Sookie was nervous—and not just because she was about to tell a vampire queen about an assassination plan against her.
She was also nervous for a reason that struck her as being very “human”—despite being armpit deep in Supernatural beings and politics. She was—for the very first time—using her telepathy to earn her living. Oh—she’d been reading plenty of minds during the last several months, and Eric had insisted upon “putting money into their business” for her efforts. However, reading Eric’s lawyers and accountants; the Weres in Flood’s inner circle; and the customers at Fangtasia had all seemed like practice for the untrained telepath.
What she was now doing for the queen was definitely not a dress rehearsal!
Indeed, given the situation, it seemed she was smack-dab in the middle of an operatic drama! Or a Shakespeare tragedy in the making!
Not that she’d ever seen a play or an opera in person—yet. She was planning to change both of those facts soon, however—since her telepathic practice had made her capable of protecting herself with her shields even in a large crowd. Indeed, she and Eric had practiced big crowds recently by going to a packed movie theater—in a multiplex—to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
It had been Sookie’s first time at a night movie, let alone during a weekend. Indeed, the only time she’d ever tried going to the movie theater before had been a disaster! When they were eighteen, Tara and she had gone to a Tuesday matinee at the Shreveport mall for a movie that had been out for several weeks.
The idea had been to try going to the movies on an “off-day” and at an “off-time.”
Sookie had thought that kind of outing would be doable for her. However, she’d not taken into account that the other movies in the multiplex would have their own crowds—albeit small ones—to deal with. And almost everyone within a single movie theater was focusing on just that movie, so Sookie heard five movies all at once!
She’d had one of the worst headaches of her life following her thirty-minute attempt. Not surprisingly, she’d never been brave enough to try again—until now.
With Eric by her side.
Speaking of by her side . . .
He must have sensed her nervousness because he moved closer to her and then took her hand. The small gesture made Sookie feel so much better that she almost smiled—until she noticed Andre out of the corner of her eye.
The creep had licked his lips as he stared at her.
Sookie cringed and gripped her bonded’s hand tighter.
“I assume you’ve learned something,” Sophie-Anne addressed her from next to Andre on the couch. She then gestured toward a second couch opposite hers, and Eric and Sookie sat as well. Pam took up a position behind Eric, while Thalia and Maria-Star had stayed outside of the room by the door where Sigebert was stationed. Wybert, mirroring Pam, stood behind his queen.
Sookie looked at Eric, who nodded encouragingly. He was sending her pride and strength through the bond to a certain extent, but—mostly—he was letting her deal with her anxieties on her own.
And she loved him for that! His lack of “stifling sending” showed her that he trusted her, but would carry a part of her burden—and more if she needed it.
“I have learned some troubling things, Your Majesty,” Sookie began before taking a deep breath. “You need to be very careful. There is to be an assassination attempt against you tomorrow night—right after you and King Threadgill sign the final contract, though before the ball.”
“I knew it!” Andre stormed, rising to his feet. “I knew Threadgill couldn’t be trusted! I’ll end him—now!” he yelled, rushing toward the door.
Sookie shook her head vigorously.
“Andre!” the queen said loudly. “Sit! Now!”
Andre had gotten as far as opening the door, only to have been blocked by the formidable “gate” of Sigebert and Thalia.
“Don’t make me make it a command!” Sophie-Anne said, her voice radiating with power.
Growling at Thalia and his “brother” with his fangs bared, Andre’s posture stiffened as he took in the words of his maker and queen. Slowly, he closed the door and turned back toward the group in the room.
“There is more to hear—isn’t there?” the queen asked Sookie as Andre made his way back to the couch and sat as if in protest.
“Yes,” Sookie nodded, even as she realized that she was shaking due to both the suddenness of Andre’s movements and the clear power that had resonated from the queen as she’d spoken to Andre. She took another deep breath. “It is not King Threadgill that intends to hurt you, Your Majesty. As you know, I can’t read vampire thoughts, but I’ve learned enough from the two-natured people from Arkansas to know that Jade Flower is the one who wants to kill you. She intends to assassinate you; then, the king will have no choice but to take over Louisiana since it’s gonna happen after you sign the marriage contract. A werebadger named Harley is the one who knows most of the plan, but he doesn’t know every detail. On some things, like the other vampires involved in Jade’s plan, he’s speculating.”
“What does Miss Flower intend?” Sophie-Anne asked calmly, though anger seemed to be bubbling right below the surface.
Sookie glanced at Andre and then focused again on the queen. “Jade has a spy in your court—a vampire named Margeaux.”
The queen’s eyebrow lifted. “Well—that is not a total shock. She’s never been particularly close to my inner circle though.”
“She knows enough to have told Harley about your habits when you conduct important business. She believes that—after signing the marriage contract—you will return to your chambers to get dressed for the ball. She has speculated that Wybert and Andre will be the ones escortin’ you from your office to your rooms and that Sigebert will be looking after Hadley. Along with Margeaux, Jade has three other vampires—all from Arkansas—that are supposed to help her tomorrow night; Harley doesn’t know their precise roles though. Also, Harley is supposed to stash some silver nets and stakes during the daytime tomorrow,” Sookie informed. “They’re gonna use those on you.”
“So Jade doesn’t intend to attack me in public,” the queen mused as she took in and processed what Sookie was telling her.
“No,” Sookie confirmed. “She hopes to catch Hadley and Sigebert unawares; eliminate them; and then take out you, Wybert, and Andre when you come rushin’ into the corridor.”
Growls and fangs clicking downward were heard from around the room, and Sookie gripped her mate’s hand hard.
It took Sophie-Anne a moment to compose herself. “Does Jade intend to claim responsibility for Arkansas? That would be taking quite the risk, for the Council has generally favored me and likely wouldn’t condone such a coup. Peter would be just as likely to be executed as he was to be given my throne!”
“Jade plans for Peter to be away from the scene of the crime. Um—plausible deniability,” Sookie answered somewhat timidly, not surprising given that she was talking to the subject of the assassination plot that she’d heard about. The telepath took another deep breath before continuing, “In fact, Jade’s countin’ on not gettin’ caught at all, according to Harley. Margeaux knows enough about the security system to be confident about where the gaps in video coverage are. Harley thinks Jade’s gonna try to slip in and out without being seen and commit all the murders where the cameras can’t see—so that she can try to shift the blame onto someone else,” the telepath finished, clearly upset by the news she was sharing.
“Who?” the queen asked.
“Harley doesn’t know. He had a fleeting thought that—if he were the one in charge—he’d try to set up Quinn since he’s tied to Nevada and King de Castro,” Sookie shrugged. “But he’s got no idea about the magic involved in your contract with Quinn. Um—the magic that makes him completely loyal to you as long as the contract is binding.”
“Jade would know about the nature of Quinn’s contracts,” the queen said contemplatively. “Still—Nevada would be a good red herring. Andre, are there sufficient gaps in the security system to allow her plan to work?” the queen asked.
“Likely. We put a few gaps in intentionally—so that we could use them for our benefit,” he responded. “And Margeaux has witnessed our habits—apparently, enough to know that you generally send Hadley and Sigebert back to our apartments early while you, Wybert, and I finish up any important business,” her eldest child confirmed somewhat reluctantly. “However, no matter how well Margeaux understands the camera system, she would never have been able to hear our private conversations.”
Sophie-Anne nodded in understanding. “Has she ever been alone in the monitoring room?”
Andre answered quickly, but softly. “It is possible. She is among those who rotate duty in the surveillance room.”
“So she could have taught herself how to disable various cameras as well,” the queen posited.
“It is possible,” Andre repeated.
“Is she tasked there tonight?” Sophie-Anne asked.
“No. Tomorrow,” Andre informed.
The queen seemed to be processing the new information for a moment before she looked back at Sookie. “Did you hear anything else about who Jade is intending to blame?” she asked.
“She doesn’t care who gets the blame? According to Harley, she just wants to make sure it’s not her king. It was his thought that—maybe—it could be de Castro. Jade intends to make sure that King Peter is somewhere public or back in his rooms on the other side of the palace when it happens so that he will be covered by an alibi. And she and her friends from Arkansas intend to get an alibi from Margeaux, who is known to be a part of your court.”
“How?” Wybert asked.
“I’m betting that she’ll just say that she saw Jade elsewhere when it all happened,” Sookie guessed. “And—since she’s the one monitoring the cameras—people would probably believe her, so it’s doubtful that anyone would double check the video recordings. Or it’s possible that she might doctor the recordings so that Jade appears to be somewhere else.”
“That would be crafty,” Sophie-Anne frowned.
“According to Harley—Jade’s gonna encourage the king to lead a vigorous investigation into the matter, but his ass will be covered. And she thinks hers will be too—because she can make sure the video recordings aren’t studied too much. Since he can be glamoured, Harley is gonna leave tomorrow during the day—just as soon as he plants the nets and stakes. He’s gonna lay low until Jade tells him it’s safe.”
“Surely, Jade doesn’t think she could take us all out!” Andre said with arrogance.
“Jade Flower is not to be discounted,” Sophie-Anne said softly. “In the corridors of my home—where I feel safe—and with my children close by, I would not expect an attack, especially not that soon after the accord was signed.” She looked back at Wybert. “Her plan might have succeeded—yes?”
Wybert nodded solemnly. “If silver nets were used, it could. Jade is known to be a deadly close-quarters assassin. She is younger than the three of us, but—with help . . . .” He stopped midsentence.
Sophie-Anne took an unnecessary breath and looked at Eric and then Sookie. “Did you hear anything else?”
The telepath nodded. “From everything I heard, the king has absolutely no idea about any of this. Harley even speculates that Jade will move against Peter too—eventually—because she thinks that he’s weak. Harley is loyal to her because they are lovers and because she pays him very well. Two other Weres are slightly aware of Jade’s scheme, but only that she’s plotting against Sophie-Anne at some point in the future. They are the ones who picked up the silver nets and stakes from Margaeux, who got them onto your estate by glamouring one of your long-term gardeners. Passing the nets along to Harley seems to have been the other two Weres’ only role in the plot.”
“And this Harley character didn’t know Jade’s vampire confederates?” the queen asked.
“Well—uh—he thinks he knows who they are, but he’s not sure. He didn’t think their names, but he pictured two of the ones he’s pretty sure are aligned with Jade. One was a vampire I met earlier tonight—David. The other was part of Peter’s entourage in the meeting room—Jasmine,” Sookie responded. “I’m sorry I don’t know anything about the other one.”
“David is four-hundred and Jasmine is over seven-hundred,” Eric supplied.
“And Margeaux is over 800,” Wybert commented. “They wouldn’t match us in strength, but with four or five attackers and silver, it would have been difficult to defeat them.”
Andre scoffed, but didn’t speak to contradict his vampire brother.
“So the question is what to do about all of this,” Sophie-Anne sighed.
“Jade must be killed—immediately!” Andre hissed.
Sophie-Anne gave Andre a sharp look to silence him.
“Eric?” she asked. “What would you advise?”
Andre growled, but the Viking and the queen ignored him.
“The question you need to ask is whether you still wish to align with Peter,” Eric began.
“Of course not!” Andre yelled.
Sophie-Anne sighed deeply. “Andre, I know how you feel about this matter, which is why I don’t need to ask you. However, right now, I wish to hear all Eric has to say without another outburst from you,” she added warningly.
“Aligning with Arkansas makes sense in many ways,” Eric said after a moment of silence had passed during which a sullen Andre had closed his mouth tightly, his lips quivering with the effort.
“What positives do you see?” the queen asked her trusted sheriff.
“Arkansas might not be a rich state, but that’s not due to a lack of prosperity among the individual vampires there. My sources have told me that Peter’s people are content and loyal because he is fair. They would fight for him and—in turn—fight for you if need be. The two-natured beings in his state are partners, rather than nuisances. He’s a good king, Your Majesty. He lives modestly and wisely invests most of the tributes he receives. I think he would be loyal to you.”
“I have considered other states to align with,” Sophie-Anne shared. “Texas would be ideal in certain ways, but I have it on good authority that the King might be stepping down soon—with Stan Davis taking his place.”
“I have heard the same rumor,” Eric confirmed. “Stan might entertain an offer, however.”
The queen smirked. “If he is like most arrogant new kings and queens, he’ll entertain about forty offers and string several of them along for many years while he gets his bearings and solidifies his power in-state. And, as much as Russell is amusing at times, he is looking elsewhere for a marriage partner.”
Eric considered for a moment. “You are pushing an alignment with a border state because you think that there will be a takeover attempt—correct?” he asked.
“Eventually, de Castro will make a move on Louisiana,” Sophie-Anne said with a mixture of resignation and certainty. “He’s made marriage offers in the past, and let’s just say that I did not need Sookie here to know that Felipe would be plotting my demise before the ink on the contract was dry. He tried with Peter a few years ago, but was shot down. If I’m correct, de Castro will target Oklahoma next—either as an ally or a marriage partner so that he can try to sneak into Louisiana from the northwest. Indeed, the only reason he’s likely held back so far has been your presence in that area, but he’ll become brazen eventually. If I align with Arkansas, I can keep a better eye on Oklahoma, and Felipe will rethink any sort of invasion into Area 5 since Peter could fight him from the north, and I could fight him from the south.”
Eric’s eyebrow rose. “Were you planning to tell me about your theory regarding my area being the place where de Castro may invade?”
“As if you didn’t already suspect everything I already do,” Sophie-Anne smirked.
Eric chuckled. “Fair enough. I believe Peter was exaggerating when he said that the Alamo would never have fallen if his maker hadn’t chosen him out of the survivors and spirited him away in order to turn him,” he grinned with a roll of his eyes. “However, he’s a brutal motherfucker when he chooses to be. So—given your thoughts on the matter and my instincts and knowledge about Peter, he’s a better match than he might initially seem to be. I’d counsel that you go forward with the marriage contract and then give the king the opportunity to help you eliminate his lieutenant.”
“Those were my thoughts,” Sophie-Anne said with a nod. “Wybert?”
“You clearly like Threadgill. I would suggest that you gauge his reaction to Jade’s treachery before you sign the contract, rather than after. But—other than that—I think you should go forward with the marriage.”
Sophie-Anne turned to her eldest child, who was stewing. “I would like to hear from you now, Andre,” she said softly, even as she tenderly took his hand.
Andre shook his head. “You seem to have already decided,” he said sullenly.
“I am 99% there,” the queen admitted. “But I still want to hear you now that you have heard what the others and I have said on the matter.”
“Threadgill is the one who chose Jade to be his lieutenant. At the very least, his judgment needs to be questioned. You are better than him, Your Majesty. Aligning with him would give him much honor, while it would offer you only a little additional security from potential future threats. Form a treaty with Arkansas, as you have done with Texas and Mississippi, and let that be the extent of it with Threadgill. Look for a better marriage partner elsewhere. You could even align with California or Arizona and then take over de Castro’s state before he makes a move on us!” he finished definitively.
“Thank you,” she said to her child affectionately. “And thank you, Sookie,” she added as she turned her gaze to the telepath. “Your contribution has been invaluable here tonight and may have saved my life.”
Sookie blushed. “I’m glad I could help.”
The queen looked at Eric. “I’ll be in contact before dawn about my decisions and our course of action. Until then, I believe that Sookie has done enough for the evening.”
With that, Sophie-Anne rose to her feet, spurring everyone else who was sitting to rise as well. Eric and Pam nodded their heads respectfully, while Sookie offered a little curtsy.
Sophie-Anne smiled at the telepath with gratefulness in her eyes before dipping her head in a slight bow. It was clear that all the vampires were just as surprised as Sookie by the gesture.
After the queen had gone to her bedroom, Andre sneered at Eric before leaving through another door.
Eric gave Wybert a significant look.
“Andre cannot hear us in here; neither can my maker,” Wybert said in answer to Eric’s unspoken question.
“What is she doing about him?” Eric asked.
“She’s watching him,” Wybert responded.
“And what is he doing?”
“There are some places where Rasul has not been able to follow. Andre has been very cautious. However, earlier tonight, he went to one of his private homes—one he’s concealed from even our maker—to drop off some donors. Rasul speculated that Andre is allowing a small nest of vampires to stay there. However, Andre did not stay to feed with them; instead, he immediately came back here and had a short meeting with Jennifer Cater before leaving the palace again.”
“Did he return to his safehouse?” Eric asked.
“No. He went out of the city. North. He traveled in a direction he’s gone in before, but Rasul could not follow him in the past. Octavia Fant has made him some scent concealing potion, however. So he attempted to follow tonight.”
“Attempted?” Pam asked, speaking up for the first time since they’d entered the queen’s private rooms.
“Andre cannot be followed if he truly makes an effort not to be,” Wybert said with a hint of brotherly pride. “Even our maker cannot find him once he stifles their connection.”
“He has that ability?” Eric asked.
“Our maker taught us all,” Wybert said. “Andre is the best at it.”
The Viking nodded in understanding. The vampires in his line had a similar ability, though Appius had commanded Eric to never try it with him.
“I sent Rasul to further investigate the safehouse once he lost Andre. There, he found the scents of four vampires outside the house. Andre was one, of course. And he knew one of the other scents: Bill Compton’s.”
Sookie gasped and held onto Eric’s hand a little tighter.
“Compton is supposed to be out of the country,” the Viking growled.
“The queen has told me that—if Compton makes a move while you are in the city—you have permission to kill him with prejudice. Meanwhile, after he reported to her earlier tonight, the queen tasked Rasul with returning to the safehouse until an hour or so before dawn when he will be relieved by a Were. Then, Rasul will return tomorrow right after sunset so that he can follow Bill if he leaves the safehouse again. Andre might be able to elude Rasul, but Bill won’t be able to do the same. We are hoping that Bill might go where Andre has been going so that we can figure out what their plans are,” Wybert informed.
“If those plans involve Sookie . . . ,” Eric growled but did not complete his sentence.
“My maker intends to deal with Andre before the ball,” Wybert said in a hushed voice, though the room was soundproof. “But—until then—she is,” he paused, “using him to try to garner more information.”
“That must be difficult for her,” Sookie said compassionately.
Wybert looked at her with a little bit of surprise in his eyes. “It is, Miss Stackhouse,” he acknowledged.
“Why not just kill Bill during the day tomorrow?” Pam asked. “If we know where he is, we could take him out.”
“Rasul picked up the four vampire scents outside of the dwelling,” Wybert reminded. “He could not enter Andre’s safehouse to discover any other information because there is a powerful spell around the dwelling. He could not even tell if the house was occupied when he was investigating. It seems to be protected by a modified spell against any ill-intent.”
“Modified how?” Eric asked.
“My guess is that it has been altered to act against spying as well as ill-intent. Some ill-intent spells work only against those planning immediate harm to the owner of the dwelling. Since Andre likes conducting interrogations in his private residences instead of at the palace at times, he has modified such spells before to ensure his privacy against anyone who is uninvited by himself or a guest.”
Eric nodded in understanding. “So—if he’s used this kind of magic before—there is no reason to assume that it is from Hallow.”
Wybert looked momentarily tired. “My queen believes that Andre is somehow mixed up with Hallow and Compton in a scheme to get to you, Miss Stackhouse. Andre thinks he knows better than our maker when it comes to your,” he paused, “employment status.”
Sookie tensed up.
“If that is the case, we hope Compton will lead Rasul right to the witch. After the ball, we intend to capture anyone involved and then deal with them harshly,” the Saxon informed, his voice taking on a deadly timbre. He looked right at Eric. “That harshness will not exclude Andre—if we are right about him.”
Eric nodded at Wybert and then led Sookie from the room. It had been a tense night, and he and his bonded needed some time alone. Moreover, his senses told him that Sookie’s scent still did not carry his own—at least, not to the extent that it should. And Sookie’s scent within him had been covered by a damnable potion as well.
The idea irked him to the bone.
Thus, with business ended for the night, the Viking was more motivated than ever to finish what had been started in the tunnels before their meeting with the queen!
A/N: I really hope that I managed to clearly convey what Sookie had heard about Jade’s plan. Saying enough without giving everything away can be hard. LOL.
Anyway, did you enjoy all the intrigue? I hope so. Drop me a comment if you have the time and the inclination.