It took longer than I thought it would to find a quiet little patch of marshland to be used as a dumpsite for Lanier and his truck; it was all too tempting to just drop everything on top of Merlotte’s Bar & Grille, but when I returned to the flophouse Sookie was waiting.
She’d blockaded herself into the bathroom, lingering after her shower in an attempt to protect my shirt from the same mysterious fate as her bikini top.
Gawain narrowed his eyes as I walked by and growled that the smell of my shirt wasn’t going to make him want to punch me as much as the fulsome smile I’d be wearing.
Hearing Sookie explain she’d thought to add her scent to my towel encouraged another round of cursing in Old Welsh…
By the time I was finished with my shower, Corbett had left for a date and everyone else had moved to the kitchen.
Not that I doubted Gawain, but I couldn’t help but notice the pristine state of the kitchen… There wasn’t a single hint someone’s brains had been oozing down the walls just a few hours earlier.
Gawain growled at me, and Sookie nearly choked on her food when Edward and Richard leaned towards me to enjoy my shirt… they looked like stoned parentheses.
Hadley waved with her fork in her hand. “Hey there… I gotta warn you. Sookie’s gonna fatten you up. Between Calvin and my Momma’s recipes, she doesn’t know the meaning of low-cal.”
Sookie giggled into her hand until she finished chewing and offered, “Which is why I have a very close personal relationship with my treadmill… Eric, can I make you a plate or are you…” She pointed to Richard. “Kosher?” She pointed to Edward. “Afraid of messing up your suit?” She pointed to Gawain to finish. “Planning to grab American fast food later?”
“I’m in the mood for something sweet. I’ll pass for now.”
“I’ll save some baked apples for later then.”
Hadley offered, “You’d better hide them from me… I haven’t eaten this good in a while.”
“I figured. I made tons so you have lots of leftovers to take home with you.”
Hadley nodded, taking a large bite of her food… Gawain raised an eyebrow while Sookie fumed.
Once I learned to watch for tells, I hadn’t given much thought to the details of what people thought. True or false had always been enough for me for centuries except for when it came to Liz. Being in the company of telepaths made most of their reactions curious to me.
Specifically, what could cause amusement from one telepath and irritation from another?
Moving on to other topics…
I asked in German, “Are we avoiding the topic of the girls’ reaction to the news of Hope?”
Sookie nodded. “Englisch, mein König, Englisch…” She took her plate and glass as she stood and left them in the sink. “I’m ready except for my dress. I just need two minutes.”
I was impressed with how quickly Sookie covered my stupid question, but… mein König. It had a certain ring to it.
Hadley looked back at us, undoubtedly feeling as though she was in a fishbowl. “So… was that Dutch?”
“German. Sookie and the girls are still learning to speak Dutch. We speak a combination of German and English at home.”
“The girls? My girls? They speak German?”
No, you useless cunt, Sookie’s girls…
Edward snorted, “They’ve lived in Switzerland for two years. They’re fluent.”
“Oh… I thought they spoke Swiss there.”
I chose to blame American schools for that belief and explained, “The Swiss people generally speak German. The accent and subtleties distinguish it… The girls are learning Dutch quickly…”
“That’s cool. I never could get the hang of other languages. I can cuss in Spanish though.”
Gawain snorted, “So can Misty…” He turned his head towards the hallway and called, “Sookie! Hurry along. You’re delaying my Big Macs!”
She giggled from the back room. “Fatties?”
She waited to answer him until she was in the foyer, wearing a formfitting black dress and a pale blue blazer. “Big Macs and Whoppers are on the big side… Sliders might be more your speed because they’re smaller and they come in pairs.”
He stared back at her for a moment before he nodded as though he’d been enlightened. I could only imagine the telepathic slide show.
“Right. Sliders, they will be. Get in the car.”
Sookie snorted and shook her head, ignoring him long enough to kiss Hadley and Ema goodbye. “If you keep barking at me like that, you can choke on a Big Bite for all I care.”
The timing of Sookie’s threat made Ema cough and sputter tea into her hand…
I needed to know… “What’s a Big Bite?”
Sookie raised an eyebrow and directed her answer to Gawain. “A cheap, greasy wiener filled with God knows what.”
Sookie told a Vampire to choke on a dirty cock.
Perfect. Even the boys chuckled in spite of their Hadley-induced righteously indignant stances.
As we filed out of the house, Richard and Edward decided it was their turn to be cantankerous bitches, but they didn’t have Sookie’s scent as an excuse.
Richard changed the pitch of his voice to mock Hadley, “My girls speak German?”
Edward snorted, “Fuck her. Her girls? Hers? Fuck her. FUCK. HER. Her girls. My dead ass, her girls. They’re more Eric’s girls than they are hers and he just met them. At least he’d protect them. Fuck her. Festering, ignorant, common twat!”
Sookie’s eyes widened and she fought back the urge to laugh. “Couldn’t have put it better myself.”
Richard rolled his eyes and waited for Edward to climb into the car. “Seriously Sookie, how the fuck are you related to that?”
She stepped up and took her seat as she offered, “Empathy is a shitty ability. Plain and simple. She got screwed in that department…”
“Nice try. Your brother is doing just fine.”
She waited for the rest of us to join her in the car and close our doors before explaining, “My brother partied his way through freshman year at school and his tutors passed his classes for him… Then he met an angel named Lauren. She’s a nurturer, a lover, a sweetheart and she’s had a five-year plan since she was in grade school. My brother is a social chameleon. You should see how aggressive he is around other men, but when he’s at home with his wife and his babies, he’s giving baths and telling bedtime stories. Jason lucked out and had a very strong father-figure who kept him on track. He lucked out again with a woman who’s patient and loving to a fault and is meticulously organized. It all comes down to influence.”
Richard argued, “And Hadley was what, raised in a gutter?”
“Molested by a family member, abandoned by her father, coddled by her mother to over-compensate for the abuse and abandonment… All that is enough to chink someone’s armor, but then you have to take teenage boys into consideration.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Walking hard-ons. They say teenage boys only think about sex, and it’s telepathically verified that it’s all they think about around a pretty girl. Hadley hasn’t ever had sex with someone who loves her. She’s only been with guys who wanted her to spread her legs and go away. She was treated like an alternative to jerking off for long enough she expects it. By the time her peer-group outgrew the phase, she was damaged goods. Only good for one thing.”
“Not all men are like that.”
“No. I’ll give you that, but those are the guys who hit on the ‘new girl’ at work. Those are the guys who pounce to buy drinks at bars… I’d like to point out that your interest in Misty and Jenny is the only reason you have an aversion for Hadley’s behavior. Low self-esteem and irresponsibility are the primary ingredients in the one-night-stands that have kept y’all alive for centuries…”
Edward snorted, “Fuck your point.”
Sookie snickered, “I know, right? Hadley’s only real chance is with a Daemon or a Vampire. It’s the only way for her to have legit feelings without being influenced. Even then the Vampire has to know about her ability to keep it from spiraling. The damage has been done to this one.”
“You can’t be defending Hadley after what happened to Misty and Jenny?”
“Not at all. I just know how the bomb is put together. It doesn’t do any fucking good for me to know which wire could have been cut now that there are two victims to think about.”
He corrected, “Three.”
“Over my dead body…” As I turned the car onto the street, Sookie offered, “Eric, the exit for Isabel’s office is past the one we took for the hospital, so you should be okay for a while, right?”
“I remember… Speaking of Hope, how are the older sisters taking the news?”
Sookie opened her mouth to answer, but stopped when the boys moved, removing their phones from their pockets.
Richard offered, “Is she sure? Is she giving any hints she might be trouble and change her mind? Is she healthy? Hope’s a pretty name. Who does she look like? Is mom being nice? I can’t wait to meet the baby, but will mom be with us in Bon Temps the whole time?” After a moment he asked, “Do I have to mention they’re all from Jenny?”
No. That much was obvious.
Edward snorted and offered, “Misty asked, ‘Is it possible to get a gift certificate for a hysterectomy?’ She went on to suggest Hope’s father was probably too nice and Hadley left him for not being crazy.”
I couldn’t help but notice the girls had been in contact with their respective Makers… bonding already.
Sookie sighed, “Lindy has been texting me all day long for pictures and details… And now my brother knows about my goddamn miscarriage because Lindy’s worried about how I’m taking things… He’s only called me a million times because he’s wound pretty tight and worries…”
When her phone began ringing, Sookie dug into her purse and growled, “Oh, fuck a duck, like I need this shit right now…” She huffed as she put her phone to her ear, “Good morning, Allecks.”
“Hallo Sookie. Settling in?”
“Complete chaos aside, yeah. Calvin kidnapped the girls as soon as we landed and I haven’t seen them since. Daddy got them this morning and Brandon has them now.”
“I’m sure… Jason posted a picture on his MySpace. Would you mind explaining it?”
I watched in the rearview mirror as Sookie’s face contorted… and she punched the back of Gawain’s seat hard enough to move him.
“What picture did Jas post?”
“The caption read ‘My sister and her new baby. Welcome Hope Lynn.’ Did you go to Louisiana to adopt?”
“No. I came to Louisiana for business and found out Hadley just had a baby. Unless the time zones have thrown me off, she delivered Hope while you were looking for Misty. She was going to put the baby up for adoption. Instead of having strangers raise her, I’m adopting her instead.”
“Without consulting me?”
Why the fuck would she consult him?
“I’m not sure it affects you enough to warrant a consultation. Worst case scenario is that we’ll take two cars when we go out to dinner. I spent more time thinking about the maid since the poor thing’s job just quintupled.”
I whispered, “Not really. You’re cleaning up my messes now.”
She winked at me while her ex-husband continued, “You know what I mean. Will Hope be fatherless?”
The short answer was yes… and her sisters would be sure to make it clear how lucky Hope is.
Sookie’s mood suddenly went from irritated to… volcanic. That was the only way to describe it.
She shouted, “Fuck me! Seriously? I’ve known about Hope’s existence for less than twenty-four fucking hours. I’ve literally had a baby dropped in my fucking lap without any way to plan for it. I’m visiting with family AND up to my ass in politics AND trying to promote my book AND catering to Super Slut so she doesn’t renege long enough to fuck up this kid like she did the others, and you’re calling me to ask about where you stand in the life of a baby you’ve never fucking met? Fuck you. My obligation to deal with your insecurities ended when you asked me for a divorce. I can’t believe you!”
“You can’t blame me for worrying that you try to do too much, Sookie. I don’t want the other children to suffer for this choice.”
“Oh, fuck you! How the fuck!? Oh my God… It’s a good fucking thing you’re a third of a fucking planet away from me. I still might beat your ass for that… How the fuck can you contend that your concerns lie with the continuity of care for Lindy, Jenny and Misty when your desire for more children is why I’m a single mother in the first place!? The girls aren’t going to want for anything.”
“I thought you might be adopting a baby to spite me.”
“Yeah. You caught me. It’s all about you.”
“I hardly think sarcasm is called for.”
“Yeah, well, tough shit. You don’t appreciate sarcasm and I don’t appreciate having my time wasted. Poor Allecks is confused by the fact that his EX-wife is adopting her useless cousin’s baby. Yeah, let’s drop everything to worry about his feelings on the matter. Spare me, Allecks. There are real people in the real world with real problems… I’m more worried about Gawain’s blue-balls than I am about your stance on how many responsibilities I take on.”
Gawain nodded and whispered, “Good. I thought it was just me.” It almost made Sookie smile.
“Sarcasm and hostility. You’re in rare form today.”
“Whatever. It takes nerve to call someone you rejected for being defective to suggest you’re worth the dedication it would take to begrudge you for no less than eighteen years. Go fuck yourself.”
“I didn’t reject you for being defective, Sookie. I’m miserable without you. I want you back. I don’t know what I was thinking when I asked for a divorce.”
Just the idea of Sookie reconciling with Allecks… I hate variables.
Sookie stared at my reflection in the rearview mirror and shook her head slowly while Allecks continued, “I’ll leave. I’ll walk away from Auershaus, from Bern. We’ll move to the States so you can be with your family. I know you’ve wanted that for a long time and we can start over. Just us and the girls. The simple life you always missed.”
A simple life I couldn’t give her.
Fuck. The closest to simplicity I could offer was Eijsden and it didn’t offer access to her family.
I didn’t care that I was most likely going to have to listen to Gawain’s taunting until dawn. If he could sense how anxious I was… so fucking be it.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Sookie tilted her head back and droned, “The only thing you cared about the other night was that Eric was winning the girls over.”
“It wasn’t just the girls… I was disappointed because I know you wouldn’t be with anyone they don’t like… I’ve just been waiting for you to come back… I thought I had time. Sookie, I don’t want to lose you.”
He didn’t want to lose her, so divorcing her made perfect sense.
Sookie sighed, “Allecks, it’s too little too late. I found where I belong.”
“In Eijsden? With strangers?”
“I don’t expect you would even spend time trying to understand, but it’s nice to be able to be myself.”
The simple fact that she didn’t have to hide what she was or what she could do because she was among other Supernaturals was a fair point, but it wasn’t enough. She’d pretended to be Human for long enough, she could do it again.
“That’s it? You aren’t coming home? Sookie, don’t do this. We can be a family again…”
“Therein lies the problem, Allecks. Your familial model is based on conditional love. You turned on me once and I’d be an idiot to let it happen again… You don’t want me back. You’re only asking to reconcile because you’re afraid of being inched out of the girls’ lives… As it stands, we’re planning to be home in Eijsden as scheduled… I’m sure the girls will be happy to see you. I’ll call you if the plan changes for some reason. Bye.” She ended the call and shoved her phone into her purse.
Too little, too late.
Home in Eijsden.
What she said should have relieved some of my panic… but the emotions Allecks’s offer caused for Sookie were too much. I couldn’t define most of them, let alone decide what was causing them to rise and consume her and then be pushed aside by the next. Disappointment and regret were the only parts of the pool I had any sureness of.
Sookie closed her eyes with her head still tilted back, slowing her breathing to a meditative pace as she began forcing herself to calm down.
After several minutes of being watched, she snorted, “Y’all are worse than women… I’m fine. I’ll calm down. Just give me a minute.”
Edward snorted, “Fuck him. Did he think asking for a divorce would put you in line?”
Sookie huffed, “Yes, but I’m trying to calm down… Shhhhhh.”
“That’s going to have to wait… I’m still pissed.”
“Don’t be. He’s amazing with the girls. He’s a great father, but he probably would have been better off with someone like Hadley. Someone his parents were right about… Don’t be angry at him for being scared to lose the girls. We can’t blame him for that. This is all new. It’ll pass once he calms down.”
“Fuck you for being so zen. I want to be pissed at him.”
That wasn’t zen… That was a mantra… She was training herself to tolerate his waxing and waning opinion of her…
She snorted, “I’m not being zen. I’m too annoyed for zen.”
“Fine. What are you annoyed by?”
“Nothing rational. Let it go. Everyone has baggage, but Allecks doesn’t have a suitcase full of rattlesnakes. His level of dysfunction is average for Humans.”
“Ha! You don’t know me very well if you think I’m going to let it go.”
That was an understatement.
She cooed, “Awwwww, sad that you think I’d break.”
He opened his mouth to press the issue, but she put her hand up to stop him. “There isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t have scars on their psyche caused by their family or Maker. The fact that Allecks is painfully insecure about everything he does isn’t cause for gossip.”
Richard growled, “Our Maker is perfect.”
She tipped her head to the side and raised an eyebrow at him. “I’ve heard, but the Plantagenets didn’t just argue over grandma’s pearls. Y’all fucking killed each other. You two had to disappear into obscurity while your mom lived in the lap of luxury and your sister became Queen, sport. Francesca may very well be a wonderful woman, but you two have family dysfunction in spades.”
The boys narrowed their eyes at her and seethed.
Gawain chuckled, “I’m not going to weigh in. God knows what she has on me.”
Of course, he was assuming there were volumes about him in the journal… Since he’d only been mentioned in passing Sookie theorized that he was kept from the journals intentionally because of his heritage. Fae live long enough that Gawain could still have living relations or enemies. Given how turbulent Fae history was, mentioning him as more than ‘an old friend’ could risk his safety… It was the same reason Ema wasn’t mentioned.
Instead of explaining that Sookie only knew as much about him as could be squeezed into a minute or two of conversation, I turned my head and made a show of closing my mouth.
I knew exactly how much Sookie knew about me. Practically everything. She was as much of a liability in that aspect as Liz had been.
Edward gasped, “She… Richard, it’s a miracle! Sookie… Sookie made them both shut the fuck up!”
Funny little prick.
Beaumont’s office was a storefront.
Sandwiched between the backlit signs for Atomic Comics and GNC was a white sign that read ‘Sheriff Beaumont’.
The boys paused to give an amused look while they waited for Sookie to join them on the pavement.
Richard snorted, “I almost managed to forget how impressive that title’s supposed to be.”
Sookie swatted his leg as she passed him. “It’s what they have. We’re lucky there’s any structure since so many of the colonists were exiled.”
He nodded and sighed, “Boxing them up during the day and turning them out used to be so effective. It’s a shame we didn’t know they’d take themselves so seriously.”
She patted his shoulder sympathetically, “No kidding. I know for a fact that not all Sheriffs have delusions of grandeur though… The Mayor gave Isabel the sign so Humans could easily find the office to make complaints.”
“Oh. Well, that makes it different… Staffed with Weres 24/7, yeah?”
“Yes sir… getting ideas?”
He shrugged. “Perhaps… it certainly would free a lot of our time. Making rounds can be so tedious.”
“I bet… C’mon… The Weres inside are starting to get antsy. They were just expecting a Human.”
Edward made a joke about tailgating for a while, just to annoy the Weres, but he still followed along.
The Were in command was a large man. Nearly my height, standing with his arms folded across his chest like the other four Weres in his company.
His stance and stoic expression were meant to intimidate… but it wasn’t a surprise that Sookie was unimpressed.
She opened her mouth to introduce herself, but he cut her off. “I know who you are. How does the Princess of Hotshot not know better than to surprise a Sheriff with extras?”
Princess of Hotshot?
She gave him a severe nod. “My apologies, sir.”
She drew her arms back to clasp her hands behind her back… What was meant as a respectful stance only invited him to enjoy MY cleavage.
“You made the appointment to ‘check in with your hometown Sheriff’. Why didn’t you mention your companions?”
“They’re here to see the Sheriff. A political meeting that requires discretion. We aren’t here to cause trouble, sir.”
“Are these the Vampires I received a complaint about today?”
“From Sam Merlotte, sir?”
He nodded, taking the opportunity to scan her body. “That’s the one.”
“We only arrived last night. My father took us out for drinks. Sam Merlotte bowed up on my father and later cornered me in the restroom. The only time one of these gentlemen interacted with him was to kick him out of the way. When Merlotte grabbed me, I kneed him in his balls. He was in the way when my Master inspected the bruise on my arm… I was planning to report the altercation to you and the Sheriff. Merlotte’s easily riled and hates Vampires in general. I’d take any reports about him seriously.”
“Oh, thanks for telling me my job. Any other pointers?”
She nodded and reached into her purse to offer an envelope to him. “There’s a 14-year old boy named David. His father was killed overseas and his Human stepmother has custody. He needs a sponsor. I told him to bide his time by joining The Boys Club as a cover for eventually meeting a mentor. My step-father is prepared to foster the boy, but he’s deferring to Long Tooth since David’s a Wolf.”
“Busybody little bitch. You’re vetting orphans for Long Tooth?”
“I was expecting Colonel Flood or Lieutenant Yancy, sir. They’ve helped me contact other packs for similar reasons.”
“They aren’t around anymore. What rock do you live under?”
“A European one. I live in the Netherlands and Hotshot keeps to themselves. What happened?”
“Shit. Shit always happens. Did you have any other advice on how I should run my pack?”
“I’ll call the Sheriff and ask her if she still wants to take the meeting. Who the fuck are these guys?”
“Tell her the Northern Empire is here to speak to her.”
The Were snorted and raised his eyebrow. “The whole thing?”
Her hand shot up between the two of them, surprising all of us as she delivered an impressive uppercut to his chin.
He was still reeling as she answered dryly, “No, peckerhead. Just the King and three of his Lords.”
His mouth was bleeding and he wasn’t hiding his shock well as he advanced to loom over her.
True to form, Sookie only lifted her chin. “What?”
“I guess they don’t teach manners out in Hotshot.”
Or Hotshot etiquette didn’t translate in Shreveport.
She snorted, “You must have missed my manners while you were checking me out…” He flinched when she moved her arm again, but she only put her finger to his forehead to push him back. “This is silk, not Kleenex. I’d appreciate it if you refrained from ruining it with your bloody drool… Now if you don’t mind calling Isabel at her secure location three units down, and telling her we’re here, that would be just super.”
“You should just go.”
“I’m not asking…”
“Neither am I. You’ll either call the Sheriff or I’ll do it.”
“You go right on with your bad little self then. Good luck getting her number.”
Sookie shrugged unapologetically and pulled her phone out of her purse…
He seemed blasé as she dialed, but his attitude changed once we could hear the echo of a phone ringing through the walls.
The call was answered, “Sheriff Beaumont,” and the Packmaster’s face looked like Sookie hit him again.
“Sheriff Beaumont, Ana Louis. I called earlier to confirm our appointment and now that I’ve arrived, your Weres are being difficult and you’re hiding in the back room of a bakery. Would you prefer if we meet you there?”
Gawain snorted and shook his head.
The Sheriff explained, “You’ll have to forgive John. He can be a bit overzealous…”
“You must be confused, Isabel. I was talking about Patrick Furnan… and there aren’t any Johns here. We’ve got Markus, Otis, Chester and Maria… I guess John has the night off, huh?”
Richard sang, “Fuckin’ with the wrong bitch.”
Edward agreed, “Beautiful, that is.”
I couldn’t argue, but it was nearly impossible to keep a straight face. Sookie’s business persona was enough, but adding the boys’ reactions and the expressions on the Weres’ faces… I was close to biting through my cheek.
The Sheriff answered guardedly, “That must be the case.”
Sookie rolled her eyes. “Right… I’ve passed your test. You’ve had your fun. I’m really a telepath… And you’re really keeping a King waiting while you fuck around.”
Sookie ended the call and pushed her phone back into her purse. “This is because it’s me, guys. I’m sorry. I’m tested so often it isn’t fun anymore.”
Edward chuckled, “Speak for yourself, love… I thought you said you met her before though.”
“I did, but she didn’t seem to suspect back then. It’s not like I can come out on the nightly news…”
When Sookie turned to watch the window, the rest of us followed suit… everyone in the office was watching as Isabel Beaumont silently passed and opened the front door to the reception area.
She offered a general nod, taking a glance at the boys, and shook her head as she chided Sookie, “You’re a nasty bitch,” with a thick Spanish accent.
Sookie huffed, “I was in a better mood before I was attacked at home, the family’s black sheep gave me a hard time about True Bloods in the fridge, my ex-husband decided he needed to be King for the day, and some fuckwitz Sheriff thought I was auditioning for Ringling Brothers. How’ve you been?”
Isabel tilted her head from side to side. “Insolent Vampires, bigoted Humans, unleashed Weres, belligerent telepaths… Business as usual.”
Wonderful. Obnoxiously honest. I needed more of that in my Kingdom.
At least Isabel wouldn’t be living in my house.
Sookie added, “You forgot about impatient monarchs.”
“It isn’t my fault you smuggled Vampires into my Area and didn’t include a mention of them when you scheduled an appointment. I assumed you wanted to arrange for a photo opportunity since you’re signing books tomorrow night. Who have you brought with you?”
“Lords Richard Page, Edward Page and Gawain Green… and King Eric Northman.”
Her eyes widened as she bowed. She’d certainly heard of us. “It’s an honor to have you in my Area. Are you enjoying your holiday?”
I shook my head. “We aren’t on holiday. And since we arrived, a local Shifter assaulted my pet and a Human nearly killed her. I was told you had control over your Area, but I’m not seeing any proof of that.”
After Isabel took a moment, trying to hide how unhappy she was with my news, she opened the door and shooed away her Weres, locking the door behind them.
She led us into a large conference room and as we all took our seats, she asked, “What happened? Was it the Shifter who reported an altercation last night?”
“Yes. He followed her to the restroom and grabbed her, but he’ll be dealt with later… The attempt on Sookie’s life is a bigger concern. Someone has been strangling and raping fangbangers. He isn’t a problem any longer. You’re welcome.”
She nodded. “Yes, of course, thank you… the other Sheriffs and I have been trying to find a pattern, but he seems to be taking random opportunities.”
And she had the sense, as Sookie suggested, to not insist upon details.
“I’ve been told you have an excellent track record for Human public relations and you’re generally intolerant of Vampire-Human transgressions.”
She nodded slowly. “I try. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve made it clear that my underlings know to be tidy.”
“Have you ever served as a Knight or Sheriff before accepting this post from Mata’utia?”
“No. I was second in command to Dallas’s Sheriff, Stan Davis, when King Mata’utia offered the position to me. His primary reason being that I had a working relationship with my neighbor to the west.”
“Who is your Maker? Have you brought over children?”
“My Maker is Anzio Conto. He enjoys a quiet existence near Barcelona… No children.”
Sookie cut her eyes in my direction, signaling me that Isabel wasn’t completely forthcoming.
“No children you’re willing to claim or no surviving children.”
“No children… I tried once, but he didn’t rise.”
Sookie cringed apologetically. “Sorry.”
“I’ll forgive you if you tell me what this is about? I’m concerned that your visit is a move towards annexing.”
I snorted, “What would I want with an American territory? No… As of two nights ago, I’m searching for replacements for the Lords I executed. District Nessensassen has strained relations between Humans and Vampires with a moderate population, high tourism and the tributes and income from honors are substantial. The District in question has more inhabitants, both Human and Supernatural, than your current Kingdom. I have a short list of possibilities I want to interview before casting a wider net.”
“How short is your list?”
“Four prospects for two positions.”
“The Lords I executed didn’t just annoy me. They betrayed me. I’m only entertaining a handful of recommendations before accepting another tier.”
“And you’re proposing that I Lord over District Nessensassen.”
“No. I’m notifying you that the position is vacant and inquiring if a change in service is something you would entertain. If so, I’ll be conducting research regarding you, your background and your track record. Then I’ll let you know if I’m proposing anything.”
She nodded. “Of course I would consider. Who wouldn’t?”
Isabel continued, “For the sake of curiosity, who would my supporting staff consist of?”
“You’d be free to utilize the Earls and Knights remaining… Anyone you want to appoint will be screened and researched as you will.”
She nodded and explained, “My day-guy has been with me for years. I’d hate to have to train a new one while adjusting to everything else. And I have two associates who have proven their loyalty.”
When she asked, I pictured a full entourage… hearing that Isabel had a very short list of people she trusted was reassuring.
“I don’t see why that should be a problem… Why is it that you’re considering the new position?”
She rolled her eyes slowly. “A handful of reasons that are admittedly tolerable. I miss the Old World, but I would be bored if I didn’t have a purpose. I miss my Maker who refuses to leave Europe. And I feel like I’ve accomplished enough here establishing relations that I’m stagnant now. Most of the reports and complaints I receive when I rise for the night are Humans calling to complain that a Vampire is just living in their neighborhood or ‘too close’ to schools.”
“And your loyalty to your King.”
She pinched her lips together slightly, resisting the urge to speak out of turn.
Sookie offered, “What? Are you sick of serving and answering to a King half your age while he behaves like a rock star?”
Isabel smirked and nodded towards Sookie. “Of course not. Whatever gave you that idea?”
Sookie narrowed her eyes as she studied Isabel’s face long enough to make the Sheriff nervous… Sookie finally removed her phone from her purse and began typing a message…
She held her phone up to show Isabel who offered a surprised nod before leaving the table to go to a large file cabinet.
Sookie offered her phone to me to show what Isabel confirmed.
“I guess you’re bugged. I’ll revise: Are you sick of serving an asinine Vampire playboy who’s looking for a reason to pick a fight with Edgington?”
No wonder she missed the Old World. It had been centuries since there had been any power struggles that Halfdan hadn’t been part of.
After removing several files from the cabinet Isabel opened one and began scribbling a note in one of them.
She presented the files to me and offered, “I demand a chronology, a will and five references from underlings arriving in my Area. I offer the same in return. Ingrid Wasser and Maxwell Lee’s resident information, as well as mine and the file I have on my day-guy, Charles Padgett. This should help your research.”
The note she’d written read, “Mata’utia was lucky to have taken the old regime by surprise and now he’s convinced he can acquire the territories on the Gulf coast… I don’t expect the outcome to be anything but a bloody futility. My original plan was to return to Spain for a while when my contract terminated. The possibility of a post within your Kingdom is exciting, but either way my time in the States is coming to an end.”
I leafed through her file quickly to see that she’d been meticulous enough to write a synopsis of each persona she’d used and there were scans of census entries to substantiate her locations, names, and occupations for the past several centuries.
The details would definitely help researching her, but one of her five references had been Francesca.
As Isabel escorted us to the door, she thanked me for considering her for the position and suggested I contact her, using the number Sookie called, if I needed anything during our visit.
Sookie stopped at the door to ask, “I almost forgot… I had somewhere in mind, but I’m not home much. Is there somewhere you’d recommend for a quick bite?”
Isabel smirked. “I assume you aren’t asking me for dining advice… There’s a popular bar in the lobby of the Caddo Excelsior. Mount Saint Helens. The new owner gave it a volcano theme because she enjoyed the eruption in the 1980s. Strange woman, but one can’t ignore how convenient it is to have somewhere private.”
Gawain nodded and declared, “Sold! Get directions.”
Sookie thanked Isabel, but when she turned towards the car, Gawain growled, “Directions, woman. I said ‘get directions’.”
She snorted and pinched his collar, tugging him towards the car. “I don’t need directions. My hometown, remember?”
Edward was dialing his phone before Sookie settled on her seat.
The phone was answered, “Where are those pictures I asked for?”
Yes, it was funny that the boys still called their Maker ‘Mother’, but she still treated them very much like they were her actual children. She discouraged their return to Luxembourg as a mother would want her children to choose a local university, because she would miss them too much.
Edward explained, “Sookie’s the only one having any fun. She kneed a Shifter in the balls, shot a guy in the face and beat up a Packmaster…”
Francesca cooed, “Dying to meet that one.”
“I know… Anyway… You know we’re in Louisiana because Eric’s vetting a Lord prospect, right?”
“Imagine my surprise when the prospect arrives and it’s Gabriella Ruiz.”
Gabriella Ruiz, immigrant from Barcelona… Age 28… Wife of Salvatore, immigrant from Valencia… Married in 1904… Step-mother of Juanita, Federico and Mario… Seamstress… Manhattan, April of 1910.
I could only imagine how impossible it had been to keep that identity. Since men could ‘just be bachelors’, there was no disputing that we had an easier time of existing.
Francesca laughed, “Ahhh, yes… She’s using the name Isabel now. If you mentioned that Eric was considering a sheriff in Louisiana, I might have put it together… From what I’ve heard, she’s practically running the whole territory. Milne and Edgington won’t even consider dealing with Mata… Not that anyone can contact him while he’s making a mockery of Vampires.”
“Right, right. What do we need to know about her?”
“Nothing comes to mind. I don’t know of a time when she was unemployed. She was a servant at a large vineyard when she was alive, so she gets restless when there’s nothing to do. While we were neighbors, she was a seamstress who did piecework, a maid and a nurse. She never left a mess or had noisy pets… but you know all of that. She did get arrested once.”
“Right. You bailed her out. What was that about again?”
“Some teacher slapped her step-daughter… She returned the favor. If Gab- I mean Isabel, had been American nothing would have come of it.”
“Okay… She mentioned trying to bring over a child. Do you know anything about that?”
“She never mentioned it, but… Well, she’s either insecure about the failed attempt or she drained someone she loved…”
Sookie offered, “It was the latter. She tried to gloss over the topic, but when Eric asked outright, it hurt her to say as much as she did.”
Edward looked surprised that Sookie had heard the conversation. “You heard that?”
“No. It was just feelings. I told you, I almost never get any actual thoughts from Vampires.”
Edward absentmindedly closed his phone and leaned forward. “I meant the conversation.”
Sookie scoffed and threw her head back. “Fuck a bond! It’s not hard enough to get good sleep when I can hear everyone’s thoughts…”
Gawain snorted, “Welcome to my hell.”
“Try snuggling up with Eric. His oblivion is spectacular… I’ll warn you though. He can get handsy.”
He chuckled, “I might risk it…” The clown blew a kiss at me.
I snorted, “You need to fuck something.”
“Was that an offer?”
“It sounded like one.”
Sookie started cackling.
“It was not an offer. I’m actively chauffeuring you to somewhere you can tend to the affliction you’ve been going on about since before sunset.”
“But it’s fine if I snuggle you.”
“Why can’t I? You don’t mind when Sookie does it.”
“Because Sookie is Mine and she smells…”
Yes, I was taunting him.
“I know how she smells! She’s responsible for why I feel like I haven’t fucked in a decade.”
“Are you going to cry?”
Sookie’s reflection disappeared from the rearview mirror so she could laugh into the seat, “Y’all are killing me!”
Gawain argued, “I know that’s a figure of speech, but you have no idea. Killing you… YOU?”
I growled, “She already regrets the result of her scent…”
She regretted it enough to snort as she laughed.
Gawain rolled his eyes and grumbled, “Clearly.”
“She’s promised not to…”
“No! I’ll shut the fuck up about it.”
As we pulled up to the Excelsior, Gawain left the car well before I stopped it, bringing on another round of laughter from the back seat.
As the boys climbed out, Sookie kissed their cheeks and told them to have fun, and slid out.
She took her time removing the pins from her hair to let it fall over her shoulders… and unbuttoning her jacket to reveal that the dress underneath was nothing more than a sheath.
“What’s up? Just toss the keys to a valet. I know you don’t want a True Blood at the house…”
“I fed last night and the thought of mundane Human blood sickens me at this point. You’ve ruined me.”
She scoffed, “Nice try. You lived on mundane Humans for this long. You were hurt and healed me today. You need to feed.”
I didn’t want to.
She huffed as she grabbed her purse. “Alright… You can keep Hadley company. I’ll ride back with the guys. I’m going to grab a drink in the bar.”
Not alone. Not dressed like that.
When I met her on the curb she smirked at me. She knew she’d won the argument by using herself as bait.
At least her smirk was the only gloating she chose to do.
As we walked through lobby, Gawain and the boys were checking in and asking for eight donors. Eight. For three of them.
Sookie and I were already chuckling by the time the clerk demanded a large deposit.
As she slid into a vacant booth in the crowded bar, she offered, “It feels bizarre to be so flattered by that.”
“I’m surprised you aren’t appalled. He’s acting like a child.”
“Maybe if he was acting like that after seeing me naked…”
“He saw you naked?”
“Just a for instance… You know, I’m sure he’s seen plenty of boobs, but it’s not every night he can get a taste of sunshine.”
“Tell me ‘taste’ was used figuratively as well.”
She bit her lip and shook her head. “He caught me before I could get in the shower and licked my shoulder. I’m really starting to worry that he’d consider keeping Hadley for a pet just for the smell.”
“Or your brother.”
“Brandon might have something to say about that…”
Our waitress approached the table, looking as gaunt as Hadley, and oozing feigned hospitality through a plastic smile.
Sookie ordered a vodka Collins and then looked to me.
“I’ll have a lager. Anything on tap is fine.”
Sookie rolled her eyes and swatted my leg.
“He’ll have an A-negative donor.”
After the waitress gave her a confused look, she left us and I complained, “It’s going to taste horrible.”
“Better than the beer.”
“Don’t be a baby. You need to feed. You’re already spoiled by a constant supply of AB-negative.”
“No. I already told you that I’m bored with that. You have spoiled me and it’s only taken a few tastes at that.”
“You’ll get over it.”
“You’re ordering a Vampire King to feed.”
“In the States, I outrank you. I’m a celebrity. You aren’t even high-profile royalty, Mr. Reclusive.”
“My apologies. You’re so gracious; it’s too easy to forget I’m in the company of the Princess of Hotshot.”
She giggled, “Oh that? That’s just shittiness I get from Long Tooth. My bio is all over the place. I was born in Bon Temps and raised in Hotshot. Only Supes in this Area know what that means.”
“What was the Packmaster thinking that made you hit him?”
“That you guys looked like pussies and his Weres could kick your asses. Y’all were already annoyed because of his attitude… Somebody needed a wakeup call before he got his men killed.”
“A wakeup call that a Human delivered. Are they all so arrogant here?”
“Some. Not usually Packmasters though. That level of conceit usually gets them killed or taken out of the running to lead… I’m sure Isabel has stressed their importance to her operation. Furnan strikes me as one of those self-glorified pricks anyway. He’s all ego and muscle, no brains. His thoughts are even simple…”
I wanted to ask about specifics, how one individual’s thoughts compared to another… I was still so curious about her ability that the arrival of Sookie’s drink and my donor were ill timed.
I rolled my eyes. “And it reeks.”
Sookie took a sip of her drink and nodded as she set it down to scold the waitress, “That’s because it’s an unwashed heroin addict. At least half the order is right… Get that thing the fuck out of here and find a donor that doesn’t need a bath and a methadone clinic.”
The waitress widened her eyes and pushed the donor away from the table.
I chuckled, “At least I don’t have to be concerned that you’d thrust garbage on me.”
She grinned and took another sip of her drink. “It wouldn’t behoove me to let you feed on crap… What if another serial killer tries to kill me tomorrow and you’re sluggish from filling up on junk food?”
“They’re all junk food.”
She sighed sympathetically and I was suddenly inspired… an idea that might make our visit to the bar worthwhile.
I slid closer to Sookie to put my mouth to her ear and whispered, “Since you’re forcing me to feed, perhaps you should distract me from the donor.”
She shook her head slightly, feeling skeptical as she asked, “What did you have in mind?”
“The table’s bolted to the floor. No room.”
“Is that your only reason?”
“No. Just the only one that would prevent me from being tempted.”
“I never said I’m not attracted to you. I’m trying to behave… Damn table rules out lap dances too.”
“Not hand jobs.”
“I guarantee a donor would take that as an invitation to join in.”
“And your skirt’s too long for…”
“Anything. Planned it that way… regretting it now, but I’ll thank myself later.”
“I liked the skirt you were wearing earlier.”
“I noticed. Hence the sheath…”
She took another sip of her drink while we pondered, and I was still at a loss when she pulled her legs under herself and lifted to her knees.
She leaned closer and sighed, “I guess we’re limited to spinning ourselves up like we have been.”
“I’m not exactly bored with that yet.”
She nodded. “Yeah… and at least I won’t be too likely to get carried away in public.”
“Since we’re technically in a hotel…”
She giggled, “But I’ll remind myself that I have a baby waiting back at the house.”
“And a babysitter.”
“Ema needs to go home eventually.”
“If we stay here, she can use your bed.”
She tipped her head slightly, feeling tempted enough to be promising, but she stopped herself. “Nope. You’re not allowed to talk anymore if you’re gonna keep that up.”
“Keep what up?”
She licked her lips and moved, leaning against me to rake her teeth over my neck…
Her hands moved quickly to remove my tie and unbutton the collar of my shirt…
And then her fingers found their way to my hair…
My ear, my neck, my chin…
Giggling when my fangs slid down…
Distracting me so completely, that I didn’t realize my donor had arrived until Sookie reached out to pull the donor’s wrist to me…
She breathed, “Feed,” against my neck, releasing my hair to inch her skirt up just enough to slide one knee between my thighs and lean against my cock.
I would have bitten anything she offered by then.
By the time Sookie bit my neck to push me, I was too lost in her to notice anything about the donor.
Three deep draws from the wrist later, a man’s voice announced, “Public feeding is prohibited.”
As I took one last swallow, Sookie giggled into my ear, “Fucking uptight American laws.”
I released the donor and moved to push Sookie’s skirt up, even if it was just enough to give her more range. “It’s a good thing you’re Dutch now.”
She giggled again sliding her arm into my jacket and clawing my side. “Tell me about it.”
The man cleared his throat and drawled, “Perhaps you two would be more comfortable taking this to your room.”
Sookie snorted, “PDAs are no-nos too.”
As she leaned away from me, I asked, “PDA?”
“Public Displays of Affection. It’s so stu-”
Sookie was cut off by the man when he chuckled, “Eric Northman. Why am I not surprised that you’re feeding in public.”
It took me a moment to place him, but by the time I did, Sookie was snickering into her hands.
I snorted, “Bill Compton. Small world.”
As Pam stated in one of her videos, “The Crown Prince of Douchebaggery, with or without his Maker in tow, proves nightly to be less useful than Adele’s tool kit.”
I asked Sookie, “That reminds me, what does Adele keep in her tool kit?”
She giggled and opened her purse to palm a small Swiss Army knife, a tube of crazy glue and a Chapstick. Sookie whispered, “I’ve used all of it since I started carrying it about a month ago.”
I was prepared to ignore Compton in favor of asking for specifics, but he slid onto the opposite bench uninvited. “Passing through or looking for a new place to hang your hat?”
Sookie laughed a little harder because he clearly hadn’t heard about my ascension.
“Just visiting… Bill this is my pet, Ana Louis. Ana, the last time Bill’s path crossed mine, he was forty and had delusions that Dmitri needed an infant Knight still clinging to his Maker’s teat. I blame his Maker for his grandiose egomania. She’s mad and vainglorious enough to blind herself to the reality that her child is a drone. If you look closely, you should be able to see the tether she keeps between them.”
Sookie pulled her lips over her teeth and bit down hard enough for me to feel it.
Bill hadn’t so much as looked at her… he assumed she was just a pet…
That only made it more amusing.
Bill shifted awkwardly in his seat, adjusting his tie and curling his lip. “Not everyone is cut out for Knighthood…”
“I wasn’t interested in being a glorified mercenary anyway… What have you been up to?”
“Nothing. Traveling here and there.”
He leaned on his elbows and whispered, “You aren’t here working, are you?”
Did he really think I was stupid enough to tell him if I was?
“As a Knight? No. Ana has an engagement to attend to. A book signing.”
He finally looked at her and recognized her. “Ana Louis? The writer?”
Bill Compton, master of nothing, recognized the author of young adult books and didn’t know I’d been a King for more than twenty years.
Sookie giggled, “I told you. Celebrity. Welcome to America.”
Bill slid across the bench to center his attention on Sookie. “Your books are very entertaining. I know they’re for children, but when your book included Vampire characters and was released the same week as the Revelation, several of us took notice. You knew ahead of time… They’re so well written it’s impossible to notice your target is teens. You don’t dumb down the subject matter.”
“I find that I dumb things down for adults more often than I do for children… Isabel tells us the owner chose a volcano theme because she enjoyed the eruption. Were you with her in Washington? That must have been a sight.”
“We lived in Seattle for years. The chandeliers are all made of glass from the ashes… You mentioned children. How many do you have? Three is it? One would never guess you’re a mother. You’re quite shapely.”
It was my turn to bite my lip… Seeing him flirt, his version of flattery, it was a farce… inside of a joke… wrapped in hilarious paper.
Nevermind that she was obviously Mine. From her scent to the way she was attached to my side.
Sookie corrected, “Four actually.”
I offered, “You forgot the oldest one.”
She giggled, “He doesn’t count…”
Bill shook his head. “I was under the impression you have girls.”
She nodded. “I do. Eric’s talking about a friend of ours… But speaking of children, we should go. I don’t want to miss another feeding.”
She took her glass from the table to quickly drink what was left and grabbed her purse before the glass was on the coaster.
Bill didn’t take the hint.
He waved her off when she reached into her purse. “On the house, from a fan… Are the children here?”
Sookie shook her head. “We aren’t guests in the hotel.”
“Where are you staying?”
“Might we get together? I’d love to pick your brain about your books. You write even the unbelievable believably.”
“Weres and telepaths aren’t so unbelievable.”
“Maybe not Weres, but I’ve never met a telepath.”
I offered, “I have. Perhaps this is another situation when you’re just hopelessly oblivious.”
Bill argued, “When have you met a telepath? And even then, just because you’ve met one telepath in all your years, doesn’t disprove my opinion that they’re rare.”
“I haven’t met just one. I’ve met several and I know for a fact that you have as well. The trick is finding one who’s willing to reveal their ability. I keep one just for screening employees.”
He scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Of course you do.”
“Ana, he doesn’t believe me.”
“Does he believe in Maenads?”
Brilliant. Compton’s mouth fell open.
“He has since one nearly ended him.”
“That settles it. We’ve got ourselves a Supernatural skeptic.”
“Should we tell him about remote-locators?”
She giggled, “Honestly, I think we should keep him in a box and we can pull him out for special occasions.”
“The horses aren’t enough, you need another pet?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of a piñata.”
What a perfectly wicked idea.
While Bill was still shocked Sookie knew what a Maenad was, I left the booth before the opportunity was gone.
Sookie took my hand when I offered it and as she pushed herself towards me, I offered, “I’m sure that could be arranged, but there would be a price.”
She smirked and when she did there was an evil glint in her eye. “It’s a shame I don’t know any glorified mercenaries. I’m sure I could cover the cost.”
“We’ll have to see what we can come up with… Goodnight Compton.”
Once we were on the curb, waiting for the valet to return with her car, Sookie shook her head and offered, “I’m so picturing him and his stupid Maker in an oubliette. He hasn’t done anything to us, but it could be a nice surprise for the Sookie they raped and tortured for months… She could kill them again.”
“Do you think it would make up for Our last meeting?”
“Ohhhh She was worried about you as soon as She could feel how pissed Her Eric was… The question is, would you accept the gesture as an apology?”
I considered it before nodding. “I think I would. It’s a pity we have no guarantee that we’ll meet them again.”
“Tell me about it… but at least we know where these assholes are. It worries me a bit that they’re so close to my brother though.”
That could be taken care of.
“How close are we to the bookstore we’ll be at tomorrow night?”
“We could actually walk- Oh no. No trouble. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“What trouble? The boys would have fun. Gawain would too.”
She narrowed her eyes. “No. Trouble.”
“You’re concerned for your brother. If Compton has help he could put two and two together. And once he finds more help he might actually find the connection.”
Her seriousness cracked enough to smile. “No. Trouble.”
It wasn’t trouble.
I nodded. “No trouble.”
None at all.