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.
Nautical Note: There are places along the coast where the remains of coastline break the surface of the water; ancient rock that was once hill and mountain. They rise above the surface in jagged lines like teeth waiting to snag the bottoms of the unsuspecting or unlucky, but, if you sail well, you can slip behind these hazards to find quiet water.
Pam stared out the window as the car inched along in evening traffic. The drive across the bridge to LaGuardia wasn’t far as the crow flies, but no distance was short in New York.
Pam could feel Andrew’s eyes on her. Since the time of her rising, she had felt the housekeeper’s disapproval. The suspicion had been there last night, too, when she returned from New Orleans, but now it was almost a living thing between them. Judging it would be another thirty minutes of seething silence before she was at the airport, Pam decided to confront him.
“Out with it, Andrew! And don’t tell me there’s nothing to say.” Pam leaned back, allowing a sliver of sarcasm to tint her words.
“I do wonder,” Andrew said softly, “why the sudden change of heart. You have been affectionate with my King, but you have made him chase you as well. You have held back your affections and made him work for every morsel, so why surrender to him so completely now?” Pam held the housekeeper’s eyes in the rearview mirror. Andrew’s words sounded as if they were mere curiosity, but the hard stare he was giving her told her he meant something else.
“Perhaps I realized it was foolish to run from something I really wanted,” Pam replied.
“Perhaps,” Andrew countered, his eyes moving back to the road. “And so amorous! No protest although we both know how you feel about sharing yourself with men. It could hardly have been satisfying for you.”
Pam was happy Andrew wasn’t looking at her. Although she was unable to blush, Pam could still feel the sting of embarrassment. It wasn’t something that happened often, but the memory of her body’s reaction to Misha was all too present. “It was surprising,” Pam tried to keep the emotion from her voice, but she could hear the undertone anyway. It caused Andrew’s eyes to snap back again, and Pam told herself that wasn’t a bad thing as she struggled to bring herself under control.
They sat in silence then, inching forward, the minutes slipping by. Pam checked her watch, knowing she had just over an hour to make the flight. Originally she planned to loiter in the lobby just long enough for Andrew to pull away from the curb, but now, seeing the housekeeper’s naked suspicion, Pam decided she should go through the TSA checkpoints and wait until her plane was ready to depart before making her way to the parking garage, and from there to freedom.
They were pulling off the highway to the airport when Andrew spoke again. “I have long believed my King to be a superior vampire. I have never seen him swayed by money or other temptations, until now. You found a way to get behind all his armor and in the end, he is willing to set aside his best instincts.”
“What are you saying?” Pam challenged him.
“You are dangerous to him,” Andrew told her. “You have awakened something in him that is not natural to who he is, and you are not acting as you should while you do it.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to like the person who is replacing you in Misha’s affections,” Pam said waspishly. It was a tactical feint because so far Andrew’s remarks had scored too close to the truth. If Pam could get Andrew moving in another direction, one that could discredit him if he stumbled in front of Misha, it would be better, so she planted seeds she hoped would spur the housekeeper’s jealousy.
Pam was sure she scored a hit when she saw the slight tightening of the skin around Andrew’s eyes, but then the vampire smiled slightly. “You mistake the nature of my affection for my King. I have no ambition to be anything other than what I am. I am my King’s keeper, and I will guard him to the end.”
‘And that may not be much longer,’ Pam thought, and then wondered at her own certainty.
Unlike other times, Andrew didn’t rush to open her door when the car glided to a stop. Instead he retrieved her suitcase from the trunk and set it on the curb for her. “I will be here in two night’s time,” he told her, all sign of cordiality gone. “If you aren’t here at the appointed time, there will be no place you can run that I won’t find you. I will make it my mission to have your blood in him, and then we’ll see.” With a stiff nod, Andrew turned back to the car.
Pam knew then that her earlier instincts were right. She could not afford to allow Andrew to continue.
Pam pulled the suitcase handle and, wheeling her bag behind her, walked to the TSA Preapproval line. It was shorter than the other line that handled the regular passengers, but this was New York, the people waiting still snaked around stanchions and ropes. After close to twenty minutes, Pam was checked through and on the other side of the barrier, sitting on a bench, she used reassembling her belongings as an excuse to look at the faces. All the time she stood in line Pam checked those around her. She spotted a few Weres, but they seemed to be on legitimate business. She didn’t notice any humans paying particular attention to her and she didn’t detect any vampires, not one. That wasn’t unusual. Most vampires still preferred taking Anubis when traveling, in spite of the higher prices, but for some reason, tonight the lack of other vampires in the terminal made her more vigilant.
When the TSA guards started to look closely at her, Pam smiled and walked slowly toward the terminal, one voyager in a sea of voyagers. She walked past her gate, stepping into a news stand. Pam tried on sunglasses, using the mirror to watch traffic behind her. She heard the announcement that her flight was boarding, and she turned back toward the gate. She walked past the boarding gate again, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. Finally, she sighed and Pam walked back down the corridor, making her way to the main terminal and the tunnel that led to the parking garage.
The car was just where Max said it would be. The key was stuck under the front wheel well, a magnet placed along its side that peeled off as soon as it was detached from the car metal. It was not a flashy car, but it looked like something Pam would drive. There was money in the glove compartment and a GPS that booted up the route she needed to take. As Pam drove down the circular ramp that would take her to the cash booth, she wondered if the airlines paged her. It happened sometimes, when a passenger who had checked in didn’t tag in their boarding pass at the jet way. If Andrew or Misha had watchers in the terminal they would hear and the hunt would be on.
There were five cars ahead of her, and the driver in the lead car seemed to be having some sort of complicated conversation with the booth attendant. Pam’s fingers drummed against the wheel and her eyes darted to the rearview mirror. With each passing minute, each slight advance as another car paid and then moved into traffic, Pam felt her anxiety ratchet higher. She looked at the closed cash booth next to her and wondered if her car would be able to crash through the bar that blocked the driveway, and, if it did, how far she’d make it before she was taken. It seemed like forever, and then it was her turn. Cash changed hands and in an almost anticlimactic moment, Pam was pulling into traffic and moving forward, the clipped accent of the English woman speaking directions from the GPS sounding unnaturally cheery.
Traffic was slow, but as Pam swung west and then north she noticed that slowly but surely her speed picked up. When the skyline of Manhattan dropped into her rear view, Pam felt the tension she had been carrying in her shoulders start to fall away and, with a small smile, she turned on the radio and found a bouncy, 80’s rock station. ‘Home,’ she thought and the idea of rejoining Eric and his Queen never felt so sweet.
They drove as far as the great bridge that crossed the Delaware River and then turned around, driving back a short distance to a wooded area where they could pull off the road and park the car behind some low-hanging branches. “Did we hear from her yet?” Karin asked.
“No,” Thalia shook her head, “But it’s still early. They rose an hour ago. It will take time for the call and to arrange the flight.”
“What if Misha insists on a charter flight?” Karin asked.
“Let’s hope your sister can find a way to talk him around it,” Thierry shrugged. Since their rising, Thierry had abandoned his usual light-hearted attitude. His shoulders were squared and his posture rigid. He seemed hyper-vigilant and Thalia recognized the signs. The Sheriff was tapping into the instinctive hunter that every vampire carried within them. Thalia could tell by the looks Karin was shooting him that she recognized it, too.
“Why don’t you get out of the car and take a run?” Karin suggested. “You’re making me crazy!”
Thierry shrugged and did get out of the car, but instead of taking off into the woods, he moved to the trunk and tapped. Thalia hit the button and the trunk opened for him. “What’s he doing in there?” Karin asked.
Thalia didn’t answer, she just shrugged and dropped into down time. Thierry got back into the car with a small, black box in his hand. He plugged the cord into the power outlet in the dashboard and turned on the device. It took a minute to warm up. There was a screen that wasn’t well defined. It had a map of sorts and, after a minute, Karin recognized it as a road map of their area. There was a small dot that seemed very far away from them. “That’s the car,” Thierry answered her unasked question. “When the dot moves, we’ll know Pam is on her way.”
“You bugged her car?” Karin asked.
“If you want to get technical, Max bugged her car,” Thierry shrugged, “Besides, what kind of idiot would rely on a phone signal or Pam’s ability to call? There are laws in these states. Talking on her phone could get Pam arrested, or at least picked up on the grid. Better this way.”
Karin nodded, but then sighed loudly when the vampire proceeded to drum his fingers first against the dashboard and then against the window. “Why don’t you get a blood?” she growled. “There’s some in the cooler in the trunk.”
“Chilled, bottled blood?” Thierry grimaced, “No thank you!” and turning to look out the window into the night, started humming.
Karin sighed again, and with a snarl, Thalia came out of down time, “Enough!” Both Karin and Thierry jumped as the small vampire said, “It wasn’t enough to be stuck with the two of you on the plane with your incessant snarling and bitching? Now I’m stuck with you in a much smaller place! If you don’t both settle down, I’ll stake you and complete the mission myself!”
For once, Thierry didn’t make a snappy comeback. Instead he told Thalia, “I wouldn’t have thought it, but I’m nervous.”
Thalia didn’t look surprised, “You have worked many years to find yourself here.”
“The funny thing is, I thought I’d find another excuse,” and Thierry smiled, wryly.
“What do you mean?” Karin asked him.
“He is telling you that he has had opportunities to fight Misha before. I would have thought he would have picked up the stake and attacked the night Misha ended his Maker, but each time, he didn’t act,” Thalia explained.
“But why?” Karin swung to face Thierry.
The French Sheriff shrugged, “I couldn’t say,” he told her. “Each time I felt sure I had done the right thing. I would tell myself I wasn’t prepared, or that the timing wasn’t right. I would tell myself that I could not explain my actions to whomever was with me…each time an excuse.”
“Were you afraid?” It seemed unlikely, but Karin had to ask.
“Perhaps,” he answered unexpectedly, “but I don’t recall that sensation at the time.”
“But this time is different,” Thalia said for him.
Thierry nodded, “Yes, each step seemed to lead forward. I feel now, sitting here, that for once, the time is now, that each terrible thing Misha has done has brought us to this place.” He smiled wryly at Karin, “I don’t doubt he will come tonight. I don’t doubt we will fight. It seems fated.”
“But if all goes well, we won’t see him until the next Summit Assizes, and he’ll be spitting mad,” Karin told him.
“I believe in fate,” Thalia said gravely, “And my money is on the Frenchman.”
“So, why are you here?” Thierry asked Thalia.
“Perhaps to keep the two of you from getting in too much trouble,” Thalia replied. She wasn’t smiling, but there was a quick glint in her eye.
“That’s not it,” Karin insisted. “You have been around my Maker as long as I’ve been with him, and that’s a long time. Eric speaks of you with affection. There was that time when you got in trouble and all turned against you. The vampires would have banished you back to Europe and it looked as if the Ancient Pythoness would agree, but Eric stood and argued for you.”
“It was a good speech,” Thalia shrugged.
“What is it that binds you together?” Thierry asked.
“History,” Thalia told him. The others thought she would stop there, not telling them anything more, but then Thalia said, “I knew Appius long before the North Man was made. I knew him then for the twisted sadist he was.”
“Who was his Maker?” Karin asked.
“I never knew,” Thalia told them, “And I am older than Appius.” She settled back, staring out into the woods. “I am convinced he sought this life. He would have had opportunity to see us. We would be drawn to battlefields, so much easy blood. Who would notice one more hand-to-hand fighter who used teeth as well as weapons? Some of us even fought for hire. It was a risk, of course. Even though the humans worshipped the Gods of death, we were still something other. Our weakness in daylight was hard to keep secret.” Thalia’s eyes stretched across the years and almost unconsciously she settled back, adopting the stance of a storyteller. “I like to think he surprised his Maker and forced the exchange,” Thalia nodded. “If Appius cut him deeply enough, the vampire would have been almost forced to drain Appius to heal himself. Appius would have known to bleed himself first, too, to get a head start. He was crafty that way.” Thalia looked at Thierry who was in the passenger seat beside her, “You see, I think Appius had a plan. Once he was made, he allowed his cruelty along with his strength to push him quickly up the vampire hierarchy.”
“Were there Kings then?” Karin asked.
“No,” Thalia shook her head. “No, we were too busy surviving to try to arrange ourselves into that kind of hierarchy. Of course, that wasn’t good enough for Appius. He had been a centurion and he yearned for the promotions he felt he’d been denied in his human life. He bullied weaker vampires and fought those he felt he could. He was willing to take enormous damage to prove himself and even though we were separated by long distances, it didn’t take long for word to circulate among the vampire that the Roman was dangerous, even for us.” Thalia nodded, “He had no interest in making then, just killing. He would drain whole villages and leave the corpses piled in the crossroads.” She turned around to look at Karin, “He was a rapist then, too. He wasn’t so pronounced in his preferences, but he liked them very young,” and Thalia’s lip curled. “Not like we vampires took much notice, though. Our attitude toward humans then was even less than it is now. We would jeer those who tried to communicate with them and we looked down on our own who took their money.”
“There were many humans, though,” Thierry observed. “It had to be clear to you that they would dominate the land.”
Thalia shrugged, “Like ants dominate the ground that we walk on every day. They were of no consequence, and Appius could have gone along his merry, bloody way, but it wasn’t good enough for him. He decided he liked vampire blood best and he started preying on his own.”
“That couldn’t have gone over well,” Thierry said, and then turning to Karin, said, “Nice family you’ve got!”
Karin hissed, but Thalia silenced her with a look. “You’re right,” Thalia told Thierry once order was restored. “I had heard of him, but it was in hunting him that I first met him. He was a cold bastard, black hair and dark, flat eyes. He was well muscled and he used vampire blood to make him even stronger than he was. He almost ended me, but in the end, I subdued him. I trussed him to a tree and I sent another to summon a tribunal. In those days, it was any gathering of five of more of our kind. It took almost until dawn and I thought for sure they would order Appius to meet the sun and be over, but they didn’t. They ordered him banished to the North.”
“You freed him?” Thierry asked.
“Obviously,” Karin hissed, “Now shut up and let Thalia tell it!”
“They did,” Thalia nodded. “They agreed that a vampire with Appius’ strength could be of great value if he would promise by oath to stop preying on his own, and Appius did.”
“Why would you trust his word?” Thierry asked. “He was no honorable character!”
“I didn’t,” Thalia confirmed. “I told the Old Roman that if I heard he was where he didn’t belong, or I heard he broke his oath, I’d be the one to come find him and I wouldn’t wait for the others this time.”
“And he believed you,” Karin breathed.
“He did,” Thalia nodded, “And what’s more, he decided he liked me for it. When I would travel in his territories he would make a point of finding me. He enjoyed gambling and we would play for all sorts of things. Sometimes it was personal forfeits or consequences, or sometimes a trinket or piece of work that needed doing.” Thalia looked directly at Karin, “Sometimes we played for the fate of whoever Appius had tied up at the moment.”
“That’s how you first saw my Maker?” Karin asked.
“Appius was toying with him,” Thalia nodded. “It was the first time I’d seen the Roman with an older man, but when I saw the Viking, I understood. He was well made and handsome. For some reason, he had shaven himself and that gave him a more youthful appearance. It was clear that the Roman intended to prolong his play, and it was equally clear that the North Man was trying to figure out how to kill Appius. There he was, naked and bloody, huddled in the corner of the room. I don’t know if he was lucid enough to know I was there, he’d taken a lot of damage, but I could see the hatred in his eyes and it tickled me to think that this creature should survive, so I played Appius for his fate.”
“You wanted Appius to turn him?” Karin asked.
“No,” Thalia shook her head, “I wanted to turn him.”
“What happened?” Thierry was leaning forward, his hands on his knees.
“I lost,” Thalia said simply. “I lost and the Roman celebrated by turning the North Man in front of me.”
“You saved him,” Karin said quietly.
“Did I?” Thalia asked, and then she said, “Yes, I suppose I did.” She smiled quickly, “I was not happy about it and I was sure that bastard, Appius, cheated, but in the end I got the last laugh. I don’t think the Old Roman had any intention of turning the Viking, but when I expressed an interest, he couldn’t stand it. If I wanted a thing, he had to have it and so, Eric Northman was made. I know Appius came to regret it, and he took that out on your Maker,” and Thalia nodded, remembering the many times she would find the Viking in some terrible straits. “I started to make an effort to run across them more often then, and I learned to cheat.”
“So, you saved him again,” Thierry said softly.
“There was something about him,” Thalia nodded. “He was a fighter, and funny when he had teeth and tongue to talk. In spite of everything, he maintained a kind of dogged hope that his lot would improve. I admired that about him.” Thalia shook her head as though clearing away cobwebs, “In the end, Appius was unable to restrain himself from finding trouble. I and some others convinced him to cut the Viking loose and head into the East rather than bring more trouble onto himself.”
“And so, Eric Northman began his own existence,” Thierry said.
“And he found me,” Karin added.
Thalia nodded, “I couldn’t have predicted then where he would end up, but I never doubted there was something of destiny about him.” She looked at Karin and Thierry before saying, “And here we are.”
“But it’s not just affection, is it?” Thierry challenged her. “I know why I’m here. My excuses have run out and I will go in search of my fate or my final death, and Karin? Karin is here because she fights for her sister, but what about you? There is something that drove you here. You have said you won’t cross the border. You have said you won’t engage in a fight unless it comes to you. There is no clear reason for you to be here, and yet, here you are, sitting in a dark car with the two of us. Why?”
“Perhaps it’s guilt.” The words were so unexpected that Karin and Thierry sat completely still in that way vampires have.
When Thalia didn’t say anything more, Thierry finally asked, “Guilt about what?”
Thalia didn’t hide her face. She looked them both in the eye and said, “When I was in Nebraska for that Fae ceremony between Sookie and the Viking, Niall pulled me aside. He told me he would show me something. He took me into the woods and had me look in one of those fairy fountains and he told me that my actions would determine the North Man’s future.”
“What did he show you?” Karin leaned over the seat, her face serious.
“He showed me two fates. I saw your Maker being staked by De Castro…” at Thalia’s words, Karin hissed and reared back. Thalia waited for her to settle before nodding, “Sookie was there. She had her arms wrapped around a girl child and she was crying. But Niall showed me another vision, one where Eric and Sookie were on thrones. There were children around them, a boy and a girl. Then the Prince told me if I wanted the Viking to survive, I had to stay away from him.”
“Rhodes,” Thierry gasped.
“Rhodes,” Thalia nodded.
“They lost their child,” Karin hissed. “Eric suffered! He suffers still!”
“After all, I have betrayed him,” Thalia nodded. “I can’t forgive myself for believing the fairy.”
“It would be just like Niall to show you what he wanted you to see,” Karin’s voice was harsh. “I just never thought that you, of all people, would fall for something like that!”
“Don’t judge!” Thierry hissed back at Karin. “The Fae know things. Look at the future that has unfolded for your Maker! Look at how things have unfolded for you!”
“You think I’d trade this new position for Eric’s grief?” Karin snarled.
“What if the vision was true and the trade allowed your Maker to live?” Thierry countered.
Karin retracted her fangs, but, after a minute, she turned back to Thalia, “You have to tell him.”
“I know,” Thalia nodded. “I will once Pam is home safe. He may banish me, and it would be within his right to do it, but I will serve him as best I can this last time.”
“I don’t think he’ll banish you,” Karin disagreed. “I think he’ll understand this wasn’t your secret. Not really. It was Niall who revealed it to you when he should have told my Maker. Fucking Fairies!”
“I think Niall was doing what he felt was best,” Thalia said slowly, but she thought of what she’d overheard when the Ancient Pythoness had hidden her away.
“Since when do fairies ever mean well?” Karin scoffed. “If you mean fairies will do what is in their best interest, then I’d agree and Eric has to know about this. Niall is in their home all the time now. He visits and makes noises about that…” and Karin hesitated before saying, “child she carries.”
“It does not sit right,” Thierry agreed.
“It is a child of their bodies,” Thalia snapped. “I can’t explain it either, but I accept that it is.”
“Regardless,” Karin shrugged, “Niall had a hand in the destruction of their first and now he stays close for their second. Who knows what mischief he has planned?”
“Well, you can eliminate damaging either the Viking or Sookie from your suspicions,” Thalia looked out the window, “because I am to be appointed guardian should any accident befall them.” The small, dark vampire didn’t look back and her voice was gloomy as she said, “It is the least I can do.”
Karin was about to say something more when Thierry announced, “She’s moving!” All eyes turned to the GPS box and they watched in rapt attention as the small dot on the screen started to move slowly but inexorably north.
Misha hummed to himself. All was as it should be. He had found his life’s mate. She was beautiful, accomplished, and she submitted willingly to him. He told her his secrets and she had not rejected him. If anything, she seemed to accept this part of him and even offered to help. ‘Zolotse,’ the word floated through his mind and he saw her again, her pale hair floating around her face, the delicate pink lace covering her small breasts. Misha’s mouth curved upward as he finished pulling out a white, transparent robe. There were some clothes he had purchased from time to time, thinking to see them against his Pamela’s skin. Now he felt all would come to pass.
Misha had showered again once Pam left. He felt renewed and he didn’t bother dressing before padding downstairs to the living room and then on to the office. He could call his housekeeper in Boston, but there were certain arrangements he wished to see to personally for their extended stay. Misha sat in his high-backed, leather office chair and waited for his desktop to boot up. His eyes traveled over his desk and then they stopped. The thumb drive he had set on the blotter next to the keyboard was missing. Pursing his lips, Misha swept his eyes over the surface of the desk, cataloging each item and its position. Each thing was where he left it and his perfect memory acknowledged them. Wrinkling his brow, Misha lifted the portable keyboard. It was unlikely that something might have knocked it out of position, but the house had been plagued with a mouse once. It was possible, but it wasn’t there.
Misha pushed out his chair and looked at the floor below the desk. There was nothing out of place on the thick carpet. Below, Misha heard the door open. “Andrew?” he asked. He knew he didn’t have to raise his voice. His housekeeper would hear him.
Andrew was beside him in a moment, and Misha asked, “The drive, the one with the rest of the documents on Northman. Did you move it?”
Andrew’s eyes also swept over the desk as he said, “No, Majesty. It was here last night.” Andrew shut his eyes and breathed in. He was not the best tracker, but Andrew’s nose was very sensitive. His eyes opened and he told Misha, “Pam was in here, and recently.”
“My Pamela?” Misha’s face looked troubled, but then he recovered and turned around. With grim determination, he lifted the top of the laptop and pushed the power button. The machine whirred and the familiar screen saver came up, but then Misha realized there were no icons on the desktop. The King moved his fingers swiftly over keys and twirled and clicked the mousepad. Where there had been rows of orderly files, each containing their carefully categorized secret, there were none.
“Find her!” Misha roared. “Find that bitch now!”
Andrew reached into his pocket and pushed buttons. His voice was a low hiss as he spoke. Misha turned back to his main computer and brought up his facial recognition software. He positioned the search for a two hundred mile radius and fed in the picture of Pam from the vampire directory, then pushed the button. Andrew was just finishing his call when the first results came up. Misha saw photos of Pam taken by airport security cameras and roadside traffic cameras. Each photo was date and time stamped.
“There will be agents waiting for her in O’Hare,” Andrew told him.
“Chicago?” the King questioned.
“She flew commercial. There is a plane change there. We will pick her up.”
Misha banged his hand on his desk. “How could I have been so stupid!” he fumed. “She played me! She toyed with me!”
“We will get her,” Andrew assured him, “She can’t hide from you.”
Just then, the facial recognition brought up another photograph. It was date and time stamped a little later than the others and it showed Pam’s face driving a car. Misha’s fingers flew, getting the geo-positioning of the camera that took the picture. “She’s not on the plane,” he told Andrew. “She’s still in New York,” and Misha’s fingers flew again, plugging in the coordinates to locate the position precisely on a road map. “Here,” Misha exclaimed, pointing to a place just north of the City.
Andrew nodded, and he started making more calls. He turned briefly to the King, “She would stay on main roads. She will be heading for either Canada or Pennsylvania.”
“Pennsylvania,” Misha pronounced. “It is fastest, and Judith is too weak to challenge vampires crossing into her territory.” Misha didn’t bother adding that it had been his own flood of rogues that had weakened his neighbor’s defenses. Too many passing over too long a time period had destroyed Judith’s ability to patrol, and, as so often happened, when her defenses weakened, her strongest vampires left her.
“Jason is north now,” Andrew informed his King. “And there are others. They were cleaning up the facility in the hills.”
“Get them on the road!” Misha growled. “I want her found and subdued. Tell them to call me as soon as they have her, and tell them I want her coherent!”
As Andrew completed his calls, Misha headed upstairs. He found black pants and a shirt. He preferred these colors for knife work. It didn’t show the blood so quickly.
Pam had been driving north for almost a half hour with no incident. She lost the local radio station and was twisting the knob, trying to find something other than Gospel rock. She found an Oldie’s station playing ‘Only Fools Fall in Love,’ and Pam thought of Bubba. As the chorus started up, Pam warbled along. Her voice was not concert-quality, but years of singing madrigals and rounds with her family had trained her reasonably well. ‘Newburgh,’ the exit proclaimed. ‘Only one more hour,’ Pam thought, and then she was thrown against the door and the whole world was glass breaking and screeching tires. It was as if she was on some kind of wild ride and she thought she could see the passenger door bending toward her when her head hit against something and she knew no more.
“The dot stopped,” Karin said.
“It could be construction,” Thierry tilted his head and kept his eyes pinned to the dot. “They like to do their road work at night here,” he explained further.
“Where is that?” Thalia asked.
Thierry tapped the dot to expand the map, “Newburgh,” he told her.
“If it’s construction, she should be doing some moving,” Karin was becoming agitated.
“Not if they stop the whole lane,” Thierry observed, but he could feel his own anxiety level rising.
“Let’s give it another couple of minutes,” Thalia nodded. The tension in the car seemed to rise with each passing second.
When the second hand swept around Karin’s old fashioned wrist watch one more time, she said, “Something’s wrong. I can feel it!”
“Can you?” Thalia challenged her. “Can you feel anything through the tie between you?”
“No,” Karin acknowledged, shaking her head.
But then, the dot that was the car vanished. Karin, Thierry and Thalia all stared at the screen. The glowing lines that represented roadways still shone, but the dot that was Pam was gone.
“That’s it!” Karin roared, and turning to Thalia, said, “If you are staying on this side, get out!”
Thalia nodded and opening the door, told them, “Don’t assume the worst. You know approximately where she stopped. Cruise the area and if all looks well, you should be able to catch up with her. I will watch for her car from here.” They all had a description of the rental car and the license plate number. It would make things a little tricky without the tracker. The bug would have given them some forewarning before she approached them.
“And if it doesn’t look well?” Thierry asked from his position in the passenger seat.
“Then call me,” Thalia told them. “I’ll get there quickly.”
“What?” Karin asked as she slid into the driver’s seat, “You telling me you can fly?”
“Not all of us need to fly to move fast,” Thalia replied dryly.
Karin shifted into gear and within no time was making the U-Turn across the median and speeding on her way into New York.
Pam woke to the stinging and burning of silver. She was lying on her stomach and her hair was across her face. Her arms and legs were bent behind her and she could tell she’d been bound in silver chains. “Well, Sleeping Beauty decided to join us,” a familiar voice said, and Pam recognized Jason, Misha’s new second, as he squatted down next to her face.
“What happened?” Pam asked, “Why did you stop me?” She allowed her voice to tremble. Feigning cluelessness could sometimes throw some doubt into an enemy’s thoughts, but Jason just laughed.
“Good try, Traitor! You have just the right blend of weakness and damsel going for you. Too bad you didn’t fall into a fool’s hands. You might have had a chance.” Behind Jason another vampire laughed, and Jason glanced over his shoulder. He was grinning when he looked at Pam again. “Yeah,” he told her, “no chance for you! Misha’s on his way and Andrew told me he was killing mad. I sure hope you’re ready, Pamela Ravenscroft! Misha has quite the reputation. I doubt there’ll be one inch of skin left on your body when he’s done with you!”
Peeling skin from a vampire was messy and extremely painful. Because of their nature, the skin would start regenerating almost as soon as a patch was removed, causing the victim to experience not only the pain of the removal, but the burning itch of regrowth. It was a torture that was reserved for those who had committed truly heinous crimes, and Pam had no doubt that Misha would consider her as now being in that category.
Pam had no way of knowing what time it was. She could feel it was nowhere near dawn, so she knew she couldn’t have been unconscious for too long. She wondered how long it would take Misha to get there. She wondered how long it would take for Thalia and Thierry to notice she was late. Mostly, Pam wondered if she would survive this night and what she would do differently if she did.
While she waited, Pam tried to determine how many vampires were around her. In addition to Jason and the vampire Jason with whom seemed most friendly, Pam could hear five other separate voices. It was a depressing thought. It meant the odds were nowhere near even, and Pam knew that without help, she had no chance of being able to come to someone’s aid if a rescue attempt could even find her. Every time she moved, even a little, the bare chains smoked and cut into her flesh further. If she struggled enough, she supposed the silver would eat through her wrists and ankles, leaving her with seared stumps and no way to escape or fight. ‘Damn!’ she thought, and wondered how she hadn’t seen the car before it rammed her.
Pam replayed everything she remembered of the road before her capture. She thought it possible that if there was a witness, the police might be called, but Pam realized with a sinking feeling that the road had looked abandoned and she knew then that the car that pushed her from the road had been traveling without headlights.
“All too easy,” Pam grumbled out loud.
“What’s that?” Jason snarled, and kicked her hard for emphasis. “What did you say?”
“I said I made this too easy for you,” Pam snarled between gritted teeth.
“Yeah, you sure did!” Jason said with glee, “And my being the one to find you means one nice bonus for me. Guess you could say that I owe you one!” and then Jason drew his foot back and kicked her in the stomach again.
“You’re welcome,” Pam wheezed when the pain receded enough.
“The King wants her in good shape,” Jason’s friend reminded him.
“The King wants her able to feel what he has in store for her,” Jason smirked. “I’d say that Miss Pam is in a feeling mood,” but Jason didn’t kick her again.
It seemed a long time before the car pulled up, but Pam suspected it wasn’t more than half an hour. By the way the vampires moved toward the sound and the tone of their voices, Pam was pretty sure Misha had arrived. It was all but confirmed when Andrew said, “How did I know you were a problem?” and in one swift movement, he brought his foot down on her upper arm and Pam heard a distinct snap before the pain bloomed through her.
“You’ve made your point,” Misha’s voice was sharp. Pam’s eyes were barely open. Her hair, which had been soaked in blood from the wound where she struck her head, was stuck across her face. With no way to pull it away, it had started to dry, sticking to her eyelids, nose and lips. She felt him, but then again, she had no choice. She had had so much of his blood last night, unless he chose to block her, Pam would experience the King’s emotions.
She expected to feel triumph, or anger, but instead she felt a sad, lonely resignation. When he reached down to pull her hair aside, she didn’t flinch. She could see her death in his eyes, and she could see it brought Misha no joy. His thumb lingered on her cheekbone, perilously close to her eye, but he didn’t gaze at her. Instead he traced her bones slowly, and his mouth was almost soft as he squatted beside her.
“We should take her someplace safe,” Andrew was telling the King.
“Leave us,” Misha replied, his gaze never leaving Pam.
“There will be time for this once we get her someplace we can defend,” Andrew insisted, and Misha rose then. Pam couldn’t see what happened, but she could hear the King’s snarl. She was sure the others moved off then and Pam could see Misha’s shoes turn back toward her. This time when he squatted he had a small, blunt knife in his hands.
“Andrew is worried there will be others coming to look for you,” Misha was smiling, running his thumb along the edge of the knife’s blade. “He would prefer we move you back to New York. We have a warehouse there.” Misha could have been explaining why they turned left and not right, and somehow the cheery lack of concern he showed chilled Pam to the bone.
“Of course, I think we have a few hours before anyone will come to find you here, don’t you think, Zaichik?” Misha turned his head to the side so he could look in Pam’s eyes.
“I don’t know,” Pam answered. She hoped someone would be looking, but, in truth, she wasn’t sure.
Misha nodded, “I understand,” he told her. “It is one of the things I admired about you, your courage.” He glanced over his shoulder, “Andrew assumes I will draw out your death, my Pamela, and it is possible I will. Your fate is truly in your own hands.” Misha set the knife down behind him and grabbing Pam roughly, raised her up almost to her knees, twisting her broken arm, and plunged his fangs into the space between her neck and shoulder. He drew greedily from her, and Pam did the only thing she could think. She focused on her affection for him. She remembered all the times she had cried out in his arms and found herself wanting him, in spite of herself, and she sent it out from her as well as she could.
The King pulled back from her, his fangs bloody, and he held her in place, awkwardly balanced on her knees, and then let her drop to the ground. He sat back and looked at her, his face neutral, and then, after a while he leaned forward a little more. He picked up the knife and used it to stroke along her jaw and then scraped blood tears from her face. He raised the blade to his mouth and delicately flicked his tongue to capture her essence. When he finished, he wiped the blade quickly on his pants, “I don’t understand, my Pamela. You would have me believe you care for me, yet here you are, having stolen my property and running, doubtless on your way to my enemies!”
“The price for loving you is too high,” Pam gasped. “You would take everything I care about to earn your love.”
“If you loved me, I would be all you would care about,” Misha said reasonably. “But we delay, and Andrew is right, our time together now is precious.” Misha used the knife blade to slice away the seam of Pam’s shirt, causing it to open, showing her bra. “Where are the things you stole from me?” Misha asked her.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What things?” Pam whispered. She focused all her energy on sending confusion and hurt, but Misha just shook his head.
“You will have to be a much better actress to fool me,” he smiled and he used the blade to cut through the side panel of her bra. “Things will be much easier for you if you just tell me where you hid them,” Misha purred and then he reached with his fingers to stroke the side of her exposed breast.
“I’m telling you, I don’t know what you mean,” Pam shuddered. She had a sinking feeling she knew what would be next and Misha didn’t disappoint. With a movement as swift as any striking snake, he grabbed her breast and with one swipe, cut the end of her nipple from her body.
Pam couldn’t stop the howl she made as Misha squeezed harder, his face close to her ear, “Tell me!” he screamed. “Where are they?”
“Go to hell,” Pam cried out when she could stop screaming.
“I’m already there, Zolotse,” Misha smiled sadly, “and it would appear that now it’s time for you to join me.”
“What’s the point of being blood related if you can’t sense each other any better than this?” Thierry growled.
“We don’t have a blood tie,” Karin snapped back, “We share bloodlines. But since no one cared about you enough to give you a sibling, I can understand why you’d be confused.”
Thierry and Karin had been bickering for the past half hour. They found the stretch of road that was still littered with broken glass and shards of metal and they stopped the car, walking up and down the shoulder, peering into the dark trees that stretched beyond the roadway, but to no avail. Deciding Misha’s men wouldn’t take her far, they started cruising back toward New York, hanging their heads out of the windows to try and catch even the slightest noise. That was how they found the car. The sound of its engine cooling caught Thierry’s attention. There was no doubt it was the one that had been arranged for Pam. The passenger’s door had been pushed halfway into the car’s body. Karin confirmed the blood on the dashboard and wheel was Pam’s.
“If she was dead, I’d know it!” Karin insisted, not waiting for Thierry to ask the question. “She’s out here, somewhere!”
“Where did you say Pam was going to hide the thumb drive?” Thierry asked.
“She told me the platform heel on one of her shoes was hollow,” Karin told him. “Why?”
Thierry leaned through the broken window and straightened up with a shoe in his hand. “Do you think?” Karin asked.
“Only one way to find out,” Thierry replied, and with a quick snap he broke the heel from the shoe. The hollow area held not one but two drives.
Karin looked at the devices in Thierry’s hand. “She’s got nothing to bargain with,” she said out loud.
Thierry nodded, “We need to find her. Think, Karin! Focus! How can we find her?”
Karin’s face was a mask of anguished concentration as she stood still, her eyes closed, her mouth slightly open. “I can’t feel her!” she cried out, and then, biting her lips, she said, “Her phone!” Fingers flying, she dialed a number and Thierry heard someone pick up.
“Max!” Karin cried, “Pam’s phone! Does it have a locator program on it?”
“Yes, she had it installed after the last time she tossed the phone out of the car window,” Max replied.
“Turn it on!” Karin was almost weeping with relief. “Send us the coordinates! Hurry, Max!”
Thierry and Karin ran the half mile back toward Pennsylvania which was where the program told them Pam’s phone was located. As they rounded a small curve in the road, they heard the hiss of vampires.
“I’ve been through her clothes twice,” an unfamiliar voice was snarling. “There’s nothing here!”
“Misha should take her apart,” another voice growled. “The bitch probably shoved it up some body cavity.”
“I think they’ve already looked,” a third voice snickered. “But maybe they’ll be willing to let us take a turn before they end her.”
Karin wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or furious. Jerking her chin to indicate the direction she would take to circle these vampires, she glided into the dark, using every trick she’d ever learned in her many years as a paid assassin. Thierry moved also, low and slow to avoid detection. He saw a dark shadow he assumed was one of Misha’s men, but then the shadow moved abruptly and was gone and he knew Karin had claimed her first victim of the night.
The vampire in front of him almost stumbled over Thierry and the French Sheriff had to move very fast, indeed, to take advantage of the vampire’s surprise. He surged up, clapping one hand over the vampire’s mouth while shoving the wooden stake up and under the vampire’s ribcage with the other. He followed the vampire as he collapsed to the ground and held his hand tight over the man’s mouth until he was sure the vampire was finally dead. Pulling the stake loose, he rolled the vampire under some bushes with his toe and moved forward.
“Drake?” another vampire called, and Thierry stood straight up.
“No, not Drake,” he said softly as the vampire’s eyes widened, already dead as Thierry drove the stake forward again.
“Stop screwing around,” Karin hissed behind him, close to his ear. “I’ve already taken four and you’re dancing with this loser!”
“Lost?” a voice said behind them.
“Hello, Andrew,” Thierry said out loud before turning. The Asian housekeeper was standing in the pale light of what little moon there was. He was looking loose limbed, his balance forward on the balls of his feet and he held a thin, slightly curved blade.
“Hello, Thierry,” Andrew answered, his feet moving carefully to try and flank them. Karin moved just as lightly and Thierry could see that Andrew recognized her now. “You must be Pam’s sister,” he smiled. “How nice. We’ll make this a family affair. We take care of the Viking’s progeny and then we’ll finish the mighty Eric Northman, too.”
“You talk a lot for someone who is looking at two vampires,” Karin smiled.
“I won’t have to fight both of you,” Andrew smirked. “If you both try to take me, your Pamela will be dead. Misha has been working on her for a while and I don’t know how much is left.” He shook his head ruefully, “No, I’m afraid one of you will have to leave the other if you hope to save her.”
“Bastard!” Karin hissed.
“I can’t take him,” Thierry said, all humor gone from his voice. “He is too skilled for me.”
“Then he’s my pigeon,” Karin squared her shoulders. She had a knife but no other weapon. “Go get Pam!” she hissed.
Thierry nodded and moved further into the trees. He could hear a slight moan and he knew he was heading in the right direction. Pam was trussed on the ground and she wasn’t moving much. Thierry could smell the massive amount of blood loss. Andrew hadn’t been kidding. She wouldn’t last much longer.
“So, you’ve come to try and save the maiden, fair,” Misha appeared beside him, closer than Thierry had anticipated. The King’s knife stabbed toward him and it was only Thierry’s desperate twisting motion that saved him from being slashed. Pirouetting on both toes, Thierry allowed his momentum to carry him behind Misha’s broad back and he stabbed quickly with his stake, but Misha managed to avoid his thrust.
“You’ve become faster,” Misha complimented Thierry. “But you always did show such promise. The King moved more quickly than a man of his size should have, and Thierry barely avoided being wrapped in Misha’s grasp. The French Sheriff knew all too well the strength Misha could command. If the King managed to get Thierry wrapped in his arms he would be able to crush him, bone by bone.
“I have been training,” Thierry said lightly, dropping unexpectedly to the ground and coming back up with Misha’s knife. “You taught me that, that I should always seek to better myself.” Thierry pivoted again, kicking out a leg and connecting with Misha’s thigh. The King grunted and fell down to one knee. “You always were a good one for advice,” Thierry said and twirled around Misha, slashing him across the back and the smell of fresh blood pulled another moan from Pam.
Thierry would have preferred to make this a battle of many cuts, slowly draining the New York King of his strength, but the Sheriff couldn’t be sure how Karin’s battle was proceeding. He pushed in closer, too quickly this time, and was rewarded with a punch near a bundle of muscles in his back that sent Thierry to his knees.
Misha rolled on the ground, coming up with another knife, “Too easy!” he sighed, and headed to Thierry. The Sheriff remained still. He was hurt, but he hoped if he pulled the King in closer he could use surprise to his advantage. It almost worked, and in the end, Misha was bleeding from another long cut, but it didn’t tip the fight toward the Sheriff.
Thierry was aware of the sound of fighting from near the road now, and he took it as a good sign. “Won’t be long and Karin will finish off your boy toy,” Thierry smiled rakishly. “What will you do without your precious Andrew?”
“I don’t think my King will need to worry about that,” Andrew said, stepping forward from the direction of the road.
Misha stilled then, a slow smile crossing his face, “It appears you’ve found your final death,” the King said pleasantly.
“It does appear that way,” Thierry shrugged, but as he squared his shoulders in anticipation of Andrew’s strike, a long, silver sword appeared protruding from Andrew’s chest. The housekeeper’s mouth moved once and his eyes sought Misha, and then Andrew was no more.
“I got lost,” Thalia said, stepping over the housekeeper’s body.
Thierry turned toward Misha, “I thought you were going to sit this one out,” he said, his eyes never leaving the New York King.
“In the end it was too tempting,” Thalia shrugged. “If I’d let you defeat all these foes you never would have let me forget it.”
“Too true,” Thierry said, but in spite of his banter, the smile had dropped from his face. He crouched, holding his knife forward. “Can you see to Pam?” he asked.
Thalia was already moving. Thierry heard Thalia hissing something, and then he heard the sound of the bright pop of the chain that held Pam breaking.
Misha’s gaze never left Thierry’s. “You think to become King, little vampire?”
“I think it’s time to avenge those who had suffered by knowing you,” Thierry hissed in return.
“And who have I ever hurt that didn’t deserve it?” Misha asked.
“You and I have different definitions,” Thierry made a feint with his knife and Misha stepped forward and the same time Thierry threw himself in the other direction, pushing his blade up to the hilt in the King’s shoulder. Misha roared and twisted, pulling the knife from Thierry’s hand. The King reached back and pulled the blade from his own flesh, and then turned it to use it against the Frenchman.
The King was moving toward him and Thierry turned, looking for his stake. Instead, Thalia yelled, “Here!” and she tossed him her sword. Thierry caught it by the hilt and, using the King’s own momentum, ran it through Misha in one, smooth action.
The King fell, and Thierry stepped to stand over him. Pam stood then. She was covered in gore and there were places her skin was missing. She was leaning on Thalia and Thierry could see the fierce one had given Pam her blood.
“Finish it!” Misha hissed, writhing in pain. Thierry was certain the blade of the sword was laced with silver and he wondered at Thalia’s certainty that she was willing to wield a weapon that could so easily be turned to give her own death.
Thierry looked at Pam, “I would offer you this,” he said. “He has done you great harm. It would be your right to end him.” Thalia was watching Pam and when she stepped forward, Thalia supported her. Thierry offered Pam the hilt of his knife, and Pam took it in her hand.
Thalia lowered Pam carefully so she would be close enough to strike. Misha had remained silent and even now, as the slight woman leaned over him, he kept his silence, holding Pam’s eyes.
Pam looked at the King, and after a moment, she dropped the knife. “I can’t,” she said, and to Thierry and Thalia’s horror, Pam Ravenscroft kneeled down and kissed Misha’s forehead.
“Zolotse,” Misha whispered, “I told Andrew that I would be with you until my final death. You see? I was right.”
Pam nodded brokenly, and a red tear ran down her cheek. “Goodbye,” she told him, and leaning against Thalia, she allowed the fierce vampire to push her up and walk her away.
Thierry picked up the knife, and when Misha looked at him, the Frenchman pushed the knife home. “I claim New York and all its possessions,” he declared, and so Thierry became King.