SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13 • 8:01 p.m.
“I must admit that I expected a more private meeting the first time I entered your boudoir, Your Majesty,” Peter Threadgill said to Sophie-Anne as Sigebert led him and his most trusted guard, Jacob, inside the queen’s private chambers. A large, velvet-clad bed dominated one side of the large room. The other side was populated by a roaring fireplace and a seating area large enough for ten people. However, none of the nine people waiting in the room were sitting.
Quickly, the Arkansas king gauged the expressions of the five-plus millennia-worth of vampires who now surrounded him: the queen, Andre, Wybert, Sigebert, Eric Northman, Thalia, Pamela Ravenscroft, and another younger vampire the king did not recognize.
The queen looked curious, more than anything else—as if she were waiting for a long-promised answer. Andre looked impatient—and frustrated. Wybert, Sigebert, and Thalia looked expressionless. Pamela looked bored. The youngest vampire in the room was biting her lip as if she were the one on the chopping block. But it was Northman’s expression that most steadied Peter. The Viking was giving him a look of—for lack of a better word—approval.
Maybe even respect.
And that—more than anything else—helped Peter to understand that he’d not been brought into that room so that he could be ambushed.
There were also two non-vampires present: a female Were and a human. Peter recognized the human as a woman who’d been in the meeting the night before: Susanna Saunders; however, she smelled much different than she had before.
The King of Arkansas looked at her and then at Eric, his eyes asking a question about the pretty human who happened to smell heavily of the Viking—and much sweeter than the night before, too!
Eric’s own eyes went to Jacob, Peter’s guard who was clearly also taking in the potentially threatening force. However, Jacob’s read of the room was quite different from his king’s; his guard was clearly sensing that his monarch had been led into a trap.
Peter saw that Jacob’s hand was hovering just over his weapon of choice, a specially-crafted gun that fired silver bullets with wooden cores. The bullets were ingenious, actually. If a vampire were shot in the heart by the bullet, he or she would not die until the silver dissolved into the vampire’s system, leaving only the wood to finally kill the vampire. Of course, if the bullet were removed in time, the vampire would be spared, though the healing would take time.
And be excruciating.
Needless to say, Jacob had conducted many effective questionings because of his favored weapon—and its ability to encourage quick confessions.
However, Peter knew that now was definitely not the time for Jacob to unholster his gun. And—even if he could do so before he was beset by vampires—he’d never be fast enough to shoot a single bullet.
“Don’t,” Eric warned the guard, obviously reading the situation accurately as well.
“Majesty?” Jacob asked.
Peter shook his head slightly as he noted that his guard’s fingers were just touching the handle of his gun.
“Jacob, I think it’s time for you to go,” Peter said firmly.
“Majesty?” the guard repeated with confusion.
“I’ll be fine,” the Arkansas king said confidently.
“But . . . ,” Jacob started.
“These folks wanna talk to me, Jacob. If they had other plans, we’d both be dead by now,” the king stated with the certainty of an individual who was an expert at knowing when his ass was on the line.
Eric nodded slightly, giving Peter all the assurance that he needed.
“Post yourself right outside the queen’s apartment,” the king ordered his guard. “And—if anyone asks—I’m fucking the queen in here—well!” he emphasized. “And there is nothing wrong. Understood?”
Jacob nodded. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
“And Sophie-Anne and I are in here alone,” the king added.
Jacob nodded again.
“Sigebert,” Sophie-Anne said to one of her Saxon children, “go with Peter’s guard. Anyone would find it odd if you were not on duty with Jacob here—given what Peter and I are supposedly up to.”
Sigebert nodded to his queen and quickly led Jacob out of the door.
For a moment, everyone in the room was quiet.
“Was Jade correct?” Peter finally asked.
“Correct about what?” Sophie-Anne responded with a question of her own.
“She insisted that all of this marriage negotiation stuff was a plot to get me vulnerable, to kill me, and then to take my throne,” the king conveyed as if he were talking about the weather, even as he took a seat in an oversized chair. His body language read as completely relaxed.
His mind, however, was not. He was currently processing everything going on around him; but more than anything, he was curious.
“Jade Flower is not correct,” the queen emphasized as she took a place on the couch across from Peter’s chair. Not one else sat.
Sophie-Anne continued, “My interest in linking our states is sincere. However, we have learned of a plot to take my life—involving your vampires.” She sat forward a little. “Specifically, Miss Flower.”
Peter crossed his legs and sat back further into his chair; the holder for the Bowie knife he kept strapped to his ankle became visible, though it was clear that the king did not intend to use it—at least, not at the moment. He folded his hands behind his head, leaning back even more.
“It is possible that you heard Jade speaking about her theories of your duplicity, Sophie-Anne. I freely admit that she floated the idea of taking out you and your children just last night,” Peter informed.
Andre’s fangs clicked down, but a look from his maker told him to stay still and quiet.
The king continued. “She felt that you had a hidden agenda and wanted to strike first. One cannot blame a Lieutenant for wishing to protect her king. However, ultimately, I made the decision that I would trust you. And Jade has accepted that. There is no plot, Sophie-Anne. There was only a suggestion on her part, which I have denied.”
Sophie-Anne looked at Susanna Saunders; the sweet-smelling human shook her head.
The king shifted his attention to her as well. “I was a hunter and a trapper—as my profession—when I was a human; of course, that was before I joined up with the army and became a scout and a spy for them, Ms. Saunders. So—needless to say—I’d developed my senses even before I was turned vampire. They are now quite honed.” He looked from Eric to her again. “You are bonded with Sheriff Northman, which should be impossible, given the fact that—only last night—you had no vampire blood inside of you. Indeed, your scent has changed almost entirely—to include both him and,” he paused, “something else. Something sweet.”
Eric took the woman’s hand protectively—and possessively. “Your Majesty, we are inclined to inform you that Susanna Saunders was just a creation of ours to keep my bonded’s name from being too public, too soon.”
“So—who do I have the pleasure of meeting?” Peter asked with a smirk.
The woman took a deep breath. “Sookie Stackhouse, Your Majesty.”
Peter looked at her closely. “And what are you, Ms. Stackhouse?”
The woman’s lips turned upwards into a slight smile.
“Something about my question amuses you,” Peter stated with interest.
“Just that I’ve been asked it a lot, Your Majesty. And—uh—this is the first time I’m not gonna reply to it in a way that hides the real answer.” She took another deep breath. “I’m a telepath, Sir. And I’m bonded to Sheriff Northman—as you can clearly tell. Yesterday and earlier today while I was working, I wore a potion that covered up all Supernatural scents in me, but—since I’m gonna be offerin’ the evidence against Jade—you needed to know about me.”
“Working,” Peter said slowly, as if chewing the word. “And what exactly does your work entail, Ms. Stackhouse.”
“Call me Sookie, Sir,” the woman said with a Southern charm that took the king back to his mother’s dinner table where she struggled—and more than often failed—to teach her sons manners.
“Alright. Then, Sookie,” the king acknowledged.
“My work is to read human and two-natured minds. I can’t read vampires, so don’t worry about that. The queen employed me to read everything in any Arkansas mind that I could—in order to understand your motives for the marriage arrangement.”
Peter looked at Sophie-Anne, one of his eyebrows lifted. “I’d lament about there being so little trust in the world if I wouldn’t have used such an asset in just the same way. But are you sure that she cannot hear vampires?”
“Quite,” Sophie-Anne stated.
The king took in that information and then looked back at Sookie. “So—you are gonna try to convince me that my lieutenant—one who has been loyal to me since I took over Arkansas almost two decades ago—has ideas about a takeover that she’s not shared with me—aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry, but yes, Your Majesty,” Sookie said looking truly sorrowful.
The King had to work hard not to show his surprise—at both the possibility that Jade was disloyal and at the young human’s sincere compassion.
“You can call me Peter,” he told her after a few moments. “I actually despise the ceremonial trappings of bein’ a king.”
“Oh—uh—thanks,” Sookie stammered. Again, she took a deep breath. “I heard Jade’s plans from a couple of two-natured people. The main one was a were-badger.”
“Harley,” the king supplied. “He and Jade are lovers,” he added matter-of-factly.
Sookie nodded and blushed a little. “I got that part from his head, too.”
“Okay, then, tell me what Harley was thinking,” the king requested.
“Jade has four vampires working with her: three that you brought from Arkansas and one spy in Sophie-Anne’s court. The one here is Margeaux.”
Peter nodded slowly. “Margeaux was in Arkansas when I overthrew the previous king,” he recalled. “She opted to leave the state when I offered everyone the choice of declaring fealty or moving on.”
Sophie-Anne nodded. “And she has been in New Orleans ever since. She’s been innocuous, but apparently she is Jade’s creature.”
Peter frowned but then nodded. “Jade believes it prudent to insert spies in the courts of our neighbors.”
“That is not a rare belief,” the queen smirked.
“Who?” Peter asked, intrigued by which of his vampires might be on Sophie-Anne’s payroll.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Sophie-Anne asked playfully.
The king chuckled, even as the telepath shook her head at the fact that the two could be so blasé about spies.
“So—who are the three Arkansas vampires working with Jade?” he asked nonchalantly—as if a third of the vampires he’d brought with him weren’t being accused of having their own agendas.
“I don’t know all of them. Harley only thought of two of them, and—even with them—he was only speculating about the ‘whos.’ Jade never told him directly,” Sookie relayed. “He doesn’t think she trusts him 100%, though he’s not too upset that she’s using him.”
Peter chuckled a bit. “What are his speculations?”
“He thinks it’s David and Jasmine.”
Peter frowned. “I’d thought them loyal.”
“Perhaps Jade has told them that they are doing your bidding, Your Majesty,” Wybert said diplomatically.
“Perhaps,” Peter said. The king was thoughtful for a moment, and the rest of those in the room let him think. “So—what would you have me do, Sophie-Anne? You clearly did not bring me here to fuck me—much to my disappointment. Do you want me to take my contingent and leave?”
“And what would happen if you did that?” the queen asked. “What would that mean to our potential alliance?”
Peter sighed. “You tell me. I can say only what I would do.”
“And what would you do?” Sophie-Anne inquired.
“I’d have everyone packed up and out of here within the hour—citing irreconcilable differences between you and me. Once in Arkansas, I’d have Jade, Harley, David, and Jasmine chained. And then I’d question them. Harley would break first. Then David. Then Jasmine. Once they did, I could find out the other vampire involved. Then I would break him or her as well.”
“And Jade?” the queen asked.
Peter sighed and shook his head. “It’s hard to tell. She has her own kind of honor, and I thought I had her loyalty. But—if what your telepath is telling me is true—she has been going around me. She may believe that she is doing things in my best interest. She may even be misguided enough to believe that I want her to be doing those kinds of things,” he growled. “She may have gotten it into her head that I’m just not telling her what I really want because that would make my hands dirty. However, that means she finds me a fucking imbecile—unable to do my own bidding or know my own fucking mind!” he finished angrily.
The king caught a momentarily guilty look from Andre and glanced at him for a moment.
The queen seemed to ignore the change of focus from Peter. “And if you found out that you had Jade’s loyalty, but that she was still working to circumvent your spoken wishes—and, therefore, your authority—what would you do to her?” she asked with interest.
Peter looked back at Sophie-Anne. Though he couldn’t be certain, it seemed as if her question was loaded with meaning and that not all of it applied to his situation with Jade.
The king took another moment to contemplate as he got his temper in check. “Jade has served me well. I am not dimwitted enough to have missed the fact that her mere presence in my state has likely stopped several individuals from trying to attack me. However, she swore fealty to me, and I do not owe her anything if her obedience is no longer mine. With some vampires, I could let them go—banish them from Arkansas—if their actions were more misguided than treacherous. However, banishment would be seen as unforgiveable to someone like Jade. She would use every trick in her large repertoire and all of her knowledge of my homes and resting places to end me. So—if young Sookie is correct—I cannot let Jade live—if I want to live myself.”
“You seem saddened by that realization,” Sophie-Anne observed softly.
The king did not respond to her; instead, he looked at Sookie, again taking in her sincere expression. And again, he took in Northman’s countenance as well. The Viking looked proud—but not of the king or the queen in the room. He was proud of the woman by his side.
“I am inclined to believe you, Sookie,” Peter said, his expression dark. “However, I still intend to confirm everything you are telling me—in my own way,” He tapped his Bowie knife.
The telepath gulped. “That’s fine.”
The king looked back at Sophie-Anne, finally addressing her earlier comment. “I am saddened. I like Jade; I especially liked the fact that she would hold nothing back when she disagreed with me.” He scoffed. “Actually, it seems like she did hold things back.”
“After you have dealt with Jade, what will you do?” the queen asked. “Will you pursue me again?”
Peter looked at the queen with a bit of surprise. “You’d still consider a match?”
“I would,” Sophie-Anne responded with certainty.
Peter smirked. “Am I that good of a catch in your eyes?”
The queen giggled. “Don’t get too damned full of yourself, Threadgill. I’m afraid that my continued interest in you will come with a condition.”
“I thought it might,” the king looked at her with interest.
“Sookie?” Sophie-Anne said, catching the telepath’s attention. “Tell him what we know of Jade’s plan.”
“Uh—sure—Your Majesty. I mean, Your Majesties,” Sookie responded nervously. “Well, after y’all finish the final negotiations later tonight—if you sign the betrothal contract—then Jade knows that you’ll go immediately back to your room,” she said, looking at the king.
“How does she know that?” Peter asked.
“It’s—uh—your habit to want to look over anything you’ve just signed; plus, you’ll wanna get ready for the ball. Jade’s heard from Margeaux that the queen will likely consult with her children for ten or fifteen minutes, before sending Sigebert and Hadley on ahead to the residential apartment. That’s sort of the general practice when Sophie-Anne conducts important business.”
“Correct,” Sophie-Anne supplied when Sookie glanced in her direction.
The telepath continued. “Meanwhile, Jade and her helpers will gather some silver nets and weapons that were hidden in camera-dead zones by Harley. Then, they’ll get into position. Harley’s not positive, but from what he can gather, Margeaux’s gonna contact Jade when Hadley and Sigebert leave the queen’s office.”
“So Jade has been told that there are gaps in the security feeds, and she plans to use them to her advantage in order to create an ambush?” Peter asked.
“Yes,” Sookie answered.
“Not that she’d need them,” Molly piped up.
Peter looked at the youngest vampire in the room with interest, even as she looked like she wanted to disappear into the carpet for her faux pas of speaking out of turn in a room that held two monarchs. “And who are you?”
The vampire did an awkward looking curtsy, but it was Northman who spoke. “This is Molly; she is a vampire in my retinue and has discovered an issue in the surveillance system.”
Peter noted how, in that moment, Eric and Sophie-Anne both glanced at Andre, who seemed quite uncomfortable.
“Flaw?” Peter asked.
“Someone’s set things up with the cameras so that they can take over and loop certain footage,” Molly said timidly.
Peter couldn’t help but to notice that Andre was seething. “What is Northman’s baby vampire doing in my system?” he asked angrily—and nervously.
“I let her in so that she could better monitor and control the surveillance in the guesthouse and the tunnel,” Sophie-Anne responded evenly.
“Why not ask me? Consult with me?” Andre asked, affronted.
Sophie-Anne gave her eldest child a sharp look. “I’d suggest you contemplate my reasons—while Peter and I finish our meeting. Afterwards, I will listen to what you have come up with.”
If he’d still been a human, Peter knew that he would have shivered at the icy temperature of Sophie-Anne’s tone toward her eldest child.
“Remind me never to get on your bad side,” he muttered, drawing the queen’s attention back to him.
“I hope you are never there,” she said sincerely.
“So—despite having brought a potential assassin into your midst—I am not there yet?” Peter asked, his tone half-appreciation and half-smugness.
He’d never had to work hard to achieve that seemingly impossible mixture.
Sophie-Anne shook her head fondly. “You aren’t exactly on my good side yet either.”
Peter glanced at Andre, who was looking at his maker with concern.
“How will I get on your good side, then?” the king asked.
The queen looked back at Sookie. “According to Miss Stackhouse, your lieutenant and her confederates plan to have Margeaux loop the security feeds; then, they will intercept Sigebert and Hadley before they reach the residential quarters. They intend to kill my Hadley first,” she said, her voice like steel. “Then Sigebert.”
“They believe that you and your other children will come rushing,” Peter said with understanding.
“Yes,” Sophie-Anne nodded. “And they would be right. I would be so out of my mind with rage and worry and pain that I would not think to get more guards before I rushed to see what was wrong. My remaining children would follow me—all of us, at least, partly weakened by so much loss.”
“You’d be lambs running to your own slaughter,” Peter observed.
“Precisely,” the queen stated. “Or, at least, likely.”
Peter looked at Andre and then Wybert, assessing the two. Depending upon how closely tied they were to their maker—and rumor had it that they were very closely linked to her—both strong vampires would have a difficult time if the queen was hurting emotionally and physically. In a fair fight, the two—plus their maker—would have been more than a match for Jade and whomever she found to work with her. However, an ambush when they were not prepared could very well have worked.
Making him the King of Louisiana.
Peter uncrossed his legs, leaned forward, and extended his hand. He was wily enough to know why the queen had brought him into her chambers to tell him Jade’s plans. She was testing him.
And he intended to pass the test.
With a smile, she reached out to take his hand.
“I’m prepared to prove that I could be a good partner to you, Your Majesty,” Peter said sincerely. “Just tell me what role you have in mind for me tonight.”
“What if I asked you to kill Jade for me?” Sophie-Anne inquired.
Peter squeezed her hand. “That must depend upon whether or not I see first-hand proof of her duplicity.”
“And so, you shall,” the queen returned with a nod of her head.
“Perhaps, I will get to show you how good I am at poking a woman with my knife tonight—after all, then,” he said suggestively.
Queen Sophie-Anne giggled. “You’re incorrigible.”
“I’ll take that as a dare,” the king roguishly replied.
A/N: Well—Peter’s in on the plot now. And Sophie-Anne is trusting him not to warn Jade. So—what do you think? Will Peter work with our team? Or will he try to confront/reform Jade? Only time will tell. I hope you liked/understood all the intrigue in this chapter. It was a bear to write.
Please leave a comment if your have the time and/or inclination.
P.S. Sorry I’m a day late with this chapter.