I pulled into the driveway first. Eric followed behind me and parked his car to the right of mine in the spot Gran usually parked in. I had no idea what kind of car Eric was driving. All I knew was that it was purple and shiny. Eric unfolded himself from the front seat and followed me to the house. To my knowledge it was the first time he had been in my house. I had never invited him over and I would have known if Gran had invited him in.
The coming rain could be smelled in the air. I was worried about my brother too, but if he was wandering out in the woods somewhere he could take care of himself. Even if he was injured I was confident he could handle it better than a seventy-year-old woman could. Gran was the one I needed to find first.
Eric was stopped by the magic barrier that protected my home from being stormed by the undead. Oddly enough, I wasn’t afraid of inviting him in like I once had been. Yes, he had tricked me. No, I wasn’t happy about it. What was done was done and I couldn’t continue to hold that over his head if I was asking him for help.
“You can come in, Eric,” I said once I had the lights on.
He ducked his head to step into the house. Eric seemed out of place in my kitchen but only because I never gave much thought to inviting him over. None of the dreams I had since Dallas had taken place in my home. For whatever reason I just couldn’t see him there.
I watched him look around and take in the details of my house. It took a moment to realize that he wasn’t just looking around. Eric was searching for her scent.
“Gran’s room is this way,” I said, ushering him down the hall to her room. Gran would probably skin me under ordinary circumstances for showing off her personal space but it was necessary.
Eric went into Gran’s bedroom and took a few more breaths. I wanted to ask how it worked and how he was able to keep her scent in his nose, but it didn’t really matter. As long as he thought he could find her, that was all I cared about.
“You know a person’s scent can linger in the air for weeks after they’ve been there,” he told me. “That’s how cadaver dogs are able to locate bodies.”
That information was simultaneously comforting and unsettling.
“Do you have her scent?” I asked.
“I think so,” he replied. Eric exited her room and I followed him out. “Is there anywhere around the house she goes regularly? I can smell the cemetery and the pond.”
“She goes to the cemetery fairly often,” I told him as we headed for the back door. Eric stopped to look at a photo on the fridge that Tara had taken the previous mother’s day. Gran was sandwiched by Jason and me, and she looked happy. Jason was smiling but obviously hungover.
“I’ve seen him before.” Eric pointed to Jason.
“You have?” I didn’t like going through my brother’s mind. There was too in there I didn’t want to know.
“He came to the bar. He was looking for someone to sell him vampire blood,” Eric informed me.
Leave it to my idiot brother to march into a vampire bar a try to score some of their blood. I swear sometimes he lacked the sense God gave geese.
“When?” I asked nervously, worried it was recently. Knowing that Lafayette had paid dearly for selling it, I couldn’t imagine any more lenient on users.
“Nine weeks ago,” he said. “He left with one of those human women who ended up dead.”
Since he didn’t call her by name I assumed it wasn’t Dawn he was referring to, then again it was possible he hadn’t asked her name. That wasn’t something I wanted to think about.
“What did she look like?” I asked just to be sure.
“Black hair, too much makeup on her eyes,” he answered.
I had actually liked her a lot. She seemed to be good for Jason. He needed a woman who could go toe to toe with him and call him on his shit. Jason definitely tried pulling his share of bullshit. Most girls let him get away with the things he did because he was charming and good looking. My brother had this way of sweet talking his way out of trouble. It was uncanny how good he was at it.
I knew he had been using V for a minute there, but I didn’t know that Amy had been a part of that. It never ceased to amaze me how much I didn’t know, even though I was a telepath. Folks didn’t believe it, but I really tried to stay out of other people’s minds.
“That was Amy. She was René’s last victim,” I told Eric. The case had made the news over in Shreveport and there were a few horrible pictures of me all beat to hell in the aftermath of the last day of his life.
“So I recall.”
“I’m going to run upstairs and get out of my work clothes. I’ll be right back,” I told him. I headed for the stairs and wasn’t the least bit surprised when that sneaky S.O.B. passed me in a blur. Eric was standing there, arms folded over his broad chest, with a little smile on his face. “What do you think you’re doing here?”
“Guarding you. I hear vampires might be glamouring members of the Stackhouse clan,” he cleverly replied.
“Nice try, but I can’t be glamoured,” I told him.
There went that eyebrow again, reaching for his hairline.
“Don’t look so surprised,” I snickered. I moved to the closet and plucked out a white summer dress. It was too humid for much else. “Will you please wait out in the hall so I can change?”
“What if I promise to close my eyes?”
I laughed, knowing exactly how that would turn out.
“Out.” I pointed to the door and waited for his ancient body to move. I’d be lying if I said my eyes didn’t land and stick on that backside of his. Of course I had never seen him naked in the real world, but I was sure my imagination hadn’t done him justice.
“It’s impolite to stare, Miss Stackhouse,” he said with enough bass in his voice to make me jump.
I closed the door behind him and quickly stripped down to my skivvies. My dirty clothes went in the hamper and I replaced them with fresh underthings and the white dress. I found a pair of flip flops to wear and when I stepped out of the room, Eric was looking at the photos on the wall to the right of my room. In particular he seemed focused on one of my entire family, taken six months before my Aunt Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time, and three weeks before my parents were killed in the flood.
It was Hadley’s birthday, if I remembered right. My only cousin had turned thirteen. She took off not long after her mom passed. Like Jason and me, she had been orphaned. Rather than sticking around to be a thorn in Gran’s paw, Hadley had run off with the first bad influence she could latch onto. Last I heard she needed money for rehab, and that was seven years ago. We hadn’t heard from or seen Hadley since Gran wired her that $500.
“I’m ready,” I told Eric.
His head turned and the look I got made my insides get a little mushy. I didn’t have to be a mind reader to know what was on his right then.
“You may want a jacket,” he suggested.
“I know y’all don’t feel temperatures like us humans but it’s not jacket weather,” I assured him.
“It might be at five hundred feet up.”
It was my eyebrows’ turn to shoot up.
“We can cover more ground if we fly,” he reasoned.
He wasn’t wrong but wouldn’t it be harder to catch a scent that way? I wasn’t going to argue with him.
I went down the stairs and grabbed my jean jacket off the hook by the door. Eric followed me to the back of the house and I grabbed a flashlight from the cabinet on the mud porch. He might not need it, but I did and since I knew the woods like the back of my hand.
“We’ll start with the cemetery,” he told me. In the distance I heard thunder, but I followed Eric anyway. I wasn’t made of sugar so it wasn’t like I’d melt.
We were quiet as we walked along, but I was fine with that. Usually trying to have a conversation turned into an argument for Eric and me. He wasn’t walking nearly as fast as he could have been. I didn’t have to run to keep up with him the way I sometimes did with Bill. Funny that I never paid attention to little things like that, but I should have.
There was no denying that Eric was a rascal, to put it nicely, but he was redeeming himself. It may have been self-serving but he did me a huge favor by tricking me. A liar like Bill was never going to stop. The lies would only get bigger.
Suddenly Eric stepped in front of me and I could feel the shift in the energy surrounding us. I stayed quiet and hidden behind his back. My hands moved on their own accord to settle on his lower back. I was sure he could feel the warmth pressing on him but if he reacted to it, I didn’t know how.
“Eric, what are you doing prowling around the cemetery?” Bill asked.
“Waiting for my underground Mahjong tournament to begin,” he deadpanned. I couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculous answer he gave.
I stepped out from behind Eric to reveal myself and out came the fangs. Good Lord.
He was like Randy Thomas in seventh grade when he couldn’t control his boners.
“Eric is here at my request, Bill. There’s no need for fangs,” I told him. Eric stood still, confident. Bill, on the other hand, sneered and snarled.
I used to think that was attractive? What the hell is wrong with me?
“You’re spending time with Eric now?” Bill asked incredulously.
“I believe that’s what’s known as an upgrade, Bill,” Eric answered for me. I was tempted to correct him but it was none of Bill’s business who I was spending time with anymore. If he wanted to think I was with Eric, I knew no amount of trying to convince him otherwise would get him to believe it.
It occurred to me then that Eric hadn’t even asked about my relationship with Bill. In the past he had made it a point to throw in little barbs to make sure I knew he thought he was the better vampire for me. Those barbs had annoyed me to no end and part of the reason I presumed that just about every conversation we had was destined to become an argument. Since coming back from Dallas, that trend seemed to be over.
Had Eric given up? Was he not interested anymore?
Why did I care?
I don’t, I told myself. It was a lie and I knew it. Ugh, Bill was Randy with the wily erections and I was like Kristin Montgomery, who flirted with boys but turned them down every time they asked her out. Ridiculous.
What a surprise, Bill didn’t see the humor in Eric’s response.
“It’s his blood, Sookie,” he told me.
“Oh give it a rest, Bill! I had a few drops! What is that compared to the massive amounts of yours I’ve had?” It was a valid point. “I broke up with you because you’re never honest with me when it really counts and I’m tired of the excuses.”
“Sookie is no longer yours?” Eric looked down at me for confirmation and I nodded, making Bill hiss.
“Stay away from her, Northman,” my ex ordered.
Tired of hearing him bark orders at me I had a bitchy teenage girl moment and pulled Eric’s face down to kiss him. It probably wasn’t how Eric saw it happening, assuming he had even envisioned himself kissing me. It was possible he would literally go straight for the jugular. In my dreams he was… romantic. He said kind things and there was either candlelight or firelight illuminating us.
The kiss may have been unexpected but his reaction to it wasn’t. My toes curled as his lips worked against mine. The passion I felt coming from him was enough to make my knees start to go weak. One of those anaconda arms slithered around my waist while his other hand found purchase at the back of my neck. Long fingers tangled in my hair while our tongues danced. It felt like the rest of the world disappeared.
I got lost in that kiss until my lungs screamed at me to refill them. When I pulled back for air I realized that Bill was gone. Shoot, how long were we kissing?
And what the hell was I going to do about that kiss because I wanted to do it again. Judging by the way Eric’s fangs had slowly elongated over the course of the kiss. As I had done in one of my dreams, I reached out to gently touch them. If nothing else was elongated before that, I was sure that changed. Eric’s eyes fluttered closed and if it wasn’t for the loud clap of thunder, who knows what might have happened.
“We should keep moving,” he said.
“Yes,” I breathed.
I was going to have to reexamine all of that later on.
When we started moving again, Eric remained at my side. I came to a stop when I spotted Gran’s car. It was parked at the back end of the cemetery, far away from where it should have been if she had stopped to pay a visit to Grandpa or my parents. Gran didn’t drive to the cemetery anyway. She would have come home and then walked over.
So what the hell was her car doing there?
“That’s Gran’s car,” I said, pointing to the Buick parked in the distance.
Eric scooped me up and in two seconds we were beside the car. He put me down and I walked around the car, looking for anything else out of place. Eric, however, remained still.
“I don’t see anything strange. No blood, no dents and the doors are…” I opened the door on the passenger’s side. Only then did I notice the keys in the ignition. That wasn’t right. I took the keys from the ignition and noted that the keyrings matched the ones Gran had. One of them I had brought back from Dallas for her.
“Pop the trunk,” Eric requested.
I sucked in a breath. My shields dropped and my mental feelers searched for a nearby brain. Even if she was injured or unconscious, I wanted to find Gran somewhere. Gran’s purse was missing from the car. I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign.
Reluctantly, I hit the trunk release. I heard the mechanisms pop the trunk open. Raindrops started to plop down on my head and the roof of the car next to me. I moved to the back of the car and braced myself for whatever might be in the trunk. With the high heat and humidity, I was sure I would already smelled a body. Eric lifted the trunk lid and my breath caught in my throat.
No body. I let out a sigh of relief. The feeling was short-lived. Gran’s purse was tucked into the cargo net where she always put it when she planned to leave it for safe keeping.
“This isn’t right,” I said. In the purse I found her wallet, identification, reading glasses, emergency pills she always had on hand just in case she needed a dose of her medications and wasn’t home to take them.
“Is anything missing?”
Everything seemed to be there. Wait, no, that wasn’t true. Gran had her little brag book of photos she took with her. Her wedding photo, pictures of my dad and aunt as babies, her grandchildren and of course her garden were all included in the book. Gran cherished that book. Inside behind my grandfather’s portrait was his funeral card.
I was ten when Grandpa wandered off and never came back. He was out trimming trees and picking peaches one day and he just never came home for supper. None of his personal possessions had gone with him. All he had was the clothes on his back. He didn’t even have his wallet with him at the time. It had been suggested that taking on the burden of two young kids was too much for him, but I doubted that was true. If nothing else, he loved Gran too much to just disappear like that.
“Her brag book,” I answered. “Gran never goes anywhere without that book. She told me she wants to be buried with it when she…”
I couldn’t finish the sentence. Not when there was the very real possibility that she could be dead. If Gran left everything else behind but took the book?
My knees officially gave out.
Eric caught me well before I hit the deck.
More than once in the presence of a vampire, I felt like I was dying. My lungs felt like they were trying to collapse on themselves. Getting any air in was nearly impossible. I barely noticed the rain coming down a little faster or that I was clinging to the front of Eric’s shirt. Thunder boomed, lightning lit everything up around me and then the sky completely opened up.
In seconds we were both soaked to the bone. Eric closed the trunk and scooped me up again. I was too out of it to speak, but he managed to get us back to the house anyway. That sinking feeling I had been carrying since I woke up would have been a vast improvement.
When Eric put me down on the mud porch, I just stared at the woods. Was she out there? Had Gran known it was time? That didn’t make sense but none of it did.
“I’ll find her, Sookie,” he promised me.
There was no such thing as too late. I wanted Gran back even if she had passed on. I wanted to know if it was natural or murder.
“How? The rain is washing the smells away,” I sniffled. I hadn’t even realized I was crying.
“She wasn’t alone. I caught another smell,” Eric confessed.
My head whipped around.
“Who?” I demanded, hoping it was a smell he was familiar with but at the same time hoping it was no one I knew.
Eric’s blue/green eyes locked on mine and I could see the confusion in them when he said, “Godric.”