TWENTY MINUTES EARLIER
FELIPE DE CASTRO POV
“I will take thirty vampires with me,” I told Sandy Sechrest sternly.
She looked at me with surprise.
“So many?” she asked.
I growled. “You know how much I dislike being questioned, Sandy. Yet you are doing so anyway.”
“I am sorry, Sire,” Sandy quickly replied, bowing her head and taking a step backward before bowing her whole body. “It is just that thirty might be difficult to muster on such short notice.”
I growled again. “Are you trying to tell me that thirty loyal subjects will not jump whole-heartedly at the chance of helping their king?” I challenged.
“No. Not at all,” she stammered. “I—uh—will have the vampires you require ready by first dark tomorrow night.”
“See that you do,” I warned my financial advisor and new second. “And see that you are among them.”
“I will be honored,” Sandy said before bowing again and rapidly exiting my office.
In truth, I had not liked hearing the doubt in Sandy’s voice. She had served me—and served me well—for even longer than Victor had. And—if she’d had one-tenth of his viciousness—I would have made her my second long ago. But Sandy was actually quite “civilized” for a vampire, preferring accounting to holding others accountable.
However, because of Sandy’s expertise with numbers, I was concerned. Quite concerned.
Getting thirty vampires to be in my entourage when I went to Louisiana should have been an easy task, but—despite my remonstrations to Sandy—I knew that finding that number of loyal vampires ready to travel at first dark the next night would not be an easy task. However—against the Viking—I felt that a large number might very well be needed.
I sighed. Northman was formidable. If he had killed Victor and/or intended me harm, then I would need many in order to effectively face him. Unfortunately, my numbers had been stretched thinner and thinner since the takeover of Louisiana, which had come with a “side dish” of Arkansas that I really would have preferred to have done without.
That state had practically devolved into anarchy by the time I took it over, for Sophie-Anne had neither the resources nor the inclination to see to it properly. Inconveniently, to make sure that my claim was solidified in Arkansas, I’d had to send quite a few strong vampires there.
And—as for Louisiana? Well—most of the “decent” vampires in Areas 1 through 4 had been killed during the takeover. I shook my head as I remembered slaying Sophie-Anne and claiming her throne. In truth, I had wanted for the takeover to be relatively bloodless.
But it had been the opposite of that.
It wasn’t as if Northman was the only sheriff I had wanted to spare in the state! Indeed, three other sheriffs had been offered similar “deals” to the one Northman had been given: loyalty to me in exchange for their lives. They had opted to disrespect my claim to the throne by fighting on, and they had died for that.
Northman had been the only sheriff pragmatic enough to take the “deal” I offered.
I had often wondered—since the takeover—what Northman would have done if he had not been at his bonded’s home when my forces had invaded Louisiana. Would he have fought? Could he have defeated Victor if he had?
I knew for certain that the Viking’s child had been wreaking havoc upon my forces in Shreveport, systematically eliminating them one by one as if she were a fucking scalpel. Given her lethality, I could not help but to wonder what the Viking himself would have been like if he had participated in his child’s guerrilla tactics.
I, for one, had been relieved that he had not—though Victor had expressed a clear preference for wanting Northman dead from the start. But Northman being killed would have led to most of Area 5’s vampires being depleted too—just as the Louisiana vampires in other areas had been decimated along with their sheriffs. In fact, less than half of the Louisiana vampires in Areas 1-4 had survived my takeover of the state, for they had refused to stop fighting—despite the death of their queen!
I scoffed. I still did not understand how Sophie-Anne had managed to inspire that kind of loyalty among her people. But she had.
And that had meant less income for me, for there were fewer vampires “alive” to pay taxes!
Moreover, of the vampires who had not died for Sophie-Anne or for their sheriffs, quite a few had chosen to emigrate from Louisiana before I had even named Victor as the state’s Regent. More had gone after I had done that.
The exception had been the vampires in Northman’s Area 5.
Other than Area 1, which included New Orleans, Area 5 was—by far—the biggest income-generating area in Louisiana. After the takeover, I had counted upon that income to help me offset some of my losses. And—despite Victor’s warnings about the Viking—I had determined that Eric would be loyal to me.
But, perhaps, Northman had been pushed too far.
I had known—from the very start—that Victor was micromanaging Northman more than he probably should have been. But I had trusted Victor’s judgment. And it had been important that Victor “feel” like a true Regent so that he could do a good job, so I had not ordered him to change his ways—beyond giving him a subtle caution that the Viking ought not to be trifled with.
When Victor had opened a rival club in Area 5—instead of opening one in Area 1 where he was based—I had become even more concerned. But—by then—the fact that the Viking’s attention was on Victor actually helped me. And the problem seemed as if it would be a finite one.
Because I had been certain that Eric’s time in my kingdom was finite.
I opened my desk drawer and took out a copy of the contract Appius had negotiated with Queen Freyda of Oklahoma. I smirked.
Had Appius lived, I might have tried to get the Viking out of the contract. Eric benefitted me in Area 5, after all. But Appius had not lived; thus, as Eric’s king, I was due the large amount of money that Freyda had agreed to pay for Eric.
I looked at the seven-figure sum.
Granted, Northman’s Area would supply me with that amount—and more—given time. But I needed liquid assets sooner rather than later.
I had considered taking Eric up on his offer to pay me the amount that Freyda had promised. But there were ultimately too many positives to Eric becoming Freyda’s consort to take him up on his offer.
In recognizing Freyda’s claim, I would gain an ally in an up-and-coming monarch.
I had also seen the benefit in removing Northman from Louisiana, given the animosity Victor could not seem to drop in regards to the Viking.
And then there was Sookie Stackhouse. I had grown weary of Northman offering up excuse after excuse as to why she could not attend to the business of my kingdom by staying in Las Vegas for half of the year. Hell! Even offering her six months per year to stay where she wanted and promising Northman that she would not be fed upon or fucked while she was in my territory had not convinced the Viking to share her!
And I could not simply take the telepath from him as I wanted to do because Eric and Sookie were bonded and pledged!
However, Freyda was my ace in the hole.
Given Freyda’s inherent selfishness, I knew that she would not want to “share” her consort with someone he truly cared about. Thus, I knew that she would demand that Northman give up contact with Sookie, and he would be powerless to do anything else!
His and Sookie’s pledge would soon be dissolved. And that would officially make Sookie a “claimable” being—as long as the one claiming was her king—even if the blood bond remained between Sookie and her M.I.A. bonded.
And I intended to do that claiming by bonding with Sookie—eventually supplanting the Viking’s blood.
Better yet, I had begun to hope that the blood bond between Northman and Sookie could be broken by magic, eliminating many of the complications that would come with claiming her.
In that case, I would not have to bond with her myself—thus making myself vulnerable to her emotions. I could simply make sure that someone I controlled bonded with the telepath.
Before tonight, that someone would have been Victor Madden. In fact, Victor had always been my “backup plan” if the Freyda thing fell through.
I had not been blind to Victor’s desire for Miss Stackhouse; in fact, I had already decided to “forgive” him—if possible—if he managed to slay Northman and forge a bond with Sookie. Oh—I would have censured him. I would have had to, but I had hoped that one week in silver as his punishment would have satisfied the Vampire Council. And—if that had not been enough—I would have been willing to sacrifice Victor if pushed hard enough by the fairies or the Council. But, regardless of the aftermath, Victor would have fucking alleviated many of my frustrations if he had “rashly” acted to eliminate Northman and take the telepath!
Which was another reason why I had given him relatively free reign.
Plausible deniability was a good fucking thing!
In fact, the only thing I would have lost was the bounty that Freyda would have paid me for Northman—but I had planned to recoup most of that by requiring Victor to pay!
Yes. I knew about the Swiss accounts Victor had been left by his maker, and I would have welcomed those funds into my own coffers!
Moreover, I had already planned to make Northman’s child his successor as sheriff, thus ensuring that I would not lose many profits from Area 5. As restitution to Pamela Ravenscroft, I was even planning to insist that Victor close down his club in Area 5 and confine all of his personal businesses to Area 1—thus ingratiating myself with Northman’s child and the Viking’s other followers.
I growled as I thought about the loss of Victor. Indeed, part of me had wanted him to solve the problem of Northman and his telepath.
“Victor, your letting yourself get killed has really put a wrench in my plans,” I sneered.
Now I would be forced to count on Freyda to solve the Northman dilemma, and I no longer had a back-up plan.
At least—not yet.
I thought of Compton. Tool that he was, having him bond with Ms. Stackhouse would not be the end of the world. Bill was easily manipulated and controlled, and Sookie seemed to have some residual affection for him. Thus, his complacency would likely influence her to be complacent.
It was Northman who had stood in the way of my controlling Sookie up to that point. Well—him and Sookie’s reputation as the “Angel of Rhodes.”
Because of the bombing in Rhodes and Sookie’s subsequent heroism, there had been additional impediments to my simply sweeping in and taking her from my subordinate. I did not want to risk the wrath of vampires like Russell Edgington, who had taken a liking to the telepath. And then there was her fairy family to consider. And—earlier that evening Northman had mentioned the demons!
I rolled my eyes. Maybe I should have just told the Viking to kill her when he had asked!
No—I wanted Sookie for my own. I just needed to manipulate her into believing that she was “choosing” to be in my service.
Perhaps, Freyda and Compton were the key to that.
The whole situation was too damned complicated!
“The telepath should be mine by right,” I muttered to myself before forcing myself to be calm.
If Freyda forced Eric and Sookie apart, that would surely sway Sookie’s preference in my favor.
And—if Compton was there to pick up the pieces of Sookie’s heart—that would benefit me as well.
And—if the witches could eliminate the blood bond as they claimed? Well—that would be fucking ideal!
My private phone rang, and I looked down to see who was calling.
I quickly answered.
“Compton,” I said.
“Your Majesty,” he returned respectfully. “Have you heard about the events of this night?” he asked.
“I received a phone call from Northman,” I responded.
“So you know Victor is gone?” he asked.
There was a pause.
“I have the eye witness account of one of Victor’s must trusted people,” Bill said. “It is possible that it is more accurate than Eric’s. And I have additional news that you need to know about.”
“Tell me,” I commanded insistently.
I listened as Compton told me a similar story to the one Northman had conveyed. According to Victor’s loyal guard, a group of Weres and fairies had—indeed—attacked Fangtasia.
Bill also confirmed—with a feral growl—that the Viking had allowed Victor to have “time alone” with Sookie. Surprisingly, according to Bill’s source, Victor had conducted himself as a “gentleman” and had merely been speaking with the telepath when the attack had occurred. Honestly, I found it odd that Victor would not take advantage of Northman’s “generosity.” On the other hand, I could see how Victor might have wanted to ingratiate himself with the telepath by pretending to be much more kind than I knew he was.
By far, the most interesting piece of information Bill shared was about Victor’s scheme to break Eric and Sookie’s blood-bond—a scheme which had apparently worked.
I did not waste time being angry at Victor over the fact that he had not told me about his plan. Clearly, he had been hoping to claim the telepath for himself—and I could not blame him for that machination.
He had always preferred asking forgiveness over seeking permission. And—as long as his schemes had worked and brought me a profit—I had never punished him too much for “overstepping.”
“So you are sure that the bond-breaking has worked?” I finally asked Bill—in order to stop his incessant prattling about “Sookeh.”
I swear! When Compton was riled up, he couldn’t properly pronounce anything—even the name of the woman he supposedly “loved.”
“Yes. I am certain, Your Majesty,” he responded. “I am sorry if you did not know of Regent Madden’s plans,” he added contritely.
“I know of everything in my kingdom,” I lied.
“Of course,” Compton quickly agreed. “I need your counsel, Your Majesty. I am not sure where Sookeh is. And I have no way of knowing just how damaged she was from the severing spell.”
I contemplated for a moment. “You still have a blood tie with Miss Stackhouse—do you not? In that case, you could easily find her and assess her wellbeing.”
Bill sighed. “I do have a blood tie with her, but I am afraid it has grown quite faint. It has been a while since she’s had my blood. And then there was the silver poisoning,” he reminded. “I have to be within a mile or two of her to feel her presence.”
Useless—thy name is Bill Compton.
“Well—then,” I said with an edge of warning, “that means that you will need to use your skills as Area 5’s Investigator to track her down.”
“Track her?” he asked—as if he had no idea where to begin.
“Do you know where Northman’s safe houses are located?” I asked impatiently.
“Yes,” he responded. “Some of them,” he added.
I rolled my eyes. The supposed Area 5 Investigator seemed pretty fucking inept at investigating to me!
“Northman disclosed a list of addresses to me,” I conveyed, “though it is unlikely complete. I will email it to you. I want you to check all of his known addresses and businesses to see if the telepath is at any of them. If she is—and if the situation is favorable—I want you to secure her and bring her unscathed to Fangtasia tomorrow night.”
“Fangtasia?” he asked. “Why? That would just be taking her to Eric—if he doesn’t already have her in his grasps again! And then there’s Thalia to contend with!”
“If you are correct about the bond being broken, then Eric is weakened—maybe even incapacitated for the rest of the night. Once you track down Sookie—if you can manage that—assess the situation. If she is a prisoner of some kind, then report back to me. If she is not, then convince her to go with you.”
“Why not just order Eric to make sure she’s at Fangtasia tomorrow night?” Bill asked.
I sighed again. So. Fucking. Inept.
“I will if you fail in your task. But I’d rather not give Eric the chance to punish her for breaking the bond. Hell—he might even kill her for her defiance if he recovers enough before tomorrow night! Wouldn’t you agree that it would be best for Miss Stackhouse to be in my custody as soon as possible?”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” Bill said, finally agreeing to the task he should have never questioned.
“I will be at Fangtasia just after 11:30 P.M. tomorrow night,” I clarified. “Bring Sookie to me after midnight if you get her.”
“What of the witches?” Bill asked, at a volume so low that I realized that they had been present during our entire conversation.
Still—beings capable of breaking bonds were not to be trifled with. Nor would I squander the witches’ skill by having them executed.
I would prefer to put them on retainer.
“Do you know of a trustworthy vampire who can watch the witches while you look for Miss Stackhouse?” I asked. “Perhaps your informant about tonight’s events?”
“Yes. He is still here,” Bill said. I smirked when Bill did not mention the vampire’s name. I knew that omission was a strategy that Bill was using. Victor had done the same thing at times. Not mentioning names meant that Bill would be able to take full credit for the information or for any successes that came of it.
Obviously—Bill felt that the situation would end in success for him. And, at least, that was positive news—for me.
“Have your associate keep watch over the witches and keep them safe. Northman may still be a danger to them—especially if they have, indeed, successfully severed the blood bond. Tell me—have they relayed how long the Viking will be weakened from the severing spell?”
I could hear a conversation occurring in the background as Compton spoke to a female—obviously the “lead” witch in the scenario, Amelia Broadway. The witch seemed to be confident that the Viking might “appear” normal by the next night, but that he would actually be quite weak, compared to his usual state.
The severing of the bond, according to Ms. Broadway, would have been extremely taxing for the Viking and for the telepath.
“Could Northman reestablish or heal the blood bond by forcing a single exchange with Miss Stackhouse?” I asked.
Bill growled out my query to the witch with clear desperation in his tone.
“No—Eric could start a new blood bond, but it would take at least three exchanges to complete it,” the witch responded.
“Ask the witch if Northman could offset his physical symptoms by taking excess blood,” I demanded into the phone.
Moments later, I heard Compton conveying my question.
“Only to a certain extent,” Ms. Broadway responded. “Similar to a vampire losing his or her maker, there will be an emptiness in Eric, a painful ache. Even if he feeds a lot, he’ll still be dealing with those effects.”
I thought about the period of time right after my own maker had been slain. I had needed to protect myself by staying out of the public eye for several nights, for I had felt weak and easily distracted—unfocused.
I smiled to myself.
If Eric would be in a similar state the next night, that would work very well for me!
And—if he tried to protect himself by refusing to meet with me at Fangtasia the next night, I would call the Vampire Counsel and offer Northman’s absence as proof that he had conspired against Victor. Whether the video footage backed that up or not, a sheriff refusing to greet his king on the night after his Regent had died would be extremely damning evidence against Northman.
Of course, even if Eric showed up, he would find himself in a catch-22 situation. If I questioned Northman about his “bond” and he lied, he would be guilty of treason and subject to punishment or death. If he admitted to the bond being broken, I would immediately claim the telepath as mine and provide the Vampire Council with clear evidence that Miss Stackhouse herself had been the one to set the bond-breaking scheme into motion. Eric’s own words—from the calls I had recorded from him—would prove that. Of course, it would be essential that I was never implicated in the severing spell. Such a thing would be punishable by the Vampire Council.
However, Bill Compton was the perfect patsy. If necessary, I would bring him in to confirm that I knew nothing about the severing spell before it happened, thus exonerating me. Inconveniently—for Bill—the Council would likely punish him for colluding with Victor since they could no longer punish my dead Regent.
But, honestly, I was ambivalent about Compton’s fate. He had already served his usefulness, and there were other tech-savvy vampires would could easily carry on his database project. Of course, if he lived through the next week, that would be fine too. With a little more training (a week in silver for questioning me would likely do the trick), he would be a good little minion.
“Make sure the witches are protected—and that they stay where they are for the time being,” I told my underling. “And find Sookie Stackhouse.”
“May I give her my blood if I find her—if I can get her away from Thalia?” Bill asked tentatively. “She was hurt by the severing spell.”
“Only if her injuries threaten her life,” I returned. “Otherwise, I want to assess the situation when I see her.”
“Your Majesty,” Bill said, even more hesitantly, “Victor had promised that Sookeh and I would be able to bond once Eric was out of the picture. As you know, there is great affection between Sookeh and myself.”
“I had thought that her affection had cooled when she learned of your duplicity at your former queen’s bidding,” I smirked. I did so enjoy toying with Compton.
“It did. It had. Until the fairy war,” Bill returned. “I believe that—since she is now free from her bond with Eric and his influence upon her blood—she will recognize my superiority as a suitor,” he added in an accent so laced with Southern inflection that he might as well have been dressed in a gray Confederate uniform while sipping a mint julep under a weeping willow tree.
I rolled my eyes.
“Your candidacy to be her bonded will be considered,” I said. And I would consider it—if Bill survived. As delectable as I figured the telepath’s blood was—and as much as I intended to indulge in it—actually bonding with her did not appeal to me in the least. “In fact, you might be ideal for the job,” I added.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Bill said with relief.
“But I want to assess her and the situation in person before making my final decision,” I reminded. “Oh—and, Bill—I will be extremely disappointed if Northman damages the telepath in any way before I can take over her protection.”
“Why not just order him not to?” Bill asked.
Again with the ridiculous questioning! Definitely a week in silver at the minimum would be required to break Billy boy of that annoying habit!
“Eric cannot know that I am aware of the severing spell,” I indulged the underling—mostly so that he wouldn’t run his mouth and give away the fact that I knew Eric was weakened. “Your trying to track Miss Stackhouse down makes sense and can be blamed on your personal concern for her—because of both the attack at Fangtasia and the punishment Eric gave her earlier. In fact, if you didn’t try to rescue her,” I said somewhat mockingly, “wouldn’t that seem odd?”
“You are right,” Compton said seriously, having not picked up on my sarcasm. “I will find her,” he added, right as I hung up.
I wasn’t about to deal with anymore inane questions from him.
I chuckled. Suddenly, I was genuinely looking forward to the next night. With the Viking at less than one-hundred percent, any takeover attempt he might have been scheming would be easily dealt with.
I dialed my phone.
“Felipe,” Freyda purred as she answered after two rings.
A/N: So Felipe is a “slippery” one-trying to out-maneuver our favorite Viking. Too bad his little minion is giving him incorrect information. (Evil laugh)
I hope you enjoyed the chapter. Please comment if you have the time and inclination.