Eric rose surprised to find that he could locate Sookie much closer to Shreveport than he expected. He didn’t know if he was annoyed or entertained by the possibility that she had come all the way to Fangtasia just to let him have it for his attempt at kindness with her. For someone who seemed to take things like etiquette and manners so seriously, Eric found it interesting those things could easily go out the window for Sookie whenever she got near him. Eric was in the midst of checking his email when Pam called.
“Speak,” Eric said when he picked up the phone. Pam appreciated a direct approach on the phone.
“You have a guest waiting,” Pam said in her usual bored tone. “She appears to be exhausted and quite high-strung.”
“I assumed as much,” Eric responded. “Keep her comfortable until I can get there.”
“Ginger is tending to her now.”
“Whatever keeps Ginger from screaming,” Eric muttered, and although he couldn’t see it he felt a twinge of amusement from his child. “I’ll be there within the hour.”
Since there was nothing else to be said both vampires hung up the phone. No doubt Pam would call again if she needed him. There was a part of Eric that wanted to put off the things he was doing so he could get to Sookie, but maybe letting her wait for a little while longer was a good thing. Besides, there was a message waiting for him from the queen.
His request for an audience with her had been granted, but she wasn’t available for another week. Apparently she was traveling to Mississippi at the request of the state’s regent, Russell Edgington. There were whispers of Louisiana and Mississippi forming an alliance by marriage. Should the contracts be drawn up Eric was sure it was only a matter of time before a bloodbath would ensue. Louisiana wasn’t nearly as rich as it should have been considering New Orleans was a vampire mecca. Vampires had the human author Anne Rice to thank for that.
While it was true Hurricane Katrina had done her part to thoroughly fuck up the already rather poor city, the queen’s opulence had done little to save the state’s budget. Rather than appropriating some of her funds to help with the rebuilding of the city, Sophie-Anne had decided it was time to rebuild her compound. She had provided jobs temporarily but it wasn’t as if she had stimulated the local economy, and Eric was pretty sure the tribute the vampires were paying in the state had gone to funding the project.
Spies he had down there reported that Sophie-Anne had taken to playing the human lottery in hopes of bringing in more cash. She was a greedy little thing, and didn’t have a whole lot of sense in that pretty head of hers. Her biggest mistake, as far as Eric was concerned, was entrusting Bill to do a job Sophie-Anne could have done quite easily on her own had she made any real effort. On top of everything else, the queen was lazy and didn’t like to get her hands dirty.
Eric agreed to the appointment since he didn’t have much choice, and then printed out the emails that contained residency requests and grievances that would need to be handled in his capacity as sheriff. As much as he hated to wash away Sookie’s scent he went to the bathroom and started the shower. The thought that it would more than likely be refreshed in the next several hours thrilled him in ways that it shouldn’t, and caused a definite stiffening below his waist.
While he stood in the shower, trying to think of anything other than Sookie toweling herself off the night before, he considered how long it had been since he had masturbated. The answer to that was centuries. Then he considered how long it had been since he had done so with thoughts of a human in mind, and the answer was not since he was human. It was slightly degrading to him to be standing there now, his hand tentatively wrapped around his cock while he thought about the delicious little telepathic barmaid who would just as soon insult him as she would slap him.
She was a frustrating being. There were moments when he considered the very real possibility that killing her would be best for everyone involved. It would certainly save Eric a lot of time, frustration and danger. Yet he knew he wouldn’t do it. He had several reasons for excluding that option. Letting Sookie die wasn’t an option, and killing her wouldn’t do either. There was something about her he was drawn to. He didn’t know what it was, but it was there before he knew she was a telepath and definitely before he had sampled her blood.
Eric recalled, with perfect clarity, every single detail of Sookie’s body as she dried herself. She hadn’t even noticed him lying there on her bed in the darkness, and had he not cleared his throat he suspected he would have seen much more of her than he did. As it was, seeing the curve of her back, the swell of her perfect ass and a hint of her breasts had been enough to put him into a bit of a frenzied state. Add to that the clean smell of her and…
Eric grunted as his hand sped up to an inhuman rate, and then his release exploded onto the shower wall with Sookie’s name tumbling from his lips. He took unnecessary breaths and decided if he took that much pleasure simply from imagining her body, being inside it could very well be his undoing.
I’m fucked, he thought to himself as he proceeded to wash off.
Twenty minutes later Eric was out of the shower, dressed and on his way to Fangtasia. The flight didn’t take long, and when he landed in the parking lot of the bar he noted the cars of several employees who had already arrived to start their shifts. The BMW he had Bobby deliver was parked there as well, signifying that Sookie had arrived and her car wasn’t ready yet. He had instructed Dawson to take his time.
Eric entered through the back door of the bar to prevent the human employees from taking up too much of his time with their worship. Not to mention, he could sense Sookie’s presence in his office. He opened the office door without knocking to find her curled up on the sofa. She was sound asleep. That was certainly a way to pass the time while she waited, and infinitely better than attempting to make conversation with Ginger.
Eric closed the door silently, pulled the papers from his jacket pocket that he had printed at home and then went around to the other side of his desk. He debated over whether or not to wake Sookie, but decided to let her be. He didn’t mind her presence, and he had work to do anyway. Priority one was doing a little investigating into the queen to find out how she knew about Sookie’s ability in the first place.
He had assigned an investigator to do some digging, and was just getting to signing off on residency requests when he saw Sookie shift in his peripheral vision. Her eyes fluttered open and she startled, apparently having forgotten where she was. Sookie looked around and when her eyes landed on Eric, she sat up quickly.
“How long have I been asleep?” she asked.
“You were asleep when I arrived. I’ve been here for a little over an hour,” he said, and returned to signing off on paperwork.
“You should have woken me,” Sookie rubbed her eyes and stretched.
It was then that Eric caught a scent he wasn’t at all expecting to smell. His fangs descended and he was out of his chair and in Sookie’s face before she knew what was happening. Sookie squeaked in surprise and shrank back into the couch as much as she could.
“Eric, what the-” she started, but was cut off.
“You smell like a V dealer that escaped from my capture,” Eric snarled, leaning in to inhale her. “Why do you smell like Lafayette Reynolds?” he demanded.
Sookie’s eyes went wide and she began to stammer a little. He could feel her fear and trepidation over telling him what she knew. Then he felt her defiance, and her eyes met his with fury in them.
“He wants to help you, you big jerk. Back off, and I’ll tell you why I smell like him,” Sookie’s eyes held his.
“You’ll tell me anyway,” Eric said, but took a step back from her. “Explain.”
Sookie folded her arms over her chest, but started talking. “First, I want to know why you had Lafayette locked up in your basement for two weeks.”
“That’s vampire business,” Eric said simply.
“You said I could trust you, but then you snuck into my house last night after promising me no late night panty raids,” Sookie glared at him.
“I assure you, Sookie, none of your panties were in my possession when I left last night. Memories of you in a towel were more than enough,” Eric said coyly.
Sookie grunted in disgust and said, “Tell me why he was locked in your basement or I’ll forget my reason for coming here, and trust me when I say that you’re going to want to know why I’m here.”
Eric listened to his blood and it told him that she wasn’t fibbing. Whatever information she had for him was important, at least to her standards. Sookie didn’t strike him as the sort to cry wolf, however, and he already knew she had a tendency to get sucked into problems that weren’t really her concern. He didn’t get the sense that she was in danger, which was a bit of a relief, but not by much since she was still nervous about something.
“Lafayette was brought here because it was discovered he was dealing vampire blood,” Eric said with no inflection in his voice. “That is a crime among my people that cannot go unpunished. I’m sure you can understand why drainers are a concern for our kind, and after having had vampire blood yourself you can also understand why it is for the best that humans not be allowed to abuse our blood recreationally.”
“You tortured him while he was here,” Sookie accused.
“Yes,” Eric agreed. “That is standard among my kind. The draining of a vampire is a slow, painful way to die. A good drainer can not only hold a vampire captive, but can maintain their blood supply sometimes for years before finally killing the vampire. Mr. Reynolds was aware of the consequences of his actions, and yet proceeded to collect and redistribute vampire blood. He’s lucky he isn’t dead.”
“You knew he was alive?” Sookie gasped.
“I found no body parts of his when he disappeared, so I assumed he didn’t chew his way through his own skin,” Eric said and Sookie cringed at the thought. “I also smelled magic where he was being kept, suggesting that he had been assisted in his escape. I was, sadly, unaware of his ties to that particular community at the time he was captured or the proper precautions would have been taken.”
“If he hadn’t escaped would you have killed him?” Sookie asked, her eyes clearly troubled by what she had learned, and what Eric still might say to her.
“That I can’t tell you since I had further questions to ask, but he disappeared before I could ask them,” he said and Sookie looked like she might argue so he continued, “But I can tell you that his life depended on the accuracy of the information he would have given me.”
“If he can still give you that information now, and it’s good, will you give me your word that you won’t kill him?” Sookie asked, and in the blink of an eye Eric was sitting in a chair in front of her.
“Give me the information you came to give, and I’ll consider it,” Eric countered. “I already paid up on my end of your terms, Sookie. Now it’s your turn.”
Sookie thought for a moment and then said, “I saw Lafayette last night. He was the reason I came here. The information I needed answers on came from something that Lafayette told me. The group that rescued him is a coven, which might not surprise you. The leader of that coven is a woman named Marnie. Is that name familiar to you?”
Eric sifted through his most recent memories and said, “No. I am unfamiliar with anyone by that name.”
“Well, you somehow managed to piss her off,” Sookie told him. “I don’t know what you did, but she’s got a grudge against you.”
“What sort of a grudge?” Eric asked.
“I’ll get to that in a minute,” Sookie promised and Eric nodded. “From what I was told by Lafayette, and then today by Jesus, who is another member of the coven and Lafayette’s boyfriend, Marnie has started doing blood magic.”
Eric hissed at that. Practicing magic alone was dangerous, but doing blood magic… that wasn’t something anyone would be thrilled about but it was particularly true for vampires. He also knew that anyone doing blood magic was fool enough to attempt to raise the dead, and considering he was a person of the undead variety, that could be a very serious problem.
“She was able to resurrect a pet bird that she recently lost. Lafayette was there to witness it with his own two eyes. It was during the course of that spell that he discovered he has the ability to speak to dead people,” Sookie revealed.
“He’s a medium,” Eric observed with a hint of interest.
“Yes, he’s a medium. Shortly after that discovery he was approached by a spirit that claimed to know me, and needed to get an important message to me,” Sookie said rather uncomfortably.
“This is the message you need to give to me?” Eric asked, leaning forward in his chair.
“No, at least not yet. The spirit that came to Lafayette was my cousin, Hadley,” Sookie explained, and Eric knew instantly who she was.
“The queen’s pet,” he said with certainty and Sookie’s eyes went wide.
“You knew my cousin?” she gasped.
“Not personally,” Eric straightened a little. “The queen’s attachment to your cousin was quite unusual. There was a genuine strong affection between them that most vampires don’t feel for a human.”
“Yeah, well, that affection must have run out when she figured out that Hadley wasn’t powerful enough,” Sookie said bitterly.
“How do you mean?” Eric asked. “She’s of your blood. She has just as much fairy running through her veins as you do.”
“Hadley’s dead, Eric. When Sophie-Anne discovered that Hadley didn’t have any power she decided Hadley was disposable, so she killed her. Before Hadley’s death she had told the queen about me, and how I’m telepathic. The queen thought maybe my telepathy was a hint as to what other power I might have, but I swear, I don’t have any other power,” Sookie said in a pleading tone.
“Or perhaps there’s more to you than what meets the eye and it simply hasn’t manifested itself yet,” Eric suggested, which did little to improve the levels of anxiety in Sookie’s blood.
“So that’s why Bill was sent here,” Sookie admitted, the betrayal and hurt running through her at such high levels that it was almost crippling. “The queen assigned him to come here to procure me for her because she thinks I have power, and she wants it for herself. Bill never once mentioned any of this to me, Eric. If I had known, I would never have agreed to be his. I don’t want to belong to the queen, and I don’t want to be turned into a vampire. I don’t understand what she wants with me, or why Bill wouldn’t just tell me the truth. I… I’ve trusted too many people that I shouldn’t, and the body count just keeps getting bigger.”
Hearing about Sookie’s connection to Hadley certainly made sense, and it would certainly make investigating a little bit easier. Eric pulled out his cell phone and sent a text message to the investigator to tell him to check into Hadley’s background since that might yield some clues as well.
Sookie wept for a moment, but then Eric leaned in and wiped her tears with his thumbs. Her eyes rose to his, but he didn’t ask her to continue. He gave her the space she needed to calm herself and gather her thoughts.
“I came here today because when I was on my way to the cemetery that divides my property from Bill’s, Lafayette and Jesus were waiting there for me. They told me a little bit more about Marnie and the blood magic. They don’t know what she’s planning, but they know she’s got a bone to pick with vampires, and you specifically. Lafayette is going to continue to keep me informed, but he will not come directly to you with what he knows unless you can guarantee him that you will not end his life,” Sookie told Eric, and wiped a few more tears away from her face.
When Eric wasn’t quick enough to give Sookie the guarantee she was looking for, she continued, “Eric, are you listening to me? Marnie doesn’t just want to get back at you—she wants to kill all vampires, and she has a plan to make that happen.”
Eric heard her, and he was already plotting counter measures in his mind. At the moment it seemed a small time V dealer was a drop in the bucket of his troubles. Eric locked eyes with Sookie and said, “We have a deal. I will not kill Lafayette for his prior offenses. How soon can you bring him to me?”
“I can call him right now,” Sookie said, and Eric pulled his cell phone from his pocket again and handed it to her.
“Put it on speakerphone,” he said, and watched as Sookie dialed the number.