I tried to roll over in bed, but my legs were pinned down under the covers. Thinking I’d left some clothes on the bed, I pushed at them with my foot only to realize it was too heavy.
Maybe it was Tina. No. Still too heavy.
What the hell could be on my bed and be heavier than Tina?
Sitting up with a start, I was faced with my boss’s bare backside. A very nice rear end, I’ll admit, but still.
Tossing the bedcovers over his curled up, sleeping form on the corner of the bed, I sprang up yelling, “What the hell are you doing here, Sam?” My voice and throat instantly hurt and constricted from still being bruised and swollen, but I was too upset at the moment.
Obviously startled, he sprang up, the covers falling away from his body. I twirled around, throwing my hands over my eyes. “Jesus Christ, Sam! Where are your clothes and what the hell are you doing here?” I exclaimed in a harsh whisper, my voice dropping several octaves from my pained throat.
I could hear the sheets rustling and then Sam sheepishly said, “You can turn around now, Sookie.”
I glanced over my shoulder to see him standing next to my bed with the top sheet wrapped around his waist and held up with one hand. The thin piece of fabric did nothing to ease my mind, so I rifled through my dresser to find a pair of my sweatpants that I wore when the rest of my wardrobe was getting a little snug.
Tossing them at Sam, I said, “Put those on. I’m not talking to you when you’re dressed only in my bed sheet. This isn’t some frat party.” Going back to the dresser, I grabbed another pair of sweatpants to slip on myself. I wasn’t having this conversation with me only in a t-shirt either.
When I turned back around, Sam was wearing my sweatpants, slung low on his hips, and they still came up his calves a bit too. The sight would have been comical if I hadn’t still been so ticked at finding Sam naked on my bed.
“Now what the hell were you doing here naked, Sam Merlotte?” I demanded.
Sam coughed. “I meant to wake up before you got up and be out in the living room,” he quietly admitted, looking embarrassed.
“But what the hell were you doing here?”
“I wanted to make sure you were okay. I heard what happened last night, so I came over to keep an eye on you. Why didn’t you call me to let me know what happened? I’d have come right over,” he told me.
I huffed. “There were enough people over here last night. And I’m just fine; Rene’s gone so there was no reason to come watch over me.”
Sam took a step closer. “You could have been killed last night, Sookie. And now Eric Northman is poking around and claiming that you’re part of his retinue. You’re getting in over your head. Do you realize what kind of danger you’re going to be in now?”
Sighing, I admitted, “Probably not. But I don’t see much of any way around it.” Jerking my head towards the door, I added, “Come on; let’s head out to the kitchen.”
Sam leaned against the counter as I readied a pot of coffee. Hopefully the warm liquid would not only wake me up, but also sooth my throat like that tea had last night. My eyes carefully avoided the expanse of Sam’s skin. He wasn’t a huge man, but he was well built and lean. I’d seen him with his shirt off behind the bar unloading liquor deliveries, but somehow the experience was different when I was seeing him this way in my own house.
“But why were you on my bed naked?” I pressed.
Sam looked sheepish again. “I shifted and ran over from the bar when I heard. I didn’t mean to fall asleep last night. It’s nearly impossible to hold forms when sleeping.”
I nodded in understanding as I pulled mugs out. “Yeah, but with Rene gone, there’s not really any need to watch over me,” I pointed out.
“You’re still in danger, Sookie. It’s only a matter of time before more people in the Supe world find out about you. Eric’s the one who stopped by the bar to tell me what happened and say you wouldn’t be coming in for work today. He said you had been a little ruffed up, but he didn’t say how bad it was.” One hand reached out to tilt my head to the side as I brought him a mug of coffee.
“It’s just bumps and bruises,” I automatically responded, gently pulling away and sitting next to Sam at the table.
Sam sighed, but silently drank some of the coffee I’d brought him.
“I’m just fine to come into work,” I assured Sam.
He shook his head. “You should stay home and rest, at least today, cher. I doubt Arlene’ll make it in, but I can get a few of the part timers to come in and cover for you both. Don’t even worry about it, Sookie. Just take care of yourself.”
For the first time I thought about Arlene. She’d been married to Rene and had gotten back together with him recently. She and her kids would be devastated.
It finally hit me. Someone had died last night. It didn’t matter that he had been a killer. People had loved him. People would mourn him. And not matter what, I’d had a hand in his death.
“You alright, cher?” Sam asked. I wasn’t even sure when he’d moved to kneel in front of me.
Swiping at the tears blurring my vision, I answered, “Yeah, I’m fine. I think it all just really hit me for the first time.”
He nodded and squeezed my knee in understanding as he rocked back on his heels. I sprang to my feet and carried our mugs to the sink. “Well, I suppose you need to get back to the bar to get things opened,” I said in a rush.
Sam must have sensed my need to be alone. “Yeah, I guess I should. But Sook, promise me you’ll come to me if you need help or you’re in trouble again.”
I nodded, not trusting my voice to speak without breaking. My hands busily scrubbed at the two mugs as I fought to keep my emotions at bay. I vaguely heard the door open and close, and when I was sure I was once again alone, I treaded out to the living room, and collapsed on the couch.
Curling up on my side, I felt a few more stray tears race down my cheeks. It had been easy to remain numb to everything last night. Over the years, I’d perfected how to keep the bad stuff blocked out.
It was easier to keep yourself numb and unfeeling to the horrible things happening around you than to let yourself feel it and break down. But in letting myself think about Arlene and the devastation she and her children would be facing, my barriers broke and realization slapped me hard.
Bad things had happened to me before, but since coming home, this was the second time I’d been so near death. In more ways than one.
Not only had I seen a man die last night, I’d also come within another small squeeze of being dead myself.
And what was worse, I felt guilty for being grateful that I was alive while Rene was dead. All I could see were the sad faces of Arlene’s children as I drifted off into a troubled sleep.
I’d finally collapsed onto my bed for a long nap later in the afternoon. I’d allowed myself to have a pity party for myself on the couch, and then I’d gone outside, determined to do something productive and get my mind off the night before.
Gardening had been Gran’s forte, and I’d never needed to before, but I decided to attempt it. The rosebushes in particular were overgrown and needed pruning. It had been surprisingly cathartic and kept my mind off what was going on in my life. I could have been doing it all wrong for all I knew, but that wasn’t the point at the moment.
Plus, I was wonderfully worn out by the time I’d come back inside and was able to drift off to sleep as soon as I laid down.
Several people had stopped by to see me, including Jason, but I was able to assure everyone I was well, and simply wanted some space. Jason had been difficult to make except that. He felt guilty since Rene had been his friend, but it wasn’t like he was telepathic and could tell what was going on in the mind of his friends.
It sure made me feel less guilty about the times I’d looked into other people’s minds though. I would have hated to have been blindsided with something like that from someone I considered a friend.
Jason had been difficult to convince, but once he saw that I was really okay, just a little rough looking, I was able to persuade him into making some phone calls and spreading the word that I just wanted some privacy. I was glad the visits and sympathetic looks had finally stopped. And the bringing of food.
Southern tradition had always dictated that when times were troubled, you brought the downtrodden food. Somehow that was supposed to fix things I guess. Though, I’d never figured how me putting on 10 pounds would fix anything.
And it was starting to make me feel like I was the one who had been killed and all neighbors were bringing food for my funeral. Actually, it was kind of strange to realize that Southern tradition was to bring food for a wedding or a funeral. Just went to prove that food means a lot to a Southerner. It’s the cure-all and the perfect way to celebrate.
Now I just wanted to lie down and sleep until I had forgotten that any of it had ever happened. Or that anything bad had ever happened to me.
If only it was that easy.
I could feel the bed gently depress as his larger body slid in next to me.
My eyes remained closed as I tried to feign sleep.
For several moments, he lay in stillness next to me and it gave me false hope that he would believe my false slumber.
Large hands carefully lifted up the edge of my nightgown as his hand slid along the contours of my thigh.
My heart was racing but still I remained motionless, as though it would all blow away if I didn’t move.
The hand moved towards my inner thigh and I could remain still no longer. He was so much bigger than me that I knew fighting back was probably useless. His body was larger and stronger—he could take whatever he wanted, and there was little I could do about it.
My hands flew to his wrists as my knees pulled protectively up to my chest. I tried to push him away, but as I had known, it was like pushing on a brick wall.
“Please,” my choked voice sobbed as tears leaked from around my closed eyes.
“I will not hurt you,” his voice replied.
That’s what he always said, and God help him, he really believed it, but I still knew the touching was wrong.
“Please, I don’t want to. Please,” I continued sobbing as his immense hands broke from my grasp to clasp around my upper arms.
He started shaking me as he repeated my name.
I wasn’t that little girl anymore.
I had curled into a ball before, praying for him to stop touching me and leave me alone, but I wasn’t that frightened child again.
I had grown up. I was a woman now, and I had promised myself that I would always fight back.
Even if I was going to be overpowered and defeated, I’d long ago decided I’d rather go down fighting.
My body instantly reacted by thrashing and lashing out at him. Striking and kicking wherever I could land a blow.
“I told you to leave me alone! I told you never to touch me again!” My voice was coming out as more of a screech and felt sore and raw, but I didn’t have time to think about it.
Suddenly, my body was pinned down and immobilized. I could feel a leg thrown over mine, pinning them down while his hands pulled my arms high above my head before pinning them down as well.
At least I’d fought back and landed a few good blows. I could console myself with that fact. My head turned to the side and my eyes squeezed even further shut as I braced myself for what was to come.
His large hand was able to gather my hands into one grip, leaving his other hand free.
Only—his hand grasped my chin and pulled it towards him.
Very softly and gently, the deep voice probed, “Sookie? Sookie, look at me.”
My eyes slowly opened. “Eric?” I wondered. My eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness of my room as I took in where I was.
As my awareness of reality came back to me, Eric carefully released my hands.
Out of habit, I instantly sat up and scooted away from him to the edge of the bed. My arms wrapped protectively around my legs as I drew them up to my chest and rocked slightly.
Seconds or minutes could have passed, but Eric remained completely still. He was still stretched out on his side on my bed. Though his gaze was fixed on me, I couldn’t begin to fathom what those eyes were seeing or what his mind was thinking.
It should have been my first clue that something was different and I was only having a nightmare. I’d always been forced to endure not only his physical touch, but his mental touch as well. I hadn’t lived there long enough for his physical touch to leave any lasting damage, but his mental one had. Being immersed in his sick, twisted thoughts as a child obviously still haunted me to this day, though it had been a couple of years since the last time I’d had a nightmare.
I reached out with my mind, to reassure myself that this was indeed Eric and that his mind was the fast becoming familiar blank hole.
Of course, just when I reach out to reassure myself of the void in his mind, I slip right through a filmy barrier and fall into the snake pit.
Unfortunately, I’d been in worse minds, but I was still momentarily startled by the dark and twisting thoughts. But as I froze and examined them, I realized they were more like dark and twisted briar. It was hard and knotted—with lots of thorns—but it didn’t seem as sinister when I examined them more carefully.
But then, his thoughts themselves could have had something to do with that. His gaze had softened as he looked at me. He didn’t pity me—and I was damn thankful of that—but there was a strange understanding and sympathy in his thoughts that I didn’t understand. He kept expecting a stream of tears to fall now that he had woken me up fully, but when I didn’t, his emotions shifted to pride.
It had taken fractions of a second to slip into his mind and back out again. But I was left almost as shaken by that as I had been by my nightmare.
Springing to my feet, I hastily pulled some sweatpants on under my nightgown. “Well, why doesn’t everybody just invite themselves into my bed today,” I grumbled, forcing nonchalance to cover not only my nightmare but also my still reeling mind at my glimpse into a vampire’s thoughts. I’d already decided it was impossible and concluded that as dangerous as they were, I didn’t ever want to read their minds.
I glanced back at Eric still watching my every movement from the side of my bed. He looked like he was lounging comfortably and nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened, but I could see the slight assessing glint in his gaze.
“What were you doing in my bed?” I asked, my breathing and heart rate normalizing as I struggled to do the same with our conversation. I had always been determined not to allow my past to control or rule me. And no matter how terrifying my nightmare had been, I wouldn’t let it rule me now any more than I had then.
Though his face gave very little away, I could almost see the understanding in Eric’s eyes. He gave the barest of nods, almost as though he were having a conversation with himself, then his face spilt into a large grin as he played along and answered, “I was trying to snuggle.”
I gave a short laugh at that, and actually managed a smile. Whoda’ave thought, a snuggling vampire. And I thought Snuggles was a bear.
“What are you doing here?” I tried again, a small smile still remaining. I was surprised that my bedside clock showed it was so early in the evening. Eric must have come here from wherever he’d been, right after first dark.
His feet swung over the side of my bed as he sat up and leaned back on his braced arms. I took note of the fact that he had surprisingly slipped his boots off before slipping into my bed.
The gaze he threw me was almost apologetic as he said, “I have need of your skill tonight at my bar. But I also came to check on your well-being after the previous night.”
I decided to address his last comment first. “I’m just fine,” I swiftly assured him. I could feel my nervous smile slip into place as I tried to forget just how I’d awoken to his presence. It had taken me years to break my habitual nervous smile, so I forced it away now as I also tried to push away my earlier reaction. “Just what do you need me to do at your bar? I’m guessing it’s not waitressing.”
The corner of his lip quirked up. “I am certain I could think of several other tasks more deserving of your talents than waitressing.” Suddenly, he was standing in front of me, lightly sliding the back of his forefinger across my cheek. “Many things indeed,” his voice rumbled.
My heart rate once again skyrocketed, and I stepped back as I nervously looked away.
It wasn’t just the things that had happened to me as a child—though that was part of it—it was mostly my total lack of experience that made me avoid even considering the carnal pleasures in life. Getting that close and intimate with a man had never seemed possible before, so I’d never allowed myself to dwell on the prospect.
One way or another, people had always found me strange, or I’d simply been a stranger, so it had rarely been much of an issue in the past. Now there was a massive vampire staring down at me, making his own interest very well known, and it was simply overwhelming. Too overwhelming to even think about at the moment.
Fighting the blush I was sure was rising on my cheeks, I rephrased, “What did you need help with at your bar?”
Stepping back and once again becoming all business, he said, “There are still some matters we need to discuss, but I would also like your assistance with a problem at the bar. My accountant has informed me that a sum of money is missing from the accounting, and I would like your aid in discovering who stole from me.”
I remembered my own experience after I had been caught “counting cards” at the Starlight Casino, and wondered what would happen to the culprit. I remembered him telling me he didn’t blame me since it was my job to try and “swindle” money from his casino, but I wondered just what his views would be when it came to his own employees. Somehow, I doubted they would be similar.
“You can’t kill anyone that I find, okay?” I didn’t want to have the feeling of any more blood on my hands. Working through the guilt of Rene’s death was going to be more than enough for me. “Humans have to be turned over to the police with any evidence I find.”
His face was deep in thought for several moments before he gruffly said, “Very well. I do not like it. But as I have said, I want your willing cooperation.”
I considered my own statement and decided to ask, “What’ll happen to any vampires if I find out they’ve done something like steal your money?”
His face actually looked surprised. “Only two vampires have access to the money, and they own the bar with me.” His arms folded across his chest at my silent challenge. In my experience—and I’d read it in a lot of minds—people were always stealing money from their business partners. Why not vampires?
“If it is Pam, I will handle disciplining her myself.”
“And if it’s the other one?” I pressed.
His face was clouded as he answered, “If it was Long Shadow, I will see to it.”
I shivered at his darkened expression. “Are you the authority for vampires since you’re the sheriff?” I questioned.
He shrugged. “I am the authority in this part of northern Louisiana. Each area of the state has a sheriff that sees to the order of his area.” He seemed finished with discussing the issue as he turned towards my dresser. “Come, I have the staff gathered at the bar and I doubt you will wish to question them in such attire.” He glanced over his shoulder at me and winked. “Though I by no means object to your wardrobe.”
For the first time I looked down to notice just how low-cut my nightgown was. It was a V-neck, and with my ample bosom, showed almost as much as it hid. Eric turned back with a chuckle as I angrily covered my chest with my arms.
He was already rifling through my drawers when I asked, “What are you doing?”
“Helping you find something to wear.” His look told me it should have been obvious. Guess vampires didn’t really get rhetorical questions.
Elbowing him aside, I quickly grabbed some clothes and shut the open drawers. I’d briefly considered trying to back out of our agreement, but I’d never backed out on my word yet and I wasn’t about to start now. Sure, I lied to protect myself, but I kept my word. And I’d agreed to work for Eric, even if I hadn’t realized it would mean starting so darned soon.
“You will not change out here?” Eric asked with a naughty grin as I headed for the bathroom.
“In your dreams,” I laughed as I closed the door to change. I was surprised how easy it was to laugh after my unpleasant dreams. Eric seemed to have a knack for knowing what to say to keep things lighthearted. And I was sure he was older than dirt, but he still had just enough of that naughty boyish charm that made it impossible not to smile.
Still, my dip into his thoughts had been enough to remind me that there was darkness lurking beneath. I was sure this was one vampire you didn’t want to cross.
A/N: Sorry that one took a little while to get out. It’s a bit shorter than I planned, but I wanted to get something out to you before life gets crazy here for about 10 days. Not sure if or when I’ll be able to write during that time. We’ll have to see.
Thanks so much for reading and for all of your reviews! I love hearing from you guys!
Let me know what you think!