The bar wasn’t open yet so it was mostly quiet. Eric sat behind his desk, looking over his slowly dwindling stock portfolio. Fucking humans had destroyed the economy yet again with their poor spending habits and a government that didn’t seem to know its ass from its elbow where budgets were concerned. As a registered American citizen, Eric paid his taxes every year but he was starting to wonder if there was much point to it. The country was bleeding money.
Hemorrhaging was more like it.
The office door opened without a knock and he looked up to see Pam strolling toward him with one of those looks on her face. Something was up to get her so excited. He could feel the tingles of it running up his spine like icicles. Something was definitely up.
“They found another one,” Pam said in her trademark bored tone.
“Where at this time?” Eric leaned back in his chair and watched his progeny pull a nail file from out of nowhere to go to work on her fingernails.
“Jackson,” she said without looking up. “The body of a former packmaster was found in his tin can of a residence on the outskirts of the city. There was Fellowship propaganda all over his single wide.”
Eric would have growled, but why waste the energy? The Fellowship of the Sun was a real pain in the ass, but the American Constitution guaranteed its citizens the right to behave like fucktards, as Pam would call them, all while claiming it was their religion that made them do it. Eric was around for the big push into Christianity. It had been a horribly bloody transition, and quite frankly he found it ironic that the Fellowship’s main focus was a man that rose from the dead.
As Eric knew all too well, religion didn’t have to make sense. His centuries of living had exposed him to a great many religious orders. He didn’t personally align himself with any religion because he was a free thinker, and felt there was too much of a cult mentality involved in following a religion. Besides, he was a leader and not a follower. He certainly wasn’t going to be beholden to a supposed martyr born of divine means.
“Do we know the victim?” Eric asked.
“In a roundabout way. Of course it wasn’t released to the media that he was a former packmaster, but you can understand why Alcide Herveaux would want to keep that out of the papers.” Pam held her hand out to check the length and shape of her nails.
“They’ll come out eventually. One of their kind will fuck up and change in the wrong place,” Eric said with certainty. “Which former packmaster was killed?”
Pam let loose her slightly evil smile and said, “His father, Jackson Herveaux.”
To his surprise, Eric actually felt sympathy for the Were. Losing his own father in such a brutal way as a human allowed him to feel a certain kinship with Herveaux. It was a shit club to be a member of.
“Same as the others?” Eric asked rather than giving Pam a lecture on compassion. It wouldn’t stick anyway, which was part of what he enjoyed about her to begin with.
“Jackson was found in the same prayer position with ligature marks around his neck. I’ve got a call in to find out if he was also drained. Looks like the Good Reverend’s been busy.”
Reverend Steve Newlin, leader of the Fellowship of the Sun, was the prime suspect in four unsolved homicides that had taken place in Texas, Louisiana and now Mississippi. The first victim was his own wife, found dead in their Dallas estate, upon Steve’s supposed return from a business trip to Nevada doing ‘outreach’ work. His alibi was shaky, since flight records showed his personal jet returned to Texas before Sarah Newlin’s time of death.
Steve claimed to be in his office at the church working on his sermon for Sunday’s service. There was no one to corroborate his claim and the surveillance equipment wasn’t set up to cover the office areas of the church, only the exterior grounds. Not that it would matter since time stamps were easily fooled with. At the same time there was no apparent motive for Newlin to kill his wife. Everyone questioned in the matter said the Newlins were happily married and talking about starting a family of their own.
Fellowship followers and supporters were saddened by the loss, and were horrified that anyone would suspect Reverend Newlin of such a heinous crime. The fact that Sarah had been exsanguinated wasn’t a detail that had been released to the public, and Eric’s connections in Dallas informed him that the Authority had been contacted in the wake of the finding. If it was true that a vampire was responsible for the death there was going to be hell to pay.
The Authority had made it very clear that retaliation for the Fellowship’s fuckery wasn’t going to be tolerated. That ruling was difficult for some vampires to swallow, and as a result there was fighting going on amongst Eric’s own kind. As always, he wasn’t interested in being anyone’s poster boy. What interested Eric was staying alive, and he would do whatever was necessary to make sure that happened.
His love of life was how he’d become a vampire in the first place, after all.
The string of murders had stumped both human and vampire authority figures. Several vampires had been called in for questioning, including Eric’s own maker. Godric was the sheriff of Area 9 in Texas, which just happened to cover Dallas. There had been a few attempts on Godric’s end to make peace with the Fellowship. Yet despite Reverend Newlin’s claims that his organization was one founded on strong Christian values, there was yet to be a single Christian-like acceptance of the olive branch being extended by a vampire that was older than Jesus Christ himself.
The phone on Eric’s desk rang and without missing a beat, it was Pam who picked up the call. Her nosiness paid off at times like these. She knew damn well who to take a call from and who to tell to fuck off.
“Fangtasia, the bar with bite,” she drawled out in her fairly recently acquired southern accent. “I’ll see if he’s in.” Pam put the call on hold and added, “It’s Nan Flannigan’s secretary calling.”
Truthfully it didn’t matter if Eric wanted to take the call. If he didn’t, he risked Nan turning up in his bar and shutting it down just so she could spew whatever bullshit edict the Authority had decided to hand down. If he took the call he at least stood a chance of avoiding a visit from that cold bitch.
Eric picked up the phone. “Northman,” he said in his smooth baritone voice.
“Ms. Flannigan is en route to your location and should be arriving shortly. All humans on the premises are to be evacuated, including personal property,” the secretary told him.
Great. Having overheard the secretary’s order, Pam was immediately on the move to send their wait staff home for the night.
“Is there an ETA?” Eric asked.
“Soon.” The line went dead.
Eric grumbled in his mother tongue and hung up the phone. He had no idea what Nan wanted with him. She was a serious pain in his undead ass, and as far as Eric knew there was no fuckery happening in his area that would warrant a visit from Nan Flannigan. All of his ducks were in a row, so to speak. The vampires in his area were checking in for their weekly duties at Fangtasia. Any cases of public feeding were met with swift action and severe punishment that made losing one’s fangs sound like a Swedish massage with a happy ending.
Eric went back to working on his laptop, knowing that Pam’s change of emotion would clue him in to Nan’s arrival. She was like a really annoying hall monitor with fangs. How she had risen to power within the Authority was beyond Eric. Nan had the warmth of an Arctic winter day and from Eric’s perspective there was nothing trustworthy in the way she presented herself. But then the average human was good at believing what it was told. Nan’s lips said all the right words, but there was an obvious disdain for them in her demeanor.
Simply put, Eric didn’t trust Nan.
Yet, there was also a small part of him that respected her. Like Eric, Nan made it known that she would do what she had to in order to survive. That meant she was willing to stake anyone in her way, which also meant that allies were few and far between for Nan Flannigan. She was power hungry, and Eric had learned long ago that a thirst for power was likely going to lead to untimely demise. It was for that reason that he hadn’t set his sights very high in the vampire hierarchy.
The higher up the ladder a vampire was, the more people he/she had yanking their chain. At Eric’s level, he wasn’t without a few puppeteers of his own to deal with, but he knew enough about the game of politics to know he only wanted to play when he had to. Jockeying for position didn’t interest him.
A few minutes later Pam’s mood went from one of annoyance to one of disgust. Nan had arrived.
The armored SUV rolled to a gentle stop in the parking lot of a bar Sookie had never been to. Her mission was a simple one. She was to be left in the care of the sheriff of Area 5 to investigate two things. The first being the string of murders the police were desperate to pin on Steve Newlin, and also to observe Bill Compton, king of Louisiana.
The fighting factions of vampires had drawn a line in the sand, and so far the Authority had managed to keep the in-fighting out of the human media, but if something wasn’t done to curtail the vampire uprising it could cause mass casualties among humans. As a telepath and human, Sookie’s skills and abilities were considered extremely valuable to the Authority. Word of mouth around her small hometown of Bon Temps had caught the attention of vampires before they were even out in the public.
Six months prior to the Great Revelation, Sookie had been approached by Nora Gainesborough, Chancellor to the Authority, with an offer of their protection in exchange for her services. Sookie had rejected the offer in the beginning. She wasn’t interested in becoming a rat and didn’t appreciate the underlying threat to her safety if she didn’t take Nora up on the offer. It took a lot of negotiating, soul searching and long talks with Gran before Sookie was able to come to a decision that was comfortable for her.
In the end she opted to work with the vampires not because of the protection they offered, but because of the protection she could provide for others. There had been initial worry that Sookie could read the minds of vampires, but that wasn’t the case. Her talents left her limited mostly to humans, although with a little help from a vampire’s glamour, she found she could also read Weres and Shifters. Her former employer, for example, turned out to be a Shapeshifter. She’d known there was something different about Sam, but it wasn’t until she confronted him about it that she learned the truth.
Now she was a paid member of the Authority, about to be embedded with an ancient vampire.
“Are you ready?” Nora asked in her very soft, proper voice. Her British upbringing had stayed with her through her three plus centuries as a vampire.
“As I’ll ever be,” Sookie smiled softly and waited for Nora to exit the vehicle first.
Men in black, carrying some pretty deadly weapons flanked Sookie and Nora as they approached the bar. Sookie took in her surroundings and dropped her shields to listen. There were no humans inside the bar. The only minds she sensed belonged to vampires, and all three of those minds were blank to her. Prior to leaving the Authority’s headquarters, Nora had briefed Sookie via dossiers on Eric Northman and Pamela Swynford de Beaufort. Eric was the sheriff that would be charged with her protection for the time being, and Pam was his only known progeny.
Per his dossier, Sookie knew he was more than a thousand years old, and had been turned in Finland at an estimated year of 967. Pam wasn’t anywhere near as old, having been turned in San Francisco in 1905. Prior to her turning, she’d been the madame of a successful brothel, catering mostly to fishermen, sailors and the like. Sookie didn’t quite understand why, but there was always this twitch of disgust on Nora’s face every time someone mentioned Pam.
Sookie followed Nora into the bar. Pam was standing there, statuesque as can be, dressed in a black and white tracksuit and looking bored as fuck.
“Pamela, it’s good to see you again,” Nora said through clenched teeth.
“Wish I could say the same,” Pam retorted before turning her eyes on Sookie. “My, my, aren’t you a cupcake?”
“Keep your fangs right where they are, Cruella. I’m not here to be your midnight snack,” Sookie sassed. Manners counted for a lot with her, which was part of the reason she and Nora came to get along so well.
Both women could fight dirty when need be, but when unprovoked they both carried themselves with a certain level of refinement, elegance and poise. Nora didn’t talk down to Sookie as if she were a lowly human, and there were certainly vampires who felt it would be beneath them to answer Sookie’s questions. She was quite certain there were vampires that felt she was a threat to their kind, but Sookie had proven her worth and loyalty several times over by pointing out operatives of terrorist cells that were gathering intelligence to take back to their superiors, or were on the premises to do damage themselves.
Fear mongers like Steve Newlin liked to point the finger at vampires for doing evil deeds, but humans were plenty evil all on their own. Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Jack the Ripper, Delphine LaLaurie… all human and all capable of unspeakable, atrocious acts against their fellow humans. One didn’t need fangs or the ability to change forms on the full moon in order to commit horrific crimes. Having grown up in the south, Sookie was used to witnessing racism and discrimination, but that didn’t mean it sat well with her.
A door opened and a very tall, very good looking Eric Northman appeared. Sookie’s breath caught and her eyes immediately shifted elsewhere. There had been photographs attached to the dossiers, but the picture of Eric hadn’t done him justice. His arms and legs seemed to be a mile long, yet he moved with the sleek gracefulness of a panther on the prowl. He sauntered toward the trio of women, oozing sex appeal, charisma and a hint of mischief that immediately had Sookie hearing Gran’s voice in the back of her head.
“Watch out for that one,” she heard Gran whisper.
“Nora.” Eric stopped in his tracks.
Nora had made no mention of knowing Eric personally, but then vampires were secretive creatures. Being part of the inner circle of the upper echelon had taught Sookie a great deal. Loyalty was of paramount importance to most vampires, but there were few willing to die for another.
“Hello, big brother,” Nora greeted him with a fanged smile.
That had to be one of those off-the-books secrets no one was supposed to know about because it certainly wasn’t listed in Eric’s dossier.
“234 years, 8 months, 2 weeks, 3 days and four hours since I last saw you,” Eric said as he approached her. “Give or take.”
Nora’s smile grew and as soon as her brother was close enough, she hugged him tightly. There was a firm kiss on the lips, but nothing that made Sookie look away from them. Eric’s eyes flitted over to her while he was still hugging Nora, and it was obvious he was curious about her.
“Who’s your friend?” Eric asked without taking his eyes off of Sookie.
Nora pulled back and Sookie stepped forward, commanding that her brain knock it off with the short circuit routine so she could introduce herself without sounding like she had arrived on the short bus.
“I’m Sookie Stackhouse, Mr. Northman. Pleased to meet you,” Sookie curtsied, but didn’t bother offering her hand since it was against vampire protocol to offer anything you expected returned in the same condition.
Pam snorted in the background, but her disapproval didn’t mean a whole lot to Sookie. She was there to do a job, and if Pam didn’t like it she could take it up with Roman, head of the Authority, personally since he had been the one to assign her to this job.
All of Eric’s great many years afforded him a near perfect poker face, but a human lie detector like Sookie was damn good at catching the most minuscule shifts or twitches, and she definitely saw something in Eric’s face change for the briefest of moments before his features all returned to their default setting. He came closer to her, and much to Sookie’s surprise, he leaned in and breathed deep. Breathing was a human reflex that most vampires abandoned within a few years of being turned. With that knowledge in mind, Sookie knew the breath he took wasn’t about fulfilling a need for oxygen, but about catching a whiff of her scent.
“She’s with me, brother,” Nora said with a roll of her eyes.
“She’s human. Is she yours?” Eric asked while looking Sookie up and down.
She refused to dress up like a caricature of a vampire, instead opting to keep her own sense of style. That meant she was dressed in a buttery yellow sundress that just brushed her knees, paired with a soft white cardigan and four inch Mary Jane heels that toed the line between sexy and innocent. Her long blonde hair hung down her back, except where it was pulled away from her face by a gold barrette resting at the back of her head. She wore simple pearl earrings and a necklace bearing the mark of the Authority.
“I have no time for pets, not that this bird would allow herself to be caged or tethered in such a fashion,” Nora said with a hint of warning.
“I’m not here for pleasure,” Sookie offered, earning her a blazing look from Eric.
“Pity that,” he said regretfully, and it made her cheeks burn.
Get it together, Stackhouse, she admonished herself silently. For all of the time she’d spent with vampires since being recruited by Nora more than five years before, Sookie had yet to get personally involved with any of them beyond friendship. She knew from the minds she read of the human companions and employees that vampires were particularly sexual creatures, and on a vampire like Eric Northman the sexuality was off the charts. Her twenty-six-year moratorium on sex was starting to get the better of her, but Sookie couldn’t imagine getting pelvic with someone whose thoughts she could hear.
No one wanted to hear someone they were intimate with think their thighs were fat, their breasts not perky enough or any of the other million flaws a partner could potentially nitpick over. The Authority had no authority over Sookie’s love life but she knew that they wouldn’t hesitate to check out anyone she became involved with. Background checks had been performed not only on her, but on her family members as well before she signed any contracts.
“Why are you here? I detest the smell of bangers and mash in the evening,” Pam said, folding her arms over her chest.
Sookie looked back and forth between the other two women, doing her best to maintain her poker face. Nora had also failed to mention a relationship with Pam, much less that it was so adversarial. The two of them lobbed insults at each other like they were competing for the Wimbledon Bitch Cup until Eric pulled the plug, pulling rank on both of them.
“Enough!” Eric roared when his initial protests went ignored, making Sookie jump a little. “You’re setting a poor example for our guest.”
Pam and Nora continued to glare at each other, fangs down and ready to fight, until Sookie cleared her throat.
“I’m here by order of the Authority,” she said politely. “I’ve been ordered to investigate the Commandment Killer.”
“Commandment Killer? That’s catchy,” Eric smirked. He turned to look at Nora and said, “I know even less about those killings than I’m sure the two of you do. So again, why are you here?”
“Because after much discussion with my fellow chancellors, it has been decided that Sookie’s talents would serve us best without our direct presence. Your reputation as a fighter precedes you, and since I have grown fond of Sookie, I insisted that you be made her personal guard until our investigation is concluded.”
Sookie expected Eric to scoff or outright refuse the job. He wouldn’t be the first to be offended at the idea of putting his life on the line for an inferior human. But he wasn’t the average vampire.
“Will I have the full weight of the Authority at my back if the shit hits the fan?” Eric asked.
“Yes. Sookie is an asset we are absolutely set in protecting,” Nora said with determination.
There was a moment of silence and a look was exchanged between the two vampires before Eric said, “Challenge accepted.”