The taste of Godric sliding down her throat should have been a comfort. Rosalyn found it only agitated her already overstimulated senses. Beyond the breezeway windows, nobles and emissaries from the far reaches of the world mingled over cocktails. The mood had decidedly shifted. Below the cordial nodding and bare-toothed smiles, the air vibrated dangerously with vampiric power. Ancient, beautiful creatures circled each other and gossiped in a pantomime of civility. Their bloodlust was barely restrained. An orgy or a fight – or more likely both – seemed imminent.
“This is madness,” Rosalyn declared.
Godric did not contradict her. “It is necessary.”
She eyed the growing receiving lines and pulled at the high collar of her pearl dress. She dreaded the draconian court protocol with its curtsies and stuffy forms of address. “Remind me again why agreeing to all this pomp and circumstance doesn’t make me a massive hypocrite?”
“Because you’re not playing to win at a game we know is rigged. You’re rigging a game others think they are playing.”
Rosalyn groaned. She really did not want to hear one of Godric’s riddles tonight. He moved her briskly through the external hallway, a hand in the small of her back. “It sure doesn’t look like we’re pretending.” She gestured at the dais set against the courtyard wall. “Do you want to explain to me why there are actual thrones up there for us?”
Godric smiled patiently. “They’re just chairs.”
“They had better be. Because I have no interest in -” Rosalyn stopped in her tracks and choked. Godric’s command to keep their plans for Louisiana secret strangled her into silence. She hadn’t known what he intended when he had issued the order. She still did not quite understand. “Do you…? Why…?” No matter how she tried, she could not ask about his reasons for manipulating key figures within the American vampire government.
Godric pulled her against a brick pillar, shielding them from view. “I enforce Texas Area Nine, nothing more. To suggest otherwise is treason.” A shiver of command ran down her spine, refining her reaction to the topic of rule. “We cannot be too careful, love. My goal is simple. I’m trying to get out of this game without losing my hand in it.”
She blinked and nodded. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I am very impressed.” She had pieced together his tactics on her own – and quickly at that. He kissed her with real heat. “You’re far better at this than Eric was at your age.”
She poked him in the ribs. “I thought we weren’t going to make those kinds of comparisons.”
“Let me rephrase. It is a relief that I don’t have to teach you to distrust status symbols and empty court gestures. The second you mistake a throne for real power or a groveling bow for a friend, you are truly dead.”
“Trust me, Seb just gave me a crash course in real power and holy shit, Godric. Please tell me the other ancients aren’t going to paw at me like a horse at auction.”
“Not while we’re on stage. But you must expect it.” He pulled her wrist to his nose to double check that Seb’s scent was washed from her.
“I thought I was going to pee blood I was so scared. Is that even possible?”
“No!” he snorted and clapped a hand over his mouth, surprised by his own reaction. “My adorable newborn. Gods, I had forgotten.”
“I’m glad I amuse you.”
He was still chuckling as he pulled her closer. “You do. But… when you stood up to Seb, I think you might have given me an aneurysm. Please, if you love me, don’t risk that again. Ever. You let me do that.”
At the courtyard entrance, they waited for King Tan and Isabelle to take their seats on the platform. Godric asked her twice to look over him and fix his bowtie. He fussed with the folds on his chieftain’s sash and finessed hers as well. “You’re extra cute when you’re nervous,” she said.
Godric ignored her and pushed a loose bobby pin back into her hair. “You know not to draw a weapon on anyone, right? Only if it’s a life or death emergency. It carries a severe sentence.”
She made a face. “Is that warning for me or you?” He was the one who had nearly trimmed the Egyptian Vizier’s nose with a throwing knife.
“Acknowledge the order, please.”
“Affirmative. I will try not to stab any royalty.” She put her mouth to his ear. “You’re not cute when you’re nervous. I take it back. You’re ridiculously sexy. You get all stern and hard.”
“Rosalyn,” he warned.
“Sire,” she breathed, giving him a sultry look. “Show me what a big, bad maker you are later?”
He suppressed a smile. “Only if you are very, very good.” He reviewed a few more rules of court with her to be on the safe side. “You might want to be extra polite with the delegates from Denmark,” he added, trying to sound casual.
“Okay. Any particular reason?”
He cut his eyes at her. “I’m not making comparisons.”
“I can’t help but be reminded of the last time I debuted a child at court. The Danes will no doubt recall as well.”
“Oh good god. What did Eric do?”
“Not what Eric did.” He sucked at his teeth. “What I did.”
“I don’t want to know, do I?”
“I’d rather not say. I’m feeling a little superstitious.”
The emcee was calling their names. The crowd turned to them in anticipation. She gave him a skeptical look. “You know what? Your way hasn’t earned us many friends. Let’s try to break that pattern, yes?”
“Agreed.” He stole a kiss for good luck. They stepped out onto the grass, joined hands, and raised them high to the sound of cheers.
Guests passed through the ropes two and three at a time and handed their invitations to the herald at arms. Every time a card passed hands, Rosalyn found herself hoping the herald’s announcement would be brief. The longer-winded the titles, the longer she and Godric were obliged to entertain the visitors with pleasantries. These first impressions were very important. The scrutiny and formality made her want to crawl out of her own skin. As if the pressure was not intense enough, Rosalyn was distracted by Eric and Sookie’s progress across the lawn. They were trying to make their way toward Bill and his human date without drawing attention to themselves.
“-so fortunate, to be sure, don’t you agree, Madame Rosalyn?” a woman was saying to her.
Rosalyn’s attention snapped back into focus. Louisiana resident – she remembered that much. But she had no idea what the vampiress was saying. She smiled and bowed her head.
The woman gave her a bob and began fanning herself furiously. As she and her companion moved on to greet King Tan and Isabelle, Rosalyn heard her say “God’s truth, Esmerelda, did you see? She bowed to me!”
Godric flicked a finger at the herald to hold the stream of guests and leaned over to whisper to her. “Tell me again that your status as consort is meaningless.”
Rosalyn sighed. “I never thought I’d live to see myself celebrating my wedding with a grotesque display of inequality.”
“Strictly speaking, you didn’t live to see it.”
He settled back into his chair with a smirk. “Many here think you are special because your blood is ancient. They accord you privileges based on that perception.”
“Classic vampire racism,” she muttered.
Godric chuckled. “Yes. But you are not special because of your sire or your place on a family tree, are you?”
His pedantic tone annoyed her. He had been zinging her with his maker-mode one-liners all night. “Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, magic or no. You know that,” she said.
“Precisely. We are made worthy by our actions, not our entitlements. You wish to use your rebirth and your position to promote mutual understanding and acceptance among all creatures. You want to smash the high walls we have built out of ignorance. Correct?”
She sat forward and studied him, unsure why he was stating the obvious. “Yes. And I hope that I can serve as an ally for those who struggle to be heard. Why?”
“That, Rosalyn, is why we are celebrating tonight, my pledged wife. And that is why you are my consort. You are reborn to us with hope in your heart and we adore you for it.” He drew her knuckles to his mouth and gazed out towards the line with a sly smile. The younger guests burst into a round of clapping and whistling. Everyone at the ropes had been listening intently. Rosalyn’s eyes widened in surprise. Godric had lured her into a conversation in order to make a public statement. Just like that, he had taught her the value of a public platform – and its dangers.
“This will only ever happen once,” he told her quietly. “Learn to savor the rarities, my love.” He cut her off before she could tease him for being a smug ass. “Do not say what you are thinking, young one.”
She bit back a laugh. “Yes, Maker.”
His nostrils flared in amusement and he called for the next person in line. They entertained their guests and Godric seemed to enjoy encountering old acquaintances – even when a number had been flagged as dangerous. His smile grew wide when the Queen of Ireland and her plus one were announced. They stepped forward.
“Maeve the King’s daughter and the old devil himself,” Godric said, sounding scandalized. Maeve laughed heartily at his dismissive tone. The man at her side nodded in greeting. He was Maeve’s maker. “How are you, Maelcon?” Godric asked him.
“I go by Malcolm these days,” he said in a thickly burred English. “And I’ve nae held a kingdom for an age, as you good and well bloody know.”
Godric leaned toward Rosalyn. “He’s warden of a few wind-swept rocks that he looks after for me in the Isles.”
“You have property in Scotland?” she said.
Malcolm answered. “An entire island, milady. Vampire Population – One.” Rosalyn stifled a laugh. She suspected the lack of company suited him fine. “Perhaps ye’ll come home for Bealltainn, m’laird?”
Godric snorted. “I’m not halfway done with this extravaganza and you want me to hold a fire feast for you? You always were a greedy bastard.” Malcolm exploded in heavy, bouncing laughter and Godric joined in. Rosalyn was positively charmed.
“Shall I lock him away for you?” Maeve asked. Her flame-red hair swayed about her torso.
“Not tonight.” Godric shook his head. He and his two allies wafted in and out of an Old Gaelic patois as they spoke. “Maeve, I hear nothing but excellent things out of Ireland. Your peace treaty with the witches was clever statecraft. You bring honor to your maker and House.”
“I thank ye, Godric. You taught me well,” she said.
Malcolm heartily agreed. “‘Tis a fine thing she has done. ‘Tis even finer to see you honoring the old ways, a Rí Gorm.” The Blue King. He nodded at Godric’s apparel and the paint on his face.
“Wedding gifts, from my wife.”
“Is that so?” Malcolm turned to Rosalyn and grew very serious. He studied her carefully. “We only know ye as a reformer.” The accusation fouled the air with its dirty word. Rosalyn blinked in alarm. She had not considered that some vampires might find her threatening. And here Malcolm was an ally. A hush spread rapidly through the crowd as they waited for her reply.
Rosalyn reached over and took Godric’s hand. “There are ancient things that must be guarded at all costs, Malcolm of the Isles.”
Malcolm pulled his cap from his head and bowed. “The blessings of Brigid keep you, Róisín Bean Goðrík. I’d kiss your skirt but my Queen is here.”
Maeve made a joke about his fickle loyalty and just as quickly, all was well. Rosalyn sat back in relief. She had passed some crucial trial.
Weaving through the guests, Eric could smell the rat otherwise known as Bill Compton. He was some twenty yards away. He elbowed through clusters of partygoers holding tightly to Sookie’s hand. He kept his eyes forward, avoiding Sookie’s distracting figure. Pamela had poured her into a blue dress that matched her eyes.
He did not make it more than a few yards before another invitee stopped him to talk. Everyone wanted to know about Rosalyn – and how she had come to be his bonded mate. Their curiosity and envy would have been entertaining if it wasn’t hindering him from reaching his ne’er do well subject.
“Who’s the snack?” a minor princess from Babylon asked, her voice dripping with condescension. She was not the first of Eric’s former flings to misdirect her ire at Sookie.
“I am a person and I have a name, miss,” Sookie said. Her breasts heaved as she huffed in defiance. Eric smirked at his blonde sidekick. There was no denying that he wanted her. The more his family tried to warn him off her, the more enticing she seemed. But he had made Rosalyn a promise to wait until they could talk more. He would honor that promise fiercely, no matter how much he wanted to hear Sookie moan his name.
“Zakiti, meet my quality control advisor.” He leaned down to Sookie’s level. “What do you think, Ms. Stackhouse. Does Zakiti pass muster?” Sookie harrumphed and he raised an eyebrow. “Guess not. Excuse us.”
“In a rush, I see,” Zakiti said. “Does your mistress keep your chain so short that you have to sneak your meals now? Or has she cut your balls off completely?”
“Ask her yourself – if you dare.” He pushed past her.
“What was with her?” Sookie resisted his tug on her arm. “Are all these angry women your ex-girlfriends?”
“They wish. Why? Would you like to be my girlfriend?”
Sookie huffed. “You don’t strike me as a one-woman kind of man.”
“How would you know? It’s not nice to make assumptions, Sookie Stackhouse.”
“Oh, well. You just seem…”
“What do I seem?” He towered over her. The view from above was spectacular. He wanted to dive between those ample curves and keep going.
A shadow darkened her shoulder. A familiar voice greeted him. “Northman.”
Eric’s instincts took over. He bit into his thumb and spun Sookie behind his back by the neck. It took every last ounce of Eric’s discipline not to attack. “High Counselor.”
Roman’s amber eyes trailed over the figure half-hidden by Eric’s frame. “Miss Stackhouse, I presume.” Sookie held her chin high. Eric kept his arm firmly fastened around her. He was ready to rocket into the sky at a moment’s notice. Roman’s nostrils flared. A shimmer of Eric’s blood streaked across Sookie’s neck. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you. May I say you are more ravishing in person than I dreamed.”
“Thanks,” she said, confused by Roman’s impeccable European manners.
He was middle-aged, with gleaming silver hair and knife blade cheekbones that rivaled Eric’s. His features were not decisively Scandinavian. He bore no resemblance to anyone, from anyplace, at anytime. It made his modern comportment all the more unsettling. “I was hoping to have news of your great grandfather.”
Sookie plastered on a smile. “You and me both. Niall’s never sent me so much as a birthday card, so I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
“Family can be complicated, it is true.” He spoke slowly and deliberately, savoring the creep of time. He turned his sharp eyes to Eric. “It is a shame when diplomatic negotiations suffer because of kin. I trust the Ambassador will contact me when he has word from the Prince?”
Eric quivered in fury. “Amleth will be sorry to have missed you.”
“It is very odd that he has not attended tonight’s celebrations.”
“Maker’s business,” was all he offered in explanation.
“I see.” Roman nodded thoughtfully. “Your Pamela is coming along. You wouldn’t want to be one of those ridiculous makers who smothers his fledged progeny for a thousand years.” He smiled venomously. “It’s high time to turn another, no?”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Eric retorted. He looked meaningfully at Sookie, then back at Roman.
Roman’s gaze lingered on the blood mark on Sookie’s neck before wandering back to the Viking. “You will not defile an asset of the High Council.”
“She’s not your asset.” Sookie’s nails dug into Eric’s side.
“Yet,” Roman countered. “Niall has all but agreed.”
“Which is another way of saying that he hasn’t agreed to anything.”
“Northman,” he said, clucking his tongue. “Duty compels me to prevent you from jeopardizing our peace with the Fae. It is forbidden to turn one of theirs. You are too young to remember the wars fought over such matters.”
“Oh, I remember plenty.”
“Then you’ll have no trouble remembering this: you are hereby summoned to appear before the Council with Miss Sookie Stackhouse – alive and breathing – before the year’s end.”
“Lucky me.” Eric snorted.
A screech from Bill Compton interrupted their standoff. “Set me down!” Bill’s legs pinwheeled in the air. Seb dumped him in a heap at Eric’s feet and shoved a short human woman forward. “Is this what you were looking for?”
“It is. Thank you, Lord Seb.” Eric smiled at Roman. “A Sheriff’s duties are never done. Excuse us.”
Sebek crossed his arms and stood his ground, daring Roman to follow them.
“The year’s end, Northman,” Roman reminded him.
Rosalyn was meeting Isabelle’s maker, King Antonio, when Eric tugged at her through their connection. It took only a brief scan to find him. Eric always stood out in a crowd. He jutted his chin at the line. Rosalyn could not see what he was trying to point out.
Godric set a hand on hers, entirely relaxed, and recaptured her attention. “We are both sad to see Isabelle leave us,” he told Antonio, “but we look forward to the wonderful things she will achieve with California. Isabelle is a credit to your bloodline and a cherished friend.” Godric spoke affably a few minutes longer until Antonio took his leave of them. Godric’s hand tightened on Rosalyn’s in warning. Four guests in, she spotted her. The pile of dark curls on her head was unmistakable. Thea of Athens was waiting for her turn.
Godric powered through the guests with more charm than he had previously mustered. When the herald announced Thea, Godric’s iron grip became painful. His bond snarled red while his face remained a mask of calm. Rosalyn was not sure what came over her. “Athens?” she said brightly, turning to her husband. “Oh, I’ve heard such amazing things about Athens.”
The grimace that slid over Godric’s mouth was positively reptilian. “Yes, my love. We ought to visit.”
Rosalyn turned to Thea. “Thank you for coming such a long way. I trust the journey wasn’t too daunting?”
The statuesque woman demurred. “You are kind to think of my comfort, my Lady. It was most pleasant.”
“Tell me, is it true that the Parthenon does not allow visitors at night?” Rosalyn hoped her voice did not betray the panic in her gut.
“Only humans cannot be trusted to deface our monuments,” she said, her distaste plain. “Guests of my city are welcome to tour all of the historic sites at their leisure. Have you travelled much in Europe?”
Rosalyn had no idea what information she should or should not give away. Godric, by some miracle, trusted himself to speak. He moved terrifyingly slowly, as if unaware of the passage of time. “She has not seen the Old World with new eyes. Isn’t that what matters?”
Thea gave a tinkling laugh. “Too true.”
Godric narrowed his laser-like gaze on her. “Your sisters have not yet greeted us.”
“Sonia will be by shortly, I’m sure. She must be enjoying your generous refreshment table.”
“And Calla?” Godric asked, not hiding the coldness in his voice.
“I could hardly leave my territory unattended. She sends her heartiest congratulations.”
“You have held Athens for ages. Why do you not have reliable underlings?”
She blinked. “I am served well.”
“Then I am insulted that Calla has not troubled herself to join us. A night is nothing. Surely your little town doesn’t generate so much work as needs a thousand year old vampiress to keep it running overnight.”
“You would be surprised,” she replied, cool as ice. She gave a weak nod of the head and turned her back.
“I have not dismissed you, Thea Tarquinii!” Godric hissed.
She pivoted. “Forgive me, Godric Deathbringer. I did not wish to bore your wife with trivial matters of state.”
Godric clenched the armrests of the throne and dropped his gaze at her. In Rosalyn’s peripheral vision, Eric was shoving through the crowd toward them. She had to do something – and fast. “I am not bored by politics, Thea. On the contrary. I have a lot to learn as consort. Do you have any advice as matriarch of your bloodline?”
“Yes, I do.” A cruel smile crept over her features. “Kill the disobedient.”
“They know.” It was the first thing out of Eric’s mouth when he finally reached them. He took his seat next to Rosalyn. Godric had not moved an inch since allowing Thea to walk away alive. He sat frozen, waves of thundering power rolling off him.
Eric kissed Rosalyn’s cheek and used her face as a shield from the audience’s prying eyes. He rapidly relayed what Sookie had discovered. With the help of his glamour, the telepath had dug through Portia Bellfleur’s head and seen the face of the vampiress who had approached her. After some hunting, Sookie had pointed her out. Thea’s youngest sister, Sonia, had glamoured Bill’s human to lead Rosalyn into a blind alley behind the palace. She had foolishly grabbed the first human she had seen, not realizing that she had picked the one human of the handful present that Sookie was most likely to notice.
“Where is she now?” Godric asked, switching to Old Gaelic.
“Seb ate her.”
Rosalyn’s fangs dropped in shock. She wasn’t able to follow much in the language, but she understood that. She called for an attendant to bring her a drink, hoping to make their coded discussion appear ordinary. Eric and Godric continued their rapid-fire exchange in near inaudible voices.
“What was Seb able to glean?” Godric asked.
“That they fucking know. We’ve been compromised.”
Godric stared at the sea of guests. “We expected them to come prepared for an attack. Go to Plan B. Tell Seb to join Team One. I’ll lead them myself. Send Russell with Team Two.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Maker. They know our Plan B. You can’t grab them at the airfields. They choppered in from god knows where. They didn’t ping on air traffic control’s radar.”
Godric’s expression remained unchanged. “Their helicopters have to touch down somewhere. We’ll take them then. What’s Stan’s sitrep?”
“We’re three for three on the other counselors.”
“Aren’t you concerned how Thea got this intel?”
Godric slid his eyes at Eric. “I think you know very well how she got it.”
Eric did not have patience for his maker’s instructive bullshit. They obviously had a mole inside their nest working for Thea. “Who do you suspect?” he demanded.
“You know who I suspect.”
Eric laughed. Then he paled and blinked. His maker was serious. “That’s…that’s inconceivable. No, Godric. Amleth would never have helped his sisters. Never.” He shot to his feet. “He’d never betray us for them. Never. They murdered his maker, for fuck’s sake!”
“Child, you need to learn to recognize when a situation exceeds your worst nightmare.” Eric stared at him in disbelief. “Recall Pamela and Sookie to your side and ready my teams.”
Eric stumbled backwards off the dais in a daze. People were staring. “Too much supermodel,” Rosalyn joked and the guests laughed off Eric’s behavior. Rosalyn leaned over to Godric for a translation. “There’s no way I understood that correctly.”
“Do not leave my side,” he said mildly. “They may yet try to take you.”
“But why? Why on earth would they want me? It’s a death sentence if they touch me now.”
The question gave him pause. Godric’s brow furrowed and he swore. “It’s a diversion.”
“Let’s not wait to find out.” He took her hand and stood briskly. “Good people, I find I cannot possibly wait another moment to claim my bride.”
Within minutes Godric had extracted his family from the palace. He sped through the streets at crazed speeds, blasting through stoplights. “What about Isabelle?” Rosalyn said.
“She is Queen. She has her own security in place. Tan will protect her.”
Sookie let out a yelp. The three women in the backseat jostled and elbowed each other as they frantically changed out of their dresses.
“God dammit, Pam! I can’t get out of this shapewear.” Rosalyn struggled with the spandex stuck around her hips.
“You’re a vampiress. Act like one.” She reached over and grabbed the top of the garment and shredded it. Sookie started laughing nervously and Rosalyn joined in.
Eric did not so much as glance at the rearview mirror for the free peep show in back. “Pipe down,” he growled at them from the front seat. He tossed his tux over his shoulder and Pam stuffed it into the duffel bag with their gowns. Godric took a hard right and careened around a blaring ambulance. He slammed the SUV to a stop outside the ER of a university hospital.
“Out,” he ordered. He changed on the sidewalk in plain view of agog nurses and patients.
“Hey! You can’t park that here!” A security guard jogged up.
Godric inhaled the man’s scent. “Guard it. By order of the Queen.”
The guard looked around to check that he was out of earshot. “I don’t run with that pack, man.” Godric’s fangs slammed down and the man’s hands went up. “We’re cool, fella. We good. Give me the keys. I’ll just move it over there.” He pointed to an empty ambulance bay and Godric chucked the keys at him. He climbed into the vehicle muttering “Testy motherfuckin’ fangers.”
“Keep it if we don’t come back,” Rosalyn whispered and waved him away from Godric’s blast radius.
“Update Stan with our coordinates,” Godric told Eric.
“Already done. They’re a minute and a half behind us.” Eric touched the radio in his ear. He was receiving a steady stream of information.
Godric stormed inside the hospital past the intake counselors and glass partitions to the officer at the security door. “Open it,” he said in a glamour. The man swiped his card and Godric took it from him. They proceeded directly to the elevator bay. Godric hit the button for the top floor and swiped the card for clearance.
The elevator car ascended one floor, dinged, and opened its doors. An old man wobbled on a walker in front of them. “Down?” he asked loudly.
“Next one, pudding,” Pamela said. Sookie waved and the codger waved back, delighted.
“ETA,” Godric asked.
Eric repeated the request to his earpiece. He paused, then reported. “72 seconds.” The elevator dinged again to stop and he groaned.
“Eagle eyes, checking in.” Another team member on the radio filled Eric in. “He’s strolling down Decatur with Thea towards Jackson Square. Maeve and Maelcon are tailing them.”
“You let them leave the palace?” Rosalyn said in disbelief.
Godric’s mouth pinched into a firm line. “Do you or do you not care about the success of the Great Revelation?”
“Well, I mean -“
“Yes or no,” he demanded.
“Then that is why I ordered my people to stand down.” He glanced at the CCTV camera in the elevator car and turned his back, gesturing for her to do the same. “Sonia’s threat to you was likely a cover for them to slip out. Plan A was to extract them surgically, but they were expecting us. If we tried to take them at the exits by force, there would have been a battle on the streets of the French Quarter and the Revelation -“
“Would have been fucked,” Eric supplied. “Along with Isabelle’s hold on the kingdom and her head.”
Rosalyn sighed. “At least we got Sonia.” Eric and Godric were silent. “We did get Sonia, right?”
Godric shrugged. “They used her as bait because she was expendable to them.”
“You let her walk? What about Amleth!”
Eric glanced over his shoulder. “Seb drained Sonia to read her thoughts, Ros. There wasn’t anything left for Amleth. We’re going after Roman and Thea now.”
“She’s dead?” Rosalyn cried.
“You don’t interrogate someone that way and let them live, baby girl,” Eric said. “It’s a capital-offense blood crime, nevermind that you’d be fucking bonded to someone you’d tortured.”
“Seb killed her.” She swallowed. “For me. Because of me.”
“One down,” Godric said, his expression stony.
The elevator dinged and a nurse tried to roll in a corpse. “Abso-fucking-lutely not.” Pam grabbed the stretcher’s footrail. “Get. Out.” She hissed and shoved the body back out and slammed the close door button. “Does this thing not have an express mode?”
On the rooftop, Rosalyn understood why Godric had taken them to a hospital. Two emergency service helicopters sat warmed up and waiting. In the breakroom of the deck, an unsuspecting pilot sat in an orange jumpsuit. Godric snatched the headset off his head and glamoured him to finish his sandwich and go home.
“Don’t sick people need the airlift more?” Sookie asked as Eric helped her climb in.
Eric chuckled. “We’re dead, princess. You don’t get sicker than that.”
Godric initiated the engine and Seb, Russell, and Stan loaded in shortly after. They were suited up in tactical gear, weapons primed. Eric sat opposite of Rosalyn, a terrified Sookie glued to his side. “What do I do?” Rosalyn asked him. The aircraft lurched forward and took to the sky. She reached up for a radio headset and Eric shook his head at her.
“You forget you are mine.” His bond crackled with distress. She left the headset on its clip. “Wait for Godric’s orders.” They peeled out to the northwest, keeping low on the horizon. Eric spun his head toward the cockpit. “They are heading due south,” he reminded their maker.
“And I’m going to the airfield,” Godric replied. Their flow of thoughts devolved into a snarl of bickering Rosalyn could not follow. Within ten minutes, Godric touched down at the edge of the private airport where they had landed on the outskirts of New Orleans. He ordered Eric and the women out, snapping at Eric to guide them a safe distance from the churning helicopter blades. “Open the hangar doors but don’t start flight pre-check until my signal. Keep the lights out. I don’t want anyone aware that we’re about to run.” He handed the pilot headset to Stan, who took the captain’s chair. The whine of the engine picked up.
Eric spoke into his earpiece briefly to confirm what he was hearing. “Maeve’s got a lock on Roman and Thea,” he shouted back at Godric. “They’re both in the same chopper heading south. Bayou country, Maker. No one will see. This is our chance.”
Godric hung out of the cargo hold by the door. “Ready the aircraft.”
He looked at Rosalyn, then back at his maker. “You’re leaving me behind? You’ll have no one to watch your back!”
“Who are they, then?” He jerked his head at the men behind him.
“They’re allies who can’t fucking fly! Pam can do pre-check and -“
“Fall back, Eric. That’s an order!” The whine of the helicopter drowned out Godric’s voice.
“Godric, you have to get Thea. No matter what. You have to. I don’t care what you think Amleth has done.”
Rosalyn shoved at Eric. “Go with him, for god’s sake! Don’t let him out of your sight.”
Eric hesitated. He bit his lip hard and stared between his maker and Rosalyn. Godric dropped out of the aircraft and charged toward his children, fists balled. When he reached Eric, he smacked him flat across the face. “Snap out of it! Your bonded, your child, and a Brigant princess are all relying on you to guard them. I command you! Confirm the plane is secure and fueled and wait for my call.” He turned to Rosalyn, blazing with fury. “You know your command. Submit to Eric’s protection – and don’t you dare contravene my orders again. This is war.” He turned his back and ran full speed at the helicopter, leaping in as it was lifting off.
He turned back in time to see Rosalyn mouth a tearful “I love you.” Godric touched his hand to his heart as he soared upwards. The aircraft soon became an orange and white speck against the sky. She turned to Eric and put a cool hand on his reddened cheek. “Are you okay?”
Eric dug his earpiece from his ear and chucked it violently against the control console of the Gulfstream. He slouched over, elbows planted on his knees. They had been sitting in the dark for an hour with only the sound of Sookie’s breathing to fill the silence.
“Please tell us what is going on,” Rosalyn begged.
He looked up at her lazily. He did not want to explain that their comms had gone down half an hour ago. He did not want to share that Godric had mentally blocked him. “Can’t you tell when your maker is coming to you?” he said instead.
Several minutes later, Pam stood up in the cabin in alarm. “Oh, fuck a zombie.”
Godric stood in the doorway of the hangar, shirtless, bloodied, and alone. He disappeared below the nose of the aircraft and they began to roll forward. Eric lit up the control panel and began hitting switches. When they had cleared the building and turned on the tarmac, Godric tossed the plane’s tow bar aside. He had taxied them outside with the brute strength of a single arm. He rematerialized at the cabin door, covered in unhealed wounds and reeking of swamp mud. Eric bumped over to the co-pilot’s chair and thrust an arm at him. Godric bit into Eric hard. He fed voraciously while starting the engines.
“Casualties?” Eric asked.
Godric pulled off the bite with a slurp. “Seb and Maeve made it out injured. Stan and Maelcon met the true death.” Rosalyn cried out. He looked over his shoulder at her. “They died bravely.” His voice was thickly accented from bloodlust and the Gaelic he had been using with his friends.
“Oh my god, Godric. I’m so sorry.” Rosalyn pushed Eric aside and wrapped her arms around him. He hissed as she brushed the gashes on his back. She realized some of the wounds were round. “You’re not healing.”
“Silver bullets,” Eric explained. “He’ll heal once they’re out.”
“Can I help?” Sookie asked. She set down her handbag and half stood.
Godric licked his lips and shielded his eyes with his lashes. “No, little one. Stay in the back.” Eric offered his arm again. Godric fed deeply, growling into the crook of Eric’s elbow. He held him close by the back of his neck. After a moment, Godric winced, gave up on the arm, and sunk his teeth straight into Eric’s throat.
Rosalyn’s fangs dropped at the sight. Godric moaned and Eric’s eyes rolled back into his head. Pam quickly grabbed Rosalyn’s wrist in a firm grip. “Sookie, go to the back of the plane,” she said. Sookie started to speak. “This instant. Walk. Don’t run.”
Something heavy and wet thudded on the rubber floor. Godric stretched and more bullets fell from him. They were enormous rounds. Eric shook his head in disgust. “Machine gun. Great. You used yourself to give the EMT chopper cover?”
“We only had one chance to board them.” Godric’s wounds began closing. He glanced back at Rosalyn to make sure she had regained control of herself and she sheepishly found somewhere else to stare. Deeming it safe to fly, he lined the plane up on the runway, dropped the flaps, and hit the throttle forward. They tore down the airfield with an incredible roar.
“Where’s that son of a bitch Russell?” Pam said.
Godric banked them towards Dallas and set a few controls. “Russell got taken out of the fight early. Seb and he managed to board, but Roman chucked him out of the cargo hold at 12,000 feet.”
“Jesus. He survived?” Rosalyn said.
“I caught him and gave him a soft landing. By the time Seb and I took down their chopper, we were too far south for him to catch up. We barely got her down before we hit open sea.”
“And Stan?” Eric asked. He was desperately trying to understand how they had failed.
“Touched down in the bayou with Maeve, Maelcon, and the weres we picked up en route.” He shook his head. “The young ones didn’t stand a chance.”
“Maeve did,” Eric said angrily.
Godric glared at him. “I ordered her out of the fight when Maelcon fell.”
“How did he fall?” he demanded quietly.
“Thea decapitated him with her bare hands.”
Eric bowed his head. He closed his eyes. “How did she escape you?”
“Seb and I are lucky to be alive. It was a vicious fight. Seb’s a bureaucrat, not a warrior.”
“How!” Eric bellowed.
Godric looked at him miserably. “They can fly, Eric.”
Eric let out a shocked breath. They had expected Roman to have hidden powers. Little was known about him. “How is it possible Thea can fly? Tarquin didn’t have the gift of flight. None of his children have shown an aptitude for it. “
Godric shrugged. He had no explanation. Pamela chimed in. “Why the hell didn’t they just take the sky in the first place?”
Rosalyn stiffened. “Diversion.”
“She’s right,” Godric said.
Godric approached the estate warily. Caleb waved at the van from the guard house. “Congratulations to the happy couple!” Caleb’s grin faded when Godric lowered the window. His boss was half-nude and bloodied.
“Any trouble?” Godric asked, discretely sniffing the air.
“None at all.”
“Let me see your logs.”
Caleb passed him the log book. Godric flipped the page back one, glanced over the entries, then flipped the page forward. “Looks standard. No alarms?”
“Anyone request entry?”
“Any suspicious vehicles?”
“Alright. Stay alert.” Godric passed the log book back to him and continued past the gate up the driveway.
Godric proceeded with caution at the front door. He squatted down and checked the locks and the frame for tampering. Eric entered the estate first and cleared the corners of the foyer with its pendulous wagon wheel chandelier. Godric disarmed the alarm system. He scrolled through the log-ins. Nothing jumped out at him as out of place. At no time had the perimeter come down. The house was quiet.
“Mabel?” he called out. He had left his young underling in charge with a skeleton crew chosen from his retinue. Godric figured if the woman had been capable of building tanks and shooting Nazis at eighteen, house-sitting at eighty years undead would be easy. They made their way through the sitting rooms towards the common areas. Rosalyn suddenly grabbed Godric’s arm in shock. He froze. “I smell it too. Everyone stop.”
“It’s like the other house. It’s exactly the same,” Rosalyn said. A strange stale chemical smell permeated the air.
“Everyone out. Now,” Godric ordered.
Pamela grabbed Sookie and Rosalyn and they ran back to the van. Eric remained at Godric’s side. “Don’t you even fucking cut your eyes at me,” Eric said. “I’ve had enough of your shit tonight. If we’re going down, we’re going together.”
Godric dropped his head. Power pulsed through the house.
“What the hell was that?” Eric said.
“Echo-location.” He frowned. “Something’s not right.”
He swallowed. “No…I don’t think so.”
“There’s no way the Fellowship got past the alarms.”
Godric licked his lips. “We’re missing people.”
“I’m not entirely sure.”
“The chemical masks scent.”
“Yes,” Godric said.
Eric drew his sword. Godric eased around the corner to the living room. His shoulders slumped. Blood was spattered across the walls and ceiling. “Mabel,” he said. Her polka dot dress was in the densest part of the mess.
“Gods. I couldn’t smell it until I was on it.” Eric moved in a flash to the opposite wall. He peeked his head out to check the hall. “We’ve got glass on the ground. They came through the garden.”
Godric hissed. He should have known. The log-ins were on the inner courtyard. His stomach dropped as he recalled where else they had occurred.
Eric slipped down the hallway and rolled against the busted doorframe to the garden. “Your god damn weres aren’t on the roofline, Godric. Caleb was glamoured.”
Godric’s fists curled in rage. He sped down the hallway to the jail. The security panel appeared normal. He coded in and flew down the stairs. There was nothing hiding the scents down here.
The inside of Godric’s jail was carnage.
Eric raced to catch up with his maker and he slipped on the viscera splattered on the floor. He slid and grabbed the wall to catch himself. At least four of Godric’s retinue members had been staked down there, judging by the blighted remains. They had put up a valiant fight. Signs of a violent confrotation were everywhere. “How did the intruder bypass the alarm?” he said. “Better yet, why did none of your people trip it?”
Godric did not venture a guess. He coded through the second security door to the holding cells. Eva and Constantine were huddled together, sobbing and shaking and covered in their own blood tears, but otherwise untouched.
“Oh fuck,” Eric breathed and lowered his sword.
The last jail cell was covered in the blackened, viscous ooze of demon blood. It scalded the paint off the concrete walls where it dripped. Derek Ronwe had been murdered. Across the corridor, Amleth’s cell door stood ajar. His body was gone and his blood pump lay smashed on the floor.
A/N: Lay it on me. I can’t wait to hear your reactions!! Love to you all, readers. Thanks for staying tuned! xx, M