Last time (since it’s been a couple of weeks): Appius, Bill, and Alexei end their “vacation” in the Philippines. Karin had laid a trap for Appius, but he senses that she’s using magic against him and captures her instead. That Chapter is set on Feb. 9, a couple of days before this one.
Chapter 20: Confidence
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11 • 3:00 p.m.
Sookie ran her fingers along Eric’s beautiful face, tracing his cheekbones and then the strong lines of his nose and chin before lightly touching his soft, perfect—and never-chapped—lips. In his day-death, he was so still—beautiful in a way that seemed almost statue-like, though she couldn’t imagine any sculptor, not even Michelangelo, chiseling such perfection. Most people would have compared Eric’s body to a human corpse, but Sookie had seen dead humans before. And looking at a vampire at rest was a very different thing.
Perhaps, it was because her mind knew that Eric would awaken a little before dark, while it knew that human corpses would never again animate. She shivered as an image of Gran’s lifeless body sprang unbidden into her mind.
There had been a lot more missing from Gran’s body than just her pulse as she’d lain on the kitchen floor. That which was “magic” in humanity—maybe it was her soul—was missing from Gran, too. With Eric, that mysterious, magical piece did not go away when he died for the day.
Nor did his body go fully rigid as Gran’s had. There was still suppleness in the give of his skin. It was as if the blood and magic inside of him still moved—like water might drift around in a pond—even if it did not pump, like water flowing in a stream. It was true that, just like a corpse, Eric’s body wasn’t warm, but—then again—it never was, so she was used to that.
Most importantly, Sookie still felt the hum of the magically-formed bond between them. She still felt his soul in the room, though he might question that he had one. His “presence” had not disappeared as Gran’s had already done by the time Sookie found her dead corpse.
The magic that kept him alive was simply different from the functions that kept humans enlivened, but she didn’t find him “dead” because of that. She found him to be a miracle.
A knock at the door pulled her attention away from her mate. She knew that the knocker was Maria-Star, for she’d been actively probing the minds of everyone in the area, looking for any possible threats.
She knew that it was something she’d be doing—especially during the daytime—until they were safely back in Bon Temps.
Eric and she—along with what the queen had called their “entourage”—had arrived at the queen’s guesthouse in the middle of the night, almost twelve hours before. Tray, Willow, Amelia, Molly, and Padma had already been there—to ensure that the house was secure before Eric and Sookie entered it.
That “advance team” had been chosen quite purposefully. Padma had been sent early to ensure that no unwanted magical spells had been set over the queen’s guesthouse, which she and Eric would be calling “home” until February 15. Amelia had been sent to place spells of her own—the protective kind—around the guesthouse. Molly had been sent in early to make sure that the computer security system (with a work-around for Andre’s overriding ability) was ready to go. And Tray had been sent in to see if he could sniff out any threats whatsoever as Willow had scouted things from above.
Because of their work and the trust that she had in her whole team, Sookie knew that the guesthouse on the queen’s estate was now almost as safe as her own home in Bon Temps.
It was everywhere else in New Orleans that might get a bit tricky.
She sighed and got out of bed, slipping on her flats as she did so. Generally, she would have worn heels with the dress pants, blouse, and jacket she’d put on after her shower so that she could pretend she was a member of the queen’s staff. However, Maria-Star had told her that she needed to wear shoes that allowed her to run if needed.
The Were’s “orders” hadn’t comforted Sookie. However, the telepath now preferred knowing the risks—facing them head-on—versus going into a dangerous situation blind or “hoping for the best.” She’d learned her lesson—the hard way—from past situations when she’d acted without knowledge of the potential consequences.
It hadn’t taken Sookie long to learn that Maria-Star always planned for the worst—just in case. And that thought was ultimately comforting to the telepath.
After one last look at her mate, she opened her bedroom door and greeted an excited Shadow.
“Hey baby, did you go out with Maria-Star?” she asked.
The loyal canine wagged his tail and accepted Sookie’s pets as if he’d won the lottery when it came to masters.
The Were smirked. “He walked the perimeter with me like a pro, and I swear that his face screwed up like he’d smelled something foul when we stumbled upon Andre’s scent on the grounds. And he growled at the damned weretiger!”
Sookie chuckled and then walked over with Shadow to his bed, signaling to the smart puppy that he needed to settle down. She looked at Amelia and Warren, who would be staying in the house with Eric as she and Maria-Star went to the queen’s residence. Mustapha and Onawa were already over there, having taken up strategic positions among the queen’s Were guards.
“He should be okay for a few hours, though he might want to play a bit,” she said of her puppy.
“We’ll look after Shadow,” Amelia assured.
“Look after him too,” Sookie said softly as she looked toward the bedroom door, which had locked behind her. The walls of the fireproof room were reinforced, and a “Molly-created-and-protected code” was required to enter. Plus, Amelia, who had quickly become a good friend to Sookie during the past several weeks, had added what she called an “extra-oomph protection spell” around the bedroom; her mentor, Octavia, had approved. Indeed, if anything happened at all while she was on the queen’s estate, Sookie was to get to that bedroom and “hunker down.”
Still, Sookie didn’t like leaving Eric, even under the watchful eyes of Warren, who was ready to shoot and/or blow up anything that tried to get in, and Amelia, who had plenty of magical traps she could use. In addition, Willow was shifted and was watching over the guesthouse from above, and Desmond Cataliades had “lent” them Diantha, who was stationed in the tunnel between the guesthouse and the queen’s residence.
And, of course, somewhere around them all was a Britlingen, whom Sookie was beginning to get a sense of by using her ever-improving telepathy. Indeed, “finding” Batanya had become one of Sookie’s favorite pastimes as of late, and every once in a while, she’d catch what felt like an echo of a mind. Somehow, Sookie knew that Batanya had caught on to her searches, too, and was making their game of “hide-and-seek” as difficult as possible for the telepath. Of course, in doing so, the Britlingen was also helping Sookie to practice her telepath in a way she’d never done before, and the fruits of that practice had already begun paying off.
Sookie shook her head a bit before focusing on the task at hand: to spy on the King of Arkansas’s people. Peter Threadgill’s preliminary security detail was due to arrive in the next hour, though the king would not be in New Orleans until that night. Additionally, employees from E(E)E, the event planning agency the queen had hired—and which was headed by John Quinn, the weretiger Maria-Star had mentioned—needed to be screened.
Of course, no one who wasn’t “need to know” was aware of Sookie’s gift. Her pretended title on the queen’s staff was “the Queen’s Liaison,” and her pretended name was Susanna Saunders. Eric and she both preferred the idea that her own name not be used—at least, not initially—just in case her name had become known because of her work in Dallas or her time in Jackson. Sookie’s task that afternoon was to coordinate with E(E)E and then with Threadgill’s day-man and two-natured security team in order to finalize the “human menu”—both the food for the humans during the small summit’s events and the humans as food for the vampires. The last part of her “job” wasn’t something Sookie was looking forward to pretending to coordinate, but—at least—it would enable her to screen the queen’s donor pool and “temporary donors” for any spies or Fellowship connections.
In other words, she’d be multitasking during her first day of official work for the queen.
“Here you go,” Amelia smiled as she held up what looked like a fragrance bottle. “I even made it smell like honeysuckle. You like that scent—right?” the witch asked.
Sookie smiled at her new friend, who had to be the loudest broadcaster she’d ever met. “Yes. Thanks. So this will cover up the fact that I’m bonded to Eric?”
Amelia nodded. “Yes—that, and all scents of the Supernatural variety within you.”
“So—my fairy blood, too,” Sookie remarked.
“Anything that’s not human,” the witch confirmed. “Make sure you spritz in four spots once every five hours or so. Spray here, here, here, and here,” she added, motioning to the top of Sookie’s head, then to the tip of her right middle finger, next toward her foot, and finally to her left middle finger. “It’s best if you slip off your shoe—either foot will work—and try to hit the tip of your longest toe. It needs to come as close to your north, south, east, and west extremities as possible.”
Sookie chuckled as she took the bottle; she still found the rules of magic a bit odd, but she’d already learned to listen to Amelia. “Any particular order?” she asked.
“The order I showed you in,” the witch stated.
Sookie nodded and angled the bottle toward the top of her head. After a spritz, she sprayed her middle right fingertip before slipping out of her right shoe, bending down, and spraying her big toe. She completed the circuit of spritzing before slipping her shoe back on.
Amelia smiled. “Perfect.”
Sookie grinned and then handed the bottle back to Amelia. “I’ll be back within four hours, so I’ll leave this with you for now since I won’t be carrying a purse.”
Maria-Star looked at the witch. “If that plan changes, I’ll text you so that you can bring it to us.”
Sookie patted the quiet Warren on his arm as she walked past him before going over to the tunnel entrance. A man of few words, Warren simply nodded at her and then checked his holstered weapon. She’d learned that, although he was best with his sniper’s rifle, Warren was an expert at almost every human weapon there was.
Sookie took a deep breath as she stood in front of the tunnel entrance. “Ready Maria-Star?”
“Absolutely,” the Were returned, sounding almost excited about the prospect of the action before them.
That excitement was not contagious for the telepath.
John Quinn took a deep breath of the Louisiana winter air. It held so much more moisture than Las Vegas air. Indeed, Louisiana air felt downright oppressive in the summer, but Quinn didn’t mind it so much in the winter.
“Hell—I would’ve come to do this event even if it was in August,” the weretiger muttered to himself.
In truth, Quinn enjoyed any excuse to get out of Vegas for a week or two, and Queen Sophie-Anne’s little “summit” with King Peter Threadgill allowed him that opportunity.
He looked at his wristwatch. It was a habit really. Though the two-natured didn’t have as exact a sense of time as vamps, they were never more than a few minutes off. Still, the watch had been Quinn’s father’s prized possession—at least, according to Quinn’s mother. Having died when the weretiger was only a few months old, Jacob Quinn hadn’t left his child any other legacy.
Other than the ability to turn into a powerful werecat, that is.
Quinn took out his phone when it vibrated in his pocket. He couldn’t stifle his sigh as he noticed a text message from his sister. A teenager full of angst, Frannie Quinn couldn’t handle it when their mother was resisting taking her medication, which apparently, she was currently doing. He sent a quick text back to assure his sister that he’d call their mother in the next hour or so. Just as he hit “send,” one of the queen’s daytime Were guards approached him.
“They are ready for you,” he informed.
Quinn sighed again. Why he and all of his people had to meet with the Queen’s Liaison—whatever one of those was—was beyond the weretiger. During the past several days and nights, he’d met extensively with Andre; Lance Johnson, the head of Sophie-Anne’s daytime security; and Farrah, the queen’s day-person. Moreover, the weretiger, along with his staff, had already gone through the magical ritual, which would ensure their loyalty for the duration of the contract, as well as their discretion—even after it was over.
Basically speaking, magic was already binding Quinn and his people from sharing any Louisiana secrets—or weaknesses—with anyone. The weretiger both resented and was grateful for that particular blend of magic. It had been what allowed him to open up Extreme(ly Elegant) Events to start with. Still—he resented the need for it—specifically, the fact that Felipe de Castro still “owned” him. And—almost as bad—everyone who was anyone in the Supernatural community knew it, too!
Quinn nodded to Lance Johnson as he was led into the conference room where the bulk of the marriage negotiations between Queen Sophie-Anne and King Peter Threadgill would be held.
“Quinn,” Lance greeted. “I’d like to introduce you to Susanna Saunders, the Queen’s Liaison.”
The weretiger let out a low whistle as he took in the buxom blonde standing near the head of the table. Flanked by a female Were with a pissed off look on her face, Susanna Saunders was the kind of woman who demanded attention. Her bright blue eyes sparkled with interest as she studied him, making Quinn’s dick stir.
“Well, hello, babe,” he purred—as only a weretiger could—as he walked over to her with an outstretched hand.
Susanna greeted his hand with her own, and Quinn felt a few sparks as he touched the woman’s soft skin. He inhaled deeply and was met with one of the lovelier human scents he’d taken in for a while. There was something fresh about the woman—fresh and ripe. He glanced at her left hand.
“So how long have you worked here, babe?” he asked her, still holding onto her hand.
Susanna slowly pulled her hand from his. “Not long,” she responded. “The queen wanted me to make sure that the donor situation was taken care of.”
Quinn was disappointed that the woman’s tone seemed all business. However, he shrugged off his dissatisfaction. Sophie-Anne was known for her competent staff, and the woman in front of him was likely no exception.
But that didn’t mean that Miss Saunders wouldn’t be up for “playing” when she was off duty.
The weretiger reached into his suit pocket and pulled out the little notepad he carried. “Andre, Lance, Farrah, and I discussed the need for fifteen additional donors on contract for the duration of the Arkansas’s time here. They will arrive late this afternoon and will be housed in the two large rooms adjacent to the regular donors’ quarters.”
“And you have already hired the donors?” Susanna asked.
Quinn nodded. “And conducted extensive background checks. My people will also screen the new donors as they enter the grounds—ensuring that none carry any weapons. Right now, a couple of my men are working with Farrah to outfit the rooms with adequate furnishings and the like.”
Susanna nodded. “I just left them; they are making good progress. So, Mr. Quinn, do you foresee any issues or problems while you’re here? Any vampire or were-related issues concern you?” she asked.
“Just call me Quinn, babe,” he grinned. “And I can’t think of anything. Lance and Andre were quite clear about what’s expected of me and my people. And,” he glanced at Lance, “the side work we were asked to do has been discussed as well.”
“Miss Saunders is aware that the queen has asked you to provide an additional layer of security just in case the king plans to use the marriage negotiations as a distraction for conflict.”
Quinn was mildly surprised that the petite human was “in the know” about that matter, but nodded nonetheless.
“Would you care to discuss more about my role here over an early dinner, babe?” he asked.
As the female Were rolled her eyes, Susanna shook her head. “No thank you, Mr. Quinn.”
“Just Quinn,” the weretiger corrected with a charming smile.
“No thank you,” the human said again. “I have other work to attend to this afternoon and early evening.”
“Perhaps, I’ll see you around then—or after,” Quinn said, his smile still firmly in place.
“I work here, so I am often around, Mr. Quinn,” Miss Saunders said, clearly ignoring the weretiger’s request that she omit the “mister” from her address of him.
The weretiger wasn’t deterred. “Well—that’s something to be thankful for, babe,” he said with a wink as Susanna and the female Were turned to leave the room through an entrance at the opposite side of the room.
“Now that is a beauty,” Quinn said with a crooked grin in Lance’s direction.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll give her a wide birth, mate,” the Were advised, his Australian accent prominent.
“A little harmless flirting never hurt anyone,” the weretiger returned.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Lance muttered as he left the room.
Quinn shrugged. “Well—at least the meeting wasn’t a total waste of time,” he smiled to himself as he pulled out his phone to make his call to his mother.
“Well—that’s one of the most pompous people I’ve ever been in a room with,” Maria-Star observed after she and Sookie were well out of “the” John Quinn’s hearing range. “And you definitely have a fan, babe.”
Sookie shuddered. “He does want to get into my pants. Gross!”
“Other than the ick factor, is there anything to worry about?”
“No,” Sookie confirmed quickly. “He thought about how he screened the temporary donors even more than Andre had specified since his work with the Queen of California taught him that an additional check into a person’s online activity could yield information that a normal background check wouldn’t. Still, I’ll do another scan of the all the regular donors—and spend some time with the temporary hires—before nightfall.”
“At least he’s good at his job—even though his flirting needs some work.”
Sookie shook her head. “He’s attractive, but he really does think he’s God’s gift. I’m just glad that my telepathy is fully engaged now. I might have fallen for the charm of someone like him in the past.”
Maria-Star’s lip turned up slightly to show her distaste at that idea. “Nothing else from his head?”
“Just that he’s not that fond of vampires, despite making a lot of money from them. His dislike is mostly focused towards Felipe de Castro and Victor Madden though. And he’s overheard them talking about how it’d be nice to take over Louisiana one day.”
“Really?” Maria-Star asked.
Sookie nodded. “Quinn got the impression that what he overheard wasn’t something being planned for the near future, but I still think Queen Sophie-Anne should know about it.
The Were nodded in agreement. “King de Castro came into power in Nevada in a shady way—from what I’ve heard. If he has designs on Louisiana, the queen will want to keep an eye out.”
Sookie nodded. “Other than that, Quinn is confident in his work and his abilities—as well as those of his staff. And he feels loyal to the queen right now. It’s the weirdest thing, but—just like the rest of his team—he’s protective of her. I can sense the magic, too.”
“That’s good to know,” Maria-Star observed. “Any issues reading him, given that he’s your first weretiger?”
“None. Actually, he’s easier to read than a Were,” Sookie shared. “Either that, or he was just focused so much on me that his thoughts were clearer. I think all the practicing I’ve done on you, Onawa, Willow, Mustapha, and all the other Weres I’ve had contact with from Long Tooth has led to y’all bein’ almost as easy as humans used to be for me.”
“And Willow is still the hardest?” Maria-Star asked curiously.
“It might come down to the size of the animal shifted into,” Maria-Star mused.
“A tiger is bigger than a wolf, and a wolf is larger than a hawk?” Sookie asked.
Sookie contemplated for a moment. “Well—I’ll just have to keep adding data to the file,” she chuckled, tapping her head. “Do we know who’s here from the Arkansas group yet?”
“Three Weres, a werebadger, and two humans at this point. More coming this evening with Threadgill.”
“A werebadger!” the telepath smiled. “I’ve not gotten to read one of those yet. Let’s go see if he or she is harder,” she added, her eyes sparkling at the challenge ahead.
A/N: Hello all! I hate missing weeks and then coming to you with an excuse, but between some particularly bad migraines, work, cleaning in anticipation of a family visit, more work, the actually family visit, more headaches, more work, and recovering from the family visit . . . I wasn’t able to get chapters out the last two weeks. I know, I know—I suck big time. I did find some time to work a bit on chapters to come on this piece, and the outline is complete. I’m hoping to get you a chapter a week for the next nine weeks—at least. I have three chapters back from kleannhouse ready for final polishing, three more with her, and three more in rough draft form. Hopefully, I can get a break from work and finish the rough draft soon. I’m estimating around 37 chapters total, but we’ll see. After that, I’ll either turn my focus back to one of my incomplete items or be bewitched by a different piece I’ve been tinkering with. Regardless, thanks for continuing to read, even when I’m absent for a bit.
I hope you enjoyed the latest chapter! I thought it would be fun to have this more mature version of Sookie interact with Quinn. She’s soooo not falling for the “babe” nonsense this time. LOL.