**A/N: Unbeta’d, as is, but I hope you like!**
Each pet name ran through Andre’s head with every step taken at vamp-speed toward the Palace kitchen. Where the hell did humans get this shit from, and why was his Emma so damned and determined to call him such things? He tried to be as furious about it as he thought he should be, but, strangely, his fury wasn’t quite as ‘furious’ as he’d have liked for it to have be.
Snookums? Sweet pea?
At least the one she used most often, ‘honey’, wasn’t all that bad. And at least she wouldn’t use the other two in public.
He approached the kitchen with Emma in his arms, and paused briefly at the entrance. He noticed with approval that Sigebert and the guards were not only stationed in appropriate locations, but that the kitchen staff had been cleared out, too. He placed Emma onto her feet and held her a moment so she could regain her balance lost during his rushed transit…to the kitchen…that she was so determined to visit. Sigh.
She grabbed hold of his arm encircling her waist for a moment, then began a visual inventory of her surroundings, looking for all the world like a queen surveying her territory. All of what she assumed were the usual kitchen staff were missing, and their hasty exit was obvious considering the piles of half-chopped herbs and vegetables on one of the tables. When she saw the partially cooked items still warm on the turned-off stove, she decided to make her visit as quick as possible. She knew just how much she hated being interrupted while cooking.
It took a moment, but she finally found the well-stocked pantry and located the canned soups. While she would have loved to have been able to prepare a huge pot of good vegetable beef soup and let it simmer for a couple of hours, she instead put a can of soup on to heat and began searching out the rest of her midnight dinner and future snacks.
She wanted fresh fruit, but chose some canned mixed fruit (since fresh fruit could have been dipped or injected with drugs or toxins), a new pack of crackers from an unopened box (for the same reason), and sighed longingly at all the already-opened blocks of cheese in the refrigerator. She hated having to be so distrustful, but at this point she wouldn’t put anything past anyone. She also decided that Andre’s paranoia was just plain rubbing off on her.
With that thought in mind, she found a basket in the pantry and began filling it with easy-to-eat canned goods and assorted unopened crackers, and whatever else she could quickly gather from the pantry and the refrigeration units to take back to their quarters. It wasn’t in her nature to want to disturb the orderly routine of the Palace staff, so she didn’t want to have to come back down again if she could help it. On that note, she appropriated a few more dishes, pieces of silverware, and another glass, and an unopened box of cookies for good measure.
By then her soup was hot, so she sat and ate it as quickly as she could while pretending the scene wasn’t as surrealistic as it felt…and that she wasn’t being watched like a hawk by five on-guard but slightly-baffled vampires.
One vampire in particular was glaring at everyone else, daring anyone to say a word to his hungry mate. He didn’t understand why she didn’t just call upon her maid to do this thing for her, but as much as the necessity of this action pissed him off, if she wanted to come to the kitchen to see to her own food, he would not only allow it, but would clear the way for her to do so. He would never allow his mate to go hungry! It hurt him deeply that he could not yet provide better for her, but these trials would soon be over.
After she finished eating and put her dishes in the sink, she grabbed the basket and nodded to Andre. With still no word having yet been spoken by anyone, Sigebert took the basket from her hand just before she was scooped up by her silent mate.
The return trip to their quarters was just as quick, and once he settled her on a chair, Andre took the basket from Sigebert and bid him a good night…and tried not to glare at the blond giant for nodding a good-bye to Emma.
“I’m curious,” he stated as he sat down beside her. “I know you were working as quickly as you could, but why didn’t you say anything in the kitchen?”
She scooted over a bit closer and tried to pretend they weren’t sitting on “the couch” from earlier. “There really wasn’t anything to say, and besides, the kitchen might have been bugged.”
He placed an impulsive kiss to her head before replying, “A very astute thought, Em, but it’s highly unlikely. I have the security systems set up to run several different types of scans at regular intervals, and that includes all known types of bugs, as you call them. Of course,” he added, “anything is possible.”
“Exactly,” she concurred. “Ok, I’ve had my dinner, my second one, actually, so now it’s your turn.”
She laughed happily as his fangs automatically dropped, then looked confused when his expression hardened and became more resigned.
“As much as I crave your blood, ma chérie, I have feed quite enough off you these last few nights.”
He abruptly rose and paced as he continued, “No, I will not risk your health.” He didn’t want to mention that he’d drained the useless were, preferring to spare Emma from such realities as long as he could. “In any event, at my age, even if I did not feed for another two weeks I would still be fine, so I can certainly abstain from your blood for a night or two with absolutely no ill effects.”
Andre laughed at her dissatisfaction, then knelt close to whisper into her ear, “I may abstain from tasting your blood, but I have no intentions of abstaining from tasting your other fluids.”
He chuckled evilly at her shiver of arousal, kissed her deeply, then nipped at her bottom lip.
“I had thought that you would have prepared yourself more of a meal?” He definitely needed to change the subject. While he didn’t need to feed, he always seemed to need her blood. And besides, he had been taking notice of her foods of late and noticed the difference.
Emma sighed, then stretched out on the couch to rest her head on his hard thigh after he finally sat beside her. “Honestly, I miss cooking. I miss having my own fully-stocked kitchen and I miss fixing what I want, when I want it. I would have loved to have been able to make a huge pot of the kind of soup I like, maybe put it on to simmer early in the afternoon and let it go for a couple of hours. But, when we got to the kitchen, it was obvious that the staff had been cleared out just so that I could be there, and that’s not right. I hate that I had to disturb them in the middle of their preparations. So, I just grabbed the first thing I found that would do.”
Andre, who had been gently stroking her hair, stopped and tilted her chin up to draw her eyes to his.
“Stop that. You will not feel guilty for having to prepare your own fucking food, Em. I won’t have it. This entire situation is in no way your fault. Am I clear?”
She blinked in surprise at the force behind his words, then nodded.
His face hardened and his jaw clenched as he stared down at her before looking away. Emma jolted as a snarled string of what she thought were French profanities flew from his lips. If this had been a different kind of situation, she might have asked for spellings and translations since some of those growled words sounded rather intriguing, but wisely held her tongue for the moment.
Instead she sat up and faced the angry blond vampire. “Honey, what’s wrong?” She automatically placed her hand on his thigh, and was pleased when he covered her hand gently with his own.
“Everything,” he eventually answered as he finally turned to face her again, his face still hard. “Everything,” he repeated. “You are my mate, yet I cannot even provide you with food worthy of your consideration. I am the second most powerful vampire in this fucking Queendom, yet because of that position, I cannot take you away to safety, so you are held almost as a prisoner in a damn gilded fucking cage.”
He lightly squeezed her hand then rose to pace once more, his speed seeming to increase with every step. “We have only just met, Em. These are the nights we should spend learning to know each other, working toward building the foundation we will need eons from now. Instead I must keep leaving you to your own devices while tending to drudgery and putting my best skills to use.”
Abruptly he stopped, turned, and looked at his Emma still sitting on the couch, concern for him almost glowing from her worried brown eyes. “I would eviscerate nations for you, ma chérie, but I don’t know how to tell you that. I want to give you lovely things, things worthy of your beauty and the grace of your smile, but I don’t even know what the fuck you like,” he ended his tirade stridently, his words loud and strong.
Andre could only stare as the smile he most adored, the one with the dimples and the glowing cheeks, spread rapidly across her face. Immobilized by his surprise, he held still as she rose and approached him, and allowed her to take his face in her hands.
“My sentiments exactly, big guy. I was just thinking earlier that we really don’t know jack crap about each other,” she agreed. She was surprised at how very glad, and gratified, she was to know that he felt the same way that she did. “Well, we know the most important things about each other, but really, we don’t know many of the little things at all.” The smile fled her face leaving behind the same melancholy now displayed on his own.
“This has all happened so fast, and I don’t think either one of us has had a chance to just stop and think much about it, either.” She slid her hands down to his waist and leaned her forehead against his chest, and smiled faintly when he automatically wrapped his arms about her and drew her closer.
“If things were perfect,” she continued, “we’d have all the time in the world to get to know each other. We’d be able to spend entire evenings just holding each other close, telling secrets and bad jokes, relaxing in front of a nice warm fire on a cold night. I would get to know the little boy you’d been, and you’d get to know the little girl I used to be, and we would be able to waste time watching campy tv shows and you’d pop in a weird movie and I would throw popcorn at you for it, and we would play-fight and wrestle around and end up spending the rest of the night tasting and touching each other’s bodies until the sun took you away from me for the day. But,” she inhaled sharply then cleared her throat, “things aren’t like that for us, at least, not yet. I’m certain by what I felt through our bond earlier that we are closer than ever to getting rid of that nasty rat bastard. After that, though, I guess you take the throne to Arkansas, and then we deal with all of those hassles.” She leaned back to meet his intense blue-green gaze. “And apparently there are Coronations and Pledgings that we need to discuss, too, ceremonies that I don’t know anything about and that perhaps maybe I should.” She playfully quirked her brow in accusation.
“You truly have no fear of vampires,” he blurted out of the blue, his normally stoic face showcasing an unexpected blend of adoration, melancholy, and confusion, while the bond showed her exactly how deeply her words had moved him…and a strange surge of satisfaction.
Emma shrugged as she laughed in surprise. “Why would I? Just because you could kill or hurt me doesn’t mean you will. Hell, most humans could kill or hurt me, too…but that doesn’t mean they would, either.”
After winking saucily at him then giggling at his expression, she threaded her fingers through his hair and gently tugged his face down closer to her own. “I get that y’all are made into a difference species from humans, that you often have stronger, fiercer instincts and reactions, but there are good vampires, bad vampires, and mediocre vampires just like with humans.”
He smiled that sweet smile she so rarely saw, and kissed her forehead.
“You’re right, Em, we do have a lot to talk about, and we will. But for now, we need to discuss the upcoming Coronation and Pledging,” he paused for a moment, his face thoughtful, then continued. “Although I think we will Pledge first then ascend to the throne. Should be less paperwork that way,” he grumped.
“So, what do you know about Pledgings and Coronations? Did Sophie-Anne discuss these things with you at all,” Andre asked after Emma had made herself a cup of coffee and joined him on the couch. He’d laughed internally at how she would blush every time he chose to sit there, and knew this couch would always be his favorite. The scent of her satisfaction – the satisfaction he had given her – would perfume the couch for some time. That he would “reapply” said scent when needed was a given. “And, while we’re on the subject, what all did my Maker have to say, anyway?”
Snuggled in his strong arms, Emma spent the rest of the night on Andre’s lap discussing what she knew about the Pledging and Coronation ceremonies and being enlightened about both.
“Sophie-Anne told me that both ceremonies are basically full of repeat-after-me’s, bleeding, and drinking blood, but that the Coronation also involves a crown and a bunch of obeisances by underlings. The Pledging will be nerve-wracking enough for me; I’m so glad I only have to watch the Coronation.” Her relief was palpable, but short-lived.
“You’re exactly right. Both ceremonies are, indeed, full of repeat-after-me’s,” he chuckled in appreciation of the phrase, “blood-letting and drinking, but I’m afraid your relief is unfounded.”
His smirk filled Emma’s heart with dread.
She stiffened in his hold, and as he formulated his answer, he began rubbing her back in long, slow strokes.
“Because you are my queen, Em. What I rule, I will rule with you by my side. Even though we do not know each other all that well yet,” he intuitively countered her first argument, “my instincts tell me that you will prove to be an invaluable source of strength and intelligence when it comes to dealing with not only vampires, but with all supes and humans as well.”
Emma huffed; damn smart-assed vampire just countered her first argument. Ok, now for the second…
“But I’m not a vampire, and from what I can tell, no vampire is going to want to bow to a human, much less accept anything one would have to say as a queen.”
Once again, her relief was short-lived.
“I will end any who refuse to bow to your rule, Emma, and I think you know that.” When she opened her mouth to protest, he simply placed a long fingertip over her lips and continued. “Should any choose to show you anything less than the respect you deserve, I will end them. Period. You are already my queen,” his voice dropped sweetly, seductively, “I see no reason to exclude you from that part of my life. We will rule together. Consider the crown you will receive as nothing more than a pretty piece of jewelry if you must, but I look forward to sharing my station, and my life, with you.”
Blinking away the tears triggered by both his words and the feelings he was sending through the bond, Emma relaxed into his comforting ministrations and slowly began itemizing her fears and questions, all of which he more than capably soothed and answered, one at a time, until the sun demanded they adjourn to their bed for the day.
**A/N: Reviews are always appreciated. Enjoy!**