Somehow, despite all that had happened with Andre, Queen Sophie-Anne and King Peter had still managed to make their triumphant entrance into the ballroom—right at midnight.
They had shared the first dance of the evening, gliding gracefully around the ballroom as if neither one of them had a care in the world. A few of the Arkansas contingent had asked about Jade’s absence. However, Jennifer Cater informed any askers that Jade had left for Arkansas to begin preparations for a visit that Sophie-Anne wanted to make to the state of her newly betrothed at the end of the following week.
Did some vampires wonder why Jade would not be present at the actual pledging ceremony?
But—then again—the Asian vampiress wasn’t known to be particularly sociable. Russell Edgington had been the one to squelch any potential gossip by snidely stating that Jade’s presence would have only made everyone worry that they were about to get knifed in the back.
He’d had no idea how right he was!
Andre had entered the ballroom at about 12:10 a.m., freshly dressed and showered. He immediately began to schmooze with the most important humans in the room—being very “Andre-like,” though certainly paler than usual. He’d smoothly covered his absence from the betrothal ceremony by saying that he’d been dealing with a security matter.
No one guessed that he’d been that security matter!
As for Eric and Sookie, the couple had decided that dancing was the best way to deal with any impending situation. From the dance floor, they kept an eye on Andre, as well as the others in the room; actually, Eric kept all of his senses tuned to any issues that might arise; meanwhile, Sookie—from the nest of her bonded’s arms—kept her extra-sense tuned to any worrisome thoughts.
For twenty-five minutes, nothing was amiss. But then Andre caught Eric’s eye, and—though Andre looked extremely pained as he did it—he looked toward the north door before breaking Eric’s gaze and progressing towards that exit. Not a second later, Thalia seemed to materialize out of thin air and followed right behind him.
“Should we go?” Sookie asked her bonded in a whisper, having followed Eric’s gaze and seeing Thalia leaving.
Eric seemed thoughtful for a moment.
“Something . . . ,” he whispered.
“Something?” she asked.
“A feeling—a vague one,” he replied.
“Dread? Like before?”
“Not quite. Almost,” he said with some uncertainty.
Sookie’s brow furrowed with worry. “Appius?” she mouthed, not wanting any supernatural ears to hear her.
“I don’t know. But . . . .” He paused for a moment. “Something in my blood. Not Pam. Not you. Something getting closer.”
“Karin?” she mouthed discreetly.
He frowned. About a week after he and Sookie had bonded, he finally told her about the job that he’d asked Karin to do: to basically watch him from a distance and stop him—killing him if need be—if Appius decided to try to command him to hurt those he loved.
The “those” being mainly Sookie.
Their biggest fight to date had occurred when she’d insisted that he “fire” Karin. He’d refused.
She’d continued to insist.
He’d continued to refuse.
They hadn’t made love that night, and—though they’d shared the same bed—they’d not touched in it.
The next night, both had regretted the fight, especially since it revolved around how much they each prioritized their mate over themselves. More so, they had regretted the fact that they’d willfully given up their intimacy—both emotional and physical. In the end—after a visit to Gran’s grave and an emergency appointment with Dr. Aphra Smith, her part-Britlingen therapist—Sookie had accepted Eric’s decision regarding Karin, deferring to his experience with Appius.
And respecting his fear of his maker.
Just as importantly, they’d decided that a priority in their relationship needed to be avoiding fights—especially those fueled by their stubbornness—that would lead to emotional distance between them.
Since that resolution, they’d had several conversations about Appius Livius Ocella—none of them pleasant. Those talks had all been very painful for Eric to get through, though he’d initiated them all. Still—for the first time since he’d been made a vampire—he felt himself healing from the deep wounds wrought by his maker. And he let himself be vulnerable. Indeed, he’d even agreed to begin having counseling sessions with Dr. Smith. Those would be starting in March, and—though Eric was a bit skeptical about the process—Sookie had helped him to realize that any suppressed pain he had would seep its way into the rest of his life.
Of course, Eric had insisted that Dr. Smith be sworn to secrecy. It was one thing for his bonded to know that he was seeing a shrink. Anyone else though? Hell no!
These thoughts having breezed through the vampire’s mind, he shrugged. “It might be her,” he said softly to Sookie. His bonded knew that his connection with Karin had been more-less severed by him when he wanted for Appius to believe that his first-made child was truly dead. Most of the time, Eric could feel only that Karin still lived. When she was close—and not blocking him—he could also pick up her strongest emotions.
But that was all he could ever feel from her.
Indeed, he couldn’t even compare his current blood connection with Karin with the way he had been able to feel hints of Sookie’s stronger emotions and her general location after she’d taken a few drops of his blood in Dallas. Karin had to be quite near—much nearer than the distance between Bon Temps and Shreveport—for him to feel her stronger emotions.
Eric took a moment to reach out to the flimsy string that remained with Karin. She was certainly still undead. But any connection beyond that was dulled—as if she were far away from him. But, of course, she had the ability to block even the small tie which remained between them, so he wasn’t surprised that he could barely sense her.
Again, he tensed slightly, feeling a twinge of something.
A shot of trepidation.
Sookie looked at her mate apprehensively and stopped their dancing. His body, moving in perfect sync with hers, stopped with her.
They shared a look—the deep kind that moved through the eyes and into the soul. They were each worried about Andre’s actions, Bill’s possible role in them, the witches’ involvement, Thalia’s safety, and the uncertainty of the entire situation.
Mostly, however, both were worried about Eric’s feelings of misgiving.
“You hate having feelings,” she emphasized in a whisper.
“I did—before you,” he agreed.
“But now you have them, and you like them.”
“He’d feel that,” she said shakily.
“He would. That is my worry.”
“It’s why you contacted Karin,” she said, though she mouthed the last word since very few had any idea of Eric’s connection with the notorious assassin.
He nodded in confirmation.
“What do you feel now, Eric? Right now?” she emphasized, her voice imploring.
He frowned deeply.
“Be completely honest,” she pushed. “Let me in,” she added, gripping his hand—wanting him to open up their bond fully.
“Fear,” he admitted after a moment. “It’s on the edges of my mind—gripping me. Fear.”
Sookie’s eyes widened; she felt something too! She grabbed her mate’s hand and began walking with purpose toward Queen Sophie-Anne who was dancing with Russell Edgington.
Fifteen Minutes Earlier
“It seems I’ve already lost Sophie-Anne to another king,” Peter Threadgill said playfully to Hadley, the queen’s youngest child and the only one who was an active lover to his soon-to-be wife. Peter glanced over his shoulder at King Ian Bowles, his Tennessee ally, who was currently enjoying a dance with the queen.
Hadley forced a smile and took a drink of her blood.
“By the way, you look beautiful tonight,” Peter said charmingly as he took a champagne flute full of Royalty Blended from a passing waiter.
“Thanks,” the young vampiress responded shyly.
“I want you to know that I get it,” the king said in an informal tone.
“Get it? Get what?” Hadley asked.
Peter turned his gaze toward Sophie-Anne. “You’re jealous that she and I are going to have an official marriage. You’re a very young vampire and you haven’t yet realized that such relationships are for political reasons only.”
“Only?” Hadley asked skeptically. “All your flirtin’ would suggest otherwise.”
Peter chuckled. “I’ll admit that I like your maker—maybe even a lot. And I’m attracted to her. But there’s zero possibility that we’ll end up in love or anything like that. Truly, you have nothin’ to worry about on my account. In fact, I’d like to be your friend, and I’d be happy to have you participate when Sophie-Anne and I,” he paused “connect.”
In a human way, Hadley almost spit out her drink at his suggestion of a threesome between them—not that she hadn’t enjoyed them with Sophie-Anne and other partners before.
The king chuckled. “Just if it makes you feel better, darlin’,” he drawled. “But—even if you don’t want to join in—I want you to know that I’m not gonna take her away from you.” He shook his head. “Truth be known, I wouldn’t much want her that way. I was never good at bein’ faithful.”
“I don’t know if I should be insulted on her behalf or grateful,” Hadley said, still a bit flustered.
Peter shrugged. “It’s not like I’d expect her faithfulness. I know who she loves most,” he added significantly, looking right at her.
Hadley acknowledged his words with a little smile. “I’m new, but my brother has been helpin’ me to understand about you and my maker,” she said softly. “I’ll admit that I am a little jealous, but I won’t cause any trouble.”
“Which brother?” Peter chuckled as he glanced at Andre, who was speaking with the human governor as if nothing was amiss with his position at court.
Hadley snickered. “Not that one,” she said with a shake of her head.
Peter reached out to take her glass. “Wanna dance, pretty lady?’
She giggled. “Okay.”
The two had taken only one step toward the dance floor when Wybert stepped in their way. “Come,” he requested of the king gruffly.
Peter winked at Hadley. “I’ll find you for that dance later.”
The younger vampiress wouldn’t have dared to disagree with her brother when he had such a serious look on his face. “Okay,” she told the king as she nodded respectfully to Wybert.
The Saxon motioned toward the northeast corner of the large room—to a relatively small roped-off area, ostensibly for the wait-staff to place discarded trays. However, in actuality, the space had a Privacy Spell erected within the roped-off portion.
Once secure within the confines of the Privacy Spell, Wybert turned his back on the room at large and spoke without preamble.
“Keep an eye on her,” he half-requested and half-demanded of the king.
“On Sophie-Anne?” the king asked.
The king narrowed his eyes. “You positioned your back to the room so that no one could see you talkin’ faster than a drunk Shakespeare, you wily fella!” He laughed loudly, not that anyone could hear him.
“My brother and I prefer that others do not know that we are beyond mere brutes,” he reminded. “We did you honor by allowing you knowledge of this.”
Peter grinned. “And I am honored. And, you know I’ll keep my trap shut.”
Wybert frowned. “Just so you know, William Shakespeare was a quiet drunk. He did most of his writing in that state.”
Peter laughed again but sobered quickly as he saw Sophie-Anne gliding by. “Don’t worry about your queen. I have my eyes on her, and she’s just switched from dancing with Ian to Russell Edgington. Plus, Sigebert is watching over her.”
Wybert nodded in acknowledgement. “There is more. My brother and I require your help.”
“I’m assumin’ you’re talkin’ about Sigebert.”
“Yes,” the Saxon confirmed. “Andre drank only enough blood to heal the burn marks from the silver,” he informed.
Peter scowled. His initial thought was to ask why the hell Wybert should care about that prick’s discomfort. But then he glanced at Andre, who was currently rubbing elbows with the Senator. It didn’t escape Peter’s notice to see that Andre was also keeping an eye on his maker—an adoring one. He loved her; that much was very clear. And he’d do anything for her.
“Are you tryin’ to tell me that your big brother purposely left himself weakened so that he’ll be more likely to fail in whatever he’s up to?”
“You are not so dumb as you look,” Wybert smirked, though his light-hearted expression didn’t last long. “If he dies—which his weakened state makes a lot more likely—my queen will by debilitated for a few moments.” He moved a little closer to Peter. “She will take Sigebert, Hadley, and myself with her, for we are linked tightly to her. It is in those seconds that we need you to prove that you are worthy of your alliance with her.”
“Me? Not the Viking?” Peter asked.
Wybert shook his head. “He would protect the queen over many. But not at the expense of his bonded. My maker knows this.”
“And she is fine with it?” Peter asked.
“My maker is an extraordinary vampire; she does not begrudge the Viking his priorities.” The Saxon shook his head. “For most of my existence, I have counseled my queen, though I knew that Andre’s was the voice she listened to the most, for she and my eldest brother had years of trust between them already before she made me and Sigebert. Sometimes, I did not like that Sophie-Anne listened so much to Andre; however, I was always confident that he had her wellbeing in mind—at least, until a few decades ago.”
“What changed?” Peter asked curiously.
“The Viking,” Wybert said with a shake of his head. “Once my brother wasn’t the strongest, ablest vampire in our queen’s kingdom, he became insecure; of course, he would never admit that. But the queen felt it. She hoped that Andre would learn from the experience—to begin to understand that having extremely strong assets was a sign of strength—not something of which to be afraid. My brother has always suspected that Eric was ambitious for the Louisiana throne,” he added with another shake of his head.
“I might be younger than most kings, but even I know that’s not how the Viking would operate—unless pushed,” Peter commented.
“I think part of Andre wanted to push Eric—just to prove himself right,” Wybert commented astutely. “But all this is neither here, nor there. What is important is that someone stands between the queen and danger—if she becomes vulnerable at any point.” His gaze at the Arkansas king became even more intense. “The same vulnerability would occur if any of her children fell. So we count on you. Be worthy of our trust, King of Arkansas, and you will always have friends in my brother and myself. Do you understand?”
Peter nodded, accepting the gravity and the honor embedded in the warrior’s words. “I understand.” His gaze went again to Andre, who was moving toward an exit. “He’s leaving.”
Wybert quickly turned around just in time to see Thalia following him.
“Then, it is beginning,” Wybert stated.
Appius was excited in a way that he had rarely experienced for his millennia of life!
Generally, his excitement was felt only through Alexei—second-hand feelings through their bond. Indeed, those moments of excitement felt by his younger child were likely the reason why Appius indulged him. In truth, the elder loved those moments.
They were like little bursts of light—firefly strobes—in his dull life.
Yes—Alexei had brought excitement back into Appius’s life, though the elder vampire knew that these hand-me-down feelings were inauthentic, for they were not his own.
However, the ancient vampire did not allow the monotonies of an extremely long existence get him down—as happened to weaker vampires. No—he got satisfaction from his existence by creating situations that intrigued him. For instance, toying with pliable vampires like William Compton was always amusing, and William had been a special delight, for he had also given Appius some peace about Alexei’s future. Knowing that he could groom William to be Alexei’s caretaker, Appius was enjoying the new experience of creating a child—without actually having to turn one. And the pursuit was interesting to Appius.
But it was not exciting.
However, as he neared Sophie-Anne’s compound with his small band of allies at his back, he—quite literally—tingled with anticipation. In truth, he didn’t need any of them, for he was old enough to plow through any opponents he might face in Sophie-Anne Leclerq’s paltry court. He’d decimated more powerful retinues than hers, though it had been centuries since he’d been able to truly “let loose” in such a way. But the idea of bloodshed was not what was titillating the old vampire.
No—his excitement came from only one place: the promise of toying with his elder child.
“I wonder what Freud would say about that?” he chuckled to himself.
Amused by the “new” science of psychology, Appius had actually entertained himself by visiting with Sigmund Freud in 1897, approximately twenty years before he turned Alexei. Of course, he’d glamoured Freud to offer his psychoanalysis without being able to speak or write about his supernatural subject. However, Freud had been quite anxious to work with his vampire client—and, lucky for Freud, his blood had been of a poor enough taste that Appius didn’t even feed from him often, so the “doctor” had been safe enough.
Indeed, Freud had amused him, and Appius had been incredibly open about all of his thoughts about humanity, his own long existence, his bitch of a maker, his human life, and—especially—his feelings about Eric.
Freud had called those feelings an “acute obsession”—made stronger because Pythia had forced Appius to give up the subject of his desires. Had Appius not been so amused, he might have killed Freud when he suggested that Eric represented Appius’s intense need to be loved by a child—a need which stemmed from his rejection by both his human parents and his vampire sire. However, Appius had refrained from murdering the “good doctor,” though he’d glamoured Freud not to suggest such blasphemy again!
Appius could admit that he craved devotion from his child—that he wanted Eric to love him. But the elder drew the line at seeing his craving as a sign of deficit in himself—as Freud had foolishly implied. Indeed, if anything, Appius felt that he was trying to establish a “good and right” relationship with his child, despite the fact that such a kinship had never been modeled for him by his own maker and the human parents he barely remembered.
More amusing was when Freud had taken their weekly therapy sessions on a two-month exploration of how Appius’s “deviant” homosexuality had influenced his propensity toward violence. During one particular session, Appius had seduced Dr. Freud—without the use of glamour—and had made him scream in passion as he came! Appius had greatly enjoyed watching the doctor psychoanalyze himself after that!
Indeed, the vampire knew for a fact that Freud had begun an affair with his wife’s sister in order to reestablish his own masculinity after his sexual experience with a man had made him question his own sexuality.
Yes—Freud had been quite amusing!
However, he never had helped Appius come up with a satisfactory explanation for why he craved Eric’s pain so much—beyond offering Appius the diagnosis that he was a “sadist.” However, the vampire had been displeased by such a surface reading of his psyche—and he’d also resented the implicit comparison to the Marquis de Sade, whom Appius had met in 1793 in a dank little drinking house in Paris. The man’s blood had smelled foul; still, the vampire had passed two evenings with the man—discussing his book Justine. Appius had been further amused a decade or so later—when Napoleon ordered de Sade’s imprisonment for that same book.
Ultimately, Appius had felt that de Sade was a pitiful creature—thus, his resentment of the label Freud had bestowed upon him.
Not long after that classification, Appius had glamoured the doctor one last time and ended their therapy sessions—after a parting fuck to further fuck with Dr. Sigmund Freud!
He’d left the therapy with no more peace about the Eric-situation than when he’d started his sessions. All he knew was that he craved his eldest child, but that being around him gave him great pain due to the fucking crone’s command.
Ultimately, what more was there to know?
Freud had contributed one useful piece of advice, however. He’d suggested that Appius find an object upon which to “displace” his desire for Eric since he could not be with his child physically. That object had turned out to be Alexei.
The van that William was driving halted one block from Sophie-Anne’s compound. Appius could sense that the identical van that Mark Stonebrook was driving parked right behind them on the street. In Mark’s van were Hallow, Debbie Pelt, and two other witches that Hallow promised were capable of fighting if need be. The vampire hadn’t bothered to learn their names.
“Wait,” Appius instructed as William went to open his door. He looked sharply at the Louisianan. “You are to ensure that Alexei is unharmed tonight. Do you understand, William?” he asked, his voice holding a clear threat.
William performed the very human action of gulping. “Of course, Master. I would die for my brother,” he offered sincerely.
Appius nodded his approval and then winked at William. “But do try to let Alexei have a bit of fun—yes?”
William smiled and nodded. “Yes—of course.”
Karin spoke from the back bench of the van. “May I go now?” she asked impatiently.
Appius looked back at her, conveying his full power in a single look. “We spoke about his, Karin. Do you need reminding?”
She shook her head quickly and shuddered as Hallow’s magic continued to work upon her—tearing her apart in a way. On the one hand, the Heart’s Desire Spell made her rabid to run to Eric. On the other hand, the Influence Spell had given Appius control over Karin’s actions. And—though it clearly pained her to stay in place—that was exactly what she did.
“No, Master, I need no reminding,” Karin said, her voice shaking. “I will wait for you to tell me when.”
The elder vampire nodded, once again impressed by the power of Hallow’s Influence Spell.
“Patience, My Dear. You will soon have all that you deserve and more,” Appius promised, even as he looked back at William, who moved a bit nervously in his seat, though he didn’t speak to challenge Appius over Karin’s role in the night’s events—or the danger her presence might mean for Sookie.
Appius reached out and gave William an affectionate pat. “Stay here,” he instructed. “I want to watch in order to make sure that Debbie is let into the compound with no issues. Our witches have proven their abilities, but I don’t fully trust Andre.”
“Can’t I come?” Alexei pouted.
“It will be our turn for fun soon,” the elder said, winking at his younger child. “Play your game for now.”
Alexei’s pout did not dissipate, but he nodded and looked back at his hand-held video game.
Appius got out of the car. Yes—it would be time for fun very soon.
“Time for fun with Eric,” he promised at such a low volume that no one heard him.
A/N: Hello everyone. First of all, I need to apologize for such a long hiatus. Like a lot of you, my life has needed to change a lot since Covid-19 became such a facet in our lives. I’ve been very lucky, but my job transitioned to online, and the time and effort to make that transition has been and continues to be substantial. In addition to that, my health just doesn’t allow me to write long hours on a computer—especially after I’ve already spent long hours working on one. Too much computer time = compounded health issues. That being said, I still have a passion for writing – and writing Eric & Sookie stories. I still hope to finish everything I’ve started and to bring you new stories as well.
I can only imagine that many of you have been out there suffering in ways large and small due to all the craziness of 2020. All I can say is that I hope you are well, I hope your families are well, and I hope that we can all stay safe. I wish you health and security through these troubling times, and I have hope that things will get better, even if they have to get worse before that. Hang in there.
Now to the story – I hope that you enjoyed this chapter. Indeed, I hope you remember what was going on before the chapter! Almost all the characters are in place for a confrontation. All I can say is that it won’t be easy for our favorite characters.
I aim to have a chapter a week until the story is complete. I do have 10 weeks’ worth of chapters “banked” and ready for their last-minute tweaks, so you can count on at least that many weeks of uninterrupted chapters.
In the spirit of the season, I want to thank—as always—Kleannhouse for her willingness to beta and her support as a friend. Any remaining errors are my responsibility—as I sometimes add last-minute changes. I also want to thank Sephrenia—responsible for most of the art on my WordPress blog. I especially want to thank these two women for always being there to communicate with me, whether it is story-related or life-related.
And I want to thank all of you too! If you are reading this, you have proven your patience with me again and again. And I couldn’t be more honored.
All the best to you all,