SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13 • 7:45 p.m.
Jennifer Cater sat perfectly still as she waited for her king to emerge from his bedroom into the common living area that was being shared by the three highest-ranking vampires of Arkansas.
Jennifer’s stillness did not come easily to her, however. Not when Jade Flower was in the room as well—sitting across from her and dissecting her with her gaze.
As always, Jade seemed very ready, extremely willing, and most-definitely able to kill Jennifer in the next second. The younger vampiress had learned to deal with Jade’s derision as best as she could; however, if Jennifer had regarded Peter any less than she did, she would have left Arkansas within nights of meeting Jade. She didn’t, after all, have a death wish!
She’d stayed in Arkansas, however—because Peter deserved to have someone watching his back. Someone who was less “Jade-like.”
Oh—it wasn’t as if Jade was disloyal; indeed, Jennifer had never witnessed her doing anything to undermine Peter once the king had made up his mind about an issue. However, there was always something that Jennifer sensed underneath Jade’s obedience when she had to go along with one of their king’s policies that she did not agree with. That “something” was difficult to describe, though Jennifer had tried to do so for the king, whom she had wanted to warn about her intuition regarding the Asian vampiress. The best Jennifer had been able to do was to describe Jade’s seemingly conciliatory demeanor like an hourglass—slowly losing its sand one tiny pebble at a time.
Peter had been amused by the description. He’d even promised to keep an eye on Jade. But he hadn’t cut her loose.
As for the beautiful, but deadly Asian vampiress, she was looking straight at Jennifer—likely imagining what it would be like to shove a blade straight through her. Jennifer doubled her efforts to not make a single move—to not show Jade an ounce of weakness. Jade Flower might be stronger and deadlier than she was, but that didn’t mean that Jennifer would ever be one to cow down to her!
Of course, that fact seemed to make Jade hate her even more.
Jennifer felt a bit of relief as she heard Peter curse loudly at his tie. No matter how many years he’d been required to wear formal attire and no matter how dexterous he was when it came to wielding his Bowie-knife, he was a disaster tying a Windsor knot or a bowtie. Jennifer knew that he’d emerge from his chambers with the tie askew and that he’d ask her or Jade to fix it for him.
Actually, whoever he saw first would get the duty.
Having the excuse of Peter’s imminent arrival, Jennifer rose to her feet, even as Jade did the same. The mirroring of the movement would have been uncanny if Jade did not always do it. Jennifer knew that it was just to throw her off. And it worked too! Indeed, it bothered the hell out of her!
Jennifer glanced at the wall clock. She didn’t need it to know the time, but the action was a habit. It was 7:49 p.m. Peter was due to meet with Queen Sophie-Anne at 8:00 p.m., and he’d yet to tell her and Jade his decision about his course of action regarding the marriage contract. As a loyal lieutenant, Jennifer was ready to do whatever her king asked of her; looking at Jade, she couldn’t help but to wonder if her commitment would be as strong—if the king did not opt for her plan to take over Louisiana.
In truth, Jennifer didn’t think there was a chance in hell of that happening! Peter was too damned smart to take such a risk! Killing the queen might be easy enough. But if Louisiana’s entire court and sheriff-structure were not eliminated as well, Peter would face retribution. Plus, most importantly, Peter had never even hinted about wanting to take over Louisiana. That was Jade’s scheme—and her ambition.
As expected, Peter had given up on his tie and came into the room with it undone. He glanced at Jennifer first, but then called Jade over to him.
Jennifer noted the unusualness of that seemingly unimportant choice.
“Jade, come fix this little bastard,” Peter said, thumping one end of his tie with his thumb.
Jade nodded and stepped in front of him to complete the task. In less than ten seconds, a perfect Windsor knot stood at his neck.
When she went to move away, he grabbed her hand—though his movement was not an aggressive or a harsh one.
“I have decided to marry Sophie-Anne; I believe the relationship will be mutually beneficial,” he informed her in a voice so low that Jennifer almost didn’t hear him.
The younger vampiress knew her king well enough to know that he was telling Jade in such a “private” way as a sign of his respect for her—and of the value he placed on her opinions, even when he wasn’t following one of them.
Jade nodded her head in understanding. She’d clearly not been surprised by his decision, though she was clearly not pleased with it either.
Peter gave her a single nod before letting her go. “Have you all seen the revisions to tonight’s agenda that the queen’s day-woman sent around?”
“Yes,” Jennifer responded, even as Jade nodded.
Jennifer read the schedule she’d received off of her phone. “9:00-10:00 p.m.—final contract negotiations in the queen’s office. 11:20-11:30 p.m.—meet the queen (you from the north entrance, her from the south) in the ballroom for the official announcement of the betrothal and the signing of the contract with dignitaries present. 11:55 p.m.—meet the queen in the parlor off to the side of the ballroom so that you and the queen can reenter the ballroom at midnight in full regalia.”
Peter smirked. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Jennifer chuckled. “You have been asked to wear your royal robes to the contract signing as well?”
“Not that,” Peter growled a little.
“The official marriage time and date is to be determined during the 9:00 meeting?” Jennifer joked, even as Jade remained stoically silent.
“Not that,” the king grinned.
“I think I have gone over everything of importance,” Jennifer smirked. “Unless you are referring to your 8:00 p.m. appointment in the queen’s private chambers.”
Peter chuckled. “Yes. That is exactly what I’m referrin’ to. What was it called on the agenda again?”
Jennifer rolled her eyes and read, “Private negotiations between monarchs.”
Peter winked at the two vampiresses. “Indeed. It is heartening to see that Sophie-Anne has not changed that aspect of our evening.”
Jennifer shook her head fondly. Her king could be quite boyish at times.
“Well! I think I’ll go see if I can talk my future bride into sharing a meal!” he enthused.
Jennifer smiled and nodded at him, even as she watched Jade out of her peripheral vision.
“Jen, will you do me a favor and make sure that Foster has my tux and my damned robe prepared by 10:30 p.m.? Tell him I’ll need to start gettin’ dressed for the formal signing and—of course—the party by 11:00 p.m.”
“Shall I have him polish your crown too, Your Majesty?” Jennifer asked playfully.
Peter didn’t look too happy about that thought, but nodded in reluctant agreement. “Wearing a suit is one thing; wearing a tux and that garish robe makes me feel like a goddamned circus monkey.”
Jennifer chuckled. “You do fill a tuxedo out nicely, Your Majesty. And don’t forget the crown.”
“Okay—then—a gilded circus monkey.” Peter rolled his eyes at his Second Lieutenant, even though he knew that she was being sincere about his form in a tux. As a matter of fact, he knew himself to be quite desirable to many women—inside of or out of a tuxedo—despite his rough-around-the-edges looks and manners. But he still didn’t like wearing any outfit that came in more than three pieces. Hell! During his human life, socks had even annoyed him, though they’d been necessary for avoiding trench-foot and blisters with the rough boots Peter had worn.
Nowadays, he’d take the blisters—over the damned crown!
“Well, I’ve gotta queen to fuck!” Peter rallied as he went to the door of the suite and opened it. Jacob, his favorite vampire guard was waiting for him.
Peter turned back to his lieutenants. “Unless y’all hear otherwise, meet me outside of the queen’s office at 9:00 p.m. And make sure Alcander looks over the current contract draft with his fine-toothed comb. The queen’s got her lawyer, Desmond Cataliades, coming to the meetin’ too.”
“I believe Alcander Kiriakidis is a cousin to Cataliades,” Jade said with caution in her tone.
“But I have our demon’s oath of service—bound in magic,” Peter reminded. “Even if Alcander and Cataliades were twins, there would be no potential conflict of interest,” he added firmly, quickly putting to an end any additional controversy Jade might try to manufacture regarding the marriage contract.
“We will be at the queen’s office with Alcander at 9:00 p.m. sharp,” Jennifer said, breaking the moment’s worth of tension that had sprung up between the king and Jade.
“See you then,” Peter responded—after one more sharp look at Jade. His look warned her that his decision was final and that she’d better fucking be on board!
Jade gave him a little nod, and he smiled at her before closing the door behind him.
Not wanting to stay in any room where Jade was steaming, Jennifer quickly took out her phone and dialed Peter’s demon lawyer. “Alcander,” she said as soon as he answered, even as she went to the door, “I’ll be at your room in two minutes to review the contract.” She paused at the door after she’d opened it. “Would you like to accompany me to meet with Alcander?” she asked Jade, hoping against hope that the vampiress would decline the offer.
“I have read the contract,” Jade said evenly. “I do not need the demon to explain it to me.”
“I will see you at 9:00 then,” Jennifer said, ignoring the insult. With a nod to her superior, she left—thankful to be away from Jade.
As soon as Jennifer was gone, the Asian vampiress took out her own phone and called Margeaux, a spy she’d placed into Queen Sophie-Anne’s court years before—a spy that Peter had no idea about.
“Yes?” Margeaux answered.
“Tonight—after the final contract negotiation,” Jade said simply before hanging up.
Standing perfectly still, Jade went over all of her plans in her mind. Margeaux had inserted a virus into the surveillance system that would loop all the camera feeds along the hallways that Jade and her fellow assassins would need to travel in order to gather weapons, kill the queen, and then take out all of her children.
Had Peter been willing to go along with her plan, Jade would have had other Arkansas vampires to help her deal with ancillary issues such as Eric Northman and his progeny, who could make trouble if the Sheriff of Area 5 decided to try to avenge his fallen queen.
Of course, ideally, Northman would be just as much in the dark about the perpetrators of the queen’s death as everyone else would be.
However, if he proved too clever for his own good, he would come after Peter, believing him to be the mastermind of the assassination.
Jade closed her eyes for a moment, wondering if it might not just be better to let Northman have her king. However, she dismissed that thought after only a few seconds.
No—it would be best to leave the king blameless. Moreover, Jade knew that she would be able to convince Peter that she’d had nothing to do with the queen’s death either—even if the coincidence of her dying right after Jade had floated that very idea was at the forefront of his mind.
Her king trusted her. And she knew him well enough to know that he would not publicly expose her previous suggestions unless he had proof that she’d followed through with them.
Jade shook her head. Blind trust was a weakness that Peter had always had when it came to her. Misplaced loyalty to her would now be another.
She knew that she could exploit both of these weaknesses—just as she knew that he would have kept her own loyalty and her trust, if he had proven to be a stronger monarch.
Still—she would protect him until she was ready to depose him.
And that left her with her previous problem: If Northman suspected Peter was behind Sophie-Anne’s death, he would seek vengeance.
“If he does, I will kill him,” she said to herself.
She brought her hand to where her yubi-bo was strapped securely to her thigh. She rested her fingers against the weapon, hating the silk of her dress that prevented her from touching it directly.
How many had it bludgeoned?
How many had it staked?
How many would it kill that very night? Though there would be others with her, she hoped to, at least, allow it to taste the blood of the queen and her eldest child.
However, the prospect of using it to kill the Viking was almost irresistible. Indeed, a part of her hoped that the supposedly “great” warrior decided to act in retribution for his queen.
She spent a few moments visualizing their fight. Eric Northman was larger than she was, and he was a Norseman, weaned on large, cumbersome weapons. He would likely fight in a rather brutish way in order to take advantage of his size. Her lips curved upward as she reviewed all of the ways that she had defeated larger opponents before. Of course, he was older than she was. And he was more adept than most—if not all—of the people she’d faced in open combat before.
She had killed older vampires than Eric Northman; however, she’d done so using her more clandestine skills—her guile and seductive prowess.
There would be no time to seduce the Viking.
Still, Jade was confident, for everything thus far in her long existence had been preparing her for such battles as the one she might face against Northman. Plus, she would have Margeaux to keep track of him—so she would know if he was coming.
Of course, a fight with Northman would indicate that Jade’s actions had not been as secretive as she wanted them to be; they would signal that there was some kind of tangible evidence that connected the Arkansas vampires to the queen’s death. And that would not be best—given Jade’s long-game to assure Peter’s Council-approved place on both the Louisiana and Arkansas thrones before eventually introducing him to the concept of linking with Freyda of Oklahoma. Thus—even though a large part of Jade was curious to test herself against Northman, it would be better if the Viking remained clueless about who killed his queen and her brood.
“So he will,” Jade said confidently to herself, convinced that her plan would work out just as she desired and that her king would fall in line with her desires when it did.
And—if she was lucky—she would have the opportunity to face Northman in the future. She smiled to herself. Indeed, she was certain that Peter would convince Northman to keep his post as Area 5 sheriff.
Given their personalities, Jade figured that it wouldn’t take Peter and Northman long to become friendly. For her part, Jade would gain Northman’s trust, just as she’d done with her king.
Eventually, she would take out both of them—on her terms. And then her allegiance could shift to an ambitious queen who would be quite malleable to Jade’s influence, Freyda of Oklahoma.
A/N: Hi all! I hope that you enjoyed this week’s chapter. I wanted to check back in with the Arkansas vamps. I had a PM from a reader that was a bit upset that I was presenting Peter so OOC. I know I’m going well away from the brief book portrayal with him, but—remember—I do take license to change anything, including characterizations, after I pick up a story from a moment in the book. In this case, everything up to the trunk scene occurred just as it did in the books. But everything after it is new. For me, it’s much more fun when I get to play with the characterizations a bit. Still, I hope not many of you are upset with my tinkering.
Please leave a comment if you have the time and/or inclination. Comments will be like mini-rewards for me this week (I’ve got a tough work-week coming). So anything would be awesome.
Until next week,