“A beautiful woman delights the eye; a wise woman, the understanding; a pure one, the soul.”—Minna Antrim
“I understand—you know?” Olivia said, her eyes seeming almost emerald green because of the wintergreen dress she wore.
“Understand?” I asked.
“You hold back,” she said, “from our relationship—from us. I get it.”
“What do you get?” I asked. Olivia was intelligent—one of the most book-smart people I’d ever met. So maybe she had the answer for why I felt listless.
I’d been tired of dealing with fangbangers when I’d met Olivia. And I’d been left raw from Sookie’s presence in my life.
Olivia hadn’t been a revelation in my world as Sookie had been. She’d not made me want to kill people or tear my hair out. No—Olivia was steady. She was Ivy League and pedigreed. However, she wasn’t vain. Even Pam admitted that she was “likeable” and “hot.”
Olivia was—quite frankly—the ideal vampire companion. She could hold a conversation about politics, history, literature, art, or pop culture. And she had opinions about all of them. She was progressive, meaning that she resisted prejudices against those who were not like her, including vampires. She was undeniably beautiful. And she had a ready laugh.
She was also insightful—sometimes uncomfortably so.
“I get that you still love her,” she said knowingly.
“Her? Who?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. And I don’t need to. Not now. Not yet.” Her eyes pierced me. “But one day, I’m going to truly fall for you, Eric Northman. I’m going to be in love with you. And—then—when that happens, I’m going to need you to . . . .” She stopped for a moment.
“Need me to do what?” I finally asked.
She sighed. “A person cannot make another person love him or her.”
“No he or she cannot,” I agreed.
She smiled softly. “I can’t make you love me, Eric. But I hope you will—one day.”
I took her hand and kissed it. “I hope I will too.”
JUNE 4, 2005
Surprisingly, I had the feeling that I could really like Queen Sophie-Anne Leclerq, though I could have done without Andre. His narrow eyes seemed to study me a little too much. And—frankly—he was a little creepy.
I rolled my eyes at him as he showed me his fangs and then focused back onto my hostess.
Though my official work would not begin until the next night, Sophie-Anne had invited me for “tea,” saying that she wanted to get to know me better.
Of course, “tea” in her case was blood.
But I wasn’t one to judge. Plus, my tea was amazing—an herbal blend that the queen had already promised to give me a box of.
In fact, all things considered, it had been a very pleasant evening thus far. Sophie-Anne had told me about my upcoming assignment, which was to read her current employees. She also asked if I could come back the next month to sit in on some interviews for potential workers. Knowing how much I needed the money so that I could keep Gran’s home, I was happy to say yes.
The queen also seemed very concerned with my role in the September Rhodes summit now that I was pregnant. Unbidden, she promised that I’d be “kept away from the action” as much as possible, which I appreciated very much.
In fact, it was her amiability that convinced me to go ahead and ask if I could cash in on the favor she owed me.
“Your majesty?” I started after taking a deep breath.
“Just call my Sophie, my dear,” she said, sounding sincere.
I relaxed a little.
“Okay—um—Sophie—uh—Eric—uh—I mean the Sheriff of Ara 5—um—well . . . .”
“Spit it out, dear,” the queen said indulgently.
“He—uh—said you owed me a favor,” I whispered.
“What favor?” Andre growled.
“Oh!” I exclaimed, feeling a mixture of embarrassment and disappointment. I sighed. “I thought that—uh—the bracelet—um . . . .” I stopped, finding that I didn’t know how to complete my sentence.
“You thought correctly,” Sophie-Anne said, giving her child an admonishing look. “Go check on our guest,” she instructed him, “after you make sure that no one is within hearing distance of this room except for Sigebert and Wybert.” She paused and glared at him. “Not even you.”
Andre pouted but nodded in agreement.
I few moments later, Sophie-Anne closed her eyes tightly as if she needed to concentrate on something.
“I don’t mean to cause trouble—especially not between you and your—uh—child,” I said.
“You have not. Andre means well, and he’s very protective of me,” she said with a soft smile as she opened her eyes. “He has been my companion for a very long time, and I love him more than any other, but there are some things that he cannot understand.”
“Like what?” I asked curiously.
“Like what it is like to be a woman,” she shook her head. “Years ago—even before the Viking was born—I was forced by a human man to be a prostitute, and trust me when I say that he didn’t ensure that I was well-treated by the men who paid him for my time.” Her eyes seemed to glow with remembered hate. “When a vampire named Alain killed that man, he took over as my,” she paused, “pimp—as today’s humans would say. But he was no kinder than my human master had been. Alain said that he would turn me, but my profitability kept him from following through. By lucky happenstance, he was captured by humans who knew of his true nature. I blackmailed him into turning me—telling him that I would help him to escape, but only if he made me a vampire—made me powerful. I sold myself one last time to one of Alain’s jailers so that he would bury me after Alain drained me and fed me his blood.”
Her fangs now down, the queen smiled as if recounting a pleasant tale. “Alain had been staked before I rose, and—though I had to learn on my own—at least I was free. I found Andre when I was still a young vampire; he had been abused too. But his abuse was not sexual in nature.” She shook her head. “Of course, males—too—can be abused in a sexual way, but that kind of abuse does not seem to be as common as with females. And—even after so many years—there are still many double standards related to gender. Are there not?”
I nodded in agreement. To the people of Bon Temps, I was a whore because I was pregnant out of wedlock. By contrast, Jason was either celebrated or viewed indulgently for his “man-whore” ways.
Even Gran had been indulgent of her grandson, while she’d been “proud” of me for “saving myself” for someone special—which reminded me of my purpose.
“Bill,” I said.
Sophie-Anne rolled her eyes. “Surely you are not going to waste your favor by exchanging it for his freedom.”
“Freedom?” I asked. “Is he—uh—in jail?”
Sophie-Anne giggled. “In a manner of speaking—yes. He disrespected me, but—rest assured—he is unharmed and due to be released soon.”
In truth, I had mixed feelings about hearing that Bill was in Sophie-Anne’s custody for the time being. Mostly, I felt guilty for not feeling guiltier.
“The favor I want to request isn’t to free Bill, but it does relate to him,” I said after taking another deep breath. “I was hoping that you would tell me . . . .” I paused, trying to remember the exact wording I’d practiced earlier. “I was hoping you would tell me any information you think would be relevant for me to know about Bill Compton.”
The queen smirked as if amused by my phrasing, but she nodded in consent nonetheless.
“Have you ever heard of a procurer?” she asked.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. That particular word hadn’t come up on one of my calendars yet, nor had I seen it in any of the books I’d been reading lately, though I’d replaced romance novels with books of a more “academic” variety since I’d learned that I really was pregnant.
I hoped that—once I caught up on my mortgage payments—I could take an online class or two, though I had no idea what someone like me could be beyond a court telepath or a barmaid.
“In vampire culture, a procurer is someone tasked with getting things for a monarch.”
“Things?” I asked, feeling the hairs on the back of my neck rise.
“Yes—things like humans to feed upon or others with useful talents,” she said. “Effective procurers are known for two things: their ability to spot “talent” and their ability to glamour almost anything. Bill was my procurer for about a decade. But the Great Revelation greatly lessened the need for one of his profession. You see—now, there are humans literally throwing themselves at vampires, begging to feed us their blood. And that is why I changed Bill’s role to working on the database, though I did give him one last task.”
My hands had started shaking, so I carefully set down the dainty cup I’d been served my tea in.
Dots had been connecting in my head for months—dots that seemed to darken for me every night.
“Did you send Bill to,” I paused, “procure me?”
“Hadley told me about her remarkable cousin,” she said. “Of course, I wanted to learn about her.”
I closed my eyed tightly. “What were his instructions?”
“He was to find out if you truly were a telepath and assess you skill-level before bringing you here to arrange an introduction between us.”
“Did you order him to seduce me?” I asked.
She sat forward a little. “No. Nor did I order him to give you his blood.”
I was thoughtful for a moment. “What’s a bond?”
She narrowed her eyes, studying me. “When a vampire gives blood to a human, a blood tie is formed. An exchange of blood solidifies the tie. Three exchanges is generally enough to ensure that the tie is permanent when the vampire is older. But often four or more exchanges is needed for a permanent tie—commonly referred to as a bond—to form when the vampire is younger.”
“Younger like Bill?”
“Do Bill and I have a bond?” I asked. “Eric said we did.”
“Sheriff Northman would be the one who could tell,” the queen sighed. “His sense of smell is legendary. And he has blood in you too, so he would have been able to discern a difference if your tie with Bill had become a bond.”
“Is it possible that Bill doesn’t know about the bond?” I asked.
“It is conceivable—given his young age and lack of experience,” Sophie-Anne said. “And his maker isn’t around to confirm the bond. Tell me—can you feel Bill’s emotions?”
I nodded in confirmation. “A little, but I am learning to block them when I want to.”
She smirked. “Fascinating. Have you told him that you can do this?” she asked.
“Feel his emotions or block them?” I asked.
“Both,” she responded.
She looked at me through narrowed, studying eyes. “I think that your behavior has made Bill uncertain—though he is still trying to insist that he has a solid claim to you, and he’s told me that you are bonded to him.”
“He has?” I asked with surprise.
“Yes,” she confirmed. “He wanted a portion of your payment.”
“That bastard!” I growled.
“I take it he hasn’t told you anything about bonds?”
“No—he hasn’t,” I seethed. “Can a bond be eliminated?”
She smirked. “Why—yes—it can be.”
“Without hurting my baby?” I asked.
Her expression sobered. “Yes, Miss Stackhouse; however, I would ask that you think something through.”
“What?” I asked.
“I am a very old vampire,” she said, “older than most in this country, in fact. And though my nose isn’t as acute as Eric’s, I can certainly smell Bill’s blood in you. But—to be honest—I wasn’t sure whether or not there was a bond between you and Bill until you told me that you could feel his emotions. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You are part fairy, so I expect the rules are different for you. Perhaps your Fae blood has given you the ability to partially feel Bill’s emotions before a full bond is formed. Or, perhaps, your Fae blood has fought the bond, leaving it weak. I cannot know for sure, but I’d bet all of Pamela’s shoes that Bill has tried to offer you more blood.”
I nodded. “Yeah—just a week ago, he said it would help with my morning sickness.”
“But you wouldn’t take more of his blood?” she asked.
She smiled at me. “Good girl. Still—the fact remains that Bill’s scent is strong enough to let other vampires know that you belong to another. And it is also strong enough to cover up the scent of the child growing inside of you,” she added significantly.
I gasped. “So—if I got rid of Bill’s blood inside of me—Supes would be able to smell my baby better?”
“That is correct,” she said.
I tensed. “But you cannot smell the baby now?”
“I cannot; I doubt that even one with Eric’s acute sense of smell could.”
“So—until the baby’s born, it might be best to keep the bond,” I mused, almost to myself.
“I think that would be wise, considering you don’t want others to learn that the weretiger is your child’s father,” Sophie-Anne said.
“He’s not!” I cried out defensively.
Sophie-Anne smirked. “Do not worry. I will tell no one of my theory of the child’s paternity—not even Andre. But you must know that—once the child is born—no bond that you have will hide his or her scent from Supernaturals.
“I know,” I said.
“You have help from an interesting triad of woman—I think,” she smirked, changing the topic.
“Huh?” I played dumb.
“The witch, a fairy, and Ludwig,” she chuckled. “If any can come up with a way to cover the scent of a child, it is they.”
I shook my head and sighed. “I think I need to add you to the number of women helping me.”
“I hope that you will,” she said with a smile. “Now—do you have additional questions for me?”
I nodded. “Yes. But they are the kind with answers that are guaranteed to hurt, so I’m not sure I wanna ask them.”
“I didn’t get the impression that you are a coward, Sookie,” she smirked.
“I have been,” I whispered, as I thought about Eric. “I’ve been a coward about the worst thing I could be.”
“Eric,” she said astutely.
“I let him get away,” I admitted.
“And did that mistake make you want to be braver?” she asked.
“Then you are getting somewhere,” she smiled sincerely. “Tell me—what more do you want to know.”
I took a deep breath. “In all of the years you’ve known Bill, has he ever been late for anything?” I finally asked, as more dots darkened in my mind.
She shook her head. “Bill is anal about being on time. I believe he’d rather lose a fang than be tardy for anything.”
I closed my eyes and nodded. “Then he set me up,” I said, as the dots became a clear image. “The very night I met Bill, I saved his life from drainers—or so I thought.”
“What?” Sophie-Anne asked, sounding truly surprised and angry.
Her reaction comforted me.
“Drainers got him, but I’ve been wondering more and more just how that happened. I mean—it’s not as if the Rattrays hid the fact that they were redneck trash, and Bill has—since then—demonstrated that he has a distaste for such people. So why did he just leave with them?”
“A plan to test your skill,” Sophie-Anne guessed.
“Yeah. Bill is too,” I paused, “methodical to put himself into danger like that.”
“I agree,” Sophie-Anne said.
I closed my eyes tightly, though I refused to close them to the truth I was just now seeing. “I think Bill manipulated me from night one. And he misled you, too. I told him about my telepathy early on. Hell!” I exclaimed ruefully. “I was happy there was someone else ‘different’ in that little small-minded town with me, and I was ecstatic when I couldn’t hear his thoughts! If he would have just told me about you and Hadley, I would have come here straight away—with Gran.”
“And I would have offered you payment for your services,” Sophie-Anne said.
“Would you have?” I asked opening my eyes to gauge her expression.
She nodded. “Yes. As I indicated earlier, I have good reason to abhor when women are exploited.”
“I believe you,” I said.
And I did.
Thanks as always to the team: Kleannhouse and Sephrenia! Love you ladies!