*Chapter 1*: Prologue
Disclaimer: Southern Vampire Mystery characters belong to Charlaine Harris.
Eric sat in the dark, long legs outstretched as he reclined in the leather desk chair. He was at his safehouse a few miles from the border of Louisiana and Texas. This particular house was secluded, shrouded in secrecy to all, even Pam. He had hired the contractors from across the country to build the house under an assumed name. The worker crews had been kept to a minimum, paid triple their typical fees to expedite the build, and promptly glamoured to forget the job and location following completion of their work. The architect he had hired was known for designing eco-based homes capable of living off the grid was likewise glamoured to destroy the plan and all records documenting the home for an “eccentric west coast millionaire.”
His and Pam’s plans had finally come to a head. She had been covertly arranging meeting places and clandestine transport for his allies for the last 2 months. The individuals involved were on alert, waiting for his signal before making their way to Oklahoma. Each would come alone and in disguise. His spies in Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana had not reported anything beyond the mundane and commonplace, most of which revolved around his upcoming nuptials.
He mentally reviewed names in his head, rapidly associating faces, places, shared history. He supposed that the list of names was not extensive given his 1000 plus years on the planet, but it was sufficient for his purposes. He chuckled grimly to himself: he would take quality over quantity any day of the week. Each individual on the list was worth his or her weight in gold, worth armies…after all, trust was a priceless treasure and not easily obtained. Some owed him a blood debt but all were honorable, no small thing given how avarice, evil, and cowardice were universal to vamps (as well as humans and supes in general). All had agreed to come with little to no reservations or questions when initially contacted by Pam.
He had the same message for each ally, brief and to the point. He lightly punched in the first number on his list. The call went directly to voicemail, as agreed-they were all aware of steps needed to avoid detection, aware of the safeguards taken to disguise the intent of the message.
He spoke rapidly, “Bodvar. Det är dags,” before ending the call. His next call also went to voicemail. Again, he spoke the same truncated message, only this time in Romanian and not Swedish: “Dragos. Este timpul.” Again and again, in English, as well as several other languages-the message was the same, simply the name of his ally followed by the signal. After the last call was placed, he crushed the untraceable “pre-paid burner” cell phone in his hand, tossing it into the small waste basket.
It was indeed time. The wedding to Freyda was to be in two nights. He was expected to be in Oklahoma tomorrow night at the very latest. His absence, while raising some initial suspicions, was necessary but explained away as having to finalize last minute Area 5 issues.
He sat back for a few moments before reaching for his broadsword, which was leaning against his desk. This particular sword was his favorite and had never failed him in combat: a Zweihänder that dated back from his days as a mercenary, a landsknechte, during the 16th century. The sword was best wielded by a large individual, as it was long and heavy and meant to be utilized in a two-handed grip. Slowly and methodically, with a meditative reverence, he sharpened the sword with the whetstone, taking time to carefully wipe the residue off with the soft cloth in between strokes. At last, satisfied and calm, he sought his underground saferoom, as dawn was approaching.
He kept his black jeans and t shirt on but removed his heavy boots and unbound his hair before climbing onto bed. He closed his eyes and thought about his decision, his reason for risking it all. He whispered one word before giving in to the sun for the day: “Sookie…”.
One Week Earlier
Sookie had been sunbathing in her backyard when she heard the postal carrier’s vehicle slowly make its way down her gravel drive. She was in no hurry to check mail-junk fliers and bills could wait a while. It was her day off and she was damn well going to enjoy it in the sun while she could. She had been in a dark, depressed funk for the past few weeks and was sick of it. She refused to think about Eric-he had not returned her calls or stopped by since the night she had used the cluviel dor to resurrect Sam from death. Oh wait, she self-corrected, she actually had “heard ” from him in one capacity: Eric’s signed (in blood) divorce decree from Mr. Cataliades, basically nullifying her “marriage” to him. It was relatively brief, to the point, and apparently did not require her consent, signature, or knowledge of the divorce beforehand. The bottom line: the vamp world believed in quickie divorces, and she suspected this was particularly true when one member of the couple was human.
She knew the reason for the divorce: his marriage to Oklahoma was imminent. The announcement had been televised on various “entertainment” shows, as well as on the Internet (TMZ, PerezHilton, etc.). The last time she had tortured herself by doing a search on Google, she had felt sickened by the photo of Eric standing by Freyda at their “engagement announcement party” that had been attended by vampire VIPs (allegedly including King Felipe, according to the gossip site). The memory of the photo was burned into her brain. Eric had looked beautiful but stoic, wearing a traditional tux, his long golden hair pulled back sleekly and severely in a tight ponytail. Freyda had been beaming, looking regal and every bit the vampire queen, slyly looking at him while she had a death grip (ha!) possessively clawed onto his massive arm. Eric had had his face tilted away from hers, seemingly looking out at the crowd.
She forcibly shook herself out of her maudlin fog (“Stop pining over him, you are a strong Stackhouse woman so pull yourself up out of your pity party by your bootstraps!”). She got up off her folding lawn chair (7.99 Wal-mart, if you please) and wrapped her towel around her waist, closing her latest romance paperback with a sigh (the cover had a large bare chested blonde male clutched desperately by a golden haired heroine. Nope, no similarities there). By the time she made it to the front of her drive, sunset was approaching and she was getting a bit hungry. She hummed to herself as she decided on heating up the leftover lasagna she had in the fridge for dinner. She grabbed the mail and began absentmindedly sorting it as she walked back to her house.
Yep, she was right: bill, charity solicitation, sale flyer, bill, jury notice (damn!), and at the very back, a thick envelope with only her name on the front in elegant calligraphic script. Her heart leapt into her mouth. She knew instinctively what it was despite the lack of return address or postage. She hurriedly entered her front door and dumped herself heavily onto a chair at the dining table. She closed her eyes, feeling lightheaded, trying to force her jack-hammering heart and breathing into a slow rhythm. Once she felt she had some semblance of control, she turned the envelope over and noticed the seal of wax on the back with the initials E.N. Her hands trembled.
“That son of a bitch…” she whispered under her breath. She angrily broke the seal with her thumb nail and tore the thick ivory invitation out of the envelope, inadvertently causing a deep paper cut which proceeded to bleed profusely onto the expensive paper. “Oh hell,” she grumbled, as she grabbed a napkin to soak up the blood. She couldn’t believe it-that bastard had the gall to actually send an invitation to his wedding! Well, he could just fuck off! She jumped up to call him to tell him exactly what he could do with his invite, and Freyda for that matter! As she grabbed her cell phone, she noticed she had a message from early this morning. She had forgotten to check her phone before starting her day, but to be fair, she had been distracted lately and had not been sleeping well. Little things seemed to be slipping past her on a frustratingly regular basis. She decided to listen to it before she tore Eric a new one. The call had the 318 Shreveport area code but she didn’t recognize the number. She began listening to the message, and soon recognizing Pam’s deadpan, rapid fire monotone.
“Sookie. Pam. I have placed my master’s wedding invitation in your mailbox. You will come. I will arrange for your transport. I will accompany you. This is non-negotiable. I will explain more when I see you.” Click.
Damned high-handed vampires! She groaned and slammed the phone on top of the table. She hissed under her breath, “You know what, you both can rot in hell as far as I’m concerned!” She noticed she had lost her appetite and actually felt quite nauseated. She decided she would take a hot shower, as she was feeling dirty after that unpleasant bit of business and wanted to scrub herself raw.
As she started the shower, waiting for the water to heat up, she sat on the toilet’s closed lid. She held her head in her hands and cried. As tears fell hotly down her cheeks, she suddenly realized with a heavy heart that she would go with Pam to the wedding. She would go. Just to see him one last time…