Mr. Cataliades and I passed Thalia on the stairs; she was carrying the now-almost-full shop-vac and humming a heavy metal tune.
Megadeth’s “Killing Is My Business . . . and Business Is Good!”
If I was not mistaken.
The sight of the petite, deadly vampiress was a funny one—given the fact that the vacuum was almost as tall as she was.
“I hope you did not miss any Jock,” I stated flatly.
She smiled evilly. “I will not miss him at all. And—I even cleaned up the remnants of his arm.”
“Found that in the far corner—did you?” I smirked.
“Wasn’t taking his arms excessive—given the fact that I had already removed his hands?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Your actions inspired me. Plus, he had a tattoo on his right arm that I’d never appreciated”
“That was a ridiculous tattoo,” she agreed, continuing her progress up the stairs.
“I believe that I am required to threaten you with bodily harm if you ever actually hurt Sookie,” the part-demon attorney said abruptly—as soon as the door to the basement had shut behind Thalia.
I will admit that it took me a moment to “catch up” with his choice of subject.
I will also admit to being comforted a little that he was clearly protective of my bonded.
I shook my head. “I have hurt Sookie—but most of it has been inadvertent.”
“I suppose that many things have been beyond your control since you met my goddaughter,” the part-demon observed sagely.
“I thought I would be freer after my maker was gone,” I shared openly. Mr. Cataliades was my attorney, after all, and I did trust him with my secrets. “But I have not been free. Maybe there is no such thing as freedom.”
“Sookie has told me of your plans to become a king,” he said, barely audibly.
I nodded in confirmation.
“There will be a kind of freedom in that,” he winked. “And I have missed working for a monarch I actually liked.” He smacked me on the back. “Good talk!”
“Good talk? Um—what do you mean by ‘good talk,’ Mr. Cataliades,” I asked, slightly surprised that “the talk” was apparently over.
He smiled a sharp-toothed grin. “Sookie is allowing me to be her godfather. And that makes us in-laws. Thus, you will call me Desmond—at least when we are in limited company. As for your question? We are—I believe—supposed to have a sort of,” he paused, “clarifying talk every once in a while. My brother Nargal enjoys speaking with Diantha’s suitors while they are tied up to a tree by their genitalia,” he said pleasantly. “But you and Sookie seem to be beyond that courting stage, so I have opted to forgo that step.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, placing my hand protectively over my own balls—just in case—even as I contemplated the designation he’d indicated that Sookie had agreed to in regards to him: Godfather.
The part-demon smiled as if he’d not just suggested that I be “questioned” while hanging from the family jewels. “Oh—by the way—speaking of Nargal, he is coming tomorrow evening with some friends. I figured you wouldn’t mind a little Dae help.” He shook his head. “Don’t tell Sookie this because it might upset her, but demon help is so much more reliable than fairy help—don’t you think?”
I was momentarily stunned. “Uh—yes—I agree. Wait. You, your niece, your full-blooded demon brother, and other demons are coming here—to help me?”
“Of course not,” he winked. “They are coming to help Sookie and her bonded, who just so happens to be you, because Sookie is my goddaughter. Oh—and—officially—we disapprove of you ever punishing Sookie again. We insist that you treat her as an equal in your relationship,” he added with another wink.
I smirked. “Of course.”
“Once Sookie officially claims you, it will help if the vampire community knows that she has more trustworthy and immediate help available than her fairy kin,” he commented. “Do you not think?” he asked, smacking me good-naturedly on the back again.
“Yes. I do think,” I responded.
I’d take Dae help over Fae help any day of the week!
And twice on Sunday.
“Well—then it is decided,” he said matter-of-factly. “You will like Nargal. He can throw fire balls at the rate of thirty per minute,” he added proudly.
“Impressive,” I said. And it was. The fact that some demons had the ability to propel fire from their hands was one of the reasons why vampires rarely fucked with them. A hybrid like Mr. Cataliades could produce fireballs only in a limited supply. His fireballs were certainly deadly; I had seen his handiwork once or twice. But producing them tired him out. I knew that Diantha was impressive with fire too, though her sister Gladiola had not inherited that gift. She had inherited tremendous speed, making her a wonderful message deliverer.
That was why Gladiola had been sent to deliver a message to Sookie—a message which had gotten her killed.
Suddenly, a small part of me worried that the part-demon might be “with us” so that he could get revenge. All that Sookie had been able to convey to me in the limited time we’d had together in private was that we could trust him. And I trusted her judgment. However, I wasn’t about to further risk my bonded until all of my own mental boxes were checked.
Call me high-handed.
The label fucking fit.
“I am sorry about your niece, Gladiola,” I said, scrutinizing him in order to read his reaction to his fallen kinswoman’s name.
A sad smile filtered onto his lips. “She was beautiful—was she not?”
I nodded. “Indeed.”
The part-demon sighed. “She held you in very high regard—you know. Like me and Diantha, she would have been happy to serve you.”
I saw no bitterness in the lawyer—only sincerity. I relaxed a little, but not fully. I needed to know why he was so willing to help. And—almost as pressingly—I needed to know why he had labeled himself as my bonded’s godfather. “Sookie has not had a chance to tell me why you are doing this—why you are helping us,” I said at a low volume, “not that I am not excessively grateful to you.”
Mr. Cataliades seemed to be considering something for a moment. “Eric, Fintan Brigant was like a brother to me. In fact, he was closer to me than my own brother for many years. There were centuries of love and trust between us,” he said in a hollow tone—as if remembering all of those years one by one. “He asked me to look after his human family if anything ever happened to him.” He sighed deeply as if in sudden pain. “And I owe Sookie much restitution because—ultimately—I was the cause of her telepathy.”
As Sandra Pelt grunted to signal that she was regaining consciousness, he held up his hand to stop my questions from flooding the dungeon. “It is a long story, and I am certain your bonded will tell you all about it later. I told you what I have so that you could trust that I am truly prepared to help Sookie—even die for her—as are my kin. Fintan was important to me,” he added, his voice catching with emotion.
“Thank you—for your help,” I told the demon sincerely.
He nodded. “Now—let us get things over with concerning these Weres. I cannot imagine that either will redeem herself,” he sighed sadly.
I went to remove Sandra’s gag.
“No need,” he told me.
“You are a telepath,” I commented.
He smirked. “No comment.”
Demons were notorious for covering their covert abilities (since covering the ability to make fireballs was impossible). I—for one—had never suspected that Mr. Cataliades could read minds until quite recently when I had worked with him on getting out of the Freyda contract and he had shown an odd sort of interest in my knowledge of the telepath, Barry.
I frowned. Mr. Cataliades had said that he was ultimately responsible for Sookie’s telepathy, but how could that be? Unfortunately, it clearly wasn’t the time to ask him about that. Still—I could not wait for my bonded to tell me the story!
I did not like mysteries.
Too many variables.
The part-demon smiled at me knowingly. “Your curiosity will have to wait for the time being.”
I lifted an eyebrow, wondering if the demon might be able to hear my thoughts! Vampire thoughts! If anything, I was even more curious now! But he gave nothing away as he moved to stand in front of the two tied-up Weres.
“This one deserves torture,” he said sadly—but with certainty—as he looked at Sandra Pelt.
“Yet I promised not to deal it out,” I said with resignation.
In truth, I had accepted the fact that I couldn’t torture Victor because the plan to kill him and his people had needed to be carried out quickly and summarily. Moreover—torturing Felipe would be imprudent. If I killed him swiftly, it would help my narrative that I had eliminated him in the name of Sophie-Anne; plus, an unwritten rule among the monarchs of the nation was that torture would never be used upon them if they were overthrown.
And—now—Sookie had asked for my promise not to torture the Weres!
And that meant that my scant fifteen minutes with Jock might be my only “fun” throughout the entire takeover! Yes. I was pouting a little! Of course, Sookie was worth the trade-off, but still . . . . Call me “old-fashioned” or “Old Testament,” but enemies equaled “fun” in my world.
Of course, there was still Bill. Yes—there was still “hope” that I might be able to take nights and nights “entertaining” him with my “knowledge.” Indeed, before the next night was over—he would have more chances to either to dig his grave deeper or to pull himself out of the one he had already dug.
“Did you know that the Pelts were clients of mine?” Mr. Cataliades spoke, breaking me from my fantasy of finally punishing Bill for the pain he had put Sookie through.
“I did not,” I said, truly surprised by the lawyer’s statement.
“Mmmm,” he sounded. “Gordon and Barbara Pelt were among the best wolves I ever knew.”
“Their children did not reflect that,” I said skeptically.
He sighed. “That is, unfortunately, true. Not being able to have children of their own, Gordon and Barb took in orphans—adopted them—but, unlike most prospective parents, they did not seek out infants or even young children. They wanted to help those that no one else wanted. They got both Debbie and Sandra when the girls were in their early teens. By then, both girls were somewhat wild, but that did not stop Gordon and Barb from providing them with love—and trying to offer them guidance and opportunity.”
Mr. Cataliades stared at Sandra so harshly that I wondered if she might burst into flames from the gaze. Given the fact that he was part-demon, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Automatically, I subtly cupped my balls again—just in case his anger went “rogue.”
“I know that your parents would have never sought to kidnap Sookie if you hadn’t convinced them that she might as well be the devil,” he frowned. “Debbie was troubled. She ruined her relationship with Alcide—likely ruining him too.” He shook his head and looked at me. “You know how promising Alcide once was.”
I nodded in agreement. “Yes.” Indeed, before his own father had mortgaged away the family’s future with gambling and ill-made business dealings and before Alcide had taken up with Debbie Pelt, he had been a promising young Were.
“But—then,” Desmond said, looking back at Sandra, “as soon as Alcide showed any interest in another, Debbie literally went crazy—doing everything she could to try to harm Sookie.”
The demon lawyer looked back at me. “Gordon and Barb’s biggest flaw was that they wanted to believe the very best of their children.”
“Most parents do,” I commented, thinking momentarily of my own human parents. Of course, I had lived up to what was expected of me time and again. I had deferred to my older brother and stood at his back—even though I was the more natural leader. Still, I had deferred—because that had been my duty.
When he had been killed—taking many with him because of the lack of leadership skills he’d suffered from—I had stepped up to take his place as my father’s heir. Without complaint, I had married my brother’s widow and treated her children as mine—announcing that my brother’s son would be my heir, rather than any child of my own loins.
In my heart, I had not been the man I had behaved as during my human life. In my heart, I had been an explorer—not a chieftain.
Though I had led my people well—I had never wanted to rule them. I had always wanted to be one of those people who travelled west never to return; I had wanted to brave the sea channels and explore new lands. I’d dreamed of settling down into one of those new lands with a beloved; I’d dreamed of fathering children out of love, not just duty. I’d longed to live a quiet life—a peaceful one. I would hunt and fish and cultivate crops. My wife and children would be safe to walk the land—in no fear that marauders might come to try to take them as slaves or to steal what we had made for ourselves.
It had been a beautiful dream.
But that was not the human life I’d been given. Duty to my people and my parents took precedence over any personal desires I might have had.
But the kind of “duty” Sandra Pelt pretended to have for her sister was actually madness. And—if Mr. Cataliades was right about Barbara and Gordon Pelt—her actions did not honor her parents either.
“Your parents made their peace with Sookie once they realized the truth about what Debbie tried to do to her—once a light was shone on the lies you had made them believe,” the part-demon told the young woman harshly.
Sandra again struggled against her ropes, even as I moved to get some smelling salts to wake up Jannalynn.
“You promised them, Sandra. You swore to Gordon and Barbara that your vendetta was done,” he said wearily. “But as soon as they died in that car accident, you began to plot against Sookie again.”
Sandra seemed to be trying to gnaw through her gag now.
“I know you were grieving, but think of all the havoc you have caused.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “You corrupted your cousin, Tanya, to do your bidding. And then you almost killed one of Barbara’s nieces—just because your mother had left her a part of your parents’ estate: a part that you wanted to spend on a high-priced hitman to kill Sookie.” He shook his head. “And, once out of jail for harming Barbara’s niece, you turned your sights back onto Sookie. You made several attempts on her life. You seduced Alcide and others to get help or information. And—no matter what occurred—you would never stop.”
The part-demon turned to me. There was sorrow in his eyes. “I was hoping—for her parents’ sakes—that there would be something redeemable in this one, but there is not. She is not even insane—as Debbie was. Sandra is hate-filled and vindictive, and she gets pleasure from thinking of ways to harm Sookie—even though she knows that your bonded is not the cause of her troubles.” He shook his head. “Sandra simply likes to think of Sookie as the enemy because she does not want to exist in peace.”
Again, Sandra struggled, but she made no progress in freeing herself.
“Are there any other plans that she has set in motion? Things that could hurt Sookie?” I asked.
Mr. Cataliades looked back at Sandra, and soon he seemed to be peeling away the layers of the Were’s skin with his eyes. Meanwhile, she squirmed as if his scrutiny hurt her physically. Maybe it did.
After about a minute, he shook his head disapprovingly. “She arranged for the fire-bombing of Merlotte’s, but that strategy was mostly ineffectual. Given my position as her family’s lawyer, I followed the money trail when she hired four thugs to try to kidnap or harm Sookie at Merlotte’s. But the help I sent thwarted Sandra’s plans.”
“You knew of Sandra’s plans?” I asked, feeling anger at the part-demon.
“Only at the last minute. I learned of it during the day—on the day that it happened. I called some associates of mine that were close enough to Bon Temps to arrive at Merlotte’s in time to help. They made sure that Sookie was not harmed. The matter was resolved before nightfall, and—after that—I had assumed that Sookie would have sought you out to tell you and to take comfort in your bond.”
I frowned, but then forced myself to calm down. Sookie had agreed that the days of our keeping things from one another were past. Thus, holding the past against her would only hurt us.
And—holding the past against Mr. Cataliades might hurt us both.
“What else?” I asked the part-demon.
“This one had placed herself at Merlotte’s on the day that the thugs were to harm Sookie. She was hoping to witness Sookie’s death,” Desmond said, glancing at Jannalynn, who was now coming around thanks to the smelling salts.
My fangs clicked down as I looked at Merlotte’s girlfriend.
“Why!?” I demanded.
“Jealousy,” Mr. Cataliades reported dispassionately. “She believes that Sookie’s boss, Sam Merlotte, is in love with Sookie.” He looked up at me in question.
I nodded, forcing my fangs back into my gums. “I believe Merlotte is at least enamored with my bonded, but Sookie views him as a brother-type figure.”
The part-demon attorney gestured toward Jannalynn. “When Merlotte insisted upon taking Sookie to his brother’s wedding, this Were interpreted it as a sign that the shifter could never truly be hers unless Sookie was eliminated. It did not take much for her and Sandra to bond over their mutual dislike of my goddaughter,” he added.
“And tonight?” I asked.
“Jannalynn here was going to incapacitate her Were partner in order to make it very easy for Sandra to have access to Sookie. Sandra planned to kill Sookie and superficially injure Jannalynn.”
“Would glamour reform her? Keep her in line?” I asked, thinking of my bonded.
“No,” Mr. Cataliades answered after a few moments—during which he likely probed Jannalynn’s thoughts. “Ms. Hopper is a bitter individual. Her ‘love’ for the shifter is more like possessiveness. Her dislike of Sookie is irrational and deep-seated. And—though she has been excessively loyal to Herveaux—that, too, is almost obsession. She would quickly shift her allegiance to another Were—if she thought the situation would enhance her personal feelings of worth. Thus far, she has only participated in the attempted murder of Sookie, but she would readily cause more damage.” He paused and continued to scrutinize Jannalynn, who was now fully awake and looking at him with hate-filled, though frightened, eyes.
“She would like to kill me right now. And you,” he said, gesturing toward me. “In fact, she would really like to kill you—even though she is glad that you have kept Sookie from Merlotte thus far. And Sookie . . . .” He stopped midsentence.
“Sookie?” I probed.
“Jannalynn would like to take her knife and stab Sookie again and again—though she wants to ensure that her death would last a very long time,” the part-demon shared.
My fangs dropped again as I looked at the woman who wanted to harm my bonded—even as I tried to reconcile myself to the notion that I would be unable to draw and quarter the bitch!
“Jannalynn is of the mentality that—if she cannot have Merlotte—then no one can. And she also believes that you and Sookie have both undermined Herveaux’s authority at times, and she despises you for that too. She is dangerous,” the part-demon added. “Irredeemably so.”
I nodded. I had heard enough—about both of the Were bitches.
“You had a friendship with Ms. Pelt’s parents. You do not have to stay for what follows,” I told Desmond.
“I need to do what follows,” he said forcefully. “Barbara and Gordon understood supernatural custom as well as any of us. I believe they would have preferred for a friend to take care of Sandra in the end.”
I nodded at the part-demon, my respect climbing even higher for him.
As the Were females struggled, I took my sword out of the sheath now strapped to my back, even as Mr. Cataliades lifted his own sword.
Without the need to communicate, we struck the two women as one, each of us taking a head. Neither woman would have registered any pain before she died—just as my bonded had wished.
“My goddaughter is odd,” Mr. Cataliades mused as I pulled out a handkerchief and wiped down my blade before offering the cloth to the attorney.
“How is that?” I asked as he, too, cleaned his weapon.
Handkerchiefs: between Sookie’s unexpected tears and the necessity for blood clean-up, I rarely traveled without several on my body.
“Sookie will be saddened over these deaths, despite the ill-will these women meant for her. She will feel guilt that Jannalynn’s motives related to her. She will feel bad that Merlotte has lost his paramour.”
I nodded. “Yes. She will.”
“Was it her compassion that drew you to her?” he asked, looking at me curiously.
“When she met me, she was not frightened of me,” I responded. “She spoke to me like she might speak to any human. Anyone. She behaved with me as each situation we were in dictated—never modifying her reactions to me based upon what I was. So,” I paused, “maybe it was her compassion that drew me in—her impulse to look for the admirable qualities in everyone she meets. Even when she was being fed lies.”
“Ah—Mr. Compton. It will be a good day when that vampire sees the sun again,” he said with distaste.
“I agree whole-heartedly, Mr. Cataliades.”
“Desmond,” he corrected as I got on my phone to text Parker and Rubio, Palomino’s nest-mates, to clear up the Were mess. While Palomino had proven her effectiveness in spades that night, her nest-mates had seemed disheveled—which meant that they could scrub in order to earn their keep.
After that night, I was honestly considering making Palomino a sheriff—if I managed to kill de Castro, to convince the Council not to kill me, and to be named king.
Tall orders—all of them.
I sighed. There were still a lot of hurdles to overcome, but the first of them had been leapt. Victor was dead. And—as a bonus—Sandra Pelt was no more.
It was a good night’s work.
But there was more to do.
“Do you know the movie Casablanca?” Desmond asked randomly.
“Yes,” I recalled. I had seen the movie more than once—which was saying something. Vampires rarely watched the same movie or television episode twice, for we could recall it with clarity after one watching. Theater, opera, and concerts were different. They always included at least nuanced changes—or sometimes sweeping differences, depending on the production.
But once something was on film? Well—it remained unchanged.
Which was why I’d actually disengaged Fangtasia’s cameras that night—despite what I had led Felipe to believe.
“I believe that you and I could have a beautiful friendship,” Desmond suggested, paraphrasing Casablanca’s final line.
“I do not have to sacrifice the girl to get it—do I?” I asked.
“Would you? Sacrifice her?” Desmond pushed. “To keep her alive? To keep her safe? To make her happy?”
“Yes,” I said, barely audibly.
He smiled wide—his sharp incisors glistening. “As her godfather—and your friend—I will do all in my power to make sure you never have to sacrifice her. Nor her you.”
A beautiful friendship indeed.
A/N: I had so much fun with writing the Desmond/Eric exchange. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!!
Thanks to Kleannhouse and Seph–as always!
And…a special preview…
Yep…reuniting Dan and Bill makes me feel just a bit better about life. 😉