The shower took longer than it should have but it couldn’t be helped. Sookie’s wet, warm body was far too enticing to remain untouched for long, and I quickly came to understand why the cursed version of me was willing to give up everything to stay with her. Everything about her was addictive, from the way her lips fit perfectly against mine to the way her legs wrapped around my side, causing her feet to dig into the small of my back while I thrust inside her. The noises she made when she was lost in rapture were the perfect blend of angelic and animalistic.
Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who felt conflicted about our relationship. I pushed those thoughts aside, determined to focus on finding the solutions to the multitude of problems we were facing. First things first, I made a call to Mr. Cataliades to see if there was a way to get Evol to come and sort out the mess of explosives wired to Sookie’s home. While Pam had an excellent sense of smell, I suspected there may be other traps set that Pam hadn’t been able to spot. Evol would find, and dismantle, them all.
It seemed luck was finally on my side when Mr. Cataliades informed me that Evol was currently in the proper realm and would be willing to ‘debug’ Sookie’s house for a modest fee. Evol had a thing for Thalia. Her presence alone would make the trip worthwhile. I called her and requested she get to Fangtasia and await further instruction from Pam. Evol didn’t have a chance with her, but I didn’t need to be the one to tell him that. Thalia might be a small woman but she was capable of holding her own with any creature, supernatural or human.
It bordered on painful to watch Sookie get dressed. That is until I realized Pam had made the brilliant decision to pack nothing but skirts and dresses for Sookie, aside from the Merlotte’s uniform Sookie had asked for. My child knew me well. Sookie ended up in a white sweater dress that hugged her curves in a very appealing way. She pulled her hair back in a bun at the nape of her neck, leaving her jugular bare. It was almost sexier than the cleavage on display.
It took every bit of restraint I had not to tackle her right there in the large closet she was standing in, but we had places to be. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to conduct business from my bed as I’d hoped. When I found Mark Stonebrook, his death would be slow and painful.
I hadn’t settled down much by the time we reached Fangtasia. Being in a confined space with Sookie, her smell tempting me to forget my duties and take her back home to my bed where I was convinced she belonged, felt a bit like torture. I endured it knowing a time would come before sunrise when I would have her to myself again. We walked to the back of the bar together with her arm looped through mine. She was happy, just then, and I found I was also smiling.
“You look beautiful, lover,” I winked at her while unlocking the back door.
She gasped and pulled away. “Do you…you called me that when you were with me.”
“Yes, I read that in my journal. Does it bother you to hear it now?” I asked her, already having a pretty good idea of the effect it had on her.
“Only if you don’t mean it.” Sookie looked me right in the eyes, no fear or worry was present in hers.
“I have no reason to lie, Sookie. I won’t always be able to tell you everything, but what I can tell you, you have my word will always be the truth,” I promised her.
“Fair enough,” she nodded, then stepped inside the bar.
Pam was in the office waiting for us when we walked in. She was dressed in one of her regular costumes which was so far from her style when she was off duty at the bar. Fishnet fingerless gloves ran all the way up her arms, nearly to her shoulders. Her hair was curled wildly and there was a black leather collar around her neck. She looked like the queen of the fangbangers.
“You have visitors, Eric,” Pam said without looking away from the computer.
“Who?” I asked while taking Sookie’s coat from her.
“Octavia Fant and her assistant have finally decided to make an appearance. They’re waiting in the bar,” Pam gave me a pointed stare.
I’d called Octavia numerous times in the last few days. She hadn’t returned a single one of my calls. I was starting to wonder if she even existed. I sent Pam to fetch her while Sookie made herself comfortable on the sofa. Pam was in the process of making notes about who had checked in earlier in the day, as well as the phone call she’d received from Indira’s nestmates.
I sank into my chair and leaned back. It was going to be a long night, no doubt. When the office door opened again, Pam was ushering in two humans I’d never seen. One was older and African-American. Her hair was gray in some places and she was dressed in a long skirt with a light tunic, like an old hippie. The other woman was younger, about Sookie’s age with short dark hair and a very enthusiastic look on her face. If I didn’t know any better, I might have thought the younger woman had raided Pam’s wardrobe.
“Sheriff,” Pam addressed me formally, which she rarely ever did. “This is Octavia Fant and her apprentice, Amelia Broadway.” Pam purred the younger woman’s name. Amelia didn’t blush in the slightest the way Sookie would have.
The older woman didn’t seem to have much of a reaction to being in my presence, while it was obvious I had an effect on the younger one. They made quite the interesting pair.
“Have a seat, ladies,” I gestured to the chairs in front of me. “Pam, I’d like you to stay for this.”
Pam stepped into the room, closed the door and took a seat beside Sookie.
“Ms. Fant, I was starting to doubt your existence,” I smiled at her once she was seated.
“I got your messages, Mr. Northman. Generally speaking, I prefer not to get caught up in vampire affairs, which was why I didn’t return your calls.” Octavia explained with a straight face.
“What, may I ask, changed your mind?”
“I got a call from a friend, who has another friend that works with a Sookie Stackhouse. I was made aware of the situation you find yourself in and I was intrigued. I also thought this would be an excellent teaching opportunity for Amelia here, which is why she’s come along.”
“I see. So, you’re aware of the matters at hand?” I asked her.
“I received very basic information from my contact, who wishes to remain anonymous.” Octavia stressed. I could respect that.
“Perhaps I should start by introducing you,” I looked to Sookie, who seemed annoyed I had skipped that part of the conversation.
Once introductions were made, I explained the situation we were in, in greater detail. Amelia sat there with her mouth gaping open for most of the briefing, while Octavia was clearly harder to surprise. More than once, Amelia wanted to interrupt with a question, but before she could get a word out Octavia was giving her a warning glare to keep quiet. If only Pam were so obedient.
“Before I see the vampires, the first thing I suggest is putting a ward on the building. I didn’t sense a very strong magic when I arrived. Amelia and I can do that to get things started. The ward will block dark magics from being used here, if indeed that is the problem.” Octavia explained.
Pam went downstairs to check on Nerissa and Nicholas, while Sookie and I followed Octavia and Amelia. We waited at the back door of the bar while Octavia and Amelia went to retrieve the things they needed to work their magic.
“Are you okay with more magic?” Sookie asked with concern.
“What choice do we have, lover?” I offered her a soft smile and a gentle kiss on her slightly pouty lips.
Her emotions turned quickly, almost like anger hardened her blood in her veins. “It’s not a good Christian thing to think, but I really hope when you find Mark Stonebrook, he suffers a little bit.”
It was a strange, but welcome feeling, knowing there was a need for vengeance in Sookie, even if it pained her to admit it. I offered her another kiss but it was quickly interrupted by the returning witches, armed with the necessary components to do their work. Sookie and I stood back while Octavia instructed Amelia on what needed to be done. Amelia paid close attention, clearly set on pleasing her instructor.
When it was finished, Octavia explained that the wards were set so they would bar anyone attempting to enter the bar with ill intent. I found it curious how such a thing could be sensed by mystical forces. Only time would tell if the wards would hold, or if they could be overridden, even though Octavia insisted they could only be removed by herself or Amelia.
Sookie accompanied me down to the basement where Octavia set up the next set of spells. Octavia approached the vampires carefully, despite knowing they were essentially harmless. Nerissa, according to what Pam whispered to me, had refused Kaydee’s blood just after sunset. Slowly, the vampires were wasting away. It could take years for them to die, but it would be a slow and painful process.
While Octavia administered her tests, I made a phone call to Colonel Flood to see about a guard for Sookie in the daytime hours so she wouldn’t be confined to my home. While I would have loved nothing more than to keep her with me at all times, I knew it wouldn’t be possible in the long run. The Colonel pointed me in the direction of a Were by the name of Patrick who might fit the bill. I stepped away from Sookie to give the Colonel the specifics of the job I would need him to do, and the amount I was willing to pay.
Discussing financial matters in front of Sookie rarely ended well and she would more than likely feel guilty for what it would cost me to keep her safe during the day. What she still didn’t seem to realize was that she was worth every penny I’d pay, and more, to keep her safe. Patrick seemed like a decent prospect. He was a fifth generation pack member and his father had been one of the Colonel’s advisers before stepping down from the position when he reached retirement age.
Patrick wasn’t married, but had bred three new members of the pack already. He fully supported each child. Someday, Patrick would most likely be in the running for Pack Master after the Colonel’s death. He also had experience with working as a guard, having done so for Linnea. I asked Colonel Flood to set up a meeting which would give me time to speak with Linnea. I figured since Patrick survived his assignment, he had done his job well.
“Mr. Northman,” Octavia’s voice interrupted my conversation with Colonel Flood.
“Colonel, I’ll have to speak with you tomorrow. Do you think that will be sufficient time to speak with Patrick?” I asked the Pack Master.
“I’ll get in touch with him in the AM and have an answer for you at sundown,” the Colonel promised.
“Very good. Pleasant evening, Colonel,” I said and hung up after he responded in kind. “Do you have an answer for me, Ms. Fant?”
“This whole place has a very dark aura attached to it, not that I’m the least bit surprised,” Octavia looked around disapprovingly, while Sookie moved to take my hand. “The magic attached to these vampires is strong and not of an organic or Fae nature. The magic is dark and sinister, and since I don’t know the components of the spell used to curse them, I can’t break it without potentially doing damage to them.”
“What can you do?” I asked her while Sookie squeezed my hand, clearly upset by the information we were receiving.
“I can come back tomorrow with different supplies and reinforce the wards Amelia and I have put up this evening. That way you will have at least one safe place to go should you need to take shelter. We can also try to do an ectoplasmic reconstruction if we can get the exact location where these vampires were taken from.”
“I’m sorry, what is an ectoplasmic reconstruction?” Sookie looked from Amelia to Octavia and then to me for an answer but it was Amelia who started to chatter excitedly.
“It’s really cool. We’d need to get a whole bunch of us together and there’s a long list of supplies we’d need to get-” Amelia began, but was quickly cut off by her mentor.
“Hush, girl, and let me explain it,” Octavia rolled her eyes.
At least I wasn’t the only one with an irritating progeny, proud as I often was of Pam.
Octavia went on to explain the process of what went into doing an ectoplasmic reconstruction. She gave a list of all the things she would need, including a host of other witches from her coven she trusted enough to invite them to join in. She said she was going to need a day or two to get everything, and everyone, she needed in order to do the reconstruction.
“There are no guarantees, Mr. Northman. We will do our best to reconstruct the scene of the abduction, but if it was a public place, the chances of garnering any valuable information are slim,” Octavia warned.
After speaking further with Nicholas and Nerissa about where they had been prior to their abductions, it was decided the best chance was to check out Nerissa’s neighborhood, since she had been on her way home when she had been taken. Knowing magic was involved explained how the vampires had allowed themselves to be taken. Both Nicholas and Nerissa remembered being with a donor shortly before their memory went blank which led me to believe the donor had been booby trapped with a spell, much like the witch Chow had attacked in my defense.
By the time Octavia and Amelia left the bar I had an estimate for all the costs involved with a reconstruction, which included supplies, travel expenses, lodging and then payment for services. It was going to cost several thousand dollars and there was no guarantee we would learn any new information. Still, it seemed worth the risk if it could point us in the direction of where Mark Stonebrook might be hiding.
Sookie went out to the bar to get a drink while I settled in behind my desk to write Octavia a check for half the amount she had quoted to me to get her started. No sooner had they left than Pam sat down gracefully in front of my desk.
“Sookie has been very well behaved. What have you done to her?” Pam asked me.
“I’ve explained how dire our situation is and how compromised her safety has become. When she’s being informed and educated, she seems to be capable of making better decisions for herself.” I had also noticed how little Sookie was arguing with me. It was strange not to have her argue with me at every turn, although I figured the stubborn belle I was used to would make her presence known soon enough.
“I thought you were going to have to bond yourself to her to bring her under control,” Pam smirked at me.
Bonding. There was something that hadn’t crossed my mind. It was certainly another way to protect Sookie, not only from outside influences but from herself as well. The biggest problem I saw there was knowing how she felt about having taken my blood already. She wasn’t fond of the fact that I could sense her emotions or locate her at any time. I began to weigh the pros and cons as Sookie returned to the office with her drink.
The obvious drawback to being blood bonded to Sookie was her temper and occasional inability to take full responsibilities for her decisions. The bond would be permanent, which meant there was no going back. Only death would break the bond and it would be very painful for the surviving half if that were to happen. I’d heard stories of vampires meeting the sun after losing a human they were blood bonded to.
While I certainly cared for Sookie, I wasn’t yet sure if that was a risk I was willing to take. Immortality could, at times, get boring, but I was by no means prepared to meet my final death. As it was, the thought of her death was crippling to me. Her death as my blood bonded would only make the recovery that much harder.
On the flip side to that, if I were blood bonded to Sookie, there would be no more secrets between us, which could be a double edged sword. She would have the ability to read me just as I could read her. My instincts told me that wasn’t something she would generally be fond of. As much as she worried about being able to trust me, I didn’t think she wanted the ability to come from a mystical force. I felt her relief when we were alone and her world went completely silent. She would lose that if we were to be bonded.
“Pam, leave us. There is something I must discuss with Sookie,” I watched as Sookie took a seat in the chair beside Pam.
Pam smirked as she stood, then pranced out the door, leaving me alone with Sookie. She sat with her legs crossed, the top one bouncing elegantly, making her entire body shake just a little. The stark white of her dress made her tan seem that much deeper. I watched the curve of her lips as she raised her glass and sipped the cold liquid inside. My eyes moved to her throat, specifically to where her jugular was, to see the dancing of the artery. Her scent was different than it had been just the day before, which I was sure Pam had noticed.
“So, what did you need to discuss with me?” Sookie asked once she’d finished drinking.
“Several things. First, an expert in explosives will be coming to search for, and remove, the bombs that were wired to your home. I expect we’ll see him tomorrow evening. Second, the Shreveport Pack Master has agreed to speak with one of his senior pack members in regards to guarding you during the day. I would like it very much if you would meet with him but I won’t have a date or time until tomorrow evening as well, which brings me to my third point. I don’t think it’s safe for you to return to work at the Shifter’s bar without someone there to keep an eye on things. Your life is obviously in danger and I can’t protect you during the daytime. To that end, there is an option that might be one you would want to consider.” I stood and walked around the desk to sit in the chair next to hers.
“Hold up a second, Eric. I can’t just keep taking time off from work. I have bills to pay and it’s not fair to Sam.” Sookie stared at me. I could feel the fire rising in her blood.
“Let me help you, Sookie.” I stared right back at her.
“I can’t let you pay my bills, Eric. I appreciate the offer and I’m sure it’s no big deal to you, but it’s a big deal to me. I can pull my own weight.”
I sighed and shook my head in disappointment. “Why do you always assume I don’t think you aren’t capable of taking care of yourself? I offer you protection because I think you are worth saving. My offer to relieve you of your financial burden isn’t because I want to have some sort of hold over you, but because in doing so, I know it means you will be with me where you will be much safer. I’m trying here, Sookie.”
“I’m not used to having someone in my life who wants to take care of me, Eric. I’m used to doing it alone,” Sookie confessed.
I turned my chair so I was facing her and reached for the hand that wasn’t holding her drink. “You’re not alone anymore, Sookie. You said you wanted us to be equals but right now, with everything that is happening, we need to be a team.”
“What is the other option?” Sookie asked me, leaning forward slightly, offering me easier access to her cleavage.
I leaned forward and ran my finger up and down the gentle curve of her neck when she tilted her head just a little to the right. “A blood bond.”
Her pulse jumped under my finger as she asked, “What’s a blood bond?”