“Am I hurting you?”
She winced as her eyes filled with wet panic and leaned into me more now than she had during our kiss.
She closed her eyes, putting her finger to my lips to quiet me. I was patient enough to endure almost anything, but the minute (maybe two) she clung to me petrified was excruciating.
My skin felt like it was crawling by the time she stepped away from me to wipe her eyes. “We need to talk. I need to go home.”
Her eyes started filling again as she nodded and turned to go into the back of the restaurant. I followed; she wasn’t getting out of my sight.
She knocked lightly on the dense wooden door next to the back exit. The shifter growled that he was busy.
“Sam. I’m leaving early.”
“Sookie, I am not letting you take off early so that you can go on a date.”
“I wasn’t asking, Sam.”
He grumbled, calling me a ‘piece of shit, bloodsucker’ as he stomped to the door to open it. His jaw dropped when he saw me standing behind her. “What the hell’s going on?”
“I just need to leave.” She was visibly shaken, but he still wasn’t gleaning anything of her mood. Even if he wasn’t able to smell her tears (and he should have been) her cheeks were still streaked.
“That’s not good enough…” Sookie glanced back at me, whatever she’d ‘heard’ weighing on her profoundly. It showed in her eyes. The shifter misread her. “…Oh! What!? He’s making you leave? Fine. I’ll mail your final check to you.”
As much as I hated to do it, when she pulled her hand back to slap him, I caught her wrist and leaned into her ear. “Based on what he knows, he’s not out of line.” It would have been worth the price of a ticket to see the pompous mongrel get slapped, perhaps with a rolled up newspaper.
She looked up at me, holding her breath and finally nodded.
“Do you want to explain now or another time?”
“Another time, just take me home please.”
The porch light was the only one on when we pulled up to Sookie’s little farmhouse and when I took the key out of the ignition, Sookie was unmoving.
“Do you need a few minutes?”
She looked up and seemed surprised to notice the car had stopped. Walking to the house it was easy to see that her resolve was damaged.
She unlocked the door and took my hand to go in, but I waited. “I need an invitation.”
She turned enough for me to see her smile slightly. “I never rescinded. C’mon.” It was naïve indeed to leave a vampire standing in her yard with a hard on and not rescind their invitation, but certainly no less interesting.
She led me into the kitchen and I watched her take a plate out of the refrigerator and put it in the microwave.
“Gran always leaves a plate in the fridge. She doesn’t want me to live on bar food. Did you have dinner before you came out or will you need to leave early?” Of course I had ‘dinner’ earlier. I’d never have managed the way she laid back against me, her neck inches away…
“Don’t worry about me. What did you hear?”
She was quiet for a second, before a childlike smile tried to spread across her face. “Let me go get Gran so I only have go through it once…” She stretched up and kissed my cheek on the way by. “She finished the book and started it over.”
Adele Stackhouse was talking to me before she was through the doorway. “Mr. Northman, the first thing you need to do is forgive me for my house coat. I hadn’t planned to be underfoot just now.”
I smiled at her, in spite of her nearly psychedelic frock. “Forgiven. What’s the second thing I need to do?”
“Let me thank you proper for that present. I’m assuming that you aren’t much for pecan pie so tell me, do vampires mind the occasional hug?”
It was easy to see where Sookie got her genial nature. It was hard to not return her good mood. “Not today we don’t.”
“Then get down here. How’d you know that I like Twain.”
She gave me what I could only describe as a bear hug as I imagine the term’s meaning. “I didn’t. It was the era you seemed interested in. I’m happy to hear that you’re enjoying it.”
“Well you’re right about that. And I’m not above bragging about it either. I probably had too much fun telling Maxine Fortenberry all about my First Edition Samuel Clemens today. Something I’ll probably go to hell for, but it was worth the look on her face. How was your evening?”
“I managed to have a bit of fun in spite of my surroundings, until the very last minute. Sookie still hasn’t explained what she heard.”
“I can’t imagine what it is, but it’s not like Sookie to let something get to her like that. Being able to hear so much thickened her skin a bit. Between men being depraved and women being jealous by nature, she’s seen and heard just about anything. How did Sam take to you and y’alls plan to encourage some hatin’.”
“He already knew who I am and his opinion of Vampire isn’t very high as it is. Livid would be the word I’d use, but he should calm down once he has an explanation. The way he was watching us made me suspect him for a while.”
“How would he know who you are?”
“That’s an interesting topic. I’m the Sheriff of the area. I’m ‘in charge’ of the vampires here. They have to check in with me when they move here…”
“Like Bill Compton was supposed to?”
“Yes ma’am. It’s my job to keep them in line so that there isn’t complete anarchy.” Sookie quietly entered the room, taking her plate from the microwave and sitting down to eat.
Sookie gave me an inquisitive look. “That still doesn’t really explain why a bar owner in the sticks would know enough about you to carry a grudge.”
“I’m sure it isn’t a grudge. Sam’s kind is territorial by nature. He considers you his and I’m the competition.”
“Sam’s kind? Rednecks?”
That was certainly worth a chuckle. “The reason that you can’t read him clearly is that he’s not completely human. We can test the theory if you like. I know of more like him.”
“What? He never said anything. Could he not know?”
“He knows.” So does his groomer.
“Then what is he?”
“He’s a Were. Shifter to be more specific.”
She started laughing as expected. “Were? Like a werewolf? Rouxgaroux? My boss?!”
“No. A shifter can turn into most any creature. A werewolf is limited to a wolf as a werecat would be limited to a feline. From the smell at his office door, I’d venture to guess canine.”
Her laugh started to approach lunacy, but Adele was remarkably unaffected by the ‘new’ information. I was more than interested in why when Sookie laughingly shouted that ‘werewolves don’t exist’.
Adele set her hand atop Sookie’s and grinned. “Last time I checked, little girl, neither do mind readers and for most of my life vampire only existed in books.” I believe that was the precise moment that I definitively ‘liked’ my first human since I was one. At least not one I didn’t want to wear like a feed bag.
“To be more specific, I am over a thousand years old and you are the first telepath I’ve met. Sam isn’t the first Shifter I’ve met this month.”
Her mouth fell open and she stared. Catatonic may have been a more fitting description.
I joined the women at the table, taking the chair next to Sookie and waiting for her to accept what she’d learned. Adele and I shared a worried look when Sookie started to giggle, but she surprised us both as it seemed. “Mr. Northman, you’ve done it now. Gran’s going to want to hear all about Caesar and Cleopatra.”
I couldn’t help myself. I laughed. “From what I understand, no drama has even come close since. All of Europe, Asia and Africa was a hornet’s nest of death and pandemonium and that was before they met.”
Adele wagged her finger at me. “If you’re willing, Mr. Northman, I’m making a list of things to pick your brain about.”
“Only for you Mrs. Stackhouse… But for now, we have more pressing issues I think.”
“I saw 5.” She’d gotten upset again just trying to get that much said.
She shrugged. “Well, 6 really. Including me.”
“I won’t let that happen. What details did you get?”
“He knew the first one. It was his sister. Cindy. He followed 2 from Fangtasia when they left with someone. It could be why you have eyes on the club if they died with fresh bites.”
“Do you have any clue who?”
She nodded and shook violently with a chill. “Arlene’s boyfriend, Rene. He told me the other day that I reminded him of his sister… right after I met Bill.”
“You’ll be safe. I’ll make sure of it.”
“How? Who the hell is going to believe me?”
“Let me worry about that. Go get dressed. Both of you. It’s not safe for either of you here until he’s been caught.”
“We can’t just hide!”
I had to suppress the urge to growl at her. “Mrs. Stackhouse, now that you know how old I am, how old are you?”
“Mmm. And did you live as long as you have by swinging golf clubs at lightening?”
She smiled. “No sir, Mr. Northman, I suppose I haven’t. And I bet you could say the same. How long do you think we’ll be away?”
“There’s no telling. Grab a day or two worth of things, but keep in mind I can send someone here to get some things or take you ladies shopping tomorrow evening if you remember something later.”
Adele left on task, but Sookie came to stand directly in front of me. “You’re kidnapping us.”
“You asked me for help. I agreed. Leaving you here so that this Rene can break in and strangle you, like he wants to, would be a failure on my part.”
“So this is about you?!”
“If that’s what it takes to get you to somewhere safe, yes.”
“Well then, Mr. Smarty Pants, what happens if no one listens to me? If no one arrests him? What happens then?”
“Then I’ll make sure that you can return to your home safely another way.”
I wasn’t going to answer her. Hearing the truth on what I was willing to do would certainly scare her.
“You’d kill him?”
“I don’t know that we should discuss this.”
“What would you do?”
“I’m going to hope that the police will listen. Please, go get your things.”
As she stomped away from me, I took a moment to appreciate that she hadn’t rescinded my invitation and then I used the list by the wall phone to dial Merlotte’s.
“What do you want?”
“To offer an explanation.”
“I don’t see why I should care. She’s obviously hell bent on letting you bloodsuckers treat her like shit.” Bad dog. Bad.
“She came to me hoping that I would help her find the killer and exonerate her brother.”
“So your hands being all over her was how you help? Why am I not surprised?!”
“We were baiting someone we suspected as the killer. We were hoping he would consider her a fangbanger and lose himself in his thoughts. It worked.”
He was quiet for a moment, strangled on his incorrect assumptions, possibly a hairball. “What did she hear?”
“She saw the 2 local murders, 3 additional ones and her own. She isn’t safe here until he’s caught. I’m taking her and Mrs. Stackhouse for their own safety. They should be back within a week’s time. Will she have a job when they return?”
“Yeah, yeah… Of course. Why didn’t she just say something earlier?”
“Because she was a little out of sorts after seeing her own murder play out in the head of a madman, you moron.”
He went quiet again. Chasing a moth, maybe. “Tell her I’m sorry and to call me when she gets home. Will she need me to do anything?”
“No. I’m sure the raccoons will manage pissing on her lawn on their own.”
“You don’t have to be an asshole about it!” Sure I do.
“They’ll only be gone a week. I’ll take care of anything they need.”
The drive to Shreveport was quiet. I would say uncomfortable considering that three of us were in a two-seater, but Sookie was straddling the center console. Not only was she leaning on me, but her ‘unfortunate’ position gave me the opportunity to have my arm between her legs or resting on her knee so that I could shift gears. Poor me.
Since she still seemed unhappy about her dislocation, I hadn’t mentioned to Sookie my plan to stop at Fangtasia.
When we pulled up behind the bar, Sookie gave me a dirty look. ‘Dirty’ might be less accurate than to say that if looks could kill, it was something to be grateful for that I was already dead.
“What are we doing here?”
“The eyes. If they are aware of the Shreveport murders, they may very well be more inclined to listen to you than the myopic fools in Bon Temps.”
“I don’t see how.”
Her mood was clouding her sensibilities enough that Adele rolled her eyes behind Sookie’s back.
I reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, calming us both. “I have a plan. Come along.”
Adele joked as I hoisted her out of the car. “I don’t suppose it would be as sexy a car if it sat up higher, but it would be helpful.”
“If you ladies have any errands for us to run tomorrow night, we can take my Escalade. That should make things easier for you.”
She started laughing. “Mr. Northman, in my shape it’s either/or. Either gravity helps me in, or gravity helps me out… everything else is a test.”
I deposited the ladies in my office and entered the bar seeking out Pam. Without a word, she followed me back.
“Pamela, you’ve met Sookie Stackhouse. This is her grandmother, Mrs. Adele Stackhouse. Ladies this is Pamela Ravenscroft my second in command… Pamela, Miss Stackhouse is in need of something less wholesome to wear for a few moments. Can you oblige her with something from your stores here?”
“I’m afraid she might not be comfortable.”
“Anything in the realm of cliché will do. It’s for show, not a runway. I want her to look ‘vampirey’.”
I winced when Pam returned with Sookie. The innocence I enjoyed about her was gone. Pam had taken her hair out of the elastic band and teased it out, creating a blond helmet. Her Lacey tank top was removed in favor of a leather corset and her sneakers replaced with knee high boots. Pam had done her job thoroughly enough to think of exaggerating Sookie’s makeup. The only thing that remained of the Sookie I arrived with was her jean shorts. Once flirty, they now seemed trashy among their accessories. Within minutes she’d become what every other forgettable girl shows me. It was irksome.
Sookie smiled at me and spun around for my approval after Pam took her cue to leave. “Well? Is this what floats your boat?”
“No. Not at all. It would suit me just fine to never see you like that again, but it’s a suiting costume for the task at hand.”
Her eyes widened, feeling insulted. “Wow. Thanks. Jerk.”
“Forgive me, Miss Stackhouse. Feel free to poll the customers to confirm that nothing dressed like that has ever gotten as much as a ride home from me. I’m interested in you as you, not as one of them.”
She smiled, blushing slightly and folding her arms in front of her in an effort to veil that her ample Ds were spilling out of Pam’s padded Cs. “Alright then, Mr. Northman, what is this plan of yours?”
“We need to go out to the floor and play Where’s Waldo. If you can find the undercover cop, if there’s anyone still here, then we can bring him back and have a talk. Otherwise, we’ll have to try again tomorrow night.”
“What makes you think that he’ll believe me though? Even then…”
“Because the public at large knows very little about vampire. He’ll believe that some vampire are telepathic. He’ll buy the story that you are a mind reading vampire named Dian Kingsley because you’ll do the requisite parlor tricks and by giving him a false identity will not have to worry about harassment later. The only part of your testimony that we’ll change is that your reason for being at Merlotte’s tonight is because you were waiting to meet your acquaintance, Bill Compton rather than working there.”
Over the next hour, Sookie (as Dian) explained in great detail what Rene Lanier is guilty of. She pointed out that his crusade began with the savage rape and murder of his own sister, using her own apron ties to strangle her. This ‘man’ stalked women from Fangtasia, waiting outside for them to leave with a vampire date and lurked in the shadows at their home until the vampire left just to break in and reenact his sister’s final moments. The particulars of the Bon Temps victims included that he’d chosen the sexual boastings of a simpleton coworker to help him find both Maudette and Dawn. And for good measure, Sookie mentioned that he was unhappy with one of the waitresses for being friendly with another vampire in the bar.
By the time she was done explaining to the officer and the two detectives he called in to join us, the bar had long since closed. On our way out together, I made sure to let them know that I wanted to be updated nightly and that they only had four days before I’d have my lawyers call a press conference if I wasn’t pleased with their progress. It would be interesting to see how the Shreveport Police Department could handle the accusation of apathy in regards to a serial killer’s cast of victims. I told them as such, reminding them of White Chapel’s ‘lowlife’ victims and the public outcry for justice despite the women’s low stations. The last thing they wanted was to have their own ‘Jack The Ripper’.
Sookie’s mood had improved exponentially by the time we were pulling into my neighborhood. She didn’t have to say that it felt good to be taken seriously by a stranger even if the price of her validation was behaving like a vampire (and poorly I might add, refreshingly so).
The grand tour ended with their rooms and Adele excused herself to retire, stating that if she went back downstairs she’d never leave my study.
It left Sookie and I alone with only about an hour remaining before dawn. She dropped her overnight bag just inside the room that would be hers so that we could go back downstairs.
With a distinct lack of conversation, I thought it might be a good time to cover a few safety issues. Feel free to call anyone who might worry, but don’t tell them where they are. Don’t leave the house. If they need anything at all to call Bobby Burnham.
“I don’t like this. I feel like I’m in jail.” It was easy to understand her irritation with her sudden lack of independence. I’d certainly been in the same situation.
“Jails don’t have marble floors.”
She tried to smile. “Thank you. I know you’re going out of your way.”
“I explained to Pam that she’ll be running the bar alone for the week.”
“Is she ok with that?”
“No, but she already hated me for having her work tonight.”
“She could quit.”
“Not only is she a partner, I am her maker. She wouldn’t go anywhere. I wouldn’t let her leave angry. Besides, I’ll make it up to her. I always do.”
She stared at me for a long moment. She looked like she might have been dismissing the idea to ask me several questions. “If you had mentioned that there was a pool, I would have brought a bathing suit.”
Playtime. “Well, the neighbors couldn’t see you if you chose to go out in your underthings… And I’ll barely notice the difference when I watch the security videos.” I waggled my eyebrows at her and took a step closer.
She giggled. “Oh boy. My warden, the flirt.”
“In fact, you are free to roam around in the nude. Welcome. Invited.”
“You seem to forget that Gran is here.”
“You might too. Once she sees what’s in my library, she might have you bring her meals to her.”
“You might have gotten yourself in deeper than you thought. Your sexy vampire activities might be hampered if she refuses to go back to Bon Temps with me.”
“Sexy? You think that I’m sexy?”
I almost let myself get lost in the blush that took her cheeks. “Shut up. You know you’re sexy.”
“Of course I do, but it’s nice to know that we’re like minded.”
She giggled and slapped my shoulder. “You’re horrible.”
“Only when I need to be, but you are intoxicating… consistently.”
Her blush this time was far more vibrant. The compliment embarrassed her.
Her eyes searched the floor.
I lifted her chin so that I could enjoy the energy behind her eyes, only now returning since her episode in Merlotte’s. “… And fun.”
The corners of her lips turned up. “Fun?”
“Certainly. Miss Stackhouse, you are a walking vacation.”
She started to laugh. “A vacation? It seems to me that I’ve done nothing but cause trouble.”
“Oh, but the good kind of trouble.”
“In exchange for keeping you safe I get your company for the week and, if I’m lucky, another kiss.”
I nodded taking another step closer and reaching for the neck of her shirt. “Out of curiosity, what color are your nipples?”
I let her slap my hand away as she laughed. “I’m SO not telling you that!”
I nodded, taking another step putting our stomachs together. “Fine. Tell me about your panties.”
She set her shoulders boldly. “Why don’t you just wait for the security videos?”
I smiled at her. “I could be patient if you were to kiss me again.”
She rolled her eyes playfully and dropped her head back, puckering her lips absurdly as an invitation. “Get it over with.” Gladly.
I pulled her hips against me, arching to her and put my mouth to the mezzo of her neck. She started panting as I moved my mouth up towards her chin, greedily tasting everything I could before she came to her senses, feeling her pulse pound against my tongue. She moaned, digging her nails into my shoulders and giving me no signs that she wanted to stop any more than I did.
When our mouths met, her hands fisted into my hair holding our faces together as she started to lose control, moving her hips against mine. The heat radiating from her was becoming too much to resist. I had to pull away.
I rested my forehead against hers. “Bittersweet.”
Her face was glowing despite her confusion and disappointment. “Bittersweet?”
“Miss Stackhouse, as much as I want nothing more than to take you to bed and spend hours with you, I haven’t the time.”
Her chin puckered as she nodded, slow and shallow. “Bittersweet.”
I released her slowly, letting her balance come back to her. “You should get some rest.”
She grinned slightly as she stepped back and finally started to walk away towards the stairs. “Goodnight, Eric.”
I couldn’t remember a time that I hated being a vampire more.