My shields had still been partially in place from working at the bar, but because of the persistent headache and my sheer exhaustion, they had begun slipping. Just as the hands shoved at my back, or maybe I’d even caught it just a split-second before, but I was plunged into dark and twisted thoughts. My mind was filled with the shadows of hate and anger.
Muscles bunching and gathering, I crossed my arms over my chest, and pulled my head down and to the side as I was shoved forward. My head still slammed into the door, but now I took the brunt of the blow to the side of my head instead of the front or temple. With my arms still braced against my chest, I let my body easily slid down the door to the floor, forcing the man’s hands to release his grip on me.
Twisting my body around, I kicked outward as hard as I could, connecting with an audible crunch to his kneecap. He slumped forward, bracing himself against the door. Since my access to the house was now cut off, I scrambled down the few steps from my back door and away from my attacker.
“Get back here, you bitch!” he snarled at me, struggling to straighten from his bent position to follow me.
Only when I’d reached my car door, did I realize it was locked and my keys were in my purse. Which was probably sitting on the steps to the backdoor where I’d dropped it. Shit, that was real helpful.
I darted a look over my shoulder, my former exhaustion having fled with my current infusion of adrenaline, and saw Rene limping down the steps towards me. He didn’t appear to have any other weapons but I’d seen the cord he held when I’d kicked him, but I didn’t want to hang around to find out if he had anything else. I had no choice, so I made a dash for the line of trees in the direction of the cemetery. There was only one person who lived anywhere near me. And the fact that he wasn’t living wasn’t about to stop me from hoping he’d be some kind of help.
I recognized Rene as not only a former husband and current boyfriend of Arlene, but also a sometimes friend of Jason’s. He’d even helped reroof my house and been inside when I’d cooked them food. But now his thoughts were overshadowed with darkness and hate. His view of me was twisted and distorted, viewing me as a wonton woman, spreading my legs and suggestively rubbing my thigh and neck, both stained red from bite marks.
“Come back here, you fangbanging whore!” his voice rang out behind me.
When I’d been living with Jeanie in Bonita, I’d played a little softball, so I knew how to run, but running in the pitch-dark was another story. I hadn’t gotten far into the tree line when my toe caught on an old tree stump and sent me sprawling into the dirt, knocking the wind out of me.
Gasping for air, I staggered to my feet, trying to get my body and lungs working again to resume my flight. I’d barely pulled myself to my feet and made a step, when Rene shoved me forward, causing me to once again sprawl in the dirt and grass on my face. I was shoved onto my back.
Rene must have dropped the cord he’d been holding, because his bare hands wrapped around my neck, squeezing and pressing downward. The darkness and hate was overwhelming my senses, so I closed my eyes for a moment and gathered my body. I was never one to go down without a fight.
Twisting my hand between our bodies, I thrust upwards aiming for his nose with the heel of my hand. Then I heaved my body sideways, causing him to fall off me as he cupped his nose and cussed me.
I’d just gotten to my feet and run a few short steps when I realized the pressing dark thoughts were cut off.
Bracing myself against a tree, I hesitantly turned around.
“You don’t hurt Miss Sookie none,” a dark-haired vampire growled at Rene’s crumpled form on the ground. I couldn’t see his face, but from the twisted shape of Rene’s body, I could tell even without my gift that he wouldn’t be hurting me or anyone else again.
The vampire looked up at me, then rushed at vampire speed to stop in front of me. He looked at me and made to hesitantly touch the side of my head, then my throat, but never actually reached out fully and connected with my flesh. Dropping his hands, he started wringing them as he dropped his eyes as though he was flustered.
“I am so sorry Miss Sookie. I was suppose to be watchin’ ya, but I found a real tasty cat in the woods and didn’t hear ya come home. I’m so sorry you got hurt some. Mister Eric told me I was suppose to make sure you was okay,” he said dejectedly.
I was reeling from so many things. The fact that Rene lay dead not 10 feet away, that Eric had apparently sent a vampire to watch over me, that the vampire had been eating a cat (Did vampires really drink animal blood too? I’d have to ask someone) and most importantly of all, that the man from Memphis was standing in front of me and had saved my life.
My hand reached up to massage my aching throat as I watched the former king shift from foot to foot, obviously uncomfortable. I knew, but I still reached out with my mind to confirm that I was in fact seeing the telltale signs of a vampire. The blank whole confirmed it.
“Mister Eric is gonna be real mad at me for lettin’ you get hurt,” he murmured.
“You saved my life, Mister …” I croaked, my voice trailing off. Just what did one refer to the former king as?
“You can call me Bubba, Miss Sookie,” he answered brightly.
I’d been around enough troubled kids in the foster system to recognize the signs of someone who wasn’t quite right. The rapid changes in mood, and his body language screamed that he was someone who was a little off, so I simply smiled and nodded. I knew better than to contradict him and call him anything else. It might just upset him. And an upset vampire wasn’t something I wanted to see.
“I’m sure Eric won’t be mad at you for saving me,” I assured him when he nervously looked back at the body.
But now came the problem of deciding what to do. I couldn’t very well have the police show up and try to explain—Bubba—to them. Though, I guess that probably accounted for all the sightings of him. And I also couldn’t very well tell the police that I’d been the one to twist Rene’s head around like that.
Deciding that regardless of the next step, I wanted to be in the comfort and safety of my home, I turned back the way I’d come. “Why don’t we head back to the house and figure out what to do next, Bubba.”
“Sure, sugar,” he grinned, and then surprised me by gently wrapping one arm around my waist and lightly gripping my elbow between us. “I’ll help you back to the house. I know it’s real dark for humans and I don’t want you to get hurt none again.”
True I hadn’t been around vampires much, but from the little I had been, they didn’t seem to make much physical contact with anyone, unless they were taking blood or having sex with them. But Bubba gently guided me back to the house, all the while gently humming Suspicious Minds. Talk about surreal.
The light near the back door was still gently lighting up the area, so I was able to easily pick up my purse and pull out my keys. I could see Rene’s discarded cord lying on the bottom step as well, but I carefully stepped over it, and left it where it was.
I hesitated before opening the door, trying to decide what to do about my savior. He didn’t seem right in the head. But he’d saved my life, and seemed to be just fine if you talked carefully to him.
Sliding my keys into the lock, I told him, “You’re welcome to come on in the house, Bubba.”
He gave a lopsided grin. “That sure is nice of you Miss Sookie. You’re a real nice lady.”
I turned on the lights, and watched over my shoulder as Bubba followed me through the door and into the kitchen.
I pointed to one of the chairs at the table for him to sit down, and slumped into another one myself. “Have a seat,” I offered.
“Sure, sugar,” he agreed as he too lowered onto a seat. “You’re a real nice girl and I’d be mighty interested if Mister Eric hadn’t told me you was off limits.” My eyebrows rose at his strange compliment and statement, but his brows furrowed and he started to look upset again and he added, “Actually, Mister Eric said I wasn’t ‘spose to talk to you or be bothering you none.”
I could see he looked worried and upset, so I reached across the table and gently patted his hand. “But Eric told you to watch and protect me, right? So you had to talk to me after you saved me, and you sure aren’t bothering me,” I assured him.
The smile instantly returned to his face as he looked back up at me. “That’s true,” he agreed.
“Bubba, I think I need to talk to Eric. Do you know how I can get a hold of him?” I asked, deciding that after all the “Mister Eric says,” stuff, I better get the man—well—vampire himself over here to help with the situation. I’d already decided there was no way I could call the police until I’d gotten rid of Bubba. It just wouldn’t be safe for the police, or Bubba, otherwise.
“Sure! I got this cell phone he gave me with his number in it. He calls me to tell me where I can find cats he leaves for me. That Mister Eric is real nice, he gets me plenty of cat blood so I don’t have to find any myself,” he said enthusiastically as he handed me a cell phone from his pocket. I felt myself turn a little green at the mention of his apparent diet, but I tried to ignore it and focus on his wardrobe instead.
I hadn’t taken the time to look it over before, but I did now. He was dressed in a pair of camouflage army type pants, and a black t-shirt.
He saw my gaze and proudly told me, “I’ve got my army duds on.”
I smiled kindly. “I can see that. You look real good, too.”
Looking over into the living room, I could see that Tina was curled up asleep on my couch. I was glad to see everything in the house still seemed undisturbed by her. I’d gotten her supplies and a litter box, and was pleased to see that she was such an easy pet to have. Not a single mess or shredded anything.
“You know I’ve got a cat, right Bubba? But you can’t eat her. She’s my pet,” I hesitantly asked.
He nodded vigorously. “She smells real good, but Mister Eric made me promise I would leave her alone. He said he’d get me plenty of cats so long as I leave your kitty alone.”
I looked down at the cell phone in my hand. Bubba didn’t make any move to take it back from me, and was actually looking off a ways and seemed to be humming again. I wasn’t sure what it was this time, but I thought it might be something from one of his movies, maybe Blue Hawaii.
Scrolling through the few entries on the phone, I found what appeared to be one for Eric’s cell phone.
“Bubba, I told you to focus on watching the girl and do nothing else,” Eric’s frustrated voice immediately answered.
I saw Bubba’s worried look at Eric’s words. “He was watching me just fine,” I answered him. “But I think I need you to come over so we can talk.”
There was a moment of silence, then, “Your voice sounds odd, Sookie. What is wrong? Why do you have the phone I gave Bubba?”
“He’s right here,” I told him, making an effort to even out my voice and keep it from sounding as deep and slightly gravelly as it still was. “I think you need to come over here so we can talk.”
“I will come,” then he hung up.
“So much for good-bye,” I muttered.
“Mister Eric will be here soon. He’ll know what to do,” Bubba assured me, and then went back to humming.
It took an effort to keep from snorting. Yeah, I’m sure that vampire had plenty of experience with dead bodies.
Handing the cell phone back to Bubba, I told him, “You’d best go back out to the woods or wherever you’ve been at. I’ve got to call the police now, and it would be best if you weren’t here when they get here.”
“Sure, Miss Sookie.” He nodded and left quickly out the back door without another word.
I made my way to the phone on the wall, and quickly called 911 to have them send the police out. I wasn’t sure how long it would take Eric to get here, but I knew it would take the police a while to come. Especially since I wouldn’t tell the dispatcher why I needed the police to come out.
Turned out, Eric was able to beat them by a ways. He must have been close by.
Pounding sounded at my back door, and I swung it open to find Eric. He was dressed in black jeans and t-shirt and a black leather jacket. Eric had obviously picked up Rene’s makeshift garrote for it was tightly clenched in his hand. He leaned forward, his body seeming to brace against the invisible barrier of the threshold. His eyes were fixed on my throat and I’m sure the bruises and welts that were beginning to appear as he spoke.
“What has happened?”
I cleared my throat, trying to make it sound normal. “I found the man who was killing women. Or rather, he found me.”
His fingers tightened even more on the cord in his hand. His eyes searched my face. “Where was Bubba when this man attacked you?” His voice was deep, but deadly calm in its intensity.
My eyes narrowed, probably because I knew Bubba was a bit off, and because he’d saved my life, but I felt very protective of him. “He saved my life,” I told him firmly.
“Where is the human?”
“Bubba, ugh, killed him,” I said quietly.
“Good,” he said vehemently.
I decided not to think about that at the moment. “That’s actually what I needed to talk to you about. We need to figure out what to tell the police.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “Are you damaged?” he asked, gesturing to my throat.
I shook my head. “I’ll be fine.” Finally coming to a decision, I stepped back and said, “Why don’t you come on in.”
Carefully stepping over the threshold, he stepped in front of me and gently touched the side of my head, his fingers coming away tipped with red. I felt the side of my head and felt a bump, but also the telltale wetness of blood. There didn’t seem to be a lot, so I guessed it had stopped bleeding.
I tried to ignore the way Eric brought his fingers to his lips and licked the blood away, his eyes closing in pleasure.
“I could close that gash for you,” he offered. Seeing my confusion he explained, “Our saliva has properties to clot blood and close wounds.”
“Eww,” I instantly said. “No.”
The corner of Eric’s mouth twitched. “I could heal the gash and your bruises both another way. If you took my blood, you would be healed.”
I kept from saying “eww” this time, but barely. “That’s okay, I think I’ll live. Besides, I have no desire to become a vampire.”
“It would not turn you, merely heal you,” he offered.
Shaking my head, I insisted, “No thanks.”
“Are you not in pain? I could take it away.”
Shaking my head, I insisted. “Right now I’ll take the pain. It reminds me I’m alive.”
His cool hands grasped my chin, turning my head back and forth and lightly tracing the bruises I was sure marred my neck. I was surprised at his gentle touch.
Dropping his hands he said, “Tell me what happened.”
I quickly recounted the story, and finished by telling him I had called the police. He stepped back outside and made a brief phone call.
Coming back in a few moments later, he said, “I have informed Bill to tell the police if they ask that I was visiting at his home when I heard your screams and came upon the human attacking you.”
I nodded in agreement. Worked for me, I just didn’t want to have to explain Bubba to anyone.
“Where were you?” I asked. He looked at me with puzzlement. I clarified. “You got here so quick. Where had you been that you got here so quick? And how’d you get here? I don’t see your car.”
“I was sniffing around Bon Temps to see what I could discover about who was killing those women. I was speaking with Sam when you called,” he explained, and then he smirked. “I still have my secrets.”
It surprised me that he actually had been looking for the killer. I just wish he’d found Rene first.
The backdoor was still open, and suddenly Bill filled the doorway.
“I have located the area where the body is. His neck is broken as you said. I have also taken Bubba back to my home and will keep him out of sight,” Bill reported, nodding stiffly to Eric. Turning to me he said, “I am terribly sorry I did not realize you were in distress, Sookie. It grieves me that you were harmed.”
My smile was watery, but I said, “Thanks, Bill. That’s very nice of you.”
He nodded to both Eric and me again, and then disappeared in a blur. The police arrived almost as soon as he left.
I invited Sheriff Bud Dearborn and Andy Bellefleur into the kitchen. Bud immediately noticed the bruises and looked suspiciously at Eric.
“This vampire get rough with you, Sookie?” he asked derisively.
Eric didn’t move from his position leaning against my kitchen counter-top with his arms crossed. But I sighed at the narrow minded bigotry. It was always the same—fear and blame what was different. I’d seen it and felt it my whole life.
I sat at the table and gestured towards Eric. “This is Eric; he’s an acquaintance of Bill’s and was at his place visiting when he heard me scream.” Now I had their attention. They sat at the table and listened intently to me as I once again recounted the tale, this time spinning the story to portray Eric having overheard the attack and coming upon Rene choking me.
“We’ll need to see the body, Miss Stackhouse,” Bud told me apologetically.
“I can take you to the body,” Eric offered. He obviously thought I wouldn’t want to see it again.
“That’s okay, Eric. I’ll be fine,” I told him resolutely, rising from my seat.
We trooped through the woods once again. Bud and Andy had their flashlights out to help see their way, but Eric once again surprised me by taking my elbow and guiding me. He seemed to know right where he was headed. I wondered if he could smell it. Vampires were supposed to have superior senses and all.
Eric and I simply stood by as Andy and Bud crouched over the body and examined it. I could hear them both wondering if Rene had killed the other girls or if he had only been after me, thinking we had been sleeping together and maybe had an argument.
“He killed those other girls, and even his own sister,” I informed them.
“How’d you figure that?” Bud drawled.
I swallowed and quickly lied, “He told me that when he was choking me. He said that he would kill me just like he’d killed those other fangbanging sluts and his sister.” Well—he’d kind of told me. Just with his thoughts, not his words.
“I am certain you will find traces of his other victims on the cord he used,” Eric informed them from beside me. He’d already handed the cord over to the police when I’d been telling the story in the kitchen.
“Why’d he attack you, Sookie?” Andy asked.
“I’m guessing he heard the gossip around town that I’d gone to Fangtasia with Bill and assumed I was a fangbanger too,” I explained.
Eric snorted scornfully, but didn’t comment. Something else I didn’t want to consider.
“You’re hanging around vampire bars, Sookie? I doubt your father would have approved of that,” Bud scolded with a shaking head. I looked into his mind and saw memories of him as a younger man, apparently good friends with my father.
“My parents are dead, Sheriff Dearborn, so they don’t approve or disapprove of much of anything. If I want to go to a vampire bar with my friend and neighbor—well, I don’t think that’s anyone’s business,” I said, my voice choked and breaking from trying to speak in a louder tone against the pain.
Andy shifted from foot to foot, and then stepped away to call in to dispatch to send for the coroner and paramedics. When he came back, he and Bud silently ushered us back to the house.
Soon there was a swirl of activity as they came to collect Rene’s body, take pictures, and collect any evidence they could find. An ambulance came to check me out and they took pictures of me as well.
After repeating the altered version of the events for what felt like the hundredth time, and assuring the paramedics that I was just fine with the bandaging they had done for the cut on my head, I finally saw Bud and the last of the police off. I turned to go back through the backdoor and was startled to see Eric casually leaning against the side of the house near the door.
He’d disappeared shortly after Bud had taken his statement, but nobody had commented, preferring his absence. Bud had been too terrified to even contemplate arresting Eric, and had just taken down his contact information with his statement. It seemed to be a clear case of justifiable homicide, and even though there were some regulations on how to handle those cases involving a vampire, Bud was too scared of Eric to follow them. Our sheriff just wanted to close the case and get away from the imposing vampire.
“Where’d you disappear to?” I asked him as I opened the door.
He followed me through the door. “I had some business to attend to while the humans were taking care of theirs.” He walked to my freezer and opened it up.
“What are you doing?” I asked, my voice cracking. I was almost hoarse now. After repeating my story so many times, the pain in my throat was continuing to build as it continued to swell.
Eric reached into the freezer and pulled out a bag of frozen peas, pressing it lightly to my sore throat. “The human said you should apply cold to your throat to reduce the swelling,” he explained, referring to what the paramedic had told me.
“I didn’t realize you’d heard that,” I murmured.
“Vampires have very good hearing, and I was never far,” he replied as he started moving about my kitchen.
I sat at the table and enjoyed the cooling sensation of the makeshift cold pack as I watched Eric zip about. He heated a mug of water in the microwave then placed a chamomile tea bag in the heated water. He even added some honey to the cup as he stirred it.
“Here, this will sooth your throat and ease the inflammation,” he told me as he handed me the mug.
I was surprised at not only his knowledge of tea, but also his ability to make it, simple though it was. I sipped it gratefully, whispering, “Thank you.”
He nodded to me, and then returned to leaning against the counter-top while watching me.
“You broke the human’s nose and kneecap before Bubba killed him,” Eric suddenly commented.
I was startled by his comment. “Yeah,” I dumbly responded, not knowing what else to say.
“You are strong—for a human,” he amended.
I shrugged but didn’t know how to reply.
“Why did you fight back? Not many humans would have.”
“He was going to kill me, so I didn’t have much choice but to fight back. Not like I haven’t been mugged before, so I know what to do.” It was just one of many things I didn’t like about working and living in larger cities. Pay was better at bars and restaurants and there were more casinos, but crime like mugging was more prevalent too.
“You have a brother, why would he allow you to be in situations where you could be mugged?”
“I’m a grown woman. My brother doesn’t have any say in what I do. Besides, we didn’t grow up together, I only just moved back home,” I told him, incredulous at the notion of me living under my brother’s thumb. I’d lived on my own way too long to imagine that kind of existence.
“Yes, my investigating revealed that you lived apart from your brother after your parents died. But I have been unable to locate any trace of where you went shortly after the time you left foster care.”
I shrugged, shifting the bag of peas against my throat to take another sip of tea. “I lived a little of everywhere,” I answered shortly.
“It has been a long difficult night for you and I am sure you are still hurting and sore. I will go and allow you some sleep. I hope for the time being you will remain safe as the killer is not on the loose,” he quietly said, and started making his way for the door.
It didn’t go over my head that he was leaving out the supposed threat of some other vampire finding out about my ability and trying to get me under their control.
I tossed the peas down on the table by my mug and walked the tall vampire to the door. He turned to face me once he had stepped outside. Looking up at him, I took the time to appreciate his massive height for the first time. I wondered how old he was and where he had been from. Something in my mind screamed that he was a Viking, but I wasn’t sure why I thought that.
“Good-night, Miss Stackhouse.” His voice was quiet, but I could see the hint of question in his eyes. He hadn’t once pushed to ask about whether or not I’d work for him. Maybe he thought I couldn’t handle anymore tonight. But the question was still in his eyes.
“Yes,” I told him.
“Yes? Yes what?” he repeated in surprise.
“I’ll work for you. Provided we can iron out some details and come up with an agreement,” I answered before my resolution could flee.
He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I am certain we can reach an agreement. We can even draw up a contract if it would appease you. But you should rest. I will speak more with you tomorrow evening if I may. I actually have a problem I think you can help me with. But for now, go. Rest,” he commanded.
I was too tired and sore to argue. As he walked down the steps, I called out to him. “Thank you for your help tonight, and for sending Bubba to watch me. It was high-handed, but I do appreciate it. I might be dead if not for Bubba.”
He turned around at the bottom step to look at me. “Why are you saying yes? Is it because you are frightened after what happened tonight?”
“I don’t know exactly. Or at least I’m not sure if I can put it into words. My head tells me not to trust you, but my gut says I can. Maybe you’ll drain me tomorrow, but my gut says you won’t. I won’t lie, I’m still scared of you and what you could do to me, but I don’t think you’ll kill me,” I answered, leaning against the doorjamb.
“You trust me?” he said in surprise.
I gave a short laugh. “Don’t know about that. Guess I trust you not to kill me.”
He looked at me strangely, and then said, “That’s crazy.”
He disappeared before I could open my mouth to reply.
“And that’s not crazy?” I muttered at his quick disappearance, turning around to go back inside.
A/N: As always, let me know what you think. I loved all your guesses about who the attacker was!
Big thank you to all of the reviewers! It’s the best thanks a writer can get!
I’ve got a fun twitter button that I came up with and have posted on the site. It’s at the bottom of the page. Check it out. I think it’s cute.
Also, Fairyblood has started a fanfic reading group on her blog. It’s like any reading group, only it’s about fanfics and meets in a chat room to discuss stories. Each day of the week is dedicated to certain types of fanfics, and there is a calendar to show what fics are being discussed each day. I think it’s a great idea, and if you haven’t checked it out, go do it!
Here’s the link to her blog, you can find the reading group from there.
Please check it out. I really do think it’s a great idea and pass the word on to others for her.