STILL DECEMBER 25—4:00 A.M.
MARK STONEBROOK POV
“Calm down, Marn,” Mark Stonebrook said, trying to soothe his high-strung sister.
She turned to glare at him. He knew what that look meant and rolled his eyes—though he made sure that she couldn’t see him doing it. When she was in this kind of mood, even he wasn’t safe from her raw magic.
“Fine. Hallow,” he placated, using the name she had begun to insist that even he call her.
“I trusted Bill Compton to bring the ancient! To bring me Eric Northman’s maker so that I wouldn’t have any issues controlling him!”
Mark sighed, wishing that his sister had never become so enamored with the idea of “taming” and controlling the thousand-year-old Viking Sheriff of Area 5. There were so many other vampires in the world—easier ones to control. But his sister had her heart set on Northman.
“What did Compton say?” he asked.
“That it will be early February before he is able to come here with Appius Livius Ocella, Eric’s maker,” she growled, her irises turning yellow.
“Why not just go through with your original plan then?” Mark asked somewhat hesitantly. “After all, we have a small coven already committed to traveling with us, a warehouse already rented in Bossier City, and a list of potential coven-mates in Area 5—as well as leverage points to use against any of them who initially resist your power,” he said, adding the last part to stroke her ego.
‘Only the Goddess herself knew how big that ego truly was!’ Mark thought to himself.
Hallow scoffed and waved her hand away. “I wanted more of a guarantee! Plus, I was hoping to get some of Eric’s maker’s blood out of the deal. Even a drop—given his age,” she said covetously, “would increase my power tenfold.”
“Perhaps, waiting would be better all the way around,” Mark said cautiously. “After all, you’ve yet to get the heart’s desire spell just right.”
“True,” Hallow sighed. “It’s just that I want him—now!” she added childishly.
“And have him you shall,” Mark placated. “What is another month, dear sister?”
She sighed but then shrugged. “You are right. The heart’s desire spell is rough at this time. To use it on New Year’s Eve—as I’d planned—would be premature.”
“Speaking of the spell, you weren’t serious about using it on Compton’s obsession—were you?” Mark asked.
Hallow frowned. “If Bill is right that Eric is spending his time romancing the Stackhouse woman in order to manipulate her, I . . . .” She paused for a moment. “Well—I want his attention on me—only me! Perhaps, I will make up two batches of the potion—since I now have the time,” she said sarcastically.
“What will it do again?” Mark asked. Of course, he knew well enough (having heard his sister’s rantings about her “masterpiece spell” for more than a month), but “playing dumb” and letting his sister “lecture” to him for a while about one of the spells she’d created was just what the doctor ordered when she became frustrated.
Mark was well-practiced in placating her.
He’d always had to look out for her—make sure that she didn’t act too rashly when things did not go precisely her way. If he wasn’t there to stem her more “impatient” moments, accidents tended to happen. The accident that put their own uncle in a wheelchair when Hallow was only four years old, for example, was an event that Mark—as the older brother—blamed himself for. His and Hallow’s parents—who were witches themselves (though not as powerful as either of their children)—had told him to keep his little sister calm. And he’d failed.
He would not fail his sister again—no matter how full of herself she got at times. And—of course—she deserved to be a bit full of herself. She was a tremendously gifted witch—with her greatest achievement being figuring out how to utilize vampire blood to increase her—and Mark’s—power.
Hallow looked at her brother indulgently. “As I have told you before, brother, the basic spell is designed to take away a person’s desire to do anything, but to be with his or her greatest love.”
Mark nodded. “That is the already known spell—correct?”
“Yes. I suppose I could simply make that basic spell for Bill—since he believes that the Stackhouse woman truly loves him.”
“But what if she doesn’t actually love him?” Mark asked. “I mean—don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed the little tastes of Compton’s blood you shared with me, but he’s a monumentally unlovable douche, if you ask me.”
Hallow giggled. “He is quite interminable in his rantings—isn’t he? Yes—he would grow quite tedious if long interactions with him were needed. However, it was nice to have a vampire in my bed again.”
Mark rolled his eyes, showing the movement to his sister this time. “Come on, Marn. Why do you have to talk about sex with me?”
Hallow giggled louder. “Sorry Marky Mark,” she responded, calling him by the nickname he had hated ever since Mark Wahlberg had tried to have a singing career.
“Perhaps you’re right—at least, about Bill exaggerating about Sookeh’s devotion for him,” she said, affecting the Southerner’s exaggerated accent.
“I suppose,” she continued, “that it would be prudent to add at least one of the other elements that I developed to improve upon the basic spell.”
“That is the element which will actually implant the person whom the victim of the spell with fixate upon?” Mark asked.
Hallow scowled at him. “I wouldn’t exactly call the person a victim—if I am the one being fixated upon, Brother.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Mark defended.
She tapped his cheek affectionately.
“I know.” She sighed. “I am just tired, and I’d hoped to have Eric in my company within the week.”
“I know,” Mark responded softly.
“You’re right—you know,” Hallow admitted. “I suppose the Stackhouse woman will be a victim of sorts to Bill—if I make her fixate upon him when she doesn’t want that.” She shrugged. “But—at least—she’ll be out of my hair so that I can more easily stake my claim on Eric. Until I can unleash the spell upon him—that is,” she smiled sinisterly. “Then his other pursuits won’t matter to him. Only I will.”
Mark didn’t comment that he did—indeed—feel like this would make Eric Northman a victim of sorts. After all, the vampire’s free will would be taken from him. And Hallow intended to take his fortune, his blood, and his body, too. Plus, Mark figured that his sister would eventually take Northman’s undead existence—no matter how keen she seemed to be to “keep him!” He knew that his sister tended to tire of her playthings. Yes—considering the inevitable outcome for Eric Northman was almost enough to make Mark feel sorry for the vampire.
But he loved his sister too much to expect her to give up anything she desired—even if he didn’t believe for a second that Eric Northman was actually Marnie’s “heart’s desire,” no matter what she’d decided to call her “new” spell.
“Perhaps, once Northman’s blood has made you more powerful, we can set our sights on getting his maker into our clutches in a more permanent way,” he suggested.
Hallow frowned deeply. “The trick about placing a spell on a vampire is what will happen if it doesn’t work—or if it cannot be released properly,” she mused. “Risking it with Eric is,” she paused, “already a daunting idea, which is why having his maker there to cover our asses—and force him to have the spell cast upon him—is ideal.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to be anywhere near Eric if the spell should fail.”
Mark shrugged. “Isn’t that why you planned to have Marissa confront him at Fangtasia?”
Marissa was the fourth most powerful witch in their coven. She was also loyal and dependable. If Mark were in charge, there would have been no way that he would see Marissa as the expendable delivery system of the heart’s desire spell. However, Hallow was insistent that the spell would only remain “attached” to a witch of considerable strength. And having that witch “booby-trapped” was—Mark had to admit—the best way to catch the Viking unawares.
“Yes,” Hallow said with a nod. “But—as unlikely as the possibility seems—Eric might not immediately kill Marissa. And if he doesn’t, then we will need an alternative plan.” She sighed and ran her hand through her hair. “I think I’m making the spell potent enough to affect Eric even if one of his vampire minions kills Marissa instead of him doing it. But I cannot be sure if it will work perfectly if he’s not the one to kill her. Also, having a vampire available to glamour Marissa to do her job to the letter would be a help. I was hoping that—even if Bill couldn’t bring me Eric’s maker—he’d be able to do that for us.”
“You think Marissa would mess things up?” Mark asked.
“She might unintentionally. After all, she wouldn’t know she was a lamb for the slaughter.”
“So she might try to run if her fear begins to outweigh her loyalty to you,” Mark observed. He shook his head. “No—I believe she would go through with it—even if you told her that she was martyring herself.”
“Best not to risk any sense of self-preservation overcoming her duty to me,” Hallow sighed. “And I can’t really use magic on her to make her do my bidding because that might very well interfere with the heart’s desire spell.”
She sighed deeply as she considered her options.
“So will we wait then?” Mark asked, somewhat hesitantly.
“Yes,” Hallow said with resignation. “But if Bill doesn’t come through by February—and I mean with flying colors—I’m going to drain him myself!”
“Perhaps we should do that anyway,” Mark grinned. “He was quite tasty. Just the right age to provide a good high—though nothing too intense,” he observed.
Hallow shrugged. “Yes. Sadly, his blood lacks enough potency to increase our power that much, but—you are right—he was good for a bit of a buzz. Speaking of which,” she said with a smirk as she opened the little mini-fridge in the room she liked to called her “laboratory.” She took out a little vial of blood.
“Would you care to share some of this with me, brother? We can call it a Christmas present.”
“Merry Christmas indeed,” Mark chuckled.
Thalia enjoyed the hunt. She always had.
Even as a human, she’d been a better hunter than her brothers—much to her father’s consternation and her mother’s secret amusement.
Of course, bringing home more deer than her brothers did not stop her father from giving her to the first man who offered him what he deemed to be a fair bride-price.
In Thalia’s case, that price had been three goats and an old, rickety cart.
The goats—she could understand. Her family raised them, and they were in need of fresh blood so that their small herd could stay strong. The cart, however, was the object that had always stayed in her memory. It had two wheels, both of them roughly made—misshapen. And it was also of an odd size: too large for one person to pull, yet too small for two. And it had no hitch, so an animal could not pull it either.
Thalia always wondered why her father hadn’t asked for something better to go along with the three goats. Indeed, she’d spent night after night during her early years as a vampire wondering how long it had taken before that godforsaken cart fell apart.
Truth be told—she’d always been bitter at her father for letting her go for too little.
“Ten goats,” she said to herself as she contemplated what should have been her father’s lowest asking price. “Fucking idiot,” she added, of the man who raised her—and made sure that she and her family had adequate food and shelter—but had never understood the worth of any of his daughters.
Thalia was made a vampire about five years after she went to her husband’s home—not that they were ever married formally. Her husband had periods of violence—especially when he had a bad night at cards—however, most of the time, he was just coldhearted. Indeed, Thalia never even knew his name. He told her that she was to call him “Master.” Because of Master’s attentions, she became pregnant within a month of marriage. After a loss at cards to a rival, Master beat her up not long after her belly swelled, and she lost the child. Master didn’t seem to care. But Thalia cared—about the lost child. She hated Master after that, but she also knew women in worse positions than her own.
At least, she had a mind that could imagine its way away from where she was trapped. And—when in a relatively pleasant mood—Master would tell her of places he’d traveled, for he had been a successful merchant before a fire ravaged the two ships he operated out of Venice. He opted to take the money he had left and open a butcher shop in Verona with his brother, who already lived there. Master found Thalia on his journey from Venice to Verona.
It had been interesting for Thalia to live in a city—given the fact that she’d never even seen one before. And though she had fantasized about killing Master anytime he hit her, she enjoyed helping at the butcher’s shop. She’d learned much about bodies there—and how to hew them apart, without wasting a single piece.
That knowledge had come in very handy once she became a vampire.
And, after their first year of marriage, Master had allowed her to venture out of the town to hunt for deer. She liked the fact that he had great confidence in her skill—that he counted on the meat from her kills to add to the stores of the butcher shop. And he even invested in a much better cart than the one he’d given to her father, a cart that could be attached to a horse—so that Thalia could easily bring home her many kills.
Though she never hunted alone—always going with Master’s brother, whom she’d learned was called Lorenzo—she still felt very free on a hunt. Indeed, Lorenzo had taken her as a lover on some of those hunts, and he was a much kinder man than Master.
Sadly, her maker had killed the kinder brother on the night he stumbled upon them in the woods. He killed Lorenzo, but he offered her a choice of whether to die like him or to die in a different way. Thalia had chosen the different way. And then she had learned a different kind of hunt.
Speaking of a hunt, Thalia stopped her current one and looked toward what most people would have thought was an uninhabited grove of trees just beyond the Compton estate.
“You let me find you tonight,” she said to the “prey” whom she’d tracked from the edge of Sookie Stackhouse’s property to the small tree cluster.
“I did,” her quarry responded.
A/N: Hello all! I hope you had a nice week! And I hope you enjoyed this chapter. After the Eric/Sookie love of the previous two, I was wanting to get us “caught up” with some of the other characters. This is the first time I’ve really incorporated Mark Stonebrook into a story, but I thought it would be more interesting in some ways to tell a chunk of Hallow’s story from his POV. I did try to write this from Hallow’s POV at first, but she was actually sounding too much like Bill in my head. Ultimately, I scrapped about four pages of writing I didn’t like and switched to Mark. I hope you liked the outcome. As for Thalia’s backstory, I have to say that I always enjoy exploring Thalia as a character, and her backstory tends to change a bit with each story I write. In this one, I was focusing on this early kind of feminist streak for her—something she registers as always knowing her worth. Also, I wanted her backstory to help to explain why she’s quite standoffish about developing relationships—or, at least, overt friendships. I hope you enjoyed the snippet.
Now—for some bad news. I do have next week’s chapter in shape to go next Sunday, this story might get paused for a bit after that. In truth, I didn’t hit a block with it as much as I found a story I’d started several years ago and became excited to pursue that one. I know—I know. Why, Kat, are you even thinking about writing anything else when you still need to finish so many things? Almost every week, I get gentle pleas that I get back to work on The Gift Horse Series, Who’s Your Daddy?, Earned, and From the Inside Out. The last of these, you might be interested to know, will likely be picked up pretty soon. I re-read the whole thing recently and actually outlined the remaining events I want to include. I also have beginnings of several other stories that I hope to eventually pick up. And the story I’ve been working on was one of them. It’s called The Journey Itself, and I’m pretty excited about it. It’s an all-human piece, so I know that some of you won’t follow me to it. However, the good news is that it’s about 90% drafted. My plan is to get it finished soon and then start revising and getting it to Kleannhouse to beta. Indeed, I have the Prologue ready to send her already. Once it’s done, I’m hoping to offer it at two chapters per week and turn again to The Engine. Anyway, I hope that you will bear with me if I do have to hit the pause button on this story after next week.
Please leave a comment about the chapter if you have the time and inclination.
NOTE: My wonderful friend, Sephrenia, recently had surgery and is recovering. The surgery affected her eyesight, so I’ve held off asking her for new banners, such as one for Mark Stonebrook. Once she’s back in action (and things seem to be going as expected with her recovery), I will be sure to post them for you. In the meantime, I’m just offering a picture of the actor I’m envisioning for the character.