As it turned out, two nights passed before the Pythoness made the call to Eric and Sookie Northman to give them the good news. The Pythoness didn’t ask. She told them that the Viking was now High King. In her next sentence, she told the stunned Northmans that Thalia would be arriving to establish her headquarters in the Crescent City and before the couple could ask any questions, the Oracle congratulated them and signed off.
Neither Eric nor Sookie said anything. The laptop they’d used for the video conference switched over to the screen saver. The vampire emoji appeared and started bouncing from one side of the monitor to the other, but still, Eric Northman didn’t move. Finally, Sookie rose from the seat next to his and, taking his hand, pulled his arm up so she could slide into his lap. Without looking at her, Eric wrapped one arm around her waist and placed his other hand over their child. He drew a breath in, using their scent to help calm the turmoil he felt and then allowed Sookie to draw his head down until their foreheads touched.
“You will make an amazing High King,” she told him.
“I don’t want this,” he replied.
“I know,” she assured him, and then pushing his head back, Sookie met Eric’s eyes. She smiled up at him, letting him know that everything would be all right. She stroked his eyebrows with her thumbs, encouraging him to release the worry that was furrowing his brow, and then she lightly kissed his lips. “I love you,” she whispered.
“That I do know,” Eric replied and his smile returned.
“I guess this means another big event,” Sookie teased. “Seems like you vampires can’t break a nail without making some kind of production out of it!”
“We are immortal,” Eric smiled sardonically, “It helps to relieve the boredom of our endless lives.”
Sookie laid her head against his shoulder, “I don’t know about you, but I could do with some boredom right about now.” They sat like that, their arms wrapped around each other. After another little while, Sookie asked silently, ‘Do you think this will bring more trouble to us?’
Eric knew the reason she asked it mentally was that his wife was afraid to say the words out loud. “No,” he told her, using his voice. “I think the reason the Pythoness chose us is because she believes of all the rulers, I am the one who is least likely to be attacked.”
“Because of the Fae,” Sookie concluded.
“Because of the Fae and the witches,” Eric nodded.
“You are pretty bad ass,” Sookie shoved his shoulder with her own.
“That may be,” Eric chuckled, “But skill with a sword won’t be what’s needed now.”
“So,” Sookie asked, “What do we need to do? Do you think we need to move?”
Eric sat back, shifting Sookie a little so she sat more comfortably in his lap, “No. If Thalia is coming here to establish a base for the army…”
“Police!” Sookie whispered.
“Police,” Eric corrected, “Then I think it is assumed we will keep New Orleans.”
“But not the rest of the state?” Sookie asked. “Will you still be King of Louisiana and Arkansas?”
“I don’t know,” Eric shrugged.
“What about Clan Chief?” Sookie asked.
“I don’t know about that either,” Eric told her. “I suspect not.”
“Well,” Sookie shifted again so she could look into his face, “What did the last High King do?”
“I don’t think there’s ever been one,” Eric told her. “I am over a thousand-years-old and I have never heard of it.”
“Oh.” Sookie looked away, turning that over, and then her face lit up with a smile. “So, I guess that means the rules are whatever we decide they are!” and she could see that her optimism made a difference for Eric.
“I suppose you’re right, Lover,” Eric was grinning now. “And what would your first edict be?”
“Right at this second?” Sookie smirked, “Well, it would probably have something to do with ice cream and chocolate, but I think that’s just your son talking!” Sookie wiggled off her husband’s lap. When he tried to pull her back, she explained, “I’m going to get a pad of paper. It sounds like we need to figure some things out.”
Sookie returned with a yellow, lined pad and a mechanical pencil, and sat down on the chair directly across the desk from Eric. “Well, I think you can move that laptop out of the way,” she told him. “First things first, do we stay here in New Orleans?”
“Yes,” Eric nodded. “It is central and it has good transportation. The people of the City are comfortable with the Supernatural and we already have allies living in the City.”
“But you shouldn’t still be King of Louisiana and Arkansas,” Sookie said almost as a question. “Because if you’re busy looking out for everyone…”
“If we are looking out for everyone,” Eric reminded her.
“If we are looking out,” Sookie grinned, “then we’ll be too distracted. We should focus on one thing.”
“Agreed,” Eric nodded. He glanced at Sookie, “And the next King will be Thomas.”
“Why not Karin?” Sookie asked.
“For the same reason it won’t be Pam. I live. As their Maker, I can command them. They wouldn’t be seen as anything more than puppets and that would be dangerous to all of us. If I name Thomas, Karin is by his side. She is his bonded mate. He is ready.”
“Why not Thierry?” Sookie asked. “He’s just as hard-working. I know something happened between the two of you when you went away to Boston, and don’t deny it! But still, he’s made us a lot of money and he’s had more time with the other monarchs. Stan likes him and Sandy respects him. Maude and the Kings in Jackson like him.”
“Thierry has other ambitions,” Eric told her. “It may come to nothing, but he will only be happy with one throne, and it isn’t Louisiana.”
“Have anything to do with Nabila?” Sookie asked.
“You are a romantic!” Eric grinned. “No, not in the way you think.”
“Okay,” Sookie wrote something down, “but Thomas would be new to this. He can’t be Clan Chief, can he?”
“No,” Eric shook his head. “No, the role needs to be someone all of Amun will follow. Maude will refuse it. She has no interest in leading from the front. Isaiah and Roland are too erratic, and Phoebe Golden?”
“I can’t see anyone willingly following her,” Sookie shuddered.
“She does lack certain warmth,” Eric nodded, “But she is brilliant and vampires respect that. No,” he settled back, “I think we will need to convince Russell and Bartlett to step back from retirement. These are difficult times and Amun will need the hand of experience.”
As Sookie watched Eric settle back into planning mode, their son decided to make his presence known. The jab from inside was punctuated by a bang from upstairs, and she found herself looking at Eric who was watching her with eyes that let her know she was everything to him. “Do you think we could stay here at the Palace?” Sookie asked. “I mean, we’re going through all this trouble to build things out, and I like the rooftop garden and the folks here. I like our sanctuary and walking through the Quarter, even when it’s hot as Hades. I mean it wouldn’t be a deal breaker or anything, but…”
“This has become our home,” Eric nodded. “I will speak with Thalia, but we could declare New Orleans a Free Zone, an open city to all supernaturals. It will be solely under our jurisdiction and we could govern it ourselves.”
“And I’d want to keep Bon Temps, too,” Sookie said. Her eyes dropped. They hadn’t spoken of the house or the land since they’d left a few months ago. They’d taken the extra step of having both their house and Compton’s house officially closed up. The memories were too painful at the time, but Sookie found she didn’t dread it as much as she had. She glanced down at the swell of their son, “I grew up with grass under my feet, chasing fireflies. I can’t think of a better way to spend childhood than surrounded by cousins and friends, horses and all the quiet that only the country can give.”
Eric nodded, “There is no guarantee that this child, any child of ours will be able to tolerate sunshine,” he reminded her.
“Well, there are still fireflies!” Sookie persisted.
Eric smiled, “Then we are agreed. The Bon Temps property will be our second home. It will also be governed by us.”
“But we would have to give the new King his due,” Sookie sniffed. “Pay taxes…”
“Tithes,” Eric corrected her.
“Tithes,” Sookie nodded. She looked at the paper, “And what about the businesses? You’ve spent all this time building up that energy business. Does that go with the kingdom?”
Eric nodded, “It would have to. The kingdom must be able to sustain itself. If we keep New Orleans, we keep the tithes of the City and the port. That is probably enough to sustain us, but Thomas will need more to build and strengthen his holdings. That will require the energy business pass to him. He has already been developing revenues in wood and agriculture. He should find himself in a good position.”
“All of this is going to need a lawyer,” Sookie said, half to herself. “It occurs to me that we haven’t seen Desmond much since we returned. I thought he’d show up with Grandfather, but, now that I think about it, we haven’t really seen him or the Fae at all.”
Eric cocked his head, “I also hadn’t thought of it, but your Grandfather is returning tomorrow. I believe he intends to transfer certain of his assets, so doubtless we will see the demon then.”
Calls were placed. Thomas and Karin agreed to come to the Palace in two nights’ time. Thalia confirmed she would be arriving tomorrow evening. She informed Eric she would be staying elsewhere in the City since she had no desire to share a roof with Alcide Herveaux, even for a short period of time.
The Kings were next. Russell protested and Bartlett disagreed, but Eric knew by the end of the call that they would re-assume Clan Chief from him.
They stood up to move into the garden space. Eric had had the space furnished with softer furniture, including the large fainting couch from their sanctuary, until the construction was finished. Sookie turned on the television and searched for her stored episode of Outlander. When she turned around, Eric was already naked and sprawled across the chaise.
“Warm or something?” she laughed at him.
“Demonstrating what those Scots wear under their kilts,” Eric chuckled back and then opened his arms to her. When she climbed onto the couch, Eric rolled her onto her side and started pressing his fists into the small of her back, relieving the knots of tension that formed from carrying their son.
“Oh Jeez!” Sookie sighed, “Just so you know, that is so much better than sex right now!” Eric laughed, and Sookie felt all was right with the world. Then she asked, “What about Pam?”
“What about her?” Eric slowed his motions.
“You know you’re going to need someone to be your right hand. Pam is the best choice.” Sookie hit the forward button, moving the episode through the credits.
“You could be my right hand,” Eric told her.
“I am going to be spending a good part of my time learning to be a mother,” Sookie said. “It’s not that I couldn’t do it all, and it’s not that I don’t want to be your Queen, but there are things Pam knows and that Pam can do that I just can’t.” Sookie swallowed a little, and then she felt the flush as an unexpected wave of emotion hit. Even though Sookie knew it was hormones, she was all but helpless to stop her reaction.
“What is it, Älskade?” Eric rolled her toward him, leaning down to capture her quick tears with his tongue.
“I miss her!” Sookie laid her hand on her husband’s cheek and suddenly she was crying hard.
Eric gathered her against his chest and rubbed her back. He suppressed his urge to verbally comfort her. During these types of outbursts he had learned that adding verbal assurances could backfire, causing Sookie to rage at him. He suspected she was really raging at herself, but it didn’t make the words she used or the tone any easier to bear. When Sookie quieted, her fingers starting to pull and stroke the short, curly hairs that sprinkled across his chest, he said, “Pam will be here tomorrow night. She is due to arrive after Thalia. We should speak with her.”
“I know she’s happy and all, but I would be a lot happier if she was closer,” Sookie sniffed.
“Then we will tell her that, Lover,” Eric assured her.
“This could all be okay, couldn’t it?” Sookie asked, her voice still tremulous with emotion.
“This will be perfect, Min Hustru,” Eric assured her. He wrapped his arms around her and said, “Now, hit the Play button and later we’ll see how well you’ve learned your Scots.”
“He’s here,” Devrah announced.
“Bring the Prince to the small office,” Sookie told their housekeeper. She and Eric were sitting in the kitchen. It seemed an odd place for them, but the long metal table was a good work surface and it allowed them to look at reports and exhibits without having to worry about outsiders seeing things they weren’t ready to share. Since the days of the donors, the staff in the Palace had been reduced and those left scrupulously reviewed. Now, even the cooking staff was known and trusted by both Sookie and Eric. Every person who worked under the roof was trusted. Most were still Weres, but there were also a few more vampires on the guard staff. There were no humans with the exception of Devrah and her daughter, Angel. It wasn’t anything that was in writing. It was just understood. Humans could be glamoured. Humans could be brought to harm or corrupted more easily. Devrah and her family were members of the Palace and had been for generations. She was related to Octavia, a human, but also a powerful witch. Some might call foul, but Sookie was okay with it.
“It will be good to see Desmond,” Sookie told Eric, but when they walked into the office, it was another person they had never met who was handling Niall’s paperwork.
“Ah, Sookie! Eric!” the Prince greeted them. He hugged them both and Sookie almost giggled when she felt Eric’s discomfort through their bond. “This is my new solicitor,” he continued, gesturing to the formally suited man. “This is Barton Barrows.”
“Where’s Mr. Cataliades?” Sookie asked.
“I am no longer employing him,” Niall said, using the same tone as if she’d asked whether he wanted tea or coffee today. When Sookie didn’t move or say anything more, the Prince stopped to clarify, “It was time for me to make a change, Granddaughter. Sometimes in business you need to gain a fresh perspective, a new set of eyes. Desmond has been handling my affairs for a long time. Too long! He became so accustomed to things that he no longer saw what was right in front of him,” and the Prince smiled broadly and gestured toward the chairs.
Over the next hour, Niall led them through a series of documents. Sookie knew the Prince intended to sign over certain assets to them, but she hadn’t anticipated the extent of his generosity. In addition to paying off all outstanding debts for the reproduction center in Shreveport and naming Sookie sole owner, the Prince signed over majority ownership in several biomedical research facilities, a plastics firm, and two firms that were developing autonomous trucks. (“I think there’s a big future in this,” he told her). The Prince maintained minority ownership in only a few of the companies and the documents indicated that even this ownership would be ceded away from the Prince over a period of fifteen years. It was also made clear that Sookie was a custodial owner and that when her first child came of age, the ownership would move into a structure that would allow equal ownership to be divided between Sookie and each of her children.
“What if some of my children don’t have the spark, Grandfather?” Sookie asked. Niall gave her a look that suggested she’d made a rude noise, but she persisted, “It could happen. There’s no guarantee. Even vampire progeny can’t count on inheriting their Maker’s gifts.”
“I think that is highly unlikely,” the Prince said tightly, “But I have not differentiated the terms of the ownership shares based on those criteria.”
“And why not include Eric in this?” Sookie asked.
“What you choose to share with your vampire is your decision,” the Prince said narrowly. He turned to Eric, “I do not mean any disrespect. You have been an exemplary mate to my Granddaughter. You have defended her and you have done everything in your power to improve her situation and I am most grateful. We are all adults here. If Sookie falls, you will as well. And, of course, the same is true of you. It is not what I would have chosen, but she did. So you understand, I see no reason to add your name to any of this. If you both survive, you both benefit. If one of you falls, you both fall…”
“And the Princess’ share will pass to the children’s guardian,” Attorney Barrows supplied. He smiled pleasantly, but the Prince shot him a venomous look.
“There is a role for a guardian?” Eric asked.
“Of course,” Niall said smoothly. “It is customary when those named lead, well, shall we say less than conservative lives.”
“And who is named as this guardian?” Eric asked.
“Well, it’s not specified,” the Prince was starting to get a little huffy, so Sookie reached over and poured some more tea which she held out to Niall. “I am looking out for my heirs,” Niall said, his voice aggrieved.
“I know you are,” Sookie soothed, “And we are both very grateful, aren’t we, Eric?”
“Of course,” Eric nodded. “Most generous.” The Prince was settling back when Eric said, “Of course, we will want our own attorney to review the documents and offer an opinion.”
Sookie was glad Eric said it and when her Grandfather looked to her to protest, she held up her hands and said, “It seems a prudent thing to do. You told me yourself never to sign something without getting a second opinion, Grandfather.”
Eric watched the interplay between the lawyer and the Prince, and he had a feeling they would not be seeing this particular person again. The Prince recovered quickly, taking a sip of his tea, and then said, “I am flattered that you have listened so closely to me, Sookie. You are showing wonderful judgment.”
There was a discreet knock on the door and Devrah walked into the room. “Miss Thalia’s arrived,” she announced.
“Please have her come in,” Sookie said. “We’re good for now, right, Grandfather?” she asked.
“Of course,” her Grandfather was smiling. He signaled the attorney who gathered up the paperwork.
When he had assembled it back into his leather portfolio, Eric said, “Will you be sending copies electronically so we can send them to our lawyer?”
“Why, I can leave them now,” Niall replied, his smile wide and his eyes wider.
Thalia entered the room and her sharp eyes swept over those assembled. “Viking,” she bowed, and then “Sookie,” another bow. “Prince Niall,” a head nod, and then a stare at the lawyer until he dropped his eyes and his smile faltered.
“Welcome home,” Eric chuckled. “You are a person of some importance now.”
“As are you, High King,” and Thalia’s eyes warmed.
“Are you staying for dinner?” Sookie asked her Grandfather.
“No,” Niall smiled, looking at Thalia, “No, not tonight, but do see if you can have those papers reviewed soon. So many arrangements to make and I’d like to have everything settled…” and he stood up. Sookie stood as well so she could walk him out. “Yes,” the Prince continued, “All should be ready for when this one arrives,” and his smile became less sharp as he reached over and laid his hand on Sookie’s stomach again. He smiled into Sookie’s eyes and turning, said, “Always a pleasure, Northman,” and tucking Sookie’s arm through his, headed to the door, the hapless attorney trailing them.
“What was that about?” Thalia asked when the door shut behind them.
“Niall is signing over assets to Sookie to be held in trust for our children,” he said.
“You are not looking pleased,” Thalia sat down on a chair near the Viking’s.
“He would have rushed us through signing without having an independent opinion. He is…too friendly.” Eric shrugged.
“Don’t trust him,” Thalia hissed.
“What do you know?” Eric asked.
“Nothing I can say, but check every gift he offers you. Question his motives. He is Fae. They did not earn their reputation for being tricky for nothing.” Thalia felt that she couldn’t say anything more until she understood what was in the papers. It could be that the Prince was acting in good faith in which case, if Thalia raised suspicions, it would cast those same suspicions on her own motives. Better to wait.
Sookie rejoined them, “I am so happy to see you!” Sookie’s voice was warm and Thalia wondered if the Queen also had some ulterior motive, but Sookie didn’t pursue it beyond a quick touch on the wrist and then settling down next to her husband. “I am wondering just where Mr. Cataliades is,” Sookie continued. “I would trust him to look at those,” and she jerked her chin toward the leather portfolio that held all the contracts.
“Do you have a way to contact him?” Eric asked.
“Not anything recent,” Sookie sighed. “I tried the number I had that was working right before the takeover, but that’s been changed.”
“I could contact his niece,” Thalia offered. “She works for the Pythoness.” It was agreed and Thalia texted Diantha. Thalia’s phone buzzed back almost immediately. “She replies that she will have her uncle contact you,” Thalia confirmed. Sookie shifted, her hand moving to her side. “You are in pain?” Thalia asked.
“No, it’s just that time of night. He’s a dancer, just like his daddy!” Sookie answered. The Viking’s mate was smiling, although what she was describing did not seem like anything to celebrate. Of course, Thalia knew how human children were made. You couldn’t hunt them without learning something about these kinds of things, but to be this close and to be so intimately involved in the process felt unnatural. Thalia turned toward the North Man, intending to distract herself with more appropriate conversation when she was confronted by the sight of the Viking’s eyes on his mate. He was smiling and it wasn’t just some indulgent look. She could see that Eric Northman cared deeply about this; he was eagerly anticipating this child and it gave Thalia pause. It was one thing to guard the North Man and his possessions, and that was what a non-vampire mate and progeny should be, but what Thalia saw was something else. The North Man was emotionally invested, and that complicated things in a way Thalia was not sure she could understand.
“So have you been to the Palace yet?” Maxwell was stretched out on one of the leather club chairs that framed his small fireplace. The living room was dark wood and rich cream and for any other male it might have been declared fussy, but for Maxwell Lee with his just-so suit and his elegant, thin mustache, it was perfect. There was a baby grand piano in the front window area and Pam found herself thinking of musical evenings in New York. Misha preferred classical music and he was fond of their playing duets.
“No,” Pam answered, “I’m expected there in an hour. Karin and Thomas will be there tomorrow night and it sounds like it will be all kingdom business. I’d rather avoid that for as long as possible. When I return this evening, do you think we could go down to Bourbon Street?” When Max tilted his head, Pam explained, “I’ve been surrounded by so much pretention lately. I just want to go somewhere and shake my bon bon ‘til it hurts!”
“I can absolutely handle that!” her business partner grinned and he headed over to the piano and broke into a blues piece they both knew. The lyrics were especially raunchy and by the second chorus they were belting them out as loud as they could. When Max wrapped it up with a flourish, Pam collapsed against him, laughing.
“Thank you!” she told him, and then in a softer voice, “I’m really happy to be home.”
“So when are you going to break the news to him?” Max asked. He didn’t need to say Misha’s name. They both knew the ‘him’ Max meant.
“Not until I get back,” Pam shook her head, then walked back over to the club chair, and collapsed into it. “He suspects, of course. He’s been texting me like some crazed lunatic. Devrah called from the Palace. We weren’t so good when I left, and he’s sent so many flowers to the Palace that Devrah’s worried folks will think she’s arranging a funeral.”
“So he’s gone stalker, too,” Max grinned, riffing his fingers across the keys. “He really doesn’t know you at all, does he?”
“I guess not,” Pam shrugged. “It’s my fault. I got carried away by the romance of it. It reminded me of London and growing up, all the good parts. But Max? There’s a reason I ran away from that life, and it wasn’t just the bad aspects. Even growing up in my family’s house, I was a handful. I wanted the dresses, but not the party manners that went with them. I wanted to speak my mind and do as I wished. It’s not that he tells me what I have to do…he doesn’t. It’s that whole way of life, the museums and the concerts and all the right friends feels like stepping back into a box, and I just can’t do it!”
“And he isn’t exactly soft in the right places, either, is he?” and Max waggled his eyebrows.
“I have to hand it to him,” Pam nodded, “He found some pretty interesting ways around that little dilemma, and he does have access to some amazingly beautiful women! But, no. It’s not the same. Having sex when your real partner isn’t sexually attractive to you? Whoever we shared would leave and I’d be left resting next to him. The whole exercise lost its novelty pretty quickly.”
“So…” Max kept his eyes on the keyboard, “Does this mean you found someone who is tickling your novelty?”
“Not exactly,” Pam sighed. “Not really, but that’s not why I have to break it off.”
“And?” and Max turned to look at her, “What’s stopping you?”
Pam sighed, “I just hate to think of that grown man crying.”
“Misha?” Max laughed, “Seriously?”
“Actually, yes,” Pam nodded. “He is not going to take this well.”
“But you’ve exchanged blood,” Max looked confused. “Surely he understands your feelings.”
“Well, no,” Pam winced, “No, we haven’t.” When Max made a noise, Pam shrugged. “It just never happened.”
“So, you know him, but he’s been willing to be blind. Oh, Pamela!” and Max folded the cover over the keys and came back to sit across from her.
“I know!” Pam rolled her eyes. “Not good, but for a while I figured it would happen, and then I knew I didn’t want it to.”
“You don’t think he’ll be angry?” Max was starting to look concerned.
“Maybe,” Pam returned his look, “and there’s something else,” Pam sighed. “Before I left, I overheard something that isn’t sitting right. I’m not sure what to make of it. I’ll discuss it with Eric tonight.”
“Well, if it’s scheming you need, you’ve come to the right place. Your Maker is one of the best plotters I’ve ever met and in case you didn’t know, Thalia’s in town, too.”
“And you are known to have a few of your own,” Pam spoke up.
“Next to them?” and Max smiled, “They make me look like a newborn. How long are you staying?”
“Three nights,” Pam sighed.
“Well, then you better get moving! There is a lot of Quarter to cover and only so many hours of darkness,” and rising, Max took a few steps, turned, and offered his arm. “Come on, Princess, I’ll escort you to the Palace, and then we can go find our friends in low places!” and together they stepped into the night.
“You sure you won’t change your mind and stay here?” Sookie shifted slightly and her mouth turned down. Pam slid from the chair to sit next to her.
“May I?” she asked and when Sookie nodded, she placed her hand on Sookie’s distended stomach. Sure enough, there was a slight movement followed by a kick. “He is a fighter already,” Pam smiled, then looking more closely at Sookie, said, “Does it hurt?”
“I’m fine,” the telepath snapped and then moderating her tone, said, “I’ve started to swell a little, mostly around my ankles and fingers.” She waved her fingers, “Look! No rings! Doctor Ludwig told me I need to walk more and try to work in mild cardio, like taking the stairs as long as I have someone to walk with me.”
“You’re not capable of walking the stairs by yourself?” Pam was aghast.
“It’s not that,” Sookie smiled, “It’s just that I’m off balance. What can I say? I tip over sometimes. And I wear almost all my food. I never thought I had a hole in my lip, but I sure manage to dribble a lot!” Sookie pointed to a small stain that was the grapefruit juice she had been drinking earlier. The telepath’s breasts were much larger now and along with her abdomen, Sookie was taking on a much more circular appearance. As if she knew what Pam was thinking, Sookie said, “Yup, skinny legs and skinny arms and a big old basketball in between!” Eric and Thalia had stepped from the room taking Max with them, and Sookie was using the time to answer all Pam’s baby questions. “I know I have months to go, but between you and me, I’m not sure how much more room this baby is going to be able to take. He’s already pretty big.”
“I don’t know,” Pam said gallantly, “He doesn’t look all that big from here.” Sookie smiled and Pam figured she must have said the right thing.
“I saw photos of the two of you, you and Misha, at that museum event a couple weeks ago,” Sookie said warmly. “You looked so beautiful!”
Pam wondered which museum event Sookie might mean. When Pam was in New York, her evenings with Misha were an endless swirl of openings, charity parties, and intimate parties for all the ‘best’ friends that never seemed to number fewer than twenty. “There are so many good causes,” Pam said gamely, then with more enthusiasm, “So, how goes the renovations?”
“I can take you up for a tour if you’d like,” Sookie offered. Pam almost agreed, but then she shook her head. She could see that Sookie was tiring. It had been an eventful evening and Pam knew she was only one in what had been a procession of visitors.
“Perhaps tomorrow or the day after?” Pam suggested. “I’ll be here for several days.”
“He must really miss you,” Sookie said, glancing around them. Pam glanced as well. There were bowls of fresh flowers all around the room. She didn’t need to ask where they’d come from. As Pam had walked through the downstairs to the office she’d seen vases of yellow roses on almost every flat surface. “You sure you don’t want to take these with you?” and Sookie jerked her chin toward the nearest vase.
“He’s apologizing,” Pam sniffed. “If they are too much for you, there is a hospital you support here. You could have them sent over there.”
“Everything all right?” Sookie asked, and Pam couldn’t help but feel that Sookie was not exactly hoping that it was.
“Everything is fine. We had a fight. We do,” Pam shrugged, as if it was a regular event, which it wasn’t.
Eric, Thalia, and Max walked back into the office. Eric seemed to see the same thing in Sookie’s face that Pam had, and he walked over so he could sink onto the couch next to his mate. “It is late, Lover. Let me take you upstairs,” he offered.
“I feel terrible,” Sookie said, not exactly protesting. “Pam just got here and I’m too exhausted to even be polite.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Pam reached over and gently squeezed her Sookie’s hand. “I’ll be back tomorrow night and we can catch up then. You can show me the nursery.”
Sookie nodded, and Eric stood up, bringing her to her feet beside him. He glanced at Thalia and something seemed to pass between them. He got Sookie started toward the door before saying, “I also look forward to seeing you tomorrow night, Pamela.”
Pam couldn’t help feeling jealous, watching her Maker leave, his arms around Sookie. She and Eric had barely exchanged twenty words although Pam was certain that all was forgiven between them. When Eric was gone, Pam turned, expecting Max to be ready to go, but instead her partner sat down. Thalia gestured that Pam should take a seat as well. Pam looked over, expecting Thalia would have also seated herself, but she didn’t. Instead, the small vampire remained standing.
“Okay,” Pam said. “What’s this all about?”
“I’ve agreed to stay on with the High King,” Max said from his place across the room. “I’ll be in charge of handling all their business dealings, kind of a Chief Executive. I’ll be continuing to perform most of the duties I perform today for New Orleans, plus overseeing the financials and operations for whatever this High King thing becomes.”
“Congratulations,” Pam said, but she knew her voice was not sounding it. With each passing moment, she felt farther and farther removed from where she really wanted to be.
“Are you happy in New York?” Thalia asked, bringing Pam back from her growing misery.
“What do you mean?”
Pam felt startled by the question, but Max leaned forward, “Tell her what you told me,” he urged.
The last thing Pam had considered was confessing to Thalia. To tell these things to Max felt fine; he had been both friend and partner for a long time. To tell Eric felt fine. He was her Maker and could probably feel her unsettled emotions through their bond anyway, but there was something in how Max was looking at her that encouraged her to tell. “I’m not planning on staying in New York,” Pam confessed. “This thing with Misha has run its course and I intend to end it when I return.”
“Do you have other plans?” Thalia asked. Pam’s eyes widened. It wasn’t like Thalia to show an interest in her personal life.
“Not really,” Pam shrugged. “I might spend some more time in Minnesota. I suspect I’ll want to stay out of Moshup for a while.”
“You might consider returning here,” Thalia told her. “The North Man needs you here as his Second, if you would be willing to take the post.”
“If that’s what he wants, then why didn’t he ask me himself?” Pam couldn’t help it. The question just snapped out of her.
“He didn’t want you to feel pressured,” Thalia sniffed. “If it were me, I would have ordered you to return, but your Maker wants you to have a choice.”
Pam glanced at Max and then, looking straight at Thalia, she said, “There’s something about Misha you need to know.” Pam had planned on telling Eric, but now, with as far as she’d already come, Pam told Thalia instead.
She told the small vampire about what Misha had said about the police and the role of High King before the teleconference, and she told Thalia about seeing the part of the teleconference stored on the hard drive. Then she told Thalia about Misha’s reaction and his sullen hostility when he returned from wherever he’d gone in such a hurry that night.
Misha told her not to go to New Orleans. They ended up fighting about it. “He really never fights with me,” Pam told Thalia. “He treats me like gold, but this time was different. He was angry, really angry. I don’t know where he’d been, but I know that even after he took a shower, he still smelled like death.”
Thalia nodded, “Perhaps now you are ready to hear what I have to tell you!” Thalia sat down, but before she started, she looked at Max. “What I am going to say now must never pass your lips, Maxwell Lee. The Viking will not tell you why you will not be asked to be Sheriff here, but I will. You gave Bill Compton permission to return to Bon Temps when he was banished. It is true there was no edict restricting his return, but Compton was a problem. Your decision showed poor judgment and it could have placed the Queen in danger. If you repeat that kind of lapse again, I will end you. Do you understand?”
“I…” Max started, but then he sat straighter, shut his mouth, and nodded.
“Good,” Thalia said. Leaning forward, she told both of them what she knew. She told them about Carlo and Bill Compton. She told them about what she and Thierry found in New York and her theory about the rogues. Thalia told Pam and Max what Misha said about it and how he refused her access to investigate further. She told them about Nabila and she told them about how Thierry’s Maker, Teresa, met her end. “He glorifies Appius,” Thalia told them. “He believes in the way of the old ones, but it’s more. He is filled with a rage that never leaves him. It waits under the surface, and it pushes him to maim what he can’t kill.”
“Except me,” Pam said softly.
“Except you,” Thalia said thoughtfully.
“What if I held off on accepting Eric’s offer and was to return to New York? It occurs to me that the laptop behind Misha’s desk may hold some of the answers we both seek.” Pam smiled and arched her brow.
“I think that’s a really bad idea!” Max exclaimed.
“I agree with him,” Thalia nodded. “Besides, it would serve no purpose.” Thalia told them of Felipe de Castro and his offer of a skilled computer hacker. “I believe De Castro is anxious to prove his new-found friendship and he is motivated to breach New York’s systems. Within a week, we’ll have what we want.”
“Well,” Pam said, “You see, that’s the thing. That laptop Misha uses in his office is not wired to anything. He uses it like some kind of storage device. He hooks drives into it, downloads information, and then powers it down. I don’t know what’s stored there, but even Andrew treats it like it’s some kind of vault.”
Thalia thought about this development, “And you are willing to return to Misha for a short period of time? Pretend everything is fine between you?”
“Yes?” Pam answered.
“Then we would need some kind of plan,” Maxwell said quickly. He turned to his partner, “Pam, you can’t believe you can waltz in and waltz out. You would have to get access into that computer and not be detected for a while, enough time to get you out of his territory.”
“Let me ask De Castro’s computer troll if he has any ideas,” Thalia nodded. “If this human is as good as De Castro says, he might be able to give us a way.”
“There will be a password,” Pam mused. “I’ll need to figure that out, but I may have an idea how I can do that.”
“This is a bad idea,” Max said again.
“If he’s a danger, we should know it,” Pam reasoned. “I can get close to him. I can find out fastest. Max,” and she smiled, “You know it’s true!”
“I’ll make some phone calls,” Thalia nodded and then she gifted Pam with one of her rare smiles, “You really are a bad ass, Pamela Ravenscroft!”
“Takes one to know one,” Pam grinned in return.