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“I’d like to hear it again.” Charles had resumed his seat, letting Thalia know she was making headway.
Gritting her teeth, she repeated her words, “I apologize,” and then she waited, bent over, arms outstretched, the very image of supplication.
She stayed in that position for thirty seconds, but when Charles said nothing, Thalia glanced up to find the English King recording her with his phone. “Have you had your fun?” she growled.
“Yes, yes!” he chuckled. “Maude told me you’d do this, but I didn’t believe her. I can’t wait to send her the video!”
“You discussed my visit with Maude?” That took Thalia by surprise. She generally got along with the Minnesota Queen and Maude generally got along with the Viking. That Maude knew Charles well enough to discuss the comings and goings of their Courts was news.
“She has a good nose for plots,” Charles said by way of explanation, “and she makes me laugh.” Thalia bit back another growl as she imagined the two rulers laughing about her. Charles’ next words took the sting out of it. “She thinks the world of you. I suppose you owe her a gift. Maude’s really the only reason I agreed to let you pass back into my kingdom.”
Thalia took that as her sign and she straightened. “Sit,” Charles offered, gesturing to the seat beside him, and then surprised Thalia more by walking over to a tray and pouring them both goblets of blood. “It was terrible, what happened to the Viking’s people.” The King handed her the glass before resuming his own seat. “If you have a problem, you take it to the King. You don’t prey on his helpless ones. Maude says whoever did this timed it to kill the humans.”
“And a Were,” Thalia confirmed. She glanced at the blood, considering how much more she should share about the circumstances, but then she made up her mind. She’d come here for a purpose and holding back truths could cost her valuable time. “The woman who was killed in the attack wasn’t entirely human. She was part Fae. It was she and the Viking’s progeny that drew your Fae prisoner to England.”
“The Fae prisoner you freed,” Charles shrugged.
Thalia couldn’t hide her surprise. “Freed?” she asked. “I never met him! Edward Madden rounded him up that night. I was too busy taking young Rick and his mate to the airport.”
“Well, if you didn’t engineer his escape, why did you apologize?” Charles asked.
A smile played at the edges of Thalia’s mouth. “Why wouldn’t I? A King asked and I’ve committed enough transgressions to merit any number of apologies. This isn’t the first time I’ve come into your kingdom without permission. On my last visit I left you a body to clean up, and I’ve harassed your Second. It seemed enough, but as to the Fae, no. I didn’t interfere with your gift.” The wheels in Thalia’s brain started whirling, “When did he go missing?”
“Almost three weeks ago,” Charles replied. “He was quite delectable. Not truly Fae, of course, but the essence? It was like wine across the tongue.”
“Yes,” Thalia snapped, “Fae are tasty. Who told you I freed him? Madden?”
The King’s gaze focused, “As a matter of fact, Edward had quite the story about how you conspired with the Fae to free their kinsman.”
“Which I can see you don’t believe,” and Thalia realized it wasn’t just Maude’s good word that brought her before Charles. “When did you realize Edward was playing you?”
“So inconvenient!” Charles sighed. “Finding a Second is never easy. It can take years, decades, to find the right one. It took a long time to trust Edward. There was always something just a tad too pleasant about the man.” Charles was staring directly at her and Thalia stared back. “But you knew that.”
“He’s been using his position in your Court for his financial advantage for some time,” Thalia agreed. “I brought proof with me; bank accounts, contacts, though I suspect you already know about them.”
Charles waved away Thalia’s words. “He’s become a wealthy man working for me, but that’s not what bothers me. Making wealth attracts more looking to do the same. What I don’t like is that he’s used my name to shield his scheming.” Charles sipped, then set the goblet down. “The research he was funding on the continent, dhampirs. I wonder who was paying for that?”
“I’d guess it was your Fae prisoner,” Thalia replied.
“Yes,” Charles nodded, “I agree. I don’t know if that arrangement was made before or after the Fae was brought to me, but I do know it was the Fae who funded Edward putting together his network of researchers.”
“So, the information that was gathered was for the Fae?” Thalia thought of the silent house in Rhode Island and the stack of photographs left behind.
“Yes,” Charles told her, “and no. You see, dear Edward sent information to two addresses. One was in New York, Crane Industries. I’m told it’s one of the Fae’s shell companies. The other was to an old friend of ours.” When Thalia didn’t guess, Charles told her, “Russell Edgington.”
“You’re sure?” Thalia asked. “Russell himself?”
“Unless he has people intercepting his emails,” and Charles shrugged again. “Of course, it wasn’t his secure line, but you know how careful we Kings are about handing out those codes. If it were me and another King’s Second offered me information, I’d have given him the email address Edward used.”
It was now obvious to Thalia that Charles had taken Edward Madden prisoner. For a brief instant, Thalia wondered if she’d ever see the Second’s face again. There had been moments she’d almost liked him, but she cut off those memories to focus on the matter at hand. “You know Russell. Do you believe he’d cooperate with the Fae?”
“Cooperate?” and Charles laughed. “Not the Russell I knew, but it’s been…what? Two hundred years since we moved in the same circles?” The mask the King wore seemed to slip a bit, showing the weight of his age. “In our lives two hundred years doesn’t seem much, but I’ve learned that even in so short a time, much can happen to change a man.”
“Or a woman,” Thalia nodded. “It occurs to me that there are few of us left, the truly old.”
Charles nodded. “There’s the Viking, you, me…Russell, of course.”
“Eleanor in Spain,” Thalia added.
“May there ever be Eleanor in Spain!” Charles laughed and they both saluted the once famous Eleanor of Aquitaine, who now ruled vampires as she’d once ruled humans, with an iron fist and sharp tongue. “And, of course, the Old Girl!”
“To the Pythoness!” and Thalia raised her goblet again.
“Has she made any noises about this?” Charles asked.
“About the killings?” and when Charles nodded, Thalia replied, “No. Nothing.”
“That’s because there were no vampires involved,” and Charles seemed to think that explained things. Thalia agreed. Over her long life, Thalia had interacted with the Seeress many times. The Pythoness was famously snobbish. Normally, she wouldn’t consider these deaths important enough to take notice, but Thalia wondered if Charles’ information would change that. Russell Edgington was receiving information about dhampirs, the same information provided to the Fae. Dhampirs were vampires. If Thalia could find a connection between the emails and the attack, the Viking would be within his rights to sue. When rulers sued each other there was only one vampire who could sit in judgment and that was the Ancient Pythoness.
“I thank you,” Thalia said, rising. “Now, I must return to the Americas.” She was almost out the door when she found herself unable to resist. “Does he still live?” she asked.
“For now,” Charles answered. “Is there something you would have me tell him?”
Thalia thought of Edward Madden and his brother Victor. They had been part of the large number of vampires made during Elizabeth Tudor’s time. Thalia remembered how she’d first met them. They were young and wealthy, the sons of a famous family. They’d pursued this vampire life, openly flaunting their fangs, a part of that brilliant group of scholars, wits and adventurers whose names were still mentioned. Over the years, their numbers had dwindled. Now, another of that group would be finally dead and Thalia felt as though with Edward she was witnessing the passing of an era.
“Tell him I will remember him.” It was the kindest compliment any vampire could give and with a final bow, Thalia turned and walked through the door.
“I appreciate you helping us,” Heidi told Bernard. “I just…well I just want you to know I understand the risk you’re taking. I don’t think Russell would…”
“Now, don’t think anything of it!” the vampire assured her. “This is love we’re talking about!” He batted his eyelashes and sighed. “When you first arrived, I just knew you had a secret. I never believed you’d abandon the Viking just to escape the clutches of Pam Ravenscroft!”
“I never said I was in danger from Pam!” Heidi scolded. She’d said it before, but Bernard seemed determined to paint Pam as some sort of villain. “Pam thought I was working for Russell. They all thought I was helping bring the glamoured humans into Area Five.”
“Russell is the crafty one,” Bernard sighed. “He and Betty Jo are capable of any kind of mischief!”
Heidi slowed, “But, you stay here.”
Bernard’s smile turned to a simper, “Well, of course! Russell lets me do as I please! He has interesting guests and there’s always a party. What’s a girl to do? Like the butterfly I am, I flutter around the light he provides.”
“You’re sure you want to do this?” Heidi asked again. “If you like it here, I don’t want to bring you trouble.”
“Oh, please!” and Bernard minced forward to hug her. “It’s not as if your Hunter is a spy! This isn’t betrayal! It’s helping young lovers reunite! What’s more charming than that?”
Heidi repeated her story again, “No, Hunter’s no spy, but he is related to Northman and his Queen.” Heidi didn’t add that Hunter was a telepath, although she had a suspicion Bernard already knew.
“Pish posh!” Bernard tittered, then ended the conversation by sprinting ahead, forcing Heidi to run after him.
“He’s human!” Bernard called over his shoulder. “Everyone knows how easily they fall into thrall. Just make sure your blood’s in him and he acts like the perfect pet and no one’s going to question it.” They reached the parking area and Bernard threw her the keys to his Cadillac. “Who knows? Russell may even reward you for bringing someone with that kind of connection under your sway.”
“I’m not handing him over!” Heidi exclaimed. “Russell can’t know he’s here! I’m sending him right back over the border the minute I find him.”
“Greedy!” Bernard teased, and lightly kissed her cheek. “I have a dollar that says he won’t go! You know, you might consider sharing your toy with the vampire who’s made it possible for you to live here, but I’m sure there’s some other way you can repay me.”
Alarm bells were sounding in Heidi’s head, but the car was running and she was sure Hunter would be close to the state line by now. Lifting her chin, Heidi told Bernard, “I always repay my debts. My skills as a huntress are unparalleled. You should consider them at your disposal…” and she bowed, but she made sure she gave him a hard look as she got into the car. ‘I’m capable of hunting you down and killing you if you betray me,’ she thought. She was sure Bernard got the message. It was in the slight tremor in his smile.
Bernard seemed to think this was all a game, but Heidi was under no illusion. ‘I’m coming,’ Hunter texted her. ‘Let me know where to meet you or I’ll just wander around until I find you.’
As she pulled out onto the highway, Heidi swore, “Asshole! Jerk!” but she meant none of those words. She couldn’t say she loved Hunter Savoy as deeply as he apparently loved her, but his devotion touched her.
When she’d received the text earlier, she’d been frantic to get a message to Hunter, warning him off, but her lover refused to answer. Bernard had come to know her well enough to ask what was wrong and Heidi trusted him enough to tell him about Hunter’s plan.
Bernard knew who she was and where she came from. Everyone here in Mississippi did. When she first arrived, her every step was dogged. She’d expected it, but eventually things relaxed. It was how she and Bernard became friends. ‘Don’t you know? I was assigned to be your watcher!’ he’d crowed. ‘Betty Jo trusts me and I’ve vouched for you.’ It made no sense until Bernard told her his story.
‘Years and years ago, we hosted Lorena here. Believe me, it wasn’t a social visit! That bitch was here to teach her progeny a lesson. You’re lucky you weren’t here then. What a whiner! Cry, cry, scream, scream. I would have staked him for being such a baby. Anyway, who comes calling but the Viking and his future Queen. She was the whiner’s toy then, or so she said.’ Bernard fanned himself as he described his first encounter with Eric Northman. ‘Leif, he was calling himself. And hot? I’m sure he had something to say for himself, but to this day all I can remember is how he filled out those pants!’ The story was an old one. Bernard offered ‘a place in his coffin’ and Eric used the opportunity to steal the keys to Bernard’s 1980’s Cadillac. Sookie managed to get Bill Compton into the huge trunk and the rest was history.
“Didn’t you get in trouble?” Heidi asked Bernard.
“Nothing I couldn’t lick myself out of!” her friend teased, punctuating his statement with a suggestive gesture. “Anyway, let’s just say the Viking’s longboat was worth a little close questioning!”
To this day, Bernard contended that sex with the Viking was a highpoint in his un-life. Remembering the way her friend rolled his eyes and sighed, Heidi found herself smiling. It wasn’t anything she hadn’t heard before. Before he’d mated with Sookie Stackhouse, Eric Northman’s sexploits were legend and for some reason, Heidi found herself remembering the last time she’d made love with Hunter. She knew his telepathy didn’t extend to vampires, but he sure knew what she needed. She hadn’t had to ask. He’d known just how much pain to inflict to send her over the edge. She hadn’t always been so complicated. There’s been a time when plain sex was enough.
Her darker edge emerged after Felipe de Castro entered her life and the life of her son. Her turning was unexpected, an accident. De Castro stepped in, acting the part of rescuer. Then, her gift emerged. She’d been foolish enough to mention it to the King. She understood now that what De Castro had done was wrong. She should have had control over selling her skills. She should have had a contract. Instead, Felipe de Castro grabbed her son, using her child as leverage, forcing her to take whatever jobs he required. She’d tracked Fae, Weres, and even the Viking. When she thought about the night Sofie-Ann died and the part she’d played in it, Heidi still felt shame. She’d repaid her debt to Eric Northman a hundred times over, but it still haunted her. It was one of the many reasons Heidi orgasmed only when there was some element of punishment in the act.
She knew Hunter was fighting his own demons. It was common knowledge in Area 5 that he goaded his partners into taking his blood. He’d come close to being drained at least once and had he not been Sookie Stackhouse’s nephew, Heidi was certain Hunter would have already found his grave. With his risky behavior, most vampires wouldn’t consider him for turning since rash humans made for destructive vampires. Now, Hunter was proving all his detractors right by heading here.
It wasn’t as though she’d encouraged him…well, not much anyway. He’d found a way, setting up a dummy account under the name of Leif Erickson, so she’d know it was him. ‘I miss U.’ That had been the first message. She’d ignored it. ‘I’m thinking of you,’ the second read. Sometimes there were several messages in a single night. Sometimes there were messages spaced over the course of a few nights. She hadn’t responded, but that didn’t mean she didn’t open her phone, reading and re-reading each one. Then, two weeks ago there was no message. She found herself checking, anticipating, but night after night passed. Finally, she couldn’t stand it. Just before going to her rest, she texted, ‘I miss you, too.’
Once she’d broken her silence, she found she couldn’t stop. He texted. She answered. Short messages after which she’d power down her phone, hoping she wouldn’t be caught. She knew he’d flown to Iowa. She wasn’t sure what he was doing for Phoebe Golden, but she was sure he was being paid well for it. He was adapting, making a life for himself, and missing her. It shouldn’t have given her satisfaction, but it did.
Then came the news about the attack in Louisiana. Heidi waited, dreading, hoping against hope that Hunter hadn’t been caught up in the carnage. She knew he was in Shreveport visiting his relatives. She kept imagining him, broken and bloody. Heidi found herself so anxious, she kept her phone on, texting and texting until finally he answered. When she saw the bubble, and then the words, Heidi felt as though a great weight lifted from her. She laughed her relief aloud before realizing the risk she’d run by keeping her phone active.
Russell’s Court was abuzz with the news. The King, Betty Jo, and his guards were north, enjoying a spa he owned. The timing of the trip made rumors inevitable. “Do you think he finally did it?” was the question whispered around every corner. The vassals in the Palace were split fifty-fifty. It wasn’t a question of whether the Mississippi King hated the Viking enough, it was more a question of whether Russell Edgington had the balls to make it happen.
It was also the question Heidi had to answer for Stan Davis, King of Texas. Her latest burner phone lit up, demanding she report all she knew. It was ironic. The vampires in Mississippi suspected her of being a spy and they were right, just wrong about which King.
It took several nights to report all she heard. Heidi found herself reading and re-reading the report, making sure she kept herself to facts and not opinion. The facts pointed toward it being nothing more than unfortunate timing. She’d done everything she could to get close to those in Russell’s inner circle, but she still wasn’t trusted. Bernard was the exception. He was positively chatty, but Heidi knew better than to take everything the flirty vampire said as gospel. Bernard was a font of rumor, innuendo, and catty snarkiness. He jumped from coffin to coffin, forming unexpected liaisons, and that meant Heidi couldn’t ignore what he shared, either.
‘’I’ll grant you; he’ll dither and delay with the best of them,” Bernard whispered to her following the attack, “but once Russell Edgington makes up his mind, he can move with lightning speed. Believe me! I’ve seen it! One minute, he’s sleepy and slow, and the next…” and Bernard had poked her at vampire speed to illustrate his point, “He strikes! Just like a snake!”
Russell returned from his trip. He seemed indifferent to the events, asking questions as though he had little to no interest in what happened just miles across his border. “It was inevitable,” he was heard saying. “Stray from our way and fate takes care of the rest. His people got what they deserve and mark my words, the Viking and his child bride will be next.”
Heidi found herself slipping into downtime more often. She relived the days following news of her son’s death. She remembered the helplessness she felt, knowing she couldn’t save him. She wondered how Eric was doing. She thought of Rick Northman. She’d been gone by the time Brigid came to Bon Temps, but she knew Rick. She remembered how passionate he’d been when she’d helped him track down his Mother. He was a good son and embodied the best of both his parents. She could imagine the pain he was feeling now, his mate taken from him in such a senseless way.
Heidi slowed. She was nearing the exit. Hunter would be nearby if he’d waited as she’d asked. The commuter lot was just off the highway and she pulled in. She figured if he was here already, he’d spot her. Bernard called it his Eldorado, but to Heidi, the white car she was driving was a boat. She turned off the engine before Heidi opened the door and got out. She barely needed to look. He was there, standing on the edge of the woods, and then he was moving toward her.
“You’ve changed,” she whispered. She hadn’t realized she’d rushed to meet him, but she must have. His arms closed around her and Heidi laid her head against his chest.
“I’m home,” he said, the sound of his voice distracting her from the thrum of his blood rushing through his veins.
She stayed still one last minute, pretending this could last, but when he started kissing her hair, she knew she had to be the grown-up. “You need to turn around and go back,” she told him. “You know the deal. I can’t go back, not now.”
“No one thinks you were a spy,” Hunter told her. “You didn’t have to leave!”
“It doesn’t matter what people think now,” Heidi told him. “I’m damaged goods. I’m getting paid to be here. It doesn’t matter who’s paying. I have a contract and I have to stay.”
“Why?” His eyes showed his hurt and Heidi wondered at the pull she felt.
“It doesn’t matter,” she told him. “What matters is you can’t stay here. You have a contract, too.”
“Fuck my contract!” Hunter swore. He took her hand and pulled it to lie flat against his chest. “This is what matters, you and me! You think we have all the time in the world? You know what happened! My cousin’s heart is never going to be the same. You think I could survive that, knowing you were gone?” He grabbed her hair, pulling her head back, and she let him. “I’m not leaving you again!”
“You will,” she whispered, but then he was kissing her, and it felt too wonderful to stop.
Finally, he lifted his mouth from hers. “You have to go back,” she said again. She tried to capture his eyes. Glamour seemed a nasty trick, but it was the only thing she could think of doing.
“Don’t!” he hissed, and he bit her lip hard enough to break the skin, taking her blood into him. Heidi felt it bloom within this man. “Drink from me!” he demanded. “Let me feel you!” He pulled his shirt apart, sending buttons flying. “Heidi, do it!”
And she did. She struck high on his chest, over his heart. She lapped as he stroked her head, praising her. “I love you,” he murmured. She didn’t doubt it, but she’d begun to doubt herself. Her head said one thing, but her fingers were pulling at his clothes and he was pulling at hers. They ended up with her sprawled over the hood of Bernard’s car, her hands captured behind her back with his belt. “You aren’t sending me back,” he told her, punctuating his words with the flat of his hand.
“I don’t want to lose you,” Heidi confessed.
“If you do the right thing, you never will,” Hunter growled.
“You don’t know what you’re asking,” Heidi gasped.
He tugged at the belt constraining her hands, causing her shoulders to burn. It made her pussy clench and they both sighed. He leaned over her, nipping the shell of her ear. “Oh, but I do, Heidi. Maybe not tonight, maybe not tomorrow, but if I’m your child, who can take me from you?”
“It’s not that simple,” she sighed, wishing he understood. This dynamic would change. She could make him do the things he was doing now, but it wouldn’t be because he wished it. There would be some element of command and Heidi worried she wouldn’t find life with Hunter so exciting if she knew he was dancing to a tune he couldn’t deny. “I’ve never made a vampire child,” she said. She knew that didn’t explain it, but she wasn’t sure she had the courage to tell the truth.
“There’s always a first,” he replied, freeing her hands and rubbing her shoulders. “Why? Would you want me to be someone else’s child?”
“No!” The words sprang out before she could think. He spun her around, lifting her up on the car and pushing her legs apart.
“You think too much,” he scolded. “Let your instincts tell you what’s best for both of us,” and he inserted fingers, twisting and tapping, using a rhythm that brought her to the brink. “Cum for me!” he commanded, and she did. She came undone, writhing, calling out to him, and he held her down, manipulating her until one orgasm washed into the next.
She was shuddering by the time he released her. “See? You needed that,” he crooned, leaning over to kiss her belly, and then offering his fingers to her. “Taste what I do to you,” he said, using that voice that always made her shiver. She did as he asked and he smiled. “We belong together, Heidi.”
“If I take you back, you’ll be in danger,” she told him.
“Give me enough of your blood and no one’s going to question my place with you,” Hunter countered.
“And what if I’m asked to share you?” Heidi was thinking of Bernard. Even though he knew how she felt, the sneaky vampire could still ask in some public way that would make turning him down uncomfortable.
“Just say I’m your pet,” Hunter grinned. “And once you turn me…”
“You know I won’t be free to do that,” Heidi cautioned him. “I’d need to petition Russell and frankly, I don’t need him knowing you’re here. You think after what happened to Sookie he’d risk losing your telepathy?” Heidi threw her hands up. “This is ridiculous! This is not going to work!”
“You of little faith!” Hunter chided, leaning over to kiss her nose. “Take me back. We’ll share a coffin tonight and tomorrow we’ll figure it out, but I’m not going back to Louisiana without you!”
‘We’ll see,’ Heidi thought, but she held her tongue.
‘And by tomorrow night, it won’t matter anyway,’ Hunter thought, making sure his belt was fastened before he climbed into Bernard’s car to start his journey toward Jackson.
“He’s moving again.” Until a moment ago, they’d been sitting like statues for hours, just staring out the front window.
‘Downtime.’ Rick recognized it. There’d been that tough year after his Mom was turned when she’d spent more and more time, drifting. He remembered how he’d snapped at her and she’d gotten better. It didn’t bother him so much anymore, seeing vampires do it.
Karin started the car. “You ready for this?” she asked.
“We’re still the only vampires anywhere near us, if that’s what you’re asking,” Rick answered.
“He’ll be fine,” Rasul smirked.
Karin didn’t look convinced. “Look, Baby Fang, this is for Peter and Brigid. If you go get yourself killed there’s no point to any of it.” Rick shrugged. It didn’t matter, but then Karin’s face was close really fast and it startled him into jumping back into his seat. “I mean it, Breather! This is not a suicide mission! This is retribution, so if you’re not on board, I’m leaving you here!”
“I heard you!” Rick exclaimed. “Jeez, Karin!”
“Just stay in back of me.” Rasul acted like this was just another night of training. “Don’t follow Karin. She’s crazy! Keep your hand on your sword and watch my back. I’ll take care of you.”
“You’re not getting killed on my watch!” Karin repeated, and then she was back over the seat, shifting the car into drive.
It had been easier when they weren’t moving. Ever since jumping in the car, Rick had been struggling with the conflicting thoughts and emotions of his companions. Rasul was anticipating this fight. His fingers drummed the dashboard and he hummed songs, his head bobbing in time. He was happy to have a purpose. Rick got the clear impression he’d chafed under his recent circumstances. He wasn’t used to being under a microscope and he didn’t appreciate it.
Karin was easier to read. She wanted Rick to live, but her own feelings on the subject were less certain. She thought about Peter a lot, reliving moments they’d shared. It bit into Rick’s heart and he stopped eavesdropping, too depressed to see one more moment of his dead friend’s experience. Instead, he turned inward, thinking about Brigid.
‘Your daughter needs you,’ his Mother had scolded. ‘Live for her until you find your legs again.’ He knew that’s how she’d survived being separated from his Father. His Mom made him her whole world until she could push her sadness aside enough to capture some happiness just for herself.
Rick thought of how things were now. ‘Doesn’t need me,’ he sighed, thinking of Pam and Miss Joy wrapping his daughter in non-stop attention. He knew Brigid would have fought back, forcing them to back off. He figured Brigid would be disappointed in him, but that was okay. He was disappointed in himself. “Should have been me,’ he thought again. It was a refrain. He’d think of Brigid and wish he’d been the one to die that day.
“This will be a fight for the ages,” Rasul said brightly.
“It depends,” Karin growled.
“On what?” Rick asked.
“On whether the vampires’ side with us once it’s done,” Karin answered.
Rasul laughed. Usually, Rick thought the Sheriff had a good laugh, but tonight it sounded harsh. “Stop worrying!” Rasul scolded Karin. “What we’re doing is bold and vampires appreciate bold moves. It doesn’t matter whether he was the one who ordered this killing or not. He’s guilty of plenty and I don’t think any of his fellow Rulers are going to miss him.”
“But, if he didn’t do it, why are we going there?” Rick asked.
“He did it!” Karin growled. “Thalia and I found evidence when we were in Europe.”
“When were you in Europe?” Rick asked. He felt like a child racing to keep up with his elders and Rasul seemed to agree. He gave Rick a withering glance, then faced forward, bopping and tapping to his own internal music. “Well?” Rick asked again.
“A month ago,” Karin answered. “With Thalia,” and Karin glanced in the rear-view mirror. “Thalia’s there again.”
If Rick thought this prodding would open a floodgate, he was wrong. Finally, fed up, he flopped his arms over the seatbacks, poking his head closer to Karin. “Let me make this easier for you. Why were you in Europe with Thalia? What did you find there and what does any of this have to do with Brigid?”
Her mouth quirked up and Rick saw the Karin that Peter loved, all frosty on the outside, but always thinking behind the ice. “Okay, Baby Fang. Thalia was there tracking down people who were asking questions about dhampirs. I met up with her.”
“Dhampirs?” Rick asked.
“Dhampirs,” Karin confirmed, “Like you. They were professional diggers, too. They were sending information to England. Do you remember Edward Madden?”
“I never met him,” Rick confirmed.
Rasul stopped humming long enough to say, “Didn’t miss much, not him or his pip of a brother.”
“Edward Madden hired the researchers because he was hired by someone here, in the U.S.” Karin glanced in the rear-view again. “And we know who that was, don’t we? He was collecting information about you so he could hurt you.”
“So, why hurt Brigid?” Rick asked.
“Who knows?” Rasul shrugged. “I think she was collateral damage. He really wanted you.”
“I don’t know,” and Rick sat back. “I have a feeling this isn’t about Russell Edgington at all.”
“Like you know anything!” Karin scoffed. “Look, you have one job! One! Just scan for vampires.” She turned to Rasul. “Are you keeping an eye on that thing? How far?”
Rasul pulled out his phone. “Not far, now. You know we can’t go all the way. We’re going to have to find somewhere to go to ground.” He turned to Rick. “Hunter’s in on this. He’s going to find you once we go to our rest.”
“Hunter?” and things started to make sense. “That’s him we’re following?”
“He’s wearing a homing beacon,” Karin confirmed. “He has our frequency. When he finds you, you need to arrange coffins and transport for us. Once we rise, you’ll be able to get us into the Palace.”
“Just use your head to weave us in and out,” Rasul nodded, tapping his forehead. “Hunter can feel the humans and Weres, and you can feel the rest.”
Rick didn’t bother reminding them that he could ‘feel’ everyone, humans, Weres and vampires. Together with Hunter, they’d make a formidable team.
“And once we’re in the Palace?” Rick asked.
“Don’t worry, kid,” Rasul purred, “We’ll save a vampire or two for you.”
“For Peter,” Karin said quietly, and Rick ‘heard’ her wishing for a warrior’s death.