- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
IT WAS MIDAFTERNOON WHEN WE ARRIVED IN Rhodes. There was an Anubis truck waiting to onload the coffins and transport them to the Pyramid of Gizeh. I looked out the limo windows every second of the ride into the city, and despite the overwhelming presence of the chain stores we also saw in Shreveport, I had no doubt I was in a different place. Heavy red brick, city traffic, row houses, glimpses of the lake...I was trying to look in all directions at once. Then we came into view of the hotel; it was amazing. The day wasn't sunny enough for the bronze glass to glint, but the Pyramid of Gizeh looked impressive anyway. Sure enough, there was the park across the six-lane street, which was seething with traffic, and beyond it the vast lake.
While the Anubis truck pulled around to the back of the Pyramid to discharge its load of vampires and luggage, the limo swept up to the front of the hotel. As we daytime creatures scooted out of the car, I didn't know what to look at first: the broad waters or the decorations of the structure itself.
The main doors of the Pyramid were manned by a lot of maroon-and-beige uniformed men, but there were silent guardians, too. There were two elaborate reproductions of sarcophagi placed in an upright position, one on each side of the main lobby doors. They were fascinating, and I would have enjoyed the chance to examine both of them, but we were swept into the building by the staff. One man opened the car door, one examined our identification to make sure we were registered guests - not human reporters, curiosity seekers, or assorted fanatics - and another pushed open the door of the hotel to indicate we should enter.
I'd stayed in a vampire hotel before, so I expected the armed guards and the lack of ground floor windows. The Pyramid of Gizeh was making more of an effort to look a bit like a human hotel than Dallas's Silent Shore had; though the walls held murals imitating Egyptian tomb art, the lobby was bright with artificial light and horribly perky with piped-in music - "The Girl from Ipanema" in a vampire hotel.
The lobby was busier than the Silent Shore's, too.
There were lots of humans and other creatures striding around purposefully, lots of action at the check-in desk, and some milling around the hospitality booth put up by the host city's vampire nest. I'd gone with Sam to a bar supply convention in Shreveport once when he was shopping for a new pump system, and I recognized the general setup. Somewhere, I was sure, there would be a convention hall with booths, and a schedule of panels or demonstrations.
I hoped there would be a map of the hotel, with all events and locations noted, in our registration packet. Or were the vampires too snooty for such mundane aids? No, there was a hotel diagram framed and lit for the perusal of guests and scheduled tours. This hotel was numbered in reverse order. The top floor, the penthouse, was numbered 1. The bottom, largest floor - the human floor - was numbered 15. There was a mezzanine between the human floor and lobby, and there were large convention rooms in the annex to the northern side of the hotel, the rectangular windowless projection that had looked so odd in the Internet picture.
I eyed people scurrying through the lobby - maids, bodyguards, valets, bellmen.... Here we were, all us little human beavers, scurrying around to get things ready for the undead conventioneers. (Could you call them that, when this was billed as a summit? What was the difference?) I felt a little sour when I wondered why this was the order of things, when a few years ago, the vampires were the ones doing the scurrying, and that was back into a dark corner where they could hide. Maybe that had been the more natural way. I slapped myself mentally. I might as well go join the Fellowship, if that was how I really felt. I'd noticed the protesters in the little park across the street from the Pyramid of Gizeh, which some of the signs referred to as "The Pyramid of Geezers."
"Where are the coffins?" I asked Mr. Cataliades.
"They're coming in through a basement entrance," he said.
There had been a metal detector at the hotel door. I'd tried hard not to look when Johan Glassport had emptied his pockets. The detector had gone off like a siren when he'd passed through. "Do the coffins have to go through a metal detector, too?" I asked.
"No. Our vampires have wooden coffins, but the hardware on them is metal, and you can't empty the vampires out to search their pockets for other metal objects, so that wouldn't make any sense," Mr. Cataliades answered, for the first time sounding impatient. "Plus, some vampires have chosen the modern metal caskets."
"The demonstrators across the street," I said. "They have me spooked. They'd love to sneak in here."
Mr. Cataliades smiled, a terrifying sight. "No one will get in here, Miss Sookie. There are other guards that you can't see."
While Mr. Cataliades checked us in, I stood to his side and turned to look around at the other people. They were all dressed very nicely, and they were all talking. About us. I felt instantly anxious at the looks we were getting from the others, and the buzzing thoughts from the few live guests and staff reinforced my anxiety. We were the human entourage of the queen who had been one of the most powerful vampire rulers in America. Now she was not only weakened economically, but she was going on trial for murdering her husband. I could see why the other flunkies were interested - I would've found us interesting - but I was uncomfortable. All I could think about was how shiny my nose must be, and how much I wanted to have a few moments alone.
The clerk went over our reservations very slowly and deliberately, as if to keep us on exhibit in the lobby for as long as possible. Mr. Cataliades dealt with him with his usual elaborate courtesy, though even that was getting strained after ten minutes.
I'd been standing at a discreet distance during the process, but when I could tell the clerk - fortyish, recreational drug user, father of three - was just fucking us over to entertain himself, I took a step closer. I laid a hand on Mr. C's sleeve to indicate that I wanted to join in the conversation. He interrupted himself to turn an interested face toward me.
"You give us our keys and tell us where our vamps are, or I'll tell your boss that you're the one selling Pyramid of Gizeh items on eBay. And if you bribe a maid to even touch the queen's panties, much less steal 'em, I'll sic Diantha on you." Diantha had just returned from tracking down a bottle of water. She obligingly revealed her sharp, pointed teeth in a lethal smile.
The clerk turned white and then red in an interesting display of blood flow patterns. "Yes, ma'am," he stammered, and I wondered if he would wet himself. After my little rummage through his head, I didn't much care.
In very short order, we all had keys, we had a list of "our" vampires' resting places, and the bellman was bringing our luggage in one of those neat carts. That reminded me of something.
Barry, I said in my head. You here?
Yeah, said a voice that was far from the faltering one it had been the first time I'd heard it. Sookie Stackhouse?
It's me. We're checking in. I'm in 1538. You?
I'm in 1576. How are you doing?
Good, personally. But Louisiana...we've had the hurricane, and we've got the trial. I guess you know all about that?
Yeah. You saw some action.
You could say that, I told him, wondering if my smile was coming across in my head.
Got that loud and clear.
Now I had an inkling of how people must feel when they were faced with me.
I'll see you later, I told Barry. Hey, what's your real last name?
You started something when you brought my gift out into the open, he told me. My real name is Barry Horowitz. Now I just call myself Barry Bellboy. That's how I'm registered, if you forget my room number.
Okay. Looking forward to visiting with you.
And then Barry and I both turned our attention to other things, and that strange tickling feeling of mind-to-mind communication was gone.
Barry's the only other telepath I've ever encountered.
Mr. Cataliades had discovered that the humans - well, the non-vampires - in the party had each been put in a room with another person. Some of the vampires had roommates, too. He hadn't been pleased that he himself was sharing a room with Diantha, but the hotel was extremely crowded, the clerk had said. He may have been lying about a lot of other things, but that much was clearly true.
I was sharing a room with Gervaise's squeeze, and as I slid the card into the slot on the door, I wondered if she'd be in. She was. I'd been expecting a woman like the fangbangers who hang around at Fangtasia, but Carla Danvers was another kind of creature entirely.
"Hey, girl!" she said, as I entered. "I figured you'd be along soon when they brought your bags up. I'm Carla, Gerry's girlfriend."
"Nice to meet you," I said, shaking hands. Carla was a prom queen. Maybe she hadn't been, literally; maybe she hadn't made homecoming queen, either, but she'd surely been on the court. Carla had dark brown chin-length hair, and big brown eyes, and teeth that were so straight and white that they were an advertisement for her orthodontist. Her breasts had been enhanced, and her ears were pierced, and her belly button, too. She had a tattoo on her lower back, some black vines in a vee pattern with a couple of roses with green leaves in the middle. I could see all this because Carla was naked, and she didn't seem to have the slightest idea that her nudity was a little on the "too much information" side to suit me.
"Have you and Gervaise been going together long?" I asked to camouflage how uncomfortable I was.
"I met Gerry, let's see, seven months ago. He said it would be better for me to have a separate room because he might have to have business meetings in his, you know? Plus, I'm going shopping while I'm here - retail therapy! Big city stores! And I wanted someplace to store my shopping bags so he won't ask me how much it all costs." She gave me a wink I can only say was roguish.
"Okay," I said. "Sounds good." It really didn't, but Carla's program was hardly my business. My suitcase was waiting for me on a stand, so I opened it and started to unpack, noting that my hanging bag with my good dresses was already in the closet. Carla had left me exactly half the closet space and drawer space, which was decent. She had brought about twenty times more clothes than I had, which made her fairness all the more remarkable.
"Whose girlfriend are you?" Carla asked. She was giving herself a pedicure. When she drew up one leg, the overhead light winked on something metallic between her legs. Completely embarrassed, I turned away to straighten my evening dress on the hanger.
"I'm dating Quinn," I said.
I glanced over my shoulder, keeping my gaze high.
Carla looked blank.
"The weretiger," I said. "He's arranging the ceremonies here."
She looked marginally more responsive.
"Big guy, shaved head," I said.
Her face brightened. "Oh, yeah, I saw him this morning! He was eating breakfast in the restaurant when I was checking in."
"There's a restaurant?"
"Yeah, sure. Though of course it's tiny. And there's room service."
"You know, in vampire hotels there often isn't a restaurant," I said, just to make conversation. I'd read an article about it in American Vampire.
"Oh. Well, that makes no sense at all." Carla finished one set of toes and began another.
"Not from a vampire point of view."
Carla frowned. "I know they don't eat. But people do. And this is a people world, right? That's like not learning English when you emigrate to America."
I turned around to check out Carla's face, make sure she was serious. Yeah, she was.
"Carla," I said, and then stopped. I didn't have any idea what to say, how to get across to Carla that a four-hundred-year-old vamp really didn't care very much about the eating arrangements of a twenty-year-old human. But the girl was waiting for me to finish. "Well, it's good that there's a restaurant here," I said weakly.
She nodded. "Yeah, 'cause I need my coffee in the morning," she said. "I just can't get going without it. Course, when you date a vamp, your morning is liable to begin at three or four in the afternoon." She laughed.
"True," I said. I'd finished unpacking, so I went over to our window and looked out. The glass was so heavily tinted that it was hard to make out the landscape, but it was seeable. I wasn't on the Lake Michigan side of the hotel, which was a pity, but I looked at the buildings around the west side of the hotel with curiosity. I didn't see cities that often, and I'd never seen a northern city. The sky was darkening rapidly, so between that and the tinted windows I really couldn't see too much after ten minutes. The vampires would be awake soon, and my workday would begin.
Though she kept up a sporadic stream of chatter, Carla didn't ask what my role was at this summit. She assumed I was there as arm candy. For the moment, that was all right with me. Sooner or later, she'd find out what my particular talent was, and then she'd be nervous around me. On the other hand, now she was a little too relaxed.
Carla was getting dressed (thank God) in what I thought of as "classy whore." She was wearing a glittery green cocktail dress that almost didn't have a top to it, and fuck-me shoes, and what amounted to a see-through thong. Well, she had her working clothes, and I had mine. I wasn't too pleased with myself for being so judgmental, and maybe I was a little envious that my working clothes were so conservative.
For tonight, I had chosen a chocolate brown lace handkerchief dress. I put in my big gold earrings and slid into brown pumps, put on some lipstick, and brushed my hair really well. Sticking my keycard into my little evening purse, I headed to the front desk to find out which suite was the queen's, since Mr. Cataliades had told me to present myself there.
I had hoped to run into Quinn along the way, but I didn't see hide nor hair of him. What with me having a roommate, and Quinn being so busy all the time, this summit might not promise as much fun on the side as I'd hoped.
The desk clerk blanched when he saw me coming, and he looked around to see if Diantha was with me. While he was scrawling the queen's room number on a piece of notepaper with a shaking hand, I looked around me with more attention.
There were security cameras in a few obvious locations, pointed at the front doors and at the registration desk. And I thought I could see one at the elevators. There were the usual armed guards - usual for a vampire hotel, that is. The big selling point for any vampire hotel was the security and privacy of its guests. Otherwise, vampires could stay more cheaply and centrally in the special vampire rooms of mainstream hotels. (Even Motel 6 had one vampire room at almost every location.) When I thought about the protesters outside, I really hoped the security crew here at the Pyramid was on the ball.
I nodded at another human woman as I crossed the lobby to the central bank of elevators. The rooms got ritzier the higher up you went, I gathered, since there were fewer on the floor. The queen had one of the fourth floor suites, since she'd booked for this event a long time ago, before Katrina - and probably while her husband was still alive. There were only eight doors on her floor, and I didn't have to see the number to know which room was Sophie-Anne's. Sigebert was standing in front of it. Sigebert was a boulder of a man. He had guarded the queen for hundreds of years, as had Andre. The ancient vampire looked lonely without his brother, Wybert. Otherwise, he was the same old Anglo-Saxon warrior he'd been the first time I'd met him - shaggy beard, physique of a wild boar, missing a tooth or two in crucial places.
Sigebert grinned at me, a terrifying sight. "Miss Sookie," he said by way of greeting.
"Sigebert," I said, carefully pronouncing it "See-yabairt." "Are you doing okay?" I wanted to convey sympathy without dipping into too-sentimental waters.
"My brother, he died a hero," Sigebert said proudly. "In battle."
I thought of saying, "You must miss him so much after a thousand years." Then I decided that was exactly like reporters asking the parents of missing children, "How do you feel?"
"He was a great fighter," I said instead, and that was exactly what Sigebert wanted to hear. He clapped me on the shoulder, almost knocking me to the ground. Then his look got a little absent, as if he were listening to an announcement.
I'd suspected that the queen could talk to her "children" telepathically, and when Sigebert opened the door for me without another word, I knew that was true. I was glad she couldn't talk to me. Being able to communicate with Barry was kind of fun, but if we hung out together all the time I was sure it would get old in a hurry. Plus, Sophie-Anne was a heck of a lot scarier.
The queen's suite was lavish. I'd never seen anything like it. The carpet was as thick as a sheep's pelt, and it was off-white. The furniture was upholstered in shades of gold and dark blue. The slanting slab of glass that enclosed the outside wall was opaque. I have to say, the large wall of darkness made me feel twitchy.
In the midst of this splendor, Sophie-Anne sat curled on a couch. Small and extremely pale, with her shining brown hair swept up in a chignon, the queen was wearing a raspberry-colored silk suit with black piping and black alligator heels. Her jewelry was heavy, gold, and simple.
Sophie-Anne would have looked more age-appropriate wearing a Gwen Stefani L.A.M.B. outfit. She'd died as a human when she'd been maybe fifteen or sixteen. In her time, that would have made her a fully-grown woman and mother. In our time, that made her a mall rat. To modern eyes, her clothes were too old for her, but it would take an insane person to tell her so. Sophie-Anne was the world's most dangerous teenager, and the second most dangerous had her back. Andre was standing right behind Sophie-Anne, as always. When he'd given me a thorough look, and the door had closed behind me, he actually sat beside Sophie-Anne, which was some kind of signal that I was a member of the club, I guess. Andre and his queen had both been drinking TrueBlood, and they looked rosy as a result - almost human, in fact.
"How are your accommodations?" Sophie-Anne asked politely.
"Fine. I'm rooming with a...girlfriend of Gervaise's," I said.
"With Carla? Why?" Her brows rose up like dark birds in a clear sky.
"The hotel's crowded. It's no big thing. I figure she'll be with Gervaise most of the time, anyway," I said.
Sophie-Anne said, "What did you think of Johan?"
I could feel my face harden. "I think he belongs in jail."
"But he will keep me out of it."
I tried to imagine what a vampire jail would be like, gave up. I couldn't give her any positive feedback on Johan, so I just nodded.
"You are still not telling me what you picked up from him."
"He's very tense and conflicted."
"He's anxious. He's scared. He's fighting different loyalties. He only wants to come out alive. He doesn't care for anyone but himself."
"So how does that make him different from any other human?" Andre commented.
Sophie-Anne responded with a twitch of one side of her mouth. That Andre, what a comedian.
"Most humans don't stab women," I said as quietly and calmly as I could. "Most humans don't enjoy that."
Sophie-Anne was not completely indifferent to the violent death Johan Glassport had meted out, but naturally she was a little more concerned with her own legal defense. At least, that was how I read her, but with vampires, I had to go on subtle body language rather than the sure knowledge right out of their brains. "He'll defend me, I'll pay him, and then he's on his own," she said. "Anything might happen to him then." She gave me a clear-eyed look.
Okay, Sophie-Anne, I got the picture.
"Did he question you thoroughly? Did you feel he knew what he was doing?" she asked, returning to the important stuff.
"Yes, ma'am," I said promptly. "He did seem to be really competent."
"Then he'll be worth the trouble."
I didn't even let my eyes flicker.
"Did Cataliades tell you what to expect?"
"Yes, ma'am, he did."
"Good. As well as your testimony at the trial, I need you to attend every meeting with me that includes humans."
This was why she was paying me the big bucks.
"Ah, do you have any schedule of meetings?" I asked. "It's just, I'd be ready and waiting if I had any idea when you needed me."
Before she could answer, there was a knock at the door. Andre rose and moved to answer it so smoothly and fluidly that you would have sworn he was part cat. His sword was in his hand, though I hadn't seen it before. The door opened a bit just as Andre reached it, and I heard Sigebert's bass rumble.
After they'd exchanged a few sentences, the door opened wider, and Andre said, "The King of Texas, my lady." There was only a hint of pleased surprise in his voice, but it was the equivalent of Andre doing cartwheels across the carpet. This visit was a show of support for Sophie-Anne, and all the other vampires would notice.
Stan Davis came in, trailing a group of vamps and humans.
Stan was a nerd's nerd. He was the kind of guy who you checked out for a pocket protector. You could see the comb marks in his sandy hair, and his glasses were heavy and thick. They were also quite unnecessary. I'd never met a vamp who didn't have excellent vision and very precise hearing. Stan was wearing a wash 'n' wear white shirt with a Sears brand logo and some navy Dockers. And brown leather moccasins. Hoo, boy. He'd been a sheriff when I'd met him, and now that he was king, he was maintaining the same low-key approach.
Behind Stan came his sergeant at arms, Joseph Velasquez. A short, burly Hispanic with spiky hair, Joseph never seemed to crack a smile. By his side was a red-haired female vamp named Rachel; I remembered her, too, from my trip to Dallas. Rachel was a savage one, and she didn't like cooperating with humans in the least. Trailing the two was Barry the Bellboy, looking good in designer jeans and a taupe silk T-shirt, a discreet gold chain around his neck. Barry had matured in an almost scary way since I'd last seen him. He'd been a handsome, gawky boy of maybe nineteen when I'd first spotted him working as a bellboy at the Silent Shore Hotel in Dallas. Now Barry had had a manicure, a very good haircut, and the wary eyes of someone who'd been swimming in the shark pool.
We smiled at each other, and Barry said, Good to see you. Looking pretty, Sookie.
Thanks, and likewise, Barry.
Andre was doing the proper vampire greeting thing, which did not include handshaking. "Stan, we are pleased to see you. Who have you brought to meet us?"
Stan gallantly bent to kiss Sophie-Anne's hand. "Most beautiful queen," he said. "This vampire is my second, Joseph Velasquez. And this vampire is my nest sister Rachel. This human is the telepath Barry Bellboy. Indirectly, I have you to thank for him."
Sophie-Anne actually smiled. She said, "Of course, I am always delighted to do you any sort of favor in my power, Stan." She gestured to him to sit opposite her. Rachel and Joseph took up flanking positions. "It's so good to see you here in my suite. I had been concerned that I wouldn't have any visitors at all."
("Since I'm under indictment for killing my husband, and since I've also sustained a staggering economic blow," was the subtext.)
"I extend my sympathies to you," Stan said with a completely inflectionless voice. "The losses in your country have been extreme. If we can help...I know the humans from my state have helped yours, and it's only right that the vampires do likewise."
"Thank you for your kindness," she said. Sophie-Anne's pride was hurting in a major way. She had to struggle to paste that smile back on her face. "I believe you know Andre," she continued. "Andre, you now know Joseph. And I believe all of you know our Sookie."
The phone rang, and since I was closest to it, I answered it.
"Am I speaking to a member of the Queen of Louisiana's party?" the gruff voice asked.
"Yes, you are."
"One of you needs to come down to the loading bay to get a suitcase that belongs to your party. We can't read the label."
"Sooner the better."
He hung up. Okay, that was a little abrupt.
Since the queen was waiting for me to tell her who had called, I relayed the request, and she looked equally puzzled for all of a millisecond. "Later," she said dismissively.
In the meantime, the light eyes of the King of Texas were focused on me like laser beams. I inclined my head to him, which I hoped was the correct response. It seemed to be adequate. I would have liked to have had time to go over the protocol with Andre before the queen began receiving guests, but truthfully, I hadn't expected there to be any, much less a powerful guy like Stan Davis. This had to mean something good for the queen, or maybe it was a subtle vampire insult. I was sure I'd find out.
I felt the tickle of Barry in my mind. She good to work for? Barry asked.
I just help her out from time to time, I said. I still have a day job.
Barry looked at me with surprise. You kidding? You could be raking it in, if you go to a good state like Ohio or Illinois where there's real money.
I shrugged. I like where I live, I said.
Then we both became aware that our vampire employers were watching our silent exchange. Our faces were changing expression, I guess, like faces do during a conversation...except our conversation had been silent.
"Excuse me," I said. "I didn't mean to be rude. I just don't see people like me very often, and it's kind of a treat to talk to another telepath. I beg your pardon, ma'am, sir."
"I could almost hear it," Sophie-Anne marveled. "Stan, he has been very useful?" Sophie-Anne could talk to her own children mentally, but it must be as rare an ability among vampires as it was among people.
"Very useful," Stan confirmed. "The day that your Sookie brought him to my attention was a very good day for me. He knows when the humans are lying; he knows what their ulterior motives are. It's wonderful insight."
I looked at Barry, wondering if he ever thought of himself as a traitor to humankind or just as a vendor supplying a needed good. He met my eyes, his own face hard. Sure, he was conflicted about serving a vampire, revealing human secrets to his employer. I struggled with that idea myself from time to time.
"Hmmm. Sookie only works for me on occasion." Sophie-Anne was staring at me, and if I could characterize her smooth face, I would say she was thoughtful. Andre had something going on behind his pink-tinged teenage facade, and it was something I had better watch out for. He wasn't just thoughtful, he was interested; engaged, for want of a better description.
"Bill brought her to Dallas," Stan observed, not quite asking a question.
"He was her protector at the time," Sophie-Anne said.
A brief silence. Barry leered at me hopefully, and I gave him an in-your-dreams look. Actually, I felt like hugging him, since that little exchange broke up the silence into something I could handle.
"Do you really need Barry and me here, since we're the only humans, and it might not be so productive if we just sat around and read each other's minds?"
Joseph Velasquez actually smiled before he could stop himself.
After a silent moment, Sophie-Anne nodded, and then Stan. Queen Sophie and King Stan, I reminded myself. Barry bowed in a practiced way, and I felt like sticking out my tongue at him. I did a sort of bob and then scuttled out of the suite. Sigebert eyed us with a questioning face. "The queen, she not need you?" he asked.
"Not right now," I said. I tapped a pager that Andre had handed me at the last minute. "The pager will vibrate if she needs me," I said.
Sigebert eyed the device mistrustfully. "I think it would be better if you just stayed here," he said.
"The queen, she says I can go," I told him.
And off I went, Barry trailing along behind me. We took the elevator down to the lobby, where we found a secluded corner where no one could sneak up on us to eavesdrop.
I'd never conversed with someone entirely in my head, and neither had Barry, so we played around with that for a while. Barry would tell me the story of his life while I tried to block out all the other brains around me; then I'd try to listen to everyone else and to Barry.
This was actually a lot of fun.
Barry turned out to be better than I was at picking out who was thinking what in a crowd. I was a bit better at hearing nuance and detail, not always easy to pick up in thoughts. But we had some common ground.
We agreed on who the best broadcasters in the room were; that is, our "hearing" was the same. He would point at someone (in this case it was my roommate, Carla) and we would both listen to her thoughts, then rate them on a scale of one to five, five being the loudest, clearest broadcast. Carla was a three. After that agreement, we rated other people, and we found ourselves reacting almost as one over that.
Okay, this was interesting.
Let's try touching, I suggested.
Barry didn't even leer. He was into this, too. Without further ado, he took my hand, and we faced in nearly opposite directions.
The voices came in so clearly, it was like having a full-voice conversation with everyone in the room, all at once. Like pumping up the volume on a DVD, with the treble and bass perfectly balanced. It was elating and terrifying, all at once. Though I was facing away from the reception desk, I clearly heard a woman inquiring about the arrival of the Louisiana vamps. I caught my own image in the brain of the clerk, who was feeling delighted at doing me a bad turn.
Here comes trouble, Barry warned me.
I swung around to see a vampire advancing on me with not a very pleasant expression on her face. She had hot hazel eyes and straight light brown hair, and she was lean and mean.
"Finally, one of the Louisiana party. Are the rest of you in hiding? Tell your bitch whore of a mistress that I'll nail her hide to the wall! She won't get away with murdering my king! I'll see her staked and exposed to the sun on the roof of this hotel!"
I said the first thing that came into my head, unfortunately. "Save the drama for your mama," I told her, just like an eleven-year-old. "And by the way, who the heck are you?"
Of course, this had to be Jennifer Cater. I started to tell her that her king's character had been really substandard, but I liked my head right where it sat on my shoulders, and it wouldn't take much to tip this gal over the edge.
She gave good glare, I'd say that for her.
"I'll drain you dry," she said, harshly. We were attracting a certain amount of attention by then.
"Ooooo," I said, exasperated beyond wisdom. "I'm so scared. Wouldn't the court love to hear you say that? Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't vampires prevented by - oh, yes - the law from threatening humans with death, or did I just read that wrong?"
"As if I give a snap of my fingers for human law," Jennifer Cater said, but the fire was dying down in her eyes as she realized that the whole lobby was listening to our exchange, including many humans and possibly some vampires who'd love to see her out of the way.
"Sophie-Anne Leclerq will be tried by the laws of our people," Jennifer said as a parting shot. "And she will be found guilty. I'll hold Arkansas, and I'll make it great."
"That'll be a first," I said with some justification. Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi were three poor states huddled together, much to our mutual mortification. We were all grateful for each other, because we got to take turns being at the bottom of almost every list in the United States: poverty level, teen pregnancy, cancer death, illiteracy.... We prettymuch rotated the honors.
Jennifer marched off, not wanting to try a comeback. She was determined, and she was vicious, but I thought Sophie-Anne could outmaneuver Jennifer any day. If I were a betting woman, I'd put money on the French nag.
Barry and I gave each other a shrug. Incident over. We joined hands again.
More trouble, Barry said, sounding resigned.
I focused my brain where his was going. I heard a weretiger heading our way in a big, big hurry.
I dropped Barry's hand and turned, my arms out already and my whole face smiling. "Quinn!" I said, and after a moment where he looked very uncertain, Quinn swung me up in his arms.
I hugged him as hard as I could, and he returned the hug so emphatically that my ribs creaked. Then he kissed me, and it took all my strength of character to keep the kiss within social boundaries.
When we parted to breathe, I realized Barry was standing awkwardly a few feet away, not sure what to do.
"Quinn, this is Barry Bellboy," I said, trying not to feel embarrassed. "He's the only other telepath I know. He works for Stan Davis, the King of Texas."
Quinn extended a hand to Barry, who I now realized was standing awkwardly for a reason. We'd transmitted a bit too graphically. I felt a tide of red sweep over my cheeks. The best thing to do was pretend I hadn't noticed, of course, and that's what I did. But I could feel a little smile twitching the corners of my mouth, and Barry looked more amused than angry.
"Good to meet you, Barry," Quinn rumbled.
"You're in charge of the ceremony arrangements?" Barry asked.
"Yep, that's me."
"I've heard of you," Barry said. "The great fighter. You've got quite a rep among the vamps, man."
I cocked my head. Something I wasn't getting here. "Great fighter?" I said.
"I'll tell you about it later," Quinn said, and his mouth set in a hard line.
Barry looked from me to Quinn. His own face did some hardening, and I was surprised to see that much toughness in Barry. "He hasn't told you?" he asked, and then read the answer right from my head. "Hey, man, that's not right," he said to Quinn. "She should know."
Quinn almost snarled. "I'll tell her about it soon."
"Soon?" Quinn's thoughts were full of turmoil and violence. "Like now?"
But at that moment, a woman strode across the lobby toward us. She was one of the most frightening women I'd ever seen, and I've seen some scary women. She was probably five foot eight, with inky black curls that hugged her head, and she was holding a helmet under her arm. It matched her armor. The armor itself, black and lusterless, was very much like a rather tailored baseball catcher's outfit: a chest guard, thigh protectors, and shin guards, with the addition of thick leather braces that strapped around the forearms. She had some heavy boots on, too, and she carried a sword, a gun, and a small crossbow draped about her in appropriate holsters.
I could only gape.
"You are the one they call Quinn?" she asked, coming to a halt a yard away. She had a heavy accent, one I couldn't trace.
"I am," Quinn said. I noticed Quinn didn't seem to be as amazed as I was at the appearance of this lethal being.
"I'm Batanya. You are in charge of special events. Does that include security? I wish to discuss my client's special needs."
"I thought security was your job," Quinn said.
Batanya smiled, and it would really make your blood run cold. "Oh, yes, that's my job. But guarding him would be easier if - "
"I'm not in charge of security," he said. "I'm only in charge of the rituals and procedures."
"All right," she said, her accent making the casual phrase into something serious. "Then whom do I talk to?"
"A guy named Todd Donati. His office is in the staff area behind the registration desk. One of the clerks can show you."
"Excuse me," I said.
"Yes?" She looked down an arrow-straight nose at me. But she didn't look hostile or snooty, just worried.
"I'm Sookie Stackhouse," I said. "Who do you work for, Miss Batanya?"
"The King of Kentucky," she said. "He has brought us here at great expense. So it's a pity there's nothing I can do to keep him from being killed, as things stand now."
"What do you mean?" I was considerably startled and alarmed.
The bodyguard looked like she was willing to give me an earful, but we were interrupted.
"Batanya!" A young vampire was hurrying across the lobby, his crew cut and all-black Goth ensemble looking all the more frivolous when he stood by the formidable woman. "The master says he needs you by his side."
"I am coming," Batanya said. "I know my place. But I had to protest the way the hotel is making my job much harder than it needs to be."
"Complain on your own dime," the youngster said curtly.
Batanya gave him a look I wouldn't have wanted to have earned. Then she bowed to us, each in turn. "Miss Stack-house," she said, extending her hand for me to shake. I hadn't realized hands could be characterized as muscular. "Mr. Quinn." Quinn got the shake, too, while Barry got a nod, since he hadn't introduced himself. "I will call this Todd Donati. Sorry I filled your ears, when this is not your responsibility."
"Wow," I said, watching Batanya stride away. She was wearing pants like liquid leather, and you could see each buttock flex and relax with her movement. It was like an anatomy lesson. She had muscles in her butt.
"What galaxy did she come from?" Barry asked, sounding dazed.
Quinn said, "Not galaxy. Dimension. She's a Britlingen."
We waited for more enlightenment.
"She's a bodyguard, a super-bodyguard," he explained. "Britlingens are the best. You have to be really rich to hire a witch who can bring one over, and the witch has to negotiate the terms with their guild. When the job's over, the witch has to send them back. You can't leave them here. Their laws are different. Way different."
"You're telling me the King of Kentucky paid gobs of money to bring that woman to this...this dimension?" I'd heard plenty of unbelievable things in the past two years, but this topped them all.
"It's a very extreme action. I wonder what he's so afraid of. Kentucky isn't exactly rolling in money."
"Maybe he bet on the right horse," I said, since I had my own royalty to worry about. "And I need to talk to you."
"Babe, I gotta get back to work," Quinn said apologetically. He shot an unfriendly look at Barry. "I know we need to talk. But I've got to line up the jurors for the trial, and I've got to set up a wedding ceremony. Negotiations between the King of Indiana and the King of Mississippi have been concluded, and they want to tie the knot while everyone's here."
"Russell's getting married?" I smiled. I wondered if he'd be the bride or the groom, or a little bit of both.
"Yeah, but don't tell anyone yet. They're announcing it tonight."
"So when are we gonna talk?"
"I'll come to your room when the vamps are in bed for the day. Where are you?"
"I have a roommate." I gave him the room number anyway.
"If she's there, we'll find somewhere else to go," he said, glancing at his watch. "Listen, don't worry; everything's okay."
I wondered what I should be worrying about. I wondered where another dimension was, and how hard it would be to bring over bodyguards from it. I wondered why anyone would go to the expense. Not that Batanya hadn't seemed pretty damn effective; but the extreme effort Kentucky had gone to, that sure seemed to argue extreme fear. Who was after him?
My waist buzzed at me, and I realized I was being summoned back up to the queen's suite. Barry's pager went off, too. We looked at each other.
Back to work, he said, as we went toward the elevator. I'm sorry if I caused trouble between you and Quinn.
You don't mean that.
He glanced at me. He had the grace to look ashamed. I guess I don't. I had a picture built up of how you and me would be, and Quinn kind of intruded on my fantasy life.
Don't worry - you don't have to think of something to say. It was one of those fantasies. Now that I'm really with you, I have to adjust.
But I shouldn't have let my disappointment make me a jerk.
Ah. Okay. I'm sure Quinn and I can work it out.
So, I kept the fantasy screened from you, huh?
I nodded vigorously.
Well, at least that's something.
I smiled at him. Everyone's got to have a fantasy, I told him. My fantasy is finding out where Kentucky got that money, and who he hired to bring that woman here. Was she not the scariest thing you've ever seen?
No, Barry answered, to my surprise. The scariest thing I've ever seen...well, it wasn't Batanya. And then he locked the communicating door between our brains and threw away the key. Sigebert was opening the door into the queen's suite, and we were back at work.
After Barry and his party left, I kind of waved my hand in the air to let the queen know I had something to say if she wanted to listen. She and Andre had been discussing Stan's motivation in paying the significant visit, and they paused in identical attitudes. It was just weird. Their heads were cocked at the same angle, and with their extreme pallor and stillness, it was like being regarded by works of art carved in marble: Nymph and Satyr at Rest, or something like that.
"You know what Britlingens are?" I asked, stumbling over the unfamiliar word.
The queen nodded. Andre just waited.
"I saw one," I said, and the queen's head jerked.
"Who has gone to the expense to hire a Britlingen?" Andre asked.
I told them the whole story.
The queen looked - well, it was hard to say how she looked. Maybe a little worried, maybe intrigued, since I'd garnered so much news in the lobby.
"I never knew how useful I'd find it, having a human servant," she said to Andre. "Other humans will say anything around her, and even the Britlingen spoke freely."
Andre was perhaps a tad jealous if the look on his face was any indication.
"On the other hand, I can't do a damn thing about any of this," I said. "I can just tell you what I heard, and it's hardly classified information."
"Where did Kentucky get the money?" Andre said.
The queen shook her head, as if to say she hadn't a clue and really didn't care that much. "Did you see Jennifer Cater?" she asked me.
"What did she say?" asked Andre.
"She said she'd drink my blood, and she'd see you staked and exposed on the hotel roof."
There was a moment of utter silence.
Then Sophie-Anne said, "Stupid Jennifer. What's that phrase Chester used to use? She's getting too big for her britches. What to do...? I wonder if she would accept a messenger from me?"
She and Andre looked at each other steadily, and I decided they were doing a little telepathic communication of their own.
"I suppose she's taken the suite Arkansas had reserved," the queen said to Andre, and he picked up the in-house phone and called the front desk. It wasn't the first time I'd heard the king or queen of a state referred to as the state itself, but it seemed a really impersonal way to refer to your former husband, no matter how violently the marriage had ended.
"Yes," he said after he'd hung up.
"Maybe we should pay her a visit," the queen said. She and Andre indulged in some of that silent to and fro that was their way of conversing. Probably like watching Barry and me, I figured. "She'll admit us, I'm sure. There'll be something she wants to say to me in person." The queen picked up the phone, but not as if that was something she did every day. She dialed the room number with her own fingers, too.
"Jennifer," she said charmingly. She listened to a torrent of words that I could hear only a bit. Jennifer didn't sound any happier than she'd been in the lobby.
"Jennifer, we need to talk." The queen sounded much more charming and a lot tougher. There was silence on the other end of the line. "The doors are not closed to discussion or negotiation, Jennifer," Sophie-Anne said. "At least, my doors aren't. What about yours?" I think Jennifer spoke again. "All right, that's wonderful, Jennifer. We'll be down in a minute or two." The queen hung up and stood silent for a long moment.
It seemed to me like going to visit Jennifer Cater, when she was bringing a lawsuit against Sophie-Anne for murdering Peter Threadgill, was a real bad idea. But Andre nodded approvingly at Sophie-Anne.
After Sophie-Anne's conversation with her archenemy, I thought we'd head to the Arkansas group's room any second. But maybe the queen wasn't as confident as she'd sounded. Instead of starting out briskly for the showdown with Jennifer Cater, Sophie-Anne dawdled. She gave herself a little extra grooming, changed her shoes, searched around for her room key, and so on. Then she got a phone call about what room service charges the humans in her group could put on the room bill. So it was more than fifteen minutes before we managed to leave the room. Sigebert was coming out of the staircase door, and he fell into place with Andre at the waiting elevator.
Jennifer Cater and her party were on floor seven. There was no one standing at Jennifer Cater's door: I guessed she didn't rate her own bodyguard. Andre did the knocking honors, and Sophie-Anne straightened expectantly. Sigebert hung back, giving me an unexpected smile. I tried not to flinch.
The door swung open. The interior of the suite was dark.
The smell that wafted from the door was unmistakable.
"Well," said the Queen of Louisiana briskly. "Jennifer's dead."
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold