Walking into the office as though he was the ruler of Zeus and not the man who was now rising from his chair, I softly shook my head at Eric’s antics while they greeted one another and smiled genuinely at King Davis, with a small nod of respect.
While I knew – as a whole – we were in friendly territory, that didn’t mean there weren’t those who would strike if given the opportunity. It was the reason for our impromptu visit, made at Davis’s request, so I could use my gift to read the humans closest to the King.
Nothing much more had happened in Amun in the days following my great-grandfather’s appearance. There had been no sightings of Ailill and the remaining members of The Brotherhood in the southern portion of the kingdom had all but scattered.
Trackers quietly searched for them still and Godric remained behind as well to hunt Ailill. But Eric couldn’t avoid his throne indefinitely, so I had a sneaking suspicion his willingness to visit King Davis’s palace stemmed more from his desire to not return to his own, than to help a friend and fellow king.
He really did hate his royal duties.
But with the warning given us from Great-grandfather and the threats we knew were yet to come, Eric couldn’t afford to stay away from his palace any longer, so we would be returning the following night.
We would only be in Zeus for a single night – I’d popped us there myself, with Eric flying us the remaining distance to the palace, to keep our presence in another kingdom as quiet as possible – therefore I would need to work quickly. While we traveled alone and I didn’t believe we were in any real danger within the confines of the palace, I couldn’t shake the sense of caution that had come over me the moment we arrived.
Once again I felt like we were vulnerable and exposed.
But I set it aside, thinking perhaps the sense of foreboding was due more to our previous visit to Zeus than any true threat, and I’d already begun rooting through the human minds in my range, searching for traitors and the like.
However, my focus was soon split when King Davis appeared before me and greeted me with a sincere and yet mischievous, “My darling Susannah.”
I’d forgotten for a moment he now knew my name, thanks to the informal notification of our marriage sent to him by his neighboring king.
Something he then acknowledged by taking my left hand in his right and pressing his lips against the back of it, before studying the rings I wore that symbolized my human marriage to Eric and added with a wink, “You could have done better than him and I could have done better than that.”
“What can I say?” I softly laughed, both from his teasing and the small growl it caused now rumbling through Eric’s chest. Then looking over at my bonded, I smiled knowingly and playfully added, “All of it fit me perfectly and I like pretty things.”
It had been no surprise though.
After all, I’d been born for him.
But aside from how well we fit together both physically and emotionally, Eric truly was stunning in appearance. Add to that the innate power and confidence that he naturally projected and it was no wonder women – and some men – far and wide swooned over him.
I swooned on the inside.
On the outside I stood firm, both ready and willing to cut down anyone I deemed a threat to him.
Swooning women included.
Pam had dubbed it my ‘Cut a bitch’ expression.
Shifting ever so slightly, the swords crisscrossing my back shifted too, so I figured she wasn’t too far off the mark.
Nor would I be off of mine.
“You wound me,” King Davis returned in a dramatic fashion and clutched my hand to his silent chest, as though it would stem the imaginary bleeding.
Be it either from our short timetable or his jealousy, Eric called an end to our fun by warning, “And I will wound you, if you don’t stop trying to lure away my bonded.”
There was a hint of amusement in both his tone and our bond, but I knew there was more truth to his threat than not.
He too was wearing a ‘Cut a bitch’ expression.
My insides were swooning once more.
“It would be worth every drop of blood I would shed, if she were mine by the end of it all,” he smiled with a wink aimed my way. Then returning to sit behind his desk in the next moment, he gestured to the chairs in front of it for us to sit as well, before adding, “But until my future queen comes to her senses, I do appreciate your assistance in the meantime.”
Eric took the offered seat, but I ignored the other and remained on my feet, standing off to the side between them and the door. I hadn’t heard any obvious threats to either Zeus or the two kings who verbally tugged over the mostly human queen in the room.
But the partly Fae defender still on her feet did not take her duties lightly.
Rings or no rings.
Eric had given up on trying to fit me into the role – as he saw fit – my new title afforded me and finally accepted that I would not be trading in my swords for a tiara.
I may have been willingly bound into one role, but I’d been born into another.
While I was undoubtedly – proudly – his queen, his wife, and his bonded, I would not shirk my duties as his defender.
So he ignored King Davis’s raised brow at my continued stance and asked, “Have you made any more headway on finding the traitors in your midst?”
“Two from the Royal Donor Pool were discovered to have ties to The Brotherhood,” he nodded and then added, “And a favored pet of one of my personal guards.”
Shaking his head, he sadly mused, “And Isabel wonders why I run off without telling anyone.”
At the mention of his second, I silently wondered over her absence upon our arrival and assumed perhaps she’d been busy taking care of other matters for Zeus when King Davis further explained, “Favored pets are why I asked you here. Isabel’s pet has been with her for several years now and I fear she has a blind eye where he is concerned. She has genuine affection for him – and he for her, it appears – so I fear some complacency has entered into their relationship over the prudency of being cautious.”
I could feel Eric’s own sense of caution enter our bond along with a bit of relief, either over not having to question my loyalties or the fact his own child – and second – had no regular pets.
Pam enjoyed variety in her lovers.
Something she continually told me in her attempts at ‘expanding my horizons’.
In either a horizontal or vertical position.
She was leaving ‘the particulars’ up to me.
But her offer was something her Maker warned would happen to her if she continued on that path.
That he would expand her horizons by leaving her out on the lawn at dawn.
It was an empty threat, but a successful one nonetheless.
She hadn’t mentioned it since.
Instead she seemed to have set her sights on Hadley. I would have protested for the mere fact Hadley had been through a lot during her captivity, had I not read from her own thoughts that she enjoyed Pam’s attention.
I stopped listening when her thoughts strayed to what else she might enjoy doing both with and to Pam.
“Her pet was attacked by an unknown vampire in recent weeks,” King Davis further explained. “He was left alive, but he likely would have died had she not already given him her blood. Their incomplete bond is what allowed her to find him in time to heal him. But his memories of the attack are gone, either from the trauma or being under the effect of glamour at the time, and now she dotes on him in a way that I doubt she would ever be able to be objective when it comes to questioning where his loyalties lie. I trust Isabel implicitly when it comes to her loyalty to me, but I’m afraid I cannot blindly trust her judgment when it comes to her pet.”
His tone and expression darkened when he ended with, “I am not under the same illusions.”
“Is Isabel aware of my bonded’s gift?” Eric asked in a way that said his answer – for his own sake – had better be ‘no’.
Our presence there in and of itself spoke volumes on how much trust Eric had in the man before him, much less to even acknowledge my gift. On the night of his rescue and our subsequent trip to his Sheriff’s bar, Davis had only guessed at my ability to read minds, but neither Eric nor I had confirmed it at the time.
Shaking his head, King Davis’s eyes traveled from Eric to me, as he answered, “Of course not. As far as anyone is concerned, my future queen’s only gift is the ability to turn me into a simpering fool at her feet and they haven’t even seen the way she can swing a sword. But they only have to see her beauty and no one would question the cause for my affections.”
“Quit flirting,” Eric chided, with more exasperation than malice in his tone.
“Why?” he grinned with a waggle of his brows. “She’s your bonded, so tell me. Can you feel it working?”
“You haven’t been impaled on my sword,” he answered, with a teasing scoff. “The fact you still live is your answer.”
Their conversation was a bit ridiculous, considering they were each a king in their own right, but having seen for myself Eric’s previous dealings when wearing his invisible crown, I knew frivolity wasn’t something he normally indulged in, in the presence of those outside of his inner circle.
And I knew from my own upbringing in a royal household I should be honored King Davis would honor me with his true self.
But my thoughts bled into my bond with Eric, causing him to internally bristle over the small amount of affection I had for his fellow king, so I soothed his fragile ego with loving strokes, more or less petting him through our bond.
It worked – somewhat – so I settled for my small victory and returned to the minds in my range, searching their thoughts for any hidden subterfuge, while King Davis admitted, “I did not inform Isabel of your visit this evening, but I made sure she and her pet would be here tonight.”
Then glancing up at me, both his expression and tone were all business, when he said, “I am uncertain what you need in order to fulfill this favor I ask of you.”
I was uncertain what the underlying meaning of his words were until Eric looked to me, but his words were for his fellow king, when he answered, “As I understand it, the human needs to be thinking about whatever it is you wish to learn. Images. Thoughts. Intent. All are fair game, but it is an active ability in that she can only glean what they are actively thinking of.”
Everything he said was true, so I remained silent when Eric turned to face King Davis and explained, “With time being of the essence, if you wish for Isabel’s human to be properly vetted, he will need to be questioned directly.”
Appraising me in a way that was more calculating than anything else, Davis asked, “Would an informal inquisition suffice?”
Then speaking to us both, he added, “I did not share the happy news of your nuptials and as far as I know, Isabel hasn’t been informed by your child. She will usually have her pet wait for her in the outer office whenever she has business to conduct with me here, so if you were to wait with him, I could keep her busy until you are finished.”
Looking to Eric, he looked back at me, allowing me to make the decision entirely on my own. Even our bond gave me no indication as to what his thoughts were on the subject, but considering there hadn’t been any witnesses left to tell tales of how I performed at his former Sheriff’s bar that night, no one save the king himself in the Kingdom of Zeus would know of my true role at Eric’s side.
So after giving King Davis’s plan careful consideration, I finally agreed, “It can be done.”
If I could pull off the deception, playing the part of being the pet of a king, instead of projecting my true – and deadlier – self.
But unaware of my true heritage, I didn’t feel like now was the time to inform King Davis of my other abilities, so I removed the swords from my back using only my hands and set them beside Eric, while Davis called for his second in command.
I sensed their approach just before they arrived, with her pet’s thoughts running the gamut from adoration for Isabel to contempt at knowing she would be otherwise occupied for however long King Davis kept her busy.
Feeling me bristle internally over what I viewed as petty – if not contemptible – behavior by someone who should be grateful to have such a fair king – he could have just as easily ordered the human to be banished from his kingdom, if he so chose – I answered Eric’s questioning gaze with a look that said it all.
That I already didn’t like him and I hadn’t even laid eyes on him yet.
Two short raps sounded on the door a moment later, followed immediately by King Davis’s second entering the office.
Brought up short by our presence, her steps immediately faltered, with her bowing at the waist, as she said, “I apologize, Your Majesty. King Northman. I was unaware of your meeting.”
Her tone, while sincere, had been a bit leery towards the end of her statement.
I surmised it wasn’t very often Isabel Beaumont was left unaware of much where it concerned both the kingdom and her king.
Seamlessly falling into his role as a king, Davis looked up at her and said in a business-like tone, “King Northman has come to compare notes on what he has learned of The Brotherhood threat in Amun. You have been overseeing the nightly reports by the Sheriff’s, so I thought you would be better equipped to answer any questions he might pose.”
Then looking at Eric, he added in a dismissive tone, “Perhaps your…guest would like some refreshments?”
I nearly smiled at his hesitance to call me a pet – or perhaps his darling future queen – but he maintained his stoic expression just the same when he added, “Her needs will be met, while she waits for you in the outer office.”
I could feel Eric’s dislike – to put it mildly – at having to play his part and he sent me a silent apology through our bond, as he dismissed me from the room with a single wave of his hand, saying, “Do as he says. I will collect you when I’m through.”
“Master,” I obediently replied, with a small curtsey and turned to leave the room before I could give away our ruse.
But I’d have to remember to call Eric ‘Master’ later on, feeling how much he liked it.
To put it mildly.
Entering the outer office, my eyes landed on Isabel’s pet and I had to force my steps to not falter as I made my way to the couch opposite where he sat.
He looked familiar.
But I couldn’t place it right away. Nor did I think I had seen him before that night, but not knowing the cause for my internal alarm to sound – and knowing I could easily best a single human – I continued on and sat down.
I hadn’t paid that much attention to how pets normally acted – normally only paying attention to their thoughts – so I mimicked his own body language and tried to affect an air of casual boredom.
I could read from his thoughts he was curious about me. Nothing said the sense of familiarity I felt was shared by him, but knowing I needed to get him talking, I used his prior thoughts to get him started by saying, “I hope they’re not too long. I hate wasting what little time there is of the night on kingdom business.”
Not that I had to worry about that anymore.
After we’d bonded in the way of the Fae, Eric was no longer affected by the sun’s appearance in the sky. He still needed to rest or else, if he stayed awake for too long, he would eventually get the bleeds, but our bond had made him more formidable than I ever dreamed possible.
It put my mind more at ease now that the vulnerability that came with each sunrise no longer existed.
But his immunity to the sun was still a secret to all but Pam, Godric, and the Royal Guards.
And – like my other abilities – it would remain a secret until our hands were forced to reveal it.
My ploy to get him talking only managed to make him irritated, with him scoffing derisively, “Keep that attitude and you’ll likely find yourself replaced sooner than later.”
It was a direct contradiction to how he’d felt when he first arrived, but I could hear in his mind he’d assumed I was the pet of a Sheriff at most.
And along with it, his feelings of superiority at being the pet of a vampire, second only to the king himself.
Forcing my eyes to not roll into the back of my head at his petty…humanness…I decided to use it in my favor by channeling a bit of that same pettiness in return and said condescendingly, “Oh, I don’t know about that. The king seems especially fond of me.”
I didn’t specify which king, but then I didn’t really have to.
Even if he’d assumed I was speaking of King Davis, my statement would remain true nonetheless.
“The king?” he questioned, now looking at me with a newfound appreciation and it came through in his tone when he added, “I wasn’t aware the king had taken a pet for himself.”
I only shrugged in response.
The mission of an indirect omission was the way of the Fae.
So I fostered more assumptions on his part by adding, “It’s a fairly new development.”
Time being relative, it wasn’t a lie – per se – but hoping to get him back on track, I took some more liberties with the truth and said, “There was a…fight…and I was caught up in the middle of it.”
Pausing as though I’d been traumatized by the experience, instead of showing how I’d truly relished the battle, I ended with an open to interpretation statement of, “At the end of it all the king was very kind to me.”
To put it mildly.
“I heard there was a fight involving a mutinous Sheriff,” he breathed out and leaned forward, asking as though we were sharing a secret, “You were there?”
It was a saying I’d learned from Alcide, but only when he managed to tease me, leaving me completely bewildered because – in spite of my humanity – I hadn’t been raised in the human realm.
If you asked me, some of the things he said made no sense in any language.
And I knew them all.
Nodding, I leaned forward too and whispered, “I was so frightened.”
Of course I left out that my fear was that my number of kills would be less than Eric’s.
But talking about vampires and fear made his thoughts stray exactly where I wanted them to.
Back to his own attack.
Having read the minds of many humans by that point, I knew what a glamoured mind felt like. Hadley’s own memories were littered with foggy accounts of her time spent in captivity, and this human’s mind wasn’t all that different.
He just hadn’t been glamoured as often.
After the way King Davis had described Isabel’s affection for her pet, I wasn’t all that surprised. But now that he was actively thinking about his ordeal, I was able to make out a face in the fog that didn’t appear to be registering with his conscious mind.
It was a face that I most definitely recognized.
And quickly connecting the dots in my own mind, I stood up, about to rush back into the king’s office – propriety be damned – when we were joined by another now strolling into the room.
The final dot – ironically enough, pulsing in my mind’s eye as the light of the Fae but encased within the void of a vampire – which I recognized as well.
Staring back at him, my hands itched for my swords, but knowing I’d left them behind with Eric made me realize I needed to calm down before he came storming into the office. Already I could feel his desire to bolt from the room, sensing my cautious surprise, so I soothed Eric’s worries through our bond, hoping to get a few answers from the faepire before he popped away.
Having already been bested by Ailill once before when I’d had the use of both of my swords, I knew better than to try and engage him now, with nothing more than my daggers at my disposal. Giving away my magical abilities in front of the human could be fixed with glamour, but there would be no way to explain it away to King Davis.
And I wanted to find out if Davis had been our enemy all along, hiding in plain sight.
“Peter,” Isabel’s pet greeted him, with my eyes widening just a tick hearing the alias he went by. But taking my admittedly skittish posture to mean something else entirely than was the case, he tacked on, “You’re making the king’s pet uncomfortable.”
Ailill’s eyes narrowed hearing his words and I felt my jaw tightening, recalling another – more heinous – descriptor he’d once used for me.
“Is that what you are, princess?” he asked, not bothering to hide his disdain. “The king’s pet?”
“Peter, is it?” I asked, ignoring his question altogether because he knew exactly what I was.
Smiling at me, he then turned to glare down at Isabel’s pet and only responded, “Leave us Hugo.”
“You can’t order me around, Peter,” he sneered, but I ignored their exchange in order to quickly sift through his thoughts.
From them, I could see that Peter fulfilled no official role within the Kingdom of Zeus and instead was a drifter, who only passed in and out of the territory every few months.
Now looking at me once more, Ailill’s expression turned thoughtful – something I would soon come to think of as him taking a caluclated risk – right before he waved his hand in the human’s general direction and sighed in an amused exasperation, “Kids. They can be ungrateful little bastards.”
I took his short statement as a confirmation of my earlier suspicion when connecting the dots.
That Isabel’s human was in some way related to Ailill.
If they shared the same bloodline then he could have tracked Madden back to Eric’s compound to mete out justice for a blood offense against his kin.
But more than that – with that one small, but in no way inconsequential, wave of his hand – everything else around us froze.
And I do mean everything.
Not only had the voices gone quiet, but my bond with Eric had gone quiet too.
Already standing between him and the office door, I threw it open to see all three of them were in a state of suspended animation and my swords appeared in my hands in the next second, as I took on an offensive stance, warning, “You will release my bonded from your magic.”
Be it from my internal panic or Eric’s own dogged determination – after all, he’d breached a fairy portal to get to me – I could sense our bond trying to repair itself. Almost as if it were a physical entity, pulling and pushing in on itself in an attempt to snap Eric back into the present.
“Your bonded?” he questioned, but worse than sounding derisive or disgusted at the thought, his tone was full of pity.
I hated to be pitied.
Especially when it was unwarranted.
But with my life’s purpose, I’d always felt pity from others in one way or another. It only increased tenfold after my childhood accident had left me barren.
It angered me then and I felt no differently now.
“Don’t you mean your Master?” he asked rhetorically. “Don’t you see that is what they have made of you? A slave your great-grandfather sold to a vampire eight centuries before you were even born? You’ve merely traded one master for another.”
Gripping the hilts of my swords so tightly my knuckles turned white, I stayed my hand, unwilling to give in to his goading.
My bond with Eric was tingling more and more, so I hoped it meant he was coming out of whatever magical spell, Ailill managed to conjure on those surrounding us. I’d never heard of anyone who could do that type of magic and the strength of his made me even more wary of engaging him alone.
But I felt an odd assortment of emotions – wary, among them – when he held out a single hand towards me, showing no fear of my elven blades still poised to attack and offered, “Come with me and I will give you all of the answers you seek.”
“Why?” I heard myself ask and clamped my jaw shut before anything else could be said without my permission.
Like a verbal agreement to go with him.
The Susannah who had first entered this realm – full of naiveté and nerve – would have weighed the benefits against the risks – surely – but I knew I would have ultimately taken him up on his offer, if only for the strategic advantage of gaining information that could be useful to my king.
The Susannah who stood there now was no longer as naïve. I had learned – from the man who stood in front of me, among others – that I wasn’t as skilled a warrior as I once believed.
I’d never believed myself flawless, but until I’d crossed paths with him, I’d never felt so flawed.
And then there was Sookie – wife and bonded to the vampire king I could feel clawing his way free from his invisible cage. I knew if I were to take Ailill up on his offer – no matter how logical that decision would be – my actions would only hurt him.
No matter what my body count currently stood at – what I had proven myself capable of or what he had witnessed for himself – Eric would always insist on being my protector.
The Susannah of old wouldn’t have cared and would’ve done what was in her king’s best interests.
“As I said before,” he began, answering the question I’d forgotten I asked. “I have been waiting for you for a very long time and if by agreeing to give you answers, it gives me more time with you then I am more than willing to answer every question you have for me.”
“Why?” I repeated, wondering what he could possibly want with me.
Because I had no doubt he saw me as the prize.
So when he didn’t answer right away, I told him what his senses already should have.
“I am bonded to Eric, both his way and our way,” I added with a knowing look. “If your intention is to pursue some sort of romantic relationship with me, it is for naught. Even if I hadn’t already vowed my life to his service, our bond would not allow me to even want another, much less be with them.”
A vampire bond wasn’t necessarily a hindrance in having multiple romantic partners. It would just ensure that I would always prefer my vampire above all others and he would feel the same about me.
But a Fae bond was absolute. The intentions behind forming one had to be pure of heart, which was why they were so rare and – once completed – we could never give our heart to another.
I wasn’t sure Eric would ever be set free of it, even after my death.
The Fae bond already in place made me happy at the thought.
Vampires had nothing on the possessiveness of a fairy and the thought of him pining away for me for all of eternity brought me nothing but joy.
We weren’t called vicious creatures for nothing.
Whether it was mere coincidence or he could somehow sense Eric coming out of the spell, Ailill’s eyes darted towards him before he looked back at me. Then slowly lowering his offered hand, likely realizing I wouldn’t be leaving with him, his eyes spoke volumes more than his next words did.
“You still only see what you want to see, princess. But you only have to open your eyes and look around you to see that nothing is impossible.”
It only made me wonder what else might be lurking, just like him.
Hidden in plain sight.
And even though I could sense Eric’s awareness returning, I still couldn’t seem to look away seeing the roguish grin appear on his face, as he dematerialized before my eyes and bid me adieu with a teasing, “Said the fairy vampire to the fairy princess.”