“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I insisted.
Eric carefully placed one boot on the bottom step as he made to come towards me. I reacted instinctually by taking two steps back.
His hands spread out in a placating manner as he lowered his foot back to the ground.
I had no illusions about what this vampire could do. If he wanted to, he could grab a hold of me before I even shifted my weight to run for the door of the house. I was caught outside in the open and he had the upper hand.
But he moved another step away and carefully leaned against the bottom of the hand railing leading down the steps from the porch. His manner was casual, almost careless. I could almost feel my muscles and nerves starting to relax as I loosened my grip on my new cat. Right, I’m sure that’s what everyone thinks—right before he rips their throat out. My grip tightened again.
Yet we both stood in my dark front yard, neither saying a word to break the silence.
I didn’t have the patience, or the eternity that this vampire had. He might be content to lounge at the foot of the steps to my porch, but I wanted answers.
“What are you doing here?” I settled on asking.
His gaze as he studied me seemed merely inquisitive, as though I was some strange curiosity he’d discovered. And maybe I was to him.
“What are you?” his deep voice questioned.
I fought to keep from huffing at that. If I had a wooden nickel for every time someone asked me that—well—I’d have a lot. Guess I could add two vampires to the ever growing list.
“I’m a barmaid. I work at Merlotte’s.” I decided ignorance was the best way to go. It had always worked for me in the past.
He grinned and the glint in his eye told me it hadn’t worked this time.
“You are something more,” he replied, sounding very assured of himself.
I cast about for what I could say to refute him. Something he might believe.
“You gave yourself away, you know,” he commented, almost casually like we were talking about the weather.
I sputtered, but nothing intelligent sounding seemed to come out.
“You reacted and demanded to leave the club before the undercover police officer had walked away from the restrooms to where you could have seen him. I have replayed it in my mind several times. You knew something was happening before any of us could have seen him,” he continued. He crossed his arms over his chest in a self-assured manner, and it drew my attention to his shirt. He’d been wearing only a vest at the club. Guess he decided to put on something else.
Shaking my head from the ridiculous distracting thoughts, I tried to rationalize my story. But I wasn’t coming up with much. When I replayed it in my head, I realized he was right. I’d really screwed that up.
“Of course, when one couples that incident with the talk of the locals in this community, one can indeed see that there is more to you,” he went on.
“Since when did you have time to gossip with the locals?”
“I knew Bill was residing in Bon Temps, and correctly determined that you did as well. It did not take me long to beat you both to the area to do some investigating amid the locals.”
“I didn’t think some vampire would stoop to exchanging inane local gossip with humans from some po’dunk town like this.”
He chuckled at that.
“It is more useful than you would realize to know the gossip amongst humans.”
I could just imagine him sitting under a salon hair dryer, chatting it up with the likes of Mrs. Fortenberry about what girl was caught necking in the back of what boy’s truck. Right.
He smiled at my confusion and answered my silent question. “It was useful to know the talk amongst humans to know if any were suspicious of our behaviors. It was vital to our survival in the time before the Reveal to know if the humans were becoming suspicious of us, and their gossip was the first sign that we would have of impending trouble.”
I nodded in understanding, but wasn’t sure what else to say. I’d been gone from here for years, but the locals all still gossiped about me and what they thought I could do, that was for sure.
“You are the human that helped Bill Compton the night he was nearly drained?” he suddenly asked.
“Yes.” I was surprised at how he jumped the tracks and answered before I could decide whether I really should or not. Not to mention being shocked that he knew about it.
“Why would you help a vampire? It is not in human nature to help others.”
I wasn’t so sure about that. Sure, I’d seen a lot of the bad out there, but I’d also seen the thoughts of mothers and fathers who stayed up late at night, worrying about how to provide for their families, or going without so their children didn’t.
“Well, why did you?” I asked. He looked startled at my question so I clarified. “Why’d you help me that night?”
He leaned back further against the rail as he looked at me.
“You are not what I expected.”
I wasn’t sure if he meant that night, or tonight. Maybe he meant both.
“I stopped Winston that night because he is still young and has a tendency to get carried away. I did not care to have another mess on my hands, nor did I care to risk bringing the wrath of the human authorities down on us for him killing a human.”
Since he seemed to be so forthcoming—and brutally honest—I decided to ask him a question that had been bugging me since that night.
“But why did you stop him from killing me? I mean, I’d admitted to counting cards in your casino, and yet you stopped him, gave me a blood transfusion, bandaged my wound, and didn’t even take the money back. Why?”
He shrugged. “It is the job of a gambler to at least attempt swindling me out of my money. It is the job of my pit boss and his staff to make sure no one does. You simply performed better than he—at least until he stopped you from leaving to question you.” He leaned a bit forward, his arms still over his chest and added, “But you weren’t really counting cards were you, though that is what you claimed. At least, there was more to it than that.”
Okay, back to that again.
“You are psychic.” He made it a statement, but there was still the question in his eyes.
“You have admitted to essentially being duplicitous in taking money from my casino—yet I have let you keep the sum of your winnings. I have also caught you in the act of your ability. In addition to these things, I have saved your life. I understand keeping your secrets, but I will explain this to you: I am a very old and very powerful vampire. I do what I must for myself and my own, but I will be fair and honest with you, if the courtesy is likewise returned.”
I clutched Tina tighter to my chest, wishing that I could disappear into her fur and avoid this. But here I was.
“You are psychic?”
His inflection phrased it more like a question, and I found myself quietly answering.
“No. I’m telepathic.”
He started to move forward, but before his boot even hit the bottom step, my breath caught in my throat. That seemed to bring him up short, and he remained on the grass at the foot of the steps.
His eyes were narrowed and his voice cold as he asked, “You hear my thoughts?”
I quickly shook my head. “No. You, Bill, Pam, all vamps seem to be blank holes to me. I think it’s ’cause you’re dead or something.”
His narrowed gaze continued to stare at me, and I could only imagine he was thinking all sorts of vile or terrible things at me to test me. Blissful silence was all that met my ears and head though. It wouldn’t have been the first terrible things I’d had people think at me, but it was a relief not to actually have to hear it.
“Are you here spying on my area for another?”
For some reason, the image of Austin Powers popped into my head at the word spy. “Powers by name, powers by reputation,” I muttered to myself.
A grin split Eric’s face as he laughed and asked, “And do you shag well by reputation, Miss Felicity Shagwell?”
I’m sure my face was as red as an apple, but I still laughed at the thought of a vampire watching any of the Austin Powers movies and being able to quote them.
“No. I’m no spy,” I settled on answering.
He moved across the bottom of the steps, standing more directly in front of me, but still remaining on the ground.
“Why did you help Bill?” he asked again.
Now I shrugged. It wasn’t like I hadn’t heard or felt Sam’s disapproval at my actions.
“He was being held down by silver—helpless. No one deserves to be hurt when they’re helpless.”
“You are an odd human,” he said, his head slightly cocked as he looked at me.
“Yeah, cause the hearing thoughts thing seemed so normal. I never guessed that I was odd for a human,” I smarted, fighting the urge to roll my eyes.
I could see that he was going to say something, but I interrupted him.
“What now?” I wanted to know. I’d never just told anyone what I was before. At least not someone who could potentially use it against me.
“What now, indeed.” He looked me up and down in a speculative manner. I guess I should have been flattered he wasn’t checking my teeth like I was a horse he wanted to buy.
“You will use your ability when I have need for it and call on you,” he stated, as though it should have been obvious.
“The hell I will,” I growled.
His eyes focused on me and I felt that pressure in my brain again. It was much stronger this time, but still easy to bat away.
“That don’t work on me,” I informed him.
He looked startled and actually blinked several times. “There are other forms of persuasion,” he shrugged.
“I’ve only been living here for a few weeks. If you think I won’t just pack up and disappear again, you got another think coming, buddy.”
He smiled, the tips of his fangs showing, and I imagined it was probably very much the way sharks smiled. “I enjoy the thrill of the hunt. But you will not go anywhere. You would not wish to see your brother come to harm. Humans injury so very easily.”
I felt my heart skip a beat, and I knew from the satisfaction in his eyes that he’d heard it too, even from where he was standing.
Standing my ground, I let my own eyes narrow. “My brother’s all I’ve got left. You hurt him, and your only piece of leverage is out the window. You can’t glamor me, so they’ll be no forcing me to do anything.”
His arms dropped to his sides as he smiled and nodded to me in concession.
“This is quite true. However, I do not wish to force you to do anything. I would much rather you work for me willingly. I would pay you and pay you well for your services. Is this not acceptable?”
My eyes closed as I sighed. It still felt like I was being penned in. And I hated being backed into a corner.
“What is it you want?” his voice gently asked.
I opened my eyes to see him looking at me curiously again.
“To be free.”
“Freedom is a relative concept.”
“I just want to be as free as any person can be I guess.” I remembered something I’d heard once. “‘Our freedom can be measured by the number of things we can walk away from.'”
“You are very different from other humans,” he replied, but continued before I could come back with anything. “I am not a fool, I want your skills for my use, but I want you to come to me willingly. But you should not be a fool either. I have noticed your differences, and so has Pam. I am quite sure Bill has as well. Other vampires would not do you the kindness of even offering you an illusion of a choice. Others will discover your secret. You could do worse than working for me. I am the lesser of the evils out there.”
I vaguely thought that I was actually quite grateful of the little things he was doing, like remaining a careful distance away from me—not crowding me. At least physically. But before that thought could process further, something else he said clicked in my mind.
“You don’t think that’s why Bill really moved back here do you? I mean, why else would he move back to Bon Temps from New Orleans?”
Eric seemed hesitant but asked, “He said he had been in New Orleans?” When I nodded he continued, almost to himself, “He had reported to me that he had come from Seattle before moving to my area.”
“Why would he lie about that?”
“I am not sure, but I will discover the reason. And I am sure it has to do with you, Miss Stackhouse.” His answer came with a raised eyebrow.
Well, I couldn’t really argue with him. I was starting to think the same thing.
“Why did you come with him to my bar if you do not belong to him?”
“I needed to ask some questions.”
“Yes, about dead fangbangers. Why?” he pushed.
I considered my options, but couldn’t see the harm in telling him. He could find it out by asking around town anyway.
“They were killed and I’m trying to figure out why. They suspect my brother and I’m trying to clear his name.”
“And what if your brother did the deed?”
“You are certain? You looked into his mind?”
I couldn’t really fault him for asking or for wondering about my brother. After all, I had looked into his mind to be sure.
“Yeah. I looked into his mind. He didn’t do it.”
“And you think a vampire did?” he questioned.
I shook my head. “No, but I thought if I could find out who they hung around with, I might be able to find out who did kill them.”
“Your brother allowed you to go to a vampire bar to clear his name?”
“No one allows me to do anything! I’m my own. I decide what I do,” I shot back at him, fighting to keep my voice even. He seemed to ignore my reply and moved on.
“By your own admission, this person has killed two women at a minimum, yet you are seeking this person out? Does that seem wise?” he asked, his brow rising again.
I huffed. “It’s not like I’m going to go after the guy myself. If I can figure out who did it, I’ll tell the police and let them handle it.”
“And just what will you tell the human police? That you heard this person’s thoughts and know he is the killer?” Surprisingly, his voice wasn’t condescending like I expected. Merely inquiring.
“I’ll figure something out,” I answered. Okay, so I hadn’t figured everything out yet. But I would. I had to.
“I will look into the matter. See if I cannot discover who is killing these women.”
His offer surprised me. “Why would you?” I wondered out loud.
He shrugged again. “It is part of my duties to maintain order in my area. Fangbangers dying and casting suspicion on my vampires will only hurt relations for all vampires with the humans in this area. Besides, it is too dangerous for a fragile human to handle. You might end up injured or killed and that would be a poor end to your skills.”
“What do you mean by your area?”
“I am the sheriff of this area, Area 5.”
“Oh! You mean, you’re the one Sam called that night,” I realized. That explained why he’d known about Bill being injured.
“Yes, and I admit I was curious about the human who would rescue a vampire. Your talents are far too valuable to be wasted by foolishly interceding against a pair of experienced drainers. They would have killed you without a second thought. At least you were wise enough to bring the shifter with you.”
I was shocked by how much he seemed to value my curse. But he wasn’t throwing me over his shoulder caveman style and forcing me to work for him. “You’re not going to try and use finding this killer against me to force me to work for you?”
He answered with another shrug. “As I said, I want your willing cooperation.”
I swallowed nervously and finally answered the unasked question. “Thank you. I’ll think about it.”
“You will not have much time to consider,” he warned. “I will give you two nights to consider my proposal. In that time, I will look into the matter and see what I can do to help clear your brother’s name. I cannot give you more time I fear. I very much doubt Bill Compton is here at his own behest, if you do not wish for another vampire to take you and force your unwilling cooperation, you need to come to a decision.”
With that, he nodded his head, and disappeared. I couldn’t even track with my eyes where he’d gone.
I quickly opened the door and collapsed back against it after I’d shut it again.
“Well, this has been one hell of a night, hasn’t it, Tina? Welcome to my home,” I muttered.
Thoughts of Eric’s offer ran through my head. Though I loved my brother dearly, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was all worth it. This had certainly been easier when I had no family. And maybe even safer.
But the question was, now that I had found family again, could I give it up and just disappear again?
A/N: Sorry that took me a little longer than I wanted to get out. End of the year bookwork has really been taking up a bunch of my time.
Thanks so much to everyone for reviewing, it’s the kick in the butt I needed to find the time to get this chapter out. Sorry it wasn’t longer, but I wanted to get something out. Hopefully it won’t be too long until I can get the next one out, hopefully I can find time this weekend.
Also, I made a couple of banners for this story, I’m no graphic designer, but I did what I could. Check them out and as always, let me know what you think!
They’re on the main story page for this story.
Thanks so much for reading and for your reviews!