Author’s Note: Once more, we see that vampires are not cuddly creatures with sharp teeth. Thank you to both Breathesgirl and to Ms Buffy for reviewing and commenting. I promise, I’ll get the one word/two word thing right someday!
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 where the water looks quiet. It beckons you to come swim and play. What you can’t see is the current that travels just below the surface. Invisible, it waits for you to approach so it can whisk you far out to sea.
“So, Thomas doesn’t mind you traveling so much? You don’t get that pull?” Sookie had worked every conversation over the past hour back to quizzing Karin about her relationship with Thomas. Eric watched his daughter’s eyes narrow.
“They are not bonded, Lover,” Eric interceded.
“Vampires rarely bond,” Karin said in a tone that implied Sookie should have known that and was just being tiresome.
Eric decided this had gone on long enough. He sent a sharp stab of disapproval at Karin through their bond while turning to Sookie, “As you know, a bond is permanent. Since vampires are immortal, true bonding is unusual. I doubt even Bartlett Crowe and Russell Edgington have bonded.”
“But they love each other,” Sookie observed.
“They do, but they also appreciate the practicalities of our world. They have a contract that pledges them for a hundred years. They can renew the contract, making the association they have mimic the longevity of a bond.”
“But our bond is so much more!” his wife exclaimed.
“I also feel that way about it,” Eric felt warmed by her affection, the unwavering acceptance of their tied fate that he felt from her in this moment, “But you understand why other vampires rarely bond with our own kind. We bond with humans…”
“Because it’s not permanent,” Sookie completed his thought.
“So, there you go,” Karin interrupted, “The 411 on vampire relationships. Thomas loves me. I love Thomas. Doesn’t mean we have to sit in each other’s back pocket the way you two do.” Karin’s eyes narrowed again, “Can you even have separate lives now, or are you really stuck with each other?”
“I consider myself pretty lucky to have your Maker in my life!” Sookie snapped.
“Well, then that’s a good thing!” Karin snapped back, “Because the only way you’re ever getting rid of him is through final death, right?”
Sookie plastered her Crazy Sookie smile on her face, and Karin looked triumphant. This was one of those moments his wife had described to him, the awkward moment when family was fighting and there was the need for a safe phrase. Eric looked at his wife and said, “Will someone pass the potatoes?” and Sookie glanced his way and burst into laughter, ending the feeling of tension.
“Will someone explain that?” Karin looked less amused.
“I will,” Eric nodded, gesturing toward the front door. He glanced at his wife who was wiping tears from her face. She had started her hormone injections today. He didn’t see much difference, but she had the faintest whiff of something astringent about her. “I need to discuss things with Karin. I’ll be back before I leave.”
Eric was headed to New Orleans tonight to personally review the findings of the investigation into reports of a local coven blackmailing vampires by removing glamour from those humans around them. While it was now a misdemeanor to use glamour, most vampires still did it. Glamour eased the small issues that inevitably arose between species. There would be consensual feeding that was viewed differently when the romance ended. There would be small injuries or things broken when vampire strength met human frailty. Of course, there were other, larger things that had been hidden as well. Eric would be gone a couple days, but he and Sookie agreed he would commute if he had to, using his travel coffin. Sookie was in her training week with Tamsin and they decided between injections and Fae magic lessons, it was better for Sookie to stay in Bon Temps. They would both carefully monitor their reactions and do what was needed if they detected a relapse in their bonding sickness.
When Karin and Eric were outside and the front door shut behind them, he asked, “How long do you intend to stay here in Area 5?”
“I like it here,” Karin shrugged. She had spent over a year here in the past. Eric had summoned her to watch over Sookie when he left for Oklahoma to be married to Freyda. “Indira and I have been getting along. Why? Do you have a job for me?” She looked bored, but Eric wasn’t fooled. His daughter longed for his acceptance, and that included being made a larger part of his life, not just the consort of one of his Sheriffs. Eric remembered Thalia’s words, recommending Karin be made his war chief.
Eric looked out into the darkness. Beyond the line of trees, his New Orleans Weres prowled the grounds, discouraging interlopers. Mustapha Khan, the Shreveport Packmaster, was interviewing those who would take the place of these guards. Indira was forwarding him a similar list of vampires who would take over night time duties. “I was wondering if you would watch over my wife for the nights I am not here,” Eric asked. It was a test.
“You would condemn me to that again?” she cried, her mental filter slipping, but unlike those times in the past when she would have followed such a statement with harsher words, Karin said, “I’m sorry. I should not have questioned such a small request. I will watch her with my life, if that is your wish.”
Eric turned to her, “Thank you,” he said simply. “I know she can be inappropriate. She means well. She wishes all creatures around her to be happy. She believes Thomas is your happiness. She also believes she threw away her own happiness through pride and she cares enough about you to not want you to make the same mistake.”
“How do you know?” Karin snipped, “Do you spend your evenings gossiping about me?”
“No,” Eric chuckled, “But believe me when I tell you this thing.” He looked back at the woods “It would not be for long. Soon, there will be a more formal guard protocol in place.”
“I spoke with Pam,” Karin said. Eric glanced at her, wondering where the comment had come from. Karin returned his gaze, “She says you need to hire someone to get control of this feeding frenzy the public has for news of you and your Queen. She says you will continue to be plagued by stalkers until you do.”
Eric nodded. He had come to the same conclusion himself. “How is your sister?” he asked.
“She’s met someone,” Karin smirked. “She won’t tell me who but I can tell she really likes this person. She simpers. You know how she hates it in others, but she’s worse than your wife.”
“I am pleased for her,” Eric nodded. It had been many years since Miriam, the woman Pam had loved, had died of cancer. Since Miriam’s death, Pam hadn’t been celibate. There had been many lovers, some of longer duration than others, but Karin was never fooled. If she said this relationship was ‘someone,’ it meant that Pam was more than interested.
“Please pass my greetings to her when you speak with her next,” Eric smiled. Karin knew the break between her Maker and Pam was manufactured. Pam was spying for Eric, gathering information about the unrest that was sweeping their world. The information came back through a circuitous route: Pam to Maude, Maude to Isaiah, Isaiah to Sandy Seacrest, Sandy to Eric. So far, the information had not suggested any conclusions, but Eric was convinced that some part of the unrest he saw had a common cause. “There is someone coming you have not seen in some time. He will be a guard during the evening hours. I expect he’ll be in the house often,” and Eric told Karin about Bubba.
“So, your Queen can shift appearances?” and Karin looked impressed. “I figured that was how the Fae managed to move among us as easily as they did. To see them in their natural state, no one would think they were just more attractive humans.”
“She alters her own appearance easily. She is less certain when she places her magic over others. It is easy to see that this could be a valuable skill. Practice will strengthen it. She knows what’s involved in keeping Bubba’s existence secret. She will be motivated.”
“I can’t believe you are training her the same way you trained me,” Karin was amused. “Are you going to stake her to a cliff using silver and leave her to figure out how to save herself from the sunrise?” Karin referred to a test Eric had set for her, a harsh test, and one Eric had given Karin many centuries before.
“Sookie is stubborn, but not as stubborn as you,” and he looked at his daughter, “and you were my first. I had only Appius to guide me in my role as your Maker. It was a lesson that might have been taught in a different way.”
“You taught me to be a superior vampire, like yourself,” Karin sniffed. “How many of us, the old ones, still exist? A handful in this country?” Karin’s eyes were proud, “I am what I am because of you. I do not regret one moment.”
“You make me proud in all things,” Eric answered her, using the accepted phrase for high praise. It was on the tip of his tongue to offer her the role as his chief, but he held back. He needed to explain his decision with Maxwell Lee first. He did not wish to alienate the vampire, although he hoped Lee would be relieved to have this part of his duties removed. Lee could fight, but it was not his first love, not like Karin.
Charles, his Were guard, pulled up the Corvette. It was time to go, and Eric still needed to take leave of his wife. “Take care, Karin,” Eric told her and pulled her close to kiss her forehead. Charles passed him, walking into the house to gather the bags that held the laptop and other small personal items and Eric followed him. Sookie awaited him in the kitchen.
“You will be well, Älskade,” he sighed as he brushed his lips against hers. “These days will fly by and I will return to disturb your sleep and whisper bad things into your dreams.”
“You better!” she playfully pushed against his chest, but then fisted his shirt and pulled. “Take care of yourself, and hurry back. Text me when you get there,” and she looked teary, her emotions bouncing.
Eric was surprised. Jane and Ludwig had said the hormone shots might make her more emotional, but this was only the end of the first day, “What is it?” he asked. “Have you seen something?” He didn’t think Sookie had been scrying for visions of their future, but if she was getting premonitions, it was something to consider.
“Oh, good grief, no! Nothing like that,” and his wife plastered a smile on her face, “I just didn’t think how seeing you leave would make me feel. Guess this is just some bonding sickness hangover.”
“Good!” and Eric tipped her chin, growling as he kissed her, “I would have you miss me, Lover! It will make my return more sweet,” and Eric Northman, King of Louisiana and Arkansas, turned and headed out the front door.
Thierry had not counted on Thalia showing up on his doorstep, announcing she was now his houseguest. She held a special place in this kingdom, and all others, a place that meant he couldn’t refuse her. It wasn’t that he didn’t want her in his home, it was that he had another guest scheduled to arrive.
Nabila and he had found ways to come together over the past year. When she had a conference, he would find an excuse to schedule a meeting nearby. When he had field inspections, she would find a contact she needed to speak with who was coincidentally located in the same place. They would meet for sex, sometimes for one night, sometimes for more, the time together all the more interesting for its expiration date. To date, he had never set foot in her palace in Charlotte, North Carolina, and this would have been the second time she joined him here, in his own home. Thierry found he had anticipated this visit with more enthusiasm than he would have thought possible.
She was beautiful, his sloe-eyed beauty, but more importantly, she was brilliant. He knew that it was her intelligence that drew him. He was based in a college town. He saw beautiful women every day, some more beautiful than Nabila, but Thierry knew the attraction of beauty faded. It was the lure of argument and debate that kept his senses whetted for more. He had yet to introduce a topic she couldn’t discuss with some authority. She would turn her eyes his way and tilt her head, her mouth would open and the thoughts would flow. They would talk politics and history, philosophy and musical theory. She disagreed with him quite often, but the way she framed her arguments would have him seriously re-examining his own. She challenged him, forcing him to improve his analysis and more fully form his opinion.
Thierry had long considered Thomas his intellectual equal. They were both widely read and spent probably too much time scanning other media to feed their interests. Nabila was the first female he found who seemed to share and perhaps even exceed his insatiable hunger for knowledge.
With a sigh, he signed into his phone, texting the Carolinas Queen his regrets. There was no response, but he hadn’t expected any.
Thalia had gone out earlier, bent on her own pursuits. Who knew why she did anything? Thierry glanced at the clock. He had cleared his calendar, canceled meetings. He was at loose ends, which was a dangerous place for him. Thierry knew enough about his own nature to know that boredom often led to bad decision-making on his part. He could head to the university, charm his way into a conversation at the student center. In appearance, he was little older than those attending. Then he grimaced.
The last time he had done that had been satisfying aside from the whining and moaning afterwards over whether the experience ‘made them gay.’ He saw several of the group on campus later, but he avoided them. There was nothing more boring than shame. If he were to hunt at the college again looking for relief from his disappointment, it would inevitably end in the same way. He would find he had a bedroom full of lovely men and women whose sweetness would be soured by their misplaced morality. He moved to the window, looking out at the night. There was nothing to see. His nearest neighbor was some distance away. This was no city like New Orleans. This was no city like New York. He checked his phone again. With a growl, he punched the number that called Thomas.
“Brother!” his friend answered.
“Asshole!” Thierry growled.
“I thought you’d be balls deep in royalty by now,” Thomas’ voice was light.
“I had to cancel. Thalia showed up.”
“Why don’t you fuck her instead?” Thomas laughed.
“Thalia?!” Thierry snorted, “She probably keeps swords up her twat. I’ll bet she could rip my junk off with that thing!”
“What an interesting idea.” Thomas laughed some more before adding, “I’d be willing to put money on that.”
“What? Bet on whether Thalia could rip my dick off with her cunt? Why don’t you come down here and find out for yourself!” Still, it had worked and Thierry laughed too, his bad mood lifted, “Thank you, Brother.”
“What are friends for?” Thomas asked agreeably.
“So what about your own equipment? Handed it to Karin for safe-keeping?” Thierry knew Karin was currently in Area 5, a whole state away from Thomas.
“My equipment is right here and fully functioning,” Thomas drawled. “Why not arrange a trip north? You can take a tour of your wind turbines and then head north to examine my lumber.”
“You hog the top when she’s not around,” Thierry sniffed and then said more seriously, “She has been in Area 5 for some time.”
“I had it in my head that she was there because of you,” Thomas replied, “But I figured out she was there because she wished it.” Thierry could hear the edge in his friend’s voice. He was missing his woman, but then again, he was crazy to have committed himself to her. Karin would never be able to return his devotion. She was a wild thing. It was not in her nature.
“When I ask her to do me a favor, I will tell you,” the French vampire said solemnly. “I may not understand your obsession with the talented Karin of Slaughter, but I respect our friendship.”
“Thank you.” It stood between them, this bond that was almost blood. “I don’t think she’s coming back.” Thomas’ words hung in silence and Thierry could feel his heart twist. He lifted his lips and found the words that were the only answer.
“You are a fool! You have been looking at trees for too long! Of course she wanders. It is her nature, but Karin’s path is your path. She will let her temper rule her. She will say the wrong thing to the wrong person and become damaged again, and it will be your number she will call. She belongs to you, and she resents it. You should have found a nice human, or even a Were. You could have glamoured them and had them telling you every day how handsome you are, how virile. Instead, you had to become involved with a complicated woman.”
“I wouldn’t need to glamour them to hear those things,” Thomas sniffed.
“Keep telling yourself that!” Thierry shrugged in response. “Of course, if you become tired of waiting for your prickly one to find danger, I could suggest a visit might be in order to Thalia. I could paint a most interesting picture, and then we could see if your wooing might help us resolve our question?”
“I have no interest in becoming a eunuch, even if it is temporary,” Thomas chuckled, “But I am touched by your concern.”
Thierry wished his brother was in Lafayette. Together, they would find something interesting to do, but Thomas was many miles away and building his own interests and capital. Maxwell Lee shared the Area spreadsheets and reports among all the Sheriffs on a regular basis. Thierry had watched Thomas’ success in lumber and land development with pride. His brother was stationed in a state that had never shown a great deal of promise, but Thomas was demonstrating that a vampire with imagination could find a way to make money. They spoke often about wind farm opportunities. Neither thought much of fracking, although the quick cash was a powerful lure. Lately, Thomas had started exploring the use of the state’s rivers for generating power. There were many that flowed swiftly through the kingdom. Were there lines to carry what would be produced, the potential was there to add to the power grid in a small, but noticeable way.
“I hear there will be presentations on energy production at Moshup,” Thomas offered. Thierry’s lip lifted. It was a rather ham-handed reference, and he called Thomas on it.
“If you are asking whether I intend to find a way to get to Boston to see my playmate, the answer is yes. I have no idea why Nabila added that topic to the agenda,” and then he stopped talking because Thomas was making rude noises over the phone. When his brother quieted, Thierry said, “What was that, Thomas? An attack of some sort? Perhaps you should call the local witch doctor.” He didn’t wait for Thomas’ reply before adding, “Since I am the energy czar in our kingdom, it stands to reason that our King would ask me to attend.”
“It’s possible Eric will simply ask you to prep him, and he’ll go himself.”
Thierry snorted, “Not possible! Our King enjoys my company. The rumor is that his Queen will be indisposed. He enjoys traveling with me and he has a reason to take me. Yes, I look forward to seeing Boston again.”
“You heard Misha will be there?” and Thomas’ tone turned serious.
“It’s his territory. Why wouldn’t he be there?” Thierry kept it light.
“You are still corresponding with him?” Thierry knew Thomas would never betray him, but he also knew his brother disapproved of the game he was playing.
“I do,” Thierry confirmed. “I tell him just enough to keep him coming back. I talk of business and those concerns we all have. I tell him I am too far from the King now to have information on Northman’s actions.”
“He believes that?” Thomas challenged.
“So far,” Thierry shrugged, “And if he doesn’t, he doesn’t say. He tells me how things are in his territory; how much I’m missed. He said something about the Adirondack territory again, something about sending newcomers that way and how lucky we were to have come into this territory when we did.”
“You think it means anything?”
“I’m not sure,” Thierry shook his head. “It was given in an offhand way, and then he changed the subject, so I’m filing it away. Oh, and there was something else.” When Thomas acknowledged he was listening, Thierry said, “He asked about Pam Ravenscroft, whether the break with Northman was real.”
“What did you tell him?” Thierry could hear Thomas’ concern.
“I recounted the scene they played out for us. I gave him the entire exchange and my initial skepticism, but how as time continues to stretch, I am becoming more convinced.”
“And he bought it?” Thierry turned it over again, the chat he had with Misha, every inflection, every word, and how it fell in the framework of what was said before and what was said afterward.
“I don’t know,” he answered truthfully, “But his request was more than curiosity. He has taken an interest in her.”
“For what purpose?” Thomas asked.
“I don’t know, but I will see them both in Boston. I’ll know better then.”
“Be careful, brother,” Thomas said. “You’ll get yourself killed. Misha is no fool.”
“Misha deserves to die!” Thierry hissed, “You know it! I will do anything necessary to make that happen. I have sworn this.”
Thomas sighed, “The world will be a colder place without you.”
“Stop slobbering, Doubting Thomas,” Thierry said with a laugh, “You know what a cautious fellow I am!”
Thierry terminated the call and headed back toward his closet. He looked at his computer. There was always work. With a growl, he headed to the door and from there to the university. Sure, they might whine, but for several glorious moments, he could lose himself in their willing flesh and young blood.
What he didn’t see was Thalia standing on the other side of his window, assessing the side of the conversation she had heard perfectly well.
“And you decided it was not a good time to stop by the shop?” It was the second time Eric had re-phrased his question, but Maxwell still appeared oblivious to his King’s growing frustration.
“Of course! There were only the complaints of those two vampires, and when you take their character into consideration, committing our resources would have been premature. Those two have been one step away from Assizes from the moment they arrived. I would be foolish to take anything they said at more than face value. They were just as likely making more excuses for not being able to pay their tithes.”
‘The type that would have plenty to hide,’ Eric thought, ‘what better targets?’ Eric took careful assessment of his expression and body positioning. It was good practice.
Eric had developed a grudging respect for Maxwell Lee. This vampire who was now Eric’s second was brilliant with a balance sheet and what’s more, he had formed a solid relationship with Emil Touissant, the New Orleans Packmaster. Both of these talents were assets to his kingdom. Pamela, his daughter, thought the world of Max and they were business partners in the Fangtasia franchise.
These were the only reasons Eric Northman hadn’t killed Maxwell Lee already. As his second in command, Max was failing miserably, and didn’t have the judgment to realize it.
Eric had arrived to find Max waiting for him. The vampire had a report assembled, complete with PowerPoint slides, detailing the number of reported blackmail incidents, the number of reported sources, which seemed to be tied to witches, and the probable lost revenue to the kingdom. He then went on to give an update on the slowing numbers of rogue vampires and declared success as a result of the actions taken in placing nesting areas under surveillance. He couldn’t see what Eric did; the blackmail was probably more widespread than they knew and the rogue vampires were still coming.
“The rumors you are collecting from other Areas, are they still suggesting New Orleans as the source of the problem?”
“Yes, Eric,” Max nodded. His eyes shone and he looked eager to relay his information, “It is our best lead. Of course, it is just a rumor for now. I wouldn’t move until I confirmed it,” and he rocked back on his heels, looking pleased with himself.
“And is there any particular name or coven associated with those rumors?” and Eric leaned forward.
“Oh, no,” Max puffed out his lips and shook his head, “No one place any more than any other.”
“What about your gut, Max?” Eric persisted. “If you were pushed to the wall, where would you start your interrogation?”
To Eric’s frustration, Max simply looked bewildered. “I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong,” he said quietly. “I wouldn’t want to send you on a wild goose chase.”
The Viking forced his lips to stretch up at the corners, “Good thinking,” he nodded. “A conservative approach has its place.” What he didn’t say was that this was not the place.
“Max,” Eric introduced just a hint that this was a favor being asked, “When I was in Area 5 I saw Karin. She’s at loose ends at the moment. I would like to bring her here and offer her something meaningful to do. We both know she can barely handle a computer, and I can’t very well ask her to head up any trade deals. I thought offering her the honorary title of War chief might appeal to her. Of course, I didn’t wish to go any further until I spoke with you…” and Eric left it.
“I think that is a marvelous idea!” Max smiled. “Talk about a deterrent. Things haven’t been the same since Thalia left,” and so it was settled.
As he swung out the door and down the corridor, Eric started cataloging who he knew in the city and who he could call upon to help him locate and shake down some witches.
He was almost to the elevator when Devrah, the housekeeper, approached him. Her daughter, Angel, was behind her.
Devrah and Angel were some of the only humans left in the palace. With protests growing outside and the pressures that could be brought to bear against them, Sookie had decided to replace the humans working inside the Palace with either Weres or vampires. Supernaturals were subject to supernatural laws. Supes understood the penalty for treason was death and because they accepted it, they inspired more trust. Any misgivings his wife had about making that decision had been eliminated when Meg, a human who had been a servant in the Palace, had turned up as a leader for the Silent Witness movement. This young woman was seen on television and at local rallies, stirring up hatred toward vampires. There were many who listened, but there were plenty who didn’t. This was New Orleans, the city of voodoo and all things mysterious. There were many who championed having vampires in the city, including most of the local business owners. People flocked here. The presence of so many vampires, including the most famous and handsome of them all, Eric Northman, made the Crescent City a tourist destination. Merchants made brisk business on the fang, and no amount of sour grapes on the part of a disgruntled employee was going to change that.
Eric wondered if he would keep their support were the story of the donors to come to light.
When Eric had taken over the Palace, there had been a donor pool in place. Like so many of these holdover institutions, the pool was populated by men and women who had been taken over the years. They were attractive, but had no skills. In the days of Queen Sophie-Ann, the pool would have been regularly culled and repopulated. Victor Madden had wiped out that earlier pool and replaced it with his own. Eric knew humans in the palace, including Meg, had witnessed all of it. Glamour had been used to make the humans forget.
Victor’s pool had created friction between himself and Sookie. Eric had recognized the liability the pool represented. He knew these individuals couldn’t be released into the city. Once found, they would have led others to the Palace and questions would have arisen. In fact, it was inevitable. Some of the donors were harmless, but many had developed into devious and dangerously manipulative beings, anxious to take whatever actions they thought would create best advantage.
Thinking he had Sookie’s support, Eric had eliminated the pool in one evening, ending that practice in his palace once and for all. It was a savage act, but no more savage than others he had performed over his long life. He had offered the Weres the peace of glamour. He had insisted on it for the humans, including Meg.
The threat that was posed by the witches in removing glamour was a real one. Eric felt it only a matter of time before his phone rang, the blackmail aimed at him. Now, seeing the distressed faces of his housekeeper and the one who would replace her, he wondered if that time had come. “How can I help you?” he kept his voice pleasantly neutral.
“If we could talk privately,” Devrah said, and she glanced at the little office off the hallway. Eric gestured and the two women preceded him. For the first time he felt fear radiating from the older woman as he closed the door behind them. It was unexpected. Eric sat down, hoping it could put the women more at ease.
“Please,” he gestured toward the other chairs. His housekeeper exchanged a look with her daughter, but neither moved.
“We received phone calls,” Devrah told him. “Well, I got a phone call, but someone walked up to Angel outside, on the sidewalk.”
“I was shopping for myself,” the younger woman said. “She stepped right in front of me. She knew who I was.”
Eric waited. He was careful to make no movements. He considered pouring himself a blood, but reconsidered, worried they might interpret that as his knowing too much. After a few more glances exchanged between them, Devrah said, “We trust you, and you’ve trusted us. I consider us part of this place, for all we’re human.”
Eric frowned at that. He hadn’t considered how the substitution of help would appear to the housekeeper. She was a part of this place, as had her mother been before her. The family association with vampires went back to the beginning of the Palace here in New Orleans, as long as Eric could remember and that was a long time, before there were even Kings and Queens and Clans. “I apologize if any of my actions have caused you to doubt your importance to me,” he told her. “I consider your service here to honor me. In many ways, this place is more yours than mine.”
He could tell his words had the desired effect, because Devrah sat down. “I think the world of you, Majesty,” she sighed, “You and Miss Sookie. You coming here after that Mr. Madden was like the answer to my prayers. Made me want to have my daughter here,” and she glanced up at Angel again. “That’s why I knew I had to tell you about this. The woman who called me was a witch. She told me she could help me retrieve my memories. She told me she knew I’d been glamoured over the years and that it was a terrible thing. She said she could help me, and that she’d pay me if I wanted.”
“Do you think you’ve been glamoured?” Eric asked, careful to keep his voice mild.
“Of course I do!” Devrah exclaimed, and then she laughed. “I live in a vampire household. I figure there’s things that have happened here that folks would pay good money in a movie theater to see, not that I hold much with that! I don’t need to get those memories back. You all treat me fine, and you respect my need to sleep nights. I have never awoken with pains or injuries I can’t explain. I have no reason not to trust you,” and then she gave Eric a knowing look, “And every reason to trust you! I see how you treat Miss Sookie. I see how she adores you. Bad people don’t treat each other that way, and I’ve seen my share of those types, too.”
Angel nodded, “What worried me was how knowing the woman was, as if she already knew things. We wanted to warn you.”
“Why didn’t you take this to Max?” Eric asked. His suspicions were quickly confirmed.
“We did,” Devrah nodded. “He told us he’d take it under advisement. I like Mr. Max. There’s no one that can make me laugh the way he can, but he’s in over his head and don’t know it.”
Eric nodded, “I agree with you. I will speak with Mr. Max. It is my intention that he remain my business manager and the primary contact here, but I will be bringing my daughter, Karin, to live here. She can take Miss Pam’s rooms on the top floor.”
“The Slaughterer?” Angel’s eyes were wide.
“She does have the reputation,” Devrah nodded, “Should send the right message.”
Eric glanced from one to the other before asking Angel, “Can you describe the woman who stopped you? Did you recognize her?”
“I think I did,” Angel nodded, “although I’m not really sure from where, maybe a long time ago. She was my height, white woman.” She glanced away, looking inward before she continued, “Brown eyes, brown curly hair. She had a way of talking, like you knew she’d come from the rich side of town.”
“And you think she was a witch?” Eric asked carefully.
“I’m sure she was,” Angel nodded. “It wasn’t just that she was dressing the part. When she touched me, there was a jolt, like energy. I’ve met witches here at the Palace. Sophie-Ann used them every once in awhile. You get to recognize their feel, if you know what I mean.”
“I do,” Eric nodded. His jaw clenched. If he was right, the woman who approached Angel was someone he knew, someone who should have known better. When the women left, Eric started a google search and in no time had the address of the magic emporium run by Amelia Broadway. “As good a place to start as any,” he growled. He checked his watch one more time. The night was still young, so he texted Charles and James to join him. Knowing how Weres felt about witches, he felt more confident bringing these two. What’s more, if she spelled them, he would have an easier time subduing Weres than another vampire.
“Where to, boss?” James asked as they headed to the door.
“Witch hunt,” Eric growled.
The Tri-Moon Emporium was located in the heart of the Quarter, but for all its location, it did not seem to draw traffic. Eric stood in the alleyway and watched tourists almost unconsciously cross the street before walking past it on the sidewalk. It could mean the place was warded with magic, and Eric was willing to bet that was the case, but what kind? It was strong enough to repel humans. “Can’t be good for business,” Eric chuckled darkly.
“What, Majesty?” Charles asked from his position beside and a little behind the vampire.
“The magic the witch uses seems to push her customers away rather than draw them in,” Eric jerked his chin in the direction of the shop in time for another couple to inexplicably decide to explore the dry cleaner across the street rather than the dusty display in the Moon’s window.
“She must be a terrible witch!” James said from his place on the sidewalk.
“She is,” Eric agreed. He remembered when this person had turned her boyfriend into a cat, then been unable to reverse the spell. He recalled other times the witch’s work had not been worthy, small things Sookie had shared with him, but it wasn’t those things that made him hate her.
Eric Northman hated Amelia Broadway because this woman had worked against him. She had actively discouraged Sookie from accepting their first marriage. She had fed every question and doubt Sookie had, encouraging her to put him aside and find another. When the opportunity presented itself, this woman had reappeared in Bon Temps like the bad penny she was and without a moment’s hesitation, broken the bond that existed between him and his wife. She had placed Sookie in terrible danger and then scoffed when he confronted her. In short, Eric Northman hated Amelia Broadway because her actions spoke so clearly of her hatred for him.
At his signal, the three of them crossed the street. Eric was prepared for the spell to hold him on the sidewalk, but it didn’t. He could feel the unpleasant sensation the humans must have felt, as if insects were crawling on his arms and legs, but he was able to push through that. James opened the door and the three of them entered the shop. Charles flipped the sign on the door to ‘Closed’ and James lowered the privacy curtains on the shop windows. Amelia was sitting behind the counter. She was older than Eric recalled, but it had been many years. Her brown hair was less curly and duller than before. Eric had heard that her father’s death had revealed him to be a pauper, the victim of bad investments and some subsequent scheme that had drained his accounts.
“Eric Fucking Northman!” she spat. Amelia got off her stool. She stared at him all defiance and bravado, but he had seen the fear when she saw James close the blinds. “To what do I owe this pleasure? And where’s your lovely bride? Keeping my friend shackled to the bed or is she too anemic to move?”
“Shut your pie-hole, bitch!” James snapped.
“It’s fine, James,” Eric smiled and he moved closer to the woman. She really was a terrible witch. A good witch would have silenced him by now, frozen him in place, or attempted to turn him into a mindless zombie. Instead, this stupid woman with her silly velvet dress and dangling earrings thought to control him through force of personality. It was a mistake.
“It has been many years, Miss Broadway,” he purred. “When was the last time we spoke? Before you severed my bond from my wife, wasn’t it?” Eric knew his eyes were flinty, but this stupid woman seemed unable to comprehend her danger.
“I don’t remember,” she snarled, “I don’t bother keeping track of those kinds of things. It’s not like it did any good anyway,” and she glanced again at the front door before bringing her hateful eyes back to his. “I gave Sookie her best chance and she just threw it out the window. How’d you convince her anyway? She always was a glutton for good sex and she told me you were the best,” and she lifted her eyebrows and curled her lip. It was all Eric could do to not lunge.
“Of course, she had plenty to compare you with, didn’t she?” Amelia must have seen the change in him and interpreted it as weakness, because she leaned forward. “You have to know that she shared everything with me, every attribute,” and the witch’s eyes flicked to his crotch, “every favored position. You think she’s such an angel, but you don’t know the half of it.”
“She was your friend,” Eric said in a voice which was little more than a growl.
“Before you really got your hooks in her? I guess. But she’s too good for me now. Can’t answer my phone calls. Can’t invite an old friend to drop by now that she’s living in a palace.”
“Is that what this is about? Revenge? Jealousy?” Eric asked. He could see that Charles had stationed himself in front of the street entrance and James had worked his way to the doorway that led to a back room.
“Of course, I’m not surprised, not really. For all her sweet smile and Boy Howdy attitude, she’s really nothing more than trailer trash, is she?” When Eric leaned forward, Amelia’s smile turned predatory. “You really think she has any more morals than an alley cat? Maybe she’s not the only one who’s deluded.”
Amelia leaned back against the counter, “How many times do you think she opened her legs when you weren’t around, Northman? You know she thought you were pathetic with your claims that she was your wife. Like you were ever around to make that happen!”
Eric could feel it, the cool flow through his body, the calm that came on the eve of battle. He felt himself relax, and she must have seen it and thought she had created doubt, because she smiled in a cruel way. “You knew about Compton. You know he came around pretty much all the time? A girl like Sookie never really forgets her first, you know? Hard not to go back for old time’s sake. And then there was John Quinn. I had a front row seat to that one. You know he used to howl like a cat when he came? Had me wishing the walls were thicker.”
Eric’s hands became loose, his eyes narrowed. ‘Words,’ he told himself, ‘nothing but words. If you kill her it will be messy and it will be difficult to find out who else is involved.’
“So, you are blackmailing us? My people?”
“A girl’s gotta eat,” she preened, then her eyes narrowed again, “Did she ever tell you the real story about Jackson and Alcide Herveaux? What did you think they did, staying together in that apartment? I can’t believe you didn’t smell him in her.”
Eric swallowed as a way to return his calm. He knew it was a lie, believed it was a lie. “Who else is involved in this? I know someone like you has help. No witch as pitiful as you could have figured this out on your own.”
“How dare you!” she lashed out. “Do you know that Octavia Fant declared me the most talented witch she ever met? Do you?!” Amelia’s eyes flashed and there was spit flying from her mouth. “I didn’t need help to figure this out! It came to me, and now, there’s no turning back.” Amelia gestured toward the door. There was a stack of brown padded envelopes stacked there. “That’s my latest mailing. I’ve been sending these all over the world. I can’t believe the number of requests. The money’s been sailing in,” and she smiled in a triumphant way, “Seems like I’m not the only one who hates vampires enough to make them eat dirt. And let me tell you, Northman, you are going to be squirming.”
“You think too much of yourself, Amelia,” Eric smiled. He had the information he needed. She was the serpent. If she was gone the danger would be contained.
“Big man!” she smirked. “So tell me, big man, how often does she make you bring a partner to bed? Those nights we spent with her Fairy kin were wild. What side does she make you take? The top or the….”
Eric was so angry he was quivering. His fangs descended and his nostrils flared, but Amelia didn’t seem to perceive her danger until his hand closed around her throat and he pulled her close. “You bitch!” he hissed. “She was always better than you! If there was any mistake my wife made it was in trying to be your friend.”
“Go ahead, Northman!” Amelia gasped. “It’s not going to stop what’s coming for you!”
With a twist of his wrist, her neck snapped. It was a distinct sound, like a branch. Her eyes which were so full of venom went wider as she realized what had happened. There was that look of panic when she realized she could no longer breathe, that her body would no longer obey her commands. The air escaped her in one, long exhale, and Eric held her before him, watching her eyes until death finally took her, closing the windows and leaving only flesh.
There was the chime of a bell and then the sound of struggle. James appeared from the back of the store with Meg in his hands. The girl took one look at Eric, Amelia’s lifeless body hanging from his grip, and she opened her mouth to scream. James put a hand over her mouth and held her still.
Eric dropped the witch and came close to Meg. He looked into her panicked eyes and said, “What do you know about this?”
James dropped his hand, but instead of responding as she had in past, Meg stammered, “You’re a killer! I’ve always known it. She helped me to figure it all out and now you’ve killed her for it!”
Eric pushed his will harder toward her, “You aren’t frightened of me,” he said steadily. “You were a member of my household.”
“Like that made any difference to Denny or Desiree or Pauline?” They were the names of people who had been donors in the Palace, people Eric had ordered killed. “I know where to find the proof, and once I take this to the authorities, people are going to believe what I have to say about vampires.”
Eric shook his head, “You can’t be glamoured.”
Meg’s eyes were full of tears. She glanced at Amelia’s body, “She fixed me so I will never lose my mind again,” she said and then half-sobbed, “She was my friend.”
“You were Sookie’s friend,” Eric said sadly, and stepped forward, delivering death for the second time.