Chapter 44

A Cause

Sookie’s POV

Saturday, January 23rd

I watched Eric disappear into our room before I greeted Barry. He was wearing a pair of sweats and a hoodie. “Morning. What are you all dressed up for?” I giggled as I started down the stairs.

“I didn’t sleep. I thought I’d try to shake the cobwebs off with a run.”

I smiled at him. “Want a recharge? I can give you the energy to get through the day and then some.”

“Um.. I guess. How do you…” I interrupted him by hugging my arms around his ribs to give him his wake up.

When I set him free of my grasp, he looked embarrassed all over again. Being at half mast after a friendly hug, he should have been.

I rolled my eyes at him. “Feel more awake?”

I watched (and ‘heard’) him inventory my piercings. “1…2…3… nice. Oh my god… how did she get hotter?”

“4, you missed one. I work out. I’m going for my run. I have to get back to make breakfast.”

“Can I tag along?”

“You can try.”

I took off for my run and tried to be polite. I ran slow enough for him to keep up. Ok, manners weren’t my only motivation. Every time I pulled into the lead, he focused on my behind and his imagination went back to work.

As I approached the front gate, I saw Azo. He yelled out to me. “Don’t even think about running by me, Sunshine! Get over here.” I started laughing and slowed to stop.

I was about to ask him what was on his mind when he scooped me up and spun me. “Good morning to you too big guy!”

“Did you know I’m gonna be an uncle?”

“I do. Congratulations!” He finally set me down.

“Lil Miss, we haven’t seen each other in12 years. Did you ‘call’ them?”

“Nope, we’re still figuring it out. Alcide thinks I have my own gravitational pull. Azo, this is Barry. He’s part of Massachusetts’ party. She’ll be arriving in a couple of hours in a box. Send her guards to the Belle Shreveport. They don’t come on the property until I scan them.”

“More royalty?” He groaned and held his hand out to Barry in spite of his need for a cool down. Barry’s eyes had barely left my chest. “You need to calm yourself down. She’s a lot of things. ‘YOURS’ isn’t on the list.”

I slapped my guard’s shoulder. “Behave. He’s human. You know I can handle him… Speaking of wet dreams, when did Doug bring my Poppet home?”

He laughed. “You just missed him. He’d been here about an hour.”

I giggled before I went back to my running, swatting Azo’s leg on the way by. “I gotta git, still need to do breakfast. By the way, your babies… buttons! Adorable!”

**

I ran my usual laps in spite of Barry being so slow. He was obviously used to a tread mill. I did stay with him for a lap or so to explain some things out to him. Everything from the kids to Quinn and other things. He went back to the house and waited on the back porch for nearly an hour while I finished.

I smiled as I made my final approach. “Sorry I left you. I’m used to setting my own pace.”

“mmm… I want to lick the sweat from her thighs…” He was having a ‘hard’ time focusing.

“Barry, go take a cold shower and reinforce your shields.”

“They just aren’t strong enough. You need to do yours.”

“I don’t particularly care what you think I’d taste like, however, you aren’t just thinking, you’re broadcasting. My son can see what you’re thinking.”

We had company. “You taste like marshmallow and cream, if that helps.” Eric kissed my cheek. Barry nearly fainted since the sun had just crested the trees. “What can I do in the kitchen while you shower?”

“Eric, you need to rest.”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” We both chuckled. “Shall I start biscuits?”

I reached up and kissed his cheek. “That would be perfect.” I quickly showered, then pulled my hair back into a ponytail and put on a new black tank top, jean skirt and black knee boots with a sexy heel.

By the time I came out of the bathroom, Tobin was at the stove making sausage while Eric slid a tray of biscuits into the oven. I immediately started a pot of coffee and got to work with a smile on my face.

I reached over and gave Tobin and Eric recharges because none of us slept a wink, and when Alcide came around the corner I was holding out his coffee cup for him. Tobin made plates for the three of us plus Jason.

I was pulling Alcide’s hair back when Barry came back down stairs, dressed like a golfer; brown wingtips, yellow Polo shirt navy blue Dockers. Jason asked him if he had an early tee time before he left for work. I giggled it off and told Barry to ignore him when I handed him his plate and coffee.

It was not quite 7am; Tobin was at work researching catering companies and Alcide, Eric and I were quietly trying to work through our suspicions, when we ‘heard’ Barry behaving badly inside his head. Tobin, Eric, Alcide and I all turned our heads to stare at him. His eyes grew and mouth fell open.

“You all heard that?”

Alcide was more fed up with him than anyone else.  “SAW it. Act your age and think about something else.” Tobin was laughing quietly at his little corner of the table.

“Barry, it’ll only be so long that we’re going to be able ignore it. You need to settle yourself before the kids wake up.”

Alcide and Eric were giving him a stare so Barry apologized and promised to try.

“Shug, what if you shut down the line while he’s here?”

“I would if he were just stopping by, but not for three days.”

“How about a glamour?”

“Again, keeping it up for 3 days would be hard. He really needs to just figure it out for himself.”

I plated 5 more breakfasts and set them out with drinks.

I decided to change the subject. “Eric, you should talk to my pet about dating.”

“As her maker, I can decide who she dates and we find him acceptable.” I was really glad he caught on to my vagueness.

“So Diana won’t be an issue?”

“I’ll have to talk to both of them about that.” I smiled at him and gave him a little kiss just before the door slid open and Jeremy, Mickey, Sara and Goose joined us. I was swallowed in a big group hug again.

“Good morning everybody. Welcome to the family, Mickey.” I introduced them to Barry and warned them all that we were going to have company for a few days.

Jeremy looked up at me, slightly confused.  “Sook, if you and Alcide aren’t going to Boston…”

“No worries kid. The mountain came to Mohammad.”

He smiled at me as I plated Janice’s breakfast and put it in the microwave and then plated the kids’ food. Janice had been very sleepy for the last couple of days, I was worried that she might not be getting everything she needed…Until I heard her throwing up. Eric looked at me with a goofy version of disgust on his face. “Lover, go check on her. I’ll finish cleaning up.”

**

I didn’t get an answer when I knocked on the door so I slowly entered the room. “Janice? Honey, are you alright? I heard you get sick.”

“Oh shit! Did Alcide hear it?”

“Probably, if I did.” I went to the cracked bathroom door. “Can I come in?”

“I guess.”

When I gently pushed the door open she was sitting on the side of the tub with her head in her hands. There was a pregnancy test on the counter. “Janice, you ok?”

“No. I think that asshole Dell gave me a going away present.  I’ll find out in 5 minutes.”

“I can save you 4 and a half. You’re pregnant.” I leaned against the wall with a half smile on my face.

She looked up at me with tear streaked face. “How long have you known?”

“Since Tuesday.”

“Sookie, what am I gonna do? I wanted more, but the doctors told me not to try because of how sick I was with Tommy and I’m afraid this will mess up things with Jason.”

“Dell isn’t the one that got you pregnant and this pregnancy won’t be nearly as hard on you as the last one. All of the extra’s Jason and I have will make sure of that.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

She studied the floor for a moment. “Will the baby be like you and Jas, with Fae powers and stuff?”

“Well, you know that Fae blood kind of amplifies things, right?”

She nodded.

“Well, Jason is a shifter and both of your parents were Were.”

“Oh no!” She started sobbing and I went and sat on the tub and put my arms around her. “Alcide hated it! He said that he never wanted kids because he didn’t want to do that to them.”

I shushed her. “Janice, Manen is the result of Shifter and Fae. There will be extra powers too. And look at how much she likes it. She has everyone in this house wrapped around her little finger. She isn’t miserable at all. Don’t worry about it.”

“What about Jason? He just lost one. Is he going to be ok with this?”

“He already knows, just like me. He’s busting at the seams with excitement.”

She stared at me for a moment. “What if I’m sick again? I almost died before.”

“I will call the doctor I’m seeing and if it comes down to it, we will give you vampire blood to get you through it.”

She barely reacted to the suggestion that she take vampire blood because she had been distracted by the first part of the sentence. “What? Why are you seeing a doctor?”

“Because I’m pregnant too and Eric and Alcide are huge worry warts. The doctor has fussed them both times we’ve been in to see her.”

“Alcide got you pregnant?!”

“No sweetie. My powers helped Eric get me pregnant.”

She thought about that before she put her hand to mine. “I guess if Jason already knows, I should tell Alcide so that he has the chance to calm down before Jas gets home.”

“Do you want me to do it?”

Janice thought long and hard before she answered. “Would you think I’m a coward if I say yes?”

“Not a coward, but definitely wrong about your brother. I’ll send him up when I’m done with him.”

**

I got up and made the walk downstairs. When I got there, the room was roaring with laughter and for a split second I caught myself wishing that I hadn’t missed the punch line, but as soon as Eric spotted me, his face became serious causing Alcide’s to follow suit. I went to him and took his hand and led him to the empty den.

“Shug?”

“We need to talk. Sit down.”

He sat without question. “Ok. What? You’re starting to worry me.”

I sat on the coffee table in front of him and put my hands on his. “Alcide, I don’t know of any other way to say it, but Janice is pregnant.”

He locked down his face and looked like he wanted to punch holes through the driveway. “Is it Dell’s?”

“No. Sweetie, they’re Jason’s.”

“They?”

I nodded. “Fae tend to have multiples.”

“Will she be ok?”

“She’ll have some trouble, yes, but she will be fine. So will the babies.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“Blood pressure. It’ll start being an issue late in the summer because of the heat. She’ll be bed rested, but we’ll take care of her.”

Alcide pulled my hands towards him and set me on his lap. “Shug, help me not freak out.”

“You seem to be doing pretty well on your own.”

“When she gets sick. I’m going to need your help… to not make things worse.”

I hugged his neck and played with his hair. “Are you ok for now?”

“Do you mean: Am I going to kill Jason when he gets back for knocking up my still married sister?”

I giggled. “Something like that.”

“No, he’s safe because she’s happy.”

“She’s scared. She wanted me to tell you now so that you’d have time to settle down before Jas gets home.”

That idea frustrated him. “How is it that you know me better than anyone? My own sister doesn’t get me.”

“I can’t answer that Beb, but it might have something to do with the English language.”

“How’s that?”

“There’s no true synonyms for ‘sister’ or ‘brother’, but there are hundreds for ‘friend’.”

He smiled at me. “Can you tell me what this playmate is supposed to do about your telepathic chum?”

I snorted. “Hypocrite.”

“How am I hypocrite?  That guy walks around constantly thinking about you naked.”

“And you don’t?”

“It’s different when I do it and Barry’s old enough to know better.”

I laughed. “What makes it so different?”

“Because, I love you. He just wants to fuck you. Jeremy’s young enough to have the excuse and doesn’t do that.”

“Jeremy can sense how powerful we are because he’s a Supe. Barry is a stupid human with one witch talent.”

Alcide snorted. “Not even a well developed one. When I first met you, you were stronger, better at it. How does he get paid for it?”

“Even a weak telepath is still a telepath. You should go talk to your sister.”

“What do I say?”

“Well, for starters, she’s afraid to have shifter children because you proclaimed that you don’t want to pass along Were traits. She’s afraid the babies will hate it as much as you did.”

He sighed. “I guess I was basing that on my own private hell. Seeing Manen completely embrace her nature changes things. My parents weren’t even the ones who explained things to me. It was Buck. My dad dropped me off at his house one day when I was 12. The first time I changed, my parents went running but it was Buck that stayed with me. Your grandfather was a great guy. He was the best part of being a Were. When he died, I didn’t want to run anymore.”

“How did he die?”

He stared at me for a minute. He didn’t want to tell me but he knew I’d find out eventually. “Him and Nana Lil were killed during a coup. It ended up in a war. The pack out in Hotshot had issues with Buck, I was too young to understand the politics. Herb Norris wanted to take over the Shreveport pack because it had so many shifters. It was mostly about breeding. Your uncle died killing Herb. Flood was Buck’s lieutenant. That’s how he ascended. My dad spent a month recovering from that last battle. It was ugly. Both packs lost more than half.”

“Why was Calvin there last night? I didn’t get close enough to get a read on it.”

“I’m worried that he was there to scout our shifters.”

“You mean Febes?”

“Yeah. And Manen. He’d want Jason back if he knew he were a shifter now.”

“I’ll kill them all before I let him hurt her.”

He chuckled. “Don’t worry Shug, there will be a line a mile long. The whole pack let him know last night. When a sponsor steps up for a pledge, they are letting everyone know that they are willing to battle and die for them. Every member of the pack is willing to fall for Febes, Jason and Manen.”

“Because of Buck, or you?”

“In Jason and Febes’ case, Buck. In Manen’s case, it’s because of her. She’s a very powerful little girl and will be more powerful as an adult. Eric, Tray and I have talked. I’m naming Tray as my lieu and Febes as an officer. Jason later, once he’s stronger. But Tray and I are lining everything up for Manen to take over when I retire.”

I chuckled. “When do you plan on retiring, Mr. Immortal?”

He chuckled. “When she’s ready.” He was waiting for me to freak out.

“I don’t want to be at the battle. I don’t think I could watch it.”

My reaction surprised him. “Judging by her acceptance last night, I don’t think I she’ll have to battle.”

“I didn’t have the chance last night to tell you… I’m proud of you for going through with her baptism. I could tell how scared you were to hurt her.”

“Scared is an understatement. I nearly keeled over. Then I had to fight back tears when she thanked me. She was the only one last night who didn’t wince. The brand hurts like hell… By the way… Thanks for popping out to get the moonstones. I could have been caught with my pants down.”

“I told you. I’ve got your back.”

He gave me a squeeze. “You really do.”

I patted his chest. “Now, go tell your sister how happy you are to be an uncle again. I didn’t tell her that it’ll be more than one baby because Jason doesn’t even know. Ludwig can tell them that later.”

He smiled at me and headed up the back stairs and I headed into the kitchen where the crowd had dispersed. The kids were still asleep and it was nearly 9. I guess that’s what happens when you let kids stay up until nearly 3 am. So the only people in the room were Eric, Barry and Tobin.

**

“Lover, Hur gjorde han det?”

“Mycket bättre än jag trodde. Hans oro var att de är Dell’s.”

“De?”

“Tre.” Eric smiled at me. He was excited for them and wasn’t afraid to let me know.

I poured myself a cup of coffee and hopped up on the counter. “Did you guys explore any tracts that might give us a lead?”

Eric grunted in frustration. “Unfortunately, Barry is new to Boston and knows little of the politics there. Not that he’d be party to such things. Without knowledge of the situation there, we are stymied.”

I decided to bring Tobin into the inner circle. “Tobin.”

“Yeah, boss.” He looked up from his computer.

“I suspect Bobby.”

He knew me well enough to not be surprised by my suspicion, just that it would be directed at Bobby. “Why? I’ve only ever seen him doing things for you or Eric. I never met that Bill guy though.”
Eric and I both shared a look. “Bill? What do you know about Bill?”

“He was on the phone with him from time to time. The guy sounded old school southern and when they talked it was always hushed and Bobby would go to another room or they’d talk in code.” He shrugged. “It was just stuff about the travel though. Bobby said that it was stuff for you two.”

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed.

“Embassy Suites on the Hill, how may I direct your call?”

“This is Sookie Stackhouse. I’m with Queen McMahon’s party that just canceled. I need you to tell me who made reservations that wasn’t with our party. Anyone who didn’t check in yesterday.”

The receptionist didn’t hesitate to rattle off a list of 5 people who were no shows, including Barry Horowitz. The one that stood out was Thomas C. Williams.

“I need a contact number for Thomas Williams.”

She read off the number to me and it was Bill’s.

“When was the reservation made?”

“January 4th.”

“Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”

I hung up and felt like I was going to be sick.

“Tobin, could you pull up the hotels web site and see if there is a picture of the ball room?”

In under a minute, he called me over to see the ballroom where Bill beheaded Eric in my vision.

Eric looked at it over my shoulder and rested his hands on my hips. “Lover, your mind is moving too fast.”

“That’s where I saw him kill you.”

“But what ties did Bill have to Boston?”

“We can look into that later, he must have lived there for a while. I know I own a golf course in Hyde Park now. Plus he’d been a couple of times about the program.”

“And what of his connection with Bobby?”

“Bobby knew I was going to Boston, he just didn’t know I was going to Boston with Alcide instead of you. So he must have informed Bill so that he could go and be part of the massacre. The question is, who his contact was. Who’s in on the plot? We need Bobby. I need to find out what he knows… Tobin, how did you come to work for Bobby? When?”

“I answered an ad in the paper around Halloween. He said his other guys left him unexpectedly.”

“Do you know anything about his other guys?”

“He didn’t talk about them. One of them left a jacket in the box truck though. The kind mechanics wear. Name patch said Lucky.”

Lucky was the Were that shot Eric in the neck. He was from St. Catherine’s Parrish and part of the coup that ended in Alcide being a reluctant Packmaster. “Eric, Bill must have made ‘friends’ in Boston.”

I walked over to Barry. “I’m sorry about this. I just have to be sure.” I grabbed his hands and dug through his brain looking for lies or deceit. I scanned every conversation he had sat in on with the Queen and even looked through what he had seen of the pack. He didn’t have a single bit of damning information in his skull.

“He’s good. We can trust him. I’m pretty sure Maddie is ok too. Or at least he was never party to anything incriminating.”

“Good, I’d hate to have to kill two humans in one day.” Eric’s lightness from earlier was gone. He never met a plot he liked that wasn’t his. And this one was a cake taker. It would have ended in his death, Alcide’s injury, and my grief. I could tell he was remembering that he was on the phone to the airline when I let him know I was coming home.

Barry’s color left his face and we had Tobin’s full attention.

“Sook, what was Bill’s number and carrier? I have an idea.”

I gave it to him and he called the phone company, pretending to be Bill. The customer service rep gave no care to security measures. Tobin claimed that he was concerned that his number had been cloned because of  missing minutes. He asked for a list of numbers dialed in December and January to anything other than Louisiana and Nevada and was given two numbers in Boston. When he got off the phone he called both numbers from his Skype account so that it couldn’t be traced as easily.

“One of the numbers was the hotel, the other was a cell for some woman named Marla. Do you know who she could be?

I choked on the words as they came. “The wife of Titletown’s Packmaster.”

The four of us stood in complete silence, sharing looks in turn. The tension in the air would knick a table saw.

**

“Tobin, we need to run to the hotel for meeting and greeting. Are you good with the kids? Jason’s on his way back and Angela’s here.”

“Yeah. My mom called  while you were in the den with Alcide. She’s on her way. She wants to take the girls out since she hasn’t seen them much this week.”

I went over to him and put my hands on his shoulders. “Don’t be grumpy with her.”

“I won’t. Promise.”

I leaned over and kissed his cheek and gave his shoulders a pat. “Mom’s deserve to be happy too, right?”

“Especially her.”

I smiled at him when he turned to show me how sincere he was. “Good thinking about the phone numbers. I’ll give Febes an extra lesson for your trouble.”

I called for Alcide and Pam. Who were downstairs and fully aware that something was wrong in a heartbeat.

**

Eric and I explained (with little help from Barry) our discoveries and suspicions while we were en route to the Belle and they quietly absorbed the information.

When we pulled up to the hotel, Jordie was waiting out front for us.

“Lover, wasn’t he here when you came in earlier?”

I smiled at him. “He’s a semi daemon. I offered him a bonus for staying put knowing he could recharge in the gym. The justices and most of the clerks are Supes so he’ll be better suited to tend to them than the human day guy.”

He chuckled. “You can’t go a day without proving how valuable you are, can you?”

I matched his chuckle. “Apparently not, but I’d love to.”

He met me at my side of the car and put his arm around my waist. “I know, Lover. I know.”

**

Jordie greeted us with a wide grin and a genial bow. “Majesties, how nice to see you. I hope you managed some rest ma’am.”

I giggled at him. “Jordie, rest is overrated, but a proper roll with my vampire and a 20 mile run put me straight to rights.” I winked at him and he flashed an enlightened evil grin. It made Barry blush.

“As I’m sure it would ma’am. Everyone is collected in the conference room save the one receptionist.”

“And the guests?”

He nodded as he held the door for us. “The list that McMahon faxed us has been double checked and everyone is accounted for and checked in except for her party and a gentleman by the name of Barry Horowitz. Three rooms were checked into earlier by a party from Boston. Stillings was the name. The lady of the party made quite a stink that only standard rooms remained.”

“I’m sure she would. Jordie, this is Mr. Horowitz. He has opted to stay with us. We’re old friends.”

He gave Barry’s hand a firm shake.

**

When we got to the door to the conference room, I had a thought and excused myself from the group and took Jordie with me, leading him to the service hall.

“Jordie, I didn’t mention it last night because I had company, but things could get ugly. The conference was moved because there were rumblings about the fellowship wanting to expose Weres and the rest of us. Someone from the Stillings party is part of the plot. I don’t know if they can regroup in time to pull it off here though. Do you have any abilities that would come in handy to defend yourself?”

He cleared his throat. “Yes ma’am, my talent is more defensive in nature.”

“So, if approached, you wouldn’t be naked.”

“Ma’am, I uh, I can sap away supernatural abilities. I should be fine.”

“So if I attack you, can you render me powerless, or mimic my powers?”

“You’d be powerless to do anything but kick my butt.”

I smiled at him. “That’s a nice one.”

“Ma’am, what’s your Dae endowment?”

“I use the thermokinesis and alchemy daily but I’m a mimic and can cloak and shield too.”

“So you are what the rumors say?”

“Yes sir, I am.”

“Well then, it is an honor to help your cause. Lead the way.” He held the door open and let me into the corridor where everyone had been waiting.

**

Eric gave me a puzzled look. “Tell ya later… jämföra befogenheter.”

He grinned and nodded with understanding.

**

I paused just before Jordie opened the door for us. “Shit.”

“Lover? What’s wrong?”

“There are 60 some-odd minds in that room and everyone of them are human. Let’s hope I’m not I’m out of practice.” I huffed.

Jordie called them all to attention and had them stand in groups. Housekeeping, maintenance, kitchen, wait staff, customer service. Each group standing there with their respective uniforms on. I told Barry and Eric to cast out a mental net just so we could make sure our bases were covered. I went through and shook 68 hands. I fired 7 of them on the spot. 3 of them had been to fellowship services, 2 of them were terrified to the point of hating vampires and would have quit when they realized they worked for Eric anyway and 2 of them had been glamoured too many times to trust.

…But there were 2 that needed to be detained and questioned. So I pulled out 2 chairs and set them in the middle of the floor and told them to have a seat before excusing the rest of the staff.

There was something off about their brains. I couldn’t ‘read’ them and I couldn’t tell why.

Vertis was from the maintenance department and Aaron was a bellhop.

“So guys, want to explain who contacted you about the conference?”

Vertis was older and ‘braver’. Aaron was just slow. If I needed a patsy, he’d be a good choice.

Vertis was first to speak while Aaron sat mockingly. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

I looked up at Barry. “Did you get anything helpful from either of them?”

He shook his head. Of course he hadn’t.

“Jordie, would you be a dear and show Barry to a comfortable place to wait for us?”

Barry was reluctant to go. I could hear him wondering what we were going to do to these guys. Jordie, managed to convince him with a look that he didn’t want to be in the room for what might happen.

“Vertis, you don’t have to do anything. But I can make a lot of things happen. What I’m trying to do could keep a lot of people from getting hurt or killed and I’m willing to do anything to make sure nothing bad happens to them.”

“Well lah dee dah. I don’t care. I don’t have to tell you anything.”

I leaned in close to his face and breathed in deep. “Vertis, I can smell your fear. I know you don’t care what I do to you, but you should care that I can get to your house on Hawthorne Avenue in Forbing to welcome your kids home from basketball practice. Cute boys. Your eyes, but their mamas freckles. Both of them afraid of water…”

He was starting to panic and I could feel Pam and Eric beaming at me. They were both really impressed with my threat even though they knew I’d never go through with it.

“Funny thing about water. It doesn’t take much…”

“I don’t have a last name. She told me her name was Marigold. She offered me money to let her know what the schedule was for the conference. That’s all.” My three companions tensed at the mention of the flower.

“What did you tell her?”

“I haven’t called her yet. I clocked in at 9 and found out about the mandatory staff meeting. It wasn’t until Jordie put us all in here that I found out anything.”

“Give me your phone.” I held out my hand.

“I can’t move. Why can’t I move?”

I laughed as I realized I hadn’t let go of the hold I had on him and fished it out of his pocket.

“Now Aaron, What about you?”

He snorted at me. “I don’t have a family for you to threaten.” He was being dense and obstinate.

I smiled at him. “I know that silly.” I punched him in the shoulder so hard that I dislocated it and he cried out in pain so loud that it hurt our ears and caused Vertis to pee his pants. “About that information.” Pam snickered.

He was bawling from the pain. “I got a call from a guy. He called himself Hugo. “He offered to pay me to make sure I am on the schedule for ‘the banquet’. He wanted me to seal the room for him.”

“What does he want to do with the people in the room?”

“What people? He said it was nothing but freaks.” I punched him in the other shoulder, resulting in another nasty crunch.

“I can do this all day, jerk off. Stop fucking around before I kill you.”

He grunted through his snot and tears. “I’m out of shoulders.” He might as well have stuck his tongue out at me and told me nannie nannie booboo.

“Really, then I guess your 24 ribs will do. I warn you though. The higher up they get, the harder it’ll be for me to break them and not puncture your lungs. With a tension pneumothorax, your lungs fill and you strangle on your own blood. Can you imagine what it’s like to spend the last 10 minutes of your life feeling your lungs fill? ” I delivered a sound blow to his side, cracking a few. “Those are known as false ribs. 3 down, 21 to go. How far into this anatomy lesson would you like to go?”

“He said that they’d be ‘taken care of’. He didn’t go into specifics. He said that it was a church intervention.”

“Who was going to help you?”

“He said he’d send me three guys. All I have to do is get uniforms from cleaning and they would come to me and I could tell them what to do.”

“What else?”

“Nothing. That’s it.” I tried digging through his brain again. It was still foggy, but from what I could pick out he was hoping I’d hurry up and kill him because he didn’t know anything else. He couldn’t handle being punched again.

**

The two of them were laid out on the floor with no memory of getting to work.

As we walked out of the room Eric gave me a steady look.

“What?”

“We can talk about it later. How do we find the Newlins and stop this?”

I stopped walking and leaned against the wall. I leaned my head back and tried reaching out for the Newlins. Since I had met them both in person, touched them even, I might be able to find them if they were nearby.

“Helloooo.”

“Why, Miss Stackhouse! How are you?!” I was shocked that I got a read on Sarah Newlin and that she wasn’t alarmed by my voice in her head. I pegged her as being IN the hotel. I started broadcasting our talk to my group.

“I’m busy sending everyone home. We’ll pick this up another time.”

“Oh, I doubt you’ll do that! You want a fight by now.” 15th floor.

“I want my friends safety more than I want a fight.”

“I’m sure your friends would be disappointed to not get to fight us. All of those witches and dogmen you’re so fond of.” Room 1538.

“Eric, I can end this now. Can I kill them?”

“Do you know how they are armed? Do they have explosives?”

I nodded. “Insurance?”

Eric smiled at me. “Of course.”

“Shug… it won’t stop with them. If they are martyred, they’ll be superstars to zealots everywhere.”

“But if they blow themselves up, they’ll look like idiots.” Alcide shrugged and nodded.

“Tell me, how does it make you feel to know that your vampire boyfriend set this all up? Does it make you want to repent?”

I ran out to the lobby and handed Jordie Aaron’s cell phone. “Call the news. Wait 5 minutes and then use the hotel phone to call the police and tell them all that you got an anonymous report that the people in 1538 are planning to blow up the hotel because it’s vampire owned. Start evacuating. We need to get the vampires in their coffins and to the parking garage next door.”

Jordie nodded as he dialed.

Eric organized Alcide, Pam and Barry to start going door to door. I disappeared and went upstairs and leaned on the wall, staring at the plate on the door. 1538. Fifteenth floor. Thirty-eighth room. There was something nagging at me while I stared at the little brass plaque. Then it occurred to me that Carla Danvers and I shared room number 1538 in Rhodes.

“Room number 1538, huh?”

“My ,aren’t we smart?!”

“I have my moments. Did you pick the room or did you just ask for a view of Riverwalk?”

“Well, I have to admit, the view is a wonderful perk.”

“Sarah, why are you so full of fear? Hate? What is it that makes vampires so scary to you?”

“Why wouldn’t you be scared of them? Their diet is people!”

I forced a solemn tone. “They can’t help it you know. Most of them didn’t choose it.”

“Is that what your vampire told you?”

“The vampire you are referring to had a name. Bill. His maker didn’t give him the choice. He hated most of his long life.”

“Well good.”

“He was a good man when he was alive. He had a wife and three children. He was a civil war hero. He wasn’t going to kill himself even though he was disgusted at being vampire.”

“You talk about him like he isn’t around anymore.”

“Because he isn’t. I put a stake in his heart, well my fiancé did, when Bill tried to kill him.”

“He sure does sound like a good guy.” She was mocking me. Like my list of reasons to hate her wasn’t long enough.

“Good people make mistakes all the time and you don’t damn them for it. You never answered my question. What made you such a vampire hater.”

“My brother was drained.”

“Where?” Eric called out to me and I told him where I was and what I was doing. I also told him to not to come get me until the hotel was cleared.

“Back home in Corpus Christi. He was found in the bushes near his dorm. He had fang marks and a broken neck.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. What was his name?”

“What do you care?”

“Because I’d like to give him a name when I pray for him.”

“Don’t make fun of my faith!”

“Sarah, I’ve never questioned your faith. Just your motivation. I do my best to serve God.”

“How does your new fiancé feel about your faith?”

“That’s a funny subject.”  Barry came through the stairway door with 2 maids and I put my finger to my mouth, letting him know that this floor needed to be evacuated quietly. He did just that and everyone was off the floor in minutes

“I bet.”

“Well, not for the reason you might think. My fiancé was alive before Christianity made its way to Scandinavia. When he prays, it’s to God as Odin.”

“What does your Norse boyfriend pray for?”

“Swedish. My safety, the health of our children…”

“CHILDREN!?”

“My cousins were orphaned and we took them in. He prays for them above anything.”

“Well, isn’t that sweet.” She was mocking me again.

“I think so. There is something profound about seeing a vampire love someone. I’ve seen it and it gives me faith.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Are you really? You think I’m a monster.”

“I don’t think you’re a monster. There’s no such thing as monsters. Meanness can come from anyone. Just like love.”

“Vampires can’t love.”

“That’s a poor argument. It’s like saying that humans have no capacity for evil.”

“Not like vampires. It’s in their nature to kill.”

“It’s in any human’s nature to survive. Once they become vampire, they didn’t have the choice. Now they do. I have a young vampire living with me who didn’t have a choice to become vampire and she has never had real blood. The idea of drinking blood from someone makes her sick. True blood only came out a few years ago.”

“And your new vampire beau, does he take your blood?”

“No, I give it to him. As I’m sure you tend to your husband’s needs.”

“Thanks to you, I haven’t seen my husband in over a year.”

“Has something happened to your eyesight? He’s sitting on the bed across from you.” She suddenly realized that there was more to me than telepathy and struggled to reply.

“This is the first time I’ve seen him.”

“I feel for you. I’ve been kept from someone I love before.”

“But it was a vampire.”

“Tell me what you love about Steve.”

“He’s good to me. He loves me and supports me and treats me like a lady.”

“My vampire does exactly that for me.”

“But he’s dead. You can’t meet each other in the kingdom of heaven.”

“Sarah, I love him enough to want to spend every minute I can with him. Being with him now is heaven for me.”

“Don’t you think he’ll get sick of you?”

“Maybe. But I run the same risk of being cast aside as I would with a breathing man. Breathers break up all the time.”

“But with a breathing man, you don’t run the risk of being killed.”

“Ha. You know, until you and your husband came along to hog the news channels with debate and hatemongering, you could watch stories about men beating their wives to death all the time. Now all I see are breathers killing vampires.”

“Bully for them!”

I took a deep breath trying to hold my temper.“You realize that vampire are stronger and faster and any one of them could kill a room full of people in a blink and yet, you think that they won’t retaliate.”

“They know they deserve it.”

“Is that why you have a suitcase full of C4 with you?”

“This special delivery is only if we don’t get what we want.”

“What do you want?”

“We want the rest of the world to realize that they need to be on the lookout for the rest of satin’s menagerie.”

“Including?”

“Werewolves, and daemons. Witches and warlocks.”

“And the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown!?”Eric had come through the stairway door and blurred his way over to where I was still leaning, distracting them from the evacuation that otherwise they’d have noticed.

He barely whispered. “Lover, you aren’t going to make a habit out of hotels and bombs and waiting for me in a hallway are you?”

I smiled and shook my head at him as he took my hand and we started to leave.

“You know they exist! Don’t you dare play stupid! Admit it.”

“Admit that you are kidding yourself if you think that anyone will ever take you seriously again if you spout off about the Wizard of Oz and Hogwarts being real!”

We started walking down the stairs and I made sure to mentally jam the door so that they couldn’t get out before the job was done. When Eric and I got to the lobby, the police ushered us out the rest of the way and we walked around the other side of the police barricade and made our way to the back side along Riverwalk.

Eric held my hand as I started my long distance glamour to call Sarah and Steve out onto their balcony. I pushed Steve to start his anti vampire rhetoric for the news crews. I wasn’t putting anything into his head yet; it was more like I was pulling his thoughts out of his mouth. But then I started speaking for him.

“…Vampires are evil and they will drain us all if they aren’t stopped and the rest of the creatures of Satin will tear us limb from limb. They will ride in on rainbow unicorns and Santa’s elves will help them slaughter us all in our sleep. They have time machines and the dinosaurs will come get us too! We need to drop houses on every witch we meet and then, only then, will we be safe from the plague of trained killer bees and man sized spiders they have on their side! And remember, the only way to kill the clowns in the sewer is to drown them in milk! Calcium is their enemy! Cheese will work too…” They recited the lord’s prayer replacing all of the nouns with refrigerator items; pickles, butter, pâté, etc. And then at nearly noon they said farewell to the crowd because they needed to ‘bathe in the blood of Jesus. Praise the lord!’

When they shut the door behind them I stretched myself a little more and reached out to the detonator.

**

Science says that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second and the speed of sound is only 1125 feet per second which explains why at the distance we were at, a quarter of the east side of Eric’s hotel was engulfed before we heard the blast. And we watched as the wall exploded and rained down on the Red River like carnival confetti. The crowd gasped in horror and a few onlookers cried. When I knew my job was done, my knees gave out. Eric caught me before I hit the ground and scooped me up like a child. I was weak from having projected so much power at such a distance, but once I had my wits about me, I insisted on walking. I still needed to find Christopher and the Stillings party.

Eric started leading the way, I assumed towards Pam and Alcide.

“I’m sorry about your hotel, Honey.”

Eric let go of my hand and put his arm across my shoulder. “Sookie, it’s all just stuff. Every penny that’ll be spent to fix this will be worth knowing that those two are undone.”

I chuckled weakly. “I guess now that Fangtasia is done, I need another project.”

He snorted. “Oh no you don’t. Until the babies come, our family and being a judge are the only jobs you’re allowed to have.”

“Allowed, huh?”

“Yes, this is me, putting my foot down.” He was doing a very good job of sounding (and looking) serious.

I looked up at him and smiled. “This is me, letting you.”

He matched me smile. “Thank you, Lover.”

**

It felt like nearly forever before we found Alcide and Pam. They had been standing nearly a mile away from us, watching the explosion from the opposite angle. Pam immediately wrapped her arms around me.

“Sookie, I’m so… happy you’re ok!” She wanted to tell me how proud she was that I just used magic for murder, but thankfully caught herself.

Alcide gave me a hug too, and whispered in my ear. “Remind me never to piss you off.” I had to giggle.

Jordie and Barry hadn’t been standing far away and made their way over to me. Barry looked horrified. He was battling with ghosts of Rhodes.

Jordie bowed deeply and gave us an update. “Majesties, we had two workers injured before the blast, the ambulance left with them earlier.” He said it with a twinkle in his eye that endeared him to me. He then took my hand and just before he set a kiss on it he breathed. “Stillings. At your ten. Grey shirt, green tie.”

“My my Jordie, you are a prince among men. Thank you.”

“No ma’am, thank you. I’ll have business to do now. Excuse me.” He bowed again and disappeared into the crowd.

I smiled up at Eric and he returned the look with resolution. “My new day guy… Yes, I think I like that. After all, Mr. C worked well for Sophie-Anne for many years.”

**

I took Alcide’s hand and left Eric and Pam to ponder the situation with the hotel as we headed over to meet Damon and Marla of Titletown.

I let Alcide take care of introductions and as I shook hands, I confirmed what I already knew. Marla had married Damon (2nd wife) while the pack was in turmoil. She had no problem signing a prenup because she was sure that Damon would be killed in battle within the year but when peace ‘broke out’ she was stuck with a husband she didn’t love and a lover who couldn’t afford her. When Bill went to Boston to meet with some vampires for information on his program, they had a chance meeting and Bill hatched the plan and contacted her as soon as Bobby told him about Eric and I (who he thought was going to be Eric anyway) going for a conference. Marla was in contact with the Newlins.

Damon, seemed like a nice guy, a little gruff, but he was a Packmaster and not everyone could be like Alcide. Nice was what made Alcide special. I had been staring at Marla and she caught me.

“Miss Stackhouse, are you feeling alright?”

It caught her husband’s attention. “Did anyone tell you that I’m a telepath?”

She laughed. “I had heard as much.”

“Things would have gone better if Bill had told you about my other powers too.”

Damon interrupted. “Bill who?”

“My ex boyfriend, Bill Compton. He met her in Boston in December. He was jealous that I had chosen Northman and she wanted your death to look like an accident. So the two of them did all of this. They used the King’s day guy to find out our travel plans and waited for the court to convene so we’d all be together. Bill gets to have Eric taken out of the picture and she gets your money and… that guy.” I pointed over his shoulder to one of his lieutenants.

Damon’s silvery blue eyes started glowing like Christmas tree lights as he bore down on his treacherous bride. “You’re responsible for this?!”

I drove it home. “Sir, one of your construction companies is missing about 35 pounds of C4 and 7 detonators. It should be easy enough for you to confirm.”

He hadn’t taken his eyes off of Marla. “Yes, Majesty. It will be. Rest assured. This will be handled quickly.”

I took his pen out of his pocket and lifted his hand and quickly scribbled a note in his palm. He lifted his eyes from Marla to look at me for a moment. “The valets can provide you with a car from the parking garage. You should see the area. It’s not often you come this far south, maybe take in the bayou. It can be quite romantic.”

He closed his big hand around mine and with a grin and a wink kissed the backs of my fingers. “You are most gracious.”

I patted his shoulder. “No sir, I’m just a sucker for a big guy with bright eyes. I hope we’ll see you at the banquet.”

I took Alcide’s hand and centered in on Eric. As I found him, I lost my knees and collapsed.

I vaguely remember Alcide scooping me up and carrying me. And then I was being loaded into the back of one of our limos.

“No wait! We need to find our clerks.”

“Shug, you just passed out, business can wait.”

“I promised I’d bring them back. Eric, please find them. Christopher and Lisa Evans. Blond hair brown eyes. Bring them back to the house. He’s the last brother. I’ll be fine as soon as I eat. I swear.”

“Lover, I…” He looked at Pam and said nothing else as she nodded. I went back out until I felt Alcide sliding me out of the car to carry me inside.

“Put me down.”

“No.”

“I can walk.”

“I know. You’re pretty good at it too, but you aren’t walking right now.”

“Fuck you.”

“I love you too.”

I pouted with my arms crossed like a child all the way inside. Just as I had expected, and wanted to avoid by walking, everyone started fussing over me the second they saw me come through the door.

Alcide and Pam neither one answered any of their questions. Alcide ordered whoever was in the kitchen to make ‘food in bulk’ and bring it to me in the den. Pam appeared only a moment after Alcide set me down and took my boots off. She stood over me with a vitamin shake and a beer.

“Which one?” I gave her a quick lopsided smile and took the beer from her nicely. I opened it and, well, I guess you could say that I shot gunned it as much as you can shotgun a bottled beer. I handed the empty bottle back to her and she disappeared and came back with 3 more, handing one to Alcide.

Tobin was right behind her as I knocked back beer numero 2 with a plate and a bag of chips. The plate was covered with fried chicken and potato salad. He handed it to Alcide.

“Hey warden, am I allowed to sit up or are you going to spoon feed me?”

“Shut your mouth and stop being a bitch. You actually passed out this time and you’re going to eat until we know you’re ok. Got it?” Personal note: This is how things go down when your best friend is a Werewolf and he’s worried about you. It makes me want to hug him and then punch him.

I growled at him and took the plate and started eating. Within 10 minutes, I had eaten all four pieces of chicken that Tobin had brought me, was half way through the potato salad and was on my 5th beer.

“Feel better yet?” I smiled at him, trying to prove I was doing better.

“Not yet. I’ll feel better when Eric feels better. You stay put until he says you feel fine.”

**

Alcide turned the television on and tuned to one of the local channels. There it was, plain as day…

“…Just a few moments ago, the Hotel Belle Shreveport was taken hostage by Fellowship of the Sun members. According to reports, Steve and Sarah Newlin came out of exile and checked into this hotel on Thursday with 50 pounds of stolen explosives from a construction company intending to blow up the historic hotel. ‘The Belle’ as it’s called by many locals is owned by prominent local businessman and important vampire political figure, Eric Northman and was targeted simply because he was a vampire and no other reason. Mr. Northman and his fiancé are well known locally for their generous work for the public and have taken amazing strides for our area’s vampire/human relations. We have reports that the two of them have donated extensively to battered women’s shelters nationally and that both of them have survived numerous attacks from Fellowship extremists. I have with me Detective Coughlin…

Detective Coughlin, we understand that no demands were made.”

“That’s correct. The Newlins made no demands. It was more like a farewell address.”

“And what do you know about Mr. Northman?”

“Well, I know that his bar is crawling with Vampire and the only time anything illegal has happened there to our knowledge happened on an evening that he wasn’t there and even then it was a matter of what is publicly appropriate. He’s always been plenty cooperative when the police need help with a vampire suspect and it’s widely rumored that he can be seen dancing at his night club with his beautiful fiancé and his close friends. I’ve met him once or twice officially and he is a very impressive man.”

“What are your feelings on the attack on his property?”

“I think it’s a tragedy. The Newlins managed to destroy a large part of the building with the blast. They sounded unstable at best when they made their announcement.”

“And what might you say to anyone with ideas do make a similar attack on other vampire businesses?”

“That I would think long and hard before I made a move like this. Any attack on vampires at this point will look like nothing more than more nut jobs following these nut jobs into hell. Blowing things up because of extremist views is terrorism. Plain and simple. After 9-11 and Katrina, I think America has mourned enough. We need to figure out a way to live with each other in peace.”

“Thank you detective. I just got word that it is believed that the Newlins used C4 explosives and that, miraculously, when one steps from the elevator on the damaged floors (12th-19th) there seems to be no clue that the hotel has been victim  of an attack of any kind so only 45 rooms were affected and the fires burned themselves out before the fire department was clear to enter. Who says that God doesn’t watch out for Vampires? More on this story as it develops….” Alcide backed up the DVR and recorded the news.

**

Alcide, Pam and Tobin, all stared at me.

“Shug, why did you use yourself up to protect the hallway?”

“I didn’t care about the hallway. The dozen swat and bomb squad guys were worth saving though. I just put a shield up to keep them from getting hurt. Not a big deal close up, but the barricade was about half a mile away.”

Pam pulled me up by my shoulders and sat down behind me. She set a pillow on her lap and leaned me back to start stroking my hair.

I went straight back to business. “Tobin, where is everybody?”

“Janice and Jason took the kids to Yogi and friends with mom and the girls.”

I giggled. “Like Manen needs more models. The queen got here?”

“Yes ma’am. Her guards were pissed that they weren’t allowed on the property so they are pouting in a pair of vans with her by the front gate.”

I snorted. “Good boys. I’d worry if they left her.”

One corner of his mouth turned up. “You sure are high handed to ‘test’ another queen’s guards.”

Pam started laughing. “High handed, huh?” She looked down at me and I grinned sheepishly.

“You keep that pretty mouth of yours shut, Pamela. You know better than anyone what ‘I-told-you-so’ feels like in the bond.”

“Yes, my Sookie, I do.” She was still laughing quietly.

“Kid, did you find a caterer?”

“Yeah, but it’s the most posh joint in town. They want to serve stuff like lobster bisque and caviar on toast points. They don’t even have a bartender for Tuesday night.”

“I can get a bartender. Being posh is what Eric needs. Since this is his domain, especially now, he needs to look as unaffected as possible. We need a DJ too. There is a list of three of them in the file on Fangtasia.”

He stood up to get back to work. “Alcide, could you order a bunch of pizzas for lunch?”

He frowned at me and pulled out his phone. “You don’t know how to sit still do you?”

I took his hand and pulled myself up, wrapping my arms around his neck. “I’m getting it all out of the way so I can nap. Love you.”

He put his big arm around my back and hugged me close. “It’s your fault we worry.  I love you too.”

I laid  back down on Pam’s lap and let her play with my hair until I fell to sleep.

**

When I woke, it was nearly 3. Pam was still stroking my hair and she hadn’t slipped into down time because she was watching the news casts. What woke me up was my phone going off.

I pulled it out of my pocket.

“Hello?” I was raspy so I cleared my throat.

“Chere? Are you alright?”

“Yeah Sam, I’m fine. Why?”

“The news has been on in the bar all day and we saw you. Me, Holly, Terry and Arlene. We saw you there.”

“Yeah. We’re all ok. Nobody dead. Nobody hurt. Except the Newlins.”

“The whole town is buzzing about firebombing the Sun Church in Minden.”

“Oh fuck me!” I sat bolt upright and this was a rare occasion that I couldn’t string words together. “Sam, are they there?”

“Uh, most of them.”

“Quiet them down and put me on speaker phone.”

I heard Sam in the background yelling to them to shush and listen up. “Ok, Sookie go ahead.”

“Don’t do it. Don’t retaliate on our account. The only loss we’ve felt has been financial. The only deaths were the Newlins. The extremists with the Fellowship want you to come after them because then they can blame vampires and make them look like the bad guys. There are two kinds of Sun church members. The hateful ones who use scare tactics will all meet their ends and take themselves out over time. The ones that are just scared will become hateful if vampires are continually perceived as evil. But the scared ones also have the potential to come around as vampires prove themselves better than fighting a redundant battle. Promise me. Because most of you have known me all my life that you won’t do anything to retaliate. Eric and I don’t want it. We are all sick of funerals.”

When I ended my monologue I heard a rumble of low conversation. I heard Terry say he promised. Then another few people. Then I heard Andy and Halleigh promise. Then a few more people. After a while Sam picked up the receiver.

“Sookie, everyone in the place said that they promise and stood up.”

“Thank god!”

“You did good, but this is just Bon Temps. What about the rest of the vampire v. human collective?”

“I guess I’ll have to take care of that. Hey, is Holly or Terry off  Tuesday night?”

I heard him leafing through papers. “No they’re both on the schedule. Why?”

“Eh, I need a bartender for a formal banquet. I’ll just acquisition one from Fangtasia though.”

He chuckled at the subject change. He had almost forgotten about how my mind moves a mile a minute. “Arlene and I can do it.”

“I don’t know about that. It’ll be vamps and Weres and witches and well… everything.”

“The more she knows, the less she’ll be afraid. It’ll be a good learning experience. And you can glamour her after if she doesn’t react well.”

“Ok, then. If you’re sure.”

“What do we wear?”

“You wear a suit. I’ll buy something pretty for Arlene.”

“I’ll see you Tuesday night. Bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung up the phone and looked over at Pam who looked disappointed that I had moved her meditation device; my hair.

**

“What’s going through that pretty little head of yours, Pammy?”

“I was thinking that I’d like to have a bond with you.”

Blunt. I like that. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

She looked offended. “Why not?”

“Have you talked to Eric about it?”

“No, but I would, if you were accepting of it?”

“Why do you want to bond with me?”

“Because Eric started having much stronger feelings once he started his bond with you and to be honest, the pregnancy is a curiosity.”

“Well, the pregnancy is the reason I’m reluctant.”

She looked more sad than I ever could of imagined. “You want to keep it private?” She barely whispered it.

I laid back down and looked up at her. “Pam, it’s not like that. I’m going to need you to help with Eric during the delivery.”

“Do you think he won’t behave?”

“Pam,” I huffed a sad breath. “I can’t get drunk. The doctor and I both know it’s going to be a c-section and if alcohol has no effect on me, then neither will the drugs to ease the pain. It’s going to cripple Eric. I don’t want that to happen to you too.”

“Does he know?”

“No. I don’t want him to spend the next eight months worrying about that instead of being excited. I’ll warn him at the last minute.”

“But I’ve seen it done on TV. It only takes a couple of minutes. Once you start to heal the pain will be over, right?”

I rolled over and propped myself up on my elbows. “Sweetie, I heal like a vampire.”

Her eyes widened. “They’ll have to cut you more than once.”

I nodded. “Don’t tell the guys. Seriously. They’ll spend the rest of the pregnancy on the phone with every Supe Doctor they can find to search out a painkiller that could work on me. Since there’s never been a ‘me’, there won’t be a medicine.”

She sat thoughtfully for a few moments, feelings were creeping across her face. “I’m willing to face the discomfort if you are willing to share it. It’s only fair since you are sharing all of the joys that we face the ache together.”

I smiled up at her. “If you are sure, we’ll talk to him.”

She eyed me, making sure I was serious. I watched a single tear fall from her eye. “You’ve made me leak again.”

I sat up and kissed her bloody tear. “I can distract you from your mood… We need to call a press conference.”

“Why would we do that?”

“Damage control. People who knew me all my life and never liked me, are willing to kill strangers today. Eric and I need to make a Rodney King.”

“Who is Rodney King?”

“The ‘can’t we all just get along’ guy in LA that got his ass beat; it caused all those riots.”

“Where should we do it?”

“Are you sure, you want to know?”

She snarled. “After seeing you in action earlier, Sookie, I can’t wait to know.”

“How would you like a new power?”

She flashed a smile that would scare away mosquitoes. “Tell me your plan.”

“Well as lieutenant, you should be there with Eric and I… but Bobby should be taken care of tonight before he tries to leave town.”

Her fangs ran out. “And it’s a shame I can’t be in two places at one time.”

**

Pam and I spent the next hour on the phone with the various media outlets in the area and everyone else on our list. I stayed on the couch as most everyone came in to check on me. I loved them for it, but as much as it drove me crazy to stay on the couch when I felt fine, I behaved. It seemed to make Alcide and Pam feel better to take care of me after seeing me unconscious. I went to stand up and go to the bathroom, the 6-pack I had was haunting me.

Alcide growled at me.

I used a silly voice. “I need to use the facilities. Who’s taking me?”

Pam laughed as she scooped me up and carried me and when she brought me back and set me down, I patted the couch next to me. Alcide came over, remote in hand (he’d been glued to the news), I climbed onto his lap.

“I’m sorry I was a bitch to you.”

“You’re still not getting up.”

“Ok.”

He eyed me suspiciously. “You’re not trying to get me to back off?”

“Nope. Do you still love me, even after I acted like a brat?”

“Of course I do.”

“Your lucky I’m pregnant.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because if I weren’t, I could get away with ignoring you.”

He hugged me close and chuckled into my neck. “I guess you’re right.”

“You ever going to realize that I can defend myself pretty well or are you going to protect me forever?”

He smiled at me. “I’ll make you a deal… You can make fun of me for watching out for you . Forever.”

“That sounds like an offer I can’t refuse.”

“Good.”

I snuggled into his chest and watched the different news stations versions. All of them were pretty much the same. They all gave similar enough versions of events and they all talked to someone in the crowd of onlookers who painted a sainted portrait of the ‘esteemed regional entrepreneur’ who fell victim to yet another crime of hate and ignorance.

I giggled. “I like the way they prettied that up. It sounds nicer than ‘feared territorial tycoon’.”

Alcide and Pam agreed by chuckling before they shushed me. The anchorman was announcing the press conference that would be aired live at 10pm.

**

I had felt Eric’s frustration several times and I could tell that he wanted to get home to check on me, but every time he got close to being able to leave, he was pulled in another direction. Detectives, Arson, FBI, Guests. The press was seemingly unrelenting and he’d finally had enough and popped home. The gradual waves of calm and happiness I usually feel as he approached hit me like a Mack truck. I was already completely refueled and well rested, cagey even. Combining it all made me bounce off the couch and into his arms.

“Lover, how are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been under house arrest. Your minions did well keeping me on the couch. Pam even carried me to the bathroom.”

A relieved smile took over his handsome face. “And you ate?”

“I ate! I ate everything. 4 pieces of fried chicken, potato salad, a bag of chips, a whole pizza and a 6-pack of Heineken!”

“Did you rest?”

“A bit. There’s only so much I could do from the couch, but I napped for over an hour. I had Tobin take care of the caterer, lined up a bartender and called a press conference.”

“So you’re the reason I was getting bombarded for information about a press conference that I didn’t know about.”

“How did you deal with that? Did you tell everyone who you are?”

He shrugged. “I had no choice… What are we going to say at our meeting, Lover? I’ve never addressed the public.”

“I already wrote your address…” Pam and I explained our plan to him.

“Did you already give her the power? How will she have the strength to return? Where will we hold the conference?”

“Giving her the power was the only power I used since I left you. Her reason for duplicating will be her fuel source for her return and the location isn’t going to make you happy.”

He had been smiling until I got to the part about the location. “Sookie?”

“Hear me out. The press has been given a list of 4 different places around town to sit and wait to hear about their destination. Alcide has most of the pack showing up to keep an eye out and their noses open and our guys and Maddie’s will be there too. We are going to stand in front of the reporters while you recite your statement and then we’ll answer some questions. You’ll be the first vampire in the country to go on TV and publicly denounce the violence between breathers and non-breathers.”

“And you want to do this at the Sun Church? Isn’t that going to incite the bigots?”

“Maybe. You haven’t been watching the news like we have; this is national. You are a public superstar now. By going on TV, with the local Packmaster and human fiancé at your side, sympathy will spread past the fangbangers and fringe groups out to mainstream society. There will always be radicals but this will sap their power away because you will be surgically removing most of the mystery and fear by appearing so normal. This will make mainstreaming vampires lives easier, the Weres announcement easier and bring a whole new collection of curiosity seeking thralls to line up around the block at your new capitalist venture.”

He set me down and rested his chin on his chest. “And you worked this out when? While you were supposed to be resting?”

I shrugged. “Some of the details, yeah. I can’t shut my brain off. But most of it was while I was staring at the plaque on the door of the hotel.”

“The plaque?”

“Those mother fuckers checked into my room number from Rhodes on purpose. I decided that their deaths would have a point even if the others didn’t . Their deaths will do more for the cause than vampire deaths. I made sure of that with the rainbow unicorns and dinosaurs.”

They all laughed Eric put his hands on my shoulders. “Sookie, I was trying really hard to not to laugh so that I could hear everything. I didn’t realize that was you. It was hilarious.”

I giggled. “I thought you’d like that. Did you find the clerks?”

“Yes. They are coming for breakfast in the morning. I told Goose as I came through the gate. He had heard about the bombing. So they don’t mind waiting the extra day.”

“Am I free now that you know I’ve bounced back?”

He laughed at me. “Yes lover, you are free to roam.”

“Good. I have to go let Maddie’s guards bring her on the property.”

“Why isn’t she already settled?”

“I told Azo, she could come in the gate but not her guards until I read them. They opted to stay with her in the vans.”

He nodded and approved of their loyalty.

As I walked out of the room Alcide called after me. “Shug, I forgot to ask. What did you write on Stillings’ hand?”

I laughed. “Oh that?… Alligator farm in Natchitoches.”

I heard Alcide explaining to them quietly, followed by evil laughter as I went to the kitchen and radioed Goose.

**

“Popping out. Confirm.”

“Yes ma’am. Confirmed.”

I popped out and was standing behind him. “At your 6 big guy.”

He turned around with a smile. “Hey there sunshine! Feeling better, I see.”

“I am Goose, thanks.” I gave him a hug while the 5 men in the vans watched. “I just fired the big guns too much this morning. Barrel overheated.”

“You’re still the coolest bitch I ever met, even if you take the occasional nap. Alcide says you’re pissed at him.”

“Shhh, don’t tell anybody, but I can’t be mad at Alcide.”

“Shit, I already knew that.”

We were both smiling as he opened the gate and handed me his extra sidearm. The two of us approached the van, his arm across my shoulder and mine around his waist, and the visiting queen’s guard climbed out. 5 medium sized Weres. 5 black suits.

“Your king better have a dazzling fucking reason to have left a Queen in a cargo hold for 3 hours.”

Goose was laughing and it put the other guys on edge. “My king had nothing to do with it. Sookie Stackhouse.”

All of them dropped to their knees instantly. “Majesty, I apologize. We weren’t told you were so ho…” He cleared his throat.

“Thanks. Now get up. You look like an idiot bowing in front a barefoot girl in a jean skirt.” Goose was still laughing.

The  head of Maddie’s security introduced everyone. “Jake, Red, Steve, Lance, and I’m George. Majesty wanted us to tell you about our codenames. Today is a Kyle day. She calls us all by our normal names unless something is wrong. Then she calls us Kyle as an alert.”

I giggled. “She should just learn how to kill people.” Goose was laughing again.

“Ma’am, she IS a vampire, she…”

“I know. So who won the Bruins game?”

He smirked. Finally, one of the ‘men in black’ was starting to loosen up. “Blackhawks creamed us. 2 to 5. Why?”

“Alcide and I had tickets. While you were listening to the game did you hear about the bombing?”

He nodded.

“Ok. That was us. The reason for making you all wait out here was because we started unraveling the plot last night after I talked to Maddie. We found a few more details this morning and went to the hotel to get a hold of things. It’s been taken care of except one guy, who we won’t need to worry about much longer. But since we didn’t know where the Were in the haystack was, we needed to be careful. We were going to be putting you in the hotel… but my PA is picking up a tour bus now for you to board in… Do y’all play football?”

Goose interrupted. “You bitch! Alcide will put up a monster of a fight. I’ll tell on you!”

“Fucking crybaby!”

“Anything but football. He’ll let you…” He let out an exasperated huff and looked over my shoulder at George. “The last time she played football with her guards, she dislocated her shoulder. Her men nearly shit boots!”

George was wearing the standard look of surprise that I was getting used to. Not getting to like it, but getting used to it. Part of his shock was that I let one of my guards call me a bitch. “How about you shut up, GOOSE! God! You’re a buzz kill sometimes.”

“He he he. Suck it. You know better.”

“Maybe I do, but Alcide and Eric are babysitter enough. I don’t need you sitting on me like your hatching an egg too!”

He bent over and got directly in my face, touching our noses together with a grin. “Apparently you do.” He lifted the moto too his mouth. “PM, Alpha Bitch is trying to start a pickup game with the Mass guard.”

I scrunched up my face and chambered a round. Eric popped out to the gate holding Alcide’s arm.

“And now she’s threatening to shoot me.”

“Not really. I was just joking. I almost punched him, but after this morning… well I didn’t want to hurt him.”

“Shug, we’re gonna have to buy a florist if you’re gonna keep beating people up.” He started introducing himself around and Eric followed suit.

“Lover, you are certainly NOT playing football.”

I stuck my tongue out at him. “We don’t have enough for baseball.”

Alcide and Eric echoed. “NO.”

“How about I refuse to pole dance until you let me play again?” I was being playfully snippy.

Eric smirked and licked his lips. “Well then Lover, I suppose it’ll be a long 9 months for all of us.”

I just stared. I might have blinked. I mostly just stared.

I suppose if I had come back with a witty or flirty reply the ‘9 months’ remark might have escaped the 6 men out front. But left stupefied as I was, it confirmed that I was, indeed, now invisibly stamped ‘fragile’ until September.

Alcide chuckled. “Eric, she isn’t moving. She’s doing that creepy vampire stare y’all do.”

Eric started to chuckle. “Sookie? Say something.”

“Show them where to put the queen. I’m going in to order Chinese for dinner. The guys are mustering here at 6 for briefing.”

**

I popped back into the house and sat down with a good bottle of whiskey while I ordered nearly 2 of everything. I could feel that the kids were getting closer, Tobin too, so I decided to go wake up Angela and let her know about the company.

I knocked on the door and she called for me to come in…

She had a towel wrapped around her head and another under her arms. She was just out of the shower and even though everything could have fallen off of her, she still jumped up and hugged me.

“Sookie, did you know about Doug? Did you already know that I’d like him?” When she put her feet down, she started pulling her clothes on.

“I thought you’d make a cute couple, but I didn’t do anything. I’m starting to think that the whole matchmaking thing might be a side effect to the combo of stuff I have going on. So you like him, huh?”

She blushed. “I like him a lot. I need to talk to Eric though. I don’t know how this is going to work. I don’t know the rules of dating or the daywalking thing.”

“We talked a little about the dating thing this morning. I vouched for Doug, so Eric approves. Does Doug know that you’re a ‘master of disguise’?”

“Not yet. I want to tell him tonight though. You think he’ll freak out?”

“That you can change to look like another person? Poppit, he’s a Werewolf.” We both laughed as it dawned on her. “He might even have some fun helping you come up with the day girl you use with him.”

She smiled. “I wasn’t going to see him tonight but he called and told me that he wasn’t starting work at Fangtasia yet.”

I took a few minutes to explain what had happened with the hotel and told her why Alcide wanted to have plenty of crowd control. “Alcide recorded a bunch of the broadcasts on the DVR. It’s pretty fun to watch everyone talk about Eric like he’s the second coming.”

“Well he’s my hero. I can’t imagine him doing anything mean.”

“Oh, I can. I’ve seen him be that vampire that the Fellowship tells tales about. But I’ve also seen him completely vulnerable. He tries to only be mean when he needs to be.”

“I just can’t imagine it because I’ve seen him blowing bubbles with the kids. For that matter, he taught me how to blow them.” She giggled. “It takes a different approach when you aren’t breathing.”

“I bet… Angela, I have news.”

She came over and sat down next to me. “This sounds serious.”

I smiled at her. “It is. I’m pregnant.”  Her arms were around me and she had tackled me back on the bed and was squealing. I had no choice but to wrap my arms around her.

When she finally sat us both up, she kept her hands on my shoulders. “Is Alcide excited?”

I knew what that meant. “Yes he is, but Eric is the one who got me pregnant. We are all over the moon.”

“What how?” Yep, knew that was coming. I explained it to her.

“Ok, so when are we expecting the world’s first fang baby?” She was so excited that I could feel it.

“THEY will be born in early September. Two girls.”

She laughed but she controlled her urge to tackle me again and clapped her hands in front of her instead. “Eric can handle it. He seems like a ladies’ man.”

“Ha! That’s an understatement.” I stood up and took her hand and led her out of the room.

When we came from the hall, Angela leapt through the air and crashed into Eric. He instinctively grabbed her as she congratulated him.

He looked over her shoulder at me. “I see you told her.”

I smiled at him. “Yes I did. If you’re going t go around blurting it out then I wanted to make sure I told at least her. And I call getting to tell Tobin.”

“Tell me what?” He was walking in through the back door.

“I’m…”

Eric trampled my words. “She’s pregnant.” When I gave him a dirty look, he stuck his tongue out at me. Alcide started laughing at the looks Tobin and I had.

“Northman, I’m going to kick your ass! I let you tell my brother!”

“You got to tell me!”

“That doesn’t count. You thought I was crazy.”

He narrowed his eyes at me for bringing up his initial reaction. “I’ll make you a deal then. We will let first sight decide who gets to tell who.” He held his hand out and I shook it. He used the physical contact to grab me and push my head under his t-shirt as a blindfold. I tried to pop back a few feet, but I took him with me. He laughed at me. “When you pop, I pop. We’re touching.” If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was singing his mocking words.

“You GIANT FUCKING BULLSHIT ARTIST! You’re about to go on TV to tell the world that vampire aren’t evil and you are deceiving the mother of your children…” I started to cry. “I can’t believe I trusted you.”

I could feel him regret his behavior in a hare’s breath and he lifted his shirt and took a step back.

I wiped my eyes and smiled at him. “Gotcha.”

“You bitch.” He lunged at me and I dodged him. “I can’t believe you cried. That was devious!”

“I learned from the best!”

He chased me around the room a couple of times before he caught up to me. All while our Were gathered for the briefing and Maddie’s  were joining us. They were all highly interested in the Vampire edition of Wrestle Mania. When I tried to escape down the hall to the den he grabbed me by my arm and pinned me, face first, into the wall.

“Give up yet, majesty?”

I chuckled. “Why would I give up? I’m just starting to get turned on.”

He pressed himself into my pack. “Oh really?”

“You’re not a bad sparring partner. We should do it naked though.”

He cleared his throat and moved against me. “Not one of your best ideas today, Lover. It seems plans have been made.”

I pressed my back against him, tilting my hips slightly. “It’s always fun to taste the icing before the cake gets cut.” Just for the secrecy of it, I gave the front of his pants a mental rub.

He moaned softly. “Lover, you are bad.”

I whispered against the wall. “Punish me.”

I felt his chest start to vibrate. “Sookie…” He stood back and turned me around.

I breathed my words to him. “Eric, you’ve wanted to be inside me since I handled our interrogation this morning. I felt you get hard. It turned you on that I could be that domineering. You want to fuck me and be rough with me and it makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I can smell it on you, even if lust wasn’t rising in our bond like your cock against my thigh.”

His face was too busy looking desperate to betray his surprise. “I’ve never heard you ‘talk dirty’.”

“Well?”

He pressed his cool cheek to mine and whispered, forcing a ‘breath’ to flutter across my neck. “I think that we are both in for quite a ride tonight.”

“I depend on it.”

He stared at me in silence for a moment, waiting for me to regress. When I didn’t he realized that my steady gaze was actually turning him on and tried to break my focus with his smile. I heard his fangs run down and his tongue slowly peaked out to moisten his lips. Not a single part of our bodies were touching and still, I could feel his skin pulsating with anticipation.

“Eric?”

“Sookie?”

“You need a distraction. We have an audience.”

“I don’t care.”

Thank god for Pam. When she started coming down the front stairs she pulled everyone back from their mental artistry. “Why the fuck does it smell like an orgy in here?”

Everyone in the kitchen started to chuckle nervously except for Alcide and Eric finally managed to break his study of my eyes to take another step back. Pam came over to us and stared back and forth.

“What happened?”

Eric delivered a one word answer. “Sookie.”

She chuckled. “Are we upset about that?”

He finally made eye contact with her and smirked. “Upset wouldn’t be the right word for it.”

He went through the kitchen and we watched him walk through the door.

**

When he came back he had bags of Chinese food and children hanging from his arms.

Jason, Janice and Joss were right behind him and they all launched themselves at me for hugs.

Joss was near tears. “Sookie, we were so worried when we heard about it on the radio. We called Tobin right away and he called us the second he knew you were safe.”

“I’m fine. We all are. I’m sorry you were worried. I’m not sure how anybody knew I was there. I left about 20 minutes after the explosion.”

“Well, if you and King Northman are ok with it, I’ll take the kids to my house for a sleepover tonight. Tray will be over later visiting, so that he can stand guard.”

Eric looked over at Joss with a smile. “That’s very nice of you. Thank you. And, it’s Eric.”

“Oh, it’s the least I can do…Eric. Yup, it feels weird.”

He chuckled as he started dishing out food for the kids. “Get used to it. You’re all family now.”

I think Joss blushed.

**

I didn’t have time to say anything before Madeline McMahon floated into the room.

I walked over to her with open arms. “Maddie, it’s nice to finally meet you in person.”

“Likewise, Sookie. Who are all of these people you are mingling with?” She gave a nod to a ‘Kyle’.

I went around the room and introduced her to everyone. “…Our staff is our family, we are very comfortable with our informality here.”

“I am very glad to see that the rumors of children in your family are true.” She raised an eyebrow in my direction. “And that you seem to be animal lovers. I have brought gifts for them if you’ll permit it.”

Eric gave her a suspicious grin and nodded. It’s customary to arrive with gifts to your host, what had him leery was why she was asking permission. She turned her head and made a gesture towards the front of the house and a herd of fluffy white puppies with speckles ran into the room and the kids dove out of their seats and on to the floor to play with them in a cacophony of oohs and awws.

“When Barry checked in with me this morning, I had him tell me about your children and he told me that you have 5 as well as horses. Collies are excellent with horses and will heel to them nicely. They are all 4 months old and ‘altered’ with inoculations. I’ve been breeding them as hobby for centuries. They are wonderful companion animals and extremely intelligent once they mature.”

I smiled at her and we all watched as Hunter stood up in the middle of the room and put a hand in the air and all 5 of the puppies stood at attention. When he closed his hand, they all sat down. Hunter lowered his hand and they all laid down, resting their muzzles on their paws. I laughed out loud and clapped a little with excitement. “Congratulations Hunter! You finally get to show off!”

Maddie looked at Eric with shock etched on her porcelain face. “An animal sensitive? How amazing. Your nest is very fortunate, indeed. Perhaps he’d like to start handling as a junior. In December, we he could do the big show in New York for fun.”

When Hunter started clamoring about going and doing and showing Eric told Madeline to send him information on showing.

Annabelle looked up at Tobin misty eyed, reminding him that they weren’t allowed to have pets in their apartment.

Eric put her mind to rest. “Annabelle, you needn’t worry. Tobin and I will come get you all in the morning to go shopping for a doghouse just for your puppy to keep here until we can fix that problem. I’m sure Hunter and Manen will keep very good care of them when Tobin is working. Now you need to finish eating so that you all can show them their yard while the adults do the boring business.” Tobin and Joss both grinned at Eric and all of the kids munched their dinners down as they thought about naming their new friends.

**

Maddie’s brain took a minute to grasp at something. “Northman, did I hear you say that you would be fetching them in the morning?” Eric handed me a plate full of food and took a bottle of true blood out for me to ‘brew’ for Maddie.

“Yes ma’am, I am a daywalker.”

“How?”

“It’s my Vampire gift. Flying as well. I’m just lucky, I guess.” The kids all brought their plates to the sink and kissed their respective parents and filed out the back door followed by cute little clouds.

She looked over at Pam. “Your child too?”

“Only Pam, my talents escaped our Angela.” I was very proud of the children for keeping quiet about how the ‘gifts’ were wrapped.

Unfortunately, Barry was misbehaving again. “…I’d kill to see her bounce like that again… I have somewhere she can sit while she does…I’d wear her like a feed bag…” Every member of my staff stood up fast enough to send their chairs sliding back as they bowed up on him.

He knew he’d been wrong and was petrified. “I’m sorry. I can’t help it. I don’t know why my shields aren’t working!” He was actually breaking out in a sweat.

“Guys, stand down. He’s harmless.”

Alcide argued. “Not thinking like that he’s not.”

I huffed. “Barry, do you mind if I glamour you?”

“I can’t be glamoured.”

Every member of my staff laughed. “I can glamour you.”

“If you think you can do it, try it. I’ll do anything to keep from getting my throat ripped out.”

I put my plate down and walked over to him calmly, his brain registered it as a strut. I realized that poor Barry was just going through a dry spell and probably just needed a hook up. I had him stand up in front of me and put my hands on his shoulders. “Barry, whatever you do, don’t say out loud how mannish I look now.” He nodded as my guys snickered. “Isn’t it weird how, now that I’m getting older, I look like Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?”

He nodded. “It is weird.”

“I still can’t figure out how I got a beard so young either. Isn’t gross?”

He nodded.

I patted his shoulders. “Good boy. Sit.” He did and everyone laughed. “Oh no… Don’t laugh at him. I’m getting an air soft gun just for when I sunbathe this spring… topless. Every impure thought will earn you a gotcha. You’ll all get your comeuppance!” I pointed my finger around the room and let linger at Alcide.

I went back over to my plate and leaned back against Eric. “Lover, will I be punished to?”

I giggled. “Only if you want to be.”

“I fucking object!” Alcide sounded scary, but he had a huge smile on his face. “He is the dirtiest old man in a room full of dirty old men! Why does he get a pass?”

Eric laughed and threw a dish towel at him. “Because mutt, with age comes the wisdom to not waste time crying about the hard ons she’s accountable for.”

I nearly choked on rice when I laughed with the rest of my guys.

“All right, I know how big they are, calm down. The cock fight is over! We have bi’niss to tend to.”

And… they all settled down. I swear it was like a movie theater full of kids when the lights dim for the previews. Eric picked up on the thought and chuckled into my ear. Since Maddie had been at rest for the drama, we gave her a rundown of the plot and how we uncovered it. The room applauded Tobin, to which he jokingly stood to take a bow for his discovery of the connection from Bill to Marla. It happened in front of Joss, giving her extra reason to be proud of her oldest child. And I could feel how excited and amazed she was to see Tobin coming out of his shell.

We moved on to the plan for the evening. The gathering and speaking and security. And we finished it up by tying up any loose ends and hanging out for a bit. We were relaxing, well Louisiana was. Massachusetts and her guards were stiff as boards. Eric was explaining that she was welcome to stay at the house when my phone went off.

“Hello?”

“Sookie?” Eric recognized the voice right away.

“Yes Clancy, what can I do for you?”

“We have a few problems. I need to know how to handle. I can’t reach the King’s number.” Eric patted his pockets and then made a frustrated grimace as he blurred up the stairs to get his phone from the nightstand. He was back just as quickly as he left.

“Shoot.”

“The side of the building has been vandalized. I just sent you a picture. I hope it turned out. I had to fight to take it.”

I pulled my phone away from my ear and opened the picture. “Oh, it’s beautiful. Don’t do anything to it. Just have someone blow the candles out. We don’t need a spanking from the fire marshal. You said problems. Plural?”

“Yes ma’am, we have a crowd control problem. The parking lot for the whole row of shops is full. There are easily 1000 people outside.”

“Well Clancy, sounds like a problem of supply and demand to me. $20 cover, pad the drink prices 40%, let in the first 134 bodies and call SPD for mob management. That’s the best I can tell you. Let everyone know that the ‘rock star’ won’t be in tonight because he’s at a press conference.”

“If that doesn’t work…”

“Tell them they might be able to spot him at Hooligan’s.”

“Hooligan’s, the Fae’s bar?”

“Pedestrians won’t know the difference and it’ll annoy that cousin of mine to the point of sucking lemons when everyone comes in looking for a vampire.”

I heard him chuckle. I actually heard Clancy chuckle! “Yes ma’am… Be careful at the press conference.” I looked up at Eric, completely gob smacked.

Eric laughed and took the phone from me. “Clancy, you’ve shocked Sookie speechless. Now that you’ve shown concern, she’ll hug you.”

“Sir, if I have to suffer through any hug, I’d be honored for it to be hers.”

“Get back into character. You need to open the doors. I’ll call you later to check on things.”

He hung up.

**

“Eric, what the hell was that about? Clancy has an advanced doctorate in icy one word answers.”

Pam slithered up behind me. “Well, not only did he see the new Fangtasia tonight, but you are now his hero after I told him about the hotel.”

I turned around in a blur of my own. “You’ve got to be kidding me? That’s all it took to get him to talk to me like I wasn’t stuck to his shoe!? If I’d have know that we could have told him about all the other people I’ve killed! Mother fucker. OH, I’m gonna wipe my nose on his persnickety ole self when I hug him. Just watch!”

Pam and Eric both laughed and I remembered to show them the picture of the ‘vandalism’. Someone had gone to the trouble to cover the ugly, bare brick side of the building and paint a 20ft high mural of a peace sign. It was painted in red over what looked like white clouds and there was a dove with an olive branch perched on the spokes in the middle. And the entire length of the building was lined with piles of red and white roses and candles.

**

I started cleaning up the kitchen as everyone got done eating and then went out to the garage and dug a spool of ribbon out of Gran’s steamer trunks.  Eric, Pam and Maddie came over to watch me work.

“Lover, what are we doing now?”

“I’m making cause ribbons.”

“I’ve seen them. What are they for?”

“People wear them to show their support for a certain faction. Anti terrorism, breast cancer research, that kind of thing.”

“And what does a white ribbon signify?”

“Crimes against women, feminism, forgiveness…”

I pulled a bowl out of the cupboard and poured a true blood into it. I cut a length of ribbon and dipped half of it into the true blood, laid it on a dish towel and heated my hand to dry it.

“And what will it mean now?”

“Forgiveness of the blood spilled between humans and vampires. I’m glad you asked, because the reporters will.” I held it up for him.

“It seems a little ridiculous.”

“I never cottoned much to them either, but humans love a cause.”

Maddie was impressed at least. “Northman, where can I get a PR genius like her?”

He chuckled. “I wish I knew which well she sprung from. She is one of a kind… Lover, where is my address? I suppose I should read it now since we need to leave soon.”

“It’s on the screen on my laptop. In your office.”

I watched his butt as he walked away and he knew it. He turned around and smirked with a high eyebrow. Pam disappeared up the stairs to pack for the kids while I finished my work.

**

He had only been gone for a minute, maybe two when he yelled. “I AM NOT READING THIS OUT LOUD IN FRONT ANYONE!! ESPECIALLY NATIONWIDE CAMERA CREWS!!!”

“Yes you will.”

“YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.”

“I can hold you and find a doppalgangar.”

“SOOKIE! IT’S A LIE!”

“Leif, I’m confident that you can sell it.”

“HOW GOOD DO YOU THINK I AM?”

“The best.”

“right.”

Alcide was laughing hysterically. He sounded like an old Buick trying to start on a cold morning and I told him as much as I finished my craft and headed upstairs to get ready.

I pulled out Eric’s grey suit and a light blue silk shirt and tie before I went over to my closet. I decided on a light grey/blue sweater dress, formfitting but not at all revealing and a pair of Christian Louboutin ankle boots and opted for light gray stockings. I jumped in the shower and cleaned the explosion off of me and I was out in a flash. When I came out wrapped in my towel Eric was dressing and glared at me.

“You’re angry with me.”

“Lover, I don’t want to say the first few lines.”

I shrugged. “Then don’t.”

“But?”

“It’s your decision, but… the first couple of sentences will give you magnanimous airs. Not that you aren’t. We’ve had the talk about how vampires seem lofty and pretentious. The beginning will humanize you a little for mass consumption.”

“Like watering down drinks.” He frowned.

I raised an eyebrow. “Like a spoon full of sugar.”

He stood still for a moment with his face locked down. “Are you sure?”

“You decide.”

He chuckled. “What will it cost me to ignore your advice?”

“Nothing.”

He eyed me suspiciously.

I walked over to him and looked into his pretty eyes. “Eric, you are the king and I am your pretty fiancé. I am there tonight to support your proposal of peace between the races. I know my place.”

He smiled at me and narrowed his eyes. “It wasn’t very long ago that you’d have hit me for using that line on you.”

“Proof that I didn’t know my place, yes?” I raised my eyebrow at him.

His nostrils flared at me and I could feel him getting ‘frisky’ so I took a step back and started getting dressed as he eyed me.

“Lover, you are wearing too much.”

“Mmmm, just because the car is covered doesn’t mean it’s less of a joy to ride.”

He licked his lips. “Hmm, indeed.”

**

When we came downstairs, we met everyone in the kitchen where Pam, Joss and Janice were all pinning ‘truce’ ribbons to everyone’s lapels. Pam put on a show by putting mine on me. Since I didn’t have a lapel, she reached into the neckline of my dress.

Hunter herded the puppies into the downstairs bathroom as we all left at the same time.

In the limo I gave Eric a few pointers about what I know of press conferences. Specifically, once the reporters have their chance to ask the questions of purpose, they ask questions like children.

Don’t you know that just thrilled him.

**

Eric was surprised as we pulled into the Unitarian Universalist Church directly across the street from the Sun Church.

“Staging area?”

I giggled. “No sir. This is where the show is. No sense getting our shoes dirty when the view is fine from here.”

“Then why this church?”

“Because this church welcomes vampire parishioners, in spite of being in the shadow of that monstrosity across the street and it’s Chaplain is a Shifter. Some of the vampire actually lead comparative theology classes; one for adults, one for kids. I’ve been here. It’s nice.”

“When have you been here?” He sounded almost worried that I might start ruining his Sunday mornings.

I smiled back at him before I climbed out. “I’ve looked at lots of stuff I didn’t buy, honey. Don’t tense up like that. You’re starting to pucker.”

As I took us all in to the chapel Eric held my hand with a grip I wasn’t used to. He’d had a life that spanned over a thousand years and this, public speaking of this kind, was new, and it worried him. Not being in front of a crowd, he’d done that for several years, putting up a good performance for the vermin. Giving a half show was going to be the hard part. He had been either or for so long, the pivot point had been honed to a fine tip. Hopefully, tonight, the cameras would get the merged product of charming Eric who swept me off my feet and King Northman who 14 kingdoms worked together to raise to power because he has never failed when it mattered.

We all sat in a tense silence after meeting Dr. Archie Donaldson, resident chaplain. He’s a very friendly man with nearly black hair and eyes and wearing jeans with a tie and jacket. He seemed very bright and intellectual, not to mention genial. His welcoming nature seemed to ease us as he started small talk. He invited Eric to come back and talk to the religious studies group about the Scandinavian theologies and told him about the world fair every spring in place of the Easter festivities that most churches have. Eric actually seemed to be thinking about it when the reinforcements started to arrive.

“Sookie! Darling!” She practically glided over to meet me halfway for a warm hug and whispered in my ear. “This is such a small favor to ask dear, you know I would pull on latex and dance as a pussycat doll with you after you saved our hides like you did.”

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear this wasn’t too much to ask.”

Her husband put his hand on my shoulder so I switched hugging partners. “That goes for both of us Miss. Stackhouse. We owe you a bigger service then simply showing up to serve a joint agenda. We have looked into the eyes of our first grandchild thanks to you. You still have one in the bank.”

I chuckled. “Sookie please, but can I skip seeing you in latex?”

They laughed at the image, I could see it in both of their heads. “I suppose I’ll finally need a new Halloween costume this year.” He playfully sighed.

I was laughing. “Come with me, I’ll introduce you.” I took each of them by a hand and led them the rest of the way to my group. “Madeline McMahon: Queen of Massachusetts, Alcide Herveaux; Packmaster of Shreveport, Pamela Ravenscroft; Lieutenant and Eric Northman; King of Louisiana and Arkansas… Everyone, this is Lt. Governor David and Mrs. Genevieve Thrash.”

David and Gen bowed, beginning all of the ‘honored to meet yous’ and I watched as Eric’s tension melted with his sudden grasp of not standing alone. Our eyes met while they all discussed the plan and had some fun with small talk. I winked at him and it earned me a very strong push of pride and love.

I started the introductions after hugging the rest of my company hello. Stan, Russell, Ray, Nicki and Josie along with the Packmasters of their capital cities.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, are all 10 states ready? Judging by the squeal of tires in the parking lot, I think, perhaps it’s close to show time.”

**

We all filed out of the back door and stood at our cues. The Lt. Governor came to the podium first and made a brief statement about the facts of the bombing before introducing ‘King Eric Northman of Louisiana and Arkansas’.

Eric took my hand and we stepped up to the podium together.

“Thank you everyone for being available on such short notice. I want to start by extending my deepest sympathies to the family of Steve and Sarah Newlin. I may not have shared their beliefs, but their passion for what they believed in, should be considered when remembering them…

My primary purpose for being here tonight is because we have heard from friends and associates that they would be willing to help us retaliate against the actions of the Fellowship of the Sun. They have offered their hand to seek vengeance. I know that several supporters are disappointed to hear that I want no such action taken. Sookie and I have been attacked on several occasions and, frankly, we are quite sick of it. Sookie has been the focus of the majority of the attacks simply for associating herself with me. Since I was put in place by Sophie-Anne LeClerq to watch over the vampires of Shreveport, I have done my best to police their behavior and make sure that no harm comes to the living residents of the area and will do my best to continue that trend as king. In the past year, we have suffered enough losses to last a lifetime, even mine…

We simply want to ask everyone that they consider; will another raid bring back who was lost? Or rebuild what was broken? It will only escalate. What started centuries ago as scattered executions has grown to bombs in Rhodes killing hundreds and had it not been for an anonymous tip spurring evacuation, more than 100 would have perished today in Shreveport. Admittedly, fear is an ugly emotion. It tends to bring the worst out of anyone, living and vampire alike. I ask as a good faith gesture for everyone to show some tolerance for one another. Too many lives have been lost for us to continue on like this. If you are living and have a grievance with a vampire, in most areas you can discuss your complaint with local law enforcement who can report the crimes to the appropriate sheriff and the vampire will be taken care of in vampire tradition…

To further my purpose for being here tonight, I am ordering all vampires in my domain as well as their associates to stand down. If harm comes to anyone with Fellowship ties and their blood is on vampire hands I am prepared to deliver a swift trial. Thank you.”

A sea of hands went up as fast as vampire arms.

Just as expected, the first question was about our ribbons. Eric explained them artfully and pointed to another reporter.

“We received at our news desk today a testimony that a woman  had been taken as a blood slave and her parents went to you for help. You helped the woman and punished the vampire. How did you help and how did you punish the vampire?”

“That was just last Saturday… Unfortunately there wasn’t much that could be done for the young lady. The vampire had glamoured her so that she would reside with and provide blood to two vampires because she has a rare blood type. I provided her with plastic surgery to rid herself of the physical reminders. The vampires on the other hand were imprisoned.”

The sea of hands went up again.

“We’ve heard rumors about the assaults you’ve faced at the hands of the anti vampire sects. Will you elaborate?”

He looked down at me, asking with his eyes if I was alright with my information being out there and I gave him a nod.

“Most recently, Sookie’s grandmother was murdered and she was nearly killed by Rene Lanier because they were courteous to their new vampire neighbor. The Sun Church in Dallas jailed her and her jailor nearly raped her and I was shot. In Jackson while dancing with friends, Steve Newlin put a stake in her side. And we were both in the Pyramid at Giza in Rhodes. It’s been a rough couple years for her.”

I smiled up at him.

The sea of hands

“How did you two meet?”

He smiled, his charming and oh so sexy smile. “Sookie isn’t one to let things fester. Her brother was a suspect briefly when Rene Lanier was at large. Two girls had been killed and labeled as ‘fangbangers’ but the local law enforcement in her tiny town felt that it wasn’t an avenue worth exploring. But this… spitfire walked right up to me and accused me of knowing who might have done it, trying to exonerate her brother. I was surprised. That says a lot. Not much surprises me anymore.”

Hands. Eric had really relaxed. He had slipped into a slightly more genial version of entertaining thralls.

“How old are you? Where are you from?”

He lifted his hand and rubbed his pale eyebrows.

“That’s a little awkward. I don’t remember exactly how old I am. Erik the Red settled Greenland not long after I became a vampire. I lived along the Norway and Sweden border, but it’s hard to tell now.”

More hands. They couldn’t get enough.

“Can you tell us more about your new expansion?”

“Fangtasia has a website. Tonight isn’t about endorsement, it’s about concern.”

The reporters were shocked at his answer, fully expecting him to plug the opening. It took them a while to put their hands back up, but they did go up.

“Who are all these people? Are they other vampires?”

“Some of them are…” He lifted his arm and motioned to each of the Kings, queens and the Packmasters (as associates) as planned. “…They are all here in accord. Demanding that the vampires in our territories take the step towards peacefully coexisting.” They all bowed to the cameras as a gesture to their subjects that Eric’s word is theirs.

The reporters oohed and their hands went up.

“Are we allowed to address Sookie?”

“You might not want to do that. Sometimes it’s hard to get her to stop talking.” I pinched the back of his leg and when he winced, all of the reporters laughed. The read on the group was that they felt like they were talking to a normal guy and the two of us seemed like any couple they’d ever come across. Which, other than our wealth of magical powers, we were just that.

“Sookie, how do you feel about kids and family?”

I looked up at Eric with a raised eyebrow giving him the chance to blurt. I was surprised that he didn’t take it. “I have a huge family and plenty to keep me busy. Eric and I have taken in my cousins’ children and we’re exploring options for more. But with the 2 we already have and the pets and our extended family, I cook for a dozen people. Every day is like a holiday gathering.”

The reporters were eating this up.

“Why would you be cooking for that many people? Shouldn’t you have a maid?”

Eric smiled and nodded. “Thank you! That’s what I’ve been telling her.”

I pinched, they laughed, I laughed “Stupid question, next?” More laughter.

“This one is for Mr. Northman. Do you have a ‘vampire gift? Will you share with us about your maker?”

“Well, since I was all over the news earlier, most everyone knows by now that I am a day walker. And no, it’s rude to ask a vampire who their maker is. Most vampire were made so against their will. One wouldn’t casually ask a rape victim about their attacker either.” I was impressed that he hadn’t sounded snappish. I touched his hand and he noticed mine was cold so he took his coat off and put it over my shoulders. The women reporters swooned when they saw his chivalry and the broad shoulders he’d been hiding.

We decided on one last question before everyone froze.

“Sookie, do you know if you’ve ever been glamoured?”

I laughed. “That’s a funny question to ask. How would I know?… But sadly, no. I’ve never been glamoured. It doesn’t seem like I can be.”

“Sadly? Why would you want to be glamoured?”

“Well, it would have come in really handy to not feel the stake imbedded in my kidney.”

**

We had been at it for nearly an hour and we were all cold, I’m pretty sure the vampire were even chilled. We were filmed by the reporters  while we thanked the other vampires and I hugged them all of course. The other vampires and Packmasters went towards one side of the parking lot and Alcide, Pam and Maddie had just climbed into our limo and the reporters were mingling and comparing notes while the camera men recorded our exit. Eric had stepped away so that I could climb into the car but I decided to stop for a kiss and no sooner than my lips touched his, I felt a sharp pain in the middle of my back right between my shoulder blades.

I gasped. I felt like I’d been stabbed. “Eric!”

“Sookie!? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.” I fell against him and I started feeling like everything was going black.

“Sookie? Sookie? I think she’s been shot.”

The reporters descended on us like locusts. “Eric, get me into the car.”

Alcide leapt from the car and grabbed my legs and lifted them into the seat and Eric followed with my top half.  They rolled me over and without hesitation Alcide was ripping open the back of my dress.

I heard Eric tell Pam to shut the door to the car.

“Sookie, can you hear me?”

“I can hear you.”

“Lover, the bullet is in your spine.”

“Move it. I’m not strong enough.”

I could feel it starting to move and I cried out. Eric stopped.

I took a second to collect myself. Pain was searing through my body. My brain was working just fine. My mind was intact, at least there was that. “Eric, ignore me. Just get it out.”

I felt Pam’s soft hand on mine, but it took a minute for her face to come into focus before I closed my eyes again. She was on her knees next to me. “Sookie, can you move.” Her voice was soft and comfortable, like the cool side of the pillow.

“Hey Pam, I’m proud of him. He did good.”

“Sookie can you open your eyes?”

I cried out again.

“Eric, I’m giving her blood, she’s losing too much.”

He growled at her. “Just do it.”

I felt Pam’s cool blood trickle over my lips and I started to drink slowly from her hand until her wound closed. She took her hand away and in a blink she had a hand under my cheek to support my head and pushed her wrist to my mouth. I was starting to feel, albeit slightly, stronger. I sucked until her wound closed again.

“Eric?”

“Sookie, I think we need to go to a hospital.”

“Then let’s go.”

I felt like the car was moving before I had answered him.

I was sobbing. I was trying to sob quietly so that I didn’t scare them anymore than they were already.

“Sookie, I’m sorry.”

I chuckled. “The kids were watching. Call them.”

“Shug, what are you feeling?”

“I need booze. What’s in the bar?”

I was starting to feel like I was hearing underwater.

And she was lying in the grass…

“Sookie?”

And she could hear the highway breathing…

And she could see a nearby factory…

“Eric, she’s singing.” Alcide sounded worried. Is my singing that bad?

She’s making sure she is not dreaming…

See the lights of a neighbor’s house…

“Alicde, she’s not breathing!”

Now she’s starting to rise…

Take a minute to concentrate…

And she opens up her eyes…

**

“Eric?”

“Sookie!?”

I screamed out in pain. I know that it was an understatement.

“Sookie, we’re at the hospital. Can you open your eyes?”

When I started to crack my eyes I realized I was on my stomach and Eric’s worried face was the only thing in my line of sight.

“Hi. You’re even sexy when you fret.” I screamed again. “What’s going on?”

“They are digging the bullet out, Lover.”

“How are the kids?”

“Terrified.”

I started crying again. “I’m sorry.”

“Shhh, Lover. Why would you have anything to be sorry for?”

I screamed again. Whatever they were doing had made my feet curl under. “I’ve ruined another suit.”

He tried to force a smile.

“Eric… will you pet my hair?’

I watched his throat clench and tears started to soak his face.

“Sweetie, what’s wrong?”

“Lover, I have been.”

“That’s ok. You don’t have to.”

“Sookie?”

“Hey, how are the kids?”

“Lover, you’re repeating yourself.”

“Do you think they have ice cream in the mini bar?”

I saw another tide of tears as he looked up. “Why isn’t she coherent?”

I heard a man behind me tell Eric to shut up.

“Don’t talk to him like that!”

“Ma’am, you’ve got sit still. This is delicate.” I screamed again.

“You’re doing that on purpose because I didn’t like the crème brulee. I want another waiter. AHHHHHH!”

He looked up again. “Why doesn’t she feel anything except pain?”

“How the hell am I supposed to know?”

I closed my eyes for a minute. The room was really bright.

“Sookie? Sookie!”

“Hmmm, hey you. When is Victor goanna leave us alone so you can take me dancing?”

“Lover, if you get out of bed, I’ll dance with you right now.”

“Hmmm.”

“What would you like to dance to?”

“Eric, how soon until they start the c-section?”

His voice was cracking. “I’m sure they know what they’re doing.”

“Eric, I have an idea.”

“What’s that lover?”

“If we feed from each other, I can channel my power through you.”

“Do you think we’d be strong enough to pull it out?”

“I think it’s worth a shot.”

I heard Eric make the waiter step back.

“Lover?”

“Worth a shot. Huh huh ha.”

He smiled at me. “Are you ready?”

I watched him tear into his wrist and he put it to my mouth. Before I knew it, someone turned off the lights for me.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 44

  1. Kristie Yamber says:

    poor Sookie you have to keep this who scenerio in it is a must to the story my best Kristie

  2. loveallsvmtb says:

    you could almost feel the panic anf sadness in Eric’s words. don’t change a thing perfect. thanks

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