Thankfully, Sookie and the children packed light.
Each of the girls dragged a rolling suitcase behind them with their laptop bags slung over their shoulders, leaving me with a similar load to carry.
Misty already insisted that I take Daan home, winking and hinting that he wasn’t safe if my ‘brother’ was looking for a meal and already spotted him…
But as we stood at the back of Sookie’s SUV loading the luggage, all four of the children froze in the middle of what they were doing as a small car drove by us slowly.
My ‘brother’ was still trolling, waiting for Daan to wander into seclusion…
A twelve year old boy would be a good target… Easily glamoured to cooperate (telepathy not withstanding) and finding him in the river in a few months after it thawed would give the appearance he’d tried to cross the ice. Boys were adventurous… His death would have been ruled accidental like so many others.
And it would make sense Appius would have imparted that ‘wisdom’ on his other child like he did for me.
As we came to one of the few stop signs in town, Misty unbuckled her seatbelt and scooted forward to put her face between the seats. “Um, can we just take him back to the castle with us? For now… Alexei’s following us.”
“His name is Alexei?”
She nodded. “His name is Alexei. His favorite dinner is kids. He’s been described as egotistical and what some people imagined Appius would be like if he was crazy and didn’t have any impulse control.” I had to assume ‘some people’ meant another version of Me.
“And what do you think taking him back to the castle will do?”
She huffed, “If he follows us to your house he can’t exactly glamour his way in, even if he had the cojones to try that at the King’s house. Daan can call his aunt and say he’s hanging out with new friends so she doesn’t think he really ran away. We can use telepathy to make sure the coast is clear to take him home later. If Alexei finds where Daan lives, he’s a goner because he can glamour his way into the house…” Misty turned her head to warn Daan, “DO NOT BARF IN SOOKIE’S CAR. You’re going to be fine.”
The boy swallowed and anxiously nodded his head.
I offered, “You realize Alexei can just walk into my house, yes?”
“Yeah. I also know that you’re stronger and faster than he is.” Smart as a whip, that one.
“What makes you think I’m willing to defend Daan?”
“Because you’re actually a nice guy when you aren’t trying to be a jerk. Anything else?”
She sat back to buckle her seatbelt again and snorted, “Apparently I have them. Our old babysitter used to say so all the time.”
I chuckled as I turned the car back towards the castle. “Since you’re the one with cojones, what do you propose we do if Alexei tries to sneak up on us?”
Without explaining, Misty called, “Dibs on north.”
Jenny answered, “I’ll take east.”
Lindy cleared her throat and added, “South for me…”
Misty nodded and continued, “Daan, that leaves west. Scan towards the river. Alexei will be watching before he tries to pounce so it’ll be easier to sense him. It’ll feel like you’re being watched though… like that paranoid feeling you’d have if you were changing in a room without curtains. Got it?” I couldn’t decide if she’d make a better General or Vampire.
While Daan tried to absorb his orders, I asked, “How far can you scan? How much warning can you offer?”
“I don’t know about Daan, but the three of us can scan pretty far. That’s why he got the river. The water will slow Alexei down if he thinks to approach from Belgium… I’d say we can give you two seconds, maybe five if Alexei hesitates.”
“You could hear all the thoughts of everyone in the hotel last night?”
“Um… we could if we wanted to, but it doesn’t really work that way… think of weapons… A stick of dynamite has a blast radius. It’s more intense at the center. Same for us… Then you’ve got your shotguns… you can aim it and pepper a large area…”
Lindy offered, “That’s what we’re gonna do. We’re each taking a direction and focusing outward.”
Misty continued, “And then you’ve got sniper rifles. When we focus on a certain mind, it takes a while for them to get out of range.” I was already curious about the ability, but hearing the way she described it only made me more curious… not to mention impressed.
Daan’s eyes lit up. He nodded with an impressed look on his face. “Fitting.”
I probed, “And who is the sharp shooter among you?”
I watched in the rearview mirror as Lindy and Jenny pointed to Misty.
Misty explained, “We all have our strengths. I have the best range. Jenny gets really good reception on mental pictures. Lindy’s got excellent control of her shields.“
Just for fun, I pulled over to the shoulder just to force Alexei to pass us and need a new plan. Appius failed him if he wasn’t taught to hunt any better than this. He was following so closely I might as well have been towing him.
As Alexei sped away, Jenny offered, “He’s mad…“
I nodded. “Of course he is. I poached his meal.”
It was a good thing the car was parked… Daan shoved open his door and lurched out to vomit on the ground…
While Jenny and Lindy groaned about how revolting it was, Misty laughed, “Look! It’s steaming!” I actually laughed at the little tomboy.
She groaned at the disapproving looks from the other girls as she unbuckled her seatbelt again and climbed between the seats to join Daan.
She stood next to him with her arms crossed unsympathetically while he hurled into the weeds and snorted, “Jeez dude, way to be a wuss. Eric wasn’t saying he was going to feed from you… He meant that Alexei thought of it that way. Eric doesn’t feed from kids. Now, get in the car so we don’t freeze to death trying to save your butt.”
He was scowling at her when a phone began ringing from somewhere inside the car…
She left Daan bent over to return to the car and opened the glove box to remove a cell phone that was plugged into a hidden outlet.
As she studied the screen, she offered, “Sookie’s phone died while she was blowing up your phone about company…“ She put the phone to her ear and chirped, “Hey Grampa, what’s up!?”
The man drawled, “Not much. How’s my girls doin‘?”
“We’re good. A little busy right now. On the road running errands. Want me to give Sookie a message?”
“You aren’t with her?”
“No sir. We’re with Eric…”
“GOOD! Yeah, tell Sook to call me later if she wants to, but tell her I said everything’s fine all a’sudden like.”
Misty raised her eyebrows in my direction with an excited look on her face. “Just to get it straight… that funeral feeling you had about Eric…“
He cut her off, “Gone, baby, gone. I don’t know what Sook‘s been up to, but I never felt so relieved… She’s gotta stop doubtin‘ herself. She must’ve gotten through to him more than she thought.”
“How long ago did you get the feeling?“
“Uhhhhh… been about an hour, I guess. I tried calling then, but the phone went straight to voicemail.” An hour… About an hour ago, Sookie was sitting on my back keeping Me from staking myself… Unfuckingbelievable.
Misty nodded, “Yeah… she killed her battery. It’s been charging in the car. I’ll let her know, Grampa. Thanks.”
“Thanks baby… Love you girls bunches.”
Misty tossed the phone back into the glove box and bounced into the car, calling back, “Get in or fend for yourself, Daan. We’re sitting ducks out here.”
I spent a moment realizing I might like Misty… in spite of the derision I’d suffered from her, she was actually quite amusing… and to be fair, Jenny and Lindy weren’t intolerable. They were well behaved enough…
The three of them were definitely interesting…
But as I turned onto the long drive to the castle, it finally occurred to me…
Sookie saved my fucking life.
If I hadn’t met her, if she hadn’t been such a thorn in my side, I’d have risen to find an unfamiliar Human in my bed… I’d have drained Her.
The other Sookie wouldn’t have survived… and given the timing, I would have been carrying the body of an ‘intruder‘ out to dispose of Her when the other Eric came to search for Her…
He would have ended me.
I was sure of it…
What’s more… if My Sookie hadn’t stayed in Eijsden, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume I could have been ended just for having fed from Her.
She’d saved my life on multiple levels… and she’d done it by ignoring how much I loathed her meddling.
I couldn’t bring myself to care about how much gloating she’d do.
As brief as it was, my moment of reflection was interrupted when Misty reminded Daan which direction he was to scan, confirming that the closest minds other than Sookie were more than a football field away and Human.
I watched the girls for signals while they unloaded their luggage and hauled it inside, leading the way upstairs… Keeping Daan with them and informing me Sookie was in the direction of the gallery…
Following the sounds of shuffling papers, and a bizarre melancholic feeling, I found Sookie on her hands and knees on my office floor.
“They’ve already reset?”
She didn’t bother looking back as she continued to gather papers into a neat stack. “He wanted to take her home so She could be more comfortable while He explained about us.”
“So it’s safe to assume the reason for the skip was discovered then, yes?”
She sighed, “I guess it was, yeah.”
I couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t ask what I meant.
“Did the children explain already?”
She leaned back to sit on her knees and give me a confused look. “Explain what? Did something happen while you were gone?”
I nodded. “Your little telepathic friend was waiting at the hotel when we arrived… He planned to run away and join Sookie’s Traveling Circus, but Misty persuaded him to accept a temporary position as a stable-hand as an excuse to visit… Discussing matters put us on the topic of your warning about contact with Vampires, which revealed that just before we arrived at the hotel, Daan had caught the attention of a Vampire…”
Sookie gasped, “Thank God you were being a turd last night… He wouldn’t have known what a Vampire mind was like if you hadn’t followed us to the restaurant… Did you know the Vampire? Did Daan make it home alright?”
Thank God I was being a turd?
“Daan’s upstairs with the girls. Misty insisted we bring him here because she recognized Alexei in Daan’s thoughts.”
Sookie pushed herself from the floor to pace while twisting a lock of her hair. “How much do you know? From the journal? From what the girls could explain?”
I shook my head. “I didn’t know I had a ’brother‘. Misty was impressively guarded about the topic. I know he prefers feeding from children, and he’s insane. I don’t remember there being any photos in the journal. Have you met him? What do you know?”
She stopped in her tracks and huffed, “You don’t really need photos on the journal since they’re in damn near every history book and all over the internet… Eric, your Maker thought it would be an awesome idea to turn the hemophiliac Prince of Russia. Alexei freakin’ Romanov. The first Eric I met told us that Appius tracked him down in Crete as a last ditch effort to get Alexei under control. He kept the bratty mentality of a coddled prince, but went Mad Hatter after a while. Grandiose sense of entitlement. Refusing to accept that orphanages aren’t restaurants. Alexei was actually wearing Appius out.”
“Appius came to a Me for advice with disciplining a child?” If what he’d done to me hadn’t worked on Alexei, the boy wasn’t going to respond to anything I could have done.
She nodded. “Yeah… That did not end well… Alexei tried to drain Cort…”
“Corbett. A Sookie married right out of high school and her husband was killed in action. Cort is their son. That Sookie and Eric are raising Cort and Hunter together. Cort is Misty’s age.”
“A skip-sibling, yes?”
She nodded and continued, “So Alexei went after Cort. Eric ended Alexei. Appius was less than amused and made this big long argument about ‘an eye for an eye, a child for a child’… Even Cort and Hunter knew where the hell he was going with that… The way Eric explained it, Appius only said as much as ‘I command you,’ before Sookie delivered a surprise stake into his heart from behind to keep him from ordering Eric to end His Pam.”
I never imagined I would ever be able to hate Appius more… He would have ordered Me to end Pam to even a score for ending his already incorrigible child.
“The children are scanning the property. We’ll know in plenty of time to be prepared.”
She nodded, but continued to pace.
“Also, your father called. Misty spoke to him. She was told to deliver the message that his feeling of impending doom was replaced with a sudden sensation of reprieve…”
Sookie snorted, “My father did not use those words, but damn if you don’t have an art for paraphrasing.”
“Fair enough. I can’t decide if your promise to think of a way to help me focus inspired me to think of Her as something other than a threat or if it was your heroic efforts in the hallway… Either way, thank you.”
It was the first genuine thank you I’d given in decades… I couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed by her minimal reaction. All she did was offer a nod.
“What is this mood you’re in? Did something happen here while we were on our errand?”
She studied the floor for a moment, gnawing on her lip…
She finally asked, “Do you remember what She tasted like?”
She scoffed, “Stop being a jerk for a minute… it’s related to what I’m hung up on.”
“Yes, I remember how She tasted.” How could I forget?
“Did you smell Her?”
I growled, “I’m going to assume that question isn’t to remind me that I should sample my surroundings… No. I didn’t smell Her. I was distracted by the fact that Her mouth tasted like honey.”
I waited for her to consider my answer for another moment before walking towards me. She pulled up the sleeve of her sweater and raised her wrist. “I want you to compare us.”
I raised an eyebrow, sure it was some sort of experiment I didn’t want to be part of. “Why?”
“My reasons don’t really matter. You might have fed already tonight, but you were seriously hurt soon after. If Alexei does decide to show his face, you’ll need all the strength you can get. He’s faster than he should be for his age because he was given Appius’s blood while he was still alive.”
“Point taken, but I still want to hear your reasons since you seemed so adamant last night.”
“I didn’t want to give you my blood until it was necessary because I didn’t want you to develop a taste for it. Cat’s out of the bag since you know what I taste like now, to some extent anyway… and I can’t explain reasons for this without jading your answer…”
“A blind taste test?”
“Something like that.”
Suspicious as I was about her reasons… I’d already decided Sookie’s sweetened O-negative was my new favorite brand.
I would have needed a much better reason to turn her offer down that just being leery of her motives… when I couldn’t detect any kind of deceit or ill-will…
I briefly thought I might have enjoyed Sookie’s flavor enough to ignore warnings I might have otherwise noticed…
I still bit.
Sookie winced as I pushed my fangs into her tiny wrist… reminding me that the other Sookie hadn’t had any reaction to my bite and why…
There was a certain amount of greed to why I didn’t pull from the wound… I wanted to savor that impossible sweetness for as long as possible.
Even realizing I’d participated in her experiment for nothing more than a taste of her Faerie-laced blood didn’t taint the experience.
As soon as I pulled her wrist away from my mouth, Sookie ordered, “Heal it… I’m not a donor. I won’t walk around with fang-cankers.”
I would have healed the marking regardless, but… “Fang cankers?”
She raised an eyebrow while I pricked my thumb. “Yeah… fang-cankers, tap-tracks… markings. I’m not your blut hure.”
“I never suggested you are. You’re the one making demands at the moment.”
“As long as that’s understood… Now… did I taste different?”
“You aren’t quite as sweet, but I mentioned she tasted of honey.”
“Did she taste like a pot head?”
“No. How would you know what a ‘pot head’ tastes like? For that matter, why would you ask?”
“She uses pot to help with anxiety… Selma told me pot heads taste like a spice cabinet smells. The taste lingers for weeks, right?”
I nodded. “Are you going to tell me about the reason for you experiment?”
When she sighed, her chin trembled. “She’s pregnant.”
“The other Sookie… I was already pretty sure, but knowing that She tastes sweeter than me kind of solidifies it. I feel horrible about it, but I talked Him into waiting until they reset to bring it up… I didn’t think I could bear to listen to Her plan Her abortion.”
“Because of your recent miscarriage or because you’re generally opposed to the idea?”
“It’s irrational and I know it’s irrational. That’s why I did what I could to avoid the reaction… Personally, I think that’s the only reason I would ever have an abortion… after what She went through and as hard as it’s going to be to bounce back, it would be insane for Her to think about keeping it… but… I guess I’m allowed to be irrational as long as I try to keep it to myself.”
“After looking Her over, I’d be surprised if She’s healthy enough to consider keeping it. Her health might be a better reason than anything else. She hardly looks strong enough to survive a cold.”
“When did you look Her over?”
“After Miles delivered your message about your tattoo… She doesn’t have one.”
“Most Sookies don’t from what I know.”
“The first I met did… She had a large peacock on the front of Her hip.”
“She got the peacock to cover my pot leaf. Mine isn’t as big as hers was. She’s got other tattoos too… They usually go with some kind of unique jewelry… Nothing’s a hundred percent though. There have been rings charmed by a Witch that didn’t work because they honed in on the blood of the other, which coincidently is the same as the skipper’s… my first Eric told me they tried a safe-word, but He accidently fucked the wrong Sookie because the two couples used the same logic picking it.”
“What was the safe word?”
She snorted, “That doesn’t matter since there isn’t a single reason I’d snuggle up to you in bed. If you wake up next to Me, it’s not me and you should try to behave.”
“I did behave. I didn’t drain Her.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head feeling slightly amused, but mostly annoyed. Without offering a reply, she knelt and went back to tidying the floor to my office.
“Why are you cleaning, let alone in this room? You know Saskia isn’t allowed…”
“We’ve already discussed that you should have your Lords come to you for safety reasons. I’m doing what I can to make this room presentable. Besides, I have it on good authority that ‘stay out’ isn’t a lawful order when you’re a pig.”
“Funny, I don’t remember issuing that decree.”
“You didn’t. My step-father did. My brother’s room would get like this and we’d clean it for him and keep whatever treasures we’d find.”
“I’m being held to an American Packmaster’s standards of cleanliness? That’s rich.”
“Yes sir… I’m a little bummed that I haven’t found any Oreos or Orange Slices, but since I’m up €112, I might see if I can find some in town as my reward.”
“You used to eat the food you’d find in your brother’s room?”
“Food in our room was a no-no… Calvin called it ‘roach-bait’. As soon as Jason broke the seal on a bag of whatever, we’d clean his room. It was fresh.”
“It was mentioned that you’re ‘Supe-bait’… did that carry over to your relationship with your step-father?”
She stopped what she was doing to turn her head slowly, giving me what was quite possibly the angriest look she could muster. “That question doesn’t exactly fall into the category of polite conversation.”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ then.”
Before I realized why she was reaching for one of my discarded boots, she hurled it across the room… If I hadn’t caught it, I would have had a broken nose… At least it wasn’t the letter opener.
“Nice throw, but I’m not sure how it was necessary.”
She hissed, “Calvin is a good man. He doesn’t deserve that.”
“Did the question hit a nerve or are you that adamant about etiquette? The children aren’t present to be impressed upon this time.”
She growled and clenched her jaw. “I was molested, but not by Calvin. There are completely Human monsters in the world… when Calvin heard about what happened there was one less.”
Yes, I’d hit a nerve… not only had she been abused, but I insulted her defender.
Failing my attempt for polite conversation, I offered, “I’m going to bathe. My hair is still sticky.”
She barked, “There’s a hamper in your bathroom. Use it.”
The hamper in my bathroom was the last thing I noticed…
The floor of my room didn’t have anything but the tracks of a vacuum…
There were fresh linens on my bed…
A small basket had been placed on my dresser and filled with items from my pockets…
I was sure that’s where she’d found the €112 treasure…
Everything in the bathroom sparkled to the extent that I sampled the scent…
The other Sookie’s blood was gone, but…
No water spots.
No soap scum.
No water stains in the toilet I didn’t remember to flush often enough.
My soap bottles were lined up in the shower neatly.
Fresh towels were hanging on the bar and a stack of folded towels were on the counter.
Misty wasn’t the only one with cojones.
While I was showering, I heard her shuffling around in my room…
Drawers being opened and closed, my closet door…
I think I growled the whole time I was washing…
Only to find that she’d taken it upon herself to reorganize my closet as well…
Grouping each type of item together… Suits, dress shirts, sweaters, casual shirts, jeans…
My shoes were lined up neatly in the bottom and the empty hangers had disappeared.
Nothing was sacred.
Confronting her was easier said than done.
Finding her was easy enough… All I had to do was follow the noises coming from the kitchen.
But when I reached her, she’d put her minions to work. Misty, Jenny, Lindy and Daan were gathered around the bin shaving potatoes and carrots… while Sookie rubbed spices into a roast with her cell to her ear.
“Oooh, he’s no trouble at all, Nell. And please, call me Sookie. Ana is just my penname. I’m sure my husband will feel better knowing I have someone to show me around while I’m on holiday. He’s such a sweet boy to offer, but I’ll feel horrible if he doesn’t let me pay him. You’ll explain that to him for me, won’t you?”
Her tone was dripping with sweetness, while her mood was completely conniving.
I didn’t know whether to be impressed or just happy to be able to sense the false mood.
By the time Daan’s aunt was finished graciously thanking Sookie for hiring Daan as her temporary assistant, the boy had relaxed in spite of my presence.
Sookie left the roast to rinse her hands and as she put her phone on the counter, she kissed his cheek and said, “Done.”
He argued, “But you don’t need to pay me. I…”
She interrupted, “But I do. See, I don’t have boys for you to hang out with, so you being around will make your aunt think you’re using the girls to be a sycophant. This way, she thinks you’re earning your keep instead of getting in the way. As a special treat, you’ll take her out for breakfast on Sunday to celebrate your new job. As it is, I get the feeling she thinks your ‘obsession’ with my books is immature because she doesn’t know how real they are for you… She talks about you like you’re still a baby. This ‘job’ will help that problem too. Besides, you really are going to help us pick up Dutch, right?”
“Then it’s done. Everything is pretty.”
That reminded me… “Like my bathroom.”
She giggled, “I meant the façade makes Aunt Nell happy and the reality makes Daan happy.”
“What about my chambers? Do you have a disorder I should know about? And what are you doing in my kitchen? Are you quite at home?”
The children snickered while they worked and didn’t make eye contact with anyone in an effort to lay low.
Sookie cleared her throat and offered, “Well, you dismissed Saskia and the rest of the staff because of the unexpected company. We’re going to need dinner in a while and it’s not like it’s a good idea to run to a restaurant with Alexei on the loose. Saskia stocked the pantry and fridge…”
I growled, “My chambers… There’s toilet paper in my bathroom. Why would I need toilet paper?”
“You wouldn’t, but your company might… She could use a clear path too. Busy work helps me clear my head. I found something constructive to do. Blame Saskia for keeping up with the rest of the castle. She didn’t leave me anything else to do.”
“It’s Saskia’s fault you…”
Before I could finish challenging her claim that my maid was responsible for her invasion, Sookie and the children visibly tensed.
Lindy breathed, “It’s him. Same brain… he’s crazy. Coming up the driveway.”
I listened to the gravel crunching under his tires… the echo of his engine as he passed under the stone arch… the car door close, but there was a complete void of sound where his footsteps should have been heard…
Then he pulled the chain for the bell.
I couldn’t help but ask, “How can you tell he’s crazy?”
“Vampires’ brains are black to white and when they move, they roll like fog or smoke… Alexei’s brain is like watching a bingo hopper. Dark.”
I nodded. “That’s interesting… Are you associating…”
Sookie interrupted with an urgent whisper, “Eric… the door.”
“I’m the fucking King. He can wait… Do you have a comparison or are you basing his ‘known’ insanity with the sensation you get from his mind?”
Ignoring the second bell, Misty offered a proud grin as she promised, “We’ll explain later,” and shifted her eyes towards Daan. “It’s been described in detail.”
I nodded, understanding it was information given by another version.
Misty’s eyebrows pitched up to points as she covered her mouth to snicker, “Eric, you should totally take Daan with you when you open the door.”
Sookie gasped and swatted the little imp’s ass while I laughed and turned for the door as Alexei rang the bell a third time…
I opened the door and stared at the boy I’d first seen on prayer posters. He’d been quite young when the flyers began littering the streets of St. Petersburg. They begged for the ‘loyal prayers of patriots’ if I remembered correctly. The once ailing Tsarevich of Imperial Russia had several droplets of fresh blood on the sleeve of his coat. Sloppy, sloppy little boy.
“You aren’t going to invite me in?” He hadn’t offered as much respect as a nod.
I raised an eyebrow at the little prick. “Who the fuck are you to present yourself to a King and make demands?”
“I am Alexei…”
“In soiled clothing, no less.”
“An insolent child… Vampires in their first century are prohibited from the countryside unless chaperoned by their Maker.”
“My Maker was ended.” That was it? That was all he had to offer?
“Leige to the south. Eindhoven to the north. The Lords of either district will refer you to an area accepting unfostered infants.”
As I pushed the door to close it, he caught it and hissed, “I. AM. NO. INFANT.”
I chuckled just to taunt him, “Aren’t you precious… If you wanted a warmer reception, you came to the wrong Kingdom, rebenok.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You know who I am.”
“There was a time when I served Dmitri. Your family used to beg for prayers.”
“They did not beg.”
“The bulletins, boy… they said ‘My vo vlasti vashikh molitv’. Paraphrasing, of course. I didn’t care enough to take much notice… Why are you here?”
He snarled, “I went to South America when my Maker was ended. I heard you are King of the Northern Empire when I returned to Europe.”
“You should have tried North America. I hear the inmates are running the asylum… What compelled you to present yourself to me?”
He raised an eyebrow as though he was holding on to some great secret. Even without the details Sookie gave me, I’d have knew Appius made another child…
It used to be that he’d ‘visit’ every few years and stay just long enough to wreak havoc on my position and pass judgment on my choices. Liz was his favorite grievance because I spoiled her and let her have her way too often. When Liz heard the term ‘Jewish Mother’, she came to me, laughing hysterically… it was only then we realized it had been decades since he’d darkened our doorstep. Liz immediately assumed correctly, that he’d made a new child to torment… She referred to Appius as ‘the JM’ until I lost her.
“I wanted to meet my Maker’s other child.”
“How very sad. If I cared to meet you, I’d have sent for you after I ended him.”
I had the urge to laugh at the shocked expression on his face. “Yes me. I ended our Maker. Enjoy your freedom, but do it in another Kingdom.”
“Certainly there is room enough for both of us.”
“Not when you’re poaching in my town before bothering with an introduction, rebenok.”
His lip twitched when I reminded him of his nickname. “If I knew the boy was yours, I wouldn’t have been so tempted.” Finally acknowledging he’d followed me. That was a step in the right direction.
“The boy isn’t Mine. Feeding from anyone without a donor card is a serious offense. One cannot attain a donor card until one is 22. If you want to feed from innocent children, try eastern Asia. You should have been told when you went through customs at the airport that Europe has little tolerance for Vampire violence.”
He shrugged dismissively as though the rules didn’t apply to him. “Then I’ll hide the body of my most recent donor…”
“Where is he?”
“She’s in my trunk.” Fuck. There was no way to know if she was attacked beforehand or as Daan’s replacement.
“Is she dead or did you save something for later?”
He smirked and offered, “I saved some…” He hadn’t saved much if there weren’t any noises coming from the trunk of his car.
Blood loss and hypothermia. If Alexei intended to enjoy seconds, he wasn’t smart enough to store his leftovers properly. I couldn’t say I was surprised though. Appius rarely left anything for later.
I turned my head to call for Sookie, but she was already waiting, peeking around the corner, holding her breath with tears streaking her face.
Fuck. Why was she crying?
Sookie was nodding when Alexei stepped into the house, trying to catch a glance of who I was speaking to. “Who is it you’re speaking to? Is that my missed opportunity?”
“No. That’s Mine. If you lay a hand on her, you won’t live long enough to regret it… Bring the girl to me.”
He showed his fangs and hissed like a trite cliché. “She’s mine. You have your own!”
Even though he was barely taller than Sookie, he seemed completely convinced he was intimidating me.
I laughed as I grabbed his throat to swing him around and put him to the floor, pinning his pelvis with my knee and reaching into his mouth slowly…
That look of horror was so fulfilling.
As I shimmied the first of his fangs out of its socket I warned, “Never show your fangs to a better, rebenok. Never.”
He seemed to forget he was ‘no infant’, bawling and slapping enough I could imagine Misty would be amused…
Taking the second was interrupted by Sookie’s approach. She quickly came towards us and surprised me by stomping on Alexei’s shoulder, driving the heel down hard enough I could hear his bones splinter.
He grabbed her leg and yanked it out from under her, dragging her closer…
The pain from crashing to the stone floor was enough for me to notice, but she managed to ignore it in favor of taking the stake out of his coat…
She kicked her ankle free of his hand and scurried on her knees to the other side of the hall.
I laughed as I yanked his other fang out. “Stupid. Infant. Ninety years old and you don’t know your place.”
He spat blood when he yelped, “I was to be Tsar!”
I began chuckling all over again because his voice cracked.
What he was as a Human was no fucking excuse. There was proof of that nearby. Then again, they were well behaved boys who weren’t tainted before they were brought over.
“Then your Maker failed you by not explaining a newborn is nothing. Vampires have to achieve their positions.”
Sookie barked, “And you wouldn’t have been ANYTHING! You would have died when you were four if you weren’t getting the blood of a Vampire, you little prick!” Oh really?
“What do you know about anything!?”
Sookie crawled closer to glare at him. “I know if you hadn’t lived, Olga would have married Grand Duke Pavlovich and their son, Nicholas III, would be the Tsar with Nicholas IV primed to take the throne… How’s that for what I know, dickhead?”
I couldn’t help myself. “Hypothetically speaking, where might Appius have been?”
Sookie shrugged, “Maybe a Maenad rolled through St. Petersburg back in 1895… ish.” I remembered that too well. I was up to my ass in the remains of her victims.
Alexei scoffed, “What are you?”
I didn’t give her the chance to answer him. I stood, taking Alexei from the floor and realizing there were four small witnesses peeking around the same corner Sookie had used as her vantage point.
Unfortunately, he noticed too. He hissed, “Sooooo greeeedy, keeping them all for yourself,” and licked his lips.
There was a split second for me to wonder if Appius simply allowed Alexei’s depravity or encouraged it…
Either way, the boy had no control of his impulses…
It was my fault. I took for granted that he’d learned his lesson by losing his fangs.
I was only holding his throat.
It was too easy for him to break away.
The prick darted directly for the children and moved too quickly for any of them to react.
Brave enough to call me an ass, Misty.
She was standing at the front of the group.
Fearless leader in a Rolling Stones T-shirt…
Her long curly hair was down, covering her neck to keep it from being too easy to reach…
But her arms were bare.
Sookie was frozen, completely horrified, when I took the stake from her, but I wasn’t sure she saw me moving to know it was gone.
Jenny and Lindy were both still gasping, fueling their hysterics when I reached them…
Daan was gaping at the scene with a front row seat…
I’d been so brilliant to remove Alexei’s fangs…
Biting Misty with his blunt teeth broke her tiny bones before it broke her skin.
He would have taken her arm off if I tried to push him away…
Staking him was the only option.
Not that he was going to be leaving the property…
He puddled around her when I drove his own stake into his chest.
She was frozen, holding her breath with her arm up as though Alexei was still mauling it…
Deep arterial red flowed from her arm like a faucet…
It was automatic.
Before I realized what I was doing… before Misty remembered to breathe… I was on my knees in the puddle that was ‘to be Tsar’, holding my wrist to her mouth.
Holding her arm together until my blood began to mend her…
Her bones creaked as they fused back together…
Her blood soaked my hands until the meat became muscle…
Until the shreds became skin.
Watching her test herself by wiggling her fingers.
Not a tear.
Sookie, Jenny and Lindy were blubbering wrecks…
But Misty didn’t shed a single fucking tear until after she threw her arms around my neck.
Even then she choked out a joke against my neck. “Great move sending the maid home.”
I put my arm around her back to hold her up when her knees tried to buckle. “That’s why I healed your arm. Someone needs to clean this mess.”
She giggled through her tears, tightening her grip on my neck as Sookie crawled over to put her hand on the girl’s shoulder.
Sookie’s presence went unnoticed and after a moment, Jenny and Lindy turned to her for comfort.
Misty finally pulled away, gasping, “Eric! The girl. She’s still alive.”
“Too bad. I only help one child per month.”
She smiled and swatted my cheek. “Go get her out of the trunk before she freezes.”
I was already standing when I started chuckling at the sassy little twit. “Why don’t you help me find his keys in this mess so I don’t have to open the car like a can of kippers?”
After healing Sookie because Alexei had broken her ankle when he grabbed her, and cleaning myself enough to not look like I’d just been part of a bloodbath, Daan became my shadow…
By the time we reached the car, the girl inside was kicking and screaming. She’d been glamoured to remain mute, but Alexei’s control over her died when he did.
He’d taken one of Daan’s schoolmates… she’d passed him on the street while he was waiting at the hotel.
The groceries she was sent for were in the trunk with her, along with the cocoon Alexei had apparently been dying in rather than finding respectable shelter. Since the thing wasn’t much more than a glorified sleeping bag, it was responsible for the surprising condition of the girl.
The girl was delivered to her parents while they were reporting her disappearance to an inspector… Daan gave witness that the Vampire who’d abducted her had been ended, the parents accepted the stack of cash I’d brought as their settlement, and Daan was taken home since the threat to him had become a nonpoint.
All said and done, I returned to the castle an hour later to find Alexei’s remains had been cleaned as much as humanly possible.
Sookie was sitting alone at the table in the kitchen with her laptop.
She nodded. “Documenting the skip while it’s still fresh… How’s the girl?”
“Probably traumatized for life, but physically fine other than her marking. Alexei’s cocoon, revolting as it was, kept her warm enough she didn’t suffer any shock… How is Misty?”
Sookie sighed, “Probably better than Jenny and Lindy… I don’t know how, but… that little turd is very proud of herself for not ‘being a girl’ about everything. She was making fun of Jenny and Lindy. ‘I don’t know why you’re crying. I’m the one that got bit.’ And she’s mad that I won’t let her call my Daddy to rib him for not picking up on the fact she was going to be hurt. She’s such a resilient little cuss. They’re cleaning up.” Meanwhile, Sookie seemed content to sit in bloody clothes.
I nodded, sure it was more likely that Misty had developed a tolerance for pain… and being certain she was faking a fair amount of her trademark toughness.
Sookie stared at me as though she wanted to say something, but couldn’t decide if she would. Trying to take a hint from her emotions was useless. Nothing. Misty, on the other hand, was in her room feeling annoyed and rattled.
My eyes rolled when I realized how quickly Sookie had taken the reins of our connection.
“I wasn’t looking for an excuse to give her my blood…”
Sookie interrupted by gasping, “I know! Nononono… I never thought that for a second… I was too busy trying to think of a way to say thank you… that… Eric, she would have bled to death.”
“I’m aware.” She would have been fine with two puncture wounds… Misty’s injury was superfluous because I’d taken Alexei’s fangs.
Sookie snorted, “I’m aware,” mockingly and shook her head.
Fuck. She wanted an apology.
“What needs to be said about it? She seemed to understand the effects of Vampire blood last night.”
Sookie sighed, “She does… nevermind. I’ll drop it.” Good.
“Out of curiosity, why were you crying?”
She shrugged and picked a hangnail for a moment before offering, “It’s sad. What he became… The story always hooked me. Books. Movies. The whole thing is just so tragic. I always hoped that woman, Anna Anderson, was the real deal… you know, someone who made it. A survivor… It’s just sad to know that it wasn’t enough. I know by the time Appius found him he was nearly expired or whatever, but it’s still sad to know he did make it. Sort of… He could have done anything with his second chance, but he ended up getting flushed down the toilet in small portions…”
When I started laughing, she gave me a dirty look in spite of her weepy eyes.
“It’s not funny!”
I nodded as I argued. “It is! You flushed him?”
She bit her lip to fight a macabre grin from taking over her scowl. “What else was I supposed to do with him?”
“You should have used a heavy duty garbage bag and a mop… and reminded yourself he wasn’t the sad little hemophiliac in a sailor suit any longer. That ‘little boy’ nearly killed Misty tonight.”
She sighed again and nodded. “I know… Potential is a fragile thing, I guess.”
“Oh… this is about your miscarriage then, yes?”
She narrowed her eyes at me and I actually looked at her hands… A Pavlovian response to being stabbed and pummeled.
Since her hands were empty, I waited for her to explain what I’d said to deserve the look.
She growled, “Asshole.”
“Asshole… I hate that you’re right… that’s exactly what this is about. Shut up.”
“If I’m right, why should I shut up?”
“Because it’s a nerve… I don’t want to talk about it… Same for what happened when I was little. I just want to get past it…”
“And pretend it didn’t happen?”
She cleared her throat and shook her head. “Not really. There’s nothing I can do to change it and the world keeps turning. Thinking about it does bring me down and that’s counter-productive, but getting past it isn’t the same thing.”
“Is that supposed to translate to me?”
She shrugged. “Nah… I told you I wasn’t comparing our losses… It’s just… I have plenty of things that make me happy. I can’t slight all men for what my uncle did. I can’t slight my friends for the ones who turned on me. I can’t slight the kids by dwelling on the babies I lost.”
What if one didn’t have anyone to slight?
“Do you mean literally or figuratively? You said babies.”
“Literally. Two other miscarriages. All of them were because of the scar tissue from the accident.”
“As much as you know about me, all you’ll tell me on the matter is ‘related’.”
“I couldn’t keep doing it. After the first two, I wanted to have my tubes tied, but Allecks wanted to keep trying… He kept thinking having one make it would make up for the others… Huge rift. Huge.”
“Loaning to why you rejected a lover who wanted a large family.”
She snorted, “Fertility aside… It should have been enough that I already have three kids for God’s sake. My nephew spends his summers with me and in a couple of years, the twins are going to be coming right along with him.”
“It would have killed me if something happened to her, Eric.”
Her statement was out of the blue, skipping back to the beginning of our conversation…
I didn’t have the time to formulate a reply before she continued, “Fuck Hadley, wherever she is… and fuck whoever her new meal ticket is. I don’t even care about how many counterfeit tears she could have drummed up. It would have killed me if something happened to Misty. She’s Mine now. Mine. You saved my little girl tonight… Thank you.”
My mouth might as well have been sewn shut for all the good it did me. Not that I could put a sentence together…
I’d thought she wanted me to apologize for giving my blood to a child. Even I questioned the wisdom.
“I’d die for those kids, Eric… I would, but since they’ve been with me, there hasn’t been any ‘big bads’ to protect them from. Nothing palpable. Most of it is stuff they consider upgrades. They were sharing a seatbelt in a beat up Fiero, now they’re riding around in Benz SUV. They traded their trailer and a shared mattress to having their own rooms in an upscale townhouse. Struggling in overcrowded public schools to thriving in home school… They love their new life. Every time they talk to Hadley they appreciate what I can offer them that much more…”
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
“Eric, you’re the first person who’s ever protected those girls.”
“That’s criminal… Hadley should be put down for subjecting them to…” I balked when I caught a smirk creeping onto her face. “What?”
“They’re getting to you.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but…
She was right.