It turned out the landscapers were just the beginning of the gifts Eric had in store for us. A company came out to lay down new gravel in our little parking lot beside the house. Painters came to repaint the exterior of the house to Gran’s specifications. A local handyman was contracted to make repairs to the front porch and install a new swing out front. Finally, when a Sears truck arrived with new appliances, Gran couldn’t take anymore.
I came home from work one afternoon to find delivery men offloading a snazzy new washer/dryer combination that was shiny and red. It was a nicer set than Gran had ever owned and probably cost more than either of us could afford after a full year of saving for them. Gran looked distressed, which wasn’t common. She wasn’t the type of person who rejected a gift. To do so would be rude.
“Gran, what’s the matter?” I asked.
“This is too much. You know I’m not one to send back a gift but this has to be it the last of it, Sookie,” she told me.
I nodded and said, “I’ll talk to him, Gran.”
She nodded in return and kissed my cheek before going off to the sun porch to check on the installation. In the kitchen I found it wasn’t just a washer and dryer that had been delivered. Gran had also been given a fridge and a six burner Viking stove.
“I have to send back the dishwasher,” Gran said. There was no room for it.
“I’m sure he’ll understand,” I assured her.
I couldn’t imagine Eric getting all emotional because Gran had to return the dishwasher. Quite frankly, even if there had been room for it Gran wouldn’t have wanted to keep it. She preferred washing dishes by hand. Not to mention, a lot of her dishes, utensils and pans weren’t dishwasher safe.
“I’m going to go upstairs and get cleaned up,” I told Gran.
“Alright. After these young men get on their way I’m going over to Clarice to visit Maisie Wynn at the hospital. She her angioplasty day before last.”
“Tell her I’m praying for her.”
“You’re a good girl, Sookie.” Gran gave me a pat on my back before I walked away.
My tired feet took me up to the second floor. A Jack and Jill bathroom connected my room to the room Jason used to sleep in. I went in there to start the water in the tub. A nice, long soak would go a long way to making me feel human again. In my room I took off my work clothes and let my hair down from the high ponytail it had been in for most of the day.
Sunset was still a few hours away so going straight to Fangtasia wouldn’t have done me much good. Almost two weeks had passed since I told Bill I was done with him and I was proud of myself for not trying to go back to him. I had been watching my back, though. Bill had proven to me that he was dangerous too. He liked to project the image that he wasn’t the typical vampire, that he wouldn’t even hurt a fly.
I knew better.
He had murdered at least four people that I knew of. The Rattrays, Bartlett and Longshadow were all dead. Bill would probably say he had killed all of them to protect me, but my protection was a scapegoat. Bartlett was an old, wheelchair bound man who could barely take care of himself. He wasn’t a threat to me anymore. Bill had his reasons for killing all of them and there was no going back. What was done was done.
Whether or not they had it coming wasn’t up to me. That was God’s judgment alone to make.
I went back to the bathroom and got a clean washcloth from the linen closet. I stepped into the tub and sank down in the water. There was some lavender oil on the rim of the tub that I added to the water after the pale pink washcloth was wrung out. I folded the washcloth and turned off the water before I leaned back some. The warm cloth on my eyes felt good. The lavender was relaxing. In moments I felt weightless.
It was a good feeling.
I floated in the water and took deep breaths I slowly released. The longer I floated the more relaxed I got. Even the sound of the water sloshing around in the tub was soothing to me.
“You did the right thing.” The washcloth was pulled away from my eyes and found myself surrounded by candlelight, up to my neck in a much bigger soaking tub. I wasn’t alone, either.
Immediately I recognized the big hands that curled around my shoulders. The voice was familiar and the lips on my neck were fuller and softer than I would have expected the first time I laid eyes on Eric.
“I did?” I turned my head a little to the right.
“He was no good for you.” His hands moved around to the front of my chest but he wasn’t touching my breasts. Yet. “You should be with someone you can trust,” Eric said.
“Someone like you?” I smirked.
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“Did you forget how I ended up with this bullshit connection to you?” I reminded him.
“That was trickery,” he tried to reason. “Really I took advantage of your kindness. If you’re looking for an apology you won’t get one. It got you to see that Bill is a bad fit.”
“And you want to take his place.”
“I already have,” he whispered. His lips ghosted over mine a few times before settling on them. One of those big hands wrapped around my throat to hold me in place but it wasn’t menacing.
My lips parted for him and the kiss got deeper. I turned in the water so I could kneel between this strong thighs and his other hand found its way down under the water between my legs. I moaned into the kiss and let my legs part for him.
His fingers moved expertly, making my hips flex in response. He was a fantastic kisser. The water made him feel warmer than usual. Maybe it was the heat of the kisses we were sharing that caused it. I didn’t know. My heart was pounding and the longer we kissed, the better it felt. Nothing in me felt like it had to hide with him. Everything I felt or thought I could be honest about because for some reason I knew he could take it.
Eric wasn’t fragile. He didn’t need protecting. With him I could be myself and not worry about him getting freaked out or not understanding something. We clicked in a way I was afraid to acknowledge.
He and I were so different and yet somehow the same.
I was right on the cusp of a fantastic explosion. The pressure was built up crazy high and just as it began to release my eyes opened. I startled in the old tub in Gran’s upstairs bathroom. It was dark in the room and the water had gone cool long ago. I struggled to pull myself up and catch my breath.
“Damn vampire blood,” I muttered.
Once I was calmer I pulled the plug in the tub and carefully stood up. I started the water again so I could wash the lavender oil out of my hair. The sun was just about set. Fangtasia didn’t open until ten so I had time to get ready. I wasn’t going to get dressed up. My plan was to catch Eric before the bar opened. If I was lucky maybe Godric would be around. After he resigned his position in Texas I wasn’t sure where he’d gone. With his questions about Jesus – who he was older than – and God, it seemed possible he had taken off for Israel to visit Jerusalem.
I wrapped a towel around my body after wringing out my hair. Rather than wrapping my hair up too, I decided to just towel dry it as necessary. In my dresser I found a pair of knee length denim shorts and grabbed some underthings to put on. Once I was dry I got on my bra and panties. It took a little searching in my closet to find a black and off-white tank top to pair with the shorts. I even had a pair of zebra print sneakers that went with my outfit.
After I was dressed I started to finger comb my hair and scrunched it up a bit to give it a little bit of wave. I went back to the bathroom to brush my teeth and I put on a little mascara. I looked cute but definitely not sexy. It was true that I hadn’t really tried but anytime I tried to do the sex kitten thing I ended up looking more spastic than anything else. Sexy just wasn’t my thing.
Gran’s car was still gone when I got out to my ancient little shitbox. My poor car had definitely seen better days but as long as it got me to work and back I couldn’t complain too much. I got behind the wheel and the car all but whined to life. The motor chugged and the transmission had been at death’s door for more than a year. Somehow the car kept on going.
I backed up and turned around to head up the driveway. My mental shields were down completely since I was alone. Or I should have been alone. I could feel the void of a vampire brain somewhere very close by. More likely than not it was just Bill, but I wasn’t going to hang around to find out.
The drive to Fangtasia took its usual forty-five minutes. I lost the vampire brain pretty quick so I figured it probably was just Bill out for a stroll. He had tried to lobby Gran to get her to talk some sense into me, but it hadn’t worked. While Gran may have been sympathetic to his plight – and she may not have understood my decision – she wasn’t going to interfere in my love life either.
“I’ve got as much business there as a house cat has at a pool party,” Gran had told Bill. Plucking that from her mind had made me giggle quite a bit.
As usual, Bill missed the humor.
Only a handful of cars were parked in the lot at Fangtasia when I pulled in. The lights were on, indicating the bar was open. A fancy black sports car was parked at the back end of the lot. It was as shiny as if it had just rolled out of the showroom. The ‘BLUDSKR 1’ vanity plates made me think it was most likely Eric’s car. A pink pearl colored Lexus RX 450h was parked beside it. No doubt that was Pam’s, but I supposed it could belong to the new guy, Chow.
I parked my much older, and not nearly as fancy, hatchback closer to the bar entrance. I wasn’t planning on staying long.
To my surprise the bar wasn’t open after all. I knocked on the door and waited for Ginger or Pam to come let me in. My brain sensed the presence of vampires but I couldn’t tell if Ginger was close by. If she was, I couldn’t hear her. That wasn’t unusual for Ginger. She had been glamoured so many times since she started working for Eric and Pam for so long ago.
“Sookie,” Eric said from behind me, making me nearly jump out of my skin. He had moved too fast for me to track. I spun around and my hand flew out to slap his chest before I could stop it. It was like smacking a 2×4.
I clutched my injured hand and stared up at him with an agitated look on my face. “You know I hate it when y’all sneak up on me,” I told him.
“I didn’t think I could,” he replied with a charming little smile on his stupid handsome face. “What brings you this way, Miss Stackhouse?”
“The gifts you’ve been sending,” I answered.
Eric gave me one of those lascivious looks of his, like he was trying to picture me naked. If I thought it would have done any good, I might have smacked him again.
“You’ve come to show your gratitude?” he suggested.
I rolled my eyes.
“Gran and I both appreciate the things you have done. The outside of the house looks beautiful and the appliances are fantastic,” I told him.
“Good,” he nodded.
I took a deep breath, knowing I was most likely about to get into an argument with him over the dang dishwasher.
“We can’t accept the dishwasher,” I told him. “Gran won’t use it and we don’t have the space, so we have to give it back.”
Eric’s expression didn’t change but I wasn’t expecting it to. His eyes always betrayed his expression anyway. At the moment they seemed to be a darker shade of blue than usual. I shouldn’t have known that.
“I’ll have it picked up tomorrow,” he said.
No argument. No fuss. No complaining.
What happened to him?
His lack of arguing with me completely threw me off.
“Alright. Thank you,” I said politely.
“Was that the only reason you came?” Eric folded his long, powerful arms over his broad chest.
“Mostly. I was curious about how Godric’s doing,” I admitted.
“He’s fine,” Eric told me.
“Is he here?”
“No, he’s not. I’m not sure where he is at the moment,” he said but he didn’t seem worried. “You’re still concerned about him.”
He was surprised by that?
“He was my first suicidal vampire,” I said with a frown. “I just want to be sure he’s okay, that’s all.”
“Well maybe you found a new career option. I think you would be the first vampire crisis negotiator.” He had a teasing smile on his face, even though it wasn’t really funny. Yet, I couldn’t help smiling back at him.
“I don’t know if I could do that every day.”
“You could,” he said. “It’s not that uncommon for us old timers to become disillusioned with life. Usually we shake it off.”
“Have you ever…” I wasn’t sure what possessed me to ask. Admitting that I cared wasn’t going to happen. That would be opening a can of worms I wasn’t ready to deal with.
“I have,” Eric confirmed, but offered no further information about it. It took me by surprise. His eyes betrayed his youthful appearance.
Eric didn’t just look young, it was mostly his attitude that kept him youthful. As far as I could tell, he enjoyed being a vampire. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was happy go lucky or anything, but there was this mirthfulness in his eyes most of the time. He could be a joker quite a bit. He didn’t mince words. Eric had a plan, an agenda, and he didn’t apologize for anything.
Even tricking me into drinking his blood.
“Well, I’ll going home now. Someone should be home tomorrow to let the pickup guy in,” I told him.
He nodded once.
“Drive safely, Miss Stackhouse,” he said in that deep baritone his voice sometimes took on.
It sent shivers down my spine.
Not that I’d tell him.
Not that it mattered because the sneaky son of a bitch could feel me.
“Thank you,” I said, ignoring the flare of lust in his eyes.
I walked past him out to the parking lot. My telepathic powers didn’t extend to vampire minds but I was pretty darn good at knowing when I was being watched. Just to be sure, I looked over my shoulder. There he was, standing without an ounce of shame as he watched me walk away. If I had to put money on it, I was willing to bet he didn’t understand his attraction to me any more than I understood why I felt drawn to him.
Blaming the blood was a cop-out.
I had felt it from the moment our eyes met the very first time I had gone into Fangtasia. The chemistry was there. No rhyme or reason for it. I had never experienced anything like it. Sure Bill was handsome and I had been curious about what he was, but that was where it ended for me.
As I got in the car I paused for a moment to think.
Yes, there were things Eric had done that I didn’t approve of. Torturing my friend was one of those things. On one hand I thought it was none of my business. It was between Eric and Lafayette to figure out. On the other, I thought two wrongs didn’t make a right. Lafayette may have been wrong to sell V, but no vampires had been hurt in the process. His source volunteered his blood. It was an arrangement that had been suitable for each of them.
The fact that Lafayette had been breaking human laws too was a separate issue.
But then I supposed when it came to their blood – something Bill told me vampires considered sacred – Lafayette had forfeited his rights to human protection under the laws of vampires. He wasn’t playing on human turf anymore.
I could hear Gran’s voice in my head telling me not to judge what I didn’t understand, and I still had a lot to learn about vampires.
Particularly when it came to the Viking that was watching me drive away.