It was definitely nice to have the house to ourselves again. Christmas had been wonderful, minus the random attacks of nausea, but over all I couldn’t complain. Stella wasn’t nearly as difficult as Eric had tried to warn me she would be. I honestly thought her enthusiasm was sweet. Although, to cut Eric some slack, I didn’t have to grow up with it. I could see how from his perspective it might come off as harping.
Eric’s response was, “You’re too nice, lover.”
Pam had decided to throw a party at the bar for New Years. Eric and I were invited, of course, but we opted not to go. We did, however, think maybe there was a chance Bill would be crazy enough to show up. So after running the idea past Detective Twinings, we set a trap we hoped might snare Bill and Sophie-Anne. So far, the police had been unable to locate either one of them. That lead me to believe either Bill was more dangerous than I could have imagined, or the police were incompetent. Either way, I couldn’t wait until he was off the street once and for all.
Eric and I decided we would get dressed up like we were going to the party at the bar. We’d take his Corvette, and leave it out in the parking lot. We’d go into the bar like we were staying just in case we were being watched. We’d stick around for a while since Eric had some paperwork to catch up on anyway. We planned to sneak out the back, and take Pam’s car to my old house where we would spend the night. Johan had come by earlier in the day for Jeter since we didn’t want to leave him home alone.
The hope was, Bill and Sophie-Anne would show up at the bar and a few undercover officers strategically placed inside the bar would be able to detain them for questioning. It was a long shot, since it was believed they had left the state, but it was worth a shot. Just to be on the safe side, officers would be patrolling both the house in Franklin Park, and the other in Itasca a few miles away. Bill didn’t know where my house in Itasca was, but he seemed to have a way of finding things out. I was still flummoxed as to how he knew about my birthmark. God knows I never mentioned it, much less showed him.
I poured myself into a little black dress with sequins all over it, and slipped on a pair of ridiculously high heels I wouldn’t be able to wear in a couple more months. I stared at myself in the full length mirror and tried to imagine what I was going to look like in seven months. I had an appointment with my doctor the following Tuesday, and I had to admit, I was excited about it. The first book I’d bought with the extremely generous Christmas gift I’d gotten from Tom and Stella was What To Expect When You’re Expecting. I decided that new bookshelf would probably end up in the baby’s room, since I planned on filling it with children’s books.
“You look breathtaking, lover.” Eric purred as he came up behind me.
“Thank you. You look pretty good yourself.” I tilted my head back as far as I could for him to kiss me. Of course what I had intended to be a simple kiss quickly turned into something else, and wiggling in attempts to get away from him didn’t help matters one bit. “Eric, we have to get going.”
He growled and said, “We’ll finish this later.”
“Yes, we most certainly will.” I promised him.
Eric and I had dropped off overnight bags at the old house the day before, along with groceries. Amelia and Tray were settled back into the house next door. Copley was a distraught mess over his daughter up and marrying Tray, although I don’t know what he expected. I’d spoken to Amelia the day before and she told me her father was trying to slap an injunction on her to have her marriage annulled, claiming she wasn’t in her right state of mind when she married him. Hell, I think it was the first time Amelia was thinking clearly in years.
Short of paying some quack doctor to make up some brand new brain disease there was no way a judge was going to dissolve Amelia’s marriage. Cope needed to man up, and well, cope. He’d gotten himself into this mess. I’d tried to tell him that Amelia was going to be furious when she woke up, but Copely didn’t listen. He just steamrolled right over me like he did with everyone else who disagreed with him. Amelia vowed to be at the hearing when Eric was sentenced. She was fully prepared to speak on his behalf both as a witness to what happened the night of the Halloween party, as well as a character witness for him. Not only were they friends- sort of- but they were also co-workers.
I didn’t know if the judge was going to want to hear from anyone, but I started thinking about what I wanted to say in case he did. Eric had a pretty decent number of people willing to speak on his behalf, the most powerful of those two speakers being his business partner and his brother. Pam had known him for almost fifteen years, and obviously Johan had known him since they were… sperm, I guess. Weird. There’s a thought I didn’t let sit in my brain too long before moving on to something else.
Eric and I left the house dressed to the nines, looking very much like we were ready to get our party on. We drove the mile and a half to the bar and parked a little out of the way like we always did. Eric preferred for his car to be away from the drunken masses, and I couldn’t blame him. We tried not to look like we were searching the lot for faces as we walked to the bar. It wouldn’t do us any good to catch a glimpse of someone who wasn’t supposed to be there, even if we were hoping to eventually see him make an appearance.
The Violent Femmes were playing in the bar when we walked in. Johan was behind the bar mixing shots. “Perfect timing!” He called out when he saw us come in. “Here, bottoms up.”
Two shot glasses were put before us. “Uh, no thanks. I’m good.” I pushed my glass back.
“Come on, Sookie, it’s New Year’s Eve.” Johan insisted.
“No, I’m not drinking tonight.” I insisted.
“Someone’s got to be the designated driver.” Eric piped up to spare me from having to come up with another lie before my guilty conscience blew our cover. I was a terrible liar.
“Good point.” Johan push the shot that had been intended for me over to Pam.
“You trying to get me drunk, Northman?”
“You remember how much fun New York was.” Johan winked at her.
“Actually, I don’t.” Pam snickered.
“I feel like we’re in some alternate dimension.” Eric muttered beside me.
“Stuff it, Eric. I had to watch the two of you make moon eyes at each other for months. Get off my ass.” Pam snapped at Eric.
“I’m going to go get that paperwork done so we can get out of here. We have plans.” Eric announced before departing for the office. After tossing back his shots and kissing Pam- which was damn weird to see- Johan followed his twin.
I took a seat on a stool next to Pam. “Thank you for letting the police stash undercovers in here tonight.”
“Are you kidding? I want to nail that fucker as badly as you two do. Not only is he seriously screwing with my best friend, but he hurt someone I care about and could have ruined my business. If it were up to me, I’d crucify the bastard.” Pam said in a bitter tone of voice before tossing back her shot.
“So are you serious about moving to Sweden, or were you just saying that to get Stella to stop staring at me like I had three heads.”
Pam laughed and said, “Oh, I’m very serious about Sweden. It’s a beautiful country, and for whatever reason, I can’t seem to shake Johan from my system. Believe me, I’ve tried. He’s a persistent little shit.”
“Spoken like a woman in love.” I giggled.
“So when did you find out you’re pregnant?” Pam asked, not bothering to ease into the subject.
I sputtered for a few seconds before saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Bullshit. Don’t think I haven’t noticed there’s something going on with you two lately. You’ve been randomly puking your guts out and now you’re not drinking? Come on, Sookie.” Pam stared at me expectantly.
I sighed and said, “I found out in Louisiana. I suspected it before I left, but I didn’t take a test until I was there. Pam, you have to swear not to say anything to anyone. Eric and I agreed we wouldn’t say anything until after we got things settled with the courts and we knew what we would be dealing with there.”
Pam nodded and said, “You have my word.”
“Good. It’s really important Johan doesn’t find out.”
Pam threw her head back and laughed. “Johan is a bigger gossip than a Perez Hilton/Ryan Seacrest hybrid, that’s not news to me. You do realize, however, that Stella is going to lose her shit when she finds out, right? She’s been nagging her sons to settle down and have kids since they graduated from college.”
“Yeah, Eric mentioned that. I can handle Stella.” I nodded.
“Hmmm.” Pam got up and went behind the bar. She poured me a glass of water while she got herself a glass of wine.
“So what are you going to do with the bar while you’re in Sweden?”
“Eric’s going to take over.”
“What?” That was news to me. “Does he know this?”
“We talked about it at Christmas. He didn’t mention it to you?” Pam looked surprised.
“No, he didn’t.” I wasn’t mad, necessarily, so much as I was surprised.
I probably shouldn’t have been since Eric did have a stake in the bar. I just wasn’t sure why he hadn’t mentioned anything to me about taking on a more significant role at the bar. Being a bar owner had always been an after thought to him. When people asked what he did for a living, he told them he was a teacher. He never mentioned the bar unless someone else brought it up first. It’s not that he was embarrassed of it or anything like that. He just thought of it as Pam’s bar.
“We still have a lot of details to work out.” Pam said casually.
“I can imagine.” I sipped my water.
Pam sighed heavily and leaned against the bar. “Things sure are changing.”
“I know. Eric might be going to jail. I’m knocked up and living in sin. You’re a reformed lesbian.” I smirked at that last part while Pam threw her head back and cackled.
Jeter was waiting at the door when Eric and I got to the house. Pam’s car was safely stashed in the garage just in case any unwanted visitors might decide to drive by. My shoes were the first thing to go when we got into the house. I hung my coat in the closet, and Eric followed suit. I started toward the hall to get to the kitchen, but strong arms caught me around my waist and pulled me toward the stairs.
“What are you doing?” I smiled up at him over my shoulder, having a pretty good idea of exactly what he was doing.
“You have plenty of time to tidy up the kitchen. Amelia and Tray won’t be here until ten.” Eric’s lips were on my neck.
He was right. It was barely even seven. Just to tease him I said, “You have a good point. Once we’re done I’ll have at least two hours and fifty-two minutes to clean up.”
“You might want to strike that and reverse it.” Eric all but growled in my ear as he pulled me up the stairs.
True to his word, he kept me occupied for more than two hours and we were sufficiently blissed out by the time Amelia and Tray arrived at ten. Gone were the fancy clothes of earlier in the evening. We’d all agreed to keep things extremely casual for the night. I was in yoga pants and that Nirvana t-shirt I’d worn the first time Eric came over for dinner. Eric was wearing his track pants and a Duke t-shirt. Amelia and Tray weren’t any fancier, and it was a great night.
We sat at the kitchen table talking over drinks (I stuck to water, claiming my stomach bug was still lurking), while Amelia and Tray showed us pictures from their trip to Las Vegas and told us about their wedding in greater detail. Amelia went off on a slightly intoxicated rant about how arrogant and high handed her father was, and she was just getting to the apex of that rant when the ten second countdown to midnight started.
I never realized how much reflecting a person could do in ten seconds, but if the way Eric and I were looking at each other was any indication, we were both doing plenty of it. I’d spent the previous New Year’s Eve with Amelia and Tray as well, since Quinn had some event for work he just couldn’t get out of attending. It wasn’t until just that moment that I realized how low on his list of priorities I’d been. Here was Eric, who was facing a possible jail sentence, and he was more concerned about me than anything else in the world. He was helping me plan for life without him for a little while, and Quinn couldn’t even manage to tell his employees he was taking a night off to be with his girlfriend. I hated myself for ever even thinking of putting Eric in the same league as Quinn.
Eric was easily the best thing that ever happened to me, and it was crazy to think that if I hadn’t gotten completely wasted off my ass the night we met, we might not be where we are now. Stella had been beyond right when she said things happened the way they did for a reason. I wondered if Eric would have eventually caught my eye somewhere around school. Would we have ended up together anyway because that’s just the way it was meant to be? I wanted to think so, but I’d never know for sure.
“Happy New Year!” Everyone but me shouted.
I was crying. I didn’t even realize until Eric wiped away the tears on my cheek. “What’s this, lover?” He pulled me close to him and whispered in my ear.
I wrapped my arms around him, holding him tightly as I sobbed quietly against him. The reality that I might lose him in a few days hit me hard. I told myself it was just a surge of baby hormones making me all weepy, and maybe the did play a role in my breakdown, but I knew that wasn’t all of it. I was genuinely scared of losing him. The more I let myself think about it, the harder I sobbed.
“Sook, what’s wrong?” Amelia put a hand on my shoulder in attempts to comfort me, but I only sobbed harder.
“Ame, I think we should hit the road.” Tray suggested from behind me.
“Are you kidding me?” Amelia barked. “Sookie, honey…”
“Tray’s right.” I squeaked out, though I don’t know how. I pulled myself together enough to tell Amelia I would call her later.
It took more than one reassurance from both Eric and me that I would be fine, and a lot of tugging from Tray before Amelia would let herself be removed from the house. I missed having her around. She could be such a mama lion when she needed to be, and I loved her dearly for it. As soon as they were gone, Eric sat me down on the couch. He brought me a glass of water and went to lock up the house. Until we knew Bill and Sophie-Anne were off the streets, our days of unlocked doors and open windows overnight were over.
“So what’s going on?” Eric asked once he had me in his lap on the couch.
“I just started thinking about how much better my life is with you in it, and how it’s going to suck if you have to go.” I rested my head on his shoulder.
“I’m not going anywhere, Sookie.”
My head snapped up. “I’m not talking about you changing your mind and leaving me, Eric. I’m talking about the possibility that it might be court ordered for you to be elsewhere.”
“Pam says it’s doubtful that I’ll end up serving any time for what happened.” Eric said nervously.
“And since when is Pam a member of The Bar?” I glared at Eric, who just sighed heavily. “We have to talk about this, Eric. It’s not just about us anymore, remember?”
“So, come on.” I urged.
“What do you want me to say, Sookie? I don’t want to leave you. I want to be there for everything with this baby. I want to hear its heartbeat in the doctor’s office, and I want to be holding your hand when we find out if it’s a boy or a girl, assuming you want to know. I want to go to those breathing classes with you and fight over baby names. I want to have to go out at two in the morning to get you watermelon sherbert or a jar of black olives. I want to be there for you when the baby’s born, and I want to be standing there to hear it cry for the first time. I want to see the look on your face when you see our child’s face for the first time. I want all of those things, but there’s nothing I can really do to control whether or not I get to be around for any of it.”
“I hate this.” My lip quivered and I started crying again.
“I hate it, too.” He kissed the top of my head.
Thank God my brain filter was working because it was on the tip of my tongue to yell at him that this was all his own fault. I wasn’t going to go there. He knew what he’d done, and he’d taken responsibility for it. What he was standing to lose was bad enough without me guilting him further just to make myself feel better, even though I knew he would gladly take it if it meant I’d stop crying.
“Can we go to bed now?” I asked after a few minutes.
“Of course.” Eric kissed my head again, and before I could stand up on my own, he scooped me up and carried me upstairs.
My less than exciting new morning (and sometimes early evening) tradition didn’t get the memo that it was a bank holiday, and therefore, more than welcome to take the day off. Thankfully I was able to slip out of bed and get downstairs before the real fun got started. I didn’t want to wake Eric if I didn’t have to. After getting myself cleaned up and cursing the surging hormones that were making me feel like death warmed over, I went to the kitchen to start on breakfast. I opened my first ever can of decaf coffee, and I swear a little part of me died for it.
I was tired all the time, and it wouldn’t be long before I’d be hauling around bowling balls in my bra and a small turkey in my belly, and I was going to have to give up coffee? Not. Fair. To me, decaf didn’t really count as coffee. I got to work chopping veggies while sausage browned in a skillet on the stove. I’d promised Eric I’d make the frittata he loved so much. I just hoped I’d be able to hold it down. I had just finished cracking eggs into a mixing bowl when he came downstairs.
“It’s barely nine, lover. How long have you been up?” Eric stopped to kiss the to of my head.
“Since a little after seven. Our little alien friend needed my attention, apparently.” I grumbled.
“I didn’t hear you.”
“That’s because I came down here. I wanted to let you sleep.” What I didn’t say was that I wanted him to enjoy a large, comfy bed while he still could in case he lost that privilege in two days.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“I know. I wanted to.” I shrugged. “Besides, it’s not like there’s much you can do to help. I just sort of have to ride it out. One of us should be sleeping in late.”
“Anything I can do to help? It smells great in here. Work me up out of a dead sleep.” Eric grinned at me as he peered into the bowl of mixed veggies and sausage.
“Yeah, you could go ninja on those eggs for me.” I handed him a whisk.
There was a knock at the door, and I figured it was Amelia coming by to check on me since I’d had a small meltdown the night before. Eric got to work on the eggs while I went to get the door. I pulled my robe tight around me, expecting a cold gust of air to hit when I let Amelia into the house. I was surprised to find it wasn’t Amelia at the door after all.
“Happy New Year, Detective.” I smiled at the middle aged man standing on my doorstep.
“Same to you, Miss Stackhouse.” He nodded respectfully.
“Would you like to come in?” I stepped back to let him in the house.
“Yes, thank you.” He looked grim. That couldn’t be good.
“Can I take your coat, get you some coffee?” I asked.
The detective removed his coat and handed it over to me for hanging in the closet. Whatever he had come to say was obviously important if he was taking off his coat. He followed me into the kitchen, and it wasn’t until we got back that I remembered Eric was only wearing a pair of pajama bottoms. He was definitely working his ninja magic on those eggs, and I had no doubt they would be light and fluffy by the time he was finished with them.
I cleared my throat to get Eric’s attention. He turned toward me and stopped what he was doing when he saw I wasn’t alone. “Detective, what brings you here?” Eric set down the bowl he was holding.
“Um, Eric, why don’t you go put a shirt on while I get the detective some coffee?” I suggested.
“Oh, right.” Eric offered a lazy grin and then disappeared through the dining room.
“Do you take cream and sugar, Detective?” I asked as I poured coffee for him.
“You’re a die hard.” I smiled as I handed over the mug and gestured to the kitchen table. “Please have a seat.”
“Thank you.” He sipped from the mug, and sat down. “Decaf, huh?”
I nodded and didn’t see any harm in telling the detective my situation. “I found out I’m…well, Eric and I are expecting.”
The detective’s face lit up. “That’s wonderful. Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” I smiled in return. It was nice to see someone excited for us. “So, did you have any luck last night?”
The smile on the detective’s face faded, and a chill ran through me. “I think it’s best if I wait for Eric to rejoin us before I get into all of that.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. “Of course.” My own smile faltered, and I went back to finishing getting breakfast together.
“Okay, I’m here. What’s the word, Detective?” Eric took the casserole dish full of eggs and veggies from me to put in the oven.
“Well, from all reports there were no sightings of Bill Compton at the bar, Eric’s property or at Sophie-Anne’s house. We’ve had officers doing regular checks of your block overnight. The local police here didn’t report seeing anyone else on this property except for your neighbors, and Eric’s brother. We’ve been closely monitoring Mr. Compton’s cell phone and credit cards to see if we can’t get a lead on where he’s gone, but so far he’s managed to not use any of those things. That could mean a few things. He could be working with a prepaid phone and cash. He could have false identification already in place, and could be living somewhere under an assumed name we have yet to find. Or, maybe he’s dead.” The detective took another drink of his coffee.
I looked to Eric for a second before saying, “I’m a little confused. I thought Sophie-Anne was the target of the investigation since she was the one driving the car.”
“She was.” Detective Twinings nodded.
“Was?” Eric said it before I got the chance.
“Miss LeClerq’s body was found in the woods off of Forest Preserve Drive in River Grove.” Detective Twinings said sullenly.
“Oh, Jesus.” I gasped, and turned toward Eric.
“Best we can tell she’d been there for about a week. She was strangled.” The detective informed us.
I felt another wave of nausea hit me, and without a word, I bolted from the room. Interesting how Lorena had hung herself and now Sophie-Anne had been strangled to death. There was nothing left in my stomach for me to lose, but that didn’t stop my body from trying to turn itself inside out. Eric appeared behind me, doing all the things he usually did when I felt sick. I refused to let myself think about how much I was going to miss him if the court ordered him to serve jail time. If I started thinking about that, I would never stop gagging and retching.
It took a few minutes for my body to settle itself. I rinsed my mouth out with water and wiped my face before going back to the kitchen. Detective Twinings was waiting patiently at the table, taking in the décor of the room and sipping his coffee.
“I’m sorry. My body is not really my own right now.” I apologized.
“Don’t worry about it. My wife had a horrible time of things when she was expecting our first born, too.”
“You told him?” Eric glared at me.
“Eric, there’s a psycho on the loose who has a bit of a crush on me. I thought it might be useful for the detective know there was more than just my life at stake.”
“Sorry.” He apologized.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” I turned my attention to the detective.
“I don’t want you to think I suspect you have anything to do with Miss LeClerq’s death, but it would be good if you could come down to the station and file a statement just for the record so we have your alibis in place.”
Eric and I looked at each other. “Does someone thing we’re involved?” Eric asked.
“No. Those of us working this case, including the assistant district attorney, are convinced this is all Bill Compton’s doing from the very beginning. We just don’t have the necessary evidence to file charges. However, since everyone involved in the car accident survived, it would be easy for a defense attorney to claim you were working together to get revenge on Miss LeClerq, and you framed Mr. Compton to take the fall.”
“Are you serious?” I almost shouted.
“It’s amazing what a defense attorney will do to save his client.”
“Unbelievable.” I shook my head.
“Don’t worry, Detective, we’ll file whatever paperwork you need from us. My parents were in town for a week, and we were with them, my brother and my business partner, Pam, for Christmas. Sookie and I didn’t even leave the house that day.”
“I believe you. Like I said, this is just a formality.” The detective stood up.
“Detective, can I ask you something?” I stepped away from Eric.
“Eric’s sentencing is the day after tomorrow.” I didn’t look back at Eric when he made a noise of protest. “I was wondering what you think the odds are of him serving any time for what happened.”
Detective Twinings ran a hand through his thinning hair and blew out a deep breath. “Truthfully, I don’t know. Judge Brigant is a fair judge, and he tends to let the punishment fit the crime. Because Eric was very cooperative and has nothing more serious than a speeding ticket on his record, I’m inclined to think he’ll be looking at a fine, anger management classes, probation and maybe some community service.”
“So you don’t think he’ll end up in jail?” My eyes welled with tears while Eric’s hands settled on my shoulders.
“No, I don’t think he will, but that’s up to Judge Brigant to decide.”
“I understand.” I wanted to believe that everyone was right, and that Eric was going to “get off easy” for what he’d done.
“Detective, if there’s anything else we can do, please let us know.” Eric said as we walked the officer to the door.
“I surely will. You two enjoy the holiday now.” Detective Twinings slipped on his coat, and then he was gone.
Eric locked the door behind him. I was leaning against the wall with a dazed look on my face to match my mood. When was this shit going to end? I couldn’t believe Sophie-Anne was dead. Not that I’d ever been a fan of hers in any capacity, but even when I was nursing my broken ribs did I wish death on her. It blew my mind that I ever could have thought Bill Compton was a nice guy. How could he seem so normal and be capable of such horrible things?
And why, if what Detective Twinings was insinuating was true, did he kill Sophie-Anne? Did she know too much? Had she outlived her usefulness? Or was it part of his plan to kill her all along? Was he the reason the car accident had happened in the first place? It was easy to think Sophie-Anne had done it because with me out of the way, she probably thought she’d get a shot at Eric. Maybe Bill had promised a way to make that happen for her. I wouldn’t put it past him.
“He killed Lorena and the baby, didn’t he?” I looked to Eric, who had pressed his lips together.
“Looks that way.” Eric nodded slowly.
I slumped against the wall, my knees going a bit weak under me. “I can’t believe this.”
“It’s going to be okay, Sookie.” Eric came over and wrapped me in his arms.
“I don’t know if it is, Eric.” I hugged him back and just concentrated on breathing in his scent.
I knew as long as I had him with me, I’d be fine. But how much longer would I have him?