**A/N: It’s a longer one, y’all, and I hope you enjoy it. I plan on eventually going back over this chapter when my eyes aren’t blurry, but for now please overlook any (and all) mistakes. Possibly a half-tissue warning?**
Andre rose and, as usual, remained unmoving for a few moments as he took stock of his sleeping quarters.
The warm, comforting presence of his Emma was missing from his bed and this did not lighten his waking mood.
His bonds told him that she was still in the Palace proper and that his Maker and brothers-by-Turning were all in good form, but a frown marred the sculpted lines of his lips.
He had wanted to rise with his nose buried in her hair, his arm around her waist, his cock snug against the soft curve of her ass. Of course he didn’t expect her to remain in bed after she woke during the daylight hours – he understood that she had human needs, that she might want to visit with her nonvampire friends and what not, plus there was that whole thing about humans liking sunlight, but fuck it all to hell, he had needs, too.
He would have to have a word with her about this…this missed opportunity. There had been far too many such opportunities missed of late because of other incursions on his time, not to mention his concern for the effects his lusts might have on her frailer human body. She wasn’t a fuck toy – he’d be damned if he would treat her as such, and so had taken a short break from his carnal activities. That had been decidedly unpleasant but she was definitely worth it. His time had also been eaten by the increased security details he had to oversee. Those security needs, especially hers, had certainly outweighed the frequent call of his cock and balls…
Sure, the previous evening’s activities had certainly been far, far more than merely welcome.
Truthfully, he considered with smugly masculine satisfaction, he had ridden her well last night, both before and after meeting with the Northman and the Tele…Sookie. It was especially gratifying to feel that she had missed their joinings almost as much as he had.
The meeting itself had gone surprisingly well all things considered…the “things considered” being the very strong wills of both females involved, that is. Neither male had wanted to express to their mates just how serious the situation had become, but both were smart enough to know when to come clean, too.
Bluntly, neither had any desire to be cast out of their own beds.
When it became clear just how much both females actually had noticed, it became equally clear just how lacking in subtlety the protective efforts had actually been. He, and to a lesser extent the Viking, had both known they couldn’t keep their mates in the dark forever, but both had surely wished for more time.
The ladies, it seemed, had just been playing along, gathering their own facts as they prepared to corner their not-as-suave-as-they’d-thought mates. He wondered if the Sheriff had endured a conversation along the lines of the one he’d had. It was uncomfortably lowering to realize that they hadn’t been nearly as smooth as they’d thought.
Mentally, he shrugged it off. Both ladies yet lived; job well done.
It was just as well that a meeting had already been scheduled for the middle of the night, he thought. While giving into the urge for a long, slow stretch in his lonely cold bed, Andre considered the rest of the previous night. The time before leaving their quarters had been spent in a most worthwhile manner. After fucking themselves into a short oblivion, they’d showered…then had to shower again, and finally had managed to both dry off and get dressed.
When they entered the reserved conference room in the Palace’s security annex, Andre had not been surprised to see the Telepath sitting on her Viking’s lap…just as the Viking had been suspiciously unsurprised to see Emma in attendance as well. As the two tall blond males exchanged a chagrined glance, each understood that the silent protection game was not only over, but that it had crashed and burned a whimpering death.
Neither Sigebert nor Wybert had to look so damn smug about it, though. Rasul managed to keep his usual countenance, but Andre worried about the were-lynx’s apologetic expression upon seeing Emma. He would think about it later.
Truthfully the ladies weren’t fools, damn it, but he couldn’t hide even from himself how proud he was of his Emma’s awareness and intelligence, and highly suspected the Sheriff felt the same about his own set of troubles in that pretty blonde package.
Alone in his quarters (whether he wanted to be or not), he let himself grin slightly. Between Emma and her cohort, the questions had come hard and fast, and in no time at all both ladies knew everything that he and his team had either gathered or guessed, and had put forth their own worthy theories and solutions as well.
While the threats against Sookie remained both elusive and frustratingly untraceable, those against Emma were definitely linked directly to antiquated vampire prejudices against humans along with that age-old reluctance to change ingrained traditions. Andre couldn’t wait to rip their fucking heads from their worthless bodies.
A few potential names had been supplied by their more trustworthy sources, but nothing was concrete enough to justify, or even provide an excuse for, any offensive tactics. Naturally Sophie-Anne would instantly agree to any measures needed in protecting those she considered “hers”, but such actions at this point would not only be less than useful, but could have negative repercussions in the future. With her temper and penchant for an aggressive resolution, she was sure to immediately invade certain kingdoms, which was exactly why Andre had chosen to keep this situation from her for as long as he logically could.
He adored his Maker, but he also knew her well – she was a graceful, well-appointed time bomb. It was hard enough holding the broders back as it was, and he wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Rasul went ‘silent assassin’ on a few select asses…it wouldn’t be the first time. He was proudly relieved when his Emma voiced her own reasoning for a more “wait and see while letting them hang themselves with their own rope” approach.
His Emma, it seemed, also had a rather firm grasp of just how ridiculously important appearances were in the vampire world, and it was due to her compelling arguments about keeping up that all-important facade that the Coronation and Pledging would continue as scheduled. She truly did have a fearsome grasp of logic.
Any change in their plans would not only give the appearance of weakness, but it would also potentially alert their enemies to knowledge of their subversive activities. Neither action would bode well for her continued safety, and her safety was his highest priority.
It was during their discussion that Andre realized he had yet to actually ask Emma to be his Pledged and Bonded. He had informed her in passing that it was going to happen, of course, but he had not dared risk asking her the question. That was a situation he could quickly resolve. He had the perfect ring in one of his chests…
Lastly it was decided – with pointed glares from the ladies – that yes, informing Emma and Sookie of potential situations was actually a good idea. Sookie announced rather strongly that she was quite willing to use her telepathy for their protection but that she had to know what to listen for before her skills could be effectively used. A pointed look from the blonde to the Viking still holding her on his lap revealed that the Northman really could resemble a scolded puppy…a look quickly shared by the Master Torturer himself a moment later when Emma reminded him that not only did she have a brain but that she knew how to use the damn thing, too.
At least she sent the “so there” through the bond…
Profoundly grateful to his mate for keeping that part of the scolding private, he soon called the meeting to an end, and spent the rest of the night gladly making up for his mistake in underestimating his mate.
With a sour expression Andre rose from the bed and went to shower. He would liked to have made up for more but he was lacking a certain mate…
As though she had somehow managed to time it precisely, the instant he was fully dressed, he felt a burst of surprise and impatience flow through the bond, and within minutes said missing mate came bursting into the apartment.
“Andre! I’m sorry, honey. I got carried away looking at designs for all those dresses I’ll need. Leana sent over about a dozen books of sketche…”
Emma’s happy chatter was abruptly silenced when the restless blond vampire covered her mouth with his.
Before meeting his Emma, Andre had never wasted time even thinking about kissing – it was certainly not necessary for a decent rutting. Over the centuries he had naturally experimented a couple of times with the activity, but it wasn’t as though he’d ever had any romantic notions about his fucks. However, once he had been properly ensnared in Emma’s dimpled-bedecked web, the act of kissing had taken on a whole new glorious meaning, and now…now, to his rapidly lessening irritation, he found that he couldn’t get enough of the sweet feel of her soft pink lips beneath his own.
His hand moved from cupping the back of her head to tangle in her hair held loosely in that damned fabric-elastic band he so detested as he deepened his kiss. As he alternated between plundering her mouth with his thrusting tongue and nipping at her lower lip, he slowly backed her against the wall and held her there with the full length of his firm body, and enjoyed the caress of her hands on his chest.
When he finally paused to let her breathe, she laughed softly as she brushed his loose hair behind his ear. “And a good morning, or evening, to you, my love.” She grinned, and continued. “I never know whether to say a ‘good morning’ or a ‘good evening’ when you rise. I guess either would be appropriate, though, right?”
His eyes glittering with suppressed lust and fading annoyance as he gazed into her flushed, happy face, he shrugged. “Either would sound better coming from my mate if she were naked and wrapped in my arms when I woke.”
Emma gave him a moue of apology before raising a hand to bring his head back down to her face. Punctuating each word with a sweet kiss, she said, “I’m very sorry, love.” After that, the kissing resumed in earnest until the next break for air.
Her expression gently contrite, Emma stated, “I had meant to return in time for your rising, but the afternoon just slipped away.”
Andre grunted a sound that indicated neither approval nor disapproval. His disgruntled mood had already fled entirely in direct response to the tenting of his trousers, but she didn’t have to know that.
Emma spent another ten minutes kissing away his faux pout and pretending she couldn’t feel his true mood through the bond. Oddly, considering her usual straightforward nature, she found that she didn’t mind indulging her sweet, ferocious, moody vampire. He was the cold, hard Master Torturer for a well-deserved reason, but in quiet moments he was also her gentle cuddler. His fiercely protective instincts could never be denied, but neither could his fiercely loving nature, and she wouldn’t have him any other way.
Having endured the tender torture of his mate’s beguiling lips for as long as he could tolerate without bending her over the nearby sofa, Andre quickly kissed that special spot on her neck that was his favorite, then headed to the now cluttered ‘kitchen’ area and heated himself two bags of the donor’s best.
Unsatisfied lust made him notoriously thirsty, but he didn’t have time just then to make her scream his name.
Emma made herself a cup of coffee to sip while keeping him company as he finished his ‘breakfast’, and he listened patiently as she discussed clothing colors and other fripperies he didn’t actually care all that much about. As long as she was comfortably clothed in raiment fit for a queen, he was happy.
With a smirk he agreed when she asked whether she should buy more clothing in shades of red, especially crimson, and gold, those being the colors he had already chosen for her Coronation gown. He had to give his Maker’s seamstress credit – she had taken his sketches and created five mock-up gowns in varying shades of his preferred color scheme and with slight modifications to each design. Several weeks ago she and her assistants had descended on the Palace, taken over part of a wing, and after the fittings had been taken, they had almost immediately revealed the most beautiful and appropriate ceremonial gowns he could have imagined.
His ear still tuned to Emma’s monologue regarding various items of clothing, he thought back to the presentation of the gowns. He had appreciated all five, of course, but it was the second one she had tried on that had made his jaw drop.
When she had stepped from behind the dressing curtains, she had truly been a Queen – his Queen. If he could actively dream, the memory of that moment would have been featured daily.
Once his mind had returned to rational thought, he had promptly ordered two of that gown…just in case. He had also ordered the other four gowns…just because.
After he finished his barely tolerable meal, a small smile graced his lips as he waited for her happy chatter to come to its natural conclusion. He hoped he was blocking the bond enough to hide his excitement and anticipation.
“Em? I have a quick errand to run and would prefer that you wait here. I won’t be long at all.”
Brown eyes curious as to the abrupt change in the conversation and the odd request, she nodded. As she started to ask a question, he placed a long finger over her lips and shook his head.
“I’ll be right back.” After a brief kiss, he was gone.
Emma paced, extremely curious as to the errand and the sparkling excitement she had seen in his eyes now far more blue than green. The bond told her not a damn thing, which was extremely frustrating. Good surprises were, of course, good, but the best thing about surprises was solving them beforehand…
Within fifteen minutes he had returned. As he stood before the door to his quarters, he paused in thought as he gazed at the small leather pouch in his hand. Thanks to his vampire memory and some sheer luck that the object was in this quadrant of the continent in the first place, he had found what he sought very quickly, but he didn’t want to rush one of the most momentous occasions in his existence.
He had never before asked a woman to permanently Bond with him, and he had never before asked a woman to Pledge with him. He was now about to do both.
A large part of him, admittedly the most fundamental, instinct-driven part, was loudly demanding that he not do this, that he not allow Emma the opportunity to tell him no, but as much as he abhorred the very slight risk, he knew he had to give her the choice. He could do no less by the creature who had stolen his heart.
After a short prayer to the God he barely remembered and a deep, stabilizing breath, he opened the door.
Emma was standing near one of the sofas, her hand trailing over the back of it, and looked up at his entry. Almost instantly he appeared before her, and stood deathly still as he gazed down into her eyes.
His expression took her breath away. His gaze was at once more powerful, more vulnerable, and more serious than she had ever seen, the blue fire in his eyes shining as never before.
Without looking away, he took her smaller hand in his, turned her wrist up, and lifted it to his nose. He closed his eyes then to savor her scent as he quietly inhaled, then dropped to one knee.
He met her shocked gaze squarely, and, subconsciously, lightly stroked her inner wrist with his thumb.
“Em, although you have in effect agreed to Bond and Pledge with me, I realize that I have never asked if that is what you want. This decision, these decisions, will affect the rest of your life, ma chérie, and should not be made lightly. I would now give you the choice.”
As her eyes filled with tears and her lower lip started trembling, he almost lost his voice, but managed to prevail. The bond, the blessed bond, told him of her joy.
“Emma, will you form a permanent, Final Bond with me? Once formed, it is forever.”
Blinking the tears from her eyes, Emma nodded, then said with a surprisingly clear voice and a sniff, “Yes.”
As he had a final question to ask, he suppressed the ecstatic smile that threatened to break through even as his heart was soaring.
“Will you Pledge with me, and rule by my side as my Bonded and Pledged?”
Emma, heart pounding and vision blurred with tears of joy and the effects of Andre’s own near euphoria surging through the bond, nodded. She hurriedly dashed the tears away and announced with a trembling voice, “Yes!”
Andre rose and cupped her face with his hands, and slowly, reverently, kissed his now formally pre-Pledged love. Long moments later he leaned his forehead against hers, and sighed.
It was done; she had agreed.
He had given her a choice, and she had chosen him.
Suddenly impatient for her to wear the gift from his heart, he raised her left hand and removed the ring for protection from her finger and, ignoring her gasp, immediately placed it upon the ring finger of her right hand.
Quickly he opened the old leather pouch and poured the slightly more ornate ring into the palm of his hand. He realized that he would probably have to have it fitted to her finger, but he could wait no longer to give it to her as a symbol of their promise to Bond and Pledge.
This ring was also crafted of diamonds, gold, and a large ruby. The diamonds, flanking each side of a ruby larger than the nail of the finger that would soon wear it, sparkled while the old gold of the band provided the perfect muted background. The fine, clean lines of the ring from his heart gleamed as if in appreciation of its impending service. Long ago and far away, in a trade route village in the Caucasus Mountains considered ancient even then, the ring had caught his eye one night, and on impulse he had purchased it for what he had thought a fair price.
At the time he hadn’t known why he had felt the need to acquire such a thing, but now he did.
He lifted her left hand again and smoothed his thumb across the currently bare area on her finger, then after a moment he lifted her hand to his lips, and kissed where his ring would rest.
With sure movements he gladly slid his gift home. Somehow, just as with the other ring, it fit perfectly. Their bond sang between them with love, adoration, and a deep satisfaction.
He looked up into her beaming, tear-streaked face, then frowned.
“You’re not going to, um, swoon, are you?”
**A/N: So…what did you think? Did it deserve a half-tissue?**