Author’s Note: Thank you for everyone who is reading and sharing their opinions and commentary. Your involvement is the best thank you I could ever receive. I also thank my wonderful beta readers, Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy. You encourage, suggest and challenge me to be better. Your time and your talent is a gift. Thank you!
Nautical Note: In the days of sailing ships, a special, sealed glass with fluid was kept in the captain’s cabin. It would have a main chamber and a long ‘snout’. The amount of water that had risen from the chamber into the snout was a good indicator of weather changes. It is a matter of physics – more pressure means a higher water level and generally signaled calm and steady weather. But if changes were coming, the level of the water would fall, and the captain knew there were troubled times just over the horizon.
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.
From above her, Eric said, “Come. We should go inside.” He stepped back to break her embrace and then turned, placing his hand on the small of her back and steering her through the doors. Thalia stood within the hallway. Sookie noticed the small vampire didn’t meet her eyes when they walked by. No one said a word as they walked to the private elevator.
Meg was waiting there. “Welcome back, Mistress!” she smiled. Sookie smiled back automatically. Eric applied some pressure, encouraging her into the open elevator but as she stepped in, he stepped back.
Sookie couldn’t keep the confusion from her face, “You aren’t coming up?” she asked.
“No, I have meetings,” he replied. “There are clothes upstairs. Pam arranged them. The storekeepers are eager for you to make your choices. We had expected you back last week.”
“Oh,” Sookie heard herself say. What she wasn’t saying was ‘What’s going on? Why are you treating me like this? What have I done?’ All those questions were sitting like stones in her chest as she looked open-mouthed at Eric.
Meg was happily smiling, oblivious to the chill Sookie felt. “They are all so beautiful. I have a suggested list of what you’ll need. My goodness! Sounds like it will be amazing!”
“Is Pam here?” Sookie asked, reluctant to release Eric.
“No,” he answered, “She is on her way to Arkansas. She will be monitoring the kingdom while I am at the Zeus Summit,” and then he smiled in a way that didn’t quite reach his eyes, turned and walked away. Saul reached past her, slid the door closed, and started the elevator. Sookie had a brief moment of panic, wondering if the elevator would take her to the top floor or if Saul had been instructed to stop and let her out somewhere else.
The doors did slide open on the top floor though, and Meg bustled ahead to the doors of the suite. Charles opened the door ahead of her and nodded. James smiled, “Welcome back, Mistress.”
Shari was exiting, “The suitcase is just inside the door,” she told Meg, and then ducked her head to Sookie.
Sookie found herself standing uncertainly in the sitting room and she glanced to the right and saw the door to the extra room was ajar. She had a moment of panic, ‘He’s moved me out!’ she thought. Then Meg headed left, entering the bedroom, “Just give me a minute. I’ll get your things all squared away,” and Sookie found herself breathing again.
Sookie walked back to the little kitchenette and poured herself a glass of water. As she exited, her eyes were drawn to the open door of the spare bedroom again. Her curiosity got the better of her and she pushed open the door. Eric had been busy. The far wall was lined with bookshelves that reached all the way to the ceiling. In the light from the sitting room the bookcases looked like dark wood and Sookie felt for the light switch. When she found it she discovered that the overhead light had been removed. Instead there were soft lights positioned around the room. There was a gas fireplace positioned in a corner. Most of the floor was covered with a thick, plush, oriental rug. There were extra rugs in front of the fireplace and cushions on the floor. It looked as if someone had been laying there reading recently. There was a fainting couch to one side and a large, oversized armchair that could easily fit both her and Eric with her wrapped in his lap. Sookie heard a sound behind her and turned to see Meg’s smiling face. “He supervised the whole thing himself,” she told the telepath. “He told me he couldn’t wait for you to see it,” and then the servant blushed.
“What is it?” Sookie asked her.
“Nothing!” Meg replied. “It’s just he was so eager. The way he smiled? He looked just like a little kid. He really loves you, Mistress!” Meg giggled and blushed some more.
Sookie could feel the lump forming in her throat. The Eric who met her tonight was not that man. The Eric who met her tonight was someone else. “He is pretty special,” Sookie nodded. “So, where are those clothes?” and Sookie followed Meg to a bedroom.
Sookie wondered if this was what Eric felt each time she had deserted him in the past, this disorientation and regret. Even though she knew he was in the building, she found her heart aching. It was like the bond, but different. She knew she was supposed to be angry, but she was more of something else. Sookie was worried. All this time she had been so sure she understood Eric, that when she said something he knew what she meant. It was one of the things that made him so attractive. Eric Northman got her. She believed it. Now? Now she wasn’t so sure and that doubt combined with how Eric was behaving was eating at her.
Sookie looked at the clothing. Her upbringing rebelled at the sight of so much luxury but the Sookie that wanted to make Eric proud pushed that reaction very firmly away. “Let’s get busy,” she told Meg. “I want everyone in San Antonio to know that the King of these states has the best.”
When Eric walked back into the office he could tell that his sheriffs were surprised. “False alarm?” Thierry asked.
Eric glanced at him as if questioning what he was saying, but answered the question he knew they all wanted to ask, “She’s here.”
He saw the quick exchange of looks between them, but they still moved more quickly to their places around the conference table. Eric walked to the chess board and studied Thomas’ most recent move. “Interesting gambit,” he commented.
“Thank you, Majesty,” Thomas replied with a quick bow of his head.
“Resume,” Eric commanded, remaining beside the chess board.
Jane nodded to Thierry who stepped forward to stand over the maps on the conference table. “The primary goal is to gain support and a partnership in linking the transmission lines here,” and he pointed to a juncture between Louisiana and Texas. “There is a co-generation plant almost at the border that has the best potential for upgrade to receive and transmit both wind and solar in addition to gas and oil. Of the twenty plants we’ve surveyed in the four state regions, this will be the easiest and least expensive to convert. If we can get the funding and the support from the other two monarchs we should see returns almost immediately.”
“Time frame?” Eric snapped.
“Twenty-four to thirty-six months,” Thierry provided.
“That’s assuming we have wind generation in place to send that way,” Jane added. Eric turned his head to look at her and lifted his eyebrow. Jane nodded and continued, “Maxwell has made progress in Baton Rouge. There is a soft commitment to a tax credit deal for the first wind turbine installation. They will be planted here,” she showed the approximate location on the map near the juncture of Arkansas and Louisiana. “There is some overlap with the potential fracking wells and the engineers are recommending we do not co-locate.” Eric nodded. “We should know within a week’s time. If the approval goes through we can have the installation up and running within six months. With the proximity of the lines, returns should be running a little over projections.”
Eric’s lip curled upward then, “Good work,” he said. “That will help and it places us well ahead of schedule. Have you adjusted the financial prospectus to reflect this?”
Thierry shook his head, “Not yet,” he confirmed.
“That is a priority. I want it done by tomorrow night. We must have everything in place before we are in San Antonio. We need investors and supporters. Money invests with strength.” Eric swept the room with a look that took in the whole group. “Anticipate that there will be a concerted effort to push your numbers. Do not prevaricate or exaggerate. When in doubt, err on the conservative side and make sure you make that known in your footnotes. We will have one shot at this. We need to make the most of the opportunity.” Eric tilted his head, and then reached down and moved a piece on the board.
Thomas stepped forward, “We will be ready, Majesty,” he said with a courtly bow.
Eric’s eyes narrowed, “When do you leave for Lafayette?” he asked.
“Tonight,” Thomas responded, his eyes on taking in the play on the table between them.
Eric glanced back at the game, “Should I set aside the board for your return?”
Thomas smiled and stepped closer. He turned his head first one way and then another. He walked halfway around the board, never meeting Eric’s eyes. “Interesting move, Majesty,” he said and then moved another piece. “Checkmate,” he smiled.
Eric’s eyebrows rose as he confirmed the trap into which he had fallen. “Then you are ready to leave,” he smirked. At the vampire’s shrug, Eric lost all signs of humor. “Press hard. The palace must be ready to receive guests. If Thierry is successful he will have company almost immediately. Representatives will want to confirm sites and situation. I need every vampire in that Area registered and the census coordinated with Max here. His household must be ready and the entire premises swept for devices and traps on a regular schedule. If you have deliveries or any kind of repairs, make arrangements for extra security sweeps after every crew leaves. No one outside those you know and who have earned your trust should be unescorted. Make sure the guards are trustworthy.”
“It would be helpful to have the services of a telepath…” Thomas said, Sookie’s name hanging in the air.
“There is little time,” Eric growled, but then he seemed to straighten and his face returned to a more neutral mood. “Ask the housekeeper to leave her a message. She may be able to stop there on her way to Zeus Summit.” When Eric turned his eyes back to the group, Max thought he could see anger and something else in the monarch’s face. “Leave nothing to chance,” he admonished them.
No one viewed the orders as being excessive. Everyone had heard the nightly reports from Rubio. The incursions in Areas 5 and 6 were too precise to be random. There was clearly some mastermind behind what was happening. Rubio felt the actions represented an assessment of sorts. Indira was of the opinion that they were meant to divert resources and attention. Thalia’s report, which had been delivered last night, was that whoever was behind it had limitless finances. She agreed it was deliberate and had sent a tracker to see if more could be ascertained about the origin of the vampire and Weres that had been killed by the werepanthers of Hot Shot.
For now, all speed would be applied to secure the remaining Areas and button down both resources and security. Since the fracking operations were the first step in the overall plan, Area 2 would need to be addressed first.
Thomas turned to Thierry, “Don’t worry, brother. I will have things all neat and tidy by the time you show up.”
“Well, you are hardly the vampire for the job, being English, but I’m sure you’ll do your best.” Thierry smiled broadly. Lafayette was well known for its Acadian heritage. Thierry, with his French roots, was sure to be a local favorite.
“I’ll sharpen all your stakes for you, don’t you worry. Oh, and I’ll make sure the most bounteous of the Registry are ready for your homecoming,” Thomas said, looking at his fingernails.
“Which means you will find the most homely…” Thierry snarled.
“The sourer the face, the sweeter the blood, is what I hear,” Thomas said, his face all innocence. Behind him Jane guffawed.
“Don’t let your humor get in the way of the business of the kingdom,” Eric hissed, his eyes narrowed. Thalia signaled him from the door and he stalked into the hallway.
“What is that about?” Jane asked. “I thought we’d have at least a couple hours to work amongst ourselves, homecoming and all. Trouble in paradise?”
Thierry shifted his eyes towards Max. “Well, Mr. Lee? Any guesses?”
Maxwell looked up from the papers on the desk, his face neutral. He stroked his mustache with his hand, and then slowly shook his head. “You are a terrible liar,” Jane hissed. “Keep your secrets, but it’s hard to work as a group when we don’t know what to expect minute to minute.”
“Yes,” said Thierry, “He has good business sense, but he is mercurial. His emotions seem to rule him.”
Thomas hissed, “You over state it, brother. He is under great strain, but look at what we have accomplished already. We have a plan that we all believe could succeed. What other vampire that you know, Misha included, could have pulled so much from nothing?”
“But it is all for nothing if we can’t come up with the table stakes. We are millions short. He tells us nothing, but I don’t think there’s been any progress with the breather banks,” Thierry shrugged.
Jane smiled then, her fangs prominent, “But isn’t that your job at Zeus, Frenchman? Seduce the millions?”
Thomas laughed, “I’ve seen him in action. If we prostitute him carefully we may earn somewhere in the six figures. I think he sucks cock with real distinction,” Thierry hissed loudly, “but it’s always the ladies who pay best and I hear his skills in tongue spelunking are marginal.” Thierry launched himself at Thomas and Max couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped him.
Jane walked over and kicked them both hard. “Stop acting like savages! This is why you can’t travel together. You aren’t fit for company. Besides, everyone knows I’m the brains in this operation.” Thierry hooked her ankle and flipped her. As she landed, Maxwell walked over and rescued a nearby table.
“When is your car leaving, Thomas?” the tall, elegant vampire asked, ignoring the fact that the vampire he was speaking to was caught in a headlock.
“Within the hour,” Thomas bit out, flipping himself expertly and reversing holds on Jane.
“Then I would suggest you stop playing and make final arrangements. The King’s temper is, as you have observed, short. I wouldn’t be keeping your driver waiting in this instance.” When Thierry and Jane seemed reluctant to release Thomas, Maxwell placed a couple of kicks himself and the two released their fellow. Thomas immediately rose, straightened his shirt, and left the room at vamp speed.
Maxwell looked at the other two, Thierry was rubbing ribs and Jane, her shoulder, “And I’d get off the floor, if I were you. You are right to observe His Majesty is not patient. From what I can tell he has been without any type of release for several weeks and that is likely to make him violent.” Jane and Thierry scrambled to pull themselves upright. “He mentioned a financial prospectus?” Max prompted. Thierry groaned and both sheriffs headed for the computer.
Eric stood in the small garden with his second. He was not sure what he thought about this place. It was visually beautiful and there were many species of plant that reminded him of places in his past, but the damp and warmth seemed cloying. Eric found himself much happier with the clean, crisp air of the upper atmosphere, closer to the clouds. It reminded him of the North Sea and flying under full sail.
“I think you should kill him outright. You have justification both by contract and by custom. Your telepath will insist on working with the Weres. It would be a good example to the rest,” Thalia hissed. “He acted improperly. Cataliades says he touched her as well.”
Eric hissed now, his eyes blazing, “In what way?” he snarled.
“Nothing carnal, nothing violent, but he put his hands on her just the same.”
Eric turned, resting his eyes on the small fountain. He took several deep breaths, bringing the smells of this place within him, allowing the turmoil within him to settle. “He is too important to the stability of the Area,” he said, not turning around. “To execute him now would make the situation worse.” He didn’t wait for Thalia’s response. “If we demand a limb he will be as good as dead. Pack law will require a succession fight.”
“And that’s a bad thing?” Thalia snapped. “He has failed over and over again. Who knows what mischief his laziness has caused? There is still the outstanding matter of the guards in Bon Temps. Pam didn’t get what was paid for in the coin of the kingdom. I don’t consider a Were guard sent here at a discount fair recompense for that insult. Alcide Herveaux is a bad ally and a negligent partner.”
“And who is to say we will get someone better? He is the devil we know. Once things are resolved in the Area we can revisit this conversation.” Eric turned then, his face stormy, “I am no fan of his either. Personally, I agree with you. His life should be forfeit.” Eric glanced upward and Thalia knew he was thinking of Sookie. His hand had traveled to his chest. It was a tell to anyone that the King suffered from the pull of the bond between them. “Demand he submit to having a limb broken, his choice.”
“And if he refuses?” Thalia asked.
“Then tell him we will enforce the exact terms of the contract and demand his life,” Eric said in a reasonable tone. “What choice does he have? If he breaks the terms of the contract, his Pack will be honor-bound to abjure him. I think he will view a fracture as getting off easy.”
“That’s because it is,” Thalia hissed.
“Indeed,” Eric agreed. “Oh, and remind the dog that if any word of this manages to find my Intended, Long Tooth Pack will be looking for a new Packmaster and his children will be orphans.” Thalia smiled.
Sookie spent hours working through the list of recommended wardrobe items for the upcoming Summit. A whole room had been transformed into a clothing closet, wheeled racks filling the space with suits, dresses, evening dresses, slacks and casual wear. There were color-coordinated shoes on low racks along with handbags and costume jewelry selections. To the side there were scarves, belts, and a whole box loaded with matching bra and panty sets on a low dresser. ‘Pam was thorough,’ Sookie thought. Meg held up a red nightgown that was more air than fabric. When she saw Sookie looking at her, she blushed and folded it back onto the dresser.
Sookie allowed Meg to help her try on the clothes that fit the list Pam provided, identifying what type of outfits would be needed for the meetings and social events on the agenda for the Zeus Summit. The whole affair was scheduled for three days and four nights, but Pam seemed to think that changing clothes often was expected. Sookie thought about other Summits she had attended. She wondered if her remaining in the same outfits during those evenings had somehow negatively reflected on her or on Eric. As she glanced at Meg, she realized she really didn’t have anyone to ask. Thalia did not appear to be speaking to her. Pam was out of town and not likely to return. She certainly didn’t feel comfortable asking the three sheriffs downstairs. Truth be told, there were moments she wasn’t sure she felt comfortable being in the same house with a couple of them. Then she thought of Max. If she could get a minute of his time she was sure he could tell her. Just to be safe, Sookie made enough selections to satisfy every item Pam had listed, and then a few more.
“Well, that will make the phone ring less!” Meg announced. When Sookie looked at her, the question plain on her face, the younger woman smiled easily. “Like your… His Majesty said,” The servant stumbled, the smile never slipping, “The local shopkeepers loaned the clothes, on consignment you could say, and they have been wondering when you would be returning the ones you didn’t want.”
“Oh,” Sookie said softly. She looked over the racks. “What about Eric? We should make sure he has everything he needs.”
“Oh, that’s already done!” Meg laughed. “Miss Pam took care of the King first thing. She is a shopping wonder!” Somehow the servant’s answer didn’t make Sookie feel good. Meg glanced at her watch, “Goodness, look at the time! You must be hungry.” Sookie’s stomach chose that moment to growl and Meg looked at her merrily. “Let me call downstairs. I’ll bet your dinner is ready. It’s a beautiful night. Do you want to eat on the roof?”
“Sure,” Sookie nodded. “I’ll just go downstairs and see if Eric wants to join me,” she added.
“Oh, gosh,” Meg said, her face dropping a little. “I thought he told you. The King left me with instructions that he has meetings all night and I should just fix you something and not bother him.” When she saw Sookie’s face flush red she stammered, “I’m sorry. I really thought you knew. I’m sure he…”
“It’s okay,” Sookie said, swallowing hard. “Now that I think about it, if it’s all the same to you, I don’t think I’m really hungry after all. I’m kind of tired. All that traveling just takes it out of me, I guess. I think I’ll just be heading back to the room.” Sookie didn’t wait for the younger woman to respond. She could feel the heat in her cheeks and she knew if she thought about any of this for one more minute she would cry somewhere people could see, and she’d be damned if she would. Sookie bit her lip hard and focused on the pain. It was something she had learned in her past, in that Before time when she was with Sam Merlotte. Physical pain could make her forget the pain of a broken heart and Sookie had a brief moment when she wondered if that was what was happening, and then she bit harder.
Sookie managed to walk tall and straight down the hallway. She made it past the guards and into the room before she felt her knees trembling. Tears flowing, a sob threatening to escape her, she jammed her fist into her mouth and stumbled into the bedroom. She shut the doors firmly behind her and sank down next to the bed. She pressed her face into the quilt, allowing the thick fabric to stifle the sounds of her weeping.
It was close to dawn when Eric entered the suite. Charles bowed to him and James opened the door. The vampire thought he saw a rebuke from the younger Were, but when he looked sharply, the Were bowed, his face carefully deferential. As Eric walked into the sitting area he could smell her and the ache in his chest seemed to ratchet up a few more degrees. He found his gums itched and his fangs were descending. He cursed himself for his own weakness. Perhaps Thalia was right. Perhaps she would be the death of him.
He looked toward the open doors of the bedroom. He could smell her. He realized there had been a moment in the elevator ride up here when he had wondered if she would choose to be in his bed. ‘I thought we understood each other,’ he thought. ‘It was illusion. Even when I speak plainly, who knows what she hears.’ The mystery of Sookie Stackhouse had been one of the attractions. She had never seemed afraid of him when anyone with sense would have run. She had treated him like he was someone she could befriend, and it had allowed him to show a side that few ever saw. Eric wondered now if everything he had come to believe was wrong, if she was just too ignorant to understand her situation. He couldn’t hold onto that thought, he knew he was being unfair. Sookie had demonstrated time and again cunning which was rare in humans, but then again, she wasn’t really human. If he thought of her as Fae, her cunning wasn’t such a surprise. She was, in many ways, Niall Brigant’s child.
Eric walked to the bedroom door and looked inside. The smell of her tears came to him first. They smelled lightly of salt and something else that reminded him of spring rain. There was freshness to the scent, a delicacy. Then he caught a slightly different scent. “It must mean her monthlies,’ he thought. This was his favorite time of the month. She smelled sweeter and the blood that was available now was best. He remembered her embarrassment their first time but she had warmed to the experience.
She was in his bed, her long, golden hair spread behind her. She was curled in the middle, his pillow clutched in her arms. Eric felt himself stiffen, the center of his chest pulling toward her. Eric shut his eyes. He wanted to harden his heart to her, but he knew, looking at her, he couldn’t. With a sigh, he dropped his clothes, raised the blankets and slid into bed. He loosened her fingers from his pillow and shifted her a little further from him.
“Eric,” she sighed, as even in her sleep she sought him out. He felt the bond within him loosen and heard the purr that sprang, unasked, from his own chest. She clutched at him, her fingers curling, a small sound escaping her that could have been a sob. Shaking his head, he conceded defeat. He rolled her gently and spooned himself behind her. Her fingers automatically wrapped themselves with his and she sighed, a smile settling on her face. “Love you,” she murmured.
“I love you too,” he answered. He lay there, surrounded by her smell and feeling at peace as day death found him.
Sookie awoke with a sense of well-being that she hadn’t felt in weeks. She snuggled back into a cool barrier that she knew was him and she felt her lips turn up. ‘Home’ her heart sang. She flexed her fingers to find that there were other fingers mixed in. “Eric,” she whispered and a smile spread across her face. Sookie didn’t need to open her eyes to see him behind her and around her. ‘It will be okay,’ her heart told her and she believed it because she had to.
She wondered if she could just stay in bed all day, reveling in his closeness, even though he lay in day death. Then her stomach rumbled loudly and her bladder reminded her of other needs. She crawled out from under his arm and made her way to the bathroom. She took care of everything and then headed for the shower. ‘Best thing I can do is my part to make the kingdom work,’ she told herself. ‘I won’t spend all day lying around in bed when I know he’s trying so hard.’
Sookie showered and changed. She took care to pull her hair back in an attractive and professional look, and she even did some light make up. ‘Putting on my war paint,’ she joked to herself, trying to feel braver about facing the day. She stood beside the bed, looking at Eric’s face. He was still on his side, his arm outstretched. Sookie could have just crawled right back under the covers, but she sniffed and stood tall. “I am yours,” she said aloud and found herself listening to the sound of her own voice for any sign that she was less than sincere.
Holding her head high, she headed into the hallway. Titus was there. “Morning,” she smiled at him. He nodded in return but didn’t say anything. Sookie tried not to read too much into it. She walked to the elevator to find Saul. She put a bright smile on her face, “Nice to see you, Saul. Don’t you ever sleep?”
“Morning back at you, Mistress,” he returned. “I find I just don’t need as much as I used to. Course, there might be times I might just get a little shut eye right here,” He jerked his chin towards a little stool sitting in the corner of the elevator car.
“Don’t blame you much,” Sookie said brightly. “Guess you don’t get many calls, especially during the day.”
“Having you around makes a difference,” he acknowledged. “It’s a good difference too. Nice to have folks around who aren’t so busy they can’t stop to chat,” He smiled broadly.
Sookie found herself dipping into his head. She was surprised to find he was thinking about Queen Sophie-Anne. “You’ve been here a long time, haven’t you?” Sookie said as a way to ease into the conversation. They arrived at the ground floor and Saul opened the door. Sookie realized she was in no hurry to leave and the Were seemed inclined to talk. Sookie thought it must be lonely sitting in an elevator car by yourself just waiting for someone to show up.
“I have been,” Saul nodded. “I was here when the little Queen was in residence. Her and Mr. Andre and the boys.”
“The boys?” Sookie asked.
“Sigebert and Wybert. Cut ups they were, always good for a laugh, those two.”
“Huh,” Sookie said, her Crazy Sookie smile automatically plastering on her face. “I never thought of them as all that humorous.”
“Most people didn’t get that about them,” Saul agreed, nodding sagely. “It was hard to see past their outsides, especially if the little Queen Bee didn’t know you.” Sookie nodded as well. The brothers had been built like rock walls, and they gave the impression of having the same rocks between their ears. “But funny? They had days they would have me almost pissing myself,” the old Were snorted, and then he looked guilty, “If you’ll pardon the expression, Mistress.”
“Sure,” Sookie shrugged, “No problem.”
Devrah poked her head in the elevator car door then, “Oh, this is where you are!” she said, shaking her head. “I thought you got lost. Your breakfast is all laid out. It’s not that nice a day and I thought you might want to eat in the little garden.”
Sookie turned her head, automatically giving the housekeeper the same smile she had been giving Saul. “Sure, Devrah, whatever you say.” She turned back to the Were, “See you later, Saul!” Sookie stepped into the hall and followed Devrah’s tall, straight back toward the little garden space.
They walked down the short corridor and through the wood door. There was a small table set with one chair. It faced the fountain. Sookie looked at the space and turned to Devrah. “Do you think it would be alright if I just ate in the kitchen?” she asked. “I’ll stay out of the way.”
Devrah looked like she was going to protest, but then she gave a slight smile and nodded, “Sure, Mistress. Whatever you want.”
Sookie dipped into her head. She could hear that the housekeeper was worried the telepath would spy on her and her staff and use what she saw for mischief like Melanie had in the past. Sookie couldn’t help herself. She dipped further to see what the housekeeper thought about the donors and the Registry and all the changes. What she found was that Devrah had been glamoured. The housekeeper had a sense that the donors were gone and that was for the best for everyone. She had no sense of alarm or concern. She was happy with the palace and happy with her position. She was hoping Sookie wouldn’t try to micromanage her.
Sookie sat down while Devrah started moving around the kitchen. ‘I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,’ Sookie thought. ‘I don’t like screwing around with people’s heads, but who’s the fool here? Gran used to say that ignorance is bliss, and Devrah is sleeping just fine at night. Would leaving her carrying the burden of these memories around really be kinder?’
Just then Devrah was back at the table and set up a place setting. The cutlery rang dully against the stainless steel countertop. Sookie smiled at the housekeeper and asked, “You think you could have someone go get those account books for me? Oh, and if you have a minute, maybe you could join me for a cup of coffee? I’d like to hear about everyone who came around looking for money.”
“Sure, Mistress, I think I can do that,” Devrah agreed. “I’ll go get the books and the checkbooks myself. You just sit right here and eat a bite or two. You look like you haven’t had a good meal since you left us.”
“Well, I have been living with vampires,” Sookie said and she made her voice light. “Not all of those palaces understand the true luxury of providing first class meals like we do here.” Sookie could see the chef at the large range smile briefly and she knew he was pleased. In no time at all there was a plate of eggs and sausage set in front of her with a large cup of coffee. He also gave her a bowl of grits and some cheese on the side. “Now someone knows how to eat Southern,” Sookie smiled up at him, purposely letting her eyes go warm and her accent go broad.
“Some know quality when they see it too,” the chef answered back and gave her a wink. Sookie made a point of tucking into the food with some enthusiasm. By the time Devrah returned, most of the grits and sausage were gone. She was almost ready for her second cup of coffee and the chef was asking if she’d like seconds.
The next few hours Sookie and Devrah poured over the books. Devrah confirmed those checks that needed to be made out and signed. As Sookie shook her hand out, dropping the pen to the countertop, she asked, “Do you know if this bank offers online checking?” Devrah promised she would call the bank and have that information for the telepath later that day. Once all the immediate bills were handled, Devrah pulled out a list of names and phone numbers with other contact information that the guards had assembled. These were people who had either presented themselves or contacted the palace looking for payments. “Were many of these folks vampires?” Sookie asked.
“I think a number of them were,” Devrah confirmed. Sookie looked back at the list and noted that there had been nothing written down to say who was or wasn’t another species.
Behind them the door opened, and Shari walked into the kitchen. She looked a little surprised to see Sookie, but then she smiled, “Good morning, Mistress.” Sookie could see the Were knew her way around, and no one seemed surprised to see her. She grabbed a cup of coffee and as she walked past the chef swatted her on the behind. She turned and growled playfully, and then headed out to where Sookie knew there was a little patio area. Sookie stood and told Devrah she would be right back; she wanted to grab her laptop. Shari had been coming back inside for something and said, “Don’t shift yourself. I’ll run right up and get it for you,” and she took off at a lope.
Sookie used the time she was waiting to look around the kitchen. The chef was bustling behind the range. He had a couple helpers who were working with groceries that appeared to have been delivered earlier. Sookie dipped into each and found the same glamour at work she had noticed with Devrah. Most of their memories were intact. The job had been done with some precision. Then Sookie started to pick up other thoughts. She could tell that these people were pleased to be working for Eric. They liked him. They were also pleased that Sookie had reintroduced the house rules and everyone was getting along better with the new sheriffs. One of the women chopping vegetables was having clear thoughts about having been in a large group that had been out drinking last night and the three new sheriffs were featured prominently in her thoughts as being part of the group.
Sookie pulled back to herself when Shari put the laptop down in front of her. Sookie booted up, launched her browser, and logged into the Bill Compton vampire database. She pushed keys as quickly as she could to cut short the silly home page that still had red gothic lettering and a theme song that reminded her of “The Addams Family.” Not having any better idea, Sookie started checking the first name on the list. ‘Going to be one long day,’ she sighed, mentally counting a good fifty names on the paper.
Every record had an ‘updated as of’ date. Sookie saw that the information associated with the first name, Charles Clancy, had been updated just a couple of weeks ago. Sookie figured that what she was seeing was probably the result of the recent work of Thomas and Max’s doing. She clicked through screens that listed current addresses and pertinent information regarding each vampire, and whether they were associated with a nest. While she couldn’t see any reason the kingdom would owe this person money, she couldn’t really see a reason they didn’t.
It was on the third name that Sookie found something. When she looked at the required photograph on the record she had a nagging feeling. She felt she had seen this vampire before. That prompted Sookie to click through the couple of screens that allowed the user to bring up former residences. The fields confirmed that the vampire, Randy, had moved to New Orleans from Dallas. Having that information, she found she did remember his face. She had met him that night at Stan’s house, the night when so many were shot and Eric had tricked her into taking his blood.
Then something else on the page caught her eye. It took her a minute to put it together. It was the date he had moved to Louisiana. Randy had become a resident shortly after Hurricane Katrina. ‘That’s odd,’ Sookie thought. ‘Most folks were moving out, not moving in.’ Out of nowhere, Sookie remembered a conversation she had had with Eric many years ago. He had told her that all vampires spied on each other. The telepath found herself staring at the information on the screen as the possibilities clicked into place.
Sookie started to list dates at the top of the piece of paper. She knew the date of Katrina. She also remembered the date Felipe de Castro had taken over the kingdom and killed the Queen. She realized she was not entirely sure when they had killed Victor Madden. Devrah was walking past and Sookie asked, “Sorry to bother you, but do you remember when Victor went to his final death?” Devrah not only remembered, she gave the exact day, and Sookie couldn’t help notice the note of satisfaction in the woman’s tone. Sookie looked at the dates, and then added one more, the date Eric had been named king.
She started back at the first name again. She clicked through screens until she came to the right one. Charles Clancy had come from Alabama. His date of arrival was shortly after the takeover. Sookie placed a star next to his name. She slowly worked through the entire list. Some names weren’t on the database, and Sookie wondered if Packs maintained a similar directory, allowing them to keep tabs on their members. She also knew that just because a person wasn’t in the directory, it didn’t mean they weren’t vampire, just that they hadn’t been documented. Sookie made her notes. There was a male vampire who moved from North Carolina and another from Iowa around the time of the takeover. There were a couple vampires who had come from Mississippi after Katrina. There was also one who had moved here from Michigan just a week after Eric was named King. “And these are just the ones we know about,’ Sookie thought. She looked at the stars on the page and wondered if one or maybe more of these vampires were really spies living in her kingdom.
By the time Sookie finished researching the names and making notes it was well past lunch time. The chef put a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and a small green salad beside her. Sookie smiled her thanks, and started Googling the names she hadn’t located in Bill Compton’s directory.
Devrah had been in and out of the kitchen, busy with her staff. When she sat back down at the counter it was already late in the afternoon. “I am sorry,” she said with a shake of her head. “It’s been so busy getting everything ready for all the traveling, what with Mr. Thomas leaving last night and all the sorting and packing for the Zeus Summit.” She looked down at an envelope that she was holding. Sookie could see her own name written on it in Eric’s bold hand. “This was left with the lists of tasks. It was tucked between a couple folders and I just didn’t see it right away.” She held it out to Sookie. The housekeeper was clearly broadcasting her fear. Something like this had happened in the past, and she had been punished for it by having to watch those she cared for be hurt by the vampires who had been here.
“It’s no big thing,” Sookie said quickly, smiling to cover up her peeking. “Happens all the time.”
“Thank you, Mistress,” the housekeeper said, not bothering to hide how relieved she was. “Is there anything else I can get you? You okay?”
“I’m fine,” Sookie shrugged, but in her mind she was panicking. ‘Why wouldn’t Eric have left it for me upstairs?’ she was thinking. ‘Why didn’t he wake me up? Is he sending me away?’
Devrah smiled and walked away, humming a tune to herself. Sookie waited until she could tell no one was looking at her to open the letter. The first thing she noticed is that Eric had dated it. That seemed unusual. Then she looked at the greeting. He didn’t call her Lover or any of the other sweet names he had for her.
Thomas must travel to Lafayette immediately to organize Area 2. Everything must be ready to receive representatives from both Texas and Oklahoma at the conclusion of the Summit. It is critical that everyone there be loyal to the kingdom.
I want you to travel there, ahead of the Summit and screen the staff. I would consider this a personal favor.
He had signed it with a single, large ‘E’.
Sookie looked at the clock and found she was mentally counting down to Eric’s hour of rising. ‘Not soon enough!’ she thought. She had been feeling insecure and off balance ever since Alcide Herveaux dropped the bomb about the donors. She came home to New Orleans, unsure about how to talk this through with Eric, and how they could make this right between them. Eric had done nothing to help. He had avoided her. He had blocked their bond. She looked down at the note in her hand and she crumpled it with a growl. ‘Now this?’ she found herself mentally yelling. ‘You think you can push me around and treat me like I’m the hired help? Well, you have another thing coming, Buster!’
Sookie knew her face was red. Saul took one look at her as she stalked into his elevator and turned deliberately forward, pushing the buttons that took the elevator to the top floor. As soon as the door opened, Sookie took the turn back to the room that held all the clothes meant for the Zeus Summit. She walked over to the dresser and grabbed the red peignoir Meg had held up earlier.
“We’ll see how you like these apples, Mr. Northman!” Sookie growled again, and then stomped back to their bedroom suite.