Rolling over, I stretched out in my bed still half asleep, when I heard a purring noise beside my head and my eyes sprang open.
Seeing Tina lying next to me, looking no worse for wear despite her ordeal made me happy, but it also brought with it a fresh wave of devastation remembering the night before.
My Gran was dead.
It had been easy enough to get away from Alcide, since I no longer seemed to have to try as hard to read the red snarly minds I now knew belonged to Weres, thanks to Pam’s quick tutorial a few nights earlier.
Quinn’s thoughts were downright disgusting and the fact that I knew he’d been trying to smell whether or not Eric and I had had sex had been hard to hide. But a lifetime of learning to keep my face neutral – while hearing the vile thoughts around me – came in handy.
Alcide’s thoughts, however, weren’t that bad.
He’d thought I was pretty and was shocked that I apparently wasn’t like a typical fangbanger, but he still had the occasional not so nice thought about me for – in his mind at least – being one of them.
It was probably what kept me from finding him attractive, even though physically, he was.
There was nothing going on between Eric and me, but I still thought that Alcide had no right to judge me for it if there was.
Thanks to the meetings I’d sat in on, I knew what would be going on at the palace with Eric’s upcoming coronation, so I planned my escape for the night before, knowing there would be a lot of people going in and out of the palace working to set things up.
But after spending so much time together with Eric and Pam, I was actually starting to like them and I was almost sad to be leaving them.
Pam – she was funny – even though she kept teasing me about Eric for some reason. And then, in the next breath, she would try to convince me to give lesbianism a try.
She should have been a were-owl, if there was such a thing.
Because she was a hoot.
But it was Eric’s personality that shocked me the most.
He could get my Stackhouse temper to flare in an instant, but even so – when we were getting along – it was actually kind of nice. He was funny and quite charming, nothing like the fierce Vampire King I knew him to be.
I’d seen firsthand how he acted the few times I’d been in the room when he was holding Court – or even just in his office with others present – and it was nothing like how he acted whenever it was just Pam and I.
But I had a feeling the Eric I saw behind closed doors was the real him and I certainly preferred him that way.
While I’d hated playing the role of his submissive pet at first, with my inner feminist wanting to shake her fist at him, after seeing for myself just how little tolerance he had for anyone that questioned him – much less disrespected him in any way – I was surprised I was still alive.
For some reason, he granted me more leeway than he did with anyone else I’d seen, but I couldn’t fathom why and I saw with my own eyes how humans were expected to act.
But it was how Eric treated me privately that made me okay with pretending to be his pet.
It didn’t take long for me to realize what a fool I’d been while in Never Never Land and it was that same realization that made me try to act smarter this time around. I couldn’t sense their emotions, but neither Pam nor Eric seemed to want to hurt me and I’d heard enough thoughts from the other humans and Weres in the palace to know that I actually had it quite good.
There was no way I would want to trade places with some of the other ‘pets’ of the vampires there and I tried extra hard not to listen to the women from the donor pool.
Eric featured in many of their thoughts and from what I could tell, every last woman in the place wanted him.
And most had had him.
I didn’t want him – even though Dream Sookie had had him and was quite keen to have him again – but even if Awake Me felt the same, Eric hadn’t done or said anything to lead me to believe he was interested in me.
The fact that he seemed to prefer brunettes and redheads – with no blond women in the donor pool at all – spoke volumes and their catty thoughts whenever they saw me confirmed as much, since it was known I was his pet and yet he still indulged with them.
Not that I wanted him.
When the day came that I knew I would be attempting my escape, it was the genuine feelings of friendship that I had for Pam and Eric that had grown over my short time with them that made me write the note I would be leaving behind for them.
They hadn’t been the ones who kidnapped me from my life. Eric was merely repaying his debt to Niall and he’d treated me better than I deserved, given my attitude in the beginning.
So in my letter I told Eric I hoped he wouldn’t get into trouble with Niall, but more importantly, I wanted him to know that Quinn couldn’t be trusted.
I didn’t mention my telepathy because I didn’t want to give anyone any reason to think me any more of a prize than my fake fairy pedigree already did, so I had been vague and just said he should be careful.
I’d only been around Quinn that one time and his thoughts had wandered between actual preparations for Eric’s coronation and making mental lists of what he needed to inform Nevada on. I’d remembered Eric’s words from my first night in the palace when he’d told Niall that Nevada was scenting blood in the water and I didn’t want him to think Quinn was trustworthy, but all I could do was leave the note behind and hope that it would be enough.
Maybe I did have a touch of Stockholm Syndrome?
Pam told me it was Swedish they sometimes rudely spoke around me, so I guess it was fitting.
My telepathy came in handy on the night of my escape, with me playing a one-sided game of hide-and-seek versus the brains and voids I could sense nearby. I didn’t think Eric had been lying to me that he could sense my emotions – I was still having those dirty dreams thanks to him too and the way his backside fit into his jeans didn’t help – so I tried to only project my happiness that my little plan was working and not my deceit.
When I was finally three blocks away from the palace, I took off in a flat out sprint and the fall air was cold on my skin, but felt exhilarating.
I knew better than to try and run to a police station – now knowing they could just glamour my return from them – and frankly I was willing to walk all the way back to Bon Temps if I had to. I had no money for a bus ticket and – I thought – no other options, until I eventually found myself on a strip of road outside of a no name motel.
I’d kept my shields lowered the entire time since I’d left the palace, so I could hear if Alcide or anyone else was nearby. But when I heard the stray thoughts of a woman who was checking out and planning on driving back to Shreveport that night, I took a chance and approached her.
I’d known from her thoughts that she’d driven down the night before to surprise her boyfriend who was in New Orleans for work. But the surprise had been on her when she’d found him with another woman. She’d been too upset to return home earlier and I felt bad using her misfortune against her, but I was desperate.
It wasn’t hard to work up a few tears when I walked up to her asking if, by chance, she was heading north. I told her I’d just discovered my boyfriend cheating on me with another woman and had run out without my purse. That I wanted to go back home to Shreveport, but I didn’t want to go back and face him and she was only too happy to help me out.
Even nicer still, she seemed to have a lead foot, so when we were closer to Shreveport and she asked me where I lived, I admitted that I actually lived in Bon Temps. So in a show of sisterly solidarity over my initial lie, she drove the extra forty-five minutes out of her way where she dropped me off at the end of my driveway.
I’d been so excited to finally be home that at first I didn’t register the state of my childhood home as I ran up the driveway. But I ended up standing there – for who knows how long – and stared at the charred wood and foundation where my Gran’s farmhouse once stood in total shock.
That home had housed the Stackhouses going back a hundred and fifty years and in my mind, it would’ve stood for another hundred and fifty more.
I thought my mind was playing tricks on me and maybe I was in front of the wrong house. The flowerbeds were all overgrown and surely Gran would have never let that stand.
But eventually I found myself wandering over to the Sweet Home Cemetery that separated our land from old Jessie Compton’s place next door, trying to get my bearings.
And then a piece of me died inside.
I’d walked over to the familiar markers where my real granddaddy and parents were buried, but my eyes immediately fell to the newest addition I hadn’t seen there before.
Reading Adele Stackhouse above the grave was enough to make my knees go weak and I fell to the ground completely broken inside.
Gran had been the only one who ever loved me unconditionally. The only one who never thought poorly of me because of my curse.
She’d taught me so many things in my lifetime, but it wasn’t enough. I hadn’t had enough time with her and I wasn’t prepared to imagine my life without her in it.
After a while my body went numb – either from my shock and grief or the cold temperature – but I’d sensed Eric’s presence in the back of my mind as he got closer. Over time, I’d come to be able to recognize the telltale voids of both him and Pam, in a way I couldn’t explain even to myself.
But instead of feeling the need to flee, I just felt need.
I needed to be held.
I needed to feel safe.
I needed someone to comfort me now that the woman who’d always done that for me was gone.
So when he held me to his chest – wrapped up in his jacket and whispering gentle soothing sounds into the top of my head – there was nowhere else I wanted to be.
The Vampire King had been left back in New Orleans.
Here at my home – that looked nothing like the home I remembered – it was just me and Eric.
My unexpected savior.
I was so very grateful for him in that moment, that I didn’t even want to argue with him over returning to the palace, while I stood there with Tina in my arms. The reality of it was I had no home to return to and seeing its charred remains over his shoulder just made me want to get out of there as fast as I could.
I supposed it was my shock over Gran’s death – or maybe it was my self-preservation instincts kicking in, knowing I couldn’t handle any more turmoil – that I didn’t even think of what may have happened to Jason until we were nearly back at the palace.
I almost asked Eric to turn back around, but then I really thought about it.
It didn’t matter to me if it had been the work of fairies or the faulty wiring in the old farmhouse, I would forever blame them for her death. If I had been there instead of locked away in their weird world, I may have had the chance to save her, but now I would never know.
However, if it had been the fairies or some other mystical creature that killed her, I would have to assume it was her association with me that caused it and I didn’t want to put Jason in the same situation by running to him.
If he’d been killed as well, I knew he would’ve been buried next to Gran. So the absence of his grave gave me hope that he was still okay and I resolved to ask Eric later on if he would check on him for me.
He’d agreed to help me kill the fairies if they were responsible for Gran’s death, so I didn’t think he’d balk at making a call or two to track down Jason.
My request had been a genuine one and given the way his fangs snapped down with his reply, I had to assume his willingness had been genuine too.
I still hadn’t come to terms with how much my life had changed since Niall had kidnapped me. There were all of these other types of mystical creatures roaming the world that I knew nothing about before now.
Some of which – if you believed Niall – were out to get me for whatever reason.
But strangely, with Eric I felt safe.
He’d only ever really scared me in the beginning when I’d been nasty to him first, but even so, he’d been kind enough to not keep me locked up in his room or in a cell.
He’d gone out of his way to get me my own guard so I could wander around the palace at night when he was busy working.
Pam had told me one too many times how delicious I smelled, but he’d never tried to bite me.
A part of me wondered if it was his blood that made me feel that way, but that didn’t really make sense to me either. It had been close to two weeks since I’d first arrived there and I certainly wasn’t feeling warm and fuzzy about him back then when it was fresh.
Even the dreams I still had of him had changed from downright pornographic to a sweeter, more romantic version of him.
So maybe the bond was fading?
He’d still been able to find me, so I knew on some level it was still there. But a part of me wondered if maybe my feelings had changed because of the Eric I now knew that lurked underneath the fierce mask of the Vampire King.
The Eric who’d flown hundreds of miles to find me when I needed him the most.
The man who cradled me on top of my Gran’s grave, giving me the comfort I wasn’t so sure I deserved from him.
The one who let me keep my cat, so I wouldn’t fall apart completely.
Yeah…that had nothing to do with his blood.
Finally forcing myself out of bed so I could shower before Eric and Pam rose, I smiled seeing that Pam had already set out a bowl of food and water for Tina, as well as her litter box in my bathroom.
I made a mental note to thank her for it when I saw her and wondered if I’d be allowed out of Eric’s rooms anymore, since I’d done such a fine job of escaping the first time.
I had no plans for a repeat performance and – if anything – I kind of wanted to stick close to him right now.
Whether or not it made any sense, the fact was his presence made me feel better long before the night prior and I knew it would do so again.
But I also knew his coronation was that night, so I tried to prepare myself for the inevitability I’d probably be left behind no matter what.
I left Tina sleeping on my bed and waited in the living area, trying not to think too much about anything from the night before. My head still hurt from all of the crying I’d done and while I knew I wasn’t done grieving Gran’s death yet, I needed a break from it all.
I tried to think about nothing at all since I knew they’d be rising soon and I could then distract myself with them – for a short time at least – which was where Eric found me moments later.
With my letter in his hand.
“What is the meaning of this?” he asked, holding it up like my eyes weren’t already staring holes into the paper.
“Just what it says,” I answered, while shrugging my shoulders.
His eyes narrowed back at me and I just knew he was picking apart that unfairly one-sided bond, but I wasn’t lying.
I was omitting.
“You’re holding something back,” he countered.
Stupid batty blood bond.
“It’s just,” I began hesitantly, while choosing my words carefully. “I’ve always been a real good judge of character.”
Silently adding in my head ‘my telepathy tells me so’ and hoping he could feel my truthfulness, be it said aloud or silently.
“And Quinn is up to something shady,” ‘for Nevada’, “so I just don’t think you should put your trust in him completely.”
I threw up a silent prayer to God that it would be enough and after Eric was done counting my eyelashes – at least that’s what he seemed to be doing – and took a seat next to me, I was surprised to hear him asking softly, “How are you this evening?”
I knew he was asking because of the basket case I was the night before and it only softened me towards him even more as I answered, “I’m okay. I just need a break from thinking about it all, you know?”
He nodded and I thought I was in the clear overall, so I was about to ask him to look for Jason when he asked, “How did you get out of the palace and all the way to Bon Temps last night?”
Aww…H-E-double hockey sticks!
“I’m sorry about that Eric,” I whispered.
I truly was since I knew he’d been busy getting ready for tonight’s event – in fact, I’d been counting on it – and instead he had to take time out of his busy schedule to come and find me.
“I don’t want your apology,” he said softly and tilted my chin up, so I was looking into his eyes when he added, “I just want to know how. I can’t have holes like that in my security. The Were is in enough trouble, as it is. I can’t allow something so heinous to stand unpunished.”
“You’re punishing Alcide?” I gasped.
It hadn’t even crossed my mind that he’d get in trouble because I’d ditched him – which was really dumb since I’d written Eric the letter saying I hoped he didn’t get in trouble with Niall for me leaving.
“Yes!” he exclaimed. “His failure could have led to your capture by Brendaen and his followers. You have no idea of how ruthless Neave and Lochlan are and I hope that you never find out.”
I gasped again, only this time it had nothing to do with Alcide.
Looking into his still fierce eyes, I asked, “You were worried about me?”
If anything, I would’ve thought he would be angry at me for causing him the hassle of having to find me and losing that time, when there were other more important things he should have been doing.
But from what he’d just said, it seemed his first thought was my wellbeing.
“Sookie, we need to get you dressed.”
I’d been concentrating on Eric – who now looked oddly relieved – so much that I hadn’t noticed Pam’s arrival into the room.
But I automatically turned towards her and asked, “Dressed for what?”
Seeing the red ball gown she was holding up and knowing what was happening that night, I didn’t wait for her to answer and turned back to Eric, asking, “You want me to go to your coronation?”
Neither one of them had mentioned it to me at all, so I hadn’t given it any thought.
But Eric looked back at me, only saying, “We will discuss your Houdini act later, but yes. You will be attending the ceremony tonight. I won’t trust your security to anyone but Pam or myself from now on and since several other monarchs will be there tonight – along with their retinue that I know for a fact consist of a few half-demons – I refuse to leave you alone so long as they’re here.”
“But Eric,” I argued without any malice, “You said these rooms were warded to keep out anyone that hasn’t had your blood. What makes you think they can get to me if I stay here?”
“I don’t think they can,” he argued back. “But one can never be too careful.”
And without another word he got up and returned to his room, so I turned to look at Pam, who only smirked at me in return and said, “He just wants to see you in this gown.”
Then her smile morphed into something much more lascivious when she added, “Now, let’s get you naked.”
Who needs the dress when I’m already as red as it is now?
After I’d changed – alone in the bathroom thank you very much – Pam stood behind me doing my hair and then my makeup. But instead of making me blush using anything more than the cosmetics she’d brought with her, she told me how I would need to act in front of everyone.
I’d seen enough during my brief time at Court that there was a certain pageantry required and the deference that was paid towards Eric as the king. I had no plans on embarrassing him or myself and, honestly, I hadn’t felt like biting his head off all week long.
Whatever we were to each other – captor/captive; King/Fake Fairy Princess; Vampire/human – in the last several days, we’d simply become just Eric and Sookie.
I knew even Eric had to act differently amongst the other vampires, so it was no skin off my nose to have to do the same.
After I assured her that I would make them proud and she declared me ‘Scrumptious’, her face got serious again as she said, “You know they all think that you are Eric’s pet.”
“Yes,” I said while fighting the urge to roll my eyes and give myself mascara lids.
“You do know what pets are generally used for, don’t you?” she asked, while giving me a knowing look.
My blush was back and my eyes dropped to my lap, while I softly admitted, “Yes.”
Food and sex.
I heard it in droves from the donor pool.
Not that I was listening to them.
“And you know vampires have an exceptional sense of smell?”
Flinching back from her, I wondered if I’d remembered to put on any deodorant and tried to surreptitiously give myself a little sniff, while huffing out in annoyance, “Well I do now.”
But I guess I wasn’t as sneaky as I’d thought because Pam said, “Trust me, you don’t smell bad. The problem is that you don’t smell like Eric.”
“Why would I smell like Eric?” I asked, with my mind remembering being pressed against his chest for a long time the night before.
Even in my grief I remembered he had smelled good.
I blamed Calvin Klein, not the blood.
Pam rolled her eyes at me before answering, “Sex Sookie. S-E-X SEX!”
I felt my face crinkle until she gave me the evil eye, watching her Mary Kay masterpiece getting ruined, but I still managed to say, “Even if Eric and I were doing you know what, I still would’ve showered afterwards.”
My mind unhelpfully flashed to a dream I’d had of a certain vampire in a shower with me, so I used my hands to start fanning my overheated face, before I ended up looking like a melted kewpie doll.
But Pam just shook her head at me, saying, “You’ve been Eric’s pet for two weeks now. You could soak yourself in a vat of bleach overnight and I would still be able to smell Eric’s seed in you.”
The donor lounge must be very fragrant.
“Pam,” I began. “If this is your way of telling me that I need to have sex with Eric, then I’ll just go and take off this gown right now!”
“That’s the spirit, Sookie!” she cheered, making me realize that was totally taken out of context.
“NO PAM!” I whisper shouted. “I meant that I just won’t go!”
Vampires and their gutter minds!
“Well,” she said dejectedly, “I am disappointed for him, but that wasn’t what I was going to suggest, although I’m sure Eric would be more than willing to fulfill that particular request. What I was going to suggest was you taking more of his blood.”
I almost balked at the suggestion, but then I remembered Quinn thinking that I didn’t smell like I’d had sex with Eric and asked, “But won’t that smell different. Blood versus…you know…sex.”
I whispered the last word, hoping Eric was too busy to eavesdrop on our conversation.
“Yes, but it’s better than nothing and you only had a little bit the first time, so even I can’t smell it on you now.”
“It’s gone?” I asked.
I should’ve asked Eric more about it, but it hadn’t come up in conversation after that first time and now I was even more certain that perhaps my feelings for Eric were genuine.
“Eric can still sense you, but he has to be close. He…” she paused and her eyes darted to my closed door before adding in a whisper, “was not… pleased when he couldn’t feel you last night, after learning you’d gone.”
He was worried about me.
He hadn’t answered my question, but in my mind, Pam had just confirmed it.
It was enough to tip the scales, so I agreed, “Okay. I’ll do it.”
“You should be wearing his mark also, so you should let him feed off of you too,” she added quickly and darted out of the room.
Stupid vampire speed!
I hightailed it out of my room to find Pam, when I nearly tripped over something.
I believe it could have very well been my jaw, since Eric was standing there in a custom made tuxedo.
The man’s rear end was made to be encased in the blue jeans he normally wore – not that I would ever admit it to anyone, sometimes not even to myself – but I actually liked the fact that he was a jeans and t-shirt kind of King. It endeared him to me even more.
But good Lord that man could rock a tuxedo.
When my eyes finally made their way up his body to his eyes, I was sure he’d be giving me some sort of smirk, alerting me to the fact he felt my…appreciation of his appearance.
There was no smirk.
There was nothing but pure want on his face, as his eyes kept traveling over my dress, until they finally bored into my own.
I vaguely noticed Pam standing off to the side of us, but I couldn’t take my eyes from his. I imagine I would’ve felt uncomfortable if any other man – vampire or not – had looked at me that way.
In fact, I had felt uncomfortable many times by men leering at me when I worked at Merlotte’s, but this was something entirely different.
For the first time a man was looking at me like he wanted me above all others and I actually felt the same way.
Was I really going to do this?
But was I really going to let him bite me and take more of his blood in return?
What would it mean?
Eric’s voice broke me from my thoughts by saying, “Pam tells me that she thinks we should exchange blood.”
Of course she did.
Stupid superfast Swedish speaker.
He hadn’t blinked yet – so his eyes were likely just as dry as my mouth suddenly felt – and I just nodded in return.
“And how do you feel about her idea?” he asked.
I forced myself to look away and tried to get my mind working enough to ask, “What would it mean? What would it do if I took more of your blood and you had mine?”
He took a step closer that should’ve had me taking a step back, but instead my body leaned forward towards his.
He was close enough to touch me, but he hadn’t yet and I had to strain my neck to look up at him when he answered, “It would strengthen our bond. I would be able to feel you over greater distances, but it would fade over time like the weak one we have now.”
“Would I be able to feel you too?” I asked, pushing away the ‘why’s’ of me feeling hopeful at the thought.
He shook his head softly, answering, “No. We would have to exchange blood three times for that to happen and it would not fade over time. It would be permanent.”
I tried to think it through.
I really, really did.
It didn’t sound so bad. Eric could already feel me and since he’d had to fly all the way out to Bon Temps to find me the night before, then it couldn’t hurt if he could feel me better if someone had kidnapped me.
And he said it would fade over time – so really – if we only exchanged blood this one time, it wouldn’t hurt anything.
Supposedly some of those demon people were going to be there tonight, so it only made sense that I would be better protected, if Eric could find me through his blood if something went wrong.
I’d seen in those donor’s minds how much they seemed to enjoy it when they were bitten, so I didn’t think Eric would hurt me.
And he’d been feeding me this whole time, so it was just being hospitable to return the favor.
“Sookie?” he asked softly, trailing his cool fingertips down the side of my overheated face and somehow managing to set my whole body on fire.
“Yes?” I breathed out, only to see him cock his eyebrow questioningly back at me.