Eric gulped his True Blood quickly, and I felt his despair as well as mine. He’d made up his mind to do what his maker had commanded. I didn’t blame him. Seeing him in so much pain had been horrible, and I knew exactly how much pain he’d been in. I felt him shift under me. He grabbed my hands and helped me to get up from my place on the floor in front of him.
He led us to our bedroom without a word, and began taking off my clothes in silence. There was no lust coming from him, only love. I helped him take off his clothes too, needing to feel close to him. Our bodies became a means to show each other how much we loved the other, nothing more. Yes, his body was beautiful. Yes, he caressed me in all the right places. He lay down and I straddled him, making love to him slowly, kissing him everywhere. This could be our last night together, and the realization made me cry even as my body took pleasure from his.
My tears ran copiously. I offered them to him and he licked every single one. When I opened my eyes I found he was crying too, bloody tears staining his face and hair as they ran down. I bent over him and licked his tears too, stifling the sobs that wanted to wrack my body. He couldn’t stifle his. He sobbed and held me tight against him, moving his hips under me so we could both have a little bit of physical pleasure. Our coming together was bittersweet.
We moved to the bathroom and bathed together. We had time, so we took it. I washed the blood off his hair and he made sure my whole body was resplendent. He murmured his prayers as he soaped my large belly, and again as he washed my face: Idony and me, the two loves of his long life.
Later, before we left to go to Raven’s Den, he took Pam and hugged her tight, murmuring a prayer for her too. She quickly reached in his pocket for a handkerchief and dabbed her bloody eyes. I had to avert mine to keep myself from crying again. Eric kissed her forehead before letting her go. He was saying goodbye to her too.
He brought Glad and Diantha into a group hug. They were part of our family too. The sisters hugged him back, each of them staining his shirt with their own tears. I could barely stand it. Pam saw my distress and was beside me quickly, rubbing my back soothingly. Rather than calm me, her love for Eric and me made me start crying again. She gave me Eric’s hanky.
The drive to the club was silent. None of us was in the mood to listen to music or talk about the weather. I was very much aware that I was about to lose the love of my life. Even if he only lived in darkness, Eric was my light. If he succeeded in killing the King of Nevada, he would then become the target. If he didn’t succeed… my daughter would never know her father, and I would never know another love as deep as the one he had for me. Idony woke up and I wondered if she was reading my distress. Eric reached over and put his hand on my belly, feeling his daughter moving as she stretched and moved into a more comfortable position.
Inside the club Maxwell told us that everyone was waiting for us in the conference room and that a VIP was due to arrive any moment. I was very surprised to see my family there. Fintan let his guard down to speak to me, mind to mind.
“Desmond called me and told me everything. That is why we are here,” Fintan explained.
“How are you going to fix it?” I asked mentally, taking the seat next to him and fixing my eyes on Eric, who was looking into the middle distance between us.
Fintan took my hand and showed me several possibilities of what could happen. They got progressively worse. Niall had come up with several options: hiding our whole family, killing Queen Sophie-Anne, killing Ocella, inciting a war between the fairies and the vampires. That last image chilled me to the bone and Fintan noticed. He rearranged his thoughts quickly, and showed me what was really going to happen, so that when Mr. C. asked us to stand for the Ancient Pythoness, I wasn’t as surprised about it as the vampires before me.
The wizened old lady walked in with two of her beautiful assistants. They helped her to the chair at the head of the table, closest to Sophie-Anne and Niall. As soon as she sat down it was like somebody plugged her in.
“Sookie Stackhouse Northman! Come here this instant, child!” the AP said from her seat before any of us had a chance to sit down. Everybody sat, except Eric, and I made my way to the other end of the table. As soon as I was close to the old gal, she put her hand out, asking for mine. She’d had a troubled expression, but it cleared as soon as I put my hand in hers.
Niall reached for my free hand, and his touch helped a little with my nerves. I was usually a little wary of my great-grandfather, but I knew he was good to me. Whatever bit of love he could feel, he felt it for his family.
“May I touch your abdomen?” the AP asked.
I moved closer to her. “Yes, ma’am,” I said and let her pet my belly. Everybody else did it all the time, I was used to it. I looked up at Eric who was still standing and fidgeting impatiently. Then my eyes roamed to where Alexei was standing. He was staring at me, his fangs descending ever so slowly. My heart skipped a beat and then began beating furiously. My sudden fear made my whole family stand up suddenly and hiss at the vampires.
“Appius, remove the child,” the AP said in a boring tone, like Ocella should have known to do that before the meeting started. “Have someone watch over him while we get this meeting underway.”
Ocella stood and Eric moved closer. Alexei didn’t like that he was going to be removed and growled and snarled all the way to the door, while both Ocella and Eric pushed him out the door. Glad and Diantha were waiting outside. I had no doubt they would be charged with keeping an eye on the little twerp. When the two men returned only Ocella sat down. Eric remained standing on the other side of the AP.
“Viking,” the AP warned with her voice. “You know I won’t harm her,” she shook her head with an exasperated sigh. Then she smiled her toothless smile. “Your child is strong and has your looks.”
I watched as Queen Sophie-Anne, Ocella, and Andre all took in this piece of information with wide eyes. They had truly thought that my baby had been a product of in vitro fertilization. Never had they imagined that it would be Eric’s baby.
“How could that happen?” Queen Sophie-Anne asked under her breath.
“Lady! You are in enough trouble as it is without asking stupid questions. They had sex and procreated. Shall I draw you a picture?” the AP shouted at Sophie-Anne. I had to stifle a laugh and settled for a smile. The AP was so old that Sophie-Anne was just a little kid in comparison, therefore that’s exactly how she was being treated. The AP looked up at me with her milky white eyes. “Go sit next to your kin, and thank you for indulging this old lady.”
I curtsied as best I could with my big belly keeping me permanently off balance, and sat in my seat. Eric also sat down again, reaching across the table and asking for my hand. The only thing we could touch was our fingertips.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice, Revered One,” Mr. C. started next to us. “Would you like me to read the agreement as it stands?”
“No. My assistants already read the faxed copy you sent. I’m well aware of Sophie-Anne’s intentions with this agreement. Let’s just get on with it,” the AP said, waving a hand and sitting all the way back in her chair, getting comfortable.
“This is a suicide mission for my great-grandson!” Niall said in a very loud voice. “I demand you withdraw your command, Roman!”
Ocella hissed at Niall. “He is mine to command. What makes him your great-grandson? I’ve never heard of this.”
“He is married to my Sookie by vampire law. He is her mate by my law. He must remain by her side until their children are of age. Besides, this is stupidity! Do you really think that if Eric is killed in this endeavor that you will get my Sookie for yourself? I will take her with me to Fairy before that ever happens!” Niall said, and I felt my stomach drop at his words. I wasn’t even sure what had made me upset, exactly. Maybe it was all of it.
“She is my subject in the state of Louisiana,” Queen Sophie-Anne chimed in.
“Are you now claiming that humans are your subjects, pseudo-Queen Sophie-Anne?” Niall piped up. My uncle laughed behind him. It wasn’t a chuckle full of mirth. It was full of malice.
“That’s enough!” the AP said in a stronger voice than I thought she would have. She turned to Sophie-Anne. “The contract you signed with Appius is not valid because you cannot promise yourself in marriage to a vampire simply to have a vampire make his child do something. Strike the part to command Eric from your contract, and you may continue the marriage,” she nodded at Mr. C. He was taking notes furiously, as well as recording the whole conversation. It was like being at a deposition.
“As for the verbal agreement between you and Niall, that is done. You must follow through with it. He disposed of Victor Madden, now you must dispose of Felipe De Castro and once the kingdom of Nevada is yours, you must give Niall possession of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, as agreed. I will give you two months to get this accomplished. Should you fail to fulfill your end of the agreement, either you or your estate must pay Prince Niall Brigant the amount of two hundred million dollars every year for the next twenty years or until the Bellagio is out of business, whichever lasts longer,” the AP decreed.
I was trying really hard to suppress my joy and giddiness, and I could feel Eric opening his side of our bond slowly, letting me know he felt the same way but not daring to gloat just yet.
“You cannot be serious!” Sophie-Anne balked. “I don’t have that kind of money!”
The AP turned her face to the Queen. “Then I suggest you kill Felipe De Castro and take over his kingdom so you can give Niall his casino.” The old gal enunciated every word just so, as if she was talking to a three-year-old.
The Queen turned to Mr. C., who was still scribbling away. “You did this to me, you backstabbing demon!” she yelled, getting up and pointing an accusatory finger at Mr. C.
He stopped writing and looked directly at her. I could see something like fire in his eyes. “I will have you know, my lady, that I was entrusted to protect this child from the moment of her birth,” he said pointing at me, “and that everything I’ve done has been to safeguard her in your world, from suggesting you send Sheriff Northman to protect her, to this meeting. She is more mine than she will ever be yours,” Mr. C. finished in his always-level deep voice.
I looked at Eric and he was looking right back at me with the same kind of confusion. Mr. C. noticed our exchange and decided to elaborate. He alternated his gaze between me and Eric as he explained.
“When Bill Compton brought Hadley to the compound, I knew I was too late to save her from being in the world of vampires. By the time she showed up in Sophie-Anne’s compound, my hands were tied. Hadley wanted that life, she begged to be turned, and Sophie-Anne liked her very much. When Hadley began telling everybody about you,” Mr. C. looked at me, “I knew I had to protect you somehow. I wasn’t sure if Fintan was here or in Fairy, and I was running out of time. Bill Compton offered to procure you, since he was from the same town, but I told Sophie-Anne that if the rumors were true, you would need a stronger protector. She sent Sheriff Northman to make sure you remained protected.”
“I can’t believe it,” muttered Sophie-Anne, earning herself a loud shushing from the AP.
“It was serendipity that Eric fell in love with you,” Mr. C. continued.
“I used to watch your house at night,” Eric added quietly. I looked at him quizzically. “I used to stay in the woods next to your house, or sometimes right next to your window, just to make sure you were safe. I would follow you home and then I would make sure that stupid Bill Compton wouldn’t come sniffing by your house,” he smiled.
I was touched. “There was a night that I woke up and I couldn’t hear any insects or animals in the woods, the first night we met. Were you there?” I asked.
“Yes, I was there,” he answered simply and gave me a shy smile, one I barely ever got to see. My heart melted for his devotion, and I felt an urgent need to kiss him, which I was able to keep in check.
“When I finally got a hold of Fintan,” Mr. C. continued, “he was able to ask for a guardian for you. The need became urgent that day you spoke to your grandmother’s grave and Fintan heard you…”
“So many bad things had happened to you already,” Fintan interrupted. “I sent Claudine to you immediately, afraid that you wouldn’t understand who I was,” he said. I realized it was this same fear that had kept him away from Hunter. I guess even old fairies like him were not completely self-assured.
“And, of course, when Eric said you needed further protection I sent Glad and Diantha to take care of you,” Mr. C. said.
I took a moment to glance at the other side of the table. Andre was rubbing Sophie-Anne’s shoulders in a comforting way while she hung her head and shook it once in a while. Appius was riveted to our conversation, his face blank and his eyes moving to meet mine. I switched my eyes quickly back to Eric.
“You are due in only a couple of months, are you not?” the AP asked me.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m due at the end of September,” I answered in a small voice.
The AP nodded and closed her eyes. She seemed to be deep in concentration. “By then we shall know the fate of Sophie-Anne’s endeavor to take over the kingdom of Nevada,” she said and opened her eyes. She turned to Niall. “Prince, bind them to the agreement with you,” the AP said waving her hand. Niall made a quick motion with his staff, always at his side, and the atmosphere shimmered for the tiniest bit of time.
“It is done,” he said.
The AP nodded satisfied and turned to Ocella. “Appius Livius Ocella, let’s deal with you. What the hell have you done? Why do I find that the rumors of your deed are true?”
“Which deed, Revered One?” he asked, feigning ignorance. He knew what he had done.
“Why do I find the weakest member of the Romanov family still alive and in your care? What possessed you to turn a child such as him? The moment you realized he was a mistake you should have disposed of him,” the AP said and frowned. I felt a chill down my spine. Eric had once told me that mistakes were dealt with swiftly in the vampire world. Bubba had been a mistake, but proved to be harmless. I wasn’t sure that Alexei was harmless. He’d almost drained Eric dry.
Ocella was in all kinds of distress. “He’s my child. I couldn’t very well dispose of him!”
“I will concede that you were lonely and desperate at the time, but that moment has passed. Dispose of that child tonight. He is not well. I will allow you to make one other vampire out of a healthy adult male,” she said. I was taken aback by the casualness of her statement, but I guess one would be casual about it if one had been doing the same thing for millennia like the AP had. “And stop meddling in the affairs of the Northmans. They are now a family unit independent from you. You must relinquish your hold as maker again, like you did once before,” she said, and it was as if saying so made it be so.
A wail of grief issued from Ocella. He’d just lost two children in one night. Had he not answered Queen Sophie-Anne’s call and yearned for more power, he would have still had both his charges under his care… or under his thumb, depending on how you looked at it.
“Let it be so,” the AP said, and her assistants came to stand beside her. They helped her up from her seat and they started moving towards the door. She stopped. “Viking!”
Eric shot out of his seat immediately and went to her. She made him lean down to her so she could whisper in his ear. As she told him her secret, he switched his eyes to me and a small smile began to grace his lips until it turned into a full-fledged grin. He looked beautiful and happy. My heart soared. This horrible night was finally ending, and Eric’s smile meant that there were only good things in our future.
He didn’t wait another moment. As soon as the AP was done he ran to my side super vampire fast and scooped me into a tight hug. His lips sought mine and we made out like teenagers. I was so happy to feel his elation that I didn’t care how many people were watching. If they didn’t like it they could leave.
“My darling, my Sookie,” he mumbled, moving his kiss to my cheeks, my forehead, my nose, my chin.
“I love you, honey,” I said to him, holding onto his neck and daring anybody to separate me from him. I would kill them with my bare hands.
The room had cleared by the time we came up for air. I giggled hiding my face against Eric’s chest. He rumbled with a laugh of his own. We walked slowly outside to see what was up, not really caring about anything but each other. The long hallway was empty.
“Where did everybody go?” I asked looking up at Eric.
“I can hear them outside,” he said, so we made our way to the back door.
As soon as we were met with the balmy summer night air, we were both attacked. I fell on my butt, AGAIN! It hurt even worse this time as my tailbone got the brunt of the fall. I heard snarling and growling behind me, Ocella repeating Alexei’s name over and over, and saw Pam running past me. I turned from my prone position as Mr. C. picked me up from the ground. Alexei had gone after Eric, and was trying to eat him, from the looks of it. The little kid was fast, faster than I’d ever seen another vampire. He disappeared completely from my vision when he moved.
Mr. C. moved my body behind his. Pam was doing her best to catch Alexei, while he moved with purpose around and around Eric. He would stop and bite Eric and move, stop, bite, move. He was too fast for even Pam to catch. I could only watch in horror. Glad and Diantha were trying to help too, but they couldn’t move vampire fast, and therefore had to rely on their other weapons.
Alexei made a mistake. During one of his stops he miscalculated when Eric moved out of the way, and Diantha was able to shoot a stream of white hot fire into Alexei’s center mass. The fire consumed him so quickly that he was ash in just seconds. A grieving Ocella launched himself at Diantha, but before he could reach her his neck met the sharp end of Glad’s sword. The head rolled away from the falling body and quickly became a smudge of blood on the ground. I watched aghast as Eric knelt beside the body of his maker and watched him disintegrate into the pavement.
When Eric’s shoulders started shaking I went to him. I remembered his words: he loved his maker. It was that strange connection vampire makers and children had, even if the maker was abusive. I put my hand on Eric’s shoulder. He looked up. He was crying and laughing at the same time. My poor man had lost his mind.
“I’m free,” he said with wonder in his voice. I searched his feelings. They were in chaos. He was sad and happy, devastated and elated.
Before I had a chance to ask him if everything was okay, I felt a sharp pain from deep inside me.
“It’s too soon,” I said, my heart sinking.
Pam caught on quicker than anybody else. She lifted me easily and had me inside the truck and on my way to the hospital in a blink and a half.