Agnes had been a vampire for almost 950 years.
She’d been turned in England, and her maker had been kind and helpful—rather than a wrathful bastard like her husband’s maker. Edwin had been made in England around the same time as she. And their makers had been rivals.
Edwin had been quite grateful when Agnes’s maker had slain his own.
Agnes and Edwin had been two of the first vampires to touch American soil. They were explorers by nature; thus, they’d not stayed put on the East Coast. Salem was disturbing, after all.
They’d plunged westward before Lewis and Clark had even been born.
They’d found food from the native peoples who’d once flourished on the land. And they’d been revered by them for a time—until all people with white skin had become suspected of treachery. Having the whitest skin of all, Edwin and Agnes had needed to tread carefully among the native peoples after the 1800s or so.
Not surprisingly, Agnes and Edwin had been the first vampires on the West Coast, and they’d worked tirelessly to make sure the territories they’d claimed had prospered—despite the conflicts of culture there. Hell—they’d worked behind the scenes to ensure that California was the most multi-cultural state in the union, both among humans and vampires. Things were more interesting that way.
When Roman Zimojic had come to them centuries before—when the Vampire Authority in the Americas was formed—Agnes had been reticent about joining the ambitious vampire. But he’d convinced her that all members would have as much say as he did.
She looked down at the speech that she’d just written. As a vampire, she’d already memorized the words, but she liked reading them on the page nonetheless. In her opinion, words always seemed more real when they were written down.
“You are nervous,” Edwin commented.
Agnes smiled up at her best friend and long-term mate. They’d been pledged for almost three hundred years and would soon be renewing their pledge for another hundred—which was the longest a monarch would promise another through a pledge. Of course, if they’d been able, they would be pledged for life.
But a once-a-century celebration wasn’t a bad thing.
More than any other, Edwin “knew” her. They were seemingly the rulers of two different kingdoms: the states of California and the states of Washington and Oregon. However, they ruled all three territories together and rotated their residence.
They had done this from their first arrival in the West.
“This will all mean more work for you, too,” she told him.
“And less,” he commented. “Without Felipe around, we will not have to be forever guarding every inch of the border with Nevada.”
“That is true,” Agnes chuckled a little.
“You’ll go on with Roman’s plan? To rotate the Councillorships.”
“You should check your email, Your Highness,” she smirked.
“And would I have one from you?” he smirked back.
He took her into his arms and kissed her long and passionately; both were glad that breath wasn’t needed by vampires.
“So—what would my email from you say?” he chuckled.
“Too lazy to read it for yourself?”
“Too anxious to keep both of my hands on you,” he grinned.
She chuckled. “It confirms the rumor that I am now Guardian. And it calls upon all vampire monarchs to nominate anyone they feel is worthy to be one of the next Councilors. You should check these things,” she teased.
“I seem to remember you asking me to make about a dozen phone calls for you,” Edwin teased back.
“Can’t you do more than one thing at a time? You are a vampire after all,” she whispered, even as she nibbled on his ear.
“You are a demanding mistress,” he growled, though certainly not in anger. She’d had centuries to learn how to push all his buttons—just right.
“Too bad the press conference is in ten minutes—or I’d have some demands for you right now,” she said coyly.
“I’d be quite willing to answer your demands as soon as it is over—or even on live television if you asked,” he responded rakishly.
Agnes giggled and pulled away from him, giving him a wink as she did.
“You know you have no reason to worry,” he said after a moment. “You know that the camera loves you.”
She smiled. “How did your phone calls go?”
“Dieter has agreed to take Nevada. God knows it will need someone strong after all of Felipe’s nonsense.”
“Mmm,” Agnes sounded in agreement. “And Arizona?”
“King Sampson and his second were both killed last night.”
“You mean in the blast this morning,” Agnes corrected.
“Of course,” Edwin smirked. “And it was not I who skewered Sampson’s second either.”
“I didn’t see anything,” Agnes winked.
Edwin went on, “Anyway, I phoned the oldest sheriff in the state, Allister, as instructed,” he added with a little bow of his head. “I confirmed the horrible news that Sampson was lost in the explosion. He didn’t seem too upset—to tell you the truth.”
“A mark in his favor,” Agnes commented.
“Indeed. I get the impression that most of the unsavory types in Sampson’s court were in the fight last night and that those left behind will enjoy the regime change.”
“Sampson was king only because Felipe was his maker. I think there are decent vampires left behind in all the states of the fallen rulers, except for Mississippi,” Agnes commented sourly. “All of those vampires were rotten to the core.”
“Yes,” Edwin agreed. “But most were killed last night.”
“Did Allister accept the role as provisional king?” she asked.
“Yes. Similarly Meegan is taking Indiana.”
“Mmm,” Agnes sounded. “She is the best left in that state, but I’m not sure she’d want to stay queen beyond a few months.”
Edwin nodded in agreement. “King Isaiah was a great loss, but his child is ready to take over Kentucky and will be just as good of a king, I think.”
“And friend,” Agnes said sadly.
“Oklahoma?” Agnes asked, getting them back to business, even as they began the short trek down to the lobby of the hotel they were staying in, which was where the press had set up for the conference.
“The Magister filed the paperwork right after the wedding. Since Freyda and Mitchell were officially man and wife, the state is his.”
“He and Dulcina deserve it after their role in all of this.”
“Do we know anything about her condition?” Edwin asked.
“She lost both legs during the fight, but she is strong and will make it. King Mitchell will help to shore up her state until she has recovered, but she has strong sheriffs in place and a strong second.”
Edwin nodded. “That leaves just the Deep South to worry about.”
Agnes smirked. “Unlike some, I can multi-task. Alabama and Georgia will both be taken over by their respective seconds—on a provisional basis, of course. And—as for Louisiana and Mississippi? Rasul is taking Mississippi, and Louisiana is being taken by Peter. It was Northman’s idea, but we both know that Peter deserves more territory than Arkansas, and he will do well with it, I think.”
“You have been busy,” Edwin chuckled. “But I would have thought you would try to get the Viking to take Louisiana.”
“Who says I didn’t?” Agnes grinned. “Actually, I offered him any of the vacant kingships he wanted. He turned me down flat.”
Edwin sighed. “That is too bad.”
“Yes, but not a surprise.”
They got off the private elevator to their penthouse and were met by their guards—a mixture of Weres and vampires. After a few instructions were given to them, the monarchs continued to the lobby to meet the press.
“Wow! She’s really hot!” Kuruk observed as Queen Agnes took the dais. The young Werebear moved a step toward the television.
“She’s taken,” Eric said with a smirk.
“So?” Kuruk said brashly. “Maybe she is looking to trade up.”
Everyone in the room chuckled. Following the phone call with Brady, Leonie’s mood had brightened, and she’d even flirted with the young man—though it was clear that she wasn’t serious about following through. Still, Kuruk had had his ego boosted by the attention.
“See that vampire right behind her?” Eric asked.
“The redheaded guy?”
“That’s Edwin. King of Washington and Oregon and Agnes’s pledged. He might not be willing to share.”
Kuruk shrugged. “Doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Again, everyone chuckled, but they quieted down as Agnes began to speak.
My fellow Americans, humans and vampires alike:
I have been selected by my kind to speak in the wake of the tragedy that occurred in Rhodes this morning, for our usual spokeswoman, Nan Flanagan is feared to be among the dead. It is with a heavy heart that I speak to you, for Nan was not the only friend lost in this shocking tragedy. In fact, if not for the grace of God, I would have been in the Pyramid of Gizeh this morning, for I was in Rhodes last night. It is lucky that so many left after the Masquerade ball, which marked the close of the vampire summit. Otherwise, the loss to vampire life would have tripled the already catastrophic number taken from this world too early. As it is, almost one hundred vampires are feared gone because the steel doors designed to protect us in the hotel malfunctioned and worked instead to prevent authorities from trying to rescue the sleeping vampires and their human companions.
Thankfully, all others were able to evacuate the hotel. Vampires are ready to help any families of the humans lost, and we are also ready, willing, and able to aid in the recovery and clean-up of the collapsed hotel. Even now, a group of twenty highly-trained vampires are on their way to Rhodes to check in with authorities there. We will notify the human authorities of the names of all lost vampires as soon as we have confirmed that they are, indeed, truly gone.
We were extremely disheartened to learn that the Fellowship of the Sun, a hate group which we know most humans disavow, has claimed responsibility for this terrorist act. Vampires ask only that the responsible members of this group are apprehended and tried in court for their evil actions.
However, we vow that no vampire will seek revenge for the cowardly acts of so few. As citizens of this nation, we believe in justice. And that is all we seek.
As I said before, vampires understand that the great majority of humans wish to live in peace—just as the majority of vampires wish to do. We will not allow terrorists to jade us or to destroy the good relations that have been created between vampires and humans in this great nation.
Our prayers go out to the families and friends of all humans and vampires lost in this tragedy.
Good night. And may God bless all the peaceful members of all of our races.
“She’s good,” Sookie commented as the graceful and eloquent queen left the podium, ignoring the questions from the press.
“Yes,” Eric said. “She will make a good Guardian. And she and Edwin have enough strength and support to ensure that mainstreaming thrives. It will take a while, but things will settle down in the states which lost monarchs, and now that Russell and his cohort are mostly gone, there should be peace—for a while.”
Sookie sighed and yawned.
“Come. You should sleep. And I must take Kuruk to his grandmother,” Eric said softly.
Sookie didn’t protest as he lifted her into his arms. She was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. Her mate covered her with their quilt and returned to the living room where Kuruk was packing up the laptop he’d been using.
“Brady told Leonie I could keep it!” he said excitedly.
Eric chuckled and turned to the fairy. “Guard her until I return.”
“Of course,” the fairy nodded.
“Call me if I am needed,” he instructed.
Many thanks to Seph and Kleannhouse!