SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13 • 1:30 a.m.
“I know you believe that she is making an honorable deal, Majesty, but I don’t trust Queen Sophie-Anne. And I trust Andre even less,” Jade Flower warned.
“Certainly, Andre is no poster-boy for honor,” Jennifer Cater agreed. “But I believe that the queen is sincere about her offer of marriage and the generous sharing of her state’s resources. Indeed—the untaxed usage of the Port of New Orleans alone will be a boon for Arkansas! I think it’s a good deal, Majesty. Moreover, it’s clear that you enjoy her company. I can think of much more disagreeable and potentially problematic matches you could pursue.”
“Like Oklahoma,” Peter commented sourly.
“Her or de Castro. Remember how he put out his feelers regarding you last year,” Jennifer commented.
Peter cringed. “I’ve got nothing against two guys fuckin’ like rabbits all night long. Hell! It happened plenty on long trail rides when I was a human. And don’t even get me started ’bout the long nights in the Alamo when we had nothin’ but death to stare us in the faces. A lot of otherwise straight men fucked on those nights—just lookin’ for a little distraction. I didn’t judge ’em. But that ain’t never been for me, and I can’t ever see it bein’ for me—not even just once a year in exchange for the perfect alliance.”
“A vampire’s existence is about evolution and growth,” Jade commented. “I am not saying that you should have sex with men when you don’t prefer it, but you cannot eliminate out of hand all offers you receive from male monarchs. Sex is a mere tool to a vampire who knows how to wield it.”
Peter sighed loudly. “I know you’re right, Jade. And maybe when I’m older I’ll get adventurous, but I’m still damned glad that my maker didn’t prefer men either. It’s not an issue that needs to be contemplated now—anyhow. I’ve gotta real good offer on the table from Sophie-Anne, and I’m leanin’ towards takin’ it.”
“I still think she is playing you for a fool,” Jade said bluntly. “And,” she paused somewhat dramatically, “there is another way to gain advantage in this state—even more advantage than the deal that she’s dangling in front of you promises.”
“What’s that?” Peter asked with curiosity.
Jade was silent for a moment. “You could take over Louisiana.”
“What?” the king exclaimed with surprise.
“A takeover!” Jennifer cried at the same time.
“Keep your voice lowered,” Jade hissed at Jennifer. She didn’t dare order the king in such a way.
“Jade, you know I value your counsel, but in this situation, I think you are off-base,” Peter said reasonably.
“I am just offering another option that you may not have considered,” Jade returned deferentially. “Louisiana is a rich state, and your status in the vampire world would grow exponentially if you were the king of it.”
Peter shook his head. “I doubt that the Council would look favorably upon an upstart king who took over the state of an established, well-liked queen.”
“They did not object when you took over Arkansas,” Jade reminded.
Again, Peter shook his head. “That is because the former king was a rat bastard who had stopped giving appropriate tribute to the Council.”
“And who’d turned twenty humans in as many months,” Jennifer added. “That many disappearances were beginning to create issues.”
“Issues which—as one of the previous king’s sheriffs—you could not cover,” Jade indicated judgmentally before looking back at Peter. “Majesty, you know as well as I do that the majority of Council members like you. Plus, they generally turn a blind eye to takeovers orchestrated by other monarchs,” she added.
“That’s likely because there are so few such takeovers,” Jennifer contributed, her voice full of caution. “As you well know, takeovers generally occur against weakened or ineffectual monarchs; that is why the Council often reigns in any displeasure it may have when a state abruptly changes hands. And that is why they did not challenge Peter when he took Arkansas! Sophie-Anne is neither weak nor ineffective. Moreover, she is generally well-regarded—as one of the longest-serving queens in the New World. Would we really wish to move against someone like her?”
“But is she a trustworthy queen? Is she the kind of ruler we want to align with?” Jade asked, shooting daggers at Jennifer with her eyes. Clearly, she wished to be using real daggers upon the younger vampiress’s body. “Remember the file that I gave to you, Your Majesty; Sophie-Anne is no saint!”
Peter nodded. “That is true. It is undeniable that she has done some things that could be considered shady, but what monarch hasn’t? And you must recall that there was nothing in your file to indicate that she has ever failed to fulfill her end of a contract with another vampire.”
“Perhaps,” Jade relented. “But you must begin to consider the benefits of expansion, Majesty. Arkansas is too small for a vampire of your talents. What of the ambitions you once had? Ambitions to be one of the most powerful vampires in the United States? An opportunity like the one you now have before you may not come along again.”
The king considered for a moment. “My ambitions have evolved, Jade. You know that. Anyway, I think forming a marriage contract with Louisiana will better Arkansas, which will—in turn—better my own position.”
“Unless you are dead! I still think the queen and Andre mean to betray you—to murder you and take Arkansas as their own,” Jade insisted. “We should strike them before they can strike us!”
“And I believe that Sophie-Anne wants a true alignment; she will keep Andre in line,” Peter argued. “I also believe it would be foolhardy to try to take over Louisiana. It is not just Sophie-Anne who would need to be eliminated. There are many formidable fighters in this state.”
“The queen’s children?” Jade scoffed.
“The sheer brutality of Wybert and Sigebert cannot to be taken lightly. Andre, it is said, has much craft in battle. And Sophie-Anne herself has been known to successfully battle those who most threaten her position—personally,” Jennifer emphasized. “The queen has never lost such a battle.”
“But if we struck the weakest of her children—Hadley—the queen would be vulnerable for several minutes. Her other children would be affected too! They would fall like dominos! And quickly too!” Jade insisted.
“You aren’t taking into account the two warriors who were sitting across the table from us tonight!” Jennifer reminded.
“Northman and Thalia,” Jade sneered.
“Yes,” Jennifer said with some frustration. “Those two alone could kill all three of us within minutes!”
“Speak for yourself,” Jade said with derision.
“Enough!” Peter silenced them before they began one of their long arguments. Though he valued the fact that his two must trusted advisors often had differing viewpoints—even from his own—he was clearly not in the mood for a circular argument.
“I will consider your points, Jade,” he said. “However, my instincts are pointing me in the direction of accepting the marriage contract. You can let your spies sniff around more tomorrow during the daytime, but if they don’t find any direct evidence of Sophie-Anne’s duplicity, I’m gonna sign on the dotted line and celebrate with my bride-to-be at the ball.”
“And if I learn she’s treacherous?” Jade asked.
“We’ll put off Sophie-Anne, go home, and regroup. But first, we’ll still enjoy the damned party!” Peter said definitively, his trademark smirk firmly in place.
“The marriage with Arkansas is a mistake, my queen,” Andre said emphatically. “As I suspected, you have little to gain from the match.”
Ignoring her eldest child for a moment, Sophie-Anne sat down on one of the plush couches in her private living room area and motioned for her youngest child to join her.
“You did beautifully tonight, Hadley,” she said softly, before leaning in to kiss her affectionately.
After the queen broke their kiss, Hadley frowned a little. “But I was very jealous. I hated him flirting with you!”
Sophie-Anne smiled and stroked her child and lover’s cheek. “I felt that. However, the important thing is that you did not act rashly upon your jealousy. You were able to sit through the entirety of the negotiations in seeming calm. And—because of that—I was able to present a united front with all of my children. I am extremely proud of you, my beauty.”
Hadley smiled widely. “I’m so glad!” Her expression faded. “Still, I hate that you may marry King Peter, but I do understand, though I’m jealous.” She shook her head. “I wasn’t jealous before I was turned—when you would feed from or have sex with others. Why is it so different now?”
Sophie-Anne drew her child in for a long embrace. “You are a new vampire. All emotions will run hot inside of you for a while; in addition, you will wish to have my undivided attention because you are young and intuit that you need me for all things. However, you are demonstrating control beyond your years.”
“Wybert talked to me,” Hadley said almost shyly as she looked up at her elder brother. “He helped me to understand that my jealousy could shame or harm you.”
The queen looked at her wisest child gratefully. “I am glad that you listened to him.”
Andre huffed, “She ought not to have needed to. Marriage so soon after turning a new child is not the standard,” he added, though he was clearly trying to keep the accusation from his tone.
He did not fully succeed, however, and his maker gave him a sharp glare of correction before she looked back at Hadley with affection. “You know that I love you, Hadley. However, even before I made you, we agreed that exclusivity was not something I was prepared to give you.”
Hadley bit her lip and nodded. “I think it’s seeing Sookie and the sheriff,” she said softly. “Talking to Sookie, it seems like . . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“I know,” Sophie-Anne said in a comforting voice. “I am not surprised that you feel some envy for what my sheriff and your cousin have. I, too, feel envy for them.”
“You do?” Hadley asked with surprise.
“Yes,” the queen admitted, kissing Hadley’s cheek. “The concept of the âme sœur—the soulmate—is not something I believed in for much of my existence, though I have come to know that the concept is real, just rare. Eric and Sookie seem to have lucked into that kind of a relationship.”
Hadley nodded sadly. “I wish I was yours—your âme sœur,” she said with a rough accent.
Sophie-Anne smiled in appreciation of her attempt.
“As I wish that I was yours,” the queen said tenderly. “Perhaps, we will both find a soulmate one day. But—in the meantime—is it not enough? What we have?”
“It is,” Hadley said with an immediate smile.
“I believe so, too,” the queen returned as she kissed her child’s nose. “Nothing that I may have with Peter will affect us in a noticeable way. Do you believe that?”
“Yes,” Hadley nodded.
“Good! Now—why don’t you go feed and then have a bath. I will join you later.”
Hadley nodded and then rose. “I am happy for Sookie—you know?” She shook her head. “There was a time when I would have let my jealousy of her and over King Peter get the best of me.”
“You have grown much since you were turned, sister,” Wybert said.
Hadley smiled at her big brother and took a moment to embrace him as she walked by him. “Thanks to you,” she whispered before ending their hug and then leaving through the door to the queen’s bedroom.
As soon as she was gone, Andre sat down next to his maker. “Majesty, we must speak about the situation with Arkansas—and what must be done to curb Peter’s ambitions to take your state!”
Sophie-Anne shook her head a little and then looked up at Wybert. “What are your thoughts?”
“I was skeptical of the Arkansas king—just like Andre,” Wybert said, his voice much calmer and more measured than his brother’s. “And it is clear that Arkansas will benefit more than Louisiana will from any connection made between you and Threadgill.”
“See?!” Andre said triumphantly.
Sophie-Anne shook her head to silence her eldest child and looked at the third she’d made, for Sigebert had been subdued and turned before his fiercer brother. On the contrary, Wybert had chosen vampirism after he’d hunted down Sophie-Anne just in time to see his brother rise in his new form. With a wisdom that did not quite gel with his rough appearance, Wybert had instinctively understood what his brother had become, and he’d asked to remain with him. He had also pledged his loyalty to his would-be maker.
Andre had thought that traveling with two mountains of men would be conspicuous. Plus, it was difficult enough training one new vampire at a time. Sophie-Anne had agreed with Andre about the drawbacks of turning Wybert, but had done so anyway.
She’d never regretted that choice.
“What we will gain in a connection with Arkansas is not to be balked at either,” Wybert remarked. “The joint venture of riverboat casinos from West Memphis to New Orleans is especially promising.”
“We already have riverboat casinos!” Andre reminded.
“Moored and stationary,” Wybert returned calmly. “The idea of operating gambling cruises along a substantial part of the Mississippi, especially given the treaty Peter has with the Tennessee monarch regarding the joint use of the river, is an excellent one.”
“I agree,” Sophie-Anne nodded. “And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that Peter is willing to offer me the territory that has been in dispute between his state and mine since his predecessor’s predecessor conveniently ‘forgot’ where the border between our states actually is.” She rolled her eyes.
“We should have invaded Arkansas and taken the whole damned state seven decades ago,” Andre sulked a bit.
Sophie-Anne smiled at her eldest child indulgently. “I know you counseled that step at the time, and I was tempted, but it wasn’t as if we had any vampires wanting to live that far north. And—don’t forget—I negotiated the deal to split the tributes of the Arkansas vampires living in the disputed territory. If you look at it that way, we’ve been getting partial tributes from a dozen Arkansas vampires for decades!”
“Arkansas insulted us,” Andre growled.
“Threadgill was not Arkansas at the time,” Wybert reasoned. “And we did not have Sheriff Northman then to shore up the northern border.”
“Northman,” Andre said with derision.
“Did I hear my name taken in vain?” Eric asked with a smirk as he strolled into the queen’s highly-warded living area behind Sigebert.
Andre rolled his eyes and sank back into the couch like a sullen child, though he did move his gaze to a much more pleasant sight: Sookie Stackhouse.
For the hundredth time that night, Andre wished that Appius Livius Ocella had not dictated that Sookie was to belong to Bill Compton—of all vampires! Perhaps, the elder vampire was stringing Bill along, just as Andre had done when it came to the Civil War veteran’s supposed claim upon the telepath.
Indeed, Andre had lied to Bill more than once, promising him that he could possess Sookie Stackhouse when, in fact, Andre planned to dispose of Compton and then bond himself to the woman—before presenting her to the queen as a gift. Though Sophie-Anne might have initially been angry at Andre for grabbing Sookie and challenging Northman’s ownership of her, she would have come to understand her favored child’s motives.
Indeed, a new motive had formed as soon as Andre had seen the telepath. For lack of a better word, she was “alluring” to him, despite her scent being obscured by a witch’s spell. Gifted with an uncommonly acute sense of taste, Andre ached to drink from her, to seek that tinge of Fae blood he knew was in Sookie’s veins due to the fact that it was in Hadley’s.
Except that Sookie attracted him more than Hadley ever had!
Yes—all would have been as it should have been if Ocella had just gone along with Andre’s schemes exactly. Still, Andre was glad that the elder vampire was “on the team,” so to speak. It was clear that Ocella had a bone to pick with his child; thus, Eric’s performance as sheriff would soon suffer. Indeed, Andre now saw a clear path toward getting rid of Northman. All he had to do was to sit back and watch Ocella destroy his child to the point that Sophie-Anne would be forced to remove Eric from his post. The added bonus of Pamela Ravenscroft’s nights being numbered in Louisiana—to her last two—was enough to put Andre into an even better mood as the vampiress in question entered the room looking just as haughty as her maker.
Pam winked at Andre. The insolence!
Andre barely held back his hiss as he returned his focus to Sookie.
It was too bad he’d not foreseen Compton’s uselessness and just gone to fucking Bon Temps to secure the telepath himself—the first damned night that Hadley had mentioned her talented cousin!
A/N: Hello everyone! I hope you had good weeks. Well—here we are with a new chapter. I have to admit that—as I began writing Peter—I sort of fell in love with him. LOL. I actually based his portrayal on the characterization I played with in the UN-iverse (Uninvited, Uncharted, and United). I know that he’s different from “canon” here, but—remember—I take full liberties in changing whatever I like after my “jumping in” point with a story.
I hope you like him too! I wanted this chapter to show behind the scenes between the monarchs and the negative influences upon them: Jade and Andre. I also wanted to give Hadley a bit more redemption than she’s usually given. Often her “dumbness” and “naivete” is combined with spite. I wanted to take away the spite and to offer a “what if”—specifically “what if” one of her brothers—Wybert—had stepped in to help her quell her jealousy. Anyway—I hope you enjoyed this!