“I think that’s all of it.”
The sound of his voice drew my eyes upward where they met Sam’s staring back at me. It was probably the first time I’d really looked at him at all in days.
“I’m sorry Sam,” I whispered with tears filling my eyes. My near constant weepy state lately made me surprised I had any left to shed.
“Chere,” he offered softly and took a hesitant step in my direction before stopping himself. It was symbolic of our entire nearly yearlong relationship.
Hesitant and stopping before either one of us could make any sort of real connection.
“You know I’ll always love you, right?” he asked.
I nodded because I did know. I knew it from his thoughts. Just like I knew I would always love him in exactly the same way.
As my friend.
We tried. God knows we tried to put everything behind us. Tried to build on our friendship hoping it would turn into something more. Something that would flourish into the kind of life we both wanted. A normal life filled with love and laughter and happily ever afters. A life worth fighting for.
Now it was a struggle just to maintain eye contact.
“I’ll always love you too Sam.”
And as true as it was, I knew now it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t the kind of love that evoked passion. The kind others would look at and say, “Theirs is a love for the ages.” The kind that would be able to stand the test of time.
It barely withstood the last eleven months.
He gave me a small sad smile, mirroring my own, before turning and leaving the house. And I knew it was for good this time. But instead of mourning our failed relationship, the finality of it only served to remind me of someone else who’d left my life for good. Someone whose presence would probably be with me forever. No matter how many miles were between us or how hard I tried to forget him.
I could blame Eric for coming between me and Sam. Lord knew I’d been prone to blaming him for a lot. He was the one to add on his ridiculously highhanded caveat of only giving Sam the money to bail me out of jail if he would never romantically pursue me. And as much as I hated to admit it, it probably had a lot to do with why Sam and I gotten together. I’d had more than enough of him deciding my life for me and I would be damned if he got any say in it when he was no longer a part of it.
At least that was how I used to feel.
Now I just felt like a fool.
I’d never realized just how much I’d blamed Eric for nearly everything. The bond. The marriage. Him seemingly keeping me in the dark at every turn and allowing me to be blindsided in return. It made me angry and distrustful. Nearly every man in my life had disappointed me in some way or another. My father died when I was too young to have ever gotten to really know him. My uncle physically molested me and raped me mentally with his thoughts. And Bill, well…
I didn’t need to go there again.
But Bill, Alcide, and Quinn…they all had ulterior motives when it came to being with me. And if I was being honest with myself, so did Eric.
But if I was being honest with myself, then I had to admit I had them too.
I’d had a choice to form our blood bond. Granted, it wasn’t a great choice, but a choice nonetheless and I’d chosen Eric over Andre. Not only because of the safety I knew he would provide or our complicated – if not amorous – past, but because I knew being bonded to Andre would be the things nightmares were made of. Our marriage by knife in hindsight is what kept me out of Felipe’s clutches. If anything, I only became even more of a liability for Eric. Something he would’ve known at the time and yet he’d gone through with it anyway. My undoubtedly stubborn refusal would’ve been my downfall had he told me beforehand.
Something he also would’ve known.
But I’d been so suspicious. Always dismissing every good deed and scrutinizing Eric to the Nth degree expecting him to disappoint me as well. And he had – at times – done that all on his own. But not once did I ever take a good hard look into my own self-righteous mirror. Not once did I ever scrutinize myself or my own actions – or non-actions as the case may be – because if I had, I would’ve seen my own numerous flaws. Maybe even in time to do something about it.
Instead of now. When it was too late.
Looking back Eric wasn’t the only one to keep me in the dark. I’d done a pretty good job of doing that myself all but shoving my head into the sand and shouting I didn’t want to know. He tried coming to me the night before our divorce. And as I was also prone to do, I’d sent him away. Again. I can only assume he meant to warn me of what was to come. He had warned me by telling me no matter what happened in public I shouldn’t doubt that he loved me and cared for me.
But I couldn’t hear him with my ears so full of sand.
So of course I ignored every word and I let my doubt and humiliation color everything else. Doubted he ever loved me at all because I had the nerve to be surprised by our very public and humiliating divorce.
I didn’t need a Word-A-Day calendar.
What I needed was a Crow-A-Day dinner. Lord knew I’d eaten enough of it over the last eleven months.
And suddenly feeling full from my hubris, I felt the need to walk it off. Alone.
Like I would be for the rest of my life.
Even now that Sam had moved out, I didn’t feel any lonelier than I had when he’d still been living with me. Granted, he’d only been gone for less than an hour, but it had been almost a year since I’d felt the kind of contentment that came from being in the presence of another. And I wasn’t allowed to even enter the state said other now resided in under penalty of death, but again.
That was my own fault.
Not because I’d allowed my hurt and blind rage to automatically scoff at Eric’s request that I join him there as his mistress. But because I’d been too blinded by my own naiveté to realize I’d had the answer to our problems in the palm of my hand all along.
The Cluviel Dor.
And while Eric shouldered some of the blame for not explaining to me in detail that he literally couldn’t refuse to marry Freyda, it was my fault as well for blanketing supernatural politics in my human ideals.
My American ideals.
I knew good and well there were still some parts of the world where the bride and groom don’t get a choice in who they marry. Sadly it’s just the way their world works. And by not seeing that possibility in the supernatural world I’d come to see for myself was steeped in ancient traditions, I’d been the one to seal our fate by allowing my panic to overrule common sense.
My alarm at seeing Sam die made me react without thought in using the Cluviel Dor on him. It was a trait I’d come to recognize was a serious flaw I needed to work on. And while my heart hurt even now at the thought of him dying, logically it would’ve been something I would be forced to deal with at some point in time even if he had been the great love of my life.
But by using it to save Sam, I’d simultaneously condemned the great love of my life to 200 years of servitude.
I’d been walking blindly, lost in thought, and only knew I’d collapsed to the ground when I felt the wet grass hit my forehead. My only thoughts were of Eric. Of the horrible life I knew Appius had forced him to live and now I had to live with the bitter knowledge I was no better.
I cried for what we had lost. I cried for subjecting Eric to 200 years of slavery. I cried for the hopelessness and helplessness of it all.
I don’t know how long I lay there. Time no longer held any meaning for me once the realization hit me that I would run out of it long before Eric would be freed. So when I felt the void closing in on me I didn’t bother to look up. While I couldn’t bring myself to pray for my own death, I couldn’t deny I was certainly due for a karmic kick in the ass. So I didn’t struggle at all when I felt their arms wrap around my body and lift me up from the ground. They did so gently, but I still didn’t look to see who it was.
I didn’t care. They weren’t allowed to harm me. To feed from me.
I didn’t care about that either.
I felt the familiar and worn cushion of the porch swing when I was placed on it and then the weight of someone else sit beside me. But still I didn’t look. I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to.
I already knew it wouldn’t be the vampire I wanted to see more than anyone else.
But even now, I couldn’t be rude. It was so ingrained in me that it didn’t take much for me to straighten my spine and try to put on a gracious face when I finally glanced over to my side. I’d been expecting my guest to be Bill, so I was surprised to see Eric’s first child, Karin instead.
We hadn’t talked since she’d come to summon me to Fangtasia for Vamp Divorce Court, but I knew she’d been tasked with watching me for the year following it. I’d felt her presence in the woods surrounding my house every night since then, but I hadn’t ever come out to talk to her. Unfairly, I had put some of the blame on her shoulders for my humiliation that night.
That whole ‘Don’t kill the messenger’ phrase was born for a reason.
“It is not my place,” she began. “But I could not allow you to remain on the ground, knowing my master holds you up much higher than that. That – in and of itself – is a miracle I never thought I would see.”
Her soft laughter and gentle smile – just like her kind words – were unexpected. The added tears filling my eyes were not, so I quickly wiped them away and tried to smile in return when the dam broke all over again. The tears streamed down my face and my throat tightened while I tried to choke out the words spilling straight out of my heart to the closest thing to Eric as I could get, crying out, “I’m sorry. For everything. I’m sorry you’ve been forced to spend night after night in my woods. I’m sorry I’ve never once come out to try and talk to you. I’m sorry that my own selfishness and stupidity has cost you the company of your maker for the next one hundred and ninety-nine years. I’m just so sorry.”
My sobs took control of my body by then, so I doubled over, crying for everything that had been lost.
She sat silently at my side and let it run its course, but when I calmed down some, she asked, “The shifter has moved out?”
“Yes.” While I was sorry for what my actions had inadvertently cost her, I didn’t know her well enough to want to elaborate. There wasn’t much to tell anyway. Eric might as well have been physically standing in between me and Sam all along. And it broke my heart even further to realize Sam could be interchanged with anyone.
Eric would always be in their way.
I really would spend the rest of my life alone.
I had once thought I would be okay with that. And maybe I would have been had I never met Bill. Back when I didn’t know what it was like to be with someone and not have to use my shields. Even Sam had to concentrate on not letting me hear him and we’d learned over the last eleven months, it wasn’t so easily done when we spent so much time together.
It was how I knew I didn’t compare to Jannalyn in bed.
But that was okay too. He didn’t come close to Eric’s skills.
And the fact I could slough off the unintended insult so easily told me Sam and I weren’t meant to be together. But my irrational jealousy over thoughts of what – or who – Eric was doing on any given night told me who held my heart.
Who would always hold my heart.
Since I hadn’t said anything else, Karin moved the conversation along by saying, “You know I only have four weeks left of watching you. When my time here is done you shouldn’t be out after dark alone. You will still be protected by royal decree, but sometimes that is not enough.” Catching my eye and staring hard enough I almost expected to feel the push of her glamour when she added, “Sometimes a royal decree means nothing.”
I had the sneaking suspicion she was talking about more than the tasty Sookie-treat I would be to other vampires with less – or no – scruples.
“It doesn’t?” I asked, hoping my naiveté could work for me for once.
In my experience, vampires weren’t a chatty bunch when it came to their secret handshakes or whatever. And given the arch of her brow, I could totally see the resemblance she had to her sister Pam.
I swear. Sometimes it was like pulling fangs to get them to answer a question.
Deciding to spell it out for her in the hopes she would spell it out for me, I said, “You’re going to have to spell it out for me. My inability to decipher anything on my own and y’alls cryptic rigmarole is why you can’t see Eric for the next two centuries.”
And why I’ll never lay eyes on him ever again.
She was definitely Eric’s child because instead of answering, she had her own agenda and asked, “Why are you no longer with the shifter?”
My guff was up at her personal question, but I was too tired to put up much of an outward fuss and took the easier road by explaining, “It just wasn’t working. I tried. We tried. We acted the part and tried to put all of the pieces together to make them fit. But without a strong foundation to anchor it all together, it just blew over like a house of cards.”
Saying it all out loud made me realize I’d done the same thing with Eric. I kept trying to force him to fit into the role of a human boyfriend. Thinking and acting in a way that a human would, while railing about my own humanity at every opportunity whenever he would try to explain to me how his world worked and my place in it.
And so now I sat alone. A pot without my kettle.
“You do not love him?” she asked.
Gah…did she follow Dear Abby too?
It made me realize I missed Pam.
“I do,” I huffed. “I just…I love him like I always have. Like a friend.”
“And my master?” she prodded. “How do you feel about him?”
“Does it matter?” I snapped, once again unfairly taking my frustration out on her. Realizing that, I dialed it back a notch and answered my own question saying, “It doesn’t matter. None of it matters.”
“Does my presence here not matter?” she asked. “That my master would negotiate your protection to ensure you remain safe when he can no longer be here to see to it himself?”
My heart clenched again. After the way I had treated him and after everything I’d done – or didn’t do – I couldn’t hold it against him, but I explained, “Pam told me not to get sentimental about everything Eric did. The protection measures. None of it. She said it was his way of showing Freyda he is loyal and protects his own.”
Ass. He protects his own ass by protecting my ungrateful one in the process.
Alright. So maybe I held it against him just a little.
She stared back at me with a knowing look and mocked, “Pam told me you are a passionate creature. You allow your heart to overrule your head. You act without thinking regardless of the dangers present.”
“And the sky is blue,” I snarked back. “What’s your point?”
“My point, you daft girl, is it was Pam’s way of putting her own protective measures in place. You are banned under penalty of death if you step one foot into Oklahoma. Do you not think it odd for Freyda – a Vampire Queen – to be so concerned over a simple human? She has my master by the balls thanks to his abomination for a maker. He is indebted to be her puppet for two hundred years and yet she made it a point to ban you from her state. Why do you think that is?”
“Because she’s a bitch?”
It had been my working theory ever since I’d learned about the whole marriage mess.
Her eyes crinkled in the corners when she smiled, but her face became more serious when she said, “You have power over Eric. Without the power of magic or bond, you have power over my master. Freyda knows this and so she fears you. She knows if you were still in Eric’s life, she would never have complete control of him. That is why she banned you. My sister acted in good faith by telling you the things she did. She knew once your hurt subsided and you calmed down – if you realized Eric did everything he could to make sure you would remain safe for the rest of your days because he still loves you, she worried you might do something crazy.” Catching my eye yet again, she arched her brow and added, “Like trying to rescue Eric.”
“How would I do that?” I asked, even though my mind was already creating impossible scenarios. But the realist in me still added, “That whole death-if-I-enter thing would kind of make any rescue attempt a moot point, wouldn’t it?”
“Did my master not come to you after the divorce and ask you to come with him? There are ways to sneak you in.” Her eyes and voice took on a challenging note as she added, “If you are willing.”
Eric did try to come to me the very next night. He’d already been banned from seeing me and looking back now I realized he risked himself yet again because he couldn’t stay away. He couldn’t leave things the way they were. He couldn’t leave me without asking me to go with him and be his secret lover when he knew one (me) if not both of us would be killed if we were caught. I’d thought it was completely selfish of him at the time.
But now I wondered if maybe he had just been that desperate.
“But what if he doesn’t want me?” I whispered out, giving voice to my biggest fear. And because I was still a human with many flaws, I couldn’t stop myself from bitterly adding, “I’m sure he’s moved on by now. Many times.”
“Yes, that could be,” she nodded stoically at my side and then sampled the air around us. “I can see why you would be upset to learn he has moved on a time or two, especially now when you absolutely reek of the scent of celibacy.”
The truth did actually hurt.
And I would bet her and Pam were pretty tight.
“So, what?” I asked, ignoring her truthful jibe.
Just like I would ignore whatever Eric had been up to over the past eleven months if by some miracle we could be together again. But in order to do so, I knew I would have to be the one to make the first move. And I’d have to do it blind. I had no idea if he would want me back even if I could find him a way out of his marriage contract.
What if I managed to move heaven and earth only for him to send me away?
After all, I was still due that karmic ass kicking.
Since she was still waiting for me to give her a hint about my ‘what’, I added, “You think I should just sneak into Oklahoma – where the penalty if I’m caught is death – and somehow manage to find a way to Eric when I have no idea if he even wants to see me? And then what?”
I loved him. God knows I loved him almost more than anything.
But I didn’t love him more than I loved me.
We were very alike like that.
I couldn’t be ‘the other woman’ in his life. I could understand the political nature of their marriage. I could understand him having to put on a dog and pony show in front of the other vamps because I’d done it many times myself.
But there was no way I could lie in bed waiting for him to return to me from another woman’s. Even if it only happened once a year.
I was selfish in all aspects of my life and that was never truer when it came to Eric. I wanted him all to myself and I would take nothing less. It was why I’d had such a hard time seeing him feed from that…that Kym Rowe.
My lips twisted up all on their own so I wouldn’t call her the gardening tool her last name rhymed with.
“You mean as my master did when he came to you the very next night?” she asked. “Knowing how angry and hurt you were. Knowing if he were caught doing so he would be punished severely. And yet he still came to you. He still had hope you wouldn’t refuse him.”
“He said he should’ve just turned me against my will,” I spat back, more angry at myself for not seeing it all before. I’d been too blinded by rage.
“And yet you still live,” she replied. “He could have commanded either Pam or me to do it. To make you immortal so that you would still exist when his servitude comes to an end. Two hundred years is a very long time, Sookie. Long enough that you might have forgiven him by then.”
She was right. I knew she was right about all of it, but all I could focus on was, ‘Two hundred years is a very long time.’
Eric was stuck for two hundred years. He would have to ask permission before he made any move. He could no longer think for himself or do as he wished whenever he wanted. He’d always had a boss, but this was different. Freyda for all intents and purposes owned Eric now.
What if she didn’t take care of him? What if she broke him?
I had no idea of what her true nature was like. But considering all that Appius had done to Eric and he’d been the one to make the deal with Freyda, it didn’t bode well in my now overactive mind.
Despite his horrific past, Eric had somehow managed to retain a passion for life. Sure, he was deadly. And he could look completely bored sitting on his throne in Fangtasia, but that was just the Eric everyone else got to see.
My Eric laughed. He came with a pocket full of one liners and a twinkle in his eye. He wore pink spandex to an orgy with me. He had my driveway fixed and sent me a coat. Not because I asked him to but because I needed it.
He always knew what I needed.
He danced with me. Cared for me. Loved me.
He even beheaded a vampire or two for me.
But now he was expected to be someone’s lap dog. Now, at least once a year every year, he would be forced by the terms of their contract to…
“How?” I asked. “How do I get to him and how do I get him out of his marriage contract?”
“I only said I can get you into the state unseen,” she shrugged.
“You’re a lot of help,” I snapped sarcastically.
She took a page out of Pam’s book and became interested in her fingernails, saying, “Are you not the one who rescued a vampire being held by the Fellowship? The one who rescued your unfaithful lover and staked his three hundred year old maker? You participated in the Witch War and helped to restore my master’s memory. You found the killer of shifters while you yourself were the target of a vengeful Hot Rain. You singlehandedly thwarted Arkansas’s attempted takeover of Louisiana. Hell, you even somehow managed to rescue both my maker and my sister from an exploding building. Nine floors up. In the middle of the day.” She managed to look both impressed and disgusted as she said, “You are all Pam has been going on about for the last three years, but I must admit, I have yet to see that girl. So tell me Sookie, was it all hype?”
I got your hype right here missy.
And she got my goat up. Honestly, I didn’t know what I wanted more. To hug her or hit her because her words gave me hope and her condescending attitude pissed me off.
I hadn’t felt so alive in almost a year.
“Those are just my greatest hits,” I smiled and it grew seeing one appear on her lips. My confidence grew with it when I added, “And I think it’s about time I started working on my next big hit.”
It would be my epic.
Either my one true masterpiece or my last and final act.
But either or, all of it would be for my Eric.