I was waiting on the roof of Patty Ingram’s house, watching for my signal from Shawn, when I received a text from Sookie asking me if Sheriff Northman was available to entertain Erica Weiss.
Hmmmmm. Tough decision.
Go home and rack my brain trying to solve the Stackhouse family puzzle until Gawain returned to the house and reminded me that I want to fuck Sookie… or meet her at Fangtasia and enjoy a multifaceted entertainment experience…
When I replied to ask if there was a dress code, she asked what I planned to wear so she could avoid being a ‘matched set’… She didn’t respond when I told her I’d wear a burqa, so my mind wandered to how far she would go to wear something immodest.
Midnightish couldn’t come soon enough.
In a matter of seconds after walking into Fangtasia, all eyes were on Erica Weiss.
The annoying drone of fangbangers mewling about their dysfunctional families and the advances of Vampires arranging for their holiday meals were hushed as though someone had found a dial to turn the volume down.
Erica’s drink for the evening was Malibu and Coke, served by Long Shadow with a surly snarl…
And tonight’s outfit was veiled by a long red trench coat. My only hints to what was beneath it was the tight French twist in her hair and her pair of black knee-high stiletto boots.
She stepped onto the platform as she began unbuttoning her coat, giving me a nod and greeting, “Good evening, Sheriff.”
Since I’d been ordered to kiss her ass, there wasn’t anything keeping me from standing to help her with her coat…
She turned her back to me to shrug it off and when she turned around…
The shortness of her black flared miniskirt was almost forgotten once I laid eyes on the bolero style jacket she was wearing… There weren’t any buttons and she wasn’t wearing anything under it except for a choker necklace with fringe that draped between her breasts…
I couldn’t help but imagine that little skirt pushed up around her waist.
She already knew she had my attention.
She licked her lips as she took her seat, crossing her legs to face the crowd and giving me a view into her bolero that would distract me indefinitely.
The scenic quality of Fangtasia had suddenly improved immeasurably.
“That’s a very daring ensemble, Miss Weiss. I think most women would be too insecure to wear that without a blouse.”
She sipped her drink before asking, “Would they?”
I nodded. “And in most cases, that would be a very good thing… So, what brings you to Fangtasia tonight?”
“I’m in a holding pattern, waiting for all of the tumblers to fall into place so I can complete my errands for King Milne…” She moped, “I’m bored.”
“I’m afraid nothing exciting happens at Fangtasia… but the Queen sent a few gifts to welcome you to Louisiana. She wanted to make it clear you’re working in a friendly territory.”
“Did she now? What did she send?”
“There are spa and boutique certificates in the glovebox of a convertible Jaguar XK8.”
She was quiet for a moment, scanning the crowd as though she was deep in thought. I was just as sure that she’d known since last night how she’d react to the gifts as I was that I should have asked so I could be prepared.
She finally asked, “Sheriff, would you mind calling the Queen so I can thank her?”
While I dialed the Queen, I tried to convince myself that (no matter what) I could at least be sure the show would be entertaining.
I was still on tenterhooks.
Andre answered, “What can you do for me?”
“Erica Weiss would like to speak to her Majesty.”
After a pause he replied, “Put her on then.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I knew Erica could manage. I didn’t doubt her, but… it was Andre.
She took the phone from me, offering, “Thank you, Sheriff,” before lifting the phone to her ear. “Your Majesty…”
Andre corrected, “Andre Cuif…”
“Oh. My apologies, Andre. My name is Erica Weiss. Be a sweetheart and take the phone to your Mistress, please.”
At least I wasn’t alone… the nosy twats in Fangtasia who’d been ignoring potential meals to watch her were just as close to laughing as I was.
Andre snarled, “Queen Sophie-Anne is my Maker.”
Sookie replied, “That’s nice. Erica Weiss, calling for Queen Sophie-Anne.”
Hilarious… without saying it, she was reminding him that his Maker was nothing compared to the powers she was familiar with.
“Can I tell her why you’re calling?”
“Only if I were willing to chat up an underling long enough to tell you. Erica Weiss, calling for Queen Sophie-Anne.”
It was absolutely beautiful… not just seeing Erica treat Andre like he treated nearly everyone, but picturing the look on his face while he struggled to play nice.
Andre started, “Miss Weiss…”
She snorted, “Andre… I’m… Erica… Weiss… I’m… calling… to… speak… to… the… Queen… Passer un coup de fil? Telephonieren? Telefonare? Dǎ diànhuà?”
It hurt. I didn’t need to keep a straight face, but keeping from laughing… especially since so many of the Vampires in the bar didn’t bother hiding their amusement. Actual pain.
After a moment of silence from Andre, Erica asked me, “Is he one of those retarded eye candy Vampires? He doesn’t seem to be catching on.”
“He’s the Queen’s second, Miss Weiss. He’s probably quite offended.”
She rolled her eyes. “Thank God. I was picturing some cretin playing behind a throne with mommy’s cell phone…”
Somehow her Welsh accent made it even funnier… and I finally broke, but at least I managed to chuckle quietly.
She returned her attention to Andre and offered, “Now that we’ve established that you aren’t retarded, do you think you can stop wasting my time?”
“I don’t think…”
Before he could finish, she ended the call and returned my phone to me. She huffed, “Rankling fuck,” and left her seat to order a refill from Long Shadow… and when she returned to her seat next to me, she slyly winked just in time for my phone to begin ringing.
I answered, “Northman.”
Sophie-Anne grumbled, “How offended is she? Is she still there?”
“Did he ruin every chance I had? Do you need time to calm her down?”
“She’s enjoying a drink.”
“She’s right there. Right there next to you. Right now.”
“Yes ma’am. Are you returning her call?”
After a pause, she answered, almost whimpering, “I am.”
I passed my phone to Sookie and waited for ‘Act II’ to begin.
Sookie greeted, “Thank you for returning my call so quickly, your Majesty.”
Sophie-Anne replied, “I apologize for my child, Miss Weiss. He’s integral to my reign, but…”
Erica interrupted, “No need to apologize, your Majesty. I was just calling to tell you how flattered I am by your gifts…”
“I’m happy you’re pleased.”
“But I can’t accept…”
Sophie-Anne cooed, “Of course you can. My gifts to you don’t oblige you to anything…”
“Of course not, but given my reason to be in Area 5, I’m sure the Jaguar would attract attention I can’t afford… As for the generous spa and boutique certificates, I’ll gladly accept those. I’m sure I can put them to use. It was incredibly thoughtful of you. I certainly feel welcome in Louisiana, Majesty.”
“Has Sheriff Northman extended the offer to provide anything you need while you’re staying with us?”
“He has, and in addition to being a very gracious host, he’s very easy on the eyes… I think I’m… Hold on…”
She laid the phone on her chair as she left it, walking through the crowd briskly before tapping the shoulder of a man dancing with a female Vampire named Georgette…
And as soon as the man turned around, Erica drove her knee into his groin with so much force that he was dropping before her foot was on the floor again.
The crowd of dancers backed away, bringing back memories of being in the same position as though she’d kneed me in the balls just last night… she went as far as kicking him a couple of times before stooping over him to rifle through his pockets.
I couldn’t see through the crowd to have any hints as to why, but Georgette offered a deep nod in Sookie’s direction and thanked her…
It wasn’t until she cleared the crowd and stepped behind the bar that I was clued in…
Erica was holding a silver net and a draining kit… After dropping her pilfered items into the bin, she began washing her hands and whispered, “Sheriff, if you’re feeling generous, I have the names of his friends and an address.”
I motioned for Georgette to step towards me and asked Erica, “How many friends?”
Georgette’s lucky night.
I offered, “Take a friend. Merry Christmas.”
Sookie was already scribbling the address on the back of a receipt by the time Georgette thanked me…
As Erica passed the receipt to Georgette she explained in German, “They’re dealers, not junkies. Make sure to take all the drugs and cash you can find. If you ransack the house, the police will look for other drug dealers. It’s in your best interest to be sloppy. God knows Humans would be.”
Georgette gave another deep nod as she offered, “Thank you, Miss Weiss. I believe I owe you a favor now.”
Sookie grinned at her and shook her head. “Think nothing of it, but I’ll gladly take any pot you might find off your hands.”
Clever little bitch.
As Erica joined me again, she smirked and chided playfully, “You lied to me, Sheriff. You said nothing exciting ever happens here.”
“I wasn’t lying at the time. You made a liar of me. There’s a difference.”
She sipped her drink before lifting my phone to her ear. “I’m very sorry, your Majesty. The audacity of some Humans still embarrasses me… I think I was saying Sheriff Northman will make sure I feel as comfortable in Louisiana as he possibly can… In fact, just before you returned my call, I mentioned to him that I’ll be working in Greece in the near future. He was so generous as to offer to help me learn the language.”
We could start with politís since we were on the subject of salesmanship…
And what was that? Three birds with one stone? Starting the ball rolling on how much she liked me, assuring the Queen that I was obeying my orders to cater to the telepathic princess, and mentioning Greece as an upcoming destination to quell some of Sophie-Anne’s irksome anxiety.
Sophie-Anne took the bait and asked, “Greece? I’ve never had the pleasure. I enjoyed Western Europe.”
“I’ve had a marvelous time along the Mediterranean in the past, so when Marcos offered a contract, I jumped at the chance.”
“Providing you enjoy your stay in Louisiana, would you consider a contract with me?”
Erica took a deep breath and explained, “Majesty, I’m sure you understand why I only work under referral. It is a cutthroat world we live in… As hospitable as you’ve already been, none of my previous employers have suggested I entertain a contract with Louisiana. Sheriffs Northman and Kansu, yes, but not Louisiana as a whole…”
The balls Gawain had mentioned… telling a Queen that her Sheriffs have better reputations than she does, and while she was working in her state no less.
I could imagine how puckered Sophie-Anne’s face was as Erica continued, “As you know, I’m actually quite booked by Texas for several months, and afterward I’ll fulfill another contract that came through this morning… Not to mention that by the end of next year, I need to add no less than three languages to my repertoire… Buuuuuut… we might be able to work something out.”
Sophie-Anne sounded completely desperate when she urged, “Something?” It was something between a whimper and a whine.
“Perhaps something short term. We might be able to work something out since I’m already in Louisiana and know the language.” For all the ambiguity in Erica’s ‘perhaps’, her tone left nothing to the imagination. As polite as she was, Erica might as well have said ‘play nicely or you can go fuck yourself’.
Sophie-Anne actually sighed. “That would be most appreciated.”
Erica offered, “King Tyson would probably be the most helpful of my previous employers to contact while you begin an initial proposal. He was very hands-on while I worked for him. He traveled to his annexes with me and made notes that he’s passed on to my subsequent employers.”
One last dig… and it was beautiful. To paraphrase, ‘My favorite reference is the Vampire who shipped you and your children crated with rancid food and Human waste, hoping the sailors onboard would dump you overboard to spare themselves from the stench.’
Sophie-Anne didn’t recover quickly at all.
She was quiet long enough for a few of my thralls to begin whispering old rumors to each other.
She finally offered, “Thank you, Miss Weiss. I’ll take that under advisement… In the meantime anything you need…”
“Yes ma’am. Don’t forget to send someone for the Jag. It’s a beautiful car, so I’d hate for it to be wasted…” Erica ended the call and returned my phone to me. “She’s very eager, Sheriff. Is there currently a fire under her, or is she simply seizing an opportunity to vie for my services?”
“I wouldn’t call it a fire… Perhaps a few hot coals.”
She raised an eyebrow at me and asked, “What’s the value of the gift certificates?”
“If I’m not mistaken they’re worth a thousand dollars each.”
Her cheek pulled in when she bit the inside of it to keep from laughing. When I’d arrived at Fangtasia to find the envelopes on my desk, I was amused… the gifts weren’t exactly in scale with each other. By itself, the Jag was a nice gesture, but the gift certificates were an awkward addition because they had nothing to do with the car.
Sookie was enough of a brat to lift her foot and watch herself roll her ankle to indicate that her boots exceeded the value of the certificates.
Pam would have been so proud.
She asked, “Does she have a particular fondness for Jaguars or did she mention a reason for the selection?”
I shook my head. “She knows you drove a Jeep last night. Perhaps she assumed you have an affinity for convertibles.”
Sookie twisted to put her mouth to my ear and breathed, “Perhaps she’s assuming she’s spoiling me because she’s seriously underestimating my rates.”
That was it.
Sophie-Anne had to be working under the assumption that Erica Weiss was a six-figure contract who wasn’t likely to splurge… When Sookie was actually an eight-figure talent who wasn’t likely to consider price tags as much as bottom lines.
Sookie gave me a steady look as she leaned back in her seat, blindly reaching into her trench coat to remove her phone.
I was already reaching into my pocket for my phone before her text arrived.
“If she embarrasses herself by lowballing me, it could be biblical re: Arkansas & Nevada.”
They were only interested in Louisiana’s revenues, so they’d probably pounce if word reached him that Louisiana was holding a light purse, true or not, because they’d assume they could do better.
We just needed a passive way to correct the presumption before Sophie-Anne could send the wrong message.
I didn’t have to confirm how correct Sookie’s analysis was. She was already sending another message…
“Rodrigo made the same mistake at first, but that was because he was surprised Wouter and Nicholas could afford me. When you’re at my place tonight, I’ll give you a copy of R’s first proposal. You can say you followed me back to my hotel and got it that way, and you called an old friend who told you what I really make. I’ll have Wallace call her the next night to say something about me being followed.”
She was a natural at maneuvering… staging… excellent at thinking on her feet…
She immediately sent another message.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and the sticker shock will make the balance on your contract more of a commodity. She’ll think she’s getting a bargain.”
I chuckled as I typed, “Has it occurred to you that you’re trying to buy me?”
She typed, “How sad is it that I know better and SA doesn’t? And I’m not trying to buy anything. I just know how much fun you had in London and how much you didn’t want to come back just because you had to. I consider this a balloon launch.”
“Given your age, it’s desperately pathetic. Given your experience, it’s not a surprise. SA hasn’t ever taken anyone else’s position seriously.” I sent a second message while she was typing. “Did your contract with Martín come through or were you teasing SA so she’d assume you meant de Castro?”
When she winked at me, I translated that to ‘both’, and when her text arrived in my inbox, it read, “Welcome to the Hotel California. Wait until you see the pictures of my house. Maximo told Martín how much I loved the beach, so he found the house for me with an entourage in mind. The basement has four Vampire suites. The main floor is wide open. And the upstairs has four more big bedrooms.”
I replied, “Perhaps SA should be leaked that information. She clearly doesn’t know how to impress a telepath.”
“Maybe you should tell her to call Nicholas and Wouter. They weren’t part of her exile and they’re ‘new’ Kings, so she won’t water her shoes at the idea of talking to them.”
“Good idea, but she’ll probably insist that I call them.”
“Speaking of them…” was immediately followed by, “I was thinking Klaasje could officially check in with you when Atum gets here, implying she’s part of my guard to the audience. She’s old enough and it might keep her from being hassled by the locals. By the way- Josef is the apple polisher. He might as well be sitting on your lap, but he’s trying his ass off to look like he’s just working a donor.”
As soon as I looked in Josef’s direction, he turned his head and asked his fangbanger if she’d like another drink.
I sent, “Good catch. You put on quite the show last night, so there are too many repeats to know for sure. Is Klaasje feeding from Brandon?”
Not that he seemed over-tapped, but I was curious how she was feeding in such a small town.
“Some. He takes her to hunt as a couple. He baits girls at dance clubs to bathrooms so Klaasje can feed, then they go home to the kids.”
He might as well be her Master as fragile as she was.
When I received a new text, it was actually from Pam. “Are you at Fangtasia?”
If she’d left Shawn and Hadley’s house, she’d only gone as far as her new house a few doors down… and she was as nervous as when Hadley was in labor.
I replied, “Yes. What’s wrong?”
Sookie immediately texted, “Something wrong?”
I replied, “I’m not sure yet,” and received an answer from Pam…
“Linda’s on her way there. There was a bit of a spat after you and Shawn left with the puppy. Linda was quiet for a moment before she grabbed her keys and said she had a bone to pick with you.”
“Who was involved in this spat?”
Sookie was watching me, monitoring my mood when Pam answered, “Linda wasn’t happy that no one was interested in cornering Sookie.”
Instead of reiterating, I passed my phone to Sookie so she could read the messages Pam had sent.
When she was finished reading, she coolly returned my phone and began texting.
“Merry fucking Christmas,” was followed by, “That woman needs to be put in a fucking cage.”
I asked, “Ideas?”
“Other than letting someone drain her dumb ass for walking into a Vampire bar? No. I’m good with that.”
I sent, “You don’t mean that.”
She snorted as she typed.
“I spend too much time with Vampires. I can’t remember how Humans react when someone treats them like shit. Since I’m constantly reminded that you spend more time with my family than I do, maybe you can think of something.”
Her façade never faltered.
I sent, “We can leave.”
“Your office is soundproof. We’ll deal with her there. I’d ask you to glamour her to shut the fuck up about it, but her fucking ability is a problem. It’ll just come back.”
Over and over and over. Sookie wouldn’t have any fucking peace until her aunt and grandmother were dead… And since they were otherwise enjoyable people, that wasn’t exactly something to plan for.
Pam had left out that Trey was with Linda, but it made perfect sense that he’d joined her… If I knew anything about Trey, he spent the drive trying to talk her out of waltzing into Fangtasia.
When Linda recklessly stormed into Fangtasia, Sookie grabbed her coat and bag as we left our seats to lead the way to my office as quickly as possible.
As I closed the door to my office behind us, Linda snorted at Sookie, “You look like a slut. Why are you here?”
That was completely uncalled for.
Sookie rolled her eyes and leaned back against my desk. “The better question would be what the fuck are you doing in Fangtasia? Especially after you called me reckless earlier.”
Linda demanded, “Cover yourself. Show some fucking resp-”
She was cut off when the door to my office was shoved open…
I was hit with the door and Long Shadow tossed Trey to the floor so he could grab Linda…
Linda’s scent was so much stronger than Sookie’s… And the way she’d breezed through Fangtasia, I was lucky Long Shadow was the only one trying to drain her.