Chapter 3: Into the Maw of the Authority
I kept control of my emotions until I felt Sookie fall asleep, a little more than an hour after Pam and I left what was now once again Sookie’s house.
It wasn’t that I was protecting Sookie from my feelings. I’d been privy to her emotional states since she’d first had my blood in Dallas and I knew that she’d had plenty of experience with extreme emotions, both good and bad. Nothing I felt wasn’t anything she hadn’t felt herself in the time I’d known her and I knew she was strong enough to handle my bad feelings without them hurting her.
However, I was protecting myself from the humiliation of having her know how painful her rejection of me had been. For a thousand years, I had learned to keep my emotions deeply hidden from everyone I encountered – Godric, my sister Nora, Pam – maybe even from myself. But now they were on full display to Sookie, whether I wanted them to be or not. It was mortifying to have her feel how depressed and helpless she had left me.
The irony that I had been the one who made it possible for her to feel what I now wanted to hide from her was not lost on me.
“If she feels how much I love her, she’ll trust me…If we’re One, having Sookie inside me will help me change…If we’re bonded, we can overcome everything.”
And I couldn’t even blame the amnesiac vampire who had taken over my life for a few days because I was the fucking idiot. Tabula rasa Eric was me. Not all of me, and definitely a part of me that had not seen the light of day since – well, since I could actually be in daylight without turning into a pile of ash – but undeniably me.
And while I knew Sookie loved that part of me, the rest of me felt shut out and stupid.
“She was hoping you might actually want to take her to the Authority,” Pam said suddenly. “After all the shit her friend put herself into in order to stop that from happening, she was actually asking me if you had thought of a plan to rescue her friend and whether or not she should come along.” Pam snorted.
I glanced sideways at my progeny and raised an eyebrow. “And your point in telling me this now is?”
Pam pursed her lips. “Well, if anyone should be feeling foolish, it should be Sookie. Not you.” She shot a look at me from under her thick false eyelashes.
Trust min blóðfrig to want to save her childhood friend despite the betrayal of Tara having led the witches to me. Sookie was truly loyal to those she loved to the point of it being a fault.
Except to me.
I pushed the self-pitying thought aside and considered whether or not I could do anything to save Tara’s life when she went before the Authority. Whether I should do anything to help Tara was a whole other question. Lafayette’s cousin had led Marnie Stonebrook right to Sookie’s doorstep to take me; she had kidnapped my progeny as well, and the witches had used their control over the two of us to try to kill innocent humans.
If it were up to me, Tara Thornton would be dead for these actions. It would be justice.
On the other hand, she had ended Nan Flanagan for Sookie’s sake, to try to prevent the Authority from taking min blóðfrig. I doubt that Tara even understood herself how important it was to keep Sookie and her fae heritage a secret from the Authority. If they knew that fae existed and that the rumors about fae blood were true, protecting Sookie would be challenging at best.
No, I owed Tara Thornton for trying to protect what was mine.
I did have the advantage of being related to a Chancellor, but whether or not I could count on my sister’s assistance in this was uncertain. Our personal loyalties would no doubt be competing, as I expected any member of the Authority to want justice for Nan Flanagan’s death. And one of the main differences between myself and my younger sibling was that she really believed in all that Authority crap.
“Fuck. Eric, please tell me you aren’t even considering trying to help that miserable bitch,” Pam protested, her eyes not having left me after her unanswered jibe about Sookie. “She led those fucking witches right to both of us and then used us as goddamn weapons at that idiotic tolerance rally. She should be dead already and would be if you hadn’t commanded me not to kill her.” My progeny was almost sputtering in her bitterness.
“If I see an opportunity to get her out of this alive, I’ll take it,” I finally said. “She was trying to protect Sookie and I owe her for that.”
I could feel Pamela’s fury and frustration, so I wasn’t surprised when, after a few moments of trying to hold her feelings in, she blurted, “So, this obsession with Sookie isn’t over even though you gave her the house back and she wants nothing to do with you?”
My jaw tightened. “Pam, the blóðfesta –”
“Oh, fuck the blóðfesta!” Pam spit. “Eric, you have to find a way to break that goddamn fucking bond with her. It is going to kill you if you don’t. And if she doesn’t want it, it is pointless to have it.”
My fingers tightened on the steering wheel and I focused on the road in front of me. Pam wasn’t saying anything I hadn’t thought myself since Sookie had told me how unhappy she was about the bond.
“I don’t know if it can be broken,” I finally said. “But if it turns out that she really does not want it – after she’s had a few days to think about it –” My mouth was dry as I dragged out the words. “—I’ll see if it can be broken.” The very idea made my heart clench.
Beside me, Pam’s entire body relaxed. “Good,” she murmured. “Because I want the old Eric back.”
I sighed, but I did not reply. Even if I broke the bond with Sookie, I wasn’t sure that I could promise Pam that she would get ‘the old Eric back.’ As bitter as I felt at the moment about how my bonding with Sookie seemed to have imploded, I still knew this: I wanted to become something more than I had been for the last thousand years. A new Eric, if you will. With or without Sookie to support me in that. I owed it to myself.
We arrived in New Orleans in the middle of the night and by 3 a.m. had checked into L’Estate, one of the premiere vampire hotels in the French Quarter. As soon as Pam and I had settled into our connecting rooms, I called the number I had been given the night before to contact the Authority once we had arrived. A perky female voice informed me that a vehicle would come for us at 4 a.m. and we would be transported to an undisclosed location. When I asked if we should bring our luggage with us, the voice was vague, assuring me that if we needed it, someone else would retrieve it for us.
Fucking Authority and their secrecy protocols. Even with my “close connection” to the organization, I didn’t know whether the vehicle would take us to the airport for a flight to another location or whether we would remain in New Orleans.
I ordered in room service with donors for Pam and myself in order to make sure we were well fed before what was to come.
I also made a more personal call to the Authority.
“You simply cannot stay out of trouble, can you?” was the greeting my sister gave me when she answered her phone, her playful tone undercut with genuine annoyance. “I understand you and your progeny are arriving tonight for the trial, so I’ll be seeing you soon.” Her cool British voice dropped to a whisper. “And when I do see you, I want to know the real story of what happened last night, not the bullshit version I heard from Nan’s guards.”
“I’ll tell you everything,” I answered calmly. Except about Sookie; that secret was not one to be shared even with my sister if I could avoid it. “How much trouble am I in?” I asked briskly.
“At the moment, not so very much, although the Guardian is understandably concerned about how Nan ended up a pile of goo while in your area. Especially given the disappearance of the Magister last year in the same city,” Nora said pointedly. “They’re going to want to understand how necromancers were allowed to take you and your progeny and how one of the witches still managed to kill Nan Flanagan after the others were captured.”
No questions about Louisiana’s telepath? I didn’t know yet whether Nora was just withholding that part or whether Sookie was genuinely not on the Authority’s radar.
I certainly wasn’t going to ask for fear the very question could bring her to their notice.
“Is Compton there?” I asked.
“Already making the acquaintance of one of our female chancellors, yes,” Nora said drily. “He seems every bit as ambitious as you have claimed in the past, although somewhat more charming than you described.” There was a brief pause. “And a bit shorter than I had imagined.”
“So, what do I need to know before we arrive?” I asked.
“You won’t have phone service while here,” Nora replied. “So, if you have any calls to make, make them before the car arrives to pick you up.” Her voice was hushed when she spoke again, “And, Eric – we will be meeting for the first time. No one here knows of our connection. I’d like to keep it that way.”
That had been our agreement ever since Nora had joined the Authority, so this was nothing new, but that she was reminding me emphasized the point. It was a safety precaution for both of us – Nora’s role as a Chancellor not only put her at risk for enemies, but her loved ones as well. I took it as a sign of her affection for me that she did not want to put a target on my back by making our relationship known. In turn, I could not be used as a pawn against her if no one knew of my status as her brother.
“Understood,” I replied evenly.
After we had ended the call, I sat and looked at my phone. With no service in the Authority headquarters, I would be unable to call Sookie even if I felt anything from her that concerned me.
I ended up making one more call.
The cadre of troops that showed up to escort Pam and me to Authority headquarters were not as discreet as I would have expected. While they were not armed and did not treat us as prisoners, there was still no mistaking them for anything but the paramilitary guards they were.
On the other hand, as they led Pam and me out of L’Estate, it provoked no curious glances from either staff or other guests, which led me to assume that the Authority frequently “retrieved” guests in this way here. Since Pam and I had been instructed about which hotel to go to, I concluded that L’Estate was a regular rendezvous point for Authority “guests.”
We were put in an armored SUV with darkened windows and then handed what humans would have called “sleep masks” to cover our eyes. Pam shot me a bemused glance, but I could feel her trepidation. Apparently, we were not to know where we were going. At least that ruled out the airport; I assumed they wouldn’t bother with such cloak and dagger measures unless we were ending up somewhere close by.
The silent ride was nearly an hour long, but I could tell by the way the vehicle moved that at least some of that time was spent traveling in what was essentially a large circle and doubling back once or twice, so I thought we were still in the vicinity of New Orleans. When we finally stopped and were told we could remove the masks, Pam and I found ourselves outside a dilapidated, abandoned-looking factory building.
I raised an eyebrow at Pam, who looked worried as she studied the broken windows and debris. It certainly wasn’t impressive-looking from the outside.
Inside turned out to be quite another matter.
We had entered a freight elevator, gone down only a couple of floors, crossed a dingy cement floor to another – much nicer – elevator and then continued downwards. It opened on a tastefully decorated reception area that might have been located in any high-powered corporation in the world. A glossy, carefully made up young blonde vampire was behind the desk and greeted us with a fangless smile.
“The Northman party,” one of the guards with us announced.
“Ah, yes,” the pretty receptionist cooed. “Chancellor Gainsborough asked to be contacted when you arrived.” She spoke into her headset and then addressed herself to us again. “If you’d care for a refreshment while waiting, we can get you warmed TruBlood.”
Pam rolled her eyes in disgust and muttered, “Thanks but no thanks.”
“I’m good, thanks,” I replied. I had seriously considered whether or not I should accept the blood; depending on what happened over the next few hours, I wasn’t sure whether we were going to be able to feed here and I wanted to be at optimum physical strength. On the other hand, it wouldn’t have surprised me if any blood offered had a little “something extra” in it. I decided to err on the side of caution until I had a better sense of what we could expect here in the maw of the Authority.
“Sheriff Northman and Miss de Beaufort, I presume?” said a familiar voice. Pam took in the petite brunette with the porcelain skin and strawberry-pout mouth and I felt a little tingle of sexual interest from my child. There was no denying that my sister was an extremely pretty woman, something I had personally “appreciated” many times over the centuries since Godric had turned her. “I’m Chancellor Gainsborough.” She nodded at us politely in the vampire way of greeting. She gestured to a taller woman beside her, whose dark beauty spoke of a Middle Eastern heritage of some kind. “This is Chancellor Kader – our new Magister.”
Not only was Chancellor Kader stunningly beautiful, she was ancient. Older than I was, I was certain. I bowed respectfully. “Chancellors.”
“Thank you for agreeing to attend the trial of Miss Flanagan’s accused killer,” Chancellor Kader said in a honey-rich voice. “It is obviously a politically sensitive case due to her prominence in the global media. We want to be sure it is handled…appropriately.”
“Of course,” I replied neutrally. “We hope our testimony is helpful in determining the appropriate response.”
Nora tucked a shiny lock of hair behind her ear. “The trial will not begin until this evening, but we have made arrangements for you to remain here for the duration. It will be more convenient for both of you not to have to travel back and forth to your hotel during the judicial process.”
Pam tensed beside me but I sent her an emotional wave of calm. I had expected this. I wasn’t thrilled with it, but it didn’t surprise me. The kind of accommodations we rated would tell us more about our status here than the fact that we were expected to stay.
Cells, for example, would be a dead giveaway.
“Your luggage was brought along and will be placed in your rooms,” Nora finished. “If you will accompany me, I will be happy to show you to your sleeping quarters.”
“And I will see you both this evening. I look forward to hearing your… accounts of what happened,” Chancellor Kader said, her dark eyes meeting mine and lingering thoughtfully. She didn’t smile, but I thought I heard a teasing note in the way she emphasized that last word. My lips curved in a polite smile as I nodded my goodnight, but I was wary. I suspected that the new Magister had several questions for me, but that they would have little to do with Nan Flanagan.
As Pam and I followed Nora to our quarters, my progeny was keeping her eyes glued to my sister’s admittedly shapely ass. If it weren’t for the guards hovering in our footsteps, I think my child might have shared her thoughts, but even Pam knew better than to comment on the desirability of an Authority official where it could be overheard by vampire hearing.
We went to Pam’s quarters, first. It was attractive and modern, with a king-sized bed and discreet track lighting, and Pam’s bag at the foot of the bed.
It definitely wasn’t a cell.
Not that there weren’t going to be guards.
“Miss de Beaufort, if you need anything at all, one of our staff will be outside at all times,” Nora said. “I would advise against trying to find your way around on our own. The complex is extensive and naturally, many areas are not meant for the public.”
Pam looked at me nervously, clearly anxious about being separated. Although we were in full view of the guard and Nora, I pulled my daughter to me in a light embrace and pressed my lips against her forehead. “Sleep well, Pamela. I will see you this evening.” I gave her a reassuring wink before turning to follow Nora, leaving one Authority trooper outside my progeny’s door.
My own room was reached only after a handful of turns; not enough to be suspiciously distant, but far enough to make it challenging for Pam and I to meet easily without requesting the assistance of our oh-so-helpful guards.
My room was nearly identical to Pam’s, right down to the bag settled on the floor. “I hope you find your accommodations suitable, Sheriff Northman,” my sister said formally. She stepped closer to me, close enough that I could smell her familiar and much-beloved scent. “I would like to speak to you privately before daybreak, Sheriff. About Miss Flanagan’s last moments, as she was a personal friend,” she said more loudly for the benefit of the guard near the door. “After you’ve unpacked your bag, please ask your attendant to escort you to my chambers.”
“Certainly, Chancellor,” I murmured. She gave me a long look with her lovely blue eyes before turning and exiting my bedroom.
I rolled over in my bed with a moan. Another wave of what had wakened me rushed through my body, only to coalesce on the hot, damp center between my thighs. Mmmmmmm. I rolled my hips as I felt the arousal within me. My heavy eyelids barely opened as I became more aware.
Eric. Horny, aroused Eric.
As I started to brush my hand against the outside of my panties, my sleep-fogged mind finally caught up with my body.
What. The. Fuck?
I tuned in enough to the emotions coursing through my body to realize that my own arousal was just a reflection of whatever was going on with him.
And I don’t know how I knew, but I did know: this arousal had nothing to do with me.
Eric was somewhere, with someone else, doing something that left his emotions humming with lust.
That was bad enough, but the part that really kicked me in the gut was the other feeling I could feel coming from him.
Eric was with someone he loved. And it wasn’t me.