Ch. 18: This Means War

The stunning dark-haired beauty snapped her fingers loudly.

“Earth to Northman! Hello!”

Eric looked at her in annoyance. He had felt slight turmoil between his maker and his human several times this evening. It had set him on edge, but now things seemed to be sailing smoothly.

“I heard you the first time, Indira. May a man consider his opinion before giving it or would you rip it from him with that barbed tongue of yours?”

“You’ve been distracted all evening. Do you agree or no?”

Pam hissed at the woman for speaking to her master in such a tone.

“Back down, Barbie. We need your decision, Eric.”

“Yes,” he snapped. “I’ll pay for it. Pam, draw up the papers and make the transfer.” He swore under his breath. What a headache. He was now going to be the proud owner of a goddamned silver mine in Bolivia. Nearly a billion dollars sunk into a literal pit of gross human rights violations and environmental destruction. No good deed goes unpunished, that was for certain.

“Perfect!” declared Sophie-Anne. “Thalia, get your people in Tokyo to buy up those securities. My brokers will be ready in London to start at first bell.”

The impromptu war council had been remarkably swift to get their hands on enough silver – and glamoured silversmiths – to make the weapons and enclosure they hoped would be strong enough to take down one of the oldest vampires in existence before he drained half of the Southern U.S. Eric was more than happy to give Sophie the credit she was due; she’d moved mountains in the course of a night to gather the needed resources and shouldered the immediate financial burden herself. Unfortunately, in their rush, they couldn’t adequately cushion the repercussions of snapping up such an enormous amount of silver off the global market. Their arms were already being delivered but they were now busy playing catch up to forestall an economic meltdown caused by the sudden rise in silver prices.

Pam was furious that this little “mistake” (which she considered more than purposeful) meant revealing the extent of Eric’s vast stretches of wealth. Stan Davis, who had joined them from Dallas, was flat-out astonished. As Eric had absorbed Houston into his territory some time ago, they were neighboring regents with a decided interest on keeping tabs on one another. Even worse was the twinkle in Victor Madden’s eye. Why the Las Vegas regent Felipe de Castro had decided to punish them with the presence of his loathsome, wheedling second-in-command was beyond comprehension, but would no doubt have blowback later on. There was no reason for Castro to be involved, so his offer of help needed to be carefully evaluated. Pam and Eric agreed privately that it might be the beginning overtures of a courtship with Sophie-Anne. Of course, no one commented on several of the notable absences around their table. Where was Chicago or the Dakotas? The territories abutting Greysolon’s were absent. It did not bode well. While it came as no surprise that Russell Edgington (of Arkansas and northern Mississippi) was a no-show, since he only ever did anything out of boredom or pure self-interest, he might at any point always send his lover, Talbot, just to complicate things. Talbot was forever trying to sleep with Eric, and Eric despised being distracted during a fight only slightly more than he despised Russell. All in all, in Pam’s estimation this little war band was a hot mess.

♦♦♦

After the first cup of sorbet, Lillian felt so rejuvenated by the influx of sugar in her bloodstream that she decided to have a second serving, then ravaged a bowl of taboulé and finished things off with a splurge of chocolate. Not exactly the dinner of champions, but hey, she’d just had an exhausting couple of hours forging a blood bond. Godric emerged clean and (thankfully) clothed. He raised an eyebrow when he saw the carnage she’d wrought all over the counter but smartly said nothing.

“You know what?” she said saucily between chocolaty chews. “I’ve decided your cooking sucks. You never use enough onion and I seriously miss garlic and scapes in my diet. I’m going to start eating only Italian. Either you start catering to your clientele or I’m going to find a vampire chef named Paolo or Giovanni or something.”

“You know everything in the allium family is irritating to us.”

“Exactly. And I find it irritating to be fed like veal for the slaughter behind my back. Mmm, oh man, veal! Do we have any?”

“You’re probably craving B12. There’s paté in the middle crisper. Of course, since you don’t like my food, I’ll just go ahead and toss that out for you…”

Lillian dove at the fridge to get to it before Godric, but she was too late. He’d zipped right past her and nabbed it before she could blink. Holding it over his head, he taunted her and kept her from leaping at it with an iron grip around her waist.

“Come now, Dr. Choate. Don’t tell me you’re fickle! I thought you said my food sucks,” he teased.

She pinched at him but he merely purred, declaring “Oh, that’s it. A little harder, though.”

“You a-hole!” she cried and thumped at him in futility.

“Look at the neglect I have to endure. One minute I’m the secret to unlocking your powers, the next I’m a domestic abuse victim!”

“Oh, I’m gonna…” She switched tactics and this time tried to bite the arm that held her firmly in place. Her blunt teeth landed on the blue zigzags of his tattooed bicep and his fangs dropped instinctively. He wretched back.

“Watch it, woman!” The wild and dark look in his eyes told her they weren’t playing anymore. He released her and handed over the Tupperware.

“Sorry!” she squeaked.

“Mmm, Lillian…You should know better than that. No nipping unless you want to get nipped!” He tapped on her nose like a naughty puppy. He took a step closer and wrapped a hand around her neck, fangs fully run out. “I’ve heard some consider bite marks to be love notes written in the flesh.”

A cellphone started ringing in the living room. Lillian cocked her head, recognizing the synth beat of the tune.

One night to be confused
One night to speed up truth
We had a promise made
Four hands and then away
Both under influence
We had divine sense
To know what to say
Mind is a razorblade

Godric released her and snatched up the phone. “What?” he barked. His tone softened. Blessedly, for the first time in months a language started pouring out of one of the vampires that wasn’t dead or completely obscure to her. “Ani!…Ouais, tu me manques aussi. Quoi de neuf là bas?…Alors il faut que tu me dises l’histoire de ce con là, Greysolon…Apparement il est en train d’emmerder la moitié du pays…” [Ani!…Yeah, I miss you too. What’s new over there? So, you’ve got to tell me the story on this fool Greysolon…Apparently he’s in the process of pissing off half the country…]

He wandered about the apartment, pacing from room to room while talking. Lillian cleaned up her mess in the kitchen and tried (mostly) to not eavesdrop. Finally he ended the call and hopped next to her on the couch, where she’d become (mostly) engrossed in an online game of Tetris.

“Well, that was enlightening. My friend Anouk knows quite a few curious stories about Greysolon, particularly regarding him and the were-packs.”

“Who is she?”

“Anouk? Oh, goodness. Let’s see, we met in Alexandria – Egypt, not Virginia, mind you. We’ve done some traveling together. Of course there’s the time I saved her butt in Stalingrad during the second World War…”

“I mean, is she like another regent or something?”

“Nah, she’s just a fixture in Quebec. Likes to keep a low profile these days. Why?”

“Oh. No reason.” Lillian fell quiet, then added with a tinge of jealousy, “You have an interesting choice of ringtone for her.”

Godric snarked in laughter. “Right. You do realize that is Eric’s doing, no? What was that, The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats,’ I believe?”

“Yeah. So you listen to new age and electronic music, huh? Who’d have guessed.”

“Call me, I bet he changed it for all my incoming calls. He’s dicking around with us.”

“I don’t have your number.” That’s right. Because she blood bonded her soul to someone whose telephone number she didn’t even know.

“Here, where’s your cell?”

“It’s in my…” She hadn’t finished the sentence and he was already sitting back next to her having retrieved the phone from her purse. He dialed himself and let it ring.

…One night of magic rush
The start – a simple touch
One night to push and scream
And then relief…

… And you, you knew the hand of a devil
And you kept us awake with wolves teeth
Sharing different heartbeats in one night…

He looked at her with an impish grin. “You realize this means war, yes? We must plot our revenge.”

“Is he always so hamfisted? I mean, ‘The Knife’…Har, har. Heartbeats? Har har. What a cockbag! Here, give me your phone. He’s expecting your call, yeah?”

“Mmhmm. What do you have in mind?”

♦♦♦

Pam had just brought the paperwork for Eric to sign when the palace secretary opened the conference room door to usher in a guest.

“Mistress, may I present Lord Edgington’s royal consort and second in command.”

“Oh Talbot! I just knew we’d see you by the end of the night. Look at this suit! Is that Italian super 150? What gorgeous material. You are looking dashing as ever!” Sophie-Anne fawned over him.

Eric’s hand tightened over his fountain pen. Pam put a hand on his shoulder in warning before he snapped it.

“So! Where do things stand? Have we caught this nasty boy or what?” the Greek waved an affected hand about and naturally wedged himself down next to Eric. “Lord Eric, goodness me. It has been too long.”

“It’s been 3 months,” Eric said through a clenched jaw.

“Yes, yes. Such a shame all that unpleasant business between our territories. We should really find a way to kiss and make up, no?” He practically batted his eyes at the norse vampire.

“Mmm…and goodness. Who have you been eating?” he leaned in dangerously close to Eric to sniff at his lapel. “You smell like cotton candy, sunshine, and sex! Is this one of yours, Lady Leclerq?”

“As a matter of fact, no. Eric has been a picky eater. Nothing has interested him among the palace donors. Perhaps this human would like to join our cafeteria services?”

Victor Madden didn’t miss a beat. “Now that you mention it Talbot, I didn’t want to be rude, but I too noticed this scent. Who is the little morsel, Viking? Surely not the same girl Compton was going on about…”

Thalia and Indira exchanged glances. This was nonsense that they didn’t have time for.

“Eric, darling?” Sophie-Anne pressed.

“She is claimed. That is all that is relevant.”

“Mmm, touchy touchy. I like a possessive man…” Talbot stroked Eric’s chest. He growled at him in warning.

Victor wasn’t going to let up. “But I’m confused, Northman. Perhaps you can clarify for me – is she indeed your sire’s or is she yours? It’s unlike you to eat off daddy’s plate…”

Eric’s phone couldn’t have chosen a more perfect moment to begin ringing. What it started ringing, however, raised eyebrows around the table, including his.

Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight
Won’t somebody help me chase the shadows away
Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight
Take me through the darkness to the break of the day

Talbot squealed in delight.

He answered the call with a snarl. “Speak.”

“I hope you like your new ringtone, child. I had help picking it out.”

Eric grunted. He despised ABBA.

“What is the status on Marduk?” Godric asked.

“He’s gone silent. No attacks have been reported tonight. We paid Greysolon a visit at the warehouse and he could only tell us that Marduk was still in the city. His next move is anyone’s guess. We’ve got the trap mostly in place if he decides to go after Greysolon.”

“Fine. Put me on speaker.”

Eric set the phone down on the middle of the table. “Godric wishes to speak with us.”

“Good evening all,” his voice sounded tinny over speakerphone. “I’ve acquired some new information that might help us understand how to negotiate with the packs in Minnesota and Canada.”

Thalia, being nearly as old as Godric, didn’t hesitate to interrupt him. “I should hope so! We’re sitting on our asses while we let these furballs run out our own kind.”

“As I’m sure you are all aware, Daniel Greysolon was a fur trapper during his human life who operated in the Great Lakes region. He returned vampire after a wolf trapping expedition to Grand Rapids. Something happened between him and the Ojibwe living in the area and he went north unexpectedly, leaving his party behind – this much was documented in the newspapers. My source in Montreal did some digging and found several more intriguing pieces to the story. First, you’ll recall that the French traders back then called the Nakota peoples Sioux. This was short for Nadouessioux, itself a bastardization of what their enemies’ called them – Natowessiwak or ‘little snakes’. The details are sketchy, but according to local lore the Nakota around Lake Vermillion were somewhat mysteriously protected from invaders, war parties, and the like, in part because of the area’s fearsome reputation. The original name for the lake was Onamuni – ‘lake of the sunset glow.’ I’m told it was so named not because of its picturesque evening views but because local humans knew you had better be out of there by sundown. If that doesn’t smack of a vampire in the area, I don’t know what does.”

“Godric, enough with the fucking history lesson. Get to the point.”

“Thalia, you can start ripping heads just as soon as you know which heads you’re after. Or have you already put the pieces together yourself?” Godric seethed on the other end of the line.

“We’re listening, sire. Go on,” said Pam, who despite being one of the youngest at the table was maintaining the coolest head.

“I think it’s highly probable that Marduk must have been using this place as his territory at the time. Given that he has always been known as a dragon or snake, it could just be big coincidence that the humans in the area were called ‘little snakes,’ but I’m inclined to think there’s no such thing as a big coincidence. The fact that Greysolon got into a tiff with the Ojibwe while he was hunting wolf suggests that he must have accidently taken out some local were. Trappers were always after the biggest pelts – he could have even shot the damn alpha for all we know.”

Eric was catching on. “You think they sent him north into dangerous country as revenge, hoping he’d get eaten?”

“With visions of more wolfy furs dancing in his head!” Sophie-Anne clapped.

“I’m of the opinion that we should send a delegate to contact the pack leaders in the area and see if we can’t start a dialogue. Find out just want they are after.”

“Godric, as usual we find ourselves greatly indebted to you. This is enormously helpful. Thank you! I only wish you’d come down here and join us, it’s quite the little party we’ve gathered here!” cooed Sophie-Anne.

“Yes, Godric,” Victor chimed in. “We’d be ever so honored by your presence. You should bring this pet of yours we’ve been hearing so much about. Or is it Eric’s? I’m still unclear on the whole thing…”

Pam dug her nails into Eric’s arm under the table to keep him from doing anything stupid. He was quickly losing control of the situation. He’d known his hand was going to get pushed sooner or later, but he had hoped he could buy himself a little more time. Eric was going to end Compton for this. Slowly. And then Madden, overreaching weasel that he was.

Godric didn’t miss a beat. “Who dares address me so? Name yourself.”

“Victor Madden, charmed, I’m sure.”

“I neither know nor care who you are. I am, however, not surprised to hear that any of the misfits clattering around New Orleans would be so foolish as to meddle in my affairs or those of my progeny. The human in question is no pet. She is an asset of Eric’s territory. She is claimed. She is our blood bonded. She is ours. Understood?”

The room fell dead silent.

Stan, utterly shocked, spoke out of turn. “Yours…Both?”

“My maker needn’t repeat himself,” Eric seethed. “Unless, of course, you’d like him to give you a lesson on manners.”

Stan threw his hands up. “My mistake.” He knew the Celt by reputation only, and that was all he cared to know of him. The fact that two elder vampires would simultaneously take the risk of vouching for and tying themselves to a human meant that she must really be something special. This little interlude raised far more questions than it answered.

Godric continued. “As for the real business at hand, Eric has already arranged to send a representative to the weres. Unlike most of you barbarians he knows the value of well-placed friends, even furry ones. Is this agreeable?”

A murmur of discussion swept through the room.

“Who is he?” snarled Andre.

“Can be trusted?” inquired Indira.

Eric nodded. “His name is Herveux and I practically own him. He’s honest, no political aspirations. He’ll get the job done.”

“Do it. Send him,” confirmed Thalia.

Eric snatched the phone up and switched off the speaker. “Jag ska ringer till dig snart. Puss och kram.” [I’ll call you soon. Kisses and hugs.] He angrily cut off the call. It might not seem obvious, but Eric was not a “kisses and hugs” kind of guy, at least not when it came to his phone etiquette. This was his code to Godric that shit was hitting the fan and he was not a happy vamper. However, no one at the table other than Pam and he actually spoke Swedish – another benefit of using what he often referred to as the little language with a “huge” following. Of course, he meant himself and not the fact that so few actually spoke it.

♦♦♦

Godric set his phone down.

“Why were they asking about me? What did they want to know? This is bad isn’t it? Oh my god…”

“It’s not great.”

“Telling them…Claiming me like that…that was your last resort, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Crap.”

“Pretty much.”

“Eric can glamour other vampires, right? He could just make them forget!”

“And the rest of vampire society? No, Lillian. It is not feasible. News travels too fast now among our kind. This was the right course of action.”

“I’m sorry you had to do that though.”

Godric waved her apology off and sunk back into the couch in thought.

“Want me to fix you a blood?”

He smiled and patted her knee. “Nah, I ate unusually well tonight. Best meal I’ve had in centuries.”

There was something Lillian had been curious about, but she hadn’t brought it up with either Eric or Godric. “You waited until I started coming to bite me, like Eric. Does it taste different or is it just so the bite hurts in a good way?”

“Hmm. Both. We’re predators by nature, so it’s similar to how it tastes when a human is afraid- full of endorphins, high blood pressure, exquisite. But I’d rather get that rush from you in pleasure. Tell me, how did I taste to you?”

Lillian didn’t hesitate. “You taste of the divine – something eternal, sublime. It’s salty sweet and has a slightly thicker texture than Eric’s. It tastes like you smell, if that makes sense – crisp and woodsy, like the air right before it snows.”

He’d never heard his scent described this way. It pleased him. “Ask me something now. It’s your turn.”

“Hm, okay.” She liked this game. “Before, when I bit you. Was that excited Godric or deadly Godric?”

“Excited. Very, very excited.” Just thinking about her biting him started to get him aroused again.

“Good to know.”

He rearranged himself so he was facing her sitting cross-legged. “Tell me something no one else knows about you.”

“Oh, gosh. Umm…” She had to think about this one. “Okay. But this is a real secret. As a young woman I hated what a big deal everyone made about a girl’s virginity and who you ‘gave’ it to, how special it was, blah blah blah. Have you heard that some girls are so obsessed with this that they are having tons of anal sex and still think they qualify as virgins!? It’s a bunch of bullshit. I decided to break my own hymen and figured then I’d always belong to myself. Of course, it confused the hell out of my first boyfriend when I didn’t bleed.”

This astonished Godric. “That’s amazing. Only a woman of this era would do such a thing.”

“My turn. Were you married as a human?”

“No. I was betrothed to a girl though. She was sweet and had freckles and was the daughter of an important man. I suppose she married one of my brothers after I was gone. I’m glad you’re not wed either. Who has been your favorite human lover so far?”

“Ha. You’re not going to go kill him or mess with him are you?”

“No! I’m just curious.”

“Okay. He’s a friend and colleague of mine that I dated in grad school. He was the first person to make love to me in a way that really showed he worshiped my body. We still meet up for lunch if we’re at the same conference but it always feels a bit sneaky since his wife despises me. I doubt she knows he also sends me little emails on my birthday and valentine’s day. What’s the craziest place you’ve ever had sex?”

“The sky.”

“On an airplane? That’s kinda clichéd, no?”

“No. Just in the sky. Flying.”

Lillian’s mouth gaped for a moment.

“Same question for you.”

“Aww that’s not even fair! Nowhere even remotely interesting. I’ve had a very vanilla sex life until I met Eric. Ask something else.”

Godric snorted. “Eric has that effect on people. One minute they’re nice girls, next they’re drinking blood and biting strange men.” Oh gods, he had to stop thinking about that! “Ah, let’s see. What’s your family like?”

“I’m an only child, but my parents have lots of siblings, so there’s plenty of us. My parents managed to spoil me completely and somehow make me realize how incredibly fortunate I am for everything I’ve had in life. I’ve been a very, very lucky girl. What about you? Where was your maker from?”

“No. Skip.”

“Skip?”

“Skip.” His lips were pressed in a tight, tense line.

“Sorry…Um, alright. What’s your favorite memory from the last, I dunno, decade, let’s say?”

He relaxed slightly. “That’s easy, but it’s a tie. Is that okay?”

“Sure.”

“Then the first is watching the sun rise for the first time in 2700 years at the Treehouse with Eric. The other is the night you walked into my kitchen.”

“How can that be a tie!? Those don’t even compare.”

“They’re my memories – I get to decide. My turn. Show me where you’re most ticklish.”

“Oh man… you better not abuse this knowledge!”

“I cannot make that promise. But I will compromise and not take advantage of it this evening.”

Lillian huffed before twisting around and pointing to the nape of her neck. He leaned in and kissed the spot lightly, sending shivery goosebumps running down her arms.

“How do you keep from getting bored after so long? What’s the secret?”

“To always become fascinated with something from the age you’re in. Immortality is quickly lost if you fail to stay engaged with the world. Before my restaurant, I was a surgeon. Biomedicine grew so quickly in the first half of the 20th century. It was a remarkable thing to witness.”

“I can see you doing that. You’re very precise and detail oriented. I bet you were amazing.”

“I was pretty good. Only available for evening shifts, though…”

“And probably the only doctor that nipped unconscious patients.”

“Never!” he said, feigning shock. “Okay, maybe a few,” he admitted with a sly grin. “Only when they were done for!”

“Sure, sure. That’s what you say now.” She paused, trying to gauge whether her next question would be acceptable. “I understand if you don’t want to share this. But I’m curious about the night you found Eric dying by the sea.”

“Ah…now that is a story, my love. Shall I tell you?” She nodded anxiously. He stretched as if readying himself, then pulled Lillian into his arms so that they were spooning on the couch. He cuddled her. In a flight of fancy, he whispered the a few lines of verse he remembered against the curve of her ear.

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, that man of twists and turns
the skilled one, that wanderer, driven time and again off course.”

The Odyssey?”

“Mmhmm,” he hummed deeply in concentration, trying to find the right words for one of the most important parts of his life.

“This is the beginning of Eiríkr, Son of Godrík. He was a king by blood and a warrior by craft and by turns he was made vampire by my own willing hand. It was very late in the night along the Baltic Sea and the summer winds already blew with the bite of fall in them. I’d risen that evening hearing the sounds of battle from a distance and I went to them in the hopes of draining a few soldiers. When I arrived, the grassy battlefield was littered with the dead and dying. In the midst of the two clashing Viking bands, a blond lion fought with a ferocity I’d never seen in a mortal man before or since. He cut down his enemies two and three at a time to get to the leader they were protecting. This coward – a king by murder, a usurper – hid behind young men and boys half his age. When Eric reached him at last, he ran his sword through him until his knuckles pushed into the man’s chest. I was stunned to watch him lick his enemy’s blood off his hand and spit it in his face. Eric hovered over him so that he could watch death steel over his eyes. In his last moments, the treacherous bastard pulled a short blade out and caught Eric on the inside of his thigh. I saw this from the copse of trees where I was hiding and screamed out in warning, but it was too late. Even over the stench and gore of the fight I could smell his blood pouring hotly out of him and I knew it would be a fatal wound. Eric was so proud, he barely even flinched at the dead man’s final insult. He tried to walk back to his people before collapsing.”

“Oh my god. Poor Eric! How did you get to him in time?” Lillian was so absorbed in the tale that she didn’t realize how hard she was clutching Godric’s hand.

“Aye. I flew like the wind. They had laid him out on a bed of thick furs inside a wood canoe. I can still remember the feel of the surf and gritty sand on my bare feet as I ran. His brothers in arms were drinking and singing around a large fire, waiting out their prince’s death and celebrating their victory. In their distraction, I fed Eric my blood from one wrist while sealing the wound to his leg. He laughed at me then and cursed me and threatened to fight me. He said if he’d known Death was just a little boy he’d have fought more bravely and fucked twice as much.”

Godric paused, lost in that moment long ago. Lillian wiggled around onto the flat of her back to see him. He was glassy-eyed and a wistful smile danced on his mouth.

“What happened next?” she whispered.

“I don’t know what came over me. I’d only intended to heal him. But to see a man like that be struck down when a creature as vile as myself could creep through this world with immortality…it wasn’t right. I asked him if he could walk the nights with me as Death, if he could be my companion. Do you know what he said? The little shit dared to ask what was in it for him! So I left him there, determined to let him find his own way, unsure if I’d given him enough blood to keep him alive. The next night I had already walked halfway back to that place on the shore before I realized what I was doing. I knew then that if I found him there that I would turn him.”

“And?”

“He was. I knew, of course – I could feel him in the blood bond I’d made the night before. But I had no way of knowing what he meant to do. He had sent his men away and he was there on that beach, alone, sitting on his overturned funeral canoe with his sword slung over his shoulder and an arrogant look on his face. And do you know what? He was singing an old song welcoming death.”

“That is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever heard.” She couldn’t resist kissing him sweetly on the cheek. “Thank you.”

He purred in happiness. “Now, I have told you a tale from the past. Why don’t you tell me something about the future?”

She laughed and closed her eyes, trying to relax. She waited a long moment, but she saw only darkness. “I don’t think that your super-blood as kicked in yet,” she said, trying not to sound too disappointed.

“Nothing?”

She pinched at him in annoyance. “Fine!” She adopted a droning, ominous voice. “Fortune is on your side. You’re going to fall in love and be very wealthy and live an impossibly long life!”

“See, you’re a natural!” She pinched at him again furiously and they both lost themselves in a fit of giggles. Lillian sat up to wipe the tears of laughter from her eyes and suddenly an image flashed into her head. She froze stock still. It had that strange telescopic feel to it.

“What? Lily, what is it?”

“You know you’re going to…” A hand flew to her mouth. Godric could hear her heart stutter.

“What. Tell me! You’ve seen something.”

She shook her head, eyes wide as saucers. “Skip,” was all she could squeak out.

“Skip?”

She nodded gravely. “Trust me. That’s a skip. I’ll tell you when it’s time.”

Godric pushed at his bond with her delicately, trying to piece out what she was feeling. He knew this was cheating perhaps, but whatever she had just seen had terrified her, exhilarated her, and stunned her all at once.

♦♦♦

Eric felt another rollicking onslaught of emotions twisting through his blood bonds. He wanted to get back to his maker and human and began trying to rush the meeting to a close. Sophie-Anne’s secretary came in and whispered in her ear. Eric hoped other business would call her away and they would be done here.

“What!?” Sophie-Anne looked at her guests in shock. “Send her in!” she ordered harshly.

Lorena Ball slunk into the room looking especially pallid and underwhelming.

“Is this true? Bill has been abducted by the Duluth werewolves?”

There were gasps.

“Yes, ma’am. My child is calling to me desperately. Please, your highness, please help him.”

“Poor Bill!” Talbot cried, taking the opportunity to grab Eric’s arm. And leg. A finger may have wandered slightly into cock and ball territory.

“For fucks sake Sophie-Anne,” Eric said shaking his head and shoving Talbot away. “Let me guess. You sent your rat of a spy up there without telling any of us and now he’s been nabbed by the dogs? You’ve compromised everything we’ve been working towards!”

“He wasn’t there on my orders!” she protested.

“I see. So you’re unable to control your minions then?” Eric retorted. Sophie went to speak but wisely decided to shut her mouth. Either way, this did not paint her in a flattering light.

Thalia hissed. “We must stop this treachery dead in its tracks! We should attack. Screw diplomacy. Taking one of Sophie’s subjects hostage? They’ve just declared war on her!”

“Everyone calm down!” Andre said.

“Shut up!” Eric, Thalia, and Sophie-Anne yelled at him in unison.

“You’ve handed them leverage giftwrapped! This is a nightmare.” Indira clucked her tongue.

“It’s only leverage if we care about his fate. I, for one, do not.” Eric smoothed his jacket and folded his hands calmly in front of him. He’d tried being a team player. Now he was going to do things his way. “Sophie, this breach in protocol is unacceptable. We will deal with it at a later date. Pam, you will go to Duluth and unfuck this disaster. I’m sure Sophie will send her twins with you for muscle.”

“Of course,” chimed Sophie-Anne, trying to seem amenable.

“The Berts? They’re so stupid, Eric!”

“Yes, but very handy with swords. They’ll help you keep those fucking children of Greysolon’s under control – put them on lockdown if you must. Confirm that no other members of his court have been taken other than the three we’ve already heard about. No one is to lay a finger on the dogs until Herveux has talked with the packmaster. And see if you can’t get the god damned neighboring regents to give you a hand! Bribe them if you must. I’ve no doubt they’re fed up with Greysolon’s subjects running into their territories with nothing to offer. How I know the feeling…” He shot a dirty look at Talbot.

Lorena went to speak. Eric cut her off. “I don’t want you anywhere near this. That you’re so incompetent as a maker that your own child can’t fight off a few werepuppies tells me you’re too much of a fool to be left to your own devices. Stay here and help Andre destroy the forensic evidence from Marduk’s victims. The rest of you carry on with your roles in our plan.”

“Ma’am?” Lorena turned to her regent, hoping she would contradict the Viking. She didn’t.

“Any questions? No? Good. Then I bid you good day. Call me in Shreveport, I’m leaving the city.” Eric stormed out of the room and Pam clacked after him in her precariously tall heels.

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