**A/N: I absolutely blame the lateness of this chapter on Emma. Andre, well, some days he was a slavering wreck and on others he gave a great performance as a cold, hard stone. Emma? Emma just wasn’t talking, period. She was polite in her refusal (think “kitty holding her mouth shut to avoid being given a pill” polite…), but I think she had some issues to settle between her and herself. I have no idea if she’s resolved those issues or not, but since the “2 month” mark has passed since the last chapter, her time is up. I don’t like stuffing words into my characters’ mouths, but sometimes you gotta do SOMETHING to get them started, even if it’s pissing them off so that they WILL start with the talking and the using of words. So there, MISS EMMA… So. There.**
Over a month had passed since “that night” and Andre still insisted that Emma take at least four guards with her any time she left their rooms. Much to her own surprise, she didn’t grouse too much over what she considered an annoying precaution, well, not out loud at any rate. This was, after all, four guards in addition to Tracy.
If Sookie was with her, she could count on having at least eight guards.
Plus Tracy, sometimes.
Andre, and apparently Eric, too, were not playing around with the safety precautions. “Overkill” was simply a mantra to the two of them, an ideal situation they wished to incorporate into their nightly lives, certainly not something to avoid…
Still, the whole thing struck her as being somewhat unnecessary. Finally, she decided to say something to Sookie to see if she’d noticed the same kinds of things from Eric.
Catching her friend’s eye, she glanced at the blatantly obvious Weres sitting nearby. Exactly how well could a pack of eight tall, broad, muscular men blend in with the locals, especially when the guards were all wearing the same black uniform? All they lacked was the word “GUARD” on their t-shirts.
“Sook, the ugly bastard is dead, so really, why are they continuing with all the guards?” Truly, Emma rarely complained about what was actually an increase in Andre’s overprotective instincts since killing the ugly bastard, but the frustration rang clear in her quietly voiced question.
At first Sookie thought to soothe her now best friend’s reasonable irritation, then reconsidered. Her own Eric had been more on edge lately, too. Normally he was fine with Sookie doing whatever she wanted to do so long as she took a couple of guards with her, but after killing BeauChamps, not only had he also increased the number of her personal guards to four, but he had been more security conscious in other ways, as well.
“I don’t know, Em, but I’m starting to wonder too.” Sookie took another sip of her drink then glanced around the crowded street. The mid-sized cafe where they sometimes liked to stop for afternoon refreshments was owned by Queen Sophie-Anne and therefore considered safe enough for them to visit. Even then, however, the eight guards virtually surrounding them were conspicuous by both their size and by the attention they focused solely on guarding the two women in their midst. “Has Andre seemed a little, I don’t know, different to you since then?”
“In what way,” the brunette asked, her eyes suddenly zeroing in on Sookie’s face with an intensity the blonde was slowly becoming used to. Her friend could switch from happy to concerned to aggravated to razor-sharp intensity in the blink of an eye.
Emma was glad that Sookie was willing to talk about this, and figured that the blonde telepath felt more at ease discussing the subject when Tracy wasn’t with them. While Tracy was a true friend and great confident, they both knew that the were-lynx was employed by the Palace, and as she was technically Emma’s “maid”, her boss was actually…Andre. No one wanted to put the sweet lady into an uncomfortable “conflict of interest” situation.
“Well, with Eric it’s just little things here and there – things that if he only did this or only did that, I wouldn’t even notice, but when I think about them all together, they start to add up. Like, before the BeauChamps crap, when we had to come down here, usually we would just hop in the car and go – no big deal. Hell, Emma, sometimes we would even fly! But now it’s this huge deal with SUVs driving in front of us and behind us. And it’s not just when we come here, either; it’s the same set-up when we go anywhere now.”
Emma nodded. Andre was being the same way. “Does Eric do that thing where he scopes out every single aspect of a room or situation no matter where you go, and makes sure he’s standing right in front of you while he does it?”
At Sookie’s nod, she continued. “And later on do you find him all-of-a-sudden standing right in front of you if somebody even sneezes wrong?”
Sookie nodded again. She ate a bite of her ice cream, then pointed her spoon at Emma in emphasis as she said, “It’s like they think something is going to happen at any second, but every time I ask Eric if there’s a problem – and I’ve asked him several times – he says no, that there’s nothing wrong.”
This time Emma nodded, and quite vigorously. “There’s nothing wrong, yet he and Andre are on the phone to each other off and on unless y’all are here, and when y’all are here, they keep disappearing off somewhere or talking really low so that we can’t hear them every time we turn around” Emma corroborated. She kept quiet when Sookie got that look on her face that said she was listening in on someone’s thoughts.
Sookie peeked into the minds of the guards – something she didn’t particularly enjoy doing since she wanted to give them their privacy and guards tended to have dirty minds. Their thoughts, however, centered solely on monitoring the actions of everyone around them. Through sight, sound, and scent, they each kept a close watch for any sort of danger, and at least four of them were running various escape scenarios as they kept vigil. While that was commendable, it wasn’t what she was trying to hear.
Mental intrusion unsuccessful, she looked at Emma and shrugged her shoulders.
The brunette continued. “I mean, I thought Andre would ease up after the BeauChamp thing, but in some ways he’s gotten worse. While it’s true that I’m no longer under the equivalent of palace arrest, I’m highly encouraged to never leave the place unless I’m with you…and eight guards, or with Tracy…and four guards. I’m apparently not supposed to notice the other three or four who always mysteriously show up. You don’t think they’re worried about some sort of retribution from having to take down the ugly bastard, do you?”
Sookie nodded in agreement. “That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. As over-protective as they are now, they must think that there’s a real threat headed this way.”
The discussion ended as both ladies contemplated the conversation in silence as they finished their ice creams. Then, as if responding to an internal alarm, both glanced down at their watches at the same time, then laughed when both looked at the other immediately thereafter. Their “guys” would be up in about an hour.
“So, has Andre has ‘the talk’ yet?” Sookie couldn’t imagine what was taking him so long. According to Eric, Andre had been giving the situation some serious thought for weeks already.
Emma sighed. “Nope, not yet. I keep waiting, but…” She shrugged. While it wasn’t something she was actively looking forward to, she’d like to get it out of the way. She also had her own suspicions as to why Andre hadn’t broached the subject.
“Wonder what’s keeping him? You know that Eric told me about talking to him about it back while they were after BeauChamps. He’s had plenty of time to get around to it by now.”
After a pause, Emma said, “I think I know what’s running through his mind. You know how Andre thinks, right?”
Sookie nodded with a grimace.
“I do, too,” she continued meaningfully. “So I’m thinking that if something were to happen to me before we had that talk, he could Turn me and then claim that I’d never officially told him not to, right?” Her expression was all too knowing.
Emma knew her Andre. She knew, whether he showed it often or not, that he loved her almost beyond reason, and she wouldn’t put it past him to not ask specifically so that he wouldn’t have to abide by an answer. As fair and equitable as he was with their relationship, he certainly had no problem with the concept of ‘plausible deniability,’ and when it came to her health or safety, all bets were off.
Sookie stared aghast at her friend for a moment, then rolled her eyes. That was pure Andre.
Surprisingly, Emma laughed. “Looks like I’m going to have to take that bull by the horns, then.”
The telepath joined in with a grin of her own. Emma let Andre get by with precious little. While her friend would never undermine his authority in public, in private it was blatantly obvious that they truly were equals in their relationship. She had witnessed a few minor squabbles between the two, and while Andre wasn’t a push-over by any means, he truly didn’t seem to mind being wrapped so tightly around Emma’s little finger. Sookie knew that Emma was genuinely oblivious to the amount of sway she held over him, and was glad. Sweet little Emma had a bit of an evil streak…
Conversation afterward was kept to general topics during the ride back to the Palace. Sookie was still unhappy with this most recent arrangement: when she and Eric visited, they now stayed in an admittedly opulent suite near Andre and Emma’s own rooms.
The rooms had been designated as theirs and she had been encouraged by Eric to stock them with as many of their clothes and personal items as she wished. Their place in the city had been virtually emptied as more and more things appeared in their ‘new’ place…in a highly protected area…within the Palace.
But there was ‘nothing to worry about’.
Sookie had noticed that the new set-up had come as a complete if pleasant surprise to Emma, too, but just like Sookie, Emma had been glad to have her new best friend staying so close when they were in New Orleans. Sookie would have minded much less if Eric had been much more forthcoming with the ‘whys’.
Once on the Palace grounds, neither woman was surprised when the convoy proceeded around the complex to the newly constructed entrance at the back. Both exchanged a pointed look. Several of the more sensible entrances had actually been bricked up – with reinforced bricks and silver-coated rebar amongst other things – at the same time as the new entrance had been built.
With the recent discussion in mind, both appraised the new drop-off area with fresh eyes. It was deceptively ornate, porte-cochère in style to blend in with the almost gaudy decor of large historic buildings, but was also completely enclosable for heightened security. Instead of genteel columns, however, the exterior side was, in fact, made of bulletproof glass.
As usual, the first SUV in their procession drove through and parked just to the other side after pausing to allow three of the guards to exit the vehicle. Next, the SUV carrying Emma and Sookie pulled up and parked, but the ladies knew the drill – remain seated until guards from the final vehicle approached and the fore and aft reinforced doors closed down and locked. They had started calling it “the parking box” for a reason. Only once the guards gave the ‘all clear’ were they free to exit the vehicle and enter the Palace.
But there was ‘nothing to worry about’.