Unlike the day before, as my consciousness rose with the sun’s slow descent, I could detect Sookie’s scent on the sheets.
On the bed.
But unlike the day before, the room itself wasn’t the same. No, this room was the one place I hadn’t given her access to. At least not verbally. Mentally I had given my assent when she’d spoken of transporting me to the palace for my daytime rest, so I could only assume my internal acquiescence had somehow allowed her entry.
I would have to ask her.
But she would need to be in the room for me to do so.
And because she had broken her promise to be there when I rose, and knowing she could sense when my consciousness returned to me, I had to wonder if distance was a factor because I could just barely sense her location.
Hundreds of miles away near Bon Temps, if I had to guess.
We’d only exchanged very little blood the night before. But it was the way in which we had exchanged it that made a good deal more blood flow into another part of my body.
And wondering if my magic wand now had more juice, so to speak, from our mutual exchange, I sat up and sent a sharp call to my blood in her body – much like a Maker’s call – demanding her return.
She appeared – literally – out of thin air seconds later, but all of the questions burning in my mind died on my lips the moment I saw her. Now there was something else – something more pressing – I wanted answers to.
Splattered in red and dressed once more like Black Widow Barbie, her bloodlust hit me like a Mack truck now that she was so close. I could tell by both scent and sense she carried no wounds and watched as she took a moment to take in the empty room before lowering her swords and asking, “Did you do that?”
Had she been asking my dick, I would have laid the blame squarely on her shoulders for what it was now trying to do. But since we were old pros at carrying on different conversations at the same time, I only smirked and asked, “Feel that, did you?”
Because if I had my way, she was going to feel that very soon.
If she listened closely, she would likely hear my dick calling out, ‘On your mark…’
Moving closer to the bed, like a walking talking Jackson Pollock, she continued to search the room with her eyes – and I suspected she searched the immediate area with her gift – before I felt her need to kill slowly die off as she explained, “I assumed you were under attack.” And finally turning her eyes back to mine, her mood shifted to both exasperation and amusement when she added, “But now I know you were just impatient.”
In more ways than one.
By scent, I knew it wasn’t her blood covering her body. No, this was purely human blood.
It reeked in comparison.
Perhaps because it was mixed with piss.
At least the aroma wafting from her helped temper my urges – slightly – and wondering if she saw no need to explain her appearance, I thought to help her along by asking, “And were you an inpatient at some point today?”
“No Master,” she grinned coyly in return. And her eyes danced when she added, “Nor is there enough left of my opponent for him to benefit from inpatient treatment.”
I assumed she had captured and dispatched someone associated with The Brotherhood or directly tied to Compton. But honestly, I didn’t care.
All I cared about was the fact she needed a shower. And I knew just who could help scrub her back.
Among other things.
But my assumption over how she came to be covered in a mixture of piss and B Neg bit me in the ass and my fangs snapped down for an entirely different reason when she nonchalantly admitted, “I killed the old woman’s brother.”
“You. Did. What?” I hissed out slowly, punctuating each word, while I tried to process her sheer audacity.
I’d known humans in general got on her nerves. I’d felt that the Stackhouses seemed to have an even greater effect on her moods – none of them good. I’d even found it amusing at times.
But killing Adele’s brother was unacceptable. He was hardly a threat.
Sensing the turnaround in my own mood, be it from my tone or our shared blood, her eyes no longer danced when she repeated much more somberly, “I killed the Stackhouse woman’s brother.”
The elation she’d felt only moments earlier had been replaced by something akin to contempt, mixed with acceptance. But there was no fear of the repercussions or remorse over what she had done. Even her chin rose up slightly and her spine straightened, outwardly telling me she was willing to accept whatever punishment I doled out for her impudence.
Her automatic response made me wonder what other kinds of punishments she had received at the hands of her kin and I couldn’t tell which thought angered me more.
Their audacity or hers.
But I couldn’t ignore her actions. Let her wrongdoing go unpunished. She was young. She was inexperienced in the ways of this world, but she wasn’t uneducated.
Sookie was quite possibly the smartest human I had ever known.
Definitely the smartest mostly-human.
Whatever her faults, I also couldn’t ignore she wasn’t the only one to shoulder the blame. I was her Master now, so it had fallen to my shoulders to teach her.
But I had fallen short in my duties.
Instead of giving her a defined set of parameters in which to act by, I had given her complete autonomy and adopted the approach of learning as we went. She had been given as much leeway as my own child, who’d spent hundreds of years under my wing, so the fault for her actions today was mine as well.
I had let my own fascination with the girl override any common sense.
I had met Adele’s brother on a few occasions over the years and couldn’t imagine a scenario in which I would have sanctioned his death. But I was nothing if not a fair leader, so I stood up from the bed and came to stand directly in front of her. Ignoring my own wants, that only grew with every inch that disappeared between our two bodies, I gave her the unlikely opportunity to convince me her actions were justified by simply asking, “Why?”
Still showing, nor feeling any fear, she met my steely gaze with one of her own and my anger rose up at an exponential rate – albeit for a whole new reason – when she simply explained, “He preyed on children.”
“Children?” I asked once it appeared she was done pleading her case.
She nodded and furthered her case by adding, “To include the girl – his own kin – Hadley. Apparently children are scarce in that area now, so it had been some time since he last had the opportunity. But after hearing about me from the grandson he came to see my youthful appearance for himself and decided that I would do. I heard in his thoughts he was prepared to remove me from your estate with the aid of chloroform and zip ties and planned to rape me for the foreseeable future. I am admittedly uneducated on your laws for such acts and perhaps I acted rashly by not speaking to you first, Master. But I am not sorry I killed him and I will accept whatever punishment you deem fit for my actions.”
Still showing, nor feeling any fear, my blood told me she’d spoken nothing but the truth and she immediately began removing the weapons from her body and laying them at her feet. I continued to stare at her – both seeing and not seeing her at all – too caught up in feeling equal amounts of shock and outrage that something so heinous had been committed by and to someone I had a close connection to. I had been witness to Adele’s grief for the missing girl from both near and afar, but it was my own failure for missing this piece of the puzzle.
A funny uncle was a serious motive for her to have run away.
And irrationally, my anger rose up once more realizing I wouldn’t be able to exact justice from the monster who had figuratively chased her to her death.
Turning my attention back to Sookie, I began, “Next time…”
The words once again died on my lips. Refocusing both my mind and eyes, I’d been prepared to tell Sookie something.
Something I could no longer recall.
Because I had somehow missed her stripping herself bare.
She now stood before me completely naked, with her arms raised up at her sides and her eyes staring blankly ahead. And it wasn’t until I tapped into our bond to give me the explanation my lips had yet to ask for that I realized what she was doing.
There was no fear.
No shame or remorse.
Only a numbed acceptance.
Sookie was prepared for her beating.
Posed for a crucifixion minus the cross.
By removing the leather outfit, her skin would have no protection from whatever came into contact with it.
By keeping her arms raised up and out away from her body, there was no part of her that wasn’t within reach.
I no longer had to wonder what kinds of punishments she had endured from her kin and it only pissed me off more.
This wasn’t how I’d imagined seeing her naked for the first time and for that transgression I would one day see to it her beloved great-grandfather repaid me with his own hide for once.
She didn’t flinch either internally or outwardly when I reached towards her, taking her hands in my own and bringing them down to her sides. My eyes automatically mapped her bare body, but I felt no lust when doing so.
Not like this.
That could and would come later. But for now I took in every scar, marring her otherwise pristine golden skin.
“This,” I started softly and ran my finger along a small groove on her left shoulder. “What and when?”
I didn’t need to clarify and she didn’t need to look down to see for herself when she answered, “Grazed by a bullet. Weapons training when I was fifteen.”
“They fired live rounds at you?” I asked, with my rising fury coming through in my tone.
She’d told me some about her upbringing, but she’d apparently been glossing over a lot of the details.
Something further evidenced when she shrugged and replied, “It was only a .22.”
Lightly touching the nickel sized wound that sat two inches below her right shoulder, the jagged edges told me no bullet was the cause. And I peered around her body and could see the exit wound, three inches further down her back.
Along with a few other marks that suspiciously looked like they’d been caused by a whip.
“Crossbow. Three years ago.”
There were more scars. More wounds with more explanations that would surely just piss me off even more, but seeing the largest of them all on her abdomen – the one whose story I already knew – all I saw was red.
Not only had that fuck impaled his great-granddaughter on his sword…
He’d twisted it while it was in.
Still staring straight ahead, I could sense her growing confusion at her lack of receiving any kind of punishment. I knew from experience the waiting itself could be torturous and thinking some of her confusion stemmed from her being able to feel how furious I now felt, I nearly turned away from her so I could gather my thoughts when I saw it.
Sitting on her left hip, only an inch in length and an eighth of that in width was the unmistakable outline of a feather.
The symbol of the Amun Clan.
But this was no tattoo and following my line of sight, she took my hand and ran my fingertip over it so I could feel the slightly raised edges, while she explained, “My first mark came from the womb. The symbol of your kingdom was yet another sign I was born for you, Master.”
Those three little words I had once gotten so much arrogant satisfaction from were quickly becoming synonymous with abused for me.
Shot. Stabbed. Whipped.
Take your pick. She’d been forced to endure all of it – in part – because of me. Because of a debt she’d had no part in making. One I’d given no weight or thought to in hundreds of years.
Suddenly feeling just as culpable as her kin, I finally did turn away from her and softly ordered, “Go shower.”
I needed to clear my head. An impossible feat when staring at the single entity that encompassed my every thought.
A part of me heard her gathering her things, but all of me felt it when she placed her hand on my arm.
Because all of us moved by magic back to the Bon Temps estate.
At my quizzical look – more so questioning how she could be so blasé about her abusive recent past; how she could feel such reverence and affection for her sadistic great-grandfather; how she could have any amount of control and not go on a daily killing spree – she shrugged again and replied, “You may have to rest at the palace again come morning. I didn’t want to give away our recent presence by using the shower there.”
Still naked as the day she was born, she stared up at me and added, “I am sorry for disappointing you Master.”
Still tongue-tied over her twisted upbringing – one she had been forced to endure for me – I had no words to offer her and merely watched her disappear once more. To her room, I gathered from the distance, but there was no distancing myself from my own addled mind. So I quickly showered and changed, before heading downstairs and acting as though I’d been there all along.
Sookie’s mood shifted to irritation – I assumed because I had left my chambers without her – but feeling it managed to settle my own somewhat erratic emotions. Feeling her annoyance had become familiar to me – mostly thanks to Quinn – but familiar was good.
I needed it.
Thankfully Adele was still in the dark over her brother’s recent demise. I hadn’t thought to ask Sookie how she had dispatched with him and had already resolved to take care of the staging of his death later on that evening.
I’d been drinking from a goblet of blood when Sookie entered the room and felt her disappointment, I assumed from seeing the tiger standing before me. But she said nothing and moved to stand behind me, listening intently to all that was said.
And unsaid, I assumed.
The updates from Quinn and Dawson on what they had learned of The Brotherhood were over with fairly quickly. They hadn’t been able to find out much more than we already knew, but it was the arrival of my next appointment whose words I was most anxious to hear.
If only Sookie’s gift extended to my kind as well.
They were just finishing up when Compton arrived to give me his report and feeling her hostility just laying eyes on him made me down another glass of blood.
It was the only hunger I could sate at the moment.
So while he casually strolled into my office – and I envisioned casually removing his head from his shoulders – Sookie casually whispered in our secret language, “Master, I failed to mention it earlier, but I believe your sheriff has been glamouring your staff. The Stackhouse woman’s grandson and brother both had memories shrouded in fog. I can’t be certain, but it is the likely source of his knowledge of our departure from the estate last night.”
I suspected as much and Compton’s face showed both his amazement and incense she’d spoken to me in a language he’d likely only ever heard in conversation between my child and I. But he at least thought better than to acknowledge either one of those out loud and turned his attention to me, only saying, “Good evening, Your Majesty. I hope your holiday in my area has been going well?”
“My area,” I reminded him, still pissed off about everything. And now eying the one I could take my lethal frustration out on, it was difficult to stay my violent urges and only ask, “What have you learned?”
He was already shaking his head, feigning ignorance as to The Brotherhood’s movements in both his gestures and words, when he answered, “I am sorry to say we have found nothing new. I’ve had those in my retinue search as far north as Little Rock all the way east to Jackson, but no new information on The Brotherhood has turned up. I am still following up on a few leads, of course, but nothing sounds very promising at the moment.”
“Of course,” I mimicked, carving him up piece by piece with nothing more than my eyes. Compton was certainly a capable vampire or else I never would have appointed him sheriff. But he was no prize. Nothing about him screamed special or unique in a way that would call to others of our kind. He wasn’t an exceptional warrior, strategist, or even well-connected, so I was having a difficult time trying to guess for whom he worked.
Other than me.
But recalling his odd attachment with his Maker – who was a conniving cunt – I leaned back in my chair and asked over tented fingers, “How is Lorena? If I’m not mistaken, it has been a while since she’s come to visit.”
Seventeen years, but who’s counting?
I didn’t miss the look of caution flash behind his eyes before he attempted an air of casualness he would never come about casually and answered, “Lorena is well. She has been enjoying the Seattle area for the last few years, but I suspect she will visit me eventually.”
“Yes, I’m sure she will,” I smiled.
She would have to in order to claim his ashes and personal effects when I ended him for treason.
But hearing him speak of Seattle – a part of the Narayana Clan – gave me pause when put into context with his traitorous actions. Comprised of the Pacific territories to include Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada, an unlikely and yet probable suspect came to mind.
Felipe de Castro.
With his Napoleon complex, I would have no trouble in believing he was somehow involved. His desire for a larger territory was no secret and with more than a third of his land fostering nothing but a nuclear wasteland, his finances were unstable. He taxed his subjects at an exorbitant rate in comparison to the other territories and every year more and more of his population migrated east to get away from it.
So perhaps he thought to migrate east as well.
He would need the sanction of the ruling council to overthrow my monarchy, something he would have no hope in getting with the Ancient Pythoness at the helm. But by ending me, he could conceivably send my territory into disarray and present himself to the council as a viable alternative to become king. The densely populated areas in his territory – Las Vegas among them – were thriving in spite of their ruler, so he appeared more than capable.
It was something to think on, but for now I had other things to think on.
Like how I would go about making Hale’s death appear to be accidental.
An unlikely occurrence, I realized, when Sookie teleported us to his final resting place.
“A swamp?” I asked with a grimace. “Kudos for your creativity, but you realize we’ll have to wade in there to retrieve the pieces, don’t you?”
She’d been unusually subdued since our earlier encounter and there were many questions I had for her, but neither one of us were in the right mindset to discuss them. And hoping to return her to a more lighthearted mood, I eyed her up in a playfully inappropriate way and asked, “I don’t suppose you have a magic wand strapped somewhere on your body, do you?”
“No,” she softly replied and held her hand out over the water. “But we don’t need one.”
One by one the pieces of Bartlett Hale came to the surface of the water, floating along the top and coming to rest on the ground at our feet. No alligators had come to snack on him yet, but that couldn’t be said for whatever other smaller creatures the water contained.
A single day had yet to pass in which she hadn’t surprised me in one way or another.
“It goes hand in hand with teleportation,” she shrugged as though it was no big deal.
Still filled with melancholy, she teleported us to his shack and entered through the front door. With his demise, I followed her in without need of an invitation and the pieces of Hale appeared moments later. Now scattered on the threadbare rug, she looked up at me for approval and asked, “Is this what you had in mind?”
Nothing of this evening had been what I’d had in mind. But the placement of his body parts was the least of my worries, so I gestured for her to follow me back outside and said, “It’s fine.”
Along with some tinkering by me, the propane tank behind the house had more than enough fuel to facilitate the explosion that rocked the ground minutes later. The area was secluded enough that we wouldn’t be seen, but with the influx of Weres and vampires nearby – thanks to my trip – the accident would be discovered sooner rather than later.
But wanting to remain in seclusion for just a little longer, I turned to her and asked, “What else did you hear with your gift today?”
“Not much,” she replied, thinking back on her day. “Your old woman reminisced about her dead children and grandchildren. She feels she is being made to pay for a past wrongdoing, but she didn’t think about what it was she had done.”
I almost corrected her, forgetting for a moment Adele’s son had been expecting a baby when he and his wife had been killed. Gaining custody of her grandson was what had precipitated her employment with me.
But because I hadn’t said anything, she went on to add, “And the grandson mostly thought about going to a local watering hole tonight.” Her face contorted when she snickered, “He fancies himself a lothario of sorts. Not that he would know what a lothario is.”
Merlotte’s Bar and Grill was the only watering hole I knew of in this area and was run by a shifter. While it would never make it onto Pam’s list of places to see, it was nice enough for what it was and for the clientele it catered to.
So when we arrived back at my estate via Fairy Airways, instead of going into the house, I led her to the garage. The spark that had been missing from her emotions reappeared and I wasn’t surprised when she picked the Maserati as her choice for the evening. She showed more restraint than I had when taking us down the driveway and when we got to the end, she came to a stop and turned towards me, asking, “Where to?”
“Left,” I replied, adopting a bit of her earlier nonchalance. But seeing her raised brow reminded me she could sense my emotions as well at this distance, so I did another Sookie impersonation by shrugging and said, “We’re going to the local watering hole.”
She laughed long and hard – music to my own ears – before chuckling out, “You are going to put a major dent in the oaf getting his Lothario groove on.”
“I will do no such thing,” I smiled. “Firstly, you were correct. I doubt he can spell Lothario, therefore he’ll have no reason to believe I have put a dent in his groove.”
“Is there a secondly?” she asked, when I said nothing more.
And it was I who laughed long and hard, seeing her expression when I replied, “And secondly, how could I possibly put a dent in his getting his groove on when I’ll be too busy getting my groove on with you. Hopefully you dance as well as you fight.”
“Dance?” she sputtered. “You…you want to dance? With me?”
Among other things.
One thing at a time.