I woke up disoriented, even though I was in my own bed. I looked around me and nothing seemed out of place. The only person missing was Eric from my bed. It was nearly four in the morning, so he was still awake. Maybe he was busy. He usually waited until I was asleep to see to business.
I got up to look for him, and found him pacing my living room with his cell phone to his ear. He opened his free arm, an invitation for a half hug, and I closed the distance. He wrapped his arm around me holding me close.
After a minute or so of silence, he said “Thank you,” into the phone and hung up. He sat us on my couch and I leaned against his naked chest. At least he was wearing boxer shorts.
“I have a proposal for you,” he said in his serious voice, the one I didn’t really like.
“What is it?” I asked, trying not to sound defensive.
“The Sheriff of Area 6, in Dallas, has lost a nest mate and they’re trying to find him. I think it would be advantageous for us to help him with your gift. It would show the Queen that we are not defying her, only that we wish to remain together.” He paused. I knew he had more to say, so I didn’t interrupt. “You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, but if we do this I don’t want you to do anything like what you attempted with Ginger. I’d be with you the whole time.”
I nodded slowly, understanding. “We’d be going to Dallas?” I asked.
“Yes, but only for a couple of days so you can read a few people’s minds. Hopefully we can give Stan a better idea of what happened to his nest mate.”
“You really think I can help?” I asked, doubting myself for the first time ever.
Eric was quiet, thinking about it. “I don’t know Sookie. Only you can know that. I told you the reason why we should do this. Whether you can find something useful or not, the gesture will engender some goodwill from the Queen. But I will not force you. If you decide not to go, then we will not go. I will respect your decision.”
“Can I sleep on it?” I asked, not really wanting to make a decision yet, though I was leaning towards “yes.” I would do anything to keep the Queen from coming after Eric. Besides, this was simple enough for me to do.
“Of course,” he stood up and picked me up easily, cradling me against him. “Back to bed with you.” Eric tucked me back in like a Sookie burrito with a side of Viking. “What woke you anyway?”
“I don’t know,” I said and yawned, trying to avert my face so that Eric wouldn’t get a waft of very early morning breath. “Something didn’t feel right. You must have been upset.”
He harrumphed softly, confirming my suspicions. “Bill Compton was made Investigator of Area 5. That means I have to work closely with him. He’s going to Dallas to help there, since we have no mysteries here. I cannot make up my mind whether I like that he’s closer, so I can keep an eye on him, or if I’m upset that he can keep a better eye on you.”
I turned within my cocoon and landed a soft kiss on his chest. I wasn’t sure if it would cure his worry, but it was worth a shot. I felt his arms tighten around me, and I fell asleep again in two winks.
I woke up at eleven and set to work around the house, cleaning it now that I had the chance, and packing the things I was taking with me to Eric’s house. He’d lent me his luggage, since I didn’t have any. I was also giving serious thought to what he’d said the night before.
I knew Eric would respect my decision if I said no, but did I want to say no? The person asking for help was another sheriff, like Eric. If one of Eric’s people went missing, wouldn’t he want everybody’s help in whichever capacity they could lend it? Plus there was the matter of getting back into the Queen’s good graces. I didn’t mind helping, as long as I didn’t become someone’s slave. Eric had already saved me from that fate.
I attended to a few things in town, like getting my favorite toiletries to take to Eric’s, changing my address at the post office to a P.O. Box in Shreveport that Eric and I would share (it was just easier that way), and mailing bill payments including the taxes for the house and the insurance to cover it for the next six months. It would be the first time ever that those two bills were paid well before their due date. The money I’d been saving towards a new car paid for those things as well the clothes I’d bought for Eric. Even though Eric had given me extravagant gifts, the one that mattered most was peace of mind. For the first time ever I felt like I could breathe as far as finances were concerned.
I’d accomplished a lot by the time I had to start getting ready for work. I’d even gotten all the wrapping paper and ribbon in the trash. The house was spic and span.
In the middle of my shower I felt Eric come into awareness. Before I could think of much else I felt his cold hands on my breasts. He’d made it vampire fast out of his cubby hole and into my shower, catching me as I was rinsing my hair of shampoo.
I jumped. “Your hands are cold!”
“I’m warming them up,” he said, and one of his hands started making its way south.
I jumped again and away from him. “No, Eric. I can’t.”
He looked confused. “What’s the matter? Are you ill?”
“Not exactly,” I mumbled. My period (Ugh! Double ugh and a half!) was in full swing. As if on cue, a little trail of red made its way down the drain. I thought I would die of embarrassment. I closed my eyes and turned around, flushing red pretty much everywhere.
“Not this again. Sookie,” he turned me back to face him, “how old am I again? Remind me because I forgot. This is nothing.”
I shrugged, refusing to open my eyes. I didn’t care how old he was, this was mortifying, more so because he was a vampire. He pulled me close anyway and began running his hands all over my back in a soothing motion.
“I don’t care. I don’t care about your bad breath, I don’t care that you need to use the bathroom, I don’t care that your gut makes noises that you can’t hear,” I interrupted him with a groan and he chuckled, “I don’t care about what your body does because it also houses the person that is Sookie, the one that I make love to and who makes love to me.” He stopped his soft caresses on my back and pulled my chin up to face him. I opened my eyes, merely out of curiosity. His glacial blue eyes were nearly black, and his fangs were out fully. I wasn’t sure if it was because of my blood or his desire, but he was definitely feeling lustful.
He caught a stray drop of water on my neck, licking it with just the tip of his tongue. I started tingling immediately. How did he have the ability to do that? He made go from embarrassed to horny in .2 seconds. It was no use. When he bent to lick my nipples in the same way, the rush of heat that flashed just below my navel made me forget pretty much everything else. I could feel him searching, probing, parting me with his slick fingers, making sure I was ready because I was about to be had, whether I wanted to or not. And, of course – as always – I wanted to.
It had to be his blood. I told myself this when he wrapped me around him, using the wall as leverage and diving into me with a loud growl. His blood made me want him so much, had to be. Eric was supporting my hips and thighs on his arms, and I held onto his neck, feeling the movement of his muscles and even getting turned on by that. He was inhaling the scent at my neck, exhaling out roars, plunging inside me as if we’d been apart for ages. I felt the moment when I was about to leave this world, called his name so he could join me, and felt the brief sting on his fangs on my neck before I went into my twilight galaxy.
When I came back he was still holding me tight, breathing our scent deeply. He enjoyed that most of all: both our scents mingled into one after sex. All I could smell was him.
I climbed down to help him shower, taking care to clean him everywhere. He watched me, looking subdued. Our bond was humming with happiness, even though now I was embarrassed for a different reason. I’d promised Eric I wouldn’t run away from him again, and I almost had. Granted, I was still going to be in the same room, but the intent was there.
“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice sounding like one of Cinderella’s mice.
Eric tilted my chin up, bending to touch his lips to mine, brushing them tenderly. I always made the mistake of thinking Eric was a regular guy who loved me. I never seemed to catch on to the fact that Eric was my miracle come true. He forgave me just like that, without saying another word or caring about rubbing in that he was right and I was wrong.
Of course, all that went out the window when he gave me an envelope in the car and I almost had a conniption.
“What the hell, Eric?” I shrieked.
“You’re my wife, Sookie, what’s mine is yours,” he said pointing at the piece of paper I was now reading using the little passenger light inside the Corvette.
It was a statement for a joint bank account he had set up. I’d never seen so many zeroes to the left of a period in my life. It almost made me sick, honestly.
“Do you think I’m with you for this? It’s not enough to shower me with extravagant gifts, now you have to do this to me?” I was beside myself. “I’m really not this good in bed.” I threw the statement somewhere in the back seat and crossed my arms.
The car choked and sputtered, everything inside it going dark, like we’d been hit by an errant electro-magnetic pulse. Even I momentarily forgot what we were talking about. Eric coasted the car to the side of the road. Of the very dark road, actually, because we hadn’t gotten on the interstate yet. We were still in rural Bon Temps, and not a street light in sight.
Eric was cursing under his breath, opening the hood and getting out. I got out too. I don’t know much about cars, but I know enough. Eric began peering under the hood, and I really didn’t know why. It seemed pretty simple to me.
“You done just blew the alternator,” I said, still mad, as if the alternator was his fault. I knew it couldn’t have been the battery or the car would still be working.
“Alright, Mistress Sookie! I don’t have a spare alternator for my made-to-order Corvette! Come on, we’ll fly back to your house and grab your car,” he said, getting close to me.
“I’m not flying with you, Eric. I’ll wait here. I’m too mad right now,” I said, leaning against the car.
“Sookie,” there was that warning tone.
Well, I hadn’t been around vampires 24/7 during the past month and learned nothing. I gave him a scathing look and bared my teeth. It was like a kitten baring her teeth at a full grown lion, but whatever. It got my message across.
“Fine, suit yourself. I’ll be back in ten minutes. Get inside the car!” he boomed, but I shrugged. He growled and flew into the air like he’d never been in front of me.
The leftover effects of Eric’s blood were still working a little bit, so I could see in the dark better than usual. I wasn’t about to say I had infrared vision or say that I was ready to go ghost hunting, but it wasn’t too bad. I could see my nails enough to fidget with the cuticles. I saw a stray blond hair on the sleeve of my black dress and picked it out, then examined it. I wondered who it belonged to. In other words, I did everything but think about the piece of paper now lying somewhere inside the Corvette, making me the proud owner of what appeared to be a significant amount of Eric’s wealth.
I couldn’t fathom it. What would make him think I’d take it? What was next? “Stop working Sookie, you’re my wife now”? Nu-uh. I wasn’t having it. I’d already agreed to live with him, because that made sense. What in the world was I supposed to do with that much money? Keep house? We hadn’t even talked about it, he just did it. That’s what infuriated me the most. He hadn’t taken my feelings or thoughts into account at all. My pride was hurt.
“Hello, blondie,” I heard a female voice say from the woods right in front of me.
Immediately I cast out a wide net with my mind, driven in part by a spike in my adrenaline. There shouldn’t have been anyone out here.
I didn’t say anything to greet the woman who stepped from behind a tree, her dark hair wild and twisted with leaves and debris from the forest. She looked feral. Her dress, what was left of it, was stained with what appeared to be blood or mud, or maybe both. Her eyes shone like that of a cat’s, grabbing whatever little bit of light and reflecting it back to me. Her brain told me she was severely “other,” but I couldn’t get a read of anything but colors. No intentions or feelings, no pictures. Right now the color was a sickly green. Something that I thought was part of her dress moved about her. It was a snake, moving over the woman as if it was making love to her. Something in the back of my head screamed “cottonmouth.” Holy shit!
“You won’t say hello?” the woman asked.
“Hello, who are you? Are you lost?” I asked, pretending she was just a woman in distress, though she was clearly not, not with a freaking cottonmouth hanging from her waist.
“I’m not lost, are you?”
“No. My car is broken, I’m waiting for a ride,” I said, stating the obvious. No matter what she was, she could see what I was doing there. For one horrible second I thought that maybe she was the one who had made the car break down. Maybe there were “other” creatures that could produce EMP’s. I didn’t watch SyFy for nothing.
“And where are you going dressed so pretty?” the woman asked coming a couple of steps closer. She was still about fifteen feet away, and I wanted to keep it that way.
“I’m going to work,” I answered, trying to decipher exactly how much I should say. Her brain had gone to something closer to pink.
“You work at a bar. I like liquor. It makes men pliable, it piques their pride. You must be very happy there,” she said.
None of it was a question, but I nodded anyway. She smiled wide at my admission, making me press myself against the car. Not even a vampire looked that way after drinking blood. Her mouth was dark with old blood.
She approached me a little. She had a long stick in her hand. At the end of it she had a set of ivy leaves wrapped using the vines. I wondered if she was about to hit me with it or something.
“I won’t harm you, little one. You’re one of me. There’s no need to be scared. I’m keeping you company until your ride arrives. You never know what’s lurking in the shadows,” she said and got as close as she could possibly get to me without invading my personal space.
“What’s lurking in the shadows?” I asked, swallowing hard. I was searching the store of lore within my brain trying to come up with a name for her. Not a fairy, vampire or shape shifter. A pixie? A brownie? Oh, my God! A real banshee. Her brain had gone to purple, something soothing. It was as if she was trying really hard to not scare me.
“I’ve seen several things that should not happen to one of ours. I’m here to protect you. Don’t worry about my pet, she’s harmless,” the woman said. I noticed she included me into her group, whatever she was, and she said her cottonmouth was harmless. Yeah, right! I hadn’t lived around hunters all my life to think a cottonmouth was a Chihuahua.
“I’m a woman like you,” I said carefully, trying to decipher what group she was grouping us in.
She looked at me in askance. “You can see my mind, I can feel you. You’re not just a woman.”
I’d had enough, but didn’t want to make her mad. In my gentlest voice I asked her again. “Who are you? Do you have a name?”
“I have many names,” she looked ecstatic that I’d asked. “I’m a maenad, a Bassarid, a member of the Thiasus. We serve Dionysus.”
I was surprised. “Are you saying I’m a maenad?” I asked, not quite understanding what that was, though I’d heard the name before.
“No, you’re my sister. I hear your car, child,” the maenad said.
Well, shoot! I’d heard it too. Eric was tearing the road in my poor car. He must have felt my initial fear, though I had significantly calmed down by now.
Eric was out of the car before the car actually stopped, and in the mayhem of the Prius stopping itself using the Corvette, Eric lunging at the maenad, and the shrill shrieks of the creature, I was thrown to the ground. Time stopped when I felt a pair of fangs sinking into my ankle, and they did not belong to my beloved. I was more mad than fearful and screamed at the top of my lungs, staring at the cottonmouth still attached to my leg.
“Look what your carelessness has done, Viking,” I heard the maenad hiss.
“Get your hands off her,” Eric snarled. Someone was trying to pry the cottonmouth off my leg, but I couldn’t care. The pain was excruciating.
“Sookie, hold on to me,” I heard Eric say, but I couldn’t hold on to anything. The pain in my leg was too much.
“Lick her leg, vampire, or she will hemorrhage,” the maenad said in a calm voice.
“Go back to where you came from,” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “Tuck your head into my chest,” he said to me, not yelling but stressed.
I wasn’t sure if I’d done it, the tucking thing, but I did feel a lot of air moving very rapidly around us. It nearly took my breath away. Figures; the first time Eric takes me flying for real and I’m writhing in agony, and mad at him too.
It barely took any time at all and we were in Eric’s office. Either that or I had lost consciousness at some point. Both were plausible.
I must have lost time again, because I heard Pam’s cool voice giving instructions, though I couldn’t exactly make out what they were. She shook me. “What bit you?”
“Cottonmouth snake. Water moccasin,” I whispered.
“Hemotoxic. She’ll bleed out,” Pam said. What was she? A zoologist all of a sudden? I pictured her in Steve Irwin-type clothes (may he rest in peace, God bless him), and started laughing but not for long. I was out of breath quickly.
“Unless you have antivenom somewhere, you better suck it out and give her your blood,” Pam said matter-of-factly. She always got like that when she was stressed.
“I’m afraid of doing more damage,” I heard Eric.
“I’m here,” a shrill voice announced. I couldn’t bring myself to open my eyes. I felt like somebody had hit me with sleepy dust. I chuckled again.
“She’s in bad shape,” the new voice said, and I felt a sharp sting at my ankle, which made me cry out and open my eyes.
Eric was knelt in front of me, and I was lying on the couch in his office. He was beside himself. I spared a sliver of thought to find he was raging with a tempest of plain old fear.
“Eric she needs human blood. She’s lost too much. You can give her some of yours afterwards. In the meantime, close these wounds and I will return shortly,” the shrill voice said.
Eric didn’t move, merely pricked his finger on one of his fangs and reached down to my ankle. Every touch was like fire, and I cried out again. I’d only passed out once in my life, right after Rene had attacked me. Now I was about to do it again. My peripheral vision started blurring and blacking out, the room started spinning, and there was a loud buzzing sound within my ears. Then nothing.