Eric certainly left me with a lot to consider. I’d promised to call Tara as soon as I got out of the interview, but I needed some time to process the whole thing. I ended up sending her a text message promising to call her later. She texted me back, threatening to just show up with greasy pizza, a gallon of ice cream and cheesy chick flicks if I didn’t. I wasn’t really in the mood for all that so I made a note to call her later if it killed me.
It was a typical California day, beautiful and warm- not a cloud in the sky. I decided to spend the afternoon at the beach. It was better than going back to my empty apartment where the silence could slowly drive me insane. After fighting some ridiculous traffic, I got on the 10 and headed toward Santa Monica. It still amazed me to hear the surf report mixed in with the weather and traffic on the radio and I smiled to myself when I heard it was a good surf day.
Watching the surfers was fun for me. I didn’t have the coordination to attempt the sport myself, but I was impressed by how well they were able to maintain their balance on some times very rough water. Well, it looked rough to me, anyway. Finding a place to park was about as fun as it usually was, considering it was the middle of the day during the work week. I traded my crazy high heels for a pair of sparkly black flip-flops I’d stashed in my backseat. I put my fancier shoes in the trunk and then locked up the car before heading toward the beach.
I wasn’t really dressed for spending the day in the sun but I figured I was the only one who really cared about that. I found an empty bench facing the water and took a seat. I slipped my sunglasses up onto the top of my head so I could really look at the horizon. Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe it. I took a deep breath to let the smell of the ocean fill my lungs and I instantly felt a little bit calmer- until I closed my eyes, anyway.
I exhaled slowly and let my head fall back. Warm sunlight fell on my face, making my closed eyes feel like there were bright glowing bulbs trapped under my eyelids. I slowly brought my head upright again and started to replay the interview over again in my head. My first impression of Pam was that she was intimidating. For being such a small woman, there was an air of domination and confidence about her that was impossible to ignore. Her pale blond hair was held back by a thin robin’s egg blue band and fell in waves over her shoulders. Her skin was pale and the color of fresh cream. I didn’t know skin got that white, but Pam had it. She was perfectly groomed in just about every way a person could be.
She wasn’t overly friendly but I didn’t mind that. I was used to women who were friendly to my face and talked trash about me the second I turned my back. To hear Pam be snarky and honest with me from the get-go was a nice change of pace. She’d offered me coffee but I knew it would only make me more jittery, which I didn’t need. She sat me down in the conference room without a word of instruction and left me there.
I’d used the time for quiet reflection, at first, since I didn’t have anything else to do. I tried to get my answers together so I wouldn’t make a big fool of myself, but that turned out to be a total waste of my time. I told Eric he was hot. What the hell was wrong with me? I groaned there on the bench and hung my head. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted the job, but I wanted to know I had the option of turning it down. With most employers, calling your potential boss ‘hot’ at the start of the interview wasn’t the way to make sure you got the job.
Then there was Eric’s extra curricular activities to consider. Okay, so who he chose to spend his time with outside of the office was none of my business. I didn’t know that Nicole person’s story. For all I knew she was separated, or I had completely misread her tone. I could have been jumping to conclusions and just personalizing a little too much on her feelings since she was getting something I wanted.
Did I want Eric? Yes, I did. I groaned again. Good Lord, fallen leaves probably wanted him. I’d be crazy not to. I’d worked in a bar long enough to know what flirting looked like, even in its most simplistic and subtle forms. Maybe Eric was the sort who flirted without realizing he was even doing it, sort of like my idiot brother. Jason certainly had a way of making 99% of what came out of his mouth sound suggestive. Maybe Eric was the same way?
My brain felt like it was melting into a puddle of mush the more I thought about it. I looked up to where the surfers were paddling out to catch the next wave, and decided I wasn’t going to think about the interview anymore. What was done, was done. I couldn’t change it. All I could do was wait to see if I got another phone call.
I sat there watching the surfers until my butt felt numb. I walked along the boardwalk for a while and let myself get lost in the performers displaying their craft for the people on the beach. I stopped for a snack at one of the little cafes, and sat down to people watch. My sandle was dangling off my toes when I looked to my right and realized I was sitting next to Mark Stonebrook. My breath caught in my throat and my heart about exploded in my chest.
Mark was an actor on one of those vampire shows that was all the rage. I wasn’t much for television, but Area 5 was hard to ignore. There was lots of eye candy to pay attention to, and Mark had recently joined the cast as a bad ass male witch. Since I hadn’t met my quota of awkward for the day yet, my grip released itself, letting my fresh lemonade fall to the ground. The concoction splashed up, getting mostly on my legs, but some on Mark’s designer jeans.
“I am so sorry.” I immediately apologized and moved to clean up the mess.
Unfortunately, Mark did the same thing and we ended up smacking heads on the way down. “Are you okay?” He asked, even though he was rubbing his own head.
“I don’t know what is wrong with me today.” I was close to bursting into tears.
“Hey, it’s just spilled lemonade.” A warm hand touched my bare shoulder. “It’s nothing to cry over.”
My eyes met his and I couldn’t help but smile. His eyes were a deep shade of green and very warm. He looked like the kind of guy my brother would have played football with in high school. He had a slightly southern lilt to his voice it seemed he was trying desperately to hide. I couldn’t hide mine to save my life.
“It’s been a bad day pretty much from the start.” I bit the inside of my cheeks to keep my bottom lip from trembling.
“We all have bad days.” Mark handed me another fresh napkin when I’d soiled the ones in my hand. “I got chased by a wolf last week on set.”
I stopped what I was doing and looked up at him with wide eyes. “A wolf?”
“Scared the hell out of me. They’re supposed to be trained, but I’m not sure you can ever really train an animal with that much instinct.” Mark joined the clean up effort, carefully wiping lemonade from my calf.
If only he knew how much weight those particular words carried. “I went on a job interview today and told the guy I might be working for that I think he’s hot.”
Mark tried not to smile. “Coming from a pretty girl like you, I’m sure he was flattered.”
“I don’t know what he was, to be honest. He didn’t just stop the interview, so that’s good, right?” I couldn’t believe I was carrying on a conversation about this with man like I’d known him my whole life.
“Could be.” Mark gave me a reassuring smile that showcased perfectly straight, white teeth. “I’m Mark Stonebrook.” He held out his hand in introduction.
“Sookie Stackhouse.” I let his hand swallow mine.
“That’s quite a name you got there, Sookie Stackhouse.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Pardon me for saying so, but Stonebrook isn’t a name you hear every day.”
He laughed in response and said, “I suppose you’re right. I take it you and I might share a home state?”
“Louisiana, born and raised.” I let my most deep south accent come out to play for a minute and Mark seemed to relax.
“You sound like home.” There was a warm twinkle in his eye that made my heart race.
I blushed, of course, completely flustered by his words. “You know, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in a long time.” I couldn’t have wiped the smile from my face if I wanted to.
For a second I thought he might lean over and kiss me, the look between us got so intense. Then his cell phone started to ring. He groaned and reached into his pocket to retrieve it. “What do you want, Janna? No, now’s not a good… Janna? Janna!” He shouted into the phone to get the woman’s attention. “Listen, can I call you back in five minutes? Great. Yes, five minutes. Yes. Okay, I heard you, mother.” He slapped his phone shut and shook his head.
“Sounds like maybe I’m not the only one having a rough day?”
“That’s just my publicist.” He rang his big hand through a tangle of dark curls that lightly brushed his shoulders. “I don’t mean to sound like I’m ungrateful, but sometimes being ‘famous’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“We all have our burdens, right? I would imagine it’s easy to assume a person has it all because their face is splashed on TV screens and magazine covers.”
“Don’t forget gossip blogs and worst dressed lists.” He snorted.
I offered a gentle smile and asked, “Do you love what you do?”
“I couldn’t put up with the rest if I didn’t.” He stuffed his phone back in his pocket, his friendly eyes never leaving mine.
“I’m probably one of six people on the planet who hasn’t seen Area 5, so I’m not familiar with your work, but-”
Mark made a motion like I’d just shot him in the chest and I felt like an idiot for telling him the truth. “We should change that. My first two weeks there I was like an over-excited fangirl doing a guest spot in a Twilight movie.”
“Haven’t seen that, either.”
“Don’t bother.” He shook his head and quickly added, “An ex-girlfriend dragged me to see it. It was the worst two hours of my life, and this is coming from someone who was chased by a wolf.”
I laughed again and realized all of the things that had been bothering me before weren’t bothering me anymore. “I’ll take your word for it. And I’ll look into getting the dvds.”
“I have a better idea.” Mark pulled his phone out again. “How about you give me your number, and you can come by and watch us film sometime?”
My mouth started to hang open and it took me a minute to remember I had a phone number. I was really batting a thousand in the composure category, wasn’t I? Mark and I traded numbers and he promised to call me next time he had a day shoot. He seemed regretful about having to leave me when his phone started ringing again, but it was his publicist.
“It was nice to meet you, Sookie Stackhouse. I’ll call you soon.” He kissed my hand and then walked away with his phone pressed to his ear.
Three days later I got an email from Eric, extending me a written job offer. The amount of money he was willing to pay me had my eyes bugging out of my head. I was looking at making nearly six figures. Talk about going from zero to sixty in the job market. I was floored by the offer. At first, I was sure there had to be some sort of keystroke error on his end. Then I took into consideration the fact that I would pretty much bet at his beck and call, not to mention the cost of living in Los Angeles, and I figured the amount he proposed was still generous, but not offensively so.
I sent Eric a quick response, thanking him for his offer, but asking for a few days to think it over. What was there to think about? Plenty. After talking it over with Tara, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t overreacting about the way he’d behaved toward me. We were attracted to one another, and I didn’t think sleeping with the boss was right. Yes, we were both consenting adults. No, I didn’t think Eric would make sex a condition of my job. In fact, I was pretty sure it would be one hell of a perk.
But what if it all went to hell? I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with relationships to begin with. I’d spent most of my teen years focusing on school instead of boys. Not that I didn’t want to date, because I did, but it seemed like dating the boss was a one way ticket to all kinds of trouble I just didn’t need. I felt like I should accept the offer on the condition that Eric knew sex wasn’t part of the deal, but that also seemed pretty presumptuous on my part.
Thankfully, I got a call from Mark that distracted me. He invited me to come watch his shoot in a few days, and I have to admit, I couldn’t wait. I’d never been on a set of any kind before. I promised I would meet him as long as there weren’t any wolves around. Not that it wouldn’t have been just a little entertaining to watch him haul ass, but I wasn’t really in the mood for bloody carnage. He assured me there wouldn’t be any wolves around, and I accepted his invitation.
Three days passed since I got the job offer from Eric. I tried to go about my regular routine, and even went on a few more interviews. All of them left me thinking about the offer I already had on the table. I was wasting time. I was dragging my feet and potentially freezing myself out of a really good opportunity that I was sure most people would kill for.
I was parked on my couch, just about to watch the first season of Area 5 so I wouldn’t sound like a total moron when I got to Mark’s shoot, when my buzzer sounded. I pushed pause on the remote and popped off the couch. I had no idea who was stopping by, since I wasn’t expecting anyone. I looked through my peephole, and gasped in shock.
I flipped the deadbolt and threw the door open. “Eric? What are you doing here?”
Without waiting for an invitation, he strode into my apartment like he’d been here a bunch of times before. I shook my head at his brazenness, but didn’t order him out. I cursed myself for the little fantasy playing in my head where he swept me up, carried me to my room and pillaged me like the Viking he appeared to be. I shivered a bit, then closed my door before I made a huge fool of myself.
“I don’t like people who waste my time, Miss Stackhouse. Furthermore, I don’t like it when I don’t get my way. Was the offer I made not satisfactory?” Eric stared out the large windows in my living room.
“I don’t like people who show up at my home uninvited. Furthermore, I don’t appreciate your air of self-importance.” I snarked at him. What. The. Hell. Was. I. Doing?
Eric turned with a look of amusement on his face. “You’re sassy.”
“It’s one of my best qualities.” I folded my arms over my chest.
His eyebrow arched and he looked like he wanted to say something different from what came out of his mouth. “You haven’t answered my question, Miss Stackhouse.”
“Why do you want to hire me, Eric. I’m not exactly qualified for the job, and if we’re both honest, I really sort of tanked that interview.”
Eric took up a more relaxed pose. His large hands settled in the pockets of his jeans. Jeans that made his ass look ridiculously good. Yeah, Sook, those are the kinds of thoughts you should be having right now. Could you focus, please?, I berated myself silently. Although thinking about Eric’s ass so easily was a reason why taking the job was probably a bad idea. How was I ever going to get any work done if that’s all I ever thought about?
“Perhaps I haven’t made this clear to you, Miss Stackhouse, but I got after the things I want. I see it, I make a plan and I execute that plan. I am relentless. Pam says I am insufferable. I’m stubborn and determined, and I don’t let things get in the way of having the things I want.” Eric explained to me with a cool confidence that told me he wasn’t bluffing.
“And you want me?” The question left my mouth faster than my brain filter could catch it.
A smoldering look filled his eyes that had me shivering again. He looked me up and down, and I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I was in nothing more than a pair of boy shorts and a tank top. For a man like Eric, I probably looked like dessert, and the thought made my knees a little weak.
Eric stepped closer and said, “I want everything you have to offer.”
I gulped before I drowned in my own drool. “Everything?” I asked weakly, somehow finding the courage to meet his eyes.
The smoldering was still there, and it had been joined by a smirk. “Everything.”
My heart was hammering away in my chest. My stomach was doing the Twist. My knees were dangerously close to giving out on me. Every instinct I had was telling me to run screaming in the other direction, while the cells of my skin wanted to feel everything he had to offer. I was quite a mess.
“Then I accept your offer.” I stared him straight in the eye, completely blown away with myself for giving in to him.
“Most excellent, Miss Stackhouse.” He looked very pleased with himself. “You start Monday at nine. Don’t be late.”
He was blatantly ogling my cleavage, but I was back to thinking about his ass, so it seemed only fair. I nodded my agreement, and watched him walk out of my apartment. I stood there dazed, wondering what the hell just happened. Then I had a panic attack because I had a job- so not the reaction I was supposed to have.
I was officially Eric Northman’s personal assistant. Well, I’ll be damned.