“Knowledge can hurt,” I said. In truth, I’d already felt gutted by it that night. I wasn’t sure whether Bill had been manipulating me with his blood or not, but I did know for sure that he’d not told me about blood ties. All I knew was that I was questioning our entire relationship—our love. And I knew that we’d be having a very serious discussion when he returned.
But the look in Eric’s eyes in that moment was more somber than even when he’d told me about blood ties and bonds.
He reached out and picked up the picture I’d just set upright.
“I know her,” he said quietly.
“Hadley? How? She’s alive?” I asked.
He nodded. “She belongs to Queen Sophie-Anne, Sookie. She is Sophie’s pet.”
“Pet?” I asked with a squeak, not even recognizing my own voice in that moment.
“A permanent blood donor. These donors were always tied to their ‘owners’ before the Great Revelation, but not always afterwards. I do not know Hadley’s permanent status.”
“P-pet?” I stammered.
He nodded. “Yes. Some vampires—if they find a human with particularly good blood—they keep them.”
My eyes widened. “Hadley is being used for blood?”
“And sex,” Eric said softly. “But she seemed content when I met her.” He looked down as if meeting my eyes pained him. “She offered herself to me.”
“Blood and sex,” he revealed, bringing his eyes back to mine, searching for my reaction.
“And—you—uh—took her up on it?” I asked, wondering where my own tiny bolt of jealousy had come from.
“She sucked my dick,” he answered frankly. “And I took blood from her femoral artery after I,” he paused, “returned the favor.”
I took a deep breath and then took my time letting it out. “Bill says I taste different,” I said in a whisper. “Does she?”
“She was sweet,” he said. “That is why she’s Sophie’s favorite, but she also likes being with men too, so Sophie lets her enjoy others as long as she is available whenever she wants her.”
“But Hadley’s—uh—happy?” I asked.
He nodded. “She seems fine with the arrangement. She certainly likes the luxury of the palace and is given gourmet meals and much entertainment. She liked being bitten,” he responded.
I cringed. I couldn’t judge. So did I—during sex.
“Well,” I resolved, “I’m happy for her. I just wish that Gran were here to know that she was okay.”
He took my hand. “Sookie, there’s more.”
“Is this where the knowledge starts to hurt?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yes. But—if you want—you can stay in the dark.”
I closed my eyes, even as I thought about the inevitability of my own lights being shut off when I couldn’t pay my electric bill. I’d never been afraid of the dark. My disability had always allowed me to “hear” when people were there—hear when they were threats.
“I didn’t hear the Rats before they attacked me!” I said loudly, startling Eric.
“You were listening that night?” Eric asked.
“I’d had my shields up while working. Too many negative thoughts and rumors about Bill and me, but I’d relaxed them once I went outside.” I shook my head. “If they had been thinking about attacking me—thinking about me directly—their thoughts should have gotten through. Heck, even my full shields don’t block those, and I’d not had the luxury of vampire blood yet,” I added, somewhat sarcastically.
“We should sit,” Eric said as he led me to the couch to sit down.
“Uh-oh,” I sounded.
“Dark or light, Sookie?” Eric asked somberly.
I found that question ironic, coming from a vampire. But I could not laugh at it, even though I tended to laugh when nervous.
“Tell me,” I said after a full minute of looking for my words.
“I will tell you no more and no less than the facts that I know,” he conveyed. “I have made inferences, but I will leave you free to make your own. Do you believe me?” he asked.
There was something in his eyes that was begging for me to trust him—to believe in him. It was something I seldom saw in humans and had never seen in Bill. It was openness. It was a gift, even though I recognized that it was one he’d prefer never giving.
One it would hurt for me to receive.
“I trust you,” I said quietly. Surprisingly, I found that I did trust him—after only a couple of nights knowing him. This vampire might have motives where I was concerned, but he was the one who had brought me food when he didn’t know that I was hungry. He’d held me when I’d cried for no apparent reason, and he’d not made me feel guilty or bad for not offering him a complete explanation of my tears.
He’d simply been there.
Though he’d clearly been uncomfortable because of my tears.
But how could I explain that it was his kindness, which had made me cry. It was hearing someone ask how my day was—when I hadn’t heard that question once since Gran had been killed. It was his question about how I preferred my steak to be cooked as if he wanted to know for next time—as if he planned to record my preferences for future occasions when he dropped by with the best meal I’d ever tasted in my entire life.
Maybe every word he’d told me was an elaborate lie meant to seduce me. Maybe I was a fool to trust him. Or maybe I’d been a fool to trust Bill.
I figured I’d know soon enough.
Eric seemed to understand that my thoughts were spinning quickly in my head, and he waited until they’d calmed a little.
“Ready?” he asked.
“No, but tell me anyway.”
He smiled at me. It was a soft smile—a kind one. It didn’t hold pity. I appreciated that.
“I have a spy in Sophie-Anne’s court,” he began. “I first heard about Hadley from him, for the queen was unusually fond of her, and anything unusual is something I want to hear about.”
I nodded for him to continue.
“Rasul, too, has sampled her,” he said, his words loaded with meaning. “But it is what he heard about her that caught my interest. In fact, it was his report that made me take Hadley up on her offer to taste her blood.”
“What caught your interest?” I asked, my hands shaking from my nervousness.
“Andre, the queen’s child, has a special gift. He can taste blood and discern its components. He discovered that Hadley was part Fae.”
“Fairy,” he clarified.
“Are fairies telepaths?” I whimpered.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “They guard their gifts carefully, especially from vampires, for the full-blooded of their kind are not safe around us. We cannot,” he paused, “control our bloodlust around them. But, given your gift, I would posit that telepathy is a gift among at least some of them.”
“I’m part fairy,” I gasped. “That’s why I taste different. That’s why I smell different.”
Eric nodded. “That is my conclusion, too. But, Sookie, Rasul heard more.” He took a breath that he didn’t need. He was stalling.
“Tell me,” I begged.
“Rasul overheard Hadley telling the queen about her family—others who might be part Fae. She mentioned a cousin with a special talent, but Rasul heard no more, for Andre was coming.”
“I have known Bill for about a decade,” he went on. “I first met him in Sophie-Anne’s court. He was her chief procurer. The last time I saw him—about a year ago—he was bragging about having been the one to find Hadley for the queen.”
“Procurer?” I asked.
“Someone who finds humans with unique or delicious blood,” he whispered.
I closed my eyes, part of me wishing I was still in the dark.
“All of this might be coincidence,” he said. “Still—I am sorry I didn’t see all the,” he paused, “possibilities before. I began asking serious questions of Bill’s motives only last night.”
“Why then?” I asked.
“He didn’t try to negotiate your payment up, and that is standard practice. Also, he didn’t move to save you from Long Shadow. Yes. I am faster than he, but he hadn’t even moved by the time Long Shadow was dead!”
My mind had stopped at a single word. “Payment?”
“Of course,” Eric said. “I had to pay Bill as soon as I made the request. Why? Was the amount an insult? Trust me, I am quite pleased by your performance and have a bonus check already written out. I’d intended to have it delivered to Bill tonight, but the situation changed.”
Yeah—I was still stuck on that one word.
“The thousand dollars for your work last night,” he said. “I know now that it was too little. But—in my defense—I had tried to convince Bill that it would be best to put you on the payroll so that you could have medical insurance in case you were injured.” He looked away. “Given what happened, my concerns were justified. I am sorry I wasn’t prepared to stop Long Shadow before he could harm you, but the revelation of him as the thief truly surprised me. And you had to suffer for it,” he said with a sigh.
“Payment?” I asked again. Utterly stuck!
He looked at me with shock. “You didn’t know,” he growled. “He didn’t give you any of the money? He didn’t even tell you about it!”
I shook my head.
He stood and paced.
“Why did your heart beat increase when I offered to turn on the light? Why was your stomach growling when I arrived?” he asked, storming into the kitchen. As I buried my face into my hands, I heard him opening and closing my refrigerator, my freezer, and then my cupboards.
Sookie’s refrigerator contained no meat. No vegetables. No fruit. There was a pitcher of tea, a carton of eggs—half gone—and a loaf of bread. There were condiments: mustard and ketchup. There was a Tupperware container of the same meal that she’d been eating when I arrived.
I opened the cabinets and found an almost empty can of coffee. There were several boxes of pasta-based dishes. All looked cheap and smelled cheaper. None of them looked to be providers of sustenance.
It was then that I noticed that the air conditioning wasn’t on, though it must have been uncomfortably hot in the house for a human. I’d noticed—with some concern—that all of the upstairs windows had been opened when I arrived.
Before tonight, I’d seen Sookie only twice—three times if one counted the vigil I’d made outside of her window the night before.
Each time, she’d been with Bill and had been dressed in a pretty, but certainly not expensive, sundress. From looking at her home the night before and seeing the condition of her automobile, I’d ascertained that she was from humble roots.
But I didn’t have any idea just how poor she was. I growled. Why the fuck wasn’t Compton helping her? Even if his motives regarding her were as underhanded as I thought, he should have been taking care of her!
Unless he preferred his victims to be vulnerable so that they would be more malleable—more grateful for every fucking scrap they got!
When I returned to the living room, Sookie didn’t look up at me. She was taking deep breaths. “It’s nothing. I’d planned to eat at Merlotte’s, but Bill came in to tell me goodbye. I’d already opened a TrueBlood for him, but he didn’t want it, so I had to pay for it, so I worked through my official dinner break. We have to pay for the food if we ask for it to go, and I didn’t want to risk my tips by stopping work again. I’d already lost ten minutes speaking with Bill,” she explained. “And no one tips as well when they’ve seen me with him.”
“Have you told him this?” I snarled.
“He knows that there’s someone in the area targeting women who are with vampires,” she sighed.
“Yet he still visited you there—tonight,” I said. “This is my fault. I ordered him to be at the Arkansas border studying a dispute there within ninety minutes of my call.”
There was the sound of a bark outside, and Sookie turned her attention toward the door. A tear slipped from her eye. “It’s a stray. I call him Dean, but I can’t feed him tonight.” She looked at the floor. “I don’t have any food to spare.”
I looked at her curiously and then growled. “That is no dog, Sookie,” I said, standing up, even more angry that the people in Sookie’s life—the ones she trusted most—were so fucking set upon keeping her in the dark. Surely they understood that telepathy was a Supernatural trait! Even if they didn’t know what she was, specifically, they should have treated her with some fucking respect!
Hell! I’d only seen her a few times, and I already understood that she could take the truth—even when brutal. Moreover, I’d seen that she deserved the fucking truth!
I walked to the door and opened it. “Merlotte, get your furry ass in here—now!” I yelled.
“Sam?” Sookie asked uncertainly.
“Sam is a shifter,” I said bluntly. “That means he can turn into any animal. He must turn during a full moon, or he will be driven mad. However, he can turn at will. There are also Werewolves, which are called Weres. There are other Were-animals too, including a pack of Were-panthers in Hot Shot.”
Sookie’s mouth gaped.
“Show her, shifter,” I said looking out into the dark, “or I’ll kick the puppy until you cannot help but to shift.”
The mongrel entered Sookie’s home as if his bone had been stolen.
As if the mutt had a “bone” to speak of.
He looked neutered to me.
I felt the air beginning to stir. “She’s modest, you idiot!” I yelled, grabbing a throw pillow from the couch, just in time for the shifting Merlotte to grab it and cover his scanty genitalia.
“Sam?” Sookie asked.
“Sorry, Sookie. I didn’t want you to find out this way,” he said to her—though he was glaring at me.
“What way?” she asked. “What way did you want for me to find out?”
“I was going to tell you, Sookie—honest I was,” he tried.
He looked down. “It’s not just me I was protecting; the others of my kind—we can’t let people know about us until we are ready to come out like the vampires,” he explained.
“Yet I told you about myself—about my own difference from ‘normal’ people,” Sookie whispered. “I told you how lonely I felt. Surely you knew that I could keep a secret—that I could be trusted.”
“I wanted you to,” he paused, “be with me. But I wasn’t sure how you’d deal with all of this.”
I rolled my eyes. Prick.