The mirror doesn’t lie. I looked definitely younger, to the point that I thought about giving up tanning altogether. For weeks I’d been looking at myself in the mirror and noticing the difference that two years’ worth of tanning (or the absence thereof) could do to my skin. Was I vain enough to let go of my tanning sessions? I didn’t have to give up the sun, necessarily, if I applied liberal amounts of SPF 15 lotion. I shrugged. I would have to make up my mind later. Eric was still waiting for me in the bedroom.
I returned to bed wearing an old nightshirt. Eric lifted the covers and I got in beside him, getting as close as I could and snuggling. He wrapped his arms around me and I put my head on his chest. I liked the way we always ended up wrapped around each other. I caressed the soft hair on his chest, looking for something to distract me while I told my tale.
In all this I felt like someone who’d been given the rudder of a leaking ship. I would tell Eric the future, and then the future would change. My claim of being psychic would sink. My ship was taking on water, but yet I knew that if I didn’t say anything, the storm would overtake me. Damned if I did, damned if I didn’t. What was more, some of the passengers were fated to meet their ends anyway… including Eric.
No! I refused to entertain that idea. I would guide him. I knew enough that even if the future changed I could still direct events by using my own brain and deductions. Eric would be safe. I’d already given him and Pam a lot of information. They would put it to good use, and they still had me to help, like always. I had killed for them. I would kill again if it was necessary. I would do anything within my power to save them and to save myself.
I had changed. Eric had said he didn’t really see it. He saw the brave me, the one who wasn’t smart enough to keep her mouth shut, but did anything, anything to make sure her loved ones were safe. He didn’t see that at one point “anything” hadn’t meant to kill somebody. “Anything” had meant I would ask questions, or I would sass a vampire. “Anything” had not meant staking Lorena to save Bill; or putting a bullet hole in Debbie Pelt’s head to save Eric; or killing Victor Madden to save a whole entire state-full of vampires, none of whom I loved, most of whom I feared.
“Is that even right?” I asked silently of myself, looking up and into Eric’s eyes, who was waiting patiently for me to give him some kind of explanation. Direction. How should he proceed? Our fledgling blood bond was a tiny miracle. He was bonding me to him again, and I was letting him without fighting it, welcoming the bond graciously. Loving him. Did he know what I was capable of? He trusted me. He could already feel me. Did he love me too? Was he in love already? It was hard to tell with Eric. He was never one to withhold any kind or sign of affection. Everything he did, he did passionately. I’d been in love with him and was in love with him still. Killing Victor Madden had been for him. I wasn’t proud of my accomplishment. I was humbled that something bigger than me had driven me to sin to such a degree.
“God doesn’t care about size. A sin is a sin,” Gran would say when I got caught in a little lie as a child. In that case I was damned.
My thoughts returned to my bedroom and to the man (vampire) holding me tight. He needed to know more so I could help him. So he could help me! I took a deep breath again, taking in his sweet stale scent and a hint of cologne, rubbing my cheek into his chest, like Tina used to do to me to mark me as her human. I was Eric’s human and he was my vampire.
“I am… no, that’s not right. I HAVE a little bit of fairy blood in me,” I began. It was the easiest starting point.
“How little?” Eric’s voice reverberated through his chest.
“My grandmother had an affair with a half fairy man. I am one-eighth fairy. That’s what makes my blood a little sweeter and makes me a little more appealing to vampires.”
“You appealed to me before I even smelled you. But go on.”
I took a deep breath. “My telepathy does not come from my fairy side. My grandmother and grandfather drank a little bit of demon blood, and I was the only one with the essential spark able to become telepathic.” I wasn’t even going to mention Hadley’s son Hunter. In this new life I wasn’t even going to look for him. I hated to leave his dad Remy to face it all alone, but I couldn’t expose Hunter. I wouldn’t. “My father, his sister, Hadley, my brother… none of them have the essential spark, only me.”
“Is that where your psychic powers come from?”
I hissed mentally and tried not to show any of my distress. “I don’t know. It’s probably a fairy thing,” I said and decided to continue quickly. I didn’t want him to latch onto the psychic topic. “I still have family in Fairy. My grandfather died a long time ago. I know my grandmother tried to reach him when his daughter, my Aunt Linda, was very sick with cancer. There is something going on in Fairy, and I don’t want to become a pawn between the two factions. My great-grandfather is…”
“Who is he?” Eric asked after I’d been silent for a long time.
“His name is Niall Brigant, Prince of the Sky Fairies.” I stopped talking and waited for Eric to absorb the information.
“Has he revealed himself to you?” Eric asked after another long pause.
“No, not yet. When he does it will be through you. That act alone will seal the rest of my fate. He will lead his enemies to me. They will abduct me and torture me. You will put your people at risk to save me, and you will lose them. In the end I will be a mangled human, and my great-grandfather’s enemies will still get what they wanted: to close the passage between their world and ours. Except that the one who closes the passage will be my own great-grandfather. I don’t think it’s fair for me to suffer for nothing.”
“Nor do I,” he said, his voice was deep and grave. “I will protect you. You are mine.”
“I know,” I said and looked up, meeting his eyes. His skin had that faint luminosity and his fangs had run out. Under the calm voice raged the Viking. I put my hand on his cheek, unafraid and trusting. “I know,” I said again and he nodded curtly before rearranging me the way I had been.
“Tell me, Sookie. What else should I know?”
I told Eric about the Sheriff of Area 6 in Dallas, about Godric and his alias of Godfrey. I tried to word it as something that could be prevented. Godric would find a way to die regardless. I expanded on the business with Bill, what he was working on and his maker.
“One thing, Eric. Do not even THINK of sending me to Jackson to retrieve Bill.”
“Why in the world would I do that? That’s none of your business, nor is it mine. Though I would really like to get my hands on that database…”
“Don’t even think about it, Eric!”
Eric growled under his breath. He didn’t like me telling him what to do. I sat up with a little effort because he didn’t want to let go of me, but eventually did. I needed to make him understand.
“Bill is still working on that thing. His maker is willing to kill him for it. Eventually she will die and he’ll be back to work. The Queen already knows about it, so if you take it for yourself…”
“I understand, Sookie,” he said. I think he rolled his eyes at me, but I couldn’t be sure in the dark. “Come back here.” He held his arms open in invitation. I was tired, or I would not have returned to him. “You want me to avoid pain,” he summarized for me when I was back in his arms.
“Of course. You’re mine too, remember?” I could have kicked myself for saying that. I wasn’t ready to show him exactly how I felt about him yet, though I’d been the one to ask him to be mine. It showed vulnerability that I didn’t want to admit, not even to myself.
“I am all yours, right down to my blood,” he said and I felt a pressure on top of my head. I think it was his cheek on my hair. We remained quiet for a long time, long enough for me to start drifting off to sleep. His deep voice rumbling in his chest brought me back. “Do you mind if I retrofit your house with a place for me to stay during the day? That way I don’t have to leave you until it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Okay,” I said and tried to stifle a yawn without success. “The water table around Bon Temps is too high for basements, but in Jason’s house…” I stopped talking. My exhaustion almost made me say something stupid. I’d been about to tell Eric about the non-existent cubby hole in my bedroom, the one Bill had built himself, the one Eric had used when he had amnesia. I bit my tongue, knowing that Eric was fully awake and in complete control of all his faculties.
“In your old house what?” he asked, as I knew he would. I hoped he was thinking of structural things, and not cubby-hole things.
“The house sits high, so there’s room beneath it. I wonder if it’s the same with this one,” I finished lamely.
“Leave it to me,” he said, sneaking a hand under my nightgown and making a satisfied sound when he found I had no underwear.
Eric took pity on me and bid me goodnight, seeing that I could barely keep my eyes open. “I would rather you be completely awake and an active participant,” he said, and I could imagine he’d waggled his eyebrows. I giggled and moved to the side he’d just vacated on the bed. I watched as he got dressed and inhaled his sweet scent on my pillow.
“Thank you for this beautiful room,” I said again. “I feel like ‘The Princess and the Pea,’ without the pea.”
He chuckled. Obviously he knew the story. He sat on the bed and leaned close, his hair tickling my cheek. “It was my pleasure. It makes me happy to give you things.”
“It makes me happy too, but sometimes I feel guilty when people give me things and I can’t return the favor,” I said and grabbed his hand, twining my fingers with his.
Eric kissed my temple and pulled away, his face turned to our hands knotted together. “It’s been a long time since…” he paused, bringing our hands up and kissing mine. “To know that you would like to repay me in kind is enough for me,” he finished. “And sex, I won’t turn down sex,” he added and smiled widely. I could see his white teeth and the tip of his fangs glistening in the faint light coming in through the window.
I couldn’t help but smile back. “You are horrible!”
“That’s not what you said earlier,” he laughed and bent to me again, planting a kiss on my lips.
“Finally!” Pam exclaimed when she walked into my office after passing the front desk. My new assistant must have told her to come on in. Pam looked every bit the professional, with a navy pencil skirt and a white blouse. Her blond hair was held back into a bun at the nape of her neck. She didn’t look like a soccer mom, but like a CEO. Which she was.
“Hi, Pam!” I beamed. I knew why she was pleased. After a whole week of interviewing applicant after applicant, I’d finally found an assistant worth hiring. I liked her so much that I made her an offer on the spot.
“Tell me everything,” Pam said, closing the door behind her and sitting in front of my dark cherry desk.
“Her name is Judy, she has two daughters in their teens and she is divorced. She’s also very discreet and has worked as an executive assistant. She had shining references, and she’s willing to start right away as you saw.” I beamed at my find.
Judy was a great lady, with an easy manner and a quick smile. She was also supremely competent and had a very “clean” mind. Her focus during the interview had been completely on the job she had performed at other places, readying herself with answers to my questions. She didn’t pass judgment, nor did she have an opinion about every single little thing. After reading the minds of so many applicants during the grueling hours and hours of interviews, reading her mind was like a breath of fresh air. I didn’t check her references because she was remembering what her references had told her when she had asked them permission to use their name and number. All of them were happy to be called. I knew she was single because I could “see” the diminutive bank account and how it grew with the first paycheck she would receive. She was also making dinner plans to take her daughters out to celebrate.
“If she is so great, why did she leave her last job?” Pam asked arching an eyebrow. She trusted me, but she was testing me.
I gave her a smug smile. “Her boss passed away and the company went under shortly thereafter. It’s been a tough economy for everyone, and she’s been on the interviewing circuit for a very long time.” Judy was also black. I was sure that had something to do with her lack of work. But since I didn’t judge by skin color, only by what her mind told me, she could work for me as long as she wanted.
“And she knows she will be working with vampires?” Pam asked, looking at her freshly polished nails.
“Yes, she does. But that doesn’t scare her near as much as not being able to take care of her family. She was professional when she saw you, right?”
Pam looked up and nodded once. “Very. She even offered me something to drink.”
Oh, God! “You weren’t rude and asked for her neck, did you?”
“Sookie,” she sighed and waved me off. “I may be a vampire, but I am still a lady. Since you are so picky with the people that work for you, I was not about to scare the poor woman. However, I will ask for your neck, since I know you pretty well.” Pam’s smile was wicked, her eyes dancing.
I smiled back, as innocently as I could make myself look. I even batted my eyelashes. “I would give you my neck, if only to watch Eric rip yours afterward.”
“Touché,” she said, her fangs lengthening anyway. She liked to bug me.
The rest of the night we spent going over the next person I had to hire: Eric’s day person. If I had been that exacting with my own assistant, I would be even more so with Eric’s. Pam didn’t seem to mind when I told her, in fact she expected nothing less.
“We hired you to be thorough and to make sure all our people are trustworthy. So far he’s been making do without, so I’m sure he’d rather you take your time and find the right person,” Pam said, reading over the ad I was composing for the Shreveport Times. I would use it as a template to advertise on Careerbuilder.com. I’d already set up an account on LinkedIn. I was getting the hang of it.
Later that night I drove home tired but happy. I felt accomplished. I’d hired the first of many people, and I was delighted about finding Judy. She wouldn’t work the long hours into the night like I did, but the reason I remained at the office for much longer than I should have was because I was teaching myself how to type. I’d learned in high school, but without practice I’d forgotten. It wasn’t like riding a bicycle. I needed to practice.
The security lights turned on as I pulled into the driveway. The night was cool, a nip of autumn already drifting in the air. I felt a shiver run down my spine and attributed it to the cold. I didn’t bother locking the car and walked quickly to the house. I hadn’t worn a jacket over my work ensemble because I’d left the house when the day was warm and hadn’t counted on it becoming so cold at night.
My cell rang inside my purse before I climbed the porch. I slowed down to retrieve it from an outside pocket, knowing only one person who would call me at such an hour (it was one in the morning!).
“Hi, Eric!” I said nearly breathless, but not because I was walking fast. I loved hearing his voice.
“Sookie, my lover,” he purred. “Are you home?”
“Yes, I just got home now. Hold on.” I held the phone between my head and my shoulder. The door was going to need replacing soon. It had a trick to it, and I needed both hands to open it. “Sorry, the door…”
I didn’t get to finish my sentence. A cool hand covered my nose and mouth and I tried to scream. As I did I’d taken a deep breath through my attacker’s fingers, and I knew the scent immediately. A sharp pain stopped my cry, and another made everything go black.
My dream faded in and out, like a lazy strobe light. It was gray, mostly. But sometimes it was in color. I was laying on something softer than floor, harder than a bed. That was odd because my new bed was perfect. That’s how I knew I was dreaming. I concentrated. Maybe it was one of those prophetic dreams and I needed to pay attention.
Beside me was a man watching me sleep. He was lean and tall, with dirty blond short hair and green eyes. He touched my head a few times and spoke, but I couldn’t understand him. In my dream he wasn’t speaking English, and I wanted to explain to him that I didn’t know any other languages. My mouth wasn’t following my brain’s orders, so I was left to look at the stranger.
The image faded to black.
I became aware of a nearby buzzing and the fact that I was waking up with the worst headache in the history of aches. The buzzing was inside my head, and it started to fade as I gained consciousness. I tried to open my eyes but the light in the room made everything hurt worse. The pain was so excruciating that I felt it all the way down my back, down to my feet. I tensed and got a charley horse on my left leg. I was the embodiment of pain.
I felt a warm hand on my face which moved up to my temple. That’s where the pain was concentrated. I batted against the hand, trying to sit up and take care of the pain on my leg, but the more I moved the more I hurt all over. The whimpering sounds in the room were coming from my throat, and there was nothing I could do to stop them. There was nothing I could do to find out what was going on, or why there was a warm person touching me. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but the only one allowed in my room was Eric.
“What hurts?” a man asked with a deep accent.
I opened my eyes and forced myself to look up. The man’s green eyes were full of concern, so I decided to answer. “My head! My leg!” I said between cries. I felt warm hands at my leg, then at my foot, flexing it up at a right angle to my leg. The cramp began to ease. I reminded myself to open my eyes and saw him working on my leg, massaging the cramped calf.
“Is that better?” he asked, his accent still as deep. It sounded French.
“Yes… my head?” I asked, reaching up to touch my temple. There was something against it. Gauze? “What happened?”
“You were hurt. I am taking care of you,” the man said and returned to my side. He was kneeling on the floor beside me. His face told me much more than his words. He was not happy at all, but he was concerned for my wellbeing.
“Are you a doctor?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered and looked around with a strange look on his face, like he couldn’t believe where he was. “Yes,” he said again, “my name is Nino. What is yours?”
“Sookie,” I said and swallowed. I looked around a little more. We were inside a room with two narrow beds, a toilet and sink hidden by a wall, and a door. That was it. “Where are we?”
Nino looked around too. “Baton Rouge, inside a vampire’s house. I came to America to visit a colleague at Oschner and… well, here I am taking care of you,” he smiled ruefully.
“How did I end up here?”
“A vampire, I suppose. I was brought here and you were already here,” he said. English was definitely not his first language. It was French, I was sure of it now with the way he’d said Baton Rouge and the odd manner of speech.
“I’ve been abducted,” I mumbled, more to myself than to Nino. I couldn’t believe my rotten luck. And all this time reliving my past I’d thought I’d be spared from abduction. It just goes to show that some things never change.
“And me too. They took me from a parking lot at the hospital. But, let me check you. I am worried about the…” he gestured to my head. He looked away from me, as if he was looking for something beside him. His hand came back into my field of vision holding a small flashlight. At first I flinched, but I knew he had to look at my eyes. I’d gotten beat up enough to know he was checking me for a concussion.
Nino mumbled to himself in French, as if taking down mental notes. He helped me sit up, which did not improve my headache in the least, nor the view. There was a small plastic box with medical supplies on the floor beside him. He rummaged through it once more and seemed not to find what he was looking for. I was wondering what time it was.
Then I remembered that I’d been on the phone with Eric when I was about to go inside my house and somebody had put his hand over my mouth. No! Not “somebody.” I knew who it had been like I knew my shoe size: Bill. Damn him to the pits of hell. He had abducted ME? Who did he think he was? I hope Eric dismembered him before killing him.
Oh, God! Eric would be beside himself!
“Do you know what time it is?” I asked Nino. I felt fear in my gut, but not for me. I was sure I would survive this. The thought that Eric would be worried sick was making ME sick too.
“Nearly dawn, so you can sleep without danger,” the doctor said, forcing a smile.
“YOU can sleep without fear, Nino, but I can’t. I know more about this world than what other humans know,” I said, thinking of the werewolves that Russell Edgington hired. I tried to use my curse to my advantage, but I could only feel empty brains around us.
Nino moved so that I would look at him, making me meet his gaze. “Like what?”
My shoulders slumped. I felt that Nino’s abduction was my fault. If I hadn’t gotten myself abducted… Jesus Christ Shepherd of Judea! What the hell was I thinking now? Like getting abducted was my fault? I squared my shoulders a made sure Nino was paying attention.
“All those things we were told as kids, people that can shift into animals, fairies and elves that are as vicious as any serial killer, all of that is real, just like vampires are real,” I said with venom dripping from my voice. My brain was buffeted with Nino’s sudden fear. Now I felt guilty but for another reason. The foreign doctor was not at fault. The poor guy had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and was paying for it with an abduction and being inside a locked room with a demented woman. “I’m sorry, Nino. I’m sure once the vampires are done with you they will erase your memory of this. You are as safe as any human can be.”
“And you? Will you be safe?” I didn’t answer. He lowered his voice to a tiny whisper and got very close, to talk into my ear. “I will tell them you are not well. I will ask them to take you to the hospital. If they don’t at least they will keep me to tend to you. I will not leave you.”
Nino’s fear was replaced by courage as he said those words. His thoughts were not as easy to read as others, but he was all human. He was smart and compassionate, choosing to stay to make sure I would be safe. He thought of himself as a protector of life, the doctor in him acting almost like a cop.
“Thank you,” I said, even though I had no intention of letting him stay with me for any length of time. The moment Bill came through that steel door I would make sure he saw me healthy and not in further need of a doctor. And then I would tell Bill and whoever else was in this with him where they could stick a long silver pole.