Her big brown eyes went wide and it only took the slightest twitch in her direction for Sookie to speed through the house and out into the backyard.
Be it to save herself or my furniture, I couldn’t be sure.
I’d secured the surrounding land when I first purchased the property, so I wasn’t worried about there being any neighbors to see what we were up to.
But running from me only stirred my instincts to chase.
But knowing that was likely what she expected me to do, I took my time going out the front door instead and rose up into the darkened sky.
The moon was new and I had no need for outdoor lighting, so the only light to be found was coming through the windows. We each had the advantage of being able to sense one another’s general location in the blood we shared with our Maker. It was how I’d known she’d traveled to her hometown the night before.
But it was my knowledge of Sookie that allowed me to find her at her brother’s home.
Her friends and family meant everything to her. She wouldn’t be anywhere else.
The jury was still out on whether I would now be included in that small group.
She no longer had a heartbeat to give her away, but it was her scent that she couldn’t hide from me. I’d thought her to be delectable before, but now that her natural aroma was combined with Godric’s, it was my own personal nirvana.
I would recognize it anywhere.
I would never get enough of it.
At the moment it was wafting towards me from the west side of my property, beckoning me forward and calling out to the more primal side of me.
Not unlike the first night she had stepped into my bar.
The seed had been planted then, with me making plans to make her mine, the roots of it growing stronger with every interaction between us in the weeks that followed. But it wasn’t water or even sunlight that nurtured and fostered growth of those roots, burying themselves so deeply within me, they hadn’t died even with her supposed death.
It was fire.
Her fiery spirit burning bright when she’d been covered in Long Shadow’s remains and yet didn’t waver when meeting my eyes full of bloodlust.
Her scorching wrath when she’d discovered her V dealing friend in Fangtasia’s basement and ignored sound judgment in favor of meting out her own by slapping me across the face and taking me to task.
Sunshine in a pretty blond bottle, her demure and polite persona may have fooled the rest of the world into believing she was no more than a true southern belle, but she couldn’t hide her true nature from me.
Sookie was and had always been a raging inferno.
It was no wonder my fuse had been so easily lit.
And it was why I’d never understood how she would willingly choose a wet noodle like Compton.
Not now though, although now I suspected he had much to do with why she wanted to learn how to fight.
And I intended to have a front row seat when the time inevitably came.
While I would take great joy in chasing her – all the way to my bed, if I had my way – that was not what she asked of me. So I descended into the middle of the backyard and called out, “Are we playing hide and seek or am I teaching you how to fight?”
Already facing the tree line of the general direction I knew her to be hiding in, I saw her step out into the open a moment later looking chagrined, while she admitted with a nervous laugh, “Old habits die hard.”
“Watching you run from me makes other things of mine hard,” I teased.
“Another old habit of yours, I’m sure,” she teased in return as she came to stand in front of me.
There was something in the way she had automatically – and so easily – dismissed my attraction to her that needled at me. But before I could figure out if perhaps she truly believed I saw her as nothing more than a scratch to my perpetual itch whenever I was in her presence, she looked up at me and said, “Before we get started, I realize you’re doing me the favor here. So what is it going to cost me?”
“I beg your pardon?” I stared back at her, unable to process her words.
Never mind the four I managed to string together were a first in my one thousand years.
Crinkling her eyes in confusion, she stared into my own perplexed eyes and explained, “What will I owe you for doing this for me?”
And when I said nothing – because she managed to shock me into a stupor – she added, “Last night, I’m sure it was Godric that sent you after me, so I’m assuming I don’t owe you for that. But this, this is for me – at my request – so what do you want in return?”
Taking a step back, it felt like she’d slapped me across the face all over again.
Only instead of feeling her fire, I was only left feeling cold.
I supposed I couldn’t blame her for her assumption. All of our previous dealings had worked in the same way.
She hadn’t been able to read my mind then.
If she had then she would’ve seen through my ruse to spend time with her from the start.
And in spite of being the one to put the added distance in between us, I didn’t care for it. So I reached out and snatched her to me quicker than she could react to.
Her body, while not as warm as it had been when she’d still been alive, was warmer than any other of our kind I had ever touched.
It helped to thaw some of the icy sensation her words had caused within me, but I didn’t know whether I felt more angered or horrified at her beliefs.
So my words came out in a breathily growled mixture of the two when I stared down at her and said, “You. Owe. Me. Nothing.”
But seeing the argument form in her eyes, I squeezed her tighter in my embrace to cut her off before she could give voice to them and explained, “You saved Godric from meeting the sun. I am forever in your debt.”
Understanding filled her expression next, but just the thought of how close I had come to losing him left me struggling to contain my emotions.
I hated not knowing how far he had fallen into despair.
I hated not being enough of a reason for him to fight the darkness that had been pulling him towards meeting the light of dawn.
So – in a way – I both loved and hated her for succeeding where I had failed him.
But reining in my emotions, when I focused back on her again, I realized it wasn’t hate I felt towards her.
But I doubted I would ever be able to truly hate her.
I didn’t even attempt to reconcile my other musings where she was concerned.
Love was a word I didn’t understand.
But the same could be said of the blond still caught in my embrace.
And perhaps sensing I was teetering on a razor thin wire, she attempted to lighten my darkened mood by teasing, “Are you sure you want to stand by that statement? Forever has taken on a whole new meaning to me.”
I appreciated her effort at bringing some levity back into our conversation, so I smirked with my reply of, “Well, we can revisit my pledge in a thousand years and go from there.”
Not that there would be any need. I truly meant what I’d said.
Eternity wouldn’t be long enough to repay her for saving our Maker.
We stood like that for quite some time.
Her trapped in my arms.
Me trapped in her presence.
She didn’t appear uncomfortable – puzzled, perhaps – but after a while she smiled up at me and asked, “So is this called a hug-it-out offense? Because – I gotta be honest – this is pretty much the opposite of what I was looking to learn. I can’t imagine using it in a fight.”
We were there to work on her offensive maneuvers.
Not for me to maneuver my way into offending her.
But I was enjoying her warmth – her scent – and I wasn’t eager to let her go just yet, so with that in mind, I asked, “Do you have any other gifts that you are aware of?”
Sometimes vampire rose with new gifts. Sometimes gifts manifested themselves later on.
But I had inherited my gift of flight from Godric, so I wondered if she had it too.
“Like I haven’t been cursed enough?” she scoffed. “If I have another gift poor Godric is going to have to take over the whole world.”
Then tilting her head to one side, she jokingly asked, “Is that a thing? A vampire Emperor of Earth?”
“Of course,” I nodded and then added in a serious tone, “You’ve heard of Dracula, right?”
Her eyes grew huge before they narrowed again and I had a feeling she plucked the truth right out of my mind right before she smacked my lower back and snarled, “Ass!”
“A little lower, lover,” I grinned and then offered, “It seems you also need a lesson on anatomy, but I am more than willing to be your tutor. Shall we start with that first?”
“Uh huh,” she huffed dismissively with another eye roll before she tried to disentangle herself from my arms. “From what I smelled wafting from the couch in your office last night, I think that class is already full, professor.”
“Jealous?” I asked before I could stop myself.
But even already suspecting her answer, it still stung a little hearing her scoff, “Hardly. I know we can’t catch crotch crickets anymore, but with my luck that would be yet another gift of mine and I don’t think vampire antibiotics have been invented yet.”
I didn’t know what to feel about her insinuations.
But I was feeling something.
Something about her postulations on my active sex life.
Something about her inferences that she would be lumped in with those whose names I didn’t care enough to remember.
So whatever she saw in my expression had her softening hers when she added, “It’s not like you hide what you are, so they know exactly what they’re signing up for. Why wouldn’t you take what they so freely offer you? But I’m not like them.”
Then pursing her lips in thought, she smoothed them out into a small smile when she ended with a teasing, “So maybe that’s my gift. The power to lock my knees together.”
“That would be a curse,” I muttered. “Not a gift.”
Granted, it would be my curse more than hers, but rather than admit to that, I undid all of the progress she’d made in trying to extract herself from my embrace and shot us both up into the sky.
“What are you doing?” she asked, more curious than afraid.
I liked that.
She felt safe with me.
I also knew that feeling wouldn’t be lasting for very long, with what I had planned next.
“I am wondering if you inherited the gift of flight,” I admitted.
“So…what?” she chuckled, while looking down at the ground below. “Do you plan on dropping me, like a sink or swim type of deal?”
Then giggling, she added, “Or more like splat or fly.”
“Mmm…” I sounded, with a small upturn of my lips.
Be it from my tone or my thoughts, she seemed to catch on to my plan a split second too late.
I’d already let go of her by the time she thought to grab ahold of me.
She plummeted towards the ground with an earsplitting scream. I couldn’t tell if she was cognizant of the fact I was right beside her the entire time, ready to snatch her from what would be a painful landing. But when she was just seconds from hitting the ground, her screams ceased and her eyes closed in concentration, right as she managed to slow her descent enough to land on her own.
Granted, she landed like a wounded bird shot out of the sky, but with practice she would become more graceful.
Landing beside her, I could feel my smile stretched across my face, but before I could congratulate her on her maiden flight of sorts, she turned towards me.
All fire and fangs.
And then she launched herself at me.
Laughing while blocking her intended blows only drove her to come at me harder, but she was reacting out of anger.
In a true fight, it would cost her, her life.
“You’re still quite emotional, I see.”
“You tried to kill me!” she accused before I dodged her next attack by jumping clear of her reach and laughing out, “I did no such thing. I merely gave your gift a reason to show itself.”
It was how I had learned I’d inherited the gift of flight.
Being knocked off of a cliff in the midst of a battle, I gained the advantage of surprising my adversary when I flew back over the rock face.
And then took his head as my prize.
But Sookie didn’t seem appeased with my reasoning, so I blocked her next attack and offered, “Does it make you feel any better to know I did the same thing to Pam?”
Unfortunately she didn’t inherit the gift.
However she was more pissed off that I’d dropped her over the ocean.
She complained about being covered in the stench of kelp for weeks.
Still caught up in my remembrances, Sookie managed to surprise me by moving quicker than I’d expected and tackled me to the ground, with her ending up on top of me.
Not that I was trying to fight my way free.
The tips of her fangs scraped down the side of my neck and made a shiver run up my spine, with my fangs snapping down, just as the scent of her arousal permeated the air around us.
She was lusting for more than just blood.
However, I also knew now wasn’t the time for me to say, ‘I told you so.’
I was thinking it though.
Chanting it, really.
But her shields must have been up – like another part of me she was straddled over – so I turned my head in a way to push my skin into her fangs, hoping she would take what I was offering her.
Instead she froze on top of me before shooting up onto her feet and backing away, while stammering out an apology with, “I…I’m sorry. I don’t…that…I’ve never…you know…when Master and I…”
I suspected they hadn’t been intimate with one another, but even so. If they’d sparred in the past – as she’d indicated – then she should have been caught up in bloodlust at some point.
She was a newborn.
She should be nothing more than one huge nerve ending, pulsing from primal instinct when engaged in any fight.
For educational purposes or not.
While Godric could have used their bond to temper her urges and flood her with calm, she still would have felt it.
Even if she hadn’t saved our Maker, knowing I would be on the receiving end of her urges would’ve been payment enough for doing her this supposed favor.
Slowly getting to my feet, I waited until she looked me in the eyes to say, “It’s perfectly natural, Sookie. You should be feeling like you want to rip my throat out and rip my clothes off.”
“Of course, I would prefer the latter,” I added with a small smile when she merely stared back at me in horror.
But her expression soon changed into one of shock, when she whispered, “I can fly.”
“So it would seem,” I smiled and then added, “Or, at the very least, land.”
She was still young, so it would take time for her to grow into her gift. It would strengthen as she aged, but it was there.
Shaking her head, she appeared to be gathering her thoughts before saying, “All of that…” gesturing towards the ground where we had just been lying on, “That isn’t going to work for me. Ripping throats out? Yes. Ripping clothes off? Hell no. Not when it’s Bill I plan on fighting.”
I didn’t think it prudent to point out how close she’d been to going with the second option with me – even if I celebrated that fact on the inside – so I merely pointed out, “If you are engaged in a true fight, you will want nothing more than to end your opponent.”
Having already reserved my front row seat to the battle, I would be there to give her an outlet for any other urges she might be feeling.
But feeling something else – my phone buzzing in my pocket – I suspected it would be Pam, calling either to give us an update or to get one at Godric’s direction for whatever he’d felt coming from Sookie when I’d dropped her from the sky.
So I hadn’t bothered looking at the caller ID before I’d answered and paid the price for my own assumptions hearing Ginger’s bleating voice saying, “Master? There’s a bunch of people here who want to see you.”
“There are people there every night who want to see me,” I replied with a wink at Sookie to which she nodded with a grin and pointed at my lower half, mouthing the words, “Crotch crickets.”
My booming laughter, watching her lift her invisible skirt and hopping back and forth on either foot, as though she was trying to avoid stepping on the just as invisible crotch crickets, seemed to have caught Ginger off guard because she stammered in my ear before saying, “They um…they’re not those kinds of people.”
Then whispering, like it would have made any difference, she added, “They’re vampires.”
“Very well,” I snapped before ending the call and slipping the phone back into my pocket.
“Duty calls, sheriff?” Sookie asked, seeming amused that I was pissed off at the interruption.
But I was.
Because I knew it was only a matter of time before Sookie and I would have been putting the hug-it-out offense to good use.
One part of me in particular was positively aching to be hugged by her.
“I’m afraid so,” I replied.
But knowing Godric would be arriving at the palace at any time, I figured being at the bar when word leaked out about the change in monarchy wouldn’t be a bad idea.
I could take care of any dissenters that immediately made themselves known.
Thankfully Sookie didn’t put up any argument over going with me – be it from any direction she may have received from Godric prior to his departure or just because she didn’t want to be alone, I didn’t know.
So once I’d locked up the house we were on our way. I’d chosen to fly us there over driving, but feeling her tight grip around my neck, I found my face nuzzled against hers and inhaled her scent like a drug, while I whispered, “I won’t drop you.”
“I’m not taking any chances,” she chuckled. “For all I know you’ll get a crotch cricket itch you need to scratch and then splat. No more Sookie.”
“Feel free to give me an examination,” I offered with a small smile pressed against her skin. “A thorough one.”
“I’ll pass,” she laughed. “But I’m sure there’s a free clinic around here somewhere with evening hours. While they paint your boy bits in blue ointment, I’ll catch up on my reading out in the waiting room.”
Her laughter stopped – as did her unnecessary breathing – when I placed my lips at her ear and whispered, “My bits are all man.”
We arrived at the bar only seconds later, but she was still too flustered to even look at me.
I missed the blush of her skin more than I wanted to admit.
But even so, I preferred this Sookie over the one who’d gone to Dallas.
Not only would we be connected through the ages, but this Sookie was much better company.
Bill was to blame for how she’d been in the past.
I was as sure of it as I was that my bits were all man.
Smoothing her hair from our flight, I followed Sookie in through the backdoor when she stopped short and grabbed onto my arm. My phone buzzed in my pocket at the same time, but seeing the fear in her eyes made me ignore it in favor of asking, “What is it?”
But before she could answer, the door to my office flew open and a blur of motion sent me flying back out into the alleyway behind the bar where I found myself on my back with none other than Russell Edgington – the King of Mississippi – hovering over me.
“Eric, my boy,” he smiled, with a wild look in his eyes and his fangs down.
At more than three times my age, I had no way of outmaneuvering him. He was too old.
He was too strong.
He knew it too, so there was a gleam in his eyes when he said, “I hear you have something that belongs to me.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but I quickly put it all together hearing another voice I recognized.
It also explained why my phone had yet to go silent in my pocket.
“That belongs to us.”
Turning his head to look back towards the sound allowed me to see Sophie-Anne standing there, with a terrified Sookie in her grasp.
“Yes dear,” he chuckled. “Forgive me my faux pas.”
Then looking back at me, he added amusedly, “They say the woman is always right, but that’s probably why I prefer male partners. And you are a fine specimen.”
My mind was going at breakneck speed, trying to figure out a way to stall for time.
But time was something we didn’t have.
Godric, the Magister, and his guards were all too far way to be of any help.
At his age, I wasn’t even sure any amount of help would be enough to defeat Russell.
But it should have occurred to me sooner.
I knew of Bill’s deception at Sophie-Anne’s behest to obtain Sookie.
Pam had deduced just the night before that she would learn of Sookie’s return thanks to their appearance at the bar.
It never occurred to me she herself would come looking for her, never mind with Russell in tow as her muscle.
But then there wasn’t anyone else in her kingdom that had any hope of besting me in a fight.
I should have guessed she would look for outside reinforcements.
“It’s a shame,” Russell said with a small shake of his head. “Such a fine specimen going to waste, but I doubt you’d be willing to hand over your sister without a fight and my little apple blossom wants what she wants. So I’m afraid you’re going to have to go.”
Raising his hand up with a stake that seemed to appear out of thin air, I knew it was too late.
I had failed.
I had failed them all.
But knowing I could only apologize to one of them, my head turned a fraction of an inch towards Sookie, hoping she would somehow know – from my expression or my thoughts – what I was trying to convey to her.
Only I didn’t see Sookie.
I only saw fire.
I heard her shouted, “NO!” right as it erupted from her outstretched hand and sent Russell flying into a parked car in a ball of flames.
I heard Sophie-Anne’s screams and smelled the burnt hair and flesh as she flashed back into the bar to get away from the raging inferno that was my savior.