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Unicorns and Sh*t

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By my fifth night, the woman at the door just nodded me in. I'd nod back, pass under the arched awning and neon pink sign, and head inside without a fuss. She was the type who didn't like wasting words, time, attempts to pretend to care. . . . I liked her. She intimidated the crap out of me, but I liked her.

I was in the same outfit I'd worn every night: fitted black tank, dark jeans, and flats. I wore no accessories and carried no purse. It was lazy enough that I shouldn't look like I cared to make an effort. I'd tied my hair up in a sloppy semi-knot my first night (the unattractive sloppy kind) in at attempt to look less appealing, but it had occurred to me on the back end that lazy hairstyle or no, baring my neck was probably not the best plan, given that I wasn't here to shop. So I'd worn it down every night since then. I'd stolen an oversized red plaid button-down from Alcide, but had ditched that after the first night, too – it got too hot in here for extra layers. I hadn't figured out if the temperature was for the comfort of the vampires, or to encourage less clothing on the humans. Or both, depending on how smart the manager was. This place definitely ran on a vibe, and it wasn't one that favored modesty or subtlety.

I took a chair at the bar as close to the exit as possible and nodded to the long-haired, dusky-skinned man behind the counter. He poured me a double whiskey without being asked. If this place hadn't been such a clusterfuck of every kind of lust and loathing and pain and self-denial, I'd love it here. It was nice being somewhere no one knew me. Well, and if the bartender hadn't made me wildly uncomfortable. Unlike the woman at the door, I lost no affection on the man. But he did his job well and left me the hell alone, so I was satisfied with the arrangement.

I opened my book (Walden – I found it an ironic choice for the venue) and picked up where I'd left off the night before. All I had to do was pass the time here, and the less interested I looked in the patrons, the simpler it was for me. It hadn't stopped people from approaching me every night so far, but a book was better than accidentally making eye contact with someone who would misconstrue it as an invitation, or staring at the walls, which seemed to have been painted the precise color of deoxygenated blood. Most people who did approach ended up being polite enough; I'd nearly broken a man's fingers and nose in the parking lot my second night here – I still wasn't sure if he had been trying to grope me or take the ID and cash from my back pocket - but that had been the worst of it.

Speak of the devil. A man came up behind me. Nice enough fellow, but predatory – even for a vampire - and randy as a cat in season.

Before he had a chance to speak, I said, “No” in a clear voice, turning my head just far enough that he'd know I was talking to him. My eyes didn't leave the book.

He hovered there for a long moment. I calmly took a sip of my drink, waiting to see if he would leave on his own. He did. My very favorite kind of interested party.

I wasn't approached again until my whiskey was almost gone. A woman this time. Human. More sly and subtle than the vampire had been. Her hair was cropped short, and she was actually very pretty. She had experience of every kind under her belt, and the self-assuredness that came with it, and she felt like. . . silk, I thought. If I had been looking, she was probably the sort I'd want to go home with: passably good-natured, but with just enough of an edge to make her interesting – and less likely to get attached. And I always did like the ones with attitude.

“I'm not here for dates, honey,” I said, again without turning from my book, “but I appreciate the compliment.”

“No?” she purred, coming to sit next to me and leaning over the bar, comfortably baring a peek at her cleavage. “I've seen you turn down the boys and vamps all week. Figured maybe your tastes ran a little softer.” She grinned.

I hid a smirk and considered telling her which way my tastes actually ran, but knew it would just invite a conversation I didn't want – if she even believed me. I glanced over at her.

“You are beautiful – as you know – but unfortunately I'm not here looking to make new friends."

"What are you here for, then?" She asked, voice smooth and flirtatious.

I shrugged a shoulder. "Show's not bad, sometimes," I said, tilting my head to indicate the club as a whole and giving her a wry smile. “I hope you have a nice night, though. And happy hunting,” I said in a clear dismissal, lifting my glass to her respectfully.

She smiled salaciously and let her eyes sweep my body, thinking what a treat I would be to get home (it would be good, but probably not as good as she thought – we ran just a hair too far apart), and made her way back to the floor.

I kicked back the rest of my drink and wondered idly if it would do me any good to wear a sign on my back that said “I have Hep D,” or if that would just get attention from the sort of people I really, really didn't want to be noticed by.

I sighed and waved a hand at the bartender for a refill when I felt him turn my way. I didn't know his name – I'd never asked and he'd never offered. Much like with the woman at the door, it was an arrangement that seemed to work for us.

Some time later I put my book down to stretch. It turned more than one head, but with a quick check I saw that none of them had the intent to approach, so I went on enjoying myself, making it long and languid. I stopped abruptly when the bartender looked over. I pulled out my phone to check the time and groaned quietly. Another hour and a half to go.

I crossed my arms on the bar and plopped my forehead down on them. Eventually, I decided it would be better to take a risk and pass the time faster than to sit here and marinate in boredom – especially since I still had ten damn stupid nights to go. I twisted my chair around, leaned back comfortably, crossed my legs, and propped my elbows on the counter on either side of me as I let my eyes sweep the room. It was the same tonight as it has been the last four. Not a lot of new blood, as it were, so most people were just here to get the job done cleanly: enjoy the aperetif and the dance of finding someone to go home with for a night, or a month, or however long it took any given vampire or human to tire of a partner.

There was one girl near the far wall, though, a little heavyset. Terrible self esteem, much prettier than she realized, and a genuinely kind, good soul. She was here because something in her was hurt and restless. The world wasn't built for people like her, so she had tried to figure everything out herself. Surrounded by “normal” people as she was, the results had been predictably hapless. That was how she'd ended up here: she thought she needed to “push” herself past what other people saw as flaws, but that anyone with proper eyes would know were assets. “Too quiet, too sensitive, too introverted, too weird.”

She was in too deep for me to be of any help to her, but hopefully, she would sort it out as she grew and learn a little of what she was worth. And stop hanging out with people like the two glorified fuck-twats she'd come in with.

From what I could see, despite her best intentions she wouldn't be leaving with anyone tonight. Still, I decided to keep a loose tab on her while I was here.

I felt the blonde from the door walk in and then saw her pass by. My eyes riveted to her the moment her back was turned. Most vampires I had passed in my life, which granted were not many, tended to be under one hundred years. She was just to the other side of that line, but stronger and more self-possessed than most – human or supe – ever managed to get. It was nice having an opportunity to get a close look at her; she had a good “flavor.” I could sum her up by describing any one of the pairs of shoes I had seen on her so far: beautiful, en pointe, and readily able to puncture any organ of her choosing. But, I saw, she had a moral code. It was low and loose by human standards, but it was there. I also felt an especially dry sense of humor, and had I not found her slightly terrifying, I might have felt a swell of affection.

She walked up to the deep black dais at the back corner of the club, and unfortunately, my eyes moved away too slowly – the large blonde man who sat up there every night was looking at me, and for a split second, my eyes met his. I jerked them away as fast as I could and tried to cover the motion by pretending to scan the crowd.

Every night I had been avoiding letting any of my senses so much as brush him, and what flooded me at that split-second glimpse was why: the feel of age, a yawning chasm of differentness, otherness. A vampire like that looked human, but if you made the mistake of thinking they were. . . well, that would be a very dangerous form of naivety. Something that old would play with people like they were bugs, if they did anything with us other than feed, and would likely have no more than that amount of consideration for us. He wasn't a person; he was an alien being wearing human skin.

You couldn't miss him when you came in the club. He was huge, had shoulder-length hair, and sat on a veritable throne atop a dais, under a spotlight for god's sake. But it wasn't just all of that that. If you looked at a photo of him, you would certainly call him handsome, but you wouldn't call him an Adonis. In person, though, something about him radiated. . .gravity. The attention of every person in this place was on him to some degree at all times, whether they realized it or not.

He had eyed me every night I had come here, with varying degrees of interest. I tried to chalk it up to him taking note of everyone in his domain, but part of me knew better. I knew what attention felt like. I just stubbornly hoped that if I kept myself uninteresting, I'd be let alone.

Whatever he and the blond woman were discussing took his attention from me, at least, thank every god that ever was. I turned back around to go return to my slower, but infinitely safer occupation, a worried and keyed-up feeling niggling persistently at me.

When I felt his attention shift back to me, I knew why. My time was up.

“Mother fucker,” I cursed vehemently under my breath at no one in particular. I picked up my drink and moved to one of the sable and maroon booths nearer the entrance of the club - and out of sight of the dais. Unfortunately, even the most tentative check told me that I still had his attention, even if he couldn't see me. “Shit,” I cursed under my breath. “Shit, f*ck, shitc*ck mother-f*cking shitf*ck shit. Martin Delaney, I am going to skin you alive and use your fur as a bathmat,” I hissed viciously, so quiet it was barely audible.

In the time it took me to debate whether keeping the betting pool going would be worth whatever was about to happen, lady bouncer was at the side of my table.

I stiffened, but tried to hide it. I gave her a “No,” exactly as I had every other person who had approached me, if more chilly. I knew she could hear my heart fluttering like a caged mouse and had probably caught my enthusiastic string of expletives, and if her sense of smell was good. . . well, she'd know I wasn't exactly relaxed. I probably could have bench-pressed the bartender with the amount adrenaline that was pumping through my system, and I was not a large woman.

She hummed a chuckle. “You're cute and all, but I'm not here for me. Eric wants to see you.”

“Eric?” I asked, still managing to keep my face impassive and mulishly pretending to read.

“Eric. The shiny man on the throne. He's hard to miss,” her voice was as dry and droll as her personality. I would have liked her if she weren't currently playing the role of Terrible Omen. Inauspicious Event. Precursor to Catastrophe.

“Ah,” I said with a nod, then turned a page for good measure. “I'm good, but thank you. Or. . . thank him. Not really the throne type.”

She bent down, back ramrod straight, until her forearms rested against the table. She was as unconcerned with her display of cleavage as she was aware of its general power of persuasion and/or intimidation. “That's not a request, darlin',” she purred.

I finally glanced at her, letting my eyebrows raise a little. “I assume 'shiny' and 'throne' mean 'boss.' So if he's asking for me, have I broken some sort of rule?” I asked, then added drily, “Or am I in sovereign territory?”

She rolled her eyes. “Just get your perky ass up and come with me.”

I clenched my jaw and debated making a retreat again. Except I hadn't paid my tab, which meant I'd have to come back sooner or later, and I didn't think for a second that I'd be lucky enough to come on a night where both blondinatrix here and the 'shiny man,' were absent.

I eyeballed her a moment, then tipped the rest of my drink back and rose. She headed toward the dais, but I angled away to the bar and whistled at the bartender. When the woman reappeared behind me and opened her mouth to give the verbal version of a cattle prod, I held up a finger for her to wait, stiffly enough that it was clearly not a request. If I was boned either way, I had no reason to play nice.

In equal measure, she was immediately pissed and amused – she wasn't sure if I was suicidal or just stupid. Either way, I wouldn't have long until she hauled me away bodily. As I downed one shot and the bartender poured another, she was debating the merits of grabbing me by my waistband, the cleavage-side of my shirt's neck, or my throat.

I damn near slammed the second empty glass down onto the counter. Finally, I turned around, extending an arm with a shallow, gracious bow and an insincere smile, sweet and acrid at the same time, for her to lead the way. I had a bad – a Bad (or was it Big?) – feeling; I was likely about to be in deep shit one way or another no matter what I did. This was one of those turning points in life, and it felt like standing on the very edge of a massive cliff, looking straight down while the wind pulled and pushed you. And yet I couldn't stop my feet from moving, one after the other.

Lady bouncer walked up onto the dais without hesitation, but I stayed at the floor, figuring it was expected. Blondie moved to stand behind and to the side of the boss's chair, casually resting one forearm on its high back. She looked graceful, languid, and as deceptively placid as a big cat.

Eric lounged as if a supremely bored ruler, dressed as an even more bored teenager, and arrogant enough not to care that he looked supremely bored in either case. But this close, I could see something I hadn't before: he held a frankly dangerous intellect in his blue eyes under the impressive blasé glaze, a keen awareness, and the obvious fact that disenchanted as he was, he payed close attention to everything that happened around him. He noted the number of patrons and staff already paying attention to our exchange, for instance.

“Emma White,” Eric said, as if (boredly) greeting an old friend. His voice was low, and simultaneously rough and silken.

For a moment, I was so arrested by the relationship between him and my blonde door-woman that I didn't respond; I had never felt its like. They weren't in love, but. . .they also were. It was like parent and child, siblings, lovers, and the closest of friends all tied together and mixed up with something More.

I recovered quickly enough to arch a brow at him and languidly cross my arms under my chest. To his credit, he kept his eyes on my face. “Eric. . .” my eyes flicked up and down his frame, “Northman, I'm guessing? I'd say 'pleasure,' but where I'm from that usually involves a certain amount of free will.” I got the affirmative the moment the name was out of my mouth, which presented me with a new set of complications. Eric Northman had a reputation. More than one, in fact. It was generally agreed either that he was honorable (“for a 'fanger,'” of course), or that he was the devil incarnate.

“How do you know my name?” He asked.

“How do you know mine?” I countered.

Pam gave a little wave of the hand that was resting on the high back of Eric's chair. “That'd be me. I always remember a pretty," her eyes swept my form, ". . . face.”

Right. And she'd had four nights of looking at my ID to memorize the information on it. Thank god I'd had the foresight to use my fake one.

“And you?” Eric asked.

“Giant, blonde, cocky, position of power and or authority,” I rattled off. “Can't be too many of those in the area named Eric. Which I'm guessing means you own all,” I waved a hand vaguely in the area of the club at my back, “this.”

To my surprise, he sat up and leaned forward to rest his arms on his legs. “And how do you know all of this, little human?”

I bristled silently at being called “little” and looked at him for a moment. “How about you tell me exactly why I was extended a non-negotiable invitation to grace your 'shiny' presence before we get to the personal details. Natural progression of polite conversation, and all. We are in the south, Mr. Northman.”

A smile quirked at one corner of his lips, and I couldn't tell if it was a happy expression or a sign of a temper about to snap. With an internal sigh, I figured I'd better get it over with; I wasn't eager to step into a creature like him, but this was not a conversation I wanted to fly blind.

My eyes dropped to his boots and began slowly roving up his body. Naturally, he thought it a sign of interest, and was more than happy to let me take my time in silence. I was ok with that - better for him to be on the wrong page. As I took him in, I Took Him In, careful only to pluck to the foreground what I thought I needed to know.

He was even more intelligent and clever than I'd thought, and the bored act did a much better job than I gave it credit for at covering exactly how aware and ready to act he was. He was a dangerously good actor, a master manipulator, and was used to getting anything and anyone he wanted by dint of his wits, skills, and words alone. His confidence was earned and had the very distinct flavor of, as most people would call it, a “sex god,” which added a whole separate layer to his cockiness. He was not, despite his supreme arrogance, stupid enough to underestimate anyone who stood before him.

I knew from his name that he was the vampire Sheriff of Shreveport and the surrounding areas, and that he took his duties very, very seriously. Like blondie, he had a moral code, but it was even farther removed from a human's than his friend's, and mercurial at best unless it related to vampire law in his official capacity. And much, much more than her, this man was like a big cat: they look calm, content, relaxed. Right up until, faster than you can see, they sink their teeth into your jugular and their claws into your chest.

Basically, there was a good chance I might be fucked.

I saw myself through his eyes these last five nights: my attempt to dress down and make myself unappealing had only drawn his attention. Even – especially – the first night, when he sized me up as “exquisite” almost immediately, even through the tent of an overshirt I was wearing. The next night, he'd gotten a look at my face and I had been elevated to – I paled a little when I picked this up - “perfect.”

Had that not been enough, I'd returned every night, but kept to myself and refused all attention, even sending back drinks that were gifted to me. Each night I sat at the bar, spoke to no one and then, after a few hours, I would leave. He had ruled me out as a drainer, a drug dealer, escort, and any number of other occupations that would explain my behavior. When his eyes had met mine tonight, the way I was sitting basically spread out on display in his mind, observing me from a distance no longer held his interest.

My behavior with Pam at the bar had actually gotten a soft chuckle out of him (so a normal person's belly laugh), in an “I wonder if Pam will murder her later” sort of way. He had heard about my parking lot encounter with the handsy man and had appreciated that I wasn't entirely helpless (for a human), and he found my flippant attitude, especially when I obviously knew who he was, perversely endearing. The way a cat is endeared to a mouse as it tries to flee from under the cat's paw.

Basically, I had come upon a supremely blasé creature and presented myself as a new and interesting toy wrapped up in a “perfect” package.

Definitely probably fucked.

Then my eyes reached his chest and I was so stunned that for a moment, I froze. A lifetime of experience was all that kept the bald shock from my face, but they both still noted shifts in the muscles of my face, blood draining from it, my breath catching, and my heart speeding up.

Eric didn't know it, but underneath the most impenetrable shell I had ever felt – it could take a nuke and come away without so much as a scuff - was a pure heart. Hit with that after everything else I had learned of him so far, after the endless horror stories I had heard about him, it was almost disorienting. I snapped my eyes up to his, unwilling to look any further into the man.

I was met with an arrogant grin. He assumed I was as good as in the bag.

How adorable.

I grinned back at him, a much more chilly version of his, and for an entirely different reason. Provided I made it out of tonight alive, unmaimed, and not chained in a dungeon somewhere, this might actually be fun.

“Please,” he said, holding a hand out to the seat at his right, smaller and less ornate than his own. “Sit.”

I closed my eyes to keep from throwing them heavenward. I didn't need extra senses to know that was clearly not a request. I cast my eyes down as if watching my feet as I stepped up onto the dais, feeling his eyes sweep me greedily, and the uptick in attention from people in the club. Some weren't even bothering to pretend they weren't watching anymore.

The half-moon arm chair he'd indicated was really quite large, at least for my frame. It was smaller and shorter than his, but looked just as old-world. I managed to curl my legs under me as I sat down, then hunched over, put my elbow on the armrest farthest from him, and plopped my chin into one hand.

That amused him – it reminded him of my first night, dressed in a comically oversized shirt apparently designed to cover as much of myself as possible, hair done up as if I had just been painting or exercising.

With a silent growl I adjusted my posture and sat up properly.

“So,” he said, and the word was almost a hum. “What brings you to my club, Miss White?” His voice was low and thrumming, and he managed to sound bored and interested at the same time. “You are not our usual customer, and you're obviously no tourist.”

“You mean what as yet unidentified nefarious purpose am I secretly here for?” I asked. “You caught me. I'm trying to attract hipsters and run you out of business. I work for that other vampire bar down the street, 'Fangtasia-er.' You're cutting into their profit margins. . . . Is that why I'm up here?”

He smiled, but it was clear it was a polite gesture only. Barely polite. He said something to his arm candy in what sounded like a Nordic tongue, his eyes never leaving mine, and she replied in kind.

“Was that. . . Icelandic? Or Swedish.” I asked, canting my head despite myself.

“Swedish,” said, an undertone of approval in his bored voice. “You have a good ear. Most foreigners can't tell the Nordic languages apart.”

“I can't either. Finnish and Danish just sound. . . more German, I guess.” I shrugged. “I like languages.”

“Do you speak any?”

I shook my head. “A few words in french and German, and some Spanish, but not nearly enough to be passable. Even less Japanese. Bits and pieces of a couple others.”

“What others?”

I looked at him oddly, confused with the line of questioning. His insides gave me nothing – they were still and calm like the surface of a lake. I saw something swimming underneath, but didn't know what it was.

“Uh. . .” I said, thinking, “I spent time looking at Aramaic, Gaelic, Norse, Hindi, I know the alphabet and a grand total of two words in ASL, Greek and Latin in college because I was really into etymology, and this one tribal South American dialect whose name I still can't pronounce.”

“Not Sanskrit?” Eric asked.

Despite myself, I begrudgingly cast him an approving look. I'd listed root languages, but then Hindi, rather than its root language, Sanskrit.

I nodded. Then, when I offered no additional information, he asked yet another seemingly banal question. Was I being interviewed?

“Japanese seems a departure from French, German, and Spanish.”

I laughed drily. “That depends on your metric. I was really into their cartoons, and I like their culture. They're very polite.”

“So you dabble in languages,” he said. “But you aren't fluent in any?”

I snorted. “No, I'm not fluent in any. I wouldn't mind it, but I live in Shreveport, Louisiana for God's sake. Who am I going to speak Japanese or Hindi or French with?”

“Me,” he said with a straight face.

I was nonplussed and gaped at him like an idiot. “You speak. . . Wait, which one do you speak?”

“All three.”

“. . . Right," I said dumbly. "Because you're old. You probably speak a lot of languages, huh?”

“Yes, I do. Including Aramaic, Gaelic and Norse,” he purred. Then added, bored again, “When I spent any significant amount of time in India, there seemed to be a different language for every hundred people.”

Despite myself, I laughed. Eric and the blonde were momentarily arrested, and more than one head turned my way. I clamped down on myself with a tight reminder to keep it reigned in. I cleared my throat.

“So you, that's very. . . holy shit,” I observed casually.

He hummed an acknowledgment, and barely that. He was hung up on how he'd reacted to my laugh, and strangely peevish about all the attention on me, but simultaneously proud of it. “You didn't answer my question,” he rumbled. “And what makes you think I'm old?”

“I just answered like five of your questions," I objected. "And I have eyes and a functioning brain, that's what.”

He hummed, unsatisfied with that answer, but hiding it. “I meant my original question.”

I smiled at him acidly. “And you didn't answer mine.” Almost instantly, I regretted the words. Talk about poking a bear. Alcide – even Janice sometimes - always told me my mouth was going to get me killed, and I would sorely hate to prove him right in a vampire bar. It'd start a damn war.

“It was a bet,” I hurried to say. “That was how it started.”

He arched brow at me, clearly a “go on,” gesture.

I bit down against rolling my eyes. “At home, my. . . friends,” 'pack,' I had almost said, “and family treat me like I'm some sort of dainty flower. Like I'd cry seeing a fly get swatted, I need coats laid over puddles for me, I'll break if I carry anything more than two pounds, whatever.”

Eric's look said what I thought: that the treatment was obviously preposterous and comically unnecessary.

“We made a new friend,” I went on, “and he assumed, as would be natural I suppose, that the reputation was right on the money. So he bet me one hundred dollars that I couldn't spend two hours in here. That was my first night.”

“Why did he make this wager?”

“He's not very bright,” I replied drily. Then, when Eric clearly wanted more, I added with a shrug, “he wanted to mess with me.”

He didn't believe that to be the whole story, but only tucked it away for later. “And you enjoyed our amenities so much the first night that you decided to return?”

I turned my face slightly to the side so he couldn't see me roll my eyes and covered the motion by pretending a cough. “I have a big pack of very rowdy friends,” I snorted inwardly at the unintentional pun, “and screwing around with each other is their bread and water. So my one-night adventure turned into a betting pool. Him, and a bunch of other people who don't know better on the one side, and me and everyone else on the other. Now if I come here for three hours every night for two weeks, I get. . . well,” I said with a laugh, “considerably more than one hundred dollars.”

I shrugged one shoulder, tone turning blasé. “My apartment is shit, and I figured reading a book in a, er, fine, high-quality establishment such as this,” Pam was the only one who didn't hide her droll amusement, “was not the hardest way to earn extra money. . . .So long as I don't get caught,” I added darkly.

“Caught?”

“I have a very large, very overprotective brother,” I explained, wrinkling my nose. Janice I wasn't sure about. She'd either give me a high-five, or pull me somewhere by the hair and shout at me for an hour. “Well, and about ten very large, very overprotective surrogate brothers. . . . Then there are the smaller ones, and the women. Many of who are infinitely more terrifying than the men, actually. Not as overbearing, though, which is nice.”

He hummed, a deep noise in his chest. “Oddly I find that unsurprising.” He sounded like he meant it.

Yeah, I thought, with a weary sigh, I know. He was staving it off much better than most did, but the seed of it was already there in him. I was practically watching it bloom in Pam before my eyes.

“So,” I said with false brightness, eager to change the subject. “Which of my gauche insults would you like to murder me horribly for first?”

Eric's face broke into a huge grin. He looked genuinely amused, and exchanged more words with his gal. I quirked my ears at them this time. The tongue suited them both, but him especially. Which begged a question.

“Where are you from? Originally,” I asked him.

“The Nordic region.”

I nodded, pleased with the explanation, but more please with what he didn't say out loud: Viking. Royal line. Then I looked up at the woman. “And you? What's your name?” I asked curiously. “I've been referring to in my head mostly as 'lady bouncer' or 'blondinatrix.' . . .Which is frankly horrifying now that I've said it out loud. Dear God.” I sneered at myself.

“Pam,” she drawled, and not even she could tell if she was more amused or annoyed at the latter nickname. She believed herself to be on the fence about me. Thought I was hot as a poker, though, which pleased me, strangely. I seemed to care what she thought of me. “Charmed.” The way the word sounded coming out of her lips, I wondered if she was being ironic.

“The pleasure is mine, obviously,” I said smoothly with half a grin up at her.

She arched one flawlessly-manicured brow at me and one half of her mouth quirked up. I felt myself tip over to “amusing” in her estimation, and had to suppress a victorious smile.

Eric, virile specimen that he was, didn't have to have an opinion on me. All he needed to know was if I was a threat (obviously not), and then after that, what the most enjoyable way to get me into bed would be, and what he wanted to do with me first once he had me there. He was flipping through several graphic ideas that very moment, in fact, based on his cursory estimate of my level of experience, and before long I had to suppress a gag. The man might literally have done everything.

Curious about me, he took a sniff at the air. The first thing he smelled was the ware all over me, and had to stop his lip from curling. But he also picked up that I myself was not a shifter, and so took in my scent again, more deeply. Not a ware herself at all, he noted with surprise, and correctly guessed that my legion of “protectors” were a pack of werewolves. I felt my stomach sink as another point was added to the “interesting” column in his mind.

I understood why: outsiders simply did not get access to ware communities. If I had been born into a ware family but without the gene that would let me shift, that would be one thing. But being an outsider who essentially smelled like a member of a pack added a layer of curiosity, and I was at the extremely unsafe threshold of moving from someone he wanted to bed to something he he considered an actual curiosity. It was like he was glancing at me, but on the brink of deciding he wanted to actually look at me head-on.

That, and a heavily guarded woman – particularly such a strikingly beautiful one - presented a much more satisfying challenge.

Shreveport pack, he guessed, remembering that I'd said I live here. But which one? Then he started thinking about my dad hopefully, some sort of leverage. . . .

I went rigid with attention, but Eric's thoughts were derailed as he took my scent in a third time, and learned how comically far off his estimate of my experience had been. My stomach dropped as yet another point fell against my favor. As for my sexual status, virgins did not cause Eric Northman to pause – merely to adjust his trajectory accordingly.

Under that, though, he smelled something else, the smallest trace in the air, that made his full and rapt attention pivot to me.

“Forgive my lack of manners,” he said suddenly, his voice what he was obviously used to passing as a charming, silky purr. “I just realized I never greeted you properly.” He held a hand out to me.

I might have looked at it like it was a pissed off cobra. “I thought vampires weren't. . . you know. . . into the touchy-feely human crap.”

He shrugged one large shoulder. “We're not. But I can respect the customs of a guest now and then.”

“Uh. . . that's ok. Really. I'm. . . I'm good. And I'm not a guest anyway,” I offered. “More of a. . . cooperative kidnapee.”

“I insist,” he purred, and though it sounded honey sweet, it was obvious that, like his “invitation” to sit, it was not an offer or a request.

I swallowed thickly and slowly extended my hand, closing myself off as carefully and thoroughly as I could. No sooner had I placed my fingers into his broad palm than he had it wrapped up in his hand and lifted to his face under the auspices of pressing a polite kiss to my knuckles as I felt a jolt shoot up my arm. In reality, he used the opportunity to take a long, deep inhale of my scent up close. The action took me by surprise – nearly unheard of given the skin-to-skin contact. I yanked my hand back just in time to stop the flood of information and, thankfully, he let me.

He ignored my apparent rudeness and said, “You have an interesting scent, Emma.” Even if I hadn't been able to feel what he meant, I would have known from his voice and face that there was no longer a world in which I had a prayer of getting away cleanly.

Unlike anything I have ever come across, he thought. Even under the ware stench, perfect. Smells like power, life, home, I want more, he felt. I will have it. I must taste her. He started pouring over every way he could think of to get me to let him drink from me tonight. He had no problem glamouring it out of me – I combed furiously through my memories to see if I knew anything about what “glamouring” was, but came up dry. Legends said fairies could do something called glamouring, and that was basically when a person became so magically enamored that they'd do anything the fairy wanted. Either way, Eric preferred my mind unclouded if possible. Not for any altruistic reasons, mind, but just because he'd prefer the experience. At present, he would do almost literally anything for a taste – to a normal person, even a small percentage of the things on that list would be horrifying.

I swallowed thickly, itching to jump out of my chair, leave, and never come within a mile of this place again. Apartment upgrades be damned. Pride be damned. “I. . . will take that as a compliment,” I said uncertainly. “So why am I up here?” I asked, my voice carefully impassive, desperate to derail his train of thought. “For. . . what is that, the sixth time?”

“You're interesting, kitten," Pam said. "We like interesting.”

“Given that the vast majority of people in here either want his fangs or his. . . fang, and the rest want you. . . or possibly both of you at the same time,” I amended, tone thoughtful, “I suppose I can understand your metric. You're probably not used to much of anyone in here who doesn't have tunnel vision over blood or sex or. . ." I suppressed a shudder, “whatever else.”

I was quickly discovering what a bad idea it had been to basically down four shots in an hour.

“You are a blunt little thing,” Eric said. His wide smile was both amused and entirely not G-rated. “And remarkably unafraid,” he added, and he sounded oddly pleased by that. Surprised, but pleased. And amused. 'And yet you are obviously not stupid,' he thought curiously.

“My brother tells me often and with enthusiasm how my bluntness is going to get me killed,” I said. Then muttered, “Among other things.” At a normal volume, I went on, “Given my progress so far tonight, I'm thinking he might get the last word on that before I'm chucked into an unmarked grave.” I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. “Um. . . but really. I gather you don't entertain up here often, what with the audience and all,” my eyes swept over the people who were, some surreptitiously, some overtly, paying attention to our exchange, “especially not random bar patrons. Did I do something wrong? I haven't been wasting your space in here; I buy drinks every night. I'm polite so long as the people who come up to me are civil.”

“Oh, I know,” he purred. “Pam was telling the truth. We simply found you. . . interesting. Myself, especially. You are strikingly beautiful, and obviously intelligent,” to my horror, I felt a blush creep up my cheeks. I didn't know if it was because I was flattered or consternated. “And yet you wander unmarked into a vampire bar night after night with no apparent interest in what a vampire bar has to offer. You could be in any number of other clubs. I understand why now, of course, but all the same. . . .” he trailed off, his eyes taking in the length of me again.

“If you didn't live in this shithole of a city, I'd assume you modeled professionally,” Pam said. "You're pretty enough, but you take care of yourself, too."

I blinked up at her, unsure of what to do with that. "I. . . ." was all I could manage, dumbly. So I just turned to Eric. “Unmarked?” I asked, and had to clear my throat at how unsteady my voice was.

“No vampire has ever fed from you.”

I opened my mouth to ask how he knew that, then closed it. It would be a useless question. Some vampire sense or another, undoubtedly. “And I take it that's. . . appealing?”

“It is second only to virgin blood.” And those on top of whatever you are, which I am guessing will be better than both combined, he thought.

My brow furrowed. “But why? It can't taste any different.”

“It would be difficult to explain to a non-vampire.”

I nodded absently, rolling over what he'd said. Nobody in the pack ever wanted to talk about vampires, unless it was to verbally bash them, but if I was being honest, I found them just as interesting as I found most everything else.

When I didn't say anything, he offered to demonstrate.

I snorted. “This works for you, doesn't it?” I asked, a tinge of incredulity in my voice. “You just purr at people, make bedroom eyes, lay out a compliment or two, and boom, they're climbing you like a flagpole.”

“Blunt, unafraid, beautiful, intelligent, and crass,” he said, and this time, he seemed genuinely – if somewhat dubiously - pleased.

“Told you you'd like her,” Pam said smugly.

“Wh- Before tonight the longest conversation we had had was you saying 'ID' and me handing you my ID!”

“Oh honey, no one walks through those doors without being watched. Especially the pretty ones. I had you memorized on your first night.”

I furrowed my brows.

“I've got a good mind for good faces, like I said,” she drawled. “Photographic.” She gracefully touched a finger to the side of her head. “Selective, but photographic.”

“If you have a photographic memory, why did you keep asking for my ID when I came back?”

She smiled, a slow, feline thing. “After the first night, it wasn't your ID I was looking at.” She glanced up and down my figure pointedly.

Despite myself, I felt another blush crawl up my cheeks even as I tried to quash the mortified look on my face. “Sweet Mary, mother of God,” I uttered nearly silently.

She laughed.

Eric wondered with some amusement if I was gay. The idea did not discourage him from his plans for me in the least, however. Unsurprisingly, many, many lesbians had been convinced to give it a go, a test drive, with him over the centuries.