CONTENT WARNING: A suicide attempt is mentioned in this chapter.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2007
Twenty-four hours after I’d stepped foot into the Rustin mall to find Sam a better Christmas gift, I arrived at the Las Vegas Airport via private jet. Niall had been “good enough” to hide me for nineteen of those hours and then escort me safely to a small airfield where I was handed off to Quinn of all people!
During my time with my great-grandfather, he had watched me like a hawk, especially after I excused myself to go to the bathroom and swallowed the whole bottle of Tylenol that was in my purse. Niall had found me, and he had called Ludwig. The fucking doctor had “popped” in and forced me to drink a fucking tonic of some kind!
Once upon a time, I’d liked her. Not anymore.
“I thought that doctors were supposed to do no fucking harm,” I muttered incoherently.
“What?” Quinn asked as he took my arm to lead me from the plane. I recoiled from his touch. At Niall’s bidding, Quinn had been on suicide watch too, and I’d had to endure him thinking about how he’d fulfilled a similar duty with his mother.
I grew physically ill when drawing the comparison made me more attractive to the weretiger’s eyes! Talk about a fucking hero complex!
Of course, one couldn’t really blame Quinn for being fucked up; he’d been a teenager when he’d first had to save his mother from killing herself. However, I didn’t have it in me to feel compassion for him—though an “unbroken” person would have.
Simply put, I had no heart left to generate compassion.
And the pity in Quinn’s eyes—mixed with longing (as if my fiancé hadn’t just died!)—had been enough to send me to the toilet to dry heave several times. And—of course—I hadn’t been allowed to shut the fucking door and retch in private! Maybe Quinn thought I would try to flush myself out into the air through the tiny opening of the toilet!
If only I could have.
I hugged my purse to me when Quinn tried to take it. I had brought nothing with me to Las Vegas except for my purse and the clothing I was wearing—though my purse had already been emptied of any potential weapons by my “helpful” great-grandfather.
But inside was a little album that Gran had bought me for my birthday several years before. I was grateful for the pictures in it, but I found myself wishing I’d taken the time to fill it up since so many of the people I loved could no longer pose for pictures.
“All gone,” I whispered.
This time, Quinn was able to make out my words, but—thankfully—he didn’t ask me to explain them.
Quinn put his big paw against the small of my back almost possessively.
I cringed, but closed my eyes and let the weretiger guide my steps. I didn’t want to see whatever new hell was coming until I had to.
Instead, I thought about the day before. After leaving the JC Penny children’s furniture section, Niall had taken me to a service staircase. There, he’d made me leave my phone behind before “popping” us to a “magic-cloaked” safe-house he kept in the area. When I asked why I couldn’t simply stay there forever—instead of get bonded to the caped vampire king—Niall shared that the magic around the safe house wasn’t “meant to last.”
It seemed that nothing was—meant to last, that is.
Except maybe sorrow. And guilt.
Since it had been daytime when Niall’s newest batch of enemies killed my remaining family members and my fiancé, Cataliades had to wait to negotiate with de Castro until it was after sunset in Nevada.
I suppose I should have been nervous about the negotiations, but I was just numb. And after my suicide attempt, Ludwig gave me something that put me to sleep for most of the night.
I chuckled darkly, finding it ironic that I’d been given more drugs after my near drug overdose.
“It’s like rain on my wedding day,” I sang softly and off-key.
“Sookie?” Quinn asked, pushing me along when I stopped for a moment.
I opened my eyes and smiled my crazy smile at him. “It’s like good advice that I just wouldn’t take. Isn’t that ironic? Don’t ya think?”
Even more pity in his eyes, Quinn shook his head and pulled me along.
Maybe he just didn’t appreciate Alanis Morissette.
“Yeah—I really do think,” I answered my own question morosely.
Before handing me off to Quinn and telling me goodbye—supposedly “forever” this time (why did I doubt that?)—Niall shared that the negotiations with de Castro had gone even better than hoped for.
Niall said that Mr. Cataliades would give me all the details, but that Felipe had agreed to forego sex with me for the first five years, but—after that—I’d be expected to have carnal relations with him at least bi-monthly.
However, despite the fact that Felipe was “waiving the right of my body for a time”—Niall’s words, not mine—the king and I would begin exchanging blood that very night. Initially, we would exchange until a bond formed—which would likely take three exchanges over three nights, though sometimes more exchanges were needed. After that, I’d be required to exchange with de Castro once a year.
But I would be “feeding” him twice per month—unless I wanted to do it more often, which Niall suggested I consider since the king was being so generous to me.
I had looked at Niall as if he were an alien; maybe he was. After all, the very thought of a single exchange or feeding with Felipe made me cringe!
Niall hadn’t seemed to notice my nausea. He’d continued by telling me that, in addition to giving up my blood and eventually my body, I would have to be the king’s “date” to approximately fifteen “State affairs” per year. I would be “on call” as State telepath forty hours per week. I would be given the pool house on Felipe’s main estate to live in, and I would be able to live alone. However, I would not be allowed to leave the estate grounds during the daytime until Niall confirmed that the current Fae threat was over. And—even then—I would always be escorted by guards.
My food would be provided by a gourmet chef, though I would have a full kitchen and access to a grocery shopper if I decided to make any dishes for myself. I would have access to the king’s grounds, which included swimming pools, a tennis center, a bowling alley, a stable, and a nine-hole golf course. If escorted by vampires, I would be allowed to enjoy the Vegas night-life twice per week—as long as the king approved of my excursions and didn’t need me for work.
In other words, I would be a pretty bird in a cage.
I wasn’t surprised when I was met at a limousine by Mr. Cataliades as well as a whole bunch of Were guards. The demon lawyer had a somber expression upon his face as he guided me into the vehicle which would take me to my luxurious prison.
I was gladder than I could say that Quinn said his goodbye’s right before the limo door closed.
A small comfort. But a comfort nonetheless.
I’d long-since run out of tears, and I kept my eyes forward during the trip, thankful that the demon didn’t attempt any small talk on the way to de Castro’s estate.
And what an estate it was!
At any other time, my breath might have been taken away by the lush property that seemed to pop up out of the desert. All of the buildings (and there seemed to be a lot of them in addition to the main house) were constructed in the Spanish style—with bright white exteriors and reddish stucco roofs.
And the main house? Well—I’d never seen a house so large or so imposing. It was all right angles—squares and triangles. It seemed to be hiding courtyards as if covetous of the spaces—perfect for a vampire.
The landscape around the main house looked like something out of a movie—a movie with a lot of special effects. Unrealistically bright flowers were everywhere—placed in well-ordered flower beds that each seemed to have a theme. I’d been to a botanical gardens once, and the fact that something grander was recreated in the middle of the desert was as impressive as it seemed wasteful.
I found myself hoping that the pool house was surrounded by cacti.
Still, I was glad when the limo driver skipped the main house and pulled up directly to the pool house—my new house. It was larger than Gran’s home!
“There are actually several pools on the estate,” Mr. Cataliades informed me, as if he were a real estate agent trying to sell me the property. “The pool attached to your home will be for your private usage.”
I nodded at him as I accepted the information indifferently. Before the scars left behind by Thing 1 and Thing 2 had left me too self-conscious to sunbathe—before life had ripped out my desire to do anything “enjoyable”—I would have relished the idea of a private pool.
Well—now the pool just seemed like a good place to drown myself.
A thirty-something-year-old woman, Jean, who was, apparently, to be my personal assistant was waiting to give me a tour of my new house. Oddly enough, she reminded me a bit of Margie, who had likely given up on my returning for Sam’s bracelet.
I wondered what Margie must have thought of me.
I shook my head, refusing to allow those thoughts—any thoughts—to take hold, and I followed Jean as she led me through the pool house, which I figured was called as that just because it was close to a pool.
I had to admit that the house was lovely. The décor was mostly neutral in color—beige, white, and gray—but I was told that I had “no budgetary limits” when it came to any redecorating I wanted to do.
I nodded emotionlessly as Jean showed me the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the office, two guest rooms (which I couldn’t imagine ever needing), and a large master suite, complete with an opulent bathroom. The final stop was at a huge walk-in closet attached to the bathroom. Jean apologized for having time to fill only one-quarter of the closet before I arrived.
She assured me—as if I needed assurances—that representatives from several area stores would be visiting beginning that very night with plenty of wares to augment the little she’d done.
After that, I was led back to the kitchen, where I met Stephan, who was to be my personal chef. He bowed a lot and gave me paperwork to “fill out” so that he would be able to anticipate “my food requirements.”
After I politely declined lunch—much to Stephan’s chagrin—the chef told me that the refrigerator was stocked with finger foods if I changed my mind. And then he informed me that my dinner would be served at 7:00 p.m. sharp. Having heard that I was from Louisiana, he’d be “presenting me with a buffet of dishes to remind me of home.”
A knot formed in my throat, but I thanked Stephan nonetheless. As he turned to leave, I stopped him. “Stephan?”
“Yes, Miss?” he asked.
“And extra food I don’t use—uh—it won’t go to waste. Will it? I mean—a buffet is too much for just one person. And—my appetite isn’t much to speak of.”
He looked at me, clearly surprised. His mind told me that he’d cooked for many a pet during his two-decade career; in fact, he’d made his living catering to vampires by catering for their “food” even before the Great Reveal. Most of those pets had been vapid, selfish creatures according to Stephan’s mind. Needless to say, none of them had given a damn about wasting food.
“There are many guards on the property,” he said. “I can make any leftovers to them—if you’d like, Miss Stackhouse.”
“Thanks,” I said.
As soon as Stephan left, Jean took over the talking again, informing me of my appointments for that night and the next day. I would be meeting with the king at 9:00 p.m. Then, I had some appointments with tailors and designers.
However, after that, I’d be “allowed” to settle in and sleep.
Jean said that she’d arrive at the pool house at 8:00 p.m. to “help me dress.” Apparently, the rest of my day was allocated to me going over the contract that had been negotiated with Felipe. Meanwhile, the rest of her day—according to her mind—would be spent arranging for a hair stylist, a nail artist (were they really called artists?), and a masseuse. It seemed that my new house was destined to become a personal spa the next day.
Given how I looked to her, Jean thought that her work was cut out for her. She wished that the demon didn’t need my time so that she could get the salon people over immediately. And she worried that the king might not be pleased enough by my appearance that night.
Of course, the personal assistant had no idea that my family and fiancé had been slaughtered the day before. So it wasn’t her fault that she wondered why I wasn’t more pleased with my new situation. Plus, it didn’t help that Jean had always wanted the life I was now getting.
She could have it.
I was grateful when—with a curtsy of sorts—Jean finally left the demon lawyer and me alone “to work,” taking her internal judgments about me with her.
“Would you like to freshen up before we go over your contract?” Mr. Cataliades asked kindly.
I shook my head. I’d had on the same clothes for a long time now, but I was loathe to take them off. It felt like—once I did—the last vestiges of my previous life would be taken from me.
Mr. Cataliades began leading me through the minutia of my contract professionally and mechanically.
My residence—to be chosen especially for me by the king.
My personal chef—to be chosen especially for me by the king.
My personal assistant—to be chosen especially for me by the king.
Access to various amenities on the grounds.
A list of things I could “choose” to have: a tennis instructor, a golf instructor, a riding instructor, a ballroom dancing instructor, a personal trainer, a tutor for any subject I wanted to learn about.
I could learn to play any instrument I wanted—from the piano to the piccolo.
I would have an unlimited clothing allowance—with the caveat that my “work garments” would all need Jean’s approval, for she would be aware of my clothing needs for particular settings and occasions.
A “set” work schedule of fifteen hours per week—11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. per night from Thursday to Saturday. I could also be called upon to work up to twenty-five additional hours per week—either day or night as needed—with Jean alerting me to my “flex” schedule each evening at 8:00 p.m.
The demon went on and on, spending a lot of time describing the details of the blood exchanges between de Castro and me. They would start that very night. Thankfully—because the king “respected my modesty and need to grieve”—our initial bond would be formed by drinking each other’s blood out of a chalice. The next two years’ exchanges would be simultaneous drinking from the wrist. The next two would be simultaneous drinking from the neck—so as to “encourage more intimacy.” And—on our “fifth anniversary” as a bonded “couple”—I would be expected to “attend to the king fully,” which clearly meant having sex as we renewed the bond.
Thereafter, unless “otherwise informed,” I would be expected to visit Felipe’s bed on the first and fifteenth day of each month—dates to correspond with my feeding of him. In other words, my sex with the king would be scheduled.
The next part of the contract dealt with the bi-monthly feedings that I would be required to give to Felipe. These feedings would begin on January 1. And—redundantly (but didn’t most contracts contain redundancies?)—Mr. Cataliades told me that they would occur on the first and fifteenth of each month. For the first two feedings, Felipe would “generously” allow my blood to be drawn by syringe, and he would drink it bagged. Not surprisingly, the contract stipulated a precise amount to be drawn.
Beginning on February 1, 2008, Felipe would be able to take my blood from a variety of arteries or veins—depending upon his “mood.” Mr. Cataliades listed all of the vessels’ scientific names, but I had no idea where they were located (even with my SAT studying—I hadn’t gotten to them yet). The demon lawyer “helpfully” provided a diagram. All of the “allowed” vessels were located in “PG” places on my body. My entire arm was fair game—from my palm to my arm pit (yuck). Several places on my legs were “approved” too, but all of them were below the knees. Felipe could also take from my neck.
Until our relationship became sexual, however, Felipe had agreed to keep his “grip” on me “non-sexual in nature” as he drank from me.
I said nothing as the bondings, the beddings, and the feedings were described. I found it ironic that I now truly understood what Eric might have felt like during his negotiations with Freyda. Did Eric view sex and blood swaps as chores to “get through?” Were all of his “visits” to the queen’s bed on a schedule? Or had he decided to share Freyda’s bed more often than required—because the sex was pleasurable?
I knew that Eric, who was such a sexual creature by nature, wouldn’t deny himself physical pleasure. I cringed. Vampires weren’t known for fidelity—though there had been a time when Eric was faithful to me. I knew that time was over, but I still didn’t like to think about all the sexual encounters Eric must have had since he and I parted ways—just as I’m sure that he wouldn’t have liked to contemplate me having sex with others.
I shook myself out of this thought and followed what the demon lawyer was saying for a moment.
Apparently—de Castro wasn’t going to deny me other sexual partners. As long as I fulfilled my “commitments to him,” I was allowed to take “non-vampire” lovers—as many as I wanted—pending background checks and “Magisterial approval.” In fact, the contract was worded in such a way as to encourage me to seek short-term or long-term bedfellows. And, at my request, any humans or two-natured men with whom I wanted to pursue “a long-term relationship” could be glamoured so that they were unaware of my sexual obligations to the king each month.
I found myself numbly contemplating the needlessness of going over the contract. I knew that I would never allow myself to have any kind of relationship with another—just as I knew that I would find a way to die as soon as possible. In fact, I’d already made a mental inventory of all the weapons at my disposal.
It seemed that Chef Stephan brought his own knives when he cooked, but I figured there had to be some in the kitchen.
The gas oven was another option.
Belts, sheets or clothing could be used to choke or to hang myself.
And surely there was a hair dryer in the place! Bath + hair dryer = sizzle.
And—even if there wasn’t, I had a tub. Heck, I had a whole pool—where I could drown myself.
Yes—I comforted myself with the thought that there would be ways to die once I was finally alone, for I had resolved to do just that. I wouldn’t be de Castro’s telepath and eventual whore. And—God forbid—what if the king decided to turn me?
No—if possible—I planned to kill myself before de Castro had any control over me. Even if I didn’t have the opportunity to do it before the first blood swap, I was determined that I would take a nice, long bath as soon as the sun rose the next morning.
A bath I didn’t intend to leave.
Until then, I would nod compliantly and sign my name to the contract. I would eat the meal brought to me at 7:00 p.m. Heck! Good, old-fashioned Louisiana comfort food sounded like an ideal last meal!
I would show the king the appropriate level of gratitude and respect. I would even “work with” Jean to help myself be made “presentable.” I would do whatever was needed until I had my chance—to die.
A/N: Hello all! I hope you enjoyed the chapter—not that the subject matter is “enjoyable.”
A lot of you guessed correctly that Sookie would respond to her despair by trying to kill herself. I certainly don’t advocate suicide, but—if I were in a situation similar to Sookie’s—I would contemplate it. Heck, there was a time in my life when I was in pain and didn’t see a happy outcome for myself. More than one time actually. And I would think things like, “I could just drive my car off that curve with no guardrail, and no one would ever miss me.” I was lucky that I didn’t do anything to myself; I was wrong that no one would have cared. Eventually, life got better, and I stopped thinking about harming myself. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m grateful I survived those hard times—learned from them—so that I could appreciate and enjoy the better ones. And my wish for others is that they never succumb to despair to the point that they might try to harm themselves. If anyone out there reading this is in that state, all I can say is that things can get better. And I hope and pray you’ll hold on.
Until next time,
FYI: I’m asking the wonderful Sephrenia to do a few character banners for new characters or casting for this story. I’ll also be reusing some banners from other characters where Sephrenia has already captured the character for me. Of course, we already know what Sookie and Eric look like. 😉 I should have showed you Niall last time, so I’ll do that now and show you Desmond too. Many thanks to the talented Sephrenia.
And also–always–many thanks to Kleannhouse, who always “cleans house” on my drafts. 🙂