"Can you manage to carry on with the evening as if we were in harmony?" Eric asked.
"I’ll do my best," I said, trying not to sound bitter.
"That’s all I can ask."
"You don’t seem to have any doubt that you can cope," I observed. But then I closed my eyes for a moment, and I used every bit of my self-control to pull myself together into a coherent person. "So if I’m here to officially greet Felipe and he’s supposed to be talking to us about the ‘disappearance’ of Victor, when’s all the whoopee out in the great room going to stop? And just so you know, I’m seriously mad about the table."
"Me, too," he said, with unmistakable relief. "I’ll tell Felipe that we must talk tonight. Now." He looked down at me. "My lover, don’t let your pride get the better of you."
"Well, me and my pride would be delighted to get back in my car and go home," I said, struggling to keep my voice quiet. "But I guess me and my pride will make the effort to stay here and get through this evening, if you could get everyone to stop screwing around long enough to get down to business. Or you can kiss me and my pride good-bye."
With that, I went into the bathroom and shut the door, very quietly and deliberately. I locked it. I was through talking, at least for a while. I had to have a few seconds when no one was looking at me.
From outside the door, there was silence. I sat down on the toilet lid. I felt so full of conflicting emotions that it was like walking through a minefield in my high-heeled black sandals with the silly flowers on them. I looked down at my bright toenails.
"Okay," I said to those toes. "Okay." I took a deep breath. "You knew he took blood from other people. And you knew ‘other people’ might mean other women. And you knew that some women are younger and prettier and skinnier than you." If I kept repeating that, it would sink in.
Good God-are "knowing" and "seeing" ever two different things!
"You also know," I continued, "that he loves you. And you love him." When I don’t want to yank off one of these heels and stick it … "You love him," I repeated sternly. "You’ve been through so much with him, and he’s proved over and over that he’ll go the extra mile for you."
He had. He had!
I told myself that about twenty times.
"So," I said in a very reasonable voice, "Here’s a chance to rise above circumstances, to prove what you’re made of, and to help save both our lives. And that’s what I’ll do, because Gran raised me right. But when this is over …" I’ll rip his damn head off. "No, I won’t," I admonished myself. "We’ll talk about it."
THEN I’ll rip his head off.
"Maybe," I said, and I could feel myself smiling.
"Sookie," Pam said from the other side of the door, "I can hear you talking to yourself. Are you ready to do this thing?"
"I am," I said sweetly. I stood, shook myself, and practiced a smile in the mirror. It was ghastly. I unlocked the door. I tried the smile out on Pam. Eric was standing right behind her, I guess thinking Pam would absorb the first blast if I came out shooting. "Is Felipe ready to talk?" I said.
For the first time since I’d met her, Pam looked a little uneasy as she looked at me. "Uh, yes," she said. "He is ready for our discussion."
"Great, let’s get going." I maintained the smile.
Eric eyed me cautiously but didn’t say anything. Good.
"The king and his aide are out here," Pam said. "The others have moved the party into the room across the hall." Sure enough, I could hear squeals coming from behind the closed door.
Felipe and the square-jawed vamp-the one I’d last seen drinking from a woman-were sitting together on the couch. Eric and I took the (stained) loveseat arranged at right angles to the couch, and Pam took an armchair. The large, low coffee table (freshly gouged) that normally held only a few objets d’art was cluttered with bottles of synthetic blood and glasses of mixed drinks, an ashtray, a cell phone, some crumpled napkins. Instead of its normally attractive and orderly formality, the living room looked more like it belonged in a low dive.
I’d been conditioned for so many years that it was all I could do not to spring up, tie on an apron, and fetch a tray to clear away the clutter.
"Sookie, I don’t believe you’ve met Horst Friedman," Felipe said.
I yanked my eyes away from the mess to look at the visiting vampire. Horst had narrow eyes, and he was tall and angular. His short hair was a light brown and closely cut. He did not look as if he knew how to smile. His lips were pink and his eyes pale blue; so his coloring was oddly dainty, while his features were anything but.
"Pleased to meet you, Horst," I said, making a huge effort to pronounce his name clearly. Horst’s nod was barely perceptible. After all, I was a human.
"Eric, I have come to your territory to discuss the disappearance of Victor, my regent," Felipe said briskly. "He was last seen in this city, if you can call Shreveport a city. I suspect that you had something to do with his disappearance. He was never seen after he left for a private party at your club."
So much for any elaborate story Eric had thought of spinning for Felipe.
"I admit nothing," Eric said calmly.
Felipe looked mildly surprised. "But you don’t deny the charge, either."
"If I did kill him, Your Majesty," Eric said, as if he were admitting to swatting a mosquito, "there would be not a trace of evidence against me. I regret that several of Victor’s entourage also vanished when the regent did."
Not that Eric had given Victor and his cohorts any opportunity to surrender. The only one who’d been offered the chance to escape death was Victor’s new bodyguard, Akiro, and he’d turned the offer down. The fight in Fangtasia had been a no-debate full-frontal assault, involving gallons of blood and a lot of dismemberment and death. I tried not to remember it too vividly. I smiled and waited for Felipe’s response.
"Why did you do this? Are you not sworn to me?" For the first time, Felipe appeared less than casual. In fact, he looked downright stern. "I appointed Victor my regent here in Louisiana. I appointed him … and I am your king." At the escalation in tone, I noticed Horst was tensed for action. So was Pam.
There was a long silence. It was what I imagine is the definition of the word "fraught."
"Your Majesty, if I did this thing, it might have been for several reasons," Eric said, and I began to breathe again. "I am sworn to you, and I’m loyal to you, but I can’t stand still while someone is trying to kill my people for no good reason-and without previous discussion with me. Victor sent two of his best vampires to kill Pam and my wife." Eric rested a cold hand on my shoulder, and I did my best to look shaken. (That wasn’t too hard.)