SEPTEMBER 24, 11:00 P.M., RHODES
Peter Threadgill’s trial had been held the night before. As she’d said she would, Sophie—along with both Berts—had jetted in for the hearing, and then they’d left immediately thereafter. Andre had stayed in New Orleans with Rasul in order to—in Sophie’s words—”keep an eye out for trespassers.”
I couldn’t really blame Sophie. Apparently, Louisiana was wounded enough that the sharks were swirling around her. But the queen also had many allies, including King Stan of Texas. In fact, Stan had foregone attending the summit so that he could “watch Louisiana’s back” while Sophie was out of the state for much of the night. I knew that Pam, too, was vigilantly monitoring the northern border.
And, though Eric hadn’t interacted with me much since we’d arrived in Rhodes, I could sense the tension in his body as he watched the goings-on around him with the eyes of an eagle.
No—with the eyes of a Viking ready to lay waste to anyone that threatened himself, his people, or the lovely Olivia.
In truth, I’d been more surprised that he’d allowed me along than that he’d brought Olivia with him. After all, it seemed from the rumors that abounded around Sophie’s court that Eric fed exclusively from Olivia. And he apparently didn’t have any other kinds of carnal relationships with anyone else either.
I kept my eyes down so that I wouldn’t have to see myself in the mirrored glass of the elevator. Thalia was with me—my constant guard during my nights in Rhodes since Bubba was too conspicuous. But she wasn’t interested in speaking with me.
My Were guard, a woman named Hennesy, didn’t speak to me much either. In fact, the only time I’d spoken that day had been to Amelia, who had called in the late afternoon to check up on me.
My work for the Louisiana vampires was—Amelia knew—exhausting me. Each night, I pulled out all the stops to hear what was going on around me. From human donors and pets, I’d learned about more petty backstabbing between the monarchs in attendance at the summit than I’d thought could be possible. Pushing myself even more in order to hear the Weres and other two-natured creatures on the various vampires’ staffs, I had discovered other petty squabbles.
But I’d been of little help to Sophie or to Eric. Even I knew that. In fact, I’d only actually helped them once thus far.
By listening into a maid’s thoughts, I’d discovered a group of Weres who were planning to kill Jennifer Cater, Peter Threadgill’s second, two nights before. I’d told Eric about them.
Apparently, King Peter wanted to have his own second killed in order to frame Sophie. I didn’t know much about what had happened after that—besides the fact that Hennesy had kept me in my room for the rest of the night, while Thalia had gone off to help Eric.
From what I could guess, Eric had saved Jennifer, and her attempted murder was added to the list of Peter’s crimes.
The only other “help” I’d been was to tell one of the hotel managers, a Were named Matthew, about a bomb in a soda can that I’d heard a human planting on one of the vampire floors.
Eric had been none too pleased that I’d “outed” my telepathy to Matthew, but the little bomb had been planted during the day, and I didn’t want to risk its going of—even if it was small.
After all, Eric’s floor was only two away from the device.
I was taken out of my thoughts as the elevator doors opened.
Thalia made a noise that I knew meant that she wanted me to move, so I did, though I steeled my emotions first. I was to attend a trade meeting, which would likely go on for most of the night. The meeting was Eric’s last “state” commitment at the summit—though he would be attending the closing ball the next night.
With Olivia, of course.
I would be expected to attend too—to listen. I was already dreading the event.
I looked at my vampire guard and then at that ladies’ room I saw in the lobby.
Even looking at a restroom made me need to pee nowadays.
Thalia shook her head, but still led me over to it. I knew by now that she would come right into the bathroom with me. Hennesy did the same when she was my guard. I wondered if they compared notes.
I realized the folly of wearing the pregnancy version of control tops as soon as I tried to pull them down for the first time.
I frowned at my vanity. God! Had I really been hoping to look slimmer? When that clearly wasn’t possible!? I struggled with the nylon. After I finally got the hose down and my skirt up, I sat heavily onto the toilet and told myself—in no uncertain terms—that I was not going to cry!
But my pregnancy hormones assaulted me, and I found myself sniffling.
“Stop! Now!” Thalia ordered gruffly. “There is no time for you to return to your room to fix yourself—again.”
A handkerchief was passed under the stall.
“Thanks,” I whimpered.
I heard a scoff and concentrated on dabbing the corners of my eyes. I’d stopped wearing mascara altogether because of my hormones. I couldn’t—wouldn’t—buy the expensive waterproof stuff. And the cheap waterproof stuff had practically “de-lashed” me when I’d used it. I could just hear Pam chastising me now: “That was the price of cheap makeup!”
“We must be in the conference room in five minutes,” Thalia said unpityingly. Unrelentingly.
“Sure,” I responded, even as I multitasked by getting both my cry and my pee “on” at the same time. Knowing that Thalia wouldn’t want to see the handkerchief again, I pushed it into my suit pocket before wiping, navigating back into my hose, and trying to smooth out my skirt.
I’d opted for a maternity suit in black—because it was a “minimizing” color. When I’d gotten it two weeks before, the button on the jacket had fastened, but it didn’t anymore. So the jacket actually just functioned to frame my burgeoning belly.
Thalia cleared her throat—which I’m certain hadn’t needed to be cleared for at least a thousand years.
“Coming!” I said with false brightness, as I exited the stall, keeping my head down so that I didn’t have to see myself in the mirror. In truth, I’d started looking into mirrors again, but only to gaze at my alien-like tummy as I contemplated baby names.
After washing my hands, I followed Thalia out of the restroom.
“You must try to hold your bladder,” she said brusquely. “Breaks are not given at vampire meetings.”
Why did that statement make me need to immediately pee again? It was the same phenomenon as when the “fasten seat belt” sign had come on during my trip to Rhodes. I’d been perfectly fine before it had, but—after that—I’d had to cross my legs (a difficult thing nowadays) and pray to God that I wouldn’t wet myself.
Instead of sharing my fears with Thalia, I simply nodded and obediently followed her into the large conference room where the meeting was to be held. My guard led me to our seats, straight-backed chairs with very little padding or comfort. But, at least, I could sit. We were among a group of “underlings” seated along the walls of the room, most of them taking minutes for their masters. I took out my yellow pad and a pencil and tried to look as if I belonged.
The good news was that not many of the people I could “hear” in the room knew anything about my telepathy, though most of the two-natured folks in attendance recognized me as the “whore” who’d given Quinn an STD.
I had no idea if the vampires knew about my telepathy or not.
Had it been possible, my belly would have dropped as three males entered the three different doors of the conference room as if they’d choreographed their entrance. Maybe they had.
Or maybe I’d committed even more sins than I’d been aware of—sins that I needed to be punished for.
Either way, I felt my “punishment” acutely as Quinn walked in one door, Bill walked in a second, and Eric escorted Olivia through the third.
As if adding insult to injury, all three men I’d ever “been with” focused on Olivia at first.
I couldn’t blame them. Olivia looked stunning.
“So that’s a power suit,” I whispered in awe. Olivia certainly looked powerful as Eric led her to a place at the table. In addition to being his “date” for the summit, Olivia was acting as a financial consultant for Louisiana. Her role was important, so her seat got to be comfortable.
For all the reasons I could have envied her in that moment, it was that chair that I coveted the most.
After their attention was taken from Olivia, I felt the eyes of both Bill and Quinn come to rest upon me, but I kept my own eyes focused on my yellow pad in what passed for my “lap” these days.
I’m sure that at least two vampires in the room felt my growing desire to giggle maniacally at the irony of the situation.
But it was funny!
Bill’s blood—put into my body during his systematic attempt to bind me to him—was currently covering up the scent of Quinn’s child. Quinn—who had put his seed into me during his systematic attempt to bind me to de Castro—was currently sneering at the fact that I smelled so much like Bill!
I snorted out a laugh and covered it up with coughing as Eric turned to join the other two in staring at me.
It was Eric’s gaze that hurt the most, and suddenly my desire to laugh was gone, as—seemingly—was most of the air in the room.
Thankfully, he didn’t look at me for long.
I was happy that Quinn left after making a couple of announcements about the pledging between Russell Edgington and Bartlett Crowe, which was to be held following the meeting. I was surprised when I learned from Quinn’s brain that Eric was to officiate the wedding, which I’d been invited to attend.
I’d wanted to decline the invitation. After all, the last thing I felt like doing was attending a wedding! However, it was listed on the docket of required events and meetings that I’d been given by Eric when I arrived in Rhodes.
Given that he was part of the Louisiana group, Bill took a seat next to me as Quinn departed the room, making me even more uncomfortable than I’d been before.
Initially, Bill wasn’t going to be in Rhodes with the small Louisiana delegation; however, after Katrina, plans had changed. Sophie needed all the funds she could get for the rebuild, so Bill was there to sell his database.
Why he was at the committee meeting was beyond me.
Again, I tried to steal myself. After all, I’d assured Sophie that I’d be fine with Bill at the summit, and—so far—I had been.
Thanks to Thalia.
In fact, every time Bill even sniffed in my direction, Thalia dropped fang. I could tell—through the bond that I was still pretending had never been made complete—that Bill was extremely frustrated, but he was also scared of Thalia.
Of course, I knew that Bill had been frustrated since June—when Sophie had started sending him on one assignment after another. I’d received a letter a week from him from the various locations he’d been “exiled” to. Oh—they were “polite” letters. They focused upon how much he missed me and how we should “try again” with our relationship. He said that he’d even be willing to “accept” the fact that I was having another man’s child. After the first few letters had come—all saying the same thing—I had just quit opening them. I’d written him just once; funnily enough, Andre had “helped” me to craft the letter.
Sophie’s eldest child and I had reached a kind of “understanding” during my visits with the queen. Andre had stopped looking at me as if I were a prize he wanted to take, and—in turn—I had started to tolerate him. In fact, he could be quite funny when he wasn’t leering, and I could understand why Sophie had been happy to be around him for so long. His sense of humor was even more “biting” than Pam’s at times!
When I’d mentioned that Bill was writing to me, Andre had practically sparkled with delight—not that real vampires sparkled—and had suggested that we should write him back. Andre had dictated the letter as I wrote, but I had to admit that it likely put on hold any plans Bill might have had to try to return to Louisiana unbidden.
In fact, Andre had been surprisingly truthful—and unsurprisingly misleading.
“I” told Bill “thanks” for showing that he cared by writing. But “I” emphasized that I needed to focus on my pregnancy and wouldn’t be making any major life decisions until after my child was born. “I” also let Bill know that I wanted to see him soon after the baby was born. Of course, he didn’t know that this was because some of his blood was needed to break the blood bond.
To Sophie-Anne and Andre, Bill had—predictably—kept up his protests involving being kept separate from me. Of course, he couldn’t exactly go against the queen when she “called dibs” on a human in her kingdom, especially one who didn’t recognize the claim of another vampire.
Still, it was plain to see that Bill was unhappy with the arrangement—quite unhappy. But I was done giving any fucks about Bill’s happiness, though I did care about my own discomfort in that moment, for I was having to bear the brunt of his brooding without letting on that I was feeling anything at all from him.
And then he tried to take my fucking hand!
Oh. Hell. No!
Maybe it was Bill’s attempt at physical contact—on top of having to deal with his emotions, on top of filtering through so many human thoughts, on top of trying to read so many difficult-to-read Were thoughts, on top of the stress of seeing Quinn, on top of the emotional toil of being near Eric and his not-so-new-anymore love interest, on top of being six months pregnant, on top of having a hot flash, on top of my skirt being a little too tight (despite its elastic waist), on top of needing to pee again—which caused my headache to reach a point that I could no longer stand.
But whatever caused it, the agony was immediate and epic!
Suddenly, I saw spots of white light floating in the air, and my meal from earlier threatened to make another appearance, which I’m certain wouldn’t be welcome in a room full of vampires.
I couldn’t spare a thought to leaving the room discreetly, not if I was going to throw up outside of it, so I rose quickly, wobbled from dizziness and shoes I ought not to have worn, and ran for the door.
Thalia, I knew, was on my heels.
And I also knew that I would never make it to the bathroom.
It’s funny how one’s “vomiting instincts” kick in when needed, and I spotted a beautiful tree of some kind decorating the hallway right outside of the conference room. More importantly, the tree was planted in a large, sturdy-looking pot.
I was on my knees in front of it before you could yell, “ruined control-top pantyhose.”
And then I did a magic trick. I made my dinner reappear.
After suffering a few migraines over the previous months as I’d tried to push my telepathy to its limits and beyond, I’d learned to erect my shields before my headaches got too bad. A few porcelain god “church visits” when I’d been working at Merlotte’s had taught me that.
This was much worse than any of those times, however. And the headache had come on so quickly that I would have believed it if someone told me I’d been shot in the head!
As I hugged the tree’s pot like a long-lost lover—actually, more like held onto it for dear life—I lost my senses, my thoughts, and my memories.
In fact, I felt as if I lost every part of who I was.
Or maybe I’d always been lost?
Maybe a life of trying to ignore an essential part of myself—my telepathy—had made me a “non-person.”
Maybe being lied to and manipulated by Bill had made me even less than that.
Maybe being lied to and manipulated by Quinn had made me lesser still.
But I knew one thing as I began to hear and see and—unfortunately—taste and smell again: I really wished that I really could just disappear.
A gentle hand was holding back my hair. I looked down at the shoes worn by the person who “owned” that hand.
Amazing steel gray pumps—five-inches at least. Just a hint of a red sole.
Olivia had been wearing those shoes.
“Can someone get me a cold cloth?” Olivia asked, confirming the identity of my helper.
“She is unwell. Move aside so that I can give her some of my blood,” came Bill’s voice.
I turned back to the pot and vomited some more, heaving until my ribs felt like they would break.
I felt warmth on my cheeks and realized that they were tears, even as a cold cloth was placed on the back of my neck.
It felt like heaven, but it soon opened up hell. The first thoughts into my mind were Olivia’s. They were kind and full of concern. She wondered if they should send for the doctor that the hotel kept on staff. Of course, she also pitied me. Eric had told her that I was a telepath, and she figured that must be a horrible thing to have to endure, especially since she’d never heard of another one. Eric had also told her that the father of my child was unknown, and she wondered if I’d been raped. I wretched again. That hadn’t been the first time that I’d had that thought. To me, every time I had been with Bill or Quinn now seemed like a kind of attack—a violation.
Seemingly having nothing solid or liquid left to give, I dry-heaved as I contemplated a fear I’d worried about more and more during the past weeks. Had I violated Eric? He’d been memoryless, and I’d let us have sex. What kind of person did that make me? After all, Eric wasn’t of “sound mind” when we’d been together. The fact that “my” Eric and I had wanted each other now seemed immaterial. The fact that the “real” Eric had wanted me before seemed immaterial.
All that mattered was the possibility that I’d violated him, and—even if our sex wasn’t a violation of him—the aftermath had been. I had withheld the truth about us, and when he’d finally stooped to desperate measures to get it, I’d shared only scraps of it—and in the cruelest way possible.
Yes. I’d violated him.
I heaved again, spitting thick stomach acid and bile into the pot.
As the cool cloth continued to sooth my sweaty flesh, Olivia’s kind thoughts were overridden by other people’s judgements, including Quinn’s. He was wondering how he’d ever managed to lower himself to fuck scum like me. I heaved again.
Unfiltered, the thoughts continued to stream into my mind in nauseating waves. I had no shields to stop them: no control, no power, no “self.”
Humans judged or pitied me as they hurried away or continued watching the “train wreck.”
Weres recalled all the gossip they’d heard about me. They too wondered why Quinn had sullied himself with me.
Worst of all, I saw myself in all of their eyes.
Dozens of Sookie Stackhouses—all bent over a poor decorative tree’s now ruined pot.
I’d sweat so much that my hair seemed matted in places. Or maybe I’d just thrown up in it. I looked white as a sheet. I’d lost a shoe. My hose were shredded. My skirt was barely covering my bottom.
As I watched myself heave again from all of the heads of my human or two-natured audience, I couldn’t help but to judge myself right along with them.
Pathetic—that was the word that came to most of their minds. And to mine.
From their brains, I could also see the rest of my supernatural audience.
Quinn was about twenty feet away from me. He was standing next to a vampire I’d learned was named Victor Madden. The weretiger was thinking that his debt to Felipe de Castro should be completely forgiven simply because he’d had to fuck someone like me.
Thalia was standing close to me, though she wasn’t looking at the spectacle I’d become. She was in full-on guard mode. And Hennesy had clearly been nearby or had been called in too, for she was standing in guard-mode on my other side.
From the eyes of the human who’d brought Olivia the cloth that she was still pressing soothingly against my neck, I could see Bill hovering nearby and looking downright anxious—but not in a worried sort of way. His fangs were down as if he were ready to bite into his own flesh and make me drink his blood again.
Again, I retched.
And then I was back in Olivia’s mind as she rubbed comforting circles upon my back.
Her eyes were lifted up towards Eric.
What was in his expression? Worry? Discomfort? Impatience?
God! How long had I been there—vomiting into a poor tree’s pot? I forced my eyes to the plant.
What was this kind of tree called? A fichus?
“Feeling better?” Olivia asked kindly from behind me.
“Yes. Uh—morning sickness,” I managed. “And a bad headache.”
“Thalia,” I heard Eric’s commanding voice, “you and Hennesy should take her to her room. Now!”
I heard no answer from my vampiress guard, but I was immediately swept up into her arms. It was an odd sight, according to Olivia’s thoughts, as Thalia held me like Rhett had held Scarlet. Only I didn’t try to fight her. I didn’t want to move any more than necessary, for my stomach was still gurgling.
As Thalia walked us down the wide hall and into the lobby, I was pelted by more human thoughts.
What the fuck happened to that woman?
I bet she let the vamps fuck her half to death! Is she pregnant? Sick bitch!
I remember being sick all the time when I was pregnant too!
I bet that bitch is responsible for the mess I’ve been called to clean up.
Look at that vampire following them. I didn’t know anyone wore sideburns like that anymore!
What a weird fucking sight! That woman carrying that other woman is tiny! Geez! Vampires must be strong if she can carry tubbies like that one around.
Of course, this last thought was very true! Thalia was probably 5 feet tall—if that. And she was slim. On the other hand, my pregnant belly made me look like a “tubby”—or a whale, more like.
I tried to put up my shields again, but I failed, and the thoughts began to bleed together as Thalia got us onto an elevator and Hennesy pushed the up button. The upward motion of the conveyance almost caused me to upchuck again, but Thalia gave me a look that told me that she would kill me if I did so.
At least Bill, who was certainly the sideburn-wearing vampire, hadn’t gotten into the elevator with us. Otherwise, I don’t think even Thalia’s threatening gaze could have stopped me from retching again.
A/N: Okay—so three things.
When I wrote this, I created Olivia as a kind of “Sam”—in that she was the kind of woman who might seem perfectly fine in a lot of ways (actually, she’s superior to Sam)—but she’s also an indication of Eric “settling.” Many of you have commented about how fast Eric started up with her. Again, that was on purpose. Think about how fast Sookie hooked up with Sam after Eric and she were “done” in the books. I know it’s not exactly the same—as far as situation goes—but I did write this Eric with an echo of the book Sookie in mind. He is using Olivia to cover up his pain. And—yes—subconsciously to “prove” that he could have done the whole fidelity thing all along. And—yes—that’s unfair to Olivia. But I think Eric will get it together soon. And—as some of you have caught—Olivia is aware enough to know that Eric was hung up on someone else. She thought making an attempt with him was worth the risk to her heart.
Believe it or not, one of the things that annoyed me the most from the books related to Rhodes. But it wasn’t the Andre thing, the forced bonding thing, etc. IT WAS THE FACT THAT SOPHIE-ANNE WAS THERE AT ALL WHEN THE BOMBS WENT OFF! I know that CH didn’t have to deal with real-life stuff, but the moment she decided to include Hurricane Katrina in the books, I think it was only logical for Sophie-Anne to want to focus her energies there. Now—obviously—in the books, Peter Threadgill was dead and Sophie-Anne was on trial for that. But—the moment after that trial was over—Sophie-Anne should have been on a plane back to Louisiana. And—she wasn’t in “custody.” She could have flown in on the night of her trial and flown out right after it. If anything, that would have made her seem like a better queen. Anyway, maybe that’s just my pet-peeve.
Finally, I’m sorry about how cruel I was to Sookie here. In fact, I’ve been very mean to her from Chapter 3 on. The Sookie in the books in this period was so willingly blind to the faults of others, except Eric. I felt that she had to be literally knocked down to her knees so that she couldn’t run away from her past. So—now she’s been publicly humiliated in a way that would make me want to curl up and die. But—if Sookie had the fire to get back up—I have a feeling that certain Vikings in the world won’t be able to “settle” for second best any more. And I have a feeling that Sookie will begin to understand her strength and worth.
Anyway, those are my ramblings. I hope you enjoyed the chapter.
Many thanks to both Kleannhouse and Sephrenia!