“Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people.’ People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war… Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest.”—C. S. Lewis
Last time: The telepath breathed a sigh of relief as her warm body touched the cool back of the vampire. Slowly, she worked to burrow herself against Eric’s body as much as she could and was glad when she felt a waistband. However, when her legs moved against his, she was extremely happy to find them bare. She turned her cheek so that it was flush with Eric’s smooth cool back.
She sighed at the soothing sensation.
Finally, she felt like the fever inside of her had subsided a little.
And she slept.
When a vampire woke up, there was no grogginess—no moment when sleep was being shaken off. A vampire went from death to life in an instant.
By the time a vampire was a year old, he or she had either absorbed certain survival tactics or had almost certainly met his or her true death. The first thing learned was to secure oneself from the sun, which was the vampire’s greatest enemy. The second thing learned was to secure oneself as soon as the sun was gone—to use one’s superior senses to immediately gauge one’s situation upon waking.
A vampire was literally at the mercy of the day—and anyone who could walk around during it. In fact, many vampires of the old world still refused to travel by plane because they hated the feeling of dying in one place and then waking up in another. That sensation had never bothered Eric—probably because he’d gotten used to it during his human days.
At that time, night—not day—was the frightening part of Eric’s journeys. The stars could be used to navigate—that is, unless the clouds covered them like a blanket, as they so often did in the far North. Many a ship of his people had been broken apart by rocks that had been unseen in the dark. Often, while sailing, Eric had fallen into a restless sleep when it was not his turn to navigate or to watch for the “monsters” of the night. He would wake up to the smoky fog of the pre-dawn—many times not knowing where he was in relationship to his home.
But he always made it back there—until a true “monster” of the night found him and claimed him. Of course, Eric had chosen to be claimed—chosen to follow the night. Perhaps that was why he was not afraid to travel during the day—as long as he took precautions.
Still, automatically and immediately upon waking, he always assessed his surroundings.
The witch, Amelia Broadway, was sitting in the chair across the room—twelve feet from his current position. Before he had gone to his day-sleep, Eric had, of course, glamoured the witch—quite extensively. She was not to leave the house or to open its door for anyone. She could attend to her own human needs, but she was glamoured to do so at the fastest rate possible. But mostly, she was to watch over and care for Sookie.
Eric heard the witch’s calm, even breathing. Her heart rate was also steady. The tiny scratches he heard and the ink he smelled told the vampire that Amelia was writing something, but the sporadic pattern of the sounds made him think that she was not writing sentences. Likely, she was working on a crossword puzzle from the book he had seen when he searched through her bag after she arrived near dawn that day.
He immediately determined that she was not a threat.
He could also immediately tell that no one else—other than Amelia, Sookie, and himself—had been in the house that day. Eric’s range of scent was quite extensive; thus, he determined that no one had crossed onto the property at all, except for a couple of humans who had likely passed along the sidewalk at the front of the house with their canines. None of those scents were of concern, however. He could account for all of them as humans who lived in the neighborhood.
Knowing he was safe, Eric allowed himself to revel in the feeling that had dominated him upon his awakening—warmth.
Comforting. Pure. Transcending. All-encompassing.
Her body was hotter than usual against his skin, so Eric knew that her fever had not left her. However, her temperature was not as high as it had been the previous night. Her breathing was somewhat labored, but not as raspy or as wheezy as it had been before. Her heart rate was a bit slow, but it was mostly steady—no longer sluggish or overtly labored. All of these were good signs, though he knew he wouldn’t relax completely until her vital signs were back to normal.
One of her arms was slung over his waist, and he moved his hand so that it was perched right next to hers. He wanted to take her hand into his—to intertwine his fingers with hers. But he didn’t. Instead, he simply brushed her pinkie finger with his thumb—with the lightest of strokes he was capable of.
He closed his eyes. Slowly, he was growing accustomed to not feeling any of his blood inside of Sookie, but, still, he recognized his disappointment—disappointment to which he was also growing accustomed. Eric had never experienced such a feeling before the severing spell.
Simply put, his blood “missed” her. It missed the comfort of being inside of her—of having her blood engaging with it, even cradling it in a way.
Eric had asked Octavia if this was always the case for a vampire when a severing spell was used. The witch, who had already pissed him off with her enigmatic replies about Sookie’s recovery time, had merely laughed at him and hung up the phone.
The Viking had been tempted to track down Octavia and torture the information from her, but—truth be told—he genuinely liked the witch, at least most of the time. Plus, he was not anxious to have the demon world added to his list of enemies. Not only had Octavia married a half-demon, but she was also the granddaughter of one, which made her a quarter Dae herself. Moreover, her godfather was one of the most powerful demons in the Western Hemisphere—and Eric’s lawyer! No—the vampire was not keen to piss off Desmond Cataliades!
So Eric had stewed, even as Octavia’s cackling had echoed in his mind. However, her laughter had told him all he needed to know. A vampire’s blood “missing” a human after a tie was broken was apparently not the norm. But—then again—nothing with Sookie was ever “normal.” Part of him wondered if his blood “missed” hers so much because she was part Fae. Perhaps being inside of her that way had been like existing safely in the sun.
Perhaps that was why he’d feared the feeling as much as he’d enjoyed it. But—gods—did he miss it!
Even as Eric registered that feeling of “missing” something, he felt Sookie’s warm hand move a little on his waist, as one of her fingers scratched the area right over his belly button a little. As a child, Eric had been ticklish around that spot, that mark which would forever identify him as coming from the body of a human—as being nourished by his mother in her womb. Now, it felt as if Sookie’s mere touch could nourish him, and he marveled at that feeling.
He wondered if Sookie could understand the complexity of his impulses toward her. He wondered if she knew that his instincts warred within him. Feeling her like this—and letting himself acknowledge the heady weight of that feeling—made him want to both kill her and to protect her with his own life.
The contradictory feeling was almost too much for him to withstand. But he couldn’t help but to want more of it.
Shielding oneself from the sun was the first—and the most important—lesson that a vampire learned. But Sookie was a personification of that sun—an orb which Eric had thought he’d banished from his dark existence long ago. Yet here she was, her warm cheek pressed against his back as if she were trying to absorb the cool of his skin. And all he wished to do was to turn around, enfold her in his arms, and safeguard her light with every part of himself.
But would doing so burn him?
He stifled a sigh. His nose had already picked up the fact that the catheter device that Amelia had needed to put into Sookie’s body was gone as was the IV that had been feeding Sookie fluids. Both had been cumbersome; in fact, they had been what had prevented him from holding her to him during his day-sleep. Amelia had needed the freedom to maintain those devices.
Eric had missed Sookie resting against him as he’d gone to his day-sleep. However, her current position meant that she’d chosen to move herself so that she was next to him—to seek out his body for comfort. That thought buoyed him, for it meant that he wasn’t alone in wanting her near.
He closed his eyes. Yes—he was beyond denying that Sookie’s presence was welcome to him. Nights of worrying as he waited for any sign that she was improving had been enough to convince him to accept certain facts: he did care for her; he did want her around; he would yearn for her if she was gone. He just needed to take steps to make sure her presence wouldn’t become a liability to him.
Careful not to disturb the sleeping woman against him too much, Eric shifted his body in a single, fluid motion so that he was leaning against the headboard of the bed. He resettled Sookie gently so that her warm cheek could still be flush with his skin. She whimpered slightly at the movement, but didn’t awaken, as she settled her head against his upper abdominals and her hand over his quadriceps.
Amelia was roused from her crossword puzzle by the vampire’s sudden movement.
“Report,” Eric said in a whisper.
“Oh!” the witch said, a bit startled to see that Eric was awake about half an hour before the sun went down. His body—due to its need to recover from the severing spell—had not awoken until after nightfall the day before.
“Quietly,” the vampire ordered, hoping that the easily excitable witch would not disturb the woman lying against him. Unconsciously, he began to stroke Sookie’s hair to keep her soothed.
“Uh—she woke up around noon today,” Amelia whispered.
Eric nodded. It was 6:56 p.m.
“Sookie was able to drink some water,” the witch continued. “About twelve ounces. And she wanted the catheter out, so we did that too. She’s weak and in a lot of pain, but we were able to get her into the bathroom, and she even took a short, warm bath, which was good for the fever.”
Eric looked at the witch with curiosity. “Wouldn’t cool water have been better?”
Amelia smiled. “Witches are great believers in natural remedies. Causing Sookie to sweat in the bath caused her body temperature to rise a bit.”
“Isn’t that at cross-purposes to controlling a fever?” Eric asked.
The witch shrugged. “Perhaps, but a warm bath can also force the fever to go through a cycle of elimination—sweating. This can cause a fever to break or lessen. Once we got Sookie into bed, she was still sweating and wanted out from under the covers, but I had her rest against you instead. And her fever soon lowered, though it hasn’t broken yet.”
“Yes. Her temperature is lower than before,” Eric agreed.
“If she lets you, try to get her to take another bath later. It might bring her fever down even more. And it would certainly help with her sore muscles. As I said, she’s in a lot of pain. I’ll leave some pain medicine behind, but she needs food in her stomach before she can take it. There’s some broth on the stove. I made it several hours ago, but it can be rewarmed as needed.”
“How much should she eat?” Eric asked as the witch began to gather up her things.
“Try for at least a bowl tonight, but she doesn’t have to eat it all at once. And there’s a healing tea in the thermos on the kitchen counter; Octavia made it. Warm about four ounces of that, and try to get her to drink all of it before she sleeps again. I refilled the water pitcher. Have her drink as much water as she can. I’ll prepare a bit more substantial food for her tomorrow.”
As Amelia stood up to go, Eric caught her eye and quickly had her enthralled with his glamour. “Remember—you will not speak about where you have been today. You will not be able to speak of Sookie or of me until you walk into this house again. If you are asked where you have been during the day, you are to say that you were caring for your sick relative.”
In a bit of a trance, Amelia nodded and then left the room.
Eric was glad to hear the front door shut behind the witch. Amelia was useful and necessary for Sookie during the day, but Eric preferred being alone. Actually, that was not accurate. He preferred being alone with Sookie. Her presence allowed him an “equal” kind of connection with another—a connection that he’d not known he’d desired until he’d experienced it. But at the same time, it fostered the solitude that he needed. And—inexplicably—those two feelings did not seem to be contradictory.
When the vampire became aware that he was still softly stroking Sookie’s hair, he did not stop the action. He found it strangely soothing, and he relaxed more fully than he had in a long while.
He let his mind wander.
The last few months had been trying ones. The unrest in his life had begun with his accountant telling him that there was a thief at Fangtasia. Eric had used the opportunity to test Sookie’s skills when he’d been unable to glamour the information he wanted from his staff. That had made him suspect a vampire, specifically Longshadow. Though he’d not needed to use it, Eric had had a small, sharp stake with Longshadow’s name on it stowed in his pants pocket the night Sookie had questioned his staff.
But even as Eric had prepared to act to protect Sookie, he’d seen Bill rushing to her aid. The Viking had allowed the younger vampire to make the kill. And that had turned out for the best, for Bill had been the one who’d had to face the punishment for Longshadow’s death.
The Magister’s punishments had never been predictable; their severity had depended upon his mood—much more than precedent or the mandates of the Authority. Since Longshadow had been stealing from Eric, the Viking would have most likely gotten off with only a hefty fine; however, he might have been required to “make” Jessica, and the thought of being forced to be a maker sickened the Viking. Godric had always taught him that a vampire would be pulled to a human when he or she was ready to become a maker. Eric had felt such a pull with Pam; thus, there was true and abiding affection between them. He wondered if he would feel anything akin to that if he’d been forced to make Jessica. He somehow doubted it.
Unfortunately, after Longshadow’s death, things did not settle down for Eric. Between babysitting Jessica as a favor to Bill, capturing the humans responsible for burning Malcolm’s nest, and dealing with the disappearance of a vampire in his area—an event which led him straight to Lafayette—Eric had been extremely busy. But none of those things had prepared him for the confluence of events that happened next.
It had been a Monday night, and Fangtasia had been closed. Eric had awoken to a message that the queen was coming to see him, and by 2:00 that morning, he was in the V-sales business because of her orders. Fifteen minutes after Sophie-Anne had left, he’d received a phone call from Isabel, telling him that Godric was missing. Fifteen minutes after that, Bill Compton had rushed into Fangtasia with a dying Sookie in his arms.
Inexplicably, Eric had finished off that stress-filled night by fighting the day so that he could spend some time alone with Sookie—whom he’d barely known at the time. She’d been asleep then too. He’d not had a taste of her blood, and she’d not had his, yet her presence had still eased him, and he’d indulged in that easement in order to calm his worry about Godric and the queen. Plus, he’d been able to assure himself of Sookie’s own safety as he’d cared for her.
Eric had washed off the evidence of the Maenad’s attack, but Sookie had been the one who had provided him with the service that morning.
In her presence, he’d felt bolstered—better able to face the trials that were looming. As he’d cleaned Sookie—as he’d smoothed her hair just as he was doing now—he’d plotted out his stratagem. When he awoke at sundown, he’d planned to heal Lafayette and to put him in charge of selling the queen’s V. The Viking had been acutely aware that this act would make him a hypocrite, but—at the time—it had been his best course of action. He’d also resolved to ask Sookie to help him find Godric. Finally, he’d texted Mr. Cataliades and had asked him to draft a contract to keep Sookie on retainer.
Of course, that night hadn’t gone the way he’d planned, but with Sookie involved, he should have anticipated that he’d need to think on his feet. However, the ultimate resolution had been similar to what he’d intended. Lafayette did become his V dealer, and Sookie did go to Dallas to help in the search for Godric. Eric had told Cataliades to put Sookie’s contract on hold and had planned to approach her about it after their trip. He’d simply not had occasion to do that before more shit hit the proverbial fan.
Dallas had led to more and more taxing times for Eric. His maker—as it turned out—had voluntarily offered himself up to the Fellowship of the Sun and had planned to let Newlin sacrifice him to his warped version of god. Sookie had almost been raped. A bomb had almost killed them all. And the whole Lorena idea had turned into a fucking fiasco.
But the worst moment had come when Eric was forced to leave his maker on a rooftop only minutes before sunrise.
The Viking had smelled Sookie’s tears when she’d gone into the room she was sharing with Compton. But Eric had already known that Godric was dead even before he’d heard her quiet sobs. Godric had not allowed Eric to feel him through their bond for a long time, but upon his death, his maker couldn’t prevent his progeny from feeling the bond dying within his own body. That pain had brought Eric to his knees, but he had forced himself to stay awake until the agony had fully subsided. He’d known that it was the last time he would ever feel anything of his bond with his maker; thus, he’d savored the pain even as he’d wept bloody tears.
Knowing that his vampire brother, Duncan, had been in New York—and, therefore, dead for the day when Godric met the sun—Eric had sent him a text explaining the situation before he’d allowed death to take him for the rest of the day.
After that horrible experience on the roof, several crises had quickly followed: the Maenad situation, the increased desperation of the queen, and the Magister’s presence. And—in the midst of that—Sookie had brought him the picture of the Were with the tattoo that had haunted him for a millennium. And then there had been Russell.
Yes. Eric had good reason to feel battle-weary after the last several months. The only light in that time had been Sookie. She had been in the center of all his trials, but—ironically—she had also somehow shielded him from them. Perhaps that was why he could never bring himself to kill her—even though he knew it would have been the “smart and vampiric” thing to do. Perhaps that was why he had gone to the hospital to see if she would come with him. Perhaps that was why he missed having his blood inside of her.
All he knew for sure was that every time she was near, he found it easier to stay calm and focused, despite the turbulence that seemed to follow her. Paradoxically, having her near gave him something he desperately needed—the ability to be patient and to strategize.
He loathed to think about what would have happened—what he would have done—if Sookie hadn’t been captured and brought into Russell’s mansion. Having just discovered that Russell was the one behind his parents’ death, Eric had wanted blood—immediately. His hands had itched to kill Talbot, the most important individual in Russell’s life. And then—when he’d seen Russell—his fangs had ached to descend. His limbs had twitched to attach.
And his brain had been turned off! Totally the fuck off!
But then Sookie had arrived—clad in that beautiful dress with the flowers on it. She’d been struggling to get away from Russell. And, suddenly, Eric’s mind had clicked back on—at least enough to see a color other than blood red. Attacking Russell right then would have led to a blood bath—his own. And killing Talbot would have turned Russell into an even more maniacal lunatic than he already was.
Yes—Sookie’s presence had saved his life that night.
Eric inhaled deeply of Sookie’s scent and relaxed further against the headboard.
He closed his eyes and ran through the assets he already had in place—as well as the ones he would need to secure. Thankfully, because Pam and Sookie were both safe, he could be patient and wait for the “right” time to strike. He would need to be more cunning than he’d ever been before in order to formulate a plan that would lead to a three thousand-year-old vampire’s death.
Through Cataliades, Eric had sent a second message to Niall the previous night. Speaking with the fairy whom Godric had called a “friend” would go a long way toward helping Eric know what to do next. Niall had owed Godric his life, and Eric hoped that would translate into the fairy helping Sookie to understand her powers. The Viking also hoped that Niall would show himself sooner rather than later so that Sookie could begin working to hone her Fae skills.
Eric sighed, knowing that he needed to tell Sookie about her Fae heritage. As he continued to caress her chocolate-colored hair, he decided to wait until she was a little stronger to do that. She already had too much to deal with, and it wouldn’t hurt to wait a couple of days before adding to her worries.
He opened his eyes and recalled his conversation with Brady the night before. Brady would have Sookie’s new identification documents completed by the next night and was sending them—along with several other items that Eric had requested he work on—to a P.O. Box in New Orleans. Amelia would be retrieving them from the P.O. Box. The young witch had already brought more clothing and supplies for Sookie. And Octavia was working to have more concealment potion made up before he and Sookie left Slidell.
The Viking went through the list of people whom he knew would—and could—help him if need be. Many of those individuals, including Octavia and Brady, were already coming to his aid. But when it came to defeating Russell, Eric knew that he would need the help of everyone he could get—including other older vampires. He knew that he could count on Thalia. Duncan, Godric’s other child and Eric’s younger ‘brother,’ would also help if needed—though Eric intended to do all he could not to “out” his brother, who was a chancellor of the Authority.
The crafty and ambitious Duncan had successfully hidden his connections with both Godric and Eric, which was what had enabled him to become a chancellor. It wasn’t that Duncan had been ashamed of their maker; quite the opposite was true. However, the Authority wouldn’t allow a vampire to be a chancellor if his or her maker was still undead and could “command” him or her.
When the Authority was rising from the ashes of its previous and extremely corrupt incarnation—which had been called the Lamia Concilium, or Vampire Council—Duncan had been at the center of the power change. Along with Roman Zimojic, Duncan had helped to restore some sanity to vampire politics. And—though the secretive Authority was imperfect—at least it was better than the free-for-all that had preceded it. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that the main “enforcer” within the Authority was Eric’s own brother—though he’d never exposed Duncan by using that connection.
He’d been saving it for a rainy day. And it was now pouring like a mother fucker!
However, there was still a problem. Together, Eric, Duncan, and Thalia had about 2,900 years of life, but—even if they managed to isolate Russell—they would still be no match for him.
Eric carefully retrieved his cell phone from the nightstand and texted Cataliades. There were only two vampires he knew of who came close to Russell’s age; one was Godric’s maker. However, now that Godric was gone, he didn’t know if he could find her—let alone count on her aid if he did.
Eric hit the send button.
It was worth a try to ask for her help—if she could be tracked down.
Eric inhaled deeply and, once again, took in Sookie’s unique scent. He let himself relax into the feeling of her body resting against his, even as his mind kept whirring through various scenarios.
An hour later, he had planned a route for Sookie and him to travel. After that, he let his mind relax as well. The only thing that prevented him from going into downtime was his continued stroking of Sookie’s hair.
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