I sat at my table at Fangtasia, waiting for Sookie to arrive. She had agreed to have dinner with me after the foot massage I’d given her two nights before. I had offered to pick her up from her house but Sookie had insisted on driving to Shreveport. She claimed to have errands to run after work, and she wasn’t sure how much time she would need. She had promised to be at the bar by eight.
It was ten minutes til when I felt her eyes on me. I couldn’t see what she was wearing but I could see her face. She was wearing more makeup than usual and her hair was left down. She’d curled it nicely and her eyes seemed bluer than normal. The crowd parted and as soon as I saw what she was wearing, I was on my feet.
A black pencil skirt and a snug winter white sweater wiggled their way toward me. The neckline of the sweater offered a rather generous glimpse of her cleavage. A strand of pearls hung around her neck and a pair of small diamond studs were in her ears. Her perfume wafted toward me over the many smells of the vermin in the crowd.
“Sookie,” I smiled down at her. “You look lovely.”
“Thank you,” she smiled in return.
“Shall we go?” I suggested.
“Yes, before something happens to ruin our night.” Sookie blushed slightly and let me lead her through the crowd.
“Did you finish your errands?” I asked once we were out of the bar.
“I did,” Sookie nodded and followed me to my car. “How are Nerissa and Nicholas doing?”
“No change, unfortunately.” I opened the passenger’s side door for her.
“I talked to Holly,” she sank into the seat.
“Is she willing to help?” I asked merely a moment later when I was in the driver’s seat.
Sookie took a deep breath and said, “She’s hesitant to get involved and I don’t blame her. She’s a Wiccan, which is different than what you’re looking for. But she did give me the name of a friend of a friend that might be able to help. She said she’d do some checking around and find out if there’s anyone more locally that might be able to help.”
“Where is this friend of a friend?” I asked as I pulled out of the parking lot.
“She didn’t say,” Sookie gripped the door and I backed off the gas just a little. “So where are we going?”
“Red Rum.” I smiled over at her.
The face she made was priceless. I knew the association to those to particular words and the face Sookie made told me she did as well.
“It’s a vampire owned establishment, but there is a large menu for humans as well.”
“You don’t sound too sure.”
“I don’t exactly have a good track record at restaurants and bars owned by Supes,” Sookie pointed out.
That was certainly a true statement if ever I heard one.
“Luckily for you,” I turned toward her. “You’re with me.”
The parking lot at Red Rum was about half full. It was early for vampires to stop in. Traffic would be heavier there after midnight, and at its heaviest at closer to 2 AM. By then, Sookie and I would be long gone. She didn’t even have her seat belt unfastened by the time I was opening her door from the outside. She didn’t hesitate to give me her hand when I reached into the car to help her up. A skirt like the one she was wearing wasn’t exactly convenient when getting in, or out, of my car.
“Thank you,” Sookie said once she was on her feet.
We walked to the front of the restaurant together with her arm looped through mine. We were seated immediately at a booth in the back. I’d called ahead and made arrangements with the owner to be seated out of the way. The hostess left us with menus and returned to her post. Sookie settled into the booth and shrugged off her coat.
“So, what’s good here?” she said with a straight face while looking over her menu.
I quirked an eyebrow at her and when she looked up from her menu, she smiled at me.
“I’m serious.” Sookie leaned a bit closer.
“I like the Purity Blend.” I confessed to her.
“Mostly synthetic blood with a trace of virgin’s blood mixed in,” I explained.
She snorted and said, “Doesn’t the synthetic defeat the purpose?”
Touche. Leave it to Sookie to catch that.
I smiled at her and said, “Yes, it does, but the taste is just enough.”
“What’s the attraction?” Sookie asked, genuinely curious.
“To virgin blood?” I clarified and she nodded with an interested expression. “Centuries ago, it was quite common to have virgin blood. Although, back when I was first turned, it was hard to find unless you went after children.”
Sookie’s eyes widened and she asked, “Have you ever…I mean did you…”
“Feed on children? Only once. I didn’t care for it. I was forced to by my maker. I was still a young vampire at the time, and memories of my own children were still fresh in my mind.” I explained to her.
“You had children as a human?” Sookie’s eyes were locked on mine.
Just then a waitress came and asked to take our order. I got my Purity Blend while Sookie asked for a shrimp and broccoli pasta. I marveled at the notion I’d never had two of the main ingredient in her dinner while I was human. Pasta hadn’t been invented yet, and if broccoli was around, it wasn’t grown in my region of the world. Shrimp were easily caught off the coast of the small village I had lived in. They had a strange texture, if I recall correctly, but there wasn’t enough food to be picky.
“To answer your question, yes, I had children as a human.” I watched her face to see what her reaction would be.
To my surprise, her face remained rather blank as if she were reserving her comments until I was finished relaying tales of my human life. I didn’t think of it much any more. I pondered, from time to time, knowing all of them would have survived to adulthood had they been born in these times where medicine was so advanced. Sookie didn’t push for more details about them but she did have another question.
“Were you married?” She tried not to sound too interested in the answer but I knew she was.
“I was. Her name was Aude. She was my brother’s wife and when he died in battle, it fell to me to marry her.” I explained.
“You didn’t love her?” Sookie’s eyes widened only slightly.
“It was a different time then, Sookie. Marriages were arranged for any number of reasons, but most often, it came down to money. I find it interesting that that hasn’t changed in many instances.”
“That’s a shame,” she said sadly.
“It wasn’t a perfect system. There were matches made where the partners were compatible, but I came to care a great deal for Aude. She was a good wife and a very fierce mother. Of the six children we had-”
“Six?” Sookie interrupted with eyes as big as saucers.
“There was no birth control then,” I smirked at her. “And I think you’re aware of my appetites now.”
Sookie blushed and quickly drank some of her water. I laughed at her reaction and ignored the little kick I got under the table. I had a feeling I’d pay dearly for that comment later and I was looking forward to it.
“Of the six children we had, only three survived. Our daughter, Brígiða, looked very much like her mother. She had the same hands,” I remembered fondly the graceful fingers of my daughter. “Leikr was a little joker, always underfoot and trying to make everyone laugh. Sámr also looked like Aude. I would like to think that if he had been born in these times, he would have been a scholar. He was always asking to hear stories about the stars and toying with nature.”
“What about the others?” Sookie asked when I paused too long.
“They didn’t survive. Leikr was the oldest of our children. After him came a girl who didn’t survive long enough for us to name. Then there was a boy who never took a breath outside the womb. Brígiða came next and Sámr followed. The last baby was another girl. She was a strong one, we thought, but she caught a fever a few hours after her birth. Aude fell ill as well and died shortly after the infant.” I recalled.
“That’s awful,” Sookie said sadly.
“Childbirth was a gamble then, as was any illness a person got. Aude was a few years old than me, and even though I was only in my early twenties, I was already close to being an old man.” I admitted with a smile.
“An old man at twenty?”
“Close, Sookie,” I gave her a playful growl that made her laugh.
“If you were old then…” she trailed off in a teasing way.
I moved closer to her before she could blink and her breath caught in a gasp. I lowered my voice and made sure my lips were so close to her ear they were practically touching it. “I might be ancient now, sweet Sookie, but there is plenty of life left in me.”
Her heart thundered in her chest. Her jugular danced under the delightfully warm and fragrant skin of her neck. I wanted to lick the spot but curbed the instinct to do so. Sookie cleared her throat when the waitress brought out her salad.
“Tell me about your family,” I said while she spooned small amounts of a white sauce she called ‘Ranch’ all over the leafy greens on her plate.
“There isn’t much to tell. My parents died in a flash flood when I was young. My brother and I lived with my Gran until she was murdered by Rene a few months ago. My Uncle Bartlett…” she stumbled there and I felt something I couldn’t quite comprehend in her blood. “He wasn’t a very good man. He and Gran had a falling out and she told him she never wanted to see him again. He died last year. His body was found in a river not far from his home.”
“Was he murdered?” It was interesting so many members of Sookie’s family died of unnatural causes.
“I suspect he was, but the medical examiner couldn’t prove it.” Sookie was uncomfortable speaking of this Bartlett person. I was curious to know why, but I knew well enough not to push. She’d speak of him in more detail when she was ready. “My father’s sister, my Aunt Linda, died of cancer when I was still a teenager. Her daughter, my cousin Hadley, got mixed up with the wrong crowd of people. She called up my Gran a few years ago asking for money to get herself into rehab. Gran sent her the money and we haven’t heard a peep from her since. I assume she’s dead but I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure what happened to her.”
That was a lot of tragedy for such a short life. It gave me new perspective on Sookie. Living more more than a 1,000 years gave me a unique insight into the human psyche. I had done a little bit of research on psychology simply because I found the subject fascinating, but I knew things about the human race that would never be in the books. Knowing that Sookie had dealt with so much loss in such a short amount of time in her life told me she most likely had what modern psychologists would call ‘abandonment issues,’ and without intending to, I had abandoned her.
It was complicated since I didn’t really abandon her. I was sitting right in front of her, watching as she bit into a little red ball that I identified a moment later as a tomato. I wasn’t sure I could ever truly be the version of myself that had lived with her for those few days, but I could show her that when we were alone, we didn’t have to live by vampire rules. In fact, it might be nice to live in her world for a while and forget all of the politics and head games that went into being a vampire.
I’d never aspired to anything higher up than sheriff in the vampire hierarchy. The name Hadley was familiar to me. If I recalled correctly, the Queen once had a pet by that name. Pam would remember. If Pam had a gift, it was her memory since it was even better than mine. If Hadley was a pet of the Queen’s it might be possible to arrange a meeting. I often thought it would be smarter to register Sookie as an asset of the state. Of course, that would only make the state richer, since telepaths were rare and Louisiana was already quit a plum thanks to New Orleans.
We continued to talk through dinner. We didn’t speak of supernatural things, even though we were in a room full of the supernatural. There was no further mention of the sick vampires in the basement at Fangtasia. We didn’t speak of the curse that had been put on me. The only political discussion was had was of the upcoming elections for a human mayor in Shreveport.
It was a pleasant evening. Sookie was debating whether or not to get a dessert when my phone rang in my pocket. I’d given Pam explicit instructions not to call me unless the world was ending- literally- and yet she was calling anyway. I apologized to Sookie before taking the call. I answered in Old Norse, knowing it was less likely for anyone to know the language.
“Is a meteor hurdling toward the earth, Pamela?” I asked her.
“That would be a much easier mess to clean up,” Pam snarked right back.
“If you have access to a television, you might want to turn on the news. A makerless vampire attacked a bunch of humans at a carnival in Ruston. Thankfully, there were vampires in attendance who were able to contain the newborn, but two humans were killed and several were injured. It’s a fucking nightmare, Eric.” Pam growled into the phone.
My fangs extended in fury. “Where is the newborn?”
“Being brought here. She should be here shortly.”
She? Fantastic. I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Silver her. I’ll be there shortly. Close the bar and call everyone in. Enough of this shit.”
“I’m already on it.” Pam said, proving yet again why she was my second.
“Everything okay?” Sookie asked when I hung up the phone.
“No,” I signaled for the check. “A newborn killed two humans at a carnival in Ruston.”
Sookie gasped and began to pull her coat on. “That’s awful. Was the newborn makerless?”
I nodded while digging into my pocket for my wallet. When the waitress came with the bill, I quickly stuck the credit card into it before Sookie could argue. I knew her pride would insist she pay her own way.
“You can pay next time,” I winked at her, effectively shutting down her argument for all of ten seconds.
“Who says there’s going to be a next time?” She asked while buttoning her jacket.
“Do you not want a next time?” I put a little smolder in my eyes.
She sucked her bottom lip between her teeth and gave it a good chewing before leaning back against the cushioned wall of the booth. She looked at me through her thick, dark lashes and gave me just a hint of a smile.
“Next time would be nice,” she admitted in a voice so quiet I wouldn’t have heard it if I wasn’t a vampire.
I continued to stare at her while the bill came back for my signature. I looked down, added the tip and signed the receipt so quickly Sookie had barely blinked by the time I was done. I left the bill in it’s little folder and put the credit card back in its slot in my wallet. The longer I stared at her, the more she blushed.
“Are you ready?” I asked after a few minutes of just staring silently at each other. As much as I wanted to sit there and stare at her all night, there wasn’t time.
“Yes, I am,” she began to slide out of her side of the booth.
We walked out of the restaurant together and when we reached the car, I spun her around and kissed her. The act took her by surprise. She was rigid for just a few seconds before she relaxed and parted her lips to let me explore the warmth of her mouth. I could taste what she’d had for dinner since it still lingered on her tongue. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but it wasn’t a bad taste. It just wasn’t what I was used to, and Sookie all on her own tasted infinitely better.
I pulled back when I smelled her arousal wafting toward me. I could feel it in her blood as well, and if there was more time, I would have made a move for more than just a kiss. As it was, I was going to have to settle. I opened the car door for her and helped her into her seat.
“I don’t think I’ll be wearing this skirt again when I know I’m getting in this car,” Sookie joked as she strapped herself in.
“Pity. It does display your assets nicely,” I smirked while backing out of the parking lot and absorbing the small slap that landed on my arm. I turned to smile at her and my eyes drifted down to her chest.
“Eyes on the road, Northman. You drive crazy enough already,” Sookie folded her arms over her chest, effectively blocking my view of what my journal told me were the most amazing breasts ever in creation.
I knew the words in the journal were true. I’d seen two of nature’s greatest wonders twice in the past. It was frustrating to know both times were in the aftermath of an injury she had suffered due to my inability to effectively defend her. First there was the maenad attack, in which she had been used to send a message. Then in Jackson, I’d been left to care for her after she was staked.
Actually, I had chosen to care for her. Seeing her so near death a second time had rattled me more than I would ever admit to anyone but her. The only thing more troubling to me would be the lose of my progeny and that had given me great pause. There were very few humans that meant anything to me over the many, many years I’d been a vampire.
Even as a human, my wife hadn’t monopolized my attentions the way Sookie did. Feelings I hadn’t felt in centuries were plaguing me, haunting me, even. I found myself thinking of her at the most random moments, often wondering where she was, who she was with and if she was okay. Sookie was a paradox. All at once I wanted to love her and hate. I wanted to protect her and sometimes thought I should just kill her and be done with it. She drove me crazy and yet, I couldn’t stand the idea of being without her.
When we pulled into the parking lot at Fangtasia, it was just about empty. There were a few fangbangers loitering in the lot when I got out to help Sookie from the car. The anger that flared in her blood when she stood at my side told me the thoughts being thrown at her weren’t kind. Had she not been standing there I might have drained them all but instead, I reached for her hand and walked with her to the back of the bar.
“Wait, Eric,” Sookie tugged on my hand to get my attention. “Are you sure you want me to come in with you?”
“You’re involved with this, Sookie. I need you to be aware of what’s happening for your own safety. If you would like to leave, I can come to you later with the information, but I’d like for you to stay.”
Sookie smiled at me and said, “I’ll stay.”
Her curiosity always got the better of her. I warned her the bar would be full of vampires, which meant she had to slip into the roll of the submissive, dutiful pet. It was her first big test and I had all the confidence in the world she could pull it off.
“Bill’s gonna be in there isn’t he?” Sookie asked a little nervously.
“Yes, he will.”
“I haven’t seen him since the witch war. I’m not sure how he’s going to react to us being together,” Sookie said, although I think we both knew what the reaction was going to be.
“He’ll be have himself.” I said with confidence, but Sookie looked skeptical. “It wouldn’t bode well for him to disrespect me in front of the entire vampire population of Area 5, Sookie.”
“Right, you’re the Sheriff,” her eyes brightened some.
“See? Sometimes my ‘vampire shit’ isn’t so bad.”
She rolled her eyes but allowed me to kiss her chastely before she walked inside. Pam was waiting at the top of the stairs that lead to the basement. I knew she was agitated by the bond we shared. I glanced quickly at her shoes to see what sort of damage had been done to them but they seemed unharmed. Thank heavens.
“Sookie, why don’t you take a seat in my office and I’ll come for you before the meeting begins?” I suggested to her.
“I can wait out front,” Sookie shrugged, which made Pam grin.
“Like a lamb to the slaughter,” Pam mumbled in Old Norse and I glared at her in warning. Pam dropped her eyes and started downstairs.
“While I’m sure you’ll be just fine out front, I would rather we appear together. It will send a message, if you know what I mean.” My eyebrows crept toward my hairline.
“You mean Bill?” Sookie asked and I nodded. “I really don’t want to rub his nose in it, Eric.”
“I’m not suggesting we do. I simply want it acknowledged that you are not his any longer.”
Sookie rolled her eyes again. “You know what’s sad about this? I can’t even blame it on vampire protocol because you’d trot me out in front of him just as easy if you were humans.”
I laughed at her assessment and kissed her head while opening my office door. “You’re quite correct about that, dear one, and I am not one bit sorry for it. I’ll be back.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sookie plopped down on the couch as I closed the door.
At vampire speed I descended the steps to the basement. The fact that we were quickly getting to capacity was very irritating. The newborn was silvered as I’d told Pam to do. She was chained to a wall, snarling and snapping her fangs. Her long, dark curls had twigs and dirt in them. She hadn’t been out of the ground for long.
“Who is your maker?” I demanded of her.
“I don’t know. Let me go. This is kidnapping! I could have you arrested for this!” The woman shrieked at me.
“Pam, educate the newborn.” My patience was wearing thin.
Pam picked up a pair of pliers and slithered toward the woman. “You disrespect my master and your sheriff? Tsk, tsk.” Pam even clucked her tongue for effect.
“Sheriff?” The woman sneered.
“Yes. Vampires live by their own laws, darling, and you’ve broken one. A big one.” Pam forced the newborn’s head back against the wall.
“Tell me who your maker is, or my progeny will remove your fangs.” I threatened, which was enough to make the ill, older vampires in the room hiss.
“I don’t even know what a maker is, you imbecile!” She continued to glare at me with murderous eyes. At least she did until Pam clamped the pliers onto one of the fangs and began to tug. The woman screamed and tried to fight, which was stupid considering the device tugging at her one of her new teeth.
“A maker is the vampire who turned you. Give us a name, and you get to keep your fangs.” Pam tugged again, but let go when the newborn tried to speak.
“I don’t know! I was meeting a client for drinks downtown and when I woke up I was buried on the side of the road near the highway. I don’t even know what day it is!” The newborn argued.
“Your name?” I asked her without moving.
“Mary Elizabeth Coy. I’m a junior partner at Kemp, Whrit and Colbert.” Mary Elizabeth told us.
“You’re a lawyer?” I asked and she nodded as much as she could with Pam’s grip on her head.
“Who were you meeting?”
“A client.” Her snarky answer got her another tug on her fang and she screeched.
“Let me explain something to you, newborn. When Eric speaks, you listen closely. When he asks you a question, you answer it. He is the boss around here and since you don’t seem to have a maker willing to come forward and collect you, you are his to do with as he pleases,” Pam explained to her in a ruthless tone. “That means he can take your fangs, torture you, starve you, let you burn in the sun, or my personal favorite, let me play.”
“He only identified himself as Mr. S. He was interested in suing someone for wrongful death and wanted to know what his chances were. We hadn’t even gotten through a single drink before I blacked out. That’s all I remember.” Mary Elizabeth’s eyes were wild with panic.
Pam looked over her shoulder at me and I nodded. Pam dropped the pliers and unchained the newborn. Mary Elizabeth slumped to the ground, whimpering over her burned wrists.
“Until we can find you a suitable nest, you will stay here.” I told her.
“I have a house,” she glared at me but quickly dropped her eyes when I bared my fangs at her.
“It wasn’t an invitation, newborn, it was an order. Until you have learned the proper ways to feed and how to control your bloodlust, you will remain here.” I said in a stern tone. “Failure to comply will result in me…what’s the phrase?, letting Pam off the leash?”
Pam laughed an evil laugh and yanked Mary Elizabeth to her feet to take her upstairs for the meeting we were having. There was no change in Nicholas or Nerissa and they were left to their own devices in the basement. Nerissa was wearing a new outfit, probably brought to her by Kaydee while I was out with Sookie.
Up in my office, I found Sookie sitting on the couch right where I left her, only she was flipping through a copy of Martha Stewart Living that Pam had left somewhere. She was always reading one modern periodical or another, although why she needed to be able to make a gravy boat from a gourd was beyond me.
“Everything okay?” Sookie asked without looking up.
“Not especially. The new vampire has no recollection of her maker.” Did I mention this was becoming irritating?
Sookie pressed her lips together and folded down the corner of the page she was reading, presumably to return to it another time. “Who is she?”
“Her name is Mary Elizabeth. She was a lawyer at a firm downtown.”
“What kind of lawyer is she?”
“Litigation. Sounds like personal injury, perhaps.”
“Could one of her clients be responsible for this?” Sookie asked as she wiggled her way toward me.
“It’s a possibility,” I smiled at her for considering it. “She said she was meeting a client when she blacked out. A man who identified himself only as Mr. S.”
“Mr. S?” Sookie snorted. “Why do bad guys always have really silly names like that?”
Her guess was as good as mine. Together we walked out to the main area of the bar. Her arm was looped through mine and almost immediately, I felt her stiffen. Bill’s furious eyes were settled on us as we walked toward the dais where my throne was located. There were two chairs flanking it. Pam sat at my right while I escorted Sookie to sit at my left. Clancy, a vampire Pam had invited to partner in the bar, appeared with a drink for Sookie and TrueBloods for Pam and I before disappearing into the crowd.
I cleared my throat and the room went so silent, all any of us heard was Sookie’s heartbeat and breathing. She was nervous. Whether it was because she was in a room full of vampires who were waiting for her to make a mistake or because Bill was still staring at her like she had betrayed him, I wasn’t sure. I would think it was a mixture of the two. I leveled a stare at Bill, who wisely looked away from Sookie.
“We are here this evening because there are two vampires in the area who recently went missing and have been returned with what Dr. Ludwig says is a magic of some sort attached to them. It’s making them ill to the point that they cannot rest or hold their blood. They will die soon if we can’t identify the cause of this illness. Nerissa was reported miss. Nicholas was not. We also have two new vampires whom have risen without recollection of being turned. The act was not consensual, and as we all know, the days of turning humans for fun are over.” I felt Sookie prickle emotionally at my suggestion that turning humans had ever been an act of frivolity, but she kept quiet.
“To that end, I am instating martial law in this area. Until further notice, all vampires in my retinue will check in both at sunrise and sunset. This appears to be a problem unique to this area and until the culprit is discovered and dispatched, this regiment will continue. If, at any time, a vampire in your nest goes missing and you fail to report it to Pam or myself, there will be consequences.
“As it stands now, I’m sure you are aware of the events at the carnival in Ruston. This sets us back a great deal, as I have learned the humans that were killed were minors.” This definitely got a reaction out of Sookie. I saw her jaw drop in my peripheral vision and sadness flooded her blood. “We cannot continue to have problems such as these and I will not tolerate them in my area. Failure to comply with the edicts I am handing down will result in a trip to see Her Majesty.”
Not a vampire in the room wanted a trip to New Orleans for a disciplinary infraction. Time with Pam in the basement would feel like a Swedish massage when Andre was through with whatever tortures he might employ. Generally speaking, the vampires in my area followed my rules. There were petty squabbles over pets and property when a nest went bad, but I rarely had disciplinary problems.
“Any questions?” I asked.
“Could this be the work of the Fellowship?” A vampire in the back by the name of Matthew asked.
“We’re checking into that possibility. I haven’t heard anything about a new cell moving into the area, but keep your ears to the ground. It’s possible the may have a witch on their payroll and don’t know it.”
Sookie made the slightest noise beside me and I turned to look at her. Her eyes were wide and I knew she had something to say. I leaned over to let her whisper in my ear.
“I think Mr. S is Mark Stonebrook,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.