Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
“It will be beautiful,” Pam assured Sookie. The nursery was still just a web of framing and bare wiring. The bathroom tub had been re-installed, but little else. Pam didn’t have to be bonded to Sookie to see her swing precipitously between pride and despair. “I build out clubs all the time, Sookie. Framing means you’re almost there,” Pam told her, patting the telepath’s arm.
“You think so?” Sookie was wringing her hands and there was a tremor in her voice.
“I know so!” Pam said with such confidence that Sookie’s lip straightened and her mood lifted. “Now, you look exhausted.” Pam turned to Thalia, “Would you mind walking her downstairs? I want to catch up with Alcide.”
Thalia nodded, but Pam caught the vicious look the small vampire threw toward the former Packmaster. Pam felt the same way about it. The construction was not nearly done, and Alcide Herveaux’s team had been at it for weeks. The minute Sookie disappeared down the stairs, Pam rounded on the Were, prepared to let him have it with both barrels, but he was already standing before her with his hands up. “It’s not me!” he protested. “It’s your fucking Master! I’m telling you, Pam, he’s up here stopping work every goddamn night! Here’s a ten,” and he pulled a bill out of his pocket, “If your Maker doesn’t come up here twice before the night’s over, I’ll give it to you. He’s a frigging head case and he’s making this way harder than it needs to be!”
As if he read the Were’s mind, Eric’s head appeared in the stairwell. “Dead man walking,” one of the Weres grumbled from down the hall, and Alcide shot Pam a look.
Eric was looking in the opposite direction, but before he could get started, Pam walked over to intercept him, “Looking for me?”
“Yes,” he said, but Pam could tell it was only half true. “So, you got a tour of the work? What did you think?” and Eric took another step into the hall, clearly looking as if he intended to continue on his own tour.
“I think these Weres have a lot of work to complete in a short time,” Pam said pointedly. “I hope you’re penalizing them for being so far behind schedule.” She could hear Alcide start to growl, “Unless there is another reason they are being held up,” and Pam turned to stare directly at Eric. “Are you having supply problems?”
Eric was giving her his snarly look. She could tell he suspected her of manipulating him. “No, the suppliers have been available.”
“Well, then,” Pam shrugged, “I can’t explain it! You should have seen Sookie. I thought she was going to cry when she saw how little progress there’s been.” Pam drilled Eric with another glare, and then turned back to Alcide, “You really should be ashamed of yourself!” she scolded the Were.
“He may not have been totally to blame,” Eric mumbled behind her.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Pam swung back toward her Maker, “I know you would never do anything to make your wife’s life more difficult.”
Eric stared at her a minute and then said, “You’ve made your point.” He turned and together they walked down the stairs, leaving a grinning Alcide behind them. “Sookie was truly upset?” he asked once they had turned a corner.
“She was ashamed to show me how far behind the job was,” Pam didn’t give him an inch. “She’s already pretty uncomfortable. No telling how long she’ll actually carry this child, at least that’s what Amy Ludwig told Karin. I can’t imagine how upset she’d be if she drops that baby and there’s no place to put him.”
“Perhaps it would be acceptable if Alcide were to build during the day,” Eric was sounding pretty remorseful.
“Yeah,” Pam poked his arm, “Perhaps!”
They met Thalia on the second floor landing. “She said to tell you she had to go to sleep,” Thalia told the Viking. “She was so tired I helped her into her nightgown.” Thalia looked curious, “Is it normal, how big she’s become?”
“The doctor says everything is developing normally,” Eric said, but he glanced back up the stairs and Pam mentally cheered to see Thalia’s words make him worry further.
“Eric has decided to have the Weres work during daytime hours, too,” Pam stated, knowing that now Eric couldn’t back out.
“I’m surprised you didn’t do that before,” Thalia frowned at Eric. “It would probably be done by now.”
“My thoughts, exactly,” Pam agreed.
“Enough!” Eric snarled. “I have agreed and it will be done!” Eric turned to continue walking down the stairs while Pam and Thalia trailed him. Pam lifted her fist and Thalia nodded rather than fist bump in return. They walked into the small office and Pam sat down.
“Well, as long as you’re in such a good mood, I should probably let you know I’d love to be your Second, just not right away,” Pam told the Viking.
“It is a great deal to ask,” Eric nodded. “You have established a life in which you are happy. We would prefer to have you here, but we understand. We will find someone else.”
“It won’t be necessary,” Thalia spoke up. “The delay Pam proposes would not be prolonged.”
“What am I missing?” Eric’s eyes narrowed and he looked from one woman to the other.
“I am heading back to New York long enough to steal information from Misha,” Pam said nonchalantly.
“I thought you were happy there,” Eric’s eyes narrowed further and his voice was tighter.
“I think something’s going on,” Pam told him, “Something none of us will like. I can get into that house and get what we need to find out.”
“Who came up with this plan?” Eric hissed.
“We are working on it,” Thalia spoke up. “Thierry is calling Felipe de Castro. The Nevada snake is most anxious to harm Misha and is willing to be our great friend to do it.”
“He is probably hoping I’ll drop my lawsuit,” Eric was still looking wary, but more willing to listen.
“Doubtless,” Thalia said dryly. “He is giving us the use of a computer person of his…”
“Someone good at espionage,” Pam added.
“We know what we want,” Thalia continued. “The King maintains a stand-alone laptop in his office area. We think it’s where he stores his secrets. If Pam can access the information…”
“Why not do it remotely?” Eric asked.
“He doesn’t leave the computer turned on,” Pam replied. “It makes it virtually impossible to ‘find’ it remotely.”
“You think it will be as easy as printing something or plugging in some drive?” Eric was becoming angry. “There will be passwords, firewalls. Misha has survived for a long time, what’s more, he has flourished!” Eric turned to Thalia,” You of all people know how dangerous he is. He is canny. He has to know that Pam is no longer…” and then he looked at the roses on the table next to his elbow. He looked at the roses on the table in front of the couch and the roses on the desk across the room. “Perhaps he does not appreciate how fleeting Pam’s affections can be,” and Eric nodded. “Let’s say that Misha has not come to appreciate how truly fickle you are. Let’s say he welcomes you back. Then what?”
“I’m older than everyone in the house,” Pam glanced at Thalia. “I will rise earliest. I believe Andrew and Misha are almost the same age. My twilight ends almost fifteen minutes before his. It would be enough.”
“When do the locks disengage?” Thalia asked.
“After Andrew rises,” Pam nodded. “I will need a reason to be out of the house before they realize what’s happened.”
“How often does he check that computer?” Eric asked.
“Most evenings he doesn’t go into his office until later. When I’m there we usually rise and head out to eat unless we’re entertaining in. He rarely goes into his office until later. I could have an hour… maybe more.” Pam was smiling and Eric could see her sense of adventure was overshadowing her common sense.
“But there is no guarantee, Pamela,” Eric shook his head. “I don’t like this idea. What could be so important that we need to take these kinds of risks?” He looked at Thalia, “I can’t believe you would support this.”
“I believe Misha has been behind a number of dangerous events. Even Rhodes…” Thalia stopped when Eric growled.
“If it was him pushing Bill Compton, then no one deserves revenge more than me, but Rhodes is over. It is past. There are other ways to find information that won’t require Pam walking into the lion’s den and taunting the lion.” Eric scowled at Pam, “I appreciate your sense of adventure. Your willingness to take risks has always been one of your most attractive qualities, but, in this case, I am inclined to forbid it.”
“You freed me,” Pam reminded him, and not kindly. “Are you going to reassert your Maker’s command?”
Eric looked at Pam. He let her feel his sadness and then his anguish. When her shoulders became a little less stiff, he said, “If something were to happen to you, I would not recover. You are my progeny. You are a part of me in a way that can never change. You carry my blood. I live in you, Pam!”
“Rhodes is not the only example,” Thalia continued. “The rogues were his. I know it. He is dangerous. Pam told me that following the teleconference with the Ancient Pythoness he was enraged.”
“He felt almost unbalanced,” Pam told Eric. “When he returned, we fought about my coming here. I saw a part of the video conference. Misha was furious over you being named High King.”
“He thought it should have been him,” Eric said, and then to Thalia, “So?”
“He models himself after Appius,” Thalia’s tone was the same that someone would use with a slow child. “Think, Viking! What would your Maker have done?”
“Found a way to destroy his rival,” Eric confirmed.
“We can’t afford to wait,” Thalia nodded. “You know this. If Misha intends to move against you, he will do it soon.”
“He may find it difficult,” Eric shrugged. “I have the protection of the Fae. Borders are watched. I have allies who inform me when things are amiss.”
“All the things Nabila doubtless told herself before she found herself living here in exile, and she was the lucky one. Tranh was not so lucky.” Thalia’s fangs extended toward the end, her last sentence a hiss.
“Maybe we’re wrong,” Pam nodded. “Maybe Misha has changed, but I’d rather know, and I know the answers are on that computer.”
There was a knock on the door. Thalia got up and let Thierry into the room. “What did you find out?” she asked.
“Felipe’s man says that if the computer is turned off after every use that could work to our advantage. It is during boot-up that it would be most vulnerable. He can provide a drive that would be able to bypass most security and take a dump of the data during power-up. If there is secondary encryption, though, it may fail.” Thierry shrugged, “It is the best he can do.”
Pam nodded, “How quickly can he get this drive to us?”
“He says it can be delivered here tomorrow, during the day,” and Thierry glanced at Thalia, and then at Eric, who was looking angrier.
“What does this accomplish?” the Viking asked. “This sounds like the flimsiest of plans. Even if this drive succeeds, there is no guarantee there is anything useful. It may just prove that Misha is a savvy businessman with no ill intent.”
“He’s vampire,” Thalia snarled, “There will be something!” and then she sat down. She watched Eric carefully and then leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, “You can’t be involved with this,” she told the Viking. “You are High King now. If it looks as if you were involved, no one would ever trust you again. If it’s just Pam, it’s a dispute between lovers. We say she grew angry with Misha and sought to punish him. If he chases her, she would be within her rights to end him.”
“And if there is something, if we’re right, and Misha has been trying to destroy you all along, then we have the proof to bring him to Assizes and punish him!” Pam declared.
“I can never dispute your loyalty,” Eric shook his head, “And I am grateful, but I still believe it would be more prudent to look for another way.”
“I wouldn’t count on your allies to be able to protect you from everything,” Thalia stood now. “You can become too reliant on the illusion of safety they provide. You and I both know that a determined foe will find a way and sometimes the only way to defend you and yours is through a strong offense.”
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t investigate,” Eric protested. “I’m saying that sending Pam into certain danger can’t be the only alternative.”
“What are you considering as alternatives?” Thierry spoke up. The French vampire had listened with increasing impatience. “You are wrong if you believe Misha is not already moving against you! This is exactly the kind of situation that prompts him to attack, and it won’t be you he’ll move against!” and Thierry threw his hands into the air, “It will be everyone you love! He will find your soft spot, your heart, and he will destroy that first.”
“Like Appius,” Thalia hissed. “He wants to see the pain of loss in your eyes when he ends you!” Eric’s fangs extended as well, and he almost unconsciously hissed. He could see in his mind’s eye the many times he had watched as Appius ended a rival. What Thalia and Thierry described was all too familiar. Eric had experienced too many times watching those who appeared friendly toward him tortured by Appius as a way to punish his progeny. He remembered the horror he felt when Appius came to Bon Temps. He was convinced that it was only Alexis’ growing insanity that had distracted the Old Roman from capturing and torturing Sookie. It was the kind of thing his Maker enjoyed, ripping whatever Eric loved apart, piece by piece, just so he could enjoy his progeny’s anguish.
“I don’t doubt Misha is motivated,” Eric said, his fangs retracting, “But I am unwilling to risk Pam to find out.” When Pam looked up, Eric told her, “I love you too dearly to try this, Pamela. You will not love me for it, but I will place a Command on you if I must.”
“This is a mistake!” Pam hissed.
“I agree with her,” Thalia spoke up.
“Perhaps,” Eric stood now, “But we must try to find another way.” He glanced toward the door, “And now you should go and find Thomas, Karin, and the rest. I don’t want to be bailing a new King out of jail.”
“You’re not coming with us?” Pam asked.
“You’re not surprised,” Eric replied.
“Talk with your mate,” Thalia growled. “Pam doesn’t leave until tomorrow. We should all speak of this further.” Eric looked skeptical, but he didn’t say no. As they walked from the Palace and out into the night, Thalia turned to Pam, “I would to be reluctant to move without the Viking’s permission, but I still think this is our best option.”
Pam glanced at Thierry’s grim face before answering, “Then we just won’t tell him.”
Susan Anderson grew up in a small town in the Midwest. Her family wasn’t overly religious, but Susan was given a clear understanding of what was right and what was wrong. When she chose to join the FBI her classmates were baffled, but her parents told everyone they’d always known their daughter would grow up to do something important.
Susan wasn’t the head of her class, but she worked very hard. Promotion came a little slower, but Susan made sure that none of her supervisors had cause to regret the opportunities they did present her. Susan found herself working human trafficking cases. This was not the glamorous side of the agency. The agents getting all the recognition were involved in domestic terrorism and cybercrime. The cases Susan was assigned were barely on the publicity radar. The work was grueling and there were few rewards. It was like wrestling an octopus. You cut off one arm and ten more appeared. What was more, the violence she saw on a daily basis was numbing. In many of the cases there would be a series of victims who met violent, tragic ends. Most of the victims were female, but there were a growing number of males, mostly young men and boys, who were killed in the skin trade.
When Susan told her mother a little about the nature of the work she handled, her mother asked how she could return to work every day. Susan told her mother it was the rage she felt for the victims that kept her going. In truth, Susan had a point when she started to worry about the amount of rage she seemed to be carrying from day to day. Susan started exercising regularly. At first it was time spent in the gym, but then she found she craved the physical exhaustion she found in more military style drills. Fortunately, her employer encouraged the time and effort required, and Susan found she could easily incorporate the extra hour or two she needed into her regular work day.
When vampires made the announcement that they existed and what’s more, they were mainstreaming, Susan was outraged. She had long suspected there were monsters living among them, and this confirmed it. There were things she’d seen in her years with her unit that she couldn’t justify as being the work of humans. Now, she knew. Humans could be cruel, but there were real villains who had to be behind these crimes and they wore fangs.
Susan had been stationed in New Orleans for several years. She didn’t like the city much. While Susan was used to hot weather, the combination of heat, humidity, and the smell of water gave the city an odor she found unappealing, and then there were the people.
There were some citizens who were ‘normal,’ like her. Mostly they were folks who moved into the City from places like Susan’s own home town. They came for the opportunities New Orleans offered, but they avoided the French Quarter and lived their lives quietly and courteously. Susan was friends with several of her neighbors who moved in around the same time she did. They invited her to their picnics and she watched their homes when they took vacations.
Then, there were the other people who lived in New Orleans, the crackpots. They believed in voodoo and witches. They wore charms and seemed to center their lives around strange festivals and Mardi Gras. They had customs that made no sense and everything they did, from the way they talked, to the way they walked, to the way they spontaneously broke into dance when they passed musicians on the street, just set Susan’s teeth on edge.
Susan was quick to volunteer when the first unit was put together to investigate vampire crime. She was selected to participate in a few cases, and she was even there to witness an execution. Susan would never forget the sight of those vampires chained in silver against a wall. Their skin smoked where the chains rested against them. Her supervisor explained that all they had to do was wait for the sun to rise, and it would be over. Just before sunrise, Susan had walked closer to one and placed her crucifix on his arm, just to see if that would make his skin smoke, too. It hadn’t, but her supervisor had seen her and recommended she be transferred back to her unit.
It had been a blow, but Susan worked hard to convince her superiors that she changed. She applied for every open slot and she volunteered for any case looking for extra investigators involving vampires. That was how she got the opportunity to interview Eric and Sookie Northman.
There was a leader among the Silent Witnesses, a citizen’s action group that Susan supported, who went missing. There was a city-wide manhunt, but days and then weeks passed. The Northmans were identified as persons of interest since the leader, Meg something or other, had worked in their home as a domestic at one time. Susan went along on the interview as the junior agent. She was able to ask a few questions, but mostly she was there to observe. Aside from the vampires who had been executed, this was the closest she had ever been to a real vampire, and of all the vampires she could have met, this was the famous Eric Northman! People said he was over a thousand-years-old and he was handsome in the way that any demon can have an attractive face.
His so-called wife, Sookie, was some piece of work. Susan couldn’t put her finger on it, but she was sure there was something off about the woman. At first the agent had been prepared to be sympathetic; a human married, doubtless against her will, to a vampire. As the interview progressed though, Susan changed her mind. Sookie Northman was obviously in league with her husband and there was something about the way she looked at Susan that said she wasn’t exactly what she appeared to be. When they left, Susan asked her partner if Sookie Northman was a vampire, too. “If she is, she’s the only one that can walk around in daylight,” he’d laughed, but Susan knew there was something extra about the blond-haired woman.
The case had gone cold and the pressure from the Silent Witnesses waned as well. Susan went back to her own unit and spent extra time working cold cases. She had thought she found a connection between vampires, and in particular, Eric Northman and some missing women many months ago. These were young women who had come to New Orleans and disappeared from their apartment. There were no signs of foul play, but neither had they taken anything with them. One day they were going to work, paying rent, and the next, they were just gone. New Orleans was a port city and these women were attractive. It was possible that they were grabbed to be made into prostitutes in some other country that would appreciate their American looks and accent. Susan dug around some more, and then on a whim, used some facial recognition software and found one of the women in a street shot many years after her disappearance. She was well dressed and talking with a street vendor. She was standing outside the building where Eric Northman lived, although the picture was taken years before Northman took up residence. Susan searched the records and found that before Northman was there, another vampire, Sophie-Ann LeClerq, had been resident. People called her the Vampire Queen of New Orleans and there were plenty of pictures of vampire guards standing around the building in uniforms at night.
It all could have been a coincidence, but Susan’s instincts told her it wasn’t. She dug around, asking questions, and pressing those who knew about vampires. She showed the pictures of both of the missing women. She found people who had supplied food and other things to the palace, tracing from vendor to vendor to try and build a picture of who had access and who came and went. Susan covered the long wall of her living room with pictures and testimony. She drew intersecting lines.
Then, one day after questioning some of the people who were going in and out of the Palace, Susan’s research disappeared. She couldn’t explain it. It wasn’t a big file, but no matter how hard she searched through her electronic folders, she couldn’t find it. She had paper notes, but her interviews, dates and locations were all in her electronic files. Susan fumed, knowing she should have printed out paper copies. She asked the internal IT department to see if they could run a trace on the file, but after a day she received word that the IT department was calling a halt. They told her the order to stop came from Susan’s supervisor. Susan rushed to her superior’s office, prepared to explain why this was important, but she knew just by looking at her boss that she wasn’t going to get much sympathy.
Her supervisor reminded her that her cold cases were on her own time and when she used Bureau resources to dig for some more information on the Palace, she was spending taxpayer money. Her supervisor asked Susan if she could explain her seeming obsession with vampires, and rather than get into the conversation, Susan reluctantly turned more of her attention to her other, non-vampire investigations. Susan thought the mystery of the woman standing outside of vampire central looked as if it would stay just that – a mystery.
Then, something unexpected happened. Susan opened her email one morning to find a message from an anonymous person. She didn’t recognize the address and when she ran it through all the FBI cyber protocols, it came back as unknown. It was a known signature by the Bureau and linked to information provided to several news outlets in North Carolina almost a year ago. The information had led to a break in a financial fraud ring and Susan felt a frisson of excitement.
Once she was given the ‘all clear,’ she opened the email to find a single document. It contained both the names and invoices of vendors who delivered things to the vampire building! The file also had three other names and one of those names was one of the women she had been tracking, the one she’d seen in the photo outside the palace. There were a few facts about each of the people, including the names of surviving family.
Susan looked at the receipts. These were mostly for food, but there was also a cable bill. In each case, the bills were uniformly high until the same month, and then they all dropped. It wasn’t conclusive, but it was odd.
Susan took everything to her supervisor and laid it out. She walked her through each piece and included the little she’d learned from her cold case.
“It’s thin,” her supervisor told her, “but you should pursue it.”
What Susan hadn’t told her supervisor was that the anonymous source had promised that if she showed progress, there would be more information coming. Susan knew she would be able to find more and she emailed back to the address that she had the green light. The message bounced back as undeliverable, but somehow Susan wasn’t worried. She knew that whoever this was, he or she would know.
Susan found new energy as she tracked down each of the vendors, receipts in hand. Some she’d spoken with before, but others, like the cable provider, were new. It was the cable company that was the most informative, although finding someone who could speak with her was the most difficult task she faced. Finally, they were able to confirm that on a certain date they received a call that cancelled over twenty boxes that had been installed in the Palace. The cable boxes had been in place for some time, some of them for as long as ten years. “Was there any explanation as to why they didn’t need them anymore?” Susan asked.
“No,” the representative told her, “They were all returned to our office on the same day and were tagged in and sent to our reclamation center.”
Susan knew she was on to something. There were no new names associated with the woman she had originally tracked, but she spent time looking into the other two names. It was the man, Denny, who provided the break. His mother was still living in upstate Louisiana. On a hunch, Susan drove up there so she could interview the woman face to face.
The house was like so many in this part of the state, a shotgun two-story with a porch across the front shaded by a tin roof. The woman who answered the door was thin and dry-looking. her lips a straight line and pressed tight. “I appreciate you coming up here to talk about my boy,” she said courteously and invited Susan in.
The living room was shabby but scrupulously clean. There were photographs of an attractive male. Susan was guessing that Denny had been an only child. The pictures were of a smiling boy who grew into a smiling man. “He was a blessing,” the older woman said, her eyes likewise traveling over the photographs. “He was so gentle and he loved to laugh!”
“How long ago did your son go missing?” Susan asked.
“The first time was almost right away after he went to New Orleans. I told him not to go, that he’d find trouble, but he told me it would be a better place for him. He was…special…you see. And folks here didn’t understand.” Susan realized the woman was telling him her son was gay. The woman lived in a small town in an out of the way place. Being gay out here could go one of two ways, and Susan guessed Denny was leaving so he could stop hiding who and what he was.
“How soon did you know he was missing?” Susan asked.
“Right away,” the woman nodded. “He didn’t call home. Denny always called home every night. He worried about me being here all on my own.”
“I’m so sorry,” Susan made sure she looked sympathetic. “But you heard from him again?”
The woman bit her lips together, and then she looked up in a way that was almost mischievous, “Yes, I did, actually. A couple times.”
Susan held her breath and sat very still until she was sure she had herself under control. “That’s not in my report. When did you hear from him?”
“Well,” the woman told her, “The first time was almost two years after he disappeared. He called me from out of the blue on my birthday. He told me he couldn’t talk long but he didn’t want me to worry. He told me he was living in a nice place with nice people. Of course, I did worry, but he told me he had found a place he fit in. I knew not to ask too many questions about that, but he did sound so happy.”
“Do you remember anything else he said, maybe about who else was there with him or about the place he was staying?” Susan asked.
“No,” the woman slowly shook her head, her eyes unfocused as she visibly tried to recall the conversation. “Mostly he talked about how happy he was and that I shouldn’t worry. He asked if I was okay for money and I told him I was.”
“Did he ever send you money or a letter?” Susan felt her heart pounding when the woman nodded.
“He sent me a card for my birthday another time.” The woman showed the card to Susan, but unfortunately she hadn’t kept the envelope. The writing inside was nothing more than some words from a son to his mother, the letters looped and sloping.
“Any other time?” Susan asked.
“Just the once more. He called to let me know that he was still in the same place but that some things had changed. He told me he thought he might be in love and that he knew I couldn’t understand, but that he hoped I would be happy for him.”
“Did he describe this person at all?” Susan asked.
The older woman blushed a little, “Well, you know my boy was special,” she stammered.
“I think what you’re trying to tell me is that your son was gay,” Susan nodded. When the woman looked embarrassed, Susan said, “I want you to know that I think love is a gift, regardless of the form it takes.”
It seemed to reassure the woman and she nodded, wiping a slow tear from her cheek, “Denny said he was very tall and blond. He said that he was sure this was the one, and he asked me to wish him luck.” The woman gave the dates and Susan realized that if Denny was in the vampire building, this call would have happened after Eric Northman took up residence. Susan knew in her heart that the man Denny was describing had to be Eric Northman.
“And did you hear from your son again?” Susan asked.
“No,” the woman whispered. “You see, I just knew something happened to him. My people, they know things, and one night I knew my boy was gone.”
Susan struggled to keep the scowl from her face. The woman sitting across from her was another of those silly, backwater simpletons. When she was sure she could speak without sounding sarcastic, she asked, “Do you remember when that was, Ma’am? The night you got the feeling?”
“Of course,” the woman nodded, and gave Susan the date. It only took a moment to realize that the date the woman provided was within a week of the date the cable company reported the service at the vampire building cancelled. Susan shook her head, telling herself it was just coincidence.
The agent asked a few more questions and then drove back to New Orleans, pushing the speed limit all the way. She stayed up all night writing up her report and spent the entire next day editing and assembling exhibits. When she presented her findings to her supervisor she had a moment when she was sure her boss would say it wasn’t enough, but instead she said, “Well, Susan, what’s your next step?”
Susan took a deep breath and said, “I’d like to pick up Sookie Northman and Devrah, the other woman who lives in that building. They take walks every day through the Quarter so they’ll be easy to approach. I want to bring them in for an interview as persons of interest.
The Northmans were favorites in New Orleans and they often got space in local newspapers, so Susan expected her supervisor to warn her about harassing a pregnant woman, but that didn’t happen. Instead she said, “Do you think either of these women is directly involved?”
“I don’t know,” Susan admitted. “But even if they aren’t directly involved, they would still have to know something about what’s happening under that roof. It could be what they don’t say is as important as what they do say. It could tell me something.”
The next day, Susan joined two other agents on Royal Street. When the two woman, Sookie and Devrah, turned the corner and started toward them, flanked by men that Susan knew were their guards, Susan nodded and one of the agents stepped forward, holding his badge out. “FBI,” he announced to the guard who stopped in front of him.
Susan stepped forward, too, her badge extended, “Sookie Northman? I’m Susan Anderson from the FBI. I had the pleasure of speaking with you several months ago.”
“I remember,” the blond woman replied. She had a slight sheen of sweat on her upper lip, even though it was still early and not particularly warm yet, and she was pressing against her pregnancy with her hand.
“I hope you’re feeling all right today,” Susan smiled tightly.
“I’m fine,” the woman responded, her voice tight as well.
“We’d like you to come with us down to FBI Quarters. I would like to chat with you about some information that’s come to our attention involving missing persons.”
“Mrs. Northman is on her way home,” the woman Susan knew was Devrah spoke up.
“It won’t take long,” Susan smiled politely at Devrah, “We would appreciate your coming with us as well.”
The agents closed in around the women, crowding aside the guards. One of the guards was already on the phone and the other stepped forward, “I will be going with her,” he said, looking at Sookie.
“You are welcome to follow us. We will be going to our office,” and Susan handed him a card. She knew he wouldn’t make it past the lobby and he knew it, too.
“Don’t you need a warrant?” Sookie asked.
“This is an interview,” Susan said pleasantly, “We’re not arresting you,” but she allowed the words to linger, opening the possibility that arresting might come next. “You are both persons of interest in an on-going federal investigation. I am sure you don’t want to complicate things by resisting.”
Sookie looked as if she’d protest again, but she was already walking with the agents. Susan had them loaded into separate vans and they pulled away from the curb, the guards both on phones as they left. It had gone even easier than Susan anticipated.
When they got to their offices, Susan had the women placed in separate rooms. She knew this would add to any anxiety they felt, and that could be useful. For the next six hours, Susan interviewed Sookie Northman. When the woman asked for water, she delayed enough to make sure the woman was uncomfortable. When the woman’s stomach grumbled, Susan ignored it for another half hour before offering her something to eat, which the woman declined.
About four hours into the interviews, Susan received word that a person had arrived downstairs claiming to be the attorney for both women, but Susan asked that his credentials be verified before he’d be admitted. It was a stalling tactic and they all knew it, and it worked. It proved somewhat difficult to find records of a Mr. Cataliades in any of the standard law schools. When it was discovered the attorney had received an Honorary Doctor of Law from Harvard, Susan decided she’d gotten as much as she could and nodded to have the attorney brought upstairs.
Mr. Cataliades arrived in a barely suppressed ball of fury. He was shown into Devrah’s room first and he collected the woman whose identity they had established as housekeeper of the ‘palace.’ He flung thinly veiled threats of legal action and bad publicity over what he was calling their ‘stunt.’
When Susan opened the door to Mrs. Northman’s room, the blond woman was leaning over, both hands on her pregnant belly, and Susan felt a moment of worry. The woman didn’t look well and if she were to have suffered some problem as a result of her visit here, there could be splash back on the Bureau, which the Bureau would be quick to splash back on Susan. “Are you feeling…” Susan started to say, but the attorney literally pushed her into the wall in his rush to get to the Northman woman.
“Sookie?” he said, kneeling down in front of her, and then, his eyes literally flashing red, he growled, “Call an ambulance!”
Two of Susan’s fellow agents poked their heads in the door and one lifted his phone. Susan wondered how quickly she could exit and get to her supervisor before someone else did. She looked at the faces of her colleagues who were starting to give her the stink-eye, so she asked one of them to get some water for Mrs. Northman. “Sookie Northman?” the female agent asked and Susan could see her disapproval toward Susan grow. The female agent moved swiftly and returned with two bottles of water.
The woman, Devrah, was sitting on a chair beside the blond, and she took one of the bottles that arrived, opening it, and insisting Sookie drink. The attorney was still squatting before her, patting her knee and making reassuring noises. He asked the agent who brought them water how soon the ambulance would arrive.
“I’ll find out,” she told him and headed into the corridor. There were others crowding now, drawn by the drama that seemed to be unfolding and the identity of their celebrity guest.
Susan looked up to see her supervisor’s face and she knew right away she was in trouble. Her supervisor walked right past her. She introduced herself to the attorney and then assured Mrs. Northman that the ambulance was on its way. She carefully picked between apologizing and expressing her concern over Mrs. Northman’s distress. Sookie Northman was starting to look a little better by the time the medical technician arrived. He asked if she felt up to walking and she was starting to nod when her attorney stood up and, rather gently, picked up the pregnant woman as though she weighed nothing. “It will only be a few more minutes now, my Dear,” he told her.
“You will be hearing from me,” he hissed, looking directly at Susan.
The entourage swept through the building past all the curious faces. Susan could see how this would look and she turned to her supervisor, opening her mouth to say something, but her supervisor held up a hand, saying, “I can’t talk about this right now, Susan. Consider yourself on leave.”
Eric Northman rose to an unsettled feeling. Something was not right. Sookie’s scent on the pillow next to him was too old. He reached out and couldn’t feel her anywhere close and he felt as if a cold hand wrapped around his heart. He rushed from their temporary bedchamber to find Thalia in the hallway waiting for him. “She’s in the hospital,” Thalia said without preamble. “Get dressed. The car is waiting.”
Eric usually took care with his appearance, but not tonight. “What happened?” he asked as they rushed to the car.
“I’m not sure, but Cataliades is at the hospital. He knows.”
It was a tense drive. James was waiting at the hospital door and he escorted them toward the maternity ward. Eric was so stressed his fangs were extended. Humans were looking panicked as he stalked past them, and a security guard started to walk toward them, but Thalia intercepted him. Eric felt her the minute the elevator opened on the floor and he rushed past James. She was in a hospital gown, looking pale against the stark white sheets. There were machines around her and there were fluids hooked into her arm.
“I’m fine!” Sookie assured him. “We’re fine!”
Mr. Cataliades rose from the chair positioned next to Sookie’s bed. He bowed and murmured, “I’ll be just outside.” Eric didn’t wait for the attorney to close the door. When Sookie held out her arms to him, he crawled into the bed next to her and carefully wrapped her into his embrace. Eric only felt the panic ease off as he pulled her sweet, strong scent into him and felt her warmth flow through him.
“What happened?” he asked.
“It’s a long story, but bottom line I got dehydrated. They checked us out and we’re both fine.” Sookie stroked Eric’s hair, smiling, and pressing her lips to his. Her lips were pale and Eric could see the stress around her eyes.
Eric kissed her again and held her against him. He stroked her belly and then, after a while, he felt the movement under his hand. Sookie sighed, nuzzling his neck, “You hungry?” she asked.
“I can wait,” he growled. “How did this happen?”
“It was the FBI,” Sookie told him. “They picked me up this morning during my walk.” Eric growled again, thinking of how long his wife had been in danger while he was in his day death. “I’m fine,” Sookie assured him again, reading his thoughts. “It was that same woman who came to the palace before, the one who has seen vampires meeting the sun. She saw a picture of Denny,” Sookie whispered. “She’s looking into missing persons and she received an email recently that had information pointing to the donors. She doesn’t know where it came from, but it promised her more information if she could show some progress. That’s why she was pushing Devrah and me so hard.”
Eric growled again, but before he could say any more, Doctor Ludwig sailed into the room, “Get up!” she barked and slapped the King on his royal buttocks. Eric detached himself from Sookie and carefully rolled from the bed so as not to jostle his wife. The doctor had continued walking around the bed and was examining the read-outs from several machines. “Good, good,” she said before turning to face them. “So, the contractions have stopped but I think it’s a good idea for Sookie to stay here over night.” Amy Ludwig gave Eric a stare, “You might consider putting together a room at the palace that we can use as a birthing room when the time comes. I can have my clinic send you a list of supplies. I don’t think we’re in for any surprises, but all things considered, having a baby in a human hospital might not be the best idea, and since you aren’t willing to move back to the Shreveport area, we should plan.”
“Not have the baby in a hospital?” Sookie asked. Eric could feel her concern, but it made no sense. Women had babies at home. “And they died a lot, too!” Sookie shot at him, reading his thoughts.
Doctor Ludwig laughed, “I love that he can’t hide a thing from you!” she said cheerfully. “It proves to me that there’s justice in this world!” but then Amy became more serious, “You really have nothing to worry about, Sookie. Even if we did need to do emergency surgery, we’d be prepared.”
“In my house…” Sookie didn’t bother to hide her skepticism.
“What happened?” Eric asked again.
“From what I gather, Sookie was questioned by the FBI for hours. She didn’t get enough water and she didn’t eat anything. The stress triggered early labor. I’ve controlled that and unless Sookie has some additional shock, I think we can count on Little Northman staying where he belongs until he’s finished cooking,” Doctor Ludwig laid her hand on Sookie’s stomach.
“So, they are both healthy?” Eric asked again.
Sookie held out her hand, which Eric took. The contact with her was comforting to him. Amy Ludwig’s expression turned softer, “Yes, Viking. They are both well.”
Sookie knew Eric was thinking of their other child and her heart hurt. “You need to get something to eat,” she reminded him.
“I’ll step out,” Amy told them. “Exchanging would be a good idea.” The doctor unhooked the monitors from Sookie but left the dripline in place. “Just be careful of that,” she told the telepath before leaving.
Eric nodded, and when the door closed, he maneuvered himself back on the bed. Sookie moved forward so she could sit between his legs and lean against him. Eric bit into his wrist and Sookie brought his arm to her lips, holding him lightly with both hands. As she drank, he moaned a little. When the wound healed, he pulled away to bite again. “Drink more,” he urged, “for our son.” Eric could feel his blood flowing through her as he dipped his head to her neck, licking, nuzzling, and then slipping his fangs into her. Sookie moaned now as Eric pulled her against him. He pushed into her back once, twice, and then he came, the stress of his evening and his relief at finding his wife and child safe making him abandon all control. “If you had been hurt, I would have killed them,” he whispered.
“I think that’s what got us into this mess,” Sookie whispered as she turned slightly to snuggle closer to him.
Eric held her until her breathing evened and he knew she slept, and then he waited some more until her breathing turned to sighs and then, after a bit, slipped into the throaty snores he found endearing. He managed to extricate himself from the bed to find Thalia, Pam, and Devrah waiting for him in the hallway.
“She’s fine,” he told them. “James and Ludwig will be accompanying her home in daylight.” He looked around, “Where is the lawyer?”
“He is threatening the FBI,” Thalia told him. “Cataliades told me the Prince has contacts with the FBI as well so he notified Niall. I don’t think you will need to worry about that agent again.”
Eric nodded, “That is good,” he acknowledged. He thought about what Sookie had told him. “The woman came after us because she received an anonymous message with information about the donors. Someone knew she was the right contact to pursue this. Sookie ‘heard’ her thinking that she was promised more information.” Eric looked at Pam, “You promise me you will be careful?”
“We have to know, Eric,” Pam nodded. “If this is Misha, and he has more, we can’t afford to wait.”
“You think this could work?” the Viking asked Thalia.
“There is more work to be done tonight, but yes,” his friend told him.
“Then do it,” Eric said. “I’ll return to the Palace an hour before sunrise,” and turning, he walked back into the room that held his wife and shut the door behind him.