A Graceful Exit
The feeling of Sookie being attached to my side was the first thing that reached me.
The stark contrast of our body temperatures made me wonder if she could sleep as soundly on top of me. Temperature wasn’t something that occurred to vampires in general. We noticed extremes, but unless it was cold enough that we were threatened with scientifically entering a solid state, it didn’t really matter to us. Temperature, light, air… They didn’t account for much more concern than the color of the walls….
However, Sookie’s warmth amazed me…
The scent of her soaps had erased any clues about her day… She was draped over my chest with one knee resting between my thighs. The arch of her foot matched the round of my calf… It was as though she was loaning her life to the parts of me she was touching. I enjoyed the rhythm as her heartbeat echoed through her chest and into my side.
Try as I did to remember what we’d done after she took my blood again, I was at a loss, save for a few scattered flashes that made me concerned to continue giving it to her… I could remember biting her twice more, but not how much blood I took. If it weren’t for how healthy she seemed, phenomenally so, I’d have anxiously awoken her to count markings… As it was, I laid there and enjoyed her essence and all she had to offer while she rested.
Eventually, her tiny hand twitched, then slid from my chest to my side, leaving a hint of her heat behind. She let a long hum and the vibration in her throat felt spectacular against my arm. “You woke me up worrying?”
“Do you remember what happened this time?”
“Some of it… I’m getting curious enough that you might be able to talk me into recording it eventually. I’m dying to know why all I can remember is how good it felt.”
“I didn’t hurt you?”
“If you did, I don’t remember. I doubt it. Wouldn’t I bruise or something?”
“You took my blood… it would’ve healed you before the bruise had the chance to form.”
She grinned as she nipped my arm. “It sounds like its perfect then…”
“No. Far from. I could kill you… and not have the presence of mind to turn you.” It would end me.
“Do you not want to do it anymore?”
“Honestly… No. Not until you’re willing to record it… even then it could be the last time. I don’t want to inadvertently murder you.”
“Even though the other Eric and Sookie haven’t had any problems?”
“They did, actually.”
She lifted her head to give me a more serious look. “What problems?”
“Apparently, he died for the day at an inopportune time… She was pinned for a full day until he rose again.”
She started cackling. “Oh… my… God!”
“That’s funny to you?”
“Well… Why wouldn’t it be? I mean, it’s not like people don’t have stuff go wrong all the time. Sex fouls are sex fouls… why not laugh at them?”
“Sex fouls? This, I have to hear.”
She gave me a bashful grin. “Have you ever heard of a penile fracture?”
“Yes. I have, but I assumed it was an urban myth since there isn’t an actual ‘bone’ to be fractured.” Contrary to anything Pam tried to convince me of.
“Ever stub your toe?”
I reflexively winced at the idea. “What did you do today?”
She bit her lip, to keep from laughing about how ignorant I wanted to be in the subject. “I went to New Orleans to…”
“You did what?” Every bit of edge in my voice was intentional. I couldn’t believe she’d do something so reckless.
“I went with…”
“Why does that matter? If something happened…”
She sat up and turned to look down at me. “I didn’t see the big deal because…”
“Do you have any sense of survival?”
“Would you shut up and listen to me!?”
I sprang upright, furious enough about her flippancy to drop my fangs and grab her shoulders. “Don’t tell me to shut up…”
Without her arms to lash out, she moved quickly to bring her leg up and put her foot into my stomach. I could only assume that she thought I’d let go of her. “Then don’t flip your freakin’ lid before you get a damn explanation! I was trying to apologize, but now you can just go screw yourself… get your hands off of me, you shit!”
“How the hell do you justify traipsing off to New Orleans!? How do I keep you safe…”
Her face turned red as she hissed through teeth, “Get your hands off of me.”
“No. Tell me what fucking excuse you had…”
“No. You had your chance. You flipped your lid instead of giving me the 5 seconds I needed to explain. Go bully someone else… Now let go of me!” She twisted her body fast enough that if I hadn’t let go, she would’ve pulled her own arms out of their sockets. She darted off of the bed and straight to the bathroom to slam the door behind her. At least I had one enjoyable hour.
“So much for thinking I could trust you with your freedom!”
She pulled a sharp breath and screamed back, “Fuck you, asshole!”
That was it. My breaking point. I didn’t give myself the chance to calm down. I knew that she was clear of the door and pushed it off of the hinges… the only effort it took was to not hit the fucking thing hard enough to risk it landing on her…
She scrambled into the tub, backing herself into a corner. When she lifted her arms to hit me, I grabbed her wrists and pinned them to the wall next to her shoulders. “I must’ve misunderstood you…”
She spat, “Does something rhyme with ‘fuck you, asshole’?” She didn’t know when to quit.
“I don’t think you know what you’re dealing with.”
“I think you’re confusing me with someone who gives a shit. You’re overreacting before you even know what the fuck you’re overreacting to! Let go of me.”
“You’re not getting away from me.”
She lifted her eyebrow. “I can get away from you one way or another whether you like it or not… and you know it.”
“I’m not impressed. Your safety isn’t a fucking game…”
“I guess it’s a good thing I have you then, huh. I sure feel safe right now.”
“You’re risking being put on a very short leash.”
“Fuck you.” She started squirming, fighting in vain against the hold I had on her while I waited for her to stop. “I was already on one… Stop being an asshole and let me go.”
“How the fuck do you consider that you were on ANY kind of leash?”
“Because I was dumb enough to trust you with the handle… I guess I didn’t learn anything from Bill… Same shit, different night.”
“Don’t you dare compare me to him…”
“Why not!? I’m an idiot. You’re the know-it-all. I should speak when I’m spoken to… Be a good little girl and heel…”
“You’re not just a fucking pet and you know it. What if something happened to you!?”
“Something could happen to me anywhere.”
“That’s your excuse to go 100 miles away!?”
“No! And you’re not getting another word out of me until you calm the hell down.”
She parted her lips only to make a show of closing them again.
“Stop being an obstinate bitch and explain!”
She stared back at me defiantly. Fury was all there was to her mood. There wasn’t a fragment of fear or anything resembling it and it only pissed me off more…
I let go of her wrists. “Go. Get the fuck out of my sight.”
While I showered, Sookie’s anger only festered from the commons. It was maddening… and I was every bit on the verge of killing the first thing to cross my path.
There were clothes on the counter for me, but as I stepped out of the tub, I realized that there was nothing special about the jeans or T-shirt. The sunny fragrance I’d been spoiled with wouldn’t have improved my mood anyway.
The prospect of spending 3 hours in a car with Sookie as she was, didn’t give me anymore reason to look forward to going ‘home’ than the chores waiting for me.
I had no interest in leaving the bedroom so that I could see Sookie be a nagging blister from the sofa… feeling it was bad enough.
While I avoided seeing the sanctimonious expression on her face, I tended to the few business matters that were waiting in my emails… and when those options were exhausted, I opened the closet to begin packing…
Nothing was there. Nothing was in the dresser either. Sookie had stolen that escape from me before she climbed into bed with me… The room had been cleared with exception of the computer bag that had been left on the dresser and my phone that had been left plugged into the wall to charge…
Thanks to the swell of self righteousness growing in our bond, I yanked the charging cord too hard, snapping it in two… and when I picked up my phone, there was a note under it.
I had no idea how long I stared at the neatly folded paper while my anger kept my interest from reaching for it. I was almost certain that whatever was written on it would only infuriate me enough to push me over the threshold I was already standing on.
It took every bit of will I had to unfold it without shredding it.
“We needed some air and found something constructive to do.
I’ll call as soon as I feel you rise.
We’ll be back as soon as possible.
I love you.
I got no more answers from the note than I had from speaking to its defiant author.
The paper was still in my fist when Pam knocked on the door to my room.
She mumbled against the door, “Salome is here.” Just what I fucking needed.
It took a moment for me to calm down enough to fake courtesies for a fellow sheriff… longer than it normally would’ve because of my reaction to Sookie’s sudden emotional numbness.
Salome was wearing a welcoming smile with her Prada dress. “Good evening. I have to say, I’m sorry to see you off.”
I faked as friendly of a smile as I could muster and did my best to ignore the phony smile plastered on Sookie’s face. “We’ve felt quite welcome here. Your staff has been nothing if not gracious.”
“I’m happy to hear that. When you return, I won’t be as anxious about your party’s care… Of course, we’ll have to hope for better weather during your next visit.”
She spared a moment to scan the room and take on a confused expression. “Of course… Lightning destroyed the compressors just before dawn… Unfortunately, there were difficulties installing new machinery today…”
I risked a look around the room only to see that Alcide, Jason, Paulette and Sookie all looked wilted… like they were being cooked. Fuck.
Salome continued with a fresh grin, “I’m afraid I might not be able to trust your opinion of my staff if your party is too agreeable to mention the heat that’s nearly turned the hotel into a sauna from what I’m told.” Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. The note said that she ‘needed some air’.
Fuck… No. No. I refused to feel guilty since all it would’ve taken was an explanation that Sookie was refusing to give. “That certainly isn’t a staffing problem.”
Sookie agreed, “Phillip and Sydney have been more attentive than you could hope for, Salome. You should watch out. They could be drawn away as private day staff.”
Salome nodded. “They usually are. If they make it out of the introduction stage of concierge service, they’re usually lured away within a year.”
Sookie wiggled her eyebrows. “You should charge a finder’s fee.”
“I’ve thought about it, but it doesn’t replace them any faster… Can I be of any service? I’m sure you’re all anxious to get home. You’ve been traveling for a while, yes?”
I nodded. “We’ve been out of my area for a week now. There’s plenty waiting to be done when we return.”
Sookie added, “Alcide and Jason loaded the cars a while ago as an excuse to go downstairs. We only need to get into the cars… I’m sorry the last day we were here was a waste for you…”
“Nonsense. The show was well worth the price of admission. I couldn’t complain before you found a telepath for me. I’m excited to watch her learn about her ability. Owen is practically giddy over the oddity as well.”
Sookie giggled, “Happy to help.”
Salome practically bowed. “I’m indebted for your help, Miss Stackhouse… I’ll take my leave so that you can escape to cooler temperatures. I’d hate to keep you until ambulances need to be called again.” She offered another deep nod in my direction and took her leave… fucking ambulances.
The blast of air being pushed through the lobby by industrial fans brought about a collective of heaving and relieved breaths as soon as the elevator doors slid open.
Walking through, the lobby was deserted save for Phillip and another daemon behind the check-in desk. In the casino the overhead lights and all visible machinery had been shut off. The boutique, restaurant and Shed were closed and the large doors at the front and rear were propped open to help move air…
There wasn’t a single donor or gambler in sight.
I still hadn’t grasped the severity of the heat until we stepped off of the elevator… I could only guess, but there must’ve been a 20 degree difference…
Waiting on the semi-circular curb in front of the hotel, there were only three vehicles. It was a stark contrast to the dozen that had been waiting with the valets when we’d arrived.
There was a Towncar waiting to return the Berts to New Orleans…
There was Paulette’s brand new Range Rover… and there was a huge black pickup truck, complete with a steel tool box in the bed that was loaded down with boxes and luggage.
While Sookie, Jason and Paulette said their goodbyes to the Berts, Alcide turned to me. “It’s no limo, but it’s comfortable.” I almost asked why I’d care, but I noticed that my suitcase was in the back of his truck.
Pam joked, “I haven’t dressed appropriately. Don’t I require a coverall of some kind?”
He chuckled, “I’ll make an exception… Just this once.”
She smiled in good spirits in spite of my mood. “So who is riding in what?”
He shrugged, “You two are with me since we’re going to Shreveport… It’s a straight shot for us once we get on 49 North, but they’re taking the exit for 167 in Alexandria.” I was not fucking happy. Not happy at all about the seating arrangements, Sookie returning to Bon Temps, Sookie’s plans to return to Bon Temps without her guard… anything could happen. Any fucking thing could happen… she could be lost forever before I could get to her even if she wasn’t being so stubborn that I had to question if she’d even call me, let me know if there was trouble… Fuck.
Pam held her hand out to ask for Alcide’s keys. “Can I drive?”
“No… but if you behave I’ll help you unload all your shit. You bought more in one week than I own.” I watched in silence as Sookie climbed into the back of Paulette’s SUV without as much as a glance in my direction.
“If I had known you needed clothes, I’d have shopped for you too. I love dressing men.”
“I don’t need clothes. I have a closet full of them. You… have a Macy’s…”
He laughed at her. “Get your ass in the truck, Diva…”
“Can you drive with your head hanging out of the window?”
“Can you walk with piss in your shoes? Hop in.”
Since I watched Sookie wave to Pam and Alcide as we pulled out, all my mood did was degenerate.
For the next 50 miles, I ignored the banter between Pam and Alcide in favor of scrutinizing my bond to the temperamental void in the car behind us… waiting to feel anything from her, waiting for some sort of weakening that I never got…
I wasn’t willing to ask. I wasn’t going to ‘bully someone else’. I’d asked her for the fucking explanation. She was the one I’d get it from. Period. I wasn’t willing to budge on the matter.
Shortly after Alcide turned onto 49 North, Pam turned to stretch her legs out over the bench in the back of Alcide’s cab and started paying close attention to her cell phone… It apparently gave Alcide an opportunity…
“If I had known you’d be pissed, I wouldn’t have agreed. I guess I should’ve just taken her to the pool.”
“I’m not pissed at you.” His decision to allow the travel was so far down my list of reasons for being livid that it wasn’t worth mentioning.
“I went along… was it that it was too far or off the property at all… I should know for next time.”
“I haven’t decided yet.” Especially since I didn’t know anything.
“Just let me know then… I just didn’t want her to burn up in the hotel… I didn’t figure you’d be too jazzed about waking up to her having heat stroke.” I wouldn’t have been… If that had been the case, Alcide would’ve been my reason for seething.
“Staying closer would have been preferred, but getting out of the hotel was the smart thing to do under the circumstances.” Going to the pool would’ve done nothing but give them all sunburns to go with their heat stroke.
“I guess there isn’t a way to plan for something like this… staying in a hotel that ends up being a kiln.”
“You’re right about that.”
“To be honest… I’ve seen the way you kind of follow her lead, kind of wait and see. Hell, even Salome did it… When she came up with the plan, I didn’t think of anything that would be an immediate problem… like I said, just let me know. I won’t let it happen again.”
“I’m angry with Sookie. She should’ve known better than to think I’d be comfortable with a plan that included being 100 miles away. Were there other suggestions about what to do instead?”
“When we couldn’t decide on a movie, Jason suggested bowling… their grandmother used to take them to the lanes when it was too hot to stay home since they didn’t have AC growing up.” Those options would’ve been less nerve-wracking, by far.
“Sookie won’t be leaving the hotel in Dallas.”
“Gotcha… to be fair, she didn’t want to leave today… we had to talk her into leaving.” Fuck.
“Yeah… she didn’t want to leave y’all. She was suspicious of the AC being out. She thought it could’ve been a way to get the humans out so that someone could get to the vampires easier… She cleared every floor looking for anyone who could be plotting… She had Paulette ward all the way to the stairwell… and Salome’s apartment got some extra juice… She called Syd every hour…”
Pam jokingly added, “I’m disappointed that Paulette grabbed her car… I could’ve sat on Jason’s lap for the trip.” Hearing about her playtime with Jason Stackhouse was not going to improve my disposition.
“I’m not in the mood for sharing…”
She sighed, “You never are… they’re planning to stop to eat dinner. Are we stopping with them or continuing on our way.”
“We’ll stop. I’m sure Alcide needs to eat and I don’t want Sookie unprotected longer than necessary.” It could give me the chance to talk to Sookie.
“Perhaps Jason will be up for an escapade in the…”
“Pam… What do you have planned for Jason?”
“Fucking. Absurd amounts of fucking…”
“Have you fed from him?”
“Why do I have to share? You never do.”
“Because I say so.”
She huffed, “No. Not last night anyway… That boy… I guess you could say, he bought dinner so I thanked him accordingly.” Alcide started laughing.
“He found your playmates?” Not that I’d given it much thought, but I’d assumed she’d arranged for the party.
“He did. I could enjoy his company for a very long time. I’ve completely forgiven him for being simple. I dare say, he’s worth his weight in Dior.”
I rolled my eyes at her. “As much as I try to dodge the details of your sex life, play carefully. I’d like to avoid having to intervene in a catfight… you know how protective Sookie can be.”
She nodded. “Don’t worry about that. I’m not interested in closing that ride prematurely. Jason Stackhouse is an amusement park of…”
I didn’t need to see her… Pam’s whimsy always came with an intoxicated looking grin… I was still too pissed to see anyone else smile.
Just outside of Alexandria, Alcide took an exit that led him to a steakhouse…
When everyone else left to go into the restaurant, I opted to stay in the truck.
Without hints of Sookie’s mood yet, knowing her location with pinpoint accuracy needled me enough that within 10 minutes, I tried to ‘call’ her… I wasn’t sure if she could ignore me when she was blocking our bond, but I wasn’t interested in causing a scene inside.
As it turned out, she could ignore me… with extreme brutality. As I called her with enough strength that it would’ve made Pam feel ill, Sookie scowled at me from her seat by the window. The glare I was getting did nothing more than tell me that she knew I wanted her to come to me… it was a vicious refusal. I was angry, but there was more to it. If she hadn’t gotten the ring for me, she could undoubtedly leave me. Bond or no, I had no power over her… No power over her behavior that she didn’t give me… She could too easily remove the ring from my hand while I was dead and be completely free of me… I only wished I could say the same for myself.
She had enough money in her bank accounts that if she removed my ring at dawn, she could go anywhere in the world and be completely new before sunset freed me to look for her. An unknown waitress in Budapest. Working without notice in a Perth department store. Anonymously answering phones in Vancouver. She knew she could evade me.
The notion that I could be left without her gave me a nagging emptiness that I was sure was only a taste of what the reality would be.
I pulled harder, needing to talk to her and refusing to lower myself to make my plea publically…
She finally gave in… not yielding to me, only exasperated with my persistence. The look on her face when she knocked over her chair to storm out left the rest of her companions to gawk.
She sauntered out of the restaurant, marching directly to me with her jaw set.
She raised her eyebrows, refusing me again.
“This is the calmest I’m going to get until I have answers. Explain.”
“Why didn’t you just shake Alcide until he told you?”
“I didn’t fucking shake you. I grabbed you. From the time you woke up to the time I did, explain what happened today.”
“I didn’t wake up. I came out of whatever happens when we share blood and Jason was already knocking on the door.”
“You never slept…”
“Shut up. I’m giving you what the fuck you want. Have the decency to listen so that I can go back and eat my damn dinner while it’s still warm… We got downstairs and Syd followed us to the restaurant because the AC was out and the temperature was going up like crazy… She wanted to help us find somewhere cool to spend the day. There weren’t any customers to read because they were turning folks away and going to a skeleton crew for insurance reasons. We knocked around a few ideas. Movies, bowling, arcades… Paulette mentioned that she was thinking about going back to New Orleans to get some of her things and start lining things up for her move and close up your house… If I had to leave the hotel, I didn’t want it to be for nothing. I suggested we all go. Alcide drove his truck down. We helped Paulette make some calls and get her things… then we went to your house and cleaned and packed up all the stuff Pam had bought to save Paulette another trip. As it stands, she won’t need to go back to New Orleans. Your house is warded and her brother is going to re-ward the property as a whole once a gardener can be hired. She put in her 30 days notice for her apartment… She’s going to stay with me when we’re in your area. She’s going to ward a perimeter around my house so that vampires can’t do the ‘if it doesn’t have walls, I don’t need an invite’ thing… We drove back. I packed for us and I took a cold shower while the guys hauled our stuff down. I got into bed and I woke up with my charming master. Are we done? I’m hungry and need a few stiff drinks.”
“Something could’ve happened to you. Someone could’ve gotten to you.”
“Whatever…” She turned around and started walking away. I wasn’t about to let her leave. I moved to block her path and when she slammed into me, she stepped back to scowl again. “Who? Who the hell was going to come after me? Vampires? During the day? Their lackeys who wouldn’t have had any way of knowing I’d be out of the hotel spontaneously? I was just as safe at your house in New Orleans as I was when you were in it.”
“Someone still could’ve hurt you, but if I had let you explain…”
Without warning her hand crossed my face with enough force to leave a fiery sting. “Don’t you dare! Don’t you think that you can act like you’re sorry for being an asshole after you threw my fucking freedom in my face… You made me feel like a piece of property and rubbed my nose in the fact that I was dumb enough to trust you not to treat me like that. You won. You have me. I’ll see you tomorrow night. Alcide is coming to get me and Paulette for errands in the morning and we’ll be waiting at Jackson’s office at sunset.”
“I’m not finished.”
“Then finish alone. I’m not doing this.”
When she tried to step around me, I blocked her path again. “I panicked.”
“Get out of my way.”
I had to block another attempted getaway. “You worried about me too.”
“Yeah. I did. When the door on the roof wouldn’t open, all I could do was picture you burning to death and there wouldn’t be any way for me to stop it… I was scared to death and it made you feel loved… Tell me Eric, why is it that when you worried about me, you felt the same way you did when you were dealing with Hadley and Lorena? You wanted to remind me of my damn place, THAT’S WHY! It makes me sick to think I fell for it all over again. Hook, line and sinker…”
“STOP! Stop comparing me to Compton. I’ve done everything I could to protect you… That stain planned ways to hurt you. And my feelings would be similar because those bitches planned to take you away from me!”
“Are you finished yet?”
“What the hell do you want from me?”
“I want… I want you to calm down and listen to me.”
“This would be one of those ‘tough shit’ moments. You can’t beat a dog and then expect it to climb back into your lap. I’m done.”
“What do you mean, you’re done?”
“I may be trapped, but I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to make a fool out of myself and act like I’m anything more than a toy to you. You can go back to fucking your admirers. I’ll go back to my quiet little town and crawl into my case until you need to pull me out for special occasions.”
“You’re not just a toy or a pet…”
“Of course not. I’m a fool too.”
“Did you avoid bringing up the part of your day when you scanned the whole hotel and had Paulette reinforce her wards because it makes you look like a hypocrite? You’re allowed to worry about my safety, but I’m not allowed to be concerned for yours.”
“No. I didn’t mention it because you would’ve just laughed off my concern like you did on the roof.”
“I don’t disregard you or your opinion. My reaction was no more exaggerated and irrational than yours had been… You’re damming me for the same thing you’re guilty of.”
She folded her arms and stepped closer. “I don’t remember manhandling you, breaking down a door, trying to scare you, keeping you from solving the problem… and I sure as hell didn’t say or do anything to demean you.”
“And I’m trying to apologize, but you’re not letting me.”
“I don’t want your damn apology.”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to leave me alone unless you need me to read minds, master.” The way she hissed out ‘master’ made me feel like I’d been run through… the sudden, agonizing knot in my gut made it hard for me to keep my feet under me.
“You’re punishing me for not letting you explain.”
“No… I’m cutting my losses so that it doesn’t hurt as much when you treat your employee like an idiot.”
“You’re not an employee.”
“I am now.”
“No. You’re not. You’re mine. I love you. You’re going to calm down and realize that I regret overreacting. You’re going to stop blocking your feelings. You’re going to stop being an irrational hypocrite because that’s why you’re angry with me. You’re going to grasp that the reason that I was so upset is because you mean too much to me. You’re going to give me a fucking chance to adjust to loving and trusting someone. You’re going to stop threatening to end everything but your protection. You’re going to stop acting like you hate me. You’re going to get used to the idea that I’d do anything to protect you. You’re going to step over the bodies and puddles of anyone who tries to hurt you or take you from me… Not because I own you… because you fucking own me.” She stared at me through empty eyes. Nothing I had said had inspired a single trace of feeling… She was a vault… nothing readable was creeping to her surface. I might as well have been talking to myself.
“I’m going… to go eat my dinner in peace.”
“This isn’t over.”
No answer. Just another vacant stare until I stepped to the side to let her go back… and she huffed and started walking to the restaurant.
The few finite fucking answers I had, wouldn’t help.
The only things I knew for certain about how to handle the situation I’d found myself in would do nothing but worsen Sookie’s mood.
Sookie had defied me, denied me, slapped me, threatened me, insulted me and walked away from me… For all intents and purposes, if I didn’t know better… Sookie Stackhouse had just ‘broken up’ with me.
I knew exactly how to deal with anyone who’d been so monstrously irritable… Pets, vampires, employees, humans… in my life and in my death… There was a list of options for putting them in their place and no one had ever directed that type of behavior towards me and walked away unnscaithed… for that matter, very few had walked away at all.
Unfortunately, there was no precedent for Sookie. No known way to deal with the situation without making matters escalate.
Sookie Stackhouse was my fucking pet. Whether she liked it or not, by definition fucking and feeding and protecting… it added up to being my pet. She needed to come to terms with that fact.
In the roughest of senses, she was also an employee. Any other creature working under my protection would receive their pay minus my percentage. Even though I wasn’t siphoning 12% from her earnings, she was on Northman Enterprises’ payroll.
And she’d had enough of my blood that she was honestly starting to seem both vampire and human alike. Her body still very much alive, but her mannerisms and moods weren’t following mine as much as mirroring them.
She wasn’t any of those things that books had already been written about, because she was all of them.
The singular most unique part of the moment was that I’d never wanted to be forgiven more in my existence… her silence was worse than any punishment I’d ever experienced.
While I sat in Alcide’s truck and came up empty for ways of rectifying the situation that I’d created and she’d enflamed, I watched her.
She wasn’t faking anything for her companions. They all seemed to take turns watching her…
While the rest of them talked (in Pam and Jason’s case, groped), Sookie quietly nursed her iced teas and studied the television over the bar.
I never took my eyes from her. Seeing her was all I had…
A salad, another tea, from the looks of it, she’d ordered some sort of pasta dish and another iced tea…
There were a few times when it felt as though her barricade on our bond might diminish, but it would be shored up again no sooner than I let myself hope…
All the while, she hid her spirit from me as well as used the TV as an excuse to hide from her company.
She hadn’t been interested in her entrée for long before she gave her unwanted portion to Jason and sat back to sip from her tea…
A few moments later, I watched her eyes narrow. Her focus seemed to alternate from the TV to a couple sitting at a nearby table… the male was watching the television as intently as she had been.
Sookie reached over to Alcide’s plate and took one of his French fries that looked more a slaughter once he’d doused them with ketchup.
She whispered something to him that Pam overheard and gave her a tetchy yet curious swell that made her abandon her previous arousal. I was at a loss as to what was happening under the table, but the arm Jason wasn’t using to eat was in Pam’s lap and contorted in a way that gave me a few guesses.
Sookie stood, French fry in one hand, empty tea glass in the other.
Unable to hear and only seeing anything from tabletops up, I was forced to guess… By the time Sookie sat next to a pair of idiots who’d arrived on ear-splitting Yamahas, the French fry was gone, but not because she’d eaten it. She seemed to flirt with the two fools while the bartender mixed what I thought had been an iced tea, but turned out to be her 6th Long Island iced tea.
Seeing how alert Pam and Alcide were staying made me leave the truck to get closer in case something went wrong.
Inching across the parking lot, I saw Sookie turn around to lean back against the bar and sip her drink while the hard ons next to her leered at my Sookie’s body… Whatever he said to her, earned him a dirty look.
Only a moment went by… Sookie gave a surprised face, launching from her perch and disappearing from my line of sight for a few seconds before standing again next to the female in the couple… the female was examining a ‘mysterious’ red smear on the front of a white Coach purse… I’d have to remember to commend Pam for behaving.
As the woman darted to the back of the building, Sookie wasted no time sitting across from the male who’d been so preoccupied with the TV.
Sookie studied the man for a moment before she jerked her head upward and if I had to guess, she asked the man, ‘what’s up?’.
That was when I moved in…
Her ploys had made me anxious enough in the past, but without her moods as my guide, I wasn’t taking any chances.
The most space I was willing to give her at the time was standing at the bar next to the idiots she’d flirted with. It had taken me less than a second to situate myself and judging by the smell of things, I’d scared the piss out of one of them.
The man was wearing a leery, if not terrified look. “Can I help you?”
“How are you feeling?”
His brow furrowed. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
Sookie took another long sip of her drink. “I was just wondering… you know… I would guess you’d be pretty damn tired after conjuring up a storm so big.”
The way his scalp shifted gave him away. “Excuse me? Are you unwell?”
“I’m a little tipsy. Drinking away a fight with m’ boyfriend. Thanks for asking. Back to you though… how much do you charge for something like that?”
“Something like what?”
“Storms for hire.”
She interrupted him by stabbing her hand through the air to shake his. “Sookie. Nice to meet you Julian.”
His back stiffened and she called him rude as she took her unshaken hand back. “How do you know who I am?”
“I’m a telepath…” She wiggled her nose. “You’re a witch… you’re right on par with the most powerful one I’ve ever met too. So… what were you hired to do?”
“Just a storm… It was a… who do you work for?”
“The vampires of Louisiana. Now you. Who, what, where, when and why? Now.”
The man’s throat clenched. “I was called a couple of weeks ago from a casino…”
“A couple of names were dropped and I was asked to help them with… their air conditioning was acting up, but they’re strapped for legit cash. Insurance fudging. Lightning strikes the units on the roof and viola, insurance covers acts of God…”
“That’s mighty cocky of you… Who called you?”
“So you’re watching TV with the wife one night and Mickey called and hired you to aid them in some insurance fraud?”
“Well, it was during the day, but yeah… I looked up the number, and it was actually from the hotel.” If it was during the day, it was someone who knew enough about Salome to frame her child… It would discredit her. It would shame her.
“Were you smart enough to keep that number?”
He nodded and reached for his pocket. He handed over his phone like it he couldn’t wait for it to be out of his hand.
Sookie dialed the number and waited… and waited… She finally gave up and whistled, calling for Pam who hurled Sookie’s phone through the air without being asked. Even impaired as Sookie was, she caught the phone smoothly and began dialing… but it only took a single ring to be answered that time.
Salome crooned, “I was just thinking about you, Rula. I’m quite bored at the moment. I already miss the excitement from having you here.”
Sookie smiled into the phone. “You have no idea what you just did for my self esteem… I need to ask you a very serious question though.”
“I don’t like the sound of this.”
“I’m sorry. This isn’t a good call. Did you have any parts or knowledge of an ongoing problem with your compressors?”
“No. They were only a year old.”
“So you have no knowledge of any reason they would need to be replaced.”
“No. I would. I know… I know everything that I can without you here.”
“The company who replaced them, is it the same one that installed them?” I was actually proud of her for thinking of that.
“Yes. Why are you asking?” I could hear the worry growing in her voice.
“As luck would have it, we stopped for dinner and ran into a witch who was hired to conjure a storm… So that when lightning struck your roof, your insurance would pay to replace them. He was operating under the request of Mickey, except when this Mickey called, he did so during the day.”
“Do you think this is a gift from our friends in Arkansas? Or our devout neighbors to the west?”
“I think you need to call the bomb squad.”
“The compressors aren’t installed yet. We’re waiting until the morning when they can be lifted by helicopter…”
“Salome, you evacuated the building. There wasn’t a living soul on the floors while the air conditioning company was free to roam every level. If I had to guess, I’d say you have a bunch of little ones scattered here and there.”
“Why would they bomb an empty building?”
“I don’t think they would. I think they’d plant bombs they could activate later… when you’re full.”
“Salome, you probably already thought of this, but quietly get your security footage and employee records for the past couple of years.”
“Honestly, I hadn’t thought about the employee files… this is… there’s a lot to think about. Why would you suggest so far back?”
“Because you said that your concierges don’t stay with you for long… I’d be willing to bet that one of them took some files with them when they were offered an Arkansas gig… Files like which contractors you use.”
“That makes perfect sense… Should I worry about the witch?”
“His name is Julian Trout. He’s a meteorologist in Illinois. He truly didn’t know that something else was afoot. But he does owe you a favor, now doesn’t he?” The man was washed out enough that he looked like he was going to be sick.
“I’m sure I can think of a way for him to make it up to me. Thank you.”
“The number that the phony Mickey called from was in the hotel. I’m sure it was from an unreserved room, but I’ll text it to you nonetheless… Along with Julian’s important information… In case he decides to be difficult about returning the favor and needs some encouragement… Call me with news?”