Author’s Note: Thank goodness for Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy! They keep me true to the facts and I would be lost without them!
Thank you to my readers who are enjoying the story! I appreciate your comments and suggestions. There were a few things that turned up recently that I wished to address: When vampire parts are separated from vampires, don’t they turn to dust? In Dead in the Family, Appius talks about cutting bones from Alexei and dropping them down the mine to make researchers stop looking for him. I figured that gave me license. The second question was whether vampires find Were blood tasty. I state that vampires are not attracted to Were blood. I based this on Jake Purifoy’s clear anguish at being vampire, and partially on the incident in Deadlocked when it mentions that Were blood hits vampires like bad drugs. Kym used a combination of her own Were blood laced with Fae to entice Eric into almost killing her. In Deadlocked, Pam does say something that hints that Were blood is attractive to vampires, but I have chosen to interpret this as being attractive in the same way anti-freeze is attractive to dogs. Appreciate the comments!
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.
Nautical Note: Keeping course sounds so easy. You stand at the helm and watch the compass, steering the boat in the heading given. But there are so many variables! There are wind changes and currents. There is the action of the sails and the slap of wave. Keeping course is the result of a series of continuous corrections and confirmations to achieve a single, steady thing.
When they returned to Pam’s, Sookie told Eric she was going to take a swim in Pam’s tub. Eric stopped her and kissed her forehead, then ran his thumb across her lip. “I have to take care of some correspondence. I’ll join you in an hour.” He replaced his thumb with his lips and then turned and walked away.
They had still not talked about Eric’s conversation with Niall but Sookie could tell that something had agitated her vampire. He was trying his best to hide it, but she could feel him.
Sookie lit candles and turned some soft music on on her iPhone. She put her hair up and then climbed down into the tub. The water came all the way up to her neck and she settled back, eyes closed and thought about her conversation with Tara.
Two Hours Earlier:
Sookie and Tara sat side by side on the dock. The sounds of the night were all around them. They had both covered themselves in bug spray and the mosquitoes seemed to be held at bay. Even though the house was cool, there was something about sitting out here, their shoes on the shore and their feet dangling in the pond that was just right. Michele had gone inside to put the boys in bed. She was barely showing, but was already in the exhaustion stage. “I almost hope she lays down in bed with Bit and just lets go,” Tara sighed. “I remember how bone tired I was the first three months with all three of mine. When I got morning sickness on top of it, I didn’t think I’d ever get my head up off the pillow.”
Sookie smiled at her friend, “Guess you wouldn’t want to go back there, huh?”
“Well, I sure wouldn’t give it up!” Tara replied. “Those babies are just about the best thing that ever happened to me. You should see how grown up they’re getting! And your god daughter? She is quick as a whip but I can already tell her mouth’s going to get her in trouble!” Tara looked over and saw the patient smile on Sookie’s face, “Oh honey! I’m sorry! Sometimes I just talk without thinking. Compared to your life and all the amazing things you do and see? Well, I guess I just feel obligated to start talking about my kids. I’m never going to see the world like you will, jetting all over the place. All I have is J.B. and my babies. Oh, I’m not saying I’m not happy. I am.”
“It’s okay,” Sookie shrugged. “Although I can tell you, travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Most of my trips I see the airport and then some hotel or private house. I sit in meetings and sometimes I get out for dinner, and then I’m on the plane and headed home.“
“To Eric,” Tara said with a decided nod, “The most amazing body I’ve ever seen. And the way he looks at you? Over the moon!”
“I feel the same way about him,” Sookie smiled. They leaned back on their arms and looked up at the moon. The silver reflection played on the water’s surface. “Mind if I try something?” Sookie asked.
Tara shook her head, “As long as you aren’t going to turn me into anything, suit yourself.”
“As if,” Sookie grinned, and then she focused on the moonlight. She thought about it as something solid that she could hook and shape. She closed her eyes as she thought of it blanketing them. Beside her, Tara gasped. Sookie opened her eyes to find both she and her friend seemed to glow with luminescence.
“You did that?” Tara breathed. When Sookie grinned, Tara said with just a touch of awe in her voice, “You really are a fairy princess, aren’t you? Damn girl! All you’re missing is wings and a wand.”
“And a Tinkerbell outfit,” Sookie laughed.
“Why don’t you ask your hunky dunky? I bet he’d get you all kinds of dress up clothes!” and Tara shoulder bumped the telepath.
Sookie blushed, “Yeah, you’d be right about that!” She turned to her friend and gave her an arch look, “‘Course I only get to wear the really good ones once. He is so hard on them!” Sookie opened her eyes real wide and made a hand gesture, then Tara snorted and the two women shrieked, kicked the water, and laughed until their eyes were running with tears.
“I missed you, girl!” Tara smiled. “It sure is good having you back, and I mean really back.”
“You are my best friend,” Sookie said softly, and then she looked away back across the water.
“What is it?” Tara asked her.
“What if I told you there might be a way for me to have babies?” Sookie didn’t look at Tara. She was almost afraid of saying the words out loud at all.
“He’s going to support you doing a sperm donor?” Tara asked, but the skeptical look on her face said it all.
“No,” Sookie said carefully, “A way to have Eric’s.”
Tara pulled back a little, “You know they can’t do that, Sookie, what are you talking about?”
“Magic,” Sookie whispered. “It might be possible with magic.”
Tara’s eyes narrowed, “And what does your vampire think about all of this? Don’t tell me you’re telling me stuff that you haven’t already told him.” When Sookie looked away, Tara smacked her in the arm, “Don’t you do that! Don’t you go keeping secrets like that!”
“He knows about the magic part,” Sookie huffed, “He just doesn’t exactly know about the wanting part,” and as the words passed her lips, Sookie knew she did want. She wanted the visions she’d seen.
“How long have you known about this?” Tara asked.
“Just since yesterday,” Sookie told her. “It would be something I’d have to figure out and it would mean spending more time in Bon Temps, but yeah, it sounds like it’s possible.”
Tara looked closely at Sookie, and then bit her lip a little and looked out over the pond, “You know I love you to bits, and I love that Eric has made you so happy. But the lives you lead? The trouble that finds you because of who you are? I’m not saying it wouldn’t be wonderful, but are you sure it’s the right thing?”
Sookie shrugged, “You sound like Eric,” she said softly.
“Damn, sounding like your boyfriend is probably not what you wanted to hear,” Tara replied, “But I got to tell you, he might be right.” Tara took a deep breath, “Now you better sit back because I’m pretty sure that if today is the day I’m saying some vampire is right, hell is freezing over and I’d hate for it to take you with me.” Beside her Sookie smiled and Tara continued, “If this really is what you want, and it works out, I’ll be the first in line to take that child right out of your arms, but you might want to give it a couple days and really think it through.” Tara looked at her friend’s thoughtful face, the way Sookie’s mouth was turned down just a little, and she pulled her over and looped their arms. “You know, if you do go through with it, you two would make some beautiful babies.”
Sookie smiled and then they turned to see Michele at the back door of the house, waving them to come back.
Now, sitting in the tub, Sookie thought about Tara’s words and Eric’s. She knew in her head that any idea of bringing her children, their children into this world was a bad idea. No one knew better than her how hard it was to be the only one of your kind in a world that couldn’t understand you. For years she had been sure that she would never want children if there was a possibility they would grow up like she had, but as she lay here, the sounds of the water around her, she couldn’t stop thinking about it. ‘I would know what the problems were. I could help them adjust,’ she told herself. She relaxed and allowed a movie to play through her head that starred sturdy bodies and laughing mouths, all with blue eyes and blond hair, and all smiling Eric’s wonderful smile.
From his laptop Eric could feel her happiness. It had the same flavor he had felt when she looked at the picture of the Herveaux baby. “Niall!” he hissed.
Thierry arrived at the residence to find Thomas awaiting him. “Brother!” he greeted his fellow Sheriff. “Do you have everything ready for me? Are there three virgins awaiting me in my bedchambers and a small boy to take my hat?”
“You’re an ass!” Thomas growled back. “I do have donors from the Registry here, and I have to say, they seem to pick the right ones. I had expected that anything arranged by the government would be mediocre, but the caliber so far has been more than acceptable.”
“Fuckable, then?” Thierry winked.
“I have found one or two even talented in that regard,” Thomas smirked. “Of course it is the rules that such activity needs to be initiated by their desire and not your own. Oh, and Thierry? No glamouring! That’s cheating! If you can’t make them beg you just through the tasting, you don’t deserve the rest.”
“Aah! A test!” and Thierry smiled, throwing his head back and tapping his chin, “And what will the wager be this time? Money? No, mundane, and we don’t have any to speak of. A handicap on a game or race…”
“A song of the other’s choosing sung in full voice standing outside the Student Union on the LSU campus.”
“That’s my future hunting ground!” the French vampire protested.
“And to make it more interesting, if one of us can manage to get propositioned by two, the other has to deliver said song naked.”
“You will find yourself arrested, mon ami! Most embarrassing. I might have trouble explaining it to our King,” and with those words, Thomas knew the terms had been accepted by Thierry.
Later, as they lay across the bed, sated, full, and alone, Thomas asked, “What are you doing, Thierry? Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. You are asking questions and making connections and you have aroused suspicion. There are new guards arriving on Thalia’s orders and I received a message from Pam to keep an eye on you. You are my brother, but I tell you now, I will not betray this King.”
Thierry smiled that careless smile that was his trademark, “Nor would I. But I tell you in return, brother, neither is he my future King.”
Thomas and Thierry held each other’s gaze for a long moment. Thomas considered, they had both been through so much together, as close as brothers, in some ways closer than lovers. He made his decision. “As long as we are in the mood for confessing, I have one for you,” He kept his tone light but his eyes serious, “My future is here, with this King. More specifically with his progeny.” Thierry’s mouth started to open and Thomas interrupted before his friend could say another word, “Don’t! Don’t laugh or tease. I tell you that my wandering days are done, brother. She will return here and when she does, I will not let her go again.” He stared at the ceiling, “She is infuriating and selfish! She is like trying to hold the wind in your hand, but I do know her pull to her Maker is strong. She will return and I will be here when she does.”
“You whine like a woman!” Thierry chided, “Where is my friend?”
Thomas rolled over on his elbow, “He is here. Tease all you wish! Confession is good for the soul? You have heard mine,” and he raised his eyebrow and waited.
The smile left Thierry’s lips and his eyes became serious. They both knew that if Thierry did not say what needed to be said, their friendship would be at an end.
The Sheriff of Area 2 rolled up on his elbow as well. The look on his face was now something he did not often reveal, but in that moment Thomas saw the truly noble man behind the clown’s mask. “I have not shared with you because I did not wish to put you in danger. I will not betray this King because I wish to gain favor from him. Eric Northman is a legendary fighter. Thalia’s reputation is even stronger. His child, Pam, is fearless and Karin is in a league of her own. I want that on my side so when I move against that bastard and take his kingdom from him I will have fear walking by my side.”
“New York? You are going to try and kill Misha?” Thomas was stunned, “I thought you were on decent terms. You are the only one he ever let go with his blessing. I thought…”
Thierry fell back so he could look at the ceiling above them, “Do you remember the time after I failed with Bartlett Crowe?”
“Yes, brother,” Thomas whispered. Thomas would never forget the sight of the two women hanging by their heels, the skins tinged with blue and their blood puddled on the floor on both sides of Thierry’s coffin. “It was savage what he did to your women.”
Thierry glanced at Thomas, a puzzled look briefly moving across his face, then recognition clearing it, “Oh yes, that too. No, it was something else. He knew there could be trouble so he sent you away on an errand. Only he and I know what happened. He still believes he did me a favor.”
Thomas waited. He could see the weight of this thing on his friend. He wondered that he hadn’t perceived it before. Thomas watched his friend retreat within himself, his expression making clear that he was now somewhere far away. “She had come to see me. After all that time, my Teresa wanted me to return to her,” and Thomas knew what had happened. He could see the red drops forming in the corners of Thierry’s eyes and he saw his friend swallow, steadying himself for the peeling back of a wound so deep that it would never heal.
“Misha asked me to join him on the top of the Verrazano. You know? That place where you feel like you’re flying over the city and into the sea? I couldn’t understand why I was so shaky, but every part of me was so alive, I could barely stand still.” Thierry’s voice choked, “He had a bag, like a mail bag over his shoulder. He pulled the top down so I could see her face. Her eyes were open and her mouth was moving, but he had lobotomized her, the whole back of her head gone. I couldn’t feel her call because her brain had been so damaged…” Thierry swallowed again, a single red tear spilling over his cheek. “I think I was in shock, otherwise I would never have been able to fool him. He told me he knew how hard it was to always be at the beck and call of a Maker. He told me that he had been strong enough to kill his own, but it had been the hardest thing he had ever done. Thomas,” and Thierry turned his head to look directly into his friend’s eyes, “He told me he regarded me as a son, and that he would free me, and before I could say a word or reach to still his hand, he killed her, what was left of her, in front of me and threw her from the bridge like garbage.”
They sat together in silence, neither moving. Thomas waited, knowing his brother needed time. When Thierry finally lifted his eyes to Thomas’ again, the tears were gone. “I will never know if she knew me in those minutes. I will never know if she felt my love for her. But I tell you this, brother; I will avenge her if it takes the rest of my existence to do it. I will take that piece of shit apart piece by piece and when he is finally dead, I will dance in his dust. ”
Thomas was stunned. It all made sense now and he nodded, “I will help, brother,” and he extended his hand. Thierry grasped it, and then pulled Thomas into his arms, their lips meeting, sorrow giving way to passion.
The van had arrived around eight this morning at Pam’s safe house in Shreveport. Sookie thought it was two or three o’clock in the morning by the time she had fallen asleep. There had been so much she and Eric should have discussed, but between her climbing him to get the phone and erase his snoring ring tone and his teasing her about the way her friends were eye-fucking him, the night had quickly moved to fun sex, and then hot sex, and finally, hungry sex. He had asked her if she intended to spend time in Bon Temps once the house was completed. Sookie had asked him a couple times why he would even ask the question. Finally she sat up in bed and looked down at him, so beautiful, his eyes shining and his skin glowing just a little in the dark, “Of course I am, Eric! It’s a chance to get stronger for us. Who knows what’s around the corner? You know me, and you know I’m not going to walk away from a chance to learn how to defend me and mine, and that means you too, Buster!” She had leaned down to kiss him and he had been receptive, but seemed uneasy, as if he wanted to say something, but didn’t.
Now, in the cold of morning, waking up, knowing he was in a coffin and not in her bed, she wondered about his hesitancy and if she was honest, her own motivations. She thought about her conversation with Tara and the daydreams she had woven in the tub later. She was glad she hadn’t said anything. ‘Too much wine makes me stupid,’ she scolded herself. ‘Eric’s right. Babies are a bad idea.’ She found herself turning around to glance through the rear window the whole, long drive back to New Orleans, making sure the van that was carrying him was close.
Even the arrival had been different. There was no underground garage or formal loading dock at the palace. Because the building had been offices in a former life, there wasn’t really any room to build one anyway. The van pulled up to the back doors of the office building while Sookie pulled up to the front entrance in the limo. She took her time in an effort to pull the attention of as many observers as possible. She hated having Eric outside and trapped in his coffin where anything might happen. Of course he was surrounded by guards, but even so, all it took was one person determined to open the lid and he could be gone. Sookie shook her head, ‘Foolish!’ she told herself. She squared her shoulders, nodded to Charles, who stepped around, and then opened her car door. The telepath stepped out onto the sidewalk and mentally met the wall of thoughts that turned her way. Most wondered who she was, but there were more than a few people now who knew she was the King’s girlfriend. As she walked toward the door, a sign caught her eye. She turned to see an older woman with dark hair. She didn’t look like a tourist. She had a fierce expression and the sign read, “Do not suffer devils to live among us!” Sookie turned to Charles, her look questioning. Charles jerked his chin toward the woman and Shari stepped from the contingent near the door and started walking in the woman’s direction.
There was something about it that gave Sookie a chill. The Fellowship of the Sun was long gone, imploded by its own fifteen minutes of fame. There hadn’t been any real backlash against supernaturals since, but then again, vampires hadn’t exactly been placing themselves in the public eye until Eric either.
Sookie walked up the front steps to find both Dechlan and Twy standing just inside the entryway. They barely said hello before they were arguing with each other and demanding she take sides. Devrah sailed from the back of the hall, brushed both the publicist and the party planner aside like crumbs on dark wool, and steered the telepath directly into the business office, shutting the door behind her. “Well,” she announced, “that’s better! A person should be able to walk in her own front door without folks like that descending on her like a bunch of hungry dogs! Now, you sit yourself down, or take a walk around and get yourself settled, Miss Sookie. I’ll have some tea sent in. You hungry?” When Sookie shook her head, collapsing gratefully into the wonderful slipper chair, Devrah smiled, “Don’t you worry one little bit. Your Mister is already in the building and on the elevator.” Sookie raised her head, wondering how the older woman knew. Devrah just gave her a big smile and a nod, “Don’t you have the same look Miss Hadley used to have when she was traveling with her Queen? I may be old, but I still know what’s what.” Meg came in, holding a tray of tea and as she entered, Sookie could see that Charles was positioned at the door to head off any intruders. When he caught her looking, he nodded briskly and shut the door again. Meg laid the tray on the low table and at Sookie’s invitation, Devrah sat down. The housekeeper busied herself with adding tea to the tall glasses and squeezing just the right amount of lemon in each. When Meg left, Devrah set a glass near Sookie and sat back, waiting. Sookie sipped and then sat back herself, letting out a deep sigh before she looked over at Devrah.
The housekeeper took that for her signal and turned to the folders stacked in her lap. “Mr. Max left a number of things for you to review. He and Miss Pam have been burning up your frequent family minutes working out details for the Coronation. He would like your final approval before moving forward. You feeling up to it?”
Sookie said she was and they spent the next two hours catching up on bills, household changes, and the RSVP list for the upcoming Coronation. According to tradition, every ruler from Amun Clan should have been invited. The excuse given was that Eric Northman would be a modern King, one not tied to the trappings of the past. He did not want his Coronation to detract from his business and so the affair would be low key with Clan Chiefs and business associates only. Nabila and Stan as Clan Chiefs had received invitations and sent their confirmation. One of the decisions waiting on the pile was whether to invite Narayana.
Sookie turned over the note from Max attached to the Narayana invite, wondering if there was some secret message on the back that would give her more insight, but there was not. Sookie looked at the items clipped together; an invitation on heavy paper, an envelope addressed to Felipe de Castro and Max’s elegant, scripted “?.” ‘What would Eric do?’ she said to herself, and then she knew. She slipped the invitation into the envelope, sealed it, and handed it to the housekeeper. “Have that dropped at the post office. We may be able to make the afternoon mail.” Devrah’s eyebrows raised but Sookie could tell the housekeeper approved. While Devrah walked out to find someone to run the errand, Sookie started to read through the remaining folders herself.
The next item was a tentative list of room assignments. Maxwell Lee was now permanently located on the top floor in Andre’s former quarters and that forced some changes from the last time they had hosted royal guests. Pam would still be staying on the top floor, close to Eric, and all the Sheriffs would be housed on the second floor which was usually reserved for non-vampire guests. As Sookie scanned the list of those attending, she shook her head. The rooms on the third floor were decent, but she wished they were larger and more accommodating to their royal visitors. Russell & Bartlett were to be housed in Melanie’s former suite. It took up the whole far corner and was the most spacious and well decorated. Sookie picked up a pad of paper, jotting a note to remind herself to tour the rooms and see if there were any improvements that could be made. Maude was assigned a room with an en suite bathroom, as was Nabila (Sookie couldn’t help feeling a little sour at that). Then Sookie saw a familiar name and her mood lifted. Rasul would be attending and staying in the Palace. There was a card from him clipped to the paper that was handwritten presumably by the Michigan King himself. On it he expressed his pleasure at being able to come and see the next step in the rise of Eric Northman, and there was a naughty drawing on the lower corner. Sookie’s eyes widened and she blushed just a little. For some reason she found herself remembering the subdued look on Rasul’s face the last time they had been together in New Orleans. The Queen had been anxious to cover up her reasons for being in Hadley’s apartment. Jade Flower, Arkansas’ bodyguard, had accompanied the Queen and her bodyguards, along with Sookie, to her cousin’s apartment. Jade Flower was intent on spying.. Sookie, the Queen, and her retinue had just watched an ectoplasmic reconstruction that Sookie and Amelia Broadway, the landlady and a full-fledged witch, had arranged. Jade, waiting below in the courtyard, was looking for any excuse to make trouble on behalf of her King. The Queen’s bright idea was to pretend that she, Sookie, and Andre had all gone upstairs for sex instead of the real reason, which was to find Arkansas’ bride gift. Sookie figured Rasul hadn’t been fooled by the charade, but he sure had given her a look.
Sookie scanned the list again and realized there were names she had expected but didn’t see. “Isaiah?” she asked, not looking up from the paper.
“He is coming, Mistress,” Devrah confirmed, “But he’s made his own arrangements in the Old Quarter. He and Mr. Stan. Phoebe Golden, though, she sent her regrets.” Sookie started at that. She had assumed the Iowa Queen would come to see Eric take his crown. “According to Mr. Max, there was a conflict and no offense was meant.” Sookie thought about Phoebe and her work on behalf of Niall and she wondered if there was some connection. The telepath nodded and asked, “What’s next?”
Devrah pulled another piece of paper from her folder, “These are the new House Rules. I went ahead and changed them some. I’ve already contacted the Registry. Some of these folks,” and she gestured at the guest list, “have blood type preferences and I wanted to make sure we covered that.”
“What are we doing about their retinues?” Sookie asked, quickly doing the math in her head.
“Humans are being housed nearby. Guards are invited to stay with our guards downstairs. They’ll use the extra space down there for any overflow.” Sookie knew Devrah was referring to the space that had formerly housed the donors. “Emil is also opening Pack homes and rooms to any Weres who may be with them. Nice to have folks here with you. Kind of makes the thing more family, but it does mean some inconvenience.” Sookie nodded. All the logistics brought home once again why these kinds of events were usually hosted at big hotels.
Sookie finished reading the revised House Rules and gave her approval. From outside the door Sookie could hear raised voices, including one that sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. “Sounds like the natives are getting restless. Are there really that many loose ends?”
Devrah’s eyes rolled, “Don’t you believe that one minute, Mistress. Miss Pam and Mr. Max have been busy as bees. Those two,” and Devrah jerked her chin at the growing din from the hallway, “got their wings clipped a couple times last night and they probably figured they’d catch you before you had a chance to see anyone but them.”
“Mommy/Daddy game?” Sookie smiled. “Jason and I never could get away with that. There was only Gran so if she said no, there was no other parent you could corner to try to play against her.”
“Well, there’s some folks around here who could do with a good, old-fashioned paddling. Those two have been whining and carrying on like no one’s business. Mr. Max lays down the law, and they just push and pull like surgeons looking for a lump.”
Sookie took a deep breath, asked for a sandwich and a half hour to read through the rest of the files. “When I’m done, why don’t you show Twy in? We have the place booked, so Dechlan can wait. Twy needs to get her publicity set and if I don’t get ahead of her, she’ll do what she wants and blame it on my lack of cooperation!”
A whole forty-five minutes later, Sookie sat across from the publicist. Max had outdone himself, plans and suggestions laid out in clear, concise outlines. Sookie was reminded of the paper Eric had prepared for her explaining his energy plans. She wondered if they were too much alike in this regard and if that was why Eric didn’t feel particularly close to this Sheriff.
“I have to hand it to you, Sookie, this is some first class thinking,” Twy was saying in her distracted, superior way, “Guided tours of a King’s palace with the guarantee of a vampire as the tour guide? You’ll have them lining up! Let’s face it, in this city? What creepy, supernatural bullshit don’t they buy?” and then Twy had the courtesy to sniff and say, “No offense.”
“None taken,” Sookie was annoyed and she didn’t bother to keep the tone from her voice. “I know you were counting on some big splashy event for the Coronation, but we have purposely made this low key. A big national release could just piss some people off. I talked about it with Max and we thought if the tours were to be put in place, it would continue the interest generated by the Coronation without being a total ‘in your face’ gesture. Now I know you, of all people, appreciate when delicacy is required. I have to say that knowing I have your judgment to steer us right, at least I can be comfortable about how the media will be handled.”
Twy fastened the telepath with a beady eye, “Stop it, Blondie! You’re blowing so much sunshine up my ass I can feel it whistling Dixie in my nasal passages. Everyone knows you’re doing this on the cheap, but if you go too low key on the media it will look like you’re hiding. You can’t afford that. So, why not instead of the usual red carpet approach, we use your tour and some of your other little corn pone touches and stage it like a royal engagement announcement? We give just a couple outlets exclusive rights, give an informal interview with the two of you, and you and Eric give them the personal touch on a first tour of the Palace. We limit the publicity coming out of the Coronation to still photographs, but they are taken inside, not outside. Your little reception the night before can be media-free.”
Sookie thought about her hope that Bubba would be coming to the reception in the Palace the night before and nodded. “That sounds good. Do you think that would do it?”
Twy’s mouth pursed. She waved behind her and Sonder stepped forward from her place against the wall. She handed Twy the tablet and retreated again. Twy looked at her assistant briefly, sniffed, and started stabbing at the device. When she was satisfied, she turned the tablet toward Sookie and said, “One more thing. I think you should both work the crowd the night of the event. Before you get in the limo you walk the lines, the both of you, smiling and making nice for the crowds. Then you do the same thing outside House of Broel. It makes up for the fact that no one is allowed inside.” For some reason, Sookie thought of the strange woman standing outside, the one holding the sign.
“Do you think we might have trouble?” she asked.
“What kind of trouble?” Twy looked more annoyed than curious.
“I don’t know. People not liking vampires. Someone feeling like they have to make a statement?”
Twy waved her hand dismissively, “Listen to me, darling, if there were a possibility of trouble, I’d be the first one to know it! Just leave it to me.” Sookie shrugged and found she felt better.
When it was close to sundown, Sookie ran upstairs so that she could be close when Eric exited his travel coffin. Pam was due to arrive shortly and would be staying the remaining two weeks until the Coronation. She was bringing Jane with her and Sookie knew there would be an informal gathering downstairs. She was wishing she had managed to grab even a few hours sleep, but it was no use crying over spilt milk. She would have to soldier through and she promised herself she would just slip away early if she was yawning too broadly.
Devrah’s first indication that the usual residents were up was Thalia’s appearance in the kitchens. She glanced around and captured Owen’s eye. The dark vampire stalked through, continuing toward the offices, and Owen followed. Devrah could see that the Weres were now serving as Thalia’s eyes and ears in all things. Eric trusted the dark vampire to filter what was gathered and provide him what he needed to know. Devrah sighed. If someone had told her that she would ever see this level of cooperation between these two groups she would have scoffed. Of course, the Weres could claim they were providing services for which they were paid, but Devrah knew it was more. Emil, the New Orleans Packmaster was due to arrive shortly. Mr. Max would be meeting him in one of the gathering rooms now that the King and Miss Sookie had returned. Devrah hoped that Mr. Emil didn’t plan on smoking one of his stinky cigars. It was fine when they were on the roof, but anywhere in the house and it was difficult to pull the smell out of the fabrics.
Almost as though he knew she was thinking of him, Emil appeared. He had presented himself at the front door and asked to be shown to the kitchen while he waited for Maxwell Lee to come downstairs. “Evening, Devrah,” he said, laying on the down country charm. “You sure are looking more than lovely this fine night!”
“Coffee’s on the counter and there’s cinnamon bread under the dome,” she gestured to a raised cake plate that had a protective glass dome covering it, “help yourself.”
“Why I suppose I could have just a little…” the Packmaster smiled broadly.
“When do you ever say no?” Devrah shot back.
“Well, certainly not when you are cooking!” and Emil sidled up and pinched her behind, for which he received a less playful pinch back on his arm.”
“What’s going on?” Max asked. He knew Emil flirted, but he hadn’t seen the Were put his hands on the housekeeper before, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
“My goddess of the kitchen is feeding me again,” Emil purred.
“You better hope I don’t tell your wife you say that,” Devrah had moved to the other side of the kitchen and didn’t bother to look at either of them.
“She knows all about you and she blames you for my needing new clothes. You cook so well that it makes me fat!”
Devrah looked at him through her eyelashes, her mouth downturned, “Then keep your sugar-fingers to yourself and stop coming into my kitchen! You would do us both a favor!”
Max couldn’t help the smile that stole across his face. “Come on, Emil, time to stop causing trouble. She may decide I am in trouble, too, and I wouldn’t like that.”
Together the men moved to the smaller of the meeting rooms on the first floor. This one was used most often for outside visitors. It was not the crème office. With Sookie and Eric back, Max did not feel comfortable making use of it. Nor would he use the covered garden. He did feel comfortable using the roof garden, but only when Sookie was gone. He knew she used it for her sunbathing and it was rumored that the King and his Intended liked to have sex there. It was a little thing, this avoiding certain spaces, but felt right in terms of the courtesy owed his landlord. As Emil and he settled into the chairs that were on the visitor side of the desk, Max wondered if he shouldn’t consider moving into his own residence here in the city. He would still want to host his official business with local vampires in the palace, but building the relationships he needed with people who were important to the kingdom, like Emil, required an intimacy of setting and this wasn’t it.
Emil seemed to know what Max was thinking without his saying a word, “It could use something…” he said, looking around at their surroundings and they both chuckled. Truth was, they liked each other. Max was probably more surprised than Emil to realize this, but Max’s exposure to Weres had been limited to Alcide Herveaux and Colonel Flood. Those Weres had been clannish and insular, good at their jobs but not particularly well-educated or cultured in their tastes or pursuits. Emil was different. Perhaps it was his upbringing. His family was counted among the first in the City, proud and aristocratic. Emil was not musical, but he had a wide palate. He and Max could talk jazz for hours, debating the differences between Mingus compositions and Duke Ellington and which was better. Emil had taken to collecting bits of music from those who played in and around the quarter and bringing back those recordings so the two of them could debate who had influenced the piece. Max would sometimes march them to a piano and riff on the snippet, carrying on the discussion hands-on. It was during these sessions that Emil had introduced Max to cigars. When Devrah had screeched at them for polluting the airspace, the two had retreated up to the roof. Now, with roof access gone for the near future,Max supposed he would have to take up the offer to be introduced to a cigar club that Emil knew of in the Quarter.
Both their heads turned as Devrah walked in, a tray with a pot of coffee, two bottles of blood wrapped in napkins, and a plate of the cinnamon bread in her hands. “No smoking in the house!” she scolded before she left.
Emil smiled and nodded at Max, “She likes you!” he teased.
“She likes you better,” Max returned.
Emil refilled his coffee cup, “I am the better choice for any woman,” he agreed. He sipped, set the cup down, and sat back. “I take it the King and his lady have returned.”
“This morning,” Max nodded. “They will be down later.” There was soundproofing upstairs, but it didn’t prevent Max from hearing what was a spirited chase coming from the King’s suite as he walked onto the elevator.
“Do you think she would consider the idea?” Emil pressed.
“Sookie has maintained her Friend of the Pack status, despite every reason to have walked away from it,” Max said reasonably.
Emil growled, “Herveaux is an ass!”
Max nodded, “Stupid in a way that almost got her killed, but she remained steadfast. Her loyalty to the Weres should not be questioned.”
“I can make this all known. I will force Alcide to admit his idiocy as a way to make amends. It will, as you say, cement her reputation for loyalty. As Sachem, her word would carry weight.” Emil smiled and leaned forward, “I have preliminary commitments to talks from most of the Southeastern Packs. With any luck we could have a Summit within months. Think of it! Packs organized as you have organized your vampires. It would allow us much and protect us from those who would do us harm.”
“From what I have seen, Emil, your biggest enemy is your own,” Max did not believe he could speak to even half of the challenges creating a confederacy of Packs would require. Vampires were different. While also prone to violence, vampires had been unable to live openly alongside humans until the introduction of synthetic blood. The need to cooperate was too apparent to be ignored.
Weres were different. Most could blend well enough and even their second and third borns were human without the ability to shift. There had been an informal countrywide agreement that had worked for the night of the Revelation. They had used Facebook and email lists, phone trees and personal messengers to coordinate the night. It had gone relatively well, but the incentive to cooperate after that had dropped to almost nothing. Since then, each Pack had functioned autonomously, much like before. Emil and others like him wanted to see that change. Emil and Max had discussed how there would be Packs that would not see the benefit in bending to a central governing body.
“There will be hold-outs, maybe a lot of hold-outs at first. If we can get even twenty-five Packs to agree to try, the purchasing power alone will start to build an appeal. Let’s face it; buying bulk is much cheaper! What’s more, with Packs cooperating, we’ll be able to buy larger tracts of land for full moons.”
“How will you deal with territoriality? If you have alphas in close proximity…”
“We are able to suppress our instincts when it’s required,” Emil’s nose crinkled and Max realized he had inadvertently crossed some cultural line.
“I apologize,” the vampire said quickly with a duck of his head.
Emil conceded, “Of course, not all of us are as enlightened as I might wish. It is something that would require agreements and blood oaths.”
Max sat back, happy the moment of awkwardness had passed, “So, why Sookie? Sounds to me like you have this pretty well worked out. Would she serve any real purpose? It’s just that she seems so busy now, and with the Coronation and eventually their Pledging, her time may become limited.”
“I believe her participation to be the key to our success,” Emil told the vampire. “We are a suspicious lot, prone to looking for motives where none may exist. It creates a barrier to our forming lasting treaties. A Sachem is a truth speaker. If she vouches for the parties, the treaties will be valid as long as the Packmaster speaking for his Pack remains as Alpha.”
Max looked at his watch,” It is hard to know when they will come down,” he said.
Emil grinned broadly, “To be young and in love,” he waved his hand in a classically Gallic gesture, and Max started humming the opening bar to “The Nearness of You,” and Emil started to sing. Max stood and walked into the next room where the piano stood. The two of them playing and singing soon attracted the attention of staff and some guards. Emil dropped his voice an octave, simulating the growl Louis Armstrong brought to the lyrics, and Meg clapped her hands.
“What’s going on?” Thalia’s entrance scattered several of the observers. Her sharp look had the remaining guards scurrying. With a snarl, she turned her disapproving look first at Emil and then at Max, who had lifted his fingers from the keys. “Most of us have too much work to do to be playing,” she scolded Maxwell harshly. “Have you asked him what I need to know?” and she shot her eyes back to Emil.
Max turned to Emil, “We have been seeing incursions, new spies. Just vampires so far. They are coming from New York. Have you noticed an influx in other supernaturals or trouble that can’t be explained?” Thalia’s fangs descended as she kept her eyes fastened on Max, clearly angry about what she would view as a lapse in duty. Max was sure he would hear more about it later.
Emil shook his head, “No, but we haven’t been looking either. I will put the word out. I will also make sure that those attached to your Area include such a scan in their duties.”
“Don’t bother,” Thalia snarled, “I have already informed them.” She gave Max one more narrowed gaze and was gone.
“She scares me,” Emil whisper-spoke to Max.
The look Max returned showed no sign of humor, “There’s a good reason, Emil, but I rest better knowing she does what she does.”
Sookie rested, her back against Eric’s chest as they listened to the sounds of the city around them. The view of the night sky was spectacular and Sookie was grateful that there were no buildings taller than them in the immediate vicinity. Eric’s cock still pulsed within her and she could feel their combined juices starting to run down her thigh and, presumably down his balls. As she stretched a little, he shifted behind her, bringing his arm more fully around. He rolled her nipple between his fingers, plucking half-heartedly. The orgasm had been prolonged, Eric pushing her legs together at the optimal moment to increase the friction to an almost mind-blowing proportion. The sound that had escaped him had been all animal as he came, pushing hard. Of course, this was the culmination of teasing and chasing that had started in their suite. Sookie had called a blanket to her when he ripped her shirt and that had triggered a whole new level of need in her vampire. His need had fed through the bond to ratchet up her need. She had taken off through the doors, past the guards, Eric in pursuit. He caught her and took her straight up the stairs and now, here they were, naked and winded and more than a little out of it still.
“Do we have to go back downstairs?” Sookie asked, rolling her head on his shoulder so she could kind of see his face in her peripheral vision.
Eric sighed, “Yes. If we don’t, Pam will come and get us anyway. Better to be prepared when she arrives.”
Sookie smiled. Eric had exited his coffin to find a stand-up copy of himself. Across the bottom someone had thoughtfully added a caption that read, “Captain Velcro.” The photo had been taken in Los Angeles and the King wasn’t exactly grinning, but there was a smile. Eric thought the expression made him look foolish. The legs of the stand-up were covered with Velcro and nearby there was a basket that had flat images of human babies. They looked like disks. On the back of each picture someone had applied matching Velcro strips. That had been what had started it. Eric had been staring at the stand-up, aghast, and Sookie had used the opportunity to chuck a ‘baby’ at it. She had done it just right and the ‘baby’ caught on the stand-up’s leg. “See? Looks just like you, doesn’t it?” the telepath had laughed, Eric had growled, and the chase was on. When she hopped over the couch, his fingers had caught the loose collar of her shirt just right and it had ripped right across. He was telling her in bitten off terms what he intended to do once he caught her and she was laughing and running. She didn’t know exactly what was in her head when she summoned the blanket, but she could tell the minute the smell of Fae hit him and that got her out the door!
As Sookie stared into the sky she remembered something, “Oh, I should probably tell you. I invited Felipe to the Coronation.”
Eric’s fingers stilled, “Why would you do that, Älskade?” He didn’t sound mad, more curious.
“Well,” Sookie shrugged, “Because I don’t think he’s going to accept, and at least this way he can’t say we slighted him.”
Eric chuckled, causing his cock to jump within her, to which she started to shift her hips a little. “You are thinking like a vampire,” he purred, and he moved his hips enough to spiral within her to set off a series of sensations. Sookie was so sensitive, she arched her back and moaned low. “You are becoming insatiable, like a vampire, too,” he growled low and reached around her to start massaging her clit.
“Don’t talk about fucking other vampires,” Sookie moaned and reached between her legs to stroke his testicles.
Sookie’s eyes closed and she could feel that familiar pressure already kicking in when an unwelcome voice cut across the mood. “Don’t let me stop you!” Pam was standing only a few feet away and looking decidedly interested. “In fact, I could join in if that would hurry things along.”
“Pam!” Eric growled, but it was too late. Sookie jumped from Eric’s lap, grabbing the blanket that lay on the floor in front of her.
“Hi there,” Sookie said weakly. She wrapped the blanket around her, skirted around Pam, and then ran for the stairs.
Eric’s frown turned from his retreating fairy to his smirking child. “You couldn’t have waited?”
“For what? Tomorrow? You’ve already had her what, twice? The whole floor smells like a cathouse, not that I’m complaining.”
“She is delightful,” Eric huffed. “By the way, nice gift!” Eric growled, his eyes narrowing. Since he knew there was no hope of his Intended returning, Eric took a deep breath, and stood. As he walked his hard cock bobbed in front of him. He was less strained by the time he made it down the stairs, and he looked over his shoulder to Pam who was following. “You brought her?” he asked.
“Jane is downstairs. Thalia and I questioned her last night and we are satisfied. Maude vouches for her as well.” They had reached the doors to his suite and James had the door open. “I’ll be downstairs,” Pam continued, “But, if I don’t see you in thirty minutes I’m coming back with reinforcements.”
Eric nodded and James shut the door behind him. Pam blew the guards a kiss and she was gone. With a glance down the corridor, James leaned across the door, holding out his hand. Charles shook his head. “It was still on the premises. That garden is practically an extension of their room.”
“Spoilsport,” James laughed.