Author’s Note: So happy to see so many of you enjoying this interlude in the lives of our heroes. I love hearing your comments and thoughts. I refer to the William Compton book and I want to thank Breathesgirl again. She wrote a draft of the first novel and I hope she decides to take up her William Compton persona to complete it some time. She has a rare touch with humor and I owe the reference to her. And special thanks to Ms Buffy for her editing skills and fine suggestions (not advice). I owe a great deal to both these ladies.
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.
There was a great deal of arguing over whether or not Sookie and Eric would drive up to the doors of the Belle Etoile and exit their limo, walk the red carpet, and make a celebrity entrance. Twy pushed hard for the grand entrance. Sookie rolled her eyes and told the woman that since they were already checked into the hotel, doing something like this was wasteful and silly. Eric tried to settle it by simply saying, ‘No,’ but Twy stood her ground with surprisingly fierce determination.
In all fairness, Twy was under a lot of pressure.
Twy’s first explanation was the movie producers who needed “A Viking’s Bond” to turn a profit. They descended on Twy, both in person and through the persons of their smartly-attired attorneys, on a regular basis. Twy knew they were counting on the feeding frenzy that seeing the stars of “A Viking’s Bond” standing alongside the original one-thousand-year-old Viking would create. The producers were convinced it would kick start advance ticket sales and they wanted it. Twy knew that if there was no splashy moment it would be an opportunity lost. Lost opportunities translated to money, money ‘someone’ would be missing. Twy was clear that the ‘someone’ would be the producers, and the one that would be paying would be Twy, and by extension, Fangtasia Ltd. through lost recommendations and damaged reputation.
Second in the newly-minted event planner’s head was the national news outlets that committed their top reporters and news crews to the evening. Some were staying for the full event, but most wanted the maximum impact with the least time commitment. Standing outside on a red carpet that was set up with other news crews, the adoring public available to provide color commentary within steps, and all the people they needed to speak with in one spot suited them best. If they had to have to chase down the interviews they needed to fill their sound bite, most would reconsider sending their crews at all. If the national news outlets pulled out, then the movie producers would be upset, and Twy could just rinse and repeat her ‘consideration one.‘
Third on Twy’s hit list was the Chief of Security for the hotel. If some part of the media circus could be kept outside and sent on their way without his having to worry about what and who they might demand to bring inside, his job would be easier. Thalia, the Louisiana King’s Second, told him in small words that she held him personally responsible for any security breaches while her King was in the hotel, and the Chief told Twy in similarly small words that Thalia scared the shit out of him. While he was not a vampire, he knew about Thalia. She was the kind of vampire that others used as a threat. The Chief had heard his peers say, “You better hope you never find yourself on the wrong side of Thalia,” or “So and so may think he/she is a warrior but (fill in the blank) is no Thalia.” As far as he was concerned, she lived up to every bit of her reputation and he had no intention of testing that further. If Twy couldn’t keep him satisfied, the story of her being unable to deliver would travel.
In the end, Twy appealed to Max and Pam for back up. With the importance of getting a solid launch for Fangtasia Ltd., Twy prevailed, and that was how Sookie and Eric found themselves sitting in the back of a long, black car, idling about a block away from the hotel, waiting on the text that would tell them it was time for them to arrive… again.
“This really is stupid,“ Sookie sighed, looking out the window at the walls of the building. There was nothing to see. Charles pulled through an alleyway so they would be pointed in the right direction and ready to go when they got word.
“If you’re bored, I could come up with something we could do to pass the time,” Eric sighed, looking out the other window. He didn’t bother keeping the smile from playing across his lips.
Sookie didn’t turn his way. She didn’t need to. “Don’t you ever get tired of doing that?” He was so naughty and she had a brief vision of the two of them, tousled and sated, spilling from the car door, and onto the red carpet in front of all those cameras.
Sookie jumped when he whisper-growled in her ear, “It doesn’t have to be exactly like that!” and he caught her earlobe between his teeth.
“Holy shit!” she jumped and slapped his thigh. “I hate it when you move like that!” but Sookie was so nervous she started to spontaneously giggle and she was afraid she couldn’t stop. Eric ghosted his fingers up the side of her stiffly boned bodice, and then dropped his head to drift cool lips over her breast.
“It wouldn’t take long,” he whispered into her skin, his fingers moving up to insert themselves between her and the fabric of the dress.
Sookie could feel herself heating and then she growled and firmly removed his fingers. “They had to just about duct tape me into this to make sure I don’t flip out by accident. Don’t you go messing all that up!” Eric lifted his head, the points of his fangs showing. Sookie felt the heat in her chest and between her legs kick up another notch. Suddenly the consequences didn’t seem so important, “You just make me want to do all kinds of bad things,” she told him, and then leaned forward to capture his lips.
Eric’s clever fingers were making another foray into her dress when Charles cleared his throat, “Sorry to interrupt. We just got the signal.” Sookie sprang back with a small sound. Eric removed his hands, but brought his fingers up to his nose and sniffed, his eyes smoldering. Sookie couldn’t believe the smirk he was giving her was anything but sexy.
Sookie swallowed and turned her head, catching a glimpse of herself in the window. A curl had escaped the careful upsweep of her hair and she took hold of it to tuck it back. “Don’t,” Eric covered her fingers with his own. “Nothing should be perfect. Leave it,” and he brought her hand to his mouth so he could kiss the palm of her hand, scraping it with his fangs.
Eric sat back then and laid her hand on his thigh. Sookie squeezed just a little and they both looked forward as the limo moved, taking them toward what they knew would be the start of a long evening.
As they pulled up the block to where the hotel was located, the car pulled over to the side of the road. “What now?” Sookie sighed. She could feel the weight of the people ahead. She was prepared and she felt her shields were strong, but there were still so many thoughts.
“It’s a thing,” Charles said over his shoulder. A person wearing a shirt with a logo walked up to the driver’s window and he spoke briefly with Charles. When the person walked away, Charles turned his head so he could tell them, “It’s all about who shows up first. The more important you are, the later you take the walk. Except the producers. They’re really the most important, but they go first so they can stand around and watch how it’s going.”
“So, how long will we be sitting here?” Sookie bit her lip. Eric didn’t look at her, but she could see his smile and she shoulder-butted him.
Charles glanced in the rearview mirror, “Seems you’re supposed to arrive right before the big stars, so it could be fifteen minutes, maybe more.”
“Fifteen minutes?” Eric whispered in her ear. Sookie felt her blush wash over her and she squeezed his hand harder to keep it from wandering. From the way Eric’s smile turned into a grin, she could tell that he knew, but he pulled his hand from hers and wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close so her head rested against him. He kissed her forehead gently, “Keep hold of my hand when we get there, Lover. Focus on the silence you hear from me. All will be well.”
“I love you,” Sookie whispered back.
“I know,” he replied.
When the signal was given, the limo turned into the road, and they drove slowly past the waving crowds to the far side of the hotel. This was so they would have to walk down a brightly lit pathway of literally red carpet that had been laid over the city sidewalk. The path was further defined by live plants in heavy clay pots. ‘Guess they prevent folks from escaping,’ Sookie thought. The front entrance was so successfully altered you would never know that on any other day people just drove up and stepped out. Charles stayed behind the wheel and it was Thalia herself who opened the car door. Eric unfolded himself first. There was a roar of noise as his head appeared. He paused for a minute and Sookie knew he was smiling and waving to the crowd. Then she saw his body turn, and he offered her his hand. The minute Sookie grasped it, she could feel the pressure in her head subside. She used the few seconds it took her to drop her feet to the street to center all her focus on the silence, and then she rose to her full height, plus heels, to stand beside him. She almost jumped when the roar started again. The limo pulled away, leaving them standing exposed at the end of the carpet walk. Sookie was aware of Thalia behind them and she felt absurdly grateful. Eric smiled and waved some more and Sookie plastered her Crazy Sookie smile on her face and did the same. Cameras flashed and there were people yelling and waving posters and t-shirts at them. Both sides of the road were lined with low, metal barriers and behind the barriers, faces and bodies appearing as if they were solid walls of humanity. Eric turned first one way, and then the other, pulling Sookie to angle her with him, her hand firmly grasped in his own. After what seemed like forever, but was probably only a minute or two, he brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, looking into her eyes, giving the public another image to capture. He turned then and walked toward the first person on the red walkway with a microphone, dragging Sookie along.
Sookie scouted down the carpet, looking for other people she might know ahead of her. She was pretty sure she saw Pam and Max. A reporter was run-walking forward to meet them. The light from a shoulder-held camera momentarily blinded Sookie and she squeezed Eric’s hand hard. He drew her within the circle of his arm, never flinching or stumbling. “We are very pleased to be here,” he told the reporter. “It’s a great night, and my fiancée and I are looking forward to seeing the first look at the movie.”
The microphone angled her way, “So, tell me Sookie,” the beautiful man mugged, “There’s a rumor that the lead character, Shanna, is based on you. Any truth to that?”
Sookie made the clench of her jaw relax and she heard herself saying, “Oh, who knows? There could be bits and pieces that may resemble some parts of my life, but you know how these things are! I wish my life was anywhere near that exciting.”
She could feel Eric’s approval, and then the microphone waved away, “And how about you, Eric? Are you the Viking of Viking’s Bond?”
Sookie looked up to see Eric give an uncharacteristically ‘aw shucks’ look as he said, “Well, maybe just the good parts!” The newscaster was thrilled and a woman Sookie hadn’t noticed before wearing a suit jacket with the Fangtasia label waved at them to move to the next microphone.
It was on the third microphone that they ran into Felipe de Castro. The newscaster for this channel was a vampire. She was working the angle that since this was a vampire book about vampires, there was a whole backstory that should be shared. Sookie had the impression that the newscaster purposely delayed Felipe so that a confrontation could be manufactured.
“And here he is, the actual Viking, Mr. Eric Northman!” and the cameras started to roll. “It’s not every day I get two kings in one place,” the newscaster purred, “and yet, here you are, united on the red carpet. I guess even rivals come together on a night like this,” and then she turned expectantly toward Felipe.
“What gave you the impression that Eric and I are anything but good friends,” Felipe laid on the charming accent. “It is true that Eric was once my employee,” he smiled pleasantly, “and now he is accorded the honorary title of King among vampires. What boss isn’t flattered when their employee succeeds as Eric has?” Felipe then slid his eyes over to Eric and laughed like they were best of friends.
Sookie was waiting for the inevitable bloodshed, but it didn’t seem to happen. Instead Angie, who was standing beside Felipe, smiled at her, “Hello, Sookie,” she drawled, “don’t you look lovely?”
Sookie smiled so hard the corners of her mouth hurt. She thought Angie looked like a skeleton with a dress hanging on it, but she didn’t think it would be polite to say that, so instead she said, “Nice to see you, too.” All she could see was Angie, dancing in her high heels on Eric’s coffee table in Shreveport, making long gouges in the beautiful wood. She knew her blood pressure was skyrocketing and she knew Eric could feel it. He looked at her, his smile plastered in place, but his eyes were worried.
“What most viewers don’t know is that Eric now oversees territory that was taken from you, isn’t that right?” the commentator said slyly, moving the microphone closer to Felipe. Thalia was starting to lean forward, and the commentator suddenly seemed to realize that the person that might end up on the short end of the stake was her as she rushed on to say, “but it sure looks like it’s bygones are bygones! Can we get a photo of the two of you together? Royalty on the red carpet?” and she gestured toward a backdrop a few yards away. Sookie could see she was expected to wait with Angie and she felt suddenly afraid. As Eric loosened her hand, the telepath felt the sound of so many minds starting to rush toward her, and then a hand was on her arm, and the quiet returned. She turned to see Bill Compton.
“I’m here,” he said softly, and she couldn’t help leaning slightly into his grasp.
Thalia was standing just behind Angie and near enough to the Kings that she could insert herself if needed. It put a little distance between Sookie and Eric. Another of the reporters spotted Bill and the telepath standing together and saw an opportunity. She rushed over to shove a microphone at the two of them. “And here we have the author himself and his heroine! Bill, you must be thrilled to see your imagination coming to life this way!”
Bill chuckled and was actually charming when he quipped, “You mean coming to unlife, right? I mean, I am a vampire!” The reporter laughed and everyone around them thought Bill was charming too.
“And what about you, Sookie?” the reporter asked. “How does it feel to have your life made into a real Hollywood movie?” Sookie wasn’t sure what she could reply that would be appropriate. What she wanted to say was the book was a lie, but she was pretty sure no one would think she was charming if she did.
Bill leaned forward and with a small shake of his head said, “Shanna was created from a number of people that I know. There are parts of her that are Sookie Stackhouse. Almost anything that is bright or pleasant or polite about Shanna came from Sookie. And, as you can see, the beautiful part was drawn from her as well.” He smiled at Sookie and she found herself genuinely smiling back. “Of course, there were plenty of parts that I drew from my imagination, in the same way that I drew parts of Troy from my imagination,” Then he looked directly at the camera as he raised Sookie’s hand to his lips, “but every part of the Southern Belle is Miss Stackhouse, and for that I am grateful.”
Cameras flashed and there were a couple other microphones pushed their way to get a piece of the perfect sound bite. Sookie found herself smiling at Bill some more, “Thanks, Bill,” she said and she meant it.
“What’s next, Bill?” the reporter pressed on. “What is the next bestseller we can expect from William Compton, vampire novelist?”
“Well, I am working on a new book,” Bill smiled broadly, “a crime drama…” As Bill talked Sookie found her gaze drifting back toward Eric. She could feel his anxiety although there was no outward sign. He looked every inch the well-dressed, confident businessman standing beside a competitor, not someone who had been under a death threat and staked his rival’s lieutenant.
The cameras drifted away for the moment and Bill touched her arm again. She looked at him quickly, her smile fast and nervous, before looking back toward the Kings. Bill followed her gaze, “You are so brave,” he said in a low voice.
Sookie felt oddly grateful that Bill was being supportive. Sookie was pretty sure that Felipe had something to do with what happened with Sam, and she had a sneaking suspicion that the Nevada King was tied into what happened with Lydia. He was an oily snake and having to stand here and make nice in what was already a tense situation was almost too much to bear. “I guess,” she mumbled. “I don’t feel brave. Mostly I feel grateful,” and she smiled up at Bill again, amazed that she and Eric were standing so close to the Narayana King and no one was dead. “If someone told me I’d be here doing this a year ago? I wouldn’t have believed it!”
“But, here we are,” Bill said quietly. He was looking at Sookie in a particular way and she had the impression it wasn’t just friendly, but then a couple more photographers came their way and asked them to pose together. Eric was posing for cameras with Angie and Max just a few yards away. Felipe was posing a little further away with Pam. It was that odd thing vampires do. Suddenly they all seemed to stop as if they were frozen and then all their heads swiveled in the same direction at the same time. Bill and Sookie followed suit. The Hollywood stars had arrived and the reporters were gravitating further down the carpet, although the commentators nearest them were staying put. ‘Let them come to us!’ Sookie caught briefly from someone’s head. It appeared that even among reporters there was a pecking order.
“How are things at the palace?” Bill was asking. Sookie glanced over at Eric again. He was leaning down toward a reporter and smiling in his charming way. Pam was standing nearby and they all seemed to be talking about vampires in the entertainment industry. Felipe was included in the conversation and in that moment, his eyes lifted and locked with her. She felt herself blush at being caught out and dropped her own eyes, but then she lifted her eyes back, taking his stare and returning her own.
“The palace is fine,” she answered Bill somewhat mechanically.
“Not like home, though,” Bill persisted. Sookie turned toward him, thoughts of Bon Temps running through her mind, the old house and the cemetery, lazy afternoons in the lawn chair and dressing for work.
“No, it’s not like home. I miss it,” she confided in him.
“A lot has changed,” Bill said more conversationally, and he took her hand from where it was resting on his forearm and linked it through his elbow. “You’ve probably heard I had a lot of work done to my house. I have a nice, wide front porch again, with chairs and hanging flowers. The upper gallery is finished and on quiet evenings you can hear all the sounds around you. Not like being in the city, where all you hear is cars.” Sookie drew a deep breath as she remembered the calm of Bon Temps nights. “And there has been a great deal of work done to rebuild your old home, Sookie. It’s quite the talk in town.”
Sookie knew there was a plan to start rebuilding, but no one told her that work started and no one discussed any plans with her. She found herself torn between being irritated and curious. Curiosity won. “What does it look like?” she asked.
“Your uncle, Dermot, seems to be in charge,” Bill volunteered. “I thought that might be what had you worried,” and he patted her hand. “The structure is very different from what was there. It’s bigger. In many ways it looks similar to mine. It’s more of a plantation house now. The shotgun overhang is gone. There is a porch that wraps all the way around three sides. It’s a wide porch and faces away from the south. They were thinking when they moved the foundation. The whole south face of the building is shaded by the front trees now, so you’ll be saved from the worst of the sun. The upper floor has a deep balcony too, so you should be able to enjoy sitting out in the evening.” Sookie smiled softly, imagining the house Bill described. “There are at least four bedrooms upstairs, Sookie. Why do you think that is?” Bill asked her.
Sookie almost said, ‘children,’ but she caught herself. “Well, I imagine I’ll want guests to keep me company if I’m staying there,” and she smiled too brightly.
Bill seemed to accept her explanation. “I miss knowing you are just across the way,” he told her. “The town seems a colder place.” He saw Sookie returned her attention to Eric. “Of course, everyone has missed you.” Sookie smiled back politely, so he pressed, “Really. Everyone mentions how things are not the same since you left. They are wondering if the house being built means you will return permanently and re-open Merlotte’s.”
“I don’t think I can,” Sookie stammered.
Bill looked over her head. He could see that Eric was now looking their way and he smiled automatically before saying, “It’s okay, sweetheart. I know. Don’t worry. I’ll think of something,” and then he unhooked her hand and squeezed it briefly before passing her to the Viking. “Eric,” he bowed deeply.
“Compton,” Eric said civilly. The Viking pulled Sookie to stand a little closer to him and farther from Bill, “They want pictures of all of us,” and he included Bill in his gaze, “with the movie people.” He looked closely at Sookie, “Are you well, Lover?”
“I’m fine, Eric,” Sookie said brightly. “Bill was filling me in on all the Bon Temps gossip. He was telling me about the house.”
“Yes,” Eric said quickly, “Niall has been busy.” Eric’s voice didn’t sound particularly happy and Sookie frowned, trying to figure out what that could mean. She glanced at Bill, and he was looking oddly at her too, but things were moving and Sookie promised herself she would think about it later. Over the next half hour she made conversation with the exceedingly vapid young woman who played Shanna in the movie. The actress was about ten years younger than Sookie, but insisted she was too old for all the good roles Hollywood had to offer. Felipe and Angie moved inside, and Sookie found she was relieved. They stood for photographs, chatted, answered questions, and Sookie found she was starting to enjoy herself when suddenly it was over and they were asked to join the others in the ballroom.
“If you’re that interested, why don’t you just head downstairs?” Isaiah drawled.
Russell glanced over from where he was sitting, the leather armchair aimed at the large, flat screen television. Bartlett was standing in front of him and a little to the left, his arms crossed. Both of them were watching the news coverage of the movie event downstairs. Maude was also watching, but more in fits and bursts as she paced the room. On the screen, Eric Northman and Felipe de Castro were glad handing with one of the commentators. The screen split to show two stock photographs of them. The one of Northman had been taken in Los Angeles. In it, he was smiling and looking well put together. The one of de Castro had also been taken in Los Angeles, but it was timed after he lost Louisiana. He looked angry and somewhat unstable. Maude turned her head just in time to see it and she snarled, “That bastard! He should be finally dead!”
Russell glanced at her, but Isaiah tutted, “Now Maudie, you have no proof De Castro had anything to do with what happened to Robert. Karin told you herself that everything pointed to the other one, Horst. Horst is dead and Lydia’s death is avenged.”
“I don’t care what anyone says!” the Minnesota monarch fumed, “My gut tells me that slick asshole was in it up to his bikini wax and no one can tell me different!”
Now Bartlett did turn toward her, “Don’t make me order you home,” he said softly. “He is Clan Chief of Narayana and here at the invitation of King Northman. He asked me for a meeting tomorrow night after the presentations to discuss the general unrest. I can’t have it said that the unrest starts within our Clan.”
Rasul straightened from where he was leaning near the mini-bar. He was still a new-comer to the group of rulers and tended to position himself near the perimeter when they were gathered like this. “I don’t know if you saw the protesters this evening, but there were a number of them. The police must have been paid well by those movie people. They weren’t gentle about moving those humans out of camera range.” He stepped forward to position himself near Russell’s chair, “I have them at home too. Nothing specific but there has to be some kind of organization. There are simply too many to ignore.”
Maude stopped staring at the screen and resumed her pacing. Isaiah chuckled and told her, “You are going to wear a road right into the rug, old girl.” When Maude snarled in his direction he added, “If you’re feeling rough I could always help you rub some edges off.”
That brought her up short, “Don’t even try to be funny with me, you slummicky backwoodsman! Leave it to a man to think that sex solves everything!”
Isaiah snorted, “What makes you think I was offering to butter your muffin? I just thought you might appreciate having some of those knots rubbed out of your attitude.”
Maude’s expression was pure poison, but Isaiah refused to drop his pleasant smile, and after a minute she did unwind a bit. “You are ridiculous!” she proclaimed, but everyone knew she was really talking about herself.
The television showed Bill Compton standing next to the actor who was playing Troy. They were comparing notes about the character. Bartlett smiled at Russell, “He looks good. It would appear his decision to return to Bon Temps agrees with him.”
“He does look well,” Russell agreed. “We should invite him to the suite to visit. He was a most agreeable houseguest. Always polite and he took a real interest in making sure things were locked up. I felt better knowing he was in the guesthouse.” While there were guards and servants who cycled through their lives, it had been many years since either of them had hosted semi-permanent guests at either of the residences. Bill clicked with both of them. He was an engaging conversationalist and didn’t push them in terms of favors. He seemed genuinely happy to be there, puttering around the estate, and there had been something about having a neutral ear that suited them both.
Bartlett turned, “Perhaps he could recommend another exile? I could use the extra help with the Ren Faire coming up.” The monarchs took an active interest in the Renaissance Faire that was held in Fishers, Indiana every year. Now they were major sponsors and Bartlett threw himself into overseeing many of the details. The Faire would be open one night this year. The lighting that made that possible came courtesy of the Kings. Bartlett was certain that if night hours were available the event would attract vampires. Granted, Elizabethan England remained a time when vampires were hunted, staked, or burned as unholy creatures, but the fervor to find them had slowed. Many lived almost open lives then, contributing to the poetry, music, and theater of the age. Walking through the mock village, and even better, dressing the part and remembering those times provided great enjoyment for the Kings.
“I wish I was able to provide more help to you,” Russell frowned. Bartlett sat on the arm of the chair, and wrapped his arms around Russell’s shoulders. The Mississippi monarch had suffered some financial reverses this year with a freak storm that had destroyed acres of fields near the coast and a suspicious fire that swept through one of the King’s food processing centers. The business of rebuilding, replanting, and shifting resources took every waking hour. The only fortunate aspect was the timing of the events. They were already planning on returning to Jackson when the disasters happened. The timing only accelerated their timetable by a few weeks. Things were well enough along now that Russell could manage what was needed from Fishers. He still needed to take some trips back, but they were short trips, minimizing the impact to their lives.
“You help me every day,” Russell assured him, and he welcomed his mate’s kiss. Eric Northman’s image was back on the television. The volume was turned down, but the vampires could still hear the Louisiana King’s brief comments about his upcoming wedding. When the Viking mentioned there would be a second ceremony in Louisiana with friends and family, Russell said, “He must be talking about her human half.”
Bartlett’s smile was knowing, “You have to hand it to her, that Sookie provides hours of entertainment.” Since the time the telepath had spent in their home and under their protection, the Kings had taken a lively interest in both her personally and her effect on the Viking. Eric had a reputation for being easy going among his friends. What the Kings had not anticipated was how well he was able to handle being the target of pranks. There was a photo circulating of the tall King in an apron cooking human food. The absurdity of it gave the Kings hours of entertainment. Most recently they received a photo of Eric Northman with a small human hanging from his leg. There was something about the North Man’s expression that was priceless. Bartlett had been promised a photo of the King when he first realized the marriage proposal that led to the pledging was from his Intended and not the Minnesota monarch. According to Pamela Ravenscroft it was another ‘Poke the Viking’ classic.
Rasul grinned, “What do you think they’ll have him doing in Hicksville? Hog calling? Banjo playing?”
Isaiah’s mouth quirked, “I seem to recall you spent some time living in that state, too, Rasul. You don’t look all that worse for wear.”
“Oh,” Rasul said with a superior tone, “but I chose to live in the Queen of Cities and not the upcountry backwoods.”
“There’s a lot to be said about living closer to nature as the Good Lord intended,” Isaiah said, his tone both friendly and pointed.
“That may be,” the Michigan monarch replied, “but that is before you consider the humans that litter the landscape. The bayous and swamp folk are bad enough. You get up where Sookie Stackhouse comes from and you are talking real, single-branch family trees.”
Isaiah smirked, “Explains why there are so many Weres, then.”
Maude swatted the Kentucky monarch on the shoulder, “You better not let our noble allies hear you spouting that kind of nonsense!”
Isaiah grinned, “Next you’ll be telling me I should be kinder about the Fae, old girl.”
“You better not be getting too fresh about them either,” Maude said archly, her good humor restored. Isaiah gave her a hard look and she returned it. They both knew Maude was referring to his attraction to the telepath. Isaiah made peace with the way fate was moving, but it didn’t mean he stopped admiring Sookie Stackhouse and Maude was enough of a bitch to poke him with it.
Bartlett was watching the two of them closely and decided it was time to change the subject. “Sandy Seacrest sends her regrets. Frankly, I don’t think she wants Rafe too close to Felipe. Stan arrives tomorrow.”
“As does the Ancient Pythoness herself,” Russell said with a sigh. “I have to say I did hope for a pledging, but I never thought it would turn out this way.”
“Phoebe made her excuses,” Maude shrugged. “Left me high and dry to do presentations all by myself rather than have to acknowledge a non-vampire as a Queen among us.”
Rasul frowned. “These are changing times,” he offered.
“They are,” Maude agreed, “and Iowa will get over it. Believe me, it’s not stopping her from taking Fae money. She is all about helping out her protégé on that new research facility in New Orleans.”
“Do you think it’s possible?” Bartlett asked.
“Niall does,” Maude confirmed.
Russell nodded, “Finn will arrive tonight from Nebraska. He is standing in for the Prince. The demon is already here and he is carrying Brigant’s sword. The Prince is making sure that all the protocols are followed.” He looked back at the screen. Northman, Sookie, and Compton were standing together with the Hollywood people, smiling and waving to the crowds. “It would change things. I have a number of mixed couples who would be willing to pay any amount of money to create a biological child of their own.”
“Course it only favors male vampire/female human couples,” Maude observed.
Isaiah looked sharply at her, “Why? Would you want to give it a try?”
Maude snorted, “Not likely. I had my children, and I buried them all, and their children after them. It was the most heartbreaking thing, even knowing that it was how things should be. It was tempting, the idea of turning them so I could keep them forever. In the end, I left. It was too much.”
Russell became thoughtful, “It would be almost guaranteed that a child made this way would be mortal.” He looked at the smiling faces on the television again. “The thought of losing a vampire child is unbearable, but at least there is a chance of forever. What they would try to do?” and he jerked his chin at the image on the screen. “Why put yourself through that?”
Rasul shrugged, “There would be a chance with her that any child would inherit Fae characteristics. I’m sure that’s what the Prince is counting on.”
“But what if it doesn’t?” Isaiah asked. No one had an answer.
The party was held in the largest ballroom of the hotel. There were local celebrities on hand and a contingent of Chicago luminaries joining their Indiana counterparts. There was dancing and a great deal of drinking. At one point, Sookie found herself dancing with the tall star who played Leif in the movie. He asked her in a slightly slurred way if she was interested in testing out the script in his room later. He talked mostly to her breasts, and Sookie giggled at the thought that anyone would find that kind of line the least bit attractive. Eric must have heard the remark because he broke in and leveled a growl at the star that made the man’s face turn white before sweeping Sookie away on the dance floor.
When they stopped, they were surrounded by well-wishers. Eric was pulled away into a conversation with one of the producers about using New Orleans as a possible shooting location and that’s when Felipe de Castro chose to approach. He bowed formally, and asked Sookie for the pleasure of the next dance. Eric stopped his conversation and Sookie took a deep breath. She thought about the number of people here. Thalia was watching from the perimeter of the room and she was hardly alone. She reminded herself that she was the one to ask the Nevada King, inviting him to the pledging, so she pulled up her big girl panties and did the polite thing. Sookie Stackhouse plastered a smile on her face, and said, “Why, thank you, Felipe, I’d be honored.”
It was a waltz and Felipe was a wonderful dancer. He allowed them to fall into the rhythm of the music before he said, “You look very well, Miss Stackhouse. Allow me to offer you my most sincere congratulations.”
Sookie replied, “Thank you very much,” through her clenched teeth.
Felipe could doubtless feel her tension, and he made sure he maintained a little distance between them as they circled. He smiled and changed to an even more friendly expression, “I hope you will believe me when I tell you that I am most sincere in my good wishes for you both. There was a time that I wished you in my retinue. Any King would be a fool to wish otherwise, although my interest lay more in your talents than in your excellent character.” Sookie smiled some more and nodded, not sure what to say. “I was also not happy with losing my hold of Louisiana and Arkansas.” Sookie tensed some more, but the King tutted, “The reason I tell you this is that I wish there to be truth between us. If I said I had no reaction to losing the kingdom, you would know that I was lying, and could not trust anything else I might offer.”
“I guess that’s true,” Sookie agreed.
“We have a common enemy,” Felipe said calmly. Sookie frowned. “We are all seeing the effects, although I suspect we have not yet seen the full extent of the game that is being played.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sookie replied.
“Your Intended knows,” Felipe assured her. “The protesters? The lost vampires? The unrest? It is all connected. I am certain of it. I need allies to fight this, and I wish to recruit your Viking.”
“Why should he believe you?” Sookie asked reasonably. “Why should any of us believe you?”
Felipe shrugged, “There is an old saying, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ Perhaps we will be enemies again in the future, but I believe if we don’t band together now we will not survive what is coming.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Sookie asked the Nevada King.
“Because your Viking will listen to you.” Felipe swirled her back toward Eric. “You are his Achilles heel, Miss Stackhouse, and his greatest strength. I admire that about you.” The King turned her one last time, and landing her almost directly beside Eric. He lifted her hand to his lips, bowed, and turned heel and left.
“What did he want?” Eric growled.
“To be friends,” Sookie told him.
After that, Felipe kept his distance, but it was hard not to see the favorable impression he was making. The Nevada King could be charming when he wished, and he seemed to be making a special effort. He approached Pam and made small talk. It looked painful and Sookie was happy. When she saw him again, he was laughing loudly, standing next to her brother. Jason was dressed beautifully in a black tux that Pam secured. Thierry drifted over to join them, and soon Sookie saw Pam joining too. There was something about the way Jason was talking that got Sookie suspicious. Her worst fears were realized when they all stopped talking and looked right at her. She couldn’t keep from blushing. It didn’t matter what stupid story he had pulled out, Sookie knew when she got her hands on Jason Stackhouse later, he would be a dead man.
It was many hours before Eric found himself sitting in the living room of their suite. Sookie was sleeping in the bedroom, sprawled across the bed, her bare, rounded bottom exposed. It was an attractive image and Eric was contemplating it as he sipped a bottle of Royalty. Their lovemaking had been unhurried and satisfying. Now that the foolishness of the film event was concluded, they could finally relax. Any last minute preparations were in the capable hands of Twy and the others. Guests would be greeted and settled on their behalf. He and Sookie would be expected to do some entertaining tomorrow evening following the presentations, and there was the presentation of pledging gifts. Then it would be swimming in the large bathtub, worshipping each other, and waking in time to be pledged.
Jason, Sookie’s brother, had enjoyed this evening. Eric saw him leaving with the actor who made a fool of himself with Sookie. His Sheriffs went with them, although whether that was to protect or abet was anyone’s guess. Eric was sure there would be some sort of formal complaint from somewhere before they left the city. He overheard something about a stag party and hoped they weren’t thinking about hunting outside the city limits.
There was a knock at the door. “Come in,Thalia,” he called. He asked his Second to join him. He told her it was to settle last minute arrangements. “Did Pam come with you?” he asked.
“No, she’s visiting her sister,” Thalia replied. The small vampire walked to the refrigerator and retrieved a bottle of blood. When she had finished heating and shaking it, she took a seat opposite the Viking. “I have known you a long time, North Man,” she started.
“Longer than anyone now existing,” Eric agreed. He wondered if she was asking to leave his service. Thalia showed no signs of becoming restless, but he knew that remaining in one place like this was tiresome for her.
Thalia sat back and fixed him with a direct stare, her eyes black and beady. “You are not yourself,” she said flatly.
Eric sat forward in the chair. He glanced at the door to the bedroom and acknowledged what he knew. “I am troubled,” Until he said it, he wasn’t sure what the feeling was that had been growing within him. This business of emotions was new. He had learned over hundreds of years to suppress them as a weakness. Appius taught him that they clouded judgement and eroded confidence. Emotions kept you from doing what you must, yet, here he was, violating on daily basis that training that had been administered to him in such a painful way. There was some part of him that shouted, ‘Fool!’ and there was another part that believed he was foolish.
Until now, the feelings he experienced had been confined to Sookie Stackhouse. It was improbable, but he had proven to himself beyond any doubt that he was in love with her. He would sacrifice himself, if necessary. Her existence was critical to his existence. He had come to accept it.
He turned to Thalia. “I do not remember the faces of my children,” he told her. “I know that I spent winters with them. We all lived together and the months of cold were long. I remember Aude,” he paused, her long face and dark hair coming to mind, “but the children I gave her…” He found he couldn’t meet her gaze, so instead he looked out the darkened window.
After a time, Thalia asked, “What makes you think of things long gone?”
“Stackhouse… Sookie’s brother. I have agreed to stand as godfather to his son. Sookie has explained it. It is much as we did in my day. If something were to happen to them, Jason and his woman, the child would come to live with us. We would stand as his parents.”
Thalia smirked, “Then I suppose I had better extend my vigilance to the Mistress’ brother.” When Eric didn’t say more, Thalia said, “But this isn’t about Jason Stackhouse’s son.”
Eric looked at her, “No. It is not about his son.”
“Tell me of your children,” Thalia prompted him, “Were they healthy?”
“Yes,” Eric told her. “They were healthy and well formed. Everyone said so.” He looked back out the window, “I don’t know what happened to them. When I was taken, did they go to my father? He would have made sure they had their place.” Eric glanced back, “Their mother was dead.”
Thalia nodded, “I remember. You buried her with the daughter that took her life. You were looking for a new wife when Appius found you.”
“They might have been given to my younger brother,” Eric sighed. “He had children. It is possible he treated them well, but he might have let them die so that his own would inherit.” He looked at Thalia again, his eyes dark and sorrowful, “I remember they were blond. But beyond that… I remember every moment of my vampire life. I remember the first instant I opened my eyes to Appius Livius Ocella. I remember the taste of dirt in my mouth. I remember every second, every instant of everything that followed. There is not one moment in this long life that I can’t see with perfect clarity. But those progeny that were part of me? Made of my body?” The Viking sipped his blood, then nodded, “You know Niall plans for us to create a child.”
“I have heard it,” Thalia confirmed.
“He is sure that it can be done,” Eric was not sure what to say so he said what he feared. “If we are successful, and something was to happen to this thing we made, I would remember it. It will be like my first moment as a vampire.” He sipped again and then glanced at the bedroom door, “and she will remember too.”
“Creating progeny is always a risk,” Thalia said evenly.
“But would it be my progeny?” he asked. “What would it be? Not of my body. Not of my blood. Manufactured from my tooth? Would such a creature truly be a child or would it be some experiment? I would not truly be its father by any definition I understand.” He glanced at the bedroom again, “but she would see it as our child. She would wish it to be given protection and she will lavish her affection on it.”
Eric looked up to see the fierce vampire watching him, her black eyes glowing. “You tell yourself that you could not feel for it as you did your human children?” she asked. Eric’s look told her that was what he thought. Thalia’s lips lifted in a rare smile, “You have a rare gift for deceiving yourself, Viking” she told him. “You will accept any child she carries within her body when the time comes. You are tied to her.”
“That is true,” Eric agreed. He looked directly at Thalia, “I would ask a favor of you, although I have no right to ask. If something happens to one of us, the other will die. I have accepted this. If we are successful in this thing that Niall would have of us, and it survives our fall, I want you to take it under your protection.”
Thalia hissed, “You ask much, Viking! What would I do with a child?”
“Protect it, as you protected me, once upon a time,” his voice pleaded. “Allow it to have a choice in its life. There is more. If it is taken by one such as Appius,” Eric looked into her eyes and she saw the ghost that never truly left him, “promise me you will end it. Don’t condemn any part of my Beloved to that.”
Thalia stood then. “You ask a great deal, North Man,” she growled, “But I promise you it will be as you say.”