“Is Eric awake?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Sookie responded, her voice full of fear and pain.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“They think she’ll be fine,” she said, relief flooding her tone.
“Thank God,” I whispered. Yes—I’d been a Christian before I’d been turned. So I did believe that there was a being watching over the world and all the creatures in it—including vampires.
“They wouldn’t let me stay with him. They took him somewhere else,” Sookie said desperately into the phone. “I don’t know what to do!”
“Where are you? Where is he?” I asked.
“The vampires are being taken to an underground garage about five miles from where the Pyramid of Gizeh collapsed. I’m in the Rhodes Memorial Hospital—in the ER,” she said.
“Do you know how bad Eric’s condition is?” I asked.
She sobbed. “No—not fully. He was burned quite a bit even before we got him into the ambulance. Afterwards . . . .” She was quiet for a moment, and I heard her sniffling. “After the ambulance crashed, I was out for a few minutes. I know that sunlight was let in, and part of Eric was uncovered in the crash. From the thoughts of the second team of rescuers . . . .” There was another pause and more sobbing.
“His left hand and part of his arm. I know they’re gone,” she whimpered. “And he’s burned really bad. His . . . .” She paused again. “His body is blackened so much I couldn’t even recognize him from their thoughts.”
“But he’s alive?”
“I think so,” she sobbed. “He wasn’t ash.”
“Then he’ll be fine,” I said, trying to sound more certain than I felt. I’d seen plenty of vampires succumb to their injuries when the magic within them was simply not enough to keep them alive.
“I don’t know where Hennesy and Olivia are,” Sookie whimpered. “I think they would have had enough time to get to safety, but I just don’t know. And I have no idea where Thalia is. The hotel manager said she didn’t stay in the hotel.”
I sighed. Hennesy was supposed to protect Sookie—not Olivia—even if Sookie ordered her to do otherwise. But it wasn’t the time to chastise the telepath for ditching her guard now.
“Don’t worry about them, Sookie. I will look into it.”
Her crying worsened. “I need to get to Eric, Sophie! He’s all alone! He needs blood!”
She was gasping hysterically.
“Is there a clock in the room?” I asked sternly.
“A clock!” I said adding even more force to my voice.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“7:14 p.m.,” she whispered. “After I got here, they didn’t give me a phone for a while,” she added bitterly. “And mine was lost!”
“It’s okay. By 9:14 p.m., the world will be better. Do you trust me to make it so?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said in such a timid voice that I barely heard her.
“Good. Keep your eyes on that clock, and keep yourself calm for little baby Sophie.”
“I told you—I’m not naming her after you,” Sookie said with a tentative chuckle.
“At 9:14, you might change your mind,” I responded before hanging up.
I looked at Andre. “Get Ludwig here ASAP. Then call Anubis. I want an airplane chartered and waiting for our people at the Rhodes airport within the hour.”
Without argument, Andre pulled out his phone and dialed.
Andre and I’d had quite a few disagreements over Sookie at the beginning of our affiliation with her, but he’d gotten over his “issues” regarding the young telepath—after some “tough love,” as modern parents would say.
Initially, he had wanted to kill Bill Compton and bond with Sookie himself. But I could tell that he wanted to possess her in ways that would have turned my child into a monster. And I wouldn’t allow that—not ever.
When it seemed as if Andre might try to claim Sookie despite my wishes, I’d issued my first maker’s command to him in over 800 years: I’d forbidden him from harming Sookie either directly or indirectly.
He’d been bitter. Angry. Petulant.
I’d had my Berts place him in silver and had sat by his bedside for a full night and a day, sharing in his pain.
And then I’d found the courage to tell my child why I’d refused him free reign over Sookie. Of course, Andre had known about some of my past; so much of it had been spent with him, after all. However, I’d kept from him the full extent of the abject horrors I’d faced when I’d been used sexually by more men than I could remember.
Frankly, I’d loved Andre too much to share the details with him before, but—this time—I left nothing out as I spoke vividly about my past and explained why I wanted Sookie protected. In truth, she reminded me of myself. She’d been lied to, manipulated, and used. And I wasn’t about to let her become the plaything to anyone else—especially not my child.
And, truthfully, I blamed myself—at least in part—for Sookie’s current predicament. After all, I’d sent Bill—though I’d never dreamed that he would treat Sookie as he did. However, I should have followed up with the situation. Instead, I’d figured that Bill was too much of a coward to misrepresent the situation in Bon Temps. And, then, I’d become busy with Hadley, whom I’d newly made my child; Waldo’s jealousy of her; the negotiations with Arkansas; and Hadley’s true death.
I could hear the unpleasant voice of Dr. Ludwig as Andre’s call connected to her. She’d lived in my kingdom for many years. I’d offered her sanctuary—in exchange for her services.
And before that, I’d saved her life in order to settle a debt that I’d owed to her parents.
Few knew much about Amy Ludwig, but I was one who did. She was half Water Fae and half goblin—an odd combination to say the least. Her parents, Jacob and Ennika, had been exiled from their respective realms for the sin of loving each other; however, they made a good life for themselves in the human realm. Both had been healers, and they taught their child the healing arts of their respective cultures, even as they augmented their skills by exploring the medicinal arts of humans, especially their usage of various plants.
It was many years before Amy was born, however, that I interacted with her parents. Jacob and Ennika lived in peace—using their skills to aid those whom they felt were worthy. Luckily, when I sought their aid, they thought me qualified to be in that category.
When I found Andre, he was near death—having been malnourished and beaten by those who had kept him as a servant. I was prepared to turn him then—after I killed those who had mistreated him—but I wanted for him to be strong before I did so. I also wanted for him to choose to be my companion.
Thus, I gave him only enough of my blood to stabilize him and took him to the Ludwigs, whom I’d heard about from the queen of the realm I was staying in. The physicians helped Andre’s body to heal and to become strong—by using a combination of my blood, their innate magic, and the plants of the earth. And—when he was ready—Andre was able to choose me with a clear mind.
To say that I had owed the doctors a debt was an understatement.
It was fifty years ago that I heard that the family of healers had been attacked by the Water Fae, who had begun their onslaught of those of “mixed blood.” They had killed Jacob and Ennika, but they had not killed their daughter—not yet. They had found amusement in experimenting upon the mixed blood Amy Ludwig, for she was the only one ever of her kind. The Water Fae had certainly intended to kill her—eventually—but they were enjoying their torture of her too much to give her a quick death.
When I arrived, I was glad to rip out their throats.
Though she’d been in terrible shape physically, Amy had declined my offer to turn her. She had, however, accepted some of my blood. But that blood had been too little and had come too late to prevent some permanent damage. Even after fifty years, her back was hunched, and she couldn’t walk easily or quickly. Of course, she was part Fae and had mastered the skill of teleportation years before. And as part goblin, she could also literally sneak into almost anywhere—including a warded palace.
Thus, I wasn’t surprised when I heard a “popping” noise in front of me.
She looked up at me. “Sophie-Anne, your brat said you required my aid. What do you want?” she asked gruffly.
I smiled at her. Despite her lack of bedside manner, I appreciated Amy’s consistency. In all the years I’d known her—and even on the day I’d saved her life—she’d never been what one would call “pleasant” company. Of course, goblins were not known for pleasantries, and she’d clearly inherited most of her personality from her goblin mother.
“Amy, I need for you to go to Rhodes immediately. Eric and Sookie have both been hurt. I’m arranging for a private jet, which will be ready when you are prepared to get them out of there. I want them back in Louisiana as soon as possible,” I relayed.
She nodded and then “popped” away without even asking where to find my sheriff or the telepath. I knew that she had her own ways of knowing, however.
“What about Bill?” Andre asked. “And Thalia, the Were guard, and Northman’s woman?”
“Ah, yes,” I sighed. I’d been so worried about Sookie, her child, and my sheriff that I’d forgotten that Bill was in Rhodes, too—selling the database.
He’d been under strict orders not to interact with Sookie in any way. In fact, I’d told Eric that he could kill Bill if he bothered Sookie, much to Bill’s chagrin. Bill was still going on and on ad nauseum about being bonded to Sookie. But he had no allies and was too weak of a vampire to keep me from pulling rank—despite the “maybe” bond that he’d never admitted “maybe” existed to Sookie.
Most of the time, Bill’s protestations were a moot-point, for I kept him very busy overseas. However, because of Hurricane Katrina, the profits from the database were too tempting to pass up at the Rhodes summit, so I’d allowed him to be there. Of course, Eric and Thalia had been keeping their eyes on Bill to make sure he behaved.
Frankly, I was more worried about Thalia than I was about Compton. If he’d died in the Rhodes explosions, it would actually solve quite a few problems—especially where Sookie’s moral dilemmas were concerned. I just hoped that Thalia had kept to her usual practice of going to rest in the ground. A room for her was not in the copy of the arrangements that Eric had made for Rhodes, so I took that as a positive sign.
I looked at my child. “After you arrange for the plane, see if you can contact Bill and Thalia by phone. If you can, they can meet the plane and travel back with Amy and her patients. Try to contact Hennesy, too. According to Sookie, Olivia will be with her if they are still alive. Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait for word on all of them. However, Sookie, her child, and Eric are my main concerns right now.”
Andre nodded and began to complete the tasks I’d set out for him to do as I took out my own cell phone and dialed Pam.
“My queen,” she answered, obviously recognizing my number. She was one of the few who enjoyed the privilege of having my private one. Her voice was quivering, and she was clearly upset.
“You know what happened?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I am watching the news reports right now. I can tell that Eric’s been hurt, but I know that he lives. He’s,” she paused, “not awake, so it must be bad. I just got off the phone with Thalia, who is the only one in our group that I was able to contact. She is going to search for Eric in the makeshift hospital where they’ve taken a lot of the vampires.”
“I’m glad Thalia is okay,” I said, truly pleased. “And she will find him where she seeks him.”
“How do you know?” Pam asked.
“Sookie. Somehow, she woke Eric up as the bombs were going off, and they escaped the hotel before it collapsed. She was too hysterical to make much sense about how they did so, however. Something about sledding,” I said. “She and Eric were in an ambulance making their way from the site when the hotel went down. The shockwave from the implosion made the ambulance wreck. Sookie has a concussion, and all that she knows about Eric is what she saw from the human minds around her when she came to.”
“What did she see?” Pam asked nervously.
“A missing hand. And a lot of burns.”
“Sookie’s baby?” Pam asked after she’d taken a moment to compose herself.
“She seems fine. Ludwig is on her way. And arrangements have been made to bring Eric and Sookie to Louisiana as soon as possible.”
“Thank you,” Pam said, though she was clearly and understandably still upset that her maker had been so gravely injured.
“I need you to be strong, Pamela,” I returned. I wanted to comfort her, considering that we now shared a fledgling personal relationship that had gone beyond mere fucking months before. However, I needed her to be in sheriff-mode right now. “As I’m sure you know, Peter Threadgill was found guilty the night before last of an overthrow attempt on Louisiana.”
“Eric told me,” she said, obviously trying to hide the emotion in her tone.
“Threadgill was executed; however, since we were not yet officially pledged, I wasn’t automatically given Arkansas. The Ancient Pythoness asked if I wanted the state, but—given the fact that I am concentrating most of my efforts onto the rebuild—I didn’t want my resources stretched too thin. Thus, Jennifer Cater was pronounced the new Queen of Arkansas. It is possible that she might try something, so I need you to make sure the Northern border remains secure.”
“I will,” Pam said, her voice stronger.
I smiled. She was her maker’s child; that was for sure. There was no hesitation in her tone—no uncertainty. “I am sending Rasul with some others to help you,” I informed. “He will function as your second until your maker is recovered.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Queen Cater shares a maker with Freyda of Oklahoma,” I informed. “It is possible that they will align. Normally, I wouldn’t worry about them since Freyda is scared shitless of Stan, whom she knows is my ally. However, Texas had a large contingency in Rhodes, including Isabel, though I know that Stan was not there. I will call him after I hang up with you to see if he has any news. I’m sure that he will try to shore up his borders, but we will all need to be vigilant for the foreseeable. Vipers like de Castro are always on the ready to strike when they sense weakness, and Freyda and Jennifer could be easily convinced to be his pawns.”
“If anyone thinks we are weak, they’ll get a big fucking surprise,” Pam said with authority.
“Yes—they will,” I responded before hanging up.
I looked at the clock: 8:45 p.m.
Sophie had promised that my world would look better by 9:14 p.m., and I trusted her. I truly did. But that hadn’t made the time since 7:14 p.m. go by any more easily.
I was worried about Eric, so worried that I had successfully fought against my pain medication to stay awake—though certain parts of my body felt numb. I knew that the staff hadn’t given me a whole lot of medicine, given my concussion, but I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t have been able to sleep even if I’d been sporting a morphine drip.
I hadn’t told Sophie about all of my injuries. My right hand was fractured—probably from hitting Eric until he woke up—and my left shoulder had been dislocated. My left ankle was sprained because something had fallen on me during the ambulance crash. There were also second degree burns on that leg.
Apparently—it had been Eric’s body which had fallen on me. And—if I had second degree burns from the contact—I couldn’t imagine what his burns were like.
I looked at the clock: 8:47 p.m.
Just as I was getting ready to call Sophie again, I heard a “popping” noise. My first thought was Claudine, but my visitor turned out to be much shorter.
“Dr. Ludwig?” I asked, when I didn’t initially see who was there. The diminutive doctor approached the bed with my chart in her hands. Apparently, she’d taken it from its holder at the end of my bed.
“Your child? How’s her activity?” she asked by way of greeting.
“Fine. She was asleep for a bit, probably from the medicine they gave me, but she’s started kicking again,” I reported.
“Good,” she responded before coming over to me and touching my hurt hand and then my belly.
“Eric,” I said. “He needs you more than I do. He was burned. He’s at the . . . .”
“Airport,” she interrupted. “Waiting for us.”
“What?” I asked.
“He was in more need,” she said simply. “So I did go to him first.”
“How is he?” I asked desperately.
“Why do you care?” she responded in her gruff manner. At that moment, I wanted to hit her. But making a fist hurt like hell.
“Because I love him!” I answered.
“Does he know that?” she asked sourly.
“Eric deserves better than me. Please—how is he?” I begged.
“Very burned and very broken. But he’ll probably recover—in time.”
“Is he awake?” I asked.
“He will not be healed enough to awaken for quite some time,” she said.
A sob escaped my lips.
“It could have been worse,” she informed. “Very few survived the hotel’s collapse.”
For the first time since nightfall had come, I consciously tried to feel Bill.
“Bill?” I asked.
“He wasn’t at the makeshift hospital, so you tell me,” the doctor smirked.
“I can’t tell you,” I said honestly. “I can’t feel him anymore.”
She nodded. “Then he is likely dead—or very badly injured. Shall we hope for the former?”
I didn’t know how to respond—or how to feel—as Hennesy came rushing into the room.
“Olivia?” I asked her.
“Uninjured. She is already on the plane—with Eric and Thalia,” the Were responded.
I sighed with relief, though I felt a jolt of jealousy that Olivia was with Eric and I was not. But then I stifled that feeling. After all, the right woman was by Eric’s side now—the woman he would want to see when he woke up.
“The queen is displeased that I got Olivia out and not you,” Hennesy said stonily, as if she were angry at me.
“I’ll tell her that I told you to go get her,” I promised.
“You said you’d be waiting at the concierge’s desk,” she added.
“I needed to help Eric,” I explained. “He was in danger!”
“And you weren’t?” she growled. Yep—the Were was angry.
“Clearly—you were as safe as a babe in church,” the doctor intoned.
I glared at her. “What was I supposed to do? If I hadn’t gone to Eric, he would have died. The Were that was sent for him ran as soon as the first blast went off.”
Hennesy seemed unimpressed. “If I’m to continue guarding you, we will be discussing this later.” She looked at the doctor. “The ambulance is ready.”
Ludwig nodded. “I’ll meet you in it,” she said as she “popped” away.
Before I knew it, Hennesy was wheeling me out of my room, but I didn’t protest. I knew that she was taking me to where Eric was—even if another woman was already by his side.
I woke up groggy, and the events of the day filtered into my mind slowly.
I’d been overseeing the decorating of the ballroom when the alarms had first gone off.
I’d thought about trying to get Victor Madden out of the hotel, knowing that his favor would be useful with de Castro. However, as soon as I heard the word “bombs” from the frightened lips of one of the hotel employees, I decided that no vampire was worth risking my hide for.
The stream of humans from the hotel had been pretty thick as they’d quite literally run for their lives. I sneered as I also remembered seeing quite a few coffins being wheeled out of the hotel—notably one being guided by the King of Kentucky’s Britlingen guards.
Most of the evacuees had followed several members of the hotel staff like cattle, moving as far away from the hotel as possible.
Foolishly, I’d apparently stopped before I was truly clear.
I remembered intense heat. And then I was being propelled into the air.
I took a deep breath and tried to assess my current condition. I could feel that my spine was broken, and I couldn’t move my legs. However, I also knew that I would heal. My two-natured blood would ensure it—hopefully before the next full moon.
Having managed to get my mind turned back on fully, I took in my surroundings. I was in a hospital bed in a curtained area; I was likely in an emergency room.
And then something lovely.
And then something that smelled like me.
Almost. Just. Like. Me!
I grunted and tried to sit up, but I could not.
“My child!” I growled.
That bitch had been carrying my child all along!
Many thanks to Seph and Kleannhouse! As always!