I hadn’t given much thought to the shooter, assuming – like Pam – he’d been from the Fellowship.
My star prisoner of the moment – in my eyes – was the fairy.
And he had top priority since he’d obviously been there in some capacity because of Sookie.
It didn’t matter what her words were – exploring or not – she was mine.
She just didn’t realize it yet.
But I would do whatever she required for her to come to that conclusion as well.
The human prisoner had been inconsequential until now, but he was the reason I also had a were-tiger occupying one of my cells since the unsuccessful assassin had been dressed as one of Triple E’s servers.
However, hearing Sookie say she believed him to be from Nevada now piqued my interest.
When it appeared Sookie would not be waking up any time soon – after her wound had healed the night before – I’d left her in Pam’s care and returned to the ballroom to round up the tiger, only to see Victor Madden along with Sandy Seacrest and ten other Nevada vampires then entering the room.
Russell’s cocked eyebrow in my direction told me he too found their timing to be questionable.
But seeing for themselves I was still among the undead, they merely apologized for their late arrival, along with sending de Castro’s regret over having to stay behind to deal with urgent state business.
I neither knew nor cared whether or not their tales were true, but if de Castro had been behind the assassination attempt, I doubted he’d actually been as far away as Nevada.
The moment I was nothing more than a puddle they would’ve needed to storm the palace and attempt their takeover in the ensuing chaos.
It was likely there were more of Nevada’s vampires hiding in every territory of mine, but because of my reputation as being a fair leader, the number of vampires in my fealty had grown over the last few weeks.
The total sum of subjects under my rule was far greater than Sophie-Anne would have ever dared dream of and Nevada would’ve needed the pandemonium of a successful assassination in order to have a chance to win.
Sookie quickly explained how the shooter’s thoughts were foggy to her – as though they weren’t his own and instead were more like a compulsion to act – but on the fringes of that some of his own feelings were there as well. Even as he’d quickly assembled the weapon he somehow knew was hidden amongst Triple E’s equipment, another compulsion was eating away at him that was all his own.
She’d described him as feeling physically ill and guessed the man likely had a gambling addiction because his own thoughts had him longing to be back in one of Felipe’s casinos.
I already knew Madden and those with him had returned to Las Vegas since I’d had them followed as soon as they left the palace, so I wasn’t as concerned over a possible takeover at the moment.
But I was still impressed with her level of acuity and said, “You’re quite remarkable lover.”
Her eyes rolled as she said, “More like a freak of nature, but it can be handy sometimes.”
I had quite a full agenda for the evening, since the coronation had eaten the entire night before.
So I didn’t have the time to argue the erroneous estimation she had of herself and simply kissed her forehead, saying, “We can argue logic later, but for now we must go.”
Unaware I’d be dealing with a Fae infiltrator, human assassin, and inept were-tiger when I’d set my agenda for this evening, I was already due to meet with Longshadow over Fangtasia’s falling revenue since he’d come down for the coronation.
Seeing he’d brought Ginger with him as his companion the night before had me wondering if he could’ve possibly been glamoured himself.
But his questionable taste in women was unimportant when my business was falling apart around him. I planned on offering him the opportunity to buy me out of the bar altogether, since I no longer had the time or inclination to oversee it as I once had, now that I was King.
If he couldn’t afford to, another vampire new to my kingdom by the name of Chow had already expressed his interest.
He was waiting on us when we reached my office, with Ginger immediately bowing down and purring, “Master.”
I stifled the urge to smile feeling Sookie bristling through our bond, but I wasn’t worried what she might be reading from Ginger’s thoughts because I’d never touched the woman.
However, knowing how many of the donor pool I’d utilized recently in my failed attempts to not think about Sookie caused me to mentally note they’d all need to be replaced.
While Sookie had been truthful when she said she understood the nature of vampires and willing donors, I didn’t find it prudent to have her unnecessarily subjected to their thoughts.
I ignored Ginger, leaving her in the reception area, and proceeded into my office with Pam, Sookie, and Longshadow.
As soon as we were seated, I got right to the point, asking, “What is it you’re doing wrong that’s causing my bar to flounder?”
I may have wanted to sell my shares, but I still wanted answers.
My accountant Bruce had told me he estimated close to sixty thousand dollars was missing from the bar’s accounts more than a year ago. But he couldn’t figure out how, so I fired him and most of the other human staff that had access to the money after glamouring them produced no information.
Revenue picked up again after that and I assumed we’d gotten rid of the thief, but it started slowly declining just a few months later and now was nearing insolvency.
I could feel Sookie’s emotions go from disgust to amusement, but when she settled on outrage I finally glanced over to where she was seated, drawing Longshadow’s gaze to her as well.
He was never one to have much tolerance for any human he wasn’t fucking and being dressed down in front of one of them only added to his anger, so the insubordinate ass asked, “Since when do you conduct business in the presence of a human?”
His hostile eyes returned to me, adding, “I never thought you’d get soft sitting on your new throne.”
My fangs snapped down and I had him by his throat against the wall before he ever saw me coming, while a part of me thought Sookie would be getting her chance to see me using my sword much sooner than either of us expected when she’d asked me about it the night before.
But her next words had me staying one hand while my grip tightened in the other.
“He’s the one stealing from you.”
“Fuck you bitch!” he snarled in her direction and tried to reach for her.
But he had no hope of going anywhere with my hand still around his throat.
I was centuries older than him, but knowing she couldn’t read vampires’ thoughts, I turned to her and asked, “How do you know?”
Seeing Pam had already grabbed a stake before she’d moved to my side made Sookie swallow hard and I could feel the tendrils of fear within her.
So I was suitably impressed by her poker face – that betrayed none of her inner turmoil – when she stared back at me and answered, “Ginger. She’s out there seething with jealousy, thinking you brought him in here to share me with him. She’s wondering if you’d be so generous if you knew he’s having her deposit the majority of the bar’s profits into his personal account.”
I wasn’t just impressed at Sookie’s telepathic ability, but impressed Ginger was able to form a coherent thought, considering the number of times she’d been glamoured in the past.
Longshadow wasn’t as impressive as he continued to thrash about yelling, “LIAR! You’re going to believe a human over one of your own?”
I quickly secured him in silver before handing him off to Pam, answering, “Yes. After all, I’ve gone soft on my new throne.”
Then turning to Pam, I added, “Take him elsewhere and dispose of him. I just had the office remodeled and don’t want to ruin the new carpet.”
Having never been fond of Longshadow, she grinned back at me.
But before she sped from the room, with her prisoner in tow, she turned to Sookie and said, “It’s so much more fun with you around.”
Now that we were alone again, I too turned to Sookie, both seeing and feeling her apprehension, when she asked, “He’s not coming back, is he? Like…ever.”
“No,” I answered, taking a seat next to her on the couch. “He not only stole from me, he had the audacity to insult me and my human. Our laws are quite different from human laws. His offense is punishable by death and as King I would be viewed as weak if I did not follow through.”
She internally bristled again when I called her my human, but she muttered under her breath, “Well you’re my vampire.”
I couldn’t manage to argue her point, nor did I feel the need to.
For all intents and purposes, with our agreement in place, I was her vampire.
And I oddly enjoyed hearing her say it.
So I pulled her into my lap, inhaling her delicious scent, and agreed, “That I am lover.”
I could feel her appeasement through our bond over my verbal agreement and before I could get too carried away, I stood us up and said, “Now, let’s go see what your fairy has to say.”
Knowing there would be others around, I handed her a notepad and pen, adding, “This is in case you hear anything else you think I should be aware of. As I said, I don’t want to publicize your gift. However I can see now just how handy it can be.”
When I felt her grim acceptance through the bond, I turned to her and clarified, “You aren’t required to earn your keep here, Sookie. If you don’t want to read the thoughts of anyone, I will not ask you to.”
While I did see how useful her talents would be to my kingdom, I’d much rather hide her away where no one else could get to her. Our blood exchange only increased my desire to protect her from everyone and I’d survived for a very long time without the need of a telepath.
I could still do so now.
“I know that Eric,” she sighed and wrapped her arms around my waist, laying her head on my chest.
“It’s a dual edged sword, you know? I’ve spent my whole life hiding who I am. What I can do. And I’m still hiding it now, but I sort of don’t want to anymore. I know it’s dangerous for others to know and I get that, but I’m tired of people thinking I’m just some dumb blonde barmaid with big boobs.”
Personally, I quite liked the size of her breasts and was looking forward to getting to know every inch of them. But hearing her call herself a barmaid made me realize I still knew nothing of her former life.
We didn’t have the time to discuss it now, but I would make a point to later on and merely joked, “Are they big? I had no idea.”
Pulling my hands away and slowly bringing them up in front of her, as though I was going to physically measure their abundance for myself, my ploy worked on cheering her up.
Because she laughed and swatted my hands away, saying, “God, what is it with you and Pam and feeling up my boobs?”
“Pam has touched you?” I asked with my eyes narrowed.
Sookie grinned back at me, saying, “Gotcha!”
As my little minx and I left my office, my only intention was to head to the dungeons. But seeing Ginger still waiting there made Sookie stop in her tracks and kindly explain that she should probably just head back without Longshadow.
Ginger being Ginger became combative and yelled, “He’s mine bitch and he’s coming home with me!”
“GINGER!” I bellowed, making her cower and bow down again.
“Ye…yes…Ma…Master,” she stuttered.
I’d never cared for her when I was still at Fangtasia on a daily basis, but I cared for her even less now. She was lucky my lover had me in a good mood, so I ordered her to stand and met her gaze to glamour her away before I gave in to my instincts and just killed her.
I could feel Sookie’s awe give way to amusement as she watched me do it, I guessed from whatever it was she was reading from her thoughts.
But as we walked away from her, through the palace, she giggled and whispered, “You’re mean.”
“Why is that lover? I’m sure she’ll enjoy Alaska. The men far outnumber the women there,” I smiled back at her.
She shook her head still chuckling, but we were once again interrupted, now by one of the Dallas vampires.
“Your Majesty,” she bowed.
“Isabelle,” I acknowledged.
She stood up again, saying, “We’ll be leaving momentarily, but I wanted to let you know you have friends in Area Nine should you have need of us.”
I knew she was speaking of Nevada’s suspect timing in their arrival the night before, but before I could reply I felt Sookie’s fear and apprehension spike.
I turned seeing her eyes staring back at the human Isabelle had brought with her and I could feel her need to say something, but I didn’t want her gift to become known.
It hadn’t mattered with Longshadow because I knew he wouldn’t be living long enough to tell anyone, however Isabelle was a different story. I trusted her as much as I could trust any vampire from another area – which normally wasn’t much at all – but I’d always gotten along well with her in our past dealings.
I found her to be brave and above all loyal to her former Sheriff and now King, Stan Davis.
Sookie seemed to remember the notepad still in her hand and she scribbled furiously, allowing me to see what she’d written once she was done.
I was left with a conundrum given what she’d heard of the human Hugo’s thoughts and having seen him with Isabelle previously, I knew he had been her pet for quite some time.
Deciding to feel her out, I told Isabelle, “I appreciate your offer of assistance should I need it and I’d like to offer you a token of my gratitude now. However, I would need your word that the origin of the information I’m about to share with you remain between you and I.”
Seeing her confusion and perhaps hesitance at my request, I added, “It is something you will want to know, but do not take my terms lightly. You do not want to make an enemy out of me.”
Seeming to gauge the truth of my words, she bowed once more, saying, “Your Majesty, were it not for the loyalty I have to my own King, I would be one of your subjects now. Whatever it is you wish to share with me will remain between the two of us.”
She stood again and made a move to dismiss her human, but I stopped her, saying, “He may stay.”
Confusion colored both of their faces, but I only turned to Sookie, saying, “You may tell them what you’ve heard.”
Sookie stood regally at my side, with her eyes on Isabelle, when she said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Hugo is a spy for the Fellowship.”
Her fangs snapped down and her head whipped towards him, but not before I could see the hurt in her eyes, making me realize he’d been more than just a pet to her.
Sookie continued on with, “He was the one that gave them the information that led to Farrell’s capture and eventual murder. He’s upset that you won’t turn him and he thinks that you’re just using him even though he’s in love with you. As you were speaking to Eric tonight he was wondering how it was I knew to save Eric last night and if the shooter was from the Fellowship as well because he’d been given orders to get the layout of the palace and report back to them. He thought it was odd they didn’t tell him there would be an assassination attempt on the King’s life.”
Isabelle’s head whipped back towards Sookie, asking, “How do you know all of this?”
Sookie looked to me and when I nodded, she answered, “I’m a telepath.”
When she’d acknowledged her gift earlier that night, likening it to being ‘a freak of nature’ that was exactly how she felt.
But now as she voiced her secret she felt nothing but pride.
I felt proud of her as well and when Isabelle looked to me, I added, “She can only hear human’s thoughts.”
She had no need to know of the others Sookie could hear and I guessed Hugo’s thoughts ran to disbelief because she answered his unspoken questions with, “Yes I can hear you. No I’m not crazy. Lawyer. Two kids. Polly. Gabe. That’s just sick and I doubt you’re fast enough.”
Whatever his last thought had been, she was right because he’d barely made his lunge for her when Isabelle had him in her grasp.
It appeared she was still reeling with the new information, but she looked back at me with gratitude, saying, “Thank you your Majesty.”
Then turning to Sookie, she added, “And to you as well. He will answer for his crimes, but I will not tell anyone of your gift.”
Pam showed up just as Isabelle was leaving with her now glamoured human and turned to Sookie, smiling and saying, “See? It’s so much more fun with you around.”
But feeling Sookie’s sadness start to creep in, I turned to her and asked, “What is making you sad?”
She looked up at me seeming unsure and said, “I know you all have your own laws and ways of doing things, but he’s a human. What he did was horrible, but I don’t like the idea of him being killed over something I told her about. Can’t she just turn him in to the human authorities or something?”
I brushed the hair away from her face and looked into her eyes, asking, “What crime did he commit against human laws?”
Her head dropped down now seeing the flaw in her logic.
But feeling her angst over his wellbeing, I offered, “I suspect he is much more than just a pet to Isabelle, so while he will likely be punished, he may not be killed.”
If Stan weren’t incapacitated, Hugo wouldn’t live to see the next sunrise.
I remembered him being outraged when his own nest mate had been kidnapped and there had been a low key culling of the Fellowship herd in Dallas after their fateful sunrise service. He was angry, but he was smart and knew there would be a public outcry had he acted rashly.
Steve Newlin’s days were still numbered.
It was the only mollification I could give her and she nodded her acceptance and asked, “If I hear something again where the human can be punished by human laws, if they’re under your jurisdiction, will you turn them over to the human authorities instead of using vampire justice on them?”
Before Sookie, I would’ve scoffed at the mere idea of allowing the human authorities to deal with anything having to do with crimes against a vampire, but now…
Now I could feel her absolute need for me to give her this.
Now there wasn’t much I could think of that I wouldn’t do to take away the gnawing I felt inside of her.
Which was why I found myself nodding my agreement.
Which was why I heard Pam say from behind me, “Pussy.”
“You’re taking Ginger all the way back to Shreveport and then you’ll help her pack before bringing her to the airport. One more word out of you and she’ll be your only pet for the next year,” I smiled back at her.
“But she smells like fish!” she squawked.
“That’s still rude! What are you talking about?” Sookie asked, feeling left out.
I smiled down at her, saying, “Pam was thinking about getting her own cat, but I think it’s too big of a commitment for her. She said she might like to try it for a year and see.”
“Pam!” Sookie chided. “Pets aren’t disposable. You shouldn’t get one at all unless you know you’ll want to take care of it for the rest of its life.”
Pam glared back at me before finally looking at Sookie as she said, “You’re right. I do not want a pet for even one night, not even a fish, so I won’t be getting one at all.”
I could barely feel Sookie’s confusion over my own amusement, but before we could get sidetracked again, I said, “Let’s go. We need to go see our guest because Pam has an errand to run once we’re through.”
Ginger was already gone, but Pam had no idea my threat was an empty one and at the end of our interrogation I would allow her to believe I was being lenient. However, it would be some time before she chose to mock me again.
Perhaps, even a whole week this time.
The smell of fairy became stronger the closer we got to the dungeons. Other than my chambers, this was the most secure area of the palace as it housed not only the prisoners, but a separate wing that was designated for the vampires in my kingdom with the greatest infirmity.
Most of them had been rescued from drainers. Until they regained their strength, they were susceptible to being captured and killed, so I kept them safe in the meantime.
On our way towards Sigebert’s looming stance, Sookie stopped in her tracks for the second time that night seeing her former Were guard.
At that moment I wished she actually could read my mind because if she challenged me in front of the others, I would have no choice but to respond.
I could feel her protest seeing him chained, but instead of saying anything out loud, she used her notepad once more and continued silently walking passed him while handing me her note.
It wasn’t his fault I got away. I used my telepathy to hide from him. He kept thinking he couldn’t scent me with so many people going in and out of the palace and I probably rubbed up on every last one of them on my way out. You can’t blame him. I had an unfair advantage.
I felt strangely proud of her for using every advantage at her disposal, even if she had used them to get away from my protection. I couldn’t fault her for wanting to go home. Nor could I find her at fault for not knowing just how much danger she was in.
That was all Brigant’s fault.
Being able to get all the way home to Bon Temps was an impressive feat. It was only due to my persistence and small blood tie to her that she was found at all.
Technically the Were had only been tasked with protecting my pet, not guarding her as though she was a prisoner. But it wouldn’t hurt him to remain in his chains for the rest of the night because by the end of it he would know exactly what would happen should he fail me again.
Chains would be the least of his worries.
Sookie continued to scribble away as we walked, but hadn’t written much before I was handed another sheet of paper. I guessed she’d sensed the were-tiger’s presence because he was still farther down the corridor when I read:
Quinn is in cahoots with Nevada. I don’t know the details, but he was thinking about what he would need to remember to report back to them during your meeting. Mostly about the security you’d be having the night of your coronation as opposed to how strong it was on any other night he was there.
I was already imagining my new tiger skin rug by the time we reached the fairy Preston, but he drew my attention back to him as he looked from Sookie to me and hissed out, “You exchanged blood with her!”
I was surprised he could smell it over the rest of the scents permeating the stagnant air.
But seeing how irate he was, I smiled and said, “I did. And it was quite enjoyable.”
“The Prince will have your head for this!” he snarled.
The Prince could kiss my ass. I was charged with protecting her, which – even with her own follies – I’d managed to do. However, I would not be handing Sookie back over to him willingly and if that ignited a war with the Fae, then so be it.
She certainly seemed to have no affection for her distant kin and if we did forge a permanent bond, then he would have no rights to take her.
It only added more items to my ever growing list, but I needed to test Sookie’s tolerance to iron and lemons. If her mostly human body could withstand them, then she could use them to protect herself should they try to take her against her will again.
Looking as unimpressed as I felt at his threats, I asked, “Why are you here?”
I expected silence or perhaps claims of guarding her at Niall’s behest. So what I heard shocked and then enraged me.
“She is mine.”
Pam’s, “Oh no, he didn’t!” was drowned out by Sookie’s exclamation of, “I most certainly am NOT!”
His eyes softened towards her, which only served to anger me more, when he said, “Princess, from the first moment I laid eyes on you I knew I would one day make you my Queen. I would give you everything your heart desired. You would likely be able to carry our children to term since you are a hybrid and with our bloodlines, our offspring will be magnificent! You have the essential spark with only an eighth of the Brigant blood running through your veins. With my ability to shapeshift handed down, our children will be a force the likes of which Breandan and his followers have never…”
My blood was boiling, hearing him speak of children that would never be born from my mate. Children I would never be able to give her should she desire them and it only fueled my anger.
So I was but a blur before I had him by his throat, with his feet dangling in the air and his face inches from mine, as I cutoff his claims and roared, “SOOKIE IS MINE!”
He’d already been significantly weakened from being surrounded by iron for twenty-four hours – not that he would’ve had much hope besting me even at his full strength – but didn’t fight against me and strangely, even being that close to him, the only desire I had for his blood was to shed it.
Not drink it.
My bond with Sookie told me she would be accepting if I were to kill him now and while I wanted to, I knew it wouldn’t be prudent of me to do so. If Niall wanted him back, I would grant him his consolation prize because as I said.
Sookie is mine.
I’d gripped his throat long enough for him to lose consciousness, so I let him drop unceremoniously to the stone floor before spinning around and claiming Sookie’s lips with my own. I might not be able to claim her body just yet, but the way she kissed me back coupled with her feelings through the bond told me she was mine too.
My test with the Were guards in my employ the night before showed they were unable to enter my chambers while in wolf form and the witch could offer no explanation as to how he’d been able to enter. I had no choice but to assume it was a combination of being in animal form along with his Fae magic. I wouldn’t know the truth until I could question Niall and seeing as how I had no intention of returning his great-granddaughter, I might never know.
When I finally pulled back from our kiss, with her now panting air into her lungs, I led us out of the dungeons. I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to deal with the were-tiger or the human shooter just now to be able to question them thoroughly.
But just as we reached the hallway that would lead to the exit, I heard the faint voice of one of the vampires in the recovery wing call out, “Your Majesty? May I speak with you for a moment?”
Pam rolled her eyes hearing his voice and truthfully I never cared for him either when he’d been an underling in Sophie-Anne’s court. But he was admittedly resourceful and I was duty bound to see to his recovery following his injuries in Rhodes.
Turning towards Pam, I ordered, “Escort Sookie back to my chambers. I will follow along shortly.”
“What of my errand?” she pouted.
There was no use in trying to hide my smile because she would feel my amusement anyway, so I did nothing to mask it when I said, “I’ll let you out of it this time.”
She knew better than to say anything else and once they were both gone from my sight, I turned and walked down the hallway.
Opening his door, I looked down at his prone form and asked, “You wanted to speak with me Bill?”
“Yes your Majesty,” he nodded and then swallowed, asking, “Did I hear you say, Sookie?”