Author’s Note: On this holiday in my country I thank all those who sacrificed so that I can live in the way I wish. It is no small thing. I thank my readers for the flattery of your attention. If my words please, drop me a note. I enjoy hearing from you and I will return the favor.
I also thank the talented and amazing women who polish the rough spots and support me in so many ways, both large and small. Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy, I am grateful to you. You help my characters to shine.
Nautical Note: There are two kinds of sailing. There is blue water sailing when you are on the open sea and navigate by stars and electronics. And there is white water sailing where you sail from port to port, making slower progress but having the security of markers you see along the shores and on land.
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.
The ride from New Orleans to Jackson seemed to fly by. Most of it was spent working with Mr. Cataliades, reading and reaching an agreement on the conditions and terms that would be offered the Packs if they wished to avail themselves of Sookie’s services as Sachem. The terms that had been easy to decide had been those involving travel expenses, accommodations and advance notice. The less easy terms to decide included whether to demand that every job have a time limit or whether there were some jobs that would just be too small to have the telepath jumping on a plane with her entourage. Sookie had stared at the backs of both Owen and Shari and realized that she did, indeed, have an entourage. ‘If Gran could see me now,’ Sookie thought wryly.
The telepath’s prior evening had been a mixture of work and passion. The thought that they would be separated for so long had triggered something in both Sookie and Eric. Sookie had taken some extra time before she left this morning to straighten up and put away. The thought of some maid finding their toys or wiping assmarks from furniture made her cheeks flame. At one point Eric had positioned a large mirror so that Sookie could watch him first behind her and then within her, their love making unfolding like a softly lit porn film. As she remembered it again, she felt her lady parts twitch. Sookie glanced up at Mr. Cataliades who had stopped mid-sentence and was smiling at her in a knowing way and she found herself blushing furiously again and cursing demon telepathy. She forced thoughts of her meeting with Emil Touissant into her head instead.
Emil, the Packmaster of Greymane Pack had arrived shortly after Eric left for the television station. He was younger than Alcide Herveaux, but built much the same. Instead of dark, wavy hair, his was blonde though there was nothing feminine or slight about him. His shoulders were so broad Sookie suspected he must have had the suit jacket he wore custom made. He bowed over her hand and when he straightened, Sookie had an opportunity to admire his clean, well-manicured hands and his well-trimmed mustache and goatee. He spoke with the soft, rolling accent of the Creole and Sookie thought his manners were more refined than hers.
Thalia had opened the conversation, asking the Packmaster whether he bothered to screen the guards he sent them, or if he just looked for the bottom of the barrel when making their assignments. Emil had growled in reply and the negotiations were underway. Thalia had used the information Sookie had gathered during the screenings to challenge the contract already in place. Emil had used Stuart’s execution to prove that getting anyone to want to work in the Palace was a fool’s errand. With positions now known, the two verbally circled each other warily. Thalia demanded a rebate and replacement of most guards with ‘competent’ help. Emil demanded restitution for Stuart’s family and assurances that unacceptable behavior would not result in immediate executions. Thalia demanded first right of refusal for any presented for employment. Emil demanded medical insurance and paid life insurance for the families of those accepted on staff. After an hour, the two had agreed that the Palace would continue to use the Greymane Pack as a source of guards and the Pack agreed to allow the Palace to screen and refuse any Weres it found to be unacceptable with the understanding they would be sent back to the Pack.
Sookie sat to the side, watching the maneuvering of the parties and listening intently to the thoughts of the Packmaster. She could tell that his Pack needed the income this contract represented. He was genuinely frustrated that so many of his guards were being accused of security breaches, but for most he was not surprised. Emil was also under some pressure to force concessions or at the least secure restitution for the execution of Stuart. His ascension as Packmaster was recent and he was anxious not to appear weak to those who followed him.
When one of the staff arrived with coffee, a TruBlood for Thalia and a plate of cookies, Emil had turned to Sookie and asked, “Is it true that you are the telepath who is Friend of the Shreveport Pack?”
Sookie had leaned forward and poured coffee. She offered Emil a cup and said, “Yes, that’s right, and I am also their Sachem.” Emil’s eyes had widened for just a moment, and Sookie could hear that this was a skill he wished he could secure for his own Pack. Emil was a clear broadcaster and Sookie could tell that this was important to him. “I was wondering if you might have need of a Sachem,” she said in her most conversational tone. “If it was worth something to you perhaps we could come to a conclusion about the rest of these matters.”
Sookie had been right. Emil was pleased that he would be able to return with something that even his rivals would concede was a benefit of great value. Sookie assured him that her attorney would be in touch and that she was sure that they could work out some exchange for value since they were most preferred partners in business.
When Sookie finished recounting the night’s events, Mr. Cataliades dropped his eyes and rustled some papers, “I have already been contacted by Mr. Touissant. You made quite the impression on him.” Sookie smiled and looked out the window. “I would suggest you consider before offering yourself to any more Packs. Mr. Herveaux is quite insistent on your visiting them soon and Mr. Touissant asked how long I expected paperwork to take. Oh,” Mr. Cataliades arched an eyebrow, “You agreed to give Greymane some pricing concessions?”
“They supply all our guards,” Sookie said, not turning her head from the window.
“For which they charge us well,” the attorney asserted.
Sookie turned then, “Set the fee to what you think is fair. He was accommodating and I can tell he wants to work with us.” Mr. Cataliades pursed his lips, and Sookie knew that if she could read him she would probably hear him calling her a sucker or something pretty close. Then something else occurred to her. “Desmond? I know this is kind of a personal question, but I’ve never asked before. You are an attorney and all; every attorney I’ve ever known, well, they charge by the hour.” The demon was watching her with a somewhat expectant look, but Sookie could tell she hadn’t insulted him, so she continued. “Well, it occurred to me that I’ve never seen a bill from you, not one. You’ve done a fair amount of work for me. Why is that?”
Mr. Cataliades straightened the sheaf of papers in his hand and slipped them into the hard-sided case on the floor by his feet. “That is because my fees for any work on your behalf are paid through a special account,” he said in a most pleasant voice.
“Special account?” the telepath asked. “And who would be funding that special account?”
“Why, your grandfather,” the attorney stated, in exactly the same tone he would have used to say ‘the sky is blue’ or ‘let’s have tea.’
Sookie found she couldn’t speak. It had been a long time since she’d been so surprised. A part of her realized she had stopped functioning. She was sitting perfectly still, staring at the demon, and her mouth was literally hanging open. They passed under a bridge and she could see herself in the window’s reflection, looking every bit as soft-headed as everyone in Bon Temps had believed she must be, and it snapped her out of it long enough to stop catching flies. “When did this happen?” Sookie managed to choke out.
“It has always been this way,” Mr. Cataliades said in a very matter of fact way. “I bill the Viking for work that is primarily for his benefit, but work for your benefit is done at the Prince’s expense.”
Sookie thought over all the things the attorney had done for her over the years. There had been contracts, talks, and negotiations. “That’s so much of work!” Sookie exclaimed.
“Indeed it is,” Mr. Cataliades agreed, and then he turned back to his papers. “Now, while I’m in this part of the country, I will be stopping by the Courthouse to see whether there has been any movement on the matter of your divorce,” and the attorney glanced up. Sookie knew she was still looking off balance and the attorney’s look became more concerned, “Unless you would prefer that I not pursue the matter at this time.” Sookie was sure he was deliberately misunderstanding her.
She breathed in deeply through her nose. She really didn’t know what to think. Her grandfather had always acted as if her welfare was paramount to him, but this was unexpected. She had believed that when he left, closing the portal behind him, that the annuity he bequested her was the end of their interaction. In fact, the Prince had told her that in clear words, but Sookie found that she had to consider the evidence. First there was Bellenos who told her that her Grandfather had approved of his coming to help her. Now there was this news about the Prince paying for her to have access to a demon lawyer whenever she needed. It required more time, but for now Sookie just shook her head and said, “That would be great. Anything you can do to move the divorce along would be appreciated.”
“Fine. Good,” Mr. Cataliades smiled back.
Sookie thought about the conversation she had had with Eric before she left. “Mr. Cataliades?” she asked, “There is one other thing.” Sookie suddenly felt shy as if she knew the thing she would ask was not proper. “I want to give some money to Eric for the coronation,” When she saw the lawyer’s face she knew that she was right to be nervous so she rushed out the next words. ”It’s actually a lot of money, most of what’s in the bank. However, Eric says he will only take it if there is a contract. I want to do this! I will whether or not there is a contract in place!”
There was a long pause and then the lawyer shrugged, “Mr. Northman was quite right to insist that this be a formal arrangement. I will prepare this document for you. I am sure that Mr. Northman meant for this to be between you and the kingdom, and not him personally.” When Sookie looked as if she would protest, he held up his hand. “If something were to happen, something unforeseen, such an agreement would be honored by anyone handling the kingdom’s debts.”
Sookie felt her stomach roil, “Do you think something will happen?”
“No, of course not,” Mr. Cataliades hastened to assure her, “I am merely considering all possibilities, no matter how remote.” Sookie wished his words were enough to quell the fear that she now felt. She knew that the attorney could feel that she remained unsettled because he leaned over and patted her hand. After giving her a tight smile he sat back and said, “I did hear from my niece, Diantha, recently. She will be at the Zeus Summit. The Great Lady will be there and Diantha will accompany her. She asked me to mention this to you and hopes you will have time to visit with her. She is very fond of you.”
Sookie couldn’t help but smile at the thought of seeing the slightly built demon. She wondered what color hair Diantha was sporting these days.
Upon her arrival in Jackson, Sookie was shown to a comfortable bedroom in the main house. She had a sneaking suspicion she had been in this room before. The colors were different, but there was something about the lay out that reminded her of that night she found herself in this house long ago, the night she had been staked. ‘Wonder what would have happened if Bubba hadn’t shown up,’ she thought and then she giggled. She knew darn well what would have happened between her and Eric if there had been no interruption, and it wouldn’t have involved discussing Bill Compton.
From her window, Sookie could see the little pool house she and Eric had been living in just a few short weeks ago. She wondered if the books they read were still on the shelves. She imagined they were. She wished that there was just such a place for them at the palace in New Orleans and she thought of the second bedroom in their suite. She wondered if it would be large enough to turn over into a sanctuary where they could escape
There were still several hours until nightfall. Sookie considered taking a walk outside, but the clouds were threatening rain. She walked over to the little chair and table and sat heavily. There was another table closer to the bed and there were some magazines there. Sookie almost stood to get one, and then thought, ‘Why not practice? I have the time.’ Sookie focused on the magazine she wanted in her hand. Nothing happened. Next she tried to imagine herself with the magazine in her hand. She thought she could feel something that time. She remembered the feelings she had before she had pulled the weapons to her. She was been mostly focused on the thing that made her afraid and it was more of a sideways wish, like seeing something from the corner of her eye. This time she looked out the window, keeping her mind working mostly on being bored and then, almost like an unconscious desire, she considered how she would be less bored with something to read and the quick image of the magazine and then she looked down to see the cover photo looking up at her from her lap. Sookie tried again. She brought her brush to her and then her sweater. At one point, she looked at the table and realized she had brought a glass of water as well and that unsettled her a little. Sookie didn’t remember calling the water in any conscious way and she decided to stop practicing for now.
She leaned back and looked at the raindrops that had just started pelting the window. She rubbed the aching place in her chest and thought of Eric. Sookie found herself reaching for the phone. She knew someone was likely up at this time of day and might have time to speak with her. She found she didn’t think of Lydia of Sanctum so often these days and she felt guilty that it had been weeks since she had checked in and chatted. She imagined the older woman sitting in her little office off the kitchen, Barbara bustling just next door preparing meals. The phone rang several times and Sookie almost hung up when she heard her friend’s familiar voice.
“Sookie! I was thinking about you. What a pleasant surprise!” Lydia’s voice was so welcome, and yet Sookie could hear a strain that was not familiar.
“You okay?” the telepath asked, “You don’t sound like yourself.”
“I suppose I don’t,” her friend readily agreed. “I received some news this morning and I’m afraid it is worrying me.”
“Anything I can do?” Sookie immediately offered. She wasn’t surprised when Lydia declined the offer, but what the healer said next did surprise her.
“It’s my Robert. There is some unrest and I am worried for him.”
“Your Robert?” Sookie couldn’t help exclaiming. Over their time together, Lydia had mentioned that there had been a great love in her life, her Robert. Sookie knew that Robert was a vampire and that he and the healer had been together for some period of time. What was surprising was that based on the comments that she’d heard, Sookie had assumed Robert was finally dead. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” Sookie ventured, “But I didn’t think Robert was still around. You know, walking so to speak.”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone. Sookie almost spoke again to make sure the connection was still open when Lydia said, “I can understand how you might have that misunderstanding.”
More time passed and Sookie asked, “If he’s still alive, can I ask why you aren’t together?” Sookie realized that it was probably rude to have asked such a personal question, but her curiosity was definitely getting the better of her. She hastened to add, “Of course you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want. It’s really not my business,” but the telepath was hopeful that Lydia would tell her and solve the mystery.
Lydia seemed to chuckle a little, but it didn’t sound merry. “There is a saying, ‘Healer, heal thyself.’ You will probably wonder why I feel that I can give advice to others when I am living apart from the love of my life. I don’t know how to explain it. My Robert is the only one for me, and I love him deeply, but I can’t live with him, I can’t live in his world.”
Sookie didn’t know what to say, but she heard herself ask, “Do you ever get to see him? You know, sometimes?”
“Not for many years,” Lydia replied softly. “I avoid the places I know he will be visiting. It’s too painful.” Sookie could hear her make a small sound, “I keep thinking that maybe this will be the year he comes to claim me again, or I’ll bury my pride and beg him to talk with me. Yet something always seems to hold me back, and he doesn’t come, and another year slips by.”
“But you heard something this morning that scared you,” Sookie stated.
The telepath could almost see the healer’s soft smile as she said, “I’m sure it’s nothing, a rumor really. It’s raining here, gray, and there are no guests, which should be a good thing, but it gives me too much time to dwell on memories and silly thoughts,” and with that Lydia switched the conversation to Sookie and Eric.
No sooner had darkness fallen than there was a knock on the door and a servant was asking Sookie to come downstairs to join the Kings.
Sookie walked into the study and found herself grinning ear to ear as she gave the obligatory bow to first Russell and then Bartlett. Russell bowed back, but Bartlett walked forward and opened his arms and Sookie couldn’t help walking into his embrace and hugging back
“I’m learning to hug,” Bartlett told her. “It seems like something mainstreamers do.” He stepped back and looked down at her, his eyes wide, “Oh, you are warm! And bonded! I can smell Northman!”
Russell was smiling as well and lifted his snifter of blood, “Congratulations to you! To you both!” he exclaimed.
“When did this happen?” Bartlett asked, and he gestured her toward one of the leather chairs.
“Couple days ago,” Sookie smiled. “It was just the right time, I guess,” and she sank down into the seat. A gin and tonic was placed beside her. She took a sip, but waved off the plate of cookies that was offered her.
“Of course, I’m sure you’re hungry. Dinner will be served in about a half hour,” Bartlett smiled.
“I hope you won’t mind if we don’t join you,” Russell had seated himself in the chair opposite her. “While we are making an effort, there are some aspects of human life that are still less palatable for me. While I appreciate the beauty of a well-prepared human meal, the smells are still something I do not enjoy.”
“Of course,” Sookie fluttered her hand, “No need to apologize. I completely understand.”
“Beautiful ring,” Bartlett moved at vamp speed to stand next to her and Sookie lifted her hand so he could see the ring more closely. “Leave it to the Viking. Not too big, but large enough to be a statement,” He smiled at Sookie, “It’s lovely, Princess.”
“Thank you,” Sookie replied in her best Sunday manners voice.
“Have you met Thierry?” Bartlett asked, and then he laughed as a blush rose in the telepath’s cheeks. “Oh, I can see you have!” the king smirked, and he turned to Russell. “Why does he always have that effect on women? I don’t understand it!”
“He has that effect on men, too, as I recall,” Russell was leaning back, his head resting on his hand as he watched Bartlett. His partner was looking very well this evening. He was wearing the orchid sweater they had found together recently in Jackson and Russell had been right about the color being perfect. “I can’t say that I miss him too much. He could cause a little more excitement than I would like.”
Bartlett smirked and then shrugged, “Nothing wrong with a little trouble from time to time.” He turned back to Sookie, “I am very fond of him, and his singing is first rate. Not as wonderful as Bubba of course, but still quite wonderful. You know Bubba is here?”
This was welcome news and Sookie smiled broadly. “Thalia told me he was in Texas.”
“Returned to us a couple days ago,” Russell provided. “Stan had to spend more time on the Summit and less in the game room. Bubba decided it was time to come back and help us with our cat infestation.”
Sookie decided not to think too much about that. “Sure hope I get a chance to see him before I leave.”
“I am sure you will,” Bartlett laughed. “As soon as I mentioned you were coming, I was given a ‘greatest hits’ of Sookie Stackhouse stories. I had no idea he had spent so much time lurking outside your house!”
Sookie felt her blush getting warmer. “He has been a great friend to me,” she replied. “I think I would have been in a lot more trouble if he hadn’t been there to keep an eye out for me.”
Bartlett settled on the small sofa and leaned back so that his arm could stretch comfortably along the back of the seat. “So, how is Thierry settling in?” he asked.
“Just fine as far as I can tell,” Sookie told him. “He seems to spend much of his time with Thomas, one of the other sheriffs. I get the impression they know each other from before.”
“I would think so,” Bartlett smiled. “They both came through New York.”
“Surely we have something more interesting to talk about,” Russell interjected. He was still sitting back, his posture deliberately relaxed, but he was playing with his ring, and there was something about the set of his mouth that Soohadkie thinking he was more than a little irritated.
“I can’t believe you!” Bartlett exclaimed. ‘It’s been forever and it was before we were together. Have I ever given you reason to doubt?” and the golden vampire huffed and started speaking directly to Sookie. “Thierry was sent to me a long time ago by the New York king as a spy. He did his best to seduce me, but I had his number right away. Of course, I went along with it for awhile,” Russell growled from his chair, and Bartlett fluttered his fingers at his mate and rolled his eyes again, “to find out what he was planning,” and then turning deliberately toward his mate, Bartlett said in a louder voice, “no other reason,” then he turned back to Sookie. “He was really quite bad at it and in no time I had the whole story, so I broke a couple of bones, painted some body parts in silver, and sent him limping back East.” Bartlett turned back to Russell. “And that was the end of it,” he stated emphatically.
Russell gave Bartlett a hard stare, and then allowed his face to lighten as he turned to Sookie, “I can’t imagine he would be able to cause similar discord at your Palace.” Sookie found herself remembering Eric’s blast of jealousy and, to her shame; she felt her cheeks redden again. Russell’s eyes widened, “He is a trouble maker everywhere he goes!”
“He’s French!” Bartlett responded. “He is charming and people misinterpret that!”
“Well, Miss Stackhouse,” Russell continued smoothly, “If the Viking does decide that he doesn’t need that kind of drama under his roof, kindly do me the favor of sending him in another direction!” Bartlett humphed from his seat and Russell smiled.
“I was wondering if the room I’m in upstairs is the same one I was in the last time? You know, the time with Lorena?” Sookie didn’t know what had her asking the question. It occurred to her after the words were out of her mouth that it might be considered bad taste to bring up the first time she had met Russell, the time she was here to rescue Bill.
“It is,” Russell confirmed. “I thought it might hold fond memories for you. It was the time you were here, when you and Northman were pretending to be something you were not.” Sookie felt distinctly uncomfortable but the Mississippi king didn’t seem to notice. “It was a different time then.”
“I’ll say,” Sookie said, looking around the room. “You had more beautiful men here than I’d ever seen in any one place.” As soon as it was out of her mouth, Bartlett turned to Russell, his eyebrow raised.
“That was then,” Russell agreed pleasantly. “Of course, that has all changed. There is only one man in my life now,” and as he finished the words, Bartlett smiled and pursed his lips in a kiss. Russell smiled directly at him and nodded, letting his mate know he returned the sentiment.
As Sookie smiled, a servant approached her with a glass on a tray with a replacement for the drink she realized she had drained. Sookie looked at Bartlett, a question in her eyes, and the blond vampire shrugged in return.
“Thanks,” Sookie said and the servant placed the glass near her on a coaster. Sookie took a sip, and then figured since they all seemed to be in a sharing mode, she would ask another kind of personal question. “How do you do it? How do you live with donors without getting jealous?”
“Well, we didn’t,” Russell replied. “In fact, it caused several of our first arguments.”
“Why was this one looking at you or why are you favoring that one? It was a hot mess!” Bartlett added.
“That’s why we converted to using the Federal Donor Registry,” Russell said in a matter-of-fact way. “It has turned out to be more economical. The government takes care of all the medical screening, the donors are always different, and they don’t live under your roof, so no room and board.”
Sookie thought about it, “I remember Bill Compton mentioning it once. It’s a big enough thing to handle events and guests?”
“Absolutely!” Bartlett added. “Such pleasant people to deal with. None of that judging attitude you generally run into, just professional. They really went out of their way to accommodate us as a royal account. I suppose they thought if we were to use the service our vassals would feel obligated. We are on a regular schedule now and it runs like clockwork.”
‘Huh,” Sookie’s mind was racing. This sounded pretty good. “So who are these donors? Is it the same type of people for the most part?”
“Well,” Bartlett turned his hand and admired his nails, “I think these are the same kinds of people who would normally donate blood for humans. Certainly the money donating for vampires is better!”
“And the enhanced medical benefits attract some,” Russell explained. “I’ve found it to be mostly college students, single mothers… mostly young. Some pleasure seekers, but overall the usual riffraff seems to be weeded out.”
“We are even able to specify preferred blood type. I’m surprised the government was smart enough to come up with it. It’s usually private business that figures this stuff out,” and Bartlett smiled at Russell who smiled right back.
“How long did it take y’all to get started?” Sookie asked. Her thoughts were churning. She never would have believed that this would be possible. She kept thinking there would be a catch. The Kings described their entire experience including just who it was they contacted, how all the complaints were handled, and their continued concerns about security. They also made it clear that the usual outcome of feeding (sex) was generally discouraged, but it was not prohibited, so she should be aware of that.
Mr. Cataliades joined them then, and the talk shifted to the telepath’s work for the Packs. The contract was described. Russell made a couple requests, but overall congratulated Sookie on her opportunity to align more closely with the Weres. “This can only benefit us all in the long run,” he confirmed.
The attorney and the Mississippi king retreated to another office to discuss some business concerns. Bartlett shifted so that he could sit closer to her. “So,” he opened, “How are things in your state?” Sookie felt herself going on alert. She and Eric had discussed what to say and what to keep quiet while she was in Jackson. While they felt the kings meant well, Eric assured her it never was a good idea to get too comfortable with vampires.
“Things are really shaping up,” Sookie said in a voice she hoped would be interpreted as bright and optimistic.
“That’s good to hear,” the Indiana king replied. “I hope that your Eric is paying attention to Area 6 along our borders.” Sookie bit her lip and mentally scanned a map of the state.
“That’s the Area right next to Area 5,” Sookie said aloud as much for her own benefit as for the Indiana king. “Rubio Hermosa is the new sheriff there. He’s lived in this Area a long time and he has a nice group of nest mates who are helping him. Indira has Pam’s old territory and she’s helping him too.” When Bartlett nodded, Sookie added, “I heard about some of the troubles out that way recently. My brother is a werepanther in a town near Bon Temps and his Pack was talking about vampires and Weres coming in from the outside. You have that going on here too?”
Bartlett shook his head, “No, but of course, we worry about it spilling over into our territories.”
‘Well, Eric mentioned that Thalia is headed up there now to get to the bottom of it. I’ll be stopping there on my way back from Iowa. Alcide Herveaux has asked that I sit in on some of his meetings to see if I can hear anything.”
“As Sachem?” Bartlett asked.
“Yup,” Sookie agreed, “As Sachem.”
Bartlett looked pleased, “Well, if Thalia is involved and you, Princess, I don’t think we have anything else to worry about.” The King held up his glass in a toast and then drank, encouraging Sookie to do the same. As she finished she realized that somehow she had skipped dinner, and had one gin and tonic too many. As if sensing her foggy head, Bartlett leaned forward, “So just how are things in Louisiana, really?” he asked.
“Just right as rain!” Sookie said in her cheeriest voice, and then she stood a little too quickly. Bartlett was there immediately to steady her as she swayed, “I am so sorry! I don’t know how I missed dinner, but I may have had a little too much to drink,” she stammered. “I think I should head back to my room.”
Bartlett was all caring and concern as he held her arm and helped her up the stairs. “I am so sorry. I haven’t been a proper host at all,” he chided himself. “I will have a tray sent right up. Is there anything I can get for you?” Sookie laughed, making fun of herself, and asked only that he send up a big glass of water with dinner, and then she made much of laying down and closing her eyes.
When she heard the door close she opened her eyes again and wondered if it had really been an accident. Eric had talked with her before she left about the nature of vampires. He had told her that it was simply second nature for vampires to look for opportunities. He warned her never to discuss any kingdom business with anyone not in their immediate family. He suggested that she even exercise caution with his sheriffs, except Indira. “Trust me, Pam, Thalia, and Indira. Max is trustworthy as well. No one else until we have an opportunity to learn more about them,” he’d told her. He also told her to assume that all rooms were bugged and conversations recorded. “If you run into trouble or feel uncomfortable, plead a headache and go lie down. Humans are always seeming to need rest or food,” he explained. “Vampires won’t question it.”
Sookie flipped on her back. Her head really was a little more woozy than she liked. Just then her phone rang and she flipped off the bed in her scramble to find her purse. Once she got her hands on it, she managed to drop it, spilling the contents as well as the phone all over the floor. The picture on the screen was Eric. He had apparently been playing with her screen saver because it was full frontal and he had himself in his hand. His lips were curled in a smirk, and she could almost hear him in her head, teasing her. She hit the button, and sat back against the bed, her legs straight out in front of her as she sat on the floor. “Cute picture,” she said.
“I miss you already,” he responded.
“Me too,” Sookie sighed, and she realized she was rubbing the ache in her chest.
“What are you wearing?” Eric purred.
“Well, it ain’t you!” Sookie sassed and the Viking chuckled. “I’m waiting for dinner, so if you hear some noise that will be it,” she continued.
“It is late for you to be eating,” Eric observed. “Is everything alright?”
“Fine and dandy,” Sookie replied a little more cavalierly than she might have otherwise.
“Are you drunk, my little fairy?” her vampire teased her.
“No! Not one bit!” and as she threw her head back a little too hard and felt it bounce against the mattress she added, “Well, maybe a little bit.”
“Be cautious, min krigare. Where is Cataliades?”
“He’s chatting with Russell about kingdom stuff,” Sookie felt relaxed but a little guilty. “Don’t worry, I’m in my room and I told them I’m going to sleep. And that is what I intend on doing after we talk. Promise.”
Sookie told Eric about the trip so far. She told him what Mr. Cataliades said about the source of his payments. Eric didn’t seem surprised. Eric told her about the preliminary agenda for the Zeus Summit. He reminded her she would need a new dress to wear for the assembly that would witness Sandy Seacrest’s wedding. Sookie told him about Bartlett’s asking about Area 6, and Eric confirmed that Thalia had left this evening to meet with Indira and Rubio. Then Sookie told Eric what the Kings had said about using the Registry for donors.
“It does sound like a better arrangement,” Eric agreed. “The household is yours. You would agree if we were to make this change? I can have Max call immediately.”
“Yes, please!” Sookie laughed. “I have been so uneasy with all of this. I really am trying to understand it, but especially now after listening to all of them, I just know I’ll be happier having folks come in but not live in, if you know what I mean.”
“It will be as you say,” Eric agreed. “But are you sure?”
“It’s fine, Eric. I’ve thought about it and I really think it’s for the best,” she assured him.
“I’m glad Sookie,” Eric said. He then went on to tell her, “You will be happy to know that staff changes are also being made. The information you gathered was shared with your housekeeper. She said she texted you in case you had objections, but since she hadn’t heard back, she is moving ahead in letting go of the problems. She will look for replacements and will do her best to have them ready for you to interview on your return.”
Sookie automatically checked her messages and, indeed, there was a text from Devrah time stamped several hours ago. Sookie figured she must have been in a dead zone in the car because she hadn’t heard it. She found herself smiling widely. It felt like everything was just coming together. “I’m so happy, Eric, but I sure wish you were here,” she sighed.
“I miss you every minute, älskade,” he whispered, and they wished each other a good night and ended the call.
There was a knock on the door, and Sookie hoisted herself up and let in a servant who carried a covered tray. No sooner had she sat down and started to dig in when there was a knock at the window. Sookie stood up and looked out to see a familiar face. “Bubba! What are you doing out there?” she asked. She threw open the window and the vampire crawled in.
“Is Mr. Eric here?” he asked and looked around as if he expected to see the Viking.
“No, Bubba. He’s still in New Orleans,” Sookie said and she draped her arm around him and brought him over to a chair near the table. Bubba looked at the chicken on the plate and wrinkled his nose a little.
“Sure smells funny, Miss Sookie,” he grumbled.
Sookie just smiled, “So I hear you just got back from Texas,” she said.
“Sure did,” her friend told her, his big smile even broader. “That Mr. Stan sure has some fun games. We stayed up all night playing Twilight Zone. You know it?” When Sookie shook her head the vampire’s blue eyes lit up. “I ain’t never seen a pinball machine like that one. It has more gadgets and gizmos on it than the Fourth of July. It even had a gumball machine that dropped a real piece of gum if you got the ball just right.” Bubba went on to describe in great detail the action, the tiers, and the sounds the various tricks and traps made. Sookie hadn’t seen him so happy in a long time. She had to imagine that the new video games weren’t as much fun. With their faster reflexes, most games were child’s play for vampires. Eric had resisted her suggestion of a gaming system for just that reason. The old pinball machines, on the other hand, appeared to have just enough left to chance and physics that they satisfied the need for mindless entertainment.
Then, as she was finishing her dinner, Bubba said, “Course, I didn’t come right here. I stopped by to see Mr. Bill first.” Sookie must have looked startled because the simple vampire looked at her and his eyes became concerned. “I really am sorry about your house, Miss Sookie. That must have been a hard blow.”
“It was, Bubba,” Sookie told him and patted his hand. “I thank you for your sympathy.” The vampire nodded, his signature hair flopping just a little over his eye. They sat there for a minute or so then Sookie looking at him and Bubba looking around the room as if he had just awoken and wasn’t quite sure how he had got there. Then Bubba turned to Sookie and his face was concerned.
“Mr. Bill sure is all kinds of mad at you, Miss Sookie. Why is that?”
Sookie clenched her teeth and shook her head, “I don’t have any idea, Bubba. What makes you think he’s mad?”
“There was a big cardboard thing that showed up at the house while I was visiting. It was just as tall as me; there was a Viking person on it with his arm wrapped around some sexy woman. There was a little guy in the background who looked kind of like a weasel. It was called ‘A Viking’s Bond.’ When Mr. Bill saw it he started using all kinds of bad language, and he just set it on fire, right there on the front lawn.” Sookie was drinking some water and when Bubba got to the part where Bill had torched the stand-up she laughed so abruptly she could feel the water in her nasal passages. She started to choke, and Bubba came around and pounded her on her back until she yelled at him to stop. When he sat back down he looked at her with a serious set to his eye. “He kept saying ‘Goddamn Sookie!’ He was pretty mad.” Sookie calmed down, but decided that it would be better if she bit her lip rather than say anything else. Bubba looked up at her then, his eyes clear, and his lopsided smile so open, “Course if I was wearing them dark sunglasses and funny white suit, I’d be kind of mixed up about stuff too. Mr. Bill sure has changed.”
‘Better keep changing,’ Sookie thought as she patted her friend on his hand.