Rosalyn had never put much stock in puffy chiffon dresses, sparkling diamonds, and hazy monochrome studio photography. Those cookie-cutter fantasies did not fit with the reality of her life. Nor did she believe such things would ultimately fulfill her. A wedding was only one fleeting day in her life. She wanted a long, happy marriage. Godric had certainly offered her time enough for that. Whatever she had supposed her wedding day might be like, it was certainly not this.
For starters, it was night and she was dead. Supernatural laws far more immutable than any license issued by the Dallas County Clerk’s office already bound her to her husband. And there was the little matter of the abductions set to take place among her wedding guests.
Still, Rosalyn was surprised when she woke and found a vacant pillow beside her. She turned and found Eric’s spot empty too. She was never left to wake by herself. It was jarring as a newborn. Her vampires senses instinctively shot outwards, assessing whether there was danger. Godric had left the estate. Feeling out through her bonds, she calculated the considerable distance between them. He felt her anxious probing and he sent her a warm reassuring sensation. Not too far, he promised. Certain that her body was tolerating the separation, she rolled out of bed.
An envelope lay on the dinette table, weighted down on one corner. She smiled at the paperweight Godric had chosen – his half of an amethyst geode. She opened the envelope slowly, savoring the sight of her name in Godric’s script. Inside was a piece of cream cardstock folded in half. Godric had sketched a charming Gothic portrait of them on the front in black pen. She laughed. The cartoon couple embraced under a crescent moon. Two bats – she suspected they were Eric and Pam – held a banner with the date below the couple’s feet. She opened the card, careful not to touch the ink.
To my beloved bride Rosalyn,
I am yours – always, forever. Let every moment that is and shall be, be ours. From the moment I saw you, I knew I would need an eternity to love you. Thank you for giving me that chance. Tonight is but one adventure in a hundred thousand. May there be one hundred million more.
Immortally yours, with love and devotion,
The night had barely begun and already she was reaching for a handkerchief. She sent Godric her happiness and his bond fizzed in pleasure. Soon, he told her. Then he fell silent as his focus shifted back toward his business afield. Rosalyn slipped the card into its envelope and set it on top of the wardrobe for safekeeping. She would have the portrait framed at the first opportunity.
She ate a hearty breakfast, steeling herself against the certain chaos that awaited her this evening. When she finally surfaced on the first floor, the estate was bursting with activity. Isabelle was issuing orders to several guards carrying heavy-duty equipment trunks. She paused and turned to Rosalyn. “Good evening, Madame. The Sheriff has gone ahead to New Orleans but will be back within the hour. Eric has requested that you meet him in the gym.” Isabelle hesitated, then reached into her pocket. “Forgive me.”
“What is it?” Rosalyn asked, stepping aside to allow a porter to pass.
“There is nothing funny about the situation with Amleth. It is imperative I bring this to your attention.” Isabelle grimaced and pulled out a garish gold wallet. It was the gag gift the family tricked each other into taking by sneaking it into each other’s possessions.
“No way, Isabelle!” Rosalyn said, backing away. “I know the rules for that stupid thing. You can’t be directly given it.”
Isabelle shook her head. “You need to see it. Eva told me where to find it tonight. She remembered that Amleth had intended to slip it to you at the wedding. There is a note for you inside.”
“Did you read it?”
“Not yet. Shall I look at it for you?”
Rosalyn snagged the gaudy wallet. She pulled out a paper that had been folded many times to fit inside. Her eyes raced over the lines. Amleth’s handwriting was beautiful. His words were even more touching.
“Should we enter it into evidence?” Isabelle asked, her voice apprehensive.
Rosalyn pressed her lips in a hard line. She sniffed and blinked. “No.” She handed the wallet and the letter full of adoring sentiments back to Isabelle. “It’s more proof that Amleth is innocent. He obviously intended to be around for the wedding. Only he would put my freaking wedding card in a gag gift.”
‘Idiot!’ she wanted to say to him. She wanted to scream at the sky for her mischievous brother, or sob into his hair. Anything to restore him. Anything for answers as to why this had happened. Her sense of powerlessness turned to anger. Eric poked her through their bond in concern. Bloodlust was no way to start the night.
Isabelle studied the newborn’s turbulent expression. “I’ll show the letter to the Sheriff when he returns.”
“There’s still no change in Amleth’s status?” Rosalyn asked.
Isabelle’s gaze dropped to the floor. “I asked Godric to move him into a separate cell.”
Rosalyn furrowed her brow. “I know keeping him with his progeny hasn’t helped heal him, but surely -“
“Out of consideration for Costas and Eva, Madame. So they are not forced to sit…in the mess…when…” Isabelle’s voice trailed off.
Rosalyn’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, holy god. You think he’ll pass that soon?”
“It is hard to say for certain. Tonight. Tomorrow, perhaps. Soon. He has…started to smell.”
Rosalyn’s anger hardened into resolve. “We will get Thea’s blood to him in time. I swear it.”
A wan smile passed over Isabelle’s features. “You sound very much like your brother. Go on, Madame. Eric is waiting for you. I have our departure preparations under control.”
The bleachers in the gym were folded flat against the wall. Most of the arena’s high-watt lights had been left off. Eric waited at the edge of the sparring mat, hands folded behind his back. He was clad head to toe in black. “You look formidable tonight,” Rosalyn said as she came in.
His brow was furrowed. “Are you okay?”
He looked over her suspiciously. “The underlings have been gossiping. Did Godric-” He stopped himself. He wanted to know what happened after she had appeared in court with a whip. He was worried. “You know I can’t interfere when it’s maker’s business. Was he very hard on you?”
Rosalyn smiled blandly. Eric had no idea. He whistled, genuinely impressed. “Alrighty, then. Well. I’m glad he made up for whatever shit he doled out. It was quite the treat to wake up next to you smelling so delicious and well-loved.” He gave her a smoldering look.
“Eric,” she said in exasperation. “What have you got there?” She gestured to the blanketed shape behind him.
Eric stepped aside, revealing a blocky rectangle covered in a tablecloth. “Apologies for the wrapping job. Not my strong suit.”
“For me?” Rosalyn drew a measured breath. “It doesn’t smell like sex toys or bricks of cash. I’m at a loss. What is it, Blondie?”
Eric smirked. “You think so little of your bonded.” He gestured at the item on display for dramatic effect, then pulled the fabric away with a magician’s flourish. The tablecloth swirled at his feet and he took a bow. A rack with two swords stood at his side.
“Samurai swords?” She came nearer to inspect them.
“Katanas,” he clarified. “Like me, you were born in war. It is only fitting that you have the right tools for your journey.”
Rosalyn lifted one of the thin swords and drew it from its scabbard. The metal sung out, as if ready. The sword’s song and the dangerous glint in Eric’s eyes sent chills up her spine. “I’m not sure what to say. Thank you. These are beautiful – and deadly.”
“Just like their mistress,” he said. “You’re not anywhere near ready to wield these yet. I’ll teach you how to use them. But I wanted you to have them tonight.”
She tested the weight and balance of the sword in her hand. Eric cursed and leapt aside the moment she swung the blade. “They’re Britlingen sharp, Ros!”
She bit back a laugh. “Sorry? I wasn’t aiming for you.”
“Don’t move another inch! Hela’s tongue, woman. That’s an order.” Warily, he captured her wrist.
She inspected the intricate leather wrapping on the hilt in her hand. “You made them,” she said. She was not sure how she knew. Eric raised his eyebrows. She was coming into her powers very quickly indeed. “Seriously, when the heck do you all find time to do this kind of stuff?”
“You sleep a lot,” he said, still rattled at how she had whipped the blade through the air so near him. He pointed to the rippling rainbow pattern in the steel, keeping his index finger at a cautious distance. “These were forged with all my strength, using a special technique I learned from a Britlingen guardian.”
“The super dangerous assassin creatures?” she asked.
“Yes. There are very few blades of this kind in our realm. Regular steel is no match for them. They will cut through any creature’s bone like butter – vampire, demon, were, you name it.”
“They are probably the finest I have made yet,” he said without a trace of arrogance. He huffed. “Godric will probably want me to remake his toys once he sees these.”
Rosalyn smiled. “Thank you, truly.”
Eric gestured for her to hand over the sword. She pulled it protectively toward her. “Give it here,” he said. “Just for a moment.”
“You’re not tricking me into pledging marriage with you.”
“Poppet!” he laughed. “They aren’t oathing blades! You need to blood your weapons so they know who they serve. It’s a very old and very important tradition. Let me show you.” Still wary of a trap, Rosalyn begrudgingly handed him the katana. He flipped its razor-sharp edge upwards. “Touch the blade. Do not press down,” he warned her.
Rosalyn set a fingertip on the marbled steel and it instantly bit through her preternatural skin. “Ow! Jesus!” she said, nursing the tiny wound between her teeth.
Eric gave her a stern look, glad she now appreciated why winging the weapon around was no joke. A ruby dot perched on the blade’s edge. Eric whispered rapidly into the metal, forswearing it from ever drawing its master’s blood again. He made Rosalyn repeat the oath. They initiated the sword’s twin together in the same manner.
Eric stored the blades in a locker in the armory adjacent to the gym. “We’ll talk about what situations the katanas are best used in,” he told her. “Suffice it to say, they’re shorter and lighter than most weapons. They’re versatile. Perfect for the fighting style you’ve been learning.” Eric fell quiet as Amleth’s absence loomed large.
Rosalyn set a hand on his bicep. “I can’t wait for you to teach me everything you know.”
“I hope you are not offended by my wedding gift. I know you won’t lift a weapon unless bloodshed is unavoidable. You are wise beyond your years and temperate in ways that I’ll never be.”
“I try,” she said. Then added, “It is kind of a strange gift for a pacifist.”
“You’re also fearless, min kärlek. I wanted to give these swords to you because…you don’t need anyone to fight your battles for you. I will defend you always, of course. But with them, you won’t need me. You will hold your own.” He shrugged awkwardly and dipped his head, looking uncomfortable in his giant frame. Whether his discomfort was with having called her ‘his love’ or with his sentiments in general was unclear.
“Did Godric ask you to make these?” she asked curiously.
“No. It was my idea. Why?”
Rosalyn cupped his face. “Eric, sweetheart. Thank you. You have no idea how much this means to me.” She stood on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss. “You’ve learned so much more than you think from Godric. You’ve given me independence – and that’s priceless.”
He shrugged in embarrassment and pulled her into one of his crushing hugs. “Congratulations on your marriage,” he whispered into her hair. “I cannot imagine how we lived for so long without you.”
She was momentarily stunned. “That’s the loveliest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
He turned back to the locker, evidently mortified by their sappiness. He pulled a leather box from a shelf and passed it to her. He grew somber. “These are for tonight. They aren’t special, but they don’t need to be. They only need to work.” Two flat, silver-tipped daggers lay inside the box. They were thin and seamless, and had no decoration save for a rune etched at the plunge grip of each blade. The rune looked like the letter ‘Y’, except with three branches at its fork instead of two. “The yew-rune,” he explained. “For protection.”
“Are they spellcast?” she asked.
“Wherever did you hear a thing like that?” He gave her a funny look. “That kind of magic is gone from this world.”
“Oh,” she said, sheepish. Apparently not everything in Godric’s old books could be taken at face value.
His still wore a baffled expression. “I blessed them. It’s the best I could do. You should blood these as well. Come on.”
She indulged him with the short prayer ceremony, figuring that anyone who had survived as long as he had must be doing something right. When they were done, he gestured for her to hike her skirt. Kneeling down, he strapped the daggers onto her upper thighs. He grimaced as he adjusted the fittings. “These only come out for one purpose. If you draw one, it’s because you’re in kill range and it is kill or be killed. Don’t pull them as a threat. Don’t use them to fight. They belong in an attacker’s heart. Understood?” He rose and searched her face for confirmation.
“They’re the last line of defense. Stick the sharp end in the enemy’s heart and don’t stop shoving until they explode.”
Eric’s nostrils flared and his mouth crashed on hers. “Whatever you do, don’t you dare fucking die on me,” he said, hands full of her hair.
“Same goes for you,” she replied, equally fierce.
Eric narrowed his eyes. “Good. Let’s get ready to party, lillasyster.”
Godric captured Rosalyn in his arms the second he returned from New Orleans. His shadow team was in place. He inhaled her scent and nuzzled her neck. “Pamela says it is bad luck to see the bride before the wedding.”
Rosalyn chuckled. “I think that’s only once I’m dressed? I don’t know. It’s just a stupid superstition. It doesn’t matter.”
“Good. I cannot help myself.” He kissed her passionately, hands roaming until they came to a stop on her thighs. Their eyes met in understanding and he nodded. He had her follow him to the great hall. Everyone who was serving a tactical role in the wedding was gathered there. Two large corkboards had been rolled in and were full of tacked-up floor plans and charts. For the most part, Rosalyn had been kept from these meetings. Godric could not risk having her nervously glancing in the direction of their undercover agents and giving away the game. Makers could not command emotions – and Godric needed her shock and surprise at the party to be real. Plausible deniability would be essential for her if things went sideways.
He snapped at his underlings to move aside. Pamela laid out a series of photographs on Godric’s desk. “These are our allies. Memorize each face,” she told Rosalyn. Pam gave basic details for each vampire – their name, age, territory, and any known special powers. She cleverly arranged the pictures in family groups. Rosalyn worked quickly, her mind soaking up the details in mere seconds. Godric had her pay extra attention to the lineage heads. These were the elders she should run to in an emergency. Only two were ancients older than Godric. They went through some hundred images before turning to known enemies.
Rosalyn stared at the pile. “Uh…There are a lot more people flagged as enemies.”
Godric nodded gravely. “We could only trust a few clans to know about our plans. Roman has many allies.”
Rosalyn picked up Roman’s picture. He appeared middle-aged, with silver hair and sharp amber eyes. The skin was drawn over his high cheekbones, emphasizing his full mouth. She resented his terrible beauty. “He looks like a handsome skull.”
Godric’s expression darkened. “There won’t be a bone left to him when I’m through.”
A wrinkle creased her brow as she studied the piles laid out on the table. “The enemy clans are all larger.” It struck her as odd. Their chosen allies were small, tight-knit families like their own.
“Larger families squabble more,” he explained. “They are more likely to cause offense.”
Rosalyn reckoned what Godric really meant was that the larger families were more offensive to him specifically. She held her tongue. Now was not the time to openly question him. They were significantly outnumbered – and something more. She could not put her finger on what bothered her. She set Roman’s picture aside and continued memorizing the faces of her enemies.
The flight to New Orleans was tense. A weather system had stalled over the southern U.S., turning the cool fall nights wet. Although the rain had been brief, the skies remained turbulent. Godric paced the aisle with a macabre air shrouded about him. He repeatedly visited the cockpit to bark terse orders at the pilot. The Gulfstream dipped as it readjusted altitude, then rose again minutes later after Godric changed course once more. At one point, he snatched up a headset and reamed out the air traffic controller on the other end of the radio. Then he plopped down in front of the secondary yoke and piloted the aircraft himself until he was satisfied.
The sheer quantity of silvered weapons stowed in the cargo hold below was enough to set everyone’s teeth on edge. It gave the newborn on board motion sickness. Rosalyn’s innards felt weighted downward toward the silver while they hurtled forward, pitching and heaving with Godric’s orders. She sat with Eric, her face buried in his shoulder. Save for the thumb that rhythmically stroked her head, Eric remained lock-jawed and unmoving. He stared straight ahead. Isabelle and Stan sat across the aisle, whispering occasionally in near silence. Pam chaperoned Sookie. Even the faeling princess knew to keep quiet. She kept her nose buried in a romance novel until the turbulence forced her to abandon it.
At the private airport on the outskirts of the city, Stan met a group of underlings who had flown separately. They set off in a convoy of black SUVs. Godric drove the remainder of his inner circle himself, with Rosalyn tucked protectively between Pam and Eric in the backseat.
When they arrived at the New Orleans palace, Queen Sophie-Anne was waiting to greet them along with Andre, her child and Second in Command. Godric walked straight past them into the foyer without a word. The petite blonde queen was left gaping on the front stoop. She stared in disbelief as Godric snapped at the head butler and chief of security. Her staff immediately fell in line with his rapid-fire commands.
Eric sidled up to her. He raised his eyebrows. “I did warn you that you would not like it if he showed up on your doorstep.”
Sophie-Anne swallowed. “Does he want us out of the state or out of the country? We have nowhere to go.”
Eric nodded sympathetically. “Godric needs access to your security system. Be a dove and unlock it for him? For your safety – and the kingdom’s.” He brushed his fingertip along the side of Sophie-Anne’s hand. It was the briefest of touches. Her demeanor changed instantly.
“Of course, Sheriff,” she said. She hurried after Godric, her heels clicking on the floor. Eric cut his eyes down at Rosalyn and she hid her smile. His empathic compulsion had worked.
Andre furrowed a brow in confusion. Eric took a step forward and leaned into the shorter Portuguese vampire’s face. “Are you going to be a problem, twiglette?” he growled. Andre hesitated for a second as he weighed his options, then vigorously shook his head. “Good,” Eric said. “Run along and help your maker.”
Eric spoke under his breath to the tactical team listening in his earpiece. The sophisticated technology was so quiet, not even Rosalyn could hear them confirm the Queen and her Second’s location.
While Godric and Isabelle set about taking control of the estate, Eric and Pamela led Rosalyn and Sookie to the guest wing. The palace sat over an entire city block. The building was a triumph of Beaux-Arts architecture. It had once been a jewel among jewels in the French Quarter – until the young upstart Sophie-Anne was installed by the consortium of leaders behind the Reveal. Eric explained that the old rascal who had run New Orleans for centuries had been so infuriated by the decision, he took most of the estate’s contents with him back to France.
Sophie-Anne had squandered the lion’s share of Louisiana’s taxes on her renovations. Most of the additions were downright tragic. A casino now took up half the first floor. Slot machines blinked and flashed furiously as the group made their way to the elevators. Eric rolled his eyes in contempt. “Shut those down,” he told a guard.
“But the record high scores – ” the guard started to protest.
Eric spun on his heel. “Shut them down or I’ll shut you down. Which will it be?”
The man blanched. “Right away, Sheriff.”
“That’s the first and only god damn answer you ever give me when I speak to you,” Eric told him. “Understood? Inform your team. I won’t repeat myself.” The man hastily agreed and scuttled off to deactivate the noisy games. Eric jammed a knuckle at the call button for the elevator car.
On the top floor, Eric spoke silently into his earpiece and craned his neck up at the faux “skylight” dome. Pamela held everyone in the elevator car until he had slipped down each of the corridors and declared them clear. The guest quarters were empty. Eric and Pamela relaxed slightly.
“My word!” Sookie gasped when they entered the hall. She pointed at a reproduction sculpture by Donatello.
“That statue’s little winkie remind you of Compton, Tinkerbell?” Eric asked.
“Oh, Eric! You’re terrible!” She swatted flirtatiously at Eric’s shoulder. “I was just thinkin’ this place is much grander than Amleth’s.”
Eric did not try to explain that Amleth’s estate was a perfectly preserved and rather restrained example of late English Georgian design, while this place was a hot mess that had more in common with Vegas than Versailles. “It’s extra alright,” he said instead.
“I’ve never been inside the palace either,” Rosalyn said to Sookie. Visitors to the estate’s public events entered directly into the gardens by way of a street-side gate. She jabbed an elbow at Eric and gave him a look. ‘Behave yourself,’ she mouthed with a smile.
‘Never,’ he silently replied. He gave a salacious grin. “Sookie, I’m sure Pamela would be happy to tell you all about the palace. She knows the place better than I do. Isn’t that right, Pammy? How many times did you sleep with Sophie-Anne? Twice? Or was it three times?”
“Merciful Jesus,” his child said. “Can you please not remind me?”
“I mean, once is a mistake. We’ve all been there,” he quipped. “But twice? Twice isn’t a mistake, Pam.”
Rosalyn was not remotely surprised by Eric’s shenanigans, but Sookie’s eyes grew round. “You slept with your boss?” she said. Pamela growled, aggravated with all of them.
Eric chuckled. “Oh, come on, Miss Stackhouse. Isn’t that the little pot talking shit to the big pot?”
“I don’t think that’s the idiom, Eric,” Rosalyn said under her breath.
Eric was not done teasing Sookie. “Don’t act like you weren’t thinking about shacking up with your shifter boss. Anybody can do it doggy style, princess. If you’re that desperate -“
“You leave Sam Merlotte alone! He’s a good man,” Sookie said. “I won’t stand for your nasty talk, mister.”
Eric made a noise of displeasure and roughly checked an emergency stairwell door to confirm that it was locked. Pamela rolled her eyes at her maker. “Come on, cupcake,” she said to Sookie. She steered the human to the front of the group and began elaborating on the design elements of the palace. She was more than happy to play tour guide and style maven. Sookie looked relieved to escape Eric and made for an eager audience.
They followed Pamela toward the accommodations they would use as staging grounds before the ceremony. Marble floors gleamed in every direction of the west wing. “High-maintenance and short-lived,” Pamela said of the flooring material. She dropped her voice. “Just like the soon-to-be former Queen.”
Sookie giggled. “I reckon by the time you’d finish moppin’ at one end, you’d have to start all over at the other.” Pamela frowned at the mention of manual labor.
Heavy gold damask curtains framed floor-to-ceiling French windows. Sookie trotted beside the swift vampiress, soaking up her pronouncements. “Tacky, synthetic fabric,” Pamela commented as the group breezed by. “You should have seen the luscious velvets that used to be here. These drapes are criminal.”
Pamela stopped dead in her tracks. The long, window-lined hallway was also less than ideal in a vampire domicile. She went to a window and scraped a nail on the pane, then jerked at a drape. It did not budge. The curtains were fake. “Motherfucker. Eric! She had the UV mirroring removed!”
Sookie’s eyes bulged. “Bad for energy efficiency?” she guessed.
“No. Massive security risk!” Pam replied, turning to her maker. “It’s like she wants to make sure her guests can’t get out alive.” Eric went to confirm the situation. The windows faced the street. By day, the hallway would be exposed to sunlight. At night, those inside were now clearly visible to anyone outside. It was an ideal setup for an ambush. A shooter could pick them off like fish in a barrel.
“This fucking place,” Eric spat. He quickly put his body between the window and the women.
“Let me guess,” Rosalyn said. “You’d torch it if you could?”
“No. I like the palace. I’m less a fan of Area Five bankrolling Sophie-Anne’s monstrous tastes.”
Pamela put a hand on her hip, indignant. “You need to get the former King back here to fix this shit, Eric. It makes us all look bad.”
“Priorities, Pam.” He hurried them through the passageway, whispering rushed instructions into his earpiece. Stan was to immediately send team-members to black-out the windows. Once they were clear of the unsafe stretch of hall, Pamela tossed her suitcase down and began rooting around in it. She emerged with two clicking cans of spray paint. “Cancel that order, Stan. We’ve got it covered,” Eric said.
Pamela turned to Sookie. “Never travel without lipstick, duct tape, and a couple cans of Krylon.” She tossed one can to her. “Help a girl redecorate, will you?”
A/N: Happy Father’s Day to all the makers out there. This chapter is for the reader who wanted more Pam. Thanks to all of you who keep me motivated to write!
Thoughts? Theories? Leave a comment if you have a moment. xx, M