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It was surprisingly easy to make Freyda happy. Eric applied himself to the task as he would to any complex problem but, in the end, the solution was simple. All Eric had to do was pay attention.
For example, Eric knew his Queen favored lavender. She used it to scent her clothing, hiding small sachets in the drawers of her wardrobes. Eric arranged for small bouquets tied with ribbon to be delivered to Freyda’s office every evening. The florist he used sourced the flowers from all over the world, following the seasons, so Freyda would never miss a day. He didn’t attach a card and it had taken almost a week before his wife realized he was behind it. She was delighted and told him so. She stopped saying thank you, but she would wear a sprig of the latest bouquet tucked in a lapel or somewhere on her person. She would catch his eye, glance at the sprig, or show it in the palm of her hand, a signal between them that she saw and cared.
The next success Eric scored in courting his wife was noticing a single teacup in her chambers. It wasn’t a real teacup, more of a miniature with painted flowers and ‘Made in Japan’ stamped on the bottom. No one seemed to know why the Queen kept it. It wasn’t in a prominent position, but, instead, tucked toward the back of a shelf, yet it was a shelf that was always in Freyda’s line of sight. Eric took a photo and had some research done. The cup came from a child’s tea set that would have been sold when his wife was a young girl. He had several antique dealers work on it, and, one evening, he presented her with a wrapped box.
“What is it?” she asked him. It had been a good night. They had entertained human business people. Freyda was particularly effective. She was sophisticated, charming, and everyone left with a feeling that the continued relationships between themselves and vampires would make them all rich. Eric almost hesitated giving the box to her, she had been so adult in her actions, but his instincts insisted that this was actually the perfect time.
Freyda carefully sat down in her tight, pencil skirt and stiletto heels, the box balanced in her lap. She swept her long, thin fingers over the rosebud wrapping paper and arched her eyebrow. When he shrugged, she slit open the paper and slowly tore. He could see her thoughts flitting across her face. She was probably anticipating lingerie, but when the plastic window revealed the miniature tea set pieces nestled in their cardboard holders, her mouth fell open. Suddenly Freyda wasn’t a powerful vampire, she was a little girl who had been given her favorite thing.
“Oh, how did you find it?” she asked in a voice so much younger than her own.
“It doesn’t matter,” he smiled at her, “It is worth it right now,” and he leaned down and kissed her head.
She insisted on making love with him that night. She was pliant and enthusiastic and, if she noticed the moment his mind wandered away and his movements became more mechanical, she didn’t say.
It became part of his routine, one more thing in the long list of things he did every night. Rise. Wash. Decide what new thing to do for Freyda today. Return emails. Conduct business.
Some evenings, the hour he allotted for being thoughtful in the matter of his Queen was spent in research. Sometimes that research was nothing more than spending time with Freyda, observing what interested her. Sometimes the research involved trying to dig into his wife’s past to see if there was some experience that she might enjoy revisiting.
Something Eric came to understand was that although Freyda was much younger than himself, there was still very little history about her to be found. For one thing, she had no birth certificate. That was unusual. Most children were registered in a church or some official book. Freyda was not. He knew she had been born in the United States and that her parents were immigrants. He knew that her parents had been among those poor and desperate souls who sought to make a better life by following the wagon tracks to the West. Beyond that, he could find nothing.
Eric suspected that at one point in her life, Freyda had spent time in a whorehouse. It was in her sexual proclivities. She preferred multiple partners, primarily female. While she seemed to enjoy cock, she most often asked for a female wearing a strap-on.
Eric knew he wasn’t expected to share her bed often, and he didn’t anticipate that would change any time soon. He complimented Freyda’s current pets, and even pointed out potential partners for her from time to time. He knew she preferred redheads, and leaned toward women who were thinner and taller than herself. Eric assumed there had been a significant relationship in Freyda’s past that she was revisiting. It happened.
Then, one night, Freyda asked that Eric not come to visit her. He pressed her, teasing that she was making him too curious and she gave in. It was her look of combined anticipation and self-loathing that truly caught his attention.
Freyda took him with her to another part of the palace. It was a room she had prepared for these encounters, and Eric was reminded of the dungeon he once maintained below Fangtasia. In many ways it was less sophisticated than many playrooms he’d seen, a cheaper version, complete with black velvet flocked on red wallpaper.
For the next few nights Freyda remained in the chamber, indulging in an orgy of sex and blood. She allowed humans to use her in every way, and she used a few, particularly men, in brutal ways. Eric took on the role of dungeon master, arranging things to his Mistress’ orders, but not participating until finally, Freyda ordered it from him. She was far gone then, glutted on sex and blood, and she ordered him to fuck others and then allow himself to be fucked.
It wasn’t anything Eric hadn’t done in past, but it wasn’t something he’d anticipated from his blond, carefree Queen either.
When she rose the fourth night, she signaled she was done. Her clothes were in rags and she was filthy. They all were. Eric carried Freyda back to her apartments. He offered to help her bathe, but she turned from him and sent him away. Her eyes were haunted, but, the next night, she greeted him as if the past nights had never happened. Her eyes were clear and her smile bright, and Eric realized she used the ritual to exorcise some part of her past.
When they had a moment alone, Eric took a chance. He slammed Freyda against a wall and kissed her hard, as brutally as she’d demanded in her dungeon. “There is no part of you that I don’t accept,” he growled, grinding against her. “I am yours.” Her eyes were startled but, before she could protest, he stepped back just a suddenly. He softened his expression and stroked her cheek, “You are beautiful, Freyda, all of you. You are complex and you need never be ashamed with me.” When she still said nothing, he traced her lower lip with his thumb, and left her, dazed in the corridor.
Eric didn’t see her for several hours, and he wondered if his action had been a mistake. He was in his office, setting up teleconferences when she came to him. He didn’t turn around, allowing her to make the first move. Her hand crept over his shoulder and he captured it, and then turned his head so he could kiss her palm.
“You’re not appalled?” she asked.
“About what?” he kept his voice light, and then fully turned, capturing her legs between his knees, pulling her closer. He looked up into her worried face.
“Well, about…” and she faltered.
“About what never happened?” he purred. Eric kissed her belly and turned his head so he could lay his cheek against her. “You needed it, Freyda. I could see that. It freed you in a way.” Her hand came up, her fingers running through his hair, and so he said, “We, each of us, have those things we need. Vampires need sex in all its variety. Where is the harm?” He squeezed her against him, “And besides, I think you enjoyed it. There were parts you seemed to enjoy very much.”
“I guess,” she answered, and Eric knew. Vampires, and particularly women, rarely came to this life in a pleasant way. Freyda’s ritual gave her the physical stimulation she craved while allowing her to punish herself for wanting it. Eric also knew without her telling him that she would never invite him to witness her particular ritual again. He could see that Freyda was starting to see him as her Prince, and although she wouldn’t hide that she had darkness within her, she wouldn’t willingly share that darkness again. She needed Eric to be the light she rose to find.
And so, Eric found other things that his Queen enjoyed. He knew she loved the freedom of flying with him. She would turn in his arms, her hair free to the wind, laughing as carefree as any child. She loved the feeling of swimming through clear water. Above all, Freyda loved speed.
Eric ordered his Corvette out of storage and had it transported to Oklahoma. When it arrived, he invited Freyda to come driving with him. Together they raced down the highways, roof down and pedal to the metal, the wind beating against their faces. For her Coronation anniversary, Eric gifted her with her own Corvette. It was the perfect vehicle for Oklahoma. It was made in America and popular with humans. He gifted her with lessons taught by a famous race car driver and he rented a local race track for her exclusive use for the night.
Of course, not everyone was happy with the change in Freyda and Eric’s relationship. There were those in Oklahoma who hoped the relationship would founder, so they could find advantage in the Queen’s favor.
The Queen’s current favorite was a woman with a fake Eastern European accent who called herself Kitty. She was attractive and quite talented in bed. At first, she had been cordial to Eric, even welcoming. When the Queen shared her, Kitty was quick to suggest things and make accommodations but as the Queen’s friendship with Eric grew, the woman became sullen. Freyda didn’t see it, but Eric noticed an increase in misunderstandings, and a tendency in Freyda to suddenly become suspicious with no cause, and he blamed that on Kitty’s influence. It was annoying, but Kitty, like all the Queen’s pets, was human. She wouldn’t last. They never did, and to destroy her would create strife that would take time to heal between Freyda and himself. Yes, in the big flick of things, Kitty was a minor inconvenience in the overall strategy that would win him a Queen and restore his standing with others.
If every evening now included an hour devoted to the business of courting his Queen, Eric slowly admitted to himself that in the last hour before the sun rose to take him, he needed another ritual. In that time when most in the Palace had already fallen into their day death, he would stand at the window, and as the line between earth and sky lightened, he would allow another woman to dominate his thoughts. He tried not to think her name. He tried not to admit that it was Sookie Stackhouse who had him watching the coming day.
But, it was.
Eric would remove the small bag he secreted in his travel coffin, the one that held the panties he’d taken from the floor of her room in Denver. He rarely opened it, knowing each time he did just a little more of her was lost to him. Most evenings, just seeing it was enough. Clutching his memento, Eric would spend these few minutes every dawn thinking of the way his Sookie loved the sun, how she smelled in his arms when she had been outside, soaking up its rays. They grew wheat in this part of Oklahoma, and there were evenings as the breeze that foretold the dawn rose and blew over the hills that Eric would smell it, the ripe, dry scent of grains awaiting harvest, and he would close his eyes and see her funny, lop-sided smile. Summer nights were worst and the best. The humidity would mix with the heat and he could almost imagine himself back in Louisiana, flying to her, landing on her porch, and having her run out the front door, jumping into his arms.
A little over a month after his deliberate courtship began, Eric’s dawn thoughts were interrupted by his Queen. “What happened in Denver?” she asked.
Eric had been so lost in his remembrance of Sookie’s laugh that he hadn’t heard Freyda enter his chambers. “Why do you ask?” he used the time it took to ask the question to school his face into a simple smile and tuck the bag into his pocket before turning toward his Queen. Freyda’s face was troubled and Eric stepped toward her and ran his finger over the creases in her forehead. “Something is troubling you,” he sighed. “Tell me what it is.”
Eric knew not to accuse or to suggest that Freyda was listening to gossip. Acknowledging that possibility never led to productive conversations, so, instead, he waited.
Freyda bit her lip and glanced at the horizon. As a younger vampire, she would feel the pull of dawn more strongly than he, so to wait for this moment to confront him was costing her. “I heard that Sookie Stackhouse was there,” she said. She waited until she’d said the name to look into his eyes, perhaps hoping to catch some hint.
“That’s true,” Eric made sure he kept his expression focused on Freyda, showing her she was his only concern. “She was there in Felipe’s retinue. De Castro told me she’s working for him.” Eric didn’t shrug and he didn’t offer more. He waited to see how deep Freyda’s suspicions ran.
“So…” and Freyda glanced away again, “You didn’t…”
“Come, Dear One,” and Eric walked forward, happy to see the Freyda was willing to allow him to wrap her into his arms. “You are worrying over my past. Let me tell you what happened. I did speak with her. She was sitting with the King and she became angry with me, which, as you know, she often did. She yelled at me in front of many witnesses and stormed off. Felipe told me that he is thinking of pursuing her.”
Eric pulled back and waited until Freyda looked up at him. “Seeing how she was, how quickly she turned to petulance, it reminded me of all the reasons I left her. It freed me,” he lied. “It made me realize how much better my life is now.” Eric bent down and kissed the woman in his arms. He put everything behind it, his experience, his respect, and his genuine affection for Freyda. “My life is better,” he repeated, “My life is better with you.”
“I knew it was just a rumor,” Freyda sighed, and with little prompting, she joined him in his bed so they could rise together tomorrow night.
When the Queen fell into her day death, Eric used what was left of his extra time to run over the list of those who might have put this latest idea in Freyda’s head. It was obvious someone had said something, and whoever it was had to be someone in Oklahoma who had connections with those at the Summit. It also had to be someone close enough to their lives here to know about Eric’s pre-dawn ritual, perhaps someone who guessed at its meaning. The possibilities narrowed and Eric spent his last hour devising how he would go about killing his problem, when the time was right.
When the invitation arrived for the December Narayana Summit, neither Eric nor Freyda were anxious to accept. Going to Narayana Clan territory meant there would be no avoiding Felipe de Castro. Stan Davis would be there as well, and it would be nearly impossible to maneuver between them without losing ground with one or the other of the contentious Monarchs.
The situation between the Kings and their allies was worsening. There had been several incidents. Couriers for De Castro had been assassinated within the borders of Oklahoma only two weeks ago. Freyda called for an immediate and thorough investigation. She refused to communicate directly with either Stan or Felipe until the findings were available, stating she wouldn’t be influenced. Both Kings railed and threatened, until Eric sent his own warnings, reminding them that going too far in bullying Freyda could result in his challenging them to personal combat.
There were other, more subtle games being played as well. Eric was certain that Kings both had spies placed in the Court. He spent as much time ferreting them out as he spent in observing his Queen. He thanked his foresight in developing a solid business team around him before these distractions began, otherwise, his various money-making ventures would have suffered. As it was, he had plenty of cash and other assets to wield influence and buy ears when he needed them.
A week had passed since they’d received the invitation and they were still debating what to do. Eric suggested they take a break and drive into the city to visit one of Eric’s restaurants. Although it was still the early part of December, the streets and stores were decorated for the holiday season. In Eric’s human times, celebrations were common at this time of year, too. They involved drinking and a huge bonfire, welcoming the turn of the seasons. Now, everything was covered in gaudy reds and shining colors. He and Freyda were standing on a street corner near a park. There was a church across the way and the bell started to chime. Eric turned to say something and he saw the sadness on Freyda’s face. “What is it?” he asked her.
She shook her head, and started to walk forward, unwilling to say, but Eric stopped her. He glanced at the bodyguards who followed them, “A minute,” he said, and they moved away. Pulling her in front of him, Eric took her hands in his and waited, his head cocked to the side until she met his eyes.
“Your eyes are rimmed in red, my Queen. Something disturbs you,” and he ran his thumb under her eye to capture a single tear, which he offered back to her.
“It’s the season,” Freyda shrugged.
Eric didn’t ask more. He didn’t need to. For a poor girl who found herself sold into a brothel, Christmas and its themes would be uncomfortable. When they returned to the palace, Eric excused himself. It took several phone calls and some planning, but he was certain his plan was the best one.
The next evening as they met, Eric asked for a few private minutes. He gave her a card and stepped back. When Freyda opened it, her eyes tightened. Eric had handed her a Christmas card. He could see she thought he was being hurtful in some way. When she looked at him, he said, “Please, Freyda, open it.”
Inside the card he had placed two plane tickets to Barbados. He also included a photograph of his home on that island. “Come with me,” he said as she stared at the tickets. “There are warm waters and a huge moon. We can swim as long as you like. There are twisty roads and I’ll get you a motorcycle. We can lay in the sand and dance to music and forget this whole thing. No Summit. No human holidays. No politics,” and he took her hand. “Just us and streaming vampire movies.”
“You paint a pretty picture, Mr. Northman,” Freyda smirked.
“Then, say yes,” he smirked.
And so they missed the December Summit. They explained they were having a honeymoon of sorts. It was the kind of excuse that would fend off any criticism.
For three weeks, they played. Freyda loved the freedom of the island. There was a luxury to the place and Eric’s servants were efficient and discrete. After the first night, Freyda didn’t want sex. Instead she craved the physical comfort of being close to him, and Eric gave that to her. Still, when the final week came, Eric could sense Freyda becoming anxious. “Are you tired of me already?” he asked her.
“No, that’s not it,” she assured him. “It’s just… this is so wonderful. It’s like a dream and I keep wondering when I’ll wake up.”
Each night, Freyda would lie down on the canopied bed, her golden splendor arrayed over the crisp, white sheets. Each night, Eric would walk out the double doors and stare out across the water, thinking of another golden head. His heart, while Freyda was animate, was occupied, but it was when she wasn’t moving and talking; when the world became still, that the calling within him reasserted itself. ‘It will fade,’ he told himself, but he was beginning to doubt it ever would.
When they returned to Oklahoma, Freyda made her apologies and disappeared. She didn’t emerge from her retreat for four nights. Eric had her servant tell him when she came back, but declined hearing any description of her appearance. He knew. There was something about Freyda that required her to punish herself when she found happiness, and Eric couldn’t begin to fix that. All he could offer her was his understanding and his open arms when she was ready.
It was nearing Spring when the invitation came from Stan Davis. He was hosting a combination party and informal meeting in Dallas. The invitation was issued from the Clan Chief of Zeus, so there was no question of their declining. “I don’t think we can tell him we are taking another honeymoon,” Freyda laughed, tapping Eric’s chest with the heavy, embossed card.
Preparations for a trip like this were involved. They would spend a whole week as guests of Stan Davis. There would be activities ranging from formal dinners to evening excursions into the city. At least one evening would feature Stan’s expensive game room. He was a fan of classic pinball machines and his arcade featured a surprising number of them. Some were laughably easy, but most had the kinds of play and action that even vampires had to work to defeat. He told Eric it was the way the machines beguiled you into believing they were easy, when they weren’t that attracted him. “Not what they appear on the surface,” the Texas King would joke. It wasn’t lost on Eric that the same could be said of Stan.
As Eric sat on the chair in her chambers, Freyda paraded first one outfit and then another. Eric teased and joked, making her laugh until she was silly. When she finished pulling off clothes, she collapsed across the bed, and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.”
“I am happy, too,” Eric grinned. He was. He wasn’t ecstatic. It wasn’t the out-sized happiness he felt in the presence of another, but he was content.
“When we return, I’d like us to talk about bonding,” and Freyda stilled, watching him for his reaction.
Eric had planned for this, of course. Bonding with the Queen was a prelude to being named King. It was his next logical move, why he had been courting her, but he found his mouth struggling to tilt up into the smile he knew he needed to give her. She was waiting, and he dug deep, “I would be honored, my Queen,” he said simply.
“I love you,” she said, and Eric knew that once they were bonded, it wasn’t likely to last.
“You understand the assignment,” Mr. Cataliades asked again. It wasn’t like him, to be so fussy. If Sookie didn’t know better, she’d have thought he was nervous about something. “The King will be in New Orleans with the main retinue conducting his annual visit. You will be with the business team, auditing the accountants and chief deputies for the northern Areas. Felipe feels there should be more revenue coming to him in the way of tithes and he thinks there are some who are cheating him. Please tell me again what you will do when you get off your flight?” Mr. Cataliades was steering Sookie toward the gate with the connecting flight to Shreveport. Once she was on her plane, the demon would go to his own gate with its direct flight to New Orleans.
Sookie was angry with herself. She’d had less than a week’s notice of this assignment, and she’d agreed on a whim. She’d had to make special arrangements and advance more money for last-minute tickets and reservations than she wanted and no sooner had she finished than she received a call that Fran wasn’t doing well. Sookie was anxious that her old friend’s health would take a turn for the worse, and Sookie would be too far away to go to her. Fran had what her doctor described as a mini-stroke. She was mostly recovered, but she needed oxygen when she slept.
Now the plane tickets were paid and she’d given her word to Felipe. If she cancelled, she’d lose all the money, and it was no small thing to back out on a deal with a vampire. He wouldn’t forget, and next time he might insist on something to guarantee her performance.
Sookie glanced around at the people in the airport. For some reason, she couldn’t stop seeing Rick’s face as she’d left the house earlier. He was stressed, his pale face paler than usual as he asked, “What if something happens while you’re gone? How will I tell you?”
The plan was that Sookie would be in Louisiana for a week. She had a burner cell phone and she’d given the numbers to Lora and Rick. She wouldn’t be able to answer calls or messages during the night, but she told them they could text her and she’d get back to them. It was probably taking things too far, but Sookie still worried that, in spite of giving his word, Felipe would decide to find out more about his telepath.
Of course, once the audits were complete, and provided nothing was found, Sookie would fly to New York from Shreveport and make her way home. What she told both Lora and Rick was that if something did happen to Fran while she was away, Lora should take Rick to Boston and Sookie would fly there to meet them instead.
When the attorney cleared his throat, Sookie snapped back from her own thoughts. At his prompting, Sookie repeated for the second time, “I get off the plane, I meet Ted the accountant, and we go along with the group headed for Area 5. I should look for Rubio Hermosa. He is my official liaison and he will be transporting me to the places I need to be.” She looked at the attorney again, “Is there something going on, Desmond?” she asked, “You’re as jumpy as a cat on a skillet.”
“No, not at all,” Mr. Cataliades huffed, making him look even more guilty. “It’s just this is the first time you will be separated from the main group and I want to make sure you don’t find yourself abandoned somewhere. I take great interest in you, Miss Stackhouse, and your well-being is most important to me.”
Since it was clear she wasn’t going to get anything from him, Sookie decided to lighten the mood. “Frankly, I figured you were doing me a favor, making sure there’d be hundreds of miles between me and Felipe,” Sookie chuckled.
“He is not as interested in you as he pretends,” the attorney said dryly.
“Well, thanks for that!” Sookie snorted. It was a relief, but at the same time it stung a little.
“It’s just that it is good to know where things truly stand,” Mr. Cataliades said in a way that sounded like an apology, but then he leaned in closer and said, “These are perilous times. There is a gathering going on in Dallas in which our King has taken an unusual interest. He has chosen to take this trip to Louisiana at a time he generally doesn’t travel. He is taking an unusual number of courtiers with him to New Orleans.”
“What are you saying?” Sookie asked.
“Just that there are signs there is more planned than we are being told,” the demon said in a low voice, “So keep your eyes open. You know that part of Louisiana. If it looks as if there is something odd happening, get to your old home. There are wards in place there that will protect you from those who would mean you harm.”
“So what are you telling me?” Sookie hissed, suddenly afraid. “I somehow hightail it to Hummingbird Lane and then what? I just sit on the porch and hope for the best?” She hadn’t meant to sound so angry, but she was wishing she’d just put her foot down and refused to take this trip. Felipe hadn’t said she was required to come, but she thought it would be a good chance to use up the number of times she’d promised to work for the King. Now, hearing this, she wasn’t so sure. She thought about not getting on the plane. She thought about turning around and heading right back home to Chester.
“It is too late to turn back,” Mr. Cataliades patted her hand and Sookie knew he’d read her growing panic. “All could come to nothing. I may not be doing you any service by sharing my fears, but I do believe in being prepared. Do you have your old house key with you?” the demon asked.
“Well, no!” Sookie snapped. “Not like I’d have any reason to carry….” And then she stopped. She pulled her keyring out of her purse, and realized she did still have it. It was odd, but when she’d thought about throwing the key to her Gran’s house away, she couldn’t do it. She figured it would be useless anyway. The new owners would change the locks, but she felt a sentimental attachment she couldn’t explain. She held it up, and said, “I’m sorry. I do. I’m sorry I’m snapping at you, too. This is just taking me by surprise and I’m scared.”
“Well, as I said, this may all come to nothing. Just so you know, the key will work,” the attorney assured her. “And if you do go to visit, you should find the spells feel familiar.”
“Are my relatives back?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Mr. Cataliades smiled at her in his old, comfortable way. “No, but their magic remains strong there. They wanted you to always have a safe place near their portal where you could feel you were at home.”
The call came to board Sookie’s plane and she quickly hugged the attorney before stooping to grab her small suitcase. “Take care,” she told him.
“And you, too, Miss Stackhouse,” he waved.
Stan had decorated his game room with multi-colored lights draped over the high ceiling and dropped panels that helped muffle some of the noise. There were servants drifting among his guests, carrying trays loaded with shot glasses of flavored bloods. He had a ‘raw’ bar set up along one wall of the room, populated with a selection of attractive young men and women. When asked if the donors were from the Registry, Stan laughed, “Hell, no! I prefer free range!” Eric thought it was extraordinarily risky behavior, but he didn’t say anything. Stan would have taken it as a personal challenge, and the relations between the Texas King and himself were already frosty enough.
As soon as they’d arrived, Stan moved to separate Freyda from Eric using any number of excuses. He wanted to show her his newly-installed infinity pool. He wanted to ask her opinion about evening venues. He wanted to introduce her to someone in particular. In each instance, Freyda insisted on bringing Eric with them. When Stan started to become ugly about it, Eric moved toward Freyda and stood slightly in front of her. He draped his arm around her in a way that sent a strong message. Every vampire there would see his physical touching of the Queen and interpret it to mean that although the pair weren’t bonded, they were preparing. If Eric and Freyda were bonded, it would change the dynamic of power in Oklahoma, and Eric could see that didn’t suit Stan.
Another waiter drifted past, offering Eric a shot glass. “Were,” he murmured. Eric waved the tray away. While most of the flavors were harmless, some, like Were, had an intoxicating effect on vampires. Eric’s eyes flicked around the room, looking at those assembled. It was a mixed bag of Zeus rulers and their companions. This was a ‘family’ night, so bodyguards and servants were kept outside lounging in waiting areas furnished with televisions or tables until they were summoned, or their ruler signaled he or she was leaving to look for other entertainment.
There was music piped in, but it was hard to hear over the clang and ringing of the pinball machines. There were sirens and flashing lights when someone hit a high score, and the bell sounds when scores were added. Freyda was wearing a long, white dress. She was talking with the Queen of the Dakotas, and Eric saw her laugh as both women turned to look in his direction. He gave her his indulgent smile. She was so happy and it added to her beauty. He wondered again what her reaction would be when they bonded and she felt that part of his heart he hadn’t been able to stamp out. Would she remain so generous with him or would jealousy for his ghost twist her happiness away?
As much as Eric didn’t love her, he didn’t wish Freyda ill either. His life with the Queen was pleasant. They watched each other’s back. They didn’t make unpleasant demands of each other. He wished Freyda was a little older and had been joined in a marriage before. Eric had no desire to be the first to acquaint her with the practical side of vampire arrangements. He wished her to have her illusions, and he wondered how he could delay their bonding for a while longer.
The ‘raw’ bar was being switched out. One group was leaving while another was coming in to take their places on the couches and chaise lounges. Eric watched them more from curiosity than any particular interest. The group coming in was slightly less physically attractive, but that was to be expected. As the evening progressed, and the guests drank more, their tastes would become less discerning. Eric noticed he wasn’t the only one watching the nearly naked flesh parade past.
Eric would never know where the first blast came from. All he knew was he was knocked to the ground, and a heavy vampire he thought was the King of Kansas fell on top of him and didn’t move. Eric could smell the burning of the King’s flesh and he recognized it as the stench silver made when it was injected into a vampire’s body. There was another thump. Eric realized later is was a second explosion, but his eardrums were shattered and he could only hear the muffled noise of the percussion blast against his head. Eric was crushed further and the pressure in his head made it hard to think.
He started to wiggle out from under the pile and he saw Freyda. She was still standing, but her dress was splashed with red, and for a crazy minute, Eric thought of Sookie the night he met her, drifting toward him in her white dress with its red flowers.
Stan ran past her, knocking her to the side. Freyda swayed, but she didn’t fall down. Instead, when Stan passed, Eric saw his Queen stare down at her chest. She reached her hand up and Eric saw that there was the feathered end of an arrow placed precisely between her breasts. He watched Freyda fall to her knees, and then, slowly, crumple to the ground, her sightless eyes looking toward him.
His Queen was gone.