All thoughts of what Eric and I almost did out in the woods left me when I watched Clancy’s unexpected true death. I hadn’t been around vampires for very long, but I’d been around Eric long enough by now to know from his expression vampires didn’t normally explode for no obvious reason. And I’d been around the rest of them for long enough to feel uncomfortable when – one by one – their eyes slowly came to rest on me.
And I suddenly felt like a juicy turkey about to be carved on Thanksgiving Day.
Maybe if I prayed long enough, they would lose interest and go back to watching the football game?
Jason always did.
Eric must’ve felt the slight breeze from the vampires around us shaking out their mental napkins in preparation for feeding on the only human in the bunch because he stalked forward, claiming the wishbone for himself by declaring, “You will all feed on TruBlood until we can make arrangements to procure bagged blood. I suspect the human population within the immediate vicinity has been inoculated with something from their research labs that would cause…this.”
He gestured at the Clancy puddle and added, “I will make arrangements for blood to be delivered from the north, but let me remind you. Sookie Stackhouse is mine. Any who lay finger or fang on her will meet the same fate as Clancy.”
No one challenged him or even narrowed their eyes at his declaration, but that didn’t mean bupkis to me. There had been plenty of times I’d heard the most outrageous thoughts in someone’s head and hadn’t let on a thing with my outward expression.
If I had then Rene would’ve known to move Eric before I could rescue him.
So even though the vampires left in our group seemed obedient, I couldn’t afford to let my guard down. I could also do bupkis to stop them if they tried to feed on me, so I hoped Eric wouldn’t mind having a Sookie shaped shadow.
And thankfully he didn’t complain when that was exactly what he had for the rest of the night.
Always within just a few feet of him, I watched as Eric formed and sent out teams made up of three vampires each. Some were told to get rations for our little ragtag militia. Gas for the vehicles and generators. TruBlood (if they came across any), water, and anything else that didn’t need to be refrigerated. We had enough to get by for a few days, but he wanted to be prepared. The others were sent out to spy in and around the closest towns. They could hear a prairie dog fart three football fields away, so their plan was to go sneaking around the subdivisions, hoping to hear something from the occupants on the off-chance it had to do with the government facility. It was a longshot, but it was still a shot at getting some sort of information. At least until Alcide and I could ‘breakdown’ near their employees’ meeting point come daybreak.
None of the teams had to be reminded not to feed on the local population. Clancy’s puddle was reminder enough.
Watching Eric at work leading our little band of rescuers was a sight to behold. I didn’t know much of anything about his past, but I suspected this wasn’t the first time he’d been the designated leader. He seemed to bear the weight on his shoulders with ease, but there was still an underlying tension in and around his eyes. His lips – which I knew firsthand, were both hard and soft – were drawn tightly while he spoke with the Colonel. They were two sides of the same coin really, with each of them worried for their kind. I couldn’t imagine the pressure either one of them was under, but Eric especially with not only his child in danger, but his entire race.
All because of my race.
I did what I could in helping to set up the camp, but my strength was nothing compared to a bunch of vampires and Weres. It maybe should’ve given me pause, but it didn’t. They were just different, like me.
But they deserved to be treated fairly, like me.
Maybe that was why when my body finally gave out, unable to sustain two all-nighters in a row, I was able to fall asleep – the only human in the middle of a wall of supernaturals, preparing for war.
I couldn’t have felt safer.
“Lover,” I heard gently murmured into my ear.
I’d crawled into the backseat of Eric’s SUV for my high level classified meeting with the sandman, but I didn’t need my eyes to know the owner of the voice, even without the premature use of the name he’d chosen to wake me with.
Stupid Clancy. Ruining my chance at making that name a truthful one.
“It is nearly daybreak,” he whispered and nuzzled the side of my head. “You and the wolf will need to head out soon if you are to be in place for when the others arrive.”
“What time is it?” I asked, with my eyes still closed.
Not that it mattered, but it was an automatic response. I had no idea what time I’d gone to sleep, but no amount of hours seemed like it would be long enough for me. The earliest I’d ever had to be in to work was ten o’clock, so I wasn’t used to anti-vampire Doctor Mengele hours.
“Just after five. Sunrise is at six twenty-two this morning and it will take you about twenty minutes to drive there,” he replied, rubbing his hand up and down my back. His actions were only succeeding in putting me back to sleep until he added, “Here. The wolf said this should help.”
My olfactory senses were filled with the smell of coffee and I popped one eye open, before pulling myself up into a seated position and took the offered mug with a grateful, “Thank you.”
The strong brew was bitter, but it would do the trick in waking me up, so I forced the black liquid down my throat. Eric merely watched, not saying another word with his lips, but his eyes spoke volumes.
He was worried.
“I’ll be fine,” I offered, breaking the silence. “We’re not storming the gates. We’re just sitting there on the periphery so I can sift through their heads.”
His eyes continued to noiselessly argue with me. I imagined if I could hear his thoughts there would be a lot of swearing and snarling. His two blue orbs were practically finger wagging at me, telling me, “You’d better, missy!” But knowing he would only relax once he rose for the evening and saw me there, safe and sound, I let him.
When his unspoken squabbling appeared to be over, he nodded and said, “I will attempt to resist the pull of dawn for as long as I am able. If I feel you are injured or frightened in any way, I will alert Flood and they will come for you.”
No pressure there.
“What if I get frightened just hearing their thoughts?” I asked. I couldn’t lock down my emotions like some ancient vampires I knew. I could very well have a popcorn tossing diving underneath the blanket horror movie reaction on the inside if I were to see Pam’s turn coming up on the chopping block in someone’s thoughts.
But knowing it would also be the catalyst for breaking my, “We’re just going to sit there,” promise – because I would not just sit there if that were the case – I countered, “How about you just send the Calvary if you feel that I’m in pain. Like a lot of pain, not just a stubbed toe kind of pain.”
Just my luck, I’d accidentally hit my funny bone on the truck door and we’d have a pack of wolves descending on us.
“You are plotting,” he surmised after another long moment of silence, sifting through my emotions, while I admittedly plotted scenarios in which I could rescue Pam during the day while he was dead. He may as well have been a telepath for as good as he could read me.
“I get it from you,” I smiled innocently in return.
His eyes narrowed back at me and his voice became slightly accented with his rising anger, as he ordered, “You will go. You will listen. You will return unharmed. You will not attempt to make contact with anyone. You will listen to the wolf. If he says there is danger, you will not go against him and put yourself in harm’s way.”
Eric must have been a psychic too because he was about to have some not-so-silent finger wagging in his immediate future when he pulled me from the truck and caged me in his arms as he said, “You risked your life once already in coming to rescue me. I will not have you harmed.” I looked up in time to see him grimace when he added, “Again.”
Seeing the worry on his face, I holstered my wagging finger, and huffed out, “Fine. I’ll go. I’ll listen. I’ll return. No cage matches or duels at ten paces at high noon for Sookie. I promise.”
A tumbleweed blew by just then, only adding to the John Wayne picture I’d just painted, when as he walked me towards Alcide’s truck, he finally smirked and said, “I am glad we have finally reached an accord.”
Gesturing to the F-150 in front of us, I smirked back, “Alcide drives a Ford, not a Honda.”
My ass could be just as smart as his.
And I could tell his ass was still smarting when he was forced to watch Alcide and me drive away from the camp. It was sweet that he worried for me, but I was looking forward to being of more help than simply stacking canned goods. We wanted to be there before any of the others showed up because it was hard to stage a breakdown with a bunch of witnesses watching us drive up with no problem. But since we doubted any of them would be traveling during the hours of darkness, we hoped we’d have an edge.
I may as well have hoped for my fairy godmother to appear and wave her magic wand, bringing peace and harmony to the world while we all enjoyed an ice cold bottle of Coke next to the frolicking polar bears.
“There are a dozen of them. Human, not Weres,” I whispered. We still appeared to be the only ones on the road and were alone within the confines of his truck, but the windows were rolled down and it felt like a whispering kind of moment nonetheless.
One too many spy movies, I supposed.
“What?” he asked, automatically slowing down the truck’s speed. “Where?”
“Just around that bend,” I whispered again, un-holstering my finger and pointing at the obvious bend in the road ahead of us. “They’re soldiers, I think. They seem to be keeping a lookout for signs of trouble in order to protect the employees who are on their way in. They’re armed.” And when I realized from one of their minds they’d already registered the sound of our truck, quickly followed by the brightness of the headlights, I gasped, “We’ve been spotted.”
“Well, shit,” he sighed.
I silently agreed.
We could have just kept on driving, pretending to mind our own business. I could read from some of their heads, that was what they were expecting us to do when they didn’t recognize Alcide’s truck as belonging to any of the employees. Now that we knew we couldn’t fake car trouble, Alcide had maintained his speed as we approached the designated meeting spot, but I couldn’t let the opportunity go to waste. We needed to find out something about them and I refused to return to Eric empty handed, so I grabbed Alcide’s hand and gave it a squeeze as I whispered, “Just follow my lead,” before let go of him and screamed as loud as I could, “STOP!”
“What?” he asked in surprise, but thankfully his foot at least had followed my command and we came to a jarring halt in the middle of the road.
I threw the door open and wretched myself free from the seatbelt before hopping out and began pacing up and down the side of the road, yelling like a madwoman, “I can’t believe you cheated on me!”
“Soo…zanne, get back in the truck!” he pleaded from his seat.
We hadn’t gone over any potential cover stories or fake names, but at least he’d had the foresight to stop himself from calling me Sookie.
I’d never wanted to be named Jane more in my life.
“No Alan! I’m done with your lies and your cheating ways! I can’t believe you’d think I’d still be willing to marry you after admitting you slept with my sister!” I shrieked.
The guards had been on alert the moment the truck skidded to a stop, but I could tell from their thoughts they were enjoying our impromptu show more than worrying over our unexpected presence. One of them even had an ‘atta boy’ moment for Alcide, having given him props for nailing sisters.
Alcide quickly picked up on what I was trying to do and winked at me through the open door right as he yelled back, “It was an honest mistake! You’re twins for Christ’s sake!”
That statement got Alcide three more silent ‘atta boys’ and a unanimous consensus he was a lucky bastard. Why men always thought it was perfectly logical for twin sisters to want to have a threesome with a guy was beyond me, but if it would keep them from being suspicious of our motives, I could pretend we were on the set of Jerry Springer.
I was thankful the sun hadn’t yet fully risen over the horizon, so being bathed in the dawn’s red light helped to hide the fact I was blushing to the high heavens as I yelled back, “I only said you could have sex with her when I was there and we only did that on weekends! You fucked her on a Monday! Monday! How could you be confused over the day of the week?”
“It was a holiday so I thought it was allowed!” he yelled back, but it was with difficulty. If he’d gotten out of the truck, it would’ve been easy to see it was taking everything he had not to fall on the ground in laughter.
I turned away from him, so I wouldn’t fall victim to his contagious amusement, and resumed my pacing while snarling out, “Which is it? You thought she was me or you thought you had a Federal holiday free fuck pass?”
A line of other cars were heading towards us from both directions, so Alcide pulled his truck over to the side of the road to get out of their way. He got out and put himself directly in front of me, pretending to try to calm me down, and whispered, “Are you getting anything from them?”
“You mean other than them all wishing they could be you?” I whispered back, trying to hold back my smile.
He reached out to grab onto my arms, so I yelled, “Don’t touch me!” and added in another whisper, “I’ll only hear your thoughts if you touch me.”
He acted like the distraught boyfriend by snatching his hands back and running them through his hair, while I sifted through every head I could. The guards were back to concentrating on looking for threats now that they couldn’t hear what we were saying to one another, but we couldn’t just stand there forever. Alcide had the same thoughts because he said, “I have an idea. Get in the truck.”
I could already hear what his plan was, so I did as he asked without another word and watched as he climbed into the driver’s seat. He turned the ignition key enough to make the engine start to turn over, but not enough to actually start it. After doing it a couple of more times, he banged his fist on the steering wheel and got out again, raising the hood.
It was while he was playing mechanic that I felt two red snarly minds and one semi-opaque one approaching from the rear.
Two Weres and a shapeshifter, if I had to guess.
I turned slightly in my seat to see the Subaru Outback pull up alongside us. The window went down and I felt Alcide internally stiffen when we heard the female of the group – the shapeshifter – ask, “Everything okay?”
Alcide’s supernatural sniffer told him the driver and two passengers were other, just like him, but I could tell from his thoughts he wasn’t sure of anything except that the two Weres were wolves. I briefly wondered if the female shapeshifter preferred to turn into a collie like Sam, but she wasn’t thinking about it, so I had no clue. But thanks to having Eric’s blood I could hear the female softly warn, “It’s not safe for you to be here. You’d do well to be on your way.”
She was thinking about it not being safe for them either and how hard they’d had to work to get themselves into the facility to keep an eye on what was going on. Weres hadn’t been discovered yet – like we’d feared – and they were doing what they could to make sure it remained that way.
They didn’t have any thoughts that led me to believe they were concerned for the vampires being held captive though.
In fact, none of the humans quickly filling the parking lot had any reservations or guilt in their roles in what was happening to the imprisoned vampires. The best I could tell, there were a lot of scientists. And, the best I could tell, they didn’t view the prisoners as sentient beings, but as lab rats they could use and discard at their leisure. They were excited and proud to have been selected to work there and felt privileged to have so many resources at their disposal.
And very little oversight on how they chose to perform their experiments.
It made me want to vomit.
Knowing the guards wouldn’t be able to overhear our subdued conversation, I slid across the bench seat to the driver’s side and said, “We’re here to rescue the vampires. We need your help.”
She looked shocked I’d said it aloud, like saying vampire was the equivalent of saying Voldemort.
Would it have been better if I’d said He Who Shall Not Rise In The Daytime?
“What makes you think we would help you?” she asked incredulously.
So I returned her skeptical question with one of my own, asking, “What makes you think Weres won’t be next?”
Her eyes narrowed at me and I could tell she was nervous spending so much time talking to us, so she motioned for the driver to pull over. They got out of the car, under the pretense of the Were helping Alcide with the engine trouble, while she strolled over to the window to talk to me.
“What kind of help are we talking about?” she asked.
“It would be perfect if you could find us a way inside the facility where they’re keeping the vampires,” I replied hopefully.
“Well I’m not in the business of making your life perfect,” she snapped back.
Somebody needed their morning cup a Joe and a bottle of Midol, stat.
She was a small Hispanic woman with gobs of dark course hair and milky caramel skin. Dark freckles dotted her face and she could have been pretty if it weren’t for the snarl on her face, but I returned the harsh look when she sniffed the air in between us and asked, “Who do you belong to? I can smell vamp on you, but I don’t recognize the scent.”
“I don’t have to tell you that,” I huffed in response.
I wasn’t about to give away Eric’s identity when we still couldn’t be sure we could trust them.
She didn’t seemed put off by my less than gracious reply and instead to looked to Alcide and asked, “What pack do you run with.”
He’d of course overheard our conversation and merely jutted his chin in my direction and answered, “What she said.”
Seemingly fed up with our run around, she took a step back and said, “Well, whoever you are, you tell your vamps that we have this place under surveillance and we don’t need them sticking their noses in where they don’t belong.”
“And who is we?” I asked, ignoring her stupidity that vampires wouldn’t be concerned with what was going on there.
Even if she didn’t answer me aloud, I hoped to pick it up from her head, but I didn’t have to worry about it because she answered truthfully – if not proudly – “The shapeshifters of the greater Dallas area.” At my raised Eric-brow, she further explained, “After the mess our area’s vamps left us with, we decided we needed to be proactive when it came to human/supernatural dealings.”
I could tell she was getting ready to bolt, so I took a chance and pleaded, “Our vampires are being held captive. Awful things could be happening to them. Please…we need your help.”
The Were standing beside Alcide dropped the hood, signifying our meeting was drawing to a close, but I breathed a small sigh of relief hearing her thoughts, just as she said, “We can meet up later on tonight, but I’m not making any promises and we’re not putting our necks on the line for you. I’ll tell you what we know, but that’s it.”
That was more than we could’ve hoped for, but I wasn’t about to give away our location. Sure, she could shift into a hawk and fly overhead if she wanted to find our base camp, but I certainly wasn’t about to give her directions there.
I wasn’t going to put our neck on the lines for her either.
But it turned out I didn’t have to because she quickly spouted off the location of an abandoned building about ten miles west of where we were and said she’d meet us there at eight. As an afterthought, she added, “And tell your guys it’s not safe to feed on the locals. Most of them have been injected with a serum they cooked up in the lab that’s innocuous to humans, but can make vamps have a really bad night if they feed on them. And steer clear of any TruBlood with lot numbers starting with the number six. It’s got the same stuff inside of it and it’s undetectable by scent or taste.”
It was just as Eric had suspected what happened to Clancy and I was still absorbing all of the information from both her words and thoughts, so it wasn’t until she was climbing back into her car that it occurred to me I didn’t know her name. So I called out to her retreating back, “Thank you, Miss?”
I’d left it as a question. One she decided to answer aloud after I’d already gotten it from her thoughts when she said, “Garza. Luna Garza.”
We watched them drive off and into the parking lot where the bus was now waiting for the employees to gather inside. Alcide started the truck and pulled back onto the interstate, driving north to where we already knew there would be an intersection where we could double back, using a different road to return back to the camp and asked, “So is she on the up and up?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I think she is.”
And as much as I tried to keep my emotions in check, I couldn’t help but feel relieved and hoped it would give Eric a sign he could finally go to rest.
Because I finally had a reason to feel like we just might be able to pull this off.