FRIDAY, JANUARY 21 • 8:30 p.m. (the night after the previous chapter)
To be honest, Molly felt a bit out of place walking between Thalia and Maria-Star as the three women went into the queen’s palace through a side entrance. A handsome vampire named Rasul was leading them in through what seemed to be the servants’ quarters of the estate.
The youngest vampire in the group bit her lip nervously. Thalia and Maria-Star were both so confident in themselves, and they were taking in everything as if every corner of the building held a potential secret and every alcove a potential weapon. Molly clutched her computer bag tightly to her and felt herself treading down the hall—while the others seemed to barely take steps that hit the ground.
Computers—those she could be confident about.
Everything else was a bit tricky for her.
Molly sighed. She was young—both in terms of years on the earth and vampire years. Indeed, she’d been turned when she was just three days past her eighteenth birthday, only five years before. She was what many vampires called a “half vamp.” They got a small taste of what it meant to be a vampire before the Great Revelation, but they were turned after the steps toward “coming out of the coffin” were already well underway. Thus, they’d never lived in a world where they had to prepare for an eternity of secrecy and disconnection from that world.
Of course, Molly wasn’t ignorant about the second of these concepts; she’d always been disconnected from those around her to a great extent.
Before she’d become a vampire, Molly had spent most of her time isolated—playing with her computers. “Real” people had tended to bully her, and she’d not fit in at all in Wenatchee, the small Washington city where she’d grown up. Her parents had—rightly—thought her to be too anti-social and were always trying to drag her to a church event or to encourage her to go to a school function.
A natural introvert—and a “different” one at that—Molly had found interacting with others, at least “flesh-and-bone” people, to be extremely difficult.
As cliché as it sounded for a self-professed “computer geek,” Molly preferred the company of machines and online “personas.” One such “friend” she made was idontbyte80. She’d thought the name was a clever play on words. She’d also guessed that the “real person” behind the name had been born in 1980, making him just a bit older than she was. She and idontbyte80 chatted a lot for several weeks. He was interested in learning more about the kinds of systems that she was working on. He seemed able to say all the right things about her program designs and her as a person; quickly, she’d dropped her “persona” and unmasked the “avatar” she’d constructed for her online self.
She’d let him in.
It seemed that vampires had the skill to glamour lonely computer geeks through the computer.
Molly agreed to meet idontbyte80 “in real life”—or I.R.L. as they’d referred to it as. She’d been so excited—truly believing that she’d found someone that “got” her. She’d even told her parents that she had a date, and they were excited too!
After only three and a half weeks of chatting with him, she thought that she was in love. And—for the first time in her life—she felt loved by someone other than her parents.
It turned out that idontbyte did, indeed, bite! And he was born in ’80—only, it wasn’t 1980. It was 1780.
She didn’t remember anything about their I.R.L. encounter (not that he was “alive”) beyond his approaching her and her thinking he wasn’t dressed like a “geek.” Looking back, she knew that he must have glamoured her even before she could introduce herself.
She woke up scratching her way out of the earth.
As it turned out, he had been interested in her only for her computer prowess. After one “fresh meal,” during which she’d mindlessly killed for the first—and hopefully last—time, her maker, Julian, ordered her to hack into the computer network of a company—Sanguine—which was working to perfect synthetic blood. Sanguine’s product, which she learned was to be called True Blood, was slated to be released the following year. And—just a few months after that—vampires were going to “come out of the coffin.”
Julian and the people that he worked with wanted to steal the formula and beat True Blood to the market with their own synthetic blood product.
Molly, of course, had to do as her maker ordered her to do. But she was incredibly bitter, especially given Julian’s cruel attitude toward her. It wasn’t easy in the best of circumstances for an unsuspecting human to be turned into a vampire. However, her maker did nothing to create even tolerable circumstances for the newborn vampire. In short, Julian had absolutely no interest in being a “maker” and had turned her only as a means to an end. He told her outright that he planned to kill her as soon as her task was accomplished and gave her only room-temperature (and slightly spoiled) bagged blood to subsist upon as she worked all the minutes that she was “alive” each night.
The two things he did give her were threats that he’d kill her parents if she was uncooperative and a string of maker’s commands.
He commanded her not to do anything to physically harm him or herself. He also ordered her not to try to contact her family or any humans at all. He further commanded that she in no way alert any employees of Sanguine to what they were doing. Lastly, he ordered her not to leave the basement he stowed her in or to make any noise that might get the attention of any passersby. He thought he’d covered his bases.
But he should have worded his orders differently.
Though Julian knew enough about computers to keep something of an eye upon Molly’s actions, he was no expert in code. And he wasn’t standing behind her all the time. “Muting” the software he’d installed so that he could record her every keystroke had been easy enough. Hiding the searches she was doing into the power structure of Sanguine was simple for her as well. She quickly found out information about the human employees and prominent human owners; of course, her maker’s command prevented her from contacting any of them. She had a hunch, however, that the company would be owned, at least in part, by vampires. And contacting a vampire owner wouldn’t go against any of her commands. Plus, such a vampire would have a vested interest in helping her. A random vampire, even if she could discover one, wouldn’t understand her message. Moreover, he or she wouldn’t care.
Given that she’d been turned before the Great Revelation—and Julian was anything but forthcoming—she had no idea that there was a vampire hierarchy. But she could find just about anything on the Internet if she put her skills into action. Eventually, she stumbled across a part-owner of Sanguine, Eric Northman, whom she became certain was a vampire due to holes in his identity. Oh—he’d been careful, but she was too good at what she did to not notice the “gaps” in his history.
As she sculpted the hack she would need to break into Sanguine and steal their formulas, she wrote a tiny bit of code that would also alert the company email of Eric Northman about the cyber-attack. Unfortunately, she could not risk sending an email directly from the computer she was using. Searching for information she needed was one thing—something she could hide from Julian. Sending was something else—something not even her skills could hide, given the security Julian had managed to stifle her with. However, she was counting on the fact that Julian would miss the tiny bit of code unrelated to the hack itself.
She was right. He did.
Molly was almost 100% certain that Eric Northman was a vampire; after all, as she’d been designing the message to him within her code, she’d had no stifling feeling of “dread” as she’d had when she’d tried doing the same with the human CEO of the company.
Still, she worried that Julian might “catch” her if she tried launching the hack, which was a lovely untraceable virus she’d cooked up. It wouldn’t do for her to go to press the button, but not be able to send the virus due to her maker’s commands.
So she’d simply asked Julian if he wanted the honor of launching the virus. She’d counted on his arrogance and pride.
Again, she’d calculated correctly. Julian had leaped at the opportunity to take control from her in the pivotal moment. And he’d sealed his own doom.
Molly smiled a bit to herself as she, Thalia, Maria-Star, and the cute-butted Rasul turned a corner. She might never match up to the women she was with in physical prowess, but she had proven herself to be a warrior of a different kind.
Julian had kept her alive as he’d waited for the virus to do its work. It took four days and nights for it first to infiltrate (through a carelessly opened email attachment by a low-level staffer, who’d likely been confident in his company’s “top-of-the-line” virus-seeking software), then to seek out the formulas Julian wanted to steal, and finally to transmit those formulas.
Unfortunately for Julian, it took only three nights for Eric Northman to come “calling” with his child, Pam.
It had hurt like a mother fucker when her maker was slain. But the vampires who’d come to take revenge upon her maker for his attempted theft had given her fresh and warmed bagged blood to help her get through it. Eric had recognized her talent, and he’d announced that he owed her a favor for saving the company that he part-owned a lot of trouble and money. He’d been even more pleased with her when she’d been able to turn her virus against the people Julian worked for.
Ultimately, Molly accepted the “repayment” of Eric’s favor in the form of a new existence, one in which she would have steady employment and learn how to be a vampire—without killing another human. Pam had taken Molly under her wing. And—after the Great Revelation—Molly had even been able to go see her parents in Washington.
All in all, things hadn’t turned out too badly, and Molly liked being a vampire, even embracing the “goth” look that Pam made fun of but that drew cute geeky young human men to her like flies to honey. Pam also made fun of the fact that Molly had zero interest in learning to fight physically. She called it “anti-vampire.” However, Eric respected Molly’s wishes and kept her duties centered upon tech “battles.”
Thus, the techy was very aware of what she was supposed to do at the queen’s residence; however, she was practically tingling with the energy that she was picking up from the two warriors next to her: Sookie’s vampire and Were heads of security.
“Girl power,” the young vampiress muttered to herself, eliciting a chuckle from Rasul, a roll of the eyes from Maria-Star, and absolutely no reaction whatsoever from Thalia.
So much for breaking the tension.
Finally, the trio of women from Area 5 and Rasul arrived in front of a large set of double doors. An imposing vampire stood in front of them.
“Sigebert, this is the delegation Sheriff Northman sent,” Rasul told the man.
Sigebert seemed to ignore Molly and the Were and focused on Thalia.
“I laugh to remember you here first time,” he said in stilted English.
Thalia gave the tiniest of shoulder shrugs to acknowledge the comment.
Sigebert chuckled as he opened the door. “Queen waiting.”
Molly had never met a vampire monarch before, and—even though she had laughed a bit at the whole monarchy thing when Pam had taught her about it—she couldn’t help but to be nervous as she took in the sight before her. A beautiful redhead was sitting on an elegant throne in a silk dress that seemed straight out of a movie from the 1930s. Taking her eyes off of the striking queen, Molly did a double take, as she looked at the male vampire at her side and then back at the one who’d just let them in and was now closing the door behind them. They looked exactly the same to her!
“Brothers—in humanity and vampirism,” the queen announced, gauging Molly’s reaction.
“Oh—uh—thanks, Your Majesty,” the young vampiress said rather awkwardly as she curtseyed a little.
Skipping the curtseys, Maria-Star and Thalia both inclined their heads toward the vampire queen, though Thalia’s movement was barely perceptible.
“You are Maria-Star Cooper and Molly,” the queen paused, “Jolly?”
“Pam arranged for my documents for me before the Great Reveal, so I couldn’t keep my original surname, Your Majesty. Pam picked the name Molly Jolly,” the young vampiress intoned.
The queen’s tinkling laughter filled the room. “Pamela is hilarious!”
“Unless you’re the one named Molly Jolly,” the victim of Pam’s prank stated flatly.
“I’m surprised you haven’t already changed it,” the queen returned.
Molly shrugged. “I owe Pam a lot. If my being the punch line of her joke every time she introduces me pays that back even a little, then I can live—uh, well, you know what I mean, ‘exist’—with the name.”
The queen smiled and nodded a bit at the young one’s display of deference and wisdom. “Sheriff Northman indicated that you would need full access to the estate, including the control room,” she said.
“Yes. Is Andre on the estate tonight?” Thalia boldly asked.
“He is,” the queen responded, her eyes narrowing. “It wouldn’t do to hide your presence from him, though he will not be told about Molly here. If it is agreeable, I will have Rasul accompany her to the control room as you and Maria-Star assess this house, the tunnels, the guesthouse, and the grounds with Andre—and Sigebert.”
“Sigebert to ensure that Andre doesn’t leave anything out,” Thalia observed sagely.
The queen nodded. “Sigebert will communicate to me if he does.”
“Do you trust Andre?” Thalia asked point blank.
The queen bristled a bit at Thalia’s boldness. “I will ensure that he is not an issue for Sheriff Northman and Sookie Stackhouse,” she said stiffly, by way of an answer.
Thalia stared down the queen for a moment before nodding infinitesimally. “Your plan for this night’s assessments is agreeable.”
Sophie-Anne shook her head and laughed a little, clearly unintimidated by the fierce vampiress who was being borderline disrespectful—or not so borderline. “I’m glad you find it so, Thalia. Now, Rasul, will you escort young Molly to the control room, and I’ll call Andre to begin your tour,” she added, looking unflinchingly at Thalia.
Molly found that she respected her queen in that moment. She didn’t figure that many monarchs would be both confident and easygoing enough to deal with Thalia in such a way. Pam had told the computer savant to observe and learn from the vampires she interacted with. Molly felt that—from the queen—she was learning about a different kind of strength, the kind that ruled with a strong personality. However, she also intuited that the queen could be quite deadly—if push came to shove.
The young vampiress followed Rasul out of the throne room, making sure she walked a bit behind him so that she could check out his cute butt.
It didn’t hurt to look—right?
Rasul stopped them in the middle of a hallway. Quickly, the young computer nerd realized that his placement was strategic, for there was a gap in the surveillance. He handed her a note.
“For Eric. A list of some Area 1 safe house locations unknown to Andre—or the queen,” he said in barely a whisper.
Molly looked at the note and then at Rasul, who was giving her a boyish grin.
“You and I have the same boss,” he whispered, “though I work for the queen too.”
“A double agent?” the younger vampiress asked.
Rasul shook his head. “No. My main loyalty will always lie with Eric, but I’m happy serving the queen, too. Hopefully, I can continue to do both—as I enjoy my current position and place in the world. I just keep an eye on things here—for Eric—as I’m doing the same for the queen. Luckily, it’s been rare that I can’t do both in the exact same way,” he added, winking at her.
If Molly could have blushed, she would have. Of course, her arousal was “sniffed out” by Rasul in a different way, and the handsome Middle Eastern vampire grinned rakishly.
“I can’t wait to see you in action, Miss Jolly,” he said as she tucked the paper into her computer bag and then followed him the rest of the way to the control room.
Andre despised the fact that his queen seemed so willing to bend over backwards for Northman and his pet telepath. It annoyed him. It also made his ultimate goals—taking the telepath, tying her to himself by forcing a blood exchange, and gifting a complacent and obedient asset to his queen—all the more difficult.
But—of course—it would make his success all the more rewarding as well.
He studied the two women who would ultimately be his two main opponents—if Hallow and/or Appius could capture and control Northman, that is.
Thalia was as unpleasant as ever, though she walked with a sense of purpose that showed that she took her current assignment quite seriously. As far as Andre knew, Thalia was a bit older than he was, perhaps by as much as a century or two. The vampire was quite secretive about her age. Still, a vampire could feel when another in his or her presence was stronger. He hated that Thalia fit into that category, for he loathed feeling lesser in strength to anyone, other than his maker. Still—with a little guile and the elements of surprise and distraction—Andre felt certain that Thalia would be a casualty in the upcoming conflict.
He looked forward to it.
Maria-Star Cooper was, Andre thought, an odd choice for the telepath’s head of day security. Simply put, female Weres were not as strong as males. Oh—he planned to have her investigated to ensure that he was not missing something significant in her biography, but from what he could tell, there was nothing particularly noteworthy about her. Had Northman been serious about Miss Stackhouse’s safety, he would have hired a Were with security experience, perhaps even someone comparable with John Quinn, the famous weretiger, whom the queen had just hired to coordinate the Valentine’s Day ball and to add an extra layer to her own security.
The queen liked multitaskers.
Of course, Quinn walked a fine line. Rumor had it that de Castro held a marker over Quinn’s head, and Sophie-Anne was rightly wary of the Nevada king. However, Quinn’s company, E(E)E—or Extreme(ly Elegant) Events—was the best known in the business for vampire events that needed to meet the highest level of quality—and discretion. And, as he did with his other high-profile clients, Quinn would sign a contract of loyalty during his employment period. These contracts were sealed by magic and enforced by the Supernatural Council; thus, de Castro couldn’t use Quinn against one of his own clients, nor could he extract secrets about a client after a contract’s term was ended. The magic guaranteed that. And, if de Castro ever did try to counteract that magic, the Nevada monarch’s life would be forfeit, and he knew it.
“Why Northman doesn’t trust his queen’s security staff to protect his telepath is beyond me,” Andre sneered as he watched the Were female examine the entrance to the tunnel that led from the guest house to the queen’s residence.
“You run security—correct?” Thalia asked, her question loaded.
“I do,” Andre responded stiffly.
“And Sheriff Northman is aware of that?” Maria-Star Cooper asked.
“He is,” Andre said through clenched teeth.
“I believe you have your answer then,” Thalia said evenly, though her insult was perfectly clear. From the Were’s smirk, she’d registered the slight to Andre as well.
“You’d do well to remember that you are not in Area 5,” Andre seethed.
“Queen’s territory,” Sigebert said in the heavily-accented, broken English he always used around people who were not in the queen’s inner circle. Indeed, Wybert and Sigebert acted like brutes in “public,” though some beyond the queen’s bloodline knew of their true language and intellectual abilities, for they were open about them with vampires the brothers had collectively “decided” to respect.
Andre was angry that Northman happened to be one of those, and he had argued vehemently against the brothers exposing their true selves to the sheriff (and—by default—his cunt of a child), though the queen had endorsed the brothers’ request. Especially now, Andre found their decision to be folly.
“Yes—the queen’s territory,” Andre agreed, having not picked up on the fact that Sigebert had meant his comment as a slight warning to his vampire sibling—rather than to Thalia. The large Saxon rolled his eyes so that the vampiress—but not Andre—could see it. “And you would do well to respect not only her security but also the one she chose to run it.”
“I do respect the queen,” Thalia offered. “And it is she, I believe, who told Sheriff Northman that this guest home will be like a little piece of Area 5 while he and Miss Stackhouse are visiting. Thus, it will have the guards that the Northman sees fit.”
“But will they truly be the most fit guards?” Andre taunted a bit as he looked sideways at Maria-Star. “It would be a pity for the queen to lose such an asset as a telepath.”
“Sookie Stackhouse belongs to Eric Northman,” Thalia said firmly.
“And the sheriff is an asset to the state,” Andre responded, trying to stare her down. “What belongs to him is, by extension, the queen’s. Would you not agree?” he baited.
“You are aware that they are blood bound?” Thalia asked instead of answering him.
“The queen was made aware by Northman,” Andre responded. “Thus, I know.”
“The queen has already shown that she respects the bond between the sheriff and Miss Stackhouse,” Thalia observed.
“Such bonds can be expedient,” Andre returned. “Northman was lucky to have managed one with the telepath. I believe Bill Compton had some claim—before his?”
“None worth noting,” Thalia responded evenly.
“Well. I truly do hope that the guards Northman puts into place are sufficient,” Andre observed.
“They will be,” the vampiress responded.
Andre scoffed, but said nothing else. What would be the point—after all? Soon, Thalia would eat her words—hopefully right before her head was dislodged from her shoulders.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 22 • 4:00 A.M.
“Do you think the queen was really pissed?” Molly asked the vampiress and the Were who were in the front seat of the SUV. The trio had stayed at the queen’s estate for about five hours before beginning the drive back to Bon Temps, where Molly would rest for the night in one of the light-tight rooms at Sookie and Eric’s farmhouse.
The modest-sized guard house was well on its way to being completed, but it was not ready to stay in yet. And the youngling was not keen to go to ground as Thalia and Bubba preferred to do. Padma would also be staying in the farmhouse the next day—though she usually had time to return to the home she shared with Indira most nights. However, since their journey to Bon Temps would place them there at only about a half an hour before dawn and there were plans to be made the next night, she and Molly would be staying over.
“Yes; she was pissed,” Thalia answered succinctly.
“Wouldn’t you be if you found out your child had a secret way to override the security system that he assured you couldn’t be overridden—by anyone?” Maria-Star asked.
Molly shrugged. “A lot of people put in back doors.”
“But a vampire child shouldn’t have hidden that fact from his maker—especially not a maker who has spent many centuries trusting him,” Thalia returned evenly. “He has made her look like a fool tonight, for she told us one thing, and we have found out another. If we were not aware of the larger situation, then we would currently suspect that the duplicity was with the queen, not just her child. And that kind of thing could have led to conflict between the sheriff and the queen.”
“Oh,” Molly said, understanding the gravity of the situation. “What will happen to Andre?”
“Something the queen has already planned,” Thalia responded.
“How do you know she’s already planned it?” Molly asked, confused again. Indeed, pretty much every aspect of vampire politics seemed a bit out of her reach.
“She wasn’t surprised by the news you gave her about the security system,” Maria-Star offered helpfully. “But she was pissed. That’s how we can be sure that she didn’t know about it all along.”
“She didn’t seem too mad to me,” Molly frowned.
“Oh—she was very angry,” Thalia said evenly. “You will learn to better read people—with practice,” she added, glancing over her shoulder at Molly.
The younger vampire shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t like hanging out with people when I was a human. And—no offense—but I’d rather be at home messing with the new operating system I’m tinkering with than here with you two.”
Maria-Star laughed out loud.
“What?” Molly asked.
“If you think Thalia ever enjoyed,” she paused to snort again, “‘hanging out’ with people, then you really are clueless!”
Understanding dawned upon Molly, and she let out a little laugh.
“I learned by observation, not interaction,” Thalia instructed, “but I learned well.”
“Me too,” Maria-Star indicated, “and no one would accuse me of being social either.” She paused for a moment. “The queen looked ready to kill for half a second right after you told her about finding Andre’s little back door into her system. But then, just as fast, I could see resolution in her.”
“As I said, she already knows what she is going to do with Andre,” Thalia reiterated.
“Wait! Are you saying that the queen knew that Andre was hiding things from her? That he was—uh—conniving?” Molly asked.
“She generally likes the fact that he connives so well,” Maria-Star intoned.
“But not against her,” Thalia added, her voice deadly.
Molly shook her head, still a little confused about things that the two women with her seemed to know more about than she could even fathom. Luckily, she didn’t need to know much beyond her own role in the situation.
On a conference call with Eric and Sookie after they were well away from the palace and after they had checked their vehicle for bugs, it had been determined that Molly would go along on the Valentine’s Ball trip. She’d already developed a way to shut the backdoor that Andre had put into his security system design. However, Eric wanted her on site to ensure that she could take control of the whole system if necessary.
One thing was certain in Molly’s thoughts: The Valentine’s Ball trip seemed like it would be fraught with unseen dangers; she just hoped that her presence in New Orleans would help Eric and Sookie to avoid them.
And she hoped that she might hook up with the hunky Rasul.
Oh—and not get killed.
A/N: So sorry that this was later than expected. I came home from my trip only to be met with a dirty house and a bunch of work! Oh well. Such is life when the hubby is left at home. Anyway, I hope that you were intrigued by Molly and Andre’s POVs, specifically Molly’s. I do like creating mini-back-stories for the characters. In Molly’s case, she was a show-created character, whom I really liked! So—of course—she was killed off before she could live up to her potential. Though this is a book-centric piece, I like to import the show characters at times, and Molly’s presence offers a good perspective of the upcoming Valentine’s trip, as well as the duplicity of Andre. Plus, it was fun imagining where she came from and how she became link with Eric’s world.
I hope that you will comment if you have the time and inclination.
All the best,
P.S. I plan to still post this week’s regular chapter on Sunday—so not much time to wait. 😊