“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.




“Enjoy your lunch, Mr. Northman. May we never see each other again,” she said as a way of parting, before she made her way back to the kitchen with quick, but calculated steps.

Sookie grabbed the stale muffin from the table top as she fished her keys inside her bag. It was only her third day in the restaurant, and she was already running late.

Since she and her older brother, Jason, were neck-deep in debt left by their gambler father, Sookie never really had to think twice when Bill Compton, an old friend of their family, offered her a job at an Italian restaurant in the Strip in Vegas.

With a bigger paycheck that came with board and lodging, it was a no-brainer. Her only sacrifice was that she would leave her home, brother and friends.

Because she had no formal training in culinary she was only offered the kitchen assistant job, which was the lowest rank in the hierarchy of chefs.

But Sookie didn’t mind. Especially since Tara Thornton, the Chef de Cuisine and co-owner of Fiordillatte, told her if she did well in the next couple of months she could be promoted to commis – an apprentice chef – where she could learn the ropes in the food business that might help her work her way up the ladder.

She wasn’t actually new in the restaurant business having worked as a barmaid since she was sixteen at Lafayette’s, a local pub in her hometown Bon Temps in Renard Parish, Louisiana.

She and her brother had been living with their grandmother since her father left them to try his luck in Las Vegas when she was only 12 and Jason was 14.

But when her Gran, Adele, died last year, she and Jason had to work extra hard just to have three square meals a day – not to mention the monthly bills that kept coming to taunt them.

Sookie didn’t know much about cooking, but she was a quick study and she didn’t want to wait tables all her life.

Since she only finished high school, her career options were limited.

Her string of bad luck started when her mother, Michelle, died in a car accident when she was four.

Her father, Corbett, began losing his way since his wife’s death. He started gambling, and while he was good at it he was ill-equipped with the harsh reality that in gambling it didn’t matter if you had the skills if you weren’t shrewd enough to survive.

But Corbett was a very trusting man and that had paved the way for his eventual demise.

With Corbett’s delusions of grandeur he decided to leave Sookie and Jason to play in the big league. That plan was doomed to failure right from its conception but nobody had the heart to tell Corbett. Because even though he was a lousy player, he was not a lousy person. He always had a sunny disposition in dealing with things. He would always tell his children that lady luck would smile upon them soon.

Corbett also tried to be there for his children, although they barely scraped with his meager salary as a construction worker at Herveaux Contracts, he always managed to put food on the table. And he was always there to tuck both Sookie and Jason to bed.

The arrival of the conniving weasel Mac Rattray into Bon Temps was the beginning of the end for Corbett Stackhouse. Mac sweet-talked Corbett into going against the sharks in Vegas. Mac even offered to pay for Corbett’s plane ticket and accommodations. All Corbett had to do was show up and pay for the hundred dollar buy-in.

The promise of easy money lured Sookie’s father. Maybe he was too gullible – or too desperate – that he fell for it.

Things went from bad to worse for Sookie and Jason. Corbett left for Vegas with Mac in that fateful April of 2002 and joined the tournament that offered a whopping pot – enough for the Stackhouses to live comfortably for the rest of their lives.

It was supposed to be a weekend event but the weekend dragged into weeks, and weeks became months that soon turned into a year. Corbett would call his mother, Adele, and his two children every week and assured them that he would be home soon.

But he never did.

Sookie hadn’t heard from her father for a couple of months and all of them, especially her Gran, were getting agitated that Jason threatened to fly to Las Vegas and drag his father back home.

But before Jason could hop onto a plane, the dreaded phone call came.

It was the fourth of July of 2003, and Sookie could still remember it like it was yesterday.

She was at the Fortenberry’s, their next-door neighbor, helping the family’s matriarch Maxine Fortenberry set up for their annual barbecue when Jason came barging in like a man possessed and told her their father was found buried in the desert in Reno.

She couldn’t remember what happened next that night. All she could remember was her Gran’s lap where she cried herself to sleep.

Their neighbors and friends all chipped in so they could have her father’s body flown to Bon Temps. The authorities in Nevada couldn’t see any foul play in his death. The police who notified them said Corbett had died of suffocation.

According to the report, Corbett had high alcohol level in his blood stream. He must have been drunk and was caught in a flash flood in the middle of the desert.

Nobody believed it.

But they didn’t have the money to pay for an autopsy or hire a private investigator to find out what really killed Corbett. So they kept their mouths shut and did what they could to give him a proper burial.

The nightmare didn’t end there, though.

A month after the Stackhouses buried Corbett, Adele received another phone call.

It was from a loan shark who, apparently, lent Corbett a large sum of money to bankroll his addiction. With very few words the man had conveyed the magnitude of the situation to Adele. “Pay up or we’ll take everything from you.”

The Stackhouses had very little left, so Adele gave their ancestral house as collateral until they could come up with the money Corbett owed, plus interest.

Adele, who was in her early sixties when Corbett died, went back to work as a cashier in a local drugstore.

A large part of her income would go to the offshore account the loan shark had given her. Jason and Sookie were aware of their Gran’s predicament, so when Jason was old enough to get a job, with permit from the Parish, he jumped at the first opportunity to help the family’s finances. Jackson Herveaux, Corbett’s old boss, hired Jason as contractor without question.

Sookie couldn’t wait to help out either and as soon as her Gran permitted her to get a job, too, she didn’t hesitate to ask Lafayette Reynolds, the owner of the local bar and grill, for a place among the wait staff.

Lafayette was very accommodating to Sookie that he even gave her good shifts so she could still finish high school while working.

When Adele was diagnosed of cardiomegaly – enlarged heart – Sookie and Jason begged her to stop working and leave the heavy lifting to them.

Adele had lived for three more years until her body finally gave up.

Ten years later and their father’s debt remained the same. The money they were handing over to the shylock was barely enough to cover the interest that kept rising every year.

Sookie’s internal wallowing was halted when Tara, face flushed with anger, came up to her while she was busy prepping the mise en place for the lunch shift.

“What did you do?” Tara growled at Sookie, drawing the attention of everyone in the kitchen.

Sookie dropped the knife on the chopping board as she faced the livid head chef. “Chef?” she asked, confused.

“Don’t you fuckin’ ‘Chef’ me and tell me what the fuck you did!” Tara screamed. Sookie looked around the room, her eyes pleading her co-workers for help. “You’ve only been here for less than a week and yet you managed to piss off the one person who could run you out of town with a flick of a finger!”

Sookie swallowed hard, she still had no clue what made Tara so hostile.

“Eric Northman’s outside,” Tara spat, pointing a finger at the kitchen door leading to the dining area. “Eric fucking Northman doesn’t go outside for lunch! He has Michelin chefs at his beck and call, not to mention his countless restaurants all over Vegas. So tell me, what you’ve done to make him come all the way here?!”

It finally made sense to Sookie. She tried to mess with him on his turf, so now he was giving her the taste of her own medicine.

She opened her mouth to explain but Tara cut her off.

“Do you wanna know the best part?” Tara asked mockingly. “He wants you to cook his meal! You!” she let out a humorless cackle. “I’m sure he knows you don’t know the difference from sautéing and deep-frying, so my guess is you pissed him off royally and now he wants an excuse to drive your ass back to Louisiana. And you’ll be taking this whole damn restaurant down the drain with you!”

Sookie was shaking now. She wasn’t scared of Eric Northman. He was a typical bully and she had lived her life dealing with the likes of him. But she was terrified of Tara and the fact that she could lose her job – her one ticket out of hell.

“I’m sorry, chef. I swear I didn’t know he would go this far. I was only trying -”

“You know what, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to be dragged in shit with you. You’re so fucking stupid to get mad at anyway,” Tara said dismissively before she headed to her office adjoined to the kitchen.

After a few charged minutes, Tara came back with a small index card in her hand. She gave the card to Sookie, who was still pretty shook up. “This is a simple spaghetti carbonara recipe. Follow it, word by fucking word, and try your best not to screw it up. Taste, taste, taste. When it’s done send me a sample before you serve it to him. And did I mention he also wants you to serve it?” Tara asked sarcastically before she stomped toward the back door.

“Aren’t you gonna teach me?” Sookie asked, more like begged Tara.

“Knock yourself out! I’ll be out back. I need a smoke!”

After Tara left, Selah Pumphrey, the brunette sous chef, gave Sookie a disapproving look before she went back to her station.

Contrary to Tara’s belief, Sookie had little knowledge in the kitchen from helping her Gran out earn a little extra by selling Adele’s special pecan pie.

But Italian food was new to her so she obeyed Tara and followed the recipe to a T – well, almost to a T. She decided to add baby asparagus and fried egg on top. Tara almost threw a fit when she saw what Sookie had done. She almost threw it in the bin but Terry Bellefleur, one of the line cooks, urged Tara to give it a try first since they were running out of time and everybody in Vegas knew Eric Northman wasn’t a very patient man.

Tara was surprised when the pasta dish wasn’t bad at all. The asparagus blended with the richness of the white sauce and the egg. Tara gave Sookie the green light as she crossed her fingers behind her back.

Sookie took off her hair cap and smoothed her chef’s whites before she went outside to serve the meal to the ‘devil reincarnate.’

Eric Northman, dressed casually in a plain dark gray t-shirt, black slim jeans and a pair of black boots, was busy typing on his mobile phone when Sookie arrived at his table.

“Thank you for waiting, sir,” Sookie kept her voice clinical. If she would lose her job because of him, she would go down with what little dignity she had left. She placed the plate of pasta carefully on his table while Eric watched her in barely disguised amusement.

“Aren’t you going to tell me, what I have waited half an hour for?” Eric asked acidly.

Sookie took a deep breath to calm her nerves, before she went on to explain the dish. When she was done, Eric was studying her closely, a smirk on his thin lips.

Sookie refused to be unnerved by his intense stare. She had managed to stood up to him last night, she could do it again. “Would you like another glass of wine?” she asked politely.

“Yes, please,” he replied, his grin that irritated Sookie was still plastered on his face.

Sookie turned and started on walking toward the kitchen. But Eric’s hand on her arm stopped her.

“On second thought, I’d like to have you instead.”

Sookie yanked her arm out of his grasp and faced him with steely eyes. “I’m not on the menu.”

Eric chuckled. “Don’t flatter yourself, Miss Stackhouse. I don’t like you that way. I only wanted to resume our conversation last night. You see, you still haven’t answered my questions.”

Sookie could feel her cheeks burning with humiliation. She could feel eyes boring into her from her fellow workers, who were undoubtedly watching their interaction from the kitchen. Sookie could also hear soft murmurs from the diners, who were polite enough to keep their gawking to a minimum.

“Look, Mr. Northman, if I have offended you last night, I’m truly sorry. I’m sure you can tell I’m new here and I don’t know how things work in this town. But I can assure you, I won’t be causing anymore trouble in any of your establishments ever again. I only hope you can do the same.”

Eric bit his lip as he kept his gaze trained on Sookie. Paired with his blazing orbs, he was the image of a perfect predator, sizing up his prey. Sookie jutted her chin out to hide the buckling of her knees. She grabbed the backrest of the chair opposite him to steady herself.

“Enjoy your lunch, Mr. Northman. May we never see each other again,” she said as a way of parting, before she made her way back to the kitchen with quick, but calculated steps.

Eric watched her go as his grin turned into a frown. He took out his wallet and pulled a hundred dollar bill before he grabbed his phone and car keys from the table. But just as he was about to stand up and leave, he noticed the pasta dish Sookie had prepared for him.

Despite his frustration, he couldn’t help but take a bite. He wasn’t sure if the food just looked too appetizing to ignore, or the fact that the woman who made it was too interesting for him pass up.

He decided it was the food because after one bite, Eric decided he wanted more.


“I can’t decide how to use my invisibility? For evil or for the good of mankind,” Pam said as she sat on the leather couch in his spacious office at The North, while Eric sat behind his desk lost in his thoughts.

He only caught the last few words Pam had said but they were enough to draw his attention. He finally looked up at her, his eyebrows raised quizzically. “Huh?” he asked.

“Good. So you were listening. I was beginning to wonder if I suddenly turned invisible,” Pam drawled as she took the seat opposite Eric. “Something’s distracting you. What is it? I haven’t seen you this serious. Not even when we were planning a major takeover in Miami.”

Eric pivoted his swivel chair as he turned his back on Pam. His office had the most spectacular view of the Strip and he loved it. It reminded him of everything he had accomplished in very little time. It made him feel all-powerful, invincible and fucking untouchable. Just like the kings who ruled old Vegas.

But even the magnificent view couldn’t distract him from thinking of that particular blonde, who seemed to be immune to his innate charisma.

“Do you know that little Italian restaurant by the Flamingo road?” Eric asked without looking back at his second-in-command.

“Fiordillatte?” Pam answered immediately. Of course she knew about that place, she was the one who told Eric that it was the blonde’s place of employment.

“Yes, that,” Eric replied. He knew Pam was testing him if he would divulge his irrational interest with that specific blonde.

“What about it?” She was baiting him, but she wouldn’t be so tactless as to tease him when she wasn’t certain what state of mind he was in.

Eric had always been congenial toward her, but she had seen him get very unpredictable and quite frankly, scary toward others. And she wasn’t about test the limitation of their friendship because of a stupid girl.

“I want to buy it,” Eric said casually, as though he was talking about getting himself a new pair of shoes or a set of golf clubs.

“Okay. Are you going to tell me why?”

“You know why.”

“Eric, aren’t you too young to have a mid-life crisis?” Pam asked teasingly. She just couldn’t help it. “Or is this some kind of macho thing that you couldn’t stand the fact that with three billion women in the world, there’s one who couldn’t stand you?”

Eric turned abruptly around to face Pam, the vein on his forehead throbbing with irritation. But he caught himself before he could blurt out anything that he was sure he would regret.

He was acting absurdly because of her.

It was gnawing at him that she could stir up a lot of emotions from him. ‘She wasn’t even drop-dead gorgeous for fuck’s sake?’

But her eyes were thoughtful and innocent at the same time that would make you want to look at her more. It was also captivating how her face would scrunch up when she was scowling at him. Even the gap between her teeth complimented her sweet and hypnotic façade. And he fucking hated all of them.

He had dated supermodels, celebrities and high-powered business women and he had never even had to go out in the middle of the day for any of them. He wouldn’t get out of bed before noon for less than a million dollars. Sometimes, even a million dollars didn’t even seem worth it.

But with her, hell, he even had the concierge wake him up at noon so he wouldn’t miss her shift.

Now he was thinking of buying a shitty restaurant because he wanted to impress a redneck girl.

“It’s not about her. It was never about her. She’s working for Compton, and that fucker will stop at nothing to get back at me. She is just a pre-emptive measure. I need to be two steps ahead of that asshole. I almost lost the Macau deal because of him. Don’t you think it’s only wise to make sure he never gets any more chances to screw with me?” Eric asked Pam, who still looked unconvinced. “My father used to tell me, the way to catch a cheater is to hire one.”

Pam turned contemplative for a second before she finally looked satisfied. “Fine. I’ll have our lawyer draw the contract first thing tomorrow. You’ll have Fiordillatte within the next week.”

Eric flashed her a satisfied smile as he leaned back on his chair, contentedly counting the days until he could see her again.

“Pam?” Eric called out to his associate as she marched toward the door.

It was time for the usual pit bosses’ roundup in her office. She turned halfway to look at Eric.

“Keep it hush-hush will you? I want the transaction to be completed as quietly as possible. We don’t want to alarm our friend, Compton, now do we? And make sure to include her in the contract. I don’t want her taking off when she finds out I own her ass.”

“Hmmm … and what a fine ass she has,” Pam cooed before she exited the office.



He refused to give the face a name. Because Eric knew once he started thinking of her as an actual human being rather than just an entity in his vast universe, then that would be admitting that she actually mattered.

“Consider this your strike three Sookie. First you piss off a big kahuna like the Viking. Then you disobeyed a direct order to stick to the recipe I gave you. And then you talked back to him like he was one of the drunkards from the backwater dump you used to work at,” Tara spat between gritted teeth. “This isn’t Louisiana. If you want to last at least a month in this town, you play by the rules. This restaurant is my baby. It has been with me for six fucking years. We only have two rules here: we keep our heads down and our food warm. If you draw unwanted attention to my restaurant again I will be so far up your ass you won’t be able to sit straight in a week! Am I making myself clear?”

Sookie bit her tongue before she nodded her assent. She wasn’t naïve. She knew what she was getting into when she agreed to take the job. Besides, she was used to people belittling her because she was poor and didn’t have a proper education. But the lashing she incurred from Tara was enough to last her a lifetime. And while she knew she deserved it for being callous with a big shot like Eric Northman, Tara was grating on her last nerve. Sookie knew if she didn’t tamp down her temper she would lose it, along with her golden ticket that would pull her and Jason out of the pit their father had dug for them.

“It won’t happen again, chef,” Sookie said timidly. “Can I go home now, or would you like me to help prep for the dinner service?”

Tara looked at the forlorn Southern Belle. While Sookie’s ignorance was no excuse, Tara couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Not everyone was cut out to survive in Vegas. She should know considering her humble beginnings herself. After a while, Tara shook her head and casually dismissed Sookie.

Sookie arranged her knives in her pocket knife roll before she took off her chef’s jacket. She quietly exited the kitchen through the back door.

Stupid Eric Northman!’ she thought angrily.

She was so consumed with her frustration that she didn’t notice the black sedan following her as she made her way toward the bus terminal.

As she silently marched down the street, the black BMW pulled beside her and honked. Sookie was flabbergasted. ‘What the hell?! Does this asshole think I’m a hooker? Freakin’ great!’

It was only four o’clock in the afternoon and it wasn’t even dark yet.

Her steps quickened on her way to the bus stop, but the car kept following her. Finally, she had mustered enough anger to lash out on the horny idiot. She bent toward the tinted window of the car and tapped it with her fingers. It rolled down t reveal the driver. But just as she was about to spew mean words at the man behind the wheels, she recognized him.


“Can I give you a ride, Sookie?” Bill, ever the polite gentleman, asked.

Sookie was hesitant for a moment. Bill Compton had been a close family friend of the Stackhouses for a long time because of the proximity of their farmhouses. She had known Bill ever since she was still a little girl. He was 12 years older than her so she and Jason rarely hung out with him.

Corbett and Bill were more alike, talking about grown-up things and, of course, card games. Bill’s parents moved to Florida right after Bill finished college and the young gentleman migrated to Las Vegas. Sookie had barely seen him since.

Then, two weeks ago Bill resurfaced in Bon Temps to close the sale of the Compton manor. She, Jason and Bill got together at Lafayette’s. Bill found out about the Stackhouse’s financial woes and he felt sorry for the siblings.

Bill left Bon Temps the next day but promised to help the Stackhouses out. True to his word, Bill called three days later and offered Sookie the opportunity to work in Fiordillatte.

Bill went to business school with Tara’s husband, JV, at Louisiana State University and that was the leverage he used to earn Sookie a spot in the kitchen.

Jason, ever the protective brother, argued at first. He told Bill that he would be more than capable to work in the big city than his younger sister. But Bill told Jason that it was harder to find occupation for Jason in Las Vegas, because like Sookie, he only made it to high school.

Jason was reluctant to let his sister go, but the younger Stackhouse would not take no for an answer.

After much deliberation, Jason finally yielded, but not without making Sookie promise that she would always stay in touch and not ‘pull a Corbett’ on him.

“I’ll call you every day, Jase,” she swore.

Sookie looked at the knife roll she was clutching and thought that if Bill decided to do something nasty to her, she could always slice and dice him Vegas style.

Sookie, who needed an ally to air her grievances from the brutal day she just had, decided Bill might be the person for the job as she got in the car.

“Are you on your way home?” Bill asked as Sookie strapped on her seatbelt.

Sookie nodded. “Long day.”

“I bet,” Bill commented offhandedly. “I heard Eric Northman paid you a visit in Fiordillatte.” It wasn’t a question.

Sookie grimaced as the image of the arrogant bastard popped up in her head again. “Wow, news do travel fast in Vegas.”

Bill sniggered. “Eric Northman’s a vampire, Sookie. He only goes out at night. So, when he does come out at daytime, its big news around here.”

Sookie snorted. ‘Of course! I bet nothing’s too trivial for the great Eric Northman,’ she thought acerbically.

“So? What does he want from you?” Bill resumed his query.

“You,” Sookie snapped.

Then she realized she wasn’t being fair to Bill. He wasn’t the one who ambushed her in her workplace and yet she was venting her ire at him. She tried to soften her voice as she kept on. “I don’t know if that a-hole’s just extremely paranoid or you’ve really done a number on him. I reckon it’s the last one.”

Bill chuckled again. “Ding-ding-ding! Jackpot! Eric and I do have a long history together.” Sookie glanced at him, puzzled. Bill shook his head. “It isn’t a tale for kids, Sookie. Let’s just say, while some people collect stamps, Eric collects enemies.”

Sookie became pensive. Eric did mention the bad blood between him and Bill. But she wasn’t one to pry, she had enough problems of her own to burden herself with other people’s grudge match.

“Why don’t we grab some dinner, then we can talk some more about everything I missed in Bon Temps,” Bill invited. Sookie was starving. All she had eaten that day was the rock-hard blueberry muffin she had for brunch. She hadn’t had the chance to eat anything at the restaurant because Eric Northman decided to pester her before she could take her break.

“I’d like that. Thank you, Bill,” she acquiesced.

Bill made a turn at the Luxor hotel before he parked his car at the lobby. He handed his keys at the valet before he opened Sookie’s door. Sookie was stunned to discover that the famed Vegas pyramid was what Bill meant for dinner. She suddenly felt underdressed for the grandiose surrounding.

“When you said bite, I thought you meant Burger King,” she said hesitantly before she shook her head. “I don’t think I’m up to something this fancy tonight.”

Sookie refused to step out of the car, which earned her a confused glance from the valet service. “I think I’m just gonna head home. It’s really a long day and -”

“Sookie,” Bill started as he offered his hand to her. “Please let me do this. It’s the least I can do for getting you in trouble last night and today, too.”

“Ma’am?” the valet guy asked her, as though telling her to get out of the car so he could do his job.

Sookie, who was still hesitant, got out of the passenger’s seat while still holding her bag of knives close to her chest.

“I don’t think they’ll let you inside when you’re holding that much lethal weapon,” Bill joked.

Embarrassed, Sookie left her knives in the passenger seat. She shortened the strap of her ratty messenger bag before she slung it on her shoulder.

She ran a hand on her black tank top under her red cardigan all the while thanking her lucky stars that she had decided to wear a pair of skinny jeans that emphasized her rear. Her tattered black converse completed her attire and she knew she either looked like a lost tourist or a bug-eyed redneck. Either way she definitely didn’t feel like she belonged to this place.

Bill put his arm around her back as he gave her a reassuring pinch on her shoulder. But it wasn’t comforting at all because the minute he touched her she felt goose bumps broke across her skin.

To make matters worse, Sookie saw her, the leggy blonde from the interrogation room last night.

And she was walking straight at them, with a sly grin on her face that reminded Sookie a lot of Eric.

“Bill, fancy meeting you here,” Pam greeted Bill dryly, while stealing a malicious glance at Sookie.

“Pam, what are you doing so far away from the dog house? Won’t your master miss you?” Bill replied with an equal dose of sarcasm.

“Oh, now, Billy, we both know you’re the one in the dog house,” Pam snarked. She fixed her scrutinizing gaze at Sookie. “Hello again, Miss Stackhouse.”

Sookie gave her a curt nod as she eyed Pam and Bill warily.

“Don’t tell me Eric’s buying the pyramid, too?” Bill asked, diverting Pam’s attention away from Sookie.

“Don’t you wish you knew,” Pam replied wryly. “Well, I have to go now. Ta, Miss Stackhouse. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other more often.”

Pam flashed Sookie a cryptic smile before she sauntered toward the lobby. “And don’t you worry about Billy, he’s all bark and no bite.”

Bill glared at Pam, while Sookie followed the leggy blonde’s graceful movements as she exited the hotel.

“What’s that about?” Sookie asked after Bill nudged her elbow to keep moving.

“Ignore her. She’s Eric’s right-hand. The one doing all his dirty work for him,” Bill replied as they stopped in front of TENDER steak and seafood bistro. “I hope you’re not a vegetarian because they do a mean Kobe wagyu here.”

Sookie had never been to a restaurant that fancy before and she, not for the last time, felt out of place.


Eric was nursing a glass of scotch while perusing a new batch of contracts on his desk when his secure line rang. He checked the caller ID and grunted when he saw Pam’s name.

There were only two reasons why Pam would call him at this hour. First, to ask him to go down at the casino floor to meet and greet a new whale, or to deal with a tedious business-related problem. Eric despised both.

The sun hadn’t set yet and he just met with her a couple of hours ago. ‘What does she want now?’

After a few more rings he finally picked up. Pam could be very annoying if she wanted to be.

“What?” he growled at the receiver.

“Guess who I just saw at the Luxor,” she asked in a sing-song voice.

Eric had no time to play the guessing game with Pam. He had a lot of work to do and if he were to acquire Fiordillatte by the end of the week he needed to make a few calls to make sure he wasn’t stepping on any toes.

In Vegas, everything, no matter how small or arbitrary, was connected to somebody. Although Eric could easily talk or buy his way out of anything, he didn’t like the attention it might draw from the other bigwigs in town.

“I’m busy, Pam, so unless you’re going to tell me something of importance -”

“Sookie Stackhouse.”

That got his undivided attention.

He put down his drink as he stood up. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what it was that he found so fascinating with that girl.

It could be her spunk. Pam was right. It wasn’t everyday he encountered a girl who wasn’t attracted to him, be it for his good looks, his money or his power – the perfect trifecta.

But somehow that Southern girl was immune to all of them. Or so she seemed.

Eric had thought it might be her tactic – play hard-to-get. She was a good strategist in poker, after all. But when he went to see her earlier, Sookie was anything but happy with his presence.

All he saw were irritation and resentment, and he didn’t think she was faking them. Nobody was that good an actress. He should know since he had dated a lot of them.

However, he didn’t need anyone poking at his unusual interest with her. Especially not Pam, who could use the girl as ammo to tease him.

“So?” Eric replied coolly, trying to silence the loud thumping inside him by the mere mention of her name.

“Oh. I thought you’d be interested to know of her whereabouts,” Pam said, clearly taken aback by his cold demeanor.

When Pam saw Bill and Sookie at the Luxor, she could barely contain her giddiness as she dialed Eric’s number.

“I’m not. What she does in her time is her own business. What you do with my time is my business, and frankly, you’re wasting it,” Eric said sharply. He wanted to get off the phone so he could calmly leave his office and go for a little stroll. He was suddenly in the mood to see a pyramid.

“She’s with Compton,” Pam said curtly. There was a long pause in the line and Pam started to wonder if the line was disconnected.

Eric was livid. The minute he heard the bastard’s name he felt his blood shot up along with his temper. He should have put a bullet between the bastard’s eyes when he had the chance seven years ago. He was thinking of ways to get rid of Bill when he caught himself again.

Why was he so crossed that Bill was out with the girl? Eric came out blank.

Finally, the Viking spoke again. “Way to bury the lead, Pam.”

“I’m sorry. I thought the girl was more important to you than Bill, that’s all.”

“Do you still have people following Compton?” Eric asked.

“No. We pulled them out last year when you said he wasn’t worth the trouble anymore,” Pam replied nervously.

“Bring them back and put another surveillance team on the girl, too.” With that, he hung up the phone.

He drummed his fingers on his desk as he debated whether to crash the party or hang back and wait for the report.

He couldn’t decide so he called for room service. He wanted a blonde. If only he could get the one blonde he was craving for.


“You did no such thing!” Bill gasped while he cast a sidelong glance at Sookie. “You folded a trio of Kings?”

“I did,” Sookie said as she beamed at Bill. “But it’s nothing compared to the full house I gave up so you could run the Asian shark over.”

Bill’s hearty laugh echoed inside the car as he drove Sookie home. “Who would’ve thought an innocent girl like you could play those whales like a pro?”

“I wasn’t really playing them. I only wanted you to stay in the game, because no offense, Bill, but you kinda suck,” she jested.

Sookie, unlike Jason, had inherited her father’s adeptness in card games. Once in a while she would play with the customers at Lafayette’s and she would milk them like cows in the farm. Lafayette didn’t seem to mind because Sookie was drawing customers who were eager to buy drinks to ignore the bleeding of their pockets.

But it was only a hobby for Sookie, never a profession. Easy money was always easy to lose – she had learned that the hard way from her father.

Bill wasn’t the least bit offended as he continued to laugh. “That’s why Eric thought we were conspiring.”

“Aren’t we?” Sookie asked.

It was Bill who invited her to play, in the first place. He also shouldered the three-hundred-dollar buy-in. He was also the one who picked the table for them, stressing that the players at that particular game were fat sharks who wouldn’t mind losing their money. “I mean I thought that was the plan that’s why you took the seat across me so we can send signals or somethin’?”

Bill nodded as he pulled up at the curb in front of Sookie’s mid-rise apartment building.

“Yes, we are. And we make such a good pair, don’t you think?” Bill asked as he unbuckled his seatbelt. Without waiting for Sookie’s response, Bill stepped out of the vehicle and was beside Sookie’s door in a jiffy.

Sookie got out of the car and was standing side by side with Bill, who was looking at her expectantly.

“Would you like to do it again sometime?” Bill inquired hopefully. “Like you said, I’m in dire need of your assistance.”

Sookie smiled shyly as she hugged her knives’ roll to her chest. “I don’t know, Bill. I think I’ve had enough fun with the casinos for a while. Gran will roll over in her grave and tan my hide if she finds out I’m following my father’s footsteps,” she replied. “Plus, I already gave my word to his Excellency that I will never go back to his casino again.”

“Eric doesn’t own all the casinos in Vegas, Sookie. Also, I’m banned in all of them. Rest assured we won’t be doing our Thelma and Louise act under Northman’s nose.”

Bill moved closer as he tried to convince Sookie.

Although he had dropped the Southern drawl when he moved to Sin City, he still had a few Southern tricks up his sleeve that he was sure would work on Sookie. She was from Louisiana, after all. And like all girls from the South, she wasn’t impervious to a gentleman’s allure.

As Bill made his move at Sookie, he didn’t notice the dark gray Land Rover SUV lurking at the shadows two lamp posts away from where he was parked. Bill was oblivious to the man behind the wheel who was shooting daggers at him as he watched Sookie squirm under Bill’s ministrations.

One more step, fucker. Take one more step and I’ll break your nose,’ Eric thought grimly as he observed the couple.

Eric had been waiting for an hour for them outside her building. Her address was among the information Pam had gathered last night.

After he got his release from an up-and-coming model, he went back to his penthouse suite to clear his head.

He could count in one hand all the people allowed inside his top-floor room, because all his other businesses were conducted in his spare room five floors down – including bedding his conquest for the night.

But even after the hot sex, Eric was still on edge. All he could think of while he was fucking the hot blonde model was her.

He turned on his laptop and checked the photos his surveillance team had sent him via streaming. His already foul mood even worsened as he stared at her pictures while she was having dinner with Bill. She looked relaxed and jovial.

He slammed the laptop shut. He had seen enough.



He hadn’t seen her like that firsthand. She was either apathetic or infuriated when it came to him.

The Viking didn’t know where the sudden surge of emotion was coming from, but he didn’t like it one bit. He wouldn’t even let himself think of her name, much less say it out loud.

He refused to give the face a name. Because Eric knew once he started thinking of her as an actual human being rather than just an entity in his vast universe, then that would be admitting that she actually mattered.

Eric clutched the steering wheel tightly as he watched Bill and Sookie’s interaction. Bill was still waiting for her response and Eric couldn’t help the smile that graced his face when he saw her take a small step back as she clutched her bag to her chest.

Classic defensive stance, that’s my girl!’ Eric froze as his thought sank in. ‘My girl?! Fucking hell is happening to me!’

He was pulled out of his musings when he saw Bill took her hand and planted a kiss on it. It took all of Eric’s restraints not to jump out of his car and take a swing at the smarmy bastard.

A minute later, he saw Sookie walk inside the building.

Eric took out his cellphone and pressed number two.

“I can’t wait until the next week to get Fiordillatte. I want it sooner. Make it happen, Pam.”

I want her now!’




Eric didn’t really understand the phrase take your breath away’ until now, because the woman, giggling like a child, wrapped under a man’s outstretched arm certainly stole the breath from his chest.

Sookie was at Fiordillate early the next day. She even helped Selah and Terry unload the fresh produce from the delivery truck. She had given herself a pep talk last night before she went to bed that she wouldn’t squander this opportunity by messing around. She would prove to Tara that she was professional and that she was here to work and learn.

Sookie was busy helping Selah prep for the lunch service when she heard Tara and JV arguing in the office. Sookie wasn’t sure what time the owners got in because she was at the farthest corner of the kitchen with Terry, one of the line cooks in-charge of the fish dishes. Terry was teaching her how to clean and fillet a salmon when Tara burst out the door. Terry and Selah exchanged quizzical glances when JV stepped out of the kitchen into the dining hall.

“Not our business,” Terry murmured to Selah, who was craning her neck toward the back door to keep a lookout for Tara.

Terry was sweet and mild-mannered. He was also from the South, New Orleans to be exact. Polite and hardworking. He was buddies with JV since they were in high school and that was how he landed the job in Fiordillate. Terry was among the first ones to give Sookie a warm welcome.

Head down, food warm,’ Sookie kept repeating to herself. She would do everything by the book today. No one would put a damper on her pleasant mood. Not even a first-rate ass like Eric Northman.

Tara went back in the kitchen and talked to Selah. From the corner of her eye Sookie could see Selah bobbing her head in assent before she saw Tara heading in their direction.

“Sookie, would you mind staying until the dinner service? JV and I are meeting a few people later and Selah could use an extra set of hands,” Tara asked evenly.

“Sure will,” Sookie replied enthusiastically. This day was already looking hunky dory for her. ‘Hello, overtime pay!’

Tara gave her a soft pat in the back to thank her before the head chef clapped her hands twice to get the lunch shift in full swing.

The hours passed by quickly for Sookie, who was on her feet for eight hours before she had the chance to take her break at four o clock to rest between shifts. She went inside the employees’ quarters and rinsed her face at the sink beside the lockers.

She sat at the small couch against the wall to rest her feet. She raised her feet on the plastic stool beside the couch and started punching her legs to loosen her stiff muscles. Then Selah came in and sat beside her.

“Fridays always make me wanna kill myself. People don’t wanna cook at home anymore because they’re so tired from the weekday and too excited for the weekend,” Selah commented with a groan. “And this is the day Tara decided to head out.”

Sookie kept mum. She didn’t want to make any comments that could get her in trouble later. She was the new kid on the block and she was not supposed to have any opinion about the boss.

It was different for Selah, though. Although Selah was only four years older than her, Selah was a more accomplished cook – maybe even more competent than Tara herself. Selah was classically trained at Le Cordon Bleu in New York, so in a way she had earned her right to bitch especially when she was the one shouldering the heavy load in the absence of the head chef.

Head down, food warm.’

“Did Tara tell you?” Selah kept on. “JV was thinking of selling the restaurant. They were out to meet with the buyers now.”

Well, shit.

“What will happen to us if they decide to sell?” Sookie asked warily. It was dumb luck she was at Fiordillatte.

What would happen to her if the new owners decided to lay off the workers? Selah had job security because of her impressive resume, and the other staff had been in the restaurant business far longer than Sookie. She could only imagine going back to Bon Temps empty-handed, more desperate than before.

“Tara doesn’t want to. That’s what they were fighting about. But Tara said the offer is very tempting. And the prospective buyer wants to seal the deal before the week ends,” Selah explained. “Probably some nouveau-riche who wants something to her name so she can rub elbows with Vegas royalty.”

Sookie contemplated the idea. She didn’t care if the purchaser had a severe case of impulse-buying. The only thing that mattered to Sookie was keeping her job.

So when Tara asked Sookie the next day to sign a two-year contract with Fiordillatte, she couldn’t ask for a pen fast enough.

After the end of the Saturday lunch shift, Tara and JV called for a meeting. They told the whole staff of the big changes that would take place at Fiordillatte in the next couple of days, starting with the employers. That earned a collective gasp from the wait staff because, thanks to Selah, almost everyone in the kitchen knew about the sale.

Tara and JV thanked everyone for six years of loyal service. Some cried as they gave Tara and JV farewell hugs. But Selah was another story. The brunette sous chef could barely contain her excitement. Apparently, the new owners were very agreeable to Tara’s conditions to retain the staff.

Tara and JV were both ecstatic when they announced that they would be taking an indefinite holiday in Italy.

Tara had always wanted to go back to Europe, the place that kindled her love for food, but never really had enough money to just lay back and relax. But with the deal they got for Fiordillatte, they could finally afford to pamper themselves, with a lot to spare to start another business when they came back.

Selah would be taking the post vacated by Tara while the new owner had free reign to delegate the tasks among the rest of the staff, with the caveat that the new employer would honor the workers’ contracts signed prior to the sale.

Upon hearing the condition, Sookie checked the date in the copy of the contract she signed and heaved a sigh of relief when she saw it was dated on the day she started working. Sookie realized that her neurotic boss did her a huge favour. Sookie suddenly felt the urge to hug her soon-to-be former employer.

Tara also told them that although the contract was yet to be formalized on Monday when office resumed, the new owners would be starting with the minor tweaking in the restaurant for the next couple of days, which meant the rest of them could enjoy a long weekend before the welcome dinner on Wednesday.

Tara tasked Selah to plan a menu for the re-opening dinner, so she could start impressing the new owners.

Before Sookie left that afternoon, Tara called her in her office. “Sit down, Sookie.”

Sookie was not sure what to expect, Tara didn’t ask the other employees for some one-on-one time. She didn’t realize she was fidgeting in her seat until Tara gave her a sharp look.

“I signed a non-disclosure contract so I can’t divulge who the buyer is until the big reveal on Wednesday. I can advise you, however, to read your contract thoroughly. It’s the same with the others. The owners cannot terminate your services without a solid ground, keep that in mind.”

Sookie was taken aback by the seriousness in Tara’s voice. She suddenly had an ominous feeling toward the new owners. Tara sensed Sookie’s anxiety and immediately relaxed her stance. Tara leaned back on her chair and started shuffling through a stack of papers on the table.

“Don’t worry about it. As long as you keep your head down and do your job properly you’ll be alright,” Tara said before she dismissed Sookie for the day.


“It’s done,” Pam said through the other line. She waited until noon to call Eric because she knew he had a late night the previous night.

She hadn’t seen him since Thursday afternoon when he asked her to purchase Fiordillatte. And she hadn’t spoken to him since he called her up that night and ordered her to expedite the transaction with the Italian bistro.

“Very well,” he answered in a croaky voice. He was already up for a couple of hours but he felt lethargic that he decided to stay in bed. “When will the renovation start? I want it done as soon as possible. I will not have that shithole become a money pit.”

“I’ve already arranged for the contractors to start the make-over after the restaurant closes tonight. The former owners requested that we hire their contractors, which were cheaper than what we usually pay so I said it okay. It’s okay, right?” Pam asked. Eric didn’t like to by-passed especially when it came to company decisions. But since the restaurant wasn’t a major deal, she didn’t think he would care.

“I don’t care. As long as they finish the renovation before the opening, then it’s fine by me,” Eric replied.

“It’ll be ready on Wednesday for the re-opening party. Shall I start sending out invitations?”

“Yes. I want a grand opening. I have faith in your impeccable taste. Make it look classy. And add a piano bar, too,” Eric instructed.

“Will I see you tonight?” Pam asked cautiously.

“I’ll meet you later. Let’s have dinner at the Venetian make the reservations at AquaKnox at eight. I want to see the designs you picked. That’ll be all, Pam.” Eric didn’t wait for her reply as he disconnected the line. Pam was used to his telephone manners – or the lack thereof – so she wasn’t put out with his rude demeanor.

Eric jumped off the bed and drew the curtains to let the light through in his suite. The night he waited for her outside her apartment, he was so enraged that he went straight to the exclusive burlesque club downtown to distract himself.

After half an hour of mindless show, not to mention the constant gawking of the women in the club, he decided the place wasn’t worth his time. He drove back to The North and went to the casino and then later at the bar. But nothing and no one seemed to hold his attention for more than a few minutes.

He called for another room service and asked for a red-head or a brunette. Anything but blonde. The foxy red-head he slept with was downright magnificent but he couldn’t get to find his release with her.

He tried a stunning brunette but nothing could stop his mind from wandering back to a certain blonde. Three billion women in the world and he couldn’t take his mind off the one person who hadn’t said a single nice thing to him since they met.

Even her seemingly permanent scowl or her apathetic eyes were more endearing compared to the dazzling women who were throwing themselves at him.

Two hours later, he went back to his suite, sorely disappointed.

He downed his frustrations with a bottle of whiskey, which he regretted instantly when he woke up the next day with a massive hangover.

Eric didn’t get out of his room until it was completely dark. He managed to avoid Pam as he made his usual route in the security area and casino floor. He told Sam to tell Pam not to disturb him for the rest of the night because he would be going to his other two hotels.

That was a lie. He got out of the security floor and stealthily went upstairs using the service elevator that he knew Sam wouldn’t be monitoring closely. He went back to his suite and chugged down half a bottle of scotch.

When he woke up with yet another killer migraine, he took a couple of aspirin and downed a bottle of Gatorade then came back to bed, fully intent on staying in until the sun went down.

But after Pam’s very pleasing news, Eric felt invigorated.

He stretched out his long limbs before he hopped into the shower. He dialed room service and, for the first time in two days, he ordered a real meal.


“Jason!” Sookie squealed as she opened the door to her tiny apartment and saw her brother staring right at her, grinning like a loon. “Holy shit! You scared me half to death!”

Jason pulled her in and caged her in his arms. “I missed you, Sook!”

“H-How? How are you here? Where did you get the money to buy the ticket?” Sookie said as she drew back from him to check if he were real. She still couldn’t believe her brother was in Las Vegas with her. “Tell me you didn’t sell the house or spent all your money just to check up on me! ‘Coz if you do I swear, I’m gonna lose it. You know we can’t afford -”

“Chill, Sook! Damn!” Jason cut her off, cradling her face with his hands. “Before you go batshit on me, hear me out first, ‘kay?”

Sookie bobbed her head.

“I’m here with Alcide. JV, your boss, called him up and asked him to handle the renovations for that restaurant you’re working at. And guess who’s the lucky guy he brought with him?” Jason asked with his two thumbs pointing at his chest, his eyes twinkling with excitement.

Sookie let out a sigh of relief as she stared at her brother. “Oh, shit! That’s awesome, Jase!”

“Ya, it is!” Jason agreed as he waltzed into the living room and slumped onto the small couch in front of the television. “Sweet crib you’ve got here, Sook!”

Sookie locked the door behind her and followed him. She squeezed herself beside him and propped her legs on top of the coffee table that went with the sofa.

“Where’s Alcide?” Sookie asked as she massaged her legs through her jeans. “And how did you get in here? Don’t tell me you’ve rigged the locks. The landlord will kill me!”

“I didn’t! Will you please relax? Bill gave me your address and the landlady let me in after I showed her my ID.”

Sookie shook her head in derision. Her brother’s charm with women was truly legendary. Jason was attractive with his short, tousled blonde hair that was the same shade as hers, brown eyes and athletic physique, which he developed from playing quarterback in high school and lifting cement bags at work.

Jason knew his asset was his toned upper body and he was not ashamed to flaunt it by wearing body-hugging shirts and singlets – like the one he was wearing now.

Sookie recalled all the times she would groan in disgust when a woman fell for Jason’s tedious antics and pick-up lines. “If only you could use your charms to pay off our debt.”

“Maybe I still can. It seems my devilish good looks also work with the ladies here. Maybe I can sideline in the Boulevard. If you know what I mean.” He waggled his eyebrows at her mischievously. Sookie slapped him hard on the shoulders.

Her brother’s arrogance reminded her so much of Eric Northman and she didn’t like it.

“Ow! What’s that for?” Jason cried as he rubbed his shoulder blade, where Sookie’s palm left a red mark.

“For being such a smug SOB,” Sookie snapped. “So, are you gonna tell me where Alcide is?”

Alcide Herveaux was the son of the owner of Herveaux Contracts, where Jason and her father worked. He and Jason were really close since they both shared a passion for football, monster trucks and lager.

Unlike Jason, Alcide wasn’t a ladies’ man although he wasn’t hard on the eyes with his russet skin, thick jet-black hair and green eyes. His ripped muscles that would put Jason’s pecs to shame didn’t hurt either.

But Alcide’s good heart was his most appealing asset to Sookie. He would always drop by the Stackhouse farmhouse to check on Sookie every now and then, especially after her Gran died.

Alcide would hang out at the farmhouse, bringing meat and corn to barbecue. Sookie wasn’t sure but she thought it was Alcide’s way of helping them out without making it look like charity. Alcide knew Sookie was too proud to accept hand-outs.

Sookie wouldn’t admit it to anybody but she always had a crush on the scruffy guy. But Sookie wasn’t about to flirt with Alcide. She was too busy trying to live her life as normally as she could to bother herself with trivial things such as infatuation, or worse, love.

While some girls her age would go to movies and dates, Sookie would be peeling garlic cloves by the bucket to earn extra cash from Lafayette. While other teenagers would whine to their parents for not having the trendiest clothes, Sookie would argue with her Gran and Jason when they practically dragged Sookie to the surplus shop in Shreveport when her clothes got too ratty to wear outside.

And while girls her age cry over a broken heart, Sookie would shed tears for her father, her Gran and all the people she loved and left.

She could feel her throat closing up again as she tried to keep her tears at bay when Jason’s voice snapped her back to the present.

“He’s meeting with JV and the new top dog. They want the renovation to start tonight when they close up at midnight. I think we’ll be pulling an all-nighter. Alcide brought four more guys with him so we can work in shifts. He gave me tomorrow morning’s shift so I can spend some time with you first since we’ll only be here for less than a week.”

“I wonder why the new owners didn’t just hire a local contractor? Not that I’m complaining,” she added immediately when Jason gave her a look of protest. “It just sounds impractical, is all.”

“I think we have JV to thank for that. I heard it was Alcide’s dad who built that restaurant so JV requested if the same contractors could do the renovation since the Herveaux’s had the original blueprint. Plus them Vegas builders’ cost an arm and a leg. Alcide’s the much cheaper choice.”

JV and Tara had really helped Sookie in ways they could not imagine and she promised to say an extra prayer for them to have a safe trip to Europe.

“Hey Jase, do you wanna go and see the Strip?” Sookie asked her brother.

The blessings she had received that day put her in a merry mood. She still had her winnings from the poker game she played at The North and she had already paid Bill the three hundred dollars buy-in he shelled out for her.

That left her with five hundred dollars more. Sookie smirked as she thought of that night. She really did a number on those sharks, and if it weren’t for Eric Northman’s meddling, she would have cleaned them out easy.

“Let’s go out and have a nice dinner. My treat. What do you say?” she asked Jason again who thought she was only joking.

Jason didn’t even take his eyes off the television screen as he browsed through the local channels – because Sookie didn’t have cable. “Stop kidding with me, Sook. I know you don’t have the money. At least not yet.”

“I’m freakin’ serious you twerp! I’ve got money, see,” she took out her wallet and showed him the bills tucked neatly inside.

“Bumblefuck! What did you do?! Where did you get that much money?” Jason’s eyes widened at the sight of a few hundred dollar bills. Sookie snorted at Jason’s reaction. ‘Man, we really are as poor as dirt.’

“The less you know, the better,” her voice dropped low, almost conspiratorial. But the roguish glint in her eyes gave her away. Jason seized her in a headlock as he ruffled her hair. Sookie struggled against his grip as she tried to punch him on the chest.

While she was fighting her brother off, Sookie couldn’t help the laughter that escaped her lips. Probably the single most genuine laugh she had since she came to Vegas.

That moment transported Sookie back to the happier days – the days when they were still oblivious to the real world that had done nothing but kicked them in the gut.

When she and Jason would fight over silly things like the TV remote or the last slice of their Gran’s pecan pie – Sookie wished for those days back.


“Just like old times, eh Sook?” Jason teased her as they watched the fountain show outside the Bellagio.

Sookie let out a hearty laugh. “Yep. The only difference is the cows here are fatter and better dressed.”

As they had dinner at McDonald’s at the Strip, Sookie rehashed the eventful evening she had with Bill when they hustled the poker tables at The North. She omitted the part where Eric Northman decided to haul them in and interrogate her. Jason would only worry about her and he might use the older brother card and drag her back to Bon Temps.

“You think its beginner’s luck?” he asked in a challenging tone. Sookie knew that tone too well. That was the same tone he used when he would dare her to do something stupid and would get them into trouble with their Gran.

“You know it’s not,” she retorted. She was in a merry mood that she might call his bluff if he pushed hard enough.

“Prove it,” Jason dared.

“Challenge accepted.”

They sealed their wager with a hand shake.

And that was how they ended up at the Venetian.

Sookie and Jason had never been to the Venetian and the two siblings’ eyes widened in awe as they gazed at the indoor streetscape complete with gondolas and singing gondoliers which were part of the Venice-themed ambience of the hotel.

They cursed their bad luck that they didn’t own a camera so they could brag back home that they had been to Italy. Although they doubted anyone would believe them, it was still worth a try. Hoyt, the sweet but gullible Fortenberry, might even fall for it.

Sookie decided to treat her and Jason to a little luxury as they rode a gondola for 64 bucks. And the best part was it came with a souvenir photo!

The Stackhouse siblings were so immersed with the grandiose surrounding that they didn’t notice the pair of eyes watching them with bewilderment.


Eric arrived at The Venetian an hour early so he decided to take a leisurely stroll around the second floor at the Grand Canal replica. He remembered when his father brought him there for the unveiling of the famed resort and casino. The Italian-themed hotel didn’t impress Eric having seen the real Venice numerous times since he was a little boy.

Fourteen years later and he still wasn’t impressed.

He cringed involuntarily when he heard the booming voice of a gondolier as he belted out a traditional barcarole. It was all too pretentious for Eric. He paused at the middle of the small bridge to take a look at the pitiful passengers who were fooled, yet again, by the allure of the gondoliers.

Eric didn’t really understand the phrase ‘take your breath away’ until now, because the woman, giggling like a child, wrapped under a man’s outstretched arm certainly stole the breath from his chest.

The gondola she was riding had passed his bridge and was now making a U-turn.

She would see him!

He squatted down so he could hide behind the stone railing of the bridge. But because he was so tall the top of his head was still popping out. He cursed under his breath. If anyone he knew could see how pathetic he looked, he would be the laughing stock in Vegas. He carefully slipped his mobile phone out of his pocket and dropped it on the floor. He pretended to fetch it as he stood up slowly and trained his face to look bored.

He saw a few tourists, mostly young females, following his movements. He clenched his jaw as he started walking toward the direction of the boat.

Eric was so stunned to see her that he barely acknowledged her companion.

Eric’s eyes narrowed when he took in her company. That guy was too cozy with her for his own good. Eric’s steps quickened when he saw her alighting the gondola. Her friend, the man with the goofy look on his face, slung his arm over her shoulder and Eric had never wanted to strangle a man so badly in his life.

He kept following her – them – from a safe distance. He wouldn’t want her thinking he was stalking her because he wasn’t.

He wasn’t, was he?

He pinched his eyes shut to get the erratic thought from his head. ‘I’m not stalking her,’ he repeated to himself.

They went straight to the gondola booth to claim their picture. Eric watched with growing envy as she tried to grab the photograph from the prick who was dangling it over her head like a wuss.

Eric imagined the look on her face if he were to go over there and yank the picture from the prick to hand to her. Would she be grateful? Happy? Or cordial, at least?

He was jolted out of his musings when he felt his cellphone vibrate inside his pocket. ‘Pam.’

He was supposed to meet her half an hour ago! He tucked himself beside the wall of one of the shops at the Grand Canal so he wouldn’t be visible to her.


“Where are you? You didn’t forget we’re supposed to meet at AquaKnox at eight, right?” Pam sounded irritated but she kept her voice leveled.

“Rain check,” Eric replied. “I’ll be at The North before midnight. We’ll talk then. Put your dinner on my tab. See you later.” Then, as usual, he disconnected the line before Pam could blurt out a protest.

Eric went back to check on her. He was starting to panic when he couldn’t see her from the booth. He was about to call the people who were assigned to follow her when he saw a glimpse of her lustrous blonde hair at the escalator that was going down.

It’s official. I’m now a stalker. Fuck!’




The last thought on her mind as Jason pulled her out of the room to claim their money was: Eric Northman let her win.

Eric was treated like royalty the minute he entered the casino. People treated him with deference.

Rasul, the floor manager at the Venetian, nervously greeted him as he sauntered inside the executive lounge that had the perfect view of the poker tables.

He saw her go straight to the poker area so he circled the floor and took the short escalator that led to the mezzanine overlooking the poker tables.

“Mr. Northman, no one alerted me that you’d be joining us tonight. I would have set up your private table,” Rasul said, his voice shaking with trepidation.

Eric unbuttoned his blazer as he sat casually on the high-back chair and crossed his legs. “It’s a spur of the moment thing, Rasul, don’t worry about it.”

Rasul, who was already sweating bullets despite the low temperature in the gaming area, visibly relaxed as he called in a barmaid to take Eric’s drink order.

“The usual,” was Eric’s curt reply when asked for his drink of choice.

“Double scotch, neat,” said Rasul to the hostess to make sure she didn’t give Eric the wrong order. It had happened once, two years ago, Eric was unwinding at the lounge when the hostess handed him whiskey instead of scotch.

Eric never said a word. He only stood up and walked away. The next day, the barmaid was fired and Rasul was slapped with a two-week suspension.

Eric never got his order wrong since then.

“If there’s anything else you need Mr. Northman -”

“Actually, there is,” Eric interjected. Rasul bent down instantly as he waited for Eric’s commands. “I’d like to speak with the pit boss at the poker section in half an hour.”

“Certainly, Mr. Northman. He’ll be with you in 30 minutes.”

“That’ll be all.”


Sookie was on a roll.

She was the master of the game. No one could tell her hand. She would bet moderately at some point as she waited for the whales to take the bait and other times she would go all-in even before the flop or the community cards were drawn.

When she took the seat at the no-limit table, she could feel the hunger vibrating off the high rollers as they eyed her like a minnow in the pool of sharks.

But after her third big win, they started to look at her differently. They were quick to come to the conclusion that they were being played – and not in a funny ha-ha way.

While Sookie held her composure with ease, Jason was a nervous wreck. He couldn’t stand behind her because the casino did not allow lurkers around the table. So he could only observe her from his seat at the players’ lounge.

All Jason could see was Sookie dragging – or in poker terms, shipping – the chips by the bulk. He was on his third beer and was getting more fidgety by the minute.

Sookie had been playing for more than an hour and Jason watched in glee as players after players stood from the table empty handed.

Sookie glanced at her brother’s direction as she beckoned him to her side. She was ready to call it a night and she wanted him to cash in the chips. Sookie bid the remaining players adieu and she sniggered when they responded with a collective grunt.

‘Hit and run’ was the term they were looking for to describe her, she thought.

She was slinging her bag over her shoulder when the pit boss approached her. “Good evening, Miss. Must be your lucky night.”

It took all of Sookie’s control not to roll her eyes at him. She knew what he wanted. He was asking for a tip. She was used to people asking for a little share of her winnings when she played with the locals in Bon Temps.

Vegas, apparently, was no different. Here was a man, who was better dressed than her, asking for a sliver of her ‘lucky night.’

She wanted so much to just ignore him and walk away but her Gran taught her to be at her best behavior at all times. So she flashed him a sickly sweet smile before she started sidestepping him.

“If you permit it, I’d like to invite you to a private game at the Paiza. It’s our exclusive club. Very high end and by invitation only. Your company is welcome to join you as well,” the pit boss asked politely.

Well, that was unexpected,’ Sookie mused.

She and Jason exchanged a wary glance before she responded.

“Um … It’s kinda late and I don’t think my pocket is deep enough for that kind of game,” she declined sweetly.

“Between you and me, ma’am, the player inviting you is a donkey. If I’m allowed to bet, my money’s on you,” the pit boss said furtively.

Jason, who was listening in on the conversation, raised one finger to the pit boss while he mouthed, “one minute.”

He pulled Sookie aside and started speaking in a hushed tone. “This could be it, Sook. What do you say? One time, Matilda!” That was the expression their father commonly used when he wanted something so badly.

According to Corbett, when you ask Matilda hard enough, she would grant it, at least once. Sookie and Jason had no idea who Matilda was, but it was catchy enough that they began using the phrase as well.

“You’re on fire, Sook! Those chumps don’t stand a snow ball’s chance in hell against you. I can feel it, seriously! And aren’t you at least a bit curious what a Paiza looks like?”

Actually, she was interested to see where the big guns lose all their money.

“Alright! One time, Matilda!” she finally conceded.

She glanced at the tray of chips in Jason’s hands and felt a surge of pride. She won at least a few thousand bucks, with a three-hundred-dollar capital to buy-in.

The Paiza was located at the high-stakes gaming area, which was isolated from the main gaming floor. Sookie and Jason were ushered in an opulent room, where a blank-faced female dealer and a beautiful, elegantly dressed hostess were waiting.

Jason whistled in delight as he basked in the luxurious surrounding. “Now this is a poker room!”

The hostess handed Sookie and Jason champagne flutes upon their arrival and asked them to take their seat while they wait for her opponent.

The room was lavish. It had velvet-lined walls adorned with two large paintings of what Sookie could assume was the real Venice Grand Canal. The table was top-of-the line and as Sookie ran her hand over it, she almost sighed at how soft the deerskin leather felt under her touch.

She and Jason sat at the high bar stools set against the wall. It was designed for the non-playing guests who wanted to watch the game.

She wondered who the other player would be. She had the impression it would be a one-on-one game from what the pit boss had told her. Her skin was tingling with anticipation when the room swung open, revealing the supposed donkey she was going to mop the floor with.

Oh, shit.’


Eric took a few deep breaths before he waltzed in the door, keeping his face stoic, unaffected.

But it was damn hard.

There were four people in the room, gaping at him as he entered but he only had eyes for her. Eric couldn’t help the satisfied smirk that graced his face when he saw her part her lips as though the wind was knocked out of her.

“You have got to be kiddin’ me,” she murmured incredulously, her eyes trained on the newcomer.

Sookie hopped off her stool, her face flushed with contempt. “Don’t tell me you own this place, too?”

Three set of eyes looked back and forth at Sookie and Eric.

“You know this guy, Sook?” Jason asked as he stood beside her.

“Unfortunately,” Sookie grumbled, never taking her eyes off Eric.

Eric swaggered toward Sookie and Jason. There was something riveting about Eric Northman, even Sookie had to admit that. He could overwhelm a room full of people with a single stare. And the worst part of it was he was doing it without exerting any effort.

“I do not own this place, Miss Stackhouse. Otherwise, I won’t be able to play. Conflict of interest,” Eric muttered coolly as he reached her. He turned his gaze to the dumbfounded Jason. “I see you have company.” Eric gave Jason a once-over.

“Eric Northman.” He offered Jason his hand to the older Stackhouse and the latter took it and gave it a firm shake.

“Jason Stackhouse,” Jason said, trying to make his voice sound as authoritative as Eric’s, but failed miserably.

Eric’s face instantly brightened. ‘He’s the brother! How could I have missed it?!’

Eric returned his attention to Sookie, who was clearly discomfited by his presence.

“Shall we, Miss Stackhouse?” Eric asked.

“If this is some kind of sick power play, Mr. Northman, you can count me out. I’m not that desperate,” Sookie snarled. “I’ll tell you to shove your pity cash where the sun don’t shine but I think it’s already there.”

“Did you say pity or petty?” Eric asked with a hint of levity.

Sookie raised her brow at him. “Is there a difference with you?”

Eric smiled. There was the spunk that had caught his attention.

“Surely there’s something else we can wager on,” Eric said. “From my experience, Miss Stackhouse, everybody needs something from me.”

Sookie had never met someone so full of himself in all her twenty three years. And that was saying something considering her brother was Bon Temps’ resident narcissist.

“Get over yourself, Mr. Northman. There’s not enough money in the world that can give me what I want.”

The dealer and the hostess were getting uneasy. They knew who Eric Northman was. Everyone in Vegas did.

No one could talk back to the Viking that way and lived to tell about it.

They looked nervously at each other, both thinking the same thing: Sookie must have had a death wish.

“Are you sure about that? Why don’t you take a minute and think again,” Eric said.

Sookie huffed in exasperation before she took Jason by his wrist and marched toward the door. Eric’s shoulder sagged as he watched her leave.

Then just as he was about to admit defeat, Sookie twirled around and faced him. “You know, on second thought. I do want something from you.”

Eric smiled and stared at her expectantly. “Do tell.”

“Your absence,” she spat, “Can you make yourself disappear? So I won’t have to see you ever again?” Sookie congratulated herself for coming up with some snarky parting line.

However, Eric’s response pulled her out of her triumphant mood.

“You’ve got a deal,” Eric replied. “If I lose, I’ll make myself scarce. I’m sure this town is big enough for the two of us. I’ll even double your chips as an added bonus.”

Jason’s jaw dropped at the prospect of doubling their winnings as he looked at his sister beseechingly.

Sookie let go Jason’s wrist as she eyed Eric suspiciously. “What if I lose?”

“Have dinner with me,” he answered without missing a beat.

Well, I’ll be damned,’ Sookie thought in surprise. “Why?”

“Why not?” Eric replied with a wily grin.

“Am not gonna sleep with you,” Sookie blurted out.

Eric, who was sipping champagne, almost choked on his drink at her blunt words.

“Aren’t you a bit cocky, Miss Stackhouse?” Eric asked condescendingly. “Do I look like someone who would go out of his way for a fuck?”

“Then what is it exactly that you want from me?” Sookie asked. She could feel her face flushing. She only hoped Eric would think it was from anger and not from embarrassment.

“Answers. I still don’t know what your affiliation with Compton is,” Eric replied. He didn’t like the taste of Bill’s name in his mouth. He didn’t know how long he could keep pretending that his growing interest with her was based solely on her connection with Compton. He wasn’t even sure it ever was.

Eric never took his eyes off Sookie as she turned thoughtful.

“And don’t worry, Miss Stackhouse, I won’t rake in your winnings. Like you said it’s just petty cash for me,” Eric added.

“No. If we’re gonna do this, I wanna be treated as an equal. My money is as green as yours, Mr. Northman. If I lose, you can have these.” Sookie took the tray from Jason and laid it in the middle of the table.

Jason started to argue with Sookie. But his protests died on his lips when his sibling glared at him.

Eric smiled lazily before he nodded at the croupier. “Deal it.”

“Hold on a minute, how are we gonna do this? I can’t play cash game with you. I only have these,” Sookie tilted her head toward her tray of chips on the table.

Eric took another sip of his drink before he replied. “We’ll have a thousand-dollar buy-in. No re-buy. First to lose all their chips, wins. Does that sound fair to you?”

Jason was like a blur as he grabbed the tray off the table and took out ten black chips, exactly a thousand dollars worth. He handed the chips to Sookie before he moved back toward the cocktail table behind her. He’d be a fool to let his sister’s pride squander that much cash.

Eric snorted subtly as he watched her brother protect her winnings like hound. Sookie gave Jason an irritated look before she took the third seat from the dealer’s left side. The dealer’s button – a favorite among the professional players.

But the Viking didn’t care about the position with the most advantage. He wanted the spot where he would have the best view in the house as he sat at the dealer’s immediate right, which was angled perfectly across her.


Jason gave Sookie a soft pat on her shoulder for good luck as he perched himself on the bar stool by the cocktail table, where he could observe the game.

He had complete faith in Sookie.

She wasn’t only adept in reading her opponent’s cards, she was also a walking lie detector. He couldn’t get anything past her. Sometimes he felt like she was inside his head, reading his thoughts.

Sookie was skilled in deciphering a person’s tell. Everyone has a tell, she would always say. Even their father was no match to Sookie’s sharp eyes.

The dealer shuffled the deck twice before the hostess cut it. Then she handed Eric and Sookie two cards each.

Jason slanted sideways to peek at Sookie’s cards. He almost jumped off his seat when he saw an Ace of Hearts and King of Diamonds. ‘Jackpot!’

Jason looked away immediately as he waved at the hostess for a refill.

Dog burn it! Don’t smile! Don’t you fuckin’ smile, Stackhouse! Flirt with the waitress, pronto! Before tall and blondie looks at you,’ Jason instructed himself before he flashed the approaching hostess a Cheshire grin.

Sookie was the first to call so she went in and called for a pre-flop raise. She didn’t want this match to drag on and the sooner she could wipe out Eric Northman’s chips the better.

Eric peeked at his cards before he looked at Sookie. Her face was blank, as expected. Her brother, however, was laughable. Eric stopped himself from shaking his head in derision as he watched Jason try hard to flirt with the waitress in his futile effort to avert his eyes from the table. He was trying too hard, Eric thought.

This is too easy,’ Eric mused before he folded his cards.

Sookie was disappointed but she would be damned if she let Eric Northman notice it. Instead, she focused her attention to reading the smug bastard.

Eric Northman, Sookie realized, had an impeccable poker face.

His features were schooled to look indifferent.

He was good. But not perfect.

With a little more effort, Sookie started picking up his tell.

A few more hands were dealt but Eric and Sookie were playing it tight, refusing to play the pot with a bad set of cards. The room was silent, no one, not even Jason, dared to interrupt the unnerving silence that blanketed the room.

Eric fought his instinct to interrogate her brother. There would be enough time for that when he claimed his prize.

Sookie was also mum as she concentrated on her strategy while avoiding Eric’s intense gaze.

Sookie won twice but they were small pots because Eric wasn’t calling her bluff.

Eric also bagged a pot once, but like Sookie, it didn’t even make a dent on her stack.

Then it came: the killer hand.

The croupier dealt the cards. Sookie peered at hers and bit her inner cheek to keep from grinning.

Jason tilted his head to look at his sister’s cards. He almost dropped the Cuban cigar he was twirling in his fingers like a small baton.

Sookie’s cards were a pair of Aces, Clubs and Hearts. ‘Pocket Aces! Score! C’mon Sook, this is it! Go for the kill!’

One look at Jason’s face and Eric knew Sookie had the pair. He waited for her move, ready to fold if she went all-in.

But Sookie didn’t go all-in. She never even called for a raise.

Okay, I’ll bite,’ Eric thought in amusement.

Eric called and raised double. Sookie took a few seconds to call.

Then the Flop came: Ten of Spades, Ace of Diamonds, Jack of Spades.

Sookie now had three aces. Jason could no longer contain his excitement as he took the seat beside his sister. Sookie tried hard not to glare at her sibling. She knew Jason meant well but his actions were giving her hand away.

“What are you doin’ with that?” Sookie asked looking pointedly at the cigar Jason was playing with. She was trying to divert Eric’s attention away from her.

“It’s Cuban, Sook. This sweet lady told me it’s very pricey and they’re just giving ’em away here like freakin’ candies.”

“So? Are you gonna be a smoker now?” Sookie asked again, irritation evident in her voice.

“‘Course not! I’m givin’ it to old man Jackson. For lettin’ Alcide bring me, y’know?” Jason flashed her a sheepish smile.

Sookie seemed relieved but still didn’t think it was a good idea to bring Mr. Jackson something that could ruin his lungs.

Eric cleared his throat to pull Sookie’s attention back to the game – and to him.

Sookie tapped on the table to check.

Eric knew she was trying to distract him from reading her brother’s moves. Eric called and raised again all the while watching Jason’s reaction.

Jason looked away from the table and smiled at the hostess.

This is fucking pathetic,’ Eric thought.

Sookie called Eric’s action. Then the Turn card was laid. It was a Jack of Hearts.

Full house!’ Sookie cheered internally. Aces over Jacks.

Before Jason could react, Sookie called for a raise.

Eric studied her closely. He squeezed his cards and stared at the four cards on the table. ‘What do you have, Miss Stackhouse?’

Eric checked his stack of chips. Half of his stack was already in the pot. If he called her raise, then it would be impossible to go back. He would not have enough chips to cover the ante anymore in the next game.

The Viking weighed in his odds. He recalled something his father would always tell him, ‘When the odds doesn’t seem to be in your favor, go with your gut. Ninety percent of the time, its right.’

And Eric’s first instinct was always dead on.

Eric called her raise and waited for the River card. Queen of Spades.

Jason stood up from the chair to grab his champagne flute from the cocktail table. He was too jumpy to stay still. Sookie looked apprehensive there were so many ways she could still lose. Jason clamped his hands on her shoulders and pinched them softly as a form of reassurance.

The hostess went to Eric’s side to refill his glass, before she circled the table and filled Jason’s glass as well.

After a few minutes of deliberation, Sookie went all-in.

Eric watched her wet her lips and tuck a stray hair behind her ears. She was looking down at her cards, and her face became pensive but softer at the same time. She gave off a kind of look that would make you want to give her anything she desired.

Then his gaze landed on her eyes and he noticed her lashes, they were so thick and long. And they complimented her eyes perfectly.

She darted her tongue out to moisten her lips again and Eric started to wonder if those lips were really as soft as they appeared. He was so busy watching her that when she suddenly looked up at him he almost jumped up. Startled, as though he was caught snooping at someone else’s drawers.

He ran his fingers through his hair before he started rolling a chip on his knuckles.

Sookie raised her eyebrow at him, perplexed by his unusual reaction.

Eric’s eyes flickered back to her, and he could swear he saw her smile.

That might be the closest thing to elated he would ever see her. And he knew he wouldn’t trade it for the world.

He looked down at the blue and red chips on his right. It was all or nothing. No more second chances.

If she won, the game was over. She would win and he would be forced to keep his distance from her.

The game would be over even before it started.

Eric leaned back on his chair and uncrossed his legs.

There was a glint on her eyes that he hadn’t seen before. She looked excited. She wanted to keep her cold mask on but Eric was keen enough to catch the ghost of a smile on her face.

A few more minutes dragged by without Eric making any move. Finally the dealer, voice unsteady and reluctant, spoke up. “Mr. Northman?”

“I’m out,” Eric said, his voice was deep and hollow. Defeated. He threw his cards face down in the middle of the table before he stood up from his chair.

Sookie inhaled sharply as she realized what had transpired.

He folded and she won!

Winning wasn’t an unusual occurrence to her. Winning against someone like Eric Northman was. She felt revived, indestructible.

For the first time in her life, she felt like a winner.

Jason threw a fist in the air before he grabbed his sister and hugged her tightly. In this night alone, they made more than they both earned in a month.

The Viking smoothed his tie before he buttoned his blazers. “Congratulations, Miss Stackhouse. You can claim your winnings from Rasul,” he told Sookie, before he turned to the hostess. “Call Rasul in and ask him to give them what I owe Miss Stackhouse.”

Eric nodded at Sookie. “Goodbye, Miss Stackhouse.”

With that he left the room, taking long and quick steps.

Sookie watched Eric go, head down, hands in his pocket.

“See Sook! I told you, you can take down that chump! I told you! Didn’t I tell you Matilda will give us this one?” Jason rambled as shook her sister in exultation.

Sookie bobbed her head in assent before she drew back from Jason. She walked over to the cocktail table and started sipping her sparkling beverage as they waited for the Rasul fellow that would cash out their chips.

Jason, who just couldn’t resist the temptation, resumed with his flirting with the beautiful hostess while the dealer started collecting the chips from the table.

Sookie saw Eric’s pair of cards at the middle of the table beside the pile of chips. She didn’t know what came over her, but the next thing she knew she was holding out the Viking’s cards in front of her – baffled out of her wits.

It was an Ace and King of Spades. Eric folded a Royal Flush!

The last thought on her mind as Jason pulled her out of the room to claim their money was: Eric Northman let her win.