“Find out everything about her. Where she lives. Where she works. Her family. Her friends. Even her fucking cat.”
‘Same shit, different day.’
Eric Northman ran his hand through his hair as he made his way toward the security room of the casino floor.
He swiped his card key against the electronic lock then keyed in his four-digit code before he turned the knob.
“Talk to me,” he said to his right-hand, a tall and refined woman, Pamela Ravenscroft.
“You look tired, Eric. Is she that good?” Pam teased in a bored tone.
“Her loud moaning is very tiring, which reminds me, she’s still in my room. I want her out of there when I come back later,” Eric replied, never peeling his eyes off the wide array of monitors in front of him.
“Yvetta,” Pam said curtly.
“What?” Eric asked.
“That’s the name of your moaner. Not that you care,” she drawled.
“Their price tags are the only things I remember.”
Pam huffed indignantly. She had handpicked Yvetta for him. Yvetta was a high-class escort, who had met Pam’s impeccable taste in women with her thick Russian accent and a body to-die-for. “Remind me again why I suffer a pig like you?”
“Because I’m a very generous pig,” he replied offhandedly with a smirk, before he sauntered forward to talk to the head of surveillance. “And your dignity is cheaper than your shoes.”
Pam rolled her eyes in indignation but didn’t say anything to counter his vilifying remark, because in spite of his snide comments about her exorbitant lifestyle now and then, Eric was really a very good employer.
He never treated her like an underling but more of a sister. Eric never had a sibling because his mother died after giving birth to him. His father, Godric, never remarried but took a lot of lovers.
Godric, who was adamant not to spawn another child, spent his life expanding the family business to secure Eric’s future.
Although Eric had private houses scattered around the world, the young Eric’s concept of home had been confined to the four walls of his suite since Godric spent most of his time dealing with their string of hotels and casinos.
Being the only heir to his family’s empire, Eric became the epitome of a spoiled rich boy – sheltered, entitled, arrogant, cold and selfish.
But when Godric died of lung cancer seven years ago, Eric had been forced to take the reign at a young age of 24. It was a good thing his father twisted his arm to take business management in college or he’d be totally helpless against the stockholders, who had tried to outsmart him into handing over his legacy as soon as Godric kicked the bucket.
Eric, who hadn’t worked a day in his life, was the first to admit that he was sorely lacking in experience. But he was a fast learner, and tenacity was one of his strong suits.
Eric kept Pam at his side, who was his father’s second-in-command before he died, and let go of the people who had expressed their trepidation at him leading the charge. He took a crash course in hotel management and was hands-on with almost everything concerning the company.
He had proven his mettle two years later when he had managed to seal the deal in Macau. The stockholders were setting him up for failure when they asked him to lead the expansion of ‘The North’ in Asia. They didn’t expect Eric to come through with it, though. And as soon as he did, they didn’t have any more reasons – and ways – to usurp his management.
Seven years later, Eric earned a spot in Forbes’ young billionaires’ list with more than eight hotel and casino resorts to his name, not to mention the other establishments he collected through the years.
Spearheading the North organization, Eric became fiercer and more ruthless than before – which acquired him the moniker ‘the Viking.’ At first he thought the label was brought on by his Swedish descent, but it was Pam who pointed out that it was because of his Machiavellian ways of dealing with other companies that got him the title. His ‘leave no prisoner approach’ was envied by some and feared by many.
Eric paid no mind to his critics, even when they said that his nickname had a negative connotation. For him, the appellation only underscored his power.
The Viking, who was living the ultimate bachelor dream, inherited not only his father’s knack for business but also Godric’s sense of self-preservation when it came to women.
Even when Eric was younger, he wasn’t one to tie himself to anybody. He never had a steady girlfriend who lasted for more than a month.
Women would come and go in regular intervals. Pam even made wagers with other employees as to how long Eric would last with a particular girl. Pam never lost a bet because she would always bet one week. And like clockwork, Eric would dump the poor girl after seven days. According to Eric, women had expiration dates and he was not one to linger and wait for them to spoil.
The Viking soon got tired of dating altogether. Now, he would only go down to the casino or the club – if he were feeling more flirty – to pick up his fuck for the night. On nights such as tonight, when he didn’t even have the energy to trouble himself with useless chitchat, he would leave the procuring to Pam.
“If you like her so much, Pam, then by all means help yourself. It’s on me,” he said as he winked at Pam, whose had made no secret of her sexual preference. Pam shook her head in disgust but took note of his offer. Maybe she could sneak in a little treat during her midnight break.
Eric patted the man, who was sitting in front of a big monitor that overlooked the casino floor, on the shoulder. “Anything out of the ordinary, Hawk?”
Sam Merlotte, a man with a medium built in his thirties, was the one in-charge of manning the surveillance cameras in the control room. Sam’s hawk-like eyes were exceptional in spotting cheaters and chip-swappers that got him the nickname ‘Hawk’.
“Nothing worth your time, boss. We had some minor problems with the new slot machines in the high limits floor. They’re defective. Pam already sent a technician to fix them. Oh, and just a couple of nerds who were counting cards at the blackjack table. Roman’s on his way to detain them.”
Eric ran his hand over his hair as he studied the screens. “Fucking nerds. Think they’re too smart to get away with anything. Tell Roman to call me when he shakes them up. I need some entertainment.” He wouldn’t admit it to anyone but rattling up some gutsy dorks might be the only highlight of his boring day.
Eric started toward the door, with Pam on his heels. He needed to make an appearance on the casino floor and greet the usual high rollers.
“Actually, there’s one more thing,” Sam hurried on. Eric’s steps halted as he looked back at his technical supervisor, eyebrow raised.
“Look at this,” Sam said as he pointed at the huge frame in the center. The Hawk, with his messy hair and scruffy beard, zoomed in on one of the tables at the high limits poker room. Eric bent forward to get a better view of the screen.
Eric couldn’t see what Sam was trying to show him. Poker tables did not tend to draw much attention from security, mainly because it was not a hotspot for cheaters. For one, poker wasn’t technically gambling, but more of a game of wits. So unless the players were conspiring with each other to outgun another opponent – known as collusion – there was very little the management could do.
Besides, this particular table was holding a Texas Hold ’em tournament, so the money in the pot belonged to the players and not the house. In fact the casino would be more profitable if more players would join in because the house would earn ten percent of the pot money.
“Can you see it?” Sam asked.
“No, I don’t. Bottom dealing?” Eric focused his gaze on the dealer to see if he were handing cards from the bottom of the deck. But there wasn’t anything wrong with the way he was handing out cards.
Eric kept a tight leash on all his employees. He had made it a point to meet with his staff from housekeeping to management twice a month to make sure no one would risk betray his trust. In the span of seven years he only caught three, one from administration and two from the gaming department.
The two croupiers, one rigging the roulette wheel and one conspiring with a player who was counting cards at the blackjack table, got off easy.
Eric fired the recalcitrant croupiers on the spot and issued a ban on them so they wouldn’t be able to step inside any casinos in Vegas – much less work in one. But that was Eric being tolerant.
Eric wasn’t as forgiving to Bill Compton, though, whom, he caught sending sensitive information to one of Eric’s foremost rival – Russell Edgington.
Pour encourager les autres.
Upon learning the manager’s treachery, Eric had Bill followed and was given a good beating until his wife couldn’t recognize him anymore. As if to rub salt in the wound, Eric pink-slipped the bastard in the middle of a staff meeting. Everyone stood witness as Bill got dragged out of The North like a filthy mongrel.
Bill, who had worked in The North for the past decade sued Eric for wrongful termination and assault.
But Eric Northman was unfazed. With the amount of information he gathered about the manager’s duplicity, Eric knew he wouldn’t even get to see the inside of a courtroom.
As expected Bill lost the case before it even started. His lawyer didn’t stand a chance against the sharks Eric had on retainer. Ironically, it was the manager who ended up paying Eric a hundred thousand dollars in damages. It could have been more but Eric was in a charitable mood.
The Viking was pulled out of his musing when he felt Pam coming up behind him, who was also squinting at the monitors.
Sam magnified the video feed, but all Eric could see was a blonde girl in an inexpensive looking blue dress.
The blonde was fairly attractive with her wavy locks, fair complexion and big brown eyes, but there was nothing extraordinary about her. Eric couldn’t see her full figure because she was sitting down, but from what he could see, she had ample bosoms and toned shoulders that were notable but not exceptional.
“Sam, if you’re planning to set me up with that girl, forget it. She’s not my type. Too fucking plain.”
“I’ll take her,” Pam butted in. “She looks sweet.”
Eric snorted at Pam before he straightened his back.
“No! I mean, yeah she’s cute but that’s not what I mean.” Sam stood up and gave Eric his swivel chair to sit in. Eric took it and fixed his gaze at the monitor again.
“See this,” Sam pressed his index finger on the screen, pointing at the two cards the blonde were holding. It was a new deal so she hadn’t seen them yet. The blonde squeezed the cards in front of her to peek at them. Ace and Eight of Spades.
‘Good hand,’ Eric noted.
Then the betting began, she paid the blinds and raised them double. The camera was focused on the girl that all Eric could see of the other players were their hands pushing the chips at the center of the table.
The Flop came, Seven of Spades, Jack of Diamonds and Ace of Clubs.
The blonde’s chances were looking better. The blonde checked without calling a raise as she waited for someone to make the move.
‘Not bad,’ Eric mused. When there was a face card – Kings, Queens and Jacks – or Aces it was always prudent to look modest when you have a good hand. Otherwise it was like announcing you have an indomitable set of cards, thus scaring your opponents away early in the game. Someone took the bait and raised the bets. The blonde peeked at her cards again, looking doubtful, before she called the raise.
‘She’s playing them!’ Eric mused.
Then came the Turn, which was an Eight of Clubs.
‘Dead man’s hand,’ the Viking thought.
The blonde now had one of the best possible hands at the table. It was time to make her move. Because it was a no-limit game a player could raise more than the value of the pot and that was when the raise war began until there were only three players left before the last card was drawn – including the blonde, who was obviously hustling the table.
As though the blonde couldn’t get any luckier, the River card was an Ace of hearts. Full house, aces over eights. It couldn’t get any better than that. It was time to go for the kill. If she played her cards right, she could lure the remaining players to go all-in.
The first player to call had raised double. That player was obviously bluffing, there was no way he could beat the girl’s hand.
That was when the blonde did the unexpected. She folded.
“Whoa!” Pam gasped. “Why would she fold a full house without the possibility of a royal flush or quad? Bad beat!”
Since there were only three live players at the table before the River, the pot was left for the last two participants to fight over.
The man on the opposite end went all-in, while the other one folded his hand. And just like that the game was done.
The player, who made the blonde fold, took the large pot without having to show his cards.
“She’s probably a fish who gets scared way too easily,” Eric muttered under his breath. Although he didn’t sound convinced himself.
“She has been playing like that for the past couple of hours, boss. She would fold a good hand then would go all-in with crappy cards,” Sam said. “At first I thought it was her play, too. Going chameleon so the other players won’t be able to tell when she’s bluffing. But while I was watching her, I figured it out. She was colluding with the other guy – the one who just took the pot.”
Eric turned pensive for a moment. If Sam was right and the blonde was losing on purpose to help the other player then she was really colluding. Unfortunately, there was virtually nothing the management could do about it. The house was known to turn the other cheek when it came to poker games. For one, collusion was hard to prove.
“Maybe she has the hots for the other guy. Let it go, Sam. We’re not losing money on that anyway,” Eric said without enthusiasm before he stood up from the chair and started toward the door.
“It’s Bill Compton, boss,” Sam blurted. Eric turned around abruptly to face Sam. “Bill’s the guy she’s helping.”
Eric’s eyes darkened instantly before he turned to Pam. “Bring them in.”
The Viking dashed toward the monitors. “Play the previous surveillance. I want to know if they’re really working together. No one fucks with me in my house. Especially not Bill Compton.”
“What am I doing here, Eric? Got tired of fucking my wife, so now you’re gonna fuck with me again?” Bill snarled as soon as he was pushed brusquely in the detention area.
Eric unbuttoned his blazer as he took the seat opposite the disgruntled man.
Bill Compton, a medium-sized man in his late thirties with short-styled dark hair and pale blue eyes, was wearing a crisp white buttoned-down shirt and brown slacks.
But even with his expensive apparel, he didn’t hold a torch against Eric, who towering over him at six-foot-two with his Adonis-like features.
Eric was wearing a tailored gray suit, a black silk shirt, and polished custom-made leather shoes.
“Oh, Billy, I’ve only screwed Lorena once and it was more of a hate lay on my part,” Eric replied offhandedly, remembering Bill’s wife, Lorena, who was all too eager to jump in bed with Eric as soon as he took the head post in the company.
Lorena was beautiful and useful but she was a typical gold-digger. Eric had no patience with the likes of her.
It was also through Lorena that Eric found out about Bill’s indiscretions.
Bill hissed as he shot daggers at Eric. He was shaking with rage, ready to pounce on the Viking. But he was stymied in his chair by Roman’s firm hands grabbing his shoulders.
Eric waved his hand at Roman as he dismissed his head of security. He didn’t need Roman for this. He could handle Bill’s hissy fits all by himself.
“The North’s hospitality really went downhill since you took charge. Tell me, is this how you treat all your guests? Or is it just me?” Bill asked dryly.
“Just you,” Eric replied coolly as he studied Bill across him. “I don’t like your stench of desperation clinging to my guests.”
“You’re a fucking asshole!” Bill snapped.
“Tut-tut, I’ll be doing the talking here, Billy,” Eric reprimanded. “Just when I thought you couldn’t sink lower, you did. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Letting a girl throw her hand just so you could win?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Please. It’s one thing to screw with my whales, but to insult my intelligence, too?” Eric tsked as he shook his head in mock disapproval. “Let me cut you a deal, Billy, tell me what you’re planning to do and I will let you go with maybe just a little scratch. With a promise, of course, that you will not set foot in any of my establishments.”
Bill scowled before he leered at the Viking. “It must be so frustrating to be you. Having everything but knowing nothing.”
Eric leaned back on his chair, never taking his eyes off Bill. A smirk broke across his lips. “How’s your hand, Bill? Still throbs when it’s cold?”
Bill dropped his hands on his lap, which made Eric grin even wider.
“Have it your way, Billy boy. I’ll let you go since you’re not worth a space in my cell. But first I want you to take a long, hard look at my face. This is the face that took everything from you once. I can do it again. Don’t try me,” Eric threatened as he raised his index finger at the one-way mirror behind Bill. “Besides, your girlfriend’s still with us. There are many ways I can make her scream.”
A flicker of concern flashed in Bill’s eyes, but he shook it off immediately. He composed his features to remain unperturbed.
The door swung open and Roman, Eric’s stocky Grecian henchman, strolled in with a menacing look on his face.
“Escort Mr. Compton to his car. And make sure to send word to all employees that Bill here is no longer welcome in The North, not only in Vegas but in all my hotels. If he dares to challenge me again, feel free to do what you deem fit. I see his left hand’s still good.”
Roman savagely pulled Bill by his arms, but the smaller man shook Roman off as he straightened his shirt. “Your arrogance will be your downfall, Eric. And when it happens, I’ll be there spitting on your grave.”
“Oh, Billy. Don’t delude yourself. You’ll die before I do. I’ll make sure of that,” Eric said with a devious grin.
He watched Bill get hauled out of the interrogation room that looked like the ones used by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. Eric had designed it to look that way so as to confuse and intimidate the ballsy cheaters and infuse a sense of dread in them.
Pam had been waiting for Eric in the other room, where they detained the blonde from the poker table. Eric tapped on the mirror to call Pam outside. He wanted to get as much intel about the girl since Bill wasn’t forthcoming about her at all.
“Have you warmed her up?” Eric asked Pam as soon as she closed the door behind her. It was a soundproof room so they could not be overheard.
“She’s not talking. I confiscated her purse and found this.” Pam held up the blonde’s driver’s license. Eric took it and read the information in it.
“Sookie Stackhouse?” Eric asked half-amused. “Kind of name is that?”
“Apparently one they give their kids in the South,” Pam deadpanned. “She’s from Louisiana.”
“A twenty-three-year-old hick hustling my table?” Eric asked as he lifted a brow. “This better be good.”
Eric ran his fingers through his hair before he entered the interrogation room.
The blonde, who had her gaze fixed on the mirror in front of her, didn’t even look up when Eric entered.
‘Poker face, lovely,’ Eric mused as he took the seat opposite her, positioning himself in her line of vision.
“Did they offer you some refreshments?” he asked the blonde, who, he admitted, was more striking up close.
The blonde looked at him with cold eyes. “Why am I here?” she asked without preamble.
‘Straight shooter, I like it.’
“You’re here because I invited you here,” Eric answered smoothly, turning on his charm a notch higher. Surely a simpleton like her would squirm under his penetrating gaze.
The blonde crossed her arms over her chest. “Correct me if I’m wrong but last time I checked, an invitation still offers an option. And I wasn’t given one.”
“Forgive my people, Miss Sookie, can I call you Sookie?”
“I prefer it if you don’t. Only my friends call me Sookie, and so far, you haven’t done anything friendly to me,” Sookie snapped.
Eric was taken aback. No one had dared talk to him like that. He clenched his jaw before he schooled his features to look unaffected. “Alright. Miss Stackhouse, then.”
When she didn’t reply, he decided to start badgering her. “Since you’re in no mood to be nice, I will cut to the bull and ask you, what are doing here with Mr. Compton. Don’t even try to deny it, I’ve got eyes everywhere. I know you came here with him and you’ve been working my tables. Usually I don’t give a damn when a fish like you decides to swim with the sharks, but I’m making an exception. Because you, Miss Stackhouse, has been keeping bad company.”
“I don’t think it’s any of your goddamn business,” she snapped icily. Her southern drawl was becoming evident along with her irritation.
“Everything that happens under my roof is my business, Miss Stackhouse.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you have squat against me. I haven’t done anything illegal.”
“I know you’re colluding with Mr. Compton. That constitutes as cheating. I don’t know how you do things in the South, but in here we take cheating seriously.”
“You can’t prove anything. Not every hand is a playing hand. I’m just practicing modesty. It’s called a strategy, you should look it up, because you’re obviously lacking one,” she said acidly.
Eric was on the verge of losing his patience with the woman. He leaned forward to intimidate her. “Do you have any idea who I am, Miss Stackhouse?” his voice dropped to a threatening whisper.
Eric had seen grown men cry and crap in their pants when they heard that tone from him.
The girl, however, didn’t even flinch.
“I don’t know who you are, but if you say you own this place then that makes you Eric Northman. Your face was in all the boring magazines in my dentist’s office. You see, they also teach us how to read in Louisiana. I know my rights, Mr. Northman. You have nothing to arrest me so I demand to be released right now.”
“You know who I am and yet you have the gall to demand something from me?” Eric laughed dryly. “Do you know that people have pissed in their pants just by my mere presence, Miss Stackhouse?”
Sookie remained expressionless as she spoke. “Don’t you worry about me, Mr. Northman. I have good control of my bladder.”
Eric couldn’t help the chuckle that came out of him from her snarky comeback. She was really fierce. Whether it was from ignorance or sheer stupidity, he didn’t know. But he was sure of one thing, though, she was interesting.
He heaved a big sigh as he leaned back on his chair. He knew Pam was watching and must be having a good fucking time watching this backwater girl talk back to him. He scowled at the mirror before he turned his attention back to Sookie.
“We’re not getting anywhere here, so can we have a do-over?” Eric asked. He was changing tactics because clearly he couldn’t treat this girl like an ordinary offender. She didn’t fear him enough – or at all.
Sookie looked at him conspicuously but kept mum.
“You’re right. Technically, you haven’t done anything criminal for us to detain you or hand you over to LVPD. But you have to excuse my behavior. There’s too much bad blood between me and Mr. Compton. It’s hard for me to overlook your relationship with him.” Eric stood up and made his way toward Sookie. He stopped beside her and sat on the table. He turned his charm all the way up as he looked at her with smoldering blue eyes. “So let me rectify my initial actions by offering you a complimentary suite.”
Sookie looked up at him, bemused at the sudden turn of events. “That’s very generous of you, Mr. Northman, but no, thank you. I have a perfectly good apartment and a cat that will go hungry if don’t come home to feed him.”
She stood up from her seat, and instantly regretted the move because now she was face to face with the arrogant bastard.
‘Damn, he smells good,‘ she thought.
She immediately stepped back to put some distance between Eric and her. But her foot tripped on the leg of her chair and she fell backward.
Eric, with his incredible reflex, caught her before she hit the floor.
Their faces were inches apart and Sookie was mesmerized by the intensity of his azure orbs. His lips were slightly parted and for a fleeting moment, she wanted to latch on to those wet lips.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head out of the trance. Using the heels of her hands, she pushed herself up.
Bad move, again.
Because Eric wasn’t ready to get up yet that when she sprung up, her body pressed onto his. The contact sent electric waves through her as she felt Eric’s erection throbbing against his pants on her stomach.
Eric, who was aware of his raging bulge for the blonde, was also shocked by their sudden closeness. He accidentally let go of her and she dropped on the floor with a thud.
“Ow!” Sookie yelped.
Eric stood up and straightened his blazer, before he offered a hand to Sookie.
Sookie begrudgingly took it as she hoisted herself. ‘What freakin’ a gentleman!’ she thought sardonically.
“I’d like to have my purse back, please,” she demanded when Eric made no move to let go of her hand.
Eric, without loosening his grip on her, swung the door open. A smirking Pam came in with Sookie’s purse and placed it on top of the table.
Sookie cleared her throat loudly as she looked pointedly at Eric’s hand enveloping hers.
Eric, who just realized he was still holding her, dropped her hand and tucked both his hands inside his pockets.
“Pam, please have Miss Stackhouse escorted out,” he ordered in an even tone. Pam waved her index finger at the mirror and a man wearing a sharp black and white suit with an earpiece on, came in and led Sookie out.
As soon as the door closed, Eric sat back on the table as he stared at his image on the mirror. ‘What the fuck, Northman?!’
“What the fuck was that?” Pam echoed his thoughts, amused and irritated at the same time. “If I hadn’t known better I would have thought you’re fucking smitten with that hick.”
“Of course, I’m not,” he growled defensively. “But I’m not yet done with her. I know she’s working with Compton. I just need to know why.”
He wasn’t sure if he were trying to convince himself or Pam that all he cared about was the girl’s affiliation with Bill. Nevertheless, he would not stop until he knew everything.
“Find out everything about her. Where she lives. Where she works. Her family. Her friends. Even her fucking cat.”
He didn’t ask for her boyfriend or, heaven forbid, husband. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know if she had one.