“Sam… Sam Merlotte, it’s Sookie,” I said into his answering machine for the God-only-knew-how-many time. I’d been trying to call him and he never answered my calls, or returned them, and when I’d gone to Merlotte’s he had disappeared as I entered the bar. Darn, those shifter senses! “Samuel! I swear to God if you don’t answer this phone call I’m going to call the cops for a wellness check!”
“What, Sookie, what?” he answered. Finally!
“Sam!” Okay, now I wasn’t sure what to say. Sam had been my boss and friend, and I didn’t want us to be… not friends. “Sam, I’m…”
“I’ve been busy, Sookie,” he interrupted. I wish I could read people’s minds over the phone to see what he really meant, not that I would have any better luck in person. His brain was mostly a haze.
“Okay, fine. I just wanted to say that you asked me to forgive you, and I do. I did. But you ran out of here so fast you didn’t let me say anything. I’m not mad, and I don’t want to lose you as a friend.” There! I said everything I had to say.
Sam didn’t speak for a long moment. I knew he was there, though. I wasn’t sure if he was embarrassed, or something worse. I wondered if we could be friends. What were the rules of etiquette governing spontaneous kissing between friends? If I’d been a different kind of person I would have forgotten about it and left Sam alone. But I wasn’t that kind of person. I didn’t have that many friends to go throwing them away when there was a speed bump. More like a car-swallowing hole in the road. What a mess!
“Alright, Sookie. Thank you,” he said. That was all he said. I could understand he was still uncomfortable about us.
“So… are we good? Are you going to run away again?” I asked. Jeez! If I didn’t sound like Eric…
“Not from you,” he seemed to sigh. We hung up.
When did I become the person who broke hearts? I hadn’t even meant to do it. Sam was the last person on Earth that I wanted to hurt… wanting to throw him in a hole that one time notwithstanding.
One friend down, one to go. Tara had to be in a right state. I’d tried to call her too, but no luck there either. She didn’t know her ex-fiancé had abducted me and tried to rape me. All she knew was that Eggs was being held in jail without bond because he had committed several crimes, including the rape of Lafayette Reynolds that eventually led to his death, and the death of two other women. That, coupled with the fact that he did it in conjunction with the M.E. for Renard Parish… the tongues were wagging for several weeks.
So… on that crisp cool November morning, I got in my Prius and headed to the main part of Bon Temps, where Tara had her store. Tara’s Togs was in the same strip mall as a restaurant and a hair salon, and the strip mall was owned by Bill Compton. I was just chock-full of useless information. Sometimes I came about it by reading useful things, though. I’d been learning a little of Eric’s job. Vampires had to pay taxes (they called it fealty… po-tay-to, po-tah-to) to their fiefdom. The more money a vampire made, the more he or she had to pay in fealty, which in turn was divided between the coffers of the fiefdom and what the fiefdom owed the kingdom. Yep! Vampires were stuck in the Middle Ages. Anyway, when Bill bought the strip mall, his new income meant an increase in the fealty he owed, and he got a nice letter letting him know how much more he needed to contribute.
I parked in front of Tara’s store, and I could see her helping customers. Well, then I’d be a customer too. I needed something to wear for Thanksgiving anyway, even though it would only be four of us, and two of the group didn’t eat. Jason would be coming over, as he always did, Pam and Eric too.
“Sookie!” Tara called out from the register, apparently happy to see me. If she was so happy, then why hadn’t she returned my calls? I dipped into her mind, curious. She didn’t want me to take pity on her. Huh. Then I wouldn’t. That was simple.
“Hey! I need something for Thanksgiving,” I said, and headed to the right side of the store where she had the dresses.
She joined me soon thereafter, smiling but waiting for me to say something about Eggs. I knew she didn’t want me to say anything, so I didn’t. It’s not like I wanted to talk about him either. “Are you doing something special for Thanksgiving?” she asked; she was the consummate businesswoman.
Tara’s early family life had been horrendous, with abusive and alcoholic parents. All her siblings had left the house as soon as they could, and she – being the youngest – had to stay and put up with her parents’ lunacy. Somehow she had made it out of there and had become a good business woman, judging by how popular her store was. However, her personal life was always in turmoil. She could never seem to find the right partner. Eggs was Exhibit A.
“I’m only having Jason, my fiancé and his… sister for dinner, but you know me. I wanted to make it special.” I hadn’t been sure how to classify Pam in human terms.
Tara’s face opened in wonder. “You’re getting married? Why didn’t I know this?” Tara had known all about my quirk and how completely useless it was to have a relationship with a man.
“Not exactly,” I bit my lip. How to explain? She’d been my friend forever… “Eric is a vampire so we can’t marry.”
Tara’s eyes drifted to my left hand. “That looks like a wedding band to me. And who’s Eric? Who are you and what have you done with my Sookie?” she asked, completely forgetting that she’d been the one who had disappeared.
I decided to overlook her comment, and I told her as much as I could about Eric and our relationship. Little by little we mended our relationship, though I wasn’t sure why it had been broken to begin with. I even called Claudine and set a date for us three girls to go to Houlihan’s. Eric would have a fit…
With a brand new sweater dress hanging inside a bag from a hook in the backseat of my car, I headed to where Bill had told Eric that the Fellowship was building a new worship center. Bill had learned about it on Halloween, and had wanted to tell Eric right away. But there was nothing to be done. The Fellowship of the Sun was considered a religious group with the First Amendment backing their every move. If they wanted to buy land, nothing would stop them. They had bought a parcel of dilapidated industrial buildings, and the land they stood on, over in Minden. It wasn’t very close to Shreveport, but it was close enough to worry. When I passed by, I saw that they had already razed all the structures and cleaned up. Soon they would begin construction. I got a chill and drove away as fast as my Prius could take me.
It made sense that Bill had been disturbed enough with the news to want to interrupt during the Halloween party. He was the only one from our area who had actually been inside the Fellowship. Whatever he’d seen must have affected him. Even creepy Bill could get the creeps. Wonders never ceased.
“When were you going to tell me this?” Eric asked. I’d just told him I had a friend who happened to be a fairy. He was standing in the kitchen with his arms crossed over his chest. There was fear mixed with his anger. He never ever felt fear, unless it had to do with my safety.
“I’m sorry, but she said vampires and fairies don’t exactly mix,” I said. The truth was I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t told him.
“Don’t you think that would be an even better reason to let me know you have a friend who is fae, so if I smell her on you I am prepared? I could have hurt you.” Eric’s voice was deep with worry.
“You wouldn’t hurt me,” I said in a tiny voice that held no conviction at all. He’d never hurt me at all. That didn’t mean he never would.
Eric’s face turned into a mask made of stone. “I have killed fairies before.”
His admission sent chills down my spine and I had to look away. I knew he had killed people before, but when he admitted things like that to me, it made me wonder what the heck I’d been thinking. How could I bond with a murderer? He’d told me he hadn’t killed a human in centuries, but he’d never spoken of other creatures.
“They can’t sense vampires, so they don’t see us coming,” he said and walked closer to me. “I won’t tell you to not be friends with the fairy, but please don’t bring her to the house, for her safety.”
I nodded, staring at his chest unable to look directly at his face. I felt like a little kid who’d done something wrong. I might as well tell him now we’d be going to see men strip… get him as mad as he could possibly get.
“What’s the matter, dear one? I’m not enough man for you?” he asked when I told him. His mood had shifted from anger and fear to amusement. That was an improvement. He wasn’t mad at all.
I finally breathed normally again and smiled. “You’re plenty man enough and then some, but I don’t want my friends to watch you strip. The calendar is bad enough.”
He chuckled and drew me close into a hug. The uneasiness that his words had caused were forgotten as soon as his scent filled me. My heart skipped a beat like it always did when he touched me. I was beginning to notice that the little thrill I felt with Eric hadn’t faded. I supposed it was still early in our relationship to even worry about that, but I found it a comfort. Maybe it would always be like this. I tilted my head up and he met me halfway, his lips soft on mine at first then demanding. He swept his tongue across my lips and they parted, allowing him inside so he could taste me.
“We’re going to be late,” I mumbled into his mouth. It was our Monday off and we had plans to catch a movie at a theatre.
“There will be another show,” he said, pulling away and burying his face at the junction where my neck met my shoulders.
Suddenly the bedroom seemed too far, and the dining table too inviting. After a frenzy of discarded clothes, I ended up on all fours on top of the table, with a very eager vampire behind me. He buried his face at my center, licking a cool path before his tongue darted inside me. He didn’t stay there very long. His arousal was too much to contain. In a swift move I was lying on my back and he spread my knees wide, burying himself inside me as far as he could go.
“Sookie, look at me,” Eric said from way above me. I didn’t know why I wasn’t looking at him. My eyes must have closed on their own in pleasure. When I opened them I took in his form, the sight of him a pleasure all its own. Each muscle danced with the effort of making love: his biceps moved as he held my legs wide; his pecs and abs were taut with the restraint he used not to hurt me, caressing my insides in long languid moves. Eric’s hair was coming out of its ponytail, his eyes had gone almost black and his fangs were fully out, showing me his need, his want. His nipples mirrored mine, hard and begging for attention. Oh, how I wished I could suck on one of those…
As if reading my mind, he bent over me, wrapping my legs over his waist and bringing that one nipple close to my mouth. My tongue darted out, licking it and around it, before my lips closed around it to suck. Eric moaned, a heady sound that sent my senses trilling. He picked up the pace, pumping faster and harder, seeking release within me. I let go of that nipple and fixed him with my gaze.
“Come for me, Eric,” I said. His surprise and lust barreled into me. “Let me hear you come.” He took a deep breath, still looking at me until he couldn’t, until his pleasure made him close his eyes and convulse violently. He curled into me, resting his forehead on my breast as he let out a roar that shook the house. For once he took me with him into that sweet bliss, when it was usually the other way around and I took him with me. Even though I hadn’t done much, I still felt accomplished. Just as I thought that, every single thought in my brain left me when Eric took a belated drink from my neck. I’d been trembling with the aftershocks of my own release, when I landed inside the purple paradise that was his euphoria as he took my blood.
How had I gotten so lucky? The first lover I’d ever had turned out to be the most exquisite lover I could ever have. And we loved each other, to boot. We both laughed at our naughtiness as we picked up our clothes and headed to the bedroom, which was right next door to the kitchen. That’s how this old house had been built and added to. Nevertheless we couldn’t wait the ten seconds it would take to walk around the corner.
We washed and dressed quickly. Maybe we could catch the next showing of the movie we wanted to see. A frenzied knock on my front door made us roll our eyes in perfect sync.
“I’ll get it,” I said, figuring it was my brother.
I was wrong. There was a big holey brain behind that door. I opened it quickly, simply because the frenzied knocks sounded like danger was just around the corner, and whoever was knocking needed help. On the other side of my threshold I found Bill and the first thing that struck me as incredibly odd were his tears of blood.
“Please, Sookie,” he whispered, looking over his shoulder.
“Come in,” I said, standing aside. He came inside in a blur, and met Eric who had come out of the bedroom at the commotion. Whatever was wrong, Bill wanted Eric’s help.
“Take this,” Bill shoved his PC and laptop bag into Eric’s hands. “Give it to Queen Sophie-Anne if I don’t come back by the first of January.”
“Bill,” Eric’s voice was grave. There seemed to be actual concern in his tone.
“My maker calls. I must go. Please, Sheriff,” Bill said, walking backwards, right back out the door. It was as if someone was pulling him with a rope. Each step out the door seemed to ease whatever was ailing him, until with a sigh of relief he ran away into the night.
“What was that about?” I asked, still staring out my driveway, where Bill had disappeared in another blur of motion.
“His maker calls, and he was stalling,” Eric explained. When I turned to him he was looking at the computers in confusion. “These computers must hold the work he is doing for the Queen.”
I rolled my eyes… “Obviously. I’m just wondering why he was in so much distress over a call from his maker.”
“Not all of us have kind makers,” Eric mumbled. It struck me that Eric had never spoken of his maker, though now didn’t seem like the right time to ask. “Let’s take these computers to my house and then we can go watch a movie.”
I knew better than to question Eric about Bill. I didn’t think it was fair for Bill to go to his maker if he didn’t want to go. I also didn’t think there was anything that Eric could do about it. The matter kept nagging me, for some reason, even as we made our way to the movie theatre.
“Do you know who Bill’s maker is?” I asked Eric, turning to him to wait for the answer.
He frowned. “I think it’s a woman, but I don’t know much else.”
“Do you have to tell the Queen that he left his work with you?” I was really curious all of a sudden.
“Not unless he doesn’t return by January first, as he said. Why are you so interested?” Eric asked. It was a fair question.
“I have no idea,” I answered honestly. “I think it’s because of the way he looked, so desperate to give you his work, stalling to answer his maker’s call. I just think it’s odd.”
“You think it’s odd because you’ve only seen the Queen, Godric and I with our children. We are good to those we turn, for the most part. God knows Pam got her fair share of punishments from me, but only in the beginning when she used to defy me, and she always knew why she was being punished,” Eric confessed.
I thought that mighty funny. “She still defies you now.”
“Not like she used to, and nowadays she picks her battles carefully.”
I stared out the windshield as we continued in silence, until another question popped into my head. “What can Bill’s maker do to him?”
Eric made a face. “Anything she wants. He is hers to command as she wishes. She might be very cruel indeed, but we do not meddle in the affairs between makers and children.”
I shrugged. It’s not like I was planning on rescuing Bill or anything. At least now I understood a little bit more about how the vampire magic worked. When your momma calls, you gotta go.
The theatre was busy, but not packed. It was a Monday night, after all. Our moods, which had soured after Bill’s appearance, lifted considerably as we walked hand in hand towards the theatre.
“Would you like some popcorn?” Eric whispered in my ear as soon as we were inside.
“That would be nice,” I said, and started walking to the concession stand. Eric stopped me, turned me around, and guided me to a bench by a far wall.
“Sit for a minute. I’ll get it,” he said. Okey-dokey. He was feeling gentlemanly tonight.
He returned with a bucket of popcorn and a soda, looking all sorts of proud. I returned his wide smile. “Thanks honey!”
Eric picked the seats, and we ended up alone at a corner. “This is a weird angle to the screen,” I murmured.
“Yes, but I may want to kiss you later, and I would like a little privacy,” he whispered in my ear, making me shiver and my heart double its pace. He took advantage of the proximity to nibble my ear and kiss the spot where my jaw met my neck. And then he pulled away to enjoy the previews.
Well… two could play that game. I turned to him and leaned in, leaving no space between us, and nibbled at his ear as well. I felt him shiver with the sensation of my mouth on his soft skin. I wiggled a little bit, making it clear that one of my breasts was firmly pressed against his chest. Then I pulled away.
“You’re evil, woman,” he whispered in a hoarse voice.
“No more than you,” I said smugly.
Watching a movie with Eric was always fun. We laughed at the same things, and questioned the same absurdities. Once in a while, during the boring bits, he would bring me close and we would enjoy a delicious kiss in the darkness of the theatre. I was finally doing normal things, things that had been denied me. In that moment I felt grateful that Eric had entered my life.
“Oh, my word… He is gorgeous!” Tara exhaled, taking in the ethereal form of the man who had just started dancing in front of our table.
I could have recognized him anywhere: it was Claude, Claudine’s brother. He looked like the male version of Claudine and Claudette – the third triplet, whom we had met at the door to Houlihan’s. Claude was the epitome of male perfection. His tall body was muscled just right, and his hair was as black, shiny and long as his sisters’ hair. Just like Claudine, his skin looked soft like a ripe plum’s, and was the warm color of coffee with milk. He certainly tanned better than me, or maybe it just looked better on him. I was sure the sun loved him more.
“He’s a grouch, but I love him,” Claudine said at my side, apparently just as mesmerized by her brother as Tara and I were. Her eyes shifted and she became mesmerized by another of the dancers. “Ooooh!” she exclaimed as the dancer came closer to us. She stood up, waving a few bills.
I turned my attention back to Claude, who gave me a seductive smile and a wink. I felt myself blush, and with a smile I stuck a bill into his hip. Tara followed my actions and stuck a bill too, closer to his… package.
Later we got to go backstage and met Claude, officially. He was dressed, but it didn’t really take away from how incredibly sexy he was. His jeans strained over his muscled thighs, and the tight T-shirt didn’t hide anything at all. I momentarily forgot I was married.
“Hello, ladies,” Claude said, his voice was as smooth as his skin.
Tara almost melted beside me, and became giddy as a teenager. I couldn’t help but be happy for her. She deserved a pleasant experience.
“Sookie, Tara, this is my brother Claude,” Claudine said.
“My pleasure,” Tara said breathless, shaking Claude’s hand.
I shook his hand, but he didn’t let me speak before he said, “You’re the one married to the vampire,” and his smile grew.
I was a little nervous about Tara hearing this, but she wasn’t paying attention to Claude’s words, only to Claude himself. “Yes I am,” I said to Claude. I noticed his hair was pulled back into a ponytail and his ears were rounded. He must have had them altered. That didn’t make him less of a fairy, though. He was still reading my mind.
As if on cue, his eyes shifted to Tara. I’d wanted him to pay attention to her, and not me. I had my own hunk a burnin’ love waiting for me at home. Tara was the one that needed some loving. Maybe Claude would be interested in her.
I’d left myself open so Claude could see my thoughts, and wasn’t prepared for the avalanche of images that came from Tara as Claude’s gaze shifted to her. Claudine took my hand in hers and immediately my shields sort of popped into place. That’s what she’d meant. Claudine’s magic was so strong that she could even help me with my own shields. Well… if that wasn’t a fine how-de-do. Could I keep a fairy in my pocket from now on? Claudine giggled beside me. She could still hear everything that passed through my mind.
“Would you care to go for a drink?” Claude asked Tara. She nodded furiously, still speechless, and off they went, leaving the club through the back door.
“I guess it’s time to go home,” Claudine said, still happy as a clam. Nothing ever fazed her.
We parted ways at the parking lot. I headed back to Shreveport, not really thinking much about anything other than the lyrics of the songs playing on my radio. I was singing (off key and at the top of my lungs) when my cell phone rang.
“Hi, honey!” I answered. It was Eric.
“How long until you get home?” he asked. I’d left Monroe almost forty five minutes before, and still had a ways to go. I told him so. “Meet me at your house then,” he said. Bon Temps was halfway between both cities.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. I hadn’t noticed his worry at all. He must have been keeping it from me all night.
“We’ll talk in a few minutes,” he said.
I went straight to the shower when I got to my house and changed all my clothing. I’d been too close to two fairies all night, and Eric already sounded like he had too much on his plate. He arrived at the same time I was drying my hair.
“What’s wrong?” I asked Eric again.
“We have to go to Jackson, tonight,” he said. He was doing the usual pacing thing inside my bedroom, while I looked on from the door to my bathroom.
“As in Mississippi?” I asked only to clarify.
“Yes. Sophie-Anne wants us to find Bill after all. Even after I offered her Bill’s work, she wants the man himself. His maker was last in Mississippi, so that’s where she wants us to go,” he stopped talking when there was a knock on the front door.
He moved first to answer it, as if he knew who it would be. He even opened it, only to find it was Mister Herveaux’s son.
“Alcide,” Eric greeted the man. I’d never learned his name.
“Eric, Miss Stackhouse,” he nodded to both of us. Alcide Herveaux’s expression was serious. He looked about as worried as Eric did, though it seemed to be for different reasons. His brain was hazy, like Sam’s, but I was able to detect an undertone of wanting to help his dad. It must have been the most prominent thing on his mind, if that was what I was picking up.
“Are you ready?” Eric asked Alcide.
“Yes. Will you follow?” Alcide asked. I guessed we were all going to Jackson together. Tonight!
“Sookie, how much gas do you have?” Eric asked.
“About three quarters of a tank,” I said. My car was awesome on gas mileage. I’d already traveled about two hundred miles on only a quarter tank of gasoline. “Um… should I pack something?”
“Do so quickly. Bring something to dress up as well. We should only be there a couple of days,” he said in clipped tones. He really didn’t want to go. His reluctance was almost palpable (a Word of the Day).
I sighed as I pack my new sweater dress. It was the only dressy thing I had in the house. Everything else was at Eric’s. At least it would be warm and comfortable.
“I’m guessing I’ll be reading some minds?” I asked Eric as we drove, following behind Alcide’s work truck.
“Yes. I hate this Sookie. I really didn’t want to go. It’s none of my business what Bill’s maker has planned for him, and it’s none of the Queen’s business either.” Eric ran his hand through his hair, mussing it all up.
“Where are we staying? Why is Alcide coming with us?” I asked. He was too mad to offer information.
“Alcide’s father owns a building in Jackson, and we’re staying with him. He has one of my coffins in his truck, and he’ll keep an eye on you during the day.”
“Yes. The King of Mississippi is notorious for keeping Weres on his staff, so I’ll feel better if Alcide is there with you.”
“The King of Mississippi? Is that where Lorena was last seen?” I was getting overwhelmed with information, but I tried to keep up.
“And you trust Alcide?”
“What kind of shifter is he?”
“You caught that?”
“His brain…” I didn’t finish. He knew what I meant.
“Alcide is a Were, and so is his father. They live in my area and we maintain a good working relationship. Right now Alcide’s father is knee deep in debt. I promised to pay it off if Alcide helps. I will pass the expenses to the Queen later, since she’s the one who wants me to search for that cocksucker.” Eric growled the offensive word. I knew he didn’t like to swear in front of me, so for him to have done so meant he was beyond angry.
“Do you mind if I close my eyes for a few minutes? I’m really tired,” I said. I wasn’t going to ask Eric any more questions, or argue about anything. I would help if I could and trust that all would go well.