Chapter 1

Currently, I was being laced into an impossibly tight corset, my breath catching with every tug of the laces. When I opened my mouth, my normally sweet and delicate Queen's English cried out. My lady's maid, Juliette, was shocked at my most un-lady-like outburst.

"Juliette!" I was able to wheeze out, "that must be tight enough already?" I could only barely whisper the last bit.

"Almost, mum. I'm afraid your father had another dress sent directly from the dressmaker without consulting you. It's a full size too small, but he's insisting that you wear it tonight!"

I should have known a man was behind this pain.

She finished her torture and I stood absolutely still so as to adjust to the small breaths I would have to take all night. It was opening night of the Opera. Father insisted that I go and wear the dress I was just stuffed into. Even I had to admit that it was beautiful though; a peacock-blue, silk bodice was graced with hand-made silk rosettes. The bustle was a slighter lighter shade of the blue silk, and the skirt was a radiant embroidered silver satin. The slippers matched the skirt and had darling blue embroideries on them.

My customary gloves and fan matched my shoes. Once the dress was on, I had to admit, I looked resplendent. I was a girl with a figure and the dress accentuated my small, (now impossibly small), waist, prominent bosom, and shapely hips. Juliette had curled and piled my long blonde hair in an elaborate fashion and had woven blue ribbons throughout. I was wearing my Mother's pearls, the pearls she left for me when she died.

I was a young lady of age and my Father's greatest business asset. A good marriage would expand my Father's already sizable fortune and guarantee my and his imagined grandsons', future. He loved me in his way and did the best he could for me since my Mother's death; but he was a business man and looked at me as another one of his many acquisitions.

There was a knock at the door and since I was ready, Juliette went to open it. It was Harrison, Juliette's father and the family butler for years.

"Your father is waiting for you Ms. Susannah, the carriage is ready."

"Thank you, Harrison."

I walked slowly, trying not to faint from the overexertion of moving. Harrison put my cloak around my shoulders and I made my way slowly down the stairs to my awaiting father. At the base of the stairs, he smiled broadly, took my hand, and led me to the carriage. Once inside, he spoke to me.

"You look perfect, Susannah."

"Thank you, father."

"When Lord Hampshire's son spies you, that should confirm everything nicely."

"Sorry father, I'm afraid I don't understand."

"I've been in negotiations with Lord Hampshire to firm up your engagement to his son, Peter. He's going to be the full heir to the Hampshire fortune and business… only son, you know. A fine match - a fine match indeed if I do say so myself."

If I could have protested or even gathered enough breath, I would have. As it was, I was in shock and trying desperately not to faint. So I was to be inspected like so much meat at the Sunday Market. Once the price was settled on, I would be handed off to be made The Lady Hampshire. I would become my husband's gilded prize, adorn his arm, and give him sons. Of course I'd be given everything I asked for. I would be treated as a queen, I was sure. I would be the head of numerous households, have thousands of pounds at my fingertips, and give lavish parties. I would have everything the Hampshire name could afford me… everything but love.

It was a summer ago, in Paris. My Father had sent me to stay with my Grandmother as he did most years. My Grandmother moved to Paris after my Grandfather had died. She claimed it was the sun that drew her; I suspected it was the lack of memories. I was to spend the summer learning more about the fine arts, refine my skill in painting, my appreciation in sculpture, and theater. I had been studying French since I was child and was fluent. Mother had seen to that early on by hiring a French Au Pair for me.

My Grandmother was the only woman in my life now. Mother died when I was three. I relished those summers with Grandmother; she was my only link to a softer kind of love. I was 19, and although suitors had shown an interest in me earlier, Grandmother insisted that I not be married until I was at least 20. Grandmother said I needed to properly mature to be the best possible wife for a man of means and refinement.

That afternoon I saw him was divine. The sun was shining and the breeze off of the Seine made the afternoon delightful. I was in the Tuilerie Gardens painting with the other girls when we met.

He was so unlike any other man I had seen. He towered over the others; his long pale blonde hair was pulled back, a style that had gone out of fashion as of late, but gave him an air of grandeur. I could see his piercing blue eyes even from where I was. He was slim but not awkward, he moved with strength and grace. He seemed not to notice the stares and whispers that his very presence elicited from those around him… he was above all that.. He wasn't self conscience enough to be a Frenchman and not dressed perfectly enough to be English, either. And whatever else he was, he was simply the most stunning man I had ever seen.

He walked slowly and as he passed me, I found that a breath I wasn't aware of holding, suddenly rushed out. I hoped I hadn't stared too blatantly, it was terribly un-lady-like, but there was something about him that made me not care one bit. As he passed, I could hear Claire whisper in French "what a beautiful specimen, what I wouldn't give to paint him naked." I chuckled; I couldn't help but think how right she was. She turned to me then and asked what was so amusing; I told her I agreed with her statement. She looked quizzically at me. "What statement was that?" she asked, innocently. It was my turn to be confused, hadn't I just heard her say she wanted to see him naked? Maybe it was my own mind… maybe.

We were finishing our paintings for the day. The light was fading and we all packed our things. Just as I was folding my easel, a strange voice, with an odd accent, said in French, "allow me, mademoiselle." When I turned around to address the mystery man, there he was, the man I wanted… I mean Claire wanted, to see naked. Before I could protest, he had already collapsed the easel and gathered my supplies. "Where to?" he said, as if this were the most natural thing to do in the world.

"Thank you, but you needn't burden yourself sir, the house is only minutes away."

He simply smiled at me and stood his ground. Oh my, that smile. My cheeks burned at the sight.

"Really, I must insist that…" but he cut me off.

"I couldn't pass you one more day without talking to you."

"Sorry?" I was able to mumble through the fog in my mind and constriction of my chest.

"I've seen you here painting every day for the past week. I'll let you know I was supposed to be on a ship to India, already."

"I'm sorry to have delayed your trip, sir," I answered politely, not sure what to make of the situation.

"Eric Northman, and you are welcome to delay me anytime."

Who was this man? He was so forward, so unabashed! If I hadn't found it terribly refreshing, I would have been insulted. I looked at him, taking in every surprising inch of his face, "and you are?" he asked.

Oh dear, my manners, "Susannah Stackhouse, a pleasure," I answered curtseying slightly.

He surprised me then by switching to English as easily as he had spoken French.

"Well, Miss Stackhouse, where to?"

Silently, still partially stunned, I began walking and he followed. He was obviously well traveled and educated enough to know languages. He also knew that Stackhouse very obviously wasn't a French name.

"I seem to have rendered you silent Miss Stackhouse."

He had indeed.

"I'm sorry, it's not everyday that a gentleman claims I've delayed his trip to India."

"Are you flattered?"

"Should I be?" had I really just said that? His boldness had rubbed off on me apparently.

He laughed, "Yes. It's not everyday I let myself be sidetracked."

"Then thank you, I am duly flattered, Mr. Northman."

"I hopeyou will stop with formalities, now? Please call me Eric."

"I'm afraid, Mr. Northman, that I don't feel that to be appropriate."

"I look forward to changing your mind then," he said ominously, darkly.

I felt an unknown fluttering inside. Although the evening was turning out to be quit cool, a bead of sweat ran down my neck. We were silent the rest of the way to Grandmother's house. When we arrived at the front door, Philippe, the butler, opened the door and took the supplies from Mr. Northman. Before I could say a thing, Eric had taken my hand and placed a kiss on my glove.

"I'll be by tomorrow to call on you Miss Stackhouse. Good night." With that, he left.

I was in a complete daze the rest of the evening. At dinner Grandmother knew something was amiss and I told her about my encounter. When she heard the name, she nodded knowingly.

"You know him, then?"

"No, not exactly. He's caused quite a stir among the society-set though. Apparently he's as wealthy as a king but quite the character. Copenhagen I believe, old money, he owns land all across Europe… and you say he was on his way to India, too?"


"Well my dear, it seems you have caught the interests of the man of the hour as it were."

"It would, yes."

"Now, more importantly my dear, what ever will you wear tomorrow?" At that point, we both laughed like school girls. She seemed just as intrigued as I was.

The next day, at just past eleven in the morning, Mr. Northman showed up. He brought flowers for my Grandmother and a small pink corsage for me that I later pinned to my hat. After formalities, he asked if he might "steal me" for the day. My Grandmother, amused and entranced, let him.

By the end of the day, I was calling him Eric and he, in turn, called me Sookie – a nick-name my Mother used for me. We walked by the Seine as the sun was setting. He took my hand, pulled back my white lace glove, and kissed the inside of my wrist. I felt a weakness in my knees. I heard him say something under his breath, something whispered in a language I didn't recognize.

When my wits were about me again, I asked him what he had said.

"Say? I didn't say anything," he answered, confused.

"I'm sorry, I thought I heard you say something." A curious look passed briefly over his beautiful, strong features, then left.

"It's getting late," I felt a sudden sadness, "I should take you home." I nodded and half-smiled at him. However, when we were just a block away, he took my hand and pulled me into an alley.


"I can not do this in front of the house."

"Do what?" I asked, afraid, yet excited, too.

He lifted my chin, brushed his thumb over my skin, "like silk" he said. My breathing was heavy and my heart pounding. He leaned in further and paused just as his lips were inches from mine, as if asking me permission. When I didn't move, he moved in and his lips met mine. He kissed me and my whole body burned. I closed my eyes, desperate to hold on the moment, not wanting it to end. He slowly pulled away and my heart nearly broke. When I finally opened my eyes, he was looking at me in a way I had never seen a man look at me before. We stood there for what seemed like hours.

Finally the spell was broken by a carriage noisily driving by. He took my hand and led me to my front door. He let go and my hand ached to be in his again.

"Sookie, will you accompany me to..."

"Yes," I said without letting him finish. He laughed heartily.

"Then I shall pick you up at 7."

I turned to walk through the door that Philippe ad opened when a thought occurred to me. "Where are we going?" I asked as I turned around.

"To a ball," he answered and walked away.

Early the following morning, a small man accompanied by two women and a very large box, arrived. Inside the box was a most stunning pink ball gown covered in gold silk flowers. The dressmaker and his two seamstresses began their various alterations, which luckily were few, and then quickly ran to get me the appropriate shoes. Complete with fan, gloves, borrowed jewels from Grandmother and a purse, I was ready for the ball. More importantly, I was ready to see him again.

When I came down the stairs to meet Eric in the hall, he looked at me the way he had the previous night. My Grandmother, thrilled by his attentions, wished us a good night. In the carriage, he kissed my hand again.

"You look like Aphrodite," he said.

Just then, I felt like her too.

We made our way to the outskirts of Paris to the chateaux the ball was being held in. I think we danced, although I can't truly remember. All I remember was finding the bench, and his hands, and his lips, and the kisses…the many, many kisses.

I fell madly in love with Eric that summer. My Grandmother approved wholeheartedly and when September came by, he accompanied me to London to ask for my hand from my Father. We were so confident he would say yes. Why not, after all? Eric was wealthy, of the right age and class, we had my Grandmother's approval already… of course it didn't work out as we had wished.

My Father refused him. Not only wasn't he English, not only didn't he have any family to be spoken of, but most importantly, he couldn't offer my father anything new by way of business. Of course it was absurd! Eric was a successful business man, but there was some idiocy, some prejudice at work that I didn't understand. Unfortunately, it wasn't my place to argue, what power did I have? Eric simply wasn't good enough for my Father. He would "see his daughter married off to an Englishman of fortune or let me rot in a Nunnery."

I tried to behave over the next days but instead, I cried, I screamed, and behaved in every un-lady-like fashion I could imagine. My Father saw this as further proof of Eric's unworthiness; he obviously had a terrible influence on me. Weeks passed. Eric stayed in London, trying to convince my Father to change his mind. I threatened to leave anyway, to runaway… my Father would never see me again. That's when he collapsed. We called for the doctor.

The situation was killing Father. Either he stayed calm or he would die from strain. How could I be so selfish? See what I had done? I was killing my own Father with my silly infatuations. I did the most difficult thing I would ever do…I severed my relationship with Eric Northman. I wrote him a letter saying how much I loved him but that I simply couldn't kill my Father because of it. My heart broke into another piece with every word. I told Eric to find someone else, someone who could love him without guilt and death hanging over them. I told him I would remember and cherish him for the rest of my life.

We arrived at the Opera House and after we were seated in our box, I felt very much on display. I felt more like a very pretty dress-form showing off the latest fashion, and less like a person. A few minutes after we arrived there was a knock on the door and Lord Hampshire, (whom I recognized from various functions), entered. He was followed by whom I guessed was his son, Peter. Peter was older than me, but not by terribly much. I figured he must have been 27 or 28. He was well dressed, had excellent posture and manners, and to be fair, he was a decent looking man. Nice head of hair, all his teeth, fine brown eyes. He would be a lovely catch for any attentive, young woman. I had to remind myself that I was being forced to be such a woman.

There were some knowing looks passed between the men that I pretended not to see and then the curtain went up. I couldn't concentrate on the performance in front of me though and normally, I loved the Opera. Instead, all I could think of was the woman that Eric would find for himself. I imagined her being lovelier than I, more talented, and smarter. If I pictured her being superior to me in every way, then it wouldn't hurt as much; if she were perfect, then I wouldn't be able to live up to her, would I? When I heard the crowd clapping, I realized it was intermission. I drifted away from my thoughts and stood up. The men stood and I made my way through the doors. When I closed the door behind me, I let out a sigh.

I could hear them talking behind the door.

"Well George, she is indeed a fine woman. Lovely, poised… eh, Peter what do you think?" I couldn't hear his response, but I could hear my Father's.

"Well Hampshire old boy, shall we set a date now?"

"I see no reason why not. Shall we say May, at the estate in Bath?"

"Wonderful, wonderful, gives the appropriate amount of time for them to be seen with each other, let the society-types know they're engaged and all."

I should have been upset, but the truth was, this was my lot. I was a wealthy girl of stature and beauty, and my marriage was not my decision. My only goal was to make the best of it now. I could only hope that I could learn to love Peter in time. If nothing else, I'd be comfortable and well taken care of for the rest of my life. There was comfort in there someplace. I made my way to the powder room. By the time I had finished, the second act was ready to start, I was the only one walking back through the theater.

Just as I was turning the corner to the private boxes, I heard his voice.


My heart leapt to my throat. I turned. Standing at the top of the stair was Eric, hair neatly tied back, wearing his black coat and tie, looking ever the part of the lover in any drama. I tried to say something, but nothing came out. I was looking right at him when I heard his voice say, "Sookie, don't leave me again. Tell me you love me as much as I love you, we can survive anything if we are together." It was his voice but his mouth wasn't moving.

"How…" he moved closer.

"Sookie, tell me you don't love me and I'll leave." I was silent. "Sookie, we were meant to be together. I've changed since I've known you… strange and wonderful things have happened."

"Eric, please."

"Sookie I know it sounds absurd, but since I've met you I've learned to…"

"Eric," I had to stop him before he said something wonderful, something that would change my mind. "I'm to be married in to Lord Hampshire's son, Peter this May."

"Married? So soon? It's only been a few months!" He was silent for a moment. "Do you love him?" then I heard his voice again. "If you do, I'll leave… I'll disappear. I'll never come back, I promise."

I didn't know what was happening! It was as if I could hear his thoughts! But that simply wasn't possible was it?

"I…" he moved closer to me. "My Father almost died when I told him I would run away with you." He moved closer still. "I couldn't live with myself if I knew his death was my fault." He was mere inches from me.

"Do. You. Love. Him?"

I could smell him. Eric's scent intoxicated me, weakening my resolve. "Eric," how could I lie to him?

"Sookie, answer me my love, please," he pleaded.

He was so close, his sparkling eyes bore into me. A life of regret would be better than a life without him.

"No, I don't love Peter. I love you."

He took me in his arms and pressed his lips to mine. His arms felt like home. It was too much though, I was overwhelmed. Between the kiss, the fear of loving him and thereby hurting my father, the tightness of my corset, my lack of a decent breath… I fainted. The world went black.

I had odd visions:

Eric taking me in his arms and jumping through an open window.

Flying over London, my blue silk dress flapping in the wind.

Eric's blonde locks coming free and wrapping about his face.

The countryside and the ocean illuminated by moonlight.

Landing on a balcony, clinging to Eric as we walked through a set of doors into a bedroom.

When I opened my eyes, I was in a large bed in nothing but my undergarments, and free of the infernal corset. The sheets were soft and the room smelled of the ocean. The window was open and a soft breeze was blowing on my face. It was still dark as I slowly sat up. I suddenly realized I wasn't alone in the bed. Sitting next to me, still fully clothed, was Eric.

"Are you alright?" he asked, concerned.

"I believe so," I answered slowly, making sure it was true.

"Can I get you something?"

"Eric where am I? What happened?"

"You fainted." I remembered that much.

"But why am I without clothing?"

"You couldn't breathe; I took off your dress and corset." Sweet, wonderful man!

"Eric," I looked around, confused and lost. It was warm, I could hear water, the room was large with high ceilings, and I was in a bed I was unfamiliar with, "where am I…"


"This isn't my home Eric."

"It is now."

"We aren't in London… are we?"

"No, we're in Venice."

It took me a minute to digest that. Venice was days, even weeks away, not minutes or hours. It was then that I realized the balcony doors were open. Also, Eric's usually perfect hair was messy mass about his shoulders.

Something slowly dawned on me, "it wasn't a dream was it? My dress flapping about me, flying over London Bridge? The ocean?"

"No. As I said in London, you've awakened something in me." I could hear him continue in my mind, "and I believe I've awakened something in you as well."

I gasped and then the tears began to fall. What was happening? Did I really hear his mind, did he really fly? Was this all just some lurid hallucination? He was by my side in an instant. His hand caressing my cheek, "don't cry Sookie. We'll figure this out together my love."

He took his shirt sleeve and wiped my tears. I was suddenly aware of our proximity and my state of undress. Feeling him so close to me, made my body react in unexpected ways. My nipples became firm and the soft linen rubbing against them was so maddening, I wanted to rip the fabric from my body. I could feel my temperature rising and my breathing quicken. He leaned into me and kissed my cheek, then my eyelid, then my chin, and finally my lips. I felt an unknown moisture begin to pool between my legs and I desperately wanted to touch myself – better still, I wanted him to touch me.

I woke up suddenly and sat straight up. After a few breaths I looked at the clock by my bed, the glowing red numbers let me know it was 5:17 A.M. "Shit Sookie, it was just a dream!" I said aloud to myself.

"Babe? You ok?" said a groggy Quinn beside me.

"Ya, sorry I woke you sugar, I just had a dream. It was so real, though."

"That's great babe; can we talk about it later? I only just got into bed about two hours ago."

Quinn was a DJ for a party company and did all the major events around the city. He traveled a lot too, which is why I think the relationship worked so nicely. Every time I felt smothered, he would pack up and go for a few days letting me breathe. He was a fine specimen of a man though; tall, broad-shouldered, strong as a tiger. He loved a good meal, but there was always something stopping me form committing fully to him.

I could never put my finger on it, but it never felt 100% right. He had his own place of course, but like he always said "my hot calendar girl isn't there." When we met, he told me I looked like one of those hot chicks from those calendars car mechanics had in their garages, you know those girls with the cut-off's, lying on some classic car? It didn't bother me none, to be honest, I kinda did look like that.

I got out of bed knowing I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep. I went to the kitchen, grabbed the last of the blueberry pie I had made the day before, and ate it straight out of the tin while I flipped through TV channels. No matter what I watched, I just couldn't shake that dream. It felt so real. Every detail was crisp and vivid. I could smell the water, I could feel the silk of my dress, and I could remember the way the kiss burned into me and made my whole body ache for this Eric guy.

"Snap out of it girl! It was a dream, a really amazing dream, but a dream."

I sat there having a conversation with myself - out loud, too - for longer than I want to admit. I told myself that if I needed further proof that it was a dream, then I didn't need look no further than the whole flying thing. Come on, flying? Hearing people's thoughts? Classic dream stuff, right? Right?

Morning light was coming through the windows when my conversation abruptly ended as Quinn walked out of the bedroom, (buck-naked might I add, a really yummy sight at any hour of the day), and into the bathroom.

"Hey Babe," he shouted from the bathroom, "stop talking to yourself and get your fine ass in here with me."

Now as gorgeous and irresistible as Mr. Dreamy was, Eric wasn't real and Quinn was. I got up, pulled off my nightshirt, and went to join the very real, very yummy, and very wet Quinn in the shower.


Ok kiddies, dying to know what you thought! And don't kill me for not giving you a lemon either. If I gave you everything you wanted right off the bat what would you come back for huh?

You know the drill, press the green button…