At 5:25 p.m., ten minutes before sunset, I’d awoken to Sookie’s turmoil.
Not surprising on the one hand. And welcome on the other.
At least she’d not yet broken the bond. I took that as a hopeful sign.
Victor expected me at Fangtasia by 6:00 p.m., but I knew he would slink in as soon as he could after sunset, so I quickly took a shower and drank a bagged blood. One of the blessings of bonding with Sookie had been that her blood was even more appealing to me than it had ever been before. One of the detriments was that other blood tasted that much blander. But it was a tradeoff I was willing to make—even if I never got another taste of my bonded.
In fact, feeding from Fangbangers had become annoying at best—something I’d managed to avoid for months. Not only did they moan like porn stars faking it, but they also tended to smell like alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and too much perfume.
But—as with other things—I’d adapted. I’d used my own disgust as motivation to start up Vood, which was basically a vampire “health food” store, which I’d opened for vampires looking for something more “healthy”—and tasty—than Fangbangers.
Vood was an invitation only club where vampires would select from a “menu” of donors. The donors were paid a base salary of four hundred dollars per week, plus any tips they earned, and they were given a food allowance so that they could maintain healthy diets. They were limited to four donations per week, and vampires made appointments using a menu, which included blood-type and pictures. There were other rules in place too. Donors were to avoid drugs, with the exception of alcohol in moderation. Their hygiene products had to come from a list, which I compiled myself; all of the products were organic and actually did the work of cleaning versus simply covering up stenches. Sexual encounters with vampires were at the discretion of the donors themselves—rather than something to be expected. All of the donors went by aliases, and none were allowed to “fraternize” with vampires outside of work. In exchange, their true identities were protected.
In addition, all of the employees had undergone a psyche-analysis to make sure they weren’t just fangbangers or Fellowship members in disguise. And all of them were hired based on the quality of their blood—not their looks. Hell—my favorite donor, Clyde, was a fifty-year-old construction worker who was looking for the extra income in order to build up college funds for his kids.
Indeed, Vood was the anti-Fangtasia, and most of my employees there were college kids, single mothers looking for a job that didn’t tax their time, and people hit hard by the still-deflated economy. The “store” itself was actually one of my own houses, and I’d tasked Thalia with the security of the service. She ensured that the donors got to and from Vood, which had been warded to expel those with evil intent, without being followed. Given Thalia’s disdain for “enthralling the vermin” at Fangtasia, she could be happier with her new job.
In the month Vood had been open, most of the vampires of Area 5 who could afford it had utilized the service several times. In exchange for two hundred dollars, which most vampires could easily afford, plus any tips they wanted to offer their donors (twenty percent was the suggested minimum), they were guaranteed a meal that they could relish. I hadn’t been surprised that many also enjoyed the benefit of not having to hassle with fangbangers. Of course, there were still Cretans who preferred “free” fast food compared to expensive fine dining.
I smirked. Since he’d been back in my area, Victor had proven himself to be such a bottom-dweller. At first, he’d been expecting for me to offer him the services of Vood for free; hell, I’d extended the invitation to take part in the service only with reluctance. When I didn’t cater to his sense of entitlement, he’d begun criticizing the enterprise, though its profit potential was great. But, honestly, I didn’t care if Vood made me any money.
On the nights when I had time, the service gave me access to good blood from donors who didn’t try to rub against me like cats in heat. I could feed in fucking peace! Indeed, even if I didn’t already have plenty of customers to turn a small profit, the business was worth my money.
Of course, my meals weren’t the gourmet of Sookie Stackhouse; no one else would ever be that to me again, but the donor blood was an acceptable diet. And bagged blood filled in the gaps, though the plastic taste annoyed me to a certain extent.
I knew as I left my safe house to quickly fly to Fangtasia (I never drove when Victor was in town) that I would be facing one of two situations that night.
Possibility one: Sookie would grant me what I now knew—thanks to Hallow’s spell book—was “my heart’s desire” by pledging herself to me
Possibility two: At some point during the night, I would very likely have to hide the fact that my bond with Sookie had been severed. Though the witch I’d bought the spell from assured me that the breaking of the bond wouldn’t cripple me, it would feel like I’d been sucker-punched in the chest. I just hoped that Victor wasn’t around if it happened. If he was, however, and I couldn’t control my response, I was already planning to cry out “Appius” as if something had happened to my maker. It wasn’t as if Victor knew how to contact Appius for confirmation or anything.
I knew that I would not pursue Sookie if she did break the bond. I would have to let her go completely; I wouldn’t risk a tracker following me to her. There weren’t many vampires who could keep up with me, but there were a few. And, of course, Appius could command me to give up her location if I knew it. Though I honestly never expected to see my maker again, I wasn’t prepared to leave anything up to chance when it came to my bonded—even if she stopped being that. Thus, even if she chose to break the bond, I planned to give her as much of a head start as possible.
The night before, Victor had demanded an audience with “the telepath” before he left for New Orleans, but he’d not specified anything about a particular time or night for her visit. I would wait until the last possible second and then “pretend” to be toppled over with pain. From there, I would act my ass off trying to convince my “hostile” audience that Sookie was dead. With great luck, that fiction would be believed. But even if it was learned that she’d simply broken the bond, my act would be enough to mask my complicity in her disappearance.
But I knew I wouldn’t be completely off the hook—no matter what theory was believed. No—I would face punishment for losing the telepath. Victor would likely advocate for the true death, but there was no precedent for such a thing. If needed, it would be easy enough to convince Felipe that Sookie initiated the severing spell with her witch friends; the materials for the spell had been collected in great secrecy and couldn’t be traced to me. And there would be no shortage of humans, shifters, and Weres ready to testify that Sookie hated the bond.
No. Felipe wouldn’t kill me for Sookie’s loss, but he would punish me. He would have to. I figured it would be with silver. A month in a silver-lined coffin would be the minimum, I imagined. Of course, I figured Felipe would go beyond this. Given the punishments he generally meted out, he’d likely order me to spend a year in silver chains—perhaps under the “care” of Victor, who would celebrate my state with his taunts and threats. But they would be just words. Once Sookie was safe, he would have nothing to truly hurt me with, except for Pam.
And I trusted my child to watch her own back—just like I’d taught her to do.
In fact, Pam had her instructions to oversee things if my absence was required, though she had no idea why I might be gone for a while. I’d told her that it was best to have contingencies in place for whatever eventuality might befall us. She didn’t question my motives after that.
She was a good child. She knew her duties and followed them by choice rather than by force or convention. That fact had been the greatest gift I could give to her, though I’m not sure she realized that.
As I landed on the roof of Fangtasia and then went to my office, I thought about the duty I felt for my bonded. Most of that duty—I had chosen to take on. And I didn’t regret that choice.
I never would.
I sat at my desk and smiled as I picked up a note that had been placed there. “Done.”
I knew the handwriting. It wasn’t Bobby’s telling me that he’d completed the tasks I’d asked him to do. It was Thalia’s scrawl. I enjoyed the feeling of the word in my hand before throwing the note away. Even if Victor saw it, it wouldn’t mean anything to him.
But it meant a lot to me. It meant that another contingency had been eliminated. Mainstream pretender or not, Bill had been one of the first I’d “invited” to Vood. And he’d, of course, jumped at the chance to enjoy “civilized feeding.” When I’d told him about the business, he’d managed both to be happy about it and to imply that I likely wouldn’t partake in it myself—because I was a godless pagan.
Both within the same goddamned sentence! I’d expected no less of him.
And I’d certainly not expected any more.
I didn’t bother telling him that I had many more gods—and goddesses—at my disposal than he had. He wasn’t worth the effort.
Regardless, because he was a frequent customer and had shown preference for a particular donor, a pretty young blonde woman, he’d paid the extra cost for exclusivity with her—one thousand a week to ensure he got all four of her available feedings as well as to guarantee that she fed no others.
I rolled my eyes. His preference had been predictable and his possessiveness pathetic. Why he just didn’t get a pet or two was beyond me. That’s basically what he was paying for. However, because he was feeding at Vood, he could pretend that he wasn’t following the “barbaric” practices of vampirism. Again, his behavior was typical and predictable.
I scoffed. Bill’s “civility” hadn’t stopped him from fucking his donor. Of course, she’d consented to the extra “work.”
And I was sure that it was work.
Regardless, I’d followed-up with Thalia to make sure that the donor’s consent was actual and not glamour-induced. According to Thalia, the female donor was using Bill for a fuck-buddy of sorts because she didn’t want to deal with a relationship while she was in college.
Plus, Bill tipped her very well.
Of course he would. He was a “gentleman” and all.
Knowing that their activities were confined to Vood and that he didn’t know the donor’s real name, I was ambivalent about Bill’s arrangement. Other vampires who preferred the 21st Century alternative that I was offering to keeping permanent pets had already made similar arrangements, and a few of the other donors had agreed to sexual arrangements too.
My thoughts about Bill were—thankfully—interrupted. The interrupter left something to be desired, however.
“So, Northman,” Victor said snakily as he slithered into the room, “are we to be honored with the presence of your bonded tonight?”
“Hmm,” I sounded noncommittally, “Tonight or tomorrow night.”
“You left the decision up to her?” he asked as he slinked into a chair—unbidden.
I looked up from my paperwork to lock eyes with my “boss.” I knew well how to keep all emotion from my voice and my countenance.
“I have no particular need for Miss Stackhouse at this time. However, since you requested her company before you leave for New Orleans in two nights’ time, I have conveyed to Sookie that she should appear tonight or tomorrow night to bid you farewell.” My eyebrow quirked and I reached for the office phone. “Did you have a more specific night and time in mind? If so, I will inform my bonded immediately.”
Victor studied me for a moment, his lip quirking up as if he were actually learning something about me. But I’d seen that expression enough to know that it was a bluff.
“Don’t bother. It will be,” he paused as he thumbed through some papers on my desk, “rather interesting to see if she is anxious enough to see you to come sooner rather than later.”
“Miss Stackhouse has no reason to be anxious—either way,” I responded, my tone imitating a cucumber.
As for Victor’s fumbling, I didn’t have anything to hide from my king or his minions related to my Area or my businesses—at least the ones in my name—but I did resent the fact that Victor fondled my things as if he owned them and me. He reminded me a little of my maker, and the comparison did him absolutely no favors.
“So have you managed to get the ledgers ready yet?” he asked haughtily.
“Do you mean the ones for the quarter that ended just last night?” I asked evenly. “Of course. Your fingers are tapping them even now,” I informed, nodded toward the black book in front of him.
“So on top of things,” Victor sneered. “I wonder if your efficiency is meant to hide something from our king.”
“I am certain that your audit of Area 5 will be thorough enough to ferret out anything that is amiss,” I returned.
In truth, Victor only had stopped short of climbing into my ass with a flashlight during his time in Area 5. But he’d found only evidence of my competency and my people’s loyalty, two things that he commented upon as if they were crimes. I never thought I would prefer Andre to any other overseer, but I found myself missing that particular snake as I looked at the more venomous version in front of me. At least, Andre was ultimately loyal to Sophie-Anne, who respected me. Whatever Felipe might have thought, I doubted that Victor was loyal to anyone but himself, and respect seemed to be a concept that he’d missed learning. He was a simpering flatterer to Felipe—in the king’s presence—but I saw no sincerity in the man sitting across the desk from me.
“Well—I suppose that I shall select a meal from your stock here since those available at Vood are overpriced,” Victor sneered, standing up. “Care to partake?”
“I have seen to my appetites already this evening,” I responded. “And, of course, I wish to finish these invoices so that you may include them in your study of Area 5,” I added with a slight nod of the head.
Victor scoffed. “I had heard that you were quite the ladies’ man, Northman. Yet I’ve not seen you enjoy your brood of fangbangers during my time here.”
I smirked. “Ladies’ man? What an odd expression. As if I would ever romance my meals?” I chuckled. “How amusing you are. I shall miss your humor when you return to Area 1.”
“Right,” he responded sourly. “Of course, one might think that you were being faithful to someone,” he added suggestively.
I laughed even louder. “I cannot quite figure you out, Victor. You set many tasks before me—tasks that leave me with only enough time to feed and find a quick release each evening so that I can be available to you throughout your audit. Should you wish to revise the list of requirements you have for me to include a study of my fucking techniques,” I smirked, “I would be happy to oblige.”
Victor glared at me. “You would do well to remember that you are the subordinate here.”
“Which is why I labor to finish this,” I returned, holding up the list Victor had thumped down on my desk when he’d entered my area the week before. “Care to add anything to it?” I offered.
He scoffed and left the office quickly, not bothering to close the door.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. I hated Victor more and more with each fucking night! And not just because he was actively looking for a way to set me up so that the king would execute me.
I frowned, knowing that—within minutes—I’d have to listen to his grunting and the awkward thumping that I now associated with his fucking. I shook my head. Given his age, Victor really should have developed some rhythm by now.
Too soon, the tell-tale sounds of sloppy Victor sex filled the air. Tonight the woman’s moans sounded so canned that I was sure she was faking. Pamela entered my office—seemingly only to roll her eyes—before leaving again.
Proving once again what an excellent child she was, she shut the door on her way out—shutting out the noise of Victor’s “torrid” encounter.
There was a God.
A/N: I hate Victor. So much worse than book Andre and that’s saying a lot!
This is my Victor in this story.