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“Perhaps we should go out into the City,” Andrew said quietly.
Misha spun around, ready to snarl again. He’d been staring out the front windows of the brownstone, watching people walking below on the sidewalk. His residence had nothing out front to call it out as the palace of a vampire king. It made no difference; most in the neighborhood knew who and what he was, but this was New York. They didn’t care. Misha told himself that observing humans was good practice, and something he should do every day, but really he was marking time, waiting for his phone to ring. It had been two nights since Pam left for New Orleans, and still she had not called. He left her messages and sent baskets and boxes of flowers. Andrew informed the King that if he chose to send more he would have to make special arrangements. The houseman had been informed by the third florist he called that there wasn’t a single yellow rose left in all of Louisiana. All this Misha had done, but still, no Pam.
“She will forgive you,” Andrew said, guessing the cause of Misha’s turmoil.
“I shouldn’t have demanded she stay.” Misha thought about how angry Pam became. She accused him of trying to control her, no better than any male. Her fangs had extended and she’d hissed when he grabbed her arm. He only meant to stop her motion long enough to make her listen to his words, but the feral look in her eyes frightened him. He wondered if that single gesture on his part had damaged the thread that held them together.
The bitter regret rose in his throat again. He meant the evening to be another turning point for them. He knew that it would be the night they would finally exchange blood. His Pamela would offer her neck and they would couple again. Misha’s cock twitched as he remembered that first, and, as it turned out, only time she offered herself to him sexually. The experience had been profound. Pamela had offered herself to him again the next evening, but Misha guessed rightly that to have taken that offer would have cheapened the moment. He was sure his Zolotse would offer again, but the days and weeks passed and she hadn’t.
In moments when Misha was being less sentimental and more objective, he felt that, if anything, Pam seemed to be drifting away from him. When his thoughts moved in this direction though, he would scold himself. He would remind himself that Pam’s business was important to her and that her many concerns, her clubs, and her event planning business were located in far flung places. Misha reminded himself of what he had always known; his Pam was a business woman and needed to travel. The King would shake his head and chide himself about his lack of acceptance of modern ways, but as his heart became more engaged, Misha found he was coming to dread walking through the door of his home. It was as it had been before. Andrew would be in the hall and fresh blood would be warming in his living room. The paintings and drawings would call to him and the ceramics and other pieces of art would be placed to perfection, yet it was different. The house no longer seemed welcoming when her face was not there.
“What if she doesn’t return?” he asked out loud, and when Andrew didn’t answer, Misha stopped looking and instead studied the sad, pensive face that stared back at him in the window’s reflection..
Misha felt his lip stiffen and his shoulders pull back. This was unacceptable! He thought of his mentor, the great Appius Livius Ocella. He imagined that vampire’s reaction to Misha’s pathetic self-pity and he shook himself mentally, turning away from the window and his gloomy thoughts. “I believe there is only one good way out of this dilemma. Certainly, standing around here pissing and gibbering like some school boy is not improving the situation!”
“What did you have in mind, my King?” Andrew asked. Usually his houseman was enthusiastic, but this time he seemed less enthusiastic.
“I have tried apologies and gifts,” Misha sniffed. “To continue that course of action is foolish. I can only conclude that my Pamela is allowing her anger and her fear of being trapped to cloud her judgment. After all,” and he held his hands out, palms up, “I know that in her heart she knows I would never harm her, but my Zolotse is proud! Her head is arguing with her heart! I must convince her head!”
“She should not doubt you, Majesty,” Andrew nodded. “You have never damaged or threatened her.”
“I have only grabbed her arm twice. She is a strong woman. It didn’t injure her.” Misha’s head was nodding. He was speaking out loud, but more to himself now than Andrew.
Andrew remembered what he saw that night. He had been on the stairs when Pam stalked from their shared bed chamber, only to have Misha follow her and spin her around. Andrew knew the King’s grip on her upper arm had hurt Pam, but Andrew also saw that Misha realized his mistake and released her quickly enough. “I agree, Majesty,” Andrew nodded. “It was no more than a lover’s quarrel. There was no malice and I’m sure Miss Pam realized that.”
Misha’s mouth twitched, “A lover’s quarrel, yes,” and he smiled briefly, “Nothing more.” Misha sniffed as he walked into the living room. “In all my long life, Andrew, I never thought to hear those words applied to me! I believed myself immune. Love!” and Misha’s smile was mocking.
“Miss Pamela is an extraordinary woman,” Andrew assured the King.
“An extraordinary person,” Misha nodded, “Who is also extraordinarily busy. She juggles so many things in her life, I’m amazed she is able to organize everything.” Misha sat down on the couch, taking a heavy blown glass paperweight in his hand, “She is so gracious to everyone, but there are so many whom she needs to satisfy.”
“She does feel beholden to many masters,” the housekeeper moved to the warmed blood and poured his King a goblet.
“Like Northman,” Misha growled.
“He is her Maker,” Andrew shrugged.
“We can’t always choose our Makers,” Misha growled more as he took the goblet from Andrew’s hand. Misha sipped and then set the goblet down so quickly the stem snapped. With his reflexes, the King was able to grab the bowl before it fell, but still, a few drops splashed onto the table and the rare, silk rug under his feet. “Fuck!” Misha screamed. He sprang up and stalked across the room, hurling the damaged goblet into the fireplace. Blood splattered against the brick backwall, the sound of the shattering crystal as jagged as Misha felt. The King took a long, shuddering breath but when he turned back toward Andrew, his customary calm expression was pulled firmly back into place, “I apologize for my outburst,” and Misha nodded his head in apology.
“It’s nothing, Majesty,” Andrew shrugged. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to get some cleaning supplies for the rug.”
Misha walked back over to the couch and sat down. He thought about the turmoil he was feeling. It wasn’t just Pam. It was everything.
“How did it come to this?” Misha asked out loud. He looked around him. He had played by all the rules. He had mirrored all that was best about vampires, modeling his life and his actions on the old ones, and up until now, the promised rewards had come his way. He preyed on humans. He used his skills. He plotted and planned, making strategy his guide. The lieutenants and seconds he developed were sought after by monarchs across the country. He had expanded his territory, taking in both New England and The Carolinas kingdoms. Even with the myriad challenges he faced and the additional responsibility it entailed, he transitioned things well and profits grew.
Misha felt the injustice of the Ancient Pythoness’ actions swell his throat and tighten his chest. He had succeeded, yet when it came time to reward and recognize his achievements, he was passed over! The titles, which should rightly have come to him were, instead, handed to the Viking.
“It must be his looks!” Misha grumbled out loud. He turned his head when Andrew came back into the room, a bucket in his hand and a small apron tied around his hips. “I’ll be upstairs,” Misha sniffed.
The King didn’t stop at the next floor or the floor above that. Instead he continued until he was standing in his rooftop garden. It felt better, somehow, to be out here in the night air. The sounds of the City were a constant symphony of sound and the faint odor of car exhaust was everywhere, but it didn’t matter. As Misha recalled the Ancient Pythoness’ harsh words toward him, the sour smell seemed appropriate.
Misha knew there were many who believed the Pythoness was a true Seer, that she could part the veils of time to see into the future. Misha knew in what was left of his heart that it was a story that was more myth than fact. Certainly he had seen many things in his long life, magic of all types, but a true Seer? Those were the things of fairy tales! Of course, the old crone was smart and she could read people better than almost anyone he had ever met, but Misha was convinced that was the end of it. There had been too many times she could have changed things, prevented things if she truly had sight. No, Misha was convinced she had a solid spy network and good instincts, nothing more, which meant she could make mistakes, mistakes like picking Northman.
“Perhaps if she saw he is not as protected as she believes,” Misha said out loud. “If she understood he is more of a liability to us?” Misha’s thoughts churned. Clearly a physical attack was out of the question. Felipe and his pathetic progeny had demonstrated that, and then Misha chuckled.
Misha walked back downstairs. The room was put to rights. There was no sign of the broken glass or spilled blood. A fire was blazing in the fireplace and the dark stain on the back bricks was gone, replaced by the soot of burning wood. Misha walked to his laptop, the one that sat idle on the back table behind his desk. This was where he stored all his bits and pieces, the things he’d collected that could be used later.
Misha had rules that he followed, rules designed to keep this ‘vault’ secure. The laptop was never powered up longer than five minutes. Misha took steps to have all connectivity removed or disabled, but he didn’t wish to risk someone discovering a way to trigger some dormant capability. Signing in required two passwords and everything was encrypted, including the start-up routines. Misha kept a bowl of new USB thumb drives next to the laptop. Information was collected from other devices. The information was printed and then rescanned before it was saved to Misha’s business computer. From there, the file was downloaded to one of the new thumb drives, run through another anti-viral scanning program, and only then was it uploaded to the laptop that sat on back of the desk. Once the file was loaded, the thumb drive was crushed.
Each file was uniquely named, the label leading off with the name of the person who had the most to lose if Misha’s information came to light. There were three separate files that started with ‘E-Northman.’
These files had been collected by Misha’s now finally dead second, Carlo. Carlo had discovered the material in the apartment of a woman in Boston. Her name was Sonder and she had been one of Bill Compton’s fuck and feeds. Compton had also made the mistake of telling his little pet about his killing sprees which gave Misha the leverage he needed to blackmail the writer. Compton had proven adept at killing on demand until the pressure caused him to snap. The second Rhodes was the result which only proved to Misha what an imperfect servant Carlo had been.
Still, the letters stacked in Sonder’s apartment were an unexpected bounty. They came from another woman in New Orleans. The cover letter talked about their friendship and common cause. This other woman, Meg, had gone to some trouble to collect information and pictures of the donor pool that existed in the palace in New Orleans. Meg pinpointed the date when the donors disappeared and she had proof that Eric Northman was in the building that night.
Purging pools was a time-honored tradition. There was a time, before Misha was King, that he had participated in purgings. Before things became so costly and privacy so difficult to ensure, it was not uncommon for Sheriffs and even subject vampires to keep donors in their residences. There were basement rooms converted from wine cellars or coal rooms that made perfect holding pens. Some kept their donors in better circumstances, but the practice fell from favor for all but royalty almost a hundred years ago. Since monarchs were expected to entertain and maintain large staffs, donor pools remained a part of their lives, but recently that changed as well.
If Misha tried to pinpoint it, the change came with mainstreaming. Suddenly there was an expectation that there would be more interaction with humans, and not in the hunting and feeding way. Natural instincts were channeled to the pursuit of money instead of blood and pools started to become more liability than luxury. Misha was sure Northman wasn’t the only one to wipe out his pool, but his was the only action that was documented.
Misha smiled tightly as he loaded the new thumb drive into his laptop vault. He dragged the three files onto the drive, made certain the files were now deleted from his laptop, and powered everything down. Taking the thumb drive, he turned around to face his business computer. Closing his eyes, he reviewed all the FBI contacts he knew in the country. He was sure he had at least one name in Louisiana, and then, in his mind’s eye, he saw her. She was not unattractive, but she was known to be a rabid hater of vampires. Her face appeared in photographs showing vampires being executed by chaining them to meet the morning sun. Misha remembered the faint smile her face held as the tortured souls before her were writhing in their final agonies. ‘Nothing like a zealot,’ Misha thought.
“What are you doing?” Andrew was standing before him. Misha felt irritated that he was so intent on his mission that he hadn’t heard Andrew approach.
“I am going to reveal Northman for the bad investment he is,” Misha smiled.
“Majesty…” and Andrew’s face was troubled. The house man almost seemed to back away, but then he turned back, “Are you certain of this course of action? If Miss Pamela should find you were involved in harming her Maker…”
“And who would tell her?” Misha’s eyes narrowed. “Have you decided you favor her?” Misha’s words were gentle, but Andrew was no fool.
“No, Majesty,” Andrew bowed his head. “I am loyal only to you. There is no choice for me.” He waited and Misha finally nodded, satisfied of Andrew’s sincerity.
“Then what is your concern?” Misha asked.
“Miss Pamela honors the Viking. Even though they fought, she still feels great affection toward him. To damage him may feel to her as if you are trying to damage her,” and Andrew waited.
“It is a risk,” Misha conceded, “But a slim one. There is nothing that ties me to this information. Compton is dead. Meg, the woman who created this material is dead. Even Sonder is dead. All that remains are these files and no one will question an anonymous source when the information is so well documented.”
“Then you are decided?” Andrew confirmed.
“You will see,” Misha grinned. “Eric the North Man will be crucified by the FBI and the press. He will be arrested and probably executed, maybe others who surround him, too. The Pythoness will have to retract her offer and consider naming another. If she chooses me, all is well. If she decides not to name another, that is even better and things continue as they are.” Misha leaned back, “And Pam will need to leave him.” Misha crossed his hands across his stomach. “She won’t be able to stay because her business, particularly her event planning business, relies on a good reputation. She will have one fewer place she can go to ground.”
“She still has Maude,” Andrew reminded Misha.
“It might be better if Maude removed herself to Sanctum permanently,” Misha mused. “Then Pam would have her great friend, but closer.” He looked up to see Andrew’s shocked expression, “But that is a thought for another day. First, let’s get the doors of New Orleans kicked closed.”
“Are you sure you don’t wish to think about this?” Andrew asked one more time.
“If I wait any longer, Thalia, that cold bitch, will have her police in place. They may be able to interfere. No, Andrew,” and Misha’s fingers flew over the keyboard. “No, now is the time to act.” He inserted the thumb drive into the USB port and dragged the files onto this email. “The best time to end a King,” Misha smirked, “Is before he is crowned.” Misha hit the ‘send’ button and smiled broadly.
Pam and Max sat in the little office in New Orleans. Thalia was looking at a street map of the city and Thierry stood beside her. Thierry had arrived from Lafayette during the day and was staying here, in the Palace, on the second floor, across the courtyard from the King and Queen. “I didn’t recognize the guards stationed at their door,” he remarked to Thalia.
“Their regular crew is still on extended vacation,” Thalia told him. “After Bon Temps they gave their Weres time to spend with their families.” Owen and Charles were given full months off and fully-paid trips for their entire families to Disneyworld. James was also given a vacation, but he was already back on duty. Emil filled in the gaps in staff that this created from his Pack and there was no problem finding those anxious to try out for the post. After what they had seen or heard, every Were knew that working for the Vampire King and his mate did have a few dangers, but they were more than offset by the benefits. What was more, working for the Viking was not like working for other vampires. The North Man respected his guards and treated Weres more as equals. For a traditional relationship where the balance was so clearly defined (vampires were up and Weres were most definitely down), it was a refreshing change.
“Any idea when we might see them?” Max asked. Everyone knew he meant Eric and Sookie.
Thierry smirked and then laughed, “They are noisy. They laugh a great deal.”
“She suits him,” Thalia nodded.
Pam stood up and walked to stand next to Thalia, “What are the options?” she asked. Thalia was looking at three potential locations for her police headquarters. Thalia pointed to the buildings and gave a quick summary of each.
“I will also ask the FBI here for their recommendation,” Thalia said with less enthusiasm.
“I imagine working with them will become an everyday event,” Thierry snickered. Thalia had dealt with the FBI before, most recently in Rhodes following the second bombing. She walked away from that experience with a less than positive impression of the agency and more particularly, the agents.
“I am sure we will come to an understanding,” the black-eyed vampire said, her voice low and somewhat menacing.
“Charm can be a mighty weapon!” Max reminded Thalia.
“You are being cruel!” Thierry laughed more fully, “To remind her of those gifts she is entirely without!” Thalia cast him a warning shot, but Thierry shrugged at her, wagging a finger while he continued, “Were you to look up the definition of blunt instrument, surely your picture would be there! Our Thalia is the bull in the justice china shop, ready to break heads in the name of truth!”
“You’ll find your head pulled off your shoulders if you don’t learn to stop poking at badger holes!” Thomas’ voice interrupted. Everyone turned as he and Karin entered from the hallway.
“Brother!” Thierry moved swiftly toward the couple, wrapping Thomas in his embrace.
“Do you mind?” Thomas asked softly in Thierry’s ear.
“You know what I wish,” Thierry assured him, “I am happy for you both.”
While it wasn’t official, every vampire in the office knew that Thomas would be offered the position of King of Louisiana. As far as Thalia could tell, James had been the first to overhear it and he told Devrah, but, in doing so, one of the vampires on staff overheard and he told Maxwell Lee. Max told Pam and Pam told Thalia. Thalia normally would not have told anyone else, but she worried about Thierry’s reaction so decided to tell him ahead of time. Pam likewise walked over to hug Karin and Thalia realized Pam had also passed the information to her sister.
As Thierry pulled back, he said, “I can’t help thinking what a lovely bride you’d make!” It seemed to be an inside joke of some sort because Thomas’ eyes narrowed but he seemed to find it amusing. Thierry turned then and with grace that just bordered on mocking, bowed over Karin’s hand. “And you, Karin of Slaughter, appear particularly lovely!” When she laughed, he straightened himself, and more seriously enfolded her in an embrace, saying, “I am pleased my Brother has found you. You make him complete.”
Thalia could tell that Thierry’s words pleased Karin. It was in the woman’s eyes. Thalia wondered what mischief the French Sheriff was contemplating and resolved to ask him about it later.
James appeared at the door and coughed. The vampires turned as one and stood still, waiting. “They are ready for you,” he announced, looking toward Thomas and Karin.
“You deserve this,” Pam told her sister and they watched as Thomas and Karin followed James from the room.
“How things have changed,” Max said out loud.
“In what way?” Thierry asked.
“We hand our titles from one to the other with no battle, no challenge,” Max answered.
“It was changing even before mainstreaming,” Pam observed, and then turning toward Thalia, said, “And with this new army, it will change even more.”
“It has long been in my mind that we have needed this,” Thalia nodded, taking one last look at the map before moving to stand behind a chair. “Of course, we have our Assizes. We get justice for small vampire matters, and great ones if the Pythoness agrees to hear them, but for some time I have thought that vampires have needed the ability to expect protection along with their justice.”
“In what way?” Max asked.
“I often think of Sophie-Ann LeClerq,” Thalia told him. “She was clever and, while she could be vain, she was a good Queen. We accepted her rule and we honored her, but when she was injured through no fault of her own, all her good works came to nothing. The hunt was on to end her and to take her kingdom.”
“In all fairness, it’s how things have always been,” Max pointed out.
“But, as Pam mentioned, things have changed,” Thalia countered. “Centuries of experience and knowledge gone in a moment, because she had bad luck. We deserve better than that!”
“It is an interesting concept, this justice you describe, but I wonder if we are ready for it,” Thierry was draped across one of the armchairs. His voice was light, but Thalia looked at him closely. It was when he affected this attitude that the Frenchman was at his most sharp. “Our way of life may carry away those who deserve better, but what of those who deserve a swift end? Why give them the opportunity to escape the fate they deserve?”
“If it is their fate to meet their final death, then let the evidence speak to that,” Thalia shrugged. “It worked in Kansas. Those vampires deserved their end and justice was served.”
“They were minor functionaries who owed allegiance to a weak King,” Thierry’s voice remained soft as though this conversation meant little to him, but he leaned forward. Thalia was not fooled.
“You mean, what if the vampire who deserves death is a King?” Thalia allowed the question to hang in the air and all eyes turned to Pamela.
“I have to know!” Pam told them. “If Misha was the reason Bill Compton ended up in Rhodes, I have to know.”
“I say stake him now and ask questions later,” Max growled. When Pam’s eyes swung his way, he said, “You have said enough to let me know that not everything has been wonderful between you. Your heart is not engaged. He is surrounded by bad rumors and worse stories. He is old and dangerous. Why wait?”
“If there were an assassination now,” Thalia fixed Max with her narrow gaze, “I would feel compelled to investigate. If I could not find cause, I would feel compelled to punish the vampire, rather than reward that vampire with a kingdom.” She turned back toward Thierry, “It is likely that punishment would be true death. I favor meeting the sun. It allows the wrong-doer time to contemplate his or her own stupidity, and I hear the final moments are excruciatingly painful.”
“Too bad you weren’t around to avenge Tranh,” Thierry said to no one in particular while contemplating his fingernails. Tranh was the former Queen of New England. She and Misha’s rivalry ended when Misha ended her. No one denied nor disputed what happened, and Misha had sent Sookie one of Tranh’s fangs as a pledging gift.
When Thalia started to growl, Pam interrupted, “As Thalia points out, things have changed and we can’t go back to try and change our past. What we can do is decide how we are going to move forward. And I, for one,” and now Pam looked directly at Thalia, “I need to know what really happened at Rhodes. I know Compton was the cause of that explosion and not some hate group. I also know it took some major kick in the ass to get Compton to move. He could talk himself out of things faster than most, so that he felt such despair that he was willing to do something tells me there is more here than meets the eye.”
Thalia nodded, “You know how I feel about this. I believe Misha was the reason Compton acted, but we have no proof.”
“And again, I’m betting that proof we need is sitting in the computer behind Misha’s desk,” Pam stated.
“She’s right,” Thierry nodded. “He stores all his most damaging secrets in that single computer. When he is out of town he takes the hard drive from it and locks it away. It is rumored he then smashes the computer itself and replaces it with another, just in case there is some residual information stored on the mother board. He never allows direct interface from another device. He takes steps to keep it from connecting to anything.”
“I know it requires more than one password,” Pam added.
“He will have his regular password and then the second to pass the encryption,” Thierry agreed.
“This is a really bad idea,” Max told Pam. “I know you have decided he’s not the love of your life, but you still have some affection for him. The idea of you trying to go back into that house and fool him has disaster written all over it.”
“I would agree,” Thierry gave Pam a long look. “Misha is an uncanny reader of people. I’m assuming you have not exchanged blood. If you had, you would not be welcome to return. Misha does not tolerate those who are not completely loyal to him. You agreed to be his, his companion! You’ve changed your mind. If he finds out, he will feel compelled to end you.”
“You don’t know that!” Pam protested.
“I do,” Thierry told her. “He will follow the ways of Appius Ocella. It didn’t matter how attached Appius was, if he felt those around him, even those he had made, were less than worthy…”
“He would end them,” Thalia finished. “Pam, I can’t recommend you return.”
“I don’t have to stay long,” Pam told them. “You don’t understand! I have to know. They lost their child! Eric was…is, still suffering because of it. I was with Misha when all of this happened. He was telling me how much he loved me, while at the same time he was destroying my Maker and Sookie?” Pam stood up, her turmoil forcing her to walk back and forth, but then she stopped in front of Thalia. “Maybe it was my better instincts that kept me from engaging my feelings. Maybe it was some small voice telling me it wasn’t wise, but this isn’t about that.”
“He has made you doubt your ability to judge people,” Thalia accurately guessed, but she could see from Pam’s reaction, the vampire wasn’t ready to accept that interpretation.
“No!” Pam protested, “It’s not about that! It’s about Eric and Sookie! If everything you told me is true, Thalia, he used me to hurt Eric. I…” and Pam faltered. She looked around her to find sympathetic eyes, “I have to know,” she said quietly and then sat next to Max who took her hand in his.
“Then you should be allowed to find out,” Thierry agreed. Thalia’s eyes narrowed. She knew the Frenchman’s motives were hardly altruistic. He wanted Misha gone and would support any opportunity to end him. “But there are dangers beyond detection to consider. For one thing, you can’t take the laptop from the house. Assume there are alarms and locks that will engage if certain of Misha’s belongings get too close to a window or a door. If you are going to get information and get off premises, you won’t be able to carry it with you.”
“You haven’t been a resident of that house for many years,” Thalia interrupted. “You don’t know if any of your assumptions are accurate. We have that expert of Felipe’s. We should call him and describe what we know about the computer, how he handles it, and his security systems.”
“He still has everything alarmed?” Thierry pressed Pam.
“And metal bars that drop into the floor at all the doors,” Pam nodded.
Thierry smirked, “You know, Thomas outfitted his lair with the same type of doors? It has proven highly effective!” but then the Sheriff’s expression turned more serious. “Of course, you have figured out Andrew.”
“You mean how dangerous he is?” Pam asked.
“He could go up against Karin, and I’m not sure I’d place bets on the outcome,” Thierry nodded. “Has Jason moved in yet?” When Pam shook her head, Thierry explained to Thalia, “It would be standard practice for Misha to have his new Second move in for awhile so that both he and Andrew can watch his in close quarters. We know Jason killed Carlo, so you know Jason’s skills are extraordinary.”
“Were you his Second?” Pam asked Thierry.
“No,” Thierry shook his head. “I was offered the position, but I turned it down. Misha’s Second at the time was the vampire who mentored me when I first came to this country and I would have had to kill him. It’s how Misha does it, survival of the fittest.” The French vampire’s expression softened, “If it’s any consolation, Pam, I have never seen him treat a vampire as he treats you. Andrew has long served as his lover, but he has set you above even him. I never would have guessed him capable.”
“That’s great,” Pam shrugged, “But it seems that even all that emotion couldn’t stop him from screwing with the ones I care about.”
“He wasn’t raised right,” Thierry quipped, making Pam smile in spite of herself.
“Sure you don’t want to wait for a warrant or impose some new rule?” Max asked Thalia.
“And allow Misha to destroy what we want?” Thalia’s lip curled. “Humans are stupid! Better to steal what we want and let his innocence speak for itself. The evidence is there, or not.”
“It’s just a matter of getting our hands on it,” Thierry agreed.
“I will call Felipe,” Thalia nodded. Turning to Pam, she said, “We must consider whether or not we tell the Viking. If you are caught, it would be best if he didn’t know.”
“He would never forgive you,” Max told Thalia.
“I don’t think I would want to keep this kind of secret,” Pam nodded. “If the worst were to happen, Eric would need all the facts. If he is surprised, he could do something rash.”
“And if you do survive, you will need someplace safe to come to ground,” Max added.
“The best place would be here in New Orleans,” Thierry agreed.
“I could go to Minnesota,” Pam shrugged.
Thalia scowled, “To go there would place Maude in danger. Misha will want to act quickly. We need to get you somewhere where you have strong allies who can fend off any kind of assault. This is the only place.”
When Pam nodded, Thierry continued, “You will need to get out of the house quickly. You will need a car. If you’re on a plane, he can have it turned back. You don’t want a bus or train. Their routes are known. He can have people waiting. He can bribe a taxi to take you someplace. No rental cars. They have trackers. He’ll find a way to hack in and intercept you.”
“We can buy a car and have it made available,” Thalia agreed.
“Who rises earliest?” Max asked. The vampires turned to look at him. “If Pam is the oldest, it could be the window she needs to collect whatever she needs and get out of the house. Even if it’s only by a few minutes, it could be enough.”
Thalia nodded, “Clever,” she complimented Max. “We will need to coordinate this. Likely you won’t have much head start before Misha has his vassals hunting you.”
“If we know when you plan to do this, we can arrange to meet you just over his border. The best option, though not the fastest, would be to drive through to Pennsylvania. Judith won’t challenge Misha directly, but she won’t help him either,” Thierry told her. “If you can reach the border, we can join you and get you home.”
Thalia nodded, “I have been through Pennsylvania a number of times now. There are good places to go to ground and friends who will aid us along the way.”
“Judith may not stop us, but she won’t help us either,” Pam said. “It may come to a fight.”
“I don’t mind the prospect of fighting that bastard,” Max told her, “or finding my final death beside you. Either option is acceptable.”
“Then I think we’d better start lining up our resources,” Pam nodded.
“And if it turns out we’ve misjudged him?” Thalia asked.
“Then I guess I’ll owe him retribution,” Pam shrugged. “I’ll buy him truckloads of flowers and send him a song, but either way, I’m done with New York.” Pam shook her head, “What was I thinking?”
“You will need to speak with each of the Sheriffs. Their pledge was to me as the King of Louisiana. Once the transition is complete, their duty ends. Keeping them or replacing them is your choice.” Eric and Sookie were meeting with Karin and Thomas in the enclosed garden that made up the middle of the Palace building structure. Sookie sat next to Eric on the adjoining armchair. The firmness of the seat suited her better now, the straight back allowing her to place a pillow at the right angle to support her. The telepath had been listening attentively, but suddenly she shifted and rubbed the side of her distended belly, her expression turned inward.
“Does it hurt?” Karin asked. While she still viewed the pregnancy cautiously, spending this time around her Maker’s mate allowed her to feel a little less repulsed by it.
“He’s just real active this time of night,” Sookie smiled, her hand rubbing along her side. Eric was watching Sookie as well and Karin saw their eyes meet. She was sure they were communicating. It was as if she could almost hear it, whispers just beyond her ear. Her Maker smiled and turned back to Thomas.
“You are sure you wish me as your successor?” Thomas asked. “Thalia….”
“Thalia can speak for herself,” Eric told him, “And she has told me she has had enough of vampire gifts for a while. Until she can figure out how to give her latest gift back, she won’t be accepting any more.” Eric’s expression was pleasant and Sookie laughed. Thalia had left the Zeus Summit as head of the newly formed vampire police force. Thalia’s plan was to leave that responsibility with the Ancient Pythoness, but it hadn’t happened that way. Instead the old crone had cackled and announced before all the assembled monarchs and minions of Zeus that Thalia would wield this new army of their world in the Pythoness’ name.
“You are the best candidate,” Eric told Thomas. No one mentioned Thierry, who was the other obvious candidate, but, then again, no one in this room thought the French Sheriff would be content in Louisiana. All knew the Frenchman had his eye trained on another throne far to the north. “I have not left the kingdom in the best of shape in terms of personnel. You will need to find replacements. I will be happy to assist in asking the monarchs for recommendations if you wish.” Thomas nodded, but they both knew the younger vampire wouldn’t take up that offer. Thomas had served in several kingdoms before taking his current position with Eric. Between Karin and himself they had a wide acquaintance that spanned both the United States and most of Western Europe. Vampires were wanderers, but they were forever to most of those they knew still lived. Eric could tell Thomas was already making mental lists of possible fits.
“You don’t mind moving the capital to Little Rock?” Sookie asked.
“No, Majesty,” Thomas smiled. “It provides us distance, both physically and in the minds of our peers. New Orleans will be the hub of the vampire world on this continent, and with the City’s acceptance of vampires and all things supernatural, that is as it should be.” It was a good speech and Sookie was pretty sure Thomas actually meant it. Karin didn’t look quite so pleased, but Karin, for all her surly independence, liked to immerse herself in a more cosmopolitan lifestyle and Little Rock was no New Orleans.
There was no question of Thomas retaining the role of Clan Chief. That title would pass to another, and, in spite of their protests, Eric had reached out to Russell Edgington or Bartlett Crowe and he was awaiting their call, confirming they would emerge from their self-declared retirement to take it back.
There was a loud noise above them and they all glanced up. “Your old friend, Alcide Herveaux, is upstairs working. Would you like to see him?” Sookie asked.
“Alcide Herveaux is not my friend,” Karin smirked. “I think Pam’s the one with the soft spot for the old dog.”
“Well, he’s promising the renovations will be finished in another two weeks,” Sookie smiled and then she asked, “Would you like to see it?”
“I appreciate the offer,” Karin was smiling but her eyes were not. “But I will decline. The dust and smell of that many Weres in such a closed space might be distracting.” Eric laughed and Thomas’ lip curved up, but he looked worried.
‘She mad at me?’ Sookie asked Eric silently.
‘No, Lover. She knows we are adding rooms for children. It makes her uncomfortable. When this child arrives and it smells of me, her attitude will change.’ Eric smiled indulgently at his eldest child. Karin, for all her need for physical action, was the least accepting of change and change was all she’d had since the takeover. She had bonded with Thomas, which would be a big adjustment for any vampire. It was a well-known fact that during the first months of bonding there were times when even those less strong-willed than Karin struggled. No one who knew Thomas and Karin would think that bonding was not proving a challenge, but that wasn’t their only change. Karin had physically moved north. She was establishing herself as regent in that new territory which meant new people and the need to prove dominance, and now Thomas would be King for both states. Being able to welcome a new type of sibling on top of everything else was a step beyond what Karin was prepared to handle.
“I do not foresee any issues in terms of New Orleans,” Thomas said. “My preference would be as you have suggested. It is declared a Free Zone. I assume that means you would retain staff here to administer it?”
Eric smiled, Thomas’ words convincing him that he made the right choice. “Yes, as you say. The responsibility for New Orleans will be mine. Thalia’s police will serve the role of Sheriff within the borders of the City.”
“What about Max?” Karin asked.
Eric shook his head, “No, I won’t ask Maxwell Lee to continue as Sheriff. Security is not his strength. I have need for someone to organize and run the administrations of this office, such as they are. Max has agreed to accept that role.”
“Have you figured out what those duties are yet?” Karin asked.
“Travel, for one thing,” Sookie said. “It’s pretty clear that we’ll need to attend most of the Summits for a while, or at least until things settle down.”
“I’m not surprised,” Thomas nodded. “This idea of a supreme King is new and many will need to be convinced of its wisdom even with the blessing of the Pythoness.”
“We got congratulations from lots of folks,” Sookie smiled and placed her hand on Eric’s knee.
“But not all,” Eric added. “Our friend in New York has been silent.”
“I’m not surprised,” Thomas’ tone was serious. “He will be important to bring into line. He has submitted to the Pythoness in past, but I’m not sure how far his respect for her may carry in this case.”
“Have you talked with Pam about him?” Karin asked.
“I have asked Pam to be my Second,” Eric replied. Karin could tell Eric knew something, but she didn’t feel that now was the time to get into it. Besides, Pam was just next door and it would be best to have her sister speak for herself.
“Are you happy to be High King?” Karin asked instead.
Eric’s smile remained, but his eyes were not so cheerful, “It is a great honor,” he told her. “One we,” and he swept his eyes to include Sookie, “will try to be worthy of holding.”
Thomas was watching Karin carefully. He seemed to make a decision, and he interrupted before his mate could pursue things further, “We are heading out into the City with Thierry and Max. Perhaps you would like to join us?”
“Perhaps later,” Eric replied. “We are expecting our new attorney and Pam and I have much to discuss.”
“You and Pam could go out and join them later,” Sookie spoke directly to Eric. “I’m afraid my nights have become pretty boring.” She touched her stomach, but then, as if catching herself, she removed her hand and, looking at Karin, said, “I do apologize for not being able to join you. It really is a night for celebration. I am happy for you, happy for you both. You are going to make a wonderful Queen!”
“I won’t be Queen,” Karin corrected.
“You will always be my Queen,” Thomas said gallantly. Before any more could be said, the knock at the door let them know the next visitors had arrived.
“It would be nice to see you out and in the night,” Karin told Eric as he hugged her goodbye.
“We’ll see,” he replied, but they all knew it really meant, ‘no.’
No sooner were Karin and Thomas out the door than Mr. Cataliades was in. He was wearing his customary dark suit, but Sookie could see that something had changed. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“Ah,” the attorney smiled slightly, “I suppose I am looking a little out of sorts. Separation from any employment can be a shock,” and he seemed to be making an effort to look less haggard. “But, of course, Prince Niall was correct. It was time that we parted ways, professionally.”
“Did he damage you?” Eric asked.
Sookie was shocked, and then, somehow, she wasn’t. “Did he?” she asked as well.
“Nothing of the sort,” Mr. Cataliades assured them. “Of course, I signed a confidentiality agreement. The terms were unique so the negotiations of our separation, especially in view of my employment with you, were complex.”
“Why…” Sookie started, but Eric was in her head, telling her that now was not the time to press the demon.
“I am most grateful that you have agreed to become Counsel to the High King,” Eric told the attorney. “Your reputation is known to all and, of course, the Pythoness herself congratulated me on my approaching you.”
Mr. Cataliades almost looked relieved, but there was something else that Sookie couldn’t put her finger on. “I will do my best to justify the confidence you have placed in me.” There was an awkward silence broken when Sookie shifted again, her hand rubbing the place her son was pushing against.
“I would offer you a gift.” Mr. Cataliades’ eyes were on Sookie’s unborn child, and then he looked up into the telepath’s eyes. “I would offer you a thimble of my blood.”
“I’m not sure….” Sookie stammered.
“It is a true gift,” Eric interrupted, “And we are honored by the offer.”
Mr. Cataliades nodded. “You do not need to decide immediately,” he said, keeping his eyes on Sookie. “I realize that the telepathy you inherited through my gift was the cause of many problems to you growing up. If Fintan had lived, he would have helped you. For my part, I didn’t fully appreciate that your Grandmother didn’t understand what was involved. I assumed Fintan would have told her.” Mr. Cataliades sighed, “It could be that when your father and aunt were born without any spark, Fintan assumed the magic had failed, but Sookie,” and the attorney smiled. “In this case, it wouldn’t fail. With your current magic, it would almost guarantee telepathy for your children. They would probably have stronger telepathy than you. You can read vampires now, but I suspect once this child is born, your powers will fade again.”
“I can read Eric,” Sookie told Mr. Cataliades, “Not other vampires.”
“Your children would,” the demon persisted. “And you would be here to train them. You could help them discover how to block and filter the thoughts of others. They would come to understand the power of the gift. Consider the advantages of knowing the motivations of those around you. They will not be fooled. They will know danger before it gets close.”
“They won’t be able to form close relationships because they won’t be able to stop hearing every stray thought that filters through anyone’s mind,” Sookie said, her voice sad. “They’ll hear every silly rumor. They’ll know about things they are too young to understand. I know that in time they’d learn to block, but how do you explain that to a baby? We don’t live in Fae where everyone is that way. People in this world don’t know to watch their thoughts around children. They don’t understand telepathy at all. I appreciate the offer, I do, and I understand the benefits, but I think I need to turn this one down,” Sookie told the attorney.
Mr. Cataliades nodded, “I understand,” he told Sookie. “The offer is always there for you.”
Eric watched her thought-hooded eyes, and Sookie had the feeling she and her husband would be discussing this again later. Instead, the Viking picked up the leather portfolio of documents Prince Niall had left. “These are bequests from Sookie’s Grandfather. Does your separation agreement preclude you from reviewing anything from Niall?”
“Certainly not!” the attorney said, “I would be delighted to review these and provide my assessment!”
There was something about how Mr. Cataliades said it. He wasn’t exactly rubbing his hands together or jumping up and down with glee, but he still looked a little too happy. “You thinking you’re going to find something we won’t like?” Sookie asked.
“In truth, Princess,” Mr. Cataliades winked, “I’m counting on it!