HOUSTON: TWO HOURS EARLIER
Jacob looked around the opulent hotel room that Russell would be staying in for the day. The queen had been most gracious in giving her fellow monarch accommodations, though Jacob knew that she didn’t like Russell. Dulcina had offered Jacob a room too, but even with allies, he never slept in a place that was known to others if he could help it. His maker had taught him that.
“So—you will inform me of any progress?” Russell demanded more than asked, breaking Jacob from his thoughts.
“Of course,” Nan said quickly.
Jacob barely contained his eye roll at Nan’s pandering. “Given your obvious interest in this situation—as well as your sincere desire to help,” Jacob said evenly, hiding his sarcasm with practiced ease, “I will inform you personally should the Viking be found.”
Russell nodded. “I desire only to help the Authority in this matter. The Magister was an old friend.”
“Of course,’ Jacob said with a nod. To anyone watching the exchange, the Authority vampire seemed neutral as he spoke to the oldest vampire king on the New World—and the Old World for that matter.
Jacob, like his maker, knew how to appear as was needed in any given situation. That was one of the reasons he was very good at his job as a “front-man” for the AVL. Nan had been chosen as his counterpart in the East because she was an encyclopedia when it came to matters of law—not just in the United States, but worldwide. By contrast, Jacob was incredibly adept at putting others at ease with his natural charm and ability to “read” people. That skill had been one he’d been adept at during his human life too; as one-quarter fairy, he’d been an empath. As a vampire, his gift had diminished only slightly—though no one but his maker and his maker’s maker knew of the skill.
On the surface, the Authority had chosen the two perfect spokespeople to run the public arm of the Authority—the AVL. While Nan was knowledgeable and had the perfect instincts for politics, Jacob was unassuming—seemingly unthreatening. The Authority had been wise in choosing two such contrasting individuals.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Jacob was the child of Roman Zimojic, head of the Authority. However, it was not his maker’s favoritism that had earned him his position as spokesman—though his maker’s teachings had certainly been instrumental in preparing him for the job. For as long as Jacob had been vampire, his maker had been teaching him how to balance diplomacy with sheer violence in order to accomplish lofty goals.
Public diplomacy. Private violence.
Roman had been a visionary—always desiring to make sure that vampires changed with the times. And when he’d established the Authority, Roman had put his ideals into practice—for the profit of any vampire who fell in line. As for the ones who didn’t—his maker always tried diplomacy first. And he’d been willing to compromise too—within reason.
However, Roman was not averse to getting his sword wet with blood when the situation called for it. Neither was Jacob.
Roman had chosen to turn Jacob almost four hundred years before. Jacob had been leading an insurrection against a tyrannical English lord in Wales. Roman had been attracted to Jacob’s charisma—and his audacity. And, of course, his scent. So when the lord had mortally wounded Jacob, Roman had turned him.
“Why don’t you just head back to California so that you can reassume your position up the king’s and queen’s asses?” Nan intoned. “I’m certain they’re already missing your ‘particular’ skill-set. And I am more than capable of taking care of this mess with Northman. After all, the Magister was killed in Louisiana, which is my territory.”
Jacob held in his sigh and squelched another eye-roll. Though Nan was portraying confidence and annoyance, he felt a little fear from her. She was nervous, and a nervous Nan was someone he wanted to keep an eye on.
Jacob pretended to consider Nan’s words. “Given the Authority’s desire to settle the matter of the Magister’s murder as soon as possible, I’m sure that they will be glad to know that we are working together to apprehend Northman.”
Nan sneered. “You couldn’t apprehend your own balls.”
Jacob smirked. “Indeed. Given the fact that my cock is so large, they are sometimes difficult to see.” He winked at her. “Perhaps, you could help me find them.”
Nan scoffed, “When hell freezes over.”
“Well—since I am now assured that the Northman matter is in the capable hands of the Authority,” Russell said, with a twinge of sarcasm in his tone, “I’ll take my leave from Texas tomorrow at first dark. As you can imagine, now that my dear Sophie-Anne and I are wed, there is much to do as we consolidate our kingdoms.”
Jacob nodded. “Yes. I’d imagine. I must say that it is extremely fortunate that the Magister managed to perform your marriage ceremony with Queen Sophie-Anne before he met his demise.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Russell said, his face the picture of sincerity, though Jacob felt anything but sincerity from the ancient king. “My little cactus blossom and I wouldn’t have wanted to wait another moment. Imagine our horror when Northman burst onto the scene only moments after our marriage was official—only to kill our dear friend!”
Jacob held in his smirk; the Magister had no friends. That was what had made him effective.
“I’m sure it was quite taxing for you,” Jacob said, his own voice seeming sincere as well.
“Oh, it was,” Russell responded, “especially for my bride. She has such a delicate disposition.”
Jacob nodded. “Well—I too must be off. It nears dawn, and I must write my report for the Authority—unless you’d care to write our reports jointly,” he added, giving Nan a little leer. He enjoyed “flirting” with the vampiress. It never failed to rattle her, which never failed to amuse him.
Nan sneered at him. “Write your own goddamned report and stay out of my fucking way!”
Jacob ignored her biting remark, and turned to Russell. “Your majesty, my Weres will be in place by dawn, and my team will inform me if Northman returns within the week—as the humans have claimed he will.”
“Yes,” Nan said sarcastically, “and my team will be there to make sure yours doesn’t fuck things up.”
Jacob smirked at her. “Always a pleasure, Nan.”
“I wish I could say the same,” she intoned.
“Your majesty,” Jacob said with a little bow before zooming away at vampire speed.
As soon as he could tell that he and his child were alone, Russell turned to Nan.
“You should not allow him to bait you, child.”
Nan shrugged. “Jacob is an insufferable ass.”
Russell seemed to consider something for a moment. “You are right, but we still have appearances to keep up. And you should not underestimate Jacob.”
“I don’t,” Nan sighed as she put herself into her maker’s arms. “I have missed you, my father.”
“And I you, daughter. But do not fret. If all goes well, your time of separation from me will be ending soon. What new can you tell me of the Authority?”
Nan sighed. “Roman is extremely adept at hiding the identities of the other members, but I have another name for you: Kibwe Akinjide.”
Russell patted her cheek affectionately. “Ah—Kibwe—the king of Illinois. You are doing well, my dear. Once I have the names of all the members, our allies will take them out all at once.”
“There is a rumor, father—that all of the members of the Authority council will be at the summit in Rhodes; they plan to meet in secret.”
“This is good news,” Russell mused with a smile tugging his lips upward. “Once we know the list of those in attendance, we can use the process of elimination to discern the other members of the council, and—for any we are unsure about—we can eliminate them as a precaution. Have you confirmed the number of members on the council?”
“Eight,” Nan responded. “Nine counting Roman.”
“And with Kibwe, we now know the identities of two of those eight,” Russell smiled, thinking of Rosalyn Harris, a wealthy, powerful vampiress in Georgia. Nan had pegged her as another of the members of the Authority months before.
“What of Roman’s henchman?” Russell asked after a moment.
“Duncan has been recently seen in Europe. Rumor has it that he is visiting an old lover there and will likely be out of the country for quite a while.”
“One less potential enemy to worry about,” Russell mused. Though Nan had learned that Duncan was not officially on the council because his maker was still alive somewhere, the somewhat mysterious vampire had stood by Roman since before the Authority was formed. And, inarguably, Duncan was an effective assassin. It was good that he was out of the country—and out of the way.
“Keep vigilant, my daughter.”
“I will,” Nan said as she stepped away from her maker.
“If Northman is found by Jacob’s people, you must use all of your influence to make sure he does not stay in their custody. They won’t believe him if he tells them what really happened to the Magister, but I want him for myself,” Russell snarled. “He and I have unfinished business.”
Having reestablished her cold demeanor, Nan nodded in understanding.
“I am instructing Victor to stay behind and exhaust any leads. He believes that Northman may be moving south toward Mexico,” Russell said.
“I have already submitted the paperwork that will make Victor my official consultant in the search for Northman,” Nan informed. “None of Jacob’s people will be able to impede him, and he will be able to travel anywhere he wishes—without having to check in with the locals.”
“Good,” Russell said with a smile. “This is very good.”
Nan smiled at her maker, happy to please him. “It is only an hour before sundown. And I have arranged for you to have a lovely meal before you go to your rest, Father.”
Russell lifted his eyebrow in question as Nan walked to the door of her adjoining suite and let in two men.
“I could not ask for a better child,” Russell told his progeny as he crooked his fingers for the beautiful, glamoured young men to approach him.
Jacob pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked around. Using his heightened senses, he determined that he was, indeed, in a secure location. He dialed the number he knew by heart.
“Yes?” the answering voice said.
“Father,” Jacob responded with respect, “as you told me he would be, Russell was on site when I arrived at the Houston home. Northman’s scent was fresh—not more than three days old.”
“Did you pick up any other scents?” Roman asked.
“My lord?” Jacob asked, confused by the slightly worried tone of his maker’s voice.
“Did you pick up any other scents?” Roman repeated. “Or any signs of magic.”
“I scented the humans who live in the house—of course,” Jacob responded. “But no signs of magic and no other vampire scents.”
“Any other supernatural scents?” Roman asked.
“Good,” Roman said, sounding relieved. “And Victor?”
“As you suggested, I allowed him to ‘overhear’ my theory that Northman has traveled south.”
Roman chuckled. “Victor is a good tracker, my son, but even he knows that your skills are unparalleled in this arena.”
Jacob smiled at his maker’s compliment. “I inherited my gift to track from my sire.”
“Yes. And I inherited it from mine,” Roman commented.
“Is my grandmother well?” Jacob asked.
“Yes. She sends her tidings and will see you in Rhodes.”
Jacob smiled a little wider. He genuinely loved the vampires in his bloodline. They inspired loyalty and awe from him. Not all were so lucky.
“Is there anything else you wish of me here?” Jacob asked.
“After Russell leaves tomorrow night, meet with Queen Dulcina. There is something I would have her do before the summit. Call me at this number when you have a private audience with her.”
“I will talk to you tomorrow, my child,” Roman said before hanging up.
Jacob put his phone in his pocket and moved toward the place he’d secured for his daytime resting place.
Bill sighed deeply. Vampires’ bodies did not get weary—unless, of course, they were undergoing torture or starvation—but he felt weary of mind.
“What is your problem?” Hallow asked.
Bill pressed his fingertips against his temples. In truth, the witch was a big part of his problem right then. She’d turned out to be beautiful—unnervingly so—but he was tired of babysitting her as they traipsed around the bayou, looking for the origin of the magic Pam had left behind.
“You indicated earlier that we would discover the source of the magic that Eric’s bitch of a progeny left behind before the end of the night,” Bill said with frustration. “Yet we have discovered only swamps and alligators.”
Hallow glared at Bill. “My spell was correct. The witch that produced the magical trace in that pouch performed her spell here.”
“This is little more than a shack,” Bill said, looking around the dilapidated dwelling with derision.
“Yes,” Hallow agreed, “and no magic has been done here for almost a century.”
“How can that be?” Bill asked angrily.
Hallow sighed. “It would seem the potion the Norseman’s child used was made long ago. Its originator is likely dead by now—if the witch was a human.”
“How could Northman have gotten the potion then?” Bill asked sneering at Hallow.
“He is a vampire,” Hallow sighed. “For all we know—the witch handed it to him a hundred years ago, and he’s been saving it for a rainy day.”
Bill sneered. “Northman is too short-sighted for such a thing. He considers only immediate gain. Are you sure there is not something wrong with the spell you performed to find this place?”
The witch snarled. “You should remember to show me respect, Mr. Compton. Russell has put you at my disposal—not the other way around.”
Bill sighed. “Fine—perhaps you are right that Northman has had the potion for years.” He tried another tack. “By being here, can you discern the potion’s purpose?” he asked in a more conciliatory tone.
“That’s better,” Hallow smirked. “To answer your question—yes. The potion that Northman’s child retrieved from this pouch,” she said, holding up the item, “was some kind of concealment spell. The fact that no further trail could be discerned from Pam confirms this.”
Bill held in his derision for the creature in front of him. “I thought a witch’s magic died with her,” he said.
“A common misconception among the young and the uninformed,” Hallow said with a patronizing lilt. “Curses die with a witch when he or she dies,” Hallow informed. “But potions and charms keep their efficacy.” The witch smiled. “And that means Northman might have gotten the potion from another witch who passed it on to him.”
“Who’s that?” Bill asked.
“That is the name of a witch in New Orleans who has a shop that might deal in such wares as old potions. I believe that a visit to her may be called for.”
“We are to return to Mississippi tomorrow night,” Bill said gruffly.
Hallow sighed. “I do not need you to escort me to Octavia’s shop. She lacks true power and is well past her prime,” she added haughtily. “I will visit her tomorrow before you rise.”
Bill shook his head. “No. I will go with you at first dark in case she needs to be glamoured to cooperate. Moreover, Russell has ordered that we do not separate.”
“Fine—have it your way,” the witch said with a shrug.
Bill led Hallow back toward the boat Rasul had hired for them. Though a hovercraft designed to negotiate the swamplands, the vessel was quite comfortable. Bill smiled as he thought about the respect the new Sheriff of Area 1 had given him. Indeed, Rasul had seemed to intuit Bill’s importance in Russell’s monarchy and had acted accordingly.
“What has you so pleased?” Hallow asked as she settled next to the vampire as the glamoured human piloting the craft started its engine.
“Nothing that need concern you,” Bill responded with a huff.
“Come now,” Hallow purred. “Our voyage out of the swamp will take at least half an hour. Why don’t we put the time to good use by getting to know each other better?” she asked as she brought her hand over his crotch.
Bill pulled away a little. “I no longer indulge in carnal relations with women,” he insisted.
“That is not what your dick is telling me,” Hallow observed as she continued to stroke him.
“My beloved is gone,” Bill gasped, even as his lower body continued to respond to her hand.
“Poor baby,” Hallow whispered, “let me make you feel better.”
“I won’t betray Sookie’s memory by bedding another woman,” Bill hissed, though he didn’t stop Hallow when she unzipped his jeans and pulled loose his pulsing dick.
“Who said anything about a bed?” Hallow purred as she bent down to take him into her mouth.
So in this chapter I wanted to give you a glimpse of what the baddies were up to, but I also wanted to introduce you to Jacob and Roman.