Allecks Auers’s poor timing aside, I couldn’t help but wonder what he’d been told about Misty’s reason for leaving Charleroi alone.
I offered, “Understandable, yes? I doubt you would do any differently.”
“Yeah, understandable, but his timing is a turd in the punchbowl… Allecks is high-maintenance when he’s upset, I still haven’t dealt with Gawain, and you still haven’t staked that Belgian Fuck…”
I chuckled, but I wasn’t the only one. “I’m sure we’ll manage… Was he told about his aunt’s prejudiced attitude or was he given a fabrication?”
She huffed and pushed herself from the counter. “Since one of his cousin’s shares Lisia’s opinion, we just implied Misty actually heard that nastiness.”
“Good to know… Keep in mind he can be glamoured if he overreacts to anything.”
She sighed, “Thank God,” as she turned to go to the door.
Sookie opened the door and offered a sympathetic greeting in spite of how anxious she was about Allecks’s arrival.
Allecks didn’t wait to wrap his arms around Sookie. They dammed the doorway while Jenny and Lindy squeezed past them to come to me… Gawain was trapped outside.
The girls hugged my waist and Lindy impishly asked, “How are the meetings going?”
“Quite well. We’re waiting for the last four Lords now… Jenny, Lindy… meet Edward and Richard.”
The girls offered a wave when the boys did, but continued to stare as though they were high.
Since Sookie was escorting Allecks upstairs to see Misty, I was left without a clue as to why…
I waved my hand in their field of vision with no result and finally tugged a lock of Jenny’s hair.
She barely glanced at me, but at least she reacted.
“I know they’re ugly, but…”
Jenny gasped, “They. Are. Not.” I should have tried insulting the boys earlier.
“Edward and Richard… Plantagenet!?” Gawain joined us just in time to raise an eyebrow at how much Sookie’s children knew.
Edward offered, “That was a long time ago. We’re using ‘Page’ nowadays. Where did you hear about us, love?”
Lindy shook her head and breathed, “Tyson. He told us.”
“Yeah? When did you meet him?”
“Last summer… We went on normal tours and stuff when Mommy did a book signing. It was just an excuse to flirt with Mommy… but Pappa said he wouldn’t have minded if Tyson flirted with him for the tour we got.”
Gawain asked, “Book signing?”
It was a very good thing he didn’t ask about Tyson flirting with Sookie when it only took Gawain two minutes to start… and she wasn’t in the room for half of that.
Before anyone else had the chance to answer him, I offered, “Yes. Book signing. I’m assuming that Sookie’s nomme de plume didn’t come up in your background search. Would you like time to Google Ana Louis?”
I might as well have set his hair ablaze. He forgot his poker face.
“Sookie is Ana Louis?”
Edward chuckled, “Funny, that is… I love the Notorious books.” I was officially the only one who’d never heard of them.
Lindy giggled, “But they’re for kids.”
Richard rolled his eyes and groaned, “Which is why he makes me stand in line for them.”
Jenny mewled sympathetically and turned to leave the kitchen.
Lindy snorted, “That’s just wrong. You know, you can preorder them from Amazon.”
Edward grinned from ear to ear and nodded. “I know.”
When Lindy shook her head disapprovingly, she looked exactly like Sookie. She sighed, “So if the meetings are going so well, whose mess is that by the front door?”
“As it turns out, Lord Bethany had a hand in Liz’s murder. She was part of the scheme.”
She gasped, “BEEEotch!”
I added, “And she was harboring Alexei.”
Anger made her look more like her mother too. “It’s not fair you can only kill her once… Is that it?”
I was reporting to a 6-year old.
“No. We’re still waiting for Francois. Bethany exposed his part. The other three Lords will probably be just as boring as the rest of them.”
She snorted, “Were you that bored?”
“Not really… Sookie and I were just discussing that I’ll need to replace Bethany and Francois. You’ll be taking me to Louisiana to meet Isabel Beaumont…”
She shrieked, “WHEN!?” and held her breath.
“As early as tomorrow night if Dinh can arrange for a charter.”
She squeaked, bounced and clapped… hugged my waist… and darted out of the kitchen.
Gawain scowled at me while Edward whined that he wanted to go. He’d never been as far south as Louisiana.
I waited, expecting Gawain to say something, but I had to prompt him. “What is that? Do you want to see an alligator too?”
“The trip is conveniently timed.”
I almost laughed… he thought I was going to Louisiana with Sookie to take him out of the scenario.
“Is there a convenient time to be shopping for new Lords?”
“Is there a reason you have to shop in Louisiana?”
“Is there a local outlet that carries Vampire Lord hopefuls?”
It was almost fun… questions with questions…
“Who is Isabel Beaumont?”
He ruined it.
I shrugged. “She comes highly recommended.”
Gawain was less than amused when the boys began laughing. He snarled, “Who recommended her?”
“I’m not sure how to answer that… The referral was researched by a think tank, but the recommendation was delivered by a separate individual.”
“The children! You’re taking political advice from children!?” Children with access to a journal full of political gems, it seemed.
“They’re very clever children, Gawain.”
Yes, I was fucking with him. I couldn’t remember ever seeing him so riled.
I was sure he was trying to think of a question I’d have to answer seriously… so I was only more amused when I heard one of the doors upstairs open.
As Sookie made her way downstairs, she grumbled, “I swear to God, you two are enough to drive a person to drink…”
She scowled at each of us in turn as she joined us and, again, put herself between us.
With her back to me, she started by chiding Gawain. “You need to back your shit down. He hasn’t lost his mind. His sanity has never been in question. There’s a big fucking difference between mania and grief. The only reason you’re bringing it up now is because you know he fed from me. I’m not Faerie enough to make him crazy. I’m just Fae enough to be slightly sweeter than a Human.”
“What the fuck could you possibly know about him? How long have you known him?”
“I see your point since I only met Eric a couple of weeks ago… but I can tell you that he handled Liz’s death a hell of a lot better than I would if my father killed my daughter for a promotion. Some reporter would coin the term ‘going Sookie’ because berserker/rampage/postal wouldn’t quite paint the picture.”
The thought had crossed my mind… Her analogy was frighteningly fitting.
“After that display in the hallway, it seems like he wants to keep you to himself, covet you… your blood may be slightly sweeter than a Human’s, but there’s more to it and now you’re off to Louisiana. It seems like more covetous behavior…”
She snorted and elbowed my side. “He conveniently left out that it was my suggestion because he was having fun pushing your buttons. Would you like to go with us? It’ll be a really exciting trip… we might even go bowling.”
Edward and Richard raised their hands and pleaded, “Can we come?” in unison.
Gawain shook his head. “You have a lot of influence over him… Are you trying to emulate Liz or is he buying your clothes…”
She snorted, “Neither. I couldn’t be Liz if I tried. I hear we’d get on really well though… You need to check yourself because you’re the only one making that comparison.”
“He talks about her? With you?”
“You could say that... I know enough about her to know I missed out… and that all of you have a great reason to miss her. She was completely herself and unapologetic with anyone who didn’t like it. She had style. She had wit. She was completely devoted to Eric, but she had no problem telling him when she thought he was fucking up. She was phenomenal and he has every fucking right to mourn her loss.”
He glared at her for a moment before he argued, “Are you pushing him? Controlling him in some way? Is telepathy the extent of your ability?”
“I’m not controlling him. Misty and I have had his blood. He’s not in an emotional vacuum anymore because he can’t just be numb…”
Edward offered, “Back off, Gawain… We’ve seen him like this before. It’s been a while, but… this is good. It’s nice to see him so…”
Richard finished, “Relaxed.”
At least the boys weren’t convinced I was Sookie’s puppet.
Gawain argued, “It’s a bit sudden. He’s been…”
Sookie offered, “He’s been an antisocial prick since he lost Liz.”
Gawain nodded with his eyebrows raised. “That’s an understatement… So I have to ask, how the fuck would you know that?”
“I could have read Dinh and Saskia’s minds. They think of him as an ogre. I could have read the guards who hate their jobs. I could be basing my opinion on how surprised you, Edward and Richard were to see him playing chess and the shock each one of you felt when you saw him smile. Maybe, just maybe, I’m already seeing a huge difference in his disposition since I met him.”
“Could… maybe… You’re leaving something out.”
“You want a cookie for figuring that out?”
“What I want is straight answers. It isn’t like him, even before Liz was murdered, to take an interest in Humans. What are you doing here? What do you get from helping him?” Absolutely nothing.
“I’m willing to do anything and everything I can to help him, no strings attached other than the fact that he has to put up with me.”
It wasn’t such a hardship… not now that I was acclimating… Sink or swim…
“Why does he need your help?”
“Do you really want to know? Right here? Right now? Are you sure you’re up for full disclosure, Gawain?”
I felt like I was watching a mouse approach an armed trap.
The boys seemed like they were sitting on the edge of their seats as Gawain nodded. “Yes. I want to know what the fuck is going on.”
Sookie pulled her neck to the side, then the other, popping her joints before she stepped towards him.
She lifted her chin and said, “You asked for it…”
He glared at her as though he was waiting for an answer, but before she said anything, his face paled.
There was nothing but silence between them…
I was sure she was somehow answering him telepathically… and wondering why I would have spent so much time being coached on messaged smiley faces if her telepathy worked in the other direction…
Lindy and Jenny finally returned to the kitchen, eyeing Sookie and Gawain carefully as they walked by… Lindy pushed herself up to sit on the counter next to me, while Jenny delivered a copy of Sookie’s new book to Edward and took a seat next to Richard…
The girls’ arrival was the only thing to break the stasis in the room… and then they became part of it.
After no less than ten minutes of waiting, I whispered to Lindy, “I didn’t realize you could do that with non-telepaths.”
She raised an eyebrow and shook her head. “We can’t… Gawain really shouldn’t have pushed for an explanation.”
Lindy nodded. “Gawain’s telepathic. Like us. For the same reason.”
“He’s Fae?” Richard and Edward had asked with me.
“Was.” That would explain what could make a Vampire look more ashen than usual.
“Is that in the journal?”
She shook her head. “Mommy found out last night. The other Sookie told her.”
“She didn’t mention it to me.”
“She wasn’t sure she was going to say anything because he’s kept the secret for so long, but he’s being confrontational about why we’re here and why you’re coming out of your funk so fast. His Maker went nuts over his blood. He thinks that’s what’s going on with you and Mommy. He was way more Fae though.”
At least Gawain seemed to have a valid concern… It would have been nice if he’d just suggested it was Sookie’s blood and not that I was obsessed with Liz… It didn’t matter that both were true because he was wrong about my reasons.
Edward groaned, “Are we going to get an explanation? This is torture.”
I couldn’t have been less sure of how to start… When Jenny looked as though she did, I gave her a nod.
She smiled and took a deep breath as she started, “Well, Faeries don’t have a great chance of walking away from a meeting with a Vampire because full-blooded ones are like candy. So it doesn’t happen often that Vampires and Faeries get together. Our scent isn’t as bad so y’all can put up with it, but we still have Faerie abilities… As it turns out, when Faeries have Vampire blood, they can do this thing… Some of us call it skipping, some call it leaping…”
Gawain muttered, “Some call it ‘the braid’,” absently.
He’d heard of it?
Jenny tilted her head to the side. “Wow. That’s a new one… Anyway, there’s actually a basis for it all in quantum physics. We looked it up to make sure we weren’t all nuts. We don’t know if something else causes it, but when Vampires bond to Faeries, they can bounce in and out of other versions of their lives. We met another Eric because he was already bonded to a Sookie, then this Eric met our Sookie later… The littlest things make a difference…”
I offered, “Like a coin toss.”
Jenny frowned and sighed, “Yeah… like a coin toss…”
Richard and Edward stared at her as though she’d grown another head.
Lindy giggled and reached into her back pocket…
She launched herself from the counter and strolled towards the table and warned, “Keep in mind, my father is completely Human. He doesn’t know we’re Fae or that we’re telepathic… his head would explode trying to understand skipping, so mum’s the word.”
She held her phone up for them to see… She was showing off one of the videos from the journal.
A video filmed at a bar named Fangtasia, ‘My bar’. Pam and Sookie were dancing together, kissing and caressing among a sea of customers… It was filmed as part of a prank played against another Me, meant to convince Him that there was a version where Sookie and Pam were a couple. The Eric it was meant to taunt hadn’t fallen for it because He’d been able to sense their mischievousness, but several others had been fooled when it was used as ‘evidence’ of skipping.
While the boys gaped, Lindy offered, “Mommy’s only 25. Do the math. She was born the year Liz died. We aren’t bonkers.”
Jenny explained, “In that version, Liz is using the name Pam. Eric and Pam moved to the States instead of going to Paris. He ended up getting offered the job of Sheriff of Shreveport. He opened a Vampire bar after the Revelation and that’s how that Eric and Sookie met…”
Edward snorted, “That takes balls… Mata’utia hired Eric? He’s younger than we are.”
I shook my head. “Sophie-Ann LeClerq… Those versions only took the posts as Sheriff so they could remain close to investments in Cuba.”
Edward and Richard shared a look before Richard asked, “Sophie-Ann is still the Queen of Louisiana in some versions?”
She giggled, “Yeah… Are we about to find out how Mata’utia became King?”
“About 50 years ago, the King of Nevada took over…”
“That was him… He appointed Mata’utia as his Lieutenant to reign over Louisiana. Mata staged a coup and took over after ending DeCastro, and left Nevada to rot. They still don’t have a King that we’ve heard. It’s anarchy there.”
Edward offered, “I bet… it’s complete bollocks that I’m even saying this… I bet if DeCastro didn’t move on LeClerq, it was because Eric was her Sheriff. He’d have been a fool to make that move.”
Lindy shrugged and put away her phone. “Eric and Selma… Sophie-Ann insulated herself really well…”
I nodded, “Alekhine’s Gun. She had two formidable pieces strategically placed as sentries.”
Jenny giggled, “From what we know from the journals… it had to be Andre’s idea.”
Edward shook his head. “What else is different?”
“Plenty. There are versions where Misty and I don’t exist because our mother didn’t have us. There are versions where Sookie didn’t have Lindy… Erin, Cort, Tina, Shelly, Magnusson… She’s married Onkel and Eric… and some Shifter named Sam…”
Lindy blurted, “OH! Mommy! Can we go meet that guy you would’ve married if you hadn’t stayed with Pappa?”
She finally tore her attention from Gawain and stepped back. “I suppose… Sam Merlotte should be easy because he has that restaurant. JB might be more difficult. I haven’t seen him since high school.”
When Allecks joined everyone in the kitchen, he kissed Sookie’s cheek and stayed next to her.
“What’s this? High school sweethearts?”
Sookie nodded. “Daddy mentioned running into one of my ex-boyfriends when I talked to him last night… You remember Hoyt… It came up again because Eric is considering a new Lord. I was thinking about volunteering as his tour-guide as an excuse to be in Louisiana for a few days… Sorry… where are my manners? Allecks, this is Eric, Gawain, Edward and Richard…”
He gave a deep nod in my direction. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all.”
Edward offered, “Pleasure’s ours… Your kids are quite entertaining.” Another understatement.
Sookie reached up to give Allecks’s shoulder a squeeze and offered, “You don’t eat when you’re stressed out. There’s canapés in the dining room or I could make something for you.”
That was all Jenny and Lindy needed to hear. They quickly left the room in search of ‘finger food’ while Richard teased them for eating fingers.
Allecks hadn’t taken the bait to change the subject.
“How long?” Uh oh.
“Just a few nights. A long weekend. Just long enough for Eric to meet with Sheriff Beaumont and for us to visit with everyone.”
“Why do you need to go?”
“No reason. Just to visit. I might have Selma arrange for a signing in Shreveport since the book’s coming out this week though.”
He nodded. “That would be nice… Will you bring back filé and andouille?”
She giggled, “Don’t I always… Since Eric flies charter, I’ll bring back a cooler of crawdads too. I’ll do a Cajun feast next time you drive up to visit.”
He grinned and kissed her cheek before walking away. “I suddenly have my appetite again.”
As soon as he was out of earshot Sookie let out a relieved sigh…
I asked, “Why would you divorce someone so pussy-whipped?”
She slapped my stomach and shook her head. “He’s not pussy-whipped. He thinks I want to go home to be with my family. He’s trying to be understanding and considerate.”
The miscarriage. Oops.
She smirked and nodded. “Yeah… how does that foot taste?”
She laughed, “Good… Do you mind if he stays for the night? He won’t ask, but he’s still rattled enough to want to stay close.”
“I don’t mind. It seems as though spending time with the children makes him quite compliant.”
She stretched up to kiss my cheek as she thanked me and left to go to the dining room. “Hey girls, I’m going to be busy for a bit. When you’re done stuffing your faces, help Pappa take his bag to my room so y’all can get bathed and ready for bed. If we’re flying out tomorrow night, you’re going to need to tweak your schedules… Best manners. I’m about to show a couple of pets in here for refreshments.”
The girls answered with ‘yes ma’am’, but Allecks asked, “What’s happening that you’ll be busy?”
“Eric called some of his Lords so I could interview them. Story research.”
She breezed back into the kitchen and pulled a tray out of the oven…
As she filled another platter with food, she huffed, “About 700 years old. A large black guy and a tiny brunette with gorgeous eyes…”
I offered, “Atum and Bronya.”
She continued, “They rode together. Both of them are generally curious, but not a bit put upon. Bronya mentioned they’re lucky you don’t summon them more often… Gawain, you’re the only one who hasn’t fed… Could you please take care of them so they aren’t in the dining room for long? All the others thought about…”
He didn’t make her finish explaining what most donors fantasized about. He nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”
When Sookie announced ‘places’ as though she was a stage manager, Gawain followed me to my office and closed the door behind us.
I wasn’t going to let him speak first…
“You thought I was high? Why didn’t a mind reader know better?”
“I can’t read Vampires’ minds any better than Sookie can… I’m still concerned. You’re bonding with Sookie with hopes of seeing Liz in the braid.”
“I’ve grown accustomed to the name Pam. She’s been using it for decades.”
“You’re missing the point. You can’t get her back.”
“I’m aware of the existential ‘you can’t go home again’ nonsense.”
“It isn’t nonsense. Any encounter you have will be short lived.”
“Any encounter I have with her will still be an encounter with her. It’s more than what I have now… Granted, it’s not like me to be a Pollyanna, but knowing that she’s still in the braid makes me feel like we’re only separated by distance. It’s only a matter of time before I see her again. Having gone so long… I’m willing to say the glass is half full.”
He folded his arms and shook his head. “This isn’t the point. You aren’t moving on…”
“Moving on is for those who don’t have a magical alternative… I’m not going to debate this. I don’t need your approval because it’s entirely possible that I would have seen her again with or without bonding with Sookie. Our version hosted two visits that we know of before My Sookie ever had my blood. The braid already exists. Why should I not take advantage of it?”
“This… The mood you’re in… I would be happier for you if I didn’t know that it’s fueled by false hope.”
“It’s not false hope. It happened just yesterday. And less than two weeks before that. Throughout the journal that’s been shared between versions there are only two cases where Liz is gone. It’s eventual. I just have to be patient.”
He opened his mouth, but before he could continue the debate there was a light knock on the door. He huffed, “We’ll finish this later.”
“I’m sure… Enter.”
Gawain left, presumably to preoccupy the donors as Sookie asked, when Sookie escorted Bronya and Atum into my office. That meeting didn’t offer any surprises. Not that we expected it to, but there was still the possibility for something to be suspicious about their behavior.
Simza was arriving just as Atum and Bronya were being sent on their way to stay at the hotel for the day.
Sookie went through her usual process of escorting the Vampire to the parlor, then escorting the donor to the dining room, then going back to the parlor for the Vampire…
Before Simza could take a seat, I asked Sookie to fetch Misty…
When she returned, Misty wasn’t the only one with her… Allecks had tagged along.
While Simza sat curiously quiet, I waved Misty over and she climbed up to sit on my lap… She was still angry enough to refuse eye contact with Sookie.
Once she was settled, I pointed towards Simza and offered, “She’s stunning, wouldn’t you say?”
Misty gave me a puzzled look while Allecks and Sookie agreed by nodding appreciatively.
“Yeah… I guess. Why?”
“Because the nasty cow who called you a ‘filthy Roma’ was, in effect, comparing you to Simza… Not only is Simza very beautiful, but what made her stand out to her Maker was her bravery. When her caravan was sacked by Vandals, she fought alongside her husband to keep his children safe… When he was murdered, she offered herself as a slave in exchange for the children’s freedom… That is what Allecks’s whore aunt compared you to when she straightened your hair and joked about hiding her wallet.”
Not that I cared if Allecks was offended, but I couldn’t help but be surprised that he seemed more grateful than anything.
Misty raised an eyebrow. “That’s a filthy Roma?”
I nodded. “Filthy… And strong enough to keep fighting once her husband was killed… Skilled enough to spend 300 years as a Knight for the most powerful Kings in Europe and Asia… Diplomatic enough to be one of the first Vampires I appointed when I took over.”
Misty gave me a devilish grin and argued, “Lisia didn’t know she wasn’t insulting me… You’re still going to drain her, right?”
I nodded. “The next time I’m in the mood for mayonnaise.”
She giggled, “K… Is that all you wanted me for? Can I go play with Edward?”
She was asking me while her ‘parents’ were in the room… A blatant disregard for Sookie’s opinion. Misty was too bold for her own good.
“From what I understand, it’s time for insolent little runaways to retire because tomorrow will be a busy day.”
She winced, knowing she’d overplayed her hand. Just because I understood why she was angry didn’t mean I was going to defend her actions.
“What are we doing tomorrow?”
Hmmm, how to answer that carefully…
“You’d already know if you weren’t so busy being insolent.”
Her face puckered together and she grumbled, “Alright,” before kissing my cheek and sliding from my lap.
Simza reached out and took a lock of Misty’s hair as she walked by. “My sister had these curls. I was always jealous… You’re so pretty, you should become accustomed to ugly people insulting you. It’s what they do to make others look at them.”
Misty smiled and nodded. “I guess you’d know… Nice meeting you.”
Sookie looked like she was close to crying, practically forcing appreciation to me and just before Allecks turned to follow Misty out, he offered a deeper nod than he had when we were introduced.
Other than the fact that Richard was greedy enough to take advantage of a second donor, Simza’s visit was relatively unremarkable. The only news she had was that she was keeping an eye on a serial rapist who was a bit more sadistic than Humans tended to be. Since the victims had mentioned their assailant smelled of spices or incense, she was sure there was a Warlock she was going to be cleaning up after. I couldn’t help but think it sounded like the perfect job for Teague.
After sending Simza and Richard’s dessert on their way, we met in the kitchen…
While the girls seemed to be settled in, and Allecks showered, the rest of us began speculating that Francois might be waiting for word from Bethany before responding to his summons.
Sookie cleaned the kitchen and dining room, resolved to call Ian to inquire about Francois’s location when she was finished with her chore…
But just as she closed the dishwasher, she thanked God she wouldn’t have to call the letch after all…
Francois was finally gracing us with his presence.
I waited in my office while Sookie genially greeted Francois, but it sickened her to do so…
She calmly offered, “Lord Edward, Lord Francois brought a donor, would you care to entertain her while Majesty takes his meeting?” It had been planned jokingly since he’d gone on about his brother’s greed.
Edward wasn’t given the chance to accept before Francois argued, “She’s meant for the King.”
Sookie explained, “You’re the last of Majesty’s subjects to arrive tonight, Lord. He’s quite sated and instructed me to offer additional tributes to his house guests… If you’ll follow me, the King is ready to meet you.”
Actually, what I’d said was, “Stop crying because your brother was smart enough to take advantage of the free meal. Franswaaaz will bring something worth biting. If it’ll shut you up, you can have it.” Sookie had an astounding talent for paraphrasing.
As a pair of high heels walked towards the parlor, Sookie’s little ballet slippers padded towards me.
Sookie rapped on my office door lightly and immediately opened it. “Majesty, Lord Francois has finally arrived.”
Jeans and a fucking T-shirt. Everyone else dressed in suits or dresses, going as far as making their respective donors presentable… Francois looked like he was late for a fucking sock hop.
“It’s about time… I was considering sending out a search party since Bronya and Atum managed to beat him here in spite of having 700 kilometers further to travel… What the fuck took you so long that you’re the last of twenty Lords to respond to a summons?”
“I didn’t get your message right away…”
Lie #1- When Ian observed him less than an hour after sunset, Francois was already making a call to cancel another meeting.
“I was trying to find a proper donor for you. Marta is my only AB-negative donor and it took an effort to find her. She wasn’t expecting to hear from me…”
Lie #2- Sookie raised an eyebrow and contradicted Francois with a subtle shake of her head.
“And I was contacted by the authorities before I left my District. Der Butzemann claimed another victim tonight.”
The third lie in less than 30 seconds. He might have broken a record.
I nodded towards the ‘electric chair’, as Sookie affectionately called it, as his invitation to sit.
He took his seat, eying me like he was humoring me.
As soon as he did, Sookie resumed her position next to me and began typing feverishly.
“He’s lying, but he’s stone cold calm about it. Like he’s sure you won’t catch on. I think he thinks you’re an idiot.”
Oh really? Nevermind that I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for Sookie’s assistance… Fuck him.
She continued typing.
“Just a hunch: Ask him how many of the victims in his District were staged to discredit you.”
I finally offered, “Funny you should mention Der Butzemann. I summoned you here to discuss him.”
Francois eyed Sookie for a moment before turning his attention to me. “In spite of the evidence, I’m not sure who it is. After a recent victim was found in Jaro’s District I imposed a midnight curfew. I’m not sure anything else can be done at this point. My serfs have reported a few travelers, but they were cleared quickly.”
“Tell me about tonight’s victim.”
He shrugged apathetically. “Young boy, 9-years old… His mother reported him missing from the train station just an hour before he was found a few kilometers away. It would be splendid if the prick responsible would just take older, larger children. Less victims to deal with.” He glanced towards Sookie as though he was trying to offend her.
I could only be happy that I was between Sookie and the drawer holding the stake… but she didn’t show any reaction to his remark.
She faked a calm façade and messaged, “Two of the Romanov related robberies don’t jibe w/ victims in his District.”
This was going to be fun…
“So were you providing alibis for Alexei or were you trying to discredit me so you can move for a vote of No Confidence?”
Sookie IMed, “That prick just died inside. It felt like watching the WTC collapse all over again.”
Francois croaked, “You know his identity?”
“I discovered him last night thanks to the fact that he was poaching for victims here in Eijsden. He’s been executed and the girl he attacked is recovering with her family… I’m sure you can imagine what he said before I staked him.”
He stammered, “Lllllet me explain…”
I could NOT believe he fell for that. A 600-year old Vampire should know better… For that matter, I knew a 9-year old who wouldn’t have begun backpedaling so quickly.
My only excuse for appointing him was that I needed Lords too urgently to be but so discriminating.
I nodded. “Please do.”
Gawain entered the office silently and waited behind Francoie.
“Sabine. When you offered the appointment, I was commanded to report back…”
Hearing that his Maker was one of Clovis’s Lords…
I chuckled, “It’s cute that you think I’m oblivious to your part in Halfdan’s plans to overthrow Clovis.”
He gulped and nodded, eager to cooperate because he didn’t realize it was too late for that. “That was my Maker. Sabine had been planning… Why do you think she wasn’t on your list of errands!?”
I actually felt sickened… He hadn’t been touched and he was already betraying his Maker. No loyalty.
“And you’ve been reporting back to Clovis because your Maker needed to avoid the implications of being one of the Lords Halfdan didn’t have executed and having a child serve as an adversary’s Lord.”
Sookie snorted and set her laptop on my desk. “Majesty, if I may…”
I nodded. There wasn’t any point in hiding what she was when Francois wasn’t going to be reporting to anyone.
“Bullshit. Sabine sent you but you weren’t commanded. You’re willingly acting as an agent of France.”
“Who the fuck are you!?”
I shook my head, ignoring his question. “Your Maker was part of a coup that resulted in the murder of my child and dozens of other Vampires… I don’t know what’s more galling. That you betrayed your Maker so quickly, or that you didn’t bother trying to distract from your Maker’s involvement by exposing Bethany.”
His jaw dropped and he shook his head. “I… I didn’t know she was part of it. She told me about Alexei, about… I didn’t know she was part of the coup. I was… YOU KNOW I was in Johannesburg when it happened! She… She might have been… Perhaps she was answering to Tadlocke or Llewellyn?”
“Are Tadlocke, Llewellyn and Sabine France’s only traitors?”
When he nodded, Sookie and Gawain confirmed he was telling the truth.
“As far as I know, yes… They’re so well protected, you’ll never get to them. I can help. Clovis trusts me. If you call a summit, use Alexei as an excuse…”
Oh that was priceless… He didn’t give up his Maker, he was trying to play me into a corner.
When Sookie, Gawain and I began laughing, Francois finally realized how fucked he was.
“I have a different idea…” When I stood, he lurched back in his seat, accidentally flinging himself over. “Do you want to try to make up for your asinine confession by walking or would you rather be carried?”
“Where?” He hadn’t bothered trying to rise from the floor… It was difficult to keep a straight face and look down at him with his legs dangling over the front of the chair.
“Outside to join Bethany.”
He shook his head. “Just do it here.”
I shrugged. “I can’t do that. Sookie won’t let me make a mess. Faeries are a pain in the ass. That’s not news.”
He stared up at me gobsmacked and didn’t seem to have a preference about how he’d be going outside, so I grabbed his ankle since it was the most available piece of him.
Sookie giggled that I looked like a caveman as I dragged Francois through the castle, accidentally smashing his head into three corners and two doorways along the way.
Once we were outside, Gawain grabbed Francois’s wrist to yank him to his feet… Instead of putting up a fight or trying to escape, he embarrassed himself by pleading with me to give him a chance to ‘help’ me.
I chuckled at him, knowing I had all the help I needed. One of them had dislocated his shoulders, the other was offering me a stake.
Bethany’s execution had been more personal. She’d betrayed me by having an active role in Liz’s murder. But I was less impressed with Francois’s subterfuge. He’d only been guilty of common Vampire fuckery and his part only consisted of glorified gossip for the most part.
I didn’t get anything close to the same satisfaction from driving the stake into his heart… And I knew I wouldn’t get any enjoyment from Tadlocke, Sabine and Llewellyn either since Clovis would take care of them… If I ever bothered to tell him there were traitors within his House of Lords.
Francois’s remains were still settling when Sookie joked, “One and done… Too bad you’ve got great aim.”
“You’re coaching me on executions now?”
“No… It would’ve been nice to see the little shit squirm some more though… I got whiplash from how fast he started squealing on his Maker. He didn’t know loyalty from the hole in his chest apparently.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
She shrugged and huffed, “Alright guys… Kitchen and dining room are clean… The kids are tucked in… Gawain, I did what I could with the rooms downstairs for you guys… I think it’s pumpkin time for me. Something needs to be done with Marta…”
Gawain asked, “Did you reserve enough rooms for her too?”
“I’ll take care of her then.”
Sookie grinned and started for the door. “Sweet. I guess we’re all set then. G’night.”
Gawain and I reciprocated, but he watched her until the door was closed.
“She’s better than I am…”
He nodded. “I wasn’t telepathic before I was brought over. That might have something to do with it. The best I get from Vampires is the nature of their thoughts: light/dark, negative/positive. She can decipher a Vampire’s mind like she’s scrutinizing a bond.”
“She’s had practice. How well does your ability work on Shifters?”
“Sketchy, at best. They usually have to be thinking about me to give me anything I can read. Her?”
“Like she reads Humans, but she said she’s had to practice that aspect as well… Did you have an ability before you were brought over?”
“I could glamour. Sookie called it pushing… That became stronger once I rose, but my telepathy is relatively static. I’m not sure how to react… Why aren’t you livid that I kept it from you all this time?”
“Because I’m looking forward to all of the Faerie jokes…”
“Faeries are a pain in the ass.”
I nodded. “I’d know. I have a house full of them.”
It wasn’t until I reached for my laptop to take it downstairs with me that I realized I hadn’t watched the videos of Liz… It was the first time since I discovered their existence that I missed the chance to watch them, usually more than once.
But as it was, I had less than an hour left before dawn and showering was a priority…
But showering was bizarre… I knew Sookie had showered, but she hadn’t taken long. Edward and Richard were making arrangements with their steward to deliver luggage to the castle for the day… and Gawain had delayed bathing to chauffeur Francois’s donor to the hotel…
So the water heater wasn’t malfunctioning.
I assumed the castle had been open enough to lose heat because I felt cold no matter how hot the water was… The bathroom was full of steam and I’d scalded my skin before I realized it wasn’t the room at all.
It was clearly going to take a while for me to become accustomed to having a connection with someone again.
It was possible the castle was drafty, but there was no way Sookie could have felt so cold indoors…
I found her outside, perched on the bulkhead overlooking the moat with a glass of red wine and a joint. There was a sheet of ice where Francois and Bethany had been left to putrefy. She’d used the garden hose to rinse their remains away. More busy work.
The reason for my chill wasn’t just the cold weather, but the fact that Sookie’s legs were completely exposed thanks to her short dressing gown.
She smiled in my direction and joked, “What’s the matter, can’t sleep?”
I jokingly sniffled, “I had a nightmare that I was Momia Juanita.”
She giggled, “I’m sorry… I didn’t even think about the cold thing. I was trying to force myself into hibernation. It was a busy night and Allecks and the kids are all dreaming. There’s a lot for me to do tomorrow, so I’m trying to unwind enough to get some sleep.”
“Are you anxious about taking four Vampires home to meet the family?”
She shook her head. “Daddy will just be disappointed Selma isn’t with me…” She wiggled her eyebrows and offered, “He really likes her.”
“Your father fancies a Vampire?”
“She fancies him right back… every time we visit. I already called her about setting up a signing in Shreveport. Lindy already called Daddy about getting the house ready for us. Everything’s all set on that end. I just need to get everything straight here.”
“What do you know about contacting Isabel Beaumont?”
She sighed and tapped her ashes into the moat. “She does her business out of an office. She’s only available by appointment, but the office is open 24/7 to take complaints. She has a really good relationship with the local pack so they run it for her. I’ve already met her because of the books so getting an appointment was no problem. We’ll see her the night after next.”
“I suppose you’ve already left instructions for Dinh and Saskia as well, yes?”
She cringed and whined, “Just about breakfast and the charter… Am I doing it again?”
I shook my head. I’d only asked to confirm how efficient she was.
So much initiative and she didn’t have any personal incentive…
“Not at all. I was just confirming that you’re unstoppable.”
She snorted, “Selma calls me Rula, but she also tells me it’s not always a good thing…”
When her phone began ringing, she reached into the pocket of her tiny robe, mumbling about who would call her at this hour.
She looked at the screen and answered, “Jason?”
Her brother offered, “Hey Sook, wanna hear a story?”
“I could use a bedtime story. I was just heading to bed. What’s up?”
“Alright… I left work early to run a few errands… Got the kids from daycare and took ‘em to the park… Came home and Lauren made stuffed shells and eggplant for dinner… Gave the twins a bath… Sat down with Junior to do our web- shopping for the birthdays we’ve got coming up… Then Lauren called us for dessert…”
He acted as though he deserved a reward for his exciting suburban day.
Meanwhile, his sister had redecorated a castle, summoned 17 Lords, put together a case file for a Vampire serial killer, wrote an outline for a novel, played hostess for 41 visitors, discovered two individuals who had betrayed me, mediated between Gawain and me twice, babysat her ex-husband, given me leverage over the perfect spy, done her own web-shopping (probably for the same birthdays), made arrangements for our stay in Louisiana and she’d done most of it while grieving her miscarriage or worrying about Misty’s disappearance.
There was no competition.
Jason continued, “I’d been dying since I came home because I could smell the pie going… you know how I am about pie… We got to the kitchen and there was already ice cream on it and everything… but she’d piped the ice cream on like icing… it said ‘September 22nd‘… Sook, it’s Lauren’s due date. We got another one on the way…”
The only way to describe Sookie’s reaction was to compare it to what I felt when Liz was murdered.
Instant, complete, crippling agony.
When I took a step towards her, she took a step back and held out her hand to stop me. I’m not sure why I took the step… maybe it was because I wished I could jump through her phone to pummel the prick for rubbing salt into Sookie’s recent wound.
Her voice shook as she forced out, “Awwww, I’m so happy for y’all.”
Her brother cooed, “We’re flipping out. Over the moon… I mean, we didn’t even get the chance to tell anyone we were trying again. We just started shopping for a bigger house and all. Couldn’t be happier.”
Sookie sniffled, “Guess you’d better get on the ball then.”
“Yeah… you crying?”
“Oh, you know how I am. I’m always crying.”
He chuckled, “Yeah. You’ve always been sappy… I’m gonna let you go. Still gotta call Bran and Daddy and Calvin…”
“Okay… You should call Bran first. He turns in early, but Daddy and Calvin stay up for the news.”
“Good call. I always forget the time difference. Thanks. Love you, sis.”
“Love you too…”
As soon as she disconnected, she made a call…
The man barely said, “Hello,” before Sookie cut him off.
“Daddy, Jas is about to call you. Lauren’s pregnant…”
He groaned, “Awwwww, baby. He called you first?”
She nodded as though he could see her and choked, “Don’t. You. Dare. Tell him. He’ll feel horrible. It’ll ruin it for them.” She hadn’t told her brother she miscarried?
“A’ight. I promise… You okay?”
No. She wasn’t. Not even close.
“I’m fine. I’m happy for them.”
“Liar, you just don’t want to talk about it… With e’erthing you got goin’ on, you shouldn’t have any trouble staying busy so you don’t think about it too much. I’ll pretend to be surprised when Jason calls. I’ll see you tomorrow night, baby. Love you.”
She croaked, “Love you too,” and hung up.
She slid her phone back into her pocket and stared at the pavement, weeping…
She finally whimpered, “It’s not fair.”
“Why didn’t you tell him you miscarried?”
She whined, “Daddy was the only one… I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant… not after…”
Not after two other miscarriages… The only ones who knew she was pregnant were the father and people who could find out supernaturally.
She began to sputter and gasp, hiding her face behind her hands.
“I… I should just be happy for them… and I… I’m… just… being selfish…”
I approached her slowly, wondering if she’d back away again. “No. Selfishness would have consisted of wanting your sister-in-law to miscarry too…”
As soon as I was close enough for her to reach me, she stretched up to wrap her arms around my neck.
I could feel how desperate she was to rein in her emotions, calm herself down, but with every ebb, there was a swell…
And it didn’t seem like there was anything for me to do other than stand there and let her dangle from my neck.
When I began to feel that ache, that unyielding tightness caused by freezing temperatures, I thought to scoop her up so I could move. Even if it was just to slowly pace the courtyard so my body wouldn’t solidify, I needed to do something to keep from freezing.
Gawain scowled at me as he returned from the hotel.
With only a few minutes to spare before dawn, he approached me shaking his head. “What’s this?”
“This is a Sookie.”
He rolled his eyes. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Her brother called and upset her. She’ll be fine.” I wasn’t sure if she wanted anyone to know. Even if the look he gave me made it obvious he was skeptical about my answer, I wasn’t willing to tell him something her own family didn’t know.
He growled and turned for the house. “You might want to give it back to her husband before dawn.”
I thought about that as he went inside…
Taking her upstairs and putting her in bed with the man who wasn’t sure if he’d just lost a child because of the white lie Sookie told him…
The man whose sympathetic thoughts had only done more harm than good according to Sookie…
It was entirely possible that I could rise with every fork in the kitchen protruding from my body, but I did the only thing that seemed rational…
I carried Sookie downstairs… where there weren’t any thoughts or dreams to upset her.
After prying her arms away from me so I could lie her down, I struggled to make it to the other side of the bed before collapsing…
As I laid my head on the pillow, I realized Gawain was still showering, but it only took a moment for Sookie to roll over…
She’d magnetically attached herself to my side just in time for me to slip away.