Thank you Breathesgirl. My work is better because of you. Thank you.
Bartlett leaned back in his favorite chair and closed his eyes. There was still the better part of the evening ahead for both himself and Russell. While he was never truly tired nights like tonight did leave him feeling drained. The Amun Summit was still weeks away but the work of assembling their combined contingent, confirming meetings and negotiating agenda items was in full swing. Bartlett was grateful yet again that they had decided against hosting this year. That pleasure fell to Isaiah and Nashville. Although Isaiah wasn’t officially king of Tennessee, the named king, Seth had effectively stopped functioning in that role. There was even a rumor that he might not appear for his own Summit. The most recent news from Michigan would probably cause Seth to back away from his obligations still further.
Seth was what Bartlett and Russell had begun referring to as a ‘holdover.’ These were vampires who were not adjusting well to the new, more public existence of vampires post-Revelation. It was tragic in some ways. These vampires could not shake their long years of conditioning. When offered the option they hid from the human world rather than embracing it. They found it difficult to enter into business with those that were not vampire. They faced challenges in doing simple things that were required to be able to function effectively; activities like attending social gatherings or sporting events. Sometimes the issue was poor reflex control. Other times it was a bone deep arrogant disregard for anything or anyone not vampire. In the end the outcome was the same. Holdovers ended up becoming increasingly alienated from both humans and those supernaturals that were able to mainstream.
In the case of Michigan’s king alienation had turned to depression. When they received the news Russell and Bartlett realized it had been years since they had seen Michigan face to face. It was now clear that once he made sure that his successor was secure he had chosen to meet the sun.
Michigan’s new king was a bit of a surprise. While his origins were in the old world, Rasul had most recently lived in their neck of the woods. Russell had actually met him when the new king was just a guard employed in Queen Sophie-Anne’s court. After the takeover of Louisiana, Rasul had left the state and found residence in Michigan. It was now clear that the move had been the right one. From all reports Rasul’s ascendency was viewed as a positive change by both his subjects and his nearest neighbors.
When Maude had called them with the news they had all three spent some time on the phone discussing the change and what is could signify. This was not the first of the appointed monarchs to abdicate a throne but the circumstances combined with what they were seeing coming from Tennessee, Wisconsin and others seemed to point to a worrying trend. Following their phone conversation they agreed that they should lobby to add an item to the agenda for the upcoming Summit to discuss how they would explain vampire hierarchy to humans. “After all, how long do you think we can keep our political structure secret?” Maude had pointed out. “You know there will be more publicity this year. When the cameras catch all that bowing and scraping someone is going to ask questions.”
What they had not anticipated was the amount of pushback they received from the Summit organizers. Maude thought that Isaiah was leading the opposition to adding the agenda item although he did not declare himself. They had finally prevailed by threatening to call it from the floor. Were they to do that it would open the discussion to the general assembly and would almost ensure that the topic would flow from the convention rooms to the outside world. It had been a battle won, but the fallout had been that every other concession requested had met with resistance. ‘Battle won, but war lost,’ Bartlett thought.
Russell entered the study. His face lit up in a smile as he walked over to kiss Bartlett’s cheek. Bartlett sighed. “What’s next?”
Russell ran his hand lightly over his mate’s cheek then walked to the side table. He helped himself to a goblet of blood. He lifted the glass, offering and Bartlett nodded. “Cataliades is here. I’ve given him a brief overview of the discussion we had with Sookie but he has asked for a more in depth conversation with both of us. Oh,” Russell handed Bartlett the glass, “you should also know he is claiming to be a guardian of sorts to our Miss Stackhouse.”
‘Guardian?” Bartlett took time to sip and savor the blood. “Is this the new blend? It’s almost palatable.” Russell nodded and settled in the other chair. “Can I ask a silly question? Who isn’t this woman associated with?” Bartlett set the glass down. “Let me see if I have the whole playlist. Tell me when I forget something.” He ticked each item off on a finger. “She’s blood related to Prince Niall. She’s the divorced wife of Eric Northman. Bill Compton shared the sheets with her. John Quinn still mentions her. She’s a friend of the Long Tooth Pack. And now the demon lawyer? I can’t tell if we won the lotto or just got handed a tiger by the tail.” Russell smiled indulgently and shrugged. Bartlett’s face settled into a more serious look. “Rusty, do you think our sponsoring her is really wise?”
Russell shrugged. “We have her. I don’t think we can throw her back. Besides, I have a good feeling about this. You’ve talked with her. She’s charming. Bubba dotes on her and Thalia? Well who knows what Thalia thinks but she’s clearly protective of her. I think that this will all turn out well in the end. And if it doesn’t it’s not like she won’t have people who will take her in. I just don’t see any scenario where this plays against us.”
Bartlett couldn’t shake his concern. In his experience people with a great deal of drama swirling around them tended to attract more drama. “Of course I want this to go well and I really do think that she is a fine addition,” he said. “So, when can we expect Mr. Cataliades?”
Russell lifted his eyebrows and smiled mischievously. “Up to you. I left him in the hallway getting to know our settee.”
Bartlett rose. “Nice! He is important and you know it. Tweaking his nose doesn’t serve any good purpose.” He crossed to the doors, opened them and put on his best host face. “Desmond! Russell just told me you were here!” He waited for the rotund man to stand and bow. Then the king inclined his head in a sign of mutual respect. He gestured for the lawyer to precede him into the study. As he waved the man to the leather couch he pulled a face at Russell who grinned in return.
A plate of cookies and a carafe of coffee were ordered for the attorney. The kings asked after business and the demon’s niece Diantha. Mr. Cataliades returned the courtesy by commenting on recent improvements made to the house and congratulating the kings on their recent acquisition of a trucking firm in the state. Russell spent some time explaining the advantages of using local transportation for moving the foodstuffs that were the backbone of the state economy. They talked about the demand for local agriculture overseas.
The kings felt flattered that the demon was so in tune with their interests. It made them feel more at ease in thinking about the business arrangement they required from the lawyer. When the conversation lulled, Bartlett opened, “Russell tells me you are in some way related to our dear Miss Stackhouse?”
Mr. Cataliades smiled; his cheeks making his round face appear even rounder. “You are probably aware that she is of the royal house of Brigant.” When the kings nodded, the attorney continued. “Sookie is the granddaughter of Fintan, Prince Niall Brigant’s son. Fintan was my best friend and I promised him before he passed that I would keep an eye on his family. In particular I was to watch over any of his issue that demonstrated that they carried the essential spark.”
The demon’s look turned less pleased and he looked down at the coffee cup he held. “Several years ago, before her marriage to Mr. Merlotte, Miss Stackhouse and I had a difficult conversation about how I viewed my obligation to her family. To be blunt, she expressed her discomfort with some aspects of my guardianship. I honored her wishes and I removed myself. That is a decision I have come to regret.” He looked earnestly at the kings. “I should have realized that a young woman’s hasty words can be just that. She clearly did need me and I feel I have failed her. I feel that failure most keenly. “
During this conversation Russell had felt his eyebrows creeping up his face. A word like ‘guardianship’ was a strong term and he had felt certain that the demon’s claim was more one of formality. Now, hearing the relationship the attorney described he understood that the use of the word was appropriate. “Do you feel that Miss Stackhouse will feel differently about how things stand between you now?” Russell asked.
Mr. Cataliades nodded. “When you contacted me about drafting an employment contract between Miss Stackhouse and Amun Clan I was made aware of the magnitude of her change in circumstances. As I mentioned, I knew of her marriage to Sam Merlotte. I had hoped that that alliance would provide her both security and stability and I shifted my attention to other pursuits. Hearing she was here alerted me that my assumptions may have been in error. I have long been aware of her deep connection to her home ground; her land and her house. That is a fae trait. That she would be willing to leave that place signified something was very much amiss. I made inquiries. Dr. Ludwig was most informative. Of course Sookie’s going to Sanctum answered a number of questions.” The kings nodded. To have spent time at Sanctum in their world was an answer to questions that never had to be asked out loud. “For your willingness to offer her sponsorship I find myself in your debt.” And the demon bowed again from the waist.
Russell waved his hand. “Not at all. I have been intrigued by our Miss Stackhouse since she broke into our house and managed to kill Lorena.” Bartlett smiled and rolled his eyes a little. “Then when she risked herself to save so many of us in Rhodes she earned my gratitude and respect. She is a most enterprising woman. Very talented.”
Mr. Cataliades smiled. “I quite agree. Most talented. I was hoping to have the opportunity to speak with her privately this evening?” Then the attorney smiled again. “With your permission, of course.”
Bartlett waved his hand dismissively. “You certainly don’t need or require our permission. We are happy to offer her a place to stay with us. You should be aware that we have suggested that she restrict her movements to the immediate premises for the moment. This suggestion has been explained to her as being entirely for her own protection but she is free to come and go as she wishes. We have been trying to determine whether there are any who pose an immediate danger to her…” He paused and looked at Mr. Cataliades. When there was no immediate reaction the king continued. “We do view her as an independent person and we intend to share responsibilities and accountability for her protection amongst all the monarchs of Amun Clan.”
Mr. Cataliades nodded. “Ah yes. The contract. I have received the preliminary list of conditions. I will be working on a first draft.” The demon drew a breath and laced his fingers across his stomach. “You need to be aware that I view Miss Stackhouse as my client. I would advise that you hire independent counsel to review the contract prior to any signing.”
The kings nodded. Russell told him, “We have retained Simon Maimonides to review on behalf of the Clan. I believe you know him.” Cataliades nodded.
“A worthy choice.” He leaned forward, setting the coffee cup on the table. “There is something else. There exists a potential impediment that I will be discussing with Miss Stackhouse when I see her. Since it could affect your future plans and it will be common knowledge soon, I mention it now. King Felipe de Castro has filed a legal action against Amun Clan and particularly yourselves claiming that Miss Stackhouse is a declared asset of his kingdom and that as such she needs to be returned to him.”
Bartlett hissed but Russell started laughing. “My dear Desmond! Surely you are joking? Sookie is a living, breathing sentient creature. She is not a vampire so I can’t see how our rules would apply to her. Are you telling me that de Castro is really stupid enough to try and assert that she is some kind of property? In this day and age?”
Bartlett retracted his fangs. The stress of the day was clearly affecting him more than he had thought. He took an unnecessary breath and walked over to stand behind Russell’s chair. He realized as he spoke that the disgust he felt was evident in the tone of his voice. “This may have flown three years ago, but now? If de Castro is attempting to treat her like she’s some stolen vehicle and it becomes public – and how could it not? – it would damage our ability to work with any humans. Partners react poorly if they think they are not being recognized as having the same rights under the rules. And if he is trying to categorize her as some kind of slave we are opening the door to the kind of scrutiny that none of us would survive.“ Bartlett took another breath. “Surely he has someone competent to advise him. Doesn’t Sandy Seacrest report to him? She has always understood the lay of the land. How could she have allowed him to do something so stupid?”
The lawyer smiled. “I agree that Ms. Seacrest has always demonstrated a prudent and measured approach to these matters. However this motion was filed subsequent to her assignment in Oklahoma. My contact in Nevada tells me she was not consulted.” He paused, and then continued. “It would appear that her duties in aiding Regent Northman are considerable. It was suggested that she does not have time to be involved in the overall operations of the kingdom at the moment.”
Russell glanced up at Bartlett. Bartlett shook his head. This was news to both of them. Russell smiled in an open and noncommittal way. “That would explain some things. I wonder if Ms. Seacrest has in some way found herself on the outside of the king’s circle.”
The lawyer shook his head. “I would not have any indication that she is out of favor. She did not express any particular concern or doubt when I saw both Miss Seacrest and Mr. Northman shortly after King de Castro appointed Mr. Northman regent in Oklahoma.” Then he leaned back.
Bartlett picked up the conversation. “Oh, so you were in Oklahoma? How is Eric?”
Mr. Cataliades smiled and nodded. “He looked to be in fine spirits. Much improved from when I saw him prior to his leaving for Oklahoma. But, of course he no longer has his queen, Freyda.”
Russell snorted. “I could certainly understand how the loss of that woman would make someone’s existence easier. But then Northman does seem to have a way of losing his wives. One would suspect that he has no use for the comforts of a monogamous life.”
The lawyer tilted his head. His response was measured. “I have never had the impression that Mr. Northman objected to monogamy or marriage. My observation has been that given the chance he would have remained pledged to his first wife.” Since everyone was aware of the identity of his first wife there seemed nothing more to say.
Bartlett smiled and glanced down at Russell before speaking again. “Desmond, were you at our wedding in Rhodes? You know Eric Northman was our officiant? I will always remember that day and his performance with fondness. You know that he returned our pledging knife just before he left?” Bartlett placed his hand on Russell’s shoulder. Russell covered Bartlett’s hand with his own. “I really am most grateful. That knife has sentimental value for us. I love knowing it’s here.”
Mr. Cataliades nodded. “Mr. Northman is fortunate in his friends. Of course my personal ties to Miss Stackhouse precluded me from accepting employment with him when he offered it. It would be likely that I would have to recuse myself. Better to honor my primary commitment to Miss Stackhouse and allow Mr. Northman to seek counsel elsewhere.”
It was Russell that picked up the clue. “So you would anticipate that there might be conflicting interests?”
Mr. Cataliades sighed. “Mr. Northman set her aside in a direct; one might say brutal manner. Of course there is an argument that his hand in this was forced but that does not change the outcome or his current allegiance to King de Castro. I anticipate representing Miss Stackhouse in any action that may be brought if she will accept my counsel. It is one of the matters I wish to discuss with her. Under no circumstances could I, in good conscience, find myself opposing her in any legal matter.”
Bartlett suddenly remembered his conversation with Lydia from Sanctum. “Desmond, I know this is off topic but I am wondering if you might be able to help us with a related matter. You mentioned you have some history with the Fae. Is there a possibility that you still have connections? The reason I ask is because the lady of Sanctum asked us to try and arrange a trainer for Sookie.”
Mr. Cataliades leaned forward, his eyes bright. “A fae trainer?” When Bartlett nodded the attorney smiled broadly. “I had hoped that Miss Stackhouse might manifest additional skills as time progressed. Her spark was always stronger than blood would suggest. I am happy to tell you that I have maintained contacts with that world. If Miss Stackhouse is agreeable I will make inquiries.”
The group was interrupted by a knock on the door. The kings were reminded of a teleconference that was to start shortly. Bartlett sighed and said, “No rest for the weary.”
Russell rose and then turned to the attorney. “Desmond, why don’t you call Sookie and see if she’s available? If she is feel free to use this or any other room on this floor for your conversation. Of course should Miss Stackhouse choose to invite you into her home that is entirely her prerogative. We consider the pool house as her ground and entirely at her disposal.” Russell waved at the house phone. “Just push the button for Pool House. That will ring her. Please make yourself at home during your stay. Tell any of the servants if there is anything you need. I’m sure we’ll see you later.”
Russell winked at Bartlett as they left the study. “See, I managed to abandon him again. You’ll just need to teach me better manners.”
Bartlett smiled. “We’ll see. I may be too tired to play naughty boy games by the time our meetings are over.” Russell circled his arm around Bartlett’s waist and they followed their business manager down the hall to their teleconference center.
Once the kings left the room the lawyer picked up the receiver. The telepath answered on the second ring.
“Is this Miss Stackhouse? It is I. Mr. Cataliades.” He waited for her response, but there was none. He could hear her breathing. Finally he continued. “I understand this is a surprise.”
There was a pause then, “Yes.” The voice was hesitant; so different from the sassy, self-assured woman he had known.
“I am here in the main house.”
“You’re here?” The voice sounded even less sure; slightly panicked.
Mr. Cataliades attempted to put a note of warmth into his words. “I am hoping to see you, dear. There are things that we need to discuss.” He waited again. Finally he just continued. “I would be very happy to see you again. It has been a long time. Too long. I have missed you. I am in the study on the main floor. Would you be able to come and see me?”
The attorney could hear her take a deep breath and let it out. “Yes.”
“Take your time. I’ll be here.” Desmond wondered what she would look like.
Sookie hung up the phone. She sat down heavily in the chair and stared at her hands.
“You have a problem?” Sookie hadn’t heard Thalia enter the room, but she was starting to get used to the vampire’s ways.
Sookie bit her lips, took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face before looking up. “I guess you felt that through the blood, huh?”
Thalia narrowed her eyes. “I am not spying on you. You allow your emotions to rule you. You are distracting me. I don’t understand why vampires would want this. It is most annoying.”
Sookie felt unreasonably angry. “Well, you can just ignore it then. Eric seemed perfectly capable of turning off the bond between us. If you are so much older you can’t tell me that you can’t do the same thing.”
Thalia hissed. “You do not appreciate what is done for you. I could have left you stinking of Northman. You might have found your reception here to be less pleasant.”
Sookie found herself being out-glared. She looked away and said,” You’re right. I’m sorry. Thank you for sharing your blood. You did me a favor and I am grateful.”
Thalia nodded and then crossed her arms. She jerked her chin at the phone. “Who was it?”
Sookie sighed. “A voice from the past. Mr. Cataliades.”
“The demon lawyer?”
Sookie suddenly felt weary. “The same. I haven’t heard from him in years. Really since before… you know.. before I married Sam.” She finished in almost a whisper. She felt like just saying Sam’s name might bring back that time and all the hurt that had gone with it. She could sense Thalia’s eyes on her and she made herself meet the vampire’s’ eyes. “I guess I never thought I’d hear from him again. And now he’s here. He wants to talk with me.” Thalia waited, her expression guarded. Sookie swallowed. “I guess I should go over there and find out what he wants. Would you go with me?”
Thalia nodded. “I told you I would accompany you wherever you go.” Thalia’s expression almost softened. “You have a short memory telepath.”
Sookie found herself smiling in spite of herself. She stood up on legs that felt a little shaky, pulled her shoulders back and headed toward the main house. Knowing that she had Thalia walking behind her as she made her way up the path made each step easier to take.
When Sookie entered the study Mr. Cataliades stood and bowed. He looked much the same as she remembered. She wondered if demons ever really aged or if they were immortal like vampires. When she smiled and bowed a little he stepped forward and before she knew it she found herself folded into a hug. Thalia hissed behind her but Sookie realized that she felt comforted. Her arms crept up and she found herself hugging the demon back. After a moment he seemed to remember himself and he disengaged and stepped back. Sookie felt her face flush. When he waved her toward a chair she accepted the offer and sank down. Thalia glided to stand behind her. Mr. Cataliades looked at the vampire, then nodded and sat down opposite Sookie.
“I am happy to find you here, Sookie. May I call you Sookie?” He looked at her expectantly. Sookie nodded. “Oh good. Then you must call me Desmond.” The smile overtook his face as he said, “I am here to represent you in the matter of your employment contract.”
Sookie found herself pleased by the prospect. “I have agreed to work for Amun Clan. I know you handled contracts for Eric in the past, and you have always tried to do well by me. Frankly I couldn’t think of anyone else that I would trust with this.” Sookie looked down at her hands. She thought through what she wanted to say next. “I know we didn’t part on the best of terms…”
“Sookie! My dear Sookie. That was so long ago and so many things have changed. You are different. I can see that.” Sookie felt herself flush. “You look more beautiful than you ever have. I am only sorry your grandfather couldn’t see you now. He and your grandmother would have been very proud.”
Sookie looked at him and smiled. “Thank you Mr. Cataliades.”
The demon shook his head. “No, my dear. We have come too far for such formalities between us. Call me Desmond, please.” Sookie smiled and nodded her head. Mr. Cataliades pulled forward a briefcase and withdrew a folder. He opened the folder and laid one copy of a contract in front of Sookie on the coffee table. He had another copy in his hand. “You will want to read through all the terms and conditions carefully. I am your attorney, Sookie and not representing Amun Clan. I want to be very clear about this.” He waited for eye contact. When she nodded again he continued. “There are a number of standard clauses that one would expect in any consulting contract. You will be an independent consultant on an extended retainer with the clan. Your hourly rate and reasonable expenses are spelled out here.” He flipped the pages to show Sookie the table with the figures.
Sookie’s eyes grew wide. “That’s a lot of money. Are you sure?”
The lawyer chuckled. “It is a little more than usual, but the service you offer is unique. Of course if you travel all expenses including a generous meal stipend would be added. You will have a wardrobe account including monies for hair, makeup and spa visits. You will be expected to pay the salary of your bodyguard and any additional staff from your fee. But if you travel the extra cost for your bodyguard; airfare, meals and such would be at the cost of your employer.” Sookie felt her head spinning. Mr. Cataliades flipped another page.
“You will have first right of refusal for any additional protection offered you by any of the monarchs. You will have right of refusal for any assignments. Of course, it is agreed and understood that non-supernaturals that are caught out or otherwise found of wrongdoing by you will be turned over to the local authorities.”
Sookie raised her hand. “Just non-supernaturals? What about Weres or vampires?”
Mr. Cataliades tilted his head. “What did you have in mind?”
Sookie thought for a minute. “They should be turned over to the authority that has jurisdiction over them.” Mr. Cataliades nodded and made a note. “And there’s some other stuff that has to be there. First of all, no one gets to bite me.”
The lawyer smiled and flipped a couple pages. “There is an entire section here that addresses the responsibilities of the Clan and each of the monarchs in their personal capacity in terms of protecting you and those you declare as being under your protection. I am asking that the monarchs are held responsible for not only their own actions but the actions of all under their rule. Each must agree to give you autonomy of body and decision. I also included a clause that denies any and all the right to turn you, even if you are mortally wounded without your express permission. Said permission must be given in the presence of a witness. The penalty for any violation is true death.”
“Wow,” Sookie looked impressed. “You think they’ll agree?” The lawyer nodded.
“Now let’s look at some of the other requirements. You are allowed to take assignments from other Clans or from other groups, but it is understood that the work of Amun Clan is your first priority.” He paused and waited for her to nod approval. “Good. When there is a question or conflict within Amun Clan for your services, Kings Crowe and Edgington will be the arbiters. They are also understood to be your point of contact for the Clan.”
Sookie put her hand up again. The attorney chuckled. “You can just ask questions, Sookie. You don’t need my permission to speak.”
Sookie smiled then. “Well okay. Look, I don’t want to make trouble and I can see the Kings are pretty well joined at the hip. But any married couple is going to fight sometimes. And they won’t always see eye to eye. I don’t want to get caught between them. I don’t much care how they choose, but I only want to have to ask one person; not have to chase around to get two to agree.” Behind her Thalia snorted.
Mr. Cataliades beamed broadly. “A very wise observation. I will ask for that change.” He made another note. “There will be a confidentiality clause. You will be expected to keep Clan business within the Clan. If you do know of a circumstance that could give rise to concerns about your ability to respect Clan secrets and affiliations you will need to divulge it.” The attorney saw Sookie’s eyebrows rise. He also noticed that Thalia shifted behind her. “Is there something that you know of that could create some question?” He looked from one to the other.
Sookie bit her lip and squeezed her hands together. “Well, there is something that could come up that might look odd.” She sat up and turned to look at Thalia. The vampire looked back but gave no indication as to whether she had a preference or suggestion. Sookie turned back to the attorney. “I expect that I will be seeing Eric Northman.” Although she maintained eye contact Sookie’s voice did not sound strong.
Mr. Cataliades took a breath and then closed his eyes. His lips pursed as though he was considering something. Then he opened his eyes and his look at Sookie was both warm and knowing. “Ah, I see. I am your attorney, Sookie. I also consider myself your guardian. Your secret is safe with me.”
“Did you go take a peek in my head?” she asked.
The attorney nodded. “Sometimes it is better than saying things out loud.”
Sookie’s first instinct was to be angry. Then she remembered the conversation she had with Lydia; the one where Lydia asked if her life would have been different if she had gone ahead and read Sam’s thoughts instead of worrying about what was polite or rude. She found that she didn’t mind it as much as she had thought. She nodded. “It’s okay. So you understand?”
He smiled. “Perfectly. And I am hopeful that everything works out as you both wish.” He looked thoughtful. “Of course this could be seen as a potential conflict or at the least appear to be something it is not. With your permission I will discuss it with whichever of the kings becomes the designee.”
Sookie wasn’t happy. She half expected Thalia to add something. Finally Sookie nodded. She agreed to take the contract and read it through. She would make notes and they could discuss the terms further tomorrow.
“There is another matter I need to discuss with you,” Mr. Cataliades said. He waited until the telepath had a few sips of coffee and settled back. “King Felipe de Castro has filed a formal lawsuit with Narayana Clan. He is making a claim against Amun Clan alleging that you, as an asset of his kingdom have been stolen. He is suing for your return.”
Sookie suddenly felt unsure but behind her Thalia laughed. “Felipe has lost his mind,” the vampire said.
Mr. Cataliades likewise smiled. “Yes, it does seem to be a foolish notion on his part. I will be filing for summary dismissal in Los Angeles.”
“I just don’t understand,” Sookie said. “I never swore loyalty to Felipe. In fact he promised to protect me – not the other way around. Can he do this?”
“He is basing his claim on the contract that was negotiated between Mr. Northman and Freyda. In that contract you were treated as an asset that was provided protection in exchange for other consideration. At the time it was a wise move on the part of Mr. Northman. However it did open the door to this recognition as something other than an independent person.” Mr. Cataliades shrugged. “Of course with Freyda dead the contract is null and void. I’m not sure what argument his majesty feels would prevail under the current circumstances.”
Sookie felt nervous. Behind her Thalia could feel the woman’s nervousness. “I wouldn’t worry about it breather,” Thalia said to no one in particular. “If it looks like the king is going to become too much of a problem I’ll just end him.” Sookie drew in a shocked breath but still found that she felt oddly comforted by the vampire’s words. She half smiled and then looked back at the attorney.
“Well, Desmond,” she said, “I find I have a favor to ask.” She picked at the leg of her pants. “I want a divorce. Do you think you can do that?”
The attorney laughed and rubbed his hands together. “My dear Sookie, I am not surprised. I do believe I can help you. I am somewhat familiar with Louisiana law but would need to look into the particulars. I will do some research and then we can talk about what needs to be done.”
Sookie smiled and picked up her coffee cup. She noticed her hand was shaking. She giggled nervously. “Boy, guess it’s been a long day, huh?” The attorney beamed and nodded. “So tell me about DIantha. How is she doing?”
Mr. Cataliades settled back and told her about Diantha’s new job. Even though he was her uncle, Mr. Cataliades now had to wait in line to hire her as did everyone else. Diantha was attached to the vampire high council and their wishes were now her top priority. Sookie wasn’t entirely sure what the purpose of a vampire high council might be but she felt too tired to ask. She figured she would find out at some point.
Thalia moved behind her. “It is time for us to return. You should continue your business tomorrow.” Sookie smiled and looked at Thalia gratefully.
“Yes, you’re right. Desmond, if you would excuse us?” The attorney rose and bowed.
“No need to apologize. I will be at your disposal any time tomorrow. “Although,” and the demon looked apologetic, “there is one more thing.” Sookie bit her lip a little but squared her shoulders and smiled. “The kings have asked me to inquire about a fae trainer for you. This was a request that was made by the lady of Sanctum. I have agreed to do this, but I wished you to know.” Sookie felt overwhelmed, and she pasted a Crazy Sookie smile on her face. Mr. Cataliades nodded and stepped back. “When you are ready just send for me.” He looked at her meaningfully. She knew that he did not like to acknowledge his telepathy verbally but she knew what he meant.
Sookie and Thalia left the main house to head back to the pool house. As they walked along the path they saw Bill Compton. He had obviously been waiting for them.
Sookie stopped and Bill walked up to them. “Sookie! I have just returned and I was hoping I would see you.” He smiled and took her hand. “You look tired dear heart.” Thalia made a noise behind her. Sookie took her hand back but softened the move with a smile.
“Welcome back. We were just headed back to my house. Would you like a blood?” Sookie noticed that Bill had a bundle in his hand. She wondered if he had picked up her mail in his travels. She walked ahead with Bill and Thalia following her.
Once inside she went straight to the kitchen and retrieved two bottles of blood. She heated and shook them and came back into the main room. Thalia stood in her usual place near the back wall. Sookie set her bottle on a bookcase near where she stood. She set Bill’s on a napkin near the chair he had taken.
Sookie settled herself and smiled in her best party manner way. “So how are things going, Bill?”
Bill smiled. “So well. My book is now officially a bestseller. I don’t know if you have had the opportunity to read it yet.” He waited, his look expectant. Sookie shook her head and shrugged just a little. “Of course I don’t mean to pressure you in any way.” Then he just smiled and stared into her eyes. Sookie kept the smile in place but Bill’s behavior was starting to make her uncomfortable. It was like he was waiting for her to do something and Sookie had the feeling that the something had to do with encouraging some sort of renewal of their relationship.
Sookie found herself looking away, then looked at the papers in Bill’s lap. “Are those for me, Bill?” she asked.
“Oh I’m sorry,” Bill smiled. “Of course! I brought these over. I thought you might be interested in the goings on you’ve been missing.” He half stood and handed her the bundle. Sookie took a rubber band off and unrolled the material. The items on top were newspapers from Bon Temps. Sookie lifted each to see the dates and glance at the photos. There were over two months’ worth of her local weekly paper and Sookie found she was grateful. Under that there were a couple letters and cards that Bill must have taken from her mailbox.
And then at the bottom was a newspaper from Oklahoma City with a large photograph of Eric Northman in some social setting. He had his arm around a lovely woman and she was smiling up at him. The caption identified him as the featured speaker at a charity event.
Bill looked at the photo and then at Sookie, his smile wide. “Sure didn’t take Eric long to get over Freyda’s death. But you know Eric. Always knows how to take care of himself. According to the article he’s a real man about town now – out every night with a different girl. Won’t be long and he’ll be angling for a new even richer wife. Maybe he’ll be shopping in Los Angeles.” Bill shrugged and leaned over to put his hand on Sookie’s knee. “You are so well quit of him sweetheart. He was never going to be anything more than heartache for you.”
Sookie couldn’t take her eyes off the photo. She heard her voice saying, “Bill, it’s awful late for me. Can you show yourself out?” She felt like a terrible hostess but she just couldn’t make her knees work to get out of the chair. She couldn’t make her hands release the newspaper. She couldn’t stop the pain that was starting in her chest and making her throat tight.
As soon as Bill shut the door Thalia was in front of her ripping the paper from her hands. “Does it take so little?” she hissed. “Does all it take with you is a few poisoned lies and a picture to make you forget everything you promised?” Sookie looked up at Thalia, tears on her cheeks. She tried to say something but found she couldn’t . Sookie thought about Sanctum. She thought about Eric. She thought about all her promises to him and to herself. Then she thought of the picture. She thought about that time in Bon Temps when Pam and Eric had fought in her kitchen. She remembered how stupid she had felt when it turned out everyone knew about Eric’s impending marriage but her.
Thalia ripped the newspaper in two. “So you haven’t changed so much after all? After everything he did for you?”
Sookie found her anger. “How? How can I trust him? This wouldn’t be the first time! He does do what he thinks he needs to do and I am always the last one to find out!”
Thalia hissed and bared her fangs. “How can you trust him? How can he trust you is the better question! When did you ever show him the respect due him as your mate? Do you know how many times he made excuses for you? How many times he explained away your lack of faith by calling you independent or a working woman? Everyone saw through it. It made him look weak. And still he stood by you.” Thalia threw the paper shreds at Sookie. “You believe everyone but him. You are weak. You do not deserve him.”
Sookie suddenly felt her anger disappear just as quickly as it had come. She looked at the fiery vampire and she felt ashamed. “You’re right,” she said softly. Then it was as though something clicked into place. “You are very fond of him, aren’t you?”
Thalia looked at Sookie, her eyes level and her gaze direct. “I owe the North Man a great debt. “
Sookie took a deep breath and returned Thalia’s look. “I owe you a great debt too. It was wrong of me to doubt him. You were right.”
Thalia nodded. “I can feel your exhaustion. You are still recovering.”
Sookie nodded. She stood up to walk to her room. She stopped when she was alongside Thalia and placed her hand on the vampire’s shoulder. “Thank you.”