Any author's notes from the person who wrote this gift fic have been removed to prevent any identifying information being revealed. The individual author can post this story to their own profile, complete with intended A/Ns, after the 26th December. We hope this gift fic is enjoyed by all – but mostly for the person it was written for. Thank you to this author for taking part in the first Sookie's Secret Santa fic exchange. Due to the number of participants it will be impossible to post all of the stories in one day - don't worry, everyone will get their gift before Christmas Eve :o)
Santa's little helpers
Blakes Boogie & Jan of Arc xx
Title: The Nice List
Summary: Sookie Stackhouse landed her dream job at the Delahoussaye Ballet, but there's just one draw back – she has to spend Christmas away from home. Add in a side of a tumultuous relationship with one of the board members, Alcide Herveaux, and it's a Christmas she won't soon forget. Sookie/Alcide pairing. AH.
The wind whipped around me, sending a chill down my spine and my long blond hair in ten different directions. I quickly secured the later with my leather glove clad hands, and burrowed my chin further into the heavy cream scarf that Gran had sent for my birthday this past year.
"Why did I move here again?" I asked myself, mumbling under my breath. I'd moved to Chicago three years ago, following my then boyfriend from our hometown of Bon Temps, Louisiana. It had been a heck of a culture shock, but I had come to love this town, despite its weather. Even after I'd been here for six months, and my then boyfriend became my ex-boyfriend, I'd decided to stay.
You'd think by now I would have been used to the chilly, lake effect winters. I wasn't. I missed the balmy weather of my home state of Louisiana; the light dusting of snow that had sent everyone back home into a tizzy would get nothing more than a hearty laugh and a light sweater from the inhabitants of my new city.
I quickened my pace, weaving through the crowds admiring the department store window displays on State Street. Despite increasing my morning commute by at least fifteen minutes, I couldn't help but smile as I passed the windows featuring every glittering, sparkling dream of Christmas you could imagine. Every day as I passed, I thought about how much Gran would enjoy the windows, the brightly lit trees and the Christmas cheer.
My smile slipped slightly as I thought of Gran. This would be the first Christmas I wouldn't spend with her and my brother, Jason. We'd been together for the holidays every year since my parents had passed away, but not this year. This year, I would be celebrating Christmas in my apartment with my cat, Tammy, opening the brightly papered packages Gran had sent last week by myself. Most of my friends had fled the city for the holiday, and after the day I had planned on Christmas Eve, I doubted I'd want to do anything else.
I shook my head, not allowing myself to dwell on things that I couldn't change. Gran had taught me that lesson when I was seven years old and my best friend Tara Thornton had won the role of Betty Body in the Elementary School's production of Shapin' Up Santa, and I'd been stuck as a portly elf. The lesson had rung as true then as it did today.
The crowds dwindled when I turned off of State Street, and were sparse at best by the time I reached my destination. I pushed my way through the revolving doors of the landmark theatre, taking a moment to regain the feeling in my toes before stepping fully into the atrium.
"Don't tell me you walked all the way from Union Station again, Miss Sookie," the security guard Bud said in disapproving greeting.
I rubbed my hands together and smiled in his direction. "I couldn't resist. It's a beautiful morning."
"If you say so," he clucked, shaking his head as I pushed through the turnstile that separated the general masses from the ticket holders on a performance night, and kept just about everyone else out the rest of the time. He leaned forward, lowering his voice as I stopped on the other side of the gate. "Miss Leclerq is in a mood today."
"So it's business as usual?" I asked with a laugh. Sophie-Anne Leclerq was the Executive Director of the Chicago-based Delahoussaye Ballet; the Executive Director, my boss, and the very reason why I was spending my first Christmas away from my family.
"I don't know how you do it. How long's it been as her assistant? Two years?" I nodded. "Must be something in the water down in Bon Temps, cause none of those other girls made it three months."
I shrugged and pulled the gloves off my warming fingers. "My Gran didn't raise a quitter, Bud."
"She sure didn't."
I heard the clack of Sophie-Anne's heels echoing down the long hallway and rolled my eyes playfully in Bud's direction. "Here she is."
"Sookie! Thank God you are here." Sophie-Anne's shrill voice called.
"Good morning Sophie-Anne," I responded, turning around with a smile to face whatever problem she had come up with today. She was prone to drama; thrived on it really. From appearances alone, you would guess Sophie-Anne was serene, ethereal even. She had been with the Delahoussae Ballet from the time she was fifteen years old, working her way up to principal ballerina before her retirement at thirty-three years old. Even now, at 35, she didn't look much older than the photos I'd seen of her first year in the corps. Her ballerina's training had cemented her posture upright, her limbs graceful extensions of every thought and movement. There was never a chestnut hair out of place on her head, never a ladder in her nylons. Her neuroses were all internal, and I figured I was one of maybe five people that got to see the real Sophie-Anne. I wasn't surprised to learn that I would get to see that side of her again today.
She spun on one of her impossibly high Lanvin heels, assuming that I would follow behind her as I had every time she'd made the same move over the last two years. I shrugged in Bud's direction and trailed after her at a respectable distance. We crossed the large entrance, walking up the grand staircase that led to the lobby, the entry to the auditorium and the executive suite in silence. As soon as we crossed the threshold of her luxuriously decorated suite, she picked up the conversation where she had left off.
Over the next fifteen minutes, she regaled me with a litany of concerns she had about the upcoming Winter Gala. For the first time in the fifty-five year history of the Ballet, the board had elected (under Sophie-Anne's recommendation) to move the Gala to coincide with the Troupe's annual performance of the Nutcracker. It was only by some stroke of good fortune that our go-to event planner had an opening in his schedule. I couldn't imagine trying to do everything from scratch without Lafayette Reynolds' direction. He was a life saver in every sense of the word, and the only thing that kept me sane in the preparations for the big event.
I'd had a hard time accepting the change, between the need to start prep almost immediately after we wrapped the Spring Gala, and the decision to host the Gala on Christmas Eve, effectively eliminating any possibility of seeing my family for the holidays. But as painful as it was to give up Christmas in Bon Temps, I had to admit that it was a good move from a marketing and financial standpoint. From the moment the switch had been announced, we'd reaped the rewards of the change, with benefactors clamoring to get tickets for themselves and their visiting loved ones.
"I will work with Lafayette to get everything taken care of. I'm sure we can rearrange the seating," I said, addressing one of Sophie-Anne's concerns regarding a husband, his wife, and his very public girlfriend. "And I will finalize the kosher and vegetarian options as we discussed."
"This must go well, Sookie," Sophie-Anne demanded, a stern note carried in her voice.
"Of course, Sophie-Anne."
"We cannot afford to have a single misstep. Not with Miss Crane as the chair. You know how particular she is." Claudine Crane was one of the ballet's largest benefactors, an heiress to a security company fortune of some sort. She was nice enough, I guessed, but her flights of fancy had me running in ten different directions at least twice a day.
Before I could form a coherent – and politically correct – response, Sophie-Anne's phone rang. Her lips turned up into a small thin-lipped smile.
"Yes, I'm sure you'll take care of it. You always do," she said, waving me away with one hand and answering her phone with the other. "Andre!" she purred into the phone. "Darling."
Andre, like Sophie-Anne, was a former troupe member who had retired and worked his way into the Artistic Director position of the ballet. He was moody, temperamental, and not someone I would ever want to run across in a dark alley. I did my best to avoid him, and it seemed to be a mutual agreement. Unfortunately, at events like these, some interaction with him was unavoidable.
I was no longer Sophie-Anne's focus, which was just fine by me. With the list she'd just provided, there was no way I was going to get out of here at a reasonable hour tonight. Not with the Gala only three days away. It would be better if she was consumed with Andre, since it meant less time for her to come up with more things to change. Claudine would be more than enough to handle today.
I pulled my blackberry out of my purse as soon as I shut Sophie-Anne's door as silently as possible, and quickly scrolled through the twenty emails I'd received since I'd checked it last. Five of the twenty were from Claudine, and I groaned aloud after reading the first – there was no way I was going to be able to even go to lunch today at this rate.
"Now, now, Miss Stackhouse, are those the kinds of noises you should be making at the office?" a deep voice drawled from behind me. It was a voice I knew; a voice that may have caused me to lose my breath B.B. - that's Before Bill, my ex-boyfriend. What could I say? Bill had made me a little bit cynical of men in general, but especially men with a sweep of dark hair and a smile that could charm the pants off of a nun.
I turned around slowly, trying to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head when I faced its owner.
"Alcide Herveaux," I greeted him cynically. Alcide was a member of the Ballet's board, a fact I still couldn't quite comprehend. Alcide was the kind of man that you'd expect to spend his weekends with an axe and a pile of wood, not enjoying the intricate footwork of the Sugarplum Fairy.
"Is there something you need, Alcide?" I asked, hoping to sound more professional than impatient. I wasn't successful.
He chuckled, the sound coming deep from his chest and vibrating through the air between us. "I guess that depends on how you define need."
"I don't have time for this today," I mumbled. Or ever. Alcide Herveaux made me… uncomfortable. He was too big, too masculine, and there was that small fact that he seemed to live to ruffle my feathers.
While it may have been over a year ago, I remembered the details of our first encounter vividly. I had been having a heck of a morning to begin with – the train had been running late, and I'd spilled my latte all over my brand new winter white coat. I'd rushed by the security checkpoint and dumped the soiled coat in my office before sliding into my seat in the boardroom completely out of breath and with no time to spare.
The board President at the time, Russell Edgington, had run every meeting with the precision of a seasoned General. There were seat assignments and agendas that would make your eyes glaze over. I had somehow forgotten that it would be our first meeting with the new board member that had replaced my usual seat neighbor, Rasul.
I had been planning to make some snide comment about Andre's latest ridiculous tie, and had nearly choked on my own tongue instead. In Rasul's place was our new board member, and one of the best looking men I had ever seen.
On a board where most members appeared to have first-hand memories of Mrs. O'Leary's cow, someone Alcide's age was a shock in and of itself. Add the fact that he was six foot four inches of masculinity on steroids, topped with a mop of black hair and sparkling green eyes, and one couldn't blame me for my reaction.
"Oh." I'd said, somehow managing to close my mouth. "You're not Rasul."
"No. But I can pretend to be if you'd like," he'd replied with a wink. I could remember with perfect clarity the sparkle in his eyes and the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth at my shock.
More than that smile, I could remember the exact moment that I had decided Alcide Herveaux was nothing but bad news.
Though my eyes had been trained on Russell, my focus had been on the man next to me the entire meeting. I couldn't remember the last time a man had affected me so much with one sentence, or if I had ever had a reaction like that. It had made me uncomfortable. Both because of the innuendo, and the fact that I found myself almost liking it.
When the meeting had adjourned, I had fled to the sanctuary of my office, but that hadn't been enough to get away. I hadn't even had the chance to log onto my computer before the knock sounded on my door. I had looked up and gasped when I had seen him standing in my doorway.
"Sorry to startle you," he'd said, though he'd looked anything but. "Can I come in?"
I had nodded. It was the polite thing to do.
He'd crossed the length of my office in four strides and perched himself on the edge of my desk.
"I didn't get a chance to introduce myself," he'd said. "I'm-"
"Alcide Herveaux. I know. I'm Sookie Stackhouse. Sophie-Anne's assistant and events coordinator." I had held out my hand to shake his. He'd given me a bemused smile, but shook my hand nonetheless.
"I was surprised to see someone so young at the meeting," he'd said, not letting go of my hand. "Or so beautiful."
I frowned in his direction. My heart had skipped a beat, which I had immediately berated myself for. I had learned the hard way with Bill that men who were quick to flatter were nothing but bad news. I would need to be civil, of course, but I needed to cut him off before I was unable to anymore.
"Should I not have said that?" he smiled. "I didn't mean to offend you."
I pulled my hand away. "I was hardly offended, but you should know that flattery will get you nowhere with me, Mr. Herveaux."
He had looked confused, so I continued. "I am sure you will be a great asset to the board, or Felipe wouldn't have recommended you. And while I am sure your charm will work with most of the ladies, it really is unnecessary with me."
"I think you've got it wrong, Miss Stackhouse. I -"
"No," I had held my hand up to stop him. "I am sure I am not. It was nice to meet you, and welcome to the board. Now if you'll excuse me, I have calls to make."
I had turned back to my computer, hoping he'd go away without a fight. I had known I was being harsh with him, but it was better this way.
And after nearly a year, I could say with no uncertainty that I had been right. If I had fallen over at his flattering words, I'd be no better off than half of the corps who got all twitterpated when Alcide was in the room. Sure, he was handsome, and yes I found myself enjoying the view from time to time, but I had something more important. He seemed to respect me, which was more than I could say for any other woman in the organization. We had figured out a good medium - civil and professional in front of others, and mostly good natured ribbing when we were alone, not that we were alone often.
"So," he asked, pushing away from the wall and inclining his head towards the open door of my office. I followed his lead. "What does the dragon-lady want you to do today? Siphon the youth from small children? Obtain the blood of a virgin or two for a beauty potion?"
"Funny," I said, settling down at my desk. "Is that why you're here?"
"I'm afraid I have to disqualify myself for the honor, seeing as I'm not a child or a virgin," he replied with mock solemnity.
I was sure he wasn't, and probably hadn't been for quite some time.
"Shucks," I replied with an over-exaggerated shrug. "Guess you can't be of any use to me then."
He chuckled, settling down in one of the overstuffed chairs in my office. "I've got other assets that I'm sure you'd find useful." His eyes skimmed the length of my body, and it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to tell what he was thinking about when they lingered in some rather inappropriate places. "Not being a virgin does has its advantages. I'd be happy to show you sometime."
"Alcide." I shook my head, brushing it off lightly before I let myself think about how far from a virgin Alcide Herveaux was. Or what that meant. My phone chirped, alerting me that yet another round of emails had come in that I would have to deal with. "As much as I love your daily dose of sexual harassment, I'm afraid I'm going to postpone our conversation on how wildly inappropriate it is to another day. Is there something you need me to do?"
He quirked an eyebrow in an amused fashion and shook his head. "Just wanted to make sure that you and Sophie-Anne would be at the dinner Felipe is hosting tonight. He asked me to double check personally."
Shit. I'd forgotten all about that. Felipe deCastro was the newly elected Chairman of the Board, and he'd come up with the plan to host a pre-gala dinner for everyone involved at the Peninsula Hotel. It wasn't a bad idea in theory, but it definitely threw a kink in the plans I had for the day.
I checked Sophie-Anne's calendar to make sure the event was on there. Sure enough it was. Eight to ten.
"Of course we'll be there," I nodded. Of course I didn't have something appropriate to wear to that kind of a function. I mentally calculated how much time it would take for me to get home, change into something appropriate and make it to the hotel in time for the eight o'clock dinner. There was no way I would be able to be back on time. I could adjust; it was my specialty. I would run to Bloomingdales after my meeting with Lafayette and buy something to wear. It may not be the most pocket-friendly option, but it was the best I could do on such short notice.
"Excellent," he replied, unfolding himself from the chair and standing. I watched as he made his way to the doorway. He stopped and slowly turned back to face me. "And Sookie?"
"Yes?" I responded to his question with a raise of an eyebrow.
"Try to wear something tight," he grinned. "Sexy and short. You've got great pins."
He was out of my line of sight before I could respond, which was lucky for him. One of these days I was going to have to set him straight, but the blinking light on my blackberry reminded me that it sure as heck wasn't going to be today.
Felipe had reserved a private room at the Peninsula for our dinner. He had worked with the staff to hand-select the menu - a nod to the second half of the ballet we were celebrating, from the Spanish coffee, right through the sugared plums that adorned the marzipan. It was this kind of attention to detail that had earned Felipe his spot as President of the Board, and would likely keep him there for a time to come.
I was the last to arrive at the Peninsula. Unsurprisingly, my day had gotten away from me, and it had been seven-thirty before I'd known it. I'd haphazardly thrown on the cream cocktail dress I'd purchased at lunch, and flagged down a taxi by 7:50. It had been a miracle that I'd made it at all, even if I had been ten minutes late.
There was an empty seat next to Alcide, and from the way he caught my eye when I entered the private room, that wasn't an accident. I threw Alcide an exaggerated shrug when Maxine Fortenberry slipped into the spot before I could make it across the room. The look of pure pain that crossed Alcide's face was present enough for me. Maxine, bless her heart, would undoubtedly spend the evening regaling Alcide with stories of her cats, Hoyt and Fintan.
I slipped into the empty seat next to Niall Brigant, the longest standing board member and my personal favorite. I had met Niall the first time I'd gone to the Delahoussaye Ballet. It had been my first winter away from home, and I'd purchased Bill and myself tickets to see the Nutcracker. Bill had, unsurprisingly, come up with an excuse to not attend, and in my first act of defiance, I'd gone without him. I had been standing at the foot of the staircase when Niall had greeted me, and before I knew it, I was in his family's box with a glass of champagne in my hand. He had been the one to tell me about the position at the ballet, and I suspected that I'd only gotten the job on his insistence. That and Sophie-Anne had just fired her latest assistant.
We talked quietly throughout dinner, Niall regaling me with stories of his grandchildren, and me relaying the nightmares I'd had to face that day. By the time Felipe stood to address the group and introduce Sophie-Anne for her prepared speech, my dark mood had been lightened considerably.
I glanced around the room as Sophie-Anne began to speak. Everyone was focused on Sophie-Anne, all but one set of very distinctive green eyes. His lips curved up into a smile when my eyes reached him, and I quickly looked away when I realized I'd be caught. He had a way of doing that – flustering me with one look. I'd like to blame the champagne, but knew that the three sips I'd taken weren't the cause.
It took every ounce of self-control to keep myself from looking at him. I had gone almost an entire year without letting him know I thought he was attractive, and I wasn't going to give up tonight, even though he looked even better than usual – if that were possible – the crisp white shirt a stark contrast to his tanned skin.
Sophie-Anne's speech led into Andre's, and thirty minutes later, we all raised our glasses in a final toast before saying goodbye. I walked out with Niall, ignoring Alcide's hand signal for me to stay back. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to take the rebuff to heart.
I was halfway into my coat when I felt a pair of warm hands on my shoulder.
"Here, let me help," Alcide's distinctive voice said from behind me. I looked over my shoulder as he took the empty sleeve from me and held it out for me to slip into.
"Thank you," I replied. The warmth of his hands seared through the thick material, warming my skin through the layers of fabric.
His hand lingered on my arm, and he leaned in to my ear. "You owe me." His voice was low, and it sent a shiver up my spine. First a fluster and now a shiver? Something had to be wrong with me. I was usually better positioned than to let Alcide get to me.
I turned around quickly and found myself much closer than I would have liked. I stood there for a moment, our eyes locked until I heard Niall clear his throat.
I took a step away from Alcide's oversized frame. Just that one step was enough to make me breathe again.
"I suppose the two of you have some business to discuss," he insisted, but there was a twinkle in his eye. I opened my mouth to disavow him of whatever notion was in his head, but was interrupted by Alcide.
"Something like that," Alcide interjected with a wink.
Niall responded with a hearty laugh. "It's time for me to be going anyway. Us old folks can't keep up with the likes of you two."
"Let me walk you to your car," I insisted, taking another step away from Alcide.
"No need, Sookie." Niall leaned in to brush a kiss against my cheek. He lingered for a moment, before whispering. "Enjoy yourself with your young man."
"He's not my-" I started, but Niall stepped away and turned to Alcide.
"You take care of our Sookie."
"Of course," Alcide replied with solemnity. "I always do."
"Good. Good. Oh to be young again. Now you two don't do anything I wouldn't do."
I wasn't sure there was much Niall wouldn't do when he was younger based on the stories I'd heard. It wasn't much of a warning at all.
I watched as he walked through the front doors leading to the street before turning back to face the man next to me.
He smiled; it was a smile that probably made a lot of women weak in the knees. I felt a tingling in my own knees briefly before I dug my fingernails into my palms to squash it.
"What's this about me owing you?" I said, picking up the conversation he'd started right where we'd left off. "What do I owe you for?"
He rocked back on his heels, burying one hand in his pocket. "I'll have you know that thanks to you, I just spent the last two hours looking at pictures of cats dressed up in Christmas sweaters."
I couldn't contain my laughter at the thought. "Sounds charming."
"Says the woman who didn't have to hear about how Hoyt gets a tummy ache if his belly is scratched clockwise instead of counter clockwise."
"Think of it as…character building."
"My ass," he mumbled under his breath. "I saved that seat for you, and you know it. You. Owe. Me."
I wasn't sure why the next words came out of my mouth. Maybe it was the Christmas spirit, or maybe it was the voice in my head nagging me to figure out why Alcide caused such a visceral reaction in me that night. "Fair enough. What's your price?"
The shock that briefly registered on his face at my acceptance was quickly replaced by a smile. "Come get a drink with me."
"That's hardly a fair exchange. In case you don't remember, let me remind you - we're not exactly friends," I jibbed good-naturedly.
"You wound me," he joked, placing hand over his heart. "Come on. One drink? It's the holidays. And don't pretend like you don't need a good drink after that." He inclined his head towards the room we'd just vacated.
"You're not wrong there." I could use many drinks. I looked over his shoulder at the large, ornate clock behind him. "But does it have to be right now?"
"Why not?" He followed my gaze over his shoulder. "Don't tell me ten o'clock is too late for you."
It wasn't. Not on a normal day, but I'd hoped to get some more work done yet tonight.
"I was going to head back into the office for a bit."
"Dressed like that? It'd be a shame to let that dress be wasted on your empty office. By the way," he leaned, "it may not be short like I requested, but that is one sexy dress."
I shook my head. "That kind of talk is going to get you in trouble one of these days, Alcide."
"I'll risk it," he shrugged before reaching out and tucking my hand into his arm. "Come on Cinderella, let's get out of here before the wicked witch gets you."
I looked over my shoulder and saw Sophie-Anne headed our way. "That's the wrong fairy tale, Alcide."
"Does it really matter?" he asked, tugging my arm slightly to get us moving before we could be interrupted.
"You're right," I replied, following his lead as he wove us through the crowd. Faced with the decision of Alcide or Sophie-Anne, Alcide was definitely the lesser of two evils. "Not one single bit."
And that was how I found myself sitting across from Alcide Herveaux, and actually thinking he might be human after all. He'd loosened his tie the minute we entered the swank lounge, just enough to unbutton the top button on his shirt. I tried not to focus on the glimpse of tanned skin at his throat, but I wasn't very successful. I may be smart enough to know he was bad news, but that didn't stop me from looking.
"Are you sure we should be doing this?" he asked after the waitress had taken our order – another glass of champagne for me and a scotch for him.
"If I remember correctly, you're the one that cajoled me into coming. So no, I don't think we should be doing this, but why do you ask?"
He leaned forward over the low table that separated us, and rested his elbows on his knees. "I wouldn't want to get you in trouble." His eyes were saying something entirely different.
I shifted in my seat. This couldn't lead anywhere good. "Why would I get in trouble?"
"I don't want to upset your boyfriend. I wouldn't be too keen on you getting a drink with another man, and I certainly wouldn't want to give him the wrong impression."
For a moment I was at a loss. I had no idea who he was talking about. I hadn't had a boyfriend since Bill Compton, and well… hadn't even gone on a date in about six months. "What, or more to the point, who in the world are you talking about?"
"That guy you introduced me to at the Opera event? What was his name again? Edward? Eldon? That tall, blond guy."
"Eric?" I asked, suppressing the urge to laugh that Alcide thought Eric was my boyfriend. I had brought him to one event, a blind date that my friend Amelia had set up, and had ended in complete and utter disaster.
"Oh right. Eric. I wouldn't want to upset him."
"I'm sure he wouldn't care if he knew I was having a drink with my colleague," I answered evasively. In fact, I didn't think Eric Northman cared what I did ever. But there was no reason to clear up the confusion. It wasn't as if my dating status held any significance in this setting.
Alcide was the one was in a relationship last time I checked. He'd brought his girlfriend to the Spring Gala, and from what I could remember of her, Alcide's girlfriend would in no way be okay with him being here. She had glared icily at every woman who had so much as said hello to Alcide that night. Sitting at a bar, drinking cocktails with him was probably enough for her to come after me with a shotgun.
"Ouch," Alcide replied. "A colleague? That's all I am to you?"
I shrugged. "What else would you be?"
His answer was delayed by the arrival of the waitress with our drinks. I picked up my champagne flute before settling against the plush cushions behind me.
He resumed our conversation without skipping a beat. "I thought at the very least we'd be friends."
"Friends?" I laughed. "Since when were we ever friends, Alcide?"
"Come now, Sook." He took a drink of his scotch. "I thought we were being civil to each other tonight. In fact, you should try being nice to me. You might like it."
"I am nice to you Alcide."
He shook his head. "You call that little interlude this morning nice?"
"Was that before or after you leered at my legs and gave me tips on dressing 'sexy'?"
"Touche." He tipped his glass in my direction. "I like this."
"This," he waved his hand between us. "Us. Being friendly. We should try it more often."
"It would never last," I said to myself as much as him. Being with him in a non-professional setting was really wreaking havoc on my senses. I found myself enjoying his company. Maybe it was the severe lack of sleep I'd received over the past week. Yes. That had to be it.
"You won't know if you don't try," he pointed out. "What if I told you that you being nice to me was all I wanted for Christmas?"
A scoff emanated from the deep recesses of my throat. "You should know you only get what you ask for if you're on Santa's nice list. And, knowing you, I find it hard to believe that's the list you're on."
He paused, his smirk growing to a full-on grin. I nearly choked on my champagne when he replied, "But it's so much more fun to be naughty."
"Are you okay?" he asked as I cleared my throat. He looked more amused than concerned.
I nodded. There was the Alcide I'd come to know. This was an Alcide I could handle.
"Tell me, Sookie Stackhouse," he continued, "which list are you on?"
"Um… the nice list." I hadn't done anything to get me on the naughty list in more than a year, not that I'd cop to that tonight and certainly not to Alcide.
"That can be easily fixed." He made quick work of the rest of the amber liquid in his glass and flagged the waitress down for another. "If you want it to be fixed that is."
I finished the rest of my champagne, and nodded to the waitress for another as well.
"I think I'm okay."
He chuckled and sat back in his chair. "Sorry. Did I offend your Southern sensibilities?"
"If my 'Southern sensibilities' haven't been offended by you yet, I think we're good to go."
He quirked his eyebrow, a small, mocking gesture that said he didn't believe me for one second. "Glad to hear it."
"Will you tell me a secret, Alcide?" I asked, leaning forward.
"Only if you'll tell me one back," he smirked.
I shook my head. "Are you like this with all women?"
"Chauvinistic? A general HR nightmare? Or am I just the lucky one that you get it all out on?"
"Ah yes, is this the sexual harassment discussion you touched on earlier? I have to say, I was expecting to have it in a slightly different setting, but if now's the time, I'm all ears."
"It's not funny," I reprimanded. "If you did this to the wrong woman, you could be in a world of trouble. Someone in your position can't go around "toots-ing" the general population."
He shrugged. "It's a good thing I'm saying it to you then. And you should know I never "toots" anyone. I'm more of a "hey baby" kind of guy." He laughed when I rolled my eyes, and continued. "You not getting me in trouble is just one of the many reasons I like you so much." He said it nonchalantly, but it still made me pause, my champagne flute in midair. He noticed, and it made him smile. "What?"
"Did you just admit that you like me?" My voice was laden with sarcasm, but I had to admit that I wanted to know the answer. The real answer.
"Of course. I wouldn't be here if I didn't like you. I'd be at home in bed already."
A vision of Alcide twisted in crisp white sheets flashed across my mind. I shook my head to clear it. It had to be sleep deprivation.
"I'm sure you'd prefer to be at home with… what was her name? Delilah? Than sitting here arguing with me."
"Debbie." One word. That was all he gave me.
"Yes, well I'm sure you'd rather be at home in bed with Debbie than with me."
"I'm not seeing Debbie anymore, haven't seen her in months in fact," he said, his tone getting serious. "But even if I were, you'd be surprised at my preferences. I can't imagine anywhere else I'd rather be right now."
We sat quietly for a moment while I tried to digest what he had just admitted.
"He's not my boyfriend," I blurted out, then immediately slapped my hand over my mouth. Dear God, what was I doing?
I slowly lowered my hand until it rested gingerly on my knee. "Eric. He's not my boyfriend. Never was. He was a blind date, and a terrible one at that."
"Oh." Alcide nodded slowly. It was his turn to look as shocked as I felt. He looked away for a moment, and when he looked back I knew there was no going back. "And that changes things?"
"I don't know." There. That was honest. I didn't know if it changed anything. I knew it shouldn't. Alcide wasn't someone that I had ever considered in that fashion. Shouldn't ever consider really. But my reaction to the mere mention of him liking me told me more than anything else up to this point. Who knew? Maybe it did change things, even if I wasn't prepared for it.
He reached across the table and took my hand off of my knee, surrounding it entirely in his. His thumb traced an abstract pattern on my palm, the rough skin of his fingertips a stark contrast to my freshly manicured hands.
"Sookie. I've wanted to tell you something for a long time. I…" his voice was low, rough. I leaned forward, eager to hear his next words. In for a penny, and all that. Yet, by some stroke of fate, it wasn't meant to be.
"Sookie Stackhouse! Is that you?" I pulled my hand away hastily before looking up at our intruder.
"Oh," I brushed my palm along the length of my thigh as I fought to collect myself. "Hello Ms. Crane."
"Claudine," she replied and seated herself on the armrest of my chair. "I told you to call me Claudine."
And with that, the little bubble that had been constructing for the past twelve months was broken. I nodded, glancing in Alcide's direction. He looked like I felt - like I'd been hit by a freight train. I'd been on the edge of my seat, eager for the words to come out of his mouth. What would he have said? That he loved me? It was a ridiculous thought.
It was for the best. Things said when there was alcohol involved never turned out the way they were meant to. It was good that we'd been interrupted before saying anything we'd regret. I smiled at him tentatively.
He didn't smile back.
"I'm surprised to see you out enjoying yourself," Claudine said. "You're at work every time I speak with you."
Most of that was a direct result of her, but I couldn't say that. I shrugged and gave her a bright smile. "I was just having a drink with one of our board members. We just left a meeting of sorts."
She looked between us with a knowing glint, but thankfully didn't ask any questions. She turned to face Alcide and stuck her hand out. "Claudine Crane. I don't believe I've had the pleasure of meeting you Mr…"
"Herveaux," I interjected. "Alcide Herveaux. He's the newest member of the board. Ms. Crane… Claudine… is one of the ballet's benefactors. She's also the Honorary Chairman of the Winter Gala."
Alcide took her hand and shook it briefly. "Nice to meet you Ms. Crane."
"Claudine," she corrected. She urged me to scoot over and slid into the oversized chair next to me. "Nice to meet you as well Alcide. " She looked him over from head to toe appraisingly. "You certainly don't look like most of the board members I've met."
"He's part of the ballet's plan to reach the younger generations," I smoothed over, smiling in his direction. "He's been a great addition to the board."
"I'll bet he has." The look she gave him was downright bawdy. Alcide on any other day would have eaten it up, but tonight he just smiled at her briefly before turning his eyes back to me.
"Tell me, Alcide," Claudine continued, "don't you think Sookie here is just amazing?"
Alcide didn't take his eyes off of me as he spoke. "I certainly think so."
I felt myself flush, and knew that it wasn't attributed to the champagne. It was all Alcide Herveaux and his intense green eyes.
I broke his gaze, unable to take it any longer. Thankfully Claudine broke the silence. "I don't know where we'd be without her. Honestly, I call Sophie-Anne, and Sookie returns my call." She turned her attention to me. "How do you do it?"
"I…um…" I couldn't seem to form a coherent response.
"Oh!" Claudine cried, jumping up. "I hope I wasn't interrupting anything. I'm terrible about that you know. Claude is always getting after me for that." Claude was her twin brother, and Claudine's complete antithesis. Where Claudine was borderline flighty, Claude was completely serious. As much as Claudine may have annoyed me, I would take her over Claude any day.
"Of course not," I reassured her. It was better that she'd interrupted. "We were just finishing up, weren't we?"
"In fact," I checked the time on my blackberry. "I should probably get going. Early morning tomorrow."
"Oh poo," Claudine pouted. "Can't you stay for one more drink? We never seem to talk about anything except about this silly gala."
"I don't think that's a good-"
"Sookie Stackhouse!" she interrupted. "One small favor. That's all I ask."
I looked at Alcide, and he shrugged in response.
"I…guess one more drink would be okay."
"Goodie!" Claudine cried, waving down the waitress and ordering an entire bottle of champagne. She called her friend Daphne over to join us, and pushed me to go sit with Alcide so they could share my chair.
It had been uncomfortable to sit that closely with Claudine, but that was nothing in comparison to sitting with Alcide. I didn't know if it was my imagination, but it suddenly felt like the temperature had increased by about a million degrees, and all of that heat seemed to be rolling off the man sitting next to me. The combination of alcohol and the unspoken words hanging between us was too much to take. I made myself sit as straight as possible, ensuring that only the unavoidable parts of our bodies touched.
I managed to nurse my one glass of champagne while Claudine and Daphne finished off the bottle. The conversation quickly dwindled to Claudine and Daphne gossiping about the various Chicago socialites, a conversation that was about as interesting as watching paint dry, but it didn't matter. I wasn't listening to a word they said. I was too focused on Alcide and the way his thigh felt against mine. My mind began to wander, wondering what it would feel like if other parts of him were touching me. I quickly snapped myself back to attention. I couldn't think about him that way. Nothing could happen with Alcide Herveaux. He was…off limits, for oh so many reasons. And I reassured myself that the only reason I was even thinking this way was that it had been so long since I'd had any kind of intimacy. That had to be it.
But even as I gave myself a litany of excuses, I was aware of his every movement, every breath. And when his hand came to rest on the small of my back, I nearly fell out of my seat.
I tried to smooth the movement into standing up. "I…uh…really need to go." I hoped that it was a good enough cover for my reaction to his touch, but I doubted it.
Alcide stood up as well, his large frame too close for comfort. "Me too."
"Are you sure?" Claudine asked. "I just ordered another bottle!"
"I'm sure," I insisted. "I have a long commute, and…" I looked at my phone. "It's already midnight."
I said my goodbyes quickly, and was already out the door when Alcide caught my hand. "Sookie, wait."
I turned around slowly, wishing I was anywhere but there at that exact moment, yet knowing that there was nowhere else I'd rather be. It jarred me to the core.
"I didn't get a chance to finish. Sookie." He looked down at our joined hands. "I-"
"Don't," I interrupted, shaking my head. "Really. Don't say anything you'll regret."
His brows furrowed, and I could tell my evasion was irritating him. "Why would I regret anything? For the first time in a year, I feel like I can actually say what I'm thinking. Sookie, I've always-"
"We've been drinking," I interrupted before he could say anything that he couldn't take back. I wasn't prepared for what he might say. I didn't think I would ever be.
"I'm not drunk, Sookie. And neither are you." He took my other hand and pulled me close. I closed my eyes briefly at the feel of the length of his body against mine. He lowered his head until his mouth was right above my ear. "Sookie, I've wanted to say this for a long time."
I shook my head. "I can't do this right now. I…" I looked over my shoulder and saw a cab approaching. "I've got to go Alcide." I pulled myself free and waved the taxi down. By some miracle, it stopped.
"Sookie," Alcide's voice pleaded from behind me. "Give me a chance. Let me finish. If you don't like what I have to say, I'll call you another cab."
"I can't. Just…not now Alcide." I moved toward the car before he could say another word. As I was climbing into the car, he blocked the door with his arm.
"I'm not dropping this, Sookie. We need to talk about this."
"We don't." It would be best to pretend nothing happened, and go back to our quarreling ways. I didn't need to think about the way I felt when he touched me, or wonder what it would be like to feel his lips on mine. That wasn't an avenue that needed to be explored.
"Yes. We do."
I let out an exasperated sigh. He clearly wasn't going to give up on this. "Fine, we do. Just not tonight. I need to get home."
He nodded and took a step back. "Soon."
I reached out and closed the door, resurrecting the barrier between us without another word.
I tried not to look at him as the driver pulled away, but that was like trying not to breathe. I wouldn't let myself think about it, about what might have happened if Claudine hadn't interrupted us. It wouldn't happen again, no matter what Alcide thought.
I didn't talk to Alcide the next day, or even the day after, and it wasn't for want of trying on his part. Short of ambushing me at the office, he'd tried every method of contacting me. It'd started out with a call on my cell, which I sent to voicemail. The call was followed by a handful of emails and text messages, and even a handwritten note slipped under the door at my office.
I knew that we had to talk. I'd dreamed of him that night when I went to sleep, a full on Technicolor, vivid dream that was too embarrassing to think about in the light of day. I'd woken up the next morning fully aware that talking to him about what had happened was inevitable. But I also knew that I wouldn't be doing myself any favors trying to fit that conversation into my already hectic schedule. With forty-eight hours to pull off all the last minute changes, I didn't have time to do much of anything at all.
After the fifth text message, I'd finally broken down and responded, acknowledging the need for the conversation and begging to put it off until after the gala. He'd responded with a simple "OK". I spent fifteen minutes analyzing those two letters before snapping out of it and getting back to the final preparations.
I sprang out of bed before my alarm clock could buzz the morning of the event. I hadn't slept well – or much at all thanks to the recurring Alcide dream that my subconscious mind seemed to favor – but I couldn't make myself go back to sleep. I was anxious about the event, not in the least because I knew it would be the first time I'd see Alcide.
I didn't have to be to the theatre until three – a full four hours before the event, but I couldn't keep myself distracted at home. I tried to linger in the shower, tried to pamper myself with heavy creams and lotions, but I still found myself at the train station with my evening gown in a travel bag by ten o'clock.
The mix of people on the commuter train was entirely different than it was during the week. Instead of business suits furiously checking their phones and iPads, the car was full of young families, eager for a chance to experience the downtown festivities on Christmas Eve.
My anticipation grew with each step as I neared the theatre. If what I'd left last night at two o'clock was any indication, I knew that the final product would be simply mind-blowing. There was nothing that could have prepared me for the winter wonderland residing in the atrium of the theatre. From the thousands of tiny sparkle lights, to the frosty birches lining the stairs and the oversized Christmas tree in the corner, I felt completely transported to the Silberhaus home. I couldn't wait to see how Lafayette had transformed the upper levels to the Land of the Sweets.
"Aren't you a sight for sore eyes?" Lafayette's voice called from above me. I looked up to see him standing at the top of the grand staircase, and let a giggle escape at his costume for the day.
I took the stairs, two at a time, in my haste to see the rest. I stopped in front of him and embraced him in a tight hug. "Let me guess… Herr Drosselmeyer?"
He bowed deeply. "At your service."
"This is amazing." I swept my hand in the general direction of the atrium. "You're amazing."
"You know it," he replied, turning around and tugging me behind him as he led me through the elegant display. Tables dotted the candy-coated landscape of the lobby, ready for the patrons and guests for the night.
"What can I help with today?" I asked when we came to a stop. "Did you get all of the auction items set out?"
"Girl, that was done hours ago," he replied. "I've got this all under control. What I need you to do is go sit in that office of yours and let yourself relax. No prince is gonna take you on his sleigh tonight if you look tired."
I laughed and shook my head. "I think I've outgrown needing a prince, Laffy."
"Pfft. Ain't no woman that's outgrown a prince, Sookie. You just got to remember that sometimes you find the prince in the unlikeliest of places. Like that frog one." He shuddered. "But I don't want you kissin' no frogs."
His phone rang – the sound of Beyonce's latest hit echoing throughout the lobby. He rolled his eyes at the display before letting out a slew of curses and answering the phone. When it became apparent that it wasn't going to be a quick call, I waved a quick goodbye and headed into my office.
After filtering through the piles that had been placed on my desk, I sat on the low sofa and looked out the window that dominated the far wall of the office. I smiled as a young girl walked by, hand-in-hand with an older woman who appeared to be her grandmother.
Impulsively, I made a quick call to Gran, knowing I wouldn't have the opportunity later in the day. Her quiet voice was exactly what I needed to hear on a day as hectic as today. I sunk down into the plush back of the sofa as she regaled me with stories about the inhabitants of Bon Temps, and by the time we said our last Merry Christmas, I felt the hope of Christmas reborn in me.
I hung up the phone and gave myself a moment to close my eyes. The rush of adrenaline I had felt at eight was beginning to fade. I could allow myself a quick catnap. There was still a lot of time before the event, but I knew that it would be a whirlwind of activity as soon as Sophie-Anne arrived at three.
As I drifted off to sleep, visions of the wonderland outside of my door ran through my mind. Only, instead of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, the star of the ballet was none other than Alcide Herveaux.
I was startled awake by the sound of a loud boom, and jumped from my reclining position in disoriented haste. The clock on my desk read 2:45.
"Shit," I mumbled, smoothing a hand over my hair. How had I slept that long? I blushed as a snippet of the less than platonic dream I had been having about Alcide flashed through my mind. They were getting more detailed by the minute.
I rushed out of my office, skimming through the emails on my blackberry that had arrived while I was sleeping. Thankfully there didn't appear to be anything that couldn't be handled before the event.
Lafayette was in the lobby, wrestling with an oversized marzipan when I found him.
"I can't believe you didn't wake me!" I called out before reaching him.
"Honey, I told you you needed your beauty rest. And God knows I ain't the Prince that's gonna wake the likes of you from your slumber with a kiss. I don't got those parts." He stepped back and looked me over from head to toe. "And it looks like exactly what your fine ass needed. With a little help from hair and makeup, you'll be the belle of the ball. Well, the second belle of the ball, behind me of course."
I heard Sophie-Anne's shrill laugh and looked down as she entered the atrium.
"The wicked witch arrives," Lafayette said. "Time to get going."
The next three hours were a haze of straightening, arranging and generally reassuring Sophie-Anne that everything was going to be okay. I didn't get back to my office to change into my ball-gown until six-fifteen, which gave me only thirty minutes before the first guests would be arriving.
True to his word, Lafayette worked his magic and two of the hair and makeup team members knocked on my door at exactly six-thirty. I barely recognized myself by the time they were done – my normally unmanageable hair fell over my shoulders in loose waves, and whatever they'd done to my eyes made them startlingly blue. I didn't have a spare moment to analyze any of it though, and made my way back to the enchanted atrium to start greeting the arriving guests.
The cocktail hour was a blur of pleasantries and introductions. I welcomed the familiar faces of patrons and benefactors as I led Claudine around, per Sophie-Anne's instructions. I found myself trying to find Alcide in the crowd - better to see him than be surprised and trip over my tongue, right? I managed to glimpse the back of his head when I was talking to Russell Edgington, but nothing more.
"So," Claudine asked after we left a particularly drunk patron at a silent auction table. "What's the deal with you and Alcide?"
I stopped in my tracks. "What do you mean?"
Claudine laughed and looped her arm through mine. "Don't play coy with me, Sookie. I saw the way the two of you were holding hands the other night-"
"We weren't holding hands."
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. Even if you weren't holding hands, I saw the way he looked at you the other night, and the way you looked back at him. And don't think I haven't seen you straining for a glimpse of him tonight."
Crap. If Claudine had caught onto that, there was no guessing how many other people might have seen. It was wrong on so many levels. Even if I could get over what I thought had been my disdain of him, there was the small fact that it would be frowned upon for me to fraternize with a board member. I was sure Sophie-Anne would have something to say about it.
"Not that I can blame you. The man is divine, and in that tuxedo tonight?" she smiled wistfully. "I'm sure you'll have to fight a few women off to even get to him."
"There's nothing going on between us." There. That was the truth. Sort of.
"Why the hell not?"
I paused from answering, greeting an older couple that walked by. Once we were alone again, I turned to face Claudine.
"We don't get along."
Claudine made a buzzing noise. "Not good enough. Thin line between love and hate, etc."
"Even if I did like him, which I'm not admitting I do, there is no way it could work. Dating a board member is a no-no."
"Says who? Is that established in the Bylaws - thou shalt not sleep with one another?"
I shrugged in response.
"I know for a fact," Claudine continued, "that Sophie-Anne and Russell were sleeping together last year. Quite a bit from what I've heard. And there's totally something happening with her and Andre, as creepy as that is to imagine."
I shuddered visibly at the mental picture.
"I know, right?" Claudine laughed. "So not something I want to imagine. Now you and Alcide? That I can picture in vivid detail."
So could I, thanks to an overactive dream life. I felt the heat rising up my chest and grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing waiter.
"See! I knew it!" Claudine squealed. "You're getting all flustered just thinking out it."
I cleared my throat and looked around for a distraction. Claudine wasn't my first choice to discuss my potential love life with. "Oh look. There is Niall Brigant!"
"Fine," she chuckled. "I get it. Lay off the fairy godmother matchmaker bit. I'm just saying that the two of you would make a great couple. You should try it."
"Mmmm," I nodded. "We will see."
She took the hint and dropped the subject for the time being. Not long after we finished speaking with Niall, the announcement was made to head upstairs and be seated for dinner. I stayed back, hurrying along the loiterers so that we could stay on schedule. I was straightening out a bid sheet when I felt a warm hand on my back. I knew who it was without turning around.
"Do you need any help?" Alcide asked?
I turned around slowly, taking a deep breath before facing him full on, and it was a good thing I did. It was my first full look at him since I had driven away in the taxi. Everyday Alcide was quite a sight to see, but full on tuxedo Alcide was enough to take my breath away. The sleek lines of his suit were a stark contrast to the unruly mop of black hair and hint of five o'clock shadow that crossed his face.
He smiled down at me, his hand halfway between us. "Hello Sookie." His hand dropped down to his side. He looked as nervous as I felt. "You look beautiful tonight."
"Thank you," I replied quietly. "So do you. Handsome that is."
"Thank you," he chuckled. "I tried to find to you earlier, but you were always in the middle of something."
"So goes the life of being Sophie-Anne's assistant."
"Mmm," he mumbled his assent.
I looked behind me at the auction table. "I think everything is done here."
"What?" he asked, sounding confused.
"The auction." I looked back at him. "I think everything is done. We should probably head upstairs."
He reached out and placed a hand on my arm. "Sookie..." he trailed off.
I looked down at his hand on my arm, then lifted my eyes back to his. "Yes?"
He shook his head, as if he had decided against saying whatever it was he had started. "Nothing. Can I escort you to dinner?"
I nodded slowly. "Sure." It was a start.
Our tables were at opposite sides of the lobby - something I had decided before things had changed. His hand lingered on my back as he pulled out my chair for me and saw me seated next to Niall and his family. He left wordlessly, but his eyes were filled with a promise to complete his unfinished conversation soon. The weirdest part was that it was a conversation that I was beginning to think I wanted to have.
My mind raced the entire meal, though I managed to at least go through the motions of making small talk with my neighbors. I stood up when the dancers arrived and the entertainment portion of the program started, and slipped through the doors that lead to the auditorium itself. I needed to be alone for a minute, to collect my thoughts and figure out just what the hell I wanted with Alcide.
How had so much changed in such a short time? Only a week ago, I hadn't given Alcide Herveaux a second thought, yet tonight I could think of little else but what it would be like if he touched me again, if he kissed me.
Dear God, I wanted to be kissed by Alcide. Badly. And since I was being honest with myself, I wanted a whole lot more than just a kiss.
I shook my head and laughed into the empty auditorium.
"Alcide," I said to no one, the name sounding foreign on my lips. I supposed it was foreign really, since the meaning had changed.
I stepped further into the auditorium, drinking in the magic I felt whenever I was in there alone. The beautiful white lights that encompassed the stage were on, and the heavy red curtain hung perfectly still. I made my way down the long aisle, walking the length of the auditorium until I reached the stage. This was something I understood, something that didn't confuse me. I ran my hand along the well-worn wood of the stage, deep in thought when I heard the main door open.
"Hello?" I called out into the darkness. Yet even before the intruder answered, I knew who it was. I could sense the change in the air, the charge of electricity that had always been there when Alcide came near. I used to think it was my hackles being raised, but I was beginning to wonder if it was something else entirely.
He began walking down the aisle towards me, moving out of the shadows of the doorway as he neared the stage. I felt my heart speed up with every step he took. When he was fifteen rows away he finally spoke. "Claudine told me I might find you here."
I didn't say a word; couldn't say a word the way my heart was lodged in my throat.
He came to a stop in front of me, and handed me one of the two glasses of champagne he carried in his hands. "I thought you could use a drink."
I took the glass from his hand, our fingers brushing slightly as the flute was passed.
"Thank you," I managed to eke out.
He moved to stand next to me, turning to face the stage and rest his hands on its edge. I turned with him, my bare shoulder brushing against the fabric of his jacket. We stood for a moment in silence, looking at the empty expanse.
"It's kind of magical in here when it's quiet, isn't it?"
I nodded, taking a sip of champagne. "Lafayette says that each performance leaves an echo of greatness in here."
"Hmmm. I don't normally believe in that kind of stuff, but I've got to admit that there's something special here." He turned his head to look at me. "He's kind of an odd one, isn't he?"
"Lafayette?" He nodded. "He's a bit eccentric."
"Talk about an understatement. I don't know what he means half the time, or anytime really. He stopped me tonight and out of the blue asked me to pass a message onto you."
I quirked my eyebrow in question.
"I'm supposed to tell you that I'm not a frog. Whatever that means."
The laughter bubbled out of my throat before I could stop it.
"Does that mean anything to you?" Alcide asked, still looking confused.
I nodded. "It's an inside thing." It looked as if I was the last to know what I wanted, not that it should be surprising. Lafayette always knew.
"And you're not going to tell me?"
"Hmmm. I'm going to hold you to that one."
"We'll see," I acquiesced. I turned around and looked at the doors we'd come in through. "Do you think we should head out there? I don't think we've missed the Trepak yet."
"No." His voice was near to my ear, much closer than I was expecting. It made my entire body tingle.
I turned my face towards him slowly, stopping when our faces were no more than an inch apart.
"Dance with me," he said, taking the flute of champagne from my hand and setting it on the stage.
"Dance with me."
"There's no music." The words weren't even out of my mouth when the music started. "What...? How?"
"I've got my ways," he said with a smile. He reached out, clasped my hand in his and pulled me tightly against him. "Better," he nodded before beginning to lead me around in the waltz.
"I didn't know you could dance," I said when I was able to catch my breath.
"There's a lot you don't know about me. A lot I would like to tell if you ever answered your phone." I looked up sharply and saw the laughter in his eyes.
"You seem rather fond of that response," he teased. No, what I was rather fond of was the way his body felt against mine, the way I seemed to fit in his arms.
"I know you don't want to talk about it tonight, but I can't wait anymore." His arm tightened on my waist, but he did not miss a step. "I haven't been able to think about anything but you since you drove away. Long before that if I'm being honest. I've tried, Lord knows I've tried, but I keep coming back to the way you looked standing there in that ridiculous white dress; he way I wanted nothing more than to kiss you."
"No. Let me finish."
"I like you Sookie. Like a man likes a woman, and have done since the day you turned and realized I wasn't Rasul."
He remembered. For some reason that touched a part of my heart that I hadn't felt in years.
"I don't know why things turned out the way they did with us, but I don't want them to be that way anymore. I would have said something earlier, but I thought you were with that guy, and when you said you weren't...well, I learned you've got to take the opportunity when it arises." He tilted my head back to look into his eyes. "I know I could leave here feeling like a damned fool, but I had to say something. I couldn't wait and see you snapped up by someone else because I was too much of an idiot to take a chance."
He stopped our movement, but kept his arms around me as he waited for my response. I took my time, trying to find the right words to tell him how I felt, that I felt the same way.
I smiled up at him. "Lafayette's right."
"What?" a puzzled look crossed his face. I repeated myself, and he laughed derisively. "I pour my heart out to you and all you can say is Lafayette's right? What does that even mean?"
"You know that saying, that you've got to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince?" I asked.
He nodded, though the confusion was apparent.
I smiled and trailed my hands up his back until I reached the bare skin of his neck. "Well, Lafayette told me I shouldn't kiss anymore frogs."
I saw the realization cross his face and smiled. "So if you're not a frog," I gently pulled his face towards mine, "I guess that means I can kiss you."
And I did. I may have thought kissing Alcide in my dreams was good, but it was nothing compared to the feel of his lips against mine, or the way his hands felt as they branded my body. I heard the music he'd arranged swell in the background, and wondered if there had ever been a more perfect kiss.
Eventually, he pulled away to rest his forehead against mine. "So I take it that means you like me?"
"You could say that."
"Good." He captured my lips again. His kiss was searing, lust coursing through my entire body. I could go on like this forever. I was panting for breath the next time he pulled away.
"I've dreamed about this."
"Me too," I admitted.
"Oh really?" He had a teasing glint in his eyes. "Feel free to tell me about it any time you want. And in great detail. With as few clothes on as you'd like. Or better yet, feel free to show me."
"You're terrible," I chuckled. "But I suppose I will see what I can do."
A loud noise sounded from the doorway, and we jumped apart like school children caught doing something mischievous. When no one came forward, he pulled me back for another kiss.
"As much as I hate to say it," he said. "We should go back before Sophie-Anne sends out a search party."
I nodded, following his lead as he wrapped an arm around my shoulder and lead me towards the door. He stopped before opening them.
"So I guess this means I was on the nice list after all?" he asked.
He looked at his watch. "It's midnight. Technically Christmas."
I nodded, still not following where he was going.
"You said Santa only grants Christmas wishes to those on the nice list, and it looks like I got exactly what I wanted."
"No way. I think I was the one on the nice list," I said sweetly. "Last I checked you were naughty all the way."
"Are you saying that you asked Santa for me?"
I shrugged, wrapping my arm around his waist.
"Aren't you full of surprises?" he asked. "If that's the case, you're probably right. I've always thought life was more fun on the naughty list. Tell me," he pulled me to face him. "Any chance you'd be willing to let me take you home and show you have fun it can be?"
I laughed, leaning up to brush my lips against his. "I think I can be persuaded. I've got 364 more days to get back on the nice list after all."
"Sookie, you don't stand a chance if you're with me."
I was willing to take my chances.