Eric knelt in front of me, reminding me of the night he asked me to bond with him forever. He reached up to stroke my cheek. He must have felt how horrible I was feeling about myself. “This is not your fault. You are good, Sookie.”
I took a deep breath. “Sometimes I don’t feel like a good person,” I confessed.
“Now we know where Bill is, thanks to you. His Queen wants him back. His maker will be ordered to release him. Bill will recover and be back to his creepy self in no time,” Eric said, trying to raise my spirits.
Eric made it sound so easy. Wouldn’t a maker fight for her child? Wouldn’t Eric protect Pam with all his might? I knew Bill’s maker wouldn’t relent. He was hers. I knew I hadn’t made his suffering come about with my actions, but what about my thoughts? I was part fae. I had some kind of power in this world. I shook my head. That was absurd. What did I think I was? My own wish-granting genie?
“Okay, so now what?” I asked.
Eric sat next to me on the bed. “Now we visit the King of Mississippi and tell him what the Queen of Louisiana wants. That’s it.”
“Am I going with you?” I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go or not. I didn’t want Eric to go by himself, not that I could protect him or anything, but all the same. I was going where he was going.
“You should,” he answered. “As much as you hate to think of yourself this way, you are a valuable asset to the Queen of Louisiana. Your presence would serve a diplomatic purpose. Besides, everyone knows we are blood bonded. Where I go, you go.” Eric studied my face for any sign of rebuttal.
I was slowly steaming inside at his words. An asset? Where he goes, I go? I knew he was stressed, but that was uncalled for. He didn’t need to say it out loud. He didn’t need to remind me that I was merely a thing to be protected and fought over. I stood up slowly, taking off all my jewelry, taking off my clothes, walking inside the bedroom in only underwear. I felt his lust push into me, but I was so mad that I didn’t care. I put on my jeans and sweatshirt and walked out to the living room, without a backwards glance. I sat next to Alcide on his loveseat and focused my eyes on whatever he was watching on TV.
Eric had followed me to the living room. He didn’t need to say anything, standing as he was with his arms folded over his chest. His stance and his ire inside me were enough of a hint that he was angry. Well, I was angry too, so whatever. Alcide arched an eyebrow, looking first at Eric, then at me, then back at the TV.
I felt the immense desire to move closer to Eric. It was like a compulsion. I gasped. If I’d been angry before, now I was livid. He was calling to me, to heel. I couldn’t believe he used our bond that way. I dug my hands into the cushions of the loveseat. Dog nab it! He would have to come get me if he wanted me to move.
That’s exactly what he did. He walked with a sure pace, bent and threw me over his shoulder. Of course, instantly I felt better because I was with him, but he was about to get an earful. Eric dumped me on the bed unceremoniously after closing the door behind him.
He was in my face half a second later. “How dare you? You swore you wouldn’t run away from me again!” he snarled. Since my anger was feeding on his, and now it was mixed with my shame for breaking my word, it took me a few extra seconds to realize I’d hurt him. He’d hurt me, too.
“You can’t say things like that to me and precede them with ‘I know you don’t like it, but…’ That’s not how it works,” I spat out.
“I was being honest. Besides, it goes both ways. I will not go to a monarch’s house without my blood bonded, especially since the news has now spread wide enough. The same holds true for you. You should not go out alone without me unless it’s during the day. I only agreed to let you go with your friends the other day because your friend is a fairy and can protect you in my absence. You are an asset to Sophie-Anne. She was the one who wanted to make you part of her retinue in New Orleans, and the only reason she allows you to remain where you are, is because you belong to me.” Eric was so mad his fangs had run out fully and his eyes were mostly black pools of nothing.
A knock on the front door of the apartment made us both take notice. Who could it be this late? It was becoming second nature to cast out a mental net and see what I’d dredge up. After everything I’d gone through, I should have been doing it more often.
“It’s a shifter,” I said to Eric in a low voice.
“It’s Alcide’s bitch,” he said, able to hear her, or perhaps smell her.
“Debbie?” I asked for confirmation.
Eric simply nodded, still looking at me. His fangs were retracting slowly, and the blue in his eyes was returning. “I love you, Sookie. I don’t want to argue because my words offend you, particularly when they are true words.”
I knew he loved me deeply because his love flared within me. It was still such a surprise to feel that from him. “I guess you caught me off guard. The things I saw… what they’re doing to Bill… it’s disgusting and now it’s in here,” I pointed to my forehead. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I didn’t want to argue either.
Eric brought me close, pressing his lips to each of my cheeks first, before kissing my lips deeply. We were interrupted by the loud voices coming from the living room. Even without vampire senses I could hear the argument clearly.
“You’re the one who won’t commit and you show up with that whore. Is she your girlfriend now?” Debbie’s voice was shrill and indignant, as if she had the right to move on, but Alcide did not have any such right.
Eric and I looked at each other. There was a smile playing on his lips. If I had been Alcide’s real girlfriend, I might have had a problem with Debbie’s insult. But since I wasn’t, I could let it go and see how ludicrous she was being. I’d seen nothing but her inside Alcide’s brain, and she had left him. Obviously the mistake had been hers.
“At least she doesn’t ask me to give her a brat every time we have sex!” Alcide threw back at her.
“Um…” I started to say something to Eric but his index finger flew to my lips. He shook his head and leaned forward.
“Let him save his ego,” he whispered. I took a deep exasperated breath. He gathered me and made me lay down tucked into him. “Are you still mad at me?”
I was trying to be extra quiet, so I whispered my answer. “I’m still a little mad. The truth is I was thinking that you shouldn’t go to see the King by yourself; that I should go with you. But it hurt to hear you say it after saying that I’m the Queen’s asset. It made me feel like I’m just another possession.”
Eric nuzzled my neck, making me shiver. “You are mine, like I am yours. That is what I meant. You are an asset just like an employee is an asset to a company. Why do you take everything so seriously? So personally?”
“I told you. The things I saw about Bill have me all messed up.”
He ran a cool finger over my temple. “I hate it that others can rape your mind in such a way.” His voice was a deep bass when he said that. I was taken aback by how he perceived the bad things I saw in others’ minds. I knew he didn’t like it one bit when the thoughts of others upset me, but he actually believed those people raped my mind. No wonder he’d gone ape-shit on the Rattrays. It explained so much, about everything.
I turned within his arms, looking at him with new eyes. His love within me was pulsating slowly, alternating between it and lust… need. He’d tried to be good, for me. Pam had said it in the beginning: he had wanted to take me, because he didn’t know how to earn my love. And why would he want to earn it, anyway? What was I? But he’d found a way, because… why?
We kept making each other mad and forgiving each other, because… why? And why was I trying to make sense of something that made no sense at all? His love was sparked by his need to protect the one who tried to protect him. My love was sparked by my need to protect the one who would protect me. Or was the need to protect a byproduct of love?
All these thoughts ran through my head slowly, tangling themselves like kittens in yarn. I could still hear Alcide and Debbie’s voices loud and strident in the living room, but I didn’t know what they were saying and I didn’t want a recap. I just wanted them to shut up so I could make love to my husband.
“Do you mind if we do something about that?” I asked Eric, and pointed in the general direction of the living room.
“What did you have in mind?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.
“I’m not sure, but I can tell Alcide doesn’t want her this way. If she doesn’t calm down one is going end up hurting the other.” Both their minds were angry red hazes.
He thought about it for a few seconds, and I could hear every manner of curse issuing forth from la Debbie. Holy cow! She could swear like a sailor!
“Let’s go. We need some peace whichever way we can get it,” he said.
We tiptoed out holding hands. The two lovebirds were so loud they didn’t even notice when we first came out, so I cleared my throat and waited until both of them were looking at us. Alcide was devastated on so many levels. Debbie was staring daggers at me, barely registering the fact that a very large vampire was half in front of me. Eric was afraid these two would turn and go at it in their other forms. I didn’t need to read his mind to know this.
“Thank you for looking after Sookie, Alcide. If you don’t mind I’ll take her home now,” Eric said.
Immediately Debbie put everything together. She was a bitch, but she was a smart bitch. She thought I’d cheated on my vampire boyfriend with Alcide while Alcide was on watch duty. No way was she going to think Alcide had lied… whatever. It shut them up.
Eric and I left, took the elevator down and went outside of the lobby. It was freezing and I shivered.
“Up you go, my love,” Eric said, bending so I could put my arms around his neck. He wrapped my legs around his waist, holding me tight against him, and up we went to the window of Alcide’s spare bedroom. It worked. The condo was quiet.
“I can hear them in the bedroom. I believe they’re making up,” Eric said, not letting go of me as he walked to the bed.
“I want to make up too,” I said and kissed his lips gingerly, soft kisses, whispers of what I really wanted. I didn’t know it was possible to fall in love again with someone, but I had. My heart skipped a beat when he returned my kisses with his own, his cool breath sweet on my mouth.
We made love like it was our first time, although it was better. I knew how to please him now, and he knew my body too. He moved inside me excruciatingly slow while we kissed, savoring everything our bodies could give, and take. After what seemed like a very long time, our lovemaking morphed into that overwhelming need, the hunger for each other. It was actual hunger: I craved his body as much as he wanted my blood. Eric held my arms over my head, thrusting inside me with purpose, bringing on the little thrills, until he fastened his mouth onto one of my upper arms. He bit, and fed, and his euphoria filled my whole body. It was a miracle I had the wherewithal to remember we weren’t alone in the condo, and came with a simple sigh, clamping down on Eric who let out the tiniest whimper as he spilled inside me. We lay tangled together for so long that his body became almost as warm as mine.
“I guess I have to get something to wear to see the King tomorrow,” I ventured a guess.
Eric reached for his cell phone on the bedside table. “I’ll leave Alcide a message to take you shopping tomorrow.”
“Why does he have to watch me during the day? Do you really think the King knows I’m here? And why would he mean any harm to me?” I asked.
“I have no way of knowing any of that. I only know that I want you accompanied at all times. Call it a gut feeling.” Far be it for me to question Eric’s gut feelings. I certainly should’ve paid attention to mine more often.
Russell Edgington, the vampire King of Mississippi, lived in a restored antebellum plantation, complete with a huge mansion as the centerpiece. In the night, it looked like a giant three-layered cake. Eric drove the Prius up a very straight, very long drive. Off to the right of the driveway, on an empty field, I saw what looked like the preparations for the concert that was to take place tonight. The King sure knew how to liven things up. The trees lining the drive were heavy with twinkle lights, and between some of the trees he’d put giant cardboard cutouts of Elvis Presley, each one with its own spotlight.
I was nervous, but otherwise okay. Alcide had gone shopping with me, and I’d found something suitable without having to drag him all over God’s green Earth. I was wearing a tailored pair of black pants, a black turtleneck sweater, and a blood red wrap that brought it all together in a country-club-wife kind of way. It was perfectly acceptable for the type of weather and the type of visit. Eric was wearing his dark gray suit without a tie.
We parked right in front of the house, and a very tall, very sexy male vampire showed the way to the back of the house. I only noticed a few females, vampires or otherwise, inside the house. The majorities of the people were male, and dressed for a night out on the town… or for the concert, as the case may be.
We were shown to Russell Edgington’s study, where he was already expecting us. He was a small man with red hair. As soon as he saw me, he stood up and walked around his desk, taking my hand in his and bowing over it.
“You must be Sookie Northman,” he said with a thick southern accent. He was the perfect southern gentleman.
I was taken completely by surprise, since vampires tended not to touch anybody during a greeting, but quickly recovered and curtsied as best I could in my red heels. “My pleasure, Your Majesty.”
“Your Majesty,” Eric said to my left, bowing to Russell.
“Eric! Good to see you again. Please, sit,” Russell pointed to two thick leather chairs in front of his desk. We all took our seats. “What brings you here? Surely not the concert.”
“Sadly, no, though I am sure it will be quite the experience,” Eric answered. “We are here with orders from my Queen to recall Bill Compton, a vampire who owes me fealty and is indebted to my Queen,” Eric said, bending the truth a little. Bill owed Sophie-Anne, alright: he owed her a project.
“That is an easy enough request,” Russell said, and hit a button on a desk phone. About a second and a half later we saw that he had summoned a thick vampire woman, definitely someone nobody would mess with. “Betty Jo, meet Eric Northman, Sheriff of Area 5 in Louisiana,” Russell pointed at Eric. Both vampires nodded. “Eric, Betty Jo is my second. I don’t believe you’ve met before.” Russell turned to Betty Jo with love in his eyes. I was positive it wasn’t the carnal kind. “Go retrieve Miss Ball and tell her to bring her child. His Queen has need of him.”
Betty Jo nodded and left. I was flabbergasted at how easy this was turning out to be. It was like asking a neighbor for a tool back (“Can I please have my Weed Whacker back?” “Sure, here it is! I even put a new string on it.”). I began to think differently when I heard the screams coming down the hall.
“I am not letting him go! He’s mine, my child,” and on it went. This must have been Miss Ball, Bill’s maker. She sounded shrill. A minute later I saw why. Two very burly vampires were carrying her into the room followed by Betty Jo. They dumped her to the floor with a loud thump and stayed nearby. Eric stood up at the same time as Russell, and positioned himself to block me from the female vampire crumpled on the floor.
“Lorena, where is Bill Compton?” Russell asked beatifically, as if speaking to a child. “His monarch calls.”
The vampire Lorena’s dark eyes darted between everyone present, like a mad woman. I wondered if vampires could lose their minds, because she certainly looked like she belonged in a padded room, with her dark hair wild around her. Amazingly she was dressed very well in a black and white cocktail dress. “He won’t tell me what I want to know,” she said through gritted teeth. “If I let him go he will never come back to me.”
“I tire of this, Lorena. First with your female child, now with your male child? That’s quite enough,” Russell turned his gaze to one of the burly men. “Get Bill Compton so his Sheriff can take him home.”
“No, please, Your Majesty. He’s mine. He’s all I have. I love him,” Lorena begged, crawling on her hands and knees to Russell. I had to admit I was morbidly fascinated by the whole thing. It was like a bad soap opera.
The large vampire returned with what looked like a bloody corpse. I couldn’t suppress the loud gasp that escaped my mouth. I covered it because I knew I would gasp some more before all was said and done. Immediately tears stung my eyes. Fine, Bill was creepy. Fine, he’d invaded my privacy. But no, he did not deserve what his maker had done to him. When the burly vampire handed the bloody mess that was Bill to Eric, it was all I could do to hold back my sobs.
Lorena chose that moment to launch herself at her child. Since I’d been standing between her and Eric as we’d turned to leave, she knocked me down on the floor in an effort to stop Eric. Before she could reach Eric the burly vampires held her back. Russell was at my side immediately, helping me off the floor, and Eric had already put Bill down on the floor to deal with Lorena.
“That woman attacked my blood bonded,” Eric accused Lorena, pointing his finger at her in a damning way. He looked livid, but didn’t raise his voice.
“Mr. Northman is correct,” Russell said, by my side. He’d pulled me up and was guiding me back to Eric, truly the gentleman. “Betty Jo, take care of it.”
The two burly vampires followed Betty Jo out of the room, carrying a screaming and thrashing Lorena. What happened to people who attacked a blood bonded pair? Oh, yes… it was a death sentence. I cringed, but immediately went to Bill, who was lying motionless and helpless on the floor. Before I had a chance to do much, I was pulled away by a pair of strong hands, and made to stand farther away. Eric then picked Bill up again and walked out, with me following. He didn’t feel the need to thank the King, but I did.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” I said, curtsied quickly, catching a glimpse of Russell’s nod, and half ran to join Eric.
I found Eric had stopped in front of another vampire who was bowing to him ceremoniously. “Master Eric,” he said, and then straightened up. I almost ended up on the floor again. Let’s just say that Bruno’s description of the Elvis impersonator had not been accurate. This was no impersonator. There was no way.
“Bubba, nice to see you,” Eric said to the man. “Can you excuse us? We’re in a hurry.”
Bubba/Elvis stepped aside and shot me a smile. I smiled right back, half in awe; half in gratitude for letting us pass, since Eric was too stressed to remember any of his manners.
“Will he make it home?” I asked Eric as we drove out of the King’s plantation. Bill was lying in the backseat, too big to fit properly.
“Yes, but he’s going to need help,” Eric answered in a clipped tone. He was angry, and there was a little confusion coming through. I supposed he was trying to figure out Lorena’s motives for being so horrible to both her children, judging by what Russell had said.
We drove in silence for a long time. Bill was unconscious and Eric and I were lost in our own thoughts. As we neared the Louisiana state line, the silence was pierced by a harsh sob from the backseat. I looked back. Bill’s face was contorted into a mask of pain. I turned in my seat so I could see him better, and grabbed the hand that I could reach, to see if it would calm him. Eric pulled the car over on the side, and was gone from his seat a second later. He opened the door closest to Bill’s head, and tried to feed him a True Blood.
“You’ll drown him like that,” I said. Bill was lying down completely.
Eric arched an eyebrow. “He cannot drown.”
“Fine, but it won’t help if he spits it out, unless y’all can breathe blood somehow,” I said, starting to get mad.
Eric propped Bill up a bit and fed him the blood. Bill swallowed bottle after bottle greedily. I held his hand the whole time, able to see only some of him where the light of the highway reached inside the car. After about the fourth bottle of blood, Bill fell asleep again. He must have been very weak to sleep at night.
We began driving again towards Bon Temps, in silence for all of two minutes. “He’s missing fingers in his other hand,” Eric said. He was all sorts of angry.
“What?!!” I shrieked.
“They’ll grow back, but it’s a painful process.”
I’d finally had enough. “Why did Russell allow this? What is wrong with that woman?” The tears caught in my throat and closed it up. I swallowed the lump painfully. This was awful. Moreover, Lorena had done it before.
“She’s gone now. When she hurt you, it gave Russell the perfect reason to dispose of her without having to pay a fine,” Eric explained.
Amazingly enough, she hadn’t hurt me. Falling on the floor was nothing compared to what she could have done to me. I felt Bill give my hand a squeeze, and I looked at him again. His eyes were open and sad, blood seeping from them too because he was crying.
Eric had called Doctor Ludwig, and she met us at Bill’s house. She followed us in holding a small cooler at her side. I could guess it contained real blood instead of the synthetic kind. Eric set Bill on his bed and stepped aside, letting me and Doctor Ludwig tend to him.
I peeled the shirt off him, watching as he winced. Doctor Ludwig finished with the rest of his clothes, while I got something to clean him with. I knew Eric didn’t approve, but I had to do this. I’d been feeling so guilty; this would help more than just me. He watched me clean Bill’s face off blood, before leaving the room. His jealousy was eating at him, but he understood. Doctor Ludwig was making sure Bill was drinking his blood, while I cleaned him. I reached the hand that had the fingers missing and gasped.
“Doctor Ludwig,” I called the tiny woman over. My voice almost failed me.
She examined the hand. “They’re already growing back.”
“Sookie?” Bill called my name. I looked up, fresh tears choking my words. “It’s not your fault. Why do you cry?”
I looked down, cleaning the already clean hand. “I was so mad at you…” Bill didn’t understand either. Just as well.
“Go home, Sookie,” ordered Doctor Ludwig in a way that said it was not open for discussion.
I joined Eric, who’d been standing right outside Bill’s bedroom. He didn’t say anything as we returned to the car, driving the minute or two it took to go to my house.
“Thank you,” I said as we lingered momentarily on the back porch while Eric opened the door and turned off the alarm system he’d had installed. He turned to me, his expression softening for the first time that night. “Thank you for letting me help.”
Eric pulled me inside the house and into his arms. “You’re welcome,” he said and took a deep breath, stopping short and letting go of the air in a puff of air. “We both smell like Bill’s blood.”
“Shower?” I enticed. I wanted to love him and be loved by him. The place didn’t matter.
I took off his clothes expertly, wanting nothing more than to feel his soft cool skin against mine. I took mine off too, while he ran his hands over the newly revealed naked skin. We did a slow dance in the shower. First he bathed me and washed my hair, then we switched places and I bathed him, having trouble reaching up to wash his hair. So I watched and touched while he did it himself.
The second he finished rinsing his hair, he pushed me against the wall, grabbing my lips with his while his hands started roaming my body again. He knelt in front of me, lifting my left leg over his shoulder, and lovingly nuzzling my curls. “I could eat you all night,” he said huskily before letting his tongue taste me and his fingers invade me.
“Eric,” I moaned. I would never grow tired of saying his name, ever. One of his hands was busy at my breast. I took it and brought it up, sucking on a finger to show him what I wanted to do to his cock. I had to let go of it and hold on to his shoulders as I started shaking too much and felt like my right leg would fail me.
“Tell me what you want, Sookie,” he spoke into my center, blowing his cool breath into my curls.
“I want you, Eric. Eric, Eric!” I came under his mouth as soon as I said the words.
He turned me around, holding my hands against the wall and bringing my hips back to meet with his. I felt him at my entrance, teasing, pulling forward to touch my sensitive nub and making me cry out and arch my back. He took advantage and entered me. It felt so good to finally have him inside me.
Eric hugged himself to me, bending over me, hugging my breasts, hugging my hips, his bare chest against my back and his voice at my ear.
“I need you, Sookie. I love you. This is right. I waited so long. You feel so good, I love you so much.” He grunted and I moaned in response. He reached down to touch me, and I reached down to put my hand on his, guiding him.
“Yes!” I cried out. “Please, Eric, honey,” I began panting, completely lost in the feeling of his whole body in and around mine. “I love you, I love you, Eric.”
“Yes!” he cried out this time. His thrusts became faster, demanding. I heard him moan softly and soon after he presented me with his bloody wrist. I took it and sucked as he sank his fangs on my shoulders.
There they were, lost in his euphoria and my orgasm: his thoughts. I came off my orgasm fast so I could listen. They were filled with the pleasure my body gave him, the way my skin felt tight around him, the fascination he felt at seeing his light skin on my tanned one. There were other things, deeper wishes and musings that were hidden, that wanted to escape and were about to. But I wouldn’t do that to him. I let go of his wrist and his thoughts were silent once more.