From the time I’d left her on her front porch, until the time I’d returned to it the following night, I’d managed to convince myself that my only purpose in being there was to find evidence that would either verify or refute her venefican claims.
If it was true, then she would be a valuable asset to any vampire. For all I knew veneficas were nature’s antidote to the likes of my kind because it was as if everything about her had been made to lure us in.
Her bright blond hair and golden skin, with eyes as blue as a bright summer’s day, mimicked the shining warmth of the one star in the sky that was denied to all vampires. But her true attraction was scent.
Sweetened like honeysuckle and clean like a spring’s rain, the aroma she carried with her demanded notice.
If the wind had carried it across the field a week earlier, it was likely what had led Compton and the others to put themselves in her path.
All I would have to do was slip her into the donor pool of any of my enemies.
All they would have to do was slip their fangs into her skin.
And then splat.
However, if her claims were in reality the misguided beliefs of a girl cursed with nothing more than bad luck, well then my investigation into the deaths of four of my kind wasn’t yet over.
Someone would answer for them.
But with her immunity to glamour, I was left with no choice but to try and solve the puzzle through other means. Of course I had a variety of ways in which to persuade her to tell the truth, but I found I wasn’t willing to use any of the more conventional methods.
So I told myself it had more to do with avoiding the temptation the spilled blood of a true venefica would be, rather than my unwillingness to use more conventional methods to spill it.
However, I had a plan and came prepared to find out if her venefican claim was true nonetheless.
But standing at her front door, prepared to be the Sheriff of Area Five, I found that persona falling away the moment her voice sang out to me. I didn’t know what it was about this woman that turned me into a fool, but she had a way of putting me at ease that I seemed to have no defense against.
Perhaps it was a part of her allure.
As fascinated as I was by her, I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly it was that intrigued me about her. But the simple truth was I’d enjoyed her company.
And I wanted to fuck her.
After all, my nose wasn’t the only appendage that was drawn to her.
I liked our easy banter. I liked the blush my dirty innuendo caused to heat her skin. But all it took was seeing her tears and hearing her simple want for a friend for me to realize just how fragile this little vampire killer was.
I could work with that.
Both her fragility and friendship.
But seeing the caution behind her eyes as she stared back at me, I knew first I had to do damage control. So I stood up from my knees and pulled her back down onto the couch with me, simply saying, “Tell me more about your work.”
I’d learned the night before that asking her too many questions about her ‘curse’ was the quickest way to get her to shut down. But I’d done my due diligence in our short time apart and had already learned enough about her history from my background investigation for now.
Her mother had died during childbirth, along with her stillborn twin brother. She’d lived with her father until the age of five when he was discovered dead in their home, with Sookie the only witness.
According to the autopsy report, a seemingly healthy Corbett Stackhouse had spontaneously died from an undetermined cause.
According to the police report, a five year old Sookie Stackhouse had spontaneously confessed to the crime.
Of course the police had given no weight to the confessions of a hysterical child and she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother, Adele Stackhouse, whose home we now sat in. And it was in this very house where another death occurred – again with a now seven year old Sookie being the sole witness – when her great uncle, her grandmother’s brother Bartlett Hale, had died while being her caregiver one day.
Again, she had confessed to the crime.
Only that time she’d shown absolutely no remorse.
In a town so small, rumors had begun to circulate about the girl, so the grandmother had pulled her out of the public education system to teach her from home. Her only social outlet had been church and it was there that another death had occurred in her sole presence.
A child this time, eleven year old Tara Thornton fell dead, while sharing a cupcake on Sookie’s eleventh birthday.
No one besides the local authorities had seen much of her since that day. And aside from the occasional trespasser call – the majority of them initiated by Sookie herself on Mischief Night – the last time the police had any interaction with her had been seven years ago when her grandmother had passed away.
The medical examiner’s report determined Adele Stackhouse had died in her sleep from natural causes. And at the age of eighty-two, they’d seen no need to perform an actual autopsy, but given Sookie’s claims, I couldn’t discount her death as easily.
So at the age of seventeen, Sookie had been left to raise herself. Having inherited her grandmother’s house, she lived off of the savings the woman had left behind – more substantial than expected since she hadn’t spent a penny of the proceeds from the sale of her son’s – Sookie’s father’s – house and instead had raised her granddaughter using her own meager earnings.
But instead of wallowing in her grief or self-pity, she earned her GED and then her college degree via online classes. I knew she did freelance work as a fact checker from home for several large publication houses, but I hadn’t the time to dig very deep into her finances and was curious about the parts that made Sookie Stackhouse a whole. She appeared to earn a decent living and she carried no debt, instead living below her means.
It was impressive given the lifestyles of her peers where ‘more’ and ‘instant gratification’ seemed to be the mantra of her generation.
Starting off with the topic of her work seemed to put her at ease even more and she shrugged as she said, “I have a few articles I’m working through, but nothing too exciting. I’m more interested in your work. Tell me more about your bar.”
“There’s nothing too exciting to tell you about that either,” I chuckled. “Unless you find ridiculously dressed and vapid humans exciting.”
She giggled, with more than just my ears registering the sound of it, and I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, while she said, “Trust me. With the exception of last week, they are infinitely more exciting than the nightlife to be found around here.”
“Miss Stackhouse,” I playfully scoffed and then teased, “Are you saying that my presence here isn’t exciting?”
I could show her a bar full of ridiculously dressed and vapid humans who would disagree.
“Eh…” she shrugged. But the slow upturn in the corners of her lips gave away her amusement, when she said, “From my – albeit limited – experience with vampires, you seem to be on the tame side.”
Again, unbidden laughter erupted from my chest before I looked back at her and replied, “But as you said, you like this couch and are woefully deplete in your supply of OxiClean. I’m merely taking into account the wants and limitations of my host.”
Another giggle left her full pink lips and while I was undeniably attracted to her, my attraction wasn’t limited to either her beauty or her scent. While youthful in her physical appearance, there was an old soul living behind her eyes. One that had seen far more hardship than seemed fair.
I felt a kinship to her.
One that defied logic or reason.
We were both alone and yet not. I had Pam, but it was only a matter of time before she ventured out on her own again. She’d only returned to my side because I’d wanted her close by when we revealed ourselves to the humans. She only stayed now because of the bar, but that would only hold her interest for a few more years and then I would be left alone again.
Unless I had someone else around who easily held my attention.
And perhaps it was feeling that connection to her that had me warning her, “One of your previous – more exciting – guests was in the employ of another, more politically powerful, vampire. She will wonder soon enough about his whereabouts when he doesn’t check in with her and as the area sheriff, sooner, rather than later, I will have to inform her he is missing.”
I had no way of knowing if Compton had told the queen of his desire to seek out his former home, but I wouldn’t have put it past him.
Not when he couldn’t seem to move past the year he’d been made vampire in 1868.
Her heartbeat – now speeding up at an exponential rate – was the only movement I could detect coming from her, until she swallowed whatever had built up in her throat and said, “You think they’ll come looking for him here.”
Not posed as a question, her statement was made as a fact.
While Sookie lived a solitary lifestyle, it seemed she wasn’t blind to the ways of the world.
Supe or human.
“Possibly,” I acknowledged. “I’ve removed any evidence of their presence next door, but even without the trace of their scent to lead anyone here, I’m afraid your scent will draw them in nonetheless.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked, and then turned her head to sniff her shoulder. “I got rid of my Bath & Body Works.”
Seeing her rising panic, I attempted to put her at ease again by putting my hand on her knee and a soft smile on my face, when I explained, “It has nothing to do with any lotions or soap you may have used.”
But if I could bottle her scent, I would.
I’d make a fortune.
“You smell especially sweet,” I admitted. “It’s quite possibly what drew them here that night.”
“Now who’s the S’more…” she grumbled to herself and then looked at me as she asked, “Was it Mutton Chops’ house? He’s the one that said something about living next door.”
Chuckling over her accurate description, I nodded and agreed with her deductive reasoning, “Yes. It was Mutton Chops who was looking to reacquire his former human home.”
She nodded and took a moment to process her thoughts before looking up at me as she said, “But as long as I don’t go out at night and don’t invite any of them in, I should be okay, right?”
Nodding myself, the tension in her shoulders eased only slightly, but her rigid posture snapped back into place when I reminded her, “Unless they tear your house down around you.”
“Goddamn wolves,” she growled. “What am I? The Three Little Pigs?”
I couldn’t help the smile that formed, but it disappeared just as quickly when I warned, “That’s another possibility.”
“Huh?” she asked in confusion. “You all are powerful enough you can just blow my house down?”
Seeing her mouth hanging open brought to mind other kinds of blowing to be had, but I forced myself to focus and replied, “Not quite, but wolves wouldn’t need an invitation in order to enter your house and vampires of any standing have several in their employ.”
“Jesus,” she sighed. “Is Cesar Milan a vampire too? What the hell? Fricken wolf whisperers…”
I didn’t know who this Cesar Milan was, but realizing she wasn’t well-versed in the supernatural world, I explained, “Not actual wolves, but werewolves.”
Her body froze, with her eyes locked onto mine, as though she was trying to glamour me.
And I may have blinked on the off-chance it was in the nature of a venefica to be able to do just that.
“Werewolves,” she eventually uttered, still seeming uncertain.
So I nodded again and added, “One of many supernatural species that roam the earth.”
Surprising me with the suddenness of it – a feat, in and of itself – she shot up off of the couch and strode from the room, calling out over her shoulder, “Are you sure I can’t get you anything to drink?”
Returning moments later, with a party on a platter, I watched – both mesmerized and amused – as she licked the salt from moistened wrist, threw back the shot of tequila, and then shoved a lemon wedge in her mouth.
Speaking around the peel, she was unapologetic as she said, “I’d offer you some, but I doubt you’d want any.”
But seeing the lemon reminded me of my initial musings when I’d first come across her scent and what it had put me in mind of.
And wondering if her seemingly lacking knowledge of the supernatural world was a show for my benefit, I stared into her eyes, looking for any sign of deception, when I said, “A lemon would kill a fairy.”
The lemon wedge went flying out of her mouth and she didn’t appear any more contrite when it bounced off of my chest and into my lap as she gasped, “Fairies?”
“Yes,” I smiled, with my eyes looking from hers, to the eviscerated lemon wedge still sitting in my lap, and back again.
Her eyes had followed the path of my own and she snatched it back before grabbing the salt shaker and shaking her head as she said, “Oh boy…that calls for another round.”
By the time I’d listed the rest of the different kinds of supernatural species I knew of, Sookie was well on her way to what I suspected would be a spectacular hangover in the morning.
“Shifters…” she slurred, so it had sounded more like ‘shirfters’, and then she giggled, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
The liquor was loosening up more than just her tongue, so I pried a little more and said, “The bar in this town is owned by a shifter.” And when her glassy eyes made their way back to me, I added, “Sam Merlotte. Do you know him?”
“Of him,” she admitted and then her eyes dropped to her lap when she confessed, “I’ve never been there. I don’t go out. Not like that.”
“What do you mean, ‘not like that’?”
“Like that,” she huffed and got even huffier when I took the bottle of tequila away from her. She’d given up on the salt and lemons six shots ago, but I still had questions.
Ones she wouldn’t be able to answer if she was passed out.
She shook her fist at my challenging eyebrow, mumbling something about duct tape, and then said, “I don’t go out like that. I don’t socialize with anyone unless it’s in an online chatroom.”
Her arm swung wildly and nearly took out a lamp on the end table, as she pointed out the window and went on with, “I grow my own vegetables. I only go out very late at night or very early in the morning to buy what I can’t order online. Fruit. Milk. Cheese. I’d cut out the middle man and just buy my own cow if I didn’t fear for its life in my presence. I’d rather buy my steak than butcher the meat myself.”
Her eyes were glassy from more than just the alcohol when she seemed to shrink in on herself and ended with, “So yeah. I know about Merlotte’s, but I’ve never been there.”
“Do you drink often?”
The question came out before I could question my own judgment for asking. But the thought of her drowning her sorrows in a bottle of tequila on any given night didn’t sit well.
I didn’t want to question the wisdom behind my thoughts on that either.
“No,” she sighed and then seemed to brighten when she giggled, “If I did, I would think my tolerance level would be higher.”
And once again I ignored the irrationality over the amount of relief her rationale had provided me.
But it seemed she wasn’t the only one experiencing impaired judgment because looking at her, both fragile and strong in so many ways, I found myself saying, “I want you to have some of my blood.”
“Say what?” she asked and snickered, “There’s only one vampire on this couch and, according to him, he’s already been refreshed this evening.”
Sitting up, she looked completely amused and rambled, “You said you sit on a throne, right? So is your bar like the vampire equivalent of Burger King? You go there so you can have it your way? Do you line them up under heat lamps and then rotate them out after fifteen minutes?”
“You could equate them to fast food,” I chuckled in agreement.
And my evening’s meal had seemed particularly nasty since I couldn’t shake the memory of the scent of the tasty morsel in front of me.
But getting us both back on track, I explained, “But if you drink my blood, I will be able to sense your emotions. If someone comes looking for you, I will be able to feel your fear and come to your aid.”
And I would know if she was telling me the truth.
Of course there was more our blood could do, but I wasn’t willing to share everything yet, not yet knowing if she was being truthful with me.
But never one to not use an advantage in my favor, I added, “It is what friends do, yes? Look out for one another?”
Another side effect of taking my blood would mean her hangover would be nonexistent in the morning, something one friend would likely do for the other, but that would require a more in depth explanation.
One I wasn’t prepared to give just yet.
“Why would you do that?” she whispered, with her eyes cast downward. “Why do you care what happens to me?”
I wasn’t prepared to explain that either.
Mainly because I would have to figure out the answer for myself first.
But the tone was getting too heavy for my liking, so I fell back to our earlier banter and injected a flirty tone to my voice when I answered, “We’re friends and with any luck, one day I’ll convince to you be a friend with benefits.”
My ploy seemed to work when she snorted and nudged me with her bare foot, as she admonished, “Jesus, you have a one track mind.”
“Would you like to see where that track ends?” I grinned, with my eyes darting to my zipper and back up again. “The train is in the station right now.”
“Sorry,” she giggled and then covered her lap with her hands, saying, “This tunnel is closed, so I’m afraid yours is the little engine that couldn’t.”
My hands dropped to my lap as well, only my fingers went to the button of my jeans, as I playfully scoffed, “Little engine? I’ll show you little engine…”
She lunged forward with a snort and started slapping my hands away, laughing out, “Fine! Fine! You have a freight train and you’re not afraid to use it!”
But then sobering up a moment later, she whispered out, “But you should be.”
Not caring to hear any more conjecture about her possibly venifican vagina, I grabbed her hands and used them to pull her into my lap. And when it no longer appeared she would skitter away the moment I let go of her, I tilted her chin up so that she would look me in the eyes and said, “One thing at a time. Friends first. Benefits later.”
Her skin was already flushed from her tequila dinner, but it heated up a fraction more before she shook her head and said with a roll of her eyes, “Whatever.”
Again, I could show her a bar full of ridiculously dressed and vapid humans who would disagree with the ease she had in rejecting an offer any of them would kill for.
The irony her rejection likely stemmed from her want to not kill me wasn’t lost on me either.
And it may have been part of the reason why I easily bit into my wrist and offered her something no other human had ever been given.
She immediately shied away, so I made sure to wrap my other arm around her body and softly explained, “It is the only way I’ll be able to know if you are in danger.”
“They came out with this handy new invention called a telephone, you know,” she grumbled. “I could use it to phone a friend.”
But when she realized I wasn’t going to give in so easily, she finally stuttered out, “That…that’s not it. I, uh…my saliva. If it seeped into your open wound…”
That she mentioned it at all made me suspect she’d had her own suspicions about the way her supposed curse worked. But not knowing if her concerns were valid ones, I decided I wouldn’t be careless enough to take any risks associated with my ignorance.
So I simply nodded and grabbed her shot glass, giving her more than necessary by filling it to the brim, and then offered it to her saying, “Don’t linger. Just throw it back and swallow.”
Normally blood had to be taken directly from the source for the benefits of being able to sense the human’s location and emotions to work. ‘V’ didn’t work in the same way. While it still had the ability to strengthen, heal, and alter the minds of humans, it didn’t allow the donor – willing or otherwise – be able to sense the user.
I could only hope the immediacy of her drinking mine would work in my favor.
Holding up the glass, her eyes turned to me with her toast of, “To the ones that love us most, and the others who just hate, may we always know the difference, when they are standing in our face.”
I’d heard a variety of toasts over my lifetime, but somehow hers seemed to affect me more than I would have expected.
Guilt, among other things, rose up inside of me.
But when she tipped the glass to her lips and swallowed the contents, her emotions managed to swallow up my own when they washed through me.
Hope and suspicion.
It was like looking into a mirror.
Shaking her head against the lightheadedness I could feel working its way through her body, she smiled and said, “You, sir, pack a punch.”
Using my hold on her hips to shift her in my lap, I smiled and said, “That’s not all I’m packing.”
She let out a giggling whoop and said, “Throw the brakes, Mr. Conductor! This tunnel is still closed.”
And I grimaced, now able to feel the veracity of her words.
She meant them.
But seeing her yawn and noticing the time for the first time that night, I figured it was time to get the final part of our business out of the way and said, “Quid pro quo, Clarice.”
“And what would that be, Hannibal?” she questioned, drunk from more than just the tequila now.
It hadn’t been by design, but I would certainly use it my advantage and answered, “I want some of your blood.”
Her brow arched and she asked, “Did you bring along any OxiClean?”
Reaching into my pocket, perhaps lingering for longer than necessary around the curve of her ass still on my lap, I pulled out the small syringe and grinned, “Care to play doctor?”
My plan was to have Ludwig run tests to see if there was any scientific truth to her claims. Even if I felt no deception from her, if and when, I questioned her, it could be merely because she believed everything she said.
I needed more confirmation than that.
“I would’ve figured you’d want to prick me with something else,” she snorted and then offered me her arm.
Finding a good vein was an intrinsic talent, but as soon as the needle broke her skin, we both reacted.
My fangs snapped down at the scent of her fresh blood and it was likely only the sound of her voice that kept me sane when she said, “Trust me, Eric. You don’t want any.”
“Speak for yourself.”
My growl turned whine wasn’t very intimidating, which she seemed to agree with as well because she laughingly said, “I’m impressed.” And with her eyes darting down to the needle still in her arm, she added, “I barely felt it.”
Pulling the now full syringe from her skin, she was quick to wipe up any spilled blood with the hem of her shirt, while I said, “Trust me. The next time we play doctor you will most certainly feel it.”
“Whatever, ya pervy jackass,” she snickered and then stared at the syringe, asking, “What are you going to do with that? Slip it into the drink of the next guy who pisses you off?”
I shouldn’t have been so surprised at her guess, given my earlier thoughts of how useful she could be when it came to my enemies, but I was.
However I was even more surprised that the thought of anyone sinking their teeth into her now repulsed me.
To put it mildly.
And it wasn’t because her blood – no matter how tempting – was potentially toxic to my kind.
More accurately, the thought of anyone touching her in such a way made me furious. Something had shifted over the course of the evening. When or why, I had no clue, but it didn’t make it any less true.
But instead of giving her any truths I wasn’t prepared to give, I only replied, “I’m going to assume you have no scientific proof of your supposed toxicity?”
So when she only shook her head in response, I further explained, “Well then I’m hoping we can both find the answers with this. I know of a supernatural doctor who is very discreet. I’ll have her run some tests and see what she can find out.”
Sookie’s eyes seemed to glaze over and I wondered if she was in the right frame of mind to take in everything I was saying, when her eyes came back into focus as she asked, “Do you think she can? Find out what’s wrong with me?”
“One can hope.”
If I hadn’t been sitting down already, the force of her hope crashing through me would’ve knocked me down.
And – quite possibly – I could have just as easily been knocked over by a feather when she leaned forward and hugged me, whispering, “Thank you, Eric. I don’t know if it’ll even work, but thank you for even trying. All I’ve ever wanted was answers.”
Feeling not only the warmth of her embrace, but the warmth of her growing affection, I was certain of at least one thing.
I would do all that I could to give her the one thing she wanted.
The truth of what she was.
But recalling an earlier truth she’d given me, I hoped to end the night on a happier note and asked, “How about tomorrow night, you come to me at the bar?”
Half of the clientele was already dead and the other half would be better off dead.
A win/win, if there ever was one.
“Like a date?” she whispered against my shoulder.
But when she pulled back, no doubt to tell me more about hazardous tunnels that were closed off, I hoped to put her at ease, when I smiled and said, “A date between friends.”
More truth than lie, all it took was seeing her face light up for me to realize I indeed meant it. Although that didn’t mean I wouldn’t want another kind of date with her.
But I was a patient vampire.
The benefits would come later.
And then we both would.