The second Eric landed outside Merlotte’s he caught both Nora’s and Bill’s scent. He moved inside at vampire speed, immediately seeking out Sookie to make sure she was uninjured. He found her laughing with some of the customers over by the pool table. Alcide was immediately on his feet with a guilty look on his face.
Sookie turned to see Eric standing there looking somewhere between furious and relieved. It was an odd combination of emotions to see in a person’s eyes.
“Eric, what’s wrong?” Sookie asked.
“Compton. I can smell him,” Eric said, and his head turned toward Alcide. “Outside. Now.”
“Eric, hold on,” Sookie started, and followed Eric out of the bar. Alcide trailed long behind her.
“Why didn’t you tell me that he was here when we spoke?” Eric demanded.
“Because I didn’t want you to worry and—”
“Don’t you get it, Sookie? In the blink of an eye he could have had you. Where were you?” Eric stared at Alcide. “How did he even get the chance to get close to her, and why didn’t you call me the second the situation was defused?”
“Sookie wasn’t injured. I saw no reason to—” Alcide started, but didn’t get to finish since Eric had his hand wrapped around Alcide’s throat.
“Your job is to report back all supernaturals that come into contact with her, but that number should be zero because you’re supposed to keep them away from her. Now what good are you to me if you can’t follow simple instructions?” Eric asked, squeezing a little harder on Alcide’s throat.
“Eric, stop! Put him down!” Sookie pleaded. “Be angry with me, okay? I could have told Nora to leave, and I—”
“We’ll discuss your part in this when we get home,” Eric hissed at her, and then dropped Alcide, who fell to his knees while he gasped for air. “This is your warning, Were. Fuck up again, and you’ll be spending eternity in a pet cemetery.”
Sookie moved to help Alcide up off the ground, but he made it clear he didn’t want her help. He stared Eric down and then stalked off to his truck.
“Was Nora here before or after Bill?” Eric asked without looking at Sookie.
“What does that—”
“Answer me!” Eric barked, and Sookie jumped in surprise for all of a second before her temper came rushing back.
“Don’t use that tone with me, mister.”
“Have you learned nothing from the things I’ve said in the last few days, Sookie?”
“You told me that Nora was a vampire I could trust, so why is she going behind your back to recruit me?”
“Recruit you for what?” Eric asked.
“She wants me to be a double agent. Get close to Bill to find out what he’s planning and then report everything back to her so he can be eliminated, in her terms,” Sookie told him. “And yes, she was here before Bill.”
“How long before?”
“I don’t know… maybe ten minutes?” Sookie guessed.
That meant Bill had scented an unfamiliar vampire in the area, no doubt. More than likely that information had already been fed right back to Nan Flannigan, as well as the queen.
“I can guess what Bill wanted when he came to see you,” Eric said, not bothering to hold back his disgust or jealousy.
“And he didn’t get what he was after,” Sookie folded her arms over her chest. “I didn’t agree to help Nora either, in case you’re wondering. I told her I needed time to think about it because saying no right off the cuff seemed like it was a bad idea. I’m not as stupid as you think I am, Eric.”
“I don’t think you’re stupid,” Eric argued with her. “You must have me confused with your second vampire caller this evening.”
Sookie’s eyes glossed over with tears, and Eric realized a moment too late that he had been harsher with her than he had intended to be. He was angry, yes, but it wasn’t entirely Sookie’s fault. In all actuality, she had done the right thing in not making a commitment to Nora’s request one way or the other. She had been waiting to seek his advice before making a decision. She trusted him.
“I think I’m going to go sleep in my own house tonight,” Sookie said angrily. “I don’t want you to follow me or try to talk me out of it.”
“It isn’t safe for you there until the bond is complete, Sookie,” Eric argued.
“I need some time by myself, Eric. I have a lot of things on my mind and a lot of decisions I need to make.”
“Have you changed your mind about bonding yourself to me?” Eric asked her, and Sookie lowered her eyes. “I see,” he said.
“Eric, it’s not that I’ve changed my mind…” she trailed off.
“You’re just not sure about it anymore,” he finished for her.
“Like you said, it’s a big commitment and I don’t want to go into it for the wrong reasons,” she said quietly.
“Then I’ll take you back to the penthouse and rest elsewhere for the day,” Eric counter offered. “I don’t want you to be that far from me when both Bill and Nora are so close by.”
It was an option of last resort, but he could always take her against her will right then and there. It would be easy enough to throw her over his shoulder and fly her back to Shreveport where he could stash her in any one of his safe houses. He wouldn’t even have to tell her where it was, and with his security systems in place she wouldn’t be able to leave the house until he let her out. There were no phones so she would have no way to contact someone else for help.
But he didn’t want to do things that way. He would be no better than Bill if he robbed Sookie of her free will, and it would do significant damage to the relationship they had already established. Things were progressing nicely, and he didn’t want to become his own worst enemy—even if all of his instincts were screaming at him to lock her away somewhere safe.
After a moment’s consideration Sookie said, “Fine. I’ll go back to the penthouse.”
Eric nodded and asked, “How much longer are you on duty?”
“I’ll talk to Sam about gettin’ off early. Things are slow now anyway,” Sookie sighed, and went back into the bar to do just that.
Sookie tossed a tennis ball for Moli to fetch. Eric stood at her side, quiet as a church mouse. The two of them hadn’t said much to one another since they left Merlotte’s. Eric knew by her blood that Sookie was in a very contemplative mood. Whatever was going on in her head, she was weighing her options very carefully. There was disappointment in her uncertainty about what she wanted in her future, but he was glad she was thinking things through and not just jumping in headlong one way or another.
“How open are you to negotiations?” Sookie asked, breaking the silence between them.
“Depends on what you want to negotiate,” Eric answered honestly.
“I still want to bond myself to you,” she said, and looked up at Eric’s face. “What I’m not entirely sure about right now is our relationship, whatever this is between us. I’m afraid I’m rushin’ into something new just because I don’t want to be alone, and that isn’t fair to you. So I was thinkin’ maybe we could hold off on finishing the bond for a few more days. If you agree to that, I will agree not to work at Merlotte’s and stay in the safe place of your choosing until the bond is finished.”
“That’s an interesting offer,” Eric nodded. “You would essentially keep yourself indoors during daylight hours until the bond is complete?”
“I would remain on the property you choose, but do I really have to stay locked inside?” Sookie asked. “I mean, Moli’s got to go out and I like fresh air.”
“I have a place we can stay where Moli will have plenty of room to run, and it’s out of the way enough that no one even knows it exists besides me. Not even Pam knows,” he said, and Sookie’s surprise registered immediately. “Every vampire needs a location they can go where they will be absolutely safe. That location should be kept a secret. Pam has her own space that I know nothing about. She knows to go there should the need ever arise.”
“And what about Alcide? Will you let him out of the agreement you have if I do this?” Sookie asked.
Eric gritted his teeth. Alcide was lucky to still be alive, as far as Eric was concerned. Considering the other half of his nature, Alcide wasn’t a very good bodyguard. That was also a piece of information that had been learned by both Nora and Bill, no doubt, and would come in handy. There was a weakness in Sookie’s line of defense.
“I’ll release him from his debt,” Eric conceded.
“Thank you,” Sookie nodded, and then took the ball from Moli when she brought it back, only to throw it again.
“We’ll move tomorrow after speaking with Nora,” Eric told her, and already he was forming his task list for Bobby. “How much time are you asking for, Sookie?”
“I’m not sure,” she admitted, and he paid close attention to her confusion and indecision.
“A word of advice, Sookie,” Eric leaned down and whispered into her ear. “Don’t over-think it. You’ll only confuse yourself further.”
He kissed her head and then went into the penthouse to give her some space.