When we finally landed back in Shreveport, the bar was already closed so we went straight home. Pam met us there to update Eric on Sheriff’s business, and they talked for a couple of hours before she left. Eric and I then continued with our more pleasurable activities we started on the plane until the dawn stole our awareness.
Unfortunately, this meant tonight was to be spent with the Queen at her Palace. Eric and I had showered and dressed quickly after we rose, before stopping at Fangtasia for blood. We then drove to New Orleans and were now making our way into the Queen’s sunroom.
As I walked along the hallway behind Eric and the guard who was guiding us, I tried to distract myself from the nervousness I was feeling by looking at the Palace decorations.
They were gaudy.
She needed a new interior decorator. Not that I was going to tell her that.
After a short walk through more tacky hallways, we were granted entrance to a brightly lit room with a large in-ground pool in the middle. When I looked around, I saw the Queen reclining in a lounge chair in a polka-dot bikini and sunglasses. I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes.
Behind her, and around the room in sporadic places, were several men in black suits. I assumed they were her bodyguards and I suppressed a giggle as the Men in Black song passed through my head.
My giggle died in my throat, however, when I saw the woman sitting tensely in the lounge chair behind the Queen.
My long-lost cousin.
“Before we begin,” the Queen spoke lazily from her chair without looking in our direction. “please command your new child not to read my Hadley’s mind. I wouldn’t want to ruin any surprises.”
Before Eric could speak, I opened my mind quickly.
I’m so sorry. Oh god I’m sorry, but you have to help. You have to Sook.
I hadn’t been actively listening to Eric’s words, but a part of my vampire mind heard his command, and Hadley’s mental voice suddenly cut off as his Maker’s command took hold.
I continued to stare at my cousin in shock even though her mind was now silent to me. Why was she here? How did she get here? Was the Queen going to hurt her to punish me? What was I going to do now?
As I felt myself starting to lose control of my thoughts, I felt a strong burst of calm and reassurance overtake me through my bond with Eric. I took a deep breath and allowed the emotions to overrule my own. There was no way I’d be able to keep myself in check without his help.
“Now that we know our surprises won’t be spoiled, let’s begin.” Sophie Ann stated as she took off her sunglasses, placed them on the table, and stood up to face us with her hands clasped eagerly in front of her. “I’m sure you are wondering what your dear cousin is doing here, Ms. Stackhouse.”
I felt Eric’s shock through our bond and realized he didn’t know until that moment who Hadley was. However, he recovered from the discovery quickly and the steady stream of calm and reassurance continued to flow through me.
The Queen was looking at me as if she were waiting for a response. I looked to Eric and he nodded, so I responded with the strongest voice that I could muster which was still very quiet. “Yes, ma’am”
The Queen smiled as she walked over to stand beside Hadley’s chair. She stroked her hair and, while with a human couple it would have looked like a loving gesture, in this context it looked like she was patting a good dog.
I felt sick. I didn’t even know that feeling was possible for a vampire.
“Hadley has been my pet for almost two years. I saved her from her life on the streets and addiction to drugs.” Sophie Ann smiled at me but I could see the calculating expression behind her eyes. “It was through her stories of her family that I learned of your talent, Ms. Stackhouse.”
I stiffened automatically. I wasn’t sure if it was from the fact my cousin’s stupidity had brought me into a world where my heart was broken by my first love and my Gran was murdered, or if it was from the Queen’s mention of her own involvement in the events of my recent past.
“I know you must be angry about how some things happened and I can’t say I’m happy with all the decisions that were made either.” Sophie Ann spoke as she looked from Eric to someone standing in the far corner of the room. A quick glance told me it was Bill and I had to suppress a growl.
“However, we must all live with the consequences. Yes?” She clapped once happily and my attention was fully back on her.
It came to me softly through my bond with Eric and I was pretty sure I understood. The Queen was too happy and too placating. She was up to something and we needed to be careful.
I did my best to steel my resolve to not screw up as I prepared for the worst.
But I couldn’t have predicted what was to come.
“I’m sure you can understand that in the Post-Revelation world we cannot be too careful in our dealings with humans. To have a telepath in one’s Palace would be an unparalleled security check and would allow for various financial endeavors to be more successful. You can understand your Queen’s need for such important services, can you not?”
Before I could try to answer her ridiculous question, Eric spoke for me. “Even though Sookie and I have been told to reside in my area, her services, of course, will still be available to you for your protection and financial gain.”
I thought Eric’s response was perfect as it balanced a statement of cooperation with a reminder of the Authority’s ruling regarding our permanent residence. However, the Queen simply waved him off.
“I know, I know.” Sophie Ann smiled and I felt like we were getting closer to the gut punch I was expecting. “However, I don’t believe I will need her services for much longer.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw Eric’s eyebrow rise in surprise. “My Queen?”
Sophie Ann’s smile grew even bigger. “You will be the first of my Sheriffs to hear the good news.” She paused, I believe for effect, before clapping her hands together once in front of her again. “I’ve found another telepath.”
I couldn’t stop the gasp that left my mouth and Eric pushed more calm into the bond to help me recover.
Where had she found another telepath? Was it the bellboy from Dallas? Was there someone else? What was she going to do with them?
“That’s exciting news my Queen.” Eric stated calmly. “I’m sure they will be an excellent addition to your retinue.”
I knew he was playing the part but I couldn’t help but be a little disgruntled with his response.
“Yes. I’m particularly proud of this discovery.” She looked at me again as she asked, “Would you like to know how I found my new telepath?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” I answered without looking to Eric for permission.
She walked over and again lounged in her chair as she started her story. “I’ll admit I was rather upset when I found out Ms. Stackhouse would not be joining me in the Palace. You see I had already waited long enough, in my mind, while my procurer did his work. I wanted my own telepath and I had lost one when it was almost in my grasps.”
I was working very hard to keep my fangs from descending in anger, as she continued to talk about me like a piece of property.
“When I returned from Fangtasia last night, I went directly to see my Hadley.” I saw Hadley flinch in the background as the Queen continued speaking. “It occurred to me she may have more family which I didn’t know about.”
I could feel the growl about to escape my throat when another wave of intense calm hit me through the bond.
“From her stories, I believed only your brother remained and he did not have any talent to speak of.” I felt my self relax considerably with her words. “However, I wanted to be sure she was not forgetting anything or anyone so I used my glamour to probe her memory.”
I was practically vibrating with tension as she paused in her story. The rest of my family was dead. I was sure of it. Who could she have possibly have found in Hadley’s memory?
“Imagine my surprise when her memory revealed another telepath.” Sophie smiled again and giggled. I really hated that giggle. “Of course, your dear cousin had to be punished for purposefully hiding the other one from me, but she now knows better than to hide something from me again. Am I right, Hadley?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Hadley whimpered while looking at the floor.
As mad as I was at her, I wanted to go to her and hold her. She looked broken and alone.
“So, I now have my own telepath.” The Queen rose again from her chair and walked towards us until she was standing about six feet in front of us. “And this is where I require your services.”
“Your Majesty?” Eric asked.
“My telepath is completely untrained.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “I want you to take him and train him. You have six months. By then, I will expect noticeable improvement in his ability so that he can assist with my meetings with humans. Until then, I expect Ms. Stackhouse to read my staff for any concerns once a month, and attend any important meetings I have with humans.”
I could still feel caution through my bond with Eric as he responded coolly. “That sounds like a reasonable request, My Queen.”
“I don’t really care if it’s reasonable, Northman.” She snapped suddenly at him. “What I care about is having a trained telepath at my side.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.” He said with a slightly bowed head but I could feel his rising anger.
Personally, I was only listening partially to the discussion around me. I was preoccupied with going through what I knew of the Stackhouse family tree so I could try to figure out who the other telepath was, but I just couldn’t figure it out. How would Hadley know of someone else in the family with telepathy when I didn’t?
“Good.” Sophie Ann replied to Eric before nodding to someone over our shoulders. I heard the door start to open as she raised a hand to gesture behind us. “I’d like you to meet my new telepath.”
Eric and I turned around and my jaw dropped open while the rest of me was frozen in place.
Standing in front of us was a small, brown haired little boy. He was wearing jeans and a dinosaur t-shirt while holding onto a small stuffed T-rex with a death grip around its neck.
He couldn’t have been over six years old.
If I’d been human, my heart would have been pounding. As it was, I was certain it was breaking and I could feel my eyes pooling with blood.
The Queen walked around us and placed a hand on the little boy’s shoulder as she smiled brightly at us.
“This is your new charge, Hunter Savoy.” She paused and her eyes twinkled evilly. “My Hadley’s son.”