FELIPE POV, CONTINUED
“Freyda, dear,” I said. “I was wondering if you might enjoy having your new consort available to you sooner rather than later.”
“Eric would already be here if I had my way. But he is insisting upon dragging his feet,” the Oklahoma queen pouted. “I think it’s his silly affection for the human woman that is causing the delay.”
“Well—I have it on good authority that the blood-bond between Northman and the telepath was severed by magic earlier tonight. And that will bring their pledging into question too, for—without blood—it means very little. Thus, when you next make your claim upon the Viking, he will have no valid argument against it. Plus, it seems that the telepath herself initiated the bond-breaking, so any affection for the woman felt by Northman likely evaporated with the spell itself.”
“That is good news,” Freyda responded, clearly elated.
“Of course, to push Northman’s transfer from my retinue to yours through immediately, I require a favor of you,” I said after a moment.
“What favor?” she asked hesitantly.
“Nothing too difficult, my dear. Just a bit of backup—in Shreveport. Tomorrow night,” I said. “Just in case Eric is planning a coup against me.”
“Eric wouldn’t be so reckless,” she returned.
“Perhaps, not generally, but,” I paused, “he may be desperate. Victor died tonight.”
“Really? Because of negligence on Eric’s part? I doubt that very much!” Freyda defended. “How did Victor die?” Freyda asked with unfeigned surprise. Apparently, she was not “in the know” enough to have heard the gossip yet.
“Yes, Victor is dead,” I responded. “He was at Fangtasia with Sookie Stackhouse in Northman’s office when he was slain. According to Northman, a group of Weres and fairies attacked the club.”
“Do you not believe Eric’s account?” the queen asked, having sensed the doubt in my tone.
“I have no reason to doubt Northman—yet.”
“But you do question his story.”
“I have another source—one of Victor’s people—who corroborates Eric’s version of events. However, I am not fully convinced that Eric was not behind the fairy attack.”
“Why would fairies help him?” she asked. Freyda was unaware, of course, that Miss Stackhouse was part-Fae. With Victor dead, yet another individual who knew about the telepath’s heritage was gone, and that was a good thing. I didn’t want her to be even more coveted.
“Northman once had a working relationship with Niall Brigant,” I responded enigmatically. “And it was no secret that Eric hated Victor. The animosity between the two of them grew exponentially after the takeover. And Victor further stirred the pot by opening a club in Eric’s territory,” I shared.
“Yes. I heard about that,” Freyda commented. “I admit that I’d hoped that the opening of Victor’s club would serve as yet another impetus for Eric to recognize that a life in Oklahoma would be superior to his existence in Louisiana. But I agree. It did seem unwise for Victor to run the risk of inflaming Eric’s ire.”
“So Victor’s death is suspicious because of where it happened?” she asked.
“Yes. Or—perhaps—things occurred as Northman described them. After all, like I said, one of Victor’s own people has substantiated the sheriff’s story.”
“So—fairies and Weres united?” Freyda asked skeptically.
I shared her cynicism. Such a thing had never happened before—at least, not that I knew of. However, the intrigue that seemed to swell around the telepath added a certain level of credibility to the events.
“There is another thing, too,” I shared. “Apparently, a part of the attackers’ plan was to incapacitate the vampires in the club before they even entered it.”
“But how?” she asked.
“They laced Royalty Blended with Fae blood that could not be detected. Based upon the accounts of Northman and the other informant, it seems a minor miracle that any vampires in the club survived—perhaps too much of a miracle,” I added.
“What?” Freyda gasped. “Fae blood?”
I briefly explained what both Northman and Compton had told me about the attack and warned the Oklahoma Queen to beware of her artificial blood supply. Given the fact that both she and I fed from only live donors, we would not be in personal danger. But it was best that our subjects were warned just in case the fairies were moving to start a war.
After my explanation, Freyda agreed to send an entourage of ten to Fangtasia the next night.
“And will you not accompany them?” I asked—baiting her.
“I’ll come to Shreveport,” she granted, “but I will wait to come to Fangtasia until my people inform me that there is no danger.”
I smirked. Freyda was not exactly known for being battle-worthy. “A wise plan,” I complimented her—more-like patronized her.
Not that she would discern the difference.
By the end of our conversation, it was crystal clear that Freyda was hoping to swoop in and claim Northman. She also hoped to take him with her when she returned to Oklahoma. I hoped so too.
“Until tomorrow night,” I said.
“Until then,” she returned before hanging up.
I sighed. Unfortunately, losing Victor and Northman would leave me with two power voids in Louisiana, and Pamela Ravenscroft was no longer a viable option to replace her maker as sheriff.
I frowned and began contemplating successors for both Victor and the Viking.
A king’s work was truly never done.
SANDY SECHREST POV
“Miss Sechrest, I am surprised to hear from you,” the male voice said.
“I am a little surprised I called too,” I agreed, looking around me. I had run to a deserted patch of the desert twenty miles outside of Vegas, but that did not mean that I intended to be any less cautious than I normally was.
It would mean the end for me if I were overheard.
“May I ask why you have called?” he asked. “The king’s human secretary has already emailed his itinerary. Do you have additional instructions about the king’s visit tomorrow night?”
“No. I mean—yes. I have information for you,” I conveyed somewhat uncertainly.
“Information?” the man asked.
I was quiet for a few long minutes, though the person I had called did not seem impatient. I appreciated that. I had never betrayed Felipe. Hell—I had never even considered it before he had let his greed for territory and riches overrule his duty to his people.
Moreover, a part of me wondered if things would be better now that Victor was gone—if I should give Felipe time to “get over” any negative influence Victor had had over him, as a human might get over a nasty stomach virus.
But then I recalled just how difficult it had been to compose a list of vampires loyal to Felipe, and ten of them—the king’s private guards—had been automatic choices! But coming up with another twenty vampires who respected Felipe enough to protect him from one such as the Viking? Well—that had not been possible.
Too many of the vampires in Nevada would want Eric Northman rewarded for doing away with Victor Madden.
I was one of them.
I looked toward Las Vegas, a city I truly loved, remembering a time when there had been far fewer lights. When I first met Felipe right after he was made king of the state, he had been arrogant—to be sure—but most vampire monarchs were arrogant. Arguably, they had to be.
Though certainly interested in profiting from his position, Felipe had been happy to “share the wealth” with his underlings. He had raked in profits from his casinos, but—in turn—he had spent much of those profits making Nevada one of the strongest kingdoms in the New World. After the possibility of synthetic blood became known to vampires, Felipe had been one of the first monarchs to embrace the idea of “coming out of the coffin.” Moreover, he had established strict laws to ensure that humans were not mistreated by vampires—even before the Great Revelation. Of course, all of this was for his own profit too, but there had been a time when profit and progressiveness went hand-in-hand for Victor.
But during the past several years, Felipe had allowed Victor to burrow into his ear more and more.
And that burrowing had changed the once broadminded king.
Nowadays, Felipe taxed his subjects excessively so that he could pay for takeovers that had not helped Nevada in any tangible way.
And, recently, Felipe had begun talking about taking over Missouri—so that he could profit from the vampire-owned casinos along the Mississippi River in St. Louis! Hell! I had even heard him speaking with Victor about attempting takeovers all along the Mississippi River so that he could eventually own a fleet of riverboat casinos and create a “floating” Vegas.
I shook my head sadly, nostalgic for the days when Felipe de Castro had been too wise to covet an Empire. That time seemed long gone.
The king was now so focused upon the accumulation of territory, wealth, and power that he no longer acknowledged that true power arose from loyalty. He had once enjoyed that in spades, but—in the last few years—many of the older vampires had left the state.
I sighed, even as I acknowledged that Victor had not been the only thing that had changed Felipe. If anything, the king had enjoyed having Victor as a “yes man” for his own changing priorities. It had been around the time of Felipe’s maker’s true death that the king had begun to change; clearly, it had been his maker who had kept him grounded.
I closed my eyes tightly for a moment. It was time for me to accept the fact that Felipe had become a self-interested king who no longer served his people; thus, he no longer deserved my loyalty. It was time for me to place my loyalty in someone else.
Someone who deserved it.
“Do you wish to end this call?” that someone asked, breaking me from my musings.
“No,” I said. “But I need another moment.”
“Take the time you need,” he responded almost comfortingly.
I appreciated his patience.
Though our association had never been “close,” I had known the vampire on the phone for five centuries. I knew that he was well-regarded as a leader and warrior, and I had grown to respect his business acumen in the months since the takeover. He had been professional and precise in all of his dealings with the king and me. I also knew that he was loyal to his people, and I had argued vehemently against Victor’s constant interference in Area 5.
I sighed. Indeed, Eric Northman had had good reason to be concerned about Victor. And better reason to be pissed off at Felipe!
Felipe’s choice for Regent of Louisiana had been a poor one. With no provocation other than his own covetous nature, Victor had done his best to undermine Eric at every turn—personally and professionally.
And Felipe had done nothing to keep his regent in check! He should have shown Eric a lot more fucking respect!
But he’d done the opposite. Felipe had done nothing as Eric, the most respected vampire in any of his states, was claimed by—more like “sold” to—Queen Freyda, an unworthy monarch to say the fucking least! And—although Felipe had not initiated Eric’s “sale”—any worthy monarch would have stopped the transaction no matter the cost!
I scoffed. I had seen Felipe’s finances. He had more wealth than he could ever go through, though he now refused to use his “own” considerable fortune to better his kingdoms. He counted on taxes and tributes for that. Of course, he was not shy about profiting personally from his kingdoms.
I sighed and I spoke into the disposable phone I had gotten.
“Thirty vampires will be coming with Felipe tomorrow night,” I shared. “But—if you plan to act—eighteen of them will follow you.”
“How do you know?” he asked.
“I selected the vampires. Not being able to find thirty in all of Nevada who would support the king against you was a deciding factor in my contacting you,” I relayed.
“Will you be among the vampires who come with Felipe?” Eric asked me.
“Yes,” I responded.
“And who will you fight with—should there be a fight?” he asked.
I paused for a moment.
“You. I will fight for you, so I suppose you can consider me number nineteen.”
The line was silent for a minute as if Eric were contemplating my information and declaration.
“I have other news too,” I said.
“What is that?” he asked.
“Felipe has called Freyda for reinforcements. He expects that you will either be dead or on your way to Oklahoma by the end of tomorrow night.”
“Do you know how many the Oklahoma Queen will bring?” he asked.
“Ten is the number Felipe asked for,” I said. “Freyda will not come to Fangtasia unless her people signal that all is well.”
“How do you know this?” he asked me.
“Felipe has grown sloppy in his ambition. I have been listening to his phone calls in order to monitor his communications with Victor and to ensure that the king didn’t fuck himself over,” I answered honestly.
“But now you are fucking him over?” Eric asked.
“It was not an easy choice to be disloyal. Had Felipe not already broken covenant with his people through his actions, I would have never betrayed him,” I shared.
The line fell silent for almost a minute.
“No matter what occurs,” Eric finally said, “no one will ever learn of this conversation from me. If you feel as if fighting with me will compromise you too much, I will understand if you cannot.”
“Thank you,” I said sincerely. “But I have made my decision and will stick by it.”
“Thank you,” he returned quickly. “Your help is—unexpected and welcome.”
I sighed. “Felipe intends to steal your woman, Miss Stackhouse. He has learned information that your blood bond with her has been broken and that you are weakened because of it. But you should know that he has been contemplating ways to take Miss Stackhouse from you for many months.”
I stood up straighter, even though no one was there to see me. “Such a thing is criminal among vampires. It goes against one of the tenants my maker taught me to hold dear,” I shared, thinking of the one who had made me. A hundred years after Rina Marquez had turned me, she had found a human with whom she’d bonded. And—eventually—that human had died. My maker had followed her beloved by meeting the sun. But before that had happened, they had shared many beautiful years together.
A love like theirs was something I strove, one day, to find—though I intended to turn my beloved.
An enduring love was something that I felt like my kind should nurture—not try to destroy.
“I will remember this act of friendship you have offered,” Eric said.
I could tell that his words were a vow. And I appreciated the honor in them—the honor in him.
It had been a long time since I’d had a leader with honor.
“You knew my maker—did you not?” I asked.
“Yes. I met Rina,” he confirmed.
“She held you in high regard,” I commented.
“I heard about your maker’s death—and how it occurred,” he said gravely. “I am ashamed to say that I initially ridiculed her choice to meet the sun once her human mate died. I did not understand her actions at the time.”
“Will your Sookie allow herself to be brought over?” I asked curiously.
“I think so. I am not certain,” he said.
“You will not force her?” I asked.
There was a pause. I could not blame the Viking for not being completely forthcoming with me. Thus I spoke up, sharing more of myself in order to prove my trustworthiness just a little bit more. “My maker was weary of her life when she met her mate. She would have made him a vampire if that is what he had wanted, but he never made the request of her; I think that is how she preferred it. I know that she was content to live out his normal lifespan with him. She was extremely gratified during her years with him—happier than I’d ever felt her before.” I paused for a moment. “She allowed me to know of her plans to meet the sun when he was gone, and I never doubted her contentment with that decision.”
“Your maker was lucky if she found such happiness,” he responded.
“She was lucky,” I said sincerely. “Until tomorrow night, Sheriff.”
“Until tomorrow night,” he said.
I hung up and once more contemplated the twinkling lights of Las Vegas in the distance. I had always loved how the city rose from the desert—more like a taunt to nature than an oasis.
As a woman drawn to mathematics, I had sometimes had a difficult time gaining respect in some of the more rigidly patriarchal cultures I had lived in. Being of color only exacerbated the way I had been underestimated—undervalued. But I had enjoyed Vegas from the start. The old mobsters from the east coast had literally gone about bending the landscape to their desires.
And one of them, Meyer Lansky, had not been reticent about hiring a woman to help him increase his Vegas empire—though his involvement in the city was much more “behind the scenes” after his friend, Bugsy Siegel, was killed in 1947.
That being said, Meyer and I were both very good at “behind the scenes”—though that was not our only similarity.
As a Jewish man, Meyer had had to deal with his own share of prejudice, which was why he had not discounted me for being black or female. From our first association in Cuba, he had respected me for my talent and for the money I could make him. And Meyer had been one of the few humans before the Great Revelation who knew what I was, though I had glamoured him not to speak of it.
With the capability of being just as cruel towards his enemies as any vampire, Meyer did not have a problem with working with my kind. In fact, he and I taught each other a good deal about how to torture humans who tried to double cross us. His methods had been quite creative, and his “playground” had been the very patch of desert upon which I stood.
And—when de Castro became the King of Nevada (which had not warranted her own vampire monarch before Las Vegas rose from the desert)—I helped to grease the wheels between him and Meyer, as well as with many of the other human mob bosses. In turn, de Castro had not made a fuss when I chose to continue working primarily for Meyer until his death in 1983. After that, I had turned my attentions toward Felipe’s interests, and I helped him increase his fortune on the burgeoning Vegas strip, which had been my brainchild when downtown Vegas became a bit stale.
I sighed, acknowledging that the world was all about evolution.
I had asked Meyer once if he wanted to be turned, but he declined. I had never asked his reason, but I think it had to do with guilt over how violent his human life had been. It was surprising that the cement of the desert city wasn’t tinged in red! Indeed, much of Vegas’s concrete contained the bodies of the enemies of the “old” mob bosses. I knew that well. I had put many of them there.
I sighed, feeling my great affection for the city in the distance. No matter how much it changed, the “numbers” of it stayed comfortably the same. Oh—more zeroes had gotten added to the end of those numbers over the years, but they were as consistently interesting to me as ever.
I recalled the last time I spoke with Meyer. He had always felt as if he had betrayed Bugsy because he had known that a hit was being put on him due to Bugsy’s mismanagement of the Flamingo casino. Already working for Meyer at the time, I’d thought that Bugsy was a fucking tool. But Meyer was loyal—perhaps to a fault.
He had never completely forgiven himself for what happened to Bugsy. Maybe that was why he’d not thought he would make a good vampire.
On the contrary, I realized, as I began running back to the city, that I would not be losing any sleep—proverbially, of course—over betraying Felipe de Castro.
Maybe that’s what made me a good vampire.
A/N: Like Indira, the character of Sandy Sechrest has been another that I’ve wanted to explore for a while. Plus, I find the history of Vegas to be so interesting! I know that most of you already despise the “caped-king” because of Victor. Also, a lot of you are scratching your head about how he could even have become king since he seems a little clueless. So I wanted to offer another perspective–Sandy’s. In the books, Eric indicated that Felipe might be a decent king. I wanted to work with that premise, but then offer more background that explained why Felipe became such a putz by the end, devolving because of influences like Victor, a sycophant. Felipe would have likely remained okay had he counted on vampires like Sandy. But, alas . . . for him. I’m also hoping to demonstrate how I think that vampires really would be with the implicit comparison to mob bosses. I hope that you enjoyed the chapter.