Niall “popped” his sister and himself into an open field about halfway between Bon Temps and Shreveport. He was pensive and a little sad.
The A.P., of course, picked up on his mood. “Do not tell me that you regret this?” she asked, her voice acerbic.
Niall shrugged. “She was the first woman I bedded. And—for a very long time—I thought I loved her. Or I tried to love her,” he corrected. “She had three of my children.”
The A.P. sighed next to him, and her expression became compassionate. “I remember meeting her once those long years ago. Our parents brought her to our home and forced you two together.”
Niall shrugged. “Mab and I had been betrothed from birth,” he pointed out.
She scoffed and then sighed. The sound was quite human. “I believe that some betrothals have merit,” she relented. “I have seen many that have worked in the human realm. Shared cultures, shared family alliances, shared politics—these may all make for good matches. But,” she stopped.
“But?” Niall asked.
The A.P. smirked. “There should be an escape clause when the couple in question simply does not work. Or when one of them is an unimaginable bitch,” she said with an almost sweet smile.
Niall chuckled. “Perhaps you are right. Still,” he paused, “if Mab had just been allowed to marry Rogan, perhaps things would have been different for her and for me. But,” he paused again, “then I would not have had three of my children.”
“I do not know,” the A.P. responded. “It seems to me that children have a way of making their way into the world—even if unconventionally.” There was a twinkle in her eye, and Niall knew that she was thinking about Hunter.
“Hmm,” Niall sounded.
“Hmm indeed,” the slightly older sibling said. “Do not deny that you know that he was meant for them too.”
Niall nodded. “I know. He is the child that they cannot have, but he is also Hadley’s.”
“Yes,” the A.P. said. “Addition is always more satisfying than subtraction.”
He chuckled at her enigmatic response. Still—she spoke the truth.
The A.P.’s demeanor suddenly changed. “It is time.”
Niall tensed immediately and then went down onto his knees as if he were his sister’s prisoner. His hands were already wrapped in what looked like and smelled like iron chains but was actually copper. She also placed a gag into his mouth. It would be better if Mab thought that he could not speak.
As soon as Mab stepped forth into the human realm, Niall received a surprise. Katherine was with her. His goddaughter had been beaten, and she was chained in iron.
At precisely 7:44 Las Vegas time and 8:44 Louisiana time, Thalia’s eyes popped open. She was in the dirt—as she liked to be. It reminded her of her early days as a vampire.
The only thing that she missed was Bubba’s slightly warmer body next to her. He too enjoyed sleeping in the ground at times. It was one of the many things she liked about him—loved about him.
She brushed herself off and looked at her attire. Black was such a forgiving color.
Thalia felt no less angry tonight than she had been when she went to ground that morning. She was ready to be done with Felipe. She didn’t necessarily want Nevada, but she was going to fucking secure the states she did want! And she’d reconciled herself to having another—at least for the time being. Who knew? She might even enjoy the challenge of it.
She was a good queen—after all. And as long as her subjects didn’t get too “needy,” she had no problems leading them. Plus, with Molly around now, the paperwork wasn’t even as bad.
Thalia had never asked to be queen, but she liked it better than any other profession she’d had over the years, and she was content with Bubba and with the life she led in Bon Temps. A pansy-ass like Felipe de Castro was not going to threaten that life.
And—by all of the gods of her youth—she was going to make it so that the little boy’s life would be secured! She had never had time for human children, not even when she was a human. Survival—not motherhood—had been at the forefront of her mind. But Hunter was different. He had been—kind—to her. And he always treated her as he treated the others in his sphere. It had been—interesting—for her.
She quickly pulled her cell phone from her inside jacket pocket and smiled as she read reports from Miranda, Duncan, and a few others. It seemed that things were working out even better than she’d hoped; Sookie was back and ready to face Russell. Thalia had always enjoyed that fairy, and now Northman—who was one of the few people she made the effort to get along with—could be himself again.
Thalia texted Duncan’s contact and then dialed Cataliades.
“Sandy Seacrest?” she asked without making a greeting to the demon lawyer. She was glad to have him working for her and paid him well, but that didn’t mean she needed to be polite. Luckily, the demon was used to her by now.
Cataliades responded, “Miss Seacrest is competent and lacks ambition. She also does most of the day-to-day running of the state. She would be no threat to you.”
“Would the Authority accept her as queen?” Thalia asked with a little hope in her voice. After all, if she could just pass along the state to Seacrest, she wouldn’t have to bother with it.
There was a pause on the line. “She is younger than the average queen and not particularly strong in that way. She is better as a second.”
Thalia groaned. “What did the witch say?”
“It is as we thought. Octavia was able to confirm that the other Supernaturals in the state do not align with de Castro—unless he pays,” Cataliades reported. “And by all accounts, the vampires in the state are the same way. He seems to inspire no true loyalty, and now that Victor Madden is gone, he has none.”
“Why are there so many vampires in the state then?” Thalia asked.
“Most remain because they like the Vegas lifestyle, and the living for them can be good—despite the high tributes,” Cataliades indicated. “However, once we started digging, we found that very few stay here more than a decade or two before moving on.”
“Still—an oath of fealty is a powerful thing, and there are many vampires currently living in Nevada. I want no surprises, demon,” Thalia said stiffly.
“I am almost positive that there will not be an uprising when he is gone. Perhaps a few of his guards—the ones you find with him—will try to defend his life, but that is likely the only opposition you will face. Most of the vampires here will not care when he is no more. They are here to enjoy the luxury that can be found in Las Vegas, not to serve de Castro. And once you lower their tributes to a reasonable percentage, they will welcome the change in power.” He paused, “And remember that oaths of fealty are null when a vampire meets his or her true death.”
“I do not like receiving them from those who don’t mean them,” Thalia said through clenched teeth.
“You do not inspire insincere oaths, my queen,” Mr. Cataliades said, his sincerity clear even over the phone. “And even if some make the oath out of convenience or fear to begin with, that is not how things must remain.”
Thalia sighed again. The last thing she wanted was the worry of another state, but she already had a few ideas that would make Nevada run more efficiently. De Castro had made spending money—on his own luxury—an art form, and though his lavish parties had drawn much praise from the vampires who visited the state, those who had to fund them had grown bitter. In fact, according to the information Thalia had gotten from her spy, more than half of the state’s profits went to line Felipe’s own coffers, and the tributes he required from his subjects were outlandish. Only the queen of New York demanded a higher percentage, and the vampire population in her state was hemorrhaging because of it. In Thalia’s mind, such excess was ridiculous.
Thalia intended to test out Sandy Seacrest. Hopefully, she who prove a competent interim regent until Thalia found someone to either take the state or to fill the role as permanent regent.
“Get the paperwork ready for Seacrest to be regent,” Thalia told Cataliades. “She will sink or swim in the role.”
“My niece, Gladiola, is ready to take on more responsibility. I will put her with Miss Seacrest for the time being,” the demon stated.
“Good,” Thalia said. “The best-case scenario will be if I don’t have to be here much once the state is running smoothly. I don’t particularly like the desert.”
“Bubba quite liked it—if I remember correctly,” Cataliades observed.
Thalia could hear the smile in the demon’s voice; however, she didn’t mind it as she would have once. Instead, she found a slight smile spreading onto her own face as she thought of her mate.
“Yes,” she answered. “And just for that reason, I might want to hold onto it. He could perhaps,” she paused, “be more in the open here—without arousing suspicion. On the other hand, it might upset him; he does not like remembering what he once was.”
“True,” Cataliades said. “Perhaps a vacation or two here a year would strike the balance.”
“We will see,” she said. “We are both quite fond of home—especially now that Compton’s scent is completely gone.”
Cataliades did not respond, but Thalia could hear his chuckle.
She was quiet for a moment and then got back on task. “What of retribution?”
“De Castro’s maker has cut ties with him, so as long as you agree to pay the fine, there should be no problems. He has made two known children; however, neither is still among the undead. His stock has been weak and never lasts long,” Cataliades reported with a little derision in his voice. Thalia couldn’t much blame the demon. A maker’s first duty was to ensure that his or her children were strong and could survive for lifetimes. Demons, too, lived for a long time and chose the vampires that they associated with very carefully. A vampire’s ability to be an effective sire was one of the determining factors of whether a demon would agree to work for him or her.
“I will see you and the witch after,” Thalia said.
“We await you at the hotel, my queen,” Cataliades said.
Thalia hung up the phone without another word or a goodbye and stared at the innocuous-looking office building where de Castro had taken to staying during his day-rest. The Nevada king thought he was stealthy, but he was truly inept.
She looked at her phone’s menu and hit a few buttons. Thanks to Molly, there was an App for keeping track of de Castro. However, not even Molly knew how Thalia managed to keep a signal on the king all the time. No one did, for Thalia had always kept a close guard of her secrets.
For instance, no one knew that she’d made four children during her long life. Most figured that she was too much of a malcontent to be a maker. Her children did not even know about each other, for one of her vampire gifts was being able to obscure her scent inside of those who had her blood. She knew of only two noses which had penetrated the strength of her gift. The Ancient Pythoness knew of at least one of her children, for she had been able to sniff out the connection. However, Thalia did not mind that so much, for she’d never had cause to doubt the elder vampiress’s discretion.
Northman—though he’d never spoken of it—seemed to have inherited the gift from the Ancient Pythoness, whom Thalia had guessed was Godric’s maker almost a century before. Thalia was certain that Eric had smelled the connection between her most recent child and herself, but he’d said nothing, and she knew it would stay that way.
Oh—she was proud of each and every one of her children. She even “liked” them all. However, it was safer not to broadcast one’s connections as fools such as de Castro did. Plus, a true vampire did not desire to piggyback upon the reputations of his or her forebears.
Certainly, no one suspected that one of her children was Kibwe Akinjide, who—according to a text she’d gotten from him earlier—was among the group who would attack Russell’s Weres. She’d known, of course, that he was in Louisiana visiting Rasul, who had been her child’s lover when Rasul worked for the Authority. She also knew that the Ancient Pythoness had suggested the visit.
Thalia had already decided that she was going to ask her eldest child if he wanted Nevada; it would be easy for him to push it through the Authority. After all, he wouldn’t be the first vampire who had decided to leave the Authority to become a king, and Nevada might suit him well. Even if he wanted to stay with the Authority, however, he would likely know of a good candidate or two to take over as king or queen if the state became too much of a nuisance to her. And—if that occurred—he would be able to install a king or queen who owed him a favor. It would be a win-win. She would leave the choice up to Kibwe; after all, it had been his wisdom which had attracted her to him in the first place.
Of course, Thalia had always given her children the right to make their own choices, beginning before she even made them. After she’d found a worthy candidate for a child, she would be upfront about what she was and why she wanted to make him or her into a vampire. And then she’d trained them in her arts; thus, all were masters of warfare—both direct and covert—except for her newest child, who was well on her way.
Her second child, Niccolò Machiavelli, had intrigued her with his intellect and ideals. After she’d read his treatise, Il Principe, she’d decided to offer him immortality. He’d been quite old when she turned him—fifty-eight—but he was happy to leave his exile and find a new existence. Not surprisingly, he’d opted to hide his human origins when he decided to become a vampire. And to that day, no one—other than him and herself—knew that the vampire king of Italy, Nicolas Rossi, was actually Niccolò Machiavelli. It had been easy to glamour a couple of the many art apprentices in Florence to alter the portraits which had been painted of Niccolò when he was a human, and after about seventy years with her, he’d decided to go back to Italy to put his ideas into practice. He was a good king—very Machiavellian, according to his fellow European rulers.
Thalia smiled. She knew that if Nicco were there, he would point out how de Castro was the exact opposite of the ideal kind of “Prince” he spoke of in his most famous book. De Castro enjoyed excess at the expense of his own people and thought that the “show” of it would solidify his power. But that only worked for the short-term—until bitterness took root. And then a leader would be resented and—finally—hated by his or her people. Without Madden there to curb his appetites, De Castro seemed to have reached the “resentment” phase.
Thalia’s third child, Mei, had been just like her—a woman who refused to allow the limitations of gender roles in her culture to determine her destiny. Mei had been a part of Li Zicheng’s peasants’ rebellion, and Thalia had found her near Beijing in 1644. Li Zicheng had used Mei as a spy and then had discarded her as “soiled” goods when she’d used her body to gain information for him. Mei had been barely surviving as a seamstress when Thalia first came across her. Of all of her children, Mei had lived with Thalia for the longest period—almost two hundred years—and most of them had been spent in comfortable silence.
Since Mei had left Thalia, Mei had pursued a simple life. She moved around a lot and was pretty unassuming upon first impression. One of her gifts was her ability to make others feel that she was not dangerous to them, so when de Castro began to threaten Thalia’s state and her people, she’d asked Mei for her help. It had been Mei’s choice to give it.
Mei had been de Castro’s personal tailor for just over a year, and thanks to the creative endeavors of Molly, Mei had access to many tiny, virtually undetectable surveillance devices. Mei had always loved irony, so she had taken to sewing the little bugs into the ostentatious embroideries that she placed on Felipe’s capes. And he was never without a cape.
Because of Mei’s reports on de Castro, Thalia had not been surprised by most of Cataliades’s Intel. But Thalia had wanted for the demon and the witch to confirm the way that other Supernaturals viewed the Nevada king.
Thalia had decided that she would ask Mei to stay on in Nevada for a while longer so that she could keep an eye on Sandy and make sure that no retribution was planned for de Castro’s death. Perhaps, Mei might even be interested in becoming a sheriff, but―knowing her child―Thalia figured that Mei would prefer to stay in the shadows. As always, however, Thalia would make sure her child had the choice.
Thalia’s fourth child had been made quite recently—when she was Sheriff of Area 2, as a matter of fact. Molly had done some freelance work on Thalia’s security system, and the vampiress had been immediately impressed by the girl’s savvy and sense of humor. As with her other children, Thalia had made the offer in an upfront way and had given the girl as long as she needed to decide, glamouring her only so that she could not speak of the proposition. Molly had taken two weeks to elect to become a vampire. Thalia had liked her all the more because of the thought she’d clearly given the matter. As with her other children, Thalia had not spoken publically about their connection. And Molly had chosen not to either. To the outside world, Molly had been hired as a tech by Thalia. She was already proving to be extremely innovative now that Thalia had given her unlimited resources.
Thalia had been following Felipe’s progress with the App and saw that he was almost where she needed him to be. She unsheathed her sword and moved into position in the shadows.
A limo pulled up, and Thalia saw de Castro’s party leaving the building. She quickly assessed the group. The female guard would be Maggie, whom Duncan had informed her about. There were four other guards as well. She also recognized Sandy Seacrest. Mei was trailing behind the rest of the group. From their maker-child bond, Thalia could tell that Mei was ready—though Thalia had cautioned Mei not to help unless necessary. That way, she’d maintain her “cover” in front of Sandy.
Using the speed of her age and the agility of a cheetah, Thalia landed directly in front of de Castro—after having already beheaded two of his guards. The other two were quickly dispatched by Maggie, to whom Thalia gave a nod of acknowledgement. Maggie then went to secure the limo driver. Sandy just stood back, looking stunned and doing nothing to protect her king.
Thalia stared down a cowering Felipe. “You failed to heed my warning. Too bad for you.” And with those words, Felipe’s head was disconnected from his shoulders.
Thalia turned her gaze onto Sandy. “Will you swear fealty, or will you die?”
Sandy was on one knee before the question was even completed.
“I do so swear. I had no personal loyalty to Felipe, my queen,” she said as she bowed her head.
“You will have personal loyalty to me!” Thalia commanded harshly. “Or your head will join his.”
“Yes, my queen,” Sandy said.
“Good. Now—you are going to help me secure this state and appease the vampires within it, and then my lawyer will have some paperwork for you to sign.”
Sandy looked up at her in question.
“You will be my second in Nevada and continue running this state—but it will be for me now. Is that acceptable?”
Fear and surprise were both clear in Sandy’s expression, but she rose. “I will do as you will, my queen.”
“Do you know of any who will fight me over Felipe’s death?” Thalia asked.
By this time, Maggie had returned. The limo driver, a Werefox, had not made any trouble.
“De Castro had a witch name Yvetta, but I have not seen her for over a week. And the fool had Russell Edgington dug up,” Sandy reported, her voice trembling with fear at the mention of Russell’s name.
Thalia didn’t blame her for that fear. “I am aware,” she stated flatly. “Any others? Any of the other guards?” she asked, turning toward Maggie.
Maggie nodded. “There is a new one called Sigebert. He will fight.”
“I know of him; he was Sophie-Anne’s child,” Thalia nodded. “Are you capable of handling him?” she asked Maggie.
“Yes, my queen,” Maggie said as she went to one knee to swear fealty. With a twinkle in her eyes, Mei kneeled next to Maggie and performed her part.
“Felipe had several groups of mercenaries on speed dial,” Sandy informed. “One such group is in Louisiana.”
Thalia narrowed her eyes. “Do you know their location? How many are there?”
Sandy nodded. “There are nine in all. Felipe tasked them with monitoring Russell’s movements in and out of a warehouse he rented in Shreveport. Russell was supposed to take you and Northman there for torture and then the true death. As of this evening, Northman was still inside, and Russell has not left since yesterday.”
Thalia took out her phone and texted Duncan. “What is the address of the mercenaries?”
“They are off of Highway 3, near Cat Island Road—north of Shreveport.”
Thalia texted the information.
“How many vampires?” she asked.
“Three,” Sandy reported. “The rest are humans, though they are armed well.”
Thalia sent another text.
“Do you have the authority to dismiss them?” Thalia asked Sandy.
“I can try,” she said as she took out her phone and dialed.
A gruff voice answered with a grunt.
“This is Sandy Seacrest. Put Lukas on,” Sandy demanded, more brusquely than Thalia thought she was capable of.
There was another grunted response.
“What does Felipe want now?” a more refined voice asked on the other end of the line. “We already made clear that we will not engage Russell Edgington—no matter how angry Felipe is over the death of his witch.”
Thalia’s eyebrow quirked up. Apparently Yvetta would not be a concern.
“That’s not why I’m calling,” Sandy said. “Felipe is dead; your services will no longer be required.”
There was a pause. “We have not received final payment.”
Sandy looked at Thalia, who nodded.
“Half will be wired to you within the hour. The other half will be wired as soon as it has been confirmed that you have left Louisiana,” Sandy said. “And then—I believe—our business will be completed.”
Thalia smiled. She might grow to like Sandy Seacrest.
There was another pause. “Acceptable. We are leaving now.”
Sandy hung up.
“Are any of these mercenary groups in this state?” she asked Sandy.
“No,” her new second reported.
“Okay. Let’s go see what we are dealing with,” Thalia said as Maggie and Mei rose from their knees.
After Sandy called a clean-up crew to take care of the remains of the vampires who had been killed, the group progressed to the still-waiting limo, which would take them to de Castro’s headquarters.
Thalia smiled a little as she recalled one of the more well-known sections of her second child’s treatise about being an effective leader:
“Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.”
Thalia intended to secure Nevada because the vampires there would fear her wrath otherwise, but they would come to “love” her because she did not intend to interfere with their livelihoods as Felipe had. And she would make sure that the vampires who lived under her were secure.
After all, even if she’d never asked for Nevada, she was an excellent Prince.
As soon as Mab saw that the vampire in front of her was not whom she expected, she pulled Katherine against her like a shield.
Katherine was trying to struggle against the iron bonds that held her, but she had obviously been weakened by them.
“Where is Russell?” Mab demanded of the A.P. “Who are you?”
Knowing that they would have to proceed carefully so that Mab would not harm the girl in her clutches, the A.P. spoke evenly. “Who I am is not important. However, I am here because Russell thought that you might want this.” She kicked Niall a little and cackled.
“Where is Russell?” Mab demanded. “He was to bring me Northman’s remains. How did you capture Niall?”
“Northman is still alive,” the A.P. informed, selecting to answer a question that Mab hadn’t asked. “Sookie Stackhouse has not yet fallen into his trap.”
Mab half-scoffed and half-whined. “I do not like to be kept waiting!”
“Russell thought you might be appeased by the fairy we captured. We found him skulking about Northman’s location,” the A.P. grinned.
“Why didn’t Russell simply drain him?” Mab asked, the suspicion clear in her voice.
“Northman has broken. Russell found out from him that this one—this Niall—is your estranged husband, and Russell wanted to see if you would be willing to revise your arrangement with him in order to have Niall for your own uses,” the A.P. said coldly.
“What does Russell want?” Mab asked greedily as she celebrated in her husband’s weakness.
“Guarantees,” the A.P. stated. “He is not confident that you will hold to your arrangement once he has brought you Northman’s remains. Instead, he wants you to bring him six fairies in exchange for the remains—two males and four females—all fertile. He wishes to breed his own little brood in order to make sure that he maintains access to fairy blood.”
Niall pretended to struggle against his bonds at hearing this information.
“Will Russell breed the Stackhouse girl too?” Mab asked with malicious eyes.
The A.P. grinned sinisterly. “She will be the first.”
Once more, Niall “struggled.”
Mab thought for a moment. “I would like Sookie’s first child. It will be my slave,” she smiled at the struggling Niall. “I will deliver six additional fairies—all of good breeding stock—when I get it.”
The A.P. pretended to consider Mab’s addition for a moment. “I believe Russell will agree to this.” The A.P. tilted her head a little. “Why are you willing to sacrifice your kind like this?”
Mab laughed. “I will not be sacrificing my kind. No Water Fae will pass to Russell; however, he may have all the Earth and Sky Fae he wishes.”
The A.P. shrugged. “Fine—then we have an agreement.”
Mab nodded as she greedily took in Niall. Tonight would finally be the night that she could rid herself of her so-called “husband” for good. Tonight would be the night that she would avenge Rogan.
The A.P. looked at Katherine. “You intended for this fairy to be Russell’s payment tonight?”
Mab laughed maliciously. “Yes, she is one of his people.” She motioned toward Niall.
The A.P. inhaled deeply. “She smells delicious. This one,” she kicked Niall again, “covers his scent. How about you give her to me as a sign of good faith?”
“No!” Mab said. “I will have what is left of Northman before Russell gets even one fairy.”
“Who said the girl would be for Russell?” The A.P.’s fangs clicked into place, and the sight of it caused Mab to shrink back a little.
The A.P.’s voice was venom. “Russell may be stronger than I am, but he is not here, and he will believe my word if I tell him you were unwilling to deal for Niall. Make no mistake! Now that I have smelled her,” she gestured toward Katherine, “I will feast on fairy blood this night—either from this one or the one in your hands.” The A.P. smirked. “However, I prefer women.”
Mab shivered a little. There was something vaguely familiar about the vampire in front of her, but she couldn’t place it. Regardless, the vampiress’s prowess was evident. Mab was tempted to just teleport back to her own realm and make contact with Russell at their next arranged rendezvous time, but then she looked at Niall. He was helpless, and if she killed him in the human realm, then his death would not be tied to her, and the treaty with his people would hold until her army was ready to move against them. She was tempted to just let the vampiress kill Niall; however, now that she thought about it, she wanted to be the one to end him.
“Fine,” Mab said. “An exchange! But be warned, vampire. If you do anything I do not like, I will cause you much pain.”
The A.P. snickered. “Yes, I have heard about the fairy light. It is good that iron stifles it,” she looked down at Niall’s bonds. Roughly, she raised Niall to his feet. “Move!” she commanded.
She pushed Niall forward. Step by step, they approached Mab and her prisoner. To prevent Mab from escaping, both the A.P. and Niall knew that he would need to be able to touch Mab. Luckily, she would believe that he was powerless to use his magic because of the “iron.”
The A.P. thrust Niall forward as Mab pushed Katherine toward her.
“I’m so sorry, my prince,” Katherine managed as she went by Niall and into the grip of the vampiress.
Niall stumbled and fell to his knees once more.
Mab looked at the A.P. with glee. “Our business is done here. Tell Russell that I will see him at our next arranged time, and tell him that he’d better have Northman’s remains by then.”
The A.P. gave her a little smirk and a nod as she used her speed to quickly back away from Mab.
At the same time, Niall reached out and grabbed Mab’s ankle.
The fairy queen looked down with shock and then fear as she realized that Niall’s magic was preventing her from teleporting.
“How?” Mab asked wildly as she looked at the iron bonds. “What is this?”
“The end,” Niall answered evenly as he looked her in the eye and then shot a deadly blast of his magic into Mab.
Unable to shield herself since Niall was touching her, Mab’s world went immediately black and soon her body was breaking into fairy dust.
Niall stayed on his knees next to Mab’s remains for a moment.
The A.P. freed the fairy girl from her iron bonds and gave her a fangy smile. “It would be best if you went back to the pool if you are able, child,” she said. “You need to strengthen yourself, and you really do smell quite delicious.”
Her eyes wide, Katherine backed away from the vampiress. She looked at Niall, who had risen to his feet. He gave her a little nod.
“It is fine, my dear,” Niall said. “This vampire will do me no harm.”
Katherine looked at the A.P. and then Niall. “I will not speak of this,” Katherine said astutely.
“Thank you,” Niall nodded. “That would be best.”
Katherine gave her prince a bow and then teleported to the pool.
Niall sighed as he looked down at the ground where Mab had disintegrated; the fairy dust had already begun to disappear.
The Ancient Pythoness gave her brother a moment of silence. Frankly, she didn’t understand his need for it, but she gave it to him anyway. He’d always been the more tender-hearted of the two of them.
Finally, he looked up at her. “Can we help Sookie at all?”
She shook her head. “No—we must not. But we can go and wait with Hunter. We will know their fate within the hour. And—if things go well, we can comfort the boy.”
“And if they don’t?” Niall asked with trepidation.
“Then we can comfort the boy,” the A.P. repeated, the anxiety clear in her voice now as well.
Her feet propped up on de Castro’s gaudy, god-awful desk, Thalia dialed the Authority. She hated dealing with them, but it was necessary. She figured that the call might take longer than actually securing the state, so she steeled herself. As the phone rang a second time, she wondered if she could get a good price on Ebay for the garish furnishings in the office.
“Hello?” came a voice that Thalia immediately recognized as the lackey who answered the last time she called the Authority.
Without preamble, Thalia reported, “This is Queen Thalia. I have added Nevada to my holdings tonight because Felipe de Castro did not heed my warnings. I assume there will be no problems with this.”
As if stunned, the voice on the other end didn’t speak for a moment. “But—you can’t just kill a king.”
“I can and I did,” Thalia assured. “It was quite easy, actually.”
“But,” the lackey began.
Thalia sighed, “You may tell your overseers that I had just cause. And I have already wired the fine to de Castro’s maker. De Castro sent an assassin to my state to kill me and my strongest sheriff, so I simply eliminated the root of a threat against me.”
“But that’s not enough to merit regicide,” the voice stammered.
Thalia rolled her eyes at the inanity of that statement. If de Castro’s assassin would have succeeded, then that would have been regicide as well.
“Listen,” Thalia said coldly. “You may tell the Authority that the assassin de Castro sent is Russell Edgington.”
Vampires don’t gulp, but Thalia could have sworn she heard a large gulp on the other end of the phone. “But he’s, but he’s,” the voice faltered.
“He is not yet dead,” Thalia informed. “Almost three years ago, Russell was buried in cement so that his miserable life could be wringed from him slowly. De Castro discovered Russell’s location and arranged for him to be freed and healed. And then he turned him loose on me and my sheriff,” Thalia seethed. “So—yes—I killed de Castro.”
Thalia sighed. She fucking hated explaining herself.
“But what about Russell?” the lackey asked.
“Northman is dealing with him,” Thalia said.
The queen closed her eyes as she waited for the annoying voice on the phone to say something else. Thalia did indeed hope that Eric and Sookie were dealing with Russell Edgington. He was not a vampire that Thalia would be able to best in a one-on-one fight, and there weren’t many of those in existence. And, of course, there were the Ancient Pythoness’s words on the matter. Thalia was not one to cling to prophesies, but she knew that when the elder vampiress foretold of something, she was right about it.
As she waited for the lackey to speak, Thalia wished that she was fighting alongside her sheriffs and the people that helped to make up her life in Louisiana, but she had lived long enough to know the part she needed to play in the story, and she was playing it.
“But Russell is three times Northman’s age,” the voice finally said.
Thalia held back her rage. Did the idiot not remember that Northman had bested Russell once before?
“Russell will either be dead soon, or I will be among his death-tally,” Thalia said sharply, but honestly. She knew that if Russell succeeded in taking his vengeance on Eric and Sookie, then he would come after her next. And—even if he didn’t—she would certainly go after him with everything she had. She probably wouldn’t succeed, but she would goddamned try.
The lackey spoke again. “How do I know you are telling me the truth about Russell?”
Thalia growled. “Because I opened my mouth and spoke to you!”
Thalia tried to calm herself. “Listen,” Thalia said cuttingly, “as I said, I have taken Nevada. I will keep Sandy Seacrest in place as my second for the time being. And as for the veracity of my claims about Russell, you may tell the Authority that they can either take my word or go fuck themselves.”
She hung up.