I awoke the next day wondering if the night before had been nothing more than a wonderful dream, until I realized what I was lying on hadn’t come from any Serta mattress factory.
And then pushing myself up, I giggled seeing kitty Sam fast asleep curled around the top of Eric’s head.
Knowing how much of a kick Pam would get out of seeing it, I noticed Eric’s phone still in his hand and pulled it from his grasp to take a picture, but couldn’t now seeing it – like Eric – was dead for the day.
After I reached over and set it down onto the nightstand, I looked back at him and was overcome by all of the different feelings swirling through me, staring at the man I was quickly falling for.
He was no doubt the most handsome man I’d ever seen, but his good looks weren’t what had drawn me to him. If I were that shallow, I would’ve given myself to any number of the fairies I’d seen while in captivity.
Thanks to my curse, I knew a pretty package could have an ugly filling, but Eric was different.
I was certain there was a side to him that would scare the bejeezus out of me – there would have to be for him to have survived for as long as he had – but the side he showed to only me made me feel like I was the only woman in the world.
He’d unknowingly given me the proof of that the night before when I’d caught flashes of his thoughts.
Eric thought I was not just beautiful, but the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Coming from someone who’d lived a span of time I couldn’t possibly fathom, that was saying a lot. I was sure he’d seen – and probably been with – some of the most beautiful women in the world, going back hundreds of years.
But I knew straight from his mind it was me he was the most awed by.
He felt things for me he’d never felt for anyone before.
I’d spent a lifetime hearing the ridiculing thoughts from others, but I’d always forced myself to walk with my head held high in spite of them all.
But with Eric, I didn’t have to force anything because he put me so high up on a pedestal, my head was in the clouds.
Thanking him for it didn’t feel like nearly enough – for seeing and wanting the real me and not just the blond with the big boobs – but it was all I could do.
I still couldn’t comprehend what he could possibly find so special about me, but I didn’t feel the need to question it. I didn’t have to because I could feel his own confusion over his feelings for me.
But if he was willing to accept them, then I would too.
It didn’t matter that I was a high school educated former barmaid or that he was a thousand year old vampire King.
Together we were just Eric and Sookie and I was more than okay with that.
Thanks to Eric’s dead cell phone, I had no idea what time it was, but my growling stomach informed me it was time to get up. I hadn’t eaten much in the past couple of days thanks to everything going on, but I was famished now. So I reluctantly slid off of Eric’s body, blushing again when I felt The Beast brushing against my hip, and made my way into the bathroom to get cleaned up.
I couldn’t help remembering the way Eric had made me feel the night before as the water beat down on my skin and the hunger I was now feeling had nothing to do with food. I knew I should probably have been embarrassed by the wicked thoughts running through my mind – especially considering the man was dead and there was nothing he could do about it – but that didn’t stop me from flipping through fantasy after fantasy all centered on him.
I may have been a virgin, but thanks to my disability I’d seen more porn than Larry Flynt himself.
And I had several ideas of what I would like to try out. But since my leading man was unavailable, I had no choice but to force them all away and just concentrated on finishing up in the shower before stepping out to dry myself off.
And then I yelped in surprise when I was suddenly surrounded from behind by six and a half feet of horny vampire.
“Someone is feeling frisky,” he purred into my ear.
Considering the part of him I could feel jabbing into my back, along with his own hearty dose of lust, I giggled, “Careful now. Those glass shards are about to come down on top of you again.”
Even though we’d been very handsy with one another the night before – and I’d slept on top of the man’s naked body all day long for criminy sake – I still felt a little shy being naked in front of him.
But not so much that I wanted to stop his hands from roaming all over my body.
After all, he had really nice hands.
And an even better butt.
So my hands reached around behind me to grab two handfuls of that award winning behind, making him growl appreciatively.
But before I could get too worked up, he pulled back and said, “I have news.”
If he was about to tell me he wanted me, that really wasn’t worthy of CNN’s tickertape.
But when I turned to face him and saw the look of concern in his eyes, I didn’t like it and asked, “What is it?”
“It is about your brother Jason,” he softly replied, which only made me more concerned. And I didn’t have the time to brace myself when he added, “He is in prison for murdering your grandmother and then setting fire to your home.”
The next thing I knew I was coming to and surrounded by Eric’s arms. From the feel of it we were lying on his bed, but the tears were still streaming from my eyes as I croaked out, “He couldn’t have. He wouldn’t have.”
All I wanted to do was run out of there and find my brother.
I wanted to throw my arms around him and never let him go.
I wanted to tell him I knew he could never hurt Gran.
And – God help me – I wanted to kill whoever did.
Thanksgiving was just around the corner and then Christmas. I didn’t want Jason to spend Christmas in prison, but then I realized he’d probably already spent one holiday locked up, since I’d been gone for so long.
It only made me sob harder and hate Niall even more for taking me. If only I’d been there I could have helped him, but I knew there was nothing I could do for him now. Not all by myself.
I needed more information and I needed help.
Eric let me cry all over him, while he tried to comfort me and when I finally got control of myself again, he softly whispered, “I am sorry my lover.”
Weirdly, he licked away my tears, but I didn’t care. It oddly made me feel better.
“How?” I asked, hoping he could fill in the blanks – both the ones I wanted answers to and the ones I couldn’t give voice to – and then quickly followed up with, “Why?”
He sighed against me before slowly sitting up and saying, “I only received a short text last night and don’t have all of the details yet, but I should have a full report soon.”
I watched him look around before seeing his phone on the nightstand and then cursing when he discovered it was dead. So he grabbed the charger and plugged it in before turning it on, only for his face to look completely flabbergasted.
“What is it?” I asked, sitting up and not even caring that I was still naked or that he was too for that matter.
Modesty was the least of my concerns right now.
Eric just stared down at his phone and I could feel his shock running through him, when he eventually said, “The time.”
“What about it?” I asked, sounding as unsure as I felt. “Should you have already gotten the report or something?”
His only response was to stare back at me dumbfounded and then he turned the phone so I could see the display.
It read 3:00 pm.
The time of day had ceased to mean anything to me once I was kidnapped by Niall, so I hadn’t given it much thought lately.
But I knew vamps didn’t rise until sundown, so I asked, “Is that normal? For you to be up so early because you’re older?”
He shook his head in the negative and answered, “No. With my age, I could be roused during the day if I was in mortal danger, but I would be very lethargic and it would only last until the danger had passed. This is… unusual.”
When his eyes darted to me, looking like it was my fault, I asked, “Why are you looking at me like I did something?”
And even though it made no sense to me whatsoever, I suddenly felt horrified and asked, “Did you feel like I was going to hurt you? Is that why you woke up?”
“No!” he answered quickly and pulled me back onto his lap, adding, “But many strange things have happened to me since your arrival, so I have to question if my ability to rise earlier stems from the fact we exchanged blood again last night.”
I remembered him saying after three exchanges it would become permanent.
But having no idea what happened after I passed out, when I’d been shot, I asked, “Did you give me more of your blood after getting the bullet out of me?”
If he had and then licked my wound closed, that would’ve been our second exchange.
Which meant the night before would have been our third and while I knew I really liked Eric, it was too soon for me to know if I would want to be tied to him permanently.
Never mind the fact I didn’t like the idea of it being done without my consent.
But it could also explain why I’d heard his thoughts the night before and no matter how sweet they were, I could feel my hostility ratcheting up until he answered, “No. As soon as the bullet was removed from your body it healed on its own within minutes since you’d just had my blood earlier in the evening. There was no need for you to have any more of it and Pam cleaned you up before dressing you.”
The relief that flooded through me was short lived when he said, “I could feel your anger a moment ago and your relief now. You know after three exchanges our bond would become permanent. You do not wish to be tied to me forever?”
Even as he asked the question I could feel his own uncertainty over it all and asked, “Do you wish to be tied to me forever?”
It felt weird having this conversation now, considering we were both naked as the day we were born and what we were discussing was similar to a human marriage proposal, so I explained, “I like you. A lot and I’ve never felt anything close to the way I feel about you, but don’t you think it’s too soon to be having this conversation? It’s like us running off to get married when we only really agreed to start exploring our relationship last night.”
Granted, a lot had happened in that one night, so it too felt like it was forever ago. But the fact remained it only happened less than twenty-four hours earlier.
I could feel Eric’s acceptance of my explanation, but a small twinge of insecurity broke through when he asked, “But it is something you would consider in the future?”
I truly did feel more for Eric than anyone else in my life and having a permanent blood bond with him in the vampire world – to me – paralleled a human marriage in mine.
I believed what we had together now could be built into something that would make me want to marry him, so I answered honestly, “Yes, in time. I was just upset over the thought it had already been done without my consent.”
Then I smiled softly and added, “It would be like you marrying me without me knowing about it.”
I could feel his deceit, just as he opened his mouth, and started to say, “I…”
But his deceitful feelings turned into back into honesty, when he finished with, “Would do whatever I felt was necessary in order to protect you and while I may not tell you everything, what I do tell you will always be the truth.”
Considering what I could feel, I knew that just as well as he did, so I only said, “Yeah, well…if you try and marry me without even asking me first, don’t expect much of a honeymoon.”
With that out of the way, my thoughts went right back to Jason and I started rambling in my nervousness, “Is there anything you can do to help my brother? I know he couldn’t have murdered Gran. It has to be some horrible mistake and he probably couldn’t get a decent lawyer. Can you take me to go see him?”
There was no house left for me to mortgage in order to pay his attorney’s fees, but I did have some money saved up before I was kidnapped. If somehow my bank account hadn’t been closed by now, I would gladly use all of it to help him.
Eric looked back at me tenderly and nodded, “I will hire an attorney on his behalf once we get the details of his conviction and I will find a way for you to go and see him in the meantime.”
“Thank you Eric,” I whispered into his shoulder and wrapped my arms around him again.
I really was lucky he was willing to do so much for me, when I felt like nothing more than a burden to him. I knew he didn’t feel that way about me, but I couldn’t help it after spending a lifetime of just getting by and having to work for everything thing I had.
I honestly didn’t like not being able to provide for myself now, but I understood why working wouldn’t be an option just yet.
I knew I could never repay him for even the material things he’d given me, after seeing the price tags on everything Pam had supplied, but it was the emotional support he gave to me that I valued the most.
When I finally pulled back he said, “The lawyer I normally used went missing in the bombing at Rhodes and I assume perished. As a half-demon, Desmond Cataliades was retained by many in the Supernatural community, but I am already in negotiations with his brother-in-law, Simon Maimonides, to take over my legal affairs. However, since he is a demon as well, we do not know if he can be trusted with you because of Niall’s warning, so I will have to seek out someone else to handle your brother’s case.”
“Eric,” I blurted out remembering the night of his coronation, “On the night of your coronation, one of the people that came up to speak to you was some sort of demon, right? I mean, I think I could tell because his thoughts were hard to read and were surrounded by shadows. I’ve never come across anything like it before.”
He ran his hand up and down my arm soothingly, saying, “Your gift is truly fascinating, lover. But you were never in any danger, if that is what you are concerned with.”
“No,” I shook my head. “It was his thoughts. I only got bits and pieces, but I heard him think, ‘She lives. I must inform the Prince.’ You don’t think he meant Niall do you? He wouldn’t be shocked I was alive, unless he thought you were going to eat me and that’s why he left me with you.”
The seriousness dropped from Eric’s expression and was replaced with something akin to panty-dropping, when he purred, “Lover, you must choose your words wisely when you speak to me without any clothes on because now all I can think about is eating you.”
I tried to be irritated with him.
I really did, considering all of the heavy topics we’d been discussing.
But his words and leer shot straight through me and now I was hungry too.
And not for a burger.
So I tried to hold on to my last shred of sanity – and my invisible panties, before they dropped – and huffed out, “Oh you!”
His responding chuckle told me he knew I was faking my anger, but I ignored it – and him – by getting up and throwing his t-shirt back on, before turning back to him and saying, “Now, demon Prince? Any thoughts on that?”
He seemed to think about it for a moment before saying, “I do not know much about their hierarchy or realm, as I never saw a need before. I do know pissing one off isn’t in anyone’s best interest. However, they appear to keep to themselves if they are not working in some capacity within this world. I do find it odd Niall believes your grandfather to have been murdered by one, considering the close ties the Brigants had to Cataliades.”
“They were close?” I asked.
It shocked me since Niall seemed so sure – Demons + Sookie = Bad.
Eric shrugged his shoulders, answering, “I recall once – a very long time ago – Cataliades speaking kindly of your kin. He would not have bothered if he hadn’t meant it.”
Eric had been around for so long, it didn’t surprise me he knew of so many Supernatural beings. And in the short time I’d been there, I’d learned they sure did love their gossip.
Pam and Mrs. Fortenberry would be thick as thieves.
“So, you’re not worried about what I heard?” I asked.
He reached out and pulled me back to him, wrapping his arms around my waist and saying, “I do not seem to be able to not worry about you, so yes, I am concerned. I will look into it and see what I can find out.”
Then looking deep into my eyes, he added, “But know this. No one will harm you.”
And then taking a moment to run his hand across my back where the bullet had been lodged, he finished with a low growl, “Again.”
He and I would just have to agree to disagree on that one (and I’d learned the only way to do that with Eric was to say nothing at all) because I would do it again in a heartbeat if it meant he would be safe.
His hands began running over my body and before I could question his intent, he stood up and zipped into and back out of his closet, now dressed in a pair of track pants (vamp speed sure could be handy) and held his hand out to me, saying, “Come. You must eat so you don’t lose any of those luscious curves I have yet to fully explore. I will see what I can find on my own about your brother’s situation from the internet, while we wait for the report.”
Eric didn’t have a full kitchen in his chambers, so I fixed myself a quick sandwich and settled down on the couch next to him so I could watch him on his laptop while I ate. Only instead of searching for information on my brother right away, he went through his emails first.
I knew he was the one doing me the favor and tried not to get irritated, so I ate my sandwich in silently gradually increasing irritation, which I knew he could feel.
It wasn’t until I swallowed the last bite that he finally typed Jason’s name into the search engine and turned to me, saying softly, “I did not want you to lose your appetite reading whatever it is we find. You have to remain healthy, if you are to help your brother.”
That certainly took the wind out of my sails and I felt the shame wash over me, as I leaned over and kissed him softly, saying, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
I seriously didn’t deserve someone like him, but every thought fell out of my head when Jason’s picture – a mug shot – came onto the screen. It only got worse when I read the accompanying headline.
Man suspected in strangulation murders found guilty of murder/arson in death of grandmother.
Eric reached out and pulled me onto his lap, before setting the laptop on my own and clicking on the link. But the more I read, the less I could see through the tears streaming down my face.
Jason had been the prime suspect in the strangulation murders of Maudette Pickens and Dawn Green, but they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him for their deaths. They also implied he may have had something to do with my own disappearance, but he was seen – by Mrs. Fortenberry of all people – calmly walking away from the burning farmhouse and into the woods.
When the sheriff found him at home later on he claimed he’d been there the whole time, but he’d been convicted anyway on her eyewitness testimony. They even speculated that Gran had been trying to get him to turn himself in for the murders.
Gran’s body had been found inside and the coroner said she’d been strangled to death before the fire.
The only good news – if it could be called that – was he’d been sentenced to life without parole at Angola, The Louisiana State Penitentiary, and wasn’t given a death sentence because the jurors felt “he’d been traumatized by the disappearance of his sister” on top of the deaths of our parents when we were kids.
I was completely numb until Eric put the laptop down and turned me around, but as soon as his arms wrapped around me, I lost it.
I cried for Gran.
I cried for Jason.
There may have even been a few tears in there for Maudette and Dawn.
But mostly I cried for what had become of my family’s lives all because I wasn’t there to help them. I don’t know what I could have done, but I knew in my heart Jason wouldn’t kill anybody.
Surely I could’ve done something to stop the horror his life had turned into.
I was still sobbing uncontrollably when I choked out, “Can…I…see him? You’re…you’re the…King. Can you…will they…let us see him?”
“Of course, lover,” he whispered into my hair. “I’ll have to make a few calls and it will take some time, but I will take you to see him.”
I continued to cry against him until I finally ran out of tears and when I pulled back to look up at him, he said, “We will need to come up with a plausible excuse as to where you’ve been for so long, but how well do you trust the shifter?”
I didn’t feel any jealousy coming from him, but I was sure he felt my confusion when I answered, “I’d trust Sam with my life. Why?”
Eric stood us up and I hadn’t noticed how much time had passed until Pam walked into the room a second later, asking, “Why is she leaking?”
And then her tone turned accusatory – as did her eyes, trained on her Maker – when she added, “What did you do now?”
He ignored her questions and I was just stunned they were actually speaking English, so I didn’t interrupt when he said, “Tell Reuben I want that report yesterday and clear my schedule for this evening. Sookie and I are going to the dog’s bar.”
Eric filled Pam in while I washed my face and changed into something warmer. I was still too numb to even be excited about seeing Sam again, but when I came back into the room Pam was already gone and Eric surprised me by leading me back into his bedroom.
“What are we doing in here?” I asked. “I thought we were leaving for Bon Temps.”
He just smiled back at me and sealed the door behind us before he took me into his closet. The man had more clothes than a department store, but before I could ask any more questions, he opened a hidden panel revealing yet another pin pad and scanning devices.
It made me wonder if he was really that concerned with his security or if he had a boy crush on James Bond.
But I didn’t have time to ask him because a moment later he picked me up, with my legs wrapping around his waist and my arms automatically following suit around his neck, as the ceiling opened up, exposing some sort of tunnel above our heads.
The next thing I knew, I was trying to swallow my scream as we shot out into the night sky.
“Relax lover,” he chuckled as I trembled against him. “I have you.”
“You could warn a girl, you know,” I mumbled against his neck.
I’d been too upset to even think about the fact we’d been flying, when Eric had brought me back to the palace after finding me in the cemetery. And even now I was still a little in shock over everything Jason had gone through.
But being wrapped up in Eric’s arms comforted me enough that eventually I was able to take a look around. He was going too fast for me to really see all that much, so I turned my face back into his body and asked, “Can all vamps fly?”
“Can all humans sing?” he countered.
Knowing I had to turn the volume way up to drown out the sound of my own voice, I answered, “Not well, but they can.”
I managed to giggle, picturing Pam and some of the other vamps flailing around in the sky like a flock of drunk geese, when he finally said, “No. Some vampire rise with a gift. Some do not. Mine was the ability to fly.”
“Does Pam have a gift?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t too personal of a question.
“Does the gift of gab count?” he chuckled, which made me even more relaxed.
But I tensed up again when I felt our speed slow and when we began to hover, I looked down seeing we were above Merlotte’s.
Eric brought us down behind Sam’s trailer and kept one arm around my shivering body, as he took his phone out and barked into the receiver, “Shifter, this is Eric Northman. I need to speak with you. Come outside. I am waiting next to your…home.”
I should’ve given him a what-for for speaking to Sam the way he did, but I was so nervous I didn’t even have it in me to reprimand him for his less than gracious tone.
And I completely froze a moment later hearing a gasped out, “Sookie?”
My face had still been pressed against Eric’s chest, so when I turned around, the minute Sam saw me, he ran forward and scooped me into his arms, saying, “Oh Cher, we were all so worried about you. Where have you been?”
Eric and I hadn’t discussed what we’d be telling anyone, but I didn’t have the time to answer him anyway, when I heard Sam take a deep breath and his arms let go of me as he took a step back and accused, “You’ve had his blood?”
It seemed I wasn’t the only one being taken to task because he turned and glared at Eric, growling, “You’ve had her this whole time?”
I could feel Eric had already been seething, watching Sam hug me.
But now he felt furious, so before he could do anything I would regret – even if he wouldn’t – I stepped in between them and said, “No, I haven’t been with Eric this whole time.”
My imploring eyes turned to Eric, not knowing what I should reveal, and whatever he felt or saw from me had his shoulders relaxing before he looked at Sam and explained, “She was taken by others and recently left with me for her own protection. But Sookie is now mine.”
Sam didn’t appear to like that one bit, but I wasn’t about to explain the ins and outs of my relationship with Eric, so I just said, “I only just found out about what happened to Jason and Gran.”
My voice faltered for a minute, but I swallowed the urge to cry again and asked, “What happened? Why do they think Jason would’ve killed Maudette or Dawn? Or Gran for God’s sake?”
Sam’s eyes softened seeing me fighting back the tears and he looked around before motioning towards his trailer and saying, “Come on. We shouldn’t be standing out here where somebody could see us.”
I followed him to his front door, but before I could step inside, Eric was suddenly in front of me and blocking my way, as he said, “She will not enter without me.”
Sam balked, but Eric must have felt my confusion because he turned to me and explained, “I cannot enter his home without an invitation.”
When it seemed we were at an impasse, I looked at Sam and said, “I’m sorry Sam, but Eric’s right. I won’t go anywhere he can’t go.”
I didn’t think Sam would ever do anything to me, but I could already read from his thoughts – thoughts that were much sharper and easier to read, making me wonder if Eric’s blood had something to do with that – that he wanted to get me away from Eric because he thought he was holding me against my will.
So I stared back at him and explained, “I’m with him because I want to be Sam.”
And because what was good for the goose was good for the gander, I tacked on, “He is mine.”
How do you like THEM apples, Mr. Possessive?
From what I could feel of Eric’s emotions, he seemed to like apples very much.
But Sam got my attention again, by arguing, “Sookie, he could’ve glamoured you into believing that! Cher, you don’t know how the Supernatural world works. Vampires claim humans. Not the other way around.”
Granted, Sam had no idea of just how much I now knew about the Supernatural world. But I was annoyed he – of all people – was treating me like a dumb blond barmaid with big boobs.
So I narrowed my eyes back at him and snapped out, “Gee Sam. Maybe if you had trusted me enough to tell me your furry little secret, I would’ve gotten a head start on my crash course in Supes 101. But you don’t know everything about me. I can’t be glamoured and if I could be, why would Eric even bother humoring me by bringing us here, when he could’ve just kept me at the palace and snacked on me?”
Forcing myself to calm down and trying to remember that Sam’s worry was coming from a good place, I ended with, “I know you’re just concerned about me, but whatever Eric and I are to one another is really none of your business. I trust him and as my friend, that should be enough for you.”
Pride exploded through my bond with Eric and after a long moment, Sam finally relented, with him sighing out, “Come in Eric.”
Once we were all seated, Sam went on to explain, “On the morning you went missing, Maudette Pickens was found in her home, strangled to death. Jason was a suspect because he was the last one seen with her and I guess they’d videotaped their date, but Bud didn’t have enough evidence to charge him. I found Dawn’s body in her bed a few days later when she didn’t show up for work. The neighbor said she heard her and Jason fighting the night before. But again, Bud didn’t have enough evidence.”
Sam paused for a moment, with his eyes taking in my hand clasped with Eric’s.
And my curse taking in the fact he didn’t like that very much.
Thankfully, he didn’t mention it and went on to say, “Jason had been coming into the bar damn near every night, tying one on and asking everybody he came across if they’d seen you. But the night before Adele was killed he was in here spouting off about some vampire. He said he’d just come from Adele’s house and saw a guy leaving there and walking across the field. But when he asked your Gran about who he was, she didn’t know what he was talking about.”
His brow arched, with his eyes looking pointedly at the vampire, all but accusatorily shouting, ‘GLAMOUR!’
But his voice remained even when he ended with, “Jason went looking for him and saw the lights on in the old Compton house where he said he saw the same guy – a vampire – inside feeding off some woman. That’s when he came back in here and started spouting off to everyone that it must have been the vamp that took you. He’d seen old bite marks on both Maudette and Dawn, so he thought the vamp must have killed them too. The more he drank, the angrier he got, until I finally cut him off and had Hoyt drive him home. Of course Maxine heard all about it and when Adele didn’t answer her phone the next day, she went over there and swears she saw Jason walking away from the burning house. Jason swears he was sleeping off his hangover at home, but they convicted him anyway. I’m so sorry Cher.”
I’d been concentrating so much on Sam’s story that I hadn’t noticed Eric was on his phone, until I jumped sky high, when he yelled into it, “FIND HIM!”
He shoved it back into his pocket and looked at me, saying, “Bill Compton left the palace last night. Because he wasn’t a prisoner, there was no reason for anyone to stop him and now…now his whereabouts are unknown.”