My first thoughts as I came to myself were of Sookie. It wasn’t something I could control. The taste of her was still on my lips. Remnants of her scent clung to my body.
It was a rare occasion to have an interest in anything. Having a personal interest in a human wasn’t something I’d ever been guilty of. As it was, I’d already gone to rest deeply examining everything I know of her. My verdict was simply that she is different, refreshing.
I would need an abacus to account the number of women I’d used as relief, nothing more.
My sudden and unavoidable urge to protect her, just spend time with her was nagging at my consciousness as much as the question as to why fucking her and feeding from her wasn’t at the top of my list in spite of what my dick and fangs were begging for. The baffling feeling was just something I’d have to suffer until I was hit with a lightning bolt of realization…
…Needs were to be met, then Sookie was to be found.
Without looking up right away, Sookie greeted me from her place on the sofa, book in hand. “Good evening, Sleeping Beauty. Sweet dreams?”
She lifted her face, inviting me to kiss her. It felt natural to oblige her. “I don’t dream, but knowing you were only a few feet away made rising better than usual.”
She closed the book and set it down as I joined her. She slid over to meet me. “That’s sweet.” Not to mention uncharacteristic.
“What did you ladies do to entertain yourselves all day?”
“No ‘all day’ to it. I didn’t wake up until 3 and I found Gran exactly where you expected her: In your study. She’s already read 2 books and is disappointed that your War And Peace is in Russian. I’ve been reading The Count Of Monte Cristo.”
I jokingly pouted. “Is there no video for me to enjoy?”
She blushed with a wide grin on her lips. “I did as you so helpfully suggested. Your neighbors didn’t notice, but their landscapers did. I was only outside for a few minutes before I came back inside. I have no idea what a culo is, but I can guess what tetas are and they were fans. I made some calls though.” I’ll have to let the neighbors know to have their servants stay the fuck away from my yard when she’s enjoying the pool.
“So your friends won’t worry?”
“Especially not Sam. You see, I called him to explain and apologize, but I didn’t get the chance. Someone already took care of that for me.”
I smiled at her. “Hmmmm, I wonder. Bobby came by as he was instructed?”
“Yeah. Gran said he’d already been when she got up… The food was delicious and we only just ate our lunches a little while ago since we got up so late…” She started giggling. “…We were clearing away the containers before we realized that we hadn’t said a word to each other. We were too busy reading.”
“Could you not understand the entertainment center?”
“Didn’t even try. Gran and I don’t even have cable. We’re frequent flyers at the library. We make 2 or 3 trips a week.”
Unable to resist, I started running my fingers through her hair. “Did you stop reading long enough to make a shopping list? You’ll need to have some things on hand.”
She turned to face me, putting her feet under her. “No. It seems that jail agrees with me. I didn’t even notice how late it had gotten.”
“Gilded cage. Is that better?”
“It all means prison. Are you still unhappy about being here?”
“Part of me is, but Gran says it’s just because I’m a control freak and eventually I’ll stop being a brat about it.”
“I’m not really your warden. You can leave. I believe it would compromise your safety to do so without an escort though.”
She rested her hand on my knee, giving me a very level stare. “It’s not you I’m unhappy with. It’s the jackass I’m hiding from. I might not be happy about having to drop my life and hide, but I know that you dropped everything to stay with two people you barely know. Thank you.”
I gave no warning before I tackled her back. She was laughing from under me. “Does that mean we’re cellmates, Sookie?”
“Not if you’re picturing a prison shower scene.” She was snickering playfully. She was chaste and still managing to encourage me with her innocence.
“A shower scene?! That’s inspired!”
“You’re greedy. You’re lucky I like the way you kiss so much.”
“Oh really? Why is that?”
Her mood became more serious as she gave me a long look. “I told you. I don’t date.”
I grinned at her. “Of course. You’re discriminating.” I lowered my mouth to her neck, tasting a hint of the sunlight from her brief visit to the yard.
Her breathing deepened, her hands hooked around the back of my arms. “No. I’m inexperienced.” That would go without saying…
I lifted from her to see her flushed and starry eyed. “You’ve never…?”
She rolled her eyes as though the question was an insult. “No, but not because I have some sort of attachment… I’ve never been able to put up with a guy’s thoughts long enough to get that far.” Yet she’d seemed more than willing before we took leave of each other this morning.
“Sookie, you’re a virgin?”
She moved her hands up to my shoulders, nodding her head as she nibbled her lip. “Yes.”
“And yet, here you are?” I was struggling to find my way through the conversation without exposing how dumbfounded I was. She’s a minority in so many ways that it’s overwhelming.
She giggled bashfully. “Here I am, under a huge vampire with world class flirting skills and a smile that could puddle a nun.”
“Poor Sookie. It seems like you’re a lost cause.”
“Especially since it looks like I should fire my chaperone. She isn’t doing a very good job of keeping an eye on me.”
“Bite your tongue. You shouldn’t fire her. You should give her a raise.” I’d have to have Bobby find a first English printing of War and Peace.
“You should be the one to give her a raise, but I dare you to tell a little old lady why you’re so happy she likes your study.”
“You dare me? Okay.” I started to get up and Sookie started laughing and doing her best to get her arms around something to stop me.
I walked into the study with Sookie’s arms around my neck and her legs wrapped around one of mine and when Adele looked up, she exploded with sudden laughter.
“Mrs. Stackhouse, is she always like this?”
“No. No, I can’t say she is.”
Sookie was playfully snarling at me as she set herself on the floor.
“She wanted me to…” Sookie slapped her hand over my mouth, as though it would keep me quiet. I ran my tongue over the palm of her hand, but the only response it earned was a raised eyebrow. The real fun started when she tried to seem unaffected by the small circles I started putting into her palm.
The look on her face when my phone rang from my pocket was priceless. She looked like she’d been thrown a life raft. I bent over to whisper, “We’ll finish this in a while…”
“…Good evening, Pam. How much do you hate me tonight?”
“The bar isn’t open, you aren’t even here and you’re still causing trouble.”
“Am I? What have I done now?”
“Compton is here. He is having some sort of fit. He is claiming that the Stackhouse girl is his.”
Sookie had heard Pam and became irate in an instant. “He WHAT!?! Oh no I’m not!”
I started laughing. “Pam, I’m sure you heard her.”
“I did. How did she hear me?”
“Compton was idiot enough to allow himself to fall to drainers. Miss Stackhouse rescued him. A few nights later the drainers retaliated and nearly killed her. Compton healed her.” Adele shared a concerned look with Sookie, obviously having been kept in the dark on that detail.
She started laughing. “And now he feels… entitled.”
“That seems to be the case…”
Sookie interrupted. “And I let him say I was his when the Monroe nest was eyeing me like a dessert cart. He knows we’re just friends. I made that clear when I asked him to take me to Fangtasia.”
“Pamela, is Compton available?”
“I’ll get him.” She dropped the receiver on my desk and I heard her walk away from the phone.
A moment later, she was within range again and telling Compton that his Sheriff wanted to speak to him.
“This is Bill.”
No kidding. “Bill, I understand you have a complaint.” He should start with being ugly and boring.
“Sookie is mine. I went to see her at Merlotte’s and the waitress there said that you were with her last night. She told me that…”
I leaned over so that Sookie could hear his ranting easily. “Yes? Continue, Bill. What did the waitress tell you?”
“That you were mauling her and then you left with her.”
“If memory serves, Miss Stackhouse is free to… get a ride with whomever she chooses. For that matter, I believe that I was present when your invitation was rescinded.”
“She was just angry.”
“This sounds like a dispute between friends. Why is it that you are determined to get me involved?”
“Because you have taken her from me. She doesn’t belong to you.”
“She obviously doesn’t want to belong to you would be the finer point. In fact your initial claim on her was a ruse to spare her from being another vampire’s meal. Am I right?”
“She told you that?”
“She’s nodding her confirmation as we speak.”
“You have her? You took Sookie!?”
“I want to speak to her.” Sookie started shaking her head.
“Wanting doesn’t produce results. Miss Stackhouse isn’t interested in a conversation at the moment.”
“I demand to speak to her.” Excuse me?
“And you make demands of me as whom? Bill, you need to make an improved effort to remember your place, or I’ll happily issue my own reminder.”
“I’ll go over your head.”
“And now you threaten me? Be my guest. Call her and explain that after ignoring custom by refusing to check in, you brought a human to my bar to interrogate vampires. You could have easily gotten her drained in her efforts. And now you snivel that she is yours when you know too well she has every right to ‘break up with you’ even if she ever had been ‘yours’. I’ve stolen nothing from you. She is with me on her own free will. As a matter of fact, I’ll take care of filing your complaint for you. I’ll call her myself.”
Sookie frowned and held her hand out. She whispered, “I’m sorry, Eric. I’ll talk to him.” Her frown only made me want to end Compton that much more, but I handed my phone to her.
“Sookie? Are you alright? Has he…?”
“I am more than fine. Eric is taking very good care of me. Now that you’ve heard that, shut up.”
“Are you slow? Shut up. Be quiet. Stop talking. Is any of this getting through?” Sookie swatted at my arms when I started laughing.
“Are you his now?”
She rolled her eyes and huffed into the phone. “As far as you’re concerned, I am. You know I’m not now and never have been yours.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about Eric, Sookie. You aren’t safe.”
We both heard Bill yowl and Sookie covered the receiver to laugh. “I think Pam threw something at him.”
“She… spits push pins.”
Sookie began shaking, laughing silently and holding my phone out for me to take.
“Bill, that should have been sufficient proof of Miss Stackhouse’s health, but rest assured, I’ll make your complaint known.”
“Don’t bother.” I didn’t think so.
“We’re done. Give the receiver back to Pam and leave my bar.”
Pam took the phone back with limited enthusiasm. “He looks like a gorilla when he’s angry; the cartoon kind.”
“Pamela, I’ve told you that spitting isn’t ladylike.”
“Of course, Eric, that’s why I used a rubber band as a slingshot…” Sookie had barely calmed down, but she began snickering as she asked for lessons. “…Will we be seeing a lot of Miss Stackhouse?”
“You’ll see her at least once each week. We have an arrangement.”
“I’m sure I could give her some pointers. Do I have instructions in regards to Compton’s visit?”
“Yes. Call ahead and leave a message. I want her to call me at her convenience. Make sure you make it clear that it is a matter of little importance, but worth bringing to her attention.”
“Because she’ll put it off for a couple of nights. It’ll give Compton the chance to play nice, but if he speaks to her first the groundwork has been laid that you tried to reach her.”
I slid my phone back into my pocket, somehow amused and irritated by Compton’s behavior.
Sookie grimaced. “Do you still think I’m the good kind of trouble?”
I smiled at her. “He’ll be quite contrite now that he spoke to me as he did.”
“Are you a bully, Mr. Northman?” Absolutely.
“I simply enjoy the position I’ve achieved. Even Malcolm and Liam know better than to be so unruly with me.”
“So you’re all kinds of nice and sweet to me, but you’re Harry Hard Ass with your subordinates? That’s why Bill said I’m not safe with you.”
I nodded. “And he believes that I am the reason you are angry with him.”
She snorted at the idea. “Yeah well, I’d rather deal with the side effects than have bled to death in the gravel, but considering the look on his face when you mentioned the details, I’m suspicious of why he didn’t mention it.”
“Unless he intended to take advantage of it.”
She giggled behind her chewed lip. “You can stop adding nails to his coffin anytime. I’m still mad at him.”
I waggled my eyebrows at her. “You should help me find something else to do then.”
Adele had been a silent spectator for so long that when she finally spoke, I actually felt guilty for having ignored her for so long.
“Did you two come in here just to keep me from Vanity Fair? I can leave if you want to flirt in private.”
“The general consensus is that I shouldn’t be alone with your granddaughter. She says that you’re chaperoning skills leave something to be desired.”
“Is that so?…”
Sookie started stammering in embarrassment.
“…Silly me. I didn’t think it was my place to make sure you keep your hands off him.”
Sookie gasped. “My hands!? Off him!?”
“Unless that was someone else that was just hanging from him like a bad painting.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the appalled look on Sookie’s face.
“Please call me Adele. Being called ‘Mrs. Stackhouse’ by someone of your years makes me feel old in a whole new way.” She is truly priceless.
I gave her an amused nod. “Adele, the reason we came to find you… We should start thinking about errands. It’s getting late.”
She huffed, closing the binding solemnly and running her aged fingers over the embossed lettering. “I’ve read this story more than once, but there is something more genuine about reading it like this. It’s like a time machine.”
I smiled at her, understanding too well. “I have that one too. Time Machine… as well as most of Wells’ work. I recommend Russia In the Shadows since you enjoyed The Innocents Abroad.”
Her eyes lit up and she set the book down with a bright smile. “Well, then I have all the motivation I need to do our shopping quickly. Let’s get a move on so I can get back for my date with H.G.”
The concept of someone of my worth being in Wal-mart is simply ludicrous, but that is where the Stackhouse women wanted to go.
For the bulk of the visit, they remained in the grocery department collecting the necessities for a few days worth of provisions.
When I informed them that we would need to visit the house wares department to purchase utensils and cookware they made fun of me.
It’s ‘downright criminal’ for me to have a gourmet kitchen that has never had a crumb of food in it, so I’m told. And even though I assured them that I was unlikely to ever find myself with my hands in the utensil drawer, they stayed acutely aware of silver content. Their concern was endearing to say the least. As well was their choice of scheme. Everything they selected was black because it ‘matched’.
As they puttered around the kitchen putting away the groceries that I had to argue to pay for, they happily unpackaged the new flatware, dishes and cookware, putting them into the dishwasher for its ‘maiden voyage’. It had never been used either, for the obvious reasons.
“You should see Pam’s kitchen.”
Sookie giggled. “Why? Is it as big of a waste as yours?”
“Her kitchen isn’t very large at all, but she has found a use for the cabinets and pantry.”
“Office supplies?” She winked.
I chuckled. “Shoes; hundreds. Her spare bedroom is a closet. She has a storage unit for items she’s waiting to ‘make a comeback’…”
Both of them were amused.
“…She detests the clothing she has for work. She orders them online with my credit card and has them sent directly to Fangtasia so they don’t ‘sully her wardrobe’.”
Adele laughed. “She sounds like a bit of a brat.”
“Oh, she is, but it is easily tolerable considering how loyal she is.”
“You’ve known her a while?”
This was a corner I backed myself into. “I am her maker. We’ve been together for centuries.”
“Really? I can’t imagine. I loved my children dearly, but by the time they were teenagers I was counting down until they made their own lives and moved out.”
“Most maker/child relationships are similar to that. Most vampires take leave of their makers after only a few decades. Pam and I enjoy each other’s company. We have similar manners and humors.”
Sookie smiled at me. “So since she ’hates’ you right now, how are you going to make the extra hours up to her?”
I rolled my eyes just thinking about what Pam would be hinting at as her ‘fee’. “Since the fall line of clothes is so far away, it will probably involve a car or a trip to Europe so she can shop.”
Sookie’s eyes went wide. “You’re not kidding!?”
“No. Adele was right about Pam being a brat. Paris. Perhaps Milan. She’ll leave with a full garment bag and she’ll return with two sets of luggage.”
“Oh my god!…” She started laughing. “She needs an intervention!”
“It’s kind of an ambush. It’s where someone with an addiction gets surprised by their friends and family so they can hear how out of control they are. It usually leads to rehab or a 12 step program.”
I laughed. “We’d have to do it somewhere without push pins.”
Adele’s eyes lit up. “I just had a fun idea. Do you know what a medic alert bracelet is?”
“You could see if you can get one made for her that says she suffers from ‘Oniomania’. It’s the medical term for the compulsion to shop.”
I smiled. “Oh, you’re clever. She’d love it.”
Sookie laughed. “They have a support group for it at church. Gran can grab a brochure for you to use as the gift wrap.”
These women were proving themselves to be enough fun that I wasn’t looking forward to returning them to Bon Temps.
I visited with them while they enjoyed their dinner and just as Adele announced that she was going to ‘finish with Becky’ so she could ‘go to Russia’ my phone grabbed my attention.
The number was unfamiliar. “Eric Northman.”
“Sheriff? It’s Detective Coughlin, Shreveport PD.”
I waved Sookie over so that she wouldn’t have to strain to hear and she put her arms around me, resting her head on my shoulder. “Detective Coughlin, how is the investigation going?”
“Based on what Miss Kingsley gave us last night, we managed to pull together the files on all 5 victims. I had to go out to Bon Temps myself. They were being uncooperative.”
“Yeah, little towns like that act like it’s a pissing match. Anyway, while I was out there, I thought I’d stop in to see that waitress… the one that’s a perceived target. Just to let her know to keep an eye out. Her boss said she hadn’t shown up for work and she wasn’t at home when I stopped by. I’m afraid he might have already gotten her.”
“Let’s hope not. She was warned last night. She might have decided to take a bit of a vacation.”
“Your mouth to God’s ears… So the status of the case is that with all the evidence showing that it’s the same MO and the ‘anonymous tip’, we’re waiting on a warrant to bring him in. He left trace evidence behind with two of the victims. Fresh asphalt, the kind they fill potholes with, was found in the apartment of the first Shreveport victim.”
“Is it possible to bring him in for questioning without a warrant?”
“It’s possible, but not as solid. We can only hold him for 72 hours, but then we’d have to let him go. If he lawyers up before we get the warrant, his lawyer could talk him out of custody before we could get his DNA. Then we get threatened with harassment charges when we bring him in again for the DNA; it’s a nightmare. All we need is a match. He was sloppy with his sister, but she was a ‘Jane Doe’.”
Sookie looked disgusted and took a hard swallow.
“Once you have a DNA sample though, you shouldn’t have any trouble convicting him?”
“The only thing that would make convicting him easier would be a confession.”
“I see. Thank you for the progress report.”
“I should be the one thanking you. You could have just as easily not gotten involved.”
Sookie smiled up at me. “Have I said thank you?”
“You have, but I’m starting to think that you might not mean it.”
She gasped. “How!? I mean it. Really! Thank you! Bill even knew I could read minds, but he didn’t take me seriously enough to help. Thank you.”
“But your gratitude seems so easy for you to give…”
She finally caught on to the fact that I was only making fun and her look became playful.
“…I might trust your claims if you were to… back them up.”
“Really? How do you suggest I show my appreciation?”
I licked my lips as the list of imaginable acts scrolled through my mental inventory. “Hmmm, it isn’t often that I have company for a swim.”