Because dying with Sookie next to me hadn’t been out of the ordinary enough, the first thing to reach my consciousness when I rose was contrasting temperatures…
One side of me was being warmed under a purring heater…
She was curled up against my side, using my chest as her pillow… perfectly content to be snuggled up with a corpse.
Sookie didn’t snore, but her sleepy breathing vibrated through my chest. Deep breaths feathered over my skin…
The diamond in her ring caught the light from the bathroom just enough to get my attention… just enough to remind me how much I enjoyed her.
But the most intense sensation came from her wrist… resting in the center of my chest as it was, her pulse drummed into me as though my heart were beating.
I closed my eyes again and let myself enjoy the feeling, peculiar and phenomenal… I wasn’t sure I’d thought about not having a heartbeat any more than I thought about having one while I was alive, but the feeling was amazing…
Another item on a long list of proof Sookie wasn’t just a passing phase… she could make me smile without trying.
I let myself get so lost in the rhythm of our heartbeat that she startled me when she spoke.
She mumbled, “What are you thinking about?” with a hint of amusement. She wasn’t quite awake enough to laugh.
How incredibly foreign it felt to be so comfortable with anyone…
But the short answer was, “You.”
She hummed as she stretched, moving her wrist away to rest on my shoulder until I moved it back. I wanted to enjoy it a little while longer.
“It’s like you were meditating. If I had to compare it to something… frosted glass, I think. Bright and still.”
“As opposed to what?”
“When you’re in a good mood, it’s like rolling fog… When you’re in a bad mood, like last night, it gets dark and… it’s like eels fighting in tar.” She wrinkled her nose and cooed, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you hate your job.”
“Not always. Last night was impossible. There were too many variables to calculate. There isn’t any reason to expect Patty would accept Shawn as he is…”
“I accept you as you are. You accept me.”
“You aren’t completely Human…”
“That’s not necessarily a factor. Nature versus nurture. I was raised by a Human…”
“An incredibly open-minded Human.”
“But a Human nonetheless. I’m not debating how rare it is since I’ve seen it first hand, but folks like Gran are out there.”
“And something could still go awry with the reunion.”
She nodded. “I’m worried too, but… wouldn’t you have killed yourself to keep things in check… if you had the chance to go home?”
“I’d like to think I would, but I remember how hungry I was.”
“Newbies are a whole new thing, huh?”
I nodded. “But to give credit where it’s due, he did an amazing job of controlling himself last night. Not just with his wife, but when Hadley sat on his lap.”
“He felt dirty.”
“Because of her age, I guess. He didn’t like having her on his lap. It made him uncomfortable. I’m with you, worrying that he’s going to try to feed from Patty. If he only has ‘eyes’ for her…”
“I might need to take him to Glamour a few times, find donors for him… I’ll need to be sure he can feed without draining his donor.”
“He’ll probably do better that way… If it’s just feeding instead of what Leland was expecting… from a straight guy, no less.”
I couldn’t help but be surprised that she wasn’t opposed to the idea.
“You don’t mind that I suggest teaching him to feed from Glamour customers?”
She groaned, “This is because I snapped at you about feeding from slaves, isn’t it?”
“I’d be curious regardless.”
“You didn’t hurt me… and who else is he going to practice on? To be honest, he’s going to need you to help him with finesse. He didn’t care about the donors Leland found, but he isn’t going to want to hurt Patty. Is it rational that I wish I had the chance to kick Leland in his junk?”
“Perfectly rational. Between how dismissive he was about Shawn’s feelings and how carelessly he risked exposure… Did I mention that Leland took Shawn to a subdivision where the houses were too close to drive a car between them? Toys and little swimming pools in both yards. It probably would have been kinder to keep Shawn in silver chains…”
She sighed, “Well, you’re the one who can help Shawn. You’re patient and you can empathize with his goals.”
“It makes a difference that I have a team of eager helpers.”
She giggled, “Sheriff Nordmann and his band of Faerie-men.”
“I have a preference for Faerie-women.”
“Tell me about it. Stackhouse girls of all ages. You’re Faerie-bait.”
I laughed, “Me? You’re blaming me?”
“Of course it’s your fault. I think we established in the first five minutes that Vampires are charming.”
“Faeries are alluring. It’s a fact.”
“You can’t blame me. I was innocent until you came along.”
“You’re still innocent. You retained your purity until someone put a ring on your finger.”
She giggled and pulled her leg up and adjusted to straddle me. “It took a charming Vampire.”
I took her hips, immediately realizing how quickly we could get sidetracked, lose an hour or six. “I think you’re neglecting to appreciate it took an alluring Faerie to send me ring shopping.”
She hummed as she adjusted and smiled down at me. “Alright… maybe I’d be willing to call it a joint effort… but only because I’m not into you because you’re a Vampire.”
I chuckled, “Good… because I’m ‘into’ you in spite of your Faeness.”
She grinned. “Can I just mention how sorry I am that I was so tuckered out last night?”
I shook my head. “It’s probably better that I don’t think about what we could have done to this room last night.”
She pouted her lip. “We shouldn’t think about ‘it’ because there isn’t enough time, huh?”
“Sadly… Will you spend the night with me again so we can make up for it?”
“I don’t know… You can probably talk me into it.”
The way she just stared down at me, biting her lip, with her hands resting on my stomach…
I sat up, instantly regretting the move, and groaned, “I can’t believe I’m about to say this…”
Before I could finish Sookie nipped my lip, trapping it between her teeth.
She giggled over her victory and lifted her arms to push her fingers through my hair.
More difficult, but I could still speak.
“We should shower and dress…”
There was a split second, as she released my lip, that I thought she was going to behave.
I was wrong…
She put her mouth to my neck and argued between nibbles, “I don’t know about you… but it doesn’t… take me… but a few minutes… to get ready… to go somewhere…”
She wasn’t being aggressive… she wasn’t trying to be seductive…
It was playful and innocent.
“We’ll be late.” All I could really do was hope she didn’t notice how much that sounded like a whimper.
“We had… less time… in the… limo.”
She made a fair point…
My breaking point came when I growled… it caused a chain reaction… goosebumps crept over her skin until she shuddered… her whole body vibrated against me and she giggled that it was all my fault.
I tossed her onto the mattress and pinned her while she laughed.
“Innocent girls don’t tease Vampires and ask for quickies.”
She rolled her eyes playfully even though she was blushing. “Do Faeries?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
She stared up at me, biting her lip for a moment before she snickered, “That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.”
“No more teasing?”
“I can’t move and you’re too far away for kissing, you big jerk. Come here.”
I inched closer and offered, “That would defeat the purpose of stopping you, would it not?”
She lifted her head as much as she could and whimpered when she couldn’t reach me. “But you didn’t want to stop me.”
That wasn’t the point.
I moved to hold both of her arms down with one hand and reached between us to begin petting her…
The way she squirmed…
I almost felt guilty for toying with her…
She whined when I finally took my hand away, but when I darted from the bed to the bathroom, she barked, “You jerk!” just as I closed the door.
I knew better than to think she’d give up… not considering how frustrated she was…
I quickly stepped into the tub and started the water just in time for her to burst through the bathroom door and warn, “You’re gonna get it.”
The way she was standing with her hip pitched to the side, with her arms crossed… She couldn’t have been more annoyed that she was being put off. Her insistence was doing nothing to help me avoid temptation.
I begrudgingly pulled the shower curtain and forced calm into my voice. “Maybe, but we have to wait until later.”
“Because I want more than half an hour with you.”
“Are you assuming that if we fool around now, I won’t spend the night?” Fool around?
“No. I’m sure that if we start fucking now, it could be dawn before I’m done with you… Blame your brother. ‘Operation Save Shawn’ is his plan.”
I heard her huff… then a quiet rustling… then a few calm footsteps… then the shower curtain was yanked open and she stepped into the tub with me.
“I’m not going to change my mind…”
She put her hand in the middle of my chest and pushed me back. “Ladies first.”
“Are you trying to tempt me?”
She turned around and adjusted the water to full cold. “No. I’m taking a quick shower and then I’m going to go to the restaurant downstairs to get a quick dinner since we have to leave at sunset.”
Sookie stood less than two feet away from me and showered as though I wasn’t there, practically ignoring me when she turned around to rinse the shampoo out of her hair and scowling at me as she opened the curtain again to leave me.
Nothing about her behavior or her mood suggested she was trying to change my mind…
So why the fuck did every move she made tempt me anyway?
Hearing the towel move over her body while she dried herself even pushed me.
I was rinsing when the doorknob turned without a word to let me know she was leaving, but when she yelped and suddenly felt petrified going to her wasn’t an option. It was automatic.
The contents of her tiny purse were scattered because she’d dropped it when she covered her mouth.
She was staring at the floor just past the threshold as though there was a coiled rattlesnake waiting for her.
She shook her head as she sobbed, “Vampire of Shreveport!”
When I stepped closer to look over her head, I saw a newspaper sitting on the floor. The front page headline of the Red River Post read, “VAMPIRE OF SHREVEPORT”
There was a long stemmed rose and a note sitting on top of the paper. “I thought you might find this interesting.” It was signed, “Your devoted minion,” but no name was left.
I had to take Sookie’s shoulders and pull her back so I could reach the newspaper to pick it up.
I kicked the door closed behind me and tossed the rose into the garbage while Sookie cried.
If I wasn’t so concerned by exposure, I would have been touched she was so frightened… as it was, I felt like I’d been hit by a train.
I’d have to leave. There wouldn’t be a choice. I’d have to leave the Area… depending on the fallout, I might have to avoid a death sentence. Even if it were safe… would Sookie go with me?
I looked at the back of the note first to see if there were any hints and other than the fact that it was written on paper from a hotel notepad just like the one on the nightstand, there was nothing.
My ‘devoted minion’ could have been anyone.
The one thing keeping me from coming unhinged was noticing the picture that the note had been obscuring.
Sookie was wrapped around me, next to the pool, chewing my neck…
When she’d teased me with a hunt…
The caption under the photo read, “After an agitated outburst that resulted in thrown furniture, the petite Sookie attacked Mr. Nordmann’s throat, leaving him paralyzed.”
The false trail towards the pool… Sookie pouncing onto my back… Sookie biting my neck until I nearly clawed through her shorts…
“Sookie, calm down.”
Her eyes pulled down to make her look more devastated. “How am I supposed to calm down?”
“Because you’re the ‘Vampire of Shreveport’.”
I nodded and held the paper up so she could see the grainy photo. “I think we should use this in our engagement announcement.”
She gave the paper an angry look and snatched it from my hand to study the page and then gasp.
She yelled, “OH HELL NO! I’m gonna beat that bitch down!”
“Rebecca Mills! YOUR stalker! This isn’t your paper though…” She gasped, “That bitch! I bet she peddled her wares until she got another job so you couldn’t hold that over her!”
As though that mattered.
“I’ll take care of it…”
She plopped down on the bed and huffed, “I’d stab her to death with a steak knife if the fat bitch didn’t have a protective layer of blubber…”
She growled well enough that Jack and his son might have been impressed…
And then she began reading…
What do we really know about the woman who seduced the most eligible bachelor in Louisiana? It isn’t as though our dear Erik Nordmann is prone to keeping company with anyone, let alone a nobody from nowhere with no past. Yes, that’s right, I said ‘no past’.
After an intensive investigation and several probing interviews, the only logical assumption is that Sookie Blanchard Stackhouse is a Vampire.
The girl who supposedly celebrated her 19th birthday last night is listed by the Bureau of Vital Statistics as a ‘home birth’, but who in this day and age does that? Her so-called parents conveniently died when she was a young child.
What’s more is that I didn’t have to look around the tiny backwater town of Bon Temps for long before I found a handful of locals who asked to remain nameless because they were all frightened of Sookie. The collective of more than twenty locals used words such as scary, aggressive, short-tempered, crazy, and antisocial. Even the more favorable ways Bon Temps described Sookie was as an ‘old soul’ who kept to herself.
I collected eyewitness accounts of Sookie attacking a young boy in public without any charges being filed. There are other accounts of a recent altercation with a now missing bar owner. No matter who I asked about Sookie, everyone knew who she was.
One woman warned, “You ought not go prying into people’s lives. You might not like what you find.”
Another local woman offered, “That Sookie’s always been a peculiar girl. She knows things no human should.”
Dear readers, it seems like we have a case of a true Vampire in our midst.
While Mr. Nordmann was willing to speak to me about their relationship, Sookie remained silent and only offered ‘no comment’ in response to my questions and additional attempts to contact her only revealed that she’d quit the job she had just a few nights ago.
Should we be worried? Should we be afraid to invite friends into our homes? Should we carry silver crosses and stakes with us for fear of running into a vampire while we run our daily errands?
Right now, I suppose the more burning question is: Mr. Nordmann, does Sookie know where you sleep at night?
I hope, for your sake, you’re very careful not to cut yourself shaving.
Even though Sookie was livid, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“This isn’t funny! You killed Leland for risking exposure! What’s going to happen to you?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. When the Vampires in my Area read this, they’ll think it’s hilarious… There won’t be another article unless we consent to it.”
She jumped to her feet and began pacing erratically, waving her hands. “Tell me she’s going to disappear! Technically I’m a station wagon birth if she wants to be a bitch about it! And there was nothing convenient about burying my parents when I was eight! Every damn thing she heard about me has been twisted… ”
I chuckled at her. “Sookie, no one is going to take this seriously. There’s less ‘evidence’ that you’re a Vampire then there is that I’m Human. Stop worrying.”
“How are you going to stop her from printing more of this? The more attention I get, the more attention you get… What happens if someone gets it into their head to research you?”
I walked to the bathroom to get a towel and while I dried myself, I considered my options. Having the reporter drained and dumped in a bog somewhere would just lead police to Sookie, so that option was out. Glamouring Rebecca Mills to begin publishing articles accusing other Humans of being Vampires could end badly…
Sookie continued to panic while I dressed and contemplated… The situation was complicated, but not the worst situation I’ve ever had to cover up.
The best thing I could think of was fighting fire with fire.
With just a few minutes left before sunset, I called an associate to find out what he’d managed to discover about Rebecca Mills… Sookie sat anxiously on my lap during the call, but she was smiling by the time I hung up.
As we stepped out of the elevator, we could see several reporters waiting just outside under the portico. It would have been much more annoying if it didn’t suit our needs.
James Arkady left his place behind his counter and strode towards us… He was smiling in spite of a large bruise on his cheek…
Sookie asked, “Awwww, what happened there?”
He raised his eyebrows and offered, “Well, the press is crawling all over the place right now thanks to that front-page farce. I made them wait outside, hoping they’d all die of heatstroke, but no such luck. The one that started all of this, the one that’s been coming in and asking about you two, she tried to get upstairs. I didn’t think trespassing charges would hold her off long enough so I provoked her. She was arrested for assault a few hours ago…”
Absolutely perfect. That was the epitome of initiative.
He continued, “I still have to go in to press charges, but I wanted to make sure I saw you before I left. We, loyal minions that we are, bought you a gift. It’s more of a joke really, but we hope you like it.”
He offered a large velvet box to Sookie…
She opened it and cackled, “Is this silver?”
They’d bought the ‘Vampire’ a silver rosary. That was actually funny.
As Sookie removed it from the box to slip it over her head, he nodded and joked, “Hope you aren’t allergic.”
She stretched up to kiss his uninjured cheek to thank him… He actually blushed.
He offered, “I set up two options for you. If you want to avoid the sharks, then there’s a Towncar waiting for you by the pool exit. If you want to take the Vette… well, you can see it’s already waiting. I had the valets bring it up to the front and keep an eye on it just in case one of the reporters decided to be brave enough to break into it in the garage.”
Even more impressive. I wanted his resume… I could just retask Bobby until the next new check-in asked about finding a day-guy.
I answered, “We’ll be facing the sharks, thank you.”
Sookie’s hand shook inside mine as we walked through the lobby… Telling her to relax didn’t help and she hadn’t had enough of my blood that I could force her to calm down.
As we stepped outside, camera crews for all three local networks stepped forward…
We were hit with a barrage of ridiculous questions, most of them were directed at Sookie…
Can we see your fangs? Do you sleep in a coffin? Can I take your pulse? Will you show up in the video? How old are you really?
Questions about garlic, reflections, sunlight and holy water…
The only thing keeping them all alive was that it was obvious they had taken the article as a joke. They wanted Sookie’s reaction to it rather than substantiation.
Sookie, bashful as she was about having so much attention, was practically hiding behind my arm… The only thing keeping her from getting closer was her silver necklace. That was asked about as well.
I held up my hand to stop them.
“We won’t be answering any questions, but I’ll be making a statement… The garbage printed on the front-page of today’s Red River Post isn’t funny. Of course the idea that Sookie is a Vampire is preposterous, but Rebecca Mills made bizarre implications about the tragic accidental deaths of Sookie’s parents. Rebecca Mills suggested that Sookie abused a child instead confronted a full grown man who’d been making offensive remarks about her. Rebecca Mills practically accused Sookie of doing something sinister to Sampson Merlotte when, in fact, he returned to Wright, Texas to live with his mother. Rebecca Mills was warned that she’d be relieved of her position at the newspaper I own when she refused to stop following me and has apparently decided to begin a deranged campaign against Sookie as some sort of vendetta. I’m not amused by the way the woman chose to twist the benign facts of Sookie’s life into a sad little work of fiction for her own entertainment. While Rebecca Mills was doing her so-called research, I was doing my own. My sources have told me that she takes prescribed Lorazepam and Chlorpromazine. She washes it down with several bottles of Vodka every week. She spent yesterday evening at the pagan bookstore on Joliet Avenue where she hosted a meeting as the founding member of a book club for Vampire aficionados. They call themselves ‘Vlad’s Vixens’… Knowing that the woman is taking anti-psychotic medication and she has an obsession with Vampire fiction makes Rebecca Mills pitiable, but it doesn’t take away from how gallingly questionable the judgment of her superiors has been. The next time Sookie is the target of irresponsible journalism, there will be legal hell to pay… Now if you’ll all excuse us, we’ve wasted enough of our time discussing what equates to an asylum diary. Sookie and I are running late for a family function. Goodnight.”
Sure that ‘my stalker’ wouldn’t be able to find a paper in my Area to print as much as a classified ad she’d written, I led Sookie to my car where a valet opened the door for her and handed over my keys.
Once Sookie was seated, I went to my side… When I realized the reporters were still staring, I stopped before I opened my door…
Just long enough to give them all Rebecca Mills’s address.