Summary: (Written for Seph’s Fall Writing Challenge) What if Godric had called Eric to his side almost two decades before the Great Reveal? What if Eric had never been the Sheriff of Area 5 and had opened Fangtasia in Dallas? How would he have reacted if his first look at Sookie Stackhouse was when she was wearing a bikini, a cowboy hat, a gun belt, and spurs?
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to True Blood or the Southern Vampire Mysteries novels. Those items have provided the inspiration for this story; however, I do not own or profit from the fanfiction I produce using that inspiration.
Note 1: Though based on True Blood and the SVM series, the Sookie in this story is even more troubled by her telepathy. Other things are also different. For instance, she never graduated from high school in this story.
Note 2: No Republicans were hurt in the writing of this piece, and no offense is meant. Some of my favorite people are Republicans.
Beta: Kleannhouse (willing to do it at the last minute too!)
Inspiration: Banner #3 from Sephrenia’s Fall Banner/Writing Challenge. By the way, the challenge winner for this banner was the talented idream3223.
Before you first made love to me you called me your wife to be
And after that I saw the devil in your eyes
With your sweet smooth talkin’ ways you turned a flame into a blaze
Then I’d’ve let you hang my wings upon your horns
Don’t tell me that I’m no saint I’m the first to know I ain’t
There’s a little thing called love and that’s what change me
From an innocent country girl to a woman of the world
Then I’d’ve let you hang my wings upon your horns
You hung my wings upon your horns and turned my halo in the thorns
And turned me to a woman I can’t stand
You’re the first who ever make me fall in love and then not take me
Then I’d’ve let you hang my wings upon your horns
You hung my wings upon your horns.
—”Wings Upon Your Horns” by Loretta Lynn
“Only politicians!” Sookie Stackhouse scoffed as she looked in the mirror and adjusted her bra so that it provided the most coverage possible.
Tara Thornton grinned as she took in her own “cowgirl” costume. While Sookie’s was yellow and white, Tara’s was light blue and orange.
“I know,” Tara giggled. “Who knew Republicans were so fucked up?”
Sookie looked at her friend skeptically. Tara regularly ranted against Republicans.
“I meant fucked up in that they want mostly naked waitresses for their high-end fundraiser,” Tara clarified.
Sookie had to nod in agreement as she took another look at her “uniform.” It was glorified lingerie! Luckily, however, it was made out of the same material as a bathing suit, so it gave a little more coverage than actual lingerie would have. Still, her white and yellow bra was matched by a pair of bottoms so scanty that she’d needed to give herself a fresh wax that morning, and she was pretty certain that she was going to hate Brazilians for rest of her life—even if they weren’t ultimately to blame for the torture she’d had to endure.
However, there was no way in hell that she was going to risk “sharing” too much with the guests at the party.
“Is Bill gonna be there?” Tara asked, not hiding her dislike of her friend’s boyfriend—if vampires could be called “boyfriends.”
“Yeah,” Sookie said. “If he doesn’t schmooze . . . ,” she began dramatically.
“I know,” Tara said, rolling her eyes, “he loses. Really, Sook, when are you gonna dump his ass?”
“Tara, we’ve been through this before,” Sookie said somewhat wearily.
“Yeah. I know, Sook. You can’t hear him with you telepathy.” Tara sighed and looked in the mirror at her best friend, though she didn’t touch her. After years and years of practice, Sookie could finally keep out the thoughts of those around her, but any touch literally obliterated those shields, so Tara knew better than to try to comfort her friend with a hug or a pat on the shoulder.
“Sook, I get why you’re with Bill. I really do. He was the first vampire you met—and the first person you couldn’t,” she paused, “hear. But now that you know you can’t hear any vamps, why don’t you try to trade up. Seriously—Bill’s so damned,” she paused again, “boring! And he takes you for granted. And he’s got a stick shoved so far up his ass that every time he sits down he risks staking himself!”
At that, Sookie couldn’t help her chortle. If nothing else, her best friend could always make her laugh. “Tara, that’s—horrible!”
“You’re the one who calls him the ‘Mechanical Bill.'”
“Don’t you dare say that after sundown! Or Bill might hear you!” Sookie yelled, even though she was openly giggling now. She’d come up with that nickname after she and Tara had been drinking too much tequila at a local “watering hole,” which was always pretty much deserted when they went there in the early afternoon—which was well before any crowds came in. Tara would rope Sookie into going about once a month. The place had reasonably cheap tequila, and it also happened to have a mechanical bull. Sookie smirked. The costumes she and Tara were now wearing would be perfect for the cowboy-themed dive.
A few months before, sometime around shot number five, Tara and Sookie had decided to ride the bull, but the damned thing had been broken and would operate on only one speed—the one that seemed made for geriatrics who’d had multiple hip replacements.
Needless to say, the slow movements of the bull hadn’t even qualified as ‘twisting,’ and Sookie hadn’t even needed her hands to stay on the bull.
Sadly, sex with Bill had become comparable to that experience—but certainly not comparable to the kinds of wonderful experiences she’d heard about from other people’s heads.
But people did tend to exaggerate in their thoughts—especially when it came to sex.
And—to be sure—being intimate with Bill was still really wonderful for Sookie, despite the fact that the sex itself was no longer anything to write home about.
Gran was always wanting to know if things between Sookie and Bill were as wonderful as the matriarch hoped. When Sookie had moved with Bill to Dallas—where Bill had been “sold” by the Queen of Louisiana when his computer software program garnered King Stan’s attention—Gran had hoped that Sookie would soon be getting married and settling down with her beau.
But that hadn’t really happened, much to Gran’s disappointment.
To make her grandmother worry less, Sookie tended to exaggerate her happiness. Sadly, most of the time, Bill seemed to be better suited for Adele Stackhouse than for her granddaughter—both in his old-fashioned mannerisms and in his seeming lack of physical virility.
Not that Sookie would ever say that out loud.
“Sookie,” Tara said, her voice gentle and laced with concern, “you are selling yourself short. You know that—right?”
Sookie sighed. “Am I? I don’t think so, Tara. Before Bill, I figured I’d be alone all my life. And Bill loves me. He really does. He told his queen that I wasn’t actually a telepath for God’s sake! And he lied like that because he realized he loved me!”
“And you feel guilty because you think he got sent here because he failed to bring the queen her prize,” Tara sighed.
“Yeah,” Sookie admitted. “And I should feel guilty. Bill protected me and my secret.”
“So you moved here with him out of loyalty,” Tara sighed, already knowing that had been one of Sookie’s driving motivations for leaving Bon Temp for a larger city—where there were a lot more people bombarding her shields with their thoughts at all hours of the day. “And I get that. Hell—selfishly, I’m glad you moved. It gave me an excuse to get out of Podunk, Louisiana! But let’s not make Bill out to be a hero, Sook. Need I remind you of how he got his blood into you?”
“No—I remember that very well,” Sookie said in a whisper. Sometimes she still woke up in a cold sweat from nightmares (or “day-mares” since she generally kept vampire hours) in which the Rattrays were beating her relentlessly and Bill was just looking on, waiting for her to become weak enough to have to accept his blood or die.
She took a deep breath. “But, Tara, I also chose to forgive him when he confessed everything to me. And let’s not forget how he was able to track down Rene Lenier after he killed Tina. Who knows who else Rene might have killed if Bill hadn’t recognized his scent! Because of Bill, Jason’s free. And no one else was killed.”
“So—at this point—you are stayin’ with Bill because you owe him?” Tara asked.
“Yeah—that’s part of it,” Sookie admitted. “And because I really don’t think I could do better.”
“God, Sook, that’s just—sad.”
“I know,” the blonde said with a shrug. “But Bill loves me, and he’s kind to me.”
“Maybe—but you’re the one who told me that whenever you spend time together nowadays, he pretty much ignores you to work on his computer thing.”
“He just gets absorbed in his work sometimes,” Sookie defended. “And show me a couple that doesn’t eventually transition out of the honeymoon stage. It’s just nice to have someone—you know?”
“I know,” Tara sighed. “But what about another vampire? There’s bound to be plenty at the fundraiser tonight.”
“You know as well as I do that other vampires would just want to use me for my telepathy.”
“That’s what Bill has told you,” Tara reminded. “That doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Sookie sighed. “No—I’m sure Bill’s right,” she said, trying to sound more convincing than she felt. After all, part of her had begun to wonder if Bill had purposely tried to make her afraid of vampires other than himself so that she wouldn’t want to interact with them—beyond her job.
Bill still seemed to love her—or, at least, her blood. And—like all vampires—he was possessive. But that possessiveness no longer seemed to translate into any passion—unless public signs of claim could be counted. She tilted her head a little and looked at the two fang marks there—a “demonstration” of Bill’s ownership of her that had been given the night before.
Bill always made sure to mark her before she worked an event that would include vampires or Weres. But he would heal her the next night.
At least the most recent bite had been accompanied by their first sex in a couple of weeks—and the first touch of any kind she’d gotten from Bill in several days. She steeled herself. The marks were worth the touch.
Sookie shook her head and tried to shake off the general direction of her thoughts. Even if the passion between Bill and her had faded, Bill was actually very supportive of her in many ways. When Tara had decided to move to Dallas with Sookie, Bill hadn’t been too upset when they’d rented a place together.
Bill actually lived in the other half of their duplex, which had been converted so that it was “vampire safe.” To honor Gran’s sake of propriety, Bill had never pushed to live with Sookie full time. But—much to Gran’s chagrin—he’d also never asked Sookie to marry him, which would have made their living together “appropriate.”
But—again—there were many ways in which Bill was supportive. He had encouraged Sookie when she decided to get her GED—and, again, when she decided to go to college. While she took most of her classes online, she occasionally had to take one on campus, and—when it was a night class—Bill would even come with her and sit outside the classroom door when she had a test. In that way, she could latch onto his void and concentrate without being overwhelmed by people’s anxious and loud thoughts as they took their own tests. Indeed, on these nights, he was a great help! And Bill’s willingness to help her made her feel deep affection for him.
Moreover, Bill had helped both her and Tara to get work at a company that specialized in putting on high-end events. Run by a Weretiger named Quinn, E(E)E paid its wait-staff very well. Quinn was also extremely selective about whom he chose to work for him since he wanted to maintain a certain image. The schedule was quite flexible too, and Sookie could accept or turn down events as her school commitments dictated. As long as she worked at least six events a month, she earned plenty to pay her rent, bills, and tuition. And—when she could work a bit more—she could even send some money home to Gran, who was saving for a new roof.
The event Sookie was working that night was one that she’d almost turned down when Quinn had—almost apologetically—presented the details of the fundraiser to his staff. It had been paid for by the governor of Texas, who was facing tough opposition in the upcoming election. While a few radical Republicans had labeled vampires as the spawns of Satan, most politicians—on both sides of the political spectrum—had recognized vampires as wealthy potential donors. Vampires were the original capitalists, after all! However, Republicans liked to keep their dealings with vampires under the radar, which was why a company like Quinn’s was very successful.
That was also why Quinn paid his staff so well. He was paying for discretion as much as anything else.
However, despite the promised payday of more than half of her monthly rent for doing only five hours of work, Sookie had been extremely reticent about dawning her “uniform” for the event. She would have a lot of skin showing—a lot of places where people might touch her. And—if they did—she would have difficulty pretending that she wasn’t being bombarded by their thoughts. Another complication was that her vampire boyfriend would be attending the party. She’d talked the matter over with Bill, who had reluctantly “given her permission” to work at the party. That particular turn of phrase hadn’t made Sookie very happy, but, over the years, she had come to understand that dealing with possessiveness just came hand-in-hand with being a vampire’s girlfriend.
That’s why Bill had insisted that Sookie “carry his marks” in order to make sure that other vampires would know that Sookie was taken. She touched the marks and then swished her hair over to cover them. It had darkened a bit—since she no longer spent as much time in the sun.
“Hey,” Tara said, breaking Sookie from her thoughts, “you okay?”
Sookie smiled, hoping that it looked sincere. “Yeah. But let’s finish getting ready and get out of here before the sun goes down and Bill comes over.”
“You’re afraid he won’t be able to control himself around you while you’re in this get-up?” Tara smirked, handing her best friend the hat she was supposed to wear. Apparently, they’d be given a gun-belt to wear when arriving at the party location. They’d been assured by Quinn that the guns wouldn’t be real.
Sookie scoffed a little and nodded, before putting on a trench coat that made her look like a stripper or a flasher. In truth, she was worried that Bill would get “possessive” when he saw her. And she really didn’t want to smell like sex when she went to work. The first time she’d had to wear a revealing “uniform” for a party, Bill had seen her first and had made sure that she’d smelled like him—in every way possible. She’d been embarrassed as supernaturals had looked her way all night, their nostrils flaring. Thankfully no vampires had been in attendance at that event—only Weres and shifters. But it had still been humiliating.
She wasn’t ready to repeat that experience. The marks were bad enough.
“You don’t think that outfit is over the top?” Godric asked his child with amusement.
“You should see what Pam’s wearing,” Eric chuckled as he adjusted his overly large belt buckle and then put on his cowboy hat.
Godric grinned at his progeny. He’d been in a rather troubled mental state two decades before when he’d decided to call his child back to his side. He’d almost withdrawn from the world instead—and had even begun to contemplate meeting the sun.
But Eric—and his own progeny Pamela—had a way of brightening things up. And Godric’s doldrums had lifted after a few years of being in their company. He still felt the weight of his many years and many sins, but he had come to realize that he could do things to help vampire-human relations so that the attitudes of the past wouldn’t reign into the future.
As Godric had worked on things related to the Great Reveal and vampire-human relations, Eric had opened a successful nightclub, Fangtasia, after vampires had come out of the coffin. And then he’d opened up a second location and then a third. Pamela helped him to run them. Just like Godric, Eric also had many other successful businesses in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area—or The Metroplex, as most locals called it.
Tonight’s fundraiser was being thrown by the governor of Texas. Though not in agreement with all of the governor’s “public” policies, Godric knew that the man was relatively reasonable—in private, at least—when it came to vampire rights. The governor wouldn’t stand in the way of vampire-benefitting legislation, but—because of pressure from some members of his party—he couldn’t openly advocate for things like human-vampire marriage either. Godric had learned enough to know that it was wise to donate to both major-party candidates. Of course, he would do so anonymously.
The next weekend, Godric would be attending a fundraiser—also organized by E(E)E—for the Democratic candidate. Unlike Godric, Eric and Pamela actually enjoyed going to such soirees. Pam liked finding politicians’ wives to “play with,” while Eric seemed to mix business with pleasure more often than not—speaking with those who could be of benefit to his businesses, while scoping out a chosen “meal” for the evening. Hell—sometimes he’d even try to “out-Pam” Pamela by snagging a politician’s wife or two. Neither one of them cared much about politics.
Regardless, Godric found it very amusing to watch them.
“Look at me!” Pam exclaimed as she walked into the room—her gaudy, “beauty-pageanty” purple gown shimmering. “I look like a Republicunt!”
Eric and Godric both chuckled. Indeed, it was appearing as if the night would be very amusing indeed!
Eric Northman appreciated beauty—as much as a thousand-year-old vampire could.
Needless to say, what he’d once considered beautiful was now more-less pedestrian to him. Oh—every once in a while, he saw a human that he was attracted to for his or her looks, but most people had begun to “look alike” to him, melting together in his mind. How could they not? A vampire’s mind had near-perfect recall, and image after image of the people he’d met was stored in Eric’s mind. Granted, all people—even “identical” twins—were at least a little unique in their looks, and a vampire could pick up on every nuance. But almost all humans were also ‘familiar’ too.
Very few stood out—maybe one a decade. If he was lucky.
No—the beauty he found in the world now was mostly “mental” rather than physical. He found challenges beautiful. He found things that made him laugh without guardedness beautiful. He found new experiences beautiful.
When it came to looking for someone to feed from and/or fuck, he barely registered if the individual was actually “beautiful” by society’s standards. He let his nose choose his meals, and—if those meals stirred his loins as he drank—then he would fuck them as well. As crass as it sounded, bodies had become almost interchangeable to him when it came to fucking. He knew how to get them off, and he would get them off—while he got off. He wasn’t a selfish bastard, after all.
Of course, he’d developed small preferences. He didn’t like fucking women who were too thin. Gripping hips bones while he pounded into someone from behind wasn’t as appealing as gripping supple curved hips.
He also preferred people who didn’t moan too loud. He didn’t need their noises to “be encouraged” that he was doing a good job, and he hated the fakeness of keening that sounded like it was from the audio track of a bad porn movie.
Of course—a moan here or there was a good thing—expected and natural. But rhythmic wailing was not! He’d glamoured many a sexual partner to shut the fuck up while he’d fucked him or her.
Sadly, most of the fangbangers who frequented his clubs were stick-thin. And they seemed to think that they were expected to howl like a dog in heat when he fucked them. Eric was bored with them. And annoyed.
Given his preferences and his boredom, it wasn’t surprising that Eric noticed one member of the wait-staff in particular almost as soon as he walked into the large room where the fundraiser was being held. Her blush when one of the politicians made a suggestive comment traveled all over her body. It was enticing, but it also demonstrated that she didn’t wantonly seek out male attention.
Her costume showed off her luscious curves to perfection, though he found himself wishing that the sight were for his eyes only. She had full hips, and her breasts were a bounty. He could tell that they were real too, which was always better. The scent of silicon was just—unappetizing.
While her breasts and hips curved outward, her small waist completed the overall hourglass effect. Yes—hers was a body that stood out enough for Eric to call it “beautiful.”
Surprisingly, however, it wasn’t her flawless body that he found most captivating. It was her eyes that made him look at her more than twice—and that made him look at her as more than a potential meal and fuck. Brown and rich—her eyes were like the earth itself, and he realized that he wouldn’t mind taking root in them for a while.
She looked over to where he stood, catching him looking. She didn’t leer at him suggestively or brazenly as some of the wait-staff had, nor did she look away as if she were frightened of him. Her lips twitched into a sincere smile, unlike the one she had been using as she served alcoholic beverages to the humans. He tipped his oversized hat to her. And, her tray being empty, she was able to return the gesture before continuing with her work.
Eric was intrigued. Everything about her seemed slightly “off.” She seemed to not want to be there, but she was very good at her job. She seemed to be embarrassed to be in her costume, but she carried herself like a confident lady at a Southern tea party. She kept her fake smile plastered on her face, but those deep eyes of hers showed wariness and the kind of sadness that ran all the way to the core. He found himself wanting to trace the roots of that sadness—to somehow pull it out of her earthy eyes.
But he couldn’t approach her—because of her scent.
Her scent was both the sweetest and the most off-putting thing he’d ever experienced. Though her skin was somewhat pale, she smelled like sunshine and sunflowers—fresh and alluring to any vampire.
Unfortunately, however, she also smelled of Bill Compton, a waste of fucking space that had moved to Area 9, where his maker was the sheriff, almost two years before. Bill acted like an entitled prick most of the time because he’d developed a computer program—a database—that catalogued information about vampires.
In Eric’s opinion, the damned database had already been more trouble that it was worth to his maker. Twice now, Godric—as Sheriff of Area 9—had needed to provide Bill with protection as agents from Nevada and Arkansas nosed around his work.
If Eric had been king, he would have never paid Queen Sophie-Anne for the database, and—therefore—its maker. However, King Stan was a “nerd” in his own right. And he thought that Compton had hung the fucking moon!
By contrast, Eric thought that Compton had made a glorified phone book—not a novel idea at all! And, to make matters worse, it was a phone book that could be potentially dangerous to vampires if it got into the hands of Fellowship members. But King Stan hadn’t asked for Eric’s opinion. Godric had offered his own reservations to his king, but all that had gotten Godric was a directive to make sure that Compton stayed safe.
To say that Eric resented the problems that the little prick could bring upon his maker was an understatement.
Thus, he was doubly dismayed to smell that Bill “owned” the pretty blond waitress with the unending curves, the enticing blush, and the fathomless eyes.
“You should not stare at things that are not yours,” Bill Compton said from behind Eric.
“Great,” Eric thought to himself, “the douche himself.”
Eric turned around slowly. “And you shouldn’t disrespect your betters, Compton.”
Bill scoffed. “You might be older than I am, Northman, but you are not better.”
Eric chuckled, true amusement lighting up his azure eyes. “Oh, Billy Boy, you have no idea how much better I am. Perhaps, I could show your ‘friend,'” he added as he gestured toward the blond bombshell.
Bill stepped forward—into Eric’s personal space. “You will not go near Sookie!” he seethed under his breath.
“What a unique name,” Eric mused. “And such a lovely creature. Tell me—are you quite attached to her.”
“Sookie is mine!” Bill said stiffly.
Sadly, Eric could do nothing but nod in understanding.
Suddenly, there was a little commotion to the right of Bill and Eric as one of the U.S. Senators for Texas arrived with his date—a date that caused Bill to cringe and Eric to smile widely.
Stan Davis tried to keep his frustration in check, but he was pissed off. Lorena was one vampire that he most certainly did not want to invite for an extended stay in his state. Thus, he was stuck in a “Catch-22.” If he didn’t invite her to stay at his palace and cater to her every whim, she was going to leave the state with her latest “sugar daddy,” a U.S. Senator who claimed to be a Texan, but hardly ever came to the state.
But that wasn’t the problem. Lorena was welcome to leave! The quicker the better! However, she wanted to take Bill Compton with her!
Stan had been taken aback when Lorena had waltzed over to him during the fundraiser and demanded an “urgent” audience with him. And now—instead of doing business and making money—he had been forced to deal with the flighty vampiress in front of him.
“But Bill is vital to my state,” Stan said. “Perhaps he could visit you in Washington, D.C., for a few weeks every six months or so?” he suggested.
“When I said I wanted Bill back by my side, I wasn’t talking about for vacations,” Lorena said with a sneer—before looking at Bill with great affection. Or was it obsession?
Whatever it was, Bill’s reaction was to cringe.
Eric almost felt sorry for Bill. Almost.
“Bill is in charge of one of the biggest money-makers for my state,” Stan said.
“Oh yes,” Lorena said with an indifferent wave of her hand, “his quaint little database. I really don’t want him spending so much time on that thing anyway. I plan to keep him too busy,” she leered.
“But the database requires constant updates,” Bill said.
Lorena scoffed. “You know how I hate it when your attention is divided, Bill. Speaking of which, I want you to give up your pet as well; no—better yet—I want you to give her to me! Your growing indifference toward her is a positive step in the right direction, compared to the feelings of ‘love’ you used to feel for her,” she said sarcastically. “However, you need to demonstrate your priorities, William.”
“But Sookie is mine,” Bill stammered.
Lorena snorted. “And you are mine, William. Do not forget it.” She smiled devilishly. “If you are a good little boy, I will share her with you sometimes. She does smell delicious—even from across the room.”
Eric’s body stiffened fractionally, though he kept his expression calm. He’d yet to share a word with Sookie, yet the thought of her with Lorena made him want to kill someone—preferably Lorena herself.
“Sorry, Ms. Krasiki, but Bill has already given the girl to me,” Eric said evenly.
Godric looked at Eric with a raised eyebrow, making Eric very happy that Pam was off seducing a real Republicunt. He didn’t need her “help” in what he was trying to do.
For his part, Bill simply looked pensive—and defeated. He knew what Lorena was, and he also knew that Sookie likely wouldn’t survive her. And Stan was powerless. Bill was Lorena’s property, despite his contract with the Texas king. And Sookie was Bill’s property, despite the fact that Eric was certain she had no idea what the repercussions of that could be. Lorena was looking at Eric, and Bill was directly behind her. With his maker unable to see the movement, Bill nodded almost imperceptibly. And—in that micro-gesture—he’d given Eric his human.
And his permission to continue the lie he’d begun to tell.
“When did this happen?” Lorena asked defiantly.
Eric looked her square in the eye and told her “the truth” so that she would never sense a lie from Bill.
“Your child’s human caught my attention only tonight, and I expressed my interest in her. Bill and I were just discussing the specifics of that interest when you arrived.”
“How much did you offer for her?” Lorena asked.
“I was getting ready to offer twenty thousand,” Eric said, low-balling on purpose.
“Seventy-five!” Lorena said insistently.
Eric nodded in acceptance. “Well, Bill,” he smirked, looking at the sideburn-wearing vampire, “isn’t it fortuitous that your maker arrived when she did. Because of her, you are going to be receiving even more money for your pet than I’d planned.”
Stan looked bored and shifted the conversation back to his concern: the database.
“Fine, Lorena. You can take your progeny with you. But that database is Texas property. It stays here! I ask only that Bill be allowed to wait two nights before leaving Texas. During that time, he can get my people fully up to speed. Then, I want him available for consulting, should the need arise.”
“But Stan . . . ,” Bill started.
The king raised his hand to stop Bill from continuing. “I am sorry, Bill. I like you, and you have been good for Texas, but you know that I cannot stand in the way of a maker’s call of her child.”
Eric knew that what Stan didn’t say aloud was that he was unwilling to accept Lorena into his retinue. Few monarchs would.
“Fine,” Lorena said. “But Bill’s time will cost you five thousand a night. And, after the initial two nights, any ‘consulting’ will go through me so that an appropriate price can be arranged.” She looked at her crestfallen child. “And, while we are in D.C., Bill will continue working on the database—on a limited basis—by collecting information about vampires on the east coast. You will give him seventy thousand dollars a year for his contributions. Otherwise,” she smiled almost sinisterly, “we’ll just stay in Texas.”
“Seventy thousand sounds fair,” Stan said immediately. “Bill’s contributions from that region will be invaluable.”
“Well, then,” Lorena grinned, “I need to get back to the Senator before he misses me too much.” She glanced at her progeny. “Come, Bill.”
“I need to speak to Sookie—to explain things,” he tried.
“She’s Northman’s problem now,” Lorena returned haughtily.
“Bill’s aid in the transition would be helpful,” Eric said.
“Perhaps my child would be willing to add another ten thousand for an hour-long conversation?” Godric suggested.
“Ten thousand will buy you thirty minutes,” Lorena said with a fake grin.
“Agreed,” Eric returned. “Thirty minutes it is.”
Sookie had been with Bill for almost three years. In that time, she’d been faithful to him, and she’d tried her best to be understanding of his ways, but she was having a very difficult time taking in what Bill was saying as they stood in an empty conference room in the hotel that was hosting the fundraiser.
“You—you sold me?” she stammered. Even to her own ears, her Southern accent seemed thicker due to her welling of emotions.
“Sookie, I didn’t have a choice. My maker has commanded that I go with her.”
“Then, I could go too,” Sookie suggested.
“No, darling,” Bill said with a sigh. “Lorena will require that I be her lover, and if Northman hadn’t given me another option, then I would have been ordered to hand you over to her as well.” He took a long, unneeded breath. “I cannot disobey her. You would have become hers. And that is not something you want to be,” he added in a tone that made Sookie shiver with fear.
“But you can’t just do that—sell a human like that!” Sookie said insistently.
Bill closed his eyes and looked momentarily tortured. “I think that a part of me always knew this day would come,” he said at a volume Sookie could barely hear.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“As soon as I gave you my blood, you belonged to the vampire world. I tried to keep you from being exploited by not telling the queen what you were. And then I made sure someone let it slip to King Stan that I was developing the database. I didn’t know him well three years ago, but—from what I did know of his personality—I figured that he would want me here.”
“And you figured I’d follow,” Sookie said with realization. “You were scared that Sophie-Anne would send someone else to get me—weren’t you.”
Bill nodded in confirmation. “I think that Sophie-Anne was suspicious when I wanted to keep you even after I told her you weren’t telepathic. And . . . .” He stopped.
“And Hadley was one of Sophie-Anne’s favorite pets not because of her wit and personality—but because she had delicious blood.”
“And you were worried that Sophie-Anne would want me for my blood too, even if she believed I wasn’t a telepath?” Sookie asked.
Bill nodded. “Yes. And because you are a beautiful woman. Sophie-Anne prefers women. And—Stan?” He chuckled. “Well Stan enjoys computers and computer games. I knew he wouldn’t be interested in you—even if he saw you. Plus, I decided to settle in Godric’s area for a reason.”
“Godric? The sheriff of Area 9?” Sookie asked.
“Yeah. He is known to be honorable and has fair-dealings with humans. And I didn’t think he’d want you, though I figured he’d help me to keep my claim of you—if it were ever challenged.”
“But he can’t do anything about Lorena?” Sookie asked.
“Why wouldn’t Godric have wanted me?” she asked.
“He prefers men. And it is well-known that he has a special attachment to his child, Eric.”
“The vampire you gave me to,” Sookie whispered.
“Is Eric gay too?”
“Most vampires are bisexual,” Bill informed, “even me at times. But Eric is known to prefer women and has had many female partners.”
Sookie looked horrified. “He won’t expect things from me—will he?”
Bill scoffed, but then he thought for a moment. “Sookie, in all honesty, I don’t much like Northman. He’s an arrogant ass. But he wouldn’t force you.”
“Would he try to glamour me?” Sookie asked. Both of them knew that Eric would find out that Sookie was ‘different’ if he did.
Bill shrugged. “I hate to admit it, but it might not be a bad idea for you to tell him about your immunity to glamour and your telepathy. He could protect you better than I.”
Sookie sat down heavily in one of the chairs at the conference table. “I still can’t believe this.”
Bill looked nervous. “I’m sorry, Sookie. I never wanted any of this for you.”
They were silent for a few moments.
“Sookie, I don’t have much more time before I have to go back to Lorena,” Bill said with a sigh.
Bill sat down next to her and took her hand. Sookie realized it was the most physical affection he’d shown her in a while—except for the occasional sex they had. And, even that, they had only once a week or so—usually when he needed to feed on fresh blood to supplement the synthetic he normally drank.
Some time ago, she’d realized that he’d started to think of sex with her as almost a chore. But she’d been too selfish to “let him off the hook.” She’d craved the touch too much.
“Will it be awful? With Lorena?” Sookie asked.
“It depends,” Bill answered quietly. “If Lorena is going through one of her saner periods, it will be bearable—perhaps, even enjoyable.”
“And if she’s not?” Sookie asked, squeezing his hand.
“Regardless—since she first let me go, she has called me to her only a few times, and she has kept me for only a year or two during those occasions. That is not too long to endure,” Bill said quietly.
“So you might be able to come back in only a year or two?” Sookie asked hopefully.
“But you will still belong to Eric,” Bill reminded before sighing loudly. “Sookie, you should try to find happiness. Hell—you might even find it with Eric. You two share a certain joie de vivre. But even if that’s not to be, I’m certain you could make a kind of business arrangement with him—perhaps, the occasional use of your ability in exchange for his secrecy.”
“Bill, I need to know something before you go,” Sookie said somberly.
“I will tell you if I can.”
“What did I do wrong?” she asked in a tortured tone. “You used to love me. I know you did, and things between us used to be so good. But, during the last two years or so, it’s felt as if you were drifting away. And even though we were a couple, it didn’t feel like we were truly together anymore.” She took a deep breath; her eyes held great fear. “I need to know if there’s something wrong with me, Bill—beyond the obvious. I need to know if there’s a reason why you got bored with me.”
Bill hesitated for a moment. “I’m sorry if I made you feel as if there was something wrong with you, Sookie. There isn’t. Couples just sometimes drift apart.”
“Then why didn’t you break up with me?” she asked.
“Because you are mine!” he said, his possessiveness rearing its head.
“I was yours,” she corrected.
“Yes,” he said in a defeated tone.
She shook her head from the whiplash of Bill’s response. On the one hand, he’d clearly been losing interest in her for a while. On the other, he seemed to want to continue claiming her.
“Is it a vampire thing? Would any vampire get bored with being with only one person? Is it because I didn’t want you to take blood from other people—after that one time when I saw you doing it?” she asked, trying not to sound angry or hurt.
“Your blood is the best I’ve ever had, Sookie!” Bill defended fiercely.
“Then maybe that’s why you stayed with me,” she said quietly.
Bill closed his eyes and looked pained. “Yes. That—and duty. My actions brought you into the supernatural world. And it was my duty to mitigate your involvement in it.”
“By making sure I’d be in a place where the vampires in charge weren’t monsters,” Sookie sighed. In truth, her feelings were incredibly mixed. Realistically, she’d been staying with Bill for “convenience’s” sake too. Her passion for him had ebbed and then receded almost completely. But he was safe and he was—someone. She’d always craved someone in her life. Until she’d met Bill and found hope, she’d buried her face into her pillow many a night so that she could hide the sounds of her sobs from Gran.
There was an almost universal truth: humans craved touch. It was as simple as that. But Sookie’s telepathy had made each touch a hurt-filled experience. Even “good” thoughts hurt because so many would come at her at once if she touched another. She’d eventually learned to construct shields to protect herself, but nothing could prevent the onslaught of thoughts she would get with a mere brush of a finger on her exposed skin.
So—she’d started to avoid most touches whenever possible. Strangely enough, as a waitress, she didn’t get touched that much. And she’d mastered the skill of avoiding skin-on-skin contact even when she was carrying a tray full of drinks in a crowded room. And—luckily—she’d worked for people, Sam and then Quinn, who’d been protective of her and had made sure that she was not hassled by men, even when a lot of her skin was exposed, as it was that night.
Yes. Until Bill, she’d avoided touch like the plague, even though—paradoxically—it had been the one thing she’d literally craved. She used to dream about it—sharing an embrace, holding a hand, receiving a pat on the arm or a kiss on the forehead. And—as an adolescent—her dreams had changed into tender kisses on the lips and sweet caresses, followed by passionate ones.
But she would always wake up to the nightmare of her self-imposed “no-touch” rule.
It didn’t help that almost everyone she cared about would invariably get their feelings hurt whenever she went out of her way to avoid their touch. Gran’s worry and sorrow, especially, had hurt Sookie so much that she made a point to reach out and pat her grandmother’s hand every once in a while.
Even though it hurt.
But Bill had been a balm to her.
To touch—and not to hurt!
Tara often wondered why Sookie had been able to forgive Bill for his initial interactions with her, especially since the earliest two had been designed to hurt Sookie so badly that she would have to take his blood.
Perhaps to her discredit, it had taken Sookie only moments to decide to forgive Bill once he told her the truth.
Or maybe it just proved her desperation. Or how pathetic she was.
Bill had been holding her hand when he’d told her of his deception, too. And she’d not wanted to let go of the touch.
Even her anger over the fact that he’d “sold” her like a pet didn’t make her want to let go of his hand. Not until she had to.
Sookie wondered if Bill knew her well enough to understand what she was thinking as he gave her a kind smile filled with regret and a little longing.
“Just because I pulled away doesn’t mean that others would,” he said.
“Thanks for saying that,” Sookie said sincerely, even though a big part of her didn’t believe it. After all, she’d pulled away from people all of her life. Maybe she’d had her reasons, but she’d still done it, and karma didn’t understand motives.
She sighed. Now that Bill would be out of her life, she would once more be able to count her friends and family on one hand: Gran, Jason, Tara, Sam, and Quinn. Lafayette had once been on that list too, but he’d been killed only a month after Sookie and Tara had moved to Texas.
Sookie took a deep breath and tried to steady herself and think through the practical implications of what was happening to her. Many times before, Bill had told her that other vampires would want her only to use her. And, not ten minutes before, he’d implied that it was mostly her blood’s flavor that had made him stay with her.
Blood and duty—those were also two reasons why Gran and Jason put up with her.
Sam and Quinn had both been initially attracted to her, and their Were minds were harder for her to read. Sookie had been happy to have them as friends, but she’d held herself back, not wanting them to think that anything could happen with them. After all—all it had taken was the obligatory handshake upon first meeting them to tell her that a touch from a two-natured being was even harder to bear than one from a human. Not only did she get a confluence of static-filled thoughts, but also she got an overwhelming surge of emotions that would almost knock the wind out of her.
It was Tara whom Sookie was most comfortable with in a lot of ways. Tara felt protective of Sookie, though she often felt sorry for her too. Sookie didn’t like feeling the pity, but that was a small price to pay for a loyal friend who’d—many times before—placed her own body between Sookie’s and someone else’s, just so that no one would touch her.
Tara was the one who would forgo going to a club to dance and would dance with Sookie to MTV videos instead. She was the one who held back her touches from Sookie without letting her own feelings be hurt in the process.
She was the one who told Sookie’s coworkers and Quinn that Sookie had a problem with being touched—”a psychological thing”—so that Sookie wouldn’t have to deal with questions.
And, even though she’d disliked him from the start, Tara had always tried to get along with Bill since she’d understood that Sookie needed him.
“I will always love you, Sookie,” Bill said, even as he let go of her hand and got up from the table.
With effort, Sookie gave him a sincere smile, remembering better times. “I know. And I will always love you, Bill,” she returned, even as she realized that they’d never been in love with each other.
“Northman wanted to speak with you for a moment after I was done,” he said almost apologetically.
Sookie nodded. She wasn’t surprised.
Bill didn’t turn around to look at her for a final time when he walked out of the door.
Sookie wasn’t surprised by that either.
Sookie had noticed Eric Northman throughout the night. She’d even caught him staring at her a few times. Given her outfit, there was plenty to stare at, but—surprisingly enough—his focus had seemed to be on her eyes.
His own eyes were striking—deep blue pools of the ocean on a sunny day when the blue was always truest. He was, without a doubt, one of the most attractive men she’d ever seen—though she, better than most, knew that outer beauty meant nothing when it came to gauging what people were really like.
However, in the two hours before she’d been asked by Quinn to go to the conference room, she had intuited some things about Eric from her brief glances in his direction. He was confident and probably very old. While Bill had worked the room with flattery and deference to the political figures, the tall blond had waited for the others to come to him, and they always did. It seemed as if his power and charisma drew them to him, and Sookie could tell that it was the humans who were the flatterers and the panderers during their interactions with Eric.
Eric was tall—and made even taller by the cowboy hat he wore. She’d chuckled to herself when she’d first seen him. He managed to make his horrible cowboy garb look attractive, but Sookie had a feeling that he was also amusing himself by making fun of the people at the fundraiser with his attire. With mirth in his eyes, he’d tipped his hat toward her the last time she’d caught him looking her way, and she’d tipped hers back before concentrating on her work once more.
As Eric walked into the conference room, Sookie wished—for the hundredth time that night—that she was wearing something with more coverage.
“Miss Stackhouse,” the gorgeous vampire said smoothly, giving her a little bow of his head. A part of her—the young woman who’d just lost the only person in her life that it was safe to touch—was disappointed that he’d not offered her a hand to shake.
But she brushed that part away.
“Yes. And you’re Eric Northman?”
“And I’m yours? You—uh—bought me from Bill?”
“You are. And I did.”
“I wasn’t Bill’s pet,” she said, trying not to sound meek. “I was his girlfriend.”
“You gave him blood and sex when he wanted it?” he asked.
“Yes. But we had a relationship too—at least for a while,” she responded.
“For a while?”
“Most couples drift apart,” she said, parroting Bill’s earlier words.
“And you two grew apart?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yes—after a couple of years together.”
“How many years?”
“We’ve been together for almost three.”
Eric seemed to consider something for a moment. “Do you like working for the Weretiger?”
“It pays the rent and lets me stay in school. And Quinn’s good about looking out for me.”
“Tell me, Ms. Stackhouse, do you sleep with your boss in exchange for his ‘looking out for you?'”
Sookie gasped and immediately reddened with anger. “How dare you ask such a thing?”
“I dare to do many things,” he said evenly, “but your response has answered my question. Was Bill as faithful to you as you were to him for the duration of your relationship?”
She sighed. “I think so. Listen—I’m tired and hungry. And I get that you now think you own me, and Bill said that was a lot better than the alternative, but I really don’t want to have to deal with this now. And I’ve already missed a lot of tips.”
“I don’t care to have you working in your current attire,” Eric said. “Why Bill allowed it is beyond me.”
Sookie closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Fine. I just need to tell my roommate where I am. Then I’ll go home. And we can talk again tomorrow night—okay?”
“You seem to be taking all of this calmly. You don’t intend to run from me—do you?” Eric asked.
“Bill would get in trouble if I did—wouldn’t he?” Sookie asked.
“Perhaps,” Eric said thoughtfully. “Regardless, he would use his blood to tell me where you were. He’d have no choice.”
Sookie sighed. “I live in a duplex at 7891 Church Road. Will you give me until tomorrow night before we have to talk about all this?”
Eric looked at Sookie thoughtfully. “Bill’s address is the same—is it not?”
Sookie nodded. “It is—or was. Actually, he lives in the other half of the duplex.”
Eric sighed. “Then I’m sorry, but I will have to disappoint you. I cannot let you return there until I know that Bill and Lorena have left the area. Otherwise, Lorena might become suspicious of the truth.”
“And what’s the truth?” Sookie asked.
“That Bill gave you to me only after she’d requested that he give you to her. Otherwise, Bill wouldn’t have done it. However, if I allow you to return home without giving you my blood to make you my ‘pet,’ then Lorena will likely believe that I am not that serious about wanting you, which will seem suspicious—given the fact that I paid seventy-five thousand dollars for you. Plus another ten to buy the half hour Bill was able to speak with you.”
“So that’s what I’m worth—eighty-five thousand?” Sookie asked wearily.
“It was a steal,” Eric smiled. “Anyway, for your safety—and to avoid any complications—I’d ask that you come home with me tonight, Ms. Stackhouse.”
Her eyebrows raised in suspicion. “So that you can glamour me to have sex with you?”
He chuckled. “No. I do not think I would like to have you with glamour, but win you I will.”
Sookie’s heart jumped with Eric Northman’s words. She felt like her life was suddenly out of her hands; however, her experience had told her to roll with the punches.
“I will have my progeny inform Quinn that you have left with me, and he—in turn—can inform your roommate. Is that acceptable?”
“I don’t have a change of clothing,” Sookie said.
“I will supply you with what you will need to be modestly covered,” Eric said politely—though somewhat flirtingly. “I believe Bill will be leaving after two nights of working with Stan’s people on the database. If I know Lorena, she will keep him on a short leash as he does. As soon as it is confirmed that Bill and Lorena are out of Area 9, you may return to your home—for the time being.”
“The time being?” Sookie asked.
“Perhaps, you will decide that you would prefer to live with me—once we get to know each other.”
“I doubt that.”
He chuckled and closed his eyes for a moment. Not ten seconds later, a beautiful vampiress jetted into the room.
“Oh, master!” she exclaimed as she licked her lips appreciatively in Sookie’s direction. “You shouldn’t have! But I’m glad you did,” she leered.
“She is not for you, Pam!” Eric snapped, the harshness of his tone seeming to surprise both the vampiress and himself. Then he said more to Pam in a language Sookie didn’t understand.
She responded with a respectful nod of her head and then left the room as quickly as she’d come into it.
“What did you tell her?” Sookie asked.
“To inform the Weretiger and to retrieve any belongings you have here.”
Having little other choice, Sookie nodded, and they waited for Pam to return; she did so—not two minutes later.
Without a word, Pam handed Sookie’s coat and purse to Eric before leaving again.
Eric held out the coat, and Sookie let him help her put it on before she buttoned it up and cinched the waist, making sure that the coat concealed as much of her body as possible. Eric chuckled as he handed Sookie her purse.
“Shall we?” Eric asked, extending his arm. She wrapped her arm around his, wishing that she was touching his flesh and not his suit jacket so that she wouldn’t have to hear the nasty thoughts from the humans in the room as she exited the fundraiser with Eric.
Many thoughts were directed right at her, so she couldn’t help but to hear them. Many people thought she was a whore.
Maybe she was. After all, she’d just been bought and sold.
“So? What do you want from me?” Sookie asked.
“I have no idea,” Eric admitted.
“You said earlier that you were going to try to win me. Are you only interested in a difficult conquest? ‘Cause if that’s the case, you can have permission to screw me right now.” She sighed. “Just get it over with.”
“I wouldn’t have pegged you for a defeatist,” Eric observed.
“I’m a realist,” Sookie returned.
“And what made you one of those?” Eric asked almost playfully as Sookie reached down to take off the heeled boots she’d been required to wear. Spurs jangled as she set the boots onto the floor.
Sookie sighed in relief at being free from the too-small footwear.
For his part, Eric immediately became enamored with her feet. They were somewhat narrow, and they flexed into the carpet. As her toes pointed, Eric could tell that one of her feet had likely been broken at some point.
“Blue nail polish?” Eric asked.
Sookie chuckled. “Blue’s my favorite color. Tara got this for me for my birthday, but it stands out too much for my fingernails. So—my toenails it is.”
Eric chuckled as he sat down in a chair across from the couch she was sitting on.
“I can tell that you are smart,” the vampire said, his tone changing to indicate his seriousness. “Why are you working at a job you obviously don’t like?”
That question caught Sookie off-guard. No one knew that she didn’t enjoy her job—not even Tara. Being around so many people was difficult for Sookie. Oh—she “spun” things by saying her job was good because it helped her to practice her shields, but being a waitress was—by no means—easy for her. However, Sam had given her a chance when “quieter” jobs included bosses who seemed mostly concerned with getting into her pants.
And she was a good waitress. She could tell when her customers needed things because they would “project” their desires. Of course, she had to concentrate in order to make sure that she never brought orders they’d not verbally made yet, but—when she’d worked at Merlotte’s—she’d been able to anticipate drink refills and bring things like ketchup without stirring up anyone’s attention. Working for Quinn, she was mostly a cocktail waitress, but it had paid well and didn’t require any schooling.
“How do you know I don’t like what I do?” she asked the vampire.
“You are very good at your job—efficient,” Eric commented. “But your eyes did not light up as you worked.”
“Maybe I was just having a bad day—made worse by the fact that my first and only boyfriend is taking off with his maker and sold me to a vampire I don’t know,” she said facetiously.
Without comment, he absorbed the information that she was relatively inexperienced when it came to relationships.
“You were not having a bad day before Bill told you about me—and about Lorena,” Eric said with certainty. He sat forward a little. “I think it’s that you don’t like being around a lot of people—humans particularly.”
“I don’t,” she said honestly.
“Then why choose the job you did?”
She scoffed. “Do you know how hard it is to get a good-paying job when you haven’t finished your college degree? Especially when you just have a GED?”
“But you had a vampire boyfriend. Surely Bill could have helped you to find something you would have enjoyed as you go to school—even if your modern sensibilities would have prevented you from allowing him to support you.”
“He did help me to get work—with Quinn.”
“Did Bill not know that you hated the job?” Eric asked incredulously.
“What are you going to school for?”
“Numbers are . . . .” Sookie stopped midsentence.
“Numbers are what?”
She looked directly into the vampire’s eyes and held her breath. Maybe she was testing him—seeing if he would use glamour to get the information he wanted.
But he didn’t.
Her test over, she sighed.
Eric Northman now owned her, and she wasn’t naïve enough to think that she could get away from him. Even going to the police would get her nothing but a padded room to stay in. And she’d be given medicines that would destroy her ability to erect any shields. After all, she was a diagnosed schizophrenic.
Bill had given her to Eric Northman in order to avoid giving her to his maker. It was the lesser of two evils according to Bill. And he’d implied that she could trust him. But Eric was new territory for Sookie. Even so, there was something about him that she wanted to trust, but she’d learned that blind trust would only get her beaten almost to death in a dusty parking lot.
It had been a hard lesson.
Despite that, she made her choice—and her bed. She would lie in it, even if it led to her lying six feet under.
After all, death would be better than many other alternatives she could think of.
“Quiet,” she whispered. “Numbers are quiet.”
“What do you mean?” Eric asked.
She smiled at him a little. “You said you’d have some clothes I could change into?” she asked, gesturing toward the trench coat she was wearing.
He smiled back. “I’ll get you something.
Sookie looked in the mirror. ‘Something’ ended up being a very large T-shirt that probably hugged Eric’s body tightly, but hung down almost to her mid-thigh. He’d also given her a choice of boxer shorts or flannel sleep pants. She’d opted for both. The boxers fit okay, thanks to Eric’s slim waist and her ample hips. She cinched up the drawstring on the pants as much as possible before rolling over the waistband a couple of times. Then she rolled up the pants legs.
She looked ridiculous, but she was comfortable. And, strangely enough, she also felt pretty comfortable with the vampire.
“Eric,” she said in a whisper, “what do you want from me?”
She left the bedroom she’d been changing in so that she could rejoin him in the living room, but he wasn’t there. However, there was some food on the coffee table—a plate of fancy-looking hors d’oeuvres and a plate of sinfully rich-looking desserts.
“I didn’t know what kind of food you would want, and I figured it might be too late for a full meal. My day-man, Geoffrey, suggested this.”
She smiled at him. “You put on comfortable clothes too,” she said, taking in his own T-shirt and flannel pants.
He nodded. “I have limited human beverages in the house. Water—of course. Geoffrey also brought soda and pre-set a coffee maker so that only a button needs to be pushed in order to generate the liquid. Or—perhaps—you would care for something stronger. He brought wine.”
“White or red?”
“I’ll take red,” she smiled, but go ahead and push the button on the coffee maker. I’ll want some of that with the sweets.”
Eric nodded and went to get her beverage, even while she dug into the hors d’oeuvres. She was surprised to still find herself hungry, but she did tend to keep “vampire hours,” and she’d had only one small meal that day—right before getting dressed for work.
“You like the food,” Eric said with a smirk as he came back into the room with a glass of wine in one hand and the rest of the bottle in the other.
Sookie reddened when she realized that she must have inadvertently moaned as she was eating.
“It’s good.” She looked at him in surprise as he sat down at the opposite end of the couch from her. “You—uh—don’t mind if I have some more. Do you?” she asked as she gestured toward the food.
“Why would I mind?” he asked in confusion. “I arranged for it for you.”
“Bill didn’t like to be around me when I ate. I figured you’d do something else—somewhere else—until I finished.”
“Oh.” Eric shrugged. “As long as the food is well-prepared and made with fresh ingredients, the scent does not bother me.” He smirked. “I must confess that what humans call fast food does bother me a little.”
“It bothers me too,” she chuckled, “but I still can’t deny my occasional cravings for McDonald’s French fries.”
Eric smiled and the two were silent for a few moments.
“You have a story to tell me, Miss Stackhouse?”
She nodded, but waited a few more minutes as she bolstered her courage with her wine.
She took a deep breath. “I was 25 when I met my first vampire, Bill Compton. I was working at Merlotte’s Bar & Grill, which is owned by Sam Merlotte, who’s a shifter. Of course, I didn’t know that he was a shifter at the time; I didn’t even know there was any such thing, though I could sense that he was different.” She took another deep breath and another drink before she went on.
Eric simply contemplated her silently.
“When I first saw him, I could tell that Bill was different too. He seemed to glow a little. All vampires do. I didn’t learn—until later—that other people couldn’t see that.”
Eric responded with a raised eyebrow indicating his surprise, but stayed silent.
“Bon Temps, where I grew up, is a small place—with a lot of small-minded people. Two of them sat with Bill the first time he came into Merlotte’s. They were drainers, but—before I could warn him about what they were planning—they’d left together. I went outside to try and help Bill. They’d tied him down with silver and were draining him. I stopped them, and then Bill offered me the blood they’d taken.”
Eric growled a little, but—still—he didn’t speak.
“The next night, Bill came back to Merlotte’s. He asked me to sit with him for a while so that he could thank me. And I did. My grandmother’s a Civil War buff, and I figured she’d want to meet him. Plus, I was,” she paused, “intrigued by him. We planned to meet after my shift that night to talk more. But Bill was late, and, as I waited outside Merlotte’s, the Rattrays—that was the name of the drainers—attacked me. Bill saved my life and gave me blood so that I wouldn’t die from my injuries. He licked my cuts to seal them.”
“Which resulted in a blood tie,” Eric commented.
Sookie nodded. “Yes—and a very grateful me. Bill told me that his blood would increase my libido, and it did. I dreamed about him, and—for several reasons—I wanted to,” she shrugged as if struggling to find the right word, “date him?” she finished like a question.
“Anyway, I began to spend more time with Bill. Around this time, two women in my town were murdered, and my brother was the main suspect because he’d been,” she paused, “with both of them. But they’d also had vampire bite bites on them. I asked Bill about it.”
“Had the girls been drained?” Eric asked.
“That’s what Bill asked,” Sookie said with a sad smile. “No—they hadn’t. But I figured they might have been targeted because they’d associated with vampires.”
“A reasonable supposition,” Eric commented.
“Bill contacted the Sheriff of Area 5.”
“Longshadow,” Eric scoffed. “I do not know him well, but he seems rather unfit to lead.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I never met him, but it didn’t seem like he was gonna help either. Eventually, the murderer targeted me. He broke into the house I lived in with Gran, and he killed my cat,” she said sadly. “But Bill recognized the scent of the killer. And he glamoured him to make a confession.”
“Well—Bill was my hero even more so after that. Gran liked him too. And I felt,” she paused again and the smile that had been in her eyes faded away, “quite normal—despite the fact that I was dating a vampire. About a week after Bill had found the killer, he told me that he loved me, and I said it right back.” She blushed. “We made love for the first time, and I was so happy I felt like I was going to burst.” She took a drink of her wine. “But it was ‘the bubble’ that was burst.”
Sookie was silent for a couple of minutes.
“Tell me,” Eric ordered softly.
“The night after I gave my virginity to Bill, he confessed the truth to me. He’d been sent to Bon Temps by the Queen of Louisiana, Sophie-Anne. She wanted me in her retinue. And she wanted me to ‘want’ to be there. So she’d sent Bill to procure me.” Sookie took a deep breath. “Bill had discovered that the Rattrays were drainers before he even saw me the first time. In fact, he’d glamoured them to find him at Merlotte’s the first night he came in. They were to secure him in silver chains that he gave to them; those chains turned out to be just silver-plated. And they weren’t that thick either. But they did cause Bill’s skin to burn a little. You see—he’d wanted the effect.”
“Why?” Eric asked.
“For my benefit,” Sookie sighed. “That first night was supposed to be the night I was beaten to within an inch of my life. I would try to save Bill, but the Rattrays had been expected to get the upper hand on me since they were armed with knives. I was to be beaten, and then Bill would miraculously escape from his chains just in time to rescue me and give me his blood.”
“But you prevailed over the drainers.”
“Yes—so Bill glamoured them to come back the next night. Regardless, he got what he wanted—a blood tie. And I was easily influenced after that. I fell in love with him quickly. The heroic vampire who saved my life. The dreams that filled my sleep. The charming Southern gentleman who captivated me and Gran. My hero again when he caught the Bon Temps killer and cleared my brother’s name.
“But there was so much more,” she said, her eyes now shining with an odd combination of hope and loss. “He was my first—everything. He was my first kiss. He was the first man I held hands with. He was the first man to take me for a walk. He was the first man to tell me he loved me. He was the first man to . . . .” She stopped for a moment. “Well—he was my first everything.”
“And it was all based on a lie,” Eric said softly.
Sookie nodded. “But somewhere in the middle of the lie and the seduction, Bill began to love me.”
“Why did Sophie-Anne want you so badly?”
“My cousin, Hadley, was Sophie-Anne’s lover at the time.”
“And is now her child,” Eric said, demonstrating that he kept up with vampire gossip.
Sookie nodded. “Yes. When I first met Bill, Gran and I thought that Hadley was probably long-dead from a drug overdose. But she wasn’t. She told Sophie-Anne all about me in order to curry favor. Or—maybe just because she wanted to give a gift to the person she loved.” She shrugged. “I guess I can understand that.”
“And you were to be that gift.”
Sookie nodded. “Bill said that I had very good blood—just like my cousin.”
“But sweet blood isn’t why the queen wanted you—is it?” Eric asked perceptively.
“No, she answered with a shaky breath. “I am a telepath.” She trembled a little as she waited for his reaction. He didn’t react, so she went on. “When Hadley knew me, a lot of people thought I was just crazy or retarded. Or schizophrenic. I remember lots of needles. After my parents died, Gran took me in, and living in the country away from people made things better. I could hear only three people then: Gran, my brother, and old Mr. Compton. Slowly, I figured out how to distinguish between people’s thoughts and what they said. And, if I concentrated, I could make those thoughts be like background noise. But school was rougher for me. Gran wanted to homeschool me, but she had to take on a job as a clerk at the grocery store since she had two more mouths to feed, and her social security wasn’t enough. As soon as I could, I dropped out of school. Eventually, I learned how to shield my mind from the onslaught of thoughts. Certain things would get through though.”
“When people thought about me directly. Or when someone touched me.” She shivered. “Touch brings with it a deluge of thoughts.” She took a long drink of wine and Eric poured her another glass.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You knew the shifter and Compton were different because of your gift?”
“My curse—yes. Sam’s thoughts were easier to keep out, but when he touched me, it was very painful.” She cringed. “Quinn is the same way. Their feelings are really powerful, and it’s hard to take. Luckily, they are both good about understanding that I can’t stand to be touched.
“Of course,” she chuckled mirthlessly, “my desire not to be touched just added to the ways I was ‘crazy’ according to the people of Bon Temps. But it did keep them from tryin’ to touch me most of the time. But they would think about me.” She trembled again. “Their thoughts usually weren’t pretty ones.”
“But you couldn’t hear Bill, could you,” Eric said with realization.
“No,” she said, “not at all. He was silent to me. All vampires are. And when I touched Bill for the first time, it was like every other voice just went away too. I could let down my shields and rest. And, then, when I built them up again, they would be stronger. It was the best feeling I ever had.”
“How many are you keeping out with your shields now?”
Sookie closed her eyes. “You live far enough out of the way so that I can feel only three Weres close-by. But they are easier to block. I did sense a fourth Were earlier. He came closer. Geoffrey?”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed.
Sookie opened her eyes and smiled sadly. “The queen wanted me to come to her court to be her pet telepath. Bill was to ‘keep me happy and on a short leash’ by keeping me in love with him. I was to read potential enemies of Sophie-Anne’s. Bill tested me that first night. He tried to glamour me, but it didn’t work. Then, apparently, he thought horrible things about what he could do to me, but I didn’t hear his thoughts, so I didn’t react. And then the Rattrays came. Part of their glamour was that they would think about what they had planned for Bill—and to think it ‘to’ me. Their thoughts felt a little ‘off’ that night, but I hadn’t come across vampire glamour before, so I didn’t know why that was. Anyway, Bill told me every ugly detail when he made his confession. And then he asked me to forgive him.”
“And you did,” Eric commented.
“I loved him,” Sookie said. “And I could . . . .” She paused and brushed away a couple of tears as if angry at them. “Realists don’t cry,” she whispered as she raised her chin stubbornly.
She shook her head. “Anyway, I could rest with him and touch him. And he did eventually tell me the truth. He also told Sophie-Anne a lie. He said that I was—indeed—schizophrenic, though the disease was controlled by medicine. Doctor Baker, the one who originally thought I was schizophrenic was more than happy to confirm his diagnosis and prescribe me some potent antipsychotic drugs—in case Sophie-Anne ever dug further. Bill told her that I tasted good, but not as good as Hadley in his opinion. He also told her that he felt sorry for me—because of my illness, and he asked if he could ‘keep’ me. He said that his blood was helping to keep my mental illness under control.”
“You made sure that Bill’s lie to Sophie-Anne wouldn’t endanger Hadley.”
Sookie nodded. “According to Bill, when Hadley told the queen about me, she said that she thought I could read people’s thoughts, but that sometimes I acted crazy. Bill’s lie was easy for Sophie-Anne to believe.”
She sighed and took a sip of wine. “However, I found out tonight that Bill was still worried that Sophie-Anne would send someone else to follow up, so he took steps to move out of the state without Sophie-Anne getting suspicious.”
“The database,” Eric said. “That was a good excuse. Since Hurricane Katrina, Sophie-Anne has been looking for anything that will increase her revenue.”
“So—the queen sold Bill and his work.” Sookie chuckled humorlessly. “I guess—then—that I shouldn’t be surprised by what happened to me.”
She picked up the dessert plate and forked into a decadent-looking piece of chocolate cake.
Eric zipped out of the room but was back in less than a minute carrying a cup of coffee and a bottle of water. “Humans sometimes put milk or sugar into this beverage,” he said, lifting up the coffee a little, “but I have neither.”
“That’s fine,” Sookie said as Eric put down the beverages in front of her.
They were silent as Sookie ate for a few minutes.
“Why did you step in to help me?” Sookie finally asked. “Why not just let me go to Lorena? What did you care?”
“I watched you tonight,” Eric responded. “You are beautiful, and you interest me. Your smell is divine and will be even better once Bill’s blood is no longer inside of you. And your eyes—they spoke to me.”
“What did they say?”
“That you have been dealt a rather shitty hand in life. But that you persevere. They made me want to know you.”
She took a deep breath. “Well—I’m glad that you did what you did. Thank you.”
“You do not seem heartbroken about losing Bill.”
“I would have been three—even two—years ago. But, like I said, people drift apart. He stayed with me for the taste of my blood and out of duty.”
“And you stayed with him for peace and touch.”
She nodded in confirmation. “Yeah.”
She took another bite of her dessert and then a sip of coffee.
“So where does that leave us?” Sookie asked.
He grinned rakishly. “As I said before, I will try to win you. And we will go from there.”
“I’m no prize,” she said, her voice even.
“I think you are,” Eric returned. “And I am patient.”
“Will you make me use my telepathy?”
“Not right away—and not unless you learn to better control it so that you are not so obviously hurt by it. My attorney is a demon named Nargal. Telepathy is a supernatural trait. I would guess, from the sweetness of your scent, that you are part fairy.”
“That’s what Bill told me I was,” Sookie said honestly. “One-eighth or one-sixteenth. Bill thinks my grandfather was part fairy, but Gran doesn’t know. And he disappeared when I was young.”
Eric nodded. “Telepathy is more common among demons than fairies,” he said, “though the Dae certainly don’t advertise that they often have that skill. They cannot read vampires either. Human-Dae hybrids have been known to have problems such as you have described. I think Nargal could help you.”
“What would you want in return for this help?” Sookie asked suspiciously.
“If you can learn to use your gift without pain, I will likely have you read the minds of the humans in my and my maker’s employ. I would then glamour them to forget about your skill in order to keep it from becoming publically known—though I would like to tell my maker.”
Sookie nodded her permission.
“Whether or not Nargal can help you,” Eric said, “you will not work for the tiger any longer.”
“Now—listen here, you highhanded son of a . . . .”
Eric chuckled. “I assure you—my mother was many things, but not one of those. However, I am highhanded—as you say. But—trust me—I simply want to help you.”
“I’m not taking your money,” Sookie said through gritted teeth.
“I won’t ask you to,” Eric returned. “However, I will ask you to earn it. My current accountant is a Were. As you continue your schooling, I would like for you to intern with him. He will be instructed to give you tasks you can do from home, and he will not touch you.” The vampire’s tone lightened. “Jim could always use more help, and he will welcome your assistance and teach you. And after you have earned your degree, you can continue to work for me or strike out on your own—if that is your wish. But I would not have you wear such a costume as the one you were wearing earlier for anyone but me.”
“I’m not the kind of girl who . . . .”
Eric interrupted. “I have already figured that out. But I hope to one day convince you to be that kind of girl with me,” he smirked. “Meanwhile, I ask only that you spend time with me. Who knows—you might learn to like me.”
Sookie thought for a moment and then nodded. “Okay, Eric.”
He smiled beautifully. “Shall we shake on it?”
She looked at his hand longingly. He scooted closer to her and held it out to her.
She sighed as she took it. “I’m not naïve anymore,” she whispered. “I know you could have lied to me about everything; however, I won’t lie to you and tell you that this isn’t magical,” she said as she looked at their joined hands. “Thank you.”
“Why let go, Sookie?” Eric asked when she went to do just that. “I like feeling your warmth. And you like the silence.”
She didn’t pull away.
“Just rest, Sookie. You’ve had a long night—and a difficult one. Near sunrise, I will retire to my chambers, and you are welcome to sleep in the room in which you changed your clothing. Geoffrey will bring more food tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. And I will arrange for you to meet my accountant tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. I will also contact Nargal. Tomorrow night, I will begin the ‘trying to win you’ part. Tonight we can just both sit here and rest.”
She looked up at Eric with grateful eyes. Truth be told, he had already begun to win her as soon as he’d tipped his ridiculous hat.
She wrapped her fingers into his, leaned against the back of the couch, and closed her eyes even as she heard a television turn on. She let herself enjoy hearing words without hearing any thoughts at all—until she drifted off into a peaceful sleep, holding the hand of a vampire.
The End (for now).
A/N: I found myself thinking about the early chapters of Club Dead—when Bill essentially abandons Sookie to go to his maker, lying about where he’s going. He tells her to go and place herself under Eric’s protection if he doesn’t come back in 8 weeks, and Eric and Pam go into panic mode and work to protect Sookie when they learn Bill’s missing. But then we learn that Bill has basically “pensioned Sookie off.” And Eric is trying to protect her. That moment and Seph’s banner were the inspiration for this story!
Thanks for reading!
Don’t forget to check out the other stories in Seph’s challenge if you haven’t already!