THE ANCIENT PYTHONESS POV
FIVE MINUTES EARLIER THAN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER
With my cloudy eyes—and my other, better senses (including my sense of what was to come)—I “watched” my prey from afar.
He was waiting to meet with Amelia Broadway’s father, though I knew that man would never make the meeting, thanks to Lucifer’s favor to me.
My target paced and then looked around as if he sensed he was being watched, but his eyes eventually focused in the opposite direction from where I stood.
Killing the male would be a waste in many ways.
And waste was something I despised.
But the future did not deceive me when it came to the being I was looking at.
He was too lost in bitterness to give up his path of destruction. Still—I was determined to allow him his one last chance to change his ways, improbable though it was.
I found myself pitying the fairy. Losing two sisters as he had would have likely harmed the psyche of almost anyone.
Of course, one of those sisters had not been worth much more than her brother. Claudette Crane had been an unpleasant sort and had been tolerated only by her siblings.
On the contrary, Claudine Crane had been a great loss to this plane of existence. I had seen that she had achieved her goal of becoming an angel. I was glad for her.
The fairy I was looking at had relied quite heavily on Claudine’s impeccable moral compass. And—now that he no longer had his “better” sister—he was floundering.
Yes—I pitied him.
But I was not willing to let him run amuck. After all, he’d had ample chances to change himself for the better. But, instead of embracing them, he’d scorned them.
Dermot had suffered much more trauma than Claude had, yet he was on his way to being a functional part of the Fae world again. All he’d needed was to get away from Sookie Stackhouse—ironically enough. He had been fixating on her in an unhealthy way, and the presence of the cluviel dor in her home had not helped, for Dermot had been drawn to its power and had confused that with attraction for Sookie. But now that Sookie had used the Fae love token to ensure that her fate would be forever tied to Eric’s, Dermot’s attraction was already waning. And since Niall had determined to reestablish close ties with his son, I saw Dermot living a full and happy life.
Dillon Brigant was Niall’s heir, but I had foreseen that Dermot—once back in the Fae realm—would find a woman that would make him a solid mate. With her, he would produce twins: one boy and one girl. As three-quarter Fae, both siblings would have the essential spark, and the girl was destined to become Dillon’s chief advisor. It was difficult for me to see too much of the future as pertained to the Fae world, but I could discern that Niall’s experiments in Fae fertility would pay off and the species would eventually rebound as long as they did not fully shun mating with humans.
I shook my head. Dermot had not been the only fairy that Niall had been willing to accept back into the fold. I knew that the fairy patriarch had also been hopeful that Claude would agree to his offer to return to the Fae world. Indeed, Niall had even given up on the idea that his grandson would breed with a female—let alone marry one.
However, Claude could not control his bitterness toward his grandfather and had denied Niall.
But that bitterness did not even compare to the hate he felt for Sookie Stackhouse.
I scowled as I allowed myself to feel Claude’s hatred for the woman who’d only ever tried to love him as family.
And then I “rewound” the visions I’d received concerning him over the years.
Claude had—at first—merely resented (complaining to Claudine on many occasions) the fact that Sookie Stackhouse had been Claudine’s charge. Because of the need to be close geographically to Sookie, Claudine had resisted Claude’s desire to move to New York or Paris after they’d come to the human realm. Thus, even before he ever laid eyes on her, Claude had disliked Sookie because he’d not gotten his “way” and had been “forced” to settle in rural America.
Of course, Claude had ignored the fact that he could have gone anywhere he wanted! It had been his choice to stay under the “care” of his sisters—though it had been Claudine who had seen to most of their household’s running since Claudette had been almost as useless as her brother—because he refused to develop his independence.
But Claude’s “geographical dissatisfaction” was only the tip of the iceberg.
He blamed Sookie for things as mundane as his not getting more photoshoots for romance novel covers.
Likewise, he blamed her for things as serious as Claudine’s death.
But—still—the fairy had sought out Sookie after Claudine’s death, living with her and Dermot so that he could draw upon their strength.
He’d been attracted to the cluviel dor—to be sure.
But he’d also been inept to seeing to his own care beyond that. The idiot couldn’t even do a load of laundry! Even I—as an ancient seer—knew how to turn on a washing machine!
I shook my head. Claudine could have chosen to appear to anyone in her family before she’d passed into the Summerlands and then ascended to her new form as an angel. In my opinion, she should have appeared to Sookie—if only to alleviate the guilt the telepath felt over her death!
Even Niall would have been a worthier visit!
But—ever the loving (and hopeful) sister—Claudine had chosen the undeserving Claude. She’d attempted to appeal to his “better angels.”
But he had spit—many times—into the faces of those angels since Claudine perished!
Being no angel myself, I might have been willing to let Claude do as he willed, but the harm he intended for Sookie Stackhouse was not acceptable.
I sighed. Yes—Claude Crane had gotten his chances. Sookie had accepted him into her home and heart—despite the fact that he was an asshole.
In return, he was determined to harm her with as much destructiveness as his mind could conjure.
Insidiously, he’d encouraged the witch to undermine Sookie’s relationship with the Viking, though Amelia had ultimately gone against him.
Like a gofer, he’d also worked his way into Dermot’s emotions, pushing him to seek Sookie as his mate.
Like a leach, he’d tried to take Sookie’s energy into himself.
Like Dermot, Claude had felt the magic of the cluviel dor, though he’d been unable to understand what it was since he had always been devoid of love—except for himself.
Despite receiving love from his family—especially Claudine.
I felt my lips turn downward as I imagined what might have been with Claude Crane. Many years before, I’d seen another possible future for him—one that would have come to fruition if he’d only stifled his egotistical ways just a little bit.
Just a fraction.
Though Claude was as preferential towards men as any being I had ever known of, his future could have included fatherhood, given Niall’s funding of artificial insemination techniques. And that wisp of a future had shown me that Claude had it in him to be an amazing father! He’d had a daughter who’d resembled Claudine in both looks and temperament.
But he’d turned away from that thread of possibility.
“So its beauty is only real in my memory,” I whispered gloomily, thinking of the little girl who would never be.
Sadly, Claude’s current path had become one of havoc and destruction.
Unless I stepped in.
I rarely did inset myself into the events of the world.
But when I did, I went all in.
I knew that my handmaidens were near me.
I knew that they would take care of me once I was inebriated on Fae blood.
I smiled to myself as I contemplated my intentions. Wasting good Fae blood would have been such a shame!
And I had not felt shame for more than fifteen hundred years!
The fairy continued his pacing and finally dialed his phone to try to contact Copley Carmichael. The witch’s father answered, but very quickly disavowed his partnership with Claude before hanging up.
Obviously, Lucifer had come through and had not struck a deal with the witch’s father. I made a note to thank him later.
Indeed, I decided that I would send him an old-fashioned thank-you note on expensive stationary. And maybe a naughty selfie or two. The “devil” would love that.
“Last chance,” I muttered to myself as I looked at Claude. “For Claudine’s sake—for Sookie’s—please take it.”
At the final crossroad that I was prepared to let him traverse, the fairy stood staring at his phone for a full minute.
In one direction, Claude could give up his vendetta against Sookie and move on with his live.
In the other, Claude would die by my fang—and I would feast upon him.
I was a selfish enough creature to celebrate the latter as Claude made the wrong choice and dialed his phone and connect with the lieutenant of the vampire monarch of New York.
Michelina, the Queen of New York, hated Northman’s child, Karin—and, by extension, the Viking himself. However, Michelina had a role to play in the night’s events, and I wasn’t about to let Claude fuck that up by further stirring up the New York queen’s old (and—frankly—illegitimate) vendettas.
Claude had made his choice, so I prepared myself for the kill.
Even as Michelina’s lieutenant indicated that she would connect Claude with the New York Queen forthwith, I glimpsed the future. Claude was about to offer his help in procuring Sookie in exchange for the telepath’s continual agony. Aware of Michelina’s misguided hate, the fairy was about to promise the queen that all pain inflicted upon Sookie would hurt Eric too—and, by extension, all of his offspring.
I sneered. Claude was unsalvageable.
And that meant I could gorge myself!
I felt all remnants of pity leave me. I felt my regret over Claude’s unchosen future dissolve into the part of me where I compartmentalized all such disappointments.
I allowed the beast within me to breath in the scent of fairy, and I let myself hunger.
Claude was powerful enough for his age, but he had never honed his skills.
In truth, he was a lazy little prick.
On the other hand, I may have looked frail, but I was anything but. And I did not count on just my vampiric state and age either. I had studied extensively—from the greatest warriors of the ages.
Of course, I amused myself by pretending to be as fragile as a mouse, even leaning on my handmaidens to get from Point A to Point B when the fools I wanted to fool were watching.
The joke was on anyone who was fooled by my act.
But I never even gave Claude Crane the chance to see that act.
Because the fairy was arrogant enough to deem himself completely safe, I was able to incapacitate him before he registered my presence.
And certainly before New York’s queen had picked up the phone.
I crushed the phone under my foot as I sucked from Claude vigorously.
“Fucking delicious,” I mumbled messily as I drew in Claude’s blood as if I’d been starving. I felt his body shriveling up in my arms as all the struggle left him.
The “high” of Claude’s blood hit me within moments, but I kept right on drinking until he was but an empty cask.
I hardly noticed when my handmaidens collected my drunken ass and promised that they would soon have me in a “nice bath” so that I would not have to rest with Fae dust on me.
It was nice to have creatures I trusted around me.
I knew that the fairy and her Viking—before the night was out—would feel the same.
And then giggled.
And then snorted.
Being drunk was a rare treat.
Being drunk—and receiving a welcome vision of the night’s impending events at the same time?
From what I’d picked up from Felipe as I pretended to be drugged out of my mind, the king was overconfident—just as Eric had expected he would be.
And Felipe’s arrogance would work well for Eric and me.
The king also seemed to have no true idea of what my telepathic range was, for his human chauffeur, who was waiting in the limo the king had secured, was “thinking” about how the king likely intended to either kill my beloved Viking or ship him to Oklahoma that very night.
I wanted to both stake Felipe for his plans and thank him for being indiscreet enough that his chauffeur knew all about them.
Instead, I contemplated some the events that had occurred to bring me to this moment—which was only moments away from Eric’s attack.
If my counting to 600 was correct.
Thalia had given me a look as she’d pulled Bill’s car into the Fangtasia parking lot.
Staring straight ahead in case we were being watched, I had not spoken a word; I’d merely shaped my fingers into a fist—Thalia and my agreed upon sign for proceeding with the plan.
She’d lifted me from the car and carried me inside Fangtasia. One hand in my pocket, I’d hit “send” on my cellphone just as we’d entered the club, thereby informing our allies that the countdown had begun.
A countdown that I was trying to keep track of—even as I listened as Felipe and Desmond seemingly planned out my future without my input. Had the situation been “for real,” calm would have been the last thing that I’d been!
I took a long breath and kept staring off into space, avoiding looking at the one person I always wished to see—my bonded.
I couldn’t help but to regret just how close I’d been to being bonded with another vampire—one who I now knew didn’t deserve my trust: Bill.
The blood he’d given me after the Rattray attack.
The blood he’d given me before the Long Shadow incident.
The blood he’d given me during the Maenad incident.
The blood he’d taken in Jackson.
More than three.
The blood he’d licked from me after the Rattray attack.
The blood he’d taken from me during our sexual encounters.
More than three.
Three was supposed to be the magic number when it came to bonding. Given that fact, Bill and I should have formed a bond well before Rhodes!
But a bond had never formed.
Could that have been because I’d been badly injured two of the times I’d had Bill’s blood?
Could it have been because the Fae in me—or the Dae—refused to accept a permanent mate who was a duplicitous ass?
Could it have been because Bill wasn’t a strong enough vampire to form a bond with the exchanges we’d had?
Could it have been dumb luck?
Could it have been fate?
Honestly—I hoped it was the second of the options—that somehow I had resisted forming a bond with a vampire who had proven to be mostly destructive to my life.
However, likely, it was dumb luck.
But I’d take it!
Or maybe Bill just wasn’t a “good” vampire—either morally or in effectiveness.
After all, fooling him earlier that evening had been much easier than I thought it would have been. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have been surprised. If Bill Compton had one constant—it was that he believed what he wanted to believe.
Even when those beliefs had no facts to support them.
Clearly, his beliefs included the false idea that he “knew” me.
That he had my best interests at heart.
That he was perceptive.
He didn’t. He didn’t. And he wasn’t.
Still—Bill had been needed to ensure that de Castro thought that everything was all hunky-dory. He was needed to guarantee that the king would have his guard down around an “incapacitated” Eric.
Ultimately, my ex was needed to ensure that the assassination of Felipe de Castro was easy.
“Please be easy,” I prayed, even as I used my peripheral vision to see that Eric had taken another backward step toward the bar. Even if de Castro had noticed—which he didn’t seem to do—he would not have seen my bonded’s movement as being aggressive. Indeed, if anything, Eric looked well on his way to passing out.
I took another breath. I’d counted up to 500. So that meant that Eric would grip his sword in about a minute and a half.
And then he’d take Felipe’s head.
The part of me that was still “human,” hated the loss of any life.
But that same human part knew that Felipe was not an ethical leader and needed to be replaced. And the Supernatural part of me—which I was only now beginning to fully embrace—was looking forward to seeing my bonded eliminate our enemy.
In truth, it was going to take me a long time to become comfortable with that kind of impulse. Thankfully, Eric knew that, which was why he’d agreed to my plan about what to do about Bill.
Of course, Thalia had advocated that Bill die after he “delivered his lines” to “de Asshole” (as she called him), but there was still something in me that fought against that notion. It was not a part that still loved Bill, for I no longer did. It was a part that still wondered if there was any good in him.
So—Bill had been spared.
In the end, I was happy—at least for the moment—with that choice. And his “incarceration” served a larger purpose too. Neither Eric nor I wanted Bubba at Fangtasia that night—just in case something went wrong. And overseeing Bill was a good task for our friend.
Of course, Eric had tried—the night before—to convince me that I should not be near the battle either. But I had the oddest feeling that I had to be there for success to occur. It wasn’t exactly a premonition, but the feeling was strong enough that I wouldn’t ignore it.
I was certain that my presence would be needed to fully distract the caped-king.
That was why I was doing my very best to feign being “stoned.” Likely, knowing my wonderful, witchy friend—no sister—I was stoned. Amelia’s “calming tea,” which I’d drunk on the way to Fangtasia, had certainly helped with solidifying that impression—at least when it came to keeping my metabolic “outputs” in check. Without it, I’m sure that my heart would have been pounding and my flesh sweating.
But—as it were—I was able to stare as if looking through Felipe de Castro.
At one point, he’d spoken to me—trying to get my attention—but I didn’t even blink.
Clearly, he was convinced that I was debilitated by breaking my bond with Eric.
I almost reacted at that thought. Yes—even the thought of breaking my bond with Eric now shook me.
I found myself wondering why I’d ever contemplating doing just that—breaking my blood bond with Eric—even as I continued to count down the seconds until Eric would kill de Castro.
Of course, I knew the answer to that question.
I’d been worried that Eric and my bond was something to enslave me.
And I’d failed to see what that bond truly was—a coil of true love.
I was determined not to fail my bonded again.
I wasn’t a vampire, but I had a good sense of time. Five seconds to go—I thought.
Confirming this, I felt a huge burst of love from Eric through our bond, and I readied myself to duck under the booth as Eric had made me promise to do.
In my mind, I counted down to zero and darted downward, though I turned my head to watch my beloved as he sped toward his prey.
I couldn’t help but to appreciate the fact that Felipe had cried out in surprise—shock! I just wished that I’d been able to see the look on his swarthy face. I determined to ask Eric about it later. And I’d ask God’s forgiveness about that as soon as I felt guilt—if I ever did.
A second after that action began, my Viking stood in the center of the room covered in blood and gore.
And de Castro was no more.
Unfortunately, his cape remained.
Eric’s eyes flamed bright blue, the blood lust clear in them. I sent him calm and clarity, and he turned to face down the other vampires who were allies to de Castro.
It turned out that there weren’t nearly enough to give my mate and our allies a good fight. As Indira basically covered me with her body, I peeked around her to see that many of the vampires who had arrived with de Castro were actually not “with” him. As Sandy Sechrest had promised, Felipe had not been popular amongst his own. Indeed, the vampires whom Freyda of Oklahoma had lent were ultimately the ones who fought the most valiantly after Felipe fell.
But they too were easily killed.
Yes—I hated killing, but even I could recognize that Eric was a soldier in that moment.
I recognized other things too.
First, Eric would have served de Castro faithfully—if the king had proven to be worthy.
I felt pride for my bonded.
Second, Eric clearly commanded the respect of all who fought with him. Even those who were strangers to us—even Desmond and Diantha, each warriors in their own right—fell in line behind him.
I felt more pride.
Third, my bonded could have successfully led his current force against an army three times this one’s size—because he was just that f-in powerful!
Fourth, my bonded would have very much enjoyed taking his time with his enemies.
From him, I felt a little regret with every cut he made with his sword—with the cut decapitating de Castro eliciting the most regret.
My human side had conditioned me to believe that torture was a sin. But my vampire clearly would have favored drawing out the punishments upon his enemies’ bodies.
That night—however—the timing of things ultimately suited us both. To demonstrate that he was an agent of retribution and not ambition, Eric needed to eliminate de Castro and his allies as quickly as possible. And—keeping my conscience clear—no death would be drawn out.
But I knew that—in the future—my mate would find enemies that he would want to punish using time and “art.”
Despite my condemnation of killing, I found myself sending my mate support and something akin to—but not quite—approval. My days of stifling my vampire’s nature were over. My days of knowing that he would always take into account my sensibilities on matters such as torture were just beginning.
I figured we’d come to compromises along the way.
Eric roared as he cut off the head of the last foe in the room.
Everything became silent for a moment as my mate and our allies looked around.
None of our friends had fallen.
Eric sped toward me, and the table I’d scrambled under seemed to disappear. I grinned into my bonded’s kiss.
Thanks, as always, to Seph and Kleannhouse!