[This scene begins one hour before sunset—the evening before the previous scene (approximately the same time that Eric woke up in the car with Sookie under the influence of the Bill’s woven dream)]
Because of his age, Russell woke up about an hour before sundown; however—disappointingly—none of his Weres had seen any sign of Miss Stackhouse. Perhaps, Eric had traveled a long distance away from Shreveport, and Sookie was trying to make her way there even then. The king smiled.
That would be ideal.
However, it was also possible that Sookie had not slept that day, but—given the fact that Bill had almost drained her dry the day before—the king found it unlikely that she wouldn’t need some rest, even if she had received a lot of Eric’s blood. Perhaps the Viking had killed her—cut his losses. He sighed. He’d just have to wait until Bill woke up to tell him the state of Sookie Stackhouse.
Russell reconciled himself to the notion that the telepath would soon be out of Northman’s hands—one way or another. The king was fully prepared to manipulate Bill into weaving dreams every morning—until the telepath came to them or died trying. Meanwhile, he would test Bill’s tracking skills. Even if Eric had the ability to block the blood of the younger vampire, Bill would eventually be able to track Sookie—especially if Russell continued to feed him a “booster” of his own ancient blood each night.
Russell closed his eyes and gauged the time; it was still 50 minutes until sundown. The ancient vampire sighed. The problem with age was that no one seemed to be able to get up when he did!
Only after about 500 years of life were most vampires able to awaken before sunset. Hell—Talbot was over 700 years old, and he woke up only about ten or fifteen minutes before sunset, depending on whether the day had been cloudy. He sighed again, this time even louder. At around a thousand, Northman might awaken twenty or thirty minutes before sunset. However, young William would likely awaken only after the sun had drooped into the horizon—especially since he’d taxed himself so much by sending the woven dream.
Tired of brooding, Russell decided to spend his time productively by checking on some of his “soldiers” and taking steps to ensure that his beloved Talbot was more secure. After all, it was still possible that Northman might show up at the mansion, hoping to continue his ruse.
First, he contacted his new Alpha, Dane Mitchell, and ordered the tripling of Talbot’s guards. He also learned that Dane had creatively taken care of the “mess” that Bill had made with the campers he’d raped and drained. Dane had personally made sure that nothing would tie the site of the crime to Compton. Then the car that Bill had stolen had been wiped clean of physical evidence and left at Northman’s “public” residence—the one he paid taxes on. Finally, Dane had anonymously contacted the human authorities, explaining that he’d seen the vampire who owned Fangtasia covered in blood and acting strangely in the area where the couple would surely be found. Dane had tasked some of his Weres to monitor the human police communications and was ready to pounce if the human authorities happened upon Northman.
Russell smiled. Dane was a little young to be the Alpha; however, he had demonstrated great aptitude. So far, he’d been well-pleased by the Were’s performance.
After finishing his call with his Alpha, the king texted several of his best Were trackers. He ordered them to begin a thorough search of all of Northman’s known residences, as well as the known residences of the Viking’s progeny.
Next he called Bartlett Crowe, the king of Indiana, who was one of his closest allies and most loyal soldiers. Bartlett had been installed as king almost 80 years before—after a successful coup d’état against the former monarch, a coup that Russell had helped to orchestrate and execute.
“Bart,” Russell said as the Indiana king answered.
“My Lord,” Bartlett responded respectfully. “Sundown is still ten minutes away here,” he commented, “has something happened?”
“Nothing to interfere with our ultimate plans, but there is a nuisance on the loose.”
“How can I be of service?”
Russell grinned. The thing he liked most about Bart was his dependability. Despite being around 700 years old and powerful in his own right, Bart was the prototypical “yes man.”
“It’s Eric Northman. He might become a problem to me—to us. Either way, I want him dead—after I toy with him for a century or two, that is.”
“I know of him; he is called the Viking by some,” Bartlett mused. “I met him at the last summit. He was trailing that spoiled little twat, Sophie-Anne Leclerq.”
Russell chuckled. One of the best things about Bart was that he was willing to attend all of the interminable vampire summits for which Russell had never had the time or the patience.
“Of course,” Bartlett added, “had he not been there, any number of vampires might have tried to take the bitch out.”
Russell laughed heartily. “Now—you mustn’t call my lovely wife names.”
“So you actually pledged to her,” Bartlett said with a smile in his voice. “I suppose that means that we no longer need to go through with a wedding at Rhodes.”
“No. I saw an opportunity to blackmail Sophie-Anne into marriage,” Russell informed, “so I took it. It was much less messy than the bloody coup we’d been planning.”
“So—is that what’s riled the Viking? Is he upset for his queen’s sake, or did he have designs on the monarchy himself?” Bartlett asked sarcastically.
“No,” Russell responded, his tone now clipped. “The Viking has a personal vendetta against me, and he’s dared to betray me.”
“I’m sure that will be his last error, My Lord,” Bart said, his tone becoming more formal again in order to match Russell’s obvious change of mood. “Do you need me to help you track the Viking? I can call my child, Jade Flower. As you know, she is an accomplished tracker.”
Russell sighed. “No. Let us leave her be in Arkansas. When we make our move, I want her in position to kill Threadgill, and I don’t want her affiliation with us to be known.”
“As you wish, Master.”
“You should, however, ask your child to keep her eyes open. Northman or his progeny may try to travel through her state.”
“I will call her as soon as we hang up, and I shall have my people keep their eyes open as well.”
“Good. Are all your plans in motion?”
“Yes, My Lord. Our numbers of both Weres and like-minded vampires grow each day. If it is your will, the upcoming summit at Rhodes will still be the perfect opportunity for us to take out the monarchs of Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. All of our assets are in place; thus, the Authority will never know that you are the mastermind of three coups.”
Russell sneered. “I look forward to the day when the Authority is no more.”
“And when you are emperor of the Americas,” Bartlett said reverently.
The ancient vampire smiled. “Yes. That will be a good day. Perhaps I shall still go to Rhodes—to publically faun over my new bride and to enjoy all the fireworks. Regicide can be such compelling drama.”
Bartlett chuckled. “I would enjoy seeing you there, My Lord.”
“Until then, my friend,” Russell said.
After hanging up with Bartlett, Russell called Felipe de Castro, who—despite the time difference—was likely awake already. The ability to be up for longer hours was Felipe’s vampire gift. Russell did not envy that particular gift, though he knew that Felipe was quite fond of it.
The Nevada king answered Russell’s call with a purr.
“It is lovely to hear from you, Russell. I hope you are calling to tell me that you and Talbot are coming out for another holiday,” de Castro said in his thick Spanish accent.
“I’m afraid that a visit will have to wait, Felipe,” Russell replied regretfully. “I wish it were pleasure that I was calling about, but I’m afraid it is business.”
“Pity,” Felipe responded.
“Yes,” Russell echoed, even as he thought about his and Talbot’s past liaisons with the Spaniard. His cock twitched, and he unfastened his pants before slowly stroking himself.
The three vampires had originally become lovers while they were still in Europe over six centuries before. Over the years, they had continued making annual or semi-annual visits to each other when they could. Russell enjoyed his and Talbot’s casual dalliances with the Nevada king, and Felipe had proven to be a useful ally—more independently-minded than Bartlett, but still quite loyal, at least for the time being.
As with Bartlett, Russell had helped Felipe become a king, and Russell knew that the 800-year-old looked at him as a mentor of sorts. Felipe had demonstrated the willingness to be loyal to very few vampires over the years; in fact, it was clear that the Spaniard was truly loyal only to those whom he truly feared. Luckily, Felipe’s eyes still conveyed his fear and awe of Russell. Indeed, Russell had already decided to make Felipe his second-in-command when he became emperor. All the same, however, Russell planned to keep a weather eye on his protégé; the ancient vampire figured that it would be at least a thousand years or so before Felipe got it into his head that he could eliminate Russell from the equation, but he also knew that that day would come.
Russell continued the slow up-and-down movements of his hand. He’d known Felipe’s kind before; they were both creative and devoted, the perfect minions—at least until the day when they weren’t. Yes—eventually the ambition of vampires like Felipe would overrule their reason, and, on that day, their loyalty would turn on a dime. Luckily, Russell knew the signs to watch for in order to tell him when that day was at hand. And—until then—Felipe was just the kind of vampire Russell needed to help him establish and consolidate his power over the western hemisphere. Russell sighed. The day he had to kill the “becaped” king would be a melancholy one for him; however, he reconciled himself to the fact that it would likely be centuries away, and he brought himself back into the moment, even as he stilled the action of his hand on his cock. He would satisfy his lust later.
“I have made Sophie-Anne my bride,” Russell informed.
“I see you are implementing your plan for growth,” Felipe said with a chuckle. “Nevada will be with you when you are ready for your next step.”
“Many thanks,” Russell said. “Meanwhile, I’m afraid I have a rogue vampire on my hands. Eric Northman didn’t take too well to my becoming king.”
“I would have thought the Norseman would be more reasonable. By all accounts, he is quick to ally himself with vampires of strength, and you are certainly more worthy than Sophie-Anne.”
“True,” Russell said with false regret, “but Northman was recently caught selling V by the Magister. I fear that the unfortunate business with Godric drove the Viking mad.”
“Unfortunate,” Felipe agreed.
“Indeed. Northman killed the Magister and then fled,” Russell lied.
Felipe chuckled heartily. “Oh—that is convenient.”
“It was conveniently done after the Magister performed my wedding ceremony.”
Felipe continued laughing. “You always were lucky, dear Russell.”
“Not always,” Russell pouted. “Sadly, my best tracker is out of commission.”
“Mott?” Felipe asked.
“Yes. A human woman he wanted to turn almost killed him.”
Felipe laughed again. “I really must come and visit you. Such excitement!”
“You are welcome any time, old friend.”
“Sadly, I do not think I can break away right now. My child requires a bit of help with the transitioning of his Were population in Arizona. Plus, if you have made your first move, I must make mine.”
“Excellent,” Russell commented.
“I will send you Victor, however,” Felipe said. “You know that his tracking skills rival even Mott’s, and he does not have the propensity for collecting human women along the way either. Seriously, Russell, I know that Mott is useful, but how do you put up with him?”
“He kept his last woman for a whole decade before he staked her,” Russell defended. “Plus, his lack of any scruples is quite useful at times. And his tracking ability truly is second to none. I would appreciate the usage of Victor for a while, however. I know that Talbot would enjoy his company as well.”
“Then Victor shall be on my private jet winging his way to you within an hour of sunset here.”
“Wonderful. Send him to Northman’s little bar in Shreveport.”
“Of course, and give Talbot my love,” Felipe said before hanging up.
Russell smiled. Felipe would soon begin implementing his own machinations to acquire more territory, beginning with Colorado and Idaho. And—when the time was right—Russell planned to let it be known that he was actually the one who had ultimate control over so many monarchies. However, that control was only a bonus for Russell. The real plan was to gain the attention of the Authority and begin to draw out the members. Up to this point, the Authority members had managed to retain their anonymity. Otherwise, Russell would have dealt with them already. The ancient vampire had resented the meddling Authority before the Great Revelation, but now their concern for “human/vampire relations” made Russell sick to his fucking stomach!
For that reason, Russell had sent in his only remaining child—other than Talbot, of course—to infiltrate the AVL. On the surface, Nan Flanagan was the face of mainstreaming, but Russell knew better. Nan was ruthless and bloodthirsty. She was also a wonderful source of information. However, not even she was privy to the identities of the Authority members.
Thinking of his child, Russell dialed his phone.
“Flanagan,” came her sharp voice on the other end.
Russell immediately hung up, knowing that Nan would have recognized the number and spoken to him like that only if she were not alone.
Within minutes, she called back.
“Master,” she said with deference. “I am sorry that I could not call you immediately.”
“Dearest,” Russell said with true affection in his tone. No one—not even Talbot—knew that Nan was his eldest child. He’d turned her almost 950 years before while he was in Siberia.
Near the beginning of his second millennium, Russell had gone through a phase where he’d enjoyed colder weather and isolation; thus, he’d spent a few centuries touring the northernmost populations of the world. After his time in the Scandinavian countries, he’d moved east—through the territory of the Eastern Slavs—what was now Russia. He’d eventually ended up in Siberia. It was there that he found his Надежда, who later chose the name Nan. He’d found his child seducing a chieftain in the area in which he was staying. Russell, too, had had designs upon that particular man. The elder vampire had been fascinated by the tough-as-nails peasant woman, and though he had made only male children before, he decided that a new experience was in order. He watched as Nan heartlessly killed the chieftain and stole the riches off of his corpse. And then he turned her and made her even more magnificent!
His most trusted child was the only one whom he’d informed of his plans to force the Magister to perform his wedding ceremony to Sophie-Anne.
“Your marriage to Sophie-Anne has been officially recognized by the Authority,” Nan said. “They were displeased that you didn’t petition for official permission, but they can do nothing now that it is done. How did you end up making the Magister conduct the ceremony?”
Russell chuckled. “Let’s just say I threatened to take his head if he did not.”
The other end of the line was silent for a moment. “You know I do not mean to question you, Master, but what if the Magister tells the Authority you forced him? They are already looking for him to chastise him for performing the ceremony.”
“He will not be a problem. I killed him.”
Again there was silence.
“The Magister was a fucking idiot, but I did not think you were ready to alienate the Authority yet,” Nan said cautiously.
“That is why I have a beautiful scapegoat,” Russell informed. For the next ten minutes, Russell told Nan all about Eric Northman’s identity as the young Viking man with the grudge. Nan promised to discreetly use the Authority’s resources to try to track down Northman. The Authority had access to many government agencies, and given the advances in satellite technology, finding someone as distinct-looking as Eric would likely be easy. Nan also assured that she could make the Authority believe that Northman was responsible for the Magister’s death, thereby keeping Russell out of their crosshairs.
When Russell hung up with his child, he was well-pleased. She had also been able to email him a list of all the names and contact information for the vampires of Area 5. Russell forwarded that list on to his day-woman, Jennifer Rigans, and ordered her to contact all the vampires on the list and make sure they were at Fantasia at 2:00 a.m. for a “meeting.” Any that didn’t show up would be assumed confederates of Northman, would be tortured, and would be put to their final deaths. Of course, Russell still planned to torture all of Area 5’s vampires—at least a little—but only until he could establish where their true loyalties lay.
Just as Russell had completed his instructions to Jennifer, Bill jet up into a sitting position. “Sookie,” he gasped.
Russell’s attention was immediately on the younger vampire.
“Is she here?” Bill asked desperately.
Russell shook his head. “No. But I was hoping that you could find her for us tonight. Is she caught in the dream you sent?”
Bill sighed. “No—she must not have slept today.”
“That is disappointing,” Russell commented, keeping his voice even. “However, we can try again in the morning. Tell me—can you feel her at all?”
Bill closed his eyes. “I can feel her a little, but I am not sure how to find her.” His voice took on bitterness. “Northman is still obscuring her from me!”
Bill opened his eyes to the sound of Russell’s fangs piercing flesh. Russell’s bloody wrist was soon in front of him.
“Take more, my child,” Russell cooed. “Your senses will be sharper with my blood.”
Immediately, Bill complied. Russell enjoyed the sounds coming from the younger vampire’s mouth; however, he refrained from acting upon the lust he saw within Bill’s eyes, even though his own loins were stirred as well.
Bill pulled away as Russell’s wound healed. “I can feel her to the south,” he said with triumph in his eyes. “I cannot tell how far, but I know the direction.”
“Good boy,” Russell said, quickly fastening his pants and putting his shoes on. Even as Bill was straightening his own clothing, Russell was contacting Dane.
“Be ready to travel in five minutes,” Russell said into his phone before hanging up. A minute later, Bill and he were both feeding on the donor that had been brought in for Bill. And four minutes after that, they were in an SUV heading south. Dane was driving, and another SUV full of Were guards was following closely behind.
“Can you tap into Sookie’s emotions?” Russell asked Bill.
“She is nervous,” Bill said somewhat uncertainly. The younger vampire was clearly nervous as well. “She feels almost,” Bill paused, “numb. It is difficult for me to get a good read on her, however.”
Russell considered that information for a moment. “Is she closer or farther away from us than she was before?”
Bill closed his eyes. “I still sense her to the south, but I cannot tell if she is in the next town or in New Orleans—or even further from me,” he said with frustration straining his voice.
Russell nodded. “That is fine, William. We are heading in the right direction, and we will get to her.” The king smiled reassuringly.
Bill nodded and continued to try to concentrate on his tie to Sookie. There were forty minutes of silence as the car spend south, heading toward New Orleans.
Suddenly Bill’s eyes popped open. “She is sleeping now.”
Russell smiled. “Excellent. Infiltrate her dreams, Bill. Show her how much you love her.”
Bill nodded and closed his eyes again. After a few minutes, he opened them.
“I cannot get into Sookie’s dreams!” the younger vampire yelled. “I cannot link well enough to her blood or her emotions!”
“It must be Northman’s interference,” Russell posited even as he patted Bill’s hand to comfort him. “Keep trying, and do not despair. I am sure we will find your love soon.”
Bill nodded and closed his eyes again.
Meanwhile, the king was happy to go into downtime and fantasize about what he could do with a telepath and what he would do with Northman.
Exactly eighty minutes later, Bill opened his eyes; they were panic-stricken. “I cannot sense her position at all anymore!” he cried desperately.
The king looked closely at Compton. “Is she alive?”
Bill nodded. “Yes. I can still feel her dreaming, and I am still trying to control my blood to infiltrate those dreams; however, it is as if I am being blocked at every turn. But, as I said, I can no longer sense her direction from us!”
Russell sighed heavily. “The Viking must have more resources than I thought.” Within moments, Russell had his phone out. He dialed a number he’d hoped not to have to dial again. After all, witches were such unseemly creatures.
Four rings later, a harsh female voice answered the phone.
“King Russell,” the voice said. “To what do I owe the honor?”
Russell’s expression became a snarl because of the sarcasm in the female’s voice. He had wanted to crush her many times before, but her value had stilled his hand. And—worst of all—she knew it!
“Hallow, I require your services—immediately,” Russell said without preamble.
“I am currently employed with the vampire king of India,” the witch replied.
Russell growled. “You are a resident of Mississippi, and you are my asset, witch!”
“And you are the one who lent me halfway around the world,” Hallow snarled back. “I will be finished here within a week to ten days. Then I will come. Not before.”
Russell sneered. “Fine! Meanwhile, you will answer a few questions for me,” he demanded.
Hallow laughed. “Of course, my king.”
Russell held in his anger and proceeded. “One of my vampires has a tie with a human. An older vampire also has a tie with her and has been interfering with my vampire’s ability to track her.”
“That is common enough,” Hallow said. “I can do nothing to help your vampire. As you know, older vampire blood takes precedence over younger in such matters. I suggest you give the young one some of your own blood to boost his ability.”
“Do you not think that I have already done that?” Russell asked through clenched teeth.
“And?” Hallow asked. “Did it not help?”
“For a while it seemed to be working as my vampire got a bearing on the human’s direction—though not her distance from us. But, all of a sudden, there was nothing.”
“Then the human is likely dead,” the witch commented.
“No,” Russell said even as Bill shook his head fervently. “My vampire is certain that she is alive. In fact, she is asleep; my vampire is, even now, trying to affect her dreams. However, he has lost the ability to sense her location at all.”
The other end of the line was quiet for a moment. “And you suspect witchcraft?” Hallow asked.
“Yes!” Russell said with frustration. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have called you!”
Hallow chuckled. “You are correct to believe that a witch must be involved. As you know, there is no known spell to interfere with dream-sending; however, there are some that can block the blood in other ways.” Her voice was full of amusement as she went on, “I would imagine it is a powerful witch, indeed, if he or she has created a concealment spell that is inhibiting a vampire’s tracking abilities to the extent that even the strength of your blood is not helping.”
“Can you stop the spell?” Russell demanded.
“Not from India,” Hallow howled. “And not from anywhere else either, but I could trace it if I knew the witch who cast it.”
“If I knew the witch’s identity, I would not need you!” Russell stormed, his impatience with the witch now frightening Bill.
Hallow was clearly still amused. “If your foe is using a witch for something like a concealment spell, then there are likely traces of his or her magic elsewhere. Find them, and I will see you in seven to ten days.”
With that, the witch disconnected the call, and Russell promised himself that he would one day kill Hallow Stonebrook. He’d just have to wait until after he had used her as much as possible.
Russell took a few minutes to calm down.
“Do you have any feeling whatsoever about Miss Stackhouse’s direction?” he finally asked Bill.
The younger vampire looked tired, helpless, and very nervous. He shook his head. “No. I am sorry I failed you, your majesty.”
Russell sighed and then ordered Dane to turn the SUV around.
“We will find her eventually, young William,” Russell said, his voice calm once more. He texted a few of his Weres in the New Orleans area to begin a search there, but since Bill had known only direction and not distance, Eric could have taken Sookie anywhere in the southern hemisphere for all Russell knew.
“I am sorry,” Bill repeated, obviously crestfallen.
Russell sighed and patted the younger vampire’s hand. “As you heard, it is likely that Northman has a powerful witch working with him. And, if that is the case, then even I couldn’t have found her with a blood tie. You did all you could, William,” he comforted, “for now.”
“I hate to think of my Sookie in Eric’s hands,” the younger vampire lamented.
Russell smiled at the youngling. Bill’s zeal for Sookie amused him to no end. But the girl had shown similar devotion to the vampire as well. She had risked her life by going to Jackson, and—even after Russell had shown her the file full of information Bill had collected—Sookie had still put her life on the line by rescuing him the next day.
Russell was pleased by this. Apparently Miss Stackhouse could not be glamoured, but she felt herself “in love” with Compton—in love to the point that she would do anything to get to him. She’d even apparently tried to feed him when he was near death; of course, she’d almost died for her trouble, but that was beside the point.
“She will not be in the Norseman’s hands for long,” Russell assured Bill. “I have seen wonderful love and devotion from your Sookie, and that love is not for Eric.”
“I love her as well. I would do anything for her,” the younger vampire averred.
“I know you would, William,” Russell said smoothly. “And—soon—you will help her to transition into her new life. Eventually, the Viking’s blood influence in her will be gone. Only your blood will remain.” Russell chose not to tell Bill that he planned to get Sookie to take the blood of one other vampire in his retinue. Russell had decided to save that tidbit of information for later and to present it as a security measure for both Sookie and Bill. He’d even let them “decide” upon the vampire. Likely they would choose Talbot. He had the ability to charm almost anyone out of his or her blood. Thus, Russell didn’t see any reason why Talbot wouldn’t be able to charm someone into taking some of his.
The best part would be that both Sookie and Bill would still feel as if they were “free.” And—as long as they behaved—Russell was more than willing to maintain that illusion for them. Hell—he might even let them return to Bon Temps for a while—if the girl remained stubbornly insistent about the idea. After that, it would be easy to get some of Bartlett’s or Felipe’s vampires to come in and “pose a threat” to Sookie’s safety. Russell could imagine the whole amusing scenario! He’d “encourage” Bill and Sookie to go back to their “normal” lives for a while, but then danger would come, and they would come to their “king” for protection. Russell smiled to himself. It would be an amusing game, and it would make the couple even more beholden to him.
“I am afraid that she will reject me,” Bill cried gloomily, interrupting Russell’s musing. “After all, I hurt her intentionally by telling her that I was with Lorena again, but I was only trying to protect her!”
The younger vampire—it seemed—had a propensity for tears, so Russell handed him a handkerchief. “Of course you were!” he responded with understanding. “She will understand that you were only trying to keep her safe. You did not understand then that I meant your Sookie no harm. In fact, I want to treat her—and you—with the respect that valued assets deserve. Sophie-Anne would have used the girl horribly, but things will be different with me.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” Bill said. “Your kindness has been,” he paused, “unexpected.”
“I have found that most good things in this life are, William,” Russell said knowingly.
“I’m just afraid that Sookie will find things out—that Sophie-Anne or others will tell her things—that would only harm her,” Bill said.
Russell couldn’t help the little smirk that formed on his lips, though he hid it from Bill. It seemed that the younger vampire had even more secrets he wanted to hide from Sookie. From the file, Russell could guess some of them. He could also tell that Bill was fishing for more assurances that he could keep his telepath in the dark.
“Secrets have a way of coming to light,” Russell responded sagely. “I have lived long enough to know that very few secrets can be maintained for long. Why don’t you tell me what you fear young Miss Stackhouse will learn so that I can better offer my advice on the matter?”
Bill seemed to consider Russell’s words for a moment and then nodded. “I have done things that I’m not proud of,” the younger vampire admitted.
Russell held in his glee. With Compton, everything always came back to guilt. “So have we all,” the king lied; in truth, he had forsworn regret long ago. “Yet, where there is love, there is also forgiveness,” he added soothingly.
“The queen sent me to Bon Temps to secure Sookie for her,” Bill confessed.
Russell had guessed that much already. “But you never took Miss Stackhouse to the queen. That will count for a lot with the girl.”
Bill contemplated for a moment. “Maybe. But it was just a series of chance events that made my procurement of Sookie take longer than expected.”
“Do tell,” Russell said, leaning forward a little. He so loved a good story, and it would take them a while to get back to Fangtasia.
“I—uh,” Bill paused. “I’ll start at the beginning—if that is okay, your majesty.”
Russell nodded permissively. “That’s always a good place to start a story.”
Bill seemed to be taking a deep breath into his lungs. Of course, all vampires could “breathe” when they wanted. Air was still brought into their bodies as needed. After all, if it were not, then speech would not be possible. However, few drew air in fully. Russell had learned quickly that doing so was one of Bill’s “tells.” It meant that the youngling was getting ready to tell Russell a very sordid tale indeed! The king was looking forward to it.
“It begins with the queen’s pet—Hadley.”
“Ah—the blond one of which she is so fond. I believe that Hadley will be residing with us in Mississippi for the time being.”
“That complicates things,” Bill said quietly. “Hadley is Sookie’s cousin.”
With difficulty, Russell held in his grin. “Then Sookie will definitely wish to interact with her. But what can Hadley possibly tell your fairy that will do her harm?” Russell asked innocently.
“As you know,” Bill began. “I was—I am—Sophie-Anne’s procurer. The queen is fond of rarities, and over my decade in her service, I have found many humans with unusual blood.”
“Yes,” Russell said. “Talbot would like for us to take advantage of your skills in this area.”
Bill immediately looked full of shame at the idea.
“Remember, young William,” Russell mollified gently, “Talbot treats our unique donors like precious commodities. They live in luxury and are quite happy with their lives—just as Hadley seems to be.”
Bill nodded, the guilt on his face immediately abating. He took another breath. “I found Hadley living in squalor—in a house where methamphetamines were being produced. She was an addict and was selling the meth for the home owner in order to get her own daily fix; however—despite these things—her blood was the best I’d smelled in years. I made her a project of sorts.”
“A fixer-upper,” Russell mused.
Bill nodded. “I knew that the queen would not want to feed from anyone in Hadley’s condition, so I took the girl to an apartment I kept for,” he paused, “promising candidates. It was there that I would personally prepare new donors for the queen.”
“Ah,” Russell smiled, “a trick of the procurement trade, I would imagine.”
“Exactly,” Bill responded. “I glamoured Hadley into no longer wishing to take illicit drugs, and within a week, the physical withdraw symptoms of her drug use were no more. I made sure that she was well-fed, for she was virtually skeletal at first. And I also bought her some nice clothing. Within a few weeks, she was ready to be,” he paused, “tried.”
“And you tried her?” Russell asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“I always ‘tried’ those whom I had to collect out of gutter,” Bill answered stiffly. “It was my duty. I could not have them being a disappointment to the queen.”
“Of course not,” Russell said evenly. “I would expect nothing less from an expert procurer—such as yourself.”
Bill looked relieved at Russell’s words. Both vampires in the vehicle knew that “trying”—in this case—involved both feeding and fucking, and Russell’s expression showed Bill that he need not feel guilty for these actions.
“So Hadley was deemed,” Russell paused, “acceptable to take to the queen.”
Bill nodded. “She had grown to trust me—since I had taken care of her. Of course, after my time with her, I glamoured her to enjoy the kinds of attentions that the queen would give her sexually. She had preferred men, though she’d done much in her pursuit of drugs.”
“So her preference was changed—so that she would enjoy females more?”
Bill nodded in confirmation. “And my work was a success. The queen immediately favored Hadley. Her blood was wonderful—with a spice I had never tasted before!” The younger vampire licked his lips at the memory. “And the girl was especially uninhibited—and unafraid—when it came to intimate encounters.”
The king smiled at the look on Bill’s face. He figured that Compton would be blushing if it were possible for a vampire to do so. “And—of course—your glamour helped her along in that area.”
Bill nodded again. “Yes—but Hadley also had an inclination for it. Her background was quite,” he paused, “sordid.”
“Sordid?” Russell asked.
“Yes. She’d been a stripper and an occasional prostitute. Of course, these things made her even more uninhibited, which was excellent! You know how the queen is both a voyeur and an exhibitionist.”
Showing his distaste, Russell sneered. “Yes.”
Bill took another deep breath. “But there was more to Hadley. She also had a very self-destructive streak. She’d run away from home and had begun taking drugs as a teen.”
“Do you know why?” Russell asked with interest.
Bill nodded. “Yes. Hadley rebelled against her single mother, which is not unusual. However, she’d also been sexually abused as a child—by an uncle. That was at the root of her problematic behavior.”
“How sad,” Russell responded.
“Yes,” Bill agreed. “I learned of her abuse a few days before I took her to Sophie-Anne, and—so that she might make the queen a better pet—I glamoured her to forget her uncle’s misdeeds. After that, she was immediately happier. And she accepted her new role in the queen’s entourage with glee!” he reported.
“So—you learned of your Sookie from her cousin as well?” Russell probed when Bill was silent for a few moments.
“Yes. The queen enjoyed Hadley so much that it wasn’t long before she and I began questioning Hadley about her remaining family members.”
“A reasonable step,” Russell observed. “After all, blood is inherited.”
Bill nodded. “Yes. Unfortunately, Hadley shared that there were only three members of her family’s bloodline remaining: a grandmother and two cousins—Adele, Jason, and Sookie Stackhouse. Hadley told us that she thought Sookie was,” he paused, “odd.”
“Yes. Hadley explained that Sookie always seemed to know what others were thinking, and when the queen showed interest, Hadley was happy to tell more.”
“Ah—to please her queen,” Russell observed.
“Yes. We soon suspected that Sookie was a telepath and, given the fact that Hadley’s blood was so rich, the queen posited that we had found a group of Fae hybrids.”
“A wonderful find!” Russell exclaimed, acknowledging Bill’s good work.
Bill shook his head sadly. “Of course, Sophie-Anne was greedy, especially because of the old myth that indicated that fairy blood could help a vampire to walk in the sun. The queen tried with Hadley. Uh—not on herself, of course.” He paused. “To preserve secrecy, she asked me to try with Hadley’s blood, but the sun immediately scorched my flesh.”
“How disappointing for the queen,” Russell deadpanned.
“Indeed,” Bill returned. “After that, Sophie-Anne decided to send me to Bon Temps. My mission had several goals. First, I was to establish contact with the whole Stackhouse family and see if their blood was as flavorful as Hadley’s. I was also to confirm that Sookie was a telepath, and—if so—I was to secure her into our service by any means necessary, though the queen wanted the girl to come more-less willingly.”
“Of course,” Russell observed.
Bill continued. “My main mission, however, was to trace the Stackhouse family line back to its fairy source and keep watch to see if I might find other Fae.”
“Ah, so the queen was greedy,” Russell mused. In truth, the king couldn’t blame her. He was old enough to remember when fairies were more commonly found in the human realm. He had even tasted a half-blood before. It was delicious—intoxicating.
He couldn’t wait to have more!