The lust I was feeling when I rose was what humans would call ‘off the charts.’ Sookie was always the first thing on my mind when the sun went down. I found myself plagued with images of my own creation, based on the things I’d read in the journal. Over and over again, I would imagine myself making love to her, until finally it drove me to the shower to relieve the tension that had built.
Slowly but surely, she was driving me mad.
Turning away fangbangers had never been easier for me, ironically enough. In spite of my hyper awareness of the sex available to me, the only sex I wanted was with a sassy telepath who was out of my reach. I remained on my strict diet of synthetic bloods, cringing slightly at the smell of the humans that passed before me night after night at Fangtasia. None of them were Sookie, which had never really bothered me before. At least where the sex was concerned, I could close my eyes and pretend it was her.
But there was no mistaking the taste. There was something unique about her blood. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. It was sweeter, that much was obvious, but I didn’t know what caused it. I’d never had a telepath before, but I couldn’t imagine that her ability would season her blood. I’d been with a psychic once, but I suspect the wild flavor in her blood had more to do with the mushrooms I learned she was taking to ‘enhance her visions.’
I suspected the sweetness in Sookie’s blood was far more natural than something she was ingesting. Besides, on the few occasions I recall having seen her eat, she hadn’t appeared to be overly fond of sweets. It was puzzling, as were many things about my life. I didn’t like all the unanswered questions I had. It was quite annoying.
I tried to push Sookie from my mind and concentrate on my duties as sheriff. I made my reports to the queen, as usual. I met with the other sheriffs at our monthly conference. Our reports there were less about financials, and more about the movement of the vampires in our areas. We talked about who we suspected to be spying from other kingdoms, and who needed to be watched. It was all top secret information shared only on a need-to-know basis. This was where I discussed things on a professional level I didn’t even discuss with Pam.
I didn’t keep much from her, mostly because she had a nose for sniffing out secrets. My child was very good at reading me for signs of trouble. If she had inherited a gift at all when she was turned, she’d kept it hidden from me very well. Perhaps her above average poker face was her gift. When she wanted to, Pam could keep a straight face through things that would make the oldest of vampires cringe.
I was in my office, settling a dispute between two vampires who claimed to have ownership of the same pet. The pet was so glamoured and confused, it didn’t seem to know who it belonged to. Once upon a time, the girl was probably very pretty. As it was, her bad dye job had grown out enough that her purple hair was blonde at the roots. Her eyes were bloodshot, and a murky brown color. Her complexion was ruddy, and her makeup was atrociously applied.
Not only was the girl incredibly confused, she was clearly not well cared for by either of her self-proclaimed masters. I’d never been one for keeping pets. I’d done it once back in the late 1400s out of sheer loneliness right after my master released me. I wasn’t used to being on my own and I wasn’t yet ready to be a maker myself. My pet’s name was Cosette. She was enamored with me, and took to her training very well. In a lot of ways, she was the perfect preamble to Pam. Had I felt the proper pull to turn her, I would have done so in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately, Cosette had too gentle a spirit. She wouldn’t have survived the adaptation to our ways, and she would have ended up meeting the sun or getting herself killed within the first year. We traveled all over France together until she expressed a desire for a husband and children. I had never been the type to hold a woman against her will, and Cosette was no different. I let her go when we arrived in Nice, as it was winter, and the climates were warmer there. From there, I went northeast up the coast of what is now known as the Ligurian Sea and spent the rest of the winter there before catching a boat that took me to Egypt.
I could tell by looking at the pathetic human in front of me, her masters wouldn’t be taking her around Europe any time soon. In fact, it would be a miracle if they took her home. If it weren’t over my head to make such a call, I might have suggested they put her down. As it was, I failed to see what they were fighting over. The pet seemed to be a lost cause.
The issue was finally dismissed when the pet vomited all over my office floor, and both of them opted to relinquish control of her. Of course, their timing was exceptional. I paged for someone to come in and clean up the mess and considered fining both vampires for not only wasting my time, but for the mess they made but that would require them being in my presence for longer. When review came up for their residency, I would have to reconsider whether I would let them stay. I didn’t want to see this problem again.
As if that wasn’t headache enough, a vampire by the name of Kaydee came in to see me. She was hysterical over a missing nestmate who hadn’t come home for the last three days.
“Perhaps she’s traveling,” I looked at the spreadsheet we kept of all the vampires who had filed their leave of absence with us to cover their shifts at the bar, since we required all residents to spend a certain amount of time at the bar on display.
“No, Sheriff, Nerissa wouldn’t leave without telling me. We’ve been together since St. Petersburg.” Kaydee’s eyes dropped to the floor, rimmed with red. “Even before we met, Nerissa was never one for traveling alone.”
Nerissa hadn’t filed any papers to let us know she was leaving, and after a quick search of her name, I knew it was unlike her. In fact, it was amazing to me she had made it as long as she had. From the records we had, Nerissa had been turned back in 1714 back in Greece. She’d settled in my area before I was appointed Sheriff in the late 1980s. She had no registered progeny, and given Nerissa’s excellent track record with following procedure, I doubted very much she would break tradition with such a large offense. Of course, there was a first time for everything.
“Does Nerissa have progeny?” I asked just to be sure.
“No, Sheriff, she doesn’t. Her last attempt at turning a vampire was in St. Petersburg, but it didn’t go well. She has been uneasy about trying again.”
“Sheriff, I have spoken with everyone I can think of who might know where she’s gone, and no one claims to have any knowledge of her. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.” Kaydee spoke respectfully and with obvious worry in her eyes.
“I will put the word out that she has gone missing. Have you been in contact with any of the trackers?”
“Not yet, sir. I thought it best to inform you before I spoke with them.” She was following proper protocol. Thank God someone was.
“I’ll make the call before I retire. Expect to see Petri at first dark.”
“Thank you, Sheriff,” Kaydee bowed respectfully before departing.
I leaned back in my chair and rubbed my eyes. Makerless vampires were appearing and now I have older vampires disappearing without a trace. This wasn’t good. In fact, it was a headache I didn’t fucking need.
“Problem, Eric?” Pam asked as she sat across from me and went at her fingernails with an emery board.
“What do you know about a vampire named Nerissa?”
“Petite, five foot two, probably about 98 pounds, dark hair, blue eyes, turned on one of the Greek isles, nests with two other vampires by the names of Kaydee and Ivan. I know she saw some of the action in St. Petersburg, and she went to ground during the Great Reveal. Very timid in nature, but she’s got a great gift.”
“Oh?” I hadn’t looked at all of that information.
Pam looked at me completely serious. “Eric, she’s a memory manipulator.”
I was rather unsuccessful in getting Sookie out of my head, so I decided the best course of action was to call her to see me. I had a perfectly good excuse since Nerissa was missing. It was entirely plausible she’d been taken by drainers. I hadn’t heard anything about a cell moving into the area, but they were getting smarter and harder to spot. They weren’t however, much of a match for a telepath, and I knew if there was a drainer casing my bar, Sookie would find it.
The day after Nerissa was reported missing, I had Pam make the call. Sookie was every bit as sassy as I expected her to be, even calling Pam my ‘flunky’ before hanging up on her. Pam raised an amused eyebrow at me.
“She’s lucky I like her, or I’d drain her myself,” Pam smirked and handed me the handset.
“Careful, Pamela, you’re dangerously close to gushing,” I teased.
Pam narrowed her eyes at me before leaving the office. I waited a moment before dialing Sookie’s phone number myself. I sat back in my chair and slowly swiveled back and forth.
“Hello?” Sookie answered in her usual pleasant tone.
“Good evening, Miss Stackhouse.”
“Oh, your highness, how lovely of you to deign to call me yourself.” Sookie mocked.
“Did you call Pam my flunky?” I asked her out of pure amusement.
“That’s what she is, isn’t she?”
“You’re in a particularly prickly mood this evening, Sookie. Have I done something to offend you?”
“Not yet, but there’s time.”
“That was rude. I was calling to ask for your assistance. It seems a vampire has gone missing in this area, and I was hoping you might be able to find some time in your schedule to do a little reading for me.”
The line would have been silent to a human, but I heard her mumble under her breath about me keeping score for coming to retrieve Kevin.
“Sookie this isn’t about you repaying a debt. I’m asking you a favor, but I can certainly pay you if-”
“Don’t even think about it!” she cut me off quickly. “Eric, I don’t feel right about taking money for something I do all the time. And before you say anything, Dallas was a special situation because it meant traveling and taking time off my job to do it. I happen to have tomorrow night off, so I suppose I can make the trip. What time should I be there?”
“Nine would be good, if that’s acceptable to you? That way I can catch you up on the vampire that’s missing.”
“Nine is fine with me.”
“We could say eight if you’d like to have dinner first?” I suggesting, figuring it didn’t hurt to ask.
There was another stall before she said, “I’ll see you at nine. Goodnight, Eric.”
She hung up before I got the chance to say anything further, but it was probably for the best. Rather than hanging up on my end, however, I dialed Octavia Fant’s phone number. I’d left several messages for her, and had yet to receive a call back. Once again, there was no answer at her home and I left another message asking her to return my call at her earliest convenience.
I placed one final phone call to Bianca, the vampire I’d caught feeding in my bar and asked her to report to Fangtasia the following evening. I’d decided on her punishment.
I felt Sookie approaching before I saw her. Her mood was relatively calm, although I knew that could change as rapidly as she blinked. I was sitting on my throne when she walked in. She was dressed in a white wool skirt and a pale pink sweater. She was also wearing the coat I’d given her. I stood as she approached me, and I relaxed when her scent filled my lungs.
“Sookie.” I greeted her with a smile.
“Eric.”she nodded in return.
“Would you care to join me at my booth?”
“Sure,” she shrugged.
“That color suits you.” I gestured to the coat.
“It’s warm, too. Too warm for in here.” She began to unbutton the tortoiseshell buttons of the coat.
“Allow me.” I slid the coat down her arms and handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she smiled faintly over her shoulder.
“Why don’t we put this in my office for safe keeping?” I suggested.
She quirked an eyebrow, but followed me back to my office. I hung the coat in my closet while she stood anxiously at my desk. Without asking, she lifted a picture frame and looked at the photo.
“When was this taken?” she turned the frame, not that I needed to see the picture to know.
“That is from the night Fangtasia opened for business.” I recalled.
“When was that, exactly?”
“A month after the Great Revelation.” I moved to sit behind my desk to pull of the necessary information for Sookie, which included a picture of Nerissa.
“So, I take it you brought me here to tell me about the missing vampire?” Sookie took a seat.
“Yes, I didn’t want to discuss it on the floor.” I turned my laptop around so she could see it. “The vampire in question is named Nerissa.”
“She’s very pretty,” Sookie’s smile faltered some. There was a hint of jealousy in her blood.
“She’s almost three hundred years old. She was turned in Greece, and according to my notes she speaks four languages, including Greek and English. She also speaks Russian and French. She has two nestmates, one of whom reported her missing. By my watch, she’s been gone for six days now, although it may be longer, but not more than ten days. I do have trackers looking for her, but so far they’ve been unsuccessful in finding her.” I explained to Sookie.
“And you’re sure it’s drainers?”
“It’s a possibility. Nerissa is very soft spoken and polite. She lives quietly, and isn’t known to just disappear. I’ve checked in with other sheriffs and no one has reported seeing her.”
“What if another vampire staked her? It happens, you know.”
I smiled and said, “It does, but it’s rare. And Long Shadow was the first and only vampire I’ve ever staked.”
And I was still paying for that. Every time I thought I was finished with Hot Rain, he came up with another demand. Really, the whole thing was rather ridiculous. I’d long since surpassed the amount he’d stolen from me, but I couldn’t let him off the hook. It would have seriously countermanded my authority, which was worse than paying Hot Rain through the nose.
“But vampires killing vampires isn’t common?”
“Not really. Mostly because if the vampire still has a maker, the murderer has to pay a debt to the maker.”
“How much?” Sookie asked, genuinely curious.
“There is no set amount. The maker decides what is acceptable recompense for their loss.”
“And how much have you paid for Long Shadow?”
“More than he was worth.” If I got into the numbers with her, she would spend her night focusing on that, rather than the task at hand.
“I’m sorry, Eric.” she looked down.
“It was worth it, to save your life.”
That got a genuine smile out of her, but it quickly faded away. We chatted a bit longer and she asked after Kevin. I was just about to suggest we go out to the booth when Pam buzzed to let me know Bianca had arrived. She was right on time. I had her sent back, and Sookie was still seated across from me when Bianca knocked on the door.
“Enter!” I called out, and the door opened.
Sookie remained facing me, which I was surprised by. Bianca took a few tentative steps into my office before closing the door behind her.
“You wished to see me, Sheriff?”
“Yes, Bianca. Have a seat,” I gestured to the sofa. “Sookie, this is Bianca. Bianca, this is Sookie Stackhouse. Excuse me for a moment.”
I left the office to retrieve Kevin from the basement where we’d been sheltering him until we could find a vampire to house him with. The boy had no recollection of his turning. I’d thought, initially, it was just the trauma of the experience. Not all vampires remembered right away, even if they had been turned by choice. Kevin’s memory was a complete blank. Having Nerissa would have helped, since she was a memory manipulator. Why I didn’t think of her sooner…
“Bianca, this is Kevin. He’s a new vampire and in need of guidance. You will be his companion and teach him our ways. Hopefully, this will strengthen your own training.” I said once Kevin and I were back in my office.
It was obvious I wasn’t going to have to twist any arms (quite literally) to get the two of them to accept one another. I believe what I witnessed was what humans would call puppy love. They actually left holding hands. Sookie was practically swooning in her seat. Pam, if she had the ability, would have vomited.
“You’re punishing Bianca by sending her home with a cute boy?” Sookie again quirked an eyebrow.
“Not quite, dear one,” I reached for her hand. “Bianca was caught feeding on the premises. The usual punishment isn’t nearly quite so pleasant, but since Bianca herself is lacking a maker, I thought giving her the responsibility might make her mature quicker.”
“Interesting approach to behavior correction.” Sookie took my hand. She closed her eyes and I felt calm wash over her again. “Okay, I’m ready.”
As expected the entire crowd was watching the two of us as Sookie and I made our way to my booth. No sooner had we sat down than a waitress came over to take our drink orders. Mine was predictable by then, since I’d only had synthetic blood since the curse was lifted. Sookie opted to have a ginger ale instead of the gin and tonic I knew she usually drank.
“So, Eric, how are you settling in?” Sookie asked once our drinks had been delivered.
It was a perfectly normal question to be asked, but coming from Sookie it was strange. I realized then that every conversation we’d ever had was about business of some sort. We had never talked about anything other than a problem that had risen or how we were going to handle said problem. The only time we had ever talked about anything not associated with ‘work’ was when I was cursed. Having made that connection, I started to realize why, perhaps, she preferred the other version of me.
“You mean aside from makerless vampires rising, and other vampires going missing?” I asked with a smile that actually got her to laugh a little.
“Yeah, beside that.”
“Other than that, very well, thank you.” I told her.
She nodded and stared at her hands for a few moments before her head snapped up and her eyes began to search the crowd. I tried to follow her gaze, but I wasn’t sure what she was looking for. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the crowd that I could see.
“Can you hear me?” she asked in a breath, more than a voice. Rather than answer her verbally, I nodded. “The girl with pink highlights is using counterfeit bills at the bar.”
I let out an impatient sigh and sent a text message to Clancy behind the bar, then to Pam to let her know we had a problem. In no time at all, the girl had been whisked to the back office where Pam was most likely confiscating the counterfeit cash and glamouring the woman into forgetting the rest. There was another human who would never set foot on the premises again. Once it was done, Pam texted back to tell me she’d removed close to three hundred dollars in counterfeit money from the woman.
“How’s your brother doing?” I figured it would be best to try and keep up communication that didn’t relate to her reasons for coming to see me.
“He’s much better. His bruises and cuts are healing nicely. He’s still a little skittish, but I can’t say I blame him. I probably wouldn’t want to be around people either if I was held hostage and essentially tortured for a week.”
I knew a thing or two about recovering from torture, but decided it was best to keep it to myself for the time being. Instead, I turned the conversation to how things were going with her regular job. It was a much simpler topic.
“Same old, same old,” she shrugged and sipped her soda. “The two kids that got mauled are recovering, in case you were wondering.”
“I’m glad to hear they’re okay.”
“Are you really?” Sookie quirked her eyebrow yet again.
“Sookie, do you really think I’m a monster that wishes death on all humans?” I had to know where she stood on this issue. If she really thought I had no consideration at all for human lives, pursuing her was a waste of my time.
“No, I don’t think that.”
“Then what do you think?”
“I think you’re interested in their well-being because it has a direct effect on you. The attack happened in your area. Of course, you couldn’t have predicted it, and since the maker can’t be located, you’re stuck holding the bag on this one. That still doesn’t change the fact that it’s to your benefit they survive.” She was right, of course. Perhaps she had a better understanding of things than I thought.
“That’s very true.” No point in lying.
“Although, I don’t think it’s fair you get blamed for all of this. You aren’t in trouble, are you?” Sookie bit her bottom lip just slightly.
“No, I’m fine. Assuming this doesn’t become a pattern.”
“And if it does?”
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, I think is the saying.”
Sookie finished her drink, and it was immediately replaced with another. We talked a bit more about mundane things and stories we’d seen in the news. When those topics grew thin, we started talking about books. I noticed whenever something political came up, she got uncomfortable and tried to steer the conversation in another direction. It was probably for the best since we held such different opinions on so many things. Of course, our views on the world were quiet different.
I had enough years behind me to be able to spot trends forming. The predictions I could make were part of what made my financial holdings so significant. I was used to the panicking of humans, and the way they would sell everything off to preserve their wealth. They didn’t understand the importance of weathering the storm, and how panic was part of what drove a crisis. Instead, they were quick to abandon ship. Then again, their abandonment meant sinking stock prices. It was easy to spot when they were about to bottom out, which meant vampires (both metaphorical and literal) could swoop in and make a killing.
“Sounds like you’re very good with making your money grow.” Sookie smiled at me when I finished explaining a few things. “I have no idea how all that stock market stuff works.”
“I could teach you a few things. You certainly have money to invest now.”
She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair, fluffing it just enough to send a fresh burst of her scent my way. I breathed it in quietly. Heaven.
“Yes, I suppose I do. Maybe I’ll take you up on that one of these days. I did give some of the money to my brother.”
“I thought you might.”
“It’s a lot of money, Eric, and I never would have thought to suggest you pay me for helping you. That was all Jason’s doing.”
“So I’ve been told. As I said, Sookie, I would have paid you more.”
“I know, and I’m grateful you didn’t try to. Although, if you had, the Bon Temps library would have been very thankful for my donation to their rebuilding fund.”
I smirked at her words. Without intending to, she had just planted an idea in my head. If I couldn’t help Sookie directly, the next best thing was to help the people she cared about. Besides, a library was a very worthy cause.
“Not that I’m not enjoying our conversation here, dear Sookie, but have you heard anything yet?” I asked her after more than two hours had passed.
“No, I haven’t,” she looked away from me before she said, “But if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to stay a while longer. You don’t have to keep me company if you have other things to do.”
Was she serious? But her blood told me she was. She wanted me to stay. I reached across the table for her hand and kissed the back of it.
“There is nowhere else I would rather be,” I smiled, and so did she.
It wasn’t happily ever after, but it was a start.