“It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”—J. K. Rowling
“The night has come when you will hate me fully,” Bill said matter-of-factly, looking me straight in the eye.
“What?” I asked.
“The full truth can no longer be held in, Eric,” Pam added, looking at her maker sadly.
My stomach fell into a pit, and I sank into Eric’s side.
I had a very strong feeling that the time bomb connected to our life was about to explode.
“What do you have to say, Bill?” Eric asked, saving me from having to ask. My husband was sending me strength through our bond, even as he was attempting to hide his own anxiety. I appreciated both gestures of love, and I sent him my strength and comfort in return. Our fingers were locked together as we prepared to listen to Bill’s tale.
“I was—even after I moved here—Queen Sophie-Anne’s procurer,” Bill began.
“A procurer is someone who secures donors and interesting humans for a monarch,” Pam clarified for both Eric and me.
I felt all my muscles tightening and my breath getting caught in my lungs. Eric rubbed circles on my back.
“Continue, Bill,” Pam ordered.
Bill nodded and sighed.
“Your cousin was the first to mention you, Sookie,” he said.
“Yes. I found her in a haze of drugs and nearly dead, but she smelled lovely. She was just the kind of pet that the queen likes.”
“Pet?” I squeaked out.
Bill nodded. “Hadley soon became the Queen’s favorite pet because of her delicious blood, but not even blood could cover up her lack of education and interesting ideas. Thus, Sophie-Anne was quickly becoming annoyed with her—bored. However, Hadley was smart enough to regale the queen with stories of her interesting family.”
“My wife’s telepathy,” Eric seethed.
Bill nodded in confirmation. “Hadley was not above exaggeration, so the queen asked me to come here to confirm Sookie’s status. The situation, however, was tenuous.”
“Because of me? My former self?” Eric ventured.
“Indeed,” Bill confirmed, trying to ignore the tears that had risen into my eyes as I came to understand the implications of all he was saying.
“The queen agreed—long ago—not to put a toe into your Area without your knowledge and approval,” Pam supplied for Eric. “The consequence would have been your taking her throne. She has kept to that agreement for decades.”
“Could he have done that? Taken her crown?” Eric asked, speaking of his former self.
“Hell yes,” Pam returned, even as Bill responded, “Likely.”
“I was sent to assess Sookie’s talents and to bring her to the queen,” Bill continued, “preferably voluntarily. But, ultimately, by any means necessary.”
I gasped and let out a sob as Eric growled.
“I loved you before we had sex for the first time,” Bill said, as if hoping to allay my horror and Eric’s wrath. “And that fact makes my continued dishonesty prey upon my mind all the more,” he added. “So I do suffer.”
“So you should,” Eric growled uncharitably.
I wasn’t feeling charitable either; in fact, I wanted to rescind his invitation. And I could tell from the bond that Eric wanted to kill Bill. My husband was holding back for me. And I was holding back because I knew Bill had more to tell.
“The database idea I came up with was a good diversion from you,” Bill continued. “The queen didn’t want it worked on in her court, lest it become known widely, so as long as I could report that you and I were together, she was satisfied. But then Lorena called . . . ,” he said, his voice trailing off and sounding hollow.
Somewhere along the line, I’d begun to sob quietly and Eric had pulled me against his body—protectively. “The Rattray attack?” I asked, needing to know how far Bill’s procurement strategies had gone.
“Staged,” Bill admitted shamefully. “Both of the attacks were staged. I wanted my blood in you so that I could influence you—since glamour didn’t work.”
“Did you?” I asked. “Did you influence me with it?”
“Yes,” he confessed. “As much as I was able. I did all that I could to soften your heart towards me. I would have lost all chance with you after the incident with Malcolm’s nest had I not had blood in you.” He glanced at Eric and then at me again. “Before the Longshadow incident, I gave you more blood—not to make you stronger for the night, as I said at the time, but to make sure I stayed in you affections,” he added, glancing back at Eric.
I heard my husband’s fangs go down, but I stilled him by leaning into him even more. Even though Eric’s deadliest weapons were ready to attack, his touch was still gentle.
Bill closed his eyes for a moment; when he opened them, they were rimmed with red. “I deserve your wrath,” he said, looking contritely at first Eric and then me. “I did horrible things to you, and my queen’s orders were only the beginning of the pain I caused you,” he acknowledged, reminding me of the incident in the trunk.
I cringed, and Eric held me.
“My life is yours,” Bill said softly.
“He has been lying to the queen for a month,” Pam relayed.
“Explain,” Eric ordered.
“I initially told Sophie-Anne that you were on vacation when Hallow placed you under her spell,” the vampiress informed.
“When the witch made me—me!” Eric corrected.
“Yes,” Pam said.
“And what have you done in regards to Sophie-Anne since then?” Eric asked.
I looked from my husband to Pam. He and I had asked several times what had happened with Eric’s Sheriff job. She had told us again and again that “things had been taken care of” and that she’d taken over as Sheriff of Area 5. She’d also told us that the queen was fine with it.
“I can forge your signature perfectly,” Pam answered. “And the vampires of Area 5 are loyal to you—and to me.”
“You are still covering for me,” Eric stated agitatedly. “Covering up my memory loss.”
“Of course I am! All the work is getting done—more efficiently than before, I might add. Alcide’s people are sworn to secrecy. Fangtasia’s profits are holding. And you always sent me to Sheriffs’ meetings anyway,” Pam said.
“And Sookie?” Eric asked.
“The queen has asked questions—of course,” Bill said. “I’ve informed her that I’m still attempting to win back her favor.
“Bill told her that you two had wed, though he said it was in complete secret. That put a real set of brakes on Sophie-Anne’s plans for Sookie, given the combination of her previous deal with you and the human ceremony,” Pam smirked.
“But the situation has changed,” Bill added gravely.
“Changed?” I asked, intuiting that the next words spoken would alter my life.
“Yes,” Pam said sadly. “We learned tonight from Rasul—a spy Eric installed in the queen’s court—that Sophie-Anne has learned of Eric’s memory loss. And she has called in someone who can control Eric.”
I felt my stomach drop. I knew whom Pam was referring to without asking.
Appius Livius Ocella!
Eric and I both sat in stunned silence as Pam recounted a similar tale for Eric as the one she’d recounted to me in the car a month before.
She told him about Ocella and his treatment of the other Eric, though she left out many of the details. She also told him about the true nature of Hallow’s spell.
We were all silent for a while after that as my Eric digested everything.
“My maker is coming here to hurt me?” he finally asked, sounding dumbfounded.
“No,” Pam corrected. “He is coming to take everything from you—to break you. And he will hurt you and Sookie more than even Hallow’s spell coming to fruition would.” The vampiress looked agonized. “The intelligence I’ve gathered says Ocella will be arriving in Louisiana tomorrow night—though I’m not sure at what time.”
“Tomorrow?” I gasped.
“We are lucky Rasul gave us any warning at all,” Pam commented. “There is still time to,” she paused, “make choices.”
“We’ll run,” Eric tried, sounding scared and desperate.
“We can’t,” I responded. “He’s your maker. He can track you—anywhere. He’s probably just keeping your bond closed because he wants to surprise you—catch you off-guard.”
“I’m sorry, master,” Pam said contritely. “I didn’t foresee this possibility. But Sophie-Anne wants Sookie with a covetousness I’d not counted upon. And she is willing to sacrifice you to get her.”
“Oh, God, Eric!” I cried out in agony as I realized that there was only one thing that might save my husband from his maker: Hallow’s spell.
He held me tighter.
“We’ll fight him,” my Viking growled.
“Your maker is old enough to defeat all of us—even if we worked together,” Bill reasoned. “Even with the help of all the Area 5 vampires and Weres, he would likely win.”
“Plus, he will be able to order you to do anything he wants,” Pam added sadly.
Again, there were several moments of silence.
“He’ll order me to kill Sookie,” Eric gasped, as his body literally shook against mine.
“No,” Pam said with a mixture of sadness and resolution. “That would be too quick. Plus, he will have had instructions from the Queen.” She paused, as if gathering her composure, and then went on resolutely. “Ocella will likely order you only to hurt her. His goal will be to break you again—to break this ‘new’ you. And he will too,” Pam said sadly. “He knows that you are innately good, and that goodness is what he will attack.”
“Change him back,” I said suddenly, even though the very words broke my heart. “The old Eric! Ocella won’t care about him—right? That Eric won’t be intriguing—right! That Eric’s already broken! I’ll go to the queen voluntarily—tonight!”
“No!” Eric yelled.
I looked up at him and then I placed myself completely into his arms, hugging him close. “Eric, this is the only way! Don’t you see? I can’t let him hurt you like he did before! I can’t! I love you too much!”
“I will be hurt more if I lose you—lose my memories of you!” he said back fiercely. “Pam told us that.”
“I love you!” I told my husband. “I would do anything for you. But this life that we’ve built—we can’t keep it anymore!” I felt my heart break further. “But we can keep you safe from Ocella. I need to know that you are not under his thumb.”
“And I cannot let you be under the queen’s thumb!” he said just as fiercely. He looked at Pam. “She’s my bonded. Doesn’t that count for anything?”
“Your maker can override a bond with a human,” Pam said sadly. “He can even,” she paused, “claim her for himself.”
“Oh Gods!” Eric cried out, red tears falling from his eyes. “No!”
“There is an elder witch on her way here,” Pam said with sadness and maybe a trace of hope. “I’ve had her working on ways to counteract Hallow’s spell since I learned of all its parts. Octavia is bringing all she needs to sever your bond so that Ocella cannot simply take Sookie. After that, she will undo Hallow’s spell, setting into motion the true curse.”
“No!” Eric yelled. “I won’t have it!”
“Octavia believes that she’s found a way to mitigate the effects. She believes . . . .”
“I still won’t have it!” Eric interrupted his child.
“Let her talk,” I said, my voice sounding hollow. “Please.”
Eric growled, but was silent as Pam explained.
“Hallow’s spell is complicated, but Octavia thinks she can prevent you from despising the desire of your heart—Sookie. She thinks that she can trick the spell into letting you have your memories back at some point—given the right trigger.”
“What trigger?” I asked, my voice croaking with a sob.
“She doesn’t know,” Pam said helplessly. “It could be a scent. A touch. Anything. But the important part would be that Eric would not hate you. And that means that he would not tear himself apart. He would not be driven insane.”
“Good enough,” I said decidedly.
“Sookie,” he protested.
“As miserable as you will both be,” Pam said sadly, “I see no other way to keep Ocella from destroying you both even more. We have to let loose the rest of Hallow’s curse.”
“I’ll be gone,” Eric said hauntingly. “I’ll be dead.”
“No,” I said insistently, looking up at him. “You are inside of him. I know it. It took his heart—his heart’s desire—to make you come to me. Right? If Octavia can do what she says, we might find our way back to each other again. And, even if she can’t, you’d be safe from Ocella.”
“What of you?” Eric asked. “Ocella could still hurt you.”
“We think he’ll quickly lose interest in Sookie after he discovers that you have severed your bond and broken Hallow’s spell,” Pam said. “We will simply make him believe that breaking the bond was your idea—after Hallow’s memory spell was lifted. Plus, Ocella won’t want to alienate the queen.”
“What if he learns the truth—that we are doing all this to try to stop him from hurting Eric?” I asked.
“It might not matter to him,” Pam conveyed. “Regardless, I can think of no other way to prevent Ocella from doing maximum damage to you both.”
Eric shook his head. “But I will be trapped in him.”
I shrugged even as more tears fell. “Maybe. But I won’t let you stay trapped. I promise.”
Everyone knew the moment that Eric relented. Even if they couldn’t hear my heart snapping in two, they saw the Viking’s shoulders slump.
The room was silent for several minutes after that.
“Bubba will claim you,” Pam said to me, “after the bond is gone. Bill’s blood is already gone from you, and he would be a bad choice anyway. So would I,” she added.
“Bubba?” I asked.
“He’s not affiliated with a state and everyone protects him,” Pam informed. “In fact, the Supernatural Council has a special edict in place to kill anyone who harms him, which is why the Mississippi vampires so quickly changed their plans when they’d learned they had him.” She paused. “He’ll give you blood after your bond with Eric is broken.”
“And Bubba is also a good choice because he will have no romantic inclinations towards you,” Bill added.
“He is a good choice,” I assured. I had to hand it to Pam and Bill. They were doing what they could to limit the threats all around us. I just hoped that it worked to save Eric.
“When will the witch be here?” I asked.
“4:00 a.m.,” Pam responded. “Bubba is due by 5:00 a.m.”
It was two o’clock.
“Leave us until 4:00 a.m. then?” I requested of Pam and Bill.
Looking defeated, they did. I turned to look at my husband and even tried to give him a smile of comfort.
I’d had him more than a month. I’d been as happy as a person could be for more than a month.
It was more happiness than I’d ever thought I’d get—more than I’d ever thought I’d deserved before. And his life-both of them-meant more to me than mine.
So I needed to be strong—strong for him—until he was gone.