Sookie put her hair up before exiting my office. With her ponytail sweeping her nape, my bite could be seen clearly on the sleek skin of her throat. She examined it in her compact, making sure nothing obscured it. I said nothing, but conceit slithered through me. My hellcat may fight me for every inch of our partnership, but when it counted, she gladly acknowledged my claim to her. I could feel her pride as she preened at her reflection. My mark pleased her. Her wish to brandish it pleased me.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. The text informed me that my driver had retrieved her pet and he was now in my home, complete with food and water. There had been no evidence of Sophie Anne’s weres during his visit. I hoped my slaughter of three of their number gave the rest of the pack serious fucking pause.
We left my office and moved through the crowd of leather and liquor.
There were two of them at my VIP booth when Sookie and I approached. Domingo, of course, in an even fancier suit than the night before, and another vampire with classic Nubian features and no synthetic blood squaring up his coaster. No fanger, either. He sat without refreshment, a silent communique that he wasn’t here for the ambiance. His expression was devoid of any thought whatsoever, flat as a mirror. I had the powerful and rare sensation of being proximal of not only someone older than myself, but significantly so. Four thousand years ago, vampires had operated almost entirely along the Nile, moving through Egypt and the Sudan as trade and industry drew more humans into concentrated populations. Upper Nubia was invaded by the ancient Egyptians when the pyramids were brand new. Vampires watched from the sidelines, choosing from among the best warriors on either side, draining them and burying them in the sand so they could rise anew.
This man had the aura of being one of the remaining few of those turned at that time.
The Authority wasn’t fucking around. They’d sent a ringer. They weren’t about to let my daunting age set a tone of seniority. They now had jurisdiction and primacy on their side. I buried my distaste at their tactics and chose my most affable smile from my arsenal and escorted my beloved to the bench opposite theirs.
“Paulo,” I greeted informally to the Spanish vampire. “A pleasure to see you again. You remember my bonded?” I gestured to Sookie and she smiled tightly. She still found it unnatural not to offer her hand, and as a result her discomfort with spartan words echoed in her features when addressing us.
“Hello again,” she said politely.
Domingo nodded and gestured to his companion. “This is Okalo Massawa. Attaché to the late Magister.”
Massawa blinked in response and said nothing. Sookie dipped her head and widened her strained smile. “A pleasure, sir.”
He blinked again. “Miss Stackhouse. Sheriff Northman.” His accent betrayed nothing, his English clear and distilled as bottled water. Like me, he had removed all traces of his origins in his speech.
I bowed my head, our signal of honor to an elder, and worked my smile into a look of contrition. “My condolences for the loss of your employer.”
Domingo gestured to the glass of water and Tru Blood waiting before us. “I took the liberty.”
As we settled into our seats, Sookie diligently took a sip of her drink. “Thank you.”
I took the opportunity to reestablish my claim. “No thank you,” I snapped for the waitress to remove my bottle. “I’ve fed.”
My woman responded beautifully with an angelic smile for our guests. She did not look at me, nor did she modestly cover the evidence of my meal. She sat picture perfect, waiting for our meeting to commence.
Domingo’s eyes flicked over her throat. “So I see.”
Massawa sat rigidly and didn’t even glance her way. “Shall we begin?”
Domingo inclined his head and looked pointedly at Sookie.
“I prefer we don’t spend the whole evening square dancing around our purpose, so I’ll be blunt. The were pack working for Edgington have been captured by the Authority. Several of them insist that Miss Stackhouse attacked them with balls of light. The Authority have sent us to ascertain her supernatural status and make a decision regarding her connection to the ranking vampires involved in the subsequent events.”
I had no time to form a reply. Sookie was already ahead of me.
“What are you talking about?” she snipped angrily. “They attacked me! I was kidnapped by Russell and taken to his mansion! I didn’t ‘attack’ them with anything!”
“You will stay calm,” Domingo rebuked her. “We would not be here if we weren’t concerned by their accounts. Too many of them believe you are an anomaly for us to ignore.”
“I don’t give a damn what they believe,” she spat haughtily. “Those dogs can go to hell. I had no ‘connection’ with any of those people except Bill Compton and Sheriff Northman. The rest were up to God knows what, and I had nothing to do with it!”
Massawa gazed evenly at me. “You were there at the mansion.”
I nodded. “To ask permission to hunt Compton in the king’s territory. He was still considered missing at the time. It was my duty to locate him.”
His lack of response told me he wanted further details. “I found Compton at the mansion of his own free will. My responsibility to him ended there.”
Still, Massawa sat. Domingo only had eyes for Sookie. “Why did they want you in the first place? A human woman?”
Sookie lost some of her bravado at his question. She looked down at her water. “Bill Compton had sworn his fealty to Russell. He broke up with me shortly afterward. He said…” She took an unsteady breath and I couldn’t tell if her flawless delivery was genuine or not. She looked up with liquid eyes. “He said he no longer wanted me. He said I couldn’t satisfy him the way a vampire could and he’d chosen to return to his maker. But I guess Russell wanted leverage over him, just in case he was scheming and just in case I still meant something to him. Russell kidnapped me for that reason.”
Domingo noted her watering eyes. “As leverage only?”
She sniffed and turned her head away, discreetly wiping her cheeks. “Russell liked all his pawns on one board. He took me in case I proved useful.”
He and Massawa sat impassively, mulling this over. I did not reveal how badly Sookie’s tears bothered me. I loathed it when she cried. Perhaps because her tears were always for Compton. I longed to pull her close and kiss her salty lips until she smiled for me. Later, I would do so.
“What was Compton’s interest in you, girl?” Massawa’s voice startled her.
She sniffed again and shrugged. “What’s any vampire’s interest in a human? He liked me. I liked him. I guess in the end, my feelings were stronger than his.”
I knew this to be a lie. Compton was an unholy wreck without her. Sookie was underplaying their relationship to hide Sophie Anne’s involvement. To admit Bill’s true intention would only lead to questions about the queen’s interest in her. She knew this. I sent my support through our bond, filling it with love and empathy as she spun her tale.
Domingo cleared his throat loudly. “What of the claim that you summoned supernatural shots of energy from your hands when they came to abduct you? That Edgington took a special, personal interest in you that had nothing to do with Bill Compton? What have you to say to that?”
There it was. The real motive behind their questions.
Sookie glared indignantly. “Did these weres also tell you that they were off their asses on V most of the time?”
Domingo pulled a face of disgust and Massawa’s eyes flashed briefly. “That is a very serious accusation. What is your proof?”
“The proof is that I saw it myself in a were bar in Jackson,” she replied. “While looking for information about Bill’s whereabouts, Russell Edgington himself showed up and poured his own blood into shot glasses like he was a vampire bottle of Jim Beam. The whole bar went crazy on it. You can ask Alcide Herveaux . He escorted me there under Eric’s instruction and he saw the whole thing.”
Massawa glanced at me. “Is this true?”
“I did not see it,” I responded diplomatically. “However the were Herveaux is reliable and my bonded is unimpeachable. If she says that is what happened, then you may be assured it’s the truth.”
The two officials were silent. I pushed our edge. “Edgington kept an unusually large pack under his control. Given weres’ predilection for V, it would be reasonable to assume that the king would supply them to ensure their loyalty.”
Domingo nodded once in agreement. “And you’re sure you saw him spill his own blood?”
Sookie nodded vehemently. “Directly into the glasses. He did it onstage after riling them up with one of his speeches.”
Massawa turned to Domingo fractionally. “Such potent blood would disable the mind of a mortal quite severely.”
Domingo exhaled in annoyance. “Miss Stackhouse, did the weres…devolve after ingesting it?”
She nodded again. “It was awful. The pull to shift and participate was strong. Even Alcide fought hard against it, and he didn’t even drink any. They were nothing short of crazy.”
Domingo stewed on this unpleasant development while Massawa continued to gaze fathomlessly at Sookie. He seemed perfectly indifferent to weres on V. His statuesque figure leaned forward a single inch.
“Why have you sought the Sheriff’s claim, girl?”
Sookie blinked. She had not expected him to ask. “Because I…I need him. This supe world is too big for me. It scares me. I need someone like Eric and he offered his claim to me. But I asked for his bond because I love him.”
I stiffened. The officials cocked their heads. She had introduced a foreign concept into the conversation.
Domingo snorted. “After so short a separation from Bill Compton? You ask us to believe this?”
Sookie snookered them further with a wan smile. “Bill hurt me, it’s true. But in the end, he did me a favor. Bill couldn’t protect me from this world. He lied to me. He kept things from me that proved harmful. In that sense, he’s nothing like Eric. Eric is strong. He protects me. And unlike Bill, he prefers human lovers to vampires.” Her words echoed the idealist sentiments of a romance novel. It was perfect.
Massawa looked at me. “Why have you given it? Your bond.”
I looked fondly at Sookie and spoke the truth. “She amuses me.”
And there we were. A silly little girl and her indulgent vampire possessor. Our cover story was so common and uninteresting, there was no doubting its authenticity.
Massawa seemed to accept this without quarrel and with little interest. Instead, his eyes narrowed. “You witnessed the death of our late Magister.”
I dipped my chin, relieved we were moving on to my own innocuous account. “Correct.”
“At Russell’s hand. In your basement.”
“Yes. The Magister was awaiting my return with information about Compton’s disappearance. Russell insisted Sophie Anne and I accompany him here. Once we arrived, Russell silvered the Magister and forced him to marry he and queen. After he’d done so, the Magister cursed Russell’s madness and, in a fit of rage, Russell murdered him.”
“You did nothing to stop him?”
Damn fucking right, I didn’t. I left out that the Magister had been torturing Pam while waiting for me. I would have killed him myself, were it not for his position. Luckily, Russell proved indifferent to his status and liquified him.
I looked as contrite as possible. “I had no way of knowing Russell would react so heinously. But even if I’d suspected his intent, Russell is three times my age. I’m ashamed to say I would not have been capable of subduing him. Not even with Sophie Anne and my child present.”
They processed this.
“You have incapacitated Edgington.” Massawa again.
“Yes. He is no longer a threat.”
He bowed fractionally to me. “Our gratitude.”
Very encouraging. I took his acknowledgment humbly. “My pleasure.”
The four of us sat in silence for a moment. I felt Sookie shift discreetly at my side. She glanced at me and pressed her lips. “Would you gentlemen excuse me? Human stuff.”
Through our bond, I felt her sincere need to use the ladies’ room. I offered her my hand from my seated position as she stood from the booth. She smiled politely. “I’ll be right back.”
She disappeared through the crowd towards the bathrooms. Domingo watched her go. “And odd woman,” he muttered to no one in particular.
I chuckled. “Do you not prefer odd over ordinary?”
For the first time since we met, he smiled. “Very true. Immortality makes one appreciate the unusual.”
I smiled faintly in return. “While my bonded may not have these abilities the were pack claim, I am satisfied with her human charms. She’s quite defiant. I enjoy the challenge.”
“So you testify that she possesses none of the traits we’ve described?”
“Absolutely,” I lied blithely. “A shame. I would have liked to claim such a creature. But alas, she is human. Sweet blood, excellent sex and a delightful mind, but human. I will attest to that.”
The magic of Sookie’s scent still clung lightly to the air. I prayed for the first time in an age that they did not question it beyond what I just explained. Massawa seemed an exceptional threat. He seemed to see everything, yet say nothing. My prayer also included that his age didn’t signify a greater understanding of fairies. Edgington and myself were quite old and hadn’t guessed her heritage. Perhaps fate would smile on me and grant Massawa the same ignorance.
Domingo, mercifully, appeared satisfied. He sighed and sipped his detestable bottled B positive. “We may have more questions as the investigation continues. The queen is still wanted and we have yet to locate Compton. Will you make yourself available, should we require you?”
I nodded graciously. “Naturally. My only interest is restoring order. I think we’ve endured enough bullshit and I’m happy to help where I can.”
He went to rise, but Massawa’s voice stopped him. “She claims to love you. Are you in love as well?”
My eyes snapped to his. The unwanted feeling of exposure crawled on my skin. I disliked his question. It was irrelevant. And revealing. And unfortunately, in my case as well as Compton’s, it was better to admit to the fact in order to hide the bigger truth. Admitting I loved Sookie would lay bare my own weakness for the sake of protecting her secret. For Compton, a sullen romantic who shunned his own kind, the admission hadn’t cost him much. For me to admit such a vulnerability was damaging to my status. But I had no choice.
I let my mask of indifference drop. I showed them a disgruntled sincerity that I hid from all except Pam and Sookie. I met his gaze frankly. “Yes. The woman bewitches me. I concede that I love her and offered my bond to procure her permanently.”
My vexation amused him. His lips rolled fractionally towards a smile. “You would not have it so?”
“I have no interest in love ordinarily. I’m afraid she conjured it in me against my will.”
“Such a powerful creature, to conquer a vampire of your superiority.”
I heard the lightness of his tone. He meant only to mock me out of affability. I snorted with bad grace, accepting the jibe. “When I first met her, she hated and spurned me. Never has a woman dismissed me out of hand while showing no fear of me. She knew I’d slaughtered thousands, yet she scolded me like a child. I admit, it intrigued me.”
Both men chuckled at my concession.
Suddenly, my bond to her spiked with surprise and I jerked my head to one side. She was stunned. And frightened. I leapt to my feet, prepared to tear through the crowd to reach her, but suddenly her fear subsided. The ghost of her adrenaline vanished from my blood as quickly as it had appeared. I tapped the bond for proximity. She was still nearby. I slowly sat back down, reaching out to her, questioning if she was all right.
Nothing. I pressed harder, pushing my will into her mind while my guests watched me questioningly.
I did not sense an answer.
My urgent probes met nothing but silence.