres, right? Will you need me to…,” Sookie began offering, but halted when Andre shook his head.
“Not at this time,” he interrupted the telepath. Her offer surprised him, but he knew it should not. The blonde was, from what he understood, a nice, friendly person, and she was quickly forming a friendship with his Emma. “Tomorrow, perhaps, if we are unable to garner the information we seek.” He unnecessarily cleared his throat and said stiffly, “Thank you for the offer.”
He was rewarded for his unusual consideration when Emma squeezed his hand briefly before wrapping her arm around his waist.
At last the delivery men finished, and Emma excused herself and quickly fled to “freshen up” before they left for the evening. When she returned to the living area, Sookie and Eric both wore matching expressions – the teasing was about to begin.
“Did you say we were going out to eat,” she hurriedly asked the room at large.
**A/N: Would anyone be interested in a one-shot of Andre and Emma’s dinner out with Eric and Sookie? If so, lemme know, and it might happen. Also, the next chapter, Chapter 26, was originally intended to be a one-shot, but I decided to include it in the main part of the story when I anticipated that it might eventually become more relevant than I’d first thought. Yes, *cheeky grin* that is a hint…**