“Cousin,” Claude greeted, with his eyes darting around the room, like Channing Tatum himself might be found leaning up against the office wall, there to audition to be one of the dancers.
A look that made more sense when he asked, “Did your fine ass hunk of fang come with you?”
“No,” I sighed, trying to keep the tears at bay.
I wasn’t doing a good job of it though.
My cousins had known what Pythia had told me all of those years ago. They’d even laughed at me for ‘trying to tempt fate’, but I’d never listened.
Ironic for a telepath.
Completely understandable for a stubborn one.
So it was easy for him to guess the reason for my gloom and his voice took on a more somber tone, when he said, “You told him.”
Nodding slightly, I admitted in an even softer voice, “Yes. I told him.”
“And?” he asked, flopping down into the chair on the other side of the desk, looking way better than any man had the right to look.
Like a certain fine ass hunk of fang I knew.
“And nothing,” I replied. “He told me he wanted to permanently bond with me, so I told him everything I’ve been too chicken shit to tell him before. Then I left him to work it all out, however he needed to.”
But I hadn’t needed him to say the words. I didn’t need to be able to read his mind when I could feel his need to be alone. To pick apart everything he now knew and compare it to everything he’d thought he’d known. I’d felt his disbelief. His internal struggle.
I wouldn’t call it panic, but he’d been feeling something like it. And it felt like a bitch move to make him rework our history in his mind, with me being a spectator for it all, so I left.
I’d been where he was. Done the same things. So I tried to tell myself that it was normal. That it was all going to be okay because at the end of the day we all had free will.
No matter what ancient vampires said.
He could choose to be with me if he wanted to. Or he could choose to not be with me, just because someone ancient had said we were meant to be together.
But at least I’d left it all on the table by telling him I loved him. It was something I’d been forcing myself to hold in, not knowing how he would take it. But if all of this – us – was now at its end, I didn’t want not telling him to be one of my regrets.
I would have plenty of them already, without that being one of them.
And I knew he cared about me too, even if he’d never come out and said the words. His actions and our connection told me all that I needed to know. Whether or not he would call it love didn’t matter.
Because it didn’t change the fact that was what I felt coming from him.
Even so, I refused to take that next permanent step with him, without him knowing everything.
I would have wanted to know.
Had the shoe been on the other foot, I would have always second guessed his motives. Always wondered if he’d completed something as sacred as I’d come to learn permanent blood bonds were because of some prophesized fuckery.
It would have made our bond feel like it had been forced on us.
Because no matter what my motives would have been to complete a bond, I would have always been suspect of his.
And I would have hated feeling that way.
So as hard as it had been to tell him everything and leave it all up to him, it was the only way.
That I could see anyway.
“You’re a dumb bitch sometimes.”
Looking up at my cousin, I glared, “Gee. Don’t hold back. Tell me how you really feel.”
“I just did,” he shrugged.
Sometimes sarcasm flew right over their surgically altered formerly pointed ears.
“Why did you just up and leave?” he asked and then answered, “It’s because of that stupid fucking Scarlett O’Hara, isn’t it. You know she ends up alone at the end, right? Also a dumb bitch.”
“Fuck you,” I glared again. “You’re the one with a hard-on for Mr. Oh-So-Suave Rhett Butler. If it weren’t for you getting your period every now and again, I never would have even watched that damn movie. Or The Notebook. Or Message in a Bottle. Shall I go on…dumb bitch?”
Ignoring my words – because not even the truth could hurt my cousin – he asked, “Did he give you any hints on how he felt about the whole thing?”
“Hints?” I asked, wanting to forget about the hints our blood tie had given me and instead tease him about us braiding our hair together later on over a gallon of ice cream, while we talked about boys. But that would have been a moot point since we’d actually done that before.
On more than one occasion.
So all I would admit to was, “Yeah. I got a few hints. All of them to be expected.”
He’d felt adrift. Even now I could tell he was questioning every little thing.
So I tried really hard not to guess what exactly he was questioning.
But even so, I planned on contacting him before dawn to see if he needed a lift back to wherever he planned on spending the day because as magical as that small parcel of the Smoky Mountains were, I doubted he would be able to find a lightproof treehouse nearby.
And I tried really hard not to hope that he would want to spend the day with me.
I’d go back to him sooner, of course, if he called me.
Via blood tie or the 4G network, I wouldn’t care. But I tried my damnedest to not call him.
Via blood tie or the 4G network.
It wouldn’t be fair. He needed the time to get a grip and decide what he wanted to do, so I would give him that.
But seeing the look forming on my cousin’s face, I didn’t need to read his mind – not that I could anyway – to know that he was seconds away from launching into a full interrogation, when I got another hint.
In the form of a vampire void approaching the front door of the club.
But having piggybacked on the human minds surrounding it, I was already holding my hand up to stop him from telling me everything else he was feeling about me and getting up onto my feet when the waitress knocked on the door to deliver the message.
“It’s just Jessica,” I told Claude before I hurried from the room to see what she wanted.
As far as we knew, Compton hadn’t returned to the States, so it wasn’t really safe for her to be there in Leclerq’s territory.
And I grimaced realizing I was still thinking in terms of ‘we’ when for all I knew Eric and I were back to being just that.
Two separate entities, no longer tied together by anything other than a blood tie that would fade over time to nothing.
But it would defeat the purpose of leaving him to decide what he wanted to do about fated fuckery without any interference from me if I called him to double check Compton’s status, right?
My hand apparently didn’t think so, since it had fished my phone out of my pocket. But I kept myself from hitting the speed dial he’d programmed himself in as – 69 – and instead found Jessica waiting for me just inside of the front entrance.
“Sookie,” she smiled, looking as uncomfortable as all get out.
I figured it was due to her age and the amount of skin being flashed in the club. Eric had told me about her accepting Jesus Christ as her personal savior when he’d caught up to her the first time and seeing him then – and seeing her now – I doubted he’d been kidding.
So I led her outside and asked, “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”
For a moment I wondered if maybe Leclerq hadn’t tracked down Compton on her own and ended him for whatever asinine reason she’d thought up, which would have then left Jessica to fend for herself.
At least I’d had others to rely on when I’d been left all alone.
I would be willing to do the same for her.
Pay it forward and all that.
“Yes…I mean, no…” she stammered and awkwardly gestured to the corner of the building, I assumed to get away from the line of people waiting to get into the club.
Automatically reaching out with my mind, I could tell the alley was empty, so I followed her and asked, “What is it?”
She waited until we reached the middle of the alley before turning around to face me. Her eyes were rimmed with bloody tears, so I mindlessly reached towards her to offer her whatever comfort I could, when she said, “I’m so sorry.”
I didn’t have the chance to ask what she was sorry about.
I figured it out when I woke up in a room I’d never seen before.
In a 1920’s bordello, given the decorating scheme.
The back of my head was throbbing from the knot I could feel at the base of my crown, so at first I’d thought I was just too disoriented to pop myself out of there.
I didn’t realize I was too disoriented to notice the iron collar around my neck and the matching shackles on my wrists. I’d never been affected by the metal until my essential spark had been jumpstarted by an ancient vampire’s supernova blood.
Now I was nearly as susceptible to it as a full-blooded fairy. It irritated my skin and left me feeling too drained to use magic.
So was it a coincidence or did they know my true heritage?
I discovered the collar was attached to a heavy chain that was bolted to the floor, when I tried to sit up, but my nightmare turned reality came to a head when the door opened and in walked my cousin.
Not one of the ones who would have been of actual use to me in that moment, but the one who I suspected was the cause of my current dilemma.
“Sookie,” she smiled timidly. “I’m so glad that you’re alright.”
“Alright?” I snapped. “Somebody used the back of my head for batting practice and then chained me up in this Fifty Shades of Fucked Up, and you think I’m alright?”
“I meant that you’re alive,” she whined.
She’d always been a whiner.
She was the center of the universe in her own mind.
A dimwitted sun.
“Surprise,” I snarked. “I’m alive. But I guess the same can’t be said about you.”
I was happy she was okay, but I wasn’t happy about being taken against my will, all because her Maker was a twat.
“Yeah,” she smiled. “I’ve been a vampire for almost a year now. It’s neat.”
Looks like I wasn’t the only one who never finished high school.
“But I guess you know about us, huh?” she asked. “What with your boyfriend being an Enforcer and all. But now we can be together again! Isn’t that great?”
Ignoring her fantasy family reunion, all I could focus on was the other weird thing she’d said.
That sounded wrong on so many levels.
Nothing about Eric was boyish.
Even his charms were all man.
But even not knowing where our relationship stood at the moment, I was certain of one thing.
And I let her know it by saying, “Eric will kill your Maker for taking me. If you’re lucky, he’ll stop there and let you live, but I can’t make any promises.”
I wasn’t so sure I would feel enough empathy for her to sway his opinion when he showed up, especially after being double crossed by Jessica.
But I had no doubt he would show up.
I was calling him like a mother fucker. 4G network not required.
“My Maker is a queen,” she hissed, showing me the truth of her new nature.
And showing me her new fangs.
“He’ll be the one who’ll die, if he comes here looking for you.”
Ignoring my sudden onset of vertigo, I forced myself to roll off of the ridiculous chaise lounge and onto my feet, warning, “I’m not the same girl you remember Hadley. A lot has changed. Don’t provoke me by threatening him.”
I would kill her in a heartbeat.
How I would go about doing that, I was still working out.
“Don’t provoke me by threatening my new child.”
Turning to face the sound coming from the doorway, I saw the Queen of Louisiana staring back at me with a calculating eye.
Fuck that bitch.
Iron shackles or no, I wasn’t intimidated by her.
“What threat?” I asked, taunting, “You were warned by The Council to leave me alone. You were told what the consequences would be if you moved forward with your toddler tantrum. You brought this all about and it will be you who has to pay the price for your actions.”
Rolling her eyes, she said, “As if I believe you’re an asset of The Council. The Northman’s former post and his friendship with the current guards is all he would need to falsify the necessary documents. But The Council does not claim humans. It is a well-known fact.”
“Seeing is believing,” I smiled tauntingly because – in my mind – she’d just confirmed that she had no clue about who I really was. “And I’m going to guess that the last thing you see will be Eric’s triumphant smile before he shoves a stake through your cold dead heart.”
As pissed as I knew he had to be right now, I knew just as well that he would be a happy fucker when it was over.
But thinking about what he might be feeling, I realized I couldn’t feel him.
I hadn’t thought about shutting down our blood tie since the night of my first confession and hadn’t tried since our second exchange to know if I even could.
So had Eric shut down his side?
If he had, that didn’t bode well for me on many levels. So I redoubled my efforts at knocking on our blood tie – pounding on the door, really – when the smile I saw forming on her face gave me pause and redoubled my panic as she said, “I could smell him on you the moment you arrived. I know that you’ve had his blood, so I’ve already taken care of that.”
“What do you mean?” I involuntarily asked.
I hated showing that bitch any fear, but my dread at what she could have done while I’d been unconscious was overtaking all rational thought.
Had she already had him killed?
I knew Eric was more than capable of handling himself in a fight. But I’d left him in a pretty bad headspace.
Claude was right.
I really was a dumb bitch.
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that,” she smiled. “I need that pretty little head of yours for other things, like listening to the minds of my staff and those who accompany other vampire of stature during any negotiations we have.”
“What?” I glared, feeling more pissed than scared.
And then I turned that same glare onto Hadley, already knowing who had the biggest mouth in the room.
“Tell me,” Leclerq purred, suddenly in my face. Using the red lacquered tip of her fingernail to trail down the side of my face, she asked, “Can you read my mind? My dear Hadley didn’t know if human minds were the only ones you could hear.”
“There are a lot of things your dear Hadley doesn’t know.”
Our fairy heritage being one of those things.
Great-grandfather hated everything I’d been put through because he hadn’t known about me to protect me.
So it was also a good guess that Eric might miss out on the Sophie-Ann slaying, if he didn’t get there soon.
Claude would have noticed I’d been gone for too long. While he normally wouldn’t go looking for me unless he needed something, I knew he felt the need to reiterate the fact I was a dumb bitch in his opinion.
He wouldn’t voluntarily pass up the opportunity.
He’d popped himself to my apartment more than once to do just that.
He would be able to find me with his blood. All fairies could locate their kin that way.
And even if he was apprehensive about coming for me when he figured out I was stuck in a vampire’s den – or sunroom, if you wanted to get technical – he would just call in for reinforcements.
“What she doesn’t know – or rather didn’t know – I’ve already seen to,” she said, running her fingers along the collar around my neck. “I tasted a hint of fairy in her blood and I can smell it in you, so you will be a favored donor when you’re not needed for using your gift.”
Over my dead body.
Which may or may not be the end result, if I couldn’t figure out a way to hold on for whatever rescue party that had better be on its fucking way.
But thinking of rescue parties, my thoughts were mocked by the appearance of Bill Compton and Jessica making their way into the room.
Hagrid’s two brothers, a ghoul, and an eighth grader followed behind them – all vampires from their telltale voids – but I only had eyes for my betrayers.
Jessica at least looked remorseful, but Bill only looked like a smug bastard when he said, “I don’t believe she can read our thoughts, Your Majesty. Or else she never would have fallen for our ruse.”
I was positively livid because – like Eric had said – I was a poor sport when my telepathy was of no use. So I stared hard at him and said, “Nothing will save you now. Eric is going to kill you and I’m going to cheer him on the whole time.”
“Now, now,” the queen smiled. “Hadley told me how much you cherish family values and losing yours, I knew it would only take you seeing Bill acting in a fatherly way to his child for you to fall victim to your human ideals. And despite the Northman’s reputation, he won’t stand a chance if he comes here.”
Looking to the eighth grader, he picked up where LeBitch had left off by adding, “The others are already in place.”
Grinning, she turned back to face me and said, “We’ve assembled hundreds of vampire on the palace grounds and within the confines of the compound. He can’t take us all out before one of us takes him out.”
My head was still throbbing – and I felt like I was shrouded in some sort of weird fog – but I pushed beyond it to get to the truth of her words.
And she was telling the truth.
I knew it from the hundreds of telltale voids surrounding us.
“I always get my way,” Leclerq arrogantly offered. “The daughter of a peasant seamstress and the village drunk, but look at me now. I’m the queen of two states.”
“And delusional,” I added, since she was obviously unaware. “You won’t win this fight.”
No sooner had I said the words when I heard a commotion in the distance.
The sound of a bull entering a china shop.
“Oh! It’s starting!” she clapped before turning her red painted daggers to the two giants and saying, “Now do your Maker proud and go kill him.”
Reaching out with my mind, I could detect even more minds closing in on the palace. I didn’t give any thought as to which side they were on.
I didn’t have the wherewithal to spare a single thought that didn’t have to do with saving Eric and hearing his rage-filled, “Knock! Knock!” I knew I was out of time.
And that was when I learned the old adage, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’ really was true.
I knew it when my body began tingling. I could hear and smell the flesh sizzling where the iron met my skin, but I welcomed the pain.
I would take any amount of pain over the horror of losing Eric for good.
With her standing so close, it was easy to reach out and grab onto her wrists. Then looking around the ostentatious room, I turned back to her and posed rhetorically, “This is supposed to be a sunroom, right?”
Without waiting for an answer, I leaned in and stared into her eyes, cluing her into another old adage she should have given more weight to.
“Be careful what you wish for.”
A split second later, I became the living breathing epitome of all that ridiculously decorated room stood for, when my fear and rage came out in the form of a bright light.
That was when a Princess of the Sky Fae showed the queen of two states what it was like to once again be in the presence of the sun.