My body instinctually tried to recoil from the man who held me. But his grip was firm, and from the way he wrenched my arms behind me to grasp them in one hand, told me he had some experience with subduing people. His other arm was still wrapped around my body, clapped over my mouth to keep me from screaming. He was much taller than me, and much stronger, easily lifting me from my feet and beginning to carry me from the bar.
I kept kicking my feet, hoping to at least slow him down, and maybe throw his balance off enough to make him drop me. But this guy was truly a brute. There was no way I was going to knock him off-balance, and we both knew it.
But there was one thing I could still do that he didn’t know about.
I dropped all efforts of holding my shields in place and let myself slid into his thoughts. With his bare hand clamped over my mouth, I didn’t have to worry about making a stronger connection.
His thoughts washed over me. And I instantly felt like I needed a shower. And maybe even to scrub with bleach.
I didn’t hear his thoughts so much in words as I was immersed in his feelings. But I could also see the images playing in his head about what he wanted to do with me.
My body instantly went still. Fighting just excited him more. He liked his women to fight. The harder the better. Just so that he could hit them to subdue them.
The images in his mind were hazy and tinged with red, but through the haze, a few disjointed thoughts slithered through his mind.
… told to get the blond-haired waitress … so hot, smells so good … won’t care if I have a taste of her before I deliver her … only hit her a little …
The disjointed thoughts and images suddenly ceased as I crumpled to the gravel, the man’s hold on me suddenly falling away.
I scrambled away several feet on my hands and knees before I turned around and looked up.
My once again savior stood holding the limp body of my would-be kidnapper by his neck and shaking him angrily. The man’s body flopped like a depressing rag-doll as Bubba shook him. But Bubba finally looked over at me and dropped the body, instantly appearing in a crouch before me.
Without a second thought, I launched myself at Bubba, wrapping my arms around his neck and clinging to him as the dam broke.
At first, Bubba awkwardly patted my back, but then he relaxed and hugged me back, making soothing noises in my ear.
“You okay, Miss Sookie? I kilt him for ya’,” he whispered in my ear at the same time as the back door of Merlotte’s swung open.
Sam appeared in the doorway, one hand clutching the bat he kept beneath the bar. Guess he had heard something of the commotion.
Bubba let go of me to stand between Sam and me. Peering around Bubba’s legs, I saw Sam pause at the sight of my dead attacker, and then come to a complete standstill when he saw Bubba. I brushed loose gravel from my hands, and Bubba reached out to pull me to my feet.
To defuse any possible mistakes in how to address Bubba, I slowly and deliberately told my boss, “Sam, this is my friend, Bubba. Bubba, this is my boss, Sam.”
The shocked expression slowly slid from Sam’s face as he nodded and came forward. “You okay, Sookie? What happened?” he asked, gesturing to the body.
I started walking forward to look at the body, surprised when Bubba walked forward with me, not letting go of my hand.
“He grabbed me from behind when I was throwing the garbage in the dumpster. He was sent to kidnap me, but I don’t know why. I’ve never seen him before,” I explained as I looked the dead body over.
He was tall, a little over six feet by my guess, but built like a brick wall. His leather biker pants and tight Harley Davidson t-shirt were meant to effectively display his thick corded muscles. His black leather vest looked plain from the front, but when Sam rolled him over, the back of the vest revealed a howling wolf silhouetted against a full-moon. It seemed a bit cold for just a t-shirt and vest, but something was telling me this guy was one of the two-natured, and Sam said they didn’t feel the cold like normal humans.
Thick dark brown curly hair was pulled back in a low pony tail. His face was covered by a thick beard, a slight shade lighter in color than his hair. But nothing in his face looked familiar. I’d seen lots of bikers over the years in my travels, but I was certain I’d never seen this one.
“Why would a Were be sent to kidnap you?” Sam asked in a low voice.
I think he was mostly talking to himself, but I couldn’t help interjecting, “You mean Were, like Werewolf?” In our discussions, Sam had told me that werewolves often referred to themselves as simply Weres. When he nodded distractedly, I murmured to myself, “Makes sense, his thoughts had that strange haze like yours.”
Sam looked at Bubba again, this time in an assessing manner.
Wanting to move things along, I asked, “What do we do now? We can’t call the police and tell them what happened.” I nodded my head towards Bubba as I spoke, indicating just why we couldn’t call any humans in.
Bubba was still holding my hand, but his mind seemed to have drifted away again as he looked off into the distance with a faint smile on his face.
“What’s he doing here?” Sam asked, nodding towards Bubba.
Good question. Turning towards Bubba, and tugging on his hand to get his attention, I asked, “Bubba. What were you doing here tonight?”
His face was blank for a moment, then it cleared as he answered, “I came to see you, Miss Sookie. I was gonna stay with Bill but he wasn’t home, so I thought I’d come see if you wanted to watch a movie again.” The boyish smile on his face, brought a smile to my own, even during these circumstances. Bubba had stopped by my house several times now, and twice we had simply relaxed in the living room and watched old movies that I had on VHS.
“You weren’t home neither,” Bubba continued, “So I figured you was workin’ and I thought I’d wait out here for you and make sure you got home okay. Did I do good, Miss Sookie?”
I smiled and squeezed his hand. “You did real good, Bubba.” I assured him. I was just glad he’d waited out in the parking lot for me, and hadn’t tried to come into Merlotte’s like he had last week. We’d just been lucky that Bill had been there that night and had managed to grab Bubba before anyone saw him. I guess Bill had actually gotten through to Bubba that he had to stay hidden in the parking lot if he came here.
Sam gestured to the dead body, “I guess we should call Eric then, since Bubba’s a vampire in his area.” He looked over his shoulder at the bar, before turning to me again. “The last couple of waitress’ll be leaving soon. Do you think you can get him to move the body while I call Eric?”
I nodded in understanding. Most of the customers had already left, but Arlene and Holly would be finishing up inside soon (and probably wondering where we were) and if they came out to the employee parking lot to leave right now, they’d for sure call the police at the sight of a dead body.
Letting go of Bubba’s hand, I crouched over the dead body. Carefully feeling around, I finally found his wallet. The license was from Mississippi, but I didn’t recognize the man’s name any more than I could recall his face. Why would some guy I’ve never seen before try to kidnap me? He’s got to be working for someone else, but who? Someone in Mississippi? Why?
I’d lived in the magnolia state in the past, but if I remembered, it had only been for a few months before I’d moved to Georgia for a while.
Standing up, I spotted a beat-up car at the far edge of the employee parking lot with Mississippi plates. Not the bike I’d been expecting, but I guess if you were kidnapping someone, a car would be easier. And I doubted there was anyone else here with Mississippi plates on their car.
“That’s got to be his car, Bubba,” I explained, gesturing to the old brown sedan. “Can you carry him over there and put him in the back?”
Bubba nodded and scooped the body up, zooming over to place him in the car.
It was none too soon as Arlene and Holly came out the back door with Sam following. I could tell Sam was trying to engage them in a conversation and slow them down, but it was difficult to stop a tired waitress on the path of heading home after a long shift.
I glanced over my shoulder and was glad to see that Bubba had disappeared for the time being. Even if he momentarily seemed to zone out at times, Bubba seemed to be having a good night and functioning pretty well, all things considered.
I waved good-bye to the other waitresses across the parking lot and slowly fiddled around my car like I was going to get in and leave too. Good thing they weren’t parked too close to me. I still had my apron on and didn’t have my keys or purse. But they both seemed too tired to notice.
After they’d pulled out, I started to make my way back into Merlotte’s, but Sam met me part way with my purse in his hands.
“Go on home, Sookie. Eric’ll be here soon to check the body over and he said you should take Bubba with you for protection until he can arrange something else,” Sam advised. I started to argue, but he cut me off. “There’s nothing else you can do Sook, go home and get some sleep. Just stay safe. I’ll run over after Eric stops by and check on you.”
I knew he was right, there was nothing I could get out of a dead body. I almost wished now that Bubba wasn’t so quick just to snap an attacker’s neck. But then that Were’s thoughts washed over me again, and the things he’d planned to do to me, and I couldn’t bring myself to really be mad at Bubba. Maybe it was best not to have to plunge myself into the thoughts of a man like that again. I still felt like I needed to take a shower just from what I had heard in his thoughts before.
Exchanging my apron for my purse in Sam’s hands, I thanked him and turned back towards my car. I knew I’d see Sam later, or Dean I guess, as I’d come to think of him when he was in his collie form. I just couldn’t bring myself to think of him as Sam when he was curled up on the floor in my living room licking himself. It was just easier to think of them as two separate entities.
On full-moon nights, he ran over and would spend the night in the woods around my place, and when he got tired I’d let him in the house to sleep in my living room. I kept my bedroom closed though. I did not want another repeat of the time I found him naked curled up on my bed.
I opened my car door and called out to Bubba. He appeared instantly beside me. I gestured to the passenger side. “Why don’t you come home with me, Bubba? We’ll watch a movie or two before I head to bed,” I explained.
My smile was automatic at the way his face lit up. “I’d surely like that, Miss Sookie.”
An hour later, I was curled up on the sofa with Bubba sitting in the recliner chair, completely absorbed in watching my old copy of Casa Blanca. I’d already learned that he didn’t seem to like or always understand some of the newer movies or TV shows, but he loved some of the old classics that I had.
“Bubba, where are you spending the day?” I asked him.
He shrugged but didn’t look away from the TV. After repeating his name, he finally tore his gaze away and answered, “I was suppose’ to stay with Bill, but he’s not home.”
That was the second time he’d said that. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen Bill myself in a week or so.
“Do you think Bill’s been gone for a while?” I wondered.
Bubba looked away from the TV again and seemed thoughtful. “Guess so. His mail was piled up in front of his door. I wondered why he’d leave it there,” he answered slowly. Then his attention was immediately diverted back to the TV.
Uncurling from the sofa, I let the blanket I’d wrapped around me slid down and told Bubba, “Well, why don’t you spend the day here in the emergency hidey-hole that Bill made. I’ll go open it up and make sure it’s ready for you.”
Bubba nodded, but like a little kid absorbed in their favorite show, I wasn’t really sure he’d heard me.
Several weeks before, Bill had asked me if he could construct an emergency sleeping space for himself in my home. He explained that he didn’t think he’d need it, but he all vampires liked to have backups. Just in case. I’d agreed since I figured if he didn’t need it, it might come in handy for Bubba since I seemed to have become yet another unofficial babysitter for the man from Memphis when he was staying in the area.
Not that I was complaining after tonight. I was counting my lucky stars that Bubba had once again been there for me. Most of the vampires passed him around since he was sort of like an idiot royalty to them. Not much was expected of him, and they all took turns housing him. After tonight, I wouldn’t mind having to keep him around. He’d certainly saved my butt. And slow or not, he was sure useful if people were going to keep attacking me.
Going to the spare bedroom across the hall from my own room, I opened the closet and pulled out the old suitcases and boxes that covered the trap door to conceal it. When I pulled up the swinging trapdoor, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t empty.
“What the heck is all this?” I whispered to myself.
Reaching into the space below the floor, I pulled out several boxes. They were filled with what looked like a computer CPU, a laptop, stacks of files, and a lot of computer discs. Bill was the only one who knew about this little space since he’d built it, so he’d obviously hidden these boxes here, but why?
Knowing they couldn’t stay here since Bubba needed the space, I carted them to the attic for safekeeping. They must be important if Bill felt the need to hide them in my house, and I’d try to keep them hidden. For now.
As I laid a pillow and blanket in the hidey-hole for Bubba, I couldn’t help but wonder just what was on those discs and computers. I’d seen Bill working furiously on a computer one night when I’d dropped some contractor’s names and phone numbers off for work that needed to be done on the Compton place, but he’d been real evasive when I asked what he was working on.
I stayed in the little bedroom and called out to Bubba. When he joined me by the open closet, I gestured to the little sleeping space. “Bill built this for a vampire to sleep safely in, so you make sure you get in there before dawn. I’m going to head to bed myself.” I paused and thought for a moment. “You won’t miss when dawn is, will you?” I wondered.
“No ma’am. Thank you for letting me stay, Miss Sookie,” Bubba answered sheepishly.
On impulse, I carefully kissed his cheek and said good-night.
“Can I keep watching the movie, Miss Sookie? I don’t wanna keep you awake none,” he asked in a worried voice.
The movie was still playing in the other room, but I could barely hear it anyway. “Of course you can, Bubba. Watch anything you’d like. Just make sure you’re tucked in before dawn.”
He smiled brightly. “You sure are sweet to me, Miss Sookie.”
I’d already given up trying to get him to call me just “Sookie,” so I just shook my head and headed for my bedroom. Pausing in the doorway, I called out to Bubba’s retreating form, “Bubba, if a dog shows up here tonight, you have to be sure to leave him be too, okay? He’s my dog, Dean, and he’s off-limits like Tina is.” I wasn’t sure if he would drink dog blood too, but I thought it was better safe than sorry.
He turned back towards me, and I saw the look of disappointment in his eyes. “Aww … okay, Miss Sookie. Maybe Eric or Miss Pam will have a nice cat for me tomorrow night.”
I fought to keep the smile on my face and nodded, not wanting to think about just where Eric or Pam were finding cats for Bubba to eat or drink or whatever. I just didn’t want to think about it.
I curled up on my bed, Tina instantly joining me. She always seemed to sense that it was dangerous to be loose around the house when Bubba was here, so she mostly stayed hidden in my bedroom. And they said animals were dumb.
My sleep was light for several hours, half expecting Eric or Pam to show up, but neither did and I eventually drifted off into a deep sleep. But still, I kept wondering where Bill was, and if it had anything to do with why someone was trying to grab me.
When I woke the next afternoon, I stretched lazily in the afternoon sun spilling across my bed. But I paused mid-stretch when I realized I could hear the TV playing in the living room.
Sliding a pair of sweatpants on, I skidded out into the living room, convinced I was going to find the smoking remains of the former king, and cursing myself for not making sure he would get into the hidey-hole before dawn.
“Sam! What are you doing here?” I asked in surprise.
He was lounging on the couch in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that I recognized as being some extra clothes he kept at my place to avoid another awkward incident if Dean spent the night again.
“I told you I’d come by last night, cher,” he answered, switching the TV off and standing up.
“Yeah, but I figured you’d have to be to the bar by now.” It was afternoon, and I wasn’t on the schedule until the later shift, so I hadn’t been too concerned about sleeping in a little.
“Terry can open the bar from time to time. And Arlene and Charlsie are both there to help him. Figured I’d stay here until we know what’s going on.”
The smell of coffee wafted to my nose from the kitchen, and I followed the smell until I was pouring myself a steaming cup. I even reached out and refilled the cup Sam held, grateful that he’d made my morning pick-me-up.
I pointed to the table for Sam to sit down and asked, “You want lunch or breakfast?”
Sam shrugged. “I’m none too picky,” he answered.
“Breakfast it is then,” I told him as I got out the old cast-iron skillet. I had vague memories of Gran frying Johnnycakes in it, and I remembered Jeanie teaching me to cook and lecturing me that there was nothing better than a well seasoned cast-iron skillet.
I fried up a quick breakfast and set it down at the table. “So what did Eric find out last night?” I questioned as I started digging in.
Sam wiped his mouth off and answered, “We found plenty of evidence in that guy’s car to suggest that he was looking to kidnap someone. But not much else. I’m guessing from his vest that he’s part of some kind of Were gang, but I don’t know why he’d want to grab you and Eric wasn’t sharing much.” Sam’s face was grim and it was obvious that he didn’t like Eric not sharing information.
Well that made two of us.
“I thought he’d at least stop by here last night after he checked things out at the bar,” I told Sam.
He shook his head. “By the time he got to Bon Temps and looked at the body it was getting close to dawn. He said he’d swing by at first dark to talk with you.”
“Well, he’s gonna have to come to the bar then. I’m working the late shift.”
Sam shook his head again. “You’re taking the night off and I’m gonna stay here with you until dark when Eric, Pam or Chow can come by to watch you.”
I knew the futility in arguing, these were Eric’s orders, not Sam’s, so I asked my next question. “Who’s Chow?”
“Eric said he’s the new bartender at Fangtasia,” he answered with a careless shrug.
I stifled a sigh. Hopefully he wasn’t like the last one, or I’d rather not meet him. “Was Bubba still here when you got here?”
“Naw, it was just after sunrise when I got here. He must’a gone across the cemetery to Bill’s place already. Eric said it’s Bill’s turn to have him or something.”
I wasn’t about to point out that Bubba was probably in my spare room, but it did bring up another issue. I gathered up the dishes and started washing them up. Looking over my shoulder at Sam still seated at the table, I told him, “You know, I cooked, and now I’m washing. The least you could do is rinse or dry.”
Sam’s face turned pink with a sheepish expression. “Sorry,” he mumbled as he took the dishes from me and began rinsing then drying them.
“I don’t think Bill’s home, actually,” I told Sam as I thought about things.
Sam looked puzzled too. “That’s where Eric said Bubba would be spending the day. Why wouldn’t he be around?”
“I don’t know, but I haven’t seen him in about a week now, and Bubba said the mail was piling up at Bill’s place.” I thought for a moment and added, “I’m gonna head over there and see what’s going on.”
Sam jumped up in front of me. “No way Sookie. If there is something going on, you should stay here.”
“But what if Bill really is missing?”
Sam grumbled under his breath. He knew I was friends with Bill and didn’t care for it. “Fine,” he gritted out. “I’ll go check his place out, but you’re staying here. Do you have any kind of weapon or anything in case someone comes while I’m checking Bill’s place out?”
I walked over to the closet where I’d stashed Jason’s shotgun, and pumped the lever, spitting out one of the 12-gauge slugs as another slid into the chamber. “I’m good,” I assured him.
He nodded and lectured, “Lock the door as soon as I go out and stay here until I get back.”
I did as I was told, and went back to my room to dress and started cleaning up a bit while I waited. I was folding some clean clothes on the kitchen table when Sam returned, knocking at the door to announce his return.
Swinging the door open, I turned back to my current task as Sam began to admonish me. “You didn’t even call out to see who was at the door, Sookie. You gotta be more careful, someone is trying to hurt you.”
I kept folding clothes, briefly pausing to touch my head. “Knew it was you. I could hear you hoping Terry was doing all right at the bar and thinking about what a mess Bill’s place is.”
I was worried about what could have happened to Bill, but I kept my hands busy hoping it would keep my mind busy too and not wondering about what might have happened to him.
When Sam didn’t say anything, I prompted, “So? What did you find?”
Sam sat down at the table and grabbed a few towels to fold. He wasn’t folding them the way I did, but I didn’t stop him. “The place looks like someone went through it looking for something. But I don’t see any signs that anyone was hurt or anything there.”
Which meant Bill at least hadn’t met his final death. At least not at his house.
“What?” I pushed when I saw Sam’s brow furrow.
“I could smell that Eric had been there sometime last night, but that was the only scent I recognized.”
“Why was Eric there?” I wondered.
Sam shook his head. “Maybe he was looking for Bill too. Or something else. From the tossed look of the place, it seemed that they were looking for something besides Bill.”
My mind drifted to the several boxes that were now in my attic. I knew without a doubt that whoever had broken into Bill’s place was looking for the contents of those boxes. Question was: was Eric looking for those boxes too or just their owner?
An hour or so after first dark, my front door opened and Eric strode in. Sam and I were just finishing up cleaning dishes from supper. He’d been much quicker to help with the clean-up this time without me telling him to.
“You may leave now,” Eric told Sam. It bugged me that Eric just barged into my house and ordered Sam around, but as much as I would have liked to rescind his invitation, I knew it was safer not to. I didn’t want to end up in a situation where someone was attacking me, again, and he couldn’t get in and had to wait for me to invite him.
Sam looked at me in question. “Go ahead, Sam. I’m just fine,” I assured him. He started pulling his t-shirt off as he made his way to the back door, and I knew I’d find the rest of his clothes on the back steps after he’d gone.
Bubba had woken shortly after dark, and had been passing his time sitting in the living room watching another movie, but he came into the kitchen when he heard Eric’s voice. Sam had assumed Bubba came across the cemetery from Bill’s when he woke, and I let him make that assumption.
“Wait outside, Bubba,” Eric told him.
“Sure thing. Thank you, Miss Sookie,” Bubba said with a nod and went out the back door.
“Can Pam and Chow come in?” Eric asked me.
I could tell by the voids that two vampires waited outside the front door, so I opened it to find the two vampires sitting on my porch swing.
“Please come in,” I told them and turned to walk back into the kitchen. Pam and Chow, an Asian looking vampire, followed me into the house. The pair wandered around the first floor, obviously taking in every detail, though I doubted that there was much of interest to see.
The kitchen table seemed like the best place to have a discussion, so I folded myself into one of the chairs. Since Eric had already been in my house, he followed me and took a seat at the table too. Pam and Chow soon followed.
Since I’d never seen Chow before, I took the opportunity to look him over. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, but instead was sporting a red vest. Guess it was nice not having to worry about getting cold. But his vest did display the array of dark blue tattoos that covered his arms and chest. I wasn’t sure what they were, but they were strangely elegant looking. They weren’t the crude prison tattoos that my attacker from last night had displayed.
I even did a double-take as I looked at Pam. She wasn’t wearing the long, flowing, Goth inspired clothes that I was used to seeing on her. But then again, I’d only really seen her twice, both times had been at Fangtasia. It appeared that she preferred soccer-mom attire when she wasn’t at their bar. Who would have imagined a vampire preferring to look like a suburban housewife.
Looking back at Eric, I saw that he was slightly scowling, but his face became that carefully blank mask again when he saw my gaze shift. Guess he didn’t like me assessing the other two vampires.
“So what’s going on?” I asked. “Have you found out anything about Bill?”
“A little,” Eric answered.
I waited and then gestured for him to continue.
“It appears that Bill has been kidnapped,” he supplied.
“Who would do that?” I wondered.
“We aren’t sure,” Chow said, speaking for the first time. He had a slight accent, but spoke very clearly. “The witnesses are not agreeing.”
“What witnesses? What happened?” I asked, getting more and more confused.
“It appears Bill went to Mississippi at his maker’s request,” Pam added helpfully. “He was to have returned to Bon Temps to finish his matters here several days ago.”
“What do you mean finish his matters here? And what’s a maker? Do you mean the vampire that made him into a vampire?”
“Yes, Sookie,” Eric answered. “His maker, Lorena, requested his presence in Mississippi. From the message he left with Pam, it seems she had called him to her side once again. He was returning to Bon Temps to close matters here before he left again.”
I looked down at the table as I felt tears sting my eyes. I knew it shouldn’t matter, but it hurt to know that Bill had been going to leave. Friends weren’t easy for me to make. “Was he even planning to say good-bye to me?” I asked in a low voice. It came out barely more than a whisper, but I knew all three of the vampires would be able to hear.
Looking up, I saw three uncomfortable looking vampires. Female emotions didn’t seem to be their forte.
“He planned to pass along a note explaining his departure as well as make some arrangements for your care,” Pam explained.
Eric shot her a look that clearly said he didn’t want her saying as much as she had, and she fell silent again.
Feeling hurt that Bill had simply planned to send me a note, I huffed, “I don’t know why the hell he thought he’d have to arrange for my care. I can take care of myself just fine.”
Eric’s eyes were narrowed as he spoke, “Perhaps he felt responsibility for taking care of his human.”
My eyes shot up to his. “I’ve told you once, and I’ll tell you again. I. Am. My. Own. I don’t belong to anyone!”
His eyes narrowed even more. “Vampires view their dalliances with humans differently.”
“We were just friends,” I sputtered in confusion.
Eric kept staring at me intently, and both Pam and Chow were glancing back and forth between us. I turned to them and asked them to explain. “So Bill went to Mississippi, but what happened to make you think he’d been kidnapped?”
Between Chow and Pam the story came out that Bill had been set to fly back to Louisiana when his coffin disappeared at the Anubis Airlines.
“So let me question the humans who work there,” I reasoned.
Eric shook his head, finally answering instead of glaring at me. “If they were under our dominion, that would be the logical thing to do. But unfortunately, they’re not.”
“So whose ‘dominion’ are they under?” I pressed, my hands making air quotes. Sometimes the formal way vampires spoke just annoyed me.
“These humans are under the dominion of the king of Mississippi, Russell Edgington,” Eric answered grimly.
Guess the formal talk was called for then, I thought with more annoyance.
“I’ve had enough of vampire royalty,” I muttered. Eric’s head tilted at that, but he didn’t ask. Pam had already had me tell her everything I could about the queen’s visit when I’d been to Fangtasia a few weeks back. I was sure she’d repeated every word of it to Eric. “So we can’t just ask to talk to his humans to find out about Bill’s disappearance?”
“It would not be wise if Bill was taken on his orders,” Chow offered.
Of course. Because nothing could be that simple.
“But I thought it was his maker that wanted him. Why would this Edgington guy want him? And I’m guessing since that man who attacked me last night was from Mississippi too, it has something to do with all this,” I said waving my hand around.
“Bill’s been working on a special little project for the queen,” Eric answered, his eyes carefully trained on mine. “Do you know anything about it?”
“What project?” I asked automatically, my face looking carefully confused. Lying had become second-nature after all these years. Well, and I really didn’t know about any project that Bill had been working on, but I was sure that was what was in my attic. And since he’d hidden it here instead of at his own place or even giving it to Eric, there had to be a good reason.
Eric looked quickly to Pam and Chow before he focused on me and accused, “That is a little hard to believe, Sookie. You seem to have been spending a great deal of time with Bill.”
I shifted to the front of my seat to glare across the corner of the table at Eric. “How come? Yes, Bill is my friend, but it’s not like we’re joined at the hip. There’s obviously a lot he hasn’t told me, and I sure as hell don’t tell him everything in my life.”
“You think we’ll believe that Bill didn’t tell you what he was working on?”
“Sure, ’cause he didn’t,” I answered truthfully. There was no need to lie here, he really hadn’t told me anything.
Eric leaned forward, bringing his head closer to mine across the corner of the table. “Here’s what I’m going to do,” he explained. “I can’t tell if you’re lying or not, which is remarkable. For your sake, I hope you are telling the truth. I could torture you until you told me the truth, or until I was sure you had been telling me the truth from the beginning.”
I fell back in my chair away from him at that. His eyes were hard and cold. I could see that he meant every word he was saying.
“But,” he continued, “that might damage you too badly for the other part of my plan. And really, it doesn’t make that much difference if you know what Bill has been doing behind our backs or not.”
My heart was pounding now at his blatant threat, but I still took note of his words. Behind “our” backs. Guess he didn’t like not knowing what the vampires in his area were up to. Part of me was more than a little angry to have landed in the middle of whatever mess Bill was in. Was it too much to ask for a quiet life?
“That got a reaction,” Pam added to Eric.
“But not the one I expected,” Eric responded.
“Well, talk of torture does tend to get reactions out of people,” I snapped at them both.
Eric looked back at Pam and Chow again. “You and Chow wait outside,” he directed Pam. After a pointed look to Eric, she left with Chow trailing behind her.
My heart started thundering even more at being left alone with Eric. Maybe he would decide torture was the way to go.
Eric pulled his chair around the corner and sat in front of me, turning my chair to face his by hooking one heel on the leg of my chair and pulling it towards him.
There was nothing I could do to stop him, so I kept my eyes trained on my hands, waiting to see what he would do. I considered rescinding his invitation, but some part of me kept saying that Eric wouldn’t really kill me, not if he could help it. But then again, that was probably the same part of me that talked myself into doing lots of stupid things.
“I don’t enjoy seeing you scared of me,” Eric said, his face dropping close to mine as he spoke into my ear. “I have always been very fond of you.”
My head snapped up to face him, somehow feeling emboldened by his admission. “It’s hard not to be at least a little frightened when someone more powerful than you talks so causally about torturing you!”
His hand reached up to twirl a strand of hair between his fingers. “It’s hard to imagine you frightened by anything. You have been attacked on multiple occasions, yet I don’t think you even fear me at all.”
The look on his face was somehow both smug and thoughtful. I pushed hard on his chest, trying to force him out of my personal space, but he didn’t move an inch. At least not away from me.
My lips suddenly connected with his cool flesh as he pulled me closer. I was stunned for a moment, and gasped at his sudden attack. Eric used it to his advantage, his tongue easily darting past my lips to slide against my own. I moaned at the sensations. I’d kissed a few men before, but none of them had been like this. For once, I wasn’t plunged into anyone’s thoughts. I was able to focus solely on the sensations of the cool moist tongue that carefully curled against my own before retreating and darting forward again.
Somehow I had ended up straddling Eric’s lap, my chest flush against his with his hands splayed across my back. One of his hands slid downwards, slowly kneading my butt as his other hand smoothed through my hair. Bolstered by the satisfied sounds Eric was making, and his obvious pleasure as he pressed against me, I pushed my own tongue forward, sliding it past his own lips. His hand curled in my hair, tightly griping a handful as he moaned in my mouth.
A thousand years had made Eric one hell of a kisser, but it was incredibly satisfying and empowering to elicit such deep moans from him with my actions. Gaining more confidence, I let my tongue curl around one of his descended fangs. They were more pointed than I thought, and I felt my tongue slice against their sharpness. My tongue retreated at the small sting, but Eric groaned even deeper and followed me with his own, sucking at the few drops that oozed from the cut.
Eric’s tongue retreated from my mouth once more before thrusting back into mine again. My own hands had begun to smooth across his chest, but now they clutched at his t-shirt, bunching the material together as my tongue curled around his, lapping at the strange taste and texture suddenly coating his tongue. For a moment I thought it was my own blood from the cut on my tongue I was feeling. But I drew back with a gasp as I realized it was not my own blood. It had none of that normal coppery taste.
With a gasp I touched my fingers to my tongue, seeing them come away tinged with red. I could feel that the cut on my tongue was already healed, so it wasn’t my blood. Eric had sliced his own tongue on his fang to force his blood into me. I jumped off of Eric’s lap and grabbed a napkin off the countertop to wipe the blood from my tongue.
The look of satisfaction on Eric’s face as he remained in his seat told me everything I needed to know.
“You asshole! You did that on purpose. Why the hell would you try to get me to swallow your blood?” But the answer came to me anyway.
After swallowing some of Long Shadow’s blood, and being freaked out because I was glowing in the dark weeks later (not to mention all the other little differences), I had confronted Bill about the effects of vampire blood. He’d said vampires didn’t normally give their blood to humans. Which led me to question in what cases they would.
“What, you want to keep tabs on me?” I shouted at him. The calculating gleam in his eyes was too much, and my hand reached out and slapped him, trying to knock it away. It did nothing. When I started to strike at him again, his hand darted out and grabbed mine, halting the movement.
He turned his face towards my hand and slowly licked at my palm. I couldn’t decide whether my shudder was in revulsion or ecstasy. Maybe both. He certainly knew how to use that tongue.
He let go of my hand and I pulled it back to my side as he laughed. “See. You have no fear,” he said, still chuckling.
“Why would you do that?” I asked him, falling back into my own chair.
He leaned forward in his chair, invading the space I had just created between us. “I have longed to kiss you for some time. Yield to me,” he whispered in a husky voice.
“Not that,” I muttered, my face hot and tingling. “Why would you try to give me your blood.”
Again, the look of satisfaction told me it was more than try. I’d obviously swallowed at least some of that blood.
“You are intriguing to me. But you are also valuable. It would be good for me to be able to find you if you are in trouble.” He grinned and added, “You seem to find trouble everywhere.”
Bill had also told me that it enabled the vampire to sense the human’s emotions. “I’m not real wild about you knowing what I’m feeling,” I told him.
His grin was unrepentant. He dismissed it with a wave of the hand. “A side-effect to being able to know if you are in trouble and being able to find you.”
He sat back away from me and we fell into silence.
Eric seemed to be able to sit in silence for long periods of time, but I couldn’t take it. “So what’s going on? Are you going to torture me or not? Are you my friend or my enemy? Are you going to help Bill or not? Or are you going to leave him to rot?”
He leaned back further and gave a short laugh. “You are too much.” But the way he said it told me he didn’t find it particularly endearing. “I’m not going to torture you. For one thing, I would hate to ruin that beautiful skin; one day, I will see all of it.”
“In your dreams,” I snorted.
He grinned, looking me up and down. “What dreams they would be.”
He folded his hands behind his head and said almost to himself, “You won’t always be so afraid of me.”
“So what are you doing about Bill,” I repeated, trying to get him back on track. “And why did that guy try to grab me? If they’ve got Bill, why don’t they keep after him until they get this project of his?”
Eric leaned forward again, and was once again serious. “It could be that they think you might know about his work, or that they can perhaps use you against him to get answers. Either way, it seems he has revealed his fondness for you.” His last words came out almost clipped and I wondered if there wasn’t a touch of jealousy there. He pressed on, “It is more than just your life that is at stake here, Sookie. They will keep looking for you until they find you or Bill’s project, but it’s my job and my life that are at stake too, not just yours and Bill’s.”
“Why would your life be in danger?” I asked in surprise. “And why do you have to be the one to look for him. You said it was a project for the queen, why doesn’t she go look for him?”
Eric looked uncomfortable and admitted, “She does not know Bill is missing.”
“We have not told her.”
I kept asking. “Well, why not?”
“She would punish us.”
“Why?” I repeated.
“For letting something happen to Bill, when he was doing a special project for her.”
I couldn’t help the morbid curiosity. “What would that punishment be?”
“Oh, with her it’s difficult to tell.” He let out a choked laugh that said he didn’t want to imagine what it could be. “Something very unpleasant.”
He fell silent again and looked thoughtful.
“Eric, really, what will the queen do to you if you can’t produce Bill on the date her project is due?”
“Sookie, you really don’t want to know,” he explained. It was hard to reconcile that with the small woman who had come to visit me, but at the same time it wasn’t. There was something in her eyes that told me she would do anything if it needed to be done. “Producing his work would be good enough. Bill’s actual presence would just be a bonus.”
“So you’d just leave him to rot if you could get your hands on his project?” I asked in shock.
Eric shrugged. “I protect those who owe me fealty, but if losing one vampire protects the rest of those who owe me fealty, so be it.”
My resolve was strengthened at that admission. Bill had helped me so much with my telepathy. No one had ever tried to actually help me with it before. If I could, I would try to help him.
“What do you want from me?” I asked him.
Eric nodded. “As you work for me, I want you to travel to Jackson and listen to some humans that are close to Russell and his second Betty Jo Pickard. See if you can discover any clues to Bill’s whereabouts.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Sadly, I cannot help you. Traveling into another vampire’s kingdom without authorization could start a war between kingdoms.”
“So what? Am I suppose to go alone?” I asked incredulously.
“I am sending you a contact tomorrow. He lives in Shreveport, but he has a second apartment in Jackson. He is a Were and has friends among the supernatural community there, the vampires, shifters, and Weres. Through him you can meet some of them, and their human employees.”
Wow. Tomorrow. Guess it was best to get this over with. Best not to sit around and wait for another Were to come grab me.
“What about this Were you’re sending me with? Can I trust him?” I wondered. I’d already been attacked by one.
“He is a Were,” Eric answered dismissively, “so he is scum. But he is more reliable than some others and he owes me a big personal favor.”
I nodded and absorbed Eric’s words.
“He will keep you safe,” Eric assured me as he stood. “You will find Bill, he will finish his project and all will be well,” he continued assuring me in a confident tone.
I stood and looked up at him. I wish I felt that confident.
“To answer your question: I am your friend, and that will last as long as I can be your friend without jeopardizing my own life. Or the future of my area.”
I could say one thing for Eric. He was brutally honest. But at least you didn’t have to guess at where you stood with him.
My body felt empty and exhausted. But I just couldn’t let Eric get away with one thing. “I’m going to nail your ass later for making me take your blood.”
We were walking towards the door as I spoke. Eric laughed and turned back towards me. “Sookie, you can nail my ass anytime.”
My face blushed again as I realized how that came out. Worse, now I knew Eric could feel my embarrassment.
He laughed all the way out to his car. I’m sure he was laughing as he drove away too.
Trudging up the stairs to the attic, I looked through the boxes Bill had left behind. What the hell was on them that was worth mine, Eric’s and Bill’s lives?
One thing was for sure though, no matter how pissed I was at Bill for dragging me into this mess, I wasn’t going to hang him out to dry. I owed him that much for being the only person who had ever helped me with my telepathy.
But I couldn’t help but wonder how sad my life had become that I had to rush to the aid of a friend that had drug me into a mess that had people trying to kidnap me.
There was too much to do to get ready for tomorrow though. I’d have to examine my attachment to my few friends later.
Like after I had rescued Bill.
That nagging desire rose up in me again, telling me that I could always cut all those attachments and leave. I’d done it before.
The only difference was, I’d never really had friends like this before. Or family.
Were they worth the cost?
A/N: Sorry about the delay in getting the chapter out. I’ve been busy with work, but finally made myself sit down today and knock this chapter out. It ended up longer than I had thought it would, so I hope you enjoyed it.
Any dialogue you recognize does come from Harris, but I have twisted and changed a lot of it too. And as I said before, there are certain things in the series that are going to be left out and other things that are being altered. Hope it’s been believable so far.
Today (since it is the 10th now I guess) I will be in the Fangreader’s chat room again, this time discussing my one-shot story for the Age of Eric contest, Soiled Dove of Deadwood. In honor of that, I even got around to making some banners for that story. You can find them on that story’s page.
If you’d like to be part of the chat and ask me any questions about the story (and are at least 18 years old) send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get your invite to the chat room. Chats start every day at 9 PM GMT (4 PM EST). Hope to see some of you there.
Also, if you haven’t read them, read the Nigh Huntress series by Jeanie Frost. I just finally finished her latest book in the series, and it was great! If you like the SVM series, you’ll love this one. Great books, all of them! And yes, as one reader wondered, I did give a bit of a nod to her series with one of Eric’s comments from chapter 11. I love her character, Bones. Mmmmm … I think it’s the English accent.
Anyway, let me know what you think, and sorry for not responding to reviews again. Between work and trying to write I’ve been a fail at replying to everyone, but I do appreciate your thoughts!
Thanks so much for reading!