JUNE 12, 2004, 11:14 P.M.
I had had a psychic once. One-fourth shifter, one-fourth witch, one-fourth human, one-fourth demon.
She’d smelled horrible! But she’d been a valuable and valued member of my inner circle for years.
The girl in front of me smelled infinitely better than that psychic had—despite the onions, peppers, and lemons she had seemingly bathed in.
“You—love me?” I asked incredulously.
“Um.” She bit her lip enticingly. “It’s a long story. Very, very long,” she added, still biting.
“Tell me,” I coaxed taking another step toward her.
“I will. I promise,” she whispered, looking up at me—not cowering at my proximity.
Not at all.
I found myself intrigued by her, and I was seldom intrigued by anything anymore.
Her mood changed, however, as a redneck exited the bar.
“You okay out here, cher?” the man asked in a thick Cajun accent, which sounded somehow artificial to my ears.
Sookie immediately tensed.
“That vamp ain’t botherin’ you, is he?” the human asked.
I spared him a glance. Most humans couldn’t peg vampires for what they were right away—not unless they’d been around us quite a bit.
Or they’d studied us.
Sookie literally plastered a smile on her face. “I’m as right as rain, René,” she said, turning to speak to him. “Mr. Northman here was so kind as to make sure that that other vampire who came in here tonight won’t be comin’ back. And now he’s leavin’ too—right?” she asked me—begging me to agree with her eyes as she turned back toward me.
“Absolutely,” I nodded toward the redneck. “I was just making sure that other one wouldn’t be comin’ back,” I added, affecting the local accent.
“Well—no offense, Mister—but we don’t need no vamps ’round here messin’ with our innocent women,” René said, glaring threateningly.
The problem was that he was glaring murderously at Sookie’s back, not at me.
The bigger problem was that I didn’t like the idea of anyone looking at the strange woman like that.
“I assure you; I am not here to ‘mess,'” I responded.
By then, Sookie had turned squarely toward me. Her eyes were pensive. She was practically gnawing on her lower lip.
She spoke so softly that it wouldn’t have even been considered a whisper.
Still, I had no problem hearing her.
“René is a serial killer. He goes after women who associate with vampires. He means to kill a woman tonight—someone who had a vampire bite. Her name is Maudette Pickens,” Sookie whispered desperately. “And now he’s thinking about adding me to his list of victims. Will you help?”
After quickly trying to decipher the enigma of the woman in front of me—and somehow recognizing that there would never be anything “quick” about her—I sped to René.
Later—the deciphering would come later.
After I dealt with the killer.
“You have killed people?” I asked the man, once I had captured him with my glamour. It was difficult to hold onto his mind, however, for René was clearly mad—what humans now called “criminally insane.” Indeed, due to the duality I found in his mind, glamouring him would take finesse similar to glamouring a shifter or a Were.
Which meant it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
“Yes,” he said.
“Whom have you killed? How many?” I asked.
“Three,” he replied. “My sister, Cindy, and two other women who fucked vamps,” he added angrily.
“Do you believe in God?” I probed, changing my tactics a bit so that I could more easily maintain my influence over him.
“God ain’t never done much for me,” he responded bitterly.
“The devil then? Do you believe in him?” I asked.
René looked frightened, but nodded vigorously. “Yeah. He comes into my dreams.”
“You can escape him by telling the police what you’ve done,” I enticed.
“But I’ll get locked up,” he frowned.
“Perhaps, but you’d be a hero in jail,” I said with a benign smile. “Plus, I bet the people in this town will celebrate your deeds. After all, you were just tryin’ to protect those girls from vamps,” I added, my Southern drawl thick.
“But you’re a vampire,” he said.
“Nope. I’m not. I’m as human as they come—just a concerned citizen like yourself,” I corrected. “I ran off the vampire who came into Merlotte’s. And now I’m just keeping Sookie company during her break. We wouldn’t want her to be left alone—right? She might be hurt by one of them damned blood-suckers. And we don’t want anyone else hurt—do we? Why—it’s only when heroes like you come forward and tell of their deeds that others will join the fight!”
René nodded dumbly. “Right. You’re right.”
“So—you should talk about the things you’ve done,” I reiterated, “so that you can get your just reward. In fact, I bet the local law enforcement would be mighty grateful that you’ve been helping them keep the area pure and free of vamp lovers!”
“Andy and Bud are inside,” he informed. “Should I tell them?”
I glanced at Sookie, who was nodding.
“Yes sir,” I said with an encouraging smile. “I’m sure they’ll be grateful to hear anything you have to say on the matter! And mighty proud too!”
René frowned. “But I was wantin’ to get Maudette tonight.” He growled. “That bitch had bite marks on her. Maybe I should wait to tell until after she’s been punished.”
I didn’t need Sookie’s prompting to make up a fabrication to feed to the sociopath. I was enjoying being creative.
“Poor Maudette was attacked by one of ’em godless vamps,” I said, barely hiding my smirk before flashing a wink in Sookie’s direction.
“Really? Attacked?” René asked. “I’d heard that she was a fangbanger—a willin’ whore to them blood-suckers.”
“Who’d ya hear that from?” I asked, acting affronted.
“Jason Stackhouse,” René said, gesturing slightly toward Sookie.
The waitress rolled her eyes.
“Well—you know him,” I said enigmatically—since I didn’t know the man, but could make a few guesses based upon Sookie’s reaction. “Be sure you tell Andy and Bud about your plans for Maudette too—just in case. The more details you give, the better help you’ll be to them—and to everyone in town!”
His chest puffed up with pride, René nodded and then went inside.
I didn’t have time to say a single word before Sookie was in my arms—hugging me tightly.
I tried to recall the last time I’d “hugged” anyone.
Perhaps my human mother?
“Thank you,” Sookie said, sniffling. “You just saved Gran. And Maudette and Dawn. And Tina, too!”
I frowned down at her.
“And you didn’t even kill him. You sent him to the human authorities,” she added.
“It’s better for my kind of his kind are exposed,” I told her.
She smiled up at me. “I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Eric.”
The way she spoke made it seem as if she’d had a lot of opportunities to show doubt, but that was impossible.
“How about we meet at your house? Tomorrow night? Ten minutes after sunset so that you can get your shower and a quick bag of blood for breakfast?” she suggested.
“What?” I responded, confused.
“I’ll come to you tomorrow—right after first dark,” she offered.
“To my house?”
“How do you know where I live?” I asked, wondering if I would have to kill Bobby.
“You’ve invited me before. Um—change your codes if it makes you feel better though,” she added in a whisper. “I’ll wait outside the house till you get up.”
“Which house?” I asked suspiciously.
“Change your codes at all of your houses if you want,” she said. “But I was talkin’ about your main house—where you keep that paintin’ you did of your ship.”
There was no way she would know about that unless she was some kind of witch or seer. I contemplated killing her right then and there.
My fangs slipped down.
But I did not harm her.
“One hour after sundown, I will meet you at your residence,” I said firmly.
Sookie Stackhouse giggled and looked at me with bright, grateful, happy eyes—as if someone had just saved her from a monster.
As if I wasn’t a monster.
“Okay. Gran and I live in the old farmhouse on Hummingbird Lane. Don’t worry. There’s only two houses on the street, so it’ll be easy to find us. Uh—Gran’s old-fashioned, though, so bring flowers. Her favorites are lilies—pink ones.”
At that she leaned up and kissed my cheek.
Kissed. My. Cheek.
I doubted that I’d ever been more surprised by anything.
Flowers? Did Sookie think I was going to be courting her? Or her grandmother!? Was she more insane than René? She had to be—with her “I love you” and her casual kiss and her total lack of fear of me!
I watched the enigma as she turned away from me and hurried back into what was—sadly—probably one of the nicer establishments in her little town.
I could already hear the serial killer confessing his crimes to the town’s law enforcement agents. However, I didn’t spare him much thought as I took to the air. Sookie Stackhouse intrigued me, but—given what she seemed to know about me, including the location of at least one of my homes—I was wary of her. For this reason, I texted Pam, telling her that she should shelter somewhere completely random and unknown that night—preferably in the dirt. I planned to do the same until I understood what the petite blond woman was—and what she wanted.
But—if understanding wasn’t to be had—I would kill her.
Because I was a thorough vampire—unlike some—I tracked Bill Compton’s scent to Hummingbird Lane, which was exactly where Sookie Stackhouse said she lived.
My fangs were down, and I was ready—anxious even—to kill Compton. He always had been an annoying prick.
However, it turned out that he wasn’t on Hummingbird Lane to cause any problems. Hovering well above so that Compton wouldn’t pick up my scent, I saw him removing suitcases from the rundown residence across the cemetery from the home that clearly belonged to Sookie and an older woman.
The “Gran” who liked flowers—no doubt.
Likely, the dilapidated home was the one Bill had been ready to assert a claim over if he’d found Sookie to be promising.
I eavesdropped as Compton called the queen to report that Sookie wasn’t what Hadley had suggested. He told her that I had shown up, and—though I was too far away to hear her end of the conversation—I could tell that Sophie-Anne was displeased that I’d discovered that she had been trying to go around me to poach in my own area!
Good! That just might keep her from trying to fuck with me for the foreseeable future!
Compton assured the queen that he’d been more than up to the task of appeasing me. He said that he’d “easily” convinced me that no disrespect was intended and that I would have been informed immediately if Sookie Stackhouse had turned out to be a mind reader. Indeed, he actually spun the situation into his favor by claiming that—since I was there and had also glamoured Sookie—the diagnosis of her “normalcy” had been confirmed for the queen.
I had to admit that Bill was good at spinning bullshit.
From what I’d heard, he and his maker had certainly created enough of it for him to have had plenty of practice over the years.
Compton completed the call by saying that he would be returning to court that night—unless the queen wanted him to follow up with the grandmother or the brother. Clearly, Sophie-Anne didn’t want to bother.
Lazy and unimaginative—that was my queen!
I shook my head. I figured that one day her shortsightedness or greed would cost her. I just hoped that I wouldn’t be collateral damage when it did.
I considered my queen for a moment. In truth, I didn’t mind her that much. Her biggest flaw was vanity—not too bad when compared with other rulers. When she was in a position of strength, she was actually a decent ruler; however—because of the downturn in the economy—she seemed perpetually short of State funds. I knew that her personal accounts were still quite healthy, but she seemed unwilling to tap into them. It was rumored that she was considering a marriage with another monarch to secure her position. I just hoped that she chose wisely, but it was very possible that she’d fuck things up if she was “too desperate.”
Sophie-Anne had likely viewed the prospect of a telepath as a way to increase her power and position during any marriage negotiations she found herself in. Such a state asset would have undoubtedly attracted better suitors or larger “dowries” for her. She would have surmised that I would have asserted the right to be the telepath’s “handler”—which would have cost the queen some prestige—if I had found Sookie. Going around me had been a calculated risk for the queen, one that I really couldn’t blame her for.
I could blame her for sending an idiot like Compton, however.
Sadly, I doubted that Sophie-Anne would have focused upon how a telepath could have been a great asset to augment her own security if—and only if—she were kept a secret. I could only imagine how the queen would have paraded Sookie Stackhouse (if she was—indeed—a telepath) around like a common pet.
Likely, the telepath would have been forced to bond with Andre.
Used for her blood.
Perhaps, coerced into sexual acts.
I cringed at that thought.
I didn’t know Sookie Stackhouse. And—though intrigued—I was also disconcerted by her. Still, I didn’t like the thought of her being tied to one such as Andre. And Andre wasn’t really even that bad—all things considered!
He likely wouldn’t have even “forced” her to have sex, though he certainly wasn’t above using glamour. I frowned. When Sookie showed imperviousness to his glamour, however, Andre would have probably manipulated and blackmailed her into doing his bidding. Anyone she cared for would have been threatened.
But then stopped myself with a question.
Why did the thought of Andre taking a pet and bending her to his will concern me at all? Just because I didn’t enjoy routinely taking pets didn’t mean that I begrudged vampires who did.
Hell! I’d kept several “Renfields” in my time—over-glamoured humans whom I needed to do my bidding and protect my life during the daylight hours. They’d always been practically useless when I was done with them—as Bobby would become in a decade or so, unless I fired him before his mind became Swiss cheese. Too much glamouring eventually affected a human’s ability to be fully self-sufficient.
In extreme cases, they became worse than Ginger.
Imagining Sookie Stackhouse like that disturbed me.
But considering that she might be forced to “break” in more immediate and profound ways because she couldn’t be glamoured was a worse thought.
I just didn’t know why.
I kept my shields down as I drove my rickety yellow car home when my shift finally ended.
I could hardly acknowledge my feelings of nostalgia as the car jolted and lurched under me. Sigebert had “killed” the car during Life 1 (which I was now calling my previous existence), but I planned to keep the old rust-bucket well away from him if possible in Life 2.
A part of me—a large part—had wanted to bolt out of Merlotte’s as soon as I let myself truly believe that Gran would be waiting at home.
But I didn’t want my reunion with Gran to be tainted by her worry for me, so I’d finished my shift. And I was determined to pretend like everything was “normal” when I saw Gran. I would allow myself to weep in the shower later on—if I found the capacity for tears again.
In truth—despite seeing Bill and Eric—I still felt mostly numb, as if the world I was currently “living” in wasn’t real. I worried that I was trapped in a dream of some kind—terrified that I would wake up to the harsh reality of an existence with Felipe de Castro at any moment.
Worried that—if I allowed myself to be happy for even a second—the “nice” world I’d found myself in would disappear.
After all, Sookie Stackhouse didn’t deserve a happy world.
Of course, maybe I was in Hell—where all my wishes would seem to come true only so that they could be stripped away—again and again.
In Greek mythology, which had fascinated me since I found an old book of Gran’s on the topic, Sisyphus had been fated to forever roll a boulder up a hill—only to watch it roll down again. My worst fear was that the state I found myself in now was my own personal “boulder,” and that I would be forced to watch everyone die again and again. But—for now—I was not going to let myself dwell on that horrible possibility.
On the other hand, if I was in Heaven or if the cluviel dor had saved me, I aimed to make the best of every moment of Life 2. Given the “start time” of my “new world,” almost everything I had a reason to feel guilty about in Life 1 had disappeared.
And even if I woke up in Hell with everyone dead—even if I was like Sisyphus—I was determined to keep trying to change fate. I thought about the movie Groundhog Day and how Bill Murray had eventually transformed himself into a better man. Indeed—as soon as “fate” had found him worthy—he was allowed to escape his personal Hell. In fact, his Hell actually became Heaven to him.
Whether I was in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory didn’t matter when I saw the light on in the living room as I slowly drove down the heavily-pitted driveway.
Whether I was a time traveler, trapped in a dream, or banging my head against a padded wall in an insane asylum didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered except the fact that Gran’s mind was now in my range.
Hers was the only mind I’d ever missed.
I didn’t move for a long time after I’d parked. So as not to worry Gran, I wiped away tears that proved I could still cry.
I sat still—afraid to make a single noise—and just enjoyed listening to Gran thinking about the heroine in her latest romance novel. Apparently, Giselda, who had somehow traveled back in time, was a fool for resisting the handsome Viking, Leif.
I laughed heartily. And I couldn’t agree more.
After using several old napkins I’d found in my purse to clean myself up and taking several deep breaths to compose myself, I went into the house. I smiled at the “old” kitchen. After the fire, the repairs had made it more modern, but I’d love it less for its newness.
I inhaled deeply. Peach cobbler.
I bent down to stroke Tina’s fur as the feline greeted me. Automatically, I refilled her water and food bowls as she purred in thanks.
And then I went into the living room so that I could see the face I’d missed so much—so that I could see the woman who had been the first person to make me feel truly loved.
Gran smiled up at me as I entered the room, her reading glasses perched on her nose.
“Did you have a good night at work, dear?” she asked me.
The lump in my throat was the size of Texas, so I could only nod.
“You seem upset,” Gran said perceptively, even as she closed her book onto her old ribbon bookmark.
“Just tired,” I managed. “And—uh—excited.”
“Hmm?” Gran hummed her question.
“I met two vampires tonight,” I said, trying to keep myself from focusing on my feelings.
“Really?” she asked with interest, sitting forward in her chair. She had been so excited when they’d “come out.”
“Living history”—she’d called them.
“Yes. And one will be calling here tomorrow night—an hour after sunset,” I smiled at her.
Actually, I’d spoken too soon when it came to volunteering to meet with Eric so close to sundown the next night. I’d forgotten that I was scheduled to work until close (though I figured that I could be forgiven for not remembering a schedule from two and a half years in the past).
Luckily—in the midst of Arlene’s meltdown over René’s confession—the whole schedule had gotten shifted around. Arlene had been slated to open the next morning, so I agreed to do that. Dawn agreed to take my nightshift (since the tips were better at night). And Sam finally got into his stash of applications. Holly Cleary’s was among them, and I “lied” like a dog (no offense to Sam), saying that I knew her and thought she’d be great!
Actually, was I really lying? I did know Holly. And she was an excellent waitress. And Danielle Gray had been trying to get Sam to hire her for a while since they were good friends. Sadly, Danielle wasn’t that good of a waitress, which had been why Sam had passed over Holly before.
But when I offered to stay until 6:00 p.m. the next day in order to train Holly, Sam gave her a call. I was glad about it.
Life 1’s Holly had desperately needed a steady income to take care of her kids.
“You have a date with a vampire?” Gran asked excitedly, pulling me from my thoughts.
“Sort of,” I said.
“Sort of?” she asked.
“Um—yeah—I guess I do have a date with him,” I said, hating to give Gran false hope, but figuring that explaining my interaction with the vampire as a date would be easier for everyone involved.
She bounced a little in her seat. “Is he handsome?”
“Very,” I responded truthfully.
“Do you think he was in Louisiana during the Civil War era?” she asked.
“Sorry, Gran. But he was somewhere else—Russia I think,” I shared. “But he was an honest to God Viking!” I motioned down to her book; on the cover was a tall, blond, muscular Nordic-looking piece of beef. “Better looking than him,” I giggled.
Gran looked down at the book with a gaping mouth. “Really?” She blushed.
I nodded and smiled at her, having difficulty keeping my tears of happiness at bay. “Of course, there’s lots I don’t know about Eric.”
Still looking at the book’s cover, Gran fanned herself and then insisted that she needed to get to bed so that she could make sure the house was sparkling for “our” gentleman caller.
I regretted having to work at all, but I determined to get up early and help Gran clean before I had to go into work at 10:00 a.m.
I gave Gran a quick hug, and—though I wanted to keep her in my arms forever—I let her go before she’d feel any concern for me.
Before she’d know that my eyes were welling up with tears.
After Gran shut her bedroom door, I made a beeline to my “old” room. As soon as I closed the door, I grinned—even as I “leaked.”
As Pam would say.
I placed both hands over my mouth to stop my sobs from being loud enough for Gran to hear them.
I had moved into Gran’s room after she’d died because I knew that was what I’d been expected to do—as the new “matriarch” of the house. My room had become Octavia’s room for a while. And then Claude had stayed in it. But it was nice to have my old room back. It was nice to see the cheery yellow comforter on the full-sized bed.
I pulled a flannel nightgown and a pair of panties from my old dresser and hurried to my bathroom.
I turned on the water and quickly got into the shower.
And, amidst the sound and the drops, I finally let myself weep openly and loudly.
It felt good.
A/N: Howdy all. So? I hope you are still liking this. I decided to reward you for all the wonderful comments you’ve already given to me on the previous chapter by offering a bonus chapter for you!
I’ve been having a bad day. My head is pounding and I’ve been grading like crazy. The best thing about my day has been reading your comments.
So thank you—again.