Pam leaned back in her office chair. It had been a long night. Business had been brisk. Even though she wasn’t obligated to hold court anymore she still spent her hours in the chair. She told anyone who asked that is was market research. In reality, it made her feel close to her maker.
Indira had headed home. Cash out and receipts were completed. Thalia was lounging on the office couch across from her, giving Pam the reptile stare. Pam really had no excuse to delay the call any longer.
Earlier in the evening Pam had listened to Max’s voice mail. “Saw Sookie. She’s the same. Ludwig says to tell you tick tick.” It left her stewing. She started when she heard Thalia growl.
“Well, blondie. It’s up to you. But whatever it is, you should probably just get it done.” Thalia leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knee and fixing Pam with a stare. “I can guess what it’s about. Waiting never makes these things easier. Stop playing with it. Pull the scab and let it drain.”
Pam nodded, both to herself and to Thalia. She jerked her chin toward the white noise box and started dialing the private number of Queen Maude, ruler of Minnesota. Thalia switched the box on, then looked pointedly at the door. Pam shook her head and Thalia re-seated herself on the couch.
Pam heard a familiar, booming voice before the second ring. “Oh goodness! Pamela D, is it really you?” Pam felt the smile overtake her face. There was something about hearing Maude’s Midwest accent that made her feel warm and happy.
When Eric had released her Pam had not known what to do. She had felt uneasy. No, that was an understatement. She had felt adrift. Eric had always taken care of her; determined her course of action, critiqued and approved her plans. He had been a doting and attentive maker.
In retrospect he had been overprotective in many ways. Not when it came to physical punishment, though. He had aggressively trained her in the use of her hands and weapons. She had spent countless hours sparring with him. When she started to hold her own, he hired a variety of fighting masters to further her training. There had been days that she thought she couldn’t possibly heal from the damage she sustained. When she complained about her injuries, Eric would throw his head back and laugh that great, booming, infectious laugh. He would call her out, telling her if she was insisting on whining she should think about joining a knitting group. Pam knew now that Eric had known her all along. He had seen the killer in her, lurking below the surface.
Pam never felt more alive than she did when she engaged in physical combat. There was something about the ability to fight hard that appealed to her on a fundamental level. No. That wasn’t it. Pam knew that the joy she felt in battle had its roots in her upbringing as a lady in a strict, Victorian household. In those moments when she was circling her opponent, landing blows and gauging weaknesses, she knew that she experienced deep and profound gratitude. Had she not become vampire; had Eric Northman not found her and made a decision to change her life, she would never have known what she was truly meant to be: a warrior woman; terrible and glorious.
Things were so easy when she was fighting. Things were not so easy or clear when the battle was over. Having Eric cut her loose had felt like the end of her world. She remembered sitting in a small, light tight crypt in Savannah, wondering what she would do. She knew she was smart. She knew she had talent. She knew she loved the better things in life that money could buy.
Eric had not left her destitute. She had an ample bank account and introductions. She supposed she was in a stronger position than most young creatures when they are pushed into the world by their parents.
Over the next few days, Pam had made notes, recalling everything she could about the list of names Eric had provided. She made lists of what she felt she could offer them and what she thought they might be able to offer her. Each evening she slipped out, gliding through the live oak and Spanish moss to the squares of the city to feed. Finally the list came down to two names: Minnesota and New York. In the end, Pam had chosen Minnesota, not because it was clearly the best choice, but because Maude was female and New York was ruled by a male.
Maude had not been at all what she had expected. Pam had met Sophie-Ann LeClerq, the Queen of Louisiana during her time with Eric. She assumed that all Queens must look like her. Sophie-Ann was small and elegant and polished. Maude was tall, and big boned and looked like she had stepped out of a Zane Grey novel. Unlike Sophie-Ann, who had been turned when she was barely a teenager, Maude had been turned later in life. She wasn’t old, but there were crows feet around her eyes when she smiled, which was often. She had laugh lines around her mouth. Her red hair was generally pulled back in a braid or a messy bun low on the back of her neck. If a person thought that because Maude enjoyed laughter she could be taken lightly, they were soon dispelled of that notion. The twinkling blue eyes hid a huge intellect, and Maude didn’t suffer fools.
Maude accepted Pam’s pledge of fealty. She gave Pam a place in her court helping with the training of Maude’s fighters. Pam suspected that Maude’s offer had more to do with keeping a close eye on her newest subject than any particular interest or affection.
Maude made a point of inviting Pam to talk with her during her ‘family’ audiences. It was one of the idiosyncrasies of the Minnesota ruler that had struck Pam. Maude had a formal throne room, but she saved it for state occasions. Most of her work was done in what could only be called a kitchen. There was a large table surrounded by comfortable chairs. There were commercial grade appliances. Unlike most vampires, Maude was interested in human food. She was heavily invested in both agri-business and the food preparation industry. She did draw the line at livestock. Maude had told Pam that in her opinion vampires growing food animals was a media disaster waiting to happen, and then she had winked. It was not unusual for there to be a group of humans invited to sit around the table and taste test something that was under development. Maude said she liked to have the first-person feedback. Pam had been shocked to see the Queen stand up and make a pot of coffee for guests. Later, Pam had found out that before she was turned, Maude had been the matriarch of a large family. Being surrounded by other beings and cooking gave Maude a sense of peace.
Apparently it also gave the Queen the time and exposure she needed to appropriately read most situations. Her ability to interpret body language and to see the message between the lines was uncanny.
Over time, Maude and Pam had found that they shared interests. Both read extensively and they bonded over Jane Austen (loved it) and the Brontes (did not). Pam had no formal experience with food preparation, but she quickly discovered that she had a flair for finding the right words and graphics to create new and visually compelling marketing materials for Maude’s new products. Pam found herself graduated from the practice yard to the marketing department. Maude teased Pam about her infatuation with designers and high heeled shoes. Pam teased Maude about her preference for flannel shirts and work boots. While Maude was a tireless worker, Pam relished making time to enjoy herself. They were yin and yang, but in their differences they developed a true and lasting affection for each other.
Pam knew that if she loved this woman any less, she would not have picked up the phone to make this call.
“Yes, my Queen! It is too good to hear your voice.”
“So formal, sweetie! Tells me you have business on your mind. But keep it to yourself for a tick. You owe me some gossip and a chat and I don’t mean about the weather.”
Pam smiled. “You’re right. It has been too long.”
“Felipe keeping you hopping? I can’t believe I won’t see you in Nashville. Silence is like a family member.”
Pam knew that this was code asking if the line was secure. “Silence is golden.” She could almost see Maude throwing up her feet on the next chair and leaning back for a ‘jaw’ with her favorite girl.
“Good. Then what is up with that oily bastard? He had one hell of a nerve pulling apart the territories the way he did. I can’t begin to tell you the hornet’s nest he’s stirred up. There’s crazy talk all up and down the Mississippi. Did you know he tripled the port rates in New Orleans? I’m surprised Isaiah didn’t pull out his pig-sticker and head to Vegas to end him personally. Course if he did, I’d be right behind him to dance in that cock-sucker’s entrails. It’s going to be all the talk, and it’s headed for a fight. You can see the writing on the wall clear as day.”
Pam couldn’t help but grin. She could just see her friend stomping in vampire goo, spinning round and round. “Fortunately, I’m insulated up here. I send reports and money. He dithers about appointing a replacement for Victor. He gave it to Red Rita for a couple of years. It was a disaster. She can’t figure out how to make Arkansas profitable, much less two states. I guess she’s still it technically, but we’re pretty much on our own. All the business stuff flows in one direction, and then de Castro sends his enforcer to rattle cages every few months. “
“Well, you keep your head down, Pam. He may be a buffoon, but he’s as mean as they come. He wouldn’t think twice about ending you. Make no mistake.”
Pam took an unncecessary breath. She found herself meeting Thalia’s eyes. “Well,” she started. “I may be in a bit of trouble. And I’m hoping you might be able to lend a hand.”
There was a long pause. Pam waited. But so did Maude. When it became clear Maude wasn’t going to ask, Pam continued. “When Eric was here, he was in a relationship with a human. A telepath.”
Maude jumped in. “Sookie Stackhouse. The Rhodes Summit girl. That’s old news. What does this have to do with you?”
“Over the years, we became friends. I promised Eric I would look out for her.” Pam paused. With her eyes on Thalia’s she told Maude briefly the story. She told her about Sookie rejecting Eric. She told her about her marrying Sam. When she told her about finding Sookie in the house literally on death’s door she heard Maude’s hiss. “Bottom line is I need a place to move her. And I need someone with chops to sponsor her for treatment at some exclusive place up north..”
“Sanctum,” Maude finished for her. “Pam. I never told you how sorry I was to hear about Miriam. My heart bled for you.” Pam felt a sharp pain at her friend’s words. The failure and loss she had felt at Miriam’s death still caught her at unexpected times. “Sweetie,” the Minnesota vampire continued, “I can understand how you would feel that you have to do something for Sookie; that you can’t fail another loved one. But Pamela, listen closely. Any move you make here will be at your own peril. This is exactly the kind of thing that will see you to your final death.”
Pam felt her throat closing. “But Maude…”
“No, you listen to me and listen good. Sometimes bad things come to good people. Your friend had choices. Sounds like she made bad ones. Do not throw your life away trying to save something that is probably over and done with. If you spirit her out of the state, Felipe will kill you and there won’t be one hand raised to help. If I take her in, Felipe will feel obligated to try and cripple me.”
Pam closed her eyes. She couldn’t look at Thalia any more. She found her head bowing under the weight of her sadness. After a minute Maude’s voice came over the line. “Pam? Are you still there?”
“Yes. Yes I’m still here. What do I do?”
“Nothing. Pam, I know this is hard and runs against everything you feel right now. She is a human. Her life was always going to be over at some point. She could have chosen Eric. She didn’t. She could have chosen you. She didn’t. I know she’s hurting and that makes you hurt.” Pam could hear the woman on the other end of the line shift. “You are like my own daughter, Pam. I care about you more than I can say. The thought of spending eternity without having another chance to see your questionable choices in footwear is just sad. Please Pam. Please don’t do something stupid. I can’t help you. Eric can’t help you.”
Pam nodded. “I hear you. I’ll… I’ll think about it.”
Maude’s voice was sharp. “Pam, you listen to your Maude. I’m coming to Jackson in a couple of days. Russell and Bartlett want to do a little pre-planning for the Summit. What if I swing by to see you. We’ll meet somewhere neutral and away from nosey snoopers. What do you say?”
Pam bit her lower lip. Then she nodded. “Sure. That would be nice.”
“Pam. Promise me you won’t do anything rash. Promise me my Pamela Darling.”
“I promise,” Pam told her. The phone disconnected. Pam looked up and realized Thalia had left.
The movement of their retinue from one state to another was never without some fuss. Of course, there was little about Russell and Bartlett’s relationship that was usual. In a usual state marriage, the monarchs would reside in their own states, only visiting each other on a predetermined schedule. Russell and Bartlett defied that tradition. They loved spending time together and had committed to figuring out how to split time between both their kingdoms.
They loved the feel of Indiana with its wide vistas and its open, honest vibe. But they also loved to return to their more formal plantation home in Jackson. Things were unpacked and business was due to start. They would be hosting a few of their fellow monarchs in just a few days – an informal at-home they were calling it.
Bartlett was in high spirits as he descended the curving staircase. He saw Russell standing below, awaiting him. “What is it Russ? You have a look.”
Russell waited until Bartlett was beside him, then kissed his cheek. “Why don’t you come with me into the study. There’s something you need to see.”
Bartlett’s eyebrows raised, but he followed Russell into the office space. There, standing near the fire was Thalia. Of course Bartlett recognized her. It would be the rare vampire in their world who didn’t. He stopped closer to the door, not wanting to get too close. He wondered if she was there to kill them.
Russell continued forward until he was standing before Thalia. “Please repeat for my fellow monarch what you have told me.”
Thalia bowed formally to them both. “I am here with an offer of fealty if we can reach terms.”
Bartlett looked at Russell. “Terms?”
Russell looked at Thalia. She remained bowed before them. “It would seem that Thalia here, along with Bubba, have kidnapped the Stackhouse woman from a hospital in Shreveport. She wants us to stand as sponsors for Sanctum. Thalia won’t tell me exactly where the telepath is, but she assures me that if we refuse her offer, no one will be the wiser.”
“Oh my,” Bartlett said. He crossed to a chair and sat down.
Russell gestured to Thalia, indicating she should rise.
“Russ, if we do this, it will be seen as a slap at De Castro,” Bartlett stated. “He will suspect we engineered it.”
Russell shrugged. “He may think that, but I do have some history with the Stackhouse woman. It would be logical that she might find her way here to ask for help. And there is nothing in place currently that declares her a formal asset of Felipe’s kingdom. In fact, my understanding is that the whole point of the Oklahoma indenture was to declare her not an asset of any kingdom.”
Bartlett looked at Russell. “You are really going to do this? Felipe will be furious.”
“Yes,” Russell agreed. “Won’t that be too bad.” The shorter man turned to Thalia. “Well Thalia, take a knee.”
Later that evening as the monarchs lay in bed, they talked about the odd turn of events. “Do you think that the Viking still cares for her?”
Russell looked up at his lover’s face. “I’ll bet you a Tesla that he does. Nothing else about the arrangement and his behavior makes sense otherwise.”
“Hmm. I’ll take that bet and see you a Cayenne.” Bartlett ran his fingers lightly through Russell’s hair. “You know, if she is leverage this could all work to our benefit.”
Russell kissed then nipped Bartlett’s nipple. He smiled, “Yes, all good things come to those with pure hearts. And ours,” he stretched up to capture Bartlett’s lips, “Ours are the purest.”
Bartlett sighed and relaxed into Russell’s arms. “So it’s all arranged. Lydia is coming herself to take the woman back with her. Thalia will start work immediately as part of our bodyguard.”
“And Bubba has agreed to stay with us and sing for our guests. Yes, my darling. Everything is going very well.”