Eric awoke suddenly. He knew three things as soon as he was conscious. One was that it was exactly 86 minutes and 23 seconds until the sun went down. The second was that his body had not woken up naturally; he felt the sun seeking to pull him back into rest, but he resisted because of the third thing. The bond he had with Sookie was muted. She was not gone as she had been when she was in the fairy realm. No―she was near. However, the bond felt heavy, deadened somehow.
He didn’t like the feeling. In fact, he hated it.
He sat up quickly, disturbing the kitten who had been slumbering next to him. Within a second, he was dialing Jarod. He somehow knew that Sookie would not be able to answer her cell. Nervously, he scratched the little kitten’s head as he waited for the call to go through.
When Jarod picked up, Eric said only three words, “Where is she?”
Jarod answered evenly, “She was talking to Merlotte. It got a little intense, I think, but she was fine. Sam just came out into the bar a couple of minutes ago and told me she’d be along after she finishes up in the ladies’ room. Why?”
Eric reached out to the bond―it was still muted. Sookie wasn’t upset from a talk with the shifter. She wasn’t transmitting any feelings. Something was wrong; he knew it to his very soul. “Check her―NOW!” he ordered, even as he put the kitten in the center of the bed and quickly dressed.
Eric could hear Jarod’s footsteps and then an abrupt curse from him, followed by his calling for Merlotte. “What. Is. It?” Eric yelled into the phone.
In more than a thousand years, Eric had felt completely powerless only one other time: when Godric was up on that roof in Dallas ready to meet the sun. As he waited for Jarod’s words, he experienced the same sensation in spades.
“She’s not here,” Jarod answered. “I’m following her scent through the back door right now. Fuck!” There was a pause. “The scent ends in the parking lot. Obviously, she was driven off by someone. My car is still here.”
Eric reached out to the bond again, this time trying to get a fix on Sookie’s location, but he could not. He could tell only that she was not too far away. “How long?!” Eric half-questioned and half-demanded.
“Couldn’t be more than three minutes since Merlotte came back to the bar. Eric, I’m sorry. I don’t know . . .”
Eric cut him off, his voice low and icy. “Later. We’ll deal with your incompetence later. Right now, we need to find her. Tell Merlotte to keep everyone out of the back of the bar; I’ll be there in a few minutes with Miranda.”
“But Eric, it’s still day; you can’t just . . .”
Eric hung up the phone and sped down the stairs, grabbing his leather jacket from the coat closet where his bonded―his love―had hung it. He used it to cover as much of his body as he could.
Eric opened the front door and felt the sun on his face. He bristled against its rays, sensing its danger for him. It was late afternoon, but not late enough apparently. His mind and body were both telling him to seek shelter. However, just as when he had confronted Herveaux a few days before, he felt no immediate burning on his body. Still, he knew he’d be of no use to Sookie damaged, so he zipped back inside and got the thick red quilt she’d used to cover him that morning at the lake after he’d drained her fairy relative.
By the time he was back outside, Miranda was coming around the side of the house, a fierce and commanding look on her face and her phone to her ear, obviously being filled in by Jarod.
She took one look at Eric, who was using the blanket to cover most of his head, face and hands, and spoke sharply into the receiver, “We are coming. Make sure we have privacy.” She hung up without another word.
She walked to her car and unlocked it quickly. Eric sped to the passenger side, keeping himself as hidden from the sun as he could.
As soon as her door closed, she had the car on and was tearing out of the driveway. Neither said anything for a moment. Then, not looking at her, Eric spoke in a low voice, “From now on, you must be with Sookie when I am not. I thought that―given Jarod’s humor―she would like that better, but it has to be you.”
Miranda noted the tone of Eric’s voice. He seemed both determined and frightened, and she knew that he was trying to plan for after Sookie was recovered so that he could stay calm.
“Of course,” Miranda said. “She will get used to me after a while.” Miranda knew that Jarod would not take offense at the new arrangement. After all, Sookie had been taken on his watch, and Jarod would most likely work even harder to regain Eric’s trust, but in the end, they both knew that Miranda was the better tracker and guard. She was also decidedly detached and would not have let Sookie out of her sight for even a few minutes, no matter what the girl had wanted. Jarod had explained that Sookie had gone to the back of the restaurant alone several times that day, assuring Jarod that she’d use her fairy powers if someone came at her before he could get to her. Miranda would have never allowed Eric’s bonded to have that much freedom.
Jarod’s more casual demeanor was why Eric had decided to allow him the duty of guarding his bonded in the first place. But now, cocooned in the quilt that carried both his and his bonded’s scents, he regretted that decision. Of course―Sookie had been able to convince Jarod that she would be safe alone in the bar; Sookie had a way about her that could convince the Pope to give Buddhism a try. Eric himself had been taken in by her confidence in her own ability to protect herself. After all, he’d let her go into the Fellowship of the Sun church with only the treacherous Hugo. He’d let her go to Jackson, he’d let her fight the witches, he’d let her meet with Bill after the blood tie had been broken, and he’d been the one who had let her go back to work in the first place. Eric shook his head. No―none of that was quite right. No one let Sookie Stackhouse do anything. She did what she wanted or what she felt she needed to do. And he fucking loved her for it―even though a major part of him wanted to chain her to his side because of it.
Her bravery was one of the things he admired most about Sookie, but his confidence in her ability to protect herself until Jarod could get to her in the event of a problem was obviously imprudent. Something had attacked his beloved, something against which she either couldn’t or hadn’t had time to activate her powers.
Eric looked down at his phone and noticed that he’d received a text earlier from his wife. He opened it and read: “Everything’s fine here. I miss you, HUSBAND. Lala, Jesus, and Jason confirmed for football tonight, and I require a foot rub. Love you.”
Eric almost laughed at his bonded’s words, except “everything” was definitely not fine. Nothing would ever be fine again if he lost her. There would be no more of Sookie with him. There would be no more of her doing things to make his life more special. There would be no more of the influx of her life, her spirit, her light―and even her friends―into his dead life. There would be no pleasure from little things like watching a football game or giving his wife her foot rub or fixing her a sandwich. There would be no pleasure in making furnishings that she would never use. There would be no more feel of her skin on his. There would be no more holding her. There would be no more being held by her. There would be no more kisses, laughter, tickles, teases, or talks. There would be no more comfort. There would be no more love. There would be nothing.
There was silence in the car for a few moments before Miranda said, “Jarod thinks that he smelled traces of chloroform when he returned to search Merlotte’s office for any clues about Sookie’s abductor. I assume, then, that you cannot currently track her, and that is why we are going to Merlotte’s bar?”
“Yes. The bond between us is,” Eric paused, “stifled at the moment, and I cannot sense her location.”
Miranda sensed the rage and the sadness underneath Eric’s calm and stayed silent for the last two minutes of the trip. There were still around 75 minutes left until sunset, but Eric pushed off the blanket as soon as they parked.
Miranda looked at him in question.
“I no longer feel a threat or pull from the sun,” he said by means of explanation. In fact, Eric had, in the last minute or so, begun to feel like he had two evenings before when he’d woken up well before nightfall and had felt no danger at all from the sun. He wished, more than anything else, that he was by Sookie’s side as he’d been then.
Standing just outside the back of the bar was Jarod, his eyes taking in the surrounding area as Miranda and Eric got out of the car. As much as Eric wanted to punish Jarod for allowing someone the chance to get to his beloved, he knew in his gut that Jarod hadn’t been neglecting his duties. Moreover, Eric had other things to concern him. His nose immediately picked up the scent of the one who had taken his bonded.
He pulled out his phone and began dialing even as he and Miranda walked into Merlotte’s. Sam was on the other side of the door, and as soon as he saw Eric―fully awake and obviously not burning up or even smoking despite the fact that he’d just been outside in the sun―his mouth opened in question. Eric put up his hand to tell the shifter to keep silent as the person he had called answered the phone.
“Herveaux. Your woman has taken mine. I need to know where she would take Sookie, and I need to know it now.”
“Eric?” Alcide asked on the other end of the line. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Impatient, Eric replied quickly, “I have no time for lengthy explanations. Sookie was kidnapped from her workplace. The culprit is Debbie Pelt. I am unable to track Sookie because your bitch of an ex-mate has drugged her. Can you offer assistance or not?”
“Fuck!” Alcide exclaimed. “Yeah, sure. But I don’t know where Debbie is. She didn’t have many friends, and I have abjured her presence. But I’m still in Shreveport, and I’ll begin checking with members of the Shreveport pack.”
“Tray Dawson will be in touch in a few minutes,” Eric said. “He is the new packmaster and will help you.”
“Eric,” Alcide said hesitantly, “there is something you need to know. Debbie is on V again.”
“Very well, Herveaux.” Eric paused. “In deference to my bonded, I will inform you that once Debbie Pelt is found, she will not survive long―if Sookie is unharmed. If Sookie has been harmed in any way, she will survive a very, very long time,” Eric said, his voice icy.
“I understand,” Alcide said right before Eric hung up.
Eric once again gave Sam a look to hold his questions as he dialed again.
“Dawson,” Eric said after the new Were packmaster answered. “A member of the Shreveport pact, Debbie Pelt, has drugged and kidnapped my pledged and bonded one. Pelt’s ex-mate, Alcide Herveaux will do what he can to cooperate in the search.”
Before Eric could even ask for his help formally, Tray was offering it. Though neither Were nor vampire had ever used the word ‘friend’ in their more than decade of dealings with each other, the mutual respect between them had always been clear.
“I’ll activate the pack and find out who Debbie spent the most time with. According to pack records, she and Herveaux joined only at the last full moon; however, if she did form a friendship with anyone, we will start there. The pack is at your disposal, Northman.”
Eric responded, “Do you require Herveaux’s number?”
“No,” the Were answered. “I have it.” He paused. “Your mate will be found alive.”
To that, Eric said nothing for a moment, “Call with any updates.” He hung up.
Finally, Eric turned to Sam, who was still shocked at seeing Eric walking around in the day time.
“I assume, shifter, that I may count on your discretion about my ability to move around in the day. This gift has been an unexpected byproduct of my bonding with Sookie, and it would not do well for it to get beyond a few trusted people. Sookie trusts you, so I will not glamour this knowledge from your mind, but if I deem that you are a threat to us or if you tell of this to others, I will have to re-evaluate my decision.” Eric’s threat was clear and Sam just nodded his head.
“Good,” Eric said. He sniffed the air and walked into Sam’s office before bending down in front of the desk. Sookie’s purse was on the floor, as was her cell phone. As he went to stand up, he also saw the necklace he’d carved for Sookie. He picked it up and tied it around his neck with an almost silent sigh. He closed his fist around the carving even as he closed his eyes and reached out for Sookie again. She seemed further away, but he still couldn’t get a handle on her direction. He’d learned all he could from the scents in the room, so he walked back out of the office.
“Miranda,” he said, his voice commanding, “drive toward Shreveport and make contact with the Werewolf packmaster there, Trey Dawson. Help him to find out who Debbie Pelt was friends with and question them. Also, get what you can from Herveaux.
“Jarod,” Eric continued, though not looking at the shifter. “I want you to get to Shreveport as well. By the time you are there, Pam will meet you. You and she will question any known V-pusher or user for information on Debbie Pelt. I will stay here until the bond reawakens. Pelt is most likely headed toward Shreveport, but I will not risk being further away from Sookie when she wakes up and calls to me.”
Sam had been studying Eric. The vampire’s concern for Sookie was evident, but there was something else under his calm, in-charge demeanor. It was this something that made Sam question his earlier doubts about Eric; Sam saw fear in Eric, fear that he would lose the woman he loved. It was not the look of a man who was desperate to keep Sookie, the look that Sam had always seen in Bill’s eyes. It was the look of a man who was desperate not to lose her. Sam shook his head a bit. It went against almost every instinct in him as well as everything he’d ever known about vampires, but he felt himself becoming certain that what Eric and Sookie had was different, just as she’d told him.
Sam caught Eric’s gaze, “You can use my office to stay out of sight until the sun is officially down. I’ll get you a bottle of blood.”
Eric nodded and went back into the office as Miranda and Jarod left. He was texting Pam with instructions when Sam reappeared with the bottle. “I couldn’t warm it,” he said apologetically. “I didn’t want Arlene to be asking any questions.”
“It will be fine,” Eric said, looking at the shifter closely. He opened the bottle and forced down the liquid. He’d need strength to find Sookie, so he tried to ignore the fact that the taste was even worse than usual since it had not been warmed.
Sam took in a deep breath, “This is partly my fault. I was questioning her about you two, and that’s why she wanted a minute alone. I shouldn’t have left her that way.”
“It is my responsibility to keep my bonded―my wife―safe, Merlotte,” Eric said gruffly. “The blame is mine.” Eric’s anxiety was clear in his voice for a moment before he forced down the rest of his blood.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” Sam asked.
“I’ll take another bottle of this.”
“Sure―be right back,” Sam said, leaving the office again and closing the door behind him.
Eric was trying to focus and to think of all the chess pieces in his arsenal. Herveaux and the Were pack were activated. Pam would awaken around the time Jarod made it to Shreveport and would join him to question any suspected V-user or seller. Thalia was also still in the area, and Eric texted for her and Bubba to join Pam. Thalia had a knack for finding V-users and tracing them back to their source, and he intended to use her talents. And despite his young age, Bubba was one of the best trackers he’d ever met. Eric was certain that if they caught Debbie’s scent or Sookie’s scent, he would track them down.
Suddenly, Eric dialed his phone again, angry at himself for not thinking of a resource earlier. “Jesus,” he said as the brujo answered the phone. “Sookie has been kidnapped. I need you and Lafayette to come to Merlotte’s right away, and bring anything you can think of that might help us find her.”
Jesus told Eric that they were on their way, and Eric hung up, again probing the bond. It was still dim as Sam entered carrying two more bloods and a glass of whiskey for himself. He sat down behind his desk even as Eric took the seat his beloved had sat in less than half an hour before. He could smell her scent strongly there, and he closed his eyes to take it in.
Sam said quietly, “You love her.”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed quietly before opening his eyes and looking straight into Sam’s.
The shifter seemed to settle something in his mind. “Good. That is what she deserves. And you will find her. She will know that; she won’t be afraid, no matter what the person who has her tries to do.”
Eric nodded to Sam, “When she awakens, the Pelt woman will have more to fear than just me. Sookie is capable of much on her own now.”
Eric said these words as much for himself as he did for Sam in that moment. He needed their comfort. He needed to remember that if he couldn’t get to her immediately, Sookie could defend herself using her fairy magic.
Sixteen minutes later, there was a knock on the office door, and Lafayette’s voice could be heard. “Sam, you in there?”
Sam opened the door, and Jesus and Lafayette entered and closed it behind them. Both took in Eric’s daytime appearance without question. They were carrying several books and a bag full of ingredients Jesus thought they might need for spells. “I should get out to the bar,” Sam said, looking warily at the contents of the bag. “But let me know if y’all need anything.”
Jesus took in Eric’s demeanor and recognized it instantly. Other than the lack of overt physical pain, Eric looked as concerned as he had the night Sookie had severed their blood bond. Jesus quickly got to work. “We can do a spell that basically recreates what happened here if you want.”
“Do it,” Eric said. Despite the fact that he already knew who had taken his bonded, he hoped the spell would yield some clues about where Pelt had taken his wife.
“Okay,” Jesus said. “We need a focusing event―something that we know Sookie was doing. Then the spell will trace her movements for a few minutes before it fades. The closer the focusing event to her actual taking, the longer we will see beyond it. We may even get the direction her abductor drove off in―if we are lucky.
Eric thought for a moment. He knew that Sookie had been speaking to Sam and that the shifter had left her alone in the office. Then he saw Sookie’s purse before him on Sam’s desk and gestured toward it. “She must have been getting this when the chloroform was used on her. The drawer to the desk was still open and the purse was on the floor. That is the last thing she would have consciously done before the attack.”
“Perfect,” Jesus said. “We’ll set up the spell. It’ll take just a few minutes.”
While they worked, Eric willed himself to drink the last bottle of TruBlood Sam had brought to him. As he finished the final gulp, he reached out to the bond again, but nothing had changed.
When they were ready, Jesus and Lafayette stood across from one another and gripped hands. Eric remained silent as a smoky, translucent image of Sookie appeared, kneeling before Sam’s desk and opening the drawer to get her purse. The figure of a woman, Debbie Pelt, slipped up behind Sookie quickly. Eric stood and wanted to reach out to his beloved, but one warning glance from Jesus made him back off and simply watch.
Eric saw Sookie’s eyes register shock for a mere moment before she collapsed forward and dropped her purse. Debbie reached out to grab Sookie, dislodging her necklace in her haste. Eric unconsciously thumbed the carving he’d made as he continued watching.
Obviously pumped up on V, Debbie took Sookie’s cell phone out of her waitress apron and threw it to the floor. She then hoisted Sookie over her shoulder and looked around quickly and nervously before leaving the office. The abduction had taken less than thirty seconds. Eric followed the two hazy images. He watched Debbie go out the back door and then roughly throw Sookie into the back of a gray van. He could tell that the impact would have caused Sookie many bruises, and right then and there, he vowed to make Debbie Pelt’s death as ugly as he could. As Debbie slammed the van doors, Eric looked down and noticed the license plate number. He was already sending a text to Pam with the numbers when the magical image disappeared.
He hurried back inside. Jesus and Lafayette looked exhausted. “Did it help?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” Eric bowed a bit. “There was a license plate number.”
Both witches looked relieved.
Next, Eric dialed Sookie’s brother. He hoped he could get the boy to stay calm long enough to have him use his police resources to run the license plate number.
“Jason, this is Eric,” he said gruffly. “You need to listen to me and remain calm. Can you do that? Sookie needs you to do that.”
“Okay,” Jason said on the other end, the worry clear in his voice.
“Sookie was kidnapped from Merlotte’s by a woman―a Werewolf―named Debbie Pelt.”
When Jason tried to speak, Eric cut him off, “Stackhouse! Listen! I need you calm―right now.”
“Okay,” Jason managed on the other end, obviously intimidated by Eric’s tone.
“Good. I was able to get a license plate number and the make and model of the van Debbie was driving. I need to know if you can run the plates for me. And I need you to be discreet. This is not the time for police questioning and procedures and delays. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Jason answered, happy to have a task to do so that he could keep his nerve. “I am at the station now. Just give me a few minutes to distract Kendra so that I can get to the computer to run the check.”
“I’m texting you the license plate number now. Call me when you have something, and, Stackhouse, remember to be calm.” Eric hung up the phone.
Jesus asked abruptly, “What do you feel from your bond?”
Eric looked at the brujo, who obviously had another spell in mind. “I feel a kind of numbness. I can feel Sookie there, but I cannot locate her. It’s like the bond has been muted.” He paused and his voice lowered, “The bond feels deadened to me.”
Jesus looked a bit confused, so Eric made a comparison the brujo might understand, “It would be like you trying to seek Lafayette in the pitch dark in an area the size of Sookie’s property. You know that he’s there somewhere, but he cannot call to you, you cannot hear him and you cannot see him moving. This is how I feel.”
Jesus looked disappointed.
“What is it?” Eric asked.
“There is a spell that can amplify a blood tie, just as there is a spell to sever one. However, it would merely magnify what you currently feel. It sounds to me like you don’t have a strong enough reading on Sookie right now to make the spell effective.” Jesus paused, “In fact, I think that the spell would only give you more pain.”
Eric looked up sharply at Jesus, who stepped back due to the vampire’s penetrating gaze.
Seeing the brujo’s reaction, Eric steadied himself. His vampire instinct told him to hate the fact that Jesus could sense that he was in pain―pain at the loss of the bond’s energy, pain that he could do nothing to find his bonded. Eric spoke up, “You are right, brujo. I am in pain that I cannot feel Sookie as I once could. You are also right about the fact that the spell you speak of would only cause that emptiness to grow exponentially inside of me.”
Jesus nodded and relaxed a bit, even as he went back to his books, hoping to find something else to try.
Eric probed the bond again. Nothing had changed.
His cell phone rang. “Jason, what did you learn?”
“The van is registered to Alcide Herveaux’s construction company. There’s an address for the business, but that’s all.”
“Fine,” Eric said. “Stackhouse, if you are able, you should go to Sookie’s house and monitor the phone there. If she gets away, she may try to call. And―Stackhouse, do not let any vampires into the home, especially not Compton. In fact, do not even let him know you are in the house.”
Jason added, “Okay, I can also put out an APB on the van if you want―say it was involved in a drug deal or something.”
Eric nodded, “Do it, and be sure that you are called first if it’s found.”
“Okay,” Jason said worriedly. “And, Eric, call me if you learn anything at all; I mean anything.”
Eric hung up and dialed Alcide again. He didn’t even give the Were the chance to say hello before he launched in, “Debbie has taken Sookie using one of the vans from your construction company. Do you have GPS in them.”
“No,” Alcide said.
Eric sighed loudly, trying to calm himself. “Fine.” He hung up and sat back down in the chair, once again probing the bond. There was still nothing more than before.
To make matters worse, Eric had run out of ideas about what to do at that moment, and there were still twenty one minutes before night fall. He felt more powerless than even before as he waited for his beloved to call out to him through their bond.
With nothing else to do, Eric closed his eyes and silently prayed:
I do not know whether there are many deities or one or none. And if there is a God, I do not know if he or she would listen to me anyway. For more than 900 years, ever since the deaths of my parents, I have doubted that you benevolent. I have even doubted that you are real. And when I learned of the beliefs of other cultures, I thought that you must simply be a figurehead―a myth―for people to turn to when in times of crisis, as I am in now. And as I make that turn, I doubt that I am worthy to ask anything of you. However, my beloved one, my Sookie, is gone from me. And I find that I do not care what name you go by. I do not care if you are one or many; I do not even care if you are real or not. All I care is that my bonded believes in you and in your benevolence. And I believe that her faith will suffice for the both of us. I can make you no promises about being a better person―my promises are made to my bonded already. I have no illusions that you would take me into your heaven even if I made and kept a thousand promises. But I will ask something of you anyway―just one thing, just that you will wait to take Sookie to your kingdom. Please―wait. I need her.
As Eric finished his prayer, he didn’t even bother to stop the red tear that escaped from his eye. Lafayette and Jesus said nothing as they redoubled their efforts to find another spell that would help them find their friend.