Before my eyes were even open, I knew something wasn’t right. The last thing I remembered was being in my office, meeting with that fool witch Hallow sent to try and entice me into settling with her. I wasn’t falling for it. No way was I going to cave to the demands of some silly Werebitch. I inhaled the air, hoping to catch a scent that would tell me where I was.
It took a moment, but the smell of perfume hit me. It was a familiar scent, but one I didn’t get to indulge in often enough. Sookie. She was nearby. I had something in my hands. A wire-bound book. There wasn’t enough room in the small hole to open it. I could have read it with just the tiniest bit of light coming in from above. It wasn’t sunlight, obviously, or I would have been fried long ago.
I felt around for a latch, and when I found it, I released the lock mechanism on the door. The hole I’d been in wasn’t very sophisticated, but it had served its purpose. I set the notebook down on a small desk and realized I was in Sookie’s house. There were pictures on the walls and her smell was more concentrated. I felt a bit woozy, like I was recovering from a hangover. I hadn’t had a hangover in over a millennia. Something definitely wasn’t right.
I wanted to flip through the book I’d been holding, but I heard footsteps approaching the room. I shoved the notebook out of the way, and reached for a flannel shirt that was hanging off the back of the desk chair. I couldn’t recall having purchased the clothing I was wearing. The last thing I remembered, I had been wearing a pair of designer jeans, having just gotten out of the shower before Hallow’s minion arrived.
There was a knock on the door, and then Sookie peeked inside. “You’re up,” she looked exhausted.
“How did I get here?” It wasn’t the greeting I had intended to use, but I was most curious to know the answer.
“You don’t remember?” she looked disappointed.
What the hell happened?
“Would I ask if I did?” I snapped at her, and instantly felt badly for it when I felt her hurt in my veins. “Forgive me. I’m a bit disoriented. It’s not every night I rise in your home, Sookie.”
“Are you hungry?” she asked, ever the good hostess.
I leered at her, unable to help myself. “Are you offering?”
“True Blood only, mister,” she snarked at me.
“Pity, but yes, I’m hungry.” I followed her out to the kitchen.
I could smell myself all over her house, suggesting I had been there for quite some time. She gestured for me to take a seat at the table, which I did, while she put a bottle of blood in the microwave for me. She was dressed in her Merlotte’s uniform. I bit back a growl. What was she doing working for Merlotte? I didn’t object to the Shifter on principal, but Pam had told me the place was a dump.
If Sookie was refusing to put her gift to use full-time, she could at least come work for me at the bar. She would be protected very well, and in one night probably make at least five times what she makes at Merlotte’s. Not to mention, we had group health coverage and paid the premiums to insure all of our employees. The turnover at Fangtasia was minimal because we took good care of the staff. We didn’t let our waitresses get hassled by stupid boys who didn’t understand that ‘no means no,’ and vampires weren’t allowed to snack on them whenever they felt like it. We paid them above average base rates, and they made good tips. Add to that the overtime we pay for holidays, the Christmas bonuses, sick days and financial planning options, competition was stiff to be a waitress at my bar.
“So, Sookie, how did I end up here?” I asked her once she was seated across from me at the table.
“What is the last thing you remember?”
“The last thing I remember is declining an offer I was given during a meeting. The next thing I know, I’m rising in your closet. You go,” I smirked at her, and sipped the blood.
“I found you running down the road very early in the morning on New Years Day. I don’t know where you were running to, but you weren’t too far from my house. I brought you back here, got you cleaned up and called Pam, since you didn’t have the slightest idea of who you were. Your memory was completely erased. Later on you told me it was like you didn’t exist until I found you. Pam came over and explained that Hallow and her coven were trying to take over your business, at least in part, and you refused to comply with her demands. When Chow moved to defend you, they think he triggered a spell the witch was booby trapped with.
“You disappeared from the office at Fangtasia and appeared on the side of the road about two miles from here. Hallow and her brother, Mark, put up posters all over the area, offering a fifty-thousand-dollar reward for your safe return. Since you’d never been to Merlotte’s before, and this really is the middle of nowhere, it was decided it would be best if you stayed here with me. Pam, Chow and my brother, Jason, were the only people who knew about this arrangement. But then my brother went missing, and…” she trailed off for a moment, her sadness and anger pushing hard at me.
“Your brother is missing?” Interesting.
“Yes, he’s been gone since the night he learned you were here. I was worried that maybe Hallow somehow, had gotten a hold of him, but there’s no evidence to support that. You, yourself, suggested perhaps Pam took him to make sure he kept quiet.”
I smiled at her and asked, “Did she?”
“If she did, she’s a very good liar. She’s had trackers aiding in the search for him. So far, no one seems to be able to follow his trail, and I’ve been in search parties with several shifters,” Sookie sighed and ran her fingers through her hair.
“How long have I been here, Sookie?”
“Have we made love?” I asked her, and she nearly choked on her coffee.
“What do you think?” she wiped her mouth with a napkin.
“I think getting the truth out of you will be as easy as it would be to get it out of myself. I think you have a terrible poker face, but a will strong enough to keep that beautiful mouth of yours closed nice and tight, much to my irritation.”
Sookie offered me a small smile, and said, “Pam will be here soon. I imagine if the curse has been broken, Hallow must be broken as well.”
“She has captured the witch?”
“Last night. We had quite the…skirmish, I suppose you could call it? We lost Chow, though.”
“Lost like I was lost, or lost as in met the true death?”
“He got what was behind door number two, unfortunately. All things considered, we were lucky. Chow was the only casualty we suffered. If you pay Pam, she deserves a raise.”
“Did I hear my name?” Pam stuck her head in the kitchen door. Of course she would arrive in time to hear Sookie praise her.
“I was just telling Eric what a wonderful job you did in coordinating last night’s events.” Sookie stood from the table and went to the kitchen to empty her mug.
I watched her as Pam began to chatter on about the planning that had gone into the night before. I had absolutely no recollection of what had happened. Pam began to complain about dealing with the Long Tooth pack. She had nice (for Pam, at least) things to say about Colonel Flood, but she was generally unimpressed with the Weres. Then again, who wasn’t? Their organization was for shit.
They were only going to be able to keep their furry little secret for so long. It really would be in their best interest to come up with a better power structure. Sure there were kinks in the vampire hierarchy, but at least we had a chain of command. With the Weres, it was every pack for themselves.
“Oh, Sookie, before I forget, I received a call from my trackers at first dark. They have reason to believe your brother’s trail ends in Hot Shot. I have already placed a call to your Shifter. He is going to set up a meeting for you with their pack leader.” Pam informed a relieved looking-and feeling Sookie.
“Thank you, Pam,” Sookie shifted her eyes back and forth between us. “Y’all are welcome to stay as long as you like, but I have to be getting on to work. I suppose I’ll see you when I see you.”
“Soon, Sookie,” I had questions for her and I fully intended to address every single one of them.
Once she was gone, I got up and walked around the house while Pam filled me in on what had happened the night before. She gave me a rather detailed play by play of the events. She confirmed that Chow was our only loss in the battle, and it was only because he got lazy. He simply wasn’t paying attention when he was staked with a wooden knife. By comparison, he made Pam look like a workaholic. We would need to choose our next partner in the business a little more carefully. Long Shadow was a thief and Chow, it seemed, was a power hungry layabout. That’s zero for two. Not good.
I was curious as to why Sookie had a chair wedged under her front door, but when I pulled the chair away, the door all but fell off its hinges. Someone had broken in. Nothing else seemed to be disturbed, although the smell of cleaning products was thick in the air in the kitchen. Sookie was most definitely holding something back.
“Did you bring my phone?” I asked Pam, who dug into her handbag.
“Of course,” she handed it over.
The battery was fully charged. “Good girl. Wait outside for me.”
She arched an eyebrow at me, but did as she was told. I took a picture of the front door and texted it to Bobby, along with the order for a new door to be delivered and installed at Sookie’s address. No doubt she would be angry at me for replacing the door without asking her permission first, but she’d get over it. I received no real complaints about the driveway, outside of cost incurred to have it done. While it was expensive, it would be worth it if it meant not destroying the undercarriage of my car every time I came out to visit.
Something told me I would be visiting her more than I ever could have imagined in the past. In the meantime, I was able to locate a tool box in the front closet. I put a few nails in the door to keep it more securely closed than the chair would on its own. I went to Sookie’s room for a moment. My scent was in her sheets. Perhaps we didn’t make love, but I certainly spent time in her bed.
My phone rang. Pam was calling.
“Sorry to rush you along, Eric, but there’s trouble at the bar.”
“I’ll be right out.” I took one last look around the room, then headed out the back door.
The trouble at the bar turned out to be Hallow. Pam hadn’t finished her off, instead giving me the opportunity for final honors. She was trapped in a stasis spell, courtesy of the Wiccans she had tried to sway to her side of things. She had also been bound from doing harm, either to herself or to others. When we got there, she was floating about two feet up in the air with her limbs hanging limply at her sides.
While it was true there was certainly a part of me that wanted vengeance, I wanted answers even more than that. I stared up Hallow. Her eyes were closed. She appeared to be asleep, but her heartbeat and breathing told me otherwise. She was merely in a very relaxed state.
“Rise and shine,” I took a hard stance before her.
“Eric, there you are,” she gave me what I assume was meant to be a flirtatious smile.
“Why did you do it?” I wasn’t about to engage her in any personal dialogue.
“You’re a smart man. Figure it out,” she closed her eyes.
Pam had definitely given her quite the work over. She was bruised and bloodied just about everywhere. Tufts of hair were missing, as were some of her fingernails. Pam always did have a special love for the many uses of pliers.
“Where did you end up?” she asked.
“I asked you first.”
Her eyes opened and her smile turned cold. “Kill me. I’m not giving you anything. How lucky am I that your face will be the last thing I see before I die?”
I smirked and said, “Not exactly. See, you’ve been a nuisance to me, but to Pam? Well, to Pam, you’ve been a major pain in the ass.”
Hallow’s smile faded as Pam appeared at the top of the stairs with something in her hands. It wasn’t until she got a little closer that I realized she was carrying a soldering iron. Interesting choice. Pam was nothing if not creative.
“Farewell, Hallow. Pam, take your time.”
“Yes, master.” Pam beamed gleefully.
I stood back to watch as Pam got started. It was horrible, vile way to die. I left the basement before Hallow took her last breath. I knew she was gone when the screaming stopped. A sample of her blood was taken so the Wiccans could do a locating spell to find her home. We hoped we might be able to find her spell books, and perhaps the answer to what the point of the spell was she had performed on me.
I was back behind my desk when I realized I’d left the notebook I’d woken up holding. I cursed quietly and considered going back to Bon Temps to retrieve the book. If I had gone to rest with it in my hands, it was obviously something of value.
“Tomorrow,” I said to myself, and started up my computer.
There was a lot of work to catch up on. I started with my email. I never paid much attention to how many emails I received in a day. There were requests to leave the area, move into the area, start businesses and change their rotation at the bar. Then, of course, there were the grievances that needed to be heard. I held ‘court’ bi-weekly on Monday when Fangtasia was closed. While most of the grievances were legitimate, there were times when I wondered how any of them survived.
At 300+ years old, it was highly unbecoming to whine and mope. Where was their dignity? How did they allow problems to become so petty? Granted, our nature is to be vindictive and spiteful, at times, there was a time and a place. In the grand scheme of things, however, it was better they brought their squabbles to me than it was for them to try and exact their own punishment.
I was in the process of looking over the weekly report I sent to the queen to sum up the activity in the area. Pam was attempting to keep what had happened off the books. Thankfully, Chow’s maker was long gone. I wouldn’t need to worry about paying restitution to him, on top of the hospital expenses for Belinda, funeral expenses for Ginger and the clean up costs from the raid Hallow had ordered on my property.
In fact, I could still smell the fresh paint on the walls, and the leather of the replacement sofa still had a sweet scent to it. She had also ordered a new filing system. It was a high-tech cabinet that required fingerprints instead of a key to open. It was impressive. It never ceased to amaze me the sorts of things that were available on the market. And to think, burying things in canisters had once been considered the safest way to conceal important papers and items.
I was in the midst of making adjustments to the report for Sophie-Anne when the phone on my desk buzzed. “Yes?”
“Master, you have a call on line three.”
“Take a message.”
“It’s Sam Merlotte, Master.”
“Send it through.” I didn’t know why the Shifter was calling, but I assumed he had a reason. “Northman.”
“This is Sam, Sookie’s-”
“I know who you are, Shifter.” Yes, I admit it, I was rude.
“Right. I just thought you might like to know Jason Stackhouse was found in Hot Shot tonight. He was taken by one of the Werepanthers as revenge for him courting one of the females.”
I sighed and sat back in my chair. I didn’t know much about Sookie’s brother. I’d heard the rumors about him being quite a ladies man. I doubted he had reached anywhere near my magic number, but for a human, he didn’t do too badly. I also knew he wasn’t very bright, so it wasn’t surprising to me he didn’t have the slightest clue he had gotten involved with the two-natured. I was actually quite surprised her pack didn’t kill her for breeding with a human. Werepanthers weren’t exactly common, and the gene pool in Hot Shot… well, it was pretty… intertwined.
“Is he alive?”
“He’s been bitten repeatedly,” Sam informed me.
I sighed again. Sookie knew what that meant, no doubt. “And Sookie is aware?”
“She was there when he was rescued. She saw the bites. She knows what will most likely happen next full moon.”
“Thank you, Shifter.” I didn’t wait for him to say anything further.
Anything else he might have added would have been of a personal nature and I wasn’t interested in hearing his opinion of my relationship with Sookie. I finished up the report for Sophie-Anne, signed off on it and then faxed it down to her offices in New Orleans. A look at my calendar reminded me we had our sheriff’s conference with her in three weeks. The monthly trips to New Orleans were starting to get old. It would have been much easier for everyone to do them via webcam, but Sophie-Anne insisted on doing things old school.
Pam came into the office, covered in blood and smiling brightly. “Hallow is no more.”
“What a shame.” I deadpanned.
“Oh, before I forget, you need to write Sookie a check,” Pam began to remove her clothing.
“It was part of the agreement Chow negotiated with her brother. In exchange for her keeping you safe, we agreed to pay her $35,000.”
“That’s all?” I snorted a laugh.
“Jason originally suggested fifty, but Sookie was offended by thirty-five. Chow wouldn’t have paid her at all, of course.”
I rolled my eyes, a habit I seemed to have picked up from Pam over the last few centuries. “Where is the checkbook?” I asked after I didn’t find it in its usual place.
“We had to change banks after Hallow’s break in. The checkbook is now in the new wall safe over here.” Pam moved to the bookshelves and pushed them out of the way like she was moving a child’s toy car.
Her finger moved quickly over the keypad. A human wouldn’t have been able to take note of the numbers she entered. I recognized them immediately as the date of the first Corvette I’d purchased way back in the 1960s. In fact, I still had that car. It was in storage. I rarely ever drove it anymore, only taking it out for special occasions. It was an ice blue Stingray with soft, white leather interior. It was a beauty, and perhaps the crowning jewel in my collection.
Pam handed over the checkbook and ledger before prancing across the hall completely naked to shower in the staff bathroom. I sat down behind my desk once again and opened the checkbook. I noted the checks issued to the hospital for Belinda’s expenses, as well as the check for Ginger’s funeral. On top of everything else, we were going to need to hire two more waitresses. Great.
I flipped to the first page of blank checks and scrolled out Sookie’s name. Only when I filled in the amount, I didn’t pay her what Jason had settled for. I smiled when I realized I had a good reason to return to Bon Temps. I would go the following night at first dark.